Monthly Archives: April 2017

Slumdog Millionaire

WFTB Score: 19/20

The plot: Chai wallah Jamal, a survivor of Mumbai’s overflowing slums, finds himself on a famous quiz show and, miraculously, one question away from the big prize. The show’s makers are convinced he is cheating, but in interview Jamal reveals that the events that have shaped his life have provided him with the answers he needs; to the questions he answers for money, and more importantly to those concerning his relationships with his brother Salim and lifelong sweetheart Latika.

With a single, elegant device, Slumdog Millionaire – based on the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup* – takes an alien world and presents it in a form that can be easily and universally understood. That world is Bombay/Mumbai, and the device is the ubiquitous quiz show Who wants to be a Millionaire? As we follow the progress of lowly call centre tea-maker Jamal Malik through the rounds of questions, the viewer is able to appreciate that Jamal is both incredibly lucky and horribly badly treated.

The story unfolds across two timeframes: in the first, the adult Jamal (Dev Patel) is one question away from winning 20 million rupees (less than half a million pounds, euros, or dollars, incidentally, but still a fortune in India), but Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), the mocking presenter of the show, is sure that Jamal is a cheat, and turns him over to the brutal police who attempt to beat a confession out of him.

During the course of the interview, the tape of the show is replayed and as Jamal explains himself, the second timeframe opens up. Beginning with Jamal and his brother Salim as young ‘slumdogs,’ we see them as youngsters playing cricket on the airport runway, working as toilet attendants and fleeing from an attack against Muslims which sees their mother murdered and the boys left to fend for themselves, Jamal taking pity on fellow outcast Latika.

The three are ‘rescued’ by an orphanage, but this turns out to be nothing more than a front for a corrupt gangster called Maman (Ankur Vikal) who maims boys so they can beg more effectively and grooms girls for prostitution. Tough guy Salim, saving Jamal from his fate, effectively seals his own even though both boys escape. Latika is left behind, and it is Jamal’s quest to find her again that drives him throughout the film, as the boys fleece tourists around the Taj Mahal before coming back to Mumbai.

Where the story then goes (the police slowly come round to accepting Jamal’s story, Prem feeds Jamal an incorrect answer, Latika and Salim both become involved with a gangster boss) is perhaps not a surprise, given the film’s insistence on destiny; however, the ease and confidence with which Danny Boyle (together with co-director Loveleen Tandan) tells the story is nothing short of superb: since we have seen the ordeals that these characters have survived in their short lives, we really hope that they will triumph, and Boyle (thanks to screenwriter Simon Beaufoy) achieves a perfect balance of ups and downs, of humour and tragedy.

The love story is ostensibly the key to the film, and this is played very nicely by Patel and Freida Pinto (as the adult Latika); but the real centre of the film is in the love-hate relationship between Jamal and Salim. Jamal is the thinker, the boy with emotion and enterprise; whereas Salim is from the outset the aggressor, the action man torn between advancing his own interests and protecting his little brother. Their respective destinies are often gut-wrenching but entirely believable, enhanced by some wonderful acting, most notably from the three youngest incarnations of Jamal, Salim and Latika – respectively Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubiana Ali.

Even more than these, the real star of Slumdog Millionaire is Mumbai itself, a troubled city riven with poverty, corruption, gangs and racial tension which evolves as quickly as the film’s characters. Thanks to some colourful and striking cinematography, the city is memorable even at its most squalid (the pull-back shot of the slums, or the young children climbing over the tips), and as technology and new building starts to take over, the slumdogs have to adapt. In the new city, money talks, and Jamal’s careless attitude to it lies in stark contrast to that of his brother. There have been complaints about Mumbai being exploited and the set-up as a whole being far-fetched, but there is little justification for the first accusation, and personally I find the drama of the film to be realistic and ultimately satisfying, especially since the Bollywood dance emphasises the fact that this is, after all, just a film.

