Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl (Thanet Extra, March 7th 2008)

There's Something About Mary

Where would the finest actresses be without the great British monarchy? Casting your mind back over decades, one thinks of Betty Davis, Glenda Jackson, Cate Blanchett and Dame Judy Dench; all showing their mettle and womanly wiles as Elizabeth I.

Of a more youthful vintage, with plenty of sass and sex appeal, come Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johansson as the Boleyn sisters (respectively) Ann and Mary. Ann Boleyn was famously King Henry VIII’s consort (and mother of the aforementioned Elizabeth) who met a grisly end after a brief ascendancy, but in sense this is the lesser known story of the younger, Mary.

Now, I am no expert on the period, and The Other Boleyn Girl doesn’t claim to be, but neither is this one of those Hollywood pantomimes. Adapted from Phillippa Gregory’s novel by screenwriter Peter Morgan, the movie takes a solid framework of known events, and traces in the backroom scenes and intrigues in between—as Morgan did in The Queen and Frost/Nixon, though this doesn’t match those dramas.

King Henry (Eric Bana) seeks a male heir to continue his bloodline and safeguard England, after Catherine of Aragon fails to provide one. In steps the well-connected and ambitious Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mary Rylance) who, egged on by the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), arranges for the King to visit their estate, so that his daughter, the vivacious and witty Ann, may catch his eye. Instead, the monarch falls for the less refined, and recently married, charms of Mary and summons the whole family to court, so that she can be installed as his lover.

Ann seethes and Mary is initially dismayed by this unconventional start to married life, but the younger sister is soon bowled over by the affections of the King. The story has a modern spin and shows a women’s perspective both as child-making, playthings for powerful men, and also as manipulators themselves. As a sly nod to its modernity, there is a piece of Boleyn bling, the letter “B” hanging archly around Anne’s neck, as she confronts the King with ripe (and anachronistic) language in court.

With strong supporting players and good use of Kentish locations like Dover Castle and Knole House, The Other Boleyn Girl ticks along quite nicely without ever really catching fire. Natalie Portman acquits herself well both with the accent and the role, even though she has to share her screen time. Scarlet Johansson has plenty of emoting and child-birth grunting to get through but there is something indefinably contemporary about the actress (it will be interesting to see how she fares as Mary Queen of Scots). Something more than a light diversion which will amuse history buffs.

The Bank Job (Thanet Extra, Feb 29th 2008)

Jason Statham delves into real Life on Mars territory in The Bank Job. Based on a real life event, this new drama uses a cornucopia of British acting talent to bring to life the story of a major bank robbery in London’s Baker Street, in 1971.

Don’t worry, this is not another Guy Richie, cor-blimey-guv’nor-where’s-me-shooter type affair, despite the presence of the Richie-launched Statham (who has become something of cult action hero in films like The Transporter and Crank).

Speculating, based on well-informed sources, this is the account of the ordinary guys who carried out the job, led by garage owner Terry Leather (Statham), underworld villains bribing the Police, Machiavellian intelligence services, and Black Power activists with incendiary secrets.

The gang of less-than-hardened criminals tunnelled into the vault of a major high street bank, getting away with millions of pounds worth of jewellery from looted safety deposit boxes. No arrests followed and the story was soon buried because of a UK Government ‘D’ Notice, effectively gagging the press.

The story turns on the speculation that documents and photographs of incredible black-mail potential where hidden in those deposit boxes; and that the unsuspecting robbers became inveigled in a greater plot (even involving a member of the Royal Family) as a result.

With a screenplay by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, The Bank Job is a tidy film, with some enjoyable dialogue and a real sense of the period. Statham is fine as the hapless Terry, as is Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes) as his wife Wendy. Veterans, Peter Bowles and David Suchet lap up their roles as an intelligence fixer and Soho Porn magnate (respectively). Seeing the “walkie-talkie robbery” unfold, and the dark deeds that were going on behind the scenes leads to a gripping two hours, even if it is a bit “televisual” at times.

Be Kind Rewind (Thanet Extra, Feb 22nd 2008)

Sometimes you need a little bit of bonkers. It makes a change from war, angst fuelled romance and Tommy Lee Jones looking irritable. We cannot go straight into the plot of Be Kind Rewind before commenting that director, Michel Gondry made The Science of Sleep, where characters appear in their own dreams on sets made of cardboard and cotton wool, and that Björk video where she makes love to a Robot.

So: Jerry (Jack Black) works in a video shop in New Jersey with his childhood buddy Mike (Mos Def). When Jerry becomes magnetized while sabotaging the local power plant he believes is melting his brain, he inadvertently erases all the video tapes at the store (which inadvertently hasn’t moved on to DVD yet). Needing to keep the small number of customers happy before owner Mr Fletcher (Danny Glover) returns, the hapless duo decide to remake one of the erased movies (Ghostbusters!) at a local junkyard and pass it off as the real thing.

Would you believe it, their fuzzy, lo-tech remakes (they call it “sweding” which as a result of this film now means “re-making something from scratch using whatever you can get your hands on.”) becomes a hit with the locals. Soon the whole neighbourhood is queuing up round the block to help out; on camcorder versions of Robocop and Titanic etc.

In theory this movie could be madcap genius. In practice you get a solid first 40 minutes, where the zany concept is brought to life by Jack Black’s energetic shtick, before it degenerates into a flaccid mess. A side plot where Mr Fletcher celebrates local jazz hero Fats Waller is interesting, but seems to be stuck on with some of Monsieur Gondry’s sticky-back plastic. Inevitably perhaps, Be Kind Rewind probably works better as a home rental.

Also out is Black Water, an Australian chiller where a two gals and a guy out fishing are menaced by a hungry crocodile in the Outback. Lo-budget thrills, it has its moments but you will want to shout: “Stop swimming back and forth to that bleedin’ raft!”

And not forgetting Rambo (part four) which contains “some of the most brutal scenes ever captured in modern cinema.” They haven’t seen 27 dresses.

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