This week: Proof, Lady Vengeance, and Final Destination 3. Plus all the usual news and rumours.
Bloody hell, Jake Gyllenhaal again! We've typed his name so many times in the past few weeks that we can actually spell it correctly without having to check Google.
What's weird though is that with every J.G. 2006 release the reviews get steadily worse. Brokeback Mountain is an 'instant classic'. Jarhead was 'stylish but boring' and now we have Proof which the critics aren't exactly warming to.
(By the way, we reviewed Proof back in October of last year if you're interested in what we made of it).
Wendy Ide, writing in today's Times, gives the film just two stars, and a "wan, bloodless Gwyneth Paltrow" as Catherine (the same role she took in the original stage play) seems to be part of the problem:
One problem is that Catherine is such an unsympathetic character — she demands our pity with the grace of a stroppy teenager. It’s difficult to care whether she’s a maths nut or just a nut.
Ide also thinks that Gyllenhaal is "rather miscast" but her main gripe is "the fact that a film about genius is so creatively unadventurous. The problem of how to convey cinematically something as nebulous as a mathematical breakthrough is a sticky one, but surely there’s a more interesting way than hacking together a montage of mathematicians with unbrushed hair feverishly scribbling in notebooks."
We have to admit, she does make it sound pretty dull.
Tony Quinn in the Independent is also in a two star mood, and he's also not a great fan of the Paltrow brand of miserablism: "She seems to be wilting beneath the same thundercloud of depression as her tragic suicide in Sylvia, only without the consolations of poetry to lighten the load. I timed it at approximately 45 minutes into the film before she permitted herself to smile."
The miscasting of Gyllenhaal as a geek is also raised ("Geeks must have really sorted themselves out since I was at college... they used to hang out exclusively with other geeks. They didn't have gym-pumped muscles or play drums in the college band, and they didn't look like Gyllenhaal.") but for Quinn it's the stage-screen transfer which really damages the film:
...the movie increasingly betrays its dramatic roots, ie people have the kind of long, impassioned arguments one only ever sees on stage. Perhaps when pressed up close to the action at the Donmar, or wherever it began life, you would be singed by Proof's rhetorical heat; removed to the colder climate of film it sounds shrill, hysterical and overworked.
Proof reaches its critical low in the Guardian at the hands of Bradshaw where it scrapes just one star.
Unstable mathematical geniuses - don't you adore them? What with their prime numbers and their cubed-roots and their picturesque mental illnesses. Don't you just want to enfold them in your protective embrace, alleviate their loneliness, while at the same time trumpeting their insights to the academic community?
In case you hadn't noticed, Bradders is being sarcastic there.
In Bradshaw's review, Paltrow's depression is reduced to "shuffling into the kitchen " while Hopkins performace is summed up as "a lot of SUDDEN SHOUTING".
As for the chemistry between Jake and Gwynnie: "Paltrow who gets to be Donella Darko without the rabbit while Jake does his best to connect with her. But really: Gwyneth and Jake - what a terrifying collision of sensitiveness. Any resulting children would be gold-medallists in the Emoting Olympics."
But just in case you really fancied seeing a maths/science/genius/psycho film this weekend Pete has some ideas for better alternatives:
Darren Aronofsky's Pi did not have this middlebrow, palliative insistence on genius-equals-loneliness though Derek Jarman's austere account of the life of Wittgenstein was a little in thrall to this fallacy. There is something feeble in the way this movie simply isn't up to explaining anything at all about this alleged proof. For all its faults, Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind had an honest stab at explaining game theory, but Proof makes maths just a style accessory. It doesn't add up.
So a pretty unanimous panning for Proof then, but a release which causes a bit more disagreement among the broadsheet reviewers this week is Park Chan-wook's Lady Vengeance.
Two out of three of our reviewers are big fans of Lady Vengeance and Pete Bradshaw is in the majority.
It's a very respectable four stars from PB, who readily admits that we're on familiar ground here: "Lady Vengeance repeats the grisly motifs of abduction, imprisonment and retribution - which again originate, interestingly, in the cruelty of school days. It is supposed to complete a 'trilogy' of films about revenge, but it could just be the latest in a blood-splattered production line, expanding into a tetralogy or pentalogy: Vengeance Boy, Vengeance Dog, Vengeance Anything. I wouldn't put it past Park to make them all horrifying, and all unspeakably ingenious."
