Paranormal Activity 2 – 4*

Remember that feeling of not knowing what you were in for with the first film, and the subsequent dread that stopped you getting a good night’s sleep after watching? Don’t believe anybody who said they weren’t affected by Paranormal Activity; they’re telling porkies. The second film works on the same premise as the first; that CCTV doesn’t lie, only we now know what the deal is, so it’s more a case of waiting for things to kick off and get hell-raisingly freaky.

That’s where Paranormal Activity 2 will win/fail for fans of the first – the waiting. Initial reaction from some is that it takes too long to bring to boiling point, with the first terrifying bang happening a good 20 minutes plus into the film. But you could look at it from this perspective; the film-makers are goading you (as you are familiar with the territory), keeping you hanging on, until they decide when. Indeed, it’s still a highly effective, edge-of-seat experience, helped by the combination of hand-held camerawork and CCTV, which gives it a realistic quality and instant believability. To be honest, the waiting is not too much of an issue, but it’s the fact that some of these ‘emptier’ scenes could have been put to better use, like in the first film – or trimmed.

This time it’s a family’s turn to feel the demon’s wrath that includes a loved-up couple with a newborn son and a teenage daughter who all live with their Spanish nanny and dog. They have the seemingly idyllic, affluent lifestyle in the sun (somewhere in America), as we are proudly taken around their comfortable home in the first few scenes, whilst they introduce their newest family member, Hunter, to their abode on camera. All’s well so far…

Enter ‘Aunt Katie’, played by original cast member, the buxom Katie Featherston who turned into a demonic maniac in the first, dispensing with her boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) like a rag doll. This is the moment that you realise the connection, and want to scream, ‘NO! Get her out!’ at the unsuspecting household, the mother of which turns out to be Katie’s baby sister. We are also presented with the message that this ‘footage’ is recorded 60 days before Micah’s death, so it’s like a prequel to the first film, and it implies that one of the girls is the originator of all these paranormal episodes.

Version 2 actually pays homage to legendary horror, like Amityville Horror (spooky basement that bangs and scratches), The Exorcist (possessed family member) and Poltergeist (creepy TV and radio static), complete with a scene that makes you want to repeat blonde little angel Carol’s infamous words, “They’re here…” There’s even a reference to The Omen, with baby Hunter like an emotionless mini Damien-in-the-making, at times, letting off deranged-sounding giggles. It also has the standard horror ‘what-not-to-do’ moments, such as opening a door, alone, after loud thumps have just echoed off it, and playing that fun family pastime, the Ouija Board, when the oldies are out. It also has some silly aspects to it, and boldly points to a possible third film, too.

In short, and not wanting to reveal too much more, fans of the first should go and see Paranormal Activity 2 as it ties in neatly with the first, whilst still offering bang, scream and growl for your buck. Admittedly, it doesn’t have quite the freshness of the latter, but this is hardly surprising. However, the franchise does have a lot of mileage still, and it may well give some a sleepless night – if nothing else, it’ll have you clutching a crucifix under the duvet in anticipation.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

LFF: Carlos – 4*

Good guy or bad guy, does it really matter? The real-life person in question needs to have a winning charisma that translates well onto screen, and makes for a powerful story to watch, however long the film lasts. Carlos runs at 334 minutes, but it’s advisable to see it in its full-length glory to get a true sense of how the infamous Jackal, nee Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, came about and became a fugitive in every country he set foot in, before his subsequent capture. The shorter version does miss out key points, like Carlos’s association with the Japanese Red Army that led to his involvement in future, multinational terrorist operations. Some of what you watch is understandably hearsay, but the actual timeline of events watched on a big screen makes for captivating viewing.

Think The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008), and you instantly get the picture of its filming style, which has French writer/director Olivier Assayas’s mark all over it: scenes shot and edited with dynamic purpose, emulating the mood of the moment and, therefore, forever altering the pace. It’s energetic and compelling, bringing to life historical situations, but wisely, not always showing Carlos in a favourable light. This is important to see how ego got in the way of this man’s aspirations, as well as to highlight his flaws, making us more empathetic, too. As times change, the Carlos who is portrayed in the end seems like a broken, washed-up version of the arrogant man in his element in the 1970s-1980s. He is still portrayed as a fighter until the end, stubbornly refusing to surrender his ideals, which makes him almost inspirational in a warped sense.

