Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Keira Knightley’

  1. British-occupied Germany, late 1945. Possibly a Thursday.

A train arrives in the ruins of Hamburg. Slim and beautiful RACHAEL MORGAN (Keira Knightley) disembarks. Waiting for her is stocky, troubled British army officer LEWIS MORGAN (Jason Clarke).

RACHAEL: Hello darling! It is I, your slim and beautiful wife Rachael Morgan, come to join you in post-war Germany. I am outwardly very happy to see you again.

LEWIS: Hello darling! Yes, I am your stolid, decent husband Lewis, a well-meaning but perhaps somewhat naïve English soldier (although I am played by an American), determined not to be beastly to the defeated German people, and somewhat disgusted by the crude prejudices of some of my colleagues. I am outwardly very happy to see you too.

There is a long, meaningful silence.

RACHAEL: Of course, although we are both outwardly delighted to be back together, we cannot help but reveal the coldness at the heart of our marriage and betray the existence of an issue which is slowly driving us apart.

LEWIS: Mmm, yes. Although we will only let hints and clues as to what this might be trickle out at dramatically appropriate moments.

There is a long, meaningful silence.

How was your trip?

RACHAEL: No sandwiches on the train.

She cannot meet his gaze.

LEWIS: Stiff upper lip, darling.

2. The grounds of a palatial house near Hamburg.

A car pulls up and LEWIS and RACHAEL get out. Waiting to meet them is tall, handsome, sensitive, decent German man STEFAN LUBERT (Alexander Skarsgard).

LEWIS: Herr Lubert! Please meet my wife Rachael.

STEFAN: Hello, Mrs Morgan. Please tell your husband to stop calling me a halibut.

RACHAEL: Hello, Herr Lubert. I am Rachael, the troubled Englishwoman with whom you immediately feel a deep, passionate connection despite yourself. And who might you be?

STEFAN: I am the sensitive, decent German widower (even though I am played by a Swedish actor) whose home has been commandeered by the British occupying forces for you and your husband to live in, while my daughter and I camp out in the attic.

LEWIS: Thus enabling a clumsy and not very subtle metaphor about the British occupation of Germany itself.

RACHAEL: Is this metaphor particularly resonant with the story we will enact?

LEWIS: Not really, no.

There is a long, meaningful silence.

STEFAN: Anyway, I am also the sensitive, decent German man with whom you immediately feel a deep, passionate connection despite yourself, thus allowing you to move beyond your initial prejudices about Germans.

LEWIS: I, of course, am completely oblivious to this. Shall we go inside?

RACHAEL: Yes, all right.

STEFAN: Please excuse me. I must go up to the attic, there is a subplot waiting for me about my difficult relationship with my teenage daughter, who has a crush on a Nazi loyalist.

3. The kitchen of the palatial house shared by the characters.

RACHAEL and STEFAN enter.

RACHAEL: Time has passed and we have both accepted the powerful sexual chemistry which exists between us.

STEFAN: Yes, I have accepted the powerful sexual chemistry between us, and also feel that by stealing the wife of an American –

RACHAEL: British.

STEFAN: – British colonel, I am striking a blow against the unjustness of the occupation of my country.

RACHAEL: Meanwhile, by yielding to the desire I feel for you, I feel I am punishing my husband for his neglect of me and his behaviour with regard to the dark secret which has killed our marriage. I have also come to value your sensitive decency and feel you are treated badly by the other Brits here, so this is a question of sympathy, not just me being over-sexed.

There is a long, meaningful silence.

STEFAN: Shall we tastefully consummate our illicit desire while your husband is out?

RACHAEL: Yes, why not? We’d better not go to the attic, there’s a subplot up there.

STEFAN: My kitchen table is of solid German construction.

RACHAEL: That should do.

The structural integrity of the kitchen table is put to the test, tastefully.

4. A military prison in Russian-occupied Germany.

LEWIS appears, ready to talk to an IMPRISONED NAZI.

