This week’s roundup includes the terrorist highjacking of a plane (United 93), a huge capsizing oceangoing liner (Poseidon) and, as if to save us from all this calamity, a couple of french policemen (36). Interesting the theme for this week's crop of reviews is consensus amongst the reviewers. As a result, if you can't be bothered to read the rest - United 93 is very good, Poseidon is very rubbish and 36 is slightly less rubbish.
First up, the biggie this week, United 93 from British writer-director Paul Greengrass. We can't understand why someone would want to see such a depressing reminder of the events five years ago but it would be an understatement to say that the critics like it. We're sure that there is a very fine line between a good 9/11 film and a completely tasteless flagwaving hollywoodized all American 9/11 film (we're waiting for Nicholas Cage in 'World Trade Center'), from the reviews it seems that Greengrass has stayed firmly on the appropriate side.
Peter Bradshaw begins his five star review with,
What other subject is there? What other event is there? Nothing is so important, so inextinguishably mind-boggling as the terrorist kamikaze flights of 9/11.
He calls it "an Anti-Titanic for the multiplexes - a real-life disaster movie with no Leo and Kate and no survivors: only terrorists whose emotional lives are relentlessly blank, and heroes with no backstory." The makers of the film, "have created an intestinally powerful and magnificent memorial to the passengers of that doomed flight. He finishes, "It is the film of the year." From Mr. Bradshaw, high praise indeed.
James Christopher at the Times also awards it five stars. There are no movie stars in this film, indeed some of the original players from the incident who worked in air traffic control are playing themselves. Christopher writes, "The absence of stars underpins the shrivelling realism of his close camera angles. The gossipy stewardesses and self-absorbed passengers are marvellously served by a cast of complete unknowns."
Anthony Quinn at the Independent also gives it top marks writing,
We have watched this movie knowing all along that United 93 is doomed (the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all on board), yet the gruelling exhilaration of these final 15 minutes force on you the impossible, paradoxical hope that somehow these brave people will survive.
It is the lack of sensationalism that the critics all like, the events are left to speak for themselves. Greengrass doesn't demonise the four young hijackers and even suggests that one of them has second thoughts about his mission. Quinn writes, "I wonder if an American director would have dared so much."
The only reviewer with any reservations about this film is Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph who writes,
United 93 is a gripping, honourable film, one stripped clean of disaster-movie clichés, that spurns "America the Brave" flag-waving. But I still have no idea why Greengrass made it, or why anyone would want to watch it.
We must admit, we tend to agree. Then again, morbid curiosity may get the better of us.
Next up, an altogether less real disaster, Poseidon.
Bradshaw gives this remake of 1972's 'Poseidon Adventure', in which a luxury ocean liner is cruising through clear waters when out of nowhere a massive tidal wave sweeps over the vessel, turning it upside down, a meagre two stars,
The big set-pieces are impressive, but there are some outrageously unconvincing moments from the hundreds of tuxed extras who must run around panicking. When the big wave first strikes, they do a lot of hammy am-dram bumping into the shattered furniture, almost shouting "rhubarb, rhubarb!" at each other. Their faces are eloquent of people who aren't quite up to the job of emoting. It will be a minor treat to rent the DVD, and freeze-frame some of the more choice wooden expressions.
That actually does sound hilarious. (We had to look up the "rhubarb, rhubarb!" thing - apparently it was common for a crowd of extras to shout "rhubarb" at eachother to create the effect of general hubbub. So if you ever need to create the effect of general hubbub in the future you'll know how.)
Anthony Quinn at the Independent also gives it two stars writing, "There are a few frights, but nothing can dispel its air of tawdry contrivance." Johnny Vaughan in the Sun admits that, "I couldn’t help thinking I was watching an extended video game rather than an epic disaster flick." and awards it two stars. (Well, strictly speaking he awards it 'two dogs out of five', that's 'Paw'...) and James Christoper at the Times also gives it two stars. There really isn't much more to write. This film is just thoroughly two star.
Lastly, a French film (Ooh arty, well actually not really), 36 (or should that be 'trente six'?.. GCSE French, we knew you'd come in handy)
The French have given us many things - Thierry Henry, garlic bread, a regular battlefield for our armed forces (oh dear I'm beginning to sound like Johnny Vaughan..), and now they've brought us 36, a film starring Depardieu and Auteuil as two cops in competition for the same promotion.
In his three star review, Steve Rose writes, "Having set up a juicy tale of masculine rivalry between two cops - Auteuil is a family man who plays by the rules; Depardieu is his embittered, boozing, rule-bending counterpart - the temperature just keeps on rising, and eventually boils over." Steady!
Wendy Ide in the Times awards it three stars and is quite positive about the whole thing,
Both men are in competition for the same promotion, both have preposterously gorgeous wives, both drink hard spirits in dive bars to forget the existential pointlessness of the lives of les flics. And both are mavericks who will occasionally bend the rules in order to enforce a little immediate justice.
These guys are real men! It doesn't sound like the usual flouncy french rubbish your sister goes to see. Ide admits that, "the usual British audience for foreign-language cinema may find this a little too slick for their tastes" and we at Londonist are pleased about that.
Anthony Quinn in the Independent gives it two stars, concluding that, "The acting of the two big cheeses is great, but the material whiffs like Camembert."
It may not be brilliant but it sounds fun, certainly a possible alternative if you're not in the mood for terrorism (afterall, we have Channel Four news for that.)
Trailer of the week - World Trade Center
Other films out this week - The Omen (A remake of the 1976 horror classic, an American couple realise their son is the spawn of the devil - a case for Supernanny if ever we heard one), Things To Do Before You're 30 (British comedy about resisting adulthood and responsibility featuring Billie Piper - dross) and The Benchwarmers (A trio of grown-up nerds form a three-man baseball team to take on teams of schoolkids - sinister)