Thursday, 30 December 2004
Watson is outstanding as Bess. There is a scene where a light glistens in her eyes, making her look possessed by an angel. She looks so innocent and pure and has such a malleable face that a smile is only millimetres from a frown. The intertitles give the movie (and the audience) breathing space, appearing almost like paintings in a trompe l'oeil. Do not expect to be uplifted by this movie; although von Trier manages to find a strage beauty in its desolation. He tells a modern day version of the plight of Mary Magdalene. His lens is dark. The hand-held Dogme camera records the claustrophobic isolation of faith.
Nugget: perhaps you shouldn't watch this if you're feeling suicidal.
It's nine years later. Jesse (Hawke) has written a book about his one night in Vienna with Celine and is on a promotion tour of European cities, last stop: Paris. Continuing the James Joyce/Ulysses theme (the first movie was set on Bloomsday, 16 June: the day of Ulysses and the day Joyce first dated Nora Barnacle), Jesse is promoting his book in the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, where Sylvia Beach first published Joyce's Ulysses. Jesse even says he spent the previous night in the loft above the store. Celine has read his book and, as she is a regular patron of the bookshop, is aware that Jesse will be in town. Just as his talk is coming to an end, she appears ethereally at the window. They go out for coffee and spend the rest of the day, before sunset and Jesse's pending flight home to New York, talking like they did in Vienna: catching up on each other's lives, but really just picking up where they left off on the platform at the Viennese Bahnhof.
The concept behind this sequel is given in the trailer, which features the scene from Before Sunrise when Jesse persuades Celine to get off the train with him and spend the night in Vienna. Before Sunset fulfills that "what if", a decade later when Celine is stuck in a relationship that is not really fulfilling; and she thinks back to what could have been if she'd stuck with that guy she met all those years ago...
Jesse and Celine dominate even more than in the first film: there are hardly any cameos of Parisian life: they are so much into each other that they barely notice the Paris streets and parks they walk through. Time seems more precious than their first meeting, which seemed suspended in a timeless bliss. Their time together is limited in a more grown-up world of families and responsibilites. The entire film is like those delicious last moments of a conversation where both of you are dallying; neither wants to put an end to it because, in a way, that will be a rejection of the other person.
While Before Sunrise ended with the empty places that Jesse and Celine had populated together, that is where Before Sunset begins: the locations in Paris that they will make their own. This is an outstanding film with one of the most beautifully toned endings you will ever see.
Nugget: features a couple of wonderfully delicate songs written and performed by Delpy: Celine's version of events: her artistic response in complement to Jesse's book about that timeless night in Vienna.
Wednesday, 29 December 2004
Woody Allen movie starring Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Carrie Fisher, Dianne Wiest, and Woody Allen. Hannah (Farrow) is the most successful of three sisters, making the other two feel inadequate in comparison. Only problem: her husband Elliot (Caine) follows through on a crush on her sister Lee (Barbara Hershey). Meanwhile, Allen plays a hypochondriac who thinks he has brain cancer and drops out of his TV work. You know the story: it's a Woody Allen movie. Come on!
It has a great jazz soundtrack and a gratuitous sequence where an architect takes Holly and her colleague, April, around New York to point out his (and presumably the filmmaker's) favourite buildings. There's a brilliant moment when Frederick (Max von Sydow), Lee's partner (a reclusive artist) stays in watching TV, which he doesn't normally do. He thinks it shows the whole spectrum of society: Nazis appear alongside deoderant salesmen. There's another great scene where a rich musician comes to Frederick's studio to buy a painting to fill up some wall space in the new place he's just bought in the Hamptons. Frederick refuses to sell on principal: his works are not to be referred to interior designers before they are purchased to see if they match the colour schemes and the sofa. "It's not a sofa, it's an ottoman!" Dusty, the musician, replies.
The film is structured in little episodes with intertitles, such as "We all had a terrific time", "The big leap", "Summer in New York" and "Lucky I ran into you". The writing has the feel of some of Allen's best stuff from the days in the 70s when he used to publish short funny stories and anecdotes in The New Yorker (collected in The Complete Prose).
Nugget: Woody on good form. As dependable as a BFO* oak sideboard.
* BFO = Big fuck-off
Linklater followed this with the best sequel I have ever seen, Before Sunset, which changes the way you think about the first movie if you've seen them both before. (Yes, it's better even than The Godfather: Part II!) And yet the sequel stands by itself as well. Hawke and Delpy are so natural together. In Before Sunrise there's a scene with them listening to a record together in a soundproof booth, where, as one turns to look, the other one looks away, only to look back again. These characters live and breathe in your mind. Watching it for the third time today, I came to realize just how much it has shaped the way I see the world: not only love and relationships, but death and cynicism, adulthood, conversation, and rationalism versus optimism.