LEWIS: You ought to know I have been sent here to hunt down Nazi hold-outs responsible for attacking the occupying American –

NAZI: British.

LEWIS: – British (thanks) forces, while my absence will conveniently also give my wife the opportunity to deepen her adulterous relationship with the man who lives in the attic. I, of course, am still oblivious to all of this.

NAZI: I am a Nazi, and therefore irredeemably evil. I am here to reinforce the distinction between the majority of decent, sensitive Germans, and the tiny minority who caused such suffering.

There is a long, meaningful silence.

LEWIS: You Nazis are so evil!

NAZI: Yes, we are!

LEWIS: I’m glad we were able to make that so clear.

5. A ball at regimental HQ.

LEWIS and RACHAEL appear in their glad rags.

LEWIS: I am a chastened man, for I am no longer oblivious to what is going on between you and that Swede.

RACHAEL: German.

LEWIS: Oh yes.

RACHAEL: However did you figure it out? Was it the kitchen table?

LEWIS: No. I may generally be characterised as being unaware of the interplay of emotions going on around me, and usually slow off the mark, but when the plot demands it I can be incredibly intuitive.

RACHAEL: Oh dear.

There is a long, meaningful silence.

LEWIS: We should probably have a heated argument in which our emotional reserve finally shatters and we get to the core of the dark secret which has been driving us apart since before the start of the film.

RACHAEL: That’s a good idea. Do you want to do that now?

LEWIS: Hang on a minute, there’s the culmination of that subplot about youthful Nazi resistance to the American –

RACHAEL: British.

LEWIS: – British (thanks) occupation and the tragedy of doomed youth due any moment, and we should probably wait for that.

The subplot passes them. LEWIS runs off after it waving his gun.

6. The palatial house.

RACHAEL, LEWIS and STEFAN stand around looking glum.

LEWIS: Well, we have managed to resolve our various problems in a tasteful and spoiler-free manner.

RACHAEL: Yes, everything has always been so blandly easy on the eye and unlikely to offend anyone, even my nude scene in the second act.

STEFAN: And yet it has all been so terribly inert and predictable and almost totally unengaging.

RACHAEL: I had no idea post-war occupied Germany was so dull.

STEFAN: Do we feel we have learned anything of value from all of this?

LEWIS: I am a good man and the war and its consequences have left me miserable.

STEFAN: I am a good man too, and the war and its consequences have also left me miserable.

RACHAEL: I’m not a man, but I’m also quite miserable because of the consequences of the war.

STEFAN: War is bad.

RACHAEL: War is bad.

LEWIS: War is bad. I’m glad we got that sorted out.

There is a long, meaningless silence.

The Aftermath (dir. James Kent) is in cinemas now, but hopefully not for much longer.

Read Full Post »

Perspective can be a curious thing. My good friend and occasional cinema companion Bella wanted to go the cinema: she wanted to see an inspiring tale of a woman standing up for her rights and independence, striking a blow against the manipulative patriarchy, and generally not taking any nonsense from anyone. I, on the other hand, quite fancied watching a slightly saucy and scandalous tale of louche goings-on with some proper nudity and girl-on-girl action. Well, as luck would have it, we both managed to get more or less what we wanted from exactly the same movie, in the form of Wash Westmoreland’s Colette – a true-ish story based on the life on one of those very famous and popular writers whom no-one seems to have heard of or actually reads any more.

The film opens in rural France in the 1890s (they don’t quite go the full chickens-in-the-street, but it’s all very picturesque), where we meet simple country girl Gabrielle Colette, played by Keira ‘Twice’ Knightley (yes, I know, Keira Knightley doing a costume drama – whatever next?). Gabrielle has managed to ensnare the eye of sophisticated man-about-Paris Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West), who goes by the nickname and nom de plume Willy.

Willy and Gabrielle are married and she moves to the big city, where she initially struggles to adapt to the superficiality of belle epoque society and cope with Willy’s various amorous indiscretions. More serious problems soon arise, however, as the couple are always short of money. Willy sees himself as a sort of literary entrepreneur, treating his name as a brand, and employs various struggling young ghost-writers to produce short stories and reviews. Soon enough Gabrielle has been pressed into service as one of these contributors, producing a short novel based on her life in the country entitled Claudine at School.

