Movie Reviews (such as they are)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pickup on South Street

This film was a rare second viewing for me. Rare these days, that is. I used to rewatch films often, but not so much now.

Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street is a real class act that works on several levels. Despite being a film noir, this was actually made more than a decade after The Maltese Falcon, and this distance has helped Fuller to get a bit post-modern on the genre. There is a humour throughout the picture that you just don't see much of in those earlier noirs. The speed with which Candy falls in love with Skip, for example, is laughable, but you go with it because you know you're going to get paid off in spades later. But not in Sam Spades, because this is Fuller's world, and the detective can never be the guy you root for.

The plot revolves around some pickpocketed microfilm of US governmental secrets that is on its way to being sold to the Commies. Well, it's 1953, folks, and the red threat was all around. But this isn't really the point. The microfilm is the MacGuffin that drives the story. Don't get me wrong -- the story is slight, but what do you expect in 80 mins?

What you should expect is fun and action and the subversive take that Fuller brings to all his pictures. Never one to shy away from the ugly truth, Fuller takes the Bogart-style slaps across women's faces that are so commonplace in noir and shows us the deep bruising and swollen jaws that follow. The wide-angle tracking shot that Fuller uses to shoot the brawl between Candy and her traitor boyfriend Joey is a real eye-opener. It's brief, but in these days of fast cutting and close-ups and half the time not having a clue where you're supposed to be looking, this approach looks as fresh now as it did then. Gritty and real. A true tussle unfolding before you in real time.

Aaahh, you know, I liked this film. It's not a great film, as I said, in terms of story, but it's a simple tale brilliantly told and expertly made. If you're not familiar with Fuller's work, pour yourself a Scotch on the rocks, get your best dame beside you, and check this out. Shit, even if you like Fuller and you know this film well, why not pour yourself a Scotch on the rocks, get your best dame beside you, and check this out again?

What's the scores on the doors, then? I'll give it 72 points.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

I didn't realize it was a remake until the end -- it's a French take on a 1970s movie called Fingers, which starred Harvey Keitel -- but "serious" film mags like Sight & Sound had been saying glorious things about The Beat That My Heart Skipped, such as it being the best film of 2005, so I thought I should give it a go.

As it happens, it was all right. I liked it, but it wasn't even the best film I've seen in the past week, let alone of a whole year.

The lead actor, Romain Duris, was very good, though, and reminded me initially of Colin Farrell, then, later on, of a Mean Streets-era Robert De Niro. The film is probably worth watching for this guy alone.

Good film, but don't believe the hype. I score this 70 points.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dog Soldiers


The British film industry has been closely tied to horror for some 40 years, and Dog Soldiers was widely held up as a return to form on its initial release. I saw this on the Sci-Fi channel, and unfortunately it was pan-and-scanned and had commercial breaks, but at least it wasn't cut for language or violence. It was a reasonably enjoyable romp, played well by all concerned, and it was far better than the director's next film, The Descent. A middling 60 points for this.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Last Party 2000

Capote star and Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman fronts Last Party 2000,
a documentary following the 2000 US elections, the ones that Bush and his brother rigged so that Dubya would win the presidency.

The film is pretty much what you would expect, given that we all know the outcome only too well, but it is interesting, and there are some great quotes, like this one from GWB himself: "If we don't win the state of Florida, my brother Jeb will be in big trouble." Oh, that plays great now, don't it, Georgie Boy? There are also celeb talking heads such as Noam Chomsky, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Bill Maher, and others.

Somewhat of its time, this film, but interesting nonetheless. 62 points.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Omen

Previously I've only ever seen snippets of The Omen, like, 25 years ago. We all know what The Omen is about, don't we? The devil's son is "adopted" by Lee Remick and Gregory Peck and marks the beginning of the end of the world, apparently.

I've gotta say, despite being a pretty old movie, this was still quite good. You have to ignore the fashions of the time, of course, but the story is strong and the film well acted. Hell, it's even got Patrick Troughton in it, who was the second Doctor Who, back in the '60s! Speaking of the 60s, I'll give this 62 points.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Getting our Halloween viewing off to an early start, we sat down to watch What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? over the weekend.

I really knew nothing about this film, so it was all fresh to me. And I've got to say, I was gripped. What performances! What a tale! What (melo)drama! I love good old movies, and I'm amazed that this one has passed me by for so long.

Catch it on TCM or pay to rent the DVD. It's well worth it. Number 73 for this one.

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Bombón El Perro


Already reviewed by my dear wife, the film Bombón El Perro will indeed warm the cockles of your heart -- once it's over.

You know what, though? I found it just a little stressful to watch. You so rarely see films that are this nice and rewarding and optimistic; so when you do, you get the terrible feeling that it's all going to go horribly wrong at every turn! It didn't.

Beautiful, both to look at and as a story. 74 points.

Palindromes

I gotta say, I like director Todd Solondz. Palindromes is the fourth film of his that I've seen, and ooh yes I detect a theme. Paedophilia, child abuse, sexual abuse, incest. Indeed, all of the above. Solondz frequently dwells on all of these subjects at length, in the process making incredible, touching pieces of cinema that dare to confront subjects that make people feel uncomfortable.

Palindromes takes Solondz's normally realist style into a new direction, though. The lead character is played by several different girls, despite most of the action taking place within a time frame of just a few months. These girls go from black to white and skinny to fat. To be honest, the end effect is nowhere near as frustrating/irritating/whatever as you might imagine. And in many ways it works beautifully, suggesting that this is one girl under discussion, but it could be anyone. Solondz either is your thing or he ain't. He's definitely mine, and I think this is one of his strongest works. I give this a massive 71 points.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Hundstage (aka Dog Days)

The latest film I've seen is Hundstage, or Dog Days -- an Austrian film in the style of Short Cuts, Magnolia, Code Unknown, etc: a peek into the lives of various characters whose lives interact with one another's on some insanely hot summer days.

Generally speaking, I like this movie device, simply because it really is one of the most realistic ways of looking at our lives outside of a documentary format. Sure, the stories can be somewhat contrived (I thought Crash was very disappointing, for example), but in essence we all know people who know people that we don't know, so on that level these films succeed.

Some of the key characters in Dog Days include a young retarded woman who is constantly looking to hitch a ride, almost always managing to do so; a security-systems salesman; an old widower and his helper; a separated husband and wife who still live together following the death of their son; and a mature unmarried couple.

In many ways, this is a brutal, ugly film. It focuses almost exclusively on the nasty side of people and the dirty secrets that most would probably want to keep hidden. But you are drawn to these characters, really wanting to know what is going to happen to them next, even though you suspect it can't be anything good. And mostly your suspicions are right.

The two standout scenes are those in which people are forced to sing "La Cucaracha". These have at least as much tension to them as most latter-day horror movies.

If you like the films of Michael Haneke, you will probably like this. It's no fun, and its underlying theme seems to be that Austrian men are mostly really horrible, but it's well made, gripping, and challenging.
I give it 65 out of 100.

A Knight’s Tale



I watched a bit of A Knight's Tale when it was on TV the other night. Well, I probably saw more than an hour of it -- the second half, I suppose. I'd always thought it looked a bit shite, and within a few minutes I'd suspected I was right. That terrible dance sequence to some dodgy David Bowie song, for example. I don't even remember which song it was now.

I turned to Wife, who was sneering at me for keeping the film on for more than about 17 seconds, and I asked whether Heath Ledger was a real knight or just pretending. "I don't know," she responded, or words to that effect. Basically, she didn't know. "But you've read all this Chaucer stuff," I said. "You've read A Knight's Tale."

"Yes," she responded, "but this isn't that story."

Who the fuck knew? I didn't anyway (but y'all know I don't know my classics). I felt a touch cheated, but I persevered, with both the film and Wife.

"Is Paul Bettany playing Chaucer?" she asked me at one point. It certainly seemed that way. Now I don't know much (um, anything) about Chaucer, but for some reason I had a hunch he wasn't tall, blond, and dashing. Wife confirmed what I already suspected by telling me he was short, stocky (fat even), and she may even have said bearded.

Essentially she was describing how Mark Addy looked in the film. How weird that they've got this actor who looks just like Chaucer, and instead they use someone completely different.

