"He did what in the cup?"
Mater the tow truck mis-hearing his friend, Lightning
McQueen's 'Piston Cup' announcement in Cars.
Ah, summer. Why summer? It's when the biggest, and
therefore the most important demographic slice of
us is looking for ways to release its parents' money
into 'amuse-me' outlets and fill its time before academia
snatches the whole slice back off the streets. There
is an irony to be mined - seasonal sunlight is usually
cinema's destroyer. Who wants to sit in a darkened
auditorium on a fine Summer's day? Well, I do actually
but I am up way past my demographic. Hollywood duly
obliges with fare it hopes will be teen-magnets. Here's
a round up of four likely suspects starting with the
"Hurrah!" stories and miserably dribbling
down to serious money haemorrhages… Warner Brothers
may have their super men (still under-performing according
to industry pundits) but they also have ladies in
water, water-logged boats and another pointless remake
of The Wicker Man which I believe
is floating no one's boat… And Disney clean
up with a waking Kraken (more water!) and a little
red sports car (in the desert, phew)...
|Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest – Depp impact
movie is about to hit the billion dollar box office
mark which is somewhat baffling. Yes, it's a hugely
enjoyable romp and Disney is cheering the smart decision
to shoot 2 and 3 back to back. But what's it like
as a movie and not merely the Black Pearl flagship
of a merchandising behemoth? It's not flawless by
any means. It's a huge tottering thing way out of
character and narrative balance and here's another
irony. What over-balances it is precisely what made
the first one so damned enjoyable.
(if you will) a box of chocolates. No, no, no. No Forest Gump allusions. No. An ordinary
box of chocolates. Will's romance and the Black Pearl's
quest were the majority of the tasty treats on offer.
The two were literally the good guy trying to win
the girl and the bad guy wanting to kill him. The
truffle sitting on the edge (of which there were only
one or two) was Depp's Sparrow. Even though he was
a vital strand of the movie, his performance and charisma
made it seem to punters like it was Depp's show. The
film-makers have thusly (and not mistakenly, financially
speaking) elevated Depp to 'star' and relegated Will
and Elizabeth to very minor support. In effect the
sequel is too much truffle. For some, nothing is too
much truffle. I'm not sure Sparrow is fleshed out
enough and interesting enough as a character to hang
the entire two sequels on but hey, people are loving
it so what do I know? His presence was designed in
the first movie to integrate the absurd supernatural
narrative. He had his finger on the tying plot knot
so to speak. In the sequel, and one suspects in the
second sequel next year, Sparrow shoulders and will
shoulder the whole kaboodle. Too much of a good thing?
slapstick is fun in the most overblown, unbelievable
and absurd fantasy manner but then when your villain
is a tentacle-faced Bill Nighy, you have a licence
to go anywhere and do anything you like - which the
film-makers do and most of it pays off. The near perfect
CG is in place and the dialogue sparkles with gems
like; "It's a mythological creature, I can call
it what I wants!" in an argument over pronunciation
of all things. The movie is also a product of our
times. It's knowingly smart but never smug. Ah, hell.
I may be tempted to catch it again just for the fun
second star performer of the Summer had a curious
reaction, a backfire critically speaking, for a company
with the most impressive run of critical and commercial
hits. Pixar, as readers of this site will know (so
why am I reminding you?) have honed the computer animation
art to a buff shine. You can feel the work that's
been lovingly poured into their movies and Cars is obviously a labour of love. But - and this seems
to be the big point quite across the board of why
it has been received well but not that well - fish?
Check. Toys come to life? Check. Bugs, monsters and
superheroes? Check. Cars?
I didn't react well to the Teaser because I'm not
into cars because they are, well… cars. Directors
John Lassiter and the lamented Joe Ranft (the latter
dying in a car crash of all things almost exactly
a year ago) are/were obviously big car buffs and it
shows. They have created an extraordinary world where
human beings do not exist and cars do all the things
humans do (I mean, the bugs are VW Beetles with wings
and planes leave tyre tracks in the clouds). But it's
a world that is not light years near our own. We can't
quite invest as heavily as we could in their previous
big hitters. Monsters Inc. may be
set in a strange world but ours was attached to it
by a simple door. There is no such way back to us
Cars is obviously planet Earth bound (check out the American
west in all its CG glory) but it feels strangely tangential
and therefore way off the bull's eye (yes, as tangents
often are, I know). The cast are fine and Paul Newman
stands out, angry and then supportive towards Owen
Wilson's almost too self serving Lightning McQueen,
the young rookie racing car destined for glory and
major sponsorship. The sequence in the farmer's field
is a particular joy. If some cars are people, then
some tractors are barnyard animals. This is sophisticated
humour, all the funnier for the appearance of Frank
which I'll leave as a surprise. There is also an all
too familiar voice as Lightning's manager. I can't
imagine it not being re-dubbed for the US market (as
I suspect Jonathan Ross's stint in Shrek 2 probably was) but who should be trotting out the agent's
clichés with a natty little performance but
Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson. It's a nice moment, a
gathering of men's men, a sort of cultural and communal
flashing of headlights at the testosterone T-Junction.