After a bit of a polish from Willy, the novel becomes a massive success, but Gabrielle (now calling herself Colette) receives no credit, as it’s published under her husband’s name. Further books follow, mainly because Willy insists on it, but Colette finds herself growing resentful and wanting to become more of her own person, regardless of the conventions and mores of respectable French society…

So, obviously, some very good hats on display in this one. What, you want more insight than that? Hmmm. Well, I have to say that this is one of those supposedly based-on-fact films where the achievement and prominence of the subject is probably less of a factor in it having been made than the fact that someone like Keira Knightley was prepared to turn up and play them. This is a star vehicle for Knightley more than anything else, and a pretty good one. Which is another way of saying that I know very little about French literature beyond some of the lyrics to Les Mis, but I’ll happily give this kind of movie a chance.

Bella was asking me whether I actually liked Knightley as a performer or not, and my honest answer was that I can take her or leave her, normally. I have always been immune to the obscure charms of the Pirates movies, and her appearance in the stellar conflict prequels was so brief it barely counts. The temptation is to say that she always plays the same kind of part in the same kind of film, but looking at her filmography I can see that this isn’t strictly true – it’s a little tricky to envisage her turning up in a Marvel Studios film any time soon (then again, who knows), but she has done good work in films like Never Let Me Go, which are not the kind of thing you would expect. Colette, however, looks exactly like the kind of thing you would expect, at least to begin with.

That said, this is a costume drama made following the Unique Moment (perhaps I need to find a different way of referring to the current situation), so there is an obvious theme of the self-realisation of women and the general self-serving uselessness of men. The main thrust of the plot – talented woman writer goes unrecognised while her husband steals all the credit and plaudits – is, as you may already have noticed, rather similar to that of another movie currently doing the rounds this awards season. I have to say that Colette isn’t quite as interestingly subtle or ambiguous as that other movie, nor is it as well-played, but it makes up for this with a pacy, interesting story and by generally being very pleasant to look at.

The film is on a bit of a tightrope when it comes to being a proper, respectable biographical drama for a serious audience on the one hand, and luring in some more marginal punters with the inclusion of some tasteful bisexuality and people with their clothes off. Well, it’s always been the case that possessing a veneer of high culture will let you get away with murder. Colette turns out not to be so salacious as to scare any but the most skittish of horses and handles its more provocative content quite delicately – although there is a peculiar, farcical interlude during which both Colette and Willy are having an affair with the same married woman, which the film practically plays for laughs. How close your true-life movie should stick to truth is always a slightly contentious point, and I would say that this one is probably being a bit too selective on a couple of points: much is made of Colette’s relationship with the Marquise de Belbeuf, a noted transvestite (played in the film by Denise Gough), and the fact that this did not in fact endure much beyond the end of the period depicted here is omitted from the final ‘what happened next’ captions; her two subsequent marriages are likewise not mentioned. The presentation of Colette as a wholly modern figure and some kind of feminist and LGBT icon is arguably overstated.

Still, this is a nicely made and consistently engaging film, and one that I enjoyed; the performances are good, if not great, and the whole production is impressively mounted. It doesn’t manage to solve the problem of how to turn writing novels into an activity that works cinematically (Knightley complaining that it’s really hard work and leaves her with sore fingers doesn’t quite get to the heart of the creative process, if you ask me), but then this is a perennial problem that has defeated considerably more gifted artists than the people making Colette. In all other respects this is a classy, handsome film, telling an interesting and (in many ways) timely story.

