Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, James Corden, Catherine Keener Directed By: John Carney. Running Time: 104 minutes. UK Release Date: November 10, 2014 . Certificate: 15. Your Rating: 4 out of 5
Gretta (Knightley) is young, English and has some talent as a musician. She also has a good comedy sidekick/friend in Steve (James Corden). But her dreams of musical success in New York lie in tatters. After her recent break-up with boyfriend and collaborator Dave (Levine), she is bound for the next flight home.
Dan (Ruffalo), meanwhile, is middle-aged and seems to be on the way down after both a successful producing career and his marriage come to an end. He happens to see Gretta performing at an open mic session on her last night in town. Could this meeting be exactly what these two lost souls need?
Admittedly, this film from Once director John Carney sounds predictable as hell on paper and to some extent, this is true. But Ruffalo is great, making a potentially sleazy character likeable. Knightly can sing and has some nice scenes bonding with Dan’s teenage daughter. There are no real villains here – even Gretta’s ex has redeeming qualities and yes, this is relentlessly feelgood. But it’s not stupid either. So what’s wrong with that?
There is a “making of” featurette and some music videos on the DVD/Blu-ray. Haters of James Corden or Keira Knightley (and, yes, such people do exist) will want to steer clear and the music might repel some. But everyone else should find this an uplifting and rewarding musical treat.
Overall Verdict: The Hulk and Anna Karenina: together at last and unleashed on New York.
Special Features: The Making of Begin Again Featurette, Music Videos
The following review was first published in DVD Monthly magazine in 2005.
Sub-heading suggestions: Reese almighty/High spirits/Spirited away/While she was sleeping.
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Jon Heder, Donal Logue, Dina Spybey, Ben Shenkman
Director: Mark Waters
Distributor: DreamWorks Pictures Original Release: 2005
The Lowdown: When ER doctor Elizabeth’s overworked, socially undernourished existence is brought to an abrupt halt by a wayward truck, she soon finds her spiritual form sharing her flat with lonely semi-alcoholic, widower architect David. But is Elizabeth really dead? Why can only David see her? And can stoner bookshop employee Darryl help?
Review: While few men would balk at the prospect of suddenly discovering Reese Witherspoon was their room-mate, Just Like Heaven is a rom-com with a supernatural twist. For as with Brad Pitt at the start of Meet Joe Black, here we’ve barely had a chance to get familiar with the overworked singleton lifestyle of Witherspoon’s medic (a sort of cross between Bridget Jones and the one of the cast of ‘ER’) before she has a close encounter with a runaway lorry and is killed.
However, as with the unfortunate couple in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, the next thing she knows she’s back in her apartment and railing against the intrusion of new resident David.
We’ve been here before, of course. In addition to the films already mentioned, Just Like Heaven draws on everything from (most obviously) Ghost, to the 1930s Topper movies and even has shades of While You Were Sleeping. But happily Just Like Heaven is (just) cute enough to get away with it’s somewhat less than groundbreaking premise.
Partly this is down to Reese Witherspoon. While (as with Sweet Home Alabama) she’s clearly working with less incisive material than in her best work (Election, Pleasantville) she is never less than her usual luminous and quirky onscreen self. As David, Ruffalo is less good, never really proving that he has the aptitude either for physical comedy or for the dour ‘sad Tom Hanks in Sleepless In Seattle’ type romantic lead role the screenplay demands of him, though this isn’t a serious problem.
Indeed, comedic honours probably go to Jon Heder who as semi-psychic alternative bookshop assistant Darryl is good in his first significant if small post-Napoleon Dynamite role, a sort of stoner answer to Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Ghost.
The film has its problems. For one thing, it’s rarely that funny. The early scenes detailing Elizabeth and David’s fractious first encounters wherein both argue vigorously over who is intruding upon whose flat are fine. Elizabeth (who like the ‘dead people’ in The Sixth Sense doesn’t know she’s a ghost) reasons that the drunken David is a vagrant who has wondered in off the streets. But the film gets funnier once David recognises Elizabeth is more than a product of his lonely alcoholic mind and enlists a range of solutions to vanquish her from the flat: namely a New Age guru, some amateurish ‘Ghostbusters’ and a priest who repeatedly intones “The power of Christ compels you!” to no discernible effect.
Some too, might lament that Waters, who did, after all, direct the dark edged Mean Girls in addition to cheerier fare such as Freaky Friday hasn’t produced a blacker film. But darkness and romantic comedy can be uneasy bedfellows and it’s probably to its benefit that Just Like Heaven is good-natured to its core.
