Tuesday, July 31, 2007

LONELY HEARTS - everything THE BLACK DAHLIA should've been

LONELY HEARTS is a beautifully put together, well-cast, engaging crime thriller based on gruesome crimes that took place in 1940s America. In fact, it’s everything the fiasco that was THE BLACK DAHLIA should have been.

Jared Leto plays real-life con-man, Ray Fernandez, who charms lonely divorcees and women out of their money. He’s mean but not menacing. He hooks up with Salma Hayek’s psychotic nymphomaniac, Martha Beck, whose jealous temper leads them into a truly twisted relationship. She murders one of their marks in a fit of pique and goads him into other murders. It’s a convincing and petrifying psychological portrait: Leto and Hayek really sell the notion that they are two “crazy lovebirds” – in fact, this may be Hayek’s career-defining performance, second only to her role as Frida Kahlo. The second plot strand sees John Travolta and James Gandolfini play the rozzers on the killers’ tail. Travolta gives a rare and appropriately introverted performance as a man whose conscientiousness a cop drove his wife to suicide. Gandolfini, however, does not move beyond his wise guy persona, and Laura Dern, as Travolta’s new lover, has too little to do. Scott Caan, however, has a nice smaller role. Performances aside, the movie looks fantastic – with all the costumes, locations and incidental details adding to the authenticity. I also love the matter-of-factness of the violence. The opening credits are a case in point. Absolutely class. All in all, despite, the limited release and under-the-radar marketing, LONELY HEARTS is definitely worth checking out.

LONELY HEARTS went on release in the US, Taiwan, Denmark, Finland, Israel and Norway in 2006 and in the Netherlands, Serbia & Montenegro, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Greece, France, Spain and Egypt earlier this year. It is currently on release in Mexico and the UK and opens in Argentina on October 4th. It is also available on Region 1 DVD.

Monday, July 30, 2007

THE WALKER - the localised and global consequences of a corrupt political establishment

THE WALKER is the latest film from celebrated writer/director Paul Schrader. As a writer, Schrader gave us the definitive picture of the disenfranchised, angry young man in TAXI DRIVER. And as a director he has given us many iconic images of men who are outside of the establishment but mingle with it and luxuriate in its superficial beauty. Until, of course, they are ensnared in the seamier side of the power structure. AMERICAN GIGOLO is perhaps the apex of this style of thriller cum character exploration.

In THE WALKER we see another exploration of character. This time, the central character is a flamboyant homosexual who precariously balances his lifestyle with his position as scion of a rapaciously Republican, Virginian family. Woody Harrelson's performance as Carter Page III is yet another career-best to rival his perfomance as Larry Flint. He struts through Washington high-society wearing an ill-fitting toupe, and speaks through a near-closed mouth with a broad Southern accent - and have they done something to his nose? His observations on Washington society are rapier-subtle and very, very funny, but he manages to maintain an almost boy-ish innocence and loyalty to his friends.

These friends are rather a different breed. They are the well-heeled wives of Washington power brokers. While their husbands hush up an Enron-style scandal implicating the Vice-President, Carter "walks" them to parties and to the opera - a convenient piece of arm candy to hire. Of the three lead actresses, Lily Tomlin is unusually, ambiguously evil as the wife of a Karl-Rove-style lobbyist. Lauren Bacall is magisterial as a rich widow. And Kristin Scott Thomas gives a rather auto-pilot performance as a philandering wife who happily lets her "friend" Carter get implicated in a murder-scandal on her behalf.

Yes, the witty script and strong performances from Harrelson, Bacall and Tomlin are the highlights of this drama. But there are other strengths. I rather liked the insidious, smooth flowing camera shots that circle and permeate political society. There is a wonderful homage to the infamous AMERICAN GIGOLO scene where Richard Gere gets dressed to go out. This time, the scene is reversed. An ageing, balding Harrelson takes off his vulgar but expensive clothes and the camera hovers lovingly over trays of cuff-links and ties. Then, he takes off his toupe!

I also rather liked the unabashed references to Abu Ghraib through the photography of Carter's boyfriend Emek (Moritz Bleibtrau). I like the idea that the venality of Washington; the unquestioning xenophobia; the sacrifice of constitutional checks and balances in the name of the national interest - all this leads to the relatively localised corruption in which Carter is implicated, but also leads to the wider loss of moral integrity seen in Iraq.

THE WALKER played Berlin 2007 and goes on release in the UK on August 10th and in the UK on December 7th.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

KNOCKED UP - best comedy of 2007?

I won't say it but it rhymes with shmashmortion. This review is brought to you by guest reviewer Al, who can usually be found here.

This is the kind of movie you'll miss due to it drowning in the inevitable over-hype for other blockbuster films released at the same time (I'm looking at you, Homer,) only for you to watch it on a lazy Saturday afternoon years later after discovering a dvd copy of it by accident somewhere in your house, or actually running out to get one because you're done hearing bloody Al rave endlessly about KNOCKED UP and you want to see for yourself if it's all that good.

As far as comedies go, I usually walk in with relatively low expectations. The usual culprits are uninteresting one-dimensional characters with superficial problems; formulaic, paper-thin stories littered with holes (all overlooked, if only for the sake of a good joke), and aside from the exceptionally hilarious BORAT, I can't think of a comedy I've seen in the past two or three years that's managed to stick in my mind. Things look grim for the comedy genre - the current trend shows a surge of popularity for sick and unfunny parodies (EPIC MOVIE, SCARY MOVIE 1 thr 4), your once-adorable-but-now-deplorable-and-exhaustively-unimaginative-comedy-archetypes: be it another wide-eyed, narcissistic Will Ferrell character or supposedly cute and loveable animated creation carrying with it a script of terminally dull gags (SHREK 3, CHICKEN LITTLE) - all films destined to end up in the massive black hole of forgettable comedies that should've never existed.

Which is why Judd Apatow's new film comes off fresh and genuinely amusing. The characters here are fleshed out and human. The problems they face and situations that occur don't simply function as a disposable platform for the writers to throw in a couple of mild jokes but are actually driving the story forward. The writers are brave enough to introduce and clever enough to delicately manage some pretty mature themes (pregnancy, questions about abortion, marital problems etc.). At the same time, they never abandon the film's persistent spirit of comedy.

More importantly, anyone who's been in a relationship would appreciate and understand how the film deals with both the male & female perspective without seeming biased towards either, and it's interesting to see such things dealt subjectively for once. Likewise, none of the characters are written to be more or less favourable but are three-dimensional. This stands in contrast to how certain comedies tend to label 'good' and 'bad' characters from the get-go. As a result it's not only an immensely enjoyable comedy, but an intelligent story that encourages the audience to think and participate, as opposed to simply turning their brains off the whole time.

