Friday, August 31, 2007

HALLAM FOE - a puzzling little film

HALLAM FOE is an odd, puzzling film and I'm not convinced it added up to much in the end. However, cinephiles will want to see it for Jamie Bell's brave central performance as the eponymous troubled teen.

Hallam is a seventeen year-old boy who is convinced that his mother's suicide was engineered by his step-mother (Claire Forlani with a perfect English accent.) Since the death, Hallam has retreated into his tree-house, snooping on people from afar and nurturing his paranoid delusions. Confronted by the (apparently) Macchiavellian step-mother, Hallam flees to Edinburgh. There, he takes a menial job in a hotel in order to get close to a young woman (Sophia Myles) who happens to look like his dead mother.

The movie is strong on performances and the look is suitably sinister and grim. Hallam comes across as conflicted and borderline insane - but also as charming and warm. I really cared about what happened to him. This is in sharp contrast to writer-director, David Mackenzie's, earlier film, YOUNG ADAM, which I found to be irredeemably bleak and alienating.

Where this film lost me was in the writing. The motivations of key characters seemed a bit random or insufficiently fleshed out. I never got a grip on what the dad (Ciaran Hinds) was up to for a start. And the Sophia Myles character was bizarre - in a good way I think - because instead of running screaming at the idea of having dated her stalker she actually embraces his weirdness. It's a strangely optimistic thought. Apart from all these substantive issues, some of the scenes just don't work. There's a particularly excruciating pre-coital scene in a hotel suite between Hallam and his girlfriend, for instance.

Still, it's another great performance from Jamie Bell and proves that he is maturing into an interesting actor who is willing to take on challenging roles.

HALLAM FOE played Berlin, where it won the Silver Bear, and Edinburgh 2007 and is currently on release in the UK and Germany. It opens in Swizterland on October 4th, in Belgium on October 24th and in the Netherlands on January 17th 2008.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

YOUNG ADAM - irredeemably bleak and alienating

YOUNG ADAM is an earlier film by the writer-director of HALLAM FOE, David Mackenzie. The film attracted some controversy upon its initial release in 2003 because of the graphic sex scenes and a full frontal shot of Ewan Macgregor that brought down the wrath of the US censors. Apparently the US censors also have a problem with a man orally pleasuring a woman.

Behind all the hoopla we have a brutal drama about an enigmatic but slightly sinister young man called Joe whose past relationship with a woman called Cathie is called into question when her body is found in the canal where he is now working on a barge and sleeping with the barge-master's wife.

The subject-matter of the piece is similar to HALLAM FOE, insofar as it deals with a young man who feels he has no real place in society and examines his sexual relations with a number of different women with uncompromising honesty. YOUNG ADAM also shares the admirable unwillingness to explain too much, as well as rather grim production design and cinematography. David Mackenzie also elicits a captivating performance from Ewan Macgregor just as he did from Jamie Bell. But YOUNG ADAM also shares the same problems as HALLAM FOE. Some of the dialogue and sexual encounters seemed plained bizarre and I didn't always feel confident that the writer knew where he was taking his characters.

The peculiar strength and failure of YOUNG ADAM is its willingness to put a fundamentally cold, inscrutable and unsympathetic character and the heart of the story. It's a bold move. But as the movie unfolded I just felt alienated.

YOUNG ADAM played Cannes and Toronto 2003 and opened around the world that year, although in a heavily censored version in the US. It is now available on DVD.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Where's Wally?

So I got a couple of emails asking why the posts have gone from daily frequency to nada. The sad truth is that dealing with the fall-out from financial market shenanigans have trumped my extra-curricular activities to the point where I earned my BA gold card. Anyways, when the Gekkos of this world start behaving themselves/file for personal bankruptcy I'll get back to posting more regularly. Till then, my apologies for the somewhat sporadic service. We look forward to a better world where we call a spade a spade and sub-prime debt, junk, and your humble servant has time to goof off early and head to the local multiplex. Laters, Bina007.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A strangely passion-less LADY CHATTERLEY

French director Pascale Ferran has turned in a lyrical but curiously anaemic version of the infamous novel. It scores strong on its high definition photography of lush English countryside and its elegant costumes and interior design. Frankly, it looks like a Laura Ashley catalogue. Marina Hands also make a delicate and tremulous Lady Chatterley, bored, isolated and frustrated since her husband lost his legs in World War One. But Jean-Louis Coulloch's Parkin (as Mellors was in D H Lawrence's first draft) is hopelessly mis-cast. Instead of a vital man at home in nature, we have a fat, balding heavy-breather who looks a bit like Marlon Brando in LAST TANGO but without the ravaged vestiges of beauty. The sex scenes are hopelessly unerotic and hopelessly shot. The whole exercise rolls forward painfully slowly, softly lit with birds twittering in the back-ground. I have to say, I was bored rigid. And as for this movie winning a clutch of Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, did none of the voters see GABRIELLE?