By the way, early in our courtship (isn't that a lovely old word?), Wife and I sat just a couple of tables away from Mark Addy, who was then fresh from his Full Monty fame, in a Pizza Express restaurant. He was eating on his own. Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with that; just that it seemed kinda sad that a man of certain celeb standing was eating alone in a pizza joint, y'know.

Anyway, I digress.

All I really wanted to say was that I thought A Knight's Tale was actually pretty good. Something of a guilty pleasure, you might say. At the right price I'd even consider buying the DVD so I can watch the first half too.

I'm not going to give this film a rating because maybe the first half is fucking rank, but I will say that I was very pleasantly surprised.

By the way, I think that Wife thinks I'm in love with Paul Bettany. But I hereby go on the record to say that I'm not, even though I do think he's a pretty good actor. And what better excuse to put a lovely pic of Jennifer Connelly here, for she is, in fact, in love with the aforementioned chap.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Death of a President

Event television, that's how they describe stuff like Death of a President. And even if "they" don't in this particular case, I would.

I'd heard of this movie for the first time just a few short weeks ago, but I didn't realize it was British-made until yesterday. I also didn't realize that it was going to get a theatrical (cinema) release in the US, while we would get a best-seat-in-the-house TV screening.

As ever in my reviews (such as they are), I don't want to give too much away here. The premise of the movie, though, is a look at the sequence of events following the assassination of George W Bush on 19 October 2007, including the arrest of the prime suspect.

This was a compelling movie. Indeed, it was so well made, generally speaking, that it felt totally real. There are some visual effects used here and there -- placing actors playing Secret Service men into scenes with Bush, for example -- but it's handled with expertise and nothing really jars on that front.

The film holds up well, too, in tone and feel in comparison with similar movies, documentaries, etc that we've all seen on the JFK evidence and conspiracies, meaning that it has good "real" feel to it, even though there are a couple of instances where it was perhaps overacted a tiny bit. Nothing too over the top, but just the odd chink in the armour of naturalism.

What is key, though, is how scary are the prospects of what would happen in such a situation. The erosion of personal liberties in the post-9/11 world fully informs this film, and it takes but the smallest of leaps in imagination to guess what type of shit would be acceptable after the assassination of a president in the third millennium.

Stirring stuff, this. I give it 66 out of 100.

Message in a Bottle

I have a strange, and largely inexplicable, liking of Kevin Costner. Despite the fact that he's hardly been in a single decent movie for more than a decade, I kind of admire him. It may have something to do with how likable he came across on Inside the Actors Studio when it was his turn to chat with James Lipton. Oops, I guess I've just given away how I feel about this picture, haven't I? Booooooring. Slooooooow. Unsatisfying.

That said, if you do find yourself watching it through no fault of your own, Paul Newman does put in a great performance. And it's not as bad as the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I give Message in a Bottle a lowly 33 points.

Eye of the Beholder

To be fair, I didn't watch all of Eye of the Beholder. By the time I switched it on, about 25 minutes had passed. Even so, I think I am in an okay position to judge, despite the fact that I didn't have the faintest idea what the premise was until I looked it up online.

I'm not the world's biggest Ewan McGregor fan, although I think he has put in some fine performances in a handful of films. Given the silliness of this movie, I think he did a pretty good job. He starred opposite Ashley Judd (pictured above). I happen to think Judd is an okay actress, but she wasn't required to do much here but smuggle peanuts once in a while. Not that that wasn't appreciated, but it's hardly acting. A rather disappointing 45 points.

Duma

I watched this coming-of-age-with-a-cheetah movie several days ago but have fallen behind somewhat in the posting of my reviews (such as they are). Wife has already posted her own review, and her opinion pretty much echoes mine on this one. Check it out. I give this movie 60 out of 100.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hotel Rwanda

The movies keep on coming, and the latest one to have passed before my eyes is the Oscar-nominated true story Hotel Rwanda. Call me old-fashioned, but when I see the word Rwanda in the title of almost anything, I'm pretty sure not to expect a laugh-fest. And you know what, I was right in this case, just as I often seem to be. Funny that.


To my shame, I'm not particularly well informed of current events. Until only a few short years ago, I never used to watch the news, and I never buy a newspaper and never have. So back in the days of the Hutu uprising in Rwanda, I really had no idea what was going on. Yes, I'd heard the key words -- Rwanda, Hutu, Tutsi, genocide, massacre, etc -- but I didn't really know what was actually happening, who these people were, and why it was all kicking off over there.

Without a doubt, many of the people who find themselves reading this will know more about it than I do, but suffice to say it was another war of stupidity. (Aren't they all?) And it ended with a million Tutsi corpses. This in a country with a current population of some 9 million. Can you believe that? More than ten per cent of a nation massacred, usually with a machete, men, women, children alike, especially children, in order to wipe out the next generation, over some supposed difference in race, tribe, ethnicity, whatever the fuck you want to call it.

Seemingly, though, according to the film, this "difference" between the Hutus and Tutsis was decided upon by the Belgians when they ruled the region. The taller, more elegant, lighter-skinned people with slimmer noses became the Tutsis; those shorter, blacker, wider-nosed folk are the Hutus. What kind of crazy shit is that?

What's it all about, Alfie?: Hotel Rwanda is a kind of an African Schindler's List. Hutu hotel manager Don Cheadle risks his own life to save as many Tutsis as he can, starting with his wife, her family, and his Tutsi neighbours. But the enormity of his task soon becomes clear.

Any good?: Cheadle, as ever, is great. He almost never disappoints. (I'll not mention that terrible Dick van Dyke accent in Ocean's 11, okay?) And Brit Sophie Okonedo puts in a good performance, too, as his Tutsi wife. Strange casting, though, since Cheadle's slight build makes him a far more delicate-framed person than she, in contrast to one of the "Belgian rules" set out a couple of paragraphs above. Supporting roles go to Joaquin Phoenix and Nick Nolte, no doubt to help bring a few Americans into the cinemas.

The film gives a good grounding in the basic history of the situation, I suspect, but it could perhaps have been more graphic in its depiction of the violence. Just one scene, maybe, to really hit home with the brutal horror of a situation that the rest of the world just didn't think was important enough to intervene. I guess that's what happens when there's no oil to protect. Just a bunch of crazy niggers with machetes, huh?

Numbers, please: Hotel Rwanda is a good little film, although I fear it mostly trades on being "worthy". But it is worthy -- in the best possible way. I rate this movie 65 out of 100.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Murder on a Sunday Morning

I like documentaries. And Murder on a Sunday Morning won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2002, so it should be good. (Not that Oscars necessarily mean much when it comes to mainstream fare, but y'know...)

The story here revolves around a fatal shooting of a white, 60-something tourist in Florida in 2000. The assailant was a young black man. A young black man (a boy, in fact, since he was just 15 at the time) is arrested and tried for the murder.

This film follows the defence team in their bid to have the boy acquitted. It's a fascinating real-life look at the sort of stories that have fascinated us through the years -- from Anatomy of a Murder, to The Accused, Murder in the First, and beyond. Compelling viewing. It was on the More4 channel here in the UK, so it may get a rerun in the coming days. Look out for it. I give this film 70 points.

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Two Brothers


This was a no-brainer, really. Lots of footage of cute tiger cubs playing in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Sure, you know it's all going to go horribly wrong for them, and Wife's gonna be grabbing the Kleenex throughout, but what can you do?

I'm not going to give anything away here. Watch Two Brothers for the tiger footage. Ignore the humans' bad acting. There are only two real stars in this film, and they both have four legs.

Tough to score this, because as a film it is formulaic and a bit rubbish. As an admonishment for how fucking stupid humans have been and continue to be towards the animals with which we share the world, it works on a certain level. But we all knew that already. As a visual feast of tiger fun, it's great. I dunno: 46 points?

The Color of Paradise

Wow, what an interesting experience this was. To the best of my knowledge, The Color of Paradise was the the first Iranian film I've seen. I know nothing about film-making in Iran.

What I will say before I move on to the movie itself is this: I suspect Iran is a young country in terms of film-making. I think what I witnessed in this film is a country finding itself in film. And that, regardless of anything else, is a great reason to see this movie. I checked Iran on IMDb to help put things in perspective: IMDb lists 1,199 films that are either Iranian or are joint ventures including Iran. There are 188,583 films listed that are either US or US + others, and 35,092 UK or UK + others. So while this is not quite akin to watching The Great Train Robbery or The Birth of a Nation, it is a really exciting time to join the party.

And the film was good, too. It tells the tale of a young blind boy whose father doesn't want him. He is struggling on his own since the death of his wife, and he has a potential new wife on the horizon, as well as two daughters. A blind boy just doesn't fit into his plan.

This is a slow, deliberate, moving tale. The acting is solid throughout, but the direction is really quite special. Personally, I prefer films with a bit more dialogue, but this was a very beautiful film in the way it was told and the way it was handled. I rate this film at 67 out of 100.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

It came around on network TV, so I sort of felt I had no choice but to watch it. What's that? You don't know what film I'm talking about yet? Yeah, I guess I could've been a bit clearer with the title: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sharp-eyed film fans will know that this review is going to be of the remake from a couple of years ago, since chainsaw here is one word, while in the original Tobe Hooper classic it is two: chain saw. But that's just me being my usual pedantic self.

Well, I gotta say I was disappointed. I don't wanna be all hung up on the past, like some kind of miserable 30-something motherfucker, but what was the point of this film? I've seen the original two or three times, including once at a late-night cinema screening, after which I had to take the night bus back home to north London from the West End. Never a nice prospect that; even more daunting after watching a movie about crazed serial killers... But this remake, man... it had no spirit, no shocks, no spine. The original will make you jump every time. The way it's shot, the overpowering sense of foreboding. It's all there. The remake, not so much.

There were exactly two things I liked:

1. The decision not to go for too much gore, just as in the original.

2. Leatherface wearing the face of that dorky guy from Six Feet Under.

Other than that, nothing. The one slightly gory bit -- seeing the rest of the kids through the hole in the young girl's head near the beginning -- was funny but basically stolen from From Dusk Till Dawn. And the "police footage" that topped and tailed the film was an attempt to add some Blair Witch shock to an otherwise dull movie.

A waste of two hours. I give this film 30 points out of 100.

Monday, November 20, 2006

El Mar (aka The Sea)

This was another of Red's choices. It's funny, when her choices drop through the letterbox, invariably it is something I've never heard of, so I say to her: "What's this about, then?" And she'll reply: "I don't know. Is it one of mine?" Crazy woman!

El Mar is set in a sanitarium where young men are dying in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. It's not clear what they are dying from -- at least not to me, although it may be common knowledge to Spaniards. Suffice to say they're coughing up shitloads of blood.

The story focuses on two patients and a nun who works there. The three of them were schoolfriends ten years earlier and were kind of involved in the death of two other boys -- one killed by the other, who then committed suicide. The relationships between the three are complex and fascinating and very much grounded in their history -- a history they can never truly be free of. A history of violence (again that term), both in their personal lives and in the "life" of their country.

The three leads are all acting in their first movie here, but you would never know it. Their performances are strong, assured and wholly believable. As the film builds, it becomes more violent, bringing the story round in an inevitable circle and back to the violence with which it began.

El Mar surprised me. I expected nothing, because I knew nothing about it in advance. But it mixed real-life events with surreality, religion, and violence, leaving me never knowing what might come next. For me, this is what good cinema is all about. I hate the predictable dross that we see so much of. Sure, it's fun as popcorn fodder, but it's not real film-making.

So, how do I score this film? I think, once again, this is a film that will stay with me and appreciate in my mind. I should say at this point that Wife didn't like it at all. She doesn't know it yet, but I felt there were traces of David Lynch in there, so it doesn't surprise me that she no like. I'm going out on a limb here and giving this 67 points. Check it out.

Dresden

When we stumbled on to a film called Dresden, which had just started on TV one evening, I asked Wife, "Shall we watch this?" This seemingly innocuous question was raised for two reasons: 1. It was more than 3 hours long, including ad breaks; 2. Wife's mother is a Dresden native, and was about 8 years old at the time of the bombings, so it is a subject quite close to home. She replied, "Is it going to make me sad?"

This personal angle aside, the historical elements of this epic, award-winning, made-for-TV movie are good enough reasons to watch it.

The plot: It's 1945, the end of World War II. "The war is over; the Germans just won't accept it," we are told. A Brit soldier crash lands in Dresden and is found by a young nurse. An unlikely love story blossoms. Meanwhile, Britain prepares to bomb holy fuck out of one of the most beautiful cities in northern Europe.

Any good: The story moves along at a good pace and never seems to drag. Although the love story is a touch implausible, given what's going on, all of the other stuff keeps you interested. They seem to have used some stock footage, too, which is nice. And there is no clear delineation between good guys and bad guys, since we are dealing with civilians for the most part. The coda was a nice touch.

Numbers: I give this film 65 out of 100.

Saw II

Now and again, you have to watch a modern-day horror movie, just to see if the new generation is coming up with anything as interesting as their forebears did. On the whole, of course, it seems that they aren't; after all, why else would they feel the need to keep remaking the old films? The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead... Need I go on?

The horror movie of choice this week was Saw II.


I have previously watched the original Saw movie. Obviously. I mean, who would watch the sequel without seeing the first film first? And to be honest, I thought that first film was "okay". The biggest letdown in that film was the acting. Cary Elwes was simply horrible as an actor. I was glad to see that the ability of the actors in the second film on the whole is up, with a couple of notable exceptions. You'll know them when you see them, but with America being the land of equal opportunity, it's good to see that one is black and the other Hispanic.

Ultimately, though, Saw II lacks the edge of its predecessor. There doesn't seem to be as much going on, since this time around, the victims are all together in one place, rather than being separate consecutive cases, as they were in Saw. While this arguably makes for a more epic set-piece film in theory, the reality is that it's simply less interesting.

As you would expect, the ends met by most of the characters are suitably grisly. And that, after all, is why we're watching. And the final couple of scenes are very good.

Overall, Saw II was watchable -- a reasonable way to pass 90 minutes -- but it's not a classic of the genre, and I can't imagine why anyone would need to watch it more than once.

I give this film 54 points out of 100.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Gangster No.1

gangsterno1.jpgThe British movie Gangster No.1 is based on a stage play. The main reason I have been so slow in watching this film is because I saw the play, on its debut run, 11 years ago, back in September 1995 at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, north London. Here's me holding up my copy of the programme. Despite being a one-time acting student and having directed a couple of short plays and a short film, I've never been a massive fan of the theatre. I was always more of a film guy. Gangster No.1, the play, changed that for me, opening a whole new door. It was fucking phenomenal. It was essentially a one-man play starring Peter Bowles (of "I'm H-A-P-P-Y" fame), who gave the sort of performance that can make careers for younger men. The fact that Bowles's performance was so good is why I approached the film with trepidation. I like Malcolm McDowell, but he can be a bit hammy, y'know?

Synopsis: An aging gangster looks back over his violent past when he hears his former boss is being released after 25 years in prison.

The review: As I said above, I'm not McDowell's biggest fan, and he is a touch too muggy in this, for my liking, but he has far less screen time than Paul Bettany, who plays him as a young man. Bettany is a standout in his breakthrough role. The only negative comment I would make is this: It seemed odd to have Bettany be the only actor who doesn't play the same character later in life. All his contemporaries are played by the same actors in both their 1960s and 1990s incarnations. The look and feel of the film is spot on. I'd say this is up there with the best British gangster film, Get Carter, and dare I say it's even better than The Long Good Friday, although it's been a while since I last saw it. It also scores very highly on what I shall henceforth call the "cunt count"; it may have already knocked The Football Factory off the top spot. A comparison with Sexy Beast, by the same authors originally, would be interesting.

The numbers: This film impressed me much more than I had expected. Indeed, I rushed out and bought the DVD. I award it 82 points.

Pusher


In my Mini film reviews #2 post, I wrote that Bleeder was a "really good, hard-hitting Danish movie", and I stand by that evaluation.

Over the weekend, I watched the debut movie by that movie's director. The film was called Pusher, and several of the cast members (including Mads Mikkelsen, pictured) are the same as in Bleeder, albeit playing different characters.

The downlow: Pusher, as you might guess, is about a drug dealer. Specifically, it is about one week in the life of a heroin dealer -- a week where a big deal goes wrong, leaving him owing lots of money to the type of guy you don't want to be in debt to.

The opinion: I liked this film. Sure, it wasn't as good as Bleeder, but then it was made a few years earlier and was a first film. The performances were all strong, and the story seemed pretty credible for the most part. It was violent in places, but then when you're talking about dodgy people owing dodgy people thousands of pounds, it's gonna get violent once in a while. Also, and crucially, it didn't outstay its welcome.

The bit that counts: Pusher gets 68 points. Worth a look.

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Very Bad Things

Very Bad Things stars Christian Slater, Jon Favreau in slimmer days, and the lovely Cameron Diaz (right).

I've had this one one sitting waiting for my attention for quite a while, with me looking for the right moment -- i.e., a moment when Wife falls asleep on the sofa or goes to bed early, because it was always clear she had no interest in watching it.

I knew very little about this film other than the initial accident that leads these lives to spiral out of control. I had heard, though, that it was not very good and that it was "sick", to quote one of my friends. Thing is, saying something is "sick" isn't exactly going to put me off, especially given who said it.

Wh'appen: Five guys go off on a bachelor weekend in Vegas, baby. A call girl joins them in their suite, and she ends up dead with a coathook in the back of her neck. Oops. What to do -- call the police and fess up, or stuff her in a suitcase and bury her in the desert? The boys choose the latter, and that's where things start to go wrong...

My twopenn'orth: The scene in the hotel room with the hooker is quite grisly. It's not that it's particularly gruesome in what you see; more that you can sort of empathize. We all know how a coathook feels, so we can relate in a different way to when we see people getting shot or hacked up. So it's unpleasant. And it gets more so as the scene progresses. Indeed, there is an all-pervading sense of unpleasantness, even once you realize you are watching a very dark black comedy. As it veers ever more into the farcical, however, all I kept thinking was, "This is like a Joe Orton plot but without Orton's wit." Wit is what is lacking. Instead, we are treated to screaming, shouting, and expletives. And while I'm a big fan of screaming, shouting, and expletives, they are no match for the wit of Joe Orton.

What's the scores, George Dawes? I give this movie 56 points, more for story than delivery.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Adrift (aka Open Water 2)

Wife and I took the afternoon off and went to the cinema. We still had free tickets to a screening of our choice (see this post if you want to know why), and they were burning a whole in our pockets. Or, rather, in Wife's purse.

So, burning... Did we go and see the new Nicolas Cage version of The Wicker Man? The fuck we did! You know -- where did I hear this? -- when it came to remaking The Wicker Man, the producers decided that a 30- or 40-something man couldn't possibly still be a virgin, so instead of that being the lynchpin of the plot, as it was in the 1970s original, they have given the character -- get this -- an allergy to bees!? What the fuck is that?! There is no way I'm paying for cinema seats to see that! (Even if they're free cinema seats, in fact.)

Instead, we went to see Adrift, which seemingly in the States is called Open Water 2. Shame they've given it a sequel name over there, actually, because the two films have very little in common other than people being lost at sea. I quite enjoyed Open Water last year. I thought it was good to see a good idea win out over big budgets (à la El Mariachi and The Blair Witch Project, two of my favourite films). So when I discovered that this Adrift film was being touted as a sequel (even though it isn't), it didn't put me off.

The plot: Six friends hook up for the birthday of one of them, to party on board a massive yacht. Before long, all of them are in the water, but no one remembered to open up the ladder, so they can't get back on deck. Panic and desperation ensue, coupled with accidents and tragedy.

(The experience: Apart from the couple talking most of the way through it about 10 feet behind us, it wasn't too bad. I sort of forgive them cos they were quite old and the woman was in a wheelchair. I think the guy was explaining stuff to her. There were only about a dozen people at the showing, anyway.)

The score: 65 points for this. A good little movie.

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Factotum

I watched Factotum [a man who does many jobs] (to give it its full on-screen title) the other night. I'm not familiar with the works of Charles Bukowski, and to be honest I don't think this film has inspired me to read any, but that's not to say I didn't like it. It had something going for it, in the portrayal of the depressing life of the lead character, Henry Chinaski, nicely played by Matt Dillon.

The title Factotum, though, I felt to be a misnomer. Perhaps this was intentional and ironic. I kind of suspect so, since truthfully Chinaski couldn't hold down a job. So, yes, while he "does many jobs", he can't keep any.

The scariest/worst thing about the film was Lili Taylor, who looked particularly skanky despite putting in a totally convincing performance. My favourite scene was when the two of them are walking down the street trying car-door handles. It seems they are looking to steal a new car, but it turns out that they are taking cigarettes. Classic!

Score: I give this film 58 out of 100.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Minority Report

I'd not seen Minority Report before, so I took the opportunity while Wife (heroically) tackled the bathroom. She's a love, in't she?

Good solid stuff from Spielberg, Cruise, and all, but dare I say just a smidgen too long? Two and a quarter hours is a bit much for something based on a short story, no? I reckon he could've cut at least 20 minutes with no difficulty.

Still, good story, as you'd expect from the guy behind Blade Runner and Total Recall. I award it 60 points.

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Romance & Cigarettes

Can't say much about this, to be fair. I didn't realize when grabbing it from the shelf, but Romance & Cigarettes is a musical.

I don't really do musicals; just not my bag, maaaan. Wife said she'd watch the first 20 minutes with me. She did, then decided to read instead. I couldn't really be arsed either, so I flicked through the chapters to see if anything grabbed me. Of course, Christopher Walken shone in the scene or two I saw with him.

Funny how films with an amazing cast list often disappoint. My guess is that this will develop a huge cult following; it's a real love-it-or-hate-it movie. It runs 100 minutes; I watched about 30. On that basis, it seems unfair to judge. I therefore introduce the rating NS -- not scored. That's not a good thing, though...

Casanova

I didn't expect much from Casanova, but we rented it purely to see Venice and cast our minds back to March and our time in that wonderful, unique city. But what an enjoyable romp it was -- huge fun from beginning to end.

This really is Hollywood at its kitschest, silliest, laugh-out-loud best. The cast are all good, with Oliver Platt putting in a fucking genius performance. This is right up there: 75 points.

One Deadly Summer

One Deadly Summer is a French movie from about 20 years ago, starring Isabelle Adjani (pictured).

Unfortunately, like many movies of its age, it has dated a bit, but the story of "boy meets girl, girl wants revenge on men who raped her mother" is of course timeless. A few plot holes and some dodgy hairdos notwithstanding, I give this 48 points.

Munich

It's hard to go wrong with Spielberg, fair play. Yes, he makes a lot of mainstream Hollywood fare, but at the end of the day he knows what he's doing.

Munich contains great performances from everyone except that ugly cunt who's playing the new James Bond, and Eric Bana is just as compelling as ever.

This is a fascinating story given the big-screen treatment for people who don't watch documentaries. Certainly not as anti-Israel as the Hollywood Jews would have had you believe on its release, but generally condemning of Meir's decisions of the time. Worth watching at least once. I give this 69 out of 100.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mar Adentro (aka The Sea Inside)

I give Mar Adentro a very respectable 75, definitely worth watching and even worth buying at the right price.

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The Music of Chance

I picked up The Music of Chance at Sainsbury's for 99p (that's US$1.87 or C$2.07). Is that a fucking bargain, or what? Okay, it has no extras or subtitles or anything, and the film is framed at 4:3, but maybe it was made for cable TV. Still, at less than a quid, you can't complain too much.

The plot: A blood-spattered James Spader is picked up by passing motorist Mandy Patinkin. Spader explains he was beaten by poker players who believed he'd ripped them off. He goes on to tell Patinkin that he has a big game coming up tomorrow that he is bound to win but now he has no money. Patinkin offers to fund him. But the game they arrive at the following day is a game of cat and mouse just as much as it is one of poker.

The review: I expected very little of this movie, despite it being based on a novel by Paul Auster. To be honest, I'd tried watching it once years ago but got bored very early on. This time, I was more ready for it. It's a slow burner, and the story is thin, frankly, but the acting by the four or five main players is superb. Mandy Patinkin is so young (and so well toned) in this film it's quite astonishing. And he even gets to sing the wonderful "Jerusalem" in his incredibly distinctive voice. It's almost worth watching just for that. The ending was a little disappointing, but I guess it couldn't go anywhere else, really.

The score: I give this film 62 points out of 100.

The Football Factory

Next up on the review chopping block is The Football Factory. This is a look at a gang of football hooligans, ostensibly Chelsea supporters. If you have an interest in this kind of soccer/gangs/violence thing, you've probably already seen both The Firm and ID. This offers more of the same, although on a bigger budget.

The film: Danny Dyer plays a young man, just about to turn 30, who's clearly having something of a crisis regarding the way his life is going. This is hardly surprising. His Saturdays consist of meeting up with about 30 fellow Chelsea fans and fighting with the rival "firm" of whichever team they're playing that week. Inevitably people get bottled, bashed with bricks, pummelled, and all sorts. Lots of faces end up looking a bit like minced beef. Fun for some, I suppose. And he wonders why he doesn't have a girlfriend...

The review: Even though this weekend pursuit is not my cup of tea, I find the subject quite fascinating, if a little terrifying. Good, strong performances all round, and I was proper chuffed to see veteran '60s Brit actor Dudley Sutton in a good supporting role as the kid's granddad, about to emigrate to Australia. There's an all-pervading sense of foreboding for the whole of the movie's running time. As an aside, this film has probably taken the crown for "Most Uses of the Word 'Cunt' in a Movie" from Trainspotting. I laughed often, grimaced several times, and thanked my lucky stars that I've never cared that much for footie.

The points: Entertaining little piece, this. I'll give it 64 out of 100.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sympathy for Mr Vengeance

I've been saying that I'm going to review Sympathy for Mr Vengeance forever, and now that I've actually come to do it, I don't know where to start.

This 2002 film is the first part of the Vengeance Trilogy by South Korean director Park Chan-wook, the subsequent parts being Oldboy and Lady Vengeance. That said, to the best of my knowledge they are a trilogy in the theme of vengeance only and are not linked by story.

The synopsis: At this point I must come clean and say I've lifted this from elsewhere on the Web. The reason I've done this is that I fell asleep a couple of times in the first half of the movie. "A deaf mute worker saves all his money for his sister who requires a kidney transplant. He has the wrong blood type to be able to donate one of his kidneys, so he arranges a trade with a group of organ dealers: one of his kidneys, and 10 million Won, in return for their finding a kidney for his sister. They renege, but a legitimate kidney becomes available for transplant. Unfortunately, he no longer has the 10 million Won required for the hospital to perform the operation. He and his girlfriend, a terrorist seeking to change how the poor are treated in Korea, kidnap his former boss's daughter. But events spiral quickly out of control..."

The review: Now, let me say this: I don't often fall asleep in movies. And when I do it's often indicative of my tiredness rather than the quality of the film. I did manage to kick myself back into shape for the second half, and I did go back later to see what I'd missed, so I'm pretty sure I've now seen it all, albeit not necessarily in the right order! That means I still feel perfectly justified in having an opinion.

This film was not, ultimately, as interesting as Oldboy, especially in the early scenes. Where Oldboy went straight for action from the get-go, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance first set up an elaborate plot. It's not a confusing plot, just perhaps a tad unnecessarily long in the telling. There are some great scenes, though, even in this first half, especially the point where you know it's all going to go tits-up. Then, once the action kicks in, it's pretty much mayhem all the way, and no one is safe. As you might expect, it's pretty grisly and violent in places, but there is also a good amount of dark humour spattered throughout. It was certainly entertaining.

The numbers: Pending a second viewing, and given that it didn't prevent me from falling asleep in the first half, I'm going to give this 58 out of 100. (As a point of reference, I would probably rate Oldboy at around low to mid-70s.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Grizzly Man



Grizzly Man is a documentary by legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog. I have not seen any Herzog films prior to this, but it was the subject that drew me to this one: Timothy Treadwell, a man who lived 24/7 with grizzly bears for 13 years. I seem to recall reading bits of a Vanity Fair article on this chap a few years ago. I learned from that story, just as viewers of this film do within very few minutes, that the man was, indeed, eventually killed in a bear attack, along with his girlfriend Amy Huguenard, who was with him on location.

Synopsis: The film shares with us footage shot by Treadwell over the course of his time with these magnificent animals at an Alaskan reserve. And through the footage we glean that this was a passionate man who cared deeply for animals of all sorts, but especially bears. It also seems that perhaps Treadwell had a not-quite-complete grasp of reality as regards his place in the bear kingdom and the human kingdom. Truthfully he didn't really fit in either place.

Review: This is a touching movie, but it's not a Kleenex-fest. Anyone who feels any empathy towards animals will relate, on some level, to Treadwell. But it's also clear that perhaps he didn't always handle things in the best way. The footage is out of this world, and Treadwell is a funny guy, so there is comedy there, too. The chief problem is probably Herzog, who is simply not a good documentarian (whereas, ironically, Treadwell could have been a great one). On a trivial note, his accent is so heavy that it sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing the narration at times, and it comes across as too severe for the footage. Some of the set-ups and interviews ring a little false and too staged. But these pale when compared to his final fatal flaw. Audio footage of the killing of Treadwell and Amy exists; Herzog listens to this but does not share with us. Okay, perhaps we don't want to hear it anyway -- after all, it's not going to be fun. BUT, he then proceeds to tell the owner of the tape, Treadwell's ex-girlfriend, that SHE SHOULD DESTROY IT. Mary, mother of God, are these the words of a documentarian?! What sort of ridiculous advice is that? Grrrr.

The score: I really liked this film, despite the director's shortcomings. It's worth watching if you get the chance. I'll give it 72 out of 100.

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A History of Violence

I'd been looking forward to the critically acclaimed and award-winning A History of Violence for quite some time, although oddly enough I only saw my first trailer for it about two weeks ago. The trailer looked different from how I was expecting the film to be. It looked better than I'd hoped.

First up, this is a very short film by the standards of modern feature films, running just 96 mins (92 mins on the UK PAL video system). Having said that, I think American films are getting shorter, probably to match the dwindling attention spans created by too much Coke and McDonald's as kids. As such, I'll try to keep this review short, too.

The synopsis: When his coffee shop and staff come under attack by armed robbers, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) disarms and kills both offenders. He becomes a local hero. Before long, he is paid a visit by a Philadelphia mobster (Ed Harris) who believes Stall to be someone else -- someone who almost took his eye out years before -- and there's a debt to pay. The film follows the impact of this encounter and plays "is he/isn't he?" with the viewer and Tom's wife (Maria Bello, pictured above).

The review: All the acting, with the exception of the girl who plays Tom's daughter, is really good, as you would expect from performers of this calibre. The film is also great-looking and well directed. I've never been a huge fan of David Cronenberg's work, although he seems like a cool guy, but this could almost be the movie that swings my opinion. There are a couple of gory shots, proving you can take the boy out of the horror genre but you can't take the horror genre out of the boy. That's fine, though, since the film all hangs together as a beautiful whole... for a while. For my money, it loses its way a bit at the 52-minute mark, a little over halfway through. I don't think Cronenberg can be blamed for this, but it's hard to know, since I'm not familiar with the source material.

And yes, as Wife would tell you, this is yet another film in which someone goes down on Maria Bello. Wife is convinced that Maria Bello only signs up for films in which she gets head. I'm not certain about this, but the evidence seems to speak for itself...

The digits: A slightly disappointing, hit-or-miss affair. Still, I think it's a grower, and it definitely has all the hallmarks of a cult classic. With every Maria Bello pun intended, I give it 69. (Revisiting this review, and taking the cheap gag out of the equation, perhaps a more accurate score would be 62 points.)

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Man On Fire

Candy Minx recommended I watch Man On Fire, which stars Denzel Washington and Christopher Walken, and is directed by Tony (True Romance) Scott.

The synopsis: Denzel is assigned his first job as a bodyguard in Mexico City. His charge is a little American girl (played by Dakota Fanning), the daughter of rich parents. Such families are targets for kidnappings because the ransoms can be high. Inevitably, the kid gets nabbed; and while this is happening, Denzel gets more bullets put in him than Tupac on a bad day. And thus, when Denzel recovers from his ass-whupping, we come to the essence of the story: revenge. Indeed, the tagline is "Revenge is a meal best served cold". (Of course, we Seinfeld fans know that the best revenge is living well, but that's a whole other story.) Denz sets out to put in the ground every last one of those involved in the kidnap.

Now..., before sitting down to watch the film, Wife and I made a pact. She really didn't want to watch it. She thinks that Tony Scott is useless, and that 130-odd minutes is way too much time to waste on any film he directed. So we agreed that we'd give it an hour. If she was hating it at that point, we'd turn off and I'd watch the rest alone another day. That first hour built up the rapport between Denzel and Fanning. Indeed, this build-up to the story took us up to about 75 minutes. And it was good stuff, I must say. We continued watching, but after that first 75 minutes I knew Wife was bored. She's not a shoot-em-up kind of gal; she's not mad keen on watching people having their fingers removed one at a time; she's not a fan of the action movie. But she is a woman of her word, so we kept watching.

