It’s an awfully long time since I have watched a complete episode of The Simpsons so I wasn’t 100% confident that I would be happy sitting through an extended version of the legendary hyperactive cartoon. I needn’t have worried. The Simpsons Movie is one of the most purely entertaining movies of the year, with all the stops pulled out by an army of talented writers and animators determined that the grand legacy be confirmed on the big screen.
And they have done it by not messing with the formula. The film is essentially an 85 minute episode of the series with the only visual concessions being an abundance of detail for the obsessives and an enriched colour palette. Plus, the extended duration gives the writers a chance to take some time to really give the film some heart.
The plot is an environmental one but the themes are all about family: Homer’s selfishness causes the entire town of Springfield to turn on them and Marge to doubt her commitment to the big yellow lump beside her. Meanwhile Bart is wondering whether it might not be more fun living next door with the pious but loving Flanders clan.
The screening I was at was only spoiled by the couple sitting next to me who insisted on narrating every incident and reading out loud every sign and t‑shirt on the screen: curse you and your unadulterated enthusiasm and enjoyment.
The Banquet from China is all about the visuals, despite being based (like The Lion King) on Hamlet. In 10th century China the Emperor has died suddenly and his position usurped by his brother, who has also taken the Emperor’s widow as his own wife. Crown Prince Wu Luan has been away studying to be an actor but returns to try and find out the truth.
Like The Curse of the Golden Flower earlier in the year, The Banquet is a an art and costume department triumph though I was left cold by the slow pacing and long running time.
French director François Ozon doesn’t hang about. Since Water Drops on Burning Rocks in 2000 he has delivered seven films in seven years and his last feature, Time to Leave, played at the World Cinema Showcase only a few months ago. Angel is his first film in English (despite being a French production) and is the melodramatic story of insufferable Edwardian schoolgirl Angel Deverell (Romola Garai) whose naïve dreams of becoming a great novelist come true but, of course, the happiness cannot last.
Ozon is paying homage to the great women’s flicks of the last century, the kind that might have starred Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, but his command of the style is far from complete and the dialogue often sounds like subtitles read aloud.
Also insufferable, but for different reasons, is Lindsay Lohan in Georgia Rule. She plays wilful teen Rachel Wilcox sent to her grandmother (Jane Fonda) in Idaho in the hope that small town, mid-western, magic will cure her of her obnoxiousness. This is another film being sold to female audiences but there is enough attention focused on Ms Lohan’s rack to keep the rest of the audience interested. Personally, I found the casual treatment of gross sexual abuse and alcoholism to be totally offensive in a film this shallow.
Printed (in somewhat edited fashion this week) in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 1 August, 2007.