Monday, April 26, 2010

Last week's reviews and capsules

The Joneses (15 cert, 98 min) ★★★

Centurion (15 cert, 97 min) ★★

Agora (12A cert, 126 min) ★★

Any film which casts Demi Moore as capitalism incarnate, which The Joneses does, gets points for figuring out at least one way to use her. Uneasy though we may feel playing spot the surgery, it almost fits her role as a one-woman advertising campaign: she hardly needs act to make it the best thing she’s done since Disclosure (1994).

The film starts out pert and amusing, like a dark sitcom. Moore and the nimble David Duchovny are all health and wealth as they move into an upscale neighbourhood with their two teenage kids (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth, both much too old for these roles, but no matter).

It’s quickly clear none of the Joneses are actually related. They’re paid agents in a stealth marketing scheme, their mission to turn heads, show off clothes, cars, gadgets to the admiring golf and pedicure set. Duchovny’s Steve is the rookie in the operation – he needs to boost his sales. Moore’s Kate, who won’t even let him sleep in the same bed, might reconsider if those numbers go up.

Writer-director Derrick Borte’s conceit is a fun one to be in on, but basically too synthetic to have the satirical bite it wants – it’s more a playful fantasy of consumerist whim than an edgy exposé. You know where it has to go – down some Damascene route of realising this whole scam, and consumption in general, is bad for the soul. It’s just a matter of time before everyone starts slapping their wrists, if not slitting them, but the spree is entertaining while it lasts. C+

There’s much grunting in Centurion, slicing of major arteries and clambering around on mossy Scottish hillsides. There’s also the kind of dialogue you only wish members of Rome’s ill-fated Ninth Legion had plausibly uttered. “This is Hadrian’s big f***ing plan? A wall?”. Quick memos scribbled on stone would have Latin teachers shaking their heads in horror.

More to the point, the whole thing’s a crudely reductive excuse to pit Romans against Picts and go splatter-mad, without building much in the way of suspense or anything in the way of character. A faintly disappointing Michael Fassbender and fellow survivors of the decimated Ninth team up to rescue their general (Dominic West, on good burly form), but it all goes horribly wrong, and they find themselves preyed upon by woad-smeared savages. Etain (Olga Kurylenko), who is meant to be the scariest huntress in all Caledonia, is more scowly irritant than fearsome villainness. It’s not a disaster, but it’s cheesy and generic stuff from Neil Marshall – too much guilt and not enough pleasure. C

You can’t fault Agora, a saga of ancient Alexandria, astronomy and religious strife, for gumption or ambition – just plain common sense. It’s of some egghead interest, but who on earth paid for it? Rachel Weisz, fetching in Egyptian shawls, stars as the philosopher Hypatia, who appears to have cracked gravity but not yet how the planets and sun interrelate. The director, Alejandro Amenábar, has a crashing great beef with Christian fundamentalism and the threat to scientific learning – everyone grabs what scrolls they can before the library’s ransacked. Meanwhile, the ridiculously handsome Max Minghella moons around as a lovestruck slave, vying with snooty-pants student Oscar Isaac for Hypatia’s affections.

Some clunky captions lurch us forward an hour in, and it’s still not clear what Amenábar thinks he’s doing – there are a few piercing images amid a lot of patience-taxing marketplace dust-ups, and some of the worst barnets in Christendom. Visibly recut, the movie has too little time to do itself intelligent justice – I wish it had been a miniseries. C

La danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (PG cert, 159 min) ★★★★★

A long but enrapturing documentary from the great Frederick Wiseman, this majestic film follows seven ballets from rehearsal through to performance, but there’s as much focus on sequins as pliés, catering as choreography. All is captured in this director’s famously quiet and unobtrusive style, achieving a measured tempo and feel for the subject which will beguile dance fans young and old. A

Extract (15 cert, 92 min) ★★

Mike (Beavis & Butthead) Judge struggles to make the grade with this ambling, half-hearted comedy about small business. Jason Bateman’s nicely beleaguered charm gets it off the ground, but Judge wastes the gifted Kristen Wiig as his bored wife, and Mila Kunis’s conniving con girl never earns her screen time. Fairly amiable, but that’s it. C

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (12A cert, 100 min) ★

Gurinder Chadha serves up a trainwreck romcom about unwed Roopi (Goldy Notay, deserving better) whose mum goes to murderous lengths to find her a suitor. The paste-grey apparitions of dead parents seem to be gunning for Ealing-esque dark laughs that never materialise, and a demented riff on the climax of Carrie hardly scoops us out of the doldrums. F

Cherrybomb (15 cert, 86 min) ★★

Rupert Grint doesn’t disgrace himself as a horny Irish teen – colour me surprised – and his co-stars are wayward but promising. So it’s a pity this reasonably polished slice of Skins-style youthsploitation makes such a deeply fake and undangerous lurch into pills-and-vandalism melodrama. C

The Calling (15 cert, 105 min) ★

Rum as a barrel of Sailor Jerry’s, Jan Dunn’s comedy-drama about Benedictine nuns in Ramsgate has Brenda Blethyn trying her best, Susannah York making half-deranged Sapphic overtures, and Rita Tushingham digging up mutant carrots. It ought to be set in Barking. D


NicksFlickPicks said...

Lovely to be getting these director's cuts of your Telegraph pieces!

Guy said...

I second that ... keep these coming, please. I'd much rather visit this house anyway.

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