The review: I must say I was surprised. I thought the initial build-up scenes would be the dullest bit, while we waited for the real film to start. But in the end, I found they were the most satisfying elements because we really saw some acting and some (a little) depth to the characters. Once the mayhem commenced it all became a little formulaic. That's not to say it was bad, per se, just a little ... old. It was well handled, though, by Scott. The screenplay was by LA Confidential scribe Brian Helgeland, but it was nowhere near up to that previous film's standard. The bit Wife and I were most looking forward to was the line quoted in the Time Out Film Guide, when Walken says of Denzel: "His art is death, and he's about to paint his masterpiece." In fact, I'd spent about 20 minutes before watching the film trying to deliver that line without laughing. It was nigh on impossible!

Scores on the doors: Hmm. Not wholly satisfying, but not bad. How does 66 out of 100 sound?

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Thumbsucker

As we sat down to watch Thumbsucker, Wife said, "I think I'm going to be disappointed." This was another one of her picks, which generally are better than mine, it must be said. However, she had chosen it almost exclusively for the reason that it had an Elliott Smith soundtrack. To be honest, though, that's as good a reason as any, Elliott being quite so great a songwriter as he is.

Entirely gratuitous still of half-naked girls that has
very little to do with the movie's plot


The only things I knew about Thumbsucker in advance of watching it were:
1. The soundtrack thing previously mentioned;
2. That it had in the lead role the young lad who played the lead in Green Day's "Jesus of Suburbia" video (a good reason for Camie to watch it); and
3. That I might feel a connection since I, too, was a thumbsucker up until about the age of 12.

So down we sat. Pressed play. Up come the opening titles. The cast list other than the young laddy (Lou Pucci) previously mentioned surprised us both: Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Keanu Reeeves, Benjamin Bratt, Vince Vaughan. To some extent, these are all actors who I have some respect for. Yes, even Keanu, who I think is a great comedic talent, even if he ain't all that as an actor actor.

The synopsis: This is a low-key, American, independent movie. It explores the interplay within a family, as well as that family's relationships with other people: girlfriends, school friends, teachers. It's a coming-of-age film of sorts, yes, but also a quirky tale of teenage life. And the story of a normal, not-entirely happy, not-entirely unhappy family. Really, the sort of environment that is familiar to all of us, I'd imagine.

The review: What can I say? Pucci is great in the lead role (even if I have doubts about how convincing he was as a thumbsucker); Keanu is a gem as the kid's idealistic orthodontist; and the supporting cast present some of their finest work, in my humble opinion. The only surprise here is that this is the first feature by the director, who handles the whole thing superbly.

The score: This is one of the best films I've seen in quite a while. Well worth 90 minutes of your time. I give it 75 out of 100.

Dark Water

jenniferconnellyDark Water is the American remake of a Japanese horror movie. Ordinarily I tend to watch the original foreign-language version of a film rather than the Hollywood version. However, I have been underwhelmed, generally speaking, with Japanese horror, and Wife has sworn off it completely (along with swearing off of David Lynch). So if I want to have some movie-watching downtime with the missus, I need to avoid J-horror, as it's apparently now known.

Another reason for watching this version over the Japanese version is that it has Jennifer Connelly in it. (Can I get a "hubba-hubba"?) And, finally, it clearly had some potential over and above the average US mainstream fare by virtue of being directed by Walter Salles, the man behind the quite wonderful Cental Station.

Synopsis: Recently separated mother needs to move to affordable housing with daughter. Finds a flat with charming landlord (the inimitable John C Reilly) and creepy doorman/super (the ubiquitous Pete Postlethwaite). Daughter begins having imaginary friend. Mother starts seeing strange shit. Flat floods with water from room above. Supernatural stuff. Yada yada. I could say more, but I'm not keen to give spoilers.

The verdict: Actually pretty good. Somewhat predictable if you've seen as many films as I have over the years. But better than recent US so-called horror classics such as The Sixth Sense. Couple of moments that make you jump in your seat a little. The acting is generally very good. And the direction is good too. Good ending. A word of warning, though: This film co-stars the worst actor in the entire world, the absolutely beyond-appalling, not even so-bad-he's-good Dougray Scott. Fucking hell, he's shit.

The score: I'm still refining my scoring system, but I'm trying to stay true to the scores I've previously given. As such, Dark Water gets 66 out of 100.

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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Over the course of the past two or three evenings, I've tried to watch one of the films we've had on rental from LoveFilm: George Clooney's directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Occasionally I do have to watch movies in two sittings, just because of tiredness, or not getting to sit down early enough in the evening to finish one. Of course, though, ideally I'd rather not do it.

But oh, two sittings was not enough. It put me to sleep twice over two nights that movie. And ... and this is so not like me - I watched The Cave, remember? ... I have had to admit defeat. I just couldn't bring myself to watch another minute of it.

Yes, it had good bits, and yes it had good actors acting well. But I just couldn't watch it, and I don't really know why. I just found it unwatchable. I find almost no films unwatchable. Like I say, it's not that it was bad, per se; just bloody boring, I suppose.

I give (what I saw of) this film 19 out of 100.

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The Cave

I have no idea why The Cave was on our LoveFilm queue but it was. Wife says I put it on the list; I think she did. Regardless, we both wish we hadn't. The Cave concerns a group of cave divers who enter a seemingly newly discovered cave in the Carpathian Mountains. Once inside, they discover a couple of unusual life forms that are quite similar to moles and salamanders. So far, so what? But then one of their number is killed and another is attacked by something with big fuck-off claws. It scratches the fuck out of the guy's back before he cuts himself free, taking one of the beastie's fingers with him.

So, this is a monster movie set in a cave. But... hold on: didn't we see a monster movie set in a cave a couple of months back? Why yes, we did. That one was called The Descent and it differed from this in that the key cast was entirely female. Not that the fact it was chicks in a cave with monsters made it any better. But it did. And I never thought I'd say this, but The Descent, as disappointing as it was, was actually better than the big steaming pile of doodoo that is The Cave.

It's not just the sense of déjâ vu, though; it's also that the script was so so bad and the acting leaden. The direction was much in that Batman Returns mould -- y'know, the third movie, the one by Joel Schumacher. That kind of "use lots of dark and lots of different angles and it'll keep the audience interested" line of thinking. No, it wont; it'll keep me pissed off, wondering why the fuck I can't see what's going on. Until I realize that FUCK ALL IS GOING ON, that is.

Still, for the ladies, eye candy comes in the shape of Third Watch's Jimmy (Eddie Cibrian, above), while the guys get to drool over Brit chick Lena Headey (left), who, in case you're wondering is only two degrees of separation from me.

All told, the movie runs about 90 minutes. But bear in mind that you'll never get that time back. Seemingly not even if you get up early in the morning. Rating: This was one of the worst films I've ever seen in my life. It wasn't even "so bad it's funny". I rate this movie 20 out of 100.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Choses Secretes (aka Secret Things)

It had been a while since Wife and I watched a film, so we decided to check out one of those sitting on our side awaiting our beady eyes. The choices before us were Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Secret Things. Wife really is not very interested in the former, which surprises me cos I think it sounds cool, so we opted for the latter. And that was fine with me cos it's got naked ladies in it. If nothing else, the French are good at finding any opportunity to put naked ladies in films!

Choses Secrètes is a film of two halves, shall we say. And, purely by coincidence, we watched it in two halves, having a five-minute break after the first hour to set the video recording for Big Brother. Oh, perhaps I shouldn't have admitted to that. Oops.

The first half sets up the relationship between a young girl who has been working the bar at a strip club and one of the dancers from the same club. Within minutes of the film's start, these two girls have become friends when both are sacked from their jobs. The dancer teaches the barmaid about sexuality and how to get what she wants out of men. And let's face it, men are idiots where sexy women are concerned.

secretthings3All goes swimmingly for the first hour, more or less, of the running time, but then enter Evil Male Protagonist. Here is a chap who is going to turn our heroines' theory on its head. This is a bloke who has had girls set themselves on fire in front of him when he has used them up and worn them out and has no further need of their charms. Our girls know he is going to be a tough nut to crack, but it seems they'll have a go. But wait, what's this? A betrayal from within the ranks? Aahhhh, girls, girls, girls... When will you learn? Your inability to get on with your fellow female, especially where men are concerned, is always your downfall.

