Movie Reviews (such as they are)

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

You must have heard of The Last King of Scotland? It's the one where Forest Whitaker plays Idi Amin, and he won an Oscar for it. Course you have. It's based on a true story, y'know.*

White just-graduated doctor goes to Uganda to help people in bad conditions. He meets new president Idi Amin and fixes his sprained wrist. Amin signs him up as his own personal physician/adviser. The two develop an unusual friendship. Of course, something is sure to go wrong, especially when young white boy takes a fancy to the president's wife...

This kept me gripped and laughing quite a bit for the first hour. The second hour went a bit more slowly for me, as it became a bit more "by the numbers". Still good, but less interesting, I felt. (The wife disagreed, though.)

The acting and directing were first-rate. It was directed by the guy who did Touching The Void, Kevin Macdonald.

A good film that is well worth your time, but it was not quite the experience I was expecting/hoping. Still, let's give it a respectable 70 points.

* I felt cheated when I watched the DVD's supplementary material and discovered that this particular white-boy doctor never really existed. And much of the stuff didn't really happen. So it's based on a true story in the sense that Idi Amin was the president of Uganda, then? LIARS!

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Monday, August 20, 2007


Finally. I got my DVD of David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE on Saturday. On Sunday night, at 10.15pm, I sat down to watch it. I was not sure this was wise, to start a film so late in the evening is unusual for me; to start a three-hour movie so late could almost be considered foolhardy. Double that when you know that the UK DVD has no chapter stops, so making it difficult (on my shitty "oh sorry, I don't remember where I was" DVD player) to resume at a later date. But start I did, and end I did -- or you wouldn't be reading this.

Shot on digital video, INLAND EMPIRE tells the tale of "a woman in trouble". Laura Dern is an actress who is about to star in a remake of an unfinished Polish film. She soon learns it was unfinished because the stars were killed. Her co-star (in both senses) is Justin Theroux. The actors begin having an affair, maybe. The mind of Dern's character and the mind of Dern's character's character being to merge. We are no longer sure which is which.

Meantime, there is some Polish stuff. Old Polish men. A Polish woman sitting watching a TV sitcom about some talking rabbits (seen above). A hypnotist. There's also a woman with a screwdriver stuck in her side, and some prostitutes.

There are also no easy answers.

In so many ways, this film is similar to Mulholland Dr., but it's also far darker; there's a greater sense of evil somehow. I had been led to believe it was "a Lynch too far" for most non-enthusiasts of Lynch work. It's tough for me to be objective there, but I was gripped from start to finish.

I loved the photography. Lynch has really made the best of his outdated Sony PD-150. He has opted, many times, to use extreme close-ups of people's faces, often with a wide-angle lens. This was a smart move, in my opinion, for digital video is at its best like this. Its shortcomings seem too evident in busy distant or establishing shots of the like seen so much in Open Water, also shot on a PD-150.

I'm going to be watching this again very soon in a bid to unravel the complex narrative, but it had me gripped from beginning to end. Dern was great, really good, in the leads (and it really is "leads": she plays at least three characters, I think!), and all the supporting cast are also strong. Cameos include William H Macy, Diane Ladd, and Pirate Master host Cameron Daddo -- I shit you not!

If you like Lynch, you've probably already seen this. If you don't like him, you probably never will watch it. For this one, though, I'm going to wheel out the old scoring system!

Acting: 17
Story: 15
Direction: 18
Enjoyment: 18
Involvement: 19
Total: 87

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Friday, August 17, 2007

The Mark of Cain

The British TV movie The Mark of Cain tells the tale of UK soldiers in Iraq: their experiences there, both with each other and with the natives; as well as how they deal with what they have seen once they return home.

The story hinges upon one particular evening when a group of soldiers torture a pair of Iraqis. But this is not an isolated incident, and nor is it frowned upon further up the chain of command. Indeed, involvement seems mandatory.

While the film makes for tough viewing at times, it is well acted throughout and manages to hold the attention. Ultimately it doesn't say a huge amount on this controversial subject, but it's better than saying nothing at all. 63 out of 100.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thank You for Smoking

I thought Thank You for Smoking was going to be some sort of scathing satire, but instead it was just an okay, blackly comic look at the life of a man whose job it is to, effectively, promote smoking and to downplay its harmful side effects.

