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This is a hard review to write - I don't want to oversell this film or
sell it short. I caught it while idly flicking round British TV one
afternoon. I had better things to do but minute by minute it managed to
keep me away from them and I didn't regret it.
At first I thought 'Cheap afternoon TV movie'. A few minutes later I added the rider, 'with solid production values and an above-average level of effort and energy.' A while later again: 'And an astonishing amount of care and ingenuity over detail. Did you see what just happened in the mirror? And did they hire a troupe of boisterous improv actors as extras? I need to find out who wrote and directed this.' Then: 'The special effects are too good for a TV film, especially the excellent time-line display gizmo. It must be a bigger-budget studio number. Why haven't I heard of it? Probably one of those things that came out in the wrong week or something and slipped under everyone's radar.' And soon: 'There is so damn much in this film in the way of backstory and world-building and little loving doodles in the margins, too much for a normal film. It must be an extraordinarily faithful adaptation of a book - not just a book, but the first in a whole series of books. They must be big in America. So well-loved that the fans would lynch people if they left anything out, so they've put it all in and are making quite a good job of explaining it to the rest of us.' And eventually: 'Who cares what it is or where it comes from? I'm still watching and it's getting even better.' By the end I was not only completely gripped and invested but so moved I had to stifle a little manly tear at one point.
Bear in mind: it IS low budget, albeit usually very well disguised. And you've seen most of the things in it before, but they're done with slightly new spins and so much verve in execution they come to seem fresh.
The first half of the film is - not exactly slow, but stays mysterious for an unusually long time. This can be a bonus if you enjoy making guesses. If you're impatient or are used to being spoonfed, forget it. (I think a lot of the people who've given absurdly negative reviews must fall into this category. Although I suspect those who've been over-critical of the acting of malicious trollery - the acting was either perfectly good or quite perfect.)
The best thing in the film, and the best example of the care and inventiveness that's gone into it, is the main gimmick (there are several). One of the characters in effect has a sort of superpower. This is very well handled. We are gradually shown rather than told and I was deep into the film before I fully grasped it. All the implications of it were thoroughly worked out - including the ingenious ways that enemies could counteract it. Most importantly, it was handled in such a way that, rather than becoming the equivalent of a Get Out Of Jail Free card, it actually had the effect of doubling or tripling the tension.
All in all I enjoyed it a lot. I would like there to be a sequel (for one thing I would love to see what happens when one '95er' fights another) or, perhaps better, a TV series. Most of all I would like the director and his collaborators to be given a bigger budget to play with. Congratulations to all involved on some remarkable work.
No-nonsense gold-digger Audrey Tautou seduces a hapless barman by mistake; smitten, he follows her, is cleaned out by her, and then becomes a gigolo under her tutelage. What could have been tasteless has oodles of charm and several laugh-out-loud moments. Tautou, in a part that's almost a completely one-eighty from her breakthrough role in Amelie, has never looked more gorgeous. Co-star Gad Elmaleh, meanwhile, is a comic master: resembling a gallic Buster Keaton in his almost total deadpan and tiny but hilarious lapses from it, he wrings laughs out of dead air and is also touching without working for it. They are served by a script worthy of them, its structural felicities and ringing of changes on certain lines of dialogue reminiscent of a Billy Wilder script at times. Watch this, savour it, shudder to think what the Hollywood remake will be like.
You've seen this, right? I mean, you have seen it? Just checking.
Because I only saw it the other day. No-one had ever told me. I don't
say there was any big conspiracy against me; they just all assumed I
knew. So I'm just checking you know, in case you only find out about it
later and you're cross.
Someone had tried to tell me recently, actually, but I just curled my lip and thought, 'Huh, I bet it's not that good.' Because most things, I find, are rubbish. And that's actually a good attitude with which to start to watch a film. It saves on disappointment, and the rare occasions when you're startled out of it the surprise adds to the joy. So I'll try not to build this up too much. And I don't want to give anything away. Just... watch it.
This must be a universal work of art. There must be Afghan warlords who love this. This is the real thing. If you work or aspire to work in a creative field, the chances are you'll watch it and think, 'I want to do something like that, I must try harder,' with a happy gratitude innocent of any jealousy.
It's at once classic and completely original. It's often hilarious. It's inventive and refreshing. It's... the necessary words get overused until they're meaningless. This deserves them.
This is a comic gem, an utterly charming diversion, a cunningly-wrought
fable and a stealth classic that seems to have wandered out of a more
sophisticated era of film.
Some time in the recent past a group of young upper-crust Manhattanites attend debutante balls and gather afterwards to party, philosophize, gossip, bitch and fall in love. If that capsule description sounds unappealing, watch ten minutes and see if you aren't addicted.
Of the four most important characters, three are adorably, refreshingly innocent, idealistic, striving to be virtuous - and the fourth is simply the greatest snob-fop-wasp acid-tongued cynic in cinema since the heyday of George Sanders and Clifton Webb, but still has a code of honour.
Other reviewers have already invoked comparisons to Woody Allen and Jane Austen and I can't readily think of anything more apt. Perhaps a funnier, anglo Eric Rohmer? In modern cinema Whit Stillman's dialogue is only rivalled by Allen's. It is elegant, witty and intelligent; almost every other line ended up printed on my brain, and dozens of them float up from time to time to make me laugh out loud again years later. The film is more than just a talkfest, though: on repeat viewing it proves to have the momentum and taut plotting of a stage play, and a morality play at that. He has a remarkable knack of crafting both scenes and lines that seem merely comic at first but which prove - sometimes only after watching or rewatching the film, sometimes only when one has grown wiser oneself - to contain a steely moral.
The ensemble of unknowns are talented and appealing. I'm mystified that some of them have done little on film since, and like to think that after working on something as good as this they simply turned down all lesser scripts out of disdain. In particular, the charismatic Chris Eigeman makes Stillman look twice the genius he undoubtedly he is every time he speaks.
If you enjoy this, Stillman's 'Barcelona' and 'The Last Days of Disco' are also wonderful.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most episodes of Farscape had a single writing credit, but here's how I
think they were really written: Half a dozen geniuses in a room have
fun writing a script together to the best of their ability. When
they're done, they lock themselves in there for a further week and take
it apart line by line, constantly asking, 'How can we do this better?
How can we do this different? How can we put an original spin on this?'
They do this until it's no longer fun and they hate each other. When
they break through that and they're in love again they go back once
more and really have fun putting humour and sick stuff in.
Almost everything in Farscape had that little extra tweak. A mining colony which on any other SF show would be on an asteroid is inside the corpse of a gigantic spaceborn creature. Space pirates don't use tractor beams, they have vast webs or grapple their prey with huge rocket-harpoons. Where other shows would have a lie-detector machine, Farscape has an alien scorpion-spider which squats on your head and will stab you through the eye if it senses you're fibbing.
My favourite example of this (spoiler), the scene which for me encapsulates the whole show: a spaceship is destroyed, the baddies' mobile HQ, a ship so big its recreation area features a real park with real grass - and a real lake. So the ship is blown up, and, yes, there are explosions and fires and the usual things. Then the chief villain, who is by the way the greatest villain in the history of TV, stands in his command centre contemplating the ruin of all his schemes, posed coolly on the steps of this huge dais in his black leather - AND BEHIND HIM WATER IS POURING IN. Tons of water, cascading down the steps, smashing and shorting out everything in its wake, an apocalyptic deluge! You think of U-boat movies! And as if that wasn't enough, you don't even hear the water, because on the soundtrack A BLOODY CLASSICAL CHOIR is going absolutely mental like the climax of an opera.
That's Farscape for me right there. A space opera with the emphasis on the 'opera'. Individual episodes did all the fun or thought-provoking things the very best SF short stories are able to do, but as an ongoing story it owed more to opera, to fairy tale. The role of the Henson creature workshop and the show's brilliant, brilliant designers was vital. In Star Trek the aliens look just like us except they have pointy ears, wrinkled foreheads, snub noses, the occasional spot; you see weirder creatures at any bus-stop. On Farscape, the aliens are really alien. On Farscape, the monsters are out of Bosch, Goya, Giger, Burroughs, the Brothers Grimm. On Farscape, the villains are pantomime demons from your childhood nightmares.
On Farscape, most of the episodes begin at a point it would take the modern Star Trek series half an hour of arrival and exposition to reach, and then pack in as much as any film. On Farscape, most of the episodes begin with the crew already chased up a tree with no idea how to get down. Three key Farscape phrases: 'We're cursed', 'You have got to be kidding me' and 'We're so screwed.' This last became the title of one of the episodes and could have been the title of almost all of them. The episodes start with the heroes screwed; then they become more screwed; at length they make a plan, that backfires, and they get progressively screwed even more. I lost count of the number of episodes where I genuinely thought one or more of the lead characters was doomed; and sometimes they were.
