The Illusionist

Sleight of bland.

I’ve seen The Illusionist in the DVD shops here for some time and finally bought a copy out of curiosity. I must admit that I only half-watched it, and missed a chunk at the end when Jane, who has arrived back from her holiday, came knocking and we had a bit of a chat. I think my reason for not really being engaged by the film was that it came across as a movie aimed at a younger audience. Also, I thought the pacing felt a bit slow, and there was no real drama.

I’m really only mentioning the film because when I went to the Guardian this morning, there was Peter Bradshaw’s review of the film, which has only just been released in the UK. It’s been available here on DVD for months whcih, once again, shows how the UK always seems to be last on the list for new releases.

Marie Antoinette – the pop video.

(Since I’ve mentioned one film, I may as well work my way through the rest of the ones I’ve viewed recent.) Marie Antoinette is the story of Marie’s life from the time she was sent to France as a bride to the start of the French Revolution. Marie must find a place in the French court which is both exceedingly anally retentive, and a place of bitchy gossip and social intrigue. The Dauphin, her husband, is more interested in locks than he is with his new bride, and it takes some time before Marie fulfils her duty – to give birth to the next King of France.

The soundtrack is either baroque or pop, with large chunks of Vivaldi (? Four Seasons, I think, but it’s so long since I’ve heard the Seasons that I recognise the music without being sure of the composer or the work) which, in the modern mind, may suit the look of the age, but which should really have been something by a French composer and a little more contemporary, while the pop included Kings of the Wild Frontier by Adam and the Ants.

Marie Antoinette is nice to look at, but I felt that it lacked depth, being the sort of film which you might expect to see on MTV or some other music channel. The different styles of music used throughout the film may be being used to contrast the old (the French court and its manners) with the new (the zesty Marie), but the juxtaposition doesn’t work for me. Perhaps a more judicious combination would have been Lully or Couperin for the French court and Mozart for Marie. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not one I’m inclined to watch a second time.

Little Miss Sunshine – shake it, baby.

Alan Arkin won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the family’s foul-mouthed coke-snorting grandfather who dies on their road trip to California to enter the youngest daughter in the Little Miss Sunshine talent pageant. Arkin may have deserved the Oscar ahead of Eddie “Storms-out-in-a-huff-because-he-didn’t-get-the-award” Murphy, but there’s nothing special about the film which doesn’t really do anything new or different.

We have our typical American family. In other words, they’re a dys­funct­ional bunch. The gay younger brother has just tried to commit suicide; the dorky looking son has taken a vow of silence until he can get into the US Air Force; the father is meant to be a motivational speaker, but his career is going nowhere.

They all decide to go to accompany the rather plain daughter to the pageant, but along the way their car breaks down and they’re forced to drive a VW Combie instead. Cue hilarious fact – you need to push-start it to get it going, or be on a hill; and a little bit later, the horn won’t stop sounding. Granddad, having exhorted his grandson to f_ck whole bunches of women, dies and in order to avoid a lot of red tape the family smuggles the body out of the hospital and take it with them. There is, of course, the inevitable encounter with a policeman who lets them go when he finds a porno mag. (I wasn’t really paying attention at this point, so I’m not sure why the policeman let them go.)

There’s a mad dash to reach the pageant in time and although one of the organisers is against allowing them to register, the daughter enters. We know that her grandfather taught her her routine. The rest of the con­test­ants are clearly extremely talented and more attractive than the daughter whose performance comes last. What does she do? She dances like a strip­per much to the outrage of the contest organisers. In response to an at­tempt to get the girl off stage, the whole family gets up and dances with her in a show of solidarity.

Apart from Arkin and the dance at the end, Little Miss Sunshine is neither different nor especially funny.

The Departed – I feel betrayed.

The Departed is based on the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs which, apart from watching the first couple of minutes to see whether there were English subs, I’ve never watched. Perhaps that’s a good thing because the comments I’ve seen online about the two films compare The Departed unfavourably with Infernal Affairs. I must now watch the original version. It gets worse. I’ve had that for well over a year. In fact, probably something approaching 18 months.

The story is about two undercover policemen, but there’s a catch. One of the policemen is undercover in Elvis Costello’s gang; the other, Costello’s man watching the detectives from the inside. The question is which one will be found out first.

To cut a long and convoluted story short, Leonardo di Caprio finds out that Matt Damon is the rotten egg, but gets killed trying to bring him to justice. Matt Damon then whacks his rescuers and is then bumped off by Mark Wahlberg.

Unlike the films I’ve reviewed so far, this one was engaging, even if it seemed that Costello’s gang was all undercover policemen. When it seemed that di Caprio was about to be rumbled, it turned out there was a second undercover policeman in the gang. Worth seeing.

Lonely Hearts – psycho-Salma.

Lonely Hearts is a film about a couple who pretended to be brother and sister and went around the States meeting women through lonely hearts columns and killing them. Salma Hayek and Jared Leto are the killers; John Travolta and James Gandolfini the policemen who are trying to track them down.

The film is bog standard. Given that it’s set in the late 40s and early 50s, it has a slightly noir feel to it. Gandolfini does the narration while Travolta is the cop with a tortured past of some sort. They catch the villains who fry in the chair. End of story. There were several occasions when the police came close to catching the killers, but these moments lacked any real drama since the audience probably knew in the main that the pair had been apprehended.

Sophie Scholl – speaking out.

Sophie Scholl has been available here for some time. I think I bought the film some time last year, but it was only in German. This time it came with English subs. Sophie and her brother were part of the White Rose Group who spoke out against the war. When they left piles of leaflets around a university in Munich, they were caught by a caretaker and arrested by the Gestapo. The Scholls admit to what they’ve done and after a short, pointless show trial, they are executed the same day.

Watch it.

Star Wreck. In the Pirkinning – beam me up, Skotti.

Star Wreck is a Star Trek parody made over seven years by an amateur Finnish film making. Considering the maker’s amateur status, the quality of the film is quite good. Some of the humour is probably being lost in trans­lation from Finnish. It’s a bit dull at times and doesn’t bear comparison with Galaxy Quest which I thought skewered the whole Trek genre, whereas Star Wreck seems to be both a parody and an hommage.


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