Skip to main content

How is the major this evening, sir?


Gambit
(2012)

The script for this remake of Ronald Neame’s 1966 caper had been doing the rounds since the late ‘90s. The estimable Coen Brothers took on script duties, looking for some rewrite work (never intending to direct). Despite the pedigree of most projects their names are attached to, it remained in Development Hell for another 15 years. Which probably wasn’t a good sign. The finished article bears testament to this, but I don’t really think the script is to blame. But it does lead me to suspect that the only people who can make a good movie out of a Coen Brothers script are the Coen Brothers themselves.

Surely a good script is a good script, though? Yet throughout Gambit, I could hear their dialogue and recognise their plotting while fully aware that very little of it was hitting the mark.  Everyone appears to be trying too hard. Pushing the comedy this way ultimately kills the comedy. Michael Hoffman is unable to bring the rhythms the Coens bring to their films, both in terms of pacing scenes (and by extension across the film as a whole) and crafting the performances of their actors. You can see that approach even in their most-maligned pictures, The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty. It’s the latter I imagine this bearing most resemblance to on paper; intentionally broad but with a zestful delivery.

Hoffman’s directorial career has been nothing if not erratic, and you’d be hard-pressed to claim an out-and-out artistic and box office success (1991’s Soapdish is probably closest). He follows course here; the film looks quite nice, but the wink-wink artifice never engages with the result that it quickly becomes rather tiresome.

The Coens lift the outline of the first 15 minutes from the original (easily the most memorable and bizarre part of a likeable but middling movie), and a few of the names including that of the “villain” (Alan Rickman’s Shahbandar sounds like a Coen Brothers made-up name, so that figures). And the reasoning for employing the female lead in the con is as farfetched as in the 1966 version. But, that aside, they have come up with a completely new caper. Harry Deane (Colin Firth) seeks revenge on his boss by selling him a fake monet (producer by forger Tom Courteny – with Quartet this is the second film I’ve seen him in this week) and enlist’s Cameron Diaz’s rodeo queen to carry out his plan.  

Colin Firth is very good in a certain kind of role, but he lacks the natural charisma of Michael Caine’s Dean (for some reason he’s borrowed his glasses, though). Firth should be mugging away like George Clooney does for the Coen Brothers if this is to stand any chance of working. But he plays Harry Dean very straight, very exasperated, and slightly dull. Which drains away the energy. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz tries on a Texan accent and Alan Rickman embraces his uncouth side to sometimes amusing effect.

Fitfully, this has its moments (a bit of bedroom farce, some extended innuendo concerning Firth's "major"). More frequently, Hoffman settles for weak slapstick (Firth keeps getting punched, loses his trousers, is attacked by a lion) and fart jokes. Both of which may be readily found in the two Coens movies I’ve mentioned, but it’s all in the execution.

**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

This isn't fun, it's scary and disgusting.

It (2017)
(SPOILERS) Imagine how pleased I was to learn that an E Nesbitt adaptation had rocketed to the top of the US charts, evidently using a truncated version of its original title, much like John Carter of Mars. Imagine my disappointment on rushing to the cinema and seeing not a Psammead in sight. Can anyone explain why It is doing such phenomenal business? It isn’t the Stephen King brand, which regular does middling-at-best box office. Is it the nostalgia factor (‘50s repurposed as the ‘80s, so tapping into the Stranger Things thing, complete with purloined cast member)? Or maybe that it is, for the most part, a “classier” horror movie, one that puts its characters first (at least for the first act or so), and so invites audiences who might otherwise shun such fare? Perhaps there is no clear and outright reason, and it’s rather a confluence of circumstances. Certainly, as a (mostly) non-horror buff, I was impressed by how well It tackled pretty much everything that wasn’t the hor…

Imagine a plant that could think... Think!

