Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Movie Review

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 2005

Before a bespectacled boy wizard named Harry was carted off to boarding school to get sodomized in the communal showers, there existed an equally magical set of children’s books that captured the imagination of school children everywhere. Well, children that read books about witches and magical creatures. Whatever.

After the extraordinary monetary and critical success of the Harry Potter films, it seemed highly unlikely that a certain major studio specializing in warping children’s minds wouldn’t unlock their checkbook and get to work on filming the set of seven books in their latest attempt at a film franchise. Well before you could yell “Greedy Artless Motherfuckers!” they did. The first film in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series is taken from the second book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” And it is a prime example in how throwing millions of dollars into expansive sets and highly detailed digital effects can absolutely drain any magic or wonder out of a series of children’s classics.

Directed and co-written by Andrew Adamson, a former visual effects supervisor on two of the worst “Batman” movies – “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin”, he shot to the “A” list of Hollywood directors focusing on children’s films with his work on “Shrek” and its sequel “Shrek 2.” The originality displayed on naming the follow up to “Drek 1” should have clued the powers-that-be about the lack of imagination they were working with.

Now we understand perfectly well how complicated and difficult a task it must have been to translate a slim religious parable into a major motion picture meant to entice children to drool at the mouths, purchase all the action figures, and hopefully dress up as centaurs come Halloween – but that does not excuse the slapdash filmmaking on display here. The main problem with “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Christ-figure, The Bitch and Too Many Scenes Ripping Off Lord of the Rings” is that despite the presence of unicorns, centaurs, fauns, cuddly woodland creatures that speak in cutesy British accents – it never once takes flight as a magical wonderland.

It would still have been a valiant effort for all concerned if they had not screwed up the basic premise. The film never overcomes its biggest mistake, the depiction of the embodiments of good and evil. As any fan of the books will tell you, the hero and villain of the piece are merely thinly disguised Christ and Satan figures – in the form of a giant pussycat and Satan as one cold hearted bitch. Well, the big puddytat as voiced by Liam Neeson and acted by CGI pixels is a crashing bore. The only cat we want to watch pontificate is Morris the Cat – ‘cause at least he was one funny gay pussy. The White Witch in the person of the great Tilda Swinton steals the whole show away from the talking critters by playing it to the hilt – making her character Jadis, one frosty Bitch! We know full well that often the baddy is more entertaining than the goody two shoes, but we felt slightly uncomfortable cheering on the giant kitty snuff scene.

To make matters worse, the casting of the four major children’s roles is vastly uneven. At the top of the list and shouldering all the acting plaudits is the minute Georgie Henley as the inquisitive Lucy Pevensie. She is a gem. Her ability to actually capture a sense of awe and wonder go far in selling the initial meeting between humans and Narnia critters. Once she stumbles thru the wardrobe and lands in the mystical land, her encounter with a certain Faun named Mr. Tumnus is the dramatic highlight of the film. And considering we have a full two hours left to go, this flick shot its load way too early. Mr. Tumnus as played by one James McAvoy brings a lovely scatter brained charm to his creation. Kudos to the kid and the faun!

The other three Pevensie punks fare exponentially worse the older they get chronologically. Skandar Keynes as the rotten Edmund pouts and flounces about well enough, but his frustration at being transported to this magical land comes off more like he's pissed he can’t find the shoe section in “Harrod’s”. Women’s shoes at that. It really is a shame that all little British boys come off sounding like, well little British girls.

The elder Pevensie girl is played with little grace and lesser charm by Anna Popplewell. And Good Lord, we know that finding kids with straight teeth may have been a challenge in the U.K. – but this bitch’s overbite merely adds to the clutter during the battle scenes. (Side note to the director: Don’t place her next to any goat like creatures, you’re compounding the confusion! She’s the one on the right.)

Moving on to the last one. William Moseley as the eldest in the bunch, Peter, is also sadly the least talented. Not that he’s called upon to do much but attempt to look brave at the crucial moments. Unfortunately for him, his resemblance to Scarlett Johansson doesn’t help matters.

As for the adults in the film, you might have read that in addition to Liam NeesonRay Winstone, Dawn French and Rupert Everett were involved in the proceedings. You would be half right. Their voices are hard at work at chewing out the clumsy dialogue while their animal host bodies are lavishly created by the latest digital technology.

