An improbable fiction

Wednesday October 26th 2011

Though the bulk of the movie is set in a beautifully rendered Elizabethan London, Roland Emmerich’s historical epic Anonymous opens with a big shiny aerial shot of modern-day New York — presumably a consolation prize to anyone hoping for another Godzilla. Down at street level we see jolly old Derek Jacobi hopping out of a cab and rushing into a theatre, which happens to be showing a play called … (wait for it) … Anonymous. You see what they’ve done there. Inside, Jacobi is shepherded on stage just as the curtains rise to deliver a short speech, a sort of prologue for the movie, the gist of which is:

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See also: Dead for ten years, Betsy.

From there we’re thrust back four hundred years to the time of William Shakespeare, a bumbling young actor from Stratford who’s asked by the wealthy Earl of Oxford to take credit for his plays. He willingly agrees to the deception, throwing himself and his contemporaries into the shady (and slightly boring) world of 16th Century politics.

If, from my use of the words ’16th Century politics’, you’re beginning to suspect that this isn’t your average Roland Emmerich movie, then you’d be correct. Few could ever have predicted that he’d be the man to bring the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship to the screen and fewer still would have imagined the result to be anything like Anonymous.

The film has a certain amount in common with Emmerich’s earlier films. Like 10,000 BC it has little interest in historical accuracy; like 2012 it’s based on a wild and blatantly false fringe theory; and like almost all of the films he’s churned out during a career spanning three decades, its characters are all insane pantomimic archetypes. Rafe Spall’s Will Shakespeare spends most of the movie wobbling around like a hyperactive Elizabethan Stan Laurel, while newcomer Trystan Gravelle boldly employs the Cheshire Cat as his model for Christopher Marlowe.

For a while this heretical approach to Shakespeare makes for a pretty solid film, that is until Emmerich realises he’s Doing A Drama and drops the knockabout Bard LOLs in favour of scene after scene of badly-written conversations about duty and honour and the like, half-heartedly delivered by a group of talented British actors who should know better. The whole thing quickly becomes as tedious as 2012 — if in a decidedly different way — and you start to wonder how much time and money you could have saved by staying at home and re-watching Shakespeare in Love.

The answer is 130 torturously slow minutes and about £10.


Monday October 24th 2011

In her tenth and final year selecting the London Film Festival Surprise Film, Hebron undoubtedly had some making up to do. Last year’s Brighton Rock and 2009’s Capitalism: A Love Story were both pretty bad by anybody’s standards, but worse they were entirely unsurprising. When last night’s screening finally rolled around, similar candidates were lining up in the forms of My Week With Marilyn and The Rum Diary.

An unusually excitable Hebron took the stage fifteen minutes late and went through the usual rigmarole of getting the audience to guess the film. All the obvious choices were well represented as well as a few more outlandish guesses from the hopelessly hopeful (yes, we’re definitely going to get the world premiere of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Hebron claimed that nobody had guessed correctly, but assured us that the film — while small and entirely without explosions — was one she had a genuine passion for, adding, “I know I say that every year but it’s true this time.”

Everyone looked slightly mystified to learn that they wouldn’t be seeing the next Bond film a year before release. Everyone, that is, except for one plucky blogger who took to Twitter to announce …

And by fuck he was right.

[To be fair, I hadn’t actually heard of Damsels in Distress until Guy Lodge mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he thought it might be the Surprise Film.]

If you’re as ignorant as the 2-weeks-ago me then rest assured that there’s really only one thing you need to know about Damsels in Distress, the first film in 13 years from indie darling Whit Stillman …

Yep, this movie contains spectacularly high levels of Mumblequeen, and she’s absolutely on point. Gerwig plays Violet, the leader of a group of self-appointed suicide prevention agents at an East Coast university, who treat clinical depression with tap dancing and preach sympathy for the college’s hopelessly simple jocks. Crazy comma Stupid comma Love full stop‘s Analeigh Tipton and new faces Megalyn Echikunwoke and Carrie MacLemore round off the quartet nicely.

With its stylised, instantly quotable dialogue and bizarre, meandering plot diversions, Damsels in Distress definitely isn’t for everyone (it certainly wasn’t last night) but give yourself over to Stillman’s wilfully oddball style and it’s hard not to get swept up in such a joyfully arch — and strikingly unfamiliar — approach to campus comedy. If Easy A was Mean Girls‘s copycat little sister, then Damsels is her impossibly cool older cousin.

And that’s all I have to say about that for now.

The Great George Clooney Showdown of Late 2011

Sunday October 23rd 2011

It’s a little known industry secret that Sandra Hebron and George Clooney have been engaged in an illicit affair for the best part of a decade and that, as such, she conspires to include at least two of his films in the program of the London Film Festival every year. This year’s pairing, political thriller The Ides of March and family drama The Descendants went head to head last week at their respective Gala Screenings. But which is MORE CLOONEY? Let’s find out …

