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Posts Tagged ‘Rose Byrne (sigh)’

All right, time for a bit of an innovation in these parts – exciting, n’est-ce pas? Anyway. You know me, I’ll usually rock up to watch just about anything, but I have to say that the moment I saw the trailer for Sean Anders’ Instant Family I was seized by the absolute conviction that if I watched it I would probably end up vomiting up my stomach lining. I’m not saying that my recent trip to the USA was solely motivated by the desire to avoid this film, but I’m not saying it wasn’t, either. Anyway, my friend the thriller-loving Olinka decided she had the intestinal fortitude to face this particular excursion into (most likely) glutinous sentimentality and has agreed to write about it for your education and entertainment…

I hardly ever write reviews of films I’ve seen. I am an English language teacher, and I teach people how to write reviews as part of their international exam preparation, so that makes me more of a review reader, and a humble pointer out of grammar mistakes, than a review writer. However, since our ringleader, Andy, was on vacation in the USA, and missed our regular Tuesday trip to the cinema, I feel it is my duty to show a little initiative and fill in the gap in his regular blog routine. [A bit late since I’ve been back for a few days now, but better than never I suppose – A]

The choice of film wasn’t hard to make for me and my friend Con-Con, because, let’s face it, what do two hard-working girls want on a no boys evening out? A good giggle, a bit of popcorn [More like a barrel of popcorn knowing you two – A] and a family comedy. We chose Instant Family simply because we wanted to have a good light-hearted time.

So, here we are. The film tells the story of Pete (Mark Wahlberg), and his wife, Ellie (Rose Byrne) [Sigh – A], who, having decided to foster a child, eventually end up with three siblings of Mexican origin: bright, sassy Lizzy (Isabela Moner), shy Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and cute, bossy Lita (Julianna Gamiz). The idea of instantly outdoing their friends who have only one child, and not having to go through sleepless nights and dirty nappies, seems quite appealing at first. But, as you can probably guess, things go off the rails almost straight away.

Being not dissimilar to any new parent – naïve and full of false expectations – the couple soon have to face harsh reality. The initial period of settling in turns out to be an exhausting whirl of tantrums, tears and regular trips to A&E. Add in loads of ruined pastel cream furniture. [Olinka’s eye for interior décor will be well-known to anyone who read the review of Everybody Knows A] Being a new mum myself, I guess I am the perfect target audience for this film, but I couldn’t help smiling at how familiar the whole thing seemed – the helplessness, the chaos, not knowing the right answer, not knowing how to react at times. What becomes clear, I guess, is that, whether or not a child is adopted, when we become parents we never know who our children really are, and one whole life is just not enough time to find out. [This is getting a bit too profound for my liking, do some bad puns – A]

As soon as things settle down a bit, the family gets struck by a new blow. The kids’ biological mother appears in their lives and expresses the wish to take them home. And here for me lies the key question at the heart of the film: What is the love of a child really about? I was reminded of the Biblical story of King Solomon’s Judgement. If you remember, King Solomon has to rule between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child. Solomon suggests cutting the baby in two, so that each woman might receive half. This judgement is designed to reveal the women’s true feelings towards the child. While the non-mother approves of this proposal, the actual mother begs that the child be committed to the care of her rival. The family in this film has a similar decision to make. Will they let go of their loved ones for the sake of their well-being?

Exploring these issues in a gentle, ironic but not mawkish way, the film definitely won me over and brought a tear to my eye (not just me, by the way!). It’s a funny, honest take on the highs and lows of the fostering process, and it is full of insightful set-pieces. Take, for example, adoption picnics, on which potential parents and children meet up for a picnic, strained and stressful experiences which, as the couple in the film rightly point out, resemble a car boot sale of children.

The film overall does an important job in exploring and popularising the idea of fostering, and it busts a couple of myths about adoption, such as, biology makes a family, adopted children won’t fit in, or adoptive parents won’t be able to truly love them. As we see, none of these myths are true, and this is what’s important at the end of the day.

