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rsmith

rsmith

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since 12/10/2000

100

The Life Aquatic (DVD) 06/01/2006

A damp squib - or is that a damp squid?

The Life Aquatic (DVD) Wes Anderson's movies are a definite draw for me - you can rely on idiosyncratic movies with idiosyncratic characters, and unusual plots. I've really enjoyed "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Rushmore", so went to see "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" as soon as it was released. …and I was disappointed. Before I get onto that, though, what's it about? Steve Zissou is played by Bill Murray - he's the central character, an underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau-style, for anyone who remembers their 60's TV series. Zissou has a series called "Life Aquatic" and is filming the latest shots around the Italian coast. His best friend and fellow diver, Esteban, gets eaten by a shark. Seymour Cassel plays the role of Esteban, but as you can guess it's a short-lived one - he's dead within 5 minutes of the start of the movie. From then on the movie presents us with a kind of quest to find the elusive shark shark, presumably to discover more about it, but also to seek some kind of revenge. And don't think this an action adventure - no, it's more of a voyage of self discovery for Zissou and his shipmates. That, and a tribute to (or spoof of) the natural history documentary genre. Zissou himself s a cold fish kind of character, not very good at social interaction, and perhaps not even very good as a leader of his team - and there are certainly elements of comedy, largely because of this. There were reasons why I should have enjoyed this movie than I did… It has a great ...

The Chorus DVD 21/11/2005

The Sound of Music - in reform school

The Chorus DVD The movie starts with a brief prologue, where we see a renowned classical conductor on a journey to attend his mother's funeral. We then move into the past, into his childhood, the school where he was brought up, and we also see where his passion for music has come from. The main part of the movie then starts with a middle-aged teaching assistant, Clement Mathieu (played by Gerard Jugnot) arriving at a school to start a new job. The date is 1949, and the school is the Fond d-Etang school for delinquent boys - supposedly the worst kind of unreformable delinquents - the name of the school translates as 'Bottom of the pond' or 'Rock Bottom', so that says it all. Clement is taken aback by some of the methods used to discipline them. This is down to the principal a harsh man called Rachin (played by Francois Breleand). He is an excellent villain - his philosophy is fairly simple - "action - reaction" - which means instant, and usually very harsh, punishments all round for the boys. Clement loves music, and has even composed some pieces, and he feels the boys will benefit from some musical appreciation, so he starts a school choir - much of this in secret from the principal who doesn't see the point, or that it's rewarding boys who don't deserve to be rewarded. Initially the boys tease Clement about his sheets of musical notation, and they make up insulting songs about him. Well, actually, a song about his bald head - they're clearly not such bad boys after all, or maybe ...

The Station Agent (DVD) 31/10/2005

Ideas above his station

The Station Agent (DVD) Thomas McCarthy has given us "Meet the Parents" and "The Guru" - both enjoyable movies, but his "Station Agent" is a notch up on the two of them. It's more of an offbeat movie, along the lines of something like "Palookaville" or "American Splendor" - it's an affectionate portrayal of the weirder, and hence more interesting, characters. At the same time, they are quite real, and believable (unlike in "Meet the parents or "The Guru", where we were presented with celluloid stereotypes). No this is altoghether a more subtle movie from McCarthy. The story of "The Station Agent" is set in New Jersey. Peter Dinklage plays Finbar McBride, or Fin, as he prefers to be known. He's a short guy, a dwarf in fact, but hates talking about it, is sick of the treatment he's had over the years, and his solution has basically been to cut himself off from society, and wherever possible he's on his own. He has one passion - trains, and he reads about them, watches them, and walks along the railroads. Trainspotting has long been seen as the kind of hobby that attracts loners, so no real surprises there. Perhaps the only surprise, for me, was that it's not just a British thing. The ironic thing is that, although Fin thinks he's found peace, and that he's just a boring bloke, the people he comes across seem to want to get to know him and be friends with him. Much of the movie is about the humour of this kind of situation. The introductory scenes where we see Finbar with his best friend ...

