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Posts Tagged ‘David Thewlis’

Wonder Woman! Wonder Woman!

All the world is waiting for you

And the power you possess

Fighting for your rights

In your satin tights

And the old red white and blue.

I tell you, folks, they don’t write theme songs like that any more (although I must confess to always having been slightly baffled by the lyric ‘Get us out from under Wonder Woman’). Well, time passes, and some things change, and some things don’t. Expectations seem to have been riding high for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie, for a number of reasons, but – I hope this doesn’t constitute a spoiler – the film itself does not concentrate much on hosiery, satin or otherwise, the jingoistic nature of Wonder Woman’s costume has been toned down, and the references to feminine emancipation are handled with considerably more subtlety.

It is a fact that here we are in 2017 and there has never been what you could honestly call a hit movie based on a superheroine – there hasn’t even been a genuinely good one that just didn’t catch on with audiences. Personally I think the fact that most previous cracks at this sort of thing were generally quite poor and often rather patronising movies is largely to blame, rather than prejudice on the part of audiences, but there does seem to be a real desire for a female-led comic book movie that’s actually good. The same could also be said as far as DC’s movie project goes – the previous three films in the current cycle have their staunch defenders (vsem privet, Evgeny), but in terms of both critical success and box office returns, they are lagging a long way behind their arch-rivals at Marvel. So Wonder Woman has the potential to either kill multiple birds with one stone, or just perpetuate multiple ongoing injustices. Lotta pressure, there.

One way in which the new movie is very much of a piece with the rest of the current DC cycle is the fact that it often takes itself rather seriously – the actual codename Wonder Woman has clearly been decreed to be too frivolous and it’s not until relatively deep into the closing credits that the actual words come anywhere near Wonder Woman the movie, which I must confess to being slightly disappointed by.

Nevertheless, there is much good stuff here, opening with Wonder Woman our heroine, Princess Diana’s childhood and education on the mystical island paradise of Themiscyra, home of a race of immortal warrior women, the Amazons. The Amazons have a historic beef with Ares, the Olympian god of war, and are constantly anticipating the day he will return to plunge the world into perpetual conflict and slaughter.

Well, when a plane breaches the mystical barriers surrounding the island, it seems like the day has come – piloting the vehicle is American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine – not too bad, for once), and pursuing him are some angry Germans. In the outside world it is 1918 and war is ravaging Europe. Diana can’t help but suspect that Ares is somehow responsible for the brutal conflict in the trenches and beyond, sponsoring the work of an unhinged chemical weapons expert known as Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). Availing herself of a god-killing weapon left to the Amazons by Zeus, she agrees to take Trevor back to the outside world if he will help her track Ares down.

Europe in 1918 proves a bit of a shock to Diana, as do the inhumanly callous attitudes she discovers amongst the senior military figures she meets. However, she makes a connection with Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), an advocate of peace talks, and with his help she, Trevor, and a small band of others head over to the trenches of France in search of the warmongering general Ludendorff (Danny Huston), her goal being (to coin a phrase) to stop a war with love…

Virtually the only element of Batman V Superman that everyone agreed was any good was Gal Gadot’s appearance as Wonder Woman, and it seems that this was not a one-off fluke, for I am delighted – and, I’ll confess, rather surprised – to report that Wonder Woman is pretty much everything you want from a summer blockbuster movie – it has appealing performances, action sequences that genuinely thrill, jokes that are actually funny, and a few bigger ideas for audience members who are not hard-of-thinking. Crucially, it feels like the work of people who’ve really taken the time to get to know this character and figure out what makes her distinctive, rather than just reducing her to a gloomy cipher plunged into a morass of cynical desolation.

I suppose Gal Gadot has an advantage over some of her colleagues, in that she isn’t going to get compared to numerous predecessors in the way that, say Ben Affleck or Henry Cavill are – although this isn’t to say that Lynda Carter’s iconic performance as Wonder Woman doesn’t cast a sizeable shadow – but even so, Gadot gives a winning turn here, easily carrying the movie, with just the right mixture of steely determination and charming innocence.

I suspect that the decision to move Wonder Woman’s origin back twenty-five years to the First World War was primarily the result of a desire to avoid comparisons with Captain America, another origin story about an idealistic, star-spangled hero. There is still a slight resemblence between the two movies, but on the whole the choice works, tapping into the popular conception of the First World War as an ugly, pointless slaughterhouse bereft of any moral justification. The film is quite careful to point out that Diana is not there to fight the Germans as such, but is in opposition to concept of war itself (which isn’t to say there aren’t some rousing scenes of her charging machine guns, flipping over tanks, and so on). One problem with the whole ‘superheroes at war’ concept, especially when it’s done historically, is how to explain why they don’t just win the war in two or three days flat and thus turn the whole thing into alt-history. Wonder Woman negotiates its way around this rather gracefully.

