49 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
12 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In which urbane alternative comedian Jeremy Hardy joins an International Solidarity Movement contingent in the West Bank and finds the reality of 'facts on the ground' clarifies his thinking on the Middle East issue no end.

Some criticisms of the film here are off the mark. Film is a visual medium. What counts is what we see. Hardy's narration is very understated, very self-deprecating, very English. We don't need him to express outrage at the Israeli army firing live rounds towards unarmed, peaceful demonstrators. We see it and can judge for ourselves. This works infinitely better than the sort of tendentious emoting which marred "One Day in September" or arguably Michael Moore's work.

While the film does not pretend to make a detailed examination of the conflict, there are nods towards the complexity of the situation; there is reference to suicide bombers and the Palestinian youths' "own version of the struggle" (although the latter is not spelled out). The ISM volunteers are told that reconciliation is the ultimate goal and they should not say anything to the Israeli soldiers which would make that harder to achieve. Although Hardy appears to start from a position of some scepticism regarding the international volunteers, events change this to admiration and wholehearted support.

While clearly taking sides, the film is unsensational, nuanced and yet as gripping as most thrillers. Throughly recommended.
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Yatra (2006)
Long Day's Journey
27 October 2006
Rather slow and ponderous exploration of the nature of fiction, memory and the alleged change in Indian culture from the spiritual to the materialistic (was there really ever a time when most people weren't materialistic?).

There are some beautiful moments in this, particularly some of the music, dancing and landscape shots, but much of the framing story, set for the most part in domestic interiors, moves more slowly than the content can support.

There is some interesting layering and interweaving of different levels of reality as people from the author's life appear as characters in his various fictions, and he has a long discussion with a film director character presumably intended to represent Gautam Ghose himself.

There are references to earlier films and literature which I am sadly unfamiliar with so much of the nuance would have been lost on me. Rekha for example has played similar roles in several films over the years, most notably Umrao Jaan, so her appearance here will have a resonance lost on western audiences. (However I also detected echoes of Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" and maybe even Tarkovsky's "Mirror").

Having said that, my (Pakistani) companion unfortunately lost patience about 3/4 of the way through and went out for a coffee so I was a little distracted. My advice - don't take a Bollywood fan to see this movie!
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Great idea - questionable execution.
7 June 2006
I wanted to like this.

I have an abiding interest in South Africa, I like "Carmen", and this seemed like a great idea, however in the event I found myself getting bored about halfway through.

A few of the problems:-

Carmen weighed about 200lbs. I know different cultures have different concepts of beauty, but frankly when you're up against Dorothy Dandridge's spectacular turn in "Carmen Jones" you have to raise your game a little.

I didn't buy any of the characters' attraction to each other. Carmen displayed almost no interest in Jongikhaya, or indeed in the 'Escamillo' character (here a singer rather than a bullfighter or a boxer). Jongikhaya didn't seem particularly interested in Carmen either. OK, sex is more of a private matter in Africa and public displays of affection are more subdued, but there was no discernible chemistry at all here.

Also, the Toreador song has been inexplicably cut out of the film (except for a brief excerpt towards the end). This is one of the high points of the opera, a major plot pivot, and the actor had a great voice, so this was triply baffling.

The camera-work and mise en scene also suffered badly in comparison to the grace and originality of Preminger's movie.

On the positive side, the singing was good, the township locations gritty, realistic and entirely in keeping with the spirit of the opera, and the story was augmented with flashbacks giving some characters a depth absent from the original (and injecting a bit of politics).

I'd like to see how this went down in Khayalitsha (apparently it was premiered in the sports hall where the film climaxes). You have to assume a Xhosa audience will see a lot a European would miss. Ironically most cinemas in the townships show Hollywood movies rather than anything produced locally. Hopefully films like this will begin to change that.
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So they DO still make 'em like this...
17 April 2006
The world is probably divided into those who understand why a long take of someone riding a motorbike across Bonneville Salt Flats to vanishing point can be great, exhilarating cinema and those who don't. I'm firmly in the former category, and if you are too, this is the film for you.

One of the best American films of the past decade, from almost the first scene - a dreamy, hypnotic vision of a motorcycle race - it's clear that this is going to be something special and when the race finishes and a downbeat jazz tune kicks in behind Gallo stowing his bike away this is confirmed. Genuine cinematic magic.

This has the rhythm and pace of a 60s/70's art movie like "Two Lane Blacktop" or "Zabriskie Point" - a time when Hollywood was prepared to actually take risks with the audience's attention span and take the time to look at the world properly. Gallo is the first American filmmaker in a long time to pick up that baton and run with it - or in this case drive. One of the all-time great road movies, this gives the American landscape, the sun refracted through a windshield, rain hitting a wet road, the attention they deserve instead of just using landscape as backdrop for action.

