Archive for March, 2010

MICMACS ***1/2

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s new film will probably tick all the right boxes with his many fans. Most of his usual crowd-pleasing delights are here: incredibly inventive camera work and art design; a complete world within itself that is not quite our world; weird, wacky and wonderful gadgets, toys and knick-knacks (or micmacs); and, of course, many of his celebrated clowning ensemble, including the “face” of his work, Dominique Pinon. The extremely likeable lead – the excellent clown Dany Boon – plays a fellow whose Dad was blown up by a land mine and who has a bullet in his head due to an extremely random event. When he discovers the weapons manufacturers behind each of these pieces of weaponry, he launches a program of revenge with the help of a completely eccentric ragtag batch of societal outsiders who have been “adopted” by a large den mother and who live underground building little gadgets. If all this sounds fanciful and far-fetched, of course it is, and it’s meant to be. The first half hour and the last twenty minutes or so are outstanding; the middle, unfortunately, gets a little muddled and my interest strayed a tad. Destined to sit more with The City of Lost Children than with the classics Delicatessen and Amelie on the Jeunet totem pole, Micmacs still offers many zany and highly imaginative delights.

THE RED SHOES ****

This beautifully restored 35mm print of the 1948 classic backstage ballet melodrama from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is a total joy from start to finish and almost a masterclass in great filic storytelling. An absolute and acknowledged classic, the film has been through a lavish restoration and is a technicolour sight to behold.

Hello world!

Posted: March 24, 2010 in movie reviews

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Posted: March 22, 2010 in movie reviews

THE REBOUND **

Oh, Catherine Zeta-Jones tries… but it’s the material that kills her, and this movie. The story of a romance between a 25 year old guy and a 40 year old woman (one star for that!), the movie’s tone shifts wildly from stupid farce to desperately dramatic. Zeta-Jones, a true movie star, does her best, but her best is during the dramatic moments (and, of course, the seductive). Her comedy – or her attempts to deal with what is considered comedy by this terribly lame, and often embarrassing, script – doesn’t work. It’s not her fault – this is simply a badly conceived, written and directed film. At times it’s unwatchable. The second star is for Mrs. Zeta-Jones – because she’s always watchable.

Posted: March 19, 2010 in movie reviews

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO ****

Perhaps it is because I’m not a thick-book Bestseller reader, and tend not to see the films based upon them, that I found The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo so refreshing. This is a movie that is much more plot-driven than the films I tend to seek out, and, rather than finding myself frustrated for lack of humour or interesting character-based moments, I instead was swept up in the relentless ride, and found myself captivated through every minute of this two-and-a-half hour movie.

Of course, gazillions of readers of the hugely popular novel by the (unfortunately deceased) Stieg Larsson won’t be surprised by this in the least. The first part of a trilogy featuring the incredibly endearing characters of Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the novel is, I gather, a rip-snorting page turner, and the film delivers its thrills and chills in spades. Mikael is a crusading leftie journo who’s got six months until he has to go to jail for defaming a powerful businessman; Lisbeth is a highly pierced, tattooed, troubled twenty-four year old with an uncanny skill for research – or, indeed, investigation. First apart and then (in a spectacular teaming) together, these two misfit souls are set on a journey to uncover a very wealthy family’s darkest secret by solving a forty year-old murder on a remote and very snowy Swedish island.

The acting by these two leads is first rate; Nyquist is already a huge star in Sweden but the revelation is Rapace, who, if she can speak any English, is absolutely destined to become a major Hollywood star. Lisbeth is an absolutely ripping major character, full of seriously quirky eccentricities, uncovered pain and bizarre sexuality. She is beautiful, haunted, occasionally violent and eminently likable to the viewer, just as she is probably deeply unlikable to most of the characters on screen. It is the role of a lifetime, and, considering she gets to play her in three major movies, it is no surprise that Rapace got all the piercings (and there are many, all over her face) that the character demanded, for real. And that is only the surface level of her commitment to this brilliant character. She is completely real and believable, and will become the pin-up girl for Goth Grrrls everywhere for years to come.

