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Tolerable movie, quite witty in parts, mostly about the sex lives of a group of Icelandic hangouts. Adult fun but ultimately a bit pointless. Funny situations about masturbation and lesbianism are hardly enough to sustain a whole film without at least a good subplot, but it manages to keep going anyway.
Action-explosion cops-and-bad-guys movie explores the possibility of murders pre-planned with the intention of making money from media rights afterwards and avoiding conviction by pleading insanity. De Niro plays the TV-friendly hardened cop tracking down a couple of Eastern European hit-men who manage to treat New York as a wild playground. Saturday night thrills-a-minute stuff but nothing substantial enough for the serious movie-goer.
This is on one level a very gritty story of alcohol abuse and violence; on another it is an aesthetically realised elegy to hope and hopelessness. The beautiful images of historic Edinburgh are used unpretentiously as a backdrop to mindlessly savage beatings and physical intimidation, cinematic techniques involving varied use of lighting, colour, slow motion and overt symbolism. In one scene, the dead-end nature of the lives of people in a bar is demonstrated by showing them as corpses, seated with their drinks and covered in cobwebs, as the main protagonist looks on and questions his own downward-spiralling life of drink and vengeance. There is some light in the character of Helen, an art school graduate whose love might inspire hoodlum Frankie to give up his drunken brawling loud-mouthed ways, but ultimately the story of the slow and painful attempts of an alcoholic to reform himself will be too easily forgotten. The artistic attempts of writer/director and former Skids band-member Richard Jobson are what make the biggest impression it remains to be seen whether Jobson can subsequently produce of work of creative genius rather than something that simply suggests considerable talent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
European cinema is often characterised by craftsmanship, care for detail, whether in the acting or the composition of each shot. This film is no exception - in fact is is exceptional in its portrait of grief, its communication with the more desperate and isolated feelings within each of us - something that is achieved with the dexterity of Dalle's performance and the care with which the film is put together. (Minor spoilers follow) Dix-sept fois Cécile Cassard draws us in from the very beginning. Dalle is in bed. In the doorway we see the dim figure of a male, pale, naked and full frontal. Gradually we become aware that his image is rather less than substantial - he is a ghost perceived by Cécile Cassard (Dalle) who is recently bereaved. Her husband has committed suicide so that there will be money from the insurance to look after her and their young child. She descends into a spiral of despair - reminding us of her character in Betty Blue. But this is no crazy woman. She is aware of her own loss and how deeply it is affecting her - even to the point where she knows she has become a liability to her son. After flirting with death herself, she slowly awakens to everyday life, to the beauty of spontaneous human warmth. The same music repeated in different stages of her emotional journey is at first jarring, then painfully harsh, then uplifting and resilient. Although it does not have the commercial appeal of Betty Blue, Dix-sept fois Cécile Cassard has an integrity that is at once more meaningful and poignant.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Artistry and cascading beauty, allegory - all are staples of the films
of Kar Wai Wong (My Blueberry Nights, In the Mood for Love). Some
people will be fascinated by this film, wondering, What the heck is
going on? - And spend the next two hours figuring it out. Others will
simply let it wash over them, allowing the pieces to fit themselves
together somehow at a 'deeper' level.
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS *** If you don't fancy the idea of a sci-fi movie that is hard to decipher, has subtitles, is firmly 'art-house', is over two hours long, and isn't really sci-fi when you work it out, please don't go and see 2046. You are forewarned! On the other hand, if you like seriously iconic cinema that tries to do something different, values the attempt over the ultimate success, can enjoy being swept away without quite knowing why, and can take the time to ponder what is often a non-linear story to try to make sense of it, then share with me my favourite from the works of this Chinese master.
Imagine the year 2046, a world criss-crossed by a network of fast railways (cue, nice Bladerunner-style futurescape). We see this world while Chow Mo Wan explains it to us in a voice-over. With a slight jar, we are suddenly back with Wan in the 1960s as he decides to take a trip from Singapore to Hong Kong to improve his work prospects. He's a writer. Wan often works for newspapers, but can just as happily turn his hand to martial arts stories or reviews of buxom ladies in gentlemen's bars.
We discover you can take a train to '2046' to recapture your memories, because when you get there nothing ever changes. It's a place for secrets. Once there, no-one ever leaves (except, we are told, our intrepid interlocutor). Getting there is easy - getting out is harder and takes some people longer than others. "All memories are traces of tears." Our understanding of what 2046 is takes on more and more poignancy before we get there inside our own heads.
