Coming soon...

Monday, April 30, 2007

THE PAINTED VEIL (2006) - John Curran

Set against the backdrop of 1920s China, The Painted Veil tells the story of Kitty Fane (Naomi Watts), an upper class English woman who marries a young doctor to escape her overbearing mother. Kitty and her husband, Walter (Edward Norton) relocate to Shanghai, where she meets Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber), a man she begins an affair with. Walter discovers the affair and offers Kitty an ultimatum. Divorce, or accompany him to a remote Chinese village, where a cholera epidemic has broken out. Kitty chooses the later and the couple move to the village, miles from anything resembling civilization. Walter's cold indifference to his wife leaves her bored with her life. She takes a job in the local convent and, being close to her husband's work, she begins to see him in a different light. Meanwhile, the Chinese people begin to grow tired of English rule, and the seeds of revolution begin to take root all over the country.

Based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel of the same name, The Painted Veil is a romantic drama, but not the kind that pits two lovers who fall for each other at first sight. Instead, this is a story that is based around anger and resentment, and how love can evolve from these emotions. Edward Norton is back on form after a terrible performance in The Illusionist. His Dr. Walter Fane is a cold academic, unused to dealing with people. He says himself, he has become used to talking only when he has something to say. This kind of personality is at odds with his wife, the sort of spoiled aristocrat, used to parties and dancing. Naomi Watts proves she is one of the finest actresses in the business, playing a woman rejected twice, and feeling desperately alone in a world she it totally unused to. Apart from being jilted by a lover and treated indifferently by her husband, she finds herself becoming bored with her existence. Watts plays this her character as a delicate, graceful yet rebellious woman, thrown into a world of poverty and disease, a world that she cannot get used to.

The film starts off at a slow pace. Though we are taken quickly through the affair and the departure from Shanghai, once the film transports us to rural China, the guts of the story are tackled. Director John Curran paints an incredibly beautiful picture of the countryside, and really captures the tone and mood of those period dramas from the 1950s. However, the story is somewhat thin. There are the seeds of some very interesting stories concerning the uprising of the Chinese people against the foreigners in their country. Or indeed, the cholera epidemic, and how this was dealt with. However, these plot points are hardly dealt with due to the focus on the two main characters. Which isn't surprising really, as this is a romantic drama. But with a story that is so simply set revealed, you feel there could have been more of a place for subplot. Despite this, the film manages to hold your attention. And with two actors on top form, ample support from Schreiber and British character actor, Toby Jones, and a simply stunning backdrop, you can forgive the shortfalls of this film. Worth checking out.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

TIDELAND (2005) - Terry Gilliam

Poor old Terry Gilliam. If there's one director in the industry who just cannot catch a break, it's him. Constant battles with studios, films getting critically panned, even a feature cancelled mid-production. Gilliam doesn't have it easy. In 2005, he released Tideland, his most critically attacked and poorly received film to date. Is this because this film is as anti-Hollywood as you can get? Or is it just a horrible piece of work?
Jeliza-Rose is the 10 year old daughter of a junkie musician, Noah (Jeff Bridges) and his junkie wife (Jennifer Tilly). When not cooking up heroin for her father, she's looking after her mother. When her mother dies, Noah takes Jeliza-Rose back to his childhood home on the prairie. There, Jeliza-Rose is isolated from almost all human contact except for a lobotomised epileptic by the name of Dickens and his older, psychotic taxidermist sister, Dell. Jeliza-Rose's behavior becomes increasingly erratic as she retreats into her own fantasy world inhabited by the voices of her four disembodied doll's heads.

As you can well imagine, this film is a hard sell. Gilliam himself appears before the movie and warns us that many viewers will hate the movie. It's not surprising that he offers this caveat, as Tideland is a very strange, dark but comic film about a twisted, horrible series of events seen through the innocent eyes of a ten year old girl. There are undertones of paedophelia and necrophelia that run through certain parts of the film, and while these tones are seriously played down by Gilliam, it will leave some viewers feeling slightly uncomfortable.
However, Tideland is yet another brilliantly crafted film from Gilliam. He is one of the most unique directors working today, and Tideland is just further proof of his talent. Despite the obvious dark subject matter, Gilliam manages to create a brilliantly twisted, yet somewhat light-hearted world that echoes the style he has shown in his previous films. Gilliam himself described the film as Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho, but there are also echoes of Terrence Mallick's Days of Heaven, and even Andrew Wyeth's painting, Christina's World thrown in for good measure. Special mention must be made of Jodelle Ferland's performance in the central role of Jeliza-Rose. She is the gateway into her fantasy world, and her performance is fantastic. Despite the horrible events Jeliza-Rose witnesses, Ferland portrays her innocent character with enthusiasm and a massive amount of energy.

Tideland is possibly one of the hardest films you'll ever try to sell to someone. I can say without a doubt, the average Joe Popcorn will hate this film. But for fans of Gilliam's work (Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) it is another fantastic work of art. Criminally underrated? Yes. But understandably so too.

Monday, April 23, 2007

FRACTURE (2007) - Gregory Hoblit

Mediocre thriller #1856, or Fracture is released this week to little fanfare. Directed by Gregory Hoblit, who brought us the breakthrough performance of Edward Norton in Primal Fear, Fracture is about Will Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a young hotshot lawyer undertaking his last case as a prosecutor before joining a large, powerful lawyer firm. He becomes unstuck by the defendant, one Ted Crawford, played by Anthony Hopkins. Crawford is accused of attempting to murder his wife, who was having an affair with a cop. Crawford's case seems an open and shut affair. There's a murder weapon, a confession and an orgy of evidence. However, Beachum finds that Crawford has set him up. None of the case facts are tight, and it looks like Crawford will get off scott-free. And so begins a battle of wits. Will Beachum bring down Crawford? Will he get his dream job? Will Anthony Hopkins decide on which accent he's trying to pull off?!

Fracture isn't necessarily a bad thriller. It's just not a very good one. The case seems to be resting on one piece of evidence which eludes Beachum. For most of the movie, he goes back and forth trying to figure out where this elusive little key to the case is, and a sense of urgency never really is created. Gosling is perfectly fine in the lead role. He pulls off Beachum's sense of arrogance quite well, and knows how to pause, and rub his head in tortured confusion in all the right places.
But the key reason to see this film is Anthony Hopkins. We've seen Hopkins produce some great performances in the past. From the restrained (The Remains of the Day) to the creepy (Silence of the Lambs) to the ludicrous (Van Helsing in Bram Stoker's Dracula), there's no doubt Hopkins can act. But for some bizarre reason, he seems to be in full blown pantomime villain mode in this film. You spend most of the time laughing at his wise-cracks and scratching your head at his accent which ranges from American to Welsh to, inexplicably, Irish and back again. While another actor would get slated for this, there's just something so damn amusing and entertaining about this. And for this reason, you kinda root for him. Hopkins even injects some Lecter in there for good measure. Just so we don't forget he owns an Oscar. In fact, the only thing he's missing is a little wiry moustache to tweak and top hat. Hilarious!

Overall, this is a fairly mediocre thriller. But it's something that'll give you a little entertainment if you've got nothing else to do on a midweek evening. Not essential to see in the cinema. Wait for DVD.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (2005) - George Clooney

As well as being a world famous, Oscar-winning actor, George Clooney also dabbles with directing. After 2002's Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, 2005 saw Clooney approach the subject of journalism and the McCarthy Witch hunts in 2005's Good Night, And Good Luck. Set in 1953, Good Night, And Good Luck tells the story of CBS journalist, Edward R. Murrow who, being disturbed by Senator Joe McCarthy's attempts to expose the Communist threat in the US, set about taking on the Senator and his paranoid, bullying tactics. Backed up by his team of reporters, led by producer Fred Friendly, Murrow put many noses out of place with his reports on McCarthy, which eventually led to a showdown between the two figures. A showdown which cost many people their jobs and careers, including Murrow's own.

