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It may lose direction toward the end, but Persepolis is funny, informative, moving and tragic in ways that so many "proper" films aren't these days
Among so many other wonderful things, Persepolis is an example of a graphic novel that has been lifted to the cinema screen without the aid of wondrous and realistic digimation, but rather hand-drawn monochrome shadow theatre. People move in mysterious ways, buildings look ominous, and many animated details are thinly layered. But the cartoonish simplicity of the visual aesthetic serves this, actually rather human, story so remarkably well. It is the kind of movie that marries the personal and the political perfectly, to be informative as much as it is entertaining and moving.
We are following the trails of a young Iranian girl from Tehran called Marjane. Around the late 1970s, just before the fall of the Iranian Shah, Marjane is still carefree and blissfully unaware of her country's struggles against an oppressive Shah. She loves Bruce Lee and jamming to Iron Maiden records. But her leftist politically-conscious family make sure she is aware of what is going on. She learns why Iran has a monarchy in the first place, and what role the West had in making sure they didn't institute a republic. Her communist uncle Anoush tells her of how an uprising would only help Iran, since nothing could be worse than living under the Shah. We then live through the revolution with Marjane's family, as the country goes from an oppressive monarchy to an even more oppressive Islamic fundamentalist republic. All women are required to wear veils, and many cultural items, including alcohol and Marjane's Iron Maiden records, become illegal. Public displays of affection are frowned upon. What the film captures brilliantly is the struggle her family faces in trying to raise a normal girl in an oppressive environment. At one point her mother turns to her now grown-up daughter, who hastily married her boyfriend, and says "When I was your age, your father and I could hold hands in public". As a youngster she tries to remain true to herself, and even goes as far as wearing a jacket with "Punk is not ded (sic)" written on the back of it, much to the chagrin of her neighbours and city-watchmen.
Her parents eventually decide Iran is not good enough for their daughter, and send her to Vienna for education. With a new country, comes new ideas, but fresh problems. She experiences the snooty racism of the west, and becomes embarrassed by her own identity. The movie also demonstrates the naivety many westerners share about the middle east, or just the world in general, by their apathy to political causes. Marjane was raised by a politically-literate family, and feels strongly about the causes many Iranians died for.
Where the movie really shines is showing Marjane become a woman. Although Persepolis is much about the political struggles that one faces in 1980s Iran, it is also about the personal struggles of an every-day woman. Marjane discovers boys and parties, but also the heartbreak relationships bring. Eventually she returns to Iran where said parties and relationships are frowned upon.
Persepolis is about a world far too often untouched by western filmmakers, but it is a film that tells a universal story. The filmmaker, Vincent Parronaud, uses pop-culture references allowing us to easily relate to the film's protagonist. Indeed so much of Persepolis entails the struggle one has of freedom under an oppressive regime, but Marejane remains defiant throughout the film. She is the antithesis of the stereotypical meekness of middle eastern women; proud of her heritage, literate and consistently questioning the world. In many ways Personalise is a tribute the female spirit. Marjorie never gives up hope, even if the first image of the film is of a grown up Marjane sitting in a Parisian airport, looking forlornly at the ground. We know melancholy will accompany the following story, but what beauty it pays to it's inhabitants. Marjane's grandmother, who advises her granddaughter throughout her life to stay true to herself. Her parents who try their best to raise a smart, independent girl. And her uncle, who died because of what he believed. Such tragedy, and yet a movie as funny, moving and generally uplifting as Persepolis demands to be seen by everyone.
cool, sassy fun
21 is the kind of movie that ensures you even if your knowledge and tolerance of card games is zilch and thin, that they are sexed up enough to keep you watching. Ben Campbell is a young student, with a genius-like understanding of numeracy. This interests his lecturer (Kevin Spacey, clearly on weekend night-shift form) who assembles a crack team of young geniuses, including Kate Bosworth as a rocket scientist (don't laugh), to rip-off the Vegas casinos through card-counting. The movie's intellect never aspires to the level of it's subjects, but the visual aesthetics and bouncy tone are enough to wet even the most ardent of anti-gamblers' appetites.
