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cswann

cswann
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Member since: 05.07.2000

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      06.01.2006 14:23
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      Promising but disappointing Wes Anderson underwater exploration movie

      Wes Anderson’s movies are a definite draw for me – you can rely on idiosyncratic movies with idiosyncratic characters, and unusual plots. I’ve really enjoyed “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Rushmore”, so went to see “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” as soon as it was released. …and I was disappointed. Before I get onto that, though, what’s it about? Steve Zissou is played by Bill Murray – he’s the central character, an underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau–style, for anyone who remembers their 60’s TV series. Zissou has a series called “Life Aquatic” and is filming the latest shots around the Italian coast. His best friend and fellow diver, Esteban, gets eaten by a shark. Seymour Cassel plays the role of Esteban, but as you can guess it’s a short-lived one – he’s dead within 5 minutes of the start of the movie. From then on the movie presents us with a kind of quest to find the elusive shark shark, presumably to discover more about it, but also to seek some kind of revenge. And don’t think this an action adventure – no, it’s more of a voyage of self discovery for Zissou and his shipmates. That, and a tribute to (or spoof of) the natural history documentary genre. Zissou himself s a cold fish kind of character, not very good at social interaction, and perhaps not even very good as a leader of his team – and there are certainly elements of comedy, largely because of this. There were reasons why I should have enjoyed this movie than I did… It has a great cast. Bill Murray's a Wes Anderson favourite, and he's perfect in the role here. Eleanor, Zissou’s wife, is played by Angelica Houston. Jeff Goldblum plays Alistair Hennessey, her creepy ex-husband, but also a rich rival to Zissou. Cate Blanchett plays a reporter, and as things are rarely straightforward in Anderson’s world she’s also heavily pregnant. Owen Wilson plays Ned Plimpton, a young man from Kentucky. Willem Defoe is a German crew member, and in a completely different role for him – a minor character but important one. The movie looks great – there are some highly memorable scenes, and some very colourful scenes. Lots of the scenes are very clever, stuffed full of colour and detail. Often, Murray is in the shot, completely still, so we are allowed to notice all the detail around him. I especially liked the scenes featuring the ship itself. The ship is actually an antiquated kind of vessel, and we get to see a cross section of the rooms, into the bowels of the hull – it’s kind of like the DVD extra features, but within the movie. Similarly, there are some very good moments of animation (the marine animals we see) – al too brief, usually. The music is great – Brazilian actor and musician Seu Jorge has translated Several David Bowie songs into Portuguese, and does his own acoustic renditions of them (Rebel Rebel, Starman). So far so good – now it’s time to analyse why I was disappointed by the movie. First, I was expecting great things, because of the movies by Anderson that I’d seen before, so there was a sense of let-down – probably my own fault, that. Generally speaking, though, I was bored by “The Life Aquatic” and that is really inexcusable, when you look at the interesting elements of movie. It really should have held my interest, but somehow it didn’t. I got a sense of lost opportunity, overall. For example, the team go in search of the shark that killed Esteban. Zissou calls it a “Jaguar shark”, so there’s the thought that it could be a previously unseen species, and this is probably a crucial part of the plot, but to be honest it didn’t seem like it should be, not a huge thing is made about that. Apart from the look of it, most of the movie left me cold. The acting wasn’t that special, and there it didn’t get me emotional at the times when it should have. It didn’t even seem that funny, when it was probably supposed to me. All in all – you could say it was trying too hard, and missed a few targets as a result. Rather wet, in fact. The DVD has stacks of extras (nine deleted scenes, features, and director’s commentary) It’s £7.97 from amazon.co.uk, or only £6.99 at blahdvd.com There is a 2 disc set as well (Criterion edition, NTSC) Disc 1 is the same as the standard DVD, but Disc 2 features all kinds of goodies - 10 David Bowie tracks performed by Seu Jorge - interview with composer Mark Mothersbaugh (from the band Devo) - an Italian TV interview - behind-the-scenes photos and artwork. - six featurettes – The Look Aquatic (on the design of the ship, plus interview with production designer Mark Friedberg). Creating a Scene, Aquatic Life (on the animation in the movie) Probably my own favourite portion of the huge selection of extras. Ned Plimpton (dedicated to Luke Wilson's performance – can be a bit repetitive with other content) Esteban du Plantier (on Seymour Cassel’s work) Costumes (on Milena Canonero's costumes) - making-of featurette, “This Is an Adventure” - video journal by Matthew Gray Gubler. This 2 disc set costs slightly more and may not play on some UK players, so I wouldn’t recommend it any more than the standard DVD.

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        23.11.2005 21:13
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        A collection of great sci-fi programmes from the last 5 decades

