Friday, February 29, 2008


Patrick is dumped by Sophia on the advice of super-rational talk-radio love doctor Emily. So Patrick hacks the marriage license database so it looks like Emily's already married to him, throwing a spanner in the works of her marriage to perfect gentleman Richard. Emily spends time with Patrick in the process of obtaining an annulment. Guess what happens next!

This romantic-comedy slips by merrily enough for the first half hour because Uma Thurman (Emily) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Patrick) are charming. Patrick's Indian neighbours also have some fine comedy moments. But as the novelty of the odd-couple pairing wears off the mechanics of the plot become tedious in the extreme. All this will-she won't-she crap is a waste of time.

I also found myself mildly irritated that a lot of rom-coms start off with a high-functioning rational woman and then take a malicious pleasure in watching her life get messed up by a child-like bloke who she should ultimately take pity on. Dumbing down to his level will make her life complete! It's the same old story in KNOCKED UP and, to a lesser extent, in JUNO. Enough already. I can also detect a worrying and cynical trend in post 9-11 Hollywood to make characters they want us to think are decent, warm-hearted guys New York fire-fighters.

THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND is on release in the UK. It opens in France on April 2nd; in Brazil on April 11th; in the USA on August 15th and in the Netherlands on August 28th.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A partial review of MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS

Wong Kar Wai has made some great movies in the past, not least the pantheon film, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. His movies are known for their lavish attention to production design; beautiful women in stunning dresses and the mesmerising control of Christopher Doyle's cinematography. They also contain some out the great performances of Asian cinema, not least Tony Leung in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and 2046. Sadly, MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, his first English-language, American-set movie, is a travesty. In fact. I walked out of MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS after forty-five minutes. I had wanted to leave after ten minutes, but willed myself to keep sitting there, hoping that the movie would pick up. It didn't.

The problems are manifold. The script has no narrative drive; characters speak in banalities; Norah Jones, Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn over-act; one suspects that Norah Jones actually cannot act; Jude Law can't maintain a Northern English accent; Rachel Weisz can't do a Southern American accent; Darius Khondji's cinematography is deliberately stylised but looks cheap and amateurish (how many ways can you film someone through a window or reflected in glass, or shot from a CCTV camera?).....Net result: I had zero interest in continuing to watch Norah Jones' heartbroken waitress drifting through different bars, moping at various uninteresting characters.

Essentially, this is a movie that is badly written, badly acted and badly filmed.

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS opened Cannes 2007 and was released in Canada, Finland, France, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Greece, China, Singapore and Estonia in 2007. It opened earlier in 2008 in Hong Kong, Latvia, Turkey, Russia, Switzerland and Bulgaria. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in March in South Korea, Colombia, Argentina, Italy, Brazil and Japan. Finally, it gets a limited release in the US on April 4th.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING - a step back from SQUID

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is a film about a selfish, hateful novelist who arrives at her sister's house and proceeds to hurt everyone in her path, not least her own son. She is a rather savage figure, and despite the fact that writer/director Noah Baumbach creates a realistic, fully-fleshed portrait, I found it hard to have any empathy for her or to be interested in what she did. Some way through the film, another callous author (Ciaran Hinds) brutally exposes Margot (Nicole Kidman) at a public reading. I thought this might have been cathartic. Up until that point, I would have happily slapped Margot myself, so presumably I would have enjoyed seeing her skewered? But I felt neither happiness at, nor sympathy for, her downfall. Just mild irritation that I had to witness yet another selfish, hateful novelist inflicting pain on others.

So what is there to hold our interest in this film? Jennifer Jason-Leigh gives a wonderful performance as Margot's kind-hearted but weak-willed younger sister, Pauline. Despite all the punishment Margot deals her, Pauline still loves her and listens to her. Jack Black is also marvellous in a small role, playing it relatively straight. He seems all the more funny the more he is hemmed in by a stern script and director, and he plays one of the few love-able characters in the movie.

Other than that, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is a pretty dismal affair. And that
extends to the production design and the camera-work. DP Harry Savides has treated the negative to give the scenes a dull, mono-chrome look, and interior scenes in particular look murky and uninteresting.

The movie seems like a step backward from THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. That movie was far from perfect, but it did capture my interest and the cutting observations of human frailty were tempered by something like human warmth. By contrast, MARGOT feels misanthropic. And the little flaws that marred SQUID are magnified in MARGOT. The final scene is a case in point. Baumbach doesn't seem to be able to restrain himself from big dramatic flourishes at the end of his films. They feel stagey and heavy-handed.

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING played Telluride and Toronto 2007. It opened in the US last year and is currently on release in Australia. It opens in the UK on February 29th and in Belgium and the Netherlands in March. It opens in Denmark on April 11th and in Norway on May 9th. It opens in Spain on June 6th. MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is also available on Region 1 DVD.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

THE EDGE OF HEAVEN/AUF DER ANDEREN SEITE - contrived cultural drama

AUF DER ANDEREN SEITE is not a poor film by any means, but I don't think it lives up to the art-house hype. Certainly, in a year of 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS; NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, I find it hard to believe that Fatih Akin won Best Screenplay at Cannes 2007.

The movie is set in contemporary Germany and Turkey. An old Turkish man in Bremen offers a Turkish prostitute a place in his house in return for exclusive services. At first, it seems a rather naive, romantic gesture. She is being harassed by religious fundamentalists so she accepts. We have been forewarned by a surtitle that the woman will be killed but I love how writer-director Fatih Akin still manages to take the audience by surprise. Sadly, credible surprise soon turns to contrived implausible events. It starts when the old man's grown son goes back to Turkey to find the dead woman's daughter. Rather improbably, he gives up his job as a German professor and impetuously buys a book shop in Istanbul.