The story (in the Far East of the 1960s) leads us through several interwoven tales of heartache. These are expressed in grainy pastels that form scenes of exquisite beauty, like poetry. The music (some played wistfully on a gramophone by the hotel keeper) ranges from opera, to Wan's more westernised tastes (like Dean Martin singing, 'Sway'), or the hypnotically descending half-tones of the main score. Moments are frozen into memory in a way that overrides context. A woman raises a cigarette slowly and meditatively to her mouth. A close up reveals a tear bursting with restrained emotion from a face that wanted to remain impassive. A young girl sits atop a run-down hotel looking into a middle distance and swinging her legs, radiating youthful adventure, love that has never known hurt.
We are led into the symbolic meaning of 2046 as if by poetry. If it were spelt out, the harshness of words might rob it of meaning. Wan considers the love he nearly found in Singapore, wondering if he will find it again, as he dallies ("as something of a ladies' man") with intriguing women in his new abode.
"What are your real feelings for me? Are they like the rainbow after the rain? - or did that rainbow fade long ago?" The tone reminds me of Leonard Cohen's 'Dance Me to the End of Love' or the reality jump of the Eagles' mythical 'Hotel California' - where you could check out any time you liked but you could never leave. As in that song, Wan often tries to find the emotional "passage back to the place I was before". He is already making the journey to 2046 . . .
2046 is not even in the future, it is in the past: it is a place of unrequited love inside us to which there is a yearning to return, to recapture, to make a happy ending, a glowing future of things. We realise that 2046 is a story that Wan is writing from his room (2047) in Singapore. In the room next door is a woman that reminds him of his lost love - the room number may even have inspired the title of his story. But probably he had already started it, and then found (a bit obsessively perhaps) added meaning from the coincidence.
Continuing the narrative whilst focusing our attention on something intangible is no easy task. Director Kar Wai Wong manages it admirably. Taking us into his confidence as it were, Wan imagines his main character, the perfect suitor frustrated by circumstance, on the train leaving 2046. He tries to leave the secret he has by giving it to an android cabin attendant. But his secret is a question. And what he wants most (as does anyone who visits 2046) is to find someone to get away together with, to finally leave that place.
Ultimately it does not matter whether the reason for a failed love affair is circumstance, or the person not returning love, or the person being in love with someone else - it is a fiction to believe in a love that is unrequited. "Love is all a matter of timing - it is no good meeting the right person at the wrong time." Wan has befriended a young woman who then helps ghost write some of his day-to-day work. Later, he asks her opinion of his novel (2046) and she says it would be nice if it had a happy ending. He struggles to change the ending, but is unable to accomplish it. There is no changing what is. 2046 doesn't exist except as a fable, a beautiful tale of the past set in a would-be future. Experience it, and search for the ending.
Lots of awards and nominations went to this film - which is basically a
fairly unimaginative story told in a very imaginative way (and with
outstanding acting from heartthrob hunk Benicio Del Toro, the skilful Naomi
Watts, and a remarkably restrained Sean Penn).
The 'imaginative storytelling' involves a definite goodbye to linear storytelling. This is not an assortment of flashbacks, or flashbacks within flashbacks, but a jigsaw pattern of pieces from different timeframes in the characters' lives that the audience has to piece together to find out what has happened.
We see Sean Penn on a ventilator, criss-cross to him a respectable cool-dude, criss-cross again to him as gun-toting nutter(?) . . . and re-criss-cross till you are forced to start thinking laterally. What happened to him to encompass such contrasts?
Same thing with Naomi Watts (who played the wonderfully mysterious character in Mulholland Drive). We see her as stressed out druggie, as beautiful, well-balanced wife and mother in standard well-to-do American household, one minute her husband is there and she's obviously devoted to him, another minute she's having sexy kit-off love scenes with someone else. What???? Arrrrgh!!
21 Grams however, unlike Mulholland Drive, all comes to form a whole in logical order and without repeated viewing or intense study. The pieces fall together with dramatic clarity. There's been a hit and run, Benicio is a convict turned born-again Christian, and there's a heart transplant that figures pretty centrally. 21 Grams is, we are told, the weight of a chocolate bar, but we are given to understand that everyone loses 21 Grams at the moment of death (these philosophical stretches of the imagination are a bit harder to take in, but poetically they add up, also as the 'weight of true love' for instance.)
Virginia Woolf once said "My difficulty is that I am writing to a rhythm and not to a plot . . . though the rhythmical is more natural to me than the narrative, it is completely opposed to the tradition of fiction and I am casting about all the time for some rope to throw the reader." The same might have been said by the writer of 21 Grams. It is not obscure or impossible, but it is very creative cinematic style - be prepared to concentrate hard.
But remarkable and accomplished piece of film-making though it is, the length of two hours plus is slightly overkill. Having grasped the (ultimately fairly hackneyed) story I didn't really need the point laboured for the last half hour or so, but at least it was continually enlivened by fabulous acting and script. A film I'm pleased I didn't miss, but more the entrée for a new type of dish than a sophisticated example.
