My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Waste of talent

In 1956 Colin Clark, who is now a British documentary film-maker, spent some time with Marilyn Monroe while she was working on The Prince and Showgirl (1957) in England. He later published a book, which has now been brought to the screen by Simon Curtis in My Week with Marilyn (2011).

The film that Marilyn was starring in, based on a play by Terrance Rattigan, was supposed to be a chance for the world’s most famous star to move from clichéd Hollywood roles into something a little more intellectual but yet still very entertaining, the story of simple girl who’s seduced by an eastern European prince regent (Sir Laurence Olivier, who also directed). Instead, the picture turned out to be a struggle for everyone on the set, mainly due to the tension caused by the two leads, who clashed in their attitudes towards work and were unable to overcome their personal differences.

In Curtis’s film, Marilyn is played by Michelle Williams and Olivier by Kenneth Brannagh – Colin, (Eddie Redmayne), the third assistant to the director, become something of a confidant to Monroe, and her only true friend on the set.

Much has been written about Marilyn Monroe before, showing the complexity of her life and personality. Truman Capote’s Beautiful Child was a fascinating portrait of a conflicted soul who was lost in her world yet conscious of her power as a child-woman. And, while this short text gave me a lot to think about, My Week with Marilyn does not. It’s essentially a shallow story of a young boy falling for a movie star, or of a movie star using the young boy for a few weeks – not exactly inspiring or interesting. However, does portray the characters of the main actors with colour – Williams tries her best, but does not reveal the inner richness and sadness of Marilyn’s persona.

Branagh as Olivier, on the other hand, is aggressive, rude, yet vulnerable towards Monroe’s beauty and is quite brilliant, as is Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike and Julia Ormond as Vivian Leigh. In fact, Branagh and Dench’s acting is good beyond words, so much so that it makes you feel like they are out of place in an average movie like My Week….

Basically, it’s nothing more than a passably pleasant jaunt in which the talents of some amazing British actors have definitely been wasted.

99 mins.

La nuit américaine (Day for Night) (1973)

Reel life?

A chance to savour (in the UK) the re-release of a François Truffaut classic.

Films about the film-making process, such as Federico Fellini’s wonderful (1963), Richard Rush‘s excellent The Stunt Man (1980) and David Lynch’s sublime Inland Empire (2006), have tended to offer a unique (and frequently disturbing) perspective, both literal and cinematic, on what may or may not occur behind-the-scenes on a film set.

François Truffaut’s La nuit américaine (Day for Night) (1973), on the other hand, plays the idea more squarely for laughs, but is no less an artistic statement for all that.

Ferrand (Truffaut) is a writer-director with a lot on his plate – he’s committed to his latest film, Je vous presente Pamela, but his actress Julie (Jacqueline Bisset) is recovering from a nervous breakdown, Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud) his leading man is threatening to quit after his fiancée dumps him for a stunt man, and our man has to keep his cool, rise above, and ensure that the film is delivered on time. What are his chances, do you think?

The title itself refers to the American cinematic technique of filming during the day and, via the use of colour filters and low lighting, pass it for night – a metaphor for the art of film and the love of cinema that is required. Truffaut’s performance as Ferrand superbly realizes the joy, the energy, the obsession and likewise the fear, panic and nightmares that are all at the heart of the process, yet it is cinema itself that ultimately emerges as the ‘hero’, something without which life would be very much less involving.

Quite simply, from both a technical and narrative perspective, Truffaut’s film is the zenith of movies about the movie-making process – of its central characters, one is left with the impression that film making is more profound, more important than real life itself, a sentiment with which all confirmed cinephiles should concur. Enjoy.

115 mins. In English and French.

The Terminal (2004)

Terminal decline?

SPIELBERG-LITE: (Noun). Intelligence-insulting work produced by a great director choosing to rest on his laurels. See Always (1989), Hook (1991), The Lost World (1997), Minority Report (2002), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and this mess, The Terminal (2004).