Super Size Me (DVD) 19/10/2005

Fast food = fat food

Super Size Me (DVD) Morgan Spurlock's documentary, or perhaps you'd call it a bit of journalism, has become legendary. Here's the premise - Spurlock decides to eat all his meals at McDonalds for a whole month. He travels around the US in order to do this, partly to see the different regions where obesity is a big problem, he chats to customers, people in the streets, he also gets to try different things on the menu, some special meals in certain states. If the staff at McDonalds asked him if he wanted to "go supersize" the rule was he had to say yes. The portions are of course obscene. He seems to manage to eat it all - in the interests of science. He also seems to enjoy the eating - by and large, anyway. It appears to be a kind of addiction. He's in his early 30s, and a healthy specimen of mankind, by all accounts. We see him going for examinations by a cardiologist, a GP and a gastroenterologist. He keeps seeing each of these experts during the month, so we get to see their growing concerns for his health. Also involved are a nutritionist and a personal trainer. Spurlock's girlfriend, Alex, features briefly in the movie - the fact that she is a vegan chef makes the whole experience all the more interesting. I can't help but wonder whether she really was as understanding as the movie makes out? His libido was ruined, and she seems put out at that. Fair enough. Spurlock himself admits he isn't entirely against McDonalds - he hasn't got a vendetta, exactly, he just seems to ...

Full Frontal (DVD) 18/06/2005

Full-on frustration

Full Frontal (DVD) When I went to see this movie about 2 years ago I was really looking forward to it. The main reason was because it was directed by Steven Soderbergh (his "Traffic" is one of my favourite movies, but he also made "Erin Brokovitch", "Ocean's Eleven"... quite a list), but it also had what looked like a great cast, and, having seen the trailer, I could tell it was a bit on the oddball side - always something that wins me over. But I thought it was quite disappointing. In a way it felt a bit like a rehearsal actor's workshop kind of thing, which we were just eavesdropping - it didn't even feel like a guilty pleasure, which you might think could be the accompanying feeling, but more of a "what's going on that they're not telling me about?" feeling. If that makes sense. The eavesdropping sensation is probably how Soderberg intended it to feel, as "Full Frontal" was filmed on DV, in just 18 days. Maybe it's just an ironic gesture about films of this kind, which are popping up everywhere. In fact that's the point - they will, because they are so cheap, easy to make, and quick, and the directors and actors must love the extra freedom that brings. Soderberg also made in his early days "sex lies and videotape", a movie which he has claimed "Full frontal" is an 'unauthorised sequel' to. How to describe the movie. It uses the film-within a film device - hardly that original. Essentially the story/stories are about a group of friends working in Hollywood. David Hyde Pierce (Niles ...

Young Adam (DVD) 02/02/2005

I'll have some custard on that, please!

Young Adam (DVD) “Young Adam” is based on a ‘beat generation’ novel by Alexander Trocchi, written in the 1950’s. If that means you’d be expecting a Kerouac-style American road movie of self discovery – well, no, that’s not what you’ll get. “Young Adam” is set in Glasgow in the 1950s. It’s a bleak kind of world. The central character, Joe, reckons to be a bit of a writer, but is working as a bargeman. It has more in common with Orwell or Lawrence than Kerouc, to be honest – but the story does nevertheless have an element of a voyage of some kind, and that selfish awareness of post-War youth – able to work for themselves, make their own decisions, and be beholden to no-one. Ewan McGregor plays Joe. I learned recently that McGregor is the nephew of Denis Lawson, an actor we really don’t see often enough nowadays. His role in “Local Hero” (1983) has always been one of my favourites. Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, we see plenty of in movies. He never seems to be short of work, and justly so, in my opinion. I liked him a lot in Trainspotting and in “Moulin Rouge”. I was less impressed by his appearance in “Down with love”, in fact he was probably the worst thing about the movie. I know you can’t always blame actors for how they appear in a finished movie, (the director has a big part to play, after all), but whatever the reason, he’s been in some great movies and some stinkers. His performance in “Young Adam” probably comes somewhere between his best work and his worst work. As ...