The second segment centres on the dead women's daughter, a radical political agitator on the lam from the Turkish police. She hops a plane to Hamburg and is taken in by a sweet German languages student, much to her conservative mother's disgust. The two girls begin an affair, but the radical is soon deported and the German follows her to Istanbul. She remains in Istanbul for months, trying to fight her lover's incarceration. Improbably, she finds herself lodging with the old Turkish man's son.

The third segment of the movie sees all the story-lines come together in a manner that was so contrived as to be alienating. I left the cinema admiring Fatih Akin's ability to portray modern Turkish life, but less convinced that he had said anything particularly meaningful about racial and nationalist politics. The story, which had begun so promisingly, had disappeared into a small, trite, neatly-packaged box. Still, the movie is almost, but not quite, worth seeing for Patrycia Ziolkowska's heart-wrenching performance as the love-lorn German girl, Lotte, and the brilliant sound-track.

AUF DER ANDEREN SEITE/THE EDGE OF HEAVEN played Cannes 2007 where Fatih Akin won Best Screenplay. It also played Toronto 2007 and Berlin 2008. It opened in 2007 in Germany, Sweden, Turkey, Italy, Belgium and France. It opened earlier in 2008 in Norway, Greece, Jong Kong, Portugal and the Netherlands. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in March in Finland, Spain and Israel. Finally, it opens in the US on May 21st.

Wong Kar Wai retrospective - 2046

I once fell in love with someone. I couldn't stop wondering if she loved me back. I found an android which looked just like her. I hoped she would give me the answer.
After the perfection of IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE came the sequel, 2046 - a reflexive, rambling film that was ultimately a failure despite its ravishing visuals. Tony Leung reprised his role as Chow, now living in the Hong Kong of the late 1960s. He lives in a seedy hotel, next to room 2046 - a metaphor and focus for all his regrets and sexual yearnings. At the same time, he's writing a sci-fi novel set in 2046 - a place where you can relive your dreams in perpetuity. In this strange world of past, present and future, Chow meets a parade of beautiful, mysterious women, each dressed to perfection and photographed in a state of heightened beauty. If all these themes and striking images had been harnessed to empathetic characters and a proper story, Wong Kar Wai might have given his fans a film to treasure. Instead, the movie feels self-indulgent and unsatisfying. And, to paraphrase an interview with DP Christopher Doyle during a retrospective at the National Film Theatre, somewhat redundant. Wong Kar Wai said everything he needed to in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.

2046 played Cannes and London 2004 and is widely available on DVD.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pantheon movie/Wong Kar Wai retrospective - IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE/FA YEUNG NIN WA

As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is one of the most beautiful and touching movies of recent years. It is quite simply a story of unconsummated love between a man, Chow, and a woman, Li-zhen, who decide to rise above the pettiness of the world that surrounds them. They first meet in the cramped apartment building that they share - surrounded by nosy neighbours and the noise and fast pace of Hong Kong in the 1960s. Tony Leung plays Chow as a weary, hard-bitten newspaper man. The emotional range he conveys and the empathy he evokes in the audience won him the Best Actor prize at Cannes in 2000. Though a married man, he becomes transfixed by his glamourous new neighbour. They spend time together and the sexual tension is evident. The discovery that his wife and her husband are having an affair changes everything. At once, the tension is heightened as they play-act the roles of their spouses - indulging in dialogue they would so dearly love to be for real. And yet, they cannot now consummate their relationship because that would be as cheap as the world that surrounds them.

The story is reminiscent of BRIEF ENCOUNTER, but the resulting film couldn't be more different. The movie feels like a lament to a lost age. Wong Kar Wai delights in the fashion, interior decor and music of the 1960s. The movie is quite self-consciously retro, whereas BRIEF ENCOUNTER is delightful because it is so definitely of its time. The feeling of self-indulgence in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is heightened by the fact that Wong Kar Wai seems content to meander through his sets and linger in places he has no business being. So, Christopher Doyle's camera will gently move through corridors, into bedrooms and cramped kitchenettes. Sometimes, the action will be off screen or reflected in mirrors. The whole movie seems to live in a world where colours are brighter, movement is slower and emotions are inescapable. And that's what transforms a basically simple story into an unforgettable tragedy, making IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE a true pantheon movie.

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE was released in 2000 and won Best Actor and the Technical Prize at Cannes. It is widely available on DVD, but if you ever have the chance to see it on the big screen you should definitely avail yourself of the opportunity.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

HONEYDRIPPER - a finely balanced, wonderful picture

So here we are again. Danny Glover playing an old man, Tyrone Purvis, trying to keep his business despite financial strife and seemingly unstoppable change. In BE KIND REWIND it was the change from gonzo VHS to DVD. In HONEYDRIPPER, it's the change from acoustic blues to electric rock.

HONEYDRIPPER is the name of Tyrone's club on the outskirts of an Alabama town called Harmony. It's 1950. People of colour are still under the yoke of the white man - terrorised by the local Sherriff and hired into cotton-picking by the local judge. Radical evangelicals demand conversion to righteousness and the ruthless sloughing off of sinful, unrepentant family members. Tyrone's bar, featuring an outstanding old blues singer is losing business to a rival club that has a jukebox and Hot Jazz.