Tom Hanks, reverting to the mush that made him famous, is Viktor Navorski, a New York-bound traveller. Armed only with luggage and a Big Apple tour-guide, he finds himself bereft of a homeland and trapped in JFK airport when war breaks out in Krakozia, the tiny eastern European state from which he hails. Officially, his nation now no longer exists and his passport is ‘unacceptable’ – he can’t set foot on US soil and, until the conflict is ended, can’t return home. He is now in the domain of Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) – the airport’s heartless head honcho who, while realizing that Navorski is now obliged to remain in the airport until the Krakozia situation changes, nevertheless embarks on a personal crusade to make life as difficult as possible for his unwanted guest. Ho-hum.

Well-meaning it may be, but that does not excuse what is perhaps the worst Spielberg film, period. Bereft of the enchantment and wonder that make even his most sentimental previous excesses watchable, The Terminal labours ponderously towards significance from take-off, without ever getting near its destination.

Hanks, while doing his best in the opening set-pieces to revive the spirit of Chaplin’s ‘The Tramp’ must still take his fair share of the blame – one can only assume that he has, by this stage in his career, an understanding of the difference between scripts that soar, jet-like, or sink like lead balloons, but, judging by the clunking ‘romantic’ dialogue that he and cabin attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) exchange, one wonders.

And the reasons behind casting the Welsh whinger will forever remain mysterious…Zeta-Jones’ personality is well suited to playing hard-nosed bitches á la Intolerable Cruelty (2003) and Chicago (2002), but a love-lorn perpetual mistress? Please.

Only Tucci emerges from this mess with any dignity – his character, though merely created to fill the narrative gap in which a Spielberg villain would normally reside, is nevertheless witty and nasty enough to provide some much-needed zest. As for the rest, ‘directorial artistic decline’ doesn’t even come close.

128 mins.

As Good as It Gets (1997)

Good as gold

Here’s that rarest of treats – a genuinely funny, sincere and moving ‘rom-com’ (and I normally hate the genre), with Oscar-winning performances from Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Seriously, though, what more could you ask for?

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that director James L. Brooks (he of The Simpsons and Terms of Endearment (1983) fame) is at the helm here; few, if any, directors seem to have his knack for believable, witty dialogue and credible characterizations in the too-often cliched romantic comedy arena, and he is helped enormously by co-writer Mark Andrus (Georgia Rule (2007)).

And with As Good as It Gets (1997), Brooks does not miss a trick – we are immediately introduced to the bitter, twisted world of succesful romantic author Melvin Udall (Nicholson), an obsessive-compulsive misanthrope who has little time for anyone or anything, least of all the dog belonging to his gay artist neighbour Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear), whom he initially dumps in the garbage chute at the film’s outset. It’s a tough little hound, though, as we are soon to learn – and we also learn, soon enough, that Udall may well have the beginnings of a soft spot for local waitress and single mother Carol Connelly (an excellent, tender and sexy Helen Hunt), who is just about the only person who’s prepared to put up with Melvin’s excesses, and on whom he relies to provide some order in his day by serving him breakfast.

But, when Carol is forced to quit her job to look after her sickly child, Melvin’s world is thrown into turmoil and, in reaching out a helping hand to Carol and Simon, begins to realise just how much he is missing out on…

The film’s joy lies in the fact that, thanks to the excellent performances all round, with Nicholson leading the field as the man with whom you *don’t* want to banter and the witty but frequently very poignant verbal exchanges that are at the story’s core, we are more than prepared to play ball as viewers with the set-up’s more unlikely aspects.

And Nicholson et al in full flow are simply delightful. To wit:

Melvin: Where do they teach you to talk like this? In some Panama City ‘Sailor wanna hump-hump’ bar, or is it getaway day and your last shot at his whiskey? Sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.

And, of course:

Receptionist: I can’t resist! You usually move through here so quickly and I just have so many questions I want to ask you. You have no idea what your work means to me.
Melvin: What does it mean to you?
Receptionist: [stands up] When somebody out there knows what it’s like…
[place one hand on her forehead and the other over her heart]
Receptionist: … to be in here.
Melvin: Oh God, this is like a nightmare.
[Turns around and presses the elevator button multiple times]
Receptionist: Oh come on! Just a couple of questions. How hard is that?
[Scampers up to Melvin]
Receptionist: How do you write women so well?
Melvin: I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.

But not forgetting:

Simon Bishop: Is this fun for you? You lucky devil. It just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it? I’m losing my apartment, Melvin. And Frank, he wants me to beg my parents, who haven’t called me, for help. And I won’t. And…I…I don’t want to paint any more. So the life that I was trying for, is over. The life that I had is gone, and I’m feeling so damn sorry for myself that it’s difficult to breathe. Lucky for you…you’re here for rock-bottom. You absolute horror of a human being.