This is not to say the movie is completely immune to the flaws which superhero blockbusters are traditionally heir to – in addition to being rather obscure, Dr Poison is a somewhat underwhelming villain who doesn’t contribute much, there are signs of the narrative coming a bit unravelled in the third act in order to keep the pace going, and so on – but it does manage to contrive one very neat plot twist, and it does a commendable job of feeling like a movie in its own right rather than just a franchise extension – it’s not stuffed with cameos and plot-points there to set up half a dozen other coming attractions.

I have occasionally been accused of being biased in favour of Marvel’s movies and against those of DC, which honestly isn’t the case. If anything, I love DC’s stable of characters slightly more than their Marvel counterparts, and I really do want the new DC movies to hit the same standards as the Christopher Reeve Superman films or Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. This is the first film in five years to really come close, and the first to bear comparison with the best of Marvel’s output. If Wonder Woman is representative of what else DC have planned, Marvel finally have serious competition in the comic book movie business. Wonderful.

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I think it is reasonably well-known now that at one point in the late 1970s Tom Baker was trying very hard to make a Doctor Who movie, to co-star Vincent Price, but struggled to get the funding (as Baker co-wrote the script himself, it is perhaps for the best that the thing never got produced). At one point, he jokingly suggested his adoring public should send him five pound notes so that he could pay for the film that way. The result was, of course, that Baker had to spend even more money posting all the fivers back, as this was not an approved method of film finance. These days, of course, this sort of thing is all the rage, we just call it Kickstarter, and there are indeed people financing their films by asking people to send them money. One of them – and the first one I have seen – is Anomalisa, directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson.

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On paper, the plot of Anomalisa sounds deceptively straightforward for a Charlie Kaufman movie. David Thewlis plays Mike Stone, a customer service expert due to address a conference in Cincinatti. He is not a happy man, with all sorts of emotional issues weighing heavy on his mind, and an attempt to reconnect with an old flame concludes disastrously. Then he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman planning on attending his presentation the next day, and the two of them shuffle towards the sort of intimacy perhaps only found by strangers who have very little in common but their choice of hotel.

However, the first thing you notice about Anomalisa is that it is an animation, not a live-action movie: and not just CGI, either, but painstaking stop-frame animation using miniature puppets. Whatever else you think of this movie – and I can imagine a wide range of responses, to be perfectly honest – the level of technical skill and attention to detail on display is more than a little mind-boggling. The film-makers never seem to be taking the easy option, with anything up to a dozen puppets on screen at any given moment, all fully animated.

There is of course a sort of instant disjunct between the film’s medium and its message, as two strangers having a brief encounter of dubious wisdom in a hotel suite is not exactly the stuff of your typical animated movie, and to begin with I thought that the film had hit upon a new way of making people think about the small details of life – things you wouldn’t think twice about in a live-action movie do take on a whole new cast when you see them being done by puppets. I thought this was actually the point of the film, because the significance of its most important conceit – the fact that every other character apart from Mike and Lisa has the same face and voice (that of Tom Noonan) – took a while to sink in.

Before that, I just found myself slightly bemused by the spectacle of puppets going to the bathroom, ordering room service, smoking cigarettes, and so on: there’s a sort of studied insignificance to a lot of Anomalisa. And then… well, I was put somewhat in mind of my trip to the bunraku in Japan – a traditional Japanese puppet show, rather distinguished by its high quotient of misery and ritual suicide amongst the puppets. You don’t expect ritual suicide from puppets, but then neither do you really expect a fairly graphic depiction of oral sex, and yet this is where the film ends up going.

Some things in life do not make great spectator activities, I would argue, and this is one of them, whether it’s being done by puppets or not. But opinions clearly differ on this topic, as Anomalisa won the (presumably much coveted) (wait for it) ‘Best Depiction of Nudity, Sexuality, or Seduction’ gong from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Hmm. Charlie Kaufman’s films are usually stuffed with odd moments but they don’t normally feel quite as self-conscious as this one. You can almost feel the film-makers’ sense of delight at doing something so bold and unexpected with this mode of film-making – but it’s almost as if they’re setting out to shock, which is never a very impressive ambition. Plus, I can’t help thinking that if Nick Park set out to make a stop-motion blue movie it would probably have better gags than this one.

