Monday, May 31, 2010

Letters to Juliet

Directed by: Gary Winick

Written by: Jose Rivera, Tim Sullivan

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal.

Rating: 4/10

The problem with gratuitously romantic films is that they often tend to alienate those audience members who have a lick of common sense! While there is nothing wrong with a film wearing its heart on its sleeve, it is quite something else to try to embrace an airy-fairy heroine with no sense of maturity whatsoever.

Sophie (Seyfried) is in her mid-20’s, working as a fact-checker for New Yorker magazine, living in Manhattan and engaged to gorgeous, passionate chef, Victor (Bernal). Victor is just weeks away from opening his own restaurant and is unfortunately rather busy in the run-up to his launch. When they go on holiday to Verona he drags her around beautiful vineyards and gourmet food tastings (very difficult to sympathise) and she moans and groans until they decide to do their own thing. Sophie visits Juliet Capulet’s house where women flock from all over the world to bring love letters which they leave on the wall outside. The plot thickens when Sophie meets the women who reply to the letters known as the Secretaries of Juliet. She soon joins in and becomes involved in a 50 year-old love story involving an elderly British lady (Redgrave) in search of her true love, much to the chagrin of her snooty grandson (Egan).

The plot is silly, but rather fun. The Tuscan countryside is incredibly beautiful which makes the film pleasant on the eye and the plot moves along at a good pace, never leaving the audience bored. However, it is very difficult to villainise the “unromantic” fiancĂ©e who only seeks to live life with his feet on the ground. The term “true love” is tossed around constantly but the fact is Sophie has no concept of working through problems or allowing her partner space during a stressful time. She has no time for his passion for food but gets in a strop when he doesn’t listen to her nonsense love stories.

This is a silly, fluffy film with a small amount of charm which comes in the form of the enchanting Amanda Seyfried. Her love interest (Christopher Egan) is thoroughly unlikeable and they certainly don’t have enough chemistry to suggest that she should give up her whole life to be with him. However, Vanessa Redgrave’s search for her long lost love proves infinitely more affecting, and this part of the story is sweet and seems to have more of a grown-up sensibility. Letters to Juliet will probably delight die-hard romantics but it is difficult not to be annoyed by its simplistic and downright naive view of what “true love” really is?

- Charlene Lydon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wener Herzog: a History

This week sees the release of Werner Herzog's much-anticipated Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. A remake of Abel Ferrera's Bad Lieutenant (1992), a film which Herzog admits he has never seen, much to the chagrin of the film's director. Who directs a remake of a film they've never seen? How about an auteur who has an almost pathological desire to follow his vision; demanding and uncompromising, Herzog seems detached from many of the traditions of cinema. He doesn't watch very many films and this is evidenced in the originality of the work that he creates. His body of work is unlike any other. He has no particular modus operandi, as he drifts from documentary to drama to horror to comedy. Bad Lieutenant is about as crazy as one might expect from a joint effort between Herzog and Nicolas Cage.

Herzog has occasionally enjoyed critical success for films such as Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: Wrath of God, and documentaries such as Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World but he transcends conventional acclaim and has become accepted as something of an eccentric genius whose work always has something exciting to say but is not always successful. A case in point being his recent effort The Wild, Blue Yonder which has the fascinating conceit of having Brad Dourif play an alien musing at the camera for 90 minutes about life on Planet Earth. While most of this film is insightful and often profound, it's not quite E.T. in the entertainment stakes. ......

Herzog has a deep and often tumultuous relationship with nature, a beast that he seems fascinated with taming but knows he cannot. Many of his films contain themes of nature and he often sees nature as unsurmountable by man despite his best efforts. In Herzog on Herzog he refers to the "embarrassed landscapes of our world" which he clearly respects above all else. They are embarrassed because humanity thinks it can overcome nature, and despite its best efforts all humanity can do is beat, bruise and torture nature. Herzog's films contain beautiful imagery but I suspect their rugged authority is meant to be feared rather than admired. Grizzly Man is a documentary about a man who goes to live with and defend the grizzly bears in Alaska and (here be spoilers!) ends up being eaten by one of them. This is not Disney, this is one man's warning to the world about the perils of trying to overcome nature.

