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A Long Night's Journey Into Day
23 July 2012
A dark cold night over the Turkish steppes, an entourage of police detectives, a commissioner, a doctor, and two grim prisoners in tow search for a dead body for over 2 hours in the darkest part of the night. What appears to be a good setup for the latest police procedural, crime fiction, thriller, even midnight horror turns out unexpected intensely revealing character portraits, in a most exhaustive and surprisingly humorous way. Recreating his earlier slow burn meditations, yet with a new sense of maturity "Anatolia" is true to the real rhythms of night, the frustrations of waiting for the crucial evidence to appear, the vagueness of memory, remembrance of traumatic events in love and in murder and the bleakness of night of the eternal night and unwelcome truths revealed by the day.

One senses the tedium and frustration of the murder investigation, simultaneously the dread and anticipation of revealing the dead body in it's gory realism, the salacious details resulting in the murder itself and the public crucification of the culprits Anatolia however is almost an antithesis to the psychological revelations over the course of the night.

Before (and if) we reach the major discovery, the police officers and commissar reveal their aversions to murder, mortality, the search for a guilty suspect before the evidence is revealed, their cultural differences, assumptions about class differences, marriage, and human nature. Throughout the eternal stillness of night, poetic treatises about life, death and love are superimposed over cracks of thunder, howling winds and pattering rains, the harsh spotlight of car headlamps contrast with the comforting glow of a flickering lantern on a village porch.

The search is tedious and frustrating for both the officers and the audience, as much as the motives are unclear, like love, life, and marriage. The ambiguity of night is as unclear as the motives for murder, does daybreak reveal anything revelatory, and does the dissection of a murder case hours and days after its uncovering reveal any truth into it's motives or human nature itself?

The audience should be wiser against the small town working-class police task-force just following orders; they may empathise more with the reflective and sensitive Doctor Cemal or the cunning and charismatic Prosecutor Nusret, yet under the surface, their own personal lives in marriage and children are vexed, the investigation is almost a respite from these frustrations. The commissioner seems haunted by his ill wife, yet on the surface, this is treated as a running joke, later, it reveals thematic links to the search for answers in the unknown murder case. Similarly the doctor tries to make peace with his conscience about a past personal relationship. The impression of him is the most sensible, grounding the moral compass, yet his flaws are also revealed by daylight.

Contrasts between these characters and the murder suspect who appears (at least on the surface) to be more emotionally stable than many of the prosecutors is complex and kaleidoscopic. This is a remarkable introspective film ostensibly exploring a murder case and therefore guilt and conscience, yet further introspection reveals riffs on love story(ies), female roles, family, honour, class prejudice and the legal system.

Women appear seldom in the film, some wives are talked about yet, their effect on the men (and audience) is haunting, magnetic, and enigmatic. The small towns which they stop at along their road trip are barren, simple, country-like, impressing the sense of isolation both physically and more saliently, emotionally. The appearance of women and children in these towns is revelatory and thirst-quenching. Therefore a lot of time spent for introspection and meditation, watching how the characters reacting to the tedium, stress, fatigue and mortality of a long hard night.

The terrain of Anatolia is a foreboding character in itself with it's rolling fields illuminated by the sharp piercing car headlights slicing the night like snippets revealed about each character - yet the whole picture remains hidden. A storm is sensed coming both literally and figuratively, the expectant howling winds like ghosts of the dead and the memories of the characters across the unforeseeable terrain. The mood is incredibly poetic, rhythmically blending with the sounds of the whistling winds, the crunch of icy gravel, pattering of rain, and fluttering pigeons, all in the emptiness of night.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's previous films have been sombre (frustrations) meditations on human nature, such as the brewing storm in 3 Monkeys, the solitude of cascading snow and the cracking waves of the harbour in Distant, to the scorching blistering summer in Climates; environment and mood work in integration in his work. In "Anatolia", the moods over the windy plains are as intense as the brewing moods in the characters.

The scenes of the cars rolling across the plains lit only by the headlights occupy the initial part of the film. They run almost in real time; with the wind whipping though grass and plains they form a stark, haunting and grim atmosphere. There are bravura haunting scenes like the rolling apple down the hill, whilst initially seemingly superfluous, yet curious it's implications to reveal characters' current moods and eventual outcomes. And the the colloquial dinner at the mayor house under the swaying candlelight, then in pitch darkness, the light revealing (literally) different shades of each character; they the revelation (apparition) of a miraculous figure moments later is spellbinding.

This is cinema with the highest respect for the audience, yet Ceylan has said that he wants to bore the audience, "because out of boredom might come a miracle - maybe days later, maybe years." Not sure whether to take this seriously however what it does demonstrate is a greater onus on viewer to think actively about the story and the consequences; out of deep reflection perhaps may come a revelation about the characters and ourselves.
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Tabu (I) (2012)
"You may run as far as you can for as long as you like, but you will not escape your heart"
23 July 2012
A safari hunter drifts across the starched heat of the African plains, stealthily prowling amongst the tall grass, the scorching shimmering sunlight falls upon the shadows of predatorial lions, hungry hippos and the gleaming jaws of the crocodile. A vinyl recording of 60s rock 'n' roll echoing over time through generations suggest a nostalgic remembrance of a distant land, which later plays a greater significance in a saga of unrequited love, regret and (literally) life and death.

Initially, Tabu is a love story in disguise, a unfinished love story sprawling over a lifetime of passion, regret, duty and propriety. In it's latter stages it contemplates ideas of memory, unrequited love, ageing, class inequality, prejudice, and European colonialism in African hills and plains.

The first part follows the life of an enigmatic elderly woman in contemporary Portugal - titled Paradise Lost - as she goes about her daily life, we learn snippets about her about her prosaic hobbies, simple pleasures, prejudices, idiosyncrasies, detests, and regrets over a sobering simple lifestyle, a long way from the dream life she idolised. Her simple pleasures have allowed her to gamble away her savings and her estranged family by doing so; in her current state, she had little left except her dedicated maid and carer Pilar who initially acts as the audience's eyes and ears into the portrait of a solitary woman.

What is the intriguing background to this lady's prime of beauty and youth? The modern landscape of metropolitan Lisbon, Portugal is industrial, bleak and sobering, at times sad and efficient, a far world from that which she inhabited in her youth. It is not long until what find out the origins of her melancholy and frustration, and what exactly has been trying to atone for most of her later life.

So begins a tale in colonial Africa, a tale of love and betrayal, rock 'n' roll, diamonds, and an alligator. This second part, subtitled Paradise is almost silent with only diegetic sound imposed during key moments with no title cards as far as I can remember. It is a wonderfully romantic and nostalgic yet with an undercurrent on living the edge of a precipice - the dangerous beasts of the African plains, the wild unfamiliar natives and rugged landscape - there exists a sense of tragedy combined with high passion, regret and wild party impulses.

Whereas part one is melancholic as it is bitter and comic, the second part contrasts the beauty of youth, the blinding African heat and sun, it exposes the storytelling medium the by abandoning almost all dialogue and all but some diegetic sound effects. The compositions and framing are gorgeous, a simple story of unrequited love requiring little explanation and is suggested by moods, looks, and atmosphere and nostalgic memories. The economy in telling a story almost wordlessly, embraces the feelings and mood of silent storytelling placing the onus of eliciting emotion on the charismatic and effortless performances. From the frustrating, fussy and capricious Aurora to the charismatic, carefree, jeunesse Ventura and the supporting jaunty characters, each signify the contrasts in class, social status and the colonial class system soon to collapse under political revolution.

What is essentially an unrequited love story /melodrama is a charismatic and rollicking passionate ride with some crystal sharp compositions in textured black and white. This is an impressive, technically creative, charismatic, heartbreaking, melancholic and nostalgic film; perhaps more daring and arguably less conventional than that other lauded silent film of last year. Tabu is gorgeously unpredictable, surprising and artful.
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Amour (2012)
A sensitive and honest depiction of a profound and devastating love story
23 July 2012
In 'Amour', we delve into the deepest, and most profound type of love seldom explored on screen, examined to it's uncompromising end. It is one of the most moving displays of love, in recent memory. That the couple at the heart of this film are 80-plus year old, bourgeois, retired French-speaking music teachers is surprising. That their story speaks to so many audiences worldwide regardless of their age and culture should not be, it simply reflects the universal emotions at the core of this film told with great honesty and sensitivity.

Ironically, as the title suggests, this is (not) another love story. In his most classical and refined film yet, Austrian master Haneke has once again asks questions of the audience in his own subversive, clinical, uncomfortable methods, yet (in what many see as a departure) with profoundly moving results. Some of the signature Haneke 'shocks' still remain, but this time they also carry devastating emotional weight.

