Thursday, 3 December 2009

First Blood

Sylvester Stallone in First Blood

Damaged Vietnam veteran, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), goes in search of the only other surviving member of his unit deep in the mountains of North West states, only to find that he is the last. He re-enters civilisation and meets small town sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), who mistreats him along with the rest of the police department. Rambo snaps back to his Vietnam years and takes to the woods, bringing a personal war down onto the National Guard and this isolated region.


Most cinema goers know the genre defining moments in movie history - Marlon Brandon responding to the question, "What're you rebelling against, Johnny?", with, "Whaddya got?"; HR Giger's Alien sculpting the look of science fiction horror; or Sam Peckinpah's revising of the Western in The Wild Bunch - and at the moment Rambo leads the pursuing police into the mountains on an appropriated motorbike, action films were permanently altered.

This was the birth of One Man Army movies that dominated the eighties and filtered down into the decades that followed. Here was the embodiment of the American faith in the possibility of anything with enough self belief, that capitalist dream that has launched countless businesses and enterprises, why Brits like the inventor of the iPod will take their ideas to the states to escape the cynicism of their own nation.

Sylvester Stallone as Rambo
First Blood arrived at the perfect time, tapping into the mood of a nation that had just elected Ragon to power. The posters portrayed their gungho hero cradling a heavy weight machine gun, making him a symbol of militaristic supremacy.

The weapons of the film are treated lovingly, the script taking any opportunity to mention the specific class of gun, showing them off like new toys, and - especially considering the sequels to this film - you would be forgiven in viewing it as an elegy to the excesses of the coming eighties. But here is where First Blood shows its confused politics.

Opening scenes of First Blood
Rambo is the product of a system that has used and abandoned him. He has retreated from the world and when he enters the small town of Hope in the opening scenes, we have no indication as to the length of time he has dwelt in the wilderness. When hunted in the woods, he makes use of his knife and nature around him as a defence. Trees and rocks remove the threat of rifles and even a helicopter in an exceptionally well shot scene.

Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna
Even when Rambo lays down his knife and picks up various elements of the US Army's arsenal, he turns it on the elements of Hope's capitalist society. This final assault could be interpreted as military tactics as he eliminates the town's energy and food supplies, then their defensive possibilities, but the film lingers on these moments in a confused sense of delight in carnage, and destruction of American mainstays. He goes out of his way to bring Vietnam to the people who sent him there.

This was a film that could not escape the disenfranchisement of its forerunners - it shares more than a passing resemblance to aspects of The Deer Hunter along with it, and Deliverance's aesthetic - but it also reveled in the new era of American military might. It wanted to be an old fashioned war movie, but felt compelled to continually nod towards anti-war sentiment, as if to say, "It's okay, you can enjoy this, we hate war too!".

Sylvester Stallone and Brian Dennehy
There is no denying that First Blood is a good film, and it is worth noting that it pre-dates Full Metal Jacket and Platoon. It wallows in flights of fancy, but also carries an emotional heft, and the superb cinematography belies the director of photography's (Andrew Laszlo) background being primarily in television.

The only real tragedies are the terrible song that taints the credits, and the sad fact that the director (Ted Kotcheff) went on to make Weekend at Bernies...

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Friday, 13 November 2009

Letters From Iwo Jima

Beaches of Iwo Jima

The World War II battle for the strategically important island of Iwo Jima, told from the Japanese perspective. Focusing on the stories of General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) and young conscript Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) as the assault rages about them.


The terms brave and important have been attached wantonly to this picture, and considering it is an American film made from the perspective of the Japanese during a World War II engagement, that seems justified. Clint Eastwood famously realised during the making of Flags of Our Fathers, that there was a vital story to be told about the opponents of this assault. The question is, was this that story?

Enormous attention to detail went into this film, as is always the case with Eastwood's movies, and it was extremely refreshing to find the whole film in the Japanese language. The script was based on works of non fiction, and the story co-written by the Japanese screenwriter. It felt authentic, and its success in Japan proves the point.

In Eastwood's hands, the drama is taught throughout, characters are given personal battles to fight before and during the assault, with satisfying conclusions. There is a sense of the classic war movie, without the action degenerating into the glamourisation of post war, propaganda pictures. But this also presents one of the films flaws.