Herzog himself is an interesting character. In 2007, during an interview with British film critic Mark Kermode, he was shot at with an air rifle. Seemingly he had no interest in pursuing the gunman as he was unhurt. He merely mused that the gunman was "not very friendly towards filmmaking". He also famously ate his shoe publicly after betting his friend Errol Morris that he wouldn't follow through on a film idea he had. He went on to proclaim that he was saving his other shoe for when a big distribution company picked up Morris's film for international release.

Herzog is also noted for his fiery creative partnership with Klaus Kinski as documented in his film My Best Fiend in 1999. During the filming of Aguirre, Kinski tried to escape the film set on a speedboat, but when Herzog caught him ye is quoted as yelling "I have a rifle. You might reach the next bend in the river but you would have eight bullets through your head. And guess who gets the ninth?" The friendship flourished in some ways, the two seemed to continuously gravitate towards each other and they were responsible for some of the best work of each others' careers.

One cannot help but wonder if his new partnership with the increasingly eccentric Nicolas Cage will be another match made in creative heaven. Following the lunacy of his performances in The Wicker Man and Knowing, Cage is given free rein in The Bad Lieutenant to be as crazy as he likes. This works to remarkable effect and Herzog brings out Cage's best performance in years as the crack-addicted, morally bankrupt detective. Full of fun and hilariously over-the-top scenarios, The Bad Lieutenant is arguably Herzog's most accessible film to date. Awarded the Special Jury Prize at this year's Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, The Bad Lieutenant is sure to find an audience. By far the craziest film to be released this year, its mix of b-movie guilty pleasure and raw human emotion is volatile and undoubtedly entertaining. With serial killer drama My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done? and drama The Piano Tuner in the works, Herzog shows no signs of retiring. Approaching his 60th di recting gig, will no doubt keep making films until he stubbornly allows the reaper to drag him off to join Kinski in what will undoubtedly be a very odd mix of heaven and hell.

Words: Charlene Lydon (From:

Tooth Fairy

Directed by: Michael Lembeck

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ashley Judd, Julie Andrews, Stephen Merchant, Billy Crystal
Rating: 4/10
Dwayne Johnson might not have the most high-brow repertoire but the poster image of the wrestler-turned-actor sporting giant fairy wings with the tagline “The Tooth Hurts” is ridiculously silly, even for him. Oddly, the thought of “The Rock” being stuck in the role of the tooth fairy did tickle my funny bone somewhat.  That, coupled with the fantastic supporting cast which includes Julie Andrews, Billy Crystal and Stephen Merchant made me think this film could have a proper sense of humour.
The film starts off well and as we are introduced to a thoroughly unlikeable Derek Thomson (Johnson), a small-time hockey player with the nickname “Tooth Fairy” named for his propensity for bashing other player’s teeth out during games. He is arrogant, rough and most hatefully he doesn’t believe in having dreams. An early scene sees him verbally bashing a small child who dreams of being a pro hockey player when he grows up. Despite being a horrible person, Derek is playing house with kind, beautiful single mother Carly (Judd) and her son and daughter. After an incident in which he nearly tells the daughter that there’s no tooth fairy, Derek is recruited to become the tooth fairy himself. After being magically transported to Fairyland, an unfortunately rather officious place, Derek is introduced to Lily (a ridiculously beautiful for her age Julie Andrews) and Tracy (Merchant, who proves he should stick to writing) who are in charge of explaining his new role as tooth fairy for one week. He also meets Jerry (Crystal) who supplies him with his magical tools for the job, such as invisibility spray and a shrinking elixir. Crystal plays a small role but is the funniest thing about the film so he easily steals the show early on.
As the story clunkily progresses there are some amusing set-pieces and some cute moments but generally, this is a lacklustre effort by all accounts. The third act becomes unbearably schmaltzy and loses any of its original charm. With five writers on board, the script lacks any semblance of personality and suffers from “too many cooks” syndrome. As the film lags, the storytelling gets lazy, creating connections between people without any explanation. Derek and his handler Tracy, for example, who hated each other were suddenly best friends without the necessary arc of begrudgingly coming to respect each other. Perhaps the writers simply forgot to write it in but didn’t think we would notice because it’s such a clichĂ© that the audience would automatically expect it to happen.
This is an amusing set-up with some, but not nearly enough, charming moments. Dwayne Johnson has hit a new low with this film and his usual charisma didn’t come through at all. Kids might have a giggle at this but it is ultimately lazy and uninspired. What a waste of The Rock in a tutu!
-          Charlene Lydon

The Killer Inside Me

Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson

Rating: 7/10

There are many ways to look at a film like The Killer Inside Me. An exploitative schlock film with nothing to say, a misogynistic horror film, a wonderfully apt portrayal of the interior of an insane mind or even an attack on the dark side of the repressed social norms of 1950‘s America. Whether you like this film or not, and many people will not, it cannot be denied that it is shocking and is excellent food for thought.

