LFF 2017: Sicilian Ghost Story ****

If Salvo wasn’t enough of a powerhouse debut to shine a light on the murky world of the mafia, award-winning film-makers and co-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza have a new offering, Sicilian Ghost Story. This is more of a coming-of-age love story and more expertly layered. It still retains that mystical, almost supernatural quality that the pair alludes to. It also has one of the most shockingly brutally but captivating scenes witnessed in a long time.

Based on the real-life Italian crime story of the abduction and subsequent murder of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo, son of a Mafioso turned police informant, the story follows classmate Luna’s (exciting newcomer Julia Jedlikowska) lovelorn quest to get to the bottom of what happened to Giuseppe (newcomer Gaetano Fernandez). Her determination absorbs her adolescent years. Her obsession is of great concern to her parents, particularly her strict mother who wants to keep off the authorities – and mafia’s – radar.

Set in the idyllic Sicilian countryside the film has a mesmerizing, innocent, dream-like quality to it from the start – much like a ‘Sicilian Twilight’, where young love can flourish away from harsh realities. It is this false sense of security that flows into a greater estuary of foreboding caused by an evil entity that is very much part of the local culture and fabric of the landscape. There is even a scene where with question the true existence of a building. However, when the menace proves too great for our young leads, the film-makers allow their characters a supernatural ‘retreat’, where youth can achieve anything and solve all problems adults seemingly can’t or won’t.

What keeps the whole beautifully crafted affair grounded is the stone-cold reality of Giuseppe’s demise, played out as imprisonment scenes of varying brutality and psychological abuse. This finally climaxes in the powerful ‘cleansing’ scene, truly repulsive (and stomach churning) as it is beguiling to watch nature taking its course. This scene runs for quite some time to ensure the full impact hits home.

At the same time, the film-makers are not caught up portraying the morose, allowing moments of reflection and ‘escapism’ to blend all the emotions felt whilst watching. Indeed, out of despair a young adult life is born, so the film has a surprising upbeat quality to it, even after the ugliness of the crime grip-hold in this region lingers on.

It is this clever blending of truth and fiction that allows Grassadonia and Piazza to tackle the narrative’s horrors while keeping us entranced and guessing. This leaves us with some sense of optimism that good can prevail over something ongoing and sinister. Sicilian Ghost Story just triumphs in this, both technically and artistically.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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If I Stay ***


By describing If I Stay as ‘bland’ (as some critics have) falls into the same category as lazily dismissing the Twilight saga films – they serve a purpose for the hormonal young. Sure, watching loved-up teens looking and acting awkward can be a little on the dreary, lagging side for us older and ‘wiser’ (ahem) lot, but this film does have more value than to simply dismiss it as teen pulp.

For a start, If I Stay has love, tragedy and great music to enjoy, all wrapped up and delivered by ‘hot acting stuff’ Chloë Grace Moretz who gives fans her vulnerable side for a change. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’ll certainly cause a few lumps in the throat, if not moist eyes, however shamefully it tugs at the heartstrings.

Based on a young adult bestseller by Gayle Forman, If I Stay is narrated by lead character Mia Hall (Moretz) who has a great family life in Portland (with super cool parents and small brother) and is a talented cello player. She has also recently bagged the ‘rock star’ boyfriend, Adam (Jamie Blackley), as well as auditioned for Juillard School in NYC. But all this changes after a terrible car accident that puts her in a coma. In a series of flashbacks to help her, Mia must decide whether to wake up or pass onto the afterlife.

This is an effortless and emotional watch for anyone. Moretz may not be stretching her acting muscles much, but she demonstrates she can open a film and deliver. If I Stay is targeted at the young adult like the novel so expect teen love angst in spades. The passion between Moretz’s Mia and UK actor Blackley’s Adam (of Snow White and the Huntsman fame who will stir many a young heart after this and does a half-decent America accent) is genuinely believable. Blackley’s Adam is the brooding, loved-up type in the ‘Edward Cullen’ vein with Moretz’s Mia the unconfident ‘Bella Swan’ so it’s not surprising the impact this will have on the young in the post-Twilight vacuum.

