Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pan's Labyrinth

"I've had so many names... Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce."

Directed by:
Guillermo Del Toro

Written by:
Guillermo Del Toro

Ivana Baquero
Sergi Lopez
Maribel Verdu

My rating: 5/5

The really striking thing about Pan's Labyrinth is how it is able to surpass any expectations that it's hype had suggested. It is a film like nothing I have ever seen and while it may not be everyone's cup of tea, the quality of the story and its storyteller cannot be denied.

The story cuts between the harsh world of the end of Franco's fascist reign in 1940s Spain and the world of an isolated little girl and the magical underworld she encounters. The film is not to be confused with children's films like Labyrinth or Harry Potter. It is full of violence and very complex themes of tragedy.

Ofelia, our young hero has moved to an army base where her mother's new husband lives. As they wait for her mother to deliver her new baby, Ofelia learns the true nature of her evil new stepfather. Because of the horror of her new life, Ofelia retreats to a world in which she meets a Faun who tells her a story of how she is a princess but must perform three tasks in order to prove it is truly her. While completing these difficult and gruesome tasks, Ofelia grows so attached to the notion of living in this magical world, rather than the real one that she grows increasingly determined to succeed in her endeavours. As the story twists and turns, it becomes increasingly dire and nasty, leading Ofelia deeper into her magical world. It is never specified whether the magic is real or imaginary but both possibilities are open to interpretation.

The story is both warm and tragic. It seduces with it's stunning visuals while at the same time repelling with the viciousness of its violence. However, with it's stunning cinematography, it's perfect performances and its unprecented mix of childish innocence and cold, tragic cruelty it is definitely the type of film which will be remembered in years to come and hopefully in February when the Oscar nominations are announced.

- Charlene Lydon 30/11/06

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


"Letting everyone down would be my greatest unhappiness."

Written & Directed by:
Sofia Coppola

Kirsten Dunst
Jason Schwartzman
Asia Argento
Rip Torn
Judy Davis

My rating: 4/5

The notoriously reviled Cannes disaster turned out to be a surprisingly accomplished third film from the wonderful Sofia Coppola. The reasons for the Cannes audience's hatred for it are unknown to me but I can only believe that historical conficts and perhaps inaccuracies caused the uproar. Cinematically, I can't believe an audience could have too much trouble enjoying it.

The film's conceit is to portray the lavish lifestyle of Marie-Antoinette as a hedonistic, punk youthful extravagance. She is not portrayed as selfish and evil, but merely oblivious. She was so involved in the microcosm of Versailles that she was unaware of the social issues going on around her. Whether this portrayal is historically fair or not is the main reason to suspend your disbelief and sit back and enjoy the parade of aesthetics on offer.

The film's soundtrack is composed of contemporary artists from the 1970's to present. With names such as Aphex Twin and Bow Wow Wow, the soundtrack is bizarrely out of place. However, this actually worked far better than it should have. The music was impeccably chosen and stayed away from very recognisable tunes (Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" being a notable exception) so it managed to be reasonably low-profile.

The film's strength lies in it's dreamy elegant visuals. The set and costume design is gorgeous and Coppola chooses to pace the story as painfully slowly as with her other films. This also helps to enhance the dream-like oblivion of the world of Versailles. There is a certain amount of mesmerising intimacy created by putting Marie-Antoinette squarely at the centre of every scene. All perception is from her point of view and her innocent good nature is counterpointed by her addiction to material possessions. Her relationship with her husband is most interestingly handled. They have a practically non-existent sex life and have very little in common but there seems to be a coy, child-like love between them that neither are sophisticated enough to know what to do with.

The performances are fantastic from all involved. Kirsten Dunst handles the task of portraying the 19th Century's Paris Hilton very well. She has the right mixture of childish opulence and soullessness. The role is a difficult one as it is intricate and her character must be revealed through very small gestures. Dunst perfectly captures what Coppola was trying to show the audience.

Jason Schwartzman also deserves a mention for his portrayal of King Louis XVI. Even though it isn't much different to his usual persona, he poignantly captures the man who never grew up but must now control one of the most powerful countries in the world. It works very well and the relationship between him and his wife is suitably squirm-worthy.

Overall, I believe this is a film to be watched for surface pleasures. With barely a mention of political unease, it is certainly not a film of history buffs. It is merely an investigation into a very sheltered but harshly judged girl whose unfortunately high social stature resulted in her very early demise. But for the cinematic beauty on display, for the affecting performances, and for the floating, beautiful screenplay, I think this is definitely one of the best films of the year.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Little Children


Directed by:
Todd Field

Written by:
Todd Field
Tony Perotta

Kate WInslet
Patrick Wilson
Jennifer Connolly

My rating: 4/5

Little Children paints a very interesting picture of middle-class domesticated thirtysomethings whose lives intertwine through their children. As relationships become more complicated they find themselves facing some hard truths about parenting and growing up.

