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Sinbad discovers the land of bland
(Filed: 25/07/2003)

Tim Robey reviews the rest of this week's releases

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
Sex is Comedy
Standing in the Shadows of Motown
Le Corbeau
Agent Cody Banks
Historias mínimas
Public Enemy

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas U cert, 85 min

Formulaic: a quest adventure

Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joseph Fiennes - four faces far too pretty to be doing cartoon voice work. They huff, and puff, but can't bring much to this unobjectionable old-school escapade, in which Sinbad (Pitt) gets tricked by goddess of chaos Eris (a vampish Pfeiffer) into putting the life of his royal chum Proteus (Fiennes) on the line.

Zeta-Jones, in fairness, comes up trumps with some feisty ripostes as the lovelorn heroine Marina, but this is basically blandsville, and exactly the kind of formulaic quest adventure that the recent likes of Shrek and The Emperor's New Groove parodied so smartly. Screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) eschews the usual details of Sinbad mythology in favour of Greek-tweaked variants, but the one exciting bit is a roc attack that's right out of Ray Harryhausen.

Sex is Comedy 18 cert, 94 min

French provocatrice Catherine Breillat has always courted notoriety for the explicit - if hardly gratuitous - sexual content of her films (Romance, A ma soeur!). Her latest feature is a self-reflexive skit in which a Breillat-surrogate director (Anne Parillaud) primes two actors (Gregoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida) for a scene very much like the deflowering of Mesquida's character in A ma soeur!, amid on-set friction and earnest debates about how phallic the camera may or may not be.

For most of its length the conceit proves naggingly weightless, as if Breillat had just compiled a bunch of interviews about her directorial technique and shoehorned them into a script. But then the film culminates in an astonishingly raw and intimate sequence that vindicates her whole methodology. You realise that what's she's been doing is showing us her messy workings, en route to a climax and emotional aftermath that speak for themselves.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown PG cert, 108 min

One feels appropriately chastised at the beginning of this toe-tapping documentary for not knowing about the Funk Brothers, the Detroit hit-factory collective without whom Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and other soul legends wouldn't be nearly so legendary. That said, the evangelical persistence with which these unsung heroes are puffed up gets a little wearing, unlike the numbers themselves. "You could have had Deputy Dawg singing on them," says someone, which is stretching the point, and it doesn't help that the performances scattered throughout the film actually stand or fall on the quality of their vocals, as evidenced by the weediness of Ben Harper on Ain't Too Proud to Beg and I Heard It Through the Grapevine.

Structurally identical to Buena Vista Social Club, this would probably work better as a straightforward concert film, and it's none too convincing when Vietnam newsreel footage gets spliced in for token context.

Le Corbeau No cert, 93 min

Henri-Georges Clouzot, renowned for his heart-in-your-throat thrillers Les Diaboliques and The Wages of Fear, also vented his thoroughly misanthropic spleen in this 1943 melodrama about a campaign of poison-pen letters kicking up a "whirlwind of hate and calumny" in a provincial village. The governing idea of moral breakdown, which got the film briefly banned by France's post-war authorities, is developed with all the implacable precision of Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Agent Cody Banks 12A cert, 102 min

Rickety vehicle for Frankie (Malcolm in the Middle) Muniz, as a skateboarding spy kid foiling Ian McShane's plans to take over the world using, er, corrosive ice cubes. A sequel is currently shooting; unlike the eight-year-old population of America, I can just about wait.

Historias mínimas 15 cert, 91 min

Fragile Argentinian road movie about three lonely souls on sentimental journeys through southern Patagonia. For a lightweight Amores perros, it's unexpectedly depressing, but Carlos Sorin's even-handed direction shows some promise.

Public Enemy 18 cert, 138 min

A release for this gloating obscenity of a policier - "Dirty Harry vs Korean Psycho" gone really, really wrong - can only be called scraping the Asian import barrel. Quality control, people!

19 July 2003: Film-makers on film: Catherine Breillat

Related reports 

External links 
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas [official site]
Sex is Comedy [official site in French]
Standing in the Shadows of Motown [official site]
Le Corbeau - Internet Movie Database
Agent Cody Banks [official site]
Historias Mínimas [official site]