It’s not hard to see why Emma Stone has already become the next big thing. Easily stepping into La Lohan’s shoes for feelgood teen comedy with bite, she commands the screen with just as much charisma as she showed in ‘Zombieland’, and with intelligence to spare. Granted, ‘Easy A’ doesn’t require much intelligence to watch, but it does ask some awkward questions about modern teenagers and of teen life in general, and doesn’t always offer easy answers. Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a high school loner who one day inadvertently makes her best friend think she’d slept with a college student. Enter her gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd), a bullied loner too, who asks her to pretend to have sex with him in order to relieve his daily torment. She agrees, but it opens the floodgates for all bullied loners – Olive relieves the suffering of the lives of the high school oppressed, but at the cost of her own reputation. She meanwhile doesn’t have sex with anyone, and doesn’t even notice the advances of ‘Woodchuck’ Todd (Penn Badgley).
Bert V Royal’s script is peppered with hilariously funny lines, largely given to Stone’s ultra-liberal parents Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, but Will Gluck’s movie isn’t afraid of going very dark places too. Stone is even thrown under the bus by school counsellor Lisa Kudrow (typically witty yet acerbic), who sleeps with a ‘Christian’ student behind her husband Thomas Haden Church’s back. Royal and Gluck never give her a break – her reputation gets shot to hell whilst trying to do the right thing, yet the people she helps don’t help her back. It may not be as black as ‘Heathers’, but it has a similar point to make about contemporary teen culture.
It likens itself to the teen movies of the 1980′s (‘Say Anything’ in particular), but whilst it occasionally has similar sensibilities, it does tread ground they covered more sincerely two and a half decades ago. There’s nothing original here, and whilst Stone fills the role effortlessly, she does quite often give off the air that she’s beneath it. I couldn’t agree more – ‘Zombieland’ most recently made that clear, and it’ll be interesting to see her in the Spider-Man reboot, but this is still a lot of well-meaning fun. Comparisons have been made between this and ‘Clueless’ – both have strong, career-making female leads, both pay homage to notable pieces of literature (Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ there, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ here), and it’s a significant point; both may be fluffy but they’re intelligent too. You won’t see a teen movie ultimately this good again for a long time.
‘Devil’ may have had an excellent promotional campaign, but the connection with M Night Shyamalan should really set alarm bells off to those in the know. For all the bluster about being a supernatural thriller, ‘Devil’ is surprisingly conventional, often tediously so, and is ultimately painfully preachy and annoying.
Five people enter a skyscraper lift, all with their own secrets. Half way up it stops inexplicably, as things start to go wrong. Then the lights go out and passengers start dying, but why? That’s what cop Chris Messina must find out, with communication with the passengers inexplicably poor and other terrible accidents happening around him. One security guard insists that Satan has intervened, but with what agenda?
What could have been a classic blood n guts fright fest comes across more like a poor TV movie, with the most obvious passenger of all (Jenny O’Hara) hosting the Devil, who aims to cull His way through the other passengers until He reaches his intended target. Of course Logan Marshall-Green’s dark secret just happens to connect to Messina’s dark past, leading to a woefully predictable moral quandry for the investigating officer, which of course (being a Shyamalan creation) is resolved in the most patronising and preachy manner possible. Director John Erick Dowdle does, I admit, achieve the impossible and makes this irritating mess pretty entertaining – there may be almost no suspense but there’s sure some fun shock value. Screenwriter Brian Nelson’s work though is ultimately a pretty weak affair – no credible character development, a thoroughly uninteresting story with the world’s most pointless voiceover practically screaming the film’s subtext for those stupid enough not to have read the title of the film.
Only worth bothering with at the cinema if you’re really bored, otherwise a definite example of wait until it’s on the TV and see it for free!