Nugget: well worth the hassle finding an Australian import on eBay; even though they're releasing both films together in a box set on 7 February 2005!
Tuesday, 28 December 2004
Within these narrow limits, however, it is without doubt a success. Jim Broadbent is deserving of his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. His rages and frustrations are particularly well articulated and go some way to repairing the character of John Bayley, against whom there have been many protests from admirers of Murdoch. The film explains well how he was damaged by Murdoch's freer-spirited attitude towards love, her vibrancy and charisma. There is the suggestion that he was always somewhat lonely in the relationship, perhaps felt too blessed and undeserving of such company.
Nugget: a film with modest ambitions but one which fulfills them to overflowing - often with tears.
Sunday, 26 December 2004
I usually hate kids, but these ones have started to change my mind. They're all very bright, quite quirky, a little geeky, but in a good way. It's not really all about the winning: Ithaca is all about the journey there: what skills and coping strategies you learn on the way. Spelling is just the end result. The kids learn how to study, how to be independent, how to come to terms with disappointment. A very uplifting movie.
The DVD itself is great: you get the bonus of an Epilogue, which fills you in on "where they are now"; and there are three deleted scenes of kids who didn't make it into the final cut of the movie. Some of these are the best: such as Bradley, who has a crush on his spelling tutor, or Cody, who has a cool philosophy on life and a great little sarcastic attitude.
Nugget: geeks have more fun. I should know.
Stone's treatment complicates the myth, showing how a mortal human can adopt god-like renown. There's a refreshing readjustment of our modern Western value system: Alexander has both male and female lovers. The only prejudice against his male lovers is that they will not bear him an heir.
There are also some significant coded references to the conflicts of today: the Persian ruler is chased away into the mountains, yet is still said to have the emotive power over his people of an Osama Bin Laden. And when the Alexandrian army enters Babylon (in what is now called Iraq), the native people are made to like them. The rapturous reception given by the conquered is left unexplained.
Nugget: compares very favourably to Gladiator. The epic is in revival.
There are some good wee side stories, like the elderly single woman who looks just as lonely as Pacino, but whom he will obviously never call because he's on a job and he's just trying to be nice to her. They aren't developed, though. That would be another movie.
Nugget: a little eighties dated, but Pacino never disappoints.
Friday, 24 December 2004
Nugget: Would look better from a cinema projector; but let's face it, what wouldn't?
Of course, things can't carry on like this: Mr Incredible is headhunted to join a secret mission to save everyone from a big robot, which is of course a trap set by someone who has a grudge against him. His wife and kids - who also have superpowers - also get involved. There are plenty of laughs and neat Pixar moments, such as the little kid who waits at the end of the Incredibles' drive, waiting for something cool to happen; or the wee fashion lady who designs their new superhero uniforms; or the subplot in which the daughter comes of age, emerging out of the insecurity of puberty.
Oh, and there's no point sitting through the long credits: there's no treat at the end this time.
Nugget: creditably incredible.
Sunday, 19 December 2004
Friday, 17 December 2004
Wednesday, 15 December 2004
Monday, 13 December 2004
It's pronounced - for those of you who are now going to integrate this fine lexeme into your daily vocabulary - with a Celtic "ch" as in "braw bricht moonlicht nicht". Try saying "quiche" with a lisp and you're almost there.
This is a letter I wrote today. Perhaps I have too much time on my hands. I await the response eagerly:
Consumer Care Department
Unilever Bestfoods UK
On Saturday 13 December 2004, at approximately 5.03 and 53 seconds of the post meridian, Greenwich Mean Time, I purchased an 89g Pot Noodle™ Snack (Chicken & Mushroom flavour) from my local Sainbury's supermarket in the Westgate Centre, Oxford city centre, Oxfordshire, England (store address: 21 Westgate, Oxford, OX1 1NX). Please find the lid enclosed. I wish to complain about the quality of the product. I think that, given the current crisis of obesity in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and in the Western world as a whole, this is a problem that you should address with some alacrity.
First of all, I found the food snack located on the lowest shelf on the eastern side of the third aisle from the right, on the half nearest to the check-out payment facilities, but in the middle of the shop floor, by the central aisle. I think a food snack product of this nature should always be placed on the top shelf, especially given your recent pornography-themed advertising campaign, which I found of profoundly questionable taste and propriety. Perhaps you might encourage your retailers to place it next to other illicit supermarket products such as the wines, spirits, cigarettes, and chocolate digestive biscuits?
Secondly, I do not think that you place adequate warning on your packaging as to the 89g Pot Noodle™ Snack's contents. It is a fatty food and, if I may be frank here, it's too gorgeous!
I hope that you address my concerns with the utmost urgency, despite the time of year, taking them to the very highest level of your organisation, and beyond, if necessary. I expect to see an improvement within 72 hours of your receiving my letter. If I find no clear evidence of this, I shall be forced to contact my local Member of the House of Parliament, Westminster, London, with regard to the complaint. I may even draw it to the attention of Ms Diddums-Smythe, who lives next door, and who is Chair Person of my local Neighbourhood Watch Scheme (registered number available on request). Should she react to the news badly - and she has been very frail since she spent two weeks in hospital after she took that fall on her annual holiday in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, England - she may have a heart attack. Should this eventuality occur, I would be inclined to contact my legal representative and may press charges on you for negligence in the line of duty to what is right and proper.
Christopher Whalen, Esq.
P.S. I am writing under a pseudonym to protect my statutory rights. You will still reach me if you use the name and address that I have declared at the top of this letter [removed in this posting - Ed.], but for legal purposes (as you may be hearing from me about Ms Diddums-Smythe in the future), my real name and address is Angry From, Esq., and I live in Tunbridge Wells.
On the whole, though, a very impressive effort. The dynamic between the two leads, Braff and Natalie Portman, is very similar to the courting couple of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Carrey, however, is slightly more lovable than Braff; as Portman just takes it by a cute nose over Winslet. The courting moments are particularly endearing, without being slushy. Braff has a way of catching the butterfly emotion of that delicious insecurity when you think you know that your innamorata is feeling just as good about things as you are, but neither of you comes full out and says it. There are pleasingly few kisses and they come late in the general Hollywood scheme of things. (Braff's character, Andrew Largeman - perhaps a play on his large Jewish schnozzle - has actually come back East to New Jersey from L.A., where his only acting break to date has been his portrayal of a retarded quarterback.)
There's some delightful Scrubs-style quirky humour, such as the opening sequence when Braff sits placidly serene, doped up on lithium, whilst the rest of the aircraft cabin panics in a crash dive. He's like the calm faces on the safety cards in the seat pocket in front of you, which Brad Pitt's character in Fight Club points out are actually high on oxygen; compared to the panicked faces which the Fight Club dudes switch them over with.
It plays with comedy and tragedy like the latest Woody Allen movie, Melinda and Melinda: the general premise of the script could sound like a depressing Bergman family psycho-drama. Think more along the lines of the weirdness of Charlie Kaufman and Donnie Darko, the visuals of Amelie and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the dialogue of Richard Linklater and the perceptive wit of a stand-up comic - all of this without feeling derivative.
The teaser trailer is not a let-down and is a good aperitif to what is to come. And I love the thought that has gone into lines such as, "You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? That idea of 'home' is gone. Maybe that's all family really is: a group of people that miss the same imaginary place."
Nugget: hot indie yin. I want seconds. I just hope Braff hasn't used up all his stuff.
Sunday, 12 December 2004
So anyway, here's Cavafy:
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
Not only does this movie look great, filmed in a cinema verite style; but it sounds sweet as, man. The sound engineering is first class all the way, with only a few quibbles to be had in the rough edged transitions between episodes. Every tune is rockin'; and, unlike most music videos, the visuals are encapsulating. In two Janis Joplin numbers, a single, front-on camera stares at her in close up. It is a shimmering performance. You don't have to know much about the musicians or even like their music beforehand: by the end of it, you'll be shouting "encore".
Nugget: you won't believe how rude and badly behaved those Canadian cats were who tried to gatecrash the gigs. If the best things in life are free, this one was worth paying for, man.
Click here for the DVD review.
Friday, 10 December 2004
Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Saturday, 4 December 2004
Given the recent documentary, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, it seems that maybe this stuff isn't really satyrical: it's not just close to the bone; it's scratching it. The Darkness certainly prove that camp rock is still cool to some people.
Nugget: for funnier Christopher Guest movies, see Best in Show (about pedigree dog breeders) and Waiting for Guffman (about amateur theatre).
* Charles Fostered > Citizen Kane > Charles Foster Kane > Kaned > caned (stoned).
There is a pervading sense of falseness in this film: the dirty, greasy faces; the distractingly dubbed soundtrack which doesn't quite sync up (there was a longer Italian version, 14 minutes from which are included on this DVD as an unseen footage special feature); the backlot feel of the shelled, abandoned towns. Yet it still makes compelling viewing.
Nugget: an acquired taste, but one that is well worth getting.
Friday, 3 December 2004
New York's West Side looks ugly and gritty at the intersection at Broadway and 72nd Street. "Needle Park" is how it's known to the pimps, pushers and junkies. Soft and cuddly like a Disney movie it sure ain't.
Nugget: Al Pacino is always worth it. He should do a L'Oréal Elvive ad.