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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Sheen’

And so it came to pass:

‘Come to the cinema with me, you owe me a movie. I came to see Samsara with you, didn’t I?’ she said.

‘Yeah, but as I recall you really liked it -‘

‘And then you went and wrote about us going to see it on your blog and really misrepresented me. That conversation we supposedly had was completely fake. Please don’t do that again.’

‘As if,’ I said. ‘Anyway, it was sort of based on fact, you’ve got to funny it up so people keep reading… hang on, as I recall you didn’t have to pay to see Samsara.’

‘All right, so I’ll pay for you if you come to the pictures with me. It’s only fair you keep your side of the deal…’

‘I didn’t even know we had a deal.’

‘You keep saying you’ll go and watch anything, so prove it.’

‘Oh, all right. What is it you want to see so badly?’

This is how years of guilt-free avoidance of The Twilight Saga end, not with blissful ignorance but with a pester. Yes, I went along to see Breaking Dawn – Part 2, directed by Bill Condon – what can I say, it seemed like the honourable thing to do at the time. I was under orders to ‘keep an open mind’ as the film rolled, and for my own part had done my best to avoid doing any research into what had happened in the previous four movies. This promised to be an interesting experiment (the diaries of Frankenstein, Jekyll, and Oppenheimer probably contain similar sentiments). I would normally warn you that what follows may contain spoilers, but the word ‘spoil’ is sort of misleading in this context.

Anyway, the credits rolled, depicting rolling vistas of forests and mountains and the first thing to cross my open mind was ‘this is all a bit Lord of the Rings-y’. I was quickly introduced to Bella (Kristen Stewart, thin and pretty), a young woman who had apparently just been turned into a vampire by her husband Edward (Robert Pattinson, thinner and prettier) – funny, most men complain when their wives become life-draining parasites. I figured all this out eventually despite the fact that there is a long scene where the two of them are blatantly reflected in a mirror and they spend most of the film walking around in the sunshine. Hmmph.

Following a heftless CGI sequence which concludes with Bella chowing down on a defenceless cougar, I learned that her offspring was being looked after by a bunch of other so-called vampires, whose smug and bland wholesomeness put me in mind of a religious cult. They all live in very nice houses in the woods. Hanging around was a character called Jacob (Taylor Lautner, who comes across as a distinctively bad actor – no mean feat in this film) who turned out to be a werewolf. It seemed that Jacob had fallen in love with Bella and Edward’s baby, which was an eye-opening plot development to say the least.

Anyway, the creepy good-guy vampires gave Bella and Edward their own house, complete with bedroom, which was the cue for a brief bout of whoa-ho-ho for the new parents and quick game of Whose Leg Is That? for the audience. (Not bad for a series which I understand began as abstinence porn.) We were quite a way into the film by this point and the only properly scary thing in this vampire-and-werewolf movie had been Bella and Edward’s CGI baby, and even this was probably not intentional.

However, things perked up – briefly and mildly – as we had a bit featuring Michael Sheen and Maggie Grace, both of whom I normally like (for somewhat different reasons, admittedly). Sheen plays an evil Italian vampire – finally! Evil vampires! – whom Grace, apparently playing a conflicted vampire of some kind, tips off to the existence of Bella’s kid. The evil vampires think she is a vampire kid, which is apparently against the vampire rules. (She isn’t, being technically what’s known as a dhampir, but as the film seems to only have a nodding acquaintance even with the concept of a vampire, she’s never referred to as such.) And so Sheen musters his force of evil vampires (‘this is all a bit Harry Potter-esque’, I thought) with a view to creating all sorts of mischief for the two leads.

The good guy so-called vampires rally round Bella and Edward, along with some faintly duff CGI werewolves (Count von Count from Sesame Street doesn’t show up, but two people with the same accent do). All the vampires have different special super-powers (‘this is all a bit X-Men-ish,’ I thought), such as being a bit sparky, seeing the future, causing massive earthquakes or being able to emit deadly toxic vapours (I have a similar ability after five pints of cider).

Eventually (finally!) the two sides face off in the snowy wastes. There is a great deal of chit-chat at this point. Will there be a big fight? Will the bad guys listen to reason? Ooh, ooh, they’re going to fight – oh, no they’re not. Hang on, it looks like they’re – oh, they’ve calmed down again. This goes on for quite a long time and is especially tedious as you know there’s inevitably going to be a big ruck. And so it proves. Much heftless CGI japery ensues, with many (I presume) much-loved and iconic characters meeting with spectacular ends. Crikey. But then – it turns out the whole fight never actually happened, and everyone is alive again, even the villains! (Well, someone who I quite like stayed dead, which annoyed me a bit.) And they all decide to settle their differences amicably and go home, which was a gobsmacking way of concluding an epic fantasy series.