If those three extracts don’t tell you all you need to know about why you must see this film, I’m wasting my time here. Enjoy, that’s all there is to it.

139 mins.

City Lights (1931)

City Lights (1931)When silence is golden…

I have struggled with the films of Charlie Chaplin down the years – perhaps because I have always considered his contemporaries Laurel and Hardy, or even Harold Lloyd, to be in fact much funnier, I by and large avoided closer inspection of much of Chaplin’s body of work – which was a mistake, as I discovered recently when I finally saw City Lights (1931) upon a good friend’s recommendation.

Funny, clever, or both? Well, before City Lights (1931) I would have assessed Chaplin as a masterful physical comedian whose routines, while very clever and immaculately choreographed, I did not find to be conducive to raising much more than a smile.

But with this, which must surely be Chaplin’s finest incarnation of his ‘Tramp’ character, I was surprised to find myself near enough bent double with laughter during the key set-pieces, and more than a little misty-eyed at the story’s conclusion.

The tale has all of Chaplin’s customary simplicity – ‘The Tramp’ (Chaplin) falls in love with a beautiful blind girl (Virginia Cherrill), whom he can only, to begin, worship from afar. She sells flowers and lives with her grandmother (Florence Lee) – the pair are in dire financial straits, as The Tramp discovers. Using his wits and the on-off friendship that he has developed with an eccentric, depressive (and somewhat drunken) millionaire (Harry Myers), our man makes every effort to help – and you can probably guess the rest.

Except that, in more than a few respects, you can’t – although the talkies had arrived some four years since with The Jazz Singer (1927), Chaplin as director chose to make City Lights his silent swan song, with the result that this is a film that emerges as being more than words, with set-piece following set-piece that demonstrate Chaplin’s virtuosity both as a clown and a consumate master of ceremonies. And it is my guess that you will cry at the end – do let me know, won’t you?

87 mins. Silent.

Greenberg (2010)

Greenberg (2010)Doing nothing well

Screenwriter-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale (2005)) offers an insight into the human mind, the human soul and the human ‘nothingness’, writes Otilia Ilie.

More of a realistic drama than a romantic comedy, Greenberg (2010) is a different kind of movie. US-style, yes. Emotionally intricate, yes. Weird, yes. Philosophical, yes. Funny? Hmmm – let me think about that.

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is a New Yorker who moves to LA into his brother Phillip’s (Chris Messina) house, while his family is away in Vietnam. He’s just out of a mental hospital and is on anti-depressants.

In his spare time, he writes complaint letters to several companies that he perceives have ‘failed’ him, and he’s also making himself useful building a house for Mahler, his brother’s dog. By and large, he seems perfectly fine with doing nothing.

While in town, he meets up with his former colleague Ivan (Rhys Ifans) and college sweetheart Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), not realizing that they have obviously moved on with their own lives, while he has not. He is lost, alienated and still living in the past – refusing to grow up, in fact.

However, when Greenberg meets 25-year-old ‘I-just-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-with-my-life’ Florence (Greta Gerwig), his brother’s personal assistant, he suddenly has a chance to examine his inner perspectives, reflecting on what she has cautiously told him: “Hurt people, hurt people.”

For sure, Stiller (Night at the Museum (2006), Meet the Parents (2000)) does fine in the laugh-fests, but it would appear on the strength of Grinberg that philosophical, witty and angrily reflective work suits him well, too.

There is something really (and enjoyably) off-kilter about the movie that Stiller as Greenberg communicates very well, and Baumbach’s script conveys the sense of losing one’s direction in life, then being able, by chance, to have another go at living it properly.

Who knows? Maybe there is a Grinberg in each of us – and it’s worth finding out for yourself.

107 mins.

Sex and the City 2 (2010)

Sex and the City (2010)Screw this

Seriously, though, what is it with the Sex and the City adaptations and their incredibly well-endowed…running times? I mean to say, men do account for some 49% of the western world’s population and, no matter how much modern women may bang on about asserting their independence, there’s no way that most of them won’t be going to see this without a man in tow. And only women bleed, right? Hmmm.