The Avengers 4.12: Man-Eater of Surrey Green
Most remarked upon for Robert Banks-Stewart having “ripped it off” for 1976 Doctor Who story The Seeds of Doom, although, I’ve never been wholly convinced. Yes, there are significant similarities – an eccentric lady making who knows her botany, a wealthy businessman living in a stately home with an affinity for vegetation, an alien plant that takes possession of humans, a very violent henchman and a climax involving a now oversized specimen turning very nasty… Okay, maybe they’re onto something there… – but The Seeds of Doom is really good, while Man-Eater of Surrey Green is just… okay.

You better watch what you say about my car. She's real sensitive.

Christine (1983)
(SPOILER) John Carpenter was quite open about having no particular passion to make Christine. The Thing had gone belly-up at the box office, and adapting a Stephen King seemed like a sure-fire way to make bank. Unfortunately, its reception was tepid. It may have seemed like a no-brainer – Duel’s demonic truck had put Spielberg on the map a decade earlier – but Carpenter discoveredIt was difficult to make it frightening”. More like Herbie, then. Indeed, the director is at his best in the build-up to unleashing the titular automobile, making the fudging of the third act all the more disappointing.

Don't worry about Steed, ducky. I'll see he doesn't suffer.

The Avengers 4.11: Two’s A Crowd
Oh, look. Another Steed doppelganger episode. Or is it? One might be similarly less than complimentary about Warren Mitchell dusting off his bungling Russian agent/ambassador routine (it obviously went down a storm with the producers; he previously played Keller in The Charmers and Brodny would return in The See-Through Man). Two’s A Crowd coasts on the charm of its leads and supporting performances (including Julian Glover), but it’s middling fare at best.

It could have been an accident. He decided to sip a surreptitious sup and slipped. Splash!

4.10 A Surfeit of H20
A great episode title (definitely one of the series’ top ten) with a storyline boasting all the necessary ingredients (strange deaths in a small village, eccentric supporting characters, Emma even utters the immortal “You diabolical mastermind, you!”), yet A Surfeit of H20 is unable to quite pull itself above the run of the mill.

Believe me, our world is a lot less painful than the real world.

Nocturnal Animals (2016)
(SPOILERS) I’d heard Marmite things about Tom Ford’s sophomore effort (I’ve yet to catch his debut), but they were enough to make me mildly intrigued. Unfortunately, I ended up veering towards the “I hate” polarity. Nocturnal Animals is as immaculately shot as you’d expect from a fashion designer with a meticulously unbuttoned shirt, but its self-conscious structure – almost that of a poseur – never becomes fluid in Ford’s liberal adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel, such that even its significantly stronger aspect – the film within the film (or novel within the film) – is diminished by the dour stodge that surrounds it.

Have no fear! Doc Savage is here!

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)
(SPOILERS) Forget about The Empire Strikes Back, the cliffhanger ending of Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze had me on the edge of my seat for a sequel that never came. How could they do that to us (well, me)? This was of course, in the period prior to discernment and wisdom, when I had no idea Doc Savage was a terrible movie. I mean, it is, isn’t it? Well, it isn’t a great movie, but it has a certain indolent charm, in the manner of a fair few mid-‘70s SF and fantasy fare (Logan’s Run, The Land that Time Forgot) that had no conception the genre landscape was on the cusp of irrevocable change.

Let the monsters kill each other.

Game of Thrones Season Seven
(SPOILERS) Column inches devoted to Game of Thrones, even in “respectable” publications, seems to increase exponentially with each new season, so may well reach critical mass with the final run. Groundswells of opinion duly become more evident, and as happens with many a show by somewhere around this point, if not a couple of years prior, Season Seven has seen many of the faithful turn on once hallowed storytelling, and at least in part, there’s good reason for that.

Some suggest the show has jumped the shark (or crashed the Wall); there were concerns over how much the pace increased last year, divested as it was of George RR Martin’s novels as a direct source, but this year’s succession of events make Six seem positively sluggish. I don’t think GoT has suddenly, resoundingly, lost it, and I’d argue there did need to be an increase in momentum (people are quick to forget how much moaning went on about seemingly nothing happening for long stretches of previ…

James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing.