Wednesday, 19 October 2016

David at the movies: Dante but not dandy!

INFERNO


This is the weakest of Dan Brown’s four books featuring 'symbologist' Robert Langdon and it certainly makes for the most mediocre of the (three, so far) movies. The Da Vinci Code was clever but a bit too earnest in its tone. Angels and Demons was over-the-top but enjoyably daft. Inferno is just a big muddle, unintelligible and occasionally inaudible to boot. Like most of the recent James Bond movies and the latest Jason Bourne adventure, it recycles plot elements and has a distinctly underweight villain.

Professor Langdon wakes up in a Florence hospital with amnesia and a very attentive doctor (Felicity Jones) who rescues him from an attempted assassination. As the pair go on the run through some of the city’s landmarks, Langdon’s memory starts to come back and we learn that he is meant to be thwarting a plan to unleash a plague that will reduce the world’s population by fifty per cent. As well as the villain's hitmen, the World Health Organisation is in pursuit him, led by an old flame of his (Sidse Knudsen, whom many of us remember as the Danish Prime Minister on TV). We are meant to be confused as to – excuse the pun – WHO is the bad guy here. The big 'reveal' halfway through is the point where the whole story becomes ludicrous. Cranking up the pace for the climax beneath the streets of Istanbul does not rescue the movie from chaos.

Tom Hanks looks as if he’d rather be in any movie but this one; his is not the only performance with an air of embarrassment. The plague scenario has already driven too many movies; it was perhaps best used in 007’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The Da Vinci references in Langdon’s first screen outing just about made sense; the Dante visions of Hell-on-Earth that pepper Inferno seem contrived and clunky. The usually dependable director (and Oscar-winner) Ron Howard has messed up here, big-time. Nice to be taken on a tour of Florence, though!


THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN


Like this summer's Tarzan, here's another remake that is apt to make some viewers (me, for instance) ask: Why? There's plenty that's good about it, especially the lighting and cinematography, but the screenplay springs no surprises and neither do the performances.

The story is the same old same old. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt (hunky), Ethan Hawke (looking a bit weather-beaten) and four other gunslingers help the folk of a mining community in California confront the robber baron (Peter Sarsgaard) who wants to drive them out of town. I seem to have missed a vital point: why wouldn't he want the town to supply and support the miners? Anyway, Denzel and Co are recruited to turn the townspeople into an army that can outwit and outgun the nasty Bartholomew Bogue (I wanted his name to be pronounced 'bogie' or 'boogey'!). 

None of the gunmen is given much in the way of a back story: they all appear to be mercenaries, so the movie lacks a moral tone beyond the basic Good (town) versus Evil (mine-owner). The impending battle drives the narrative, which inevitably drags until we get to the shoot-out. This is extremely well done, relying on stunts and acrobatics rather than on CGI, always welcome from my viewpoint. Sarsgaard's Bogue is a lacklustre villain, like Christoph Waltz's recent take on Blofeld, and Denzel W, usually a very charismatic presence, doesn't invest too much in his role. 'Oomph' is conspicuously absent.

Not, then, a ground-breaking new Western like Unforgiven. More a retread than a remake.


BRIDGET JONES'S BABY


This is only Bridget's third appearance on the big screen but already she and her chums - all back except Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) - have the pleasing familiarity of the Carry On cast from an earlier era. The story begins, shockingly, at Daniel's funeral where Bridget has an embarrassing encounter with her Lost Great Love, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), now married to somebody else. To get over her grief Bridget goes to the Glastonbury music fest where she falls in the mud and is rescued by dating-site billionaire Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), the New Stud On The Block. Unfortunately only days after bestowing her favours on Jack (who wouldn't on still hunky Mr Dempsey?) Bridget also bestows them on old flame Mark. So when she finds out she's pregnant, she doesn't know who the father is; the plot, heavily recycled, requires her to be scared of allowing the foetus to be DNA-tested.

The rest of the movie goes down familiar rom-com territory as the two men compete to be The Man and Bridget's career in a TV newsroom goes, like her, pear-shaped. It's all extremely predictable but again, as with the Carry-Ons, familiarity doesn't have to breed contempt and the sheer pace of this frantic comedy helps make it seem fresher and more fragrant than it actually is; there are several gags which seem not so much borrowed as stolen. The ending manages to deliver a small surprise which allows us to look forward to Bridget IV.

Renee Zellweger slips effortlessly back into the role of Bridget, perilously poised between very annoying and rather endearing. Emma Thompson and Patrick Dempsey are welcome additions to the cast. There's a great soundtrack and a pleasing cameo from Ed Sheeran. This has better performances and a better script than the big screen version of Absolutely Fabulous - and is a lot more fun.


SWISS ARMY MAN


Movies don't come much weirder than this! Paul Dano plays Hank, marooned on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe. His Man Friday is Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a washed-up corpse whose spectacular flatulence propels Hank into an amazing odyssey. Despite being dead Manny has other gifts – for starters, he can talk - and he’s a great listener. An unlikely friendship bonds the two of them together as they trek and scavenge their way back to civilization. Hank has a major crush on a girl he’s seen on his daily commute and she has a role to play in their bizarre adventure.

As ‘bromances’ go, this is at the far extreme of bizarre. Monty Python meets American Pie, with too many fart and ‘stiffie’ gags. Paul Dano’s Hank is the apotheosis of nerdiness (I thought him horribly miscast in the recent TV version of War and Peace), but here he manages to become sympathetic to the viewer as well as to Manny. Daniel Radcliffe has charm and a fair degree of charisma, even when playing a flatulent corpse; it’s safe to say he has laid Harry Potter to rest.

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