Admittedly, like any made-for-TV saga, there are parts of the story that lag. That said the one factor that drives the film is the outstanding and believable performance from Édgar Ramírez as Carlos who embodies him totally, keeping you gripped, thrilled, appalled and generally astounded by the versatility, vanity and brilliance of the notorious guerrilla-fighter-cum-businessman. Like his character, Ramírez oozes confidence in the role and actually gives real-life ladies’ man Carlos more sex appeal than he really deserves. The fact that the actor has grown up living in several countries adds to his impressive multilingual delivery, so Ramírez can concentrate on the task at hand of being Carlos, rather than the tricky job of getting the multitude of accents right.

The film follows Carlos from his revolutionary days, fighting with the Palestinians in Jordan, before joining the Hassad and becoming one of its lead masterminds of active operations. It also captures the moments during the 1975 OPEC meeting when the oil ministers were kidnapped in Vienna, and ironically, still managing to show a compassionate side to Carlos. It then focuses on his years leading up to his missions with East German wife Magdalena Kopp (impressively played by Austria’s Nora von Waldstätten).

Assayas makes sure all of Carlos’s operations and political dealings are recreated in great detail, ending with his arrest in France in 1994, after being kidnapped in Africa. It’s like a visual history lesson in terrorism, but serves as a fascinating look at how such figures of terror evolve – ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’, so the saying goes.

Assayas’s frankness absolutely comes across in his direction that results in a credible, almost pseudo-documentary feel that is both informative and captivating. Combined with Ramírez’s huge talent, Carlos becomes an intriguing biographical experience-cum-action thriller that will hopefully attract a healthy mainstream interest at the box office – even if it’s just catching the 165-minute version.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

LFF: Africa United – 4*

In a gloomy world full of socio-political issues, especially in relation to screen portrayals of Africa, it’s refreshing to watch a film that  champions the power of positive thought, fuelling the story from beginning to end. It is a vibrant and positively charming journey that captures the true, fighting spirit of Africa, it is an amazing movie.

Africa United from debut director Debs Gardner-Paterson is such an inspiring film as it takes young and old on a vibrant and charming journey through several African states (Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa) to capture the true fighting spirit of Africa.

As the title suggests, it unites all who watch it because of its colourful vitality and infectious childlike awe that kids can relate to and adults can relive and this notion overshadows the football element. It’s like an African Enid Blyton tale, where anything can be achieved and obstacles can be overcome, when you put great young minds together.

That said the serious issues facing the continent are intertwined effectively in this coming-of-age tale, with the opening scene more like an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign than the start of a feature film, designed to grab your attention. The big issues are apparent, or never far from the surface, but are dealt with in a matter-of-fact way that does not render them superficial, or allow them to dampen this tale of considerable hope.

Part of this successful balance that Gardner-Paterson strikes, is due to the film’s magnetic and mega-optimistic, young protagonist, Dudu, played by newcomer Eriya Ndayambaje. Self-styled football manager Dudu sets off with his football prodigy and best pal Fabrice (Roger Nsengiyumva) and his bookish little sister Beatrice (Sanyu Joanita Kintu) to the Rwandan capital, Kigali, to audition Fabrice for a part in the 2010 World Cup opening ceremony.

The trouble is they take the wrong bus, resulting in a whistle-stop tour of African states and meeting escaped sex worker Celeste (Sherrie Silver) and former child soldier Foreman George (Yves Dusenge) who decide to join Dudu’s ‘team’ – let’s face it, what more do they have to do? The acting is far from polished, but its rawness merely adds to our empathy with each character’s plight and willingness to support their venture.

The camera simply adores Ndayambaje to the point of the aperture opening several stops whenever his happy, animated face fills the screen, and radiating us with a feeling of sunny warmth. Ironically, when we first set eyes on Dudu, he is instructing his audience (and us) on how to make a football out of an inflated condom, a plastic bag and a ball of string in a delightfully playful, almost ‘stand-up comedic’ fashion that is both highly amusing and frankly alarming because of the African HIV/AIDS pandemic message.

