Noise to Signal

Login disabled.

Films Roundup 3

Casino Royale, Stranger Than Fiction, Pan's Labyrinth, Hot Fuzz and Little Miss Sunshine are probed by my critical appendage.

Casino Royale

Being of age to have only seen Pierce Brosnan in the cinema, I've never really been that bothered about James Bond. I can see the value in the old films, but since I turned 10 or so they've lost the ability to particularly thrill me. Except the one with Mr. Scaramanga (that is my favourite one. I honestly have taste this bad), which is ace. But Jaws? Octopussy? Never Say Never Again? Piss on it, mate. Do one. A View To A Kill? A VIEW TO A KILL? It's like after making the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas got a new cast, made a whole bunch of other shit films and people still liked them. But instead of making three, he made about twenty. Or as if before Batman Begins restarted the franchise, Joel Schumacher had managed to squeeze in 20 dross Batman films. With George Lazenby in.

I should state at this point that I did have quite a fondness for Brosnans bond, despite the films around him being a foul mess. He had this wry way of delivering quips that seemed to say "yeah, i know i'm a cunt, but i really can't help myself. i find this innuendo really, really funny and i can't keep it to myself even though we're all about to die", which never failed to amuse me.

So Casino Royale rolls up as a chance to get aboard the franchise again from the beginning, which frankly this has been crying out for for a long, long time. And it works, like a charm. It is genuinely like the excitement you felt watching the Dr. Scaramanga one for the first time when you were 7, and for days afterwards could think about nothing but how much you WANTED TO BE James Bond. I pretended I was carrying a gun around and spying on people for so long after this film. It's that good, even for a jaded, blase Bond-skeptic like myself. I imagine people who are actually into James Bond in a big way were being carried out on stretchers in erotic convlusions.

The key to its success, aside from having Antoine De Caunes from Eurotrash as the villain, is in sticking surprisingly closely to the source material. Baccarat has been changed for Texas Hold 'Em, which is forgivable as it lends a certain tension to the lengthy gambling scenes that'd be ruined by me rummaging through a Baccarat rules book and asking people what was going on. But aside from that, all the key notes are there. Bond is a young, volatile, agent, gambling Government money in an attempt to ruin a Banker to criminals, who is being hounded by his clients for money he's lost on stocks. Then Antoine De Caunes whallops James Bond in the heirbags, and so it goes. The chase scene at the start of the film is worthy of note, featuring as it does one of those "street running" people (if you've not seen the documentary, imagine people leaping around buildings like Spiderman except it's real and really impressive). At one point he swings through a narrow crack above a wall and James Bond, in pursuit, just runs THROUGH THE WALL. It's not only the coolest thing I've ever seen, but a fantastic way of establishing the no-shit attitude that pervades this film. The romance angle is a bit squiffy, and it could do with ten minutes shaving off, but really this is far better than we had any right to imagine, I think. Four tuxedoes out of five tuxedoes.

Stranger Than Fiction

Will Ferrell gives a restrained performance in this Charlie Kaufmanesque story of a man who begins to hear Emma Thompson narrating his daily actions, and swiftly realises that he is the star of an unfinished novel by a novelist with a penchant for killing off her main characters. It's clearly a fairly premeditated attempt to "do a Jim Carrey" and Ferrell doesn't embarass himself in the role, but it's not as complex or intriguing a character as you might hope. I'm not sure if it's meant to be as funny as it is when he sings, either. However, once things get going, it's really rather good. More interesting than Ferrells character arc to some degree is Emma Thompsons realisation that if any of her other novels had been peoples lives, she'd be a multiple murderer. Where it clearly differentiates itself from Charlie Kaufmans films is in its ending, which is one of life, love, optimism and things of that ilk. Throw in Maggie "Sex!" Gyllenhall (although a small role for Queen Latifah does impair the films erection rating) and you've got a pleasant enough, if inconsequential, little tale. 3/5.

