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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Broderick’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published August 5th 2004:

Oh, dear: another classic SF thriller broken on the wheel of pointless reinvention. Isn’t this where I came in? I refer, of course, to The Stepford Wives, a thriller by Ira Levin made into a rather fine film by Bryan Forbes in 1975, and into a rotten one by Miss Piggy now.

Nicole Kidman plays Joanna Eberhart, a TV executive responsible for many cruel reality game shows: these are supposed to be over-the-top parodies but actually aren’t that far off from where TV is right now (and so aren’t particularly funny). After a disgruntled participant goes on a shooting spree, Joanna gets the shove from her network and has a comedy nervous breakdown (we don’t get to see the comedy electro-shock treatment she receives). She and her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) decide to move to the idyllic gated community of Stepford, Conneticut.

Stepford is a place where men are men and women are domesticated: they cheerfully do all the cooking, cleaning, and washing up, all the while managing to keep their smiles perfect and their nails intact. This is, of course, anathema to a modern woman like Nicole and she rapidly begins to suspect there’s more to this place than meets the eye. But it soon becomes apparent that anyone who doesn’t fit in receives a thorough and not entirely voluntary makeover to suit the intentions of the town’s founders…

(We have reached an awkward point in this review. I would hate to spoil the central plot-twist of the Forbes version, as it’s central to the movie – which, as I say, is rather good. But I can’t really talk about the Piggy version without giving it away. So, if you know the twist, read on. If you don’t, just steer well clear of the new movie and stop reading at this point. Okay? Okay.)

The thing about the original Stepford Wives was that it was a twist ending movie: that was what made it memorable. The problem is that the nature of the twist is pretty widely known by now: ‘Stepford Wife’ has become a shorthand term for a certain kind of unreconstructed home-maker or domesticated woman. I would guess a lot of people going to see this movie already know the twist, which gives the film a major problem in trying to generate any kind of tension or surprise. And to be honest it doesn’t try to, or at least not especially hard. It actually seems a bit unsure as to whether it wants to at least try to make the surprise work, or simply to assume that everyone already knows and just wink at them about it throughout. The result is that the big revelation is a damp squib for the entire audience rather than just part of it.

That’s one big problem for the film, but the biggest is that this is supposed to be a comedy version of the story. The fact that it isn’t particularly funny is bad enough, but I find it hard to believe that anyone seriously thought that such a creepy, paranoid and grim tale could honestly be made to yield up big laughs. This isn’t a dark, witty comedy, either: it’s a broad, frothy, camp farce. And it doesn’t work. The film can’t sustain this tone – the darkness of the original story keeps oozing back to the surface in the form of some genuinely unsettling moments (Broderick’s very decent performance would be pitch-perfect for a ‘serious’ Stepford remake), before vanishing again under a torrent of chronic overacting from Glenn Close. The comic tone even demands that a new ending be tacked on, which not only undermines one of the great last scenes in cinema history (the final scene of the Forbes version is repeated here, then lampooned shortly afterwards), but makes the film internally inconsistent: at some points the Stepford wives are android replicas, as before – but at others they are just the originals, surgically modified. It’s a mess.

And at least in the Forbes version you knew who to blame: the evil old chauvinists of the Stepford Mens’ Association. Katherine Ross, who played the Kidman part in the Forbes version, was just a regular person, who really didn’t deserve to be replaced by an android. But the Piggy version wilfully messes this up: the women in this are all wild overachievers, the sort of ‘superwomen’ certain ‘quality tabloids’ in the UK constantly have it in for. The implication is that the men are sort of justified in wanting to have them replaced by proper women. But both before and after their ‘modification’ the women are just grotesque stereotypes: bitches or bimbos. There isn’t a two-dimensional character in the whole movie.

Oh, well. I suppose there are a few quite funny lines, Broderick isn’t that bad, and David Arnold’s score deserves to be attached to a rather better film than this one… but on the whole this is a real mess of a film that slimes the memory of a good one. Stick to acting, Miss Piggy.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published June 6th 2002:

Just as the UK Tory Party aspires towards electability, so this column occasionally aspires towards being topical (usually with the same degree of success). I’m afraid the urge is upon me once more this week and a quick glance through the UK papers reveals three subjects of overwhelming interest: Big Brother 3, the Golden Jubilee, and the World Cup (there was some stuff about impending nuclear war, too, but let’s get our news priorities straight). I couldn’t honestly muster any enthusiasm for the first two and so the search was on for a movie I could link, however tenuously, with the football.

