John C. Reilly
The Review: Video games have evolved from a curiosity in a small black box controlling two lines and a small blob to photorealistic depictions of carnage and wanton destruction, an evolution that’s happened in barely two generations. With that evolution, a host of memorable characters have come and gone, then come again in sequels, living on in homes across the world. Once upon a time, in that first generation, the majority of those games could only be played in arcades by handing over small change for 8-bit thrills, where now the arcades are almost as forgotten as the games that we played in them, at least in this country. But they do still exist, and imagine if you will an arcade where simple but classic gameplay is enough to keep you plugged in while other lesser games get taken off to that big arcade in the sky. Would the characters in those games be fulfilled with their lot after thirty years of cycling through the same repetitive actions, or would they long to break their programming – especially the bad guys?
Wreck-It Ralph takes the world of video games and applies a similar logic to that of Toy Story, even though Ralph has been in development in some form since the days when 8-bit was still the standard, rather than retro chic. It’s a world where good and bad are cast in stone in the world we see, but when we’re not looking those collections of pixels can travel down the power cables and visit each other’s worlds. Ralph (John C. Reilly) would be happy in his own game if he got a little more recognition for his work as a wrecker, rather than being forced to spend the night on the garbage heap of bricks while Fix-It Felix and the other game characters spend their nights in comfort and Felix gets all the adulation. Despite the Bad-Anon group of bad guys attempting to tell him he’s a Bad Guy, not a bad guy, Ralph can’t shake the feeling that he’s really capable of more, and sets off to the Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush games to try to find his purpose. In Sugar Rush he encounters outcast Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), but Ralph’s adventures might have dire consequences for both his game and the others.
Where Wreck-It Ralph struggles compared to the likes of Toy Story is in the simplicity of its conceit. On the surface it’s just “video games come to life” instead of toys, but this is a world with more boundaries and where more rules need to be created to engineer jeopardy for the characters. While the set-up is initially complicated, it’s eased by the front-loading of characters from real-life video games – you know what I mean – so that the majority of the running time is actually focused on those characters invented for the film itself. The two leads, Reilly and Silverman, are both great, continuing a long standing Disney (and Pixar) tradition of good voice casting, and they’re rounded out by a diverse supporting roster which features the likes of Jane Lynch – admittedly delivering the same sort of patter that will be familiar to fans of her Sue Sylvester from Glee, except with slightly less offensiveness – and Alan Tudyk as the king of the Sugar Rush world, seemingly channelling Uncle Albert from Mary Poppins. But a spoonful of oddness helps this medicine go down quite nicely, and the cameos never serve as too much of a distraction; if youngsters have for some reason never heard of Pac-Man or Q-Bert, they should still get the joke.
Where Wreck-It Ralph succeeds in spades is in almost every other aspect. Once you get over the slightly complex rules of the world in which we’re set, then the story works splendidly, with satisfying twists and turns in the narrative which still allow those of all ages to keep up. Ralph’s dilemmas, about his behaviour and his perception to others, are easily to relate to and there’s a good gender balance once Vanellope is thrown into the mix too. Toy Story proves another good reference point, for while I wasn’t brought to actual tears as the second and third Pixar efforts from that series managed, I was still quietly emotional by the action-packed climax and Ralph overall will satisfy both parents and children alike. There was at one point talk of a Sims-like world visit, but it was jettisoned for both narrative and logical reasons, and that care and attention to the through line and the characters will help you warm to Ralph, Felix and their friends greatly. There’s talk of using Mario for the sequel; let’s hope that it’s not game over for these characters for a while yet.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s a riot of colour and sound and the wideness of the cinema screen will allow you spot all of the minor cameos from lesser video game characters. Plenty of laughs for the whole family will also work better with a big audience.
Why see it in 3D: The 3D is just an add-on, and doesn’t really add a huge amount, but apart from the normal issues around brightness and glasses, doesn’t really detract much either. Take your pick.
What about the rating: Rated PG for mild violence. That’s a fair enough rating, given that it’s effectively excluding only the youngest of children.
My cinema experience: Saw this at the Cineworld in Bury St. Edmunds at an early evening screening on a Saturday; consequently it wasn’t full to bursting by any means. This enabled me to get a fairly central seat (ideal for 3D to minimise the ghosting effect), and a generally well behaved audience saw a screening with no noticeable projection issues, other than it being in 3D. The one point of note was that, after a week of being told my old Unlimited card would no longer work in their machines, I got both a ticket and my evening meal of choice (large hot dog combo and a small Ben & Jerry’s – dinner of champions) by swiping the card with no problems at all.
The Corridor Of Uncertainty: A tidy twenty minutes of ads and trailers. Just right to keep kids of all ages happy.
The Score: 8/10
The Review: As Marge Simpson once said, “Kids can be so cruel.” Of course Bart, and so many others in his stead, took this as an invitation and immediately took it out on his sister. But sibling rivalry is not uncommon; nor for that matter is a child forming a much closer bond with one parent, or a mother having difficulty coping with a new arrival. But they’re not such common topics for film, and this far into the 21st century it’s still something of a rarity to see a story told from the mother’s perspective. We Need To Talk About Kevin is the adaptation of the award-winning novel from Lionel Schriver which tells the story of a mother’s testing relationship with her son, and her attempts to become a part of his life, but the story is also wrapped up within the consequences of Kevin’s misdeeds.