        I never thought of myself as a sci-fi fan. I used to watch "Star Trek", because well everybody did, didn't they, and it never really grabbed me. But then I saw this Top 10 category, and I realised there have been some really good science programmes on TV, and thought I'd have a go. These are my all-time favourites in chronological order My favorite Martian (1963 - 1966) The American series, I mean, not the 1999 movie. Ray Walston played the Martian who crash lands in his spaceship near Los Angeles. A young reporter comes to his rescue, lets him live in his house (saying he's his Uncle Martin). I’m sure that nowadays we’d say there’s a gay subtext, and who knows maybe there was. Of more interest to me as a child was the fact that the Martian has all kinds of special powers, and the special equipment which allow for time travel, amongst other things. I remember the series on TV, but also the story also featured in TV Comic, which made it live on rather longer. Time tunnel (1966-67) From Irwin Allen, also responsible for “Lost in Space” (didn’t quite make it into my top 10) and “Voyage to the bottom of the Sea”, from around the same time. It seemed very psychedelic, and best of all, great fun. It also had a bigger budget than most programmes at the time. James Darren and Robert Colbert play Tony and Doug, who were lost in the limbo of time travel each week. And there was always a cliffhanger at the end of each episode. Just how did they manage to time it so perfectly, going right to crucial moments in history? Prisoner (1967) The cult series to beat all other cult series - doesn anyone know what the "The Prisoner" was really about, even now? Wierd enough to count as science fiction, as far as I'm concerned. Patrick McGoohan was great as prisoner no.6, and there were plenty of other notable characters, such as Leo McKern (later Rumpole) as No. 2 There were definite shades of Kafka but with a spy-culture, Swinging Sixites flavour, and there was all kinds of technological trickery in the world of the Village (the 'prison', in effect)- as well as strange drug effects. All of which meant you didn't know what or who to believe, or actually what was happening in the story. Probably could only have existed in the 60s. Doctor Who (60s to present day) Ah yes, surely everyone must include Dr Who in their top 10, but the question is - which era? For me it has to be the late 60s and the early 70s, and I was too young to see the first two series, so for me the real Dr Who will always be John Pertwee. With the recent transition to colour, it started to become obvious, even to someone as young as myself, how the props, and even many of the monsters, weren't really all that convincingly, and it couldn't therefore be all that scary, could it? Said I, from behind the sofa... Catweazle (1970 - 1972) Does this count as science fiction? Well, there's time travel involved, so yes, I suppose it does qualify. Geoffrey Bayldon starred as an 11th century magician, having to make a quick escape from some Norman soldiers, and ending up in 20th century England. Why it only ran for 2 series I don't know. Maybe they ran out of stories, as it was based on the Richard Carpenter books. Survivors (1975 – 77) If I had to choose just one out of my top 10, it would be this one. Created by Terry Nation, who had been writer for Doctor Who "Survivors" was a chillingly real portrayal of a present-day plague, wiping out most of the human race. It ran for 3 series, and although the first series was undoubtedly the best - it had a real sense of unpredictability and anything could happen to any of the characters - I found all the programmes unmissable. Many of the episodes centred around the warring between the survivors, and how they perhaps weren't that lucky to survive after all. The acting wasn't always the best (Peter Bowles appears briefly in the first series, and you can see why drama was something he was never famous for), but it was a great story well told, and came at a time when we were all convinced that something along those lines (plague, nuclear bombs - all leads to a similar end result) - it scared me to death, and even now, any news item on SARS or bird flu always makes me think immediately of "Survivors". Flipside of Dominick Hyde (1980) Peter Firth (now in "Spooks") appeared as an alien spaceman in this "Play for today". He hailed from 2130, and arrives in modern day Britain because he is studying the London Transport system. It's a kind of gentler version of "Mork and Mindy", with more of a "Back to the Future" slant (is there a chance he is going to change the future?) There was a sequel, released 2 years later, called "Another Flip for Dominick". Convinced me that sci-fi programmes can have a sense of humour after all. The Stand (1994) TV mini series which marries a post-apocalyptic world with religion and good versus evil - a recipe for disaster, but agreat success in sci-fi terms. The novel is a brilliant story, and this programme was very true to the original. Special effects and great acting may not have been there in huge abundance, but it really couldn't lose for me. Gary sinise, Molly Ringwald, Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) all help things along nicely. Over 6 hours of gripping stuff. The Last train (1999) Another post-apocalyptic tal, revolving around passengers on a train which leaves London but never arrives at its destination - due to the end of the world, basically. The cast included Christopher Fulford (also in "Spooks"), and it took me back to those old "Survivors" programmes. Maybe not as good towards the end of the story, but the concept was great. Taken (2003) This was “sci-fi’s epic miniseries event”, no less. It was certainly an event in my household – 20 hours worth of quality programming. Only drawback was it was screened it virtually the same time as “24” making it very difficult to catch all episodes of both. It was billed as "Steven Speilberg presents... Taken", and a team of 10 directors were involved, one for each episode. The cast included Matt Frewer (again, following from his appearance earlier in my Top 10, in "The Stand"), and Dakota Fanning was absolutely brilliant as the young girl with special powers. Hope these bring back some memories for you! Before I go, though. Bubbling under. The ones that nearly made it, and I couldnt end without a mention: The Jetsons (60s) Tomorrow People (70s) Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1981) Threads(1984) Ah yes, another apocalyotic one to end with...

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        • Welcome to Collinwood (DVD) / DVD / 35 Readings / 28 Ratings
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          19.11.2005 12:13
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          Good old-fashioned heist comedy

          First off – where’s Collinwood? Answer - It’s a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, in the U.S. But this is not a leafy, woody suburb, no - more of a faded, dingy railway town that's seen better days of employment and better days of, well, just about everything. None of which is that relevant, except that it all helps you to understand how the characters in “Welcome to Collinwood” could be so desparate, so hopeless, and so, well, plain idiotic at times. This is a low-budget comedy, but the fact that it comes from Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney's Section Eight production group (see also "Ocean's Eleven" this year's "Insomnia") is definitely a good sign. George Clooney featured highly in the posters, and the trailer, for this movie, and anyone might assume he is the star of the movie, but any of his fans who went to see it just because of Clooney's appearance may have been a little bit disappointed. Mainly because he doesn’t really appear for many minutes, all told, in the entire picture. Myself, I’m not a Clooney fan, especially, so it makes no odds to me. The rest of the cast is top-notch: Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Luis Guzman – all of whom are well worth a visit to the cinema, in my opinion. Guzman plays Cosimo, a thief who's in prison but has a big secret - a "bellini", a once-in-a-lifetime deal, not to be missed. This is when it all starts, really, with Cosimo hearing about a way to break into a pawnbrokers’ shop and steal the contents of a safe - $300,000 dollars. He and another not-very-successful thief, Toto (played by the late Michael Jeter) call on Riley (played by Macy) for help to pull the job. What Cosimo really needs is someone who is willing to confess to his crime and do his time - a "mullinsky", apparently - all the slang words are doubtless completely made up but the work very well in the movie. Macy’s character is an excellent one – he’s a single Dad, (well the truth is, his wife's in prison as well) doing his best to raise money to feed his baby, which always seems to be strapped to his front in one of those papoose things. Not your average criminal, then. Anyway, word gets around about the big job, and there's soon plenty of no hopers clamouring to get a piece of the action. Rockwell plays Pero, a charming man, a useless boxer, who thinks he’s something. Funny how a lot of their names end in O – not that significant (it’s not that kind of movie) but you get the idea that there’s a pattern here. Then there’s Leon (played by Isaiah Washington), who desperately wants top improve things for his sister Michelle. And the Italian, Basil (played by Andrew Davoli), handsome, a dreamer and a bit of a gigolo, but also very short of cash. Basically we have a motley crew of not-too-bright criminals. We know from the very beginning roughly how badly things might go wrong, because the very first scene in the movie features the four ruffians all looking worse for wear – well, as though they’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, and a burning hedge at that. Not that I’m going to tell you how exactly the sorry tale goes – and you’ll probably guess easily enough as you’re watching. That’s not the point, it’s the bungled attempts along the way that this movie is all about. It’s could perhaps be described as the thinking man’s slapstick, or an exaggerated version of Palookaville. It’s all a bit old-fashioned, in many ways – 70s TV cop shows, sitcoms, Laurel And Hardy, they are all brought to mind. "Welcome to Collingwood" is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who also wrote the screenplay, although it is actually a remake of an Italian comedy classic from 1958, called “Big deal on Madonna Street”. All of which probably helps to explain why the movie has a timeless feel - it could easily have been set in any time from the 30s to the present day and still seemed to fit in. The poster used on the trailers (a depalidated “Welcome to Collinwood” sign) is very apt for the movie as a whole – and I mean that in a loving way. It is genuinely hilarious at times, and although it possibly starts to lose its way towards the end, there's plenty of fun to be had along the way. Only 86 minutes long, which is on the short side, but just right for this kind of movie. Certificate 15 The DVD is available very cheaply - try blahdvd.com (£6.99) or Choices Direct (£5.99)

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            31.10.2005 12:19
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            New-age album from The Waterboys, not a patch on their earlier releases

