Movie Reviews (such as they are)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

It's still Oscar season, and Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was nominated for some Oscars -- three to be precise -- and won one (Art Direction).

The story of Sweeney Todd is one that kids hear from an early age over here in the UK. He's this almost mythical figure we are told about as a side note in history lessons at the age of about 10 or so. When we're learning about old London town and the Tower of London and Guy Fawkes and the Great Fire and all of that, somewhere in the mix Sweeney Todd gets thrown in. Kids love the idea of a barber who cuts the throats of his victims and puts them into pies. I mean, what's not to love?!

In this film version of the story, adapted from the Sondheim stage musical/opera of the same name, Johnny Depp takes the lead role and is a man who has spent 15 years wrongfully imprisoned. He's back in London under a new name to take revenge on the man who sent him away and destroyed his family...

Directed by Tim Burton and starring his two muses, Johnny Depp and "ladyfriend" Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeney Todd is, as one should expect, beautifully shot and acted.

The supporting cast is strong, too, and includes Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Sacha Baron Cohen.

I don't like musicals -- there, I've said it. I tend to find them too twee. But some rise above that categorization to become something more than just a musical. Sweeney Todd definitely does that.

I laughed. I cried. Well, no I didn't cry actually, but I did laugh. And I did grimace. Burton has not shied away from the gruesome act of blood-letting. He positively paints every available surface red, like a modern-day Argento. The sticky shiny scarlet stuff splashes superbly.

As with all musical theatre, the lyrics can be a bit rough in places. This is a necessary evil when telling a story, and I can just about put up with that. There are also some nice little rhyming couplets here and there that make up for the rest, almost.

Overall, I had a blast watching Sweeney Todd, and I'll give it 77 points out of 100.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 22, 2008

Eastern Promises

Seeing as it's Oscar weekend, I figured I'd review Eastern Promises, the latest flick by David Cronenberg, for which lead actor Morten Harket Viggo Mortensen has been nominated for a gong.

I have a love/hate relationship with Cronenberg. Well, that's a bit strong. Maybe a "like a bit/don't much care for" relationship. I read the book Cronenberg on Cronenberg many years ago and found it quite fascinating, and yet when I've watched his films I have often felt cheated. It's like the ideas are great, but something gets lost in the translation.

I actually think he's a very good director, in the sense of being a very good film-maker. I'm not at all convinced, however, that he has the first idea how to direct actors. Viggo comes out of this movie well -- indeed, he shines -- but almost everybody else looks like a huge ham (and no, I'm not including that thing between Viggo's legs in the bathhouse scene, girls).

The story: Naomi Watts works in a hospital. Following the death of a young girl in childbirth, Watts finds her diary, which is all in Russian. She (duh) takes it to the girl's boss -- who also happens to be the head of the local (London) Russian mafia -- for translation, despite her own stepfather being Russian. Big mistake! Let the fun begin...

Naomi Watts is about as bad as I've seen her. That first scene of her on her motorbike? Laughably bad. And her motivations and character choices are absurd. Admittedly this is a script problem, but she doesn't bring any truth to the role either. (I'm horrified to see the screenwriter is co-penning the adaptation of Shutter Island, which is one of my favourite books of recent years. Oh, shit.)

Vincent Cassel presents what I'm sorry to say is yet another cliché-ridden psycho show. It's too bad; he's a great actor. But he's being asked to churn out loony Euro roles far too often.

Armin Mueller-Stahl is also very good. But he is a seasoned actor, and he knows his craft inside out.

All the other acting is bad, bad, bad. And the story is thinner than I've become on my inadvertent diet.

There were some good bits in this film, yes, but it was still rather disappointing overall. Well, at least it was better than A History of Violence. I give this movie 64 points out of 100.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 15, 2008

Freddy vs Jason

Here's a rad premise. Take Freddy Krueger (of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame), add Jason Voorhees (of Friday the 13th et al), and whaddya got? Freddy vs Jason, dudes!

