Anyway, I did watch two non-shamelist films last week:
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Shekhar Kapur’s glossy sequel to his 1998 film Elizabeth is more of a romantic swashbuckler than a historical biopic. Cate Blanchett’s performance is as powerful as it was 10 years ago but with an added level of maturity that shows the growth of the ‘character’ of the Virgin Queen. Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh is, as ever, a pain in the arse: a smug, smirking git who looks like a bank manager at a fancy dress party. The ever-reliable Geoffrey Rush reprises his role as Sir Francis Walsingham, while Rhys Ifans, Abbie Cornish and the excellent Samantha Morton all give great turns. Kapur’s flashy direction is the real star, though, even if the CG Spanish Armada looks more Pirates of the Caribbean than the History Channel.
The middling reviews didn’t put me off watching this film because I’m such a fan of Michel Gondry, the crazy Frenchman whose unique style of directing wowed audiences and critics alike with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Mike (Mos Def) is left in charge of his boss’s video store (yes, a video store rather than a DVD store – this point is crucial). When Mike’s best friend Jerry (Jack Black) becomes magnetised, he inadvertently wipes all the tapes. The duo come up with a novel way of keeping the business afloat – remake all the films in the store using nothing but a camcorder and some inspired improvisation. It’s a very loose idea for a film but a perfect fit for Gondry, who unsurprisingly writes as well as directs. The remade, or ‘sweded’ versions, are great fun even if you only ever see tiny snippets, but it was probably a mistake trying to string the mini-films together in a narrative since the plot is a little tenuous. It’s at its best when it is at its most chaotic and it’s a delight to see how even the most ambitious films are attempted – 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Lion King and Ghostbusters are just three. If you ignore the unnecessarily schmaltzy ending, this is an entertaining piece of freeform fun from one of the most innovative directors working today.
Summer cinema has become increasingly predictable and this season’s superhero-fest is the most chockablock in recent years, what with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight vying for our attention. But while this trio focus on well established characters, Hancock seems to have come from out of nowhere.
Will Smith plays John Hancock, a very different kind of superhero – a potty-mouthed bum who reluctantly saves lives when he’d rather be sleeping off a bottle of whisky. When he rescues idealistic PR man Ray Embrey (a very cosy turn from Jason Bateman) from coming face-to-face with a freight train, he repays the supercharged sot by giving his image a revamp. But when Hancock meets Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron), sparks start to fly.
Hancock appears fully formed on the screen, snoring on a street bench more superhobo than superhero. For a character so unknown, it’s a brave not to fill the first hour with the story of his origin, a common mistake in this now familiar subgenre. It’s an interesting idea if not altogether unique (The Incredibles anyone?) and a refreshing take for a while but like so many films of this kind it runs out of steam very quickly.
The first half is a pure comedy with a few fun action set pieces and some great laughs. But then there’s nowhere else the story can go, so it turns into a completely different movie. Out go the laughs and in comes the back story (it had to be there eventually), an unnecessary plot twist, an incomprehensible third act and a frankly forgettable ending. Strangely, when the film is dealing with fairly weighty issues such as alcoholism, prison and the tragedy of loneliness, it’s pretty funny. When the film starts getting silly it seems to stare at the floor like a grumpy teenager.
In any other genre, this kind of conflicted character would generate huge drama, but Hancock’s struggle for love and respect seems half-assed. Whereas Christopher Nolan’s rebooted Batman franchise successfully shows us that a superhero’s greatest challenge is battling his own inner demons, here the absence of a decent, worthy criminal is conspicuous.
The overall flaw is that despite a good performance by Smith, one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, this film feels small. Just like Iron Man, it’s the big action scenes that let the film down. The dramatic shift in tone knocks the film irreparably off balance making it feel like the little film that could. Well, the little film that couldn’t quite.
This week, I have mostly been watching… nothing! I’ve been on holiday which means that the shame list remains at 769 but next week I plan to catch up on my viewing and finally post my review of Hancock which I watched a couple of weeks ago. There will also soon be reviews of Wall•E and The Dark Knight. When I’ve seen them of course.
The Sound Of Music (1965)
Yes, I know. How could I have possibly gone this long without seeing The Sound Of Music? Well, it’s called a shame list for a reason, and I can say that I am deeply ashamed to have lived for 28 years without ever having seen this lovely film. What surprised me was how familiar I was with the music – I had heard at least part of each and every song in the film through general popular culture which just goes to show how influential the film is. What surprised me even more was how gripping it was. I knew there were going to be Nazis but I wasn’t prepared for the last half hour being quite so exciting and inspiring. What’s more, for a three-hour film it is deceptively economical. I don’t care how cheesy it is, this is a great film and I am glad I’ve finally discovered it.
Shame list total: 769
I really need to get my skates on having only ticked one film off the list this week:
Rio Bravo (1959)
A decent Western with some good action sequences. Some of the dialogue is a little cheesy at times and it’s too long, but the finale is pretty exciting. A nice little quartet of goodies including Dean Martin as an alcoholic and John Wayne as a typically grizzled sheriff face off against a gang of baddies who want to break their boss’ brother out of jail. Varying between action and wry comedy, it makes for a light-hearted romp.
