Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bina007's Top Eight Moments in Cinema, 2006

Not the best performances or best movies but the eight moments that made me want to shout out Hallelujah! for the power of cinema.

8. Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan doing Al Pacino impressions at the end of
A COCK AND BULL STORY. Pure comedy genius.

7. The sheer horror when you realise exactly what the contestants will have to do in TZAMETI

6. The opening credits for JUNEBUG. Two people making out to Harmour Love by Syreeta - as close to a non-cynical warm fuzzy moment as I'm going to get inside a movie theatre.

5. Philip Seymour Hoffman kicking the crap out of Tom Cruise in

4. The opening free-running sequence in
DISTRICT 13. Casino-Royale-lovers should take note: this is how you do exhilerating chase scenes.

3. A depressed Romain Duris singing along to Kim Wilde's 80s pop hit Cambodia in
DANS PARIS. Made me want to dig out those old cassettes.

2. The big band parade during the New York Brown Out in
SHORTBUS. Pure community bonding and happiness. You just don't often see happiness depicted well on screen - it often just looks smug and banal.

1. England winning the World Cup Final in
SIXTY SIX. What honest Englishman wouldn't tear up at that? I was crying like a baby.

*I couldn't find a whole ten despite reviewing 352 movies this year...

PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER - bonkers but gripping

PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER is a bewildering movie: moments of psychotic genius and lush photography interspersed by clumsy voice-over, mis-casting and the plainly bonkers. I didn't enjoy all of it, and I'm not sure if I'd rightly recommend it, but I was transfixed for the entire two and a half hour run-time because the movie was so intensely bent on its own bizarre path.

PERFUME is based on the 1980s bestseller by German author, Patrick Süskind, and has finally reached the screen thanks to Tom Tykwer of LOLA RENNT fame. Written off as unfilmable by Stanley Kubrick, what we have here is a fairly long but swift-paced adaptation that sticks fairly closely to the novel (which I read some time ago) in all but one major aspect: perhaps in a sop to the box office, the movie makes the protagonist physically and morally more attractive than in the book.

In the novel, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is an amoral monster from the get-go. Born into the squalor of an 18th century Parisien fishmarket, his first cry sends his murderous mother to the gallows and he is rejected by a series of wet-nurses for being over-greedy and having no scent - a particularly unnerving and unique trait and ironic considering that he has also an unparalleled olfactory sense. In the novel, he is rejected by playmates in the poor-house and fellow workers - unconsiously his lack of scent makes him inhuman and soul-less in their eyes and provokes Jean-Baptiste to become bitter and bent on preserving and thus acquiring human scent. He tries to do this by killing a girl with the perfect scent of pure innocence but is traumatised when her scent evaporates upon death. Accordingly he begins an apprenticeship with an ageing perfumer of waning powers called Baldini, but leaves for Grasse when he fails to preserve the scent of anything but flowers with Baldini's method of distillation. In Grasse, Jean-Baptiste discovers a technique that allows him to capture the scent of a human being, including the intoxicating scent of the innocent, and he begins a killing spree to fuel his "enflorage".

In the novel, Jean-Baptiste is single-minded, embittered and ruthlessly murderous and this moral sickness is reflected in his physical monstrosity - scarred and pitted by illness and poverty. By contrast, in the movie, Jean-Baptiste is pitiable: a pathetic creature cursed with an acute sense of smell and yet no smell of his own. His first murder is in fact accidental and his latter murders can be understood in terms of his lack of moral or physical education; his infantile conception of the world and the fact that his rare gift has unbalanced his mind. His physical deformities have been toned down and Ben Whishaw, who plays Jean-Baptiste, simply looks like a blundering infant trying desperately to acquire a soul, not truly understanding the cost of his actions. To be flippant, he simply wants to be loved, even if he must steal what it is that makes us love-able - our soul - from someone else.

I cannot say that I disapprove of this change. It is far more engaging and challenging for the viewer to see a somewhat sympathetic character engage in callous murders. And Ben Whishaw gives a tremendous central performance and I shall have to stop unfairly picturing him as the idiot Pingu from the cult TV show, Nathan Barley. In general, the rest of the cast is fine, especially Alan Rickman as the perceptive father of Jean-Baptiste's final scalp. The movie is also handsomely photographed and uses wonderful European locations with sumptuous costume and set designs.

Having said that, the movie seriously slips up in the first third by using a clumsy voice-over narrative by John Hurt. He has a Jackanory tone that I find vaguely condescending, but that could be because I always associate his voice-overs with DOGVILLE and MANDERLAY (a film I cordially disliked.) I just don't think the narrative is necessary - the film-makers should have had more faith in their audience. The other big slip-up in the first third of the film is casting Dustin Hoffman as Baldini: frankly, he seems out of his depth.

The movie seriously picks up in quality as Jean-Baptiste moves to Grasse and the real killing begins. The voice-over ends, the acting improves and it becomes a fantastically sinister serial-killer flick. But of course we are still left with the "problem" of the two-part ending. For readers who haven't read the novel I won't go into details. Suffice to say, that the uncharitable will call the ending bonkers and laugh out loud. I was sufficiently engrossed in the movie, and the pity of Jean-Baptiste, to go with it and see it as the still bonkers and yet extremely logical ending to a tragic tale.

PERFUME premiered in Germany in September 2006 and has since been released in Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Portugal, Estonia, Spain, Argentina, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Israel, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, the UK and US. PERFUME goes on release in Hungary and Sweden on January 11th, Finland and Norway on January 19th and in Australia and Iceland on February 1st. It opens in Japan on March 10th 2007.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

MISS POTTER - a two-hankie love story

Because, Dougal, my nerves are shot and I won't be able to relax until the only rabbit left is the one sitting in your head working the controls.True fact: the first book I was ever given was a copy of The Tale of Miss Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter. True, but hardly unusual. Beatrix Potter is one of the best-selling children's authors of all time and in England especially, Beatrix Potter is the first author most children are acquainted with. Where Americans have a colletive nostalgia for Dr Seuss, over here it's Miss Potter who filled our imaginations with tales of farm animals come to life and depicted in charming water-colour. So for that reason, I was intrigued to see this new biopic starring one of my favourite actresses (and the only one who can really inhabit an English accent) Renée Zellweger. The good news is that the movie is so wonderfully acted and such an engrossing love story that I'm convinced viewers will get a kick out of it whether or not they read Miss Potter's books as a child.

The title of the movie is significant. For "Miss Potter" is an unmarried thirty year-old woman from an upper class English family. As such, she has proclaimed herself willful and given her mother great pains. She moves in a restricted social circle with a chaperone and her drawings are seen as frivilous. Even when F.Warne and Company agree to publish her first book, they only take her on to fob off "the bunny book" on their hapless younger brother, played by Ewan MacGregor. So begins a journey of emancipation for Beatrix. She consorts with a tradesman (the horror!), visits a printing press and acquires an independent income. She even earns a little respect in her social circle. Finally, encouraged by Mr Warne's marvellously frank sister Milly (Emily Watson), Beatrix falls in love and becomes emancipated from her family. It is a small, lovely story, beautifully told, but never saccharine or predictable. A true two-hankie love story in the best possible sense of the phrase.

MISS POTTER is on limited release in the UK and US. It opens wide in the UK on January 5th and in the US on Jan 12th. It opens in Canada and Turkey on Jan 19th and in Australia on Jan 25th. MISS POTTER opens in South Korea on February 1st; the Netherlands on February 8th; in Spain and Japan on the 24th. It opens in Norway on March 23rd, Italy on April 6th ad in Belgium and France on April 11th.

Friday, December 29, 2006

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM - Oh, for crying out loud!

Shawn Levy, director of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, is a man I would gladly have up for crimes against cinema. He brought us those formulaic, un-funny flicks, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN and JUST MARRIED. While last year's remake of THE PINK PANTHER was better than we had any right to expect it was still seven shades of wrong. Sadly, while NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is raking in the proverbial phat cash, it will do nothing to leaven Levy's sentence at the Final Day of Judgement.

The basic concept of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is known to all thanks to the fact that they started advertising it back in the Spring and used the kind of trailer that gives away the entire plot. Ben Stiller plays the archetypal Loser Dad: he can't hold down a regular job and his kid is starting to look up to the super-successful step-father. But as luck would have it, the inexorable logic of Hollywood means that the Loser Dad will show his true quality when faced with extra-ordinary circumstances. And as we all know: it's not money that matters but true grit and familial love. Which is why we get fed this formulaic bunkum every holiday...

