The Week in Film by Robert Mann – Week Starting 7/8/09

Adam *****

Over the years there have been numerous films that tackled the condition of Autism with such high profile actors as Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) and Sigourney Weaver (Snow Cake) both having played Autistic characters. However, aside from the little seen Mozart and the Whale starring Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell, another form of the condition known as Aspergers Syndrome has been all but ignored by the filmmaking community, until now that is. Adam is a romantic comedy starring British actor Hugh Dancy as a man with Aspergers who develops a romantic relationship with a cosmopolitan New York girl. Already a critical success and winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Adam will hopefully pave the way for future films involving characters with Aspergers, something that I, as a person who has the condition, greatly look forward to. Future films aside, however, the question is how does Adam fare? Is it a well made and entertaining film and perhaps more importantly does it accurately portray a condition which is quite common yet so many people know hardly anything about?

Romance can be risky, perplexing and filled with the perils of miscommunication – and that’s if you aren’t Adam, for whom life itself is this way. Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a handsome but intriguing young man with Aspergers Syndrome who has all his life led a sheltered existence – until he meets his new neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne), a beautiful, cosmopolitan young woman who pulls him into the outside world, with funny, touching and entirely unexpected results. Their implausible and enigmatic relationship reveals just how far two people from different realities can stretch in search of an extraordinary connection.

Following a recent slew of mediocre Hollywood romantic comedies – The Proposal and The Ugly Truth you have been named and shamed – it is refreshing to see Adam, a film that could teach Hollywood filmmakers a few things about how romcoms should be done. Writer/director Max Mayer succeeds on two fronts with this film. Firstly, he has created a romantic comedy that is full of charm and warmth but that is based on a real world relationship with all the problems that entails as opposed to a fairytale happily ever after romance, and is free of many of the clichés and conventions that permeate mainstream romcoms. The film’s ending is far from a fairytale, being quite bittersweet in fact, but nonetheless the film will still leave you with a smile on your face because it is so sweet and touching that it really is hard not to love it. While not laugh out loud funny the film also has a good sense of humour, clean, honest, sincere and quirky, coming from heartfelt character moments rather than cheap, irrelevant gags. The second area in which Mayer greatly succeeds is in the manner in which Aspergers Syndrome is portrayed. He clearly knows his stuff and it really shows in the film, both in the script and in the production design. The film accurately portrays the condition and explanations for what is and how it affects those who have it are done using accurate terminology and presented in a manner that is simple without coming across as patronizing to moviegoers. Simple things in the production design such as the way Adam’s cupboards are arranged also accurately illustrate key factors of Aspergers and such little details really make a big impact. Certainly this film will educate viewers as well as entertain. The accurate portrayal of the condition isn’t entirely down to Mayer, however, with the performance of Hugh Dancy being pivotal. Dancy completely convinces as Adam, accurately portraying all the mannerisms associated with Aspergers and conveying all the difficulties and misunderstandings that come with it brilliantly. As a person with Aspergers I can honestly say that his performance rings true to life. Another great performance is given by Rose Byrne who is delightful as Beth and who convincingly portrays her character’s affections for Adam and frustrations at the difficulties she faces in her relationship with him. The relationship dynamic between them is extremely realistic, highlighting that a relationship with an Aspie is extremely difficult to maintain, and while it could be said that there isn’t much chemistry between them, this is really the point. Beth has genuine feelings for Adam but, due to his condition, he is unable to express such affections in return. This effectively illustrates how people with Aspergers are unable to experience love in the same fashion that others do. The tender and delightful performances of Dancy and Byrne are the heart and soul of the film, but there are also some good performances from the supporting cast, with Frankie Faison as Adam’s friend/confidante and Peter Gallagher (the focus of a subplot that doesn’t add much to the film as whole but is key in the character development of Beth) and Amy Irving playing Beth’s parents. All in all, Adam is an extremely touching film that successfully blends together both happiness and sadness to create a sweet, touching and entirely believable story of the difficulties people with Aspergers face when it comes to love and relationships. It is a truly delightful film that will leave you with a smile on your face and, quite possibly, a greater understanding of Aspergers Syndrome and those who have it.


Orphan ***½

It’s been a few years now since Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Entertainment released a horror movie (the very kind of the film they were created to make), their last film being the Guy Ritchie gangster film RockNRolla. Fortunately, however, they seem to have gone back to their roots for their latest production, Orphan. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously brought us Dark Castle’s slasher remake House of Wax, the production company’s latest effort has already proven more successful than previous Dark Castle scare flicks at the US box office – hopefully we’ll be seeing more in the near future – and a despite a concept that sounds extremely unoriginal – The Omen anyone – it has also been receiving fairly decent reviews from critics. So, might this Orphan be worth adopting or should you steer well clear of the orphanage?

