Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Hurt Locker

This is an engaging, depressing but gripping movie. It is almost a docudrama with its use of hand-held cameras throughout, its tight-cropped head shots and reeling shots as a reaction to explosions. It is tight, well-paced, well acted and portrays a realism that is too real for the senses to comprehend. It is an excellent film.

The story is simple. The film follows a group of three American soldiers on deployment in Baghdad. Two are regular infantrymen, the third is an explosives expert who disarms IEDs. He is excellent at his job but he is a maverick and his lust for taking things one step too far endangers not only his own safety but also the safety of his colleagues time and time again. After one particularly heroic/cavalier disarming, he is visited by a General who congratulates him on his good work and his attitude. The conversation reveals he has defused more than 880 bombs. He is hooked and lives between the chase to defuse and feelings of guilt over not being there for his young son back home.

The story counts down day-by-day as the end of their deployment approaches. Will they survive? A chance encounter in the desert with an SAS unit hunting down war criminals provides a welcome respite from the chaos of Baghdad - but also a gruesome and unwelcome insight into the clinical effectiveness of long range sniping.

Reminiscent in some ways of The Deer Hunter and countless other Vietnam movies where the would-be liberator becomes the entrapped and addicted victim. War is a terrible thing and nations should enter into it only after all other avenues have been exhausted. It seems that with WWII, Korea, Vietnam and now the Gulf and Afghanistan that successive generations of Americans are forced to live with the unseen but very real consequences of warfare. As fighting wars becomes increasingly 'virtualised', where will that take our children's generation? I guess Halo, Gears of War and Modern Warfare 2 have already given us a glimpse!

As hard as this film is to stomach, it is a must-see as we are all culpable for the atrocities each side inflicts on the other in the name of justice and freedom. How you choose to define justice and freedom depends on which side of the battle you are on!

I'll give this 8.5/10.

Thursday, 22 April 2010


On to the real thing!

This is the third or fourth time I have seen this film over the past 40 years. It still had me on the edge of my seat and made me jump on more than one occasion. Filmed in black and white, the subtle palette of tones and careful lighting are brilliantly used by Hitchcock to deliver a film that is as fresh, disturbing and scary as the day it was made 50 years ago. With towering performances from Perkins, Leigh and the rest of the cast, this film really is a tour-de-force. The soundtrack and opening credits reinforce the sense of paranoia and schizophrenia.

Desire, opportunism, naivety and circumstance conspire to deliver a story that gallops, then slows and then gallops again. The relentless nature of the changes in pace is exquisitely orchestrated by Hitchcock to lull the audience into false senses of security which are immediately challenged in a helter-skelter frenzy of love, theft, murder and horror. For some reason my parents allowed me to watch this at a relatively young age and image of the chair swinging around has been burned into my mind for four decades! It has never 'troubled me', but as someone who has never been into horror, it's as horrifying as I want to get! Perhaps that's why I don't like horror as a genre?

The sheer attention to detail that Hitchcock demonstrates is a lesson modern-day film-makers would do well to learn. I was however struck by how much of the narrative had to be explained in the screenplay as though the audience were not capable of understanding. I find this kind of woodenness frustrating and it appears in too many films today - just listen to Avatar as an example! I guess the erudite and insightful diagnosis by the psychologist at the end of Psycho was necessary for a generation much less conversant with Freudian psychology than people today.

I am glad I went to see this remastered version in the cinema even though I own the DVD. I'd go and see it again tomorrow and the next day and each time I'd see something new. I forgot to look out for Hitchcock himself - well that gives me a reason to see it again - now where's that DVD?

Worthy of 9.5/10 any time!

The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski's long-awaited and much heralded film about an obscure ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) who is hired to bring order from the chaos that are the memoirs of former British Prime Minister - Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). Based on the Robert Harris novel and acknowledged to be inspired, more or less by Tony Blair, this film is a political thriller that moves at a steady pace. There are some neat twists and turns along the way and the heavy-weight cast give solid but unspectacular performances. Ewan McGregor at last presents a largely believable accent. This film is okay - even possibly good, but at the end of it I was somewhat disappointed.

The publisher has paid $10m for the memoirs and they are in a mess. The previous ghost writer, a close friend and associate of Lang for more than 20 years is washed up dead on a beach with half a bottle of whisky in his blood, his car still on the ferry that connects the island to the mainland. The publisher imposes a 4 week deadline for the 'ghost' to do his work - a tall order. Lang is undertaking a speaking tour of the USA and is holed up in a reclusive luxury heavily guarded island beach side villa with his up-tight wife and admin team. The 'ghost' begins his interviews but there are many interruptions and some areas are out of bounds. But as the emerging story unfolds, there are many loose ends and things begin to not add up. The windswept and desolate isolation of Lang and his party in the villa is a powerful metaphor for Lang's isolation and segregation from the world.

Things hot up when a former colleague feeds information to the International War Crimes Court implicating Lang in using evidence gained under duress by the CIA. Lang is then forced to stay in the USA as they do not recognise the jurisdiction of the court. This part of the plot is highly ironic given Polanski's current house arrest in Switzerland pending extradition to the USA!

