Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Offending Sensibilities

From IMDb's page for Gone Baby Gone:
The film's UK release, scheduled for 28 December 2007, has been postponed indefinitely because of the film’s similarity to the real-life case of four-year-old Madeleine McCann who disappeared from the holiday apartment where she and her family were staying in Praia da Luz, Portugual, on 3 May 2007.
Now, I don't want to get shot at by people saying I'm being insensitive. I feel for Madeleine's family, I really do, it's a horrible thing to happen to a child. But how is releasing an American film with a similar story that probably won't even be shown in more than three cinemas going to make any difference? If people don't want to see it then they don't have to. It's not as though Ben Affleck was searching to exploit this case, is it? If the media hadn't blown this case up so much in the first place there'd be no problem. (Because no other children were kidnapped this year. Just this one.) These people seem to think that everyone'll blow up at the slightest thing... do they give us no credit at all? I think we can separate life from the cinema screen. It's probably more about the fact that they think no one'll go and see it if they release it now. Newsflash: people who care now will still care in a year. So unless you're never going to release it at all...

In other Casey Affleck-related news, I finally saw The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford today and thought both he and it were excellent, though it's still settling in my head as to any coherent thoughts. But I was glad to see that the film had actually moved up a place on the UK box office charts... until I looked closer and saw that it had still gone down 33%. Still, that's twice better than most on the chart... except Fred Claus, for some horrifying reason. Thankfully, most people were off seeing The Golden Compass. That's a rare family outing scheduled for next week for me... before then, I'll be checking out We Own the Night and either Beowulf or Enchanted (still hoping for a family viewing of the latter, too, but the jury's currently out on that). As for blog activities, I'll be bringing you my review of the year's music very soon...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)


I think that you have to recognize the blindspot Sean Penn surely had while making this movie- indeed, the film would probably not exist without it, for had Penn not been so enamoured by this story, he would not have worked so hard to get it made, and it probably would have dropped out of sight. So, with the film's reason for being also comes its inherent weakness, and one that, surely, can only be laid at Penn's door. He is too enamoured of the story. He is too in love with the idea of what Christopher McCandless did to really get across the deep ironies ingrained in the story. Read reviews or comments on this film and you seem to get an unsurprising thick line drawn between two parties: those who see Chris as some kind of a hero, and those who think he was a selfish, foolish idiot. The book, although I haven't read it, on which Penn bases his script, apparently have a more balanced version of things, seeing Chris as both a hero and a fool, and this is how, despite the way Penn tries to skewer things, I saw him: what Chris (played by Emile Hirsch in a terrific performance) did was brave, commendable and free-spirited, but at the same time he was undeniably rather foolish, clearly not prepared for what he wilfully treks into. Jena Malone, who spends more time narrating than appearing as Chris's sister Carine, at one point speaks of how Carine feels a bit hurt, a bit betrayed, that Chris didn't try to contact her, even if his reasons for abandoning his parents (played by Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt in roles that are remarkably small and really don't deserve them) are made clear- Chris's reasons are obvious, understandable, and even sympathetic, but in his desire to cut himself off from human relationships he fails to realize that family is something that you can't ever cut yourself off from- tellingly, and in one of Penn's best moments of actual insight, the film opens with Harden waking in the night and distressingly announcing that Chris is dead.

Penn can't keep the balance, but many of his other decisions are interesting: though this structure may come from the book, I found it fascinating how Penn interweaves Chris's journey (accompanied by four chapter titles, rather unsubtly representing stages of life) with what is, essentially, his death- several months on the "Magic Bus" where he was eventually found. Commendably, too, Penn doesn't just glory in the wide, open, gorgeous landscapes, all showing us an America that we've really never seen before in the movies, but in the minute details of nature, too- insects and plants photographed in close-up, as if they're as massive as the imposing mountains. Penn's blindspot as a human is made up for by his growing skill as a filmmaker (this is a long way from the stolidity of The Pledge), and, if nothing else (I hasten to add it is more than this), Into the Wild is a beauty as a visual spectacle. Grade: B

Friday, November 30, 2007

2007 Capsules

It's the return of the capsule reviews! They're just so handy. Here are some thoughts on the last five 2007 releases I've seen.

It's been a few weeks now, but the last 2007 release I saw, on DVD, was Bridge to Terabithia. Point number one. Gabor Csupo, the director, is also the man behind the Rugrats. This makes him a very important person in my childhood. Point number two. I had never heard of- and therefore never read- Katherine Paterson's book on which the film is based. These points have no connection and no real bearing on anything, but I just thought I'd mention them. As for the film itself: I really liked it. It's not a film of particular technical finesse (the special effects are awful, but they're also unimportant, unless of course you're the marketing people...) or great revelation, and some of the scripting seems rather simplistic and trite (particularly the school scenes), but it's remarkably affecting and the central relationship, which is the entire basis of the entire film, is so well acted by Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb (whose smile will probably literally kill men when she's older) and so charmingly done (and heartbreakingly broken) that it just makes the heart beam. This might be overly generous, but it's a B+.

It's also a B+ for Black Snake Moan, which is so deliriously absurd it all its off-kilter shots at convention that it's hard not to admire it. Every time I thought the film was heading into cliched, obvious territory, it seemed to take a sudden swerve in a direction I didn't know existed. Its addressing of issues of race and sexuality are at first so blatantly transparent that it seems the film is going nowhere; but it subverts everything, finds new depths in old cliches, and does so with such panache and vibrancy that I just found it rather bewitching. And its good to see Christina Ricci in a strong, challenging role again.

Cate Blanchett, though, finds herself in more familiar territory with Elizabeth: The Golden Age, for which Nick Davis has written such a hilarious, deliciously-constructed putdown that it hardly seems worth chucking in my own piece. But suffice to say, Elizabeth has the gloss, but it is, literally, all surface- poke it, and it shatters. So Elizabeth wore an enormous gardenia for a hat: so what? Director Shekhar Kapur presents all the requisite events of Elizabeth's 'golden age' (as you might expect), but there's nothing in them- no life, no impact, no emotion, no purpose. It's just a story. No one seems to care about it, except to dress it up in pretty clothes and either yell, giggle or whisper at you. It's a C- from me, and most of that grade was earned by the stone walls. Oh, and Samantha Morton.

Once was too a disappointment, though in a markedly different way. I by no means hated the film; I was charmed by the music and the central relationship, but after hearing such great things about the film, I couldn't help expecting a little more. It's one of those films where the two characters don't have names- they're simply 'guy' and 'girl'. And it's not like we don't find out anything about their lives- we go to their homes, meet their families, see their jobs. I don't know what it lacked for me. But there was something missing. I'll get back to you if I figure out what it was, but, for now, it's a (still) tentative B.

And, furthest back in time, we have the rather terrific documentary Deep Water, which screened on tv over here, and concerns the tragic events of one of the entrants of the 1968 round-the-world yacht race. What was great about the film, I feel, was how it kept a superb balance between the central figure of the film and the other entrants- they weren't ignored, forgotten about, simply because they survived. Deep Water, less than focusing on just the one man who died, is concerned with the effect of the 'deep water' on all the entrants, how it affected them all differently. The film is also beautifully narrated by Tilda Swinton, superbly scored, and mixes in some more artistic effects rather well. B+.

That's all for now, folks. Come back soon when uni is done and I'll actually have time to go to the cinema.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Something's Bugging Me...

