Sunday, 5 March 2006

December film roundup

The Descent *** - Occasionally scary horror which, despite British credentials, is set in North America. Every year, a group of young women get together for an adventure holiday: white-water rafting etc. This year, they're going caving. Predictably, there are tensions amongst the group and, also predictably, certain corners have been cut in the planning of their trip, leaving them vulnerable to whatever lurks in the darkness. Whilst I have no doubt that being trapped without lighting in a cave inhabited by something intent on ripping one to pieces would be utterly terrifying, the filmmakers are hindered by the fact that the medium obliges them to show images most of the time, even in supposed absolute darkness.

King Kong *** - Poor Naomi Watts: although she's one of the world's finest dramatic actresses, she's also one of the most frequently imperilled. So it proves here, with her character contributing little more than (1) wide-eyed stares; (2) screams; and (3) standing around in a very wet dress. There must come a time in a successful director's career when he can get away without somebody telling him that it's all going wrong. Peter Jackson desparately needed someone to tell him to cut out swathes of the material here: in going for an epic feel, he ends up leaving in scenes that are of very limited relevance. Whilst undeniably spectacular in places, in other scenes the special effects don't seem all that special at all; there are particular problems when the CGI elements are supposed to interact with the humans. There are a few nice touches: when Jack Black, as the film director, is trying to find an actress for his film, Faye Wray is dismissed because she is "shooting a picture for RKO". But such moments are few and far between. It's also unexplained why it's set in the 1930s: sure, the original was, but that's because it was made in the 1930s. Finally, in going for a motion-capture Kong, played by Andy "Gollum" Serkis, they have invested the ape with too many human emotions; ironically, then, this hugely expensive bit of animation ends up looking like a man in a monkey suit.

Under The Greenwood Tree (TVM) **** - Effective adaptation from ITV that maintains Hardy's sense of humour.

8 Femmes *** - Bizarre whodunnit-style film about eight women stuck in a country house during a snow storm with a dead man; one of them must have committed the murder, but which? The film takes frequent, slightly surreal turns as it is also a musical, complete with song-and-dance numbers. However, overall it feels a little too much like a stage musical, relying on a single set.

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