Friday, 23 July 2010

Dusting off Old Friends

Cine-review: TOY STORY 3 – IN 3D
U – 103mins – 2010
Story devised by: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
Screenplay written by: Michael Arndt
Directed by: Lee Unkrich
Starring the voice talents of: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Jodi Benson, Laurie Metcalf, Blake Clark, Whoopi Goldberg


It happens to us all: The toys and games which shaped our childhood and we just couldn’t go anywhere without are more-and-more frequently disregarded and eventually relegated to the bottom of a dusty old toy box as the years pass by, our minds blossom and our tastes mature. This isn’t to say that we don’t have fond memories of our bygone treasures (I still know where all of my Jurassic Park action figures are, for instance: car boot sale be damned!), but playtime just doesn’t mean the same thing when you’re approaching adulthood.

Thankfully, the same isn’t true of films, where the on-screen magic can be revived every time you press play: a time capsule forever preserved on disc (or videotape). Admittedly we do sometimes revisit the movies which had us glued to the screens for endless viewings as we were growing up, only to find the rose-tinted spectacles have discoloured and we’re embarrassed to admit we once fervently enjoyed Muppet Treasure Island (don't judge me), but the true classics, the ones which capture our imagination, tickle our funny bones and stir an emotional connection – of which I am including Toy Story (1995) and its stellar 1999 sequel – will stand the test of time and still enthral no matter how old our mind, body or soul.

Perhaps it is this podiumisation (is that even a phrase? Well it is now) of Pixar's flagship franchise which had the 26 year old me a mite concerned that revisiting Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and the gang over a decade after Toy Story 2 may tarnish the precision which preceded it: how could John Lasseter et al better perfection? Would this belated entry be an over-egged plod through stale plot lines? Would Lee Unkrich's first solo shot at directing become The Godfather: Part III of this popular pixelated trilogy? Had Toy Story reached its shelf life?

To answer these doubts as succinctly as I can: no, no and no again – no to infinity and beyond, if you will. C’mon: this is Pixar we’re talking about. Try naming even one of their films which is anything less than glorious? Even my least favourite of their commendable catalogue wasn’t a total Cars-crash, and their first threequel isn’t in any danger of diminishing their brand name.

The key to the super-studio’s eleventh feature film’s success is that Toy Story 3 has grown up with its audience, but not shed an iota of its charm along the way: like us, Andy (still voiced by original voice actor John Morris) is no longer the cowboy-obsessed youth with an overactive imagination, but a 17 year old lad on the verge of departing for college. His ever-loyal but depleting assortment of living playthings, shut away in a chest but desperate for attention, are facing the very same dilemma I set out in the opening paragraph: will they be sent to the attic to waste away with the Christmas decorations, get thrown away in the trash or be donated to another home where they will be played with once more? After all, these immortal accessories can't physically grow up – so they are plagued with apprehension over becoming obsolete and unloved.

Adult concerns, then. But fun for all ages. Toy Story 3 is still bright, uproarious family entertainment of the unparalleled quality we have come to know and expect from Pixar, but with a heart which belies the hard exterior of these plastic and vinyl characters. The result is a satisfying whole, a cornucopia or emotions which takes you on that most clichéd of cinematic tropes: a rollercoaster ride. From the adrenaline-pumped highs of a full scale Wild West fantasy (replete with Hamm-shaped spacecraft and Slinky Dog force field) to the heartbreaking lows of a rain-soaked montage revealing what made Lotso-Huggins Bear (Ned Beatty) the bitter and autocratic teddy he has become.

All of your favourite characters get their fair share of comedy highlights (Mr. Potato Head’s resourceful replacement body and Buzz’s default mode are two standout moments); no toy is left behind or overshadowed – except maybe in a fight for your affections – despite an abundance of colourful new faces added to the eclectic ensemble as Andy's mementos are mistakenly donated to Sunnyside Daycare, where “fun” awaits 5 days a week. But will self-appointed over-lord Lotso willingly let the new recruits leave this dystrophic nightmare of hyperactive toddlers, paint pots and glitter sticks? Cue a wonderfully orchestrated jailbreak sequence which is every bit as inventive and iconic as The Great Escape.

