Film reviews: Life of Pi

Cast adrift on the Pacific Ocean after surviving a shipwreck, Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) realises he has leapt into the proverbial frying pan when he discovers a starving Bengal tiger sharing his lifeboat.

Adapted by David Magee from Yann Martel’s bestselling novel, and directed by Ang Lee, Life of Pi (PG) is a film that works on a number of levels. First and foremost a classic Robinson Crusoe-style tale of survival, it’s a hugely entertaining story of how the tirelessly resourceful Pi comes to make the most of his precarious existence. It’s also a profound meditation on the human condition, as the pious Pi — a veteran of at least three major religions by the time he enters the lifeboat — vacillates between faith and logic as he strives, a plaything of the gods and weather fronts alike, to forge his own destiny. The movie is a sumptuous visual feast, with some moments quite literally of the jaw-dropping variety. Irrfan Khan isn’t quite as isolated in this movie as Spencer Tracy was in The Old Man and The Sea (1958), but for long periods he carries the film alone, combining an angst-ridden desperation with some superb physical comedy in a performance that is surely worthy of an Oscar nomination. Indeed, you can expect to find Ang Lee and the film itself also nominated for Oscars early next year; Life of Pi is a truly marvellous film, and certainly one of the stand-out cinematic events of 2012.

If you’re a fan of the TV series Glee, but believe it lacks the kind of vocal purity only the acapella singing style provides, then Pitch Perfect (12A) is the one for you. Beca (Anna Kendrick) arrives at Barden University with plans to abscond as soon as possible to LA to become a music producer, but quickly finds herself sucked into a battle between rival acapella groups, the all-girl Bellas and their boorish male counterparts. Matters are complicated, you won’t be surprised to learn, by the fact that Beca is attracted to Jesse (Skylar Astin), who sings with the opposition, but for all its predictability as a romantic comedy, Pitch Perfect offers a zesty take on the Bring It On / Mean Girls template. Chock-a-block with zingy one-liners — “I’m the best singer in Tasmania, with teeth,” announces ‘Fat Amy’ (Rebel Wilson); “Could you please get your head out of your ass? It’s not a hat,” orders Chloe (Brittany Snow) — the movie is fully aware of its inherent cheesiness, and receives an hilariously abrasive running commentary from acapella expert Gail (Elizabeth Banks, who also serves as the film’s co-producer). Jason Moore’s functional, unfussy direction keeps it all moving along at a decent clip, the ‘Gleeks’ get the gentle spoofing they fully deserve, and there’s plenty of sing-along numbers to keep the Glee fans happy too. Good fun.

Smashed (16s) is the perfect antidote, should one be required, to the ersatz, booze-fuelled bonhomie of the festive season. Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a First Grade teacher who likes nothing more than to party into the small hours with her beer-swigging journo hubby Charlie (Aaron Paul). Passing off an in-class hangover vomiting embarrassment as morning sickness, Winstead is forced to go along with the pregnancy lie when her childless principal (Megan Mullally) delights in the baby news. However, when Winstead wakes up on a dirty mattress on the wrong side of town after smoking crack, she reckons the jig is up and joins AA, something Charlie perceives as a form of betrayal. The disintegration of the marriage is by far and away the most interesting aspect of Smashed, which at times can be as unsubtle as its title. Writer-director James Ponsoldt and co-writer Susan Burke are well aware of the shadow cast across their movie by previous tales of onscreen alcoholism, such as The Lost Weekend, Days Of Wine And Roses and Leaving Las Vegas, to the extent that they deliberately avoid courting the audience’s sympathy for the heroine’s plight. Instead her plight is given a harsh depiction: the hand-held camera gives the couple’s frequent and sustained arguments a depressingly realistic feel, while impressive performances by Paul and Winstead, who is by turns manic and lucid and bleary and sloppy, create a persuasively dysfunctional couple.


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