It's that last word, ingenious, that matters here, because in Londonist's experience Chan-wook's films will either extract a 'wow' or an 'ehh' depending on your personal preference for extended scenes of claw hammer action (you can read Londonist's view of Lady Vengeance for yourself here).
As we know already, Pete Bradshaw has just a hint of a vicious streak within him, and as a result he's willing to forgive the "story's potential for absurdity and implausibility," and get stuck right in to the "icy self-possession and beady-eyed narrative concentration".
Full marks to Bradshaw for realising that although this trilogy of films harbour no ambitions "to consider revenge in any but the most stylised way," it's this very method of reducing revenge to "pure idea, pure motif" that allow them to become "essays in style, and excursions into nightmare, [which] exert an incredible grip."
(And for anyone who wonders why we're so Bradshaw-centric in this column, there's your answer: a review which will actually alter the way we view a director's work that doesn't resort to preachiness or lecturing. Beat that Philip 'what a great film A.I. was' French.)
Bradshaw's team mate in the pro-Vengeance corner this week is Wendy Ide who also gives the film four stars in the Times.
"Iconic, ultra-stylish and utterly gorgeous," enthuses Wendy, calling this final installment of the trilogy the "most playful" while positively creaming herself over the stylistic touches:
Most importantly Park crafts every scene like a painting. Geum- ja’s philosophy is that 'everything should be beautiful'. And every shot of this film is.
So the odd man out must then be Tony Q in the Independent. Just two stars from him, as he falls slap bang into the camp marked 'bored of this stuff now':
The cult of Korean sadism is fast approaching saturation point, and this time it underscores a diffuse and unsatisfactory plot. There's nothing wrong with movies that require a strong stomach, but they're only interesting if they also have a heart.
Pete Bradshaw would no doubt call him a 'big girl's blouse' before planting a Bic squarely in his Adam's apple... but we have to say we can understand this kind of 'vengeance fatigue'.
Now we've had our fair share of crappy reviews this week (if we really wanted to gorge ourselves we'd take a look at Big Momma's House 2, but we feel that really is beyond the call of duty), so let's take alook at a couple of surprisingly positive reviews for another 'Part 3': Final Destination 3
You know the drill by now, "total babe has a premonition of impending mass death...Most get killed, but she manages to get some people to safety, and then the Angel of Death, cheated of his bounty, comes to kill the escapees." (that's Bradshaw calling Mary Elizabeth Winstead a 'total babe' by the way, he never ceases to amaze us).
What's surprising about FD3's reviews in the Guardian and the Independent is that it picks up double the stars (three and three) than the 'adapted from the stage, Oscary cast, hot director' Proof does.
Bradshaw calls it "Silly but enjoyable," and cites a scene where "Somebody working in a DIY warehouse gets a nailgun out - and very much wishes he hadn't," as a particularly fine example.
Quinn meanwhile doesn't actually directly praise the film in any way (scared of a poster quote Mr Quinn?), instead he settles for pointing out that "writer-director, James Wong, allows invention to run riot, and challenges the comforting truism that 'everyone is equal before death'".
In fact if there weren't three stars the at the top of Tony's review we'd have no idea if he liked it or not. But he does. So let's leave it there.
Someone who definitely doesn't is Ian Johns in the Times. His one star review is dismissive of just "more franchise-squeezing desperation" and he doesn't seem to enamoured with the concept either:
This is all about trying to guess which of the ludicrously overdetermined potential hazards will deliver a gory coup de grace, but the film is more lurid than witty enough to rate as black comedy.
In film news this week.
There's a script review of Casino Royale floating about. Responses so far have been 'mixed'.
Argue, run, shag. Fight, drive fast, shag. Argue, shout, shag. Drive fast, argue and shag all at the same time! Yes it's footage from Basic Instinct 2 (Mov file).
Sing Hosanna! Affleck and Damon are back together again! And they're going to play lawyers! In a Disney film! Based on a true story! Blah blah blahdy blah blah!
And just in case you haven't seen a good, hi-res version of that Vanity Fair cover yet, here it is.
Trailer of the week. How could we resist Bruce Willis trying to kep Mos Def alive in the high-concept nonsense that is 16 Blocks?