Saturday, September 30, 2006

CHILDREN OF MEN - dystopia is now

You see the flesh of Eve that man since Adam has profaned. That body was meant for begettin' children. It was not meant for the lust of men! Do you want more children, Willa? There's a road about five minutes walk from where I live in Central London. I worked there for around four years and I still walk down it most days. In the opening scene of CHILDREN OF MEN, a crumpled, aggrieved Clive Owen walks out onto that street with a cup of coffee in his hand. A bomb goes off shattering the shop front. Clive Owen ducks for cover and then continues on his journey, haltingly. Because in the London of 2027 our fears (and memories, those of us who remember the IRA) are realised: terrorist attacks are commonplace. It is a world where humans have become infertile and the youngest person alive is eighteen. Civil order has broken down around the world and Britain is the last nation still standing. Or rather crouching with its hands over its face as a fascist policeman brings down the boot.

It's amazing just how easy it is to make contemporary London on a wet November afternoon look like P.D. James dystopian future. The crumbling Victorian infrastructure, the half-light and perpetual drizzle, the uncollected rubbish and weary indifference to increasing numbers of armed rozzers. The genius of this movie is not to over-do the differences but insist on the similarities. The incidental cultural references are the same as now - the 2012 Olympics is an icon of the past not the future, but the music, dress and language are the same. When the world's youngest boy is killed, people still have lunatic outpouring of grief, Diana-stylee, and the English sense of humour is still alive and kicking. In fact, this movie, while intelligent and frightening, is also really rather funny. Reassuringly, "Britishly" funny. Now and then though, we are caught off guard by an image that is horrifying because it comes straight from our tele-visual memory. From news footage and documentaries of the Holocaust or the Bosnian war.

In a movie like CHILDREN OF MEN the key task for the film-maker is to create a world which is at once alien and believable. Director, Alfonso Cuarón and cinematographer,
Emmanuel Lubezki succeed by a long chalk. But the movie really works because it creates a series of memorable and believable characters thanks to some brilliant writing and top-notch performances from all the cast. The plot hinges on Clive Owen's character - Theo. He is kidnapped by his ex-wife, Julian, played by Julianne Moore, and asked to help take a miraculously pregnant woman (Claire Hope-Ashitey) out of England and to safety. In this, he is aided by two ageing hippies, played by Michael Caine and Pam Ferris - arguably their best performances on film. The supporting cast is also first class, featuring the ubiquitous Chiwetel Ejiofor as a terrorist and an intense cameo performance from an unrecognisable Charlie Hunnam (that's the blonde teen from QUEER AS FOLK to you and me.) Danny Huston is absolutely chilling as the pragmatic aesthete who sits among his art drinking fine wine while England burns. Among such an accomplished cast it is hard to single out the scene stealer, but it is probably Peter Mullan who takes the biscuit with his darkly comic portrayal of the weed-dealing bent copper, Syd.

I could go on about how superb I think this film is - visually, intellectually, comedically (of all things!) Of course, there are some quibbles. The religious imagery is laid on sporadically thick - especially with the naming of characters and one rather cloying scene near the end. But I think this is a small price to pay for a rare piece of film-making that gets the brain whirring and the pulse racing.

CHILDREN OF MEN is on release in Ireland and the UK. It opens in Japan, Belgium, France, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Finland in October. It opens in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Brazil, Estonia, Chile, Croatia, Italy, Romania, Turkey, Singapore and Mexico in November. It finally rolls into Sweden and the US in December.

Friday, September 29, 2006

CLICK - even The Hoff can't save it

The best clothes are in Berlin, aren't they. Black boots, leather belts. Click your heels, Givens. Click, click, click. Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker (1999) (TV) CLICK is a movie so lazy and depressing that even the presence of schmoove eighties icon, David Hasslehof, cannot save it. It is written by the guys behind the mediocre Jim Carrey starrer, BRUCE ALMIGHTY. (You know, the movie where god, in the form of Morgan Freeman, gave Bruce his godly powers, only for Bruce to zap his girldfriend's tits to make them bigger. Bruce messes his whole life up by making selfish choices and then god sorts it all out again.) Well, these script-writers are such unashamed hacks that they have actually bitten their own style by recycling the concept for Adam Sandler. I don't know about you, but I find it rather depressing that god has been replaced with a universal remote control in this version. Of course, workaholic Sandler uses it for ill - to bypass his family commitments in search of a job promotion - and then the whacky inventor Morgan Freeman, sorry, Christopher Walken, sorts it out. It's all very formulaic. Adam Sandler and his co-star Kate Beckinsale are painfully mediocre. And no doubt it will take a shed-full of cash at the UK box office just on the back of our nostalgia for THE WEDDING SINGER, men wanting to get an eyeful of Beckinsale and the sheer lack of anything better to do. A deeply depressing state of affairs. Was PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE just a dream?

CLICK is on global release.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Disconnected thoughts on WORLD TRADE CENTER

WORLD TRADE CENTER is an earnest film. It handles a shocking event in US history with sensitivity. It features a script by newbie Andrea Berloff that carefully uses testimony from survivors no matter how hackneyed or unintentionally political the results may be. It features the sort of glossy, big-budget, impressive, weighty production design and cinematography that one would expect from a grave Hollywood treatment of this subject. And most of all, it features a career-redefining performance from Nic Cage as one of the fireman rescued from the wreckage of the Twin Towers, as well as strong supporting performances from Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

WORLD TRADE CENTER is NOT an Oliver Stone movie. It does not have a grand visual style - it does not engage in taboo subjects with excoriating insight - it does not challenge us to re-evaluate our relationship with events that have become, for better of worse, part of our pop-culture. And while the use of the true story of the heroic religious marine sticks to the facts, it undoubtedly creates a political spin to the movie that seems rather crass and, bizarrely, at odds with Oliver Stone's previous work. Indeed, in this movie I fear that Stone has finally been what his critics have always accused him of being - irresponsible with history - in focusing on the story of the gung-ho US marine.

WORLD TRADE CENTER is not a movie that I think belongs on the big screen, despite its good intentions and largely good performances. I think it belongs on The Hallmark Channel. It may be all 100% true and earnestly transmitted to the audience, but the conversations between the two firefighters and the visions they experience seem to me - when projected onto a movie screen - incredible and manipulative.

It is, to me, incomprehensible that a film-maker should come at 9/11 from this angle. For me, it is up there with SCHINDLER'S LIST as a truly bizarre film. I find there to be something sociologically interesting but nonetheless depressing about the choices that Stone and Spielberg have chosen to make. To me, 9/11 is about an act of brutal violence and innocent civilians being murdered. It's about bad things happening. To focus on the handful of people who were rescued - on the small glimmer of light - just seems dishonest. And I know my reaction is perverse, because after all these are true stories and deserve to be heard too. But I can't get rid of the sneaking suspicion that Oliver Stone has handed us a security blanket when what I, for one, really want is for someone to shake me up and help me make sense of what happened.

WORLD TRADE CENTER is on release in Canada, the US, Italy, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Israel, Portugal, Thailand, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Brazil, Spain, Turkey and the UK. It opens in Australia, Slovenia, the Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Sweden, Japan, Greece, Italy, Argentina and Hong Kong in October. It opens in Egypt, Chile and Vietnam in November 2006.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

ONCE IN A LIFETIME - the Purse of The Black Pearl

You can throw a lot of charges against ONCE IN A LIFETIME: THE EXTRA-ORDINARY STORY OF THE NEW YORK COSMOS. The original UK cinematic release was a shameless cash-in on World Cup hysteria. Plus, dubbing your own doc an EXTRAORDINARY story is pretty shameless. And then there was the fact that the press for the doc pimped the name of Pelé - La Perola Negra - to drum up interest in this slice of footballing trivia. That's pretty much like transforming a movie about a football team that was destined to become a Trivial Pursuits question into a must-see for all serious soccer fans.

Shameless marketing aside, though, this is a brilliant documentary. It takes us back to New York City in the 1970s, when football players had long hair and side-burns, drank Chevas Regal, smelt of Brut, schtupped airline stewardesses in the bathroom on the way to league matches and posed nude for gay porn magazines. It was an innocent time: when football players were skilled tacticians who jogged up and down the pitch in straight lines, rather than buff stamina-machines covering the pitch like a bad case of acne. It was the sort of ass-backwards world where a stroppy successful record producer could get his parent company to buy him a pro-soccer team full of the biggest stars from Pelé to The Kaiser to Giorgione to Pythagoras in Boots in order to keep him at his mixing desk! (Free gift to any Yanqui readers who can e-maiil with the correct identity of those players!)

So this documentary is about more than football - although fans of Pele won't be sorry - it's also a macabre story about how American Big Media tried to create a football phenomena with phat cash and little else. As a movie, it's at its most funny when you just sit back and listen to the Yanks talk about Pay-Lay or worse P'Lay. I mean, ye gods, if you can't pronounce the name of the Black Pearl, how do you expect to be able to play him to his full potential?!

