Monthly Archives: January 2009

Problem Solved

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So Woody Allen seems to have found a way out of the woods. Firstly, he’s not in Britain. I always thought his dialogue spoken in a British accent sounded weird and clunky. He’s now a European filmmaker, but not UK European, real European.

Secondly, he’s not concerned with a “return to form” if the form you’re talking about is ANNIE HALL or MANHATTAN. Anyone who knows me is well aware of my feelings for these films but I have to say I’m delighted with this direction he’s taken. No longer is he looking for the comedic but is happy to let the characters and the situations breathe.

Woody Allen now seems to have let go of what he was as a director, to concentrate on what he is. When the Allen of BANANAS, SLEEPER and LOVE AND DEATH became the Allen of ANNIE HALL, INTERIORS and MANHATTAN he was initially chastised for abandoning his pure comic roots. Of course the negativity subsided when the realisation set in that Allen was evolving and that huge gains as an audience could be had by evolving with him.

The same could be said here.

After MATCH POINT, SCOOP and CASSANDRA’S DREAM (which for my money were on the bland side) Woody’s new evolution would appear to have taken shape. Will this be his final major artistic shift? That remains to be seen. One thing is for sure though, History will look kindly on his body of work.

I saw the film knowing nothing about it, I suggest you do the same.

The film opens on February 6th and probably won’t be in cinemas for long, after all…… there’s no explosions in this picture.

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CHE

I’d gone to the cinema yesterday hoping to witness first hand what the fuss surrounding SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE was all about. There’s more hyperbole flying about for that picture than there is for Barack Obama.

As usual, I hadn’t checked the schedule beforehand and was early… or late, so rather than wait in the bar for an hour I decided to select an alternative.

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Steven Soderbergh is a director who’s generally been under my radar. I recall watching SOLARIS (the only pre CHE Soderbergh film I’ve seen) and hating it! Now I’ll generally try to find at least one redeeming feature about a film but I felt that watching George Clooney in this movie was like being trapped in a very boring washing machine. I’ve now decided to watch the Andrei Tarkovsky version and the Soderbergh version back to back. More on that next week…… If I don’t find myself trapped in suspended animation.

CHE was rather good though.

Walking to the cinema I happened to be listening to the Filmspotting podcast and they were speaking to Soderbergh about this very film that I never knew I was going to see. A couple of things he said struck me as very interesting.

Firstly he spoke of the method, the approach to making the picture. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the iconic standing of the man. One only needs to walk down a street, into a student union or go to any music festival to be faced with countless t-shirts showing his image. The story of Alberto Korda, the man who captured the famous image, is an interesting one. Read a little here.

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Anyway, Soderbergh quite rightly decided to discard this almost mythical reverence and concentrate purely on method. He’s interested in showing us how, not why. That, I think, is a brave approach and one which he should be applauded for. The Filmspotting interviewer thought he came out of the film knowing no more about CHE than he did before, which was very little, but with a better understanding of the process surrounding revolution. I’m not sure I agree with him on that. Of course, a bio pic is probably the worst route to gaining an understanding of anyone but I do feel you get an idea of his commitment, his beliefs and his morality, all important facets of a person and they were shown extensively here, albeit through the subjective lens of the filmmaker.

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Secondly, on a more technical level, Soderbergh spoke of shooting the entire film on the digital RED ONE camera. This is a smallish unit which records the image onto a flash card which can then be loaded directly into editing software…. I’m sickened to say this but it looked amazing. It’s truly the first digital example that’s made me think twice about my staunch and stubborn love for celluloid or rather rethink my consistent cynicism surrounding digital technology. That’s not to say I’m going to curb my desire to shoot a number of films on film……

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Benicio Del Toro, as always, is superb in his understated portrayal of Che and Demian Bichir is a very convincing Fidel Castro. These are only 2 great performances amongst a solid cast.

If you’ve screwed up the timings of the film you’ve gone to see and find yourself at a loose end, I suggest you check out CHE. Hell, why not check it out intentionally?

