Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Quarterly film roundup - April to June 2008

Chicago *** - If musicals are always prone to artificiality and unlikely plot developments - if only because the real world isn't full of people spontaneously breaking into song - then this example of the genre is doing better than most. At least it has a point to the sudden flights of fantasy and ends up serving something of a lesson in the brevity of modern-day celebrity.

The Last King Of Scotland **** - A staggeringly powerful performance from Forest Whitaker as General Idi Amin, the increasingly paranoid military dictator of Uganda, towers over this film almost from the very first scene. The story is told through the eyes of Amin's fictional Scottish doctor and confidante, who finds himself helplessly woven into the fabric of the General's violent politics. Even when laughing amongst friends and even at his most vulnerable, Whitaker's characterisation is never less than menacing and sometimes outright dangerous. The threat that he is about to do something unspeakably evil counterpoints nicely with the surprising bursts of humour scattered throughout the film, which help showcase Amin's legendary charisma and add shreds of humanity to his brutal nature.

Enchanted *** - An unfortunate example of the type of film that has all the best bits in the trailer, this fails to live up to its billing (Princess Bride for the twenty-first century?) An animated fairytale princess is thrown into our modern hectic world, where she gains a third dimension, although not much of one, and may just be about to change the life of a little girl and her single father. Whether you can stomach the film depends, at best, on your attitude to musicals and, at worst, your response to dangerous levels of saccharine.

The Science Of Sleep ** - Michel "Eternal Sunshine" Gondry leads us on another labyrinthine journey through a dysfunctional relationship, but the writing falters without Charlie Kaufman's flair. As a result, the film is an impressively disjointed mess of reality and illusion, with a hint of menace that does not suit the nominal romance being played out. However, it's hard not to admire the work Gondry has put into the practical effects and one can readily imagine that the film would have been great fun to shoot.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull *** - Preposterous even by the standards of its own franchise, this is still an entertaining, if over-long, entry in the series and clearly marks the way for future sequels. The action is wisely updated by a decade or two, so there are USSR KGB agents but no Nazis in sight. However, the most visually and emotionally striking sequences all occur in the opening twenty minutes or so, which means that the remainder of the film feels like something of a let-down.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated *** - Documentary investigating the seemingly arbitrary nature of the American film industry's censorship panel. The conclusions reached are somewhat predictable (that it's conservatively-run, secretive, and geared up to protecting the interests of the big studios rather than smaller artists). But there are humorous touches and small, satisfying victories on the journey.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith ** - Whether this is supposed to be a straight action film or a metaphorical take on the trials of modern marriage scarcely matters - it's so ridiculous that the only option is to switch off brain, suspend disbelief and watch slack-jawed as two of Hollywood's most attractive people try to kill each other.

King Arthur ** - This take on the old legends probably sought to do what Prince Of Thieves achieved - tell a familiar but great story within a plausible historical context. However, this particular retelling of the Camelot stories is excessively revisionist and, other than the name, ignores hundreds of years of story-telling by some of our leading poets and authors. Clive Owen lacks the gravitas required for such a supposedly great leader and Keira Knightley does herself and her career absolutely no favours whatsoever.