Not to say it doesn't stumble a couple of times. For one, all that realism preceding the final 20 minutes is ultimately phased out in favour of a sweet ending that I would personally change. Katherine Heigl has the smile of a goddess but overacts a little and it would've been terrific to give the film a good soundtrack. And I would give Micheal Cera a small cameo at least (as if the fact that half of the now all grown-up cast of Freaks & Geeks is in there isn't cool enough). But those are strictly minor complaints and there were plenty of times I had to catch my breath from laughing so hard. Certainly one of the best comedies I've seen in a long, long, long time.

Jay: I'm going to be there to rear your child.
Jason: You hear that, Ben? Don't let him near the kid, he wants to rear your child!
Ben: Do you want to do it doggie style?
Alison: You're not going to fuck me like a dog.
Ben: It's doggie style. We don't have to go outside or anything.
P.S: Don't try googling 'Knocked Up' without safe search on, unless you have a fetish for pregnant women.

KNOCKED UP is already on release in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Singapore. It opens on August 19th in Russia and on August 17th in Estonia, Norway and Germany and on Augsut 24th in Germany, Mexico and the UK. It opens in September in Denmark, Brazil, Finland, the Netherlands and in Iceland. It opens in October in Hungary, Poland, Belgium, France, Argentina, Italy, Turkey, Egypt and Spain.

P.P.S. Bina007 totally agrees with everything here except that she LOVED the sound-track - chock full of The Fratellis and Mika!

Friday, July 27, 2007

THE BRIDGE - beautifully photographed, morally questionable documentary

Maybe he just wanted to fly one time.THE BRIDGE is a rare example of a documentary that deserves to be seen on the big screen. The photography of the Golden Gate Bridge - from Peters Baldwin and McCandless - is absolutely stunning. It has an eery quality which grows with the realisation that what this footage is capturing is actual people committing suicide by jumping off the bridge. Eric Steel then searches out their families and interviews them, giving the grim footage context. Some people will condemn the film out of hand for showing suicide attempts live. And frankly, you can't help but think that if the camera-men tracked a suicidal man walking up and down the bridge deciding whether or not to jump, they surely could have intervened. Having said this, the sensitive and discreet interviews with the families, lessened my concern. Indeed, the fact that the families chose to participate at all says something.

THE BRIDGE played London 2006 and went on limited release in the US in October 2006 and the UK and Norway in Spring 2007. It is now available on DVD.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE - see it for the genius that is SPIDER-PIG!

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

The Simpsons Movie is a hugely quotable, laugh-a-minute riot, that'll leave fans of the Simpsons ultimately unsatisfied. Its plot is shallow, weak, barely worthy of a 30 minute episode, and far too focussed on the Simpsons family (and especially Homer) at the unfortunate exclusion of other characters. Those of you expecting some sort of extravaganza - a tour-de-force of the Simpsons - will be disappointed, and left feeling ultimately empty and hollow as I was. That said, it's a very watchable and funny movie - especially for the first half hour - and well worth the tenner you'll be paying to get in.

This film has been 10 years in the making. The Simpsons Movie website was purchased in 1997 - and they've been planning ever since. Given that timescale, it's more than a little disappointing that the movie runs out of genuine ideas and plot only 30 or 40 minutes in. From then on, up until the final 5 or 10 minutes, it relies on rehashed plots and rehashed jokes from the TV series. The film slowly descends in the second half from being a self-referential laugh riot, to a serious family soap opera interspersed with the occasional joke.

But then, who's suprised? The Simpsons franchise has only been occasionally funny for the last 3 or 4 series - with jokes and plots being recycled from a bygone era of success. I'd hoped that the film would come up with some fresh ideas to revitalise the franchise, as had South Park Bigger, Longer, Uncut. But it didn't - rather it amplified the same unseemly trend as its TV counterpart - focussing more and more on Homer Simpson gags - at the expense of the other characters, and other plot lines.

Even Homer's family suffer. The Lisa plotline in the film is totally and completely pointless - and a re-hash from countless other episodes. The Bart plotline is similarly rehashed (from at least 2 episodes) and is, if anything, less believable than Lisa's. Marge doesn't have an independent plotline - and the other characters only get brief cameo nods - without actually contributing substantially to the film. As if to typify this "opportunity missed" theme, the use of Arnie as a character is completely wasted - the scenes in which he appears are neither funny or satirical - they're just bleak, and come across as patronising liberal social comment.

It's strange actually, when I left the cinema I'd expected to be much less critical of this movie. But the more the minutes passed, the more empty I felt about this effort. A film that'd shown so much promise in the first 20 to 30 minutes had ended up delivering only as much plot as a single TV episode - absolutely no character development whatsoever - and less involvement from non-Simpsons characters than your average 7pm slot on Sky One. And even given these constraints, much of the potential within the plot was left unexploited - making way for a series of shallow and unsatisfying gags.

Don't get me wrong - this was, for the most part, a very funny movie. You'll laugh a great deal, especially if you're new to the Simpsons, or not much of a fan, and therefore you haven't seen it all before. And even if you have, it's worth the admission just for having seen it, and for all the genuinely funny one-liners and physical comedy. But if, like me, you've been following the franchise since its inception - you'll find this an ultimately hollow experience, which in many ways typifies what's gone wrong with the show.

This is not the "South Park" style rebirth I was looking for, and unless Groening and co. can find some new and fresh ideas pretty damned quickly - this 90 minute episode could be the long, drawn out death knell for the franchise. That would be a real shame - they deserved to go out with a bang.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE is on release in the USA, Belgium, Egypt, France, Indonesia, the Philippines, Argentina, Australia, Chile, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Malysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, the UK. It opens in Austria, Canada, Colombia, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Mexico, Norway, Panama, Spain and Venezuala. The movie opens on August 3rd on Denmark and Poland and in Hong Kong, Hungary, South Korea on August 9th. It opens in the Netherlands and Russia on August 16th and in Brazil on August 17th. It opens in Greece on August 30th, in Italy on September 14th and in Japan on March 1st 2008, which seems a bit randomly late doesn't it?!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

RABBIT FEVER - weak British mockumentary

RABBIT FEVER is a one-joke comedy sketch stretched thin over ninety minutes. The British mockumentary posits a world in which an amazingly good vibrator called "the rabbit" has women addicted, attending "RA" meetings, wrecks marriages and provoking outrage in parliament. The fake doc follows a bunch of middle-class English women in their quest to stay clean and re-build healthy relationships. It is interspersed with talking heads. The movie fails because the dead-pan comedy from the recovering rabbit-holics is very hit and miss. I barely laughed once, in fact. A more damning indictment is that the talking heads mostly consist of well-known British character acters - from Tom Conti to Tom Hollander - so that brings you out of the conceit straight away. The marketing for a certain airline is also a bit annoying. In fact, looking back on it, the only really worthwhile part of this movie is the cameo from Germaine Greer who is totally convincing in her parody of a feminist academic theorising on the role of the rabbit in women's lib.