Anita And Me (DVD) 10/01/2005

Summer in the 70s

Anita And Me (DVD) I first saw “Anita and me” at the cinema in the Autumn of 2002, on its release, and at the time it was a movie I had been looking forward to seeing. It’s adapted from Meera (“Goodness Gracious Me”, “The Kumars”) Syal’s book of the same title, which is essentially an autobiographical story of a 12 year old girl, growing up in the Midlands in the 1970s. Before I went to see the movie, I hadn’t read the book, and the brief details above were the sum total of what I knew about the movie, but there was enough there to make me want to go and see it. My own teenage years were in the 70s, and that decade has always been a period I have a lot of nostalgia for. I lived in the North, rather than the Midlands, but it was very much a working class, secondary modern kind of world – all very different from the more usual South of Watford portrayal of things. In addition, I like Meera Syal as a performer, so was also interested in her story. In the movie, the central character is called Meena (about as near to the name Meera as you can get). Meena’s part of an Asian family, and there are not many like her in those parts – we’re not talking the urban areas of, say, Bradford or Birmingham here, but a small, semi-rural suburb area. The early 70’s were after all, the early days of Asian immigrants arriving in England. So Meena does stand out a bit. The Anita mentioned in the title is the local ‘bad’ girl – Anita is completely different from Meena in many many ways (she’s white, blonde, ...

Relative Values (DVD) 09/12/2004

Watch for Stephen Fry, and Colin Firth's hair

Relative Values (DVD) My DVD of “Relative Values” came as a free gift with some magazine or other. I hadn’t heard of the movie at all, and it languished unplayed for a good few months. The cover claims that it’s “outstandingly funny”. And it boasts a good cast – with names like Colin Firth, Stephen Fry, Julie Andrews, and Jeanne Tripplehorn. So I last decided to give at a go. I found it very tedious, and too slow. I began to lose interest in the characters and the story after about 20 minutes, but I stuck the whole movie out. Overall, I thought it was very dull, superficial and not even very much fun. As for “outstandingly funny” – well, perhaps I’d go so far as to say it was mildly funny. I’m not sure if I can easily pinpoint why I didn’t like “Relative values” – it’s not just that it’s not a very deep movie – but I think it may partly be its tone. Generally, it reminded me partly of a Merchant Ivory movie, yes (which I’m sure was the intention of the film makers), but more often it reminded me of a Sunday night TV series such as “The Royal” – very insubstantial and, in a way, a half-hearted kind of production. The casting is fine, although I was not so sure about Julie Andrews in the role of an English Countess. I mean, she’s been living in the United States so long that her accent is no longer the true blue kind of accent you’d expect for an upper class. Someone like Geraldine James, would, I think, have been better in the role. “Relative Values” is a Noel Coward play, and the film ...

American Splendor (DVD) 19/10/2004

Splendid splendor

American Splendor (DVD) “American Splendor” won a host of awards: Fipresci award (Cannes Film Festival 2003) Grand jury Prize (Sundance Film Festival 2003) Guardian new directors award (Edinburgh Festival 2003) It also got an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay. For me, it was a real surprise to see a refreshingly different movie – one which blurs all the boundaries between fiction, biography, documentary, comedy, tragicomedy… where do you want me to stop? Crucial to the whole thing is Paul Giamatti, who plays Harvey Pekar. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, he is the creator of a cult American comic (or should I say, graphic novel) called “American Splendor”. Which is where the title comes from. He is a filing clerk, stuck in a boring job, but when it comes down to it, content to stay in his boring job, because it pays the bills, and allows him to concentrate on producing his comic. We also get to see the real Harvey Pekar in brief commentary pieces, and he also narrates the entire movie. This is where we get to see that truth can often be stranger than fiction. Giamatti plays the character with a wonderful eccentric style (though “style” is probably the wrong word – Harvey is not a snappy dresser; he’s no looker either. In fact, I came away from seeing the movie with the idea that he would be the ideal actor to bring Homer Simpson to life! But that’s the kind of movie that “American Splendour” is – like The Simpsons it has a certain realism, and a charm, ...

