Tag Archives: Film review

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Through a calculating catalogue of interventions, inscrutable Michael Rimmer rises from a nobody to the head of a marketing and polling company, attracting the attention of leading politicians as he goes. Gaining a pretty wife and a safe Tory seat, Rimmer continues to climb the greasy pole until he becomes unopposed ruler of the country. Will nobody stop him?

When he walks into the tatty offices of Fairburn marketing agency claiming to work in ‘Coordination’, no-one gives smartly-dressed Michael Rimmer (Peter Cook) a second glance; certainly not Mr Ferret (Arthur Lowe), whose gaze is firmly fixed on secretary Tanya (Valerie Leon). However, once Rimmer has his foot in the door, he starts making huge changes: firstly, out goes Ferret, leaving Rimmer in charge of day-today business such as sexing up a campaign for humble humbugs; next, he sexes up the company’s surveys in the name of publicity, acquiring the talents of rival pollster Peter Niss (Denholm Elliott) and using them to destroy the credibility of Peter’s former employers.

As Michael’s star rises, he comes to the attention of Conservative leader Tom Hutchinson (Ronald Fraser); Michael duly helps to get the Tories elected, partly by sending out signals that the party is anti-immigration (much to the horror of Richard Pearson’s shadow Home Secretary), partly by giving terrible advice to the Labour incumbent at No. 10, Blacket (George A. Cooper). He also manages to acquire his own safe seat and a trophy wife in fallen show-jumper Pat (Vanessa Howard), though – as she is to find out – Rimmer’s ambition is all-consuming, and apparently without morals or limits.

Grrr. I’ve seen The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer twice in fairly short succession, and I have no idea whether I actually like it or not. I should, by rights, love it, since it features a host of the best British comic/satirical faces that the 1970s – or any time period – has to offer. I’ve not even referred to John Cleese’s wonderfully fawning performance as Pumer above, so you can imagine that the cast is pretty stellar: aficionados of British comedy will lap up the brilliance of Lowe and Fraser, while enjoying cameos by Ronnie Corbett, Diana Coupland, Graham Crowden, Frank Thornton and many more.

What’s more, the script, by Cleese, Graham Chapman, Cook and director Kevin Billington, is full of sharp little jokes that get to the heart of the game played by all politicians, ie. break your manifesto promises and ‘blame the last lot’. I particularly like Hutchinson’s line ‘I will act…in matters of principle I’m always acting.’ Much of the material feels remarkably fresh, showing how little politics has moved on in forty years – where West Indians used to be the bogeymen, it’s now East Europeans; summits with the US President are trumpeted to the hilt, however pointless they turn out to be. Plus, in the jaw-droppingly rude advert for Scorpio humbugs, the film absolutely nails the maxim “sex sells”. Satisfyingly – if that’s the word – the scene is clever, funny, quite a turn-on and makes a point.

On the other hand, I’m not convinced that Michael Rimmer quite works as a film, especially at this distance of time. Most obviously, there are the 1970s references that you’ll need a history guide to appreciate: Cooper puffs a good pipe as the PM, but the Harold Wilson stuff is pretty meaningless – did he use tarot cards and follow astrology? Was he obsessed with being on television? Does it matter? Then there’s the inevitable crumpet factor deployed in Billington’s entirely un-satirical close-ups – at times the film could almost be Carry On Conniving.

Furthermore, although the film manages to drive a story line through material that could have felt a lot sketchier, the subplots aren’t developed fully: Niss’s play for Pat peters out, Vanessa Howard baring all for no great reward; and Ferret’s humiliations build rather awkwardly to his own pay-off. On which note, while the penultimate idea – granting a referendum on everything, then promising an end to the referenda in exchange for dictatorship – is smart, Michael Rimmer’s parting shot is poorly chosen.

The parallels to the JFK shooting are pretty close to the knuckle; not only that, the scene is without any obvious satirical or comic content – apart from the would-be assassins cancelling each other out – and results in the viewer leaving the film with an oddly numb sensation, not helped by the sinister, abrupt freeze frame (Billington’s direction in general is workmanlike). It’s not as if everything in the main plot sings, either; the assault on Swiss gold via a very British cold makes for a picturesque but unfunny five or six minutes.

Then there’s the issue of the lead turn. I prefer Cook here compared to Bedazzled, but he glides through the film with a single, self-satisfied expression on his face. It’s clearly done for a reason, to show the calculating, emotionless way people can slide their way up the greasy pole, and in a sense it’s right that Rimmer should be something of a blank; but Cook’s one-note performance doesn’t do much for the film as entertainment – we don’t feel connected to him as either hero or villain. Compare Cook to Lowe, or Elliott, or anyone else who injects nuance into his or her performance (or, to put it another way, acts) and you’ll see what I mean.

Most comedies suffer from a paucity of acting and writing talent: Michael Rimmer’s tragedy is that it has too much, and the writers haven’t been able to marshal it all: who in their right minds lets a brilliant Cleese slip quietly out of their movie; a befuddled Corbett; a gorgeous Leon? I’m relieved that the film lacks the scabrous misanthropy of The Magic Christian, disappointed that there are only rare glimpses of Pythonesque glee (the Election night coverage offers rare glimpses), and overall…no, still can’t tell you. If it helps, I picked this up for 99p in a high street store; at that price, it’s worth every penny.

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Indecent Proposal

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Happily married and very much in love, David and Diana Murphy discover love doesn’t pay the bills when recession hits. The couple head to Las Vegas to gamble their way out of trouble, but when that tactic (predictably!) doesn’t work, high roller John Gage comes up with a startling suggestion: 1 million dollars for a single night of passion with Diana. Although the couple dismiss the idea, it does offer a way out of their financial woes; on the other hand, there’s no guarantee that either of them will be able to cope with the aftermath.

Though high school sweethearts David and Diana Murphy (Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore) married young, they appear to be a perfect match: he’s an architect, she sells real estate. David has plans for a dream house and Diana knows where he can build it, but they stretch themselves financially to make the dream real; and when the economy goes bust, they suddenly find themselves $45,000 short in the face of a $50,000 bill.

In desperation, the couple head off to Vegas with their last five grand and David miraculously gets half way towards their target, while Diana eyes up some pretty dresses and billionaire playboy John Gage (Robert Redford) eyes her up in turn. The next day Lady Luck deserts David, leaving them flat broke, though John ‘borrows’ Diana for luck while recklessly placing million-dollar bets. The loan evidently puts an idea in his head, for later that night he puts the titular proposal to David and Diana. They are both mortally offended, naturally, but after a sleepless night Diana agrees to have sex with John for the sake of her and David’s future plans and David’s lawyer friend Jeremy (Oliver Platt) draws up a contract.

Diana’s whisked off to John’s luxury boat, while David frets in the casino. In the following days, the couple discover that John has not only robbed them of their marital security and trust, he’s also bought up their house and land; David is unable to forget the pact he made with the Devil and the pair fall apart, not helped by John’s ruthless pursuit of his wife. As David struggles to get his act together and Diana starts appearing on John’s arm, the relationship appears doomed to end in divorce – and what good is money if the love’s gone?

Indecent Proposal is constructed around a very simple question: What would you do? It’s clearly designed to get moviegoing couples and groups asking each other whether they would be prepared to pimp out their partners, or themselves, for a cool million dollars, and to that end the film answers its own question pretty well. The film doesn’t linger on the act – in fact, a discreet veil’s drawn over John and Diana’s indecency – but instead concentrates on the aftermath of the couple’s decision to let John buy Diana’s body for a few hours.

Harrelson is pretty good as the unhappy cuckold consumed with jealousy at giving his wife to another man, though – this being 1993 – the shadow of Cheers still hangs over him, and to an extent the film follows a believable path as neither David nor Diana can bring themselves to touch the dirty money they ‘won’ in Vegas. The story is told with a ‘near the end’ frame and a helpful (if fitful) narrative from both David and Diana, and there is enough chemistry between the two to make us feel something for their plight, if that’s the right word for their self-inflicted situation. And arching over the whole movie is the larger question of whether everything – sacred vows, trust, love, friendship – can be bought with sufficient cash: does everyone really ‘have their price’?

The problem is, Indecent Proposal is nearly two hours long and the central moral issue can’t sustain itself through the running time. It’s half an hour before John pops the question, during which time we’ve established a link between sex and money in a second glossily-shot sex scene, and had plenty of time to ask why a supposedly bright couple would try to defy the odds by gambling away the little cash they had in Vegas. Then, both during and after the act, the film dawdles along with nothing much to say as it slowly plays out the aftermath of the decision to take Gage’s money, with a number of daft, dragging scenes (John shows Diana round his pad, John – cringingly – invades her citizenship class full of stereotyped immigrants, David starts to reassemble his life by teaching) until it suddenly introduces a hippo motif and, before we know it, Billy Connolly is auctioning off the contents of a zoo!

Although the screenplay lacks focus (we hear ‘Have I ever told you I love you?’ far more than we need to), the film is let down more by a lazy, unmotivated turn from a slightly grizzled and very bored-looking Redford – though, since all he ever seems to say is ‘Let me show you something’, you can hardly blame him. Redford’s Gage is simply a man with a lot of money, the inert catalyst for change in the Murphys’ marriage who is as empty, character-wise, as his massive house, so you feel neither sympathy nor enmity towards him.

Though Demi Moore tries harder than Redford, she is used little better in the key role of Diana. Director Adrian Lyne makes sure she looks fantastic at all times – indeed, the film often has the glossy look of a soft-core feature – but her acting style is strangely cold and forbidding of empathy; in short, she looks far too glamorous to be cash-strapped and desperate, and always seems to know it. Finally, Oliver Platt is amusingly sleazy as the film’s obvious comic relief – Jeremy’s contract, with its “John Garfield” clause, is icky but also funny.

As you can read, I dislike Pretty Woman, but at least Garry Marshall’s film has a brash, colourful 80s warmth and Gere’s billionaire has some history and charm behind his wealth. Indecent Proposal‘s prostitution is of a different kind, a slick, soulless affair in both plot and execution, the torpid involvement of Robert Redford proving a misstep in the venerable actor/director’s career. Still, as the movie suggests, we all have to do things we rather wouldn’t to pay our way in the world.

History of the World: Part I

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Think you know your history? Well prepare to think again, as Mel Brooks presents the story of man, from primitive cavemen to the decadence of the French Revolution, in his own inimitable style.

The ascent of man has been chronicled many times and in many ways, but never quite like this. Starting with a wicked spoof of 2001: A Space Odyssey, renowned funster Mel Brooks and friends take us through some of the most notable events in history, narrated in stentorian fashion by Orson Welles. The quirky evolution of Sid Caesar’s Stone Age man is followed by a previously unrecorded episode from the life of an accident-prone Moses (Brooks); we arrive next in Roman Times, where stand-up philosopher Comicus (Brooks again) earns Nero’s (Dom DeLuise) displeasure at Caesar’s Palace and flees Rome with pretty Vestal Virgin Miriam (Mary-Margaret Humes) and light-footed slave Josephus (Gregory Hines) in tow.

A brief song-and-dance by the Spanish Inquisition brings us to the French Revolution, where randy King Louis XVI (Brooks yet again) frets over the imminent arrival of Mme Defarge’s (the always wonderful Cloris Leachman) rabble, leaving a doppelganger to see to Pamela Stephenson’s Mlle Rimbaud, willing to do anything – that’s anything – to free her imprisoned father (Spike Milligan).

I don’t know whether it’s truer of comedy than any other artistic endeavour, but it’s certainly true that when comedians are hot, they’re hot and when they’re not, they’re pretty lousy. And it’s alarming how cold Mel Brooks is as writer, director and star of History of the World: Part I. The episodic structure suggests a lack of inspiration, though the term ‘episodic’ really does too much justice to some of the ‘episodes’ since only two sections – Roman Times and The French Revolution – have any sort of story or substance at all.

However, the bittiness of the material isn’t nearly as damaging as the fact that so little of it is funny. The 2001 spoof is juvenile but raises a laugh because it’s so unexpected, but most of the rest is a mixture of the puerile and the overfamiliar. The hard work that goes into creating a set and props for the Fifteen Commandments is paid off weakly, while I get the distinct impression that ‘Roman Times’ was inspired by the critical and financial success of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Unfortunately, the inspiration doesn’t make it as far as the writing, with the result that the director, DeLuise, Madeleine Kahn (as Empress Nympho) and so on are forced into slapstick and manic gurning to raise laughs, while Brooks recycles material from Las Vegas cabaret and Carry on Cleo (the Vestal Virgins played by Playboy Bunnies) and still struggles for giggles, hindered as he is by Hines’ unexciting turn (he’s no Cleavon Little) and the overwhelming blandness of Humes’ attractive but boring Miriam.

Airplane!-style literalisms fall flat (‘The streets are crawling with soldiers’), and although I’d never call Brooks racist or homophobic, he panders to lazy stereotypes throughout – he’s never been averse to using dolly birds as set dressing, of course, so it would be redundant to complain about sexism.

The remainder of the film is afflicted with the same issues, exacerbated by a sense that Brooks is raiding his own back catalogue for ideas. I don’t think there’s a direct Python influence in the Spanish Inquisition sketch, but the idea of a soft-shuffling musical number making light of an episode of persecution of Jews might just ring a bell with fans of The Producers, augmented here by nuns paying tribute to Esther Williams. Similarly, the French Revolution brings us Harvey Korman as a constantly mispronounced Count de Monet and Andreas Voutsinas as his ‘saucy’ friend Bearnaise, ripping off Blazing Saddles and The Producers in one fell swoop.

As a result, and because the plot is a fairly lame excuse to engage Stephenson and others in bosom-heaving and bodice-ripping, the attention wanders into spotting familiar British faces and figures: Cleo Rocos, Bella Emberg, Nigel Hawthorne, Andrew Sachs and so on. In fact, the cameos are generally more interesting than the jokes, so you might also spot Hugh Hefner, Jackie Mason, Bea Arthur – and John Hurt as Jesus. To be totally fair, the Last Supper skit is pretty good, but it’s one of very few moments of quality and originality. Brooks’ comedies are often extremely broad and all the better for it; here, however, you’re left wishing you were watching the infinitely more substantial films in which the jokes first appeared.

Like so many things in life, the first thing that came to mind immediately after watching History of the World: Part I was an episode of The Simpsons. I’m thinking of the one in which Bart briefly becomes a comedy sensation with the catchphrase ‘I didn’t do it!’ and ends up repeating his shtick to a jaded and unappreciative audience. I’m afraid Brooks’ shtick comes unshtuck in much the same fashion in this lazy and only fitfully funny compendium. I don’t know if Part II – trailed at the end of this movie – was ever going to be made, but I’m not in the least bit sad that it didn’t come to fruition, even if Jews in Space was to prove prophetic for Mel’s next project.

I Love You, Man*

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: With his wedding to Zooey fast approaching, Peter Klaven confronts the reality that he doesn’t have a close male friend to act as his best man. Acquiring one proves to be fraught with difficulties, until a chance meeting with ‘investor’ Sydney Fife leads to an exciting new world of male bonding. But will the relationship with Zooey survive Peter and Sydney’s powerful bromance?

Los Angeles estate agent Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) has plans: if he can convince someone to buy Lou Ferrigno’s house at the right price, he can start buying land towards a development of his own; while on a personal level, Zooey (the charming Rashida Jones) accepts his proposal of marriage, the news leapt upon with glee by her close circle of friends including dippy Hailey (Sarah Burns) and Denise (Jaime Pressley). Peter, however, has no-one to spread the news with but his family, and when he overhears the women fretting that he’ll become a clingy husband without male friends, he decides he must get at least one.

A poker night with Denise’s aggressive husband Barry (Jon Favreau) ends in disaster, as does a ‘man-date’ with Doug (Thomas Lennon), and it looks like Peter’s gay brother Robbie (Andy Samberg) will have to do the best man duties. Luckily, Sydney (Jason Segel) turns up at an open house at the Ferrigno place, and Peter is intrigued by the big man’s laid-back, self-pleasing style, not to mention his love of Canadian prog-rock band Rush (no, me neither**); but as the men bond, Sydney’s plain-speaking ways and demands on Peter’s time and wallet start to put a strain on the lovers’ relationship, to the extent that the wedding itself is put in jeopardy.