Read Full Post »

In the early Autumn of 2008, a bunch of friends and I decided to spend our day hiking up to the Al-Archa glacier, at the top end of a valley in a national park just outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The hike itself took several hours, through forests, across rock fields, and up hillsides. Pretty soon we were starting to feel the effects of the altitude and later on fatigue became an issue, too. Eventually we reached the bottom of the last slope before the ascent to the glacier itself. And I said no, I’d wait for the others here: maybe I could’ve made it up there, dignity intact, but getting back down? A different matter. I knew I was on the edge of my limitations, and sometimes wisdom is just knowing when to turn back, or at least stay where you are.

This is probably why a film has never been made of my life (something for which I suspect we should all be very grateful), especially not one like Baltasar Kormakur’s Everest, which teaches us… well, a number of things, I suppose. That the tops of mountains are not places for idle mucking about, that once you make a plan you really ought to stick to it, and that it’s all very well trying to be a nice guy, but…

everest

Based on the true story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster (I don’t think that constitutes a spoiler), the film focuses on an expedition led by Kiwi mountaineer Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), an experienced climber famous for getting paying clients up to the summit of the world’s highest mountain and bringing them back down safely – a hand holder, in the slightly dismissive estimation of his friend and business rival Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has a more pragmatic view of the trade. Also on the expedition are various characters with their own reasons for wanting to make this most perilous climb, including tough Texan Beck (Josh Brolin).

The most climbing I usually do is walking up the stairs to the balcony seats at the cinema, so simply learning about what it takes to get up Everest would be an engrossing and enlightening experience for me, and to begin with that’s what Everest the movie is. Clarke gives a slightly ominous speech near the start, reminding everyone that the top of Everest is called the death zone for a reason, but for the most part there are only the slightest hints of what is to come: there may be quite a few competing teams looking to reach the summit at the same time, and the weather reports might look slightly iffy, but there’s nothing really to suggest the horrors that follow.

Everest is being advertised as an adventure film, while my landlady suggested it was a disaster film. I don’t really agree with either of those descriptions: for me this is a horror movie, plain and simple, with the mountain itself in the role of the monster, just as capable of killing and horribly mutilating unsuspecting victims as any less-abstract creation. Or suspecting victims, for that matter: the film takes pains to point out the wealth of experience the people on the mountain take with them, only to find themselves utterly at a loss as the blizzard closes in on them. Apart from the weather, the film suggests that a number of factors were to blame for the tragedy, most of them seemingly innocuous taken in isolation. But what emerges most powerfully is that, on Everest, the most basic human foibles – professional rivalry, administrative cock-ups, poor eyesight, one bad judgement call, even basic compassion and sympathy – these are things that can get you killed.

Climbing calamities are good material for movies, especially the real-life kind, and Everest is up there with the best of the genre – for me the gold standard in this sort of thing is still Touching the Void, and initially I thought that Everest, though interestingly and very competently made, was not to the same standard. But the film executes a slow burn, creeping up on you as it introduces its large cast of characters, until things start going horribly wrong and you find yourself gripped and appalled and yet unable to look away.

Kormakur’s handling of a complex, multi-stranded narrative is the really outstanding thing here, but the visual effects are, needless to say, impeccable, and the director is well-served by what’s pretty much an all-star cast: as well as the people I’ve already mentioned, there is solid work by Emily Watson, Sam Worthington, and several other less-well-known names. Keira Knightley plays Rob Hall’s pregnant wife, back home in New Zealand, which to be honest is a fairly thankless role, but even so she makes a decent job of it. And the film also contains a number of moments and sequences that I think I’ll remember for a long time – there’s a moment where the moment, late on, when the Nepalese air force attempt to send a helicopter up to one of the higher camps on Everest in order to evacuate an injured climber, which initially fails simply because the climbers are higher than the vehicle is physically able to fly. Like nothing else, this brings home the sheer scale of the altitudes and dangers involved.

As well as Touching the Void, Everest is already starting to pick up comparisons with Gravity, another film about struggling to survive in an almost definitively hostile environment. To be honest, I’m not sure they have that much in common, and I don’t think Everest is quite up to the standard of that extraordinary film – but it is brilliantly made and assembled. Entertainment is probably not quite the word for it, but it’s still extremely worthwhile viewing.

