Tuesday, January 31, 2006

THE OSCARS - The seven sins of omission and comission

So, the Oscars are out, and as usual, the Academy have been smoking crack and/or bought off by expensive studio marketing campaigns and/or bowed to political correctness. Once again, thanks to the uncomfortable mix of all-out greed and West-coast liberal politics, we have a list of nominations littered with earnest yet crappy movies. But before we take a wrecking ball to the nominations, let’s start with what little they got right. Brokeback Mountain leads the way with 8 nominations, including nods in the all-important Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor categories. Capote also scores high with 5 nominations including Best Actor and Actress for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. Walk the Line also gets 5 nods, and its good to see Bina007 favourites, Hustle and Flow, Junebug, Syriana and Transamerica getting some recognition.

Now on to the sins of omission. I really only have two beefs on this account. First, why only two nods for A History of Violence? This is a superb flick and deserved a nod for Best Film, Best Director for Cronenberg, Best Actor for Viggo Mortensen and Best Actress for Maria Bello. I reckon this is going to be the “Goodfellas” of 2005. Years from now, History will be seen as a classic film. The second sin of omission is in the Best Foreign Film category, which is replete with worthy crap or pretty fromage. Where is the Cannes Palme d’Or winner, and my Best Film of 2005, Hidden/Cache?! Where is the movie that changed the face of cinema, Kung Fu Hustle?! Where is the fascinating French flick, The Beat that My Heart Skipped? Craziness. Pure craziness. Once again, history will prove me right, but in the mean time, I remain unsurprised and pissed off.

Next, the five sins of commission, and I’ll take these in nominations order. The third, fourth and fifth sins involve bad but “worthy” films that got mega-nominations. In each case the director has tried to tackle serious subject matter but has ended up stating the obvious in a really dull and patronsing manner. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you Good Night and Good Luck, Munich and The Constant Gardener. In the case of the former, we get a patronising history lesson; in the case of the latter two, we get narratively confused, bombastic, mediocre thrillers.

The seventh sin, also one of commission, is the inclusion of Pride and Prejudice anywhere near the Oscars. This was a very very mediocre adaptation, which made narrative compromises that undermined both the love story and the satire at the heart of the story. While I can just about forgive the “technical” nods for costume and such, I cannot forgive nominating Keira Knghtley for her role as Elizabeth Bennett when all she did was looked petulant. This hurts even more when you realise that Maria Bello missed out on a nom. for A History of Violence. I can only put Knightley’s nom. down to the fact that she is championed by Jerry Bruckheimer, who clearly wants to create a mega-star. She is destined to be the Judi Dench of her generation – the one English actress everyone recognises, who is nominated for performances regardless of their quality.

The full details of the nominations are below. As usual, I have put the films I think should win in bold type. I have asterisked the ones I think will win:


The Oscars are awarded on March 5th 2006.

Monday, January 30, 2006

THE RAZZIES - It's official: Seventies remakes DO suck!

With lots of portentious and pretentious movies receiving awards from the great and good (read rich and powerful) of cinema, it is time to savour the best of all the award shows: THE RAZZIES. The Razzies are the inverse of the Oscars for two reasons. First, they highlight the worst, rather than the best, of 2005. Second, unlike the Oscars, the Razzies usually get it right. How can we forget the Oscars tragedy of Goodfellas losing to Dances with Wolves in 1990, Pulp Fiction losing to Forrest Gump in 1994, let alone the wonderful LA Confidential losing the frickin' Titanic in 1997. So, I give a lot of repsect to the RAZZIES, not least because they seem to share by fear and loathing of seventies remakes. Moreover, the Razzies' tagline is "cremating cinematic crap for 25 years!" So, here are the nominees, with, for what it's worth, the movie or person I think *should* win in bold:

WORST FILM: Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo; Dirty Love; Dukes of Hazzard; House of Wax; Son of the Mask.

WORST ACTOR: Rob Schneider, Deuce Bigalow; Will Ferrell, Kicking and Screaming and Bewitched; The Rock, Doom; Jamie Kennedy, Son of the Mask; Tom Cruise, War of the Worlds.

WORST ACTRESS: Jessica Alba, Into the Blue and Fantastic Four; Tara Reid, Alone in the Dark; Jennifer Lopez, Monster-in-Law; Jenny McCarthy, Dirty Love; Hillary Duff in Cheaper by the Dozen and The Perfect Man.

WORST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Hayden Christensen, Star Wars III; Eugene Levy, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and The Man; Burt Reynolds, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Longest Yard; Alan Cumming and Bob Hoskins, Son of the Mask.

WORST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jessica Simpson, The Dukes of Hazzard; Carmen Electra, Dirty Love; Paris Hilton, House of Wax; Ashlee Simpson, Undiscovered; Katie Holmes, Batman Begins.

WORST DIRECTOR: Jay Chandrasehar, The Dukes of Hazzard; Nora Ephron, Bewitched; John Asher, Dirty Lovel Uwe Boll, Alone in the Dark; Lawrence Guterman, Son of the Mask.
WORST SCREENPLAY: Deuce Bigalow; Bewitched; Dirty Love; The Dukes of Hazzard; Son of the Mask.

Worst remake or sequel: Deuce Bigalow; Bewitched; The Dukes of Hazzard; House of Wax; Son of the Mask.

Most tiresome tabloid targets: Tom Cruise, anti-psychiatry rant; Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes, Oprah's couch, The Eiffel Tower, "Tom's baby"; Paris Hilton passim; Ashlee Simpson, Jessica Simpson and Nich Lachey, The Simpsons, Ashlee and Jessica and Nick; Britney Spears & Kevin Federline passim.

Worst screen couple: Rob Schneider and his diapers in Deuce Bigalow; Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman in Bewitched; Jenny McCarthy and "anyone dumb enough to befriend or date her" in Dirty Love; Jessica Simpson and her "daisy dukes" in The Dukes of Hazzard; Jamie Kennedy and "anybody stuck sharing the screen with him" in Son of the Mask.

The results of THE RAZZIES are announced on March 4th

Friday, January 27, 2006

MUNICH - Stick to Dinosaurs, Spielberg

This review is posted by guest reviewer, Nik ...

Steven Spielberg has proven once and for all that being Jewish is insufficient qualification for making a movie about middle-eastern politics. Apparently, MUNICH - based on the events following the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics - is supposed to be controversial. On the one hand it supposedly humanises terrorists and undermines security measures by the Israeli state, and on the other it allegedly panders to the International Zionist Conspiracy(TM). In reality - it does neither - but bores the viewer with pseudo-intellectual pap occasionally punctuated by loud explosions and gun-play. The only significant contraversies are that the cinema took £6.50 from me to watch it, and that the pick-and-mix cost 99p per 100 grams. Damn that Cineworld.

Okay, so some particularly naive Americans might be shocked that Israeli foreign policy isn't all fun, games and torture - the same people for whom the revelation in THREE KINGS that US foreign policy was based on oil prices and increased hegemony in the middle east came out of left-field. The Christian and Jewish right won't much like the idea that there is some sort of ideology and genuine feeling of grievance behind the activities of Palestinian terrorists. Similarly, the leadership of Hamas may feel unhappy that the film portrays heinous acts of terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians in a negative light. But for the rest of us - the ones who've had the intellectual capacity and time to think through the balance of national security and morality in the work of our intelligence services - and who know basic facts about international affairs - this film will be dour and patronising.

The content isn't challenging, the facts it reveals arn't shocking - unless you're easily shocked or deeply ignorant. The film neither captures the poignancy of the internal moral struggle within the lead protagonist - nor the thrill and excitement of spying. It both manages to fall between these two stools AND fail horribly at executing either. And to top it off, the score and camerawork is condescending - trying to impose a paint-by-numbers depth for the hollywood popcorn-munching audiences - who may be unable to cope without such strong editorialisation. In many ways, SCHINDLER'S LIST did the same - but frankly it was a film that had to be made - and whose content had to be respected because of its intrinsic gravity. Munich didn't, doesn't, and won't be.