Well, as you can probably tell, this is a fairly weird film in many different ways, and it’s not one that wears its weirdness lightly: it’s clear virtually from the start that this is going to be a film of Significance and Substance. This is not a lightweight or disposable film: if anything it is a gravitic Anomalisa (I feel obliged to apologise for that much-more-than-typically contrived and obscure pun), and not especially easy going. A lot of the drama seemed to me to be a bit short on the old objective correlative, too: at one point we’re clearly supposed to be delighted and moved by the burgeoning emotion and tenderness between the characters, but all that’s happening is someone singing ‘Girls just wanna have fun’ a capella. For the contrast between the style and the substance of the film to really work, the drama has to be convincingly naturalistic, and it just isn’t. (And in places it’s hard to tell whether it’s being intentionally odd or not: Lisa’s friend tells her that Mike is ‘gorgeous’, which is somewhat odd as the nature of the puppet means he looks rather like a cross between Commander Data and Jacob Rees-Mogg.)

That said, other than a brief interlude of typically Kaufmanic institutional absurdity – a visit to a functionary whose office is so huge he’s laid on a golf cart to ferry visitors from the door to his desk – this is a tightly focused story, even if the subject of that focus isn’t immediately obvious. Things which look like just being odd stylistic conceits actually turn out to be rather important to the message of the film, which is something to do with how we interact with each other as human beings.

I don’t think Anomalisa is quite as clever or profound as it thinks it is, and the film remains peppered with odd little moments and creative decisions which are ultimately rather obscure and often a bit baffling, but it’s still one of the smartest films I’ve seen recently, made with obvious care and attention to detail, and the central metaphor carries considerable power and emotional truth. I can’t honestly call this a great movie, but it’s never less than interesting to watch.

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I wonder if this is an appropriate juncture at which to repeat the anecdote about my TV exploding on Christmas night a few years ago? I’ve mentioned it before, but basically, what happened was this: the tube went bang and we had to spend the next few days watching a portable set. This would not be particularly noteworthy were it not for the fact that I was watching The Omen at the time (we had got to the graveyard sequence), despite the disapproval of some of the more devout members of my family. (I still think showing The Omen on Christmas night has a touch of crazy inspiration about it. Hey ho.)

Anyway – and skip on if you’ve heard this one before – the next day one of these more zealous relatives sidled up to me with the air of someone doing something of import.

‘Apparently the TV blew up last night,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘While you were watching The Omen.’

‘Yes,’ I said, bracing myself for the inevitable.

‘Do you not think that you’ve been sent a message?’

‘I think it’s nature’s way of telling us we need to stop renting such an old TV set,’ I offered.

This was clearly not the hoped-for response and he went off looking just as disapproving as the night before. I must confess to doing something that would probably have completely outraged him a few years later: while staying at his house over New Year I stayed up late and watched Omen 2 and Omen 3: The Final Conflict on his own set without telling him. Needless to say nothing went bang in the night (but both films were sort of schlocky and the third one is actively bad).

I will happily stand up and defend the original version of The Omen against anyone, partly because I can’t believe the supreme power of the universe has nothing better to do with its time than go around frying home entertainment systems, but mainly because it’s a really great film. These days, of course, it seems that virtually nothing is sacred (if that’s the right word in this context) and so inevitably it got remade a few years ago.

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The remake was directed by John Moore and stars Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber. Schreiber is Robert Thorn, a young American diplomat based in Rome, whose wife (Stiles) is in labour when the story gets going. He is distraught to learn that his child did not survive, and – somewhat against his better judgement – agrees to substitute a orphaned newborn, without telling his wife.

Five years pass, and, following the mysterious death of his boss, Thorn is now the US ambassador to Britain. His son has grown up to become a slightly creepy little devil, but Thorn is willing to overlook little things like nannies committing suicide, his child going berserk when they try to take him to church, hellhounds lurking round the house at night, and repentant Satanists shouting  at him about the great evil he is mixed up in, to begin with at least. But then he is approached by a photographer (David Thewlis) who believes he has the beginnings of an answer to the mystery of his son’s real parentage…

I’m going to say some fairly negative things about the remake of The Omen, and I feel compelled to preface them by saying that this is a perfectly competent film (much better than Moore’s latest offering, the utterly hopeless A Good Day to Die Hard). The acting is fine, the script is fine, the special effects are okay and the direction is acceptable. However, watching it one is simply struck by a colossal sense of redundancy, even outright pointlessness, because this is one of the most mechanical, uninspired remakes I have ever seen.

