Saturday, May 31, 2008


BATTLE FOR HADITHA is Nick Broomfield's recreation of the infamous incident when US marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians after one of their own had been killed by a roadside IED. The movie is a fictional recreation that tries to look as much like a documentary as possible - following in the footsteps of Broomfield's GHOSTS and Paul Greengrass' UNITED 93. I was impressed by Broomfield's careful examination of the issues and his balance in analysing the motivations of the marines, the insurgents and the local residents. He has created a film that has less immediate impact that Brian de Palma's searing REDACTED, but poses more painful questions and has, perhaps, a more long-lasting emotional impact.

The movie has three strands. The first follows the US marines. Their motivations for enlisting vary from merely escaping poverty to those that like to "hunt". They are patriotic, yes, but more than that, loyal to their friends. When they see one of their own blown up, they want revenge. The means by which they exact revenge are brutal and indiscriminate but, on the day, they are praised by their ranking officers for having "kept their heads". Only later, when the events are exposed on TV, are the marines indicted for murder. Broomfield therefore poses the crucial question of who bears responsbility. Were the soldiers really just rogue? Or were they following Standard Operating Procedure sanctioned from the very top? Broomfield shows us clearly just how savage the marines have been. But he also shows the pressure they are under, the training they have received, and the guilt they feel after the event.

The second strand focuses on the two insurgents who plant the bomb. I was surprised by the fact that insurgents don't look like the image I have of Al Qaeda extremists. Rather, these two men look relatively westernised, drink and watch videos and they themselves view Al Qaeda as nutters. The elder of the two is ex-Iraqi army, angry at the US for having dissolved his regiment, paid him off and then destroyed his country. They perceive the US as using Iraq as a cash-cow - handing lucrative contracts to US corporations rather then employing local people. Once again, Broomfield shows scrupulous balance. He condemns the men as bombers, and while they evidently feel guilty about the Iraqis who have died, they still go on to use an orphaned girl in a propoganda video.

The third strand focuses on the local residents. I found this the most fascinating because news stories rarely focus on the bystanders. In fact, they are not passive victims but also face a profound moral choice. If you see insurgents planting a roadside bomb what do you do? Tell the US, and face the wrath of the insurgents, or let the bomb explode, and face the wrath of the US?

Altogether, BATTLE FOR HADITHA is an impressive, even-handed treatment of delicate and complicated issues. It's an important, well-made movie that deserves a wide audience.

BATTLE FOR HADITHA played Toronto and London 2007. It was released in Spain in 2007 and in France, the UK, Poland and the US earlier
this year. It is now available on DVD.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Random DVD Round-Up 2 - LAKSHYA / PURPOSE

Main Aisa Kyu Hoon?Farhan Akhtar's first film was the light-hearted but realistic romantic comedy DIL CHAHTA HAI. He returned in 2004 with an altogether different film - LAKSHYA. The film follows a young spoiled man (Hrithik Roshan) who has no motivation or purpose in life, much to the annoyance of his family and his politically aware girlfriend (Preity Zinta.) He joins the army, quits, but is shamed into returning. Inspired by his commanding officer and acquiring a new sense of patriotism he ends up fighting in the notorious Kargill incident.

LAKSHYA deserves praise on many fronts. First, the hero and heroine are fully-rounded characters that show real development as the movie progresses. Preity Zinta has the chance to portray a strong, independent, modern woman - a chance that is all too rare in Bollywood. She gives a good natural performance. But the stand out is Hrithik Roshan as the hero. He makes the transition from love-able fool to man of integrity believable. Added to that, he performs one of the stand-out pieces of dance in modern Hindi cinema - the award-winning routine to the song Main Aisa Kyun Hoon. I was watching a Shah Rukh Khan movie recently just after watching Lakshya and realised just how far ahead of the other Bollywood heroes Hrithik Roshan is. Some actors can dance okay - some actors can act really well (not least Saif Ali Khan) - but few combine the two skills.

LAKSHYA is also a great technical achievement for Hindi cinema. The film-makers seem to have paid a lot of attention to the mechanics of the battle and DP Christopher Popp uses awesome crane shots to depict the mountainous terrain of Kashmir. The Indo-Pakistani border has never looked so magnificent. But what's really great is that the cinematography isn't just there to look pretty but to make a point about the strategic importance of the hill that Hrithik's troops are trying to retake.

Perhaps the only possible criticism of this film is that it is definitely trying to inspire patriotism and some might find that a little manipulative or xenophobic. However, I believe that LAKSHYA stays firmly on the right side of the line between patriotism and jingoism. It's certainly a lot less bombastic than the bloated J P Datta epic, LOC KARGILL.

LAKSHYA was released in 2004 and is available on DVD.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Random DVD Round-Up 1 - BLACK SHEEP

New Zealand is like the Wales of Asia-Pac. All the jokes revolve around villagers shagging sheep. Well, now, thanks to genetic engineering, the sheep are pissed off and biting back, resulting in human-sheep zombies! All this is naturally a bit of a shock for our hero - a younger son shunned by his family after a childhood scare made him afraid of sheep and reject his farming inheritance. He's backed up by a much-mocked hippie as they take on corporate greed and childhood fear.

I am unlikely to hate any movie that takes the piss out of vegetarian hippies. And I love that BLACK SHEEP satirises hippies and greedy capitalist bastards with an even hand. I also love the lashings of squelchy, bloddy gore that drenches this film, courtesy of the Weta Workship (of LOTR fame). So on those counts alone, BLACK SHEEP works as a decent comedy - certainly good enough for DVD if not for the cinema. Where I think BLACK SHEEP is weaker is in terms of genuine horror. The movie is way too tongue in cheek to provide any real scares, unlike SEVERANCE which trod the fine line on horror-comedy perfectly, and SHAUN OF THE DEAD which is the benchmark of perfection for this genre.

BLACK SHEEP played Toronto 2006 and was released last year. It is available on DVD.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CASSANDRA'S DREAM - I see disaster! I see catastrophe! Worse, I see lawyers!

Ooo Betty! The cat's done a whoopsie on the floor!Contemporary London. Two working class brothers need cash desperately. Their successful Uncle Howard offers them a Faustian bargain. If they murder the man who is about to snitch on him, he will give them all the money they need. He couches his request in terms of family loyalty. One of the brothers, Ian, thinks he can pull it off, forget about it and enjoy the cash. The other brother, Terry, is troubled. What if he too turns snitch?