Back to the real star of this torturous show, Tilda Swinton. From her lengthy collaboration with the late Derek Jarman, thru her fine work on such films as Sally Potter’s “Orlando”, Scott McGehee & David Siegel’sThe Deep End” and Spike Jonze’sAdaptation” – she has always been one of our favorites. Here, amidst the cluttered surroundings, her icy stare and spot on delivery for the wonderfully wicked White Witch comes as a blessed relief from the cacophony. Literally cutting a swathe thru the layers of schmaltz, she is terrific to watch!

But by the time we have arrived at the climactic battle scene, we care precious little for the fates of the Pevensie children or the Christ-Kitty. We are solidly behind the White Witch and her beasty brood. Although by now, anything we have to say is falling on deaf ears. For you see, the film despite meandering reviews is a monster hit. Of course. All across Jesusland, churches and Sunday Schools are organizing outings to teach kids about Christianity by watching a talking Lion commit suicide and a jabbering Faun serve tea. Lovely. It’s like getting preached to by McGruff the Crime Dog. Those kids will really be more fucked up than they are now. But we digress.

There is also, sadly, no sense of dread or awe to be found in the noisy slam bang ending that vainly attempts to bring a sense of grandeur to the battle scenes. Being that this is a children’s classic, what are the odds that the good guys will succeed? Pretty good, don’t you think? And that really shouldn’t be the point. You can still tell a grand adventure with genuine charm and skillfully filmed chase scenes and climatic battle royale scenes that don’t look staged for a Sony Playstation® starring the cast of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom.” Loud and garish and thunderous music does not replace pacing, camera angles, dramatic tension, or timing. There are only so many things one can hope to tidy up in an editing booth. If the pieces aren’t there, we don’t really care if the Lion comes back from the dead. But we did always kind of suspect that Christ was in reality a big old kitty cat. Do yourselves a favor, stay home. And make your kids read the damn books and tell them you’re too poor to attend movies. That will teach them valuable reading skills and humility. Bless you all!

(End note: It’s always a sure sign in this digital age that a film is in trouble when their official website is more entertaining that the actual movie.)

Directed by Andrew Adamson
Screenplay by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Based on the novel by C.S. Lewis

Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie
Skandar Keynes as Edmund Pevensie
William Moseley as Peter Pevensie
Anna Popplewell as Susan Pevensie
Tilda Swinton as Jadis, the White Witch
James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, the Faun
Jim Broadbent as Professor Kirke
Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan
Ray Winstone as the voice of Mr. Beaver
Dawn French as the voice of Mrs. Beaver
Rupert Everett as the voice of Fox

Cinematography by Donald McAlpine
Film Editing by Sim Evan-Jones & Jim May
Costume Design by Isis Mussenden
Original Music by Harry Gregson-Williams
Production Design by Roger Ford
Art Direction by Jules Cook, Ian Gracie, Karen Murphy & Jeffrey Thorp
Set Decoration by Kerrie Brown

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The White Countess - Movie Review

The White Countess 2005

On May 25th of this year, the international cinema lost one of the last great producers and filmmakers. Ismail Merchant, who together with director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala carved an indelible niche into the drab pabulum of mainstream moviemaking with their passionate, literate, and class act films. For over forty films, their inspired traveling stock company of cast and crew would work at mere scale, dedicate themselves to producing quality work – and if they didn’t hit the mark every single time, it was not for lack of trying. And along they way, they produced works of art. “The Bostonians”, “A Room with a View”, “Maurice”, “Howard’s End”, and “The Remains of the Day”.

The last film to be supervised by Ismail Merchant has arrived. It is called “The White Countess”, was directed by his longtime partner in crime, James Ivory and written by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (who provided the original source for their masterful “The Remains of the Day”). It features the acting brilliance of Ralph Fiennes, John Wood, Allan Corduner, Lee Pace and a trio of Redgrave ladies.

Lynn, Vanessa and her real life daughter, Natasha Richardson as the lead. This is the first feature film to co-star Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave, and they are both wonderful, of course. John Wood and Allan Corduner are old pros and acquit themselves nicely in their bit roles. Newcomer Hiroyuki Sanada is fine as the starchy and mysterious Mr. Matsuda. Madeleine Potter, one of the vets of the Merchant / Ivory stock company is perfectly cast as the brittle, elder Katya Belinsky. Lee Pace, earned his way into our hearts with his brilliant tranny turn in “Soldier’s Girl”, and his contribution to one of our favorite TV shows, the clever and all too quickly cancelled, “Wonderfalls.”

