Inkheart (Germany/ UK/ USA, 2008)
Directed by Iain Softley
Starring Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren
Iain Softley has to be one of the most underappreciated directors working today. His films span multiple genres and have featured many of Hollywood's most bankable stars, from Angelina Jolie and Helena Bonham Carter to Kevin Spacey and John Hurt. But notwithstanding the cult status which Hackers now enjoys, his films have consistently underperformed at the box office, with much lesser films taking the limelight away from his often sterling efforts.
Shrek or The Princess Bride, but both of these films still go through a lengthy process of world-building, even as they send up the bricks and mortar they are using to build.
The Pagemaster or horror films like Stay Alive. The blurring of fantasy and reality is such a staple of these kinds of stories that any film that seeks to play it completely straight must bring something very special to the table.
Monty Python writers' sketch without the irony. But Inkheart pulls it off, creating a memorable paean to reading which is also a really fun ride.
The Ninth Gate, but without the outright contempt for the audience's intelligence.
Andy Serkis has played villains and thugs on numerous occasions, but he still brings a bespoke quality to Capricorn, and his impulsive, ruthless streak plays off Fraser's lethargy very nicely. Helen Mirren is increasingly becoming pigeonholed as a somewhat bitchy pensioner who kicks arse (see Red 2, for instance), but here her sardonic qualities make for welcome comic relief. And Paul Bettany remains as watchable as ever, bringing a weight and desperation to Dustfinger which keeps the plot moving (watch out, too, for a brief appearance by his real-life wife Jennifer Connelly).
Stardust: the story and action often doesn't feel 'big' enough to be on the big screen. The storytelling style of Inkheart is undoubtedly cinematic, and yet the early action and quirky production values lend themselves just as much to television. Like Stardust the film eventually gets into its stride and begins to justify itself much more adequately, but things do begin in a manner which doesn't instill a lot of confidence.
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