If Ryan Reynolds hadn’t been attached to this it no doubt would never have been made, and this steaming pile of crap really shouldn’t have. Rarely in my cinema going life have I ever been so infuriated by a 90 minute experience, having left feeling like my time had been utterly and completely wasted but for experiencing the sight of Reynolds’ arms (and what arms!). The travesty is that ‘Buried’ is underpinned by a whole series of good, theatrical ideas, which never get tackled (or directed) properly, and then there are the continuity goofs. But I’ll get to them.
Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, an American truck driver in Iraq, whose convoy is attacked by insurgents, who kill most of his friends. He is buried in a wooden coffin in a shallow grave, and ransomed for $5 million, and has the length of the film to either raise the money or find his way out. What should then be an exercise in suspense and claustrophobia then mystifyingly becomes an exercise in tedium. Which family member is he phoning? Who cares? Is it really likely that his HR director would torment him so thoroughly when he’s close to death? Why do we need to hear the political platitudes from screenwriter Chris Sparling about how widespread and horrific this phenomenon is in post-war Iraq right now? Director Rodrigo Cortes never buckles down and delivers the suspense/horror film which this initially promises to be.
It’s not because the premise is faulty – it’s entirely because there’s never any real sense of suspense. Reynolds hears a call to prayer, suggesting he’s not just in a shallow grave but a really shallow grave – why doesn’t he just kick his way out when the coffin starts to collapse? Why is more not made of the clock ticking, of the mobile phone he’s given losing power? Why does he have more air than he could possibly handle, after burning more than his fair share with his lighter’s flame (and a goddamn fire) and panicking regularly? These inconsistencies may be true to life for all we know but this is a movie – although Reynolds makes Conroy very human and likeable this just isn’t entertaining or remotely compelling.
And don’t get me started about the betrayal of an ending. I accept that either way out would have been difficult to write, but it comes straight out of the Twilight Zone. It might work on the TV after half an hour of suspense, but not after 90 minutes of the film makers desperately trying to tell you something. Conroy’s death, whilst neatly undoing his ‘rescue’, tells you you’ve just wasted the entire movie finding out very little about a nice (but uninteresting) man for no reason. I wish I’d walked out. Don’t touch with a barge pole.
It’s starting to seem like heresy, but I wasn’t really bothered about Stephen Frears’ latest slice of British life ‘Tamara Drewe’, based on the comic strip by Posy Simmonds. I feel I probably should have – looking through the online copy of the strip it’s clearly quite amazing, and Frears has long been one of my favourite directors, but this just screamed ‘misfire’ throughout, despite some impressive performances (notably by Tamsin Greig) and some seriously thoughtful moments. But for a film adapting a work of such wit and insight into country village life it was awfully sanitised – at times it felt like a Working Title film – and star Gemma Arterton offered very little to the title role other than her normal vacuous, pouting beauty. There was a serious amount of insight to be had in middle aged relationships and indeed into the tensions to be found in English village life, but it felt overcooked, so eager to please the inevitable American hordes with their old-fashioned ideas about England, that much of its worth got drained right out of it.
Stephen Frears has had a number of peaks into British life: ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’, ‘The Queen’, ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ & ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ to name but a few, but this is by far the most overtly middle class (by his own admission). And in my opinion this is the film’s downfall – the Tamara in the strip is a powerful indictment on female sexuality and what she had to change about herself to get ahead in the world. Here though Arterton offers the odd commentary on celebrity – sanitised for the Working Title ‘Love Actually’ audience, but given she’s not gifted in front of the camera, most of her scenes come across wooden or downright dead. There’s a great opportunity to contrast her move up in the world with young Jessica Barden’s character, stuck unnoticed in nowheresville, but where the strip had Jody’s desperation leading her to a dark end, here her hatred of village life is simply dumbed down for comic effect.
Whilst I can’t deny that the subplot of Roger Allam’s affairs behind screen wife Tamsin Greig’s back is entertaining (and you can’t knock their acting chops), it’s just not terribly original, nor is it always believable. Allam’s initial bit on the side may have been a social climber, but his affair with Arterton is impossible to comprehend. Out of the entire cast only Greig really manages to stop herself from indulging in the stereotypes clearly present in Moira Buffini’s screenplay, and to inject a third dimension into proceedings. Both character and actor have a great deal to say about middle class women in her position, but it’s again slightly undermined by some of the inappropriate comedy surrounding her (Allam dying under a herd of stampeding cows?). Only Barden’s character offers the greatest opportunity to force contrasts into the story and make the characters more interesting, but Frears only ever offers a saccharine look at the social pressures driving her.