LADY CHATTERLEY was released in France in 2006 and played Berlin 2007. It was released in Belgium, Greece, Russia, Finland, Norway and the US earlier this year and goes on release in the UK tomorrow. It goes on release in Australia on September 6th 2007.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

FANAA - bipolar Bollywood

FANAA is a film that follows the conventions of Bollywood to its own undoing. The first half is a typical sugary romance. Kajol plays a blind tourist called Zooni who falls in love with Aamir Khan's plain-talking tour guide, Rehan. It's a typical Hindi love story complete with songs, dancing and the obligatory rain-soaked love scene. It's all very conventional and even Kajol's innate charm can't rescue piss-poor songs like Des Rangila. Naturally, having fallen in love, Zooni regains her sight miraculously - a jump-the-shark moment if ever there was one.

After the interval, FANAA turns into a completely different film. It turns out that Rehan is actually a terrorist on the run from the police. He abandons Zooni and their unborn child only to resurface years later, by which time the movie has turned into a cross between SOMERSBY and a snow-bound thriller. It's all deeply unedifying and a waste of everyone's time. It's also totally unsurprising that the woman who penned this implausible drivel was also behind the tedious weepy, KABHI ALVIDA NA KEHNA.

If I have to look for a plus side, I guess I could make the dull point that all Bollywood films tends to look fabulous these days. After years of shite production values, the cinematography and special effects are of Hollywood standards. Shame about the content. Director Kunal Kohli is nothing without a good script: his previous hit HUM TUM must have been down to good chemistry between the leads.

FANAA was released in May 2006 and is available on DVD.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

EL TOPO - balls-out film-making

See the naked young Franciscans whipped with cactus. See the priest ride into the sunset with a midget and her newborn baby.EL TOPO is one of the weirdest movies you'll ever see. It's a cheeky surreal take on the Spaghetti Western shot by a Chilean director in Mexico. I can't explain what it's about, although PhD students can shoot theories of religious symbolism up the wazoo. All I can say is that the humble viewer is presented with images that are hillarious, disturbing and plain old bizarre for two hours. The back bone of the flick is the avenging cowboy, El Topo, who rides through a barren land with his butt naked seven year old son. The landscape is peopled with monks, lesbians, sufis and other random stuff. There's violence - both comic and brutal. And at one point, El Topo swaps his butt-naked son for an avenging chick, and then two. And then they emerge at some point in the futre from a cave (like a Mole - a ha!) and the son is now a weird-ass monk.....Anyways, I'm completely lost, but you can't help but have fun watching this ridiculousness.

It's funny isn't it? Everyone said that cheap Digital Video would liberate young film-makers from the hack studio system and allow them to truly express themselves. But all we've gotten are identikit "Sundance" rom-coms with quirky characters and faux-naif humour. Where are the truly liberated visual artists? Where are pioneers? Where are the Alejandro Jodarowsky's of today?

EL TOPO was released in 1970s and spent a year as the Midnight movie at the Elgin Theatre in New York after John Lennon and Yoko Ono championed it. It was re-released uncut and cleaned up in the UK in April 2007 and is also available on DVD.

Monday, August 20, 2007

NIL BY MOUTH - Fucking amazing, bloody petrifying

When you go out, you go out with your mates, and when you are in, you're pissed out and your brain's asleep in front of the fucking television. I turn the television off, go up to bed, you follow me up at three o'clock in the morning stinking of booze. That's what I get.The East End of London is an impoverished district with above-average levels of crime and unemployment. There are many films and even a long-running BBC TV serial that aim to show us life on the bread-line but they all end up humourising or glamourising the criminal element. Nearly forty years passed between Dick van Dyke's piss-poor screever and Vinnie Jones' 2-D Bullet Tooth Tony, but Hollywood's understanding had advanced not one iota.

NIL BY MOUTH stands alone as an uncompromising vision of life in smoke-filled pubs, grim Soho strip clubs, and dingy council flats. It's a world of "old-fashioned" family values. Where mouthy criminal patriarchs abuse women, and young pretenders are inducted into drug abuse, petty crime and jail time.

The movie opens in a smoky, dark, crowded pub. Men are sitting around drinking, telling darkly funny tales about fucking women, taking drugs and doing time. The gang is dominated by Ray (Ray Winstone) and Mark (Jamie Forman). Ray's wife Val (Kathy Burke) sits in another part of the pub with Ray's sister Janet (Laila Morse) and his mother and their friends. As the film progresses we learn that Janet suffers from domestic abuse and the dramatic tension rests not just in waiting for Ray to lose it, but in watching Janet's reaction to it. Will she carry on covering up for him or will she finally say something.

I admire actor-director Gary Oldman for refusing to dress up the East End and for refusing to dilute the thick East End accents and filthy language. I admire his evocation of mood with the dingy colour palette and claustrophobic settings. I also admire his skill in making the audience think it's seen more brutal violence than it really has. In two pivotal scenes we follow Ray's body into an act of violence but the camera then subtly shifts away. Our memory tricks us into remembering because of the graphic injuries his victims' sustain. Most of all, we see the psychological impact of the abuse in an outstanding dialogue between Ray and Janet near the end of the film. It's an excepionally credible and moving piece of writing, not to mention the career-best performances by Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke, who was duly rewarded at Cannes. But be warned, if you found the expletive in the title of this review offensive, NIL BY MOUTH is not for you.

