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Alfonso Cuaron has given us a very clever rendering of a very English
dystopian novel. P D James, the "Baroness of Bad" is famous for her
well-written and absorbing police procedural novels ("Inspector
Dalgliesh") but in the early 90s she produced a vision of a world only
20 years into the future in which for unspecified reasons all the women
on earth have become infertile and no babies have been born for the
last 18 years.
The rest of the world has lapsed into chaos but the British, stoically, have put the remainder of their civil liberties into the fire and have settled down under an oppressive dictatorship to ward off foreign boarders and await inevitable extinction, though there are some violent dissidents called the fish.
Theo (Clive Owen), a journalist with connections to the top, is "persuaded" by his ex-wife and fish member Julian (Julianne Moore) to obtain some exit papers for Kee (Claire Hope Ashity) a young black woman, who, it turns out, is pregnant. Theo is swept up in Kee's escape across a grim decaying landscape. Not only are there the security forces to contend with, but some equally ruthless insurgents. Cuaron builds the tension exquisitely, interspersing the adrenaline fueled bits with quieter bits.
Kee' projected saviors are a mysterious group called the Human Project who conveniently sail their well-maintained Greenpeace style ex-North Sea fishing trawler past offshore light buoys in the hope of rescuing the human race. But the improbability of this doesn't matter much because by the end of the movie Cuaron has effectively demonstrated what the world would be like if humankind suddenly stopped reproducing. Having children is our way of cheating death, without them there is nothing but death, and in this future there are none about but the living dead.
The casting is pretty well perfect. Clive Owen as Theo puts his haunted good looks to good use as he turns from cynical reporter to a hunted enemy of the state. The motley characters he meets along the way his ex-wife, the fish rebels, the refugees who help him, the "fascist pig" border guard and above all Michael Caine's aging hippie are all wonderfully realized.
It has been suggested that Cuaron has really made a film about today, not 20 years into the future. The rampaging security forces we see might as well be in Bosnia or Iraq, or even Northern Ireland. In an age of terrorism, order without law very quickly becomes tyranny, which has never been the answer to terrorism. What he and PD James do demonstrate is just how fragile our civil society is.
As a film this is a very fine piece of work. The sets exude grimy Britain, the battles are hair-raising, the quieter moments intense. Cuaron would do a great James Bond movie. He has turned a rather rarefied novel into an exiting and engrossing thriller without obscuring the original message. He is a very versatile and enterprising film-maker and I'm sure he's going to do lots more good stuff.
This film is three hours of movie poetry. "Saving Private Ryan," though
brilliantly made, is a jingoistic cartoon by comparison. "Thin Red Line"
follows a company of American rifleman brought in to consolidate the Allied
grip on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal in 1942 in the face of Japanese
invasion, but the place could be just about anywhere where war is
The company is not made up of conscripts but regular soldiers. Some of them have been in the Army more than 10 years. Some of them however have never seen real action before and this is a hot and uncomfortable location, despite the lovely tropical scenery. Some crack up, some die, some do heroic deeds. Their leaders are not particularly admirable; one is quite happy to get his men killed if he can come out of the action looking good.
Out of sight for most of the film are the Melanesian inhabitants, the Solomon Islanders, who are carrying on living as best they can while the war rages around them. Their serenity is in sharp contrast to the frenetic military activity. Of course, there is nowhere for them to go.
There is some action excitingly filmed but as in real wars much of the time is spent preparing and waiting. Personal stories unfold but at the end it is survival that matters.
The lighting and photography is quite superb, the lighting in particular fitting the mood perfectly. Filming was not actually on Guadalcanal but near Port Douglas in Northern Queensland where there is similar tropical rainforest and fauna but with much easier logistics. It took ages apparently but seems more than worth the effort.
This is probably one of the four or five greatest war films ever made, right up there with "All Quiet on the Western Front, " "Paths of Glory," "Bridge on the River Kwai" and "The Longest Day." Never has a movie better portrayed what it's like to be a frontline soldier.
Terrence Malick has the reputation of being an eccentric, difficult director - Kubrick without the fear of flying. Yet this is not a particularly unconventional movie - it's just that everything hangs together - the story, dialogue, performances, photography and settings. On thing is clear - this is a better interpretation of James Jones' novel than the 1964 version.
