Graham Young and Roz Laws review the latest films
Contagion * * * *
Cert 12A, 106 mins
It’s a sign of the excellent cast of Contagion that Gwyneth Paltrow is killed off within 10 minutes.
Who needs her when we also have Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Marion Cotillard and Laurence Fishburne?
Actually, this strength is also one of the film’s weaknesses. There are just too many people and plot threads, so there is no central character to root for and some storylines finish far too abruptly.
And yet, this is still a highly watchable film, terrifying in its realism. We can just imagine these events panning out.
After swine flu, MRSA and SARS comes the virus MEV-1. Symptoms come on quickly and within hours a quarter of those who catch it are dead.
Paltrow’s character picks it up in Hong Kong and transmits it to her son, although her husband Matt Damon is immune.
Soon people are dropping like flies around the world. Within a couple of days there are 87 cases and 15 deaths, by day 12 it’s spread to eight million and society begins to break down as people start fighting over food and supplies.
Scientists Jennifer Ehle and Elliot Gould are trying to find a vaccine, while Fishburne and Winslet work for the Centre for Disease Control and try to contain the outbreak.
Meanwhile, Jude Law is a blogger who is cynical about government and pharmaceutical firms’ involvement in the crisis. It’s hard to take him seriously, though, thanks to a comedy Australian accent and even more comical teeth.
Oh, and Marion Cotillard is in China trying to find the cause of the outbreak, but she is forgotten about for most of the film. And what is, briefly, an exciting whodunnit as they try to isolate the first victim is then just left hanging.
While watching the film, you will become acutely aware of every cough in the cinema and how often you touch your face – three to five times a minute, amazingly.
In fact, Contagion will fill you with paranoia, a trait which, judging from the success of this film in America, is likely to be catching. RL
We Need To Talk About Kevin * * * *
Cert 15, 112 mins
Anyone who knows anything about Lionel Shriver’s 2003 bestseller will know that it centres around a fictional high school massacre.
That’s not giving away too much of the plot, because without this basic information you’ll spend much of the film in the dark.
Tantalising us with snippets of story is one thing, but there are times when the narrative feels a little too obtuse.
Yet this is still a compelling and interesting movie, featuring some startling performances.
It is told mainly in flashback from the point of view of Eva (superb Tilda Swinton). Clearly something terrible has happened, as she lives alone in a small, rundown house – which her neighbours throw red paint at – and doses herself up with wine and anti-depressants. A woman stops her in the street to say: “I hope you rot in hell.”
Yet she was clearly happy once with her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), though that seemed to be before they moved to a large suburban house to raise their two children, Kevin and Lucy.
Eva is not overly maternal and finds it hard to bond with Kevin, who screams all the time, then stares malevolently instead of learning to talk. Doctors say there’s nothing wrong with him but there clearly is – he’s a nasty, destructive child.
Young Jasper Newell does a frighteningly good job of looking evil, especially as his other work mainly consists of Dora the Explorer.
Kevin at 15 is played by equally chilling Ezra Miller
Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morven Callar) fills the film with striking images, not least at the start when Eva is covered in blood-red tomatoes in what we assume (we have to make quite a few assumptions) to be Bunol’s La Tomatina festival.
Like last week’s Tyrannosaur, this is an intense rather than an enjoyable experience, though there is one laugh-out-loud moment involving Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I was left with several unanswered questions, such as why her neighbours are quite so angry with Eva, when she has suffered too? And why hasn’t she moved away?
It all builds, very slowly but powerfully, to an harrowing, gripping climax. We keep watching to find out just what horrors occurred, and there are some surprises in store, even if you know the basic plot.
I am glad the violence happens off-screen. I wish film makers would take note and apply this more often – we don’t always need to see graphic, gory destruction. It often has more of an impact if we only see the aftermath. RL
The Three Musketeers 3D * * *
Cert 12A, 110 mins
As with so many films recently, there seems to be little need to pay extra for the 3D version of Hollywood’s latest pointless remake.