As we were leaving the cinema, my friend commented, ‘I’d like to adopt now!’ and I, to my surprise, answered, “Me too!’ All of which proves my point. This film makes you think this way. It’s message is very simple: be a good person and do something good for other people. I left the cinema with a smile on my face, and a light step. What’s wrong with that? [Hmmm – A]

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Musings on The Death of Cinema, Part Three – well, hang on, before we really get properly stuck into Will Gluck’s CGI movie version of Peter Rabbit, perhaps a little more context is required. Beatrix Potter’s original tales of the adventures of woodland characters were amongst the very first stories that I was ever read, and as a result they retain a power to affect me on a deeply emotional level: my memories of them have a fondness and delicacy to them that I find it extremely difficult to articulate. Anyone tampering with the elemental stuff of my childhood is, in effect, jabbing a sharp stick down into my subconscious. I didn’t go and see either of the Paddington films for exactly this reason: I wasn’t sure I could cope with the upwelling of emotion even a good Paddington movie would inevitably produce. But at least the Paddington films did get universally good reviews. This is not true of Peter Rabbit.

So why in sanity’s name would I go near this film? Well, to bear witness, mainly; to stare down into the blackest pits of horror and debasement unblinkingly, so I can vent my spleen all over the internet with at least the semblance of an informed opinion. Plus someone asked me to, because he thought the ensuing review might be quite funny. I ask you.

Proper critics have said some quite peculiar and arguably silly things about Peter Rabbit: ‘not all bad, just very nearly’ is just one of the far too generous notices it has drawn. There have also been various references to Beatrix Potter herself ‘spinning in her grave’, when as any fule kno Miss Potter was cremated in December 1943. However, if the rocks and stones themselves of the Lake District were to rise up in violent revolt against this horrendous travesty, if the trees and waters and small furry creatures were to gather their strength and strike a terrible blow of vengeance against all the works of man – well, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

This is apparently ‘an irreverent, contemporary comedy with attitude’ – yes, think of Miss Potter’s famous The Tale of Peter Rabbit and the first three words that bound into your skull are ‘irreverent’, ‘contemporary’ and ‘attitude’, aren’t they? James Corden voices Peter Rabbit with all the heart-warming charm of a blocked drain, while Margot Robbie is Flopsy Rabbit and Daisy Ridley is Cottontail Rabbit. (Mrs Rabbit has been killed off, as she is obviously just not street enough for modern audiences.) The rabbits spend all their time sneaking into the vegetable patch of grumpy old Mr McGregor (Sam Neill).

The substance of the book is still just about visible off in the distance, but there now follows a sequence in which Peter Rabbit actively contemplates inserting a carrot into Mr McGregor’s rectum while the latter is chasing him about the garden. The exertions of the chase cause Mr McGregor to drop dead, however, before the deed can be done.

Yup, that’s right: this is a version of Peter Rabbit in which Peter Rabbit basically kills Mr McGregor. It makes that film version of Dad’s Army where Corporal Jones shoots someone in the head look like a triumph of authenticity. The film does squirm around on this point, though, claiming that McGregor’s ‘poor lifestyle choices’ were to blame, and including a throwaway gag about Asbestos poisoning. Ha! Ha! Asbestos poisoning! That’s so contemporary and irrelevent, not to mention hilarious!

Well, inheriting the house (and, of course, the vegetable patch) is Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), a virtually unhinged control-freak who used to work for Harrods (which appears to have financed the film, as it features the most blatant and extended product placement I’ve seen in any film since Power Rangers). Cue another attitude-heavy gag about McGregor drinking water out of the Harrods toilet bowls. Needless to say, McGregor hates the rabbits and their woodland friends, but he is quite taken with his nature-loving neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne, who does not receive her customary ‘sigh’ on this occasion).

Yup, once again you are ahead of me: Bea is, we are invited to infer, Beatrix Potter herself, but rather than a multi-talented artist, natural scientist and expert mycologist, in the movie she is presented as a hippy-dippy free spirit and slightly inept abstract painter. Young McGregor is much taken with her, and she with him, rather to the chagrin of Peter Rabbit. Can Peter Rabbit drive McGregor away? Can McGregor successfully woo Bea? Can Bea make the rabbits behave, and encourage McGregor to be a bit less retentive?