Good Night, And Good Luck is a fascinating character study of a group of people who deviate from the usual style of balanced journalism to tackle a subject they feel strongly about. What they see happening to their country outrages them, and despite their own careers, they dive into action to inform people using a medium Murrow himself is worried is descending into a tool that only 'entertains, amuses and insulates' the people. I get the feeling he'd be somewhat appalled at the state television is in now, as news corporations cannot be trusted to bring the people the whole truth. Indeed, the film itself draws some very interesting parallels with the question of freedom of speech and the presentation of fact on the news within the US nowadays.

While Clooney is the star player in the production, as director, co-screenwriter with Grant Heslov and playing Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly, the stand out performance comes from David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow. He delivers Murrow's television broadcasts with intensity and urgency, while never descending into the sort of desperation that may come with such a character. Off-camera, Strathairn shows us a man who used his brain as his weapon, never vitriol or slander. Clooney surrounds Strathairn with a cast of strong actors including Robert Downey Jnr., Patricia Clarkson and Frank Langella. Some of these actors are given subplots that aren't quite fleshed out enough, however the central story is excellently realised. Clooney shoots the film in black and white, matching the era. The scenes where the team brainstorm are staged with a realism that gives you the feeling you are sharing the room and the urgency of the situation with the characters. Clooney uses actual footage, including that of McCarthy himself, for the television reports. A decision that is well made considering the subject matter of the film. Overall, Good Night, And Good Luck is an excellent depiction of an era where television was in it's infancy. And a film that has some very interesting parallels with the state of the world today.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

LAND AND FREEDOM (1995) - Ken Loach

The Spanish Civil War, which took place in the four years leading up to World War two is a conflict somewhat overlooked by modern cinema. Apart from Guillermo Del Toro's fantastic 2006 film, Pan's Labyrinth, not many major international pictures tackle the subject at any length. However, in 1995, Ken Loach released Land And Freedom. Ian Hart plays the role of David Carr, an unemployed Liverpudlian, and a card carrying member of the Communist Party. Inspired by a speech from a Spanish comrade, Carr heads to Spain to fight with the Republican forces against Franco's Facist army. He hooks up with members of the POUM militia as they hold the line against the Facist forces. At first, the camaraderie runs thick. But as political ideals collide, cracks in the militia appear. Carr heads off to join the International Brigade to find signs of the Communist ideal, but his beliefs are tested as in fighting between the anti-Facists threatens any chances they have for victory.

With historical film, it is very easy to descend into a simple statement of facts. However, Loach handles the scope of the civil war very well, while still presenting an intimate story through Carr and his comrades. The tone of the film is very similar to that of 2006's The Wind That Shakes The Barley, a film that dealt with the Irish Civil War. As with the Irish film, Loach does include some scenes that involve long discussions, this time dealing with the idea of collectivization after liberation. However, these scenes don't kill the pace of the film. The acting is very good for the most part. Loach seems to give his actors free reign to make mistakes but carry on, which gives the film a very real quality. Something that Hollywood productions would balk at. However, while somewhat noticeable, it doesn't detract from the film. Loach's direction is fine, and while the battle scenes aren't as visceral as some productions, they do capture the immediacy of the moment.

Overall, Land And Freedom presents a very engaging and intelligent portrayal of a conflict almost forgotten due to being overshadowed by World War 2. Available on Artificial Eye DVD with commentary by Ken Loach, a behind the scenes documentary and the usual trailers and filmographies. Well worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Imagine Romeo killed Tybalt with a round-house kick. Or Hamlet stabbed Polonius with Chinese sword. Zhang Yimou's latest martial arts epic, Curse of the Golden Flower is like Shakespeare transported to 10th Century China. Set during China's Tang Dynasty, Chow Yun-Fat plays Emperor Ping, the surly and gruff Emperor. He rules the land with an iron fist, and his family with no less rigor. At his side is the Empress Phoenix (Gong Li), who is ailing but still retains a dynamism. She spends her days embroidering chrysanthemum for a festival soon to take place. Prince Jai, the couple's second son returns home with his father for the festival. His older half-brother, and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Wan tires of his duties and wishes to leave the kingdom with his love, a servant girl named Chan. As events unfold, we find that there is no love lost between the Emperor and his consort. He plots her downfall and prepares the throne to be taken by Prince Jai. But the Empress is wary that something is amiss and plots her own course of action against her overbearing husband.

And so we have a tale of deception and betrayal set against a magnificent backdrop. Everything about the movie is built around a grand spectacle. The sets and costumes are simply stunning. You'll be hard pressed to find any movie as colourful or pretty as Curse of the Golden Flower. Yet the absence of Yimou's previous collaborator, Christopher Doyle is noticeable. The film is missing something that previous film Hero had.
Chow Yun-Fat plays Emperor Ping with an air of severe authority. He's not too nice a guy, but since it's Chow, you still seem to engage with the character. It's a case of the actor transcending the role. The powerhouse performance comes from Gong Li. Her Empress is clearly suffering, her illness taking it's toll on her both emotionally and physically. Yet she is determined to see her plans through, despite losing the (somewhat Oedipal) love of her step-son, Crown Prince Wan, and the loyalty of Prince Jai who remains eternally loyal to his father. Her fragile physical state is matched with a dogged determination that makes for a really compelling mix.

Since this is the third of Yimou's martial arts films, there is plenty of action what punctuates the drama. But this is a drama first, so the action is spread out fairly thin over the course of the two hour running time. But the film climaxes in a jaw dropping battle between two opposing armies who meet within the castle walls. Thousands of soldiers clad in gold and silver armour meet in the keep and go at each other for forty minutes. For this alone, the film is worth the price of admission.
However, the main weakness of the film is the story. The plot is fairly threadbare and plays out as a family drama inspired by Shakespeare. There are moments within the film where you are willing the plot to progress a little faster, but to no avail. While the film is another visual treat from Zhang Yimou, I found his previous film, Hero to be more of an interesting watch. I've yet to see House of Flying Daggers.
But, despite this complaint, Curse of the Golden Flower is worth checking out. Not the most taxing film of the year, story wise, but probably one of the most visually interesting you're likely to see.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The early 1960s proved to be turbulent times for the world. The threat of a third world war, indeed, a nuclear war was all too real and a stalemate between the east and west existed. Stanley Kubrick, having just completed Lolita became somewhat obsessed with the subject of nuclear deterrents, and set about approaching the subject for his next film. Kubrick obtained the rights to Peter George's novel 'Red Alert' and set about creating a serious, dark, prophetic thriller about the threat of nuclear war. However, Kubrick realized that all elements of the subject could not be covered in a serious drama, so he set about creating a darkly comic satire of the idea of a nuclear third world war. Out of this idea came Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, one of the finest comedies of the twentieth century.

Set in three locations, the Presidential War Room, the cramped interior of a B-52 Bomber, and the office of US Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, Strangelove opens with Ripper ordering an all out nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. Ripper, played by Sterling Hayden is obsessed with the communist threat, and feels the only way to best the Russians is to supersede the politicians in Washington and order the attack himself. Arriving too late to stop Ripper is Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), a British officer who must witness first hand, Ripper's lunacy and mad theories.
Meanwhile, in the US Government War Room, President Merkin Muffley (Sellers again) must try to diffuse the situation with the Russians, gain control of his own military, fend off gung-ho General Turgidson (George C. Scott) and deal with mad-cap ex Nazi Dr. Strangelove (Sellers yet again), who's ideas sound like they've been presented to another leader from history, all be it a more sinister leader.
And on a sole B-52 bomber, Major T.J. 'King' Kong (Slim Pickens) is determined to deliver his payload to the 'Ruskies' at any cost.