The ending arguably unbalances the movie somewhat by resolving all the ambiguities and making too much of a concession to conventional drama. Nonetheless, this is a rare poem in an age of prose and you should seek it out.
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King Kong (2005)
Flawed Giant
30 December 2005
Don't get me wrong here, I liked this film. It was spectacular, it had considerable emotional resonance, it wasn't a travesty.

Of course in reality a 25ft silverback gorilla would collapse under its own weight, and in many ways that's what has happened to the movie.

As others have noted, it is on the long side and would have benefited from resolute scissoring throughout. Just because you have the resources to show a 10-minute dinosaur stampede doesn't mean you actually have to do it, particularly when a 30-second scene would have told the story just as well. Throughout the movie, time is stretched in order to fit in all the effects - at one point several minutes pass between someone being struck by a spear and hitting the ground.

In addition I remain unconvinced by CGI generally. OK, this probably looks better than any other CGI movie so far, but I don't think we're in any danger of confusing it with reality yet. Rather, we have a spectacular and detailed cartoon.

It's ironic that while one of the central characters here is a combination of PT Barnum-style showman and Werner-Herzog-type visionary obsessive taking his cameras into the jungle, this "King Kong" itself is as far away from Herzogian 'realism' as it's possible to get. Not only do the CGI effects themselves (with the exception of Kong's facial expressions) fail to convince, the filmmakers also have people surviving unsurvivable falls, hanging onto logs and creepers in conditions where any human being would fall, etc. I know this is a Hollywood action movie staple, but it still jolts me out of any suspension of disbelief. OK, CGI is the only way we can have dinosaurs or giant gorillas, but keeping things as real as possible otherwise would help no end with the human side of the story.

Any time a film-maker puts a film-maker into his story it's necessary to consider the relationship between the two. On the one hand we have the studio-bound CGI-nerd making a movie about a seat-of-the-pants explorer-director. On the other we have the "showman" side of Carl Denham, as Driscoll points out, destroying that very "wonder" he sets out to capture by reducing it to vulgar spectacle. You have to ask yourself if that resonance wasn't at least in Jackson's mind when he wrote the theatre scene.

On the plus side, all the themes of the original are here and amplified, from the "we are the real monsters" (with added "Heart of Darkness" reference), through strong hints of ecological parable, to the genuinely tragic love of Kong for Darrow which leads directly to his capture and eventual downfall. The sadness in his eyes throughout is something to behold - as the last of his species he is doomed in any event, ironically it is his compassion which hastens his demise.
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Mr. Jones (1993)
Jones the Dream
8 November 2005
This was Mike Figgis' first film after the rather wonderful and haunting "Liebestraum" and compared to that it's a disappointment.

As others have commented, Gere's acting is magnificent. I have a good friend who is manic depressive and Gere nails the condition absolutely. As others have also commented, this performance is straightjacketed into a contrived Hollywood vehicle with a laughably pat romantic ending. I was unsurprised to discover that the film was taken away from Figgis by the studio, redited, rescored and partially reshot.

A couple of points: of course Lena Olin's character behaves unprofessionally, that's made quite clear in the movie, so pointing it out as a flaw seems a little wide of the mark. What we in fact have is a slightly more subtle than usual rendition of the "psychiatrist is as nutty as the patient" trope - she is shown earlier in the movie to be extremely vulnerable and perhaps irrational after a failed relationship. Meanwhile Gere is extremely charismatic, as manic personalities can be, she is drawn to him out of her own depressed state and the time-honoured Freudian concept of transference does the rest. In addition the choice she makes addresses the notion introduced by Gere's character in the movie - how much is she prepared to give up?

There are also serious questions about "madness" touched on in the film - where does individual personality end and illness begin? To what extent is insanity a logical response to an intolerable situation? Perhaps these were originally to be explored in a little more depth.

I suppose this "accountant's cut" didn't do well enough at the box office for there to be much chance of a director's cut and that's a shame. It seems there is a much better film somewhere in here screaming to be let out....
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27 October 2005
In which Hartley continues his exploration of the Godard cookbook. In this case, "Alphaville", with side orders of "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and various Chris Marker 'photoroman' movies.

The voice-over is not a cover for the failure to tell the story so much as a yarn-spinning technique along the lines of early Peter Greenaway or late Werner Herzog. There are some striking similarities with Herzog's recent "Wild Blue Yonder" (also billed as a science fiction fantasy).

In some ways this seems as much an exercise as an attempt to entertain; as with Godard's work the film is shot on a shoestring, with the present made to stand in for the future - Hartley tries to see how much he can say with how little.

Others have commented on the social satire; overlooked may have been the beautiful photography, the dreamlike atmosphere, the air of melancholy and loss, and the very effective music by Hartley himself (no longer trading under his "Ned Rifle" alias).