School Children Sing a Patriotic Song
As with The Changling, despite the factual basis of the film, it feels too cinematic. There are overt story arcs, which, while drawing us in, taint the piece by presenting history as a framing device to a personal tale. Like The Thin Red Line, there is a great sense of the foot soldier being passed from pillar to post with little understanding of what is actually happening. But there is too clear a journey for Saigo, as he attempts to get from A to B.

If his path through the war zone had been the main focus of the film, it may have worked, but we also see a great deal through the eyes of General Kuribayashi. The plot strands of the two characters intertwining a little too often.

Ken Watanabe
There is also great effort to humanise the Japanese forces, necessary if we are to root for them in the way Eastwood wants us to. But then we are suddenly presented with scenes to remind us that, actually, the Japanese were baddies - only the characters we are meant to like are acceptable, and then, only because they disagree with the ethos of Imperial Japan.

Each of the main characters are clearly shown to be rebellious and disenfranchised, but nonetheless patriotic to a fault. This need not be the case, Downfall dealt with the very tricky subject of the core of the Nazi party, and succeeded in portraying Hitler and his associates without making us complicit in their beliefs.

Letters From Iwo Jima is a notable stride forward in the American perception of the world beyond its vast borders, and worth watching. However, while featuring engaging performances and excellent photography, it fails to tell us anything new about the conflict that a short documentary on The History Channel could not.

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Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Empire Reviews

I have bought every copy of Empire magazine since I picked it up in an airport and broke my "no magazine" rule. After some months of viewing the critics reviews as gospel, I began to spot the tastes of particular reviewers, and sense when the magazine had adopted a certain stance toward a movie. This goes with the territory of running a national magazine that has to balance sales and a honed taste in cinema. What concerned me was the review of Terminator Salvation.

I had listened to Mark Kermode's rant on Radio 5 - and while I enjoy his reviews and listening every week - was waiting to see what the slightly less biased view from Empire was going to be (Kermode habitually takes umbrage to a particular point, and then is unable to view the film objectively; entertaining, but frustrating). All blockbuster reviews tend to have at least half a star added while the hype machine runs, but this can be taken into account.

For some reason though, the reviewer of this film lacked the confidence of their own convictions. They seemed apologetic of their praise, dusting off old clichés to dress up an explanation that read more like trailer voice-over - "The film is propulsive, barely stopping for breath. There are exciting chases, suspenseful close calls, edge-of- your-seat battles and adrenaline-charged set-pieces."

There appears to be a desperate desire for this film to be good - "For a summer blockbuster, Terminator Salvation is bursting with plot and incident. Much of it even makes sense!".

A complaint made by other reviewers of McG's film, is how derivative it is; not a problem for Empire - "McG borrows from the styles of his peers to make something that breaks few barriers but works well on a visceral level".

Coming to the conclusion of the review, we are told of a flaw, that it finishes abruptly, but even after this, four stars are emblazoned below. I was left shocked at the low level of critique, even for a Summer tent pole release, and reminded of a very similar piece of work. The review for Danny Boyle's Sunshine.

Another four star review of a so-so film, and another range of excuses, albeit far better written. The film has a lot to commend it, with great attention spent on the visuals, the creation of a believable world, and focus on character. But this was movie that borrowed heavily from predecessors, according to Empire, unavoidably - "Do the limitless realms of space and the human psyche paradoxically only offer a finite number of ways for people to go bonkers?"

To imply that we should forgive Boyle rehashing old plot lines and far better films, as there are no new genre stories, is a weak argument to say the least. Consider how Donnie Darko approached time travel, or Brick's take on Raymond Chandler, and to a lesser extent, Children of Men's fresh angle on a simple road movie. There is originality to be found, and to deduce that we should stop trying to seek out what is new, is soul destroying.

To like a film that does not break boundaries and set new standards is far from a sin, but the film should nonetheless be given a review and rating that reflects its true status. For example, we all have our taste in art, perhaps the Impressionist period. Some artists, however, still paint in a style that apes Monet or Toulouse-Lautrec. This is not to say they are without talent, or those that buy their art are at fault. But those paintings will always be sold from gift shops, and not hung in the Louvre.

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Saturday, 6 June 2009

Spoof Star Trek Review

Funny Star Trek Review have posted another Megashow, and it's a good one. A belated review of the recent JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot. continue to provide witty and useful movie news, and are a site worth keeping an eye on. This is just one of the features they provide, and gives an idea of the effort put into their work.

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Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Line Up for Fal River Festival's Film Evenings Announced

Flim on the Fal
The full line up for the film evenings, which we see the King Harry Ferry turned into a floating cinema as part of the Fal River Festival, has been announced.

Film on the Fal, which has been organised by Event Cornwall to coincide with the nine-day festival, will see five films being screened across four nights.

The special showings kick off on Sunday, May 24, in Events Square, Falmouth, with a double bill of Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Anchorman (The Legend of Ron Burgundy).

The action then moves to the King Harry Ferry for three evenings starting on Tuesday, May 26, with the Poseidon Adventure.

That will be followed on Wednesday, May 27, with Pirates of the Caribbean 2 – Dead Man’s Chest, and the classic movie, Jaws, on Thursday, May 28.

“We’re really excited about screening three films of the King Harry Ferry,” said Event Cornwall director, Claire Eason-Bassett, “I think the atmosphere on the ferry once it has moored in the middle of Fal at night, especially with the Poseidon Adventure and Jaws, will be fantastic. They’ll make evenings to remember, and what’s even more exciting is that we’ve found out that Robert Shaw, who plays shark hunter Quint in Jaws, went to Truro School.”

Running from 22 - 31 May, this year’s Fal River Festival will feature over 130 events which organisers believe will attract over 30,000 people.

Fal River Festival director, Toby Budd, said: “The film screenings are going to be something for all the family to get involved with and we’re really pleased to be working with Event Cornwall on them.

“Turning the King Harry Ferry into a floating cinema is going to be a memorable event and one which the people who see it will always remember. And what makes it even more special is that we think, that instead of a drive-in, we’re going to have Cornwall’s first sail-in.”

Tickets cost £8 and £4 and can be purchased from Hall for Cornwall box office on 01872 262466.

For more information on Fal River Festival contact Toby Budd on 01872 863132.

5 Screenings of Classic Films in Falmouth & on the King Harry Ferry as part of the Fal River Festival:

Sunday 24th May

Events Square Screenings

6.30pm - Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl

Join rogue pirate Captain Jack Sparrow and young Will Turner on their quest across the high seas to search for the love of Will’s life, Elizabeth Swann. On the way they must battle the world’s most treacherous pirates to save her – but there is more at stake and all could be lost unless the ultimate sacrifice is made. Bring your parrot and cutlass – you could be in for a rough ride.

9.00pm - Anchorman (The Legend of Ron Burgandy)

When Ron Burgandy’s status as the highest rated anchorman in San Diego is threatened by ambitious newswoman Veronica Corningstone, he is at first willing to play along – as long as she only pursues newstories of ‘female interest’! But it soon becomes clear that Veronica isn’t willing to settle for covering cat fashion shows, and cooking – and she has her ambitions set on Ron’s seat at the newsdesk. Get ready to witness more than just the battle of the sexes – this means war.

King Harry Ferry Screenings

An exciting chance to see some classic films in the unique setting of the King Harry Ferry. All films start at 22.00 and parking is available at Trelissick Gardens with access down the road to the Ferry. Please bring portable chairs
and warm clothing. Bar and sweets concession available on the Ferry.

Tuesday 26th May – The Poseidon Adventure

When a tidal wave hits the Poseidon ocean liner, only a handful of passengers survive the force of the water – and led by Frank Scott they must attempt to climb their way to safety. Enjoy the film, and make sure you’re sitting comfortably – you wouldn’t want to rock the boat.

Wednesday 27th May - Pirates of the Caribbean 2 – Dead Man’s Chest

Another swashbuckling installment from Captain Jack Sparrow . Reminded that he owes a blood debt to Davy Jones, captain of the ghostly Flying Dutchman, Captain Jack must enlist the help of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann to save his soul – but to do this they must join him on another perilous adventure.

Thursday 28th May - Jaws

This cult classic sees the beautiful beach resort of Amity Island shattered by what lurks beneath the water. It is up to Police Chief Brody, fisherman Quint, and marine biologist Hooper to hunt down the 200 Pound White Shark, before the waters turn red with blood once more. Just don't look over the edge – who knows what lurks beneath.

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Monday, 27 April 2009

Monsters vs Aliens

Monsters vs Aliens Robot Probe

Animation where Susan Murphy (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) grows into a giant on her wedding day, and then joins a team of other classic sci-fi monsters in combating an alien attack.


