Our weekly round-up of cinema reviews
Oops. Looks like Ricky Gervais has laid a stinker with The Invention of Lying. “It’s bad. The Love Guru bad. Sgt. Bilko bad. David Brent’s stand-up bad” cringes Empire (1 star). Gervais plays his usual loser in a world where everyone’s compelled to tell the truth, until one day he finds he can tell a whopper. He uses his new skills to make a fortune, accidentally invent religion and try to get it on with Jennifer Garner. So what’s the problem? Partly it seems to be that Gervais has miscast himself: “sincerity isn’t something he has yet mastered on screen” (Independent, 2 stars). Others have a problem with how the premise plays out: “only the shallowest human observer would equate honesty with full disclosure” (Telegraph, 2 stars). The Times (2 stars) is concerned by a lack of morality and learning: “character development is a pretty basic requirement of any good movie and it is hard to tell whether Gervais has dispensed with it out of ignorance or because he couldn’t be bothered to do any more work on the screenplay“. But the Guardian seems to have seen a different film altogether. It sees the satire on religion and absence of lecturing morality as “something rather radical… His comedy pretends to be unthreatening, a harmless little wheeze, and then pushes the envelope to its logical conclusion” (4 stars).
Nia Vardalos – she of My Big Fat Greek Wedding – is actually in Greece rather than channeling it for Driving Aphrodite. Unfortunately she didn’t get near the screenplay for this one, and the result is “populated by big, fat cultural stereotypes mashed together with vapid platitudes about finding oneself and recharging one’s kefi” (Times, 1 star). Vardalos plays an ancient history lecturer, reduced to taking hoardes of tourists round the old sights. Of course, she finds love in an unlikely place. It’s pretty, but “the dialogue is seemingly written at the dictation of the Greece tourist board” (Guardian, 2 stars). The Evening Standard enjoyed it though, deeming it a “comforting fable to warm us as the evenings draw in“, even if it could only bring itself to award 2 stars.
Skipping north up the continent and back in time to World War Two, Army of Crime is a film about Jewish and émigré resistance fighters in France “depicting ordinary men and women doing extraordinary, often brutal, things has echoes of Melville’s Army Of Shadows in more than name” (Empire, 3 stars). The Times takes pains to distance this movie from Inglourious Basterds: it’s “no lurid exploitation flick, but an involving, multistranded war movie that, while it overextends itself at times, maintains a breathless tension and a wealth of well-observed detail” (4 stars).The Independent maintains director Robert Guédiguian “brilliantly captures the atmosphere on both sides of the struggle” (4 stars).
French film director Agnes Varda “has sketched a witty and engaging cine-autobiography, or rather assembled the materials for an autobiography and made a filmed record of her thoughts on how to shape them” (Guardian, 4 stars), resulting in The Beaches of Agnes. “Time – its abrasions, consolations, passing – is evoked with arresting sharpness, a defiant lack of sentimentality, surrealistic humour” says The Telegraph (5 stars). The Independent thinks “there’s not much discipline and it’s way too long, but in common with her best work, it has a dreamy sort of charm” (2 stars), a sentiment the Times seems to agree with, adding it’s “as intriguing, charming and playful as Varda herself” (4 stars).
Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster are in charge of a space ark ferrying the last inhabitants of Earth to a new home in Pandorum. They’re woken from cryo-sleep when the ship starts malfunctioning, with cannibals roaming the corridors. The film “spends so much time in the dark, with irritating jittery edits and indistinct action, that it barely flickers into life” says Empire (2 stars). The Telegraph admits that “director Christian Alvart knows how to punch out elementary suspense in tight spaces” (2 stars), but the Guardian concludes “Pandorum is less a story than a prolonged bout of paranoid hysterics, exuberantly played out on metal gangplanks” (3 stars).
Toy Story is out in 3D; the “lightness of touch has not diminished” (Guardian, 4 stars) from the familiar tale of Woody and Buzz. The Times, however, is weary of this 3D re-hashing: “let’s hope the 3D version isn’t a hit. The fear is that Disney will re-release every film in its back catalogue” (4 stars). And it’s not like Hollywood needs an excuse to be lazy.
More digital tweaking from 1995 in Ghost in the Shell 2.0. This Japanese anime wowed the world on original release, and has been ‘enhanced’ but that’s about it. “Languid in pace and philosophical, occasionally obtuse, in tone, the film is a hot-wired cyber dream of what it is to be human in a computer-driven age” (Times, 3 stars), but the Guardian feels it’s “hamstrung by the awful English-language track” (3 stars).
District 13: Ultimatum is the sequel to the 2004 French free-running hit of similar name. Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle “team up to fight a government conspiracy, mainly by leaping across rooftops, flinging themselves over banisters and socking it to a dopey army of corrupt cops” (Telegraph, 3 stars). “Luc Besson’s script holds less water than a sock, but the action’s utterly enthralling” is Empire’s verdict (3 stars), while the Times sees “real brio in these sequences that will have actions fans purring with pleasure” (4 stars).
Emmanuelle Beart and Rufus Sewell play a couple who lost their young son in the 2004 tsunami, but convinced he’s actually alive they embark on a journey into the Thai jungle to get him back, Vinyan is “horrific and harrowing but the narrative arc could leave the audience unmoved” says Empire (2 stars). The Evening Standard (3 stars) admires the performances, but trying to “engineer a ghostly, supernatural ending pushes [the] movie into the realms of arrant melodrama“. The Guardian feels the film is let down by the “dubious plot anchor of westerners terrorised by anonymous Asiatics” (2 stars).
A brief word for low-budget British horror The Spell. A Leeds teenager upsets her boyfriend and he gets a local witch to curse her. “Clearly this is a highly potent brand of black magic. It makes the world look like a bad movie” winces the Guardian (1 star). “Any suspense is killed by “incidental” music that sounds like the noodlings of a kid who’s just discovered an old Casio in the basement” says the Indepedendent (1 star).
Morris: A Life with Bells On was, bizarrely, released last Sunday. We could also say finally released too, since distributors originally shunned this mockumentary about morris men (despite its heady cast of Derek Jacobi, Harriet Walter, Greg Wise and Peep Show’s Olivia Colman), only for the film to become a hit on the village hall scene. “At times its gentle, nuzzling brand of comedy is akin to being gummed by a sheep. And yet [the] tale is obviously heartfelt and frequently charming.” says the Guardian (2 stars); “there’s an obvious affection for the characters, but the script simply isn’t sharp enough to do more than light parody” is Empire’s 2 star conclusion.
Ip Man was the kung fu grandmaster who went on to teach Bruce Lee. The “action is enthralling even if the storyline doesn’t always have the ring of truth about it” (Empire, 3 stars), such as when “the story is reinvented as a Chinese nationalist epic, with Ip pummelling one Japanese soldier after another in the tournament ring” (Guardian, 3 stars). But the Times feels it’s all “remarkably tedious, given the numerous and creative ways in which people get punched in the head” (2 stars).
Just the one review for Surviving Evil, in which Billy Zane gets to be all action when he and his crew end up on a tropical island inhabited by creatures with a taste for pregnant women (we’re not sure what the pregnant women are doing on this island either). Anyway, “it’s all rather obviously low budget, and takes a l-o-o-ong time to get going, but when it does it’s efficient, rather than especially inspired” is the Guardian’s take (2 stars).
Image courtesy of Universal Studios
Next week: Pixar releases its new film Up, and Jennifer Aniston hopes Love Happens will be the romcom to cement her film career. Anyone want to take bets on whether that’s likely? Anyone?