Our weekly roundup of film reviews continues, courtesy of James Bryan…
This week Brad Pitt’s latest (with a title so long it shouldn’t be allowed) The Assassination of Jesse James etc, the alternate realities of The Nines, Vince Vaughn slumming it in Fred Claus, the video game adaptation Hitman, Kenneth Branagh directs The Magic Flute and a re-release for the classic All About Eve.
If you get annoyed with trailers that give the plot away then look away now as the title of Brad Pitt’s latest is officially, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It’s an epic slow-burning Western drowning in big themes and the mythology of the genre. The critics do manage to agree that it looks amazing. Anthony Quinn (The Independent) says:
it has the look of a daguerreotype in which figures behind the glass frame seem to shrug off their pictorial stiffness and breathe the air of 1880s Missouri and Kansas
However overall he only gives the film 2-stars.
This intense visual concentration, however, comes at the expense of nearly everything else: pace, excitement, humour, contrast, depth.
But it’s pistols (notebooks?) at dawn as the other critics dispute that rating. Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian gives 4-stars and James Christopher in the Times also gives 4-stars. Bradshaw reckons that the film is a:
slow-moving, but gripping and tremendously observed picture about the 1882 murder of legendary scofflaw Jesse James has a self-possession, even a grandeur, that persuades you that the word is justified.
He calls the film “a tremendously stylish, intelligent retelling of western myth”. The Times is in agreement, “Andrew Dominik’s sensational film debags a cherished idol”.
One thing they all do approve of is the performance by Ben’s little brother, Casey Affleck, as Robert Ford. James Christopher says:
Casey Affleck is brilliant as the simpering, secret admirer of the James gang. He is also one of the most unholy creeps I’ve seen on screen.
It also seems that Brad Pitt, when not being Brad Pitt, isn’t too bad at his day job either. As The Times puts it:
Pitt’s ability to look through characters like a pane of glass has taken years to perfect. Few actors in Hollywood have the charisma to stare him down.
Lets face it there’s been a bit of a drought of great Westerns recently (the last truly great one, Unforgiven, was 15 years ago) so it seems as though this might just do the trick.
Up next The Nines, Fred Claus, Hitman, The Magic Flute and All About Eve.
After the poor man's comedy that was Van Wilder the prospect of its star, Ryan Reynolds, playing three different parts in different realities isn't a particularly appealing one. However The Nines is aspiring for cult 'Donnie Darko' like status and is getting good reviews. Bradshaw gives it 3-stars saying:
It is pretty familiar material in some ways, and not exactly unpretentious, but very watchable
James Christopher in the Times goes one better with 4-stars:
The film puts a delightful spin on that profound and solipsistic idea that we are the godlike inventors, and moral arbitrators, of our own little worlds. A gem.
Anthony Quinn in the Independent also gives it 3-stars:
there's a dark Lynchian strain to the ludic plotting, with maybe a pinch of Charlie Kaufman-esque wit to leaven the doominess
Overall an intriguing proposition that might be worth checking out.
You know it must be Christmas when Hollywood starts dumping miserable festive related fare on an innocent public; first to arrive is Fred Claus. Hopes might have been slightly higher for this as it stars droopy-faced Vince Vaughn and the ever-brilliant Paul Giamatti (with Tim Allen nowhere in sight). Unfortunately it appears they might possibly have done it for the un-seasonal motive of money. Bradshaw gives it 1-star:
The spirit of Scrooge surges strong within me having watched this chillingly cynical and unfunny Christmas movie, starring Paul Giamatti as Santa and Vince Vaughn as - yikes! - his ne'er-do-well brother Fred.
The Independent agrees with 1-star:
The message is, inevitably, one of peace, love and understanding, and there's nothing funny about that. The actual effect of films such as this, however, is to put you in an entirely non-Christmas, non-joyous and non-charitable mood.
So avoid, and watch ‘Bad Santa’ on DVD instead. Best. Christmas. Film. Ever. Then watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ for the perfect (if somewhat bizarre) Christmas double bill.
Hitman doesn’t add much ammunition to the “has there ever been a good videogame adaptation” debate because it’s clearly rubbish. 2-stars from the Guardian:
The genre of computer game adaptations comes primed for low expectations, but even so this is poor: patched-together CGI-assisted action along with rudimentary and witless characterisation.
The Independent (1-star) thinks that the director:
should have stuck to making music videos rather than inflict his goldfish-like attention-span on cinema.
So, until Bob Hoskins agrees to reprise his role as Mario, video games once again suck on screen (Note: that is a joke. Never ever inflict that film on yourself.).
Kenneth Branagh has been a busy boy of late as he's got his second film out in as many weeks directing an adaptation of The Magic Flute (after the drubbing he received for Sleuth last week). Hopefully he's away on holiday as the critics aren't much happier with this one. Bradshaw is kindest, clearly not wanting to dishearten him, giving the film 3-stars:
The Magic Flute is offered to the moviegoer in a generous, uncynical spirit, and what a refreshing change it makes to the relentless samey diet of dumbed-down formulae and charmless schlock often to be found sloshing about the cinema.
The Times goes with 2-stars:
The problem is that, despite the quality of the music and the lavish imaginings, the overall experience is dull, self-satisfied and utterly irrelevant.
The Independent also grants 2-stars:
Set in a stylised Neverland that echoes the trenches of the Western Front, it plays out the daft romantic shenanigans with no little gusto, but still leaves you wondering why they bothered.
Finally this week the re-release of the 1950 classic All About Eve which effortlessly gathers 5-stars from all the critics. It might be 60 years old but has survived because, according to the Independent, it is “put simply, one of the greatest movies ever made.” The Times praises George Sanders “I can’t put into words how brilliant he is. He is a callow and luscious marvel. A total joy.” While the Guardian describes it as “A Real Christmas Treat.”
So, in conclusion, they don’t make them like they used to. But then again they didn’t have kick-ass CGI in the 1930’s did they. Ha! We win.
Next week, The Golden Compass (already being reviewed in various papers as it opens next Wednesday) and Southland Tales.
By James Bryan