Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan...
This week The Rolling Stones get the concert film treatment in Shine A Light and George Clooney goes screwball in Leatherheads.
If you’re the Rolling Stones, you get directors of the calibre of Martin Scorsese making your concert films. In Shine A Light they’re captured in all their craggy-faced glory playing a small NY benefit concert. The critics are split on this. Kevin Maher in the Times finds himself surprisingly swept away calling it a “revelation” (4-stars):
As the sixtysomething foursome charge through early numbers about hot sexy women and tough love encounters, they look like X-rays with wigs, or ancient marionettes tottering around in bug-eyed delirium.
The Aging of the Stones (great name for their next documentary) is what all the reviews pick up on. Anthony Quinn in the Independent (3-stars):
Scorsese tries to bring a documentary angle to the proceedings by inserting archive footage of the band. The sight of their younger selves contrasted with the wizened ghouls of today is, at times, heartbreaking, or otherwise just hilarious.
It seems that the archive footage is much more interesting than the straightforward concert film. As an unimpressed Peter Bradshaw puts it in his 2-star review:
The awful truth is that concert movies really can be quite dull, and well photographed though this one certainly is, you can spend 10- or 20-minute stretches wondering what you're going to have for supper and whether to stop off at Tesco.
You can’t help but feel that however iconic his subjects, Scorsese should have better things to be doing with his time. Like making more gangster films.
Goofball comedy Leatherheads is about the early years of American Football. Directed by and starring George Clooney it was always going to be a tough sell this side of the pond, because quite frankly we don’t care. The Times has a pleasant enough 3-star review calling the film “affable” and a “fan letter to the rapid-fire, quick-witted screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s.” but the problem lies with the sport which:
renders the film’s climax, a highly charged mud-bath of a game, incomprehensible and rather flat for audiences raised on the rather more satisfying British version of the sport.
The Independent plumps for 2-stars saying that:
The film, shot in golden browns and caramels, looks lovely, and Clooney and Zellweger smooch away pleasantly in their period duds; but the rapid-fire dialogue is a fizzle, and the plot blows like a feeble reed in the wind.
But, as ever, lets leave it to Peter Bradshaw to tell it how it is in a 2-star review, dissecting Clooney the Comedian:
He does saucer-eyed "surprise" expressions and head-waggling, violent double-takes. It is the sacred duty of any responsible director to keep Clooney off his funny jag, to keep his head still and his handsome vibe steady.
In this case the director is Clooney, so what are you going to do? He then goes on to brilliantly describe Renée Zellweger whose “facial muscles are locked in that weird lemon-sucking smirk-pout-grimace.” Spot on. That’s her only expression. In. Every. Film.
With it’s top quality cast and storyline about brilliant MIT students beating the Vegas odds, 21 looked like it might deliver. Alas, it’s not to be. Peter Bradshaw calls the film “sluggish” in a 2-star review and describes star Kevin Spacey as “a lugubrious and deadening presence”. The Times also offers 2-stars saying the film has:
confused moralising about the need for hard work and honesty while simultaneously celebrating the allure of Las Vegas and the quick, dishonest buck.
However it’s the Independent (1-star) that really sticks the knife in, bravely asking a very important question:
The screenplay is dismal, the team's disguises ridiculous and the overall air of smugness insufferable – and we haven't even started on Kevin Spacey. When, and how, did the suave chameleon of The Usual Suspects and LA Confidential become the mannered, self-important creep of today?
Indeed. Although having thought about this, the answer is K-PAX, a film that featured unholy levels of Spacey smugness oozing from the screen. Don’t bother checking it out.
The reviews of Lonesome Jim make it sound a particularly bleak proposition. Shot three years ago and directed by Steve Buscemi, it follows a depressed young man (Casey Affleck) returning to his hometown. His performance is what stands out:
Casey Affleck gives a fine impersonation of world-class despair, leaving a mournful beat before answering a question and seldom daring to catch anyone's eye. (3-stars, The Independent)
Good as Affleck may be, the problem seems to be that he’s not a character you want to spend time with. The Guardian (3-stars):
Lumpen, drained and often extremely unlikable, he is neither pretty to watch nor fun to be around.
The Times agrees with this viewpoint giving the film 2-stars:
But the central character’s deflated lack of purpose infuses the whole film, leaving the audience ultimately indifferent to his self-absorbed melancholia.
Spanish Horror film [Rec] follows a TV crew who end up in the middle of what the Times calls the “Zombie Movie Playbook” in its 2-star review. The Guardian (also 2-stars) gives the review a topical spin:
Manuela Velasco stars as the blood-spattered presenter, desperately trying to maintain a professional air in the face of mounting carnage, like Konnie Huq at the Olympic torch relay.
It’s a great description that makes you realise that Olympic Torch: The Movie is probably already being written.
The latest entry in the genre that is stoner comedies is Strange Wilderness, a film gathering some horrifically bad reviews. Peter Bradshaw reveals himself as the naughty schoolboy of critics confessing:
This is an amazingly crass and chaotic stoner comedy, from which I emerged cheerfully giggling, only to find each of my fellow critics turning me a face resembling Paul Scofield's death mask.
He gives the film a surprising 3-stars particularly when you read what our other critics have to say. The Times (1-star) calls it “defiantly bad film-making” while the Independent calls it a contender for “Worst Film of 2008”:
Co-stars Justin Long (Dodgeball) and Jonah Hill (Superbad) seem to be competing with the rest of the cast over who can give the worst performance, while the screenwriters try to outdo one another for the worst joke – a turkey giving Steve Zahn a blowjob may be the winner.
So, if the thought of that makes you chuckle you’d better get your seat booked before you get sectioned.
Radically changing direction we have The Devil Came on Horseback, a very worthy-sounding documentary about the genocide in Darfur. 2-stars in the Times:
this is a heartfelt message movie that has yet to see its aim – international intervention in Darfur – realised and as such it deserves the widest possible audience.
Finally a quick mention of Hitchcock classic The 39 Steps, which is getting a re-release. 4-stars in the Times:
An action movie with style and substance, Hitchcock’s re-released The 39 Steps is a masterclass in propulsive narrative cinema that even today’s so-called blockbuster auteurs should study.
And another 4-stars in the Guardian:
It is witty, daring and exuberant; like his hero, Hitchcock shows himself to be energetic and resourceful in dealing with changes in locale.
Overall, it’s been another slightly disappointing week of mediocre films. Let’s hope it picks up next week when we’ll have hit-man comedy In Bruges.
By James Bryan