By the end of the film, I had no sympathy for any of the characters in front of me - no interest in their lives or their teen-angst emotional struggles - and hoped with every passing scene for the film to end, to stop wasting more of my precious time. The gun-play, graphic violence and sex that had kept me carnally interested in the film, at least in passing, had left the building - and with it any semblance of hope for future enjoyment. The final scene of the film was suitably awful, and I walked out wishing I'd been watching gay cowboys making out. Or anything else, really.

I can only imagine the most facile and ignorant of people enjoying this flick - so if you fit that description, save up your pennies. Otherwise, even if you have an interest in the middle east, save your money and buy a good book on the subject, after a few hours of reading you'll have learnt more, thought more, and enjoyed more than your unfortunate counterparts who opted for the big screen instead. And Steven, stick with dinosaurs, extra-terrestrials, and ruggedly handsome all-action archeologists - it's what you do well - very well - it's what we enjoy. And there was me thinking you'd learned your lesson with AI...

MUNICH is on general release in the US and the UK, not that you ought to care. I don't know when or if it'll be released in France or Germany or anywhere else - I can only hope for them that they can read English and visit this blog often enough to be warned.

Bina007 notes that instead of watching MUNICH, which she also found politically obvious and cinematically hackneyed, you could go rent Kevin MacDonald's ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER instead. It is a b
rilliant and Oscar-winning documentary which covers much the same ground as MUNICH. ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER is released on Region 2 DVD today.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


THE NEW WORLD is a beautiful new film from Terrence Mallick, acclaimed director of THE THIN RED LINE and DAYS HEAVEN. It tells the story of Pocahontas. She is a Princess - a beloved daughter of a native American tribe that happens upon some newly arrived native American colonists. When a search party, led by Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) comes upon her village, Pocahontas (newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher) and Smith fall in love. It is a strange sort of love, displayed through delicate hand gestures and disjointed newly-learned words. It is also strange because Pocahontas is a very young girl, full of innocence and open-ness. Smith is a weary soldier. Pocahontas would willingly live with him, but despite his undoubted love, his realism leads him back to England and to have others lie to her about his death. Pocahontas is then traded with the English as a peace offering and goes into a kind of mourning. It is truly sad to see her trussed up in a corset. However, slowly she falls in love with a good man - John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and retuns with him to England in a triumphal audience with the king.

The story is powerful - repressed and thwarted love - the clash of innocence and cold pragmatism - the wonder of the New World for the English and the English court for Pocahontas. But the real triumph of the movie is its graceful photography, clever use of interior monologue and cross-cutting. For instance, if Captain Smith finds his mind wandering to Pocahontas when trading with some native Americans, the camera also wanders to images of them together. At all times, the images are heightened by the most wonderful use of Wagner I have seen in a long time. This is a truly beautiful and outstanding film.
THE NEW WORLD is on release in the US and the UK. It is released in France on the 15th February 2006 and in Germany on the 2nd March.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

THE IPCRESS FILE - Classic Michael Caine Cold War spy flick

Back in the days before I started bitching about Hollywood biting its own style with a slew of uninspired remakes, legendary producer, Harry Saltzmanm was already in on the act. Saltzman had already created one mega-bucks franchise in the James Bond movies, but, as a shrewd man, he knew that there was some opposition to this glamorous, sexy, gentleman's club view of Cold War espionage. The backlash manifested itself in a number of spy novels that deliberately painted a far more bleak, bureaucratic and fallible picture of British intelligence. Chief among these were the novels of Len Deighton and John le Carre. Saltzman, shrewdly realising that someone would bite his style, did it himself, by shifting the whole Bond production team into producing "alternative" spy thrillers based on the Deighton novels - effectively monopolising British spy franchises and coining in the proverbial phat cash.

Cineastes will tell you how "significant" IPCRESS is. It's the first thriller to feature a hero who (shock! horror!) wears glasses. Worse still, he is a working class guy who gets recruited to spying in a supermarket (!) and never gets to shag hot chicks. Moreover, the whole feel of the movie is more art-house than cineplex. Instead of sleek, luxurious production design, we get the grime and grit of '60s London. The movie is photographed by Otto Heller using off-whack camera angles, distorting lenses and other tricks that serve to undermine the viewer. The hero, Harry Palmer, is definitely not in control in the way that James Bond (in the movies, if not the books) always is.

Granted, THE IPCRESS FILE is significant, but more to the point for the modern viewer, is it entertaining cinema? The answer is a qualified yes.
This is a great plot, well shot. Harry Palmer is a retired copper who falls into spying by accident. Top British scientists are getting kidnapped, brainwashed, and then returned and the top brass want to know why and by whom. The story still has great tension and the pacing does not feel too slow to a modern audience. The only slight obstacle is that, while we get great acting from Michael Caine in his break-out performance, this sort of "British hard man" role has become something of a cinematic cliche. With Caine parodying himself in the Austin Powers flicks, it is sometimes hard to take the original seriously. Still, given the lack of decent flicks released this week, you could do a lot worse than check out the movie that inspired a slew of imitators.

THE IPCRESS FILE was originally released in 1965. It is currently on re-release in the UK.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Readers of this blog can easily check my ratings by looking at the Review Index, listed in order of merit, on the right hand side of this blog. However, I want to take a moment to put shit on Hollywood for being so freakin' unoriginal that not just one, but SEVEN OUT OF TEN of 2005's worst movies were - to coin a new genre - "Piss-poor 70s remakes". Please DO NOT check out the following, in ascending order of crappiness:

10th worst movie of the year: THE BAD NEWS BEARS. Originally a 1976 kids-playing-baseball family comedy starring Walter Matthau. The 2005 version is a horrible mis-fire, especially given that it stars the usually wonderful Billy-Bob Thornton and was directed by Richard Linklater. How f*cking ironic that the guy who captured the 1970s spirit perfectly in Dazed and Confused should mess up so spectacularly with this cinematic fart. The only vaguely saving grace are the jokes about the fat kid on the Atkins diet, but these jokes are gonna date horribly, in stark contrast to the 1970s original.

9th worst movie of the year: THE LONGEST YARD. Originally a 1974 prisoners-playing-american-football comedy starring Burt Reynolds (pre-op). The 2005 version is a piss-poor alleged comedy starring Adam Sandler & Chris Rock. From Punch-Drunk Love to this - how sad for Sandler. And check out the pic of post-op. Reynolds on the left - this is less a failed comedy than a bloody scary horror flick.

8th worst movie of the year: FUN WITH DICK AND JANE. The original is a 1977 suburban Bonnie and Clyde flick starring George Segal and Jane Fonda. It wasn't great to start off with, but the 2005 version is even less entertaining. Jim Carrey, like Sandler, seems to alternate superb art-house flicks with formulaic Hollywood crap, and this flick is definitely in the second category. As with Elizabethtown, a fantastic greedy-capitalist-bastard cameo by Alec Baldwin cannot save this flick from its own crappiness. It aspires to comment on the Enron scandal, to which I respond, "Slow down! How about sorting out the basics, like making us laugh?"