NIL BY MOUTH played Cannes and Toronto 1997 and is now available on DVD.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

LICENSE TO WED saps my precious bodily fluids

If you watch it backwards, it has a plotJesus Tap-Dancing Christ! Do these people realise that it is a PRIVILEGE to be able to make a movie? That thousands of imaginative, talented kids DREAM of these kind of production budgets and distribution deals? Do these guys even know the aggregate economic output WASTED by all us poor fools who've had to PAY to have our precious bodily fluids sapped by this creepy little TURD of a movie?

Be very clear. This movie sucks ass. This should not be a surprise. The writers have written nothing of note before. The director has done some TV and that's it. The plot is basically empty. Two blandly beautiful kids have to attend "Reverend Frank's" pre-marital counselling class before he'll marry them. In other words, this is a vehicle for Robin Williams' peculiar brand of brash, irritating, re-hashed humour. And, personally, I haven't found Williams funny since 1987.

LICENSE TO WED is on already polluting mutliplex screens in the US, Greece, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong, Malysia, New Zealand, Mexico, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, Singapore, Belgium, Egypt, France, Argentina and Italy. It opens next weekend in Germany, Brazil and Iceland. It sleazes its way into Israel and Japan in September and into Norway in October 2007.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


COPYING BEETHOVEN is an insulting film on every level. Everything from its very concept to the minutiae of the acting performances offends the viewer. At worst, the writers lift scenes wholesale from the brilliant AMADEUS. The theft is all the more offensive because they have taken a work that is subtle, sophisticated and brilliantly executed and turned it into something crude and, at times, laughable.

The film opens with a young woman in a carriage rushing to the death-bed of a famous composer in Vienna. Not Constanze to Mozart, but a young composition student called Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger) rushing to the bed of Ludwig van Beethoven (Ed Harris.) There are some touching words. Sadly, they do not touch us because we are not yet involved in the story and do not yet empathise with the characters

We then switch back in time. An even younger Anna Holtz is sent to be Beethoven's copyist: to transcribe his hastily written scrawl into clear notation that can then by copied for all the musicians who are about to premiere his ninth symphony. Ed Harris' Beethoven takes on the vulgar mannerisms of Shaffer/Hulce's Mozart - mooning the prudish copyist and farting through her work. Harris' accent is also uneven. Kruger's is merely jarring, as is the entire concept that a young woman would have the liberty to attend a composer alone in his apartment or that she would dare "correct" LVB's work or that he would have her conduct his symphony covertly, but then bring her onto stage! (And no, Kruger is NOT convincing in the pivotal conducting scene.) The whole concept is as laughable as the excruciatingly embarassing "wash me" scene.

As the drama progresses we meet an under-used Matthew Goode as Anna's doting but uncomprehending boyfriend and an under-used Phyllida Law as Anna's Mother Superior aunt. Joe Anderson (
BECOMING JANE) over-acts horribly as Beethoven's scrounging but sadly oppressed nephew Karl.

LVB arrogantly proclaims to be the commanded by God to compose, making Anna God's secretary. Anna, suffering from another vicious attack from LVB, questions her relationship with God in a scene that echoes Salieri's conversations in AMADEUS - why have you given me the talent but not the opportunity replaces why have you given me the desire but not the talent. And then, in a final act of "inspiration", writers Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J Rivele (ALI, NIXON) directly quote the Salieri-Mozart death-bed composition scene. There is even the same use of words: "I have you."

What is left to praise in this wishy-washy vulgar film? Well, in an era of DV cinema, Ashley Rowe's superb cinematography is to be praised, as is Alex Mackie's editing and Paul Ghirardani & Lorand Javor's art direction. But absolutely everything else is a shameless quotation from a far better film.

COPYING BEETHOVEN was released in the US in autumn 2006 and has since been on global release. It is currently on release in Belgium and the UK. It is also available on Region 1 DVD.

Friday, August 17, 2007

EAGLE VS SHARK - over-long faux-naif romance

EAGLE VS SHARK is like watching a less funny, less sympathetic version of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, but with the sets wall-papered by Wes Anderson. It's all there. Obsessive, emotionally illiterate geeks and freaks stumbling onto love. Weirdo side-kicks with a penchant for early 80s leisure-wear. A sound-track heavy in jangly guitars, close harmony and Nick Drake knock-offs. The lead performances are both fine and the production design/art direction/framing and editing succeed in re-creating that faux-naif style. But the script is simply too thin to sustain the run-time. Shame. Probably worth renting on DVD just to see a funny Mr T impression and a very very brave un-Hollywood choice in the final confrontation.

