our film reviews: from armchair viewing to the festival front row

27 November 2006

[Reel-Reviews] Casino Royale (4 stars)


Being a Bond fan, from the days when I was allowed to go and see the newest release in the cinema around my birthday (The Living Daylights since you ask – ooo, and an Aha theme tune), it seemed right and fitting that about 10 of us made the trip to the Odeon on Saturday afternoon to indulge my birthday whim of seeing Casino Royale

Latterly, I’ve hated and felt a little betrayed by the silliness of the films – their kitsch/ spoof of a spoof plots, characters, opening titles, everything (ref the invisible car in Die Another Day)! As Peter Bradshaw put it – “it’s as if Austin Powers had never happened”.

But this is a whole new level - not just the best Bond film in years, but one of the best action films I’ve seen. Just seeing the words “Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007” on the screen sent shivers down my spine...

In a similar vein to Batman Begins, it explores the back story of one of the bad boys of cinema. And I loved every minute of it – the black and white sequences, the free-running opening chase, Daniel Craig’s homage to Ursula Andres in those trunks, the believable bad guy, Bond winning his now traditional spoils (the martini, the Aston, etc), James and Vesper’s verbal sparring on the train, Mary’s whispered “oh no!...” about a key character just before the film’s closing minutes, the fact they held the music and *that* line to the very end… Perfect!

The only thing that felt a little silly and/or contrived was the love story section… but even that was a necessary plot device, so I’m going to forgive them.

Bond is dead. Long live Bond.

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24 November 2006

[Reel-Reviews] Tailor of Panama (2 stars)

When we first started this blog, people kept telling me they were worried that we'd only ever award 3, 4 or 5 stars. I replied that that's because we don't knowingly set out to watch crap. How times change...

Flicking on Film4 the other night, we watched Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush in this film based on a best-selling John Le Carre novel. Watchable at the very least, right?

This film doesn't know whether it's a drama, a thriller, a comedy, or a spoof of a spoof of Bond (note the leading man). So much less than the sum of its parts.

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[Reel-Reviews] L.I.E. (5 stars)

This is the third recent film we’ve seen that’s dealt with the difficult and sensitive subject of sex and children – Little Children, The Woodsman and now L.I.E. (the Long Island Expressway).

“On the Long Island Expressway, there are lanes going east, lanes going west, and lanes going straight to hell.”

A beautifully shot and constructed film about the life of one 15 year old coming of age, with a masterful and flawless performance by Brian Cox. But it was the character Scott (played by Walter Masterson) that's still with me days after. He’s 'Not Peter Pan' – both the Boy Who Grew Up and all shadow, no boy. A terrifyingly good and stunning turn in equal measure.

Well worth seeking this one out.

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22 November 2006

[Reel-Comments] Robert Altman - RIP

This man frequently challenged my perceptions of direction and film-making - Short Cuts and The Player to name but two. He will be sorely missed.

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20 November 2006

[Reel-Previews] Oldboy

Reel Spirituality
(by Sanctus1)

Ba-humbug! Who needs twee Christmas films when you can have award-winning Asian extreme?


Sunday 3 December

The third in our 'The Outsider' series - four films exploring alienation, isolation, exclusion and ‘the other’

Every first Sunday of the month at Nexus
Doors: 6.30pm Film starts: 7pm prompt

If you want to explore the film’s themes and issues:
Post-film discussion: 9.15pm onwards Evening ends: no later than 10pm

Feel free to bring your own food. Drinks and snacks available on the night.
+ Book stall of film and spiritual books +

The Outsider series continues
7th January - The Life Aquatic (15)

Heroes and Villains
4th February - The Proposition (18)
4th March - House of Flying Daggers (15)
1st April - Leon (18)
6th May - 15 Minutes (18)

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[Reel-Comments] Reviewers beware...

Shock horror - apparently Johnny Vaughan might (not) go to every cinema (p)review himself for his Sun column.

In today's front page Media feature, the Guardian claims that there are shifty ongoings in the world of sleb film reviews...

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[Reel-Comments] When is a 'royale premiere' not a premiere?...

...when it's shown on three screens simultaneously.

Presumably the one that counts officially (and start three seconds before the others) is the one with Her Maj and Mr Craig in it. Surely?...

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14 November 2006

[Reel-Reviews] Day Night Day Night (unknown stars)

You might (not) have noticed that we're one review short of a full screening from the London Film Festival - a US/ German/ French co-production called Day Night Day Night.

The story of an unnamed female suicide bomber in New York's Times Square, there are whole sections which I found it practically unwatchable. M and I then had one of the most intense and interesting discussions of the festival about this very film (probably the very reason that neither of us have posted a review). Is it a badly made film about an effective group of terrorists, or a well made film about badly organised group of terrorists? And how do you know?

The answer? I still haven't got a clue...

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[Reel-Reviews] Kes (4 stars)

Having watched Kes recently, I’ve been meaning to review it for a few days – but the more I think about it the more I’ve struggled with what to write. I’ve come to the conclusion that the film just gets more complex and opaque with time. Did the film stand up to scrutiny after nearly 40 years? Yes. Because of its age do we judge it more harshly, or do we give it sympathy points? Neither, maybe. See what I mean? It’s complicated.