That's right, Ashley. Gouge that ugly Chuck film out of your neglected arm...

I was once told that my being a British non-professional reviewer personage (I gave that statement extra qualification after remembering Mainly Movies) gives me uniqueness in this particular solar system of the blogosphere, and so it is with that backing me that I go into major rant mode.

Months ago, I instructed all you Americans to go and see what is still the best film of the year, Bug. I saw it over a year ago now at the 2006 London Film Festival (2007's Fest has just finished- I didn't go this year). In the just-linked post I mentioned that it, at that point, still had no release date for Britain. This was still true until about a week ago. And then, a few days ago, I discover that it is being released. Today.

All very well, you say. Reviews have popped up- not particularly jubilant ones, but I never expected everyone to like it. (Mark Kermode is a fellow championer, the Good Doctor that he is. He flatly refused to give another film of the week despite... well, I'll get to that.) The thing is, it seems to be being "released", as far as I can see, in about two cinemas. Both in London. There has been, as you might expect having only been shoved into the release schedule a week ago, no publicity. It's like they don't want anyone to see it.

Well, I do. I WANT TO SEE IT. But you don't care about me, do you, you stupid LionsGate people? No, you can give the entire country crap like Good Luck Chuck (and yes, it IS, by astonishing non-coincidence, also distributed by LionsGate), but only twenty people who live in London can see a masterpiece like Bug.

Stupid. F**king. Idiots.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)

I must open this review by disclosing this little tidbit to reveal just how much I knew about Joy Division when I went into this film: at one point, I was enjoying the music and noted, from pure coincidence, how much like New Order it sounded. Well- says the I having read up on the group- duh.

I went into Control having heard warm recomme- ndations, though, in the interest of retaining some sense of freshness for myself, I listening to them with deliberate vagueness. Imagine how surprised, how disappointed I was, though, to discover that Control becomes remarkably stolid and repetative, that it reaches a kind of unnerving plateau as it unfolds, and reduces its internal conflicts- Ian Curtis's internal conflicts- into a cliched, simplistic choice between two women... two women, I may add, who, for all their screentime, barely register, and so, even if it hadn't been a rather dull choice to turn his artistic life into a romantic tragedy, the audience can't invest in it because we can't comprehend what either of these women bring to his life.

The film quickly eschews the trappings that the most prominent musical biopics of recent times- Ray and Walk the Line- set up by opening on Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) as an adolescent, the story rapidly, and scattershotly, seaguing into meeting his future wife Debbie (Samantha Morton) and experimenting with some pills he and his friend find in an elderly woman's house: both, as you might expect, are important later. Martin Ruhe's monochrome photography hangs over these scenes like the impending doom that will arrive: even this happiness is nothing more than empty, useless. The irony of Joy Division's name is that it derives, as is explained, from the prostitution wing of a Nazi Concentration Camp- hollow joy coming from the worst place imaginable. For its first half, Control seems to understand this irony; then it falls prey to it.

Control follows in those aforementioned Hollywood biopics footsteps by having the actors actually performing Joy Division's songs- and its in its musical scenes when Control is at its best. There's a rawness to the music, and to Sam Riley's voice, that seems to connect in a way the rest of the film can't; and these parts are also, somehow, when Riley is at the top of his game, capturing Curtis's oddly un-punkish movements as well as his weird charm. When Curtis later on at first refuses, then attempts and fails, to perform, its possibly the moment the hits us worst, for Riley has shown Curtis in the arena he functioned in, and now that its failed, so has he. But the film never shows us any kind of musical development- where did this music come from? Why does Ian want to live this life (he loves David Bowie, is about the only crumb we're offered)? How does these people function as a unit? Control is interested in Curtis, not the band, which would be fine if Curtis's life weren't ultimately reduced to such simplistic opposements. As it is, the actors playing the rest of Joy Division are interested, well-played but unimportant side-shows, living in Curtis's shadow.

I'm not sure where all the excitable plaudits for Miss Morton have come from, meanwhile- she's fine, as she always is, but for the majority of the film she's simply playing the traditional, cliched downtrodden wife role, and the film ignores her almost as much as Curtis does, which seems rather odd when you consider that the film is based on Debbie's own book about her husband. There's a terrific scene, though, at what I must now assume was about Control's halfway point, where Debbie finally confronts her husband, having spoken to his Belgian mistress Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara)- and its terrific because Morton is finally given the chance to actually do something. Kudos to her, though, for, sidelined and underwritten as her character had been, she doesn't abandon what she'd been doing with her- instead she feeds off it, for even as Debbie is demanding of Ian whether he loves Annik, Morton's body seems to be recoiling as much as it is trying to intimidate- Debbie is simply not made to be angry, to be forceful, at least not towards her husband. It almost seems as though Debbie is simply acting out of the motions of what someone should be doing in this kind of situation- its not that she doesn't feel betrayed, or heartbroken, but the way she would express this doesn't seem acceptable, and so she pushes herself into a feeling she doesn't fit. As Debbie yells at Ian, tries to make him respond, Morton has her hands and shoulders crunched up, somehow making Debbie's words even more powerful- she loves this man so much she has to force herself to shout at him.

But, ultimately, as Debbie emerges stricken from her house, I couldn't escape the feeling that none of this was the truth: wasn't it, always, Debbie's impressions of what her husband was and how she thought he felt, and really, isn't that why Annik is such a cipher, and why Debbie is so innocent and pitied? Debbie never really understood her husband, and that's the point of the film- and that's why it fails. Grade: C

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Say it again...


Tilda Swinton's narration was hardly the most important aspect of the rather terrific Deep Water, but... can someone please sign her up to read books-on-tape or something? Her voice is perfect: smooth, enrapturing, and kinda unnerving. Which is just what I want in my narrators.

More later, including a full review (gasp!) of Control.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The B Phenomenon

Hello there. Long time no see. That's what having no internet where I live and being rather apathetic about film does to me. But, now both situations have been rectified, and I am happy to say I'm back! How happy that makes you is a different matter. Anyway. I was studying my sidebar (as you do) and noticed a strange thing: almost every grade I've given out recently, with the exception of yet another viewing of David Lean's Brief Encounter- which, despite seeming hilarious when I think about it (oh, those children; no, dear, there aren't any pantomimes in June), is really rather affecting when you experience it, and there's no doubting it's stylistically masterful- was either a B-, a B, or a B+. Of course, this doesn't really mean anything, except that I've managed to avoid watching crap recently, but it makes a nice segway into some short little reviews to get this blog rolling again.

Michael Clayton (Gilroy, 2007): Highly polished, adult and compulsive, Michael Clayton seems better than it is while you're watching it; reflection points out the cracks, and time makes you wonder what the film actually does at all. Excellent performances from George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and particularly a panicked Tilda Swinton (kudos for casting her in a major Hollywood flick) are really the only things that mark the film out in my memory; the plot, complex and rabbity as it was, seems largely ineffectual, and the ending is either unnervingly fitting or a damb squid. B-

A Mighty Heart (Winterbottom, 2007): A Mighty Heart perhaps had the exact opposite effect to Michael Clayton; on reflection, it seems more cleverly constructed, more powerful, than it did while I was watching it. Seeing Angelina Jolie- by the way superbly believable and quietly powerful throughout- as Mariane Pearl, literally screaming her guts out when she discovers her husband's fate, is of course galling, but all the crafty little narrative threads and quiet moments last too; and ultimately this is a low-key but important, and finally hopeful, piece of superb work. B+

It's A Free World (Loach, 2007): Loach's film, made for the UK's Channel 4, is as timely and shattering as ever; the subject of immigration is particularly hot here right now, and Loach, along with screenwriter Paul Laverty, play this very coolly: central character Angie (newcomer Kierston Wareing in a superb performance) is both the villain and the heroine. The trouble is, the construction of the plot around her is rather familiar: she needs to do what she does because she was fired and needs to support her son, who lives with his grandparents- and so her sympathetic side seems so lame and done that the entire film would fall in on itself without Wareing holding it up. Loach's sense of realism (most of the cast are non-actors) is ever present but he can't help but succumb to formuliac structures. B-

Rendition (Hood, 2007): I think it's easy to overlook this film's strong points in favour of damning it for the admittedly simplistic arguments it sometimes puts across. As I watched this, conscious beforehand of the criticisms the film had been attacked with, I tried to work it out: is this ever justified? How would you feel if this man really was guilty? Would the fact that he was mean the way this information is achieved any less horrific? To its credit, and yet also to its detriment, Rendition covers all bases- and, as that comment implies, this means Rendition can never win. Surely, if the film had squarely taken one side, it would have been catcalled for doing so; and yet, objective as it tries to remain, it cannot escape criticism for exactly that. Yes, the entire thing is almost cheapened by a last act, audience-pandering twist that really doesn't matter- but the film is well crafted enough, thought provoking enough, and powerful enough (Reese Witherspoon is particularly strong) that I would still recommend it. B-

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Atonement: The Film

It's been almost an entire month since I last made an entry here... but I finally saw Atonement and I felt it necessary to add my two cents. Look for more frequent entries once I get back yo uni and get the internet connected there (about three weeks, I'm guessing).

As I said before, the novel Atonement (which, let's be honest, I only read because they were making a film out of it) was so beautiful and heartbreaking I wasn't even sure if I could sit through seeing it on-screen. But what the film left on me was a rather dull feeling of indifference: sure, it was moving, well-made, superbly acted- but it didn't make me feel as much as it should have. When it got to the portion of the film where Robbie (James McAvoy) is trudging his way across a war-strewn France, I kept thinking 'I hope they've cut it down, I hope they've cut it down'- which they had, and that didn't fit with me- it's not that I hated that part, it's that it was SO difficult to read and deal with that I didn't want to have to deal with it again. But, the problem is, Atonement NEEDS that, and it NEEDS the difficulty of Briony's (Romola Garai at this point) work as a nurse dealing with horrifically injured soldiers, because that's what makes the shattering ending work all the more. But Atonement, at this point, feels truncated, and I just felt my emotions drifting away, wishing this was the book instead, and wishing I could cry again when the ending came.

I can't be harsh on the film- all the acting (besides, surprisingly, Vanessa Redgrave- her coda doesn't work at all) is superb, particularly McAvoy and Garai. The costume and make-up work is exemplary (I loved how Redgrave looked almost exactly like Saoirse Ronan and Garai, with the same hair-cut and a dress that looked too big- as if she'd never moved past her childhood crime, which, of course, she hadn't), the direction is strong and the music beautiful. But it's not the masterpiece I so desperately wanted it to be, and that's why my words are more negative that my grade of B+ implies.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Atonement

I have just finished reading Atonement.

It almost broke my heart it two.

I cried.

I am choking up simply imagining what it will look like on film.

I am in the strange position of not being able to wait to see, and not ever wanting to see, the film.

I can't really say much more than that right now. Later. I will, later.

Following Nolan Backwards

If Christopher Nolan takes his inspiration from his own life, he must surely live an extremely confusing life, for it takes no genius to see that the now-famous director greatly favours a fragmented narrative- though of course, now forced into the studio system with remake Insomnia and then blockbuster Batman Begins and its follow-up The Dark Knight, he's had to abandon his baffling, looping structures. But with Following, his little known debut feature, he uses the bitty narrative lines he perfected so well for his superb Memento- but the difference with Following is that the style seems to provide no discernible reason for being (if you saw Memento, you'll know it conversely did). Instead, Following's flashy script seems to deflect from the inherent weaknesses in the story- a familiar narrative jazzed up by a narrative that jumps forward, doubles back, and frames itself with the oft-used device of recounting to an authority figure (in this case the police).

In fact, Following's unwieldy narrative style is perhaps the only thing in the film that maintains much interest through the unusually short running time- 69 minutes- not only because, as I said, is the narrative distressingly simple- a naive man drawn into a criminal set-up by betraying acquaintances, not to mention the sigh-inducing "surprise" ending- but because the film is so distancingly cold. Filmed in monochromatic black-and-white, Nolan- who shot, wrote and directed the film- uses the deadening of sound to divide each scene like he's brought a guillotine down between them- despite the recurrance of moments, first a mystery then explained in context, the film seems to have no connective tissue, no interior centre. And, most crucially, the characters themselves are cold, unlikeable figures- and, while unlikeable can be fine, surely a main character has to be, in his unlikeability, an enigmatic force? But Bill, played by the distinctly weasellish actor Jeremy Theobald, is a cowardly, baffling figure, seemingly both naive and clever at once, contradicting himself too often, a pale hollow at Following's centre. Even the supposedly interesting character of Cobb (Alex Haw)- it is following him that leads Bill into the dark story- is undermined by Nolan's weak, overworked script. It is perhaps not surprising that Nolan shows a better talent with the camera- strong camerawork is apparent, and explains why, when paired with his writer brother Jonathan for Memento, a much (much) stronger film emerged. Grade: C-

Friday, July 27, 2007

Poster Time!

Yes, it's poster time. Here are some fantastic new posters that have appeared recently.

First up, it's the poster for Tim Burton's big musical extravaganza, Sweeney Todd. I love the lighting effects here, gives it the right edge of creepiness.


The poster for the remake of 3:10 to Yuma (which I discussed many moons ago) is also quite something. It's a little too busy, but when there's one of those old steam trains with a cattleguard, you've got me. (The lowliness of Vinessa Shaw's name- see my previous discussion- is worrisome, though.)


And, finally, I'm going to end a second post in a row with something pertaining to J.J. Abrams' mysterious "Cloverfield" project: it's a poster, with only the date on it. According to Empire Movies, Cloverfield is the name of a street in L.A. where Abrams has an office... shame, I quite liked it as a title. "Cloverfield" is also, apparently, a monster movie, but said monster is NOT a parasite or a giant Japanese robot (who thought that it was?). But anyway. An intriguing, stylish poster, methinks.

(Click on all the posters for bigger versions. Oh, and Running with Scissors? Really good. I just don't understand why everyone hates it so much.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mired Six Feet In Adoration


That's it. It's official. Six Feet Under is the greatest tv show ever. I suppose I should say "that I've ever watched", but, really, it'll take something pretty spectacular to connect with me as much as this show has. Despite my anxious twitterings that the final scene- which is probably the greatest ten minutes I've ever experienced, of anything in any way- wouldn't stand up on a second viewing, but, almost blissfully, I was absolutely wracked with sobs. I've never cried at anything as much as I do at that scene. I'm not a big crier- I often get teary-eyed, but it takes something big to actually make those tears fall- and yet there I was, hugging my knees, tears streaming down my face and experiencing actual physical pain. And I wasn't even sad, because that it is not what it does. It gives hope, it gives release, it gives life. It sounds absurd, but that is what Six Feet Under does to me.

Oh, sure, I'm going to watch The Sopranos and The Wire and Deadwood and whatever else is hosanna'ed as the greatest tv show ever, but I don't think- and I don't think I want to think- that those shows will come to mean as much to me. Six Feet Under caught me at a time in my life where it could become a part of me- what I have learnt through it, what I have discovered about myself, and what art- for it is art- can really do. It is beautiful. I love it, I miss it, but it is one of the few perfect things that exist.

Hyperbolic much? I am deadly serious. If you haven't watched it, go right now and don't come back until you have.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Yates, 2007)

Spoilers ahead.

Perhaps it was inevitable what with the new book and all- Pottermania infesting my brain- but to these eyes, this latest screen adaptation of J.K. Rowling's big-selling series was easily the best yet. My deranged brain naturally acredits this astonishing realization- after all, Order of the Phoenix was the longest book, and this is the shortest film so far- to the change in screenwriter: regular Potter hack scribe Steven Kloves has taken a film off and into his place stepped Michael Goldenberg, who, unlike Kloves, pulls off the paring-down of plot superbly- sure, there are things missing, but I couldn't think of anything major that had been lost (besides a few egregious errors late on, but we'll get to that later) and I was happy to see very little of Kloves' trick of ending scenes as though he'd left his computer in the middle of a scene and simply abandoned it for the next one on his return.

Goldenberg, however, isn't the only newcomer onboard, and, indeed, it seems to be the raft of new faces, both on and off screen, that make Order of the Phoenix so surprisingly strong. Surprise choice for director was David Yates, a tv director thus far most notable for crime series State of Play, the notorious C4 drama Sex Traffic, and political romance The Girl in the Cafe. On that basis, the choice of Yates (now signed up for Potter 6, The Half-Blood Prince, due at the end of 2008) seems strange for a blockbuster series about a wizard, but, perhaps more than ever this time around, J.K. Rowling's work proves itself deeper and more globally in-tune than onlookers might think. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), having witnessed the return of nemesis Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) at the end of the last film, is plagued both day and night- his dreams are a fragmented mess, torturous remembrances of the death of Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) and mysterious pictures of the Ministry of Magic leading him somewhere dangerous; and, harassed by his cousin's gang of yobs, the relatives are attacked by Dementors, leading to Harry needing to save the day by use of magic and leading to him being sent to trial before the Minister (Robert Hardy) himself.

The Ministry is where the stellar work of production designer Stuart Craig comes into full, walloping force. Situated beneath the "Muggle" London, the entrance is a familiar circular tunnel (that'll be why the underground was closed off, then), the central space lorded over by intimidating gold statues, and an enormous, Hitler-ish banner of the Minister from ceiling to floor. The Ministry is not, as any citizen would wish, a pleasant place to be: instead, it's an all-too-fitting shining black, eerily accented by white edges, making the walls gleam disturbingly. The Ministry, see, doesn't believe Harry's story, refusing Hogwarts' headmaster Albus Dumbledore's (Michael Gambon) pleas to act. Dumbledore's trickery gets Harry cleared, but, not only will Dumbledore not listen to Harry's questions, Hogwarts is subject to a new teacher: Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), Ministry official, takes that ever-open post of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, and slowly takes over the school.

Order of the Phoenix is aloft with political currents, from Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione's (Emma Watson) secret rebellion in the form of secret student organization Dumbledore's Army, to the alarming sight of Voldemort in a slick corporate suit (no mere robes for him). I don't mean to credit the film with aspirations it does not have- this is, after all, entertainment- but Yates and Goldenberg cleverly adapt Rowling's work into a tight, witty blockbuster, not overselling the ideas or trying to expell them. And, will wonders never cease, but finally we seem to have a harmonious union between magic and modern teen culture- never is magic hammered into our heads, as Chris Columbus felt the need to do, but neither do the students constantly run around in their own clothes. This is Hogwarts as I imagined it, a meeting place between old-fashioned private school and the influx of modern existance.

The film, as I've yet to mention, is sadly not perfect: it takes a while to get going, rather too flashly in the opening Dementor sequence and too speedy as it moves to Grimmaud Place (Order headquarters, a dirty and dark terrace that's nevertheless cosy, and, again superbly imagined by Stuart Craig- give the man an Oscar, says I) and barely pauses to introduce Kingsley Shacklebolt (George Harris), Tonks (Natalia Tena, sparkling) and the rest of the Order. There are also a few too many missteps in the explosive final act: getting straight to the heart of the prophecy-hunt I can forgive, but, not only is "the veil" not explained, the fatal mistake occurs in the death: not yet has it actually been confirmed that Sirius (Gary Oldman) actually died, given the mysterious circumstances of his "death", but Goldenberg makes it all too explicit. I can only hope they consulted J.K. there, though given the newsbite on the near-exclusion of Kreacher, I do not hope in vain.

But back to the positives. The ever-expanding cast is good as ever, from the awe-inducing elders- Maggie Smith and Emma Thompson are superb in their brief dalliance with the Umbridge-plot, Jason Isaacs is the picture of silky sleaze as Lucius Malfoy, Gary Oldman is warm and protective as Sirius, and Alan Rickman is a delight as he reels off his lines with a kind of bemused weariness- to the improved youngsters- Rupert Grint is solid background, Emma Watson settles in nicely after a worrying first scene, Bonnie Wright (as Ginny) gears up well for her big part next film, and Daniel Radcliffe proves disarmingly adept at portraying Harry's angry angst, although he's most impressive when taking passionate charge of his new "army".

But, as you knew we'd come back to, it's the newcomers that truly delight. Helena Bonham Carter is perhaps the most spot-on casting yet as the unhinged Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange, Tim Burton's influence in full wild flourish as she mercilessly taunts and attacks our heros, laughing with frightening mania. Meanwhile, Imelda Staunton plays a distinctly different but perhaps even scarier type of villain, a terrier dressed in a fuschia sweater and angelically interrupting Dumbledore with a delightful fake cough. She potters around the school with a deadly smile, a poisonous vindictiveness behind her meowing decorative dishes. She'd most likely waltz off with the entire film if it weren't for our freshest new face. I always loved Luna Lovegood in the books, and feared for her appearance on-screen, but never fear: Evanna Lynch is superb, capturing all Luna's eery weirdness and mysterious, lulling voice, ably managing to put across the undercurrent of untortured tragedy within Luna, and it's a pleasure to see just how much she's actually allowed on-screen.

So, in the end, what is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? It's not as good as the book; but then, were you really expecting it to be? It's the best of the summer blockbusters thus far; so go and see it. It's the best of the Harry Potter series so far; it's probably back down from here. It's better than I thought it would be; so that's good, isn't it?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Performance That Changed My Life

This is for Emma's blog-a-thon, if you didn't know, and you should get on over there and read all the other posts, after you've read this one.

I thought long and hard about who to write about here, the major problem being that I couldn't think of anyone- sure, there are a ton of performances that I love, but could I really honestly say that any of them changed me? (I take things very seriously as you see.) I didn't think I could. Until my brain finally looped round to a performance that it always went to, a seminal moment in my film-watching canon. It's a distinctly unconventional and even obscure choice, but be sure it's one that surprised even me in the way it affected me and stuck in my head. And here it is...