Of course it all ended in tears. Big names don't always rub along, especially when one of the stars is sharing trousers (ho ho) with the manager. (You couldn't make this stuff up.) Americans had no patience for a game that didn't stop for a breather every five minutes. And as Chelsea are finally finding out, you can't build a successful team out of a bunch of over-paid prima donnas. More to the point, you don't create an iconic sports team from the top down. They emerge from decades of grass-roots support - from youth leagues and junior teams, trading on local rivalries, giving young disenchanted men the chance to beat each other up of a Saturday afternoon...

My own theory is that in America there will never have proper grass-roots support for football because all the rough young men have guns. Who needs a Firm in Compton? If you're armed to the teeth, a friendly bottling must seem rather quaint. That doesn't mean that twenty years worth of soccer scholarships later, the US won't kick Italy's ass in the World Cup. But that's another story...

Of course, if you love football, you need to see this picture. It's available on Region 2 DVD this week and comes out on Region 1 DVD on October 3rd.

Monday, September 25, 2006

ZIDANE – a 21st CENTURY PORTRAIT - the clue is in the title

ZIDANE – a 21st CENTURY PORTRAIT is an odd sort of film. It’s basically like watching the full 90 minutes of a league football match on Sky Sports but using the Player Cam to focus only on Zidane. At the same time, you get the odd existential muttering from Zidane on audio, plus a cool-as-Professor-007 soundtrack by Mogwai. I have to say that I am a great fan of Zidane – to my uneducated eye, he is one of the greatest footballers ever to have graced the pitch. The question is whether this larger than life player-cam gives us any new insight to his greatness. I am doubtful. In the light of the World Cup final, I would have loved to see a documentary focusing on Zidane’s life in football and exploring how he felt about all the prejudice he has had to deal with. But this is not that film. It is, after all, an art installation, as the title suggests, rather than a conventional documentary. And, I suspect that it is far better suited to an art gallery that to a commercial movie theatre.

ZIDANE – a 21st showed at Cannes 2006 and has since been on release in France, the UAE and Japan. It opens in the UK on Friday.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

CLERKS II - Interspecies Erotica

This review is brought to you by guest reviewer, Nik, who can normally be found here:

Nikolai 3:16 - For I so loved Clerks that I spent my only begotten Saturday evening watching the sequel, that whosoever readeth this blog shall not waste their money but save 2 hours of their life.

Actually, that's slightly unfair, but let's start with the downside, and there's a big downside:

It's no wonder that most of the cast from the original Clerks never got a job in acting again, until this sequel. Clerks II is poorly acted - so poorly that, even in the few places where the script isn't sweaty monkeyballs, it actually makes you want to look away. But don't worry too much about that, because the number of times that the script and dialogue struggle to lift themselves out of the mire sufficiently for the audience to notice the terrible acting are strictly and skillfully minimised by the author.

The "plot", so called, that writer/director Kevin Smith tried to inject into Clerks II in between the comic sequences was so laughably awful, so patronisingly predictable, and so execrably executed that it literally made even the most hardcore Clerks fans amongst us squirm in their seats. Indeed, the "plot" actually seemed to spoil and dull, at least in part, the comic sequences that proceeded it - since rather than making us love the main protagonists more and empathise with their plight - it managed to stir antipathy and distaste at their actions. To make it worse, the film was nothing to look at - the production values were zero - the camera was skewed and occasionally out of focus - this was an amateurish job. Some might say that this was in honour of the original Clerks - but it wore thin.

But having savaged almost everything important about Clerks II, I must admit, there is a plus side. For Clerks fans at least, this was a funny film. Bina007 and I were laughing hard most of the way through - although it should be noted that Professor007, who had never seen or heard of Clerks before, was far less impressed with the comedy. Sure, there were sequences and jokes that simply didn't work (e.g. "One ring to rule them all") - and some that weren't capitalised on at all that could have been explosive (e.g. "pussy trolls") but the sheer number of gags - the weight of comedy - managed to see this film through until the end.

As well as that, the homo-erotic tension between our two heros Dante and Randall was much more pronounced than in the first film - and though I'm sure Professor007 was cringing in his seat - Bina and I thought it was rather cute. They actually made a nice couple, and it would have been sweet to see them kissing at the end, although of course, for the sake of a 15-rating I'm sure, that didn't happen. But happily, the 15-rating didn't stop them from putting beastiality, breasts, ass-to-mouth, drugs and liberal sprinklings of vaginal humour in there. Which is what I paid my 20 bucks to see.

But readers, as much as I loved Clerks - Dante, Randall, Jay and Silent Bob - I can't in all good conscience recommend this film to any but those who saw and loved the first film. It's not that there are that many in-jokes in the sequel - it's just that you already have to know and love the characters, their situation, their idiosyncracies, to really appreciate this movie. Clerks II simply doesn't contain any characterisation, or scene setting, or decent plot - so someone coming to this film fresh, as Professor007 did, will be totally unable to properly appreciate it.

So if like Bina and I you loved Clerks, go and see Clerks II, it'll pass the time and give you some hearty and hard fought laughs. Otherwise, save your money for the destined to be epic "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan". Personally I can't wait!

CLERKS II is already on release in the US, Australia, Israel, Spain, the UK and Iceland. It opens in Portugal, Russia and Italy later this month and in the Netherlands in October. It opens in Hungary in November and Belgium and France in January 2007

Bina007's Guide to Movie Theatre Etiquette...

Far be it for me to elevate cinema into a Bayreuth closed-doors, hard wooden-benches martyrdom. If you really hate people, just buy a big-ass TV and watch movies at home. But still, is it too much to ask to go to a cinema and simply be able to watch a movie undisturbed? Unlike many of my friends, I don't want to rule the world, or at least govern the UK, but if I ruled movie theatres, this is how it would be done:

1. You can do anything you like while the adverts are running. This can be 25 minutes worth of bilge if you are in a Central London Odeon, so knock yourself out. Makes phonecalls, talk to your mates, make everyone stand up so you can get to your seat.

2. As soon as the main feature starts, NO-ONE should be allowed in the theatre. But as they are, they should at least be polite. Let me give you an example. I am sitting in a movie theatre to see a Bollywood movie. The first twenty rows are completely empty. The back row, which I am sitting in, is fairly full. But there is a space to my right and two space to my left. A family comes in late and the mother says to me "Shift up!". Not, "Do you mind moving one along?" Ordinarily I would have moved, but the gruff rudeness of this command pissed me off, especially when there were rows of empty space in front. Seriously.

3. No-one should be allowed to talk to anyone else. Laughing, gasping with horror, retching etc. are all fine. It's part of the audience experience we all love. And if you are the only two in a screening then all bets are off. But save your high-powered intellectual dissection of the craft till after the show, you moron. Nothing you have to say is so clever and world-changing that it won't survive the wait. I had this with two French guys sitting next to me in the Destricted screening - going on about modern art really loudly. They looked very offended when I asked them to be quiet. Like I had paid to listen to their art-school drivel. I've also sat in movies where one person explains the whole thing to the person they came with blow by blow. The mind boggles.

4. Mobile phone signals should be jammed. I just can't understand why anyone (that's you Nik and Katya) need to send a text or make a phone call during a movie screening. Whatever you have to say just isn't that important. If you were that important you would have a secretary field your calls while you were in the theatre. And you wouldn't be in the theatre anyway. I seriously just do not get why you would spend over ten quid and then not look at the screen. And I find nothing more annoying that seeing little white squares of light in my peripheral vision.

The ultimately insane thing I ever experienced was when a group of teenagers, who could easily have been my idiot younger cousins, came in late to a J-horror movie in the Trocadero. They sat in groups of 3 or 4 dotted around the cinema (which was about 1000 sq ft) and proceeded to call each other on their mobile phones. Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ! I actually fear for the future of this country if we are breeding kids like this. The pay as you go phonecard really is the death of civilisation.

So, all I want to say is this: people, have some courtesy. Treat others as you would be treated. And remember, if you wouldn't do it during sex, then you shouldn't do it in the movie theatre. And if you do make phone calls, talk crap about French philosophy and hassle strangers during sex, then please, please, just get a good DVD rental service.
Thank you.

TRUST THE MAN - harmless date movie for people with nice handbags

TRUST THE MAN is a film that I really rather enjoyed in a mild sort of giggly way despite its obvious and manifest flaws. It's a slushy romantic-comedy set in Woody Allen's New York. By which I mean that it's the kind of New York where people have cool, artsy jobs - like being an actress or writing a book - and hang out in Sardis or Marc Jacobs. It focuses on two couples, both of which contain a sensible nice woman and a flaky, mid-life crisis-y man. And the idea is that the men have to go off and be flaky before redeeming themselves with a slushy plea for love at the end. So, the movie has a deeply formulaic and slushy story-line and one of the most trite, plagiarised endings I have ever seen. But there is some stuff to like here. While the plot arc is conventional, some of the dialogue by writer-director Bart Freundlich is witty in a low-key giggly sort of way. It also stars a bunch of great actors - not least Freundlich's wife, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, David Duchovny and Maggie Gyllenhaal. There are also two scene-stealing cameos from Ellen Barkin and James Le Gros. Overall, what to say? Is this a must-see movie? No. Will it have you rolling in the aisle with laughter? No. But is it a pleasant way to pass an hour or so? Yes. It's a harmless date movie for people with nice hand-bags.