Mystic River (DVD) 11/10/2004

Not that mystic, but a great movie

Mystic River (DVD) He may not be my favourite actor, but as a director Clint Eastwood has made some pretty good films – from as far back as “High Plains Drifter” in the 70s, and most especially “The Unforgiven”. “Mystic River” is the best film he’s made since “The Bridges of Madison County”, and that was 8 years ago, so perhaps it’s about time. Bridges was a gentle kind of movie, and this one has next to nothing in common with it, but it’s definitely a return to form. “Mystic River” is a quite dark, even unforgiving, tale. Clint Eastwood, good actor that he is, no longer appears in his own movies as a matter of course, and he isn’t in this one himself. And there’s no need for him to be either – the cast here is excellent – Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins – you couldn’t really ask for a better cast. The story of “Mystic River” is taken from Dennis Lehane’s novel, although there are a few alterations to it. No one can ever say that seeing the film is the same as reading the book, so don’t worry too much about that, and if you have read it try to forget you ever did. In any case, I hadn’t read the book so had no preconceptions. The screenplay is by Brian Helgeland (also responsible for “LA Confidential”). Apparently Eastwood’s take on the novel is that fate is something you can’t alter – hence all those shots of the sky, and whatever’s up there must be looking down on the helpless human beings below. It’s all about three Boston men, who we first meet as 11 year old boys, ...

But I'm A Cheerleader (DVD) 22/06/2004

Anyone remember Ru Paul? He's looking butch here!

But I'm A Cheerleader (DVD) “But I’m a cheerleader” is a quirky and very funny cult movie. It’s based around Megan, a 17 year old cheerleader, in smalltown America (where else?). She looks like a stereotypical girl in high school, Sandra Dee goodlooks – like a cheerleader, in fact – and, off course she is a cheerleader for the school team, too. But… there are some little things that are just a little, well, queer… there are photos of women in her locker… she has a boyfriend, and he’s a hunk, the captain of the football team… but she hates kissing him… It could be that he’s really bad at it, but maybe there’s another reason? Megan’s parents soon get wind of all of this, conclude that Megan is on the slippery slope and showing definite lesbian tendencies, and decide that there’s nothing else for it - she must go to a rehabilitation camp. This is run by a quasi-religious organisation called True Directions, and it’s a place where young people go (or, more usually, are sent) to get rid of any homosexual urges they might have. That’s the theory anyway. Megan is actually oblivious to all of this, and understandably not too keen about the rehabilitation camp idea. Quite simply, she doesn’t think she needs to be rehabilitated, because she doesn’t think she is a lesbian. Until she meets Graham, that is, a tomboy (i.e. a girl) who has also been sent to the camp. It soon becomes clear that the rehabilitation is VERY camp – and therein lies the basis of the movie! It’s all very colourful, and Megan is ...

Topsy-Turvy (DVD) 28/04/2004

More story, less music, would have been good

Topsy-Turvy (DVD) I know that “Topsy-Turvy” was an Oscar winner, but I have to say that, having seen it at the cinema when it first came out, I was surprised that it got so much acclaim. On paper, there was a lot to recommend it, which is why I went to see it within its first two weeks of release. It was directed by Mike Leigh. The cast was crammed with very impressive names. In actual fact the movie won 2 Oscars - 1 for Costume Design and 1 for Make up. Both of which were undeniably excellent. But no-one really goes to see a movie just because of those things, do they? The acting is very good - Sullivan is played by Allun Corduer, and Gilbert by Jim Broadbent, There are appearances from Leigh regulars such as Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville and Alison Steadman. So far so good. Except… characters such as those played by Alison Steadman (as Madame Leon, Costume Designer) are only on screen very briefly. Actually, the fact I saw Steadman in the trailers was a definite reason why I went to see the movie at all. Alright, on to the movie itself. It is about a period in the careers of Gilbert and Sullivan, who were responsible for many, successful operettas (The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, Yeoman of the Guard, and so on). They were successful in the 1880s, the era covered by the movie, and many of them are still performed today. Gilbert wrote the lyrics, and Sullivan composed the music. The term “Topsy-turvey” refers to the topsy-turvy world and ...

