Sunday, December 31, 2006

Miami Vice, The Break-Up, Just My Luck and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

[Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006): Okay, Michael- can I call you Mikey? No? Okay- I'll level with you. You wanna shove your grainy camera up against Jamie Foxx's forehead? Fine. You wanna try and make me believe that Colin Farrell and Gong Li are so stupid they'd do everything but do it on the dance floor when they're supposed to be keeping themselves secret? Fine. You wanna reserve your blood for the delightful offings of the particularly bad people, because everyone knows the worst people die most violently? Fine. Michael, if you wanna do all that, that's fine with me- just don't expect me to give a damn! You see, Michael, I watched your latest film Miami Vice the other night, and I... well, I don't like being mean, so let's just say it didn't sit well with me. It was kind of, well, boring. I know you were going for the cool, calm and collected thing, Mikey- sorry, Michael- but goddamn, there was no need to set your camera to 'freeze'. I didn't even know it had that setting. Oh, and you know, I thought you'd chosen your actors quite well- Colin Farrell is a charmer, usually, and Jamie Foxx, well, he's a flippin' Oscar winner; and wow, you've got Chinese superstar Gong Li, man, and that Naomie Harris, well, she's one for the future, you don't miss anything, Michael! But damn, Michael, you could have written the damn thing better. I mean, I spent half the movie trying to figure out what the hell was going on and the other half not giving a f**k. Yeah, those black humvees are wonderfully shiny, I kn- yes, I do quite like the sight of Gong Li's behind, Mich- yes, Michael, Paraguay is pretty! But Michael, I'm not just after eye-candy, man. I want something to chew on. I want something I can understand, something I can get excited about, something that gives me an intellectual buzz. You don't have that here, Michael. You can write an occasional cracking line of dialogue, sure. And you can set-up a gorgeous, fluid shot. But no, Michael, I didn't care if she woke up, and I didn't care if he was heartbroken. And, quite frankly, I don't care if you never work again, because I'm really rather bored of this cops-and-robbers shit. Especially when it's as boring as this. Grade: C-]

[The Break-Up (Peyton Reed, 2006): I wasn't really expecting too much from The Break-Up, as promisingly bubbly as its director, Reed, had proved from Down to Love (and cheerleader comedy Bring It On, which I've not seen), and as large a soft spot for Jennifer Aniston as I ashamedly admit to carrying over from Friends. The Break-Up has the rather novel premise of skipping the part that most romantic comedies chew on- the love bit- and instead chronicling a rather messy and bitter separation. Of course, separation would be easy enough if they lived separately- they'd never have to see each other- but that'd make a rather dull movie, so our broken coupling here, Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Aniston), are wedged into a plot that has both valiantly hanging onto their jointly-bought and refurbished condo, laying claim to different areas and generally trying to piss the other one off. It's rather hard to forgive the unfunny stereotyping of Brooke's "gay" brother (John Michael Higgins) and her colleague (Justin Long), but thankfully the focus on them proves brief and The Break-Up provides a sizeable amount to chew on- as long as you don't take the film's promoters at their word. I doubt that, if The Break-Up had been marketed as anything other than a romantic comedy then it would have made next-to-no money, but ultimately, The Break-Up is anything but a comedy- this is a bitter, tart and astute drama, always tinged a little too liberally with Hollywood convention but also pleasingly realistic, especially in its open-ended final scene. I give Vaughn and Aniston major points for starring in something so respectively daring- sure, in the world of film as a whole, The Break-Up is hardly a revelation, but in the dollar-centric world of romantic Hollywood, choosing something that will undoubtably piss a large amount of their viewership off is quite commendable. Our two leads are, happily, quite good in their parts, Aniston particularly tearing herself apart in one raw dramatic confrontation- and if you want some comedy to sate your appetite, Jason Bateman (a favourite of mine from Arrested Development) is wonderfully sardonic in a small part as the couple's friend and realtor, while Judy Davis steals her scenes as Brooke's pale-faced, bitchy boss. The Break-Up is a film that gives you more than you expect, although, really, if you read the synopsis, it's hardly going to full of laughs. It's like a small-scale, less black and more raw version of that infamous break-up story The War of the Roses (surely the inspiration), and compared to that it's both easier to watch and harder to deal with. Grade: B-]

[Just My Luck (Donald Petrie, 2006): I suppose that, really, I should just dismiss Just My Luck out of hand- 'oh, it's just a throwaway teen romantic slapstick comedy, don't be so harsh'- but the whole thing bothered me so much that I couldn't. I will easily admit to loving Lindsay Lohan- she's a smart, warm screen presence with excellent comic timing and still proves highly promising, as her performance in the late Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion this year shows us- but even she couldn't salvage anything out of this, and perhaps the film's biggest crime is that it actually manages to make Lohan an annoying presence. Fie the film that does this. But I didn't just have a problem with Lohan, I had a problem with the film's entire universe. In what world is luck's existance as a force so assured, so easily manipulated, as such that our central coupling- played by Lohan and wet-blanket Chris Pine- learn how to manage its transferance between them? And in what world are McFly, no less, so talented that they deserve a film which is basically built around them? I suppose it's my own fault, really, for caving into my curiousity about how a film starring Lindsay Lohan could possibly be so worthless, but if there's anything Just My Luck did manage, its demonstrating that. Grade: F]

[Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Gore Verbinski, 2006): Pity the poor American dollar. So small, so thin, so harmless, and yet he is tossed around so thoughtlessly, abandoned in snowy streets, screwed up in pockets, handed over to cinema attendants in return for such a worthless slog as this. I'm sure you've heard, and many times, that this sequel to 2003's surprise smash-hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is only the third film to pass to $1 billion worldwide mark. I'm sure you've also heard that it's not really very good. Well, both of those things are true, and although I'm sure that many people would debate the second one- hell, it must have made all that money somehow- I really, really, can't. I enjoyed the first film, long and slow as it was, but the only need for a second one seems money, and, unfortunately, Dead Man's Chest is as hollow and dead as, well, the dead man's chest. I'm sure you've also heard that 2007 brings a third film, At World's End, and Dead Man's Chest is nothing but a piece of connective tissue, a long haul between two films that no-one really cares about- for these people, it's all about the destination, and, unfortunately, Dead Man's Chest is the journey. Pity poor Johnny Depp, for while his infamous Captain Jack Sparrow in Black Pearl was a delightful, unpredictable mad-cap confection, nothing in Dead Man's Chest challenges him- there are no surprises here, no lunatic, unweildly lines, and while Depp occasionally raises a chuckle- "an undead monkey!"- with his offbeat delivery, the spark has been quashed. This, of course, leaves the rest of the cast more open to scrunity, and it seems that Keira Knightley needs to get out fast, Orlando Bloom can't sell a joke to save his life, Jonathan Pryce needs to retire, and Jack Davenport should just sue for thankless employment. Maybe Dead Man's Chest wouldn't be such an insufferable slog if it wasn't so long, but, connective tissue or not, Verbinski somehow spins this confused tale out for two and half hours- when did it become okay to make films so needlessly long, I ask? Nothing in Dead Man's Chest ever merits even an hour, let alone two and a half of them, and I wonder why, exactly, such a joyless piece of work would have been successful had it not been preceded by what was, at the time, an original and surprising popcorn blockbuster. I doubt it, somehow. Grade: D+]

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