‘Tamara Drewe’ is an extremely warm, friendly and amazingly cast film. The comedy is enjoyable in a ‘My Family’ sort of way, and it’s a mildly interesting look at an area of English life which rarely gets mainstream film attention. It just has nothing challenging (or terribly original) about it at all and left me a bit cold.
I like Phillip Noyce, but the last good film he made was over a decade ago. I like Angelina Jolie but she’s only had one good film under her belt across her entire career. ‘Salt’ doesn’t change the game for either of them. It’s an overlong, under-written affair, punctuated by lame performances from actors who should know better and plots that were old twenty years ago, which insult the audience’s intelligence from the outset.
Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent with a murky past, who works alongside fellow agents Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor (who demeans himself by even appearing in this wreck). One day out of the blue they’re confronted by a Russian defector (erm didn’t that end a decade or two ago?), who insists Salt is a sleeper agent, who is planning on killing the Russian president. Ejiofor expresses alarm, but despite being in a top security facility the defector manages to escape with ease, as does Jolie. Rather than clearing the matter up, she goes on the run, showing she’s exactly what he says she is, but claims to be hunting her kidnapped husband, who appears to have a secret significance for her (and then doesn’t). She appears to succeed in her preposterous ambition, but of course it’s all smoke and mirrors to get to the heart of the deeper conspiracy and prevent the assassination of the American president and the triggering of the Third World War. And guess who’s behind it? Well who’s the remaining A/B-list star from the credits not accounted for?
It’s predictable hocum, playing fast and loose with the audience’s understanding of geopolitics – why is the American president prepared to launch a nuclear attack on Russia when the plot is repeatedly acknowledged as a defunct Soviet one, masterminded by independent terrorists? It’s also pretty clear that the underlying sleeper agents plot, ready to destroy American society from within, is an analogy for 9/11-style radical Islamists, but the producers were no doubt too fearful of the reaction they’d get to go with their original plot. It’s ultimately a film for young teenagers and Jolie’s most die-hard fanbase, nothing more. ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’ was also poorly written, but at least it had some charm, which this does not. Kurt Wimmer’s script had originally been offered to Tom Cruise (and you can see why, as well as why he turned it down), and it clearly aims for a sequel as Salt runs into an oh-so ‘Fugitive’-esque future, promising Ejiofor, who suddenly accepts her account of her final battle with Schreiber (you guessed right) with no evidence whatsoever, that she’ll take all the remaining sleeper agents out herself. She needn’t rush.
Noyce wastes the first half hour with one interminable chase after another, and it’s all really tedious and annoying. ‘The Sum of All Fears’ covered similar ground nearly a decade ago, and with much more credibility. Jolie panics over the welfare of her husband, but not so much that she doesn’t (seem to) fulfil her programming before looking for him, and then lets the plotters murder him in front of her face. All the Secret Service bodyguards in the world can’t keep the president safe in the White House bunker. The American nuclear launch protocols are remarkably easy to manipulate. The Russian president pops up quite alive days later, even though he would have been autopsied by then. Ugh ugh ugh. To be fair it improves after the initial, never-ending (and well choreographed) chase, but the plot is silly, the dialogue cringe-worthy and the film fails lamentably to stand out in a summer crammed full of (mostly) awful blockbuster attempts. I’m prepared to accept Jolie as an action lead, but she needs to get a much better script first. Noyce in turn needs to stop trading on past glories.
