Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Little Children, Scenes of a Sexual Nature and Slither

[Little Children (Todd Field, 2006): The initially middling grade I gave Little Children probably sprung for my intense desire to want to like it, to admire it, to say that the acting here covers up the horrendous mess of the script and direction. Kate Winslet is undoubtably my favourite modern actress, and maybe it just wounds me too much to say that even she can't make up for the deficencies here. There's nothing particularly wrong with her performance here; indeed, it's probably as good as it could have been, save perhaps for the scene where, ironically, she shows the most emotion. (The moment feels so odd, fitting in I suppose with the histrionics the script constantly visits; but in the context of repressed surburban housewife, it's jarring.) There's little, indeed, wrong with most of the performances here: Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Phyllis Somerville, Jane Adams, and particularly Jennifer Connelly (able, as always, to mine so much out of an underwritten and marginalized role) are all fine, often excellent- only Noah Emmerich is bad, a garish performance which suits the film around him better than do the other actors- but they're all slaving away in service of a confused, puzzling mess of a film which thinks it knows so much when it knows so little. It throws you off right from the beginning, the stale, sage narration of some always-unknown quantity striking up at irregular intervals and never, really, serving a purpose apart from highlighting things the audience should be left to understand on their own. But what's worst about Little Children is it's smugness- Todd Field and Tom Perrotta's script (adapted from Perrotta's well-recieved novel) sits there, laden with a strange bitterness and pessimism that is never explained, winding it's way through a serious of rather unexciting events concerning- and how ironic this is- adults acting like "little children", selfish and irresponsible, all wanting to feel needed and loved, trying to make their lives worthwhile. Even before it reaches it's bizarre and conflicted climax, Little Children navigates various levels of over-egged histrionics and self-involved events, abandoning all sense of balance to the talented cast to try and sort out- it's not their fault, I cry, vainly trying to convince myself that it deserves attention; but really, there are better performances out there that warrant attention, and Kate the Great will have to wait a few more years for that thin golden statuette. Grade: D+]

[Scenes of a Sexual Nature (Ed Blum, 2006/7): Even worse than the smugness of Little Children is the smugness of Scenes of a Sexual Nature, which has even less claim to the idea of knowledge than Todd Field's unweilding mess. No, here is a film which, like Little Children, has employed a talented cast- Ewan McGregor, Polly Walker, Sophie Okonedo, Andrew Lincoln, Eileen Atkins, et al- to act out its complacent "ideas" about sexuality, this time in the form of seven criss-crossing vignettes between various couplings. The first false note is struck by the sickeningly twinkly and whimsical score, which, as one review I read commenting, "will make you want to kill yourself". The script is hollow and empty, full of cliched lines and situations- most of the vignettes seem like the more boring scenes from a common romantic comedy, the bits you'd sit sighing through waiting for the amusing comedic side-kick to re-appear, because they're the real reason you paid the ticket price. The talent of the cast, and the reasonable performances they give, somehow makes the whole thing even worse- how, I ask loudly, could all these actors be conned into starring in this horrific mess? Oh, and I never, ever want to go to Hampstead Heath, thanks. Grade: F]

[Slither (James Gunn, 2006): The delirious joys of Slither take a while to kick in, but when they do, oh-ho-ho, they don't let go. In the spirit of '80's alien horrors, but without their laughable effects (Slither looks, at times, frighteningly realistic), James Gunn's debut is a witty, exciting ride, expertly balancing comedy and horror and never over-dosing on either. The cast is game, with Serenity's Nathan Fillion playing the hero with a reluctant gusto, and Elizabeth Banks is both a funny and sympathetic straight-face as the wife of the man-turned-monster (and, naturally, the object of Fillion's affections). Overall, Slither's narrative goes in a predictable direction, but Gunn has a lot of fun in the intermediate scenes, constantly springing gory surprises that provide for some hilarious lines. To use a familiar expression: no, it's not Citizen Kane, but there's a lot of fun to be had by all. Grade: B]

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