4 January 2010

A Brit Inconsistent

With 2009 more or less over and done with for this blog, there's enough time to cover two late entries to last year's cinematic catalogue, and they're both British efforts. People might have noticed that half of my top 10 films of last year were British productions, which might suggest that we're getting better at it. Or that I'm intensely patriotic. Either way, I can't really put Nowhere Boy or St. Trinian's- The Legend of Fritton's Gold even close to any of those five films in terms of quality.

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.


Fresh off the back of his departure as "Doctor Who", David Tennant launches the plot of St. Trinian's- The Legend of Fritton's Gold as the misogynistic Lord Pomfrey, the leader of a secret sexist society called AD1. He and his ancestors have been at odds with the Fritton family since the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and is prepared to unleash hell upon headmistress Camilla and her niece Anabelle. He's after a secret treasure that the Frittons stole from the Pomfreys centuries ago, but the students of St. Trinian's school rise to the challenge and try to get to the treasure first. It's apt that this film's plot is all about chasing money and riches when its predecessor was one of the most successful British independent film of the last decade. There's no other reason to make this bugger.

Yeah, David Tennant is brought into prominence in that summary, and that's possibly because I'm a Doctor Who fan, but it's mostly because I honestly have no idea why he's in this. He's the RSC's Hamlet! Ironically, the very script seems to rub this fact in his face, with the climax being set at the Globe Theatre and staging a "hilarious" performance of "Romeo and Juliet", with a be-dragged Rupert Everett being an impromptu Juliet. "Christ, this is interminable", says Pomfrey, and it's almost like Tennant has just realised where he is and broken character. More than that though, I bring Tennant to the fore to point out the key contradiction of the film- we're presented with a villain who hates women. This is a film about girl power, because women are individuals too, and that's why the Nerdy One, the Chavvy One, the Ditzy One and the Twins have to stop him! Come on, it's already hard enough to root against the fucking Tenth Doctor, without the cookie-cutter heroines seeming to prove his archaic views about women!

Of course I'm aware that women aren't silly or uniform, and that's why it's one of the key failings of The Legend of Fritton's Gold. Then again, I can list many more of those flaws- it's over-long, not very funny and still quite leering about its nubile young protagonists. It also does that really desperate trope of referencing Proper Films in an effort to prevent the older and saner audience from trying to drown in their large Coke. A reference to The Exorcist in a film aimed at pre-teen girls? Really? These are pretences that the film is anything more than a sexed-up piece of nostalgia for the original St. Trinian's films of the 50s and 60s and a cash-in on the success of the more recent 2007 remake. Some of the more talented cast soldier on well by camping their way through it, especially Tennant, Everett and Colin Firth. Neither can I really fault Tallulah Riley or Monserrat Lombard, the latter of whom gave me the only laugh of the film.

St. Trinian's- The Legend of Fritton's Gold is formulaic filmmaking, specifically the formula of its predecessor. If a St. Trinian's 3 were forthcoming in 2011, you could almost call this the cinematic equivalent of panto. Uncomfortable to sit through, with its cartoonish stereotypes and Rupert Everett in drag, and rolls around semi-annually at Christmas. Throw in a glut of bawdy jokes and all you have missing is for the audience to start booing David Tennant, who I hope will now go in a different direction with his film career than this. Co-starring with Sarah Harding off of Girls Aloud, and she really might have been credited as that, isn't the best start. The high camp factor is generally harmless, but the film really has very little to recommend.

Nowhere Boy
is a study of the eighteen-year-old John Lennon, and also covers the formative years of the Beatles. John is something of a repressed genius, living with his uptight aunt, Mimi. When his beloved uncle dies suddenly, he's thrown into turmoil. Shortly after, he discovers that his biological mother, Julia, lives just around the corner from Mimi and begins meeting her in secret. The two of them share a love of rock and roll that brings them together, but the shadow of their separation so early on looms large, and John eventually becomes determined to find out the truth.

I'm not the biggest aficionado of The Beatles, but it's one of my resolutions for 2010 to finally get around to listening to their full back catalogue. I know several people who could probably tell me all about John Lennon's early years and why I shouldn't enjoy listening to "Octopus' Garden" as much as I do, but I hope that prepared me for Nowhere Boy a little better- the film should embed an understanding of Lennon. As a precaution though, I went along with two Beatles fans as a barometer. One of them said afterwards that they'd fabricated much of the backstory for dramatic purposes, and in my capacity as a reviewer, I'd say that's possibly one of the film's failings. Sure, we see plenty of the lairy Lennon haring around 1950s suburbia being cooler-than-thou, and newcomer Aaron Johnson's performance is fair enough, but this isn't the most probing biopic you'll ever see.

On the other hand, it's refreshing to see that Lennon isn't entirely idealised to enamour new audiences with some legend of his life. Johnny Cash's estate probably sold more records following the release of Walk the Line, but this quite rightly sticks with the period it's chosen, with the clever exception of an opening twang of "A Hard Day's Night", retooled to become more foreboding than was ever intended. More than that, I'm led to believe that Lennon was a well-reputed arsehole, and that arrogance is transposed to Johnson on-screen well enough. The problem for me was that I'd really rather have seen more of Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott-Thomas as Julia and Mimi, the two sisters feuding for John's love. That's where the real story is in Nowhere Boy, but these two are sidelined by almost Walk Hard-esque introductions to the young Paul McCartney and the young George Harrison. If you want to know why Ringo Starr's not there, witness Lennon's cavalier attitude to getting a drummer for his first band, the Quarrymen. There's not a lot of Ringo love.

Quite aside from the quibbles about accuracy, both Beatles fans seemed to enjoy Nowhere Boy, so on that count I can only give it a thumbs up. I'm sure I'm not the first person to be telling you about this film if you're a properly paid-up Beatles fan though, so shall say this to those who don't know the ins and outs of the band's members and their lives. It's a very likable film indeed that's very easy to relax into. The trouble is that the emotional content of later scenes jars with the happy-go-lucky stuff earlier on. It's not a bad film, but with its unlikable teenage protagonist, it does feel like an episode of "Skins" transplanted into the 1950s. With some of the Beatles in it.

Right, now we can start 2010 proper. I'm thinking I might skirt around Did You Hear About The Morgans? purely because I don't need that kind of pain in my life, but this week sees the release of Daybreakers and The Road, as well as the arrival of Korean vampire horror Thirst at a cinema within reaching distance of your faithful reviewer. Expect reviews of those films shortly, but in the meantime, please share your own thoughts on Nowhere Boy and St. Trinian's 2 if you've seen them in the comments below.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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