In this particular incarnation, Ben Stiller gets a job as the night watchman at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Thing is, the Museum houses a spooooky gold wall-panel thing that brings all the animals, dinosaurs and statues to life every night! Cue lots of surprisingly pedestrian special effects with dinosaur skeletons, woolly mammoths and Attila the Hun chasing Stiller round the museum. There's an attempt to inject some narrative tension by having a nefarious type attempt to steal the magical wall-hanging.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM disappoints because the special effects are weak, the narrative arc is tired and there are very few out-and-out jokes. The abiding memory I'll have of this movie will be disappointment that the on-screen talent wasn't better used. I mean, for crying out loud, Ben Stiller was bloody hillarious in ZOOLANDER and DODGEBALL. Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney are comic geniuses who dominated their eras in Hollywood as THE premier entertainers. Steve Coogan's Hollywood career may be patchy but he has shown on British TV how hysterical he can be and Owen Wilson is outstanding even in terrible movies. But the biggest travesty of all is the use (by which I mean exploitation) of Ricky Gervais. He gives a sub-David Brent performance as the Museum Director - a performance that is the unfunny evil twin of his turn in THE OFFICE. Shame on them all for allowing themselves to be sullied by such a banal piece of cinema.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is already on release in India, Israel, Singapore, the USA, Mexico, Australia, the UK, Germany, Indonesia, Russia, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey. It opens on Jan 5th in Estonia and Venezuala, on Jan 11th on Argentina and Brazil, on Jan 18th in Hungary and Iceland and on Jan 26th in Spain. NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM will be released in Italy and Sweden on February 2nd, in Denmark on the 9th, in Belgium, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Finland and Norway on the 15th. It opens in Japan on March 17th 2007.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

BELLE DE JOUR - erotic, funny, scary, genius!

Cutting like acid through the turgid high-fat Christmas fare comes BELLE DE JOUR, the French surrealist movie that for me is the high water-mark of Luis Buñuel's career. Based on an equally bonkers novel by Joseph Kessel, BELLE DE JOUR is enigmatic, erotic, blackly funny, beautiful, disturbing, enchanting - so many things all of which stand up to the rigours of time and proclaim this a work of genius.

The movie focuses on an astoundingly beautiful but frigid young Parisienne called Severine Serizy. She is played by Catherine Deneuve at the height of her beauty and dressed with the precision of Hitchcock in Yves Saint Laurent. You could write a PhD on her proper little pillar box shoes and the fact that Buñuel so often leads into a shot from a close-up of them. Severine is married to a dashing young doctor called Pierre who loves her intensely but has to be content with twin beds. The couple also have a sinister and sleazy best friend called Henri, who will become the key driver of one of the most bizarre and cruelly funny movie endings in history.

Severine's name echoes the hero of Sacher-Masoch's novel and hints at her suppressed masochistic urges. Throughout the film these manifest themselves as highly erotic, violent dreams involving rape by servants and pseudo-necrophilia and incest. The fantasies also become harder and harder for the viewer to distinguish from reality. Severine soon becomes a high-class prositute by day (hence her professional name) in order to fulfil her sexual needs - submitting to requests other prostitutes refuse and finding pleasure in them. She even falls in a sort of love with a filthy hood who has false teeth and holes in his socks!

BELLE DE JOUR is visually stunning - evoking surreal fantasy worlds that befuddle the viewer but pique our interest exactly because of their ambiguity. It is brilliantly dark, often very funny, and undeniably the work of an auteur at the top of his craft. For those of us raised on a diet of video or DVD releases, we now have a rare chance to see the movie on the big screen - a chance not to be missed.

BELLE DE JOUR was first released in 1967 where it won the Golden Lion and Pasinetti Awards at Venice. It is available on DVD and is on limited cinematic re-release in the UK.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


LITTLE MANHATTAN is a movie that sounds so sweet it'll trigger your diabetes. A cute little ten-year old kid lives in the sort of movie-Manhattan made famous by Woody Allen. Indeed, the movie trades heavily on Woody Allen voice-over's, self-conscience cynicism and New York romanticism. His cramped apartment is populated by his divorcing parents, who by that film-friendly "quirk of the New York legal code" have to live together until the financial settlement is completed.

The story is simple - the aforementioned cute kid takes a karate class one summer and meets Rosemary - another cute kid, and they begin a hesitant two week friendship that will turn into Gabe's first real love. The movie is filmed in lush tones and full of little kids saying unbelievably mature and articulate things. John Hutcherson's performance as Gabe has some of the credibility of, say, Fred Savage in THE WONDER YEARS, but Charlie Ray's performance as Rosemary is painfully self-aware. This is hardly her fault given the dialogue. In the adult roles, Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman in The West Wing) is fine as Gabe's father and Cynthia Nixon retains her Miranda-esque personality as the mother.

Despite all this, LITTLE MANHATTAN is a pleasant enough way to spend 90 minutes. It's a neat romantic-comedy and by far less saccharine that anyone had the right to expect although still probably half-a-teaspoon too sweet for me. One particularly corny line concerning how to clear the air with an estraged wife had me cringing. All in all, more TV comedy than Woody Allen. The only other thing I would say is that while this is a movie in which the protagonists are kids, it is a film for nostalgic adults.

LITTLE MANHATTAN went on limited release in the US in 2005 and in Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, Australia, Poland, Argentina, the UK, Italy and France in 2006.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

RANG DE BASANTI - a noble failure

RANG DE BASANTI is a brave and noble failure. Why brave? Because it is a Bollywood film that eschews materialistic escapism for a substantive discussion of contemporary Indian society. The film focuses on a bunch of University students in Delhi. They are part of the "new India" of middle-class affluence, IIT graduates and swankly jobs in MNCs. Apart from one of the group who is an Indian airforce pilot, the rest regard India as a "shit-hole", riddled by poverty, corruption and unemployment. What is shocking to a western eye is their nihilism: all they want is to graduate and leave the country and in the mean time get pissed and ride around on cool motorcycles. I have no idea whether this attitude really does reflect the thinking of India's metropolitan youth, but if so, it's a sad look-out for India.

This is presumably the thinking of writer-director Rakesh Omprakash Mehra. Into this mix he throws a young Britsh girl called Sue - a documentary-maker who has walked out of her job because she wants to make a film about something other than Gandhi. She goes to Delhi to produce an independent movie about Bhagat Singh - a legendary Indian freedom-fighter who died at the hands of the Raj. Initially she can't engage the Indian kids - they find that Bhagat Singh and his ilk have no relevance to their lives, and while they agree to act in her film it's basically because the gang-leader fancies her. Naturally, this being a three-hour Bollywood epic, being part of the movie awakens the kids political consciousness.

Now, I am all in favour of a Bollywood movie that tackles issues of contemporary Indian life head-on. But I can see why RANG DE BASANTI would ruffle feathers. It seems rather insulting that India's political conscience can only be awakened by an English woman - but perhaps that's what the director was aiming for. After all, the tone of the first hour of the film is rather dismissive of the crass materialism of metro kids.

But the bigger issue with RANG DE BASANTI is not that it advocates political engagement but the precise kind of political engagement that it advocates. In the final hour of the flick it becomes an altogether darker, more violent film, advocating short-circuiting established political systems for direct action of the most violent kind. I found this utterly alienating as a message and as depressing as the nihilism of the first half of the film.

Substance aside, RANG DE BASANTI has other problems. While condemning materialism on the one hand, the movie is photographed like a glossy commercial for a MNC - unsurprising given the director's experience. The actors are largely mis-cast. The English actress (daughter of
Fat Pang) playing the English documentary-maker has made a valiant attempt to learn Hindi but has a hopeless accent. Similarly, Aamir Khan (LAGAAN, THE BALLAD OF MANGAL PANDEY) who plays the lead male role, is at least ten years too old for the role, and struggles with his Punjabi accent too.

RANG DE BASANTI was released in January 2006 and is now available on DVD. It is India's official entry for the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars this year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


SHANE WARNE - undoubtedly the greatest cricketer in historyIn a break from our usual programming, I plug you into my yuletide despair. Despite the fact that I am writing this from the poolside of apparently the third best hotel in the world, with an outstandingly beautiful view and a gourmet lunch by my side, the world seems a darker place. Why? Not because England lost the Ashes. I predicted that as soon as they won them. Getting the Ashes took a first choice team in full health with extremely favourable dodgy umpiring decisions coupled with Ponting being off form and AUS not seeing us coming. There was no way that an angry and primed AUS was going to let an England side afflicted by injury and stupidity retain the Urn.

