Thursday, November 30, 2006

Starter for Ten and Borat

[Starter for Ten (Tom Vaughan, 2006/7): I read a critique of Starter for Ten almost immediatly having watched it which advised "Great for Americans; avoid if you're a Brit though" and continued to savage the film for not being the next Trainspotting or A Clockwork Orange. This interesting perspective has one good idea and one bad: perhaps Dudley Nicholls' story paints England as a bit too picturesque, a bit too unchallenging- nothing serious ever invades the lives of these supposedly realistic characters, but then, nothing was ever meant to. To go onto the bad idea of this argument: Starter for Ten was never intending to be a serious look at British life, it was simply content to be a slightly Americanized, predictable cross between a coming-of-age story and a romantic triangle. And on these bases, it's hard to deny that Starter for Ten is successful. James McAvoy, that young Scottish star who seems to have appeared from nowhere to take the world by storm, is effortlessly charming as Brian Jackson, a young man who braves Bristol University in 1985, young in experience but eager to learn. An afectionado of British tv quiz University Challenge, he immediatly seizes the opportunity to get on the team, and there meets the beautiful Alice (Alice Eve), a girl who he immediatly falls for and who may or may not feel the same. Into the frame, however, comes Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a headtrong political student who sagely comments on Brian's life whenever she sees him, but who is not above being charmed by his unconventional approach. Starter for Ten unfolds in a straight, easy-to-follow trajection; it's so predictable that Vaughan might as well have had characters holding up arrows to point the way. But the three leads are almost unexpectedly charming: Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall provide obvious counterpoints to each other, but both have their own expressive qualities that should serve them well in the future. When the film comes to its obvious conclusion, its hard to keep a smile from brimming on your face, because, predictable or no, the best conclusion has come. Grade: B-]

[Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006): The hyperbole surrounding the critical and audience sensation of 2006 became so great that my desire to see it faded to nothing between the weeks of its release and my eventual trip to see it. Said trip was taken with my younger sister, who had already seen (and liked) it, but was happy to sit through it again so she could see Pan's Labyrinth with me afterwards. Said trip was also for the 11:00am showing, which meant, unsurprisingly, that the cinema was rather bare: a few people dotted around and two teenage groups huddled at the back row. Unstandably the laughter that these people could possibly illicit wasn't exactly going to be racuous, but I got even less than I expected, and it was not hard to see why. Forget what you've heard: Borat isn't funny. Oh, I won't deny that occasionally I chuckled, but surely this is damning next to praise like "so funny it'll burst half the blood vessels in your face" (Empire). Worse still are all the claims that Borat is an incisive cultural commentary: it's not. It's just a selectively edited trip around America, occasionally encountering bigoted people who are surprisingly fluid with their opinions, but the film doesn't use this to actually say anything. So there are bigoted people in America- there are bigoted people everywhere! And in the sections in which Borat isn't encountering these people, he's embarassing perfectly acceptable human beings in the name of comedy which is rarely even funny. For Borat's main claim is that it's a comedy- the problem being, it's not funny. Grade: C]

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