This film is Todd Field’s greatly anticipated follow-up to 2001’s In the Bedroom, which got five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and a handful of acting nominations. Here, Field demonstrates his winning formula again by writing characters that are easy to relate to despite their often selfish and careless motivations. Similarly to In the Bedroom the storyline, although not full of twists, never allows the viewer to know where it is going. The plot is deliberately slow paced to allow the intricacies of the character’s relationships to reveal themselves, giving the audience a genuine examination of the complications of choosing what is right and what is wrong. With sordid affairs, hot tempers and a reformed paedophile taking up most of the story it is clear that the director wanted to keep morality firmly in the “grey” area without becoming judgmental of the characters.

A large part of why this film works so well is the fine performances from the extremely talented cast. Kate Winslet plays dowdy young wife and mother, Sarah who seems to resent the fact that her child needs so much of her time. She embarks on an affair with a dad she meets at the playground played by Patrick Wilson. Their dependence on the excitement of their sexual encounters forms the basis of the plot of the film. Both actors do a great job of leaving their souls at the door for these characters. Jennifer Connolly also performs well as Wilson’s pushy but caring wife Kathy. As with his last film, the Academy may reward Todd Field’s cast with another round of nominations.

- 20/11/06

The Last Kiss


"What you feel only matters to you. It's what you do to the people you love. That's what matters. That's the only thing that counts."

Written by:
Paul Haggis

Directed by:
Tony Goldwyn

Zach Braff
Jacinda Barrett
Rachel Bilson
Blythe Danner
Tom Wilkinson

My rating: 3/5

This film examines the love lives of 5 couples, four on the brink of their 30's and one couple well into their golden years. The story focuses on four friends, each representative of various stages of life. Kenny represents adolescence as he screws around and doesn't have any plans to settle down, Izzy has just had his heart broken, Michael (Braff) is recently engaged with a baby on the way and Chris's wife has just had a baby and they are going through a break-up.

The main focus of the story is Michael and his charming, kind, innocent girlfriend. He is struggling with a fear of commitment and faces all the horrors of settling down; the fear of never sleeping with another woman again being the main fear. As the film's protagonist, he is very unlikeable and after recklessly cheating on his girlfriend with a silly college girl (Bilson) he only feels remorse when he is found out. This is the film's main weakness. It is hard for the audience to believe that Michael genuinely made a mistake and has now learned his lesson. It just feels like he has had the rug pulled out from under his comfortable life and his regard for his girlfriend is merely a selfish comfort zone and she deserves much more. Presumably, the director cast Braff because of his "loveable screw-up" persona but here he just comes across as an arrogant, soulless yuppie. It is the women in this film that carry the performances. They do most of the work in capturing the tragedy of the maturing relationship. Mostly, the men descend into "American Pie" characterisation that should have been avoided at all costs.

The film, however, has a lot going for it. The interweaving stories work very well and the film is an enjoyable watch and inarguably well-written by Oscar-winner Paul Haggis. The relationships are realistic and if viewed as a cynical comment on the cruelty of frivolity, it may have worked very nicely. However, the ending of the film proves that this was not the writer's intention.

The film is beautifully shot, has a great soundtrack but by the end of it you are very sorry you have no real hero to root for.


Sunday, October 29, 2006


"'s a part of the puzzle"

Tobin Bell
Shawnee Smith

Directed by:
Darren Lynn Bousman

Written by:
Leigh Whannell

My Rating: 3/5

The extent to which you enjoy this film mostly depends on whether you like “that sort of thing” or not. The film is full of imaginative and stomach-churning gore. It lacks characterisation and the twists and turns are less and less convincing as the franchise continues. It does, however, give the target audience exactly what they want. That is nasty, evil, cleverly conceived violence, and plenty of it.

The film opens with a needless tying up of the loose ends from Saw II. It was a perfect excuse to kick off with some shocking gore without having to bother setting up new characters. The real story begins about twenty minutes in when the writers finally reveal the basic premise. There are two story strands. One involves the notorious Jigsaw who is now bed-ridden from a brain tumour. He and his psychotic new protégé, Amanda, a survivor from the previous film, kidnap a young doctor, Lynn, and place a device around her neck which will explode if Jigsaw dies. The second story strand revolves around a vengeful man, Jeff, who must pass a series of violent tests or else he and others will die. Lynn must keep Jigsaw alive until Jeff has completed all his tests. This allows an excuse for a gory operation performed in the makeshift hospital that Jigsaw and Amanda seem to live in.

A large problem with the film is the ever-increasing elaborateness of the devices and scenarios. It begs the question of how this invalid and his crazy assistant can build these contraptions, and how can they find so many empty, abandoned warehouses? But if we suspend our disbelief for a moment, the torture scenes are the most clever and stomach-churning yet from this franchise or from any other for that matter. Another problem with the film is how the character of the Jigsaw killer is transformed into a God-like presence. He is presented in a morally righteous light. He is merely trying to help people. All of his games are designed to make survivors appreciate their lives. This idea is reinforced in a very humanising near-death experience where he is walking through a park with a beautiful young woman, presumably his wife. He is also shown to be disgusted with Amanda because of her murderous tendencies.

With our beloved villain portrayed in this pleasant light, we only have Amanda to provide the nastiness. Unfortunately, this character is so weak and unbelievable that it is hard to feel anything from her. She is a difficult character to understand and her deep emotional attachment to Jigsaw is never fully explained. We must presume some sort of Stockholm syndrome is at work.

Overall, the film succeeds where the audience needs it to. It delivers the gore, it delivers the tantalising scenarios. With enough gore nobody will care about the ugly over-stylisation, the irritatingly choppy editing, or the flashbacks and silly twists. These films are all about the gore and with that in mind; this is possibly the most successful film of the series so far.

Friday, October 13, 2006

World Trade Centre

"Can you still see the light?"

Nicolas Cage
Michael Pena
Maria Bello
Maggie Gyllenhaal

Written By:
Andrea Berloff

Directed By:
Oliver Stone

My rating: 1/5

On the cusp of a wave of controversy is where Oliver Stone likes to live. Perhaps that explains why he would take on such a low quality project. The film's very existence caused uproar and what was promised was a sensitive, intelligent celebration of the heroes involved in the 9/11 tragedy. Unfortunately for the audience, what was delivered was a weak, boring, completely unchallenging story about two police officers who get buried under the rubble after the second tower came down.

The film begins well enough emphasising how normal the day was before the attack. However, it very quickly descends into exactly what it shouldn't; a tacky, over-sentimental waiting game which cuts between the two trapped cops and their families who are running around shouting, eagerly awaiting their return.

For the first 40 minutes or so, there are some interesting moments of panic in and around the towers. Stone really gets across the idea that nobody knew what was going on and effectively captures the chaos and fear that people were feeling. He commendably stays with the story he wants to tell without descending into political territority.

The negative side of staying with this story is the fact that we really care very little about these characters. They are not slowly built, likeable characters. It is presumed we will like them because they are on our side. They are the 9/11 heroes who have been exalted to beyond-rational heights by the American media. That's not to say that they don't deserve the praise. They most certainly do, but it is lazy writing to presume this will be enough to attach an audience to a character's plight.

Overall, this film fails because of the over-reliance on the audience's already raw emotions on this subject. Perhaps that explains its great reviews in the U.S. and its very poor reviews here.

Friday, October 06, 2006


"He's always chasing the pot of gold, but when he gets there, at the end of the day, it's just corn flakes."

Adam Sandler
Kate Beckinsale
Christopher Walken
David Hasselhoff

Written By:
Steven Koren & Mark O'Keefe

Directed By:
Frank Coraci

My rating: 3/5

Click is not at all what I had expected. The trailer had suggested a straight-forward Sandler flick. It was far more epic and emotionally substantial than advertised.

The story centres around Michael, a very busy architect whose career is preventing him from appreciating his lovely wife and two children. When he goes to buy a universal remote control, he meets a loopy sales assistant Morty(Christopher Walken) who takes his request literally. He sells him a remote that controls the universe. It can rewind, fast-forward, pause, and even has an audio commentary by James Earl Jones.

At first it took the form of every other Adam Sandler film, he gets the remote and does a number of childish, silly pranks with it. However, as the film progresses, it becomes something much more dark and begins to feel more like sci-fi. As the pranks and jokes slow down, Sandler finds he has lost control of the device. It has programmed itself, based on his preferences, to fast-forward through sex, arguments, illness and promotions. This meant that he was losing years at a time and over the course of these years he grows stronger at work but loses the love of his wife and kids. He can see himself becoming a soulless executive who has lost his passion for life and is merely going through life on "auto-pilot". It shares the morals and imagery of Frank Capra's films and even comes across as a rather loose adaptation of "It's a Wonderful Life".