A protest camp materialises at the gates to the beach villa and angry crowds confront anyone going in or out. Meanwhile the 'ghost' does some of his own digging around and the locals give him further evidence that his predecessor's death was suspicious. As he drives the guest car, the Satnav is determined to take him somewhere and eventually the 'ghost' twigs that this would have been his predecessors last journey. he follows the route which takes him back to the mainland and the plot thickens. Towards the end it also quickens and there are some unexpected twists.

I won't say too much more about the story in case you want to go and see it - which is worth doing. (IMDB currently scoring it 7.9/10 and Rotten Tomatoes 84%.) Some reviews have hinted at a Hitchcock-like quality to the film. I think this more cock and bull than Hitchcock - particularly given the review of the film I saw back-to-back with this above!

I'll give it 6/10.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Run Lola Run

For once I totally agree with the review quotes on the DVD case - this is a breathtaking film. It's only 77 minutes long but you need to stop then for a rest! The film opens with some of the characters in a crowd outside a football stadium asking philosophical questions about humanity and how we know what truth is. Starring Franka Potenta as Lola (Bourne Trilogy [Marie] and House [Lydia]) the then girlfriend of self-taught Director Tom Tykwer, the film moves at relentless pace as it tells the story of Lola's dramatic and breath-taking efforts to save her boyfriend Manni, from mob execution in 20 minutes! All she needs to do is get €100,000 and deliver it to Manni down-town within 20 minutes - simples!

How can a film of 77 minutes duration cover only 20 minutes in real time? That's the clever bit. For some reason Lola doesn't use the €100 in her pocket for a taxi, but decides to run everywhere. She's quite an athlete. After she receives the phone call from a distressed Manni she runs helter-skelter to the bank where her father works - surely he can release €100,000? The clever thing is that the story from that point on is repeated twice so the viewer gets three different outcomes. The sprint to the bank is slightly different each time and the outcomes are markedly different.

I'm not going to spoil the story for you but one piece of advice the film dispenses is to avoid buying a white BMW! Now, if the plot and the way the story is told has got your attention, then the way in which it is presented will hook you and reel you in with consummate ease. The physical pace of Lola's relentless running is matched by a techno soundtrack with the vocals provided by Potenta. This is backed up with stunning visuals that cut and jump at an equally frenetic pace. As Lola runs from the apartment block the camera enters a TV that is playing a cartoon of her running in descending spirals down a seemingly endless staircase. On the street as she passes people we are treated to a fast changing montage of still images depicting their future and life outcome. This changes on each of her three encounters with them.

The story is very much about how small seemingly unimportant events - quite often seen as peripheral to the central thing - can determine major outcomes in unexpected ways. The film is essentially one long "What if?" question. The Director explores a number of possible outcomes to a simple situation - €100,000 in 20 minutes when the life of someone you love is on the line. There is a short scene in the film where Lola and Manni are in bed and they ask each other a series of questions about love, commitment and their relationship. This interlude from the relentless physical running helps to re-engage the story with the philosophical questions posed right at the beginning by mirroring the physical with intellectual and emotional questions which are running in the background.

I can imagine that this is a film that you will either like or dislike strongly - it will not permit fence-sitting. The actors and their characters will essentially appeal to a younger audience and the visual style and relentless soundtrack also push the film in that direction.

I think this is an excellent piece of cinema. A simple story well told - three times. If you haven't seen it - go and find a copy of the DVD. I'll give it 8.5/10.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Lemon Tree

This is a powerful and moving film with exceptionally strong acting performances. It would be easy to say that this is demonstrative of the Palestinian struggle against the occupying Israeli forces. The picture is so much more complex and as is noted in the film, based on a struggle that has been ongoing for 3000 years. Let's consider this film as illustrative rather than demonstrative.

The plot is quite simple. Salma Zidane is widowed and her children have left home. She tends her inherited lemon grove and ekes out a subsistence living with the aid of Abu Hassam who has worked in the grove for 50 years. One day new neighbours move into the swanky new villa next to the grove - it happens to be the Israeli Defence Minister and his wife. The secret service consider the lemon grove to pose a threat as terrorists could launch an attack from there and so issue a notice to requisition the grove - generously offering compensation.

Zidane decides to fight and, with the aid of a local attorney, the struggle progresses through the courts and ends up in the High Court. Meanwhile, the Minister's wife is concerned about the way in which the land is to become a sterile safety zone ending her neighbour's livelihood and demeaning the respect of the tradition the inherited grove represents. She seeks to make contact with Zidane but is prevented by her minders. The case gains not only local and national notoriety, but also becomes an international news story. The Minister is put under increasing pressure in news conferences where the questions always turn to the lemon grove. The stakes are raised even higher when his wife gives an interview to an old friend who is a journalist and basically supports the Palestinian woman and not her husband.

The outcome is powerful and no-one caught up in the story escapes the consequences of the outcomes, either by justice through the courts or in terms of relationships. I won't spoil the end as it's a fairly recent film and you may wish to watch it - I recommend you do.