I was raised on 50s sci-fi, ever since my Dad started videoing a late night programme in the 80s - The Worst of Hollywood. It introduced, then showed, a dire B movie each week (a gorilla in a diving helmet using a deadly bubble machine, a hub cap on a string, and, most vivid in my mind, the Smog Monster charging its batteries from chimneys) and entered my psyche indelibly. So there was little doubt I would watch this film from the moment I saw the title, especially when my niece and nephew asked to be taken - I wouldn't be a good uncle if I didn't say yes..?

DreamWorks cannot help but be compared to Pixar, and have certainly raised the game since the beautifully animated Kung Fu Panda, but this picture has a very different aesthetic to both. It manages to evoke those classic, Cold War influenced movies from the past, cathedral like alien constructions from such films as the Forbidden Planet, and the spectacle of big budget action like Independence Day.

There is something very pleasing about the style of art as it successfully brings essential Japanese elements to the mix. Among the well crafted characters (The Missing Link's tail flopping like a thrown fish is perfect), the robot probe that assaulted San Francisco is masterfully created.

Japanese Style Art
This giant alien machine manages to look cute and hapless while inflicting deadly damage to the city, and in one scene blends into the architecture ominously. The fight between it and Insectosaurus (voiced by co-director Conrad Vernon) at the Golden Gate Bridge works extremely well due to the careful mimicry of Japanese creature features.

Golden Gate Bridge Attack
This sequence is the first time we see the monsters in action, and is truly impressive - carrying a level of threat without scaring the little ones. The scenes within a deserted San Francisco are excellent, and need to be seen on the big screen. But the sheer success of this captivating set piece is also a flaw in the film. Like some great films before it, Monsters vs Aliens peaks too soon.

The Host and Superman Returns both had outstanding moments of special effects, extremely well used, and then were unable to create an equally satisfying finale. That is not to say these were bad films, The Host for instance chose to use dramatic character development to add weight to the final moments, and due to the time spent on building an interest in those individuals - despite the spectacle having been upstaged - we cared.

We sadly do not care quite as much about the peril attempting to be averted during the climax of Monsters vs Aliens. It chooses to place the heroes in well realised monumental alien construction, and while pleasing on the eye, we are detached from the world we recognise and therefore - despite the well scripted and choreographed humour - do not care as much as we should.

Ginormica Captured
The film boils down to a series of interesting events, pasted loosely together by mediocre character interplay. It still manages to maintain attention through the well played protagonists, keeping up a steady flow of enjoyable lines and antics.

Seth Rogen as B.O.B. (based on The Blob) is consistently funny, as is Rainn Wilson, who plays the alien Gallaxhar. Stephen Colbert (President Hathaway) does not disappoint, apart from one very weak Close Encounters of the Third Kind parody. It is also good to see a strong female lead in a film that could easily have been very masculine, without being overly clichéd. The supporting cast are given far more to do here than in Kung Fu Panda, and although they are the familiar Frat Pack, do not go for the out of place humour that Shrek 3 allowed to dominate.

The kids I took were both were far more involved in this film than WALL-E, and I enjoyed the many references, such as Dr. Strangelove's War Room, and the line "destroy all monsters". Thankfully though, it did not feel as if there were two scripts being played at the same time, one for the children, the other for bored adults.

It is good to see DreamWorks continuing to try new genres and learning from previous mistakes, instead of trying to ape Pizar's style. But they still have some way to go before they have their own Toy Story.

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Thursday, 9 April 2009

A Night at the Opera


In Italy, Otis B. Driftwood's (Groucho Marx) position as wealthy Mrs. Claypool's (Margaret Dumont) business manager is threatened when Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman) promises to get her into society through becoming a patron of the Opera. In his attempts to regain his position, he comes into contact with Fiorello (Chico Marx) and Tomasso (Harpo Marx), friends of an unpopular opera singer in love with the female lead. They stow away to follow the production to New York and try to reinstate their positions.


So, is it the best Marx Brothers picture? We are going to have to say the word "purist", (a word that crops into practically every review of this film), they would argue that once the brothers moved to MGM they lost the anarchic edge of earlier films - Animal Crackers, Monkey Business - and there was a change from humiliating the love interests, to assisting them.