Kubrick's comedy is first and foremost a satire, a comedic warning of the folly of attacking an enemy without provocation and the consequences of such drastic decisions. The film is such a well written and precise piece of work that it still holds up today as an anti-war film. But along with the message comes some of the finest performances from the ensemble cast. Peter Sellers is at his career best playing three distinct roles. Group Captain Mandrake is the typical British officer, struggling to retain his stiff upper lip as he deals with the insane Brigadier General Ripper. President Muffley is a meek individual, but the only sane man in a room full of lunatics, the epitome being Dr. Strangelove himself. Sellers improvised most of his performances, to such a hilarious degree that you can still spot some individuals struggling to keep a straight face as Strangelove battles with his former Nazi personality that is bursting to take over his body.
Yet this is not a one man show. George C. Scott plays against type in his first comedic role. His General Turgidson is a young boy in a man's body, unbelievably excited at the prospect of attacking the Russians while sulking when scolded by the President. And it is Slim Pickens who provides the classic image from the film. His Major Kong is the Texan pilot whooping and hollering as he rides the nuclear bomb to it's destiny.

Dr. Strangelove comes as close as a film comes to being a perfect comedy. The script, written by Kubrick and Terry Southern is laugh out loud hilarious while still retaining a caustic edge as a response to the nuclear fears of the sixties. Each performance stands out on it's own, with the limelight somewhat stolen by Sellers, who is on top form. Kubrick's direction is as perfect as it ever was, handling a subject that is serious but comedic at the same time. When it comes to classic movies, they don't come more brilliant than this. And as war films go, Dr. Strangelove is one of the greatest anti-war films ever made.

Monday, April 9, 2007

SUNSHINE (2007) - Danny Boyle

2057. Earth is heading for extinction as the sun, the giver of life is quickly dying. In an attempt to save the human race from extinction, a solitary ship, the Icarus II, with a thermo nuclear payload is sent to re-ignite our solar system's star. The Icarus II is the second ship to be sent on this mission. The Icarus I, the forerunner, having disappeared seven years previous.
On board the Icarus II are an assortment of scientists and astronauts. Each of them is fully aware of what is at stake here, and they will do everything in their power to complete their mission. Along the way, they pick up a distress call from Icarus I, and deciding to change course to investigate, they put the mission, their lives, and the lives of all humanity at risk.

The people that brought us 2002's 28 Days Later, team up once again for Sunshine. Sunshine harks back to the intelligent sci-fi of the sixties and seventies. In fact, another Brit sci-fi film from the late nineties, Even Horizon, is the film which Sunshine most reminded me of. However, Sunshine is a far better film than Paul W.S. Anderson's work. There is a question of the nature of divinity within the film. One character in particular raises the question as to whether the death of the sun is an act of god, and if it is right for us, as his creation, to stand in the way of his plan. In this respect, the film is akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which also raised the question of the nature of man, albeit in a more enigmatic manner.

Primarily, Sunshine is a sensorial experience. The images of the sun burn through the screen, leaving you almost feeling sunburned by the images. The soundtrack is deep and booming. The snapping and creaking of the ship, as it expands and contracts with the heat really adding to the experience. Danny Boyle's direction is spot on, pacing the film perfectly. Alex Garland's script is tense and engaging, while not being overly complicated. There is a mission to be completed. And the mission is paramount. There is no doubt that everybody is expendable if it means success.
The characters are well fleshed out, never descending into the cliches that might be expected from a genre film. Their relationships are very real and believable within the context of the film. And the cast, led by Cillian Murphy, fit their roles very well.
Sunshine is a great piece of sci-fi for 2007. It's good to see that there are still original pieces of work being produced outside of the Hollywood system. Recommended.

