Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Euro Fever

Woohoo! With just.......46 days remaining until the final of the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest, I've decided to get into the spirit of the event. As you might have gathered from my enthusiasm last year this is one of the highlights in my calendar. As much as it may be mocked and disliked, Eurovision is one of those institutional events that, even in it's absurdity, is almost regarded as an obligation throughout Europe, and bizarrely still makes a lot of headlines. It's also very gay, which I like (duh). Lol.

Here is the list of Semi-Final Participants with a link to a preview of each song, and here is the order of songs for the Final, with gaps to fill.

That's all for now but I'll leave you something to think about. A picture of one of the semi-final entries, Switzerland's song "Vampires are Alive", by Dj BoBo. Lol. Yes, I know. Crazy.

The Death of Production Design

More to follow...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Becoming Jane (2007)

Becoming Jane (2007)
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Starring: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Dame Maggie Smith
Grade: C+

It seems that the British film industry simply will not leave the genre of the period drama alone. Not content with adapting a handful of Jane Austen's novels (Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Pride and Prejudice) to both television and the big screen, Becoming Jane chronicles the romantic flounderings of Austen herself, and chiefly her relationship with trainee lawyer Tom LeFroy.
'The Devil Wears Prada' star Anne Hathaway is installed as the popular literary romanticist, and is one of few Americans in a cast dominated by Britain's tried and trusted thespians, among them Dame Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, and ascending star James McAvoy, who plays Austen's love interest.

I think it would be considerably more favourable to take the film with a pinch of salt -- as an entertaining distraction rather than a social portrait. Many of the plot devices used are very familiar to those within Austen's own novels, questions of love versus finance, the importance of honour and reputation, the meandering status of the couple(s) in question. Additionally Austen's strong, feminist traits; Her writing, which marks her as less dependent than many of the film's other female characters, her reluctance to marry for money, and her charismatic sharp wit that almost instantaneously draws you in, suggests that her literary heroines are partly autobiographical. But as much as the film follows Jane's personal struggles, the basis of the film is in the shaping of her literature rather than her life. There's very little here that we haven't seen before, so if you're looking for an eye-opening insight into the life of Jane Austen, you certainly won't find it in Becoming Jane.

As a melee of Austen's fictional charm and wit, Becoming Jane may be mildly successful, but the work in question doesn't vary enough for us to see much degree of thought or integration in the narrative, and effectively, there's little more to it than replacing Austen with Lizzie Bennet, or Emma Woodhouse, or Elinor Dashwood. But w
hile Jane doesn't vehemently challenge, or offer up anything new, it's very watchable. It's just never great, and never really sure of itself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

2006: The Overrated and Underrated

As you may have guessed, I've decided to get cracking with my 2006 awards. I haven't seen some films but I likely won't see them until the summer so it's best to finalise these now, while they have at least some relevance.

There are always films by which their critical reaction completely baffles me. It seems that people can jump on a negative bandwagon for many number of reasons, and equally consume the media hype of others. Some of these films maybe I just don't get, but these are the films I feel were rated far too highly, and the ones that really didn't get their deserved glory.

The Overrated

5. Blood Diamond

It's difficult to concede that of all the political and action thrillers of late, this messy second-rate exercise is among the better of them. Don't get me wrong, it's perfectly watchable. But its characters are very 2D, and the filmmakers are dependent on Di Caprio's deserved Oscar-nominated performance to make it seem like there's a little more to it.

4. Flags Of Our Fathers

It's like any Eastwood film is commanding respect nowadays. Flags definitely has a point it's trying to make, but it's all a little too generic and limp. The battles scenes are excellent, but the structure of the film as a whole is quite chaotic, the film unnecessarily flashing backwards and forwards every five minutes. This isn't a good film.

3. Dreamgirls

I so wanted to like this but at times it feels almost amateurishly put together, from the staging (very odd) to the direction (ragged), to the music (uninspiring - bar one song). It contains a couple of good performances and a host of average ones, and doesn't really grab you the way a musical really should.

2. Thank You For Smoking

Aaron Eckhart is very fun, and consequently breathes life into the film, but I can't help but wonder what on earth we're supposed to take from it. The topic itself isn't challenged a great deal, and neither are the other themes (family, trust). An incredibly strange debacle if ever I saw one. Oh, and its supporting players are less than satisfying.

1. Apocalypto

This just pisses me off. If you're going to make an action film, make an action film. Don't try and dress it up as some kind of historical and cultural insight. Mel Gibson's film is almost entirely independent of context, the extent of Mayan culture being reduced to brutality and mythical supernature, and the narrative a simplistic bore.

The Underrated

5. Silent Hill

I think a lot of critics have a dislike for this kind of blatant commercially motivated project. Ironically though, it's artistically expressive - atmospheric, lively, entertaining, well acted. Granted, the plot is less than polished, but for the most part it works, and works well.

4. Poseidon

People really have to ask what they want from a blockbuster. Even the most successful blockbuster of them all, Titanic, has its major flaws. But this kind of genre has historically, and really should be forgiving of cheese, and a certain amount of obviousness. The questions that should be asked of it are: Does it thrill? Is it worth your time? The answers are yes.

