Style over content as Venice shines while stars flounder
BogIE and Bacall. Tracy and Hepburn. It could be that Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp go on to bear credible comparison with those still iconic screen couples, but if so, it's unlikely to be on the strength (and I use the term loosely) of their contribution to lacklustre crime caper The Tourist.
Directed by The Lives of Others Oscar winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, this Venice based froth-fest sees Depp take the title role as Frank, an unassuming American maths teacher, whose plans for a quiet Venetian getaway are upset as a result of a "chance" meeting on a train with international woman of mystery Elise (Jolie).
In reality, there's nothing random about their meeting. For reasons to do with a mysterious ex, who embezzled gazillions, Jolie's character is being kept under surveillance in a massive operation involving Scotland Yard and Interpol, and she needs them to think Frank is her ex.
They travel to Venice, where they share a suite in a palatial hotel, which is said to have been the one that provided inspiration for both "Balzac and Proust".
Not that he gets a chance to appreciate the decor. Faster than you can say To Catch a Thief, Depp's character is hightailing it over Venetian rooftops with Russian heavies in hot pursuit. Next up, he's partaking in ground-level pratfalls with Italian police that are pure Carry on Carabinieri. Towards the conclusion, one of Scotland Yard's finest, played by Paul Bettany, is moved to exclaim: "I don't bloody believe this." Sentiments with which discerning audience members will no doubt readily identify.
Good points include the spectacular backdrop and Jolie's excellent English accent. In fairness to Jolie, she also exhibits decent romcom potential, though Depp fares less well.
Haggard throughout and with hair more suited to an audition for Braveheart 2, by the time the credits roll, his disposition resembles nothing so much as a tourist marooned on the holiday from hell.
In cinemas now
Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Who said you can't serve God and Mammon anyway? Certainly not the people behind the latest adaptation of Christian writer CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
After the second instalment Prince Caspian failed to match the box-office returns of the much-loved original The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, insiders have spoken of a desire to reach out to the potentially lucrative "faith-based community" in the hope of refloating the franchise. The good news to report about this Michael Apted-directed feature is that you don't need to be of a religious persuasion to properly appreciate this absorbing affair.
This time around, the portal back to Narnia comes courtesy of a picture frame which returns franchise stalwarts Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and his sister Lucy (Georgie Henley) to the magical kingdom and a reunion with King Caspian (Ben Barnes). They're joined by their spoiled brat cousin and Narnia rookie Eustace (an excellent Will Poulter) for a voyage on the "finest ship in the Narnia navy".
It seems that Narnia's enemies have mostly been conquered, but mysterious disappearances and the actions of a malevolent mist suggest that evil still exists. Cue a voyage to "unchartered waters", in which the sea of troubles encountered includes monsters of the deep and supernatural forces.
Lessons learnt along the way include all that glitters is not gold and that sometimes you have to journey into darkness to see the light. Here, the light is provided by benign lion and Christian deity duplicate Aslan (Liam Neeson).
There's a touch of the "I can't believe it's not Harry Potter" about the spectacle, but the quality of the story-telling, together with the excellence of the performances, ensure that those in the market for enthralling family friendly fare won't be disappointed. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader never matches the magic of the original, but it's still a rewarding trip.
In cinemas now
Move over Mariah. Be gone Britney. Debate might still rage about whether Christina Aguilera merits "voice of her generation" status -- but all that deserves to change courtesy of her stellar performance in babes-in-bustiers extravaganza Burlesque.
Also starring Cher and Stanley Tucci, this Steve Antin-directed feature is unlikely to restore the fortunes of that most maligned of art forms, the movie musical, but it does boast enough bona fide stand-out moments to make it easy to recommend to fans of the genre together with its shamelessly targeted gays and gal-pal demographic.
Aguilera stars as Ali, an Iowa-based waitress and wannabe who relocates to Hollywood in the hope of achieving fame as a song and dance diva. Plan A doesn't come to pass and she eventually pitches up at a rundown burlesque club, where she befriends the hunky bartender (Cam Gigandet). Bewitched by the decadent vibe, Ali yearns for the opportunity to strut her considerable stuff as a chorus-line hoofer, but club owner Cher and her gay-guy Sean (Tucci) are deaf to her entreaties.
They eventually relent and she gets the opportunity to prove she's got it going on in both the pins and the pipes department. Dance routines evocative of a detonation in an Ann Summers' outlet ensue. Add a threadbare sub-plot that involves the club being forced to close due to financial woes and you've put yourself in the super-sexy picture.
What Burlesque lacks in dramatic depth or characterisation it more than compensated for with visual and vocal wow-factor. Aguilera is hypnotically good in the central role, while the surgically altered but still iconic Cher revels in the chance to confirm she has still got what it takes in the power-ballad stakes.
Burlesque is cliched and cheesier than an EU-funded hand-out, but enter into the disposable spirit of proceedings and you'll find it hits the right note.
In cinemas from Friday
It is 1825 in Poland and two beautiful cousins, Klara (Marta Zmuda Trzebiatowska) and Aniela (Anna Cieslak) rebel against the plans to marry them off to men-- silly Albin (Borys Szyc) and cocky Gustaw (Maciej Stuhr) -- they don't especially like by making a vow to never marry. But they are all in close proximity to Aniela's parents' country home, and the suitors' varying attempts at wooing them from their vow make the story.
Directed by award-winning Filip Bajon from a rhyming play by Aleksander Fredro, Sluby Panienskie (translated here as War of Love but also as Maiden Vows) is a comedy about the romantic practices of its day. Most of the actors are well known in Poland and their roles here play on previous roles for which they are famous, but this is largely lost on non-Polish audiences.
As, unfortunately, is the whole verse aspect of the play, as the subtitles are in literal prose. This absence leaves us with almost the pure physical farce of the story, which is not enough to carry it in English.
Bajon does add a clever twist. It gradually dawns on the viewer, through a series of appearances of mobile phones, a car and caravan, that this is the story of filming this story, and that the cast have their own war of love going on.
However, without the verbal artistry and cultural references, a non-familiar audience is left with rather bare bones.
In cinemas now