06 April, 2008

Surfin' Multiplex: Spiderwick Chronicles, Horton Hears A Who, El Orfanato, The Bank Job

Spiderwick Chronicles

This is one of those increasingly rare gems, a film in which the CGI serves the story and characters well. A convincing and consistent magical world, just beyond the sight of ours, except for those allowed to see. A separated mum drags her reluctant offspring to live in the family relic, cast off of "the crazy aunt". The kind of house we love in kid lit, with magical happenings, secret rooms and hidden passages.

Mary-Louise Parker plays mom, and I was briefly worried that she would be a re-run of her mom on Weeds, and frankly, we're not a million miles away from that, but it didn't matter (I love Mary-Louise, The West Wing's biggest mistake was not keeping her on board permanently). Freddie Highmore plays twins, but it's not Patty Duke/Hayley Mills style fun as the focus is on Jared, sullen anger mis-managing, hateful towards his mum whilst pining for his absent father, Simon his brother is collected and geeky, and the contrast is so well maintained I briefly wondered if they'd cast brothers rather than double cast the one. I did find the acting out teen bit at the beginning a little hard to take, but once the magic starts to buoy the plot along, I was really caught up in it. Great supporting cast helps keep the emotional side of it grounded, and in the end, not too sugary.

Horton Hears A Who

I did like the "look and feel" of this 3d take on Dr S's 2d universe. But the padding they added to stretch the story, while not offensive, left me indifferent and bored. It picks up whenever Seussian rhymes come up, but then sags, I nearly dozed off twice. It drains the subtlety of the already none too subtle allegories of the original, making the final hour reconciliation with the fascist character mind bogglingly jarring. Also, they nearly had me at the end, but then flubbed the mood completely with a power ballad joke (does everything have to go Shrek?)

El Orfanato (The Orphanage)

Aptly with some producing involvement from Guillermo del Toro (director of similarly atmospheric forays into creepy ghost story / horror fantasy The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth), this tale of motherly love and sinister legacies is completely involving. An excellent film. Hopefully Hollywood will not be tempted to try to Vanilla Sky this into mediocrity.

The Bank Job

I'm a complete sucker for heist movies, not to mention true crime. Some mixed reviews left me a bit leary, but I luckily gave it a chance anyway. Jason Statham, who's carved out a niche in the ludicrous comedy action violence genre (ahem) in the last few years, leads a cast of cream of brit character actors in this twisty tale of amateur criminals set the chance to knock off a safety deposit vault which contains royal black mail photos wanted by MI5/6 so they can go after a faux-black-power politico drug kingpin with ties to soho porn kings and crooked cops. The film is a bit all over the place in tone, all the above ingredients have been put in a blender and churned. More left hook plot turns than action oriented. It's not as good a slice of '60's London criminal demimonde as Jake Arnott, lags slightly in the last act partially due to a nonsensical jealousy sub-plot, otherwise it's fun enough.



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