This review is written on the day of the 2009 Oscars and as yet I don’t know if Slumdog Millionaire has won Best Picture**. All I can say is that for the other nominated films to be more deserving than Danny Boyle’s masterpiece, they will have to combine a look, a sound, a story and some beautifully natural performances with a spirit that says that although life can be cruel and unfair, the will to survive will win in the end. A simple message, possibly, but an uplifting one all the same.

NOTES: 1Having read the book since writing this review, I should add ‘rather loosely’. 2That seemed to go alright, didn’t it? I’ve not seen Slumdog a second time and my gut tells me that I may have been carried away with the emotion of the film when scoring. Still, I wouldn’t dream of changing the score without watching the movie again.

Private Parts

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: The life and times of ‘shock jock’ Howard Stern, chronicling his rise from college radio to fame and infamy as New York’s number 1 DJ; and his turbulent relationship with Alison, his college sweetheart, who frequently finds her private life featured in, or at odds with, her husband’s very public outrages.

When a film opens with its central figure dropping in to an awards ceremony as ‘Fartman’, you quickly get the idea that it’s not going to be Gandhi, regardless of whether you’re actually acquainted with the man inside the costume. I only had the vaguest of ideas about Howard Stern before watching this film, so it served as a useful introduction as well as a history.

First impressions are not exactly favourable, as a host of rock stars at the awards show look upon Stern (played by the man himself), a gangling figure with 80s Soft Metal hair, with a mixture of amusement and contempt. His narrated pleas that he is misunderstood are compromised by his lecherous undressing of women, notably the cute passenger to whom he tells his life story on a flight back to his family the next day.

Howard is the son of a radio engineer, and although his father hardly encourages his offspring to follow in his footsteps, Howard falls in love with radio anyway and is determined to forge a career in broadcasting. His first attempts in college are clumsy, a statement which applies to his wooing of women as much as his radio manner; but a prize-winning film helps him bag pretty student Alison (Mary McCormack). Neither his career nor his marriage to Alison are immediate successes, but Howard eventually relaxes into the role of DJ, toning down his Kermit-alike voice and injecting comedy to go with the music with the help of voices man Fred Norris (also himself) and willingly naughty news anchor Robin Quivers (herself).

The team zoom up the career ladder but court controversy at every step, not least when Stern shares details of his wife’s miscarriage with jokes that everyone – not least Mrs Stern – finds tasteless. They also find that the big NBC networks, to which Stern delivers huge audiences with his near-the-knuckle material, have big concerns about the material. In New York especially, programme manager Kenny (Paul Giamatti) has Stern as his nemesis, and no amount of threats, trickery, punishment or pleading will prevent Howard from causing a furore, the listeners desperate to hear ‘what he’s going to say next.’

It would be ridiculous to complain about Private Parts being rude even if you’ve never heard of Howard Stern and what he’s famous for – there’s a pretty big clue in the title, after all. It’s clear from the off that Stern is a letch and neither he nor the film make any bones about it, recreating many scenes where he came into contact with women (nearly all large-breasted, it would appear) or, in the film’s big set-piece, gave them pleasure over the airwaves. Much of this is entirely gratuitous, of course, but the nudity is part and parcel of Stern’s universe and fits in as such.

The issue, then, ceases to be one of taste and becomes one of credibility, as the film strives to present Howard as both an outrageous, sex-obsessed loon and at the same time a faithful, caring family man. Strangely, Private Parts succeeds by presenting Stern as both the hugely successful, hugely egotistical hero of American radio, and also the insecure, ridiculous loser looked on with derision (as in the first scene, reflected at the end in another imaginary awards show), immensely conscious of the limitations of his voice and of his own private parts. The balance between the two predictably skews towards Stern as a good guy, loyal to his colleagues and never actually straying from his wife, but the film is by no means a whitewash, although the interlude with the actress early in the Sterns’ marriage is suspiciously clean.

By having most of the key players as themselves, Private Parts also feels authentic, with Robin Quivers in particular providing good rapport with Stern; however, when the film occasionally presents documentary-style talking heads, the presence of actresses such as McCormack and station manager Allison Janney (very funny, as usual) jars alongside the ‘real’ personalities. It’s also clear that the character of Kenny, an obnoxious little upstart played with endearing pugnacity/pugnaciousness by Giamatti, is a composite created to vindicate many of Stern’s more extreme broadcasts, but crucially the action is – by and large – funny, and in the final summary this is what really matters.