7th worst movie of the year: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. The 1971 original, starrying Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, is one of my all time favourite flicks. You get the feeling that Wonka is eccentric, but a normal, caring guy underneath it all - just a little disappointed with how mean people are. In the 2005 re-make, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, Willy Wonka is a child-hating, spooky-ass weirdo. Dear Lord, why would any right-thinking parent leave their kid with this guy for a second? And why oh why do we need a back-story for Wonka? What kind of dirt does Christopher Lee have on Tim Burton that Burton has to finance his pensionable years? CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. The 1971 original, starrying Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, is one of my all time favourite flicks. You get the feeling that Wonka is eccentric, but a normal, caring guy underneath it all - just a little disappointed with how mean people are. In the 2005 re-make, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, Willy Wonka is a child-hating, spooky-ass weirdo. Dear Lord, why would any right-thinking parent leave their kid with this guy for a second? And why oh why do we need a back-story for Wonka? What kind of dirt does Christopher Lee have on Tim Burton that Burton has to finance his pensionable years?

6th worst movie of the year: THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. The original 1979 TV show was mindless and kitsch. Fans may try to convince us that it was deliberately tongue-in-cheek, but we know better. The 2005 remake was not just unfunny but was also offensive. That racist "black-face" gags can still get through the Hollywood system makes me sick. Literally. The only thing we learn from the 2005 remake is that Jessica Simpson is actually marginally more annoying than Paris Hilton. (BTW, I don't recommed you rent House of Wax to verify that fact.)

5th worst movie of the year: STAR WARS. Just to prove that I am not out to get the studio system, here's an example of an independent film-maker committing artistic suicide. The original 1977 Star Wars flick kicked off one of the most technologically innovative, narratively consistent and beloved trilogies in movie history. Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith broke all the rules: technology was used as a cool toy rather than to advance the story and the story itself was inconsistent and implausible. Perhaps, the most anger-inducing flick of the year, and, if one could rewind time and change history, the one movie I would commit murder to erase.: STAR WARS. Just to prove that I am not out to get the studio system, here's an example of an independent film-maker committing artistic suicide. The original 1977 Star Wars flick kicked off one of the most technologically innovative, narratively consistent and beloved trilogies in movie history. Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith broke all the rules: technology was used as a cool toy rather than to advance the story and the story itself was inconsistent and implausible. Perhaps, the most anger-inducing flick of the year, and, if one could rewind time and change history, the one movie I would commit murder to erase.

4th worst movie of the year, and by far the most pretentious, is MANDERLAY, in which Lars von Trier finally disappears up his own arse. A movie so awed by its own alleged profundity and supposed startling insight into American race relations that it feels confident enough to dispense with: plot, characterisation, photographic skill....The only movie so bad I walked out half way through.

3rd worst movie of the year: BUBBLE, a movie so far up itself that it has come out of its own nose as snot. Roger Ebert, one of the most respected reviewers in the world, has just declared this a work of genius. To which I respond, "pay 10 quid out of your own pocket and then look me in the eye and tell me you liked it."

The 2nd worst movie of the year: ELIZABETHTOWN. Absolute shite. The genius that is Alec Baldwin cannot save it. I felt physically ill. When Susan Sarandon tap dances a million angels die.

The ABSOLUTE worst movie of the year: DEUCE BIGALOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO. That this movie is not a 70s remake is the best thing that can be said about it. A completely unfunny movie that is also homophobic and misogynistic and stars Rob Schneider - a serial offender. This was Mike Bigelow - the director's - first film, and dear Lord, if there is any justice, that man is claiming social security and living off food stamps. Whoever green-lit this project should be shot.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

THE PROPOSITION - awesome Australian western

THE PROPOSITION is set in the Australian outback, circa 1880. A hard-as-nails British officer is attempting to bring law to the wild frontier. To do so, he must stamp out an almost mythical outlaw and murderer, named Arthur Burns. Burns has two younger brothers, and the rozzers want the middle brother, Charlie, to kill Arthur. If he doesn't, the youngest brother gets strung up on Christmas Day.

The actors are all brilliantly cast and give wonderful performances. Ray Winstone is characteristically teetering on the brink of psychosis in his portrayal of the British army officer who cooks up the scheme. Arthur Burns is played by one of my favourite actors - Danny Huston - who dazzled me in Ivans XTC and has not been given the opportunity to shine again until this flick. He conjures up a truly three-dimenstional character, combining wisdom, charisma, filial love and murderous charm. Guy Pierce, of Memento fame, plays Charlie, and Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, Hillary and Jackie) plays Winstone's missus.

In addition, the flick is written by the multi-talented Nick Cave and has all the grizzly, bizarre-O authenticity that one might expect from his music.
The movie is also photographed by the superb DP Benoit Delhomme, who also shot The Merchant of Venice and assisted on Manon des Sources and Jean de Florette. What more can I say but that, whether or not you normally go in for Westerns, you should check this film out.

THE PROPOSITION was first shown at Cannes 2005 and was part of the London Film Fest. It opened in Australia in October 2005 and opens in the UK on the 10th March 2006 and in the US on the 5th May.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

SHOPGIRL - truly painful, often pretentious, sometimes funny

I hated SHOPGIRL almost before it began. The opening credits feauture a logo for the production company, "Hyde Park Films". All good, except that the logo features a picture of Tower Bridge?! Sounds petty, I know, but you can't mess around with Zone One iconography and still be my friend. As the opening credits rolled I hated this film even more: melodramatic, irritating orchestral score; pretentious and pointless tracking photography; and a grating faux-naif voice-over from writer/actor Steve Martin. Steve Martin's very existence pisses me off. In 1989, he sold his soul to Hollywood plastic surgeons. Instead of manic comedy we get formulaic remakes and soupy family "entertainment". I introduce Sergeant Bilko and Cheaper by the Dozen 1 and 2 into evidence for the prosecution.

Anyways, back to SHOPGIRL. Steve Martin introduces our heroine, Mirabelle, as she goes about her mundane life. Mirabelle, played by the wonderful Claire Danes, is an aspiring artist who works on the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in LA in order to help pay off her student debt. The movie tells the tale of how Mirabelle is romanced by two men. One is a sixty year old rich lecher played by Martin: the other is a young, hapless, romantic, amplifier-salesman, played by Jason Schwartzman. The scenes involving Martin are truly painful to watch. Danes self-knowledge - her choice to be a victim of this old lecher - is horrible to witness. When Martin touches her naked body, our skin crawls. I know that this is the desired effect but somehow it is done so often and in such a manner that it becomes simply off-putting. Moreover, every time it happens, we have that same over-wheening orchestral score - the same pretentious cinematography. Sure, the film makes some good points about the commoditisation of relationships, but the sheer weight of the pretentious visual and aural imagery loaded onto this slender subject matter threaten to send this movie up its own ass. The only saving grace of the flick - the factor that kept me in the cinema to the end - is Jason Schwartzman's performance. Every time he comes back into frame I breathed a sigh of relief. We were back to sweet, quirky comedy - the natural habitat of the Indie movie.

Overall, SHOPGIRL may be one of the most disappointing movies of 2005. After all, Steve Martin was, once upon a time, a great comedian. Anand Tucker, the director, last graced our screens with the wonderful riff on the life of the du Pre family, Hillary and Jackie - one of my all-time favourite movies. The film is also shot by Peter Suchitzky, the DP from A History of Violence, Spider, Existenz, Mars Attacks, not to mention the best of the Star Wars flicks, The Empire Strikes Back. With so much talent on the roster, it is something of an achievement to have made such an unengaging, frustrating flick. At one point in the flick, the hapless suitor asks Mirabelle, "Can I kiss you or what?" She responds, "The point being?" I left the cinema asking the same question.

SHOPGIRL is on limited release in the US and UK. There is no scheduled release date for France, Germany or Austria.

Friday, January 20, 2006

JUST FRIENDS - not half bad!

