Friday, December 29, 2006

Breaking and Entering, Casino Royale, Final Destination 3, and Miss Potter

[Breaking and Entering (Anthony Minghella, 2006): Anthony Minghella returns to his low-key roots after Hollywood success with The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain, but disappointingly that doesn't mean that he's recovered his talent. Minghella's vision of London is an odd one, where, sure, thieves and prostitutes exist, but they're never really bad or damaged people, just misunderstood. Minghella simply cannot grasp the darker side of the story he's trying to tell, swerving away from brief dalliances with it- Juliette Binoche's brief, angry run-in with her brother-in-law, who's corrupting her son- and seems so enamoured with the perfect little communual nature he's developed by the end that he goes totally overboard with a trite and unbelievable courtroom scene, followed by an even worse scene where someone changes their mind so quickly you'd think her neck had been snapped. I suppose you might want to see this for the attractive, respected cast, and while Juliette Binoche is superb and Robin Wright Penn does her best, Jude Law- given a monstrous part, make no mistake- is a repugnant and horrible lead whom is clearly supposed to be sympathetic in his deliberations between his Swedish girlfriend of ten years who has an autistic daughter, and the Bosnian immigrant mother of the teenager who broke into his office. It's not that Binoche's immigrant is a bad person, drawing Law's architect away, but that we are asked to be sympathetic towards this man, who selfishly becomes exasperated with his girlfriend when she has done nothing wrong except care for her daughter. Breaking and Entering is an unexpectedly bitter film, a bit like Todd Field's Little Children in that way, although thankfully Minghella does allow us a few glimpses at human connection- the relationship between Binoche and her son (the promising Rafi Gavron) is briefly seen but the warmest one in a film full of frostiness and distrust. If Minghella didn't thrust such a trite and 'upbeat' ending on us I might be more persuaded to take Breaking and Entering as a warning parable- the title, which ostensibly refers to Gavron's thieving habits, also seems to refer to twofold to Law's character: his pursuit into Binoche's withdrawn, private world, but also the wider difficulty of his invasion into King's Cross, an idea criticized throughout. But Breaking and Entering, for all its protestations otherwise, doesn't take place in King's Cross- it takes place in Minghella's fantasy world, one where lawyers are easily tricked and affairs are forgiven at the drop of a hat. It is not somewhere I want to be. Grade: C-]

[Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006): Casino Royale is too long, yes, but I honestly can't think of what part of it I'd cut out, so I suppose that maybe it's actually not. I'm sure you've heard, repeatedly, that this is a reinvention of the Bond series, a Bourne-ification, if you want, since Jason Bourne has surely become today's gold standard for spy films. Casino Royale doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of either of the Bourne films, which are unmatched in their dark cocktail of amnesia, corruption and solitary existance, but I can't say that it doesn't come close. Bond has been stripped back to the essentials: gone are Q, Moneypenny, invisible cars and all those campy one-liners. Bond is serious, Bond is blond: Bond is Daniel Craig, who gives the infamous creation a harder-edge than perhaps ever before, but also a softer one- Bond's heart is hardened by his requisite two killings, then softened by Eva Green's gorgeous Vesper Lynd, sent to accompany him on a mission to combat the world's premier poker player, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). You might think, and indeed some do, that the middle section of the film is the boring part, because it majorly consists of a poker game- and yet Martin Campbell and his actors, and his camera, do their very best to keep the cards are gripping as the chases scenes, and it works. Casino Royale is a moral maze, one where the villain isn't really the villain and where the Bond girl isn't really a Bond girl. Campbell balances Royale's complications on a knife edge, keeping his audience riveted for two and a half hours- a running time which pained when Bryan Singer employed it for the lacklustre Superman Returns this summer, but Casino Royale is a paced, exhilirating thrill-ride, constantly flipping itself over- both literally and figuratively- and shifting expectations. The film ends suddenly, obviously setting itself up for a sequel, but simultaneously, so much and so little has happened in Casino Royale, and you're left with the strange feeling of being both satisfied and hungry for more. Grade: B+]

[Final Destination 3 (James Wong, 2006): Final Destination 3 was actually released in theatres, though the DVD is so lovingly crafted you'd never believe it. The film, see, comes on DVD with a "Choose Their Fate" option- you, as you watch the film, will be prompted to make 'key' decisions on things, leading to different events in the following film. This sounds like an interesting idea, especially within such a repetative series like the Final Destination films, which have finally given up trying to be intelligent and simply focus on the thrills. I must say, I enjoyed the first two films, intrigued by their phylosophical intrigues, slim as they were, and felt the two films entwinement with each other was quite complex. But Final Destination 3, save a couple of brief and explanatory words, is its own seperate entity, and therefore cannot pretend to be complex, and so they have clearly decided instead to advertise their delight in death and let you, the viewer, have a hand in choosing it. The problem with this is not the moral message behind it (though I suppose that's questionable) but the shoddy way that the makers of the DVD do it. One day, perhaps, we will actually be able to change films to suit what we want, but we're clearly not there yet. And as a straightforward film- which is how I watched it first time- Final Destination 3 is exactly what you'd expect- empty, badly-acted, slow and silly, although still creditably inventive in all the different ways it thinks off to off people. But, really, I need something slightly intelligent behind my death movies, and there's not an iota of that to be seen here. Grade: C-]

[Miss Potter (Chris Noonan, 2006): Miss Potter has the kind of twinkly, romantic tone that can only come from a Hollywood-financed, British-made period film, and Babe director's biopic of beloved Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter provides just about everything you'd expect. Renee Zellweger contorts her permanently blushing face wildly as the titular character, giving the film a strange off-balanced feeling that co-stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson, as Beatrix's publisher and his sister, just about manage to off-set. For a person who grew up with the tales of Miss Potter around them there will be an undeniable feeling of warmth that spreads from the film's brief animation of her drawings, but this also raises the rather creepy idea that Beatrix is a little bit mad, something which is simply ignored throughout. Miss Potter, is, of course, constrained by the fact that it's based on a real person, but Beatrix's life doesn't exactly present a normal romantic plot- her true love dies and she moves to the countryside- and so it keeps the interest more than the standard film of this type. Miss Potter's biggest problem is the woman herself- Zellweger, who's become increasingly more lambasted with good reason, for her talent seems to have been squashed by an overbearing conviction in her own sweetness: she doesn't know Beatrix Potter at all, but she sure thinks she does. It's sad that McGregor and Watson have to play second-string to her but they do their best with underwritten roles, which are both cut distressingly short. Ultimately, Miss Potter provides an undeniable pleasantness, but there's really little within it- it's the kind of film that demands nothing, that you could take your grandmother to, and that you'll forget hours after seeing it. Grade: C+]

No comments: