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  • Henry’s Crime

    October 30, 2011 by Nick

    Henry’s Crime is a gentle comedy starring James Caan, Keanu Reeves and Vera Farmiga. It centres on Henry (played by Keanu Reeves) who works in a mundane job on a toll both and lives in a modest house in a relatively loveless marriage with his similarly nondescript wife. This changes very quickly, as an old schoolmate tricks him into acting as the getaway driver in a botched bank robbery.

    Going to jail for his part in the crime, exacerbated by his refusal to name the real criminals, Henry ends up sharing a cell with a conman played by James Caan. Their friendship develops organically and Henry is forced to question his attitude  to life and what he actually wants to achieve. But not in a particularly angsty way, and not in such a way as to push it to the forefront of the events on film. Henry’s wife also leaves him, and he finds himself leaving jail to a relatively clean slate.

    Returning to the scene of the crime, Henry meets Farmiga, here playing a local actress. Through a series of coincidences and events Henry hatches a scheme to rob the bank again by tunneling into it from the theatre that Farmiga is starring in a play at. He also becomes lead actor in the production. Enlisting Caan’s help in the endeavour Henry has to ask himself what he actually wants: whether it is to star in the play, successfully rob the bank or to nurture a relationship with Carmiga.

    Although billed as a comedy, this is more in the vein of “It could happen to you” than anything particularly ribald. The comedy is gentle and not always obvious. The events are not particularly wacky or contrived for comedic effect; this is as much a romantic comedy as anything else. Although it could be argued that it is a journey of one man and his self discovery, I don’t buy that from Reeves’ acting and there is precious little else in the script to suggest that. Of the main leads, Farmiga is the most engaging and gives the best performance. Reeves, as ever, seems a blank state and does not show much in the way of inner turmoil, advancement or even emotion. Within his oft-mentioned constraints he plays the part well and I don’t feel the script asked for anything he couldn’t deliver.

    I went into the film expecting a more knockabout comedy and to laugh heartily. What Henry’s Crime is is a gentle, heartwarming story that doesn’t try to be obvious yet isn’t impenetrable. It’s a slight story and there wasn’t really enough happening to hold my interest, but the cast are likeable and it isn’t unpleasant.

    The European Issue

    October 26, 2011 by Nick

    David Cameron has just had to deal with, arguably, the biggest problem of his premiership: a rebellion of some 87 of his backbench MPs on the issue of a referendum on membership of the EU. This accounts for over a quarter of his parliamentary party and was even in the face of a three line whip (which is a sign he was aware it would be contentious and was doing everything he could to minimise the fall out from the vote) and his own aversion to tabling the issue with the public.

    Membership of the EU probably looks like a bad idea right now: we’re propping up failing economies all over the continent and we will never see some of that money back. We are getting economic immigrants and people who, legally, we have to allow the opportunity to work, access to healthcare and education, and benefits. Personally I am a Europhile, but even I would be in favour of a smaller, core, EU that features such luminaries as Ireland (oops), Spain (oh dear), Portugal (they might come good), Ireland (they’ve been in trouble for at least 12 years that I knew to) and Italy (well, maybe when they change government) but keeps out a lot of the former Eastern Europe (seemingly we now call it Central Europe) and places like Greece on the basis that their economies and populace seem to have nothing to offer the existing European partners.

    So, I can see where the rebels are coming from: Europe may be a good idea but something, somewhere, has gone drastically wrong. The problem is that we can only help shape and reform Europe by being at its centre. The other odd thing, to my mind, is the relative strength of the Euro throughout the turmoil. This appears to show that there is enough benefit in being linked to some of these economies (and I am guessing this is mainly Germany’s) and this is possibly what is keeping Greece from a Great Depression style slump. Well, that and billions of pounds/euros/dollars.

    However, the Conservative party has always had a problem with Europe throughout my lifetime: the Ed Heath, Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke wing of the party whom believe in the free market and primarily city based entrepreneur-ism are all in favour of the greater access to markets that Europe brings. Landowners, traditionalists and the more agrarian (which always strikes me as odd, because I am sure European farming subsidies keep a great many of them in business)  orientated are staunchly opposed. The Conservative party historically represents money, but money doesn’t always have the same aim.