Perhaps the biggest draw is the music, a mixture of rock, guitar ballards and classical cello pieces that can be enjoyed by all. Director, documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler keeps events engaging enough with an emotive music score that accompanies or heightens the drama along the way. The music is part and parcel of the film – without it there would be little story – which makes you question how much the successful novel has been dumbed down. That said like the rocky romance, the music touches a chord to engage its target audience for maximum effect. Manipulating – you bet.

Indeed things are a little too perfect for real life – Mia’s rock chic mother (played by Mireille Enos) and former rocker dad (played by Joshua Leonard) say all the right things every time, creating the kind of perfect family life environment that any teen dreams of. And so what that reality has been suspended a little? Well it could be argued that this sugary overkill detracts from the seriousness of the subject matter post crash. However this IS a young adult drama so things will be a little diluted.

There is a nice play on events at the very end, and a brief moment where you think you’re going to scream at the screen because it looks like you’ll be left hanging – probably the most ‘taxing’ episode of the lot. This is an undemanding film, and however weepy it gets, however many nauseating, sloppy Mia-Adam entanglements we are party to, If I Stay will thaw even the coldest heart, either by music or tragedy as it finds a hook one way or the other.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Byzantium ***

Think ‘Twilight on the English Rivera’ but all the more seedier and desolate, Neil Jordan style. The director who admits to being ‘fascinated by monsters and monstrous people’ shows a sensitive side to the plight of the creatures of the night in his latest film Byzantium, taking note of the recent appeal of vampire films for female audiences after his male-dominated Interview With A Vampire back in 1994, but not necessarily following all the traditional attributes of the genre.

Gone are the tantalising romantic notions of erotica to be distorted into brazen carnal sexuality and the use of female ways to survive in a current-day environment – as ever with Jordan’s Catholic spin of bodily sin injected and a little social economics, reflecting today’s gloomy austerity. However, the familiar bond is still very much alive in this, complete with two empowering performances from Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan.

Two mysterious women – creative, sensitive Eleanor (Ronan) and the wilder, older Clara (Arterton) flee to a coastal town, hiding a dark bloody secret. They take shelter within the town’s underground trade routes, familiar to both, hiding from those who seek to destroy them after an ancient right of passage is broken.

In film theory, independent women usually get punished for their wayward ways, especially where sexuality is explored. Along the same tropes, Jordan’s attempt at Gothic suggests no good will come from the antics of his female leads here, however endearing and conscientious Eleanor is deemed to be. That said there is apparent empathy, where the director again masterfully creates subtle moods between the pair that are sensed, without having to explore them as part of the discourse. He also champions these females in the end, making an altogether compelling feminine affair and pouring scorn on those who deny female dominance, or indeed, that of change within stubborn institutions.

Ronan’s ever-considered performance always makes her an exciting watch as she explores the character’s depths, choosing to inject principles into the standard vampire feeding affair and prompting comment on the ethics of euthanasia. In a way, Jordan tries too hard to flesh out more avenues of interest than the normal bloodsucker behaviour which kind of works, but at the same time, gets diluted as the plot moves between extravagant costume drama and present-day social despair essay. Arterton comes across as slightly uneasy in the downtrodden vice girl role, but soon regains familiar ground when the fight is on and she can be feisty once more. Nevertheless, both actors are compelling to watch and compliment each other nicely.

The males come off the worse in this, with no titillating whiff of Cullen sensuality, ranging from a sickly waiter (Caleb Landry Jones) who Eleanor adopts as a pet project and a way of redeeming herself and Clara, to a miserable, pushover of a guesthouse proprietor (Daniel Mays). Jonny Lee Miller’s vampire character Ruthven poses an intriguing, alpha male threat that fizzes out as the pursuit draws to a climax. There is even the suggestion of a sequel as the story is left, should Byzantium succeed and grab the vamp fan’s imagination. However, without a decent dollop of lust and more of a grim social picture, this could be a hard sell to the ready-made audience of Twihards, and not dark enough or steeped in enough folklore to entice serious Gothic enthusiasts either, even with the promise of an attractive and solid female casting.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Amazing Spider-Man (3D) ****

General consensus is Marc Webb (of 500 Days of Summer fame) has delivered a reboot of the original Spider-Man (2002). That much is true. However, he has taken a lot of the wit and sensitivity of his hit rom-com and added it to the superhero genre, effectively making a superhero reboot should appeal to a wider audience. Indeed, Webb’s Spider-Man – played by The Social Network star Andrew Garfield – is a more angst-ridden and sensitive soul who needs a love interest of equal intellect and insatiable curiosity. Two nerds make a right this time around, and two nerds trying to negotiate the pitfalls of adolescence too – without all the bizarre silliness in Sam Raimi’s previous trilogy.

