Director: Shane Acker
Starring: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau
In cinemas: October 28th
At its best visually stunning, at its worst painfully banal, 9 is a film of unfulfilled potential. It follows 9, a miniature sack cloth robot, as he ventures out into the ‘emptiness’ to… well… that’s all we know. From the outset we are unceremoniously dumped in a post-apocalyptic world with little explanation of what’s going on, or how we got here. That said, the opening scene is genuinely one of the most beautiful sequences you’ll see this year, promising a darkly gothic tale with tragic but loveable characters in a grand sweeping adventure.
9 comes so close to delivering on its promise. The key selling points are here – stunning visuals, inspired character designs and Tim Burton’s name attached to the credits – but it never forms a cohesive narrative. Yes, the scenes are at times breathtaking and always visually interesting, but the poor handling of the plot and the disappointingly short running time leaves you unsatisfied, and the empty space in your pocket where €9 used to be all the more noticeable.
The most interesting thing about 9 is how the viewer’s expectations are immediately circumvented: newcomer would have been expected Shane Acker to have created another dark, ‘Burtonesque’ tale of the artificial outsider – 9’s origin reeks of Edward Scissorhands, and his physical design of the Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy – but the result is a CGI monster film, more Cloverfield than Corpse Bride. Indeed, the sci-fi references come thick and fast, with everything from War of the Worlds to the likes of the Fallout series getting a look in.
In the end, the characters remain underdeveloped and difficult to empathise with. Viewers end up waiting endlessly for some kind of dialogue or plot exposition to help you figure out the undoubtedly fascinating world you’re being shown, but it never comes, lost under a sea of CGI fight scenes that take up most of the movie. Ultimately, the main plot issue here is motive; nobody has one, and it shows.
9 is certainly worth watching, its animation all-grown-up and will doubtlessly will be a cult favourite in years to come. A classic, though,this is not.
In a nutshell: The Borrowers’ as told by Tim Burton, and as Acker’s directoral debut, shows great promise – but like the film itself, fails to follow through.
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Director: Grant Heslov
Starring: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges
In cinemas: 6th November
Unlike the Vietman war, a subject so sensitive that films on its subject took years to emerge, the Iraq war has already featured in American cinema. The sugar coating of so many is that they’re political satires opening the minds of the great unwashed, which is exactly what The Men Who Stare At Goats thinks it is. But it’s not: sadly it’s just ninety minutes of non-evasive cinema.
Due to a muddled (and lets be honest, dumb) plot, a simple synopsis is what’s needed. All that’s certain is this: Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) goes to Iraq as a reporter to prove himself to his wife, who has left him for his one-armed editor. There he meets Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney) a name he heard while interviewing a nut for his local paper, who claimed that the American military trained a special force in psychic ability to fight and kill enemy soldiers. Bewilderment and hilarity – and goats – ensuse.
This is like some bizarre Ocean’s Eleven in Iraq, a concept far too poor for the film’s cast. The narrative jumps backwards and forwards in time, becoming far too much like an episode of Scrubs. Despite all this, though, The Men Who Stare at Goats isn’t a bad film, saved by the perenially wonderful Jeff Bridges as Bill Django, illuminating the screen in his every scene. It’s a shame that the character development doesn’t go far enough to invest in him; a character who could have had weight and poignancy is sadly deployed as a means of hurrying things along.
The Men Who Stare At Goats is a film with an inflated sense of self-importance. Any commentary it has about war is drowned out by the constant use of ironic rock songs. The end result is a film that thinks it has delivered an important message, when in fact it has merely provided a few laughs and 90 minutes’ reasonable enjoyment. You’ll leave feeling entertained; the only problem is that you should feel more enlightened too. This is the ultimate failure of the film.
In a nutshell: Mature entertainment that doesn’t tax the brain, but if you want political satire, rent out In the Loop.
Cirque De Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
Director: Paul Weitz
Starring: Chris Massoglia, Josh Hutcherson, John C Reilly
In cinemas: Now
Take the Oscar-winning screenwriter of L.A. Confidential and an actor used to working with Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson. Pair them together in a film tackling the subgenre of horror that seems to have captured the zeitgeist like no other at the moment, the Vampire story. What do you get? A bit of a mess, really.
To be fair to both Brian Helgeland and John C. Reilly, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is not aimed at an audience they usually cater to. An adaptation of Darren Shan’s Vampire Blood trilogy of ‘young adult’ horror novels, the film centres on teenager Darren (Chris Massoglia) and his best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) as they attend an illegal freak show, lead by Reilly, in their dreary town, and are subsequently sucked into a world of snake boys, bearded ladies and century-old wars between different sects of the Vampire world.
In a month that alone sees HBO series True Blood arrive on DVD and the cinema release of Thirst, from director Park Chan-wook of Oldboy fame, The Vampire’s Assistant might be viewed as a more teen-friendly take on an age-old myth, but it’s hard to see how any teenager could take pleasure in a film so devoid of tension or scares.
It’s also hard to believe that the man who adapted James Ellroy’s magnum opus into such a wonderful script could pen dialogue as banal as the opening voiceover of musings on the unpredictability of life with all the wisdom of an agony aunt column. Although the narration is soon ditched, one almost wishes it were kept around for unintentional comic effect, which may have relieved some of the films boredom.
Matters aren’t helped by the CGI-heavy special effects, which are no better than a well-budgeted TV show, or by the frankly uncharismatic performances from its two teen leads. Of course, it may seem irrelevant to criticise a fantasy film on issues like the acting or screenplay, but when the film is directed by Paul Weitz, whose brother and frequent collaborator Chris is directing the next instalment in the billion dollar Twilight franchise, comparisons are inevitable, and do The Vampire’s Assistant little service.
In a nutshell: If you can’t wait for the upcoming New Moon… be more patient. This isn’t going to fill that bat-shaped void.