Dir: Roman Polanski
With: Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster
Running time: 79 minutes
LIKE some latter-day Abigail's Party transferred to Brooklyn, Roman Polanski's comedy drama is a watch-through-your-fingers, snigger-behind-your-hand affair. Whatever nightmare dinner party, parents' evening or coffee morning you've been to, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christophe Waltz and John C Reilly are out to beat it.
Adapted for the screen by Yasmina Reza from her play, Le Dieu du Carnage, almost all the action here takes place in one flat and a hallway. Instead of making the piece seem stagey, the setting adds to the tension. Polanski and his cast do the rest, so that by the end what starts off as just another tastefully furnished New York apartment might as well be a prison cell.
The plot is simplicity itself. Jodie Foster and John C Reilly are Penelope and Michael Longstreet. Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) are Nancy and Alan Cowan. Each couple has a son, and one of the boys has allegedly struck the other in a playground spat. Damage has been caused to teeth. Like nice, civilised, middle-class people, the four get together to discuss how the problem should be resolved.
Enter coffee, cobbler and simmering tension as the ultra-competitive mums and dads do battle. Polanski keeps the drama ticking along like a metronome, gradually increasing the pace. Whatever annoying traits each character has to start with are amplified. In the case of Waltz's character, it's his near constant talking into a mobile phone.
And just like that it's over, after a mere 79 minutes. You wouldn't want to come within a mile of any of these people but, boy, are they fun to watch for a while. And there's no Demis Roussos either.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (P G)
Dir: Brad Peyton
With: Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine
Michael Caine rides a flying bee and Dwayne Johnson comically bounces berries off his man-boobs in this belated follow-up to 2008's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, but it's audiences who may ultimately feel stung by just how inept this silly sequel is. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island takes another of Jules Verne's classic stories and proceeds to dumb it down according to the formulaic rules of blockbuster movie-making.
Josh Hutcherson reprises his role from the first film as moody, 17-year-old Verne expert Sean, who intercepts a distress signal from a supposedly "lost" island and resolves that it's coming from his adventurous grandpa (Caine). With new stepfather (Johnson) in tow, he sets out to find him with further assistance from a comedy pilot (Luis Guzman) and his conveniently attractive daughter (Vanessa Hudgens).
Brad Peyton's film does make good use of its 3D format and delights in throwing things out of the screen to impress younger viewers, but most of the sets look as manufactured as the characters, while the dialogue is truly bland despite the best efforts of Caine and Johnson. For a film that admires Verne's enduring literary prowess and imagination so much, this feels particularly hard to forgive.
Reviewed by Rob Carnevale