The story stays the same: Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider and starts getting all sticky and too strong for his bedside alarm clock. While trying to find out why this bodily change is happening to him, he is also trying to discover what happened to his dad’s work legacy. In the meantime, as a buffed and suited vigilante, he rounds up the bad guys, annoying the local law enforcement teams, and makes an enemy of a super villain in the shape of a giant, flaky reptile (played by Rhys Ifans). Naturally, while trying to impress the girl (Gwen Stacy played by Emma Stone), Parker/Spider-Man has the stressful job of trying to save New Yorkers from impending chemical warfare.

Webb’s account may seem like déjà vu but it does have more of a darker edge to the origins of what made Parker the way he is. In fact, it’s very much reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in that like Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker loses his philanthropic father and doting mother to a senseless crime, leaving him an orphan with a chip. Webb has picked a great choice in Garfield who has a natural awkwardness and inner struggle to him, both physically and verbally, so better suits the role than Tobey Maguire’s chubby-cheekiness.

Garfield as Parker is seriously toned with an endearing vulnerability that Webb cultivates to re-emphasise the character’s social faux pas but also get the female viewers to sit up and pay attention. Plus to further fuel a new femme interest in the character, he places a smart and tentative lead at the helm in Stone to try and figure out how Parker ticks – something all us ladies spend energy investing in do when a male mystery presents itself. Just think Twilight for a second, and this is the route that Webb is venturing down.

However, as compatible as the leads are with their bouts of sharp humour and flippery, this film still has all the death-defying swinging action around the skyscrapers of Manhattan to satisfy any fan. There is also a lovely moment of Big Apple working-man camaraderie when some construction workers decide to help out their hero, in return for a good deed done. In this sense, as realistically emotionally challenged and beaten-up looking as Garfield’s Parker gets, there is still that underlying comic book trope of good triumphing over evil with superhuman effortlessness.

The only flaky point is that of the super villain who makes a fairly unimpressive bridge debut – like a cross between the Hulk and a reptilian dinosaur – and does little else than manically talk to himself in the bowels of the city sewer. The concept of a man without place or purpose descending underground is a fantasy re-run from ions ago. Webb is very aware of the self-capturing video generation in this, but after building up a solid relationship insight into Ifans’ character and Parker, where they’re very much kindred spirits or life’s ‘misfits’, the end result is fairly uneventful and a monumental King Kong rip-off at the finale. Sadly for this film, none of this is very memorable as yet another set of mirrored high-rise buildings meets their doom in CGI land. This has lost the wow factor after the recent Transformers films competently trashed the US city skylines. Still, the Webb emphasis firmly on film’s relationships ultimately shines through, so that our sympathy simmers along for anyone deemed ‘different’ in the story.

As popcorn action flicks for couples go, The Amazing Spider-Man will satisfy your superficial needs and make Garfield hot property. You may get some 3D thrills from the web spinning and shooting episodes but it’s not vital to pay to see it in anything other than 2D. Webb manages to add an indie touch to a blockbuster franchise too – much like Nolan does for Batman. This is mostly because unlike other superhero blockbusters, he never loses sight of his characters’ development. In fact it’s not about the action as such, rather how the characters come to be as we travel down the path of their self-awareness. The action merely enhances this intriguing process.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Snow White and The Huntsman ***

This long-anticipated version of Snow White couldn’t be more different from the humourless and bland Mirror Mirror with a smug Julia Roberts. Bathed in Gothic shadows and sinister trickery it stars Twilight’s very own vamp princess Kristen Stewart as the snow-white skinned maiden doing battle with her evil stepmother, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). But much as debut director Rupert Sanders may have thought some of the Twilight magic may rub off by casting Stewart, the most successful performances come from Theron and the ‘famous’ faces of the dwarves.

It’s a shame that Stewart seems to have little else in her acting arsenal than to continually act like she’s permanent in oral pain. In fact, any empathy we might feel for her Snow White is probably more a throwback response to her equally awkward and gurning Bella character, making us seriously question whether she is literally a one trick pony. Still, with her army of loyal fans, both Sanders and her know their target audience for this film, and she plays the same hand.

