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July 2004
Issue 050

Special 50th Issue!


The Dreamers

Coming soon

Drama, art/France/English, French (Japanese subtitles)/115mins
Starring: Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Fox Searchlight Pictures

"I have at last met some real Parisians!" writes Matthew, a young American visiting Paris, to his parents. He doesn’t tell the folks back home that he met them on a political protest and that after being invited to stay with them he has slipped into some decidedly odd ways.
Theo and Isabelle invite Matthew to stay with them at their apartment and he is a tad nonplussed at the frank steaminess of the siblings’ relationship: they sleep naked in the same bed and wander around in permanent undress. But it’s OK, they were conjoined twins and they show him the scars to prove it.
Apart from being odd, the three youngsters are cineastes and when Theo flunks a movie trivia quiz his sister’s punishment for him is to masturbate looking at his favourite picture of Marlene Dietrich. Theo plots a revenge where Isabelle is compelled to have sex with Matt. Now the steaminess turns into a full-fledged semi-incestuous, bisexual ménage á trios. Real Parisians, indeed.
The cute thing is that this is 1968 and French students and workers are on the verge of overthrowing their own government. Rome burns as the three little Neros fiddle with themselves, so to speak. Real events intrude in the form of the odd brick through the window.
In case you haven’t yet guessed, this is Bernardo Bertolucci of Last Tango in Paris fame and this is no mere weirdo porno flick — though you can watch it like that if you like. The Dreamers is lavishly filmed and quotes pretty every other filmmaker of arty note, mostly extensively Godard.
It is a dreamy indulgence in this seminal period of history, and when the three youngsters are not bonking they are idealizing, their philosophy veering between youthful silliness and real revolutionary pragmatism. Posters of Mao jostle with portraits of the stars.
This is Bertolucci, so this is no sentimental trip down memory lane and we see him separating the fluff from the real stuff as the sex games end in the streets, swept away in the protests as if in the tide of history.

Open Range

Coming soon

Western/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/135mins
Starring: Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening
Director: Kevin Costner
Touchstone

And I thought the western was dead wood.
Open Range, the fourth film and the second western Kevin Costner has directed, harps back to the golden age of this genre and stands out as a remarkably robust and thoughtful film. Costner the director is maturing fast and if he has not yet peaked we are in for some good films down the road.
At the heart of the film is a clash of values — non-violence against violence, the slow old ways against grasping modernity, corporatism against individual liberty and a healthy environment, and so on — but the spartan script is never contrived.
Costner is Charley, a civil war veteran and expert killer, who in the ten years since the war has been disciple and friend to aging cattle man Boss, played by Robert Duvall. Boss is for hard work and against violence and in his shadow Charley has tried to learn new instincts.
Herding their cattle across country Boss and his crew come upon a town run by a rancher played by Michael Gambon who is of the new fence-it–all-in breed and who has a violent hatred of Boss’s kind, who exercise their rights to free grazing on ranchers’ lands. Gambon rather than letting the herders pass through, provokes a confrontation and Boss pragmatically puts away his non-violent instincts and lets Costner off the leash.
The wills of the antagonists clash, a classic showdown is brewing. At no point is violence glorified or seen as the better option.
The violence when it comes at the film’s climax is unsparing and unpleasant, and in a nice touch, rather than standing round and gawping as in most westerns, the town’s inhabitant’s all head for the hills: they know gun play ain’t fun.
Although Charley is the man of action, Costner gives the centre of the film to Duvall who rises to the occasion with a deftly understated performance.
A thoughtful and compelling film that shows the upstarts in the newer genres what script and filmmaking and acting are all about.

Film Reviews: Chris Page

Also playing

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry and his chums are back with more fun and magical capers. Sirius Black, implicated in the deaths of Harry’s parents has escaped from the dreaded Azkaban prison and may be headed for Hogwarts to finish the gruesome task of ridding the world of Potters. Scary soul sucking prison guards or Dementors ring the school. Harry is of course not easily intimidated and with Ron and Hermione set about comprehensively upsetting the baddies’ plans. Neat plot tricks involving rearranging time and some spot on acting deliver what we expect from these films, but now the vision darkens …

Fantasy/US, UK/English (Japanese subtitles) /136mins
Starring: Daniel Radclifffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Warner Bros.

Spider-Man 2

Spidey’s back! And no need for sequel-phobia, because this film delivers. There is no need for laborious setting up in Spider-Man 2, that’s all out of the way in the first flick, so it’s straight into the action. This time the wannabe nemesis is the multi-tentacled Otto Octavius, aka Doc Ock whose megalomania will destroy New York. And he might succeed because Spidey is not even sure if he wants to be Spidey any more, so who will save the day? Darker and pacier than the first film, and with more plot and character. A film to get caught up in.

SF, action/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/ 127mins
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina
Director: Sam Raimi
Sony Movies

The Day after Tomorrow

It is the end of the world as we know it. Humanity has finally broken the only planet it has. Short-sighted governments fail to heed the warnings of earnest boffins and now the sky is falling. Giant storms over the northern hemisphere drag super-cooled air from the troposphere to create a new ice age and lots of snowmen. Meanwhile, climatologist Dennis Quaid takes time out from knowing everything to walk across snowy America to rescue his son from ice-bound New York. Gripping stuff as a disaster movie, but misrepresents the equally scary consequences of global warming.

