Mike Davies reviews the week's new cinema releases
MUSIC AND LYRICS * * * *
Cert PG, 90 mins
As huggably enjoyable as it is frothily formulaic, this may not be a Working Title romcom but you’d be hard pressed to tell. It even stars Hugh Grant, here as, quite literally, has been 80s pop star Alex Fletcher.
He’s now making a living working the retro circuit playing to nostalgic 40-year-old housewives but is given a chance to climb back up the ladder when US teen sensation Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), a sort of bimbo Buddhist Britney, asks him to write a song they can duet on her new stage show and album.
Trouble is, he’s not penned a tune in ten years, he can’t write lyrics and Cora wants it in three days.
However, the answer to his prayers is at hand in the shape of stand-in plant lady Sophie (Drew Barrymore), a natural born lyricist whose older married sister (a scene stealing Kristen Johnston) has had a pash on Alex for 20 years.
However, an ill-explained backstory involving an affair with a tutor (Campbell Scott) who turned her into the harpy of his best-selling novel, means she’s reluctant to start writing again. Fortunately for the slight plot, not that reluctant.
Yes, it’s Hugh Grant doing Hugh Grant and yes it’s a predictable tale of blossoming romance, misunderstandings, selfishness, recriminations, break ups and an "I’ll have to say I love you in a song" happy ending.
But peppered with crackingly witty one liners, smart pop industry send-ups, impeccable comic timing, and the terrific chemistry between Grant and an irresistibly loveable Barrymore, it’s also impossible to dislike.
The opening spoof New Romantic music video of Pop There Goes My Heart with a tight-trousered Grant hilariously channeling Wham-era George Michael and Simon Le Bon is worth the ticket price alone.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION * * *
Cert 12A, 86 mins
With the BAFTAs on Sunday and the Oscars just two weeks away, this a timely comedy for the awards season from the team behind A Mighty Wind and Best In Show.
However, while retaining the trademark improvisational approach, this time director Christopher Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy have forsaken their usual mockumentary format in favour of letting the ensemble cast loose on an actual plot.
Having first satirised Hollywood in 1989’s The Big Picture, Guest’s second bite at the hand that feeds follows the farcical developments when internet chatter suggests Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara) and Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), the two has been stars of Home For Purim, a rubbish low budget Jewish melodrama being directed by the inept Jay Berman (Guest), are being considered for Oscar nominations.
There’s not a grain of truth to the rumours, but that doesn’t stop everything going into overdrive, as hopes are raised, egos are inflated, Victor’s useless agent (Levy) flaps, romantic item co-stars Callie Webb (Parker Posey) and Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan) burn with envy and, sniffing potential awards, the boorish studio suits (Ricky Gervais, Larry Miller) move in and insist the writers (Michael McKean, Bob Balaban) change the title and tone down the Jewishness to make it more mainstream.
The targets are as broad as the characters are exaggerated parodies of Hollywood vanities and insecurities, but it’s no less frequently hilarious for that. Echoing her turn in A Mighty Wind, O’Hara manages to find notes of immense sadness and poignancy amid Hack’s ridiculousness.
Some of the industry in-jokes may go over the heads of most, but there’s some wickedly funny moments here – Jennifer Coolidge’s empty-headed producer, John Michael Higgins’s clueless publicist asking if internet is the one with e-mail and a wildly mugging, crazily attired Fred Willard spraying non-sequitors and surreal absurdities as the barking co-host of a TV showbiz gossip show.
And if you think they’re making it up, just tune in and watch those acceptance speeches.
CHARLOTTE'S WEB * * * *
Cert U, 97 mins
E.B. White's children’s story with its message about friendship and gentle introduction to the miraculous natural cycle of life and death, has been enchanting generations for more than 50 years. There’s been a cartoon version but now technology finally affords a proper live action adaptation in the manner of Babe with real CGI enhanced animals.
Indeed, its story of how young piglet Wilbur is saved from becoming smoked ham by, first farmer’s daughter Fern (Dakota Fanning), and then wise word-spinning spider Charlotte (Julia Roberts) has much in common with Chris Noonan’s beloved classic in its tone and message. As the voice of Wilbur, young Dominic Scott Kay even sounds like Babe.
It’s perhaps to be regretted that director Gary Winick felt the need to cater to lowbrow juvenile tastes with contemporary wise-ass dialogue from an otherwise brilliantly rendered Templeton the rat (Steve Buscemi) and some bovine fart gags. But neither this nor John Cleese's Basil Fawlty-sounding sheep can dent the inherent charm spun out by Fanning's winning Fern, Roberts' tender-hearted arachnid, Danny Elfman's lovely pastoral score and the heartwarming story itself.
GOAL II: LIVING THE DREAM * * *
Cert 12A, 112 mins
Two years on from Mexican immigrant footie whiz Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) becoming the golden boy of Newcastle Utd, it’s time for the Fifa-endorsed second half.
Now skippered by House of Wax director Jaume Collet-Serra, the players head back on to the pitch to kick around a few more clichés.
The plot makes Footballers’ Wives look like Citizen Kane as Santi gets an offer to join Real Madrid alongside Beckham,
Zidane, Ronaldo, Raul and playboy former teammate Gavin Harris (Allesandro Nivola) who, for some reason, the football commentators always refer to by his full name. Geordie student nurse fiancée Roz (Anna Friel) is reluctant to pack her bags for Spain, but duly agrees to channel hop to be with her man.
