The Holiday (12A) / The US vs John Lennon (12A)

Season's bleatings
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The Independent Culture

The cinema is a dangerous place to be around Christmas. If you manage to bodyswerve the worst of the kids' movies (The Santa Clause 3, if you want to know) there's always the abysmal prospect of stumbling into The Holiday, perhaps because Kate Winslet and Jude Law are in it. The warning lights went on as soon as I saw it was a Nancy Meyers film, this being the writer-director responsible for What Women Want - that's the one in which Mel Gibson suffers an electrical accident in his bathtub, but instead of dying (alas) ends up being able to hear the innermost thoughts of womankind. The Holiday isn't quite as terrible as that, but comparing them is like trying to decide whether a cesspool is better than an open sewer. Either way, you'll be needing a nose-peg.

The film's two heroines are Amanda (Cameron Diaz), a frazzled Hollywood type who makes movie trailers - this is an actual job, apparently - and Iris (Winslet), a journalist at The Daily Telegraph, where, in the film's one concession to realism, there's talk about "a smaller than normal staff". Both Iris and Amanda are nursing a romantic disappointment, and with the Christmas holiday fast approaching, both want to get away. Meeting via a home exchange website, they decide to swap residences for a couple of weeks, with Amanda upping sticks for a picture-book cottage in Surrey, and Iris moving into an LA dream house.

At which point you begin to suspect that Meyers isn't actually a movie director at all, but a features coordinator at World of Interiors. Just as a fabulous shorefront home in the Hamptons battled for centre-stage with Diane Keaton's nervous wreck in her last picture, Something's Gotta Give, so this weighs the attractions of English cosiness (candlewick bedspreads, a winter wonderland outside) against American comfort (huge bed, white sofas, a security gate outside). There is property porn here to satisfy the most exacting tastes. The problem is that Meyers regards her cast in much the same way she does decor: it must be easy on the eye, expensively maintained and absolutely lifeless. So Law, playing Iris's brother, shows up at Amanda's door, complete with 4x4, two cute daughters and a heart in desperate need of repair. In LA, Iris meets an elderly screenwriter (Eli Wallach) and a film composer (Jack Black) who become the best of friends in no time at all.

Disbelief, briefly suspended, snaps its neck. These people are not journalists or film-makers. They are not even people. Meyers clearly thinks of "character" as a combination of wishful thinking and research - imperfect research, at that. We are supposed to believe that Wallach's old geezer is a Hollywood legend who knows everything about everyone, but then he tells Iris that Cary Grant, just like her, was born in Surrey. In fact, he was born in Bristol. Law is allegedly a high-flying book editor, though he's also a grammatical dunce who says "less notes" when he means "fewer".

These solecisms are small beer. Much harder to swallow is the film's cynical reduction of the romantic heroine to the level of whimpering, self-pitying, neurotic imbecile. It seems that Meyers has made it her personal mission to put the cause of feminism back about 50 years. Women, beware women. A word to the target audience: The Holiday isn't just a patronising chick flick, it's a downright libel.

Even as a lifelong devotee of John Lennon's music, I would have to concede that the man himself really did talk the most prodigious amount of balls. This much is confirmed in the course of The US vs John Lennon, a documentary that seeks to lionise him as peace activist and spokesman for a generation, but inadvertently has the effect of making him look a pious, publicity-crazed bore. Film-makers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld concentrate on Lennon's life in the aftermath of The Beatles' break-up in 1970, when he and Yoko Ono moved to New York and established themselves as gurus of the counterculture. Ever keen to play the rebel, Lennon spoke vociferously on behalf of the anti-Vietnam movement and black radicalism, or staged publicity stunts like his notorious "bed-in" for peace.

The film interleaves contemporary news footage with a selection of talking heads - Walter Cronkite, Angela Davis, Carl Bernstein, Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky et al - to reminisce about the political and social convulsions of late-Sixties and early-Seventies America. It is the thesis of Leaf and Scheinfeld that Lennon's involvement in this revolutionary spirit so rattled the likes of Nixon and FBI boss J Edgar Hoover that he was secretly declared an enemy of the state and put under surveillance.

No hard evidence of this is brought to light, but the merest suspicion of it supposedly underpins the idea of Lennon as one of the unacknowledged legislators of the world, a role he himself was happy to endorse. Indeed, the cumulative impression you would glean here is that, before Lennon, nobody had ever picked up a guitar in protest. Dylan, a hero to Lennon and his fellow Beatles, is conspicuously ignored throughout.

The most significant interviewee is Ono, whose approval of the film should strike an ominous note. While it would be too easy to blame her for the self-absorption of Lennon's post-Beatles career (no mention is made, incidentally, of his 18-month separation from her in 1973-74), it does appear that, artistically, they brought out the worst in each other. Ian MacDonald said it best, as he nearly always did concerning The Beatles, in his seminal book Revolution in the Head: "Under the ostensibly selfless holy foolery [Lennon and Ono] indulged in during 1968-70 was a core of exhibitionistic self-promotion. Behaving as if they had personally invented peace, they jetted round the world in first-class seats selling it at third-rate media-events. This was arrogant as well as silly, and the news media's derision was not only inevitable but, in the main, justified." Such perspective will be a tonic after watching this remorseless hagiography.

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