Both of these points are true, implying that they had lost creative control of their movies, especially when you hear quotes such as that from producer Irving G. Thalberg, who called their previous film, Duck Soup, a "stinker". But it was also his suggestion that put the trio in an extraordinarily powerful position. He encouraged them to take the film out on the road, performing it before live audiences, therefore returning them to their vaudeville beginnings. They were able to fine tune the material in a way that few other actors are able.

This approach gives us the equivalent of the drastic cuts Airplane received, to ensure that no moment was wasted on self indulgent routines. There is a careful balance between the superb visual gags, and lightning fast patter from Groucho.

Of the two love interests, Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones) and Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle), Kitty shines with a coolness and exceptional voice. Although you often find yourself wishing they were off screen, they do not detract as much from the laughs as they could, and they give a central premise for the plot to revolve around. The film flows effectively in a way that their previous films were unable to.

We are also blessed with some of the finest comic scenes in cinema: the dispute over the contract for Ricardo Baroni between Groucho and Chico - Fiorello: Can he live in New York on $3.00? Driftwood: Like a prince. Of course he won't be able to eat, but he can live like a prince.

Switching the beds in Driftwood's apartment to confuse a detective, and of course the crowed cabin scene:

Cabin Scene Marx Borthers

These very visual scenes show clearly the influence of the stage, especially when rearranging the furniture in the apartment. Two rooms are seen simultaneously, and you can imagine the audience's response as they see the policeman stumble from room to room trying to find the fugitive brothers.

A Night at the Opera is polished from start to finish, packed with quotable dialogue, and building to a satisfying crescendo. It also benefits from losing the fourth brother, Zeppo, sadly a dead weight to be carried in the previous pictures. It remains my favourite of their films, showing that their unique style could not be homogenised. It is also the perfect starting point for any who have not seen their films before, paving the way into the surreal insanity of the Paramount pictures.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Call for Cornwall Film Festival 2009 Entries

The Cornish Film Festival - Goel Fylm
The eighth Cornwall Film Festival will take place Thursday 12th to 15th November 2009 in Falmouth, Cornwall, an annual celebration of Cornish and international filmmaking.

The Festival offers local and national premieres, professional development workshops, lectures and parties providing the opportunity to network with the UK’s leading industry professionals.

Mark Kermode
Film Critic Mark Kermode at the 2008 Cornwall Film Festival


This year the Festival introduces two new Jury Awards for Cornish short films which will replace the audience awards for Best Film of the Festival and Best Student Film of the Festival. Jury members will include leading UK media industry professionals.

The Another Country International Short Film Award celebrates films of all genres made in towns, villages and rural communities across the world. There is a cash prize of £1,000 for the winning film from award sponsors University College Falmouth.

Board Shorts awards and prizes will also be presented to the best international surf/skate/snowboarding short films.


Cornish Shorts / Features
We take pride in the thriving Cornish film industry, and a key aim of the Festival is showcasing films where at least one of the creative team (writer, director, producer) is resident in Cornwall. We accept films of all genres. Films under 20 minutes will be eligible for the Best Film of the Festival Jury Award

Cornish Student Films
These films will be eligible for the Best Student Film of the Festival Jury Award

Board Shorts
The Festival's popular screening event which showcases new talent in surf/snow/skateboard filmmaking and photography. Films in this category are eligible for prizes and awards.

ANOTHER COUNTRY International Short Film Award.
The Another Country International Short Film Award showcases films of all genres made in towns, villages and rural communities across the world. There is a cash prize of £1000 for the winning film from award sponsors University College Falmouth.

Screen Actions
Screen Actions is the Film Festival run by young people for young people. If you're aged 8-18 and you've made a short film submit it to Screen Actions. We accept films of all genres.

For more details go to the submissions page of the Cornwall Film Festival site.

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Friday, 6 March 2009


Judy Morris and the Razorback

An environmentally concerned American journalist (Judy Morris) heads to the Australian outback and proceeds to disappear after observing a sinister, pet food factory. Her husband (Gregory Harrison) follows the trail to where the eponymous, giant wild pig, dominates the life of a hunter (Bill Kerr), who has a long standing grudge with it.


I will start with a serving suggestion: This film is best served with a group a lads who have just returned from the pub, and cannot quite tell what is stuffed pork, and what is just plain cheese.

The best creature feature movies are the ones that shroud the beast in mystery and shadows, as that is where these paranoid delusions dwell in our individual psyches - left over from childhood nightmares. Fog and darkness also have the useful side affect of hiding much of the poorer quality areas of the puppets as well, but rarely has it been as essential as in this film.

