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Round Up

I really didn’t like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and flung it across the room (well, gently tossed it onto a nearby chair, I recall) after 50 grim, flat, uninteresting pages. So expectations here were not stratospheric by any means. And yet, the film is a fairly interesting, admirable near-miss. The contrived, faintly dystopian leanings of the source novel are aptly chilly attributes, and the air-conditioned, tranquil hell that such a tale should suggest are well captured by Mark Romanek, in a series of poignantly empty, post-rain landscapes. The problem is that the story – which is about a group of people sired and brought-up as living hosts of replacement organs and body parts – affords little room for hope, or anything other than sombre devolution, and thus the performances run the gamut between glum and attenuated. This means that nothing, however potentially powerful, has the opportunity to be as impactful as it might, and the film is ultimately no more than a well made collection of intriguing performances. Carey Mulligan is always a sturdily disappointed ballast, with a face that suggests it has witnessed untold tribulations, a sad visage that you want to see perked up. She is always interesting, the slightest eye movement bearing a multitude of connotations, every gesture a hint at something bleakly fascinating. Whereas Keira Knightley leans on this centrality like a drunk on a lamppost, leering and coquetting and desperately wheeling through her armoury like an adolescent with a Swiss-army knife, futilely competing, never knowing when to play it straight or subdue the flamboyant easy hits. Andrew Garfield is much more impressive as an anger-riven node of nervous likeability, thoroughly believably struggling through every utterance, gently on the edge until a perfectly reasonable screaming fit plays out. Ultimately, the film is a successful, impressive adaptation of a book that should probably never have been filmed, and fails as a piece of drama, but is curiously watchable regardless.

The Adjustment Bureau is fairly terrible, despite a reasonably respectable prologue. Matt Damon is a senatorial candidate, busy getting crushed at the polls after a faintly-reprehensible revelation, when he meets Emily Blunt in the men’s toilet. They kiss, which takes the edge of his pummelling, and he makes a rousing equable sign-off speech. He has decided he’s not bothered about winning and losing, that’s not what really matters etc etc. But a sleekly dubious crew aren’t happy about this contrived turn of events, as they want him running for president, so they’re after keeping Damon well away from the comely Winslet-copyist, as he has a certain destiny they’re keen on him fulfilling. Of course, Damon prefers Blunt to the most powerful portfolio on Earth (despite her woefully off-putting dance moves) and this causes some bizarre and often laughable mayhem. The film thinks, at different points, that it’s a chase movie, a romantic comedy, a thriller, a spy movie, a kind of oddball musical, a character study, and so on, but it is so incredulously uneven, from scene to scene, that it’s virtually a disaster.

David Schwimmer’s (yes, that one: the guffawing Friends geek and director of the woeful Run, Fat Boy, Run) Trust is considerably better: a young girl is groomed (largely believably, with some serious misigivings) on the internet by an adolescent who turns out to be a 30-odd year old. They meet in a mall, which is toe-curling and affectively played, and he assaults her in a hotel room. Her parents (Clive Owen (never better than he is here) and Catherine Keener (excellent)) take in the fall-out, the thoughts of reprisals, the guilt, the clinical mortifications of the aftermath, and it’s an accomplished, careful take on potentially derisorily and trickily handled subject.

Barney’s Version, an adaptation of the dazzling Mordecai Richler ‘pseudo-autobiography’, has the brilliant Paul Giamatti embodying the titular writer, Alzheimer’s and booze-addled Barney Panofsky, who unreliably recounts various junctures in his frenetically eventful life, including his being tried and acquitted for the murder of his vanished best friend. It’s a little too swift a run-through (there’s a lot to pack in the running time; perhaps a HBO series might’ve been the way to go) to truly bite at any point, but the performances (plaudits in particular to Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver and a wonderfully dissolute Dustin Hoffman) are infectious and the film is ultimately irresistible.

Scream 4 is exactly what you expect. Say no more…

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Trust is the only one that remotely tempts me. It sounds interesting and different. The others, meh.

    Barney’s Version troubled me rather by making him evidently likeable when the reality is he’s acting like a total dick. He dumps his bride on their wedding day for another woman. Keep the story focused on him and he’s a bit of a rogue. Keep it focused on the bride and you’d have a serious tearjerker.

    That was a nice touch come to think of it in The Opposite of Sex. What the camera chooses to focus on shapes how the characters come across, but it’s a necessarily partial view.

  2. September 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I wasn’t interested in Trust, but now I am. Thanks (i hope!).

  3. September 5, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Max, I think that’s why Giamatti’s perfect casting. For me, anyway. He’s deplorable in many ways, as you mention, and yet, and yet, it’s Giamatti (and as much as I do like Minnie Driver, and have done in many things, she kind of annoys here – Rosamund Pike, if anyone should entice a man on his wedding day in such nonsensical fashion…) so I went with it. Keep it focused on Driver and it’s no longer Barney’s very one-sided Version, of course. But I totally see what you’re saying, though that made it more interesting. No-one, no matter how egregious their behaviour, ever, deep down, accepts culpability, do they?

    Trevor, Max, Trust is worth a watch. There are issues there that I felt a bit nit-picky about being troubled by, but I didn’t buy certain elements of the young girl’s response. Do let me know what you think on that, would be interested.

  4. April 25, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    The Adjustment Bureau wouldn’t have been so disappointing if it hadn’t started off so strongly. I read somewhere that the last third or quarter was rewritten and reshot after a poor test screening (why do studios still think test screenings are a good idea?), but the film goes off the rails sooner than that. The first third or so is pretty terrific, but afterwards, it felt like they had no idea what to do with such a good setup. I’d like to see a Director’s Cut DVD some day; not that I think the film is totally redeemable, but the footage they originally had must have been better than where they ultimately went.

  5. September 27, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Yes, the problem with test audiences is that an instant reaction at the end of a film isn’t a great guide to how a film will be viewed over time, or even how it will be viewed the next day.

    A great many very popular films would I suspect struggle to get through test screenings. Casablanca would have a very different ending:

    Ilsa: But what about us?
    Rick: We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
    Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you.
    Rick: And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.

    Rick: Actually, to hell with that and to hell with Casablanca. We’re going back to Paris baby, and if the Nazis get in our way we’ll give them what for!
    Ilsa: Oh, Rick!

    [They kiss, and walk off together hand in hand.]

    • September 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      Is that the Renny Harlin remake with Geena Davis and Dwayne Johnson, Max?

      Yes, a fine and fair example. Blue Velvet, can you imagine? Or any Lynch? BV’d be 90 minutes of curtain-swish, maybe a brief interlude of Hopper hollering ‘Heineken! Fuck that shit! We go Pabst Blue Gold!’ or whatever it is. Cronenberg famously had Rabid screen tested (was it Rabid? It was that era) to a group of young mums with prams in the hallway etc, kids screaming, and the response cards were predictable…

      I think Looper’s response cards may have been a little more enthused: the first test-screening proof film?

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