Our weekly roundup of film reviews continues, courtesy of James Bryan…
This week Kidman plays with her monkey in The Golden Compass, The Rock gets confused in Southland Tales, a famous person gets shot in The Killing of John Lennon and Donal MacIntyre cuddles up to some naughty people in A Very British Gangster.
Ever since The Golden Compass was announced, devotees of Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy have been nervously waiting to see how their bestbookever was going to be translated to screen by the unlikely director of American Pie. For everyone else, it’s that one that looks a bit like Rings / Narnia / Potter with a talking polar bear and the increasingly frozen-faced Nicole Kidman. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian approves, giving the film 4-stars,
It's a convoluted, enjoyable, very mad, deeply conservative and, at one moment, horribly violent extravaganza.
However mostly he seems to want a Christmas card from Miss Kidman, twice gushing over her performance. Her:
glamorous and arresting turn is what gives the zip and the swish to the story as it powers along: you can hear the faint crackle of her stockings as she sashays threateningly on to the screen, an arresting mixture of Darth Vader and Veronica Lake.
James Christopher in the Times also praises Kidman but is less impressed with the film, with only 2-stars reckoning that, “even her frozen charms can’t disguise a fatal lack of real drama.” Critically, for those of us that never got around to worshipping the books he says:
The film pompously assumes you’ve read the books. I really didn’t have a clue what was going on once the film ploughed past page 78.
Anthony Quinn in the Independent also only bestows 2-stars, suggesting adults will have better things to do with their time and that the atheist message of the books has been watered down to appeal to the God-fearing US market:
In the end The Golden Compass is another expensive mishmash of CGI "magic" and widescreen spectacle: well-acted, as you would expect, but more or less empty of anything to provoke the curiosity and intelligence of a young audience
So, perhaps as to be expected, you’re better off reading the book and using, what was once known as ‘imagination’. Although, Sir Ian McKellen voicing a “large and fruity polar bear” (The Times) does sound tempting.
Next up, Southland Tales.
Following up such a jaw-droppingly original debut as Donnie Darko was never going to be easy for Richard Kelly, and early rumblings when he previewed his latest, Southland Tales, at Cannes way back in 2005 were, to put a positive spin on it, disastrous. Now it’s been re-jigged is it any good? In a word, no. In two words, it stinks. Although technically on the poster they could call it award-wining as Antony Quinn calls it, “The Independent’s Worst Film of 2007” giving the film 1-star and saying:
This isn't just a car-crash of a movie, it's a colossal, multi-vehicle, three-lane pile-up.
The other critics are slightly kinder. James Christopher in the Times (2-stars):
Part apocalyptic political satire, part state-of-the-nation address to a country in crisis, part paranoid stoner conspiracy… Kelly is not short of ideas, but he seems incapable of stringing them together in anything approaching a cogent manner.
Xan Brooks in The Guardian agrees with 2-stars calling the film “defiantly shambolic and self-indulgent as ever” and accusing the film of having no plot although he does find some sympathy for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who, “blunders into every scene with an air of stupefied bemusement that is oddly heartbreaking.”
The Killing of John Lennon, or as they should have called it, ‘The Assassination of John Lennon by the Coward Mark Chapman’ is a reconstruction of the events that led to the former Beatle’s shooting outside his Central Park apartment back in 1980 (if there are any particularly slow Beatles fans out there, sorry to break it to you like this). It’s divisive for the critics. Peter Bradshaw (1-star) points out the irony of Chapman wanting to be famous and that “his wish has now been amply granted by this obtuse, fatuously lenient and uninsightful picture”. It’s also 1-star from The Independent:
… even though Chapman's words are drawn from his journals, it tells us no more we already know – i.e. he was as mad as a snake. The actual murder is a pathetic attempt at verité.
However, in complete contrast, The Times describes the film as an “extraordinary debut” giving it 4-stars and a rave review. Jonas Ball who plays Chapman is, “utterly mesmerising…so creepily in tune with his thoughts he looks unhealthy”. The Director:
paints a surreal picture of this famous murder as if he was a bystander in Mark Chapman’s head. This is not a healthy place to be, but there’s a hypnotic beauty about the way the director shoots the story through Chapman’s eyes.
That undercover investigative (and somehow annoyingly smug) journalist Donal MacIntyre, takes his TV format to the screen in A Very British Gangster, a three years in the making portrait of the Noonan family, one of Manchester’s most dangerous crime families. The Times is impressed with the documentary giving it 4-stars saying that MacIntyre’s film has been “rightly lauded for the sensational footage it contains” and that it:
makes numerous sensational claims about the family’s reputation for kidnapping, torture, narcotics, threats and murder – and basically none of it is denied, which is most of the fun.
Xan Brooks in the Guardian isn’t so sucked in by it all (2-stars):
As ever, you sense that MacIntyre is half-seduced by the hard-man lifestyle, flattered to be included and content to peddle excitable gangland tourism in the guise of a criminal expose.
Also out is the latest from John Dahl director of ‘The Last Seduction’ called ‘He Was A Quiet Man’ getting middling reviews. The Independent gives 2-stars; “It's dark and too relentless for the comedy it would like to be.” While the Guardian gives 3-stars calling it a “real oddity of a film.”
Next week comedy genius Seinfeld gets animated in Bee Movie.
By James Bryan