No. I am depressed because Shane Warne has announced his retirement. Shane Warne is, to my mind, the greatest cricketer of all time. I regard it as an honour that my cricket-viewing life to date has coincided with his career. To watch him play is sheer joy, and even when he is skittling English wickets you can't help but admire his sheer skill and entertainment value. I remember watching the Ball of the Century - when he skittled Mike Gatting pitching outside leg and clipping the off stump in 1993 - and just being shocked that a ball could do that. Cricket will be poorer without Shane Warne and the ultimate homage comes courtesy of the Top Aussie website:

Shane Warne is a top Aussie. He is also a massive pisstank yobbo with a beer-gut who dyes his hair blonde and drives a red convertible. Warney has done some bad things. He once got paid 100 grand by Nicabate to give up durries for a year but he lit up heaps when he was pissed. Then he took money from some Indian bookmakers for pre-match information. He once smashed a camera cause a kiddy took a photo of his beer gut. Then he got toey on the phone and dirty-talked an English girly who wasn't his wife. However, all Australians agree that Warney can be excused for doing these things cause he spin bowls like a genius and makes England look completely shithouse. Warney could drink all our beer and then spew on our carpet and we wouldn't care as long as he keeps taking wickets.

Warney is a top Aussie.

SHANE WARNE played for Victoria, Hampshire and Australia. He made his test debut in 1992. He has since amassed over 700 wickets - the most for any single player in history and has also scored 3000 runs. He bowled the Ball of the Century and was judged to be one of five players of the Century by Wisden. He will retire at the end of this Ashes series.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Is ERAGON the CONAN of our times?

I saw the tattoos on your forearms, the dragon and the tiger. Who else but a Shaolin priest could walk out of a burning building like he was taking a stroll through Central Park?ERAGON is a fantasy adventure flick set in a vaguely Medieval European land populated with elves, dwarves, dragons and a teenage boy of humble origins on a valiant quest to save the world from a despotic ruler. Sound familiar?!

Anyone over the age of around twelve would be well advised to give it a wide berth. This is no LORD OF THE RINGS or STAR WARS - it is not a childrens' fantasy flick capable of reaching out beyond the target demographic. There are two reasons for this: first, both the story and the way in which whole sequences are scripted and photographed bite the ass of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars so badly I am amazed the author hasn't been bankrupted from lawsuits. The plundering is so blatant that it's almost endearing in its shameless cash-hungriness. The key point is that there is nothing here that you haven’t seen before.

The second reason to avoid ERAGON is that while the special effects are actually rather good, the acting is appalling. Jeremy Irons spends much of the first segment doing his Old Ben Kenobi routine with an accent lifted from Derek and Clive. John Malkovich hams it up in a low-rent costume as the evil king and Robert Carlyle plays his sub-Grima Wormtongue side-kick in spoooooky contact lenses and a bad wig. They have ensnared a young helpless princess who calls out in her dreams to Eragon - her only hope! The princess is played by an actress called Sienna Guillory who looks rather bland and bored and altogether too old for her love interest - our erstwhile hero. And the hero, meanwhile, is played by a young lad called Edward Speelers who seems like a low-rent version of the kid from STORMBREAKER. Why is that all young British actors have a dodgy blonde dye-job circa 1983 Wham?! To add insult to injury, we are presented with pop-singer, Joss Stone, in a bizarre cameo as a mystic with a Kentish accent and too much eye-liner and Djimon Hounsou reduced to playing a rebel leader with an accent from The OC.

It's all rather risible and I was about to condemn this flick as being piss-poor until I realised that it could well be the CONAN of our times - so camp, so ridiculous that it's a stalwart of the Friday night beerfest, not to mention the party I throw annually in honour of the Gubernator's birthday!

ERAGON is on release in Egypt, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Belarus, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, South Korea, Thailand, Ukraine, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, India, Ireland, Latvia, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UK, the US, Venezuala and Japan. It opens in Belgium, France and Switzerland in December 20th and in Italy on the 22nd. It opens in Brazil on December 29th and in Argentina on January 4th.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

DEEP WATER - the torment of the Wide Sargasso Sea

DEEP WATER is a fascinating doc by Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell. It tells the tragic story of a British middle-aged man called Donald Crowhurst. By the mid-1960s Crowhurst was a beloved father and husband but a professional failure. He longed for financial security, having watched his own father die in poverty, and added to that, respect, fame and glory. This longing for a better life as well as a Walter Mitty like talent for invention (both in engineering and in life) led him to enter the race to circumnavigate the globe single-handed and with no stops in port. No-one had ever completed such a journey and the idea of such a race - a Boys' Own adventure - gripped the British nation in the late 1960s.

Crowhurst was up against battle-hardened sailors, including a Frenchman named Bernard Moitessier. Many in Britain considered him something of a joke, and he was by far the last to start the race. Two prizes were available - and he was already out of the prize for finishing first. But he could win the prize for fastest trip if he survived.

The race was an endurance course that felled most of the sailors. Sailing through the south seas is gruelling stuff, without even starting to consider the pyschological impact of sailing alone for ten months against the elements. The documentary makers are blessed with acres of video and audio footage taken by the sailors themselves and Moitessier in particular is articulate in explaining both the psychological strains but also the addiction to the challenge.

The scandal of the race - and the main subject of the documentary - is Crowhurst's descent into a sort of cabin fever. It soon become clear that his tri-maran would not make it into the south seas but Donald was afraid to turn back and face personal humiliation and bankruptcy. And so, by stages, this fundamentally decent man took the decision to fake his journey. He would simply sit off the coast of Argentina for a couple of months and then rejoin his colleagues when they came back round the Cape of Good Hope.

The story is a tragedy of one man full of ideas and hope coming up against callous nature, bad luck and his own cabin fever. The documentary is a complete success in that it allows us to empathise completely with his psychological state. It is also a deeply insightful tale of how, even forty years ago, Fleet Street was spinning its nefarious tales: Alistair Campbell is no modern phenomenon.

I have no real care for sailing and certainly no prior knowledge of Don Crowhurst, but I found DEEP WATER to be a deeply emotionally involving drama that left me shaken. It is a stunning montage of archive footage and discreet interviews with people close to the various sailors as well as with the sailor who eventually won the race. Thoroughly recommended.

DEEP WATER showed at Telluride 2006 and won the prize for Best Doc and Rome. It is on release in the UK.

Friday, December 15, 2006

DEJA VU - if CSI were a movie

DEJA VU is a Jerry Bruckheimer produced film. That means you get a very slick, polished entertainment package with not a faint echo of his hit show CSI. DEJA VU is also helmed by Tony Scott. This means you get the glossy look of a hi-spend ad campaign coupled with incessantly roving camera-work - it's all camera pans, helicopter shots and hi-def explosions. Combined, we get one of the most pollished but emotionally manipulative opening sequences of a movie that I can remember. With practically no dialogue the camera swoops over a ferry in New Orleans on a sunny Mardi Gras. The ferry is filled with bouncing babies with blonde curls, smiling beautiful yuppie couples and US navy men in shining white uniform. The Beach Boys - the band of sun-kissed all-american happy summers - are playing on a car radio. You don't get more patriotic or Hallmark card than that. And then we get the terrorist explosion. Scott doesn't hold back from depicting quasi-9/11 images. We have soldiers on fire jumping into the water.

And then we segue to Denzel Washington doing his trademark schtick. He just oozes integrity and to see him - an ATF officer - scouting the crime scene - is to feel his righteous indignation. He is a good man. The movie then does around 30 minutes CSI work where Denzel's character realises that to solve the terrorist attack the FBI (headed up by Val Kilmer) will have to solve the murder of an attractive local woman. These thirty minutes are entertaining in much the same way as CSI - and as a guage to whether you'll like the movie, ask yourself whether you still get cheap thrills from seeing an officer with tweezers and a plastic baggie.

The next thirty minutes are a little more dull. Denzel and Val use a cool "live feed" surveillance mechanism that gives a one-time view of a limited radius 4 days ago to watch. They pretty much sit around watching the murdered woman. Denzel falls in love. It's all a little pedestrian. The writers create an obstacle - the limited radius of the feed - which forces Denzel into a sup'ed-up hummer to track the baddie - thus providing the audience with a satisfyingly gnarly car chase to break the boredom.

The next twenty minutes or so see Denzel force the FBI into a confession that this is not so much a video feed as a means of actually interacting with the past. He uses this feature to track the terrorist and bring him to justice. Here lies the natural end of an above-average crime procedural with the added boost of a discretely used sci-fi doo-dad.

Sadly, the film does NOT end here but continues in an end sequence that was designed to provide an emotional payoff. Problem is that it tips us over the line of willing suspension of disbelief regarding the time-gadget and opens up a variety of plot problems to do with different time-lines and whatnot. It's a great shame. What could have been a rather subversive thriller becomes an emotionally over-loaded, structural mess. Still, if you just walk out of the cinema after Jim Caviezel's big scene, you'll have had 90 minutes of pure popcorn entertainment.

DEJA VU is already on release in the US, Canada, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil, Spain, Venezuala, Thailand, Indonesia, Greece, Israel, Singapore, Latvia, Belgium, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Iceland, Italy and the UK. It opens in Sweden, Hungary, Estonia, Finland, Ireland and New Zealand on the 22nd and in Denmark, Norwar, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic over Christmas. It opens in Chile, Hong Kong, Poland and Turkey on January 5th and in Argentina on the 11th. It finally rolls into Australia on January 18th and Japan on March 24th.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Overlooked DVDs of the month - THE PUSHER TRILOGY

THE PUSHER TRILOGY is hard to categorise as "overlooked". While these movie are ultra-arthouse anywhere outside Denmark, within that country they are completely mainstream genre movies. Indeed, it's thanks largely to PUSHER than Mads Mikkelsen became so famous, finally being flushed into the Hollywood mainstream as Bond baddie, Le Chiffre.

PUSHER was originally made back in 1996 by a young but ludicrously well-connected Danish director called Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn had spent much of his youth living in the US, watching Scorsese and reading Hubert Selby Jr. He got back to Copenhagen, rejected a place at the prestigious film school (unheard of!) and seemingly got handed a million squid to knock up his first celluloid feature.

The film is a fast-paced, gritty slice of life in the Copenhagen underworld. It feels a little like MEAN STREETS or LOCK, STOCK but for the Danish scene was something quite knew. Refn managed to cast a lot of the people and use a lot of the seedy locations he'd been hanging out in. Even the police office where the Pusher of the title is slapped around is real. His shooting style is to use Super 16 hand-held documentary-style camera-work. The narrative just keeps moving - we're always pushing on - and the scenario takes us in moving cars, running round Copenhagen. The electro-score is aweseome - high adrenaline, high impact. As a result, the movie feels realistic, exciting, compelling and fast-paced.

The one flaw with PUSHER is that it's evidently a movie from a director who knows Thing Zero about lighting and exposure. Sure, Refn is aiming for a dark, grungy feel, but some of the scenes are just plain badly photographed. Luckily, this just adds to the Gonzo style - the idea that we are taking a new look at a part of Danish life that has never been exposed before. Perhaps for this reason, PUSHER became a massive hit in Denmark and a cult hit in the UK. Apparently Danish gangsters felt a pride in how they'd been portrayed, and kids were running around the streets shouting, "Franke, you fuckin with me?"

What I love about PUSHER is its energy, the great comedic performance by Mads Mikkelsen as hapless criminal Tonny and the strong lead performance by Kim Bodna as Franke. The movie is rare for not glamourising drug-taking in the way that, say, THE DEPARTED, does. All the criminals live in pretty shitty circumstances. Their jobs are as routine and mundane as office jobs; their personal lives are disaster areas; and Franke basically slides into hell thanks to a deal gone wrong and getting busted by the police. I also love the fact that the "baddie", a gangster called Milo played by Zlatko Buric (DIRTY PRETTY THINGS), is such a mild-mannered looking man. Totally anonymous and all the more chilling for that. Finally, PUSHER really isn't a violent film, but for precisely that reason, when you do see some brutality it's really shocking. In short, this movie has the autheniticity, light touch and energy that
THE DEPARTED entirely lacked.

PUSHER II is my personal favourite from the trilogy. Made to get Refn out of a financial black hole in 2004, he focuses in on the story of Tonny, a minor character from the first film. While preserving the underworld setting, many of the incidental characters and the shooting style, the movie feels more polished and professional. Sure, it was still a crazy short shoot, but the scenes are better lit and the use of colour towards the end of the movie is more expressionistic and deliberate. You get a lot of what
Cameron Diaz calls "Scorsese Red".

If the first PUSHER is about a man on the run from the rozzers and the dealers, PUSHER 2 is a more introspective story. It turns out that while Tonny has the word "respect" tatooed to the back of his head, he has anything but. His father Smeden (Leif Sylvester with an awesome Elvis-style dye-job) runs a stolen-car racket and seemingly lives in a room above a garage. (Again no glamour). He mocks Tonny when he wants to join the business, showering his love and respect on his younger son and Tonny's business rival. Meanwhile, Tonny discovers he's fathered a son with a whore and gets mixed up in a bad deal with a gangster charmingly known (in real life as well in the film) as Kurt the Cunt.

Once again, we see Tonny's slow slide into hell, climaxing at a wedding party so perverse it defies description. Once again, crime really doesn't pay and it certainly isn't glamourous. Tonny may spend the film snorting prodigious anounts of bad coke, but he's also grappling with the consequent impotence and need to constantly take a shit! Despite or because of this, it's a moving story and ends on an ambiguous note reminiscent (but infintely better than) the ending of THE GRADUATE. This is, to my mind, a superb example of a genre movie turned into something more than we expect.

PUSHER III (2005) is, to my mind, a significantly worse film. It focuses on the character of the gangster Milo. What we see is an older man being counselled for his drug addiction and in danger of losing control of his gang to a younger breed of gangster, not least his daughter. He's anachronistic, trying to push smack but being stiffed with a consigment of E he has no idea what to do with.

Refn uses his old successful tactics: characters from the underworld playing themselves; documentary-style filming; deglamourising crime; a small part for cult anti-hero Kusse-Kurt. There's even an interesting look at immigrant life in contemporary Denmark. But the movie seems to run out of steam after about half an hour and in order to keep it going Refn resorts to some Tarantino style slash-and-clean antics which feel tired and not particularly well done. Frankly, you can watch PUSHER 1 and PUSHER 2 and not miss anything of value.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Awards Season 2006 - ISA NOMS

How would the Civil War had changed if Abraham Lincoln had octopus tentacles instead of a beard?The farce that is the awards season kicks off with the Independent Spirit Awards nominations. These awards are independent in the same way as Sundance is independent - not very. The studios have long-since co-opted and corrupted the Gonzo spirit. Still, these things are like car-wrecks: they aren't pretty but you just have to see what's going on. I am most outraged but unsurprised to see BUBBLE get noms; feel that LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE was good but not so overwhelmingly good; and feel happy that Daniel Craig is getting some praise for INFAMOUS rather than that dreck, CASINO ROYALE.... As usual, I've asterisked the movies I think will win and emboldened (!) the ones I think should win, where available.

Best Feature: American Gun; The Dead Girl; Half Nelson*; El Laberinto del Fauno; Little Miss Sunshine.

Best Female Lead: Shareeka Epps for Half Nelson; Catherine O'Hara* for For Your Consideration; Robin Wright Penn for Sorry, Haters; Elizabeth Reaser for Sweet Land; Michelle Williams for Land of Plenty.

Best Male Lead: Aaron Eckhart for Thank You for Smoking; Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson*; Edward Norton for The Painted Veil; Ahmad Razvi for Man Push Cart; Forest Whitaker for American Gun.

Best Supporting Female: Melonie Diaz for A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints; Marcia Gay Harden for American Gun*; Mary Beth Hurt for The Dead Girl; Frances McDormand for Friends with Money; Amber Tamblyn for Stephanie Daley.

Best Supporting Male: Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine; Raymond J. Barry for Steel City; Daniel Craig for Infamous*; Paul Dano for Little Miss Sunshine; Channing Tatum for A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.

Best Director: Robert Altman for A Prairie Home Companion*; Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris for Little Miss Sunshine; Ryan Fleck for Half Nelson; Karen Moncrieff for The Dead Girl; Steven Soderbergh for Bubble.

Best Screenplay: Friends with Money; The Illusionist; The Painted Veil; Sorry, Haters; Thank You for Smoking*.

Best First Screenplay: Conversations with Other Women; A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints; Half Nelson*; Little Miss Sunshine; Wristcutters: A Love Story.