The other characters (and there are a lot) aren’t nearly as well-rounded, but all are acted with veracity by what I assume to be a gallery of Sweden’s greatest character actors. The incredibly complicated plot is told with such precision by director Niels Arden Oplev that even I, a relative stranger to the plot-driven murder mystery, found myself on top of the whole thing the whole time. I’m sure that the hugely lionized and deeply missed Larsson would be proud of this sterling adaptation. For myself, one of the deepest pleasures of the film was knowing that there were two more to come.

Damon and Pattinson

Posted: March 15, 2010 in movie reviews

GREEN ZONE ****

One of the great aspects of being an avid filmgoer is to watch the growing relationships of directors and actors. There are some particularly interesting ones around these days: you’ve got the Martin Scorcese / Leonardo DiCaprio partnership, in full bloom for a decade now, and currently on show with Shutter Island; Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman have a longstanding thing going on, most recently with Invictus; Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are practically tied at the hip, and are currently out and about with Alice In Wonderland; and then you’ve got Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, who have brought the second and third Bourne movies to the screen. Their latest, Green Zone, is excellent, and better than those two Bournes. Greengrass is possibly the best action movie director working on big Hollywood movies today, but he likes his politics as much as his guns, and Green Zone is an angry, passionate film. Damon stars as the Chief Warrant Officer of the main unit assigned to investigate “Intel” reports of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, just weeks after the US commenced its initial bombing (the “Shock and Awe” campaign) of that country. We now know that these “WMDs” did not exist, but the film’s speculation of the high-level cover-ups involved in the justification of that war makes for riveting viewing. The action is tightly told, Damon is very good, and the pure logistics of the whole movie – the incredible attention to detail, the locations (Morocco was used as a stand in for Iraq), and the scope of the whole enterprise, leave you awed – and the way America wages war, including the way the war is run by media interests, will leave you shocked, even if you were already very happy in your knowledge of The Big Lie. A very fine film.

REMEMBER ME *1/2

Robert Pattinson is the New Black – at least according to the gazillions of young females across the world who have happily accepted his casting as their favourite teen vampire, Edward Cullen, in the Twilight series. He’s one of the Executive Producers of the new film Remember Me, and I think it would be obvious to anyone with a knowledge of film history that he’s trying to place himself securely in the position of “a new James Dean” – it’s all there, in the hair, the sulkiness, and the choice of material. The new film is, in many ways, an update of Rebel Without a Cause – it’s about a young man with major Dad issues. Add a romance (with interesting Aussie actress Emilie de Ravin) and a brooding need to occasionally express himself violently, and the Dean / Rebel link is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, this attempt is a terribly third-rate Rebel. The writing is laborious and clichéd and the pacing is slow, slow, slow. Pattinson’s character Tyler is unlikeable to say the least and, since de Ravin’s Ally shows a little spunk, their relationship is unbelievable – except for the fact that Pattinson is a bit of a spunk. Chris Cooper brings his usual dependable gravitas to the best role in the film, but unfortunately the normally great Pierce Brosnan flounders completely, not only with his terrible American accent but with a terribly clichéd role as the father who likes work more than his kids. Doubtless this film will reap big box office, but if you’re not seeing it for Pattinson’s pure movie-starness-of-the-moment, be warned: this is dire stuff.

Alice In Goatland

Posted: March 10, 2010 in movie reviews

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS ***

How much you like The Men Who Stare at Goats probably depends on how much you enjoy George Clooney in high-jinks mode. Personally, I think Mr. Clooney has evolved into the best screen performer of his time; he can do drama (Syriana), dramedy (Up In The Air) and physical comedy (O Brother Where Art Thou?) with equal aplomb. He’s firmly in the latter territory here, with a wonderfully over-the-top perfomance as a loony-tunes American military man who believes he has psychic powers. It turns out he’s the product of a tiny division of the US military that is funding the potential for soldiers to develop such powers – to create “super-soldiers”, also (and officially) known as “Jedi Knights”. All this would be way too ludicrous, except it’s supposedly based on truth – which feels a little impossible until you go back and look at any footage at all of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, and realise that anything was possible under them when it came to matters of the military. Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Ewen McGregor round out a terrific ensemble who, unfortunately, look like they’re having more fun than the audience. One for people who like their films idiosyncratic, The Men Who Stare At Goats is far from perfect, but a lot of fun.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND ***