It is bizarre how the tone of the movie changes. It's not entirely unexpected: it's almost as though there is no choice but for it to go the way it does. But even so, it does go mad. Okay, step back a mo, we're not talking Salò weirdness here; more Eyes Wide Shut with that bad guy from The Crow and maybe with a twist of Bound, but still...

I think I quite liked it. It always takes me a while to get a feel for a film. I can't even discuss most films properly until I've slept on it. Sometimes it takes a couple of days for it to really sink in. Of course, the bad films have already been forgotten by then, making it difficult to write any sort of reviewy thing. This wasn't a bad film, though. It wasn't great, either, but it is another one of those "you could do a lot worse in two hours" kind of flicks.

Shall I introduce some kind of rating system for my reviews? Let's give it a go. I give this film 62 out of 100.

Jesus of Montreal

Having recently (ish) watched both The Barbarian Invasions and The Decline of the American Empire by the same director, it seemed the right time to give this old movie a go. I loved The Barbarian Invasions; I found it really quite stunning, and I'm glad I watched it before The Decline of the American Empire, even though it is the sequel and should have been watched after. Why glad? Because Decline suffers the same problem as Jesus of Montreal: looking old before its time. And of course, movies of that period (mid- to late 1980s) often also suffer from what I call Michael Mann syndrome, with terrible terrible incidental music à la Miami Vice. Indeed, I had to reach for my air guitar on more than one occasion.

That said, Jesus of Montreal was quite fascinating; at least for the first 90 minutes. It started to drag a little then. I was still going with the flow, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed Wife reaching for Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide to check the running time; I knew right then that we'd lost her. Still, as I say, good till then. The ending not so great. And a couple of scenes just weren't that well directed. In one in particular, the two actors seemed as though they were playing in totally different films, so incompatible with one another were their performances.

A good film with a duff ending.

The Consequences of Love

I'd heard quite good things about The Consequences of Love. Unfortunately I was disappointed.

The concept was good, and the ending was good, and there were even some good bits in it. I chuckled a couple of times (although it's not a comedy; I just laugh at everything). Wife has a theory that Italian films are all head and no heart. That's often the case. Shame.

To be fair, though, there is a lot of good stuff that has come out of Italy in recent years, but often these films star young actors in the lead roles - people like Luigi Lo Cascio and Giovanna Mezzogiorno (pictured here for no good reason) are good names to look out for.

Harry, He’s Here to Help

This film had something of a "flying monkeys" theme. Harry, He's Here to Help is a French movie from the year two thousand. (In the United States, it's called With a Friend Like Harry.) The movie tells the story of a seemingly chance encounter between two 30-something men who were at school together. They get to chatting and spend the evening together.

Before long it becomes clear that this is a stalker-type tale with a darkly comic undertone: think Single White Female meets Funny Games, with a good dash of Hitchcock.

It's good stuff. Funny. Edge of the seat in places. Intense. Crazy. Lots of stuff to please the many and the few. And it has great performances from the four leads, as well as talk of flying monkeys, eggs, and orgasms. Well worth a look.

The film runs just short of two hours. Which reminds me... I've noticed that US films seem to be getting shorter, while European films seem to be getting longer. It used to be that 2 hours was the norm for American movies, and 90 minutes for Europe. That trend has now reversed. Does this says more about the ever-dwindling attention span of young Americans or about the ability of European film-makers to create a story more worthy of our time?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Gegen Die Wand (aka Head-On)

I haven't been wholly impressed with my very limited exposure to Turkish films in the past. To be fair, though, this exposure was pretty much limited to one film: Uzak. Uzak was slow. And dull. And seemingly interminably long. And yet, despite not enjoying it and wishing it would hurry up and end, it has somehow stayed with me. It had something. Ultimately it was never supposed to be an action movie; it's a character piece focusing on the shitty lives of the protagonists. But no fun. In fact, I've also seen another Italo-Turk movie, Hamam: pretty good, that one. Actually, there are another couple of good ones that come to mind now, but I don't wanna bang on about it... I take it back: clearly I've been quite impressed with Turkish films overall!

Even so, it was with bated breath that I approached the Turkish-German co-production Head-On, another of Wife's choices, and the opening couple of minutes filled me with dread. (At this point, I must say that whenever possible I approach movies knowing as little about them as possible.) A Turkish group with a female singer standing on the edge of a river singing some dodgy Turkish song. Don't get me wrong: I'm not getting all racialist and shit. But that terrible music was the soundtrack to my ten years of living in Harringay, north London, and it's not something I care to listen to again.

Fortunately, the song was just a scene-setter, but they crop up three or four times in total, like book-ends, or the chorus in Greek tragedies. Still, once you know they're only short, they are put-up-with-able.

The story is set within the Turkish community and, in brief, tells of a young Turkish girl living in Germany who has tried to kill herself. While in hospital she meets an older (30s) man of Turkish descent (but who barely speaks Turkish) who has also, seemingly, tried to kill himself. She asks him to marry her, so that she can be free of her domineering, traditional parents: a marriage of convenience.

What follows is a tumultuous tale of self-harm, love, jealousy, violence, and murder. It is one of the best films I've seen this year, and I think it will stay with me a long time. It is hard-hitting and fantastically acted by all concerned (insofar as I can tell, not understanding either German or Turkish, the two languages used almost throughout). In many ways, it reminded me of a cross between the French films Irreversible and Dans ma peau (In My Skin); certainly this would make for a really depressing triple-bill on a Sunday afternoon.

If you have already seen and liked any of these three films, try the others. If you've seen none, start with Head-On: it's the least repelling of the three. If you like it, you can then move on to the hard stuff, starting with Dans ma peau and ending with the supremely nightmarish, depressing, but incredible Irreversible. Great movies all three.

As an aside, the lead actress in Head-On was formerly a porn star. I mention this only because you would never have guessed it from the performance she gives. It is as far removed from the supposed "acting" of certain other former porn stars as you can get.

Score: 71 out of 100

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bad Santa

To be honest, I wasn't sure that this was going to be my cup of tea. And Wife had decided from the off that it wasn't hers, so off she trotted to beddy-byes while I loaded up the DVD.

It didn't start well. The first five minutes went by and I wasn't impressed. Then another five. "Oh bollocks," I thought. "I've picked another fucking dud." But this film had seemed so promising. Billy Bob Thornton in the lead, John Ritter's final movie, that dwarfy black bloke from Rescue Me and Me, Myself & Irene, even Bernie Mac. And there's this girl in it who I've seen playing poker on Hollywood Home Game or whatever it's called. I mean... how could it fail?

Then another five minutes, and now I'm smiling. "Okay, now we're getting somewhere."

From that point on things were decidedly better. There are some great moments. It's crass at times, and some people might consider it offensive. Indeed, if the very premise of a drunken Santa and a dwarfy black elf who are con men ripping off department stores and saying "fuck" a lot is not already making you smile, then this movie's probably not for you.

It's not gross in the way that people think Farrelly Brothers films are gross. And for my money it's better than their films anyway. I laughed a lot more than I do for most films. Although it must be said that I laugh at anything, simple bugger that I am.

Again, not a long film: about 95 minutes or so, so no great investment of time is needed. Go on, give it a go.

Overnight

This is the story of a Boston bartender who gets his big break when he sells a script to Miramax.

Great, I love a feel-good, every-(under)dog-has-his-day film. But wait: this movie of his, The Boondock Saints - I've never heard of it... Clearly his break didn't last long.

Well, that's right dear readers. Because Troy Duffy (that's his name) is a total arsewipe. Troy Duffy is the antithesis of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, with whom on some level he can be compared. We all know the latter two, and what we know about them is that they are enthusiastic, kinda geeky, movie fanboys.

What I have learned from reading very many articles and books on both Tarantino and Rodriguez is this: Hollywood bigwigs love being revered. They want you to tell them their movies are great. They want you to know who they are. They want you to be humbled by their power, even if they aren't necessarily "creative" people. All of these things are things that QT and RR knew well; and, like most normal people, they didn't have to read books and articles to know it. It's just how business works. And film-making is a business.