All this, plus rapping sparrows, a sight gag where Mrs Tiggy-Winkle walks repeatedly into an electric fence, and the already-notorious moment when the rabbits pelt McGregor with blackberries, which he is allergic to, causing him to go into anaphylactic shock and collapse. Ho ho ho! Anaphylactic shock! That’s just so contemporary!

Once again, the film tries to smarm its way around any potential taste issues here, as the whole blackberry scene is prefaced by a moment where Peter Rabbit basically turns to the camera and says ‘Allergies are a serious business, and we’re not making fun of sufferers, because we don’t want to get letters’. Before the film proceeds to make fun of sufferers and do the whole comedy-anaphylactic-shock routine.

Just how bad is Peter Rabbit? Well, for once, words fail me. I have to resort to the following picture, which basically depicts the expression on my face for most of this movie:

In short, it is horrendously, almost indescribably bad, assuming you come to it from the point of view of someone wanting a movie with even the barest resemblance to Beatrix Potter’s charming, gentle stories.

It’s not even as if the guilty parties can claim ignorance, for the tiny sliver of the film which is actually pleasant to watch is a fully-animated flashback, done in the style of the book’s original illustrations, depicting the happier days of the rabbit family. It completely gets the sweetness and subtlety of the original tales, which just makes the ghastliness of the rest of the movie all the more reprehensible: they could have done a whole movie like that. They chose otherwise. They have no defence.

This is almost the Platonic ideal of a well-known property being wrenched violently out of shape simply in order to exploit its name-recognition factor. In places this almost resembles a mean-spirited parody of Beatrix Potter, with her stories subverted by the inclusion of a knowing, desperately self-aware sense of humour. Is the whole thing supposed to be ironic on some level? I’m not sure. The closing section certainly seems to be having some fun at the expense of grisly and formulaic Richard Curtis-style rom-coms. Fair enough; there’s fun to be had there. But don’t do it if it means doing this kind of violence to poor little Peter Rabbit.

Normally I could find the generosity to suggest that this film has a certain level of technical competence, and the performances of the two leads are serviceable enough. But not in this case. This is a knowing, premeditated violation of an innocent children’s classic, a wilful, unconscionable cash-grab (and before you say anything, I used my free ticket card to get in to see it, so my conscience is clear) of such mercenary awfulness it is almost impossible to watch without despair swallowing your soul. The success of the Paddington films means more horrors of this ilk are almost inevitable, I fear. The one faint glimmer of hope I can offer is that there were only five people at the screening I went to, and none of them were from the target demographic for this film. So there is at least a chance it is dying on its cotton-tailed arse. It deserves to; it honestly deserves to. Not so much a work of art as a sin against nature.

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So, to the pressing question of the day: is Bryan Singer’s latest film (subtitled Apocalypse) actually X-Men 6 or X-Men 8? [Yes, I forgot about DeadpoolA] It all depends on your attitude to the two Wolverine movies, I suppose, but either way, this is now an impressively venerable series – certainly the elder statesman of the superhero franchise world. However, as any fule kno, you’re only ever as great as your latest movie, so X-Men: Apocalypse has a fair bit to live up to.

X-Men_Apocalypse_International_Poster

This time around the movie is set in 1983 (so how the characters can be selling broadband in an irksomely ubiquitous set of advertisements I really have no idea, mutter grumble) and the academy for mutants run by Professor X (James McAvoy) is a going concern. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has dropped out of sight to become a legendary activist in the mutant underground. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is living quietly with his family in Europe. The population of the world seems to be getting used to the idea of mutants living amongst them.