I can do better vlogs than this and hopefully over the next few days you’ll get to see some better efforts. I could have said how infuriating it was to have sequences screenwriter Patrick O’Neill didn’t want to or couldn’t get himself out of explained just by drugging Diaz’s character. I could have mentioned how bizarre it was to have Cruise’s character a government sponsored secret agent, whilst owning a private secret, Thunderbirds-style island in the Azores, or how asinine the genuine bad guy (it was never going to be Cruise) was – almost reduced to twirling his evil Spanish moustache to prove his menace, and even being wrongly overdubbed in Spanish – did director James Mangold think we just wouldn’t notice? What about the oh-so-convenient ending or the bizarre finale? And why bring in Cruise’s screen parents? An unentertaining, poorly thought out mess of a film, which deserves to crash and burn.
P.S. For those of you who have seen it – was there any attempt whatsoever to explain the ‘day’ in ‘Knight and Day’?
It’s a quirky old film is Greenberg. And its quirkiness is both its success and failing – the film neatly refuses to fit into any particular genre – is it a man/dog buddy movie? Is it a character study? A diatribe about the failings of current society for the current 40′s generation? The answer is never clear. This defiance also makes it hard to emotionally invest in – without a clear beginning, middle and certainly no end, what is the point in watching Greenberg? Well considering nothing ends up really happening to him by the story’s end, you could easily say there is none, but my answer is this: Ben Stiller. It’s something which quite shocked me – I’ve strongly disliked Ben Stiller and hated his performances for years, but his intensely unlikeable Roger Greenberg is a character I found myself fascinated by and one I warmed to despite myself.
Screenwriter-director Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Greenberg is a 41 year old man consumed by the errors of his past and the irritations of the modern world. Recently released from a mental hospital, Greenberg housesits for his brother and family. He forges an awkward relationship with their au pair Greta Gerwig and pursues his strained friendship with former bandmate Rhys Ifans, all the while writing letters of complaint to people or institutions which don’t meet his expectations. There’s little else to the film than an investigation of these relationships – his old friends no longer want to know him since he refused a lucrative recording contract when they were young, ex-girlfriend Leigh doesn’t want to know him because of his abusive behaviour, and Ifans perseveres even though Greenberg is so self-obsessed he hasn’t even met his child. But Gerwig falls for him regardless, even when he pushes her away, consumed by self-hatred and an unwillingness to be loved. This element is a fascinating look at how others can see in us qualities which we ourselves cannot, and how we can tear ourselves apart regardless.
There’s no ending – Greenberg has things happen to him, but even by the ending it’s unclear if he’s ever going to embrace the lessons which are there in front of his face. And this is the one big frustration of the film – it’s largely Greenberg’s (or is it Baumbach’s?) stream of consciousness, with some poignant moments and superb acting, but not much else. Some people will love it, others will hate it (Stiller is determinedly unlikeable from beginning to end) – this is not a happily-ever-after film. It does however have something to say about the human condition though – Greenberg is able effortlessly to take care of his brother’s dog when he can’t take care adequately of himself, Ifans of all people realises settling down isn’t the conformist nightmare he’d feared when confronted by Stiller, and Gerwig manages to makes a stab at happiness without even bothering with these existential issues. In fact there’s far too little Gerwig.
Ultimately it’s a sad film, which, like The Road before it, is a depressing experience, but it also shares that film’s knockout performances and honest indie craftsmanship. The story could never really be neatly wrapped up after all, and by that point Baumbach has unquestionably said all he needs to say about being about being a forty-something man in the 21st century. It would still have been nice to have had a clear beginning, middle and end though.
Far and away the worst film of the last twelve months, writer/co-director Noel Clarke has bitten off far more than he can chew with ’126.96.36.199′. It’s clearly supposed to be a heist thriller-cum-girl buddy movie but nothing works right – the pacing, the script, and far too much of the acting. Clarke showed huge potential with the equally ambitious but flawed ‘Kidulthood’, but this is just overblown nonsense – sexist where it doesn’t need to be, boring where it shouldn’t be, and populated by characters who just plain aren’t interesting. Why should I care about the boorish, violent, stupid thugs and freaks surrounding the four leads? Clarke never once offers any answers.
