By BRUCE DENNILL
The Jesus Storybook Bible Vol. 1-4 (A) 7
Ghostbusters: Answer The Call / Directed by Paul Feig / 10V 7
Byzantium / Directed by Neil Jordan / 16HLV 5.5
The Vatican Tapes / Directed by Mark Neveldine / 13HV 6
The printed version of the Jesus Storybook Bible, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago, has been around for nearly a decade and sold a couple of million copies. It’s influence is now extended to the small screen with this series of DVDs, which feature between 10 and 12 short animate stories per volume, covering the entire scope of the Bible on a superficial level. Actor David Suchet narrates it all, giving a smooth continuity to the series and adding the requisite emotion to each part of the tale – more dramatic when Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and more contemplative when Jairus asks Jesus to tend to his daughter (as two examples). The animation is simple – elegant line drawings that move rather than the 3D magic of the Pixar blockbuster – but effective. It allows the focus to remain on the story rather than any distracting special effects, which must be something the filmmakers were hoping would be the case. And it’s not just for kids, either. Adult viewers hanging out with their kids as the stories unfold will almost certainly find that new insights are forthcoming as the stories play out, particularly as the script highlights the links between the clear messages of stories throughout the greater narrative. These include the projection of the effect that Jesus would have in the Old Testament story of Joseph, among many other similar links. Simple, eloquent theology, beautifully pitched for a young audience. Entertaining and educational. Get the set and hold onto it for your kids and their kids.
It’s not until some way into this reboot that you become aware just how closely the filmmakers have stuck to the original formula with Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. There are loads of aspects that are obviously different – the original all-male team being replaced by a squad of women, for one – but there are just as many facets that mirror what happened the first time around. Our heroes’s views are under-appreciated by those in authority and relegated to the fringes, where they make progress using their own idiosyncratic methods. They form an unlikely alliance once they figure out that they’re allies despite their differences and thanks to self-designed technology, chutzpah and a long list of chortle-y one-liners, they’re able to save Manhattan. Again. Kristin Wiig’s dorky researcher is the catalyst for the formation of this new team, with Melissa McCarthy – reliably wacky – and Kate McKinnon playing scientists specialising in the harnessing of ectoplasm and other ghostly energies. Leslie Jones is their final draft – a subway booth clerk who’s happy to escape the tedium of that job for something that involves shooting ghouls. As it turns out, McKinnon is the trump card. It’s the sort of story in which everyone is unconventional, but she pitches her character, Jillian Holtzmann, as profoundly eccentric and just piles on the kookiness from there. Chris Hemsworth also provides excellent comic value, playing against type as a clumsy, airheaded secretary who looks like an Adonis but has the social skills of a puppy. As the expected – for viewers old enough to have seen the original in 1986 – narrative arc plays out, the soundness and influence of that first script is ever more notable. It’s daft, but everything fits well and the pacing and humour work. The latter, bar the occasional detour into cheesiness, is particularly solid here – not surprising when you consider that all of these Ghostbusters are Saturday Night Live alumni.
Neil Jordan directed Interview With The Vampire, so it’s not his first time telling a story about vampires that doesn’t involve either buckets of endless gore or gormless teenagers glistening in sunlight. Byzantium, though, is not much of an event as the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt hit, being more of an examination of the relationship between a mother and her daughter (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan respectively) whose struggle against the ennui that comes with not having enough money to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Part of the challenge for the pair is that, according to this version of vampire lore, female vampires are denied a range of rights, giving the narrative a feminist facet. That Arterton’s character works as a stripper rather ruins that thread, but it is one part of a story – another being that Ronan’s romantic interest has leukemia – that gives this project a fresh slant. It’s relatively dour stuff though. Arterton is gorgeous and volatile and Ronan is elegant and melancholy, but they’re players in what is, in many ways, just another kitchen sink drama.
It’s an informal film studies rule: all movies that centre on the possession of an innocent by an evil spirit and have as a protagonist a brave priest must be compared to The Exorcist. Using that reference, The Vatican Tapes is a good, solid offering, starring Olivia Taylor Dudley as Angela, a beautiful young woman whose American Dream lifestyle inexplicably becomes a nightmare as inexplicable, unpredictable occurances start to eat away at her sense of self and relationships. She is fortunate in that those closest to her, including her boyfriend (John Patrick Amedori) and father (Dougray Scott) are not the sorts to let something minor like a rampant demon get in the way of their affection for Angela. And in Father Lozano (Michael Pena), they have a sensitive but stoic man who is willing to examine all sides of the story before making a judgment on what he sees. Beyond that, director Mark Neveldine utilises a range of familiar horror film tropes, but he does so very effectively, taking the action a step further than many viewers might expect or be comfortable with. The Vatican Tapes will inspire a shudder here and there and, though its age restriction is fairly low, it wouldn’t be wise to show it to youngsters.