RABBIT FEVER was released in the UK in September 2006 and is available on DVD.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

MATERIAL GIRLS - feeble teen rom-com

MATERIAL GIRLS is a feeble teen rom-com vehicle originally intended for the Olsen twins but eventually starring Z-list stand-ins, Hilary and Haylie Duff. They play spoilt brats who lose a fortune but prove remarkably adept at winning it back. The lead actesses - apparently famous in the US - are not talented actresses, and thanks to some freakish make-up and hair-dos, they don't even appeal on a purely superficial level. It is embarassing to see Brent Spiner, Angelica Huston and Lukas Haas in supporting roles. Finally, Martha Coolidge's direction is ham-fisted and simple-minded. It is best suited to kids' TV serials and features some especially clumsy split-screen shots.

MATERIAL GIRLS was released in spring 2007 and is now available on DVD.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Overlooked DVD of the month - JAPANESE STORY

This month's overlooked movie originally played Cannes 2003 and was picked up for distribution, but even then only got a limited release. However, it's widely available on DVD and well worth a look. The movie is a drama directed by Sue Brooks and written by Alison Tilson. It seems that this is their second feature together but they have produced nothing else at a mature stage in their careers. This is a real shame because in JAPANESE STORY they have crafted a powerful, adult drama.

Toni Colette gives an outstanding performance as a middle-aged hard-nosed geologist called Sandy. She's saddled with showing a Japanese businessman round some Australian mines. At first, it's pure culture clash. He finds her aggressive and loud. She finds him demanding and over-formal. However, they are both fascinated by each other. Stuck in the outback, they are forced to break through their prejudices and eventually find a sort of infantile joy at discovering each other. However, this is no sentimental romance. The reality of their different situations - his wife, her career - the fact they still don't really know each other - is never far away. And in a truly finely judged denouement we see Sandy have to confront the fact that she is just one part in his life.

This is one of those rare films that looks beautiful rather than decorative, and that plumbs real emotions rather than tugging at the heart-strings. It confirms Toni Colette, alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cate Blanchet and Emily Watson, as one of the best actresses currently working.

JAPANESE STORY was originally released in 2003 and is available on DVD.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pantheon movie of the month - THE SEVENTH SEAL/DET SJUNDE INSEGLET

THE SEVENTH SEAL is a cinematic master-piece that brings with it a heavy reputation and iconic imagery. Ingmar Bergman's conceit is to have Antonius Block - a Swedish crusader returning home to a plague-torn country - play a game of chess against Death. If Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) can beat Death (Bengt Ekerod) at chess, he will be given another chance at life. However, Block does not want life for it's own sake. Rather, he just needs more time to discover whether God exists. After fighting a bloody religious crusade has has lost his faith. But he does not want to regain his faith: this time, faith will not be enough; he wants absolute knowledge.

Some may find the subject matter and the film's very reputation off-putting. But let me reassure you that THE SEVENTH SEAL is not a dry philosophical discourse. In fact, it has incredibly funny passages. Antonius Block may be travelling through a plague-torn land, but it is also a land of jesters, madrigals, ribald songs, drunken fights and cuckolds. Rude songs raise a laugh, but they lift the mood on a more profound level too. It is a relief after the self-flagellating Block to see the loving happy couple, Jof and Mia (Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson) and their baby son.

My interpretation of the film is, therefore, a fundamentally optimistic one. Maybe you can never get an answer about whether God exists. Maybe barbaric acts happen in this world. (Certainly the scene of the witch being tortured and Jof being bullied in the tavern are excruciating to watch.) But life goes on, happy and full, for some. And we can all snatch and treasure moments of happiness.

Even Antonius Block must admit: "I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I shall try to remember our talk. I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimful of fresh milk. It will be a sign to me, and a great sufficiency."

THE SEVENTH SEAL was originally released in 1957 and won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes. It is currently on re-release in the UK and is available on DVD.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

GHOSTS OF CITE SOLEIL - still-valuable hagio-doc

Asger Leth's documentary is about brutal gangs in the Cite Soleil slum in Port au Prince, Haiti. Run by brothers 2pac and Billy, the gangs are ultra-violent narcissistic teens who were, for a time, propping up Aristide's regime. Filmed in indescribably dangerous circumstances on 16 mil, the doc is an invaluable record of life in a corrupt and seemingly hopeless society. It can also be read as a meta-critique of the influence of popular culture upon the gangs and those that document them: both the brothers and the film-makers are seemingly enthralled by their slick "gangsta" image. Sadly, the film contains no social or political context and, more critically, no editorial detachment.

GHOSTS OF CITE SOLEIL is on release in the US and the UK.

Friday, July 20, 2007

HAIRSPRAY (2006) - so much fun!

HAIRSPRAY is about as much fun as you're going to have at the cinema this summer - joint-equal with DIE HARD 4.0. This movie-musical adaptation of the cult-classic John Waters flick had me laughing, crying, tapping my feet and bursting with energy. It's a movie so chock-full of energy, good-feelings and right-thinking I just don't know how anyone can object to it. And all the negatives I can think of, aren't really negatives at all - rather, the fact that film-makers didn't have time to do more!

John Waters is famous a trash film-maker - as the man who filmed obese drag-queen Divine eating dog-shit. And HAIRSPRAY also revels in human detritus, with it's close-ups of rain-streaked Baltimore suburbia, rats running among the garbage bags, and Waters himself taking a cameo as the friendly neighbourhood flasher. Water's philosophy has never been a Candide-like delusion about how grim life really is. Rather, he wants us to embrace the shittiness of life and our strange differences. Come through smiling - come through fabulous! This is why I've always found Waters' films perversely uplifting. After all, his misfits - gays, ethnic minorities, over-weight people, cinephiles - have always triumphed over the uptight world that tried to hold them down. His message has always been that differences are beautiful. Or to quote the demonstraters in the original HAIRSPRAY - "Segregation never: integration now!"