EAGLE VS SHARK played Sundance, Berlin and Cannes 2007. It opened in the US in May and is currently playing in the UK. It opens in New Zealand on August 30th 2007.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Overlooked DVD of the month - DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES

DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES is one of the most unique and impressive British films ever made, and yet it is not as well known as greats and epics like THE THIRD MAN or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. So, here we have a combination Overlooked and Pantheon movie review.

The movie is really two films made two years apart by the British writer-director, Terence Davies. As with all his work, the film is highly autobiographical and documents working-class life in a poor Catholic family in Liverpool in the 1950s. Davies is paying homage to a life that no longer exists, with all its glory and horror. On the surface, its an extremely partriarchal society and men are seen as alien and usually of malign influence. In the first film, DISTANT LIVES, "Father" pays the bills and makes the rules. Teenage sisters have to beg for a night out. A young brother is casually thrown out of the family home. "Father" beats his wife and daughter. And when the elder daughter marries a nice enough young man, it soon becomes clear that she will not be able to socialise with her old friends as she once did. Marriage is the end of friendship. The women are oppressed but have tremendous inner resources: courage, cameraderie, a great sense of humour, and hope, as expressed in popular songs of the day. And, once the father has died, the house becomes truly matriarchal, and we see a warmer colour palette in the second film, STILL LIVES.

The subject matter of the film, the costumes, location, decoration, language and songs are minutely researched and realistic. But everything else feels dreamy. Memories drift in and out of the view-finder in a sort of unconscious stream. We fade in and out from funerals, weddings, nights out and traumatic scenes in the family home. All this memory is triggered in the first film by the eldest daughter's trauma at not having her father at her wedding. In the second film, the framing device is the baptism of the younger daughter's baby.

The look of the film is striking - and perhaps the most important reason why the film hasn't dated. DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES is one of the earliest and most impressive uses of the bleach bypass process, in which colour is taken out of the film stock. The process also gives the director complete control over the colour palette. Terence Davies is also a master at controlling the pace of a film to add to the poetic or dramatic effect. The classic example is a scene where two men fall in slow-motion through glass. It's one of the most achingly beautiful shots in cinema.

DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES played Toronto and Cannes 1988 and won the FIPRESCI Prize at both. It was re-released in the UK earlier this year and is available on DVD with an insightful director's commentary.

Sight and Sound's greatest films of the past 25 years, as voted by a panel of 50 critics: 1 Apocalypse Now; 2 Raging Bull; 3 Fanny and Alexander; 4 GoodFellas; 5 Blue Velvet; 6 Do the Right Thing; 7 Blade Runner; 8. Chungking Express; 9 Distant Voices, Still Lives; 10 Once Upon a Time in America, Yi Yi (A One and a Two...).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM - bang, crash, wallop, shark, jump, vomit!

YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHO YOU ARE DEALING WITH!THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is the third movie in the spy thriller franchise based on the Robert Ludlum novels, starring Matt Damon as the trained killer with amnesia and a grudge against the CIA.

The movie goes like this:

Bang! Crash! Wallop! Bourne is chased through Moscow, Waterloo station, Madrid, Tangier, NYC. He runs! He jumps! He punches the crap out of highly trained CIA goons! He smashes through glass! He deliberately crashes cars multiple times! He jumps off of tall buildings!

You admire visionary director Paul Greengrass' superlative hand-held camera-work and voyeuristic, slippery POV shots.

You get motion sickness.

Bourne utters the only cool line of dialogue in the movie.

David Straithern a.k.a. CIA evil baddie/rendition-lovin' neo-con says "We have a situation here" for the eighth time.

Bourne does something so incredible it renders the director's attempts at realism futile. You lose all faith in the franchise.

You go home.

Given the facetious tone of my review, I thought I'd bring you in on the thoughts of Matt Nelson: Offical Nice Guy & Human IMDB. (Minor spoiler in the final paragraph).

"Well now. The Bourne Ultimatum. Hmm…what can I say? It certainly has been a bad year for trilogies. You know, I’ve been trying to make up my mind about this movie for days. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did I think it was anywhere near the standards of the previous two films? Hell no. Which is real shame because, other than Die Hard 4.0, this was the big summer blockbuster I was looking forward to most of all. I recall talking to a friend of mine a few months ago about the third Bourne film and he said: “It won’t be that good. I mean, where can they go with the character that they haven’t gone already?” He didn’t really know much about the Bourne films, so I labelled his “naïve” comments as ignorant and told him how strong I thought the franchise was going to continue to be. After all, the Bourne films were compelling, well acted, fast paced (yet not over the top) and (above all) fresh. Incredibly, he was proved more right than even he knows.

The story really didn’t explore any new territory and was only reasonably good filler for the action sequences. The wonderful Albert Finney was underused and, essentially, nothing more than replacement part for Brian Cox (man I love Brian Cox). It just seemed so lame, not to mention lazy, to hear that there was yet another bad guy “really” behind it all that you conveniently only now remember.

