Sunday, December 25, 2005

BLUFFMASTER - Slick Indian remake of Nine Queens/The Game

BLUFFMASTER is a beautifully shot and cleverly constructed Indian movie that tells the tale of a conman operating in Bombay. Should you watch it? Only if you haven't seen any of the following flicks: the 1963 original; Nueve Reinas; Criminal; Ocean's Eleven; Matchstick Men; Snatch or The Game. Let me break it down for you:

borrows its title from the 1963 movie starring Shami Kapoor. The original bluffmaster also featured a conman undone by his love of a good woman but there the similarities end. The plot of Rohan Sippy's movie is stolen alost entirely from Fabian Bielinsky's superb 2000 flick, NUEVE REINAS, later remade in typical half-assed fashion as CRIMINAL for all those Yanks that can't read subtitles. Of course, all Bollywood movies have to have a happy ending, so about 2 hours into this caper we flip into David Fincher's outstanding 1997 flick, THE GAME. Being a Bollywood movie, we also have four musical numbers which are all shot in the manner of MTV videos. The music and the photography are a mish-mash of Will Smith's "Switch" and "Mambo number 5". I especially like the lead actor, Abhishek Bachchan, dressed up in a flat cap and sheep-skin jacket, a la Arthur Daley, rapping in the main song. About as hard as Fifty Cent.

I have to say that it is pretty ironic that a movie about the immorality of theft should be so thoroughly lifted from so many other cinematic greats. With a pedigree like that, it's not surprising that we have a good end-product! And all kidding aside, if you haven't seen the Hollywood originals, this really is a good movie. However, my enjoyment was definitely impaired, not only because I knew all the plot twists, but also because this sort of blatant ripoff leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It's not that there is any crime in remaking a Hollywood movie - Hollywood cannibalises its own back catalogue often enough - but there is surely some ethical, if not legal, obligation to credit the originator. Moreover, young directors like Rohan Sippy will surely only make truly great movies when they move away from homage/pastiche/plagiarism/whatever and into telling new and original stories.

BLUFFMASTER was released in India, the UK and US on the 16th December 2005.

Monday, December 19, 2005

THE FAMILY STONE - great cast, shame about the script

THE FAMILY STONE is a film that is less than the sum of its parts. Despite having a great cast and moments of compelling drama and kooky comedy, it never manages to combine these elements into a coherent and involving whole. The movie is an out-and-out sentimental Christmas family movie, that has ambitions beyond its stature. But first, let's start with the comedy set-up. Dermot Mulroney plays a stand-up guy who comes from the most politically correct family on the face of the planet. Mama Stone, played by the luminous Diane Keaton, has a whole bunch of kids, including a deaf gay son who is dating a coloured guy; a stoner son who edits documentary film (Luke Wilson); the aforementioned stand-up guy; a pregnant "rock of the family" daughter; and another kooky irritable daughter played by Rachel McAdams. On the Christmas in question Dermot Mulroney brings home his uptight Wall Street girlfriend played by Sarah Jessica Parker. The family - who pride themselves on being non-judgmental, liberal, anything-goes people - immediately turn on her. They are judgmental and mean, forcing her to flee to the local motel and call her sister as back up. The kid sister, played by Claire Danes, fits in fine, of course, creating even more tension. The film plays out from here in a fairly predictable manner. Opposites attract, pot saves the day, and by the end of the movie no real lessons have been learned. People are still as judgmental. For me, the real failing of the movie is its inability to handle the marked changes in tone of the dramatic and comedic moments. We go through scenes where the Sarah Jessica Parker character really bares her soul and her insecurities. To SJP's credit, I really felt for her. And then, a blink of an eye later, we are meant to laugh at slapstick comedy which includes, I kid you not, people slipping up on spilt pudding. Some films can get away with this change of mood and are the stronger for it. But here, it simply feels clumsy. So, all in all, a deeply disappointing movie. What a waste of a great cast!

