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Full of insight

Virtually every reviewer uses the word "Australian" in his or her opinion of this film - "a great Australian film", "a disappointing Australian film", etc.

As far as I'm concerned, Lantana is an outstanding film. It happens to be Australian, but it's outstanding by any standard. There are few scripts that demonstrate such intelligence and insight about the way real people actually behave, whether well or badly, in situations that confront them.

From the very beginning, where Geoffrey Rush (a wonderful actor) snipes at his wife for having published a book about the murder of their daughter, to the end where Rush admits that he had heard but ignored his wife's call, it has a depth of understanding of human beings that very few films have.

The acting is flawless. The pacing is precise - those who call it slow have no idea how to watch a film.

I've watched it many times. It's a classic.

Doubles vies

Not a crowd-pleaser but it pleased me
The users who have reviewed this film before me have all disliked it. The critics have been kinder, and the user rating of 6.8 is higher than I would have expected. I fully understand the dislike many viewers would have for it, but I think it's an outstanding film, one of the very best I've seen.

The film concerns four principal characters: Alain (Guillaume Canet), a publisher; Selena (Juliette Binoche), Alain's wife and a successful actress; Léonard (Vincent Macaigne), a moderately-successful author; and Valérie (Nora Hamzawi), Léonard's wife and an aide to a well-known politician. All are in their early 40s, attractive in different ways, and professionally successful.

There are two major themes: books and publishing in the age of the internet, social media and e-books, and the sexual and emotional relationships of the principal characters.

The fulcrum on which the film moves is the work of Léonard. He writes what he describes as "auto-fiction", or semi-autobiographical novels, and the principal characters in his novels are thinly-disguised versions of his friends, lovers and colleagues. Thus when his latest novel describes a recent affair, there is public speculation about who the woman really was.

There are many long scenes of discussions about writing, the validity of autobiographical novels as fiction in their own right, trends in the types of books that sell well or don't sell well, the future of publishing and a whole range of related topics. The discussions often take place at dinner parties where the hosts and guests are all more or less connected with writing or publishing; they are all intelligent, well-educated and articulate; and their conversations have a very convincing air of reality, with the speakers -- who are, after all, actors reciting lines -- appearing to advance their own genuine opinions. None of the many different points of view are portrayed as being clearly right or wrong; the questions discussed are difficult and many different opinions are valid. One of the reasons I enjoyed this film so much is that the discussions were intensely interesting.

The personal relationships at first are very secondary to the questions about writing and publishing; but as the film progresses they assume greater importance. The persons involved feel their emotions deeply, but at the same time they are very clear-sighted and realistic about what they are doing. There is a scene where Selena, the actress, tells a friend whom she works with that she is sure that her husband (Alain, the publisher) is having an affair, as he in fact is. The friend asks her why she doesn't confront him. She replies that she doesn't see any need to; she is sure that Alain loves her, and that the affair will run its course and end; that to confront him would provoke a crisis and probably change the basis of their relationship; that there is more to love and a marriage than sexual fidelity; and that after 20 years of marriage it's not surprising that Alain might find another woman sexually attractive. What she doesn't say is that she herself has been having an affair for six years with Léonard, the writer.

There are a number of short but very powerful moments where the characters do directly face their emotions. I won't mention all of them in order to avoid spoilers, but one example is where Léonard's wife Valérie asks him directly if he is having an affair and he is unable to give a direct answer.

There's no real action and there's a huge amount of talking. It's not for everyone. But it's a highly intelligent and sophisticated film and I rate it very highly.

Couples and Robbers

Nasty little film
I saw this film back when it was first released as a short with some feature that I can't now remember. This one stuck in my mind. It's pretty well made, but it has a really nasty, unpleasant air about it. The poor young couple who impulsively steal a car for a joyride on a summer's day and then return it are actually no nice at all.

For some reason it reminds me of another film I saw at about the same time called The Ragman's Daughter. Also not a nice film. For a long time I thought the two films were made by the same director, but it seems not.

I have to give it 7 because for what it is, it's done well. But it left rather a bad taste in my mouth. It's also memorable as the first time I saw Rik Mayall, who played a nasty policeman.

Du vent dans mes mollets

Worth watching
I'm not normally a fan of films about children, but I liked this one a lot. It's a bit corny, a bit predictable, and at the end rather shockingly tragic, but it's well done every step of the way.