There's not a lot to say. Like many classics this film is simply constructed
with all the elements in balance so that none stands out. Everything in it
contributes something essential; the lighting, the unromantic railway
station sets, the minor characters and of course the music, the
ultra-romantic Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no 2. The emotional rollercoaster
of the illicit affair has seldom been better portrayed. Perhaps it is a
little understated for transatlantic tastes but no-one viewing this movie
would not appreciate that the English can be as passionate as the rest of
Celia Johnson as Laura and Trevor Howard as Alec are perfect together. It being 1945, they do not get to bed that would have ruined the audience's sympathy for them in those rather more censorious times. It's all in their minds but their faces give the game away to each other and to the bystanders. Nothing happens to drag anyone near the awful divorce courts, but you are left wondering whether Celia will ever feel quite the same about her dull, comfortable, patronising and boring husband. As for Alec, he professes he will love her forever but then, he's a man.
Noel Coward produced this film from a short play of his from 1935 (the war and post-war shortages are absent), and his dulcet tones may be recognised in the railway station announcements. David Lean directed, and it is a remarkable collaboration. The action is opened out a little a row on the lake, a drive in the country - but the scenes from the play set entirely in the railway refreshment rooms still remain the centre of the story. The parallel relationship between Albert the station guard (Stanley Holloway), and Myrtle the refreshment room attendant (Joyce Carey), is an interesting counterpoint to the angst-ridden middle class would-be adulterers. Surely Noel old boy you weren't suggesting that the working class handles this sort of thing better? We see things largely from Laura's point of view and perhaps Alec didn't feel quite so guilty, but their consciences are going to make them pay. A gem of a movie.
This beautiful and poignant film also packs quite a punch; the sorry
plight of Hindu widows in traditional Indian society is made evident.
Deepa Mehta has clearly set out to make a film with a message but she
lets the story carry the message and she does not demonize the
supporters of ancient oppressive practices, some of whom are motivated
by faith rather than self-interest. Strangely the film's beauty
undercuts to some extent the political message: I can imagine a devout
Hindu seeing it as supporting the traditional view.
As explained in the film, according to ancient texts a Hindu widow had three choices; she could join her husband on his funeral pyre, she could marry his younger brother (if available) or she could go into an Ashram (refuge) with other widows and live a life of self-denial to atone for the sin of having lost her husband.. It is the third option Chuyia (Sarala) takes on the death of her husband in 1938. Chuyia however is only nine years old and scarcely remembers getting married.
The Ashram is a poor place, self-supported by the proceeds of begging and prostitution, but there is camaraderie amongst the women (who are of all ages) and Chuyia, initially, is not badly treated. The focus shifts to Kalyani (Lisa Ray) the Ashram's "jewel" who becomes involved with a young political activist Narayana (John Abraham), a supporter of Gandhi.
The film is not so much an attack on religion as on particular beliefs. I've no doubt one could live the life of a devout Hindu without believing that widows are responsible for their husband's deaths just as one can be a devout Christian without believing in slavery, or that the earth is flat, or was created in 4004BC. Although the film is set just prior to World War 2 there are undoubtedly many supporters of the ancient texts still out there Mehta was prevented from filming in India by some of them and "Water" was eventually filmed in Sri Lanka. I find it impossible to have any sympathy for their position because it really amounts to using the practices of a society which has long passed away to defend an economic interest, or rather to excuse the abandonment by her family of a woman who has had the ill-luck to lose her husband. As Chuyia asks, where is the Ashram for the widowers? Also, whatever could be said for child marriage on social or economic grounds 2000 years ago, there is no possible justification for it now.
It's a great pity the film was banned in India and Pakistan it is a film for the citizens of those countries rather than me, but it is striking to watch and I suspect, not easy to forget.
Despite a couple of good reviews, I approached this film with
foreboding. Movies about junkies in love, taken from searing
autobiographical first novels are usually not what I would call
entertaining, though there have been worthy earlier Australian efforts
such as "Winter of Our Dreams" (with Judy Davis and Bryan Brown) and
"Monkey Grip" (which starred Noni Hazelhurst and Colin Friels). As
"Trainspotting" showed it is possible to be light hearted about drugs
and addiction but the storyline here is far from cheering and there is
no Hollywood-style happy ending. However it did not turn out as
gruesome as I feared it might.
