WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE * * * *
Cert 15, 101 mins
The big, hirsute creatures bouncing around in this movie might remind parents of all sorts of things...The Banana Splits and The Wombles’ TV shows, the Sugar Puffs’ commercials or even the self-styled ‘hairy cornflake’, Dave Lee Travis.
But this is a lot darker than all of those put together and the end result is not necessarily just a children’s movie, thanks to Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze ensuring it reaches far beyond Disney’s standard exclusion zone.
Based on the few lines of text in Maurice Sendak’s 1964 Caldecott Medal-winning book, Where The Wild Things Are is a rites-of-passage adventure for an increasingly self-aware nine-year-old boy, Max (Max Records). Feeling under-appreciated, he lives at home with his teenage sister Claire (Pepita Emmerichs) and single mother (Catherine Keener) who has just brought home a new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo).
In the book, Max’s imaginative journey begins after he is banished to his room.
Here, Max runs outside, jumps in a boat and braves some excellent rough-seas special effects to negotiate the rocky gateway to a faraway land.
Up in the hills he meets some fantastical creatures, including Carol (James Gandolfini), Ira (Forest Whitaker) and Douglas (Chris Cooper). Potentially, their behaviour is dangerously unpredictable. But at least they can speak rather good English.
They are so larger-than-life and have such emotive faces that they will help this rather adult story to engage with literate children, too – though I doubt that it’s particularly suitable for under eights.
The light-tinged cinematography by Lance Acord manages to embrace fear, optimism and, with its lens flares, a rare sense of immediacy.
The story proves that even a boy can achieve regal qualities. Equally, life might still be surprisingly tough if you do.
And then it’s all about managing a situation and being prepared to move on again. GY
WHITE RIBBON * * * *
Cert 15, 143 mins
After foolishly wasting his time and ours on a US version of his 1997 film Funny Games two years ago, European writer-director Michael Haneke partially makes amends with this Cannes’ Palme D’Or prize-winning film.
Now playing Cineworld Broad Street after a week at both the Warwick Arts Centre and the Electric Cinema, it’s set in a village in Protestant northern Germany on the eve of World War One.
Life is ordered and everyone knows their place, until Haneke begins to sow the seeds of disquiet which will fuel the explosion of humanity’s dark side across Europe in the years ahead.
Ordinary life is turned into a form of punishment ritual, but Haneke refuses to tie up a series of cruel events into a conventional denouement.
The White Ribbon is seriously overlong and very slow with extended scenes of stillness.
Some viewers might even need ‘happy pills’ afterwards, but Haneke’s regular cinematographer Christian Berger (Hidden / The Piano Teacher) helps this Bergman-style film look amazing in black and white. GY
THE STEPFATHER * *
Cert 15, 101 mins
This is a pointless remake of a 1987 cult horror. We know from the off that Dylan Walsh is a serial killer, who preys on divorced women and their families – though quite why is never really explained.
His latest victim is Susan Harding (Sela Ward), who has two young children and a teenage son, Michael (Gossip Girl hunk Penn Badgley).
Six months after chatting her up in a supermarket, he has moved in and they’re engaged.
Even though her friends say “he’s almost too good to be true”.
That’s because he is – you really should listen to your mates.
He appears to be kind and helpful, encouraging Michael to join the local swim team (really an excuse to film him in the pool with his bikini-clad girlfriend Amber Heard).
It’s not long before he despatches a nosy neighbour and Susan’s interfering ex-husband who digs too deeply into his past. Can suspicious Michael survive?
Every plot turn is clearly signposted, there’s clunky dialogue and the implausible story is riddled with holes.
It takes an age to get to the overwrought final scenes, but there are some moments of suspense and the cast, especially Walsh, aren’t terrible. RL
CARRIERS * * *
Cert 15, 84mins
It’s a familiar fictional set-up – a viral pandemic has swept through the world, killing most people, and a few survivors try to find a place of safety and a solution.
We’ve seen it all before, the fear of strangers, the abandoned homes and empty streets, in everything from Survivors on TV to Zombieland and I Am Legend.
Here, four friends drive through the desert. Practical Brian (Chris Pine) thinks he’s immune, though he still wears a mask (the afflicted have contagious breath) and doesn’t take too many chances. He’s travelling with his girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo), his brother Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci), nicknamed Ivy League, and Danny’s friend Kate (Emily VanCamp).
They discover their greatest threat comes not from the virus but from themselves as they are forced to make terrible decisions.
It’s not as funny or as clever as Zombieland, but it’s a decent drama with strong performances and script and a welcome emphasis on character development. There are a few moments to make you jump and good tension.
But don’t watch it if you’re looking for a light-hearted trip to the cinema. Bleak in tone, it’s often uncomfortable to watch and is disturbing, like a hospital scene where a doctor, who’s failed to cure sick kids, takes drastic action. RL