(Stephenie Meyer, I am going to start a charity called Toffee For People Who Can Write. Here’s how it will work: it will find people who are writers and make sure that they receive toffee. If you can write, you will get toffee. But, Stephenie Meyer, no toffee for you! No toffee for Stephenie Meyer! Ahem.)

The End.

I was a bit worried about how I was going to discuss this film with my companion (who has seen the rest of the series)  without offending her. But luck was on my side.

‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry! That was terrible. I was afraid you were going to walk out.’

Hmm, well, to be honest that was never really on the cards – how often do you get a major studio release quite as astoundingly bad as this one? Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is very obviously aimed at the existing fanbase, for there are no concessions made to newcomers like myself, but this doesn’t excuse…

Well, the utter banality of most of the script, to be honest. This film makes being an immortal superhuman killing machine actually seem really boring. I find it difficult to put into words just how vapid most of these characters are. Meyer’s vampires are missing their fangs, but the absence of another pair of bodily items is more keenly felt.

The sole exception to this is Michael Sheen as the main villain. Now, I like Michael Sheen very much and have enjoyed his performances in many other films. Here, Sheen is given very little to work with, script-wise, and as a result clearly just thinks ‘Ah, sod it, may as well just have some fun.’ As a result his performance is so staggeringly camp and over-the-top it is probably best viewed via the Hubble space telescope. He is absolutely the best thing in this movie, but then again this is saying very little.

The fierce innocuousness of this movie means that, despite featuring more beheadings than Highlander and scenes of small children being hurled onto bonfires, it is still only a 12 certificate. Anyone much under 12 shouldn’t watch it, while I doubt anyone much over the age of 12 would really want to.

It’s just soul-crushingly pointless, utterly bereft of any kind of mythic or metaphorical power or texture. If you look at the vampire and werewolf movies of the 60s, as I was doing just the other night, the vampire is something alien and hostile: the menace, the threat to the established order. Apparently pretty much bereft of their need to drink human blood, and able to wander about cheerfully in the sunlight, what exactly are the Twilight vampires supposed to represent? Before seeing the film I was musing on how the vampire has gone from being a monstrous threat to a representation of the outsider, hence the rise of Goth culture and associated things. But the Cullens in this movie aren’t even that: they have nice hair, look like a bunch of models, drive Volvos and live in lovely countryside houses. All they represent is a kind of bland, affluent conformity for the young people watching this film to aspire to. For a fan of proper vampire, horror, and fantasy films, that’s possibly the most offensive thing about this dreadful, dreary film. But it’s up against some pretty stiff opposition.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published September 25th 2003:

The remarkably derivative nature of Len Wiseman’s Underworld has already been widely commented upon. And the film-makers, quite respectably, aren’t bothering to dispute this much, as Underworld is a film which wears its influences very openly on its sleeve: the opening seqeunce alone sees the main character wearing a full-length black coat while engaging in a bit of pistol-in-each-hand action. The Blade movies also appear to have been watched in some detail, and – while this may be a coincidence – the basic setting and plot are very reminiscent of the World of Darkness role-playing setting.

In a city of seemingly perpetual rain and darkness (probably Manchester) an age-old war between vampires and werewolves is being played out. The vampires look elegantly wasted, like the better class of goth, while the werewolves just look like roadies. Our protagonist is Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a vampire warrior dedicated to exterminating the ‘lycans’, as she calls them, a task which seems to mainly revolve around posing and looking concerned. But events take an unexpected turn when, just prior to the arising of a slumbering elder vampire, she discovers the werewolves are pursuing young doctor David Corwin (Scott Speedman). Is their interest connected with the rising of the elder? Can the two sides ever learn to get along? And did Selene remember to put enough talcum powder inside her rubber catsuit before getting dressed?

Well, anyway, concepts don’t get much higher than this one, and with some terrific cinematography and art direction, and a ferociously ambitious script, this should have been a terrific piece of action-horror. The fact that it’s merely fairly watchable is therefore a real disappointment. Part of the problem is that the story has virtually no grounding in reality – nearly every character is a vampire or werewolf, thus depriving the story of that vital frisson which happens when the fantastic and the mundane interact. And while the script is by no means simplistic or dumb – quite the opposite, the story has loads of characters, each with their own agendas and backgrounds, and incorporates vast chunks of back-story remarkably well – the characterisation is rather one-dimensional.

In particular, while Selene cuts a very striking figure, all handguns and reflective buttocks, we’re given no hint as to her background or motivation until well into the film, which makes it difficult to empathise with or care about her. It doesn’t help that Kate Beckinsale is (sorry, Brian, if you’re reading this) arguably badly miscast as an icy undead killer, resembling more closely a nursery school teacher who’s got lost on the way to a fetish party. That said, Michael Sheen isn’t half bad as the leader of the werewolves and Bill Nighy (an actor long respected in our house for his brilliant performance in the BBC’s Lord of the Rings) adds a much-needed touch of class as a ruthless vampire lord (though he looks a bit awkward in his fight scenes).