Naturally, despite always starting out on the bench, while Gavin can’t seem to find his feet Santi proves the team’s saviour, banging away winning goals in injury time.
Equally naturally, Roz winds up feeling neglected as fame, fortune and the temptations of Madrid dazzle Santi’s senses. When he’s splashed over the tabloids in the arms of a sultry TV presenter, that’s the last straw.
Meanwhile, our hero discovers he’s got a young half-brother (who, inevitably, is also a football prodigy) and that his long-lost mother (Elizabeth Pena), who abandoned him as a kid, is now living on a nearby rough estate. Reunions and revelations duly amble along.
It’s silly nonsense of course, stuffed with dialogue that’s even clunkier than the soapy plotlines. Stephane Dillane and Sean Pertwee return for the briefest cameos as Munez and Millar’s agents, while it hardly seems to have been worth Rutger Hauer’s time turning up to play Real Madrid’s gruff coach, so little is he given to do.
But I’ve seen sicker parrots. It’s also entertainingly lively. Becker’s a personable screen presence, Nivola’s ageing lothario gives good comic relief, the football action’s excitingly implausible, Beckham keeps his mouth shut and there’s even a car chase before an emotional cliffhanger ending with Roz sets things up for the final chapter as the story moves into extra time for the World Cup.
HANNIBAL RISING * *
Cert 18, 121 mins
When producer Dino De Laurentiis was promoting Red Dragon, one question kept coming up. No, not "why are you foisting this rubbish on us?" Rather, "how did Lecter become Hannibal the Cannibal?"
Taking a cue from a passage in the unreadable Hannibal referring to Lecter's younger sister Mischa, he approached Thomas Harris and suggested he might develop this further. Given he'd not actually penned any non-Lecter novels in the past 30 years, Harris obviously wasn't hard to persuade.
Thus his dreary, poorly written prequel detailing Hannibal's traumatic experiences watching his parents killed and Mischa served for lunch in Lithuania in 1944, his flight from the Communists into France, relationship with motorbike riding Japanese aunt (Gong Li), med school years and determination to take revenge on the Lithuanian thugs (naturally played by leering Brits) responsible for his sister's death.
Presumably appalled at the Hannibal and Red Dragon adaptations, Harris also offered to write the screenplay. Judging by the finished film, he seems to have lost interest half way.
It actually opens well, the aristocratic Lecters taking refuge in their hunting lodge before a stunning scene involving a Russian tank and a Stuka plunges everything into tragedy.
Then along comes Rhys Ifans, chewing scenery as the snarling villain, and it's downhill into standard dark revenge horror territory with graphic sadistic gore as the now-grown Hannibal (Gaspar Ulliel) systematically slices his way through the murderers while being pursued by a French cop (Dominic West, blank).
Echoing Ben Wishaw's work in Perfume, Ulliel's chillingly good as the ambiguously sympathetic Lecter, but he can do little to overcome lines like "they ate Mischa" or elevate the increasingly silly and pretentious plot.
Girl With A Pearl Earring director Peter Webber brings a similarly effective grainy European visual style to bear while dropping in sly references (including a precursor to liver and fava beans) to subsequent events that ensure it's worth looking at even when it's not worth watching.
DEEP SEA 3D * * * *
Cert U, 40 mins
After the disappointing Sharks 3D, good news that this latest underwater IMAX arrival is a real stunner.
With 3D so vivid, you'll need a towel to dry off afterwards, narrated by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet with music from Danny Elfman, it illustrates how the symbiosis of prey and predator is essential for maintaining the coral reef eco system.
When sea urchin appetites threaten the kelp beds, along comes the wolf eel (with a face like a bloated Brando) to ensure their numbers are kept to safe limits.
Elsewhere all manner of ocean life call a truce as they gather at designated cleaning stations, barracudas lining up to have the algae removed by fish that would normally be lunch.
In a mystery of nature, reefs everywhere reproduce by simultaneously spawning at the same minute on the same day once every year.
But, as the film warns, it’s not enough to compensate for mankind’s environmental blindness with overfishing (90 per cent of big fish have disappeared from the ocean in the past 50 years) removing vital links in the chain.
While the message is important, it's the visual thrills that will most captivate audiences; the remarkable Frog Fish looking just like a sponge, an orange rag-like Nudibranch sucking down on a forest of tube anemone tentacles, the permanently enraged Humboldt squids and the elegantly feisty Mantis shrimp, the world's most powerful creature for its size, battling a marauding octopus.
Best of all though is the comical sight of scallops fleeing a hungry starfish, squeaking and swimming away looking for all the world like sets of living dentures. Pixar, eat your heart out.
THE REEF *
Cert U, 78 mins
What do you get if you cross a shark and a clownfish? Answer, a shameless cobbling together of Finding Nemo and A Shark’s Tale in which cute tiddler Pi, is rescued by dolphins when his folks are netted by a trawler, and taken to a coral reef where he meets Cordelia, the gill of his dreams.
Before guppy love can thrive, he has to defeat her unwanted suitor Troy, the thuggish shark that terrorises the reef. Poorly animated, unimaginatively told, and anonymously voiced by Freddie Prinz Jr and Evan Rachel Wood, let this sink without trace and go see Deep Sea 3D instead.