Saturday, June 30, 2007

Farewell, sweet Doctor.

I had planned to do a sort of Doctor Who Season 3 retrospective sometime last week, but decided to wait until after the finale to order my thoughts. There was every chance that after “The Last of the Time Lords” I would have lost all faith in Russel T. Davies, David Tennant, Freema Agyeman and the whole francise. It would have taken an utter stinker of an episode to make me anti-Who, but it could have happened. I am therefore heartened to report that I can keep the Tennant avatar to the left of this with undimmed pride.

“The Last of the Time Lords” had a lot to accomplish in it’s slim 40 minutes. (EDIT - okay, so it was 51 minutes. Still, that's half the length of a short feature film.) Not only did it have to live up to the heartbreaking Season 2 finale “Doomsday”, but it also had to resolve the multitude of threads left dangling all the way through the series. With the Doctor aged to the point of uselessness, Jack captured, the entire world in the Master’s hands, it was up to Martha Jones, a character who I personally liked but who I knew rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, to save the day and the gal delivered (getting by with a little help from her friends, obviously!). Below, there be spoilers, btw.

This episode shocked me over and over again. It also made me cry, twice. Which, as anybody who has ever sat through a fim with me wil testify, isn’t exactly the hardest thing to achieve, but two times in 40 minutes is pretty good. Nothing akin to Rose-type bawling, but still, mission accomplished on that front. The Toclafane being the future humans got a huge thumbs up from me, - I had guessed that they were humans as the Master kept dropping them “You love them so much” hint at the Doctor - but tying it all in to the start of Utopia was very satisfying. I had kinda thought they writers had just forgotten them, so I was very pleased by that turn of events. Ann Marie made the point that having those murdering robotic spheres be human sort of undermined the whole “Humans, aren’t they great” schtick the Doctor does, but I disagree. The future people were duped into following the Master; a foolish, life-threatening mistake but a mistake nonetheless. Humans are wonderful and wise and amazing, but we also make mistakes which sometimes cause a lot of people to get hurt. This episode highlighted this fact beautifully and was incredibly life-affirming. Having the entire universe collectively think one word in order to grant the Doctor a sort of life-restoring shield just restored the goodwill and and faith-in-people that has been a continuous thread all the way through the series. By having as the ultimate savior not physical power or science or (thank God) the sonic screwdriver but the power of storytelling, community and hope just made me go all squishy inside. It was teetering on the edge of cheesy, even I’ll admit, but I loved it.

I’m not sure how I feel about Jack as the Face of Boe. The quick shoe-horning of that in at the end seemed a bit throwaway and there has to be some major time-line issues to be resolved there (not the least of which involves Martha mentioning the Face of Boe in front of Jack in Utopia). I’d say the die-hard fans are either wetting themselves with excitement or horror. It was a brave move for Davies though, you have to give the man props. Another did-he-really-just-go-there moment came when the Master apparently died, this is a legendary character that has been around as long as the Doctor himself and killing him off just seems akin to shooting yourself in the foot. BUT there was a tantaslising hint dropped quietly in at the end when we are very briefly shown a hand picking up the Master’s ring as his body burn. The red-painted fingernails indicate it is either his wife or a female regeneration -I’m betting on the former - so this opens up possible avenues for Master-y type plots in the future.

Finally, Martha’s departure. I had kinda predicted this, but I was still on tenderhooks at the very end, especially when she re-enterd the Tardis to deliver her unrequited love speech. I thought it was a good move by the writers, I really liked her character but she didn’t click the same way the Doctor did with Rose. She finally made good on her initial introduction, it was always hinted that she was a match for the Doctor (being one in training herself) and this was finally resolved. She did what it was set out for her to do. The buzz is that Freema will return in the next series, although probably not as the companion. Which only begs the question…who will it be next season? I’m hoping for a male companion, just so we can resolve the sexual tension once and for all. If we could choose from characters we’ve aready met, how about the boy from The Family of Blood or even Sally Sparrow from Blink? Both seem like capable, intelligent, cool people. Who knows, RTD will probably pull something insane out of his hat and give us Ann Robinson or something.

I can totally understand where people are coming from when they say they were disappointed by this episode. There were a lot of dodgy moments, and if I was just that teeny weeny bit more cynical than I am, I can see myself disliking it. As it is though, I was very satisfied by the whole thing. I loved John Simm as the Master dancing around with manic abandon to the Scissor Sisters and although his ageing the Doctor further was a wee bit pointless, it just showed his gleefully sadistic side. Sadly, this also meant the whole episode was a bit Tennant-lite which is never a good thing (unless Moffat is writing, of course). I loved the fact they were confident enough to put the whole thing one year into the future. I loved that David Tennat was able to show off his acting chops again, when he was pleading with the Master to regenerate. It added a sense of depth and history to both men and was really touching. I loved the Lost in Translation-esque whisper, but I do kind of wished what the Doctor said to Martha was left ambiguous, "Use the countdown" doesn't really have the type of mystique that scene required.

I don’t know what I’m going to do until Christmas day, though. That’s months of Tardis-free timey wimey stuff with a big Doctor-shaped void in the middle. Yikes.

It’s getting late and I want to post this before heading up to bed, but I plan to do a whole series review sometime in the future. Maybe. Watch this space, but not too closely.

Summer in the city...

Incroyable! I've been tagged. Thank you kindly, Emma. This is my first one.

On y va:

01. Name movies you watch every summer.
Let's ignore the fact that summer should probably be about getting outside for some fresh air, as the weather has been uniformly awful for the past three weeks. Lots of children's films are coming to mind, especially old Disney stuff and newer Pixar. Last summer heralded the momentous occasion of my first introduction to the magic of Moulin Rouge!, which I watched 5 times over two weeks, so that was a definite summer movie for me.

02. Songs that remind you the most of summer.
This is a much easier question than movies, because music can be the soundrack to lazy afternoons at the beach or in your garden, staying up to watch the sunrise and obviously, summer music festivals. I saw Radiohead/Beck/Deerhoof during one summer and The Pixies/Kings of Leon during another, so they will obviously be on my playlist. Godspeed You! Black Emperor are the best choice for listening to when the sun is just rising. Pavement are perfect for lazing out the back and drinking ice-cold beverages. Then rap stuff like Digable Planets and Jurassic 5, plus the obvious pop music. Nelly Furtado, Girls Aloud, Kanye West. Rhianna's Umbrella is to 2007 as Shakira's Hips Don't Lie was to 2006.

03. What was the favourite summer holiday you ever went on?
Probably the tiny French village of Monpezat-de-Quercy, which we went to two years in a (2004/5). I love that little village like I grew up there; the shady lanes leading up to the piscine, the old well in the secluded park, the tiny church, the shops, everyone who lives there. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

04. Your favourite airport reads.
It's a tradition for me to read Empire magazine in the airport, but other than that it's usually just whatever I'm reading at the time. My books don't tend to be seasonal.

05. Are you a sunbather?
Is Brian Cowen an all-round decent guy?

06. Your ideal holiday destination this Summer that you haven’t been to before.
I was about to say New York, but I'd rather visit the Big Apple in the wintertime. Still, I really want to stroll down some fancy New York streets in a pair of shades, blaring some hp hop through a boombox. So yeah, NY.

07. Describe your Summer of 2006 in 10 words or less.
We're stuck in a caravan. Bricfeasta Reidh! Blah Shelter. Zidane.

08. What Summer movie must you see this year?
The Simpsons. Ratatouille. Hairspray.

09. Which Summer changed your life?
I have no idea. Probably the ones in Montpezat.

10. Do you like the beach? What do you bring to the beach with you?
Despite an aversion to sand and hot weather, yeah I do. You're going to need supplies though. Blanket, lots of bottled water, snack food, some sort of portable music device, sunblock and then something completely inappropriate, like a lifesize frisbee. Wow. How rad would that be? *imagines*

11. Your earliest memory of a Summer holiday.
I remember my first trip to France when I was four, but only barely. Playing cards and listening to Blur with my cousins in Co. Clare when I was about 6/7 is my strongst summery memory. Those holidays rocked. My sister and I joined with my three male cousins to form a sort of Oasis tribute band called The Hairbands. We rocked the house, I'm telling you.

12. And finally, what do you intend on doing this Summer?
I might might be joining a tennis camp. Which could result in the old "...hilarity ensues" chesnut. France in August. And plenty of sleeping! Whippeeee!!

I tag Ann Marie, Damien, Emily Rose, Eegah and Doppelganger.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Children of Men (2006) Cuarón

Wowzer. I have no idea why I resisted seeing Children of Men for so long. When the trailer was initially in cinemas, I thought it looked great and had an interesting premise, but when it finally landed I was just apathetic about seeing it. Probably didn’t have the funds or maybe just lack of incentive, either way I left it and then forgot about it until happening across it in the dvd shop yesterday. I couldn’t see anything better to rent, so I came home with CoM.