JUST FRIENDS is really not as bad as the critics make out. Okay, so it won't win a Nobel, but as far as harmless, funny date flicks go, you can do worse. The flick stars Ryan Reynolds, otherwise known as Van Wilder: Party Liason, and the hot bod in Blade:Trinity. Ryan was a fat guy in school and accordingly never "boinked" his best mate, the hot chick cheerleader. Ten years later he returns to town, a slimmed down, rich music industry exec., ready to win back the girl of is dreams. Cue lots of holiday-related slapstick comedy involving incendiary Christmas decorations and ice hockey. Reynolds is really very funny, but the show is stolen by Anna Faris. She plays the ditzy blonde Paris-Hilton look-a-like wannabe pop star than Reynolds is managing. Like I said, this is not the best romantic-comedy ever made, but it is laugh-out-loud funny in parts and has a surprisingly sweet heart considering it was made by the guy who directed Cruel Intentions. One for dinner and a DVD, perhaps?

JUST FRIENDS is on general release in the UK and US. There are no scheduled release dates for Continental Europe.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


THE HEART IS DECEITFUL AMONG ALL THINGS is a movie based on the autobiographical novel by the pseudonymous cult journalist J.T. LeRoy. I have never read the original so it is hard to know whether it is LeRoy, or screenwriter/lead actress/director Asia Argento's fault that this flick is so dull. Strange to say, but in a movie containing child abuse, drug abuse, wh*res and religious fanatics, all 90 minutes are a complete drag. Don't be suckered in by the roster of high-octane cameos: avoid at all costs.

THE HEART IS DECEITFUL AMONG ALL THINGS premiered at Cannes in 2004. It is now available on Region 2 DVD and will receive a limited cinematic release in the US on the 10th May 2006.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

MY SUMMER OF LOVE - over-looked DVD pick of the week

There is a famous monologue in the 1990s cult flick TRAINSPOTTING, wherein the hero, Renton, talks about all the entrapments of consumer culture. "Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments." Renton and his mates escape this British consumer drudgery through hard-core drug addiction.

In a sense, the heroine of MY SUMMER OF LOVE, Mona, starts at much the same point as Renton. She is a working-class girl, living in the boondocks of Yorkshire. Life holds no hope, and given her intelligence - an intelligence frustrated by the lack of opportunity surrounding her - she is painfully aware of this. When asked what she'll do with her life, Mona responds, dead-pan, "I'm gonna get a job in an abattoir, work really hard, get a boyfriend who's like... a bastard, and churn out all these kids, right, with mental problems. And then I'm gonna wait for the menopause... or cancer." That quotation should hopefully give you a flavour of both the humour and the underlying despair in this delightful, much under-discussed, flick.

Mona is pushed to the edge of despair in the summer in question when her brother, Phil, converts to evangelical Christianity. Unlike Renton, Mona escapes not through drugs but love - namely with a glamourous, reassuringly knowing "posh" girl who lives in a manor house. The film charts the consequence of this love affair on the three protagonists. For a film whose subject matter is rather dour and problematic, the tone is light, sometimes fey, and a sheer pleasure to watch. Kudos to the director, but especially to the three lead actors who give performances of integrity. In particular, Natalie Press, most recently seen on UK TV screens as Caddy Jellyby in the BBC adaptation of Bleak House, plays Mona as having a combination of fragility and inner strength. I feel she could be the Samantha Morton of her generation. The brother is played by Paddy Considine gives another edgy, intelligent performance

If Ang Lee struggled to get Brokeback accepted for being more than just a "gay cowboy" movie, Pawel Pawlikowski must also struggle to have MY SUMMER OF LOVE accepted as being more than just a "lesb*an coming of age flick." This movie has so much more to it and I strongly encourage you to check it out.

MY SUMMER OF LOVE was shown at the 2004 London Film Fest and went on limited release in the US and Continential Europe in summer 2005. It is now available on Region 2 DVD replete with cast and director interviews.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A COCK AND BULL STORY - Nobody likes a smarty-pants

A COCK AND BULL STORY is an odd sort of film. Far cleverer than the average cinematic fare, and in parts, hysterically funny. And yet you leave the cinema not entirely sure what you have been witness to....

The movie is an attempt to bring the supposedly unfilmable novel, "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy" to life. The novel was written by a village priest, Lawrence Sterne, in the eighteenth century and - remarkably for the time - played fast and loose with narrative structure, as well as dealing with bawdy subject matter. To quote the film, Tristram Shandy was a post-modern book written years before there was anything modern to be "post" about. The novel tells the story of Tristram's parents and uncle, various escapades encountered by each. So much happens, so baggy and chaotic is life, that it is only in the final volume that Tristram finally gets round to being born! In bringing the novel to the screen, the director, Michael Winterbottom, has opted against a straightforward adaptation. Rather he has made a film about making a film about Tristram Shandy. Winterbottom argues that this is truer to the spirit of the novel, while getting over the tricky fact that in a novel of 500 pages, so little happens that you can barely get a half-hour script out of it.

The film-within-a-film structure is a nice idea, and we get some very funny scenes parodying actors' over-weening egos and libidos, but this stuff was done with more wit in David Mamet's superb flick STATE AND MAIN. Moreover, much of the humour depends on the audience knowing who the lead actor, Steve Coogan, is. I imagine the jokes at Coogan's expense will be utterly lost on an international audience. And once again, hasn't this stuff been done better in Ricky Gervais' EXTRAS?

But all this would be excused if the film were genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny. After all, when you've hired the likes of Stephen Fry, Shirley Henderson, Rob Brydon, Dylan Moran and Steve Coogan, expectations are high. The film is very, very patchy. There are sequences that sort of meander and exist and seem to serve no purpose at all. And just when you just about give up on the thing, there is flash of side-splitting, pant-wetting funniness. Seriously, I left the cinema knowing I had a cult classic on my hands. It's all there - basically boring long-winded Britflick interspersed with one-liners so funny, so instantly memorable that the audience was already quoting it on the way out of the cinema. This film is a WITHNAIL AND I for the new millenium, and will no doubt be quoted ad nauseam in student unions for the next fifty years.

A COCK AND BULL STORY was shown at the London Film Festival in November 2005, but goes on release in the UK on the 20th January 2006. The film goes on limited release in the US on the 27th January. There are no scheduled European release dates.

GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS - the most rubbish Cockney accent since Mary Poppins

GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS does not suck as much ass as GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN' but it gets pretty close. It is a film made about British football thugs. The only things you need for that are a) people who can speak with a convincing cockney accent b) the ability to direct fight scenes c) the ability to shoot football. First time feature director, Lexi Alexander, has none of the above. This is NOT because she has hired the hobbit in a lead role - he may be unconvincing as a hooligan but that is rather the point. He plays a naive young Harvard boy who gets suckered into thuggery by his brother-in-law. No, her fault was in casting Charlie Hunnam as the lead Londoner. Hunnam has joined the honoured ranks of Dick van Dyke and Damon Albarn as the worst "mockneys" in history. Worse still, as I said before, she can't shoot football matches - we barely keep track with the ball - and she certainly can't shoot fight scenes. Instead of giving us insight into the social drivers of hooliganism all she does is glamourise it with loving MTV editing, and the kind of music cues that try to persuade the audience that it is cool and noble to punch people for kicks. All in all, the result is neither edifying nor entertaining. So, if you want to watch a movie about a "firm", just rent THE FOOTBALL FACTORY instead.

GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS is available on Region 1 and Region 2 DVD. It gets a cinematic release in France on the 7th June 2006.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE - Best film of 2005

This review is posted by guest reviewer, Nik, who can usually be found here......

David Cronenberg's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is without doubt the best film of the year 2005. It combines suspense, a wonderful but not overly complicated plot, absolutely outstanding acting, good production values and sparing but sensitive dialogue. I seem to have developed a recent reputation for the cynical panning of seemingly worthy movies, especially in my criticism of Woody Allen's underwhelming MATCH POINT, so such a ringing endorsement of a film should rightly been considered exceptional from my pen.