Paradoxically the emotional force of the film comes from Haneke's characteristic clinical style of filmmaking: static shots, framed in mid to long distance, no score, economical and direct screenplay, however assisted by an always crisp sound design, sharp lighting and cinematography courtesy of Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris), and naturalistic and honest performances. This time however, the approach feels gentler and respectful without the standard disdain and nihilism one expects from Haneke.

Yet there remains a palpable sense of the unknown and danger as film progresses (ironically almost exclusively in their spacious and comfortable apartment) ratcheting up a claustrophobic sense of fear. The film also spends it's time almost solely on the two leads, the emotional weight they carry and the connection to the audience evidenced by genuine laughter, gasps and tears (laughter or sorrow I won't disclose) was incredibly moving for two (real-life) octogenarians that few would admit, they have more in common than they would believe.

I've not said much about the film's story - an elderly French couple live in a Parisian apartment until an unexpected event causes them to reevaluate their life - it is simple in it's construction and execution, and the emotional peaks are best experienced by yourself with a friend or family member and a receptive audience. I watched this at the Sydney Film Festival in June, about a month after it's premiere in Cannes in May for which it deservedly won with enthusiastic reception. The theatre was comparatively (and undeservedly) under attended, yet the reception was attentively silent, collectively moved.

Following the visceral and subversive Caché and the more refined and sprawling White Ribbon, it appeared that Haneke had reached a creative zenith. Almost inevitably however, and especially given with the subject matter, he has restrained his somewhat acerbic style and delivered a film that is superlatively honest and sincere in all it's creative aspects. He has given an honest appraisal of a tender human relationship that should move even the most dispassionate viewer by the often unflinching humanity displayed on screen. One of the greatest and profound achievements seen on screen in many years, this is film at it's purest and most powerful form.
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Le Havre (2011)
A fable for the current day with a touch of dry wit and humour
14 April 2012
Another joyous work from the Finnish master Kaurismaki whose films always brim with delight and wry humour, an unmistakably Finnish sense of humour. In typical whimsical fashion Kaurismaki has created a charming story set in a nondescript time in a place that couldn't be more current evidenced by the major conflict in the film, the issue of illegal immigration. Le Havre is a city that suits Kaurismaki like any other place in Finland, with it's traditional working class port and harbour, the unique blend of French cultures and English climate. As a francophile with his very dry nordic wit and humour, Kaurismaki is perfect for this somewhat dire subject.

In trademark Kaurismaki style, it is also a very colourful film; with the help of his (brilliant) veteran cinematographer Timo Salminen, Kaurismaki imbues the city of Havre with life, humour in what is characteristically (perhaps only in my perception) a grim and (literally) cold place. Kaurismaki has always had a great eye of visuals, some of his compositions with Salminen are gorgeous: notice the impressionistic ray of sunlight illuminating a grey stone wall at the Gare de Calais, the boisterous colours of the fruit and veg shop with it's provincial style store front, even the shipping containers by night in the rain are haunting and melancholic. It's as if the film was shot in Technicolor, so vibrant is the palette of colours (consistent in most of Kaurismaki's works) it looks like it belongs in an era decades ago. This is coupled with the fact, the style is almost anachronistic from the style of fashions to the modest decor of Marcel's house and the local bar, to the rotary dial phones and very little other modern technology. It is all an utterly charming strange universe.

Kaurismaki's films always play out like a fable of sorts, the every day man (or woman in Drifting Clouds), lives simply in a modest lifestyle, almost on the edge of poverty, making ends meet, with a dream or catalyst to set them off some expected new life. In this case, a writer of sorts Marcel Marx lives each day just to get by and care for (or be taken care of) his equally devoted wife Arletty. When she gets sick and has to go to hospital, she prefers not to worry him and understates her sickness, so he can go along and continue with his life. At the same time he discovers a young boy Idrissa who is on the run from authorities after illegally immigrating from Africa with what looks like entire family of about 20-30 members. His kind and mellow heart leads leads him to foster the boy under his roof with he help of the kindly townsfolk (and the absolutely heart meltingly irresistible Golden Retriever Laika!). However local inspector Monet is on the hunt to restore things to natural (read legal) order.

This combination of hard edged social realism with the young boy and his family' dire outcome and the joyous optimism of Kaurismaki's benevolent play off watch other beautifully. There is some much dry humour in detective Monet's interaction with the townsfolk, the hopeful and determined innocence of Marcel's quest to reunite the boy with his family which belies his simple and bucolic lifestyle, and the efforts of Arletty to ask her doctors to lie to her husband so not to worry him.

Although not as ingenious as his masterwork The Man Without a Past (2002) perhaps lacking the incisiveness and tension in that film (admittedly I've only seen that and Lights in the Dusk (2006)) however Kaurismaki remains in the top eschelon of the very great filmmakers working today due to his incomparable individuality and visual style, generosity and sincerity of his characters, some of which are hopeless nobodies, but they grow on you. He is foremost a humanist storyteller, challenging his characters to do their best, not always perfectly, but with the right heart. I was utterly charmed by this world of Le Havre; in a serious subject about current problems today, that's not always easy to smile about.
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The Clock (2010)
A staggering, mesmerising, exhausting and exhilarating experience
14 April 2012
Perhaps the most staggering, entertaining, addictive, hilarious, mesmerising and exhausting film you'll ever see; probably all of the above in equal parts. It is part film, pastiche, port-manteau, mash-up, and a true a work of art. In The Clock you get exactly what you might expect: images of time, in different forms but all crystal clear. It is a montage of film clips of clocks, watches and depictions of times in the day exactly to the minute. The process of watching such a film is puzzling, what do you start watching, when do you stop (and if you should stop), it is the experience altered depending on what time you come in?

There is a novelty factor watching a film pieced together so precisely so that each clip flows from one to the next; the sound effects and film scores are edited so seamlessly it's hard to one where one film ends and another begins. Someone opening a door transitions to someone in another place, another era, someone steps out of an elevator of ends up of a barge down the river Seine. The film clips ranging from a second to half a minute, sometimes setting up the scene then after inter cut with several other films, returned back to the initial one with that satisfying glimpse of the clock with the time. This is a virtuosic display (if not one of the greatest) of film editing that gives you a glimpse of the staggering task at hand to the director for watching and cutting the hundreds of thousands of film together. Mr Marclay should be commended not just for the fact that was able to pull it off (taking 2 years to complete and several assistant cullers to look for clips), but do it so astoundingly into a cohesive and cogent piece of work.

This sounds incredibly tedious, a film without any plot, story, characters, running non-stop for 24 hours without repetition any explanation about each clip. It is liberating expression of what time means to us as a society and individuals. What does 7 o'clock in the morning mean to most people? Getting up having breakfast, showering, getting ready for work. 10pm is driving back 50 miles to home, on the last errand or getting ready for bed. In a way, it is a documentation of society, although, is it a fictional universe on screen, it is as real as possible to our daily lives and our routine for every each minute of the day.

After some time however a meditative mood (perhaps fatigue) started to set in, and I became less conscious of the images of time because it was always so present, and became more interested in the thematic significance of the time, at the time, whilst being bombarded with hundreds of clips hour; what most people are doing at a set time, and whether the time of day restricts us to certain activities even in a fictitious universe.

I started watching at 10pm on an all-night bender at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. They only have one 24 hour session a week, so there was an quite an audience amassing on the over-sized leather couches to transfix themselves on this curious experiment, hopefully for the long haul. Some lay on the floor, some reclined over the chairs, some brought snacks and easter eggs to kept them sustained through the night. The beauty was that one could come in and out at any time, return any day of the week and see something completely different. I stayed until 9:30am the next day (I lost track of whether anyone else had, don't think so, probably had a job to go to), sustained through the night by the unpredictably of what I would see in the next minute, next second, in a trance-like mediative state, acutely aware of the time on screen, but unconscious of the fact that I was up at 3:18 in the morning watching random clips of thousands of film across the ages.

I must mention that this is a self-confessed film buffs dream to pick out all the literally hundreds on thousands of film clips from the silent era to the past decade. From F.W Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) to some 60s or 70s film of the RMS Titanic to The Devil Wears Prada (2006). You will see some of your favourite films, and some films you will want to see, if only you could find out what they were! I am now fatigued from my almost 12-hour session but not exhausted; I am strangely exhilarated and invigorated, and eager to get the next opportunity to return to that parallel universe.
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Fashion as art, on the street, fuelled by passion for life.
6 April 2012
Wonderful film about the misunderstood and often contradictory peculiarities of the fashion world. Bill himself is an everyday man strikingly distinct from some of the outrageous fashions on display in contemporary New York yet he is respected ans one of the most enduring authorities on fashion today. His simple and discreet way of living as embodied by his spare and modest studio in Carnegie hall (a stark contrast in itself) illustrates Cunningham's principles on fashion itself: "It's not the celebrity, the spectacle, it's the clothes."

