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10 reviews in total 
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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A fine movie, 19 July 2009

This film wasn't easy to track down. I wanted to watch it because I had really enjoyed and admired the novel it's based on, but Amazon didn't have copies of it; evidently it didn't get a lot of distribution outside Israel. I finally managed to track it down to an Israeli online shop.

It's the sort of film that people outside Israel should probably watch, because among other things it lifts the lid on what a corrupt, nasty and dangerous place Israel has become - in other words, it shows just how much Israel can be like any other country. The basic story is of Asaf, a young guy who works for a dog shelter (I think he's meant to be an Israeli Arab, but I'm not certain), trying to reunite a stray dog with its owner. The owner is Tamar, a teenage girl on a mysterious mission. The opening scene, in which Tamar goes into a barbershop and gets her beautiful head of hair shaved off, is shocking in a low-key sort of way. The rest of the film, like the book, is a mixture of adventure story and social commentary.

It's a good movie, with fine performances from all but especially from the two leads, Bar Belfer as Tamar and Yonatan Bar-Or as Asaf. Quite a lot of the suspense comes from the tension about whether or not the two main characters are ever actually going to meet.

David Grossman, author of the original novel, is one of the best novelists working today and this is one of the toughest and most unsentimental Israeli movies I've seen. Since most of the Israeli movies I've seen have tended to be more than a bit sentimental, that's a major mark in its favour. If there's anything wrong with it, it's that it sometimes seems a little far-fetched; the novel was more believable, for some reason. But it's still a very fine story, and it's a shame that it hasn't been seen much outside Israel; most Irish films (I'm Irish) get more hype, but are far more flimsy.

Ben Affleck a genius? Get out of town!, 8 December 2008

Ben Affleck's film career has been, as they say, "chequered", meaning that his resume consists of a lot of total dogs and a small handful of nice appearances here and there. Up until very lately, I had always been inclined to agree with the British film critic David Thomson, who wrote in 2004 that Affleck was "lucky to have got away with it so far".

Because Affleck really isn't a very good actor, or at any rate not a consistently good one. When Kevin Smith attempts to hang an entire movie on an Affleck performance (Chasing Amy, Dogma) Affleck looks wooden, but when Smith brings the actor in for a quick, mischievous cameo, he seems to be galvanised - he is effective as a thuggish boyfriend in Mallrats, and his smirking few minutes as both Holden and as himself in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back are good fun.

Elsewhere, though, anyone who can see the point of Pearl Harbor or Gigli needs to gain some serious perspective. Then, in 2006, he delivered an unexpectedly lovely performance as the fading actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland - overweight, sagging, stoical and with a touching sense of faded glamour. When we in our house heard that he'd a.) directed a movie and b.) it was supposed to be pretty good, we were interested - mildly.

I started watching Gone Baby Gone with a sense of let's-just-give-this-ten-minutes, and it says much for Affleck's sense of pace that the movie is, to be begin with, both thoroughly unenjoyable and totally gripping. It's a subject which has a lot to say to any parent: the four-year-old daughter of a working-class Boston woman (Amy Ryan) has gone missing, and two private investigators (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) are asked by the woman's sister-in-law to help with the police investigation. The initial twist is that Helene, the mother, is a deeply unsympathetic character; she's a bored, slobbish, neglectful mother who drinks beer in the middle of the day and seems almost uninterested in what has happened to her daughter.

Before the film is over, you will have changed your mind several times about Helene, and indeed about pretty much every other character. The film starts like a detective thriller, but it isn't one really. It's a highly intelligent and subversive film about family and morality and the cost of doing the right thing.

Full marks to an excellent cast. To begin with I found Casey Affleck's voice sort of irritating, but his performance is actually very subtle; the film plays very well on his capacity for blue-eyed innocence. Amy Ryan is truly remarkable as Helene. Everybody else is just spot on; there's a scene in a bar, featuring mostly non-professional actors, that makes you marvel at how unbelievably unfriendly the modern American drinking hole can be.

My admiration for Gone Baby Gone grew as it went on and I'm glad I watched it to the end. The final image, a simple shot of two people sitting on a sofa watching television, is one of the saddest and grimmest moments I've seen as a film-goer recently. The film sticks in the mind. Affleck should make more films as a director, because on the strength of this movie he already deserves a more illustrious place in cinema history than his acting has so far managed to earn him.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A promising direction for the franchise; a rubbish director for the movie, 11 November 2008

I wouldn't call myself a crazy fan of the Bond movies; I only own about three or four on DVD, all of them from the Connery era. I prefer the colder and murkier Fleming novels, which is perhaps why I like Daniel Craig as Bond. Pierce Brosnan was good fun but he was Connery Lite; Timothy Dalton was a good actor who behaved as though he was in a different film to everyone else; and with the Roger Moore movies, you might as well have been watching something like "Smokey and the Bandit".