I often comment on violence within films on this blog. Usually, I am referring to the blood and guts, fisty-cuffs and weapons type of violence. This film is the most violent I have seen in a long time. The calculated violation of Zidane, her family and her people is mind-numbing. The actions of the Israelis are predicated on a potential threat that may or may not materialise. As is pointed out in the film, no terrorist activity has been linked with grove since the creation of Israel in 1948. the justice meted out by the Israeli Supreme Court is a justice based on a utilitarian ethic and is not justice in the eyes of the Palestinians. Context is everything - even in terms of deciding what is just.

The closing picture of an isolated and lonely Minister and violated and brutalised woman shows that there are no winners in this game.

A brilliant film. Get hold of a copy - I am going to! I'm giving this a rare 9/10!


This is the second time I've seen this film and I liked it even more this time. Watching it with a group of 'filmies' was interesting and scores ranged from 1-9.5! Film watching is highly subjective.

Andre is a small-time crook who borrows more than he can ever repay and is then faced with retribution from the villains he defaults on. At the end of his tether and getting no help from the police, he climbs a bridge parapet and prepares to jump. He then notices a girl preparing to do the same. She jumps into the river below and he follows suit in an attempt to rescue her. He can't swim and she ends up pulling him onto the bank!

Andre is short and dishevelled, The girl is at least 6' tall, slender, dressed in a mini-dress and high heels which show off her amazingly long legs, blonde and stunningly beautiful. It transpires that she is an Angel who has been sent to look after Andre and help him to discover his true inner self and to love that self. We learn that Angela is the embodiment of his inner self - big, beautiful, resourceful and totally loveable.

The story has many amusing twists and turns. Shot in black and white against a stunning Parisian backdrop, it is visually engaging. The thugs and sleazy underworld of Andre's existence are portrayed with garish realism - even in monochrome. This is a true David and Goliath type story as Andre makes a remarkably quick transition to his new self. I won't spoil the outcome for you, only pose the question 'what happened to Catherine and the kids?'

Yes you have to suspend some belief to watch this tale, but it is quirkily enjoyable and raises a familiar filmic story in a different and visually entertaining way. The acting and scenery are very good. Make sure your copy has subtitles - unless you're fluent in French.

I liked it - I'll give it 8/10.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Road Home

This is a gentle yet powerful tale from Zhang Yimou. I'm going to say very little about the story as you need to watch it unfold for yourself. The central themes are of love, commitment, patience, hope and a valuing of the old ways. The story is also strongly political and challenges the Communist Party Dogma with good old common sense.

The acting performances from Zhang Ziyi and Sun Honglei are very strong and believable. There are many cultural references that Western viewers will miss, but that won't detract from the benefit of watching this film. It is a story that invites you to place yourself within it and ask how you might respond. The potential for a tear to well up comes at several stages - particularly so as the film reaches its climax. The landscape and setting is mesmerising. the sense of collective community is portrayed as adding strength to the village the story is set in.

Get hold of a copy of this DVD and you won't be disappointed. I'll give it 8/10.

Paris Texas

A Road movie.

A man dressed in a pin-striped suit, tie and baseball cap walks across the desert of Southern Texas. He is out of water and his only companion is an Eagle watching him from a lofty peak. He ends up in a local clinic and whilst being examined says nothing. The Doctor finds a name an address in the mans wallet and calls it. It is the man's brother - Walt. Walt lives in LA with his French wife Anne and immediate resolves to fly to Texas and bring his brother home.

Eventually Walt arrives at the clinic only to be told his brother Travis has left on foot. We see Travis walking in a straight line across the brush and scrub.This happens repeatedly - and all without Travis uttering a word. Walt finds this odd and frustrating - particularly as they have heard nothing from Travis for four years and Travis' son, Hunter, is living with Walt and Anne. Eventually they arrive at the airport to fly back to LA but as the plane taxis toward the run way it stops and Walt and Travis get out - Travis refuses to fly. A two day road trip follows but as soon as Travis takes the wheel and Walt drops off to sleep, Travis heads for Paris, Texas. Travis believes, based on a story from his father, that he was conceived in Paris, Texas. He clutches a photo of a vacant lot he had bought some years earlier in Paris and wants to locate it. He intended to build the family home on it and raise his son. Slowly Travis begins to speak and more and mor eof the story unfolds.

 The pace of the first 90 minutes is extremely slow - painfully slow, but it speeds up. In LA Hunter is introduced to his biological father and very slowly a relationship develops. Then all of a sudden Travis invites Hunter to go with him in search of his mother. He agrees and off they head to Dallas armed only with the knowledge that Jane (Hunter's mother) makes a deposit at a particular bank on the 5th of each month. They keep the bank under surveillance and Hunter spots his mother from an old photograph. Travis and Hunter follow her to a sex joint where punters pay to talk to girls through a two way mirror while they presumably perform the fantasies of the client. Travis goes in and at the first attempt is unable to say much to her. He returns having left a full 'confession' on tape for Hunter to listen to. At the sex joint, He begins telling a story in the third person explaining how he managed to allow his marriage to break down. He can't bring himself to look at Jane as he does this and pointedly sits with his back to the mirror. Eventually, she realises that it is Travis and she confesses her part in the breakdown.Travis tells her that Hunter wants to see and the film ends (after 2.5 hours) with a warm encounter between Hunter and Jane in a downtown hotel. Satisfied that son and mother are reunited, Travis drives off. End of film.