A diamond heist has taken place in Antwerp and the diamonds have made their way to London. Tamsin Egerton finds herself with them in her hands as she prepares to jump from a bridge, flanked by her friends. Rewind to see local gangster co-plotters crossing the paths of friends Emma Roberts, Ophelia Lovibond, Egerton and Shanika Warren Markland, inadvertently involving them in the conspiracy. So far so good right? Clarke’s going to tie conspirators and the girls together, delivering a gangster thriller which would put Guy Ritchie to shame? Wrong. Clarke’s script is confused, hackneyed, over-indulgent and often pointless, giving each of the girl leads a 30 minute ‘in-between’ segment, which desperately need to lead to a major pay-off on the bridge. Except they don’t. Each segment is in itself boring and unengaging. Who cares that Egerton’s parents have split up? Why does she resort to graffiti? Who cares that Lovibond gets tricked by an internet scam in New York? What does that have to do with anything else in the film? Why do we have to keep seeing so many female crotch shots? Why does Clarke have to play a complete bastard every time? And who the hell is Michelle Ryan’s character?
The component elements fail to tie together meaningfully, the girls are only ever at the periphery of the heist, and their character developments are thoroughly unconvincing and uninteresting. Even where the four story strands come together Clarke fails to explain how. It’s a sorry demonstration of how some scenes are in themselves interesting, but Clarke hasn’t given anywhere near enough thought to the overall narrative. It’s nice to see Kevin Smith cameoing though, and Markland’s lesbian character is occasionally quite funny indeed, but nothing can save this confused trainwreck of a film. Attitude on its own doesn’t make a film work, and Clarke should seriously think next time of directing someone else’s script. He’s been likened by some reviewers to Tarantino, but Tarantino’s characters have charm, he knows how to pace his films, and is a powerhouse storyteller even on his weakest productions. ’188.8.131.52′ in contrast has none of these qualities, although that alone seemed to appeal to the wasters whom I shared the screening with. Its a terrible demonstration of all that has historically been wrong with British cinema.
Director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s last collaboration was the multi-award-winning ‘Gladiator’, which I admit I really didn’t care much for, so I came to their ‘Robin Hood’ remake with trepidation. And in all honesty I really liked it – it’s a 2 1/2 hour epic, with a surprisingly strong script, some funny dialogue (some terrible dialogue too) and intelligent direction; it’s highly entertaining too. Of course it’s helped by some knockout performances – Crowe hogs the screen without much effort with his Robin (now Longstride), but he’s more than matched by the outstanding Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion (now Marion Loxley). I’ll grant that noone tries to reinvent the wheel – why American William Hurt was cast as William Marshal is a complete mystery, and Crowe never strays too far from his trademark gruff persona, but somehow it all works. It’s a film which should either have been a complete retread or be completely dark and brooding, but Scott infuses his rebooted Hood drama with considerable charm, despite its length.
Robin Longstride starts the film fighting the French under King Richard (Danny Huston), on the return from the Crusades. Demoralised by their army’s brutality and excess, Longstride and his ‘merry’ friends return to England after Richard’s assassination, promising also-assassinated Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) to return his sword to his father. Meanwhile his assassin Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong, now thoroughly Alan Rickman-ised by the film world) plays both the English the French off against each other, in the hope of power for himself following a successful French invasion. It’s a long story, hinging around Longstride’s adoption of Loxley’s identity in order to prevent Blanchett from having her property seized by the Crown. Of course the two end up together, of course Robin starts to battle injustice by the Crown, of course King John enters the fray, and of course there’s a climactic showdown on the beaches (mystifyingly bloodless at that) in which the good guys win and the bad guys lose. Or do they…?
It’s probably too long, the beach landing shamelessly (and needlessly) evokes ‘Saving Private Ryan’s Normandy landings, and the initial story set-up is probably far too involved (although the ending marks the film as an opening salvo in a new franchise attempt) but screenwriter Brian Helgeland weaves an involving yarn despite the script’s occasional excesses. It’s a welcome change under a director normally far better at delivering set pieces than a strong narrative. And Oscar Isaac positively commands the screen as a thoroughly villainous (and often hilarious, yet never crossing the line into pantomime) King John, chewing every scene he’s in for all it’s worth, his character never quite playing his hand until the final act. Those expecting a traditional Robin vs Sheriff (Matthew Macfadyen) romp will have to wait until the inevitable sequel, and those expecting more accent consistency than Prince of Thieves will be similarly (though not so thoroughly) disappointed, but this is a good start for ‘new’ Robin. We’ve had ‘Batman Begins’, now so does Robin.
Chris (‘Brass Eye’) Morris’ directorial debut about four hapless, northern Muslim suicide bombers was always sure to offend. It pokes fun at one of the most sensitive political subjects of our time – radical Islam, but unlike Armando Iannucci’s superior ‘In The Loop’ (attacking the inept launch of the ‘war’ on terror) it doesn’t have enough bite. The increasingly impressive Riz Ahmed plays Omar, a family man hell bent on jihadi martyrdom, who relies on a rag tag bunch of friends to bring about his attack on the British oppressors. The slow-witted Kayvan Novak, Adeel Akhtar, Arsher Ali and the hilarious Nigel Lindsay all join in his conspriacy of the inept, and much of the first half of the film is based on their gently comic bumblings. They play at terrorism, even going so far as travelling to a terrorism training camp in Pakistan, but have far more to say about pop music in their martyrdom videos than anything political.
The film comes alive in the second half, when the conspirators find there are real consequences to their plotting. It’s not just a jolly jape with nutters in the desert – they will die and people will die with them, and although the satire (largely provided by Lindsay’s excellently-mannered caucasian convert) mostly hits the mark, much of the narrative does not. If Ahmed’s band is largely the comic foil to his serious bomber, Omar needs to be far better investigated than Morris allows him to be. It’s clear that his family is fully aware of his plan and its consequences, and the co-writer/director throws up other tantalising questions about the Westernisation of his friends, but these are insufficiently explored issues (despite an outstanding performance by Ahmed) which take some serious bite out of the brilliant satirical sketches. You get the feeling that a really important idea has been attempted – particularly when Omar changes his mind far too late, but because the film can’t decide whether it’s a satire, a screwball comedy or a Working Title film with an edge, the ending leaves you wanting better explanations than those on offer.
Morris clearly wants to suggest the suicide attacks in the UK were largely caused by bumbling idiots who were in over their heads and didn’t quite grasp the enormity of their actions, but that’s not quite enough. Morris’ characters are fully integrated into Western society, all loving pop culture – Omar is well-to-do with a family – and it remains unclear from ‘Four Lions’ what led him to plan his suicide attacks. We only get brief glimpses into his political life, from his connections in Pakistan, to his alienation from the Islam of his neighbourhood, and indeed the irony of its persecution by the British state, leaving us with a film which is occasionally very funny but without enough dots presented for us to join up with real satisfaction.
Roman Polanski should be kept locked up for this monstrous crime against cinema. Absolutely everything about this adaptation of the Robert Harris novel stinks: the script is turgid, it relies on countless deus-ex-machinae, the acting is appalling, the direction has no punch or insight; indeed the film doesn’t even know what it is. Is it a searing indictment of Tony Blair’s involvement with the PNAC neocons in the US? Is it a political thriller? Is it a character piece on the Blairs? Not once does Polanski make his mind up, and it’s unbelievable that a writer of his calibre should have submitted such drivel to audiences, even under his current circumstances. How the book’s author Robert Harris could have collaborated on the script and have it turn out so dreadfully is even more shocking.