With hindsight, it is difficult to determine the age group that the film is aimed at, but as a documentary piece with its clever little animated parts, it works well to alert youth to the serious health and social topics in an informative manner. At times, it’s like watching an educational video, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it feels like being back at school, even with the fun elements involved.

It may also leave some adults/parents red-faced trying to explain some of the finer points, too, “like what is a sex worker, Mum/Dad?” That said Gardner-Paterson seems unforgiving about this: Kids have to know the world is not an equal or perfect place, right, so let’s ease the pain, without shattering their childhood dreams. Characters Dudu and his team are a metaphor for this, with football acting as the prejudicial stimulus and the salvation.

Whatever the film-makers say about Africa United not being a film about football and the World Cup, you can’t help wondering what kind of greater impact it could have had at the box office, if it had, had its release date around that time? Then, there is pretty much football to be had all year around, so it still works to prolong the thrill of the international sporting event – England’s performance, aside. Football serves as the uniting factor, like a cross-border religion or passport, but not the primary topic, so the film-makers can make claim to the former, it seems.

Africa United is a massive injection of hope, celebrating life and its stubbornness to suppress youthful distractions and dreams in some harsh realities. It’s a decent story, too, rather than just being a socio-political message. But for all its well-meaning intentions, spirit and attractive picture-postcard views of Africa, will it capture the attention and hearts of the average family faced with a programme of other kids’ films at the local pictures?

In playing down the football element and just re-labelling it as an African road movie, this may result in it be overlooked, which is sad, considering youth need as much exposure to positivism as possible today to counterbalance the all the negative aspects.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

LFF: The Arbor – 2*

Clio Barnard’s film The Arbor is thought provoking, primarily because of the social issues rising from life on a former rough estate that it flags. However, much as such issues capture the attention, their importance should not be confused with how good/bad a film it is at its core. The Arbor’s style of actors lip-synching to tape-recorded testimony by the family, friends and associates of working-class playwright Andrea Dunbar (Rita, Sue and Bob Too!) may prove too disconcerting for some to marry together. It does take some getting used to and appears like out-of-sync audio with the visuals at first, even with some commendable acting performances. That said, and playing devil’s advocate, it could be argued that this makes the story more immediate and impacting, though.

On first glance, The Arbor appears to be about how fame came to Dunbar, but it actually takes a different tangent and explores the impact of her actions (or lack of) on her family. Far from paying homage to Dunbar, this film doesn’t depict her in a favourable light, as a person or a mother. In fact she isn’t that likeable at all – tragic end aside, especially for any non-fans of her work, and becomes of little consequence in the film. Whether this was Barnard’s intention is hard to tell, but maybe Dunbar fans have a different opinion?

The more harrowing and captivating ‘sub-story’, which actually gives this film its real zest, is that of her Asian daughter, Lorraine (played by Manjinder Virk), and her disturbing account of life growing up in 1970s’ racist Bradford as a mixed-race kid. Again, the film grabs you because of the issues of drugs and infant mortality it recalls in her later years, as well as Lorraine’s ‘raw deal’ that she’s dealt. Lorraine may well have cause to feel that way, and whilst her narrative pulls on the heartstrings, you are very aware of watching a construct of events that feels slightly reproachable at times.

There is also the rather odd reconstruction of Dunbar’s play The Arbor set right on The Arbor’s green itself, ironically starring George Costigan, who played Bob in Rita. Whether this is meant as an introduction or a fresher to Dunbar’s work could be taken any way, but it certainly reminds you – as if you needed to be told – that you are watching a recount of a true story, plus the acting is commendable, and it’s the support of the local community looking on that gives this film its proud roots.

It’s hard to sell The Arbor, unless you have an interest in the playwright or in the area. It feels like another working-class tale of hardship – without the triumph of escaping it, much like a Ken Loach work. It also feels somewhat confused as to what it wants to be: fact based as fiction (as in the reconstruction alfresco), or pseudo-documentary with the archive footage of Dunbar. In fact it’s like snippets of both sewn together, but not necessarily harmoniously, and a Barnard experiment in how to offer a few novel ways of portraying gritty real-life tales.