And I was blown away.

It had it’s flaws, there’s no question about that. There were certain plot points that I didn’t fully comprehend - why was Kee the only woman able to conceive for 20 years? What exactly was the immigration problem about? Who were the Human Project and what was their purpose? - but overall these discrepancies just added to the bleak disorientation of the film. For the uninitiated, Children of Men is the filmic adaptation of P.D. James’ dystopian novel. It takes place in Britain of the future, which by the year 2027 has been rendered a living nightmare. Chaos reigns with secret societies abound, London has degenerated into an urban wasteland and for some unexplained reason, women are no longer able to give birth. The film opens with the death of the youngest person on earth, an 18 year old boy named Diego. This death creates a minor ripple through a world already disaffected and devoid of hope.

From the very beginning, director Alfonso Cuarón grabs the viewer by the hand and hurtles us along the rollercoaster ride from hell. Explosions rip half the screen apart, but these are no Michael Bay-type booms, these are gut-clenching explosions, truly frightening and strangely beautiful. Blood splatters out and actually remain on the camera for an excruciatingly long take in which I just wanted to applaud long and hard. There is no easy way out; important, sympathetic characters die or get carted off and it all seems awfully bleak and disturbing. At the same time, our protagonist, Theo (a wonderfully on-form Clive Owen), is the perfect anti-hero, a gruff, bemused loner who’s lost everything and therefore has nothing left to lose. Unwittingly, Theo gets thrown into dealing with a covert operation who have uncovered a young woman, Kee, who is inexplicably pregnant. His ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), who is the leader of the terrorist group known as The Fishes, adds some fun to the proceedings - her scenes with Theo are sweet and touching - until things turn nasty and Theo is forced to go on the run with Kee. It’s a dangerous journey that takes them deep into the heart of the urban jungle, filthy and depressing and achingly human.

It’s in the little details that Children of Men triumphs. Theo’s escape is so hurried he doesn’t even have time to find his shoes and spends most of the movie in a muddy of socks or a pair of dodgy sandals borrowed from his ageing hippy friend Jasper, a hilarious Michael Caine. Caine is a pure delight whenever he is on screen; he’s a stoned joker who holes up in the woods to listen to Aphex Twin and Radiohead, but the photographs and newspaper clippings that litter his cabin betray the hardship that lurks beneath his funny veneer. The London of 2027 is startingly rendered; background signs and thoughtful graffiti add a realistic depth and I’m sure that one could not possibly pick up on all the details through one viewing. It’s a technical dream; the cinematography does not rely on sunets or beach scenes to be beautiful and the lighting is similarly striking. There are numerous scenes that I found just fascinating to look at; the room in which Theo is kidnapped, the walls covered with newspaper, the whole scene in the car which begins lighthearted and funny and descends into one of the most heartwrenching scenes I've seen in a long time, the very last shot etc.

Despite it’s brutality, Children of Men never gives up on humanity. It is pure, visceral filmmaking with a good heart, an eye for the cinematic and a central character who is flawed, lonely, depressed and heroic. What more would you need in a film?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


A deviation from the usual entertainment-based posting to, shock horror, a political post! I try to refrain from talking pol on the blog, because I will almost invariably make a fool of myself and/or get angry at somebody. But I've just taken one of those tests that determine your political bent.

Pretty much what I'd expect, seeing as this is the third time I've taken this kind of test (I do one every year, therabouts) and I've always ended up in that general area. Take the test here and let me know what you get!

Coming Soon (In my head?)

I just had the strangest experience. I woke up at 9.20am, switched on the radio and promptly fell back asleep. Then I woke up again and walked downstairs, where the kitchen clock read 7am. Confused, I wandered around the house, had a conversation with my dad and then retreated back to bed where I heard about a new film starring Tom Cruise entitled "Valkyrie". It was about the failed assassination attempt on Hitler's life. Then I saw a clip (even though I was listening to the radio, this is when I should have twigged that something was up) which looked like the leftover set from Blackadder Goes Forth. Tom Cruise, in shoddy Nazi regalia, was standing in the centre, as other soldiers clicked away on the laptops in the background. "Hitler iz comingz!", one of the Nazis informed the camera. Then, "Vee haff done ze background check on ze Scientology, it iz not a real religion!". NaziTom looks crushed. End scene.