Helmed by Ronny Yu -- who came up via Hong Kong film-making and hit the US shores with the gloriously silly Bride of Chucky before directing the Liverpool-set Sam Jackson starrer The 51st State -- Freddy vs Jason is almost worth watching for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, who doesn't want to see any member of Destiny's Child getting killed? Actually, I can't even remember if Kelly Rowland gets offed or not, but the anticipation that she might is just too good to miss.

Secondly, Robert Englund always seems to have such a great time as Freddy that it's almost criminal not to watch him.

The plot: Wait, there was a plot? It's a slasher film, guys: teens in house getting killed one by one. Duh.

It was funny, with a few made-ya-jump moments thrown in for good measure. Not as original as New Nightmare, of course, but not a bad way to pass 90 minutes in the dead of the night. Is anyone gonna argue if I say 53 points out of 100?

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

What a fucking terrible film.


(Of course, this is a Borat in-joke; I would personally never tell a "not joke".)

It took me a long time to get around to watching Borat, it must be said. But I had been reasonably interested since day one. I mean, I liked Ali G and other Sacha Baron Cohen creations back in the day on Channel 4's 11 O'Clock Show, and it was only overfamiliarity that led me to a state of "meh"-ness about the big-screen Borat outing.

Well, after about 75 minutes of constant laughing, chuckling, and "oh-my-God"-ing, suffice to say I recommend it for viewing.

SBC is great in the lead role, as is his sidekick. We know Borat is there simply to make Americans say dumb things, and that he does to perfection. It seems not to take much to get people cheerfully talking about stringing up gays or which weapons are best for slaying Jews. Oh, wait... that's not actually funny at all. It's quite disturbing.

As was the Christian church scene with people running around in the aisles and "speaking in tongues". My mouth was agape throughout that entire thing. So terrified was I that I now want to see such a service in real life. (Don't wait for the "Naaaaaaht!", cos I might just be serious here, I'm not sure yet.)

The whole thing was also directed beautifully by Larry Charles, responsible for the helming and/or writing of several episodes of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Genius.

Borat is short but sweet. I'm gonna award it a very respectable 69 points out of 100.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Best Film Editing

This is a first on this site: a post that's not a movie review (such as they are).

I have written an article on Best Film Editing for the Large Association of Movie Blogs (LAMB).

Why not go check it out?

Cheers, and have a great weekend!


Thursday, February 07, 2008


Giuseppe (Cinema Paradiso) Tornatore's film Malèna is a paean to the beauty of the eponymous Sicilian woman, played by Monica Bellucci. As such, it is also an ode to La Bellucci.

And that, my friends, is about all it is.

Plot (such as it is): Malèna is the town sex bomb, turning heads wherever she goes. Her husband is killed in combat. She starts seeing other men and is accused of adultery and shunned by the town's women. Young boy, meanwhile, like all the men, is obsessed with her and fantasizes of being with her.

The story is cute enough, albeit with a bitter, mean scene at the end of the second act that plays out like a bit from some cheap chicks-in-chains exploitation flick.

I mean, the film is wonderful to look at. That old nostalgic World War II Sicily vibe is great. Though I can't help but feel not enough is done to make you care enough for the characters other than Malèna herself. This is a shame, since we are reminded often that they are (misguidedly, maybe) supporters of Italy's fascist leader Mussolini.

Other than that, the film plays out like a farce. It's funny enough. But even at just 90 minutes (I saw the Miram-axed version, shorn of 17 minutes, apparently), it feels 40 minutes too long. The plot of the first hour could easily have been squeezed into 20 minutes -- and it would have been all the better for it.

Monica gets herself into various degrees of undress, though, and that, I fear is the only reason this film was bankrolled. But the thing is, you can see a scanty Monica in most of her films, so you really needn't sit through this one.

Tough to score, this one, because it was at least funny. (Funny to me, a non-Italian. My Italian wife was embarrassed by its depiction of her people... and by one of their own!) But it was also too long and too slight of substance. I'm gonna take a generous stab at 57 out of 100.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Million Dollar Baby

So, Million Dollar Baby was on TV the other night, and I figured I'd give it a go, being as it had won a few Oscars and all.

