A Little Chaos (2014)

I could glibly try and claim this is the best drama about gardening released this year, but that wouldn’t really be much help would it? Certainly the subject matter is niche — aside from The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982), I can’t think of any films primarily dealing with the creation of a garden (in this case, the Bosquet des Rocailles, or Salle de Bal, at the Palace of Versailles). Of course, it’s really about plenty of other things, like the tentative love affair between Kate Winslet’s Sabine du Barra and Matthias Schoenaert’s André Le Nôtre (the chief designer of the gardens at Versailles, a real historical figure), or the fluid movement of relationships and the shadings of class within the French court of the 17th century. I’m not sure how much of this detail is true to the period — Sabine is a fictional character, and Winslet seems all too English, though the garden Sabine is working on is real — but it allows for some lovely little vignettes, as when Sabine interacts with the King (Alan Rickman) incognito as if he were a fellow gardener. There’s a smaller role for Stanley Tucci as a prominent nobleman within the French court, another excellent reminder of his talent for stealing scenes, while Helen McCrory rounds out the ensemble as Le Nôtre’s jealous and unfaithful wife. As director, Rickman certainly manages to round up a good cast (as you’d expect), so even if the film sometimes seems slight, it’s never anything less than enjoyable to watch.


© Lionsgate

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director Alan Rickman | Writer Allison Deegan | Cinematographer Ellen Kuras | Starring Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Helen McCrory | Length 117 minutes || Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Wednesday 29 April 2015

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Francis Lawrence | Writers Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (based on the novel Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins) | Cinematographer Jo Willems | Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci | Length 146 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Sunday 24 November 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good


© Lionsgate

Blockbuster franchises by their nature always seem to be perfect for teenage viewers, more than ever in recent years. I suppose that Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations skew a little older, just as that seemingly unending Harry Potter series went for the younger ones. But even amongst the crowded marketplace, The Hunger Games has set itself rather above the competition to my mind. That said, I haven’t read the books, and I don’t think the films are perfect by any means, but they flesh out a credibly multilayered world with a more dystopian bent than you might expect given the target audience, and occasional flashes of cutting satire. Most of all, the series has for its lead actor Jennifer Lawrence, who’s been carving out quite a niche in playing resourceful young women since her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone (2010). This second film in what’s shaping up to be a tetralogy is another notch in her acting belt and a proficient change of pace for the franchise.

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Easy A (2010)


FILM REVIEW || Director Will Gluck | Writer Bert V. Royal | Cinematographer Michael Grady | Starring Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kudrow | Length 92 minutes | Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), Saturday 27 July 2013 || My Rating 3.5 stars very good


© Screen Gems

Easy A is a late entry into that cycle of ‘classic texts given a high school teen film twist’ — the genre largely inaugurated by Clueless 15 years earlier and continued most effectively by 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) — but a surprisingly deft one.

I would, however, put its success largely down to Emma Stone who is wonderfully engaging and funny in the role of Olive, whose character must endure the gossip and slurs of others at school for her easily but inaccurately-acquired reputation for being ‘easy’. In this respect, the lineage it most evokes is Mean Girls (2004), though it lacks that film’s, well, mean streak. That’s not to say that Easy A entirely avoids any slightly lazy stereotyping. For example, having your lead villain (Amanda Bynes) be a bitchy and hypocritical Christian conservative student is hardly a stretch, though it makes her nastiness easy to ignore. It’s also interesting in that I read recently that young Americans who practise religion are often more liberal than their parents’ generation, with so many of those touchstone issues having little traction amongst the young. This all goes to making this film’s ‘social problem’ seem that much more anachronistic: it’s surely not believable that in 2010, a young woman would be the object of so much speculation for this kind of transgression (sleeping around). If it’s a ploy to tap into and comment on current forms of social networking, then the film is doubly out of step, preferring to focus on (strangely high-definition) webcam confessionals.

And yet despite feeling like a throwback to another era, I still find the film by and large charming. After all, this is a constructed movie world, where everyone looks glamorous and your teachers are played by Lisa Kudrow (who seems to be minoring in this kind of film, after her appearance in the woeful Bandslam, and whose guidance counsellor character is sadly no Ms. Perky) and Thomas Haden Church (delightful). Better even than the teachers are Olive’s parents; Olive earlier berates her best friend’s folks for being ‘hippie’, but Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson’s characters are the proper hippies — free-spirited and supportive — and steal the film whenever they’re on screen. The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, especially the male leads, but that’s fine: this is a film primarily about women relating to one another and the boys at school — in the film as in the film’s plot — are expendable.

If it’s a minor film in the scheme of things, it’s at least a sweet one. It won’t corrupt anyone (whatever its classification, though a 15 rating seems strangely high), nor will it provoke one to worry about the youth of today. I’m really more worried about the screenwriters.

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Bryan Singer | Writers Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney | Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel | Starring Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci | Length 114 minutes | Seen at Peckham Multiplex, London, Monday 1 April 2013 (in 2D) || My Rating 2.5 stars likeable


© Warner Bros. Pictures

I don’t think we really need another story about a boy from a poor background overcoming obstacles to become a man by asserting his masculine dominance and attempting to win the love of a high-born woman. If the film had reversed the roles it might have been a bit more interesting, as I rather tire of feisty attractively-coiffed and dressed young women being rescued by weedy male heroes. But then being based on a fairy tale is hardly likely to lead to a work of subtle artistry. So if the script is a bit on the weak side, trading in generic tropes and absurd caricatures, the film still has plenty to commend it in the performances. It is also winningly — and at times breaktakingly — silly, which is a virtue in this kind of enterprise. Clearly, what this film wants most to be compared to is The Princess Bride (1987), and in that it at least, it partially succeeds.

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