Saturday, 24 December 2011

My Top 10 Films of 2011

Another year behind us... I've been looking through all the reviews from 2011 and I have to say, this was one good year for cinema. I actually struggled to decide which ones to keep in the top 10 list, so in order to filter my selection, I thought about whether I'd watch any of the films again (choosing the top 3 was a no-brainer). To make things a little easier I decided to go by genre, so each film in the selection represents a particular type of movie. Also, the films I chose have all come out in the UK and Belgium (where I watch most films) in 2011, although, of course, this varies across other countries.

Anyways, hope you enjoy reading this and get inspired to watch some of these wonderful films.

10. Thor. Dir.: Kenneth Branagh. With: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman

There were so many superhero films out this year, but for me, 'Thor' stands out by virtue of its undiluted self-mockery. It does not take the whole mythology and the hero himself too seriously and manages to produce a very decent a-wildling-in-a-modern-town type of movie, much in the style of 'Crocodile Dundee', 'The Visitors' and 'Blast from the Past'. The casting was very good but the best actor was Tom Hiddleston as Loki....I see a big future for this man. Full review can be read here.

Favourite moment: Thor looking for a ride.

9. Potiche. Dir.: Francois Ozon. With: Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu

From superheroes to a bit of French charm. Deneuve and Depardieu re-unite in this romance for the elderly set in the 70s France. He is an old communist and she is a trophy wife of a rich factory-owner. Their onscreen chemistry is an absolute pleasure to behold. The movie is funny, slightly kitschy and has certain dark overtones; nevertheless, it is a very French romantic comedy in the purest sense. Full review can be read here.

Favourite moment: Catherine's revelations about what a naughty girl she used to be back in the day.

8. Midnight in Paris. Dir.: Woody Allen. With: Owen Wilson et al.

Staying in the same location but changing the period. Or, rather, periods. This was Woody Allen's highest-grossing film ever. EVER. If this does not impress you then maybe this will - I've been listening to the soundtrack from the film for months on end after watching the movie. Still not impressed? Well, it also features half of the acting world, portraying various famous artists, writers and thinkers of the Parisian boutiques from the 1920s. And one of them delivers the best line about art: artists should not be defeatist about life, their job is to offer a way of coping with it. Full review - here.

Favourite moment: Salvador Dali.

7. Pina. Dir.: Wim Wenders.

This year was also quite big for documentaries but nothing compares in its sublime beauty to 'Pina', a film commemorating the life and work of Pina Bausch, a German choreographer. It presents some of the most celebrated dance performances by her Tanztheater and the dancers' memories of her. The 90 minutes flew by like five; I cannot find the words to describe how ephemeral, beautiful and moving this film is. The plasticity of the human body does not fail to astonish from one piece to the next. Full review -  here.

Favourite moment: this.

6. Drive. Dir.: Nicolas Winding Refn. With: Ryan Gosling, Carrey Mulligan.

The following four things should be enough to make anyone go and watch this - Ryan Gosling feeling the need, the need for speed; double-denim a-la Steve McQueen; armed robberies gone wrong; and a theme tune by Kavinsky. Full review - here.

Favourite moment: Driver's scorpio jacket.

5. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.  Dir.: Steven Spielberg. With: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis.

Since I am a self-professed connoisseur of children's films, I can say with full confidence that 'Tintin' was an absolute marvel of a film. I mean, it does not happen every day that you have a Scottish alcoholic as the protagonist of a PG animation. I don't mean Tintin of course, but rather his friend, Captain Haddock, brilliantly voiced by Andy Serkis. The film was a feast for the eyes and imaginations, it was funny, crude, exciting and deliciously mad. You could get a real sense of adventure and for the first time ever I thought that a movie really benefited from being shot in 3D. I didn't actually write a review, but believe you me - it deserves to be watched and I cannot wait for more!

Favourite moment: The chase through the town of Bagghar.

4. 127 Hours. Dir.: Danny Boyle. With.: James Franco.

This mock-documentary set in the beautiful mountains of Utah stayed with me for a long time after I watched it. It is a brilliant presentation of a human being's reactions to a seemingly hopeless situation, his resourcefulness and an endless amount of courage. I was moved, disturbed and carried away by this film. James Franco's performance was one of best this year. Full review here.

Favourite moment: The talkshow scene.

3. The Tree of Life. Dir.: Terrence Malick. With: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain.

This was the longest, slowest, weirdest and one of the most intriguing and beautiful films I have ever seen. It was curiously engaging and somehow I found myself completely entangled in the little family drama of the O'Briens. The eldest son, Jack, goes through what some may call an existential crisis at a very tender age; it is a treat to watch how this forms his character in the future. This is one amazing psychological study of life, death, childhood and family bonds coupled with an enchanting soundtrack. Full review - here.

Favourite moment: Jack admiring a neighbour's silk nightdress and stealing it.

2. The Skin I Live In. Dir.: Pedro Almodovar. With: Elena Anaya, Antonio Banderas.

Wawawiwa. This was one crazy cocktail of mystery, obsession, revenge and sexual deviance with an incredible twist right at the end - basically, everything I want from a movie. Especially, a movie by Almodovar, who is probably the best director of women's stories. Everything in it is designed to mislead the viewer, nothing is what it seems: the beautiful landscape of Toledo, the lavish villa, the artwork - they play the roles of witnesses to a horrible crime. But wait, what crime? Was there a crime? And if yes, then who is the victim? Dun-dun-dun....Full review - here.

Favourite moment: well, apart from the AHA! moment in the end of the film which I shan't disclose here, my favourite moment is being introduced to Vera for the first time through the eyes of Dr Ledgard.

And the winner is.....

1. The Artist. Dir.: Michel Hazanavicius. With: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo.

The only silent film out this year, 'The Artist' obviously had to be included. But it is not its originality, charming as it is, that makes it my favorite film of 2011, but its joyous message and the all-encompassing love of films and filmmaking that runs like a red thread through the whole movie. This film has the heart and soul of the old Hollywood romances like 'The Roman Holiday' and its three stars, including Uggie the dog, will become iconic characters in the years to come, I am sure of it. 'The Artist' will make you howl with laughter and wipe your tears away and you'll be smiling for a week after leaving the cinema. I am also really pleased to remind you that it is coming out on the 30th of December in the UK, so go with your friends and family - this film transcends generations. Full review - here.

Favourite moment: George Valentin's nightmare.

Happy New Year to you all!!!

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Dir.: Brad Bird
With: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner

Ladies and gentlemen, Tom-Tom is back on form! Despite all the rumours, the haters, the gossip, the occasional raised eye-brow, the proud winner of the toothiest smile of the decade award is back with the funnest, most entertaining action film I have seen in a while. It puts to shame many recent attempts at thrilling the audiences ('Quantum of Solace' included) and Agent Ethan Hunt walks proudly again, after a 6-year hiatus.