Some themes:

Childhood obsession – Billy’s utter focus on the bird to the exclusion of most other things, exemplified by his only show of school enthusiasm being his talk on the kestrel

Taking the direct approach – Billy wants to know more about birds, so steals a book on birds when he can’t borrow one, and takes a bird to train

The link between Kes and Billy – Both locked in a cage, both at their best when free and outdoors

Indoors/outdoors – All the good things that happen to Billy are outside, while all the bad things happen inside

Hopes and dreams – Billy survives by satisfying his immediate needs, but are his hopes and dreams projected onto the bird, wishing the bird to do well rather than himself? The interest of his English teacher carries Billy’s enthusiasm into adulthood, almost as a validation

And the big question - what happens to Billy after the end of the film?...

[Oh, and Billy Elliot owes a good deal to Kes and Ken. Watch both and see what I mean!]

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03 November 2006

[Reel-Comments] The curtain in Odeon West End screen 1

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02 November 2006

[Reel-Comments] Audiences are strange...

Having moaned a bit about this specific problem at the start of the festival, I'm glad (of course) to see that it's not just us...

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01 November 2006

[Reel-Comments] London Film Festival highlights

Walking the red carpet three times and papping the paps

The soundtrack of Breaking and Entering (by Underworld and Gabriel Yared)

Seeing Charles Clarke (ex-Home Secretary) going into Odeon West End - either to the screening of Bobby or Princess (I know what I'd prefer the answer to be!)

M and I observing the “10 Minute Rule” (talk about anything but…) at the end of each film, and then (mostly) all hell breaking loose as we both simultaneously try to say what we thought of it, how many stars, etc

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[Reel-Reviews] Hollywoodland (4 stars)

It seems a bit churlish to give this four stars - especially given we were in the starry presence of Bob (Hoskins), Ben (Affleck), Adrien (Brody) and director Allen Coulter after our shimmy down the red carpet...

The story of the 'death by gunshot wound to the head' of America's original Superman, actor George Reeves (Affleck), the film picks away at the studio system, the mess of Reeves' personal life and the veneer of Hollywood fame. As the circumstances of his death are investigated by erratic, freelance PI Louis Simo (Brody), and more and more detail comes to light, several scenarios as to who and why and how that gunshot wound were inflicted are exposed and explored. Deftly highlighting the similarities and differences between Simo and Reeves (their families, lifestyles, hopes, insecurities), the film forces us consider notions of identity and (anti)heroism.

The critics say that it's Affleck’s turn as Reeves that is a career best, but I'd say that Diane Lane's steely and intense performance as Reeves' lover (Toni Mannix) is almost unsurpassable. I'd even mention the 'O' word, but we know what these internet rumours can do to a cast?...

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[Reel-Reviews] Breaking and Entering (4 stars)

Will (Jude Law) is a Landscape Architect working on the regeneration of the Kings Cross area of London. In an act of self-confidence Will and his business partner Sandy (Martin Freeman) set up their new office in the same area, renowned for its existing businesses of prostitution and drug-dealing.

Inevitably, having ordered a pallet-load of Macs and flat screen monitors, the office is broken into after the opening party and the hardware repatriated by Bosnian refugee Miro (Rafi Gavron) to a North London estate. Will and Sandy further fail to understand that the second best time to rob a design office is just after the replacement computers have arrived courtesy of the insurance company.

Following this Will and Sandy are thrown into a bizzare set of circumstances, entirely of their own naive making, yet that doesn't prevent the feeling of desperate wonder at how the hell they get into such a mess, and even more how the hell it can be resolved. Sandy settles for a relationship with the cleaner and a one-off random discussion with a prostitute but Will is (believeably) drawn into a relationship with the thief's mother Amira (Julitette Binoche).

Director, Anthony Minghella, draws profound comparisons between Will's partner Liv (Robin Wright Penn) and Amira and between Bea, Liv's acrobatic and autistic daughter, and Miro with his wild portage-inspired, roof-jumping acrobatics.

A final act of naivete, selfishness, and sheer ugliness by Will leaves the ending totally open and whilst somewhat 'hollywood' the ending retains dignity and a grasp on real life, in recognising that you can't just put a sticking plaster over damaged emotions and expect no pain.

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[Reel-Reviews] Anche libero va bene (Along The Ridge) (5 stars)

I only realised at the final credits that director Kim Rossi Stuart also plays one of the key characters in this film... and that he's also one of the screenwriters. Maybe that explains in part the clear and unadulterated vision that comes through in this film.

11-year-old Tommy, aside from being brilliantly portrayed by Alessandro Moraces, is trying to make sense of his family and keep it together whilst at the same time being confronted with the reality of his mother's absence from family life. Father, sister, and mother all have equally strong roles and complex relationships too.

This is an observational film for others to aspire to. So often the desitre to portray a 'proper end' or 'meaningful storyline' interfere but there is no such dissappointment in this film-making - only deep, deep feeling, sympathy for, and empathy with the characters.

With less focus there are so many places where this Italian family set in Rome could try to make a dramatic statement. Instead, in an exercise of self-control the director keeps the subject, this family, in clear focus for the duration of the film and ultimately makes a far stronger statement: about siblings; about family life; about fathers and sons; about mothers and daughters; about brothers and sisters; about being an 11-year-old in a screwed up world.

This is a film to remind us that we can only really hurt the people we know best and that we gain most of our practice on our own familes.

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