Casey Affleck does a fantastic job here in his first role since his Oscar nominated turn in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It must be something about lunatics named “Ford” that gets right into Affleck’s soul but he sure knows how to portray them brilliantly. In The Killer Inside Me Affleck plays goody-two-shoes small town cop Lou Ford. Lou refuses to wear a gun because he believes there isn’t enough crime in town to warrant one. He is quiet, a little naive and kind-hearted. At least on the surface. Beneath the veneer, Lou is a sadomasochist, a sociopath and a misogynistic murderer. You might be forgiven for rolling your eyes and comparing the scenario to Hannibal Lecter, Patrick Bateman or even Dexter Morgan but the fact that the source material was written way back in 1952 means that Lou Ford was probably the reason those characters exist.

The story rambles along taking enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. The screenplay is wonderfully written but I believe Michael Winterbottom’s amateurish direction didn’t do it justice. As is the case with most of Winterbottom’s films, he boasts fascinating subject matter but a complete lack of finesse when it comes to visual storytelling. That being said, there is enough darkness in Affleck’s eyes to make up for all the noir a palette could ever offer.

This is not a film for the faint-hearted with two of the most brutally frank and horrific murders I have ever seen on screen, it is difficult not to feel uneasy, particularly when the line between sexual violence and just plain violence is so blurred. There have been calls for blood from women’s group who feel that the film portrays an intense hatred for women. It does. But it is an intense hatred for women by a man who is a complete and utter lunatic. Black and white this ain’t, but the greyness is oh so fascinating.

A flawed, but interesting film. Sure to divide audiences. See it for Casey Affleck’s intricate characterisation, but avoid it if you’re averse to extremely cruel and unglossy violence.

 - Charlene Lydon

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

Written by: A Mob of Writers
Directed by: Mike Newell
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Artherton, Ben Kingsley
Rating: 2/5
I’m glad to say this could have been a lot worse. Judging from the awful trailer, I was prepared for the worst. Prince of Persia is pretty much the same deal as other video game movies. There is one inescapable truth in the world of cinema and that is that movies based on video games are bad. Some are better than others and some fall into the category of “guilty pleasure” to some people, but generally speaking the video game format does not support the three act structure of the Hollywood film. Video games and their cinematic counterparts jump from level/set-piece to level/set-piece usually maintaining some semblance of a plot, but not to the standard of a decent action blockbuster.
Prince of Persia is actually one of the better video game movies I’ve seen, simply because it does have a plot which unfolds slowly throughout the film, rather than simply establishing motive early on then allowing the hero to pursue the villain for the rest of the movie.  It also includes time travel and some very nice costumes. The film begins with the Persian army invading Alamut, a holy city that has been accused of forging weapons for an enemy army. As the story unfolds it turns out the Persian army was really only after a mystical dagger that is housed in Alamut that can control time. Read “weapons” as “WMD’s” and “mystical dagger” as “oil” and you’ve got a bunch of writers who aren’t as smart as they think they are and an audience rolling their eyes.
Jake Gyllenhaal has gone to great lengths here to transform himself into an action hero. He is surprisingly convincing but unfortunately the thin and cheesy material doesn’t do him justice. He has enough charisma, confidence and sex appeal to make a decent action star but it is difficult to judge from this performance because this is a very flimsy role. The rest of the cast are adequate too, but as with Gyllenhaal there is little for anybody to work with.
There’s enough running around, jumping up walls and CGI to keep the adrenaline junkie cinema-goer happy but not much else. This is an inoffensive but terribly dull action flick that gives nothing to the audience except spectacle. If that’s enough for you, then this should be right up your alley but I fear this is no Pirates of the Carribean.
 -Charlene Lydon

Monday, May 10, 2010

Totally Dublin Summer Blockbusters Feature

Check out my heralding of the dreaded blockbuster season in this month's Totally Dublin.