            The Waterboys' "Dream Harder" was released in 1993, during the period when Mike Scott reportedly 'found God' - and it certainly sounds like he's got the fervour and confidence of the newly-converted. Only problem is, and isn't this often the case with anyone who discovers God or religion, he may well be the only one who is truly convinced about the songs on this album. This album took a while to appear, following on from "Fisherman's Blues" and "Room to roam" - both of which had not always been well received. Although it was a departure from their first few albums, I quite liked "Fisherman's Blues". I tried to like "Dream harder", but had to give up on it. To put it simply, it's an uninspiring, dull, album. The spiritualism and religion of "Dream harder" came at a time when environmentalism, and travellers and eco-warriors, seemed to be gaining and popularity, and I suppose it should have fitted with the times. It’s all very new age-y – there are even hints and prophesies about the new millennium (none of which happened). Opening track, "New life", is a promising start, almost a rocker, and probably one of the best songs on the album. But… that’s not saying a lot… “New life” sounds a bit like the 80s Waterboys, albeit a watered down, more plodding version, but almost as though the 1990 albums never happened, so I can imagine some fans put this album on and were pleasantly surprised, perhaps thinking it could be a return to form… …but then things start to go downhill. On "Glastonbury song" Scott sings the words...."I just found God"... Not that lyrics like this are a problem, I hasten to add (some of my favourite songs are hymns, when it comes down to it!), but the music really has suffered at the expense of the message. "Spiritual city" has a very hey-nonny-no feel to it, which never goes down well with me, I'm afraid. The track's saving grace is that it features Billy Connolly at the end, but really it's not worth putting up with the first 2 minutes 20 seconds in order to get that far. It also has a bit of sitar here and there, which brings the music of George Harrison to mind. Harrison will always be one of my heroes, but it has to be said some of his music could be on the patchy side, too. "Preparing to fly" is another song from the album which sounds a bit like a bad album track from George, or maybe an outtake from a later Tom Petty album - much as I like them both, that really shouldn't be taken as a compliment Although, in general, I find the entire album unlistenable, there are 3 tracks in particular which I think are excruciatingly bad: - "Suffer" is intolerable - don't suffer!!!! - "Corn circles" is a highly embarrassing track - thank goodness for the fast forward buttons. - "The Return of Jimi Hendrix" - great title, I suppose, but the song does not live up to it at all. But even elsewhere on the album the standard is mediocre. A song like "Winter winter", for example - well it isn't bad. It’s just rather dull and meandering. If you like late 70s Genesis (around the time of “Trick of the Tail”) this may well be just your cup of tea. Even the artwork on the cover looks dated, in the short time since the album's release. Although they were released as much as a decade earlier “The Waterboys” (1983), “Pagan Place” (1984) and “This Is the Sea” (1985) none of these 3 albums have dated anywhere nearly as badly as “Dream Harder”, and these are the albums to seek out - or, if you just want to go for one, the Greatest Hits. Anyway, back to “Dream Harder”. You can get the album for £5.99 (101cd.com) – if you really want it, but don’t say I recommended it to you!

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            • Station Agent (2003) (DVD) / DVD / 25 Readings / 23 Ratings
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              30.10.2005 10:10
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              Finbar, a train-loving dwarf, has to come to terms with life changes

              Thomas McCarthy has given us “Meet the Parents” and “The Guru” – both enjoyable movies, but his “Station Agent” is a notch up on the two of them. It’s more of an offbeat movie, along the lines of something like “Palookaville” or “American Splendor” – it’s an affectionate portrayal of the weirder, and hence more interesting, characters. At the same time, they are quite real, and believable (unlike in “Meet the parents or “The Guru”, where we were presented with celluloid stereotypes). No this is altogether a more subtle movie from McCarthy. The story of "The Station Agent" is set in New Jersey. Peter Dinklage plays Finbar McBride, or Fin, as he prefers to be known. He’s a short guy, a dwarf in fact, but hates talking about it, is sick of the treatment he’s had over the years, and his solution has basically been to cut himself off from society, and wherever possible he’s on his own. He has one passion – trains, and he reads about them, watches them, and walks along the railroads. Trainspotting has long been seen as the kind of hobby that attracts loners, so no real surprises there. Perhaps the only surprise, for me, was that it’s not just a British thing. The ironic thing is that, although Fin thinks he’s found peace, and that he’s just a boring bloke, the people he comes across seem to want to get to know him and be friends with him. Much of the movie is about the humour of this kind of situation. The introductory scenes where we see Finbar with his best friend Henry set the scene nicely – they don’t talk much at all, Finbar mends model trains in Henry’s shop, they both watch home movies shot by trainspotting enthusiasts, and have little get togethers with other trainspotters. There's probably millions of people like them, contentedly getting on with their lives. Fin's life changes drastically (I won't tell you the reason why), but the long and short of it is that he goes to live in a tiny train station. It only has one room, but it's traditionally where the station agent on the line would have lived. Hence the title of the movie. Dinklage is probably best known for his previous role in "Living in Oblivion" There’s Joe Oramas (played by Bobby Cannavale) who works on a hotdog stand. He’s a good looking outgoing, Cuban guy, always cheerful, and loves life. The kind of guy who will play with little kids, and enjoy it just as much as they do. There's also a young schoolgirl, another loner (played by Raven Goodwin, who played the asmathic daughter in "Lovely and Amazing"). Then there’s Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson) an artist who’s also a bit of a loner. She’s going through a divorce and mourning the death of her son. She is also a very bad driver. When we are first introduced to her she is driving so erratically she runs Fin off the road. Not the best way to meet someone for the first time... "Station Agent" is a hard movie to classify, and I would say if you are expecting a "comedy" you might be slightly disappointed. Yes, it has moments of humour, and also drama, romance – well it’s sort of all of these things. The collection of oddball characters, who find comfort from each other and friendship. They are a strange bunch of people, all of them very fdifferent from one another, but having some things in common - they are all alienated in their own way, and, in varying degrees, trying to work their way out of their solitude. The fact that watching the movie is, on balance, an uplifting experience, is down to the way that they have had to work their way through a very real and painful depression, which makes it all the more rewarding when they find contentment And it makes you smile, gently, rather than, as you might at first expect, making you cringe. I don't like to sound all politically correct, but it's a refreshing change to see a movie that deals with a dwarf who just happens to go about his normal life, without him being the usual butt of jokes (compare it with Will Ferrell's "Elf" or "Bad Santa" - both movies which would no doubt annoy Fin!). Yes, Fin has been targeted because he is a dwarf, but it's more important that he is a real character, living a life of his own. 88 minutes running time. The DVD is only £7.97 on amazon.co.uk or £6.95 from dvd.co.uk

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              • The Chorus (DVD) / DVD / 38 Readings / 32 Ratings
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                18.10.2005 11:06
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                Musically uplifting tale of a French reformatory school