Horror remakes... Unnecessary... Uninspired

Why is it that so many films are being remade these days? Once in a blue moon, a remake is certainly welcomed. David Cronnenberg's remake of The Fly. Or John Carpenter's excellent remake of The Thing From Another World (drop the 'From Another World'). Certainly, these remakes improved on the original versions. Some directors really do put their own spin on a remake. Yet now it seems that the studios are intent on taking classic films, stripping them of all the elements that made them great, jazzing them up and more bafflingly, adding sequels. And for some reason, it's the horror genre that is continuously subjected to this treatment.

Above, we have the trailer for what is possibly the most pointless remake yet, Rob Zombie's version of John Carpenter's Halloween. Halloween was released in 1978 and became the all-time classic slasher movie. In it, we had the enigmatic character of Michael Myers. A young boy who murders his sister, and is locked up in an institution. Fifteen years later, he escapes and goes on a rampage through his old neighborhood, mercilessly slaughtering every teenager he comes across. That's all there is to the character in the film. We're given tiny insights into the character through a brilliantly manic Donald Pleasence as Myers' psychologist, Dr. Loomis. But what makes Myers work so well is that he is an enigma. Something inhuman, something that cannot be reasoned with. Halloweeen is in no way a perfect film. But as it is, it remains a classic of the genre. And for that reason, does not in any way warrant a remake.
And yet, this isn't even the first John Carpenter remake. Assault On Precinct 13, and The Fog have been subjected to weak remakes. And as I write, production of a remake of Escape From New York has begun. The Hills Have Eyes remake even spawned a sequel. Something that combines the pointlessness of remakes with the tediousness of sequels. It seems that none of this director's work is safe.

And he's not the only one. George A. Romero's 1978 classic Dawn Of The Dead was remade recently by 300 director, Zack Snyder. I have to admit, this remake didn't have me as pissed off as it should have made me. There were some well directed sequences. Yet, all the sociological subtext of consumerism was stripped from the remake. Hell, even the zombies, the most essential elements of the film were changed. No longer were they the slow moving, unstoppable force from the original films. Now, they move faster than an Olympic sprinter on speed. Zombies aren't necessarily scary individually. It's their sheer numbers and relentless onslaught that make them terrifying. All this, gone from the remake. And then, there's even a remake of Day Of The Dead waiting to be unleashed on us. Why anybody feels this is necessary is beyond me.
And then there's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Good lord. Tobe Hooper's original was another near perfect genre movie. The terror that ran through the movie was so relentless, that the film was banned in some countries for many years. Yet it too, was subjected to a remake, produced by none other than Michael Bay. And this guy has his fingerprints all over these remakes. Apart from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this guy is responsible for remakes of The Amityville Horror, The Hitcher, and most baffling of all, Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

Asian horror movies are constantly being remade, complete with full explanations of enigmatic story lines for the dumbed down audiences of the west. Where is this going to end? The horror genre isn't the only genre subjected to these lackluster remakes. But it is the genre suffering the most. To be honest, it is we, the audience who are responsible for most of these films. We pay for the tickets. We give them our money. If it's putting an extra extension on the producers' mansions, you cant blame them for making these films. But instead of looking for something original, they're taking the easy option and just getting as much gore on screen as possible. Blood isn't scary. It's just makes us slightly squeamish. The producers strip these remakes of all the elements that require the audience to use their imaginations and instead just go for cheap scares. It seems that they don't understand the basic idea that what you don't see is far more unnerving than that you can see. It's why we're afraid of the dark.
Cinema, as an art form is suffering for these remakes. Originality is disappearing, and is being replaced with cheap thrills and forgettable attractions. And in the end, it is we, the audience who are going to lose out.

