Four Lions – Review

Four Lions (2010)

Directed by Christopher Morris. Starring Kayvan NovakNigel LindsayRiz Ahmed

Chris Morris is probably not a very well-known figure outside of the UK. The English comedian, writer, actor and director is famous in his own country for his controversial radio programmes and television sketches.

Four Lions is his first feature film but it does suffer from that feeling of a made-for-TV type of product, both in its look, its format and its construction. It is essentially a series of sketches some of which are more successful than others, but as a whole it’s not as strong and coherent film as it wants to be.

Apparently it was originally rejected by both the BBC and Channel 4 as being too controversial, and you can easily see why. The plot tells of a group of inept suicide bombers and it’s clearly a subject anyone would normally stir well away from, especially in a comedy.

“Four Lions”  is undoubtedly provocative and certainly quite a brave film, unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily make it a good one and in the end you can’t help feeling a sense of superficiality to the whole thing: it is an honorable but failed attempt.

The main problem is to do with its comic depiction of his main characters  which veers not just toward the parody but the slapstick. This clownish approach makes it all a little bit too over simplistic and doesn’t ring quite true as it probably should.  It’s hard to believe that somebody like Omar, the main character (Rix Ahmed, the only actor worth watching in the whole film) would actually  decide to “work” or even just associate himself  with anyone so stupid like all those people in his group.

What Chris Morris is trying to do is to make the terrorists look like regular guys, likeable people and not just real monsters. However by treating them like silly idiots, it diminishes the message of the film and any emotional response  the audience could have towards them. So one side you have touching (and yet uncomfortable) scenes like the moment where Omar tells the story of  his version to the “Lion King” to his son. On the other hand you get moments which could be straight out a Mr Bean sketch, undermining everything he’s done before and, above all, our suspension of disbelief . These two “styles” don’t necessarily glue together as a film.

I didn’t find the comedy very funny at all (call me sad, but I don’t think I laughed once)  and because of these incongruous way of telling the story, nor I found the film as moving as it was probably trying to be.

On the technical side of things, it’s all done rather on cheap and it shows. There’s nothing remarkable about the photography, the music, or any of the technical aspect of the film, which makes me doubt whether this should have ever been a cinema experience at all.

Furthermore, the thick Sheffield accent and constant British references could even limit its worldwide appeal.

In the end it all comes across just as a brave but very superficial exercise and it’s a real shame because this could have been something quite different, almost life-changing.

5.5/10

Still Walking – (Criterion Collection) Review

STILL WALKING (2008) 

Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. Starring Yoshio HaradaHiroshi AbeYui Natsukawa.

This is a strange choice from somebody like me who’s always attracted by Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar-worthy-type-of -movies. In fact “Still Walking” is a small, intimate and charming Japanese film by the ever interesting director Hirokazu Koreeda. I stumbled across his work, almost by mistake a few years ago with the beautiful (and most moving) Nobody Knows and ever since then I’ve been trying to catch up with his work. Still walking is coming out on a special Criterion DVD on the 8th of February 2011 and if you are into Japanese cinema at its best or small intimate family dramas done with the lightest touch and the most naturalistic approach, this is probably one for you. Anyone else should probably pass on, however, even thought this is really far from the movies I usually watch I did find Still walking very touching and more than 2 weeks after I saw it, I keep on thinking about it. This is one of those films that stays with you, long after the credits have finished rolling.

I must confess it took me a while to get into it. The beginning felt a bit too staged. Both the use of static camerawork framing the scenes and the dialogue didn’t seem quite right.

The film clearly aims to capture how people relate to each other within a family environment. Particular attention is given to their actions within the daily routine, however some of it felt a bit too indulgent (The preparation of the food for example seem to go on for quite a long time) and take you away from what’s really the key of the story: the interaction between all the character. And that interaction works as a treat!

The film is essentially an intimate family drama about a man visiting his elderly parents for the anniversary of the death of his eldest brother,  fifteen years before. Behind the lovely summer day, the comfortable house and unchanging as the mother’s homemade feast, everyone in the family has subtly changed.