Apart from the length and lack of pace, there is much to commend this film.The way in which it portrays the human propensity to screw up vital relationships has an honesty about it. The fact that the film didn't have a sugary ending (unlike Bagdad Cafe) is to be commended. The breakdown in relationship obviously screwed Travis' mind, but he had processed sufficient data and emotion over the four years to resolve to find his plot of land in Paris. How stable is Travis? He relates that his father had a mental illness - is he similarly afflicted? What life did Travis have before he met Jane and after the reconciliation? How could Hunter be expected to cope with 'here's your dad', 'you're leaving Walt and Anne', 'here's your mom' 'bye bye I'm gone' in such rapid succession with no support? The film leaves more questions than it gives answers - whihc is what endears it to me. What happened to Walt & Anne afterwards?

What possible metaphors might the story contain? Perhaps Travis' reluctance to fly and miss the journey back to LA is a statement about having to make the journey - traveling is more important than the destination.There is a lot of use of phones, walkie-talkies, a walkman and mirrors to protect people from delivering intimate and painful dialogue face-to-face.Does the empty lot on Paris show a picture of Travis' need to return to the dust of his creation to be recreated?

All in all, there is much love but also much guilt on show in this film. I imagine that it's a sign of this broken creation that the two have to go hand-in-hand, This film is worth the effort - but get an extra large box of popcorn - you'll need for the first hour and a half!
I'll give it 7/10.

Bagdad Cafe

The unrelenting sun and constant dusty wind create an inhospitable place that appears to be detached and isolated from anywhere else. A Bavarian husband and wife – in full Alpine regalia have a falling out at a remote picnic place. She opts to walk and he drives off never to be seen again. Off trudges Jasmin, dragging her overfull suitcase behind her along the dusty and empty road. Eventually she comes across the Bagdad Cafe oil and gas station and motel.

Just prior to her arrival we are introduced to the characters at the cafe. The Cafe is run by Brenda and her laid back and easy-­going husband. They quarrel and the volatile Brenda's chiding drives the husband away – he leaves. Brenda is left with her son who only wants to practice Bach on the piano, his six month old baby who is brought up by everyone, her daughter who is more interested in men than school and the bar tender/cook. Mr Cox, an ageing Hollywood has-­been lives in a caravan at the motel and a tattoo artist runs her business from a room on the motel – but the suggestion is truckers get more than an tattoo when they visit her!

In the distance are a rail-road and a busy freeway, both presumably carrying the traffic that used to pass the Bagdad Cafe which appears to have very few customers. This is the dysfunctional and bleak situation that Jasmin walks into. The well-­to-­do and immaculate appearance of Jasmin strikes a stark contrast with the dusty, dishevelled and dysfunctional cafe and motel. Brenda is suspicious of a German woman walking out of the desert and takes an instant dislike to Jasmin. Jasmin pays for a room for the night and trudges off to the motel block to find her room. It is then that she discovers she has taken her husband's case containing his clothes and a magic set – presumably a souvenir from Las Vegas.

The following morning when Brenda is cleaning Jasmin's room, she is shocked to discover men's clothing hanging up everywhere and shaving equipment set out in the bathroom. Her suspicions heightened, she calls the local Sheriff and asks him to investigate. The Sheriff arrives and checks Jasmin's passport and return ticket and discovers that hey are in order. Over the course of the following days, Jasmin works her way into the affections of the residents and becomes accepted by everyone – except Brenda. Jasmin helps with the cleaning, child-­minding and other chores but goes too far with Brenda when she cleans and tidies the chaotic and filthy motel office while Brenda is on a trip into town. Brenda orders the rubbish to be returned and while Jasmin unpacks it, Brenda comes to her senses and accepts Jasmin's gesture.

All the while, Jasmin has been learning magic tricks and tries some on the few customers of the cafe. Discovering she is good at it, she develops her craft and combines this with waiting at table in the cafe. Truckers spread the word and soon the cafe is bursting to its seams every day.

Jasmin has worked her magic and through it transformed the community that centres its life at the cafe. The Sheriff stops by and on discovering Jasmin still there informs her that her visa has expired and that she must leave. The cafe returns to its past moribund state and one of the characters observes that “the magic is gone”.

Then one day Jasmin returns and life and energy is restored to the Bagdad Cafe and the truckers return in their droves. Brenda and her husband are reconciled and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is an odd film that you need to let wash over you. Too much critical analysis and the patchy acting, lumpy dialogue and fantasy elements of the film become too apparent. Did the schalmzy ending spoil it – yes I think so. That the power of transformation is dependent on Jasmin's presence is paramount. The musical fantasy number at the end belongs to a different era – and probably a different film.