The two little girls really are very cute: shy, withdrawn little Rachel, and naughty, mischievous Valerie who befriends Rachel for no particular reason at all, both are excellent and a joy to watch either alone or together. The story involving the relationship between Rachel's parents is also pretty predictable and not without holes, but again it's done with a light and deft touch and is in the end touching rather than annoying. The character of the grandmother is probably the least satisfactory simply because while she's always there, we learn next to nothing about her.

There's a small role for Isabella Rossellini as a child psychiatrist: she's put on a kilo or two since Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, but she's still got more real beauty than a thousand of those American actresses who can still fit into the dresses they wore when they were 18 but look as if they've spent their lives pickled in formaldehyde.

Not a great film, but I'm very glad I saw it.


Disappointing but some redeeming features
I was expecting Juliette Binoche to be as fabulous as she normally is, but she was the disappointment among the three female leads.

To be fair, I think it was the fault of the part, rather than faults in her performance. I think the idea was that her character, the journalist, got so involved in what she was researching and writing that she forgot about her own life and family until the story was finished; but the result was that her character was just a mess.

What I liked about the film was what seemed to be a much more honest and realistic portrayal of the two prostitutes than we normally see. Both were very believable. Both students, one (Anaïs Demoustier as Charlotte) in control of what she was doing, and the other (Joanna Kulig as Alicja) drinking to much and seemingly headed for disaster. Both of them liked sex; Charlotte liked the sex she had with her customers apparently just as much as she liked the sex she had with her boyfriend. You don't see that in Hollywood movies. In Hollywood movies the prostitutes never kiss and they never have orgasms, and they all hate what they're doing. In this film, Charlotte didn't hate it at all, in fact she liked it a lot; whereas Joanna said that she liked it, and seemed to like the physical sensations, but also seemed to hate the idea of what she was doing. That seemed pretty realistic to me.

There were two things that struck me particularly. One was quite early on in the film, when Juliette Binoche asked Charlotte why she kept working. The answer was that the money was hard to give up.

The second was from Charlotte again, and again in answer to a question from Juliette. The question was, what was the worst thing about the work, and the answer was having to tell lies all the time.

Both of those things rang pretty true to me.

So what it comes down to is a more realistic portrayal of prostitution than we normally get, but a rather messy movie with a rather messy central character.

Silver Linings Playbook

A mess
I really cannot understand all the glowing comments about this film. I thought it was a complete shambles.

I think the basic problem is that no-one seems to have subjected the script to critical analysis. If they had, they might have found lurking in there a nice little film about mentally ill people finding ways to help one another to cope with themselves and with society. What we have instead is a mess of silly plot contrivances, incomprehensible characters and a ridiculously confected happy ending.

Just consider the principal characters one by one.

Pat. For most of the film he's an out-of-control manic depressive whose mood swings and violent outbursts bring him into constant conflict, often violent, with almost everyone he comes in contact with. Then suddenly, with absolutely no reason given, he becomes at the end of the film a support for Tiffany, a reasonable ex-husband of his wife Nicki, and generally an admirable citizen. A theme for the first half of the movie is his refusal to take his medication because it makes him "fuzzy"; then there's a single scene where he takes his pills; and from then on the pills don't get a single mention. Does he take them consistently or not? Do they make him fuzzy or not? What's the point of introducing the theme and not concluding it?

Tiffany. I'm afraid that the constant switches from in control to out of control were just too much for me.

The father. I have to confess that I've never been a fan of Robert de Niro: as an actor, he seems to me to be great at playing Italian gangsters but not much else. Here however the problem is with the part. Is he an obsessive/compulsive or not? Half the time he's rational; half the time he's not. He's a bookmaker, and apparently a successful one, but he backs his sentimental favourites. Real bookmakers don't do that, and if they do, they don't survive in business for very long.

The black friend, Eddie. Again, he goes, without explanation, from a nutter obsessed with his hair to a normal, rational human being.

And I can't resist a word about the doctor. He was good, even outstanding, as a doctor. I could even believe him when he revealed at his consulting room door that he was an Eagles fan. But when he turned up at a game IN FACE PAINT, I'm afraid it was the point at which I decided, once and for all, that the film had no hope of redemption.