The setting is Shanghai in the 1930’s. The international port that found itself home to the world’s charmers, vagabonds, refugees, gamblers and whores. They are all here. The story concerns a blind diplomat who is withering away in his daily existence, dreaming of opening his vision of the perfect little bar in this hubbub of cosmopolitan angst. Into his life arrives a taxi dancer, as played by Natasha Richardson, who in a previous life was a Russian Countess. We all know how badly things went for Russian Countess’ circa 1917, so let’s not ask what she and her tattered family are doing living in a hovel in Shanghai. It seems everyone in this film is biding their time until their eventual escape or salvation. The Russians are looking for safe travel to Hong Kong where their friends and family await them. The diplomat is seeking an escape from his haunting memories. The mysterious Mr. Matsuda, is seeking an escape from his shady dealings with the Chinese authorities. And after the first five minutes, we were seeking a cocktail and ashtray! (We hate watching period films, they are having so much fun drinking and smoking – bring that back to the movie theatres, we say!)

Natasha Richardson has had more luck on the stage than the screen. With “The White Countess”, she has the rare opportunity to shine. She is exquisite. Her delicate turn as the exiled Russian Countess is a joy to behold. She alternates her quite dignity with a brassy reassurance in moments of crisis. And Good Lord, does she looking stunning in her 1930s drag!! Ralph Fiennes does a fine turn as the blind diplomat, and his inner struggle with his demons is handled quite well. The senior Redgrave sisters should surprise nobody with their marvelous character turns. If you are unaware of their fabulous careers, well then, there is no hope for you. Go check it out. Eight Oscar nominations between the talented duo, and they still light up the screen.

If the meticulous production values and formidable cast were all that the film had to recommend it, it would be sufficient in our eyes. Fortunately, the coming together of the various principle characters in this now forgotten world works exceptionally well. Our main criticism of the piece must be assigned to screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro. While we adore his novels, go read them now please, we feel he should have taken a master class with Merchant / Ivory’s long term collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Now, that bitch knew how to structure a screenplay!

If the movie drags in the beginning, and takes its time in finding its legs – it is due to the very literary pacing by the novelist cum screenwriter. We certainly didn’t dislike this film, and with the solid turns by Natasha and Ralph coupled with the added bonus of watching the Redgraves strut their stuff, we can certainly recommend it. While “The White Countess” may not be the pinnacle of the Merchant / Ivory oeuvre, it is certainly not a stain on Ismail’s memory. Perhaps we are partially disappointed since we know they are capable of greatness. This is a good film. Not a great one. And sometimes, that is enough. Bless you all!

Directed by James Ivory
Written by Kazuo Ishiguro
Produced by Ismail Merchant

Ralph Fiennes as Todd Jackson
Natasha Richardson as Countess Sofia Belinsky
Vanessa Redgrave as Aunt Sara
Lynn Redgrave as Olga
Madeleine Cooper as Katya
John Wood as Prince Belinsky
Madeleine Potter as Katya Belinsky
Allan Corduner as Samuel
Hiroyuki Sanada as Mr. Matsuda
Lee Pace as Crane

Original Music by Richard Robbins
Cinematography by Christopher Doyle and Yiu-Fai Lai
Costume Design by John Bright
Film Editing by John David Allen
Production Design by Andrew Sanders

Match Point - Movie Review

Match Point 2005

In this year end frenzy of Giant Apes, Gay Cowboys, International Espionage and Thudding Musicals – one last major film sneaks in prior to the Awards cut off date. Woody Allen has been making films for over four decades, some of them brilliant, some charming, some have become bona fide classics and some . . . well, let’s just leave better left unsaid. Oh, alright – ever since his Korean invasion, the Woodman’s track record has been spotty at best. He has directed near forty feature length films, and by now most of you know his schtick. Neurotic New Yorkers dissecting their relationships. In a nutshell. And we love him. We have to admit it. Event thru the duds, we always believed he is capable of turning out another gem. Earlier this year, he surprised many critics with his return to comic form, “Melinda and Melinda.” And with his latest, “Match Point”, the Woodster has triumphed again!