The Razorback Puppet
Choosing such a cinema-unfriendly villain was never a good starting point anyhow. Pigs are highly dangerous, but somehow not terrifying on screen, and this specimen resembles not a great deal more than a botched attempt at taxidermy; and about as mobile. The only times it carries any menace are when it is off screen, and even the lighting techniques cannot imbue it with any life.

Those lighting effects are impressive though. You can tell that Russell Mulcahy, the director, has a background in music videos, specifically Duran Duran. He cuts the picture like the best of the early eighties boom in pop video, using his keen eye to create vignettes within the film, allowing Australia's unique landscape to do what his puppet cannot.

Razorback Scenery
Sound is also used to great effect. Each geographic location having its own signature, and most of them eerie and chilling. He creates a remarkable claustrophobia in the massively open expanses.

The plot could have been written on a beer mat, containing no surprises, and its characters are unable to carry the story, outshone by the peripheral locals. The style of the two pet food factory villains, is very derivative of Mad Max, coming only a few years after that genre defining film, and the setting and composition of the finale is echoed in his later later work, Highlander.

I would refer to Razorback as a B-Movie, but for its comparatively large budget, and so we are left with a film that thinks it is more than it is. The sub-genre of gigantic killer animals, or revenge of nature pictures, has many more watch-able entries. But, providing you follow the serving suggestion, this is a passable effort.

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Friday, 20 February 2009

The Pianist

Adrien Brody in The Pianist
It is very difficult to review a film like The Pianist objectively, considering the extremely powerful subject and source material. The film is a very close adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman's eye witness account of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. A Jew, he saw first hand the ghetto, and - incredibly avoiding the cattle trucks to the death camps - survived through to the arrival of Soviet troops.

Roman Polanski, who directs, also escaped the Warsaw ghetto, making him a perfect choice for this screen adaptation. His direction capturing Szpilman's style of writing, without judgement or melodrama (such as Schindler's List), and underlining his experience as purely a survivor. This is often considered a failing in the film, as the screenplay sticks very close to the written account. There are large periods of the picture that are devoid of dialogue and seem to lack forward momentum.

Judging the film adversely because of this decision, is perhaps due to a desire for it to address bigger issues and be presented on a larger canvas. The narrative follows Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody) constantly, never straying away from his point of reference. If it happens behind a wall, we do not see it, if it happens around the corner of the street, we are left to listen and observe reactions of others.

This is a strength of the film; Polanski does not get bogged down in the impossible task of attempting to explain why those horrors occurred. The result is very reminiscent of the classic British style of writing, such as by authors like H.G. Wells, who's protagonists do not drive the narrative, but primarily observe. In The Pianist we feel the helplessness of a person in the midst of unnatural events. The word survivor is used endlessly when describing this film, and the implication of a sole survivor of a plane crash sums up the sheer arbitrary nature of Szpilman's story.

The film has faults though. Wooden, stilted acting from much of the support - emphasised by Brody's finest performance - taints the immaculately recreated scenes. It is as if Polanski was only interested in Szpilman, similar to the way Tim Burton forgets to direct characters he does not connect with.

But don't forget the music; the interrupted performance at the beginning and Chopin Grande Polonaise Brillante at finale, perfectly bookending the film with unspoken import. There is a joy in seeing the reflection of the pianist's hands reaching back from the dark, polished wood of the piano, as Brody portrays the true joy in creating such beautiful sounds. It also gives us the stand out scene in the film, viewable below.

There is much left unexplained, especially concerning Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann), the German officer who acts in a very unexpected way. Read the book, it contains details that will surprise you.

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Friday, 30 January 2009

Coogan's Bluff

I was very surprised by this film, coming so soon after the Dollars trilogy and recommended frequently, by reputable sources, as a transition between The Man With No Name and Dirty Harry. It is poorly scripted - and I mean the sort of dialogue and plot developments you would expect in a children's programme - and very naive, as if its portrayal of New York comes from a holiday brochure.

Clint Eastwood plays rule breakin', deputy sheriff, Walt Coogan from Arizona, sent to collect a prisoner from New York. After deceiving the NYPD into releasing him into his custody, the prisoner escapes. Coogan then proceeds to break more rules in his pursuit of him though the city.