When D’Artagnan makes a big leap of faith he almost zigzags across the screen in 3D – but not in the 2D version I’ve also seen.
This is nothing new. Avatar’s winged creatures had a similar problem in 3D.
Given that it borrows so heavily from Pirates of the Caribbean’s art design and score, this film might have been called The Three Pirateers if only one of the stars had half the wit of Johnny Depp.
Matthew Macfadyen (Athos), Luke Evans (Aramis) and Ray Stevenson (Porthos) are the three bored to tears.
Meanwhile, Percy Jackson star Logan Lerman has much to learn. His D’Artagnan is so close to nappies the hot-head’s father is played by TV’s Press Gang star Dexter Fletcher!
James Corden also keeps popping up with cameo comedy sketches which aren’t fit even for a halfwit character like Planchet.
Director Paul W S Anderson once more highlights wife Milla Jovovich’s curves, as per their Resident Evil series which is grotesquely reinvented for an early sequence.
Milady’s subsequent contrived disappearance – until the moment when Anderson cockily assumes we’d all want a sequel with her in it – sums up the entire enterprise.
The sheer madness of The Three Musketeers will make this good fun for children of around 10-13 to enjoy.
Adults might find that a centuries-old story relying so heavily on flying sequences is too much of a gimmick. GY
Texas Killing Fields * * *
Cert 15, 105 mins
Quietly released by Entertainment without a regional preview, this is a Michael Mann film in all but director’s name.
He has backed the film and it’s directed by his daughter, Ami Canaan Mann.
Based on a true story, many bodies have been found over a sustained period in an area of rural Texas known as ‘the killing fields’.
Local homicide detective Sam Worthington (Avatar) and New York City’s Brian Heigh, played by Watchmen star Jeffrey Dean Morgan, will soon be haunted and taunted.
The pair look good together on screen, much less starry than De Niro and Pacino from Michael Mann’s seminal 1995 thriller, Heat.
Kick-Ass star Chloë Grace Moretz offers maturing credentials as potential victim Anne Sliger.
Although it’s interesting to see this type of rural life under siege, it’s the subject matter which the director should have had grabbed by the throat, not vulnerable women.
Moments of gripping tension are frittered away compared with a better sustained thriller like David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), but the film has been retained for a second week at Vue Star City. GY
Albatross * * *
Cert 15, 90 mins
Released only at Showcase Birmingham where it ends today (Thursday), this is the second film this year to star Birmingham actress Felicity Jones, once Emma Grundy in The Archers.
Like Chalet Girl there’s a hotel setting and Miss Jones again wears the type of silly hat that would only look sensible on a ski slope.
She befriends aspiring novelist Emelia (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay), a fellow teenager who visits Beth’s father Jonathan (Sebastian Koch) while he struggles with writer’s block in the attic.
The film relies heavily on the potential sexual frisson between two characters of such different generations.
German star Koch (The Lives of Others) has a Burton-lite intensity, with Julia Ormond well cast as his wife and Beth’s mother.
Felicity Jones is again a sweet-natured thing with a remarkable ability to play ten years younger. GY
Reuniting The Rubins *
Cert PG, 98 mins
You’ll have heard of The X Factor; this film is directed by a Y Factor, as in Yoav Factor.
And it’s probably one of the few things I’ll remember about a movie in which an uptight lawyer called Lenny Rubin (Timothy Spall) tries to reconnect with his four diverse children.
As a capitalist, an eco-warrior, a Buddhist monk and a born-again Rabbi, they are such an eclectic bunch it’s impossible to believe they haven’t been genetically engineered for a movie in which ageless former Bond girl Honor Blackman plays a supposedly ailing granny who wants to see them all before she croaks.
The film has its moments, but the score is so achingly intrusive I felt I was suffering from Rubinoid arthritis.
On a similar theme, Robert De Niro’s underrated Everybody’s Fine was much more fun. GY