This makes for a promising intellectual thriller. How far would you go to get want you want? Could you really be a cold-blooded killer or would your conscience be troubled? But Woody Allen has nothing interesting or clever to say about these issues. His ethical discussion is trite - and he barely makes his invocation of the greek myth of Cassandra work. Contrast Allen's fatuous moral posturing with the moral profundity of Lumet's BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD.

CASSANDRA'S DREAM fails, then, as a moral treatise. It also fails as entertainment. Where is the bleak, cruel comedy of IN BRUGES? Or Allen's own CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS?

CASSANDRA'S DREAM also fails as a technical exercise. Philip Glass' orchestral score seems tailored to a different film - a costume melodrama perhaps? Vilmos Zsigmond's photography is pedestrian. Ewan McGregor's cockney accent seems like a pastiche of Frank Spencer in British cult comedy SOME MOTHERS DO 'AVE 'EM. Colin Farrell's superb performance is marred by the fact that his thick Irish accent keeps breaking through his Cockney accent. Sally Hawkins - again a brilliant actress - seems to be doing a watered down Poppy from HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. Hayley Atwell and Phil Davies are wasted in smaller roles, although Tom Wilkinson does get a cool cameo as the Machiavellian Uncle Howard. In short, barring Wilkinson, it's all pretty uninspiring.

I'm just a random amateur movie blogger. Woody Allen's a writer-director who has made films that are in the pantheon. So it seems a little arrogant to have written such an excoriating review. One can only hope that the rave reviews of his latest film restore our confidence in him.

CASSANDRA'S DREAM played Venice and Toronto 2007 and was released in 2007 in Spain, France, Greece, Finland, Turkey, Sweden, Belgium and Russsia. It was released earlier in 2008 in the US, Hungary, Denmark, Portugal, Norway, Canada, Italy, Estonia, Israel, Hong Kong, Mexico, Singapore, the Netherlands and Poland. It is currently on release in Brazil and the UK. It opens in Argentina and Germany on June 5th

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Overlooked DVD of the month - THE HEART OF ME

THE HEART OF ME is a beautifully acted, intricately plotted, emotionally devestating costume drama based on the novel by Rosamond Lehmann. It starts off looking like a conventional period drama. In post-World War One Britain, an upper class man called Rickie (Paul Bettany) is cheating on his snobbish, cold wife Madeleine (Olivia Williams) with her bohemian sister Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter). When Dinah becomes pregnant he decides to leave his wife, who is devestated, but apparently more so because of the social shame than because of the emotional hurt. Events take a turn and reveal significant character flaws and development. Rickie can be callow - amazed and appalled by the magnitude of his decisions. Madeleine developes a sort of predatory survival instinct that seems monstrous but also plausible. Dinah has a quite remarkable capacity to love but also to act like a spoiled, hurt child.

If the movie were just about an affair it would be a rather narrow and unoriginal film, no matter how well-designed the sets or how convincing the performances. (And they *are* convincing. Olivia Williams won the BAFTA for Best Actress that year, edging out Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Morton for IN AMERICA and Tilda Swinton for YOUNG ADAM.)

The real strength of the film is to show the consequences of the affair through the following decade, mixed up in the chaos of World War Two. Is it possible to be reconciled after such a betrayal? What does one learn from such events? There are no trite answers or melodramatic flourishes. Just a realistic, tremendously affecting exploration of horrific events.

THE HEART OF ME played London and Toronto 2002 and was released in the UK in 2003. Olivia Williams won the Bafta for Best Actress. THE HEART OF ME is available on DVD.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Random DVD Round-Up 1 - TRANSPORTER

I'm so intrigued by the idea that Louis Leterrier would be given THE INCREDIBLE HULK to direct, that I've been going back and re-watching his previous work. What is there to suggest that he'll be able to handle the sensitive emotional content of the Hulk story, or be able to take on a strong-minded actor like Ed Norton?

A week or so ago I watched TRANSPORTER 2 and was entertained by the mindless slick car chases and combat scenes. Of course, the dialogue and emotional content were laughable but there was something endearing about the fact that the film-makers weren't even aiming for quality. At least they gave us a lot of funny one-liners as compensation.

TRANSPORTER is the lesser film. It was a cheap action film still looking for the hook that would seal its style. Jason Statham's cool-as-a-cucumber no-questions-asked driver isn't quite as hard, rule-oriented or laconic as in the sequel. His damsel in distress can barely speak English and is pure eye-candy, whereas in 2 they try to up the emotional anti by giving her a kid. So we've gone from a quick shag to quasi-fatherhood. The baddies are pretty two-dimensional in both flicks. You get a hint of homo-eroticism in 1 when Wall Street touches our hero's gloved hand. In 2, once again, its higher stakes, with lots of buff body-building.

Ultimately these movies have to be judged on how slick the action is. TRANSPORTER has some cool chase scenes in some very choice cars, and you get a bit of the computer-game like action sequences. But there's nothing as stylised nor as imaginative as the sequel.

So, TRANSPORTER makes for a decent enough action flick - perfect for DVD and pizza night. It hinted it, but hadn't crystallised the camp comic potential of the sequel, or indeed the proposed threequel. What's more, cool action aside, there's no hint of whether Leterrier will be able to pull off the emotional depth of a BATMAN BEGINS when he reimagines HULK this summer.

TRANSPORTER was originally released in 2002 and is widely available on DVD.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Like Michael Jackson, I'm a lover, not a fighter, so I'm going to start by telling you about all the cool stuff in the new Indiana Jones movie. All the stuff we know and love is there in spades: Indy's hat and whip; nods to Marcus and Henry Jones Senior; cosy University lecture theatres; and that little red line running across the map when Indy gets into a plane. Better still, the writers have done absolutely the right thing in acknowledging Indy's age: there are lots of great jokes about how he's not as young as he used to be, and lots of dialogue filling in the gaps between Holy Grail and Crystal Skull. Turns out Indy was a wartime spy, and since then he has spied on the Communists. I also love that they brought back Indy's feisty sweetheart from Raiders - Marion Ravenwood. And credit where it's due, Shia LaBoeuf brings his A-game as their son, Mutt. Shia and Harrison Ford make a great comedy double-act, and beyond that, when Shia needs to convey vulnerability and emotion, he does really well.