The comedy derived from Stern’s story is important because outside of America in particular, the level of recognition and interest in Howard Stern is necessarily limited. There are many people for whom Private Parts will be an instant turn off, and more still who will dislike the ‘hero’ enough in the first five minutes to shut the film off and never go back to it. In general, though, Stern shows enough of his flaws, and Betty Thomas delivers laughter with a sufficiently light touch, to make this movie an enjoyably adult romp.

Morons from Outer Space

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Due to unwise meddling from beery slob Desmond, he and his fellow aliens – wife Sandra and ineffectual colleague Julian – crash-land on Earth, where they are subjected to tests and hostility before becoming global celebrities. Meanwhile, their leader Bernard makes his own way to Earth and ends up in America, but he struggles to convince anyone that he is the mythical ‘fourth alien’.

Films sometimes show up cultural differences in surprising ways. For example, the idea of alien life is treated by American cinema as a thing of wonder (E.T.), an opportunity for greater harmony and learning (Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek series), or at worst a new enemy to shoot to pieces in thrilling style (J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and most other Hollywood sci-fi). In British hands, however, the attitude is far more pessimistic, with a rallying cry of ‘I bet they’re just as awful as us.’ This was true of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and possibly explains why the American(-ish) film failed to grasp most of the English author’s ideas; it’s doubly true of Morons from Outer Space, the brainchild of TV comedy duo Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones.

Desmond (Jimmy Nail), Sandra (Joanne Pearce), Julian (Paul Bown) and Bernard (Smith) are chugging along aimlessly in what they consider to be deep space. Bernard nips off for a quick game of low-gravity football, which proves disastrous as Desmond’s incessant button-pressing blasts their podule away from the ship, leaving Bernard deserted. The trio crash land on a British motorway, giving unassuming TV producer Graham Sweetley (Rhys-Jones) the scoop of a lifetime, since all his colleagues at the news desk have scarpered down the pub.

British military chief Commander Matteson (Dinsdale Landen) tries to keep a lid on the incident – ‘we don’t want little green men running around during Ascot week’ – but the Americans naturally muscle in on the act, in the form of aggressive Colonel Raymond Laribee (James Sikking). Once the aliens emerge from their ship, the British conduct tests and realise what we already know: the visitors are just like us, only stupider.

Laribee, however, is convinced they are still a threat and takes over the investigation, threatening torture to get the aliens to reveal their ‘true’ forms; Sweetley intervenes and frees them, giving them refuge in his own London flat. He uses his leverage to exploit the aliens for maximum financial gain, getting Desmond to promote green-dyed beer as an exotic drink called ‘Loob’, Sandra to record her witless, half-remembered song Tempt Me Sideways, and Julian to – well, just be Julian.

Meanwhile, Bernard arrives on Earth and quickly ends up in an eerily-familiar mental institution, and although his fellow inmates help him to break out, only a chance intervention prevents him from ending it all. Bernard travels to New York with renewed hope where his fellow aliens, now world superstars, are holding a concert; but the increasingly disillusioned intergalactic idiots are none too keen to share their new-found fame and wealth with their old acquaintance.

I’ve discussed elsewhere (see The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse) the difficulty of transferring small-screen material to film, and to Smith and Jones’ credit they set up their ideas and characters in fairly cinematic fashion, even if budgetary constraints hamper Mike Hodges’ ability to create convincing sets even more than they did in Flash Gordon (the green being who gives Bernard a lift is less than convincing, and where exactly is the rest of New York?). The two most obvious inspirations for Morons from Outer Space are Close Encounters of the Third Kind and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the film apes these with good humour, providing in Andre Maranne’s Professor Trousseau a wicked spoof of François Truffaut’s turn in Close Encounters.

