Saturday, December 30, 2006

Catching Up With The Duds: The Covenant, The Nativity Story and Driving Lessons

[The Covenant (Renny Harlin, 2006): It seems rather pointless to even bother reviewing a movie as minor, overlooked and derided as The Covenant, but, neverthless, I shall attempt it. For me, The Covenant was a gap-filler, a movie to see when I could find nothing else but didn't feel like going home yet. (Never mind that it actually turned out to be better, if only slightly, than the film that preceded it, the anaemic Nativity Story.) I had, indeed, read all the damning reviews and callings of awfulness, and it perhaps because of that that The Covenant didn't turn out to be quite as dreadful as I feared: make no mistake, this is dreadful, cliched filmmaking and a horrendous script, but it falls into the 'so-bad-it's-entertaining' category. Self-conscious, unintentionally hilarious lines like "Harry Potter can kiss my ass!" and "Dreamcacther is the shit!" make it clear that for some reason The Covenant wants to think itself amongst illustrious company, but with a cast full of fashion-catalogue actors whose chests do more acting than they do (you could do worse as far as teenage eye-candy is concerned) it was never going to come close. Nevertheless, the sheer awfulness of it all actually makes it quite entertaining, teasing its audience with strange, unexplained references that clearly want their own sequel (not gonna happen) and ending on such a damp squib of a note that you leave chortling. I suppose it says something about the lack of good comedy in the cinemas today that The Covenant is one of the funniest movies I've seen all year. Grade: D+]

[The Nativity Story (Catherine Hardwicke, 2006): You'd think, wouldn't you, that by employing such an offbeat director as Catherine Hardwicke, famous for her striking portraits of disaffected youths in both thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, that the people behind The Nativity Story would have been aiming for much of the same in her tackling of the infamous story of Jesus' birth. After all, it does seem rife for re-examination- the film does mention, however briefly, the stoning Mary might recieve being pregnant not by her husband, even as she claims that her womb is swollen with the child of God. But, inexplicably, Hardwicke seems happy to tell this well-worn story straight, without any sign of her usual edgy techniques or insights, and this makes The Nativity Story an incredible bore. Why bother telling this story when every school does it every year- with a much smaller budget, yes, but at least they put their hearts into it. For not only is The Nativity Story an anaemic drag of a film, it's also totally empty, lacking any passion for anything at all, let alone a God. The settings are well re-created, but never does the film escape the feeling that just off the edge of the camera the real world is lying, so transparent is the acting and the photography. Keisha Castle-Hughes, in only her second role since her stunning debut in Whale Rider, is a pretty face but nothing more as Mary, while Oscar Isaac as Joseph is stolid and dull. Worst in show, as she increasingly seems to be, is Shohreh Aghdashloo, playing Mary's cousin Elizabeth who is also miraculously pregnant- but Aghdashloo's grotesque facial contortions and overbearing mannerisms may make you want to kick her straight into hell.Hardwicke, or her script (by Mike Rich), are convinced of the tale's spirituality, employing visions of the angel Gabriel (Alexander Siddig) and a glowingly vast beam of light over the stable where Jesus is born. Never before have I believed so little in the tale of the nativity, and I'm an atheist. Grade: D]

[Driving Lessons (Jeremy Brock, 2006): The more I think about Driving Lessons the more I hate it, so I suppose it's a good thing that the entire thing is so slim that it doesn't come to mind too often. Harry Potter's Rupert Grint- the red-haired one- is a pale imitation of an actor in the role of Ben Marshall, a socially inept young adult with a domineering mother (a garish Laura Linney), who comes out of his shell when he goes to work for a fading grand dame actress Evie Walton (Julie Walters). Not only is Driving Lessons almost entirely predictable (though you'll never predict the height of the horrors in its finale), but it is a dreadful drive, filled with squealing overacting by Julie Walters, so maximised that Rupert Grint is barely noticeable at all. Never once does Driving Lessons approach anything like reality, from the dampness of Grint's father figure (a vicar, no less) to Linney's wildly played performance, complete with unrecognisable accent, and from Grint's loss of virginity to an older Scottish girl to Walters's failure at a rare public appearance due to Grint's disappearance. Whether Driving Lessons wants to be a reticent version of Harold and Maude (no, they don't have sex) or something entirely different, it's certainly not worth your time, or, indeed, anyone else's. Stay far, far away, and let's hope Grint gets himself a different instructor. Grade: D-]

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