Now to the hater stuff. The problem with Indy 4 is neither the acting, nor the dialogue but the MacGuffin - the crazy-cool doo-dad that provokes all the running around in jungles and whatnot. In Raiders, Temple and Grail the MacGuffin always had a spiritual, mythical dimension, but Spielberg wisely kept that stuff to a minimum. The MacGuffins were enigmatic - had a touch of glamour - but didn't swamp the more earth-bound action adventure. In other words, we only had to stretch our credulity in the final reel. By contrast, Crystal Skull is incredible, ludicrous, absurd from the get-go. It's all Area 51, Aliens, paranormal nonsense and Cate Blanchett in a silly wig and a terrible accent camping it up. Basically, Indy has jumped the shark. He's jumped from action-adventure with a dash of pizazz to sci-fi idiocy with a few car chases (And don't even get me started on the obvious CGI in the car chases. The one with Indy and Mutt early on with the motorcycles through campus - old school fun and japes. The one with Mutt sword-fighting with a Communist standing on the edge of a moving truck while cactuses belt him in the crotch - ludicrous, fake, annoying....)

So, yes, I left twenty minutes before the end. So those twenty minutes may have been so unbelievably amazing as to compensate for the tame action sequences, thin humour and stupid plot concept.......Somehow, I doubt it.

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is released this weekend in Belgium, Egypt, France, Morocco, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the US, Venezuela, Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Latvia and Turkey. It opens on June 21st in Japan.


The new Indy movie sucks so bad, I've not even seen it, and I know it sucks.

It was so bad that Bina007, our intrepid movie reviewer and huge Indy fan, couldn't make it through the whole movie. In fact, she was so upset about Crystal Skull's rape of her childhood that she couldn't bring herself to write the review.

So she called me, described how bad it was, and asked me to warn you all. So you've been warned - while the acting was passable, and the script was okay, the whole concept lurched from unspeakably boring to painfully unrealistic Spiderman-3-styley.

If you're a fan of Indiana Jones, don't go see it. It's an execrable effort that is not deserving of the franchise.

Even if you're not a fan, and have a tenner spare, you'd be better just leaving your cash on the street and walking away. A beggar might make good use of it. Or they might just buy a quart of vodka. Either way, it'll be money better spent than a ticket for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.



Nikolai, on behalf of Bina007

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

OUTPOST - Nazi zombies, yay!

See, the bright light... it ain't heaven, son. It's just a muzzle flare.OUTPOST is a horror movie in which a bunch of mercenaries stake out an old Nazi bunker in search of a sci-fi machine that transformed men into super-human ghostly soldiers. Unsurprisingly, aforementioned superhuman ghostly soldiers get a mite pissed off and take their revenge. All this makes for what should have been a transparently stupid movie, and let's be clear, the precise mechanics of the plot are sketchy at best.

The surprise is that debutant writer and director, Rae Brunton and Steve Barker, have fashioned a movie that is admittedly short on gore but satisfyingly high on creepiness. I think this comes down to three things. All the actors play the material completely straight - and are actually convincing in their thinly sketched characterisations. Ray Stevenson (of Titus Pullo fame) is always a charismatic presence but he is ably supported by a solid cast of British character actors. All this means that we allow the movie to take us along with it, even when things get silly.

Second, the movie is under-cut with a rich seam of dead-pan dry humour. Take for example the terse exchange between the mercenaries and the shady historian (Julian Wadham). When they rubbish his plan of escape he replies, "And what did you do last time you were fighting the undead?" Richard Brake is particularly funny as American soldier and professional cynic, Prior, and helps give the movie its profundity in his bickering with another soldier who professes faith.

Third, the production design and cinematography are spot on. Basically this movie is all shot in a field and bunker - but the whole thing feels moody and oppressive - helped by desaturated colours and some awesome creepy silhouettes in bunkers.

Overall, OUTPOST is another one of those decent low-budget British horror movies. It's obeys all the rules of the Nazi zombie genre but with better acting and production quality than most.....

OUTPOST was released in the US earlier this year and is currently on release in the UK. It is already available on DVD.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

SMART PEOPLE - indie by numbers

You spend $50 on dinner, that's grounds for intercourseSMART PEOPLE is another one of those indie dramas about a dysfunctional family bickering with each other. Dennis Quaid plays a worn out, self-absorbed academic, grieving for his wife. He lavishes praises on his lonely, sharp-tongued daughter (Ellen Page) but ignores his teenage son (Ashton Holmes.) Two people enter the professor's life, resulting into a sort of adult coming-of-age movie. The first is his emotionally intelligent but practically hopeless adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church.) The second is his former student turned doctor turned girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker.)

SMART PEOPLE contains some decent performances, some emotional truths, and some truly brilliantly one-liners, ususally delivered by the slacker adopted brother. But it is strangely lacking in heft. The dialogue is never scabrous enough; the emotional exchanges never highly charged enough. The plot often feels contrived and for heaven's sake, will someone tell Sarah Jessica Parker that emergency doctors don't wander round with loose perfectly waved hair, pencil skirts and high heels. And while they're at it, they should probably warn Ellen Page against getting typecast as the young girl who flirts with older men.
SMART PEOPLE SMART PEOPLE played Sundance 2008 and opened in the US and Australia earlier this year. It is currently on release in the UK and Russia. It opens in New Zealand on July 31st and in France on September 10th.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Random DVD round up 4: THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY - Hubris, Nemesis.

I'm setting up the biggest deal in Europe with the hardest organization since Hitler stuck as swastika on his jockstrap.The LONG GOOD FRIDAY isn't quite a pantheon movie, purely because it's early 1980s saxophone-heavy score has dated badly. But to all other respects, this British gangster film is an absolute classic. And in view of Sir Bob Hoskins' role in last weekend's opener, DOOMSDAY, I decided to revisit the film that made his name as a screen actor.

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY was directed by John Mackenzie and written by Barrie Keefe, both of whom had, like Mike Leigh, cut their teeth producing TV plays for the high quality British series "Play for Today". With THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, they got the chance to aim for something altogether more violent, explicit and tricksy.

The movie is set in the East End of London on the cusp of the Thatcherite era when Britain dragged itself out of economic squalor by any means necessary. Gangster Harold Shand epitomises this hubristic desire to make good. Unsatisfied with running the East End, he wants to redevelop the East End partly to give something back to the Ordinaries (as Sir Alan B'Stard might say) but mostly to rake in the phat cash.

Harold has a boat and a posh girlfriend (Helen Mirren) to complete his social aspirant pose. ("The Yanks love snobbery. They really feel they've arrived in England if the upper class treats 'em like shit") He even has some American backers that he's wining and dining over Easter weekend. ("It's Good Friday. Have a Bloody Mary!") But the deal turns sour as his businesses and people start getting targeted by the IRA. ("You don't crucify people! Not on Good Friday!") Just watch Bob Hoskins reactions when he realises that his best mate has been assassinated. It's all there - grief, vulnerability, rage, violence, incomprehension. The rest of the film sees Harold try to uncover who's after him and why, indulging in some vicious torture on the way. It all ends in a plot resolution that is audacious in its nihilism and absurdity and a five minute close up that shows Bob Hoskins at his best and a director brave enough to try it. Pure class.

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY premiered at London 1980. It is available on DVD. Apparently the rights to a remake have been bought and Paul W S Anderson (of RESIDENT EVIL fame) is slated to direct.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Not another pantheon movie! IF....

The thing I hate about you, Rowntree, is the way you give Coca-Cola to your scum, and your best teddy bear to Oxfam, and expect us to lick your frigid fingers for the rest of your frigid life.The tag-line for Lindsay Anderson's radical 1968 movie, IF.... was "which side will you be on?". Not such an easy question. At first glance, you have to back to the brave, radicalised boys at this minor British public school. It's the era of revolutionary politics, free love and genius pop music, but the establishment still educates in children in boarding schools. The uniforms, language and rules are draconian and they are enforced with brutal enjoyment by the self-elected elite of the school - the prefects. In ANOTHER COUNTRY, set in the 1920s, the students react to this oppression by becoming Communist spies and playing a long game against the establishment. In Anderson's IF...., the boys react by staging an anarchist revolution against the school.

Much has been made of the fact that the movie seems implausible (unkind) and surreal (kind) in its second half. Anderson encourages the feeling of unreality by indulging in a disorienting random switching from colour film to black and white - and one of the most impressive, imaginative sex scenes in cinema history. But private schools often do have armouries, and students, albeit university students, were staging armed sit-ins that year, especially in Paris.

Moreover, the raw emotion that Anderson portrays - the feeling that authority is random, unfair and unrelenting - is something we can all relate to and quite real. I doubt anyone can sit through the scene where a young Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) is caned and not wince with pain, yes, but defiance too.

What else is there to love? The brilliant use of the Missa Lubis to underscore the savagery at the heart of the establishment. David Sherwin and John Howlett's intelligent, beautifully phrased script. Malcolm McDowell's iconic screen entrance. The damning indictment of all that was ossified and unjust in the British class system....

The only thing that might make us uneasy is the presentation of violence as a solution. When the school-boy revolutionary says "There's no such thing as a wrong war. Violence and revolution are the only pure acts" we can't but help be reminded of modern terrorism. But the provocative stance of the film makes it all the more relevant and powerful.

IF....opened in 1968 and played Cannes 1969. It won the Palme d'Or, beating competition from THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE and EASY RIDER. It is available on DVD.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Random DVD round-up 3: TRANSPORTER 2

But first, what's the third rule of the car?Jason Statham's career baffles me. Here he is in TRANSPORTER 2 reprising his role as Frank, the ex Special Forces tough guy who will drive anything anywhere, no questions asked. Frank has an American accent about as convincing as Dick Van Dyke's cockney in MARY POPPINS. And I guarantee that no studio would ever have put money on a skinny bald kid making it as an action hero. Still, you can't deny that Jason Statham is the world champion at spouting ridiculous dialogue and fronting absurd action sequences with a completely straight face. He never tries to wink at the camera and that alone prevents his movies descending from mindless fun into painful self-parody.

And let me reiterate: TRANSPORTER 2 is mindless. The plot is ridiculous; the emotional depth of the characters incredible; the action sequences lifted from a computer game. (Colombian drug-lords kidnap the cute kid of a millionaire DEA official that Frank happens to be chauffeuring at the time: They return the kid but not before unleashing a biological weapon.)

But for all that, the movie is fun, watchable and never dull. Writer Luc Besson may not be able to string a credible sentence together, but he knows how to make a satisfyingly "twisty" plot. And director Louis Laterrier (soon to be famous for THE INCREDIBLE HULK) also knows how to shoot a fast-paced, visually thrilling action sequence.

I also have to say that there is something wonderful about a movie as straightforwardly entertaining as TRANSPORTER 2. Critics may get sniffy, but what's wrong with a good old-fashioned action flick? I'm totally unsurprised that the movie took so much money, and look forward to the threequel, which will be directed by the brilliantly named Olivier Megaton.

TRANSPORTER 2 was released in 2005 and stomped on box office predictions to set a new record for Labor Day weekend. It is available on DVD.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pantheon movie of the month - PERSUASION (1995)

All the privilege I claim for my own sex is that of loving longest when all hope is goneIn some ways, I think PERSUASION is Roger Michell's best work. Certainly it is superior to the more superficial, conventionally staged British rom-coms, NOTTING HILL and CHANGING LANES. And if VENUS was more surprising, PERSUASION is more visually impressive and has no less of an emotional punch.

Instead of resorting to gimmicks such as breaking the fourth wall or hand-held camera-work, Michell makes his adaptation of my favourite Jane Austen novel feel contemporary by allowing his characters to look "normal". So if young girls go on a long walk on a blustery day they look red-cheeked, their hair is a mess and they sound exhausted. Costumes are worn rather than posed in. Everything feels real, but set two centuries ago. Moreover, the entire film uses natural light, giving evening dinner parties an intimate, relaxed feel, and nicely hinting at the passage of time as the seasons change from a wintry Lime to a spring-time Bath. John Daly perfectly captures the slightly wild beauty of the British sea-side amd Jeremy Sams' score is vivid and fresh, usin the piano to evoke military airs. It's a refreshing change from the typical orchestral score featuring gushing "romantic" strings.

Nick Dear's adaptation is faithful to the original - distilling all the major events and the character development without ever seeming rushed. What raises it to the level of greatness are the subtle performances from the entire cast. No line is uttered casually without due care for its satiric bite, emotional profundity or intelligence. Take Sophie Thompson as the vain, hypochondriac Mary Musgrove. In her fluttering high-pitched voice she torments her well-meaning relations with her acerbic comments on their poor relations. Or take Fiona Shaw - majestic as Mrs Croft, the Admiral's wife. She conveys a genuine warmth and empathy for Anne, but also a slight air of mischief as she speaks of her brother's impending marriage. Her voice is loud and strong - but see how she modulates it when she speaks of the one winter she spent apart from her husband. I could go on. The cast also includes outstanding performances from Corin Redgrave (Sir Walter), Simon Russell Beale (Charles Musgrove), Susan Fleetwood (Lady Russell), Phoebe Nicholls (Elizebeth Elliot) and Samuel West (William Elliot).

