Feel free to suggest a superior title for this newly semi-regular film column of mine, which is at present supposed to be a pun of Cinerama, although evidently not one so good as to not require me explaining it. This time, Cineblahblah sprays it's critical fluid up inside droll satire Thank You For Smoking, popular epic Return Of The King - Extended Edition, pene-drama Shortbus, and the Oscar-nominated drama Venus.
Venus is a little like Lost In Translation, if it were set in London, and featured a sexually-fixated geriatric making friends with an abrasive "chav". In an award-encrusted role, Peter O'Toole plays Maurice, a once-great actor reduced to occasional bit-parts as corpses, who takes a shine to Jessie, the gobby great-neice of his bumbling, grumpy friend Ian (Leslie Phillips). Where Ian is averse to her inability to cook hallibut, Maurice forms an unlikely, passive-aggressive friendship with her in an attempt to educate her in the finer things in life, though Maurices genuine affections are coupled with some creepy lechery.
It's directed by Roger "Notting Hill" Michell, and written by Hanif "The Most Over-rated Author Literally Of All Time" Kureishi, so one might be forgiven for not expecting subtlety to be the order of the day. Michell's previous attempt at adapting a novel by a boring WH-Smith-Book-Of-The-Month tit was Enduring Love from the novel by Ian McEwan, the most ponderously tedious and wanky boring film ever made, ever by anyone. Similarly, for those not familiar with Kureishi's drunk-train-driver approach to social politics of the 1980s, here's an extract from his first novel, The Buddha Of Suburbia.
"Charlie Sexy-but-somehow-dangerous was lying on his leopardskin chaise longue, tightening the silver crocodile-skin belt around his forearm and shooting up on heroins. He always did this before a gig with his punk rock group, because he was an anarchist. He didn't really care about rules, or little bits of paper with pictures of stupid things on them. He thought all that stuff was bollocks. When he sang about it, and the footlights glinted off the safety pins in his eyelids, it was like the sound of all the black, white, chinese and asian kids in the world fucking eachother and burning effigies of Thatcher. Charlie had a big cock, and sometimes I wanked him off even though I was asian and he was white and we were both boys. Once, I'd nearly bummed him, but we fell down the stairs and I knocked myself out on a copy of 'Zen & The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance'. Can you imagine? I thought about my Uncle Ramadan Singh, probably still sitting in his corner shop eating poppadoms and samosas that he kept in his turban. What a square. It all seemed so far away now."
He also wrote and directed My Beautiful Laundrette, in which a neo-nazi falls in love with an asian and they're BOTH BOYS! It's *rubbish*. Still, I wanted to see what trouble the ever-wonderful Peter O'Toole went to in order to lose out on a Best Actor Oscar for the record 8th time. And to my surprise, Venus turned out to be a perfectly delightful film. Kureishi's fucking lefty patronising social bollocks is still evident in the clumsy, patronising depiction of VER STOOPID WORKIN' CLASSIZ WIV THEIR BASEBALL CAPZ AND VER BAD DICTION and it plays things a little bit safe but by virtue of a perfect cast and traditional, stylish direction it achieves moments of rare poignancy.
Key to it's charms is the depth with which it imbues the elder characters in the script - Jessie is the only speaking character not old enough for a free bus pass. It's rare to see in modern cinema, and to once again witness Peter O'Toole getting his teeth into such a rich part is wonderful. His touching friendship with Phillips and their ruminations on life, dwindling fame, ailing health and suchlike couldn't sound truer. Arguably, these roles require little of the actors other than being themselves - but they possess the charisma, charm, grace, wit and respect that the parts require. A scene where they arse about ballroom dancing in a church is really desperately touching.
O'Toole in particular needs the faded glamour of his big, blue eyes and the hangdog resignation that fuel his magnetic charm to get away with some of the more pervy antics he gets up to in his prickly friendship with Jessie, whose cultural education includes allowing him occasional access to the extremities of her body with his wandering, crinkly hands, usually as long as he buys her something nice. Peter O'Toole could basically be beating a bag of labrador puppies with a crowbar and I'd still find it endearing. I'd watch a film of him taking a nap.
It'd get more than 3/5 if it didn't have BLOODY POP SONGS on it, but I'm very strict about that sort of thing.
RETURN OF THE KING - EXTENDED EDITION
Why did nobody tell me about this? I went to see the first Lord Of The Rings film, despite having read the first book and been too overwhelmed by it's crapness to carry on. I thought that perhaps there was just something about the style that didn't appeal to me, so gave the film the best possible chance to impress me. I liked the film-makers, they appeared to have written out that fucking stupid character at the start in yellow wellingtons who runs around the forest singing fucking stupid songs, what could go wrong? What went wrong was that it was also shit - just a bunch of boring things happening one after the other until a boring ending where nothing happens apart from Enya comes on the Hobbits look like they're going to kiss eachother for the fifteenth time. Just get on with it, you miniature queer bastards.
