Comedy is the art of momentum. Once the right speed and gradient have been found, humour can freewheel. Consider For Your Consideration, a vehicle from the makers of This Is Spinal Tap and Best in Show. Not exactly a racing cycle like the first, it is speedier than the second. It attains giggle velocity quickly in its tale of a Hollywood film company making a Deep South Jewish drama called Home for Purim. (The very idea of a Jewish family drama below the Mason-Dixon line is funny, the US’s map of bigotry being what it is.) By the half-hour mark every second line gets a titter, every 10th a guffaw.
The Spinal Tap founding fathers are all here. Christopher Guest is Purim’s Art Garfunkel-haired director, a wannabe avant-gardist fussing, fretting and building collapsible bridges over troubled waters. Harry Shearer and Michael McKean play the film’s actor-dad, anxious to slough his best-known former role as a television-commercial sausage, and the film’s scriptwriter, worried that his precious dialogue is starting to go up in improvisatory smoke. Catherine Best in Show O’Hara has the best-in-this-show comic role. As the actress-playing mum, she gets an early hint of an Oscar nomination and is lost to sanity from that point on.
Though it births a catchy theme song, “Purim, Purim, Purim”, the film-within-film’s title does not please the market researchers, so they change it before distribution to Home for Thanksgiving. Once the release date arrives and Academy recognition looms (or not), For Your Consideration expands its comic cameo quotient: Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins and other faces from the Spinal Tap rep joyously fill out the puffers, publicists and award prognosticators who accompany hot-buzz southern-Jewish dramas to the screen. Oscars are “the backbone of our industry” says someone (to which someone else retorts “an industry famous for not having a backbone”), and this comedy is a lovely thing to have as we ourselves start to tremble in anticipation, or apprehension, at the coming night of madness and showbiz self-congratulation.
Human beings have long been victims of climate change, says the Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and it has nothing to do with global warming. Look inside yourself; find your own weather system; explore and study it; then despair at being able to control it.
If Antonioni had never existed, Ceylan would make us think he had. His films are abstract meteorologies handed down from some higher, numinous incertitude. Like his prizewinning Uzak, a barometric human comedy about a meeting between two misfit relatives, Climates moves at the pace of a slow cold front, all arrows pointing downward. The hero – a droll term as applied to Ceylan’s affable losers – is a university lecturer and amateur photographer played by the director, breaking up with a younger girlfriend played by the director’s wife (Ebru Ceylan).
Much of Climates, starting with its laconic lovers’ duologue in an archaeological site and ending with the protagonist’s forlorn push to patch up the relationship in snowiest eastern Turkey, is motion in search of emotion. That, in part, is Ceylan’s theme. But its treatment here seems stiffer, more studied than in Uzak. The tableaux vivants wait a little too long for their payoffs: the knockabout near-rape of a woman friend, an embarrassment-prone dinner party. And the craggily handsome actor-director’s own mimimalist facial expressions, their tidal shifts and changes, seem controlled too much by occupational awareness of that lunar gravity called the lights and camera.
I have never recovered from the shock of being in Dudley Moore’s Los Angeles beach pad one day (name-drop alert), interviewing the Tinseltown-migrated performer, when a man entered and said: “Shall I walk the dogs now, sir?” We penurious critics know nothing of dog-walkers. Even less do we know of the part-time vocation represented by Drew Barrymore in Music and Lyrics – a plant-waterer. She performs this service for the fading international singer-songwriter played by Hugh Grant. There truly are, the film informs us, pampered celebrities who cannot tilt a watering can in the direction of a cyclamen.
Nothing else in this romantic-comedy has quite the same emotional impact. Hugh meets Drew, finds she is a word wizard, hires her as his lyricist, falls in love. After many a hindrance to the heart’s fulfilment he clinches the deal – or deals the clinch – in an offstage moment while “June” rhymes with “moon” at Madison Square Garden. It is a pin-brained film, but charm goes a fair distance. Barrymore has never quite stopped bubbling and fizzing since she was the champagne mini-debutante of ET. Grant does silly-ass Englishmen better than anyone, even though the species became extinct in the last century and has never intersected at all with the world of rock and pop.
Charlotte’s Web and Hannibal Rising are at opposite ends of the taste spectrum. The first will test your sucrose tolerance as Dakota Fanning’s little country girl adopts a piglet, who is in turn befriended and saved from the smokehouse by a mellifluously voiced spider (Julia Roberts). E.B. White’s children’s tale falls among digimators, though they restrict their liberties to making the animal mouth movements match, Babe-style, the anthropomorphic dialogue. Most surprising voice recruit: Robert Redford as the grumpy horse. Most predictable: John Cleese as the bossy sheep.
Hannibal Rising is – no offence to pigs – a hunk of gothic ham; carnal, crass and indigestible. Novelist Thomas Harris, scripting as well as providing the bestseller, chronicles the boyhood of the Lithuanian-born Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel), from his first witnessing of cannibal horrors among eastern-front soldiers to his emergent taste for anthropophagy. On this reckoning, copycat behaviour would more likely have instilled in him a taste for scenery eating. Rhys Ifans and Gong Li lead the overacting cast, directed by Peter Webber as if every call of “action” were accompanied by the throwing of dripping bits of décor through the bars.
The week’s trophy for gaga film-making, however, goes to Goal! 2: Living the Dream. Imagine that David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane still play for Real Madrid. Imagine that Newcastle United, from which our hero (Kuno Becker) transfers with a heavy heart in search of a heavier wallet, is still a good team. Imagine Michael Owen is still standing. This will give you an idea of the anachronisms among which this air-headed soccer sequel dwells. I cannot wait for Stephen Frears and Peter Morgan’s forthcoming film about Brian Clough: a true football hero, warts, vices, grandeur-delusions and all; a “Man’s Own” reality drama to banish thoughts of this “Boy’s Own” wish-fulfilment piffle.