Fittingly for this Return of the King of the Toy Story trilogy, the climatic set-piece takes place in an enormous and mountainous junk yard with a giant trash-burning incinerator every bit as epic and ominous as Peter Jackson's visualisation of the lava-filled pits of Tolkien's Mount Doom . It far outclasses Toy Story 2's airport escapade, which always slightly niggled given its far-fetched nature (in a film with living toys; I know...). The moment when the gang hold hands in melancholic acceptance as they edge closer to the flames is a truly adult touch of humanity. Dark, yes, especially for the little ‘uns, but strikingly universal.

On a final note: yes, Toy Story 3 is animated in 3D, but not in a gimmicky lets-jump-on-Avatar’s-bandwagon fashion. There aren’t any marbles bursting out of a bag and flying towards the screen, for instance, but by putting on the Real-D glasses you are granted an added dimension which further brings these sentient inanimates to life and engrosses you in their intricate world filled with everyday dangers; the sandpit really feels like a mammoth trek across Sunnyside’s playground; the vending machine a daunting ascent to the heavens and the encroaching incinerator actually leaves you with a palpable sense of dread. But regardless of how many dimensions you view the film in, there is still much gorgeous detail to appreciate in every captivating frame and you are guaranteed to leave the cinema with a smile on your face, a lump in your throat, a warm glow in your belly and your batteries fully recharged.

Wait – what do you mean only toys have batteries?!

CR@B Verdict: Sublime, joyous, flawless; I could reel off a long list of glowing superlatives for Toy Story 3 and still not state strongly enough just how darn-tootin' good this film is. At the end of the day you just have to watch it for yourself. Repeatedly. With plenty of tissues.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Fangs, Fur & Pheromones

12A – 123mins – 2010
Screenplay by: Melissa Rosenberg
Based on the 2007 novel by: Stephanie Meyer
Directed by: David Slade
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, Xavier Samuel, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Peter Facinelli, Kellan Lutz, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Dakota Fanning, Sarah Clarke

I have read a number of reviews for this third silver screen adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s bazillion-selling Twilight saga. A lot of people – or their girlfriend’s – have opinions on it, natch. Every single one of these critical appraisals has cited Eclipse as far and away the best film of the series (so far). By no means a faultless or perfect movie, but far more accomplished than its two plodding predecessors (both of which, tellingly, had different directors). Having now watched David 30 Days of Night Slade’s vision of the teen vamp/werewolf romance, I am going to say something controversial. Brace yourselves, Twi-hards… I actually preferred Twilight (2008) and New Moon (2009). There, I said it.

No, before you ask: I have not read any of the books in the series. I have been told that I will appreciate the nuances of the films more once I have (and hopefully a myriad of questions - like why the hell the vampires seem to be made of crystal and “crack” when they are killed? - will be answered), but I refuse to believe it is a necessity; the films should stand up on their own, rather than as flashy and expensive advertisements for their prose counterparts. Besides, this isn't The Da Vinci Code we’re talking about, where countless passages of vital canonical research and Art History back story are edited out or crammed into a split-second of film in order to preserve a humane runtime; this is a teenage fantasy with vampires and werewolves.

The plot, for the unacquainted minority such as I, follows on directly from that which was set up in the previous instalments: Avenging the death of her pack mate (as visualised in Twilight), red-headed vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, an almost imperceptible replacement for Rachelle Laferve) is in Seattle, raising an undead army of ferocious newborns to kill American High School-er Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and break the heart of her vampire lover, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). The Cullen clan begrudgingly agree to a temporary alliance with their lycanthropic enemies in order to take down Victoria and destroy her newborn army, lead by murdered Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel), while Edward and Bella hide out. In the mountains. In a snowstorm. In a tent.