Adam Shankman's new adaptation of the musical based on Water's original film is true to the spirit of the original. It opens with obese but perky teenager Tracy Turnblad waking up in shitty 1960s Baltimore. It's an era of racial segregation and WASP conformity. She sings and dances her way to school happy in her own physical appearance and determined to become a dancer on the wildly popular Corny Collins TV show. The opening number sets the pace for the rest of the film. The lyrics are witty, the tunes are catchy and lead actress, Nikki Blonsky, is captivating. The rest of the musical sees her over-come a string of prejudices. She helps her mother regain her confidence; helps her best-friend escape from her prejudiced mother and date a coloured boy; and successfully integrates the Corny Collins Show. Oh yes, and she wins the heart of the dream-boat boyfriend of the Waspy blonde.

There's nothing not to like in-front of or behind the camera. The costume design is cracking - especially regarding Michelle Pfeiffer's shiny, spiky outfits. She's like a Size Zero, frosted version of Dolores Umbridge. All the actors and absolutely superb, including a surprisingly moving performance by John Travolta behind the latex as Edna. Perhaps most surprising on the up-side - purely because I haven't seen him in much - is James Marsden proving his gift for comedy as Corny Collins. Most disappointing was the lack of screen-time for Amanda Bynes and the lack of song and dance time for the genius that is Christopher Walken. But absolutely everyone is upstaged by a tiny cameo from Alison Janney as Penny Pingleton's religious zealot mother. Definitely the funniest role in the film. And if you want pure gut-wrenching emotion, check out Queen Latifah's anti-racism anthem, which Shankman is sensitive enough to shoot in a relatively straightforward style.

HAIRSPRAY is on release in the UK and US. It opens in Israel next week. It opens in Argentina, Italy, Russia, Denmark, France, Singapore, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands in August and in Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Iceland, Spain and Brazil in September. It opens in Japan and Turkey in late October.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES is directed by the giant of French cinema, Alain Resnais and based on the play by acclaimed English author Alan Aychbourn. It is photographed by Eric Gautier, the respected DP who brought us GABRIELLE and THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES. It is acted by a superb cast comprising Sabine Azéma, Lambert Wilson, André Dussollier, Pierre Arditi, Laura Morante and Isabelle Carré.

All this means that I approach the film with much respect for all concerned. It does not, however, preclude me from damning it as pretentious, tedious, over-worked, heavy-handed, deliberately oblique, wank. Seriously. There is nothing new here. No insights into contemporary human loneliness and relationships. Nothing.

The film/play is based on six people and uses the over-familiar structure wherein everyone is linked to everyone else. Andre Dussolier plays an ageing estate agent who is showing Laura Morante's character around apartments. She is frustrated with the choices, though we later find that this reflects her frustration with her lazy fiance, played by Lambert Wilson. He spends his time drinking in a bar managed by Pierre Arditi instead of looking for a job. Arditi tells him to ditch his fiancee and find a new woman. So he hooks up with a pretty young blonde played by Sabine Azema. She has low self-esteem due to being constantly let down by dates. She lives with her (incredibly) much older brother, played by Andre Dussolier. And Dussolier's colleague, played by Isabelle Carre, completes the circle. She plays a fiercely religious woman who gives Dussolier's character videos of "Songs of Praise" type shows, that are actually taped over tantalising home-made porn videos! Oh yes, and she works part time as a carer for Pierre Arditi's character's father.

The only reason I stayed in the cinema was to see how they resolved by the religious woman/porn star segment. They basically didn't. What we did get was some heavy-handed imagery. Oh, the characters are so isolated and emotionally cold that when they speak it snows INSIDE the house. Ah, so poetic! Unbelievable.

PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES/COEURS played Venice 2006 where it (unbelievably) won Best Director and Best Actress for Laura Morante. It has already opened in France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, the US, Greece, Israel, Brazil and the UK. It opens in Argentina on August 2nd.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NAMASTEY LONDON - bear with it....

NAMASTEY LONDON is an infuriating film. Which is not to say that it doesn't work on some level. I began by watching the DVD extras, including some interviews with the cast and crew. Director Vipul Amrutlal Shah, the man behind WAQT: A RACE AGAINST TIME, was keen to emphasise that this was NOT a typical Hindi film. He wanted to avoid those typical dance numbers in front of famous London landmarks and photograph the real streets where ex-pats live. The lead actors, Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, were also keen to emphasise that their characters were just normal people - nothing special. Akshay's Punjabi boy, Arjun Singh, should not be over-played as a village idiot. And Katrina's London-bred modern girl, Jasmeet, should not be a caricature either. The movie should be a funny, moving tale of love between two opposites with some soft-pedalled social criticism thrown in.

So imagine my surprise when I started watching the film. It is about as unrealistic as any Bollywood movie ever tried to be, with London and Indian iconic landmarks up the wazoo. Despite being a London bus-driver, Jasmeet's father somehow lives in Hampstead-style mansion. Jasmeet herself is no modern career girl in a dull office. Rather she skips into work in a mini-skirt and has a desk over-looking St Paul's Cathedral! But the real kicker is that her English boyfriend, hillariously called Charlie Brown, lives in an English country house full of antiques and while he looks about thirty he has apparently been divorced three times. 45 minutes into the film, Jasmeet's father packs the family off to India and marries her off to the Punjabi boy. Again caricatures. Punjabis drink milk straight from the cow, drink too much alcohol and eat too much ghee!

Still, these flaws are common to the genre, and if we look for identifiers of quality in an old-fashioned Bollywood film we have to ask two questions: how were the song and dance numbers and did we feel all sappy about the central love story? The songs were basically mediocre so no luck there. But where the film does luck out is in casting Akshay. Because while Akshay has a very narrow range, he can certainly do what he does well - and that's the good-hearted simple boy turned romantic hero. He really looks heart-broken when Jasmeet dumps him and we will him to get back together with her. Katrina is window-dressing, although she does a good job of speaking heavily English-accented Hindi. Her straight-forward English, however, has a strong American accent.

As for the social critique there are some nice lines about how ex-pat Indians want the best of both worlds. But the best speech is given by Arjun Singh on a boat on the Thames. He explains to patronising Englishmen the strength of India. Sure, it's patriotic flag-waving, but you can't help inwardly applaud a country where "a Catholic woman steps aside so that a Sikh can be sworn in as Prime Minister by a Muslim President in a country where more than 80% of the population is Hindu."

NAMASTEY LONDON was released in March 2007 and is now available on DVD.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

MOLIERE In Love? Don't flatter yourself.

Writer-directer Laurent Tirard delivers a tedious, witless costume drama, marketed in the UK as Molière In Love. It is an unfortunate comparison to make. I am no fan of the lead performances in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE but you simply have to admire its energy, beautiful production design and witty, intelligent, multi-faceted script. MOLIERE is rather thin gruel by comparison.