What is also insightful is how tends and set and grow organically out on the street, not on some fashion runway (although it remains a fascination for Bill). The idea that fashion is not just for the rich and famous, but for the everyday person is exemplified by the "bag ladies" of new york, the "water bottle", "baggy jeans", and 80s fashion; it's lovely to see Bill pay tribute to these somewhat eccentric trends in the column that also charts the who's who of high society in New York as if to say "these are our people, and this is our culture, no matter who you are."

Bill is a charming and enigmatic character, still going strong at 80(!) years and heartwarming to see with so much respect amongst his peers. The city of New York is a character itself as always, the variety of fashion and cultures is incredibly rich and entertaining. He shows that there are many good people in high society who donate themselves to charitable and artistic institutions; yet while he becomes involved in that world of riches he remains cautious about becoming too involved dedicating himself solely to the art of fashion.

While Bill concedes he may not have lived the ideal life (and I think the interviewer probes just a little too close), his life remains immensely rich from his friends and connections, one in which he has almost free rein to document his passions, ironically without the material things fashion itself can exemplify. He is such an enigmatic and joyous character that one can only believe his is greatly fulfilled by life, and only wrongly assume, he is missing out on anything.
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A Separation (2011)
Morally complex, devastatingly shocking, masterful cinema
31 March 2012
An astonishing film. The best film of the last few years bar none and possibly the past decade. Why? Like the film's layered characters and ambiguous motives, it is perhaps difficult to articulate why. Perhaps its the twists are turns that deliver visceral emotional blows; in any culture, any language. Arguably, it combines superlative acting, writing and directing all seamlessly. The events are presented almost like court proceedings that mirror the film so you can make up your own mind about which character to side with, which actions are heroic and those which are deplorable. This is art portraying real life, a culture most of us are foreign to but the human needs are the same, life is grueling and ambiguous. What makes it fascinating is how the characters react, what would you do, do you agree? You are asked to be the jurors of the drama on screen. This is a devastating slow-burn of a drama, one in which the audience must participate. It's intelligent drama, but morally complex and opaque, and brilliant because of it.

The magnetic and intriguing story appears straightforward but once you start to feel comfortable and know where the story is heading, prepare for some shocks: it brandishes some sharp twists and turns that make you continually think about the characters actions', and their motivations, and the future implications in search for the truth. In fact, as much as the characters attempt to find out the truth, each person it concealing something from one another, almost every relationship in the film has some opacity amongst the inherent trust

The two main actors Peyman Moaadi as Nader and Leila Hatami as Simin must be given their due credit, they are astounding. They both evolve in their characters so naturally and exhibit all the qualities of a father/mother, jaded lovers, carers, struggling against legal and social bureaucracies, probing for the truth and justice. They are neither saints nor villains and lot of the success in the portrayal is how much we see ourselves in them, as humans.

It seems unfair not to mention the other principals: Sarina Farhadi as Termeh, also very good as the moral of sorts for the story observing the chaos around, questioning events and (in a clever touch) acting as the audience's conscience. Shahab Hosseini as Houjat and Sareh Bayat as Razieh as the contentious couple who instigate the film's second and substantial appearances in court texture the characters with deep layers, complex, passionate emotions and serve beautifully to contrast the different social classes, stages of family, religious beliefs and simply to create conflict.

There are so many layers to the film, how each character is essence is trying to uncover the truth, which we as the audience are discovering at the same time; each person trusts someone else deeply yet is often deceiving their beloved (huband-wife-daughter). How what we perceive (whether truthfully or not) influences our judgments of others and how our ideas on religion and class colour that perception.

What is ostensibly a family (melo)drama twists into riffs on father/daughter, father son relationships, class hierarchy, the role of women in an oppressive society, the family legal system and being a full-time carer. Part political-critique, part mystery, social-drama; this is absolutely mesmerising, masterful cinema. I can't wait to see it again.
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Love & Affection breaking the (bi)cycle of Violence & Despair
31 March 2012
A beautiful film. One that pulls you in by the honest and genuine storytelling told in the Dardenne brothers' trademark naturalistic and guileless tone that is refreshing and sorely missed in today's too often rambunctious style of movies.

The story is simple and organic, the kid initially breaking out of foster care to find his father, and his bike both of which give him some identity and purpose in the world. He befriends several characters along the way (and in the Dardennes films, the characters are few, but all play vital roles) including the benevolent Samantha (whom I thought was very sweet but perhaps too pretty - and talented - to play a working- class hairdresser). Some characters are good (Samantha), some not so (Wes) and some have their own agendas to make a living.

In this way, the film is not unlike (and I quote the Dardennes) a fairytale - the boy (hero) on quest in the wide world which various characters and dangers lurking, yet set in this ultra realistic (read social-realist) setting.

The style of film-making here is pure and simple in that social-realist style, simply presenting characters who live on the fringe of society; who live in poor social economic conditions or don't have the opportunity of good schooling or the genuine love of a mother or father. As a result it is perhaps a little easier to understand why Cyril acts the way he does, rebelling against society, trying to find his place in the world. As you watch perhaps keep in mind what you might do to make ends meet.

The kid is astounding in a first-time performance, he conveys so much frustration, anger, pathos, regret with just glances and looks, most of the screen time without dialogue. Just watch the sequences when he is cycling on his bike, utterly free, chasing (or escaping) his life as the master of his own destiny.

This is a very simple & heartfelt tale, it tells the story as it is with no artifice, shot in the gorgeous dappled sunlight of a Belgian summer. It is not as hard-hitting and gritty as other of the Dardennes' films, such as emotional sledgehammers like Rosetta, Le Fils & L'Infant, but, it is still very good.
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Rescue Dawn (2006)
The jungle as a living, breathing hell
24 December 2007
A Herzog film is an amazing experience. They transcend time, space and offer surreal depictions of the natural habitat. The Herzog hero struggles with such variations in his environment and the results are often cruel and destructive.

This feels like Herzog's first film in a long time, going back to his roots in 'Aguirre' and 'Fitzcarraldo'. The classic Herzog style is still there: the rich expensive breathing jungle, the sparse dialogue, the unique direction style, and the amazing performances.

The film cuts straight to the action landing our hero in the fierce Laos jungle, in the stifling sticky heat and in all manner of feral wildlife, including the natives. He is tortured and held captive in a prisoner's camp. All the while Herzog's restraint and almost documentary style of film-making keeps the characters the primary focus of the story. More importantly the dreamlike atmosphere allows the jungle to take the spotlight in creating a cruel and unrelenting living, breathing setting.

Once in the prisoner's camp, the prisoners attempt to survive day by day and we manage to get inside each of their heads. The atmosphere in the camp is suitably perilous and acerbic, but always frighteningly lucid and deadly. My experience in the cinema was unnerving shocking and perhaps we really get a sensation of what it is to lose your basic human rights, your identity, and your mind.

The portrayal of the characters were frighteningly genuine, to the point that I believed that Bale as Dengler and his mate Duane (Zahn) were locked in there going insane everyday. Jeremy Davies as Gene was also sincerely creepy as a man completely out of touch with the real world. Each performance was absolutely stunning and entirely terrifying in their authenticity.

There are some many moments of humour in the camp, many juxtaposed with the seriousness of their situation. I felt I was living and breathing every day in that camp, a compliment to Herzog's often economic and intense direction to tell the story as is, through the characters and landscape.

What Rescue Dawn demonstrates transcends war; the tenacity of the human spirit to cope in their changing surroundings, whether they are prisoners of a faction (Rescue Dawn), prisoners to their mind (Kaspar Hauser) or to the landscape (Aguirre). Herzog's heroes survive where those around him perish, when the landscape destroys all other inhabitants and threatens the life of the hero himself. In Rescue Dawn, the country at war destroys all else around it, the prisoners of war, economic destruction, and obliteration of the land. His tough as nails characters are flawed, are human but how they use the human spirit allows them to change, to cope and hopefully survive.
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Into the Wild (2007)
The road to nowhere
24 December 2007
Christopher McCandless wants to be a free spirit. He wants to break the shackles of institutionalised education and ambition. Of parent's expectations and society's reliance on definition by what we do. He graduates college, donates all his savings to charity, erases all record of his existence and runs away from home to be in the wild. The justifications for Christopher's journey into the beyond are slowly revealed through flashbacks and memories of his family, through interactions and friendships with a range of colourful characters along the way. He is ultimately selfish, passionate, angry, and frustrated. But he is smart, reflective and free. It appears that he wants to anger those around him to prove himself to them, to prove himself to the natural elements. In this way he is brave and arrogant but he fancies himself a thinker. His actions and adventures end up causing harm to himself and minor setbacks in his journey. Each episode he makes is such that of life – a grand plan carried away into detours where the wind blows. For all this time in the wild he never communicates with family but forms new relationships with complete strangers, who take to Christopher's infectious and vivacious attitude to life. Christopher hopes to derive some meaning to life from getting out there and 'just living' but the land proves to be just as harsh and uncompromising as the rules and standards he faced back home.

