The Week in Film by Robert Mann – Week Starting 1/5/09

Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past *****

Matthew McConaughey is like Marmite. You either love him or hate him. Whatever your opinion of him you will know exactly what to expect from Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, the latest in a seemingly endless line of romantic comedies that see him essentially playing the same character over and over again, even if it is a character he seems perfectly cast for. Jennifer Garner, on the other hand, is hard not to love, an actress who has proven herself capable of playing almost any kind of role, having played everything from action heroines to romantic leads (her first leading role was in romcom 13 Going On 30, a personal favourite of this critic), and has managed to avoid the typecasting that has so clearly plagued McConaughey’s career. While the presence of McConaughey as leading man has no doubt already turned off a lot of people from seeing this film the presence of Jennifer Garner in a film is always a good thing, and add in Michael Douglas and rising star Emma Stone to the mix, not to mention director Mark Waters (Just Like Heaven and Mean Girls), and this film, a romantic comedy take on the classic Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol seems like it has all the ingredients for a winning romcom. So, is it the success that it promises to be or will you leave the cinema wishing to perform an exorcism to banish the film from your memory?

Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey) is a notorious photographer who has a bad boy reputation of loving beautiful women and dumping them when they fall in love with him. He is constantly finding himself being thrown at by women and loves the lifestyle that sees him having non-stop fun without any serious commitment. His brother Paul (Breckin Meyer) is about to get married, and Connor thinks he is making a terrible mistake and tries to talk him out of it. But old flame Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner) is at hand to ensure that he doesn’t ruin the big day for bride Sandra (Lacey Chabert). As Connor tries to just get through it all he inadvertently finds himself doing just what Jenny has feared, effectively messing up everything for the happy couple. However, the night before the wedding Connor is visited by the ghost of his deceased Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), the man who taught him his womanizing ways, who tells him that he is going to be visited by three ghosts throughout the night. The first comes in the form of old girlfriends Allison Vandermeersh (Emma Stone) who, acting as the Ghost of Girlfriends Past, takes him through all his old girlfriends, including his relationship with Jenny which blossomed since childhood but was ruined by Connor when he left her, afraid of committing himself to her. The next ghost, the Ghost of Girlfriends Present, comes in the form of his assistant Melanie (Noureen DeWulf), and she shows him the damage he is causing to those closest to him. The final ghost, the Ghost of Girlfriends Future, shows him how the life of him and everyone around him will turn out if he continues his life the way he’s living it, and the outcome isn’t good. Thus, Connor sets out to redeem himself, repairing the damage he has caused and perhaps find true love himself.

Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past starts off without much gusto, initially seeming like it is just going to be an average Matthew McConaughey romcom with little to set it apart from the crowd, as we are introduced to his character and his womanising ways. However, it isn’t too long before the movie really gets going when the focus moves away from the protagonist’s seemingly perfect life and Jennifer Garner appears on screen for the first time, brightening everything up, and making you realize that this is far more than just another Matthew McConaughey romcom, it is also a Jennifer Garner romcom. As such, there is a certain sweetness that comes into the film, something the film shares with 13 Going On 30, which gives the film a sense of charm that is typically lacking in most of McConaughey’s films. Matthew McConaughey is an actor who is irritating to some but charming to others so it is hard to speak for everyone in terms of describing the quality of his performance. Connor Mead is basically the same as in every other romcom he has done but he does play the role very well and convincingly. He shares a very touching, heart-warming and actually quite believable chemistry with co-star Garner and whenever the two of them are in a scene together they really light up the screen, and in spite of the Connor’s flaws it is hard to not find yourself wanting the two of them to end up together. It is great to see Jennifer Garner as a romantic lead once again, as it was a role she played so well before and she does so again her with a truly lovable performance full of charm and heart. It is also great to see up-and-coming teen actress Christa B. Allen portraying Jennifer Garner’s younger self for a second time after doing so in 13 Going On 30. While she really doesn’t get enough screen time, she delivers a delightful and memorable performance. There are also some excellent performances from the other cast members with star on the rise Emma Stone once again showing how versatile an actress she is with a hugely entertaining and quite funny performance as the Ghost Of Girlfriends Past. Michael Douglas is perfectly cast as Uncle Wayne, delivering an excellently humorous performance and there is also a very entertaining performance by Robert Forster as the soldier turned minister father of the bride. The direction is also strong with Mark Waters, who has had considerable experience with films such as this, having directed the wonderful and highly underrated Just Like Heaven, being the perfect man for the job. He has crafted a romantic comedy that is unlikely to win praise for originality – if you’ve read A Christmas Carol you will know the whole story and even if you haven’t you will probably guess – but has more than enough charm, warmth and humour to make it a thoroughly watchable movie experience. The tale of redemption at the heart of the film is not only charming but actually seems reasonably convincing and this is crucial to the success of the film as a character who should be despised becomes a character who we really root for. As a whole, Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past is a film that lots to recommend it although anyone who particularly dislikes Matthew McConaughey is unlikely to enjoy it as much as this critic did. While I will no doubt receive criticism for praising this film so highly I stand by my comments and firmly recommend this for anyone looking for a perfect date movie for anyone just looking for a charming feel-good film.