Ewan McGregor plays the ghost writer for ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang’s (Pierce Brosnan, as a none-too-subtly coded Blair analogue) memoirs. Lang lives a life earning countless millions on the American lecture circuit, but constantly has to outrun peace protesters, outraged at his adventure in Iraq. Suddenly he’s indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for investigation for war crimes. So far so uncomfortable, but why was his former Foreign Secretary behind it, and why did McGregor’s predecessor end up dead? Polanski takes an inordinate amount of time merely to get to the point, boring us with countless irrelevant scenes with Brosnan’s secretary Kim Cattrall (along with her hilarious English accent) an inexplicable affair with Brosnan’s wife (Olivia Williams, looking nothing like Cherie Blair), and sudden revelations about Brosnan’s university friendships with Tom Wilkinson and others which fail to set the screen alight or amount to an intelligible conspiracy. When we know Blair willingly allied himself with Bush and his PNAC cronies, and did so out of vanity at the very least, what conspiracy could Harris and Polanksi possibly paint to justify this rambling mess of a film?
Nothing. The wife killed the previous ‘Ghost’. Why? To prevent her being indicted by the ICC! Ridiculous, when he was the one in power. And why then (and how) should she then finish the film by murdering McGregor? Well over two hours utterly wasted. Two major leads with no charisma on their own or together, mystifying casting in the case of the awful and pointless Cattrall, and more British stereotypes than you can shake a stick at, ‘The Ghost’ crumbles quickly under its own pretentions. Ultimately considering the subject matter the fault for the film’s failings lies with Polanski. Given that Brosnan’s former Prime Minister is such a close analogue for Blair, this film needed to say something, either about him (it doesn’t), her (it doesn’t) or at least use McGregor to run a suspenseful chase around the real-world issues, but it doesn’t do even that. Only approaching his assassination in the penultimate act does Brosnan’s character remotely (ironically) come alive. It’s more than you can say about McGregor.
Filming stopped when Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for serious offences of his own. This unspeakable, unentertaining mess should never have seen the light of day.
2/10 (because McGregor is hot)
Director Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a good film; sadly though because it’s also a Disney film it stops itself from being a great film. As fun as it is (and the 3D rendition is a lot of fun), this sequel to the original cartoon suffers from the same problem as ‘Avatar’ – no plot. Or rather there is a plot, but it’s so Disney-fied and insubstantial that it might as well not have had one at all. Right from the outset the twin conclusions are telegraphed, both in Wonderland and in the real world, and, well, Disney doesn’t disappoint. Burton’s Alice – Mia Wasikowska could just as well be Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries – screenwriter Linda Woolverton doesn’t exactly take any risks in her storytelling, but this film isn’t even carried by that film’s charm. For that matter it doesn’t even rely on the original cartoon’s charm, or rely much on the Lewis Carroll source material. Burton may have visual flair, boundless imagination, a sense even of the absurd, but it’s a film with no heart; despite some delightful touches – the Cheshire Cat, Helena Bonham-Carter’s Red Queen and Anne Hathaway’s White Queen, it’s actually quite dull.
Much has been made of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter and much has been said of newcomer Mia Wasikowska as Alice, but neither impresses so much as to make much of an impression and whilst Wasikowska may have Gwyneth Paltrow’s looks, she doesn’t have her presence or her ability. Alice is a curiously 2D character in a 3D film, and epitomises the wasted opportunities which litter this film. It’s frustrating, considering the interesting clashes available in telling the story of an adult Alice returning to the Wonderland she’d forgotten she’d visited as a child. Depp in turn unquestionably entertains but you’ve seen the crazy man ‘thing’ many times before; his amalgam of Jack Sparrow, Sweeney Todd and Willy Wonka is enjoyable but exactly what you’d expect of him. The supporting cast however is an utter knockout – Alan Rickman, Geraldine James, Matt Lucas, Michael Sheen & Stephen Fry all have enjoyable turns, but they fail to lift this from substandard fayre. Great for the kids, amusing for the adults, but not terribly entertaining.