The supporting cast were very funny and suitable for the most part. David Hasselhoff is great as Michael's arrogant boss and Henry Winkler is sufficiently charming as his underappreciated father. However, it is Christopher Walken's quirky turn as the enigmatic Morty that really stands out. He does his typical crazy, unpredictable character but goes slightly more over-the-top for this role which works perfectly. Kate Beckinsale was disappointing as Michael's wife. Although stunningly beautiful, she was completely dull and gave no characterisation to the role.

Another weak point was the unsuitable inclusion of classically Sandler-eque jokes. The script comes across as having started its life as a thoughtful sci-fi with strong links to old Hollywood. However, it is seriously dragged down by the infantile jokes that recall every other lazy Adam Sandler film.

Having said that, however, Sandler does a good job here creating a likeable everyman that we can relate to. He's a nice guy who feels completely powerless in his life and goes to extreme lengths to change that. When he can, he shows his love for his family but makes a number of mistakes throughout the film that leads to the disastrous eventuality. In some ways this is probably Adam Sandler's most varied role and possibly his toughest to date, He handles the material competently and while he's no Jimmy Stewart, he admirably wins the audiences sympathy.

The film is, at best, an existential examination of modern middle-class life but is dragged down by a disappointing ending, some cringe-worthy sappy scenes, and some big dumb Sandler jokes. But overall I found it entertaining and actually quite charming.

-Charlene Lydon 6/10/06

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The King

"I need to get right with God"

Gael Garcia Bernal
William Hurt
Pell James
Paul Dano
Laura Harring

Directed By:
James Marsh

Written By:
James Marsh & Milo Addica

My rating 4/5

Having missed this film in it's one-week run at the cinema, I was anxious to pick it up immediately after it's release on DVD. Every other review on this blog has been of cinema releases but I hope to expand into other reviews and this is a good place to start because I feel this film really deserves to find an audience.

The first English-speaking role of Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal is portraying a charater called Elvis who leaves the Navy and goes off to find his father. For an actor whose first language is Spanish, Bernal does a remarkable job of fitting into the role of a young, disturbed, American.

Elvis meets his father David Sandow (William Hurt) who is now a pastor in an idyllic small town. He has a beautiful God-fearing family consisting of his dumpy wife, his son Paul, who sings in a God-rock band and Malerie, a pretty, good-natured 16 year old. After Elvis is shunned by his father and told to never come near his family again, Elvis sets about upsetting his perfect family unit. He does this by seducing Malerie and they embark on an affair, though she is unaware that he is her half-brother.

As events unwind, the audience is drawn into the mind of Elvis. It is a complex character who is never portrayed as evil or psychopathic, merely a sociopath who doesn't have any idea of right and wrong. He constantly shows no regard for human life, human emotion or the God that his father loves so much.

As he digs himself in deeper and deeper the film plunges into a darkness that becomes almost unrealistic but saves itself immensely by an abrupt ending that leaves the viewer thinking for a long time after.

I felt that what makes this film worthwhile is its characters; their beliefs, their hypocrisies, their needs. Each member of the Sandow family feels like they are desperately clinging to their strict beliefs because of a fear of hell, or of succumbing to the evils of the outside world. The character of Elvis is particularly interesting as the viewer can empathise easily with many of his actions while knowing how wrong they are. There is a feeling throughout the film that he is in need of some love and has no idea how to get it.

The film's biggest shortcoming was in the relationship between Elvis and Malerie. She succumbed far too easily to a sexual relationship with this stranger with whom she mostly shared awkward silences and small talk. This made the relationship feel a little forced. Also, the character of Mrs. Sandow was horribly miscast. The strikingly beautiful Laura Harring did what she could with no makeup and tightly tied hair but she just looked like a Hollywood beauty trying to look mousey. Through no fault in the actress's talent, it didn't work.

Overall, the acting in this film was magnificent, William Hurt played a wonderfully hypocritical, seriously repentant Born-Again Christian, Paul Dano played the God-loving son perfectly in yet another performance that proves he is destined for greatness, but Gael Garcia Bernal really put his undeniable skills to great use here, taking on a role that was very complex and easily misunderstood. He managed to pull it off perfectly, creating one of the most interesting characters in recent American films.

Although flawed, the film raises many questions about moral choices, and the difference between morals and fear of God. It also creates questions about identity in American culture and the idea of the family unit. The notion of sin and retribution is also a recurring theme and it asks the audience if what Elvis has done to David Sandow's family is God's way of punishing him for his earlier behaviour or is it just coincidental remnant of the sins he committed years earlier? The question of spirituality and forgiveness is the main issue at hand. If Sandow can be forgiven for his sins, then Elvis can do whatever he likes as long as he eventually makes himself "right with God".

