This week's Peter Bradshaw Appreciation Society kicks off with Roman Polanski's take on Oliver Twist. For the illiterate, using screen readers to read this week's Friday Film News out to you, Oliver Twist is the story of an orphan boy sent to the workhouse, who runs away to London and falls into criminal ways before finding redemption (via some horrific encounters, including murder). There may be a happy ending but, flipping heck, there's some nasty bits along the way.
Much has been made of the parallels with Polanski's life story so one might expect a gritty, uncomfortable 130 minutes, one to emphasise Dickens' political perspective. The Brad-man, however, tells us in his three-star review that Polanski's take is "simply a decent, watchable film, not obviously more powerful or personal than a teatime-telly version." You get a sense that the Brad-man enjoyed the film but, given the director, really wanted it to be so much better: "...the book's original power and force have not been rediscovered."
The Independent agrees in its three-star assessment: "The film's real weakness... is one I would never have imagined Polanski succumbing to... the man who gave us Repulsion, Chinatown and a seriously bloody Macbeth, has soft-pedalled the violence of the book." They suggest the desire to secure a PG rating may have compromised the gorier aspects of the story.
The Times, on the other hand, is an obviously more delicate flower and believes that Dickens and Polanski have "the wisdom to wear their grievances lightly." Where the other two papers were disappointed with the light touch, The Times, in its four-star review believes the film to be "quietly scathing".
Hard to come to any firm conclusion about this, other than the fact that people expecting something as jolly as the musical version filmed in 1968 probably won't be enamoured. Those expecting true grit and the sheer outrage of Dickens may be equally disappointed.
Despite being a story written by an English author set in England, Oliver Twist was filmed in Prague. There are obvious reasons why Polanski avoided setting foot in Britain but perhaps a less-obvious one was the desire to avoid getting involved with that particular brand of 'quirky' and 'heartwarming' with which some ambitious English films are infected. So we come to Kinky Boots, a film based on the true story of a Northampton shoe factory which rescued itself from failure by finding itself a niche market producing the titular boots of the kinky variety.
The Brad-man isn't altogether impressed with "ordinary folk all pulling together to achieve something quirky while euphorically affirming their regional tweeness" and awards just the two stars. Despite appearing in a newspaper with attitudes that sometimes appear to be stuck in the 19th century, The Telegraph actually complains that "it's a pity it doesn't push its plea for moving with the times just an inch further."
The most positive review comes from The Times' three-star assessment of the film as "a classic heart-warmer with just enough grit to prick tears." Yet it joins The Telegraph in complaining that the more homo-erotic aspects of the story aren't covered. "A more interesting film goes begging."
Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance in Kinky Boots is almost universally acclaimed, but just in case his starring role isn't enough, he makes sure he turns up in Serenity. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, Serenity is a spin-off from his cancelled tv-series Firefly. (We're sure there was only minor motivation in making a successful film from a tv flop - albeit critically-acclaimed - to get up the noses of the tv networks.)
We're assured by The Telegraph that prior viewing of the tv series isn't required viewing to enjoy this film although the review doesn't inspire confidence by telling us that "The whizzy action sequences and slightly baggy space-opera plot (friendly brigands, escaped psychics, something called the Alliance) are all present and correct." Memories of Episodes I to III of Star Wars still send shivers down our spine, we're not sure we want to repeat the experience. Luckily our man at The Guardian reassures us in his three-star review that Serenity is "a sci-fi action picture with more energy in its little finger than Revenge of the Sith had in its whole, bloated body."
So, having piqued the curiosity once more, what can those of us who have had Buffy-less and Firefly-free existences expect? Happily, The Times takes it upon itself to answer that: "Although the thumbprint of its TV roots is smeared all over Serenity, the film is surprisingly successful." In a radical departure for a mass-market sci-fi film, "Whedon’s script takes the time and effort to get to know its characters."
Trailer of the week is for Brokeback Mountain a film featuring cowboy homoeroticism.