Let's start with the acting. Viggo Mortensen, best known as Aragorn, is brilliant as the mild-mannered Tom Stall. His performance only improves as the plot continues to thicken, and Stall's character takes on new dimensions as his past is revealed. His wife, Edie Stall, played by Maria Bello, is utterly convincing as the small town sweetheart whose life gets turned upside down by the bloody attempted robbery of her husband's cafe-diner. However, it is their performance together as husband and wife that is particularly noteworthy - and especially in a memorable sex scene of such vivid and captivating realism that I was actually embarassed to watch. Their relationship is central to the plot - and so strongly acted as to totally immerse the viewer.

The male and female lead are equally well supported by the psychotic-looking Carl Foggarty, played by Ed Harris - who excels in his role as villain - and Ashton Holmes as Jack Stall - son to Tom and Edie and victim of schoolyard bullying. The way that Holmes handles the character development of Jack - and the way that development is juxtaposed with that of his father - is masterful and shows immense promise for a young actor.

Next, the plot and dialogue both pull off the trick of being hugely powerful but quietly understated at the same time. Whereas many modern movies attempt to compensate for a lack of originality through overly-complex plot or timelines, and sharp, witty dialogue - A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE relies on a fairly simple plot, realistically acted and developed, with dialogue that says enough but not too much, and action in proportions that are strictly necessary. That's not to say it's boring - it's never that - rather the relationships between the characters, and the dark history that the film unfolds sustains an incredible tension in the audience. Noone was talking during this one - you could have heard a pin drop - and that made the action, when it came, all the more thrilling.

Finally, the film is wonderfully shot - the camera gets it just right in every scene - capturing the expression, the mood, the feeling of the moment perfectly. The locations are spot on - and it goes to show that you don't need millions of dollars and endless special effects to make a great movie. It makes such a refreshing change to see a Hollywood picture reject explosions, gun fights and CGI and get back to the basics of capable acting and strong characterisation. It's not a thrill a minute, that's for sure - and the kids won't understand it until they're older - but you get plenty of bang for you buck.

If you've yet to see a HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, look it up right now, and beg, steal or borrow whatever you need to get to your local cineplex and hire a seat. Perhaps I'm just a member of the hysterical conservative right, but this is a truly worthy film, and it saddens me that it will be passed over for awards in favour of lesser films that just happen to be about homosexuals.
It's okay to be gay, but it doesn't mean you deserve an Oscar - and anyway, it's better to be violent.

HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is still playing in a few cineplexes but is also available of Region 1 DVD. It is released on Region 2 DVD on March 27th 2006.

GOLDEN GLOBES - I can't wait till the GOP gets a load of this

When the Golden Globe nominations were released I made a number of predictions about who would win. So, if I had put £10 on each prediction (£110 squid in total) on "red-at-roulette-rules" - (you win, you double - you lose, you lose) how would I have fared? Well, I lost out, winning just £100, which is not brilliant.

I was right in thinking that Brokeback would do well. I correctly called that it would win Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay. I also correctly called that Phlip Seymour Hoffman would win Best Actor (Drama) for Capote, and that Joaquin Phoenix would get Best Actor (Comedy/Musical) for his performance as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line.

However, I was way too cynical about how the gongs would be handed out in the other acting categories. In particular, while I wanted Best Actress(Comedy/Musical) and Best Film (Comedy/Musical) to go to Walk the Line and Best Supporting Actor to go to Syriana, I feared these gongs would go to The Producers and to Pride and Prejudice. In the end, the LA foreign critics, who vote for these awards, were more in line with my thinking that I had expected. The real upsets were Best Actress (Drama) going to Felicity Huffman, of Desperate Housewives fame, for Transamerica. I thought the gong was going to go to Charlize Theron for North Country, but should have gone to Maria Bello forA History of Violence. I also thought that Best Supporting Actress would go to Michelle Wiliams for Brokeback, but instead they gave it to Rachel Weisz for the mediocre The Constant Gardener. Finally, I desperately wanted Best Foreign Film to go that work of cinematic genius, Kung Fu Hustle. Instead it went to some Palestinian flick. Sucks.

So overall, what do we learn from this experience? LA's foreign film critics have better taste than I thought. No doubt, the hysterical conservative right will see a number of the awards as "politically correct" - after all, Capote, Brokeback and Transamerica all feature gay protagonists, The Constant Gardener is a damning indictment of Big Pharma, and instead of voting for Kung Fu, they have gone for arty Middle Eastern politics for Best Film. However, I prefer to think that these films are good old stories, and that the "political correctness" of the themes is just coincidental.

Monday, January 16, 2006


GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN sucks ass more than any rap movie ever made. In the Internet Movie Database poll it has already been voted as the 24th worst movie OF ALL TIME. To put this into perspective, even Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo isn't in the Bottom 25, and that flick is a stain on the face of cinema. GET RICH is a rehash of every dumbass rap cliche compiled into 2 hours of hagiography. Worse still, 50 CENT cannot act. Heck, Fiddy can hardly rap. Can we really believe he is ROCK HARD when he comes up with craziness like "I melt in your mouth girl, not in your hand"? I just can't wait till the Chris Rock HBO special when he punishes Fiddy for this piece of embarassment. The only good thing about this movie is that it also features Terrence Howard - a truly awesome actor who stars in a far better, and indeed award-winning, movie about rap music - Hustle and Flow. As for GET RICH, to quote that poet, philosopher and man of the people, Flavor Flav, "Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't believe the hype".

I refuse to use this blog to publicise release dates for this piece of rancid celluloid.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

WHEN WE WERE KINGS - The Sorrow and the Pity

WHEN WE WERE KINGS is a documentary that covers the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" heavyweight boxing bout between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman. Ali, at 32, was written off by all the sports writers, but by means of his innovative "rope-a-dope" technique pulled off a stunning and career-defining success. The documentary, which deservedly won Best Doc. at the 1997 Oscars, successfully captures the tension of the match, despite the fact that we all know the outcome. Interviews with Norman Mailer and George Plimpton give us an insider view to the Ali camp. But the doc., while focusing on a single match, is, in some ways, more successful than Michael Mann's biopic in showing us the "meaning" of Ali's life. It's all here. We get the scrabbling over Ali's earning power, with a young Don King and members of the Nation of Islam with their snouts in the trough. The racial politics are all there too. Ali contrasts the position of the "rich and lazy" oppressed American blacks with the "poor but dignified and free" Africans. Ali believed he was on a mission from God, and that boxing was just the first step....

All this is great stuff, but the real reason for renting or buying this DVD is that the makers have included the complete footage of both the Rumble in the Jungle, and the fight against "Smokin'" Joe Frasier - the Thrilla in Manilla. Watching the rope-a-dope in its entirety is great entertainment, not least seeing Ali verbally taunting Foreman. Foreman was the man with the most powerful punch in boxing but Ali just sat on the ropes, taking punch after punch, all the time saying to George, "that's just not hard enough, George!" Once Foreman was punched out, Ali turned on him, delivering the knock-out punch and claiming the title for himself, for his fans in Africa, and as Ali believed, for God.
Watching the Thrilla in Manilla, the appreciation of artistry turns to horror. In sharp contrast with the Rumble, the Thrilla was a nasty, vicious, brutal slug-fest. Neither player could dominate the other and it became a matter of who was in better "condition". In other words, over 15 rounds, who could take the most punishment. Now, I am not saying that it was in this match that Ali took the punch that tipped him into illness. However, seeing him take such punishment you feel that you are seeing a god being brought down into disability. The match makes for compelling but uncomfortable viewing - just like a slow-motion car wreck. You feel sick watching it, yet cannot help admiring the display. There is no greater proof that Ali was the greatest of all time, but what a price to pay.

