Reviews written by registered user

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119 reviews in total 
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17 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
Flawed socio-romantic drama, 18 April 2008

This film demonstrates how fragile film aesthetics are. Quite possibly as a novel, which takes time to read and allows us to accommodate shifts in our emotions, it could be fine. But here we have, essentially two conflicting stories that are jammed onto one another with destructive results.

One story is a tough, indeed brutal, issues movie dealing with justice, male dominance and humanist sentiments, the other is a touching romance about two vulnerable people trying to heal each other from their emotional scars. Neither of these is very original and the one, in my view, emotionally precludes the other. When we are steamed up about injustice, we cannot access the very fine-tuned emotions associated with love.

One of the greatest things about the film medium is its ability to twist time and integrate the past into the present. But here, that is the film's undoing. If the story had been told chronologically, we would at least have been able to get the nastiness out of the way and empathise with the romance, but the threat and extremely crude depictions of the 'horrors of the brothel' keep bursting back in, destroying any subtle emotions that have been generated.

Ulzhan (2007)
13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
High steppe-ing, 17 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I really like this film, but I find it frustrating because it reminds me of another film from over a decade ago - maybe several decades - and I cannot for the life of me remember what it is.

Schlöndorff is a film-maker whom I have never really admired, yet here he makes what really ought to be dross into a ethereal almost masterpiece. In a way, the film is in two discreet sections - first Charles leaves 'the world' behind. He leaves behind his car and vice (as in prostitutes, drugs) money - in the oilfields - and his identity (when he jettisons his papers). So he loses everything, then he sets out to discover everything. First the very beautiful and charming Ulzhan, then the crazy Shakuni played by David Bennent. Then the 'meaning of life', perhaps.

It is Shakuni's character who is driving me crazy. A man who sells words... I am sure there is another film with such a man - maybe a Godard film...

Anyway, the brilliant central section set in the steppes is absolutely magnificent - the bleak desert exteriors and the desolate abandoned settlements and gulag-style prisons look like something left over from Herzog's 'Fata Morgana'.

Why I like - nay love - this film is that it ought to be bleak and unforgiving and depressing, but there is such rich humanity in its characters, and such consistently expressive imagery and montage in its style that it is gently euphoric.

7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Exquisite primitive film., 17 April 2008

It is evident that Golam Rabbany Biplob is a devoted follower of the wonderful cinema of Satyajit Ray. This simple and beautifully told story of a family's attempts to lift themselves from poverty has a lot in common with early Ray films, and particularly 'Pather Panchali. Indeed it contains a shot which is very similar to one of that film's most famous images - when the characters go for a walk and we see them reflected in the surface of a lake.

But there is more. Ray was a master at filming tense family situations in barely lit night-time interiors. Biplob also achieves this in several scenes in this film. The film is one in which the basic qualities of this wonderful art of the cinema are laid before the audience. We see human avarice, lust, deceit, but also compassion and regret presented through well-crafted images, pointed montage and expressive mise en scène.

This is not a film in which we should expect to find great originality or complex ideas, indeed, we can probably guess the ending within half an hour of the start. But it is the sort of story that, when the art of the film was first created - in the early years of the last century - allowed audiences to experience raw emotions that it had never been exposed to before.

It has been said that all artists are moralists. Unfortunately, in the modern era, in the cinema, this all too often results in the audience being preached at. Biplob eschews such approaches and allows his story space to expand in our minds.

How refreshing. I do so hope that he makes more films of this quality, he is a very promising talent. And his music is absolutely perfect for the story that he is telling. Well done!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Exquisite cinema, 15 April 2008

I just got back from seeing 'Rear Window' in a cinema. It's probably the tenth time or so I have seen it 'full size'. Every time I am captivated by, above all else, the 'editing'. I put the word in quotes because it is not the 'classical' aspects of editing - rhythm etc., that I see, but the way in which Hitchcock cuts each scene up into detailing shots which, in turn, dovetail together to create a logical picture.

This is yet another example of the Master giving us a lesson in film theory. LB is playing Sherlock Holmes. He is adding small facts together to make bigger understandings. So Hitch uses the characteristic of montage discovered by Kuleshov in the early days of post-revolutionary Russia to take us through the process. It is magical.

