A Prophet – A Review

28 01 2010

A Prophet arrived in UK cinemas last week buoyed by the kind of critical and commercial success for which most film-makers would give their eye teeth. Jacques Audiard’s stark prison drama not only picked up awards at the Cannes and London Film Festivals, but has also been a surprise hit in France, with more than a million tickets sold to date.

The film tells the story of Malik (Tahar Rahim), a small-time criminal sentenced to a term of six years inside a tough French prison. Within days of starting his sentence, the young, vulnerable prisoner has been recruited by ageing Corsican mobster César (Niels Arestrup) to kill a fellow prisoner who has been lined up as a prosecution witness in an organised crime case. Whatever doubts Malik has about taking on this task are soon beaten out of him by the Corsican inmates and the prison warders who they control. He has a simple choice to make: kill or be killed. 

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The Ghost of Yasujiro Ozu

22 01 2010

'Tokyo Story'

This morning started like any other. I got up early, had some breakfast, bought a newspaper and took the bus to work. It was only halfway through the journey, as the driver slowed for some traffic lights and smoke began pouring from under the bonnet, that my fellow passengers and I realised that something was very wrong. A man with a grudge, we later discovered, had planted a bomb on the bus that was primed to explode if the speedometer dropped below 50 miles per hour. 

Well, I got to work in the end, but not before deploying all of my innate cunning, stamina and knowledge of video editing technique to thwart the wily madman’s plan.

Upon arrival, I marched into my boss’s office and punched myself repeatedly in the face, pausing only to whimper “Why? Why?” for the benefit of Sandra the cleaner and Tom from Accounts, who stood outside blowing bubbles into their coffee. I didn’t quite manage to secure the severance package that I was after, but I did get a new stapler and an extra half-day of flexi-leave. So, mission accomplished I’d say.

Of course, that’s all a big fat lie. The sad truth is that today, as usual, nothing particularly exciting happened to me. Time that I could have spent saving the world or having a wry on-off relationship with Rene Russo was instead passed staring out of a window, cooking dinner, making faces at my whippet and chatting to the lady in the newsagent’s about the weather.

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Talking at the Movies

15 01 2010
Eric Rohmer

'Le Rayon Vert'

Eric Rohmer, who died this week at the age of 89, made the kind of films that put a lot of people off French New Wave cinema. Eschewing formal notions of plot and dramatic structure, the director instead focused on character and, above all, on conversation. In films like Ma Nuit Chez Maud, Le Rayon Vert and his ‘tales of four seasons’, Rohmer used long, intelligent discussions between his main characters to explore certain universal themes and to lead the audience towards revelations that are on such a small – that is to say human – scale that when they arrive they might almost be missed.    

Critics of Rohmer have long dismissed his films as excessively ‘talky’. And indeed, the unprepared viewer might well be baffled and rather bored by the prospect of watching a group of middle class French people talk at length about their lives and feelings. The fact is that since the movies learned to talk, audiences have learned to search for their cinematic thrills elsewhere. Conversation is something that works well in literature, and even better in theatre, but on the screen, in excess, it risks making cinema seem downright uncinematic.

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Gigs on Film

8 01 2010
Andy Serkis

Andy Serkis in 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll'

2010 is still young, but already our screens have been graced by two films about dead rock stars. The first, Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy, told the story of the turbulent upbringing of John Lennon, and of the strained relationship with an estranged mother that helped to fire the future Beatle’s artistic ambition. The second, released in the UK today, is Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, a warts ‘n’ all biopic of Ian Dury, singer, songwriter and leading light of the British punk scene.

In theory, popular music and cinema should go together like love and marriage or cheese and chutney. Both are popular art forms after all, both came of age in the 20th Century, and there’s a big overlap between gig-going and cinema-going audiences. Film inspires music and music inspires film, so naturally film-makers are tempted from time-to-time to tackle the subject of popular music and its stars.

And yet, somehow, this promising partnership rarely seems to work out well. If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then filming music is like, I don’t know, singing about theatre: not quite so remote, but still a difficult trick to pull off. 

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Overrated Films of the Noughties

1 01 2010

 

'Babel'

Last time, I wrote a little bit about some of the greatest films of the Noughties. This week, filled with the spirit of Scrooge, I give you a list of the most overrated films of the decade: 

Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006)

As Peter Griffin says of The Godfather, this is a film that insists upon itself. The story of the two Moroccan boys and the gun is quite interesting, and there are some nice moments here and there, particularly in the U.S.-Mexico segment. But take away the zeitgeist-y, Continent-hopping structure of Babel and what are you left with? One-and-a-half decent short films maybe, and an awful lot of padding.

The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, 2007)

American cultural imperialism: sometimes it works out well, and the rest of the world gets to enjoy Miles Davis or HBO or rock ‘n’ roll. And other times it all goes tits up, and we find ourselves gagging on an unordered Oprah Winfrey burger or a Wes-Anderson-on-rye.

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