Now, back in the day, I acknowledged that the first cinema installment recounting the love-, fashion- and sex-lives of the curiously popular TV show, featuring Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), and three close friends Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) was a ‘fun frolic’ (kinda, ironically) but I am sorry – once, in this case, was definitely, absolutely, utterly enough. See what I did there?

But no – Michael Patrick King, who has to date directed ten episodes of the TV series and, erm, Sex and the City (2008) (which came in at 148 minutes, God save us all) has decided otherwise, so we are back into the perilously close-to-interesting realms of Bradshaw et al.

Seriously, though, the story is even more boring this time around – and, if truth be told, tasteless. From my own perspective, a ‘men with tits’ take on modern female mores is patronising and irritating in roughly equal measure, and that is just about all that this has to offer.

So, am I motivated by misogyny? How many people am I going to irritate with my preceding thoughts? In short, ‘No’, and ‘Don’t Know, But Lots, I Hope.’ Hope that works OK and, for whatever good it will do, may I ask you not to watch this film? Pretty please?

I thank you.

146 (count ’em) mins.

Notting Hill (1999)

Notting Hill (1999)British, warm and human

Recent favourable talk of The Bodyguard (1993) and, God save us all, Dirty Dancing (1987) has forced me also to indulge in more praise for another guilty pleasure. I have never been a huge fan of writer Richard Curtis’s rosy views of London, such as Love, Actually (2003) (which he also directed) or the Bridget Jones adaptations, but Notting Hill (1999), directed by Roger Michell (The Mother (2003)) managed both to make me laugh and move me. There, I’ve said it.

The movie’s success and sincerity is attributable entirely to the genuine chemistry between the archetypally foppish Hugh Grant as simple bookstore owner William Thacker and Julia Roberts as ‘world’s-most-famous-movie-star’ Anna Scott, with both pretty much playing themselves but having a ball doing so, which makes it near-impossible for the audience not to join in and enjoy the ride.

I mean, you know the score, right? Can a ‘normal’ man and an unbelievably famous (and beautiful) woman ever get it together? Hmmm, what do you think?

Along the way, there are some excellent set-pieces – William, representing Horse and Hound(?!), fumbling his way through an interview with Anna’s director, Rhys Ifans as Spike, who’s a dangerous man to have as a best friend and, of course, the genuinely blub-inducing ending, combine to wonderfully warm effect.

And, of course, it looks beautiful too – Curtis and Curtis’s directors always seem able to find charming locations in the ‘Big Smoke’, even if you don’t always buy the ‘Cool Britannia’ overtones.

Perfect for a date night, or a lazy Sunday afternoon.

124 mins.

Juno (2007)

JunoFlame on!

I’m going to take a different tack on this one. I liked Juno (2007) for numerous reasons. It was not the best movie ever made, but it had all the elements of a good movie. Well cast, strong script, well shot. As I came late to it, I thought I’d check the lay of the land and gauge public opinion on this. It seemed to be pretty much 50-50, love or hate with fairly little in the way of middle ground. I can understand that some films polarize opinion, and that’s both good and healthy. There are some people, however, who just like to hate. One such person is a user on IMDb, who goes by the name of Anirishmanstale, which is an anagram of Annihilates Rams. Interesting.

In this post I have decided to retort to this person’s ‘review’ of Juno with what I hope are at least salient and relevant points.

I am not scared to face you, An (as I will now refer to you, the rest being too long and probably not relevant). I tried to send you a message via IMDb, but I refuse to supply my account details or credit card for the ‘privilege’ of responding to your blind hatred. IMDb take note – this is not acceptable. Hopefully, you will be ego-surfing one day and find yourself on here. I look forward to your response.

So, without apology, and in the spirit of fair use, I respond to An’s critique of Juno (italics are his/hers):

If you have been one of the unfortunates to have actually seen Juno, and hated it, (and come here sometimes as I do to relish in the negative reviews), you have probably read and heard just about every negative comment there is to offer by now concerning this horrendous movie. Rather than repeat the obvious flaws that so many others before me have picked up on, I thought I would offer a few new and original observations that seemed to have gone unnoticed, or unmentioned about this dreadful movie.