WHEN WE WERE KINGS is available on Region 1 and 2 DVD.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA - A snowflake of a movie

I use the phrase "visually stunning" to describe movies rather often, but in the case of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA it is, once again, apt. I guess it is just syptomatic of a world in which Hollywood regularly throws $90million at blockbuster movies. With all that cash, you have to try really hard not to get wonderful sets, stunning costumes and production design. This movie really is beautiful to look at. The geisha themselves are truly art-forms and the world they inhabit is like a fairy-tale land of dark forests, crystal clear rivers, cherry blossom and marshmallow clouds. True, they must contend with rather petty forms of female bitchiness, but the harsher realities of life are kept at bay. When the US bombs Japan, one geisha is sent to the country by her protector, another staves off starvation by - oh, the hardship! - selling a kimono. When the war is over, they pick up where they left off. True, any street-walker can now be a "geisha" and service the US personnel, but for a true geisha, a rich Japanese protector can still be found.

I sat through all two and a half hours of this movie enraptured by the successful evocation of a dream-world Japan. I am sure it is not authentic, but it is lavish, soothing, lovely all the same. However, as I left the screening, the snowflake melted and the spell was broken. Beauty aside, I had gained nothing. The geisha had sold me the same show as her men: she dances, she entertains, but we never see behind the mask. We are not allowed to see whether she feels guilty about her protector's wife and children, or for disappointing the man who is in love with her, let alone her reactions to the dramatic changes in her country. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is, then, pretty, but pointless. I guess there are worse things to be.

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is on global release

Friday, January 13, 2006

JARHEAD - hoo-ra!

JARHEAD - a new movie about the US experience in the first Gulf War - is not the profound indictment of war and US foreign policy that Sam Mendes, the director, no doubt intended. Mendes specialises in over-hyped, well-shot, but emotionally sterile, pretentious wank-fests. American Beauty is one of the most over-hyped movies in recent memory and I still haven't forgiven the Academy for heaping it with Oscars, disregarding far better movies such as Election, The Insider, Topsy-Turvy, Being John Malkovich, The End of the Affair and The Sweet and Lowdown. What's worse, Sam Mendes has no cinematic humility: at several points in JARHEAD he shows the troops enjoying war movie classics such as The Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now. The glimpses of better movies only heighten our belief that JARHEAD is rather mediocre fair. The reason why I love movies like Apocalypse Now is that they straddle the fine line between condemning war for its futility and stupidity while at the same time indulging in the pornography of war. Yes, yes, we share Martin Sheen's "horror" at Vietnam, but at the same time, what we love is the US choppers coming in to napalm the Vietnamese village, with The Ride of the Valkyries blaring from the speakers. We love Col. Kilgore's cheesy speeches about napalm and surfing.

Which is all a long-winded way of coming to my point. Sam Mendes has failed completely in straddling the fine line between condemnation and pornography. Every part of the film that tries to make a larger political point suffocates in a sea of piety and banality. The first five minutes and the final fifteen minutes of JARHEAD are some of the most ridiculous in cinema: platitutudes passed off as wisdom. Similarly, in the middle of a film we have a segment that should that shock the viewer, but because of the tone of the preceeding fifty minutes, completely fails to make an impact. Where Mendes succeeds is in the pornography of war - and to that end, he has made a movie that is not so much a liberal critique as a boon for the war buffs. With his combination of superb photography and gallows humour, he has created a glamourous, often-times hysterical, war movie. This is helped by superb cameos by Chris Cooper and Dennis Haysbert (President Palmer in 24). The dialogue is witty, the characters larger-than-life, the vintage rap music well-chosen. To sum it up, if you go see this movie, and there is no reason why you should not, you will remember it not for the scenes of dead Iraqis, but for Jake Gyllenhaal shaking his ass in a Santa* G-string. I bet the Republicans are shaking in their boots after *that* savage indictment.

JARHEAD is on global release. *Which makes me wonder if this movie is a second-order victim of Bina007's first law of movies.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

13 (TZAMETI) - over-hyped but still shockingly brilliant in parts

This is a short, sharp, dark, nasty little movie by first-time Georgian director Gela Babluani. So accomplished is the photography that Babluani won the award for breakthrough director at Venice, where the film premiered in September 2005. However, 13 is not as wholly satifying as much of the laudatory critique would have you believe.

The first half hour features young first-generation Georgian immigrant Sebastian who gets, literally, stiffed when his employer dies before he has been paid. Taking a chance, Sebastian picks up a pre-paid train ticket and heads to Paris to await further instructions. So far, so visually interesting, so practically boring. The next half hour sees Sebastian figure out the gig in the countryside. I cannot say much for fear of ruining the suspense. Suffice to say that there were genuine jumps, sharp intakes of breath, and several members of the audience left in disgust. This stuff is intense, and makes a more stark case for nihilism than Woody Allen did in Match Point. The final half hour of the movie sees the story unwind, again shot beautifully, again rather boring. Overall, 13 is rather an uneven film, but the middle segment is so visceral it is worth the price of admission alone. Just don't expect this movie to change your life.

13(TZAMETI) is currently on extremely limited release in the UK and opens in France on the 1st February 2006. There is no scheduled release date for the US, Germany or Austria. For an alternative review, check out Nik's blog. But be warned that it CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

THE NIGHT WE CALLED IT A DAY - ring a ding ding!

THE NIGHT WE CALLED IT A DAY is a corker of a flick, that seems to have been somewhat overlooked by distributors and critics. It's essentially a long-drawn out one joke movie, but I think it has a lot of charm and a good few belly-laughs. It's apparently based on a true story wherein an ageing Frank Sinatra was brought to Australia by an upstart young promoter called Rod Blue for a comeback tour. Frank called an irritating young journo a two-buck whore, which caused all the Australian unions, headed up by a pre-premiership Bob Hawke, to go on strike. So you get two intransigent men who don't say sorry - Sinatra and Hawke, eye-balling it - and this young promoter who is one more cancelled concert away from bankruptcy, caught in the middle. What we get from all this is a nicely observed, frothy slip of a movie. Joel Edgerton is endearing as the chancer, Rod Blue. Melanie Griffith is convincingly ditzy as Frank's squeeze and Rose Byrne is suitably sweet as the straight girl with a crush on Blue. The only weak link is Dennis Hopper, cast as Frank. That's not because Dennis is bad - just that imitating Sinatra is near-impossible. For my money, Ray Liotta did it best in the TV movie, The Rat Pack. But this is more than compensated for by the sheer brilliance of casting David Field (notable as Keithy George in CHOPPER) as a young Bob Hawke complete with insane hair-do, aviator specs and bad suit. Genius. So for any of you looking for a bit of Ol' Blue Eyes nostalgia combined with a conventional heart-warming rom-com, knock yourself out.

THE NIGHT WE CALLED IT A DAY premiered at Cannes 2003 and goes on limited release in the UK this week.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

DEAR WENDY - Billy Elliot goes Gangsta!

DEAR WENDY tells the tale of a bunch of losers in mid-town America. The kids club together and found The Dandies - a club for pacifists who dress well, read poetry..... They also meet in darkened mines, learn everything they can about guns and become crack-shot shooters. Crucially, though, they never fire a gun in "open warfare". The key is to allow the fascination with guns and mastery of them to be empowering rather destructive. And empowered they are. The kids find friendship, community, self-respect - they start playing music again (largely, bizarrely, 60s hits by The Zombies). Their guns become their girlfriends, named, beloved. The kids get laid, get tits, get top hats. Yes, yes. Into this off-whack self-help group steps a black kid called Sebastian. He makes a move on Dickie's gun, his girl and his gang. Is it any surprise that in a movie populated by armed-up, sexually frustrated, jealous teens, it all ends in a gun-fight and tears before bedtime?