THE FAMILY STONE went on release in the UK, US, France and Germany on the 15th December 2005. It goes on release in France on the 28th December 2005.

Friday, December 16, 2005

KING KONG - 90 minutes stupendous boredom, 90 minutes cinematic genius

You should definitely see KING KONG and, if at all possible, you should see it on the big screen because it is one of the most beautiful and brilliant love stories ever photographed. However, you should be sure to take a lot of food and a discrete video gaming console for the first ninety minutes which, super visuals aside, suck ass. Let me explain.

00:01. The movie opens in 1930s New York. It is the Great Depression and there are people who have - the rich movie producers who only care if a movie contains boobies - and the havenots - notably the renegade film-maker Denham and our heroine, out-of-work actress Ann Darrow. People wear snazzy clothes and speak in declamatory statements that end in exclamation marks. ("You mean the world to me!" "He died for what he believed in!" "He never met his mother" "Noooooooooooooooooooooooh!" etc.)

00:30. Ann takes a chance on a renegade film production. The Orson Welles-like egomaniacal film director has hijacked a boat and camera crew and is a bound for the uncharted "Skull Island". The captain is spoooooooooky and there are lots of stupid B-movie film tricks, like creeeepy music, and Extreme Close Ups of Jack Black's crazy eyebrows.

01:00. We get to the spoooooky island. It's all a bit Scooby Doo, especially when the locals arrive in grass skirts and spears. Mean locals kidnap lovely Ann and sacrifice her to Kong; film crew go to the rescue shooting awesome footage along the way. Bina007 would not, at this point, be surprised to see Oompa Loompas.

01:30. Movie flips into absolutely convincing and genuinely heart-breaking love story between hot chick and large ape. Thanks to CGI, ape has all the warmth and facial expressions of Gollum a.k.a British thesp. Andy Serkis. Naomi Watts, the fanastically talented actress who rose to prominence in the wonderful David Lynch flick, MULLHOLLAND DRIVE, gives Ann Darrow real warmth and credibility. Despite the clear absurdity of the match, the audience finds itself rooting for the ultimate Odd Couple.

01:40. Skip back to stupid-ass dinosaur scenes. They look awesome, but advance the plot not one iota. Peter Jackson feels very happy with himself for having topped Jurassic Park but to what end? Jackson could have dropped these scenes, saved me half an hour and his production company $50 million. Only slight plus point is crew member's gruesome death by evil giant sucking slug thing.

02:15. Back to New York, where the captive Kong is put on show by the eeeeeeevil Denham. Kong escapes, shares quality time with girlfriend atop Empire State Building, airforce intervenes.

02:53. Jack Black, alleged comedian and actor playing evil director Denham, massacres one of the most iconic lines in movie history: "Well there you have it: beauty killed the beast."
02:55. Credits roll.
03:10. Credits end.

KING KONG went on global release yesterday.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

GOLDEN GLOBES PREVIEW - Who should win and who will win

Brokeback Mountain
will win. A History of Violence should win. The Constant Gardener and Good Night and Good Luck are worthy movies nominated for no good reason. Match Point is a great film but Hollywood doesn't give awards to people who a) aren't photogenic b)don't turn up and c)marry their adoptive daughters. Conspicuous by its absence is Spielberg's controversial new movie, Munich.

The Producers will win, continuing its runaway Broadway success. Walk the Line should win BEST DRAMA! Pride and Prejudice and Mrs. Henderson presents should be nowhere near this list, they are so bloody mediocre.

BEST ACTOR (DRAMA) - should and will go to Philip Seyour Hoffman for Capote, but could go to Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain. Terrence Howard is great in Hustle and Flow, but this year the competition is tough. BEST ACTRESS (DRAMA) - should go to Maria Bello for A History of Violence but will go to the more marketable Charlize Theron for North Country. Gwyneth Paltrow should never have been nominated for Proof, in which she was insipid, unconvincing and unengaging.