Hannah Montana: The Movie ****

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years it is highly unlikely that you are unfamiliar with the Disney sensation that is Hannah Montana but for those of you who are unaware here is a brief summary. What began in 2006 as just another Disney Channel comedy series has grown into a worldwide a sensation transforming its star Miley Cyrus from daughter of one hit wonder Billy Ray Cyrus into a megastar whose success now greatly out-shadows the success of her father, with her proving a hit both as an actress and as a singer. In the show she plays Miley Stewart, a seemingly normal teenager living in California but she leads a double life, also being a pop sensation under the guise of Hannah Montana. The show follows her as she attempts to live two lives whilst also keeping her secret from the world, with her close friends and family (her real life father Billy Ray Cyrus also plays her father in the show) constantly at her side to help her out whenever she gets into trouble, and getting into trouble is something she is extremely good at. It may not sound like much but Miley’s antics have created a craze that is only comparable recently to the likes of Disney’s High School Musical and now the inevitable movie has finally hit cinemas (although technically, it’s actually her second movie after last year’s 3D concert movie Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best Of Both Worlds Concert Tour) and while Hannah Montana: The Movie is no doubt going to be completely derided by a lot of moviegoers, it is actually a lot better than you might expect.

Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) has been living with two lives for some time now, getting to be both a famous pop star and live a normal life. However, the popularity of Hannah Montana has begun to take over her life, with her publicist Vita (Vanessa Williams) determined to put her even more into the spotlight. When she gets into a very public fight with another celebrity over a pair of shoes and upstages her best friend Lilly (Emily Osment) at her own birthday party, father Robby Ray (Billy Ray Cyrus) realizes that Miley is forgetting her roots and decides to take her back to her home town of Crowley Corners in Tennessee. Little to her knowledge journalist Oswald Granger (Peter Gunn) is on her trail determined to discover her secret and reveal it to the world. Miley is reluctant at first to go along with her dad’s wishes, just wanting to return to her pop star life but it isn’t long before she starts remembering what she used to love about the place when she meets old friend Travis Brody (Lucas Till). As Miley begins to adjust to the quieter life and romance seems to be in the air, however, she finds herself having to become Hannah Montana again in order to help save the town from a greedy property developer. But with Hannah Montana getting in the way of her blossoming romance with Travis and her secret in great danger of being revealed she must make a crucial decision. She has had the best of both worlds but now she must choose just one. Fortunately, Robby Ray, Lily and her brother Jackson (Jason Earles) are at hand to make sure that she makes the right decision and once again becomes the Miley they all know and love.