Retro Cut!! SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) - Billy Wilder

In 1950, Paramount Pictures released Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder's savage indictment of the studio system. Fifty seven years later, Sunset Boulevard still packs a punch, and remains one of the most important films ever to be released about the film industry.
The film opens with the discovery of a dead body in a swimming pool on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard. As the police stare at the corpse and camera bulbs flash, the corpse's voice over takes us back to how he, Joe Gillis came to his watery end. Gillis is a Hollywood screenwriter, once a golden boy, now struggling to make ends meet. On the run from the repo men, intent on recovering his car, Gillis pulls into a dilapidated mansion on Sunset Boulevard. There, he meets Norma Desmond, once a famous silent era movie star, but having faded into obscurity with the arrival of the talkies. Norma has a grand plan and a weak screenplay to get back into the movies and she ropes Gillis into writing the screenplay. She becomes more and more dependent on Gillis to be her friend and more and more obsessed with regaining her former glory.

For the roles of Gillis and Desmond, Billy Wilder sought out William Holden and Gloria Swanson. Both actors had careers which in some way mirrored their characters. Holden had arrived on the Hollywood scene with some recognition in Golden Boy in 1939, but his reputation had suffered due to his problem with alcohol. Swanson, once a famous silent era star, had herself been forgotten by audiences of the late forties. Both actors were perfect for their roles. Their acting styles were quite different, Holden showing some restraint, but still able to pull off the tough-guy lines. Swanson, on the other hand, is wonderfully dramatic. She is over the top, but not in a manner that doesn't suit the film. Her character is embittered due modern films focusing on the voice and not the performance, and she reacts in a way that suits this way of thinking. As the film progresses, she becomes more and more deranged, finally reaching her zenith with the famous line 'All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.'

Paramount must have had some confidence in Wilder and (co-writer) Charles Brackett's screenplay. The film wickedly satirizes the film industry and star system of the time, while at the same time depicts the impotence of the job of the film writer in the industry. As Gillis works for Desmond, he becomes more and more emasculated, almost becoming her play-thing. In a sub-plot, Gillis and his best friend's fiancee, Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olsen) struggle to co-write a screenplay that may never be made.
The cinematography and direction are one of the fine examples of noir filmmaking. The close ups on Swanson's manic face are quite creepy, yet at the same time, Wilder is able to give her a vulnerability which makes it easy to engage with the character. But what's really great about the film is that it's quite funny. After, all it is a dark comedy. You wouldn't expect a film of it's age to retain a sense of humor that would appeal today, but the one liners and that run through the film remain very amusing. One of the best movies I've seen from the era, and probably the best film you're likely to see that deals with the film industry.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The unfortunate case of Live Free Or Die Hard

And so we see why cinema is getting worse and worse every day. This trailer looks terrible. Sure, if you're into 'splosions and the kind of 'realism' reserved strictly for Michael Bay type films, the trailer probably gave you a hard-on. But this, and every trailer for 'Live Free or Die Hard' look NOTHING like a John McClane film. Die Hard was about a blue-collar cop facing off against a bunch of international thieves. He was in WAY over his head. He was an average guy, flaws a-plenty, losing his temper, almost crying at points, but still, overcame the obstacles and saved the day.

Now, we have this superman. Crashing cars into helicopters, taking down harrier jump jets, blowing shit up and cracking wise. Sure, the cracking wise is essential to McClane's character, but the rest of it is bullshit. Where's the wife-beater? Where's the alcoholism? Where's the dirt, grime and fu ck you attitude we've come to know and love from this character? Instead we have a shadow of McClane. A leather-clad, grinning imitation of his former self, PC-d up and shaven headed for this brain-dead generation. God forbid he'd have thinning hair. That'd be too real. And then, the worst part is, they throw in a dumb-ass computer geek character to ya know, appeal to the younger demographic. To bring in the kids. Someone they can identify with. We identified with McClane in Die Hard. All you have to do is stay true to the character, and all will be well.