The scenery, filmed in the Western U.S states, is very picturesque and expansive, demonstrating an impressive variety of landscapes and lifestyles, yet proving itself a formidable adversary for our hero. As is the case for many ensemble pieces, Christopher's idiosyncratic troupe of hippies, musicians, tourists, nomads, farmers, and fathers form an instrumental role in his spiritual growth and eventual destination. They all help Christopher along on his journey, but he able to teach them a thing or two about living. With his apparent naivety and joie-de-vivre, they form somewhat of a de-facto family to Christopher, and some of the closest relationships he experiences. Christopher affects each of them greatly, from Jan and Rainey's relationship counselling to educating Wayne with his abstract musings on 'living', and to octogenarian Ron who learn to live and be free. While Christopher is clearly alone in the wild, he meets others alone in life. And through his new-age philosophy, he enhances their lives with new found insight and action.

But for all his philosophising and gung-ho attitude to life, I just couldn't accept that he could just leave his parents and sister for dead back home, not even to write or call (even if they tried to find him). To go on a journey with no plan and no money is somewhat foolish, thus his reasoning for the journey. But even if the journey is more important than the destination. What was achieved in the end? Couldn't he have talked through this with his family, his sister? Why only now when surely he had support and friends back home? Martyrdom is an effective device in telling a story but in all reality, it's futile and a waste of life. Call me a pragmatist, a realist, but the fact that he made it out there for 2 years, refused to give up and died for his means is naïve and pointless.

Sean Penn has crafted a strong that has a good heart, but fairly unfocused and lengthy considering many scenes should have been cut. The direction was satisfactory, not stellar and the whole film lags in many places in what could have been a much tighter thrilling story. The abundance of too many erroneous scenes and themes of unrealistic romanticism ultimately fail to convince. Christopher states give me truth over love, money, fame, and fairness. Nice ideals, but I would say get out of the wild, into the real world and wake up.
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A hackneyed and over-baked Elizabethan soap opera
24 December 2007
Elizabeth: The Golden Age attempts to bring us something new in the currently overcrowded realm of Tudor dynasties and kingdoms. In the past few years we have gotten HBO's stunning Elizabeth 1 and Helen Mirren's QE2, The Tudors, and the soon to be released Mary, Queen of Scots and The Other Boleyn Girl. Unfortunately Elizabeth: The Golden Age is just a recycled rehash of these films and a souped up costumed soap opera.

The film covers the ground late in Elizabeth's life prior to the Spanish Armada. With the lack of an English male heir, the Spanish kingdom is closing ranks on her throne, pushing forth their candidate to rule the English throne.

Elizabeth is the meantime is swept up in her dealings with the smooth Sir Walter Raleigh. She is supported by the pretty but pointless in terms of story lady-in-waiting Bess Throckmorton, and Geoffrey Rush who is surprisingly reserved as her counsellor Sir Francis Walsingham. While all the actors involved are undoubtedly talented, they don't really have anything to do and their efforts are wasted on the atrocious script which amounts to nothing more than soap operatic gazing and tantrums.

Not even Blanchett can save this train wreck of cardboard cut-out characters, juvenile musing and tantrums, simplification of the English and Spanish characters, and their respective puerile depictions of good vs evil. To top it off, the nauseating musical score only accentuated the sensationalized soap-operatic elements of this overblown cheese.

Kapur seems to have gone downhill from the last Elizabeth. This "sequel" was atrociously and pretentiously shot. Such direction involved blocking the characters form the camera with all manner of stupid objects from frames to walls and lights, shooting from ridiculously pointless angles such as ceilings and poorly edited scenes, jumping from time frames across England and Spain with no continuity of what is happening throughout the story.

There have been so many better recent adaptations of Elizabeth. The trick is not to create something better than the last, or the umpteenth version of Elizabeth and Essex, but for audiences who crave more of one of our most enigmatic leaders; something that is unique, different and not merely a rehash of soap operatic whining and outbursts. Such material as The Golden Age that would be better off on the front pages of a tabloid magazine. Honestly in the end, I just didn't care.
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Open your mind, open your eyes
24 December 2007
Before watching Lions For Lambs, leave your expectations at the door. Watch the film on it's own merits and open yourself to new ideas, themes and storytelling. I suspect that many reviewers felt disappointed by Lion For Lambs because is did not correspond they idea of what a film should be. I think that if the filmmaker is able to get his point across, keep it believable, and affecting they have done their job. If they manage to make to think, change your view on life, or try new things then even better.

Lion For Lambs represents a new way of thinking. It requires the audience to participate in the film, think about what they are seeing and then apply that thought to their everyday lives. In these times of conflict, people need to open their eyes to the world around them and how it affects them.

Matthew Michael Carnahan's script is a means to encourage discussion and I must I was more than influenced by the exceptional delivery from the three main leads. These three characters are not cardboard cut-outs, nor are they black and white sound-bites, they want to do what's best for who they represent their and yet each of them, like ourselves, face a moral dilemma. Streep's Janine Roth struggles between telling the truth or satisfying commercial and public ideals. Cruise's Jasper Irving remains out of touch with the public citizen in his brashness for foreign politics, but is blinded by an ideal and unachievable future, not dissimilar to the politicians of today. While Redford's Stephen Malley represents the left, the educated individual desensitised to the mindless ramblings of politicians and media phogies. In his young apprentice, he is forced to rethink his values and morals. But is it enough to affect change or is the damage already done?

Too say the film overreaches its scope, self-defeating in a ramble of didactics is presumptuous. I think it merely causes us to think about what is happens and maybe change our perspective and think about the other side of the argument instead of the bigoted morals spewed forth from political factions. Thus today people pay superfluous attention to the over zealous media.

While it may lack the decorated production values, score and sets of a typical Hollywood film, the focus remains rightly so on the story and characters. The actors merely tell the story and the viewer is invited to participate in the discussion for change. In fact, I would rather think for myself than rather that sit back and be told what to think.

I think people wrongly see this as an attack on their morals and ideals. Viewers need to stop taking things at face value and be more assertive about what they see – instead of complaining, respond. Write a letter to your politicians! I'm tired of being lectured to and I whole heartedly accept Mr Redford's invitation to participate in a discussion with an open mind.
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A smart, complex, tight thriller led by a charismatic force
24 December 2007
Michael Clayton represents the everyman striving for human morals and ideals in a world ruled by corporate conglomerates. We often are bombarded with struggles between man and evil corporations polluting our homes, airwaves, forests and rivers. This is a classic tale of David versus Goliath. In the same way the small guy wins over the giant.

George Clooney is a one of the most charismatic personalities in Hollywood, while not representative of the everyman with his suave style and charming good looks, he is believable as the classic battler for human rights. He is pivotal to the film's success by influencing all the major events and causing an avalanche of headaches for the corporation. He is helped along by the complex and tense, yet somewhat talky script, and smart restrained direction. This is a bare-boned thriller based on raw cause and effect. The blows come from the devastating consequences of his actions to bring down a global behemoth for which the crimes we do not see but are explicit everyday. These range from the crippling social effects to apparent health issues and economic destruction. What car chases and cold-blooded murder remain in the film are sharp jolts overshadowed with the harsh fact that corporations always get want they want.

The tone of the film is composed in muted shades of grey, lost in the pure void of commercial office blocks and eerie fluorescent lighting. This is complimented the by stillness of dusk and the lethalness of silent assassins. Much if the film's shocks and turns happen behind closed doors in main office blocks, and behind locked apartment doors. It is representative of the truth on the edge of revelation but silenced by the sly powers that be.

