Sunday, 10 July 2011

Christopher Tookey Special

The Daily Mail's main critic, Chris Tookey, is a bit of joke really. The man who started a campaign to ban David Cronenberg's Crash (the one about people turned-on by car crashes, not Paul Haggis' dull, preachy, Oscar-winning Crash) has plenty of howling reviews for me to look at. When Tookey gets it wrong, boy does he get it wrong... Let's start with his 2-star review of the French prison drama A Prophet, considered one of the best films of 2009/10 (depending on which release you want to pick):

If you want your melodrama red in tooth and claw, Jacques Audiard's prison movie A Prophet has been wowing critics and winning awards around the world (I'll say. It has an approval rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. It won the Grand Prize at Cannes, Best Film at the London Film Festival, the Louis Delluc Prize and best foreign language film awards at both the BAFTAs and the British Independent Film Awards. It was also nominated for 13 César awards, winning 9, and nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars.). I'm only sorry I can't join in the chorus of wholehearted approval. (Yeah, you are quite alone here...)
It's the story of Malik (Tahar Rahim), a 19-year-old French thug with Arab origins, coming of age within a brutalising prison system. It's partly a story of self-education, partly a tale of a man descending into a kind of amoral hell. Most reviews emphasise the first aspect. (Well that's because it is a very important part of the film. It is what separates it from other crime films and Rahim's ability to change from learning to brutality freely is central to his wonderful performance.)
Very few point out that the behaviour of the protagonist - which includes several gruesome murders - makes him extremely hard to identify with. (He is a man who has made mistakes in his life, partly as a result of his poverty and illiteracy, who is forced to do horrible things to survive in the brutal world of the prison. Once he has set out on this path, he is drawn in ever more by money and power.)
In a film that lasts for more than two-and-a-half hours, this makes the movie a long haul (It is a tough watch, but who watched this film for light entertainment?). Impressive aspects include an intense performance by newcomer Rahim, and an unforgettably malign one from Niels Arestup as a domineering Corsican crime lord who continues to run his empire from inside prison. (The acting is uniformly excellent, and yet these two do, indeed, stand out.)
Audiard is at his best when dealing with well-observed, quirky detail. There's a lovely little sequence when Malik flies in a plane for the first time and behaves in inappropriate ways learned in prison - opening his mouth when he is scanned by security, and grabbing extra croissants on board when he has the chance (This, too, we agree on. Though my personal favourite scene was the one where Malik is shown how to hide a razorblade in his mouth)
Audiard is less confident with his story's surreal aspects, such as our anti-hero's unexplained prophetic powers (This is the film's only real stumbling point. But not one big enough to knock it down from five stars, let alone down to your 2...) and the repeated appearances in ghostly form of his first murder victim (I attributed this to his guilt at what he has done, and what he has become. And I felt they generally worked pretty well really. I think there was one appearance that didn't work as well, but that's really it.).
Some of the story-telling is muddled, and no attempt is made to imbue the proceedings with any kind of morality (Look, I know that you love morality, but a lot of people in the real world are immoral. It is ridiculous in the extreme to expect every film to show only moral people and moral acts.). We are presumably meant to admire the leading man's opportunism, resilience and ability to cast off and reassume his Muslim identity at will. (I think you're supposed to admire his self-education more than that, to be honest...)
I found the film's reluctance to examine Malik's inner life and personal beliefs irksome (But were such details necessary? No. All they would have done is remove some of the mystery surrounding him, and added to the already long running time.). The picture is also extremely lethargically paced, especially in its first hour (Look, it's bad enough when amateurs complain about films that take their time to develop, but from someone who is supposedly a professional is even worse. No wonder Rotten Tomatoes don't class you as a top critic like they do reviewers from other newspapers like The Guardian...).
A Prophet glorifies crime (Yeah. It all goes so well for everyone...) and regards murder as a perfectly normal response to being a member of a racially abused underclass (What? There's no such thing as 'normal' for a start. And I think you'll find that such a response is an all too common one.) - which may be a fashionable doctrine among film critics, but may not strike quite such a responsive chord with the general public. (Well this is an arthouse film, so the general public won't watch it anyway. They're far too busy watching dross like Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean...)
Now let's have a look at his 'review' of Che: Part One. This film is flawed, but is enthralling nonetheless, and has attained a score of 66% on Rotten Tomatoes from everyone and 79% from Top Critics, so where Tookey gets his score of 0 from I don't know...:

A strong early candidate for the most agonisingly tedious film of 2009 is this first part of Steven Soderbergh's hagiography of Che Guevara. (Look, just because a film takes its time does not make it tedious. How old are you? Five? And Guevara is a saint to many in Bolivia, so technically it is a hagiography...)
He is presented throughout as a secular saint (It may not delve too deep into his flaws, but it never suggests he was perfect), rather than the Stalin-worshipping (He actually became pretty anti-Soviet after the Cuban Missile Crisis.), mass murdering (According to the award-winning biography by Jon Lee Anderson, no innocents were ever put to death by Che or on his orders. He executed only agents of cruel and oppressive dictatorships, dangerous criminals and those guilty of treason or desertion. All of which were common reasons for execution at the time. Especially during times of war.) Communist (Actually he is presented as a communist. It would be quite difficult to tell his story and leave that out. And being a communist is not on a level with mass-murder.) who helped to destroy industry (He actually supported a China-like rapid expansion of industry in Cuba, so how does that work?), society (He did destroy the old Cuban society. One where 1% of the population controlled nearly 50% of the wealth. Clearly a society worth saving...) and the rule of law in Cuba (The rule of law in Cuba? You do realise that Batista was a monster?), and believed he had the right to imprison or execute anyone who disagreed with him (It was war. Such means were not only common, but pretty much required. And the CIA were so much better in executing Guevara weren't they...)
Benicio del Toro poses rather than acts in a series of outfits which seem surprisingly clean for a guerilla. (Yeah. That'll be why legendary critic Roger Ebert described de Toro's performance as "heroic" and "self-effacing".)
The main hint as to why he won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival is that the chairman of the jury was that well-known armchair revolutionary Sean Penn (Yeah, couldn't possibly because it was a really good performance. And the chairman only has one vote anyway, clearly at least most of the rest of the jury agreed with him.)
Peter Buchman's slack, disorganised screenplay (It was intentionally disorganised. Soderbergh pointed out the stupidity of complaining most films are too conventional, then turning on a film for being unconventional.) never probes Che's character or challenges his beliefs (Perhaps not as much as it should, but this is hardly a heinous crime.), and sparks into life only in the final half hour: a prolonged action sequence in which Guevara captures the town of Santa Clara. (That was a good sequence, but my friends and myself were all entertained throughout the film's running time.)
The rest is as insanely long-winded as a speech by Che's old mate, Fidel Castro (That'll be Castro is so beloved by pretty much everyone in Cuba then...)
Amazingly, I gather that the second half of this movie  -  to be released on February 20  -  is even more turgid than the first. (Really? I heard it was better, though I haven't yet watched the second, so I cannot say for certain.) 
Verdict: Radical chic at its dullest
A turkey (Oh, piss off Tookey you right-wing hack. Do you even know what film criticism is? It isn't disliking a film because you dislike the main character.)
You may have noticed that the last point is a running theme here, a theme that looks set to continue with his review of the small British film Bronson. The film depicts the criminal Charles Bronson (not to be confused with the actor) who is renowned as the most dangerous man in the British prison system:

British Lottery-funded projects don't come much more barking than Bronson (Well it is a strange film. Especially the bits with Tom Hardy on stage in make-up. But those eccentricities are what make the film as great as it is.), a heavyweight contender for most unpleasant, ugly and pointless film of 2009 (Can a film be pointless? I'd argue not. Every film has a point, even if that point is merely to entertain. They may fail, but they still have a point.).
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's ill-advised excursion into art-house brutalism (Except he did very well with it. His "ill-advised excursion into art-house brutalism" has a score of begins with the actor playing Britain's most violent prisoner saying to the camera: 'I am Charles Bronson, and all my life I've wanted to be famous.' (Well that is a possible explanation for Bronson's otherwise inexplicable bouts of violence against prison staff.)
Well, now he is (Actually, he already was. The tabloids have been talking about him for years already.). That's one of the most obvious gripes about the movie. In taking a studiously nonjudgmental, fashionably nihilistic line, it will prove to morons the world over that attacking people for no reason is one sure fire way to attain celebrity (Do you really believe these things, or do you just write what The Daily Fail want you to write? Anyone who comes away from this film thinking "Yes, that's all a good idea" has some major psychological problems).
Mr Bronson's offences outside prison have been armed robbery and robbery with violence. Inside, however, he has distinguished himself with such bestial conduct that he has had his sentences extended to 34 years, 30 of them spent in solitary confinement. (Exactly. This strange man was always a likely candidate for the movie treatment. The public have always enjoyed watching criminals. Just look at The Great Train Robbery from 1903.)
Why on earth such a creep should be glorified, I cannot imagine, especially as the film makes no attempt to understand him or derive any lessons from his behaviour (It does actually. He commits one robbery to steal an engagement ring, for a woman who then rejects him. This reignites the anger inside. But when the man himself refuses to say, how can the film just guess? It does a very good job considering.).
It would be churlish to deny that Tom Hardy gives a powerful performance, but it's necessarily one-dimensional, since Bronson appears to have no redeeming virtues whatsoever. (Doesn't he? He is a complex individual who can be intelligent, is a talented artist and yet performs these brutal acts for no gain whatsoever.)
In addition to celebrating violence, this most brutal of biopics is virulently homophobic (Excuse me? It's not homophobic. The character is, not the film. And anyway, it's more than a little rich for you to claim homophobia whilst writing for a newspaper that is demonstrably homophobic.). And its other disagreeable overtones of pretentiousness and precious fringe-theatricality make it a uniquely gruesome experience. (It isn't pretentious. It is just as clever as it thinks it is. It is a fringe film, but that is all that it ever aimed to be. Such a violent film was never going to be a blockbuster.)
Especially distasteful is the use of classical music, in the questionable tradition of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, to add a pretence of ironic nobility to Bronson's thuggishness. (It actually works rather well. It reinforces the idea that this is the 21st Century's A Clockwork Orange whilst being very much its own film.)
I gather that a worldwide petition is in circulation to free Mr Bronson (That is silly, but is hardly the film's fault.). I would happily sign any petition to keep this ludicrous lout off our streets, and indeed off our screens. (Yeah, but you seem to support the general censorship of all cinema, a la the 1980s. Because you're a fool. Who doesn't understand films he doesn't want to like.)
On the strength of this movie, both Mr Bronson and the Lottery panel need their heads examined. (Yeah, how dare the Lottery panel provide funding for such a successful film.)
Verdict: Could be a big hit... among psychopaths (And, indeed, 77% of critics. Are you saying that most other critics are psychopaths? Pretty sure that's libel...)
I think that'll do for now, but there are plenty of other dreadful excuses for reviews in his canon, so I will be back.

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