Tom is 49, he is fit, ripped and focussed (he probably dyes his hair though) and he does a hell of a lot of running, banging and smashing around in this movie. The film has a mediocre plot but it really does not matter all that much because it manages to catch that rare bird and actually wow the viewer. It made me think of the first ever film made by the Lumiere brothers of a train arriving at a platform and how the audiences ran in horror from it. The whole Dubai sequence, especially the gravity-defying Burj Khalifa shots made me gasp and clench my hands together in absolute awe. I don't remember the last time I rooted so much for a character from an action film. It must have been Indy (not counting the fourth film).

The support cast was great too - Simon Pegg is absolutely hilarious as Benji, the computer man, often providing comic relief at tense moments. Paula Patton or Agent Carter is beautiful, intelligent and deadly and Jeremy Renner is his usual fine self. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie, globe-trotting as it is, made the most of local talents - you have Anil Kapoor (from 'Slumdog Millionaire'), Michael Nyqvist (from the Swedish 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo') and Vladimir Mashkov. What? You don't know Vladimir Mashkov? Well, let me tell you about Vladimir Mashkov. He is a Russian sex-symbol (one of the two haha), no really, he is super famous there and always plays extremely virile macho men of dubious moral standing with so much charisma that women fall head over heels in love with him. So it was nice to see him here. Check him out on Imdb. He is hot. Speaking of Russia, the Moscow sequence was pretty good too and Tom Cruise spoke such perfect Russian that I really wanted to give a big bear hug to the little man.

The gadgets were deliciously outrageous and fun as were the cars and the beautiful settings. My only real criticism is that there were too many moments when the characters explained the plot in mid-conversation after a new idea had been introduced. Filmmakers - attention - DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE YOUR AUDIENCES! We are not as dumb as we might appear and can follow a basic plot perfectly well, thank you. But you know what, once I hear the first notes of the famous theme tune, I just forget everything and go 'Mission accepted'.

And for desert - a clip of Tom Cruise doing some runnin'. Lotsa runnin'.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Dir.: Martin Scorsese
With: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Ben Kinglsey

This is definitely a curious one. A children's period piece, directed by Martin Scorcese. Hmmm.

In retrospect, it was very enjoyable and the cinematography, enhanced by a clever use of 3D, was spectacularly beautiful. However, since it's been marketed as a children's film, I was really surprised by its length and the slow pace. The first hour especially felt like an old gum - dragging on and on and on with nothing much happening. Later on the story picked up and the ending had a bit more panache, so, overall I forgive the director for this unfortunate bit of editing. I asked a member of the target audience (aka my brother) if he liked it and he said he did although he was very tired and restless by the end, so really Mr Scorsese, do you not have any grandchildren yourself?

I liked the story a lot because in a way it was almost like a beginner's guide to cinema, a really nice way to  introduce younger audiences to the history of cinematography. As you might have heard, Scorcese has supported film study and preservation throughout his lifetime, so his interest in this is quite understandable. There was a strong nostalgic feeling and, when compared to 'The Artist' which I reviewed earlier, the two films go almost hand in hand ('The Artist' being by far superior of course).

The performances by both Asa Butterfield (a smaller version of Cillian Murphy) and Chloe Moretz were good but somehow I found them too measured, too timid, too controlled. They did not come across as children, but as little adults, trying to meddle in other people's lives. Ben Kingsley, on the other hand, was wonderful and I very much enjoyed his take on French enigmatism. Sacha Baron Cohen was also pretty good, as was the rest of the support cast - mainly British actors, last seen in the 'Harry Potter' franchise.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Dir.: Guy Ritchie
With: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law

To be perfectly honest, I found this second instalment of the revised Sherlock Holmes story much more enjoyable than the first. It seems that the scriptwriters and the director actually listened to the critics of the first movie, dispensed with the less successful elements and concentrated on making the second film a funny, entertaining and very charming story. ‘Game of Shadows’ has all those things that I loved in the first movie in abundance – the funky Victorian London vagabonds, plenty of Robert Downey Jr madness, A LOT of homoeroticism, phallic symbolism and old-couple bickering between Sherlock and Watson. On top of that there were many wonderful and memorable one-liners like ‘Shirley no-mates’ and, most importantly, the one and only Stephen Fry played Mycroft, the insane/genius brother of Sherlock.

Of course, the actual plot is completely incoherent and unrealistic, however, this doesn’t matter at all as the film has so much spirit and action shots that simply overshadow everything else. It is unnecessarily long and there are a few moments when things get a little slow, but the movie picks up again towards the second half. I have to say that Professor Moriarty played by Jared Harris from ‘Mad Men’ was great. Charismatic, scary, psychotic and obviously brilliant, he was able to hold his own against Downey’s Holmes and rebuke his attempts at deduction. Noomi Rapace from the Swedish ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ was very boring as a random gypsy, and to be honest, she generally annoys me. She just does. It’s personal.

I wonder whether the Sherlock Holmes films would have been this popular if Robert Downey Jr wasn’t involved. I think not. The actor is good-looking enough to be more than watchable but not strikingly so. His looks are indeed very likable and his personality shines through in this film. He is quick-witted and self-deprecating, completely nuts and quite inspiring. His comedy timing is perfect, both in dialogues and in slapstick. The final scene of the film is properly laugh-out-loud funny; I think I found my next Halloween costume. For those of you going to see it, two words  - urban camouflage.  

Monday, 12 December 2011

Happy 1st Birthday to Me!

It's been exactly one year since I've started the Big Bark Blog :) Can't believe it's been so long!

Admittedly, I wasn't very good in the last few weeks and haven't written much, but that's all about to change with all the Oscar contenders finally being released.

So, in a way of commemoration, here are my favourite birthday movie scenes -

The Best Party.
'The Birds' by Alfred Hitchcock

The Cutest Birthday Girl.
Hit Girl from 'Kick-Ass'

The Best Birthday Surprise.
'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'

The Best Present.
Frank from 'Old School'

The Best Speech.
Bilbo, 'Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring'

And last but not least, although not a movie scene strictly speaking, Best Birthday Wishes.
Marilyn Monroe

Sunday, 4 December 2011

REVIEW: My Week With Marilyn

Dir.: Simon Curtis
With: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh

J’adore, j’adore, j’adore!

Movies about movies often make for the most interesting cinematic experiences, in my humble opinion. This particular one is based on the memoirs of Colin Clark (son of the famous art historian Kenneth Clark) called ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’ that tell the story of his first love. What sets his first affair of the heart apart from millions of others is the fact that it happened whilst he was working as a third assistant director on the set of a film called ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ in London. Oh, and his romantic interest was Marilyn Monroe.