Best Cinematography: Brothers of the Head; Four Eyed Monsters; El Laberinto del Fauno*; Man Push Cart; Wild Tigers I Have Known.

Best First Feature: Day Night Day Night; Man Push Cart*; The Motel; Sweet Land; a
Wristcutters: A Love Story.

Best Foreign Film: A fost sau n-a fost?; Crónica de una fuga; Indigènes; Das Leben der Anderen*; Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros.

Best Documentary: A Lion in the House; My Country My Country; The Road to Guantanamo*; The Trials of Darryl Hunt; You're Gonna Miss Me.

John Cassavetes Award: Chalk; Four Eyed Monsters; Old Joy; Quinceañera*; Twelve and Holding.

Monday, December 11, 2006

HAPPY FEET - enviro-agitprop for kids!

Without us the chicas got no boomHAPPY FEET is a technically superb CGI animated film for kids. The story features a penguin called Mumbles (Elijah Wood) with a gift for tap-dancing but not for singing. This gets him exiled from his clan of Emperor Penguins - his weird dancing schtick is blamed for the worrying lack of fish. Yes, yes. So off he goes to get to the bottom of this problem, bringing happiness to the world through dance and his proto-environmental stance. For this is a kids movie which, much like CARS, has a message. Still, for young kids, the agitprop is not going to get in the way of the cute dancing penguin thing.

I can see how kids would love this movie, but I suspect that for the real tinies, the 1 hour 45 minute run-time might be too long and some of the scarier moments might be too scary. From an adult point of view, there is a sense of wonderment at the sheer technical achievement and some enjoyment of the cheesy sound-track. But we haven't got the wise-ass belly-laugh humour that we got in, say, FLUSHED AWAY. I was less won over by the content - the plot, characterisation, the excessive use of Robin Williams and the Big Message - all basically of mediocre quality. Still, there are worse, more bland kids movies out there, and compared to, say, OPEN SEASON, this movie gets my vote.

HAPPY FEET is on release in Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, the US, the Philippines, Singapore, Brazil, Germany, Austria, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Argentina, Denmark, Finland, Mexico, Panama, Sweden, the UK and Venezuala. It opens in Latvia this Friday and in Hong Kong, Hungary, South Korea and in Estonia the following weekend. It opens in Australia and Iceland on December 26th. It opens in Egypt and Turkey in January and in Japan in April.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

BUGSY MALONE - a kids film with sass

BUGSY MALONE is an awesome kids film. We loved it so much my cousin's nick-name remains Bugsy to this day. But it wasn't until I came to write this review that I realised how odd a film it is. In fact, it must have been nigh on impossible to pitch to the money-men: a movie-musical with pre-teen kids playing gangsters in prohibition era New York. And, given how much more fearful we have become, I doubt any film-maker would get away with having a dolled-up fourteen-year old singing seductively in a smokey nightclub today. Still, BUGSY MALONE belongs to a more innocent time, for me at least. And I reckon every kid should get a chance to see this truly great movie.

A pre-Chachi Scott Baio plays Bugsy Malone, a smooth-talking hoodlum that everyone loves. He hangs with Fat Sam, an old-fashioned mobster who runs an underground nightclub where glamourous Tallulah (Jodie Foster) sings cabaret and plain Blousey Brown sings backing vocals. The movie has two strands. The first sees Bugsy trying to woo a sceptical Blousey despite Tallulah's attentions. The second sees Fat Sam's empire come under attack from Dandy Dan - a spivvy new gangster who's replaced the old technology (Custard pies) with a new WMD (the Splurge Gun.) Everything is acted to perfection and filmed in beautiful period costumes and locations.

The movie is filled with memorable characters, charismatic performances, great songs, murders, illegal boxing, seduction, betrayal, custard pie fights and True Love. Honestly, short of THE PRINCESS BRIDE, I can't think of a better way to spend an hour and a half than watch this movie!

BUGSY MALONE was originally released in 1976. It is on re-release in the UK.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


My grandma's Buick can smoke that piece of shit trailer trashDon't ask me by what evil conjunction of the stars I ended up watching THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT. The movie is as vacuous as one might expect. The plot and characterisation hang onto the car-racing scenes with about as much success as the skimpy outfits on the eye-candy. Granted we don't look to racing movies for visceral drama, but a movie like INITIAL D proves that film-makers don't have to completely condescend to the teenage auto-porn market. Plus, this flick is scripted by the guy who wrote CELLULAR so I expected better. But let's judge the movie on its own entirely superficial terms. Does it contain hot looking chicks and guys? I can only judge the guys and I'd have to say "no". It's subjective but the alleged talent is all pretty bland. It says something that Paul Walker declined to appear in this installment of the trilogy. It's not like he's picky: he made EIGHT BELOW. And it's a sad indicator of the demise of the franchise that where we once had Ludacris we now have the artist formerly known as "Lil" Bow Wow. As for the racing scenes, these have definitely gone up a notch from the first two flicks and the drift racing is at least real rather than CGI. Still, the scenes have none of the balls to the floor insanity and elegance of INITIAL D. Not to mention a worrying lack of tofu.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT was originally released in and is now available on DVD.

Friday, December 08, 2006

THE NATIVITY STORY - banal, low-rent cash-in

Look at her. This is a lonely woman looking for companionship. A spinster... Maybe a virgin. Maybe she got hurt a long time ago. She's a schoolgirl, there was a boy, it didn't work out. So now she needs a little tenderness. She needs a little understanding. Needs a little Kramer.THE NATIVITY STORY is a painfully banal re-telling of the birth of Jesus. It has zero directorial vision; acting that consists largely of people looking earnest and pathetic; flat cinematography; fake-looking sets; a pantomime baddie; and a sub-Lord of the Rings score. There is no radical reinterpretation of the nativity story; no attempt to personalise mythic characters; no attempt to make the majority of the actors speak with anything other than patchy vaguely Meditteranean accents.

The script-writer - a man called Mark Rich - had arguably the easiest job in movie history but he blunders at every turn. Instead of exploring the psychological reality behind these amazing, gripping events, he blands them out. Archetypes become, if it were possible, more so! In desperate search of some audience interest, Rich resorts to making the three wise men a comedy act and injecting false drama. We all know there are *three* wise men but he tries to get us going with the idea that one refuses to travel. Later, he attempts to scare us with a potential miscarriage!

As the mediocre score rolled over the end credits, morphing from Medieval chanting to a latin version of Silent Night (I kid you not) I felt robbed of my hour and a half. As a Catholic, I feel insulted that Hollywood thinks it can fob off religious audiences - (give 'em any old crap and they'll come!) with this garbage. And as a cinema-lover, I finally get it: Catherine Hardwicke is a bad director. The execrable LORDS OF DOGTOWN had me suspicious but I had rather liked THIRTEEN. Well, know I'll put down the success of that film to Nikki Reed's script and her and Evan Rachel Wood's performances.

THE NATIVITY STORY is on global release and will open in all major markets by December 15th. Shameless cash-in, anyone?

MANHATTAN - that rare thing, a truly, incontrovertibly 'great' movie

Corn beef should not be blue I am soft on MANHATTAN. It's one of my all-time favourite Woody Allen films (I've seen every one more than a couple of times) if not one of the best films of all time period. It's one of those rare films where you wouldn't change a single thing. One of those films that you name, alongside DR STRANGELOVE and AMADEUS, when you play the game, "which movie would you have wanted to direct?"

Why do I love MANHATTAN? First and foremost, the handsome cinematography. The movie is shot in black and white in proper anamorphic widescreen. Woody Allen and Gordon Willis (who also shot THE GODFATHER) reinvented the iconic imagery of Manhatten in wide-screen wide-angled shots, edited by Susan E Morse and choreographed to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The beauty, grandeur and energy of Manhattan is not just captured: it is re-defined on screen.

But MANHATTAN is no mawkish Richard-Curtis-like romanticised plastic image of a famous city. Rather, the radical and subversive message of MANHATTAN is that, while the city looks glamourous and the people in it are cosmpolitan, literary and sensitive to the arts, they are also amoral and narcissistic. The Woody Allen character is a 42 year old man who has been through an acrimonious divorce and feels bitter that the woman (Meryl Streep) who told him she was bisexual eventually left him for another woman. He then casually dates a 17 year old girl played by Mariel Hemingway, before jilting her for a self-involved writer played by Diane Keaton. Oh, did I mention that the Woody Allen character stole the Keaton character from his best friend, Yale, who was cheating on his wife with her, and then steals her back?!