Man, are you fucking shitting me?! What a lame-ass piece of fluff! I mean, come on, people: this is a Tuesday-afternoon disease-of-the-week picture with a bigger budget. It's just So-whats-ville on a major scale.

Let's just tally up those Oscar wins. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. Give me a fucking break. Okay, Freeman was fine, but he was exactly the same as Red in Shawshank. Swank was okay in the tragic-heroine role. The direction was all right, I guess. The picture? Ha! Put it this way, I should have checked who wrote it before bothering. That Paul Haggis is a fucking hack! This and Crash; I know I'm gonna regret that Valley of Elah thing... Finding Neverland lost to this? Wow...

One good thing: Clint was very good in places, and quite excellent towards the very end. But even that's not enough for me to recommend it. This one gets 41 out of 100.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, February 04, 2008

Breakfast on Pluto

I had low expectations of Breakfast on Pluto -- is this a common theme in my attitude towards movies?! -- largely because I find director Neil Jordan to be more miss than hit, but it had Cillian Murphy in it, and he has impressed me in a few films lately, so...

All I knew was the following: transvestite yada yada IRA terrorist yada. Not much to go on, is it? And the first few minutes had me baffled, as two robins alighted on top bottles of milk on a doorstep and as they chirruped to one another, their dialogue appeared subtitled on the screen. Already this was not what I had expected. And although this particular gimmick is used very rarely, it (with hindsight) perfectly sets the scene for the modern fairytale that follows.

The film tells the tale of a young man, Patrick, who was adopted out shortly after being born to an unwed mother in a small town in Southern Ireland. The mother then fled to London, where "the biggest city in the world swallowed her up" and no one seemingly heard from her again.

At an early age, our hero begins cross-dressing, and he adopts the name Kitten. We follow him through many of the important chapters in his life, culminating with the decision to track down his now-mythical real mother.

It would be difficult to present (even if it were my way) a synopsis of this film that came anywhere near close to conveying the myriad pleasures within. The story is, at its heart, a simple one; but it is the not just the story that touches and rewards the viewer here.

The performances are all wonderful (even if I did have the odd qualm about Murphy's voice being slightly too soft in parts), and the supporting cast certainly do much more than support, since they are indeed the very foundations upon which this story is built: in order to believe the arc of Kitten, one has to first appreciate the background from which he hails.

My first thought at the end was that this was a great fun yarn. But it is true that there are several dark moments within it: terrorism, bombings, killings, attempted murders, and police beatings all feature. And yet, like in Black Book, the overall vibe of the movie is one of a rollickin' good ride, as we might say here in Blighty.

Do yourself a favour and watch this movie. I'd be surprised if you didn't enjoy it immensely. I give Breakfast on Pluto a massive 80 points out of 100.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, February 01, 2008

Sheitan (aka Satan)

What drew me to Sheitan was knowing that it had Vincent Cassel in it. Cassel is a fine actor, and to be honest, I'll watch almost anything with him in (except Ocean's Twelve, natch).

I didn't know what I was letting myself in for...

The basic premise is slasher enough. A few kids go off to a deserted farmhouse in rural France. The house belongs to one of their number. Almost at their destination, the kids (and we the viewers) meet housekeeper/shepherd Joseph, whose wife, we find later, is pregnant.

Before you know it people start getting offed and weird locals are brought into the equation. Throw a bit of incest and voodoo-like dollmaking into the mix, and you're all set for a fun night in. And you even catch a glimpse of Monica Bellucci playing a vampire on a TV screen in one scene.

This is probably one of the maddest films I've seen in a looooong time. Not quite as mad as Takashi Miike's The Happiness of the Katakuris, but pretty fucking wacky nonetheless.

As time has passed, the details have become lost to me, but what remains is just as important: it has left me with a feeling, a fondness, an inquisitiveness towards it, a desire to see it again and try to figure out what the hell is going on. And, for me, that's better than a comprehensive understanding. I give Sheitan 70 points out of 100.

Labels: , , , ,