In the lead roles we have the consistently brilliant Amanda Root who manages to convey Anne's sincerity and integrity. Ciaran Hinds is also well-cast as the gruff, earnest, vulnerable Frederick Wentworth. By the end of the film we feel that they will be a well-matched married couple, well able to confront the hardships in life, in contrast to the typical costume drama couple that fades into the sunset and unreality.

PERSUASION was originally shown on TV but also played Toronto 1995 and went on limited theatrical release.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Random DVD round up 2: PERSUASION (2007)

Retrench!Anne Elliot is a well-born woman who is persuaded not to marry her poor lover Frederick Wentworth. Years later he returns from the Napoleonic wars a rich and eligible match, while her own family has frittered away its fortune and moved to Bath. Anne feels sure that Wentworth will not forgive her and is pained by his new attachment to her young cousin. Meanwhile, Wentworth is still drawn to Anne despite his broken heart and her vain, proud, disdainful family....

I am a great fan of Jane Austen, and of Persuasion in particular. I prefer the modulated tone of the novel and the idea that a heroine can make a profound mistake and suffer, not for a short while, but for many years. Austen goes beyond witty portraits of weak-minded people to show just what profound harm can come of well-meaning prejudice. In earlier novels, Austen mocks society but never questions the fundamental rules by which it operates. In PERSUASION, she shows us an older heroine who knows her mind, is more pro-active, and resolves upon an action against society's guidance.

Simon Burke's adaptation of the novel is disappointing. I have no objection to curtailing the action to 90 minutes - it is, in fact, a rather simple story - but he could easily have done without some scenes and characters and gone for a distilled rather than rushed feel. (Why, for instance, did he not dispense with Mrs Smith and Nurse Rook - especially when he has communicated the essence of the side plot already through Anne and Lady Russell's prescient suspicions?) I also think that Burke's alterations to the script are unsuccessful. In particular, Wentworth resolves to propose before he even arrives in Bath, substantially reducing the dramatic effect of the concert scene and the letter-writing.

Adrian Shergold's direction is also misguided. He wants the movie to appear modern and immediate and so opts for hand-held cameras and straight-to-the-camera glances. Yet this is undermined by his over-lit, sterile sets and the actors' stilted line-readings. Anthony Head and Julia Davis have no idea how to read Austen's lines - and their attempts at comedy have all the subtlety of pantomime. Amanda Hale puts on a ghastly accent as Maria Musgrove, Tobias Menzies camps it up with an over-elaborate drawl, and most of the rest of the cast are largely forgettable. True, Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones show real emotional depth as Anne and Frederick, but they are rather swamped by the surrounding mediocrity, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Random DVD round up 1: MR BROOKS

Careful with that axe, Eugene!Mr Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a well-respected successful businessman, with a beautiful wife, a beautiful house and a beautiful car. He also gets off on killing people - a genetic trait he has apparently passed on to his beautiful daughter. The resulting movie plays less as a scary psycho-thriller than sympathy for a serial killer. After all, if adulterers can be re-cast as sex addicts, Mr Brooks isn't a criminal so much as a victim of his uncontrollable urges. Shorn of its pyschological edge, MR BROOKS descends into a satistifying if unmemorable CSI style police procedural. Demi Moore is fine in the smart cop role and William Hurt's role as Mr Brooks' personal devil offsets the inherent incredibility of Dane Cook's performance as a fetishistic photographer.

MR BROOKS has already been released in Argentina, Turkey, the US, Bulgaria, Russia, France, Poland, Sweden, Israel, Greece, Norway, Denmark, Indonesia, Australia, Mexico, Kuwait, Chile, France, South Korea, Panama, the Netherlands, Brazil, Finland, Iceland, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy. It is now showing in the UK and opens in Belgium on October 17th, Germany on November 29th and Spain on December 5th.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I think I like the idea of BACK TO NORMANDY more than the actual film. The idea is to create a documentary that serves as a reflection on memory and the unchanging elements of life, and to tell that story in a patient and authentic style.

Nicholas Philibert (ETRE ET AVOIR) returns to the village where, thirty years previously, he had worked on a film that recreated the confessions of a young man who murdered his family. The murderer's confession exposed the way in which the justice system and social structures worked in nineteenth century Normandy. The film featured a cast of non-professional actors made up of the local villagers. Thirty years later, those villagers form an articulate group of interviewees. They never expected the film to transform their lives and it didn't. For the most part, they are still farming and living a rather similar life to the original nineteenth century folk they portrayed.

Problem is, if I want to observe rural life (note the five minute opening scene of piglets being born), I can simply go and hang out in my parents' village. If I want to examine the impact of social position and random events on life chances, I can watch Michael Apted's 7Up series. If I want to ruminate on the criminal justice system I can read Dostoyevsky or, indeed, Foucault. All of these options are more interesting and immediate than watching Nicholas Philibert's painfully slow-moving, self-indulgent, directionless collage of village life past and present.

And no, a blatantly sentimental closing scene does not elevate the documentary to the level of soul-searching profundity.

BACK TO NORMANDY was released in France and Belgium in 2007 and in the UK, Japan and Spain earlier in 2008. It is released in Germany in 2008 and is available on DVD.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Overlooked DVD of the month - OFFICE KILER

Is it infidelity if you're involved with somebody on email?Still photographer Cindy Sherman is famous for photographing herself in poses taken from B-movies, horror movies and film noir. In 1997 she made a feature length film called OFFICE KILLER that has been described as a mix of all these genres. It's a story about a dowdy secretary who starts killing people in her office. While not short on gore, the movie singularly fails, however, to work either as horror movie or as noir.

In fact, the film only really works as an increasingly ridiculous and perhaps unintentionally funny spoof. Carol Kane is wickedly brilliant as the dowdy copy editor turned killer, with her high-pitched voice, frowsy costumes and nervous ticks. Molly Ringwald is cast against type as the office flirt and is clearly having a ball in her pastiche-50s outfits. Barbara Sukowa (of ZENTROPA fame) is ridiculous as the Joan Collins'-style magazine editor. All together, we have a pastiche of the way in which women have been represented film.