The cast was good (Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, William H Macy, Robert Duvall), and the script was witty. I laughed. I seem to recall I laughed quite a bit. But ultimately the film has not stayed with me. Hardly at all. I feel a bit "so what?" about it all.

Fun while it lasted, but very forgettable. 58 out of 100

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Trust the Man

AVOID AT ALL COSTS. One of the worst films I have seen in a loooooong time. Good cast, terrible script, dull direction. Flat, "colourless", boring. Unlikable characters... I give Trust the Man 12 out of 100.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I'm not quite sure now how Shortbus came to my attention, but it interested me because it combined narrative storytelling with hardcore sex scenes. This has become something of the vogue in certain circles of late, and in theory I applaud it. It is something that I foresaw coming (no pun intended) many years ago. Jeez, I hate how, in mainstream cinema, especially Hollywood, after fucking, people insist on wrapping a sheet around them to go to the bathroom. It's so lame. Anyway, I've seen a few of these "controversial" films and thought I'd give this one a go, too.

Since I like to go into films knowing as little about them as possible, I really didn't know what to expect. The name Shortbus makes you think of the transportation used by "special needs" kids to US schools, so I'm thinking Little Miss Sunshine meets Lars von Trier's The Idiots. (Now there's a pitch!) But it wasn't that. Instead it's something altogether different.

The thrust (oops, there we go again) of the story is a female couples counsellor who can't achieve orgasm. One of her couples, two gay men, recommend her to a club called Shortbus, where lots of sex is on the agenda. Experimental, gay, straight... you name it, you get to see it. (Well, not quite, but you catch my drift, I'm sure.)

There are other stories, too. The aforementioned gay couple; a miserable dominatrix; a voyeur. Throw in some home-video-making, too, and it's all happening.

Thing is, though, the stories are all extremely slight. And if one were to remove all the hardcore sex scenes (which, incidentally, are not at all titillating) , there really wouldn't be very much to the film at all.

It's not a complete waste of time, but you get the feeling it could have been oh so much better. I won't mention the acting, which in some cases was not great, simply because clearly this is a film made in a cooperative type of style, using friends, acquaintances, and people with an interest in making something different from the norm. For that alone they should be commended. It seems ungenerous, but I'll give this film 50 out of 100.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Red Road

Red Road was one of those rare British films that did well in Sight & Sound magazine's 2006 end of year round-up, when many of the journal's critics put together their Top 5 for the year. So, of course, I was duty bound to watch it and see what all the fuss was about.

The focal point of the story is Jackie, a young woman who works in a CCTV monitoring office, overseeing the comings and goings of Glasgow at all hours of the day and night. One night she is shaken when she feels sure she has spotted the man who killed her husband in a car accident (through dangerous and/or drunk driving) -- a man she assumed was still in prison. Upon establishing that the man has indeed served his time, she then sets out to stalk him, both by CCTV and on foot, becoming ever more obsessed...

Directed by Andrea Arnold (the "Best Live-Action Short" Oscar winner in 2005), Red Road is a snail-paced but intense and riveting little thriller, sometimes leaving you almost breathless with the situations in which our heroine finds herself. Shot according to Dogme 95 rules (though you wouldn't necessarily notice it), this is a slow burner, for sure, and several scenes will undoubtedly stay with you for quite some time. I was quietly impressed, and I am perhaps more so now than I was at the time. 71 out of 100.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Weather Man

I like Nicolas Cage, and I'll watch most stuff that he's in, even though I know that he accepts a lot of bad work along with the good. The Weather Man was difficult to predict (ouch, pardon the pun) from the trailers which way it would go. So it got rented, just in case. It was directed by Gore Verbinski, though, so it had to be okay, I figured.

Well, it was okay. No more, no less. Cage plays a weather man who gets violently accosted in the street from time to time for getting his forecasts wrong. He has a dysfunctional family, yada yada yada. Michael Caine plays his dad.

I dunno, man, it just didn't do it for me. Sure, I laughed here and there. But it's left me with nothing, y'know. All I remember from it are the bits from the trailer. Wow, this really was a film that you could watch simply by watching the trailer...

I'm bored of my complex rating system, so I'm going back to my old way. I score this movie 43 out of 100.

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