Sadly, the extras never really rise above the average. The ‘Making Of’ featurette is the usual promotional fare and is supplemented by a similar and fairly unnecessary ‘Meet the Cast’ featurette (high court judges aside, even before Walk The Line was there anyone out there unfamiliar with Reese Witherspoon?). And despite the slightly surprising revelation that the film is based on a French novel (Marc Levy’s ‘If Only It Were True’), you’ll soon find your attention wandering during the filmmaker’s commentary.
Although in fairness this isn’t really the sort of film that readily lends itself to hours of dissection and analysis. For make no mistake: while this won’t linger long in the memory, Just Like Heaven is against all odds, one of the better romantic comedies of the past year. It’s just that as with ‘Great Films Starring Hilary Duff’ and ‘Intelligent Statements Made By President Bush’ this isn’t exactly an overcrowded field.
Final Verdict It’s not going to change the world but if you do fancy a Friday night date movie, you could do a lot worse.
The following review was first published in DVD Monthly magazine in 2005.
Sub-heading: The Truman Show
Region 1 review. Text by Chris Hallam Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban Director: Bennett Miller
The Lowdown: On learning of the brutal murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas, author and celebrity Truman Capote travels to the victims’ town with his lifelong friend, novelist Harper Lee. By befriending the local community, sheriff and the killers, he finds material for his literary masterpiece ‘In Cold Blood’.
God knows what the good people of Kansas made of Truman Capote in 1959. Short, portly and as camp as a field of boy scouts, the ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ author was openly gay and more familiar with swanky New York literary parties than courtrooms and jail cells.
Capote’s personal investigation into the Clutter murders was to prove a turning point not just in his own life but also in the history of literature. ‘In Cold Blood’ would provide a compelling mix of fact and fiction that would revolutionise modern journalism. Yet the moment of Capote’s greatest triumph would also precipitate his downfall. The film centres on the author’s conflict as he befriends one of the accused men Perry Smith while ultimately hoping to benefit from his execution (if only because it would guarantee a suitable finale for his book). By focusing exclusively on the crucial 1959-1965 period, ‘Capote’ reveals as much as any standard cradle to grave ‘Truman is born, realises he’s gay, writes, becomes a success, parties, drinks a lot, falls out with everyone, dies’ biopic would have done. It also gets round the thorny issue that unless the subject is a suicidal maniac like Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath, the process of writing (as with the world of computer hacking) is notoriously un-cinematic.
As Capote, Hollywood’s second most famous Hoffman is great, richly deserving his Oscar. But he’s not the only good thing here. The ever excellent Catherine Keener also excels as Harper Lee, Capote’s lifelong friend (Truman was the model for Dill in her ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’) whose success eats Capote up with jealousy. And with a flawless cast and sensitive intelligent screenplay from TV actor Dan Futterman, newbie director Miller (who has only directed one documentary before) doesn’t put a foot wrong.
Extras-wise, as so often before, the splitting of the ‘Making of’ featurette into two, merely serves as a none too convincing cover for the fact that neither are more than a few minutes long. And while both are good – the first half cantering more on Capote the man, the second more on ‘Capote’ the film – a longer documentary on Capote is sorely missed as it’s exactly the sort of film to leaves you thirsting for more info about its subject. Hoffman and Miller’s generally sedate commentary is lifted by Hoffman’s refreshing frankness in frequently admitting his struggle to get into character in many of his (ostensibly flawless) scenes. The other commentary in which Miller returns with cinematographer Kimmel is less interesting. But while more input from the screenwriters would have been appreciated, this is a generally fine package, which like the film, cannot easily be faulted.
Text By Chris Hallam
Captions 1: Hoffman lost 40 pounds for the role (although is still six and half inches taller than Capote was).
2: Catherine Keener plays Capote’s friend, author Harper Lee. The real Lee reputedly liked the film.
3: Unusually, two out of five of this year’s Best Picture nominees centred on gay characters.
4: Chris Cooper: in this and every other film this year seemingly.
5: The accused men have rather more riding on the outcome of the case than the success of a book. 6: The real Capote boozed himself to death in 1984.
Final Verdict An excellent, well-acted portrait of a troubled, super intelligent man at a pivotal stage in his life.