I agree with your comments about the style of shooting that Paul Greengrass incorporated during the picture. It was a brave move and, to give Greengrass his dues, worked well during the action sequences. However it was sometimes too much to take and I found myself hoping for just a little reprieve from all the jerking back and forth. Even during the slow, intimate scenes in small offices/motel rooms etc (which I didn’t feel merited the hand-held style of filming) the camera never stopped jerking in every direction – it was hard to see what was going on occasionally.

Also, I never felt like Bourne was ever really in danger. One of the great things about the previous instalments was that he got seriously injured when facing off against other skilled operatives and it wasn’t definite that he would walk away the victor. Yes he’s highly trained, and will probably come out on top, but he suffers for it. In this movie he just kicks ass and (I think) limps once off screen after a car crash.

Being fair, there were some great car chases and brutal fights scenes during the movie that did put a smile on my face. Then again, the car chases felt repetitive of the previous films and there seemed to be a few too many punch sound effects added during the fights sequences. And of course the cheesy ending didn’t help – no I’m not talking about where you see that he isn’t actually dead, I’m talking about the fact that everyone we’re meant to view as morally repugnant ends up being prosecuted for what they’ve done. Oh that’s nice and tidy then. Yawn anyone?

Overall I thought the film was enjoyable enough, but it should have been so much more.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is on release in the US, Bahrain, Egypt, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Latvia, Poland, Taiwan, the Philippines and the UK. It opens this weekend in Greece, Israel, Singapore, Brazil, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland and Spain. It opens later in August in Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Lithuania, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM opens in Germany, Mexico and Turkey on September 7th; in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Norway and Sweden on September 14th; in Portugal and South Korea on September 20th; in Malaysia on September 27th; in Serbia and Montenegro on October 11th; in Hungary on October 25th; in Italy on November 1st and in Japan on November 17th 2007.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


WILD STRAWBERRIES is yet another pantheon movie from superlative Swedish auteur, Ingmar Bergman. It's a story that will seem familiar to modern cinephiles, given that it has been reworked by Woody Allen among others. Still, the original surpasses all imitators.

The movie opens in the cluttered house of an old Doctor (Victor Sjöström). He is a respected man, known for his philanthropy and august research. However, in his frail dotage he has become infantilised, demanding respect and attention from his household, including an ancient nurse. He is also plagued by nightmares about death, filmed in stark black-and-white contrast with an orchestral score that pre-dates the screeching violins of PSYCHO. (One can only wonder what horrors Bergman would have created if he had set his mind to a pure horror film, as opposed to merely depicting the real horrors of bourgeois marriage.)

The doctor has to drive back to his University town to collect an honorary degree and is accompanied by his beautiful daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin. She is brutally honest about her husband's hatred of his father but as the journey progresses these two will learn a new respect for each other. They encounter a morbidly unhappy couple en route. She is a histrionic actress; he is a taunting, unfeeling man. They also encounter three young students. The girl is a blowsy, self-confident modern girl dangling the two boys on a string.

In between all this, the long journey back to Lund prompts the doctor to reconsider the decisions he has made in his life and to reminisce about his tentative love affair and rejection by his cousin Sara (Bibi Andersson).

The movie consists of beautifully-framed, brutally honest conversations. Sometimes the characters are so direct you wonder if they are really speaking or whether Bergman is dramatising an internal stream of consciousness. Either way, it's bewitching.

WILD STRAWBERRIES played Berlin, where it won the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI prize, and Venice 1958, where it won the Italian Film Critics award. It is widely available on DVD.

Monday, August 13, 2007

WAITRESS - bittersweet

I had a penny for everything I love about you, I would have many pennies.  WAITRESS is a beautifully imagined, bittersweet little movie that is likely appeal to fans of quirky humour and stylised photography - I'm thinking fans of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and Wes Anderson flicks. Keri Russell plays a poor waitress called Jenna who is unhappily pregnant by her jealous, domineering husband. She resents her unborn child for throwing a spanner in the works of her plans to escape and enter a $25,000 Prize Pie Competition (she's an amazing pie-cook). So we see her work in a crappy old diner with a short-tempered manager and her two plucky, endearing best friends. The elder of these is married to a senile old fart and the younger is trying personal ads to find a husband. All three have to work out how to be happy.

Jenna finds an odd kind of companionship through an affair with her doctor (a surprisingly good, dead-pan performance from Nathan Fillion) and friendship with the old coot (Andy Griffith) that owns the diner. It's an admirably brave move on the part of Adrienne Shelly to have us empathise with a heroine who is, after all, an adulteress, and brutally honest about her lack of feeling toward her unborn child. But that's the real hook of this movie. Sure we have funny, quirky characters, but so do a lot of films in this genre. Similarly, a lot of these faux-naif movies have deliberate framing and stylised production design. But few have such a hard bitter edge and honesty to them.

The only real criticism I have is that the movie seems to lose this hard egde in the denouement. And while I like the fact that the heroine is emancipated from emotional dependence on men, it's still by virtue of a man that she is free. Still, WAITRESS remains a touching, genuinely funny, and genuinely fresh movie. It's tragic that we won't be able to see how Adrienne Shelly would have developed as a director.