Though it never attains the giddy heights of Airplane!, some delightfully silly stuff makes it into the film: particularly good fun is the design of the alien’s cockpit – a kitchenette, basically – and Matteson’s obsession with Sandra, which at one point finds expression in spontaneous song. By and large, the acting talent does well, with Pearce and Bown doing dim extremely well (I’ve never liked Nail, I’m afraid) and Smith’s squishy face lending itself beautifully to his pathetic role as the ‘clever’ stupid one; and even if Sweetley’s conversion from quiet man to yuppie svengali doesn’t quite ring true, Griff is always an amiable presence – Smith and Jones were wise to stay apart until the very end of the movie.

There are, however, two big problems with the film, both of which are glaringly obvious. The first is that it quickly – and predictably – runs out of things to do with aliens who possess no special powers whatsoever. Having shown that Desmond, Julian and Sandra are slow and vacuous, the film is left in the lurch, and the solution of the concert doesn’t cut it as a payoff, just like it doesn’t in Water (although I do like the gospel song ‘Podule of love’). The concert is not entertaining (unless you like seeing people being vomited on) and emphasises that the film has run out of steam, with the final punch-line to the aliens’ adventures a mediocre gag at best. The second issue is that while the film’s spoofs are accurate, they are hardly bang up to date, Close Encounters already 7 years old when Morons was released and Cuckoo’s Nest out for a decade. I get the gag now, but I distinctly remember watching it all with frustrated incomprehension the first time round.

Critics couldn’t find a good word to say about Morons from Outer Space, and it’s hardly surprising since it was outdated on its release and now looks almost offensively cheap. Still, if you can look past its styling and concentrate on the jokes, there is a lot to enjoy in Smith and Jones’ cheerfully stupid film. If nothing else, I guarantee that you’ll laugh at Mel’s ‘rock around the neck’ gag, a masterclass in comic timing.

The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: The end of the world comes to Royston Vasey – much to the dismay of its inhabitants, all characters from TV show The League of Gentlemen. Finding a portal to the ‘real world’, three of the characters seek out the writers to persuade them to keep the sitcom going; but one of their number meddles with another script, bringing both real and fictional people face to face with the devilishly evil Dr Pea.

The less British among you might not have any idea who or what the League of Gentlemen are, so before I get tangled up with the plot, a tiny bit of explanation. They are a group of four writers – Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith and Jeremy Dyson – who have created a macabre world in the fictional village of Royston Vasey*, populated by grotesque characters who are brought to life by the first three. As Dyson is modest about his acting abilities, he does not appear on screen much and here he is represented by Michael Sheen, mulling over the future of the show at his cliff-top home; ‘Dyson’ discovers that the other three are not going to continue writing The League of Gentlemen and is immediately visited by some of their creations: bizarre shopkeepers Edward and Tubbs (Shearsmith, Pemberton) and the terrifying blackface clown Papa Lazarou (Shearsmith). Dyson, unsurprisingly, falls off the cliff in shock.

Meanwhile, supernatural goings-on in Royston Vasey lead three more of the residents – homicidal butcher Hilary Briss (Gatiss), incessant innuendo-monger Herr Lipp (Pemberton) and mouthy businessman Geoff Tipps (Shearsmith) – to seek refuge in the local church, where a portal takes them into the real world, ie. the village where the TV show is filmed. Realising they must get hold of the writers to save their universe, they steal the computer belonging to Pemberton, Gatiss and Shearsmith; they also take Pemberton hostage, forcing Lipp to impersonate him in his daily life (where he proves a decidedly better father and husband than the real thing).

Hilary and Geoff discover that the group are working on a screenplay called The King’s Evil, and while Hilary just wants the thing deleted Geoff can’t help having a read of the story, which involves plotters calling on the help of Satan-worshipping magician Dr Pea (David Warner) to kill Protestant King William (played by Bernard Hill). Unfortunately, Geoff also can’t help writing himself (and his big, er, appendage) into the plot, a move which has terrible repercussions when Pea frees himself from the confines of the script to wreak havoc upon Royston Vasey and the real-life writers who have been lured into their own fiction.