BEST ACTOR (COMEDY/MUSICAL) Nathan Lane should and will get it for The Producers, but Joaquin Phoenix should get Best Actor Drama for Walk the Line. The rest of the contenders are pants.
BEST ACTRESS (COMEDY/MUSICAL) should go to Reese Witherspoon, again for Walk the Line which is in the wrong freakin' category! The award will no doubt go to Keira Knightley for Pride and Prejudice and I will kill myself.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR will go to Will Ferrell for The Producers - a cruel Papageno effect as the award should go to George Clooney for Syriana.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS should go to Scarlett Johansson for Match Point, but will go to Michelle Williams for Brokeback Mountain. That In Her Shoes is nominated for anything is a travesty.

BEST DIRECTOR and SCREENPLAY will and should go to Brokeback Mountain, but it is sad for Woody Allen, as Match Point is just as good. It would be unusual for Spielberg to get an award for Munich when the film has received so few other nominations. If he wins, it is a sympathy vote. BEST FOREIGN FILM should and may well go to KUNG FU HUSTLE, by far the best film of 2005 and the best film on any nomination list.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

MARCH OF THE PENGUINS - not a patch on Attenborough

There is not a whole lot I want to say about this documentary. It shows a bunch of Emperor penguins making the annual migration to Antartica where they mate. That's it. The penguins look cute. The scenery looks majestic. The cinematography is worth a look alone. However, you do have to contend with a ridiculous narration from Morgan Freeman which ascribes all sorts of human emotions to the penguins. This will jar to British audiences raised on a diet of scrupulously scientific natural history programmes by Sir David Attenborough. So on that level, while it succeeds as a visual spectacle, THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS fails as a documentary.

As a side issue, THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS has become the second-highest grossing documentary in US history after FAHRENHEIT 9-11. This is largely because a bunch of American Christian critics thinks that the movie underlines the divine hand in creation and the need to get back to fundamentally Christian values like monogamy and raising your kids. I have no problem with people reading messages onto movies, but I would just like to point out that being a responsible parent is not a uniquely Christian, or even religious, virtue. Moreover, penguins can also be gay.

THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS is on general worldwide release.

CRYING FIST - Searing South Korean drama

CRYING FIST is the latest movie from Seung-wan Ryoo, the South Korean movie director who brought us ARAHAN. ARAHAN is a really great post-modern martial arts film - mixing hyper-real action sequences with MTV dialogue and a healthy dose of slapstick.

By contrast, CRYING FIST is a dead serious, straight-up drama telling the story of two men who are in hopeless situations. One is a 43 year old ex-amateur boxer. He is in debt and a loveless marriage, and when his wife kicks him out he is reduced to fighting people in the street for cash. The second man is a young punk who learns to box in prison. He has a lot of aggression, little technical skill, and something to prove to his family. Both lead actors play against type in this film. The ageing boxer is none other than conflicted killer, Mr. OLDBOY, a.ka. actor Choi Min-Sik, who also appears as the nasty Mr. Beak in LADY VENGEANCE. The young punk is played by Seung-Beom Ryoo, the gormless hero from Arahan and the director's kid brother.

The first 90 minutes of the movie show these two men being degraded and defeated. It is painful to watch but compelling all the same - like watching a car crash in slow motion. There is no sentimentality, no deeper message, no sweeping orchestral score as in Ron Howard's CINDERELLA MAN.

In the final half hour, the two men meet in a boxing tournament. The fights are well choreographed but are shot with none of the balletic artistry of RAGING BULL. The director is very clear in communicating his belief that boxing is a nasty, ugly, painful thing to submit yourself to. To my mind, this is not a film arguing that redemption comes through boxing. Rather, the tragedy of these men is that they have so little hope, that boxing seems to them a redemption. The lack of a rip-roaring ROCKY-style final match has been criticised. But I think that it is a strength of the film that there is no good-guy facing off against a bad-guy. We have seen both of these guys treated like shit and want to see them both win. That is what makes the final scenes so engaging.