So, An – do you mean unfortunate to have seen it, or unfortunate to have hated it? Why do you come to read negative reviews – do you not trust your own ‘review’? Does someone need vindication? New and original? I look forward to that.

1. Many have taken offense at the blatant bad taste in making a seemingly jovial comedy about teen pregnancy. But I have failed to see anyone anywhere take notice of the small, but clearly defined subplot of Juno’s best friend and her penchant for “doing it” with teachers. In case anyone hasn’t been reading any headlines lately, teachers, coaches, aides and other folks we trust to educate and set a good example for our children ‘poo tanging’ sic with underage students is at an all time high. Not exactly something to poke fun at. Yet it has seemed to go unnoticed in this film’s wealth of wretchedness.

An, it is a fact of life that teenage girls have crushes on their teachers (however repulsive they may be, as made patently obvious in the film), and teenage boys have the same thing for female teachers. I don’t know in which part of the world you went to school, but come on – that didn’t happen? There is no empirical evidence for her ‘doing it’, just a teenage girl’s obsession. And yes, it is funny because it happens to us all. Apart from you, apparently. And the word is ‘poontanging’, FYI.

2. We are supposed to find Juno funny, snappy, hip, and of course grow close and affectionate of her as the movie progresses. However, can anyone reading this actually feel they would sympathize, or care about a young woman that when first seeing her baby in the ultra sound says: “I can’t believe there are saps that actually cry at this moment”. Oh God……(sniff), did that ever come to getting the old eyes welling here for a girl so sweet. (Enter: Extreme sarcasm).

Two words – teenage bravado. How the hell do you think teens get to be older people? They have to deal with all kinds of emotional changes, and yes, some of them get pregnant. It is as much a knee-jerk reaction as anything else. Why can’t you see that? I think that moment in the film captured a genuinely teenage posture. I also believe that, if you need to flag sarcasm, it ain’t working.

3. I noticed that even some of the most critical of reviewers here couldn’t help but praise the performance of Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner as the idiot adoptive parents. Try as I might to find something to like about this movie, I cannot give any credit at all to Bateman and Garner. Someone please tell me what they did to get any recognition. I just cannot see it.

Really? Nothing? There was a couple who had everything – good jobs, lovely home, and yet there’s something missing for at least one of them. Bateman played the dutiful (up to a point) husband with aplomb, never once seeking to take advantage of Juno, even though (he knew) she was secretly in awe of him. Garner was a driven, successful woman with a baby missing from the equation. She loved her husband and knew of his shortcomings, preferring to keep him on a short leash rather than let him go. What part of that subtle and accomplished performance from Bateman and Garner did you not get?

4. Oh and speaking of Jason Bateman, why is it that when he up and tells Juno that he is leaving his wife, not a word is mentioned in criticism of why he went and took out a full blown ad, met with Juno, and set up the whole adoption if he was all that wishy washy and unhappy to begin with? Oh…Juno gets mad at him all right and throws a tantrum. But she never once says: “Why did you set this whole thing up and promise me a set of parents if you weren’t even happy? You stupid bastard.” Not a word is mentioned about that. Did anyone else besides me even notice that as rather strange? Pea-brained Bateman, later in the scene, tells Vanessa that he never said “he would be a good father”. Yet earlier in the interview scene Juno asks Mark if he is ready to be a father and he says he “looks forward to coaching soccer and helping build volcano’s for science projects”. Maybe it’s me but that sounds to me like someone who is saying he will be a good father. I guess the director and everybody else involved in this rotten movie forgot to proofread the whole script.

Crikey, An – you really don’t get this film at all, do you? The whole Bateman scene where he was talking about the soccer coaching and the volcano exploding/science project motif was simply that – a motif of how he imagined his trapped existence to be. The look on Bateman’s face would have given it away – had you not been wrapped up in your own smug dislike of the film, you may have noticed. It’s called acting, An – a very useful skill in films, historically. Seriously, a child could have spotted that he wasn’t serious about what he was saying.  The reason Juno was not giving him a truly hard time was that a) she could see that he was never cut out for fatherhood in reality – being trapped in his post-teen would-be lifestyle, and b) the ad, she could see very quickly, was a cover as he tried to save his marriage (he said it was a stalling technique if you recall), he was thinking that if he played along, he’d get a few more months out of it at the outside. He wanted to be happy, but on equal terms.