Then, after this fabulously anachronistic piece of cinema, I woke up. It was just gone 10am and I had a sore throat. The radio was still squawking, film reviews as it turned out. I thought to myself, "Okay, I've just dreamt a made-up film". Now, I google "Tom Cruise" + "Valkyrie" to see that it is an actual film, although maybe not exactly how it was like in my dream.

The lines between fiction and truth are blurred so much now that I don't know what's going on.

La Vie En Rose (2007) Dahan

I’m listening to Edith Piaf as I’m writing this review, which is probably not a great idea. Arguably the best vocalist of the 20th Century, Piaf has such a distinctive, rousing style that it will prove difficult to differentiate the music from the biopic of Piaf’s life; the great songs from the frustrating film, as it were. It would be easy if I simply ranted about the film, which suffered from many missteps, but I’m not going to as I really quite liked it.

La Vie En Rose is the latest in sob-story musician biopics (Ray, Walk The Line) to lay itself bare across our screens. The musician in question must have had a life filled with melodramatic happenings, tortured love affairs, redemption and above all, great music. Edith Gassion had a natural foothold above Johnny Cash et all, as her life was almost unbelievably tragic in it’s emotional scope. She lived during one of the most turbulent times in modern history (France during WWII), her formative years were spent on the streets/in a brothel/with a travelling circus, her parents deserted her, the love of her life was killed in a plane crash, she herself was injured in a car accident, she suffered from crippling disability and arthritis, she had cancer and was accused of being both Nazi-sympathiser and a murderess. Oh and yes, she was also temporarily blind and deaf as a young girl. Any one of these misfortunes taken on their own would be enough to feel sorry for the woman, together, they add up to something Pedro Almodovar would reject as being too melodramatic. Personally, I feel that the amount of misery that the poor woman endured just cannot be properly executed in a 2 ½ hour film and unfortunately I was proved right - we are presented with scene upon scene of disaster, in a seemingly random order. With La Vie En Rose, screenwriter and director Olivier Dahan had an abundance of scenarios to choose to adapt for the big-screen and it feels like he just gorged on Piaf’s life without any semblence of thought to coherent storytelling or audience understanding. Characters appear and leave without leaving enough time for us to really know them or figure out the role they play in Piaf’s life. Her best friend, Momone, is given a good bit of screen time and her character is interesting (not to mention well-played), but the non-linear storyline jumps around so much that her own plotline makes little sense and we never get to experience their longtime friendship in a satisfying way. Scenes of the singer as a spry twenty-year old, running around Paris in a joyously exuberant manner are intersected with Piaf as an incredibly shrivelled woman, bitter and drugged-up in a nursing home. This results in disorientating and distressing the viewer, as we are never fully sure where we are, and for the multitudes of viewers who are not extremely well-versed in her life (myself included) it leaves us frustrated and wanting more.

This is my biggest quibble with the film and if it weren’t for it, La Vie En Rose would be one of the best films of the year. As it happens, the only thing to do is sit back and enjoy everything else that the film throws at you; which luckily includes wonderful performances, gorgeous costumes and lighting, and an infectious spirit. The early scenes set in the dingy streets of pre-war Paris are especially notable for their unbridled grubbiness (good thing Smell-o-vision never really took off as an idea in cinemas) and any of the scenes in the nightclubs exude a dirty bohemian glamour that is very appealing to watch. The costumes, sets and lighting give off a reality based quality that is never uncinematic and you feel that real care has been put into this world. The music is, obviously, fantastic - having Marion Cotillard lipsynch to Edith Piaf’s actual recordings help to add authenticity and will hopefully introduce the music to a younger audience (although I guess a large bulk of this film’s ticket-buyers will already be seasoned Piaf fans). Whether it’s the beginning of her singing career when she is still perfecting her technique and bellowing out racous tunes on street corners or that final triumphant rendition of “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (I was anxiously waiting for that one song throughout the entire film, sticking it at the very end was a good move), Piaf’s voice speaks for itself. The melody of “La Vie En Rose” subtly plays around the corner of scenes all through the story, thankfully adding some sense of continuity and reminding us that, despite it’s flaws, this is a film about one woman and her emotional life through which she prevailed.

Finally we come to the acting, and it must be said that Marion Cotillard throws herself into the role feet first and is an absoulte revalation. I mistakenly thought it was the first thing I’d ever seen her in, but IMBD tells me otherwise; she was also in Big Fish, Jeux d’Enfants and A Very Long Engagement, all of which I’d seen. It’s a shock to me, I still can’t equate the pretty, straightforward actress of these films (I had her down as an cheap Audrey Tatou for a while!) with this woman onscreen. Her CV includes a scattering of English language productions aswell as lots of French ones but her embodiment of Piaf is sure to catapult her into international fame. If she doesn’t garner an Acadamy Award for it, it’s just another indication of the Acadamy’s inherent xenophobia - and you can quote me on that.