It was lovely seeing how the 23-year-old protagonist makes it into the film business in the first place. Patience and determination are key to the much-coveted (and unpaid) position as a gofer. Colin, however, happens to be very likable and soon becomes a trusted presence on the set. And trust is something that is quite hard to come by in this particular case. Sir Laurence Olivier, played by Kenneth Branagh, is the worst drama queen known to man. In a true diva style, he yells and curses and constantly demands something and has his own crisis of confidence. Branagh’s performance is humorous, with a tinge of irony and sadness; the two Shakespearean actors really are similar on many levels.

But it is of course Michelle Williams’s performance that has been the talk of the town lately. She does a very decent job as the iconic actress, playing her as an extremely vulnerable, insecure and very troubled human being. She also manages to mirror the playfulness and the natural charm and charisma of the real Marilyn, known and loved by millions. My only problem is that Michelle Williams is a bit, well, plain to play this part. Yes, she is blonde and has similar soft features but to me she is not nearly as pretty as Marilyn. Most importantly, she lacks the pazzazz, that je ne sais quoi that Marilyn had in abundance. Good effort overall though and very enjoyable 2 hours and 10 pounds spent.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

REVIEW: The Awakening

Dir.: Nick Murphy
With: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West

‘The Awakening’ came as a very pleasant surprise. It is a classic ghost story with a somewhat feminist twist. Rebecca Hall (gawwd I love her!) plays Florence Cathcart, a well-educated writer and part-time ghostbuster from London in 1921. She is inquisitive, charming and extremely likable from the start. The main part of the film takes place at a boarding school for boys where one of the students had suffered a seemingly supernatural death. At first, Florence is sceptical and applies all her intellectual abilities to unshroud the mystery. Slowly, her confidence and courage seem to diminish, as the school appears to hide more than one secret.

Ultimately, this is a film about loneliness and loss, set in post-war Britain where over a million people died from influenza or the war. The main characters all seem to have been affected by this in one way or another. Dominic West in particular gives a good performance as a history teacher, still shell-shocked from the trenches. It is Rebecca Hall, however, whose performance should be noted; her Florence has the right balance of seriousness and fragility, making her more believable. I found myself very invested in her character. I foresee a big big future for her, I loved her in 'Vicky, Christina, Barcelona' and in 'The Town'. She also strikes me as someone who would be great on stage too. Yes, she is my girl crush.

And yet, ‘The Awakening’ is not perfect, there are quite a few unexplained and unnecessary plot twists. Certain moments were also very predictable and, for those who had seen ‘The Others’ and ‘The Orphanage’, a lot of this film would seem to be a mere pastiche of those famous works.. On the positive side, it is also highly atmospheric, convincing and beautifully shot. It won’t scare you out of your wits but it has the right amount of jumpy moments to have a laugh about later.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

REVIEW: Miss Bala

Dir.: Gerardo Naranjo
With: Stephanie Sigman, Noe Hernandez

‘Miss Bala’ does not make for an easy watch. The story follows Laura Guerrera, a young girl from Mexico who applies for a place in a local beauty pageant. However, bad luck throws her right in the middle of a drug war and she catches the eye of a notorious gang leader, Lino. We as the audience are conditioned to hope for the better but in Laura’s case things go from bad to worse and by the end of the film it is made apparent how corrupt and rotten the political core in Mexico is.

Laura, played by Stephanie Sigman, gives a brilliant performance. She is in the majority of the frames and literally carries the whole film. Her complicated emotions range from absolute shock, horror to responsibility and resolve. Constantly, she is faced with new moral dilemmas but manages to do what seems to be the right thing. Laura’s helplessness is emphasised by her grace and fragility but hoping for a knight in shining armour is plain silly in this context. I found that I was truly invested in her character and every turn of her terrible adventure felt like a blow.

The intensity of the film also depended on Lino’s character as portrayed by Noe Hernandez. His Lino is a hardened criminal whose slyness and cunning leave no hope for his opponents. He is abusive, predatory and there is a sense of power about him; the scenes of him ogling Laura are the most unpleasant ones in the whole movie.

Overall, this is a well-crafted film that manages to address important and highly unpleasant issues from a very human perspective. My only criticism is that it felt a little too long. The snappy action scenes were often interrupted by prolonged moments of confusion that were rather tiring. It was produced by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna - nice to see the famous pair making such interesting and socially relevant indie movies.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

***REVIEW: The Artist***

Dir.: Michel Hazanavicius
With: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman

I think I just found my new favourite film! And a new favourite actor!

At the moment ‘The Artist’ is triumphantly playing at various film festivals and my future husband, Jean Dujardin, won the best actor award at Cannes earlier this year and I think that the film will be nominated for an Oscar. There are plenty of reasons as to why.

This is one of the more daring films I have seen in the past few years – it’s silent! The director, Michel Hazanavicius has studied reels and reels of the silent era cinema to put together this love-letter to the early days of Hollywood. The story follows a very successful silent actor George Valentin in the years between 1927 and 1931 when “talkies” or sound films began their ascension. His unwillingness to follow this new direction results in his personal and professional demise. There is also a very touching love story between Valentin and Peppy Miller, an extra in some of his films.

Surprisingly, after about 5 minutes into the movie you completely forget that it is silent. The emotions, the story and the characters are so vibrant that the lack of conversation does not limit the film in any way. It is also highly humorous and I promise you, you will fall in love with Peppy, Valentin and his adorable dog Uggie. There are a number of great appearances by John Goodman, James Cromwell and others. I think one has to have a very expressive face to be able to star in a silent film - Bérénice Bejo is highly adept at that.

I am absolutely infatuated by Jean Dujardin and his brilliant moustache. Although he is known as a comedy actor in France, he successfully demonstrated his dramatic and dancing skills in this film. Also, this year’s most charming smile award goes to him (for the million-dollar smile that vanishes from his face when he hits hard times). Honestly, I cannot praise the film and the performances enough, it is so rare to see such a gem that has so much heart and soul and is not corny.

I watched ‘The Artist’ in Belgium, it is coming out in the States on 23 November and the UK release date has not been confirmed. It is also coming out in various European countries in the next few weeks. Go watch it!!! I can't wait to see it again.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

REVIEW: Contagion

Dir.: Steven Soderbergh
With: Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard

I think that ensemble casts are very dangerous. It is extremely difficult to make a movie with several intertwined plots and keep them entertaining throughout the film. That’s why I was really looking forward to seeing ‘Contagion’; I was hoping that Soderbergh would manage to achieve the impossible.

