This week's new releases to try if you fancy a night in
Monsters Vs Aliens
3/5 Dir Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon US Dreamworks’s animated sci-fi offspring centres on the gigantic misfortunes of Susan Murphy, a feisty young thing with a crush on TV weather-dork Derek. When a meteorite strikes their wedding ceremony, Susan is affected by fallout and grows into a 50-foot chick with attitude. She’s taken to a secret underground facility where she meets her freaky co-stars, BOB (a gelatinous blob), Mr Cockroach, Missing Link (half-fish, half-ape) and a hare-brained maggot called Insectosaurus.
Some chucklesome Airplane-style humour is unleashed during this early stage as Susan (renamed Ginormica) tries to come to terms with her size, her surroundings and her wacky new friends. But as any filmmaker knows, there’s only so much jollity kids will endure before they yearn for some evil influence to stir things up, and here it’s in the unoriginal form of an invasion from space. Will Ginormica and friends defeat the evil aliens and, more to the point, will she ever be able to return to a normal life with Derek?
Monsters Vs Aliens is skilfully animated and spasmodically funny, but you get the impression the film’s seven (!) writers ran out of ideas two-thirds of the way through, opting for a conventional succession of overwrought combat sequences and feverish hyperbole. Derek Adams Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore
3/5 Dir Michael Mann US (TBA) Two of the finest actors of their time. The hunter and the hunted. A Michael Mann crime classic. But enough about Heat, what of Mann’s latest offering? This chronicle of ’30s bank robber John Dillinger and the efforts of J Edgar Hoover’s federal agents to take him out is headlined by a steelier-than-usual Johnny Depp, who convinces as the wily and ruthless thief. Mann’s film is an ambitious fresco of Depression-era America, where a string of armed robberies is grabbing the headlines and prompting a highly publicised crime-fighting operation directed more towards elimination than justice – significantly, new federal powers designed to assist the investigation also threaten the mob’s lucrative cross-country gambling activities.
It’s a fascinating moment in history, and Mann captures the cars, the guns and the buildings with painstaking, immersive authenticity. Then he has cameraman Dante Spinotti shoot it in widescreen digital video (with white-out windows it looks deliberately ‘digital’ too), so creating a ’30s crime flick with an in-the-moment immediacy quite unlike other period reconstructions. We’re right there on the running board as the getaway cars screech down the streets…
Impressive though it is, the film would be more thrilling if we had any genuine emotional connection to the characters. We end up knowing more about the social and political context for the crime spree than we do about the motivations of the key players: Depp’s Dillinger is driven by some generalised desire to escape, his moll Marion Cotillard merely sketched in, Christian Bale’s square-jawed lawman Melvin Purvis implacable in carrying out his duties. Elliot Goldenthal’s orchestral score strikes up to suggest some tragedy unfolding, but we’re just not swept up in it – and the Bush-era resonance in the human-rights questions posed by the feds’ brutal tactics isn’t sufficient compensation.
As in Mann’s Miami Vice, there’s a worrying feeling that the movie’s just skating over our feelings without really gathering much traction. It’s an event movie, of course, yet as Mann continues to lock himself into handheld DV mode, it does seem as if much of the poise and nuance has gone out of his filmmaking. Trevor Johnston Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore