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Date: 24 February, 2006
Steve Couch reviews films recently released on DVD.
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Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
A feature length debut for the saviours of both Wensleydale and the Plasticene industry. Everything that you associate with Wallace and Gromit is present and correct: bizarre inventions; ludicrous business ventures; cute animals and a steady stream of genuinely funny moments. Some of the set pieces are laugh out loud funny, and as ever there are plenty of puns and subtle sight gags squirreled away in the background for the careful observer or repeat viewer.
But it’s the Claymation superstars who make this such a joy. Wallace is a hopelessly brilliant and brilliantly hopeless as ever, while Gromit’s deadpan reactions and eyebrow work establish him, once again, as the real star of the show. Hutch the rabbit becomes more endearing as the film goes on, and guest stars Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes lend their respective vocal talents to the deliciously ridiculous heroine and villain.
But where does this stand in the Wallace and Gromit canon? Does the extra length translate into extra quality? For my money, this surpasses A Grand Day Out, stands shoulder to shoulder with The Wrong Trousers but falls just short of the sustained brilliance of A Close Shave. Nevertheless, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a joyous romp, well worth the 81 minutes running time several times over – which is the best way to watch it.
Need another reason? A lovingly assembled selection of extras spread over the two discs will provide plenty to reward adult and child viewers alike. There are games, short films, documentary featurettes and more. Add to that an amiable commentary from co-directors Nick Park and Steve Box and this package contains hours of fun. A set of bonus material that puts everything else this month to shame, and a film that is on a par with the best of the rest.
Riches to rags and back to riches, Ron Howard’s biopic of 1930s boxing legend Jim Braddock is exactly what you would expect from a Ron Howard movie. Depending on your taste this is either a fine piece of traditional narrative storytelling, with a strong emotional underpinning and a satisfying conclusion, or it’s a syrupy, schmaltzy display of over-emotional sentiment. The director’s Apollo 13 is possibly a good touchstone here – if you liked that, then this will probably do you just fine. If you would rather be stranded in a broken space ship yourself than watch the film, maybe Cinderella Man is best avoided too. Personally, I like Howard as a film maker, and I thought that this was another fine addition to his CV.
Russell Crowe brings a quiet integrity to the title role, while Renee Zellweger and Paul Giametti provide excellent support as wife and manager respectively. You don’t have to be a boxing fan (I’m not) to appreciate this movie. The climactic fight scene is nicely set up to provide genuine tension for those whose knowledge of boxing history doesn’t give away the result.
The extras are disappointing. We get archive footage of Braddock’s world title fight with Max Baer, with expert analysis from writer Norman Mailer. This may be of particular interest to fans of boxing history, but there isn’t much else to report, for them or for the rest of us. A shame, but the film is very good for those who like Howard’s way.
Pride and Prejudice
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all reviews of Pride and Prejudice have to (a) rip off the novel’s opening line; and (b) refer to the BBC’s hugely successful Sunday night series, best remembered for launching Colin Firth into the popular consciousness.
So how does the latest film version match up? Keira Knightley is appropriately spirited as Lizzie Bennet, while Matthew MacFadyen – fine actor as he is – makes for a melancholic Darcy who never quite escapes the smouldering shadow of his televisual forebear. Tom Hollander, meanwhile, has received so much praise from the critics for his odious clergyman Mr Collins, that it feels almost plagiaristic to say anything about him. Nevertheless, his supporting role is so good that I have to add my voice to the chorus of praise.
The bonus material aims largely at filling gaps in the viewer’s knowledge, with featurettes on the etiquette of eighteenth century dating, the stately homes featured in the film, and biographical information about Jane Austen and her creations. However, none of them are very long, and as a result they offer little more than the barest of introductions. Disappointing.
And finally, a confession. I’m not a Jane Austen fan. My most enjoyable Austen related moment (Bridget Jones apart) was a University essay where I argued that Lizzie Bennet is, in fact, a nasty piece of work (it’s all to do with narrative point of view, if you’re interested). In that context, let me say that while this film version has some enjoyable moments and excellent performances from Knightley, Hollander and several others, my experience of it wasn’t much more than OK. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a good film – my response was very much coloured by my distinct lack of enthusiasm for Austen.
Other people whose judgement I trust and who don’t share my prejudices enjoyed this far more than I did, and tell me that this is very good for those who like this sort of thing.
Click here for the Damaris Study Guide to Pride and Prejudice.
An uneven but enjoyable offering from director Cameron Crowe. This is a rites of passage saga where the emotional journey is far more important than the development of the plot. The basic story is that Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is a wiz kid executive in the sports shoe industry, until his design costs the company a small fortune. Still reeling from being both sacked and humiliated, Drew’s hears of his father’s death and finds himself travelling to the eponymous Deep South town to retrieve the body. En route he meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), an air hostess who helps Drew to re-engage with life.
It’s a love story, full of the kind of homespun wisdom that tops and tails Crowe’s more successful Jerry Maguire. The film is a little self indulgent at times, and like Cinderella Man, some viewers will consider it overly sentimental. But the attention to detail apparent in many of the minor characters makes up for that, and there is much to enjoy. As we have come to expect with Crowe, the soundtrack leans towards Southern tinged Americana, and I will always have something good to say about any film that find’s room for a cover version of Lynyrd Skynrd’s ‘Freebird’.
This column has been less than kind to Orlando Bloom in the past, and I have to admit, he’s not half bad in this. Kirsten Dunst on the other hand shines as Claire, with a wonderful performance that makes it impossible to decide if the character is a wise, perceptive guide to the ways of life or just a bit hopeless. Maybe she’s both – either way, her chemistry with Bloom’s Drew is believable, and the quirky relationship between the two carries the otherwise sprawling plot.
The extras are, sadly, negligible – with the glorious exception of the full version of Rusty’s Learning To Listen, Part 8: an instructional video for troublesome children which features in the film. Ka-boom.
Elizabethtown doesn’t reach the heights of Jerry Maguire, but this is still an enjoyable film. Ideal when you are after a night of wistful melancholy that somehow leaves you feeling good.
Click here for the Damaris Study Guide for Elizabethtown.