Sunday, 16 October 2011

A week in films

I seem to have seen a lot of films this past week ...

Easy A
Another enjoyable counter-example to my (ill-informed) no-films-for-girls observation from earlier this year. Emma Stone plays a funny (if somewhat unrealistically self-conscious) teenager whose white lie to avoid an undesirable camping trip takes on a life of its own in the gossip of her high school. Turning her new-found, and ill-founded, reputation as a tramp (US-sense) to her advantage, she becomes the go-to girl for boys keen to trade cash to "gain" sexual experience. But with consequences. Anyway, the film is played very well and is wry, witty and full of laughs, particularly when her super-liberal and super-supportive parents get screentime.

Grade: B+ (+2 on the Leeper Scale)

American History X
By contrast, and quite a surprising one, AHX is a badly acted, overly didactic, unrealistic mess of a film. It was well-received in some quarters when originally released (if subject to a hissy fit by its director), but it's difficult to see why, except in that it engages headlong with the theme of racism. But the film does so bluntly (dinner table discussions of racism) and artlessly (black-and-white for the past - I mean, really?), and wastes the talent on show. Very disappointing.

Grade: D+ (high -2 on the Leeper Scale)

His Girl Friday
I'd been waiting to see this film for years, in large part because a favoured author reverentially borrowed the name of its lead female character for his protagonist. It's a screwball comedy telling the story of a newspaper editor's nefarious scheming to win back his journalist ex-wife, played out alongside the events of one night in which a befuddled prisoner on death row escapes and unsettles the re-election prospects of a corrupt, incumbent mayor. But while fast-paced, and full of gallows humour, much of which is at the expense of the press, the film feels seriously dated and rather stagey (which, I've just discovered, is because it's a translated stage-play). It also has a few moments in it that disturb modern sensibilities, such as when the all-white cast nod along ("political correctness gone mad") to the suggestion that the prisoner only got the death penalty because he shot a black police officer. Disappointing, but not a waste.

Grade: C+ (high 0 on the Leeper Scale)

Midnight in Paris
Owen Wilson plays a Hollywood screenwriter, and Woody Allen proxy, who time-shifts to his idolised 1920s Paris, along the way discovering that so-called Golden Ages only appear that way when looked at in the rear mirror. While much of the press is presently gushing about this being a welcome return to past form for Woody Allen, I don't think that he's ever fully dropped the ball. To be fair, I haven't seen all of his films of the past decade, but I've probably seen most of them and none of those have been stinkers. To my mind, he's actually one of the most reliable of directors, even if his films aren't always (or ever?) cutting-edge "high art". Anyway, this was a very enjoyable, and gentle, love letter to Paris, with a central line on nostalgia that's difficult to disagree with, and a lot of good gags about figures of the time. It also made me remember how much I like wandering the streets of Paris - though, unlike the film, I prefer it sans pluie.

Grade: B+ (+2 on the Leeper Scale)

Tron: Legacy
A bit of a lazy delve into the past with this one. It doesn't do anything interesting in sequelising its fictional world, but unlike, say, The Matrix (which arguably borrowed a bit from the original Tron) it doesn't ruin it either (yes, I'm looking at you Reloaded / Revolutions). It's largely a superfluous if mildly entertaining retread of the original, which is only really engaging when Jeff Bridges does his Zen thing (though it does contain a surprising turn from Michael Sheen as an uber-camp entertainment program). The film does miss a trick, however, in failing to connect the real-world malevolence of corporate software giant ENCOM with that of Clu in the virtual-world, a theme that was more important in the original film. But the film isn't derailed by this, and just ambles along in a likeable enough fashion. Given that The Matrix more stylishly treads on similar ground, it's difficult to see what more could be done with Tron's world, but a bit more effort from the writers wouldn't have gone amiss. Amiably dull.

Grade: C (0 on the Leeper Scale)

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