Jodhi May as Alice Munro
in
The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992)

Let's get one thing clear first. I don't like The Last of the Mohicans. I think it's boring and long and visually dull (although that may be the video copy we own, for some unknown reason). And, for most of the film, I barely even noticed that Alice Munro even existed, sidelined as she is as the sister of lead character Hawkeye's (Daniel Day-Lewis) love interest Cora (Madeleine Stowe). Various native American parties are assisting on either side of the colonial French-British battle in colonial America (why, I'm not sure), and Hawkeye is an independant man reared as a Mohawk who ends up, with two friends, guiding these sisters through various difficult and dangerous situations (including one sequence involving a canoe chase which is about the only excitement I got out of the vast part of the film). Naturally, Hawkeye falls for Cora, but what interests us here is what's going on in the background.

This is never exactly made clear, and it took reading after seeing the film to clear up what had actually been going on. As the film nears the end, the group progresses up a precarious waterfall, one of Hawkeye's friends, Uncas (Eric Schweig) is killed by the men tracking them, and he falls off the edge of the waterfall. Suddenly, surprisingly, Alice gives a look to her sister and jumps off after him.

Basic description does not do this moment justice. Perhaps what I'm going to say is hyperbolic, but it is also the truth. Have you ever experienced a moment you can't explain, where something affects you in a way you never expected, in a way it will probably never affect someone else, in a way it may not ever affect you yourself again? This is what happened to me here. The look that Jodhi May gave to the camera in that tiny second of film startled me, made my heart stop, made me weep- and I didn't understand why. There had been no build up, no groundwork- it was simply a sudden, unexpected moment. It was overwhelming in its despair, its sorrow, its harrowing hopelessness. I've never had a moment like it since. I've never watched the film again for fear that I would lose the remnants of the feeling. I doubt that you, if you watched it, would feel the same, for I can only feel that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It is MY moment. Is there anyone else in the world who felt so strongly, from feeling so disinterested, in that piece of film? I doubt it, and, more importantly, I hope not.

Jodhi May's performance changed my life because it made me realize that performances don't always need deep groundwork to function, that someone can swoop in for barely a second and be as affecting as three hours of a performance. Jodhi May's performance is emotion in a captured frame, and, in a rare moment of foresight for me, I captured it in a photo. (From my tv, isn't it good!) (Oh, and search google for "Jodhi May Mohicans" and this image, my image, is the first to come up, on my Rotten Tomatoes page. Wicked.)

The link, here, behind the image, by the way, is to a youtube clip that includes the moment, which I haven't watched but managed to check for it's veracity. Watch it. I don't expect you to feel the same, and perhaps you won't have a clue what I'm talking about. But this moment is one that I can honestly say changed me: changed the way I look at film, change the way I understand it, change the way I see emotions. It is one of the few moments of my life that I can't understand, can't explain, can't put down to any earthly description.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Things I Learned Watching Enduring Pirates 3

There are spoilers in this, I suppose.

- It's not okay to start a family film with a prolonged public hanging just because you suddenly turn it into a musical number.

- Stay away from Naomie Harris, she gives people crabs. Like, big time.

- Tom Hollander likes to drink tea. Lots of tea. (Two sugars.)

- Keira Knightley doesn't have the army-leading shouting skills of Mel Gibson. But she is thankfully much nicer to look at, so that's okay.

- Davy Jones' locker is in fact an extremely clean, white and rather lovely expanse of a large sound stage next to a beach.

- I totally want a bandana.

- A simple truth: the more Johnny Depps on-screen, the more annoying he becomes.

- Geoffrey Rush really should entrust special false eyes to someone who won't frequently lose them to a monkey.

- Tom Hollander will forever be typecast as an absolute bastard, because all you can think when watching him as that someone needs to punch him in the face.

- Pirates are not to be trusted. Ever. Even if they're not really pirates.

- If you are small / female / goofy-looking / foreign / animal, Gore Verbinski will exploit this as much as he can.

- When it's cold, no one sees fit to go inside. Are they all idiots? Wait, don't answer that.

- The pirate fortress looks uncannily like a Christmas tree.

- Monkeys are better actors than Orlando Bloom.

- Tom Hollander has devilishly good skills at dramatic demises.

- Orlando Bloom was so pissed at Keira for getting a bigger part than him that he evilly leaves her on a desert island with his heart in a box. The bastard.

- It would so have worked between Elizabeth and Jack.

- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is extremely boring and I give it a D+. This was in fact learned just after I watched it, but it still counts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Un Peu de Français

It was a strange turn of events that the two films I went to see back-to-back yesterday were both French, but, as well as making for an easy theme for a post, it serves to highlight that foreign cinema doesn't deserve to all be dumped under that label, for the two films I saw couldn't be much more different from each other. Interestingly, if we want to draw parallels with Hollywood, expectations were turned on their heads: the one that you'd think would tend away from Hollywood cliche instead revels in it, and the one that seems more inclined towards convention breaks it to pieces.

The first of the double-bill is one of the most trumpeted foreign films of the year- La Vie En Rose is a lavish, expansive biopic of chanteuse Edith Piaf, with an Oscar-courting central turn from Marion Cotillard at its centre. The biopic has become the genre-du-choix for awards-seeking actors in recent years (see Monster, Iris, Capote, The Aviator, Finding Neverland...) and the musical sub-genre of the biopic is a particular favourite, with both Jamie Foxx and Reese Witherspoon winning their Oscars for their turns as Ray Charles in Ray and June Carter in Walk the Line respectively. And, sadly, though it may be a French film, La Vie En Rose does nothing to break away from the conventions they've set up in this flourishing genre. Granted, many of the elements are the same- troubled childhoods, drug addictions- but you might expect a production free of Hollywood to try something different. But La Vie En Rose is as movie as a movie can be, and I mean that in the worst sense of the word. There's no depth here- the entire life of Edith Piaf has been shoehorned into the film, though large gaps (Piaf's involvement in the WWII Resistance being entirely ignored) float around aimlessly. But there's still so much going on that director Olivier Dahan rushes through most of it- and so, when the young Edith wails that she wants to stay at the circus, we have no idea why, our only experience of that being her being yelled at by a performer. We frown in confusion when suddenly, in a news scene, Edith suddenly has a husband. We laugh when a lost child is crowbarred into the plot in the last half hour. The other main problem, being, as you may have heard, that Dahan seems to have shuffled the script before filming, because La Vie En Rose jumps all over the place for absolutely no reason. Yes, Walk the Line opened at Johnny Cash's famous Folsom Prison performance, but from there it went back to the beginning and progressed in an understandable linear direction. Yes, Iris jumped back and forward, but the dual threads of young Iris growing and old Iris declining also went in a linear way, and the contrast worked to highlight the character of Iris. But La Vie En Rose's slapdash plotting serves no purpose whatsoever, and even works to the film's detriment- it slices apart what looks like a competant performance from Marion Cotillard, highlighting the actress's use of wigs and make-up much more than a linear progression would have. It didn't surprise me when I thought back over the film to find that the film's most successful moments occured when emotion had been built up over a gradual progression of events- most obviously, the powerful moment when Edith breaks down on hearing her boxer lover Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins) has been killed, is affecting precisely because the film has invested time in their relationship, showing their flirtation and romance uninterrupted by flashbacks/forwards. There's some good stuff within La Vie En Rose- the sets, particularly in the childhood sections, are strikingly realistic; Emmanuelle Seigner is superb as Edith's childhood carer Titine; and, naturally, the music is beautiful. But it's symbolic to note that when Non, je ne regrette rien closes out the film, it's the song, not the handling of it, that brings tears to the eyes. You'd learn more about Edith Piaf from reading a book. Grade: C-