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz, conceptually pitched somewhere between Last Of The Summer Wine and The Long Kiss Goodnight, is the second film from the massively successful team behind much-loved zombie laugh and deathfest, Shaun Of The Dead. Given that it shares a cast, director, writers, and Hollywood parody conceit, it's unusually different in tone to the previous film. This makes the first half hour, which is mostly concerned with setting up the premise of the film and getting used to Pegg playing supercop Nicholas Angel surprisingly straight, a little unsettling. Overall, the first half hour just isn't that funny. SotD was a bit slow to get going too, but wasn't full of the same flashy, kinetic action-movie direction that here largely underlines the fact that the plot is really not going anywhere yet, and the fact that they've confused cameos for jokes. SotD spent that time establishing a range of characters, rather than merely establishing that the "cream of British comedy" was "lining up" for a cameo role. There's some fun to be had here with the supporting cast, particularly Paddy Considine as an arsey CID cop, but no role is as fleshed out as say Dylan Moran, Peter Serafinowicz or even Bill Nighy's characters in Shaun. The film does grind into action towards a wonderfully absurd and hilarious second half, but you can't help but miss the throwaway scenes like Pegg and co-star Frost (on show-stealing form) deliberating over which records to fling at the zombie in their garden. Almost everything anyone says or does in the film is reprised for a quip during the climactic shoot-out (or as a clue to the murder mystery), a fantastically over the top sequence which destroys nearly the entire village. The way things gel together in this sequence is undeniably impressive, but it means that much of the first half is essentially set-ups without too many jokes, and as a result this film, which I think is a bit longer than Shaun, doesn't feel like it crams in as much comedy. The action is handled as seriously as the horror was in SotD, and is fairly successul, though the impact of some jokes is lost in the manic camerawork. That's one of the few criticisms that can be levelled at the directing and editing, which is responsible for as many laughs as the performers, I think. It's spot on, and I'm sure if you played it simultaneously with Point Break something funny would happen. Edgar Wright, Pegg and Nick Frost (who not only has all the funniest lines, but also provides nearly all of the warmth and emotion in the film) have made a distinctly different film from Shaun Of The Dead, one of precise structure and accurate, witty parody that I think may reward repeat viewings more than it's predecessor, despite a lower count of throwaway gags and a few too many cameos. For a less contradictory review, see Rachels views on the film posted a few days ago. 4/5.

Pan's Labyrinth

What's surprising, and ace, about Pan's Labyrinth and which wasn't really explained by any of the publicity is that it's as much, if not more, a film about Civil War-era Spain as it is a fantasy film. The creepy, sinister fawn and other gruesome creatures pop up in occasional scenes, weaving a parabolic fairytale storyline into events, and it's never strictly ascertained whether or not they're real. While providing some highlights of the film and playing an important role in it's ambiguous, moving ending, they're very much a b-story to the men with guns. The baddiest of the men with guns is one of the most menacing, monstrous screen villains of recent years, and his brutal comeuppance is hugely satisfying. It's a completely unique, personal and finely crafted film. 5/5.

Little Miss Sunshine

I don't know if this film caught me on a day when I was particularly emotional (I was pretty hungover I suppose, so probably) but I found each each of the characters of its ensemble cast made me cry at least once. It's the story of the Hoover family - overstretched mother Toni Collette, her gay, suicidal Proust scholar brother Steve Carrell, her overbearing "motivational speaker" dick head husband Greg Kinnear, his Heroin-snorting Father, and the kids, a Nietzsche-obsessed adolscent Paul Dano (in the middle of a vow of silence) and young Olive, played brilliantly by 10 year old Abigail Breslin. The plot follows them on a fraught cross country trip in a battered VW van to a garish, exploitative kids Beauty Pageant that Olive is taking part in. Their trip encompasses the usual tragedy, arguments, revelations, discoveries, emotional turmoil, jokes and the most genuinely feel-good ending of any film last year. Key to it's charm are the frequent lengthy scenes of the whole family interacting, which aswell as doing all the films exposition, are charming and well-observed.