Apart from the unintentional laughter, what else can OFFICE KILLER offer a contemporary audience? Well, there is a hint of the middle-class neuroies that hit the US and UK when "off-shoring" and "down-sizing" became buzz-words. And the way in which the staff react to the introduction of email and laptops makes for fascinating social history. Finally, Cindy Sherman's use of colour is admirable. I particularly love the exterior shots of the office building - shaded purple - contrasted against the unhealthy acid yellow coming from the windows. Sherman also frames her shots particularly well - always looking through desk lamps, over in-trays, and through doors.

OFFICE KILLER played Toronto 1007 and was released in the US that year. It played the London Fashion in Film Festival 2008. It is available on DVD.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

DOOMSDAY - Mad MacMax!

Being but a mere butler, you will not know the great theatre tradition that one does *never* speak the name of the Scottish PlayDOOMSDAY is a modern version of those creaky dystopian disaster movies like MAD MAX.

In 2008, a deadly virus starts killing thousands of people in Scotland. The British government panics, rebuilds Hadrian's Wall and leaves the Scots to die, thus containing the virus. But the internationally community shuns England for its callous actions and, thirty years later, in an over-populated London, The Reaper threatens to break out again. So the government sends a crack team into Glasgow to capture the immune survivors that will provide a cure.

The movie starts well. Dystopian England is suitably rain-swept and filthy. Bob Hoskins' Chief of Police only has to speak in his grainy, cockney accent and we know we're in for a rough time. He dispatches a skin-tight suited and booted Rhona Mitra to Scotland to hunt for the cure. So begins some cool action sequences with tooled-up government agents fighting off retro-futuristic savages Thunderdome-stylee. Craig Conway, in particular, is superb as the gonzo rebel leader, serving up flame-grilled soldier to his slavering followers.

Problem is, the movie shifts down a gear for the middle sequence in which the soldiers flee Glasgow in pursuit of the Colonel Kurtz-like surviver, Doctor Kane. Despite featuring the legendary Malcolm McDowell, lording it over a re-created Medieval court of the immune, these scenes seem a bit calm and, well, dull, after the Glaswegian punk carnage. After the flame throwers and grenades it all goes a bit lo-fi Robin Hood. Even a decent chase scene featuring a gorgeous Bentley doesn't quite restore the movie to its earlier brilliance.

So it's a bit of a mixed bag. I DO like a film that'll show a bunny rabbit being blown up and a man spit-roasted for kicks. But the thin attempt at political critique and the weedy hint of a love story were weak beyond belief.

DOOMSDAY was released earlier this year in the US, Greece, Cyprus, Russia, Thialand, France, the Philippines, Kuwait, Icleand, Poland, Egypt, the Netherlands and Singapore. It is currently on release in the UK, Belgium and Norway. It goes on release later in May in Hong Kong and Finland. It foes on release in June in Germany, South Korea and Slovakia and in July in Japan and Spain.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS - you'd better make sure you're sitting down for this one....

So I was expecting to really hate the new Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher rom-com WHATEVER HAPPENS IN VEGAS. For a start, I really hate films that have plots so contrived they make Jordan's tits look natural. We're meant to believe that someone as beautiful as Cameron Diaz would seriously be insecure in her relationship with a schlub investment wanker, and that he would have the temerity to dump her. Further, we're meant to believe that Cameron's character - an up-tight successful Wall St trader - would seriously go to Vegas, get drunk, and get married to a newly unemployed slob played by Ashton Kutcher. Once again, we're meant to believe that despite his good looks and magentic personality, Kutcher's character really has depth, and insecurities, because his daddy doesn't give him any credit. Awwwww!

Yes, yes, I was basically on the verge of vomit for the first twenty minutes of this film. But them something amazing happened. Cameron and Ashton are just so dang charming and goofy that I couldn't help laughing - and the movie is just so dang sweet that I couldn't help being swept up by it!

So, in the most shocking result since Pakistan and India were both knocked out in the group stages of the 2007 Cricket World Cup, Bina007 gives two enthusiastic thumbs up to WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS.

And yes, I know, I am already standing in the corner, thinking very carefull about what I've just done......

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS is on global release.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Remember when you were a kid and you drank too much cheap cherry cola too fast? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you SPEED RACER

Start down low with a 350 cube, three and a quarter horsepower, 4-speed, 4:10 gears, ten coats of competition orange, hand-rubbed lacquer with a huplane manifoldFrom the makers of THE MATRIX comes a new feature length adaptation of the classic Japanese TV kids cartoon SPEED RACER. It's a technically brilliant movie that beautifully renders the futuristic-kitsch of the speed racer world. The costumes and sets are all acid-bright colours, '50s americana and the shooting style is high-octane in every sense. Camera angles swoop and glide around the racing track and the editing is out-standing. Talking heads rotate as background shots cut in and out - kids' daydreams become gonzo animated - and even the narrative cuts in and out of the past and present with hold-on-to-your-hats speed.

Take, for example, the bravura opening sequence. Over the course of a car race, we are shown the back story of the characters. Rex Racer, is a champion racing driver, idolised by is kid brother Speed. But Rex decides to leave Pops Racer and sign with a corporate sponsor. Soon, he's using dirty tricks, bringing shame on the family. Finally, he's killed in a motor accident. Years later, his kid brother, Speed Racer is also a champion racer, idolised by his kid brother Sprittle, and on the verge of signing with a big corporate sponsor, Royalton Industries. The film picks up at the point where a spurned Royalton is trying to squeeze the Racers out of the industry. Speed teams up with the enigmatic(!) Rx to bring down the corrupt cartel that controls racing, by driving in the hazardous cross-country race, The Crucible.

So far so peachy. The movie is clearly technically amazing. I also loved the self-conscious home-spun wisdom and earnestness of the Little Guy versus The Man message. And there are some very funny moments, usually involving Paulie Litt. He steals the show as Spritle, getting into scrapes, hopped up on sugar, with his pet chimp.

But the movie has a problem. It has no heart. For all the day-glo visual brilliance, and the earnest dead-pan performances from all the actors, the CGI overwhelms emotion. I found it desperately hard to get into the film - to sympathise with Speed's dilemma - to be excited about the true identity of Rx Racer. And if you don't care, all the CGI doesn't mean a damn.

