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29
Jun 06

Fearless Yes: Ageless No

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Jet Li has made his last Martial Arts epic. Whilst I am not here to rag on his acting talents as a surprising number reviewers do, one wonders what the USP of a martial artsless Jet Li will be. So let’s just say that Fearless might be Jet Li’s last big Hong Kong martial arts movie and be done with it. It certainly doesn’t stop Li from throwing his all into this picture. And in its story of an inspirational martial artist whose honour and ability brought pride back to the Chinese, one cannot help seeing a few flattering parallels with Li himself. Apart from his occasional turns as a villain for Hollywood*, his career has been playing gentle battlers.

Hollywood viewers will have missed his breezy comic timing which stems from this good humour, and in Fearless he is much more uncomfortable when his character has to be dislikeable. He might also be uncomfortable in those segments because he is clearly playing himself twenty years younger. And yet he cannot hide his age. We are not talking Jackie Chan “made of leather” yet, but he just doesn’t look in his mid twenties. And nothing is done to age him as he reaches his actual age. Fearless is a pretty good fun biopic, with some excellently staged and crunching fight scenes: but you can see why it might be his last. He isn’t young any more.

*Even in Lethal Weapon 4 you kind of hoped Li would smash Mel Gibson’s face in, just because he has a much better claim of being a Human Lethal Weapon.

22
Jun 06

Courting Disaster

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Some of the reviews of 10th District Court (a film which doesn’t even really have an English title) have noted the storytelling majesty of a film which is completely set in a courtroom. Courtroom dramas have all the key points of decent drama after all. And up to a point, 10th District displays this. Petty criminals, drink drivers, harassers, tell their stories to the twinkling harridan of a judge. They are cross examined, and sent off to await verdict. And then we get a verdict (maybe ten minutes later). A microcosm of drama then.

Well yes and no. There are some lovely little vignettes here: the unapologetic drunk driver, the illegal immigrant they cannot get rid of. But there is sadness here too: the harassment case. And there is, sad to say, tedium. Twelve of these short tales are too many, they repeat – often for effect – though often the effect is to undermine the whole thing. Our judge is initially sympathetic, and then you wonder if she too is not prejudiced, a bit close minded and almost dictatorial in her own pronouncements. And the stories, in the end, are not that interesting. The film does show a slice of life, and one which is quite sad to behold: a class system in conflict maybe. But if a court-room is all the drama some reviewers need, then there are plenty of courts out there. I want meaty stories too.

21
Jun 06

Stop Of The Pops

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I feel very uncomfortable. VERY uncomfortable. I agree with Noel Edmonds. The BBC are making a massive mistake in axing Top Of The Pops. Perhaps I wouldn’t put it in such cold hard business terms as Edmonds, as just the loss of a brand. But having seen how easy that brand has been to adapt in, say, France – it really is a loss. But the BBC probably do not realise what the possible knock on effects will be.

Top Of The Pops, as a show, may not be packing them in like it used to. And much of that is due to the music television on demand. Nevertheless it was THE music chart show, and as such it lent far more legitimacy to the Official Radio One chart than just being on Radio One did. Radio One is a silly pop radio station, Top Of The Pops was on BBCTV, after the news, and as (shudder) Paul Gambacini says rightly, it was the News Of Pop. So its very existence lends a degree of legitimacy to pop music. Maybe pop music itself does not need this legitimacy, but the BBC does: if it wants to hold on Radio One and even Radio Two. By completely ditching pop to the commercial broadcasters, it is signing the death knell of Radio One. Again not necessarily a bad thing – but probably a bad thing for the BBC.

So yes, TOTP’s value is as a brand. But a brand that informs and influences much of what the BBC does. A brand that, unlike Grandstand, cannot continue without its own idiosyncrasies, its lousy presenters, its juxtaposition of music that surely nobody likes all of. Recently it has been over managed, tried to be cool, be about more than just the music and the shitty presenters. But in a mlti-channel environment everyone is hunting ratings, everyone is hunting recognition. As the BBC does not carry advertising, they need not be as ratings hungry. What they need to recognise is that there is value in owning a program that nobody watches, but everybody knows.

The BBC might as well axe its evening news for exactly the same reasons (the internet, rolling news channels). Keep Top Of The Pops on life support: it not only feeds future nostalgia shows but its existence justifies a large part of the BBC’s estate.

20
Jun 06

Not So Hard Anymore

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Most of the reviews of the terrific pedophilia two hander Hard Candy have made reference to the lingering castration scene. It is a wonderful scene, both playful and horrific, tastefully done tastelessness. However what most of the reviews have failed to mention is the role a very large BULLDOG CLIP plays in the proceedings.

My stationery drawer will never look the same again.

19
Jun 06

more great things about CSI

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in THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT (=one of my favourite films), samuel jackson bursts into a room to find the following two people in bed together

and

16
Jun 06

Its All Gone See Hear

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When it came out, Its All Gone Pete Tong got very middling reviews. A half arsed stab at a dance music Spinal Tap, six years too late and about a Ibizan scene that had almost died. A comedy with a serious plot, which then undermines both the comedy and the serious plot. And Paul Kaye doing his ugly gurning thing for the second time in a major British movie seemed unwelcome.

