NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS * * *
Cert PG, 124 mins
While admittedly no masterpiece, this sequel to National Treasure doesn't deserve the scathing reviews it's been getting.
Like the first film, it's a Saturday matinee adventure romp, this time with code-breaking Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) having to decipher the clues that will prove his great great grandfather didn't, as the sinister Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) claims, mastermind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Reuniting Ben with annoying techno whizz sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), archivist on-off girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger) and father Patrick (Jon Voight), this time round the team's augmented by Helen Mirren joining the fun as estranged mother Emily, conveniently an expert on the very extinct language they need to translate.
As for the plot, well that involves a Confederate Masonic society, the missing pages from John Wilkes Booth's diary, a fabled lost city of gold, Paris' replica Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and the kidnapping of the President (Bruce Greenwood) in order to access a secret book supposedly containing the truth about things like Area 51 and the Kennedy assassination.
Nonsense? Absolutely. But mixing up real history with legends and pure fantasy, scenes that involve breaking into both Buckingham Palace and the Oval Office, and a breakneck car chase through London, this serves up all the unpretentious, escapist popcorn fun you need while you await the return of Indiana Jones.
JUNO * * * * *
Cert 12A, 96 mins
In movie terms, unwanted teenage pregnancy is usually accompanied by much hand-wringing, hysterical parents and heavy moralising.
How refreshing then to find a non-judgemental, breezy comedy peppered with smart one liners, likeable characters and parents (winning performances by JK Simmons and Allison Janney) who are calm, understanding, helpful and only want what's best for their daughter, and are funny into the bargain.
Finding herself pregnant after deciding to lose her virginity to gangly best friend Paulie (a quietly wonderful Michael Cera), a visit to an abortion clinic persuades rebellious 16-year-old Juno (Page) that she's going to have the baby.
However, admitting she's "dealing with things way beyond my maturity level", she decides she'll find a suitable childless couple to adopt it.
Flicking through the local paper ("they have 'Desperately Seeking Spawn,' right next to the pet ads", says friend Leah) she decides upon middle class thirtysomething Mark (Jason Bateman) and desperate for motherhood wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner).
Having apprised dad and step-mum of her condition, her father duly accompanies her to work out the details. However, once things appear to be settled, as the seasons pass so hidden feelings, fears and doubts begin to bubble up.
It would spoil things to reveal to whom these belong but suffice to say there's insightful, amusing and gently poignant moments as the film draws you closer to its emotions without ever getting mawkish or making light of its issues.
With immensely quotable teen-slang dialogue that won't alienate the over 20s, a wicked Diana Ross gag, Kimya Dawson's beguilingly simple songs and Page lighting up the screen as the sarcastic, sassy yet vulnerable Juno, this has already earned its place in the year's top 10.
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY * * * *
Cert 12A 112 mins. subtitled
In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), 43-year-old editor of Elle, suffered a stroke that left him with locked in syndrome.
Fully mentally conscious but completely paralysed save for his left eyelid, with the help of a speech therapist (Marie-Josee Croze) and transcriber (Anne Consigny) at a French naval hospital he painstakingly learned to communicate by blinking in response to a letters. Over the ensuing months, word by word, he dictated his memoirs, eventually published in 1997 as the book of the title, three days prior to his death.
Directed by Golden Globe winning filmmaker Julian Schnabel with a screenplay by Ronald Harwood, this is far less of a downer than it sounds.
Though told entirely from Bauby's imprisoned perspective, it finds plenty of room, via flashbacks, fantasies and hospital visits, to address his relationships with his ex-partner (Emmanuelle Seigner), mistress, friends, and crusty invalid father (Max Von Sydow).
Spearheaded by Amalric's towering minimalism, it's a supremely well acted work. Retaining his humour, through often wry interior monologues we see Bauby wrestle with his guilt, self-pity, conflicted emotions, and memories in a way that rises beyond his situation to become an unsentimental celebration of what matters in life and the stubborn determination not to let casual fate wipe it away in the blink of an eye.
DEFINITELY MAYBE * * *
Cert 15, 112 mins
Unbeatable on home ground with Four Weddings, Notting Hill, About A Boy, Love Actually and a brace of Bridgets, producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner have been less successful with America-based romcoms 40 Days and 40 Nights and The Guru.
Once again results are mixed, but, steering away from formula with writer-director Adam Green introducing divorce and disillusionment into the fluff, it's certainly the closest they've come to relocating the magic.
Once a bushy eyed idealist, now a jaded advertising exec divorcee, Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) finally agrees to tell 10-year-daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) how he and her mom got together. However, he says he's going to "change all of the names and some of the facts" so she'll have to figure out which of the women in the story he ended up marrying.
And so, rewinding to 1992 as he moves to New York to work on the Clinton campaign trail, the story offers up three possibilities.
College sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), her former schoolmate Summer (Rachel Weisz), an aspiring journalist with a thing for older men, most particularly celebrity political analyst Hampton Roth (a scene stealing Kevin Kline), and, finally, April (Isla Fisher), his apolitical free spirit co-worker.
After Little Miss Sunshine, it's disappointing to find Breslin as little more than a framing device to keep prodding the plot along and there's a basic flaw in that it would have been simple enough for Maya to ask her mother the same question, but that would spoil the enjoyment in seeing whether the one Will weds is the
one with whom he ends up.
This bittersweet treat is a cut above thanks to the smart repartee, the cast's precision timing and Fisher demonstrating once more while she's one of the brightest comic talents around.