SPEED RACER is on release in the US, UK, the Netherlands, Argentina, Germany, Greece, Germany, Hong Kong, Kuwait, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Italy, Spain and Venezuala. It opens later in May in Hungary, Estonia, Turkey, Egypt and Russia. SPEED RACER opens in June in Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Poland, Australia, Belgium, France, Israel and Norway. It opens in Japan on July 5th.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

IRON MAN was okay, but it could've been so much more

They say the best weapon is one you never have to fire. I prefer the weapon you only need to fire once. That's how dad did it, that's how America does it, and it's worked out pretty well so far.Tony Stark is a super-rich, super-clever, super-funny, super-handsome forty-something who just happens to enjoy selling the US Army cool weapons. After seeing those weapons turned on himself in Afghanistan (our enemy du jour), Stark decides to repudiate the arms trade and make the world a better place a weapon-laden flying suit and blowing up terrorists and stockpiles of his old weapons. Stark's epiphany is manifested in his personal life too. Instead of being a sleazy womaniser, he's going to mack onto his secretary, Pepper Potts, who is ludicrously shy and goofy given that she's a thirty-something.

All this makes IRON MAN's politics a better disguised version of the violent, radical utopianism at the heart of NEVER BACK DOWN. The message seems to be that arms dealers are evil when they sell weapons to terrorists who want to reshape the world according to their personal vision. BUT IRON MAN is GOOD when he acts according to his vision of justice - when he feels "in his heart" that blowing shit up and leaving bad guys to vigilante justice is good. Frankly, I've had enough of people blowing shit up because of "what's in their heart" rather than what's in the intelligence transcripts.

Am I taking this all too seriously? Well, I'd argue that this movie asks the audience for serious consideration. After all, it follows the graphic novels in ret-conning Tony Stark's story for the post 9-11 era. It positively winces as it sits on the fence of touchy-feely liberalism and patriotism that verges on jingoism. To that extent, this film is a perfect expression of the current American political divide.

So much for the flimsy politics, how about the actual entertainment? Jon Favreau has created a common or garden superhero summer blockbuster. The CGI special effects are suitably big and noisy. There's lots of product placement for fast cars and mobile phones. Robert Downey Junior is 100% fun to watch as Tony Stark and I wasn't bored.

On the other hand, I'm not particularly excited about the inevitable sequel. First off, Favreau shows none of psychological insight of Christopher Nolan in BATMAN BEGINS. There's nothing in his direction or script choices that make me think he's going to handle Tony Stark's descent into alcoholism sensitively. Second, I hate the way the script-writers short-changed pretty much every character bar Stark. Where's the flirting between Potts and Happy Hogan? And where was the substance to Stark's enemy, Obadiah Stone? Poor old Jeff Bridges was left to chew up the scenery. There was none of the conflicted psychology or back story we got in the comics. His motivations are thin - simply that "greed is good". Well, frankly, a super-hero needs a worthy opponent. Similarly, Terrence Howard is given absolutely nothing to do as Stark's best friend Colonel Jim Rhodes and there's no inkling that he'll become a character who'll question the Iron Man's vigilante actions and eventually don the suit.....

Basically, I'm annoyed. I love IRON MAN. This was one of the films I was most looking forward to this summer. Favreau's movie isn't a disaster. It's fun as far as it goes. But it could've been so much more.

IRON MAN is on release in Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, the UK, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Ukraine, Venezuela, Australia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, the UAE, Canada, India, Pakistan and Turkey. It goes on release in Japan on September 20th.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

NIM'S ISLAND - heart-warming kids adventure

I didn't expect to have such a good time watching NIM'S ISLAND. I couldn't imagine Jodie Foster playing comedy - nor romantic comedy opposite Gerard "This is Sparta!" Butler. And the thought of Abigail Breslin as an abandoned child on a tropical island, doing a HOME ALONE against "invading" litter-bug tourists made me break out in hives. But what can I say? NIM'S ISLAND is a well-made, nicely acted, warm-hearted....just fun. Somehow it's plot contrivances didn't bother me. Maybe because the film-makers (the guys behind LITTLE MANHATTAN) took such pains with making the CGI blend seamlessly with the live action.

The plot is simple. Nim is a small girl living with her father - a marine biologist - on a tropical island. When her father is lost at sea, Nim asks her favourite adventure writer to come and rescue her. Unfortunately she discovers that Alex Rover is in fact a frightened, house-bound middle-aged woman. Still, Alexandra conquers her fears, forms a bond with Nim, and all ends happily. Awwww. Just go watch it. It's better than it sounds!

NIM'S ISLAND is on release in Australia, Romania, the US, France, the Philippines, Switzerland, Italy, Taiwan, Turkey, Thailand, Belgium, Russia, Singapore and the UK. It opens later in Iceland on May 16th; in Germany on June 19th; in Hungary on June 26th; in Argentina on July 17th; in Brazil and Mexico on July 18th; in Spain on July 25th; in the Netherlands on August 7th; and in Finland and Norway on September 26th.

Monday, May 05, 2008

P2 - slash-by-numbers

From the makers of SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES comes a service-able but forgettable slasher-by-numbers flick called P2. A beautiful woman (Rachel Nichols) leaves a Christmas party late and finds herself alone in a parking garage (P2!) and in the hands of the psycho parking attendant (Wes Bentley). He feels scorned; she runs around in a skimpy dress; bad shit happens. This is such a mediocre movie I can think of nothing else to say other than to bemoan Wes Bentley's submission to type-casting.

P2 was released in 2007 in the US, Russia and Mexico. It was released earlier in 2008 in the Philippines, Argentina, Spain, Thailand, Belgium, France, Panama, Israel and Iceland. It is currently on release in Egypt and the UK and opens later in May in Japan and Singapore. It is also available on Region 1 DVD.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pantheon movie of the month - KES

Recent viewings of a few Mike Leigh films and the costume drama ANOTHER COUNTRY sent me back to KES. Why? Well, like Mike Leigh, British director Ken Loach concerns himself with sympathetic, realistic portrayals of life in the under-class. In KES, Loach straightforwardly adapts Barry Hines' novel, "A Kestrel for a Knave". It's the tale of a teenager living in rural poverty in Yorkshire in the late 1960s. He's the butt of casual ill-treatment at home and institutionalised ill-treatment at school. The schoolboys may have been privileged in ANOTHER COUNTRY, but the arbitrary meting out of violent justice is the same as in KES. The tragedy is, of course, heightened here because the kid has no chance of succeeding in life if school doesn't work out. There's no fall-back position - no second chance.

