Reviews of movies, music, books and more by David Goody.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Film: Bridget Jones: Edge Of Reason

"It's not exactly Shakespeare is it?". It's likely that this phrase was repeated numerous times during the production of the apathetic re-tread that is the sequel to Bridget Jones Diary. Whilst the growth of Helen Fielding's neurotic heroine from newspaper column to Oscar nominated character is a heartening success story, the source material is clearly not considered sacrosanct by old rope peddling filmmakers.

Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) starts the film blissfully in love with totally perfect lawyer boyfriend Colin Darcy (Colin Firth). However to establish some type of story through some poorly executed and cliched set-pieces Bridget ends up alone and about to fall for caddish old flame Daniel (Hugh Grant). Will she end up with a man? Will she end up with the right man? Will anyone actually care by then?

Bridget Jones: Edge Of Reason is a poor film that brings to mind other financially motivated sequels such as Men In Black 2. The cast amble effectively through their roles with a grudging acceptance that all actors end up involved in films like this. Renee Zellweger manages to look unattractive, Colin Firth is dull as ditchwater and Hugh Grant layers on the charm smarm to provide the few memorable moments of comedy. The script requires less stretch from the cast than Pavorotti's wet-suit being worn by Kate Moss and the script adds to the view that the use of the word comedy in titling the romantic comedy genre is some kind of ironic joke.

There seems to have been so little effort put into the production of this film that you expect the credits to appear as a hand-written scrawl. There is simply no point in this film existing. However many times you have seen the original film you will still find it fresher, funnier and more engaging than this twaddle.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Film: The Incredibles

The most enduring adage in Hollywood is that "no-one knows anything". No-one knows why Titanic was a huge success and Pearl Harbour was a huge failure. Both seemed as patently ridiculous on paper. No major director or producer has made more than a handful of films without a commercial dud. If a magic movie-making formula existed someone would have bottled it and made millions. However the track record of Pixar studios, which made Toy Story, Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo, is testing this assumption to breaking point.

Their latest film, The Incredibles, is set on an Earth where superheroes exist, but have to live normal lives due to a cascade of lawsuits that sprung up following a bungled attempt to foil a bank robbery. Mr Incredible, now an insurance claims clerk, becomes more and more frustrated with his normal life. However a mysterious invitation to use his superpowers changes life for him and his family.

This is the first Pixar film to focus on human characters. Sensibly instead of adopting a slavish attempt at photo realism, the animators create slick caricatures that complement the roles. Even more encouragingly the film does not have to descend into tired movie pastiches , like A Sharks Tale, to pad the story out.

It is hard to find fault with any element of this endlessly entertaining film. The jokes are consistently funny, the characters are all interesting and the mock 50's superhero designs are a joy to behold. If Pixar keep making films like this they are going to have set up an educational division, since the rest of Hollywood clearly has a lot to learn.

Film: King Arthur

The publicity for King Arthur proudly states that it is a true story. it also states that the film is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. This is not a promising combination. Bruckheimer's last attempt at portraying history was the turgid and factually erroneous mess called Pearl Harbour, a turkey so overpriced it makes Christmas shopping at Harrods seem like the bargain bin of a poundshop. Previous to that when researching Flashdance he found the entire basis of the "true story" behind the film was fictitious but stuck with the concept anyway. Therefore any Bruckheimer film sold on the basis of historical accuracy rather than entertainment value is worrying.

The "true story" of King Arthur is apparently that he was a Roman knight who stood firm when Rome withdrew from Britain to prevent the evil Saxons levelling Britain. In his stand he is aided by a woad Warrioress named Guiniverre who fights in a leather bikini and a bunch of Eastern Europeans who were pressed into service with the Roman's against their will. One worries that future generations may believe the Dirty Dozen and some from American Vogue founded modern Britain by defeating one of the main races it descends from.

Much credit must be given to Training Day director Antoine Fuqua for rising above the bunkum of the story and delivering an enjoyable two hours of blockbuster movie. The dialogue is pared down to the kind of short bold statements that John Wayne built his acting career on and Ronald Reagan his presidency. However this keeps the pace up and distracts us from the ludicrous plot. The battle sequences retain a visceral thrill despite being edited down to be family friendly.