Escape to Victory is of course the greatest football movie ever made but I appear to have mislaid my tape of it. A lot of thought (much of it lateral) resulted in the nod going to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 remake of Godzilla, simply on the basis of all the elements it incorporates: Japan! France! Germany! The USA! Magnificent spectacle! A nagging sense of disappointment when it’s all over! The similarities are truly uncanny. Plus the BBC have nicked part of the soundtrack to advertise their own coverage of the tournament.

Matthew Broderick plays Nick Tatopoulos, a biologist specialising in the effects of nuclear accidents upon wildlife. (Whether all the associated radiation has impacted upon his fertility is not explored, but it certainly appears to have seriously interfered with Broderick’s ability to act.) His career takes an unusual turn when he’s seconded to a US army team investigating shipping losses in the Pacific: something large, fierce, and radioactive is on the loose and headed for the Eastern seaboard of America.

Well, obviously it turns out that naughty French nuclear tests in the South Pacific have spawned a bloomin’ big lizard-monster whom the press christen Godzilla for no adequately explored reason. Godzilla is making a beeline for NYC in order to raise a family there (word of the city’s childcare facilities clearly having got about) and it’s up to Nick, his irritating journalist ex-girlfriend Audrey (Maria Pitillo), a shady French secret service agent (Jean Reno), and a passing TV cameraman (Hank Azaria) to sort it all out.

(On a personal note, seeing this film again for the first time in over a year was a slightly eerie experience. Even though it’s a total fantasy, any movie incorporating the widescale destruction of New York landmarks, fleeing crowds in the city’s streets, and so on, will forevermore be a bit uncomfortable to watch. One character specifically refers to Godzilla wanting to make the city ‘Ground Zero’.)

Godzilla was the follow-up by Emmerich and his long-time collaborator Dean Devlin to the phenomenally successful Independence Day. It wasn’t nearly as successful, mainly because it isn’t such a cheerfully dumb audience-pleasing extravaganza. Most obviously, the characterisations and dialogue don’t have the same zip and sparkle as in the earlier film. Broderick is annoyingly bland, Pitillo is just annoying, and even the normally reliable Hank Azaria (guaranteed a place in showbiz history as the voice of Apu Nahasapeemapetalan, amongst others ) delivers a flat and unconvincing performance. Only Jean Reno really engages as the actor makes the most of the fact he gets nearly all the best lines (although there’s a nice performance by Vicki Lewis buried in the large supporting cast).

There’s a lot to suggest Devlin and Emmerich were attempting something with a bit more wit and edge than the traditional summer event movie. Most of Godzilla is set at night and in the rain, creating a gloomy and oppressive atmosphere. Those jokes that work are sly and self-referential: the French characters despair of the quality of American food and there’s an impressively spiteful caricature of the Independence Day-hating film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, too.

But the film has serious problems with pacing and the handling of its star. Godzilla appears on screen only a quarter of the way through a fairly long film and the script completely fails to find interesting things to keep him occupied. The set piece battles between the Big G and the armed forces are stunningly well-executed but also very few and far between, resulting in long lizard-free sections. A wiser choice would have been to stretch out the tension leading up to the revelation of Godzilla’s first appearance and concentrate all his big scenes in the closing part of the film.

Even this probably wouldn’t have been a complete solution as Devlin and Emmerich clearly don’t understand what makes Godzilla so appealing as a character. The classic Japanese Godzilla is an atomic-powered mutant dinosaur, a living engine of destruction who smashes cities out of pure malice and has levels of invulnerability that make Captain Scarlet look like an England midfielder. Devlin and Emmerich’s Godzilla is an irradiated, overgrown iguana who comes to NYC looking for a place to hide and who has to bugger off sharpish when a few little missiles get shot his way. The trademark Godzilla neutron halitosis only gets used once, and it’s so out of character you almost question your eyes when it happens. Purists might also add that all the best Godzilla movies involve a climactic rumble with Mothra, Rodan, or Anguillas, but I personally would have been happy to wait for the sequel to see this.

The ultimate proof that the producers were looking in the wrong place for inspiration comes from a long sequence near the end of the film, where our heroes are menaced by a brood of baby Godzillae (technically known as Godzookii). The special effects are nice enough but it’s painfully clear that the beasties are in every sense a rip-off of the raptors from the Jurassic Park franchise. There’s nothing wrong with the Jurassic Park films (well, not the odd-numbered ones at least) but they don’t have the charm and fantasy and creative energy of the Japanese kaiju eiga movies. The biggest problem with the American Godzilla is that it’s much too American and the one true Godzilla barely appears in it.

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