Tuesday 23 January 2018

Taking on the classics

MOVIE REVIEWS: comic reworking of the scarlet letter gets marks for effort

Basing teen comedies around works of literature which are a couple of centuries old isn't anything new, the most sucessful example is probably the reworking of Jane Austen's Emma as Clueless, and here the core idea centres on Nathaniel Hawthorne's tale of adultery and ostracism in 17th century New England, The Scarlet Letter.

The story revolves around Olive Penderghast (a star turn from Emma Stone), a smart and cool student at a California high school who lies to her best friend (Aly Michalka) about how she slept with an older man, only to be overheard by the school's vengeful religious nut Marianne (Amanda Bynes) after which news of her "indiscretion" spreads like wildfire.

From the off we have a credibility problem in that we're expected to believe that a 17-year-old girl supposedly losing her virginity would cause a scandal in a high school in 21st century California, of all bloody places. What follows becomes even more ludicrous as one of Olive's gay friends encourages her to pretend that she's had sex with him in order to deflect the attention of bullying jocks, and events spiral out of control from there.

Despite plenty of clever lines, the movie simply doesn't ring true and The Scarlet Letter comparisons are bludgeoned home by Olive's class studying the book.

For all its faults Easy A has several redeeming features, mostly on the acting side. Following strong supporting stints in Superbad and Zombieland, Stone proves she can carry a movie, exuding an easy grace and a fine comic touch.

She's in good company, too, with several delightful scenes involving sprightly verbal sparring with her laidback parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, both excellent as usual) while Thomas Hayden Church and Lisa Kudrow weigh in with solid performances as married teachers whose lives become entangled in the web following Olive's initial lie. HHHII

The younger market is obviously the target for Ramona and Beezus (Cert Gen), a by-the-numbers slice of wholesome entertainment aimed at pre-teen girls. Based on the popular books by Elizabeth Cleary, the film charts the misadventures of the wildly imaginative but accident-prone Ramona (Joey King), who's continually getting under the feet of her older sister Beezus as the pair have to deal with a family crisis. HHIII

The 3D racket continues apace with the awkardly titled Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga'Hoole (Cert PG) in which 300 director Zac Snyder fails to make the most of a fine voice cast (including Helen Mirren and Geoffrey Rush) in a rather confusing piece of tosh which evokes elements of Lord of the Rings and a bunch of essentially Nazi owls called 'the Pure Ones'. HHIII

A far darker and much more interesting animation is Mary and Max (Cert PG), a claymation feature from Oscar-winning Australian director Adam Elliott. It tells the story of Mary Dinkle, an unhappy Australian eight-year-old who picks a name from the New York telephone directory and writes off seeking a penpal. Her letter reaches Max Jerry Horowitz, an obese, neurotic, middle-aged man and the film traces their correspondence through the years. Elliot broaches subjects such as depression, alcoholism, mental illness and suicide in a film which is as charming as it is unusual. HHHHI

French director Olivier Assayas's gruelling Carlos (Cert 15A) clocks in at a buttock-numbing 165 minutes. In relaying the story of '70s international terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, aka 'Carlos the Jackal', Assayas brings us scene after scene of this thug spouting revolutionary Marxist rhetoric and carrying out murderous activities. HHIII

The bizarre sight of Helen Mirren with a machine gun is one of the few redeeming features of RED (Cert 12A), a messy actioner which feels like a lame attempt to claim a slice of the market already exploited this year by The Losers, The A-Team and The Expendables.

Bruce Willis plays a former CIA operative who discovers that, although he's retired, an undercover job from years ago means he and a handful of former colleagues now find themselves on a hit list.

Willis's co-stars John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Mirren clearly enjoyed themselves on set, but RED shows its comic-book origins too clearly. HHIII

The people responsible for Paranormal Activity 2 held a very late screening before its opening today, so you can draw your own conclusions about the sequel to one of the most successful horror movies of recent times.

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