Monday 21 May 2018


EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE Drama. Starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Max Von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman. Directed by Stephen Daldry. Cert 12A

The shockwaves following 9/11 haven't yet been dealt with by a serious film-maker. It'd be nice to imagine, say, Woody Allen bringing a New Yorker's perspective to how that momentous event impacted on the psyche of the inhabitants of the city. In the meantime, we have to suffer intolerable tosh like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and with a script by screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), this is a masterclass in box-ticking masquerading as a profound examination of grief and, naturally, has been shortlisted for the 'best picture' Oscar.

With Academy favourites Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader) on board, and a serious subject at its core, this could have been an interesting project, but has turned out a schlocky, cynical exercise which teeters into manipulative sentimentality.

At the core of the story is Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a nine-year-old boy with Asperger's syndrome who's trying to come to terms with the death of his jeweller father Thomas (Hanks) on 9/11. Thomas encouraged the boy by involving him in 'quests' and explorations around Manhattan and, in the wake of the tragedy, Oskar discovers a key in his father's effects and sets out to discover what it unlocks.

It's Metaphor City, here we come, from this point on, with Oskar enlisting the help of the mysterious tenant (Max von Sydow) who's renting a room from his grandmother and who just happens to be a mute Holocaust survivor.

In fairness to young Thomas Horn he acquits himself admirably for a first-time actor, but the character he's asked to play is, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely annoying. We know that Oskar has problems but his incessant jabbering grates and having him opposite Max von Sydow, one of cinema's great actors, not saying a word just exacerbates the problem.

Hanks and Sandra Bullock have relatively minor roles and are fine, even though they're probably the least Jewish-looking New York Jews ever depicted on screen, with Bullock coming off best as a widow trying to cope with a troubled young son and the loss of a husband.

The real problem with EL&IC is that it tries desperately to be deep and meaningful but resorts to quick-fix sentimentality at every opportunity, a surging orchestral score never being too far away just to ram the point home. HHIII

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE Fantasy/action. Starring Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciaran Hinds, Violente Placido, Fergus Riordan, Christopher Lambert. Directed by Mark Develdin and Brian Taylor. Cert 15A

Ooh, thank you Marvel for giving us a sequel nobody really asked for, letting Nicolas Cage roll his eyes and jabber like a lunatic -- and in 3D too! For those of you who mercifully missed Ghost Rider a couple of years back, it told the story of how stunt motorcycle rider Johnny Blaze (Cage) entered into a Faustian pact in order to save his father's life, the downside of the deal being that he'd regularly turn into a Beelzebub-like biker, complete with a flaming head, and wreak havoc on evil-doers.

It was, of course, a load of utter pants, but here we have the next instalment in which Blaze is called upon to rescue a young boy (Fergus Riordan) who may or may not be the son of Satan (Ciaran Hinds) in order to rescind his own infernal bargain. The action is ridiculous and relentless, the plot stupid beyond belief. Not even members of the Nicolas Cage Going Mental club could justify this rubbish. HIIII

THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH Drama. Starring Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Joanna Kulig, Samir Guesmi, Delphine Chuillot. Directed by Pawel Pawlikovski. Cert 15A

Clocking in at 83 minutes, Pawel Pawlikovski's adaptation of Douglas Kennedy's novel does, at least, have the benefit of brevity but, ultimately, it's a frustrating experience.

Ethan Hawke plays Tom, a lecturer and novelist (or is he?) who arrives in Paris to effect a reconciliation with his estranged wife (Delphine Chuillot) and see his young daughter, a plan derailed when his ex calls the police the moment she sets eyes on him. From there Tom is robbed, winds up in a fleapit hotel, works a most peculiar doorman/surveillance job and has an affair with an alluring woman (Kristen Scott-Thomas) he meets at a literary gathering.

All the elements are present and correct for a decent little thriller, but the director just can't seem to decide whether he's telling a story and teasing the audience or conducting an examination of psychological breakdown. HHIII

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