Match Point” is in the grand cinematic tradition of “Double Indemnity” as seen thru the eyes of the one and only Woody Allen. If you have been unfortunate enough to sit through the lame ass preview in theatres – you will think this is a tired retread of Man-Has-Affair-Plots-to-Kill-His-Boring-Wife. Well, it might have been under a less talented director. But Woody Allen is nothing if not resourceful in dealing with reexaminations of basic storylines. Taking a break from his typical New York City neurotic milieu, “Match Point” is set in London and features a fine roster of actors.

As is often the case with Woody, the cast is uniformly good and particularly well chosen. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has always interested us, not only for his luscious lips. While he could have coasted on his pretty boy looks over the years, he frequently chooses roles that are a bit more challenging. In “Match Point”, he carries the film beautifully. Cast as the out of his league former tennis pro, turned instructor for the posh set – he is always believable. His character, Chris Wilton, seems to be floating along, barely making ends meet when his luck turns by becoming friends with one of the clubs members. The deliciously sexy Brit, Matthew Goode portrays Tom Hewett, the scion of an enormously wealthy family, whose sister Chloe takes an instant liking to Chris. And why shouldn’t she? As portrayed by that mouseburger nonpareil, Emily Mortimer – she is a kind hearted but incredibly dull lass whose biggest asset is her money. Chris insinuates himself into their upper class lifestyle and thereupon meets Tom’s fiancée – one Nola Rice.
Well, drop the pudding and slap the gardener – ‘cause Miss Rice is played by Scarlett Johansson as one hot chippy! Now, while we adored Scarlett in “Ghost World” and “Lost in Translation”, her penchant for grabbing headlines over good roles has not quite endeared us to her. Thank God, she is perfectly cast as the petulant and vain Chloe who takes full advantage of her equally luscious lips and trouser dropping contralto. (Sidenote: Don’t sit too close to the screen, between Jonathan and Scarlett – their lips threaten to suck in every audience member during their steamy love making.)

Now, you must be saying to yourselves: “Selves, this has to lead to the affair and then the plotting to murder the wife, etc.” Well, you’d be wrong. Not to fret. That’s why we’re here. To correct you. The wonderful thing about “Match Point” is that it handles the clichéd with such aplomb and flair, that even if it were to go down the typical thriller route – it would still seem fresh and new. Woody Allen has shown himself capable of great emotion in his work, but all too often he has been labeled a dispassionate filmmaker. We would not totally disagree with that claim, but we would soften that criticism by stating that most people would view anything even remotely intellectual as unemotional. And that thought, we disagree with. The capacity to think is not in direct contrast with the ability to feel. While we admire other directors like Ron Howard whose entire oeuvre is one of emotional outpouring, the dangerous flipside to that is schmaltz. Just try and sit thru “Backdraft” or “Edtv” to watch the heartbreak butter being slathered about.

With “Match Point”, Woody Allen shows himself to be at the top of his game. He uses the camera sparingly and coolly. There are no grand theatrics or MTV style editing tricks. When the shocks come, and there are a few – they arrive with subtlety and grace. One of the reasons we enjoyed Scarlett’s performance was how directly in contrast her character appears to Jonathan’s newfound world of privilege and class. Her sensual gifts while not so unattainable are completely unavailable in his wealthy wife’s world of High Tea and Shooting Parties. Jonathan’s character is drawn completely into his secret adulterous life, less out of avarice and more out of distraction. While we may not sympathize with his character’s less than gentlemanly behavior, we cannot help but understand that his choices are made out pure desire and not a willful maliciousness.

We don’t want to ruin any of the delightful surprises to be found along the way, suffice to say we adored this examination of “Luck” and the role it plays in all our lives. We are thrilled to welcome Woody back to the fold. His work on “Match Point” ranks with some of his best. And that is true praise indeed. Bless you all!

Written & Directed by Woody Allen

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Christopher Wilton
Scarlett Johansson as Nola Rice
Emily Mortimer as Chloe Hewett
Matthew Goode as Tom Hewett
Brian Cox as Alec Hewett
Penelope Wilton as Eleanor Hewett
Margaret Tyzack as Mrs. Eastby
James Nesbitt as Detective Banner
Ewen Bremner as Inspector Dowd

Cinematography by Remi Adefarasin
Film Editing by Alisa Lepselter
Costume Design by Jill Taylor
Production Design by Jim Clay
Set Decoration by Caroline Smith

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The New World - Movie Review

The New World 2005

”Captain Smith and Pocahontas had a very mad affair
When her Daddy tried to kill him, she said – Daddy, Oh don't you dare
He gives me fever – with his kisses, fever when he holds me tight
Fever – I'm his Missus, daddy won't you treat him right."

- lyrics from “Fever” by Peggy Lee

As avid readers of The Bloody Red Carpet know by now, this is the film we had been waiting for all year long. We were practically dripping with anticipation and excitement at the thought of a new Terrence Malick film! Since his breakthrough work way back in 1973 – “Badlands” with Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen, he has helmed two other masterpieces, “Days of Heaven” in 1978 and “The Thin Red Line” in 1998. And that’s it. With “The New World”, he brings his total to four. Four fucking movies in thirty two years. Makes Stanley Kubrick look like Woody Allen! But was it worth the wait? Yes and no.

Yes, this is a wonderful film. Clearly one of the year’s best, and one that simply demands to be seen on the large screen for it’s breathtaking beauty and hypnotic atmosphere.

No, it was not worth the wait since we were forced to see it with a full audience of what we had falsely assumed were people who enjoyed going to see movies that weren’t aimed at morons. Clearly, these people had A. Never heard of Terrence Malick, B. Had never seen a Terrence Malick film, and C. Should be taken out back and shot thru the head executioner style.

We understand that many people go to the movies to “have fun”. If that’s all that movies are worth, then please never attend a movie again. No, not all movies should be categorized “Art” with a capital “A”. And that isn’t what we are talking about. We are talking about the ability that some talented filmmakers have to transcend the medium that is chock full of Buddy-Cop-Car-Chases and Fart-in-a-Virgin’s-face-Frat-Comedies or Two-Pathetic-Urban-Neurotics-Meet-Cute-and-End-Up-Happily-Ever-After-Comedies or remakes of Japanese Horror flicks. Isn’t there some room on the vast cinematic dinner table for a film that traces it’s roots back to the beginning and honors the visual storytelling of moving pictures? We can put up with many things, but we completely lose our patience with idiots that cannot appreciate Terrence Malick. Like Antonioni, Bresson or Kurosawa – this man understands the visual power that movies can exert over a willing audience. And if you can’t appreciate his work, go fuck yourselves.
The New World” has been labeled an epoch retelling of the Pocahontas myth. And that pretty much sums up the plot. While the real Powhatan Princess may have never been “The Noble Savage” of American mythology or a fever inducing Lolita – she has clearly entered the realm of legend over the centuries. Terrence Malick takes the basic storyline of the myth, and expands it visually to reflect that truly mythic time when Europeans first arrived upon the shores of North America to settle the New World. Funny thing, it turns out to have already been settled. By those pesky Native Americans. You see, kids before there were Casinos and AA meetings – the Native Americans actually had it pretty darned good! And then came the White Men. Typical.

With “The New World”, Malick transports us to this turning point in America’s history and while never flinching from the ugly truths – he manages to paint a breathtaking canvas filled with indelible images and real emotion. As John Smith, Colin Farrell is used to fine effect. While he may not be one of our favorite actors working today, he has managed to charm us with some exceptional work. Most notably in the little seen “A Home at the End of the World.” Christian Bale, of the blisteringly hot abs – turns in a beautiful turn as John Rolfe, Pocahontas’ paramour after being abandoned by John Smith.

Christopher Plummer – that old drunk, is fine but fairly typically cast as the stern captain in charge of the proceedings. And with the discovery of fourteen year old Q’Orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas, Terrence Malick has found the heart and soul of the film.

This has to be the best meeting of actress and role in recent memory. She is truly astounding. Completely believable as the underage native beauty, her charms and appeal are never in question. But the real surprise was her captivating screen presence. Beguiling, flirtatious, brave, charismatic. She is all these and more. We are not sure if she is the real deal – or if Malick had to help coax the performance out of one so young, either way the end result is superb. The chemistry between her and Colin Farrell sells the first half of the film, and the relationship between her and the doting Christian Bale in the second half brings the story full circle. Whatever the future may hold for young Miss Kilcher, she should be proud of her tremendous accomplishment in “The New World.”

