September 11, 2008

New Releases Reviewed

By Steve Pratt, Damon Smith; Damon Smith

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (12A, 94mins) *****

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, Amber Beattie, David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Sheila Hancock, Rupert Friend, David Hayman, Jim Norton, Cara Horgan

THE friendship of Bruno and Shmuel is both unexpected and touching.

One is the son of a Nazi commandant, the other is a Jewish boy held captive in a concentration camp. They get to know each other separated by a barbed wire fence. They are innocents in a cruel world and the unlikely friends who form the crux of the new film from Mark Herman, who made Brassed Offand Little Vo ice.

John Boyne?s best-selling novel has been adapted by Herman into a movie that seems likely to end up on a few best film lists come the end of the year.

Eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is blissfully unaware of what?s happening in Europe as he plays with his friends in Berlin.

All that changes when his father, a Nazi commandant (David Thewlis) moves to a desolate part of the country with his family ? wife (Vera Farmiga), daughter (Amber Beattie) and Bruno.

Bruno goes exploring and stumbles across the compound where Shmuel (Scanlon), the boy in the striped pyjamas, lives with other similarly-clad people.

Where it all leads provides the film with a truly shattering climax. Herman, as writer and director, doesn?t put a foot wrong in dealing delicately with the tricky subject, although seen through a child?s eyes. His two young leads, Butterfield and Scanlon, are both marvellously fresh and innocent.

Thewlis is careful not to make his commandant too much of a monster, while Farmiga?s mother and Beattie?s sister, who?s drawn to the Nazi way of life, are good too.

Pineapple Express (15, 111 mins)****

Stars: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Amber Heard, Evan Goldberg

SCREENWRITING duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg?s follow-up to Superbad is another celebration of the underdog.

Yet another deranged buddy comedy sees socially-awkward misfits elevated to the status of demigods, rescuing fallen comrades from a burning building in their underwear or defeating a gun-toting bad guy using a humble family hatchback.

The script, peppered with oneliners, is soon ricocheting between action, comedy and human drama. On a couple of occasions, David Gordon Green?s film threatens to caree out of control, but there?s a strangely appealing method in Rogen and Goldberg?s madness.

Twenty-something slacker Dale Denton (Rogen) pays a visit to his lackadaisical dealer, Saul (Franco) and buys a rare and potent strain of marijuana called Pineapple Express.

Under the influence he witnesses ruthless drug lord Ted Jones (Cole) murdering a rival, abetted by dirty cop Carol (Perez), but is seen fleeing the scene.

Pineapple Express appears an odd choice for indie director Green but he brings his quirky style to bear amid all the explosions, including a cute game of leapfrog through shards of sunlight.

McBride is a lively sidekick while Cole and Perez sneer and snarl as the villains of the piece, peddling drugs to the masses without any concern for the repercussions.

Green?s film, meanwhile, leaves you on an entirely natural high.

Eden Lake (18, 91 mins)**

Stars: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Jack O?Connell, James Burrows, Jumayn Hunter, Finn Atkins, Thomas Gill, Thomas Turgoose.

Director: James Watkins.

JAMES Watkins? gory film and its provocative themes of teen violence and peer pressure couldn?t be more timely; his execution, though, is decidedly suspect.

Steve (Fassbender) and his girlfriend Jenny (Reilly) escape London for a romantic weekend in the countryside, where he intends to propose.

They head for a beautiful, secluded lake ? in reality, a flooded quarry ?but the peace is shattered by 16-year-old bully Brett (O?Connell) and his sniggering posse: Cooper (Turgoose), Harry (Burrows), Mark (Hunter), Paige (Atkins) and Ricky (Gill).

Tensions escalate and a fight leads to bloody revenge.

Once Steve is strung up with barbed wire and stabbed repeatedly to within an inch of his life, Watkins? script relinquishes its grasp on reality.

Also released The Women (12a, 114 mins) ANall-star cast lends its talents to Diane English?s modern-day remake of the 1939 George Cukor classic of the same name. Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) is a successful, part-time fashion designer with a handsome Wall Street husband Stephen, a 12-year-old daughter Molly (India Ennenga) plus a coterie of loyal friends at the heart of New Yo rk City life. This inner circle includes women?s magazine editor Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), clucky mother hen Edie Cohen (Debra Messing) and sassy writer Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith), who believes in always telling the truth.

When the pals learn from manicurist Tanya (Debi Mazar) that Stephen is having an affair with gold-digger Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes), they offer Mary all the support they can, apart from Sylvie, who desperately wants to land gossip columnist Bailey Smith (Carrie Smith) for her magazine. To seal the deal, she dishes the dirt about Mary and Stephen to Bailey, selling out her best friend for the sake of her career.

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