If you are a fan of British comedy in search of something Pythonesque and think this might be just the trick, you are likely to be disappointed in Apocalypse. When it came to making feature films, the Pythons realised that what worked on television wouldn’t necessarily work at the cinema; and although The League of Gentlemen are clever enough to acknowledge the dreary record of sitcom-to-film transfers (Pauline from the ‘job club’ suggests sending all the characters on a Spanish holiday, Are You Being Served-style) they fall into some of the same traps anyway.

Sitcom characters are by their nature limited – they have twenty-five minute adventures but are back to square one the next week – and asking them to be the heroes of an entire film is a stretch, especially since most of the characterisations are, as Apocalypse freely admits, one-joke parts. Herr Lipp is a particular victim in this regard, and most of his interactions with Emily Woof as Pemberton’s wife are laughter-free.

Of the two devices the film uses to be more than a cinematic rehash of the TV show, The King’s Evil is the more successful, simply because it has a plot that goes somewhere and some interesting effects in Dr Pea’s monstrous creations (as always, David Warner is good value); as for the fictional characters chasing down their creators, the idea contains some laughs – though none of the men are very interesting as themselves – but it doesn’t feel particularly original (Adaptation and several Woody Allen films, not least Deconstructing Harry, come to mind).

To its credit, Apocalypse makes light work of the potential for confusion when the three worlds (the ‘real’ one, the Royston Vasey villagers, and the cast of The King’s Evil) collide, mainly by sharply delineating the characters with the use of costume, make-up, accents and so on. Still, this isn’t a film that you will get much out of if you are new to the LoG world, as it presents the characters without any introduction; many of the lesser roles (such as Pauline, or the vet with a habit of killing his patients) will make very little sense to newcomers, and even the more prominent characters lose a lot of their power in being removed from the mythology they have built up on television. Disappointingly, Tubbs and Papa Lazarou – two of the most immediately enjoyable characters from the show – only make brief appearances, which makes several unnecessary cameos (Peter Kay’s, for example) extremely annoying.

If all this sounds utterly damning, it’s not meant to be. The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse will make you laugh, unless you’re particularly easily offended, but the mishmash of ideas makes for a fractured viewing experience; and it’s interesting that many of the jokes that would be considered brave and shocking on television are revealed to be nothing of the sort on film – what is an ejaculating giraffe but a spin on an American Pie joke? The dark humour may have been toned down to achieve a 15 rating, but it only reveals the juvenile nature of much of what lies underneath. Like the final, obvious pay-off gag where Sheen wakes up in a hospital where everyone has tails, Apocalypse raises a gentle smile; but there should have been a whole lot more.

NOTES: A tribute to and the real name of ‘adult’ comedian Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown; but I’m not really sure why I’m pointing this out as he will also mean nothing to most non-Britons. Ah well.

Ever After

WFTB Score: 12/20

The plot: The Brothers Grimm have their version of the Cinderella tale put straight by someone who should know, a supposed descendant of the girl herself. They find out that not only did Ella really live, but that her tale is even more magical than their imagination allowed for, the servant girl overcoming impossible barriers to be with her charming prince.

What words come into your head when you hear the name Cinderella? No doubt ‘pumpkin’, ‘mice’ and ‘fairy godmother’ will be among the first in the queue, so it would seem unwise to attempt a version of the story that does away with all three, let alone one which makes the ugly sisters quite attractive and reduces the candidates for the glass slipper down to a field of one. Nonetheless, this is exactly what Andy Tennant’s live-action film does, with results quite different to cartoon or pantomime versions of the tale.

Beginning with the Grimm Brothers being treated to their own ‘Once upon a time’ moment, Ever After takes us back to 16th Century France, where eight-year old Danielle de Barbarac loves playing with her friend Gustave, but loves her father Auguste (Jeroen Krabbe) even more, especially when he brings back books for her to read from his travels. From one trip he also brings back a new wife, haughty Baroness Anjelica Huston and her two daughters, Marguerite and Jacqueline; but their domestic bliss is short-lived, as Auguste dies soon afterwards.

