Rob Pearson’s Films of the Week

February 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, FilmFour,  Sat 7th Feb, 6.20pm Alert Me

When Spielberg saw the first cut of his early sci-fi, he declared that “there wasn’t enough wow-ness”. Even his most ardent fan would hesitate to acknowledge that as a real word, but the finished film is filled with wow-ness from head to toe. Set at a deliberate (well, kinda slow) pace, we’re left gazing on as aliens make first contact with earth. Some of the characters gaze on, too (including Cute Kid™), and become obsessed, hunting down the secret landing site of the little green men who, erm, are actually little. And green. You suspect that Spielberg may have been a gorgeous femme fatale in another life, such is his skill at seductively catching your eye and leaving you gawping like an awestruck kid. If you can hack the pacing, the screen is flooded with many a classic scene.

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Channel 4, Sat 7th Feb, 11.10pm Alert Me

From the pen of genius screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, this memory-tweaking romance is top stuff. You’ve probably seen it by now, but if you haven’t, go out of your way to catch it.

The Devil Wears Prada, Channel 4, Sun 8th Feb, 8pm Alert Me

In this fashion-based romcom, Meryl Streep is fantastic as the legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour – sorry, Runway editor Miranda Priestly. Anne Hathaway displays labrador-puppy levels of adorableness as Ugly Betty – sorry, I mean Andy Sachs. No, no, not the one that Ross and Brand offended – Andrea Sachs, a smart, couldn’t-care-less-about-fashion girl who doesn’t fit in with the rarefied surroundings of the Runway offices, but desperately needs a break into the world of journalism. In a logic-defying move, she’s hired as the assistant to Miranda’s assistant, snooty Brit Emily Blunt, who just looooves fashion, and takes every possible opportunity to remind our Andrea that a million girls would kill to have her job. Everyone makes snarky remarks about her clothes and calls her fat. She doesn’t care, because she’s just doing her job, and her boyfriend loves her for who she really is, even if her workmates think she’s scum. Aww. But Andy is soon seduced by the world of fashion, and…

Okay, okay, if the plot hasn’t become abundantly clear to you by now, I’ll have to assume that you’ve never seen a film before. The film is hamstrung by a chronic case of dramatic inertia as the realisation sets in that, yes, it is going to be that predictable.

Annonyingly, the film takes place in the worryingly-recognisable, hugely unrealistic la-la land romcom version of New York – the city where every guy looks like he’s just stepped out of a moisturiser commercial, the ‘fat’ ugly girl is amazingly beautiful, and a supposedly grounded character’s idea of ‘a job to pay the bills’ is having a swanky exhibition of her own photography. This sort of rose tinted viewpoint would usually only be acceptable from an 8 year old girl who trots around on a pony paid for by daddy, but such is the characterless churn of Hollywood, evident here in everything from the lensing to the music.

But even taken as candyfloss-light fluff, this isn’t exactly groundbreaking. How, then, is it so watchable? Simply, the film is propped up by some superb performances. The disconcertingly sexy Streep picked up an Oscar nomination for her work here, and it’s easy to see why. Hathaway (now considered a hot tip for one of those little golden statuettes) amply displays her leading lady credentials, and even Stanley Tucci manages to makes a fine fist of his well-worn cliché, the camp fashionista. He is given the occasional fizzing line – ‘That’s really what this multi billion dollar industry is all about anyway, isn’t it? Inner beauty.’ – but these are few and far between. It’s enjoyable enough, though – even the fashion world was made accessible enough for me to handle, and I am to fashion what Wayne Rooney is to romantic poetry.

Brief Encounter, FilmFour, Thurs 12th Feb , 2:20pm Alert Me

Watching this great film, with its myriad cups of tea and scores of repressed emotions, one thing is clear: Brief Encounter is one of the most deliriously English things you will ever see. It also happens to be one of the most crushingly beautiful films you will ever see. It’s a doomed love affair, set to the strains of Rachmaninov’s 2nd, as Laura and Dr. Alec are both married with kids, but a chance meeting gradually leads them into doing things that they certainly oughtn’t

Yes, it’s an old film, and as such may seem quaint by modern standards. If made today, sex scenes would surely be as numerous as unemployed stock brokers, and lines like…

“Oh, Fred, I’ve been so foolish. I’ve fallen in love. I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.?

… would certainly not make the cut. But for once, the ordinariness reigns supreme as this superbly-observed film exquisitely captures the expanding web of lies, guilt and deceit – and above all, the growing, restrained, ‘violent’ passion.

This film can teach The Devil Wears Prada a thing of two about storytelling, too – we are shown the ending in the very opening scene, yet thanks to the quality of the writing (by Noel Coward, no less) and direction (David Lean), the film constantly grips your attention, even without being dreadfully unsightly and flashing its undergarments all about the place or anything of that sort. Gosh, I am rather glad.

Total Recall, 4* ITV2, Thurs 12th Feb, 10pm Alert Me

One of Arnie’s best efforts, this adaptation of a Philip K Dick story has a characteristically great central concept: memories are implanted and sold as fantasy holidays, ‘ego trips’. Arnie dreams of visiting Mars, so decides to buy a spy adventure on the red planet. Immediately, people are trying to kill him – but don’t worry, this happens to Arnie quite a lot. Is it the implant, or is he really an amnesiac secret agent? Directed by the master of excess, Paul Verhoeven, the film somehow manages to flit between sci-fi smartness and plain dumb enjoyment. You may find yourself wondering about the serious questions: what is real? What are memories? And then a girl with three boobs walks in, or somebody’s head explodes. Good stuff.

From Dusk Til Dawn, FilmFour, Thurs 12th Feb, 10.50pm Alert Me

Directed by the man who bought us Sin City and Planet Terror, this actually has Tarantino’s fingerprints all over it. 10 years before 2007’s Grindhouse experiment, these two were basically doing a better job of it here. It succeeds largely thanks to QT’s awesome dialogue – and in spite of his shoddy acting. Starring George Clooney, the film starts off as a crime thriller, but soon takes a turn down Completely Mental Avenue and is transformed into a vampire spectacular, complete with pneumatic stakes, pneumatic strippers and a guy called ‘Sex Machine’ with a gun in place of his, uh, weapon.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, ITV4, Friday 13th Feb, 10pm Alert Me

aka. The One With George Lazenby, and also The One Where He Gets Married. Conventional logic is generally to see Lazenby as a lesser Bond – and, well, he is. But this is a surprisingly decent outing for 007, with a killer ending and an often serious and emotional tone sharing more in common with Casino Royale than any Moore or Brosnan outing. This is slightly unconventional, with Louis Armstrong’s classic song We Have All The Time In The World accompanying Bond as he – yes – actually falls in love. Really. There’s also room for a classic double entendre: ‘just a slight stiffness coming on… in the shoulder’ … hmm, barely even a single entendre, on reflection.

By Rob Pearson