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Much funnier than most of what Hollywood has to offer
It's incredibly rare to hear genuine laughter in a cinema. There were some real laughs in this - some due to crisp dialogue, some due to good comic timing, pratfalls etc. It's not a masterpiece but it is a genuine labour of love and far funnier than most of the stuff the mainstream producers "produce". Casting is well thought out, the story is clearly told from beginning to end, there is some nice camera work (especially of the riverside locations in Newcastle) and the music is spot on. I sincerely hope that someone puts this into British cinemas. A few niggles: possibly overlong: at times it does feel a bit like a bunch of students mucking about: the loan-shark subplot is a bit daft. Incidentally don't get the idea that I'm anti American: the people involved in St Trinians should watch this and learn what makes people laugh.
The Waiting Room (2007)
Ralf Little has a pee - twice
There's nothing I dislike more than male directors pointing cameras at women sitting on the bog. In this film there are two long caressing shots of a naked Ralf little having a wizz. Apart from that, there isn't really enough story to sustain interest for nearly two hours. It would have made a decent soap episode, but the dramatic problem - getting two fairly sensible characters to give up on failed relationships - isn't really big enough for a feature. Acting is good throughout, although RL has "little" to do. Cinematography is excellent and congratulations to all concerned for getting up and doing it. There are far worse things on at the cinema. My favourite bit was the video which the kids kept playing, of Dad on the telly.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Not terrible but don't believe the hype
This isn't a long film by modern standards but I spent the last quarter waiting for it to end. There are lots of good things in it - the images of Indian slums are dazzlingly put together and there is some nice humour in the face of adversity. Best of all is the music, which should definitely bag an Oscar. But there is a lot wrong with it. Here are my main niggles: 1. The device of linking Jamal's answers on "Millionaire" to stories of his past life works at first but rapidly gets repetitive. Here the film suffers from its relationship with the novel. This sort of device works better on the page than on film. 2. The central love story, which is imposed on the film in order to give it some narrative drive, doesn't really convince. Frankly when he kissed her at the end I didn't care one way or the other. It was impossible to care, because we had never been given enough insight into the characters' feelings for each other. 3. The author of the book is by his own admission is a highly privileged man who has never been to a slum. He is no nearer to the realities of Indian poverty than I am (in England). Many of the incidents are the sort of things which regularly crop up in outsiders' views of India. For instance, the mutilation of children to increase their income from begging has been described in the memoirs of dozens of English sahibs. I found many of the episodes stereotypical.
Overall this is a good film and much better than the usual Hollywood nonsense, but it's too clunky and contrived to be classic as some have claimed.
Dean Spanley (2008)
Why do the critics hate it?
First let me declare an interest. I am a screenwriter. When I first started I used to imagine my lines being spoken by the actors I loved, ie the great actors. I soon learnt to change my ways. In this film, Alan Sharp has written pages and pages of dialogue which can only be delivered by top class actors. It's a huge risk: but that's what we like in this business - a man who puts his cojones on the block. Fortunately, the actors are top class and they do deliver. Sam Neill is, in my view, turning into a great actor before our eyes. First he breathed life into Cardinal Wolsey: and in this film he's even better. Honourable mention must also go to Baron Dunsany's book. Question for budding screenwriters: how many similar books are out there waiting to be discovered? Criteria for inclusion: pre-war (therefore out of copyright), popular in their time, unashamedly commercial rather than great literature. It's no use looking in bookshops: these books are all out of print and the writers forgotten. Second honourable mention goes to Screen East, for backing this subtle and tasteful and surprising story about repressed grief. It's one of the perennial themes and all the bangs and explosions and robots in the world won't make it go away.
Touching study of love and old age
A marvellous short film dealing economically and beautifully with three main themes: the way that love can transcend time and keep part of us young: the sense of alienation that older people feel when things change around them: and the effect of Alzheimer's. There are plenty of other levels of meaning in there as well, but in spite of the wealth of content, the primary effect of the film is emotional - as it should be. Excellent performances by grown-up actors, cut-to-the-bone writing, thoughtful direction with no showing off. Sad but by no means depressing. I don't think short films get much better than this. Sadly this film has not been as widely seen as it should, for very prosaic legal reasons.
The Edge of Love (2008)
Is there really a story in there?