In all fairness, this Snow White has a lot to be miffed about, having been locked in a tower all her developing years, alongside other young maidens that evil and bewitching Ravenna uses to suck the soul out of like a stunning, flaxen-haired Dementor, simply as an alternative to Botox to rid her of her wrinkles. As Snow White escapes, the Queen soon learns that one suck on stepdaughter would have rid her of old age for eternity, and so recruits the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a drunken, grieving widower to track her and bring her live ‘beauty treatment’ back. But to everyone’s surprise, including his, the Huntsman falls for Snow White, and hence decides to help her reclaim her rightful throne, with the help of a small army of supporters.

Colleen Atwood’s stunning design is worth witnessing alone on the big screen, opening up Sanders’ fairy tale to a wider fantasy league, such as those who enjoy LOTR, for example. It even comes complete with an exhilarating horseback charge of attack at the end that is reminiscent of The Return of the King in energy and panoramic glory. Ravenna’s mirror on the wall also oozes lethal golden beauty but is mesmerising too.

Sanders makes sure there is a seductive dichotomy of beauty and brutality throughout, with Theron encompassing this. She plays the role straight laced, being an expert in portraying thorny and unhinged beauty in a number of films. With Stewart cast as her nemesis in the looks stakes, it’s a tad hard to believe Ravenna has anything much to be jealous of. Nevertheless, both actresses are match for match in the final confrontation scene, which showers us with some of the best special effects this film as to offer, but feels short lived.

Hemsworth, still in Thor mode, plays rugged ‘brute’ naturally in his sleep, no doubt, with little else to challenge him in this. There is a nice ‘will they, won’t they’ love triangle going on between Snow White, Huntsman and Snow White’s childhood sweetheart William (Sam Claflin) – echoing the Twilight love saga perhaps? It’s disappointing that the introduction of the fun celebrity dwarves – played by Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Toby JonesBrian Gleeson and Johnny Harris – is later on in the story, meaning this heady mix of talent has limited screen time, before they are recruited into Snow White’s onslaught on the castle. In fact there are characters for everyone to enjoy in this, as it’s certainly not the narrative that engages the viewer.

Sanders’ outing is a Gothic technical triumph in many ways – minus the Tim Burton quirkiness of yesteryear. His attention to detail is fully commendable as he tries to reinvent the children’s bedtime story into something more substantial and appealing to the grown-up market. His choice of cast is hit and miss, with Stewart actually being the weakest link, regardless of her box office draw. That said there is a lot of visual wonder to bask in and be inspired by, making Sanders’ next project one to watch out for.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Journey 2: The Mysterious Island ***

Our thirst for family adventure movies is never quenched, and the promise of yet another involving a mystical, far-off land packed with interesting creatures promises big things. Carving a niche in such a market is Canadian filmmaker Brad Peyton, the debut director of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore that got mixed reviews in 2010. Tasked with breathing life back into the Journey to the Center of the Earth franchise from 2008, and with the second film simply shortened to Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Peyton’s shaky foray into family feature filmmaking has been redeemed.

In this adventure, a more mature Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) is back on another quest to find yet another lost relative at the centre of the Earth, his grandfather (played by Michael Caine), after receiving a coded message from him. Reluctantly accepting help from his mum’s enthusiastic new partner, Hank Parsons (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), the pair decodes the message and finds the hidden location of a mystery island through the classics of Jules Verne, Jonathan Swift and Robert Louis Stevenson. But getting to the island will prove tricky and highly dangerous, and the pair enlists the help of pilot Gabato (Luis Guzmán) and his attractive and smart teenage daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) who get ‘sucked’ into the bizarre rescue.

As such ideas and mythical vistas have been seen and recreated before, Journey 2 is inevitably predictable in a respectful, copycat Jurassic Park/Avatar kind of way – even down to florescent forest toadstools from the latter. However, it bounds along on a flurry of enthusiastic energy and silly but amusing frolics and familiar squabbles between Hank and Anderson Sr, never taking itself too seriously. In turn, it provides ample family fun with good clean jokes that neither bore the adults or sore over the kids’ heads.