“An idealistic staffer for a newbie presidential candidate [THE CLOONS] gets a crash course on dirty politics whilst on the campaign trail.” “A middle-aged land baron [THE CLOONS] tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a tragic boating accident.”
Clooney hasn’t really done politics as much as it feels like he has over the years, and this is by far the closest he’s come to playing a president. Charming, confident and sporting meticulously coifed hair, this is George on (admittedly very watchable) auto-drive. The latest in a recent spate of ‘more challenging’ roles (The AmericanMichael Clayton, Spy Kids 3D) sees Clooney play a devoted husband and father — LOL HE’S A BACHELOR IN REAL LIFE — with all sorts of challenging emotional problems and familial issues. It’s quite literally his best performance in a while.
The Ides of March 0The Descendants 1
This is a Clooney joint, suckaaa. Ides is his fourth directorial effort after Confessions of a Dangerous MindGood Night and Good Luck and Leatherheads (lol wut?). And while it’s hardly revolutionising the world of political drama with its tale of sacrificed ethics and systemic corruption, you certainly can’t deny that it’s ENTIRELY COMPETENT FILMMAKING. The Descendants is not only Clooney’s first collaboration with indie darling Alexander Payne, it’s also the first movie since 2004 on which he hasn’t had a producer credit. And I don’t just mean movies he’s been in, I mean all movies released within that period worldwide. For shame!
The Ides of March 1 – The Descendants 1
Ryan Gosling’s third at-least-halfway-decent leading role this year sees him one-upping his spiritual father George on pretty much every front, even when it comes to his ability to gain access to lady parts. Stay off his patch, Gosling! Elsewhere there’s good work from Philip Seymour Hoffman, ‘the other Philip Seymour Hoffman’ Paul Giamatti and of course Evan Rachel Wood as The Helpless Victim. As soon as I saw Matthew Lillard’s name on the cast list for The Descendants I figured it had its supporting cast on lock, but what I wasn’t prepared for is the fact that Lillard is apparently now an Old Man in Hollywood. Just seven short years after he made us laugh, cry and ask for our money back in Without a Paddle, he’s playing a walking mid-life crisis with a  hairline receding into the distance faster than my memory of She’s All That. Bam!
The Ides of March 2 – The Descendants 1

“I have a very comfortable existence. I am able to dip my toe into issues involved in politics, like in Sudan or Darfur. Where I can have some involvement then I’m happy to do it and I don’t have to compromise as a politician.”

“I remember when I was a young man some famous actor (who will remain nameless) complaining on television about how hard it was and I thought, what a jerk. You’re living the dream and you should enjoy that because you got lucky.”

The Ides of March 2 – The Descendants 2
The Ides of March 2 – The Descendants 3

There we have it. Well, there we have something vaguely resembling it.

A brief rant about Rotten Tomatoes and an even briefer review of Terri

Friday October 21st 2011

The Rotten Tomatoes ‘Tomatometer’ has been labelling movies either ‘shit’ or ‘brilliant’ for more than ten years now, and for the most part it’s done a great job. With a certain type of film, however, it remains utterly useless.

Take Terri, the breakthrough film from indie director Azazel Jacobs that premiered at Sundance earlier this year. On the surface it looks completely identical to Win Win, and judging by their respective RT scores (Terri 86%, Win Win 94%) you might even come to the conclusion that it’s some kind of ‘Win Win Lite‘. But delve into the actual reviews behind those scores and you’ll find that while 94% of critics thought Win Win was, you know, ‘not bad’, Terri‘s 86% were surprised, charmed and even (dare I say it) moved by the film. SO FUCK YOU ROTTEN TOMATOES, YOU DON’T REPRESENT US AND OUR VIEWS.

Basically, the point I’m (somewhat clumsily) trying to make is that Terri is not Win Win. Despite what the quirky date-friendly marketing might have you believe, it’s not even remotely similar. That film traded exclusively on the unquenchable thirst of your average Sundance audience member for ‘Unconventional Friendships’. (Seriously, they can’t get enough of that shit. All they think about day and night is where the next hit is coming from. Charitable organisations have made great progress in weening some of them off the Unconventional Friendships and onto Animated Flashbacks but it’s always going to be a slippery slope.) Terri, on the other hand, has far more to offer.

Yes, it’s got your standard adult-bonding-with-teenager relationship (well handled by John C. Reilly in a comic role that might easily seem dislocated from the rest of the film) but at its core Terri is a decidedly inward portrait of adolescent isolation with a tragically authentic performance from newcomer Jacob Wysocki as the obese teenager of the film’s title.

Funny and perky but unlike most Fox Searchlight films (including Win Win) never saccharine, the film even attempts the notoriously impossible ‘attractive girl sees the inner beauty of fat kid’ trope and comes away with most of its integrity intact.

Aggregate that, you fuckers.

Gerwigwatch: The Dish and the Spoon

Tuesday October 18th 2011

After she successfully transferred her lovely indie face to the mainstream in the surprisingly brilliant Arthur remake (don’t believe the h8as), you’d be forgiven for assuming that Greta Gerwig had left her mumbleroots behind for good. Happily, thirty seconds of LFF-er The Dish and the Spoon should be more enough to dispel that notion.

The film sees Gerwig paired up with Olly Alexander, of ‘he was a bit annoying in Enter the Void‘ fame, for an hour and a half of quirky dates, symbolic conversations and atmospheric walks along the beach. They make for quite a cute couple, despite their courtship being constantly undermined by the fact that THEY HAVE EXACTLY THE SAME FACE.

That aside, The Dish and the Spoon has little to offer the mumblecanon beyond three or four reasonably neat ideas stretched absurdly to feature length. And given there’s a thin line between mumblecore and am-dram at the best of times, it doesn’t help that neither Gerwig nor Alexander seem particularly switched on here.

(Don’t worry, she’s still awesome.)

Too good-natured to hate but familiar enough to be instantly forgettable, The Dish and the Spoon is one for mumblecompletists only. More Arthurs plz, Greta.

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