Tell No One really couldn't be a more different story. From it's genre- thriller- to it's modern setting, this is as far from the fantastical world of La Vie En Rose as you can get. Which one is the true story again? When our hero, Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet), incidentally causes a car crash on his breathtaking run from the police, it's entirely surprising, realistic, and unglamourous. Said chase is probably the culmination of the film's slow-burning grip on it's audience, ending with a moment that would be hilarious if you weren't so burnt out. Adapted from the book by American novelist Harlan Coben, Tell No One has been craftily adapted by by actor-writer-director Guillaume Canet (apparently he was the heartthrob of The Beach, which I hated, but he also gives himself Tell No One's most despicable part- a respectable move). A enigmatic plot is the film's core, adorned by excellent performances from the likes of Nathalie Baye, Kristin Scott Thomas (entirely integrated, by the way), and Marie Josee-Croze, filmed stylishly yet unflashily. Perhaps the film does suffer from a rather too blatant exposition of its plot at the end- it's all done in bugged monologue- but this is still an exciting, Bourne-like (that's a very good thing, if you didn't know) thriller that deserves a wider audience. Grade: B+

Friday, June 22, 2007

David Sez: I'm Not Glenn, But Read This Book!

Okay. I know I haven't been talking about movies much lately- partly because I've hardly been watching them; the last two I've watched were American Psycho on Saturday night, and before that Zodiac the Tuesday before, so I've hardly had much to talk about- and I get the feeling that music discussion isn't as interesting to people (?). But I am definitely going to be seeing La Vie en Rose and Tell No-One either next Tuesday or Thursday (Wednesday is taken up by a trip to Wimbledon!), and possibly Water on Monday, and I will try to talk about them. In the interim, however, here is something at least partly movie related, as I bring you a golden reading recommendation...


Buy this book. Or at least go to the library and get it out. I am naturally assuming here that you have an interest in Katharine Hepburn- you probably shouldn't get it out if you don't- but then, who doesn't? [/naive] It's a long book. Really long. I mean, it took me about six months to get through- granted, I was very erratic (one chapter; nothing for three months; up to halfway; nothing for three more months; finished in one go), but it's not exactly a day's read. However, as my strange reading habits show, it's very engrossing. Once you're in, it's hard to get out.

For Katharine Hepburn was a very fascinating woman. There have been, you might say, so many books on her already, including one by the woman herself. Ah, yes. But what William J. Mann does so well- and so insistently- is strip back the complex and deep-seated legend that has been spun about Kate since she began as a movie star. And the woman herself was instrumental in spinning this legend- as she aged, became the celebrated actress in films like The Lion of Winter and Long Day's Journey Into Night, she realized the public wouldn't truly love the woman she really was, but instead they loved the myth, the facade. They loved the romantic trials of Kate and Spencer Tracy- in reality and much more complicated and troubled relationship that was told, as Mann explores in detail. Kate: The Woman Who Was Katharine Hepburn is all about challenging the accepted story, the built-up legend, about stripping back the Golden Age of Hollywood to reveal what was hidden beneath.

Ultimately, though, Mann acknowledges rightly that all this spinning of legend doesn't make Kate any less of a star, any weaker as a person or less respected. The myth-spinning is all part of the fascination, what made Hepburn such a star, such an enigma. Mann charts her entire life with previously unavailable information and interviews, extensively looking at what made the woman tick. If you have any interest in Hollywood's Golden Age and Katharine Hepburn, this is a book you need to read.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Dazed By Rihanna in Jindabyne

I've been MIA since Thursday- that's four days. What have I been doing in this time, you may ask? Well, I've went back home and then returned to university again (for the last time before the holidays begin), saw two movies in one day (a common practice of mine- and more on them in a sec) and read an entire book which I'd already read (this was for examination purposes, not for fun). Exams next week mean I still won't be around too much- I should be revising, though how much I'll actually do is unknown- but you can still expect a few things, including, of course, The Tuesday Tribute.

But this is a movie blog, not a diary, and so to the topic at hand. The dreadful Wedding Daze only had the divine Isla Fisher drawing me to it in the first place, but it proves yet another case of me being led blindly by my actressual leanings. There are some other good people in it- Joanna Gleason, Edward Herrmann, Joe Pantoliano; I'll even admit to liking Jason Biggs despite never seeing him in anything remotely respectable- but the whole thing is just a delirious mishmash, a revolting mixture of American Pie gross-out comedy (Biggs' parents are sexually experimental/deviant caricatures) and a plot that seems to have been adapted from Bringing Up Baby in some odd way (ie. they all end up in prison). This is not to compare to Baby, however- I love that film. Wedding Daze, however, is ludicrous- Biggs' girlfriend drops dead after he proposes to her dressed in nothing but red hotpants and a pair of wings, which I suppose is probably a good alternative to marrying someone who would even consider doing that- and full of caricatures, from the aforementioned parents to Fisher's colleagues/friends with a circus background to her conveniently gay ex-boyfriend. Fisher and Biggs do their best to play it with a straight-face, and along with Michael Weston as his best (and thankfully sceptical) friend Ted they do mine a few laughs here and there, but the entire thing is so predictable while being so ridiculous that I just wanted to scream. Not that my audience seemed to enjoy it much- except the woman a couple of rows ahead with a extremely nasally laugh which was probably funnier than most of the film. Grade: D+

Jindabyne, however, which I saw before Wedding Daze, was an entirely different kettle of fish, though that was really to be expected. Glenn's been championing this movie since the beginning of time, it seems, and so I went in with high expectations- expectations that were, thankfully, met, solidified and bronzed. Ray Lawrence (almost as maverick as Terrence Malick in his rareity of projects) puts the entire film on edge, David Williamson's photography and music by Paul Kelly and Dan Luscombe combining to add a sinister, dangerous feeling to virtually everything in the movie, not just the things you would expect. Jindabyne is not simply a story about the fallout of a group of men's actions upon discovering a body- it's a story of a community's struggles to deal with the intertwining issues that were already there, how they change when an event brushes them, and how the people caught up in them deal with one another. Powerful performances from a superb ensemble cast- Leah Purcell, Deborra Lee-Furness and outsider Laura Linney being the standouts as the partners of three of the four men who find the body- make Jindabyne's depiction of a precarious community seem blisteringly real, and Lawrence is smart enough to never overplay things- Linney's clear American accent is never remarked upon and yet is clearly an issue, while the murderer (whose identity is in no doubt throughout) silently appears at erroneous intervals to unnerving effect. I did feel that the film lost something at its end- a heartfelt song at the murdered girl's funeral is moving but the tone of reconciliation feels jarring- but overall, Jindabyne is a powerful, naturalistic and thoughtful piece of work. Grade: A-

In music news, V.I.P. Music reports that 'Don't Stop the Music' WILL be Rihanna's third single (but hang on- they decided on a third single and shot the video already?! They haven't even shown us the second one yet!)- thank GOD. This means that people who don't buy the album will hear it and fall under its spell. This means they'll play it in clubs. This means I can get my groove thang on to it. Maybe.

