LFF 2013: The Congress ***


Waltz With Bashir animator Ari Folman takes on the advancing techno nature of the Hollywood film industry in his hybrid (live action/animation), political sci-fi The Congress. It’s hard to distinguish whether the film itself or the myriad of ideas it boldly flags deserve the true credit. Debate aside, Folman uses animation to illustrate the ‘death of the physical actor’, ironically using retro 2D drawings like an old Disney cartoon, perhaps as a personal protest of the more advanced 3D animation coming out of the studios now.

Robin Wright (playing herself), now fortysomething and struggling to find work, was once a celebrated Hollywood actor going places and the darling of the big studio who has financed her career, ‘Miramount’, especially in her heyday in The Princess Bride (1987). Her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) comes to tell her of a one-off deal proposed by studio boss Jeff (Danny Huston) to keep her in the spotlight forever – allowing the studio to create an avatar of Robin Wright to use as it wishes in future productions. This does come at a price: no negotiation on the kind of film featured in, a one-off payment and a promise never to act again. However, the consequences of Wright’s agreement come at a far bigger price than she could never imagine, as the animated and live worlds collide.

There are a whole number of juicy topics addressed in this near-future-set film, including the supposed advancement of technology for the better good, ageism, sexism, loss of identity, intellectual property to corporate terrorism to name a few. It often feels like a smattering of ideas fired out of a barrel, like following a live animated debate at times. The only settling factor is watching Wright as herself and as her 2D avatar, both with a weary sadness to her features as the business of the film business takes its toil.

The first half of the film depicts the grace and elegant of Wright in the flesh with the camera still adoring her. The troubling element is being asked to believe Keitel as the fictitious casting agent. It appears mixing live-action and animation works but mixing real-life and fiction gets a tad muddled when one actor is playing herself with dignity, and the other incorporates a fictional character.

Once Wright drives into the animated zone of Abrahama, the new studioland that takes over reality at the security crossing (straight out of Roger Rabbit territory), she becomes lost, like a ghost of her former self within a colourful canvas of eccentric characters. There is some fun to be had spotting other stars who have ‘gone avatar’ too. It’s here where plot gets skewed a little and a psychedelic smorgasbord of events peppers the scenery. Thankfully, there is one plot driver to grasp onto – Wright trying to find her son.

The Congress is advanced in its own technology and thinking, raising many social concerns we all have about the future of the digital revolution that could retire the very beings that have created it. If nothing else, The Congress plays to our fears, perhaps ironically, with hindsight affecting our view of it as a piece of social commentary too?

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Meet The Parents: Little Fockers – 3*

In-laws or ‘out-laws’, whatever you want to call them, are what make the silly season so interesting – and quite often volatile. So, releasing yet another in the Meet The Parents series seems like ideal pre-Christmas viewing, before spending enforced time with your own. We can all relate to the tight-lipped niceties and time-bomb tension, hence, Little Fockers, the third film in this 10-year saga, should tick all the boxes, right?

Well, to a certain extent, yes, but like an annoying relative who insists on repeating the same old, tired joke that dried up along with last year’s turkey, Little Fockers still (desperately) goes for laughs with its naughty-sounding surname gag. This time it’s taken to new Mafioso-heights with the promise of downtrodden son-in-law Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) becoming the ‘Godfocker’ (groan) of controlling patriarch Jack Byrnes’ (Robert De Niro) empire in his demise.

That’s really the plot, the whole plot, and nothing but the plot, give or take a few sub-plots and odd peppering of supporting actors – like a greasy-haired and tattooed Harvey Keitel as a brash foreman for starters (pray, why?). The attractive poster mix of A-Listers that includes De Niro, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo and Jessica Alba never really comes to the boil, and the child puke jokes and early penile discoveries feel as awkward as the actors having to dish them out for the hard-of-seeing.

The real stars of the second film, Hoffman and Streisand, are virtually frittered away, here, making sporadic appearances in this film, and coming in at the last minute to almost ‘save the day’ at the twins’ party. You could have forgiven their lacklustre usage, had the film-makers dared to be different with a promising role-reversal element to Focker and Byrnes at the start, with Focker getting a little power-crazed with his own young family, after getting the call from Byrnes that should change his family dynamic for life.

Sadly, director Paul Weitz and co. revert to two-dimensionality again, with new addition Alba being the worst culprit as incredibly perky and annoyingly enthusiastic drug rep Andi Garcia (another cringeworthy pun that has to be spelt out), but really not letting us get past the fact that it’s just near-naked Alba looking stunning again and showing off her trim figure. Well, at least that’s a thumbs-up for the boys, whilst the girls can all curse at reaching for that last mince pie.

That said, the reason for Little Fockers’ guaranteed interest at the box office is, like Christmas, we may tire of some of its elements, but it’s hard not to get into the spirit of it, in all its panto glory. This time of year is all about pulp-style films with frustratingly amicable characters like Alba as Garcia and Stiller as Focker. We love to watch a fool, especially a fool with flaws; it’s as much of a draw as picking at the leftover turkey. It still brings a smile to the face and a few chuckles, and we know it’s wrong to continue contributing financially to it – especially with the unashamedly obvious hint of a fourth film at the end – but we just can’t help ourselves.

Therefore, Little Fockers offers nothing new, just a bunch of nostalgic old/rehashed that, if being completely honest, isn’t really offensive pre-Christmas viewing, and it may get you through out-law nightmares with a secret smile on the big day.

3/5 stars

By L G-K