                The movie starts with a brief prologue, where we see a renowned classical conductor on a journey to attend his mother's funeral. We then move into the past, into his childhood, the school where he was brought up, and we also see where his passion for music has come from. The main part of the movie then starts with a middle-aged teaching assistant, Clement Mathieu (played by Gerard Jugnot) arriving at a school to start a new job. The date is 1949, and the school is the Fond d-Etang school for delinquent boys - supposedly the worst kind of unreformable delinquents - the name of the school translates as 'Bottom of the pond' or 'Rock Bottom', so that says it all. Clement is taken aback by some of the methods used to discipline them. This is down to the principal a harsh man called Rachin (played by Francois Breleand). He is an excellent villain - his philosophy is fairly simple - "action - reaction" - which means instant, and usually very harsh, punishments all round for the boys. Clement loves music, and has even composed some pieces, and he feels the boys will benefit from some musical appreciation, so he starts a school choir - much of this in secret from the principal who doesn't see the point, or that it's rewarding boys who don't deserve to be rewarded. Initially the boys tease Clement about his sheets of musical notation, and they make up insulting songs about him. Well, actually, a song about his bald head - they're clearly not such bad boys after all, or maybe delinquent boys just lived rather more sheltered lives in those days. Mathieu obviously regards himself as a musical failure, his diary, includes this entry "I swore I'd never take up music again. Never say never. Something's always worth trying." Directed by Christophe Barratier, who also wrote the screenplay with Philippe Lopes-Curval. It's a remake/adaptation of a very obscure French film, from the 1940s, "La cage aux rossignols" (The cage of nightingales - possibly a more memorable and meaningful title?). It's Barratier's first movie. In some ways it has a Hollywood feel, rather than a French feel. You know, there’s a proper story to it, a beginning an end, and the prologue/epilogue structure is a very familiar device as well. There’s an element of predictability to the tale, in many ways, but that’s not always a bad thing. There are definite echoes of “Goodbye Mr Chips” and “Mr Holland’s Opus”, but there are probably no new stories anymore are there? At times, despite the obvious French film tag, it feels like we're being fed Hollywood fare, and much of it is formulaic, and clearly designed to pull on our heart-strings pretty much throughout. There isn't really anything original about "The Chorus". But, having said that there are some very touching, human, moments. The star performers are 2 of the boys, who are captivating to watch: Jean-Baptiste Maunier (Pierre, the angel-faced, talented pupil) and Maxence Perrin (Pepinot, the little boy lost). Incidentally, the boys don’t really come across as very delinquent, or unteachable – but that’s often the case with this style of movie – the kids always seem to be easily won over! “The Choir” received Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Song - "Look to Your Path (Vois Sur Ton Chemin)"; Bruno Coulais (music), Christophe Barratier (lyrics) There are some very good musical moments, and it’s definitely a movie to recommend for musical types – I don’t mean people who like musicals, necessarily – but people who like music. Choir music especially. The score, from Bruno Coulais, is excellent, and the piece “Vois sur ton chemin” was nominated for an Oscar. The choir’s soloist, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, who really does all his own singing, was ‘discovered’ as a result of this movie, and he’s now a household name in France. For those who are interested in film locations, the medieval Chateau Ravel was used for filming - it was already a tourist attraction but no doubt the connection to this film will have made it all the more so. the movie is subtitled. Original title - "Les Choiristes" 96 minutes long The DVD includes an interview with the director, and a making-of documentary. There are also featurettes. It is available for £13.49 (bensonsworld) or £13.99 (CDWOW)

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                • The Motorcycle Diaries (DVD) / DVD / 39 Readings / 33 Ratings
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                  27.08.2005 19:21
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                  Authentic, stuning scenes of South America, great acting, and a good true story.

                  "Motorcycle Diaries" is one of those highly-respected movies, and it was nominated for many awards (and won the BAFTA for best foreign language film, as well as prizes at Cannes), though finally only won an Oscar for the music. It's one of those movies that has a bit of history, a bit of politics, and also plenty of emotion - humour/pathos/romance - without being too sentimental. Walter Salles is the director - responsible for this year's "Dark Water", quite a different genre and a different thing altogether. Che Guevara - whose name and whose image everyone knows - his face appears on many a bedsit wall, many a T-shirt. Even today, when the idea of "the revolution" has faded away, and even those who went on marches in their younger days probably see it as mostly nostalgia. No doubt about it, Che Guevara is one of the most enduring icons of twentieth century politics. But do we really know that much about him? About his life and what motivated him? In a nutshell, he was born in Argentina in 1928, and in the late 50s fought alongside Fidel Castro in Cuba, then attempted to spread the idea of revolution across South America. He was executed in Bolivia, and whether people believe he was a freedom fighter, or a terrorist, depends on their political leanings. Not that "The Motorcycle Diaries" is going to provide any information on the latter part of Guevara’s life. The movie is about his early days, when he was called Ernesto Guevara (the Che came later). It’s source material on the diaries of Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. Both young medical students, go on a road trip across the length of South America – from Argentina to Peru, and taking in Cuba. The journey was across 10,000 kilometres. Some of the movie is about how they travel with next to no money, blagging a meal, or somewhere to stay, and trying to get off with the local women. There are certainly moments of humour, many revolving around the unreliability of their motorcyles, and the way they each very different personalities (Alberto always chatting up the ladies). The two of them end up in a leper colony, which was their aim - and most of the second half of the movie revolves around the scenes there, as they decided to stay there, treating patients. As medical students they can provide valuable assistance there Although there are elements of the buddy movie, and the road movie, there is much more to it than that - in many ways it almost feels like we are seeing documentary footage of real events. In a sense it almost feels like it's important history that is being recorded, and that's more important than any plot or story. Walter Salles’, the director, is himself Argentinian-born. The crew travelled much of the country themselves during filming, and in some respects found that not much had changes – social and political. They also found that people’s memories of the motorcycle journey helped them in telling the story. Granado himself is still alive, living in Cuba, aged 83. Is it worth seeing? Yes, I thought it was a very rewarding (but without feeling "worthy") movie - in the sense that it made me feel the kind of emotions that must have motivated the young Che, the disgust at injustice and poverty poor, and the realisation that even if we as individuals only take minor action, at least we have taken action to improve things, in however small a way. Actors Gael Garcia Bernai and Rodrigo de la Serna are excellent Bernai is by now familiar to Western audiences from his roles in “Amores Perros”,“Y Tu Mama Tambien” and “Bad Education”. He had already played the role of Guevara in a mini series produced in 2002, “Fidel”. Del la Serna is apparently a distant relative of Guevara. Excellent camera work is from Eric Gautier. The scenery is a big, big part of the movie - and it is important that the crew carried out a similar journey to the two young men, for the reason that the scenery is stunningly real, quite apart from the added value it helped to give to their telling of the tale. The script from Jose Rivera is another reason for the movie's success - it manages to be political in a very quiet kind of way. Ultimately it's about ethics, idealism, and human issues, as much as it is about politics. I can only think that there are two groups of movie-veiwers who would not like "The Motorcycle Diaries" - subtitle-haters - OK, I know that some poeple just don't like foreign films - anyone who needs a gripping thrills and spills action story - if you're that narrow-minded, this one isn't going to keep you happy, mate. Sorry. But as a historical movie with added meaning, it's one of the best. The movie is 128 minutes long The video is £15.99 (amazon) The DVD is £14.99 (amazon) Well worth seeing due to the completely successful depiction of an era when so much political change was needed, and a few individuals could make it possible.