This being a Lars von Trier-scripted film, the America of DEAR WENDY is somewhat off whack. Poor white miners can afford to hire black maids and kids drink tea. Perhaps even more bizarre than drinking tea, these US kids sometimes affect a "Brideshead stutter" - mimicking fictional toff and cult figure, Antony Blanche! I mean, seriously, how many mid-western teens have even heard of a novel about a bunch of Catholic aristo repressed homosexuals? Other Trier-isms include the fact that the destructive violence is introduced by a young black kid. And on one level, much as he denies it in interviews, I am sure he would love for this movie to be read as a searing indictment of America's gun culture as well as Bush's foreign policy. A bunch of insecure people armed up and firing first out of fear and misunderstanding. Iraq, anyone?!

But this movie is better than the recent von Trier agitprop. This is because DEAR WENDY is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, one of my favourite directors. He came to notice with the haunting drama Festen, which won, among other things, the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. Handed a dry polemic fuelled by conceptual hocus-pocus, Vinterberg breathed life into the script. The sets are great and shot with intimacy on hi-def video. The kids all invest the film with energy and goofiness. Don't get me wrong - DEAR WENDY is not a dramatic tour-de-force - but it's a perfectly enjoyable coming-of-age story and not as pretentious as the reviews suggest

Best of all, the message of the film, if there is one, is rather the opposite to what the US critics would have you believe. I find the film to be an indictment of liberals who deceive themselves that they are pacifists and immune to the allure of guns, while being as vulernable to gun culture as paid-up members of the NRA. The directer himself was raised in a honest-to-goodness hippie commune in Denmark, where "gun" was a dirty word, and admits to his fascination with guns. Moreover, the movie indicts Dickie, the leader of the gang, for trying to "dandify" Sebastian, the convicted criminal. If there is a moral to this film, it is that liberals should cut the crap, admit how beholden they are to gun culture, and stop talking about redeeming society of violence. The ultimate gunfight is inevitable. America may be damned, but so if everyone else.

DEAR WENDY premiered at Sundance 2005, went on limited cinematic release over the summer and is now available on region 1 and region 2 DVD. The movie cost $8m to make and took $100,000 on theatrical release. This should not be taken as an indication of its quality.

Monday, January 09, 2006

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO - find love, look beautiful, dodge the IRA

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO is another cracking film from Neil Jordan, director of The Crying Game, The End of the Affair, Interview with a Vampire, and the cult-classic, In the Company of Wolves. Covering some of the same thematic territory as The Crying Game - notably political violence and sexual identity - BREAKFAST ON PLUTO is altogether sweeter, and happier in tone. However, alongside the moments of hysterical laughter are interludes of shocking brutality. It is a strength of the film that it can move seamlessly between the two extremes - from brutality to farce - summing up the twin aspects of the "Northern Irish troubles".

The film is an extensive re-working of the novel of the same name by Patrick McCabe, whose work Neil Jordan has previously adapted for the screen. The novel tells the story of Patrick "Kitten" Brady. Kitten was abandoned by his mother on the doorstep of a Catholic Church in Ireland and grew up during the 1970s. All he wants is to be loved and to look pretty. To that end, he goes to London to try and find the mother that abandoned him. On the way, he gets involved with the IRA, the British police, magicians, prostitutes, and other sundry ne'er-do-wells. But he never looses his identity, no matter how brutalising current events.

Cillian Murphy's central perfomance as Patrick "Kitten" Brady is worthy of its Golden Globe nomination. But while his role does provoke belly-laughter, I would have put his performance in the Drama category rather than in the Musical/Comedy category. This is because Kitten is not funny in order to make us laugh. She is funny because if she didn't laugh she would "start crying and never stop". This is as much a story about survival. At the violent hands of the IRA and the British police, Kitten never drops her trans-sexual identity, and the farce of it all shames both the IRA and the rozzers into backing down.

Neil Jordan commented in the Q&A session after the screening that he makes so many films about trans-sexuals because identity was a such a key issue growing up in Ireland. You were defined as a nationalist, a republican, a Catholic, a revisionist - and these tags were inescapable. By contrast, Patrick Brady has created his own identity - which happens to be that of a girl called Kitten. Once in that character, he is never "on" or "off" but inhabits it wholesale. Like Tommy the Clown, he wears his face-paint to the funeral.

In addition, one could read this film as a damning indictment of the war on terror, and on the terrorist project itself. Not that Jordan claims to have made an overtly political film, but he is conscious any films with political over-tones released in the US is now seen as a searing indictment of the Bush administration. Jordan draws a parallel between the culture wars in the US right now and Thatcherite Britain. In the '80s, any vaguely intelligent movie was a searing indictment of ruthless capitalism. He claims his film does not fall into such a narrow political categorisation.

What else is there to like about this film? Plenty. Wonderful production design that takes us back to the '70s on a limited budget. Perfectly constructed cameos from Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson, the Wombles, and somewhat improbably, Bryan Ferry. A break-out supporting actress performance by Ruth Negga as Kitten's best friend. And finally, a great sound-track full of 70s classics - most notably the Harry Nilson song - "You're breaking my heart / You're tearing it apart / So f*ck you." This sound-track is more than just a Cameron Crowe-style nostalgic mix-tape: rather, it is a soundtrack that amplifies the story at every turn.

Not that there aren't flaws with this movie. For a start, the picaresque format sometimes leaves us wondering when we'll get back on track toward Kitten's goal of finding his mum. There are a couple of segments that could have been edited out with little harm to the movie, but then again, it is a brave director, who having hired Bryan Ferry and Stephen Rea, will leave them on the cutting room floor. So, overall, while not up there with Brokeback, there are few better films currently showing at your cineplex. Go check it out. And remember you're a Womble.

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO was scheduled for release at Cannes in 2005, but wasn't ready until Telluride and Toronto in September. It went on limited release in the US in November and is released in the UK on the 13th January. There is no scheduled release date for Germany, Austria or France.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

THE WEDDING CRASHERS - 50% mediocre frat-pack comedy, 50% damp squib chick flick

I really tried to like THE WEDDING CRASHERS. I even watched it a second time on DVD just to give it another chance. I reckon Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are some of the funniest actors working today. In fact, Owen Wilson's role in the fantastic romantic comedy THE WENDELL BAKER STORY helped push it into my movie pantheon. So it saddens me to say that this movie is a real let-down. Not a real stinker, just very very mediocre. Let me break it down for you. The first half is a weak frat-boy comedy. Vaughn and Wilson play two guys who crash weddings to pick up ch*cks. The jokes are okay but not laugh-out loud funny - certainly not as good as anything in OLD SCHOOL. Then, about half way through, the movie loses its nerve and switches into a super-cliche love story. Unfortunately, having attempted to create comedy caricatures for the previous 45 minutes, it is hard to empathise with the main characters when they go into the "love story" phase of the film. Eventually the movie just runs out of steam and not even a cameo from Will Ferrell can save it. Worse still, the movie commits the cardinal sin of hiring the Don that is Christopher Walken and then giving him absolutely nothing to do. All in all, having spent forty million dollars, all the producers have done is guarantee the brief popularity of the phrase "ERRONEOUS!"

THE WEDDING CRASHERS is now available on region 1 and region 2 DVD, but seriously, just rent OLD SCHOOL instead.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

BATMAN BEGINS - a greatful cinema-going universe breathes a sigh of relief

After the crime against cinema that was BATMAN AND ROBIN, the cinema-going universe feared that the Warner Brothers Batman franchise was dead. At the London premiere of his flick GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, George Clooney was still apologising for the debacle, and it has been eight years! So it was with heart-felt thanks that the world received Christopher Nolan's Batman prequel, BATMAN BEGINS. Admittedly, you can never completely get rid of the camp under-tones - this is a full-grown man dressed up in a rubber suit after all - but Nolan has managed to create an authentic, multi-dimensional superhero. Here we have, brilliantly acted, superbly scripted, all the back story you ever need and told with all the psychological authenticity you would expect from the director who gave us the wonderful thriller, MEMENTO.

