Kung Fu Panda (2008)

February 17, 2009

I’ve decided to reward myself for surviving a terrible day at work with an evening of Kung Fu.  I had no real thought of watching Kung Fu Panda before a friend lent it to me, but it seems like a suitably low key entreé and so I whacked it in the player.  And you know what?  It starts brilliantly.  It’s a bit obvious and blockbustery- well it would be- with the unfunny comedy actor Jack Black giving it all of that “in a time long forgotten” shit that every trailer for every expensive movie ever made has, but the animation is excellent.  It looks amazing, stylish and bold and distinctive.  I wasn’t expecting much at all and then suddenly I was sat there in awe thinking that I could be about to get one of those once-in-a-blue-moon happy accidents that can only happen when my expectations are near zero for something which breathtaking.  I’d even forgotten that Jack Black was in it.  Just consider for a moment how great it looks:

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And then this turns out to be a dream sequence and the film switches to that impressive and hyper-detailed but oh-so-fucking boring and lifeless computer generated 3-D bollocks that all Pixar films are made with these days.  I nearly turned off there and then.  But I didn’t, I pressed on regardless.  I hoped that there would be some kind of interesting story.  There isn’t- unlikely hero overcomes self-doubt and an unconquerable enemy to save the village/world/universe may well have been done better elsewhere.  I was hoping for some wit or a film that was clever enough for adults and cute enough for kids.  It isn’t, though it’s certainly cute enough for kids.  If I want to watch an hour of fat jokes and someone looking gormless, I’ll get a Chubby Brown video out (obviously I won’t really- I’d rather watch a puddle evaporate).  And that’s all there is- Po the Panda is fat and clumsy and eats a lot and isn’t very graceful and smashes, rips or breaks everything.  There was probably a fart joke in there too but I can’t remember it.  All of which leaves the film to be rescued by the performances of its stars- and it is certainly a power cast:  Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen and- sticking out like an underpaid English sore thumb- Ian ‘Lovejoy’ McShane.  And, maybe because he’s the only one who has to justify his presence, Lovejoy is the only one who actually shows any dexterity or interest or engagement in the role.  Then again his character the evil Kung Fu expert leopard Tai Lung does have the showiest role and the best dramatic lines, so that’s probably why.

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The biggest disappointment of all is Dustin Hoffman.  His performance is so insipid and stilted that you wonder if the script had any direction at all.  Hoffman is another of the De Niro/Pacino mould, resting on his laurels and content to sleepwalk and pick up a paycheck (as I believe that they’re called in the US.  When was the last time he really tried?  Even as far back as Rain Man he was obvious rather than inspired.  Is there anything more tragic than wasted talent?

I’m done.  The title sequence is the great.  Turn it off after that because it’s professional and polished and wank.  1/10

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The Holiday (2006)

December 27, 2008

My wife Laura is a wonderful girl (she hasn’t and won’t, in her own Beauvoirian terms, become a woman).  She is funny, intelligent, profound and erudite but (aside from her two favourite films ‘Billy Liar’ and ‘Carry On Camping’) she generally has horrible taste in films with a particular leaning towards Rom-Coms.  And that results in me having some degree of expertise in the field.  Which is a shame for ‘The Holiday’ because it means that I’ve seen it various times under various names before.  The only surprise is a delightful turn by Eli Wallach as nonagenarian screenwriter Arthur Abbott.  Whether it is delightful in its own right or I’m being kind because it is wonderful to see one last hurrah from a screen great I don’t know or care, I loved it.

The storyline- such as it is- involves four heartbroken people finding love at Christmas.  Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet on the rebound from bad relationships house-swap for two weeks and find love with regular visitors of one-another’s.  Cameron meets Jude Law in snowbound (but, oddly, never snowing) England and Kate finds love with Jack Black in sun-kissed Los Angeles (where she wears winter clothes throughout).

Oh, why am I bothering- it’s crap.  It requires a lobotomy, not a suspension of disbelief.  The key players have no discernible chemistry and their characters are as two-dimensional as they are vapid.  Jude Law gets the plum role as the seeming playboy who is actually the widowed father of two young girls- yes, that is as interesting as it gets.  In the best supporting role Rufus Sewell gets to re-enact Hugh Grant’s character from ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ (told you that I was an expert) and once again raise the question of how a man can be that good-looking despite have such wonky eyes.

Anyway, I’m going to give this 2/10 (both points for the presence of Eli Wallach) and the memory that I could see a film with more wit, charisma, cuteness, more realism and yet more fantasy by watching the decidedly average ‘Love Actually’.