Starship Troopers (DVD) 27/04/2004

Trooper pooper scooper

Starship Troopers (DVD) When it came out I assumed that “Starship Troopers” was a movie along the lines of Robocop – coming from the same director, it seemed likely - you know, futuristic, great-looking, science fiction. Full of scenes that will look great on posters, plenty of action, but also, just maybe, a bit of a message behind the story as well. When I did finally get to see “Starship Troopers” it was on DVD, and around 6 years after it’s release. I think it must have been all the hype at the time (1997) that put me off seeing it then, plus the fact that I didn’t really know any of the cast. Anyway, I’ve seen Starship Troopers now, and here’s my verdict: It is QUITE different from Robocop. I thought it was pointless teen trash. There are some similarities with Robocop - it’s directed by Paul Varhoeven, for a start (he’s also been responsible for “Showgirls”, “Basic Instinct” and “Hollow Man”). Also it has the futuristic backdrop, and some good special effects… but any other comparisons to Robocop are, I think, highly misplaced. “Starship Troopers” was, for me, little better than movies like “Streetfighter”, movies that, deep down, would rather be a computer game. Denise Richards and Casper van Dien star – and as I mentioned, I was unaware of either of them at the time when the movie came out. Van Dien had appeared in “Beverley ...

Traffic (DVD) 18/04/2004

Look both ways!

Traffic (DVD) The movie “Traffic” is based on a mini series (“Traffik”) which appeared on Channel 4 in the late 80’s. It’s a film about drugs, if you want to sum it up in one word. It’s about pretty well everything you can think of to do with drugs – taking them, for pleasure, as part of an addiction… smuggling them, coming off them, policing them… The acting is very good throughout. None of the actors is allowed to be seen as the ‘star’ – and when you think we’re talking about actors like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones and Dennis Quaid, this is some feat. In this respect I would liken the film to “Short Cuts” or “Magnolia”. Remember Tom Cruise’s brilliant performance, where he appears in a relatively small, but very significant, part of the storyline? These are the kind of roles that Douglas and Zeta Jones have in “Traffic”. So don’t worry if you don’t normally like their movies (that was certainly true of me) – they won’t spoil “Traffic” for you! Another similarity with these two films is the use of intersecting storylines. There are basically 3 storylines – One: involving Javier the cop (Benicio del Toro) in Tijuana, Mexico (shot in yellow-tinged film, which makes you really feel the heat!); Two: the Michael Douglas character’s progress as a US ‘drug Tsar’ (blue-tinged scenes: the cool, supposedly level-headed angle). The fact that his daughter is using drugs complicates things nicely; Three: the fate of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character in San Diego, ...

Down With Love (DVD) 08/04/2004

Catcher man - but Ewan McGregor?

Down With Love (DVD) I went to see "Down with love" with someone who swore it was a remake of an old Doris Day and Rock Hudson movie. It isn’t, though. "Down with love" is either a homage to those Hudson/Day films, or a parody of them. Or... more likely, on thinking about it, it’s a mixture of both of those things. Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor are the lead characters, and there’s no question that Zellweger plays the Doris Day role to a tee. McGregor is less easy to categorise, partly because his role is a cross between Cary Grant and Rock Hudson, and partly because he’s less convincing in his role than she is in hers. Zellweger seems like a hard-working sort of actress, and does well here. She did really well with “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, “Me myself and Irene” was a low spot, “Chicago” was a triumph... she wasn’t very convincing as the romantic lead in “One True Thing” or “The Bachelor”, though, then things got better in “White Oleander”. That’s a lot of movies in only a few years. Let’s get back to “Down with Love” - she is a lot lot better than Ewan McGregor, I think, and definitely the main reason to watch it. The movie is firmly based in New York in the early 60’s – but in many ways it seems like it’s in the 50s (wasn’t that always the case with those Doris Day movies – way behind their time?) It’s not ...
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