As with all John Sayles' movies, HONEYDRIPPER balances a credible, emotionally affecting character-led story with social and political insight. The recreation of a time, not lo song ago, when racism was tangible and endemic is frightening and saddening. But Sayles is careful to never let it swamp the emotional heart of the story. That is Tyrone's struggle to keep his bar without alienating his wife Delilah. Tyrone crosses many a line to raise the cash he needs and it's tribute to Glover's performance that even when he's doing these pretty morally questionable things, we always believe he's basically a good guy and we always want him to succeed. But the real stand-out performance in a movie with a strong ensemble cast is that of Lisa Gay Hamilton as Delilah. She's a good strong woman and she's no fool. She recognises the strength and the flaws in Tyrone. Similarly, while she wants to be part of a Church she can see through the hysteria of the local evangelicals. Sayles has written a fully rounded character, and Hamilton has brought her to life wonderfully. Other notable performances include newcomer Yaya DaCosta as Delilah's daughter ChinaDoll and Mary Steenburgen as the well-meaning but ultimately clueless Amanda.

HONEYDRIPPER is in some ways Sayles' most finely balanced film - combining a fascinating story with devestating social critique. The script, performances, production values are all top-notch. It's one of those movies where you feel that you are watching a complete final product - that the director has a completeness of vision. The added bonus - or rather - the glue that holds the whole thing together is the sound-track. Even if the film were no good, it would be worth watching just for the music. Mason Daring corals a number of great blues, gospel and rock musicians for some live numbers that blow you away.

HONEYDRIPPER played Toronto and London 2007 and was released in the US in DEcember 2007. It goes on release in the UK on April 25th.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

BE KIND, REWIND - a love letter to VHS

BE KIND REWIND is the first of two movies starring Danny Glover as an old man forced to adapt to modernity. In this film he owns a crusty video shop in New Jersey. The building is so decrepit that the local council is going to demolish it to put up some shiny new condominiums. And in the age of DVD blockbusters, all Mr Fletcher's customers are leaving him for his rival West Coast Video. Glover plays Mr Fletcher as hardened to life's knocks. He faces up to reality, decides to move his stock to DVD and, if all else fails, to grit his teeth and move to the Projects. Against Mr Fletcher's realism we have the delightful optimism of Jack Black, Mos Def and Melonie Diaz, aka Jeff, Mike and Alma. These three goofballs decide to replace the videos that Mike has accidentally magentised with a bunch of home-made 20-minute "homages"/spoofs or "Swedes". These movies become super-popular with the customers, tired of homogenised Hollywood fare. Audiences delight in their shared experience of classic movies - the scenes we all know by heart - and finally start taking part themselves. Of course, the Feds stomp on the vids for copyright infringement, but not before one final hurrah - a movie about Jazz piano legend Fats Waller. Never mind that Waller didn't actually grow up in Passaic, NJ. That's the joy of shared memory and experience - we own it, and we can change it!

The first hour of this movie shows us the machinations of how all the video tapes got wiped. It's a pretty convoluted tale and has none of the honest simplicity of the similarly themed movie, SON OF RAMBOW: A HOME MOVIE. The movie only really feels like it lifts off in the second half hour, when the gang starts making the flicks. Cinephiles will take sheer delight in seeing those childhood movies recreated. As Michel Gondry proved in last year's outstanding THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, he is the king of things to make and do. I also love the theme of the flick - far better to go out and do stuff yourself - gonzo-style - than be the passive recipient of other people's dreams.

You can't deny that the movie has a lot of heart. And I always find that Jack Black is more funny when restrained by a strong ensemble cast and director - so I prefer him here to, say, NACHO LIBRE. Mos Def is charming, and it's great to see Melonie Diaz (who's been consistently impressive since RAISING VICTOR VARGAS) get a proper starring role too.

My only real criticism is that BE KIND REWIND takes too long to get to the good stuff, and that everything about how we get to the Sweded films seems hopelessly contrived. If you like this film, I strongly recommend you check out SON OF RAMBOW to see how the same light-hearted material can be grounded in something real and, therefore, all the more emotionally engaging.

BE KIND, REWIND played Sundance and Berlin 2008. It opens in the US and UK today. It opens in March in France, Israel, Iceland, Norway, Australia, Singapore, Finland, Turkey and Russia. It opens in April in Spain, Sweden and Argentina. It opens on May 8th in the Netherlands.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pantheon movie of the month - THE KILLERS

If there's one thing in this world I hate, it's a double-crossing dame.THE KILLERS is a great film noir, originally released in 1946, and back on release as part of the British Film Institute's Burt Lancaster retrospective. It's now seen as the film that launched Lancaster's career, and one of the best examples of Ava Gardner's explosive screen prescence.

The movie opens with a prologue taken from an Ernest Hemingway short story. Two assassins enter a simple diner in a small town and menace the owner, his chef and an innocent bystander. They're waiting for a garage mechanic who evidently had a previous life running with wrong crowd. Echoes of HISTORY OF VIOLENCE abound. It becomes apparent that the mechanic won't be coming in and the assassins leave. The bystander then runs through the town of picket fences to warn him. It's an exhilerating scene but culminates in an outstandingly dark, brooding scene in a boarding house. The friend bursts into the mechanic's room. He's lying on his bed, his face entirely in shadow. With a morbid passivity, he thanks his friend for coming, sends him away and wait to die. Echoes of JESSE JAMES offering his back to the coward ROBERT FORD.

The rest of the movie is, like that film, a "whydunnit", penned by Anthony Veillor and John Huston. Why did the mechanic, known as the Swede, aka Ole Andersen aka Robert Lund, refuse to run? Why didn't he want to live? The answers will be uncovered by an insurance investigator played by Edmond O'Brien. And really, this is his film in terms of screen time. In a series of CITIZEN KANE style flashbacks, he'll interview people who knew the Swede and recreate his motives.

Burt Lancaster is a charismatic presence but is only ever refracted in other people's memories. He's the boxer, forced onto the sidelines by an injury and a brutally capitalistic manager. He's the dumb lug patsy hooked by Ava Gardner's gangster's moll - so obvious and vulnerable it's painful to watch. He's the fall guy for her crime, and even upon release, when she's left him for another man, he goes along with a heist in order to be close to her. Finally, he's a broken man, violent with rage, intent on self-harm.

