Odds and ends

Simon Moore's Up on the Roof
Prejudice is a bad thing. The last thing I wanted to see last Wednesday was Up on the Roof. Wong Kar-Wai’s latest film, Happy Together, was screening. Michael Haneke’s London Film Festival talking point Funny Games was screening. But I had to go and watch a film about five students from Hull University who form an acapella group.
Simon Moore’s movie is an adaptation of the globally successful play of the same name he wrote with Jane Prowse. It keeps the play’s structure: three acts exploring the lives of the five friends at ten year intervals, starting with their final day at university. But otherwise, the play has been changed substantially. Beautifully shot on a fairly low budget, it works very well as a film.

As the years pass, the previously unsuccessful find success and the previously successful find failure. ‘Acapella group’ becomes a metaphor: each of these characters is shown to be very much alone whilst simultaneously relying upon the rest for support. It is also a useful metaphor with which to applaud the universally good performances: the actors manage to differentiate themselves without distancing themselves. This is ensemble acting at its best.

Not even the musical aspects offend. This is a film with music rather than a musical. The songs do not come too often, in fact they hardly come frequently enough. Because whenever they do come, they are welcome. Seventies classics beautifully arranged and beautifully sung, they brighten up this frequently rather melancholy movie wonderfully.

But the melancholy mood of much of the film is what makes it so special. It mirrored my mood at missing the new Wong Kar-Wai and the new Michael Haneke. Perhaps prejudice can sometimes be a positive thing.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Will it Snow for Christmas? has been released a few weeks prematurely. In fact its distributors Artificial Eye have done us all a favour. Not even Scrooge would want to spend his yule watching such a grim little movie.

Sandrine Veysett’s directorial debut follows the unfortunate lives of a common law wife and her seven illegitimate children. They all work on thesecond farm of the woman’s partner. He lives on the first farm with his legal wife and their children. But he drops by occasionally to be a bastard to the common-law wife and her bastards. To remind them all of their second rate status. To coerce them into harder work. To sexually abuse his daughter.

The film gets grimmer still, but it is made watchable by the beautiful cinematography, the understated verite performances of its cast, and the palpable sense of mother-child love that pervades it as a result of these performances. If you’re feeling brave, go see it. But give yourself plenty of time to recover before Christmas. CJ

The Gambler is essentially a bio-pic about a short period in the life of writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, played by a well cast Michael Gambon. However, the screenplay attempts the complex task of cutting between the plot of one of Dostoyevsky’s novels and the real life events of its author.

The film opens in 1870 Roulettenbourg, a small German gambling resort. A young girl walks around a casino with baby in tow, with the suggestion that she is searching for her neglectful husband. We are then taken back four years to St. Petersburg to meet the same girl, Anna (Jodi May), in stenography school. Soon she is employed by Dostoyevsky, who has just one month to produce a novel and thus fulfil his publishing obligations, decided on as a gambling debt, or otherwise forfeit the rights to all works past and future to his publisher.

Although the worlds that we see, both of the novel he dictates to May and the real one, are quite compelling, the real world is grey and depressing, with beggars on the streets, and Anna’s father dying. We revel in the escapism of the bright and elegant fiction we he creates. It is gambling and love which bind the two dramas, with even Anna’s taking on of the role of stenographer not knowing whether she will be paid or not. As the novel progresses, and the relationship between Anna and Dostoyevsky becomes complicated, a more intricate paralleling pattern emerges. Both Dostoyevsky and Anna exert the full powers of the omnipresent narrator, deciding upon a whim the fates of the characters which have become almost real. In fact some are based upon figures in the author’s life, who begin to crop up in both world’s.

Jodi May’s performance actually gets better throughout, moving from like a fresh drama graduate at the beginning, to looking like a very accomplished actress by the end, on a par with Gambon. In the novel, it is only really Luise Rainer who stands out as the grandmother who we are scared of, but at the same time laugh at and feel very endeared towards. The film’s most memorable moment occurs when she places all of her money on zero coming up twice in succession at the roulette wheel which, with the help of some innovative casino shots, gets our adrenaline going as much as hers.

The film is very neatly framed, boasts some excellent performances and a passionate score. The only thing which lets The Gambler down is the rather ropy dialogue, which seems very thoughtlessly constructed at times. JK

Fools Rush In was always going to attract a certain amount of attention: Friends star Matthew Perry finally makes the transition from small screen to celluloid leading man status, and Salma Hayek (of Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn and Four Rooms fame) has to prove she can survive away from the sheltering wing of director Robert Rodriguez.

Perry is a work-obsessed businessman who has a one-night stand with beautiful Mexican photographer Hayek. When she subsequently becomes pregnant, the couple decide to throw caution to the wind and get hitched, Las Vegas style. Hilarious consequences ensue, supposedly. Except of course they don’t. Every second of this eminently forgettable film carefully follows the standard ‘romantic comedy’ blueprint familiar to anyone who’s sat through Pretty Woman: two mismatched types get together, quarrel, but will they see sense before the closing credits, and live happily ever after? What do you think?

There’s precious little chemistry between the leads, but, to be fair, Perry and Hayek do their best with shockingly poor material. ER and Friends owe their popularity first and foremost to their writers, and yet producers somehow feel they need merely hire George Clooney or Matthew Perry, and they’ll automatically have a hit on their hands. In fact, what they really need is a decent script, and you’d be hard pressed to find an even vaguely entertaining joke or idea in this whole movie.

In the end, the only interesting question raised by the film is why Hollywood executives have ever felt the need to give director Andy Tennant (responsible for the equally dire It Takes Two) money to make his bland, unoriginal ‘comedies’. Given the opportunity to work with two of the most sought-after actors around, he produces Fools Rush In, an exercise in mediocrity. This man is Satan. On no account ever allow him near a camera again, For the sake of humanity. MW

James Klinemann, Clive Johnson, Matthew Whitecross

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