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                  • Full Frontal (DVD) / DVD / 30 Readings / 27 Ratings
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                    18.06.2005 15:57
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                    I went to see this movie with high hopes. The main reason was because it was directed by Steven Soderbergh (his "Traffic" is one of my favourite movies, but he also made "Erin Brokovitch", "Ocean’s Eleven"... quite a list), but it also had what looked like a great cast, and, having seen the trailer, I could tell it was a bit on the oddball side - always something that wins me over. But I found it a bit unsatisfactory – bit like a rehearsal actor’s workshop kind of thing, and we’re just eavesdropping. Which is probably how it’s supposed to feel, as it was filmed on DV, in just 18 days. Maybe it’s just an ironic gesture about films of this kind, which are popping up everywhere. In fact that’s the point they will, because they are so cheap, easy to make, and quick, and the directors and actors must love the extra freedom that brings. Soderberg also made in his early days "sex lies and videotape", a movie which he has claimed "Full frontal" is an 'unauthorisedi sequel' to. How to describe the movie. It uses the film-within a film device - hardly that original. Essentially the story/stories are about a group of friends working in Hollywood. David Hyde Pierce (Niles in "Frasier") plays an L.A-based magazine writer, Carl, who has written with his playwright friend (Enrico Colantoni) a screenplay for a drama, "Rendezvous," a film that's currently in production. Carl doesn't know it but his wife, Lee (Catherine Keener), is having an affair with the film's star Nicholas (played by Blair Underwood). Additonal storylines involve Lee's masseuse sister, Linda (Mary McCormack), who's she's thinking of meeting up with a man she's met over the Internet, and Catherine (Julia Roberts), who is an actress named Francesca (confused yet?), and the one that Nicholas is falling for.. In the film-within-the-film, the central storyline involves Julia Roberts as a magazine journalist and most of their action is her interviewing Blair Underwood, and their developing relationship. – Underwood, who used to be in “LA Law”, fits well into this role, as an actor who's mainly just had TV parts and is trying to break into movies. The real-life scenes revolve around a group of people who interact in various ways, during the 24 hours leading up to a producer(David Duchovny)'s birthday party. There's the usual cheating and dialogue about obscure hang-ups, sexual or otherwise, and all kinds of sordid goings on. Working titles included "How to survive a hotel room fire" and "The art of negotiating a turn" - both of which may give some more insight into the director's purpose when making the movie. Overall, it could be seen as a satire on film-making and Hollywood lifestyle. But it's an uneasy one. And, no, it's nowhere near as good as a movie like "The Player". None of the characters are likable in anyway, and even though I really love to see actors such as Catherine Keener, she, and others, were completely wasted with material like this. It really is a star-studded cast, but not many of the actors allowed to shine. There's a great cameo from Brad Pitt, playing himself. I would even go as far as to say that this may even be the main reason to bother to see the movie at all. "Full Frontal" wasn't a movie I enjoyed at all. It's very messy, and ultimately very disappointing. Perhaps all the more so because there are glimpses of moments which could have been so much better. For example, there's the scenes about the stage production “The sound of the Fuhrer” - an obviously hare-brained venture, which should have either been much funnier, or should have been much wierder (there are moments like this which recall the stranger moments of "Being John Malkovich", but usually miss by a mile). Basically it feels like a talented director doing what he enjoys, making a movie, indulgently, with little regard to whether his audience is going to enjoy the finished product or not,. And, hey he's deserved that privelege by now. With "Full Frontal" no one could accuse Soderberg of being ultra-commercial (although the subsequent "Ocean's 12" may make you think again). It may well be his intention to make you uneasy about the movie - it certainly feels like the audience is being manipulated into thinking something! I have seen it described as "an uninteresting movie about the making of an uninteresting movie" which sums it up pretty well. Running time: 101 minutes.

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                    • Ten (DVD) / DVD / 26 Readings / 25 Ratings
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                      09.05.2005 21:05
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                      "Ten" is an Iranian movie, from director Abbas Kiarostami. He's an experienced director, and has made over 30 films, but not many of them have been internationally released. Some of his more famous titles include "A Taste of Cherry" (1997) and "The Wind Will Carry Us" (1999). More recently, Kiarostami, like many other arthouse directors, has had a good experiment with digital video cameras. Others who were quick to use the new techniques included Mike Figgis with "Timecode", and Steven Soderbergh with "Full Frontal", and perhaps it's not always been successful. For "Ten", Kiarostami chose what would seem to be an ideally suited subject for digital film - mounted a camera on the dashboard of a car, and we are simply shown the conversations taking place between the driver and passengers. It's almost like a spy camera. As the movie's name suggests, there are ten sequences, featuring a different passenger in the front seat, and for each segment we see what looks like an uninterrupted take of either the driver, or the front-seat passenger. The camera doesn't move during the segment, so for each one we see a one-sided view, of one person's reactions, whilst hearing the other. The driver is the same throughout the movie, a woman (Mania Akbari) who has divorced, now living with a new man, and her young son alternates his time between his parents. Her passengers are - her son (on more than one occasion, as she either picks him up from his father, or drops him off); her sister; a woman who visits the mausoleum to pray; an old woman; and a prostitute, all of whom she drives around the streets of Tehran, usually doing errands on her way. The scenes of mother/son conversations are the most interesting, and also the most important as regards the 'plot' of the movie - although having said this, you could view all of the 10 segments in any order and it's hard to see that it would matter much, as far as any plot or story is concerned. The film opens with a scene between the mother and son, almost 15-minutes shot of the boy Amin (played by Akbari's own son, Amin Maher), a child of about 10 who condemns his mother for the divorce. His ingrained sexism is very obvious, and telling. When he says "You're a selfish woman", I at first thought how brattish he was, but then later in the movie started to partially agree with him - after all this seems to be a woman who indulges herself on fairly inconsequential errands - before rejecting the idea (she's also a wellmeaning woman, giving lifts to strangers). Such are the contradictions of daily life - which is ultimately what this movie is portraying. Most of the time it even feels like we're watching real people, rather than actors. The actors worked from a script, but the noisy sounds of traffic, and the way it is filmed, all give the movie a documentary feel. Kiarostami addesses the subject of women's changing position in Iran, sometimes subtly, though the way her son speaks to her, sometimes less subtly. One of her passengers wears her chador tightly wrapped around her neck, and there is a scene later where this is removed, to reveal a newly shaved head. An act of pure retaliation, and possibly very shocking to Iranians. I once read that in one Iranian film the two leads had to be played by a real married couple, for the reason that the woman exposes her ankle during the story. The driver herself doesn't cover herself under a chador, even when she gets out of the car, no doubt an expression of her unwillingness to be bound by the old ways and laws. Kiarostami himself isn't at all famous for the treatment of women's issues, and this is in fact not even particularly groundbreaking in Iranian cinema, with other Iranian directors, such as Dariush Mehrjui and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, making interesting films about sexual politics and women. But this movie is groundbreaking for the way it is filmed. There are some neat touches - a sense that things are cyclical, and things are not going to change much for the women featured. For example, the boy keeps repeating that he wants to go to his grandmother's house, and he'll probably keep on demanding that ever time he gets into the car. The first few minutes are quite gripping in an odd sort of way, but eventually I tired of the movie's lack of real substance. There were also scenes which seemed unnecessary - especially the one with the prostitute (who we only hear, and never see) - and the eay she even gets into the car is very forced - we're supposed to believe she mistook the driver for a man. Overall - worth seeing to see the technique, but don't expect a great story, or even any big message that tells you anything more than the predictable "women are opressed in Iran". But, yes, VERY different from the movie called "10" featuring Dudley Moore and Bo Derek! 91 min long The DVD is £8.97 from amazon.co.uk Extras are very brief - trailers; filmography of the director and cast and crew biographies