It also aims to spark literary inquisitiveness that will have the youngsters checking out all the old adventure classics that its own journey is based on, including the lost City of Atlantis. In addition, and as with any film in this genre, it is peppered with lessons to be learnt and appreciation for your elders – even if Caine as Anderson Sr. is as unreliable as they come, and looks like an aging rocker at the end. It also has its faults when dealing with scaling of its animals in this new world (big animals are small, and vice versa) – just check out Anderson Sr.’s fireflies illuminating his abode that remain normal size.

The casting of beefy Rock – still a man giant from Fast & Furious 5 last year – with a toned Hutcherson acting alongside Hudgens in the tiniest of shorts and vest top and with curls to die for is designed to titillate and provide the glamour among the forest undergrowth. If nothing else, this display of youthful virility will thrust Hutcherson into the hormonal and rather over-crowded teen spotlight currently occupied by the Twilight boys. Boy-next-door Hutcherson has an appealing integrity about him that carries through from the first film, even though he endearingly struggles with teenage angst and bad chat-up lines this time around. Still, he can handle bee flying – another unoriginal nod to another kids’ film classic, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.

As for the 3D, it seems to have been deployed in this film merely to allow The Rock to do his party trick of firing virtual berries in our faces using pecks power alone – and it gets some giggles. Intimidating in size but as soft a playful puppy dog, the only really disconcerting feature of Johnson’s appearance is his oddly placed nipples that provided a fascinating, if horrifying distraction in the drearier moments. Still, the actor’s comic timing laced with sarcasm is in full supply in this, and he produces some comedy moments with Guzmán and Caine as the grown men try to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of making a quick escape. Apart from that, the 3D is just a nice, visually enhancing factor, but hardly earth-shatteringly important to the story context, so you decide whether you wish to spend the extra money when paying for a family cinema outing.

As foreseen as the ending is, it’s the journey taken that is key, in generating the laughs and the life lessons along the way. Journey 2 may not offer any exciting new premise to the genre and is not without its continuity errors, but its appealing cast has a great chemistry and an infectious team spirit that gives you a buzz and entertains you right until the corny and equally predictable finale.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Fright Night (3D) ****

Craig Gillespie’s last and probably only memorable film to date was the touchingly quirky Lars and the Real Girl in 2007, starring Ryan Gosling as a delusional guy who has a relationship with a life-like doll. This showed the makings of a great director of twisted unconventionality in the heart of suburbia – kind of like his latest project, the remake of 1985 cult classic, Fright Night, only in 3D.

Anton Yelchin reprises William Ragsdale’s troubled soul of a character, Charley Brewster, who learns that his new next-door neighbour, Jerry, is a vampire (played by Colin Farrell). But no one, not even alleged ‘vampire slayer’ Peter Vincent (David Tennant) will believe him. He tries in vain to keep the ones he loves, mum Jane (Toni Collette) and girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots), away from Jerry’s alluring charms.

Gillespie has produced a worthy comedy horror remake with thrilling bite that nicely balances the comedy with the frights, and actually uses the 3D in the moments that matter. Purely to engage latter-day audiences, he has brought Fright Night into Noughties’ Las Vegas suburbia with its sparse, box-like housing that’s a freak show in itself, but is familiar ‘hunting’ ground for the paranormal from many previous horrors.

There is a blood-sucking overload happening at present, from TV to the big screen, but whereas the Twilight saga takes itself too seriously, this is more like a comical version of True Blood, sexy and provocative but tongue firmly placed in cheek. For the ladies, there’s brooding Farrell as Jerry in full testosterone gear, hunting females like sport in a way we like to think the real Farrell behaves. Chris Sarandon as Jerry was far more debonair in the original whereas Farrell is a Hells Angel ‘bad boy’, complete with bike. For the guys, this genre film does lack a certain ‘femme fatale sexuality’ that is synonymous with vamp horrors and the sex connotations of penetration with the drawing of blood. Even Vincent’s attractive female groupies do little to stir the flames, almost a parody of the wanton hussies found normally cavorting in the vampire’s lair.