It’s also a story that was considered by many to be unfilmable, written as it is as a series of letters from Eva to her estranged husband Franklin, and in the novel Eva could be considered to be somewhat of an unreliable narrator. The film adaptation is focused very much on Eva herself; consequently the film has to take a different tack in telling the story, and uses a chopped-up narrative that runs into as many as four different timeframes, but it’s testament to both the directing and scriptwriting skills of Lynne Ramsay (and writing partner and husband Rory Kinnear) that it’s clear at all times where we are. The flashing back and forwards also enables the story to suggest that Kevin’s misbehaviour has reached serious levels, without initially being specific as to what’s happened. Odd clues and hints are dropped in, but the structuring works perfectly to set up a creeping sense of dread which grabs tighter as the movie progresses until it’s exerting a vice-like grip by the end.
The success of the film is also down to two, possibly three, of the cast; we’ll gloss over John C. Reilly, as while he feels a little miscast and tonally in conflict with the rest of the film, but his is purely a supporting role. The main credit goes to both Tilda Swinton, who makes the portrayal of the frustrated mother look as effortless as most of the other roles she’s portrayed and despite the fact that she spends most of the film in some state of repression or frustration, she still comes across as sympathetic and relatable. The other key performance is that of Kevin, and both Ezra Miller as Kevin the teenager and Jasper Newell as the younger version are believably contemptible and deliciously two-faced. It would be easy for the performances to be one-note, but both Swinton and the Kevins get the chance to add shades and variance to their roles in a couple of telling scenes at key points in the narrative.
It may be that you know what Kevin’s done by the time you enter the cinema, as not all reviews have kept the secret, but if you don’t yet know I would advise you to keep it that way, as the less you know going in, the more effective Kevin will be on first viewing. It does feel initially as if Ramsay has gone a little over the top on the symbolism; from a trip to a tomato-drenched foreign festival to a paint attack on her house, there’s a lot of red going on. But as the narrative progresses, the symbolism is scaled back a little and Kevin works as both a thorough dissection of the pains of raising a family and a tense, gripping domestic thriller which will stick in your mind for days after. Thanks to an abortive attempt to bring The Lovely Bones to the screen, it’s been a long time since we saw Lynne Ramsay bring something to the big screen, but on this evidence here’s hoping we see more of her work soon; just maybe with a little less red next time.
Why see it at the cinema: Lynne Ramsay manages to do a lot with an economy of images, and it’s a film that will linger with you well after you’ve left the cinema and are at home asleep in your bed.
The Score: 9/10
The Review: If you’re looking for an actor who’s tried his hand at nearly every kind of movie to help make your move into the mainstream, then you probably shouldn’t look any further than John C. Reilly. From the Paul Thomas Anderson dramas of the Nineties, through a supporting turn in Chicago to Adam McKay comedies, Reilly’s choices are nothing if not eclectic and he has proven himself adept at turning his hand to both comedy and drama. So who better to lead your cast if you’re attempting to break into the mainstream after making your name in small, mumbling indie movies? John C. Reilly is almost the perfect everyman, but also manages to perfectly embody the foibles and neuroses that make him a believable loner.
This is the story of the two women in John’s life – Jamie (Catherine Keener), his put upon ex-wife, although the put-uponning is almost entirely from John, and Molly (Marisa Tomei), the woman he meets at a party and quickly forms a bond with, who seems oblivious to his eccentricities or actually charmed by them. Consequently, John is keen to hang on to Molly, although she seems secretive and distant – that becomes a little clearer when John invites himself round to her place and is confronted with Cyrus, Molly’s grown up son, whose oddities seem to make John’s pale into insignificance.
Cyrus himself is portrayed by Jonah Hill, who in contrast to Reilly seems to have made a career out of playing very subtle variations on Jonah Hill. Here, for possibly the first time, he gets to stretch himself a little, his wide-eyed stare and placid demeanour coming off initially as simply shy but revealing itself as more over the course of the movie. If you’ve seen the poster, then it’s not a leap to expect John and Cyrus to become adversaries for Molly’s affection, and that’s exactly what happens in this off-kilter romantic comedy, but it’s the performances of Reilly and Hill that make this worth watching.
Having said that, all of the cast are excellent, it’s just that the two male leads feel at the top of their game. There’s a lot of laughs here, and while the humour is driven by the awkward situations of the characters there’s still plenty of laughs to be had. There are a couple of issues though; first off, mumblecore stalwarts Mark and Jay Duplass both write and direct, and are better at the former than the latter, their insistence on the zoom employed every time a character has any kind of reaction being in keeping with similar realist material, but rather too overused here. The other is that, for a movie that feels like it’s attempting to be unconventional in its set-up, it’s all rather neat and tidy and actually desperately conventional as it moves into the final scenes. A fair amount to enjoy, but sadly Cyrus isn’t quite destined for greatness.
Why see it at the cinema: Plenty of good laughs for audience appreciation, although the direction is more intimate than epic in scope.
The Score: 7/10