Thursday, February 23, 2012


Hong Sang-soo’s quartet of short linked films features three characters—a young man, a young woman, and an older man—who study or work in the film department of a university. Each short reveals a little of the relationship between these characters, from different viewpoints, and mostly in retrospect.
Running through the quartet is the theme of filmmaking itself and the accompanying uncertainty of being able to realise one’s intentions within the medium (and the world outside it). This draws us into the fourth film where the young woman, Oki (Jung Yu-mi), presents a movie she has made in an attempt to assemble her own experiences at selected points in her recent life.
Overall, the linked films are unadorned in style: quiet, minimal, observational (perhaps this reviewer looks on these qualities a little too favourably generally), but they do make for a good disguise when the tone becomes darker, or poignant, particularly during two separate instances of question and answer sessions.
It is partly in these last-mentioned, unassuming scenes that the threads running through the films reveal the skill and intricacy of their pattern—when they separate off into two snowy walks concluding the quartet, it is a gently reflective parting. For this reason and at this time, with all the dazzling pictures currently nearing the finishing line of their season, OKI’S MOVIE may well be a sight for sore eyes.

OKI's MOVIE aka OK-HUI-UI YEONGHWA played Toronto and Venice 2010 and went on release in South Korea in 2010 and in France in 2011.  

Friday, February 03, 2012

Fear and loathing on the Oscar campaign trail

Superpac-sponsored TV spots pillorying Mitt Romney as a tax-evading French-speaking hippie have nothing on the dirty tricks campaigns being perpetrated against the front runner in the Oscars race: The Artist. Before the nominations, the negative campaigning focussed on Kim Novak's assertion that she felt "raped" by The Artist's composer, who had quoted from Bernard Hermann's Vertigo score.  This hysterical interview was pitiable as a comment on a once famous and now forgotten actress' desire to get back into the headlines by any means necessary. It was also a risible mis-reading of a film whose exact purpose is to repackage Tinseltown's history.

Post nominations, the campaign stepped up a notch. The Artist had only been surpassed by Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" in the number of noms, but this was offset by the fact that "Hugo" didn't have anyone competing in the major acting categories. Evidently Berenice Bejo wasn't going to unseat La La Land's darling, Meryl Streep, but Jean Dujardin was becoming a real threat to "Gorgeous" George Clooney, nominated for The Descendents.  The response was swift: PR agency prepared talking points urging the Academy to vote American.  Counter-publicity reminded voters that despite the nationality of the leads The Artist remained a US financed film with a US crew, US extras and US sets.

Protectionism, while unsavoury, is mild compared to the deliberately generated frenzy doing the rounds in LA this week. Campaigners have accused Dujardin of misogyny, citing posters publicising his forthcoming US film release, "Les Infideles", feature a leering Dujardin peering through a woman's long be-stockinged legs.  Once again, this is a spectacularly moronic mis-reading of the film and its poster. Loosely translated as "The Players", it's a comedy that satirises the typical boorish unreconstructed French man, rather than celebrating him. Moreover, in the nastier strains of LA gossip,  Jean Dujardin is now being equated with Dominique Strauss-Khan: the former IMF Chief infamously perp walked to prison on what turned out to be flimsy allegations of rape. In the batshit crazy logic of the negative campaign, scratch the surface of any Gallic charmer and you find a sexual harrasser.

All of this low-rent nastiness is far from edifying and stands in stark contrast with the carefully manicured conservative glamour of the Oscar ceremony itself.  That said, this contradiction works well as an analogy for Hollywood, and the wider LA media industry.  Dining at Capo in Santa Monica or Fig and Olive in West Hollywood or at Bazaar at the SLS in Beverly Hills, this week, I was shocked anew at the dangerously forced beauty of the diners putting on a show around me. They reminded me of that line in F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night, referring to Violet McKisco "all the prettiness had been piped to the surface of her".  That's La La Land in a nutshell: a desperate and delusional battle to affect apparently effortless success.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


CONTRABAND is about as perfect as a caper movie gets - fast, fun, thrilling, intelligent.  To be sure, it's basic plot components are pretty conventional, but it has a tricksy enough story, and enough good humour to be the perfect Friday night-forget work-have some fun movie!