Overall, this is a movie that I admired more than enjoyed. It was a brave move for the director to steer away from cartoon kung-fu to straight-up boxing drama. It was an unusual move to have us sympathise with both of the protagonists. I found the relentless misery of the first 90 minutes a bit hard to take - but without them I would not have felt the full impact of the final 30 minutes. So I would recommend this movie, but be warned. It is a hard slog.

CRYING FIST was shown at Cannes in May where it won the Critics Prize for Best Film. It is currently on release in Hong Kong and the UK. There is no scheduled release date for Continental Europe or the US.

Friday, December 09, 2005


When I went to the first instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia last night, one of the trailers was for the Gulf War flick, Jarhead. In the trailer, a character said to a new recruit, "Welcome to the suck." It's not a particularly witty line, but it worked all too well as a prelude to one of the most disappointing blockbusters of the year. However, before I go on with my review let me, in fairness, point out that I seem to be in the minority. All the famous critics have given it two enthusiastic thumbs up. 

THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE is based upon the famous novel by C.S. Lewis. It tells the story of four children who are evacuated from London during the Second World War. While playing a game of hide and seek in their new country home, they stumble through the back of a wardrobe into another world called Narnia. Narnia is governed by the evil White Witch who has made it permanently winter, but never Christmas. The children go into battle against her aided by the rightful king of Narnia, the aforementioned lion, Aslan. 

So what's there to like? The child actors are all decent and the youngest is almost winning. Their English middle-class reaction to the bizarre events is very funny. When told he must lead an army into battle, the eldest child, Peter, points out that they "aren't heroes." His sister Susan follows up, "we're from Finchley". Similarly, the children are helped out by a very funny married couple who happen to be beavers. (I kid you not.) Mr. Beaver is a perfectly rendered Cockney cab driver. Superbly funny, but one wonders how far this humour will travel outside of England. 

Unfortunately, the Suckfest begins where the intentional humour ends. Where to begin? The set design looks clunky and has none of the depth of design as those used in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Everything is rendered in simplistic primary colours and looks like drawings out of a colouring book. This serves to undermine the emotions we are meant to feel in the battle scenes. How can I take seriously the possibility that the kids might die in battle when they are walking around in ten-dollar rented knight costumes? In the final scene where we see the kids grown-up, the costume designer has seen fit to give the lads bouffant 1970s Bee-Gee hair-dos and droopy moustaches. This, as well as the surfer-dude Californians accents used by the talking horses, raised a mocking titter from the London audience.

The special effects are also distinctly poor, not least when you consider that Disney spent $150m on the film. At one point, as the kids stand against a background of a country scene, you can see them outlined in black where the foreground images have been "cut and pasted" onto the background. The score is also mis-judged. Instead of a traditional orchestra-based score we get some new-fangled semi-Enya semi-club music score that jars horribly. The costumes are also pretty crappy. 

The more well-known actors are are mishandled. The usually brilliant Jim Broadbent as Professor Kirke (kirke=church, geddit?!) has little scope to impress given the script-limitations and largely sleep-walks through his part. Worst of all, Tilda Swinton is not at all awe-inpiring as the White Witch. She is neither fearsome in battle nor charming in seduction. What a waste. The only vaguely interesting portrayal is given by James McAvoy as Mr Tumnus. 

However, the biggest problem with this movie has nothing to do with errors in the cinematic process but derives from the source material. The kicker to the Narnia stories is that much of this boys-own adventure material is a clunky allegory for the New Testament story. To be sure, Disney has played this aspect up for all it's worth in its effort to target the American fundamentalist segment of the market, but the fault lies squarely in the source material. Don't get me wrong. I have no objection to religious themes and concepts in film, but in this film the blindingly obvious symbolism suffocates any enjoyment one might have taken from the whimsical fantasy world. The cinema audience wants to feel out the story for itself, not have the Giant Director in the Sky join the dots for them.