Is it worth watching – yes it is. The film is a story about transformation and redemption – a 'Christ-­movie' in that sense. Not the strongest of the genre, but an interesting and off-­beat film.

I'll give it 6/10.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Annual Muswell Hill Film Weekend

Today sees the annual Muswell Hill Film Weekend in North London. Originally started by Vic Thiessen, former Director of the London Mennonite Centre, this weekend explores five different films which folk then reflect on and critique. Rather than being pointedly theological, the reflection is more on the lines of what are these films saying about the human condition - which is I guess a kind of theological reflection.

Sadly Vic has been recalled by his denomination to other responsibilities and the weekend will be run by a capable group of folk from the London area who have used this annual event as inspiration to run their own monthly series of gatherings. Vic used to ensure a little intellectual rigour made a contribution by inviting the presenting of a couple of papers, but this year this has gone by the wayside in favour of a quiz. Also, we never knew what we were watching until it began and mostly they were films folk hadn't seen. This year the films have been democratically chosen and I've seen 3/5 - indeed two were my nominations and I'm having to bring the discs for us to watch!

Let's see how it compares to the previous style. A big thanks to the London group for organising it and to Hazel for all that she has done. Here's the programme:

Friday night       -  Bagdad Cafe

Sat morning      -   Paris, Texas

Sat afternoon    -  The Road Home

Sat evening      -   Angel-A

Sun morning      -  The Lemon Tree

If this is the kind of activity you feel you might be interested in, other places that hold regular similar events are:
  • Greenbelt - Christian Arts Festival last weekend in August at Cheltenham Race Course
  • St Deiniol's near Chester:
    • Each April a Film & Theology weekend
    • Each November a mid-week exploration of films of Faith & Doubt
I shall be leading my own three day exploration of films of Faith & Doubt 29 Nov - 1 Dec in Hampshire. If you want details, let me know.

I'll let you know how the weekend went.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Kick Ass

I wasn't sure what to expect when I went to see this yesterday. My son raved about it and so did some colleagues who had seen it. So I guess I went with high expectations. I must say that I feel disappointed at the outcome.


The story is set in an anonymous suburb of New York where Dave Lizewski attends High School and hangs out with his two friends, Marty and Todd - all three of them unremarkable in every way. The interest they have in common - apart from girls - is Super Hero comics. They are portrayed as three teenagers coming to terms with hormone soup coursing through their veins. Dave has the hots for Katie who appears to have the hots for Erika and so appears to be off-limits to boys. She develops a friendship with Dave because she believes the rumour that he is gay and so it is safe to hang out with him - especially in her bedroom where he gets to rub on an all-over body tan! The way in which the film deals with teenage sexual angst is really very good. This was for me the highlight of the film!

The main thrust of the story concerns Dave's wish to be a somebody, and in his case to be a somebody driven by a morality that challenges wrongs and promotes well-being through tackling crime - typical Super Hero stuff. So Dave decides to become a Super Hero - Kick Ass. His first foray into crime fighting sees him seriously done over by a couple of local thugs who stab him. He is then run over. His hospital x-rays show virtually all his bones to be held together with pins and plates and that together with most of his nerve endings having been trashed by injury/surgery means he has hardly any feeling. He has been rebuilt and has an extremely high pain threshold. Good qualities for a Super Hero to possess. His early exploits get captured on CCTV and mobile phone cameras and he becomes an overnight sensation spawning a merchandising boom. Marty and Todd, not to mention Katie, are in awe of this Super Hero and this fills Dave with much pride.

The plot is quite involved. A former police officer was framed as a drug dealer and did time. He didn't see the birth of his daughter or the death of his wife and blames drug baron Frank D'Amico for this. Kick Ass, who has no fighting skills or special powers meets Big Daddy, the former cop who, in his quest to bring down an evil drug baron D'Amico, has trained his 11 year-old daughter to be the ruthless vigilante Hit Girl. They team up together and the noose tightens on D'Amico.

D'Amico's 17 year-old son Chris is frustrated at not being permitted to join his father's 'business' and so hatches a plan to entrap Kick Ass and Big Daddy by posing as the Super Hero Red Mist, thereby proving to his father he is ready to step up to the plate. The trap is sprung and eventually Hit Girl is shot and Big Daddy and Kick Ass captured. Their captors plan a live unmasking over the internet which all the TV channels stream live. It turns nasty and it become clear that this going to be an assassination attempt. Hit Girl was saved by her bullet-proof vest and comes to the rescue, but sadly not in time to save her father. She them teams up with Kick Ass to find and kill Frank D'Amico and avenge the death of her parents at his hands.

The violence - and there is a lot of it - is of a choreographed nature similar to The Matrix and Kill Bill. It also draws heavily on the film's comic book roots, but it is made to look real enough rather than virtual or disguised as art. But more than the amount and nature of the killings that happen, it is that by far the Lion's share are down to Hit Girl who is only 11 years old and additionally uses some pretty ripe language which pulled me up short. This is disturbing.  It is plainly wrong to portray an 11 year-old as a trained assassin whose motivation is revenge and retribution. For me this comprehensively soured the whole experience. Hence my disappointment.