WAITRESS played Sundance 2007 and went on release in the US in May. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in Australia and New Zealand on August 30th. It opens in France and Belgium on September 5th; in Estonia and Italy on September 21st; in Hungary, Russia, and Norway on September 28th and in Japan on November 17th.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Continuing our homage to the late great Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, we move forward to 1973 and his TV drama, SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE. The movie was originally filmed for TV in 16mm by the incomparable Sven Nykvist, and so feels flatter and less visually interesting than, say, THE SEVENTH SEAL. The more realistic and less attention-grabbing visual style also makes the film feel more claustrophobic somehow. It's as though we are trapped in these very uninteresting domestic spaces with these two people for two and a half hours at minimum, or four hours if you see the original TV version.

The two people in question are a husband and wife played by Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann. As the film opens, they are being interviewed for a magazine article - the models of married bliss. It seems to be a marriage of convenience. They were both middle-class, moved in the same social circle and were recovering from heart-break. However, even at the outset, she seems less able to articulate her feeling than he is. The second scene, in what seems a rather formal and theatrical drama, is a dinner party. This rather pompous couple stand back as superior voyeurs when their dinner party guests have a vicious domestic argument.

After this scene, we'll see the couple pretty much alone, talking to each other and/or sleeping with each other. Their daughters and their other lovers are referred to but never seen. What this means is that our attention is fixed on every argument and every reconciliation - every life choice and reconsideration. Their hopes, neuroticisms and humiliations become our world.

This "chamber drama" is absolutely engrossing. The dialogue seems truthful and both leads give exceptionally brave performances. Bergman's frank discussion of sex, friendship and marriage has rarely been equalled in cinema. Most of all, I think Bergman must be thanked for exposing the drama of apparently boring middle-class life. Where cinema tends to the extremes of high and low life, Bergman stays fixed on that strata of society that was born to privelege. He homes in on the failure to live up to that promise. It's a chilling - truly horrifying portrait - not least because this particular relationship seems to be in an eternal loop.

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE was originally shown on Swedish TV in 1973 before going on theatrical release in a shortened version. Various DVD versions exist.

Friday, August 10, 2007

RUSH HOUR 3 - 100% pop-tastic

Brett Ratner is a vulgarian hack director and should be kept in a one-mile exclusion zone from all movie projects that require intelligence and subtlety. But give the man his due: he can direct a stupid, superficial action movie like no other. RUSH HOUR 3 is no exception. Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan reprise their roles as two cops in a culture clash, united in their hatred of triads and their love of....well...each other. You know the score: Tucker is going to dance like Michael Jackson and lech after hot chicks; Jackie Chan is going to do cool martial arts stunts; and we're all gonna go home happy. In this installment we have the added bonus of some rather perceptive gags about the US-Old World culture clash and a funny montage spoofing the buddy cop genre.

Of course, if you want to be all picky, you can find stuff to hate on. Jackie Chan's martial arts stunts may be a bit less extreme in his frail dotage. The whole "Jackie has an evil brother" story is under-written. And what the fuck is Roman Polanski doing in this sub Steve Martin role? But this is all to miss the point. RUSH HOUR 3 does one thing very well. It makes us laugh. And that helps us forget that global debt markets are going down the toilet. So two enthusiastic thumbs-up from me!

RUSH HOUR 3 is on release in Israel, Singapore, Iceland, Sweden, the UK and US. It opens in Egypt, Germany, Hong Kong, Norway, Indonesia, Argentina, South Korea and Japan later in August. It opens in Greece, Brazil, Lithuania, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia, Australia, Russia and Spain in September and in the Netherlands, Venezuela, France and Belgium in October 2007.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Overlooked DVD of the month - ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS

We all know that ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS is neither as powerful nor as original as Shane Meadows' other movies - notably A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS, DEAD MAN'S SHOES and THIS IS ENGLAND. In his third feature, the Midlands-born director had a bigger budget, bigger stars and a less tight and focused script. Shirley Henderson plays a single mother called...well...Shirley. She has an uncertain accent, a plucky daughter, a sappy but kind-hearted boyfriend (Rhys Ifans) and a loser ex- (Robert Carlyle). A crisis is provoked when she refuses the sappy boyfriend's marriage proposal, prompting the ex to see if he still has a chance. Matters are complicated by the fact that Shirley is good friends with the ex's sister (Kathy Burke) and her flaky husband (Ricky Tomlinson.)

All the actors do a fine job, though the accents are pretty patchy. The Sergio Leone references stop at the title and the comic-strip sound-track. And there is less social commentary than we've come to expect from a Meadows film. Still, this film shouldn't be overlooked. It has a lot more heart than your average twee Brit rom-com and captures some of the messiness of real life. And you'll never see a better comic use of the reclining sofa.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS played Cannes 2002 and is now available on DVD.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

THE HOAX - Richard Gere in outstanding performance shock!