In one sense, MANHATTAN is a deeply bleak film. Behind the glamour of MANHATTAN lies a pool of shallow, cultivated cynics. But while you're watching these unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other, you can't help but luxuriate in the wonderful conversation, the beautiful cinematography and the soundtrack full of Gershwin. And in the final scene, we are asked to still "have a little faith in people" - a whimsical note on which to end a movie that would be lost in later Woody Allen movies like CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. For that reason, MANHATTAN will always be one of my favourite Woody Allen movies.

MANHATTAN was originally released in 1979. It is currently on limited re-release in the UK.

is also my favourite case study for why the Academy Awards are never a good guide to great cinema, despite marketers splashing "Oscar winner" across everything. In 1980, KRAMER VERSUS KRAMER swept the board. For sure, this divorce drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep had its finger on the cultural pulse and was well acted, but that it should trump APOCALYPSE NOW?! Well, at least APOCALYPSE NOW was nominated. MANHATTAN was fobbed off with a few minor noms but it didn't get nom'ed from Best Film, Director or, shockingly enough, Cinematrography. One can only assume that the Academy was throwing its toys out of the pram in retaliation for Woody Allen not turning up when ANNIE HALL was nominated.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

THE HOLIDAY - much too much, much too long

THE HOLIDAY is billed as a romantic-comedy by the woman who brought us WHAT WOMEN WANT and SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE: Nancy Meyers. I rather liked the former and really enjoyed the latter. Sadly, THE HOLIDAY amps up the formula too far - and believe me, it ain't rocket science they're using. Instead of one star-crossed Hollywood-gorgeous couple, we have two! Ta-da!

Two girls are getting out of rubbish relationships. One is an English chick called Iris (Kate Winslet) and the other is a high-powered LA chick called Amanda (Cameron Diaz). They decide to swap houses for the Christmas vacation and lick their wounds in private. Diaz' character immediately gets her groove on with Iris' brother Graham (Jude Law). They have what they hope is a drunken fling before love and history complicate things. Despite the obligatory super-sweet ending (there ain't no plot to spoil in such a slavishly formulaic movie), Meyers never really resolves this story. She creates an obstacle so insuperable in their career and family commitments that I never really bought it. Meanwhile, in LA, Winslet's character is hanging out with her cool elderly neighbour - a retired famous screen-writer - and slowly falling for Jack Black's movie composer.

The first hour of this two hour movie really drags. It's not bad in itself: there's just too much of it. Too much time is taken in establishing why each girl is miserable and getting them to their respective romantic encounters. This just feels like bad editing, and I wonder if the reluctance to trim it down springs from pressure from the sponsors - a lot of the product placement is in this segment. Despite this weak beginning, the second hour of the movie is an enjoyable if completely unmemorable ride. Cameron Diaz' innate charm and her ability to carry ditzy humour compensates for the fairly lacklustre dialogue. And in the LA segment, it's great to see Jack Black playing a more buttoned down character - it makes you enjoy the occasional slice of craziness all the more. Eli Wallach is also really touching as the veteran screen-writer. However, Poor Jude Law and Kate Winslet are stuck with playing characters that are drawn as too good to be true. They have no dark side - no depth. They're just super-nice people who have been trampled on by life and who deserve a break. That's just not interesting to me.

One final note. I really enjoyed the character of the ageing Hollywood pro but I find it disingenuous to have a film that rages against modern Hollywood's obsession with opening weekends, product placement and special effects, and yet is itself a purveyor of crass commercialism. These guys are begging so badly for a big opening weekend that instead of casting one big-name leading couple, they cast two! You can just see the producers thinking - let's cast Jack Black - that'll open up the target demographic! Furthermore, with its intertwining romances set partly in the sort of England where it snows at Christmas and people say "shag" a lot, this feels like a shameless cash-in on the Richard Curtis oeuvre. Added to this, the product placement is so full-on in the first hour - especially in reference to a particularly nasty British newspaper - that it makes CASINO ROYALE look demure. And finally, before we rail against special effects, let's just take another look at all that CGI snow falling in Surrey!


THE HOLIDAY opens in Spain, Denmark, Iceland, the UK and the US this Friday. It opens in Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, Estonia, Norway and Sweden on December 15th. It opens in Belgium, Brazil, Finland and Mexico on the 22nd and in Australia, France and Turkey between Christmas and New Year. It opens in Argentina on January 11th, Bulgaria on January 19th, Italy on February 9th and Japan on March 10th.

Monday, December 04, 2006

THE DEAD - simple, lyrical, superb

THE DEAD is a beautiful romantic period drama, based faithfully on a short story by James Joyce. It was directed by the cinematic great John Huston at the end of his life, scripted by his son Tony and starred his daughter Angelica supported by a cast of Irish thespians.

The story is set in Ireland in 1904. Two genteel ladies are giving a Christmas party at their house. They showcase their pupils' musical talents and worry about their cousin Freddy's inability to keep off the booze. An old man reads a traditional Irish
poem about love betrayed. The conversation drifts from politics to religion to temperance and the first half of the short, eighty-five minute film is simply a charming depiction of intimate family life in the era. But our attention is caught by Angelica Huston playing Gretta Conroy and her husband Gabriel. Returning to their hotel after the party, Gretta is prompted to tell her husband of a young boy who loved her passionately and fatally. It is a deeply moving confession - or rather, reflection - and her husband's reaction contains all the slow-burning drama that one could hope for.

The great achievement of John Huston is in letting the novella breathe, rather than trussing it up for the modern audience. He sticks firmly to the 1904 setting and rarely ventures beyond the drawing room, the hallway and the hotel room except in a stunning scene of snow falling at the end. The camera movement is unintrusive, allowing us to appreciate the setting, the costumes and the incidental details of family life. As such, the quite breathtaking revelations in the second part of the film seem all the more profound.

At first, THE DEAD rather reminded me of the recent release, GABRIELLE. Both are essentially intimate chamber dramas featuring a wife's confession to her husband and his reaction to it. Both are set in turn of the twentieth century cities and portray the social lives of the middle classes. But here the similarities end. Where Chereau uses deliberately jarring visual techniques, Huston goes for realism. Where Chereau's couple are brutally cruel and the epiphanies are hard won, THE DEAD is full of gentle, blameless longing. GABRIELLE is a movie about thwarted passion and social compromise: THE DEAD is lyrical, tender and full of longing. It is a gentler, equally affecting, and superb film.

THE DEAD was originally released in 1987. It is now on limited re-release in the UK.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

LONDON TO BRIGHTON - disturbing British drama

LONDON TO BRIGHTON is a disturbing, sinister, tightly plotted and brilliantly acted British film by writer-director Paul Andrew Williams. He plunges us straight into the action: two frightened prostitutes - one a young woman called Kelly, one a homeless pre-teen girl called Joanne - are on the run from a pimp called Derek. The settings, language, costume and make-up are uncompromising. There is a depressing matter-of-factness with which the older woman earns the money for the train fares from London to Brighton.

Once in Brighton, the plot slows down a little and we get to know Kelly and Joanne better. Kelly displays a touching maternal instinct towards Joanne, but it never descends into a hackneyed "tart with a heart of gold" portrayal. As for Joanne, despite being involved in a brutal act of violence - one we learn about in discreet but powerfully suggestive flashback - she retains the single-minded casual selfishness of a child. Both Lorraine Stanley and Georgia Groome give outstanding performances in these roles, although I was more than a little disturbed by how young Georgia is to be portraying such a character.

If I have any criticism of the film it lies in the way the plot resolves itself in the final fifteen minutes - a twist that I found very predictable and somewhat against the tone of the rest of the film. But this is a very small point against a film that is otherwise uncompromising, gripping and not to be missed.

LONDON TO BRIGHTON is on release in the UK.

Friday, December 01, 2006

BIG NOTHING - the irony is obvious

BIG NOTHING sadly lives up to its name. It stars an ex-Friend (David Schwimmer), a hillarious British comedian (Simon Pegg) and a random young British actress called (Alice Eve). They are marooned in a movie that aims at quirky crime-gone-wrong comedy of the kind I loved in THE WHOLE NINE YARDS but languishes in mediocrity. It is rarely funny, poorly scripted, over-dependent on visual quirks and despite its short 85 minute run-time bored me rigid. Most embarassing was Simon Pegg's painful American accent.

BIG NOTHING is on release in the UK and Ireland. Looks like the rest of the world is being spared.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Four days later....

