0

Match Point


Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlet Johansson, Brian Cox, Emily Mortimer

Anyone for tennis? Seems Woody Allen has being breaking out the Robinsons barley water and pulling up his white socks for his first foray outside his native USA. Rising Irish “hunk” Jonathon Rhys Meyers stars alongside big lipped Scarlet Johansson in this movie about love lust and tennis.

Chris is a man on the up, thanks to his relationship with a well to do daughter of a rich man. But he falls for a struggling actress from the US, Nola. Giving up his passion for tennis he starts a job in a large company, and an affair with the American temptress. Trying to make his wife pregnant, he inadvertently puts more effort into Nola, and, with a single slip up, makes her pregnant. Realising lust doesn’t equal financial stability he must do something about this lurid affair.

Allen doesn’t fair so well outside of New York. While his name portends an excellent movie, his ability here is somewhat lacking here. No problem with direction, even the story itself is interesting, if not already used (or overused), but the acting ability of Meyers is smarmy, poorly delivered and downright frustrating. He is unlikable and odious, and not in a good way. Johansson is also irritating, and their relationship turgid. There is no sense of depth to Meyer’s situation, and the twist (yes there is a twist) is like that of a Stephen King novel, a lot of waffle to get to a minute point.

 Hopefully this isn’t inkling toward further Allen projects, he is much better than this. And judging by Meyer’s performance, maybe he’d be better off using his oversized head as a doorstop.

**

0

Little Miss Sunshine


Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Toni Colette

We all went on family holidays, a car packed full of kids and adults, eager to get somewhere but moaning the whole way there. We have all had family rows, and had to deal with angsty teenagers and eccentric older relatives. We’ve all been part to family rows and uncomfortable moments around the dinner table. But if you think your family is weird have a look at Little Miss Sunshine and thank your lucky stars.

Olive is a young girl with an ambition to become a beauty pageant winner. Her brother refuses to speak until he becomes a fighter pilot. Her father is a failed business man whose optimism is overbearing on her mother who is sick of his pipe dreams. Her gay uncle is nursing a broken heart after returning from hospital after a suicide attempt. Her foul-mouthed grandfather likes to snort heroin and look at pornography. Sounds like a typical average everyday family.

Although the family have obvious problems, its Olive’s good nature and desire to win the pageant drive them together in a bid for success. Hopping into a yellow Volkswagen van they take off cross-country fighting, shouting and laughing their way across America.

Essentially Little Miss Sunshine is a road movie. But it is also a character driven family movie. The well devolved characters bounce off each other, giving a believable feel to all their myriad of social and relationship problems. To list all their attributes individually would take away from the point that they all work so well together. That said Steve Carrell gives a career performance best, and does stand above his counterparts.

Of all the comedies of ’06 this is one of the smart ones. Well written with some truly funny moments, it doesn’t rely on toilet humour or slapstick. It really is a little gem. Oh and it has a killer ending.

****

0

Letters From Iwo Jima


Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya 

At this stage in his career Clint Eastwood is approaching legendary status. At 80 he is still directing and after an illustrious career both in front off and behind the screen he has won 90 awards with a further 47 nominations including four Oscars. Which is why the bar is set so high for one of his projects, and why we expect so much? 

Iwo Jima is an island belonging to Japan that is desolate and bare, but is sacred Japanese soil. The Americans want it, the Japanese want it, meaning the two are going to knock heads in a bid control this pile of volcanic rock. The Japanese are low in everything, guns, men, support, food and water, meaning that theirs is an uphill struggle. The Americans are numerous, with heavy artillery and mass numbers of guns and men, meaning that victory is inevitable.

The sister project to Flags of our Fathers, Iwo Jima is completely filmed in Japanese native tongue. It is from the perspective of the defender rather than the attacker, and basically from the enemies’ point of view. This is a bolder move and I have heard people arguing that Flags of our Fathers was only made for audiences that would otherwise criticised the humanising of the Japanese enemy. Although this is probably not true credit has to be given for taking this stand point in a movie. 