Fast forward ten years and Danielle (Drew Barrymore) is no more than a servant to her step-relatives, and while Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey) is somewhat sympathetic to her plight, being rather put-upon herself, Marguerite (Megan Dodds) has grown up to be at least as arch and disdainful as her mother, who thinks nothing of selling off servants to service her debts.

Meanwhile, Henry (Dougray Scott), heir to the throne of France, has his own issues, and his attempts to escape from the strictures of his parents (played by Timothy West and Judy Parfitt) lead him into several meetings with Danielle, firstly when she lobs an apple at his head as he ‘borrows’ a horse; secondly, when she dresses as a courtier to secure the release of faithful servant Maurice.

Intrigued by the feisty nature of ‘Comtesse Nicole d’Encree’ (Danielle’s mother’s name, to which she has added the title), Henry sets off to woo her, hoping to name her as his bride at a ball set up in the honour of visiting painter/all-round genius Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey), and thereby escape an arranged marriage. Nobody seems to know who the comtesse is, but with the Baroness pushing Marguerite’s charms at every opportunity, more than one person would like to find out. The Baroness does find out, and locks Danielle away – but with friends like Gustave and da Vinci, who needs a fairy godmother? Actually, Danielle might, to convince Henry that posing as a courtier was not a deliberate deceit.

Ditching the wand-waving magic in favour of muddy medieval farming is a risk, and the makers of Ever After present a world where colour is limited to the rich. What they also do, however, is add a load of colour to the story’s personnel, lifting them from being stock pantomimic figures and letting them breathe as individuals; and a lot of credit is due to the cast for the fact that they (mostly) inhabit their roles without resorting to winking thigh-slapping.

To be honest, I wasn’t enamoured of the child Danielle, but Barrymore is both sympathetic and affecting in the role, notwithstanding the fact that she over-emphasises each and every syllable in an attempt to sound English (on a side note, why – if the action takes place in France – do all the servants have rustic English accents?). The chemistry she shares with her colleagues, whether it be undertaking a battle of wits with Scott (also very good), verbally sparring with Huston, or physically sparring with Dodds, is excellent and keeps up our interest. This is just as well, since the pace is gentle at best and some swashbuckling scenes feel cobbled together purely to inject some action into the film.

In fact, apart from Henry and Danielle, much of the film is hit and miss, so whilst the use of da Vinci as the genial, godmother-replacing genius more or less works, the too-hissable and brief-to-the-point-of-redundant appearance of Richard O’Brien as the nasty alternative to the Prince doesn’t, especially as Danielle is more than capable of rescuing herself. Melanie Lynskey’s performance as the ungainly Jacqueline is a definite hit, however, a small role where she is perfectly charming and gently sarcastic (a world away from her debut in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures), and it’s pleasing that she gets her own love interest.

There are plenty of niggling faults to be found in Ever After, and the fact that it’s not a fairytale possibly stops me from overlooking them (one last example: the script deviates uncertainly between classic fairytale language and modernisms such as ‘Have you lost your marbles?’ and ‘Four-minute egg’). That said, the film is handsomely shot in a number of picturesque French chateaux, and the story actually loses nothing by stripping out the fantastical elements. In fact, it retains an enormous amount of charm; and with strong performances by those famous Hollywood names, Barrymore and Huston, Ever After is – happily – a much better film than the sum of its parts.

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo

WFTB Score: 2/20

The plot: On a trip to Amsterdam with his dead wife’s leg, ‘man-whore’ Deuce runs into his former pimp TJ. But on his first night a renowned prosti-dude is murdered and TJ becomes the prime suspect; it is up to Deuce, aided only by police chief’s daughter Eva and a black book of ‘she-johns,’ to prove his friend’s innocence.

If you are not doubled-up with laughter at the vocabulary used in the plot description above, I fear Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo will not be the film for you. For terms such as ‘man-whore,’ ‘she-johns,’ ‘he-pussy’ and ‘mangina’ are the comedy foundation on which this sequel is built. I have not seen the first Male Gigolo film (I know: what could possibly have been more important?), but I am guessing that the terms were already trotted out in that film, together with elaborate sexual techniques such as the ‘Filthy Lopez’ and ‘Portuguese Breakfast.’