Kore-eda is a master of building a scene that seems absolutely normal but hides something completely different underneath. It’s as if the picture told you something and the dialogue something else… People sit around the table, eat their food, make small talk: everything seems normal in the gentle summer breeze  as the static camera frames the action in almost unedited sequences and then all of a sudden comes a line of dialogue (sometimes even off camera) that makes you see everything in a complete different light. It’s all handled with the most natural approach even if not always very subtle. However I must say, I am relying on the subtitles to understand the dialogue, and I am sure those are probably trimmed down a bit too much: some of the nuances are most likely lost in translation. However with my western eyes I found some of the details of Japanese “normal country life” fascinating and almost mesmerizing: all the business of taking off the shoes, or the pouring of water over the tomb stones makes it all look like a complete different world, but then things like the ordering of take away sushi or the little boy mixing sodas in the same glass gives it a strange sense of familiarity.

As the film unravels the audience gets closer and closer to each member of the family, starts to hear their thoughts and feel their pain and at the end, the fact that it was a Japanese family is pretty irrelevant.

7.5/10

Still Walking (Criterion Collection)comes out on February 8, 2011

SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • New high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Hirokazu Kore-eda and director of photography Yutaka Yamazaki
  • New video interviews with Kore-eda and Yamazaki
  • Making “Still Walking”
  • Trailer
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film critic Dennis Lim and recipes for the food prepared in the film

OTHER RELATED REVIEWS:

Rabbit Hole

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Review

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 

Directed by Edgar Wright. Cast: Michael CeraAlison PillMark WebberJohnny SimmonsKieran CulkinEllen WongJason Schwartzman

After the disappointing box office on its release (Only $11 million in the first week in the US) “Scott Pilgrim…” is coming out on DVD and BluRay , hoping to find an audience and become of one those cult in the years to come, without being confused by the similarly themed “Kick-Ass” or sidelined by the massive “Inception”, in fact according to Wikipedia it became the top-selling Blu-ray on Amazon.com during the first day it was available.

To be honest I was one of the few who wasn’t quite taken by it, even when it first came out. I thought it was witty, original, fast, inventive and on the whole quite fun for the first 40 minutes. However after a while it begins to feel a bit stretched. 2 hours are definitely too much for what’s essentially an excuse to see people fighting as if they were on a video game. Even the eye-popping visual effects, however flashy (including the use of funny captions on the screen that make it all look like a comic) out-stayed their welcome and the novelty wears a bit thin.

The movie is based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and manages to capture their mood and quirkiness quite closely, however, as we all know what works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on film. What starts off as a touching and imaginative depiction of the romantic travails of a twenty-something kid, pretty quickly becomes a rather indulgent affair and starts to feel very long.

The story (if we can call it that way) is about Scott Pilgrim, a bass guitarist, who is in love with the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, but in order to win her heart he has to defeat her “seven evil exes”. Yes, seven of them!! That was the number in the original comic version, I must confess that but after watching the film for about 1 I remember thinking to myself “Oh God, Scott has only beaten the 2 of them!”.

The makers try their best to give a different feel to each of the fight sequences and cram the film with enough appearances from more or less famous actors, but for me that wasn’t enough and by the time I got to the very last fight I just couldn’t wait for it to finish.

It is obviously aimed at the so-called wired generation and people who grew up on Nintendo and PS stations (as opposed to people like me who grew up with Intellevision and Atari consoles), but considering the short attention span of that target audience, it get the feeling that it might be a bit tiresome even for them.

I wouldn’t trash it completely. There are some inspired moments (the Universal logo at the front is one of them), Kieran Culkin’s turn as the gay flatmate is excellent (and makes you wish there was more of him) and the special effects are all top class, most of the pop culture and video games reference are quite clever, it’s just a shame that its irreverent tone loses its edge by being som faithful to the original story. I think the film would have gained something by getting rid off a couple of the “exes”

6.5/10


Hereafter – Review

HEREAFTER (2010)

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Cécile De France, Thierry Neuvic, Jessica Griffiths,Frankie, McLaren, George McLaren

I just can’t believe this film has been getting some good reviews. If it hadn’t been directed by CLINT EASTWOOD I’m sure people would have looked at it in a different way, but it seems it’s become a sin to bad-mouth a Clint Eastwood‘ film. What’s the matter with people and Clint Eastwood?

Just because the guy is 80 we should forgive him films like these?

First of all let’s all admit that Clint’s recent work has been rather inconsistent, and then let’s try to see how with this film he’s really touched rock bottom.

On paper HEREAFTER could almost work. It is the story of 3 different people in 3 different countries having to deal with death in 3 completely different ways. In the first story, Matt Damon has psychic abilities and he’s able to communicate with the dead (or rather listen to them).

