Catch 22, perfectly pretty candyfloss.

Catch 22.

Catch 22 is the new George Clooney project and the latest attempt to transfer Joseph Heller’s acclaimed novel to the screen. Like the Handmaid’s Tale, it’s a co-production between Hulu and Paramount and is clearly an attempt to replicate that show’s success. 

Unfortunately, it’s precisely when compared to something like the Handmaid’s Tale (reviewed by me earlier here) that the core problem with Catch 22 becomes obvious.

Margaret Atwood’s futuristic depiction of a dystopian society, which she published in 1985, was rendered terrifyingly prescient after the election of you know who, in 2016. In contrast, Heller’s novel, which he published in 1961, clearly comes from another century.

The Handmaid’s Tale.

For thousands of years, the world was divided into two groups; peasants, and the aristocracy. But the turn of the twentieth century ushered in an age of meritocracy. And in this world, you were either an ordinary (and still probably manual) worker, or, you were part of a tiny elite, and one of the very few who had an actual career. 

This latter group was made up of doctors, lawyers, bank managers and anyone lucky enough to be part of the government, the church or the army. These people were unimpeachably honest, trusted and universally revered. 

Hugh Laurie in Catch 22.

So, if you wanted to know if, say, the harvest was likely to be delayed this year, or whether or not the great powers were going to go to war, you would ask one of these august gentlemen (they were all men of course). And whatever they told you, you would take as writ. And you would then plan for the rest of your year accordingly. 

So when Heller’s novel came out in ’61, his depiction of the army was thrillingly subversive and genuinely satirical. The officers in this army were every bit as venal, petty, dim-witted, thin-skinned and self-centred as the ordinary privates forced to carry out their orders and to service their every whim.

Orson Welles in Mike Nichol’s Catch 22.

But by the time Mike Nichols released his film of the novel, a mere nine years later, in 1970, that world had been turned on its head. The sixties had rendered pillars of society, figures of authority and all institutions, especially the army, hopelessly suspicious. 

Now, half a century later, the idea that the army, and of all things, the American army, might once have been respected and even revered, rather than the object of ridicule, seems almost literally unimaginable. 

So when the latest Catch 22 depicts a scene in which an army private on the make tries to sell a truck load of clandestinely acquired tomatoes to his superior, it doesn’t read like a caustic critique of universal values subverted by the pursuit of person profit, and the sacrifice of ideals at the altar to capitalism. It just looks like a young guy selling a slightly older guy a few crates of tomatoes. 

George Clooney in Catch 22.

It all looks sumptuous, and the acting is uniformly superb. And, as wonderful as it is to see Giancarlo Giannini given something grown-up to do, against the backdrop of a pristine and Acadian southern Italy, it lacks any real substance. As Gertrude Stein said so memorably of California, “there’s no there, there “.

You can see the trailer to Catch 22 here

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“Gravity” and Sandra Bullock Captivating Despite the 3D.



Gravity arrives trailing truckloads of hype and weighed down by a cacophonous word of mouth. But for once, it delivers.

Nominally set in space and in some not too distant future, like so many science film films, and not just Star Wars, it’s really just a western dressed up with fancy futuristic toys.

Sandra Bullock is the lonesome hero pitted against the forces of evil, with the effortlessly charming George Clooney as her sidekick. Clooney manages to be charming even when he’s doing and saying things that, irritatingly,  have been designed and fabricated to charm,  and still pull it off.

Alfonso Cuaron directs Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

Alfonso Cuaron directs Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

But it’s Bullock’s film. Only instead of having to square up to an even meaner bad guy than the one she’s just disposed of, she’s faced with a set of insurmountable technological obstacles, each one even more hopeless than the one before.

Inevitably, there are existential musings about life and love and the meaning of it all.  And yes, as some critics have pointed out, for someone who’s supposed to have taken on the job because of her love of silence, she does an awful lot of talking to herself. And sure, Clooney is little more than a pastiche of any number of identikit sidekicks from those 70s B westerns or 80s cop films.

But their performances manage to transcend all of that. Coupled with the fact that Alfonso Cuarón, the film’s director, has managed to use all the time, effort and imagination invested in the technology in the service of the story.

So there are times when you manage to forget that everything you are watching has been happening in what appears to be zero gravity. When suddenly, and movingly, you’re reminded again of the alien background against which all this is taking place.

Cuarón shot to fame with Y Tu Mama Tambien in 2001, before getting inveigled into directing one of the Harry Potter films. He’s spent the last seven years making Gravity, getting its technology right, but he and his son who wrote the script with him, never lost sight of the story.

Not a profound film. But then nor does it try to be. Just an old fashioned, seat of your pants, thrill of a ride that’ll keep you rooting for the good guy and praying she pulls through, in a brilliantly told and performed story that you completely believe in. Despite the fact that they ended up shooting it in 3D.

Sandra Bullock in "Gravity".

Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”.

And yes, here we are again. It’s Life Of Pi all over again – reviewed earlier here.

3D was a gimmick in the 50s, a gimmick in the 70s and it’s a gimmick again now. Gravity is a marvel to look at and listen to, but because of the seamless merging of digital effects and physical acting. And the magnificent use of sound and music. It has nothing to do with the fact that it was needlessly shot in 3D. Go and see it in 2D. Either way, see it.

Here’s Gravity’s trailer.

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