Archive for January, 2009

Shanghai Dreams (Qīng Hóng)

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

shanghai-dreamsDuring the 1960’s Chairman Mao’s government moved countless Chinese workers, along with their factories, to the countryside of Western China in to form a ‘Third line of Defence’ in case of a Soviet invasion.

Cut to the 1980’s when China started opening up to the West under Deng Xiaoping’s social and economic reforms. Many factory workers wanted to move back to the big city, often against the wishes of their more settled children. Director Wang Xiaoshuai came from such a family himself, and in Shanghai Dreams he gives a fascinating portrait of life in China’s factory towns in the 1980s, which engages as much with the political upheavals of the era as it does with the universal theme of intergenerational conflict.

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The Baader-Meinhof Complex (Der Baader Meinhof Komplex)

Monday, January 26th, 2009

baader-meinhofThere can’t be many film lovers today with more than the haziest memory of the Red Army Faction, otherwise known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, a left-wing terrorist group operating in West Germany during the late 60’s and early 70’s. But on watching The Baader-Meinhof Complex there will be many who can identify with the feverish tension of the era, and the fear that temporarily gripped a nation.

Based on Stefan Aust’s non-fiction work of the same name, directed by Uli Edel and written and produced by Bernd Eichinger, The Baader-Meinhof Complex is a brutally honest, uncompromising and fascinating portrayal of the events that took place between June 1967, when police shot dead a protestor in West Berlin during a state visit by the Shah of Iran, to the terrifying autumn of 1977, when the abducted industrialist and former Nazi Hans-Martin Schleyer was executed by RAF members in revenge for the suicides of the group’s leaders Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe. With more than a quarter of Germans under 30 sympathising with the group at its zenith, the RAF was a force to be reckoned with.

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Slumdog Millionaire scoops up 10 Oscar nominations

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

slumdog2Last night in Hollywood this year’s Oscar nominations were announced, with several British films coming up trumps.

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, a rags-to riches story set in Mumbai about an impoverished orphan who wins the TV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, met with great success, picking up 10 nominations including best picture. The film’s star, 18-year-old Londoner Dev Patel, missed out on a best actor nomination but said he was thrilled at attending the ceremony in LA with the cast and crew.

“It’s just amazing!” he said. “For Slumdog Millionaire to be included in the nominations for the Oscars is a huge honour. When we first began working on the film I don’t think any of us ever imagined that we might end up attending the Oscars ceremony as a result.”

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Changeling

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

changelingOnce seen as a respected institution of Western movies (and Dirty Harry), Clint Eastwood, now 78, has revealed himself to be an adept storyteller who just gets better and better with each new release. Like his 2006 war film Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling is a provocative and relentless film that looks on the past with coldness and suggests the present has learnt few lessons from it. Child abuse and infanticide feature heavily, but really act as a prism through which the central themes of real-life police corruption and the disempowerment of women are played out with brutal force.

Meticulously researched by the former journalist and Babylon 5 creator  J. Michael Straczynski, who lifted most of the screenplay directly from court records, Changeling is the factual account of a mother whose young boy disappeared, and of a corrupt Police Department in 1928 Los Angeles that would go to any lengths to save its own skin.

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Wallander

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Based on the hugely popular novels by Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, this three part series stars Kenneth Branagh as the eponymous police inspector Kurt Wallander, and is arguably the best crime drama that British TV has seen since Inspector Morse.

In Sidetracked, Wallander’s holiday plans are cut short when a teenage girl commits suicide before his eyes and a former government minister is butchered in a series of apparently motiveless murders. Wallander’s pursuit of the killer brings him to a vicious vice ring, leaving him and his loved ones in mortal danger. Firewall sees Wallander venture into a new sphere: cyberspace. Three deaths, a national blackout and a grim discovery at a power station lead him to a group of cyber terrorists with anarchic aims. The narrative device of One Step Behind is announced by the title. On the trail of a psychopath, Wallander always arrives on the scene just after the crime has happened. As Wallander goes about his duty, oblivious to the looming danger, you find yourself screaming inside your head “don’t go home!”.

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Slumdog Millionaire – in cinemas now

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which cleared up at the recent Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards, is a winning ‘rags to Raja’ drama set in contemporary Mumbai.

Slumdog tells the story of Jamal Malik, chiefly played by Dev Patel (aka Anwar from Skins); an 18-year-old Muslim ‘chai wallah’ (tea boy) for a mobile phone call centre who is just one correct answer away from 20 million rupees on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? which apparently features exactly the same format, graphics, studio set up and theme tune as the good old British version.

During a pause in filming, Jamal is arrested and whisked away to a police cell on suspicion of cheating. How could a lowly chai wallah who came up from the slums of Mumbai possibly know all the answers?

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The Painted Veil

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Based on Somerset Maugham’s 1935 novel of the same name, The Painted Veil has all the melodrama of a Merchant Ivory classic. But despite picture-postcard backgrounds from the heart of Guangxi province, a racy plot and two solid leads, the film feels clinical and distant.

Dr Walter Fane (Edward Norton), a solemn bacteriologist proposes marriage to Kitty Watts, a pretty but shallow London socialite. Eager to escape her family, she accepts, and the two move to Shanghai, where Kitty starts having an affair with the handsome vice-consul, Charles Townsend (Liev Schreiber), a relationship she takes more seriously than he. When Walter finds out, he punishes his adulterous wife by dragging her into the heart of the cholera epidemic in rural China..

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The Duchess – coming soon

Friday, January 9th, 2009

Keira Knightley continues her reign as period drama queen in this tale of pomp and passion, but director Saul Dibb’s obsession with bedroom antics detracts from the extraordinary political savvy and social concern which marked the life of the real life Duchess of Devonshire.

Within a year of Princess Diana’s death, historian Amanda Foreman had released a chart topping biography of Duchess Georgiana of Devonshire, née Georgiana Spencer. The parallels between Georgiana and the late Diana Spencer, born over two centuries later, are striking. Born into the same family, both were celebrated beauties, admired and emulated by women up and down the land; both struggled to cope with the pressure of royal decorum and relentless public scrutiny; and both appeared to have fairytale marriages, which steadily crumbled thanks to another woman waiting in the wings.

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