Is Anybody There? (12A)
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (12A)
Hannah Montana: The Movie (U)
He's a shadow of his former self – but Michael Caine isn't going quietly
Sunday 03 May 2009
While other actors have Botoxed, dyed, exercised and nip-tucked themselves into waxworks, Michael Caine has taken the opposite route. Most of the roles he's chosen lately have emphasised just how wrinkly he's getting, and they've been all the more powerful for it. A case in point is Is Anybody There?, a wistful coming-of-age comedy which is unsparing in its focus on sagging, puffy faces.
Set in a northern seaside town in 1987, it stars Caine as a retired conjurer who's grown increasingly bitter since the death of his wife. He's sent by social services to a second-rate nursing home run by an overworked couple, David Morrissey and Anne-Marie Duff. But he's so disgusted to be under the same roof as a crowd of old codgers – including such stellar British film actors as Leslie Phillips and Sylvia Syms – that he's determined to leave the premises as soon as possible, preferably in a box.
Bill Milner co-stars as Morrissey and Duff's 11-year-old son. After Son of Rambow, he must be the first actor that casting agents think of when they need a boy to be in a nostalgic heart-warmer with a 1980s retirement-home setting. Milner isn't any happier than Caine about sharing a house with so many pensioners: obsessed by ghosts and seances, he's particularly peeved that none of the residents contact him after they've died. He and Caine bicker and tease their way towards a friendship which proves that there's life before death, if not after it.
Is Anybody There? doesn't have much of a plot. It's more a scattered collection of buoyant set pieces, spiky witticisms, and aching reflections on mortality. But Peter Harness, the screenwriter, has put in enough of those set pieces, witticisms and reflections to keep you engaged for an hour and a half. He also finds a lovely balance between comedy and drama. Morrissey and Duff's strained marriage is both very funny and credibly sad, while Caine's mental and physical decline is touching without tipping into sentimentality. All he has to do is look at photos of himself in his chiselled prime, and you have a lump in your throat.
It's been a bumper year for those of us with fond memories of the supernatural comedies of the 1980s and 1990s. In April we had 17 Again, which was Big meets Back to the Future, and now we have Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, which, like Bill Murray's Scrooged and Groundhog Day, has a selfish cynic being reformed by some Dickensian magic.
Matthew McConaughey stars as a womanising photographer who doesn't believe in love or commitment, so you can probably guess what lesson he's about to learn. His teaching gets under way at a country mansion where he's staying for the weekend of his brother's wedding. Having drunkenly railed against the institution of marriage on the night before the ceremony, he's shanghaied by three ghosts who take him on a whistle-stop tour of his past and future. They concentrate on his on-off affair with Jennifer Garner, the childhood sweetheart who got away, and on the mentoring he got from his exquisitely sleazy lounge lizard uncle, Michael Douglas.
Unusually for any rom-com starring McConaughey, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a witty, heartfelt and dexterous confection that elegantly interweaves the supernatural shenanigans with the events at the wedding. It could be funnier, though, and that's because McConaughey is all too convincing as a narcissistic lothario, but doesn't have enough twinkle to make us like him anyway. A young Bill Murray would have been ideal in the role (as indeed he was in Scrooged and Groundhog Day), and Vince Vaughn or Owen Wilson would have been the next best thing.
Hannah Montana is a massively lucrative Disney TV series about a toothy teenager (Miley Cyrus) whose secret alter ego is a Britney-alike pop star. In the inevitable big-screen spin-off, Hannah Montana: the Movie, she takes a fortnight's break from Californian glitz and glamour to visit the ol' family ranch in Tennessee with her dad (Cyrus's real-life father, Billy Ray Cyrus). But surely the fun of the concept is seeing her switching back and forth between schoolgirl and celebrity on a regular basis; it defeats the point to stick her in the sticks where she has to paint chicken coops and go to the farmers' market. The po-faced lectures about the importance of family life are hard to take from a Disney merchandising juggernaut, too.
Also Showing: 03/05/2009
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (111 mins, (12A))
Gavin Hood, who directed Tsotsi, the Oscar-winning South African slum drama, revives Marvel Comics' X-Men franchise with this handsome prequel. If you want to know how Wolverine acquired his metal skeleton and claws, the answers are all here – but why would you? The fine scenery and prestigious supporting cast (including Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston) can't disguise the fundamental pointlessness of the enterprise.
Funuke: Show Some Love, You Losers! (113 mins, 15)
If you're not put off by the insane title, you might be intrigued by this weird black comedy from Japan, in which an aspiring starlet moves back from Tokyo to her family's rural home, and re-establishes her twisted, quasi-incestuous relationship with her put-upon sister, her sullen step-brother, and his manically servile wife. Darkly entertaining, if 20 minutes too long.
The End (81 mins, 15)
A compilation of interviews with a rogues' gallery of cockney bank robbers, debt collectors and bare-knuckle boxers. The trouble is that their answers have been cut into such short soundbites that they're more like vox pops on the Six O'Clock News. Guy Ritchie would love The End, but it doesn't go beyond the clichés: that is, colourful but horrifically violent characters who are great blokes once you get to know them.
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