Son of Rambow (2007)
Funny, touching and utterly charming
Set in 1982, Son of Rambow potentially pictures itself as a madcap send-up of 1980s cheese-fest First Blood. But the film actually celebrates the creative outflow of the childhood imagination. Even if that creativity is inspired by Rambo, the young protagonist of the film Will (Proudfoot) is part of a ultra-conservative Christian sect known as the Plymouth Brethren. He is prevented from watching television, movies and even reading books (that aren't the bible). He runs into discouraged fellow classmate, and renowned outcast Lee Carter (Poulter), who uses him to make a home-movie sequel to First Blood. At first, Carter bullies him into making the film, but eventually the boys form a bond, one that is strengthened due to each boy's disassociation with their family. Lee is ignored by his bigger brother, and disowned by his natural parents, whereas Will is condemned by his mother for his supposedly hedonistic detachment to the Plymouth brethren. The film is consistently funny, unashamedly retro and nicely touching. And features two strong debut leads from Bill Milner and Will Poulter.
El orfanato (2007)
This hauntingly brilliant horror film stars Belen Rueda as Laura, a woman who brings her family back to her childhood home in order to re-open it as an orphanage. Once there, her son's imagination is reawakened by the home, but his childhood fantasies and games become sinister when his "imaginary" friends may not be so imaginary after all. Unlike many modern horror films, Juan Antonio Bayona does not wash the cinema screen with explicit torture candy, but rather skilfully weaves cinematic shocks through intrigue and suspense. His movie is all the more terrifying for what it does not show than for what it actually reveals. And there are at least four big moments that will leave you trembling in your seat, if you have not already jumped out of it.
Smart, charming and daring comedy
The supposed taboo of teenage pregnancy is tackled full on in this smartly-written but still hugely enjoyable comedy. Rising star Ellen Page plays Juno, the girl in question, who discovers that she is pregnant at the age of 16. At first, she wants to abort it, but soon decides the best thing to do is give it up for adoption. Written by Diablo Cody, who has gained mass amounts of publicity for her previous career as an exotic dancer, Juno combines jug-loads of wit and charm with a brilliant cast featuring the ever watchable JK Simmons as the smart-but-firm father, Jennifer Garner as the uptight but well-meaning adopter-mother and Michael Cerna, who carries over his awkward nerd shtick, perfected in such laugh-a-thons as TV cult series Arrested Development and gross-out comedy Superbad. Although some have complained the dialogue is unrealistically smart for pre-graduate high-schoolers, you will lose yourself in the story too much to bother caring.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson's mesmerising oil saga about a gold digger who strikes oil around the turn of the 20th century enraptured audiences as much as it disoriented them. The critics were wowed mostly by the majestic acting talents of Daniel-Day Lewis, who plays the titular anti-hero, a man slowly dissenting into a purgatory netherworld of moral and social bankruptcy. But it is far from just his film, or indeed Anderson's. The brooding score by Johnny Greenwood is mournfully unnerving, and the cinematography creates a vision of both a man and his hellish world that would give any monster movie a run for its money. It is difficult to comprehend the profoundly enigmatic aura of the film, without repeating the sound bites of a thousand other cineasts. you know what you have just witnessed is some kind of masterpiece, but you can't explain why.
In this rip-roaring, home-movie styled monster movie a group of teenager partying for the departure of one their closest friends find themselves amid a blaze of destruction when a giant 'thing' starts ripping the city to shreds. One of the unlucky scamps happens to be filming the entire thing, and thus we get a faux-documentary much in the style of a megabucks version of The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla. Although the shaky camera and choice of the 1st person view may put off some viewers who suffer from motion sickness, Cloverfield for the most part is barnstorming entertainment, fully exploiting the resources available to it. The idea to shoot entirely from some poor sap's camera is not entirely original, dating back to the Italian cannibal movies of the early 80s. But it does make for an interesting take on the monster movie.