While a little dry for my tastes, the tone suits the atmosphere and flavour of the story. It is a story that relies on the veracity and shocking truth of the events at hand. George Clooney is the perfect character for Michael Clayton, his ideals shadow that of his off-screen left-wing ideals and outspokenness for human rights. His fight against corporate and human justice seem to resonate with his fair and morally shrewd ethics. Plus did I mention his charm and charisma makes him so easy to like? This is a smart, mature story with some nail biting set pieces that should keep you on the edge of you seat for the film's thrill ride.
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Spellbound (2002)
"spell euonym..." DING!
2 March 2007
A movie about a spelling competition? Who would have thought! This documentary covers the U.S national spelling bee in 1999 and the dreams and fates of 8 starry-eyed hopefuls wishing for spelling-glory. There is a wide range of kids ranging from what seems about 10 years to 16 years and covers a wide range of ethnic groups from Anglo-Saxon American to Indian and Mexican.

Apart from the exciting battle between these formidable spellers, what Spellbound shows us is the wide range of ethnic groups prevalent in the U.S; no matter where you come from they all strive towards the American dream – in this case, to win a spelling bee! Furthermore each of the kids - and as strongly demonstrated by their parents - show that they have different means to achieve the common dream.

Cultural and social-economic differences show us that the dream as a symbol can vary greatly from family to family. It is amazingly interesting to see how the family in Texas gambles their whole life on seeing Ashley (I think?) makes it to the top while April's(?) family in Connecticut see it as just another hobby and are in genuine awe of her talents. Neil's family see it as a way of compensating for their poor upbringing and ensuring he has a high quality of life. The discrepancy in social wealth and education is striking. April's family is able to afford her horse-riding, a good school and tuition, while the kids in The South and poorer areas of the Mid-West have no other activities. Some of them only work at their spelling and it in fact one of them comments that it so-to-speak, keeps them off the streets. For one child, it is a blessing to a new and successful life; for another, proof to their parents that they are worthy; and for someone else, a merely just another gold star to add to their collection

All the kids are a joy to watch, bright-eyed and eager, capturing the pleasure and anticipation in finding their special talent and something in life worthy striving for. Most interestingly are the dynamics between the parents and children and seeing how one child see the competition as a hobby and the parent as a golden ticket. Neil's parents seems a bit dogmatic and over-orthodox to the point of almost brainwashing the poor kid! It is amazing to see where they cultivate their sharp minds and passion for words when the parents, while are loving in their child's interest, have almost no interest in a world of complicated words and grammar.

I find it a truth too common nowadays - in my neighbourhood anyway - where many affluent kids (especially Asians) are pressured so much by the parents to achieve something, to fulfill goals that the parents sorely wanted to achieve. So much so that they will go to tremendous lengths of tuition, coaching, study forsaking social play and hobbies just to achieve the elusive gold standard. This film highlights this and touches on these disparities lightly.

The spelling bee itself forms the last good half of the film and remains interspersed with comments from the family and kids about their anxiety, jubilations and dreams and the field narrows. The suspense is nail-bitingly tense. The words are *difficult*, not even an above-average speller like myself could attempt them, let alone pronounce them. I didn't know what almost all of them meant and haven't even heard of them!

But what I found distracting was the poor quality film they had to use. There wasn't any real point to using a cheaper film and I found it quite hard to see what was going on sometimes. In addition, the sound quality was very poor, and I had to turn up the sound quite a lot, especially during the competition which formed most of the film's thrilling excitement. Unfortunately, I would have like to hear what they were spelling half the time! I also the structuring was a little off and a little difficult to get adjusted. I really wished that they had filmed it more crisply and clearly because I found myself very distracted me several times especially at crucial points in the film.

However, it still remains a fairly pleasant film helped along by the charisma and diversity of the kids. I remember myself as a prolific reader when I was young and used to love spelling, but these kids obviously had a lot more fun than I ever had, and their infectious joy shines vivaciously throughout. This was an enjoyable, cute little film.
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A mystical, ancient story with a potent environmental message
2 March 2007
Miyazaki's early film captures the wondrousness and magical elements that have perfused each of his latest masterpieces under Studio Ghibli. Once again, the familiar elements include child-hero protagonists, struggling against a plundering king or queen, and heavily laden with environmental morals.

This film follows young Nausicaä, Princess of the Valley of the Winds, struggling to save her country from invading Ohms out to wreak revenge on humankind after hundreds of years of human's plundering the earth's resources have left it a desert. She acts as the guardian and saviour to a variety of curious and exquisite insects with the desire to keep their natural paradises intact.

Having been a huge fan of Japanese animation when I was young, I have had a falling out with this style since being involved in live-action film. I had not seen an animated feature in this style for quite a while on seeing Nausicaä, and at first, one can be surprised at the sparseness of animation and lack of over-textured and moving environs. But once the story grasps your senses, you wake up to a wondrous and enchanting world, and you notice many of the subtleties that define the famous Studio Ghibli. The simplicity of the animation only enforces and characters and places their concerns in the centre frame. The action sequences are thrill ride every time, and a sight to behold. The fluidity and detail in these scenes is striking and so energising; and considering the movement is all hand-drawn, it truly is a marvel to wonder at. As in most Miyazaki films, the action is always a highlight and so fun to watch. The real skill is in the storytelling and Miyazaki pulls you into this world so charismatically and vividly. Soon you forget about the details attach yourself to the world – I was wondering why we can't have more simple, pure storytelling like this today?

The film is quite strong in Japanese idiosyncrasies including the lifestyle, person-isms, speech, and most strongly, the humour. While I found it quite comical and amusing at times, some of the audience (many Aussies) found it quite disconcerting and even distracting, to the point I heard some doze off. This is unfortunate because if one sees the film with a very open mind you can find yourself being absorbed into all the charm of this dreamlike world. I was completely whisked away and really warmed to these distinctive characters.

Nausicaä's battle for the environment on behalf of these intriguing creatures draws lucid parallels to the ecological demands we face in our world today. Especially with the recent interest in our natural world, Nausicaa highlights many concerns in her struggle that make us realise that sometimes we too caught up with economic development and world conflict to realise our most precious resources are in grave danger.

Even with this early effort, Miyazaki's film is never primitive and only too relevant to out to the world situation today. He always tells a story so lovably and charming, and in what is primarily a Japanese animation breaks all the language and cultural barriers. It is only too easy to relate to his characters' potent themes of war, childhood intuition, and environment hazards. With Nausicaä, and the Ghibli legacy, Miyazaki proves himself as one of the greatest storytellers of our time.
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An audacious and unsavoury portrait of war and mortality about us, in our time
26 February 2007
Eastwood's audacious telling of the other side's story proves how human we all are in the face of horror. In what is possibly the most ambitious film piece about war and definitely the boldest film of the year, Clint Eastwood has once again demonstrated his dexterity and integrity in challenging us viewers about the political world around us. But Eastwood never admits to being a political filmmaker; in fact his films never come across as extrovert right wing patristic propaganda. While the film suggests shades of the American involvement in the Iraq war, it distances itself from preaching a specific message and simply presents us with characters that demonstrate the fallacies and force of the human condition. And as humans, they are similar to us in more ways than we like to believe. Since Unforgiven in 1992, what Eastwood has done in each of his films is taking a hackneyed theme and challenging us to look through fresh eyes at our morality and ourselves. People despite race and beliefs, can be violent, tragic, determined, disillusioned and misled. In Letters, he shows how we can all be human.

This companion piece to Flags Of Fathers is smaller in scope and more intimate in approach. It centres around Lieutenant General Kuribayashi and his brethren of commanders and soldiers as they prepare against the incoming attack on the island of Iwo Jima, 1945. Once the first shots are taken upon the island, the Japanese soldiers realise that the American's supreme military strategy and economy renders the battle in vain as their heavy air and naval artillery bombard the camp. Most of the soldiers come to realise the war is approaching an unfavourable end and so they struggle to grasp the idea of their mortality and honour.

The pace is unusually differently solemn and patient, and even compared to Flags, there is simplicity and integrity to the way the story is told. The film, shot in desaturated hues to emphasise the volcanic barren landscape of Iwo Jima, compliments the complexions of the Japanese soldiers, contrasting their frugal battle style and simple lifestyles to that of the Americans. The script by Yamashita and Haggis is sparse and thoughtful and carries the story well with Eastwood's direction without being self-conscious or political.

During the second half the film, the soldiers realise that the battle is futile in some very solemn and touching moments. I found that pace lagged a little during this time and the events moved at times, tediously slow. But perhaps this is a suggestion of how these soldiers were feeling while they were trapped underneath all that time, uncertain of whether they would be captured and killed as prisoners of war, whether they would ever end up seeing their family again and whether their commanders had in fact forsaken them?