In the past year there have been a number of scandals surrounding Miley Cyrus that may have soured many parents on her, making them question her suitability as role model for their children. However, while Miley Cyrus’ mistakes have been much publicised, Hannah Montana: The Movie shows that she is actually is a very good role model for young girls. While her character undeniably makes some mistakes in the film she learns from them and redeems herself, showing that there is far more to her than what appears on the surface. The messages that this film carries are sincere and honest and thus make it perfect for young children as not only will they enjoy the film but they may also learn something. This film is as much redemption for Cyrus herself as it is for her character as it helps to wipe away any memories of her recent scandals (which were blown all out of proportion by the media anyway – after all, as Miley Stewart said teenagers act without thinking and get zits. It’s what they do.), showing that she is a genuine talent, both as an actress and a singer, who really deserves the admiration of her fans. Her performance, both as Miley Stewart and Hannah Montana, is likable and entertaining, and her character is one that has certain relatable qualities that make her seem more like a real person, something that is crucial for us to care about the journey she undergoes in the film. Her singing is of a very high standard and she is given some very catchy and lively songs to sing here as well as some more sombre and moving ones, and she does both with a genuine sense of gusto, something that is present throughout much of the film. This is a film that is meant to be entertaining and nothing more and it succeeds with this goal wholeheartedly. The humour is spot on, providing good, clean and honest laughs, and even though it is unlikely that it will fully satisfy more mature moviegoers the target audience will love it. The plot, while following a formula that many will be very familiar with, is decent, telling a simple tale of a country girl finding her self and falling in love. The setting is beautiful with Tennessee providing some great scenery against which to set the film’s events, and it is all captured on film beautifully.
It isn’t just Miley Cyrus who shines here, either, as the remainder of the cast are also very entertaining with Billy Ray Cyrus (who actually gets to sing here as well) and Jason Earles being just as much fun as they are in the TV show, Emily Osment being very good in the best friend role, Vanessa Williams convincing as Miley’s catty publicist and Lucas Till making a charming romantic interest for Miley. There is also an entertaining cameo appearance by model Tyra Banks. The only gripes are that fans of the show may be disappointed by the reduced roles for Mitchel Musso and Moises Arias as Oliver and Rico, the once great Barry Bostwick is completely wasted and the extremely stereotypical portrayal of a British journalist by Peter Gunn is frankly quite irritating. These are minor quibbles, however, in what is overall a very entertaining film. Hannah Montana: The Movie is funny, sweet and charming and a great choice for a family trip to the cinema. Sure, it’s rather corny but you’ll leave the cinema with such a warm feeling inside that you won’t care.


X-Men Origins: Wolverine ****

Since X-Men III: The Last Stand effectively ended the X-Men franchise as we all know it, killing of several popular and prominent characters in the process, the big question has been where to go next. The route that the studio decided to go down is that of spin-offs and prequels, the first of which is X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which, if successful will lead to the production of more films, including a film chronicling the beginnings of villain character Magneto and one focusing on some of the series’ younger characters. About as eagerly anticipated as a film can get, Wolverine has nonetheless faced a constant series of hurdles right through its development and production and leading up to its release, with creative differences between director Gavin Hood and 20th Century Fox head honcho Tom Rothman being at the forefront of a wealth of negative buzz surrounding the film and a recent scandal involving a work print of the film being leaked onto the internet doing little to improve perceptions. So, with a huge level of expectation and a lot to suggest that the film won’t live up the hype, is X-Men Origins: Wolverine everything fans have been hoping for or is it the final adamantium claw in the coffin for the X-Men franchise?

In the mid 1850s the young James Logan and his brother Victor Creed run away together after Logan accidentally kills their biological father who had murdered Logan’s adoptive father. Each possessing incredible regenerative ability that allows them to heal from almost any injury and prevents them from aging, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber) serve in many wars together throughout the years, eventually catching the attention of William Stryker (Danny Huston), an Army officer who recognizes them for what they are and invites them to be a part of a special team consisting of mutants with unique abilities that carries out special operations. Soon, however, Logan begins to question the orders of Stryker while Victor’s violent tendencies become more extreme. The two grow apart eventually leading to Logan leaving the team. Six years later, the team is no more and Logan is living a quiet life with girlfriend Kayla (Lynn Collins) but this is shattered when she is murdered by Victor who is apparently hunting down all his old team mates. Seeking revenge, Logan finds his opportunity in the unexpected form of Stryker who offers to make Logan indestructible giving him the means to actually kill his brother. He volunteers to be part of an experiment in which an indestructible metal substance known as adamantium is grafted to his skeleton but soon realizes that Stryker has his own agenda. Escaping before Stryker can achieve his goal, Logan, now calling himself Wolverine, attempts to track down Victor so that he can exact his vengeance but his plans change when he discovers that Stryker has been rounding up mutants in order to steal their abilities to create an ultimate mutant super weapon, and he is the only one who can stop it.