3. Deja Vu

A pulsating, thrilling, excellent film that pushes the boundaries of action, science fiction and crime, demanding attention in its two-hour onslaught. Perhaps the reason why this wasn't as well received as it should have been is because of the surrealist nature of one of its plot devices (concerned with time travel), and the neatly-wrapped ending. Nevertheless, it's certainly the most enjoyable cinematic experience I had in 2006.

2. Marie Antoinette

This was never going to be for everyone. When somebody tries something different, they're always going to get their fair share of haters, and Coppola certainly has that. Yet as awkward as it is in places, its themes are constantly being explored, something that was very absent in 2006. Plus it has perhaps the greatest soundtrack ever assembled. Give it a break!

1. The Good Shepherd

The only reasons I can really think of for this film receiving mixed reviews, and very little awards coverage is because of its topic and running time. Let's face it. I doubt many people were jumping up and down when they heard Robert De Niro was going to make a movie about the C.I.A. It's hardly going to guarantee a rousing time. But Shepherd was badly treated. It's a solid, excellently composed film, and I hope that people come to realise this in the future, when they look back on this sorry year.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Abbos Kiarostami's Ten (2002)

Iranian director Abbos Kiarostami, whose only previous film I've seen is the exquisite, beautiful Taste of Cherry (1997), is renowned as an experimental filmmaker. His 2002 film Ten records ten conversations between a woman, and the passengers within her car. The conversations range in intensity, intimacy, and purpose; the woman exchanging speech with her son, two of her friends, an old woman, and a prostitute.

Taking a recent example, Paul Greengrass' United 93 (a film I dismissed a little too quickly, partly because of its genre), re-enacts the events of 9/11 (or at least some of them) to compelling and dramatic effect. Many of the characters in the film take action in the same manner we know them to have done on that day in 2001 -- some even playing themelves. Indeed, much of Greengrass' filmography can be quite comfortably assigned to the 'Docu-Drama' sector; but Kiarostami's Ten is a different commodity altogether, and certainly a more difficult film to classify.

The camera(s) remains in a relatively fixed position within the car, giving an air of intrusion into personal space, an up-close authenticity that is stark and impacting. Much like reality television it turns us into voyeurs, absorbing the information we receive; judging the personalities we encounter. It's very difficult not to get wrapped up in the many issues being lampooned around.

The most intriguing and provocative relationship on offer is between mother and son. This accounts for most of the conversations, and throughout them all there is constant unrest. The first conversation in the film is particularly difficult to watch, as they fight over various issues, the most prominent of which is the divorce between the mother and father, which has left both mother and son bitter about various things. It's in this conversation though, that the film is at its most problematic. The claustrophobic method of filming imposes the issues in question upon you in a relentless, almost torturous fashion. Whether they are essentially real or not, this method suggests an element of reality, and therefore the scene often appears rather wayward; especially when the mother proceeds to quote poetry and refer to metaphors of stagnant ponds. Much of her input in this initial conversation is flowery, and detracts from the naturalism of the episode.

Indeed, the character of the driver is not a likeable figure. Aside from lecturing her son in an irrational and often childish way, she goes on to pick up a prostitute, interrogating her about her job, admit to both her friend and her son that she doesn't want him to live with her, and ramble insensitively to her clearly distraught friend. Recent Iranian cinema has been keen to enlighten on the repressed role of women in the country (notably The Circle, 2001) and the proposed role of women in society is explored here. The driver has clearly adopted a more Western, independent and post-modern mentality towards womanhood, and its with this that she proceeds to challenge her passengers: her son's masogynist views, her friend's dependence on her husband, the prostitute's need to be desired by men. But while Kiarostami uses this woman to provoke response, her interrogative nature, whether improvised or scripted, can be construed as both disrespectful and rash.

It's only really when the boy is on screen that the themes of the film begin to take shape, and the struggles between gender and family appear at their most natural and powerful. His anger is emotive, and believably a product both of Iranian society's treatment of Women, and of the rebellion of his mother against her imposed role. Kiarostami's Ten is an examination of this, and subsequently has elements of documentary about it, yet its interrogative tone often descends the film into episodic soap opera, almost alienating some of its characters as fixed representations. It's with this serial-esque account that the line between reality and fiction is continually blurred within the film. Are people really this eager to impose their own values? I'm not so sure.

Grade: B-

Monday, March 05, 2007

Oh. My. God.

I used to like Jim Carrey as a dramatic actor, and would actually give him the oscar in 1998.

The digits of 1998 add up to 27.

I had two slices of toast for breakfast.

27-2 = 25

I chewed a piece of gum for 3 hours last friday.


My favourite colour is blue. It has four letters.

28-4 = 24

My favourite ice cream flavour is pistachio. It has nine letters.

24-9 = 15

The date today is 05/03. The digits of this add up to eight.


Co-incidence? I think not. *Strokes imaginary beard*