I read somewhere that Sydney Pollack had agreed to make this film but died before he could get started; and that he had said that it would be a very difficult film because if its mixture of styles. Pollack was a master and he could have done it, I think, but it would have been a shorter film and one from which many ingredients had been deleted. The film ended up being made by the person who wrote the screenplay, and one can't help thinking that he lacked the objectivity to see the glaring faults in the screen play and jettison or fix them.

The one person I except from criticism is Jackie Weaver. Her part was very small and her character had the huge virtue of being consistent throughout. I thought she did a very good job as the loving mother at the end of her tether.

The Ides of March

Sorry, but this one clunked from beginning to end.

Let's start with the plot. Idealistic staffer for presidential candidate is tempted to the other side. Then a silly girl suicides because her lover, the candidate, disappoints her. One is tempted to ask what she expected, especially as she's from a political family and is also a staffer for the same candidate: hasn't she heard of Monica? Then candidate denies having known her, to the great disappointment of Mr Idealist. Again, what did he expect?

Acting? It's OK, but I never found myself caring for a single moment what happened to any of the characters, not Mr Idealist, not the silly girl, and certainly not presidential candidate Clooney, whose only policy seemed to be some ridiculous waffle about renewable energy.

I was bored about two minutes after this started and it never got any better. Just totally unconvincing from beginning to end.

La fée

Unexpected delight
To tell the truth, I only saw the second half of this film. It was on cable TV and I flicked onto it. I almost turned it off straight away, but while my finger was hovering over the button I found, to my surprise, that I was smiling; and then, to my even greater surprise, I laughed out loud.

I'm not generally a fan of French comedies. Far to many of them seem to think that it's funny to watch people shouting at each other as a result of some ridiculous misunderstanding. But occasionally there's one that's less aggressive, more subtle, and this is one of them. "Subtle" is probably not a word that would normally be used to describe the purely visual and physical humour of this film, but for me there was subtlety in the way the physical contortions of the two lead characters were performed without flamboyance or theatricality, and used to create situations that were totally unexpected.

Although not generally a fan of French comedies, I am certainly a fan of French cinema in general. One of the reasons for that is its ability to produce the occasional offbeat gem, like this one. It's funny, it's innocent and it's warm-hearted. I liked it a lot.

L'Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close)

Naked women can be boring
I wouldn't have believed it, but it's true.

Beautiful naked women parade around the screen for just over two hours. And yet it is just plain tedious.

Nothing happens in this film. It's unrelievedly gloomy, the girls are all depressed, none of them like sex, and the men all want to do bizarre things with them.

We don't learn much about many of the girls.

We learn little or nothing about the legal or social system in which the maison close operated, i.e., what was legal and what was not.

I really do not understand what the point of the film was.

Avoid it.

Paperback Hero

Sweet and simple
Sometimes it's good to watch a film that tells a simple story well, has characters who are all decent human beings, has actors who play those characters straightforwardly and sympathetically, and doesn't take itself too seriously. This is one of those films.

Australia has only a small film industry by world standards, and it suffers from the fact that when anyone of real talent emerges, he or she is invariably whisked off to the dollars of Hollywood very rapidly, so that most of our best people, not only actors but directors and all the others who work to make a film, don't make films in Australia. It's therefore a welcome surprise when an Australian film turns out to be good. One very common problem is the lack of good screenplays: most of them have fundamental problems of structure, and nearly all of them have not been developed sufficiently. This one's a good one. The idea of a truck driver writing Mills and Boon romances is interesting in itself; the enlisting of a local girl to "front" for the real author is a predictable but acceptable nest step: and the romance that slowly but surely emerges out of the background to take over towards the end is also predictable but very nicely and gently done.

The film didn't make much of a public stir when it was released, in fact I don't recall it in cinemas at all. It comes up every now and again on TV, and it's much underrated. It also deserves a much higher user rating than its current 6.1. Perhaps it's the lack of pretension itself that leads viewers to mark it down.

If you're looking at IMDb wondering whether to bother with this film, then my suggestion is to bother. It won't change your world, but it will amuse you and leave you feeling happy.

Random Hearts

I decided to watch this on cable because it was made by Sydney Pollack and stars Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott-Thomas.

I wish I hadn't. Or perhaps I wish I'd known something about who the writers were. Because this was about as bad as a Hollywood movie can get. Every cliché you can think of, and all of them put in the most obvious places.I can sort of see how it managed to attract the sort of money that's needed to make a Hollywood movie with that sort of star power, because if you take the elements one by one, all of them would sound OK. It's just that they were put together in a manner that makes no sense whatsoever.

It's a waste of 131 minutes.

Absolute Power

First the plusses. It's watchable. The plot moves smartly and the viewer can understand what's going on. That's about it for the plusses.

The biggest minus is the absolute predictability. I saw this on cable with my wife (there being nothing better on at the time), and we missed the opening scene in which the murder occurs. After we'd been watching for about ten minutes I said to her, "You know, I don't think Clint committed the murder and I think all those nasty CIA guys are going to end up dead." She replied, "And I don't think the estranged daughter is going to remain estranged."

That's Hollywood, I guess. It wouldn't do to have the bad guys winning.

I think the thing that most disappointed me about this particular effort from Clint was that he was supposed to be a master of disguise, and we saw him in about half a dozen different disguises, but in every single one of them he was instantly recognizable as good old Clint.

Don't bother.

Angèle et Tony

I was hoping this film would be good and I wasn't at all disappointed. It was lovely.

I saw Clotilde Hesme in Le fils de l'épicier, another little charmer. Her smile lit up the screen in that one, and it does the same in this one. She's an excellent actress. The acting is all good, actually.

The story is simple, and predictable enough if you want to predict things, but it's very nicely told, with delightful understatement and restraint. The film is beautifully photographed, again with great restraint, so that the beauty of the northern sea and sky and the pale and subtle colours of the landscape are allowed to emerge and speak for themselves.

The film doesn't pretend to be anything more than a simple romance. It certainly doesn't pretend to be great. But it is in fact very good.

Black Swan

Rubbish from beginning to end
I'm just back from watching a preview of Black Swan. Natalie Portman and Milla Kunis as ballerinas in an unnamed American ballet company, Vincent Cassel (well-known and rather good French actor) as the director of a new production of Swan Lake, Barbara Hershey as Natalie Portman's mother. Film directed by Darren Aronofsky (responsible for The Wrestler).

Verdict: Complete load of garbage (that's the polite word for it).

There's the germ of a good idea in there. Ballerina driven to succeed by domineering mother; duality of Black Swan/White Swan personality; jealousy and back-biting within the ballet company. Unfortunately, whatever might have been made of it was thrown out the window by the writers and Mr Aronofsky, and the result is a ludicrous succession of increasingly less believable and more ridiculous set pieces, propelled by cliché-ridden psychobabble dialogue and grotesque CGI horror effects (blood, tearing skin, etc). Oh, and of course, a camera that is stationed perpetually looking over the shoulder of the principal character and can't stay still for a single damn second.

There's one user review on IMDb that says that the result is a feast of so-bad-it's-almost- funny high camp, and that just about nails it. There were two points at which I (and most of the audience) laughed out loud at some piece of surpassing crassness. There's a lesbian scene that is so gross, crude and unerotic that I couldn't watch it. (Watch The Hunger (Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon) or Mulholland Drive (Naomi Watts and Laura Herring) to see well it can be done.)

The director tries everything he knows to make the film intense and compelling, but fails more completely with every new trick. At no point does the film engage any emotion other than amazement at how inept the whole thing is. The really sad thing is that it's been nominated for a swag of awards, and almost all the critics' reviews and user reviews on IMDb say that it's great, a masterpiece, tour de force, etc, etc. For those who think it's high art, here's the latest news: the emperor has no clothes.

I gave it a score of 1 out of 10 because that was the lowest available.

A Kiss Before Dying

Peculiar but entertaining mixture
I read Ira Levin's book when I was young, sometime in the 1960s, and loved it. It's very chilling, and I think as good as Rosemary's Baby. Better than the Stepford Wives and Boys from Brazil.

This film is a quite bizarre mixture of the chilling and the comical. Someone above has mentioned the scene where Bud and Dorie are having an intense conversation when suddenly a middle-aged woman in a completely see-through blouse with a great big bra underneath walks between them and halts the conversation; she has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, and when it happened I literally burst out laughing at the incongruousness of it. I also laughed at Jeffrey Hunter's ridiculous attempts to manipulate heavy Clark Kent spectacles and an unlit pipe in a vain attempt to appear mature.

The good points about the film are the plot, which is gripping even though it's been shortened markedly from the book, and some of the acting, particularly Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward -- and I also enjoyed George Macready as the father of Dorie and Ellen.

The fact is that I was consistently interested or amused or gripped by something or other for the whole of the film. You can't really ask for much more from a film.

À l'origine

Good but too long
This is a peculiar film. It's said to be based on a true story, but I can't find any details of the true story after a search (which I admit was short) on the net. Other reviews tell the story, so I won't repeat it. It's compelling to watch, but at the same time painful to watch, because while you're watching a group of characters and coming to like them more and more, you know it must all end in tragedy.

François Cluzet is excellent as the con-man who gets vastly out of his depth and flails about ever more frantically to keep his head above water. Emmanuelle Devos is at her most striking and most vulnerable; the more I see of her the more magnificent I think she is. It's a pity she's not a little better at choosing her roles; some of the films she's been in have been shockers. There are also very nice turns from Gérard Depardieu as a very tough, seasoned crim, and Soko and Vincent Rottiers as a struggling young couple.

The film is too long by about 30 minutes. The Hollywood vice of prolixity seems to be affecting the French now. It's 130 minutes long; the version shown at Cannes was 155 and must have been excruciating. There are too many scenes that are prolonged to the point of tedium, and there's a section just after half way through where the story progresses very little which could have been cut entirely. It would have been a much better film if it had been a bit tighter.

I still give it 8. The power of the story and the quality of the performances and the direction make it worth that.

Le souffle au coeur

Very disappointing
I bought the Criterion DVD edition of this film, having been an admirer of Louis Malle for a long time, and having heard that this was one of his very best films. I thought that if it was as good as Pretty Baby, Atlantic City, Damage, Vanya on 42nd Street - I could go on - then it would be worth waiting for (not to mention the high price).

Well, it's not. I didn't like the way the film began, and although I kept expecting it to click into gear and improve, it never did.

The rather anarchic household was tedious and not nearly as funny as it was no doubt intended to be; but that's not the real problem.

The boorish elder brothers deserve a slap in the chops; but they're not the real problem either.

The three brothers' obsession with sex is overdone, though not greatly so if I remember my own adolescence correctly; that's not the real problem either.

And neither is the relentless "free-spiritedness" of the intensely irritating mother, although it certainly doesn't help the film.

No, the real problem is the supposed resolution of what passes for a plot. Mother gets drunk, son undresses her, falls into bed with her and passion overwhelms them. Yeah, right.

And then mother sobers up enough to have some deep and meaningful words with son about remembering and cherishing their secret moment of passion. And son says of course. Yeah, right.

And then son slips out of bed, tiptoes down the hall, tries (but fails, in the one faintly believable scene in this ridiculous sequence) to rape one of the two sympathetic characters in the whole film (the other being the nice prostitute at the brothel), and moves on to spend the night with another girl, a willing one this time. As if.

And finally, when he creeps back to his own room the next morning and finds his father and brothers there, fully clothed while his mother's still in just a dressing-gown, the film ends with everybody laughing.

I've got nothing against sex, nothing against nudity, I love French films and I respect and admire Louis Malle. But this film misses the mark completely. As a comedy it is without a laugh in it from beginning to end. And the plot is so ridiculously unbelievable that if there's supposed to be some insight in the film, it is entirely lost.

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis

Forced and Tedious
Well, it just goes to show that you can't go broke by underestimating the taste of the public.

This is a one-joke film, and the joke entirely depends on the funny way northern French people speak.

It doesn't sound like much, and it isn't much.

I saw this on a free ticket. Within 30 seconds I was wondering whether it could possibly be as bad as it looked as though it might be, and I spent the rest of the film finding out that yes, indeed it could.

Lots of mugging at the camera.

Lots of ridiculously contrived plot situations.

And with every single set-up, the punchline is obvious from the outset.

Don't bother.

Les liaisons dangereuses

Surprised at some reactions
I saw this on DVD, with French sub-titles (I'm learning French).

I'm absolutely amazed at the number of commentators on this site who disliked this production. I've seen four versions of the work, and in my opinion this is by far the best. It is ravishing to look at, the story is compelling and presented with great clarity and sophistication, and the acting is outstanding. Yes, Catherine Deneuve was too old for the part. But she didn't look it, or act it; regardless of the date of her birth, she retains an allure that I for one would find difficult to resist if I had the honour and good fortune to meet her. As for Rupert Everett, who cares about whether he's used botox or not? He's got exactly the right sort of snake-like ability to fascinate and attract. And both of them can actually act. I think it's one of Catherine Deneuve's very best performances, probably because of the quality of the screenplay with which she had to work.

I found it compelling from the very first moment, and I'm about to buy the DVD.

Ce que mes yeux ont vu

I liked it too
This was shown on World Movies last night. I didn't quite know what to expect, but I thought it might be something like Possession, the excellent novel by A S Byatt which was made into a much less good film; i.e., a story in which a present-day researcher solves a mystery about some aspect of the life of a historical figure. Well, it is that: the historical figure is the painter Watteau, and the present-day researcher is Lucie Audibert, who is played charmingly by Sylvie Testud.

There's a side-story about a deaf-mute mime who does his act outside Lucie's work, and with whom she strikes up a relationship. It adds little to the film, although there seems to be some real chemistry between Lucie and the mime, Vincent, played by James Thiérrée.

I found it quite compelling. The pictures on the screen are beautiful: the cinematography is by Jean-Marc Selva, which is not a name I had ever heard before, but it one I'll look out for in the future. The story moves along steadily, never hurriedly, and an atmosphere of tension is gradually created and built. Although Watteau is long dead, there's a sense of sadness and loss at the part of his life that is revealed, which is complemented and counterpointed by the sadness and almost desperation that surrounds Lucie's. Sylvie Testud is superb. She's as thin as a sparrow and not particularly pretty, but one of the things I like about French films in general and this one in particular is that they are about (not always, of course, but quite often) rather ordinary-looking people who are shown to be men and women of substance.

I've given it a score of 8 out of 10. I'd prefer to have given it 7.5, but that's not possible, and it's better than a 7. It's not a great film, but it's a very thoughtful one.

Après lui

I can't believe I'm the first
to comment on this film. It received a mainstream release in Australia, although it was hardly a raging success. The biggest thing about it was that Catherine Deneuve was here for the premiere.

Anyway, it's not much of a film. The user rating is about 5.5, and that's not far wrong. Anybody reading this probably knows the setup, but for those who don't it's about a woman whose son is killed in a car accident. The car was driven by his best friend. Although the woman's ex-husband and daughter regard the other boy as almost a murderer, the mother doesn't, and forms a relationship with him. (Not a sexual relationship.) That setup itself makes you think.

The problem is that it didn't make the makers think hard enough. The film goes nowhere. Catherine Deneuve as the mother does reasonably well with a difficult part, and she's the only one I was interested in.

It's not bad, it's just not really worth bothering with.


How to trivialize a great story
Well before the film ended, I was looking at my watch in order to see how much more I had to endure. Two hours and six minutes long, it is. It's divided roughly equally between battle scenes (about a dozen of them, all more or less interchangeable), and plot development.

One would have thought that with the subject being the son of a minor tribal chief who conquers half the world, plotting would have been relatively easy. There's a fair bit of raw material there from which to make a pretty good story. However the writers fluffed it completely. We get no real history. We get instead a Hollywood version of history.

What sustains young Temudjin through his long -- almost endless, actually, or so they seem to the viewer -- tribulations? Why, the love of a good woman, of course.

How does he get out of prison? Well, an old monk, who recognizes his innate goodness and greatness, sets out across the continent to take to this good woman a talisman that symbolises Temudjin's love for her, dropping dead just close enough to her for her to find him as he lies there, talisman in his hand. And of course she then goes and, having (inexplicably) become rich and powerful, rescues him.

How does he escape from the shackles? Well, he goes off to the shrine of the great wolf-god Tengri (or some such name) and Tengri sets him free by magic. Yeah, right.

Why does he want to become ruler of the Mongols? The wolf-god again, apparently. Off goes Temudjin to ask for guidance, and -- surprise! surprise! -- he gets it. "Laws," he says to himself. "What the Mongols need are laws. Good, simple ones." Golly, it was impressive.

And then finally, how does he win the decisive battle against his rival's more powerful forces? Better tactics, certainly, but also through the aid of the good old wolf-god again, who sends a storm at the height of the battle. All the troops cower as the thunder rolls and the lightning flashes (Mongols are scared of thunder, you see) -- but not our Temudjin. The troops, completely wowed by his bravery, acclaim him king!

I don't know what induces people to keep producing this kind of garbage. The funny thing is it's interspersed with all sorts of gritty realism: lots of slurping of milk, dirt and violence. It's as if the producers of this movie wanted to get the trivial things right so that viewers wouldn't notice how infantile some of the big stuff is.

There's heaps of violence in graphic close-up: slashings, impalings, spouts of blood, sprays of blood, clouds of blood -- the blood guys had a great time, actually. Despite the realism, it's impossible to take seriously.

I must mention the ludicrous CGI final battle scene. How anyone can think these things look realistic is beyond me. They don't. Oh, and it's all shot in the standard Hollywood style -- breathtaking panoramas for the spectacular scenery, and the super-close-up Stedicam stuff for the battle scenes. And the standard Dolby super-sound-effects of whumps and thumps and the constant low-frequency hum to sustain tension.



La graine et le mulet

Major disappointment
I went to this film with high expectations and came out with them almost wholly dashed. This is a film where there are a few high spots, but far too many low ones.

There are three major defects with this film. The first is that it is ridiculously overlong, and thus ultimately very boring. Scene after scene is extended and extended and extended, with the extensions contributing exactly nothing to advancing the plot or developing or even showing the characters. The scene with the girl on the potty just went on too long. So did the scenes with the wronged wife (particularly the second one, in which the woman wailed and complained and cried for what must have been five straight minutes – it seemed like five hours – repeating word for word the same line again and again and again). So did the belly dance. So did Slimane's run.

Second, the plot. Unfortunately I have to reveal quite a lot to make this good, so if you want to watch it fresh, don't read this. But really! First of all, a 61 year old man with nothing and no bank loan first of all decides to set up a floating restaurant in which, apparently, everyone is supposed to work for nothing, and then does so. Then, on the opening night, which is when he's supposed to show everyone how it can work, all the cooking is done at his wife's place and transported there in a car. That doesn't sound much like a restaurant to me. Then they forget to unload the car properly. Then the philandering son decides to leave with the car because he finds his mistress is at the restaurant and he fears being exposed – despite the fact that his mistress is with her husband and just as keen on keeping things quiet as he is. And then Slimane leaves his moped unattended just as he always does, and it just happens to be this time that it gets pinched. For Heaven's sake.

Third, the fake documentary style. Frankly, I could kill the person who invented the Steadicam. As a way of making the viewer feel sick it has few equals and no superiors. And the endless close-ups of people eating and talking with their mouths full may be realistic, but the scene at the beginning with the family eating the meal together was no doubt supposed to convey the warmth of the family, but it failed in its purpose because it was so repulsive to look at. We don't stare at each other's munching jaws when we eat together; it's not necessary for the camera to do so when we're watching a film.

There are good bits. For about half and hour while Rym, the spunky young girl, is helping Slimane set up his venture, the film actually moves along, and she's a convincing and engaging character. A number of individual scenes work well: Slimane getting laid off; the old musicians talking together; Rym persuading her mother to go to the opening.

But all in all, it's overlong, unbelievable and too often boring.

Un secret

One of the best
Well, I'm very definitely with those who praise this film. I think it's quite excellent.

It has many qualities that I value. To begin with, the narrative is entirely believable. I particularly liked the fact that one of the principal characters was a Jew who didn't didn't care much about being a Jew and felt no need to proclaim his Jewishness to the world: there are many Jews like that and they are as entitled to respect as a non-practising Christian or Muslim or anyone else. The knowledge of the son that he's a disappointment to his father rang true. The acceptance by some Jews of the Nazi laws, and the belief of those same Jews that if they obey the laws, wear the star, stay away from public swimming pools, then they will be all right. The desire of those who live through the holocaust to put it behind them rather than dwell on it.

I like its directness and understatement. There are no histrionics. The story is told; the audience observes and draws its own conclusions.

The acting and directing are uniformly outstanding. I'd never had much time for Cécile de France, but she is perfect in this rôle. Patrick Bruel as the athletic father is just as good, and Julie Dépardieu as the family friend and the three actors who play the son at different times of his life are up there too; in fact, it's unfair to leave anyone out.

The director Claude Miller deserves special mention. I haven't seen any of his other films, but I'll look out for him from now on. He handles the film with absolute confidence, never obtruding, but conveying every nuance without faltering. This is a classic example of how simplicity, directness and lack of elaboration can add to the power of a story.

This film deserves much more than it's current user rating of 6.7.

No Country for Old Men

Well made, but why?
There's no doubting the skill with which this film was made, and if its intention is to send jolts through the audience at frequent intervals, it achieves it with ease.

However I question whether it's really as good as it's cracked up to be. There seem to me to be two fairly fundamental weaknesses.

The first is structural. The first half or two thirds of the film are a battle between two men: the likable, basically honest, self-reliant working class good guy, Josh Brolin, and the psychopathic, brutally efficient, almost superhuman bad guy, Javier Bardem. At this stage Tommy Lee Jones appears to be the character who is going to fix everything up in the end: the bad guy will die, the good guy will live, the wicked drug lords will be cleaned up and put away by Tommy Lee, and somehow the good guy will get to keep the money (or most of it). Everything is progressing very satisfactorily along this path until suddenly the good guy disappears from the equation, and it doesn't seem to be by the psychopathic bad guy, but instead by some of the wicked drug gang, who have hitherto done nothing except kill each other at the beginning and then disappear entirely from the film.

From then on the film doesn't really seem to know where to go.

Woody Harrelson in the meantime has very memorably appeared, making it seems as if there were going to be some kind of variation on the theme with him as an equally tough but slightly less lunatic and much more likable executioner battling it out with Javier Bardem; but Woody really doesn't get to do anything except sweat in a chair after he gets very easily taken by Javier. So much for the battle.

After Josh Brolin's exit, what does Tommy Lee Jones do? He retires. This is the cue for a series of scenes memorable in themselves, but leading absolutely nowhere. There's Tommy Lee's meeting with the old man in the wheelchair; there's the confrontation between Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin's wife; there's the motor accident complete with gory medical self- treatment by Javier Bardem; there's Tommy Lee's recounting of his dreams to his wife. Somewhere in the mix is the fat sheriff who bewails to Tommy Lee Jones the loss of moral standards in modern civilization; he's so fat and such a redneck that it's hard to know whether he's intended to be serious or comic relief.

So frankly, it's all a bit of a mess. It's not a satisfactory hunter vs prey film, which is what it appears to be for the majority of the playing time. With the kind of central flaws that this film has, there's hardly any point in mentioning more minor things, like the way there's always a convenient car passing when Josh Brolin needs a ride in a hurry, but two men can have a full-scale shootout in the middle of town, including the standard shooting at the truck cabin bit, without attracting anybody's attention, or the way a man can stand on a fence covered in blood and throw a case full of money over a fence also without attracting attention, or how the case can lie there for days, clearly visible from the street, without being discovered. If the basic plot were better structured, those sorts of things would be minor quibbles, but as it is, they really just serve as a kind of accompaniment or side-dish to the major flaws.

My second major problem is with the philosophy of the film. Its staging, right from the outset, tells us that while we are watching an action film, it's going to be a film with a point. Then, when we get to the end, particularly with the discussion between Tommy Lee and the old man, and the redneck sheriff, and Tommy Lee's dream, not to mention the coin-tossing scenes and Javier Bardem's utterly random car crash, it looks as if some great big point is being made. But what is that point? That society is in decay? That violent death is random and unavoidable? That we may as well give up the fight against evil because it's a hopeless cause? That we shouldn't give up that fight? That Javier Bardem is an indestructible angel of death?

God only knows. I certainly don't.

So those are the problems I have with the film. There's also a reason why I positively dislike it. Insofar as there's a philosophical or moral point being made by the film, it appears to involve some condemnation of the violence and lawlessness that seem to be overtaking society. In other words, the film seems to be saying that mindless, psychopathic killing is something to be condemned. However at the same time, the body count in this film is absolutely astronomical, and at least a dozen of the killings are shown in close, explicit detail. To be blunt, the Coens wallow in the gore. I don't mind a good old blood-fest, and I don't even mind it if it's accompanied by a bit of moralising about how bad all the violence is; with that sort of film, we know that the moralising is just for show, and we judge the film purely as a blood-fest. But I do mind it when film-makers as intelligent and skillful as the Coens, with the backing of truckloads of Hollywood mainstream money, make a big deal out of the philosophising and act as if they truly mean it, while all the time they are exploiting the gore-fest for all it is worth.

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