Skip to main content

We call it confabulation.

Before I Go to Sleep
(2014)

(SPOILERS) An interesting cast (and Nicole Kidman) can’t do much with Rowan Joffé’s adaptation of SJ Watson’s 2011 bestseller. Before I Go to Sleep is a thriller about a woman with anterograde amnesia, who can only store up the memories of one day before she resets herself. This a movie daft enough that it makes the condition seem like a ludicrous invention, one suggesting unexplored options that might undermine the whole conceit (what happens if she decides to pull an all-nighter?), but not daft enough to really go for broke and have fun with its inherent ridiculousness.


Joffé, son of Roland (remember him? He’s been regularly making movies no one has bothered seeing since the end of the ‘80s), received decent notices for the unnecessary recent re-adaptation of Brighton Rock, so why he felt the need to squander that goodwill with this tripe is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the paucity of the material does serve to highlight his slick and well-honed technique, even as it also emphasises that he can’t work wonders as a screenwriter. Or maybe it’s a case of what works on the page is exposed in all its holey glory on the screen. Ridley Scott, ever with an indiscriminate appetite for the tripe, produced.


Hubby Ben (Colin Firth) informs Kidman’s Christine of her condition when she awakes one morning. This is something he does every morning before going off to work. She soon (as in, soon after getting up) discovers she has been seeing a doctor, Dr Nasch (Mark Strong). He advises her to keep her attempts to regain her faculties from her husband, who might not understand. To this end, Christine is given a video camera to log her thoughts each day. She will play it back to herself the next morning, so creating a self-taught guideline to follow. Inevitably, suspicions arise of just what Ben is up to, and why he’s keeping things from her. And, just as inevitably, suspicions of Nasch’s motives also accumulate.


For 40 minutes or so, this is passable enough, a mixture of Memento and Suspicion, continually shifting the sands of what may or may not be the reality of the situation. It’s absurd from the off, but the hermetic nature of the plot allows for some resistance to overt interrogation.


Alas, when the actual reveal comes it’s of the most banal kind, and driven by conventions rather than anything really plausible to the characters. Nor does it bear no scrutiny in terms of the basic logic of the situation. To pull off this kind of charade, you need to flaunt the absurdity (like De Palma would). Joffé’s cast are too reliable; Firth’s almost makes you buy Ben, Strong gets to play a normal (-ish) guy for a change, and Kidman is as unappealing as ever but better deployed than in Paddington.


Ben is revealed as your decidedly non-classic post-Patrick Bergin psycho at the drop of a hat (or play of a video), and the hows of this impostor status invite ridicule. How did Mike (the real name of Firth’s character) get by posing as a teacher under a faked identity? Why would real Ben, even given his estrangement, have no contact whatsoever in four years, even to check up on her? Why didn’t Nasch find out her son was alive? For a doctor so obsessed with a patient, he’s remarkably clueless. It’s also no wonder Mike eventually completely loses it, taking her back to the scene of the crime and having a meltdown, after four years of incessant whinging from Nicole. As for real Ben and son showing up at the end, it’s good to know they finally care when prodded to do so.


Now, if they’d got John Lithgow to play Ben/Mike (and the real Ben, and Christine too) that would have been more like it.


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.