Intertwined with the conflict and action is the saga’s staple serving of romance and melodrama, as Bella is convinced she wants to be turned into a vampire to live her (after)life with Edward – yet she is unsure if, at 18 years-old, she is quite ready to marry him yet!! This may have something to do with her overprotective policeman father, Charlie (Billy Burke), who is, understandably, none-too-keen on the union, or it may have something to do with her best friend – the shirt-phobic, night-howler Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) – who admits he too is head-over-paws in love with our everywoman protagonist. Fangs or fur? Decisions, decision, Miss Swan…

While David Slade does an adequate job with the threequel’s larger scale and more intense battle sequences (even if the CGI werewolves still don’t quite convince – and what is with them “popping” in and out of lupine form?), it is in the quieter, soppier moments that Eclipse repelled me. Yes, I know I’m neither the key demographic or gender, but I didn’t squirm this much in Twilight or New Moon. Perhaps it is the darting from dark tension to light yearning; from fighting to fawning; from Seattle to Forks; which frequently jolted me out of my engagement with the film? Furthermore, I found the scenes with Bella and Edward laying loved-up in a meadow musing on love, sex and marriage to be excruciatingly awkward (akin to many of the criticisms levelled at Christenson and Portman in Attack of the Clones), which is doubly unexcusable given the star’s real life relationship.

Actors who did impress me were Ashley Greene as clairvoyant Cullen, Alice, and Jackson Rathbone as her "blood brother” and head battle trainer Jasper. Both actors bring the requisite peculiarity to their vampiric characters, both physically and in their off-kilter delivery, even if they are sidelined far too often in lieu of the star trio. Eclipsed (ho ho!) also are the Volturi, the powerful, age-old sect of vampires who lose any menace they accrued in New Moon by spending the entire film waiting in the wings. Guided by Dakota Fanning’s vacant Jane, they come across as a coven of self-important kids, only entering the climatic battle after it is over. How noble…

Finally, a tributary story fleshing out Rosalie Hale’s (Nikki Reed) tragic death and transformation via a mournful monologue and montage seemed a redundant attempt to darken the teen love story with a controversially edgy adult tone (Rosalie was raped and killed by her drunken fiancé), merely to provide leverage to the outstandingly obvious: that Bella is making a huuuuuge mistake by wanting to sacrifice her heartbeat for an eternity with Edward. And no, before you ask: that doesn’t mean I’m siding with “Team Jacob”, either…

CR@B Verdict: David Slade doesn’t alter much to the Twilight formula in bringing the third novel to the big screen. More epic in scale but more flitting in plot, Eclipse left me shaken but unstirred by its battles of the body and heart.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Man In The Mirror

Album Review: PRINCE – “20Ten”
NPG Records
Released: 10th July 2010


In the run-up to the Daily Mirror's recent 20Ten giveaway, the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly known as Prince (now just Prince) - once a pioneer for internet-only music downloads via his now defunct NPG Music Group - came out with the (slightly hyperbolic) claim that “the internet is dead.” Soulless, perhaps. But dead?! Sorry to contradict you, Mr Nelson, but I think the stats speak for themselves (not that I’ve done the research – I’m here for the choons, not the chores); there’s clearly life in the world wide interweb yet. Some may say it’s still in its infancy, but I digress...

Is it just a case of sour (purple) grapes for an '80s giant no longer at the top of his game, sales-wise? Would Prince feel any differently if he had granted iTunes the use of his considerable canon of classics and reaped the financial reward? Has the independent icon and rival-of-conventional-record-companies become excessively paranoid about the misuse of his image and circulation of his works? Or is exclusive newspaper distribution of audio material really the revolutionary future of a dying industry?

Whatever the answer, I don’t think any consumer can complain when they can purchase 10 tracks and 47minutes of brand new ear candy with the day’s headlines (and a free TV guide!!) for less than the price of a single iTunes download. With a week of free promotion (interviews, competitions, hype, et al) and his new album landing in 2.5million UK homes, you can certainly see the business sense behind Prince’s innovative move. After all, it worked wonders for him in 2007 when Planet Earth was given away with the Mail on Sunday prior to his 21 Nights in London concert series.

But the question remains: is 20Ten actually any good? Does it stand up to Prince's impressive - and extensive - back catalogue, or has the Purple One struck coal when mining for gold, second time around…?

“20Ten” Track-by-Track Review:

1. COMPASSION (3:57)
A bright, toe-tapping album opener and my personal favourite; “Compassion” is fun, catchy and happy pop, and would have made a perfect single, had this record required such promotion. If you can resist clapping along at the closing breakdown you’re a greater man than I.

Another funky number this, although track 2 has a much darker tone than its predecessor. “Beginning Endlessly” sounds like it would fit well on 2006's 3121; maybe it was penned back then? It’s less gleeful than “Compassion”, but still enjoyable snyth-pop, particularly when Prince and his rhythm guitar go improv crazy two-thirds of the way through.