We see the cliché's of New York paraded before us, and sixties staples are ticked off. The hippy club, the promiscuous and damaged teen, the unreasonable senior police officers... When you consider that this police fantasy was made in the same year as Bullitt, and Sergio Leone had gone on to make Once Upon a Time in the West, this film is inexcusable.

The plot is simply there to serve as a vehicle for Eastwood. It panders to the image his fans want to see, portraying him as a loose cannon who has to beat off the girls with a pointy stick. The prisoner is basically a MacGuffin - totally dropping out of the storyline until needed for a chase scene near the end - and any pretence at detective work merely moves Coogan from standard scene to the next - pool room fight, interlude with attractive woman, hooker in hotel room.

Interesting that its director, Don Siegel, would go on to make such films such as The Shootist and Escape from Alcatraz, and Dean Riesner, one of the two writers, would pen High Planes Drifter and Play Misty for Me. Coincidently, both worked on Dirty Harry as well. On the other hand, Herman Miller, the other writer, had as his last writing credit an episode of MacGyver, after dabbling in Knight Rider territory; do you think we found the weak link?

One thing in the film's favour though, was the excellent closing shot on the helipad. Framed and directed with aplomb, we then see the city retreat from view as Eastwood travels back to his natural habitat. Sadly, the direction of the film has this same picture postcard detachment from its stars, both human and geographic.

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Sunday, 18 January 2009

In the Mood for Love

Everyone has a few cinematic moments that change their perception of movies indefinitely, one of mine was the second Maggie Cheung walked down the alleyway to get take-away food from street vendors, with only the sound of Shigeru Umebayashi's Yumeji's Theme playing (make sure you follow that link!). It opened my eyes to the possibilities of soundtrack, cinematography, and minimalistic nuances portrayed in the faces of actors. This is a film in which the plot can be explained in one or two sentences, but would take hours to attempt to pass on the sensations it invokes.

Kar Wai Wong wrote, directed and produced this film set in 1960s Hong Kong, following the tale of two married neighbours who both suspect their partners of infidelity. They form a relationship based on denial and mutual sadness. Each scene that these two (Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai) share is charged with unspoken and withheld passion, hearkening back to old fashioned pictures like Brief Encounter.

You never see their partners' faces, only ever overhearing a few words, re-emphasising the focus back to our main two protagonists, and much of the film is shot with only one of their faces in the frame. This drives home the isolation they both feel, imposed by their marriage partners and themselves. It also serves to intentionally confuse matters when they start to act out confrontations with their partners.

What can be overlooked by their status as the victims of the piece, is the strange way they deal with their predicament. It hints at more peculiar currents that lie beneath the surface of these two seemingly innocent character, and yet is instantly forgiven.

The melancholy beauty of this study on the fragile nature of love and broken trust is effortless. Each scene so carefully devised, every performance so subtle, every powerful colour, gently flooding your senses, without overwhelming (Christopher Doyle and Pin Bing Lee produce wonderful results in cinematography, Doyle's style evident again in Hero, but never so restrained). The repetition of music and settings used effectively to replicate emotions and juxtapose narrative elements.

Someone compared this film to the Chinese gift of gift giving, presenting the most simple item in such style. This film is a gift of simplicity and endless depths.

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Thursday, 8 January 2009

Hotel Chevalier

The short that precedes Wes Anderson's, The Darjeeling Limited. It sets up Schwartzman's character for the main feature, and goes some way to explaining his liaison with Amara Karan's Rita later in that film.

Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) sits alone in a Parisian hotel and receives an unexpected visit from his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman). It lasts thirteen minutes.

The sheer opulence of the visuals is intoxicating, soundtrack (Where Do You Go To, My Lovely) beautifully used, the scarcity of dialogue gives each phrase such dramatic weight, and the treatment of Portman is almost fetishistic. She is playing a similar character to that of Gwyneth Paltrow's in The Royal Tenenbaums, but alludes to even more complexity.

The tragedy of such a powerful short, is that The Darjeeling Limited pales in comparison, as can often be the case, consider some of the Pixar films that are outshone by their exceptional preludes. We learn far more about Whitman in these few minutes than in the rest of the film, where Anderson flounders amongst crude metaphors.

There is much unspoken, and more hinted at, and what dialogue exists, is spoken with power and economy. Portman says, "Are you running away from me?", and with immediate brevity, the response is, "I thought I already did."

I would love to buy this film alone, and leave the good intentioned, but didactic, main feature on the shelf.

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