The tragic loss of their unborn child has devastated Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) Coleman, taking a toll on both their marriage and Kate’s fragile psyche as she is plagued by nightmares and haunted by demons from her past. Struggling to regain some semblance of normalcy in their lives, the couple decides to adopt a child. At the local orphanage, both John and Kate find themselves strangely drawn to a young girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Almost as soon as they welcome Esther into their home, however, an alarming series of events begins to unfold, leading Kate to believe that there’s something wrong with Esther – this seemingly angelic little girl is not what she appears to be. Concerned for the safety of her family, Kate tries to get John and others to see past Esther’s sweet facade. But her warnings go unheeded until it may be too late – for everyone.

From the outset Orphan establishes itself as one of the most unnerving and disturbing horror movies seen in some time, throwing you right into the horror with a shocking opening sequence that may well stay with you for some time after leaving the cinema. And the shocks don’t stop there as some of the things the character of Esther does are things that a child should never really be shown doing. Nonetheless, despite the potentially controversial nature of many elements of the film, it stands as one of the best horror movies seen in some time. The horror genre has been pretty stale of late with some truly dire scare flicks having been churned out of the Hollywood filmmaking machine lately and this film bucks the trend. Director Jaume Collet-Sera effectively combines a variety of scare tactics throwing in both false jumps to divert your attention and genuine tension surrounding the antagonist of the piece. This film is genuinely scary and achieves this without resorting to using many of the standard clichés and conventions that are present in so many horror movies nowadays. In addition to this, however, he also blends in a strong and well executed vein of drama with the turmoil of its central protagonist being very well explored, and creates some scenes of beauty, notably in a scene where Kate tells a story to her deaf daughter through sign language in which we see and hear things from her daughter’s perspective. These elements show that he is capable of far more than just horror, and his work really helps the film to stand out among all the other horror films out there. The success of the film isn’t entirely upon him, however, with some fantastic performances at its heart. 12 year old Isabelle Fuhrman might just be one of the finest child actresses to be seen in some time, delivering an extremely mature performance that completely convinces and is utterly terrifying. She starts out sweet and adorable and her transformation into evil and psychotic is entirely convincing and downright creepy. Her portrayal of Esther is so sinister that it makes Damien from The Omen look like an angel by comparison. Delivering an equally fantastic performance is Vera Farmiga who perfectly captures the troubled mental state of her character, making her grief at the loss of her unborn child and her turmoil when no one will listen to her warnings about Esther all the more believable and harrowing. The performances of these two actresses are key to the success of both the horror and drama elements of the film and without them it would not be the same. The maturity of Fuhrman’s performance is particularly important come the revelation as to what is really going on, a plot twist that some many see coming but many won’t. It certainly isn’t one of the best revelations ever seen in a horror film but it does come as quite a surprise and is extremely well handled. So, all in all, Orphan stands not only as one of the year’s most terrifying and unnerving horror films but also as one of the best plotted and best acted. Sure, it still has its flaws but these are relatively minor and one thing is for sure, after seeing you may never want to adopt a child ever.


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ***

Following the huge success of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, another classic Hasbro toy line is now being given the big screen Hollywood blockbuster treatment. Huge in America, although never really seen here in the UK (the closest thing we had was Action Man), G.I. Joe is virtually an American institution, a toy brand that has been around to please the children of several generations and, just like Transformers has already had both comic book and animated series spin-offs. Now, the brand has been given a 21st century makeover in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a film which is hoped to spawn a new blockbuster movie franchise. And the man tasked with bringing the brand to the big screen is Stephen Sommers, director of the first two Mummy movies and Van Helsing. Much like Michael Bay in his directorial style, Sommers is a director known for excess, although where Bay favours the use of practical effects wherever possible, Sommers tends to opt for CGI all round. His involvement certainly ensures that this is a film that will entertain but will it blow you away like Transformers or will it pass by as an amusing but ultimately underwhelming diversion?