I mean cars are men's things, right? Speaking of which…
is a romance - of course - and there is something
faintly perverse about imagining how a buck sport's
car and a lady Porsche would actually… uh -
well, kiss for the very start. Where do the Minis
come from? Sorry, but all other Pixar worlds could
stand up to a certain well defined and absurdly believable
internal logic. The logic in Car-World is just clever
detail, immaculate design and affectionate human parody.
But as with Pirates, it's scoring
quite high with over $400 million globally tallied
but - and only to Pixar - this must seem like a tiny
disappointment. Slarek mentioned that the movie reminded
him too much of Thomas The Tank Engine. I shudder.
But then Thomas and his chums had human masters who
kept the damn thing faintly accessible. For all of
its visual majesty, Cars never convinces
that it's connected to us.
God. So how does it work in Hollywood? If there's
a big wave in the script, give it to Wolfgang Peterson?
I mean he directed Das Boot. What
on earth would make him stoop so low? I bet it's the
six figures sending his kids and grand kids through
university - seven maybe? Troy didn't do that well,
did it? For those of you blissfully unaware, Poseidon is a remake of The Poseidon Adventure.
The latter had some 70s charm, some 70s cheese, some
real character and Gene Hackman as my kind of priest,
surly and unrepentant. It was the movie Father Ted
Crilly turned to in his hour of need in Father Ted's
rather lovely Speed 3 episode. Incidentally,
it was of no help. Well, how would the tale of a freak
wave overturning a luxury liner have anything in it
to help Father Dougal trapped on a milk float that
will explode if he goes under four miles per hour?
I'm smiling at the memory.
new cast of stock characters on the Poseidon luxury
liner (look at how lovely it is as we CG swoop around
it like a bug over a corpse) is just that - stock.
The wave (CG of course) is impressive on a big screen
and the resulting mayhem quite mean spirited (we see
people hitting the deck and being fried alive in tunnels).
What hell we mete out to what's known as synthespians
is taking the edge off dramatic empathy a tad. We
know it's fake so it's OK to show 'people' dying horribly?
I preferred the stuntman's role, risking all for my
entertainment. So the boat takes a little while to
turn upside down (or as Mad Magazine had it in their
lovely parody - The Poopsidedown Adventure - uh, poopsidedown) and we join a group of stunned
party revellers who believe the Captain when he says
they should stay put. Uh. Hello!!! You're standing
in a chandelier - with the ocean straining at windows
built to keep the wind out… You are upside down.
Everyone, up, now and keep climbing!!! But no, only
a ragtag group of stock characters attempt to escape
(stock being good for stew, which is what this movie
is - and it's cold, salty stew at best).
soon as the "ooohs" and "aaahs"
subside and the ship settles, the entire movie feels
like it's underwater with a cast blessed with lungs
the size of Karriemoor Rucksacks. I mean there's water
everywhere. Yes, there is some suspense (lift shafts
always get me) but it's all so fecking pointless,
so silly, so without redeeming character pay offs.
We don't care. In a big nod (head butt more like)
to smartarsism (post-modern bollocks), the entire
cast are stuck in a shaft with the screwed on grille
preventing escape. In passing a crucifix pendant up
to Kurt Russell to be used as a screwdriver, Jilted
gay architect, Richard Dreyfuss asides "That
would be ironic…" Jesus saves but not this
Russell plays hero and manages to do something extraordinary.
He dies and then presses the right button to save
everyone - see it on DVD, he does. He dies and only
then saves the day. Brilliant. But not. So some die,
some survive and there is an almost existential question
posed. Try this. Richard Dreyfuss, is about to commit
suicide - he's on the railings ready to jump - when
he sees the giant wave approaching. What, in the imminent
arrival of a giant tidal wall of water, persuades
a suicidal man to suddenly grasp onto life? Water
as symbol of women? He's gay. A rush of fluid. I could
go on all day. I'll stop now. But that bugged me throughout.
Now to the one with again more water but this time
more baffling than fourteen baffles at a Harley convention…
|Lady in the Water – director in hot water
to M. Night, Earth to M. Night… There is something
profoundly upsetting about great, early success. It
wouldn't upset you at first (second directorial effort, The Sixth Sense, made Shyamalan a
household name and enough money to buy many houses
- all in Philadelphia of course). No. At first it
would make you giddy with the enormous trust audiences
and critics afforded you and your baby. Sense could have been greatly damaged if the twist had been
revealed but people wanted others to share the movie
in the same way they had experienced it. If the producers
were biting their nails wondering if the twist, once
in the public domain, would kill Shyamalan's baby,
the grosses put their minds at rest. The upsetting
part starts with great success because unless you
are extraordinarily and perhaps inhumanly level headed
you will form a belief system around what you believe
to be one undeniable fact: "I'm special. Look
what I did!" It is said that whom the (Movie)
Gods wish to destroy, they first reduce their grosses.