5. To carry on with Jason Bateman and his running out on Jennifer Garner at the 11th hour, what about ‘Vanessa’s’ reaction to it all. She neither cried, screamed, carried on, slapped him, or did anything else emotionally substantial for a woman that just found out a month before a new baby is to enter her life that she is being divorced, and all at once an instant single mother. Please tell me ladies, is there any woman out there whose biggest reaction to such an event would be sitting down on their stairs and sighing, as was Vanessa’s reaction? She acted more like he had just informed her the sewer is backing up. In real life, or even in a real movie, Jason would have been awakened by a well aimed two by four across the head and dumped on the curb.

Again, that whooshing sound is the point passing you by at 120kph. Vanessa already knew the relationship was at an end, but like Mark, didn’t want to face the facts. The baby thing was the last tacit chance for them both to salvage something from their shell of a marriage. This was so evident throughout every scene they were in, you’d need to be in another country to not notice. I can only guess you are male by this statement. I sincerely hope the next (first?) girlfriend you get reacts like Vanessa, in a cool, calm and female way to situations and not like some imaginary hard-arsed bitch that only exists in the kind of movies you obviously like to watch. Too much? Tell me I’m wrong.

In conclusion, Juno is the latest, and by far the worst example of just how far one will reach to avoid not being called cool. The real irony here however is that this garbage of a movie that has become the poster child for cool, is in essence the most totally plastic movie I have ever seen. People love the film so that they can call themselves cool. They laugh at it to be cool, are brought to tears at the end to be cool, and tell everyone else who hates it that they do so for they are NOT cool. Being cool simply has to be the one common denominator in all favorable reviews of this movie for Juno can be literally eviscerated with flaws. The same caliber of Academy members that honored movies like Schindler’s List (1993), and A Beautiful Mind (2001) cannot possibly consider this film to be worth even showing up at the awards for. But nowadays heaven forbid they, or anyone else be accused of being “soooooo out of it”. Alas, I remember a happy time when the Academy of arts and sciences were proud, card carrying members of the ultimate institute of snobbery. They thrived in snubbing the cutesy pie, record setting ticket sale movies for whatever theatrical release they considered totally dashing, and debonair. I can actually remember hating them for that back in my early days of youth. Now I can only hope we see a return of it. Let me be the very first, the ‘Norma Rae’, if you will, of those that are willing to hold their head high and proclaim they are so very…uncool. Ladies and gentleman…this film sucked.

Quote count:

Juno is the latest, and by far the worst example of just how far one will reach to avoid not being called cool.’ An, what does this even mean?

‘The most totally plastic movie’. Paraphrasing Holden Caulfield does not make you big or clever.

‘Being cool simply has to be the one common denominator in all favorable reviews of this movie for Juno can be literally eviscerated with flaws.’ I don’t notice you naming any flaws An – just a lot of hot air. If you can justify your position (seriously), please get in touch, we will be happy to publish our dialogue. And, for the record, one cannot “literally eviscerate” a film – it has no intestines nor organs to be removed.

‘A happy time when the Academy of arts and sciences were proud, card-carrying members of the ultimate institute of snobbery.’ So, you prefer ‘snobbery’ (your word) to awarding Oscars and the like by virtue of a film being popular, interesting or just plain feel-good? Please, please come on and defend yourself – I welcome it.

I notice you didn’t ‘review’ Norma Rae (1979), An – why not? Perhaps you liked it too much and didn’t have the vocabulary to ‘big it up’? Come on to Picturenose with a blinding drop-dead review of Norma Rae and I promise you we’ll post it. Game on.

In short, I enjoyed Juno a lot. It was a harmless movie with a good story and some fine characterizations. Just goes to show that you can’t please all the people, eh?

96 mins.

What Just Happened? (2009)

What Just Happened? (2008)Not-so picture perfect…

It’s time for Hollywood to get all introspective again – thankfully, director Barry Levinson is something of an old hand at being scurrilous about Tinseltown. His genuinely scathing and frequently hilarious Wag the Dog (1997) takes its rightful place among ‘films about filmmaking’ classics that include Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002).

