Body of Lies (Ridley Scott, 2008)
Terrifically taut thriller by the master, it begins with a bombing, ends with a grim torture scene and features a whole lot of complex twisting and turning throughout. Generally speaking, it's about CIA officers Ed Ferris (DiCaprio) and Ed Hoffman (Crowe) and their attempts to catch terrorist leader Al-Sa-leem, with the help (or not) of the head of Jordanian Intelligence (played by Mark Strong, looking more like Berbatov than humanly possible). DiCaprio is at his most bungtastic in this movie; poor man gets the shit kicked out of him, but he exudes a Noble sense of wanting to do the right thing and his pursuit of Golshifteh Farahani's character, driven by love rather than lust, is adorable. The film does drag a little towards the middle but has a massive crescendo and ends on a semi-high, so all round, a rewarding watch.
Happy Feet (George Miller, Warren Coleman, 2006)
UGH. I honestly do not know what I was thinking when I initially rendered this film cute, it was painfully irritating and nothing less. Just so, so bad. The voice cast, though containing the smidgen of talent, clearly all just regarded this film as a cash-in and no-one gets out of autopilot, especially not Robin Williams, who pissed me off, so hard. The "environmental message" was the most contrived thing ever. Hate.
Girl with a Pearl Earring (Peter Webber, 2003)
Over my time in China, I gave Tracy Chevalier's novel a few more readings, and loved it so much each time round that it has now taken proud spot as my #1 book. The film, however, left much to be desired. As with Happy Feet, I'd previously liked this film, but it really does not hold up to repeat viewings. Scarlett Johansson is the film's main problem, she has none of Griet's awesomeness, and instead spends much of the film looking utterly gormless. The sets, cinematography, costume and Alexandre Desplat score are beautiful, as expected, but the film was just so blah compared to the source material and I'm tempted to believe it missed the point of the book exactly. Alakina Mann, so brilliant in The Others, made a convincing bitch here, though, and it was cool to see a young Anna Popelwell in action. But God, Scarlett Johansson needs to stop acting asap.
17 Again (Burr Steers, 2009)
At 17 years of age, Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron) is a high school basketball player who, by the High School Musical definition of happiness, has it all. Popular, the leading payer on his team, and has the love of a beautiful girl. Things are smooth sailing for him until, on the day of the biggest match of his life, he abandons the match to be with his girlfriend, who has just dropped the bombshell that she is pregnant. Twenty years on, however, a disillusioned Mike (now played by Matthew Perry) has it far from perfect. His wife is divorcing him, and his two teenage kids are going through the token phase of hating and/or feeling embarrassed by their dad. To add insult to injury, he has just been passed over for promotion at a company he's worked at for the last 16 years. In a rainy night when trying to save an old man from falling into a river, he falls in, and in doing so, finds himself in his 17-year-old body. To all intents and purposes, he is 17 Again.
Zac Efron has the happy challenge of playing a man trapped within a lad's body, and he's actually surprisingly good. He's certainly no where near as irritating as Troy Bolton and manages to bring the odd chuckle. The scene where he stands up to the school bully whilst defending his son/friend is done with such youthful swagger that you can't help but warm to him, and it's quite clear that Efron himself feels more at home with PG-13 material. The concept, though nothing new, is done in such an unassuming way (with a heart-warming sequence featuring Mike/Mark teaching his son/friend basketball) that the film is a joy to watch and the cheesy parts are forgivable. Predictable and easy, it won't stretch the brain cells but is a very watchable number.
Now that I'm back in England, I hope to see a lot more films, including a trip to the cinema to see the latest Harry Potter film on Wednesday, so, next week, hopefully I'll have more than four films to write about.