Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan…
After the giddy heights of last week’s reviews and the orgy of stars that it resulted in, normal service is resumed this week. We have cancer comedy The Bucket List, global action franchise to be Jumper, and a few others all reminding you that you should really be seeing last week’s releases instead.
The Bucket List stars Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as terminal cancer patients deciding to go on a last gasp romp across the planet to fulfil their final ambitions. All our critics clock in with mediocre 2-star reviews. Anthony Quinn in the Independent says:
old-geezer comedy may have solid-gold names over the title, but the script is base metal that admits of no comic alchemy.
The Times goes with:
The message of the film is a sentimental homily you might read in a greeting card; its tone felt patronising and potentially rather offensive to people actually enduring the painful, humiliating process of dying.
However with two actors of this calibre you’re guaranteed quality performances even if, as The Times notes, they are “practically parodies of their onscreen personas” complete with Morgan Freeman’s voiceover and a Nicholson busy as ever chomping up the screen.
The Guardian has the lengthiest and most considered review saying:
It's hard not to feel a grudging affection for Nicholson at times like these. There he is at the start, shuffling about in a shapeless smock, with his mottled bald dome and a livid scar above one ear
The review then goes on to make an interesting comparison with Nicholson’s performance against what happened to Brando, who:
made all kinds of trash in later years - but his contempt was plain to see. In attempting to distance himself from each farrago, he would take a bad film and make it worse, as though this was somehow proof of his incorruptible artistic nature. Nicholson, by contrast, takes a bad film and makes it better. He takes its dumb contrivances and plays them like they're spun gold
Next up Jumper.
Director Doug Liman, who kicked off the Bourne franchise, attempts the double in Jumper. However what looked to be a superior looking action film from the trailer is, according to our critics, anything but. Instead of being about quality knitwear (a joke so terrible all the critics avoid it) the film concerns David (Hayden Christensen) a man who can happily zap around the planet in an instant robbing banks and having fun. As he jumps about a white-wigged Samuel L. Jackson is hunting him. It’s a suped-up chase film with a glamorous backdrop. Anthony Quinn spits out a 1-star review:
It views the world, insultingly, as a bored American's adventure playground, ticking off a list of landmarks – Big Ben, Mount Everest, the pyramids – that reveals nothing beyond a restless acquisitiveness
The intriguing premise is wasted and as he says, “It's the old story: when anything can happen, nothing matters. The film doesn't even obey its own logic.” Wendy Ide in The Times is equally unimpressed but does manage 2-stars. She does like Jamie Bell (aka that kid from Billy Elliot) clearly trying to do a Christian Bale and shake off his child star past:
Thank goodness for Jamie Bell, playing Griffin, jumper-turned-hunter of the Paladins, a gobby little northerner waging his own private war against his persecutors. Griffin is perfectly happy to drag a double-decker bus through the ether to use as a weapon and he's by far the most entertaining character in the film.
The Guardian (3-stars) describes the film as “elegantly idiotic” and that the director spends time:
creating extravagant action sequences and inserting tortured love scenes for Hayden to glower through. But it all amounts to very little in the long run.
Anthony Quinn pithily sums up the career of Doug Liman:
Ten years ago he was making Swingers; five years ago he was making The Bourne Identity. And now he's making this twaddle.
Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens is a documentary directed by the acclaimed photographer’s sister, Barbara which naturally offers unparalleled access. The Guardian (3-stars) calls the film an “illuminating study”. The film sounds more effective dealing with Leibovitz’s professional side but less so on the personal, “so that crucial details relating to her relationship with Susan Sontag or her apparently debilitating drug addiction are left tantalisingly out of focus” (The Guardian). The Times also gives 3-stars, saying of Leibovitz, “it's her documentary work - from early in her career and from a trip to Sarajevo during the siege in the Nineties - that is most exciting, given her reputation for controlled, meticulously posed portrait.”
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is a slasher film with aspirations. The Times (2-stars) says it “briefly promises to be a 21st-century Lord of the Flies” however once the teenagers “arrive at the ranch, a knife-wielding serial killer turns up and the movie becomes, well, crap.” The Independent is even blunter with 1-star:
You soon realise that the killer is the most obvious suspect and his modus operandi is the least ingenious in the history of screen psychopaths. An exercise in misanthropy gone wrong; you only end up hating the film-makers.
The Guardian (2-stars) agrees:
As it is, Mandy Lane feels bogus and compromised: an unreconstructed horror romp in the guise of a nerdish intellectual.
Also this week, Away From Her, is re-released on the back of its awards buzz for Julie Christie who plays a woman deteriorating with Alzheimer’s. The Times (3-stars) is less impressed with Christie’s performance calling it a case of “vacant stares, pretty close-ups and lazy nominations” saying the film is really the study of her husband who is “a philanderer, a bad husband, manipulative and self-obsessed. It throws an eerie shadow over their entire relationship.” The Guardian (4-stars) calls the film “deeply impressive and intelligent” and that the complexity of the characters and relationships elevates it above TV-movie status.
And finally, a re-release at the BFI Southbank for 1940s classic The Killers. The Times (4-stars) calls it a “terrific film noir”. As the Independent (5-stars) says, “this Hollywood classic is notable for giving breakout roles to both Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner” with the Guardian going with 4-stars, saying screenwriter Ernest “Hemingway's source material was a terse, terrifying short story, all the more effective for what it didn't say.” I wonder whatever happened to him?
Next week the return of Rambo, which has many people far more excited than they know they should be.
By James Bryan