But it wouldn't be so magical were it not for Hitch's wonderful characters - Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso, the composer and so on. And they also contribute to this master-class in stylistics as each is given just enough screen-time to define their place in the drama.

And finally, and finally, and finally... there is Grace Kelly - the most beautiful, graceful, feminine star ever to light up our lives. And how are we introduced to her? She kisses us! Heart stops.

Maybe Hitchcock really was the greatest director ever. And there is nobody, nobody currently making films at this level of sheer genius.

Star Wars? Godfather? They are not in the same galaxy as this cinematic wonder.

Angel (2007)
3 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Almost totally without merit, 15 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I must be a masochist. Ozon's work is tiresome, at best, yet, since he is clearly technically able, I keep saying 'maybe this time...' But no. This time is worse than all of the rest. This time is embarrassing kitsch. Poor Romola Garai - a wonderful actress. Here she is persuaded to over-act with such crass stupidity that she is almost unrecognisable from her stunning performance in 'Atonement'. OTT has its place in cinema, but it is a place that needs a context. Here there is no context, just tastelessness piled upon tastelessness.

The characters do not engage. The relationships do not engage. The style is flowery enough to make the Chelsea Flower Show look drab - but to what effect? None. Style is nothing if it is not pointed in the direction or theme. (And theme is nothing if it is not arrived at through style.) The script of this may have looked fine, but once on the floor, Ozon killed it stone dead. By the end, I would not have been surprised if the director had entered screen left tap dancing and singing 'I'm gay, I'm gay, I'm gay.' (Lest it be thought I am homophobic - Pedro Almodovar is Europe's greatest director by a long way, in my estimation.) The sad thing is that, while other much much greater directors are unable to find the funds necessary to make great films, some idiots are willing to pour millions into this rubbish.

Save one... there is one moment in the film which is beautiful - but it is borrowed from someone else. The moment when Angel encounters her husband's child is truly affecting - but it is too close for comfort to the moment in 'Once Upon A Time in America' when Noodles encounters Max' son.

This film is absolute drivel.

Garage (2007)
11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Astonishingly Bressonian Irish film, 19 March 2008

Here we have a real rarity. An Irish film that really evidences an understanding of the place of film grammar in the art of the cinema. This rural tragi-comedy looks at a very uncomfortable sliver of the human condition.

It is, largely, about the way that the complexities of modern life can render the simple-minded tragically vulnerable. Under normal circumstances I hate - indeed loathe - films that 'overtly' mimic the works of dwarfingly great film makers. I am not sure that Abrahamson (the director) actually sought to mimic the wonderful, indeed sublime cinema of Robert Bresson, but I am sure that that is exactly what comes to mind when the film is watched. Thematically, it has much in common with 'Mouchette' (not best Bresson, but very good Bresson!). Stylistically, it resembles parts of 'L'Argent'! That the above is the case and it still grips and appeals is a great credit to the film makers. But it is not completely 'echt' of course. There are parts of Bresson's magisterial style (his use of close ups, and his total command of sound for example) that are largely missing, but, make no mistake, this is a wonderful piece of cinema.

At the centre of it is the character of Josie, a harmless simpleton, whose guileless sincerity leads him to be the butt of the cruel humour of the would-be sophisticates with whom he shares parts of his rural existence. But fate has an even crueller plan for Josie.

Effortlessly characterised by comedian Pat Shortt, the director's unflinching gaze shows Josie's blameless naiveté in heart-rending detail - his loneliness, his pain at the cruel jibes and his unreasoned optimism.

I really hate the style of cinema that seeks to drag its audience into a slough of despond, but though tragic, 'Garage' doesn't do that, because it retains its clear belief in cinema and its potential to lift the human spirit to undreamed of heights.

3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A theme park ride is not a movie, 31 January 2008

I have nothing against undemanding entertainment. I didn't see the first film in this series, and I sure as hell won't be going to see any subsequent ones. For anyone familiar with the oeuvre of Daffy Duck, there is a clear analogy here. Remember 'The Scarlet Pumpernickel'? Well there Daffy is in the process of selling the idea of a movie to an obtuse and artless film producer. But when all is done, the producer just wants more spectacle and more violence and more plot twists and... (you get the idea).