It’s very tempting, when doing a remake, to go a bit crazy and change everything about the story and in the process lose what made it so special in the first place. It must be almost impossible to resist doing something unusual, simply to put your own distinctive mark on the film. But Moore isn’t having any of this: his version of The Omen consists almost entirely of the most memorable beats and scenes from the 1976 film, limply restaged. It’s almost like Gus van Sant’s reviled shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.

Even if you haven’t seen the new version, you could look at a list of the supporting cast and a copy of the script and guess just who’s going to be playing which part: in other words, everyone is cast wholly to type and delivers an appropriately unsurprising performance. This even extends to Mia Farrow as the Antichrist’s new nanny – stunt casting which sort of suggests the makers of this version were trying to adhere to the ‘get someone from the original to cameo to keep the fans happy’ principle but got The Omen mixed up with Rosemary’s Baby.

And it’s not even as if there isn’t room for reinterpretation in this particular story. The 1976 film is all about the men: Gregory Peck and David Warner head off to Italy leaving Lee Remick to be a victim, left in the dark. You would have thought that they could find something more interesting for a strong, smart actress like Julia Stiles (who is, after all, top billed) to do – involve her more in the investigation and the denouement. No: she just comes across as passive and weak and perhaps even a little bit stupid. Everything is as it was: the only addition is some stuff about the Vatican, who are apparently fully aware of what’s afoot but never do anything about it, while – in a choice I can sort of understand – the music cues from the first film are conspicuously absent.

Disappointing as this lack of innovation is, it’s matched by the way that this film seems to have no desire to be anything more than a mid-range genre movie trading off the reputation of a classic. The original Omen was a prestige production with A-list stars and an impressive budget – almost unheard of for a horror film at that time. The new film doesn’t have anything like the same class or ambition – it’s a competent little film, but the emphasis is always on the little. As I said, not bad, just utterly pointless.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 30th November 2006:

Hello again, everyone, and welcome to another edition of the film review column you can safely ignore. When I came out to Japan, I was assured that the time difference was only eight or nine hours — and this is mostly true. However, cinematically speaking it’s a different matter. Compared to the United Kingdom, Japan is usually a little bit behind — although this can stretch to anything up to a year. On the other hand, sometimes we’re ahead.

Reaching the Pacific several months after its UK release is Michael Caton-Jones’ Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction (Japanese title: Smile of Ice 2), an ‘honestly, you shouldn’t have bothered’ sequel to the notorious 1992 original. As Sharon Stone apparently negotiated herself a very juicy deal where she got paid a huge wodge of cash whether the movie got made or not, one can perhaps view the finished product as an exercise in amortising expenses rather than a proper movie. As a proper movie, it isn’t very good.

Rumpy-obsessed author and maybe-psycho serial killer Catherine Tramell (Stone) pitches up in London and finds herself banged up (not a new experience for her) on suspicion of killing a famous soccer player (Stan Collymore — no, really). Shabbily relentless cop Roy Washburn (David Thewlis) retains brilliant psychoanalyst Michael Glass (David Morrissey) to assess her mental state with a view to stopping her bail, which he does. For various reasons her bail comes through anyway, and before long Glass finds himself the unwilling subject of Trammell’s attentions…

Well, I haven’t really seen the original movie and this sequel doesn’t really make me want to. When the list of great spectator pastimes is written, watching people getting up to it will be somewhere near the bottom, just above watching people talk about getting up to it, and Basic Instinct 2 contains lengthy sequences of both. These are dull or embarrassing rather than actually erotic.

Somewhat more interesting is the thriller plotline, wherein Glass finds himself in the frame (this may even be a deliberate pun on the part of the screenwriters, which suggests they should reassess their priorities) for various murders of people from his past. This is actually quite engaging, although the script doesn’t offer an alternative suspect to Trammell until rather late in the day. This plotline thankfully features a lot less of Stone, who gives an atrocious performance throughout, and rather more of Morrissey and Thewlis, both of whom battle heroically with the rather thin material they’re given.