The immensely talented Romain Duris plays the impecunious playwright-actor. He is recruited by a wealthy social climber called M. Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini) to help him woo the imperious Marquise Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier). In order to keep this liason secret from Madame Jourdaine (Laura Morante), Molière adopts the role of a pious priest named Tartuffe. Molière and Madame Jourdain begin an affair and also try to protect Mlle. Jourdain from a loveless marriage to the son of a scheming bankrupt Marquis (Edouard Baer).

Those who know Molière's plays will see embryonic characters and scenes played out and take some delight in the fictional "what ifs?" And there is a lot of fun to be had watching Edouard Baer and Fabrice Luchini play the roles of nincompoop social climber and lecherous Marquis. It is, while attenuated by a flabby script, the germinal joy of watching Molière's plays!

Everything else is a bit of a disappointment. The production is lavish but has none of the grit, grime and attention to detail seen in BBC productions. Where are Shakespeare's inky fingers? And could they not have produced a more convincing wig for Romain Duris? The pacing is way off. The first hour of the movie could be radically condensed for a start. There is no social or political context - the stuff that distracted from the saccharine in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. Admittedly, the action takes place in a country estate rather than in a bustling capital city so there is less opportunity to show wider society. Still, one suspects a writer of Stoppard's talent would have made more of the pedestrian surroundings. And as for the final scene, presumably it was meant to cause violent emotion in the viewer. I found it hackneyed.

MOLIERE was released earlier this year in Belgium, France, Greece, Israel and Lithuania. It is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Hungary, Russia and the US on July 26th. It opens in the Netherlands and Argentina in August and in Australia on Boxing Day 2007.

Monday, July 16, 2007


LAST TANGO IN PARIS is a movie whose myths engulf our perceptions of it. For generations of leery teenagers there has been the attraction of the infamous butter-lubricated sodomy scene. For cinephiles, there is the hysterically positive movie review that made Pauline Kael's career. And for chroniclers of the censors' dark arts, there are those missing 9 seconds and the Italian court case.

With the re-release of an uncut version of the film as part of the British Film Institute's Marlon Brando season, we have a chance to move beyond the hype and the reams of coverage and back to the film itself. Shorn of the controversy and the mores of the time, how does LAST TANGO IN PARIS play? The good news is that we really do have one of the great performances of all time. We also have flashes of directorial brilliance. But we also have a grossly self-indulgent film with a rather careless denouement.

Director Bernardo Bertolucci and lead actors Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider create an absolutely courageous and brutal piece of cinema. Its courageousness stems from its complete honesty in dissecting a middle-aged man's traumatic relationship with his dead wife. The scene in which Brando confronts his emotions at the side of his wife's corpse is searing in its intensity and honesty. The scene is brave and raw in a way that one can only imagine Brando truly pulling off.

The movie is brutal in its direct portrayal of the way in which Brando's character, Paul, exorcises his ghosts - namely in a highly-charged erotic relationship with a self-confident younger woman called Jeanne, played by Maria Schneider. The brutality of the relationship is displayed superficially in Brando's harsh treatment of Jeanne and in her submission to his perverse education. In scenes clearly inspired by Sade and Bataille, Paul encourages Jeanne to explore the savage aspects of her sexuality and to break from bourgeois morality. But the brutality plays at a much more sophisticated level. Paul has been deeply traumatised by her relationship with his ex-wife and wants to savagely cut out all emotion from his relationship to Jeanne. He literally wants to brutalise himself. Jeanne is a victim of this as Paul with-holds even his name from her. The tragedy of the situation is that Paul cannot stop himself from developing feelings from Jeanne. But, paradoxically, by brutalising Jeanne, he helps her "grow up" and out of her dependence on him.

LAST TANGO IN PARIS is, then, an intense experience and is carried by the talent and experience of Brando the actor and by the raw performance of Maria Schneider. It is, I think, let down by the director's musings on the nature of cinema and by the denouement. Obviously, I cannot discuss the latter here, but the former strikes me as self-indulgent. Bertolucci clearly identifies with the French New Wave - a movement dominated by French critics turned film-makers. So the role of the artist is of interest to him. Sadly, however, the sub-plot involving Jeanne's fiance - a documentary film-maker, seems like a distraction.

Still, for all that, LAST TANGO is worth watching. But just watch it for the right reasons! For Brando. For DP Vittorio Storaro's delicate use of colour. Those searching for pornography will feel very disappointed. Watching as part of a contemporary audience, I can't help but think how discreet it is!

LAST TANGO IN PARIS was originally released in 1972 and is currently on re-release in the UK. It is also available on DVD.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

DON (2006) - laughable

If Quentin Tarantino directed an old-school Bollywood action thriller, it would be like the original 1970s version of DON. That DON is a humungously popular flick starring Amitabh Bachchan and Helen. It has a kitsch sound-track, insane sunglasses and crazy-ass fight scenes. Seriously, if DEATH PROOF has you hooked, you should check DON out. Teasers and expos can be found here.

This 2006 remake is a different beast. It's caught between a desire to be all things hi-tech and a guilty love of all things 70s and naff. So we have polished stunts and glossy back-drops - namely Paris and Kuala Lumpur. But we also have disco-tastic outfits and dance sequences. The overall effect is as bizarre as the lead character's penchant for knitted ties and heavily patterned rayon shirts.

What's the plot? Director Farhan Akhtar remains faithful to his father's original script bar one crucial plot twist. As in the original, Don is a high-powered gangster being chased down by a vengeful hot chick and a wily copper. The hot chick infiltrates Don's organisation and soon becomes his trusted number two. Meanwhile, the wily copper has substituted a doppelganger street-kid for the real Don, in order to gain all of the organisation's secrets. Oh yes, and as this is a Bollywood flick, there is a regulation-cute street-urchin to tug at the heart strings.

So follows a lot of nonsense. Shah Rukh Khan is convincing as the street-smart doppelganger, but utterly unconvincing as a hard-as-nails gangster. Priyanka Chopra and Kareeena Kapoor are under-used in the female roles. Arjun Rampal is surprisingly okay in a smaller role but it is, once again, the multi-talented Boman Irani as the wily coppper, who gives the most credible performance. The tech package is decent but the 70s pastiche songs from Shankar Mahadevan are woeful.

In other words, the only real merit to this re-make is the unintended comedy. To wit, comedy gold like:

Don: I should've listened to what mother used to say...
other: What did your mother say?
Don: When I didn't listen to what she said, how can I tell you?

And the idiotic brilliance of a character who always refers to himself in the third person:
Don: Don's enemy's biggest mistake is that he's Don's enemy.
Don: People don't leave Don but the world instead...