So a darker, more tortured Bond is a good idea, I think, and Daniel Craig can certainly do tortured. With his boxer's face and deadpan delivery, he is just the guy to present a more realistic and three-dimensional version of the character. Strange, then, that it was partly on his recommendation that Marc Forster was hired to direct this movie.

Forster and his editor cut the entire film like one huge action sequence. He said somewhere how he felt that "Casino Royale" felt "too long" and that he wanted this film to be zippier. Job done, Mr. Forster. It goes by so fast you'll barely notice it. As the final titles rolled, I turned to my wife and said "Wasn't there supposed to be a story?" There is a story, at least on paper. Despite Forster's impatience with the thought of filming performances by actors, Mathieu Amalric manages to register his presence on screen as a memorably two-faced Bond villain, a scheming suit with the appearance of a scruffy, hip, eco-millionaire. The fast cutting means that the action sequences only impress - you are dazzled by them, but there is no real drama or suspense because when the cutting is this fast, there is no time to focus on what's happening to people: this Bond can jump from house to house like a lemur and take down a lift full of trained MI5 agents in a blur of kicks and punches without even breaking a sweat. I, for one, would love to see Bond chase someone in one long take, something like the celebrated chase sequence in "French Connection II" in which an out-of-condition Gene Hackman runs...and runs...and runs...after the almost oblivious Fernando Rey, getting more and more out of breath.

The story was apparently written on the fly, while shooting the previous movie, and it feels like it. The villain's lair catches fire after a single stray bullet punctures a gas line; haven't these supervillains ever heard of health and safety procedures??? For all the talk about Bond going "inward" and the franchise taking a bold new direction, this is one of the flimsiest and least involving Bond movies I have ever seen; at least the Moore movies had a sense of absurd humour. "Casino Royale" was the first Bond movie that made me actually care about Bond. "Quantum of Solace", on the other hand, is deeply frustrating: the producers, and I think Craig, want it to be more realistic but the director doesn't pause for long enough to reality to catch a breath. The result is a grim and uninvolving cartoon.

I suggest that next time, the Bond people should get a proper screenwriter to sit down and write a proper script, and then they should replace Marc Forster with a director who is not going to think that he's above all this Bond movie nonsense and that the characters aren't worth taking seriously.

Eichmann (2007)
23 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
Not great, but not rubbish, 17 October 2008

There are a lot of things about "Eichmann" which seem curiously wrong. For one thing, this Eichmann is a lot more interesting and colourful than the real man appears to have been. There's a bizarre scene in which he is challenged by his very weird Hungarian mistress to shoot a baby; I won't give away whether or not he does so, but it's not something I've ever heard of before. This Eichmann is a womaniser, a bit of a boozer, altogether a more louche and raffish figure than the rather dull bureaucrat that I've always read Eichmann described as.

Yes, the film suffers from some weird accents. Thomas Kretschmann, as Eichmann himself, speaks in a clipped German accent; Troy Garity, Franka Potente and Stephen Fry (in a bizarre but oddly convincing performance as, of all things, the Israeli Minister of Justice) all have indeterminately foreign accents, and none of it really makes sense.

Having said that, Kretschmann carries off the job he has been asked to do, and Garity is really very good as Avner Less, who was not Eichmann's prosecutor (as someone else stated) but his interrogator. Less was not a lawyer but a police officer. The subplot of his wife being chronically ill is presumably there because it was true; it would have been better if they'd left it out, because what drama there is in this film is the battle of wills between Less the dogged interrogator and Eichmann the stolidly evasive interrogatee.

I note in passing that Stephen Fry might almost be the rather more well-fed first cousin, or perhaps uncle, of Ciaran Hinds in "Munich". The accent is the same, and the tallness, slicked-down hair and intimidating bulk is very similar.

If they'd toned down the lurid stuff about Eichmann's sex life and focused on what he actually did for a living, this could have been as good as "Conspiracy". Pity.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
It's only okay, but then the book is no masterpiece, 29 August 2008

I have no idea why the US and New Zealand versions of this movie were retitled 'A Merry War' - it's not set during wartime, and it's not especially merry. George Orwell's original novel is far from the greatest work of that great writer, but it's a sardonic and gritty look at bohemian poverty. The movie is much the same. Richard E. Grant does a fine job as the chronically self-defeating anti-hero, a character who more or less defines the phrase "his own worst enemy" - Gordon Comstock is one of those characters who basically needs a good smack in the mouth, but he never actually gets one. Helena Bonham-Carter does some quietly expert sweeping-up as Rosemary, Gordon's girlfriend, one of Orwell's less boring female characters. Julian Wadham is fine as Gordon's affluent editor friend Ravelston. The film never really gets to the bottom of Gordon's puritanical hatred of money and success, but it's not screenwriter Alan Plater's fault, because neither does the book. All in all, an entertaining piece of guardedly feel-good period drama.