Once again, Eastwood's direction is exceptional. Even with his invisible and heartfelt directing style, Letters remains less extravagant and self-aware than it's companion piece, Flags. In the first half, he mainly sets up the theme with little fuss while demonstrating he can tell a story with integrity and respect to the characters. His skill in composing scenes is elegantly displayed in the underground tunnels of pitch-black misery. His practical style illuminates the cavernous caves with beams of sunlight and showcases picturesque frames in their simplicity. Eastwood's greatest skill in telling this story is remaining honest, sincere and poignant to these soldiers while turning the idea of the opposing side as the brutal, faceless enemy on it's head. Some of the film's most shocking scenes remain boldly uncompromising in their candidness including the martyr suicide of several Japanese in a cave, the American landing from the Japanese point of view, and the rescue and treatment of a captured American soldier. In the hands of any other director, these scenes could be seen as patronising, distasteful, manipulative and plain unbelievable. But Eastwood's handling made me feel not even an inch of disgust or shame for these soldiers who are trying to live as humanly as possible.

I expect that like Flags, this will we end up under appreciated and under watched by the general public. Most likely because it paints an unseemly and unsavoury portrait of war in our times. Furthermore, the general public do not wish to see a fully subtitled film that sympathsises with the Japanese empire while embroiling the U.S in disagreeable actions of war. No one else could have made a film like this, so boldly and honestly, and most astonishingly during this particular time when the country is at war. Probably unintentional, the realisation that Letters makes about war is hauntingly applicable to what is taking place in Iraq today. But at its heart, this is not a defamation of America or endorsement for fanatical regimes. This is simply a human story told forthrightly and sincerely. This is a challenging film and its existence on our screens today is already significant in this time of instability in our world. Letters proves to us that while war continues to exist today and in the future, the range of emotions experienced by it's participants will always remain the same. See this while you can and understand more about ourselves from other people's history.
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A mature, intelligent and poignant film about basic human rights we should all deserve
25 February 2007
This is a smart, charming and intelligent film about dealing with loss, love and ageing. On several deeper layers, the characters meditate on the socialist health system in Canada, mortality, their explorations of sexual relationships and the freedom and restraints that come with maturity.

This film effortlessly presents us with characters struggling to live in a system which aims to meet our personal needs but exists to serve capitalist benefits. It demonstrates the uncertainty of life circumstances and mortality. The son's transformation from corporate power-driven lifestyle into a battle against preserving his father's memory and dignity are heartfelt captured are genuine and sincere. The role of the faithful and courageous nurse is compassionately portrayed while indicting the system in which the patients struggle to maintain power of their lives. As a nurse myself, I found it tremendously affecting and a poem to the ideals impart to our patients who have been let down in some way either by the system or in their own personal relationships.

Superbly written, one may accuse the film of being to preachy or pretentiously highbrow for these complex characters. But I actually found it terribly poetic and concise, ranging the vast life experiences of the characters and their skepticism and maturity. At times, the dialogue flows like poetry, holding no preconceptions or vanities about these people, but displaying their desperation at the state of a socialist society their has providing them with an abundance of great literary wealth but failing to meet their basic human needs.

Sophisticated, smart, thought-provoking, tender, and mature, films like this are extremely seldom nowadays. Audience can only too shockingly relate with such vividness and irony to the themes; and we are never played for fools, confronting these issues as if it were a close friend divulging personal secrets over a coffee. Films like this truly show us that life is not for granted and serve to remind us what human qualities we deserve from each other and expect from ourselves.
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Dreamgirls (2006)
An iconic era in soul music shows us that all that glitters is not gold
24 February 2007
Dreamgirls seems like a winner from any angle you look at it from. Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy in a film directed by Oscar winning writer Bill Condon about the rise and demise of splendorous R&B group The Supremes. In fact the film does look quite pretty at times plus plenty of toe-tapping, dreamy musical numbers that electrify your senses. The success of Chicago 5 years ago has revitalised the popularity and appeal of stage to film musicals. Combining so catchy tunes and spectacular glim and glamour, audiences find it hard to resist the genre. Add the overwhelming buzz on it's run to the Oscars and you have a sure fire hit.

The film is a roman à clef about the onset and heyday of Motown and in particular one of the most popular R&B groups, The Supremes. We witness their ascent to fame, the divisions between the manager's wants and public tastes and their struggle to remain in vogue in a changing world of popular music.

Condon helms the film with the all-star cast fully showcasing the razzle-dazzle and enchantment of the songs and glittery costumes and wigs. He brings a confident assurance to the film's success, previously winning an Oscar for his writing and being nominated for the best picture winning Chicago.

However something must have gone wrong in Dreamgirls because it's efforts are incredibly disappointing. His directing fails to light any spark or interest in the characters, and the musical numbers are directed with laziness and indifference. More shocking is his writing, which is mediocre and abysmal. There are so many clichéd moments that made me cringe and cry out in frustration including some very cheesy dialogue and awkward moments in the second half involving the gratuitous worship of Beyonce. The acting (especially from big-name stars Beyonce and Foxx) is for the most part uninspired and forced.

The buzz about Hudson and Murphy is well deserved with Hudson stealing every scene she's in from *all* the other actors. She easily topples all the others when she sings, overpowering them in volume, timbre and tenderness. And is completely natural. You can see that her acting is not as smooth as more experienced actors, but she remains very impressive considering this is her first acting role. Along with Murphy, she is the only one in the film who is truly acting, and not just imitating. Murphy downplays his role as the big musical attraction of the film, breaking away from his comedy star persona. He brings verve and exhilaration in his racier moments to affecting poignancy in his more tender moments. Foxx seems overtly smug and suffers from from bad writing of the "bad-guy" syndrome. While Beyonce is admirable, she's such a dull character not helped by her acting talents.

The songs in the film keep you bopping along throughout but the pace lags especially during the second half and here it descends into shallow melodrama and clichéd soapy writing. As avid lover of musicals, I thought the numbers were a delight but the lyrics lacked the sharpness and wit akin to say Rodgers and Hammerstein, or more relevantly Chicago and The Producers. I will admit that it's not really the fault of the film, but the numbers were actually a bit shallow and trivial to the theme of the film. Now I don't really have a problem with dubbing - and I understand that it helps to refine the sound on the film track - especially if it sounds reasonable and looks realistic, but sometimes it became too conspicuous and I felt discredited some of the film's integrity.

It was actually interesting to notice that as Hudson is the newcomer in the film she is not mentioned on first billing in the credits and publicity. But her role in the film actually becomes the lead as she upstages the other characters and is recognised as the best singer of the Dreams. Plus she eventually becomes central and pivotal to the outcome of the Dreams' career by the film's end. Also interesting was the (coincidental) connection between Beyonce's character and her real life struggles of being an overproduced, over-hyped and marketed mediocre singer. Is it too much of a a stretch to suggest this is how it plays out in real life?

Dreamgirls should have been so much better. Considering the hype leading into it's preliminary screenings and pre-emptive Oscar buzz, its astonishing to see how it has all fallen apart now. The lackluster and uninspired direction, combined with the cheesy and juvenile writing ultimately sink this ship. Even with it's high production values and saving graces from Hudson and Murphy, the film fails to impress. It is hard to resist the comparison with it's contemporary Oscar compatriot Chicago as they both were heavily gunning for Oscar glory and share the same writer. But where Dreamgirls fizzles and Chicago shines is in the slick costumes and art direction, sharp and satirical direction, murderous critique of society and a persuasive and meaty storyline. In Dreamgirls, I was entertained for the most part, but even more, I found myself bored and disappointed by what could have been.
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The Queen (2006)
An exquisite portrait of the charming Queen in a defining moment of our generation
21 February 2007
Is the Queen still necessary today? In "The Queen", Frears paints an unflattering picture at times, and maybe candidly unsympathetic portrait of HMQE2. She is shown as a cold, resolute and inflexible mother, grandmother, wife, and daughter, trying to lead the country with traditions that are becoming stale and archaic. In one week, her popularity and status has never been under more scrutiny in today's society.

It charts the infamous period in English history beginning with Tony Blair's remarkable accession as the Labor Prime Minister in 1997 to the shocking death of Princess Diana that unprecedentedly brought the nation, and the monarchy to a standstill. The events are interspersed with some amazing news footage of the palace and the public at the time, the vividness and striking quality of these clips resonate so deeply with those of us around at the time that the surreal events only feel like they happened yesterday. This was a defining moment of our generation.

The film is beautifully furnished, filmed on location in the palace and surrounding English streets including No.10. The Scottish highlands were also sweepingly picturesque, the stand-out a fantastic helicopter shot over the rolling hills capturing the hunt for the majestic stag. Frears does a good effort directing, finding some unique angles within the palace, maintaining the suspense of the film throughout, and taking the time to showcase Mirren's fine talents.