The London setting and British cast give this movie a certain novelty value, mostly based on the ‘ooh, it’s whatsisface off thingummy’ factor?But it’s not nearly as clever or interesting as it thinks it is and at the risk of sounding sanctimonious, the film’s morality is deeply unsound. Are we supposed to empathise with or root for a character who is straightforwardly presented as a manipulative, amoral psychotic? That seems to be the intention, but a dodgy script and Stone’s performance make that almost as unlikely as most of the rest of the events in the movie. It’s just about watchable when Stone’s not on screen, but never quite tops the unintentionally hilarious opening sequence.

Arriving from the UK late-summer timezone is Jared Hess’ Nacho Libre, another star vehicle, this time for Jack Black. Really loosely based on fact, this is the tale of a Mexican friar who moonlights as a masked wrestling star.

Regular readers will know I like to include a mini-synopsis for every movie; well, that was it. Okay there’s a bit more to it, involving Black acquiring a very thin tag partner, having rather unmonastic feelings about a nun (Ana de la Reguera, appropriately hot yet pure-looking) and… oh, you get the idea. But not a lot more.

It bowls along fairly amicably, powered by Jack Black doing all his usual schtick: silly voices, singing, falling over for comic effect, and there are quite a few laughs. But not as many as you might think, and for a rather peculiar reason — this movie is not formulaic enough.

You can’t fault Jared Hess for wanting to avoid the clichés which usually beset this kind of tale (underdogs rise to sporting greatness), but without them the story seems disjointed and episodic. This is a very mainstream, knockabout comedy, or it should be, but Hess strives for an atmospheric quirkiness that seems rather out of place.

Jack Black is good value and I did enjoy the movie, but it’s not a comedy classic. It seemed to deeply confuse all the Japanese people at the showing I went to, but that’s probably not a good thing.

From early autumn UK time arrives Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men (Japanese title: Tomorrow World 2027). This movie is supposedly based on PD James’ rather literary SF novel of the same name — but friends, I’ve read that book, and other than a couple of events and a few characters, the movie has only the loosest resemblance to the original story.

Clive Owen plays Theo, a London office worker in the near future. Life in 2027 is rather grim, partly due to draconian laws intended to keep the illegal immigrant situation under control and the activities of terrorists intent on overturning these laws, but mainly because everyone in the world has been entirely infertile since about 2009. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Theo’s ex Julian (Julianne Moore) turns up, needing his help: Theo has high-up contacts which he can use to get transit papers for a refugee girl (Claire-Hope Ashitey), who Julian and her (ahem) activist pals desperately need to get out of the country. Or so it initially appears…

The James book was written at least 15 years ago and is, as I said, rather literary. Cuaron’s version is relentlessly gloomy, frequently kinetic and concludes with an enormous gun battle featuring a couple of tanks. To say that there is a bit of political commentary in this movie is understating things — there are explicit parallels with Iraq and Abu Ghraib, not to mention some domestic British issues.

If you don’t mind that kind of thing you may well enjoy the movie. Cuaron creates a convincingly dismal and dismally plausible dystopia, with just enough of today in it, although Owen’s London Olympics sweatshirt may be a gag too far. His direction favours lots of flashy very long takes, but this doesn’t get in the way of the story, which is thoroughly well-acted by people like Pam Ferris, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, and Sir Michael Caine. If the ending is a bit inconclusive, well, so’s the one in the book. This is a good and thought-provoking movie, even if it is a bit crashingly unsubtle in places.

Arriving from the near future (late December, to be precise) comes the war movie Flags Of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood (so it’s a thoughtful sort of war movie). When I say this movie is concerned with the battle of Iwo Jima, a bloody clash near the end of the Pacific War, you will understand why I suspect it hasn’t done very well over here, well-made though it undoubtedly is. The Japanese are not actually demonised as such, but it remains unavoidably the case that a major plot point concerns them horribly killing a likeable character played by Jamie Bell. I was uncomfortably aware I was the only European in the theatre when I saw this movie — I nearly shouted ‘now you know how it feels when we watch Mel Gibson movies in England!’ but I thought better of it.

Anyway, the movie goes back and forth between the battle (lavishly recreated) — specifically the famous raising of the American flag atop the island — and the fates of the flag raisers when they are flown home to participate in a drive to raise money for the war effort.