TRUST THE MAN was released in the Israel and the US in August. It is currently on release in the UK and Denmark and opens in Brazil next Friday. It opens in Taiwan, Australia and Italy in October and in France in November 2006. It opens in Argentina in Argentina in January 2007.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

KEANE - brilliant method acting but ultimately alienating

KEANE is sadly not a movie about the brilliant central mid-fielder. It is, in fact, an ultra-low budget movie about a mentally ill man called William Keane, living in contemporary New York. Keane is played by Damian Lewis (the ginger from Band of Brothers) in a tour-de-force of minutely observed acting. And writer-director Lodge Kerrigan puts the audience smack in Keane's face. The movie is shot in an uncomfortable, claustrophobic hand-held close-up. We are right with Keane as he harangues commuters as to whether they have seen his daughter who was allegedly abducted six months previously. We follow Keane as he gets drunk, takes class A drugs, has casual sex and befriends a mother and her daughter who are living in his decrepit motel. His motives for befriending the young girl, played the precociously talented Abigail Breslin, are concerning.

Keane is not the sort of movie that you are supposed to enjoy. It is, I think, designed to make you empathise with people marginalised in society - and in particular a man who has become mentally ill through grieving....or whose grief is part of his mental illness. And the acting really is tremendous on the part of Lewis - a sort of actor's guide to utter conviction. My problem with the film is rather the writing of the part of the mother. She takes decisions that I find implausible and rather "Hollywood". For instance, she cautiously accepts a hundred dollars from Keane to help pay the rent. All well and good. She is suitably suspicious of his motives. Then she invites him to share take-out. Okay. Then he asks her to dance, as if we are at some 1950s tea-dance! And she says yes! Now, please, do we really think this sort of exchange is plausible? So, as hard as Lewis works to keep us with Lewis, the writing kept taking me out of it. Added to which the verite style is bloody hard work.

To my taste, I am far more likely to empathise and have my attention wrapt by a movie like TIDELAND or SPIDER, that takes me not just bang-smack in the face of a mentally ill person but actually inside his or her mind. To that end, I found Kerrigan's movie rather limited.

KEANE showed at Toronto 2004, Cannes and London 2005. KEANE has been on release on Region 1 DVD since March 2006. It received a limited cinematic release in France, the US and Greece in 2005 and opened in the UK yesterday.

Friday, September 22, 2006


THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA started life as an infuriatingly trite novel by Lauren Weisberger documenting her trials as assistant to Anna "Nuclear" Wintour - editor of American Vogue. The novel no doubt filled the vacuum in the heart of thirteen year-old girls who dream of one day owning a Gucci handbag all of their very own. Accordingly it sold in bucket loads. I found the novel to be infuriating. The heroine is a whiny wannabe journalist who thinks she is above fashion journalism but it just as cut-throat and get-ahead as the rest of us. Her nemesis - the she-devil boss of the title is merely a string of cutting one-liners and seemingly sadistic demands. Admittedly, Weisberger lets her heroine fall from grace. But the plot machinations are so melodramatic as to be ludicrous and the ultimate message is not that you should work hard at something worthwhile, but that you should screw everyone, write a book, make a killing and thus clamber back onto your high horse.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA the movie is similarly trite, except it doesn't even have the balls to convey a proper rise-fall-redemption arc. The heroine's primary-school teacher geek boyfriend becomes a cool, crumped chef in the Village. Her best friends are more together and her family less emotionally blackmailing. Oh, it goes in all sorts of small ways - the heroine of the movie is allowed to succeed in ways that the heroine of the novel is not.

The only change for the better in the movie is that the screenwriters have taken great pains to make Meryl Streep's evil boss humane. My god, she even cries! Well, I wonder if this was a genuine decision on how to improve the plot or whether they just decided that Meryl does a good break-down. (Didn't they do the same thing in THE HOURS - giving Meryl a break-down that her gay friend had in the novel?) Seriously though, Meryl Streep gives a fantastic performance that just about elevates this post-Sex and the City trash into watchable - maybe even entertaining - material. She is ably assisted in this task by Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt who both turn in decent comedic performances. As for our heroine, played by Anne Hathaway, I am on record as saying that I really like Hathaway
as an actress, but I wish she would do more work that challenged her.

Other than that, this is a pretty sloppy affair. High gloss for sure, but sloppily thought out. What's their message? That it's impossible for a woman to have a family and a career? That a woman has to be bitchy and back-stabbing to survive in the corporate world? What kind of crap is this? It's also pretty sloppy in the editing. There is an exchange between our heroine and a seductor on the steps of a museum after a benefit that clearly refers to a conversation that has been excised.

So, all in all, this movie is pretty unedifying. In fact, the message of the film is fairly discouraging and would dismay any genuine career woman. Yes, yes, Meryl Streep is fantastic, but that doesn't quite stop this from being a deeply infuriating cinematic experience.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is already on release in the US, Puerto Rico, the, Philippines, Singapore, Israel and Hong Kong. It opens in Brazil, Denmark, France, Argentina, Australia and Thailand in September. It opens in Italy, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Slovenia, the UK, Finland, Latvia, Spain, Turkey and the Ukraine on October 5th. It opens in Germany, Greece and the Netherlands on October 12th and in Iceland, Sweden, Belgium, Estonia later that month. Finally, it opens in Lithuania, Egypt and Japan in November.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

DIRTY SANCHEZ - vomit-inducing and not in a good way

Again, to state the blindingly obvious, I am not the target demographic for this movie. Added to that, I had to travel to bloody Zone Three to see it - the cinematic equivalent of Siberia. Me and public transport are not pretty. Anyhoo, for all our Yankee cousins, a word of explanation. DIRTY SANCHEZ are the Welsh equivalent of the MTV JACKASS boys except significantly dumber and more inane. The concept (to call it a plot would be too much) is that the devil has challenged these boys to enact certain disgusting dares - one for each deadly sin. That's it. There is much eating, sucking, etc of various bodily fluids. I felt really repulsed. More repulsed than I felt during the tap-dancing scene in ELIZABETHTOWN. On a serious note, if you are reading this, and even if you think you are into seeing grown men eat bags of lipo-sucked fat, you should check out the website (link above) or some clips from youtube. Because you would not want to go into this stuff unawares.

DIRTY SANCHEZ opens in the UK tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

DESTRICTED - Smut! (Part Two)

DESTRICTED is the kind of film that makes you proud to be British. But it's not the kind of film that I want to watch again.

The basic idea is that since the invention of the VCR and latterly the internet, porn has been taken out of public spaces and into the home. Kids grow up watching porn and to a large extent their expectations of sex are based on porn rather than garnering real life experience. The VCR and internet also made porn big business - sitting alongside mainstream Hollywood in So-Cal. The weird part is that while lots of us have sex and use porn and feel happy in our liberal environment, it is still bizarrely difficult to have an adult discussion about the relationship between sexuality and porn. The classic example is when a publicly funded museum in the US put on a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective in the late '80s. Senator Jesse Helms hounded out the curator, called off the exhibition and essentially shut down the National Endowment of the Arts. All because he couldn't tell the difference between art and smut. So, you could say that we are long over-due an unfettered intelligent discourse about the All Porn All the Time culture that we live in and the impact that has on how we understand our own sexuality.

To that end, three English movie producers got together and said, let's ask seven modern artists to submit short films about this subject, and we'll stitch them together and make a film and call it DESTRICTED coz that's a witty title. It will be shown in museums but also reclaim public spaces. We will provoke a much needed discourse! Bravo!

Sadly, the results don't live up to the neat idea or the grand good intentions. The first movie is a bizarre short called HOIST by Matthew Barney. It graphically depicts a guy covered in mud and moss with a beet stuck into his arse getting himself off by rubbing against the moving parts of an agricultural machine. Presumably this has an Important Meaning. It was just odd. Not sexy. Not uncomfortable. Just a bit naff and boring. Then we get a very funny film from Marina Abramovic called BALKAN EROTIC EPIC that sends up Balkan sexual myths with live action footage and explicit cartoons. There are lots of unattractive old Balkan women and men running around exposing themselves or masturbating into the ground. As an added bonus, Marina's dead-pan narration does sound very Borat.

After all this pointless exposure it is rather a relief (ha ha!) to get to Richard Prince's short. Prince specialises in plagiarising other people's work. This is NOT Ripping People Off. It is Questioning Authorship apparently. So, in HOUSE CALL, Prince just takes a camera and photographs a TV screen showing a 1970s soft-core porn flick. Horny naked blonde chick calls in the doctor, nudge nudge. Like I said, it was finally rather nice to see reasonably straight-forward porn. And for this segment, I rather question the BBFC granting this movie an 18 certificate. Anyways, on to by the far the most witty and short segment called SYNC. Here Marco Brambilla basically rapidly cuts together scenes from a lot of different porn films from meeting to various positions to money shots. It's quick, funny and does more than any of these films to highlight the automation and alienation of modern sex.

Next up is IMPALED. This is the longest segment and is the funniest and most interesting on an intellectual level. The infamous
Larry Clark interviews a bunch of hapless teens for a job in a porn film. He selects one, the guy then interviews a bunch of actresses and then he gets to it with the Lucky Gal. The interviews are fascinating. A lot of the guys feel inadequate both in terms of size and experience because their only benchmark is porn. Moreover, when they say they like certain things, it is not clear whether that is a genuine or "manufactured" desire. Great stuff.

The penultimate film is literally a pile of pretentious wank called DEATH VALLEY by Sam Taylor-Wood. Man goes into empty scrub land. Man wanks. End. Once again it's all about MEANING, but to me it just seemed rather dull and obvious.

And finally, we have French provocateur, Gaspar Noe, with his rather obvious movie called WE FUCK ALONE. Here, he shows us the alienation of modern sex by having various people masturbate with various sexual aids in separate rooms while nursery music and a baby crying fill the sound-track. It reminded me of that art-school movie that Daniel Clowes satirises in GHOST WORLD. I expected better from Noe.

So there we have it. A film with a noble aim, and I am very happy that it can be shown in the UK without death threats being sent through the mail or the TATE having its funding removed. But, as laudable as the project is, with the exception of the Larry Clark segment, there is nothing new or revelatory here.

DESTRICTED showed at Sundance and Cannes 2006. It is currently on apparently sporadic and super-limited release in the UK but appears on DVD in a couple of weeks. You'll be able to buy it in the Tate Modern gift-shop apparently.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE - Smut! (Part One)

DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE is a deliberately so-bad-it's-funny movie that is all about hot chicks in bikinis using wire-fu badly to kick the shit out of big buff guys. They do this is an international fight-off staged by an ageing hippie who turns out to be an wacko megalomaniac (who knew?!). It's all improbable script, wooden acting, unimaginative lame fight scenes and Bond-like desert island. However, I am told by those who know that a lot of the characters from the video game are there and the "bouncing boob" quotient is also sufficent. There are scenes with wet t-shirts and volleyball. Clearly, I am not the target demographic for this flick and I went to see it coz I lost a bet, but even *I* found it amusing enough for the eighty-five minute duration. As smut goes, this is actually rather mild, and one suspects that your average thirteen-year-old would get better value for money from a copy of Hustler. But what do I know?

DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE is on release in Australia, Italy, the UK and opens in Hong Kong and Turkey on Friday. It opens in Poland on Sep 29th, Germany on Oct 5th, Sweden on Oct 13th, the USA on Oct 20th, in Brazil and Spain in November and in the Netherlands and Estonia in December. DOA finally opens in Belgium on Jan 3rd 2007.

Monday, September 18, 2006

THE NIGHT LISTENER - an eighty minute thriller that's still too long

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?THE NIGHT LISTENER attempts to be a sinister thriller but the spookiest thing about it are the opening credits, with hints of human limbs in the delicate unfolding of the kaleidoscope above the titles. The premise is captivating: a famous novelist broadcasts short stories to the nation that tell of his real-life romance with his HIV positive lover. When the lover leaves him, his stories dry up. Then, his publisher gives him a breath-taking first novel by a fourteen year-old boy. The novel is an autobiography that tells of sexual abuse. A telephone relationship develops between the boy, his adoptive mother and the author, but the author's lover suspects that the boy and his mother are one and the same.

The first twenty minutes of the movie are densely packed and well-written. All this information - and more - is conveyed to the viewer. We are hooked on the mystery - and excited by the themes: where is the line between fantasy and reality for the author and the people he encounters? And, despite being based on an old short story by Amistead Maupin, the movie is also rather topical given the recent scandals in the US involving authors fictionalising their own supposed autobiographies. But the movie peters off - it entirely fails to expound on the themes or give us the requisite spooky jolts necessary for this genre. I couldn't help but think that within this slender film (just 80 minutes long) there is an absolutely cracking half hour "Tales of the Unexpected" TV episode waiting to come out. Moreover, the movie features a wonderfully light, giggle-inducing performance from Sandra Oh, and a tremendous performance from Robin Williams as the author. He truly cuts his cloth to suit the character - there is no manic comedy but seeming-genuine heart-break and bewilderment. It is a shame that such a performance should be wasted on such inconsequential material. Another disappointment is the rare fact of a mediocre performance from Toni Colette.

THE NIGHT LISTENER played Sundance and Berlin 2006. It is currently on release in Canada, the US, Israel and the UK. It opens in Singapore on September 28th and in Turkey on October 8th.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

BLACK DAHLIA - in which we are asked to believe that Hilary Swank is a femme fatale

Let us be very clear. THE BLACK DAHLIA is a sumptuous film. Dante Ferretti's production design and Vilmos Zsigmond's photography perfectly capture post-war Los Angeles. The costume design is also brilliant. Scarlett Johanson is superbly scaffolded with setting lotion, red lipstick and pleated pants.

But this movie is a tedious experience. It is also a sad experience for anyone, who like me, loves film-noir, loves Brian de Palma, has a fondness for Aaron Eckhart and a passion for grand-scale film-making.

What makes film-noir great? Powerful men with a neat line in biting jargon playing and being played by beautiful but messed up women....Byzantine plots where everything happens and nothing is solved....the seductive glamour of the seedy LA underworld contrasting with the bland apparent glamour of the surface....transgressive sex, heavy drug use, crime and politics, always politics, but always done with style and grace. These are the factors that are, to a greater or lesser extent, present in all noir classics - from THE BIG SLEEP to L.A. CONFIDENTIAL to CHINATOWN. For me, noir is about subversion. Subversion of The American Dream, of studio mores, of the MPAA, of bland, mediocre, mass-market "entertainment"......

These are the factors that are conspicuous by their absence in this new tedious, wasteful, frustrating movie. Let's start with the characters. Now, de Palma lucks out with
Aaron Eckhart. He plays a typically noir character. He's hopped up on Benzedrine and neglecting minor cases to hunt down the vicious killer of The Black Dahlia - a young wannabe actress who got sucked into lesbian porn flicks and ended up disembowled in a ditch. Mia Kershner is also touching - playing the Dahlia in flashes of old audition tapes as well as the infamous porn flick. Her portrayal of bravado and vulnerability is really quite moving. If only we had seen more of it.

But everyone else in the movie is either mis-cast or under-cast. For instance, Eckhart's partner is played by
Josh Hartnett who is decorative but hardly de Niro. Compare his low-wattage, deadpan to the point of deadwood performance in THE BLACK DAHLIA with Russell Crowe in LA CONFIDENTIAL. Both play naive cops who have to lead us through a maze of corruption. Crowe is a fire-cracker - emotionally involving us in the story. Hartnett lets all these crazy events and characters slide over his waxed chest like so much baby oil. The chicks are similarly hopeless. Scarlett J is - once again - decorative but uninteresting - an amazing feat considering she plays an ex-hooker turned home-maker. Who knew she could deliver a flat sex scene. But her performance is Oscar-worthy compared to Hilary Swank's turn as a moneyed bisexual Dahlia look-a-like. I admire Swank tremendously as an actress, but her choice of accent is forced and uneven and, sadly, it is just a fact of life that she simply does not look like a femme fatale. Scarlett J would have been infinitely better in this role. And let's not get on to Fiona Shaw. Her performance as Swank's dotty mother is so completely absurd that it undermines the entire movie - especially in the denouement.

Casting aside, this is also an exceptionally badly written movie. For the first hour, it rambles along having little apparent purpose and certainly very little to with The Black Dahlia Case. I kept waiting for the big "wow" moment, when it would just kick in a gear, but that never happened. However, there was a rather incredible and quick exposition at the end of the film - entirely unsatisfying in its neatness and absurdity. If in traditional noir everything happens but nothing is solved, in THE BLACK DAHLIA nothing happens but everything is solved.

Is there any reason at all to see this movie? YES YES YES. To see k d lang's superlative performance as a nightclub singer. Just don't expect anything else.

THE BLACK DAHLIA played Tokyo and Venice 2006 and is now playing in the UK and US. It opens in Portugal and Taiwan next week and in Slovenia and Italy the week after. October sees THE BLACK DAHLIA open in Gerany, Greece, Brazil, Japan, Hong Kong, Iceland and Spain. The movie opens in France and the Netherlands in November and in Sweden in December.