DON went on cinematic release in October 2006 and is now available on DVD.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE - werewolf tale as bland & sappy as day-time TV

BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE is a banal sappy love story set amidst a back-drop of were-wolf lore. Despite the marketing, there is precious little blood, gore, horror or action. (And what there is features a very wet Hugh Dancy trying to look hard with a gun.)

Agnes Bruckner plays Vivian - a teenage werewolf with an American accent living in....wait for it....contemporary Bucharest! She hangs with a bunch of annoying British public-school boys/werewolves in wannabe-cool underground clubs. Vivian has been "promised" to Oliver Martinez' sleazy French ueber-werewolf but is falling for Hugh Dancy's wet (and inexplicably American) graphic novelist. Conveniently, said wet-boy has an in-depth knowledge of were-wolf lore. Cue some unbelievably wet falling-in-love montage shots from uninspired director Katja von Garnier. There is some angst. Some more angst. Earnest little Vivian wonders whether she should "fulfil her destiny" as a hunter of men and play-thing of the sleazy henchman OR run away with the novelist. It's all very very forgettable.

BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE went on release in Russia, the US, Malaysia, the UK, Brazil, Iceland, Singapore, Greece, Portugal, Thailand, Poland, Latvia, Spain and Turkey earlier in 2007. It is now available on DVD.

Friday, July 13, 2007

THE DREAMERS - less Tango more self-indulgence

In a week when Bertolucci's greatest film, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, is released again in the UK, let's take a look at his 2003 release, THE DREAMERS. Both films deal with self-realisation through transgressive sexual relationships and put cinephilia cetre stage. But, separated by thirty years, Berolucci treats the subjects rather differently.

TANGO is a 100% Bertolucci product mediated by Brando. The sexual obsession with a random younger woman stems from his own fantasies, as does the need to put a film-maker centre stage. The brutality and the refusal to opt for easy choices (up until the final scene) are pure anti-Hollywood, as is the visual experimentation.

THE DREAMERS is a different beast, not least because Bertolucci is mediating the memoirs of Gilbert Adair. He tells the story of a young American (Michael Pitt) who arrives in Paris on the eve of the 1968 riots. He is taken up by an eccentric brother and sister (Louis Garrel and Eva "Casino Royale" Green). Soon they are abandoned in their parents decadent apartment and enter into an incestuous menage a trois while Paris burns outside their window. At first, the American is entranced by their chic and cine-literacy. When he asks the sister how old she is, she responds, a la Jean Seberg, "I entered this world on the Champs-Elysees, 1959. La trottoir du Champs Elysees. And do you know what my very first words were? New York Herald Tribune! New York Herald Tribune!" The American is flattered and seduced by the siblings declaration that "We accept you, one of us! One of us!" As their relationship deepends he realises that he may not be as accepting of their transgressive behaviour as they are. To be one of them is to be, to some extent, a freak. Their relationship is, then, ultimately doomed.

THE DREAMERS is as courageous in portraying sexual relationships as TANGO but lacks the emotional depth. Furthermore, unshackled from the intensity and brutality of emotional discoveries made in TANGO, Bertolucci is free to indulge his love of the French New Wave. THE DREAMERS is a web of references to and re-enactments of seminal scenes from cinema history. To that end, it's a joyful puzzle for cinema fans, but I suspect something of a bore for casual viewers. It's not just cinema history that's under the 'scope, but the very means by which we take in moving images. In a key scene, the American takes the Sister to the cinema. She instinctively goes to the first row, where the cinephiles sit. But the American wants her to sit in the back row, like on a real date, where the point of being there is to kiss rather than watch the art.

"Why do we sit so close? Maybe it was because we wanted to receive the images first. When they were still new, still fresh. Before they cleared the hurdles of the rows behind us. Before they'd been relayed back from row to row, spectator to spectator; until worn out, secondhand, the size of a postage stamp, it returned to the projectionist's cabin. Maybe, too, the screen was really a screen. It screened us... from the world."

Overall then, THE DREAMERS is a cinephile's delight. The lush photography and production design; the cinema references and the decent performances from the leads make it a worthwhile experience. But it does not have the profound impact of TANGO.

THE DREAMERS was originally released in 2003 and is available on DVD.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

OLD JOY - great concept but a little trying

As a cinephile I feel I should really love perverse little films like OLD JOY, but while I admire its perversity, the high-art concept tried my patience.

It opens with Daniel London's character Mark having a terse conversation with his wife. An old friend has been in touch wanting to go on a camping trip. The wife is clearly not happy but Mark sets off. Will Oldham plays the friend, Kurt. They two may once have been close but now Kurt a bearded drifter who rambles on about nothing in particular. So follows an 70 minute lament for friends who no longer have anything in common. Old joys have turned to sorrow.

The evocative sound track is by Yo La Tengo. The sound design captures every bird-song and insect chirrup. The Super 16 photography beautifully captures the lush Oregon forest. Caterpillars crawling along grass and leaves reflected in water are shown in loving close-ups. Whole swathes of the movie are long, patient tracking shots of the protagonists driving or hiking. For those who look for it there is an interesting homo-erotic sub-text. The central performances are well done. But my god is it dull.

OLD JOY was released in the UK in January 2007 and opens in France next week. It is available on DVD.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


This review is brought to you by guest reviewer, Al, who can usually be found here. For BINA's review flip to the end of this review.....

Like many of you, I've followed the Potter franchise through every book and film it has spit out - and with every new installment comes a wave of anticipation and excitement, particularly bigger this time around since the
last film set the bar pretty high.

I'll start off with the good stuff, then work my way down. Imelda Staunton as plays the part of Dolores Umbridge perfectly and hits all the right notes. Aside from Potter himself, the other main characters weren't given much attention and as a result constantly appeared dull and uninteresting. Umbridge, however, was simply a joy to watch, and they certainly managed her character nicely. The special effects were not too shabby, all the wand-waving and so on isn't something we haven't seen in the previous Potter films. The high point when Dumbledore battles Voldermort is executed magnificently (and I found it the most memorable part of the film), and they certainly took the SE opportunities the part of the story handed them.

The biggest problem with the film was its jarring inconsistency: for a large portion of the film the mood continually alternates from good to bad. The lighter, less serious scenes would constantly interrupt whatever sense of suspense or tension that was being developed. Consequently the heavier scenes were undermined and the build-up to the climax was significantly stunted.

The script felt like it was guided by a checklist at times, responsibly including parts of the book that mattered most (without overstuffing), and while this effort is commendable, they could've given more time for certain important parts to completely develop and be part of the story, instead of simply adding to it. Terms like 'Order of The Phoenix' and 'The Prophecy' are introduced impatiently then given skimpy explanations, after which they're repeatedly mentioned and used as a character's motivation.