In terms of plot, there’s not a great deal more to say. Simple soul Deuce (Rob Schneider) barely has time to take in the delights of ‘Spacecake’ at an Amsterdam coffee bar (featuring all the traditional stereotypes and a hallucination with Kelly Brook, failing to act as per usual) with his old pimp TJ (Eddie Griffin) before the well-hung gigolo Heinz Hummler is murdered by a whistling killer.

Due to an unfortunate coincidence, TJ becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of police chief Gaspar Voorsboch (Jeroen Krabbé) and is forced to go on the run, leading Deuce into the company of the Gigolo Union before he disappears. Armed with the Union’s book of clients, Deuce reluctantly agrees to date them all to try to track down the killer, disrupting the time he wants to spend with obsessive-compulsive Eva (Hanna Verboom) who cannot hear a bell ring without it setting off some alarming ritual or other.

Predictably, the whodunit element of the film is almost completely irrelevant, a hook to hang the jokes on – TJ is rarely more than ten yards away from Deuce throughout in a series of “hilarious” disguises, so can barely be considered to be in hiding. The jokes come in two main forms: Firstly, TJ is caught in a number of compromising situations that not only make him more suspicious as the killer, but suggest that he is gay. The film-makers must be very pleased that post-irony is now a valid comic tool, because otherwise TJ’s repugnance at the thought of being gay would be considered homophobic in the extreme.

The second joke is that all of the women are freaks, in one way or another. Eva’s compulsions are cute because she is a hot blonde, but the ‘she-johns’ are, variously, an infertile giantess; a woman with a tracheotomy hole (through which cigarette smoke from her trachea and wine from her oesophagus spews out); a hunchback; and a veiled lady from Chernobyl with a penis for a nose which ejaculates when she sneezes (in a restaurant, naturally). And before you ask, yes, the tracheotomy-lady and penis-lady do meet, and yes, the film does go there.

It’s difficult to know what the film is trying to say about women, but the fact that none of them are allowed to be ‘normal’ is quite instructive. You can argue that Deuce himself is quite sweet in the way he helps them, but all it actually does is emphasise the fact that Schneider himself is terribly bland, a curly-haired little runt with none of the personality (say) Jim Carrey would have brought to the role, not that he would have thought of the role in the first place.

And not all of Deuce’s help is particularly inspired: he pushes his ‘dirty’ date into a canal – she emerges as lovely pop starlet Rachel Stevens! The woman with a penis for a nose goes to a plastic surgeon – and comes out with larger breasts! Way to confound our expectations, Rob. In his scenes with Eva, Bigalow is a sad-eyed, stupid little puppy, and it is entirely predictable that whilst Deuce considers it perfectly fine to do his job, the idea that his girl might be a porn star sends him into a fury; but of course the film is not brave enough to go there, and makes her (completely redundantly) a set designer instead.

As a Briton, it was disturbing to see so many familiar names in the cast list: apart from Brook and Stevens, there are appearances from presenters (and fellow non-actors) Alex Zane and Johnny Vaughan, amongst others – presumably the lure of working in a ‘Hollywood’ film overrode any qualms about it being offensive rubbish. Still, it’s not really worth getting worked up over a film that is made so cheaply that it lets in a newspaper with the headline that reads ‘gayer then we thought.’

It doesn’t like gays, is extremely stereotypical about Europeans and black people, and actually doesn’t like women much either. The product of nasty, puerile minds, European Gigolo is rated ‘15’ in the UK, meaning that most of the people who might find it funny won’t be able to see it for another five years, by which time they will probably have developed more sophisticated tastes.

The Sound of Music

WFTB Score: 18/20

The plot: Impetuous postulate Maria may not have what it takes to be a nun, but the Reverend Mother decides she may be an ideal governess for the seven children of widowed naval hero Captain von Trapp. Although their personalities initially clash, Maria’s free-spiritedness captivates the Captain; however, more powerful forces than their love threaten the safety of his beloved Austria.

