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Review: Gomorrah, The Proposal and A Bunch of Amateurs

By July 26, 2009December 30th, 2010No Comments

Gomorrah posterMartin Scorsese isn’t just a legendary dir­ect­or, he is also one of the world’s great enthu­si­asts for cinema – the defin­it­ive cine­aste if you will. By head­ing the World Cinema Foundation, he has lent his sub­stan­tial imprim­at­ur to major works of film res­tor­a­tion and he also uses his influ­ence to endorse sig­ni­fic­ant new European work, help­ing to get films like 2007’s The Golden Door wider atten­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion. Thus, “Martin Scorsese presents” Gomorrah, which opened nation­wide this week after stints at last year’s film fest­iv­al and the World Cinema Showcase in March.

Acclaimed around the world as a mod­ern mas­ter­piece, I don’t have much to add to the read­ily avail­able exist­ing plaudits. Squarely in the Italian neo-realist tra­di­tion, Gomorrah is a hand-held look at the cur­rent state of mafia affairs in Naples where a bru­tal work­ing class gang known the Camorra holds sway over the hous­ing estates and the impov­er­ished peas­ant classes. From pro­tec­tion rack­ets and drugs to the dis­pos­al of tox­ic waste, there’s not much that they aren’t into, mak­ing sure that all the gains are laundered swiftly into legit­im­ate busi­nesses that con­tin­ue to oper­ate around the world.

Gomorrah is raw stuff, to be sure, but dir­ect­or Matteo Garrone draws plenty of absurd humour out of the situ­ation along­side the sav­age (and sadly not exactly sense­less) viol­ence. One of the best films of this, or any, year.

The Proposal posterIt’s been a while since we’ve seen a Sandra Bullock romantic com­edy and The Proposal is a tol­er­able example. Bullock plays a hard-ass New York pub­lish­er who is Canadian solely for the pur­poses of the film’s plot. On the verge of being depor­ted as an illeg­al immig­rant she bul­lies her long-suffering Executive Assistant, played by Ryan Reynolds, into a last minute mar­riage of con­veni­ence. As one might expect this involves the two of them hav­ing to get to know one anoth­er rap­idly and then dis­cov­er­ing (pos­sibly too late) that they are in fact made for each other.

Bullock (who also Executive Produces) has lost some of that girl-next-door mojo and her (sus­pec­ted) face-lifts mean she looks more and more like Michael Jackson every film. Reynolds (who proved to have a tal­ent for these things in last year’s under-appreciated Definitely, Maybe) looks like he can’t believe that he’s work­ing with this old trout when he’s just mar­ried the real Scarlett Johansson, and only the ven­er­able Golden Girl her­self Betty White seems to be really com­mit­ted to the project.

A Bunch of Amateurs posterWhile crit­ics fawn over Jean-Claude Van Damme’s rein­ven­tion as a sens­it­ive and self-aware thespi­an, anoth­er age­ing action hero plays a thinly dis­guised ver­sion of him­self among the little people in A Bunch of Amateurs. Burt Reynolds was par­ody­ing him­self and his image when JCVD was in high school and he seems game enough as fad­ing star Jefferson Steel. Following the fail­ure of Ultimate Finality 4, and depressed by the deteri­or­at­ing rela­tion­ship with his daugh­ter (Camilla Arwfedson), Steel takes up an offer to play King Lear at Stratford in England, think­ing that he will be tread­ing the boards at a Royal Shakespeare Company with Dench, Branagh and McKellen. Instead he finds him­self in a Suffolk vil­lage work­ing with the loc­al am-dram com­pany as they try and save their theatre-in-a-barn.

A Bunch of Amateurs flirts with being quite good on those occa­sions when it makes par­al­lels with Lear’s own dis­in­teg­ra­tion but it mostly goes for the easy laughs and some of Britain’s finest per­formers hap­pily send them­selves up – Sir Derek Jacobi ends up face down in a pig sty for instance. Reynolds’ hips have gone and he looks like he is in ser­i­ous pain most of the time but A Bunch of Amateurs will pass the time per­fectly well for an un-demanding audience.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 24 June, 2009. I’ve just noticed that my ori­gin­al sub­mis­sion to CT called The Proposal The Proposition which would put a few people on a very dif­fer­ent track. The error is regret­ted and is cor­rec­ted here.