For it's twisting, dark storyline, it's superb central performances and it's chaotic ending, I strongly recommend this film, but you may need to suspend your disbelief at times, as it gets pretty far-fetched.

-Charlene Lydon 4/10/06

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Trust the Man

"Have a little faith Toby, the world is not against you"

David Duchovny
Julianne Moore
Billy Crudup
Maggie Gyllenhaal

Directed by:
Bart Freundlich

Written By:
Bart Freundlich

My rating: 2/5

Despite a horrible marketing campaign which gave this film the veneer of a straight-to-video teen movie, the impressive cast made me doubt the frothy exterior. For the first hour, this veneer of over-sentimental rom-com is completely absent. The film begins as a snappy, down-to-earth examination of how relationships can go wrong even when the couple are deeply in love.

The couples in question are Tom and Rebecca (Duchovny and Moore) who are married with children and very much still happy and in love. However, a lack of sex, and Tom's re-adjustment to being a house-husband is causing problems for them and we slowly see the marriage disintegrate. This relationship was captivating because the director kept it clear that the couple loved each other, thus focussing the audience on the fact that their problem was really just a lack of proper communication.

The second couple is Toby and Elaine (Crudup and Gyllenhaal), who have been together for seven years and are only now facing issues of impending domesticity. They are far less interesting because Toby is a totally unlikeable slacker who doesn't deserve Elaine and it is hard for the viewer to hope for this relationship to work.

Unfortunately, the second two acts seem to focus mainly on Toby and Elaine. This is where the film begins to show that rom-com veneer again. The third act becomes needlessly over-the-top, therefore cheapening any of the cleverness and genuinity of what started out as a decent examination of the microcosm that is the modern marriage.

The film is worth a look for the performances of David Duchovny and Julianne Moore but overall, it is a frustrating waste of what should have been an interesting film.

- Charlene Lydon 28/9/06

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Black Dahlia

"I think you'd rather fuck me than kill me. But I don't think you have the balls to do either".

Josh Hartnett
Aaron Eckhart
Hilary Swank
Scarlett Johannson

Written By:
Josh Friedman

Directed By:
Brian de Palma

My rating 3.5/5

The Black Dahlia is a fictionalised account of the solving of the notorious murder of young actress Elizabeth Shortt in Hollywood in 1947. It is told from the perspective of a young naiive cop who gets dragged into the case from a number of different angles and slowly manages to tie the angles together to create an interesting story of how and why this crime was committed. All the basic film noir elements are there: good cops, bad cops, drugs, gangsters, the best friend's girl, the femme fatale and the twisting storyline. These elements combine nicely to create a story which works most of the time, but fails to keep the viewer enthralled throughout.

By far the most promising thing about Brian de Palma's adaptation of James Ellroy's sleazy Hollywood novel was the possibility of how attractive it could look. The smoky, erotic underbelly of 1940s LA is the perfect setting for De Palma's distinctive visual style. The film completely proved itself to be worth the price of admission for this alone. It looks beautiful from the first frame to the last. The composition of the shots, the costume design, the colours and the immaculate beauty of the cast really provides the essence of "old Hollywood". It is a treat for the eyes and an exercise in aesthetics just to view it.

Josh Hartnett plays the sweet but naiive "good cop" opposite Aaron Eckhart's hot-tempered "bad cop". Both are wholesomely handsome American men, beefy and square-jawed. The ladies are equally as glamorous with Scarlett Johannson pumping her red lips up to inhuman proportions to give us a pout that the sirens of the past could only dream about. Hilary Swank for once wears a dress and slinks her body around the film so fluidly that we wonder why she usually insists on playing genderless characters. Both actresses do a wonderful job but the biggest credit must go to Mia Kirschner for her potrayal of the titular Black Dahlia. Despite her characters' short, posthumous screentime, she delivers a character as deep and twisted as any other in the film.

The film's major problem was in the script. If the plot flowed as easily as the dialogue the film may have become a classic alongside Ellroy's other Hollywood set crime thriller, LA Confidential. However, too much of the first and second acts are focussed on the lives of the cops and not enough attention paid to the fasinating case of the Black Dahlia murder. By the third act, the story has become so convoluted that the audience have nowehere specific to focus their attention and therefore stop caring as the film reaches it's twisting climax.