2/5 stars

By L G-K

Alpha and Omega – 2*

Pixar is just not doing other animators any favours, especially in the 3D stakes. So, for a new non-Pixar film to stand out, it has to have something extra special and memorable about it. Crest Animation’s Alpha and Omega is sadly going to be remembered by this critic as a ‘Timotei ad for wolves with great hair’ because the 3D and the story lack body and bite – even with all the greatest will and intention to plug a smaller studio production.
We’re introduced to an amicable enough bunch of canine characters that in all honesty, and with a bit of clever marketing, considering the emphasise placed on hair dos, could be sold as dolls at Christmas, complete with their own mini bottles of shampoo (you heard it here first). However, even with voices lent by Hayden Panettiere, Justin Long, Danny Glover, Dennis Hooper and Christina Ricci, Alpha wolf Kate and Omega wolf Humphrey still fail to rise to the top of the pack of animated offerings out there, and merely offer a pleasing diversion from reality for one hour plus, rather than any longer, more poignant attachment like Woody and co., or Sulley and team do. These wolves may even go off radar by the time the festive season arrives, consigned to the DVD list, and up against better Pixar titles. This is not to say there isn’t room for more emotive animated characters to capture our hearts and imaginations, it’s just that Kate and Humphrey just don’t fully engage us.

In our humble opinion – and it has nothing to do with the quality of the animation, one main reason for this could be the lack of adventure that Pixar makes sure it gets absolutely right: If we don’t go the distance with our furry friends, we can’t possibly be expected to empathise with their plight and their end jubilation. Apart from hitchhiking their way home and meeting two of the funniest characters in the film, a golf-loving turkey and his sarcastic associate, one minute our wayward pair are lost, far from home, the next Kate and Humphrey are swiftly projected back to face the growing pressure between the two packs, without any hairs out of place. Yes, there is a bear incident in the meantime, but not much else to allow us (or our leads) to truly bond.

Admittedly, Humphrey and friends teach us the true meaning of friendship, if the jokes and antics are a little clichéd and stoke feelings of déjà vu, from Ice Age to The Jungle Book. Like every animation rightfully teaches us, everyone can get along with a little compromise and understanding, and Alpha and Omega is no different and is therefore difficult to knock for all its good-intended morality. But it does lack originality. That said a notable and quirky moment is Garth’s inability to howl at the moon, causing the birds to quite literally fall from the sky and this, combined with a toe-tapping soundtrack, in addition to the hair fashion statements, will getting the film talked about.

Can Alpha and Omega stand on its own four feet in the 3D market? At least it doesn’t have Toy Story 3D to contend with, come September. The most troubling thing about this animation and others like it, is the film-makers’ almost dismissive and misguided belief that throw a bunch of A Lister stars’ voices at it, and it will somehow work its magic at the box office. From experience, it doesn’t. It’s the story that just seems to lack meat on its bones to tempt even the hungriest of animation fans out of their cozy dens to see it.

2/5 stars

By L G-K

The Social Network – 5*

With all the hype about social media and the news that it’s the fastest growth sector in the jobs market, you’d be forgiven for wondering how a film about the founders of Facebook could possibly hold your interest for longer than 30 minutes, let alone two hours. The thought had crossed our minds and our Facebook entries and Tweets, to be honest. However, the high calibre of scriptwriting and character establishment is apparent from the word go with the film’s opening scene that portrays one founder, IT egghead Mark Zuckerberg, as a complete social pariah who, thanks to the splendid casting of Jesse Eisenberg in the role (Cera, eat your heart out), is astoundingly gripping and priceless.

It does take a couple of seconds at the start to latch onto this rapid-fire exchange between Zuckerberg and the woman who broke his heart and spawned the internet revenge offensive and subsequent networking site, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). But during the course of this oral onslaught you witness the genius relationship play that is to come. And that’s the brilliance of Aaron Sorkin’s script and David Fincher’s direction that prevents the status quo from plunging into TV courtroom banality.

