Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan...
This week, the diminishing returns of Brideshead, Simon Pegg in How to Lose Friends and the truly bleak Import / Export.
As the Guardian says in the review for Brideshead Revisited, “why revisit it?” We already have the iconic TV series and Evelyn Waugh’s original 1945 novel so what’s the point in attempting to distil it into a new film? Very little apparently as the 2-star reviews suggest: The Times says, “there is no reason why we should be revisiting Brideshead. The melodrama is so damp and overwrought it’s hard to care about these old ghosts.” The Independent is also nostalgic for the superior past, “As if wilfully reminding us of the TV Brideshead, the film again uses Castle Howard in Yorkshire as the Marchmains' country estate. However pleasant to have another look at the old place, it does serve to emphasise the gulf in quality between then and now.” The Guardian thinks there’s no compelling reason for this and “there is something pretty superfluous about this handsome-looking, workmanlike but fundamentally uninspired and obtuse adaptation.”
The second adaptation of the week is How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, based on Toby Young’s self-depreciating memoir of his time working for Vanity Fair in New York. It emerges as a glossy romantic comedy with Simon Pegg and Kirstin Dunst. The Guardian (3-star) calls it “silly but mostly entertaining, and Pegg's open, expressive face is always funny.” The Times (3-star) thinks it’s a “bouncy adaptation” although the transfer to romantic comedy means that the film has “none of the self-lacerating pain of Young’s book, but as an exercise in humiliation it is second to none.” And the Independent (2-star) finds Pegg’s charm to be the film's only redeeming quality as “he nails the occasional funny lines with an expert's comic timing.”
The reviews of Import / Export throw around words like “uncompromising”, “challenging” and “gruelling” but it still gets the best reviews of the week. The film is the story of a Ukrainian nurse who leaves her family to get work in Austria. The Times (4-star) says “with its unflinching scenes of sexual degradation and vulnerable elderly hospital patients, some have accused the film of calculating voyeurism. Yet its outrage at human iniquity remains implicit throughout.” The Guardian (4-star) finds it a “bizarre, horrifying, challenging work, often brilliant and spectacular, often troubling and indeed objectionable,” and that “very often, it's an all-but-unwatchable ordeal”. Strange praise indeed.
The film to avoid this week is 88 Minutes, a dire Al Pacino movie that should not exist. It’s so bad the Guardian doesn’t even bother while the Times (1-star) notes that the “more overblown and insincere a performance Pacino delivers in a film, the more self-important and bouffant his hair gets. Here, it’s so towering it takes up 90 per cent of the screen.” What would Michael Corleone think?
In two weeks it’s Clooney and Pitt in the Coens’ Burn after Reading and don’t forget to get your tickets for High School Musical 3 a phenomenon bewildering to anyone over twelve but that already boasts the highest advance bookings for a film. Utter madness.
By James Bryan