It's the oldest story in the book. Boy meets girl. Boy wants girl to do dominatrix film.Christopher Nolan gets so much right, and it is so great to have Batman back on his feet, that it is tempting for viewers and critics alike to forgive the movie its flaws. But, there is no denying that while this is a massive improvement on BATMAN AND ROBIN, it is still not up to the "original" Tim Burton 1989 BATMAN. While the key cast members do a great job, especially Gary Oldman as the future Commissioner Gordon, Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow and Christan Bale as Bruce Wayne, you get the feeling that Michael Caine is on autopilot as Alfred the Butler. Katie Holmes is also rather anaemic as the love interest and has reportedly been off'ed for the next movie in the franchise. However, the fatal flaw for me was Christopher Nolan's complete inability to direct action sequences. The mangled, over-edited car chases gave me motion sickness and entirely failed to thrill. In this post-Matrix world, shoddy action sequences are simply unforgiveable. So, while I am hugely indebted to Nolan for resuscitating the bat, Burton's BATMAN remains the high water mark of the franchise.

BATMAN BEGINS is available on region 1 DVD and was released on region 2 DVD this week.

LASSIE - cute but just for kids

Yes, yes, I know. To my eternal shame, I went to see LASSIE. But in my defence, I had to take my god-daughter to the flicks, and in the interests of protecting her cinematic intergrity, Narnia was a no-no. Well, folks, what can I say? It's a great film! Set in post-WW2 we have a straightforward remake of the original Lassie story: poor family sells dog to rich Laird, dog gets homesick, has eventful journey home. There are no insider-jokes for the adults, so unless you have to take a kid, this is not for you. But adults do at least get a stirling cast - notably Peter O'Toole, who is looking more Jeffrey-Bernard-ish every day, Kelly MacDonald and Samantha Morton - and the kind of luscious photography as one would expect from the man who directed Brideshead Revisited. So all in all, if you have a kid and a spare 90 minutes, you could do worse.

LASSIE is on general release in the UK. It goes on release in France n the 6th July 2006. There is no US release date as yet.

Friday, January 06, 2006

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN - Visually stunning love story

Hollywood loves love stories. Take a look at your local cineplex and you'll find romantic comedies, a movie about a love affair between a ten-ton gorilla and a blonde chick, and even a romance between a landscape gardener and a coma victim. But up until Brokeback Mountain, we have never had a honest-to-goodness love story between a gay couple.* So, even if this film weren't any good, there would be a good chance of it getting recognised by the Academy on pure political correctness grounds. It is one of the many paradoxes in Hollywood: studio executives balk from financing ground-breaking dramas that tackle prejudice head-on. Instead, they pile money into sure-fire cash-earning gun-and-titty movies. However, when it comes to casting their votes for the Oscars, time and time again they vote for the very same "brave", "arty" movies.

Anyways, political correctness aside, Brokeback Mountain is among a handful of films that have made 2005 a vintage year for cinema. The movie tells the story of a twenty-year love affair between two cowboys, who cannot reveal their love for fear of violent reprisals. Unlike the heavy-handed movies, The Constant Gardener and Good Night and Good Luck
, Brokeback Mountain does not force its profundity onto the viewer. It tells an evocative story and allows the wider implications to resonate with the viewer rather than hitting us over the head with a civics lesson.

Two things should be noted about this movie. First, the breathtaking photography of Brokeback Mountain itself. The movie was shot by the Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prierto. He has shot a string of fantastic movies, including Amores Perros, Frida, 8 Mile, 25th Hour, 21 Grams and Alexander and surely deserves an Oscar for Brokeback. The second notable feature of this movie is the wonderful performance by Heath Ledger as Ennis Delmar, the shy and naive cowboy who is initiated into homosexuality by Jake Gyllenhaal. With this perfomance, Ledger has declared himself one of the finest actors of his generation.

The only real flaw I can find with Brokeback, and it is a flaw, is the somewhat weak performance of the "other" cowboy. Jake Gyllenhaal leapt to fame in cult-hit Donnie Darko and since then has been, well, underwhelming in mediocre flicks such as The Day After Tomorrow, Jarhead and Proof. In those cases, I assumed that bad directors had failed to extract his talent, but in this case there is less excuse. Where Gyllenhaal's accent fluctuates and his acting looks mannered and obvious, Ledger is a study in subsuming the self to the role. If Gyllenhaal's acting, or lack thereof, prevents Brokeback from being a truly great movie, it is nonetheless a very good one. I urge you to go see it and if possible, on the biggest screen you can find.

Brokeback Mountain premiered at Venice, and has since gone on nationwide release in the US and on limited release in the UK. It goes on general release in the UK on the 13th January 2006, in France on the 18th January and in Germany on the 9th March.

*The cinephiles among you will point to the Oscar-winning drama, Boys Don't Cry, which featured a romance between a straight girl and another girl who pretended to be a boy. I think this doesn't count not because of the sexual niceties of what was going on but because Boys Don't Cry was more political drama than simple love story. In other words, there was far more screen time awarded to beating up the "freak" than to the relationship between the two girls.

The Annie Proulx short story on which Brokeback Mountain was based can be found, in full, here.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

MATCH POINT - a return to form for Woody Allen

I love Woody Allen films, but let's be clear about what we mean by that. I reckon that, crudely speaking, there are 3 types of Allen movie. First, we have the early slapstick movies such as Bananas, and Take the Money and Run. They're hsyterical. Second, we have the terse relationship comedies. By and large, these are the ones that won the Oscars and made his name - movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan. Finally, we have Woody Allen's dark moral investigations - self-absorbed people doing horrible, unforgiveable things. These, I feel are his best movies. So when you decide whether to see MATCH POINT, you have to be clear on what you are getting. This is not a cute 1970s romantic comedy. It is a dark, nasty little film - a film far more in the tradition of searing emotional dramas like Hannah and her Sisters, Husbands and Wives and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Indeed some people have gone so far as to say that it is even better than C&D which is, in my opinion, going too far. (C&D is in my movie pantheon.) Nonetheless, I think that this is a fantastic movie.

MATCH POINT is the first of the three Woody Allen movies set in London. It tells the tale of a poor tennis coach who becomes intimate with an upper-class family, eventually marrying the daughter while bedding the son's actress girlfriend. It tells of his struggle to reconcile his comfortable married life with his passion for the actress. Finally it is a discussion about how justice is or is not afforded to us in real life.

The movie is a complete success in terms of character and plot. So often we hear of movies marketed on the strength of their "surprise ending". Well, here is a final twist that doesn't feel false and makes for compelling viewing. The acting is superlative. The soundtrack is also worthy of note. For once, Woody has moved away from using jazz standards to excerpts from Verdi and Bizet with great effect.

Some critics have complained that Woody presents us with a picture-postcard view of London - all red buses, Houses of Parliament and champagne at the tennis club. I would argue that far from falling into Notting Hill and Love, Actually-style cliche, Woody Allen is deliberately making a contrast between the enviable, almost picture-perfect, lifestyle of the upper class family and the sordid, petty reality. This is exactly what he did in Manhattan. We had Gordon Wills stunning black and white photography of New York, with Gershwin's beautiful score, and in counter-point, lots of neurotic, self-absorbed characters being pathetic.

Should you go see MATCH POINT? Yes. But remember, this is not a quirky date movie. If you just want to see Scarlett Johansen get her kit off, you can rent The Island instead.

Alternatively, for a negative review of this flick, replete with plot spoilers, check out my mate,
Nik's review.

MATCH POINT went on release in France in October. It goes on limited release in the US and on general release in Germany and Austria on the 29th December . It goes on general release in the UK on the 6th January and in the US on the 20th January 2006