The story is all about prospering off the hype that the Internet can fuel, and this film is no exception. There is a lot of furore surrounding it, but with just cause. The ping-pong rapport is nigh perfect that is distracts you from pinpointing exactly when things between Zuckerberg and his best friend and CFO Eduardo Saverin (played by new ‘Spider-Man’ Andrew Garfield) go sour. In fact, almost like all good salespeople it keeps the banter flowing, real and energised to pull the wool over your eyes and sweep you up in each moment, without allowing you a second to process all that is being said. But it still manages to deliver the witty quips, particularly from Eisenberg as Zuckerberg. To stand still would be this film’s demise, and the film-makers rightfully recognised this.

With such a dialogue-heavy plot, it’s hard to imagine that the film would have time for any action sequences, or offer any impressive visual effects. Not so. One prime example is the moment Harvard twins Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss discover their computer talent Zuckerberg has allegedly stolen the crux of their social networking idea, whilst cutting through the waves in their simulated rowing boat. It’s an exhilarating and heart-stopping moment of truth that brings a sinking feeling to the pit of the stomach – not that we particularly like any of the characters at that moment, including Zuckerberg, but we empathise with their feelings. It’s also a credit to the stellar special effects that this film achieves, when you realise that one actor is at the helm of both sportsmen, exceptionally played by Armie Hammer.

Singer-actor Justin Timberlake wowed critics as Frankie Ballenbacher in Alpha Dog and as Ronnie in Black Snake Moan, and will do the same again as arrogant Napster founder Sean Parker, here. Timberlake demonstrates what he can do and achieve with the right writing force behind him, playing to his strengths and emotions as Parker in a supporting role to Eisenberg. Parker and Zuckerberg completely compliment each other in this story – one socially inept; the other too socially extravagant, with the catalyst being level-headed Saverin in bringing sense and the lawsuits to the table. The power play is some of the most dynamic and best seen in recent cinema, particularly with such a young cast, as delusions of control pass from pillar to post and back again in this mega-bucks game.

Although Facebook usage wavers at times, there is never a dull moment in The Social Network as it’s less about the site and its origins, and more about the multi-faceted personalities of the players and the effects of greed on them as they struggle with being part of something bigger than they can handle or envisage. It’s a highly current and interpersonal triumph, thanks to some exquisite acting that shouldn’t require a poke, or the setting up of an event to get friends to watch it. Just join and spread the word because this Oscar-tipped offering is bound to inspire and capture the imagination. Zuckerberg may have only liked the ‘bits he liked’ from the film (according to Eisenberg recently in London), but all publicity is good publicity and will set tongues wagging as to what is and isn’t fictional in this outstanding contemporary Faustian tale.

5/5 stars

By Lisa Giles-Keddie

Despicable Me – 4*

Not another 3D animation, we hear you cry? Well, it’s not Pixar for one, which instantly (some might say, quite fairly) has most doubting how good it will be, after the likes of Toy Story 3D and Up that set the bar way up high. But what’s interesting about this not being a Pixar product is the knowledge that there is some healthy competition cultivating out there that, in this case, justifies a damn good write-up. Despicable Me is the first film from Illumination Entertainment, a new unit set up by Universal Films to focus on family films, and as debuts go, this is a delightfully entertaining one with some good 3D elements to it – just check out the fairground ride scene, for instance. Cynically, it does strike you as yet another indulgence and rush to enter into the 3D realm, but if this outfit had not jumped on the bandwagon, it may not have made quite an entrance at the box office, or had as a fair chance of competing with Pixar.

Despicable Me starts off on a good note with all the right ingredients (cute characters, dastardly villains, unlikely heroes and some cool gadgets), plus it’s packed with some brilliant adult/parental observations – especially those moments when our little ones hand us a questionable piece of kids’ literature to read at bedtime that has you scratching your head as to the futility of it all, as you wonder just what the author was smoking at the time? This film also harks back to – some might say plagiarises – some popular kids classics, like the The Addams Family and Annie.

Its central character Gru bears an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Fester, complete with his Munster-styled house and gadgets, as well as a balding Daddy Warbucks in Annie. The three little girls that Gru adopts are exactly like the bunch of feisty and self-sufficient Annie orphans, full of imagination but lacking any love or encouragement. Heck, the plot even has it’s own Miss Hannigan in the buxom form of Miss Hattie! But what this story does is brings these elements that charmed us the first time around bang up to date with a dollop of humour and calamities that combined with the 3D, engages all, whilst sparking feelings of nostalgia for the rest of us. Despicable Me boasts a fantastic voice cast, too, including Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews and Kristen Wiig.