A large part of her role has to do with make-up and prosthetics, a succession of wigs and toothy mouthpieces that could envelop a lesser actress but Cotillard takes all these extras and runs with them. It’s a magical blend of the absurdly physical (she has perfected not only Piaf’s token stage actions with the outstretched arms and gaze directed upwards, but her hobbled walk, the clownish downturn of her mouth, her sudden outbursts of violence) and the emotional (her Piaf has an enormous sense of fun and mischief, along with a cruel steak and a steely determination). Pushed onstage and told to sing, the young Piaf receives a standing ovation and looks simultaneously overwhelmed, delighted, proud and perplexed. There’s a touching awkwardness about her and I couldn’t help but warm to her and root for her, even when she was being difficult. Cotillard literally throws herself into this role, she staggers around in a slapstick fashion a lot but there’s real emotion and fear and love mixed in. There were certain points where I found her very difficult to watch, she allows herself to be extremely physically unattractive and at times frightening. This film could be smacked with a label warning for parents; this film is emotionally draining. Piaf may have been only 47 when she died, but her body was riddled with disease that she looked like a very eldery woman, and Cotillard effortlessly captures the withered body as well as the young woman of a few scenes previously. It is a fine, brave, respectful performance and I heartily endorse it.

All the supporting cast are strong although they are given too little to work with. Gerard Depardieu’s character is fun (I was literally dreading his arrival as I usually find him annoying, but he reigned it in a lot) and I was sorry to see his departure, Emmanuelle Seigner turns in a small but memorable role as Titine, the prostitute who mothers the child Edith and there’s a delightful part where Marlene Dietrich turns up (not the real Marlene obviously , due to her being dead, but one played by Caroline Sihol). I’ve already mentioned Piaf’s longtime friend Momone, played by Sylvie Testud, and my frustration that we didn’t learn more about her. Testud does an admirable job with limited source material and if a pivotal scene where Piaf dismisses her longest companion falls a little flat, it has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of acting on either part.

Reading the reviews afterwards (almost uniformly terrible, save for Roger Ebert who gave it an impressive four stars) I’m tempted to just go along with them altogether and say that the skewed chronology ruined what could have been a perfectly good film. I don’t disagree with this viewpoint, I was very confused by the sequencing at times, but I’m going to stick with what I felt in the cinema though, which was awe and delight. Yes, La Vie En Rose frustrated me, but it was also dazzling, beautiful and emotional. It will provoke a reaction whether you love or hate it - this is a troubled, inspired tribute to a troubled, inspired life.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Golly Jeepers!


Excuse me for a moment, I've just recieved my best piece of news of the decade.

Namely, the announcement that original punk-survivor, reluctant inventor of Goth culture, all round good egg and my own personal hero, Siouxsie Sioux, will be releasing her first solo album in September. This is going to be momentous - the flagship single "Into a Swan" lands in August sometime, most likely when I'm in France (her adoped homeland, no less). I'm crossing my fingers, toes, eyes and all internal organs in hope of a world tour.

Watch this space...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Guess what I just watched...


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Jindabyne (2006) Ray Lawrence

Silence, lies, and the spaces between words; these are themes that respected Australian director Ray Lawrence explores in Jindabyne, a grown-up, mature piece of drama that doesn’t rely on flashy set pieces, extended violence or humour to make it’s voice heard. It is a quiet, unsettling film with some of the finest acting I have witnessed in a film this year (especially a new film). I loved this film, and I admired and also feared it, in a way.

In the film, four men go out into the country for a fishing trip. The buddies are in high spirits, glad to escape from the drudgery of work and marriage, but when they discover the body of a young woman floating naked in the river, the whole trip is laced with something rather more sinister. After discussing the matter, the men decide to continue with their fishing trip and ignore the murdered girl. They tie the corpse to the rocks to prevent it drifting away and feel they have accomplished their civic duty. They enjoy the rest of the weekend with a fresh taste for life, and finally report the murder on Sunday morning. When the men return to their town, they find themselves shunned and hated for what they have done, or rather, what they have failed to do.

