Monday, 8 February 2016

Film Round-Up #12

For a long while now, Heather Graham has been one of my favourite actresses, but when I recently stopped to consider why, I wasn't really sure. She had a small but important role in the Favreau/Vaughn comedy, Swingers, before really getting her big break as Rollergirl in the fantastic Boogie Nights, soon followed by Felicity Shagwell in the second Austin Powers movie. But what else is there?

There is quite a bit actually but, sadly, as I've learnt over the years, not much of it is very good. So what is it I like about her then? Of course, it could be nothing more than a celebrity crush - she certainly is attractive and is ageing amazingly well (she is 46 now, believe it or not) but I think it's just as much her personality (as much as it can be determined without actually knowing her personally) - she seems to have a natural enthusiasm to her manner which is very appealing.

She's a pretty good actress too, and does about as well as she could with the roles she gets offered, but the films are usually quite poor. But are they all poor? Well, that's what I've been aiming to find out by watching (or re-watching, in some cases) more of the films that feature her at least fairly prominently. Let's just hope there were some corkers amongst the less compelling efforts...

Adrift in Manhattan (2007)

I've long been keen on indies so I'd hoped this little-known example might prove to be a hidden gem. It has an ensemble cast including Heather as Rose, a grieving mother whose two year-old son recently died in an accident, William Baldwin as her estranged husband, Dominic Chianese as an artist who has just learned he's losing his sight, and Victor Rasuk as Simon, a 20-year-old amateur photographer. They all live in New York and naturally their lives intersect here and there; much more so when Simon becomes obsessed with Rose and starts stalking her to take pictures of her. When he outs himself, however, she reacts in a surprising way, but while it goes some way to explaining her inability to let go, it doesn't really resolve anything. I suppose that's often the case with these 'slice of life' films but there's just something unsatisfying about Adrift. Heather does pretty well for me, reigning in her usual bright-eyed exuberance, but much of the meat of the film goes to Rasuk, who's great, and Chianese impresses with most of what's left. It's worth a watch if you fancy something a but more subdued than normal and have no better options, but don't expect to be bowled over... 5/10

Compulsion (2013)

This one is a great example of the perils I referred to. Even though it had a very low rating, I watched it anyway just because it was a rare starring role for Heather. She plays Amy, an ultra-obsessive chef who is seemingly jobless and lives only to conjure up wonderful foods and dazzle people with them, whether they want to be or not. She soon finds another obsession, however, when a former child-actress with whom she was infatuated moves into the apartment across from hers. Amy is soon forcing herself on Saffron (Carrie-Anne Moss) who just wants to be left alone, but they eventually develop a bond that might spell trouble for them both. Performances from both actresses are about as good as they could be given the material, but unfortunately it's just not at all interesting. The story is threadbare and pointless and the characters are annoying, especially in Amy's case. Not everyone wants to eat weird, super-fancy food all the time, dammit! A poor film then, I'm afraid, and only worth enduring if you want to spend 80-odd minutes leering at Ms. Graham's cleavage and legs which are featured prominently, and even then it's only just worth it... 3/10

Gray Matters (2006)

At first I thought this one was just a bog-standard rom-com but it quickly became apparent that it's a little bit different. It's even named after Heather's character, Gray, who has an oddly co-dependent relationship with her brother Sam (Tom Cavanagh). They live and do everything except work together (no, not that - groo!) but, after being mistaken for a couple, decide set each other up with dates. Gray goes first and introduces Sam to Charlie (Bridget Moynahan) who he immediately hits it off with. The only trouble is, Gray falls for her too, and after a drunken kind-of accidental kiss the night before Sam and Charlie's wedding, Gray realises she's gay! Sissy Spacek and Molly Shannon co-star as Gray's annoying psychiatrist and annoying work colleague respectively, as does Alan Cumming as her friend, but the main trio are all likeable and it's certainly easy to see Charlie's appeal. Some scenes come off as a little cheesy but most of the comedy works well and Gray's coming out (which is even to herself) is actually quite touching in one or two scenes. It's a film that's taken a lot of flak from critics, especially for its failings as a 'gay movie', but I think those people are taking it far too seriously. For me it's just an unspectacular but light-hearted look at the subject, and it's also more than pleasant enough to hold my attention... 7/10

Killing Me Softly (2002)

Heather has hardly been shy about shedding her clothes on film and if you've ever watched this, it's likely because you already knew that it represents the peak of her nudity career. It's an 'erotic thriller', you see, in which she stars as Alice, a young American working and living in London with her boyfriend. But then, when she has a mysterious encounter with an alluring male stranger, with barely a word said between them and without even exchanging names, she goes to his place and has fast, passionate sex with him. The next day, upon finding out who he is, she leaves her boyfriend and starts a largely-sexual relationship with Adam (Joseph Fiennes). Before long, though, she starts having suspicions about him owing to strange phone calls, anonymous letters, and a very possessive sister (Natascha McElhone), and starts looking into his past which he rarely talks about. There are a couple of twists in the story but this is a bit of a sub-standard effort from an otherwise-decent director (Chen Kaige), thanks mainly to its poor screenplay, and there really isn't much of a reason to watch. Well, unless you want to see Heather naked multiple times, obviously... 4/10

Boogie Woogie (2009)

This was the most recent Heather film I watched and I had quite high hopes for some reason. It's set in London and revolves around the international art scene in which its sizeable ensemble cast live and work. They include some splendid names such as Danny Huston as a dealer, Stellan SkarsgĂĄrd and Gillian Anderson as a collector and his dissatisfied wife, Christopher Lee as the stubborn owner of a valuable painting which he won't sell, Amanda Seyfried as an alluring new secretary, Alan Cumming who's trying to break into the scene, and of course Ms. Graham as a former assistant now branching out on her own. There are a lot to keep track of but that's not the problem - most of them know each other have dealings with each other - the problem is that it's meant to be a spoofy comedy, but it just isn't especially funny. The performances are all good, especially Huston and Anderson for me, and some of the satire seems pretty spot-on, but few of the characters are likeable (especially Jaime Winstone's - eurghh!) and their exploits aren't very interesting really... 5/10

Don't worry Heather, we still love you! But please choose some better films to grace with your presence soon :)

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