The supporting cast is absolutely cracking and the story hangs together in a way that a Raymond Chandler novel never does. The feel of the movie is cool and detached, maybe because it's told through the eyes of the dispassionate insurance man. All the time, this tragic love story is reduced to an irrelevance - almost daring the audience to feel involved. The insurance boss tells the investigator that all he's achieved in solving the mystery is to lower the insurance premium in 1947 by a fraction of a cent. Such is the worth of The Swede. Behind the camera, we get a great orchestral score by Miklos Rozsa and superb cinematography from Woody Bredell. There's a lot of use of crane shots and characters on different levels of a building - allowing interesting perspectives and depth of vision. The continuous crane shot of the heist is particularly memorable.

It all adds up to a great film noir, not so much because of Lancaster - although he's great in it - but because of Robert Siodmak's superb ensemble cast and bleak vision.

THE KILLERS was originally released in 1946 - the year of BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, NOTORIOUS and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It was nominated for Oscars for Best Director, Best Editor (Arthur Hilton), Best Score (Miklos Rozsa) and Best Screenplay (Anthony Veiller) but lost out not to any of these great films but to the Myrna Loy WW2 romance, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES! THE KILLERS is currently playing at the BFI Southbank as part of the Burt Lancaster retrospective, and is widely available on DVD.

Monday, February 18, 2008

ANNIE LEIBOVITZ: LIFE THROUGH A LENS - weak doc; great career

Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, I don't believe in The Beatles, I just believe in me. Good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus. I'd still have to bum rides off people.ANNIE LEIBOWITZ: LIFE THROUGH A LENS is not a particularly well-made documentary. Film-maker and sister of the subject, Barbara Leibovitz, doesn't have much visual flair, imposes no daring structure onto the material and her editing doesn't draw out incisive comments. Nonetheless, LIFE THROUGH A LENS remains an interesting movie because it's about a fascinating and iconic photographer and features interviews with film-stars, rock musicians and famous politicians.

The documentary is basically a chronological and methodological look at Annie Leibovitz' career. By chance, Annie finds herself a student photographer in San Francisco in the 1960s - just as the cultural revolution is kicking off. She establishes her reputation with gritty photo-reportage for Rolling Stone - sitting aside the great chroniclers of that age - Hunter S Thompson and Tom Wolfe. Along with the politics, Annie also gets fantastic photos of all the great rock acts of the day by taking the time to hang out with them, put them at ease, and capture them off-guard. The downside of the frenetic lifestyle was drug addiction.

Some time around the end of the seventies, Rolling Stone "sold out" of San Francisco and moved to New York. It had grown up and gone mainstream. Annie also went mainstream. She cleaned up in rehab and went to work for Tina Brown at Vanity Fair. Her style of photography underwent two changes. First, Annie was photographing celebrities and film stars, pandering to the egos of the Trumps. Instead of capturing intimate pictures of grungy rockers, it was all about surface gloss and the "best side". Second, instead of capturing moments in reality, Annie was increasingly creating complicated story-board tableaux. These got more elaborate (and expensive) over time, and culminated in an over-dressed style that I personally find rather claustrophobic and alienating. Still, you can't deny that amid all the hoop-la there have been some iconic images - the naked pregnant Demi Moore, for example.

The documentary was a great way to devote 90 minutes to really thinking about Annie's work and to see the evolution of her style. I saw a bunch of photographs I'd never seen before as well as learning about the context of some that I was aware of. Seeing everything chronologically made me realise just how far I had become alienated from her recent work, but also made me appreciate just how much I loved those early Rolling Stone pictures.

What this movie isn't is a film about Annie Leibovitz' personal life. The drug addiction is dealt with very quickly. We do see Annie discuss her relationship with, and photographs of, Susan Sontag - but this is obviously deeply distressing and passes quickly. Some reviewers have criticised this discretion. I disagree. Leibovitz herself argues that her most important relationship has been with her work. As such, the focus of this documentary is spot on.

ANNIE LEIBOVITZ was released in the US and Spain in 2007 and opened in Japan earlier in the year. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in France in June.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


In Britain in the last century, it was quite acceptable for a gentleman to lose his virginity to one of London's many whore dogs. Dickens and Prince Albert both boasted of their experience.Teen horror is fairly objectionable stuff. Leery, misogynistic, and apart from my political objections, usually lazy and formulaic. So I spent most of ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE mildly pissed off. It was the usual crap. Teen girls prance around in various states of undress. Blokes ogle them. Unsurprisingly, three girls and three guys end up going to a farm-house in the middle of Bumblefuck where there's no phone reception and a brooding ranch-hand for company. Following the rules of the genre, the slapper gets chopped by the mysterious psycho first. The means of her death is particularly misogynistic although, I have to say, not hugely gory. Indeed, in general, this is not a particularly scary film. We then continue to eliminate teens in reverse slut order. The only thing maintaining our interest is some rather fine photography and editing and the sexual tension between Mandy (Amber Heard) and the brooding farm-hand (Anson Mount.)

Fans of the film point to a cunning plot twist to defend the movie as "smart" and "original". This is nonsense. The plot twist can be easily guessed at. What's more, it's not particularly convincing. Indeed, the only reason behind it is that the film-makers are not simply misogynistic but entirely misanthropic. But I don't want to waste ninety minutes hearing how all men are patsies, and all women are dumb, manipulative whores.