While the casting is vital to the success of this tale, it is the gloriously visual storytelling that brings it home. Nature has always been one of the main characters in Malick’s movies. From the stark landscapes of the Midwest in “Badlands” to the symphony of wheat fields in “Days of Heaven” thru the blood stained jungle terrains of “The Thin Red Line” – the power, majesty and poetic grandeur of nature takes a front seat in his storytelling. The difference between watching a National Geographic® documentary and watching Terrence Malick at work is one that is discernable to the true filmgoer. One makes a pretty backdrop for penguins. And one steeps you in the setting, frames the characters in a variety of expressions and moods and ultimately propels the story and action through juxtaposition and temperament. For what better description or explanation of a character can there be than to see them experiencing a New World for the first time?

All we need to know about the main characters in this film is shown thru their interaction with nature. From the soldiers’ inability to cope with their new terrain, to the Native Americans’ disruption of their daily lives, to Pocahontas’ gradual idealization at the feet of British Royalty – “The New World” represents changing horizons for all concerned. Malick is an artist. And Thank God we have him around. If you feel brave enough to experience a movie that might actually make you think, ravish your senses with beauty and truth, and takes you to a place you have never seen before – then go see “The New World.” You’ll be glad we sent you. And the rest of you, we hope you catch syphilis and die a painful death. Bless you all!

Written & Directed by Terrence Malick

Colin Farrell as John Smith
Q’Orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas
Christopher Plummer as Captain Christopher Newport
Christian Bale as John Rolfe
August Schellenberg as Powhatan
Wes Studi as Opechancanough
Raoul Trujillo as Tomocomo
David Thewlis as Captain Edward Wingfield
Yorick van Wageningen as Captain Argall
John Savage as Savage
Noah Taylor as Selway
Irene Bedard as Pocahontas’ Mother
Ben Chaplin as Jehu Robinson
Brian F. O’Byrne as Lewes
Jonathan Pryce as King James I

Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki
Film Editing by Richard Chew, Hank Corwin & Saar Klein
Costume Design by Jacqueline West
Original Music by James Horner
Production Design by Jack Fisk
Art Direction by David Crank
Set Decoration by Jim Erickson

Friday, December 23, 2005

Caché - Movie Review

Caché 2005

Zut Alors! Quel film! C’est magnifique, n’est-ce pas? Ah, the French. When they’re not busy rioting or setting fashion trends, they produce some spectacular films. And Michael Haneke’s latest is no exception. Copping the Best Director accolade and two special Jury prizes this year at the Cannes Film Festival, “Caché” has been labeled in the blandest American fashion – "a thriller." It is. To a point. But as with most European films, the labels are merely surface deep and what truly lies beneath is the real show.

Starring those talented Gallic thespians, Daniel Auteuil and Oscar winning Juliette Binoche – “Caché” soars as a searing family drama and cinematic examination of the lies we tell and the nasty habit they have of catching up to us. This film works on so many levels; it is a true joy to behold. To some people. The audience we saw it with left the show completely befuddled. What happened? Who did it? Why wasn’t there a boring, insulting explanatory finale a la “The Sixth Sense”? Because it wasn’t an American film. Simply put. Now, don’t get your Galliano petticoats in an uproar. Obviously there exist some intelligent films helmed by Yankees. A few. Okay, two. Anyway, if every film had to explain the dénouement as if we were all two year olds, films would be geared only towards prepubescents with time to kill. And not to say that the majority of current films aren’t. But isn’t it a joyous thing when a movie attempts more and succeeds? Of course it is. Get the fuck over it.

French directors’ obsession with the thriller and their near worship of masters like Hitchcock are legendary. Would that most American directors could muster the energy to tell a good thriller with such panache as Michael Haneke. Perhaps best known stateside for his steamy “La Pianiste” and his post apocalyptic “Le Temps du loup”, he has a brilliant eye for the minute and the precise moment when to hold back or reveal crucial secrets to the plot. We were suckered in by the first languorous shot of the outside of the Laurent household, which housed a seemingly successful and peaceful couple and their twelve year old child.

From the first scene, we are aware that someone has been watching their domicile for less than benevolent reasons. Soon, mysterious packages begin arriving at their doorstep with the clear intent to unnerve the famille. To what extent the messages are jokestery or malicious, is the real key to this thriller. We are not fond of revealing plot points that ruin a good flick, so we will not even attempt a clever ruse to explain the proceedings. Suffice to say that the English language title is perfectly in tune with the drama. “Hidden.” Enough said. Oh, alright – you might want to brush up on your French / Algerian history. But, that’s it!! NO MORE CLUES!!!