Now that it is finally here it is safe to say that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not the travesty that quite a few have apparently claimed it to be. At the same time, however, it is certainly not the mind-blowing movie experience that many fans have been hoping for. Some of the key reasons for this are due to the action sequences and visual effects which, while being decent on their own terms, are nowhere near as epic as we have come to expect from the X-Men films and superhero/comic book movies in general. The action scenes are indeed thrilling and well staged but they are also rather conventional, not really doing anything that hasn’t been done before and also not providing a fresh angle either. This is likely, at least in part, due to the fact that director Gavin Hood doesn’t really come from an action background and, as such, doesn’t have a whole lot of experience in the field. The visual effects are much the same, with them being consistently good but rarely great, settling to be just passable and get the job done rather than be truly eye-popping. They are way below the standards we have come to expect from films like this and they fail to even come close to anything we have seen in any of the other X-Men movies. This is likely due to the fact that 20th Century Fox hasn’t been investing as much money in many of the films they have been making lately and sadly this means that the effects are nowhere near as good as they could have been. The film also fails to live up to its predecessors in its general look and feel as well, with it just not seeming of the same quality as the other X-Men films. This is a flaw by comparison though and not a problem with the film itself. Viewed on its own terms, the film has plenty of things going for it. The most notable is the storyline which takes on the format of a revenge thriller predominantly, mostly making for an engaging plot with a lead character who we really can care about. The only criticism that could be levelled at the plot applies to the earlier sequences revolving around the early years of Wolverine. Beyond the pre-opening credits sequence we get to see very little of the character’s early life, with his experiences in various world conflicts seeming rather rushed and underdeveloped, merely being shown in the opening credits rather than being given any prominence in the storyline. It’s a real shame as a lot more could have been made of this. To start with the flow of the story also feels a bit off, with the slow pace allowing for some good character development but certain plot elements again feeling rather rushed. Once the real story kicks in, however, the flow seems a lot better, with Wolverine’s search for vengeance making for a reasonably engaging and entertaining viewing experience. Director Gavin Good it at least successful in delivering a film with a story that makes you care, even though he is not so good in the action department. This is, of course, helped massively by the acting, which is probably the film’s biggest strength. Hugh Jackman is again on top form as the titular protagonist, convincingly capturing the character’s inner turmoil and making for a very emotive and sympathetic performance that we really can really empathise with. He is ably backed by strong performances from most of his co-stars as well. Liev Schreiber is probably the best as Victor, delivering a thoroughly enjoyable performance that convinces as we see him slowly transform from intelligent human being to a far more animalistic persona. This performance provides a good contrast to that of Jackman, whose character fights off his animalistic tendencies. Danny Huston, while not being in the same league as Brian Cox in X-Men 2, is very good as William Stryker, being a suitably malevolent screen presence but never coming on too strong as a villain type. For X-Men fans there is also much to enjoy in the inclusion of a whole range of mutant characters who have never been seen before on the big screen including Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), John Wraith (Will i Am) Bolt (Dominic Monaghan), The Blob (Kevin Durand), Agent Zero (Daniel Henney) and Emma Frost (Tahyna Tozzi). There are also appearances by the younger versions of established characters Cyclops (Tim Pocock) and Professor X (a de-aged Patrick Stewart). The amount of screen time these characters get varies, with some only being seen quite briefly and the quality of the performances is also variable although there is no doubt that fans will be happy to see these characters on the big screen at long last. Overall, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not a wholly successful film. It won’t fully satisfy either X-Men fans or movie fans in general but as it stands it is still a very entertaining and enjoyable action blockbuster that has more than enough merits to make it worth checking out even if it isn’t quite the example of wish fulfilment that many were hoping it to be. Perhaps with a more capable director or less creative interference by the studio it could have been more but as it is it is good but not mind-blowing.


Reviews by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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