Written by Films

Tamara Drewe, The Girl Who Played With Fire and Piranha 3D

I was lucky enough to attend a “public premiere” of Tamara Drewe on Monday followed by a Q&A with many of the cast and crew. I hadn’t quite realised that the big Leicester Square premiere was happening at the same time, but it did explain why Tamsin Greig was so dressed up when she came on stage. From the timings, I’d suspect that they’d done their red carpet bits in Leicester Square, seen the film start there, and then hot-foot it out the back and on to the BFI Southbank for our screening which had kicked off rather earlier.
Anyway, enough of the logistics of film publicity, and what of the film itself? The film is based on a weekly cartoon series in the Guardian Review, which I started reading in strip form, but ended up reading in book form a couple of years ago. Posy Simmonds essentially takes elements of Thomas Hardy’s Far From A Maddening Crowd and resets them in a 21st century version of the rural idyl. So we have Greig’s Beth Hardiment running a writers’ retreat in Dorset farmland while her philandering husband Nicholas (Roger Allam who plays the role with ease) writes his successful series of detective novels.
Into their world comes Gemma Arterton’s Tamara Drewe. She once lived in the village, but has since had a nose-job and a change of lifestyle. She’s now a successful journalist, looks stunning, and knows it. She’s inherited a cottage, and is getting it renovated while she works out what she wants to do with it.
Into this mix is added a young gardener, a rock-band drummer, an American academic, assorted writers, farmers and villagers, and two very funny young girls. Stir in some jelousy and infidelity, and you have an amusing, very middle class story of English village life.
The film is good fun, and is terribly middle class. In the Q&A afterwards, director Stephen Frears pointed out that the British don’t often make films about the middle classes – at least not these days. And aside from rom-coms from the likes of Richard Curtis, he’s right.
I liked the film, although I wouldn’t say that I loved it. It’s exquisitly made, and if you liked the comic/graphic novel, then you’ll be pleased to hear that it doesn’t put a foot wrong in retelling the story for the screen.
Having devoured Stieg Larssons novels as they came out in translation, I’m also now enjoying the release of the Swedish film adaptations. I say “film” although it must be pointed out that the original plan was to release the first as a film, with the second and third being TV mini-series in Sweden. But the success of the first meant that all three got cinema releases in their home country with the final episode being released last autumn. We’re getting the films about a year behind the Swedes with the final part due in November. But this second part doesn’t disappoint.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is again a very faithful adaptation of the book, and the performances from the main actors are strong. This second part is really the first of a two-part conclusion to the story, so while the film doesn’t quite end with a cliff-hanger, we’re in much more personal territory now. The plot is intimately based on the life of Lisbeth Salander, and there’s still plenty more to come in part three.
And finally to Piranha 3D. Oh dear. Where to begin with this piece of fluff? Well the first thing to say is that despite finding 3D pretty worthless, and more objectionably, dark, I nonetheless went into this daft remake of the old Joe Dante original. We think today, of Piranha as something of a Jaws ripoff, whereas in fact it came out in 1978 around the time of Jaws 2.
Alexandre Aja at least understands the kind of film he’s making – that is to say, a piece of nonsense. The film opens with Richard Dreyfuss (from Jaws) fishing in the middle of a lake. But an underwater earthquake has released the deadly piranha from some kind of underwater cavern through to the main lake. Dreyfuss dies a grizzly death in a particularly poor piece of CGI.
I went into this film thinking that, much as I hate 3D, it has its place in genre nonsense like this and had been shot that way, but it soon became clear that this wasn’t the case. Cursorily taking off your glasses at various points revealed that, no my eyes weren’t deceiving me, this scene simply wasn’t in 3D. And reading the end credits showed that it had been post-processed into 3D. In other words, someone had cut out foreground images from the background and Photoshopped in missing “bits” to give an impression of 3D. All the CGI piranha were in 3D, but so much of the underwater action was CGI that it didn’t matter. CGI in 3D is technically easy since everything is already modelled in 3D – it’s just a question of rendering a left and right image.
But back to the film. The really odd thing about this piece was the quality of some of the cast. Elizabeth Shue is excellent, even if the best thing she ever dead was Leaving Las Vegas 15 years ago. Ving Rhames is also really good, and who doesn’t love Christopher Lloyd? Then there’s the rest of the cast, including Strictly Come Dancing’s Kelly Brook who appears in quite the most hilariously gratuitous nude scene you could possibly imagine (it’s a “ballet” according to the credits at the end).
Fortunately, much of the action takes place in the daylight during Spring Break. This is fortunate because the image appears pretty bright throughout. But despite blood and body-parts a-plenty, the film isn’t remotely scary. There’s barely a jump to be had, which is actually quite hard to do and somewhat disappointing in what should be a horror film.
Overall, it’s a guilty pleasure that doesn’t live up to its promise.