But RETURN OF THE KING is somewhere approaching the BEST FILM EVER. I even watched the four hour version, and I've got the attention span of a goldfish. Already, while I've been writing this review, I've followed a butterfly out of the room, read two magazines, eaten a sandwich and washed my hair. The reason Return Of The King is so good is mostly because there isn't a lot of plot. I think they got all that out of the way in the previous film, which was probably boring like the first one. In this one, things are pretty simple. There's the good guys, who you can recognise because they're people. Then there's the bad guys, who you can by and large recognise because they're grotesque, horrible, inhuman ogre creatures with green faces and claws and they're complete bastards and hard as nails. And everyone has a great big fight. It's just a war movie! Except it's like one of those old fashioned war movies, without any of this new fangled sympathy for the enemy, war-crime guilt, harrowing experience shit. It's just a bunch of awesome warriors beating the shit out of a bunch of total bastards. Only it's even better than THAT, because it's not even real, so if things start to get a bit stale, the enemy attack with a giant fucking steel wolf that breathes fire, followed by a parade of massive warrior elephants, which Orlando Bloom uses his extreme-surfer skills to clamber up and fire arrows into its brain. Stuff like that. Giant eagles fighting dragons and then an army of thousands and thousands of glowing green ghostly skeleton soldiers ride across a canyon and beat the shit out of everyone. And there's loads of bits where people fall off really high buildings and the camera goes "WHEEEEEE" down with them as they bounce off stuff and even Ian McKellen goes shitbag crazy in battle and starts cutting people open and battering them with his staff left right and centre. Even the queer hobbit off Lost gets to cut people up. Sorry, not people, AWESOME FANTASY MONSTERS. This film almost made me want to go to Games Workshop. The entirely CG gollum already looks a bit old hat in the wake of Davy Jones in Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 (and soon, 3) but the strength of Andy Serkis' performance beneath the pixels (the character was motion captured from his performance on-set) sells it. Five out of five!
This is quite a peculiar film. It's essentially hardcore pornography for a large part, but also quite spiritually uplifting. Which is a combination I imagine won't work for a lot of people, but allow me to try and convince you. The ensemble pene-drama (a term I have just coined for any drama with scenes of graphic penetration) follows a troubled homosexual couple as they open up to threesomes, a female sex therapist who has never had an orgasm and her needy husband, a pervy neighbour and a cornucopia of oddballs orbiting the Shortbus, a not very hush-hush sex and burlesque club in New York. Weird, beautiful CG interludes shoot around a kind of three dimensional oil painting of the city, adding to the weird and wonderful feeling that free, open sex and unashamed orgasming are beautiful, unifying, universal, therapeutic experiences. Shortbus wastes no time in diving headfirst into the kind of genuine, unsimulated sex that fills it - at first it's shocking, obviously, to be watching a man ejaculate into his own mouth. But the closeness that we feel with these characters, having seen them at their most honest and vulnerable, is impossibly compelling. So the climactic orgy, when they've all freed themselves of their hangups and worries, and a great big fucking marching band comes and joins in, is impossibly uplifting. Also, it's got a bit where someone sings the national anthem into someone elses arse. 4/5.
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING
Where did Aaron Eckhart come from? He looks like Viggo Mortensen in the back of a spoon and I hadn't heard of him last week, but now he's going to play Harvey Dent in the sequel to Batman Begins, he was excellent in Brian DePalmas The Black Dahlia, and he takes the lead role in this fantastic verbose comedy of spin, outshining an already stellar cast which includes William H Macy, Maria Bello, Robert Duvall, Katy Holmes, Adam Brody, Rob Lowe, Sam Elliot, David Koechner, JK Simmons, and loads more "oh, it's THEM! What were THEY in?" sort of people.
While it's been nice to laugh out loud a lot at the cinema lately, it's high time that a comedy did so in a slightly more intelligent way. I mean, I like Nick Frost, and I like Will Ferrell, but to be laughing at a clever, satirical script instead of someone arsing around and shouting and getting their head stuck in things was a refreshing experience. The script is tight, unpredictable and witty, and also surprisingly moralistic for a story that centres on a pro-smoking lobbyist. It's more about the nature of spin than the product being spun, but also takes the time to investigate the kind of person who would not only do such a job, but do it so well. His journey of moral redemption tempers the satire a little, but not so much as to really irk. Like most of it's characters the film is slick, efficient and clever, and worth a smouldering 4/5.