Read Full Post »

‘…It’s as if the writers wanted to tell the story of the Bletchley Park station but realised that this would involve lots of rather complex stuff about cryptography, and make the lead character homosexual… There’s a great film waiting to be made about the station’s contribution to the winning of the Second World War…’

some idiot on the internet in 2001

Well, thirteen years is an extremely long time in cinema, and you can’t keep a good idea down forever. The only question is, just how much credit should I be prepared to take for the eventual appearance of Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game? I am prepared to be magnanimous about this, naturally.

turing

The Imitation Game is named after one of the mathematician and computer science pioneer Alan Turing’s landmark papers discussing the potential and nature of artificial intelligence (indeed, for many years Turing was probably best known as the creator of the Turing test, a thought-experiment designed to assess whether an artificial network was truly intelligent or not). Although The Imitation Game is itself only very tangentially about AI, it is still at least the third major release this year (after Her and Transcendence) to be concerned with the topic in some way. Is this indicative of the fact that we have reached some sort of cultural tipping point with respect to AI? Perhaps, perhaps not: as I say, this is fundamentally a film about something else.

On the surface it looks very much like the kind of period drama which the British film industry does so well, for all that this particular project was written by an American and directed by a Norwegian. It is, for one thing, primarily set during the Second World War, an era distant enough to be interesting yet close enough to still be accessible and nostalgic, a time of unambiguous values and comfortingly definite moral certainties.

As the film opens, Britain is struggling to contend with the Nazi war machine, its intelligence effort seriously hampered by the fact that the enemy is using a code system known as Enigma, which is widely held to be completely unbreakable, simply due to the sheer number of possible solutions. Amongst the people interviewing to join the Admiralty’s team working to break Enigma is maths and cryptology prodigy Alan Turing (Cumbersome Bandersnatch). Turing’s social awkwardness and lack of modesty about his considerable intellect do not win him many friends on the project, but he eventually rises to become team leader and sets about putting into operation his plan to break the Enigma system.

This involves building what he terms a Universal Machine – or, as we would call it nowadays, a computer – to run through the millions of possible Enigma solutions at immense speeds. To assist him with this he assembles a group of brilliant linguists, logicians, and crossword-puzzlers, amongst them Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), and they set out to change the course of the war…

Running in parallel with this are two other narratives, much more about Turing the man: a boyhood relationship with a fellow pupil at his school, and the circumstances surrounding the police investigation of Turing in the early 1950s, in which the investigating detective (Rory Kinnear) initially believes he has uncovered a Soviet spy, only to realise he has in fact stumbled upon a different kind of secret: that of Turing’s sexuality. The consequences of this are to shape the final years of Turing’s life.

It has to be said that over the last few years, Benedict Cumberbatch has lent himself more to high-profile projects that increase his fanboy (and fangirl)-friendliness, rather than his stature as a serious actor. Sherlock Holmes, Smaug, Khan Noonian Singh (and, it’s rumoured, Doctor Strange) – none of them are exactly the kind of thing you win Oscars for. (Perhaps I’m being unfair – he was, after all, in serious films like The Fifth Estate and Twelve Years a Slave, too.) However, while it initially looks like Turing is a part perilously close to the sort of thing Cumberbatch can do in his sleep (utterly brilliant, socially useless genius), it does allow him the opportunity to give a great movie actor performance. His Turing is believably prodigious when it comes to anything cerebral, but equally at a loss when dealing with people operating on a more everyday level.

However, while the movie is undoubtedly Cumberbatch’s, its success is also due to the strength of the performances across the board. There’s a nice ensemble performance from the team of cryptographers which Turing finds himself in command of, with Matthew Goode the most prominent of these, while Charles Dance is on top form as the naval commander who initially employs Turing and rapidly grows to hate his most gifted underling. Doing typically excellent work, also, is Mark Strong, here playing the MI6 officer overseeing the Bletchley Park project. Keira Knightley, perhaps inevitably, struggles to make the same kind of impression in a part which is perhaps slightly underwritten, but she certainly has nothing to be ashamed of.