Juliette Binoche has been the darling of international films for several years – working with some of the best directors across the continents. While she is undoubtedly gorgeous, her acting chops have always been her secret weapon. From Jean-Luc Godard’s “Hail Mary”, André Téchiné’s “Rendez-vous”, Philip Kaufman’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, Louis Malle’s “Damage, to the late great Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Trois Couleurs” trilogy – she has shown herself capable of a wide range of characterizations. Her work here in “Caché” is not only of equal caliber, it may perhaps exceed her earlier work. Her confrontation scene in the hands of a less capable actress could have been dangerously shrill – she soars thru the scene and the film with a power and depth that is harrowing.

Daniel Auteuil has earned a reputation as one of France’s greatest actors with inspiring work in such fare as: Claude Berri’s “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of the Spring”, “Un Coeur en hiver”, “Ma saison préférée”, “Le Huitième jour” and “La fille sur le pont.” He has the enviable ability to project charm, intelligence and complexity. An ability that is put to excellent use as the pater familias at the center of the mystery who is too proud for his own good.

The supporting cast is uniformly fine, with Maurice Bénichou turning in a heartbreaking performance as the father’s down on his luck childhood friend. Lester Makedonsky as the seemingly rebellious twelve year old son. And one of the doyennes of French cinema, that old warhorse and former sex bomb, Annie Girardot doing a particularly fine turn as Daniel Auteuil’s bedridden mother. She is glorious.

The old gal’s still got it! (Although she might help deflate one particular rumor going round if she doesn’t lay off the Mille Feuilles!)

Please, do yourselves a favor and go see one of the best films of the year, with some terrific performances, moments of intense drama and quite the shocker or two. Just don’t expect to be treated like a moron, so don’t come complaining to us that you “didn’t get it” when it’s all said and done. Give it a try. We’re sure you’ll enjoy the ride. Bless you all!

Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

Daniel Auteuil as Georges Laurent
Juliette Binoche as Anne Laurent
Maurice Bénichou as Majid
Annie Girardot as La mère de Georges
Lester Makedonsky as Pierrot Laurent
Walid Afkir as Le fils de Majid

Cinematography by Christian Berger
Film Editing by Michael Hudecek & Nadine Muse
Production Design by Emmanuel de Chauvigny & Christoph Kanter
Costume Design by Lisy Christl

Munich - Movie Review

Munich 2005

On the way into the theatre to view Steven Spielberg’s latest, we overheard two bitches muttering: “So, like, this is going to be serious?” Well, yes. For those of you who randomly enter movie theatres when you’re bored like a pack of wandering Lemmings, please be warned that yes indeed, this film concerns such serious topics as terrorism, assassinations and the wonderfully kooky Israeli / Palestinian conflict. No spaceships, headstrong archaeologists armed with bull whips or dinosaurs chasing urchins. Now and then, Steven Spielberg enjoys flexing his “intellectual” muscles, and for good or bad he often comes up resembling that old connoisseur of the popcorn flick, Cecil B. DeMille. Now we are not disparaging Mr. Spielberg – we think comparing him to ole C.B. is quite the compliment. It’s just that we do not agree with the plebian consensus that ranks Spielberg as the greatest living director. (We ourselves are more partial to Scorsese, Altman and Malick – and Please God, let it hurry up and be Christmas Day so we can view his latest!)

Anywho, back to the flick at hand. There is much to enjoy. And some to dislike. For all the whining over the three hours it takes to unspool the wonderful remake of “King Kong”, we never found ourselves tapping our watches. We did during the near three hours it took to parlay the events of “Munich.” We suppose that’s what happens when you combine Hollywood’s most powerful director, with Broadway’s most verbose playwright, and the screenwriter of “Forrest Gump.” And herein lays our major issue with “Munich.” WOULD IT HAVE KILLED YOU STEVE, TO TIGHTEN THE FLICK BY A GOOD HALF HOUR????? Jesus H. Christ on a Popsicle stick! We love a good long engrossing epic, but an inflated story, we have little patience for. Whew! There. That’s out of our system. Now to the good stuff.
Since ole Steverino has the mega-clout, he can pretty much write his own ticket. And in telling the alleged backstory behind the 1972 Munich Olympics bloodfest, and the multiple assassinations they inspired in retaliation, Stevie has lined up his usual top notch production staff, excluding composer John Williams and a wonderful international array of leading men and character actors. Australian Eric Bana is a strong lead as the Israeli hero Avner, placed in charge of his cabal of covert counter terrorists. And Lord knows, he’s easy on the eyes.