Who knew?! Richard Gere throws off the facial ticks and smarm that make-up so many of his performances for a genuinely gripping turn as the real-life author and compulsive liar, Clifford Irving. Gere perfectly captures the genius of the failed author who displayed a gift for empathising with reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and sold a fake autobiography to McGraw-Hill publishing for a cool million bucks. The key is to make the character so charming that you almost want him to succeed but to under-cut his winning nature with a barely acknowledge manipulative streak. Nowhere is this more evident than in Irving's willingness to frame his best friend (played by the ever-brilliant Alfred Molina) as an adulterer.

There's lots to like here apart from Gere's performance. For a start, this really is an important and fascinating true-life story. Hughes knew Irving was faking his autobiography and anonymously sent Irving material incriminating Richard Nixon. What Irving didn't figure out till too late was that Hughes didn't want to bring Nixon down. Rather, he just wanted to scare Nixon into doing his bidding. And Nixon was scared. So scared that he allegedly ordered the Watergate break-in partly to snoop for advanced copies of the book!

Other great things about this pic: the production design and sound-track place us firmly in the late 60s/early 70s and the script-writers are good at making a contemporary audience understand the magnetic pull of the Hughes mythology. The film also boasts a strong supporting cast with Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis and Julie Delpy donning period costumes and Marcia Gay Harden struggling manfully under a bad wig. It all adds up to a high quality, intelligent movie that will appeal to those with an unhealthy interest in how establishment power structures (and bad marriages) really work.

THE HOAX was released earlier this year in the US, the Netherlands, Russia, Iceland, Belgium, France, Turkey, Israel and Portugal. It is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Finland on August 24th and in Brazil and Norway on August 31st 2007.

Monday, August 06, 2007

WIND CHILL - workman-like supernatural thriller

On the hottest day of the year so far, Doctor007 and I ducked into a blissfully air-conditioned but absolutely empty theatre to catch whatever was playing. That turned out to be an under-the-radar spoooooky thriller from the Clooney/Soderbergh production camp. The plot is simple. A beautiful college student cadges a ride home from a geek. They get stranded in the snow and seemingly enter an eternal loop of road accidents and other wacky shit. It's pretty formulaic but gets a marginal thumbs-up for three reasons. First, DP Dan Laustsen beautifully photographs the sinister snow-swept mountains. Second, it's nice to see a pretty heroine in a horror flick who actually has brains. Rather than a ditzy, bikini-clad blonde, WIND CHILL presents us with Emily Blunt's gutsy engineering student. And yes, she is perfectly capable of saving herself, thank you very much. Third, both Emily Blunt and Ashton Holmes (HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) give credible performances as two teens. Indeed, the blossoming of their relationship is far more interesting than the supernatural nonsense surrounding them.

WIND CHILL was released in the US in April 2007 and is currently on limited release in the UK.

SPOILER ALERT: I also think the movie could've been improved by ending 10 minutes earlier, with the chick caught in a nightmarish constant loop, rather than stumbling sentimentally after her guardian-angel love-interest to safety.....

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I IS FOR INDIA merely scratches the surface

I IS FOR INDIA is another one of those festival circuit documentaries in an opportunistic film-maker edits their home video footage and opens up their life to view. In this case, Director Sandhya Suri uses Super-8 cine-letters shot by her father - an immigrant doctor in 1970s Darlington - and the replies shot by their family back in India. The social and cultural insights are limited. The familiar news-clips of the National Front are used in a heavy-handed manner. And the straight-forward splicing together of old footage leaves little room for analysis. You get the odd clip of Suri's father complaining about double-standards, or protesting his loyalty to his homeland. But the only real insights we get are during the nine-month period when the family decamps to India. With cine-correspondance redundant, Suri actually has to interview her family and ask them how they felt about going "home". It's no co-incidence that this is the most interesting segment of the film. Other than that, the movie carries on in meandering, seemingly arbitrary fashion and closes out with history repeating itself. A sister leaves from Australia to escape unspecified unhappiness. Suri's father can now empathise with his own father, and shed tears for a child who can only be happy on the other side of the earth. But even here, perhaps understandably, Suri only scratches the surface of her family's emotional life. If you want to understand the immigrant experience, you'd do better to watch THE NAMESAKE.

I IS FOR INDIA played the festival circuit and is currently on limited release in the UK.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

SURF'S UP - the dude abides!

Cody's around here somewhere, I can feel it in my nuggets!SURF'S UP is one of those films that puts you in a happy, sun-kissed mood. It's charming, it's funny, and it made even the most evil greedy capitalist bastard all warm and fuzzy inside. This is because the writers do old fashioned things like having a proper story and like-able characters. What you won't find are machine-gun-rapid pop-culture references and movies spoofs. (Shrek, anyone?)

The movie takes the form of a reality TV show following a young surfing penguin called Cody Maverick on his way to the annual Big-Z Memorial surfing championship on the island of Pen-gu. The writers send up the genre, but don't overdo the smart jokes. Cody (the omnipresent Shia LaBeouf) is befriended by a cute life guard (Zooey Deschanel), a stoner chicken (Jon Heder) and the now reclusive Big Z himself (Jeff Bridges). So begins a patiently-told, coming-of-age story interspersed with a scene-stealing side-plot featuring Jon Heder's junior dude, Chicken Joe. Seriously, this is probably the most innocently expressed animated movie since the original TOY STORY. Not to be missed.

