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

29 January 2007

[Reel-Previews] Reel Spirituality - this Sunday

Sunday 4 Feb - The Proposition (18)

Reel Spirituality - 1st 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 series on "Heroes and Villains" continues with...
4th March - House of Flying Daggers (15)
1st April - Leon (18)
6th May - 15 Minutes (18)

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23 January 2007

[Reel-Comments] Oscar nominations

So, the long awaited Oscar nominees list is out. Anyone want to take a punt on who'll win what in the top categories?

For what it's worth, my votes go on:

Best picture - Babel
Best director - Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Best actor - Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best actress - Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best supporting actress - Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Best supporting actor - Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children

At least I nailed my colours to the mast early on, before the real hype kicks in... And you can crucify me sometime after dawn on 26 Feb.

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18 January 2007

[Reel-Review] Into Great Silence (5 stars)

I read recently that one of the golden rules of creative writing was “don’t tell the reader, show them”, meaning that explanation is patronizing and ultimately detracts from the narrative. Philip Groning might well have had this line in his head when he filmed his three-hour documentary, Into Great Silence, about the monastery, La Grande Chartreuse, and its order of Carthusian monks.

I’m so glad he chose not to make an “explanatory” documentary – this was immersive cinema, which is exactly what it needed to be. I don’t think it could have been anything else. In that sense, it reminded me a little of Koyanisquatsi. Put simply, it was a series of beautiful moving-photographs, capturing the natural and built environments, the rhythmic daily life of the monks, and of course the silence…

Yes, I had little idea what the chants all meant; yes, the on-screen quotes jarred occasionally (especially when they’re in French and German, thus subtitled right at the bottom of the screen in English); yes, I spent the first 30 minutes feeling acutely aware of the rustle of every single person in the sold-out cinema. Even a little explanation (a smooth voiceover by Morgan Freeman a la The March of the Penguins?) would have killed it.

What’s more, you can’t exactly rush a film that took 16 years even to get permission to make and is essentially about a life of intense, focused, reflective contemplation measured out by seasons and in rhythm to a 900 year old daily pattern. To try and fit it into a neat 120 minutes would have felt wrong. Like slow food is to McDonalds, this is to your average Hollywood blockbuster. I am also struggling to think of the last time I was in the cinema with such a respectful audience. OK, I was the youngest by about twenty years, but a less cinematic bunch I couldn’t have imagined. I reckoned everyone else there either was or wanted to be a priest or a nun…

On reflection, it would have been difficult to make a film about the life of this monastery that wasn’t beautiful. My memories of it now are only of elementary essentials: shafts of light, flickering candles, simple food, snow, sunshine, reading and writing, chants, wooden spoons, long corridors, and of course that silence…

The daily reality of the monks’ lives was to me a mix of the unexpected and to-be-expected. The unexpected? Them sliding down a snow covered hill and whooping in delight, the plastic bottles, their electric razors, feeding the cats. The expected? The monks praying, praying, and then praying some more - in the flickering light of the chapel, in their simple wooden cells, at all times of the day and through every season. And that silence…

It’s not a lifestyle that I would want to live, but it’s an incredible and privileged glimpse into a life a world away from mine. The monks’ economy of action and focus of attention is something that I envy on one level – as if everything has become so simple and so condensed and so thoughtful that nothing else matters.

To start with I felt a bit voyeuristic watching them move slowly about the monastery, but my initial worries that there were no main characters to hang 167 minutes of “action” on were put aside as, even without words, the men came to life on the screen – the young one, the ancient and stooped gardener/cook, the novice…

Towards the end, one old monk – who was blind and partially deaf – said a few simple sentences about his beliefs. One of those stuck with me: “The world has lost any sense of God. It is a pity…” And it was the one time that I wanted to speak out and break that silence…

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[Reel-Reviews] Broken Flowers (4 stars)

Jim Jarmusch’s direction is contemplative at best, but in this film it’s so laid back, it’s horizontal. Each scene seems to have about 15 seconds at the beginning and end just of unpeopled landscape/ environment shots. Indeed, there are entire scenes that just consist of Murray’s care-worn face staring into the camera or his silhouette contemplating the view. The film is gorgeously mellow and more than a little whimsical. Murray is perfect in the unenergetic and quirky lead role – and it’s one that he’s comfortably familiar with (cf The Life Aquatic, Lost in Translation).

