Archive for March, 2009

In Bruges

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

in-brugesAcclaimed for his theatre work, writer/director Martin McDonagh now brings his brilliant mix of the absurd and macabre to the big screen in this exhilarating comic thriller.

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell play two chalk-and-cheese Dublin hitmen who are sent to the medieval Belgian town of Bruges after a job in London goes horribly wrong. Ray (Farrell) is a hot-headed novice who has no thoughts for anywhere but Dublin. He rather shot himself in the foot when he accidentally killed a young child on his first hit along with the priest who was his target. Ken (Gleeson) is a kindly, avuncular figure, keen to make the most of a couple of days’ sightseeing in “the best-preserved medieval town in Belgium”.

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La Vie en Rose

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

roseNeglected by her mother, a street singer in the seedy Paris district of Monmartre, and abandoned in a brothel by her circus performing father, Edith Piaf (played by Marion Cotillard) learned to grow up fast. She was blind for much of her childhood, but according to one account miraculously regained her sight during a pilgrimage honouring Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux, an event that the film portrays with the same realism as documented fact. Singing in the street one day, she was spotted by an impresario and soon became one of Europe’s best loved stars and a French icon. She was less than five feet tall, earning her the nickname ‘Little Sparrow’, and had a string of affairs with famous men such as the actor Yves Montand and middleweight boxing champion Marcel Cerdan. She drank till she could no longer stand, injected herself with morphine, contracted crippling arthritis and met an early death in her forties.

What a life, and one that director Olivier Dahan does not attempt to sweeten. In fact the “emotional journey” he takes us through is nothing short of tragic. Flitting dizzily between key events – stunning performances in 1940’s New York, a childhood characterised by loneliness and abuse, car crashes in California and the onset of liver cancer – Dahan’s approach is fragmented and disorienting, reflecting Piaf’s inner turmoil and public demise.

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The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher)

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

the_counterfeitersThe Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher), from Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky, tells the true story of concentration camp Jews who escaped the gas chambers by counterfeiting for the Nazis. The film is based on a memoir written by Adolf Burger, a Jewish Slovak typographer who was imprisoned for forging baptismal certificates to save Jews from deportation and later interned at Sachsenhausen.

In 1942 the Nazi’s launched Operation Bernhard, which aimed to flood the economies of their enemies with millions of forged British pound and US dollar notes, whilst bolstering their own flagging war chest. And who better to do it than the Jews, whose payment was their life, as long as they were needed? So, in the world’s largest ever counterfeiting scam, dozens of Jewish printers, typographers and a few ex-cons in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp were set to work on the forgery of some £130 million. At the helm was Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch (Salomon Smolianoff in real life), played by Karl Markovics, who had lived the highlife as a professional counterfeiter before his six year ordeal in the concentration camps. “Why earn money by making art?” he asks one person. “Making money by making money is so much easier.”

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Vanessa Richardson dies aged 45

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

PD*4914050British actress Natasha Richardson has died following a skiing accident in Canada.

Richardson, 45, fell during a supervised skiing lesson at the Mont Tremblant resort in Quebec on Monday. “It was a normal fall; she didn’t hit anyone or anything” said Lyne Lortie, a spokeswoman for the resort.

Richardson felt fine immediately after the accident but complained of a headache an hour later, and was taken to hospital as her condition worsened. She was then transferred to Lenox Hill Hospital near her family home in New York. Her husband, the actor Liam Neeson, accompanied her during the flight, and she was joined st the hospital by her two sons, Michael, 13, and Daniel, 12, and her mother, Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave. He sister, Nip/Tuck actress Joely Richardson was also photographed going into the hospital.

Richardson’s death was announced shortly before midnight GMT.

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The Accidental Husband

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

accidental-husbandThere’s so much wrong with The Accidental Husband you hardly know where to start. The jokes fall painfully flat, there’s almost zero chemistry between the characters, and the initial premise – that you can get someone else hitched with just a few clicks of a mouse – is so far-fetched, it’s a struggle to give your attention to its numerous ramifications.