Compared to previous installments, there's little room given for subplots and the film is largely dedicated to Potter. As a result there are only a handful of scenes without him, and sadly Daniel Radcliffe is incapable of carrying such weight on his shoulders. His acting chops haven't improved much - he seems awkward in the role and has a lot of trouble emoting -e ven a simple smile looks unconvincing - a lot of overacting when he's supposed to look frightened/threatened. Personally I found that Radcliffe's poor acting did a lot of damage to this film.Even with music and special effects attempting to convey a certain scene's darkness, Radcliffe's acting still comes off as distracting and makes the whole thing look plain fatuous.

The characters we've grown to know and love - Potter's two main compatriots, Dumbledore, Trelawney are provided little screen time and simply blend in with the rest of the supporting cast. Even Hagrid appears less than thrice - a shame considering how far previous films had gone to make his character (and few others) likable and essential to Potter's life.

HP&TOOTP is an enjoyable but forgettable follow-up to the last installment, though the ending effectively sets up a solid platform for the next film - establishing a sense of continuity and hopefulness that tells us it's not the end,and however unsatisfying this Potter film may be,the journey's still incomplete and there's more to go on for.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX is on release in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, the USA, Venezuala and Argentina. It opens on the 12th in Germany, Hungary, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Serbia, Sngapore,Slovakia, South Korea, Thailand and the UK. It opens on the 13th i Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, Sweden and Turkey. It opens later in July in Egypt, Croatia, Czech Republic, Israel, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. It opens in China and Greece in August.

The late review from Bina007, back from Barbados: There are some things that are always faultless about HARRY POTTER movies. They are based on richly imagined source material and the studio spares no expense in bringing all the wonderful details of J K Rowling's world to the screen. I love the beautiful Hogwarts sets, the eccentric characters with their vivid costumes and the seamless CGI characters such as the House Elfs. The films are also leant a level of authenticity by the rich cast of British character actors.

Having said all this, the films remain a mixed bag. The first two installments, THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE & THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS were directed by hack Christopher Columbus and had zero visual flair. Still, they got the job done. And in those days, the job was easier. The material was mostly light, fun and magical. It was all about buying your first wand and winning the House Cup. The gripping finales were all about solving neat puzzles.

Then came THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, directed by Alfonso Cuaron of Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN fame. He produced a film of rare visual style that followed the book in becoming far darker. The evil manifests itself as dementors - an analogy for depression and a brave theme for Rowling to introduce in what remains a children's book. We also first feel the power of the "real" wizarding world and the Ministry of Magic. Cuaron also made the movie more adult in that it focused more on Harry's emotional life rather than joining the dots of Rowling's increasingly elongated plot-lines. However, this also led to the movie feeling a little disjointed and less emotionally engaging.

The fourth film reverted to director-for-hire Mike Newell and I condemned it as uneven in tone and lacking in visual flair
here. Still, this wasn't so much Newell's fault as a reflection of the fact that books were literally as well as substantively in puberty. The film therefore stumbled from teen rom-com dating angst to seriously scary death scenes as Rowling struggled to balance the maturing and darkening of what began as a children's book.

Which is all a long-winded way of getting to where I wanted to be, at THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. It is, to my mind, THE MOST SATISFYING FILM IN THE FRANCHISE. It has less visual flair than AZKABAN certainly. The dark tone mostly rips off Cuaron and there is some really clumsy colour-correct in the opening play-ground scene. I also think the lead actors are serviceable rather than amazing. Daniel Radcliffe plays it mostly in a stunned stupour - just look at his lack of reaction when he's told about his expulsion. Emily Watson and Rupert Grint also tend to speak so fast that they gobble up their lines.

But the movie has by far the most even emotional tone of the series in that it is unrelentingly dark. No more Quidditch. No more House Cup. Even the first kiss is basically a sombre affair - as Harry says, it was "wet" because the girl was crying. And Imelda Staunton is simply petrifying as Dolores Umbridge. Freed from the boarding school pranks, this movie has the space to simply be an affecting and well-produced tale of friendship under peril. IT IS THE ONLY FILM IN THE FRANCHISE THAT I WOULD HAPPILY WATCH AGAIN.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

BIGGIE AND TUPAC - guns don't kill rappers, rozzers do

BIGGIE AND TUPAC is another of Nick Broomfield's investigative documentaries. As with KURT AND COURTNEY, his imagination has been caught by the infamous and officially unsolved fatal shooting of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. The theory doing the rounds before the documentary was made was that Biggie and Tupac were caught in the cross-fire of an East coast/West coast gang war. The on-stage and on-record verbal histrionics - as a well as a punch-up at the MGM Grand - attested to the rivalry.

But Broomfield uncovers a more complicated truth. First off, neither Tupac nor Biggie were the ghetto thugs they pretended to be in their rap videos. Tupac attended a school for the performing arts and Biggie went to a private school. Both, however, were drawn to the "thug life" and "glamourised" their personal histories.

Second off, while the middle-class media might portray rap as the inspiration of all manner of social ills, it is clear that Tupac was himself influenced by gangster films. Still, he only started behaving like a violent mafiosi when he drifted into the orbit of record producer and alleged gangster, Suge Knight.

Third and most importantly, Broomfield uncovers what seems to be common knowledge on the streets of Compton. A number of people allege that Suge Knight killed Tupac to avoid paying him millions of dollars in royalties. He then arranged a hit on Biggie to make it seem like an East-West gang war. Knight was apparently able pull the double-hit off because he had a number of LAPD rozzers on his pay-role.

It's a fantastic and credible story, not least because Broomfield's witnesses aren't a bunch of nut-jobs, as in KURT AND COURTNEY, but an apparently honest cop and guilt-ridden middle-man. And I do rather like Broomfield's documentary style, which makes the difficulties in uncovering the story as much a part of the film as the final information itself. The most impressive example of this is Broomfield's final interview with Suge Knight in prison. Broomfield's normal cameraman is too fearful for his life to film Suge, so a free-lance photographer is brought in. The guy is so nervous he can barely keep the camera on the subject. This, more than any filmed interviews, is testament to the menacing power exerted by such men.