And the film does start with several brief yet gripping character introductions – we have Gwyneth Paltrow as a jet-setting wife, Matt Damon as her husband, Laurence Fishburne as a head of some sort of a medical facility, Kate Winslet as his employee and Jude Law as a conspiracy blogger. The thing that connects them all together is the outbreak of a new deadly virus MEV1 in Hong Kong.

‘Contagion’ has several highly unpleasant scenes especially the ones that show how the disease spreads from person to person (after watching this you’ll think twice before shaking someone’s hand again). However, after quite a powerful start, the movie begins to lose its intensity. Some storylines sag in the middle and need more development. I thought that Jude Law’s Australian accent was terrible as was his character to be honest.

I guess the film attempts to analyse various human reactions in the moment of global crisis but some of people’s motivations were very unrealistic I think (or at least the way they were presented was not persuasive enough). I feel like Soderbergh tried to cover too much ground in this film, it veered from thriller to mock documentary to disaster movie. Maybe it would have been better if he stuck to one genre only. It is still not clear to me what the main message of the film was – whilst being quite preachy and moralistic it also had some typically American disaster-movie moments that undermined the whole “documentary” feel of it. And despite the huge scale of the drama in the story, you don’t really get to see any real human tragedy. Additionally, the action takes place largely in China and the States – Africa and Latin America where the people would suffer the most presumably are not even shown. The ending does not provide any sense of closure/satisfaction and the movie fizzles out completely. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty

Dir.: Julia Leigh
With: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake

I was quite surprised to learn that this psycho-erotic drama was written and directed by a woman. As far as I am aware, previous films that dealt with similar topics were directed by men like Luis Buñuel and Stanley Kubrick. I thought that a woman’s touch would mean that ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was going to be an interesting exploration of sexual politics. Instead, what you get is a highly stylised work, which attempts to offer a fresh perspective on the psychology behind sexual perversion.

The child-like Emily Browning plays Lucy, a young university student who is struggling to make ends meet. She has several extremely dull part-time jobs and flatmates from hell. It is insinuated that she occasionally dabbles in prostitution. Her financial situation changes when she joins an exclusive escort service for wealthy elderly gentlemen with various interests, from bondage to necrophilia. Some of the scenes look like titillating Agent Provocateur photoshoots and it is certain that the film ends up glamourising fetishism. It offers an unforgiving look at the aged male body, especially when contrasted to Emily Browning's firm and smooth derriere. Also, she looked so young (could hardly walk in heels!) that I felt like a bit of a pedophile even watching her.

Lucy’s own history is unclear, she seems to have come from a troubled family, she does not have many friends and is generally isolated from society. At first she finds her new job rather absurd, however she slowly becomes obsessed with finding out what exactly goes on in this gentlemen’s club. Whilst I completely appreciate the difficulty of the emotional and physical stripping done by Ms Browning here, I cannot help but speculate about what made her think this was going to be a good role to try on. I felt that the character is underdeveloped and is almost impossible to relate to.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ is both disturbing and tiresome to watch. The lack of a soundtrack means that much of the film is in complete silence. There are a number of very graphic scenes that are designed to shock but the main message of the film is indistinct. It does poke fun at the older, more powerful men for using young women for personal retribution; however, the plot development fails to satisfy. The protagonist remains shrouded in mystery and her detachment from the real world makes it hard to take it all seriously. The film leaves you with an aftertaste from all the creepiness in it but fails to really shake things up. When you compare 'Sleeping Beauty' to Buñuel's 'Belle de Jour', the latter is a by far more enticing and memorable work even with less flesh on display.

Monday, 17 October 2011

REVIEW: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Dir.: Tomas Alfredson
With: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth

I finally managed to go and watch it! Probably about a month after its release date – but better late than never, right?

There was always a lot of pressure on ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ – it is based on the famous novel by John le Carré, then there is the highly acclaimed BBC series with Alec Guinness in the title role and, of course, there is the all-star cast. If you look carefully, almost every single person in the film has recently appeared in something. It was actually rather distracting because instead of concentrating on the plot I was often trying to remember where I’d seen a particular actor or actress.

I’m aware that many people have complained that the plot was too complex to follow. I must heartily disagree. If you memorised the names of the main characters and paid attention to Smiley’s glasses (they told you whether a scene was a flashback or not), it really was not all that hard. In fact, it was most refreshing to watch such an intelligent thriller with a realistic and believable plot instead of having testosterone-fuelled oafs like Bond and Bourne run around trying to save the world. I say it was realistic because ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ managed to re-create the grim world of the 1970s secret service populated by bureaucratic men with synthetic shirts and receding hairlines. London appears as a run-down backdrop for an intricate chess game between the top echelons of MI6 and a mysterious Soviet puppeteer Karla.

Gary Oldman will surely get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Smiley – a retired agent called back to uncover a Soviet mole. His performance is very subtle, here is a man who presumably had seen a lot in his life, including personal betrayal. He is tired and stiff in the neck, yet he retains his fierce intelligence and humanity. His right-hand man is Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), he is young and still has the integrity that the top officers seem to have lost in their years in service. To stray away from the topic slightly – Benedict Cumberbatch will provide the voice for Smaug in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’ – and what a damn fine voice he has! The rest of the cast did their job well too. The ending was not too much of a surprise if you kept your eyes peeled but then I think this story is more about Smiley's investigation rather than the denouement.

This film is an interesting study of the nature of secrets and the reasons behind hiding something in the shadows of one’s consciousness, be it romantic or professional. The agents all lead a double life to some extent – they either cheat on their wives or girlfriends, are closeted homosexuals or lie to their best friends and colleagues. My only criticism is that the movie was rather self-indulgent at times and certain scenes could have been a bit more dynamic, but then I guess, this was a way of showing the suffocating world of the Cold War-era intelligence and its apparatchiks on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

REVIEW: Johnny English Reborn

Dir.: Oliver Parker
With: Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson

Firstly, a few words on the timing of my reviews. I started writing for my student newspaper, so I feel that  I should give them the priority of getting my reviews first. I'll publish the reviews (or extended versions of them) after they come out in print, which is every Thursday. Of course, if I write something extra it'll be here asap. Anyway, here's what I thought of Rowan Atkinson's latest work.

‘Johnny English Reborn’ did not really leave much of an impression on me. It follows exactly the same pattern as the first instalment and does not disappoint nor surprise. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I were a twelve-year-old boy – it is mostly a slapstick comedy aimed at family audiences. In retrospect, it does meet the audience’s demands quite well.