I'd like to think that there is a space in the market for "intelligent" and "adult" films which aren't just about exploding robots, hidden magic worlds etc. This film ticks many of the required boxes, but I think it plays into the hands of fans of non-intelligent and adult films who are always ready to say "where's the story? What am I supposed to get excited about?" There is a definite problem that there is no clear protagonist. It's very easy to be sniffy about McKie and Hollywood story structure: but, on the other hand, it's very hard to make a film unless you have a protagonist who is in jeopardy and who changes as a result. Vera (KK) probably gets the most screen time: but she doesn't really change much. William (Cillian Murphy) is the character who faces the greatest danger: but we don't see the film through his eyes. Overall, I think the performances and the film-making generally are good enough: there is also plenty of adequate dialogue and texture in the writing: but the story isn't really strong enough. It's really a Sunday evening, one hour, made for TV drama which fits very well with the remit of BBC television: but I can't see why it should be on the big screen. Re Sienna Miller as Caitlin, I heard Mark Kermode deliver a spectacular condemnation before I saw the film. I sort of agree that the accent is all over the place but that for me wasn't the real problem: I just don't think she is mad and bad enough. The gooey ending with KK and SM struggling to part, and sort of promising always to be friends, is absurd. At no point in the film has their friendship ever been an important issue for the audience, and it is ridiculous to expect the audience to start caring about it here.
La graine et le mulet (2007)
Should have been a nearly-great film
Lots to like about this film. Use of non-actors gave it a superbly involving real-life feel. Very balanced portrayal of "ethnic minority in society" issues. Nice ensemble writing which didn't leave me wanting to know who the protagonist was. The central character Slimane was an oldish grafter who was rather tired of life: his story was mainly about his attempts to leave something behind for the next generation: perhaps an underexplored area for film. Fantastic acting by (pro) Hafsia Herzi who is going to be a big big star. Main drawback is the editing. I'm perfectly capable of dealing with gently-paced films which allow the audience to observe the characters intimately, as if eavesdropping. I just think this took it a bit far. I'm surprised the distributors didn't insist on shortening it.
This is what cinema is for
The last days of the Shah and the Iranian "Revolution" are seen through the eyes of spirited young girl. The amount of humour worked in with the grimness is astonishing. The animation style, although highly restricted, never becomes boring. Use of music is excellent. I think it's important for all of us to know what it's like being personally involved in a "revolution". The picture which emerges is very clear. All extreme ideologies are just excuses for bullying. Since I've started preaching, I should add that we should all make the effort to go and see French films, because the Americans couldn't make a film as good as this in a thousand years. If we don't pay to see films like this, no-one will make them. I've deducted one star because I think the Vienna section slightly overlong, but don't let that put you off.
The Savages (2007)
Very good film but how is it a comedy?
Excellent performances from everyone involved and a very good script: but I chose it thinking it was a comedy, due to a highly misleading blurb on the video box! Not everyone would be so open-minded! In particular I would like to mention the restraint shown by the writer. It would have been so easy to show us exactly how Lenny was a useless father: but we were left to work it out for ourselves, by observing the results of his handiwork ie his unhappy children.
Hollywood struggles endlessly with the "portrayal of minorities" issue. I was very impressed with the sympathetic portrayal of Caribbean and African immigrants in the nursing home. Another gold star for the writer: it would have been so easy to show the nursing home as a living hell: but she resisted the temptation. And she resisted the temptation to demonise Laura Linney's boyfriend, which would have been so easy.
All in all a victory for unfashionable "English" qualities of holding back, showing restraint, etc. Too many films leave too little to the imagination.
Son of Rambow (2007)
Another British film that needed more rewriting
Some great ideas in there. The central notion of two kids remaking Rambo for the "Screentest" competition was great. However there were plenty of longueurs, especially in the scenes about the pair's schoolmates. I was a child once and the school scenes left me completely cold. A lot of money and time were spent without generating any real emotional impact. Also a real problem about tone, something which is so hard for people from a non-film background to get right. The school scenes, the film-within-film scenes and the home-life scenes were all on different levels of reality. Jessica Stevenson was almost too good as the Plymouth Brethren mother, driving a serious drama about child-escaping-from-religious-life, but it was competing for screen time with other stories in different genres. The answer to all these problems is to work harder on the script. Anything written by its director is always a bit suspect in my eyes. There should be people (eg producer, director) scrutinising every word before anyone picks up a camera.