So it is with NT-BOS. Quite probably, in the first place, there was a reasonable film about a guy's attempts to unravel a mystery regarding Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Might have been entertaining. Might have even encouraged a modicum of cerebral activity. However, some crass producer/studio exec stepped in and wanted more more more of the stuff of multi-million dollar production values and less, less, less character development and narrative logic.

The result is a complete mess in which we care not one jot for the future and safety of the characters because they have not been properly presented to us. We are only hazily aware what is going on because the filmmakers mistake speed for pace. And at the end of the film we have not experienced the ride that we were hoping for because someone didn't understand the truth that in the cinema, not enough is highly preferable to too much.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Leads with the chin..., 30 December 2007

Like the ridiculous notion that Ridley Scott was ostensibly toying with a few years ago of remaking 'Citizen Kane' this re-adaptation of 'Annie' pales beside John Huston's magnificent film of this stage musical.

However, Rob Marshall before 'Chicago' is clearly very much in charge of the theatrics, and his choreography and mise en scene is fine. The problem is simply in the casting. Almost without exception, the roles are, simply, too big for the players. In singing & dancing, Alicia Morton can stand beside Aileen Quinn, but not in charisma and screen presence. Victor Garber and, particularly, Audra McDonald slip further down the comparison ladder, as does Alan Cumming. While Kathy Bates is no Carol Burnett, however, she does give a certain gravitas to Miss Hannigan. Only improvement, as far as I can see is that Sandy makes a better mutt.

For cinephiles, also, there is a major let-down in the substitution of the anaemic 'NYC' for the sensational 'Let's go to the movies' sequence in Huston's film. All of the above notwithstanding, if we remember it is only a TV movie, with all of the budgetary implications of that, it is an honourable effort, but why would anyone want to watch this rather that Huston's minor masterpiece.

I Do (2006)
9 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Gainsbourg grates, 6 December 2007

I love romantic comedies. I love French cinema. Charlotte Gainsbourg was fine in Claude Miller's La Petite Voleuse. But since then, her charmless personality seems to be the death-knell for everything she touches.

This is a theoretically fun movie, in which a middle-aged guy tries to get one over on his domineering family. And, being a romantic comedy, we know the way it's going to go. But Gainsbourg seems so affected as the hired-in fiancée, and so emotionally wooden, that even if she had the 'nichons' that her partner would have preferred (as I would), it is doubtful that she would have saved this forlorn if not totally lost film.

12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
A bucketful of charm and hidden depth..., 17 November 2007

Viewed as a 'European Premiere' at the Belfast Cinemagic Children's Film Festival, this light-hearted family adventure film must surely win over all but the most hard-bitten cynics. Based on a real incident from the late 60s and set in deepest Montana, it centres on the theft of a children's TV star marionette named 'Froggy Doo' whose antics thrilled the under-8s in the area.

In particular, he was the idol of young Rocky Plumm, younger son of failed boxer Mick Plumm, and younger brother of teenager Elliott. This is a film that could have been monumentally awful, but in the first half wins by the charm and audacity of its somewhat naive plot, and the way that its actors fit so seamlessly into the initially predictable characters.

But, like many fine films, as it progresses, it undermines the assumptions that we have made about it. The idyllic family life is not so idyllic, the teenage love story gets muzzed by hormonal outbursts, and the love of cinema of the filmmakers shines through in endearing references to great films of the era in which it is set (plus or minus a decade).

So, it's a comic family drama; it's a thriller; it's a reflection on the relationship between father and son, and it's a kookie, almost unclassifiable folk tale.

It's not perfect, and there are a few cringe-making scenes where the elements of pastiche fall flat on their face, but it enjoyably reminds me of another massively under-valued film - Spaced Invaders. True cinephiles will also see elements of masterpieces of the era as diverse as 'El Dorado' and 'Blow-up'. And the real reason it is so good (of its type) is that it wears the filmmakers' love of cinema on its sleeve. And as a first film by director Caroline Zelder, it is full of great promise...

Go and see this and give yourself a treat!

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