Skip to main content

Never get any good humans these days.


Jack the Giant Slayer
(2013)

I can’t say I’m very surprised to discover that the director of Superman Returns has no sense of fun. Bryan Singer has mostly disguised this for the best part of two decades by shooting thrillers, or making sure his comic book movies take themselves very seriously. Jack is his stab at a family fantasy movie, and he’s all-at-sea.


Not that Singer has any great claim to auteurship. A few of us thought he had the makings of a voice when his sophomore film, The Usual Suspects, sprang out of nowhere. It showed astonishing confidence, and still ranks as far and away his best picture. Because it was in a crime story, and came in the wake of Tarantino’s reinvigoration of the genre, there was an expectancy that he and writer Christopher McQuarrie might be the next big indie voices on the scene. Instead he quickly settled into the role of slightly-above-average journeyman with the first two X-Men. Then Superman returned. It was as handsomely lensed as ever from his regular cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel but utterly deaf to narrative drive. After the strengths of X2 in that department, it was a double disappointment (he gave up the third X-Men to make it). Valkryie was decent, solid, respectable. Unremarkable. All became clear. Welcome to Bryan Singer’s oeuvre.


Which is why I at least expected Jack to be decent, solid, respectable and unremarkable. I wasn’t quite prepared for how inert the whole enterprise is, though. Singer’s a competent director even here, but his film barely has a pulse. This is formula, production-line movie making, of the sort where no one is quite sure why they ended up making a film of Jack and the Beanstalk, less still one that cost nearly $200m (which is what it grossed at cinemas; there’s no dressing that up positively).


As per the fairy tale, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) gets hold of some magic beans and it isn’t long before one gets soggy and sprouts (I have no idea how he keeps his other beans dry throughout, as he’s regularly soaked to the skin). There are a host of divergences, designed to beef up the plot but lacking any real drama. Roderick is set to marry king Ian McShane’s daughter Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). He’s a rotter of course, as he’s played by Stanley Tucci, and plans to supplant the king. And rein over the giants at the top of the beanstalk. With a crown he has fit for purpose. It’s all a bit convoluted and simultaneously uninvolving. Tucci generally lifts anything he’s in, but he has nothing to sink his teeth into; no great lines and a disappointing shortage of overacting. His best moment sees him pushing a hapless knight off a cliff, and it’s not all that funny. Having Tucci as a bad guy is designed to ensure that Jack and Isabelle have the blame for all the death and destruction shifted away from them (it is their fault really, though).


Lending unmemorable support are Ralph Brown, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner and Ewan McGregor. The latter starts off looking like he’s going to have a whale of a time, coming across as amusingly debonair and over-confident. Unfortunately the script and dialogue fail to sustain him, and he’s left being a jolly good sport. He’s even been persuaded to utter, “I’ve got a jolly bad feeling about this” at one point.


There are points where Hoult reminded me a little of a very young Hugh Grant; appropriate given that they both starred in About a Boy. Hoult’s a decent actor, but here he’s shackled into coming on as yet another bland Brit pretty boy star (see also Ben Barnes). There’s no shame in being an actor rather than a star; certainly, that’s been McGregor’s fate despite flirtations with the big leagues. As it stands, Hoult just reflects the inoffensive lethargy Singer brings to bear. The costume department are one step ahead in informing the “don’t give a shit” tone when they give Jack a peasant leather hoodie to wear. It was all the rage amongst young farmhands in such quasi-mythical times.


If the beanstalk is reasonable, the giants are a let down. Rendered with CGI rather than prosthetics, they have the usual problem of a lack of physicality. They also lack presence, and personality (yes, there’s one who snots everywhere, but that’s not really what I mean). The “giants” on a budget of peanuts in Trollhunter were much, much, more expressive, weird and humorous. I’m hard-pressed to come up with a scene that has any spark to it; the giant’s kitchen at least has the attraction of scale, with McGregor being turned into a sausage roll.


It rather reinforces what a strange decision it was to turn this into a live action movie. Surely it’s natural home is as an animation, where the visuals will be seamless and there’s an opportunity for various light-hearted approaches (the traditional Disney take on fairy tales, or the Shrek-it-up DreamWorks angle)?


For some reason Singer adds insult to tedium by foisting a miserable prologue and epilogue on the viewer; the idea is to show the power of storytelling, I suspect. But when the opening is furnished with CGI that would have looked crap in the mid-90s (Its supposed to be basic, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be distractingly bad) and the ending makes a frankly baffling attempt to connect the kingdom of the story with the British monarchy (is Singer one of those soggy misplaced anglophiles?) it has the opposite effect. The credited writers on this flaccid pudding are Darren Lemke (who has worked on DreamWorks; Shrek Forever After and this year’s Turbo), Dan Studney (TV mostly) and old pal Christopher McQuarrie - who resolutely fails to polish the giant turd (David Dobkin also gets a story credit; all those cooks and an inedible broth).


Singer’s decision to return to the X-Men franchise (which he’s continued involvement with as a producer) is a sure sign that he’s creatively bereft. Perhaps he never really had much impetus. McQuarrie seems a lot more lively and invigorated as a director, and he can write too (well, most of the time). If you were really desperate for a beanstalk fix, you’d be advised to investigate a screen version of the tale that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year; Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor, and just a wee giant, in The Goodies and the Beanstalk.

**

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

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.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…