Lost in Translation (2003)
Thank goodness there are other people on this site who saw through this piece of nonsense. Sofia Coppola doesn't know how to do screen writing. If you want proof, go and see Marie Antoinette: there isn't a story! Most of the major objections to LIT have been raised by other contributors. I'm just going to add one of my own. The screenwriter's instrument is the audience's emotions. The audience is invited to identify with the protagonist(s) in order to experience an emotional journey. In this film, the central characters are the sort of insensitive Americans who don't bother to learn a foreign language when they go abroad: they just talk loudly in English and look at the natives as if they are stupid. If this was a Rambo film, it might be excusable. But this is supposed to be a film for intelligent people. I object deeply to being categorised as the sort of person who could identify with this behaviour. I felt violated by watching it. The whole thing displays spectacular arrogance about foreigners and the only thing it tells us about the human condition is why so many people hate Americans.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
I honestly can't understand what all the fuss is about. Simon Pegg's many fans seem to approach his films in the same way that 70's teenyboppers listened to the latest Donny Osmond single. He's a Channel 4 comedy actor, not a film actor. The script is a mild-mannered pastiche which should be in a Channel 4 comedy sketch show. There are no real characters, no real emotions, nothing at stake. If any real screenwriter approached a producer with this script, it would go straight in the bin. Pastiche has to be cheap, cheerful and short. This isn't any of those. I watched this in the cinema. No-one laughed. It was mildly amusing. It was too long and there was plenty of fidgeting going on by the end. It belongs in the same category as all those other consumer goods that lots of people buy even though they aren't very good. If you want the same basic story made into a proper comedy film, go and see Oh! Mr Porter.
It's not very good
A brave attempt to do something non-stereotyped on a very low budget. I felt a reasonable amount of sympathy for Josie, the protagonist, who is man-child or holy fool depending on your prejudices. He has a simple life and doesn't ask for much. In return, other people push him around, pick him up or cast him off, as they please. The plot events are set in motion by him, just doing what he does: and in the end he carries out the decisive action of the film ,as the protagonist should. The small-town milieu is competently and claustrophobically described. So there are good things in the film. However, taking the film as a whole, I just don't think enough happens to justify the price of a cinema ticket. Other niggles: many of the actors speak with strong accents and are hard to understand: the female characters are outdated hard-drinking bitch/slut types (however, greatly preferable to the contemporary "plucky single mother" type). The portrayal of the male teenagers was spot on. In short nice try but I don't think the writing was really strong enough.
Much better than I expected
I am a fan of the books and I have been expecting Hollywood to make a shocking mess of this for several years. The most important thing is that this is a labour of love, not a meretricious exploitation of a "pre-sold property". Thank goodness it fell into the safe hands of Anthony Minghella. A lot of things happened on screen much earlier than they happened in the books but I think that is probably justifiable - in film you have to get the main characters introduced early on. I'm not wholly happy with Mma Ramotswe's hairdresser neighbour. Mma Makutsi didn't wholly convince me but her humanity likewise takes a long time to come across in the books. I missed the wonderfully tough lady from the children's home with her fruitcake -but maybe she will come in later. The feel of the African scenery - human and physical - was, if anything, richer than my imaginative version. What about Mma Ramotswe herself? I'd say that they have more or less got her right. I didn't imagine her being quite so smiley and cheerful, but then I'm a miserable so-and-so from the high latitudes. Of course her rich inner life can't wholly come across on screen. SO GO AND READ THE BOOKS! For anyone who hasn't read the books - they are the easiest books to read on the whole planet. I thought the back-story with her dad and ex-husband Note was very nicely handled. I shall certainly continue to watch. AMS you are a genius. AM why aren't there more like you?