The script is complex and manages to tell an intricate story well, although it did seem to me that it could have gone a bit more into the detail of how Turing’s machine actually operated in breaking the Enigma cipher (sorry, should have said there would be spoilers): thoughtful and mature though the film is, it still feels as though it’s shying away from really delving into the mechanics of the codebreaking effort in favour of a more accessible human story. Perhaps this is understandable, given this is a drama rather than a historical documentary.

I also found myself feeling a little disappointed by the closing stages of the film: it peaks with Turing’s great triumph, the breaking of the Enigma codes, and the intelligence effort which followed – the decisions as to how much information the Allies could utilise without revealing to the Nazis that their system had been compromised – is somewhat passed over. There was the potential there for a very thought-provoking and serious drama, hardly any of which is utilised.

Then again, this is the story of Turing the man, not his machines or the projects which he oversaw. It is gratifying that someone of such singular gifts, who made such an unparalleled contribution to preserving our way of life, is finally receiving his due acknowledgement. You can perhaps criticise The Imitation Game for not going deeply enough into Turing’s codebreaking work, or his pioneering of computer science, or his invention of mathematical biology. You can criticise it for rewriting history or glossing over Turing’s sexuality (which is spoken of but never really depicted). But the fact remains that this, finally, is a film actually about Alan Turing, and a prestigious and very well-made one too. An important film in many ways, and well worth seeing.

Read Full Post »

Probably due to my (ahem) international lifestyle over the last five or six years and the resulting bevy of friends scattered across continents, I am an inveterate user of a prominent social networking site. You know, the one invented by the guy who was in the thing a couple of years ago? The one that had the thing about the other thing when it thinged recently?

Well, as you can probably imagine, this means I am much accustomed to ridiculous and vaguely offensive adverts popping up in the fringes of my eyeline, mostly offering to sell me things I don’t feel I need, expand parts of my body the proportions of which I am currently quite happy with, or fix me up with people who are, quite obviously, not only way out of my league but probably playing a different sport entirely. Recently one of these appeared – or so I thought – announcing that ‘Keira is seeking a friend for the end of the world’, accompanied by a sombre headshot of Miss Knightley of that ilk. Was this another dodgy dating site or something to do with Mayan calendar 2012 nonsense? My bemusement only increased when the distaff version started popping up, featuring Steve Carell.

It turned out none of my ideas was remotely accurate as this was in fact a rather underwhelming advertising campaign in support of Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which stars Carell and Knightley. This is one of those self-consciously indie-ish movies which wanders across genre borders – mainly it’s a comedy-drama, or possibly a dramedy, but almost certainly not a coma.

The tone is set by the opening scene, in which a car radio announces that the last-ditch space mission to deflect an incoming asteroid has totally failed and that all human life and civilisation will be utterly annihilated in only three weeks, the announcer then seamlessly going on to introduce The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’.

The wife of middle-aged everyman Dodge (Carell) takes this opportunity to leave him, leaving him in something of a quandary as to what to do: as he’s a life insurance salesman, it’s all gone very quiet on the work front, and as he only actually got married in order to avoid dying alone, he’s understandably disgruntled at being dumped this way.

Unimpressed by the wild behaviour displayed by his friends as the end draws closer and society starts to break down, he becomes much closer to his neighbour, Penny (Knightley). Then Penny (who is a Kooky Free Spirit From England) reveals that she received a letter meant for Dodge some time earlier. The letter is from the love of Dodge’s life, who reveals she still has feelings for him. Dodge is appalled that he didn’t discover this sooner and the duo strike a deal – if Penny helps him find his true love, he will put her in touch with someone with a private plane who can get her back to England to be with her family at the end.

Well, it’s about an odd couple on a road trip, what do you think happens? It’s probably fair to say that Steve Carell and Keira Knightley would not be high on most peoples’ lists of sizzling screen couples – probably ranking about the same as a celluloid hook-up between Andy Serkis and Dame Judi Dench – but, to be fair to them, there are hardly any moments in this film which actually make you go ‘Ewww’.

However, this is really a rather strange film, not least because – and this does seem oddly absurd – completely blowing up the world and everyone on it is not that original an idea. It’s become a well-enough-established concept to have its own set of cinematic tropes and conventions, most notably the final flare to a completely white screen which signifies the arrival of the apocalypse. Seeking a Friend for the End  of the World adheres to these quite cheerfully, which inevitably invites comparisons with other films along similar lines.

The set-up and the presence of mainstream stars like Carell and Knightley leads one to expect a black-comedy alternate-ending version of Armageddon, but the movie is much quirkier than this, as well as being a lot less comic. It’s not that it fails to be funny, it just doesn’t try most of the time.

I’m not sure whether this was a good idea or not. While the concept of the movie is an inherently serious one – the looming catastrophe naturally provokes a lot of introspection and breast-beating from characters about their lives and priorities up to this point – I think it might have been better to play the film against the natural tone one would expect. When the film tries to be comic, it’s usually very funny, and these points are not without a certain insight into human nature.

The more serious tone the film adopts as it progresses is reasonably well-handled, with a very good performance from Carell, and a typically brilliant cameo from Martin Sheen (I know, I know: you wait five years for a Martin Sheen movie to be reviewed and then two come along in consecutive weeks), but I got no real sense of the film having anything profound or surprising to say. It’s not boring to watch, nor is it completely unbelieveable, but at the same time I didn’t really care about the fact that all of the characters were shortly about to die.

Nor did I much care about the burgeoning central romance, which really didn’t ring true for me. Knightley’s performance is, if we’re totally honest, variable – she’s okay doing the light comedy and offhand stuff, but when she’s required to become deeply emotional – as she is at a couple of key points – she starts staring off into the distance, doing weird things with her nose and eyebrows, and generally gets caught acting just a bit too often. Maybe this contributed to the fact I felt no sense of sadness or loss that the main relationship was to be so rapidly terminated.

Hey ho. It’s a nicely made film with some good visuals and interesting ideas, but I couldn’t help thinking that all the best parts of this film were comprised of material I’d seen handled better and more intelligently elsewhere: not just the basic concept, but the strained social milieu, the breakdown of traditional morality, and the last-minute romance (even down to its fixation with old records) – all of these seemed to me to be terribly similar to Don McKellar’s 1998 movie Last Night, which I remember being more accomplished.

Still, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an interesting film, even if the tone and focus are a bit messed up, and I certainly didn’t find it objectionable on any level. Nevertheless, I have seen the complete and utter destruction of the world depicted better than this on several occasions in the past, and I suspect I will again in future.

Read Full Post »

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 18th 2002:

[Originally following reviews of The One, 24 Hour Party People, and Queen of the Damned.]

After two disappointing films and one absolute stinker, salvation finally arrives in the shape of Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham. (In light of recent events, perhaps Break It Like Beckham would be a better title.)

Jesminder (Parminder Nagra) is young British Asian girl whose main interest is football (soccer, if you’re a former-colonial), something which does not sit well with her traditionally-minded Sikh family. She befriends the like-minded Jules (Keira Knightley), who persuades her to try out for the local women’s side, coached by Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). But Jess’ family are firmly against her doing anything so outlandish and unladylike – will she submit to their wishes, or will she be able to pursue her dream of playing professionally?

Well, of course she will. I’m giving nothing away here as the plot of Bend It Like Beckham contains absolutely no surprises: you just know her parents won’t want her to play, but you’re also sure she’ll sneak off to play behind their backs… and so on, and so on. And so on, and so on, actually, because to be fair it’s about a quarter hour too long in reaching the requisite happy ending, especially given the lack of narrative invention. But the three young leads are refreshing and engaging up front, while Juliet Stevenson is a midfield powerhouse, getting most of the big laughs as Jules’ equally conservative (with a small c) mother. Anupam Kher is also good as Jesminder’s father, and Shaznay Lewis out of All Saints has chosen a rather better film than her bandmates to make her (admitted very low-key) feature debut in.