207 out of 252 people found the following review useful:
A cheerful film with an underlying vein of tragedy, 1 May 2008

Happy-Go-Lucky has been reviewed in the British press as a relatively lightweight Mike Leigh movie, but I'm not so sure. The story revolves around Sally Hawkins' remarkable performance as primary school teacher Poppy Cross, a highly unusual character in that Hawkins and Leigh between them manage to make her consistently cheerful and optimistic without being either naive or irritating. Poppy is presented as both relentlessly cheery and, on another level, remarkably intuitive; throughout the film, she has a series of encounters with troubled male figures (a boy in her class who has started bullying, a very strange homeless Irishman and, above all, her phenomenally uptight driving instructor Scott) and in all of them, Poppy's liveliness and friendly curiosity about other people is seen to be a powerful counter to male self-pity, anger and despair.

Hawkins' character is not someone who is inclined to let life get her down, so it's just as well that she is surrounded by people with a somewhat more sardonic or downbeat take on reality. Her flatmate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman, very good) is a wonderfully dry and sarky counter to Poppy's enthusiasm, although the affection between them is palpable. Poppy's younger sisters Suzy and Helen are also quite different; Suzy is a law student who is more interested in clubbing, drinking and playing with her brother-in-law's Playstation than in criminal justice, while Helen is heavily pregnant, obsessed with acquiring the trappings of a respectable suburban life and unable to understand how her older sister can be so happy living in a rented flat and not stepping onto the property ladder.

The big surprise for me is that I had been led to believe that this is a more or less straightforward feelgood film. It isn't. Scott, Poppy's driving teacher (Eddie Marsan), is the most affecting character in it, and one of the greatest and most unforgettable characters in Leigh's oeuvre. Most of the reviews I've read of the film depict Scott as a hateful, sinister or otherwise despicable character, but although it's true that he is an uptight, judgmental, angry bigot, it is also perfectly clear from his first appearance that he doesn't know what he's talking about and that he is driven by emotional problems that he hasn't even begun to get a handle on. Marsan's extraordinary performance is one of the best things I've seen on film for a long time. Scott has been afflicted with very bad teeth and a mild speech defect (he can't really say the letter 'r') and although his inner anger and bigotry is played for laughs for a lot of the film, in the end it is allowed to blossom forth in a riveting scene where his fury, jealousy and terror of his own darkness spill forth in a heartbreaking and riveting torrent. If part of the point of art is to help us to understand people we would otherwise have little sympathy with, then this film is a work of art. I've never seen Marsan before but he deserves awards for this movie, no question.

Happy-Go-Lucky is a highly enjoyable and often very funny film, but it also carries terrible sadness. I have never been a massive fan of Mike Leigh, but lately I have to admit that I was wrong. He just seems to get better and better.

Beowulf (2007)
88 out of 119 people found the following review useful:
Better than I expected, 19 March 2008

I didn't expect a lot from 'Beowulf', for lots of reasons, most of which were to do with the casting: incorrigibly cockney Ray Winstone as a warrior from what's now southern Sweden; wacky John Malkovich as a cynical counselor; loony Crispin Glover as a flesh-rending monster, and weirdest of all, Angelina Jolie as the monster's mother...thaet waes wundorlic castyng, as the poet might have put it. Then there was the way they did the whole thing in CGI, running the risk of making it all look a bit rubbery. Finally, Robert Zemeckis is the director and my great respect for him plummeted through the floor and into the crawlspace after he presided over the insufferable 'Forrest Gump'.

Nevertheless, this is a lot better than I thought it would be. I missed the 3D incarnation as we were watching the DVD rather than the cinema release, but after a while you stop looking at the CGI and start enjoying it. This is a 'Beowulf' where the story, although different from the poem, is actually very far from shabby.

Without giving too much away, the main difference from the poem is that in the poem, there is no connection between the monster Grendel and his mother on one hand, and the dragon in the latter half of the poem on the other hand. In the film, a connection exists. Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary do a professional job of tying it all together in a satisfying Hollywood way, without betraying the basic darkness and sadness of the story; it's not like Beowulf rides off into the sunset with Wiglaf at the end. Crispin Glover is genuinely scary as the tormented and raw-boned Grendel, whose main problem is that he just can't stand the sound of people having fun, although since most of this fun consists of hairy men singing lewd songs you can see his point. Angelina Jolie's animated self spends all her on screen time walking around without any clothes on, something that apparently gave Jolie a blush when she saw a cut of the movie. (One of the more eerie things about this film is that the cartoon Angelina Jolie looks marginally more realistic than the actress herself.)