Daniel Craig, that talented little piece of British ass and future James Bond is wonderful as the South African second hand man. Ireland’s own Ciarán Hinds brings all the forcefulness of his RADA training to bear in the role of the clean up man. That mini and mighty French actor / director Mathieu Kassovitz expertly handles the jangled nerves of their assigned explosives expert. And Germany provides Hanns Zischler, the thug. Typical.

Also seen to fine effect, is ever reliable Oscar winning Geoffrey Rush as the mastermind behind the operations. And from “Sex & the City”, Miranda’s cleaning lady, Lynn Cohen in a wonderful turn portraying Israel’s famed then Prime Minister Golda Meir, who authorized the covert operations in response to the murders in Munich.

In two smaller, yet pivotal roles: Israeli actresses, Ayelet Zurer and Gila Almagor score hits as Avner’s stoic wife and admonishing mother. And it was a true delight to see that one time Bond villain and talented veteran Michael Lonsdale flex his considerable charms as the head of the French connection. Has it really been over thirty years since his wonderful performance in that classic of international espionage, “The Day of the Jackal”? Indeed, kudos to Spielberg and his casting army for their inspired choices.

The film does a solid job in depicting the various international backdrops for the espionage, and should be commended for juggling the political viewpoints involved. It should come as no surprise, as co-screenwriter Tony Kushner earned his justifiable fame with a similar hat trick on the seminal “Angels in America” magnum opus. The power of the key scenes involving the executions is not to be denied. Fairly seat shaking they were! And we did enjoy Avner’s backstory involving his family and their emotional pull on his conscience. Yet, in attempting to paint a full canvas of the goings on, the screen seemed to be cluttered with excess plot points. It isn’t that we were ever bored, just restless. Did it really need to stretch on and on and on? There were more false endings that the alleged ones to be found in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”! We hate blaming Steve and Tony, so we’ll assign it to co-screenwriter Eric Roth, who penned the interminable “Forrest Gump”.

Some have argued that the film lacks a cohesive point of view. Perhaps. We would argue that the convoluted and heated debate between Israel and Palestine has no solution. Despite the socio political intrigue involved, this is basically a film about retribution. And who could possible win, when this much blood is spilt? Boys with guns should just be told to whip it out; we’ll bring the measuring tape and settle this once and for all. Enough. Where’s the love? (And trust us, with Eric Bana and Daniel Craig on hand - we'd be thrilled to be the official judges!)

Still, it should come as no surprise to our legions of fans that we appreciate any film that is intelligently made and features excellent performances and production values. While it may not land on our Top 10 List (coming soon, never fear) of 2005, we enjoyed visiting this little corner of “Munich.” We just wish we had brought along a comfortable cushy for our tushy – it’s a long haul! Bless you all!

(End note: The film opens with the disclaimer / tease – “Inspired by Real Events”, which has become the film industry’s legal loophole to avoid all kinds of law suits. It seems that the book “Vengeance” which inspired the flick has taken some hard knocks over the years for its alleged little white lies. Amazing ain’t it? That a film might actually be made up, despite its historical background. Shocking! Next thing you know, they’ll be telling us that giant apes don’t really exist!)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Tony Kushner & Eric Roth
Based on the book “Vengeance” by George Jonas

Eric Bana as Avner
Daniel Craig as Steve
Ciarán Hinds as Carl
Mathieu Kassovitz as Robert
Hanns Zischler as Hans
Ayelet Zurer as Daphna
Geoffrey Rush as Ephraim
Gila Almagor as Avner’s Mother
Michael Lonsdale as Papa
Mathieu Amalric as Louis
Lynn Cohen as Golda Meir

Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski
Film Editing by Michael Kahn
Costume Design by Joanna Johnston
Production Design by Rick Carter
Original Music by John Williams
Art Direction by Ino Bonello, Tony Fanning, Andrew Menzies, David Swayze & János Szabolcs
Set Decoration by John Bush