When a film opens to the sound of a dog being half-beaten to death you know it is not going to be an easy ride. This is a long film and the screening I went to at least a dozen people walked out. Yet if you stay to the end I think the movie does, against all odds, justify itself as serious film-making. It follows the story of a trendy, high-profile drug dealer (played by Edward Norton) who gets caught and has just a few hours to come to terms with what he has done. His repentance is not very convincing ('if only I had put some money away when I had the chance' he tells his friend who is a Wall-Street investor). Yet the film makes some astute points by finally winning us emotionally in the face of intellectual bankruptcy. (I won't tell you how as it would spoil it).
I went to see this largely as a fan of Sandra Bullock but was impressed slightly beyond my expectation. The story of a wealthy alcoholic writer going through re-hab is not entirely convincing in some of the plot details, but it nevertheless succeeds in raising the issues quite well. The character reminded only too well, and too sadly, of a friend who has taken to drink. This movie was under-valued by the critics I think.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(contains minor spoilers) Unashamedly derivative, but packs in the shocks for all that. The main disappointment for me is in the choice of format. Digital works fine for short range shots with focus on inner emotions and scenes that are not too highly reliant on visual authenticity for effect, but for an epic of action shots over broad landscapes the definition is sometimes so poor as to be laughable. 28 Days was made on a tiny well relatively tiny ($15m) - budget and it shows no doubt it will continue to uphold Danny Boyle's reputation for making small budget films that rake in millions and, like Trainspotting and Shallow Grave that went before it, the editing in 28 Days Later is sharp and punchy, the infected crazies that keep jumping out like Living Dead Zombies on speed are scary enough, and the Mad Max formula that winds up the near two hours post-apolocalyptic mayhem still works well enough if you throw in a few more crazies and an attempted rape. 28 Days Later delivers value-for-money in the shocks department, but ultimately sees you leaving the cinema feeling empty and cheated.
The lovely Julie Delpy is perhaps best known for a couplet of films by
Richard Linklater. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset were made nine
years apart, but both movies follow two people as they wander aimlessly
through a romantic city. Arguing, flirting and generally having a
Subtract flirting and having a delicious time. Keep arguing. For 96 minutes.
Two Days in Paris seems to attempt the Linklater formula but with a couple that have been together already for two years. Humour is provided by a vapid shadow of generational clash that was done so much better in Meet the Parents. Instead of Linklater lightness we have a script that sounds like bad Woody Allen with added Alzheimer's. Attempts at making comic caricatures of French and American stereotypes are almost enough to swear you off visiting either country for good.
Delpy's on-screen parents are played by her real life ones. Delpy herself stars, directs, edits and writes the music. Which would be quite a family achievement. Were it any good.
Jack and Marion are a New York based couple passing through Paris. Marion is French. Her parents and several former boyfriends live there. Jack is American and doesn't speak French. He thinks of himself as a liberal but has an overbearingly American attitude towards sex, hygiene and food. Marion's parents are overly proud French. Dad takes great delight in trying to ridicule American lack of taste and culture. He scratches cars that have been parked badly and mixes explicit language with his knowledge of the arts. Jack is permanently annoyed with Marion's habits and vice versa. If a film filled with jealousy and bickering is your idea of a fun night, you could definitely have some laughs with Two Days in Paris.
There's plenty of material for an excellent film, but the chosen freewheeling formula is perhaps the inappropriate one. An unrelenting stream of flirtation in Before Sunrise is both novel and easy on an audience. An unrelenting stream of bickering thirty-somethings is less so.
If we care to analyse what goes wrong, a loose three-act structure can be discerned. Established couple, then break-up, then reunion. But Jack and Marion lack any believable chemistry from the very start. It is difficult to understand why they are together at all. The middle act is therefore begun too early and lasts interminably. Resolution, when it comes, is replaced by voice-over, as if apologising for something that could never be acted convincingly. We are supposed to believe that Marion truly prefers Jack's sneezes (in her face, when he wakes up) to anyone else's kisses.
Delpy's father offers maybe the best characterisation of the whole film. Although imbued with obnoxious habits, he has self-confidence and charisma. Marion's cat, the source of many an argument, is also lovable enough to take home. My favourite scene though is where Jack is being rude to a fast food waitress. She doesn't understand English. But in the one major reversal of stereotypes in the whole film, she remains humbly polite. I found her sincerity, in the face of so much Franco-American boorishness, eulogised by this film, truly touching.
Julie Delpy has much to offer. Sadly, in this film, she has offered too much. "You have an impulse control disorder and you need to be medicated," says Jack to her at one point. A little self-restraint would have gone a long way.
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