Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Roundup: Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, I Give It a Year

Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s breakout Booker winner (apparently deemed ‘unfilmable’, presumably by people who don’t get to the cinema much) follows the titular Pi, a young Indian lad, through a magical realist disaster journey, shipwrecked and adrift in the Pacific ocean, sharing his lifeboat with a full-grown Bengal tiger.

On the face of it there’s a lot of stuff I usually dislike in here: low-rent philosophizing, religious doggerel, spiritual-easterner cliché, 3D…; I’m not even a particular fan of Ang Lee and his tendency toward po-faced spectacle over emotional substance. Despite all that, I managed to really, really enjoy Pi. The visuals are stunning, the score magnificent, the script (less some clunky bookending) very fine indeed and a great central performance from newcomer Suraj Sharma.

If you want cinema that tells tall tales and shows you things you’ve never seen or imagined before, look no further. I accept its flaws, but loved it nonetheless.


Zero Dark Thirty

Serious hat on now for Katherine Bigelow’s treatment of the CIA hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Filmed in very much the same mode as her previous Oscar-winning Hurt Locker, it’s more successful than that film, cleverly written by Mark Boal and shot & edited with technique bound to end up as film school core-study material. Tense throughout and unusually structured, the film survives a dramatic switch in pace for its best segment: the raid on the Bin Laden compound itself. The performances too deserve mention, not just Jessica Chastain’s tight-ass lead, but a plethora of supporting players, especially Jennifer Ehle (still known chez Slut as ‘the delectable Jennifer Ehle') and Jason Clarke as fellow spooks.

It’s still hardly a perfect film – for me there’s little rewatch potential; the pseudo-documentary style and utter humourlessness grate after a while, and – a personal response, to be fair – I was unhappy with the studious apolitical-ness. I was still left with a big question of: with all the money spent, all the political will and human effort expended, all the people killed and brutalised in pursuit of this figurehead/folk demon, is America and the West any safer? This film didn’t really help me answer this question.

A quick word on the controversy – or teacup storm – surrounding the depiction of US-led torture in the film: for me, Bigelow successfully showed the dehumanising effect on both victim and perpetrator, as well as the dubious, scant benefits of torture as an information-gathering technique. Here it worked – sort-of; certainly it’s not tubthumping celebration/vindication of torture, more an exposé of its grim practices and dubious results.


 I Give It a Year

Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne lead in this uneven, Richard-Curtis-a-like, occasionally funny romcom in which two mismatched couples working toward an eventual partner swap switcheroo. There are a few decent gags but it’s mostly flat, uninspiring and a touch contrived. Some of the supporting roles are welcome – Minnie Driver, Jane Asher and Olivia Colman stand out – but Steven Merchant may soon find his schtick has a shelf life; his scenes, which are sometimes funny but tonally odd, as if out of a sitcom or even sketch show, get to the heart of the film’s problems - or rather underline the film’s lack of heart.

In a nutshell, think Four Weddings and a Funeral meets Bridesmaids, yet barely half as good as either.



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