The story follows criminal mastermind Gru (Carrell) and his babbling little yellow helpers, the loopy Minions, who are losing face in villainous circles. Hence, they plan the ultimate heist: to steal the moon. As all grand plans fray at the seams, so does this one with the arrival of a shiny new villain on the scene called Vector (Segel) who seems to have better gadgets and tonnes more money than Gru could hope for – the reasons for which are apparent, and adults will gleefully love the Lehman Brothers collapse references in the story. Gru needs only one gadget to carry out the task, but young Vector is holding it to ransom in his pad. As a result of Vector’s sweet tooth for cookies, peddled by three cute, but highly astute orphan girls, Gru decides to take them in and use them for his own wicked means. You’ve guessed it: Gru begrudgingly grows to love them.

Like all family-based offerings Despicable Me is no different in firing out one moral after another through the good deeds of its characters and their actions, but not to nauseating effect that it detracts from your enjoyment. Without sounding sickly, Gru gets what he is lacking from the girls, and vice versa, and both get a family along the way on a whacky journey that will capture any stone-cold heart. It’s predictable but touching stuff, all wrapped up in colourfully imaginative sequences. Oh, and as well as the Minions being set for a Christmas shelf near you, listen out for the words ‘light bulb’ in weeks to come, too, as we guarantee both young and old will be saying it, even in company brainstorms.

Despicable Me is a solid and exciting entry into contemporary 3D animation with some unforgettable and larger-than-life characters, set in a relatively average plot with ideas swiped from many a story before. What it lacks in inventiveness, it certainly makes up for in spirit and enthusiasm, and is certainly good, all-round family entertainment that more importantly stands its ground against the might of Pixar.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – 3*

Wall Street, watch out: The Gekko is back, wiser, craggier-looking and more lethal, but with a soft spot that will always be his Achilles Heel. Wall Street creator Oliver Stone brings his anti-hero back to life and it’s thrilling to see the old dog sniffing around the green stuff again, whilst having an attack of the conscience and becoming more humane. That’s not to say the return of the 80s gambler, played by Michael Douglas, has lost his edge and isn’t up to his old tricks after prison – thankfully, far from it. He looks more determined than ever, with his stint in the can allowing him to home his ultimate revenge on his foes.

In fact Gekko is the single, most memorable and most exciting thing about this sequel. Apart from the lengthy boardroom wrangling and rapid-fire money jardon flying around that’s only of any real interest in its drawn-out form to those in the business or the know, try as hard as Stone might, the only scenes that really come alive are the ones with Douglas in them. The rest seem like ‘tension mounters’ for the latter, until ‘Gekko the villain’ creeps back on stage. Indeed the irony is this idol worshipping is part of the story, too, so the other characters must feel like Gekko ‘fluffers’, hanging on to his every move and waiting for their time to shine in his authority.

Nevertheless there are some solid performances from the likes of Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin and Carey Mulligan, but these are actually necessary to keep the stakes high and match the might of Douglas in one of his defining roles. LaBeouf plays young, smart and hungry very well as Gekko’s son-in-law-to-be and banking genius Jake Moore, but his puppy dog enthusiasm and wide-eyed surprise at being duped twice over starts to wear a little thin. Thank goodness for Brolin’s rogue banker character, Bretton James, who brings Jake down a peg or two, although James needed to be far nastier and more of a match for rival Gekko, to be honest, someone to really despised in villainous terms. This is sorely missing and could have magnified the on-screen electricity between the two old enemies, which we only get a taste of for a brief moment at a charity ball scene.

Mulligan playing Gekko’s estranged daughter results in the film’s more intriguing plotlines as Gekko uses her then realises he needs her to survive – and not for money’s sake. We actually get to see another side to Gekko that makes him a more rounded character, even if he still manages to keep us guessing as to his next move. That said the ending could be accused of being clichéd and slightly lazy. Tying up loose ends doesn’t always make for the most thrilling finale in such a film, even if it does go to appease us and put the world to rights.