Oh, and I also recommend the Filmspotting podcast. Available on itunes or at their website here.

Don’t…… No, really.

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2 attempts and I couldn’t get through this film. It’s best avoided.

Never Judge A Book……

So 2009 has started with a boom and now the festive period already seems like a distant memory of some girl I kissed behind a tree at school camp in 1987…… Pleasant enough, but strangely unfulfilling.

I hope you all had a good one.

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I’d always had a problem with Robert Redford’s 1980 picture ORDINARY PEOPLE. Even before I set eyes on a frame of this film I was against it, if the movie came up in conversation I’d sneer and sometimes throw crockery. There was only one reason for this and I have to admit, with hindsight, it was a pretty stupid….. It’s the movie that beat RAGING BULL to the best picture Oscar. Now winning an Oscar isn’t the be all, and end all of course, there are better accolades to receive, but it annoyed the hell out of me nonetheless. Being so in awe of anything can be dangerous but I genuinely believed that Martin Scorsese had been hung from a tree, publicly flayed and massaged with salt as RAGING BULL, for me, was a perfect example of what Oscar winning cinema should be. This visceral examination of man’s capability to self destruct had such an effect on me that when I found out it had been pipped by a family drama, instant unresearched opinions were formed.

These opinions have been changed somewhat now I’ve actually seen the thing.

Actually, the initial exposure to the picture came via the script. Our library at college has a collection of screenplays and this is one of them. I realised my half baked pre-conception was in trouble within the first ten pages and by the time I got to the end, the desire to see this film was overwhelming. In fact I read the last half of the picture in my local pub, at the bar, on a heaving Saturday night. it was incredible. Sitting reading the third act affected me physically, there was a welling up situation happening and there was nothing I could do about it.

That’s the test of a good screenplay, if you can be COMPLETELY absorbed in the story whilst surrounded by drunk men in Edinburgh, you’ve got a hit…. Producers take note.

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The premise is simple, a family wracked with grief following the death of their son Buck in a boating accident struggle to function as a unit leaving each individual member lost in their own way. Timothy Hutton plays Conrad the surviving son who has returned to the family home after some time in a psychiatric hospital following the incident. Mary Tyler Moore plays Beth, the mother who uses her upper middle class social cycle as a barrier between herself and the truth, and Donald Sutherland who plays Calvin, a father desperately trying to keep his family intact whilst living with the same grief. It’s really powerful and moving stuff. The supporting performances are also very strong, notably Judd Hirsch (most famous for his role as in the 70’s comedy TAXI) playing Dr. Berger, Conrad’s Psychiatrist, who has maybe the most important part in this film.

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I really enjoyed the scenes with Berger and Conrad, they were beautifully shot and although we go back to that office on maybe 3 or 4 occasions, Redford does well to create a different aesthetic feel each time. These scenes also serve as a perfect respite from the claustrophobic atmosphere within the family house. Yes, there’s tension in that office but you can see that Conrad is making progress when in the company of Berger.

Conrad’s relationship with his mother is the core conflict of the movie. Beth is submerged in the comforting folds of the well heeled social scene while her son tears himself apart with guilt fuelled by teenage alienation and the pressure of “performing” to the levels are are expected of him.

Donald Sutherland is wonderfully understated in his role as the diplomatic father, trying to find a common ground between his wife and her son. In fact all the performances in this film are understated, it’s what makes the scenario so utterly believable.

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The structure of the film is interesting in that climactic confrontations are not held until the end of the picture, for a film of such seemingly sombre pace there’s many peaks and troughs.

If I was to highlight one negative of this movie, and there are a few but I don’t want to go on too much about them, I’d say that the dream sequences seemed a bit clunky although absolutely essential.

So seek out this film, anyone who’s had any kind of trouble with the complexities of family existence will completely buy into this picture.

Oh,….. And it won the Oscar in 1980. That’s gotta be worth something right?