Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) continues to explore experimental styles of cinema (see Timecode or Hotel) with this playful in-joke about the act of artistic creation. It's an ambitious idea that never quite overcomes the indulgent approach, but the gimmicky touches and mysterious noir vibe hold our interest even if the characters are never very clearly developed.
At the centre is screenwriter Martin (Koch), who lectures at a London film school as his long-awaited new script is finally going into production. His daughter Sarah (Night) has landed a lead role in the film, and Martin celebrates this with her at her 25th birthday. He also becomes fascinated by her friend Angelique (Verbeek), who turns up dead in a canal the next morning, leaving him as the prime suspect. A police inspector (Cranham) is especially suspicious since Martin's wife (Fox in flashback) went missing 15 years ago. Then Angelique's twin Therese (also Verbeek) turns up to twist things further.
Figgis continually throws us out of the story by referring to the film within the film. For example, characters are continually picking up movie scripts that describe them picking up movie scripts. And Figgis further tweaks us with on-screen captions, split-screen angles and movie-set camera gags, plus of course the fact that a central character is an identical twin. But because of all of this self-referential trickery, we can never engage with the story or characters at all.
Continue reading: Suspension Of Disbelief Review
Stylish and moody, this twisty dramatic thriller gets under our skin with its mysterious tone and darkly insinuating performances. But the script is badly underwritten, never quite connecting the dots between what happens on screen. Several of the events are frankly unbelievable, which is made more frustrating by characters who continually do things that don't make logical sense. So we end up struggling to see the point of it all.
Everything happens in the wake of a massive explosion at a holiday house in the south of France. Micky (Middleton) wakes up with amnesia, having had her face rebuilt by surgeons. But her childhood best pal Domenica (Roach in flashbacks) died in the fire, leaving a huge hole in her life. Her guardian (Kerry Fox) tries to help her return to her daily routine, but she's obsessed with piecing together the nagging puzzle about what happened. And she doesn't really want to be the person she apparently was before the accident. Her old boyfriend Jake (Bernard) is some help, but the more she learns about her former life, the more she wonders who she really is.
The insinuation from the very start is that Micky and Do may have swapped identities in the accident, which seems rather ridiculous since they aren't the same height. Reconstructive surgery can't overcome that, and their different coloured hair would become obvious pretty quickly. So every time writer-director Softley tries to drop a hint or throw us off the trail, we feel like we're being had. At least he maintains a terrific sense of film noir creepiness, with lush visuals and scenes that draw us in to make us wonder what will happen next. And there is the tantalising possibility that the swap is psychological.
Continue reading: Trap For Cinderella Review
Michael Palin's return to dramatic television represents a considerable coup for the BBC.
Michael Palin will make his first television acting appearance in over two decades when he lines up alongside Ben Chaplin, Emilia Fox and Steve Oram in BBC Two's World War 1 drama The Wiper Times. The drama is based on the true story of a satirical newspaper produced by soldiers in the trenches.
Michael Palin Will Make His First Dramatic Television Role For 22 Years
The project appears in good hands, with Private Eye editor and Have I Got News For You captain Ian Hislop teaming up with his My Dad's The Prime Minister writing partner Nick Newman on the script. Clearly, Palin is the real coup here and it represents the Monty Python star's first television role since Alan Bleasdale's GBH in 1991, in which he played a school headmaster intimidated by a newly-elected city council leader, played by Robert Lindsay.
A mopey tone and hole-ridden plot make this romantic drama rather difficult to sit through. Even though the premise has hints of Charlie Kaufman cleverness, nothing is developed properly, and none of the characters ever come to life.
Mia (Whittaker) is jolted out of her quiet life by the suicide of an old woman in her building. After talking to maintenance man Max (Warner), she starts to suspect that the woman was her in the future. What follows is a trip into her past, as she visits herself 10, 20 and 30 years earlier, encountering the love of her life, Ludwig (Scott), a womanising, drug-addicted jazz musician. Can she convince her younger self (Whittaker again, and Barnes at age 10) to avoid him? And what's his connection with her parents (Fox and Slinger)?
The script throws us into time-travel from the start, before establishing characters or relationships, so we never engage with anything. Ludwig is a slimy loser in each period, so why Mia fell for him is a mystery; his charming-musician days were before she was born. And even though these people have been in each others' lives for decades, there's no sense of continuity. As we visit the time periods in reverse order, everyone's always meeting for the first time, which makes no sense.
Whittaker invests Mia with some emotional resonance, even if the screenwriters contrive for her her to miss painfully obvious clues about each coming twist.
Meanwhile, Scott is an ugly mess until we glimpse his swaggering younger self, at which point we finally see him sing (nicely) and play the trumpet (unconvincingly). Warner becomes a kind of mad-haired timekeeper with a magical lift that's perplexingly right where it always needs to be. The rest of the cast members are also only allowed to deploy one characteristic each.