This was partly because of two stunning performances by Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish as the not very happy couple, Dan and Candy. Somehow, Heath got it just right as the shambling, disorganized, would-be poet, who is nonetheless capable of pulling off an effective scam when required. Abbie gave us a beautiful, headstrong and dangerous Candy. Their scenes together are as intense and as convincing as you will get in the movies. They were both well supported by Tony Martin and Nonie Hazlehurst as Candy's parents and Geoffrey Rush as their supplier and friend Casper. Geoffrey Rush is a dangerous actor to use in a supporting role because of his ability to steal scenes, but he produces a wonderfully ambiguous character as a counterpoint to the intensity of the leads.
Caspar makes an interesting remark about drug usage: "When you're on it you don't want to stop, when you want to stop you can't." Artists have particular trouble since they see drugs as feeding creativity. Even so, some people break the habit. I hate to use the term "selfdiscipline" but that and the support of those close to you seem to be crucial factors. Being in love with another addict does not seem to be a great help, for obvious reasons. The Thought Police will be pleased that drug-taking is not glamourised and Dan and Candy's experiences are a mite painful, but the movie does not take a judgmental stance. If we had to have another movie about junkies in love, this is the one.
You could dismiss this film as a Danish history lesson but it is more
than that. It is a love story with an improbable background in a rather
gloomy setting, the Danish Court of the late 18th century. Mad (or at
least seriously disturbed) King Christian VII (Mikkel Folsgaard -
superbe) marries 16 year old English princess Caroline (Alicia
Vikander) who happens to be George III's sister). He prefers the
company of his dog and mistress to her. It is not surprising that
Caroline falls for Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) who becomes the
king's personal physician on the strength of his knowledge of
Shakespeare (especially Hamlet). The king is, as they say, easily led,
and for a year or so Sturensee, despite being German, has a fine time
as de facto ruler enacting liberal measures such as the abolition of
serfdom and the repeal of censorship laws, not to mention free smallpox
inoculations. But the forces of reaction led by the king's stepmother
gather. It was surprising to learn that 18th century Denmark was such a
Mads Mikkelsen gives a nuanced performance 'quiet intensity' in fact, and Alicia Vikander is equally intense. They are a serious couple imbued with the ideals of the 18th century Enlightenment but their passion is physical as well as intellectual. Unfortunately their ideals are a little advanced for Denmark of the 1770s despite support from writers such as Voltaire. The local book-burners led by Hoegh-Guldberg (David Dencik) are not swayed by argument of course.
The production is full of atmosphere. The castles are suitably gloomy and there's plenty of medieval squalor beyond the castle gate. Much of the action takes place in winter which adds to the chilly atmosphere. The aristocracy are suitably heartless and the peasants downtrodden. The king provides some zany (if not quite authentic) moments, appointing his Great Dane to his council and ordering Struensee to make Caroline a "fun queen".
This is quite a long movie at 140 minutes yet is enthralling from start to finish. Even though you can guess the ending you are swept along by the story and the performances. You can see why the audiences at Cannes loved it.
While mountaineering is one of the most exhilarating of sports it has
produced little good fiction, and few good fictional movies, though
there have been some excellent documentaries ('The Man who Skied Down
Everest', the Imax 'Everest' film, for example). Somehow, when it comes
to fiction, the clichés take over, and this film, with some genuinely
gorgeous camera-work and impressive stunts, is full of them. The
wealthy megalomaniac determined to conquer K2 at any cost, the climber
who lost his nerve when his father was killed who pushes himself into
action to save his sister, stuck in a crevass high up the mountain with
the moneyed one, the bitter old man of the mountains who is essential
to the rescue, the guide who has sold out, It's all there. One does
expect some improbability of plot in a film like this, but the thought
that someone might cart Pakistani Army liquid nitro-glycerine in back
packs to the top of K2 to blast a crevasse open really was a bit much.
Apart from a very attractive opening sequence in Utah (Monument Valley, I think) the film was shot in the New Zealand Alps, with a few clips of the genuine Karkoram Himalaya spliced in. For this viewer, it brought back pleasant memories of climbing in the University holidays around the Southern Alps. But climbing is a dangerous sport; on one trip I was accompanied by four people, all of whom subsequently died in separate climbing accidents (one on Makalu, next to Everest). There is a fair amount of special effects malarky (no-one, not even Temuera Morrison pretending to be Pakistani, would fly an old military helicopter so close to a mountain wall at 21,000 feet), but there are also some genuinely stirring shots.