In more Rihanna news, Good Girl Gone Bad was released today (or tomorrow if you're American)- and the UK has the option of a two-disc edition with a bonus digipack CD of remixes. 'Don't Stop the Music''s remix is not a patch on the proper version, but it has a decidedly more upbeat sound to it and is a good, solid remix, while 'Umbrella''s remix (by Seamus Haji and Paul Emanual) jazzes up the track's memorable chorus to superb effect. The Wideboys Club Remix of 'Shut Up and Drive' is pretty poor with it's swiping electronic sounds, but 'Breakin' Dishes' works remarkably well as a club track- the ferocity feeds into the icy beats of the Soul Seekers Remix. 'Push Up On Me' lends itself well too, turned into a ferocious poppy dance tune, the Soul Seekers Remix of 'Good Girl Gone Bad' brings out its lyrical strength, 'Say It' is jazzed up with an effective Caribbean rhythm but the stodgy lyrics sit oddly with it, and 'Cry' (the UK bonus track which, while a ballad, is surprisingly good and deserved the obligatory ballad spot over 'Say It') is remixed by Steve Mac to solid effect. 'Haunted'- a track which we've yet to hear the original of (though it's definitely a ballad)- is also given the Steve Mac Klassic treatment, but it's rather boring. Finally, 'SOS' doesn't really work since it was almost a remix itself; but on the whole it's worth forking out the extra for the extra disc.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fast Food Nation is...

... like, ew, man. Totally gross. And I don't just mean the end part where they slice up cows and show their stony eyes in their disembodied heads and slide their insides down a metal chute. Or even the part where Paul Dano spits in the burger he's making up for Greg Kinnear (incidentally, my audience seemed surprised at this- why? I thought everyone knew about this practice, or at least the mythical idea of it.). But Fast Food Nation isn't just about fast food, it's about consumerism, man- at one point the hotel clerk at Kinnear's hotel recites a robotic round of questions at him and doesn't even blink at his sudden snap of rudeness. The world has become a machine, is what Linklater is saying, a factory line of crap, both literally and figuratively. Ashley Johnson's character goes out for a meal with her uncle Ethan Hawke and seems quietly impressed with his remarks about how those who followed their dreams- whether successful or not- are generally happier when they look back on their lives. When did the world become so money-orientated? Johnson's mother (Patricia Arquette) swipes away her brother as a role model, but really, this is exactly who Johnson should be listening to- follow your dreams, your heart, not society's conventions of job-marriage-children. Fast Food Nation sings an age-old message- money don't make you happy- but it seems that more than ever people need to be told this message.

Oh, and one other thing about Fast Food Nation, the engrossing and imperfect film that it is: I don't think, as some idiots at IMDb (for as we all know, the IMDb messageboards are generally populated by idiots) seem to believe, that Fast Food Nation is preaching a vegetarian message (or vegan, as the idiots say- where did vegetarianism go?). I am a vegetarian, not through choice but through parentage, and while, yes, the final images of the film are indeed disgusting, I think that Linklater is simply presenting a case against fast food and the way it's produced as opposed to meat altogether. Although he IS a vegetarian himself, so maybe I'm wrong. Anyway.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sim Survivor

Now, I'm sure y'all have heard that some company have acquired the rights to make a movie out of The Sims (and if you haven't, well, I'm telling ya). If they got the right people on this, it could be genius. It could be some kind of metaphysical mind-fuck about how people are controlled by an unknown force from the sky (gee, now doesn't that sound familiar?). It could have all sorts of metaphorical religious undertones. It could also be a superb dissection of human (well, Simmish, I suppose) interaction- "why are you falling asleep in the middle of the floor?"; "why do we keep 'woohooing' even though you're my mailman?"; "why do you keep talking about aeroplanes?". My god, if they got the right people on this, it could be AMAZING. Like, have that green diamond thing hovering over a Sim's head and watch them trying to ignore it while everyone else whispers about how they're the "chosen one" (I know they don't do that in the game, I'm improvising here!). Watch what happens when you put seven wildly different Sims in a room and then take away the door. Have the grim reaper turn up to take a relative and end up with him becoming the new husband. See the spawn of human and alien take on university. It could be wicked.

What's that? "...has set project up with Fox-based John Davis... Davis' most recent projects include "Norbit," "When A Stranger Calls," and "Eragon.""... "Brian Lynch will script; story is under wraps with talent yet to be named... Lynch scripted and helmed upcoming "Big Helium Dog," and penned "Scary Movie 3,""?

Oh, fuck it. This is going to be a disaster. I bet it won't even be in Simlish, because god knows these people aren't going to risk filming it in a foreign language.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Victim's Gold Stars: #1: King of his Castle

THE TOP TEN: #1: INLAND EMPIRE

And here it is, not only my top film of 2006 but the second David Lynch film of the new millenium to be the best of its year. But what is it about his films- particularly, of course, the particularly labyrinthine ones such as this- that fascinates me, and indeed so many others, so much? It's a well worn fact of debate that his films generally don't make coherent narrative sense, and that Lynch doesn't want them to- but why is it that some respond so eagerly to this, and others detest it? In the case of INLAND EMPIRE, at least, it would be easy to shrug off with an explanation that the sheer emotion here is the reason- scenes like the indescribly discomfiting scene where two strangers have a pallid discussion as a woman lies dying between them- but I think what Lynch does so well, instead of simply using his actors and mise-en-scene to provoke any random emotion, is expertly calibrate a building up of these emotions, leading his audience to horrifying crescendos, letting his three-hour running time take away all sense of time and space (which is why, incidentally, I was so distressed by an intermission during my second impulsive viewing) so that INLAND EMPIRE is simply all that exists, and therefore in itself it is not strange or incoherent, but perfectly, if subconsciously, understandable. The matter of whether or not a person responds favorably is not a matter of elitism or intelligence- it is simply a matter of emotional, and perhaps even physical, conditioning. INLAND EMPIRE is not a film that deals in strange ideas- it simply deals with them in strange, refreshing and unusual ways.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Victim's Gold Stars: The Round-Up

Before I unveil my number 1 film of 2006 (which, let's face it, is pretty obvious), I thought I'd do a little round-up, including a few honorary categories.

Individual Categories:
Best Director
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Ensemble
Best Original Screenplay
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Non-English Language Film
Best Cinematography
Best Editing
Best Production Design/Art Direction
Best Original Score
Best Costume Design
Best Make-Up
Best Sound
Best Sound Effects

Best Visual Effects

The Worst of 2006
The Under- and Over-Appreciated
The Top Ten can be found at my 2006 Viewing Index.