I know that Alice Sebold’s book is revered for some reason or another, but the film sure didn’t give any of the reasons away as to why. That’s not to say that director and co-screenwriter Peter Jackson has made a bad adaptation, far from it, but it’s not remotely clear what the film is supposed to be about. Is it a ‘Ghost’-style, beyond-the-grave murder mystery? Is it a teen romance? A story of a serial killer? It never settles on anything particularly, and Jackson’s focus never stays still long enough to get an emotional grip on proceedings. Teenager Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is murdered by serial killer neighbour Stanley Tucci in the early 70s, and narrates the film from the afterlife. We see her family life, we see her first love, ambitions and insecurities, just as she’s about to start really growing up. After her death we see her stuck in the ‘In-Between’, a half-way house between life and the afterlife, seemingly trapped by her parents’ (Mark Wahlberg & Rachel Weisz) inability to let her go. Will Tucci get away with it?
Well yes, and it’s a highly unsatisfying end to a film which claims to aspire to much more. There are other unsatisfying aspects to the film however, from Wahlberg’s whiny, insubstantial performance, to his and Rachel Weisz’s frustratingly unmoving grief, through to the non-story about the police (were they really that incompetent in the seventies?); it all may be entertainingly knitted together, but it’s emotionally unengaging. It leaves Ronan standing almost alone, excelling as Susie Salmon, as does Tucci as her killer, and the absence of a clearer focus on their relationship before and after her murder, and the lack of emotional resonance of her life being cut short are genuinely missed opportunities. But Jackson doesn’t spend long enough on any character’s plight for us to engage with it in any depth. And what was Susan Sarandon doing as the comedically drunk grandmother?
Susie doesn’t end up leading her parents to Tucci – Wahlberg figures it out on his own, and even the moment where her disembodied spirit could intervene to stop Tucci from getting away with his crime is spoiled by a ridiculously contrived (and inappropriate) sequence with Ronan and her still-living true love. What was the point of it all? What was the point of framing the real world stories with Susie’s adventures in the afterlife? It may have looked impressive, but was overlong and overindulgent, and I never figured it out.
Colin Firth may well lose out to Jeff Bridges for the Best Actor Oscar, but make no mistake he richly deserves one here, as a gay British university professor who has to cope with the sudden death of his long-term boyfriend in 1960s America. In a society still deeply homophobic, he must remain stoic and professional, and cope invisibly with the crushing pain and loneliness from losing his soulmate. And Firth’s depiction of George’s plight is nothing short of remarkable. From his cold response to the secretive phone call confirming Jim’s (Matthew Goode) death, to his very private tears and subsequent soundless breakdown with his best friend (Julianne Moore), George’s grief is never anything short of devastatingly believable. This may all sound terribly depressing, but screenwriter/director Tom Ford manages to make the film a very rich, emotional story about love, and gay love at that.
George wanders through his now emotionally cold existence with a cool detachment, which Ford details for us with a subdued colour palette, lighting up when human warmth crosses his path. The neighbour’s daughter, the Spanish hustler or just the sunset – George is given multiple reasons to go on, yet he continues his race towards death, unable to engage with the world without Jim. His emotional coldness briefly unravels with his fag hag Julianne Moore (vamping it up as a proto-Patsy – fun, but the weakest link in an otherwise powerful film), but it’s only with the arrival of student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult, sporting a remarkable American accent) that his rush towards death is truly halted. Hoult is even prettier than during his run in ‘Skins’, and is more than a match for Firth’s George. Without treading on Jim’s metaphorical toes, Kenny makes George feel again, and the sheer sensuousness of their burgeoning love affair is breathtaking, largely through never being consummated.
Ford’s attention to detail adds a level of depth which makes this film truly great – from the set design to the costumes, through to the score, every facet of George’s world is painted with love and precision. That some of Ford’s visual trickery isn’t as effective as the rest of the movie is a small criticism – pretty much all of it allows the film to pack a disproportionately powerful punch. ‘A Single Man’ may not in itself be a political film about gay rights, but it is a very effective criticism of gay invisibility. Some have said it is a film which simply addresses universal truths about love, but I agree when David Cox points out that it’s very much a gay film, but addressed at everyone. And in that it’s inordinately successful.