The more I think about this movie the more angry I get at Hollywood's seeming inability to move off-formula and finance some interesting cinema. This flick is nothing more than a shameless attempt to cash in on the religious market in the wake of the huge success of Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and the fantasy market on the back of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. The fact that such a formulaic, derivative piece of crap was directed by the guy who made SHREK is even more lamentable. The sad part is that the studio will no doubt be proved right. The reviews are fantastic and we await the opening weekend gross with interest. Is this the movie that saves Disney from a year of flops? You, the cash-paying cinema-goer can decide.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE goes on general release in the US, UK, Germany and Austria today. It opens in France on the 21st December 2005.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Christmas movies suck, but egg nog makes it all better

Today, we take a break from normal programming as Bina007 finds herself unable to sit through another saccharine, manipulative, pile of poo Christmas movie. Christmas movies suck and if you don't believe me try watching the god-awful Susan Sarandon flick, Noel, or the even worse Arnie vehicle, Jingle All the Way, without vomiting over the kid sitting next to you.

However, I am all about Christmas, and in an attempt to redress the balance, here is my recipe for highly toxic Egg Nog. Not only is it guaranteed to make you feel super-happy, if you are forced to watch some disgusting festive movie starring Ben Affleck, at least you won't remember any of it the next day.

Take 4 eggs and split the whites from the yolks. Whisk the whites till stiff. Whisk the yolks with half a cup of sugar. Fold the yolks into the whites along with 1 1/2 cups milk and half a cup of double cream. Finally fold in a cup of rum and a cup of brandy . Sprinkle with nutmeg

This should make 8 cups if you are sharing with friends or enough to get you paralytic enough to watch The Sound of Music for the seven hundredth time.

Share and Enjoy! (Ideally while watching the anti-Christmas movie, BAD SANTA, released last week on Region 2 DVD.)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

WHERE THE TRUTH LIES - sleazy thriller, no more, no less

Expectations run high for WHERE THE TRUTH LIES. It is directed by that darling of the Indie scene, Atom Egoyan and stars Colin Firth (the original and best Mr. Darcy) and Kevin Bacon, who dazzled me with his sympathetic portrayal of a paedophile in THE WOODSMAN last year. In addition, the love interest is "rising star" Alison Lohman, last seen with Nic Cage in MATCHSTICK MEN. Not only are the cast and crew high quality but the director's aim is grand. Atom Egoyan has attempted to create an old fashioned film noir - those wonderful 1940s movies that were intricately plotted movies with tough guys, wicked women, murders, incest, theft and glamour. Re-creating that kind of ethereal, dangerous mood is difficult in these days of colour film and special effects but a few movies have pulled it off with great success, not least the superb L.A CONFIDENTIAL. WHERE THE TRUTH LIES is nowhere near as successful but neither is it a bad film.

The plot centres around a 1950s comedy double-act in the style of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Colin Firth plays the straight man and Kevin Bacon his comedy stooge. They live the "Frat pack" lifestyle to the max - hot chicks, fast cars, alcohol, hotel rooms. However, when an actress is found dead in their bath-tub it all goes wrong. Fast forward to the 1970s when a young ambitious reporter tries to unravel the hushed-up scandal.

The plot synopsis makes the movie sound a lot more interesting than it really is. At heart, it is just another sleazy erotic thriller. There is nothing wrong with that but it seems a bit of a waste of effort for Egoyan and his cast to come up with something so one-dimensional. Sad to say that in years to come, if this movie is remembered at all, it will be as a footnote in film school text books on censorship. Thanks to a menage a trois between Colin Firth, Kevin Bacon and Rachel Blanchard, featuring lots of "thrusting" the movie received the rarely used NC 17 rating in the US, limiting its ability to earn back its budget.
WHERE THE TRUTH LIES is already on limited release in the US and the UK. It goes on release in France on the 21st December 2005 and in Germany on the 2nd February 2006.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

DOOM - Why outsource the blowing up of shit?

