Film: In praise of the older Sean
Sunday 04 July 1999
Jon Amiel; 115 mins
Last Night (15)
Don McKellar; 94 mins
Le Diner de Cons (15)
Francis Veber; 80 mins
Virtual Sexuality (15)
Nick Hurran; 90 mins
Hype Williams; 95 mins
Tom Tykwer; 124 mins
The poster for Entrapment has the hilarious air of a Milk Tray advert. It suggests cat burglars and beige silk. Here's Catherine Zeta- Jones, crouched in some pseudo-balletic position with big hair and ankle boots, like one of Pan's People. Sean Connery is in the background, hatchet- hearted and logical, a face from Mount Rushmore. The two look utterly separate. I stood watching this poster for some time the other day, wondering why the designer chose an image so unvisceral, so disconnected, so full of biological fear. Then I saw the film.
In Entrapment, Connery plays Robert MacDougal, a master thief. He lives in a castle in the Scottish Highlands, his only company the odd (stolen) Renoir and a cellar of good whisky. MacDougal is precisely how you imagine James Bond might wind up if he got lucky. The worst-case scenario for Bond was always 30 years down the line, hand-washing his socks in a Westminster mansion flat. But MacDougal, the kind of man who only occasionally wonders if anything in his life has really bitten deep, is actually rather Fleming.
MacDougal is approached by Zeta-Jones, who plays an insurance investigator posing as a thief-in-waiting. The pair steal a priceless Chinese mask, and start planning a job worth billions. MacDougal will not mix business with pleasure, so spends most of the time shouting at the Cleopatra-eyed Zeta-Jones - but with such flushed hunger.
She's mad for him, and who can blame her? Like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, she has seen his house. At Cannes this year, Mel Gibson emerged from Entrapment groaning about the casting of older men with young women. (Et tu Mel; remember Catherine McCormack, cotton-skinned against your William Wallace in Braveheart?) Since then, a lot of panting has gone on over the pairing of pensioner Connery and 29-year-old Zeta- Jones. This bleat gets up my nose. Particularly the one about Woody Allen casting every attractive actress in Hollywood as a lover; and doesn't it say something terrible about his toilet training or what have you? It strikes me as perfectly reasonable that Mira Sorvino should fancy Woody Allen. Read his "Lovborg's Women Considered" and you'll see why.
Entrapment director Jon Amiel is a chicken. He has cast two people, handsome and sexual and potentially gleaming, and only allows for a peck on the cheek. What is Amiel so afraid of? Let these people collide! This cabbageyness is evident in the costumes. Zeta-Jones is dressed like catalogue model - a little too much jewellery, a girl fond of outmoded blues, and slacks. Amiel clearly doesn't want her to look too young, too hip. And whenever Connery is with her he wears black polo-necks, grey jackets, scuba suits - the supposed uniform of the meaty. Connery would look attractive in a cagoule, but Amiel daren't risk it.
As in most films with an utterly cauterised relationship between its old/ young stars, the woman has her idiosyncrasies annihilated. Zeta-Jones, for all the at-last-I've-got-here look on her face, her juicy harshness, is so distilled that she's barely here - plastic inside Lycra. You feel she'd be lucky to get him, not the other way round.
The man is always given the freedom to focus on his worst features. Michael Douglas in A Perfect Murder seemed to brandish his baggy face and disgusting jumper and coiled-up drooling, while Gwyneth Paltrow, his young co-star, looked more and more like Anne in Richard III - absent, thin on a bed, odourless. One of the saddest examples of this, and quite beautiful in its weird complexity, was Marilyn Monroe's performance in The Misfits, in which she was cast opposite an ageing Clark Gable. In this film, her last, she seems to rail and rail not just against her candy-floss hair (thick with dust for the better part of the film, multi-dimensional, suddenly meaningful) but with being a formula rather than an actress. In these moments she was perfectly, as Arthur Miller later described, "an agonised mixture of amusement and shame".
Last Night is the feature debut of writer and actor Don McKellar. It opens on a Toronto street, litter everywhere, people wandering about lost and furious. A young woman called Sandra (Sandra Oh) rushes into an empty but open supermarket. There is cheese all over the floor, bottles of wine, cereal, packets of sweets. She fills up her bag and leaves, glancing with melancholy at the sign reading Everything Must Go. But her car has been vandalised, and she hooks up with Patrick (McKellar), a stranger on his way back from a family dinner. A Christmas dinner, except it isn't Christmas. What the hell is going on?
It is the last few hours before an unspecified apocalypse. For four months, the world has been anticipating these last few moments, and the film holds vigil with its characters in a memorable way. There's the medical student determined to see the world out with an orgasm, a gas-company executive (David Cronenberg, pristine) calling to thank his customers one by one, a pianist holding a concert in the Toronto equivalent of the Royal Festival Hall - a venue this chap had no hope of playing in before.
What makes Last Night so surprising is its gradual release of its characters' motives. We learn about the impending moment of destruction mostly through mumble and hearsay. A more nervous director might have thought it necessary to explain precisely how this world is coming to an end, and have his characters bang on about the unfairness of it all. But with frankness, with precision, and through incidents of genuine absurdity and real love, McKellar's characters feel convincingly like people who've had their fill of panic and flashing temperament and cosmic questions.
Writer-director Francis Veber's adaptation of his stage-play Le Diner de Cons is a largely uninteresting farce about a pompous publisher Pierre (Thierry Lhermitte) whose malicious penchant for inviting an "idiot" round for dinner once a week backfires. As this week's victim, a soft- hearted but foolish accountant called Francois (Jacques Villeret) tries to help mend Pierre's marriage, we see all the mistaken identities, confessions and mini-victories of Restoration comedy. The whole thing takes place in the front room of Pierre's Paris apartment, which makes it cinematically unremarkable, despite its raring performances.
In Virtual Sexuality, 17-year-old Justine (Laura Fraser) feels ready to lose her virginity, but with whom? Not nerdy Chas (Luke De Lacey) who takes her to a virtual reality show, at which Justine designs Jake, her dream man (Rupert Penry-Jones). After a gas explosion, Jake staggers out of the rubble, delicious of body and soul; but he is only a male analogue of Justine, and thus a girl trapped in a man's body. Bloody hell. All of this feels like the raunchier end of BBC children's drama, right down to its amiable parents and angst about kissing with tongues. There is something sad about Justine and her friends and their desire to gaze at the world through false eyelashes. They indulge in the full catalogue of girls-under-pressure folly, hanging about in platform heels looking decorative and uncomfortable, and worrying about flavoured condoms. Long gone, it seems, are the days of blue towelling knickers and an innocent fag before hockey.
Belly stars rappers Naz and DMX, among others, as a gang of drug dealers scrapping over their various visions of the future. The last thing these egotists needed was a homage via hip-hop promo director Hype Williams's sycophantic camera. And Wintersleepers is a German film which pivots around the vacillations and passions of a group of young people sheltering in a mountain chalet after an accident. It's nicely hazy and solemn, but rarely as intimate as it pretends to be.
Gilbert Adair returns next week
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