Shame list total: 770
Better than the sum of its parts and its parts are pretty good too. A lovely little modern day fairy tale complete with obvious plot and a moral about loving yourself for who you are. Still what makes it so good is the quality of the cast which includes cameos from the likes of Nick Frost, Russell Brand, Lenny Henry and Nigel Havers. Even Reese Witherspoon pops up as a sassy Vespa riding chick and the presence of Peter Dinklage is worth the watch alone. Penelope (Christina Ricci) is born to a wealthy family but a centuries-old curse means that she has the face of a pig. Her parents (a wonderfully manic Catherine O’Hara and a bizarrely cast Richard E. Grant with a wavering American accent) arrange a series of potential suitors for their daughter who they keep behind locked doors. They all scarper as soon as they see her… all but one: Max (the ever brilliant James McAvoy). Is he only after the substantial dowry or will he fall in love with the porcine princess? Well, the answer’s obvious but it’s a fun ride with some great visuals and some nice makeup, although a pig’s nose hardly turns Christina Ricci into a munter.
I wanted to watch Elizabeth: The Golden Age but hadn’t seen Cate Blanchett’s first foray into the crown of the Virgin Queen. It’s history as conspiracy thriller with great performances and direction. Cate Blanchett gives a stirring and defiant performance reminding us of the horrors of royalty.
This film has understandably had some very mixed reviews. If you’re in the mood for a bit of fast action nonsense then it’s great. If you’re not, then it’s terrible. Put the two points of view together and what you end up with is a pretty decent action blockbuster.
In many ways, this is the blockbuster that the summer had been waiting for. Because there is no well established previous incarnation for it to live up for, it doesn’t have to try to better anything that has gone before it.
James McAvoy plays Wesley Gibson, a wage slave who longs for something better. When he meets the gun-toting Fox, everything changes. Discovering some impressive super powers, he quits his job in spectacular fashion and joins the shadowy Fraternity, a team of adrenaline charged assassins.
As plots go, it’s a bit derivative. In fact it appears to be an adolescent male fantasy just sort of, ahem, splurged onto the screen – McAvoy gets to snog Angelina Jolie, bend bullets and drive fast cars.
Judging by the way McAvoy’s career has developed, his presence in this film would be enough to fool anyone into thinking that this might be an intelligent film. But as Ben Kingsley proves with his recent revelation that he loves summer blockbusters because they remind him Rome times, you can be a ‘worthy’ actor and still cross over into big budget fare.
The truth is that James McAvoy can cut the mustard as an action star proving there is nothing he cannot do. Angelina Jolie is typically pouty and robotically perfect, apparently only in the movie to keep the target audience happy. Morgan Freeman lends his trademark gravitas to the proceedings, although it never quite feels right hearing him use the ‘f word’. However, the real star is director Timur Bekmambetov bringing the same edgy directing style he honed in Night Watch and Day Watch to a big budget summer blockbuster.
This film is far from intelligent but for the most part it is fun, with a tongue placed so far in its cheek that it’s in danger of split open in a burst of splattery gore. The stupidness of the plot and the sheer ludicrousness of the action is all well and good when the film isn’t taking itself too seriously which is the first two thirds. Then people start waffling on about the Loom of Fate and the silliness just gets a bit too much. The finale is so overblown and so reliant on slow-mo and gore that this exciting, funny action movie becomes just like all the rest. Why can’t summer blockbusters provide a decent final act?
That can be forgiven, but what cannot be forgiven is the way in which it patronises its audience. The film revels in telling you that you are a loser who should get off your arse and start doing something. Frankly, being told by a weaving machine to kill people is not something worth aspiring to.
Only one film off the list last week:
Slowly but surely, I’m making my way through the Hitchcock canon and loving every second of it. Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) hastily remarries after his titular first wife is killed at sea. Known only as Mrs de Winter, Maxim’s new bride (Joan Fontaine) has a lot to live up to and faces disapproval from the staff at Maxim’s enormous house Manderley, who all adored Rebecca. But things are not as they seem. Fontaine is mesmerizingly squirmy (mainly because Hitchcock treated her badly, pissed off that his then-girlfriend Vivien Leigh didn’t play the female lead) and Judith Anderson is downright creepy as Mrs Danvers, the sinister housekeeper. Rebecca is more sombre and atmospheric than many of Hitch’s thrillers but it’s still exciting and, of course, brilliantly directed.
Dan In Real Life (2008)
This very sweet film looks very indie but it has more in common with rom-com big hitters like Meet The Parents. Steve Carell plays Dan, a widower and father of three girls. When they go to their parents house for a big family get together, he meets Marie and they instantly hit it off. It turns out that Marie’s new boyfriend is Dan’s brother. Cue lots of awkward misunderstandings (when immediate honesty would sort things out much simpler) and embarrassment. The rest of the family barely gets a look in despite including the great John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest. All they seem to do is get annoyingly enthusiastic in a variety of family events (they keep fit together, they play American football together, they solve crosswords together, they even discuss the private life of poor put upon Dan together). Steve Carell is always good value (here showing off his acting chops more than his comic talents) but he doesn’t carry the film totally on his own – Juliette Binoche proves she can rom-com with the best of them.