Ever since I was a young boy, I've played the silver ball. From SoHo down to Brighton, I must have played them all....and I still can't find anything interesting at the cinema. That's the problem with the London Film Fest - you get through all the buzz movies for the next six months in a fortnight. I just can't quite bring myself to see SAW III or STEP UP. This weekend's a bit thin too. Satan vomits in my eiderdown with the UK release of DECK THE HALL. I won't be watching it as it falls foul of Bina007's first rule of Cinema but there's a proper review here. I have unabashedly prejudged this overtly "cheery" movie featuring Matthew Broderick's uptight suburban family man getting riled by Danny DeVito's vulgar neighbour's Christmas light display. Frankly, I find this picture of Danny Devito in a Santa hat vaguely sinister.

The only film I will be watching this weekend is
LONDON TO BRIGHTON, despite the fact that it looks a bit like a cheap Lilya 4 Ever. Ironically, I am on the London to Brighton train tomorrow although I doubt we'll get any grungily filmed violence, more's the pity. It's been four days since I ventured inside a movie theatre, which is something of a record for me. I'm starting to get the shakes.

In other random news, they're filming David Cronenberg's new flick outside my office. It's called EASTERN PROMISE which sounds like a gift box of Turkish Delight. However, it's apparently about illegal immigrants and organised crime in London. Viggo Mortensen is playing a slimy East End gangster with slicked back hair and Naomi Watts is also in it. All East End gangsters have slicked back hair. It gives the rozzers a fighting chance. The whole movie set thing is less exciting than annoying - the huge equipment lorries blocking the road make it the devil to get a black cab.

Eheu, o me miserum

Sunday, November 26, 2006

DHOOM 2 contains the most annoying character since Jar Jar Binks

Why'd you say that Ron? Why? You're my hero. And you say something dirty. Like poop. Poop mouth. I hate you Ron Burgundy, I hate you.The first DHOOM movie was a fantastic Bollywood popcorn flick. A charming buddy-cop movie in which Abhishek Bachchan's uptight policeman chases down John Abraham's motorcycle gang with the help of Uday Chopra's light-hearted buffoon-like street-kid. The movie combined some nice lo-fi motorcycle chase sequences, a pop soundtrack and some genuine chemistry between Abhishek and Uday. DHOOM 2 takes the basic ingredients for a successful franchise and amps them up to the point of stupidity. The feel-good charm of the original is lost in a sea of over-blown, poorly shot stunt sequences and slo-mo overload.

Unlike the original movie, DHOOM 2 has no narrative structure of character development. The producers clearly want us to judge it by the quality of the action and dance sequences. But even if we grant them this, the movie fails. The action sequences are a pastiche of John Wu meets The Matrix. They're edited to death - there is no fluidity or build-up of tension: the editing calls to much attention to itself. Moreover, even within the loose bounds of ridiculousness that we expect from stunt extravaganzas, the sequences have no internal logic. I *love* ridiculous stunts, but this movie was so absurd that even I couldn't suspend my disbelief. Worse still, every other shot is in slow motion! Seriously, if you just played this movie at normal speed it would be cut down from the over-long 3 hours to a more endurable 90 minute run-time. I half expected to see white doves taking flight. And don't even get me started on the quality of the Mission Impossible-style "wearing someone else's face" stuff....

Now back to plot and character or lack thereof. Actors are present to perform cool stunts and look buff to the point where Bollywood hero Hrithik Roshan has waxed his underarms. Sure, Hrithik and Bipasha look great and with this film, Hrithik has established himself as Bollywood's leading practicioner of Wire-fu and Hollywood-style stunt sequences. But you have to wonder at the self-respect of actors who exist merely as physical objects. Having seen Aish and Abhishek in UMRAO JAAN not two weeks ago and Bipasha Basu in OMKARA earlier this year, you can't help but feel that these actors are slumming it.

Aishwarya's character is especially annoying. She's meant to be a rebellious hip young MTV-watching kid. The writers achieve this by making her say, "like", after, like, every, word and like, making her, like, refer to herself, like, in the third person, like. Indeed, Aish's character may be the most annoying character since Jar Jar Binks. Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra are cast into shadow by Hrithik. Of course they aren't helped by a script that turns their LETHAL WEAPON style sweet buddy-cop relationship into one of a grumpy critical superior and his idiot sidekick. And poor Rimi Sen gets about a nanosecond of screen time. It's obvious that the producers wanted to drop her for bigger female stars but couldn't quite write out the wife of the lead actor's character.

In the final analysis, DHOOM 2 is nothing more than a vulgar pastiche of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3. The producers have taken a promising franchise and skewered it with their vaulting ambition. Next time, let's hope that they funnel their attempts at Hollywood special effects and production values through a filter of plausibility and narrative structure.

DHOOM 2 is on release in the US, UK, India and the Netherlands.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

FLUSHED AWAY - a very British comedy

For some strange reason, FLUSHED AWAY did terrible business in the US - at least relative to the huge budget. I say strange because Swedish Philip and I went to see it today and it was absolutely hysterical. I mean, laugh out loud funny throughout. I haven't had such a good time watching a comedy in ages, and it beats alleged adult fare like TENACIOUS D, and TALLADEGA NIGHTS hands down. That the movie is seriously funny comes as no surprise when you realise that, despite being CGI animated, it comes from the people who brought you WALLACE AND GROMIT: CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT. So you get the characteristic physical comedy, classic movie references and proper old-fashioned plotting and characterisation. The visual comedy is so rich that I suspect you’d have to watch FLUSHED AWAY a number of times before you’d even begun to recognise it all.

However, it has to be said that the movie has a peculiarly English feel, which may explain its comparative failure in the US. (The root cause of the English-ness is easy to identify - the movie was co-written by Dick Clement and Ian LeFrenais – veteran script-writers for classic British TV comedies, The Likely Lads and Porridge.) The iconography of Zone One London is used to full effect – it’s all Piccadilly Circus & London Bridge. The fish-out-of-water plot plays off Cor Blimey Guv’nor sewer rats with a pampered pet mouse from The Royal Borough of Kensington. The movie features the regulation Knight of the Realm (Sir Ian McKellan) camping it up luvvie-stylee. A good dollop of the jokes are made at the expense of the cheese-eating surrender-monkey French; vulgar American tourists; grannies who throw their knickers at Tom Jones and the English football team.

In short, if you think football is a game played with twenty-two men and a round ball in which England lose on penalties to Germany in the final, I can almost guarantee you’ll have a good time watching FLUSHED AWAY. What's more this movie has everything that a certain Bond film lacked: exhilerating chases; a smooth hero in a dinner jacket; wicked gadgets; cheesy pick-up lines; an evil megalomaniac threatening humanity; and a ticking clock counting down to devestation before the hero saves the day!

FLUSHED AWAY has already opened in Israel, Singapore, the US, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. It opens in Hong Kong, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Spain, Sweden and the UK next weekend. It opens in Germany, Bulgaria, Estonia and Norway on December 8th, in Brazil, Mexico and Turkey on the 15th, in Australia, Slovenia, Italy and Latvia on the 22nd. It opens in Argentina in January and in Japan in March.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A short essay on vomit-inducing cinema

Fortune vomits in my eiderdown once moreSANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE should be prosecuted under the Competition laws for shamelessly exploiting a captive market of parents who have to take their kids to see a film over the festive season but aren't in one of the handful of towns showing THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS 3D. I haven't seen it and I'm not going to for a couple of reasons. First, even the trailer - the so-called highlights - was painfully unfunny. Second, I've seen the first two and I'll never get those hours back. Third, the reviews have been so universally grim that I can't see what I would add. I really don't enjoy bad-mouthing a movie for the heck of it, and how could I top Mark Kermode's description of the movie as the cinematic equivalent of tertiary syphilis? Anyway, as I have said before, Christmas movies featuring jolly Santas make me heave. It's vomit-inducing cinema and not in a good way. Still, in case you're erring on the side of evil, you can read a proper review here.

JACKASS NUMBER TWO is a pointless movie to review, if it's a movie at all. It's basically a poorly shot string of skits just like in the infamous MTV TV show. Johnny Knoxville and his gang of extreme sports miscreants do things to themselves involving bodily fluids and explosives that are designed to cause pain and nausea in the viewer. To fans of such real-life gross-out humour, JACKASS NUMBER TWO is vomit-inducing in a good way, and as a fan of consumer choice I'm happy they have an opportunity to get their fix. It's not my cup of tea, so I won't be watching it, but I am reliably informed by my teenage cousins who fall squarely in the target demographic that the movie did what all good genre-movies should: it did exactly what is said on the tin. But if you want a proper review, you can click here.