The acting is fantastic all round with Mirren leading the royal procession as the haughty and detached majesty seen by the public, but underneath her layers, a tenacious and pragmatic mother of the people who reminds us that even our leaders must be led sometimes. She commands a performance of restraint and economy, allowing us deep into her public fears with a simple shift of the eyes or in the intonation of her crisp delivery of English wit. Tony Blair, Prince Philip, and The Queen Mother are also all startlingly realised in multidimensional characterizations that demonstrate their futility, outrage and rejection of the collapsing of the idea of the monarchy. Both their physical and emotional attributes have been translated superbly to the screen. Each actor captures each members of the family's spirit and their characteristics without resorting to banal trivialisations or shallow caricatures.

The script written by man-of-the-moment Peter Morgan is bursting with the dry English wit that is so subtle but punishing when well delivered. It assumes nothing and yet has much to say about the break-down between the Royals, the people and the 21st century. The smart delivery and meditations on modern government also make some realisations about biting that hand that feeds you. Plus there are some great deadpan one-liners throughout. The score by Golden Globe winner Alexandre Desplat is sweet and charming yet hints at the peoples' taking over of power. There are also some splendidly sensual and voluptuous passages that reflect on the Queen's state of mind during the film.

I really wanted to like this film. The incomparable Helen Mirren in a superb majestic role. Queen Elizabeth 2 herself has always enchanted me and I was expecting a mature and refined drama about one of my favourite historical figures. Plus the film has an exquisite beauty. But perhaps I was expecting too much. Mirren, while breathtaking didn't elevate me to soaring heights and the characterisation was a little too harsh. QE2's charismatic and can-do personality, her efforts in the war, tribulations with former PMs and her relationship with the parliament deserve not to be overlooked just because she had a moment of poor public judgment. And I felt all her achievements in the name of England were overlooked in preference of making the Queen look like an prehistoric, dogmatic old bat. She was a very elegant and pretty young woman in her time and at 80(!) is in superb health and looks for her age.

In the end, I also felt it was a little too "telemovie" and not critical or salient enough to demand forceful passion from the viewer. Still well deserved Oscar noms and probably wins; a pleasure to see unique and vivid portrayals of the Queen and her family too easily dismissed as a bunch of stuck-up Royals. Long live The Queen!
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Totally dreamy!
20 February 2007
More from Ms Hathaway and Ms Poppins as the newly crowned Princess Mia travels to Genovia to fulfill all the roles of royal domestication and to achieve every princess's dream - to get married! This is really an add-on to the 2001 film with more cake-icing sets, ravishing costume changes, and dilemmas of love and politics, all set to a funky dance soundtrack.

Mia's school sweetheart has been replaced by two dashing handsome men. One the heir and future prince of Genovia and the other, her irresistible love-to-hate nephew. The love triangle forms the main obstacle in the film for Mia and so this sequel plays more like a guilty pleasure for fans of the first film than the coming-of-age story it could have been.

The female leads are once again so much fun to be around and lovely to watch on screen. Even more charming than her male suiters, Hathaway is a knockout, and looks exquisitely ravishing in each scene. I was swept away by the sparking chateaus and glistening make-up, but must say the believability factor was definitely pushing the line in this episode.

I admit that despite my animosity at this puff-pastry of a sequel, I still had lots of fun with it, and it shouldn't stop you from having a really enjoyable daydream for a few hours. The sets, costumes and main star are all gorgeous to behold thanks to the high production values, For the most part, a pleasure for the eyes and a charming, enchanting yet predictable bubble-bath of a fairytale.
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A fun and bubbly rom-com that took me back to my memorable teen years
20 February 2007
This entertaining and hip teen comedy was a surprise winner for me. Definitely not part of the target audience (though I do consider myself young at heart!) I was charmed by Ms Hathaway's naivety and photogenic presence and the always reliable Julie Andrews who wonderfully never takes herself too seriously, poking fun at her family-friendly screen persona. Garry Marshall demonstrates his talents of sweet irresistible romantic comedies in what could be called his follow-up to his 1990 smash "Pretty Young Woman". And with Hathaway, he has found his 21st century young muse.

The storyline fits perfectly into the soapsud daydreams of all young ladies. Never the popular kid graced with mawkish looks and a geeky personality, Mia Thermopolis resigns herself to a life of miserable loneliness and school bullies. However, in a moment of emancipation, she is uncovered by her Grandmother Clarisse Renaldi and when told that she is the last remaining bloodline of a royal family, she must take over the throne of the idealistic kingdom of Genovia. Cue Cinderella-like transformation and plenty of vivacious trying on of clothes and groovy pop tunes.

The film has a simple but great (even hackneyed) message at heart, to be true to yourself and never forget that your friends and family can be the most honest and important in your life. It could have come off contrived and cheesy but the film still conveys heartwarming moments and a sincere semblance.

There is great energy in the film and some of the scenes in the palace and garden are quite picturesque and dreamy. The storyline can be pretty thin considering the good-guy-bad-guy syndrome but Mia's closest friends are still commendable and mature young people capturing the trials and tribulations of teenage "fitting in", first loves, peer pressure, pressure from Mums and Dads and realisation of adult responsibilities.

I had a really fun time with this film, absorbed in it's fairytale story lines and taking myself back to when I was young and naive. Thanks to the irresistible company and chemistry of the two female leads I was able to totally identify with their dilemmas. This film has Disney written all over it. A good simple message at heart and fully of quirky side characters and a charismatic underdog. Lovely to look at and listen to (I went out afterwards to check out the soundtrack!), this one always brings a smile to my face whenever I catch it on TV - I had a good time.
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Oliver! (1968)
A grand spectacle of colour and dancing topped off with so hummable tunes
20 February 2007
How does one condense a 500 page classic of Victorian literature into a 2 hr film while encompassing the rich characterisations of Dicken's characters - their wit and satire - and the grimy, scrubbed streets of downtown London, all with the addition of a full music score and lyrics? The result is one of the best film musicals ever. This is quite remarkable considering that the American school in Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein. Kern, Porter, Berlin and Freed, had always dominated the musical scene in superlative musical and lyric writing.

Based of the 1960s stage musical by Lionel Bart, the songs are now instantly recognisable today and and irresistible to sing along to. In fact no one number in the film fails to surprise and impress you with the elaborate set design and extravagant choreography. In particular, the numbers "Consider Yourself" and "You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two" really took my breath away with their energy and excitement. The singing is also top notch with Fagin and Nancy both stand-out singers able to convey such joy, mischievous, sorrow and tender emotion. It was a fantastic treat to watch them dance wholeheartedly and interact so naturally with the characters and sets.

The Oscar winning direction by female(!) director Carol Reed is perceptive and very sharp with a fantastic eye for colour and movement as a musical expects. She is fully in control of every scene and explores all the camera angles and filming possibilities from what is a very lively set. Even the quiet moments in the film, filled with the "recitative" scenes are uniquely shot and keep this film fresh, ahead of it's competition.

The peripheral characters are the most charismatic in the film with Fagin shining as the sly and witty leader of and manager of street pickpockets. He encompasses the role so well and completely has a ball. Nancy (scandalously missing out on the nom) was also beautiful to watch, wholly developing from another common-street girl to a mature surrogate for Oliver, making her own courageous conscience and sacrificing a bold heart. It was a joy to watch both of them support the film and provide some of it's most memorable moments. The Artful Dodger was impossible to resist and the perfect friend you would to have on a cold, dirty, starving day. He was played with such maturity and confidence add a romping playfulness to keep things bumping along. Paradoxically, the title character was the most dull person in the film by far. He ended up being too naive and timid throughout, and was constantly overshadowed by the other characters. In the end, I didn't feel like he did anything at all or even contributed anything to the story other than his name.

For those not a fan of musicals, you may find it disconcerting when action stops to allow the musical numbers to convey the atmosphere and deepest emotions of the characters. And I must admit, it is a little abrupt at times; certainly it is extraneous. None more obvious than in the "Consider Yourself" and "Who Will Buy A Rose" numbers. While the extravagance is welcome, it is all too easy for the cynic to say "People don't stop everything and burst into song for no reason". These parts were enjoyable, and very funny.