-Charlene Lydon 28/9/06

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Right at Your Door

Rory Cochrane
Mary McCormack

Written By:
Chris Gorak

Directed By:
Chris Gorak

My rating: 3/5

The basic premise of this film is one that intrigued me in its simplicity. The story takes place in Los Angeles where a series of "dirty bombs" (germ warfare) have been detonated all over the city. All residents are told to seal up their houses and not allow people who may be contaminated indoors. This puts our hero Brad (Rory Cochrane) in the awkward position of having to tell his wife Lexi (Mary McCormack) who he loves more than anything in the world that she must remain outside in the chaos.

The film moves quickly and while you might wonder how such a premise can be stretched to 90 minutes, it succeeds very well. It captures the frustration, panic and desperation perfectly and shows the wide range of emotions the characters go through.

The longer the characters are isolated from each other, the more paranoid the film becomes. They can't trust the police, they can't trust the media. They have no idea whether or not they are being told the truth and don't know where to go for help. All they have been told is to stay where they are until help comes.

This paranoia is heightened by the fact that the film shows events only from Brad's point of view. The audience knows as little as he does and can only guess alongside him about what is to become of them.

The major failing of this film is in its ending. Throughout the film, I had a nagging feeling that they wouldn't know how to end it and create some big twist to remedy this. I was correct. While the twist was logical and not altogether awful, I just felt that a simpler ending would have been more poignant. For a film that invests so much of itself in the emotions of the characters, it suffers from detracting from intimacy at the end.

Unfortunately, a weak ending is something a film can't quite recover from. Having said that, however, it is still certainly worth a look for the great lead performances and the hugely captivating story.

- Charlene Lydon 13/9/06

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

Richard: Oh my God, I'm getting pulled over. Everyone, just... pretend to be normal

Steve Carell
Paul Dano
Alan Arkin
Greg Kinnear
Abigail Breslin
Toni Collette

Written By:
Michael Arndt

Directed By:
Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris

My rating 3.5/5

The first feature film by music video directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton is a real accomplishment in modern independent cinema. While it treads the old ground of classics like The Royal Tenenbaums or even The Simpsons which lovingly poke fun at dysfuntional families, it has gathered together such an almighty ensemble cast that many of the films flaws are forgiveable.

The story centres around the Hoover family. Richard and Sheryl are the parents, dishevelled and clinging to a tiny hope of success; the children, Olive and Duane, are polar opposites but seem to maintain the closest bond of the film. Duane is an angry teenager who hasn't spoken in months due to a vow of silence in honour of Friedrich Nietzche. Olive is a bright, sweet, adorable 7 year old who, by default, has won a place in a state beauty pageant. They are joined by Sheryl's suicidal gay brother Frank and Richard's cranky, heroin-addicted dad. Every single performance is this film is so spot-on that you almost feel sorry to leave these characters as the film ends. The cast are among the best ensemble casts ever to grace the silver screen. As they all have their background in comedy (except for Abigail Breslin who is too young to have a background in anything), they understand all about timing and which notes to strike between comedy and tragedy.

What this film lacks is a great script. While it has some wonderful elements, it does seem at times quite lazy and disjointed. There are some comic moments which felt a bit too slapstick for the film and while these scenes were funny, they never quite fit into the film. Also, the film hints at some rather disturbing issues about the relationship between granddaughter and grandfather which are never properly addressed.

Having said that, there is some choice dialogue in the film, most of which is wonderfully delivered by Alan Arkin as Grandpa.

The strongest theme of the film is that you are only a loser by not attempting to do something. It is in this that the key to each character lies. It relates to Uncle Frank as he comes to the realisation that his suicide attempt was just an easy way out, Duanes vow of silence is an attempt to accomplish something, and the whole family taking a road trip they can't afford in order to take pudgy, bespectacled Olive to a futile beauty pageant also ties strongly into this message.

The family's old Volkswagon van becomes a character in the story too as it's gradual dilapidation reflects the family's ever more disastrous journey. One by one, the characters worst fears are realised and their dreams shattered but the film focuses on how these experiences make people grow and learn. This is what I believe makes this film about a family who keep on losing such a cheerful experience.

Despite its flaws, I recommend seeing this film for it's superb characters and it's inspiring message. Also, to try predict which of the four worthy men will be honoured with a Best Supporting Actor nomination next spring.

- Charlene Lydon 12/9/06


Penelope Cruz
Carmen Maura
Lola Duenas

Written By:
Pedro Almodovar

Directed By:
Pedro Almodovar
My rating: 4/5

To really love this film, I believe the viewer must be able to love Almodovar, as this work embodies every style and flourish that has become synonymous with his name. He is rather hit and miss with audiences. Some lap up his distinctive visuals, his adoring portraits of women and his tall tales. Others, however, find his melodrama a bit too much and no amount of saccharine imagery can make up for this.