Stone does what he does best and delivers a well-crafted and slick tale that adequately highlights the thrilling peaks and troughs of the global money market since the 80s, with the digital highway speeding money transfer and corruption along on its merry way. He has created a contemporary representation that does not seem too alien to reintroduce Gekko into. However, money may never sleep, but you would be forgiven for letting off a snore or two at some of the American-centric corporate scenarios, however valuable they might be in moving the narrative forward. Yes, greed is still bad – point taken. But Stone trying to introduce guilt about not thinking greener into the equation, using a ‘corporate banking selfishness’ storyline is both laughable and will fall on deaf ears. This film is about indulgence in the high life, which is the main reason to go and see it in the first place.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

Life As We Know It – 3*

Not to be confused with the 2005 teen angst series full of hormonally-charged monologues, this is a new comedy from Green Lantern writer/producer Greg Berlanti who cut his directing teeth back on little known romcom, The Broken Hearts Club: A Romance Comedy, over ten years ago. Berlanti has since had ample practice lifting relationships off the page and onto the screen, even the trickiest ones, after the successful TV series Brothers and Sisters. He now takes his expertise to the big screen for his first feature film, starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel in the leads, and it’s a generous, witty and observant affair, if a tad predictable, as any romcom commonly is.

To be fair, the genre is probably one of the most entrenched to try and vary, as we want the ‘rom’ and the ‘com’ and as near a happy ending as possible. What needs to work well is how we get from point A to B. Life As We Know It brings a very real and sobering situation that many child-rearing adults will instantly relate to and tries not to trivialise the serious of it, but approach it with some thought, humour and a little wisdom.

This film does suffer from smug ‘Nancy Meyers domestic bliss’ syndrome, as the recently deceased parents have the ‘home to die for’ (pardon the pun) to help their chosen guardians bring up their darling daughter in. Plus Heigl as Holly Berenson, a successful businesswoman who finds she’s holding the baby is reminiscent of Streep’s equally priggish Jane Adler character in Meyers’s It’s Complicated, running the idyllic, small-town patisserie. How aptly ‘mumsy’, perhaps? Jealous? You bet. But Life As… doesn’t falter on portraying what all romcoms do: depict the relationship ideal, allowing for a bit of frivolous escapism, whilst prompting us to identify with regular issues along the way.

Berlanti hits romcom casting gold with Heigl who simply reverts back to type in a role that we enjoy seeing her play, over and over again: the obsessive, neurotic professional desperate for a break. Knocked Up instantly springs to mind, to be honest, what with a child in need of care, but because the writing is a little less slapstick than Apatow’s offering, Heigl gets to take and be taken more seriously as Holly, whilst layering on the sarcasm and quips in her deliciously naughty but sexy gal-next-door way. In fact Heigl has reached that stage in romcom, where she can confidently be the primary comedy protagonist, which make her screen portrayals all the more convincing and aspiring.

Rising screen heartthrob and ‘Mr Fergie’ Duhamel plays insufferable jock/TV sports producer Eric Messer who is also Holly’s long-term nemesis and the Desperate Housewives-styled neighbourbood’s babe magnet. Duhamel seems very comfortable supporting Heigl, but ups her game by injecting childlike rebellion into the part with amusing results, whilst causing considerable drool, both on and off the screen, with a couple of well-placed stretches and underwear-lounging shots. Surprise, surprise, Holly and Eric find ways to cope with being around each other under one roof, and loathing turns to love along the way, sweeping both off their feet. It’s the ultimate modern-day fairy tale where both parties are expected to ‘save’ each other, rather than just Prince Charming.

Another entertaining factor of this romcom is the fun observational moments that might be lost on those not regularly exposed to littleuns and include dropping the baby, changing the baby, watching the first steps taken by the baby, and trying to decipher the universal mystery that is kids TV with the baby – all spot on.

Berlanti tries to avoid making his characters two-dimensional, balancing the rough with the smooth with little gems of surprise delight through a relatively smart script. As a first foray into mainstream feature film-making, he doesn’t fare too badly, helped by the Heigl/Duhamel appeal, whilst taking a leaf out of the feel-good Meyers romcom production manual and in doing so, targeting a wider audience.

3/5 stars

By L G-K