I dare say many of us miss his "early, funny, films" but that's how it goes with New York filmmakers, I guess. Where those movies were snappy prose, this is a poem.
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Third Remove
10 May 2005
First thing: this is the third part in a trilogy. You really need to see "Where is the Friend's House" & "And Life Goes On" first if you want to fully understand this. In short, this is a film about a man making a film of his own journey in search of actors in a film he made earlier. Once you know that, it's not in the least slow or simple, it's a hall of mirrors, as another commentator put it. Frames within frames within frames.

Second thing: Jean-Luc Godard praised Kiarostami's early films, but then felt he'd become too influenced by the international art movie tradition. I don't know if this is a film he liked or disliked, but it sure has a lot of Godard's influence in it - from the director interviewing sundry characters through the conflation of documentary and fiction elements to the use of music, it's like Godard crossed with Satyajit Ray. Not that that's a bad thing.

I don't know if Kiarostami is as original or as striking as some maintain - in many ways this is "Day for Night" transplanted to the Iranian countryside - but it's very watchable, often very funny and the landscape is beautiful.

There also seems to be (in the Iranian context) a subversive subtext to these films. Tradition is held up as hidebound and stupid (the adults in "Where is the Friend's House", the grandmother in this film) while the young are seen improvising their own lives and creating hope in the face of catastrophe. I can't imagine that's too popular with the mullahs, and indeed it seems that Kiarostami has been unable to get a film released in Iran in a decade.

Well worth a view, and it may even inspire you to get out into the world with a digital video camera, but do see the other films (and probably also "Homework") first.
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Abouna (2002)
African Blues
3 May 2005
On the surface a simple, affecting tale of two sons' search for their absent father, Abouna is actually a film of some sophistication.

At one point the brothers visit a cinema. The posters outside advertise the African film Yaaba, Chaplin's The Kid and most notably Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise (hardly likely to be topping the bill in Chad). Other posters which would have been apt include "Pather Panchali", "Les Quatre Cent Coups" and any one of a number of recent Iranian movies.

Jarmusch's elliptical style of story-telling seems a particular influence, all of the obvious plot points (a kiss, a capture, a death) occur off-camera and the dialogue is more about what is not said than about what is. I do wonder a little whether an audience in Chad would buy this deadpan style or whether the film is really aimed at the First World art-house audience, but for me it works well.

There seems to be a metaphor in the idea of the absent father, perhaps relating to a country that the director feels has lost its way after many years of colonialism and war. The central family is not poor by African standards, but life is still harsh.

Much of the music is by the Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure, and you can really hear the African roots of the Blues in his playing. The images of landscape, skin, children playing are beautiful.
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Rude Boy (1980)
It's not exactly One plus One...
7 March 2005
...despite copying the musicians in the studio trope, the porn-shop as symbol of capitalism and the black/white subplot. However "Rude Boy" perhaps deserves a little more attention than it seems to have received.

As a 'proper movie' it's kind of a washout. Aiming for an improvised cinema-verite feel, it's hamstrung by a fatal lack of tension, having apparently been assembled by people with little grasp of editing, narrative or any kind of cinematic style. Despite this, the concert footage of The Clash is indispensable to anyone with an interest in the era, and shows why they were one of the all-time great rock and roll bands. We have very few 70's punk bands recorded properly on film as opposed to video and the difference in quality is striking. Also, Joe Strummer's death is still quite recent as I write and seeing him here in his prime is poignant in the extreme.

In general there are very few film documents of punk. We have Jarman's "Jubilee" which was more of a neo-Elizabethan fantasia, "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle" with its McClarenite rewriting of history and come-lately nonsense like "Breaking Glass". "Rude Boy" at least doesn't fall into any narrative clichés (if only by barely having a plot) and by its very lack of creative flair may succeed best in giving a picture of the time. For example, unlike the myth-making of the likes of "Sid and Nancy", this shows punk gigs as they actually were - largely populated by lads with feather-cuts and tank tops.

By concentrating on hanger-on Gange instead of the band itself, the filmmakers turn the story into one of the relationship between the band and its fan-base - pointed up by having Strummer sing "All The Young Punks" right through in the studio without the backing track to distract us from the lyric.

The commentator who said this did not give a true picture of the politics of the time is surely wrong. I was there and it seems pretty accurate to me. We see the resurgent National Front, the Anti-Nazi League, the bullishness and racism of the police at the time (which would shortly lead to the Brixton riots) and the rise of Thatcherism out of the bankrupt Butskellite consensus. Ray Gange's character in the film seems intended to represent the British white working class at the time - confused, politically disengaged and borderline racist, the attitudes which led to the Thatcher victory we see at the end of the film. The left, variously represented by the SWP (bureaucratic) and Strummer (by turns tokenistic and diffident) fails to capture Gange's imagination and it is the right who seize on the desire for change and turn it to their own advantage.

Rude Boy is a strange curate's egg, then. There may have been a really good film struggling to get out of this morass, but we'll never know. The special edition DVD has a "Just Play the Clash" function which lets you view only the concert footage and I suspect this will get a lot of use.

Rating? 3/10 for the story, 10/10 for the music.
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