After an extended holiday, Saturday Cinema Summary is back, courtesy of James Bryan...
This week Ridley Scott makes a bid to join the hallowed greats of gangster films with American Gangster, the naked pixelated form of Angelina Jolie drips in gold in Beowulf and Brick Lane gets the film treatment.
American Gangster seems to have all the ingredients of an instant classic, even the title smacks of definitive greatness. Throw in the setting of New York in the 1970s, high-calibre acting talent in the form of an honest cop (Russell Crowe) pitted against a drug dealer (Denzel Washington) AND it’s all based on a true story - what could possibly go wrong? Well for one thing, expectations. As The Times says:
While it’s unfair to criticise a film for what it is not, it should be noted that this is no Goodfellas, no Godfather and no Once Upon a Time in America. For all its brio and scale, American Gangster is not in the same league. That said, while it’s not great, it’s pretty damn good.
We’ll settle for pretty damn good. The Times gives the film 4-stars but get this, critics don’t always agree! The Independent weighs in with a shocking 1-star review culminating in this ‘dare you to put this on the poster’ quote:
This repulsively stupid and self-important movie doesn't begin to understand the nature of its subject.
Oh dear! Maybe Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian can steer us through the confusion. He’s slightly more positive giving the film 2-stars but he reckons it's “got no more dark grandeur than American Idol.” Like the other critics the problem seems to be that we’ve seen it all before, and better. As he says, “Scott has shuffled the classic scenes and tropes of the gangster movie and dealt them like a deck of playing cards” and that “it’s not clichéd exactly; it's just very, very familiar”.
What a shame, it could have been a contender. The critics can’t even seem agree on the performances. The Times labels Crowe and Washington “impressive” calling the latter a “cashmere covered menace” whereas the Guardian says, “what is disappointing is Washington himself. He doesn't seem to relax and enjoy himself in the role, or even inhabit it very satisfyingly”.
What’s a film-goer to do? Damn those critics and go and see it yourself –how bad can a Ridley Scott film that has gangsters, drug dealing, cool clothes and a funky 1970’s New York actually be? Ask us next week.
Next up, Beowulf.
If you’ve seen the trailer you’ll know it’s Robert Zemeckis’ latest attempt at a completely computer generated epic after the dead-eyed creepiness that was ‘The Polar Express.’ This time all that processing power has been applied to ensure Ray Winstone becomes sculpted from granite while Angelina Jolie is rendered sans nipples (a fact picked up on by two different reviewers). The critics are more positive about this one with The Guardian and the Independent both giving it 3-stars. Peter Bradshaw calls it a “raucously entertaining and subversively scripted digi-animation of the AD700 poem” while the Independent states:
Whatever the liberties taken, this Beowulf, seen in glorious performance-capture 3D at the Imax, makes for rip-roaring entertainment.
The Times goes one better giving the film 4-stars saying that “the primal narrative that pulses through the movie is powerful enough to silence any formal concerns.”
And if you’re still unsure the following from The Guardian might sway you:
John Malkovich adds a keening Rada-Brit-Welsh to his career-portfolio of silly voices, playing the unreliable Lord Unferth. Hearing him say "bollocks" is worth the price of admission on its own.
Presumably in 3D at the Imax it’s even more glorious.
Next up is the adaptation of Monica Ali’s book, Brick Lane. Now we love London and we love films set in London. You may remember the furore over the filming of this. So what do the critics make of Brick Lane that doesn’t feature Brick Lane? Sadly, they’re not impressed.
The Times only awards 1-star calling it:
the kind of meaningless middlebrow sludge that passes for “quality movie-making” in some of the more conservative sectors of the British film industry.
It doesn’t fare much better in the Independent, getting 2-stars while “Tannishtha Chatterjee is very good as Nazneen” overall it is “a little underwhelming.” The Guardian also praises Chatterjee and is more positive about the film with a 3-star review with it having an “unfashionably gentle, human optimism.”
Other films out this week include,
Next week it’s Wes Anderson’s latest The Darjeeling Limited as well as August Rush.
By James Bryan