All this changes when the Professor’s old friend Moira (Rose Byrne, sigh) inadvertantly resurrects En Sabah Nur (a not especially recognisable Oscar Isaacs) , a mutant tyrant of the ancient world, who possesses a usefully vague set of superpowers and likes to be known as Apocalypse. Having speedily got himself up to speed on the world of 1983 (he appears to do this primarily by watching a 1967 episode of Star Trek, which should leave him with a somewhat skewed world-view, to say the least), he sets about gathering a new group of followers and sweeping away the existing world order…

Would you like to know how Apocalypse fits into the existing chronology of the X-movies? Well, I really wouldn’t worry too much, as the series’ continuity got hopelessly mangled two or three sequels ago, and the rebooting of history in the last one only lets them handwave away so much. It is, I suppose, just about possible for two characters in their teens and their late thirties respectively to be brothers, but that doesn’t explain why none of the regular characters seem to have aged since the early 1960s – not just the mutant characters (who could conceivably have some weird metabolic or clockspeed issues), either. The film is forced to acknowledge the awkwardness of this, before hoping to make you forget it simply by throwing bits of plot at you.

The problem is that many of those chunks of plot look decidedly familiar as they whizz past: Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) comes into his powers again, there’s a scene with cage-fighting mutants, flashbacks to Auschwitz, a special-forces assault on the X-Mansion, a trip to a secret military installation under Alkali Lake, someone kidnapping the Professor to exploit his telepathic powers. In the end everyone hops into a plane and flies off to take down the main villain and his lackeys. Cumulatively it all feels like the X-Men movies’ greatest hits, repackaged, and whether that’s the series honouring its past or just showing signs of creative exhaustion is a good question. It does seem like a conscious choice: dialogue from the first film gets repeated, a certain Australian song-and-dance man makes an inevitable cameo (setting up a coming attraction, naturally), and Singer makes a slightly bitchy comment (obliquely, via his characters) about one of the sequels directed by somebody else, which is funny but still asking for trouble given this film is not without issues either.

Singer was apparently determined , while working on the first two X-movies, to make them as non-comic-booky as possible. This was primarily because, back in the late 90s, superhero movies had a toxic reputation amongst the wise men of Hollywood (the past is indeed another world), largely because of the spectacular failure of the neon-hued and ridiculously cartoony Batman and Robin. Well, in some ways X-Men: Apocalypse is the most comic-booky X-film yet – no sooner has Apocalypse recruited someone to his team than he sticks them in a decidedly Joel Schumacher-esque costume, for instance. There are battles and effects sequences aplenty, but none of them really feel grounded in reality and there is no sense of anything really being at stake. (The 1980s setting feels largely cosmetic this time around, too.)

And yet, despite all this, X-Men: Apocalypse still has many of the things you really want from a film in this franchise. The producers are not stupid and do realise that with actors like McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence on board, you want to give them some decent material to work with, so they all get some good scenes – Fassbender is particularly good as a haunted and bitter Magneto. (Evan Peters makes an impression again as a slightly more angsty Quicksilver – then again, it must be hard when you and your sister end up appearing in different movie franchises – but most of the younger cast members aren’t really able to impose themselves on the film.) And the plot does mostly hang together, and there are many good bits, but…

I honestly think that if they’d released a film like X-Men: Apocalypse ten years ago it would have seemed rather more impressive than it does now: it has scale and spectacle, humour and a little depth, some impressive performances and very competent special effects. But the bar has been raised on the superhero movie since then: Christopher Nolan, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Matthew Vaughn and others have all played their part in making this a genre for which people have high expectations.

In the end, all I can really say is that Apocalypse is by no means bad, but it’s the first main-sequence X-film I’ve enjoyed less than its predecessor. Maybe I’ve just been spoilt. Maybe the X-Men films really are showing signs of franchise fatigue. Or maybe the much whispered-of point of actual superhero movie overkill has finally arrived. Time will tell, I suppose.

 

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Ingredients for British romantic comedy film with a marital theme:

  • Useless vicar performing wedding ceremony
  • Terrible best man giving faux pas-strewn speech at the reception
  • Affluent lifestyle of easy, aspirational upward-mobility for lead characters so target audience will identify with them
  • Kooky alternative lifestyle for supporting character so as not to repel alternative kooks amongst the potential audience
  • Incredible filthy rich lifestyle for another supporting character so the producers don’t feel completely out of their comfort zone
  • Imported foreign female stars to ensure a decent release in overseas territories
  • Soundtrack of ubiquitous pop and soft-rock songs to create comfortingly familiar atmosphere
  • Cameo roles from well-known comedy faces (people off the TV will do in a pinch)
  • Judicious amount of sauce

Honestly, this scriptwriting thing’s a doddle – I hadn’t decided what to do for this year’s ScriptFrenzy (it was going to be a toss-up between a dinosaur Western called Flesh and a screwball comedy martial arts action film for Jason Statham called Transporting Baby) but I think I’ll just do a rom-com, they’re such a sure thing at the box office that I suspect production companies don’t really look at the recipe, just the ingredients. I should be able to sneak a slightly dodgy script past them, no problem.