Fright Night 3D demonstrates how a stellar cast can make a dramatic and engaging difference to any offering in the vampire genre. In addition to Farrell and Collette who gives a great supporting performance, it’s ‘Charlie Bartlett the vamp slayer’, with Yelchin once again providing his unique brand of understated boy-next-door charisma and affecting vulnerability in another coming-of-age role. Yelchin is a worthy Ragsdale successor, keeping us onboard the fang fight, where less accomplished, younger talent may have caused Gillespie’s efforts to falter, but not forgetting to keep his character, Charley, interesting on many levels.

Tennant brings a touch of Russell Brand to Roddy McDowall’s memorable portrayal of Peter Vincent the showman that it’s hard not to think Brand is in fact on the screen. Tennant plays madmen with aplomb anyhow, and fans will delight at his camp, leather-clad appearance in this.

Gillespie’s Fright Night retains the cool but spooky factor of the first film, with a couple of 3D effects thrown in – or at you, mainly droplets of blood. It may well reignite the cult classic following of the first for a new generation as it provides a fang full of fun.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Prom **

Every girl dreams of Prom and fantasises about the hunk they’ll go with. Who better to deliver the fairy tale than Disney with its credit sheet that includes the mighty Glee and High School Musical? Even though this is another ‘paint-by-numbers’ coming-of-age tale, Prom is sweet natured and likable enough with a band of vanilla characters to sigh over and get behind.

The story follows a group of high school teenagers from different social groups about to embark on their first prom. At the centre is Nova (Aimee Teegarden), a beautiful blonde who’s managing the prom preparations and is the perfect straight-A student. After the decorations go up in flames one night, Nova is forced to work with hunky, motorbiking school rebel Jesse (Thomas McDonell) to get proceedings back on track. Not seeing eye-to-eye initially, the pair begin to form feelings for each other. But will Nova get her unlikely Prince Charming to take her to Prom?

Even with the lack of song and dance, Prom is no Glee or HSM, and though we suspect it’s tween-targeted, hence a huge relief for parents not wanting adult issues explored, it’s almost too sanitized to the point of eye-rolling predictability. The fear is that with all its good intentions about gaining parental independence, even young teens may tire of it, up to the point of the inevitable prom dress trying-on session and that first kiss. Some of the sickly-sweet moments feel like being wrapped up and gagged in candyfloss, like a classic Disney animation played out in live action. Kids today know more about ‘adult themes’ for Disney to try and revert back to an age of innocence. But like its more successful shows, Disney doesn’t have to play that safe and could have push the boat out a bit more and made Prom a tad more realistic. Indeed, all the actors are/look much older than the parts they’re playing that it all feels a bit like we’re being short-changed. Even the poster promises something sassier and deeper in meaning – and hardly the U certificate it advertises.

That said you couldn’t loathe the experience, however vacuous it feels. Prom does have some hot new talent to watch, for example, Cameron Monaghan, Nicholas Braun and McDonell. Monaghan has a natural comic timing that needs more film opportunities to shine, other than just his TV work to date. Monaghan provides the one hilariously memorable moment near the end as the giant gooseberry friend, Corey, sat with his Mum in his Mum’s car, watching his best mate get the girl. Braun does keep the much-needed chuckles coming (for the adult audience, in particular) with his ‘Prom?’ question fiascos, reminiscent in personality and looks of a desperate John Cusack in Say Anything…, the gangly, geeky man-child who’s unlucky in love.

The biggest winner of all in this is heartthrob-in-the-making, Depp-lookalike McDonell who keeps things moody and appealing enough to see you through to the inevitable ending – echoed by a near continuous ‘cooing’ from a whole bunch of female teens in the row behind when he appeared on screen. Twilight makers must be kicking themselves that he’s not signed up as part of the Black pack – McDonell could give Lautner a run for his money any day in the swoon stakes, it seems. In fact, McDonell could go onto bigger and better things than the infamous vampire franchise, considering he’s playing a young Depp as bloodsucker Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows, out next year.

As for the girls, Teegarden is decidedly cute, fretting and spilling her hormonal angst for all to see, but like a sugary treat will be long forgotten until the next one comes along. Her ‘journey’ is an all too familiar one that started back in Grease in 1978 when Sandy decided being bad was good to get her man – we even have bikes involved here. The only other intriguing female is teen temptress Simone, played by another baby-faced dolly-lookalike, Danielle Campbell who was just busting to be naughtier and vampier in this but was restrained by the Disney virtues Prom tries to uphold. Campbell is yet another cast member, like Monaghan, who needs a meatier next project to sink her teeth into.