Friday, September 15, 2006


TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY is another one of those wacky seventies-feel comedies from the makers of ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY. Once again, it stars the fantastically talented Will Ferrell as a decent but somewhat vain over-achiever who has a bit of a life-crisis but then crawls back up to the top a better man. This time, he plays a NASCAR racer called Ricky Bobby. He comes complete with a Southern accent, a blonde bimbo wife, two hideous children, a loser dad, a cool-ass sidekick and an evil enemy.

The weird thing about TALLADEGA NIGHTS is that while its script is always on target and you can sort of understand why the lines should be funny, somehow you don't laugh that much. Perhaps it's because all of Ferrell's comedy turns seem like weaker echoes of absolutely hysterical scenes in similar movies. It IS funny when he crashes his car and runs around in his underwear and a helmet thinking he's on fire when he's not. But not AS funny as the scene when he leads a nude conga line of one in OLD SCHOOL. Which brings us to the other weird fact which is that the few bits of TALLADEGA NIGHTS that are laugh-out loud funny are almost exclusively related to
John C Reilly's performance as the side-kick, Cal. As far as I am concerned, Reilly is a comic revelation, and any time he is not on screen (most of the middle section of the film) the film becomes boring.

So, there is some stuff that is funny but in a sporadic, weak way. And then there is the stuff that is plain boring - like the whole redemptive section half way into the movie where Ricky Bobby bonds with his errant father and mother and falls for a sweet girl. All are played by fine actors, not least
Amy Adams as the chick, but the parts and script are simply under-cooked.

Finally, we have the stuff that is actually painful to watch. Mostly this is to do with Ricky Bobby's corporate sponsors. The husband is played by Greg Germann who was brilliantly acerbic in the godawful ALLY McBEAL, but again has not been helped by a weak script. The wife is played by Molly Shannon. She hams it up as a sexually frustrated, alcoholic drunk, no doubt on the director's instruction. It's horrible to watch. But not quite as awful as Sasha Baron Cohen's portrayal of the gay, French racer who is Ricky Bobby's nemesis. The accent is disastrously unfunny, and proves that not just any idiot can roll up and do a Peter Sellars.

Overall, though, TALLADEGA NIGHTS is not actively bad. It's just not all that good either. In the move from wigged-out cameo appearances to leading man, Will Ferrell's broad comedy has lost some of its freshness and the wackiness has been blanded out for mass market consumption. Sad to say, but I laughed more at Al Gore's jokes in
AN INCOVENIENT TRUTH. A frightening thought indeed. My suggestion is that you just rent TALLADEGA on DVD and watch the gag reel that comes with end credits. In those three minutes you get more laughs that in the rest of the movie combined.

TALLADEGA NIGHTS is on release in the US, UK, Spain, Italy, Estonia, Kuwait and Hungary. It opens in Australia, Portugal, New Zealand, Iceland and Sweden in September. It opens in Argentina, Germany, Slovenia and France in October. It opens in Brazil, Israel, Slovakia, Ecuador, Colombia, Turkey and Belgium. Finally, it rolls into Egypt and the Netherlands on December 7th.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH makes an impact even if you think you are already convinced

I am so tired of watching agitprop documentaries that make really obvious cases for liberal causes that I already believe in. Yes, yes, ENRON was run by a bunch of narcissistic fraudsters and Big Oil is evil, but do these film-makers really believe that they are preaching to anyone but the converted? By definition, no mean-old polluting exploiter is going to lay down ten bucks to see this kind of movie. And so, when I wrote up this week's UK openings in the sidebar, I oh-so-wittily called this new release: Less AN INCOVENIENT TRUTH than a blindingly obvious one.

Well, here's what you already know. AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is essentially a hi-def video record of the ex-Vice President, Al Gore's powerpoint presentation on global warming. Although interspersed with some footage of Al going to his parent's farm, or wandering through the airports of the world, laptop in hand, this is basically just Al standing up and pointing at photos and charts. The newsflash is that Al Gore is incisive and brings new weight to bear on an issue that we right-thinking liberals think we know so well. In some cases, the scientific results and photos he shows have never before been released. In others, he just manages that rare thing - explaining quite dry, technical issues in a clear and memorable manner.

The hour and a half of this documentary fly by, and even if Al is preaching to the choir, he is "adding value" (to use that awful phrase) by going over and above the newspaper sound-bite. Perhaps more surprisingly, he is really rather entertaining. Indeed, I found myself laughing out loud at his jokes more times than at Will Ferrell in TALLADEGA NIGHTS. So, AN INCOVENIENT TRUTH is not only a compelling and intelligent documentary about global warming, it is also, incidentally, a damning indictment of the
bland, mediocre comedies being pumped out my Hollywood this year.

AN INCOVENIENT TRUTH showed at Sundance and Cannes 2006 and is on release in the UK, Finland, Iceland, Thailand, Sweden, Singapore, Sweden, Australia, Portugal, Denmark, Finland and the UK. It goes on release in Hong Kong, Belgium, France, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Slovenia in October. It rolls into Mexico, Chile, Spain, Hungary, Argentina and Italy in November and opens in Japan in January 2007.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

THE QUEEN - another one for the export market

Stephen Frears' latest movie is yet another one for the export market. It is an over-long re-telling of the week following the death of Princess Diana, contrasting the public's hysterical mourning with the Queen's more dignified and yet brutally-condemned response. Her Majesty comes out of it very well - as a sovereign who is utterly devoted to her people and yet absolutely unable to understand what Her People - people she prides herself on understanding - are up to. The acclaimed British actress, Helen Mirren, gives a superb performance, never descending into pastiche, and managing to convey conflicting emotions behind the ever-dignified famous face. Michael Sheen is also tremendously good reprising his role as Tony Bliar. Blair comes across as an inept twat in the first half hour but gains in stature as the movie progresses - much to my surprise. The supporting cast are less successful, perhaps because their parts are written like watered-down Spitting Image puppets. Prince Philip is a string of rather funny, politically incorrect one-liners and Prince Charles a wet tree-hugging toady.

The primary problem with THE QUEEN is that the movie is far too long and tries to inject drama where precious little existed. Yes, the royal family misjudged the mood of the nation, but who could have predicted the breast-beating of the masses? Within a few days, the royals realised they had boo-booed - no doubt partly thanks to Blair - and came to London. The nation forgave them. Dear lord, this is such a conservative (with a small "c") nation that the monarchy was never really under threat. (The central premise of this melodrama.) Cherie Blair admits as such when she points out to her husband that all Labour Prime Ministers have gone weak at the knees for the Queen. And given the general acceptance of the new Duchess of Cornwall the Diana-related trauma seems awfully old-hat.

A secondary problem is one that I suspect will only affect UK viewers. That is that the script contains an awful lot of basic education on who everyone is and what everything means. You know, one character explains to another the symbolism of the flag being at half mast. It's like British Heritage 101 for interested foreigners.

Overall, despite Helen Mirren's superb performance and a pant-wettingly funny joke at Waiting for Gordo's expense, THE QUEEN feels like a glossy tele-novella that would have been better suited to US subscribers to the Hallmark Channel. I do wish Stephen Frears would get back to more ambitious stuff like

THE QUEEN premiered at Venice 2006 where Helen Mirren won a prize for her perfomance. It is currently on release in Italy and the UK. It opens in the NYC on September 30th and in other parts of the US on October 6th. Finally, it rolls into France on October 18th and the Netherlands on November 30th.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

LIFE AND LYRICS - Disney goes to Streatham

LIFE AND LYRICS is a low-budget British movie that tries to Keep it Real but ends up looking like a fairy-tale. Which is a shame, because it features a talented young cast and has considerable visual style. But strip away the Urban setting and Yoof sound-track and all you're left with is a weakly-scripted melodrama. Poor boy wants to be a music producer. He must battle with evil rich producer at an 8-MILE style rap contest. He beds the producers posh girlfriend. He has an endearing best friend who wants to find his estranged mum. The message seems to be that when you wish upon a star, you too will get a record contract. Stupid, incredible (literally it is not credible that the character would do this) stuff happens in the final fifteen minutes. It's a tremendous shame and I certainly hope that these actors get a chance to star in something with a narrative arc that makes sense.

LIFE AND LYRICS is released in the UK on September 29th.

Monday, September 11, 2006

BEERFEST - ceci n'est pas une revue

I just couldn't bring myself to watch BEERFEST despite being offered free tickets. It's apparently a gross-out comedy from the maker of the god-awful DUKES OF HAZZARD remake. So, I guess if DUKES OF HAZZARD did not make you want to gauge out your eyes, you could give BEERFEST a go. But before you do, let me quote from the review printed in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Nothing works here. The script is less than juvenile -- and totally nonsensical. The acting is atrocious. There's no decent comedic timing -- which is somewhat of a problem for a comedy, don't you think? The entire time I watched this film, I felt I was merely observing a bunch of self-absorbed frat boys who got drunk, wrote a 'script,' got some clueless Hollywood suits to cough up the cash to make it, turned on a camera and then forgot to hire an editor to properly finish the whole thing." I'd also like to point out that for the price of a cinema ticket in the West End plus soda and popcorn you could actually fly to Munich next month and feel that old-school Bavarian beer-induced party yourself.