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                      • Super Size Me (DVD) / Documentary / 24 Readings / 23 Ratings
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                        07.02.2005 15:35
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                        Morgan Spurlock's documentary, or perhaps you'd call it a bit of journalism, has become . He decides to eat all his meals at McDonalds for a whole month. He travels around the US in order to do this, partly to see the different regions where obesity is a big problem, he chats to customers, people in the streets, he also gets to try different things on the menu, some special meals in certain states. If the staff at McDonalds asked him if he wanted to “go supersize” the rule was he had to say yes. The portions are of course obscene. He seems to manage to eat it all – in the interests of science. He also seems to enjoy the eating – by and large, anyway. It appears to be a kind of addiction. He’s in his early 30s, and a healthy specimen of mankind, by all accounts. We see him going for examinations by a cardiologist, a GP and a gastroenterologist. He keeps seeing each of these experts during the month, so we get to see their growing concerns for his health. Also involved are a nutritionist and a personal trainer. Spurlock's girlfriend, Alex, features briefly in the movie – the fact that she is a vegan chef makes the whole experience all the more interesting. I can't help but wonder whether she really was as understanding as the movie makes out? His libido was ruined, and she seems put out at that. Fair enough. Spurlock himself admits he isn’t entirely against McDonalds – he hasn’t got a vendetta, exactly, he just seems to have a sense of fair play, and wants them to be more responsible. Not just a journalist’s or a film-maker’s stunt. But he did start out with the following view – just don’t make McDonald’s an important part of your diet. To put it simply. The movie may have had an effect – since it came out have been newspaper adverts from McDonalds in the US countering the claims made in the movie. Here in England households are being bombarded by leaflets insisting how healthy and good McDonalds food is. The “Supersize” option has now disappeared, it is no longer available (a development that took place 6 weeks after the film’s premier at the Sundance Festival in Utah, and which is now commented upon at the end of the movie). The movie won the documentary directing award at the Sundance 2004 festival, incidentally. Spurlock started out working in TV, and worked as a presenter of a show called “I bet you will”, which featured items such as contestants eating live cockroaches. So he’s no stranger to the dare, but this time he’s mixed it with more of a serious journalistic side – it’s still an entertaining movie, at times. He had the idea and the film was in production within 2 months – in itself, a great example to any independent film makers out there. The style is very similar to many of the TV documentaries we see all the time, with varied locations and interviewees. One of my favourite scenes was where some young children are shown pictures of famous people, including Jesus, the President and Ronald McDonald – and generally speaking all get blank looks except for good old Ronald! He claims he wants to “educate consumers to make healthy choices”, and I do hope the audiences who go to see the movie, or borrow the DVD, are the same people who tend to eat too much fast food – rather than it being Spurlock preaching to the converted. There’s a website at www.supersizeme.com, which features campaign information, and a blog from Spurlock himself – which is currently full of talk of various award nominations and ceremonies. Overall, it's a look at America’s eating habits, more than the fast food industry alone. In a country where there were over 400,000 deaths from obesity-related illnesses in 2003, and it looks set to increase. And we may think of the Americans as fatties, but the figure for Europe was 300,000 so we’re really not that far behind. The DVD is available for £10.99 at amazon.co.uk

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                        • More +
                          31.01.2005 15:17
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                          Brothers William and Jim Reid formed the Jesus and Mary Chain in 1984, signed up to the Creation label. They became notorious for 20 minute live performances, and were well-used to controversy (violence at gigs, druggy lifestyle and alleged drug-laden lyrics). “Psychocandy” was their first album, coming out in 1985. The line up comprised: Jim Reid and William Reid on guitar and vocals. Douglas Hart is on bass Bobby Gillespie is credited with drums on this album. Gillespie was not in the original line-up, but he did play drums with them, for a while, in the days before he went off to form his own band Primal Scream. “Psychocandy” has a great beginning, as all classic albums should have. It starts with that pounding drum – for all the world it’s just like a classic single, such as something like The Ronnettes’ “Be my baby”. Something very, very memorable, which immediately makes you get your ears into gear. The song is “Just like honey”, of course, which I remember was the first single of their’s that I ever bought. “Never understand” and “You trip me up” (also present on “Psychocandy”) had been released earlier, but it was “Just like honey” that got me hooked. The song appeared on the soundtrack of “Lost in Translation”, so no doubt some younger listeners became hooked too. On the best songs there’s always those Jesus and Mary Chain trademarks the bass drum and otherwise the stripped down guitar and vocals, then the fuzzy feedback guitars coming in like a brilliant headrush. But the album manages to avoid sounding samey. In a way, though, there are two basic styles - half the songs are great pop songs, the other half are terrifying bursts of noise. “Taste the floor” is like an elementary Rock and Roll song. “Ain’t she sweet” or something by Eddie Cochran is the kind of thing that springs to mind when I hear it) There’s a song that the Beatles recorded in their very early days, called “Three Cool Cats”, which was originally recorded by the Coasters – and the same tune is certainly detectable in “Taste the floor”. “Cut dead” is a very stripped down song – a 60s sound – that drumbeat at the beginning again – not quite Phil Spector, but there’s a nod to him - with the tambourine. And the way the chorus ends up with just a “da da da da da da” – also very 60s (think of the Troggs). “The hardest walk” is a lot like the Hardest Thing by the Stone Roses, but since their debut album, on which “The hardest thing” appeared came out 7 years later, in this case we have to say that the Jesus and Mary Chain were the influence rather than being influenced! The bassline on “The hardest walk” is great, by the way – something which I didn’t realise until I’d listened to the album a few times. “Never understand” is basically The Ramones with feedback. It’s a cover of a Sex Pistols song. This song – with its dull thud, thud, thud ,and a quick thud-thud-thud sometimes to liven things up – is the on that that makes me realise that the drums are probably the worst thing about this album. Sorry, Bobby. “Inside me” has the “hey hey hey” line which they are so good at, and the drug influence is certainly here (“I’ve seen my head expand”). “In a hole” has a very intense vocal towards the end (with “heart and soul” cried out over and over) which is a lot like Mark Almond’s in “Soul inside”, which was released in the early 80s, before this album was released. So, another influence there. “Taste of Cindy” goes off key pretty soon, but there’s still that great surf metal sound – often the chord changes alone can convince me the song’s still got a tune that’s worth listening to. Best song on a brilliant album is “Some Candy talking”. Like many of the tracks, it’s clearly about drugs, well, heroin. It didn’t get played on the radio very much for this reason, but was still a top 20 hit. “Some Candy talking” is the nearest thing to a rush you’ll ever hear in music – Reid says “Talk!” and it’s all unleashed, for you to just give in to it. There are other bands who have emulated their sound - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and even popsters like EMF to some extent. I know I’ve mentioned lots of earlier influences, but the Velvet Underground have got to be namechecked – it’s all there – the druggy haze, the wonderful tunes, the blistering guitars. The sleeve notes on the CD don’t provide lyrics – just some lines from some of the songs – but there are plenty Internet sites where you can get the lyrics. “Psychocandy” will remain one of my all-time favourite albums, without a doubt.

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                          • Young Adam (DVD) / DVD / 22 Readings / 21 Ratings
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                            11.01.2005 13:49
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                            Directed by David Mackenzie, “Young Adam” is based on a ‘beat generation’ novel by Alexander Trocchi, written in the 1950’s. If that means you’d be expecting a Kerouac-style American road movie of self discovery – well, no, that’s not what you’ll get. “Young Adam” is set in Glasgow in the 1950s. It’s a bleak kind of world. The central character, Joe, reckons to be a bit of a writer, but is working as a bargeman. It has more in common with Orwell or Lawrence than Kerouc, to be honest – but the story does nevertheless have an element of a voyage of some kind, and that selfish awareness of post-War youth – able to work for themselves, make their own decisions, and be beholden to no-one. Ewan McGregor plays Joe. I learned recently that McGregor is the nephew of Denis Lawson, an actor we really don’t see often enough nowadays. His role in “Local Hero” (1983) has always been one of my favourites. Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, we see plenty of in movies. He never seems to be short of work, and justly so, in my opinion. I liked him a lot in Trainspotting and in “Moulin Rouge”. I was less impressed by his appearance in “Down with love”, in fact he was probably the worst thing about the movie. I know you can’t always blame actors for how they appear in a finished movie, (the director has a big part to play, after all), but whatever the reason, he’s been in some great movies and some stinkers. His performance in “Young Adam” probably comes somewhere between his best work and his worst work. As I mentioned it’s an insular, self-absorbed kind of story, about Joe and Joe alone, so Ewan features in most of the scenes, and we get to see a lot of him. …. Erm, and I mean that in both senses. McGregor does take his kit off a lot in his movies (he claims he’s doing his bit for women’s rights, as they are always nude in movies, and he’s trying to even things up a bit). In fact, McGregor’s full frontal scenes in “Young Adam” were due to be cut for its release in the U.S., but they were kept due to his own insistence. Joe seems to get sex wherever he can find it, so there are a few conquests along the way. There is quite a bit of sex on screen, but it is all a bit impersonal and unsexy, cold and unfeeling, ultimately. The characters are probably not really enjoying themselves that much, sex for them seems a hollow kind of gratification, and it shows. Emily Mortimer – plays Cathy Dimly, his former lover, and there are many flashback scenes, to show us some of Joe’s past. The “Custard” scene is infamous by now, but if you haven’t heard about it, it’s a particularly messy food-based, sex scene. Actually it’s not just custard – there’s custard, tomato ketchup and possibly (well, very likely) other slimy fluids. Here Mortimer plays a completely different character from her icy-cold flapper in “Bright Young things”, which was out at the cinema at the same time as “Young Adam”. I’ve enjoyed many of her movies in the past, especially her performance in “Lovely and Amazing”. She’s one of those actors who seems to completely submerge into the part she’s playing – rather than me thinking of her as Emily Mortimer, I think of her as her character - always a good thing, in acting terms. Joes lives with Ella (Tilda Swinton) and her husband Les, who is played by Peter Mullen (seen recently in “The Magdalene Sisters”), and much of the story is about their relationships with one another, living and working on the barge. Things are always from Joe’s viewpoint: it’s all about his sexual escapades, the scrapes he gets into, and in some cases out of, his ambitions… The soundtrack is from David Byrne (is he still best known for being in Talking Heads or for his recent things like “Lazy”?). It’s haunting and effective, strangely come to think of it, because there must have been a temptation to use some 50s music. Overall, though, I’d say this more modern soundtrack is better suited to this type of movie. I’m still none the wiser why the movie got it’s title – could have some biblical significance but I didn’t really get it, I’m afraid. “Young Adam” is an understated, dark tale, with an industrial, grimy, backdrop, and, to be honest, some grimy sex scenes, too. A serious well-acted drama, rather than a feel-good movie – but ultimately, one which didn’t seem to have a lot of point to it, in my opinion. Cert 18 The DVD is available for only £5.99 for Choices Direct

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                            • Les Invasions barbares (DVD) / DVD / 19 Readings / 18 Ratings
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                              09.12.2004 14:03
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                              Canadian writer/director Denys Arcand has had a long career directing films since the early 60’s – many of them are French language movies, and therefore tend not to be very famous. “Decline of the American Empire” (1986) and “Jesus of Montreal” (1988), are possibly his most well-known. Despite its title, “Les invasions barbares”, or “Barbarian Invasions”, is not an action-hero movie, or a war movie. It was promoted as a comedy, the posters said it was about “sex, friendship, and all the other things that invade our lives.” Not sure about that description. Parts of it are humorous, so it could be described as a comedy, but it has an underlying serious side – perhaps because it’s also about illness and death. It’s an arthouse film, although it did get shown at my local multiplex for one short week, I imagine to miniscule audiences, if the night I went was anything to go by. The plot revolves around Remy (played by Remy Girard), a history professor, who is in hospital, dying. We hear his wife telling his son this news, at the beginning of the movie, so I’m not giving anything away when I say he’s dying. The first scenes show us the filled hospital corridors, the squalor, and we see his son receiving the phone call, saying the prognosis isn’t good. His son, Sebastiane, then makes the trip from London to Canada, with his wife to see his father. Stephane Rousseau plays Sebastien. Most of the cast, as well as the characters, appeared in “Decline of the American Empire”. If it had been made in Hollywood, “Barbarian Invasions” would probably have been called “Decline of the American Empire 2”. Remy is a socialist, an academic…. he’s a womaniser too, or has been in his time. The family members haven’t always got on particularly, his wife wishes they would talk more, and to begin with they seem to have nothing to say to one another. But Sebastien does start to get things organised. He’s a successful businessman, and is good at organising. For a start he ensures his father’s care in hospital is improved. The movie is very scathing about the Canadian health service, and it’s all very relevant to England as well. Money talks, and if you have it, it’s possible to get medical care. Remy’s friends all get together, gathering around him, and there’s a lot of talk about politics, and philosophy. The subject of euthanasia is very respectfully dealt with, generally. Overall, it should be a morbid movie, but it isn’t. It has some quite witty moments. It is very real though, in a low budget way appearance-wise, but also in a no-subjects-avoided kind of way. “Barbarian Invasions” had plenty of critical acclaim. It was nominated for the best foreign film golden globe, and was winner of the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. It was also named as one of the Top 10 movies of the year in Newsweek. The Certificate 18 is understandable, I think, mainly due to it’s portrayal of drug use. 99 minutes long. Would I recommend it? Yes, I’m glad I’ve seen it. However, I wouldn’t rate it as highly as the critics – it was in danger of losing momentum, and losing my interest at time – mainly due to the philosophising. Well worth watching, but don’t expect it be one you’ll want to watch again and again.

