The Films of Mike Newell
Dance with a Stranger
The Good Father (July 19/05)
In The Good Father, Anthony Hopkins stars as Bill Hooper - a bitter, motorcycle-riding single father who seemingly holds nothing but contempt for his ex-wife. Bill has been separated from Emmy (Harriet Walter) for quite some time, and is relegated to occasional visits with their young son. After meeting Roger (Jim Broadbent), a schoolteacher who's in the process of splitting from his wife, Bill decides to direct all of his anger and resentment into securing Roger sole custody of his son (his soon-to-be-ex has declared herself a lesbian and is planning to move the boy to Australia). Based on the novel by Peter Prince, The Good Father casts Hopkins as a surprisingly unlikable figure - Bill mistreats most everyone around him, including his little boy - and yet, thanks primarily to Hopkins' charismatic, engaging performance, the character eventually becomes someone that we're rooting for. It certainly doesn't help that many of the supporting characters have been painted with extremely broad strokes (with a few exceptions, including Broadbent's Roger), something that's particularly true of a man-hating lawyer that actually wears a t-shirt that reads, "all men are rapists." It's not exactly subtle stuff, and there's no denying that such elements hamper the overall effectiveness of the film. As a result, The Good Father comes off as uneven but mostly entertaining - although there's a revelation towards the end of the film that calls into question Bill's motives for helping Roger, without offering up an explanation (leaving the movie with a fairly sour aftertaste).
Amazing Grace and Chuck
Into the West
Four Weddings and a Funeral (January 16/05)
Four Weddings and a Funeral is the film that established Hugh Grant as a bonafide star, and it's easy enough to see why. Though his stammering thing is in full-force here, Grant undeniably gives a performance that's charismatic and engaging - while co-star Andie MacDowell is quite effective (surprisingly enough) as the object of his affections. True to the title, the film features four weddings and a funeral - and as a result, there's not much of a plot here. While the movie's never boring, certain sequences feel as though they could've been trimmed (at close to two hours, the film is certainly a little on the long side). Richard Curtis' screenplay nicely blends humor with drama, ensuring that some of the more serious moments never seem jarring or out of place. The film feels like a natural forebear to Curtis' Love Actually, with many of the supporting characters finding love before the end credits role (and it certainly doesn't hurt that director Mike Newell has populated the movie with a surfeit of excellent performers, including John Hannah, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Rowan Atkinson).
An Awfully Big Adventure
Mona Lisa Smile
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Love in the Time of Cholera (November 12/07)
Based on the novel by Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera follows hopeless romantic Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) as he spends a lifetime pining for lost love Fermina Urbino (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). Though the film's two stars are undoubtedly quite effective in their respective roles, Love in the Time of Cholera ultimately comes off as a campy mess that presumably has little in common with Márquez's acclaimed work. Director Mike Newell - working from Ronald Harwood's screenplay - has infused the proceedings with a melodramatic and downright overwrought sensibility that's reflected in virtually every aspect of the movie, with the almost laughably garish sets and ineffective supporting performances (ie John Leguizamo's scenery-chewing turn as Fermina's father) certainly the most overt examples of this. Such problems are exacerbated by the presence of several questionable stylistic and thematic elements, including the ridiculous manner in which Fermina initially brushes off Florentino (after making him wait for years, she casually labels their would-be relationship nothing more than an "illusion"). After the time-shifting shenanigans of the first hour, Love in the Time of Cholera ultimately morphs into a slow-moving, sporadically-interesting-but-mostly-dull drama - with the final straw arriving in the form of the hopelessly uninvolving conclusion, which hardly manages to pack the emotional punch it's clearly been designed to evoke.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Based on the classic video game, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time follows Jake Gyllenhaal's heroic Dastan as he teams up with a mysterious princess (Gemma Arterton's Tamina) to stop a diabolical madman from destroying the universe. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has been infused with as relentlessly slick and thoroughly mindless a feel as one has come to expect from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, with the film's empty-headed sensibilities reflected most prominently in its consistently uninvolving storyline and its proliferation of hopelessly underdeveloped characters. The viewer's ongoing difficulties in working up any interest in Dastan's perilous exploits are exacerbated by Mike Newell's decidedly incompetent directorial choices, as the filmmaker proves unable to inject any of the movie's many action sequences with even an ounce of genuine excitement (or even coherence) - with the less-than-enthralling vibe stemming primarily from Newell's reliance on shaky camerawork, rapid-fire editing, and a whole host of other entirely needless stylistic tricks (and this is to say nothing of the chintzy, downright laughable barrage of computer-generated special effects). The pervasively dull atmosphere persists right through to the expectedly overblown (and downright unintelligible) finale, and it's ultimately impossible to label Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time as anything more than a pointless and aggressively bland big-budget disaster.