Don't go and see it - save your money and see something more worthwhile. I'm not even going to give a rating to this film.

And please don't call me hypocritical for justifying the violence in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo whilst vilifying it here. Context is everything. Violence is indiscriminate but when story-writers choose to put automatic weapons in the hands of children and turn them into assassins, they have lost touch with the things that really matter.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Bank Job

A gripping story set in the early 1970's - ripe with nostalgia, a great story and engaging acting. This is the ultimate small-time villain given the chance to go big-time movie. The plot is complicated but unfolds beautifully as the narrative of the film plays out. There is lots of tension throughout. Can the little boys cut it with the big boys and what will MI5 do? Will the bent police rule the day or will the rule of law be upheld?

It might seem an odd suggestion, but the story has a very strong morality running through it. There are definite rules and when these are broken retribution is swift. There is betrayal, but also trust. There is suspicion of adultery, but true love wins through to forgive and move on. Gripping and fascinating.

Based on a true story, an unlikely team of small-time villains are brought together to do the Secret Service's dirty work and protect the Royal Family from scandal. They bite off more than they can chew and end up taking on porn barons, Caribbean drugs traffickers and bent coppers.

I'm not going to say any more as it will spoil it for those who haven't yet seen it. It's enjoyable - particularly to see 'Poirot' (David Suchet) playing a very unsavoury and detestable character.  Available in the UK on DVD for £4 or less - well worth the investment.

I'll give it 8/10

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Brief Encounter

Sixty Five years old and still a classic! This David Lean and Noel Coward joint project is a masterpiece of cinema. The concept is so simple, the acting as tight as the many closely framed shots, the sets and dramatic lighting reinforce the story.

As much as anything else, the film presents a wonderful social record of middle-class England in the 1940's. Although made in 1945 with WWII still raging, there is no direct mention of the war or it's impact - nothing is on ration and luxury goods seem widely available. Perhaps part of the film's task was to paint a propaganda picture of 'business as usual'.

Laura has a loving, if undemonstrative husband and two children. Every Thursday she takes the train to Milford to shop. She lunches and goes to the cinema, returning home in time to change for dinner with the children in bed and the meal prepared by the maid. Evening excitement is provided by listening to music on the wireless while she sews and her husband completes the Times crossword. A picture of living the middle-class dream? Affirming commentary for the middle-classes as it confirms their station in life, gratifying for the upper-class as it underlines their superiority and aspirational for the working class as they crave status and a comfortable life.

Much of the story unfolds in the Tea Room at Milford Junction station. One day, a passing Express Train whips up a dust cloud and Laura gets a lump of grit caught in her eye. She enters the Tea Room and asks for a glass of water to wash out her eye, but this does not succeed. Thankfully a fellow traveller who is Doctor is on hand to remove the offending grit. This proves to be first contact and over the following Thursdays, the two meet each week initially to share lunch and the cinema. The relationship deepens and they fall in love. This falling in love is plainly seen as something that is not a critique of their current marital relationships as the Doctor - Alec, is also married with two children.

What gives the film its overwhelming sense of power is the sensitive way in which the infatuation of new love is captured and portrayed. Throughout the film we see nothing of Alec's family or domestic situation. As Laura returns home each week she finds herself having to tell white lies to begin with and these soon become black lies as she draws friends in to provide an alibi should the need arise. Throughout the film, Laura and Alec wrestle with the pressing urgency of their love for each other as it fights their sense of obligation to their family and their sense of responsibility and propriety.

There are delightful scenes of two people enjoying each others company - particularly the boating scene where they act like teenagers. Once or twice the demonstration of love presses to go beyond a hurried kiss when no-one else is looking, almost making it when Alec has access to a colleagues flat, but the colleague returns unexpectedly early. Throughout the film it is Alec who is seemingly taking the lead, prepared to give words to the feelings he has and is sure that Laura shares. At each stage Laura responds but as she does the flaming arrows of love turn into spears of guilt which pierce her heart and bring to mind her husband and children.

As the relationship between Laura and Alec unfolds, so the flirting between the ticket collector and the pretentious lady who runs the Tea Shop, provides a vulgar and more coarse parallel. This seeks to more clearly underline the differences in social class.

Most of the story is told in flash-back as Laura sits traumatised at home with Rachmaninov booming out on the wireless. Her husband oblivious to the mental and emotional angst that Laura is processing. It is a simple story, amazingly well told and with superb acting. As social commentary it is priceless - my parents would have been in their late teens when this was made. As drama it is top class. As a portrayal of what it means to be human and in love with all the highs and lows that accompany that, it is possibly unequalled within the canon of cinema.

I purposely haven't told you the ending - on the off-chance that you haven't seen it. It's an amazing watch that would be completely spoiled by technicolour! It's available in a digitally remastered DVD edition in the UK for an amazing £3.99 at the moment. This should be in your DVD library - go get it.