In the film, Claire (Laura Linney) and Stuart (Gabriel Byrne) are the central couple around which the story flows. Both performances are master classes in subtle acting; Byrne is a lout, cursing and drinking with his friends, but who turns sweetly gentle when playing with his young son, or mumbling an Irish prayer to St. Bridget to protect his house. His Stuart still retains flashes of humor and charm, and we can see why Claire once fell in love with him. Linney is all sad-eyes and quiet anger, full of hurt and astonishment that her husband would act so disrespectfully. The disintegration of their marriage and their separate attempts to come to terms with the tragedy are detailed and intricate, yet nothing is ever made obvious. Much of the time we are expected to understand what is going on by merely watching subtle shifts in the set of Linney’s jaw, or noticing a flicker of fear in Byrne’s eyes. No clumsy exposition or dialogue at play here, which is not to say that this is a purely silent film.

Beatrix Christian adapts Raymond Carver’s short story “So Much Water, So Close To Home” for the big screen and fleshes out Carver’s sparse prose. It’s an admirable job; Christian manages to retain the minimalist despair that prevails throughout Carver’s writing and yet allows the story to grow and expand. The setting is changed to the rural town of Jindabyne in New South Wales, and the body that the four fisherman come across is that of an Aborigine girl, thus adding another layer of guilt and shame to the story. Claire accuses her husband of racism and misogyny, challenging him whether he would have acted the same if it was a young boy who was floating in the river. Her constant probing and questions are understandable, but she did not witness what exactly transpired on that hot day by the river, did not see her husband quaking in fear or his friends throwing up in fright, could not understand the torment that they felt. At the same time, Stuart is unforthcoming, he disappears into his job, snaps at Claire for no reason, invites his overbearing Irish mother to stay with them.

While both leads are magnificent, the supporting cast aren’t shabby either. The other fishermen and their families are all portrayed well, each character is a real-life person with no cardboard villains or genuine good guys. Deborra-Lee Furness in particular, as Claire’s friend Jude, is especially noteworthy, a train wreck of a woman still grieving her daughter’s death. She is doomed and funny and bitter, all at the same time and the group scenes are a pure delight to watch. Directors need to realise that audiences genuinely enjoy watching mature, capable actors handle realistic, funny and thought-provoking dialogue - nothing fancy, nothing expensive, just simple. Almost unbelievably, the casting agents have found two children who can act. With Eva Lazzaro (who plays Caylin-Calandria, June’s granddaughter) and Sean Rees-Wemyss (Tom, the innocent son of Claire and Stuart), Ray Lawrence has at his disposal two children who can act, without either the forced scenery-chewing or the dull naturalness of most child actors. Lazzaro in particular is a seething ball of dark curls and childish pranks, a deeply unsettling little girl who leads the impressionable Tom into bringing a weapon to school.

Jindabyne is not an easy film to watch. The camera shifts almost imperceptibly, skulking around the shady corners of the family house, daring us to peer closer at the couple and poke a finger at their threadbare existence, their pretence that they are a happy, normal family. The darkness and claustrophobia of the house mirror the character’s minds, contrasting with the vast expanse of the Australian outback which is allowed reign freely over the screen. The use of sound, whether the static buzz of the radio in a car or the howl of some unidentified animal deep in the jungle heighten the sense of unease. It’s a dusty, brooding film and there are scenes of genuine terror. We never see the actual murder, but the murderer hovers around the edges of some scenes exuding menace and threat. When Claire, desperate to make amends, tries to pay her respects to the grieving Aborigine family, their cold stares and bolted doors shut out the audience as well, and I’m sure I’m not the only viewer to come away with a disturbing sense of guilt. I stayed until the very end of the credits, until the lights came up. It seemed like the only thing to do, the proper, “respectful” way to act.

I have a feeling that Jindabyne will stay with me for a long time. It’s certainly been on my mind a lot since I saw it yesterday. The posters call it “the most haunting film you will see all year” and I’m inclined to agree. I just can’t get the hazy scenery out of my head, the feet of the dead woman lapping gently in the water, the musical strains and the quiet feeling of despair. It’s probably the best new film I’ve seen all year, and if Linney and Byrne don’t get nominated come awards season, there is something terribly wrong with the world.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Special Topics in Calamity Physics film?

