To really understand a country you have to go and live there – embed yourself with the people, soak up the culture. If you don’t have the time or inclination for that then the next best thing to is to get stuck in to their commercial cinema. Not the stuff that makes it into major international film festivals like Berlin and Venice, not the stuff that gets nominated for foreign language Academy Awards, but the films that are made to excite and please a local audience. That’s what festivals like Reel Brazil are all about – a week-long portrait of a country via its cinema.
In the late 60s Brazil had a kind of Brazilian Idol television pop competition where brave young artists performed their top song in front of a live audience baying for blood as if they were watching Christians versus lions. But in A Night in 67 we see that year’s competition rise above the boos and jeers to open a new chapter in Brazilian pop music – legendary names like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso compete to win over the tough crowd and in the process launch massive international careers.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall was one of the surprise pleasures of 2008. An Apatow comedy that was relatively modest about it’s ambitions it featured a break-out performance from English comedian Russell Brand, playing a version of his own louche stage persona.
As it so often goes with surprise hits, a spinoff was rushed into production and we now get to see whether Mr Brand’s brand of humour can carry an entire film. Get Him to the Greek sees Brand’s English rock star Aldous Snow on the comeback trail after a failed seven year attempt at sobriety. Unlikely LA A&R man Jonah Hill (Knocked Up, Funny People) sells his record label boss, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, on a 10th anniversary concert featuring Snow and his band Infant Sorrow at the Greek Theatre of the title.
While hunting the site for some links to add to the just posted Winter’s Bone etc. review, I discovered that my Summer Holiday special hadn’t made it here. So, for completeness’ sake, here it is. Pretty sure, this is an early draft too but there’s no sign of an email submitting it.
What a lovely Summer we’ve been having – for watching movies. While the Avatar juggernaut rolls inexorably on there has plenty of other options for a dedicated seeker of shelter from the storm.
Released at any other time of year, Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones would be getting a decent length evaluation (and the headline) here but with fifteen films discuss we’ll have to live with the bullet point evaluation: not un-moving. My companion and I spent a about an hour after watching TLB discussing it’s flaws and yet both ended up agreeing that we’d actually enjoyed the film a lot, despite the problems.
Personally, I think Jackson’s tendency towards occasional whimsical in-jokery typified the uncertainty of tone (I’m thinking of his unnecessary camera shop cameo as an example) but the fundamental message – that the people left behind after a tragedy are more important than the victims – was clearly and quite bravely articulated. And when I saw the film at a crowded Embassy session, during the pivotal scene where the sister discovers the evidence to catch the killer, I could only hear one person breathing around me – and it wasn’t me.
About a third of the way through Elizabeth The Golden Age, handsome pirate Walter Raleigh arrives at Court bringing his Queen gifts from the New World: potatoes in a box of soil and tobacco (bringing to mind that wonderful Bob Newhart routine: “Then what do you do, Walt? ha! ha! ha!… You set fire to it!”) But what Raleigh (played by Clive Owen with an old-fashioned movie star cool that he hasn’t mustered before) is really offering Elizabeth is the future; a future of gunpowder, international trade, science and empire. And for another 400 years Britannia will rule the waves.
Unlike some, I can’t comment too much on the historical accuracy of the film – it seemed pretty close to how I remember studying it as an eight year old – but absolute accuracy doesn’t seem to be the point. The portrait of a woman who has to become an icon (super-human and at the same time less than human) in order to preserve her people is ripe for a melodramatic Hollywood telling and director Shekhar Kapur and star Cate Blanchett don’t let us down.
This film is a sequel, of course, to the remarkably successful Elizabeth that launched Blanchett nearly ten years ago. That success means a bigger budget this time around – hundreds more extras, flasher sets and a rip-roaring maritime set-piece – but it is the supremely controlled Blanchett that dominates. As we rejoin the story her position is still insecure: challenged from the North by half-sister Mary Queen of Scots and from the South by Philip of Spain, the tussle is between Catholic superstition (and medieval brutality) and the enlightened religious tolerance that would allow an Empire to flourish. No wonder some Catholics aren’t happy with this version of history…
Fingers crossed that this year we’ll only get one fat, jolly, red-faced Santa movie after lastyear’s woeful bunch: but if we have to have one I’m pleased to report that Fred Claus isn’t too embarrassing. A fine cast, including Kevin Spacey and Miranda Richardson, have been gathered to tell the story of Santa’s big brother (Vince Vaughan) who left home in a sulk many years ago and is now a cynical repo man in Chicago.
Meanwhile Santa (Paul Giamatti) is stressed out as more and more kids are asking for more and more presents (not like the old days when one present per kid was enough). When Fred needs to be bailed out of chokey, Santa sees a chance to bring the family back together and get some extra help at the North Pole. The tone of the film is pretty random and the humour is hit and miss but Giamatti’s performance as Santa is so fine that, if he rolled it out in any other film, we’d be talking about award nominations. Seriously.
Diaspora and mass dislocation is the great story of the modern age – from the Irish fleeing the potato famine to the millions in Africa displaced by war or genocide. It’s no picnic abandoning your home and everything you know for the hint of a better life – ask your taxi driver – and Emanuele Crialese’s Golden Door plays as a worthy tribute to all those who have ever taken that risk. His film follows a turn of the (last) century Sicilian family escaping the grinding poverty of their island in the hope of getting to Walter Raleigh’s New World where money grows on trees and there are rivers of milk. Once there, they exchange one island for another (Ellis) where they are prodded and tested before being found worthy of America. Crialese’s eye for an arresting image and a lovely performance from lead Vincenzo Amato make Golden Door one of the unsung art-house films of the year.
Mr. Brooks is an odd fish – the film and the character. Kevin Costner plays successful self-made businessman Earl Brooks; he’s Portland’s Man of the Year but he has a secret. Not only is he a demented serial-killer but he has an imaginary friend (William Hurt) who sits in the back seat of his car getting him in to trouble so its a bit like a grown-up version of Drop Dead Fred. Costner’s tendency to underplay everything means we never get a real sense of the torment under the button-down façade but at least he is consistently interesting, unlike the sub-plot involving the cop chasing him (Demi Moore) and her divorce.
For space reasons, only the Elizabeth segment of this review was printed in the Capital Times, Wednesday 21 November, 2007. For some reason they then printed a version of it again in the Films of the Week section at the back of the book, instead of some more of my gorgeous prose. I love them like family, and am intensely grateful for the opportunity to do this in front of an audience, but would like to point out that I don’t have anything to do with the strangely edited “Films of the Week” apart from providing the raw material.
This week’s Capital Times film review: Mr Bean’s Holiday (Steve Bendelack); Twice Upon A Time (Antoine De Caunes); Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro); The Illusionist (Neil Burger); Breaking and Entering (Anthony Minghella).