As the song title suggests, track 3 is a total change of speed and mood, but no less delightful. “Future Soul Song” is a soothing and soulful (duh!) ballad with a serene and mystical quality enhanced by some beautifully lush backing vocals. In a word: Elegant.

A squirm-inducing rap (sample lyrics: “I’m just a gracious host / everybody under me make a toast”) is saved by some funky-ass rhythm guitar work in this mischievous ode to inseparable lovers which really comes alive towards the end. Any chance of a rap-free radio edit, P?

5. ACT OF GOD (3:14)
A rousing and funk-tastic cut packed with political topicality (bankers, tax fraud, imprisonment) and a killer riff. Pity it never really ends, though, instead segueing into the following track waaaaaay before it feels ready to. “Call it what you want it’s just an Act of God”

6. LAVAUX (3:04)
Another firm favourite of mine, “Lavaux” (it’s a region of Switzerland, globetrotters) begins like a punchy homage to “1999” and continues with one foot firmly in the '80s. This retro treat would get me on the dance floor in a heartbeat.

7. WALK IN SAND (3:30)
The sentiment is nice – if somewhat clichéd – alas, that is pretty much all I can say about “Walk in Sand”. A nice, comfortable, but ultimately forgettable three minutes of background music for 'adult time'. And no, I’m not just bitter ‘cos I’m single… *chokes back tears and resentment*

A sweet but sickly slow jam which is further hindered by following on from another sweet but sickly slow jam. “Sea of Everything” reminds me somewhat of Planet Earth’s “Future Baby Mama”; neither song has ever really grabbed me (dare I say they’re kinda… boring) and I find myself reaching for the skip button.

Well, this is just excruciating: A definite low point in this collection. A juvenile party puff-piece with vainglorious sentiment and a horrendously cheesy post-production effect on Prince’s vocals. “Whoop-de-whoop”

77. LAYDOWN (3:07)
That’s not a typo – you seriously have to fast-forward to track 77* for 20Ten’s bonus track, which sees Shelby J. joining Prince on vox. “Laydown” is stylistically disparate to the rest of the album, self-referencing a “new sound” which is more akin to the hip-hop style cluttering the charts today. That isn’t a criticism, mind, I thoroughly enjoyed the dark electro-beats fused with some funky guitar work. Plus how can I hate a song which name checks Yoda?

CR@B Verdict: A blisteringly confident start & strong middle are let down slightly by a slushy and embarrassing close. While not perfect, 20Ten is a merry, radio-friendly jamboree of Prince’s multitude of styles which will please fans & engage Daily Mirror readers looking for a slice of pop-tastic funk.

*Surely track 20 for song ten would have been a more inventive in-joke? But whatevs.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Ode to a Rowling Yarn

PG – 118mins – 2010
Screenplay by: Craig Titley
Adapted from the novel by: Rick Riordan
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Starring: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Catherine Keener, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Steve Coogan, Uma Thurman, Rosario Dawson, Kevin McKidd

A jumble of A-list Hollywood thesps play second fiddle to spellbinding CGI wizardry and a gaggle of up-and-coming youngsters contending with domestic woe, stacks of homework, the onset of puberty and saving the very-world-as-we-know-it in the origin story of this thinly veiled walkthrough of The Hero’s Journey, adapted from a multi-novel tween fantasy saga by director Chris Columbus.

Anyone else getting an uncanny sense of déjà vu?!

I’m surprised they didn’t go the whole hog(warts) and rename this multi-million dollar franchise kick-starter The Chronicles of Eragon Potter & the Copyright Thief. Frankly, it would have been more subtle than this sign-posted video-game quest around modern American and beyond, as the 21st Century - iPods, pop music et al - clashes awkwardly with the mighty tunic-wearing gods of Mount Olympus .

The catalyst to epic adventure in novelist Rick Rirodan’s series is that Zeus’s (Sean Bean) iconic lightning bolt has been stolen, and he is pointing his giant finger of blame at brother Poseidon’s (Kevin McKidd) earthly son, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), who is completely unaware that his father is the god of the ocean and that is the real reason why he suffers from dyslexia and ADHD and can survive underwater for seven minutes without breathing. If only that were true of everyone, huh?

A mere moment after his godly heritage is revealed to him and he is rushed from a confrontation with "Archetypal Enemy Test #1" to the woodland safety of Camp Half Blood , Percy is ready to take on anyone or anything. Accompanied by his Satyr – that’s the PC term for a half man, half goat – protector and best mate, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), and future love interest, Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), Percy must battle a medley of mythological monstrosities on his way to collecting a trio of Persephone’s pearls (handily deposited around the US & highlighted on a Maraude- sorry, magical map), to gain access to and from the Underworld and prove to Hades (Steve Coogan) that the eponymous demigod has not stolen Zeus’s phallic MacGuffin, so can he please release Percy’s imprisoned mortal mother (Catherine Keener) and not fuel an epic war between the irritable Grecian beefcakes?

*Phew* Can I breathe now?!
As you can imagine from such an overblown and longwinded plot, this film cuts out any surplus character set-up in the name of a bum-friendly runtime. As a result, the pre-reveal backstory of the Ordinary World passes in a hyperactive blur (ironic given Percy’s affliction) of winged Furies, goat legs and Minotaur attacks, which the character accepts and adapts too a little too smoothly. Once the trio are on the road and free of disabled-professor-come-centaur Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan), the pace is relentless, fizzing from dizzying set-piece to set-piece as Uma Thurman’s icy Medusa and a multi-headed Hydra are despatched far-too-easily by the teen’s newly acquired pen-sword, water-commanding superpowers and some strictly choreographed teamwork, on their way to the Underworld, the entrance to which is located underneath the Hollywood sign…

One ordeal of note is the teen’s stop off in Las Vegas , where the lair of the Lotus Eaters is masquerading as a high-end casino. The trio are bewitched by the spells secreted when they eat the exotic flower, intoxicating them with an urge to stay and gamble their lives away. This was a commendable scene for a child-targeted mythological fantasy flick, given the obvious allegorical parallels to the danger of drug abuse and gambling addiction (all set, predictably, to Lady GaGa’s mega-hit “Poker Face”). It certainly made me sit up and take notice, even if the change of tone made the scene feel totally out of place sandwiched between encounters with the archetypal enemies of old.

I hope I haven’t mislead you, dear CR@B fan, into thinking I could barely tolerate Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief? Granted, it is unashamedly hackneyed and there were some groan-worthy moments along the way (the licences taken with Greek mythology did induce a number of eye rolls). However, if I am to take this adaptation for what it is then it is far from a failure; and let’s face it, I’m hardly the core audience. It was predictable, effects-reliant nonsense, sure, but adequately entertaining predictable effects-reliant nonsense. It didn’t break any new ground, but I did break a smile on a number of occasions, particularly when cocksure Grover was wisecracking. Plus, any film where Steve Coogan is playing Hades as a leather-clad send-up of Mick Jagger has got to be worth at least a rent.

I can’t get no satisfaction; but my expectations were pitched as such that I wasn’t dissatisfied by Chris Columbus’s Potter-lite fantasy/adventure, either.

CR@B Verdict: A fun if formulaic piece of fancily-decorated, family-friendly fluff. Percy Jackson adequately ticks all the right boxes but falls far short of capturing an ounce of the wonderment of J.K. Rowling's juggernaut it is so heavily derivative of.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Blood Money for Drained Resources

18 – 98mins – 2010
Written and directed by: Michael and Peter Spierig
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Defoe, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman, Isabel Lucas, Christopher Caruso

Just when you thought the vampire sub-genre had been sucked dry from over a century of diverse fictional incarnations and dubious neutered interpretations (I’m looking at you, fangless and glittering preeners of the Twilight saga), along comes a fresh and ferocious take on the UV-phobic neck biters to inject the undead spawn of Bram Stoker’s mythical archetype with a transfusion of cool. And make no mistake: the Spierig brother’s future-set sci-fi/horror hybrid is bloody cool.

Set in a monochromatic 2019 where the last remaining scraps of humanity are being hunted down and farmed for their plasmic juices in a multi-national pharmaceutical laboratory run by the new and untanned master race, Daybreakers pits heartbeat-sympathiser haematologist – he who searches for a synthetic blood substitute – Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) against his own claret-starved kind when a pocket of human survivors led by Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan) and formerly-fanged Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Defoe) prove to the doc that there is a cure to reverse the vampiric plague and save the mortal race…

What impressed me most about this dark, stylistic future shocker was the Spierig brother's creativity with the subject matter and their striking attention to detail. Writer and director team Michael and Peter really immerse you in their apocalyptic world which comes alive with the undead when the sun goes down. Car windows are blacked out and fitted with roof-fitted cameras to allow for daytime driving; labyrinthine underground walkways provide a safe way to get about town without getting sunburn; brigades of gun-totting human-hunting soldiers are deployed to find food, without which the blood-gluggers slowly degenerate into hideous bat-like Subsiders (gloriously reminiscent of the creature Gary Oldman transformed into in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula). As I said before: bloody cool.

However, the cure (to death?) discovered accidentally by “Elvis” should be taken with a water tower's worth of salt. It’s incredulous bunkum, even in a genre flick peopled by pulseless immortals, but it is adequately sufficient as a plot device to progress the relentless action as malevolent corporation president Charles Bromley (a wonderfully snide Sam Neill) sets about quashing Edward’s resistance, hiding any hint of a cure and mass marketing the synthetic blood substitute for major profit. Cue a dramatic blood-bath finale which is only dampened by a slightly hasty feel to the epilogue.

It is hard for me to believe that a film with such a wickedly inventive premise took nearly 6 years to reach our screens, from Lionsgate acquiring the rights to the script way back in November 2004. But then this is a modestly budgeted Australian production – the State Government even contributed to the $21million raised – with the Spierig brothers having only one previous feature to their name (2003’s little known Undead). That being said, after watching their sophomore effort, I am very excited to see what the brave and imaginative duo create next. Daybreakers is a slick, spirited, sharply-scripted supernatural shocker which delivers on action, chills and gore (hence the 18 rating on this “Unseen Edition” home release) with a sly allegory on man’s profligate attitude to natural resources slipped in for good measure.

CR@B Verdict: Overlook the logic-vacuum of the “cure” & you’ll be treated to an hour and a half of blood-pumping action, spine-tingling horror and car-chase thrills. An atmospheric near-future creature feature with balls, bats and Sam Neill – what more could you ask for?!

Friday, 2 July 2010

The Tension and the Smart

15 – 91mins – 2008
Written by: Mark Jude Poirier
Directed by: Noam Murro
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church , Ashton Holmes


Sometimes the smartest people have the most to learn
So reads the tagline to this quirky indie comedy drama from the producer of quirky indie comedy drama Sideways (2004), and such a seemingly paradoxical statement has never been more accurate than when you are first introduced to the lead protagonists in Noam Murro’s debut feature film, Smart People: Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is an arrogant and apathetic English literature professor who has lived with his haughty, smart alec loner of a daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), since his wife died some years ago and his suppressed son, James (Ashton Holmes), moved away to college to spread his wings.

Lawrence ’s adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), is an indolent, unemployed free-loader who nevertheless never lets his dire situation get him down. Against Lawrence ’s wishes, Chuck ends up moving in to chez Wetherhold at the same time that the miserly college proff starts dating Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student who treats Lawrence at the hospital after a minor accident. That is pretty much it in the way of plot, but Mark Jude Poirier’s witty script energizes the eccentric characters with sharp dialogue and zinging banter as this small scale character piece unfolds: Will Lawrence ever be able to love again? Will Vanessa ever learn to ‘chillax’ like a 17-year-old should? And will Chuck ever be able to stand on his own two feet? Oh, the angst!

It is a testament to the quality of the actors involved that you warm to these wholly unlikeable characters. Page and Haden Church are particularly engaging; spunky, acid-tongued Vanessa and her zany party animal of an (adopted) uncle’s polar personalities spark and clash in surprisingly unexpected, unconventional and unexceptable ways. Perhaps the key to the film’s success is that, underneath all the barbed comments and unsociable attitudes, these are recognisable people and their relationships are astutely observed. We could all learn a thing or two from Smart People.

CR@B Verdict: Bear with these pretentious brain boxes and they’ll win you over as they learn their most valuable lessons outside a classroom. With lesser performances this skeletal film could have fallen flat, but the repartee between the ensemble cast make Smart People a smart choice.