At a first glance, it’s frankly amazing that I Love You, Man – with its familiar cast, incessantly fruity language and obsession with things sexual – has no connection whatsoever with Judd Apatow. Look again, however, and it’s not so surprising: firstly, there’s no Seth Rogen, Segel taking the slacker role that would surely have been his; secondly, the film often sails so close to The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s winds that Apatow might think he’d already made the film once. I Love You, Man is essentially a variation on the themes of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, with Rudd taking Steve Carell’s place as the man who never got round to making that ‘special’ friend, displaying a similar verbal awkwardness, the same embarrassment around the poker table and so on. The movie also has strong echoes of Mike Gayle’s book Brand New Friend, although I would imagine purely by coincidence.

These comparisons don’t really get the film reviewed, of course; and the only question that really matters is whether the film works on its own terms. Unfortunately, the answer is a non-committal ‘not really.’ The relationships at the heart of the film are believable and entertaining, Rudd and Jones making a nice couple and Rudd and Segel riffing off each other (musically as well as comically) to good effect. There are also decent contributions made by Lennon, Burns (who has fun during a disastrous double date), J.K. Simmons and Jane Curtin (as Peter’s parents), while Jon Favreau consistently steals scenes with appealingly overbearing boorishness.

On the other hand, the writing rarely rises above the sniggering level of the classroom, the focus of the jokes coming from such lofty topics as farts, vomit, masturbation and oral sex; and while there’s a nice, Egypt-offending joke about Sydney’s dog looking like Anwar Sadat, it’s ruined by the fact that Syd, who we’re presumably meant to like on some level, refuses to clear up the animal’s poo – his other attributes include freeloading and preying on vulnerable divorcees. You could argue that this adds to our own apprehensions towards him, fears compounded when he asks Peter for money, but Sydney’s disruption of Peter’s life never feels as though it could ultimately result in catastrophe. The plot merely hobbles along in a thoroughly predictable fashion towards an equally unsurprising climax, and a contrived, largely undeserved mega-happy ending for all concerned.

I Love You, Man avoids some potential pitfalls quite neatly. For while suggesting that there’s no higher love than that between two men, it – unlike Superbad – also finds time to enjoy relationships between females, as well as heterosexual and homosexual love. Rudd’s affability also helps to offset Segel’s chauvinism, though he’s by no means as obnoxious here as in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Rashida Jones is sweet in a part that might have been naggy. But it’s rarely more than lightly amusing and is destined to be swiftly forgotten, by me at any rate.

NOTES: 1I’m glad to review this film because I received a request, back in the day, to do so – though it did take two years to get around to it. The moral? I do requests, but you might have to be patient.

2This is a reflection of my ignorance rather than an observation about the qualities of Rush, who may well be superb. They are almost certainly bigger in North America than they have ever been in Britain.

Bean

WFTB Score: 6/20

The plot: Bumbling gallery caretaker Mr Bean is dispatched to America to oversee the arrival of the priceless ‘Whistler’s Mother’ in Los Angeles. Curator David Langley eagerly awaits the masterpiece and an ultra-sophisticated art expert. What he actually invites into his home is a clumsy oaf who causes havoc wherever he goes, threatening to ruin David’s personal and professional lives.

The board of Britain’s Royal National Gallery can’t wait to fire their worst employee, dozy perpetual latecomer Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson). However, they’ve reckoned without the support of John Mills’ sympathetic chairman, who demands that he’s kept on. The board’s alternative plan is to get rid of Bean by packing him off to America, where the Grierson Art Gallery have just bought Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, or simply “Whistler’s Mother”, from the Musée D’Orsay. As far as Grierson’s highly-strung curator David (Peter MacNicol) is aware, Bean is a visiting doctor who will give a learned presentation about the painting at its official unveiling – that is, until he meets him.

At the gallery, Bean appears more interested in his trousers and taking holiday snaps than in meeting owner George Grierson (Harris Yulin) or any of the art on display, but worse is to come: firstly, Bean causes constant havoc at the Langley family’s home, causing David’s wife Alison (Pamela Reed) to fume, then move out altogether with kids Kevin and Jennifer (Andrew Lawrence and Tricia Vessey); then, mere seconds after the painting arrives in the US, Bean contrives to wipe Mrs Whistler’s face clean off the canvas. Catastrophe looms for David, but he hasn’t accounted for the unconventional Englishman’s lunatic resourcefulness.

Because I’m nice, I’ll start with what’s good about Bean. Err…well, if you like Rowan Atkinson’s physical brand of gormless gurning, there’s plenty of it in the movie. He wreaks endless mayhem in airports, on (incongruous) theme park rides, in the kitchen, the bathroom, the gallery, the hospital (of which more later), pulling the whole gamut of bizarre faces as he goes. The odd, smart Richard Curtis touch occasionally threatens to seep out (the merchandising of Whistler’s mother is abominable, yet believable), but then again so do utterly crass gags (no doubt by Curtis too) – laxatives, Bean suffering suspicious wet trousers which are dried via an unspeakable-looking interaction with a hot-air drier.

Bean is essentially a one-man show that doesn’t readily become a double act; but as far as it goes, the unlikely partnership David and Bean strike up works quite well and MacNicol does as well as can be hoped for in the circumstances – a shower scene raises a decent chuckle. But in general, the film pushes at the limits of what Mr Bean can reasonably do – he’s enough of a fish out of water on his own doorstep, so his transplantation to America seems like an unnecessary step. Moreover, by abandoning his trademark silence to give speeches Bean loses his Unique Selling Point, moving from Tati-like ingenuity to Pee Wee Hermanesque oddity.

However, if the character of Bean feels awkward on the big screen, it’s as nothing compared to the awkwardness of the plot. It’s creaky, contrived and raises a heap of questions: why, in a transaction between French and American museums, is there any need for a British gallery to be involved? Why on Earth would David invite a complete stranger into the family home? Above all, why did anyone think it would be a good idea to tack on a second, high-drama climax of Jennifer falling off a motorbike and Bean being mistaken for another sort of doctor? Bean extracting a bullet from Richard Gant’s bolshy Lt. Brutus is daft enough, but his revival of Jennifer by firstly straddling, then landing on top of her, borders on being tasteless.

I can understand why the scenes were written, to heighten the emotions, to make Bean even more of a hero, and (mostly?) to bump up the running time, but the shift in tone is entirely out of place; and since Jennifer is clearly unscathed in the following scenes, I suspect the whole section was put in as a late, if not after-, thought.

Besides, Bean could have been the best-plotted comedy in the world, could have had music that was sympathetic and apt rather than overbearing, loud and featuring lousy covers of classic pop (Stuck in the Middle With You and Yesterday), and could have used Burt Reynolds brilliantly instead of stuffing him into an utterly pointless cameo as the gallery’s sponsor, General Newman; and I would still have taken against it.

Why? M and bloody Ms. The pervasiveness of the product placement is distracting, from the first appearance of the sweets during Bean’s plane journey to the one that Bean fishes around for when he finds Brutus’ bullet (oh yes, they’re used in the plot too); but the worst offender is the vast mound of sweets that takes pride of place in the Langley home. I can understand why the film would want to send its hero to America, where the largest film market is; but if you’re so desperate to sell ‘candy’, why not just show an advert before the film? (And yes, I know there’s a Mr Bean advert for M&Ms).

Still, at the end of the day I realise that (for whatever reason) there are big fans of Mr Bean out there, and for those fans the product placement and the terrible plot are but minor considerations: Bean contains lots of Bean, and is therefore all gravy. I laughed a couple of times, and felt for little David as he struggled with his monstrous man-child of a house-guest. And at least Mel Smith’s film had a go at telling a story, unlike the entirely execrable Mr Bean’s Holiday.

Wall-E

WFTB Score: 18/20

The plot: He may be a simple garbage-crushing robot, but Wall-E still dreams of finding true love among the ruins of Earth. When Eve descends from the heavens, the little fellow is terrified, then lovestruck; but she has a higher purpose than making friends – not that it stops Wall-E from holding on to her for dear life.

Poor old Wall-E (voiced, after a fashion, by Ben Burtt). The people of Earth have taken an extended break from the planet, leaving the hardy little robot alone – apart from an even hardier cockroach – to clean up the mess. Wall-E feels his loneliness too, reminded by a scratchy copy of Hello, Dolly! that love isn’t all around; so when a spaceship arrives and a sleek, curvy white robot called Eve (Elissa Knight) disembarks, it’s no surprise that he’s smitten.

