“There’s nothing wrong with being scared, Norman, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.”
The second feature from stop-motion supremos Laika, ParaNorman is perhaps a perfectly pitched family-friendly ghost story. Its scares are quick and sharp rather than the pervasive creepiness of Coraline’s other world and, although it features zombies, there is sufficient slapstick to undercut their horror. The titular Norman is a kid with the ability to speak to the dead, something that results in his ostracisation as a freak until he becomes the only one capable of saving the town. The derivative tale might kindly be described as “traditional”, with an interesting conclusion that revolves around the power of storytelling, a theme that Laika would explore further in the extraordinary Kubo and the Two Strings. Although the voice cast features a number of high profile names, unusually for animated fare they are not hired to be recognisable, only Christopher Mintz-Plasse being easily identifiable as Norman’s bully. The artistry of Laika’s character design is the highlight, eschewing the generically smooth features that pervade most animation for a distinctive and fresh appearance to each of their films.
“Martha, at some point you’re just going to have to start recognizing these red flags.”
Mr Right is a screwball action comedy with a fun premise, hamstrung by a lazy script and dull direction, yet almost saved by the charm of its leads. Sam Rockwell is on top form as Francis, an eccentric savant hitman who has developed a conscience. Much of the film’s creativity appears to have been expended on an inspired opening sequence in which a hit squad destroys a hotel wedding venue whilst trying to neutralise Francis, unfolding from the perspective of an agent in a surveillance van charting their deaths. Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick sells us sufficiently on Martha’s craziness to make the impulsive decision to date Francis believable. This sets up a wonderful opening act of misunderstandings as Martha mistakes Francis’s honesty for dark humour, buoyed by the warm chemistry between the two. Once she discovers the truth, however, the plot largely shifts gears to focus on everyone gunning for Francis, with the clever choreography of the opening giving way to stale action. The film barrels toward an obvious conclusion with little payoff and yet, for all its failings, it’s not quite enough to ruin the strength of that first act.
“Oh, you don’t want to be friends with me, trust me.”
Lately Paul Feig has carved out a mainstream niche in typically light female-fronted films, varying from the excellent Bridesmaids to the disappointing Ghostbusters reboot. A Simple Favour takes a darker turn from the outset when an overachieving single mother searches for answers after her new best friend goes missing, but it never fully commits tonally in the way of Gone Girl. Anna Kendrick may seem miscast as a sleuth but her charming naïvité, narrating her discoveries through a vlog for mothers, is intentional. Blake Lively makes it believable that the troubled and often distanced Emily would draw people in despite her abrasiveness (she certainly won me over not just through her love of Martinis but by specifically referencing Dukes Bar and its particularly potent recipe for the cocktail). This all makes for an excellent first half — unfortunately the script then unravels with a need not just to offer revelations but repeatedly to retcon characters’ pasts. The resulting conclusion is cheapened almost to the point of parody.
“I like Dogs Playing Poker. Because dogs would never bet on things; so it’s incongruous. I like incongruity.”
Although it is equal parts a competent crime thriller and a character study of an isolated mathematician savant, The Accountant is essentially a disguised superhero movie that in some ways makes up for the fact that Affleck’s Batman will never see a solo outing. Christian Wolff’s “powers” are rooted in his autism and a childhood primed by his father to resist bullies. This manifests in rather more robust skills than the typical chartered professional, and a peculiar moral compass that allows him to work with some criminal enterprises in rooting out financial irregularities, whilst engaging in vigilante justice against others. The bursts of action are well-choreographed and blessedly free of jump-cuts. It is The Accountant‘s pacing as much as the violence which makes this a strictly adult affair. Although high-functioning autism has become a trope, it is handled here with some sensitivity and it would be reductive to boil Wolff’s character down to nothing more than “socially awkward Batman” (which is, arguably, just Batman). Affleck injects welcome nuance to his performance, particularly in his scenes with Anna Kendrick. However, the awkwardly preachy post-conclusion scene is… incongruous.