And, as I said, it does look very good, and the special effects and makeup are very impressive and imaginative. It’s just a pity the script can’t match this level of ingenuity: the set piece battles between vampires and werewolves should be breathtaking and surprising, but (with the odd honourable exception) they all boil down to people in leather jackets firing automatic weapons at each other from opposite ends of corridors. Yawn. It’s a failing that pretty much sums up Underworld – nice idea, shame about the execution. But commendably ambitious all the same.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published in December 2003:

It’s a terrible thing to have to say, but sometimes a film can be too thoughtful for its own good. The movie I’m particularly thinking of at the moment is Shekhar Kapur’s The Four Feathers, a new adaptation of A E W Mason’s much-filmed novel about loyalty, redemption, and swashbuckling heroics in 1880s Africa.

Well, I say ‘new’, but this is a film that originally came out in the US in 2002, where it promptly tanked. Clearly despairing of it, the distributors plonked it on the shelf for a year before giving it a distinctly low-key release on this side of the pond. It’s now, at the time of writing, making occasional appearances on the UK art-house circuit, which is where I caught it.

It’s the story of young British army officers Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger) and Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley) and their eminently nubile friend Ethne (Kate Hudson), who are all having a ripping time in England in 1884. Yes, they are all American or Australian, but never mind about that. Harry and Ethne get engaged, but following close upon their happy news come some grim tidings – Moslem extremists led by the Mahdi are causing all kinds of mayhem in the Sudan, and Jack and Harry’s regiment is being sent off to sort them out. The prospect of fighting the Mahdi makes Harry a bit mardy, and he suddenly realises he doesn’t want to be a soldier after all. His resignation results in him getting sent white feathers (the symbol of cowardice) by all his friends bar Jack, and what’s more Ethne chucks him too. But after the regiment’s gone, Harry decides he perhaps would like to do his bit after all, and gets on the next boat to Port Said in search of redemption…

This is a lavish, magnificently-photographed movie, with a huge scope. In fact, it’s possibly the most expensive art-house movie ever made, because it certainly isn’t the classy blockbuster the producers were probably hoping for. I can imagine the first screening, and the looks of bemusement and despair on the faces of studio brass as they slowly realise they’ve spent $80 million on a film which is too slow and thoughtful for mass consumption, but too hokey and dim for critical acceptance.

How can a film be simultaneously thoughtful and dim? Aha, my friends, it all boils down to the choice of director. Coming from an Asian background himself, Kapur doesn’t adopt the ‘British Empire, stiff upper lips, huzzah for us!’ approach to the characters that previous versions went for. Instead he’s much more critical of the imperialist mindset, and it doesn’t take Marshall McLuhan to work out that a story about a global superpower’s reckless foreign adventurism is just begging for a metaphorical interpretation (something else that probably didn’t help the film’s US box office). Most of the British characters are arrogant and racist, while Faversham’s native sidekick Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou, who’s rapidly becoming the poor man’s Morgan Freeman) is less his faithful servant than a noble source of wisdom and insight.

While the film has some of the most stunning cinematography I’ve seen in recent years, it’s also filmed in an unexpectedly dour and naturalistic way, lacking the gloss of more conventional action movies. It’s rather overlong, too, with a distinct sag in the final third. And, to be honest, the story itself rebels against Kapur’s reinterpretation of it – this was never meant to be a critique of colonialism or an examination of social controls in the class system. It’s supposed to be about some stand-up chaps who go off to dark-ish Africa and jolly well hit the Mahdi’s thugs for six. But the swashbuckling and derring-do never quite take flight (although there’s a very impressive battle partway through) and the redcoats and pith helmets of the British soldiers (not to mention the presence of Angela Douglas in the supporting cast) do summon up memories of Carry On Up The Khyber, absolutely the last thing this film needs.

To be fair to them, the leads do their best with their roles. Ledger does his ‘troubled’ face a lot (here’s a man crying out for the chance to play the lead in a romantic comedy), Bentley is actually quite good, especially as he has the potentially very dodgy task of playing someone who goes blind in the course of the film, and Kate Hudson… Ah, yes, well, Kate Hudson has terrible trouble with wandering accent syndrome. For most of the film, she sounds as if she comes from somewhere on the border between Bermondsey and Reykjavik. Either that or her tongue was shot full of muscle relaxant before every take.

This is a thoughtful and sincere attempt at a new take on an old favourite, but the problem with The Four Feathers is that this is one story that trenchantly resists any attempt at a revisionist interpretation. It’s a jingoistic romp or it’s nothing. A full-on, rousing, fairly dimwitted version of this story could conceivably have been a big hit – but Kapur’s attempt at something more cerebral and even-handed really misses the point and appeal of the tale. Worthy, and not without its moments, but ultimately rather dull.

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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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