Thursday, March 29, 2007

Victim's Gold Stars: Under and Over

I haven't yet completed my run of 2006 viewings (I still have Days of Glory, The Good German, The Painted Veil and possibly Curse of the Golden Flower to catch at the cinema, as well as Requiem and possibly a few others, if I get them, on DVD), but I figured I should get the ball rolling as soon as possible, with all the free time I have at the moment (not that I have nothing to do, you understand, but it's hardly fun stuff)- and so, I bring you what I've cheesily called Victim's Gold Stars (mainly because, the more I thought about it, the VAMPs (Victim's Annual Movie Prizes) just sounded wrong), and, in their opening post, I'm going to name ten films, which were neither the best nor the worst of the year- they were, in fact, the most under- and over-appreciated films of 2006.

The Overappreciated

(Clockwise from top left) The Last King of Scotland was widely praised for its superb performances, from the towering figure of Forest Whitaker to the briefly-featured Gillian Anderson, but, despite them, the film descending into a delirious mess that assaults the viewer rather than getting under their skin. The film starts out well but totally loses control in the second half, every worst instinct possible being employed- worst of all, it decides that it must be a thriller, diluting the political dissections that were promisingly dangled before you. The Queen, meanwhile, was another film about a country's leader with praised performances, but a second viewing showed just how surface the enterprise was, how off-key Helen Mirren often was, and how, ultimately, the film never said much at all.

Pan's Labyrinth is a dazzling visual feast (although a few members of an audience found the faun hilarious) but its twin threads of reality and fantasy have serious problems twinning themselves together, existing as separate entities with no relation for most of the film and then never clearing their existance (or not) up. And most of the actors struggle to inject personality into their stereotypical and charged characters. Sacha Baron Cohen had no such trouble in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, but the film failed to say much about America or society, or anything, really, and for all Cohen's committed hijinks, the film barely raised a chuckle, at least in me (and the sparse audience I was part of). And finally, and worst of all, Dreamgirls, a superbly costumed but inert piece of musical drama, was most damned by its director, Bill Condon, whose repeated use of montage left the actors floundering, trying and mostly (with the exception of Eddie Murphy, of all people) failing to make anything at all of their characters.

The Underappreciated

(Clockwise from top left) Slither was simply a highly entertaining b-movie, a film that knew its own stupidity and deftly played up to it, mixing truly nasty sights with deliriously corny dialogue and charismatic, well-cast actors. And, unlike Snakes on a Plane, it was both well-produced and funny. Poseidon, that most slammed of remakes, may have had some silly dialogue, but it was simply amazing to watch (especially on an IMAX screen), thanks to the stunning production design, hued photography and crashing sounds.

Factory Girl, perhaps the very last release of the year, only got press because people thought Sienna Miller and Hayden Christensen were really doing it (they weren't, apparently), which is a shame, because this is a solid little movie, one that plays up to the characters' shallowness- it's a intentionally superficial movie about unintentionally superficial people, and, while that understandably limits it at points, the acting, particularly on the side of Guy Pearce (as Andy Warhol) and Miller herself, makes it a surprisingly poignant meditation on a life both barely lived and enjoyed to the full.

Wah-Wah never even seemed to surface of America, and enjoyed the briefest of appearances in Britain, but it's a sweet little movie, set in '60s Swaziland as the country is about to gain independance from Britain, and seen through the eyes of a teenager (Nicholas Hoult) as his parents (Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson) go through a divorce and his father remarries an American (Emily Watson)- and it's the latter figure who, mocking the British formality, provides the title. The film is hardly revelatory, but it's smartly acted and entertaining- which is a perfect description for the last mention in this category, and the best: Mission: Impossible III. Tom Cruise may have gone off-the-wall, but he's perfectly watchable here- however, what I loved about this was its emphasis on the team he gathers, from the genial Ving Rhames to the Irish Jonathan Rhys-Meyers to the sexy Maggie Q. J.J.Abrams directs with his usual sleek, shiny touch, providing expected but exciting pleasures with aplomb.


J.D. Judge said...


I actually didn't expect ANYONE to get Dear Frankie. It's one of the most underseen films in recent years, and I thought it was excellent.

Congratulations!!!! You win, um... credit? Here ya go!

DL said...

Yes! Slither is very underappreciated. It's not really a good movie per se, just a whole lot of fun. Have you seen The Descent yet though? Because that was definitely the horror movie event of last year (and also very underappreciated.)