The second story is about a French woman, Cécile De France (probably known to the US audience from the latest “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS“) who has survived a near-death experience and she’s now dealing with the post trauma.

And finally the third story is set in London and it’s about a young schoolboy who’s just lost his twin brother and he’s also trying to deal with the loss.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t really manage to go beyond these simple intriguing plot lines and what should have been an interesting story about loss, grief and death, told by an old aged man (who certainly must feel this subject very close to him, given his age) slowly (very slowly) becomes a heavy-handed gush of sentimentality, with a script riddled with a series of spoon-fed clichés.

People may argue that since Spielberg is the executive producer of this film, all this was meant to happen from the start. However , not only Spielberg had very little to do with the film itself, but also “subtlety” hasn’t been a word present in Eastwood’s dictionary either, especially in the last few years (Clint’s family in GRAN TORINO for example was so over the top and it almost felt like a parody). Hence the obviously gratuitous images like the one of the “lonely person” shown eating alone in the kitchen, or the poor boy you’re supposed to feel sorry for, or the business woman who’s not listening to his colleagues during a meeting at work, because she’s really concerned about more important stuff…

The whole film is a series of telegraphed sequences where you can tell exactly what’s going to happen miles before it actually does. Everything feels so formulaic, remote and non-engaging that after a while it all gets rather boring as the film unravels towards the most terrible and sentimental ending of all (with the added bonus of a musical surge in strings which feels like you’re watching “Airplane!” ), and yet all this sentimentality lacks of any emotional truth.

Yes, of course, some of it might be quite emotional, but it’s easy to make people cry when you’re dealing with a subject like death. The film is incredibly manipulative to the point of being almost offensive. The way we are introduced to the kid who’s going to die, for example, is one of the most glaring examples of that manipulation (and example of a scene being telegraphed before it happens) as the kid gets depicted as the perfect boy, who takes care of his drug-addicted mother: not only very smart but also very well-behaved, so that we can be even more depressed once he dies.

All the characters are so sketchily drawn out that it’s hard to see something more in them than their one dimension personalization: they do things just because the plot requires them to do so. Let’s take Matt Damon for example: he has a gift but he thinks it’s a curse, well, at least that’s what he says… The film never really properly explains why he thinks what he does. The script makes sure he tells us that he’s tired of having to live with death, but his character does nothing to show us that . All the way trough the film we get constantly told things in very forced lines of dialogue which are never really translated in action or pictures on the screen. For example, what on earth makes him change his mind towards the end of the film. Seeing a kid suffering for the loss of his brother? Is that really different from seeing a husband grieving for the loss of his wife, or a poor woman crying outside his door, begging for help? How’s that different? The film won’t tell us

Clint Eastwood‘s direction comes form a place of belief, something which might alienate a great deal of the audience. He also makes the terrible mistake of showing us what the afterlife is like right from the start, and the film never recovers from it.

The film lacks subtlety: it would have been much more interesting (and stronger) if it had remained less “Sci-fi” and more introspective. All those silly things like the twin’s blowing off the cap in the underground seemed to belong to a different film… Ghost maybe?

That to me is the main problem with the film (aside from the fact that it’s very slow, something which I don’t particularly mind, but I am sure a lot of people will): the fact that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it an introspective drama about death? Is it fantasy story? Is it a religious propaganda? At one point it even seem like an action flick with that massive (and unexpected) Tsunami sequence (which I have to admit took me by surprise and yet it seems to belong to a different film, especially once you’ve seen the rest). Unfortunately the film tries to be all these things and more and in the end by trying too much ends up being quite unsatisfactory on pretty much all fronts. The script is just very clunky and the direction this time doesn’t make it any better.

It’s interesting to see how the trailer makes it look like a cross between the Sixth Sense2012 and even (once again) Ghost… Probably not even the publicists knew what to make of it.

Even the music is fairly forgettable as it keeps on re-hashing the same sort of cues we’re quite used to hear in a Clint Eastwood’s movie. Everything seems half-improvised on the spot without a real unifying theme.

The performances are probably OK, but it’s hard to judge with the weak material they’re given.

In the end this film proves that you just can’t make a film every year, whether you’re Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen: eventually the rush of putting all those ideas onto the screen without having enough time to make them work properly will begin to show. Just because a movie is about important things like death and loss doesn’t make it a good film. In fact this is a fairly pointless one.

5.5/10

PS: Having said all this, a very good friend of mine saw it recently and loved it. There you go. Once again, it’s all subjective.

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