Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Ghost

Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, as it's more accurately titled outside the UK, tells the story of Adam and Ruth Lang - a lightly-fictionalised Tony and Cherie Blair, played by Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams - soon after the PM's departure from number 10. Adam's previous ghostwriter, who had almost completed the PM's memoirs, has drowned in the sea surrounding the North American island on which the Langs are living. McGregor's character (who is never named) reluctantly takes on the job of finishing the book. Shortly after he arrives on the island, controversy erupts when a former colleague publicly accuses the PM of war crimes. As the Langs and their entourage - in particular, Adam's personal secretary and mistress, played by Kim Cattrall - are distracted by the intensifying media circus, the ghostwriter discovers clues left by his predecessor which point to a conspiracy in which the PM appears to have been a player.

Although the story has enough intrigue to keep your attention, it is heavily driven by dialogue and would probably work just as well as a theatre production or radio play. And because McGregor's investigation relies so heavily on written evidence, we end up having to read along with him - including watching him search the web for a few minutes as he tries to work out the connection between the PM and a supposed CIA agent. Also, for a so-called thriller, there is really little in the way of tension or indeed thrills. Apparently the movie cost $45m to produce. Most of this must have gone on actors' fees, for there is no evidence of extravagance in the set and special effects are almost non-existent.

The acting is largely decent but both Cattrall and McGregor struggle at times with their respective English accents, Cattrall resorting to speaking constantly like a Sloane in the dentist's chair - "you do raahlise haaw saahrious this is getting, don't you?", she asks him at one point - and McGregor adopting a bizarrely fey mockney twang. This is particularly noticeable in scenes involving just the two of them and left me wondering why McGregor, at least, wasn't allowed to talk with his own voice.

In short, The Ghost is a film that keeps your attention and is, on the whole, worth watching - but I'm sure it will be just as worth watching when it arrives on TV in a couple of years, and there is no pressing reason to seek it out sooner than that.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Cemetery Junction

I've followed and loved everything Ricky Gervais has done since the 11 O'Clock Show, so was prepared - despite the mildly disappointing The Invention of Lying - to be bowled over by Cemetery Junction, the film he co-wrote and directed with Stephen Merchant which went on general release on Friday. 

The film's story is derivative but enjoyable, involving a group of three lads in their early 20s growing up in a small town near Reading in the early 70s, struggling with boredom, the police, girls, the drudgery of work and the possibility of escape. Ricky Gervais plays the factory-worker father of the protagonist, Freddie, a clean-cut young man who is struggling to find his way, torn between his working-class background and his old childhood friends (with their self-destructive tendencies); his potentially lucrative but morally dubious and empty new job as an insurance salesman; and his desire to see the world. Meanwhile, he's developing a crush on a childhood sweetheart who is unfortunately engaged to his inattentive, sexist supervisor. 

What path will Freddie take? Finding out is a diverting experience which is bolstered by two sub-plots involving his geeky friend finding his first love while his other, cockier, mate learns a few harsh lessons about his past and his probable future. The jokes come largely at the expense of the former friend and are often, as you'd expect, laugh-out-loud funny (although the humour is both slightly too absurd for the context of an ostensibly realist film and not entirely new, being based on jokes that will be familiar at least to listeners to Gervais and Merchant's erstwhile Xfm radio show in the early 2000s).

Cemetery Junction is the sort of thing you'd be happy to take three generations of your family to see, as long as they weren't mortally offended by a couple of appearances of the word which the BBFC designates "very strong". One of those rare films where I was actually disappointed when the credits rolled because I would have liked to see more (it's only 95 minutes long, which is about right: the editing is tight yet the story is given room to breathe), it's not a masterpiece, and it dissipated from my mind almost as soon as I'd seen it - but if you're looking for an entertaining hour-and-a-half, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

This endearing 3D kids' movie tells the story of Hiccup, a nerdy and scrawny teenager living on an island otherwise populated by characters the size of Obelix the Gaul. The island is regularly raided by dragons, and the principal occupation of the islanders is dragon-slaying, in which Hiccup frequently attempts to take part - in good faith but with disastrous consequences. One day he finally manages to shoot down a dragon and goes off to recover the body to prove himself, but ends up instead making friends with it. The story moves on in an entirely predictable but thoroughly entertaining way. The flight sequences work superbly in 3D, and the rest of the film is not too distractingly rendered. (Like Avatar but unlike Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon was designed in 3D, and the difference shows.) The plot is engaging, the dragons are cute, and happily - as Steve Novella explains on Neurologica - the geek wins the day. I found it charming and walked out of the cinema feeling that all was well with the world.