If KES is a great film it's not just because it chronicles the in-built inequality of the education system. Viewers come back to it, and critics love it, because it pulls off that rare feat: it is deeply tragic without ever feeling manipulative, mawkish or sentimental. Our protagonist manages to take a shy step toward happiness and purpose when he starts training a kestrel. He's even encouraged by a kind teacher. I can't describe how gratifying it is to watch this poor kid actually take centre stage in front of a black board and gain the respect of his class-mates as he tells them about his hobby. Of course, Loach can't resist grim reality and the denouement is heart-breaking. Truly heart-breaking because you feel that the tragedy is credible and probably commonplace. Young kids, with bags of potential, slip through the cracks, not just because of indifference but because of active cruelty.

KES was released in 1970 and is available on DVD.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mike Leigh retrospective - ALL OR NOTHING

ALL OR NOTHING is the first Mike Leigh film that I truly enjoyed from start to finish, and that's an odd statement, because it's a pretty grim movie about the British underclass. Still, for all that, there's a tremendous sense of compassion and understanding that runs through the film, in sharp contrast to Leigh's earlier, more satirical movies.

Thatcherism is dead. Long Live New Labour. We are in London in 2002 and not much has changed for the socially deprived. They're still living on decrepit council housing estates, neutered by lack of opportunity and lack of ambition, living on a diet of fried food, alcohol and cigarettes. Leigh introduces us to a rare nuclear family. Timothy Spall plays Phil - an optimistic but lazy taxi driver, reduced to cadging change of his kids to pay for his minicab radio in a scene almost too painful to watch. He's married to Penny: Lesley Maville in a role usually described as "long-suffering". They have two obese children - a loving daughter Rachel (Alison Garland) and a brutish, selfish son called Rory (James Corden. Their journey is of self-realisation. Phil has to realise he is unhappy before he can get the will to change. Penny has to discover the courage to speak out about her frustration. Rory has to face the consequences of his sloth. Rachel, one feels, still has her epiphany ahead of her. In some ways, she is the most intriguing character - so passive, and yet she evidently has a great fondness for her dad, and is deeply affected by her parents' rowing.

The secondary characters are a rogues gallery of teenage pregnancy, abusive boyfriends, slappers and stalkers, except that Leigh's characterisations are much more nuanced than my abusive short-hand descriptions. Together they give a rich sense of the untapped potential, frustrated hopes and yes - the community spirit that just about still exists on the estates. And it's this fine quality, combined with the flashes of gallows humour, that keep ALL OR NOTHING from being a dirge - and stops the film from feeling over-long or unrelentingly grim.

ALL OR NOTHING played Cannes and Toronto 2002 and opened that year. It is available on DVD.

Friday, May 02, 2008

MADE OF HONOR - a rom-com as weak as the alleged pun in the title

Do you want to know why I didn't want you to be a bridesmaid at my wedding? Because there wasn't enough tangerine chiffon in the whole state of Illinois to make your dress.MADE OF HONOR is a desperately weak romantic comedy vehicle for TV star Patrick Dempsey. We know he can be charming and sweet because we've seen him in ENCHANTED. We also know that his lead actress, Michelle Monaghan, can be endearing and like-able because we've seen her in KISS KISS BANG BANG, not to mention as about the only good thing in the god-awful Ben Stiller project THE HEARTBREAK KID. We also know that the movie's director, Paul Weiland, can make emotionally engaging films rooted in authentic history, as he did with last year's SIXTY SIX.

So what went wrong with MADE OF HONOR? The script. Debutant writer Adam Stzykiel has created a collage of rom-com plot points - all of them implausible and none of them grounded in anything so obvious as character development. (Promiscuous, superficial boy realises he is love with his sweet best friend, but it's too late! She has fallen in love with a Scot (Kevin McKidd of ROME fame). So wanker best friend sets about trying to ruin his best friend's happiness so he can get his rocks off. Cue lots of picturesque Scottish scenery and lots of lazy Scottish jokes.)

The whole thing has the artificial, unwholesome, aeriated feel of aerosol can whipped cream and should have been punished for eternity in straight to video hell.

MADE OF HONOR is on release in Egypt, Australia, Estonia, Russia, South Africa, Iceland, the UK and the USA. It opens later in May in Germany, Singapore, Switzerland, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Spain. It opens in June in Argentina, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and France. It opens in Japan on July 12th, in Turkey on August 1st, and in Taiwan on August 7th.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Mike Leigh retrospective - HIGH HOPES

After being involved in the successful "Play for Today" series of TV plays, Mike Leigh moved on to a feature film called HIGH HOPES. Leigh maintained his practice of gathering together a group of talented British character actors and improvising around themes of class conflict and real (as opposed to Hollywood-perfect) life. Leigh and his DP Roger Pratt depict late 1980s Britain as it really is - down at heel council flats, shambolic Victorian houses in the North of London and the occasion "fixer-upper" that has been transformed by people with a bit of money and some social aspirations. Against this suitably grimy backdrop, Leigh teases out the heart-break and drama in everyday situations.

In HIGH HOPES we have a loving but frustrated couple called Cyril and Shirley, played by the highly talented Philip Daviws and Ruth Shean. Cyril's a Marxist and, as such, in theory at least, a utopian. But in practice, Cyril is depressed by Thatcher's Britain and refuses to let his wife have a baby - the ultimate courageous and hopeful act. Shirley, by contrast, is a deeply warm and and loving persion, and is a socialist in a real sense - she cares about people and society. This manifests itself in this film by the fact that she actually listens to and cares for her ageing mother-in-law (Edna Dore) in sharp contrast to Cyril's sister and her brother in law.

The marital drama at the centre of this film, and the political question of translating abstract idealism into practical positive action are deeply compelling. I am less convinced by Leigh's handling of the class divide. His depiction of Cyril's sister Valerie (Heather Tobias) falls into the same trap as Beverly in ABIGAIL'S PARTY. Her costume, hair, accent and vocal inflections all cross the line of satire into crude caricature. The same goes for the characterisations of Cyril's mother's upper class neighbours. Despite the fact that Leigh has cast two superb character actors - Lesley Manville and David Bamber - he chooses to portray the rich neighbours as self-involved, superficial and cruel. There's no attempt to make three-dimensional characters. It's as if Leigh doesn't think the rich are worth the effort.

All in all, HIGH HOPES is a mixed bag. Cyril and Shirley's story is moving, thought-provoking, subtle and well-acted. Sadly it's surrounded by a wrapper of crude social caricature that once again feels like it's patronising the socially aspirant working-class and indifferent toward the upper= class.

HIGH HOPES was released in 1988 and won the FIPRESCI prize at Venice.