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.

********8/10


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.

 *******7/10

 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.

****4/10

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