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New release movie reviews - 27 December
LIFE OF PI ****1/2 (127 minutes) PG
Very rarely does a film come along that makes you strain for superlatives.
Ang Lee's extraordinary, lyrical, beautiful, moving, genre-defying Life of Pi can, nonetheless, be recommended with the simple, sweeping assurance that it is unlike anything you have ever seen before.
After the freighter carrying his family's zoo animals goes down in a storm, teenage Indian boy Pi (Suraj Sharma) finds himself on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. And it's not a conveniently anthropomorphised beast with human-like attributes. It's a wild critter that'd eat Pi if only its claws could reach the makeshift raft Pi has to inhabit while trying to work out how he's going to survive.
Yet part of the film's unique magic is how the reality of the relationship is set against an almost dream-like seascape of stunning skies, endless oceans and haunting creatures of the sea. This includes Pi's surreal encounter with a singuarly bizarre sea-dwelling organism clearly designed to test the limits of the average film goer's imagination.
It's a brave mainstream film that unashamedly announces itself as a spiritual adventure, one that "will make you believe in God", as the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) casually declares to his inspiration-seeking blocked writer friend (Rafe Spall). It's this deceptively conventional yarn-spinning device that frames a fable-like tale that invites even the most cynical people - yes, that includes die-hard atheists - to engage with its ideas, metaphors and musings about The Almighty.
Destined to become a classic, Life of Pi is a film that becomes ever more engrossing, enchanting, enlightening and uplifting the more you think about it - a quality that runs so counter to so many mainstream films today.
Based on the 2001 novel by Yann Martel and written by David Magee, director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Sense and Sensibility; The Ice Storm) always keeps the film's grand flights grounded in Pi's central dilemma. It's easily the best film of Lee's long career and one that rewards repeat viewings.
And the film is a visual marvel. Lee's use of 3D is stunning, deployed less for the big, spectacular moments - which, let's face it, don't need 3D boosting if they're done right - and more to amplify Pi's inner journey. It's another example of 3D being used to enhance drama and emotion rather than scale and pyrotechnics.
As for the digital rendering of the tiger, the Academy Award people are going to have to invent a new category acknowledging the dramatic achievement now possible with visual effects.
It's a whole new realm of performance. The androids in Terminator 2 and I Robot, Gollum in Lord of the Rings, the apes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, even the monkey in King Kong broke new ground in the dramatic subtleties now possible with digital visuals.
The tiger in Life of Pi deserves a special Oscar for making us care so deeply about a beast that would happily tear your throat out if it had the chance. That's just one of the achievements in this brilliant, one-of-a-kind film. (Opens New Year's Day)
JACK REACHER *** (130 minutes) M
As ex-army crime investigator Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise is a tightly wound ball of butt-kicking energy just itching to be unleashed if sufficiently provoked. With his utterances full of testosterone and his eyes gleaming with unmistakeable "you asked for it" confidence, Reacher presents himself after an Iraq war vet is accused of a shooting spree along a quiet river-side park in Pittsburgh. Hired by defense attorney Helen Rodin (a terrific performance by Rosamund Pike, the British actress from Made in Dagenham, An Education and Pride and Prejudice), Reacher knocks heads with detectives, lawyers and assorted bad guys as he sifts through the evidence to - guess what?! - discover that all is not as it seems.
Produced by Cruise as another franchise character, Jack Reacher is a standard, somewhat formulaic crime procedural sparked up by its cast: Cruise's hammy, smirk-ridden version of author Lee Child's Reacher is designed to keep his fan army happy; Robert Duvall is great as a crotchety gun expert; and Werner Herzog - one of the few living directors who can legitimately lay claim to being a genius - steals a fistful of scenes as the deep-thinking bad guy.
(Listen fast for his great line: "Always the bullet. I don't understand.") This is solid, enjoyable, formula-driven stuff designed to self-replicate into a film series, nothing more - and there's nothing wrong with that. As with most casting "controversies", the tiresome outrage over Cruise taking on the role - he's much shorter than the character from the novels, wailed the online moaners - came to nothing.
As usual. Author Lee Child has even gone on record saying how delighted he was to have the biggest movie star in the world playing Reacher. His website shows how delirious he is about the film. After all, if an author is really unhappy with what someone might do with their books, they can always keep the movie rights to themselves. (Opens New Year's Day)