Rowan Atkinson is back in this familiar role as the hapless spy Johnny English –a more masculine version of Mr Bean in a better suit but with identical mannerisms. The film centres on Johnny’s return to London after some years spent in a Tibetan monastery, learning The Way. Gillian Anderson plays his new boss who makes it very obvious that she does not think highly of him and his abilities. Rosamund Pike gives a straight-faced performance as a super-psychiatrist who is also the only person who seems to like Johnny English and his archaic manners.

It is fairly clear that this film originated as a spoof of James Bond. I am not entirely sure why it needed to be done again after ‘Austin Powers’. ‘Johnny English Reborn’ does have a few scenes set in very “Bondian” locations like a casino, underground laboratory and aboard a plane. However, it is not enough to simply copy-paste the styling of the Bond franchise; what’s lacking is the actual parody. Perhaps, if a different actor played Johnny then the film would have had more of an original feel. Rowan Atkinson’s presence, although commercially dictated, places the film on the same footing as the Mr Bean movies, both condemned by the critics.

Having said all this, there were a couple of funny moments in the film but I could not shake off the feeling that I have seen this all before in Mr Bean.

Monday, 3 October 2011


Dir.: Nicolas Winding Refn
With: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan

I had high hopes for this movie and I wasn’t completely disappointed. This is a very conscientious take on the LA noir genre. “Drive” could have easily been set in the 60s, 70s or 80s – the main character with no name seems to bear not just a fleeting resemblance to Steve McQueen in his denim outfit and driving gloves. The story revolves around Driver, played by Ryan Gosling, who is a very talented…well…driver. His day jobs include working as a mechanic at a garage and as a stuntmen in action films. At night he operates as a get-away driver for armed robberies. He never carries a gun and his only rule is that he gives exactly 5 minutes of his skill to the robbers; during the 5 minutes he delivers them to safety.

The first half of the film was particularly enjoyable – it has a certain visual flare that reminded me of some Tarantino films. Ryan Gosling, whom I haven’t seen since “The Notebook” delivers an amazing performance. He is extremely composed and tranquil for most of the film, yet there is a quiet intensity about him and he gives us just enough of facial expressions to guess what could be lurking beneath the reserved exterior. I loved the contrast between his apparent stillness and the passion of his driving. He barely opens his mouth to speak – the enigma is almost ruined when you do hear him talk, he has an almost comical, womanly, nasal voice. His slick, uniformed silhouette is so painfully cool that you almost want to be like him. His movements are minimal yet very graceful. He has a curious moral code and seems to follow it to the fullest when he encounters Irene (Carey Mulligan), his single-mum neighbour. Driver's feelings for her are quiet and unassuming.

I was thoroughly enjoying the central performances, the visual style and the fabulous soundtrack by Kavinsky (it really reflected the pulsating underbelly of LA and the sounds of a revving engine) up until the story took a 90-degree turn and became a violent story of revenge. The holes in the plot were so apparent that my appreciation of the film was somewhat dampened. I did like the unflinching take on the violence in it - hammers, face-smashing et al, but the plot development was not great.

There was one cameo that stood out the most – Christina Hendricks from Mad Men has a short but very memorable part as a petty criminal, and as unusual as it was to see her in modern clothes, she managed to convey all the emotions of her character in a few strong scenes.

Having said all this, it is really Ryan Gosling who holds the movie together. He has visibly matured since his notebooking days. Unlike many other actors of his generation he continues to make independent films with interesting scripts and I very much look forward to “The Ides of March” with him and a certain Mr Clooney.

Do not watch the trailer for “Drive”, it tells you the whole story. Instead, listen to some Kavinsky!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

REVIEW: Melancholia

Dir.: Lars Von Trier
With: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard

Never in my life have I had a physical reaction to a film. It seems I can take pretty much anything without wincing too much, be it gore, violence or horror. This is the first time ever when I thought I was going to throw up in the cinema. “Melancholia” is the heaviest and most depressing thing I’ve ever seen. It is so depressing, they need to think of a new word for depressing. This is quite bizarre considering that the whole film looks like an elegant photoshoot at a beautiful country chateau surrounded by greenery, there is no violence and everyone in it seems sedated in a glamorous sort of way. Yet, its atmosphere and music drove me absolutely insane – my heart was beating like mad and I was very nauseous.

The film is about two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst who won the best actress at Cannes this year for this) who is successful on the outside and manic depressive on the inside, she is getting married to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is much more level-headed and ends up orchestrating the whole wedding. The wedding is an absolute disaster – the relatives are all barking mad, Michael is no more alive than a piece of furniture and Justine doesn’t really want to be there. However, this family drama pales in comparison to the trouble in the skies – an unknown turquoise planet called Melancholia may or may not collide with Earth, thus extinguishing all forms of life. This film is an unusual take on the end of the world – there aren’t any screaming masses of people, no theatricality, just steady camera work and calm gazes. Justine is the only one who seems to be happy with the prospect of dying soon, others deal with it much worse. In a way her character reminds me of the girl she played in “The Virgin Suicides”.

I am the last person to say that cinema should always be pleasant and I guess it is a good thing to have this sort of evil genius creating works that can drive you to the darkest places. I am curious as to what Lars has against women – in his films they are either the root of all evil or plain crazy. Here at least the two sisters are the only people who manage to meet Melancholia with some dignity and poise, the men all prove to be auxiliary.  

“Melancholia” is very suffocating, unnecessarily long and, as I said, completely and utterly miserable. I marvel at Lars Von Trier for managing to make his audiences feel whatever he wants them to feel with the aid of elegant music and style. Having said that, I shan’t be watching any of his films for another couple of years. I literally had to go to the nearest park after the cinema, to catch my breath and look at the trees and the birds, life affirming as they are.  

"Melancholia" is out in the UK on the 30th September.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

REVIEW: Jane Eyre

Dir.: Cary Fukunaga
With: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judy Dench

Adapting a classic is always a daunting task, in the case of “Jane Eyre” it is doubly so – not only is Charlotte Brontë’s tale of passion and horror a much loved literary work, but there are also numerous film and TV versions of it; the most admired ones being the film with Orson Welles and Jane Fontaine and the BBC series with Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton. Both these works are united by the fact that it is the male actors whose performances are the most memorable. For me personally, Timothy Dalton will always remain the definitive Mr Rochester – dangerous, wild and endlessly charismatic.

Cary Fukunaga’s modern adaptation does not shy away from the stateliness of its source – the film is very beautiful and classy, in a Nordic, cold sort of way. The cinematography reminded me of Vilhelm Hammershoi’s paintings, especially the great restraint of the grey hues in the scenes with the Yorkshire moors. The film also closely reflects the main themes of the novel – there is the somewhat Gothic sense of terror and dread, oppression, isolation and an ardent sense of longing. Although, “Jane Eyre” appears to be quite slow moving and calm, there are moments when you have to clinch your hands together, for the tension is at times unbearable.

