Simon Morris reviews Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a troubled boxer; Vacation - a sequel/remake of the old 80s comedy; and She's Funny That Way, Peter Bogdanovich's tribute to the classic comedies of the forties.
The big picture with Simon Morris
Over the past few weeks we’ve been assaulted from both sides – the Northern summer’s usual barrage of blockbusters on the right, and the riches of the mid-year Film Festival on the left. When that happens your ordinary, mainstream movies tend to duck for cover.
But they’re back… which means we can be selective. I don’t think we need to bother with Hitman Agent 47 – a decidedly average-looking shoot-em-up based on a video game.
Instead this week we’re offered all sorts of exciting alternatives – like the long-awaited follow-up to that classic Eighties comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation. All right, perhaps “Long-awaited” may be overstating our anticipation, while “classic” is definitely only true if you were young and dumb in 1983. As it turned out, the word “comedy” may not be quite the word I was looking for either.
For the discerning movie buff, the real thing is the genuinely classic “screwball comedies” of the glory days of Hollywood in the 1940s. And nobody knows Hollywood history better than critic turned film-maker Peter Bogdanovich. She’s Funny That Way is a tribute to the brilliant comedies of Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks.
But recognising a great comedy is one thing. Being able to duplicate it is quite another. About five minutes into She’s Funny That Way, I started to wish I’d gone to Hitman Agent 47 instead.
But this is being wise after the event. The one film that picked itself this week was that generally safe bet – the boxing movie. Sports films generally don’t work outside their home territory. Baseball means nothing in Europe, soccer is a mystery to Americans, and so on. But boxing is different. It’s primal, exciting, often tragic and perfect for the movies. Raging Bull, Rocky, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Million Dollar Baby – the number of award-winning films about the fight game is seemingly endless. This week sees a new one – Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.