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE played Toronto 2006 but has only just been released in the UK. It opens in the Netherlands in April 3rd and in the US on April 25th.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

THE RIVER QUEEN - costume epic catatastrophe

THE RIVER QUEEN wants to be a lavish historic adventure. It wants to have the mesmerising visuals, lyrical beautiy and epic scope of a Terrence Mallick flick. It wants to tell us something profound about conflicting loyalties and the search for identity. Director Vincent Ward and DP Alun Bollinger certainly succeed in shooting some wonderful footage of New Zealand, and the production designers certainly envelope the frontier garrisons and interior villages of the nineteenth century in sufficient mist and grime. Even Kiefer Sutherland convinces with a broad Irish accent as a soldier working for the British. He complements a cast rich with talent - not least Stephen Rea as an ex-pat surgeon and Samantha Morton as his daughter Sarah.

THE RIVER QUEEN is fundamentally Sarah's story. She throws off convention as one might take off a coat. She falls for a Maori man and bears him a child, who is then abducted by his grandfather. In love with a Maori, mother to a Maori son, but serving the British despite herself being an oppressed Irishwoman, Sarah must struggle with her own identity and loyalties. Moreover, her son has been raised a Maori and sees no need to return "upstream".

This could have been a great picture, but the movie is incoherent. The editing is jarring, the story meanders and character motivations are unclear. This is particularly true of Sarah. She seems to flit between her Maori lover (Cliff Curtis) and Kiefer Sutherland's Irish captain with little reason.

Presumably someone decided to throw a heavy layer of voice-over onto the movie to give the audience a hope of keeping up. Sadly, the narration doesn't help our understanding but adds to the frustration and irritation. The whole thing is basically a straight-to-DVD write-off. Presumably the only reason it's even getting a UK release it to cash in Samantha Morton's domestic popularity and Kiefer Sutherland's residual popularity for 24. Certainly, the marketing campaign is very misleading. Fans of 24 should be aware that he has only a small role.

THE RIVER QUEEN played Toronto back in 2005. It was released in New Zealand and Australia in 2006 and in Kuwait and Spain in 2007. It is currently on release in the UK.

Friday, February 15, 2008

THE BUCKET LIST - shameless schmaltz

But remember this: walk away now and you walk away from your crafts, your skills, your vocations; leaving the next generation with nothing but recycled, digitally-sampled techno-grooves, quasi-synth rhythms, pseudo-songs of violence-laden gangsta-rap, acid pop, and simpering, saccharine, soulless slush.THE BUCKET LIST is a horrible, lazy, manipulative movie and all the high-octane talent on the poster should be ashamed of having taken the pay check. Jack Nicholson plays a cantankerous old bastard just waiting to have his heart melted by Morgan Freeman's smug old wise man. It's like the script-writer simply spliced every other movie Nicholson and Freeman had starred in over the past decade. The two old men meet-cute in a cancer ward and indulge themselves in a few month's of global travel in their dying days. Apparently, being terminally ill with cancer is no bar to hiking in the Himalayas. Naturally, Nicholson learns the evils of his capitalist bastard ways and delivers one of those final act speeches that has us tearing up. That is, if you are able to supress your gag reflex.

THE BUCKET LIST is already on release in the US, Canada, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Israel, Colombia, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela, the Philippines, Argentina, Slovakia and the UK. It opens next week in Australia, Hong Kong, Portugal and Brazil. It opens the following week in France. THE BUCKET LIST opens in March in Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands and Singapore. It opens in April in Finland, Norway and Sweden and opens in Russia on June 5th.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

JUMPER - weak performances mar neat-O concept

A cake. Can a cake dance? Can a cake get you drunk? Will a cake let you put your hand up it's jumper?This poster totally sums up the new sci-fi action flick, JUMPER. On the plus side, there are a lot of cool special effects and glamourous locations thrown up onto the screen. The pyramids, the Colisseum, down-town Tokyo, the beaches of Fiji...The heroes of this film run, jump, speed and slide their way through glamourous location after glamourous location. The problem is that the amount of time and care spent on, oh simple things, like character, motivation, plot and narrative arc, are disproportionately small.

It's a real shame because the basic concept is cool. Certain people have the ability to "jump" - to teleport instantaneously to anywhere in the world. These Jumpers are being hunted down by evil Paladins, who think only God should have that kind of power.

Problem is, the Paladins are led by Samuel L Jackson in a daft blonde dye-job that totally subverts his ability to look scary and threatening. Another problem is the lame attempt to inject a bigger story/possible sequel of the "Luke, I am your father" kind. Yet another problem is the fact that our hero, as portrayed by Hayden Christiansen, comes across as whiny and self-obsessed. There's never any suggestion that David will use his powers to save others. Indeed, the only thing he uses them for is to get with his childhood sweetheart. Rachel Bilson is similarly weak in her performance.

The only person who looks remotely like he's having any fun is Jamie Bell. He camps up his cameo role as a fellow Jumper, and almost, but not quite, manages to turn a weak script into something entertaining.

I'd also like to observe that the two kids playing younger version of David and his sweetheart - Annasophia Robb and Max Thieriot - are infinitely stronger performers than their grown-up counter-parts. So if we must have a sequel, might it not be better as a more fully developed prequel?

JUMPER is on release in Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kuwait, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Lorea, Taiwan, the US, the UK, Estonia, Iceland, Norway, Poland and Spain. It opens next week in Belgium, Egypt, France, Denmark, Sweden, Israel and Italy. JUMPER opens in March in Slovakia, Finland, Japan, Turkey, Germany and Brazil. It opens in Argentina on April 3rd.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WAR - what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

I've got a plan, and it's as hot as my pants.The title of this review is pretty lame and obvious, but not as lame and obvious as Philip G Atwell's directorial debut. Jason Statham plays an American cop out to avenge his partner's death at the hands of a Triad assassin played by Jet Li. Statham's accent is caught somewhere between West Hollywood and Billericay. Li moves through the movie barely uttering a word. Neither is particularly charismatic. The fight scenes are decently choreographed but that doesn't make up for the unimaginative dialogue and formulaic structure. Admittely, there is a neat plot twist near the end of the film, but by that point I was so alienated by proceedings, I couldn't have cared less.

