Monday, March 25, 2013


Had I realised that Michael Haneke's Oscar nominated 'Amour' was an ironic title, I may have watched this film from a different angle. After watching this movie, I came home to read some reviews, and they are all without a doubt positive and waxing lyrical, especially from the high brow newspapers who mutter about depth and masterpiece a lot. Oh well, I never did like to follow the crowd. The first scene begins lightly enough, a crew of ambulance workers break the doors of a fantastic Parisian apartment open wearing masks to help overcome the smell, and on the bed is a decomposing elderly lady dressed in her finest surrounded by chrysanthemum petals. Amour tells the story of Georges and Anne, an octogenarian couple who are musical academics. They enjoy a night out at a concert and arrive home to find their flat has been broken into, but nothing appears to have been taken and it's not mentioned in the film again, apart from Georges making a few calls to get the door fixed. It may have been an analogy for the fact that their lives are about to be changed by an intruder, but also may have been a time filler, because there are a lot of those. Anne suffers a moment of alert unconsciousness, like a daydream, which Georges is alarmed about. As well he should have been as it was a stroke, but that is only disclosed near the end of the film. From this point on, the story goes on its inevitable downward trajectory, initially Anne is paralysed on her right side but has all her mental faculties about her, but after suffering a second devastating one, is left bed bound and rambling, with Georges left with no option but to hire some much needed help. Their only daughter played by Isabelle Huppert visits occasionally with her philandering husband (the English rotter) but seems more interested in real estate than her mother's state. The conditions in which Georges and Anne live become untenable and as a crisis is reached, George makes a decision about Anne and her future. Most of the film is set inside this sprawling apartment, very chic and utterly comfortless. The film is shot often in almost real time, recording every mind numbingly routine chore that we all do every day. Don't get me wrong, I love to watch minutes of a woman vacuuming the carpet as much as the next person, but what some could take as a profound social comment on life's prosaic patterns, I just saw as a director who couldn't think of what to do with the time he was given. Talk about banging on, yes, we get it, life is repetitive and really really boring at times, and we have to do things that we find mundane for people we love, yes, it's not just George who has to, we ALL do!! The actors, French royalty Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges and Oscar nominee Emmanuelle Riva did a sterling job, if the portrayal was meant to be of two people completely disconnected from each other, a couple of poissons froid if you will. There seemed to be absolutely no chemistry between them, even when scenes of them reminiscing should have been revealing. There is a scene where Eva the daughter is telling Georges that she used to like listening to him and her mother making love as it comforted her, mmm how very French of her, I couldn't imagine them shaking hands let alone bumping uglies. There are scenes where Georges has to get very close, maybe more intimate with Anne than they have been in years, which could have been explored and should have been poignant, they just looked awkward. It's ok that other relationships were fraught, but surely the central characters should have liked each other a little? Anne's former pupil now a well known pianist drops in. It's a very awkward scene, as Georges doesn't tell him about the stroke before he wheels her in, and then when the pupil dares to ask about it, he's brushed aside as if her stroke was something to be ashamed of, and a mysterious illness that is incredibly rare. Anne seemed to have a difficult relationship with her only daughter, it was all very stilted and there was no familiarity between any of them. Whilst I'm on this rant, when Anne comes home from having her first stroke, we see Georges going through (endlessly it seemed) tasks of picking her up and doing things for her. It was painful to watch as he is not a youthful man, but also it was so pointless. He was obviously a smart guy and there are so many aids available to assist carers, he didn't have to struggle like that, and there were things that she could have used to make her feel more independent. Hugely frustrating to watch. We then see that Anne doesn't want to live anymore in this state, because she feels useless, well tell that to my ex-colleague who was paralysed down his right side who came into the office every single day. I didn't understand why this made her completely unable to enjoy life in any capacity especially as she was a music teacher so much and could still enjoy that, rather than being the national pole vaulting champion which was obviously off the table now. Maybe I'm just too practical to enjoy this type of film. I did have sympathy don't get me wrong, but there seemed to be a lot of self pity and misery dwelling, which just irritates me frankly. The thing is, these people are in their eighties, sad as it is, didn't they expect it? When you are lucky enough to get to your eighties, you can't really think that nothing will ever happen to you? It's a sad but inevitable part of life, it's not a tragedy like it would be if they were in their thirties. Also there is barely any humour in the whole film. A smattering of the gallic sort, but it's no laughing matter. Even during life's darkest moments, humour is lurking, it's what keeps us sane. Not in this lovely apartment, at one stage Anne states that she doesn't want to see her son-in-law because she can't take his British humour. I would have sold my first born for a touch of it in this movie. The finale was slightly skewed and supernatural and the ending shot of Eva walking into this magnificent piece of real estate made you think more that she was rubbing her hands with glee at being left it all, rather than ringing her hands with the misery of losing both her parents. I usually love French films and was really looking forward to this, I felt very disappointed that it's turned out to be a case of the Emporer's new clothes. There was little to no traces of love in this very cold self important drama, except maybe for the little pigeon who probably deserves it more than anyone else. AMOUR: What's love got to do with it? 3/10

