Skip to main content

This is where I belong. As a giant girl’s baby doll.


Gulliver’s Travels
(2010)

A godawful nightmare adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s classic satire, Rob Letterman’s film is so limited in its resemblance to the novel I’m surprised they even carried the full title. Gulliver, or a more distancing Lemuel, would be the kind of dumb thinking a studio like Fox could be expected to embrace wholeheartedly. And, with Jack Black lending his particular brand of coarse tastelessness to the title character, you’d have expected him to rechristen the character as the more musically resonant “Lemmy”.

The movie flopped in the States, which suggests audiences occasionally can see a turkey coming. Strangely, it did quite well internationally (not enough to make up for its out-of-control budget – who makes a $100m+ movie and has Black star in it?). Either there are a lot of Swift fans out there, or… No, I’m at a loss, actually.

There’s no satire in here, needless to say and zero attempt to even try anything approaching wit. Right from the opening, where Black’s mail room guy is opining how he is one of the little people and those he delivers post to are the big people, you know this is more wrecking ball than sledgehammer in its thematic delicacy. The film sticks to the Lilliputian section of Swift’s book (with a brief interlude in Brobdingnag), but the raison d’être seems to be not-so special effects. Elements match up to the novel; Black pisses out a fire, is accused of treason, faces down an enemy fleet. But all of this is a backdrop to some very laboured comedy and an unconvincing romance plot that propping up the entire sorry sagging structure.

Black didn’t have the balls to ask out Amanda Peet in New York, but now he plays matchmaker to peasant Jason Segel and princess Emily Blunt (with Chris O’Dowd miscast as her hissable suitor and all-round bad guy). The comedy is tiresomely familiar. Black suggests song lyrics as a means to woo her. He also appropriates film plots as examples of his great adventures and has them staged for the town (which is very similar to another Black clunker, Be Kind Rewind). Jack struts through the proceedings in his fallback noisy prick mode. He can be an engaging performer (he’s great in School of Rock, amusing in Tropic Thunder) but asking him to draw on his Tenacious D rock-riffing is an invitation to disaster. Sure enough, the film’s mercifully slender running time is padded out with musical montages and ends with him leading the townsfolk in a cringeworthy song and dance routine. Oh, and Blunt cracks wise with his moronic vernacular. Black’s an embarrassment, but so is the whole film.

The mostly British supporting cast irritate (O’Dowd, Catherine Tate, James Corden) or fail to make an impression (Connolly, Blunt). Still, it could have been worse (unbelievable, I know!) Taylor Lautner was earmarked for Segel’s role originally. And to think, it’s this that prevented Blunt from playing Black Widow.

The wit and intelligence (and, yes, crudity) of Swift is replaced with boorish, banal attempts at humour and nauseous moralising. Who’s responsible? Rob Letterman (director) and Joe Stillman (co-writer) come from the variable Dreamworks animation stable. Nicholas Stoller revitalised The Muppets with Segel, and the two best buds have collaborated a number of times; nothing else they’ve done prepares you for how bad this is. So I blame Fox; given their track record, it seems a safe bet. Far from a snub, the lack of recognition for Swift in the credits should be seen as a blessing in disguise.

Popular posts from this blog

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

I’m just the balloon man.

Copshop (2021) (SPOILERS) A consistent problem with Joe Carnahan’s oeuvre is that, no matter how confidently his movies begin, or how strong his premise, or how adept his direction or compelling the performances he extracts, he ends up blowing it. He blows it with Copshop , a ’70s-inspired variant on Assault on Precinct 13 that is pretty damn good during the first hour, before devolving into his standard mode of sado-nihilistic mayhem.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

When we have been subtle, then can I kill him?

The Avengers 6.16. Legacy of Death There’s scarcely any crediting the Terry Nation of Noon-Doomsday as the same Terry Nation that wrote this, let alone the Terry Nation churning out a no-frills Dalek story a season for the latter stages of the Jon Pertwee era. Of course, Nation had started out as a comedy writer (for Hancock), and it may be that the kick Brian Clemens gave him up the pants in reaction to the quality of Noon-Doomsday loosened a whole load of gags. Admittedly, a lot of them are well worn, but they come so thick and fast in Legacy of Death , accompanied by an assuredly giddy pace from director Don Chaffey (of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts ) and a fine ensemble of supporting players, that it would be churlish to complain.

Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!

Seinfeld 2.7: The Phone Message The Premise George and Jerry both have dates on the same night. Neither goes quite as planned, and in George’s case it results in him leaving an abusive message on his girlfriend’s answerphone. The only solution is to steal the tape before she plays it. Observational Further evidence of the gaping chasm between George and Jerry’s approaches to the world. George neurotically attacks his problems and makes them worse, while Jerry shrugs and lets them go. It’s nice to see the latter’s anal qualities announcing themselves, however; he’s so bothered that his girlfriend likes a terrible TV advert that he’s mostly relieved when she breaks things off (“ To me the dialogue rings true ”). Neither Gretchen German (as Donna, Jerry’s date) nor Tory Polone (as Carol, George’s) make a huge impression, but German has more screen time and better dialogue. The main attraction is Jerry’s reactions, which include trying to impress her with hi