Very Admiral piece of work
Cristian Mungiu's bleak tale of a woman searching for an abortion in Communist Romania may not sound like the most enjoyable experience at the cinema, but storytelling as fluid, and beautiful camera-work and performances, most who see 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days will leave with nothing but total admiration for what they have seen. The story centres around a student who decides to help her friend seek and illegal abortion. They go to a hotel in an obscure part of the suburbs, where the man in question takes horrible advantage of both women's predicaments. For the most part, it is a remarkably discreet film, but the tension and atmosphere reach almost unbearable heights.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Outstanding work from the Coen Brothers
No Country For Old Men's opening prologue, spoken carefully and wistfully by Tommy Lee Jones' weary sheriff, tells the story of him having to put a 14-year-old killer in the electric chair. He killed his girlfriend, not because he had a motive, but to see what it would feel like. This opening speech sets up No Country For Old Men, the new release from Coen Brothers - Joel and Ethan, which then goes on to explore that baseless type of evil in the form of Javier Bardem's ruthless, mop-topped killer. He plays Anton Chigurh (how you pronounce his last name is dependant on who says it), a stone-faced killer trying to track down a missing bag of drug money, after a deal goes horribly wrong in the Texan desert. Josh Brolin's local simpleton Llewellyn Moss is the man who took the money after stumbling across the aftermath of the deal-gone-wrong. Everything seems to go remarkably well for Moss until he makes one fatal mistake, leading Chigurh onto his tail. Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff Ed Tom Bell attempts to find Moss before Chigurh does.
Apart from being an amazingly tense, and brilliantly shot straightforward genre movie, No Country For Old Men is also a faithfully adapted story that encompasses all the philosophical debates present in Cormack McCarthy's novel. Ed Tom Bell, the beleaguered sheriff weary with the modern world is wondering where the hell society is leading itself. He is convinced, at his mature age, that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and morality is being sapped from society. But is that really the case, or has the world always been an evil and dark place? The Coens, like McCarthy, clearly think so, despite themselves being at an age when conservative nostalgia evokes a form of pride when you could remember the "good old days" of yesteryear. Days when, in your own interpretation, people were nicer and less evil to each other. Anton Chigurh embodies the new kind of evil that people like Bell are forced to face. And Moss is simply the small time player who thinks he can play along with the big guns.
The performances are roundly fantastic, but no one draws the audiences' attention quite like Javier Bardem. The Spanish superstar dares the camera to look at him with his almost lifeless eyes, and the cattle gun he uses to mercilessly kill his targets. Undoubtedly, however, the real star of the movie are the Coens themselves. Along with famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, Joel and Ethan have made their best movie in years. After dabbling in fairly flimsy-but-throwaway material like The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty, this sees them back on the form of edgier films like Fargo and Blood Simple. Even though many found themselves at sea with the head-scratching ending, there is no denying that as a piece of genre cinema, this is top quality stuff. As a poetic meditation on the new evils of the world, it is even better.
Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
Witty political comedy
This sharply written political comedy stars Tom Hanks as a 1980s womanising, whiskey-gulping, senator, who finds himself the middle man in an American effort to fund the war in Afghanistan. His financial backing, scary socialite millionaire Joane Herring (a heavily made up Julia Roberts) sends him to the refugee camps on the Pakistani borders in order to further his mission. Although the movie fails largely to acknowledge the huge consequences of the war's aftermath, Charlie Wilson's War for the most part contains enough zingy one-liners and larger-than-life characters to please audiences. Although Roberts and Hanks have attracted the lion's share of publicity for the film, it is Philip Seymour Hoffman who steals the show. Playing a brash and hilariously frank CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, Hoffman executes some of the film's funniest lines with effortless panache.