All of these are a bit true, but the error comes in thinking of Its All Gone Pete Tong as a parodic comedy. Yes there are moments which work like that, but this film is actually a quite serious, uplifting disability film. Kaye plays Frankie Wilde, legendary Ibizan DJ cum record producer who finds himself going deaf. There are of course some comic spins on this, but quite quickly the film settles on a fall and rise scenario. He goes deaf, he goes mad on drugs, he gets clean and he gets redemption. The manner of his redemption is via a lip reading teacher, who he then romances and discovers that he can make music just by hearing the vibrations. It a lot of ways it is a latter day Beethoven story but with more drugs and whiskey. And, with perhaps the caveat that the disabled characters are being played by hearing actors, makes a pretty good stab at making it clear that disability need not be a barrier to much of modern life (indeed its best jokes are at the hands of people discriminating).

BUT. Who knew? Okay, Inside I’m Dancing , which had a similar message, was seen from the outside as a mawkish piece of sentiment. That is not the case here, where Wilde’s redemption comes plainly from a ditching of drugs (though clearly not alcohol). Indeed the film is keen on showing a wild and rapacious lifestyle for the deaf characters. But perhaps its most critical audience, people who are deaf, may well be put off by the films very theme – dance music. And the fact that all the marketing (for honest stealth reasons perhaps) is clearly aimed at us thinking this is a silly and out of date comedy.

13
Jun 06

Bob Mitchum for the noughties

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While watching the first half of Down In The Valley, I remembered a couple of reviews saying how much Edward Norton reminded them of Robert Mitchum in this film. I was surprised, and then impressed by their perspicacity, as it is neither resemblance or deliberate. There is just a nervous laziness about the performance, laid back but on point.

And then this terrific film goes from Romeo & Juliet alternate into Night Of The Hunter territory and the cleverness of the critics goes away. What does not go away is how much this little film twists and turns with the idea of its own mythologies (children’s views of truth, abuse, Westerns, heroism) and leaves us with an impression of much deeper characterization than is necessarily on the screen. Its got horses, its got shoot-outs, its got kidnapping and its got romance. Small, imperfectly formed and all the better for that.

12
Jun 06

Poor Mia Maestro

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Not only has her regular on-going TV series (Alias) been cancelled, but she gets the non-white treatment in Poseidon. And then, nary a week later she gets kidnapped in Caraccas in Secuestro Express. Though you do get a feeling that this film with the attention span and moral compass of a five year old, is not going to let any harm come to her. In our cast of players at the start of the film characters are described as Rapists, Kidnappers, Murderers, Callous Old Money etc. She gets the “Volunteers in a children’s clinic”. If only actual morality impinged on mortality like that!

8
Jun 06

Sex In The City: Ten Years On

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FRIENDS With Money is a film with Jennifer Aniston in it. Not to be confused with FRIENDS a sitcom with Jennifer Aniston in it. In FRIENDS With Money Aniston plays the FRIEND of three other women, all of whom in some way or other are pretty well off. In FRIENDS she played a ditzy lovelorn character who only really exist in sitcoms, you know the type who get “accidentally married”. The question in FRIENDS With Money is can people of different financial standings be FRIENDS. The question in FRIENDS was how long can they spin this successful sitcom from (and does anyone really have FRIENDS like that).

Actually Friends With Money resembles Sex In The City more than Friends. Clearly as its leads are four female friends who regularly get together to bitch. But crucially, Friends With Money is like Sex In The City ten years on, when the happy ever afters become unhappy, become snug, become supportive, or in Aniston’s case it doesn’t become anything. It uses humour to illustrate how discontent these people are, which seemed self-indulgent until another analogy threw itself at me. Friends With Money is also like Crash. Set in LA, it is a film about something you rarely see in cinema. The lives of forty-something women. Crash was po-faced about race, Friends With Money is almost as bad about oncoming menopause. Almost – because like Friends and Sex In The City it is also stuffed with good jokes, and saves itself a piece of hokey wish-fulfillment at the end which illustrates what a non-problem all these women have in the first place.

Still, I can’t help but thinking the film should have been sold on the Friends/Aniston connection.

4
Jun 06

How United 93 Makes Poseidon Better

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Can United 93 be described in terms of Poseidon? Almost certainly not – but it isn’t going to stop me trying. Was it a stroke of genius for both films to be released on the same day in the UK? Almost certainly not. Do they make a good double bill? Without a doubt.

Okay one is an almost unbearable straight telling of tragic events. The other is a hopeless, special effects heavy remake of a pretty poor 1970′s film. But While United 93 allows a degree of catharsis, Poseidon allows it to come out. It has never been clearer to me the point of a poor disaster movie. Seeing fake, meaningless death on a huge scale, death justified by poor characterization rather than random as in United 93, allows us to attempt to make some sort of sense of the world. Of course it is not the actual sense of the world, it is a lie. And that lie includes Kevin Dillon with a ridiculous pencil moustache dying because he is a bit rude to the ostensible hero of the film.

Oddly there is about as much characterization of the leads in both films. Poseidon is a bad disaster movie, the lack of characterization is just poor writing. United 93 is a tremendous piece of work whose lack of characterization exists to illustrate the reality, the ordinariness of the set-up. You can’t talk after United 93, what is there to say. You can’t help but talk after and even me during Poseidon, even if its just to speculate when Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas is going to get it (and she does get it as she is not white, which is unfortunately the reactionary subtext of Poseidon).

Contrast is often the best form of artistic appreciation, and these two films contrast almost perfectly. The devastation of United 93 is restored by the jokey cheapness of Poseidon. Perhaps those buttons should never be reset, but you can’t walk around depressed all the time, so Poseidon comes out this weekend as being much more worthwhile than expected.