King Arthur never feels extraordinary, however it is a professionally produced piece of nonsense which features an able and engaging cast.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Film: The Stepford Wives

Frank Oz's re-make of The Stepford Wives offers the potential for the ultimate DVD experience. With all the re-shoots, re-writes and re-edits that occured in the making of the film you could include all the original footage and allow the viewer to create their own versions of the film. You could create a barbed relationship comedy, a kooky sci-fi film or a menacing horror film. In fact the hardest thing to do would be to create anything that was less coherent and engaging than the theatrical version, which should be called the random play edit.

Rarely has such a strong cast and a simple concept been so fudged and compromised. The mission statement must have been re-make The Stepford Wives and make it funny. In the current re-make happy cinema climate this is like shooting fish in a barrel with a daisy cutter bomb. However along the way someone decided to add scenes with attempts at emotional depth. You can easily spot them, they are the ones where you start looking around the cinema for people in the audience doing something vaguely more interesting than what is occurring on screen. Then someone managed to sneak in some of the darkness of the original story before a producer caught sight of what was happening and demanded the ultra-happy super fun ending and nothing that might upset people. This works fine, if you have the memory of a goldfish or don't mind a film abandoning it's entire plot to date with 20 minutes to go in order to have everyone smiling by the credits.

Yet in the fragmented mess of this film there are reminders that this is the writer and director who made the screamingly funny In And Out. The comic interplay between Nicole Kidman high powered TV exec, Bette Midler's neurotic writer and Roger Bart's left-over In And Out stereotype gay-guy. However they hardly share any scenes together. Early attempts to play up the absurdity of a town full of smiling bimbos never bloom either.

You may notice that I haven't referred to the plot yet. This is a deliberate reflection on a film which assumes you know what happens in the original and doesn't bother to explain anything. You leave the cinema struggling to remember what filled the running time. It's like watching 90 minutes of deleted scenes on a DVD, which for all we know it might be considering the amount of cock-ups that occurred during production. The end product bears about as much relation to a satisfying entity as the poster does to the film. The Stepford Wives don't have a secret, they don't even have a clue, and neither does anyone who involved in this film.

Film review: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind - 10/10

Charlie Kaufman is a man the media like to label a genius. He appears eccentric and enigmatic, emerged fully formed onto the world's consciousness in an instant through a infinitely discussable idea with his script for Being John Malckovich and continues to excite and confound. With Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind he has produced his best work yet.

Jim Carrey plays Joel, a man who discovers that ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had him erased from her mind so she can move on. To spite her he decides to erase her from his mind and tracks down the company that provides this service. However part way through the operation he decides his memories are too precious to lose and tries to fight the procedure.

Large parts of the film take place within Joel's mind, which allows for all sorts of fantastical things to occur as his memories are erased. Combining this visual trickery with a non-linear storyline risked rendering the film an indulgent mess, however the fantasy elements of the film add emotional richness rather than being an intellectual exercise. They also help to heighten the tension as more of Joel's mind is being censored.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is one of the greatest celebrations of love committed to film. It celebrates the way love can lead to ecstasy and to pain and recrimination. Through Joel experiencing the piece by piece loss of the best time of his life the film allows viewers to consider their understanding of love and relationships in ways they hadn't considered before. When Joel realises that soon he may never have known that Clementine existed the way he tries to make the most of his memories while he can is more tragic than any dying heroine could be.

Complementing the script is a career best performance from Jim Carrey. Covered in stubble and a woolly hat he makes an engaging introvert struggling to connect with other people. Kate Winslet is equally good as the extrovert Clementine whose changing hair colour is the easiest way to keep up with the chronology of the film

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is a peerless example of film making. It will either become a cult classic or, hopefully, one of the most celebrated films of all time, regularly appearing in the upper echelons of critical lists. See it now and treasure the memory forever.