Prom relives in-offensive (minus the awkward teen issues), nostalgic memories for the older (jaded) bunch, and conjures up daydream fantasies for the younger audience. As its characters will be fondly remember after Prom, it could surprise the average reviewer and build up quite a loyal following – of the fresh-looking cast’s next ventures, rather than prompting a Prom sequel. This reviewer will choke on her candyfloss if it’s the latter.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Watch the trailer HERE

Water For Elephants ***

There will inevitably be those weeping into their Sara Gruen novel of the same name after writer Richard LaGravenese’s film adaptation – even though the author swears nothing in the screen version diminishes her best-selling tale. And on the whole, Gruen is right. Water For Elephants recreates the story’s magical, old-fashioned love affair full of colour, beauty, honour and courage that sweeps you up on a journey of optimism and peril, within the fascinating microcosm of a 1930s circus troupe. LaGravenese’s vision indeed stays faithful to the feel of the 2006 book, even if chunks of the latter have been hacked to bring 14 hours reading time down to nearly two, and some characters have been altered.

It’s a tale of forbidden love: Jake Jankowski (Hal Holbrook), a 93-year-old, former circus worker and ex-veterinary student recalls his days at the struggling Benzini Brothers Circus in 1930s’, Depression-era America. A young Jake (Robert Pattinson) falls in love with the circus’s star performer, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who happens to be married to the tyrannical and emotionally unstable owner, August (Christoph Waltz), a man who charms one minute and is abusive the next. August thinks he can turn the troupe’s fortunes around after purchasing an elephant called Rosie (played by Tai the elephant). But as Jake and Marlena bond over Rosie’s training and concern over her cruel treatment at the hands of August, they cannot deny their own feelings towards each other, and realise the only way to be free is to run away from the circus, and out of August’s clutches.

For many fans of the book, LaGravenese’s first ‘error’ would be combining the characters of August, who is the head trainer in the book, and the novel’s violent circus owner, Uncle Al. In fact because the casting of Waltz is absolutely spot on, the film character of August is temperamental, menacing and sadistic enough to comfortably merge the two personalities, and deliver all their nuances – as you’d expect from the brilliant Oscar-winning star of Inglourious Basterds. Waltz triumphs once more, and along with his much larger co-star, Tai, lifts the story off the pages, and evokes all the emotion across its spectrum. Yes, the elephant really charms the living daylights out of you in this – even with some CG trickery for some of the abuse scenes. But the stunt moments, where Witherspoon lithely performs with an equally graceful Tai, fully capture the imagination and vibe of a bygone era.

In fact, Pattinson and Witherspoon merely provide the visual beauty and knowing looks, especially the latter, Witherspoon, who seems to capture that timeless, big-screen glamour and intoxicating mixture of fragility and toughness. As a couple in love, the actors’ 11-year age gap does little to distract credibility in their screen union, particularly as Marlena is portrayed as more worldly-wise. Pattinson shows the first signs of leading-man allure from a cinematic era past that, as is the case here, often made allowances for some more wooden acting moments. Indeed, Twilight fans can be guaranteed to get the Edward Cullen swoons again for the very first time after watching him as Jake, who comes up against all odds in the name of love – an act made for Pattinson. It’s grand-hearted, sigh-a-minute Mills and Boon/Jackie Collins-time, but Pattinson does need to lessen the shy schoolboy grins, though, which conflict with his more impressive, serious stand-offs opposite Waltz in this. He still has to shake off the teen-heartthrob angst performance, but is getting there.

As magical love stories go, LaGravenese’s period film is an enchanting watch – part in thanks to the exquisite art direction and cinematography – that stands more than adequately as a standalone film for those who have not read the book. In fact, although set in the 1930s, much like the eternal appeal and romance of Twilight’s vampire existence, Water For Elephants combines nods to a golden screen era, but with all the contemporary relationship gusto of falling for the wrong person. And it keeps things from getting too schmaltzy by keeping proceedings dark and unnerving, thanks to Waltz and the moody and threatening set ambiance. The film shamelessly plays to our love affair with animals, with Tai melting as many hearts as Pattinson in this, that seems to lessen any preconceived ‘violation’ of Gruen’s engrossing original text.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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