Review: The Road

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The Pitch: Apolcalypse just before Now. What are we going to do today?

The Review: Viggo Mortensen is making a career out of less than cheerful characters. Ever since he escaped from Middle Earth, he’s been wrapped up in stern moods and miserable looks, often in the company of David Cronenberg. Now he teams up with the director of The Proposition to bring to life, if that’s the right word, Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

By turns almost religiously faithful and carefully respectful to the source material, this somehow loses some of the power of the original prose. No sense is ever given of the exact nature of the apocalyptic event, but neither is strong reasoning given for the journey undertaken, which makes the whole enterprise feel unfocused.

Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the road movie feel is broken up by the constant flashbacks. Gradually the story is pieced together, but this doesn’t have the direction it needs, and cannot get by on mood alone, when the mood is bleak but actually would benefit occasionally from being bleaker.

Continuing the trend of movies with sprinklings of famous cameos, especially Guy Pearce and Robert Duvall in ‘is-that-really-them?’ layers of muck and make-up, this has many effective moments, that sadly do not all add up to being the sum of their parts.

Why see it at the cinema: The post-apocalyptic scenery, especially the occasional panoramic view, is stunning and deserves to be seen on the best screen possible.

The Score: 6/10

Review: A Prophet (Un prophète)

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The Pitch: A French Goodfellas, with less glamour and more ghosts.

The Review: The European answer to all those American crime and prison movies that Gomorrah tried so manfully to be, but didn’t quite manage. A mesmerising central performance by Tahar Rahim as he slowly takes control of his life and works out his place in the criminal hierarchy, then sets out to control it.

Coupled with this are elements of the fantastic which give a further fresh twist to the material, including one of his victims who can’t leave him alone and the strange prophecy alluded to by the title which comes in incredibly handy at a later stage.

The movie starts off largely confined by the prison walls, but gets to stretch its legs as the plot develops, using the divide between outside and inside for tension and to help drive events forward. While the most striking confrontations take place inside the walls, it’s the set-pieces outside that give the movie its energy and edge.

Tense and well paced, tautly plotted and different enough to stand on its own terms, this comes highly recommended for all fans of the genre.

Why see it at the cinema: To truly feel the claustrophobia of the prison cells, and the isolation of the prison yard, needs the biggest screen possible.

The Score: 9/10

Review: Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo)

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The Pitch: Deranged child-friendly Japanese animation, available with or without subtitles.

The Review: The kind of movie that makes you wish you were taking drugs, as you may possibly get the most from the surreal, sometimes psychedelic imagery. Attempting to explain the plot is almost a lost cause, and actually this is a little lighter on plot than some other Miyazaki efforts, which makes it feel more slight.

Nonetheless, only the hardest of hearts could fail to be enchanted by a girlfish with a craving for ham, running on the top of a wave. Would recommend you avoid doing what I did, which was seeing the film in it’s subtitled Japanese version, along with four dozen children who had to have the subtitles explained to them as they can’t read quick enough.

There is a simple pleasure to the graphical style, and the story has that fairytale feel, while still retaining a more modern quirkiness. It’s just that there’s not a huge amount to make this live long in the memory. Still, the imagery and the music is never less than pleasantly entertaining, especially the tune over the end credits, which I was still humming 12 hours later.

I saw the subtitled version; as with many other Miyazaki movies, there is a version in the English language where the dub has been overseen by John ‘Pixar’ Lasseter. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Why see it at the cinema: Watching lots of happy children and their bewildered parents staggering from the screening afterwards is always entertaining. Also, the collective experience of joy the film brings is much better in a larger group.

The Score: 7/10