Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan…
This week, royal bodice-ripper The Other Boleyn Girl, zombies ahoy in Diary of the Dead, multiple viewpoint assassination thriller Vantage Point and The Rock doing one for the kids in The Game Plan.
Don’t expect to learn much history in The Other Boleyn Girl, a film James Christopher in the Times describes as a “ravishing piece of trash” in his 2-star review. The film features Scarlett Johansson (who apparently “pouts and blinks like a Dorset milkmaid”) and Natalie Portman as sisters keen to get their romp on with King Henry VIII (transformed from historically accurate arrogant fat bearded bloke to the buffed up form of Eric Bana). As the Times says:
The Tudor costumes are fabulous. The cast are skin-cream gorgeous. And the bitchy fight between the two Boleyn sisters over who performs better in bed with the hunky King of England is X-rated Mills & Boon.
Anthony Quinn in the Independent is slightly more concerned with the message of a film that “turns the royal bed into the ultimate crucible of power” and his 2-star review states:
The pity of it is that The Other Boleyn Girl has got hold of an important theme: the manner in which young women are sacrificed on the altar of men's ambition and cupidity.
No such worries for Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian (3-stars):
It is absurd yet enjoyable, and playing fast and loose with English history is a refreshing alternative to slow and tight solemnity; the effect is genial, even mildly subversive.
He concludes that it’s a “very diverting gallop through the heritage landscape.” So if the thought of pearly white Hollywood teeth in Sixteenth Century England doesn’t bother you and you’re of a chick flick persuasion then this is clearly enjoyably trashy.
Up next, Vantage Point.
The gimmick in Vantage Point is that it keeps rewinding to show the same assassination attempt on the US president (William Hurt) from multiple viewpoints including Secret Service agent Dennis Quaid, tourist Forest Whittaker and TV producer Sigourney Weaver. Wendy Ide in the Times (2-stars) says the film has “not a lot of substance” and goes on:
Vantage Point is not unentertaining, but there's a clunky, unwieldy quality to the way it employs the device. By the third rewind, the audience in the preview I attended were restless. By the fourth they were groaning and catcalling.
It’s all shot in the now traditionally frenetic style of most action films, as The Independent says (2-stars):
If 24 is the film's plot-prompt, then the Bourne movies are its technical inspiration; the whipcrack editing and scenes of crowd turmoil are only a few gasps behind Paul Greengrass's kinetic spectacles.
Peter Bradshaw gives the film 3-stars at least acknowledging
this is serviceable entertainment, and how refreshing to see a commercial movie that tries something structurally and procedurally different.
The father of all things zombie, George A Romero, returns with Diary of the Dead. After 40 years making zombie movies the latest idea is to add a reality TV angle to the proceedings. The problem is that we’ve seen it all before. The Times (2-stars) calls the film a “mostly enjoyable effort” wryly noting, “Amazingly, not one of the (living) characters has ever seen a zombie movie.” The Guardian also goes with 2-stars, saying it has its “bizarre ingenious moments” but concluding “what more is there to say about the zombie genre and its metaphors for our undead society?” True. However cinema needs Zombies and I’m sure George will be back with another instalment shortly.
The Game Plan features Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson following the traditional action man career template of mixing it up with a cutesy kids comedy. The Times is the most polite (2-stars) calling the film a “ruthlessly inoffensive family entertainment”. The Independent (1-star) describes it as painful for the audience who are “obliged to swallow this family-values schmaltz without barfing.” And Peter Bradshaw states in no uncertain terms (1-star) that the film is, “A barf-inducer. A hurl-promoter. A projectile-vomit-stimulator.”
Garage is getting great reviews, a low-key film about a bachelor running the local garage in a rural Irish community. The Times (4-stars):
The beauty of this lovely, sad little film is the wealth of detail in every scene.
The Independent deems it worthy of a full house (5-stars):
As a study in loneliness, this is magnificent, sparely directed by Abrahamson and beautifully played by Shortt, whose roly-poly walk and innocent gaze could break your heart, if they haven't already melted it. It should be considered one of the great performances of the year.
The Guardian gives a 4-star review calling it a “gem of a film”:
This is a gentle and elegaic lament for lives wasted and lives on the brink of waste. Everything in the movie - cinematography, acting and directing - combines to produce a sweet, sad music.
Definitely a film worth looking out for if it gets a look-in amongst the bigger releases at your local cinema.
Also out is We Are Together, a documentary about a children’s choir in a South African Orphanage. The Guardian (3-stars) calls it “an emotionally generous film” and The Times (4-stars) describes the film as “spiritually uplifting” and a “joyfully life-affirming film.”
Four Minutes, about an elderly piano teacher who works in a prison has got the critics mixed up. The Times (4-stars) calls it, “a marvellous piece of cinema that hides its secrets like a Russian doll.” However the Guardian disagrees, (2-stars) saying “Underneath the harshness and the severity there is a thick, spongey layer of pure Hollywood schmaltz, and the movie runs on predictable lines.” The Independent is balanced in the middle with a 3-star review: “At times, the film feels a too crowded for its own good, but the two leads commit to their roles with uncompromising toughness.”
Next week silly looking epic 10,000 B.C. corners the market in loincloths, sabre-tooth tigers and woolly mammoths.
By James Bryan