The story is told in flashbacks, I think that there weren’t enough scenes from Jane’s miserable childhood, I always found them to be the most terrifying. However, Jane and Rochester’s first meeting is done superbly well. The development of their relationship is fascinating to observe – there is much repressed eroticism and sometimes Rochester plays his little game of seduction only too well; Jane on the other hand is so suspicious and distrustful of his intentions that she often ends up rebuking him unknowingly. My main criticism is that the key moments of the story, i.e. the failed wedding and the meeting with the mad wife did not have the same degree of drama as they did in the novel. The magnitude of Jane’s suffering and disgust was not fully revealed.

As I said above, it is the performances of various Mr Rochesters that are the most celebrated; this version presents us with a glorious Jane Eyre. Mia Wasikowska seemed to have understood her character perfectly – she is “poor, obscure, plain and little”, yet she possesses a great inner strength, a bright mind and enough of self-deprecating sense of humour that you end up totally falling for her. Her turn as one of most beloved literary heroines should be praised and recognised I think. Michael Fassbender does not try to outdo Welles and Dalton in their own game and instead of being a giant beast of a man, he gives us a Rochester who is smouldering, cynical, lean and very intense. His gloomy smile is scarily sexy, might I add. Judy Dench also provides a wonderful support as Mrs Fairfax, a housekeeper who means well but does not catch on to half the things that go unsaid between the two lovers.

All in all, this is a good adaptation with some great scenes, a beautiful scenery and soundtrack. It doesn’t surprise you or knock you out, as the all-consuming passion of the novel is a tad too toned down. Still, I recommend you watch it, Charlotte Brontë wouldn’t be turning in her grave I am sure.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Toronto International Film Festival review - Friends With Kids

Dir.: Jennifer Westfeldt
With: Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Megan Fox

I find that the past decade has been colonised by very poor comedies. For some reason, Hollywood producers seem to think that your gender defines your type of humour – if you are male, you would go and see gross-out comedies, as a woman you would be expected to enjoy romcoms; both types got more and more heartless, synthetic and forced with time. Of course, there were a few good ones like “Superbad” and “Legally Blonde” but these exceptions confirm the general trend rather than defy it. It is sad to think that the days when comedies could be enjoyed by both men and women equally and had a coherent storyline are gone.

With all this in mind, it is a great pleasure for me to introduce you to “Friends with Kids”, an indie comedy that just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Jennifer Westfeldt wrote, directed and starred in it as Julie, a 30 something New Yorker with a close bunch of friends (most of the cast from "Bridesmaids"). Her closest friend is Jason, played by Adam Scott, together they begin to notice how the rest of their friends’ lives change once they start having children. Although both Julie and Jason want children at some point in their lives, it is the marriage aspect they wish to avoid. So, they come up with what appears to be the perfect solution – having a child together and raising the baby on equal terms, as friends.

The best thing about the movie is the dynamic in the group – it feels so realistic, the dialogues sound natural, in a way you could undoubtedly imagine your own friends speak the same way. Each individual in the group represents a certain type of friend, lover, partner and parent – you end up recognising yourself or people you know and relating to each character. There is a lot of warmth and heart in this picture and I am pretty sure that it won’t leave you untouched. Another extremely impressive aspect of it is the humour – it is very finely calibrated and combines raunchiness, irony, slapstick and satire. The audience were laughing constantly throughout the film. One of the funniest moments in it was the most awkward and cringe worthy sex scene I’d ever seen – when Julie and Jason try to conceive – just imagine having sex with your closest friend of the opposite sex….brrrr… I still have goose bumps.

There are two revelations in the film – Adam Scott, who is a great romantic lead, with much charisma and perfect comedy timing. He also delivers a wonderful speech in the movie, defending his decision to have a child with his best friend – it hits so close to home and leaves you quite shaken. Additionally, Megan Fox now appears to have shed her vixen image and fits in well with the rest of the crew, as a beautiful dancer with no patience for children. Her performance is unforced and quite down-to-earth.

During the Q&A session after the film, Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm and Megan Fox went on stage to answer some of the questions. Turns out that Adam and Jennifer are very old friends, which makes sense when you think of their amazing onscreen chemistry. The script took Jennifer four years to complete and I am very happy to report that her labours produced a funny, charming and soulful film, to be enjoyed by all shapes and sizes – a rare beast these days. The distribution dates are still to be confirmed, I will write more once they are.

Monday, 5 September 2011

REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

Dir.: Woody Allen
With: Owen Wilson and half the acting world

I insist that you listen to this while you read the review - click here.

Now that you’re in the mood, I may begin. Woody Allen continues his European tour with this ode to Paris. As with the previous cities, Allen idolises the French capital and paints it in enchanting golden hues. The film opens with a long montage of post card shots of the city’s main sites. This is how you are supposed to imagine Paris if you’d never actually been there. As with London and Barcelona, we do not see the dirt and the grime of city life, instead we are introduced to the blemish-free lives of the well-off protagonists. Or rather, the protagonist. The lovely Owen Wilson plays the main character, Gil, he is a self-described “old Hollywood hack”, on a visit to Paris with his materialistic fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her Tea Party parents. He, on the other hand, is a nice guy, naïve and non-assuming which probably prevents him from having a little faith in his own literary talents. Unlike his soon-to-be family, Gil does not care much for the luxuries offered by the Parisian boutiques; he spends most of his time dreaming of the days gone by – 1920s in particular. He is certain he was born a little too late and finds the present to be completely dull and unsatisfying.

Et voila! One night, after leaving his companions behind, he is picked up by an old car and journeys precisely into Paris of the 20s. The film’s real charm begins here. He meets his literary and artistic idols, from Scott Fitzgerald to Salvador Dali. As he repeats his journey every night, he finds mentorship, advice and friendship amongst the greats. Soon though, the artists and the authors are overshadowed by a mysterious woman, Adriana, who appears to have slept with half the bohemian world. Adriana takes a liking to Gil but she has got the same bug as him – she finds her own time to be too boring and yearns to live in Paris of the Belle Epoque. The scenes that take place in the 20s are much more alive and engaging than the ones in the present, the parties are wilder and the people are more interesting and good-looking.  

Don’t worry, I haven’t ruined the plot for you, not at all in fact. I think that if you, like me, love the art and literature from that period, you will fall in love with this movie. The wonderful cameos from all the best actors are an absolute pleasure to watch and I was giggling the whole time at how “accurate” their fleeting portrayals of the personnages célèbres were. The dialogues are highly amusing and there are plenty of memorable lines like ‘so, how long have you been dating Picasso for?’ The art director must have had a field day shooting this because the period look was achieved extremely well. The soundtrack was also derivative of the 1920s and as soon as I got home I looked for songs by Cole Porter and Glenn Miller.