Unfortunately, the acting for the most part matches the script. Chris Connelly, good at sensitive young men, is wrong for the brother bent on rescue (it's more of a part for Bruce Willis), and Bill Paxton is only moderately menacing as the ruthless Richard Branson-style billionaire. In fact the only decent piece of acting is Scott Glenn's Wick, the veteran with attitude. The'comic' Australian climbing brothers, Ces and Cyril, or whatever their names were, were profoundly embarrassing I guess Ben Mendelsohn will be hoping no-one will recognise him with a balaclava on his head. There were also lackluster performances from the two female leads, Robin Tunney and Izabella Scorupco. One of them, Scorupco, is an ex-Bond girl ('Goldeneye') the casting people obviously didn't realise she was going to be spending the entire movie wrapped up in Gore-Tex. There's no sex at high altitude it's too damned cold and anyway survival takes precedence over procreation.
I think Roger Ebert got it right on this one a 'B' movie with an 'A' movie budget. There are all sorts of anomalies the lack of visible water vapour issuing from the climbers, their sprightly behaviour even after hours at 26,000 feet, the use of north wall hammers to attack a rock/ice pitch, the miraculous helicopter piloting but somehow the magnificence of those great peaks comes through. The worst thing about a movie like this is that it portrays the mountains as hellish, which is far from the truth. What is it the psalm says 'I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my strength'? Climbing is one thing I have never regretted doing, and it would be a pity if people were put off the sport by stuff like this. Actually I think the people who do attempt peaks like K2 would see this film as preposterous, overblown Hollywood brown smelly stuff, and they'd be right. But there is some nice scenery.
It's a pity this film will not be more widely seen. It is an authentic
demonstration of what it's like to live with one of the most enigmatic
of mental disorders, autism, which afflicts about one person in 1000
(the more common and milder Asperger's syndrome affects about 6 in
every thousand). Elissa Down, the maker of the film, has personal
experience two of her brothers are autistic and with the aid of
some truly accomplished acting she avoids cheap dramatics and conveys
some genuine feeling.
The family portrayed has its eccentricities but you could not describe it as dysfunctional. Dad (Eric Thompson) and Mum (Tony Collette) not only have a strong love for their autistic teenager Charlie (Luke Ford) but they have learned to cope with his behaviour. The dramatic tension comes from younger brother Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) who loves the brother he has grown up with but finds the effect Charlie's' behaviour has on other people hard to take. Charlie has a few less than endearing habits like throwing tantrums at supermarket checkouts and bursting into other people's houses to use their toilet. The general adolescent horror of people who are different doesn't help much either having a "spastic" as a brother is not good for the image. Yet Thomas's developing relationship with neighbour and fellow lifesaving squad member Jackie (Gemma Ward) gets a positive push from his situation.
As director, Elissa Down has a nice light touch, and the prejudice and distaste the family have to deal with are neatly sketched in. There are plenty of amusing moments; when a fight breaks out in a bus queue outside a high school several male teachers try ineffectually to stop it and it is the tiny but determined female lifesaving coach who, furiously blowing her whistle, restores order. Tough army NCO Dad holds conversations with his teddy bear and the two brothers wind up on stage together as dancing monkeys after Charlie's original partner throws a tantrum.
It has been suggested that autism, which has a strong genetic component, is a variation on normal rather than a defect, but its severely disabling nature means it has to be regarded as a malfunction. Autistic savants with freakish mathematic powers a la "Rainman" are extremely rare. People with mild forms of autism can function quite well in society, but Charlie is not one of those and will require care for the rest of his life. All this film is asking is for a little understanding of the pressures on families who have to support people like Charlie. I wish one of the commercial channels would show this in prime time instead of the usual reality show crap.
Once again a substantial literary work (3 novels) has been shoehorned
into 200 minutes or so of television but this time without the gross
omissions that usually occur in exercises of this kind. Partly this is
because of the fair amount of action which takes up a lot of literary
space but which can be economically depicted on the screen.