The problem with Iwo Jima is that although Eastwood successfully conveys the horrors and frustrations the Japanese endured, it fails to show fully the extent of the horrors of the battle. It centres on a few central characters meaning that overall we are limited in the mass scale of the operation. Apart from a few shots of the massiveness of the American onslaught little is shown of the Japanese resistance. Trying to gauge the length of time and amount men is harder, and hampers the films impact.

Of the two films Iwo Jima is the better, but for an Eastwood movie is below par. The flashbacks and interweaving story lines are not explored enough, and more depth to character would have created a more intriguing movie. The direction is superb, but with Eastwood’s last films the story has been central to success. Here, ultimately, it’s the story that lets him down. 

***

0

Joyeux Noel


Director: Christian Carion 

Starring: Alex Ferns, Diane Kruger.

There must be hundreds of war movies at this stage covering every battle from the dawn of time. Mans ability to annihilate his fellow man in the name of greed or religion or power will always draw interest from people, who can only speculate on the horrors of battle. And long will this go on, as seen with Iraq and Afghanistan; people are always ready to go to war. And so many more movies will be made.

Joyeux Noel is a war movie. It does show the horrors of war. But it is a movie with a heart that warms it to any viewer. Based on a true story it tells the story of Christmas time in the trenches of World War 1. When many troops were in the midst of destruction, soldiers from three countries called ceasefire on their own steam. French, Scottish and German troops dropped arms and shared chocolate, whiskey and stories on Christmas Eve.

Many were court-martialled in an event that shook the Allies to their core. The Germans were sent to the Russian front. But the humanity that these men must have felt for each other before returning to the day job of death is overwhelming. The fact that they offered to shelter each other in trenches from advanced bomb warnings shows that these are real people, not cannon fodder for tyrannical despots.

This is a real Christmas movie. Forget your Santa Clause or Home Alone, when it gets down to the real spirit of the season Joyeux Noel has it all. Christmas is meant to be about mans kindness to man and not who can buy the biggest present and it’s all too evident in this film. It also has nasty Trevor from Eastenders in it, although he’s not as nasty here.

****

0

Jackass 2


Director: Jeff Tremaine

Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera, Chris Pontius, Ryan Dunn

All the way back in the year 2000 a strange phenomenon took hold of teenage minds. A troupe of crazy fools was emblazoned on our screens, hurling themselves off walls in shopping trolleys and eating revolting objects. Johnny Knoxville et al were taking over that bastion of bad television, MTV, and actually making us tune in. Now after six years they are on their second movie, and infinite MTV repeats. 

Like a good compilation tape, a movie of this style needs to open strong. So Mr Knoxville decides to release bulls in a suburb, running riot and running over poor members of the cast. From here on in it’s a series of pranks and antics, some really funny, some devoid of imagination and humour. But the feeling of the parties over and some people just won’t go home always lingers.

Really Jackass 2 feels like a mixture of all the Jackass crews’ independent MTV shows. It is a compendium of Wild Boyz, Viva la Bam and Jackass. Real cynics will believe that what they are watching is archived outtakes of the original shows, instead of a newly produced movie. It all seems a little lazy.

Jackass has left an imprint on youth culture. It has spawned endless imitations in countless languages. It has helped with the advent of websites like You Tube. It has made the awful Bam Margera rich and famous. Obviously it makes all involved a lot of money but for artistic merit they should have stopped a long time ago. Their humour was new and fresh. Now it is cliché.

All that said, after a few beers Jackass does pass a few hours. Yes it’s tired. Yes you’ve seen most off it before. Maybe I’m being too kind, but when you’re forced to sit through Dirty Sanchez the Movie you realise it’s the Jackass boys that do it best.

 ***

0

Inside Man


Director: Spike Lee

Starring: Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, William Dafoe, Jodie Foster

Ah, an old heist movie. Who doesn’t love them? Rob a bank, police get involved, criminals have an elaborate plan of escape. Clive Owen, seeming like his character from Sin City, oozes coolness as the master thief. He swiftly takes the bank telling all hostages to don boiler suits and white face scarves. Bring in Denzel in auto pilot as a cop who needs to prove himself, and a bitchy Jodi Foster and all the ingredients are there for a great big slice of bank robbery cake.

As this is a Spike Lee “joint” expect the usual race references and political undertones. Never one to put his beliefs on hiatus for the sake of a movie, Lees movie gleams with reference to 9/11, a stance he more visually took The 25th Hour. His characters represent all ethnicities, from the Sheik wanting his turban back to the Asian guy to the black kid playing the latest Fiddy Cent game. Yet it is never overbearing. In a city that boasts huge cultural differences everyone is well represented. 

On to the plot. From the outset Lee holds your attention. Never sure of the outcome, the method or the motive, the story is gripping. Why change the hostage’s clothes? Why do they wait so long? What exactly is their aim? Right up to the conclusion you’re held to your seat. The robbers are smooth, the police smart. But the conclusion is overly long and somewhat lacking. Lee has too many loose ends to tie up.

This is a clever movie, well acted and superbly directed, that stands in the top of its genre. A quite enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

****

0

Hot Fuzz


Director: Edgar Wright

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton, Steve Coogan

When PC Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is told that he is due to be relocated to the country he doesn’t understand why. He is the best cop in the station, has a string of awards under his belt and loves the pace and speed of the London police squad. But this is the very reason he is being squeezed out, he makes everyone else look bad. Well there is always one, the one your mother says you should be like, the one who excels in everything and succeeds in life. And there is always some to take them down a peg or two (no pun intended).

When he arrives he is aghast at the way rural life has blatant disregard for the police. Flouting all sorts of laws the locals are in harmony with their force, happy to live peacefully with the odd law broken here and there. Youngsters drink in the pubs because it “keeps them out of trouble” and even the local bobby drives home drunk. To uber-cop Angel this is a disgraceful state of affairs. But as luck would have it there is strange goings on afoot, giving Angel a chance to save the day with extreme cop action.

Pegg is fast becoming a legend in British comedy. The man behind the genius of Spaced brought us the wonderful Shaun of the Dead. But somewhere along the way Pegg must have thought he needed to hone the plot and direction of his output. Hot Fuzz, although fun, really lacks the jokes of its predecessors. It is basically an action flick with so much flashy direction you would be forgiven for thinking it was made by Tony Scott’s son.

The casting is possibly the best part of Hot Fuzz. The sheer number of cameos, from Steve Coogan to Cate Blanchett, makes the film a sort of celebrity spotting venture. But cameo doesn’t make for great comedy. While Pegg seems a little too serious the rest of the cast are having a ball. Timothy Dalton seems to be having the most fun of his career as the supermarket owner while loveable Frost does what he does best, subdued and bouncing off Pegg with ease.

Overly long and low in the way of humour, Hot Fuzz is a missed venture. Let’s hope Pegg can pull it out of the bag for his next venture.

**

0

Hostel


Director: Eli Roth

Starring: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson

First up, I would like to know what “Quentin Tarintino presents” means. Emblazoned all over the cover of the movie is that said slogan, but what it means is a conundrum. He did not direct it or write it, he’s not introducing the film visa vie those old Hitchcock programmes where the director gave a little summary, in fact his name seems to be there to sell more copies. Maybe he had some creative control, but Tarantino this is not.

When Paxton and Josh decide to backpack Europe they gravitate towards the cannabis Mecca of Amsterdam. Along with Oli from Iceland they trawl the streets being generally loud and obnoxious, until eventually they break curfew and get locked out of their hostel. Enter unknown stranger with location of a hostel filled with super hot sex starved females. A hop on a train and they’re on their way to heaven. Unfortunately heaven is out of town in Slovakia so hell will have to do.