At least this is the impression I was left with after watching Dan Mazer’s I Give It A Year, which, if it isn’t a rom-com, is certainly well-disguised as one. I have to say this is a slightly tricky film to review in-depth without spoiling the plot, but here goes anyway. Suffice to say that it appears to have been released specifically to cash in on the Valentine’s Day date-night audience, which is a little surprising given the general tenor of the thing.

igiay

Anyway, Rafe Spall plays Josh, a writer, who as the film starts is getting married to Nat, an advertising executive played by Rose Byrne (sigh), after a fairly whirlwind romance. Needless to say the course of married life does not run smooth, as it turns out they don’t know each other nearly as well as they thought. Also problematic is the fact that Josh’s old girlfriend (Anna Faris) is still on the scene, clearly nursing feelings for him, while Nat’s work brings her into contact with a wealthy American hunk (Simon Baker) to whom she finds herself instantly attracted.  Will the course of true love run smooth?

Of course, this sort of begs many questions concerning what exactly true love is, how you know when you’ve met The One, does the idea of ‘The One’ even make sense, and what degree of friction and not-getting-on is to be expected in any marriage, successful or not. These are important and interesting questions which most people, as grown-ups, will probably find themselves addressing at some point in their lives, and as such there’s scope here for an intelligent and witty film.

However, while I Give It A Year adheres quite rigorously to the ingredient list already mentioned – there are no fewer than three imported stars, and my cinema ticket came with a voucher giving me a discount if I bought the soundtrack – it’d really be stretching a point to describe it as strikingly intelligent, witty, or even particularly grown-up. Which isn’t to say it’s not intermittently quite funny, but that sauce of various kinds comprises a greater percentage of the overall dish than in, for example, a Richard Curtis movie (I’m sorry, I’m getting sick of this cookery metaphor too). A lot of the humour is quite coarse and crude – this is ultimately a comedy of manners, but most of the actual jokes are derived from social awkwardness and embarrassment, and in order to generate this Mazer has come up with a bunch of characters who are in no way believable as real human beings.

As a result, despite good performances from the central cast, the story as a whole never really convinces, nor is the main throughline especially funny. The film has a slightly odd structure, almost like a collection of comedy sketches, in which supporting characters will come in and do one or two (often very funny) scenes before we’re back to Spall and Byrne again. For example, Olivia Colman has a cameo as a nightmarish marriage counsellor, while there’s another bit where an attempted threesome becomes unexpectedly competitive.

But probably the biggest issue I had with this film is the way that it… well, look, this might be considered a Spoiler, so continue at your own risk. What starts off as a filthed-up copy of a Richard Curtis movie ultimately transforms into a rather odd parody of one, with all the cliches – the climactic dash, the triumphant declaration of passion – guyed and repurposed. It is, if you will, the film’s secret ingredient (though a bit less secret now you’ve read this, come to think of it). The problem is that those cliches are there for a reason, they’re part of a functioning story structure. Kicking that structure apart, as Mazer cheerfully does in the final act of the movie, risks alienating the audience, or at least confusing them. It’s not that the ending is parachuted in from nowhere, just that it runs contrary to one’s fundamental expectations of this kind of film – it’s like a detective story where the criminal is never caught, or a disaster movie where everybody dies.

So, it has some funny bits in it, but it’s not as consistently hilarious as its own advertising makes it appear. Neither is I Give It A Year quite the standard Working Title rom-com that it might seem to be – but, oddly enough, this is as much a problem with the film as it is a point of distinction.  Rose Byrne remains as reliably beautiful as ever, though.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published May 20th 2004. 