Troy Duffy, however, clearly didn't know how business works. He deserved his big break. He is the greatest writer of the greatest script, and he's going to make THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER. And these Hollywood types: well, they can all kiss his hairy motherfucking ass, those cocksuckers. Who the fuck are they anyway? Indeed, Troy Duffy can't even remember their names half of the time when he's on the phone to them or talking to their colleagues about them.

Sure enough, it's not very long before Hollywood (read Harvey Weinstein) tires of boring Troy's boorish ways. And the speed of his rise is nothing compared to speed of his fall. Soon, no one in Hollywood wants to be associated with him.

I won't spoil the whole damn movie, but I will say this: I spent a good chunk of its 80 minutes cringing and holding my head in my hands.

Compelling. But if you want to know how to make a movie and be a success, read Rodriguez's Rebel Without A Crew instead. Better still, read the book then watch this film to see where Duffy went wrong.

911 Loose Change

Seriously, if you have even a passing interest in 9/11 and/or conspiracy theories, you simply MUST see this documentary movie. It is available as a download (free, I think), or you can watch it streaming online (it's about 80 minutes or so).

It's quite incredible and totally terrifying... If even half of the facts and figures presented are for real - and I don't doubt they are - then some really serious questions need to be asked of the US administration. Check it out here. Or you can watch the so-called final cut, which runs 2 hrs 10 mins, by clicking here.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rock School

I enjoyed The School of Rock with Jack Black - thought it was fun.

I tuned in to watch Gene Simmons bring his own version to UK schools in both series of Rock School, too. The first series was a posh school; the second was a comprehensive. Both shows were compelling.

So it was inevitable that I would watch the US documentary film that is also, somewhat confusingly, called Rock School. I suppose there are only so many variations of names for a show or film about a school that teaches rock.

This latest effort is rather interesting. Where Black was a fun faux teacher, and Simmons was a No More Mr Nice Guy cut-the-shit type, Paul Green, the tutor and founder of the rock school in the documentary, is a bit of a psycho. And not a particularly likable psycho, either.

He's not supposed to be wholly likable, of course. He kind of tries to keep in with the kids by swearing and shit like that, but he comes across as a bit of a nerdy paedo type. And he basically forces the kids to listen to the music he likes: Zappa. I'm not familiar with Zappa, although I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard.

The kids are really cool, though: they definitely make the movie worth a look. It's quite amazing how talented some of them are; and watching 8-year-olds doing Ozzy impressions has got to be worth the video hire price!

Overall, a good movie. It's only 85 minutes, too, so you can squeeze it in before Prison Break on a Monday evening or something.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Four Brothers

Telling the tale of four adopted brothers whose adopted mother is slain in cold blood, the imaginatively titled Four Brothers quite possibly has the worst screenplay written in living memory. It's one of those scripts that thinks it's really fucking rad, but in fact is full of poorly executed exposition. Furthermore, there are almost no parts of the film where silence is allowed any airing. There's a big, wholly undramatic car chase at one point, and throughout the entire thing there are constant streams of drivel being spouted, along the lines of: "Gimme that gun", "Shoot that motherfucker", "What the fuck?", ad nauseam. I mean constant. It's as though Singleton could not trust the on-screen action to carry the movie for even five minutes.

The constant references to "Mom" and why anyone would shoot her are just ridiculous. Seriously, there must be at least a dozen instances that a line such as this is used: "But why would anyone want to kill Mom?", or "But Mom was the sweetest woman in the world. Why her?" I'm paraphrasing, because the script is so unmemorable, but I'm pretty much on the money there.

The direction is bad. There is no way around it. John Singleton is going to greater and greater lengths to prove to us all that the fantastic Boyz N the Hood was an accident. It's a real shame, but that's the truth of the matter. Comic-book fans will be gutted to see that he's directing the forthcoming Luke Cage flick.

The acting is interesting, too. There are two people who come out of it pretty well and all the others suck ass. Those two upstanding citizens are: Chiwetel Ejiofor (I know, he's from England, but that's not why I name-check him here; he is the best thing about the film and a rising star, methinks) and André Benjamin (aka André 3000 of Outkast fame, putting in a good effort). A whisper of appreciation should also go to Terrence Howard. He was good, too, and he should have had more screen time. The movie's lead actor, Marky Mark, was poor, and I usually quite like him. And yes, the material was shite, but a couple of his partners in crime managed to at least do something with it.

And the plot...? Well, put it this way: the whole reason for the movie, the whole logic behind the killing of Mom in the first scene, is casually thrown into the dialogue at around the 90th minute and is skirted over so quickly that you could almost miss it. Astonishing!

Strangely enough, the movie is so bad that Wife didn't fall asleep. She was so wide-eyed with surprise that someone (a) ever financed this movie and (b) ever agreed to be in it, that she couldn't have shut her peepers even if she'd wanted to.

This is one of those films that it's really difficult to rate. It is so fucking awful that I almost have to urge you to watch it. But equally, I wouldn't wish it on anyone, especially if you have to pay money for it (like we did). Make up your own mind, but just don't say you weren't warned...

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Eye

This is the third film I've seen by one or both of the Pang brothers, the other two being Bangkok Dangerous and Bangkok Haunted. The former was quite good fun in that Hong Kong hitman kind of way. Not a classic of the genre by any stretch of the imagination, but not bad. The latter, however, was almost unwatchable. In fact, I couldn't even finish it, it was so bad. Now I watch a reasonable amount of films, and I'll watch virtually any old crap, but this was so bad that I had to stop watching, so that says something. If you're reading this and you disagree, please feel free to leave a comment listing its redeeming features.

So, bearing in mind these previous two experiences, it was with mixed feelings that I opted to watch The Eye. I had a vague recollection that it was about a blind girl who has cornea transplants, and that once she can see, she begins seeing ghosts. It's a reasonably common storyline, but that doesn't mean it still can't bring some surprises. And on the whole I quite enjoyed it. It doesn't overstay its welcome, clocking in at just over 90 minutes, and it plays out at a reasonable pace.

The acting is pretty good throughout, and the script is not bad. Of course, I say this knowing that some people find that Asian style of acting fake and wooden, whereas I quite like it. Horses for courses, I guess. As Asian horror movies go, it one of the best of the crop from the past five years or so. And the ending is pretty good, as it happens.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lord of War

This movie is what the Hollywood marketing machine has told us is an "intelligent film". What that means is that it doesn't treat its viewers like a complete fucking dumb-ass. It's not your typical "you'll-understand-this-even-if you're-a-fucking-moron" Hollywood fare.

Don't get me wrong: I love Hollywood. I watch a lot of mindless drivel. I buy a lot of mindless drivel. But I know it's mindless drivel, and enjoy it for what it is.

Lord of War stars Nicolas Cage, who is probably one of my favourite actors. His presence lifts even the most boring of films into something better than boring. We also knew that the great Eamonn Walker (seen here, with Cage) is in it, if only in a tiny role. Walker is a black Briton who is most famous for playing the Muslim leader Kareem Said in the greatly missed HBO prison drama Oz. So we were pretty certain this was the movie for us. But the clincher for Wife was that Jared Leto is in it too.

Cage plays an arms dealer. And the plot is essentially an excuse for a look at the politics of such a role in the world today (although it is set in the mid-1990s), and how all world leaders are essentially gun-runners for the developing nations. So it's only an "intelligent" film if you didn't already know this, which maybe lots of people didn't.

The lead actor is his usual watchable self. Leto, however, is woefully underused. He is such a great young actor and he should have had more to do. The same exact thing applies to Walker.

The problem with this film is that the director wasn't intelligent enough to realize there's absolutely no need for a "love interest" subplot. Any interactions between Cage and his on-screen wife (the woman who played Mr Big's wife Natasha in Sex and the City) are slow and boring and have no place in a movie on these themes. It's clear from the off that she's only there to lead to his downfall.

Overall, though, better than most mainstream Hollywood fare. It's a bit like a cool independent movie with a bigger budget and bigger stars. And it's got a surprisingly quotable script, too.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Must Love Dogs

Must Love Dogs was exactly what I thought it would be: a John Cusack rom-com with canines. You know where this story is going from the first time you see the DVD case. And that's exactly where it goes, over the course of around 90 minutes. Quite funny. Better than most recent efforts of the genre. (Not that I watch many rom-coms.)