Those of you who have come across The Sound of Music halfway through during countless Easter holidays and thought, ‘Not this again!’, get it or rent it out and pay attention to the first couple of minutes, before the orchestra begins tinkling away, let alone before Julie Andrews opens her mouth. Pay attention to the snowy peaks, the shining river flowing through green valleys, the turquoise lakes, everything that makes Maria’s heart want to sing: that, my friends, is how to open up a stage musical for the big screen.

The opening caught my attention because the remainder of Wise’s film is unavoidably familiar, not just from repeated showings but also television shows based on, and promoting, a revival in the West End of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most famous musical. I can barely imagine that anyone will not know the plot, but to flesh out the above the film follows the story of Maria (Julie Andrews), a nature-loving postulate nun in late 1930s Salzburg whose continuous lateness causes disruption within the abbey.

Thinking that she needs to see more of the world, the Reverend Mother (Peggy Wood) packs her off to the luxurious von Trapp house, where the father is often absent and the seven children – ranging from about four to sixteen in age – are getting through governesses like nobody’s business. With patience, understanding and song Maria wins the hearts of the children, and when the Captain (Christopher Plummer) returns from Vienna he is upset by the wildness of his free-running kids but bowled over by their talent for singing, as is opportunist impresario ‘uncle’ Max (Richard Haydn). The third member of the party, Baroness Schraeder (Eleanor Parker) is not so impressed, but she is concentrating on snagging the Captain as a husband – only the governess does scrub up quite well… Meantime, the Nazis are just about to declare their Anschluss, uniting Germany with Austria, a move that not only disgusts the Captain but will undoubtedly see him called into the war effort.

Each of these story strands is pretty meaty on its own (the love triangle in particular has satisfying overtones of Jane Eyre), but in a musical the story has to be secondary to the songs: and the songs are, in the main, superb, flowing and epic when the mood demands it (The Sound of Music, Climb Ev’ry Mountain), playful at other times (How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria?, So Long, Farewell), and at others still beautifully simple (Edelweiss). The songs are so familiar they may sound simplistic nowadays, but each is memorable and serves its purpose perfectly. It may be an obvious statement but The Sound of Music celebrates the sound and emotional pull of music, not only bringing the von Trapp children back to their father, but also opening out the sense of Edelweiss so that it encapsulates the situation of Austria as a country (putting the Nazis noses out of joint at the same time, which is always a good thing).

Julie Andrews is perfectly cast as Maria, not so pretty that she would look out of place in the abbey nor so plain that the Captain would overlook her; she has a good singing voice, excellent comic timing and just the right mix of hesitancy and self-assurance. Christopher Plummer barks out his orders with a gleam in his eye and makes a convincing captain, whilst Parker as the Baroness is the villain of the piece yet still elicits our sympathy when she recognises she must give way. None of the children are unbearable (though the boys are a bit annoying), Charmian Carr in particular doing a fine job as Liesl, on the brink of womanhood, even if she is clearly well into her twenties in reality.

For me, the Sixteen going on Seventeen sequence with Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte) goes on a couple of minutes too long, and the same could be said for many of the film’s early sequences, but the music is always pleasant and the views are colourful and vibrant. I would have gladly cut out twenty minutes of dancing (and the whole of Lonely Goatherd – the puppets are ugly!), but I think this is probably more due to my modern impatient tastes than any fault of the film.

The last quarter of the film, featuring the family’s flight from the Third Reich and their tense seclusion amongst the abbey’s dead, makes for an exciting climax and a vivid contrast with the sunny – and rather cosy – look of the rest of the film. It also means that The Sound of Music has it all: love, songs, scenery, danger, laughter – it even manages to fit in a small on-screen role for Marni Nixon, famous voiceover for artists such as Deborah Kerr and Audrey Hepburn in other musicals. Little wonder that it won five of its ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture; and whilst the more jaded viewer will continue to cry ‘Not again!’ when the film next appears on television, they will still hum along in the background as a whole new generation experiences the magic of Maria for the first time.