Claims that this is a Great British Comedy are perhaps a touch exaggerated, but it’s warm, feelgood, well-observed and deeply affectionate about its characters. I smiled all the way through and there are some very funny moments. Also impressive is the way it avoids the pitfall of coming across as a niche, ghetto picture (either as a women’s football movie or an Asian culture one). It’s simply a positive, un-preachy comedy-drama. It’s not going to outgross Attack of the Clones at the US box-office, but it’s still hugely likeable, for all that it’s cliched. A touching and upbeat portrait of modern Britain, this deserves to be a winner.

Read Full Post »

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 21st August 2003:

Ah, the buccaneering life! Is there anything more likely to set the heart a-quivering and the bladder a-quaking? A life on the ocean wave, regular plunder, and such interesting hats. Is it any surprise that one of my favourite daydreams involves me mustering my seamen and grabbing some booty? Well, anyway, for all the charm of being a corsair, for the last twenty or thirty years making a movie on this theme has been a surefire way of giving away all your money. This depressing trend has finally been reversed by Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, based on the Disney theme park ride of the same name. (Hopefully the success of this film means we can expect M Night Shymalan’s Little Dipper – based on the Blackpool Pleasure Beach ride – in the not too distant future.)

A reassuringly old-fashioned swashbuckler, Pirates kicks off by introducing the inhabitants of the Caribbean outpost of Port Royal, primarily the overlooked blacksmith’s apprentice Will (Elven poster-boy Orlando Bloom) and the girl he has a bit of a thing for, governor’s daughter Elizabeth (Keira Knightley, whom you may recall as a striker in Bend It Like Beckham or one of the Amidalettes in Phantom Menace). Inevitably, Elizabeth’s father is not too keen on Will wooing her and is trying to set her up with a snooty English naval officer. Anyway, Elizabeth falls in the sea (quite why this happens isn’t really gone into), which has an odd effect on her stylish Goth medallion, nicked from Will some years earlier while rescuing him from a shipwreck. Fortunately she is rescued by passing pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (an almost indescribably bizarre performance from Johnny Depp), who’s in town trying to steal himself a ship. Unfortunately the medallion attracts the scurvy pirate swabs of Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), who have their own quite unusual reasons for wanting to get their hands on the medallion and its owner…

Well, this is a big, lavish, undeniably spectacular blockbuster, and you’d have to be a tiny bit shrivelled up inside not to find it at least a little agreeable. It has people walking the plank, it has a full-on sea battle between two sets of pirates, it has some very distinguished sword-fighting, and the special effects aren’t bad either (although not up to the standard of the classic Ray Harryhausen sequences they’re clearly a homage to). But these are not what make the film such fun.

What brings the film to life is Johnny Depp’s extraordinary turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, a staggering, swaggering, addle-brained rogue who comes across as a strange hybrid of Gypsy fortune-teller and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones. He really, really earns his fee, investing every line and movement with a knowingly peculiar twist of some kind, and he’s by far the funniest lead character in a blockbuster for many years – big kudos to Depp for pulling it off, and much respect to the producers for letting him try in the first place. Best of all, it allows the rest of the film to engage in some very off-beat humour without it seeming out of place, and a supporting cast containing many familiar faces from British sitcoms (Mackenzie Crook, Kevin McNally, Jack Davenport) is ideally suited to this kind of material.

And to be honest this gives Pirates a mad energy and distinctiveness it sorely needs. This is a good script, and it’s handsomely mounted, but Verbinski’s direction is rather bland and uninspired (a few CGI shots notwithstanding). With a visionary like Terry Gilliam at the helm this could have been a hilarious, chilling classic – as it is, it’s just a fun night out, a bit overlong, with romantic leads most notable for their good looks and rarely any sense of darkness or danger. Still, a distinctly superior adventure, and you’re never in any doubt as to whom to thank for it.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »