Jia Zhangke and the Spiders From Mars

27 04 2010
24 City, Jia Zhangke

'24 City'

Most serious film-makers have their own pet theme to which they return time and again in their work. For some it’s the eternally difficult relationship between men and women. For others it’s the lone individual on a mission. But for Jia Zhangke, whose new film 24 City is released this week, it’s nothing less than the history of modern China, and the lives of the billion plus people caught up in its upheavals over the last forty years.

Jia started to make films in the 1990s and quickly established himself as an artist interested most of all in the very real changes that were going on in the world around him. While older Chinese film-makers like Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) and Zhang Yimou (Raise The Red Lantern) increasingly retreated into the distant past, Jia set his sights resolutely on China’s present and on the effects of the country’s rapid economic growth and social change. 

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The Ghost – A Review

19 04 2010
Roman Polanski, The Ghost, The Ghost Writer, Kim Cattrall

Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams and Pierce Brosnan in 'The Ghost'

Much has already been written about the uncanny coincidence that sees The Ghost go on general release while its director, Roman Polanski, languishes under house arrest in his Swiss chalet. The film, which deals with a similarly-encumbered ex-British-Prime-Minister, is based on Robert Harris’ novel and was conceived, in large part, as a comment on the legacy of Tony Blair. In the wake of Polanski’s unexpected arrest in September however, The Ghost now also seems eerily prescient of the fate that may await its director, who has long lived with the threat of extradition to the US, having fled from unresolved rape charges in 1978.

The ‘ghost’ of the title is Ewan McGregor, a London-based author hired to ghost-write the autobiography of ex-PM Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). He arrives on the New England island where Lang is now based to find a man living virtually under siege, holed up in his high-security compound with only his wife (Olivia Williams) and his personal staff for company. When an international arrest warrant is issued against Lang on charges that he handed over detainees to the CIA for torture, the ex-PM is further isolated. Besieged by protestors and media helicopters, he is advised by his lawyers not to leave the US for fear of being prosecuted elsewhere.

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East of Cannes, West of Wagga Wagga

13 04 2010

'Samson and Delilah'

Around this time last year, I spent a couple of days in Alice Springs, the Australian town to which the young heroes of Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah flee midway through the film. With a population of just 27 000, Alice would, by most people’s standards, be considered a small or medium-sized town. By Outback standards though, it’s a metropolis, and a focal point for cattle stations and Aboriginal communities for thousands of kilometres around.

As a visitor to the town, one of the first things that you notice is just how polarised the lives of its inhabitants are. While the non-Aboriginal population shops and sips lattès in the busy town centre, Aborigines can, by and large, be seen on the margin of things, wandering along the dried-up bed of the Todd River or sitting apart, under trees in small groups.

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The Other Psycho

2 04 2010

Carl Boehm in 'Peeping Tom'

Two films are released this week to mark the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The first is Psycho itself, re-released in all of its stab-happy, monochrome glory just in time for the Easter holidays. The second is Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take, a sly and elusive piece about the place of doubles both in Hitchcock’s work and in wider American culture during the Cold War.

But if Hitchcock’s most famous film is justly fêted for its innovative and visceral impact, then the work of another British director has, it seems, been overlooked. Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom was released just three months before Psycho, and covered much the same ground as the American shocker. Starring Carl Boehm and Anna Massey, it tells the story of a lonely, voyeuristic cameraman, who is obsessed with murdering women so that he can film their last moments. 

The reception that the two films received couldn’t have been more different. Hitchcock’s film played to packed houses and took a healthy 11 million dollars at the box office, while Peeping Tom was pulled from UK cinemas after just a week, in the wake of an unprecedented critical backlash.

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