Evelyn Waugh had a pretty scrappy Second World War, but he used his illegally kept diary to good effect. His semi-autobiographical hero, Guy Crouchback goes into what he thinks is a God - ordained crusade against evil, only to discover that the war is the ideal environment for liars, cheats, cowards and phonies of all varieties. His egregious acquaintance Trimmer becomes a war hero by accident and is promoted to Colonel. The evil Corporal Ludovic who murders his C O gets commissioned while good men die everywhere. Every attempted noble act by Guy misfires, and only at the end does he finally achieve some nobility as the putative father of Trimmer's child.
Guy's position is not helped by the fact that his once and later wife Virginia (Megan Dodds) is a vain little tramp who uses men so obviously it's a wonder they are taken in. Guy's emotional IQ is so low he manages to fall for her twice. Well, perhaps the second time around he was after some nice redeeming suffering - he did have some insight - but in retrospect Virginia's demise seems a blessed relief.
Generally though, this was a decent effort. Highlights included the Crete and Croatian sequences and the great portrayals of Ludovic, Major Hound and Brigadier Ritchie-Hook the truly crazy brave military idiot, who was at least able to admit that he enjoyed all that killing'n stuff. Daniel Craig's Guy is also a very measured performance. He has a face on which one can read inner suffering like one reads a weather dial. It was also nice to see that perennial lightweight Leslie Phillips (of 'Carry On' fame) bringing some gravitas to the role of Guy's aristocratic father.
I haven't read the books in this case, but if the portrayal of Mrs Stitch, the society grand dame in the production is anything like that in the trilogy it's a wonder Lady Diana Cooper, who was still alive when they were published, didn't sue. Lady Diana is thought to be the real-life model for the character, who cheats on her absent husband with a young war hero, destroys Guy's mail and pulls strings to get him transferred back to England so he can't blow the gaff on what her 'hero' really did in Crete (desertion).
Anyway, I am now inspired to read the books, which on previous experience should be no hardship. Evelyn Waugh was an intriguing character who started out as an angry young literary man in the 1920s and finished up a reactionary old fart in the 1960s, his time long gone. Yet he was one of the greatest English literary stylists of the 20th century, equally adept at satire ('Decline and Fall', 'Scoop') and serious work ('Brideshead Revisited', Sword of Honour'). This production suitably honours his memory and isn't a bad bit of television in its own right.
Sydney Lumet hasn't had a box office hit in 20 years and yet at 83 has
managed to churn out a tight, well-cast, suspenseful thriller set in
his old stamping ground, New York City. (How he got insurance, let
alone the budget after all those flops, is a mystery also). The story
is a pretty grim one and the characters are not particularly likable
but it held me on the edge of my seat till the final scene.
Two brothers with pressing financial problems conspire to rob a suburban jewelry store owned by their elderly parents. The only victim is going to be the insurance company. The robbery goes awry and two people die. Most of the film is concerned with the aftermath. The action is non-linear and seen from the main character's differing points of view, but it is not difficult to follow. What is not so easy to work out is the back story how did the brothers get into such a mess? There are clues the younger brother being the baby of the family is his fathers' favorite while the older brother seems to be carrying a lot of baggage about his relationship with his father, and vice versa, but that hardly accounts for him becoming a heroin-using murdering embezzler.
As the scheming older brother, a corpulent Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates the film, but he is well supported by Ethan Hawke as his bullied, inadequate younger brother. Albert Finney as their father seems to be in a constant state of rage but then the script calls for that. Marisa Tomei as the older brother's cheating wife at the age of 42 puts in the sexiest performance I've seen in many a year. The film literally starts with a bang, but we are out of that comfort zone pretty quickly.
I don't know the origins of this story by first time scriptwriter Kelly Masterton but I suspect that like Lumet's great 70's film "Dog Day Afternoon" it is based on fact it's too silly to be untrue. Lumet is just about the last of those immensely versatile old-time craftsman studio directors who with immense speed were able to direct just about anything that was put in front of them. Some great films were produced that way as well as some classic turkeys. This isn't a classic of either sort it's a well-crafted piece of downbeat entertainment. It will probably leave you feeling that you were lucky not be a member of a family as dysfunctional as this one, but still wondering as to how they got that way. We do know the parents were happy but we see so little of the mother and hear so little about her it is impossible pick up on her relationship with the boys. (There is also a daughter whose presence seems redundant). Well, like Tolstoy, we have to conclude that "each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way".
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