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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Movie reviews: Tomorrowland, Poltergeist and The New Girlfriend

Casey (Britt Robertson in Tommorrowland
Casey (Britt Robertson in Tommorrowland
Casey (Britt Robertson) and Frank (George Clooney) in Tomorrowland
Poltergeist
The New Girlfriend

Tomorrowland is a collection of sequences rather than a great film, while Poltergeist and The New Girlfriend shine

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond

Adventure/action/family. Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Robinson. Director: Brad Bird. Cert: 12A

Disney's first big blockbuster of the year has officially arrived with a bang.

It was always a wonder to me why, after choosing a palette of perfectly picked films, Gorgeous George was moving into the realm of the family movie. And now I know why. Tomorrowland: A World Beyond is a film that's every bit as delightful and enthralling for kid and adult alike.

At the writing desk this time is Damon Lindelof (best known for Prometheus and the TV show Lost). Paired up with director Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), this film showcases their respective strengths perfectly.

We meet Frank Walker (George Clooney), a bitter inventor who has squirreled himself away in a remote farm. "When I was a kid, the future was… different," he says with a misty eye, as we catapult back to the 1964 World's Fair, when young Frank was bursting with ideas and wide-eyed hope.

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Attempting in vain to sell his jetpack to shady scientist David Nix (Hugh Laurie), young Frank befriends a young girl called Athena, who gifts him with a pin that helps transport him to Tomorrowland. For Frank in 1964 (and for us in 2015), this is a vision of the future that is beyond dazzling.

I have such a hankering for these dystopian films, mainly because the future always looks so overblown and fun, and in this respect, Brad Bird does not disappoint. In one incredible scene, there is a swimming pool in the future that I could happily watch on a loop for hours.

Back in present day Cape Canaveral, Casey (Britt Robinson) is a restless high schooler who just 'knows how things work'.

While picking up her affects after a misdemeanour arrest, she realises that a pin has been mixed in with her belongings. Touching it, she is immediately transported to the cornfields outside the city of Tomorrowland. And so begins her odyssey.

Meeting Athena, Casey is informed that, owing in part to her brilliant mind, she is now tasked with a rather sizeable mission. Telling it here would only spoil the fun.

Nearing the end, Tomorrowland: A World Beyond runs clean out of steam (no mean feat for a film running at full locomotive pelt) when Hugh Laurie's power-hungry Nix delivers an unending message-laden monologue.

In all, Tomorrowland is not so much a brilliant film as a film made up of some brilliant variables. Clooney and Laurie, if you can imagine such a thing, play second fiddle to the youngsters: Thomas Robinson, in the role of young Frank, is adorable, while Raffey Cassidy is ethereal and kick-ass when the situation calls for it.

As the film's centre of gravity, Britt Robinson does a fine job taking the audience on Casey's epic journey. Aside from that, it's all the fun of the fair, with scrapes, spills, and, as would befit Disney, up-to-the-minute special effects. Then again, if Disney couldn't pull that off, who could?

Rating: ***

Poltergeist

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Horror/thriller. Starring Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Susan Heyward. Director: Gil Kenan. Cert: 15A

The original Poltergeist movie, released in 1982 and co-written by Steven Spielberg, was a true-blue horror classic. But it was the mythology behind the camera that made it a truly malevolent, unassailable force. According to 'curse of Poltergeist' lore, four cast members (including lead Heather O'Rourke) died within six years of the film's release.

Suffice to say that in the horror canon, Poltergeist casts a long and terribly eerie shadow. It was the idea of famed producer Sam Raimi to conjure up a retread of the classic, and given the bounty of effects wizardry and other Hollywood hocus pocus, the timing certainly seemed right.

Fast-forward to the present day, where Eric and Amy Bowe (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) move their three children into a new house after Eric loses his job. Though the kids hate their new, downsized home, it's large and labyrinthine enough to have plenty of creepy corridors, dark corners and unused attics (where were they living before? The White House?).

From the outset, we understand that this is no common or garden neighbourhood. Power lines crackle with menace behind the house, while flowers wilt in the front garden. True to the original, a massive willow tree takes pride of place on the lawn.

Little do the Bowens know just what a dud their real estate agent has palmed off on them: the house is built on an old graveyard (the headstones got moved down the road, yet the bodies did not), while there are squirrels and clown dolls galore in the attic.

Eric and Amy ignore all of this to their peril, and live to regret it when their daughter Madison (Kennedi Clements) gets snatched by some restless souls in the wardrobe, and can only communicate from her new purgatory through the widescreen TV in the living room. Her actual whereabouts remain a mystery.

The family call upon the local paranormal expert Claire (Jane Adams) and Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), an Irish ghost-chaser with his own reality TV show, to bring her back to this realm. Easier than it sounds.

So far, so faithful to the original… but is it any good?

The short answer is, yup. Just as the genre demands, there are plenty of jumpy moments (mainly involving those pesky clown dolls), and one seriously nerve-jangling scene where Claire's assistant (Nicholas Braun) almost comes a cropper with an electric drill.

There are some impressive effects deployed as Madison gets wrenched from purgatory… but overall, the gore factor is pretty low.

In a slight departure from the original, the back story of the Bowens is played out extensively; Amy is a writer down on her luck, while Eric is a proud man pushed to his limits with a fruitless job search. This sketching out of the family makes it easier to care whether Madison makes it back to the other side of the TV screen.

Heather O'Rourke, with her iconic angelic face and haunted eyes, was always going to be a tough act to follow. Casting directors must have surely high-fived each other when Clements walked into the audition room. Whether by accident or design, the child actor his every bit as compellingly cherubic as her predecessor.

Middle child Griffin (Kyle Catlett) is another supremely watchable force. He is permanently hobbled by anxiety, lost in the shuffle of a family in transition.

In the end, the film is pretty much seen through his eyes, and - spoiler alert - he becomes the family's unlikely hero. Harris knocks together a decent Irish accent (well, his dad was Limerick man Richard), and has been handed the best line of the film.

It's hard to say whether Kenan's remake trumps the original, but he's a brave man for at least trying.

Poltergeist's scenes in 1982 were seriously unsettling, but today's horror audiences are usually chomping at the bit for more blood and bone.

Ultimately, this is a story faithfully retold, and with no small amount of 21st-century flair. Watch it in 3D, as I did, and be prepared to clutch your pearls. A lot.

Rating ****

The New Girlfriend

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The New Girlfriend

Drama. Starring Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, Raphael Personnaz, Isild Le Besco, Aurore Clement, Bruno Perard. Director: Francois Ozon. Cert: 15

The New Girlfriend doesn't boast the Hollywood razzle-dazzle of this week's other offerings, but you'd be hard pressed to find a more compelling screen presence than Romain Duris.

Here, he plays the role of a lifetime as David, a widower whose wife Laura (Isild Le Besco) dies soon after giving birth.

Her best friend Claire (the bewitching Anais Demoustier) reaches out to David and discovers that there's more to him than meets the eye. And only saying what that is, right here, will spoil the charm of the film.

What unfolds next is a complex and fragile plot, treated with the right amount of delicacy. Director Ozon, ever a capable pair of hands, nonetheless presents a film chock-full of charm, power and style.

A slow build with a payoff that's more than worth it in the end.

Rating: ****

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