Has anyone ever played a disabled person in a Hollywood movie without getting an Oscar nomination? This year, Russell Crowe got one for A Beautiful Mind and Sean Penn got another for I Am Sam (12), even though the latter film could have been called I Am Rain Man or I Am Forrest Gump. The title character has the brain of a child, so he keeps his mouth open all the time, his hair sticks up, and he's adored by everyone at the Starbucks where he works (and if they'd put that bloody logo on the screen one more time I'd have lobbed my shoe at it). For anyone who still hasn't cottoned on to Sam's IQ, he is given the Hollywood uniform for the educationally challenged: white socks with dark shoes.
There are only two ways to tell Sam apart from his many predecessors. The first is that he's a Beatles obsessive, so the soundtrack is stuffed with twee Beatles covers. The second is that he is the single parent of a cute but wise seven-year-old whom he has named, I'm afraid to say, Lucy Diamond.
Due to an unbelievable set of misunderstandings, Lucy is taken into care, and Sam has to try to get her back, with the aid of a lawyer, Michelle Pfeiffer. She is a dedicated careerwoman, and so she is punished with stress, a cheating husband and a young son she never sees. Lucky Sam came along to teach her about quality time with your kids, eh? I Am Sam is a disgusting stew of weeping women, nauseating camerawork, and the notion that to be a lone parent you don't need to earn much money, or to know when your child is lying, or to make a coffee without spilling it. No: all you need is love. I'm surprised it didn't get a Best Picture nomination, too.
Speaking of Oscars, this year's Czech entry was Dark Blue World (12), directed by Jan Sverak. Most of it is set in the Second World War. With Czechoslovakia under Nazi control, a group of airmen abscond to Britain and join the RAF, and two of them, Ondrej Vetchy and Krystof Hadek, fall out over an Englishwoman, Tara Fitzgerald. A few years later, all this is recalled by Vetchy in a labour camp. Having fought against the Nazis in the war, he is imprisoned by the Communists afterwards, and his prison doctor is a former SS man. Escape plots, betrayals and ethical debates follow.
However, they only follow for a few scenes. For most of the running time, we're back in wartime Blighty, where the Mills & Boon love triangle is worryingly like the one in Pearl Harbor. Dark Blue World is much better than that movie, mind you, but it still feels as if Sverak has made the wrong film. The frame is far more fascinating than the painting.
Also released this week are Slackers (15), a teen "comedy" that scrapes the very bottom of the American Pie dish, and Tosca (PG), starring Angela Gheorghiu as the heaving-bosomed heroine. Benoit Jacquot's static and minimalist staging is a long way below the benchmark for opera on film, set by the Wagnerian Bugs Bunny epic, What's Opera Doc?
All of which leaves me with a funny sort of affection for Dog Soldiers (15), a British horror comedy about a platoon of squaddies, led by Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd, who are set upon by a pack of hungry werewolves in the Highlands. Writer-director Neil Marshall splatters the film with colourful, self-aware dialogue and rambunctious brio, even if it always feels like a plucky, under-budgeted stab at a homegrown horror classic rather than the genuine article.Reuse content