This is a rather slow and worthy movie, but hey — it could have been another drum-beating embarassment like Pearl Harbor, so let’s not complain. The cast features a mixture of established young stars like Ryan Phillipe and Paul Hunter and relative unknowns like Jesse Bradford and Adam Beach (who’s particularly good), together with older performers like Robert Patrick and Neal McDonough. Without being too specific, the movie makes various wise points about the difference between the myths and realities of war and the effect this can have on the participants when they return home. I suspect you actually have to be American to fully get this film, in the same way you have to be Catholic to really get The Exorcist, but I found it to be thoroughly engrossing and as well-made as one would expect from a Clint Eastwood project. I predict nominations and maybe even the odd actual Oscar.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published in the 18th December 2003 Christmas issue:

My friends, the season of good cheer is upon us once again, and while it might be all too tempting to simply sit back, loosen the belt, watch the Queen’s speech and fall asleep in front of the Christmas Day Bond film (Tomorrow Never Dies, probably Brosnan’s weakest outing to date, but not without its moments), I would like you to take a moment to consider people less fortunate than we are. This is a time for caring and giving, and to this end I would like to launch the inaugural 24LAS appeal.

Yes, I would like us all to join forces and write to Amnesty in the hopes of securing the release of a talented young actor from the seemingly endless stream of crappy films he’s been in recently. Let’s call him Gerard Butler (mainly because that’s his name). Sure, he’s responsible for his own choices, as are we all, but Gerard’s problem is that he seems to be cursed with an unerring instinct for rotten scripts, something quite at odds with his impressive charisma and screen presence. Recently he’s popped up in Reign of Fire and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life, while lurking further down his CV are things like Dracula 2000 and Talos the Mummy (funnily enough he had an itty bitty part in Tomorrow Never Dies, too). You see my point. Nobody deserves that kind of luck.

And the final straw stirring me to action is Richard Donner’s Timeline, a tram-smash of a picture that (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor) does all but pluck and baste itself, extract its own giblets and climb into the oven. Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, whose cinematic pedigree is wildly inconsistent (on the one hand, Westworld, on the other, Congo), this is the tale of a bunch of variously dull and implausible archaeologists led by Billy Connolly. Yes, alarm bells are already starting to ring, aren’t they? Billy goes AWOL and his students (accompanied by his plank-like goon of an American son) discover his specs and a note pleading for help walled up in a French crypt that hasn’t been touched since the mid-14th century.

Yup, with the aid of a slimy cable-knit-sweater-wearing tycoon (David Thewlis, phoning it in) Billy has apparently faxed himself back to 1357 or thenabouts and it’s up to his son, his son’s girlfriend, Gerard, steely-eyed ex-marine Neal McDonough (whom you may recall from Band of Brothers or Minority Report), some French guy, and basically a couple of blokes in red shirts, to go back and fetch him. The mechanics of time travel are, quite properly, not explained, but seem to involve much use of mirrors (and possibly static electricity).

Once back in ye olden days, our heroes proceed to behave exactly like package tourists everywhere – bothering the locals, being rude about the accommodation, and generally acting ungrateful – ‘there’s one thing worse than dying in France,’ announces the leading lady, ‘and that’s living there.’ Inevitably they get mixed up in the Hundred Years War, specifically a seemingly-pointless feud between nasty Englishman Michael Sheen and noble Frenchman Lambert Wilson. Both Sheen and Wilson have given quality turns elsewhere this year (in Underworld and Matrix Reloaded respectively) but here bad dialogue and worse wigs scupper all their efforts. Wilson is saddled with Anna Friel as his sister, and her French accent appears to originate from somewhere just west of Walthamstow.

Well, as you can probably gather, this film really is a piece of crap. The script seems to be a homage to a 1970s children’s TV serial, and – impressively – manages to be simultaneously predictable and logically unsound. History apparently gets changed without anyone noticing, subplots appear and disappear rather capriciously, and the film spends lots of time emphasising certain points only to casually contradict itself only seconds later.

And the worst of it is, is that Gerard seems to be giving up hope of ever appearing in something classy. In Reign of Fire and Cradle of Life he made a distinct impression – but here his performance is never more than okay. That’s no bad thing, especially considering many of his co-stars are epically awful. Special mention must be made of Billy Connolly’s staggeringly terrible performance, which eventually just consists of him wandering about with a look of boggle-eyed consternation on his face as he shouts his dialogue. But we should arrange to have Gerard airlifted away from all this as soon as possible. Just send me your blank cheques and I’ll sort it all out.

Even so, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a turkey, and perhaps a little compassion wouldn’t go amiss. Okay: Timeline is irredeemably rotten, but it has some reasonable cinematography and a quite diverting siege sequence. But if sieges and swordplay are your thing, just now you can probably find better, and better value for money, somewhere else. See you all in the New Year.

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