Friday’s Film Reviews

This week’s new movie released include raucous British comedy What We Did On Our Holiday, Denzel Washington in The Equalizer and David Cronenberg’s gritty insider drama Maps To The Stars.

Friday’s Film Reviews

What We Did On Our Holiday

In 2007, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin abandoned the conventions of a tightly scripted sitcom and took a more fluid approach to mining laughs in the breakout hit Outnumbered.

While the adult characters’ lines were committed to the page, the young actors were allowed to improvise around suggestions from Hamilton and Jenkin, and consequently delivered natural performances, reacting instinctively to set-ups and punchlines.

The writer-directors adopt the same winning recipe for this uproarious feature film debut, an ill-fated family road trip laced with absurdity that touches the heart and tickles the funny bone.

Once again, it’s the younger cast who scene-steal with aplomb, explaining why a bout of car sickness is a source of joy (“It’s like being a fountain!”) and succinctly distilling the anguish and betrayal of parental infidelity into a single throwaway line: “Dad had an affair with a Paralympic athlete with one foot.”

That’s not to say that Hamilton and Jenkin short-change the rest of the ensemble cast including David Tennant, Rosamund Pike and Glaswegian firebrand Billy Connolly.

They snaffle a generous smattering of belly laughs too, like when Connolly’s cantankerous grandfather tries to explain Hitler’s seizure of land in terms a bairn might understand: “Like Monopoly, but with more screaming.”

What We Did On Our Holiday is a rip-roaring riot, laying bare the petty jealousies and deep-rooted fears within a family while dealing with serious issues through the unblinkered eyes of the three children.

Tennant and Miller spark a fiery sibling rivalry with excellent support from Rosamund Pike and Amelia Bullmore, the latter proving that it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

Hamilton and Jenkin eschew cloying sentimentality in the film’s tricky final third, striking a pleasing and ultimately winning balance between musing and amusing.

Star Rating: 4/5

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A

The Equalizer

Director Antoine Fuqua, who guided Denzel Washington to the Oscar podium in Training Day, reunites with the charismatic actor for this gratuitously violent reimagining of the beloved 1980s TV series.

Nostalgic memories of Edward Woodward’s refined approach to justice and crime-fighting on the small screen are blown to smithereens by this brutish, big-screen rendering of The Equalizer.

In a dizzying opening fight sequence, Washington impales a corkscrew in one henchman’s noggin and repeatedly pummels a couple more as if he was tenderising a large slab of steak.

Each bone-cracking blow, stab and punch is captured in balletic close-up; a queasy dance of death that reaches a hilarious and frenetic crescendo with drills and sledgehammers in a hardware warehouse where the title character works when he’s not coolly doling out just desserts.

Screenwriter Richard Wenk, who co-wrote The Expendables 2 with Sylvester Stallone, comes perilously close to the tongue-in-cheek tone of that film when Washington is asked by a work colleague how he hurt his bandaged hand and he drolly responds, “I hit it on something stupid”.

We presume he means the script, considering the implausibilities of the final act, steeped in mindless and repetitive bloodletting.

The Equalizer starts off promisingly, exploring the minutiae of McCall’s daily life as a man scarred by grief and tormented by his past.

Washington is in his element in these early scenes, capturing the maelstrom of emotions that simmer beneath his character’s placid surface.

Once the first drop of blood is spilt, director Fuqua seizes every opportunity for wanton carnage, to the point that it seems like nothing short of a nuclear explosion will stop our hero in his tracks.

Marton Csokas’ vindictive antagonist has little depth beyond his propensity for cruelty and pain, which is something we experience as the running time drags unnecessarily into a third hour.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 63%

Maps To The Stars

Rose-tinted dreams of Hiollywood turn sour in David Cronenberg’s relentlessly grim satire of ambition, greed and dark familial secrets.

Scriptwriter Bruce Wagner, who crafted this lacerating portrait while he was working as a limousine driver in Tinseltown, is unflinching in his depiction of how far some starlets will go to extend their 15 minutes of fame... even if it means thrusting a stiletto heel into the head of a rival to clamber up the pecking order.

Precocious child stars bound for rehab and New Age healers are in Wagner’s sights as he laments the death of raw talent and berates the rise of the perfectly packaged commodity.

And they don’t come more lucrative than 13-year-old Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), the pre-pubescent prince of the box office whose upwards trajectory is carefully managed by his mother Christina (Olivia Williams).

Maps To The Stars is anchored by Julianne Moore’s fearless and emotionally raw performance as a screen siren, who is haunted – literally – by the ghost of her more successful mother.

Mia Wasikowska is similarly impressive as a daughter undone by the sins of her father and Pattinson continues to shove a stake through the heart of his image as a swooning teen dreamboat in the Twilight saga.

Screenwriter Wagner doesn’t always achieve smooth transitions between black comedy, drama and tragedy, and he tips the wink too early to the skeletons rattling in the Weiss family closet.

However, he does puncture over-inflated egos of the rich and supposedly fabulous with the skill of someone who has been there and almost done that.

Star Rating:

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 50%

In selected cinemas…

I, Origins

Mike Cahill, writer-director of Another Earth, reunites with actor Brit Marling on this beguiling science fiction drama about a small team of scientists, who make a jaw-dropping discovery about human existence.

Science graduate Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) has always been fascinated with eyes and often takes pictures of people’s irises, which are the subject of his research.

Ian meets Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and falls head over heels in love. They plan to marry but the big day is interrupted by a call from to inform Ian that they have made a major breakthrough.

This tug-of-war between personal and professional responsibilities puts a strain on Ian’s relationship with Sofi, which reaches a crescendo when Ian temporarily loses his eyesight following an accident in the laboratory.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 49%

Ida

Polish-born British director Pawel Pawlikowski, who won a BAFTA for My Summer Of Love, films in his homeland for the first time in this emotional 1960s-set drama.

Eighteen-year-old orphan Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) has been raised in a convent under the watchful gaze of the Mother Superior (Halina Skoczynska), who insists that the young woman reconnect with her past by visiting her sole living relative.

So Anna abandons the safety of the convent and travels to meet her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a cynical Communist Party insider, who discloses that Anna’s real name is Ida and her Jewish parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation.

This revelation devastates Anna and she embarks on a heart-wrenching journey back to her family’s house in the countryside to unlock the secrets of her tragic past.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: 95%

Billy Elliott – The Musical (Live)

A live screening from London’s West End of the Olivier Award-winning stage adaptation of the acclaimed British film about a spirited 11-year-old boy from County Durham, who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer against the turbulent backdrop of the 1980s miners’ strike, with script and lyrics by Lee Hall and music by Elton John.

Directed by Stephen Daldry.

RottenTomatoes.com Rating: N/A

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