WAR was released in most countries in Autumn 2007. It opens in South Korea on February 28th and is also available on DVD.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Overlooked DVD of the month - PARIS JE T'AIME

PARIS JE T'AIME is a series of 18 five minute short films inspired by the different arrondisements of Paris. Each director had 2 days to film in their designated area. Sadly, the films don't really work as a coherent whole. It isn't the case that watching one film will give you a cunning insight to another. As such, I'll review them as individual shorts.

The movie opens with MONTMARTRE**, in which director-actor Bruno Podalydès skewers our post-card vision of Paris, and Montmartre in particular, as a city of love. A middle-aged man curses the traffic and his lack of success with women. It's an entirely forgettable segment.

Gurinder Chadha uses her segment, QUAIS DE SEINE*, to comment on European perceptons of Muslim women who wear the hijab. A young girl articulates her choice to wear the veil to a bemused young ethnic European boy. This segment isn't forgettable but for all the wrong reasons. It's a pretty trite exploration of an extremely complicated social issue. Maybe a more profound treatment isn't possible in a five-minute slot? But if that were the case, Chadha should have chosen another story.

In LE MARAIS****, we finally get a fascinating and memorable segment. Gus van Sant shows a young man (Gaspard Ulliel) telling another that he loves him, not realising that the object of his affections can't understand French well enough to understand him. It's an enchanting and tragic little mood piece, but I don't quite understand why we need to have a cameo of Marianne Faithful. It strikes me as redundant cinematic name-dropping.

TUILLERIES**** is another fantastic segment. The Coen Brothers mess with us by filming the entire skit in a metro station. A nervous American tourist (Buscemi) gets roundly beaten up for daring to make eye contact with a kissing couple. So much for the city of love!

Walter Salles sticks to his preoccupations with social divides in LOIN DU 16e**. Cataline Sandino Moreno leaves her own baby to work as a nanny after a perishing commute. Her employer dehumanises her. It's all worthy enough but just like's Chadha's segment, comes across as a bit obvious and trite.

Christopher Doyle's bizarre segment has a salesman (Barbet Schroeder) enter a surreal Chinatown salon in PORTE DE CHOISY*. I was bemused and unimpressed. It's a shame - because it somewhat detracts from Doyle's reputation as an outstanding cinematographer.

In BASTILLE**, Leonor Watling shows a wealthy man trapped in a loveless marriage, but rediscovering his love for his wife (Miranda Richardson) when she falls ill. Much like the first segment, I thought Watling gave us a rather dull story, told with no visual flair.

Nobuhiro Suwa gives us a segment that rather predictably uses Juliette Binoche as a grieving mother. In a Gondry-esque flight of fancy she deludes herself with visions of a cowboy (Willem Defoe) in PLACE DES VICTOIRES**. It's all a bit mawkish and forced.

Sylvain Chaumet shows life in Paris for two mimes in TOUR EIFFEL****. It's sweet and bizarre and rather strange.

Alfonso Cuarón puts together a tricksy single take conversation between Nick Nolte and Ludivigne Sagnier in PARC MONCEAU***. It's clever but hardly substantial or affecting.

Oliver Assayas has Maggie Gyllenhaal procure drugs in the QUARTIER DES ENFANTS ROUGES***. He makes a nice comment about the interaction between the heritage of the district and the current underground scene.

Oliver Schmitz shows a moment of violence and rekindled love at first sight in PLACE DES FETES*****. It's arguably the best segment in the movie. The acting is brilliant - the concept is original - it's tricksy but emotionally engaging all at the same time. Although it's five minutes long you feel you really know the characters and the lives they live. And best of all, you get the kind of social insight that Chadha and Salles were striving for without feeling lectured at.

Richard LaGravenese has Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant act out an argument for a prostitute in PIGALLE***. It's fun but not much more.

The same could be said of Vincenzo Natali's fantasy in LA MADELAINE***. Elijah Wood's hapless traveller chances upon Olga Kurylenko's sexy vampire.

Wes Craven's PERE-LACHAISE***, where Oscar Wilde helps Rufus Sewell win back Emily Mortimer, is also well-acted but insubstantial.

Like a middle-class version of PLACE DES FETES, Tom Tykwer condenses an entire relationship between a blind man and Natalie Portman's acting student into five minutes in FAUBOURG-ST DENIS****. The two leads act beautifully - the story has a great twist - and the use of music and the musicality of speech is outstanding.

In QUARTIER LATIN**, Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands have a last drink before separating in a bar run by Gérard Depardieu. Frédéric Auburtin directs. Yawn.

Perhaps most controversial and open to interpretation is Alexander Payne's segment 14e ARRONDISEMENT*/*****. He has a stereotypical American tourist (Margo Martindale) recite in demotic French her love for Paris. I can't make up my mind whether he's being very patronising about American tourists, or whether he's actually satirising European prejudices about Americans. This segment is either offensive or brilliant! You decide!

Monday, February 11, 2008


Are you kidding? I made all that up. You know Marcus. He once got lost in his own museum.The first NATIONAL TREASURE movie was a light-hearted unpretentious mix of Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code and much of the team behind the original is back for the sequel. Nic Cage reprises his role as the archeologist cum treasure hunter, Ben Gates. He's got an IT whizzkid sidekick (Justin Bartha), a hot chick girlfriend (Diane Kruger) and a pair of light relief bickering parents (Jon Voight and Helen Mirren). Instead of Auto-Bean, the bad guy is played by Ed Harris. And instead of Templar treasure, Ben Gates is searching for an ancient City of Gold hidden under Mount Rushmore. The adventure will take him to Paris, Buckingham Palace, the Oval Office and the Library of Congress too! One wonders just what is left for the heavily hinted at third installment of the franchise. Ben Gates decodes a puzzle on the moon?!