Last October I read Marisha Pessl's debut novel "Special Topics in Calamity Physics". Here's what I had to say back then,

I could call this book pretentious if I didn’t hate the word and like the book so much. Evey chapter is named after a respected novel (Brave New World, The Trial etc), there are numerous references to texts both real and imaginary during the story and it ends with a Test. It’s a very long book. It’s also very funny, clever and enjoyable. Blue Van Meer, the adolescent narrator, is very likable and tells her story with so much enthusiasm and so many unusual metaphors, the whole thing is a delight to read. It reminded me a lot of “The Basic Eight” by Daniel Handler, a book I’ve read twice this year because I love it so much. The two books have a similar narrator, an infectious smart-alecky style and a murder buried somewhere in both their plots. Handler’s book just about tops “Special Topics” purely because of length. He manages to introduce as many characters and obscure references in half the time, and is better for it.

I still prefer Handler's novel, and subsequent reading of Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" reveals both books great debt to Ms. Tartt, but I'm still curious about the forthcoming film adaptation of Special Topics.

Half Nelson-director Ryan Fleck will direct. He will also write the screenplay along with Anna Boden, with whom he worked with on Half Nelson. I didn't see that film, but it got good reviews and they're relative newcomers, which could be a positive.

The main thing I'm wondering (apart from the casting) is how they're going to adapt such a literary novel to the screen. Reading the book is like digesting an entire library on acid, while Cary Grant shouts at you.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Bring It On!

I like to support my dearly departed Arrested Development stars and to take note of what films they're appearing in since The Best TV Show Of Our Generation was pulled off the air. The latest offering to come to my attention is a tricksy, imaginative prospect that has me grinning just thinking about it.

I've been hearing rumours and news about Todd Hayne's Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There for months now. It's been well documented that the Far From Heaven director will be helming the project that features numerous actors playing Dylan, including Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett. If that doesn't sound appealing enough (though I can't see how), take a peek at the supporting cast.

Julianne Moore, an actress who has definitely grown on me recently (thanks to seeing Short Cuts and Magnolia) and Michelle Williams take roles, but perhaps the biggest draw for me is the inspired casting of A.D.'s David Cross as Beat-poet Allen Ginsberg.

I keep imagining Cross reading "Howl" aloud in Tobias' voice.

"I saw the best minds of my ARE you?"

IMDB informs me that the soundtrack will come courtesy of Stephen Malkmus (who I like very much for his work in bands such as Pavement and The Jicks), which is the final deciding factor. I guess that means I'll be in line once this hits our shores.

The Squid and the Whale (2005) Noah Baumbach

Noah Baumbach, friend of director Wes Anderson, wrote and directed the 2005 The Squid in the Whale, constructed from his own experiences and drenched in nostalgia. In a short 81 minutes we are drawn inside the insular world of a family going though a divorce and simultaneously love, hate or empathise with the different family members. The split is eminent from the very start of the film and there is not much hope of the family reconnecting fully. Instead, the film focuses on the emotional consequences of the break-up and the effects it has on the family members.

The family in question are the Berkmans, a middle-class New York family headed by two intellectual parents, the magnificent Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels. Bernard is the worst type of bourgeois intellectual, a pompous author with a couple of hefty tomes to his name and an overloaded ego. He is currently teaching a literature class at the local college, where he gets to reign supreme of his awed students. He attempts to bring this reverence back to the home, where his status as Family Patriarch is very much in effect, especially at the beginning of the film. His two children, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) are very much in awe of their dad, with Walt especially influenced. There are a number of moments where we see Walt trying to emulate his father, talking knowledgably about books or films he’s never actually read. There’s a very funny scene where Walt’s girlfriend, Sophie, tries to discuss Kafka’s The Metamorphoses with him. Despite Walt having recommended her the story, he has never read it himself and fumbles through a conversation, before referring to it, redundantly, as “Kafkaesque“. It’s very funny and sweet and is very true in the way we tend to act around people we’re trying to impress.

Baumbach is very upfront about the character of Bernard. Lots of people have highlighted this character’s nastiness as a failing of the film. Without redemption, without a single true moment of kindness, of letting his true emotions show, the film loses something and the character becomes a cliché. On the audio commentary, Baumbach recognises this (although in not so many words) and freely admits that he did not want this man to have an epiphany, to find redemption or even to seem at all like a nice guy. The screenplay was apparently based on his own experience of his parents’ divorce. If so, that means Bernard is drawn from the director’s own dad. Not an exactly attractive family portrait to paint, but true to life and perhaps we can forgive Baumbach this.