Friday, March 8, 2013

Cloud Atlas

OK, here goes...I haven't read the book of Cloud Atlas, but from what I understand it was considered almost unfilmable. Mmmmm I think that the directors Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Twyker (Run Lola Run) may just have proved that wrong. The plot is way too intricate to even outline, but I will give it a shot. The film is set in six time frames, the first in 1844 involves an American lawyer on a ship who befriends a stowaway slave, next up 1931 in which a haunted gay man seeks out a famous composer and becomes his amanuensis (musical assistant), 1973 and a female journalist investigating a scandal involving a nuclear station. On to 2012 and light relief in the form of a publisher who owes a lot of money and is shipped off to the mental health unit from hell by his fed up brother, skipping forward to 2144 where a fabricant is saved from her miserable life in New Seoul to become the planet's saviour and finally to the 24th Century and an uncomplicated goat herder's life is turned upside down when a strangers comes to his community and needs help. And that's about all I can give you folks. This movie is completely magical. It's three hours long, but I wish it had been longer. The magnificent cast are quite an eclectic mix of actors and it works beautifully. Throughout the film, the same people appear, in different forms, genders and races. Some might have a problem with that, but it's crucial to the film and I found it totally inoffensive as everyone crossed races, caucasian to asian, black to jewish, asian to european so you can be equally offended by it all or not. The stories are all intertwined, and the message is nothing new, but it's such a beautiful message that only the most jaded are tired of it being told time and time again. I am a committed atheist, reason and logic are my masters, but oh how I love the concept of eternal love and souls being bound to each other forever, so romantic and pure. This is the core of the film, the eternal questions we all ask, why do we repeat the mistakes of the past? Is love so powerful that it crosses oceans of time? Are we all connected? Can love change someone? Are we bound to people and if so why? It also confirms, for me at least, that love is the only thing that really matters. That we seek comfort and kindness and it makes our lives better, or changes us if we receive it, give it or if we are spurned. Themes of dominance, evil, slavery thread through it too, you can't have love without hate after all. There are the questions raised of spirituality and organised religion and the questioning of tyranny, but I felt that these questions could be tailored to our beliefs. A Muslim would draw his own favourable conclusions to the same scenes that I did. Visually it's a masterpiece. From the salty seas, to the Blade Runner style of New Seoul, it is quite perfect. The music is just stunning, pushing the boundaries of our feelings even further and it accompanies the words of the script very admirably. The post apocalyptic pidgeon English is wonderfully melodic and child like and used to great effect. All the acting is superb, give or take a couple of ropy accents from Tom Hanks, but he makes up for that with a suprisingly buff turn as the goat herder. Ben Whishaw is as always a pure haunting joy to watch, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving are here amongst others. Which leads to my final point, Hugh Grant is a lazy bugger. His turn here is outstanding, just as rich and nuanced as any of the other actors, so why has he plumped for the easy road all these years? Cloud Atlas is not an easy watch, and it won't be to everyone's liking, but to me its a creative masterpiece, thought provoking, with a multi layered great big beating heart at the centre and organised time travelling chaos all around the edges. What more could an old romantic like me want? Cloud Atlas: A compendium of beauty, doesn't always tell you the direction but you'll be very glad you opened it up. 9/10.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Side Effects