Mark Wahlberg plays a former smuggler turned straight, drawn back into "one last job" to save his idiot brother-in-law from the local drug dealer (a typically over-the-top Giovanni Ribisi).  He assembles a crew that's going to smuggle in forged currency from Panama in J K Simmons freighter. Of course, "one last job" movies are never simple.  And this one involves a double-cross back home; getting caught up in a Panamian armed robbery; an art heist; and a superbly choreographed fit-up job.  A few plot twists are predictable but there are enough genuine surprises, and I love that no plot thread is left untied.

The movie is directed by the Icelandic actor-writer-producer-director Baltasar Kormakur (JAR CITY) who wrote and starred in the original.  Together with DP Barry Ackroyd (GREEN ZONE) he directs the movie with real style and pace, and a surprisingly light touch!  There are many scenes and lines where it's clear that the smugglers are having a great time, despite or even because of the high stakes - more young kids up to some japes than Michael-Mann style existential angst.  I also really liked the casting (ex Ribisi) - being particularly impressed by Kate Beckinsale, of all people!, actually doing some proper acting as Wahlberg's wife. 

Flicking through the IMDB review page it becomes clear that CONTRABAND has taken a bad rap for being too genre-cliche-ridden.  Whatever. I had a bunch of fun watching it, and it's in my Best Of list for the year. Not every film has to be a heart-wrenching, life-changing Iranian art-house flick. There will always be room on this blog for good honest popcorn entertainment.

CONTRABAND is on release in the USA, Kazakhstan, Russia, Singapore, Bulgaria, Canada, Pakistan, Israel, Kuwait, Estonia, Iceland, Romania, the Philippines, India, Syria and Poland. It goes on release in Hong Kong on February 9th; in Australia and New Zealand on February 23rd; in Portugal on March 1st; in the Netherlands on March 8th and in Germany, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Turkey and the UK on March 16th. It opens on March 22nd in Belgium, Denmark and Hungary; on April 19th in Argentina; on April 27th in Brazil and Lithuania; on May 4th in Sweden and on May 16th in France and Italy.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


A few years ago, James Watkins made a brilliant little British horror film that was genuinely petrifying, and politically interesting, given its use of feral chav kids to hunt down a nice middle-class couple. Sadly, Watkins' latest film, an adaptation of Susan Hill's massively successful THE WOMAN IN BLACK, is about as banal, boring and benign as a horror movie can get. There are three problems - the direction, the script and the casting.  And given that there isn't much left of a movie if you get these three wrong, you can see why I've tagged this review "piss-poor".  

The story is a classic Victorian haunted house horror (though penned in the early 80s).  Arthur Kipps is a young solicitor sent to go through the documents at the deceased Mrs Drablow's imposing and isolated mansion.  The villagers prove hostile and reluctant to take him there - all but the rationalist squire Daily.  Soon, Kipps is seeing a mysterious woman in black; young children in the village are dying in brutal circumstances; and the house is acting against him...  The documents and Daily help Kipps understand the reason for the deaths, and together they try to appease the ghost.....

Apparently the horror afficionado and superb screenwriter Mark Gatiss (BBC's recent SHERLOCK) was asked to write the script. One can only dream of what might have been. Instead we get a screenplay from Jane Goldman (KICK-ASS) that uses every horror cliché without understanding or breathing life into them.  Similarly, James Watkins' workmanlike direction uses every horror trick - malevolent toys, spooky children, diagonal camera-angles - to no real effect.  It's like he read a "Polanski for Dummies" book.  But the biggest problem is the casting. Daniel Radcliffe just isn't old enough to convincingly play a grieving widower and father of a toddler. And he comes across as curiously inert and unexpressive, especially when playing across from the marvellous Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer (squire Daily and his mentally disturbed wife). It's going to be curious to see how many of the HARRY POTTER kids have a career beyond the franchise, but this movie, so reliant on Radcliffe alone in a haunted house, does not bode well.

The reason you see so few horror reviews on this site is that I am a complete girl when it comes to horror - I get scared by the smallest things. But I sat through this flick unscared and uninterested. Doubleplus not good.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is released this weekend in the USA, Canada and Argentina. It opens on February 10th in the UK, Denmark, Greece and Portugal. It opens on February 17th in Spain; on February 24th in the Netherlands, Brazil and Poland; on March 2nd in Italy; on March 7th in Belgium; on March 9th in Turkey; on March 15th in France, Russia and Singapore and on March 29th in Germany, Hungary and Sweden.