Supposing you had to choose between a beautiful, tender-hearted sex kitten and a contemptuous, duplicitous harridan with a peculiarly shaped face – which one would you pick? It's not a question that should detain you for more than a millisecond, and yet writer/ director Mark Herman, who made Brassed Off and Little Voice, tries to stretch it into a romantic comedy.
Colin Firth, the thinking woman's misery-guts, is in an even bigger huff than usual in Hope Springs (12A). A portrait artist who's been elbowed by his fiancée (Minnie Driver), he mopes off to a small town in New England, where, as if by magic, the most angelic woman in the county (Heather Graham) seems to have a thing for morose British strangers. She throws herself at him, and everything's hunky-dory until Driver turns up and demands his return to London. Now, if Driver or the script had made her character even the slightest bit sympathetic, Hope Springs might have had a story. But no.
She endeavours to lure Firth away by being brusque with everyone, telling Graham easily refutable lies about him, and showing not a droplet of any emotion bar irritation. It's obvious, then, that Firth isn't going to take her back. He knows it, she knows it, we know it. But still she loiters around for the rest of this grindingly tedious film. Please don't make the same mistake.
In Old School (15), three guys in their thirties (Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn at his casually objectionable best) seek to relive their wild youth by founding a fraternity at their Alma Mater. If you've seen Road Trip, the last film directed by Todd Phillips and written by Phillips and Scot Armstrong, you'll know what to expect – nothing resembling a clever or well-crafted film, but quite a few guilty laughs. Phillips and Armstrong have such a sincere enthusiasm for sophomoric lewd-and-crude comedy that it's almost heart-warming.
While Old School is intended to be watched at home with a few mates and a few beers, Darkness Falls (15) should make a quick buck as Hallowe'en video-marathon fodder. The kind of creepy cheapie that has very, very slow closing credits so it can profess to be longer than 75 minutes, it's a Scooby Doo adventure that sees the young cast – the most famous of whom is one of the girls from Buffy The Vampire Slayer who isn't Buffy the vampire slayer – being pestered by something that's a composite of numerous other horror movie bogeymen: she's the ghost of a witch with a burnt face who's also the tooth fairy and can't attack you unless it's dark.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (12A) is Dai Sijie's film of his own best-selling novel. Set in Mao's China in the early 1970s, it's an account of two city boys who are sent to a mountain village to be "re-educated" by the peasantry. Their days consist of having to crawl down mines and carry baskets of sewage, but when the boys find a stash of banned foreign novels, they undertake some re-education of their own, winning over the local tailor's pretty daughter with readings from Madame Bovary and The Count of Monte Cristo. It's a pleasant, light, picturesque film – perhaps too picturesque. Even with the mining and the slurry, it's like watching Prince William on his Raleigh International expedition.
On a similar note, Pot Luck (15) is about a Parisian twentysomething who spends a year in Barcelona, squeezed into an apartment with half-a-dozen grad students of other European nationalities. Sit in a pub with any friend who's ever lived abroad or shared a house and you'll hear traveller's tales with twice as much plot.
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