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                              • Relative Values (DVD) / DVD / 18 Readings / 16 Ratings
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                                03.12.2004 14:06
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                                • "Julie andrews is miscast"

                                I acquired the DVD of “Relative Values” as a free gift with some magazine or other. I hadn’t heard of the movie at all, and it languished unplayed for a good few months. The cover claims that it’s “outstandingly funny”. And it boasts a good cast – with names like Colin Firth, Stephen Fry, Julie Andrews, and Jeanne Tripplehorn. So I last decided to give at a go. I found it very tedious, and too slow. I began to lose interest in the characters and the story after about 20 minutes, but I stuck the whole movie out. Overall, I thought it was very dull, superficial and not even very much fun. As for “outstandingly funny” – well, perhaps I’d go so far as to say it was mildly funny. I’m not sure if I can easily pinpoint why I didn’t like “Relative values” – it’s not just that it’s not a very deep movie – but I think it may partly be its tone. Generally, it reminded me partly of a Merchant Ivory movie, yes (which I’m sure was the intention of the film makers), but more often it reminded me of a Sunday night TV series such as “The Royal” – very insubstantial and, in a way, a half-hearted kind of production. The casting is fine, although I was not so sure about Julie Andrews in the role of an English Countess. I mean, she’s been living in the United States so long that her accent is no longer the true blue kind of accent you’d expect for an upper class. Someone like Geraldine James, would, I think, have been better in the role. “Relative Values” is a Noel Coward play, and the film is fairly reflective of this – the direction doesn’t offer many more adventurous scenes than the usual period piece, and most of it is bound to the kind of scenes you would have in the theatre, whether it’s a drawing room, dining room, a garden. The characters are quiet stereotypical, and the dialogue is, as you would expect, witty, although of course much of it now sounds dated. More so than, for instance, the plays of Oscar Wilde, in my opinion. Central to the story is Nigel (played by Edward Atterton) and his relationship with new girlfriend, Miranda (Jeanne Tripplehorn). She’s a film star, and on the rebound from an affair with her one-time co-star, Don Lucas (played by William Baldwin, who really looks the part). Miranda is American, brash and self-centred, by all appearances; Nigel is the Earl of Marshwood, heir to a country estate in England. Julie Andrews is his mother, the Countess, and she disapproves of it all, naturally, thinking that her son can do far better than a movie star. Colin Firth plays a minor character, Peter, nephew of the Countess, although his part is very well carried off – he’s always lounging around, has a few supposedly witty comments, and always has a knowing, smug smile on his face. Clearly this character is meant to be a Noel Coward type of character, commenting on the events. I must say enjoyed looking at his weird hairstyle, with that retro parting. A better character, though, is that played by Stephen Fry, the butler in the house – who is well aware of everyone’s foibles (upstairs and downstairs) and is very honest about it when in the right company. Sophie Thompson plays Moxie, the maid who is so indispensable to the Countess. Actually, so far, my description doesn’t make it all sounds so bad – and the cast is a good one, I think. So what was it that I didn’t like about “Relative Values”? It looks glossy, and sumptuous, but somehow it’s lacking any real depth and, well… soul. The humour is there, but comes mainly from the servants, Stephen Fry in particular. And it certainly is not “outstandingly funny”. Eric Styles, the director, hasn’t made many movies – his debut “Dreaming of Joseph Lees”, made in 1999, also boasted a star-studded cast (Rupert Graves, Samantha Morton, Frank Finlay), and was very well received. At 87 minutes, it’s really quite short, but overall, I still found it on the dull side. DVD extras include a commentary from the director. This is also rather dull, I’m afraid – it drones on a bit, and I didn’t learn a great deal more about the making of the film that was of much interest – apart from the fact that one of the ‘California’ hotel scenes was shot in the Isle of Man! As I say, my copy of this was free with a magazine, but if you should wish to buy a copy, it will cost: £12.99 at amazon.co.uk £5.99 at play.com £4.99 at sendit.com If you like your movies along the Jeeves / Oscar Wilde / Upstairs Downstairs continuum – you should enjoy this, but probably not as much as you’d enjoy “The importance of being Earnest”.

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                                • The Closet (DVD) / DVD / 18 Readings / 16 Ratings
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                                  29.11.2004 15:23
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                                  Writer / director Francis Veber is very used to box office having hits. “The Closet”, or, to give it it’s original name, “Le placard”, is a French, subtitled movie, but when it came out in 2001, it was showing at my local multiplex – and I have to say it’s about as mainstream as any French movie gets nowadays. OK, there weren’t many of us in the audience. As I mentioned, Veber is used to making hit movies. He also directed “Les fugitives”, “Le Diner de Cons”, “Le Jouet” (even if you don’t know these movies, you probably have come across one or other of the remakes of them). Then there was his screenplay for the famous “La Cage aux Folles”, also remade as “The Birdcage” in 1996. Anyway – “Le Closet”. It’s a French film, and who should star in any good French film but Gerard Depardieu? To many he’s the only French actor that they can name. So far so good. It’s a fairly simple story, and very easy to get into. Daniel Auteuil plays an unassuming accountant, Pignon, in a manufacturing company. Felix is a macho rugby-playing pig, played by Gerard Depardieu. And they don’t really have a lot to do with one another. But things change… Pignon hears rumours that he is about to be fired, his personal life is in a mess (still hopelessly in love with his ex wife, though they divorced 2 years ago, his son thinks he’s a loser and refuses to see him), so he feels he has noting to live for. Until a neighbour introduces himself, and introduces Pignon to the idea of pretending he is gay, to shame the company bosses into reversing their plans. When I tell you the story is set in a condom factory, you might think it could be a kind of Carry On au Francais, but it’s actually a cut above that. Not sophisticated, by any means, but gentle, well, a little more sophisticated than a Carry On, and, yes, it is funny. There are surprisingly few condom jokes, considering – it was obviously chosen as a setting more for the reason that bosses in a safe-sex company would be unlikely to sack a gay man, rather than because of the mileage to be gained from jokes about rubber products. Don’t worry, though, there are some. “The Closet” is essentially a farce, poking fun at the middle classes, and at political correctness. The storyline steams ahead a bit like in a sitcom, and there are definitely some weaknesses – I found the motivation of some of the characters (particularly Felix) very hard to go along with. But then it wouldn’t be a comedy, and it’s also a morality tale, so people have to eat the words, and so on… so what if the story creaks a little? Ironically, “The Closet” may be regarded as not very PC, in some ways, and some gay activists have taken issue with it. The company is portrayed essentially as a supremely heterosexual environment – pretty unlikely when all’s said and done. But it does have a genuinely good (genuine) gay character. So what’s their problem? And there are some gorgeous kittens… At 87 minutes it’s the perfect length – says what it has to say and doesn’t outstay its welcome. The Closet is a good fun, upbeat movie – and I would especially recommend it to anyone who is trying to get over a divorce, or a relationship – there’s a very uplifting scene featuring this kind of scenario. Don’t worry about the subtitles – it’s wonderful visually, and the jokes lose nothing in the translation. It has a 15 certificate, which I imagine is mainly down to one sex scene (is it a gay one? not telling!) Just about every French movie I’d ever seen before, in the 80s and 90s at least, had starred either Autieul or Depardieu, so it’s something of a tour de force to have them both in the same movie – they both appeared in Jean de Florette (1986) but haven’t co-starred since. There was some talk of Arnold Schwarzeneggar playing the Depardieu role in a Hollywood remake, but if you ask me that must have been someone’s idea of a joke… The DVD of “The closet” also includes trailers, and biographies of the cast and crew. Available for £15.98 at amazon.co.uk, £13.79 at bensonsworld.com

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