Films With The Most Nominations
Children of Men: 7
The Departed: 5
The Good Shepherd: 5
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu: 4
INLAND EMPIRE: 4
Marie Antoinette: 4

Best Films With No Nominations
(46 of the 135 Films I Saw Are Nominated for Something)
Akeelah and the Bee
Babel
Dave Chappelle's Block Party
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
An Inconvenient Truth
Inside Man
Lady Vengeance
The Road to Guantanamo
Slither
Stranger than Fiction
Tsotsi

How Did You Get In Here?
(Worst Films To Manage A Nomination)

The Black Dahlia: 1
Breaking and Entering: 1
Dreamgirls: 1
Notes on a Scandal: 2
Perfume: 3
Venus: 1
World Trade Center: 1

The "I Don't Like Real Life" Award for Best Documentary

(or: I didn't see very many documentaries)
Dave Chappelle's Block Party


Best Animated Feature
is jointly awarded to
Cars, Happy Feet and Monster House

The "Hello, Goodbye" Award for Best Small Role
Viola Davis, World Trade Center
Karolina Herfurth, Perfume
Gwyneth Paltrow, Infamous
Jamie Parker, The History Boys
Grace Zabriskie, INLAND EMPIRE

"Sorry I Missed Ya"
(films I missed on release)
Fast Food Nation

Fur- An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Running with Scissors

Damn Those Distributors!
(films that either weren't released, or were barely released at all)
The Dead Girl
Iraq in Fragments
Jesus Camp
Sherrybaby
Shortbus
Shut Up & Sing
Water

Scene of the Year
The furry infiltrators get blasted by the horrifying sound of THX in Over the Hedge.


And now all you have to look forward are the 2007 Gold Stars. Poor you.

Victim's Gold Stars: Leading Ladies

BEST ACTRESS

It's a strange kind of paradox, really, that Dame Judi's best work in years- in fact, I can't really remember a better performance from her- comes in a part that was so perfect in the book but becomes so messed up on film. Dench works wonders, yes, else she wouldn't be here, but the film doesn't do her any favours- where Barbara Covett in novel form was a rounded, complex, dangerous but pitiful human being, Barbara Covett on film is little more than a villanous, nasty lesbian predator. Dench mines like a trooper to inject some of the book-Barbara's sympathetic qualities into her character- the look in the mirror, the hidden looks of weariness (see my graphic)- but the film around her wants you to hate her, despise her, look at her in disgust. Thanks to Judi, though, you don't- your looks of disgust are instead directed to the film itself.

No one really seems to know what INLAND EMPIRE is all about, even David Lynch himself, and no one really needs to- but what they do need is an emotional hook, because, like it or lump it, you're not really going to be interested in a film if it doesn't affect you in some way, and for all its unweildy imagery and strange metaphors and circular, ovaline or star-shaped (I don't know!) narrative threads, this is what INLAND EMPIRE does. Dern is given the enormous task of making some kind of coherence of about five different characters, none of whom are given much more than a name, and Dern must not only carve out distinct personalities but thread them all together, for naturally these women are all extensions of each other, in whatever abstract Lynchian way. Dern is both a cypher and an abstraction, a way in to the film and a barrier to understanding it. But, most importantly, she is transfixing, committed, and fiercely emotional.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu may be about, well, Mr. Lazarescu, but quite unexpectedly, both to her and the audience, Gheorghiu's ambulance worker gradually, naturally becomes the driving force of this movie, and not just in the sense that she pushes Mr. Lazarescu around on a gurney. Gheorghiu craftily portrays Mioara's transition from disinterested, weary worker to concerned, involved companion, slowly adjusting her body language to show increased concern for the man she is ferrying around, and, ever so slowly, becoming the heroine of the film. Without Mioara, Mr. Lazarescu would be dead even sooner than he ends up being; with Gheorghiu, Mioara would have been a pale, dull shadow.

2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose saw newcomer Jennifer Carpenter give a fiercely committed performance in much the same role as Huller has here; however, where Carpenter's sidelined character was little more than a devil-riddled woman with extraordinary limb suppleness, Huller has the harder task of creating an actual person, since Michaela, though she does eventually let rip with virulent screams, is simply a young woman, a religious, willowy figure, a person who, for whatever reason, seems to be a vessel for the devil. Michaela is not, unlike Carpenter's character, centered in a philosophical court debate, but one between reality and psychology- Michaela does not know why these things are happening to her, but she must struggle valiantly on with the rest of her life while they exist.

The best for last, perhaps. I know I haven't been picking first, second or third prizes in these awards, but Julia Jentsch's performance has been on this list for so long, so unchallenged and so supreme, that it feels only fair to call her out as the best. Taking the titular role as Sophie Scholl, persecuted member of the Anti-Nazi White Rose movement, Jentsch does not have confusing arcs to ace like Laura Dern, or reflective moments in a mirror like Judi Dench, but she effortlessly creates a full, human and beautiful figure anyway, perfectly attuned to the film's low-key tone- this is not a film that is pulling any large punches, simply a picture of a historical moment, a tribute, almost, to this valiant young woman, and Jentsch makes her not a saint, but a woman- too committed, perhaps, to her ideals, too protective for her own good, too stubborn and proud- but in recognising these weaknesses of character, Jentsch also reveals what made Sophie Scholl the heroine she was.

Apologies to: Actress was not so crowded as its supporting counterpart, but nevertheless six ladies made it particularly different slicing this crowd in two: Penelope Cruz's strength of character in Volver; Kirsten Dunst's charmingly naive Marie Antoinette; Sienna Miller's impersonation of the saddeningly superficial Edie Sedgwick in Factory Girl; Qi Shu's trio of parts in Three Times; Naomi Watts' bourgeosie-in-China in The Painted Veil; and young Zoe Weizenbaum's sympathetic attempts to be an adult in 12 and Holding.

Friday, May 25, 2007

She's ON THE SHIP, people!

I really just don't GET the fuss over Pirates of the Caribbean- the first one was fine, okay, fun, but it was too long then, and that was the shortest of the three!- and people are going so nutso crazy over it everywhere I look (it currently has 8.6 at IMDb. You like it, fine, we get that, but that is just ridiculous.) that I'm tempted to boycott the whole thing altogether. If it weren't for this picture:

Naomie Harris' Tia Dalma is ON THE SHIP. On the ship, people! She was easily the best thing about the last movie, and the woman has so frequently been the best thing about things she's in, however far on the periphery (see: 28 Days Later..., Tristram Shandy, Miami Vice), that I'll see this movie even if she's only in it for five seconds, just so I can stare and adore. Look at the picture! Such funky hair, such sassiness, such suspicion in her eyes.

Naomie's next film seems to have her in a leading role- August, with Josh Harnett, focuses on two brothers struggling to keep their new Wall Street company afloat in the month before 9/11. Here she is with Harnett on set:

So smiley. She's just a lovely, smiley person, and a sassy and wonderful actress. I leave you with another smile:

So pretty.

Victim's Gold Stars: #2: Our Last Hope

THE TOP TEN: #2: Children of Men

What marks out Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of P.D. James' dystopian novel The Children of Men (which I haven't read, I hasten to add) is how alarmingly realistic it looks. This is not some distant, technological future that's all shiny surfaces and robotic aides- this is the world gone to the shitter, that's for sure, and it all looks so familiar: this is a world that could easily happen, and even looks as though it might. Sure, in reality women may not become infertile (as is the main distinguishing feature of the film), but there are too many things in our world that could lead to this horrific eventuality. Asylum seekers are locked in cages in plain sight of people walking past, rioters stream menacingly down country roads with torches of fire and guns, coffee shops explode in the middle of London. Cuaron and his team (for once, five screenwriters does not a bad script make) have certainly developed James' story into a gripping and involving one, but what makes Children of Men the second best film of the year is the world they have created behind it- intricately detailed, painstakingly gritty, and alarmingly similar to our own.