Lets take this review from the point of view of someone who likes Almodovar. Such a viewer would probably find this film delightful in a number of ways. It is classic Almodovar in its structure, storytelling, characterisation and visual style. From the outset, the audience is presented with a technicolour extravagaza which blazes with sultry red and vibrant blue. Every shot is composed beautifully to augment the humanity and beauty of our heroines.

The story revolves around a family of women from La Mancha whose mother returns from the dead to set things right with her daughters and help dying friends through their time of suffering.

The first half hour of Volver slowly...very slowly...sets up the rather complicated story that takes up the final two acts. It drags a bit despite some moments of high drama. I was just starting to think this was going to be a major disappointment when the story properly unfolded, pulling the audience in and climbing higher and higher into the preposterousness we have come to expect from Mr Almodovar's stories. Never one to fear being over-the-top, Almodovar has a unique skill for reining in the craziness by focussing on the journey of the characters and not the story itself.

This film, more so than many of his films, has a distinct lack of respect for the male sex. It contains no admirable men. One loutish perverted husband, one cheating incestuous husband, and a landlord, bitter at being rejected by Raimunda (Cruz). The women are strictly single and well capable of managing by themselves, even into old age. At every opportunity, the camera uses Laura Mulvey's theory of the "male gaze" to mock men's inability to focus on anything other than the female form. An example of this is an overhead shot of Raimunda washing dishes. Half the screen is looking down at her ample cleavage, the other half shows her washing a large kitchen knife which is important to the story later. It makes one think that Almodovar is challenging the men to pay attention to the knife, despite the cleavage.

The performances by these women, as in all of Almodovar's work is astonishing. Each woman, ages ranging from 15 years to 80 years, produce remarkable, well-rounded characters and their joint Best Actress awards at Cannes were certainly deserved.

If you are a fan of Almodovar you should see it because it embodies everything he is so highly regarded for. If you are not familiar with him, perhaps you should give this a try. If you like it, chances are you may have found a new favourite director, or at least a refreshing antidote to the summer blockbuster season.

- Charlene Lydon 12/9/06

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Wicker Man (2006)

Edward Malus: "I only care about the law, sister"

Nicolas Cage
Ellen Burstyn
Kate Beahan

Written By:
Neil La Bute

Directed By:
Neil La Bute

My rating: 1/5 (the 1 is for unintentional hilarity)

**Warning: Contains minor spoilers

To say this film is "so bad it's good" would be an insult to Ed Wood and his cohorts. This film is "so bad I had a great time laughing at it" is a better way to put it. The heavy-handed plotting, silly ending and dreadful acting allowed plenty for room for mocking.

This film does not deliver a serious, genuine attempt to update the story of the original "The Wicker Man" (1973) for the 21st century. I can't imagine how anyone felt that a film set in a remote, ageless island off Scotland actually needed to be updated but, clearly, Neil La Bute did. This film is such a huge departure from La Bute's previous work that perhaps this is how the script ended up feeling like the heavy handed work of a teenage horror movie fan.

From La Bute's earlier films ("In the Company of Men"(1997), Your Friends & Neighbours (1998)) one could expect a subtle, emotional look at the human condition and the inner-workings of the mind of our doomed hero. This film could not be more far removed. The focus of the film is on the mystery and on Nicolas Cage running around waving his gun and punching various women from the island. The character of Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee in the original) is replaced with Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn) and an island full of power-mad women.

The film's plot was also changed remarkably from the original. Firstly, the hero is neither a virgin, nor a devout Christian (two very important details in the original). Secondly there was an added sub-plot involving a tragic car crash in which a little girl was killed that has left a psychological mark on Cage's character. One can only assume this was put in to help the audience understand his desperation to find the missing child. However, to also add that the missing girl is his daughter means that the sub-plot had absolutely no purpose except to allow the director some stylish flashbacks/hallucinations.

Overall, the acting was all horrible. Especially from the usually dependably Nicolas Cage. His jet black hair and heavy, obvious make-up made him look like a cabaret performer and his behavioural inconsistency made this film almost unbearable to watch.

On a slightly positive note, there was some very lovely scenery on the island and some of the cinematography was pretty. Overall, however, the film just didn't create any sense of claustrophobia or that sick feeling in your gut that senses the hero's impending doom. To begin comparing it to the original would be a whole other essay and I will not even get started on it here.