This isn't much more than a soapy melodrama. As things get messier, and Mia must travel further into the past to fix it, there are some laughable anachronisms, head-shaking incongruities and silly plot points (look, a gun!).
And worst of all, it's completely po-faced, without a moment of real-life wit.
So it plays out like a lifeless, inept version of It's a Wonderful Life.
Mia is walking along the street one day, when she notices shredded photos fluttering to the ground. As she's examining one of them, she hears a loud thud behind her. Turning, she sees the body of an old woman, who has clearly thrown herself from the nearby building - the very building that Mia lives in.
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Dorian (Barnes) is an orphan who inherits a sprawling mansion when his tyrant grandfather dies. Young and eligible, he's quickly taken under the wing of Lord Henry (Firth), who introduces him to the licentious ways of late 19th century London. But the sex and drugs sabotage his relationship with an innocent young actress (Hurd-Wood), and Dorian pledges his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth. Now instead of aging, a portrait painted by his friend Basil (Chaplin) shows the scars of his depraved life.
Continue reading: Dorian Gray Review
Set amidst the ruins of another infamous ghetto -- Warsaw's Jewish district -- The Pianist recounts the horrors that Polanski could not face a decade ago. The movie tells the true story of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's escape from Nazi persecution and his subsequent struggle to survive. Unlike other mainstream Holocaust movies, though, this one doesn't try to portray heroism and selflessness as much as it does the actual process of surviving. In other words, it is about the constant act of searching -- for food, for water, for a new place to hide, and for a way out.
Continue reading: The Pianist Review
The story introduces us to Thomas Cross (Furlong), who is obsessed with Internet webcams (so 1999!). One night, he witnesses his favorite gal Cathy as she is murdered while she's preparing dinner in her apartment. Yipes! The dinner preparation isn't so exciting (though Thomas is enthralled by it), but that murder certainly wakes him up. Too bad he doesn't really know where she lives, just her web URL, which the cops don't really grab on to.
Continue reading: Three Blind Mice Review
The DVD case for The Republic of Love engages in a little harmless misinformation. The film is not actually based on a Pulitzer Price-winning novel. It's based on a book written by someone (Carol Shields), who wrote another book (The Stone Diaries), which did win a Pulitzer.
That's some comfort, too, because I can't fathom how a middle-aged romantic tragicomedy like this could possibly win a major award.
At its core is a story of a radio talk show host Tom (Bruce Greenwood) and "mermaid researcher" girlfriend Faye (Emilia Fox). Tom has a string of divorces behind him, the result of being too anxious to fall in love with every girl he meets. Faye is gunshy -- it seems that all of Tom's ex-wives are friends of hers. (And, strangely, she's never met him?)
None of this is played for laughs, really. We're supposed to feel bad for Tom and pine for he and Faye to find something lasting amidst an environment of bleak winter, dysfunctional families, and dying geriatrics. Cold and detached, it's hard to get behind either of these characters, who not only don't seem very right for each other, they don't seem very right for anyone. Case in point: When Tom is jogging with a friend, the guy (right next to him) collapses and keels over dead. Tom doesn't notice: He's distracted by a billboard with his face on it, concerned with the size of his nostrils. As for Faye: A mermaid researcher? I can't put my finger on it, but something just doesn't gel there.
Director Deepa Mehta does nothing to make this palatable. In fact, she goes out of her way to distance us from the story and the characters, most notably through washing the entire movie into total gray, giving it just a hint of color (in the end, the movie brightens up in a particularly awful scene that has animated flowers growing over the frame). Wintry symbolism has never felt so forced -- and in a film that ought to have been played as a romantic comedy, it's never been more out of place, either.
This film is one of Film Movement's simultaneous theatrical/DVD releases -- but I can't find any theater that's showing it. Film Movement is also the sole distributor of its DVDs -- releasing one a month -- so you can't usually get them at Amazon. This one's the exception.
An emotionally and factually detailed, uniquely personal true story of day-by-day Holocaust survival, "The Pianist" is a labor of passion on the part of director Roman Polanski (who as a child escaped German-occupied Cracow), a monument to those who persevered through the Nazi onslaught and a memorial to those who could not.
It's the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a composer and musician who played -- throughout a German a bombing run -- the last live music heard on the radio in Warsaw as the city was invaded in 1939. It's the story of how he felt hope because Britain and France entered the war, even as his family was one of thousands forced into a small, walled-and-razor-wired ghetto in 1940.
It's the story of how he eluded deportation to concentration camps in 1942 by hiding in the ghetto as it was emptied by German soldiers, how he became a laborer while the Nazi's had use for slaves, and how he escaped and bore witness from a distance to the month-long Warsaw uprising while starving and wracked with guilt in a series of empty apartments where he was concealed by sympathizers throughout the war.
Continue reading: The Pianist Review