20 November 2008

The Reel Deal #1

This time around...
Ghost Town


So as n of these are like those really big event type films that have warranted their own posts in the past, I'm going to make a big post that reviews both, you lucky people. It's a mixed bag here, so enjoy, as I tell you what to watch. I said, enjoy!


Who's in it? Ricky Gervais, (Stardust) Greg Kinnear, (Baby Mama) Tea Leoni, (Fun with Dick and Jane) Aasif Mandvi, (Spider-Man 2) and Kristen Wiig, (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

What's it all about?
Bertram Pincus, (Gervais) in addition to being the most implausibly named man in the world, is also a dentist whose people skills leave a lot to be desired. When complications during a routine operation lead to a near-death experience, he's left with the ability to see ghosts, wandering about the world with their unfinished business. Dragging him into the duty of resolving said business is Frank, (Kinnear) a smooth talking albeit deceased love-rat who wants Pincus to prevent his widow Gwen, (Leoni) from remarrying.

Any good?
The label 'romantic comedy' usually flashes warning bells for me. Not because I'm particularly detached from my feminine side, but because modern romcoms, like modern horror films, they're almost always crap. The only truly great romantic comedy I've ever seen is Shaun of the Dead, which is so good because it avoids cliches by dropping a whole bunch of zombies into the mix. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ghost Town uses much the same technique, only with ghosts instead. There is the odd cliche, as is inevitable in this genre, but it has to be said that the romantic subplot doesn't really register until the second act of the film, with more out and out comedy characterising the first half an hour.

The issue of course with this being a romcom is Ricky Gervais in the leading role. He's admitted himself that he's not as good an actor as he is a writer, and he's very much hindered in that early part of the film by the prepossessed image that we've got from his earlier material. Later, he's not exactly leading man material, and at times you wonder if he was perhaps miscast when he's supposed to be romancing Tea Leoni. Nevertheless, he does turn in a rather good performance on the whole, and it's not so difficult to imagine his Hollywood success continuing. Tea Leoni is surprisingly charming as Gwen, while Greg Kinnear is much the same as usual with Frank- his talent for playing smarmy self-confident characters is probably as prolific as that of Gervais, and the two play off each other well.

As a point of interest, Ghost Town is the directorial debut of David Koepp, a writer who previously brought us Spider-Man, Jurassic Park and regrettably, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He also co-writes the film, and it's in that capacity I wonder what the hell he was thinking. The plot and dialogue is sound, but it's like he went out of his way to think of the most awkward names for characters possible. Bertram Pincus doesn't roll off the tongue and not does Frank Herlihy. There's such a thing as being too original with names, and it jars a little in this film. I can't recall Gwen, who we're intended to believe is falling for Pincus, ever actually mentioning his name, because you can imagine how awkward it would sound. In this respect, she sounds like a woman who's forgotten a guy's name but doesn't want to embarrass herself by asking it. While Koepp does apparently think British people still call their kids Bertram, I can't fault his direction in this film. There are some beautiful shots and a great soundtrack that never really intrudes on the action, as some films are guilty of.

To end on a positive note, Ghost Town is easily the sweetest film I've seen this year. There's a scene towards the end of the film that had me feeling all warm inside, which is no mean feat for a cold bastard like me. The film is funny, charming, and rather brilliant. It's the kind of film I wanna watch at Christmas, because it left me in such a good mood coming out of it and also because it's reminiscent of films like It's A Wonderful Life, and to a greater extent, Harvey. Critics have pointed out the difficulties of making it in Hollywood when you're a British comedian, but if Gervais wants to really make a start, this was the right choice.


Who's in it?
Josh Brolin, (No Country for Old Men) Elizabeth Banks, (Zack and Miri Make A Porno) James Cromwell, (Spider-Man 3) Jeffrey Wright, (Quantum of Solace) and Richard Dreyfuss, (Poseidon)
What's it all about? Believe it or not, this is the perhaps premature biopic of that clearly popular and much loved statesman, George W. Bush, (Brolin) cutting between the feelings of inadequacy in comparison to the lofty expectations held by his father, (Cromwell) in his youth, and his tenure as the 43rd President of the United States.
Any good? To immediately dispense with a perhaps inexcusable pun, director Oliver Stone has created a film that beats around the Bush. There, now that's out the way, to the business of what's wrong with it.

Put simply, this is an extremely premature film. Bush doesn't even hand the keys to the Oval Office over to Obama (yay) until January, and yet Stone thinks he can make a reasoned portrayal of the man's entire life already. Indeed, he doesn't even manage that, missing out on dramatising key moments in Bush's administration, such as the controversial recount in the 2000 elections and 9/11. Instead, we seem to cut between two periods- Bush Sr. telling him what a dick he is, and the senior members of the administration as they make the decision to invade Iraq. Oh, and said senior members eat dinner. A lot. There are a ludicrous amount of dinner scenes in this film. If Stone had had just one of these scenes, in which Cheney or Rumsfeld or whoever is calmly discussing the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror, it would've been effective. By the tenth of these scenes, you're hoping Bush will choke on his food again, just to shake things up a bit.

The retrospective scenes are not much better. As mentioned, this film is just too premature to actually say anything conclusive about Dubya's life, and so Stone boils a lot of it down to the simple idea of Daddy Issues (TM). If the film had played it for laughs and portrayed Bush as a complete idiot, it would be worse, but it's utter conjecture to make his entire motivation something like "I'll make my daddy proud, I'm gonna be somebody! Hell, I'll be President!" The shifting around between the past and the present makes the aforementioned omissions from the timeline all the more jarring- would it not have been simpler to go for the traditional cyclic narrative? Show the ending scene (spoilers- it's Bush dreaming of playing baseball in a suit) first and then showing the rest from the beginning, in a linear order? I'm not one to go for simplicity over innovation, but when that innovation just doesn't work, it becomes more doubtful.

The saving grace of this film in fact is the performances of the cast. Josh Brolin does such a good Bush impression, you're submerged in it. You never think something along the lines of "He was good in The Goonies" or "Screw you, I'll go watch No Country for Old Men". It's a truly compelling performance that may well get an Oscar nod in the New Year. In fact, most of the cast are dead ringers for their real life counterparts, particularly Toby Jones as Bush's best buddy and possible evil dwarf, Karl Rove. Other notable performances are Richard Dreyfuss, who doesn't appear in enough movies these days, as a pitch-perfect Dick Cheney, and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell. Now the problem with the latter performace is the material he's been given to work with. Powell is a decorated soldier, and yet Stone portrays him as a total pussy. Yeah, fair enough, his reserved opposition to the invasion of Iraq is covered, but he's stifled by the others all too easily. Same with Brolin, whose performance would be the best of his career were it a better script. If this film had been made by someone else, a few years from now, Brolin would be a shoo-in for that Oscar. Instead, what we've got is a great performance in an ultimately pointless film.

It's impossible to escape the sense that Stone simply rushed this out to get it released in time for the recent presidential elections, more or less marking the end of Bush's two terms. Perhaps he's similarly planning to rush out films about the lives of the 40 presidents he hasn't done films about yet, (having previously directed Nixon and JFK) but I for one won't be going to see the frighteningly-possible biopic, Barack when it comes out in 2010, because it'll probably boil Obama's whole life down to being a wimpy kid at sports. The rating below is for the performances in this film alone, but don't even get me started on the totally random casting of Hornblower as Tony Blair. Was everyone's favourite Blair actor Michael Sheen simply unavailable, or did he object to the film being made at this point on grounds of common sense? If that's the case, Michael Sheen, shame on you! Dubya (apparently) only wants to play baseball and please his pappy!

Until next time then, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch,

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