Tim Burton’s new Alice makes a few bold choices – and I’m not sure why. For starters, it makes Alice herself nineteen, and presents the story as her second trip down the rabbit hole. Combining elements from both Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the film feels a little ponderous at times – like certain scenes just have to be got through to get to the better ones. The whole thing left me pretty cold; however, Helena Bonham Carter is truly funny as The Red Queen, and Johnny Depp turns in yet another intriguing performance as The Mad Hatter. One of the best things about Depp is that he is fearless: he never gives you what you expect – or even what you want. For the first time ever, I saw in the credits that he has his own sound technician – a tribute to his inventive and brave use of his own voice.

Twelve Hours before the awards, Film Mafia must acknowledge the JUGGERNAUT of reporting on the Oscars this year.

It has been relentless. Whether this is a sign of an upswing from the GFC or a scattering of “feel-good” news because of it, the Oscars speculation this year has been so dominant in mainstream news as to be ridiculous – and, unfortunately, antithetical to the fun of the Oscars ceremony itself – because sooo many of the Awards now seem pre-determined.
Soo… here we go… the films and people that feel like they’re going to win. (These are NOT Filmmafia’s preferred choices: those will follow each category IE The first shown will be Filmmafia’s prediction for the likely winner, followed by who we think should win, but in many cases probably won’t).
BEST PICTURE:
THE HURT LOCKER
(INGLORIOUS BASTERDS)
BEST DIRECTOR:
KATHRYN BIGELOW
(QUENTIN TARANTINO)
BEST ACTRESS:
SANDRA BULLOCK
(GABOURE SIDIBE)
BEST ACTOR:
JEFF BRIDGES
(VIGGO MORTENSEN – NOT NOMINATED – THE ROAD)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
MO’NIQUE
(MO’NIQUE)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
CHRISTOPH WALTZ
(CHRISTOPH WALTZ)
BEST SCREENPLAY – ADAPTED:
UP IN THE AIR
(AN EDUCATION)
BEST SCREENPLAY ORIGINAL:
THE HUST LOCKER
(INGLORIOUS BASTERDS)
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
THE WHITE RIBBON
(THE WHITE RIBBON)
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
THE COVE
(THE COVE)
BEST EDITING:
THE HURT LOCKER
(THE HURT LOCKER)
BEST SOUND EDITING:
AVATAR
(AVATAR)
BEST SOUND MIXING:
THE HURT LOCKER
(THE HURT LOCKER)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
THE YOUNG VICTORIA
(UNKNOWN DUE TO NOT SEEING ALL FILMS)
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:
AVATAR
(AVATAR)
In this, my final post before the Oscars, I have to say that AN EDUCATION and PRECIOUS were truly stand-out films this year, as was THE ROAD (which received no nominations whatsoever). UP IN THE AIR was an extremely enjoyable film, and solidified my thinking that Jason Reitman is my absolute favourite director of the moment – all three of his films – the other two being THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and JUNO – have been exceptional, smart, and witty. They don’t pander. George Clooney was exceptional in that film, as was Anna Kendrick.
THE HURT LOCKER and AVATAR – the two “jostling it out” for all the awards – are very different, but, really, are they? The better film – and the one that will probably sweep the awards – is THE HURT LOCKER. It’s a film for our times, made by a female director, and it looks at the war we’re all dealing with askew – from a different viewpoint – that not of the soldier wounded but the soldier either emboldened or made plain crazy. It is a brave film.
But if I was giving out the awards, and I was the judge… Mr. Tarentino would be stepping up to my plate. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS was phenomenally entertaining, and it gets my vote for Film of the Year, followed by THE COVE (which will win Best Documentary), A PROPHET and THE WHITE RIBBON – puth those two have to decide amongst themselves which one will win Best Foreign Language Film. I can’t choose because they are both impeccable films.
It was a great year for movies. Enjoy the Oscars.