It’s the story of Dan Johnston (a modern day Don Juan – “I was into computers, and women”) making a road trip around various exes who might or might not have sent him a anonymous pink letter informing him of the son that he never knew he had. His friend Winston has urged him to go and visit them to collect clues as to the sender and thus the mother. Don has no real life to speak of – a nice house, a string of beautiful exes, and every material need met – but no life. Everywhere you go there might or might not be (pink) clues as to the mother of his unknown son – a business card, a motorbike, a typewriter… His reliance on the kindness of and interaction with strangers sort of symbolizes the fact that he’s as comfortable, if not more so, with them as with anyone who actually knows or has known him.

A really confident and well-crafted film about need and want, the past and the future, hope and let-down…

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[Reel-Reviews] Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (3 stars)

A short and sweet review of Shane Black’s directorial debut, featuring Robert Downey Jnr and Val Kilmer.

It’s a very self-aware and cute LA who-dunnit. And it knows it. But it’s a poor show when you say that the dialogue outshines the cast, direction and plot, even in some cases the actual delivery of the lines. A couple of the pick of the crop:

B-Movie Actress: So what do you do?
Harry: I'm retired, I invented dice when I was a kid. What do you do?

Perry: “This isn't good cop, bad cop. This is fag and New Yorker.”

In short, it’s engaging enough as the piece of Hollywood fluff it is.

12 January 2007

[Reel-Reviews] The Hours (4 stars)

This is a beautifully woven film, due at least in part to Michael Cunningham’s source novel and Stephen Daldry’s direction. The fact that they’ve also got one of the best female casts of modern times might also have helped… David Hare, who adapted the novel for the screenplay, has said that despite comments that the book was “unfilmable”, he thought it was one of the most cinematic books he’d read. I’d have to agree…

In 1923, Virginia Woolf sits in her study trying to write her novel, “Mrs Dalloway”, a day in the life study of a socialite hostess with hidden depths…

In 1950s America, Laura Brown is an apparently good suburban wife, expecting her second child and baking a cake for her husband’s birthday. But she can hardly drag herself away from reading “Mrs Dalloway”…

In 2001 in New York, Clarissa Vaughan is party-planning for her award-winning poet, AIDS-infected friend and ex-lover Richard, by whom she was nicknamed “Mrs. Dalloway”…

So, one is writing it, one is reading it, and one is living it – whichever way you look at it, “Mrs Dalloway” is at the centre of everything.

A study of womanhood, parenting, loss, death, liberation, choice, and love.

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[Reel-Reviews] Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (5 stars)

To give it its full title… Apparently, Capra was the first studio director ever to have his name above the title of the picture. So there. That alone justifies the five stars IMHO.

No seriously. It’s the ultimate Christmas Eve movie. And one of my all time favourite films. So there again.

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[Reel-Reviews] White Christmas (1 star)

Well the post-Xmas excesses have finally worn off (!) and I’m getting round to updating the site with three films we watched over the festive season.

I hadn’t seen this is musical-disguised-as-an-excuse-for-Bing-Crosby-to-sing-White-Christmas-yet-again for about a decade when we slumped down in front of it on Boxing Day evening. And now I remember why I’d avoided it for so long. It’s really a hardly-disguised Holiday Inn remake – sure, it’s fun and it’s got some good tunes in the early part (esp Sisters). But from the moment the two young are-they-aren’t-they couples arrive in Vermont, they’ve pretty much lost me.

Danny Kaye apes his way through the whole film, Bing Crosby is a one trick pony, and neither of the girls is that convincing. And as a first use for Paramount’s VistaVision, then cutting-edge widescreen technology, it’s a bit frustrating, mainly because so much of it was filmed in a studio.

Forget this – and watch It’s a Wonderful Life every time instead.

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02 January 2007

[Reel-Previews] Reel Spirituality: this Sunday - The Life Aquatic

New Year’s resolutions - See more films? Do something new? Get 30% extra from your Sundays?

Then come along to Reel Spirituality!

This Sunday, the last in “The Outsider” series…
7th January - The Life Aquatic (15)

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

See you there? Hope so.

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