The problem is that somewhere between the insanely impressive sets and the ludicrously high-amp locations, the honest fun of the first film got lost. I didn't mind the cheesiness of the first flick because it kept me entertained. In NATIONAL TREASURE, I eventually got bored, especially during the final water sequences. And when you're bored, you start poking holes in a plot that can't stand up to such scrutiny. The motivation of the baddie, for instance, seems pretty thin. And a scene where Ben Gates is offering to sacrifice himself for his family is curiously lacking in emotional punch.

Overall then, NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS is a pretty damp squib. Still, I like the concept enough that I'll be hoping for a slightly shorter run-time and slightly less absurd locations in the inevitable next installment.

NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS was released in 2007 in the US, Kuwait, Oman, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Lebanon, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Thailand, Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Spain, the USA, Venezuela, Egypt, Russia, Mexico and Panama. It was released earlier in 2008 in Belgium, Greece, Iceland, Poland, Turkey, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Peru, Colombia, India, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Germany and Denmark. It is currently playing in Denmark and the UK and opens next week in France and Finland.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Finally I "get" the WGA strike

Tonight the stars will grace London's Royal Opera House for the one award ceremony that hasn't been blown off course by the writers' strike: the BAFTAs. The British academy awards were historically a regional sideshow. Even when the organisers moved them to between the Golden Globes and the Oscars they only cashed in on the faintest bat-squeak of borrowed glamour. Still, there's no denying that with the Globes reduced to a press conference and the Oscars awaiting the green-light, the BAFTAs are in the global spotlight. The heavy wheels of Hollywood are greased by red carpet glamour. And if you can't wear that dress to the Kodak theater you may aswell sashay up Bow Street.

I hadn't properly understood what was going on with the writers' strike until I read an article by Michael Wolff in this month's Vanity Fair. I mean, I understood that there was a disagreement over how much writers would get paid when an episode or film they had penned was sold or shown on the internet. What I mean is, I hadn't understood the real Fear underpinning the writers' stance, beyond a reasonable defence of their intellectual property. So here's the killer elucidation:

"As cheaper reality television has replaced much more expensive scripted shows, this has produced an ever growing population of writers who will never work again - writers who have been trained to work for a medium, network television, that effectively no longer exists. And that's who has effectively declared the writers' strike. Of the 10,500 members of the Writers' Guild, nearly half are unemployed. What they are fighting over is the future value of stories that have already been written - that's what's going to support these people......."

"The Hollywood writers are on strike because of the sense, shared by just about everyone in Hollywood, that the business, even the Hollywood lifestyle, is undergoing some radical downsizing - so grab what's left."

It's a great article and well worth reading if you have a copy of the magazine to hand.


And the suit? It's a dream. Cut by an artist. Possibly Drift Bros., definitely Sable Rose. 65 guineas 75.DEFINITELY MAYBE is not a romantic comedy, as you might expect from the marketing campaign. Rather, it is a modestly enjoyable but perfectly forgettable drama about a rather bland but earnest young man and the three women he has loved. Ryan Reynolds tones down his trademark comic style to play political activist William Hayes, whose big plans for life scare off his high-school sweetheart (a deeply superficial performance from Elizabeth Banks). He then falls for a sophisticated writer who proceeds to skewer his career and his heart. Rachel Weisz is brilliant in this small role, and Kevin Kline is responsible for the only real humour and energy of the film as the outrageous Professor. Finally, our hero has an off-on friendship with a ditzy but well-meaning kid played by the charming Isla Fisher. They are both adorable together.

The movie rolls along at a leisurely pace and, with the exception of the college sweetheart, the characters are amiable enough to hold our interest for the run-time of the film, if not for one second more. The only real flaw in the film is the twee framing device, which has William relating his sexual adventures in flashback to an irritatingly knowing and cute daughter, played by Abigail Breslin.

DEFINITELY MAYBE is on release in the UK. It opens next week in Australia, the US, Norway and Venezuela. It opens in March in the Netherlands, Belgium, Mexico, Germany, Denmark and Turkey. It opens in April in Egypt, Singapore, Sweden and Spain. It opens in Brazil on May 9th and in Argentina and Russia on May 29th.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

WATER HORSE - Free Nessie!

You tell me, Agent Kujan, if I told you the Loch Ness Monster hired me to hit the harbor, what would you say?A perfectly charming and utterly enjoyable children's movie that combines a good old-fashioned story with some first-rate modern animation.

A timid young Scottish boy called Angus (Alex Etel) comes out of his shell by befriending a cute little beastie called Crusoe. The beastie soon outgrows the bathtub and Angus and the handyman (Ben Chaplin) transfer him to the Loch. All goes well until a smarmy Army captain (David Morrissey) orders his men to start shooting at the Loch in order to impress Angus' mum (Emily Watson.)

The movie is well-acted throughout, althought the Scottish accents do tend to come and go. The beastie is very cute and there are lots of good laughs all the way through. The CGI animation is handled well and doesn't obscure from the wonderful photography of the beautiful Scottish landscape. This movie could've been sponsored by the Scottish Tourism authority! The ending is suitably thrilling and emotional, although I did feel it had a slightly familiar Free Willy feel to it. Nonetheless, fans of the Dick King-Smith story won't feel let down, and I can attest that The Kid had a great time throughout.

