Glorious 39, Me and Orson Welles, and New Moon reviewed…
Director: Stephen Poliakoff
Starring: Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, David Tennant
In cinemas: Now
Britain loves a period drama: they let them relive the glory days before hoodies, happy-slapping and the dissolution of empire, a time when a stiff upper lip and a ration card were all that were needed to bash the Boche.
These films emerge every few months or so, heaving with the cream of British actors, and Hugh Grant. This film distances itself from the pack not only by not featuring Grant, but by being astoundingly – one might even say heroically – dreadful.
It’s very difficult to explain exactly what is so mind-soilingly bad about Glorious 39 without resorting to swearing or interpretive jazz dance. The story hinges on a secret plot to appease Hitler, but avoids the trap common to political dramas of becoming interesting.
Anne (a.k.a. the titular Glorious) begins to uncover this plot at a maddeningly casual pace, while her friends are bumped off for merely being in her vicinity. She then begins to be targeted long before she knows anything at all and in very obtuse ways, such as a child that she was looking after being moved around a bit.
For a film that claims to be a thriller, thrills are fairly thin on the ground – even the most bizarre events are rendered entirely predictable. One highlight is when Anne finds her lover’s body in a room full of bags of dead cats. How is it even possible to make that predictable? Somehow they manage it. It’s almost art.
The end is where things really go downhill. After spending an enormous amount of effort being ludicrously suspicious throughout the film, Anne’s family lock her up in a room to prevent her from telling about the plot. She escapes and comes across her creepy family who, having spent weeks trying to drug her into submission, merely wave to her and ask her to join them in the garden. She runs away and nobody bothers to find her. They’re right not to expend that energy, because Anne never does anything about the plot either.
The film’s big climax is that in the present, Anne is still alive, and turns up as an old lady looking slightly smug. That’s it. Nothing else happens in this film.
It’s the most pointless, flimsy excuse for a story I’ve ever seen in my life. I feel violated. The person I was before seeing this is dead.
In a Nutshell: For the love of god, save yourself.
Director: Chris Weitz
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
In cinemas: Now
The fact that the very opening of the curtain emitted a storm of cacophonous screams says it all. New Moon’s actual quality is a mere footnote for most of the adoring crowd, but for the ordinary cinema fan, it may be pleasing to know it’s actually (shock!) a half-decent film. In fact, it’s sidestepped the nightmarishly bad adaptation that was Twilight by being pretty darn good.
Bella Swan and her prettiful vampire fella, Edward Cullen, are all loved up in scholastic bliss until an unfortunate incident at Bella’s birthday party occasions the Cullens’ speedy departure from Forks. Bella is left wilting in a cloud of agonised catatonia, the affectionate bond she forms with old acquaintance Jacob Black her only source of comfort until her pining for Edward leads to a heady re-eruption of drama galore.
As a fan of the books, it is with some degree of joy that otwo can declare New Moon a massive improvement on its predecessor. Sidestepping all the ethereal loving gazes, it manages to take the 300 pages of inactivity that constitutes its source material and turn it into a delightfully realised film. Photographed beautifully in rich colour, the plight of Bella is vividly captured in haunting and emotive sequences interplaying her pain for Edward with the tender promise of her blossoming relationship with Jacob. Stewart’s performance still leaves a lot to be desired, but one can almost overlook her amidst the expertly crafted action sequences. The CGI could have done with a tad more tweaking, but the werewolves make their entrance breathtakingly nonetheless.
It follows that Lautner is easily the best thing here, as the only cast member given time and opportunity to illustrate he can actually act. Pattinson, even in hallucinatory form, is wooden (and not even that beautiful… boo, costumers!) and the aforementioned Stewart has succeeded only in learning how to bite her lip with her mouth closed. Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning excel in limited roles, piquing tastes for what lies ahead.
A fine exercise in cutting the shit and giving people what they want; Eclipse can’t come fast enough.
In a nutshell: Werewolves. Vampires. Face off. Rawr.
Me and Orson Welles
Pull Quotes: “While the entire cast excel in this vivid recreation of 1930s New York, Christian McKay’s impersonation of Orson Welles is the clear standout performance”
Biopics have long been a reliable source of cinematic tedium. All too often, they fall apart by eschewing the more controversial aspects of the protagonist’s persona and thus, neglecting to show anything of real interest in their life (see Coco Avant Chanel, La Vie en Rose). This failing can perhaps be attributed to the undue influence which the biographical subjects’ surviving relatives hold over the film.
Therefore, it is often the case that the biographies which work most effectively are those that adopt a highly unconventional approach, whereby a meticulously accurate representation of the subject is not the film’s foremost concern – this is true of I’m Not There, The Karen Carpenter Story and indeed, Citizen Kane.
Me and Orson Welles undertakes a similarly unusual approach. It focuses on the fictional tale of Richard Samuels, a young student (played by Zac Efron) who innocuously secures a role in Orson Welles’s legendary 1937 Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar.
The ensuing story documents the boy’s difficulties in adapting to the rigorous demands which Welles requires him to meet, all the while having to contend with the director’s notoriously egotistical and eccentric personality.
Richard soon becomes smitten with Sonja, an assistant working in the theatre, who in turn hopes to be swept away by legendary producer David O. Selznick. At the same time, Richard and his fellow cast members struggle to get to grips with the play’s material as opening night looms.
While the entire cast excel in this vivid recreation of 1930s New York, Christian McKay’s impersonation of Orson Welles is the clear standout performance. He perfectly captures the mischievous grin Welles perpetually wore, while exquisitely conveying the endless contradictions inherent to his persona.
Director Richard Linklater, along with screenwriters Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo, also deserve enormous credit. Between them, they gradually unveil the various depths of Welles’s personality to create an extremely fascinating and doubtless, relatively accurate interpretation of the director.
And given that Linklater was himself something of filmmaking prodigy having directed, produced, written and starred in the critically acclaimed Slacker (at the rather young age of 31), it is perhaps fitting that he ended up working on this project.
On the downside, the stereotypically nerdy character of Gretta – who admittedly only appears in a few scenes – adds little of interest and constitutes a patently unnecessary diversion from the film’s central plot. In addition, it is obvious that the film could do with shedding about ten minutes of its running time and its ending in particular is unnecessarily prolonged. All in all though, Me and Orson Welles is drama of the highest order.
In a Nutshell: Likely to satisfy Welles enthusiasts and casual fans alike, largely thanks to McKay’s stellar acting.