What Just Happened doesn’t quite make the same grade but, thankfully, it marks a return to form for Robert De Niro as many (including this reviewer) were beginning to despair of him ever again choosing a script worthy of his undeniable talents, following such dogs as Godsend (2004) and the distinctly ill-advised re-pairing with Pacino, Righteous Kill (2007).

Art Linson’s adaptation of his own book mostly does the job, however – De Niro (who was also the star of Wag the Dog) plays fading, ageing Hollywood producer Ben, and we are invited into two weeks of his frenetic, stress-soaked existence, as he strives to keep his latest picture Fiercely, starring Sean Penn, on track to headline at Cannes, the director Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott) off the sauce and pick-me-ups and his own boss Lou Tarnow (the ever-marvellous, beautiful Catherine Keener) out of the editing room.

She doesn’t like the ending, you see (a dog gets shot in the head), the test-screening audience loathed it, and she can call final cut, if Ben and Brunell don’t dance to her tune. Brunell’s citing ‘artistic integrity’, however, and he’s not averse to throwing his own tantrums…

Meanwhile, Ben is struggling to make real time for one of his ex-wives Kelly (Robin Wright Penn), whom he still loves, and his 17-year-old daughter Zoe (Kristen Stewart), amid an endless round of important calls, vital meetings and ‘groupie’ sessions. And then there’s Bruce Willis (wonderful as ‘himself’), who is adamantly (and violently) refusing to shave a six-month cultivated beard for his next action romp. Ben has to keep all the balls up in the air, and it’s a dirty job…

De Niro is central to the film’s charm – since he first surprised everyone with his comic touch, way back in Midnight Run (1988), he has frequently proved how effortlessly he can get the laughs. There is perhaps too much of a sense of skimming surfaces, both of Ben’s character and the Machiavellian manoeuvres so central to the daily grind in LA, for What Just Happened to be considered a classic but, then again, there is an awful lot of fun to be had watching the ensemble cast go at it, playing themselves and playing off each other. It’s a wrap…

104 mins.

Breakfast on Pluto (2006)

Picturenose would take this opportunity to pay tribute to Hélène Noël, late of Brussels – a good friend of Colin’s and the love of James’s life, who was taken from us way too soon, at the age of 42, on 16 June 2008. Hélène was a woman of much love and many gifts and talents, not least of which was her ability to light up a room with her smile. A frequent contributor to Brussels’ Together, she also loved film (and Ireland), as the following review shows. Thank you for your attention.

A few years ago, I used to spend numerous weekends in the small town of Balbriggan, Co Dublin, Ireland. I used to catch an inevitable ‘Irish cold’ as soon as I landed. Weekend time was spent in mad nights in Dublin, followed by Irish sea walks to recover, and, above all, because I wanted to see this liquid dark silver beauty once again.

On our way, each time my (then) boyfriend and I passed in front of his primary school, my companion told me that when he was a boy, one of the school’s teachers, wrote his first novel: it was a story about a mouse, The Adventures of Shay Mouse: The Mouse from Longford. The teacher was Patrick McCabe.

A few days ago, this ex-boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go to the cinema. I rarely refuse this kind of proposal, except of course when made by another ex-boyfriend (I am a fanatic collector), renowned for his huge appetite for dubious gore fantasies.

The film in question, by Neil Jordan, was an adaptation of a novel by the former mouse-storyteller Balbriggan teacher.

As soon as the images came alive, I was sent back several seas West from my seat. I mean, when you speak of Ireland, most of the time people think about hordes of redheads celebrating St Paddy’s Day all year long when they’re not bombing everything around them. What I imagined in my private inner cinema resembles very closely the images on the (not-so big) screen at the Actor’s Studio – even if the story actually begins on a street in London, where we follow a young woman and a baby.

Just after, we are on the front steps of a presbytery, where another breezy blonde abandons her baby boy. The story of Patrick ‘Kitten’ Braden (Cillian Murphy, who is incredible) has begun and it promises to be a (mis)adventure. It takes place in the 1970s, and details Patrick’s tribulations and subsequent ‘showbiz’ careers, not to mention the provos and, of course, a London bombing. But that’s just details. What Kitten really wants is to find his, no, her, mother.

It’s a world of despair we live in, as you know for sure. But still, angels exist, even when contemplated in 36 chapters. At least, so I believe. In angel-hood, you can even find fatherhood.

You never know, you know…

135 mins.