DOOM is a decent first person shooter video game that has been, for reasons unclear to much of the Western hemisphere, transformed at great expense into one of the most pointless movies ever made. Pointless because seeing The Rock blow shit up is clearly less satisfying than blowing shit up yourself, especially given the fact that the graphics in most video games are better than the CGI effects we get here. Admittedly, if the screenwriters had actually bothered to give the movie a plot or decent characters, it could have been a more satisfying entertainment experience than playing the game itself. But they haven't so it isn't. 

There are four very slight redeeming features to this movie. 1. Guys get to see the blonde Bond girl from "Die Another Day" run around a lot. 2. Girls get to see Eomer from Lord of the Rings open a can of whoopass. 3. We also have the nostalgia trip of seeing that cheeky Yank from kids TV show The Press Gang playing a character called Pinky. 4. Oh yes, and let me not understate the unintentional comedy value of seeing The Rock lovingly handle his "big gun." 

DOOM went on general release in the US in October where it failed to make even half of its budget before dropping down the charts. Since then it has failed to earn money in Germany and France. It opened in the UK yesterday and I trust that the Great British Public will also consign it to the trashcan of shame.

Friday, December 02, 2005

LOWER CITY - a Brazilian tale of corrosive passion

I guess it is not particularly original to make a movie about how a beautiful woman can corrode male friendship, but LOWER CITY takes this hackneyed material to a higher level of brutalilty and intensity. The camerawork, acting and plot lines are not quite as searing as CITY OF GODS, but then why should they be? Instead of an epic tale, we have here a smaller character study which, compared to your average Hollywood fare, is a memorable and racy ride. The movie opens with a young, beautiful girl called Karinna. She is hitch-hiking her way to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil by whoring herself to men with boats and trucks. (The movie takes its title from the "Lower" part of that city.) Her first lift is with a couple of close friends, Deco and Naldinho and it is with these men that she will spend the rest of the film. While their first relations are commercial, as the film develops the sexual attraction and tension grows. Not least because, in the confined spaces that poverty inflicts upon these characters, two characters make love in front of another. The relationship settles into a seemingly workable menage a trois for a while, but the stability rests on a knife-edge. The boys slide into the territory of pimps, colluding in conning dumb-ass "clients" out of their money. But as the male possessive instinct is awakened and events take a turn for the worse, the movie races toward a brutal climax.

The movie is filmed on 16 mil but looks fantastic. It captures perfectly the claustrophobic small rented rooms and the seedy, heady atmosphere of sawdust bars and strip clubs. We would expect nothing less from a director - Sérgio Machado - who comes to film from a background in documentaries. Some of the most intense camerawork is of a brutal cock-fight. Animal-lovers who find this sort of thing distateful should beware, but also reassured that it is not gratuitous. The cock-fight between the black and white animals serves as a chilling metaphor for the relationship between the two male leads.

LOWER CITY showed at Cannes 2005 where it won the "award of the youth" and goes on limited release in the UK today. It opens in the US on June 16th and in France on June 28th 2006.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

FLIGHTPLAN - slick but derivative thriller

FLIGHTPLAN is a perfectly decent thriller set on board a commercial airliner. Jodie Foster plays a recently believed mother of a six-year old girl. She is flying back to the US with her dead husband in a casket in the hold. She wakes up to find her daughter missing. The only problem is that no-one believes that the daughter even boarded the plane. This sets up an interesting (if derivative) thriller: is Foster's character delusional or not? And will her frustration and anger put the flight in danger?

As I said, the movie is a well-made if conventional thriller. The production is slick and features good actors such as Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean, although they are not asked to strectch themselves as actors here. If you like thrillers and you don't watch that many movies, I suspect that FLIGHTPLAN will provide a good piece of entertainment. However, if you have even a cursory knowledge of cinematic classics, you will feel increasingly frustrated at the collage of other - better - movies.

FLIGHTPLAN is on global release.