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Taping Nigel (2005)
What was Gervais thinking - and what on Earth are IMDb raters thinking?
I love Ricky Gervais' type of uncomfortable cringe-humour, especially as the The Office (UK) I&II and Extras I&II, just as I also love funny but excruciating scenes by Lars von Trier for instance; I've even unintentionally laughed my way through Schindler's List and Awakenings in movie theatres to my wife's mortified embarrassment. However, Taping Nigel, one of the DVD-extra segments for Extras, goes too far and is just not funny. I sat watching it, feeling worse and worse, and losing more and more respect for Ricky Gervais. It's absurd but not even extreme in any sense: Ricky Gervais bullies his film editor Nigel in various humiliating ways, mostly by wrapping tape uncomfortably around his head to make him appear like a pig for instance. What makes it bad is that it is real, not fiction, and Ricky is just enjoying himself sadistically at the considerable expense of Nigel who is not enjoying it at all but puts up with it, perhaps to keep his job. I was in a good mood and wanted to think it a hoax, giving Ricky benefit of doubt, but there is no doubt. He is just a mean bully here, and it is amazing that this segment was included as extra material (and that an even worse follow-up appears as extra material for Extras II); it just makes Ricky Gervais look really bad. What amazes me most though is that people here on IMDb have rated this segment so highly - 8.1 - with hardly any protest or outrage. Is this because people admire and look up to Ricky as a director? How can this excuse anything like this? Even if people find it funny, how can they excuse it on those grounds? Would Rickey Gervais molesting a kid in a humorous way with a silly grin on his face still make people laugh? Probably (hopefully) not, so where is the empathy here? Or doesn't empathy play a part for people at all, here or in the kid example? Shame on Ricky and shame on the voters here.
Match Point (2005)
Before this film, I hadn't seen many Woody Allen films but they seemed to mix a lot of cringe with humour and some nice observations about People, the general Human Condition, Life, and so on (and on). In Match Point, there is only cringe. No humour, no interesting insights. And most of the cringe is due to the bad script; it starts off with a bit of promise but quickly bogs down into a boring, contrived, predictable, and pretentious waste of a film. And unrealistic through and through: Woody Allen has some pretty weird notions about London and the British (i.e, he apparently has no clue). I really had to struggle to watch it to the end. It also got a lot worse towards the end, as if Woody Allen didn't know how to end it and out of desperation chose an idiotic ending. Or maybe it struck him that the big theme of the film, introduced heavy-handedly at the start of the film, hadn't yet stepped onto the stage, and so contrived an idiotic ending to let the theme get in on the act before curtain's close. And the big theme? That we are at the mercy of Chance ("That's like, deep, man!"). Besides forgetting the theme through most of the film, Woody Allen actually seems to promote the opposite view that Chance can be made redundant by hard work and good sense. At least, the moody main character has to make quite a mess before Chance properly makes her entry. So, Match Point neither entertains nor stimulates, and you can't chill out to it, since you are busy cringing. Having art galleries and operas in it does not make it Art. Nor do the obviously included details. The characters are 1.5-dimensional and pretty uninteresting, and evolve predictably throughout the film, so it is not a good character study. All in all pretty useless film. It could be that Woody Allen is making a public admittance of severe obsessions, through the acts of the main character, who knows. Who cares?
So what makes it worth the four stars I've given it? Well, the photography is pretty nice, and the most of the actors play pretty well, despite the lousy script and the laughable lines. I felt a bit sorry for them but they chose it themselves and get paid handsomely for it, I'm sure. And, of course, there's Scarlett Johansen. She plays very well (as usual) and is very sexy (as usual). But even here, Woody Allen fails miserably. She is in far too few scenes, and vanishes all-together in the last half hour. And, somehow, Woody Allen even manages to neutralize her sexiness at times by putting her into artificial and stilted settings. What a waste.
The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
A matter of taste
Just had fun watching TCOR and am pretty happy about it. Good action, great visual stuff. A worthy successor to Pitch Black, though the two films are hardly related. Vin Diesel does a good and convincing job at playing an action antihero. As usual, Judy Dench adds to the film, even though her role is small here. The story is pure pulp SF and is short and predictable but is refreshingly dark and (mostly) unsentimental. It actually also has some interesting bits and nice side stories as a (smallish) bonus. Bits and pieces have been copied from Dune, without the film being a Dune copy. Compared to Dune, TCOR has more action and fewer Lynch oddities & boring bits. In my book, both films are good, about equally so.
Reading some of the other reviews, it seems that people are fairly polarized in their opinions of this film. Like most pulp science fiction, it takes a different sort of suspension of belief from that which makes usual films work. However, the action makes it a fair bit easier, and I found it a lot more engrossing and convincing than any of the five (ridiculous but entertaining) Star Wars films, the uniformly unwatchable Star Trek stuff, or, for that matter, most blockbusting light entertainments. But that is just me. If you hate Dune, exaggerated action scenes, or (minor) plot inconsistencies, then you probably won't like this film. Otherwise, chances are good that you will.