Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan...
This week Irish hitmen are on the run In Bruges, Mike Leigh’s deliriously upbeat Happy-Go-Lucky and Daniel Craig remembers his hazy youth in Flashbacks of A Fool.
Several years ago Hollywood fell hook, line and sinker for the plucky charm of Colin Farrell and he's been under-delivering in major films ever since. He turns the tables in his latest, In Bruges, by actually being good. As the Guardian says in its 4-star review:
Farrell has brought his A-game to this cracking little comedy-noir written and directed by Martin McDonagh. He is absolutely superb: moody and funny, lethally sexy, sometimes heartbreakingly sad and vulnerable like a little boy.
The plot is simple. Along with the ever-reliable Brendan Gleeson, they are hitmen lying low in, where else, Bruges after a job goes wrong in London. What elevates this film is the supremely talented Martin McDonagh (who also made the Oscar-winning short film Six Shooter, well worth checking out). The Times says of the director (3-stars):
He has a dazzling way with words, and his mantelpiece is groaning with prizes. The irony is this: McDonagh doesn't have a theatrical bone in his body. He is a film nut, and therein lies the huge and lucrative appeal of his plays. They have the pulse and energy of movies. In Bruges is as comic and macabre as anything McDonagh has crafted for the stage.
It's left to the Independent (3-stars) to be the most dissenting voice, calling the plot “overloaded” and noting that:
The movie turns into a violent sort of caper, but the father-son relationship between Ken and Ray gets blurred and the jokes get tired.
The film is aspiring to Tarantino levels of cool nonchalance and largely succeeds. The Times describes it as “wonderfully absurd film” and that “the incidental comedy is brilliant” while the Guardian is positively brimming with love:
In Bruges will be a huge awards-magnet, and soon the silverware will be hitting it with a clang. Farrell personally deserves all the plaudits. And for McDonagh, it is the beginning of a remarkable new career direction.
Next up, Happy-Go-Lucky.
Happy-Go-Lucky has confused our critics because they all seem stunned that director Mike Leigh has created such a light-hearted and upbeat film. The Times (4-stars) describes it as “a delightful comedy that sinks its teeth into your heart with unexpected power.” The film is about the relentlessly happy Poppy, a North London schoolteacher simply going about her life. As the Times says:
Sally Hawkins is an irritatingly cheerful London hippy who could find a double bedspread of silver lining in a Force Ten storm. After ten minutes with this dippy girl and her friends I wanted to walk out. Half an hour later I was gummed up with emotion.
Sally Hawkins’ central performance is, by all accounts, brilliant. The Guardian (4-stars) says that she is:
The main issue concerning the critics is the lack of darkness, particularly after Leigh’s last film Vera Drake. In particular Anthony Quinn in The Independent can’t get over this:
How much more interesting if her relentless buoyancy were something hard-won, a compensation or a cover for some private heartache.
The review is 3-star and he feels the film:
lacks strong dramatic propulsion, especially in its first half. Perhaps that is the director's point, that life simply bowls along in its largely eventless way, sometimes funny and charming, more often not.
That sounds spot on. A director as masterful as Mike Leigh knows exactly what he’s doing and has obviously achieved it with this film. Poppy doesn’t have to be full of cinematic angst for this to be enjoyable.
It’s already difficult to remember a time when Daniel Craig was a just a well-respected character actor. The fact that he is Bond means that even when he is not Bond his every move is scrutinised. Flashbacks of A Fool is getting mediocre reviews (2-stars all round). The Times describes it as a:
cautionary tale about childhood loss and adult despair. Craig here plays the booze-addled Hollywood A-lister, Joe Scott, who returns to smalltown England for a friend’s funeral.
He has hazy flashbacks to his youth in the 1970’s but it seems as though the parts of the film are disparate. The Independent says the:
tracing of Joe's rites of passage has moments of tenderness and warmth, but the film has a problem linking the past to the present.
It concludes that the “film as a whole doesn't really work.” The Guardian reckons this is “an intriguing piece of driftwood, an exotic mess” but does end with this (possibly spoiler) comment:
Matters wrap up with a bizarre scene in which our hero listens with frowning sadness to the story of a woman who was decapitated by a lorry and then had her head stolen by a passing fox.
All of a sudden that sounds like a David Lynch piece of weird genius.
The slice of dismal rubbish that is Fool’s Gold has our critics foaming with despair. It’s 1-stars all round. As The Independent so aptly puts it:
Only a sadist could have thought that it would be a good idea to reunite Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson after their romantic "comedy" pairing in How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days.
Couldn’t agree more. I accidentally saw that film and still haven’t forgiven the ‘friends’ that made me go. For The Times the film is a “a ghastly romantic comedy” and is “completely dead behind the eye.” The only question to ponder is how these once promising actors arrived here. While The Guardian thinks McConaughey’s:
continuing Hollywood career deserves a separate chapter in any future book by Richard Dawkins on the non-existence of God
and Hudson is “uncompromisingly abysmal in everything, perennially doing her haddock-on-a-slab facial expression.” So if you’re not clear, the film is a “two-hour explosion of rubbishness.” (The Guardian) and if that’s not enough it has Donald Sutherland with an accent so bad that it evokes this reaction from the Times, “at this point I padlocked myself to a large anchor and jumped into the Thames.”
Botched is the second film of the week to get a hat trick of 1-star reviews. It’s a comic horror film set in Russia featuring a motley cast of Brits sporting appalling Russian accents. The Independent finds it “extraordinary silly and feeble” and wonders how “anyone could have been persuaded to put up money for it.” The Guardian says the film’s:
natural state is disarray - so much so that there's a tragicomic quality to the way in which Stephen Dorff is shown picking his way through a wreckage of dropped threads and cheesy Ree-yussian accents, presumably in search of the career he left behind.
The Times finds Botched to be “light on laughs, lacks thrills and the most convincing horror comes from [Sean] Pertwee’s Russian accent.”
Where has Keanu been? No idea, but he’s back with Street Kings, a LAPD crime thriller based on a story by James Ellroy. The Times (1-star) calls it a “depressing and sickeningly violent thriller”. The Independent (2-stars) says it’s an “unedifying glimpse into the macho bearpit of the Los Angeles Police Department” that is full of clichés. While The Guardian (2-stars) goes with “there's plenty of empty bravura, and Reeves is fundamentally blank and uninteresting.” Which begs the question, has he ever been anything but blank and uninteresting?
Next week, Tube suicide comedy (!) Three and Out and Russell Brand takes his annoying traits stateside in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
By James Bryan