Films

I’ve seen a number of films recently, but I haven’t posted any reviews so I’m going to do them all at once.

Night at the Museum was pleasant enough. Ben Stiller played the kind of character he always plays – a decent but hapless guy. An interesting casting decision was Ricky Gervais as a Stiller’s boss. Gervais also played a character similar to what he’s known for, but he seemed completely out of place in this mainstream movie. The special effects were central to the film and they worked well. A key scene is where Stiller first encounters a living exhibit – the fossilised tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. The huge creature looms over him menacingly then drops one of its own rib bones in front of him; it turns out it only wants to play catch.

Robin Williams does a good job as Teddy Roosevelt – well, a waxwork image thereof – counselling Stiller to seize the day, but being afraid the woman/waxwork he’s admired from afar for years. Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson entertain as a pair of diorama figures. One of the best moments was when the pharoah emerges from his sarcophagus, covered with dirty bindings and looking like something from a Hammer horror film. Then he tears away the wrappings to reveal a good-looking, young face. He says in a cultured Anglo-Arabian voice, ‘Awfully stuffy in there.’ Stiller’s son says, ‘You can speak English!’ The pharoah explains that he went to Cambridge University; when questioned about this he explains, ‘I was on display in the Archaeology Department.’

Not a challenging film, but it made me happy for an hour or two. Everything works out in the end, as you would expect, and this is the least satisfying part of the the movie. However, I found the journey a little affecting in places.

Casino Royale begins with a pretty stunning chase through a construction site somewhere in the Caribbean, I think. Bond and his quarry climb up on to massive construction cranes and leap from one to the other against a background of a crystalline blue sky. Possibly the highlight of the film, but the rest was very good two.

The movie represents a departure for the Bond franchise – Daniel Craig isn’t as good-looking as his predecessors, there is only one gadget (and no R), the bad guy isn’t a megalomaniac intent on starting a world war, and overall it has a somewhat grittier, more brutal feel than earlier films. Which isn’t a bad thing. The main criticism one could level at the 007 films is that they’re silly – Bond is seemingly indestructible and all-knowing and has a gismo for every occasion. But here, for instance, he gets tortured, is rescued by a mysterious stranger and spends a fair amount of screen-time convalescing.

The film is a prequel and charts the early part of Bond’s career. We have an unprecedented insight into his background, although this is guesswork on the part of his female companion. The 007 job is undoubtedly a tough and dirty one, and to imagine someone with the presence of Roger Moore doing it is just ridiculous. Broken-nosed Craig looks like someone who’s been in the SAS and could act with the coldness required of a 00 agent.

One could argue that with all the changes Casino Royale is no longer a real Bond film. Actually, it’s better.

Eragon is pretty good … apart from the script and the acting. It looks like it ought to be something of the stature of The Lord of the Rings films (and, of course, they are the reason this fantasy novel has been adapted), but the triteness of the dialogue and the mediocrity of the lead actor really let it down. The dragon (who, at one point, flies off as a hatchling and returns a minute later fully grown) is well-animated, especially the way it thumps into the ground when it lands, but the voiceover isn’t Rachel Weiss’s greatest hour. Jeremy Irons lends some quality to it, but he’s only one person; Robert Carlysle and John Malkovich are fine as the villains, too. Another weak point is the plot: it’s just standard fantasy fare: a young hero from an insignificant village becomes the saviour of the world. Despite all its flaws, though, I still somehow liked it. A bit.

Miss Potter is essentially the same film as Finding Neverland, but it’s better. Actually, I went into the film knowing nothing about it other than it was a movie called Miss Potter starring Rene Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. I was pleasantly surprised and often moved by this biopic of Beatrix Potter. The acting was top-quality – I particularly liked McGregor’s nervous determination. Zellweger, as the fund-raising American presence, was very good, her accent impeccable – plummy, with just the right amount of humanity. Special mention must be made of Bill Paterson’s gigantic sideburns – together, almost bigger than his head – which made him look rather Noddy Holder-ish.

There’s a magical realist thread in the film – Potter literally sees her illustrations as living things. Although this doesn’t amount to anything in terms of plot it is a nice touch. It’s just a result of the fact that I’ve spent the last four months living in an urban environment in a foreign country, but I was almost as moved by the shots of the Lake District as I was by the story. Which latter reaches a climax about half an hour from the end. I didn’t feel the last part was anticlimactic, though as I was just admiring the beautiful scenery and the great acting.

Deja Vu is a science fiction cop thriller. Or rather, it’s an cop thriller with science fictional elements. Denzel Washington is given the opportunity to look back four days into the past to try and find the man responsible for blowing up a ferry and killing 500 people. The cop thriller side of things works much better than the sf. Washington gives a fine performance as usual, as an ATF officer with a slightly quirky sense of humour. The rest of the cast is good, too; Val Kilmer is a little under-used, though. The villain, while in some ways just a random psycho, is also well-played – once captured, he gives a speech about destiny that was very effectively delivered: he smiles every now and then as if embarrassed by his own arrogance.

The plot revolves first around a variation on the old time travel idea – and then it becomes a standard example of the old time travel idea, without variation. What will happen if Washington goes back into the past to change history, to prevent the attack from taking place. Well, what happens is that everyone lives happily ever after. The sf ideas don’t quite fit into what is a gritty and effective crime thriller. But I like the fact that it was attempted. Deja Vu is definitely worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite live up to its own amibitions.

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