Laura Linney is the mother of the family, and it’s a very warm performance. The last film I saw Linney in was playing Jim Carrey’s wife Meryl in The Truman Show, another complex character, although the vibrant day-go colours of that film are starkly contrasted with the muted pastels of The Squid and the Whale. Whereas Meryl was a bright, sunny woman of the 50’s, Joan Berkman is much more subdued, with long tousled hair and soulful eyes. She has had affairs with other men, but we can understand her motives, her frustration and her longing to get away from Bernard. She retreats into her new relationship with Ivan (William Baldwin) and her new career as a writer (becoming more successful than her ex-husband, much to Bernard’s annoyance) but never neglects her two children. It’s a very touching look at a woman and motherhood, and you get the feeling Baumbach is fond of his own mother.

All the way though the film I was reminded of The Graduate, on which I expounded my love on here. The subject matter in the films are totally unalike, but the overall tones were very similar. The cinematography, broad shots and warm, almost sepia tones lend a humane and melancholy feel to the film, which the handheld cameras add to. There’s none of the glossiness or harshness that is so natural in today’s films. In The Graduate, music by Simon & Garfunkel filled the voids in the dialogue with a suitable sadness, in The Squid in the Whale the same method is used, this time from Bert Jansch and Lou Reed. Folksy, introspective, hopeful guitar music illustrates many moving moments throughout the film. The moment that defined my feelings toward the film was when Walt enters his mother’s house unexpectedly and we hear “Heart Like A Wheel” by the McGarrigle sisters playing on her stereo. The McGarrigles (mother and aunt of Rufus Wainwright) are probably the defining music of my childhood. My parents listened to them a lot and I grew up with their albums, so to hear their music in a film (thankfully a gentle enjoyable one such as this) was both a shock and a delight. I was able to emotionally connect with the storyline both on terms of it’s own plot and emotion, but also from my own memories and personal experiences. It was a weird, transcendent moment and it was then when I knew I really, really liked the film.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Cinematic Binge

It's good to be on holidays.

That photo was taken on my last day of 5th year. Really sums it up, I think.

Okay, so. Even though my exams only finished on Wednesday, I've been on a sort of cinematic-binge since Monday evening. I was exhausted after studying non-stop, and I collapsed onto the couch around 9pm and found Enduring Love on Film4. I read Ian McEwan's novel a while back, and found it intruiging, but hard to love which kind of sums up my feelings towards the film adaptation. Both male leads were good and it was a well made adaption, the quietness and broad shots representing McEwan's prose faithfully. Afterwards, I had no desire to see it again. Tuesday was One Hour Photo, with Robin Williams. Which I found really funny. I think it was designed to be really creepy, but I find Williams such a jerk anyway, that slicking blonde greasy locks on him and making him a pedophile didn't make much of a difference. It was enjoyable, though. Wednesday, I rented O Brother, Where Art Thou to celebrate the end of my exams. And what a celebration! Dad had the soundtrack for ages, so I knew all the songs. George Clooney was amazing, funny and veered into being camp and just charming. I enjoyed spotting all the Odyssey references, because that's the kind of nerd I am. An odd thing - I know the Odyssey quite well, but I've never read it. Nope. All my knowledge comes from two sources; the first being Margaret Atwood's excellent Penelopiad, which relates the story from Penelope's perspective. I have to admit, though, that the bulk of my familiarity with the story is from a computer game that I worshipped as a child: Wishbone and the Amazing Odyssey. Yep, a PC game in which explorer-pooch Wishbone ( remember him?) relived Homer's Odyssey. On four legs. It was kinda amazing, but I always got stuck on one particular island. I've just looked it up and was looking at pictures of it and experienced a full-on Proust moment, with the taste of these cheese crackers I used to eat while playing this game suddenly in my mouth. Neat. Back to my original point...ah, yes, the film. I like the Coen brothers, although I've only seen three of their films, and I admire their scope in this film, setting the Odyssey in the Depression-era South and mixing in other legends (Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil, Baby Face Nelson etc). And even though I admire the film, I also enjoyed it. The comedy was never in-your-face, but wide and gentle and genuinely amusing. The bluegrass/country music is excellent, obviously. My sister always wanted to see The Breakfast Club, so I got it out for us to watch together on Thursday night. Being my second time watching it, I noticed a few faults that didn't register on my inital viewing due to the sheer sugary dizziness of it. The characterisations are all quite shallow and the ending doesn't sit quite as neatly as John Hughes imagines it does, but it's still a zeitgiest movie that makes me smile. The dance scene is fun, but not as loveable as Ducky's Otis Redding-freakout in Hughes' Pretty in Pink.

Yesterday and this evening I saw three films that really moved me. Three quite exceptional films, and I doubt I can put into words how I feel about them, let form alone a coherant review.

Maybe later.