One of the benefits of going to a school with a slightly unorthodox curriculum was that in addition to all the usual stuff, like Maths, English, Chemistry and History, for an hour a week we took a class called Classical Studies, in which we learned about things like Greek theatre, the archaeological excavations at Mycenae, the Roman occupation of Britain, and – crucially for this week’s spouting of bias – the particulars of the Trojan Wars. I say ‘benefit’, because I found it all rather fascinating (and it got me a reasonable GCSE), but either the subject matter or the way in which it was taught was enough to give many of my classmates a severe case of Homer phobia. Hopefully this will not deter them from popping along to see Wolfgang Peterson’s epic blockbuster on this subject, Troy.

Based rather loosely on the old legends (Homer himself gets credited as an ‘inspiration’), this is primarily the story of lethal but capricious warrior Achilles (Bradley Pitt), who spends his time variously fighting for or arguing with the ruthless and power-hungry High King of Greece, Agamemnon (Brian Cox). Agamemnon has conquered all of Greece, and now his ambition turns in the direction of the great city of Troy in Asia Minor. He gets his chance when Helen (Diane Kruger), the wife of his brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) runs off with visiting Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom), much to the horror of Paris’ brother Hector (Eric Bana). This, Agamemnon thinks, would make a smashing pretext for going to Troy and replacing the existing management. With the aid of the trickster king of Ithaca, Odysseus (Sean Bean), he persuades Achilles to join his cause, and a thousand ships set sail for death and glory…

Now obviously there was always going to be a good deal of snipping and tightening of the story in order for this film not to be even longer than The Lord of the Rings – and so it proves. The siege of Troy, rather than ten years, lasts about a fortnight (and even this time includes a lengthy lay-off for both sides), and the plot and cast list are correspondingly cut down. So, for anyone else who knows the story, there’s no Hecuba, no Cassandra, no Philoctetes, Troilus or Cressida. (But, rather unexpectedly and charmingly, Aeneas does get a single scene.) The overtly mythological elements of the story are almost wholly removed, too, with the exception of a single scene with Achilles’ mother Thetis (whose divinity is not elaborated upon). A shame, but I can understand why – it’s not as if epic fantasy films about huge sieges have set the box office on fire lately, is it?

More importantly, Achilles himself is retooled as a slightly more conventionally heroic figure. He still sulks and thinks of nothing but his own reputation, but instead of the, ahem, traditional Greek practices usually ascribed to him, he gets a girl as a love interest – Trojan priestess Briseis (Rose Byrne – sigh). Pitt certainly looks the part, but never quite brings the character to life – Eric Bana is really much better as his Trojan counterpart. But about half of you will probably be pleased to know Bradley gets his bum out a few times, and the script rewrites the story to a considerable degree to give him the maximum screen time possible.

Of course, the danger with this sort of film is that it will degenerate into a bunch of men in skirts and questionable hairstyles declaiming on battlements to no great effect. The spectre of absurdity swoops over Troy a couple of times, but the film manages to hang in there as a serious drama by, well, taking itself very seriously. The action scenes are top-notch, gritty and bloody, with the CGI (I assume there must have been some) virtually unnoticeable for the most part. Somehow Petersen even manages to get through the scene where Paris picks up a bow and arrow for the first time without a knowing snigger running through the audience.

But more important is the film’s insistence that this was a political war, fought on a pretext by an ambitious and ruthless ruler. The Trojans are (mostly) flawed, but decent and good people – the Greeks are depicted much less flatteringly, Agamemnon and Menelaus in particular. The film isn’t especially subtle about this (or indeed anything else), but it’s enormously refreshing to see a major release drawn in such all-pervading shades of grey. (On the other hand, the film’s total lack of humour or irony might not appeal to many people today – but I hope this isn’t the case.)

To be fair, Troy never quite catches fire and really thrills or moves, but it’s a solid story, well-told for the most part. Some of the exposition is rather clunky – but then again there’s so much back-story that’s probably inevitable – and the climax seems a little bit rushed and perfunctory, but this is a commendable and impressive adaptation of the story. An unusually thoughtful and classy blockbuster – recommended.

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