London is the most romantic city in the world, and London at Christmas is the global ground zero for yearning hearts, or at least that’s what Richard Curtis would have us believe.
As the writer of Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary and now both writer and director of Love Actually, Curtis has done more than Tony Blair, Oasis and Jamie Oliver combined to make London seem like the city of glittering possibility, and not merely a fantastically overpriced town full of obnoxious drunks and nightmare traffic.
Curtis should probably thank Hugh Grant; imagine any of these films with the overly pretty Jude Law or the sinister Sean Bean cast in Grant’s roles, and you’ll appreciate how deftly Grant’s screen presence navigates between an excess of either self-regard or unsettlingly real drama.
In Love Actually, Grant plays an entirely unlikely British Prime Minister, who arrives at 10 Downing Street single and full of cruel wisecracks about the Blair-like former occupants. He begins the film with a meditation on the heartwarming sight of reunions at the arrivals gate of Heathrow, and he’s the strongest thread holding together this omnibus story of a dozen or so Londoners in love at Christmastime.
There’s the widowed Liam Neeson and his all-too-worldly stepson; a recently cuckolded Colin Firth, and Laura Linney, an American in love with a co-worker. Her boss, Alan Rickman, is contemplating cheating on his wife, Emma Thompson, while Bill Nighy plays a washed-up rock star making a final, pyrrhic stab at the charts with a horrid Christmas single.
That not everyone finds or discovers love at the end is a shot of vinegar in this otherwise toffee-rich dessert of a film, and even the biggest fans of this sort of tricked-out romantic comedy will probably admit that it doesn’t really hold together, even when everyone’s brought together again at Heathrow’s arrivals gate.
Comes with deleted scenes, a commentary track with Curtis and his actors, and a Kelly Clarkson music video, alas.
It might be possible to find someone who’ll root for a murderous old Nazi collaborator on the run from the law, but you have to assume that director Norman Jewison had no intention of making a film for the less-than-lucrative fascist sympathizer crowd.
In Jewison’s movie, Michael Caine plays Brossard, the murderous but devout old fascist veteran of the Vichy militia, with an inconsistent mixture of cold-eyed menace and cowering penitence. The real villains of the piece, and of the Brian Moore novel on which it’s based, are the Catholic clergy who shelter Brossard for fifty years.
There’s no reason to suspect that Jewison, a journeyman director with impeccable liberal credentials, has any particular religious conviction, so when Caine as Brossard beseechingly prays for absolution, Jewison has no way of understanding what that forgiveness means, and his clerical villains are little more than a gallery of sinister hypocrites. It’s simplistic enough for a fast-paced thriller, but the film Jewison wants – and fails - to make is much more ambitious.
Comes with a commentary track with Jewison, interviews with Caine and the director, deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.
Stuck On You
Two completely different guys, who don’t even look the same age, are conjoined twins, stuck together since birth. It’s a gag worthy of a skit packed with absurd humour, but there’s no reason to believe it deserved to be made into a film.
Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear are Bob and Walt Tenor, conjoined twins who leave Martha’s Vineyard for Hollywood so Walt can have his shot at an acting career and Bob can finally meet the pen pal he’s never told about Walt. Just how long they can keep the gag in the air is a testament to the shambling comic talent of the Farrelly Brothers, whose specialty is bonehead comedy with flashes of unexpected finesse.
Kinnear in particular is great as the cheerfully sleazy Walt, while Cher almost convincingly plays herself. Comes with behind-the-scenes featurettes, director’s commentary, bloopers and deleted scenes.
Tim Burton’s customary over reliance on the gothic is probably the only thing that gives this Gump-like story of a dying man and his estranged son an edge.
It’s a dull edge, though, since Burton gothic has become reduced over a dozen or so films to a stock pageant of witches, animated trees, lovable freaks and baleful circus clowns. As a director, Burton’s aesthetic is slowly subsiding into predictable bathos, a trunk full of broken harlequin dolls, eerie big-eyed moppets and shivering little dogs.
Albert Finney plays the dying man, whose larger-than-life stories of his adventures have always been considered hot air by his son (Billy Crudup, who labours manfully to play a vaguely realistic person in Burton’s storybook world). True to form, Burton is so much more interested in the textures and atmospheres of Finney’s tall tales that the dramatic frame of the movie feels like an afterthought.
Comes with extensive “making of” bonus features, and a commentary track with Burton.
Ghosts Of The Abyss
James Cameron’s 3-D Imax documentary on the wreck of the Titanic has been distilled down to a small screen version by Disney, which is only a waste if you’re a fan of the whole Imax experience – the cinematic equivalent of monster truck rallies; big on thrills but generally short on drama.
The 3D legacy is abundantly evident at the beginning, where Cameron and actor Bill Paxton board a Russian scientific research vessel to head out to the wreck site; ropes are thrown at the camera and deep-sea submersibles practices waving their grappling arms at the viewer. On the small screen, the sequence is reminiscent of Dr. Tongues 3-D House Of Stewardesses more than anything else.
Once Cameron gets to the ocean liner’s wreck, we’re treated to some stunning underwater photography, overlaid with ghostly recreations of the ship’s sinking – but without Kate Winslet or Leonardo Di Caprio. The film’s big drama is the loss and recovery of an underwater robot, while Paxton tries to create a sense of reverent melancholy with his baleful narration.
The two-disc set comes with two version of the film – the hour-long theatrical release and an expanded cut – and a second disc of outtakes, interviews, and multi-angle interactive sequences from the dive.