This was a surprisingly good musical with fantastic visual and tuneful sequences. It proves that the English can do musicals with just as much flair and grandeur as the heavyweight American schools all the craze in the 30s, 40s and 50s. A deserved winner of Best Picture & Director, it it easy to overlook this film. There is no "big" message, it is a light comedic musical film, it is far from an original story and idea, and it is produced outside the grand Hollywood system. But given such modern musical classics such as The Sound Of Music, West Side Story and most recently Chicago and Dreamgirls, Oliver! shows us that great musicals come only too seldom yet when they do they provide grand entertainment.
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The ageing, alcoholic, haunted detective still has what it takes against those CSI sell-outs
16 February 2007
Too many police dramas nowadays are becoming formulaic, predictable, tasteless and plain cheesy. Enter Jane Tennison. A multi-layered, practical, and ageing detective, she is the anti-cliché of the U.S CSI cop. She is superbly played with grace, depth and honesty by the great Helen Mirren.

Det. Supt. Jane Tennison is on the eve of her retirement when a tragic murder case of a young schoolgirl presents itself on her desk. It will be her most difficult case yet as she must juggle both physical and psychological weariness of work, compensation for these chasms in alcoholism, and the realisation of her dying love-lost father; with personal regrets and professional mistakes.

While the murder investigation forms the frame of the story, the most intriguing and compelling part involves observing Jane struggling with her professional judgments while juggling her personal demons. In fact Jane's moral dilemmas are the essence of the story and provide most of intricate and poignant moments of the show. Ultimately, they also end up greatly affecting the outcomes of the murder case.

Helen Mirren is achieving accolades left, right and center for her performances on the small and silver screen this season. I admit what got me most interested in seeking out this show was only from the great admiration of Mirren's work as Queen Elizabeth 1 & 2. I pleasantly charmed and beguiled by her guile and artlessness in Prime Suspect 7 and was actually quite entranced by her astute personality and I must admit fetching looks even at 61(!).

Never (ever!) seeing any of it's predecessors before was pleased to find a detective show that along with a masterful and bewitching lead was also finely and crisply directed. Not to mention it actually did keep me guessing towards the end. This was a refreshing change from the nauseating CSIs and shoot-out cop shows, blessed with Mirren's beauty and terrific portrayal.
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A rugged suspense thriller that fills you with dread in your stomach
15 February 2007
Just in time for awards season, we are presented with a once-in-a-career maniacal, multi-layered and commanding performance. These characters are usually based off notorious historical figures in literature, music, science (Think Virginia Woolf, John Nash, Ray Charles, June Carter, add Idi Amin). These great performances all enhance their spirit and impact on our world history.

The Last King Of Scotland is an adventurous and rugged thriller filmed and set amongst the rough deserts and buzzing cities of 1970s Uganda, Africa. Like the "other" African thriller this year - Blood Diamond - it flaunts invigorating panoramas across the festive and lively people of Africa with some spirited on-set locations.

The story follows Nicholas Garrigan, a newly graduated doctor searching for adventure and a chance to prove his newfound skills to save lives. He ends up in Uganda (by pure luck) and quickly befriends Idi Amin - dictator and ruthless leader. Their strike up a unique friendship and soon, Garrigan is living the high life with Amin - special treatment, boisterous parties, palace luxuries and limitless power. Things get out of hand when Amin's murderous and dogmatic policies result in failure healthcare, a stumbling economy, deaths, and assassination attempts. Garrigan's beliefs and ethics are put to the test when the Amin puts the pressure on him to stay on. Against his will, Garrigan soon ends up running a country he knows nothing about and signing his name in Amin's murderous tactics.

The buzz says that Whitaker will probably win the Oscar for this one (although I prefer another leading South-African performance this year). He is impressive throughout, stealing the show in every scene he's in. He commands a frightening bipolar authority that is so charismatic and likable even in his moments of rage. His gaiety and jestery is so contagious that it easy to see why Garrigan forms such a close so quickly with him. And with Garrigan we also begin to see the precarious edge of his power to nasty consequences. But I must say that I really felt Whitaker should have contributed more him to the story. His appearances in the film were a little too disjointed and I compare the performance to that of Kidman's 2002 Woolf. All show but not enough maturity. I really wanted to know so much more about him - his rise and demise, and more character development. As a result, he came off as only series of ferocious vignettes rather than than the whole portrait he could have been.

McAvoy carries the film for the entire duration well, serving as our eyes and our ears pulling us into his world. He does a commendable job and is enjoying a worthy bookmark in his career. It is chilling to see his world cracking apart and through his eyes it only too easily becomes our world too.

I really would have liked to see more of Gillian Anderson's character. She is undergoing an interesting revival, doing the circuits. She is developed well at the start with some absorbing mysteries and a curious history, but we almost never see her again in the film and the opportunity is totally wasted.

The story is suspenseful throughout but I felt that the editing could have been much sharper, plus/minus a few extraneous characters. In addition, the film's subject matter just didn't interest me as much as it should have - perhaps because it wasn't my cup of tea (no fault to the film intended). The scenery is vibrant for the most part showing of the exotic tones of Amin's palace and the harshness of the African nation.

This is Macdonald's first fiction feature after the excellent dramatised documentaries, One Day In Sept & Touching The Void. With this film, Macdonald proves his niche in dealing with shocking historical events bending the line between gut-wrenching suspense and hard non-fiction. In "Last King", he remains so true and honourable to the material all the way. A thrilling and suspenseful thriller, with some historical eye openers thrown in for kicks. However not quite my style - only an average drama for me but worth looking into for the memorable performance.
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A ferocious and shattering study of secrets with two devastating performances of the year.
14 February 2007
Dame Judi Dench reigns as the quintessential wintry demure English actress. In Notes On A Scandal, she can add another gold star to her resume. While many box-office turn Oscar hopefuls demonstrate their serious talents in their 20s and 30s sophomore efforts, Dench is already well into her seventies. And she amazingly demonstrates tremendous flair and mastery in each role she takes on. In fact she may well be acting in her prime. In her latest offering from fellow English Richard Eyre, she teams up with Cate Blanchett to form explosive and terrifying consequences in could have otherwise been a tedious and lifeless melodrama.

Barbara (Dench) is an ageing and estranged college teacher lacking any real relationships and on the realisation that her professional and personal lives are fading away. She befriends the new teacher Sheba Hart (Blanchett) and begins to act as a confidante and mentor to her; each other revealing their darkest secrets. When Hart crosses into a relationship with a young charismatic student and Barbara discovers them together, she begins to make personal demands from Hart and they both enter a caustic tangle of cat-and-mouse.

The story flows well with both the of characters fully developed and fleshed out over the course of the film. We begin to discover more about their hidden fears and morals; the events in the film are revealed with honesty and integrity, never patronising or over-dramatising these complex characters. It is candidly and smoothly filmed with hand-held camera and the directing never take stage over the character's dilemmas. The screenplay by Patrick Marber is biting, witty and scathing, full of deadpan dry humour, and some magnificent artful passages worthy of being in a Booker Prize-winning-book. Hearing Dench recite some of these lines is pure heaven - she acts with such clarity, decisiveness and honesty. Most satisfyingly, it is fully realistic and reasonable and never reduces to melodrama or cheap exits.

The score by renowned American composer Phillip Glass must be mentioned; it probably one of his best film scores. His usually overpowering doomsday apocalyptic music is instantly recognisable and emotionally shattering. Here it works to great effect, heightening the desperateness and claustrophobia experienced by the characters in a world of lies and secrecy.

The leads' work pretty much speaks for itself. Dench is an exercise in slow-boiling restraint, of passive aggressiveness that never fails to drop your jaw in awe of her talents. She can be timid, resolute, thoughtful and in an instant a vicious terrifying, geriatric nightmare. But her character still remains fully dimensional with a dark history and shades of genuine tender affection in the scenes with Blanchett.

Blanchett is sultry and heartbreaking as the apprentice naive teacher. She expertly conveys he shades of her double life at home and at school and reacts beautifully in her scenes with Dench. Her soliloquy are heartfelt and tempestuous. Director Richard Eyre is confident in showcasing their passions and heartache; he simply and effectively allows their acting to grab hold of the audience.

They are both magnificent throughout - the scenes where Dench discovers that the affair is continuing and also the climax of the the diary scene are astounding. There is a vicious and ferocious rhythm in these scenes heighten by Glass' music. They are so asphyxiating, real and kinetic in their danger. So fantastic that the acting literally brought me to tears of joy and awe. The diary scene is one of the greatest moments in screen acting

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards - Actress, Aupporting Actress, Score and Adapted Screenplay - and fully deserving for each of them, if not for the tough (and probably better) competition this season. If you want to see a story with a clever sonorous script and magnificent no-frills acting, then you must catch this one. Entralling and thrilling to the end, it was a pleasure to be in The Dame's company once again.
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