Aladdin

What better way to kick off a lazy Bank Holiday Monday than with a Disney classic? With a Pixar one of course, but I’ve watched most of those, so Disney it is. Notable in the Disney archives for being the first to use big name actors to voice its characters (Robin Williams steals the show as the Genie, even though he isn’t in the first third of the film) , Aladdin doesn’t have a lot else going for it to set it apart from the more renowned Disney pictures such as Beauty and the Beast, the Lion King or the Jungle Book. Yes, the devious royal advisor Jafar is a masterclass in how to draw an evil character (acute angles, lots of acute angles, think a dehydrated Peter Cushing), Gilbert Gottfried is excellent as the cantankerous parrot Iago and there is some of the studios greatest comedy from Williams’ improv and one liners (“10,000 years will give you such a crick in the neck!”), but the plot is thin, the Arabian stereotypes broad (and at times a little racist, a wink to Uncle Walt maybe?) and most of the songs are forgotten before the credits roll, with only A Whole New World and Genie’s Never Had a Friend Like Me leaving any kind of impression.
The animation is largely flawless, although touches of CGI sap the warmth from the otherwise hand-rendered imagery, and it is hugely impressive just how much characterisation has been given to a tasselled rug, but the plot is too thin and predictable, the morals daubed too thickly, even for a Disney, to make this a must-see.
Choose life 6/10
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Dangerous Liaisons

John Malkovich: object of desire? Talk about playing against type. As the Vicomte Sebastien de Valmont in 18th Century France, he is challenged by the Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil (Glenn Close) to deflower Uma Thurman’s virginal bride-to-be Cecile. Deeming the task too easy, he instead chooses to bed Michelle Pfeiffer’s Madame de Tourvel, a virtuous, devout, happily married woman staying with the Vicomte’s aunt. The Marquise then drafts in Keanu Reeves’ Danceny to woo Cecile instead. If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because it was adapted more recently (and poorly) in the modern-set Cruel Intentions, which succeeded in dumbing down the many deceits and allegiances in the plot, but retains the deeply unlikable protagonists, too rich for their own good and revelling in destroying the lives of those around them.
More erotic than most period dramas, with necklines set to plunging and cleavages set to stun, this sees more bedhopping than a season of Desperate Housewives. Malkovich is on excellent form as the callous, vain and calculating lothario, deemed “conspicuously charming” and Close walks the line between on/off romance and hardnosed bitch, but every time Keanu opens his mouth you get the feeling Bill and Ted got their time travelling phone booth stuck in the reign of Louis XV, so thick and distracting is the slacker dude lilt he so desperately tries to hide.
Choose life 5/10

Bad Lieutenant Port of Call

This is not a remake, nor is it a sequel or prequel to Abel Ferrara’s Harvey Keitel-starring 1992 Bad Lieutenant, although there is one key similarity, in that the titular law enforcement officer is a corrupt drug addict attempting to solve a crime, in ’92 the rape of a nun, in Port of Call, the murder of a drug dealer, using their own, unconventional methods.
In this film, the drug-fuelled lead role is not so much played as inhabited, snorted, smoked and injected by a wired, tense and almost hunched Nicolas Cage, giving his best performance since Leaving Las Vegas, alongside a cast of largely unknowns or non-actors (including Xzibit as the drug kingpin lead subject of the investigation). As is traditional with maverick cop movies, there is more than just the case plaguing Cage’s Lt. Terence McDonagh, and at one point he must also juggle looking after his father’s dog, protecting a witness to the case, his friendship/relationship with Eva Mendes’ high class hooker/partner in narcotics and an investigation into his unorthodox interrogation of the witness’ grandmother, jeopardising the life of an elderly woman in her care. The very fact that McDonagh faces the repercussions of his actions sets this aside from other films in the genre, that so usually see their protagonists commit crimes in the name of justice with no consequences.
As amazingly intense as Cage’s performance is, the film itself never quite grips the attention. There is little here that hasn’t been seen before (other than hallucinations of iguanas and the break-dancing of a recently deceased hoodlum), but director Werner Herzog should be commended for rewriting the script to set the action in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in order to provide the city with jobs and income.
Choose life 5/10

Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman is a great actor, this cannot be questioned. Whether leading a small film in the likes of Synecdoche New York, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and the Savages, outshining the rest of an ensemble cast in Magnolia, Boogie Nights, the Boat that Rocked and the Talented Mr. Ripley or chewing the scenery as the bad guy in a big screen blockbuster like Mission Impossible 3, he always sinks completely into his characters, be they good-natured yet uncouth storm chasers, an intimidating phone-sex supervisor/mattress salesman or an outspoken rock journalist. With Hoffman’s acting ability in little doubt, it’s a wonder this film was made, as other than showcasing his talent for inhabiting the persona of another individual, there is little to recommend for this drab, largely plot-less offering .
Hoffman plays acclaimed writer Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), visiting a small town to document the aftermath of a murder for a magazine. Fascinated with the case, and even more so by one of the convicted killers, he expands his piece to become the last book he ever finished, In Cold Blood. The only real narrative drive is that of the court proceedings and Truman writing his book, interspersed with various parties and conversations with his friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) as she herself achieves publication and film adaptation of her own seminal novel To Kill A Mockingbird, but what the film lacks in purpose it makes up for in performances.
Choose life 5/10

The Challenge – Overdue Posts

I’m still alive, still here, don’t worry, just got really far behind on the posts, and the sheer volume I haven’t written is putting me off writing more, so I’m just going to list those that I’ve seen but not yet reviewed, with a score and rating. I promise they will be reviewed eventually, hopefully over the next few weeks in dribs and drabs, but they’re never going to get done otherwise.
Shaun of the Dead – Choose film – 9/10
Hot Fuzz – Choose film – 8/10
Dirty Harry – Choose life – 5/10
Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit – Choose life – 5/10
Kick-Ass – Choose film – 7/10
Avatar – Choose film – 6/10
Muriel’s Wedding – Choose life – 4/10
Big Trouble in Little China – Choose life – 2/10
Shine – Choose life – 5/10
The General – Choose film – 9/10
Seven Chances – Choose film – 8/10
Our Hospitality – Choose film – 7/10
Steamboat Bill Jr. – Choose film – 6/10
Sherlock Jr. – Choose film – 9/10
There’s Something About Mary – Choose film – 7/10
Shallow Grave – Choose life – 6/10
Monsters – Choose film – 7/10
Easy Rider – Choose life – 6/10
Titanic – Choose film – 7/10
The Thing – Choose film – 7/10
Paranormal Activity – Choose life – 5/10
The Blues Brothers – Choose film – 9/10
Heimat – Choose life – 6/10
Fish Tank – Choose life – 5/10
Dumb and Dumber – Choose film – 8/10

The Red Balloon

A woman went out walking one day and discovered a snake’s egg on the path. She took the egg home and cared for it until it hatched, when she kept the snake as a pet. She doted on the snake for years, attending to its every need and treating it better than any snake had been treated before. Then, one day, the snake bit the woman, and with her dying breath she asked the snake “Why?” and the snake replied “Bitch, you knew I was a snake.”
It is this sense of inevitability and apprehension that fills the Red Balloon, as beautiful and well crafted as it is, that almost ruins the short about a boy who befriends a bright red balloon, but finds owning it proves problematic when all the other children want it as well. Yet however destined the ending may seem, it is the journey up to it, and indeed the repercussions that make the film so endearing, at times unexpectedly hilarious and beautifully heartwarming, especially the moment the balloon encounters an equally bright and vivid blue inflatable friend of a young girl. The ending, too, is truly uplifting.
Choose film 9/10

L’Atalante/Zero de Conduite

French director Jean Vigo died at the age of 29, having made just four films (these two, A Propos de Nice and Taris). Undoubtedly Vigo’s untimely demise is a tragedy, but I disagree with the level of promise and potential he apparently showed, as these two films are dull, uninspiring and possessing of paper thin plots.
L’Atalante sees a young couple, Jean and Juliette, get married and set sail on a boat with their captain, Pere Jules, his cats and his cabin boy. After time, Juliette wants to settle down in the city and Jean wants to keep sailing, so he abandons her in port, leaving without her. There is little characterisation of any of the main players, so there is little to care about as to whether the couple resolve their differences or not, other than it will hopefully bring about the end of the film. Only the games of draughts between a desperately cheating Jules and a depressed Jean adding a dash of fun to the proceedings.
Zero de Conduite is even worse plot-wise, following a group of school children planning a rebellion during their school’s upcoming commemoration day. The film is interesting for showing an outdated education system – the house master sleeps in the same room as the students in his charge, making them stand at the foot of his bed for the night as punishment, but it’s hard to feel any sense of joy at the successful rebellion when the full extent of it is flying a Jolly Roger and instigating a pillow fight.
L’Atalante Choose life 3/10
Zero de Conduite Choose life 2/10