What else to say? The characters were heroic but flawed and fallible, delightfully colourful and individual, the way they almost constantly bickered with each other a refreshing change. The very gradually blossoming love story at the series' core became genuinely romantic and moving. The actors were great and even the characters played by puppets become very real. There were moments of hilarity, of very dark black comedy, of genuine creepiness and fear.
The first half dozen or so episodes of the first series are merely quite promising. You could look at it and think, 'Well, they took that from this and borrowed that from the other and this reminds me of that.' But it very quickly transcends this and becomes more than the sum of its parts, and when Farscape found its unique voice it was the most original thing on television. It just got better and better and better and then, when you thought it couldn't any more, even better. It was a labour of love and a work of collective genius.
In fact one of the best things on television ever. The production
values! The world locations! The casts! The action sequences! The star
directors involved! Did George Lucas personally spend half his vast
fortune providing the budgets?
Indiana Jones, as a young man or child, has a series of adventures, highly entertaining ones as he gets older and takes part in various revolutions and the First World War, and on the way encounters many of the great or notorious figures (and important ideas) of the early twentieth century. He has romances with Mata Hari and a suffragette played by Elizabeth Hurley. His mum is chatted up by Puccini, his dad teaches him about democracy in Athens. He befriends Tolstoy, Schweitzer, Hemingway, Kafka, Erich von Stroheim and Lawrence of Arabia to name but some. Even as a reasonably educated grown-up I learned a lot, in particular about lesser-known fronts of WWI; but all in the form of thrilling Boy's Own adventures - some of the war episodes especially are as good as any film.
Amid uniformly excellent casts Sean Patrick Flanery as the university-aged Indiana and Lloyd Owen as his father must be singled out. But almost every role is filled by someone great, usually a stalwart British character actor. (To give some idea of the expense and trouble that must have been gone to, Harry Enfield, then already a huge star here, appears in one episode as a chauffeur who if I remember rightly doesn't even talk.)
Really this is the best thing George Lucas has ever done. (I hope at some point he does something similar for other periods of history - I would love him to get the rights to the Flashman books, for example.) Tremendously entertaining, and a good thing to get hold of for a youngster you'd like to learn a bit of history.
I don't understand why this film got such a poor reception on release. It's great fun, the wisecracks keep on coming, the dames are glamorous. Don't expect some note-perfect pastiche of 40s films - it's a Woody Allen film in costume, with all kinds of anachronisms in style. But it's relentlessly entertaining and there's a rather sweet love story at the bottom - I think it actually owes more to Billy Wilder's 'The Apartment' than to the classic screwball comedies. It's fluff, but likable, uplifting and charming fluff. Contrary to what some have said, both Helen Hunt and Woody are perfect in their roles. The fact that he's old and dilapidated fits the comedy, the romance, and the conventions of the detective genre. Hunt is appealing and does the hard-boiled but vulnerable underneath thing perfectly. Hooray for the discerning gentleman critics of IMDb who have given this film the credit the professionals didn't.
This film tends to polarize people. Personally I didn't quite either
love it or hate it but came close to both.
Reasons to watch it: It's very funny in places. You'll be remembering the best jokes and chuckling for ages afterwards. It's a genuinely hard-hitting satire of our era, perhaps the only real biting satire I've seen on screen for a long time. People may well be referring to the best bits for ages, and if you haven't seen it you may feel left out. If you like to think about social problems rather than escaping them - I don't knock either attitude - then you need to think about some of the points raised here, assuming you haven't already. It's by Mike Judge, who made King of the Hill and the excellent Office Space, and like the latter it unfairly didn't get a proper release even in the US.