Movie Gods launched Shyamalan and like the puddle
of water who thinks the hole was made for him because
he fits it so snugly, he started to formulate ideas.
He said in an interview he knew how Spielberg did
what Spielberg did and was about to follow the same
magic formula. He began to wonder about his place
in the world (I do not know if the director has a
religious calling) so he made Unbreakable - a movie about finding out what you are here for.
It's a nice conceit - that we all have a role to play
- but it's all nonsense really however much we'd like
to believe otherwise. We are lucky to be here (mathematically
the odds are against us) and the world is indifferent
to our 'role' and our suffering. Unbreakable was not huge (let's face it, The Sixth Sense was an aberration and Shyamalan should have shrugged,
smiled and not concluded anything from its success
except perhaps "I got lucky."). But the
auteur was loose and the ego was whipping the creative
juices into flowing. I know a lot of people didn't
like Signs (I loved its climax and
the music was undeniably superb) but it didn't help
Shyamalan because it gave him a further taste of being
the puddle in the hole. It made more money than Unbreakable.
But the sun started shining and the puddle got smaller
but it was still vociferous in the confidence of its
own talent. The
Village had a lovely idea - how far do
we go to protect our children? But it promised much
and ended up as a fairly damp Twilight Zone "Da
daaaa…" It was not a resounding success.
famously demanded changes to Shyamalan's next screenplay
and bank and client fell out rather spectacularly,
detailed in a book which Shyamalan endorsed. My copy
of "The Man Who Heard Voices or How M. Night
Shyamalan Risked His Career On A Fairytale" arrives
tomorrow but I've seen Lady in the Water and I'm beginning to think that Disney had a point…
It pains me to say that of course. We could start
with the Narfs and the Scrunts but let's go back a
little further. Shyamalan is not an outsider. His
success has granted him a level of creative freedom
that few enjoy in Hollywood. And as a talented writer
and director, he's determined to fulfil some sort
of destiny he's mapped out for himself.
Lady in the Water is a fairy tale supposedly
made up by Shyamalan and told to his kids. Fair enough.
I like fairy tales. The movie starts with a basso
profundo voice over telling us that once upon a time,
the water people stopped communicating to the land
people because the land people were greedy for land.
Uh, OK. Visually over this, is a crude animation looking
like characters derived from the LucasArts Video game
logo (stick man with Weetabix body). So the set up
is that there are sea nymphs who want to talk to human
beings and make them listen to their watery vision
of the future and wisdom about things past…
in the fairy story. George Pal forgive me but when
worlds collide, we need some internal logic to help
us through here. Story (the nymph's name, don't blame
me) comes from the Blue World - which in the movie
looks like an encrusted swimming pool waste vent.
There are no breakthroughs, physically to what must
be Story's homeworld. She steals bits and bobs from
the side of the swimming pool of The Cove, a Philadelphia
apartment block. Escaping from a traumatic past event,
Cleveland Heap (now, that's better) now looks after
the Cove and its residents. It's a testament to long
time collaborator James Newton-Howard, that his sublime
and heartfelt score almost makes the movie click but
as grand as it is fanciful, it never manages to address
and paper over logical inconsistencies.
an almost throwaway element to a story that should
feel timeless. The actual story is told by a Chinese
OAP (why doesn't Heap just sit her down in one go
to get the whole story, annoying oversight) and so
it's a 'real' story, like Goldilocks within this,
our world. And it's encroached as the nymph rises
from the pool to save herself by saving all the inhabitants
of the apartment block. But it's all so muddled and
baffling. Things happen for no other reason than the
OAP lady has said they do 'in the story'. No mention
is made why Story can see the future or why everyone
just accepts her at her own and Cleveland's word.
the kicker, the one that really makes me think Shyamalan's
puddle has nearly dried up is the casting of himself
in a key role. Get this. The writer/director of Lady
in the Water plays Vick, a writer who's not published
yet but whose masterwork is called 'The Cookbook'.
It's a book all would-be writers and professional
writers are desperate to write, right now - the book
that makes sense of our fractured world (bound to
offend some) and a book that will be a departure point
for a future leader to bring peace to the planet.
Please. Shyamalan is even told by Story that he will
be killed because of it and with true messianic stoicism,
Vick doesn't so much as take a zippo to the manuscript
fearing for his life. He just nods and looks solemn…
He knows his role is to be killed for the sake of
peace and truth… Puh-lease. Night saves the
the Narfs and Scrunts and Evil ones do battle, pain
is relieved and - can I afford to be this flippant? The Lady in the Water sank with lead
weights and Shyamalan's future is, if not up in the
air, then certainly brought back to earth with a scrunt.
Will it work its magic the way the score has done
once I see it on DVD? I'll keep you posted.
now. Must get that manuscript in shape…