The film itself was too much ‘on the surface’. There is a nice line in it that artists should not be defeatist about life; their job is to offer a way of coping with it. With all its witticisms and indisputable charms the film does not really do that; whatever Gil learns about his life in the present and how to cope with it, it is too cliché and saccharine to have any real meaning. But you know, not every film has to be an essay on the meaning of life, some are there for pure enjoyment and entertainment, and “Midnight in Paris” does so with flying colours. Right now I am feeling very inspired to re-read “Tender is the Night”, go see some surrealist art and buy a flapper dress.

"Midnight in Paris" is out in the UK on the 7th October. 

Monday, 29 August 2011

REVIEW: The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito)

Dir.: Pedro Almodóvar
With: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya

It gives me an absolute pleasure to write about this film. I’ll start with the posters. There are two:

The first one is one of the most beautiful film posters designed for a modern film that I have ever seen. It does not scream ‘come watch me!’ to me, instead it reminds me of an old anatomical folio where the illustrations were made by hand and the margins were adorned with flowers and birds. It also draws a link to the image of Marsyas, a satyr who lost a bet to Apollo and was flayed alive as a punishment. Classically, he is portrayed with visible muscles and insides, holding his skin as one would hold a coat – over one’s arm. The image of a skinless person is interesting when juxtaposed to the film’s title “The Skin I Live In” – where is the skin that the person lives in gone? What does the skin signify for a person’s life? How important is the skin and does it make up the person? All these questions are fittingly raised in the film as well.

The second poster is more traditional, focusing on the protagonist’s faces. The girl in a mask, looking tense and uncomfortable and Antonio Banderas, looming over her, menacing. Notice the contrast between their skins – hers is white, smooth and poreless. His is darker, shiny and weathered. Both posters deliver a crystal-clear message – the film you are about to see will be uncomfortable, tense and theatrical.

The themes addressed in “The Skin I Live In” can be described as the best of Almodóvar: there is obsession, motherly care, sex, revenge and insanity. It is also a classic tale of a mad scientist, in the style of Dr Frankenstein and Dr Moreau. Antonio Banderas is pitch-perfect as Dr Robert Ledgard, a brilliant plastic surgeon who is extremely wealthy, elegant and powerful. He lives in a secluded villa with his own private operation theatre outside Toledo. There is one special room in the house with one special patient – Vera, played by Elena Anaya. Their relationship is unclear at first – Ledgard appears to be carrying out experiments on Vera’s skin, however, she seems rather willing to succumb to all the procedures. The inevitable question rises – who is she? Her daily existence is quite dull, she practises yoga in the confinement of her room, she creates cloth figurines in the style of Louise Bourgeois and tries to seduce Ledgard whenever he is in the room. Who would possibly wish for such a life? Is she a prisoner or is she there out of her own accord? Did Ledgard bring her there by force or is he doing her a favour?

The plot is dense and keeps dashing back and forth in time, so sit tightly and try not to miss a thing. Now that I look back, there were plenty of red herrings in the beginning of the film, pointing out to who Vera could possibly be. Her identity is not only the key answer to the many questions raised by the plot, but is also the central theme of the whole film. What makes people who they are? Is it just our appearance? Can someone manipulate your “soul” to create a perfect being? What about sexuality – is it stable or fluid? I feel it is perilous to say anything on top of this about the plot for the risk of ruining it for you.

The cinematography was absolutely beautiful. The rich red from the poster is everywhere in the film – it is literally drenched in sex. Violence and sex are constantly juxtaposed in the film, sometimes infusing into one. Guns are aplenty and nudity runs amok. The paintings hanging on the walls of Ledgard’s villa are cheeky metaphors for Vera and the doctor’s relationship. ‘Venus of Urbino’ is mirrored by Vera herself on her draped bed. The soundtrack was beautiful but not overpowering.

It was refreshing to see Antonio Banderas cast in an unusual role – his accent and his looks limit his range in Hollywood to Latin lovers and southern avengers. Here he is enigmatic, reserved and extremely dangerous, much like a vampire. His feelings towards Vera are unclear, there is the Pygmalion element of the creator desiring his creation, the master-slave dynamic and also a tiny hint of the Stockholm syndrome.

Overall, this is a grotesque and absurd story that is enchanting and repulsive at the same time. If films had a smell, this one would be a difficult to bear, sweet, muscusy one, infused with flowery scents of southern Spain.

Monday, 22 August 2011

REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Dir.: Rupert Wyatt
With: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Frieda Pinto

Ok, so I have never watched the original “Planet of the Apes” (bad, bad girl) but I’ve read enough about it to know that it is a classic with an unexpected (but much publicised) plot twist, original ideas and a very high entertainment factor. The first film also came out at the time when the social inequality issues were very relevant (just as they are today I suppose) and the movie had many satirical elements to it. Naturally, I did not expect the same quality level from the prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” since, as we all know, most prequels and sequels are nothing more than cashing-ins without any substantial backbone in terms of plot and structure. This film, however, was a very pleasant surprise.

Although James Franco has got the official title role, the true protagonist is Caesar, a chimpanzee, created through motion-capture technology with Andy Serkis  (who also played Gollum and  King Kong) inside the lycra suit. I was completely blown away by the CGI – Caesar was so incredibly real, a bizarre mixture of animal movements and human emotions. His face had a wide range of expressions, from fascinated puppy-eyed face in his youthful days spent at James Franco’s house to the stern, wise and angry look of a revolutionary leader. His development from a tiny baby into a curious teenager and, eventually, into a hard-bitten adult was nuanced and fascinating to watch. You ended up siding with him as he, being incredibly intelligent, works out how to manipulate the world of humans and the world of primates.

The film was played out completely straight-faced, which I think it benefited from – there was nothing complex about the emotional drama in it, however, because the story was so interesting, the lack of nitty-gritty realism and ethical dilemmas did not seem as important. There was a healthy balance between sentimental character studies, human-primate interaction and big, loud action scenes. For a blockbuster, this had the right ingredients and the end result turned out to be highly amusing.

In fact, I noticed that the human on human interaction was much paler and more forced than any of the scenes with apes in them. James Franco’s character was a cookie-cutter good scientist, his father - the charming demented old man, his girlfriend a beautiful veterinarian (how fitting), all the other humans were evil and exploitative of nature. No wonder they got the ending that they did  – here is a little heads up – stay and watch the film until after the initial credits run – there is an interesting twist right at the end.