SURF'S UP is on release in the US, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Portugal, Indonesia and Turkey. It opens in Egypt, the CZech Republic and the UK next week and in Spain, Argentina, and Hungary the following week. It opens in Belgium and Serbia on August 23rd and in Iceland on August 31st. It opens in Australia and Germany in September and in Italy, the Netherlands, France and Brazil. It finally rolls into Sweden, Finland, Norway in November and in Japan in December 2007.

Friday, August 03, 2007

EVAN ALMIGHTY - a mis-marketed film

EVAN ALMIGHTY isn't so much a bad film as a bad comedy. It's just been mis-marketed. The adverts make it look like a Robin Williams-style family comedy. The title makes you think it's going to be an adult romantic-comedy with a goofy every-man magicking his girlfriend's tits bigger. As it turns out there's barely a laugh in the whole ninety minutes. What humour there is consists in birds pooping on people and a few sharp comments from Wanda Sykes. Even the Daily Show sucks in this alternate universe.

So I didn't laugh. But I did rather enjoy the film as a rather hackneyed but nonetheless heart-warming story of personal growth. Steve Carrell plays Evan Baxter, a narcissistic Congressman who's neglecting his wife and three sons and lives in a gated community that was built over a beautiful valley. He's also about to support an evil politician (John Goodman) in his bid to turn protected forests into prime real estate. Then God (Morgan Freeman) asks Evan to build an Ark for the coming flood and Evan discovers the joys of hard work, family bonding and doing the right thing. That's it. It's pretty simple despite the notoriously expensive CGI whistles and bells. But heart-warming and charming all the same.

EVAN ALMIGHTY is available to rent and own.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

TYSTNADEN/THE SILENCE - crushing proximity

THE SILENCE is an intense, claustrophobic, nihilistic movie from pantheon director, Ingmar Bergman. We are in an decadent, richly furnished hotel full of baroque cornices, thickly patterned rugs and endless corridors. It's a sinister place - as I find all hotels to be - aggressive in its symmetry and in its attempt to deceive and create the impression of a palace. There is no escape from the hotel. One might look out of the balcony onto the town square. But this is full of towns-folk apparently fleeing some sort of military occupation - their belongings piled high onto carts. So we are left with the inhabitants of the hotel for company. There are a handful of servants - a sinister old waiter and a bar-man who is up for casual, animalistic sex. There are dwarves who treat the little boy at the centre of the story - Johan - as some sort of dress-up doll. Perhaps this is better than wandering endlessly through corridors, filmed by Sven Nykvist in the creepy style that inspired Kubrick's THE SHINING. In the main suite we see two sisters who are prisoners of each other's company. Johan's mother Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) and her sister Ester (Ingrid Thulin). Ester is a frigid voyeur who drinks to pass the time and gives a cryptic letter to Johan at the close of the film. Anna is a passionate woman who is prey to every impulse. The sisters barely speak. The sound-track of the film is made up of disconcerting background hums, ticking clocks and tank movements. There is barely any plot and the meaning, if any, is obscure. Watching THE SILENCE is like being caught in a nightmare of suppressed passions, aimlessness and vague, un-named threats. It is a masterpiece.

TYSTNADEN/THE SILENCE was originally released in 1962 and is available on DVD.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

NORBIT - actually not so bad!

I refused to see NORBIT in the cinema because I didn't want to be party to yet another film in which someone (usually Eddie Murphy) dons a fat suit and makes fun of fat people. It seems that in these politically correct times, the only people we can still mock with impunity are chavs and the obese. But eventually, Doctor007 brought the flick over on DVD and actually I was pleasantly surprised, because once you strip away the fat jokes this is actually a very funny, if utterly predictable, romantic comedy. In addition, while I think the flick could've survived as happily without the fat jokes, you do have to admire Murphy and the make-up artist for creating a character, Rasputia, that is utterly believable.

As usual, Murphy plays a bunch of characters in this flick but the main one is a gullible orphan called Norbit. Early on in life he loses his sweetheart and is taken up by a mean fat girl called Rasputia and her criminal family. In adult life, he's bizarrely happily married (after all, Rasputia gives him a family), until his childhood sweetheart walks back into his life. She's played by Thandie Newton in full on "sweet" mode. The movie is about Norbit realising that he has the strength to walk out on adulterous Rasputia and expose his girlfriend's fiance as a con-man.

Against all expectations, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, although tellingly these do not involve Rasputia. I loved the Eddie Griffin and Marlon Wayans characters, for instance. There's also something instinctively appealing about a movie filmed in primary colours in which good wins out over bad. So, surprised as I am to say it, NORBIT gets a thumbs up as a DVD movie.

NORBIT was released in February 2007 and is now available on DVD.