A Laceyvision Christmas
Ho Ho Ho, Readers! Merry Christmas! Ho Ho Ho! Yes, it's me, Father Christmas! I wonder what salty festive treats I've got stored up in my disgusting sack this year, just waiting to spray criticism allover your minds walls? Well, there's the terrible I Am Legend, the irritating I'm Not There, the wonderful Eastern Promises, the classic Fletch, and the surprising Extras Christmas Special. You get along reading those while I stuff one hundred mince pies in my fat mouth and drink all of this whiskey, before making off into the night to throw action men down chimneys with a magical crossbow.
I Am Legend
This is such a perfunctory, dismal effort that it's a struggle to find interesting things to say about it. Will Smith plays Will Smith, a brilliant scientific boffin and the last man alive in a New York over-run with gazelles and computer generated vampires who look like spitting image puppets of Neil Kinnock. He has a dog. It's basically Cast Away reimagined as a shitty post-apocalyptic horror movie with a third act which would have improved the entire film by simply not being there. From the moment you actually see the things that go bump in the night, the film starts slowly releasing tension like a fart from a very old dog and by the time the ending rolls around you're too distracted by the smell to really comprehend how ridiculous it is. Can I spoil it for you? Ok, I will. Professor Will Smith runs into a room and says "look, here it is! the cure for being a vampire! You take this, weird woman who turned up at my house this morning, and you fuck off, while I stay here and inexplicably insist on holding a grenade while it explodes instead of, you know, throwing it at the baddies and coming with you. I mean, if I was staying here to try and hold them back with a machine gun, maybe that would make sense... but no, I'm just going to blow myself up. Boom, shake shake shake the room! Tick tick tick tick tick tick BOOM! Ha ha ha!" Any hope that Will Smith might become the titular Legend in the fashion of his counterpart in the novel upon which the film is supposedly based - ie, by becoming the legend that monsters fear - are entirely pissed upon at this point. The films self-conscious "un-flinchingly grim" tone (in a super-clever reversal of the norm, Will Smith has a dog which DOESN'T miraculously survive, but it's so signposted as to be of no effect whatsoever) is undone in a single instant, when a narration informs us that Will Smith became Legend by CURING VAMPIRE CANCER. Didn't his films used to be fun? The Will Smith of ten years ago would have cured vampire cancer by kicking it square in the face, whilst rapping, smoking a cigar and raising one eyebrow to the camera. Which I would rather see.
I'm Not There
I had such high hopes for this one - such high, high hopes. First, it's directed by Todd Haynes - whose previous feature of note, Velvet Goldmine, was terrible in such an eminently enjoyable way that there must have been some kind of mutated genius behind it. Secondly, Todd Haynes sounds a bit like Todd Solondz, leading me to briefly believe that the director of this film had a much higher pedigree and experience casting multiple actors in a single role (the film I had in mind being Happiness, which I love so much I want to kiss it). Thirdly, it's about Bob Dylan, and has loads of Bob Dylan songs in it, so how awful could it possibly be? The answer, I was disturbed to learn, is very very awful indeed. Despite all it's added complexity, this is at it's heart just another shit biopic. There's loads of horrendously cringe-making scenes where one single incident is so DAMNED IMPORTANT that Bob Dylan has to go away and IMMEDIATELY WRITE A CLASSIC SONG ABOUT IT. Which he will then sing, in a "trippy" montage sequence where people involved in the film step out into the audience and start hammering you over the head with childish obvious metaphors until you literally find yourself thinking - has this film made me hate Bob Dylan? Can one film really poison the entire back catalogue of such a great artist? The general idea is that rather than portraying Dylan, the film will track 8 or so different characters who each represent one aspect of Dylans multi-faceted personality. So you have Richard Gere as Billy The Kid, an ageing outlaw in hiding. Which sounds like a good idea, except it's just Richard Gere looking like a fat idiot and wandering round a forest looking for his dog. How insightful! Then there's Cate Blanchetts much-vaunted performance as the drugged-up, sardonic, 1960's Dylan. It's a good and accurate performance, capturing much of Dylans self-regarding dickheadness, which makes it all the more ridiculous and alienating as a viewer to be stuck watching a film which barely bothers to ask whether any of the multiple personas assumed by Dylan are not a genius. Heath Ledger's Dylan neglects his family and stuff, but only because he's such a sexy awesome acting genius whose family can't cope with his profound insights. We're asked to worship at the altar of all these different people, most of whom are just arseholes. Before long, watching the film just becomes a game of watching people do impressions of Bob Dylan, but that's just something you can do with your friends and family anyway, and you get to sing rude versions of his lyrics, so my advice would be to skip seeing I'm Not There and just do impressions of Bob Dylan with your friends instead.
This film is BRILLIANT. Literally the first thing that happens is some guy get's his throat slashed in a barbers shop. So you know this film is going to be brutal, but after giving you one good burst of throat-slashing it backs off for a while, focusing on Naomi Watts as a sexy motorcycle-riding nurse who delivers a baby but loses the Mother. In trying to contact the babys family she gets tangled up in all kinds of Russian Mafia business, with Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel and a load of old men with absolutely brilliant accents. Tensions simmer, gangsters argue, and eventually everything goes completely tits up and there's beatings, murders, NAKED KNIFE FIGHTS, intrigue thrills etc. While this is very different in feel to Cronenbergs previous "A History Of Violence", it takes a similarly standard thriller set-up and examines the surrounding culture and effects with a meticulous, steadfast eye. It's exhausting, but fantastic. If there was a "Gangster Movie Oscars", which there should be, this would slam American Gangster into the ground and take a dump in it's gift bag.
My God, I love Fletch. Have you watched Fletch recently? Watch Fletch.
Eschewing a third series in favour of a one-off finale / Christmas special in a similar vein to how The Office ended a few years ago, this feature-length episode of Extras feels like Gervais and Merchant practising for a career in films and as such is a remarkably successful venture. The problems that dogged the series itself are still more or less present - the celebrity cameos are rarely that funny, the jokes are frequently obvious, something about the sitcom-within-a-sitcom just feels wrong and out of place (would something so deliberately old-fashioned really get so many viewers?), but the episode has a grand narrative sweep which adds a hearty moral to the "journey" Andy Millman has taken over the two series, provides satisfactory conclusions for most of it's characters (I'll get back to that in a minute) and is stuffed with heart-warming Christmas-stuff. It only veers very briefly into the internal-logic-be-damned OTT "let's create a classic comedy MOMENT" stuff that Gervais is so fond of, before getting back on track with a largely dramatic and dare I say it moving final act. It's the dramatic stuff that is best handled, really - Gervais gives an irritatingly perfect climactic speech with tears in his eyes, leaving most of the good gags to come from Merchant and Barry off Eastenders. Ashley Jensen is wonderful, but short-changed slightly - after a lot of lengthy shots of her looking miserable and scrubbing toilets, she eventually acts as the agent of Andys salvation but the fact that her life has turned to shit isn't really addressed. They should have included a scene where she inherits a mansion from a deceased Auntie, or something. Then you could make a sequel where they sleep in the haunted house. They should get me to write these things, I could piss it.
Well, that's it from Santa for another year, ho ho ho! I hope you've all been good girls and boys, because if you haven't, I'm going to do a poo on you while you're asleep! A great big stinky poo, out of my fat old man bottom! Ho ho ho ho! I'm Santa!