It's not a film, it's a concert
WARNING: SPOILERS ALERT! Great music by Hansard which is moving and beautifully performed. Also nice natural non-acting by the two leads. Some decent use of locations and street lighting. However the story is paper-thin and wouldn't fill a half-hour slot on the TV. I don't want to sound too negative - it's thoroughly pleasant as a watching experience - but I was neither moved nor convinced by the story, such as it was. My main niggle apart from this was the incredibly unrealistic recording studio scene. More niggles: why did he need to go to the studio anyway? Why did he need a band? Other niggles: would her husband really have been happy about a gift of a piano from a strange man? If she wasn't interested in Guy, why was she flirting out of character so outrageously during the bike scene? Do people who sell the Big Issue really own their own vacuum cleaners? Having said all of the above I'd still love to be involved in a film like this. This sort of project (not necessarily with music) is the future of non-YankeeDoodle film-making - cheap, lovingly made, each element carefully chosen, simple story but complex emotions, letting the camera watch what happens rather than overdirecting. A micro-budget film-maker has many advantages over a Hollywood serf: time to think, no need to make or maintain star status: that's two for a start.
Die Fälscher (2007)
Don't miss it
A gripping story. At times my screenwriter's instinct was niggling at me, saying "why isn't more happening?" but any sensationalism would have ruined the film. A story like this should only be told truthfully. What I loved was that the individuals in the concentration camp were just that - each one had a believable individual agenda. They weren't just a mass of suffering humanity: there were hierarchies, differing interests, differing principles. All through the film I desperately wanted the counterfeiters to succeed, so that they would be spared by the Germans: but their survival could only be achieved if they made a contribution to the German war effort! Oddly the script suggests that the Germans' racism helped this particular group of Jews: the Germans seemed to believe that Jews were naturally dishonest and would therefore have a natural aptitude for forgery. Should be compulsory viewing in German schools, in Hollywood and pretty much everywhere.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Great but occasionally not good
A difficult film to watch and difficult to sum up. Daniel Day-Lewis is as great as the Oscar suggests, portraying greed and lust for power in a way that I don't think I've ever seen before. I hated the character, but the writing gave him just enough vulnerability to make sure that he didn't cease to be human. The weirdest thing about the rich and powerful is their inability to stop when they've got enough and this was perfectly brought to life. I felt Paul Dano was a bit overrated - he looked great but I felt his performance was just what I would expect from any competent actor. Ciaran Hinds and the rest of the cast were underused and never really came to life. The music was great in parts, but occasionally overdone. The first part of the film was perhaps the most daunting I've ever seen - an extraordinary sense of foreboding - a feeling of the fragility and awfulness of life. I haven't put that very well but watch and you'll know what I mean. My main niggles are the lack of any real characters other than DDL, and the overuse of the religious subplot. I felt that the preacher was given too big a role. The overwriting of this aspect suggested that the story was about commerce v religion, which it wasn't really. Nonetheless, I'm glad that people can still make films like this - Hollywood needs to be reminded that it's not just about money. The monstrous greed of Daniel Plainview could serve as a metaphor for a Hollywood bigshot's worldview, as well an oilman, a dictator etc etc.
Paris, je t'aime (2006)
Interesting how many directors can't write
There were enough good bits in this to make it worth watching for someone about to visit Paris, but plenty of the shorts were incomprehensible, or loosely written, or just plain unimaginative. First the good bits - the wonderful Tour Eiffel, with its beautifully-put together silly story of two mime artists. Second, the Coen Brothers managed to make half a good contribution with some typical Barton Fink touches. Denver woman was perfectly ironically judged and very touching. Low points - Nick Nolte in a piece by Alfonso Cuaron which I couldn't see the point of: Gurinder Chadha's awful piece of PC preaching: this brings me back to the first point: how many directors can't write. Or maybe they were all doing it for a few dollars and couldn't be bothered to take it seriously: but frankly no-one in film school could get away with the quality of these pieces. Anyway I still liked the basic idea - there's definitely a niche for a film made up of shorts which are both well-written and accessible but this isn't it.
Eyes Wide Shut for the gory bits
I really don't like musicals, or violent films, or anything pseudo-Gothic, but I thought this was wonderful. The look of the film was sublime - nearly all black and white, just dashes of colour used with precisely-calculated economy. The music never takes over from the story - it's used to tell the story. Depp is very good, HBC is excellent - this part was made for her and I think Mrs Lovett is really a more interesting and complex character than ST himself. If HBC sang her own parts, she is also a decent singer. Everyone else(Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall) is good enough at singing to hold their own. I loved the way Old England is portrayed with such unremitting bleakness, as a place of corruption, human rights abuses and violent social conflict: ST's own story seems much more convincing (and his character more sympathetic) against this backdrop. Most of the light relief is provided by Sacha Baron-Cohen in a nice comic turn as Adolfo Pirelli. I strongly recommend this film but those who are squeamish, like me, should look away at the gory bits. They are pretty well telegraphed, so it shouldn't be too hard.