Eve, however, has bigger fish to fry, or rather life of any sort to gather, but her reaction to Wall-E showing her a sapling is not what he would have wanted – she takes custody of the plant and shuts off completely until her rocket returns. Wall-E hitches a lift back to the mothership, The Axiom, a cruise liner built by the BNL company (under their CEO, Fred Willard’s Shelby Forthright) to save humans the trouble of looking after themselves or the planet. However, as Wall-E and Eve are to find out, and the Axiom’s Captain (Jeff Garlin) discovers very slowly, things have gone very, very wrong in the last 700 years.

For all its awards and critical plaudits, it would be wrong to say that Wall-E is beyond reproach. For some, the tale of a litter-tidying robot falling in love and saving the human race from its own sugar-guzzling stupidity will be the sort of sentimental, lefty, tree-hugging schmaltz that even George Lucas shied away from (there was never, we assume, a Mrs R2-D2*). I will give them this: the second half of the film isn’t quite as inventive or beautiful as the first.

On the other hand…until I see an animated film that’s truly indistinguishable from reality, I’m unlikely to be equally wowed by another CGI movie as I was by Wall-E. A foolhardy statement, perhaps; but I make it in all sincerity. Just in terms of its looks, the film is an incredible achievement, both on Earth – where the skyscrapers are eerily-familiar but made entirely out of junk – and in space. It’s immediately apparent that Pixar have honed their skills to perfection, both in terms of the protagonists and the worlds in which they live.

Moreover, the film is funny. From Toy Story onwards, Pixar have been superb at orchestrating scenes to achieve perfect comic timing; while that has occasionally been overly calculating – nobody will convince me of the merit of fake CGI ‘bloopers’ – the lack of dialogue here elevates many scenes to the level of Chaplin or Keaton at their best.

So far, so kiddie-friendly: but Wall-E explores more mature themes too. The sexless, almost wordless, yet incredibly tender romance between our hero and Eve works better than any number of explicitly romantic films – while Hello, Dolly! (to pick an example not quite at random) has its moments, it doesn’t come near to this film in terms of exploring what it’s like to fall, and be, in love.

Wall-E is the quintessence of a love story, and a doubly abstracted one at that (we’re not watching robots in love, we’re watching drawings of robots in love); since there’s no dialogue to speak of, all the meaning comes from the images married with Thomas Newman’s lovely music. The result is new, unexpected, a technological marvel that at times imitates ballet.

There’s another love story going on too, and I don’t mean John and Mary’s impromptu romance aboard the Axiom; while he battles the ship’s disobedient auto-pilot, the captain learns about long-forgotten Earth rituals: farming, dancing, pizza(!). By taking Western vices of laziness and wilful pollution to an extreme conclusion, Andrew Stanton gives us all pause for thought about the things we stand to lose; and how wonderful to see an American film confront the potential – repeat, potential – ills of unfettered consumerism on the planet and populace alike.

I’ll admit that the obese passengers of the Axiom are pretty unsubtle and suggest that Stanton (and Pixar in general?) might prefer the reliability of their machines over lazy humans, but as a cautionary tale it works stunningly well. As I’ve already conceded, the film does become more predictable as it ramps up the action, the deranged robots (for example) recalling the misfit toys in Toy Story. Yet all is redeemed by the touching denouement which itself continues to evolve as the credits roll, beautifully sketching the future of mankind through the history of art.

Though I’ve not reviewed everything of Pixar’s (I look forward to watching Finding Nemo again), I can’t help but applaud their dedication to quality film-making using tools that they are constantly re-inventing and refining**. Nothing will ever replace the joy of seeing Toy Story for the first time, but the visual, intellectual and emotional impact of Wall-E has to make it the ‘better’ film, whatever that means. Whether or not you have any affection for digital animation, if you like good movies you should watch both – and because it’s that good, start with this one.

NOTES: 1 Oh good grief.

2 Hence the disappointment with Cars. Not a bad movie, just unusually unbrilliant.

Carry On England

WFTB Score: 3/20

The plot: In 1940, Captain Melly is sent to sort out a dysfunctional mixed battery which is in no fit state to be trusted with a real gun. With vocal Sergeant Major ‘Tiger’ Bloomer at his side, he plans to put a stop to the overfriendly relations between male and female personnel. Sergeants (and sweethearts) Willing and Able value the battery’s unique arrangement and come up with a series of sneaky countermeasures.