I never liked monkeys much, they are too similar to human beings and, if they were given the same intelligence, there is no question that they would easily conquer and enslave humans – we aren’t exactly the fittest species. I am now looking forward to watching the original “Planet of the Apes” to see my theories being confirmed.

PS. There is a quote in the film where someone says ‘he is not a monkey, he is an ape!!!’ which got me confused since I thought they were the same thing. Today someone enlightened me and told me that apes do not have tails but monkeys do – just a random bit of trivia for you.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

REVIEW: The Inbetweeners Movie

Dir.: Ben Palmer
With: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas

I have never actually watched The Inbetweeners TV show and was very surprised to suddenly find myself buying a ticket for the film. I obviously cannot tell you whether it is better or worse than the show, so if you’re a fan you’ll have to judge for yourself. I vaguely knew that the show was about four teenage friends from the English suburbia and their desperate attempts to get some action and survive the sixth-form politics at school. The first ten minutes into the film I kept thinking ‘I cannot believe I’m actually watching this’, the language was pretty much like this – ‘it’ll be like shooting clunge in a barrel’, you get the picture.

And you know what, once I got more or less familiar with the protagonists and what they represented, I really really enjoyed the film! It was one of the most cringe-worthy things I have ever seen, simply because the embarrassing moments in it weren’t at all outlandish and I could actually imagine real-life teenagers get into similar situations. The holiday plot is similar to “The Hangover”, but it is much more realistic and way more painful to digest.

Oh, the pains one has to go through in one’s youth in an attempt to impress the opposite sex and fit in with the cool crowd! Oh, the humiliation of looking back at one’s old holiday photos, thinking ‘what on earth am I wearing?!’ I found “The Inbetweeners” quite endearing because it was so easy to relate to. I don’t think I was ever as bad as the four protagonists though – their “slick” dance moves, drunken adventures and general naïveté are something else entirely. 

The dynamics in their group seem unforced and it is pretty obvious that the young men get along very well in real life as well. Their comedy skills were pretty impressive for their age and I am quite curious to see the TV show now. The film is not the perfect comedy and some of the crude language was not at all necessary, although there were some literary gems like ‘the moment I realised that ‘God’ is just ‘dog’ spelled backwards, I stopped caring’. Amen to that.

Monday, 15 August 2011

REVIEW: The Beautiful Lies (Les Vrais Mensonges)

Dir.: Pierre Salvadori
With: Audrey Tautou, Sami Bouajila, Nathalie Baye

French romantic comedies manage to retain the same inconspicuous charm that old Hollywood films like “Roman Holiday” used to have. There is something so naïve and lovely about French romantic stories, even the ones set in modern times. This film sees Pierre Salvadori re-united with Audrey Tautou after their successful collaboration on “Priceless” (Hors de Prix). Generally, Tautou plays ephemeral, sweet characters, but Salvadori somehow always sees her as a manipulative and harsh ‘salope’. Here, instead of a golddigger, she plays Emilie, owner of a hairdressing salon, someone who does not believe in the trifles of love and has more important things on her mind, which don’t stop her from meddling in other people’s affairs.

The set-up is quite simple, Jean, played by Sami Bouajila, is a highly educated, sensitive and shy admirer of Emilie’s; he builds up the courage to send her an anonymous love letter. At first she doesn’t give it too much thought, she then decides to send it onto her mother, who is going through a midlife crisis of her own. The letter does wonders to the woman’s well being, however chaos and more misunderstandings ensue.

I was smiling throughout the whole film, it is not too sickly sweet, there are some dark undertones, especially once you see how unpleasant and cold Emilie can really be. Audrey Tautou looked effortlessly chic in her unassuming attire and the beautiful Mediterranean landscape was a pleasure to take in. However, it is the mother, played by Nathalie Baye whom I fell in love with. Her character was absolutely marvellous – she starts off as a mentally unstable, depressive psycho and gradually blossoms into the most seductive older woman one can imagine.

I would highly recommend this film purely for its nonchalant French allure.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

REVIEW: The Devil's Double

Dir.: Lee Tamahori
With: Dominic Cooper

Finally, there are some decent films out! Let’s rejoice and praise the Lord!

I’ve been dying to see “The Devil’s Double” for a long, long time. The premise is well-known: the film is based on Latif Yahya’s memoirs of his life as Uday Hussein’s (Saddam’s eldest son) body double. Dominic Cooper plays both – Latif and Uday. There is something inherently captivating about stories with doppelgangers – our fascination with the concept of there being two copies of the same person probably stems from child psychology. The moment when a baby recognises his reflection in the mirror is when the possibility of having a dual existence first enters our minds. If you think about it, there have been tonnes of films made about twins, people who happen to look similar and, of course, identity usurpation. To name but a few – “The Talented Mr Ripley”, “The Parent Trap”, “Dead Ringers”, “Face Off”, “The Great Dictator”, etc etc etc.

“The Devil’s Double” does not, unfortunately, bring anything new to the psychology of doppelgangers, however, it is always fascinating to watch a person having to step into the shoes of another, both psychologically and physically. Dominic Cooper deserves much praise for his performance; he managed to create two completely different people – the psychotic, unhinged Uday and the reserved, unflinching Latif. He is both repulsive and highly amusing as Uday – there is a fair amount of humour and grotesque violence involved. Latif is quite boring, there is no real reflection of his inner turmoil, however, there are certain hints of him starting to acquire a taste for the material perks that come with his job. Dominic Cooper is in most shots in the film, but you do not tire of watching him. I do hope that his performance will be recognised by various award-givers.

The film itself could have been much better. The plot is erratic and uneven – there are very slow and boring moments and some high-paced ones. The ending is quite disappointing and there is no clear logical explanation for what had actually happened. Although, the events unfold during the years of the first Gulf War, the film does not tell anything new about Iraq and the country appears rather hastily sketched as a mere backdrop to the two protagonists. “The Devil’s Double” has been described as a Middle Eastern “Scarface”, however, it is no real match for it. The violence in it is not as shocking as one would anticipate; I have a strong feeling that the film had been heavily edited for a wider release. Uday’s womanising, sexual misdemeanours and criminality are hinted upon, but nothing is really shown. I think the film would have benefited from more shocking images. However, this is just a personal opinion and I am sure that some scenes are shocking enough for certain audiences.

Another weakness was Latif and Uday’s love interest. Her position was not very clear, not exactly a prostitute, this lady of the demi-world was supposed to be an Oriental beauty who captivated both men and caused some serious drama – the actress, Ludivine Sagnier, really failed to charm me and did not live up to her role at all.

Overall, I would still recommend watching “The Devil’s Double” simply because it is a very interesting story of a man’s life and because of Dominic Cooper’s impressing turn in it.