To sum it up, the storyline is full of nonsense, the ending is laughable, the acting is appalling and the only thing I and recommend it for is a very hearty laugh. I did actually enjoy laughing throughout it at the ridiculous exploits of Cage (i.e., punching out a female islander just to take her bear costume).

Let this disaster be a lesson to Hollywood and usually competant director like Mr. La Bute...leave well enough alone and spend your money on a cinematic re-release of the original if you're desperate to keep making money off it!

-Charlene Lydon 7/9/06

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Nacho Libre

Nacho: "Chancho, when you are a man, sometimes you wear stretchy pants in your room...Just for fun"

Jack Black
Hector Jiminez
Ana de la Reguera

Written By:
Jared Hess
Jerusha Hess
Mike White

Directed By:
Jared Hess

My Rating: 4/5

On the back of last year's Napolean Dynamite, Jared Hess teamed up with School of Rock star Jack Black and his collaborator Mike White for this wrestling comedy. With such acclaimed names attached, the pressure is on to deliver something quite special. Happily, I found the film to be both comically rich and technically impressive. Jared Hess has developed significantly since his last effort Napolean Dynamite (2004). His style is still evident, but his emphasis on mise-en-scene and attention to detail are more advanced. He shoots in slow, steady wide shots or slow steady close-ups. The film has the same slow, almost monotonous pacing that Napolean Dynamite has and this may account for the lukewarm reception it has received. Such unconventional style is acceptable for a cult movie but the Frat Pack audience may not be accustomed to it and may have found it hard to adjust to. It is very unusuall for this type of comedy to be presented in this style and on first viewing may appear awkward and boring.

The camera is constantly allowing the audience a glimpse of the largely fictional world created for the film by focussing attention on small details in the design. The camera also uses Jack Black perfectly. He has a huge amount of screen time which he uses wisely by filling every second of his screen time with the energy and outlandish antics we have come to expect from the Tenacious D frontman. All of the performances in the film were commendably consistent with the style of the film. All the actors were suitably awkward and monotonous, particulary Nacho's sidekick, Esqueleto (Hector Jiminez) and love interest Sr Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera).

The film's story moves along slowly and follows the basic predictable story structure of a sports movie. Luckily, the element of satire within the film allows it to get away with a lot of cheesiness and predictability. Nacho's unlikely champion overcomes the odds, gains the respect of his superiors, and in a way, gets the girl. There is also an interesting religious element which resolves itself nicely over the course of the film allowing Nacho to reach a compromise with the powers that be.

What makes this film stand out is the ability of the director to rein in Black's energy and create a passionate, likeable hero who we root for simply because the audience knows that he needs an outlet for his huge personality which is being wasted in the monastery kitchen. This outlet is the ungodly sport of wrestling which allows the film several hilarious and exciting scenes with Nacho and Esqueleto fighting a variety of colourful characters within the ring.

The wonderful soundtrack also helps to elevate the film's quality. It is filled with quirky Mexican tunes and the score (a 50-50 effort from Danny Elfman and Beck) that is melodic enough to appeal to a huge market if they had actually produced a soundtrack album (which they outrageously did not).

Overall, this film fails for the same reason it flourishes. It's montonous style and lack of Hollwood cinematography/editing makes it more challenging to watch than your average Jack Black vehicle. But I have a feeling it will have a space next to Napolean Dynamite on the "cult classic" shelf. It deserves one.

- Charlene Lydon 29/8/06

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Hi everyone!
I guess I should start with a brief introduction and mission statement. It'll clear up a lot of questions about me before you decide whether or not my opinions on filmic issues carry any weight.
This is me in the photograph to the right of this text. I have spent the past 5 years of my life studying film both technically and academically and while I thrive on the drama and frustration of the former, I feel I have more of a passion for the latter. It was with that in mind that I decided to return to college and study for my Masters in Film Theory and History which I will be starting in Trinity College, Dublin in October. I hope to eventually become a teacher and writer of all things cinematic. That's where this blog comes in. I felt I needed somewhere to hone my writing skills and even my film-watching skills (oh yes, there are skills involved). So, I decided to publish an online blog consisting of critiques of films I watch on a day to day basis. They may be new films, they may be old films, but I do hope to develop some sort of back catalogue of articles for my own reference and perhaps for any members of the public who decide to check in now and then.
So, now that you know me, have a read of my blog, enjoy it, leave comments and criticisms if you wish. There's no such thing as a definitive opinion, only personal taste...I say that now but just wait til someone starts to argue with me :)
Thanks for readin'