Though Steve Carrell is a hot property since The 40 Year Old Virgin, he was fairly unknown when filming his sombre role here. It's a great, restrained, subtle performance that wrings some great laughs from depression, bitterness and frustration. It's a part originally written for Bill Murray, and there are echoes of his character from The Royal Tenenbaums (eg. a beard). Greg Kinnear has a faintly Bill Murray-esque mid-life crisis, too. Basically if you like all the Bill Murray films where he plays an overgrown man-child discovering his flaws and discovering various things about himself (Broken Flowers, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, Lost In Translation, Groundhog Day, even Scrooged I suppose, maybe Ghostbusters II at a push) you'll like this.

Particularly enjoyable is Alan Arkin's Grandpa character, who enters the scene whenever things threaten to become a little too twee and barks something like "Let me tell you something, kid. Fuck a lotta women!" or "What's with the motherfucking chicken every fucking night, huh?". 4/5.

About this entry


More reviews (film or otherwise) by Michael Lacey, plz.

By Philip J Reed, VSc
February 18, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

reply / #

Most impressively, you've managed to review Pan's Labyrinth without mentioning that it contains the Most Painful On Screen Killing (tm). I've seen some fairly violent moments, but Pan's takes the biscuit.

And it's an ace film.

By Rosti
February 18, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

reply / #

I still can't get over how good Casino Royale is. But I've realised you appreciate it the most if you're, like me, familiar with Bond but not a total Bond obsessive. I watched it with someone who'd recently bought the case with all the Ultimate Editions in it despite already owning ALL the first DVDs, he's got countless books, cars, figures, posters etc. and he just couldn't sit back and enjoy the movie because he was picking over it and he was already on the biggest downer over Daniel Craig being Bond. But I fucking loved it. Craig IS Bond. This is the best Bond film ever made - FACT.

By performingmonkey
February 18, 2007 @ 5:35 pm

reply / #

I think you nailed Hot Fuzz. Completely agree with most of the comments there. Nick Frost is even more loveable here than in SotD, which is pretty fortunate as Nicholas Angel is not as as engaing a hero as Shawn.

Timothy Dalton rocks. Not sure about the gore (funny as The Omen-style killings were, they were also a little misplaced) and, while SoTD works as Zombie movie, I'm not sure Hot Fuzz truly works as an action film.

Afraid you ruin it all with your opinions on Bond. While you pick out some particular lows of the franchise (take a bow A View to a Kill), you kind of invalidate it by saying your favourite Bond movie is The Man with the Golden Gun (which is almost as bad as Die Another Day).

By Pete Martin
February 20, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

reply / #



What parts of the review don't you agree with, apart from Live & Let Die being the best?

By Michael Lacey
February 20, 2007 @ 11:07 pm

reply / #

I didn't mention Live and Let Die at all. Neither did you in your review. I assume you mean The Man with the Golden Gun.

My point is that, had I not seen Casino Royale and read your review, your positive thoughts on it would mean very little. You enjoyed what I consider to be one of the lowest points in the franchise (alongside Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker and, as previously discussed, A View to A Kill and Die Another Day) so already I can see our opinions are differed on what constitutes a 'good Bond movie'.

This is all pretty irrelevant., as I thought Casino Royale was largely very good (certainly not the the greatest Bond film ever, but still a nice rejig) but I hope you agree that, if you're looking for someone's opinion on something, you're going to be more swayed by those people who have similar opinions on related films.

The series is not without its faults (and there have been some pretty significant mistakes over the 40+ years) but I certainly dispute the comment about the Bond movies being "a whole bunch of shit films". I appreciate that it's within the tone of the article, but it's not going to really win over anyone who enjoys the franchise and wants an informed opinion.

Aside from that, really enjoying the articles. ;-)

By Pete Martin
February 21, 2007 @ 12:19 am

reply / #