Reasons to avoid it: It's stupid. Well, it's obviously more intelligent than the average Hollywood stupidity, but it's still pretty stupid at times. Some of the plot points are fairly stupid and feel arbitrary, and many of the jokes are stupid and crass. If you're stupid and crass in the cause of satirizing stupid and crass people, aren't you still stupid and crass? Are we laughing at them or laughing like them? This was a problem I had with Beavis and Butthead, and at least one of the main characters - really, the whole society depicted - is like a grown-up, or at least aged, version of one of them. The inhabitants of the idiocracy are genuinely repulsive and vile at times, and in a couple of places I found myself looking away and blocking my ears squeamishly or dearly wishing I just had. The voice-over device, although necessary some of the time, is a little overused and you become annoyed to be told things rather than shown. Furthermore aspects of the ending are an appalling cop-out. 'I've decided I like these people after all.' For God's sake why? They are dreadful. If I say the film's like a coil of barbed wire with a candy-floss coating, that cuts both ways.
For a time (the second half of the first series and all of the second)
this was the best fun on telly, if you were in the mood for escapism: a
sort of Jane Bond / Mission Impossible given an extra special
ingredient X in the ongoing hunt for the works of Rambaldi, a 15th
century monk who was like Da Vinci multiplied by Nostradamus and has
left behind devices which are in advance even of today's technology and
are sought by various competing Illuminati-type organisations bent on
fulfilling his prophecies and taking over the world. Other things it
had going for it were the gorgeous Jennifer Garner in the lead and
regularly kitted out in sexy disguises; the impossibly gorgeous Lena
Olin as her evil-ish genius mum; a leading man whom even as a hetero I
found almost more beautiful than either and yet somehow sympathetic; a
uniformly great supporting cast, especially Ron Rifkin as a much more
evil genius; and very very high production values - special effects
you'd only expect to find in big-budget films, and an uncanny ability
to successfully make locations in Southern California resemble exotic
locations all over the world. It was played so straight and written so
well that it really did suck you in. At times like all modern TV it
dwelled too much on Personal Relationship issues - hard to give a damn
that a secret agent on the track of a nuclear device isn't spending
enough quality time with her room-mate - but at its best it really was
It went rubbish in series 3 - there were episodes that appeared to have been written by housewife slash-fiction writers - and then disappeared from British terrestrial TV anyway, so I never found out how it ended until now. Thanks to DVD rental I've just worked my way through series 4 and 5 and am happy to report that in these Alias returns almost to peak form. In 4 Jennifer Garner is teamed with a new half-sister, the gorgeous Nadia, played by Mia Maestro, an actress who is so perfect a cross between her and Lena Olin I suspect the producers genetically engineered her. For the first half the backstory is toned down and the show concentrates on one-off missions. In the second half the Rambaldi mythos returns and it builds to an apocalyptic climax of jaw-dropping bravura. This would probably actually have been a better end to Alias as a whole than the end of series 5, but then we would have missed out on the last two minutes of series 4, one of the best moments in television for years, and all the good things in series 5.
For the first half of 5 Garner was pregnant and so a lot of her running-jumping-shooting duties devolved on a new trio of babes: a loose-cannon French girl played by Elodie Bouchez, an icy villainess played by Amy Acker, and a reluctant new CIA recruit played by Rachel Nichols. This actually worked well and in particular the episodes with Garner mentoring the latter brought something refreshing to the formula and provided some strong stories. In the second half Garner is back in business and Rambaldi rears his head again. The show starts to gracefully build to an ultimate ending and dangling threads from earlier series that one had given up on are picked up again. I had high hopes for a completely satisfying resolution.
Unfortunately the show was cancelled before the end and the producers were given a very small number of episodes to wrap everything up. Within this limitation they did admirably. They sort of, kind of, almost, resolve the mystery of Rambaldi's plan. Much-liked characters are killed off abruptly, which at least adds impact. At the very end one previously ambiguous-at-worst and very intelligent character suddenly becomes almost motivelessly nasty. But there are satisfying endings for other characters and plot strands. While it could have been better, I wasn't badly disappointed. It at least stays fun until the last drop, and I finished it with a smile and didn't regret getting involved with it again.
A film of Offenbach's opera, choreographed by Frederick Ashton,
designed by Hein Heckroth, and played by the Royal Philharmonic under
Sir Thomas Beecham. Dear God, almost every second of it is
overwhelmingly lovely. It may, in fact, be one of the most beautiful
things wrought by man.
The only drawback is that I am now completely smitten by Ludmilla Tcherina, one of the most beautiful works of God, and would sell my reflection to get hold of the 'missing' Powell and Pressburger films she also stars in, 'Oh... Rosalinda!' and 'Honeymoon.'
If you loved 'The Red Shoes', you have to see this.
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