Taking an awfully long time to get to the action, the inanely annoying protagonists make hard work of coming to the point. Their early antics made me want to get gory with them, and by the time they realise the horror of the unfolding events, boredom has set in. Once it is moving the gore is suitably grotesque, but is actually less sickening than previously made out.

To be fair the underlying themes of misanthropy do linger after the movie and the general nature of humanity is questioned, but it is too little too late. The torturers are aptly sadistic, the torture gross, but the tension never bubbles to the point of frantic. Horror can be effectively dramatised without pictures, merely words and in some scenes Roth achieves this successfully, but his movie is missing some key ingredients.

 Maybe if Tarantino himself has penned and directed Hostel we would have had a superior movie, as it stands we are left with average. 

***

0

Good Night and Good Luck


Director: George Clooney.

Starring David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jnr., Jeff Daniels 

In the era of sanitised news media in the US comes Good Night, and Good luck, a film that delves into the communist red scare in America. Still relevant today, Clooney tackles the witch hunt lunacy of Senator Joseph McCarthy as he seeks out the suspected “reds”. McCarthy’s antithesis comes in the form of Edward R Murrow, a respected CBS reporter who sees McCarthy’s scaremongering as a threat to civil liberty. The witch-hunt turns on Murrow and his associates but will ultimately be the unfolding of McCarthy.

Clooney made his directorial debut in 2003 with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and continues his control of the camera undiminished with his new film. Shot in black and white, he cleverly uses actual footage of McCarthy from the era lending a touch of realism to the film. Clooney himself plays Murrows loyal producer Fred Friendly but the real star quality comes from Strathairns Oscar nominated performance. Capturing Murrow’s personality, sideways glances and deadpan stillness, Strathairn shines in his first leading role. Clooney’s shots are tight and cramped, portraying claustrophobic newsrooms. Clooney’s father was a newsman and his knowledge of it shows throughout.

Although there is not a great sense of closure on the McCarthy issue there is a sense something great has happened, a blow for civil liberties. This is a stark reminder of what power media has in this age of Fox news. It also leaves you wondering how many cigarettes were smoked in the fifties.

****

0

Fracture


Director: Gregory Hoblit

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling

Everyone loves a good old thriller. Twists and turns and crazy killers are always going to garner interest. But certain names add a little spice to the proceedings. Proving he still drinks the odd tipple of Chianti, Sir Anthony “I’m super intelligent and charming but I will still eat you with beans” Hopkins whacks up the tension in the surprisingly enjoyable Fracture.

Ted Crawford (Hopkins) knows his wife is having an affair. Rather than confront her and ask her the reasons for such infidelity, he decides to shoot her instead. Then he calmly awaits the police, admitting to the officer what he has just done. But something is amiss. The gun used in the murder is not the gun that belongs to Crawford.

 In such circumstances, what’s really needed is a hotshot young lawyer with a perfect conviction record. Clichéd I know, but why break from a proven formula. Step up Mr Willy Beachum (Gosling), and take your place among the greats. Beachum wants more in life, and wants to join a bigger law partnership. He is ballsy, and isn’t frightened by Crawford, especially after Crawford opts to defend himself. Surely it is an open and closed case.

Of course Crawford is suitably cold but intelligent, and reels in the confusion he is causing all involved in the case. He taunts all involved, in such an odious way he becomes instantly unlikable. Whereas everybody had a little bit of love for old Mr Lector, Hopkins character is smarmy and nasty. It all adds nicely to the proceedings, creating the feeling that you really want this guy to get caught. 

Hopkins is an aging pro, but the show here is stolen easily by Ryan Gosling.  He plays his character with ease, confident yet never arrogant, happy in his abilities. Already nominated for an Oscar he could fast be one of Hollywood’s rising stars. The ease of his performance is a joy to watch, 

Even though Fracture doesn’t really break any new ground in the genre, it does sit well with its older brothers and sisters. It keeps you guessing,  and with a strong cast (including David Straithairn) it is easily enjoyable. While it may not last forever in your mind, it will keep you entertained.

***