Should you have learned nothing from watching THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, you may watch BEERFEST in a theatre near you in the US or the UK. Australia, Ireland and Germany feel the pain on September 28th and the Netherlands gets a dose of the cinematic equivalent of the clap on October 12th.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ten TV programmes that make me the cynical, paranoid, greedy, capitalist bastard that I am today

In reverse chronological order:

1. 24 (FOX, 2001) The sheer audacity of the final five minutes of season one restored my faith in big-budget mainstream TV. The fast pace, great plotting and character of Sherry Palmer - a charismatic, evil, strong female - had me addicted. After season two it disintegrated into a marketing exercise for FORD, but in its heyday this series ruined a whole genre of movies for me.

2. MY SO-CALLED LIFE (ABC, Channel 4, 1994) was the only high-school series that got a hold of me. GRANGE HILL was nothing like where I went to school and was just too pat - cheekie kids getting into scrapes - and the whole Zammo on smack storyline was again fifty leagues removed from my life. MY SO-CALLED LIFE was bang on. The heroine, Angela, was just a normal kid. Not so pretty, not so smart, not fucked-up by irresponsible parents. But still dealing with her friends' alcoholism and homosexuality and her own messy love-life. I was devestated when it got cancelled.

3. G.B.H. (Channel 4, 1991). Written by the UK's most important contemporary dramatist, Alan Bleasdale, G.B.H. provided a book-end to the social and political upheavals of the Thatcher era. It pitted the megolamaniacal council leader Michael Murray (based on Derek Hatton) against Old Labour headmaster Jim Nelson. It showed how the political machinations at the highest levels - games played for power rather than belief - screw over the lives of normal voters. Intricately plotted and acted, the slowly revealed plot twist answers for much of my political cynicism. It also explains much of the genesis of, and naked opportunism of, the New Labour project. As the shit-rain starts to fall on Blair, I long for another Bleasdale play to chart a course through it all.

4. TWIN PEAKS (ABC, 1990) exploded every convention of what a TV serial could and should do. The visuals were beautiful, the music was haunting, the characters were kooky, beautiful, sick, twisted and full of secrets. The second series lost its way, but the final frames showing the apple-pie wholesome Agent Dale Cooper looking into a mirror at the face of BOB scared me silly. More proof, if any were needed, that David Lynch is the most important visual artist of our time and that the small screen can be used as effectively as the big screen. Shame on all those who do not try.

5. THE NEW STATESMAN SERIES 1,2 and 3 (ITV, 1987) was a vile, brutal, political satire of the worst excesses of the Thatcherite era that had me and my mates re-enacting swathes of dialogue in the playground. It featured Rik Mayall as the corrupt, nouveau riche Tory MP, Alan B'Stard. B'Stard mocked Old Labour crusty Bob Crippen, bullied the landed wet, Piers Fletcher-Dervish MP and mocked the press. B'Stard was brilliantly charismatic and you wanted him to win, so pathetic were his opponents - thus revealing the singular truth that in the Thatcher years, politics on both sides of the fence was a pretty grubby affair. Years later, my cousin Bobby would famously use the line "Right, I'm off to Stringfellows to commit adultery!" with alarming regularity. Of course, THE NEW STATESMAN became unfunny when Thatcher was ousted and replaced with that grey pillock, John Major. Not least of the charges that can be laid against that treacherous bastard, Heseltine's, door is that he pulled the rug from under much of Britain's best comedy.

6. BLACKADDER, SERIES 2,3 and 4 (BBC, 1983-) Blackadder is a peculiarly British comedy that combines dry black wit, political satire and good old-fashioned slapstick comedy. The first series was a bit weak, but by the second it hit its stride. Set in Elizabethan England, then Georgian and finally World War One, Blackadder sent up the great figures of each era in 1066 AND ALL THAT stylee. Blackadder is a malevolent, self-centred man a rung below the in-bred, idiotic ruling class, and frustrated by his infinitely greater merit. Rowan Atkinson's plaintiff sigh of "Oh, God," every time, Percy, Baldrick or the Prince Regent utter some imbecilic plan just sums up what it is to endure life in this country. Not only is Blackadder bloody funny, but in the final episode of Series 4, where the protagonists go over the top of a trench to their death, it is incredibly moving. There is no more eloquent display of the futility and horror of war than those thirty minutes. APOCALYPSE NOW and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN have nothing on it.

7. THE BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF (BBC, 1982). Looking back now, it is easy to forget how radical politics was in the early 1980s and the huge social upheavals that went with it. Now we mock Chavs for wearing Burberry, but in an age of full employment you forget what the miners' strike was like. Of course, I grew up in happy, rich, South-East England with parents who read the Daily Telegraph, so the social unrest seemed like distant thunder. I can still remember the visceral impact of seeing THE BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF and the demented chant, "gissa job". Alan Bleasdale's TV drama exposed for the first time on national television the huge social price of so-called modernity. I can't articulate how much of a revelation that series was.

8. BRIDESHEAD REVISITED (ITV, 1981). Of course, I didn't see this till ten years later but it remains for me the quintessial big bucks TV literary adaptation and never to be bettered. Everything about the production is indulgent in the best possible way. Waugh's novel portrays the indulged aristocratic lifestyle and laments its decline. Director Charles Sturridge (who also did a brilliant adaptation of Waugh's brutal A HANDFUL OF DUST) helms a production that spares no expense or attention to detail in bringing the country estate or the Oxford dining club to life. Sir John Mortimer is indulged with thirteen hours of airtime and so can include all the minor characters and the full intricacies of the plot. And the audience is indulged with a stellar cast, including Laurence Olivier as the Byronic Lord Marchmain and Sir John Gielgud in a chilling cameo as Mr. Ryder. I watch the complete BRIDESHEAD REVISITED once a year. It is a story full of tragic love affairs, homosexual, heterosexual, between a man and a way of life, and between people and their faith. It is glorious and shows just how TV can out-do cinema - it can take time. I passionately believe that Alan Moore's THE WATCHMEN can only be brought to the screen SUCCESSFULLY in a similar, lengthy, high-budget, utterly faithful adaptation.

9. TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (1978, ITV) is another faithful adaptation of a novel that I hold in the highest regard. I saw it in the 1990s at a time when I was reading a lot of Graham Greene, Waugh and John le Carre and I can honestly say that it shaped the way in which I view the world - from politics to love affairs. George Smiley is my hero, and George Smiley will always be, for me, Sir Alec Guinness looking weary but unbowed.

10. SESAME STREET taught me the letters of the alphabet, numbers, how to cross a streeet, that there are lots of people who aren't white too..... Thinking back to all that funky music and cartoon ads for numbers sung by the Pointer Sisters, is it any wonder I grew to believe that Maceo Parker's Elephant Stepped on My Foot was the greatest track ever recorded?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR - what would happen if a dirty bomb dropped on LA?

I'm conflicted about the new disaster movie RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR. Counting against it is the shameless exploitation of releasing a movie about terrorists dropping dirty bombs on LA so close to the 9/11 anniversary. Also counting against it are the ultra low-budget and deliberately grainy photography. (What do I know? It won an award at Sundance.) Maybe because of the low budget, or maybe as a straightforward artistic choice, first-time writer/director, Chris Gorak chooses to show nothing of the central disaster. We see nothing of the bombs exploding or of the contaminated crowds being penned in by riot police. We don't see 24-style counter-terrorist agents running around saving the world or simulated TV coverage of unfolding disaster. Rather, the movie focuses on one man and his experience of the tragedy.

The movie get right to the point: a man kisses his wife goodbye, she drives off to work and then he hears about the attacks on the radio. Pretty soon he sees plumes of smoke on the horizon and cop cars preventing him from heading downtown. With the help of the handy-man next door he seals up his house to keep out the toxic ash and mourns for his wife. Then his wife turns up. Should he let her in and risk contamination? Should she sit outside and wait for the authorities to come help her or try to storm a hospital? The bulk of the movie deals with the husband and wife basically talking about these dilemmas. It's actually fairly dull - the audience falls into a monotonous day-to-night routine as much as the actors. And the acting (
Rory Cochrane and Mary McCormack) is fine, but nothing great. All in all, I had the sinking feeling that the movie was wasting 90 minutes telling us what we already know - that in the event of such an attack the government would probably try its best but be completely inadequate to meet the health and public order needs of the public. But the final ten minutes of RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR contain a much advertised twist and, as rarely happens, I was genuinely staggered. I had to reassess my whole viewing experience. Which means, I reckon, that this movie is worth checking out if you fancy something uncomfortable. But I can't say I found it to be a must-see "great" film, whatever that means.

RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR opened in the UK yesterday and rolls into Germany next January. I do not know of a US release date.

CRANK - if Guy Ritchie pre-Kabbalah and LeTerrier had a love-child, and that love-child had Medical Coke, a grudge and a gun

CRANK is about the most mindless high-octane balls-out fun you can have in a multiplex. It's visually audacious, witty, self-mocking and has one of the most shamelessly commercial endings I have seen in a while. On an intellectual level, I feel I should despise its deep vein of misogyny and superficial thrill-seeking, but the movie feels so tongue-in-cheek and does what it does so well, I just love it. LOVE IT.

CRANK bites heavily on the style of Guy Ritchie before Ritchie bit on Madonna's bad cinematic karma. But it has a much simpler plot than Ritchie ever dishes out and amps up the violence and pace. We are in the murky underworld of L.A. and
Jason Statham is a freelance hitman called, improbably, Chev Chelios. Chev has been injected by a lethal Beijing Injection whereby as soon as he lets his body slows down, he dies. Cue lots of running around and shooting people and outdoor sex in a bid to keep the adrenaline up long enough to settle all scores. Amy Smart plays Chev's dappy girlfriend. She serves as the straight man against which most of the comedy in the movie plays. SHAUN OF THE DEAD style, she can't quite believe her boyfriend is a zombie, sorry, hitman, and faffs around with her lip-gloss when she should be running for her life. Awesome.

CRANK is on release in Ireland, the US and Turkey. It opens in the Philippines, Greece, Denmark and Estonia next week and in Germany, Iceland and Latvia the week after that. It opens in Spain on October 6th, Sweden on October 13th and in Argentina on November 16th.

Friday, September 08, 2006

THE SENTINEL - dull spy thriller

Watching the first season of 24 ruined TV for me. Every other drama, indeed all the following seasons of 24, seemed a pale imitation - unable to match the intensity and professionalism of the original. I now find that 24 has ruined a certain type of movie for me too. THE SENTINEL is a case in point. It's a well-cast, high-budget action movie cum thriller starring Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland and Eva Lonfgoria as secret service agents on the US President's security detail. Douglas is being framed for an assassination attempt on the President's life and Longoria and Sutherland are in charge of bringing him in. The set-up has a lot of promise: topicality, CSI-style crime scenes, car chases, shoot-ups and big budget set pieces in the White House and Camp David. Problem is, it all seems like it's going through the motions. Nothing surprises you. It's not even entertaining. I figured out who the mole was in the first ten minutes on the basis that the actor was the only "name" in the supporting cast. The motives of the real killers are skated over. To paraphrase the report my old international relations tutor once gave about me: (the movie) "is like a glacier. It looks sleek on the surface but one crack reveals the gaping void beneath."

THE SENTINEL is on release in the US and most of Europe. It opens in Venezuela, Slovenia, Turkey, Serbia and Egypt in October.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

KINKY BOOTS - ho-hum

By contrast with THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE, this week's new Region 1 DVD release KINKY BOOTS is entirely avoidable. It's just another in a long line of movies that uses people with mildly transgressive jobs or sexual preferences as a unique selling point. So where we had amateur porn stars in THE MOGULS, we know have a transvestite cabaret singer, played by the ubiquitous Chiwetel Ejiofor. The transvestite comes to the aid of a failing British shoe factory that's losing trade to cheaper factories in China and Eastern Europe. The solution: to make high-heeled boots that can bear the weight of a man. It's the usual sappy feel-good formulaic nonsense. A decent cast (not least Joel Edgerton as the owner of the factory) but less humour and less depth than THE FULL MONTY. One to avoid.

KINKY BOOTS was released in the UK in October 2005. It is now available on Region 1 and 2 DVD.

Overlooked DVD of the month - THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE

THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE fits all the usual criteria for the overlooked DVD of the month: it's really bloody good but slipped under the radar on original release - perhaps because it was shown on around two screens in Shoreditch for a millisecond. Anyways, it's out on DVD now and is definitely worth checking out.

THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE is a powerful drama about "finding yourself". And yet it's not at all a steaming pile of pretentious horse-dung. It stars the outstanding actor Daniel Day-Lewis as an ageing hippie called Jack. He lives on the remains of an old commune and shoots at greedy capitalist bastard property developers. Problem is, he's ill and worried about what will happen to his beautiful teenage daughter, Rose, when he carcs it. So, Jack gets the woman he's been casually sleeping with to move in with her two teenage sons. Not unsurprisingly, Jack's daughter Rose feels threatened by this invasion of her isolated home.

Writer-director Rebecca Miller creates two eccentric lead characters that are unlike anything I have seen on screen before. Camilla Belle, who plays Rose, matches the intensity of Daniel Day-Lewis note for note. It's a mesmorising performance. Given Belle's more recent work in piss-poor 70s horror remakes one can only hope she gets back to the path of righteousness and Indie cinema soon. The supporting cast is also strong:
Catherine Keener brilliantly conveys the conflicting motives of the girlfriend and we even get a cameo from Paul Dano - the brother from LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. As the movie reaches its crescendo we have more than just a glib tale of how hippies are nice and capitalists are bastards - and more than just another exploitative tale of transgressive love. This is a cruel and complex take on the acquisitive instincts in all of us - whether emotional or physical.

THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE showed at Sundance 2005 and was released in the UK earlier this year. It is available on Region 1 and Region 2 DVD.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE - more than just a brilliant black comedy

This review is posted by Nik, who can normally be found here:

I didn't think I'd enjoy this film, it sounded hackney'd. In fact, it sounded as hackney'd as a Hackney Cab, driving through Hackney, with a driver saying "wot about dem blacks - facking immigrints". A dysfunctional family goes on an impromptu roadtrip together to find themselves. Fuck me, why not just throw in Hugh Grant and make it a Rom Com? Can't Hollywood formulate something original?

Add to that the fact that Alan Arkin, Toni Colette, Steve Carrell and Greg Kinnear aren't exactly B-movie actors - and you have the potential for a sickeningly sweet, all-American flop of a movie. Suffice to say, despite the rave reviews at Sundance '06, I wasn't expecting to enjoy it much. I certainly couldn't have hoped to enjoy it as much as I did.

But I'm happy to say that LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE was just a great great movie - yet another triumph in the Bina-recommended Hall of Fame. Combine just some absolutely wonderful acting performances, especially the astonishing child part (Olive) played by Abigail Breslin - with a hilarious script - with some gripping insight into the American way of life - and you have the ingredients for a movie that will captivate you and keep you totally spellbound throughout.

I laughed all the way through - not sniggers or giggles - but hearty laughs that made my throat dry. Don't be fooled though - this isn't just a comedy. Far from it - it manages to capture the ridiculousness of life's tragedies - the emptiness of corporate America - the grotesqueness of the beauty pageant - the love of a sibling - the tenderness of a family. And it's as biting as it is funny. As well as that, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE really is a beautifully shot and beautifully made film - and although it doesn't claim any particularly deep insight about the world, or to have discovered anything new cinematographically - it is nevertheless a deeply satisfying and complete viewing experience.

I don't want to give away any of the plot in this review - this is a plot based film, one that I would almost be retiscent to buy on DVD for fear that it wouldn't be as good the fifth time - so you're just going to have to find out for yourselves. All I can say is that you won't regret it - even if you disagree with its insights, even if you cannot empathise with the situations the characters find themselves in - you'll surely enjoy the comedy, and even if you're humourless, you'll be able to sit back and admire the sheer quality of the acting and the script.

Take £10 from the cash machine, buy some popcorn, and go see this film with the rest of the change. Or if you live in London, take £20 out, and then follow the rest of the instructions.

And this from Bina007: I disagree that this is a beautifully made or shot film. It looks as cheap as it is. But, my god this is a funny movie and it has real balls too. Kudos to first-time feature writer and directors Michael Arndt, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Kudos too to all the cast, not least Paul Dano. He plays the brother in the family and gives an outstanding comic and dramatic performance despite the fact he doesn't speak for a lot of the movie. Like Nik said, go see it today!

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is currently on release in the US and France and opens in the UK on Friday. It opens in Italy on Sep 22nd, Finland on Sep 29th, Belgium on Oct 11th, Argentina & Australia on Oct 12th, Spain & Brazil on Oct 20th, Netherlands on Oct 26th and in Germany on Nov 30th.

Monday, September 04, 2006

THE THIRD MAN - a personal appreciation

What can I say about THE THIRD MAN that has not already been said by film critics of greater talent over the decades? It's the British film-noir par excellence and was recently named as the best British film ever made by the British Film Institute*. It picked up awards at Cannes and the Oscars on original release and is viewed by most cineastes as a must-have DVD. Just google the title and you'll come up with a wealth of erudite appreciation.