Lack of creativity is often blamed but perhaps a bigger factor is the name recognition advantage a remade TV or film automatically has. Nick Love has, after all, made several crime dramas. But do the names The Business or Outlaw resonate as much as The Sweeney? And why bother promoting a brand new supernatural comedy when most people already know Ghostbusters?
Remakes come in different shapes and sizes:
Remakes that attempt to follow the original exactly: This sounds like a flawless strategy. But as Gus Van Sant’s pointless 1999 remake of Psycho demonstrated, the results are at worst bad (Vince Vaughn going through his “serious” phase as Norman Bates??) at best, pointless. See also: Peter Jackson’s King Kong.
Remakes that are nothing like the original: The Italian Job (2003) really isn’t a bad film at all. But aside from minis, crime and Italy, it bears no resemblance to the original whatsoever. No comedy clifhangers, self preservation society, no bloody doors blown off. Nothing. But if the film hadn’t technically been a remake, I wouldn’t be discussing it now.
Remakes of non-English language films: A bit silly, of course, as most people can read subtitles. However, with the exception of The Vanishing, the record here isn’t too bad. Let Me In (a remake of the recent Swedish vampire classic Let The Right One In) and David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo were all very close to being as good as the original, if not as good. Even The Birdcage (La Cage aux Folles) was pretty decent. But people do get snobby about this sort of thing.
Remakes/sequels which attempt to improve upon a flawed original: Perhaps the best argument for remaking anything. Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk was close to being a sequel to Ang Lee’s Hulk but with a different cast. The recent Dredd was also an improvement on the terrible Judge Dredd (1995) starring Sylvester Stallone. But none of these remakes were great either. And why the remake of The Amazing Spider Man (2012) so soon after Spider Man (2002)? Was the new film good? Yes. Did the new cast work well? Yes. Was there anything wrong with the original? No. this was a remake when a sequel would have worked just as well. Did we really need to see how Peter Parker became Spiderman again? I can see the argument for remaking the flaccid Superman Returns (2006)as Man of Steel though. Most people have forgotten it already.
Remakes that are so terrible they shame the memory of the original: Get Carter. Alfie. Fame. Shaft. The Fog. The Stepford Wives. Poseidon. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Halloween. Rollerball. The Ladykillers. Straw Dogs. The Time Machine. Sadly this is by far the biggest category. Even when a good director attempts to put a new spin on a classic as with Neil La Bute’s The Wicker Man or Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, the result is still often appalling.
Remakes which surpass the original: Yes, this does sometimes happen! True Grit, Ocean’s Eleven or Total Recall. The trick seems to be to try to remake something that wasn’t great in the first place. David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) or John Carpenter’s The Thing are also solid examples.
Did Arnie really seem convincing as an ordinary construction worker at the start of Total Recall? No. Colin Farrell is less good with the catchy pay offs but much more convincing as a real man. And thank God there was no more of that “suffocating in the Martian atmosphere” bollocks. But yes, the original score was better.
Here are some films that are ripe for the remake treatment:
Network (1976): A news network exploits one of its anchorman after he goes bonkers on air. By no means a bad film but flawed by an unnecessary voiceover. Could be redone well provided it doesn’t veer to close to comedy. Anchorman II is already being made after all. (Also: Broadcast News).
Time After Time (1979): HG Wells travels in his own time machine to the present. No. it wasn’t very good in reality but the idea is a good one.
Sleeper (1973): A man (Woody Allen) wakes up in the 22rd century after a spell in suspended animation. The original’s a hoot but who watches it now? It also introduced the Orgasmatron to the world.
Barbarella (1968) Fairly pervy space opera with Jane Fonda. It could work. Jessica Alba? Kate Beckinsale? Anyone you fancy.
Dune (1984). A truly great science fiction novel. Neither the David Lynch film or the TV series did it justice.
Slaughterhouse Five (1972) Brilliant time travel novel. The film has not been watched by anyone since an old man watched it in 1995. He died shortly afterwards. So it goes.
Duel (1971) Spielberg’s lorry themed debut.
The Day of the Triffids: Neither TV or film have served John Wyndham’s classic plant takeover sci-fi well.
Westworld (1973) Robots go berserk in a theme park. As parodied on The Simpsons.
Village of the Damned (1960). Alien children take over a village. This John Wyndham classic (yes, I like him!) The Midwich Cuckoos has already been remade by John Carpenter. Badly. As revenge, Carpenter has since seen two terrible remakes of his own early works (Halloween, The Fog).