Despite an accent that's more Stockwell than Geatland, Ray Winstone does a fine, sombre job as the hero, although my wife thought that the animated Winstone looked more like Sean Bean. Brendan Gleeson does a splendid job in the niche he's carved for himself of Hairy Sidekick. The acting honours, or at least the animation honours, go to Robin Wright Penn (or whoever worked on her character) as the pale and melancholy queen; she has moments of subtle hesitation and sadness that struck me as a triumph of CGI acting.

There is much excellent smiting, some of it unfortunately toned down a little in order to keep a PG-13 rating - so we don't actually get to see Grendel biting men's heads off, just people's reactions to him doing so. Most importantly, the story is not a travesty of the original. It's thoughtful and interesting, as you'd expect from a writer of Gaiman's quality (if not from the author of 'Killing Zoe') and contains some striking meditations on the power of legend and reputation. Plus, there's a really huge kick-ass dragon. 'Beowulf' is a strange and unexpected treat.

32 out of 65 people found the following review useful:
The worst kind of serious film, 21 February 2008

I watched 'Funny Games' out of interest mixed with skepticism, because I had read a lot of the director's comments about how if you couldn't watch it all the way through, you didn't need to, etc. This seemed to me like a remarkable high-handed attitude for a film director to take, as if the inability to watch his film was somehow proof of the viewer having a more beautiful soul than that of somebody who can sit through the whole thing without dropping their popcorn.

I realised fairly quickly that 'Funny Games' is not a movie in the conventional sense of being a filmed dramatic fiction designed to give the viewer a satisfying aesthetic experience. Oh no. It's some sort of art gesture, designed to make Michael Haneke feel like he's doing something special, something higher than other film-makers.

I don't like Quentin Tarantino's films not because they are very violent, but because I find them boring; I don't like all the trashy B-movies that Tarantino is in thrall to, so I don't appreciate it when he cannibalises their plots and motifs for his own stuff instead of writing about real people. 'Funny Games' is nothing more than a humourless art-house version of a Tarantino movie, in which the smirking protagonists systematically terrorise a family and wink at the camera throughout, asking us if we want to keep watching. I kept watching because I was getting more and more angry at Michael Haneke's pompous disapproval of my viewing habits.

Why shouldn't we want to keep watching? It's only a movie. I am a fan of serious film directors like Robert Bresson, Michael Powell and Jacques Rivette, and I appreciate films that make me think, but I do not appreciate some pretentious fool behaving as though an essentially cheap exploitation film is making some sort of grand comment about violence in cinema. Haneke is an untalented, pretentious and humourless director who disguises his inability to tell good stories by tricking up his films with silly gimmicks that give intellectual film reviewers handy talking points. He did it with 'Hidden' and he does it here. He is a one-joke phony.

I am not the only person to find 'Funny Games' a stupid and intellectually indefensible waste of time, a B-movie with delusions of significance. Jacques Rivette, a real film-maker, called it a 'disgrace, a piece of s***' in an interview. I watched it all the way through. I came away depressed and demoralised by a world in which people think that s*** like this means something.

Park (1999)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Overwrought and pointless, 11 January 2008

Park is indeed a memorably bad film. The acting is inexplicably over the top, the story is tortuous and hard to work out, and the point seems to be that a girl was sexually abused, although there are so many weird abstract movie-making things going on that you can't really tell. There's a lot of people looking out of windows with melancholy expressions, and a creepy park-keeper (Des Nealon, a wonderful stage actor) getting all hot and heavy about a cute teenage girl, who herself spends much of the film looking glum and/or resigned to the fact that she's in a turkey.

But what's strangest of all about it is that the director, John Carney, went on to make 'Once', the award-winning, effortlessly assured sort-of-love story about the Irish busker and the Czech street vendor. It's a lesson to us all - no matter how bad a movie you make early on, it doesn't mean you won't go on to make a gem later.

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Not utter crap but could've been so much funnier, 20 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Man Stroke Woman is a sketch show, and as such suffers from the problem of all sketch shows: if you don't have an episode-length story every week in which to let the audience get to know the characters, then the jokes had better be pretty damn thermonuclear. In this case, they aren't, and an excellent cast can't make them better than they are. Example: a dinner party sketch, in which a character (Meredith McNeill) tries to top someone else's story of something-funny-that-happened by her own pathetic retelling of something else not very funny that happened on a quite different occasion, doesn't work because it fizzles out on screen exactly as it would have fizzled out for real. If the writers had taken the other characters' reaction and amplified it beyond the bounds of probability, it could have been truly hilarious. If, for example, they'd all turned on her and actually kicked the crap out of her because her story was so rubbish, now that would have been funny. Potentially very offensive, sure, but very funny. But nobody will listen to me because I'm just some guy on an internet site. Maybe I can interest you in my autobiographical novel.

Time and again, sketches stop just when potential comic momentum is starting to build up. Surely we've had enough sketch shows. Bring back the sitcom.