Disaster/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/124mins
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum Director: Roland Emerich
20th Century Fox

21 Grams

21 Grams is the first English language film by excessively talented Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. A fatal car accident connects three strangers, the wife of the victim, the transplant recipient of his heart and the driver of the car. We learn that the accident is not the only connecting thread: they are all fragile and troubled people, all burdened by addictions and lack of meaning in life. The film is shot in a non-chronological, cut up kind of way that makes for challenging viewing, but is nonetheless gripping.

Drama/US, Mexico/English (Japanese subtitles)/125mins
Starring: Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Focus Films

Secondhand Lions

Walter has the funkiest uncles ever. They sit on their Texas porch like two articles of American gothic, take potshots at unwanted visitors, spin fabulous tales of adventure and riches, and keep a secondhand circus lion. The young lad Walter is dumped on this crusty pair for the summer while mum is improving her life in Las Vegas with her new beau. Actually she is convinced that the two old men are sitting on a fortune and she wants to know where it is. The film is steeped in whimsy and sentimentality and familiar home-spun themes.

Drama/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/107mins
Starring: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment
New Line Cinema

The Medallion

The Medallion is sort of The Golden Child with Jackie Chan in place of Eddie Murphy and all that implies. Somewhere in the far east is a child sitting in perpetual meditation, and when the two separated halves of an ancient medallion have been put together, the kid will be able to confer eternal life on anyone recently deceased. Surprise, surprise, the medallion and the child become objects of interest for certain unscrupulous types. The plot, of course is irrelevant because we have come to see the stunts and the goofiness, of which there are lavish helpings.

Hong Kong/HK/Chinese, English/90mins
Starring: Jackie Chan, Lee Evans, Claire Forlani
Director: Gordon Chan
Screen Gems

Lost in Translation

Bill Murray is an aging actor who agrees to appear in some Japanese whisky commercials more for the chance to get away from the wife as for the money. There he bumps into young newlywed Scarlett Johansson whose workaholic husband has left on her on her todd and they strike up a friendship: he middle-aged and jaded, she young and just learning what jaded is. Bitter-sweet and wise dialogue, exceptional acting, no sentimentality and more heart and compassion than is decent in a modern film. Oh, and possibly Murray’s best performance ever.

Drama/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/87mins
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, Christina Applegate
Director: Bruno Barreto
Miramax Films

Calendar Girls

You know all about this British comedy already: it is based on the true story of those quaint middle-class, middle-aged ladies from the Women’s Institute who decide to make a nudy calendar to raise money for charity. Of course in the photos, all the naughty bits are well covered by strategic still life arrangements, but the calendar sold big time and made over a million quid for charity. Here is the story retold with some embellishments and lots of zest and laughs. A film designed for Julie Walters and Helen Mirren who make it an international must-see.

Comedy/UK/English (Japanese subtitles)/108mins
Starring: Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, John Alderton
Director: Nigel Cole
Touchstone Pictures

Veronica Guerin

Veronica Guerin, the Irish investigative journalist, was shot dead by the people she was exposing in 1996. This is the film of the work that lead to her death. Guerin became a household name in Ireland in the mid-nineties for delving into the world of the big money world of the Mr Bigs who governed Dublin’s drug trade. The success of her work led to become a household name and, eventually, assassinated. This telling ads some real depth to the popular character, and gives a disturbing ambiguity to her undoubted commitment.

True story/Ireland, US/English (Japanese subtitles)/98mins
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Gerard McSorley, Ciaran Hinds
Director: Joel Schumacher
Touchstone Pictures

Troy

Paris — the bloke, not the city — runs off with Helen to Troy — the city, not the bloke. Hubby Menelaus sets to off to get her back with a huge a CG army in what must be fiction’s most absurd jilted man brawl where thousands die to restore a cuckold’s pride. We get the whole thing of the siege and the battles and the horse, but we also get the story humanised and treated not as myth but as history, which has the unfortunate side-effect of making it all appear a wee bit silly.

War/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/162mins
Starring: Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger
Director: Wolfgang Peterson
Warner Bros.

The Missing

Single mother Cate Blanchett is doing OK in the Wild West, providing for her kids and bonking the hired help when Injuns up and steal one of her daughters. Nothing for it but to enlist her estranged father, who is conveniently trained in the way of the native, to rescue her child. She takes along her other daughter — C’mon darling, button your coat properly, we may need you in a gunfight. All the implausibilities piled on top of each other would reach the moon, or at least the nearest box office.

Western/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/135mins
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood
Director: Ron Howard
Columbia Pictures

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

The sound of Motown’s heyday is down to the legendary singers and producers … not quite, according to this documentary that tells the tale of at least some of the backing musicians. Whatever the big name, the band in the studio was likely to be the same one: the Funk Brothers, unsung heroes of a seminal phase in music history, whose story if iconic of the use and dispose attitude of big corporations — all unceremoniously dumped in the label’s big move to LA in 1972. Musical inspiration and exploitation … and beware exploding myths.

Documentary/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/108mins
Featuring: the Funk Brothers Director: Paul Justman
Artisan Pictures

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The Dreamers, Open Range and many more reel reviews...
SHORTSHORTS FILM FESTIVAL 2004 ShortShorts Film Festival line-up.

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Tony Grund
Tuning a career in music in Japan.