Well, perhaps I can add a point of information. A newly restored print of THE THIRD MAN is doing the rounds of art cinemas in the UK. As the movie was originally released in 1949, this is likely the first chance fans of the movie will have to see it on the big screen. And boy is it worth it. If ever a movie was made for a cinematic release it is THE THIRD MAN, with its Oscar-winning black and white expressionist photography - all sharp contrast and distorted camera angles.

The other thing I can add is a sort of personal appreciation - an explanation of why THE THIRD MAN is important to me. Years before I started hanging out with R.I.A.K.s** on an almost permanent basis, my only mental images of Vienna were those given to me by cinematographer Robert Krasker in THE THIRD MAN. It was the first movie I watched where I actually noticed the deliberate use of the camera, which I guess influenced the fact that I later studied cinematography rather than cinema history or anything more "soft". This was not your usual bland glossy Hollywood flick. Vienna was all shadowy cobblestone streets and filthy sewers, accompanied by that demented repetitive zither music from Anton Karas. When I finally made it to Vienna I was somewhat disappointed to find it was rather Habsburg Disney - all fairy snow or stunning sunshine. Of course, that didn't stop me scaring myself silly on rides at the Prater or taking the Third Man Tour of the Sewers. I did this about an hour before attending the Concordia Ball, much to my more civilised friends' bemusement.

But more importantly, for me THE THIRD MAN was one of the signposts along the way to growing up. By which I mean, the moment at which you stop thinking that James Bond is how spies are and that the world is essentially A-okay. To quote John le Carre: "I despise Bond. I despise the short answer to the perfectly made world." It started off with reading a lot of Graham Greene, who also wrote the script to THE THIRD MAN, because his sort of uncomfortable Catholicism fitted a lot better to my experience than the usual hagiography you're forced to read as a kid. Once you realise that a whisky priest - an alcoholic with a mistress - can be the Good Catholic Hero - all doors are open. And then I started reading John le Carre, mainly because he went to my old college and apparently one of the old tutors there used to recruit for MI5. Both Greene and le Carre write books about the way the world is, not how it might be in some Boys Own Adventure. And both have a great sense of the absurd. Both deal with the clash of ideology and pragmatism and those grey areas of morality. They also both knew Kim Philby, who was allegedly Greene's model for THE THIRD MAN's most famous character, Harry Lime.

Harry Lime, played in an outstanding cameo by Orson Welles, is a racketeer. A man who has no morality but a profit motive. He has made money in post-war Vienna by running goods from one side to the next and is really rather proud of his hard-headed pragmatism. He lays out his life philosophy in an infamous speech at the Prater: "Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." It's a sort of Satanic argument for meritocracy and the advance of man. Utterly chilling and yet very, very charming.

This is basically what Kim Philby was meant to be like. Kim was one of the "Cambridge Spies" who betrayed British and American secrets to the Russians from the 1930s up until the 50s, was it?, when Philby was caught and shipped off to Moscow. By this point he was very senior in the British secret service. Le Carre's take seems to be that Philby was basically on the make. In an interview, he said: "Philby had an innate disposition to deceive that preceded his Marxism. But his Marxism was a rationalisation, which came later. His deceitful nature derived over-whelming vanity about his own worth."

What does all this have to do with THE THIRD MAN? Well, for me, THE THIRD MAN is a story of a young man who comes to Vienna, to quote le Carre again, in the spirit of John Buchan and leaves it in the spirit of Kafka. The movie tells us how that happened. The hero of the story is Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) - a young innocent American writer of pulp fiction. He has been summoned by his old friend Harry Lime with the promise of employment, but he arrives to find Harry dead. Still, he is offered some work as a lecturer so hangs around, probing into the circumstances of his friend's demise. As he pokes around he hears several versions of the event and discovers that there is a Third Man who cannot be accounted for. To cut a long story short - SPOILER - Holly is disabused of his innocence and falls in love with Harry's old girlfriend who is entirely indifferent to him. He also, dramatically, finds that Harry faked his own death to escape the people after him.

Like I said, there are plenty of people who will tell you how great THE THIRD MAN is. They are not wrong, and any chance to see it on the big screen is not to be missed. For me it will always be the quintessential great film about the loss of innocence and about the charismatic nature of amorality. As a young kid of around twelve, this movie mapped out for me what the world was really about. As they say, the devil has all the best lines. Still, again to paraphrase le Carre, I'd rather be Holly's kind of fool, than Harry's.

*The British Film Institute's Top 20 British films list is: 1. The Third Man. 2.
Brief Encounter. 3. Lawrence of Arabia. 4. 39 The 39 Steps (Hitckcock's version.) 5. Great Expectations. 6. Kind Hearts and Coronets. 7. Kes. 8. Don't Look Now. 9. The Red Shoes. 10. Trainspotting. 11. The Bridge on the River Kwai. 12. If...13. The Ladykillers. 14. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. 15. Brighton Rock. 16. Get Carter. 17. The Lavender Hill Mob. 18. Olivier's Henry V. 19. Chariots of Fire. 20. A Matter of Life and Death.

**Random Inter-changeable Austro-Krauts. (A friend of mine wishes a correction to Austro-Struedels. However, RIASs is less catchy.)

THE THIRD MAN originally showed at Cannes 1949 where it won the Grand Prize. It is currently on re-release in the UK in a shiny new print. The old print is available on DVD.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI is an outstanding Bollywood feel-good comedy. I haven't had such a good time in the movie theatre in a long time. This isn't really a sequel to the original smash-hit movie, MUNNABHAI MBBS. Rather it is another movie in a franchise that riffs on the original formula. Munnabhai is a Bombay goon who kidnaps people, beats people up and generally lives a disreputable life. He is played by the charismatic and versatile Hindi actor, Sanjay Dutt. Munnabhai has a side-kick called Circuit, who is played by the supreme comic, Arshad Warsi. These guys have real comic chemistry and timing - and the comedy is broad - witty, crude dialogue and physical slapstick. In this new movie, Munnabhai is in love with a radio DJ played by the beautiful Vidya Balan (last seen in PARINEETA). In order to impress her, Munnabhai pretends not to be a doctor this time but a Professor of history. He wins a radio quiz with his knowledge of Mahatma Gandhi and hopes to win her heart. Unfortunately, as the hallucination of Gandhi who follows Munnabhai around tells him, she's in love with the professor, not the goon. So follows a simple, honest, but utterly charming slapstick comedy with the usual mistaken identities and Heart-Warming ending. It may not be rocket science, but I see enough unfunny comedies and Movies with a Meaning that are just manipulative and empty to know a winner when I see one.

LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI/CARRY ON MUNNABHAI is on release in India, Australia, the US and UK.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED - not just another earnest but futile liberal rant

It seems that whenever I list the week's new releases in the sidebar of this blog, there's a "self-explanatory documentary" in the offing. By and large, they are all fascinating and well-made. But instead of the old-school investigative journalism we grew up with on the BBC, these films are out-and-out polemics. Not that there's anything wrong with it. It's just a trend I've been noticing. I often wonder what the point of these documentaries is. Presumably the kind of people at whom the movies are aimed are not the same as the people at whom the polemics are aimed. I'll happily shell out ten squid to see a guy rail against: ENRON;Walmart; racism; Big Oil; Big Music....that's because these movies re-inforce my political views. It's odds on I'll have a good time. Who doesn't enjoy hearing they're right?! But if you're filming a polemic, presumably part of the point is to persuade who are opposed to your cause. And there's the rub. Because how many anti-environmental, pro-Big Business people are actually going to shell out ten squid to hear some liberal hippie do them down? So what you end up with a lot of really earnest, well-argued documentaries that advance their cause not one iota. Indeed, when the film-maker is as obnoxious as Michael Moore, they may actually set the cause back. How many voters were galvanised *against* the Democrats by the grandstanding in Fahrenheit 9-11?

So, here's the genius of THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED - this week's earnest polemic. Kirby Dick has made a documentary that rails against the American film ratings board, the MPAA. The charges are that it is untransparent, unaccountable, inconsistent in its rulings, harsh to Independents, anti-Union, co-opted by Big Film and The Church, homophobic, misogynistic and more frightened of sex than violence. You can show a women being brutally slashed to bits by an attacker, but you can't show her having an orgasm in the context of a loving, committed relationship. (And don't even try to show her being given that orgasm by another woman.) The evidence is pretty damning - as it always is - and given by a mix of famous Hollywood stars and industry experts.

The real kicker, however, is that because of the very nature of the target of this polemic, the movie itself becomes part of its own story. We see how Kirby submits this actual documentary to the MPAA for a rating and appeals against its harsh NC-17 rating. We see how paranoid the ratings board members are and how unfair the process is from the inside. Absolute genius.

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED played Sundance 2006. It went on limited release in the US and UK yesterday and opens in the Netherlands on December 7th.