Uma Thurman, who also produced, plays Emma, a self-titled ‘love doctor’ who has made a career for herself trying to sort out other people’s relationship woes, but despite a hit radio show and bestselling book on the subject, she has a few problems keeping her own love-life in check. She is engaged to Richard (Colin Firth), her well-off and eminently sensible fiancé, but things come a cropper when discovers that she is already listed as legally married when she goes to register at the City Hall.

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Definitely Maybe

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

definitely_maybe“I’m gonna tell you the story and I’m not telling you who your mum is, you have to figure that out for yourself. I’m gonna change all of the names and some of the facts…”

This is the way that advertising manager Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) introduces his confused premarital history to his precocious ten-year-old daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine), who has come home after a school class on the birds and the bees. And whilst Hayes presents his philanderings in the sweetest way possible, this is definitely no children’s fairy tale. As Maya puts it, “it’s like a love-story-mystery!”, and the poor girl is stuck in the middle, wondering whether she is nothing more than the result of a drunken party.

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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile)

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

4-months-picSet in Communist Romania in the final years of the Nicolae Ceauşescu era, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days tells the harrowing story of two female students who try to arrange an illegal abortion, 20 years after the practice was outlawed so that Ceauşescu would have more subjects to rule. Directed by Cristian Mungiu, it won the Palme d’Or and the FIPRESCI Award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Mungiu based the film on a real story he had heard which he said “still affected me after more than 15 years”, and which had been repeated countless times among young Romanian women who turned to the black market to avoid the indignity and poverty that would accompany single motherhood. The film cost just $600,000 to make and forms part of a planned series of stories from Romania before the fall of the Iron Curtain, called Memories from the Golden Age.

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Yella

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

yellaLike many films that have come out of Germany in recent years, Yella is concerned with coming to terms with the past and adjusting to the present.

Yella (Nina Hoss) is a reserved yet ambitious woman who is determined to leave behind her old life in a rather demoralising eastern German town, where her possessive ex-husband (Hinnerk Schönemann) trawls the streets in search of her, unable to accept that she no longer loves him. Partly to escape him, she accepts an accountancy job in Hamburg, but nothing is quite as it seems. After a brutal parting shot with her husband, Yella legs it to the train, sodden and dishevelled. She arrives at her new workplace the next day to find that her lecherous boss (Michael Wittenborn) has been given the sack, leaving her jobless, alone and haunted by the past.

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Gran Torino – coming soon

Friday, March 6th, 2009

gran-torinoI first heard about Gran Torino in a New York Times review, in which it was billed as “a sleek, muscle car of a movie made in the U.S.A.” which presented life in the “industrial graveyard” of real America – run-down shells of once grander houses in suburbs ruled by the same vicious gangs you would expect to find in tough, inner-city ghettos. This is a far cry from the aspirational, model-village setting of American Beauty or Desperate Housewives. But while the film’s premise is a promising one, a starchy script and wooden acting fail to deliver.

Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, an embittered Korean War veteran who spends his days sitting out on his front porch, rifle by his side, gulping back beer and snarling at his troubled neighbourhood which has gradually slid down the monopoly board and is now largely inhabited by impoverished immigrants.

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Mostly Martha (Bella Martha)

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

mostly-martha1A welcome addition to that sub-genre of films depicting dour north Europeans falling for Latino charm (c.f. Italian for Beginners), Mostly Martha is a German comedy from writer/director Sandra Nettleback about a workaholic chef who has to force herself out of her fixation and learn to live a bit.

Martha (Martina Gedeck) is head chef of a fancy Hamburg restaurant who has no problem with lecturing customers who object to the texture of her fois gras. Her obsessive attitude towards her work has kept her single and her colleagues at arm’s length. Because of her phenomenal culinary abilities (she is reputedly the second best chef in Hamburg) and dedication to her work, her boss, Frida (Sibylle Canonica), cuts Martha plenty of slack. In spite of regular appointments with a therapist, played by August Zirner, Martha finds it difficult to control her temper in and out of the kitchen. On one occasion she throws a raw slab of meat at a customer who complains that his steak is overdone. Even her kindly new neighbour Sam (Ulrich Thomsen), for whom she offers to cook, fails to remove the deep furrows from her brow.

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