SANTA CLAUSE 3 has already infected Germany, the US, the Philippines, Australia, Singapore, Iceland, Italy and the UK. Japan gets infected on December 2nd, Turkey on Dec 8th, Argentina on Dec 14th, Belgium on Dec 20th and Spain and Venezuela on Dec 22nd.

JACKASS NUMBER TWO is on release in the US, Netherlands, Russia, Iceland, Finland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Australia and the UK. It opens in Germany next week, in Sweden on December 8th, Estonia on December 29th and in Japan on January 13th. The Region 1 DVD is released on December 26th.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

LOULOU - still compelling after 26 years

LOULOU is a 26 year old French movie starring a young Isabelle Huppert as Nelly, a frustrated bourgeouis woman married to Guy Marchand's André. At a disco, Nelly meets Loulou - a physically attractive working-class yob played by a shockingly young Gérard Depardieu. Nelly leaves her rich but boring husband for a life of sexual satisfaction. The film plots the consequences of this decision, not least her continued sado-masochistic emotional relationship André.

Loulou is a complete layabout. He is content to sponge off Nelly and even when she falls pregnant and her kindly brother offers to set him up in business he shows no inclination to work. But there is nothing malicious in this. Part of the magic of Depardieu's performance is that Loulou is so charming - so funny, so attractive - that the audience can forgive him his inability to plan for the future. And besides, Loulou is no idiot - when he does occasionally reflect on his situation he is very perceptive and objective about what Nelly wants from the relationship. As for Nelly, this is another classic Huppert role. Her relationship with her ex reminded me not a little of her more recent role in GABRIELLE. The interesting part of both films is how the wife continues to torment the husband after the act of betrayal, and how both husbands are still addicted to their wives.

But in style, this film could not be further from GABRIELLE. LOULOU is filmed in a relaxed, intimate documentary style that suits the material. The camera seems to take on Loulou's freewheeling style, moving fluidly between characters. The lighting is naturalistic and in some cases non-existent, giving us a lot of night scenes that are almost entirely black. This and the seemingly improvised nature of the dialogue in the some of the group scenes gives the movie a relaxed intimacy. It really is a pleasure to watch.

LOULOU was originally released in 1980. It is currently in an extended run at the National Film Theatre as part of their Isabelle Huppert season.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Chloe looked the way Meryl Streep's skeleton would look if you made it smile and walk around the party being extra nice to everybody.In general, I believe Christmas movies suck. I will not, for instance, be reviewing the US hit movie, SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE. For all I know, it's a Christmas classic. But then, even as a young kid, Christmas movies always made me spew and brought out my meanest Bah-Humbug! spirit. This might be why I get such a kick out of movies like BAD SANTA and TIM BURTON'S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS - both movies that forego the saccharine gloopy Christmas goodness that infects the usual fare.

TIM BURTON'S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was originally released back in the early 1990s and has now been re-released in a new 3-D version. It's an absolutely cracking film and while there isn't much use made of the 3-D (unlike, say, MONSTER HOUSE) the kids I took to see this got a kick out of wearing the 3-D glasses anyhoo. So cutting to the chase, what we really have is a re-release of the original film, and even on those terms, it's well worth seeing.

The movie is a musical scored and largely sung by long-time Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman. It tells a sweetly ghoulish tale of an attenuated skeleton called Jack who lives in Halloween town. Every Halloween, Jack (Chris "Prince Humperdinck" Sarandon) and his vampires, witches, corpses and beasties keep the rest of the world entertained with tricks and mischief. But Jack is frustrated with the monotony of it all and wanders away from home. He stumbles upon Christmastown - a place he never knew existed! Dazzled at the lovely warm feeling he returns to Halloweentown convinced he can do a better job than Santa. So, with all best intentions, Jack and his friends set about making presents to deliver to all the kids but the presents can't help but turn out scary. The normal world of humans is scared silly and Christmas is cancelled until Jack saves the day. He may not be able to supplant Santa but he does at least get a beautiful re-animated Corpse Bride voiced by Catherine O'Hara.

The movie is astoundingly beautifully designed and is rendered in a technically impressive mix of stop-motion and cell animation with very very few CGI add-ins. For film geeks, it's great to see some fantastic double exposure special-effects, To that end, it has a more tactile "real" feel that most new CGI animated films. Like WALLACE AND GROMIT: CURSE OF THE WERE RABBIT, the movie benefits from having been lit and photographed as much like a live-action film as possible. What that means is that instead of having a super-bright Disney-like cartoon, NIGHTMARE looks more like a forties film-noir or THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER(!). Halloweentown is morbidly drawn in a near black-and-white palette and filmed largely in shadow. Even in Christmas-town, which has a Dr Seuss feel - the colours are rich and dark and warm rather than day-glo bright.

Because of the series of ghoulish (though largely well-meaning characters) and the brooding photographic style, NIGHTMARE is one of those kids films, like MONSTER HOUSE, that is not for the faint-hearted kid. For instance, there's a scene where the evil Oogie Boogie's body disintegrates into a mass of creepy crawlies. You need to make a judgement about whether your kid will handle that. But to my mind, the director handles it just right - giving us a few quick frights before moving on to the love story or the funnier characters.

A lot of movies get tagged as "instant classics" but I reckon NIGHTMARE is one of the few to whom this description actually applies. It's a great family Christmas movie - providing adults with a richly imagined world rather than cheap pop-cultural gags - and treating kids with more respect that, say, your average Santa movie. Two enthusiastic thumbs-up!

TIM BURTON's THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was originally released in the early 1990s. It's available on DVD but is also on re-release in the UK in 3D format.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Innocence Has A Power Evil Cannot ImagineSometimes the hardest reviews to write are for the movies which you just know are a yard faster than anything else you've seen. For me, PAN'S LABYRINTH is the most memorable, inventive, emotionally and visually scarring movie I have seen in 2006. The (in)famous UK reviewer, Mark Kermode, stood up before the screening and called the movie "the CITIZEN KANE of fantasy cinema". This made me, if anything, more sceptical about the film. Not because I don't value his opinion but because I hate someone laying this amount of hype on the shoulders of a movie just as I'm about to see it. How on earth could the movie possibly live up to such a description?

Short answer: it does. And then some. The problem is that I can describe how amazing the production design is; how elegant the editing; how atmospheric the photography; but I cannot make you feel the sense of complete immersion in a world that is threatening and brutal and evil. And be very clear, this is no kids movie. It inflicts much cruelty on its audience - forcing you to flinch at scenes of torture, body-horror and death. The cruelty steps beyond the immediate violence, though - it manifests itself in what I interpreted to be an incredibly nihilistic central message: the world is barbarous and cruel and evil acts may be punished but the innocent will also die. Worse still, there is no real refuge in childhood stories of magic and fairies. Barbarous cruelty also dominates the fantasy world and its rules are arbitrary and demanding. Maybe I am taking this too far: there is a glimmer of hope at the end. We are, after all, moral agents: we are able to do the right thing. But to one interpretation, there is no tangible benefit to doing so.

But back to the nuts and bolts. PAN'S LABYRINTH is the new film by director Guillermo del Toro (HELLBOY, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE). It is set in Spain just after the civil war has ended, but as World War Two is still raging. A young girl who loves fairy-tales is travelling into the countryside with her heavily pregnant mother. Her stepfather is a vain, misogynistic, sadistic Fascist army officer who sees her mother as a vehicle to deliver the son he desires. The step-daughter is tempted by a faun into thinking that if she can just carry out three dangerous tests in a fantasy world she will be acknowledged as an immortal fairy princess and be spirited away to live with her dead father.

Finally, as with all truly magical cinematic experiences, it's really hard for me to explain why this movie affected me so much. I can only urge you to try and catch it at the cinema even if you wouldn't normally go for fantasy cinema. It is rare to find a movie that is so engrossing, so horrifying and yet so beautifully rendered.

PAN'S LABYRINTH played Cannes and London's Frightfest, 2006. It is currently on release in Spain, Mexico, France and Serbia. It opens in Belgium, Italy and the UK this weekend and in Australia, Russia and Singapore next weekend. The film opens in Canada and the US on December 29th. It opens in Norway in January, Germany in February, Japan in April and Turkey in May.