Not perfect but brilliant
The story is a very simple one. It's 1987 in Romania and abortion is illegal. Pregnant student Gabita and her roommate Otilia check into a cheap hotel where a backstreet abortionist called Bebe is going to deal with Gabita's problem. Under Romanian law, the degree of illegality depends on how long Gabita has been pregnant: on this subject, as on most others, she is worryingly vague. Very cleverly, the writer makes Otilia, the more resourceful of the girls, the protagonist. Otilia needs all her courage to deal with the suspicious hotel staff, to meet Bebe's demands, to evade the police and jail. The obvious words to use are spare, direct, realistic. The suspense generated is astonishing. The question of whether abortion is right or wrong is irrelevant to the psychology of the film - all that matters is that it is dangerous. I have great sympathy for all those Romanians who have written comments on this site, complaining about the portrayal of their beloved country. However, I believe that this film reflects well on Romania today. It's certainly a much more sophisticated and honest film than Vera Drake, which was hideously sentimental.
Highlight of 2007 Christmas TV
So good I watched it twice! I have never seen "Extras" before but nonetheless I had no problem working out what was going on. The sinister thing is that I actually found Andy Millman in his comedy persona quite funny. The scenes between him and Maggie became quite moving as the show went on. Excellent writing as one would expect from the Gervais-Merchant team and a bewilderingly eclectic collection of celebrity cameos and not-so-cameos.
Ashley Jensen as Maggie is of course the moral and emotional centre of the piece. The device of Maggie watching him on telly was sublime.
So nice that people (including some celebrities) in the UK can still send themselves up! Are you listening America?
Minor niggle: why pretend to be in The Ivy when they weren't?
St. Trinian's (2007)
Not good enough
The only actor to come out of this with any credit is Fenella Woolgar. Rupert Everett and Stephen Fry are OK. Everyone involved in writing and producing should be ashamed of themselves. Whoever awarded Lottery money should resign immediately.
I was in a full cinema, on New Year's Eve, and most of the audience were teenage Geordie girls aiming to have a good laugh. I have never seen such a palpable sense of disappointment and embarrassment in a cinema in my life. No-one laughed at any point. Several people walked out. A large proportion of the audience started chattering among themselves out of sheer boredom.
A must-see for Scot-ophiles everywhere
An angry boy who has tragically lost his parents is looked after by his grandfather. Together they find common ground in the Gaelic folk tales which have been passed down orally from generation to generation of islanders. Although tragic episodes, such as the Highland clearances, feature in the stories, there is a surprising amount of humour and gaiety in them. It's all filmed in Skye, so there is a double dose of beauty. The mountain scenery is breathtaking, and it's a rare chance to hear Scottish Gaelic spoken. I'm English, so I had to read the subtitles, but the sound of spoken Gaelic is nonetheless wonderful. The performances are just what you would expect from carefully chosen non-actors - in other words, you are watching the real thing - people who care deeply about Gaelic folklore and history. The Gaelic community, especially on Skye, worked innumerable minor miracles to make this film. Anyone who has the slightest interest in Gaelic, folk history, folk music, oral culture, Scotland, British history, multi-culturalism or social justice should go and see this film.
Fauteuils d'orchestre (2006)
Go and see it
As in most of the best French films, not a lot happens and people spend a lot of time talking about their problems but somehow it works. The central character played by Cecile de France is largely a ficelle designed to link together the subplots. Each of these involves an apparently enviable character - someone who's apparently got it made - who isn't as happy as he (or she) should be. The malaises of these rich and glitzy characters turn out to be universal human problems - ageing, family strife, boredom. One of the major themes of the film, beautifully woven through all the subplots, is that we should theorise about life (and art) less and respond to life (and art) in an emotionally direct way. Ergo I shall simply say I enjoyed it, I didn't get a numb behind and I was happier after I came out than when I went in. It's worth the price of admission for the Sidney Pollack restaurant scene alone.