Archive for August, 2008

Fear and Trembling – out now

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Fear and Trembling, adapted from Amélie Nothomb’s autobiographical novel, is the tale of downtrodden Belgian translator Amélie (Sylvie Testud) who takes a job in the head office of a Tokyo firm. Speaking fluent Japanese and determined to become a “true Japanese woman” in the land where she grew up as a small child, Amélie decides to forge for herself a new life in the East. However, her dream job turns into a living nightmare as Amélie suffers ridicule and bullying at the hands of her sadistic Japanese bosses. It is a tale of someone who speaks perfect Japanese, but in another sense does not understand Japan at all.

Working under the 29-year-old Mori Fubuki, Amélie comes to idolise her new boss, a tall picture of beauty, who is initially very kind to her. However, Amélie’s well-meant attempts to be useful in her new office turn out to be serious social blunders in her adoptive society, prompting her Japanese colleagues to question “how the nice white geisha became a rude Yankee.”

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Lars and the Real Girl – out now

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

A film about a young man who takes a life-size sex doll as his girlfriend could only be construed as creepy and sordid on paper. But don’t be put off by the premise – Lars and the Real Girl, directed by Craig Gillespie, is a truly beautiful movie which explores the isolation of mental illness with touching sensitivity and gentle humour.

27-year-old Lars, played with utter conviction by Ryan Gosling, is a socially inept loner who avoids contact with people wherever he can. Other than attending the local Lutheran church each Sunday, Lars spends the majority of time in the dark of his garage apartment, wrapped in the small quilt his mother sewed for him when he was born. His brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and pregnant sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) try to bring him out of his shell, but their repeated invitations to dinner tend to be met with feeble rejections.

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Happy Go Lucky – out now

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Sally Hawkins is delightful as 30-year-old Poppy, a primary school teacher living in London with an attitude as sunny as the Costa del Sol. She is dippy, bubbly and optimistic, with a laugh which is at times charming, at times irritating. She is so relentlessly cheery that we spend the first half of the film in suspense – surely her chirpiness can’t last for long… surely that smile will be wiped off her face by tragedy, or some secret obsession (for a comparison, see review on He loves me… he loves me not? After all, director Mark Leigh’s last film, Vera Drake, was harrowingly dark, and he is renowned for the bittersweet melancholy that pervades his work.

Not so Poppy. Happy-Go-Lucky is a film about a genuinely happy person. It plays with and then dismisses our obsession with irony and reveals that there is indeed a brighter side to life. The title itself challenges our easy assumption that pessimism equates to realism. Indeed, after the film’s glorious reception at the Berlin Film Festival (Sally Hawkins won a Silver bear for best actress and Mike Leigh was nominated for a Golden Bear) Leigh explained: “It’s important to reject the growing fashion to be miserabilist, the growing fashion to be pessimistic and gloomy because the world is in a bad way. Everywhere there are people on the ground getting on with it and being positive.”

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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress – out now

Monday, August 18th, 2008

The beguilingly titled Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is based on writer/director’s Dai Saijie’s best-selling autobiographical novel of the same name. Set in the Chinese Cultural Revolution during the 1970’s, the film centres around two adolescents who have committed the sin of being born to “reactionary” parents – doctors who dared to suggest that Chairman Mao might not be entirely perfect. On account of their background, the boys are sent on a rural “re-education” camp where they are to learn the virtues of Maoist thinking and hard work, which includes much lugging of human excrement up a hill.

However, their gruelling stay is brightened by meeting the captivating daughter of the local tailor, known simply as the Little Seamstress (the boys never bother to find out her actual name). An uneducated peasant, the two bourgeois city-boys seek to open her mind through forbidden Western novels which they have stolen from another member of the camp — classics from the likes of Dickens, Flaubert and, yes, Balzac, the Little Seamstress’ favourite. The boys also read “The Count of Monte Christo” to the old grandfather, which inspires him to add many elegant details to his garments.

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Send in the Clones – Star Wars: The Clone Wars in Cinemas Now

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Today sees the release of the fully CGI animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars in UK cinemas, which we have to say is pretty good, despite initial misgivings, largely based on our opinion of the last film (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) particularly Hayden Christensen’s namby pamby depiction of the galaxy’s biggest badass, Darth Vader.

The Clone Wars is sort of like Star Wars Episode 2.5 in that its set in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and shows the beginning of events of the eponymous wars that were briefly mentioned by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first ever Star Wars film waaaaay back in 1977.

The plot follows Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter, who played the drunk college jock Brody in the first series of Heroes) who has reluctantly been lumped with his overeager new disciple – sorry, Padawan – Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein) who looks like Christina Aguilera in an Egyptian head dress and too much fake tan, as they attempt to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s son from a mysterious band of bounty hunters. Old favourites Obi-Wan and Yoda appear alongside Christopher Lee who reprises his role as Count Dooku the main villain of the piece, and Anthony Daniels, who once again camps it up as stuffy protocol droid C-3PO.

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“…and all the pieces matter.” – The glory and majesty that is The Wire – out now

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Every so often a film or television series manages that most rare of feats, it becomes more than its medium and it is ranked alongside the pillars of culture that prop up our conversions and language for years to come.  The Wire is one of those works of art.

To dismiss it as a mere cop show does not do it justice but the show is set in Baltimore and chronicles the struggle of a detail of cops trying to trap a high end drug target, whilst dealing with the vagaries of bureaucracy that are present in all areas of public service.  The cops and the dealers are treated as part of the same puzzle and equal weight is given to both in the program.  The Wire has a high level of characterisation not seen in any other TV show going at the moment.  You will feel for the dealers and hate some of the cops as the line between what’s good and bad becomes increasingly greyed and dependant on context.  There is comic relief combined with searing tragedy and a majestic charm arises from even the most hopeless of situations.

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