September 7th, 2007


Stranger Than Fiction

Being under the lurgy this week, I decided that the only sensible course was intravenous DVDs. First up was this somewhat unusual comedy. The premise is that Will Ferrell, a dull, uninspiring IRS agent, finds his life being narrated by novellist Emma Thompson: he can hear her describing his actions and inner monologue in his head, though naturally no-one else can. This is bad enough until said voice mentions his immiment death.

There follows efforts by Ferrell to determine whether he's going mad (Tom Hulce as psychiatrist) and to get answers from a "literature expert" (Dustin Hoffman), while falling in love -- as dictated or explained by the voice -- with Maggie Gyllenhaal's baker, whom he is supposed to be auditing. Meanwhile, over in the B - or possibly C - story, Thompson's publishers are worried about her missing her deadline, and have sent over Queen Latifah to get over her writer's block.

It's a nice romcom in a way, though strangely I spent most of the film watching Gyllenhaal's face and wishing she'd been cast as Adama instead of Natalie Portman, but the problem is that this film is the difference between good sf and bad sf - or, perhaps, between written sf and movie sf - since the approach of the film has to change radically when Ferrell manages to meet with Thompson, who then has to recognise that she's writing - and writing off - a real person. In movie world, this becomes the point where the status quo has to be restored, or at least the unusual situation has to be removed. In written sf, it's the end of, say, chapter three, and is the point where the author really gets going. After all, Gyllenhaal's a character in the story too, and apparently subject to mind control - or at least invasion of privacy.

The performances of the four main characters are excellent, incidentally; Thompson and Hoffman are (always) a joy to watch, and Ferrell and Gyllenhaal are entertaining enough. But the story's unsatisfying. Once author and character meet, there's no doubt how this story is going to pan out, which is a pity given that early scenes note that to do so would ruin the tale.

Music and Lyrics

A romcom starring Hugh Grant as an affable Englishman - who'da thought?

Grant's a songwriter has-been from 80's band Pop (read: Wham) who hasn't written for a decade. He gets the gig to write a new song for Haley Bennett (read: Shakira) in, oh, six days. Problem is that he can only write music, and needs to work with a lyricist. Into his life walks new plant waterer (really) and stream-of-consciousness motormouth Drew Barrymore, who randomly rhymes some words in his apartment, and gets taken on. Shockingly, Chemistry ensues.

In terms of the story, this is nice enough. Grant does his usual thing effortlessly. I don't think he actually says "gosh," but it's a close-run thing. Barrymore's engaging enough. Neither has lines that have the wit and sparkle of Richard Curtis, but it's not bad. And the 80's send-up bits are very good, as is the D-list celebrity life (c.f. the start of Galaxy Quest).

Where this falls down is, ironically, the music and lyrics. Songs are actually performed by Grant, Barrymore and Bennett, and none of them have voices that are strong enough to carry a song. This isn't a problem for Barrymore, who isn't playing a singer, or for so much for Grant who technically is supposed to be  a writer rather than a performer (though he's making his living via nostalgia shows), but is a big problem for Bennett's character, who's supposed to be someone to rival Britney, Aguileria, etc. Those women have amazing voices, and Bennett has a really weedy one in comparison.

Then there's Barrymore's lyrics, which are better than, say, Fezzik in The Princess Bride and Pam Ayres, but not by much. They rhyme, and that's all that you can say about them.

And finally there's the music, which is sub-Disney-knock-off. No, wait - they're about the level of X Factor winner singles. They're that bad.

Which is a shame, because they distract from the rest of the movie. A good song can lift a movie above the average script, but a bad song drags it down, and especially when the song's supposed to be a pinnacle. Think of Bill and Ted producing the greatest song ever, the one that's supposed to lift mankind to a higher level, and it turns outs to be God Gave Rock and Roll To Us by Kiss.

So, entertaining, with gritted-teeth bits. Bring back Richard Curtis.
  • Current Mood
    disappointed Must try harder
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War of the Worlds

Yes, the Tom Cruise/Steven Speilberg version.

I hadn't heard anything good about this, so I wasn't expecting to like it. And lo, I didn't.

Yes, lots of big effects. Yes, the tripods are impressive. Yes, Dakota Fanning still does an excellent job. But the overall response was: so what? Cruise's character is almost entirely passive in this film, and of about three pro-active things he does, one is disturbing. Well done to the writers for that, but there's nothing to balance it.

I haven't read Wells's original, so I don't know how close they stick to the general structure of the story, but the best bit of the entire film is Morgan Freeman's voice-over at the start, reading an abridged version of the opening passage, verbatim.
  • Current Mood
    bored Read Alan Moore instead
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Snakes on a Plane

The main problem with this film, I think, is that it's the wrong genre. Or, at least, it wasn't the genre I expected. It's got Samuel L. Jackson in it, for crying out loud, so I was expecting action, c.f. Air Force One, Executive Decision or Passenger 57. Instead, it's the sub-genre of comedy slasher/horror, c.f. Evil Dead or Final Destination.

The premise - as if you cared - is that Jackson is escorting a witness from Hawaii to Los Angeles to testify against a mobster, and the latter has secreted a crateful of venomous reptiles in the cargo hold with the intention of bringing the whole plane down. There is a whole array of identikit one-dimensional secondary characters lined up for various silly ways in which they can get bitten by snakes, over which the camera will lovingly linger. There's the heroic stewardess, who is conveniently single. There are two pilots, and you know neither of them are going to be in a fit state to "land this mother".

There are some action tropes, such as the obligatory sequence when someone has to go down into the works of the plane to flip some breakers to get Jurrasic Park back on-line reset the air recycling, and sudden decompression, but not enough.

Oh, it could have been great - 747s are a brilliantly claustrophobic environment, just big enough to allow the protagonists to just avoid the threats. But this went for the comedy gore instead, and wasted the opportunity.

Besides, with this title, it was always going to be overshadowed.
  • Current Mood
    disappointed What was the kickboxer for?
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Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny

I'm not having a good week with my films.

I recall The Greatest Song in the World being a quite entertaining pastiche of Dio-esque overblown rock. Turns out that, stretched to five minutes, that kinda stuff outstays its welcome. Things didn't improve noticably when it was dragged out for an hour and a half.
  • Current Mood
    annoyed annoyed
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