WATER HORSE opened in the US, Canada and Mexico last year. It opened in January 2008 in Australia, Sweden and Belgium. It is currently playing in Brazil, Japan, Venezuela, Egypt, the UK, Germany and Argentina. It opens later in February in France, the Netherlands, China, Croatia and Iceland. It opens in March in Lebanon, Singapore, Kuwait, Spain, Turkey, Peru, Italy, Uruguay, South Korea, Colombia and Serbia and Montenegro. It opens in April in India and Hong Kong.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Random thought prompted by SCOTT WALKER: 30th CENTURY MAN

Does anyone else think that Scott Walker circa the Tilt album had basically morphed into Antony and the Johnsons?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

PENELOPE - what a mess!

PENELOPE is a deeply derivative movie that snatches the look and feel of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and AMELIE and splices them with the post-modern fairy-tale vibe of SHREK and ENCHANTED. There's so much going on with the plot I'm not entirely convinced the film-makers are in control of it. All I can say is that they make creative decisions that are flawed at every turn, thus frittering away a talented cast.

Penelope is a rich young woman cursed with a pig's snout rather than a noise. She'll regain her beauty when "one of her own kind accepts her for who she is". So her parents hire a match-maker to audition a bunch of blue-bloods to a blind-date with a difference. One such is a superificial preppie who runs screaming, and then teams up with a paparazzo to bring Penelope down. Another candidate is a down-at-heel but warm-hearted drifter. Penelope will venture into the world and find her true love (no prizes for guessing). And yes, this being Hollywood, there is a spunky side-kick with a quirky hair-cut and good intentions.

The movie is conventional enough and had they stuck to their guns the film-makers might have produced a decent enough romantic-comedy. After all, Christina Ricci and James McAvoy are charming as the star-crossed lovers. But the film-makers fail at every hurdle. The production design is a rag-bag of London and New York exteriors and the actors accents vary wildly too. All of this is highly distracting for the viewer. I just wished they'd settled for one or the other or gone for a non-specific fairy-tale land somewhere in between. As it is, we have James McAvoy in a broad US accent bumming round Southwark and Lenny Henry turning up as a rozzer with a Brummie accent to question Yank Catherine O'Hara!

The film-makers also exhibit a lack of faith in their audience in how they choose to depict Penelope's curse. It's intrinsic to the story that Penelope look ugly. But then again, they need to make her sympathetic and the movie marketable! So they give Christina Ricci the smallest, cutest little snout and compensate with falsh eyelashes, tousled hair and cute clothes. Indeed, snout aside, this may be the prettiest Ricci has ever looked on film!

Maybe the biggest problem is the film's uneven tone. Director Mark Palansky directs half of it as a very broad comedy, with elements of slapstick. Catherine O'Hara falls over in shock and Simon Woods, last seen as Caesar Augustus in HBO's Rome, puts a lot of physical comedy into his role as the preppie suitor. (Actually he's rather good in a comic role!) On the other hand, Palansky wants us to take PENELOPE seriously as a coming-of-age film with real heart. So Peter Dinklage gives a remarkably nuanced reporter as the sleazy paparazzo having second thoughts. Ricci, McAvoy and Witherspoon also play it fairly straight.

What with the shifting geography and shifting tone, I felt all at sea watching this film. There were flashes of wonder - and a few laugh-out-loud moments but these did not compensate for the general mayhem and one of the most excrucitiatingly embarassing first-kisses on film. The result is a movie that is frustrating to watch: a total mess, and a waste of a talented cast.

PENELOPE played Toronto 2006 and has since sat on the shelf. It played Russia and Ukraine last August and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in the US on February 29th, France on April 9th, the Netherlands on April 24th and Belgium on April 30th.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Justifiably overlooked DVD of the month - THE NANNY DIARIES

United Airlines is how airlines used to be: no flat beds in business class and no handheld video on demand IFEs. Still, needs must, and I ended up watching THE NANNY DIARIES over my inedible vegetable ravioli.

The movie plays like the anoemic younger cousin of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. A young girl stumbles into becoming a high society nanny and is shocked to discover how ill-treated domestic servants are. Bizarrely, she sticks around to take the abuse, but doesn't stop whining about it. Finally the nanny tells the employer she's a bad mum and, this being Hollywood, it all ends happily ever after. Nanny gets a book deal and a boyfriend; mum gets a soul. Everybody Finds Themselves.

The movie doesn't seem all that concerned with satirising the upper classes in the way that DEVIL merrily took the piss out of narcissistic fashionistas. Instead, it's a pretty mean-spirited look at some rather tragic people. Scarlett Johansson plays the nanny as a bored victim and does nothing to gain my sympathy. Laura Linney tries her best with the role of the malicious employee, but it's not a big enough performance to gain the iconic status of Streep's Miranda Priestley. Elsewhere, Paul Giamatti is utterly unconvincing as the lecherous husband and Alicia Keys is wasted as the spunky best friend.

The real problem with the film is that the satire is diluted with schmaltz at every step. I'd expected better from joint directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who were responsible for the bleakly funny cult indie movie AMERICAN SPLENDOR. I also fear that Scarlett Johansson is becoming a contra-indicator. She was fine in GHOST WORLD and she had the perfect look for LOST IN TRANSLATION and GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING. But she's never particularly impressed me with her acting talent and she's made some godawful choices of late. BLACK DAHLIA anyone? She wasn't even the most memorable feature of MATCH POINT. One can only hope her latest Woody Allen movie resurrects her career.

THE NANNY DIARIES was released last year in the US, Canada, Russia, Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore, Lithuania, South Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan, Estonia, the UK, Slovenia, Greece, Romania, the Philippines, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Poland, Turkey and Norway. It was released earlier in 2008 in Iceland, the Netherlands, Brazil, Finland and Kuwait. It opens in France on May 14th and in Belgium on July 2nd. It is also widely available on DVD.