I'll give it 8.5/10.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Blind Chance

This is billed as one of Kieslowski's best films. I would beg to differ. The first 60 minutes is hard to keep up with. No doubt to a Polish speaker it is resonant with nuances and subtleties from the oppressive communist era and the growing movement for democratic freedom. The subtitles are sparse and it it is evident that far more is being said than is being shown in the subtitles.

Witek is a medical student. The first 30 minutes of the film establish his family set-up and the context. Witek decides to take a break from his studies because the vocation is no longer there. We then see him running for a train which he just manges to catch. He goes on to become a member of The Party and that story plays out that outcome. On the hour mark, we see him running for the same train and a guard stops him as he hurtles down the platform in pursuit of the departing train. The ensuing skirmish results in the Police being called and Witek is found guilty of his crime. This pushes him into contact with underground political opposition and an opposite story is told to the first one. After another 30 minutes we are back to the station and Witek runs after the train but fails to catch it. On the platform is a fellow medical student who was waiting for him. They develop a relationship, marry, and Witek resumes his studies and becomes a successful research Doctor.

One story - three outcomes.

An interesting film, but hard work. Not as good as Trois Couleurs, or Heaven, or Hell .....

I'll give it 6/10.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Hangover

My daughter's choice of viewing this evening. This movie is well suited to the teen audience it aims at. A kind of Wayne's World for the current teen generation. Sadly that means that most of the storyline and dialogue are predictable, but my daughter was engaged by, and engrossed in, this film - and that's not the first time she's seen it.

Three guys take their best friend to Las Vegas for a stag night. In a well-intentioned attempt to add bon vivant, they imbibe Roofie instead of ecstasy. As the three friends wake up on the morning of the night before, they discover their $4200 a night suite is trashed. There are chickens clucking around, there is a Tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the cupboard - but their friend is nowhere to be seen. They are extremely hungover and can't remember a thing about what happened the night before and where their friend might be. So they work their way around Las Vegas encountering the Police, hospitals, Mike Tyson and the underworld as they try to work out what happened.

The wedding always looks in jeopardy - I'll leave you to discover the outcome.

An okay film for light laughs with some good characterisation. I'll give it 6/10.

Trois Couleurs - Rouge / Three colours Red

A fascinating film. An examination of relationships, of truth, of motivation for living and of social responsibility - oh, and a lot things coloured red! Set in Geneva and focussing on Valentine, a student and part-time model. The film revolves around Valentine's relationships and the relationships of those around her as it explores different dynamics of relationship and social interaction.

Valentine poses for a poster to promote chewing gum and a 65' wide picture of her in profile adorns the city streets. She seems unfazed by her new notoriety as she desperately tries to cajole her reluctant and at the same time obsessive boyfriend Michel into a closer a relationship. The film opens with the viewer being taken down the phone lines and under the sea to emerge in a handset as an international call between the two connects between Geneva and London. Phones are central to the telling of the story - they are used in an allegorical way to depict how people communicate - or choose not to, or choose to do so on an other frequency.

Valentine runs over a dog by accident and tracks down the owner - a retired Judge who is extremely bitter and cynical and who is not at all interested in the dog or its fate. She takes it to a vet where the wounds are dressed and a good prognosis is announced - along with the news that the dog is pregnant. Valentine takes the dog home but it soon runs off when let off the leash in a local park. It is tracked down at the original owners. Valentine has received FFr 600 in the post and suspects the owner of sending it. Valentine hands the money back saying that the vet's bill was only FFr 130. The Judge gives a FFr 100 note from the bundle and wonders inside to find the additinal FFr 30. He is gone a long time and Valentine enters his home in search of him only to discover that he is listening in on all his neighbours phone calls. She is shocked and disgusted and tells the Judge to stop it. She cannot bear to listen to the conversation currently under way when two men talk about their liaison the previous day and how one of them the Judge's neighbour, wants more. The Judge points out the house where the call is coming from and Valentine resolutely heads off to confront the husband. she is met by the man's devoted and hospitable wife and she waits for the man to finish his call upstairs she notices the man's daughter listening in on an extension. Valentine tells the wife she has the wrong house and leaves hurriedly.

Whilst visiting the Judge, Valentine also overhears a conversation between Karin and Auguste (her neighbour), where they discuss if they should go bowling. Valentine covers her ears, but from the very little she heard she concludes that they love each other. The Judge takes an opposing view. That evening Valentine is alone at home and hopes that Michel would call but it is the photographer who calls, saying that her poster was set up that evening and asks her bowling to celebrate. She goes and ends up unknowingly bowling only a few alleys away from Karin and Auguste as she is unable to make the connection to the conversation she part overheard. In the bowling alley we see a broken beer glass. Broken glass is another recurring allegorical picture of the fractured, shattered and sharp relationships that make up this story.

From the newspaper, Valentine reads that the Judge wrote to his neighbours and the Police admitting what he had been doing and was consequently up in court against his neighbours in a class action. On their next meeting, Valentine and the Judge continue their philosophical conversations about pity, disgust, trust, relationships, destiny, guilt, remorse, punishment and a whole lot more.  The judge suggests that being in a position of deciding what is truth and what is not displays a lack of modesty and vanity on behalf of humanity.

