Far from the Madding Crowd
A recent re-release of John Schlesinger’s 1967 version of Far From The Madding Crowd provides a timely reminder of the raw emotional power of Thomas Hardy’s late 19th-century novel.
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg brings a delicate touch to this handsome new incarnation, which runs 50 minutes shorter than its predecessor and is undernourished as a consequence.
One tragic supporting character, who should shatter our hearts to smithereens, is reduced to a simplistic two-dimensional plot device, and the heroine’s vacillations between three potential suitors seem more haphazard than usual in a noticeably rushed final act.
Moreover, one of these paramours has significantly more screen time, so her choice is inevitable.
Feelings are tightly buttoned beneath Janet Patterson’s splendid costumes and when one of the characters does eventually lose control and commits a “crime of passion”, we’re just as surprised by the outburst as the film’s clucky social set.
Anchored by Carey Mulligan’s nuanced performance, Far From The Madding Crowd is a visually arresting, but ultimately anaemic portrait of rural desires.
Schoenaerts wrestles in vain with a West Country accent, while Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge have limited screen time to match fond memories of Peter Finch and Terence Stamp in respective roles in the 1967 film.
While Vinterberg’s vision, filmed on location in pastoral Dorset, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, lacks emotional heft, it packs a mighty visual punch thanks to cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen.
Rolling landscapes look invitingly wild and untamed, bathed largely in natural light, and the nascent beauty of leading lady Mulligan shines through the artfully composed muck and grime.
Star Rating: 3/5
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 81%
An online prank spirals out of control in Unfriended, which takes the philosophical concept of a ’ghost in the machine’ to the outlandish next level.
Directed by Levan Gabriadze and written by Nelson Greaves, this sleek horror pits a group of high school students against an online predator, one year after their classmate died by suicide.
In a neat twist, the film unfolds on the laptop of one heroine.
Occasionally, director Gabriadze exploits this stylistic conceit for maximum impact, like when the heroine begins to disclose a secret about the dead girl, then deletes and repeatedly edits her response before clicking Send.
By exploiting technology from a first-person perspective, Unfriended keeps us at a safe distance from the blood-curdling terror, which lessens the impact of the obligatory jolts.
And even though protagonists are supposed to be savvy teens, they evidently haven’t watched enough horror films to instinctively know that you don’t investigate noises in the dark on your own.
Unfriended sustains dramatic momentum but does have a couple of unintentionally hilarious moments like when one character is directed to a web forum dramatically headlined: DO NOT ANSWER MESSAGES FROM THE DEAD.
Shelley Hennig and co deliver solid performances straight to camera, as if they are staring into webcams.
The intriguing set-up promises more than the film can ultimately deliver.
Although the ghoulish payoff is a let-down, director Gabriadze has undoubtedly stumbled upon an intriguing new way to unsettle audiences, who might take a break from social media for a while after the end credits roll.
Star Rating: 2½
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 60%
Two By Two: Oops … The Ark is Gone
The biblical story of Noah, neatly encapsulated in six chapters of the book of Genesis, provides a weak catalyst for this derivative computer-animated adventure, which strives to emulate the Ice Age films but falls woefully short of that franchise’s visual sophistication and belly laughs.
Co-directors Toby Genkel and Sean McCormack chart a pedestrian course through shallow dramatic waters, bringing together cuddly critters in a race against time to escape an apocalyptic downpour.
Vocal performances are lacklustre, like the visuals, and the absence of jeopardy in the closing frames is palpable.
Crucially, Two By Two defies its own flimsy set-up without obvious reason, such as inviting a family of three giraffes into the ark, while only allowing one member of other species to apparently board the gargantuan gopher wood vessel.
Noah is mentioned but never seen – instead a sanctimonious, self-serving lion captains the ship aided by a pair of grouchy gorillas.
Any wholesome messages about family unity, teamwork and tolerance buried in the ham-fisted script are submerged beneath a thick glaze of syrupy sentiment as the film reaches its underwhelming conclusion.
Fittingly, Two By Two: Ooops... The Ark Has Gone is a damp squib.
Elements of the vastly superior Finding Nemo are flung into the bland mix, offset by the feeble villainy of The Griffins, whose attempts to eat Finny and Leah are pathetic.
The closest the film comes to a joke is one passenger announcement aboard the ark: “Our approximate sailing time is 40 days and 40 nights. We are expecting some choppy seas and light drizzle.”
Thankfully Genkel and McCormack’s film only lasts 87 minutes, but that still feels like a slog.
Star Rating: 2/5
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A
In Selected Cinemas…
Get Up & Go
Two 20-something friends face tough decisions about their future over the course of one eventful day in writer-director Brendan Grant’s comedy drama, which was filmed on location in Dublin.
Singer-songwriter Alex (Peter Coonan of Love/Hate fame) is planning to leave the capital for London in the hope of jump-starting his career.
His girlfriend Sinead (Sarah McCall) tells him she is pregnant, but this news doesn’t distract him from hurriedly earning the money for his ferry ticket.
Meanwhile, Alex’s best friend Coilin (Killian Scott, another Love/Hate alumni) has yet to realise his dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian.
He is fired from his job and covers up his disappointment by pursuing Lola (Gemma-Lea Devereux), who hasn’t given him a second thought since their one-night stand.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A
Monsters: Dark Continent
This sequel to Monsters, directed by Tom Green, is set 10 years later and unfolds in an unnamed Middle Eastern country where a group of US soldiers contend with the hulking extra-terrestrial creatures as well as human insurgents.
Michael Parkes (Sam Keeley) and his Detroit buddies Frankie Maguire (Joe Dempsie) and Shaun Williams (Parker Sawyers) enjoy an alcohol-fuelled weekend together before they ship out under battle-hardened Sergeant Frater (Johnny Harris) and Sergeant Forrest (Nicholas Pinnock).
In the desert, part of an infected zone full of lumbering alien creatures, the raw recruits and the two sergeants mastermind the extraction of four stricken American soldiers.
The plan goes awry and Michael, Frankie and Shaun face threats big and small as they aim to survive their chaotic first tour of duty.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 22%
Omar Sy, the charismatic star of the 2012 French smash hit The Untouchables, reunites with directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano for this provocative drama, which addresses the thorny subject of immigration. Samba (Sy) was born in Senegal but he moved to France in search of a better life and now works as a dish washer in a hotel.
As a result of a bureaucratic error, Samba is wrongly detained and told he must leave France or suffer dire consequences.
Unwilling to pay the price for someone else’s error, Samba joins forces with a tenacious immigration officer called Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to fight for the right to stay in his new homeland.
RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 57%