    Throughout Thatcher we had a Eurosceptic leader who knew of the economic benefits that Europe could bring even as token resistance to it kept her constituency intact at home. This was probably underlined by a series of more enthusiastic chancellors, especially Lawson. Major’s premiership was more friendly to Europe, although he himself had to engage in some interesting manoeuvring with regards to Maastricht. And every subsequent leader has been largely irrelevant due to their complete inability to attain power.

    Which all leads back to Cameron, and his current problems are exacerbated by being in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The Liberals are the most pro-Europe of any of the major parties and the obvious home for disenfranchised pro-European Tories. They also hold the key to Cameron remaining in power. So he has to keep them appeased even as he is reliant on them. Which keeps us locked into Europe for the duration of this parliament, even if the majority of the parliamentary Conservative party (and, I assume, their grass-roots support) don’t wish it.

    Friends With Benefits

    by Nick

    Friends with Benefits is a kind of romantic comedy starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis with some very funny support from Woody Harrelson.  Now, I say that it is “kind of” a romantic comedy because although it uses some of the tropes of a romantic comedy and quite a lot of the same plot mechanics, it also subverts the genre (sometimes explicitly in a form of meta commentary) and doesn’t want to achieve quite the same effect or resolution.

    The film basically hinges on Justin Timberlake’s character moving from California to New York at the behest of Mila Kunis’ headhunter character (as in employment consultant, it is not that kind of film)  and her being the only person he knows there. This leads them to becoming friends and, as they both have lousy experience with dating and romantic partners, “friends with benefits.” There does seem to be a genuine spark between the two leads and they make a believable couple (even if their supposed professions are a huge stretch to my mind) even when some of the events around them seem contrived by writers who have no experience of them in much the same way as the films they send up. I am not wholly sure if this is deliberate commentary or laziness.

    Timberlake’s character, in particular, seems quite guarded and it is not until the final act of the film that you realise how private he is. Partially this is because he is removed from his own environment, whereas Kunis’ character is very much on home ground. There are some staples of the romantic comedy: siblings, blocking characters, life changing choices, wacky parents but also the welcome and hilarious addition of Harrelson’s predatory gay work colleague (seriously: the best bit of the film).

    There are some moments of genuine tenderness, particularly between Timberlake and his family, but the film is basically about the “real” relationship of Kunis and Timberlake as opposed to the Hollywood ideal (displayed in a series of cameos by Jason Siegel who is not the only Forgetting Sarah Marshall alumni making a cameo) that the two send up as part of their courting ritual.

    Which brings me to my one annoyance about the film: it uses flash mobs as plot devices repeatedly throughout the film: do the writers not know they are a good decade out of date with this?

    Overall, I enjoyed the film far more than I thought I would and it is definitely one that is funny on a second viewing.

    Captain America

    by Nick

    Captain America is an upscaled 3D film directed by Joe Johnston and on general release now. It stars Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving and has a supporting cast that includes Tommy Lee Jones (who gets all the best lines and threatens to steal the film). Set mainly in the 1940s, it deals with the origin of Captain America and his struggles against an off shoot of Nazism.

    Now, Captain America is a comic book movie in that it is derived from a comic book but also in the sense that it is morally simplistic in the extreme. To make the distinction between good and evil as clear as it could possibly be the Nazis are replaced with a group that is even more evil and make the Nazis themselves look like under achieving moderates. This is not intended as damning criticism, although the film carries a 12 certificate that the material does not warrant (and, for the life of me, I cannot understand where it was earned) and the tone is not intended to be too serious or melodramatic. This is a romp with clearly defined good and bad guys and meant as entertainment.

    Although I enjoyed the film, I did find the action scenes to be oddly flat. At no point do they capture a sense of energy or tension and I am at a loss as to why this might be. I do wonder if there are places where the direction (although certainly competent and eliciting reasonable performances from the cast and at no point to blame for anything being glaringly off in terms of tone) is not what it could be: perhaps less steady camera work or different angles during the action set pieces would help to create some visual interest.

    Overall I thought the movie served as an enjoyable origin piece but, unlike some of Marvel’s other recent output, nothing more.