Valentine buys a ferry ticket so that she can visit Michel in England. That night she is taking part in a fashion show as catwalk model and invites the Judge. For the first time he makes himself look presentable and enjoys the evening. Afterwards, against the backdrop of an ominous thunder-storm, the couple talk and the Judge begins to share some of his story. It is clear that the couple are growing closer and Valentine's caring, compassionate but troubled nature and the Judge's tendency to play God strike and discordant note to begin with. However as the narrative unfolds, the relationship between the two is always electrifying and as time and conversation, reflection and a coming to terms with reality, brings them closer, there is real warmth and the development of mutual respect and admiration.

The film ends with breaking news on the TV of a ferry disaster in the English Channel. With nearly 1500 people on board, only seven survivors are pulled from the sea: the main characters from the first two films of the trilogy, Julie and Olivier from Blue, Karol and Dominique from White, Valentine and Auguste, who meet for the first time, as well as an English bartender named Stephen Killian. The film's final image shows the chewing-gum poster image of Valentine in stunning profile against a billowing red sheet.

As mentioned in my review of Bleu, Roger Ebert describes the trilogy "as an anti-romance, in parallel with Blue being an anti-tragedy and White being an anti-comedy." I think this is a much better way of analysing a linking theme - it is much easier than trying to read Liberty, Fraternity and Equality into it! Another recurring image related to the spirit of the film is that of elderly people recycling bottles; in the case of Rouge an old woman cannot reach the hole of the container and Valentine helps her (in the spirit of fraternity [sic] underlying the film?). In Bleu, an old woman in Paris is recycling bottles and Julie does not notice her (in the spirit of liberty?); in Blanc, an old man also in Paris is trying to recycle a bottle but cannot reach the container and Karol looks at him with a grin on his face (in the spirit of equality?).

Another excellent piece of work from Krzysztof KieĊ›lowski. The whole trilogy is well worth a watch. My favourite is Bleu.

I'll give this one 7.5/10.

Friday, 2 April 2010


I know it shouldn't by now, but one thing that repeatedly startles me is the power of story to move the hearer and evoke an affective response. This film is an animation and whilst children enjoy watching it, it operates on different levels to great effect. I was left with tears rolling down my face on a number of occasions. Perhaps a fitting condition to be in on Good Friday?

The plot is simple enough. Carl and Ellie are kids who are fascinated with exploration and the explorer Charles Muntz who returns to Paradise Falls in Venezuela to catpure zoological specimens to prove the veracity of his reports of his previous visit to the region. Ellie is outgoing and gregarious and Carl is quiet - he doesn't talk much. They act out their exploration fantasies in a derelict house. Their friendship turns into love and they marry. They move into the derelict house and renovate it.

Both work in the zoo - Carl is a balloon seller. As it was in childhood, so it is in adulthood - they plan and plot their adventures of exploration. Themes of promise and commitment - of covenant - run throughout this film. An echo of Abraham and the Old Testament. As they grow old together there is always a tinge of sadness in that they were not able to have children. (Another Abrahamic echo?) In old age, they finally manage to save enough to allow Carl to fulfil his promise and buy tickets for them to travel to Venezuela to visit Paradise Falls but Ellie becomes ill and dies. Carl become even more reclusive and more sour. Skyscrapers now tower over the house which once stood in a quiet residential street. The developers put pressure on Carl to sell up so that they can develop the land his house stands on. He remains resolute.

A dispute with one of the developers following the accidental demolition of his mail box provokes Carl into a spur-of-the-moment physical assault. The resulting summons and court determination sees him consigned to a retirement community. As the men from the community come to pick him up he tells them to wait in the van while he says his final good-byes. It is then that Carl enacts his plan to honour his promise to Ellie and with thousands of brightly coloured helium-filled balloons tethered to the house it breaks free from its foundations and floats away. Russell, a Wilderness Explorer who needs to earn his final merit badge for "Assisting the Elderly", has stowed away on the porch after being sent on a 'snipe hunt' by Carl the day before.

Needless to say that Carl and Russell navigate their way to Paradise Falls where they have many adventures as Carl resolutely drags the levitating house step-by-step toward the Falls to position it next to them. On their adventures they discover forgotten creatures akin to Conan-Doyle's Lost World. They also discover Muntz who is so focussed on capturing Russell's new friend, a large rainbow-coloured bird called Kevin, as the exhibit that will clinch the clearing of his name, that this brings him into conflict with Carl.

I won't spoil the ending for you. This is a story so full of moral fibre that it oozes engagement that demands the viewer carry out an inventory of their relationships, priorities and outstanding. commitments. Again, very fitting for Good Friday.

The animation is excellent. They have obviously now perfected the technique of rendering woven fabric in a way that displays the pattern and texture of the weave - as every object that could conceivably be shown in this way, was!

I'll give this a 7.5/10. Go watch it.