Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Old News: A Dubious Honour

I don't normally do my film awards until, well, August, but hark! There is an award I feel sure enough in giving out now. Yes, now.

Because, really, who's going to 'better' Thandie Newton's performance as Condoleezza Rice in Oliver Stone's W.?

I like Thandie. I do. I even tried to love her once (sadly not in that way), but she doesn't half make it difficult. She fluctuated so wildly between superness and awfulness in Crash it was like she was acting in two different universes (is it too mean to blame Terrence Howard? No? Okay. Oh, and good work, Matt Dillon). She tries to imitate Audrey Hepburn (?!?!?) in The Truth About Charlie. She starred in Simon Pegg's vacuous 'comedy' Run Fatboy Run (okay, so I haven't seen it, and hate it for ridiculously silly personal reasons that aren't really related to the film at all, but so what?). She insists on taking vapid roles in things like RocknRolla (okay, I haven't seen that either...) and The Pursuit of Happyiness (harpy alert!). But she did at least spirit Noah Wyle away from ER, so it's not all bad.

But she is the definition of the word awful in W.. The friend I saw it with said that no one had told her it wasn't a comedy, but I think the problem was that somehow had told her that it was (which it is, methinks) and the only way she knew to try the funny was to make Condoleezza a grotesque caricature. For the most part of the film this isn't really a problem because the film barely cares about her existence- in one lengthy boardroom meeting she sits silently observing as all the menfolk talk politics. I'm not sure whether her moments were cut or whether this is a conscious decision on Stone's part- there is a jokey allusion to her being-ignored later when Bush finally remembers to add to his "Gentleman..." a "... and Lady...", but perhaps it's better to think her scenes generally ended up on the cutting room floor. In the opening scene I conjectured to myself that she looked constipated, but as she reappeared it was simply more like someone else had relieved themselves right next to her and it stank. She also appeared to have lead piping in her limbs and spine, because she sat like something had been shoved up her rectum and walked like she had to keep her arms at a certain distance from her body to prevent immediate death. And I haven't even mentioned her voice.

So yes. I have no hesitation in now naming Ms. Thandie Newton the Worst Supporting Actress of 2008! *applause*

Well, at least she's not torn up about it.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Scott. Joe Scott.

Here's a question for you. Which self-centered, womanizing, troubled male character was played by Daniel Craig in 2008?

You may think the answer is James Bond. Which would, of course, be true. But this is my blog, and unfortunately that is not the correct answer. No, the answer is actually Joe Scott, Craig's character from the film he made (and made possible) for his friend Baillie Walsh, Flashbacks of a Fool.

Seeing these two films- Flashbacks... and Quantum of Solace- in quick succession makes the Bond film seem more generous towards characters who aren't James Bond than it might otherwise have done. But where Quantum... gives a surprisingly large chunk of itself over to Camille (Olga Kurylenko) and her own quest for revenge, Flashbacks... is all about Joe Scott. Other characters can suffer bereavements, get blown up by mines, get their nose bitten by a dog and it's still all about Joe. Don't believe me? Here is photographic evidence.

Giving away where this scene takes place (both spacially and chronologically) might annoy you (although check out the visual clues if you wish), but still: you aren't even looking at Joe Scott and he still takes up half the frame. Claire Forlani can (not) cry all she wants, but this film doesn't give a damn about her and her tragedies. No. The world revolves around Joe Scott, failing druggy filmstar, who is cared for by housekeeper Ophelia (the rather fantastic Eve) for no good reason as he snorts Emilia Fox's coke and has lesbian orgies. In the past he was played by Harry Eden and has no sexual willpower whatsoever. The only moment where the film actually gives over to another character utilizes the rather superb Roxy Music track I mentioned previously: Joe is forced to take a back seat as love interest Ruth (Felicity Jones, pictured) 'shakes her head with her ponytail' in slow-motion. It is a silver lining in a film that wants- ney demands you admire the craggy lines of Daniel Craig's face and the perfectly-coiffured Harry Eden.

And you wouldn't think you'd ever call James Bond generous, what with all the punching and bedding-of-women and martini-drinking, but maybe sobering up has done good things for the man: when he finally tries to plant one on central Bond girl Camille, it's barely sexual at all; it's just sad, almost pathetic. The man-woman relationship has, as in but differently from predecessor Casino Royale, been built on something other than sex: with Vesper it was love, and here it's the common cause of revenge. Her backstory may be a tad trite but at least they gave her one: when did a Bond girl ever have such suffering of her own, have as much, if not more impetus than Bond himself? The script may not get everything right, but this is, as perhaps Bourne made a requirement, Bond made human. And this can only, surely, be appreciated.

Sure, Marc Forster takes his action cues from Bourne, but there's still humour to be found here: it's just tarter and bitterer than before, the prime example being the oily end to one character than instantly recalls one of the Bond series' most famous images. Sure, the plot is rather vague, but it fills in with well-etched characterizations and excellent casting: Mathieu Amalric suits the slightly reedy magnate to a tee, and Judi Dench is as delicious as ever as M ("I don't give a shit about the CIA or their trumped-up evidence!"). I'm not saying it's perfect by any means- there's too much fuss over things that never come to anything, for one thing- but at the end of the day I'd take this exciting shot to the adrenaline than the preening vainness of Flashbacks of a Fool.

Quantum of Solace: B; Flashbacks of a Fool: D+

Friday, November 07, 2008

Something Good

Let us not focus on the negatives. I may, indeed, come to post something about the abomination that is Flashbacks of a Fool (because, really, the alignment of Craig. Daniel Craig. is just too perfect to pass up), but there is a silver lining: it introduced me to Roxy Music's AMAZING song If There Is Something. And here it is for you to enjoy too.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Blatant False Advertising

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is utterly useless. It doesn't contain any sort of instruction on how to lose friends OR alienate people.

Alright, so I'm joking. But Simon Pegg isn't alienating in the way Toby Young (the basis for Pegg's character, who was actually banned from the set for being so alienating) probably was, and that's the problem. Pegg is just alienating in a kooky, offbeat, lovable-loser kind of way- you know, the way Simon Pegg is in every movie. And the inherent reason given for Pegg's Sidney Young being alienating is that he's British. Because we Brits are, of course, all the same slobbish, aloof, unsubtle idiots. And all New Yorkers (we can separate off areas of America, sure, but you won't get away from those generalizations!) are bastards if they're male, or vacuous if they're female. Kirsten Dunst is alright, though, because she's from some Port or something.

This film fails almost immediately by breaking the cardinal rule of noughties filmmaking: never cast Danny Huston. Indeed, the only cast member apart from Pegg it actually knows how to use effectively is Megan Fox, and since she's basically there to look pretty, that job is hardly taxing. But they have Jeff Bridges! And Gillian Anderson! - Both wasted. (Huston, of course, would be used most effectively by being thrown out of a window.) And Kirsten Dunst! - A dull love interest. This woman has comic timing. Try letting her have some jokes. This is supposed to be a comedy, right?

That's harsh. I did laugh at How to Lose Friends and Alienate People on several occasions. But they're easy, personable laughs, not the sharp, vicious laughs I'd expect of Toby Young. Add to that the fact that the film barely goes anywhere and the short journey it does make is as predictable as a pig wrecking a hotel room, and you have an enjoyable but utterly pointless film that's nowhere near as good as it should be. (And it produces a review that reflects how thin it really is. Or I just can't be bothered. You choose.) C