Screen Room referees a titanic computer-animated
Monster Vs Aliens 3D, and gets on board with the pirate-radio hi-jinks
Rocked. Kicking things off with a grumpy, racist old codger, itâ€™s Clint Eastwoodâ€™s grizzled acting swansong, Gran Torino.
he’s Clint. When he calls people ‘padre’ and ‘sonny’, we recognise the echoes of The Man with No Name and Harry Callahan. It is this strange send-up of his former self that makes Eastwood’s (apparently final) performance such a delight, and it is in the film’s first half – which ambles along without a great sense of drama – that its most eccentric pleasures lie. The film loses some charm when Walt begins to take a more aggressive interest in Thao and Sue’s fortunes, and when the hints at Eastwood’s past performances become too deliberate. The curmudgeon is an enduring and timeless character. Unrestricted by the boundaries of sensitivity or decorum, the resident village grump is free to slander, blacken and thoroughly insult those around them without fear of reprisal or punishment. It is in this socially dubious (but cinematically rich) position that director/star Clint Eastwood places himself in Gran Torino. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a recently bereaved war veteran living in the suburban jungle of Highland Park, Michigan. The film begins with the funeral of Mrs Kowalski, a service at which Walt glowers at his yuppie sons, sneers at the inappropriate attire of his grandchildren, and growls at the kindly approaches of his simpering family priest. The modern world is – for Walt – a repulsive, tiring series of disappointments. Everyone is a ‘punk’, no-one has any respect and nothing is sacred. He is almost a caricature of the smalltown American patriot. Living alone with his pooch Daisy, Kowalski’s sanctuary of solitude is disturbed when a Hmong (a southeast Asian ethnic group) family move in next door. Initially content to quietly racially slur his new neighbours, Walt becomes directly involved in their lives when youngest son Thao (Bee Vang) tries to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino Sport. Establishing that Thao was put up to the theft by his gangmember cousin Spider (Doua Moua), Kowalski takes the boy under his wing – with the blessing of Thao’s spirited sister, Sue Vang Lor (Ahney Her) – leading him away from the wretched cowardice of gang violence through solid hard work.
Before the weighty moral conundrum of its finale, Gran Torino owes much to Jack Nicholson’s late career triumph About Schmidt. Walt Kowalski, like Nicholson’s Warren Schmidt, is an aging man, confused and reticent about the changing world around him. Schmidt’s journey is more colourful than Kowalski’s, but both share a rich a vein of humour. The unexpected hilarity of Eastwood’s unapologetic racism, sexism and prejudice is, in fact, the film’s trump card. Amends are made, of course, in Walt’s eventual moment of liberal clarity, but witnessing the opening hour, in which cinema’s greatest hard man grows old disgracefully, is essential viewing.
The greatest joy of a film with a curmudgeonly lead character is that we, unlike the characters around him, understand his frustrations. His family and the rest of his neighbourhood think Walt is just an abusive, doddery old codger, but we know
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USA Dir: Clint Eastwood, 2008, 116 mins Showing at Kino from 10 April
THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO
An intricate turn from Joaquin Phoenix is the centrepiece of the third collaboration between writer/ director Gray and the actor, previously united in underrated crime dramas The Yards and We Own the Night. Opening bleakly with an attempted suicide, Two Lovers is a grown-up, tactful rom-com in which Phoenix plays Leonard: a maladjusted, thirty-something Jew recovering from a failed relationship, living with his quietly prescriptive parents (Isabella Rosselini and Moni Moshonov). Abandoned by his fiancé, Leonard embarks on simultaneous affairs with two stunningly beautiful women; the practical but sensitive Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) and the flighty, troubled Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow). The delicate poise of these three characters, their differing motivations, desires and faults, is balanced by a steady directorial hand and some fine, composed performances. With a narrative that manages to be vivid without being hysterical, Two Lovers is engaging, thoughtful drama.
USA Dir: James Gray, 2008, 110mins Showing at Kino from 3 April
IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA The year is unlikely to produce a film more challenging to the senses than In the City of Sylvia. Never resorting to the cheap sensory tricks of thunderous sound or choppy editing, the film relies instead on subtle tricks of framing and the surprising complexity of mundane noises. The skeletal plot sees an unnamed Gallic artist and general layabout (Xafier Lafitte) pursue a woman (Pilar López de Ayala) he believes to be Sylvia, an old flame, through the streets of Strasbourg. Their sole meeting is an awkward conversation on a tram, in which she claims never to have met him. The rest of the film is an almost wordless visual poem: the camera lingers on faces, deep in fragments of conversation; the soundtrack eerily blends inner-city sounds: glasses clinking, car stereos blaring and suitcases wheeled down cobbled streets. A brave, eccentrically romantic and oddly gripping film.
Continuing Kino Digital’s vibrant Opera & Ballet Season is David McVicar’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Commonly regarded as Wolferl’s greatest contribution to the genre, the 1786 comic opera takes place in the opulent palace of Count Almaviva, a boorish aristocrat who lusts after everything wearing a frilly dress in his court. A particular object of his desire is Susanna, maid to his Countess Rosina, and wife to his valet, Figaro. McVicar’s production of this tale of mistaken identity and sexual intrigue was widely praised for its focus on the opera’s drama. Featuring delightful soprano work from Miah Persson as Susanna, and a commanding baritone performance from Gerald Finley as the Count, the glorious sets are also worthy of note, perfectly conjuring the crumbling magnificence of an eighteenth century citadel. Dir: David McVicar, Conductor: Antonio Pappano
N/A Original run: 2006, 185mins
Showing at Kino from 26 April. Tickets £20, £17.50 concession and £10 members
Kino Hawkhurst PG
Spain Dir: José Luis Guerín, 2008, 85mins, French with subtitles Showing at Kino from 10 April
Telephone: 01580 754321 Rye Road, Hawkhurst, Kent TN18 4ET
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DEFIANCE Never one to shy away from a good battle scene, director Edward Zwick follows up the success of 2006’s Blood Diamond with a tale of occupied Polish pacifists turning to war against their German and Russian occupiers in WWII. The logic of casting the current Bond, Daniel Craig, as a “pacifist” remains to be seen; particularly given that he appears to have won the role of 007 principally through being excellent at bleeding. Luckily, he plays one of four Jewish brothers who courageously abandon their non-militant ideals and start shooting guns. Lots of guns. In 1941 Poland, Tuvia Bielski (Craig) gathers 1,200 persecuted Jews around the country, attempting to hide them from occupiers and save as many lives as possible. Zwick has an excellent track record in ‘stirring’ cinema (witness 1989’s Glory) and is used to herding and guiding Hollywood stars. Even Craig’s Polish accent – which could have been disastrous – is moderately convincing.
USA Dir: Edward Zwick, 2008, 137mins Showing at Trinity Theatre 28 & 29 April
THE FOX AND THE CHILD Director Luc Jacquet follows the success of March of the Penguins with a simplistic fable about the friendship between a young French girl (Bertille Noel-Bruneau) and a wild fox. The nameless girl is a solitary, wandering creature who struggles to connect with the adult world; through her feral friend (whom she names Lily) she meets other animals of the forest and enjoys the comfort and safety of the natural world. Shot in Southern France and the Abruzzo region of Italy, the film drinks in these vast landscapes; giving the unusual cross-species friendship an otherworldly quality. As is to be expected from the man who successfully documented the life of a huddle of penguins, the animal photography is a delight; never does the presence of the fox – or any other non-human performer – feel exploitative, rather respectful and warm.
FAR NORTH A curious tale of love, death and revenge in the tundra, Far North is an intriguing three-hander in which a woman named Saiva (Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and her daughter Anja (Michelle Krusiec) endure a lonely, harsh life in an unidentified snow-swept wasteland. When their remote territory is disturbed by a wounded soldier named Loki (Sean Bean), so is the simplicity of their life. The attraction of a male figure poisons the close bond of mother and daughter and awakens memories of Saiva’s difficult past. Kapadia’s unapologetic and unsympathetic film is based on a short story by the well-established British novelist Sara Maitland, however it expands greatly on the bare bones of the tale. Featuring some bravura performances by the interestingly mixed cast, and a hugely eerie atmosphere, Far North is a fascinating third feature from a promising British director.
UK/France Dir: Asif Kapadia, 2007, 89mins Showing at Trinity Theatre 19 April
Trinity Theatre Church Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 1JP
France Dir: Luc Jacquet, 2007, 92mins Showing at Trinity Theatre 14 & 15 April
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Monster Vs Aliens 3D
THE BOAT THAT ROCKED
Such was the mass appeal of pirate radio that there does seem to have been genuine sadness when the stations were made illegal in 1966. Curtis’ film is a hugely nostalgic, deliberately rose-tinted tribute to those halcyon days in which love was free, tunes were groovy and cats were hip (not felines). Loosely based on the famous Radio Caroline, Radio Rock transmits from an anchored ship in the North Sea. Unlike the staid, legal BBC Radio, the station – helmed by the sardonic Quentin (Bill Nighy) – plays all rock n’ roll, all the time. When Quentin’s young nephew, Carl (Tom Sturridge), comes aboard to learn the ropes, he bonds with each of the disparate crew of musical nuts: loud American The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the lascivious Gavin (Rhys Ifans) and the crude ‘Doctor’ Dave (Nick Frost). The plot, for what its worth, involves the preposterously villainous Minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his various attempts to illegalize pirate radio. That references to easy sex, mind expanding drugs and Mick Jagger come thick and fast should come as no surprise. As with many Working Title films, there’s a slightly sinister air of cross-cultural marketing here; an attempt to sell an idea of 60s Britain to the same Americans who buy commemorative plates of Princess Diana.
3D cinema comes on apace in this goofy, likeable computer-animated caper. The impressive vocal cast is led by Reese Witherspoon: she plays Susan Murphy, a fairly non-descript bride-to-be, who survives a strange encounter with a falling meteor on her wedding day. Back in the church, Susan begins to radiate and grow rapidly; soon she has exploded through the roof and is being captured by the army. Dragged away from family and fiancée, the newly enormous Susan is confined in a high-security institution with a motley crew of fellow ‘monsters’: a huge insectoid called Insectosaurus, a mad scientist turned cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a sentient, gelatinous blob (Seth Rogan) and a gruff fish-man (Will Arnett). In deepest space, the malevolent Gallaxhar launches an invasion of earth; when human weaponry proves unsuccessful, the monsters are called. Highlights include an epic Godzilla-style battle between Insectosaurus and a mechanised alien over San Fransicso’s Golden Gate Bridge, and the American president (Stephen Colbert) attempting musical contact with the aliens by playing the Close Encounters scale, swiftly following up with an impassioned rendition of Axel F from Beverley Hills Cop. Kids (especially boys) will love it, and the obvious strides forward in 3D cinema provide enough visual interest for parents.
USA Dirs: Conrad Vanon & Rob Letterman, 2009, 94mins Showing at Odeon from 3 April
It’s all fluffy, carefree, silly fun while it lasts, but one wonders whether this might have been better released in the Britpop years, when this strangely hollow vision of the swinging sixties had more clout.
Odeon Tunbridge Wells 15
UK Dir: Richard Curtis, 2009, 134mins Showing at Odeon from 3 April
Knights Park, Knights Way, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 3UW
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