Monthly Archives: September 2012

Film Review Round Up – Sept 30, 2012

To Rome With Love

To Rome With Love

To Rome With Love

There’s a point in Woody Allen’s latest film where his wife, played by Judy Davis, (a psychiatrist, kept busy with her husband’s neuroses) says to Allen – you equate retirement with death. An insight into Allen’s mind it seems – as the director, who turns 77 this December, churns out his promised yearly movie. He’s reportedly already working on 2013’s and even 2014’s offering.

The question seems to be – are they any good? And even if he might never again capture the brilliance of an Annie Hall or Play It Again Sam, he still has a relevant contribution to make to the big screen.

Last year his romantic comedy Midnight In Paris was a surprise hit with many announcing a return to form. The film was a love letter to the city of light and this year he turns his attentions to the eternal city, Rome.

And the city looks fabulous, cobbled streets, cafes, ancient ruins bathed in ambient sunlight, eccentric Italians and lots of funny farcical moments. There’s a stellar cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin and this time, Allen himself.

The first time we see Allen, he’s on a plane travelling with his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) from the US to Rome to visit his daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) who has fallen in love with an Italian lawyer, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). So enter the Allen that we know and love – nervous, jumpy, awkward, bemoaning the turbulence, and thinking he’s about to die.

And although we don’t see Allen that often, he has the best lines, and produces some funny moments.

To Rome With Love (Penelope Cruz)

To Rome With Love (Penelope Cruz)

There’s a four-part storyline, stories that never intertwine, people that never meet. So it feels a bit disjointed at times. Prostitute Anna, (Penelope Cruz) becomes embroiled in a young couple’s relationship, after newly married Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) gets lost in the city and ends up with a gun pointing at her head during a robbery attempt on a rich actor. Jerry (Woody Allen) is a retired opera director who finds himself interested in his daughter’s soon to be father-in-law Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato). He’s a mortician with a voice of an angel, but can only sing in the shower. And John (Alec Baldwin) finds himself playing the conscience of Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who is falling under the spell of self-centred, fickle actress Monica (Ellen Page). While Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is an ordinary man catapulted to celebrity status overnight.

Interestingly Eisenberg’s character comes across as awkward, shy, slightly neurotic and fearful and like Owen Wilson in Midnight In Paris, I wonder if Eisenberg will end up playing a future Woody Allen in films to come.

Link to official website: To Rome With Love

Link : Woody Allen interview in Guardian newspaper Sept 13, 2012

The Myth Of The American Sleepover

The Myth Of The American Sleepover

The Myth Of The American Sleepover

There wasn’t really too much to worry parents wondering what their teenagers get up to during their school holidays. In fact this movie felt quite nostalgic and touched by innocence. This film was set in Detroit and written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. There were the usual themes, smoking, drinking, skinny dipping, and as the title suggests, sleepovers. Girls were getting together for pyjama parties and the boys for beers and pizza, all armed with their own duvets.

There seemed to be no video games, Xbox, PS3, iPads, FIFA tournaments, or Call Of Duty. Education about the female form seemed to come from innocent looking videos of frolicking girls lifting their t-shirts and various magazines of scantily clad women.

Over in the girl camp there were secret diaries, stealing boyfriends, flirtation and revenge. The most sinister part of the film was watching college dropout Scott (Brett Jacobsen),tracking down a pair of twins he had a crush on in high school, which felt a bit creepy.

The soundtrack, which included Elephant Gun by Beirut and The Saddest Story Ever Told by The Magnetic Fields, fitted the mood and feeling of the movie perfectly.

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

This film was a case of too much style over substance. Yes, Keira Knightley looked gorgeous. The fashion was scrumptious, bustled skirts, tight boudices, more shiny jewels than a robber’s swag bag, and an abundance of feathers, and furs fluttering in the chilly Russian air. It felt a bit like a fashion/perfume commercial.

The adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel should have been a heavy emotional onslaught. The tale of Anna, (Knightley) married to staid and controlling Alexei Karenin ( Jude Law) who falls for handsome army officer Count Vronsky ( Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is weighty, Tolstoy’s work was originally published in installments. She’s castigated, ostracized, forced to leave her son, and descends into an unhinged madness.

But the film was cold, unemotional and the chemistry unconvincing. Writer Tom Stoppard and director Joe Wright took the brave decision to set the film in a theatre, so at times we saw doors opening to reveal snowy Russian landscapes. Perhaps the stage setting contributed to an overall feeling of detachment? It felt a bit like Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, without the singing.

The most interesting character was bizarrely Anna’s husband Alexei Karenin with Jude Law playing the suppressed, gloomy government official convincingly. Anna meanwhile, became quite annoying and while Aaron Taylor-Johnson easily showed the shallowness of Count Vronsky, he struggled to offer the character any greater depth.

A particular high point was the musical score performed by Dario Marianelli, who also scored Pride & Prejudice. Sweeping, romantic and lush, it’s a pity the emotions were swept under the Russian snow.

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Film Review Round Up

Ping Pong

What prolongs life, or perhaps the quality of life, rather than its longevity?

Ping Pong Film 2012

Ping Pong Film 2012

The film Ping Pong made me reflect on this. It’s a documentary style film about people in their 80s, 90s and one Australian woman was 100, who were competing at the  World over 80s Table Tennis Championships in Inner Mongolia. The film, sensitively put together by film makers Anson Hartford and Hugh Hartford, in a collaboration with Banyak Films, showed the stories of eight competitors from different parts of the world before they culminated in China.

From England, was Les (90), and poster boy for the movie, putting himself through a vigorous weight training session. Terry, also from England, (81), had been diagnosed with cancer and given only weeks to live, but was defying medical opinion and competing months later. Dot aged 100 had travelled from Australia. The sport was obviously responsible for saving one German woman. Inge, (89), who had virtually given up on life after her husband died, and had signed herself into a care home. She had never played the sport before and was competing for the first time.

They were from all corners of the world but had a few commonalities. They were competitive. That edge of sport, the sheer will to win, doesn’t diminish with age. All the usual rules of sport, the subterfuge, competitiveness, mind games and some underhand tricks were all on display. There was talk of someone’s bat “going missing.” Sport seems to have its own unwritten rules, whatever age you are.

Belief was especially prevalent in Terry, who was battling health problems. Like the Terminator, he kept coming back and refused to believe what the doctors’ were telling him. And Les also had a few philosophies on belief, stating that he who believes he can win, will win.

Texan, Lisa, originally from Vienna, had big blonde bee-hive hair, and was getting her long nails painted before competing. She’s 85. Incidentally, in her younger days Lisa joined the French Resistance and helped smuggle Jews out of Austria, for which she received the Croix de Guerre.

The film also highlighted the importance of sport, any sport, for not only keeping you physically fit and active, but the mental benefits of providing a purpose, something to play for, and for keeping the mind active and engaged. And the joy of winning and being good at something is the same, whether you are five or 85.

This was a sensitive, funny, inspiring and uplifting film, which also instilled a hope for those of us worried about reaching our own advancing years. And if you’ve been inspired by this year’s summer of sport, the Olympics and Paralympics, this film could fill a gap that’s been left behind. Like the tagline for this movie says – Never Too Old For Gold.

Also check out the link to the website Ping Pong Film where you can stream the film and watch for £4.99.

Jackpot

Jackpot

Jackpot

Oscar (Kyrre Hellum) is trapped underneath an obese stripper’s dead body in a porn shop which is splattered with blood and strewn with corpses. He’s also holding a gun. An easy job for police detective Solor, played by Henrik Mestad, you might think.

He certainly seems to think so as he declares “We found you an hour ago under a massive woman.” But unsurprisingly things aren’t quite as they seem and as Oscar’s outlandish story unfolds, Solor is constantly surprised that it stacks up and it seems that Oscar is a hapless man caught up in the unfortunate circumstances of a football bet gone wrong.
Oscar runs a Christmas tree factory employing ex-cons and Oscar and three others have won a massive sum of cash. Greed overtakes and the situation soon begins to spiral out of control and into chaos.

Set somewhere in a small town between the border of Norway and Sweden, south-west of Oslo, this film is an adaptation of a Jo Nesbo book, whose work Headhunters has also recently been seen on film.

This adaptation is mixes the macabre with the hilarious. There’s lots of gore and moments where your jaw might hit the floor in disbelief. The film somehow manages to make body chopping funny.

A slick movie reminiscent of The Usual Suspects and Fargo with shades of Quentin Tarantino and some impressive acting performances.

Searching For Sugar Man

Searching For Sugar Man

Searching For Sugar Man

If you haven’t already seen this film, see it or get the DVD. It’s the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter from early 70s Detroit. He didn’t make much of an impact, he brought out two albums, Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971), and was then dropped by his record label. One of his songs Cause, proved prophetic with the line “I lost my job two days before Christmas” which actually came true. He then dropped out of the music scene and ended up doing laboring jobs. We meet a few people in the film who describe him as a bit of an enigma, a drifter, they’re not sure he even had a fixed address.

This was only the start of an unusual and heartwarming story, which took decades to unfold. While he was sinking into oblivion, people in South Africa were in awe of his albums, which had came to them through bootlegging. He was more popular there than The Rolling Stones, Elvis and The Beatles. His albums were seminal and his heartfelt lyrics about ordinary people, injustice and their everyday struggles spoke to South African people, struck in an oppressive, unjust apartheid regime.

Rodriguez’s albums were making people believe they could change their future, yet the singer remained oblivious. The people of South Africa also didn’t know anything about this mystery man. All they had were his obscure albums. The songs were attributed to either Rodriguez, Sixo or Jesus Rodriguez. They didn’t even know his name. A rumour sprang up that he had died, setting himself on fire while on stage.

Rodriguez

Rodriguez

Two South Africans, record shop manager Stephen Segerman and music journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, made it their quest to find out more about the mysterious singer. Their passion and efforts were remarkable, their own lives changed, and the story unfolded in a way they could never have imagined.

The cinematography deserves a mention. Some of the scenes were stunning. There’s Rodriguez trudging through the deep-snow laden streets of a run-down and desolate Detroit, wearing a long dark overcoat. He’s a tall, thin shadowy, lonely figure and his haunting sparse lyrics make a fitting backdrop. The scenes are beautiful, bleak and atmospherically spellbinding.

The film is very good but not perfect. There were quite a few unanswered questions.

Someone, somewhere made a lot of money, Who? Where did the money go? The film does however have a highly entertaining and insightful interview with Clarence Avant from Sussex Records, who held the albums at the time.

The film is also an interesting insight into the operations of the music business and a bygone era of an industry which has changed dramatically.

There’s more to say about this movie, and maybe you already know the ending by now, but if you don’t, I’m not going to risk spoiling it by saying anymore. Just watch it.

The Dark Knight Rises

I’ll admit this genre of movie isn’t my favourite but I can appreciate the big action films. They have a place. They can be entertaining, good escapism and displays of amazing effects. I thought director Christopher Nolan’s previous Batman films (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) were a welcome revamping of the caped crusader, and in reading the many excellent reviews for The Dark Knight Rises, I was looking forward to seeing how this film would tie up Nolan’s trilogy.

Sadly, this film was is nearly three hours of my life which I’ll never get back. I didn’t get it. I found Bane (Tom Hardy), the Bat’s formidable adversary, difficult to understand, despite the fact that the film’s previous sound problems had rectified.

The film felt too long, the plot a bit too convoluted at times as it tried to round up the storyline and towards the end, a bit too predictable. It felt a bit like watching the end of a James Bond movie, perhaps influenced by Nolan’s reported affection for the 007 brand.

But there were some redeeming points. Some of the effects were big and impressive and Anne Hathaway as slinky burglar Selina Kyle proved an intriguing mix of danger and vulnerability.

Anne Hathaway as Cat Woman

Anne Hathaway as Cat Woman

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