The elite G.I. Joe – Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity – team is an international force of operatives who utilize the latest high-tech equipment to fight terrorist organizations. Its members include team leader General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), Duke (Channing Tatum), Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Breaker (Saïd Taghmaoui), Shana ‘Scarlett’ O’Hara (Rachel Nichols) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park. Following an unspeakable attack by the mysterious organization known as Cobra headed by James McCullen a.k.a. Destro (Christopher Eccleston), owner of weapons development company MARS Industries, the team is sent into action to fight the growing threat that the organization poses, coming up against Cobra’s many operatives including Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), The Baroness (Sienna Miller), Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and The Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The team is all that stands in the way of Cobra’s plan to plunge the world into chaos.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is much like the previous directorial efforts of Stephen Sommers in that while it proves to be an entertaining popcorn blockbuster it fails to truly blow you away or stay in your memory for long after leaving the cinema. Much of the reason for this lies with Sommers’ over reliance on CGI for the action sequences. Action often looks better when it is shot for real and there are plenty of instances in the film where practical effects could have been used with much better results but Sommers went the visual effects route instead. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the visual effects were at least mind-blowing like those in Transformers but they aren’t, mostly just being passable with only a few sequences that impress, notably the destruction of the Eiffel Tower. The result is that the action scenes never engage as much as they could and should. This isn’t to say that they don’t entertain, however, as the loud, CGI overloaded sequences do still provide thrills and for this reason the film does across as a good if not amazing popcorn movie. Dig deeper though and the film’s failings become clear. To start, the storyline is quite slight, seemingly existing merely for the purpose of facilitating the action sequences rather than the action being built around a strong plot. Add poorly developed characters and some rather cringe-worthy dialogue and you have a film suffering at the hands of scriptwriting that is mediocre at best. There is some attempt to develop the characters through flashbacks that provide back stories for them but these sequences are largely quite redundant, character development for the sake of it rather than to further the plot of the film. Of course, however, the characters would be much better with better actors playing them. The majority of the cast members are reasonably entertaining but most of them aren’t especially charismatic and very few actually convince in their roles. In particular Channing Tatum fails to portray the range of emotions to make the character of Duke come to life. Just as crucially he also lacks the charisma that would make him a good leading man like Shia Labeouf in Transformers. Tatum’s ‘acting’ style may suit the roles he has been playing in teen movies for some time but it doesn’t cut it here. The rest of the cast follow in a similar fashion with many seemingly cast for looks, or in some cases fighting skills, rather than acting ability, Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are essentially over the top pantomime villains, a well cast Jonathan Pryce is given very little to do as the President and a cameo by Brendan Fraser adds nothing at all to the film. So, all in all, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is exactly like Sommers’ other movies. Superficially entertaining but more deeply lacking in real substance, this is a film that has definite value as a popcorn blockbuster providing a fun way to spend a couple of hours but if you want to see an action film that blows you away or more importantly doesn’t require switching your brain off this is most definitely not it.


The Ugly Truth **½

Thanks to big success with comedies Knocked Up and 27 Dresses Katherine Heigl has become one of the hottest properties in Hollywood, having come a long way from her breakout role in teen drama series Roswell. Now, with The Ugly Truth she looks certain to have her third consecutive comedy hit. She’s even an executive producer this time. Teaming her up with another hot property in the form of Gerard Butler this film brings the age old concept of the battle of the sexes to the big screen, offering what has the potential to be quite an original romantic comedy – quite a rare thing nowadays – and also a rare example of one that is aimed exclusively at adults with the film receiving an R rating in the states – 15 here – for much more adult orientated humour than has been seen in the majority of romcoms to be released recently. So, is this a romcom that truly stands out or is The Ugly Truth that this film simply isn’t any good?

Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is a romantically challenged morning show producer whose search for Mr. Perfect has left her hopelessly single. She’s in for a rude awakening when her bosses team her with Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), a hardcore TV personality who promises to spill the ugly truth on what makes men and women tick. Soon Abby finds herself embroiled in a series of outrageous tests by the chauvinistic correspondent and the battle of the sexes heats up. Mike attempts to help Abby win Colin (Eric Winter), the man who she feels is perfect for her, and he does so by teaching her everything that he knows about what men really want in a woman. As she follows Mike’s advice and gets closer and closer to Colin, however, she learns some things about what she really wants as well and begins to question whether Colin really is her Mr. Perfect after all.

Just two weeks after The Proposal hit cinema screens, yet another extremely promising romantic comedy proves to be a complete letdown. The failings of The Ugly Truth certainly aren’t the fault of the actors though. In fact, the cast is by and large excellent. Katherine Heigl perfectly portrays a character who longs for a relationship but whose own controlling ways keep getting in the way and she is quite game for many of the comic situations that are expected of her. She has an entertaining and convincing chemistry with co-star Gerard Butler and sparks really fly between them as they bounce quips off each other. Butler himself completely convinces as the misogynistic chauvinist type and is even more game for the situations than Heigl. Their gameness for the sake of comedy, however, doesn’t count for that much considering that the material they are given to work with is mostly quite weak. The film generates few really big laughs and the majority of its attempts at humour revolve around crude gags relating to sexual activity and such. The dialogue is often quite filthy, although it does at least serve a purpose. It is clear that this film is trying to say something about men, women and relationships as well as entertain the audience but it lacks that crucial smart touch and its representations are far too stereotypical. Butler’s character says that all men are the same and the film portrays many of its male characters as such but this is most definitely not true and to some this could well be construed as offensive. It could be said that the film is playing on such stereotypes and conventions but the failure to provide much more than crude humour and the manner in which it perpetuates the stereotype that all men are only interested in one thing prevents the film from being a very fulfilling viewing experience. This may just be me though, as I consider myself to be nothing remotely like the kind of male portrayed here. Overall, whether or not you like The Ugly Truth will depend entirely on your own personal taste. If you like your comedies to be crude and filthy then no doubt you will find this funny but it you want your humour to be clean and inoffensive you should steer well clear. Either way, as with The Proposal this is clearly a film that will be enjoyed much more greatly by women rather than men and any female readers should probably add a star to the rating.


Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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