MaltaToday | 17 August 2008

Eric German | Sunday, 17 August 2008

Love and lust, friendship and rivalry

The Edge of Love (16) - ***

Loosely based on the real events, John Maybury’s film circles the tangled emotions of the foursome that eventually develops after Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) is reunited with his “first Love,” Vera Philips (Keira Knightley), in war-ravaged 1941 London.
Vera’s become an independent woman, singing to the crowds sheltering in the Underground during air raids and although she’s still attracted to Dylan, she resists his advances. Still, she’s taken aback when he introduces his wife, Caitlin (Sienna Miller).
Circumstances conspire to have Vera save them by sharing her bedsit flat with them. A boozy notorious womaniser, Dylan is supremely selfish, Caitlin has her own affairs and they both know this.
But there’s an unconventional love between them and when Caitlin and Vera become good friends, she makes Vera promise not to betray her with Dylan. The already uneasy threesome becomes a foursome when Captain William Killick (Cillian Murphy) becomes deeply in love with Vera.
Maybury opens the film with an extreme close of Knightley’s lips heavy with a red lipstick gloss as she sings. The camera then pulls back to reveal the crowded Londoners listening to her during an air raid.
In an inspired sequence, he intercuts between this dual escape from reality in the Underground and the reality that rages above as bombed buildings blaze. This kind of parallel intercutting is frequently used in films but the contrast has never been so stark before and the sequence is pure cinema.
During the first and longer of the two sections, Maybury’s visual invention never flags and he’s aided superbly by cinematographer Jonathan Freeman’s mirror shots, the ever so delicate camera distortions. Besides being extremely watchable, these shots symbolise the doubled and troubled couplings.
The second section takes place in the two isolated bungalows in Wales where Dylan, Caitlin and Vera are forced to retreat because of shrinking finances while William is at war in Greece.
This section is slower and downbeat but it’s here that the friendship/rivalry relationship between Caitlin and Vera, which is initially almost erotic by the power of suggestion, is developed seriously and resolved dramatically.
In terms of structure, the film gyrates round Dylan and William, giving the impression that it’s going to be about them. Rhys plays Thomas as a sort of man-child and his sly wit makes him easier to take without lessening his negative nature.
Before he leaves for war, Murphy’s William remains as a background figure but at war he has a meaty, if very bloody, scene and he’s at his best when he returns in a shellshocked state.
But thematically, the film belongs to the women. Knightley’s performance isn’t as good as the one she gave in Atonement. She’s as good as the script but there are times when her material weakens and she doesn’t rise above it.
The one who does is Sienna Miller who regardless of her material gives a consistently strong, humorous and ultimately touching portrayal of Caitlin, enabling us to understand this woman’s complex psyche. And although she’s compulsively unfaithful, Miller silently conveys the woman’s deep yearning and hurt.

Yawn of the year

The Mummy: Tomb of the dragon emperor (PG) - *

Spielberg’s late addition to the Indiana Jones series wasn’t shown to the press but this is the one they should have spared the critics from yawning their way through. It’s a tepidly warmed over collection of the same old ingredients.
To get to the main plot, one has to sit through a very overlong epilogue, the boredom of watching Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello), being bored by retirement and then sent to Shanghai to deliver an artefact that, unknown to them, can resurrect the long dead Dragon Emperor (Jet Li).
But before we get to that, their son, Alex (Luke Ford), is out in the desert discovering the tomb of said emperor in a sub plot that’s introduced so arbitrarily it’s incoherent.
Rob Cohen’s direction of the action sequences is an object exercise on how not to direct action. His brief must have been to attract video game makers. There’s a lot of action but no excitement at all.
The exhausting action is the same old stuff as before but more expensive looking. Much of it is played for silly ass laughs and at other times it’s unintentionally funny because it varies between a farce to a cartoon.
Leaving no doubt that it’s made for kids, the addition of Alex (a waxworks version of Matt Damon) makes Brendan Fraser look like his son’s sidekick. Rachel Weisz is sorely missed because there’s none of the previous playfulness in the miscasting of Maria Bello, a good actress who looks very ill at ease in such a banality.
Fraser’s lines are pathetic, especially when they’re supposed to be funny. And Jet Li must be a glutton for punishment because for most of the time he looks like he fell into a vat of Marmite.
Incidentally there isn’t a single mummy. Everybody calls them mummies but they’re just CGI animated clay soldiers and skeletons. The duel between Jackie Chan and Jet Li in Forbidden Kingdom is, even on its own, worth more than this yawn-provoking film three times over.

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