Economically speaking, theatres are a complete waste of space. I mean, take a look at the St James or the Embassy and try and imagine how many cubicles and desks you could fit in to those huge pieces of prime real estate. Or even better, how many cars could you park inside them? (Car parks require lower ceilings therefore more floors for the same building height) What kind of fool thinks of constructing a big empty building simply to shine a light through the middle of it?
This kind of nonsense has been going on for centuries though as Anonymous, Roland Emmerich’s new piece of speculative fiction, demonstrates. Stretching credulity almost as far as Star Trek requiring us to believe in faster-than-light speed, Anonymous asks its audience to assume that barely-literate actor Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) was not the author of all those plays and sonnets but instead they were penned by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) and used as a tool to rile the populace and provoke political unrest.
Setting aside the more insulting aspects of that assumption (that only an educated and well-bred man could possibly have written such glorious allusive poetry) I quite admired the film’s premise that art generally – and theatre specifically – can actually change minds, lives and the fates of nations. As an old school luvvie from way back, I like the sound of that and I liked Anonymous so help me. It’s a delicious, moustache-twirling, romp and not a history lesson, despite Sony Pictures’ egregious attempts to make it so.
And it kept me awake at 10.30 in the morning which Pierre Salvadori’s Beautiful Lies didn’t manage to do. From what I can gather this soft-headed Audrey Tautou vehicle is about a hairdresser who forwards an anonymous love letter she receives to her mother (Nathalie Baye) thinking she needs it more.
So a fairly terrible piece of family dishonesty kick-starts a romantic comedy in which Mom discovers the identity of the author – Sami Bouajila playing a Harvard-educated multi-lingual handyman with a thing for his boss Ms Tautou. I can’t tell you how it gets resolved as I woke up as the credits were rolling. I can say Ms Tautou’s charms have never been less evident.
John Madden made his name with a film about Shakespeare (Shakespeare in Love, 1998) but with The Debt he appears to be auditioning for the next-but-one Bond film. He manages several tense set-pieces pretty well but the film itself is too twisty and too tortuous to be truly satisfying. Three Israeli ex-Mossad agents (Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds) have been celebrated as heroes for eliminating Nazi war criminal (excellent Jesper Christensen from the more recent Bond films) in an operation in East Berlin in 1966. But the truth of what went on is hazy and through flashbacks and flashforwards what was once ravelled becomes un-ravelled.
Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life) and fruity former-Wellingtonian Marton Csokas acquit themselves well as younger versions of Mirren and Wilkinson respectively but Sam Worthington (once described uncharitably in this column as an “Aussie boofhead”) proves that he doesn’t have the chops for this line of work.
Rounding out the week I find myself writing reviews that could be from the 1980s. In The Thing a frozen shape-shifting alien is thawed out by unwitting Antarctic scientists and all heck breaks loose. In Conan, a fake-tanned, muscle-bound, oaf speaks in three word sentences and avenges the death of his father with a very big sword. And in I Don’t Know How She Does It, a privileged white woman angsts over combining her high-powered business career and her children.
Two of those are remakes and the third might as well be. The Thing has some moments that work and some that unwittingly make you laugh out loud. Some of the effects are genuinely creepy and some are just ridiculous and nobody involved seems to know the difference. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) will have better opportunities than this to show what she can do. At least you’d hope so.
Conan the Barbarian is just rubbish, horribly dated and witless. The effects look cheap, the 3D looks fake, the lead (Jason Momoa) can only dream of Schwarzenegger-like sophistication and the sexy bits ain’t sexy.
Finally, Sarah Jessica Parker drops down-market a tiny bit from Sex and the City but still narrates the crap out of I Don’t Know How She Does It. She’s a Boston investment banker with two kids, struggling to live up to the expectations of society, family but primarily Hollywood. Frankly, her biggest handicap is being married to Greg Kinnear but that’s neither here nor there.
Insulting to every woman who feels torn between career and family, grossly disrespectful to every person struggling to keep body and soul together without a selfless executive assistant, full-time nanny, six-figure salary or generous second income from architect husband, I Don’t Know… so completely misreads the zeitgeist that it could easily have been a Sex and the City sequel.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 9 November, 2011.