Now, I'll admit, Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With A Vengeance had elements that were different from the McClane of Die Hard. But it was still McClane. This new version has nothing but the wise cracks. And that ain't good enough.
I'll admit, I may be jumping the gun. We've yet to actually see the film. But what we have seen of it is a bad indication of what is to come. I sincerely hope that the film proves me wrong. I want to see Johnny boy fight his way out of another mess. I want him to overcome the odds and beat the Euro-trash bastards with a yipee-ki-yay motherfucker! But I fear that what we'll be seeing will be a caricature of our former hero. A shadow of the bare-foot, thinning hair, wise cracking, Roy Rogers loving blue collar cop. You want to make a Bruce Willis over-the-top action flick? By all means, I'll pay to see it. But don't call it Die Hard.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

PREMONITION (2007) - Mennan Yapo

You know something? I should have known better. I should have had more sense then to fork over nine of my hard-earned Euros to go see the first major contender for worst film of '07. I want my cash back. I want my hour and a half back. Most of all, I want the life the piece of crap that is Premonition sucked out of me back.
Former rom-com princess Sandra Bullock stars as Linda Hanson. Wife to a car sales man (played by Doctor Doom, Nip/Tuck star Julian McMahon). Mother to two daughters. She lives the idyllic yet tedious housewife existence. One day a Sheriff arrives on Linda's doorstep to inform her that her husband met a messy end the day previous. The sheriff then explains that the police department neglected to inform her immediately. The reason for this piece of extremely negligent police work is never explained, but hey, she's got bigger problems on her hands. Linda mopes through the day, hits the sack and wakes up the next morning to find her husband sitting having brekkie in front of the television! She is indeed, seeing dead people. And so begins her ridiculous time travelling game of leap-frog through the six days preceding and following her husband's death. Along the way, Linda plays Columbo as she tries to figure out what happened to her husband.

Where to start with this film? Everything about it is so astonishingly bad, that to focus on one element would be to neglect the others. I'll start with the script. Here's a quick and simple lesson. If you're going to make a thriller, the most essential, and fundamental element to include is suspense. Thrills. The clue is in the title, ya know? Yet for some reason, writer Bill Kelly and director Mennan Yapo (seriously), decided to strip this thriller of all suspense. Every single plot turn, every twist, every single 'jump' is sign posted along the way. How Bullock's character didn't see the twists coming herself is baffling. In fact, her decisions within the plot were so idiotic that I was close to the point of pulling what little hair I have left out of my head. Speaking of heads, there is a moment when Linda finally realizes her husband is dead by tearing his coffin out of the hearse and spilling his body onto the road, only for his head to go bouncing off down the street. A moment of horror? No. One of the funniest moments of the year.
And then there's the acting. Sweet moses, I'm not sure the actors knew the camera was rolling. Nobody seems to be doing the jobs they were hired for. Bullock does her damndest to look confused. But most of the time she just looks wasted and bleary eyed. Her finest moment is when she cries out, during a thunder storm, no less 'WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIIIIIIIME!' Again, I fell into convulsions of laughter. And as for McMahon. Man alive, I've seen more charisma in a boiled cabbage. The man could give Keanu Reeves a run for his money in the old acting stakes. Everyone else fills pointless roles here and there, never making a single impact. Quick note to filmmakers- when casting Peter Stormare, do not, under any circumstances, cast him in any role that requires any amount seriousness. The man is walking pantomime. He hams up every role he gets his mits on.

This film is an insult to all who watch it. The plot twist are incredibly contrived. The ending is absolutely ridiculous. Try and contain your screams of rage at the last shot in the film. If, somehow, you find yourself being thrilled or mildly entertained by this piece of bland schlock, do yourself a favour and go get your hands on any film by Alfred Hitchcock. That man knew how to build a suspense-filled thriller. These filmmakers don't. At all costs, avoid this film. No film has angered me at it's sheer ineptitude since last year's abomination, Lady In The Water. Premonition is the new contender.