BIGGIE AND TUPAC went played Sundance and went on release in 2002. It is available on DVD.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A GOOD YEAR - charming, if utterly predictable, romance

I know, I know. Movies where ruthless capitalist bastards "find themselves" in lushly photographed socialist villages are a tad predictable. A GOOD YEAR is no different, but if you're willing to accept the format, it has a lot of laughs and some good old-fashioned sappy romance. Russell Crowe camps it up in the opening act as Max, a greedy capitalist bond-trading bastard par excellence. He manipulates the market to within an inch of the law, shags around, insults his underlings and generally enjoys his Master of the Universe status. When his uncle (Albert Finney) dies and leaves him a French chateau, Max' first impulse is to sell it for a ton of money via his similarly ethically-challenged best-mate and estate agent (Tom Hollander.) There is little in life funnier that seeing Crowe drive past a bunch of French cyclists, give them the finger and shout out "Lance Amrstrong". There's also little funnier in life than seeing a banker stuck in an empty swimming pool unable to reach his blackberry.

Of course, Max is redeemed. He falls in love with a ballsy local waitress (Cotillard, unrecognisable out of her Piaf make-up.) He remembers his uncle and his own youth (Freddie Highmore). He reconciles with his illegitimate cousin (Abbie Cornish) and even his best mate softens. The highlights are the lush photography and Tom Hollander's scene-stealing role as the oleaginous agent. Of course, it's schmaltz. But superior schmaltz all the same.

A GOOD YEAR was released in autumn 2006 and is available on DVD.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

DIE HARD 4.0 aka LIVE FREE OR DIE HARDER aka The Best Summer Blockbuster of 07!

YES YES YES!!! Finally, a summer blockbuster that does what it says on the tin, and then some. Action movie, buddy movie, witty one-liners and Bruce Willis as NYPD cop John McClane blowing shit up. This movie is a noble addition to the DIE HARD franchise. It doesn't feel tired or re-hashed. It never slides into pastiche or post-modern winking at the audience. It just does what it always did but bigger and better.

In this installment, John McClane (Willis) is sent to pick up a computer hacker called Matt (the amiable and comically gifted Justin Long) and deliver him to the Feds in Washington, headed up by the always brilliant Cliff Curtis. Matt, along with a bunch of other low-level nerds, have unwittingly helped a mean terrorist bring down all the computer networks in the US, causing mayhem. The terrorists want to kill the hacker, which results in some cool one-liners and some wicked stunts - the dogs bollocks of which is an awesome truck-blowing-helicopter-up scene in a tunnel.

Of course, the DIE HARD flicks have always outdone themselves with the baddies too, and in this installment we get Timothy Olyphant in an arguably career-making role as genius hacker Thomas Gabriel. He manages real menace as well as some cutting sarcasm. He has a Kung Fu side-kick played by Maggie Q and she inadvertantly provides Bruce Willis with some of his best comedy riffs. Lest you think McClane's treatment of the Kung Fu chick verges on the misogynistic, we have him rescuing his daughter Lucy, who has inherited her father's balls of steel. So the chicks are represented, so to say.

Is this movie absolutely 100% perfect? If I were being picky I'd say that Len Wiseman is not my idea of a good director of action scenes. And the Kevin Smith cameo is weak - or is it just my disappointment to see him selling out like this? And, while I am willing to suspend my disbelief so far, the whole jet fighter scene is plain ridiculous.

But this is all marginal quibbling around the central fact that DIE HARD 4.0 is THE summer blockbuster of 2007. Have no fear my friends, the PG-13 certified movie does not let us down. So head to your local multiplex in all confidence. This flick is Yippee-Kay-Yay-Tastic.

DIE HARD 4.0 aka LIVE FREE OR DIE HARDER is on release in Japan, the UK, the US, Finland, Kuwait, Bulgaria, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Greece, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Cyprus, India, Japan, Lithuania, Turkey, Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Taiwan. It opens in Israel, Singapore, Thailand, Mexico and Poland this weekend and in South Korea on July 19th. It opens in Slovenia, Brazil, Australia, Bolivia, New Zealand and Argentina in August and in Spain in September and in Italy in October.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

THE COVENANT - less horror, more nonsense

THE COVENANT is a mildly amusing teen flick that happens to have some warlocks and wire-fu in it. A teenage girl transfers to an exclusive American prep school and begins flirting with a hot guy from the swim team. Trouble is, the hot guys from the swim team are collectively known as the "Sons of Ipswich". This means that they have low level super-powers and drive about in cool cars saying stupid things like: "I'm going to make you my Wee-yotch!" One of the Sons starts a feud with the other sons, culminating in him taking the hot chick hostage and some low-level wire-fu stunts. Stuff gets blown up. The boy gets the girl. You don't get those 90 minutes back. But hey, what should we expect from the director of the piss-poor Exorcist prequel, not to mention THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT and CUTHROAT ISLAND? Renny Harlin has sure fallen a long way off the pace of DIE HARD 2.

THE COVENANT was released last fall and is now available on DVD

Monday, July 02, 2007


SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY is a documentary in which the film-maker, Sydney Pollack, is a friend and a fan of the subject, pioneering architect Frank Gehry. Pollack's documentary lacks balance. It is good on the process by which Gehry creates his buildings but less good at what makes up the man and what Gehry's place in the evolution of architecture is. It is noticeable than when talking heads praise a building we see beautiful photography of that building. When detractors mention a building, we do not see it. Instead we quickly cut to another fan who blows them out of the water. Now, I have no view either way. I know little about architecture. Problem is that after watching this messily organised documentary I am no nearer an understanding of the debate. I took my cousin Bugsy -an architect - along to the screening. He is an architect and an agnostic on Gehry's work and found the documentary too lightweight on architecture to satisfy professional interest and yet too superficial to give an interesting emotional impression of Gehry. So, two thumbs down from Family007.

SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY played Toronto 2005. It was released in the US, France, Australia, Belgium and Spain in 2006 and in the Netherlands, Italy and Japan earlier this year. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in Germany on July 5th 2007. It is currently available on Region 1 DVD.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

SHUTTER - like a Thai Ju-On

SHUTTER is a scary-ass Thai horror film. Two college kids are driving home from a mate's wedding and accidentally run over a young woman. Instead of stopping to help, the boyfriend - a photographer - urges his girlfriend to keep on driving. After that, perhaps as manifestations of their guilty consciences, images of the dead girl show up in his photos and they both feel that her gruesome spirit is stalking her. It's nuts and bolts spooooooky horror: lots of "jump out of your skin" moments even though there is nothing radical or pioneering here save the fact that this is a Thai rather than Japanese movie. Recommended for regulation scares but it also works as a thriller with a satisfying revelation near the end. And yes, there is a Hollywood re-hash scheduled for next year, natch.

SHUTTER was released in Thailand back in 2004 and his since been released in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Poland, Brazil, Mexio, Japan, Italy and Argentina. It is currently on release in the UK and is available on Region 1 DVD.