With the Battle of Britain looming on the horizon, the army needs its men and women to have their minds on the job – the job of defending the country, that is, not the one uppermost in the minds of the male squaddies and females of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) who work, rest and…er, play cheek by jowl in their experimental mixed-sex battery. Captain S. Melly (Kenneth Connor) is dispatched to get the rabble into fighting shape, but he quickly finds out that it’s going to be a very tricky job, because the men and women of the unit are unsurprisingly comfortable with their intimate arrangements.

The ploy of getting Sergeant Major Bloomer (Windsor Davies) to shout them into submission fails, largely because he’s got Private Ffoukes-Sharpe (Joan Sims) chasing him around the place; and Melly’s all-out war on cohabitation faces resistance from all sides, not least Sergeants Willing and Able (Judy Geeson and Patrick Mower), backed up by Bombardier Ready and Private Easy (Jack Douglas and Diana Langton). Events quickly escalate as Melly becomes more power-crazed and puts barbed wire between the barracks, while the lower ranks fight back with underhand – you might say dirty – tactics. Hopefully, the boys and girls will be able to pull together when Goering’s Luftwaffe arrives.

Many Carry On fans cite England as their least favourite film in the series, and it’s not hard to see why. For while it never plumbs the depths of the desperate Emmannuelle, that film at least had the vaguest notion of an edge, of sauce, of parody, however limply delivered. And it had Kenneth Williams. Carry on England is propelled by the combined star power of Kenneth Connor, weedy and blustering, Jack Douglas, twitching manfully away, and Windsor Davies, reprising his shouty role from sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (with little Melvyn Hayes in tow).

There’s also Diana Langton coming on like a cut-price brunette Babs Windsor and Patrick Mower failing to exhibit a shred of comic prowess (he’s since found his niche as a lothario in Emmerdale), together with Joan Sims in a role which doesn’t call for much range and Peter Butterworth in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Judy Geeson doesn’t do an awful lot, but relatively speaking she’s a rare bright spot in a distinctly unimpressive cast list.

However, the real problem with England lies not with the cast but the dreadful script penned by David Pursall and Jack Seddon, which takes a semi-decent idea (the ‘Home Front’ kept Dad’s Army going for ten years, after all) and ruins the whole premise with unrelentingly juvenile jokes. For example, just consider how weak a joke calling your lead character ‘S.Melly’ is – it’s the sort of thing a 10-year-old would raise a weary eyebrow at. Barely more palatable are the weak puns dished out by Peter Jones’ bumptious Brigadier – yes, they’re deliberately poor, but they’re no less dull for being dull on purpose.

And things are no better away from the wordplay, since nearly all the movie’s comedy is based around the humiliations dished out to Melly: getting knocked over, losing his clothes, getting knocked into a bin, using joke soap, getting knocked into something very smelly, having to wear women’s clothes, getting knocked down by the anti-aircraft gun, and so on. There’s some laborious business around the digging of tunnels and two or three minutes of dubious storyline where the previously-useless troops miraculously down four enemy planes, and then a daft Churchill-related joke wraps it all up.

I’m genuinely struggling to think of a line that made me so much as smile, but I suppose ‘How did he get into our army?’ got close-ish. Which is scarcely a glowing recommendation. Oh, and lest I forget, there’s a short scene of toplessness from five ATS women which is neither sexy nor funny, and serves no purpose other than to show how desperate the producers were to offer something for filmgoers hardened up (if you will) by the Confessions Of… movies.

Perhaps the pithiest review of Carry On England is offered by the film’s DVD and video cases. Above the title are smiling caricatures of the stars of Carry On: Bernard Bresslaw, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Jim Dale and Charles Hawtrey: in this movie, all you get is a bit of Joan, and she’s not used extensively or particularly well (though that’s not altogether atypical). With such a horrible script, it’s hard to credit that England would have been any good with the whole crew alive and present; but the loss of nearly all the stars certainly plays its part in this film being but a tiny fraction as good as the series in its pomp. One, I’m afraid, for completists, masochists and insomniacs.