And so it seems that Steven Soderbergh is disillusioned with Hollywood and the film making process and is taking a sabbatical/retirement. Let's hope it's a sabbatical and he gets his mojo back, after all he gave us amongst others 'Erin Brokovich', The 'Ocean's' franchise, 'Sex Lies and Videotape', 'Traffic', 'Magic Mike' and the underestimated and ridiculously sexy 'Out of Sight'. If it's a retirement, we're losing a really wonderful and inspired director and for that we who love movies should all feel a great loss. For his grande finale, he has chosen to direct a little gem of a thriller, Side Effects. Jude Law plays Dr Jon Banks a psychiatrist who treats a suicidally depressed woman named Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison after four years for insider trading. Dr Banks is up to his sea green/aqua blue eyeballs in work and takes on a paid role to trial a new anti-depressant ablixa which Emily eventually ends up taking after the incompatibility of other anti-depressants. After a shocking turn of events, Jon finds himself under the magnifying glass and turns to Emily's former psychiatrist Dr Victoria Siebert (a frail looking Catherine Zeta-Jones) for some answers. Emily ends up in court and Jon's ethics are questioned when an incident involving a former female patient is uncovered. Nothing however is quite as it seems and as he digs deeper, Dr Banks uncovers a dark world which threatens to ruin his career and his marriage. Jude Law is very convincing in his portrayal of an initially relaxed professional at the top of his game who slowly unravels as events take over. He is a somewhat overlooked actor, dismissed as a 'pretty boy' but he's very accomplished and without vanity, not a hint of botox or indeed weave in sight, which makes him all the more attractive and I haven't seen a man look as good in a cardi since Daniel Craig in 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', something about English men and woollens evidently...Rooney Mara is also good as the isolated and confused Emily, she's not a million miles away from her role as Lisbeth in the aforementioned movie, but she shows promise, though appears much younger than her character's age of 28. It's refreshing to see the likeable Tatum as something more than beefcake, again, he has a promising career ahead if he sticks to these meatier (pun intended) roles that he seems to be able to cope with. Whilst we're on the subject of Channing, is it just me or does he have a face that is most unusual? It's also a delight to see Catherine Zeta-Jones back on form as the spiky secretive Dr Seiber, though her make up artist would do well to steer clear of the darker lipsticks and Malificent-like eyebrows, we're not in the nineties now and it's quite distracting. It was a thrilling surprise to be transported to a rip roaring thriller, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This wouldn't be a review without a few little gripes though would it? I felt that all of the guilt was unrealistically shifted on Dr Banks, I really don't think, in fact I know that in real life this wouldn't have happened. The series of events wasn't his fault, and his partners turned on him quicker than you can say psychoanalysis. Also, in some nicely played scenes, his marriage is depicted as happy, he's a thoughtful and kind husband and stepfather, a little too hard working and distracted but better that than a jobless loser. I do think Jude Law has, for want of a better analogy mellowed like a fine wine, a very fine wine so I may be biased. Call me old fashioned but when you are lucky, oh so lucky enough to marry a handsome, kind, funny and smart man that fancies the pants off you and loves your son, don't you own him the benefit of the doubt rather than pissing off at the first sign of trouble? If I'd been him, I would have thought twice about whether I would want a faithless wife back after that, maybe pick myself a nice single nurse who shares the same curious phenomenon as he of a right pointed ear to dote on or something..... The message of the film, if there is one seems to be the compulsion that the modern world has on fixing things, the relentless pursuit of happiness which leads to so many anti-depressants being plied onto the masses. Also that if a colleague/partner/loved one messes up or is in trouble, finger point, leave them to flounder and look after yourself without a backward glance, which a jaded cynic may say seems to sum up the twenty first century. Anyway apart from these small issues, it's a great film, exciting and fun with some Hitchcockian twists and turns. It seems that they do make them like they used to, or they did before Mr Soderbergh retired/sabatted. SIDE EFFECTS: The Law of Attraction 7/10