Saturday, September 25, 2004

Title: Code 46
Cast: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, Om Puri, Nina Fog, David Fahm, Jeanne Balibar
Director: Michael Winterbottom

Code 46 is the latest film by director Michael Winterbottom, something of a science fiction film. An understated affair that is perhaps reminiscent of the approach to making Gattaca, a film with which it shares a theme - both featuring genetics and the scanning of people. With that, Code 46 is a more sprawling affair, based primarily in Shanghai, and featuring a hybridised world dialect, based on English, but filled with other languages.

Tim Robbins is an agent assigned to a job in Shanghai, to detect the source of forged "cover". There for 24 hours, one kind of gets the same kind of vibe off him that you got from Bill Murray in Lost In Translation - finding himself for a short period in a sprawling Eastern city to do work. The film's title refers to a piece of legislation called "code 46", which is designed to prevent people who are to genetically similar from breeding. But that is just part of a whole load of genetic law, the idea of cover being central to that - people only being allowed to enter each city/country if they have proper cover, cover being based on their genetics. One of the best demonstrations of the approach to this is the check point Robbins has to go through on arriving in Shanghai - there are people without cover forbidden from entering the city, and once through them, the car passes through a tunnel and is sprayed down to avoid contamination.

Cover is provided by a company called Sphinx, the sphinx knowing who is eligible for cover and who isn't. With the result that certificates are issued to those with cover. Of course, with anything, there is a black market, and Robbins is in Shanghai because the latest black market certificates were printed in a factory there. This is where Robbins demonstrates his special abilities, what the film refers to as "empathy", the ability to read a situation based on what people are saying. For me, watching this happen, without any explanations, it struck me as being a demonstration of how William Gibson's character Cayce might work in his novel Pattern Recognition - the fact that Robbins character is called William may be telling, or coincidence?

The real drive of the film comes when Robbins character encounters Samantha Morton, the woman responsible for smuggling out the certificates. A curious chemistry is developed between the two, so that instead of turning her in, he gives management someone else's name. The two then go on a tour of the city together, exploring the chemistry further - something again, which perhaps, has echoes of Lost In Translation. However at the end of the night Robbins has to go back to his family, even if he carries the haunting memories of this encounter within. This is not the end though, with Robbins deception forcing him back to Shanghai, and the play of code 46 complicating matters.

Code 46 is narrated by Samantha Morton, as she tries to reconstruct events in her mind to explain how they turn out in the end. Morton has some of the wilful and twisted drive that she brought to her performance of Morvern Callar, but comes across as being more focussed and aware here. Additionally as the voice of the narrator, she plays the part with a certain indefinable accent, which is somehow dream like and seductive. Something which subtly enhances the whole, especially with the mix of languages that are present in the film's dialogue.

Overall Code 46 is a wonderful and beautiful film, which I enjoyed thoroughly, and look forward to seeing again soon!

-note- i've already been to see Code 46 a second time, it seems that it is going to disappear from the cinema pretty quickly - so go see it while you can. holds up to a second viewing - some great lines, great visuals, and striking and suitable droning soundtrack by the free association

Title: Trauma

Cast: Colin Firth, Mena Suvari, Naomie Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Sean Harris

Director: Marc Evans

Director Mark Evans came to the world’s attention with the release of his film My Little Eye, which provided a twist on the classic kids dying at the hands of a killer genre. He returns with another challenging and interesting thriller in the form of Trauma, which sees Colin Firth as a man waking from a coma to piece together the tragedies of his life.

From the base line of Trauma we are presented with two deaths. Firth’s wife has died, but this is overshadowed by the murder of a well known singer. As the film goes on Firth finds himself continually unbalanced – what is real, what is not? What part did he play in either of the deaths? The arrival of the land lady Charlotte, played by Mena Suvari, provides some kind of light, some kind of guidance, playing off her new-age kind of spirit. This is contrasted by the police officer questioning his interest in the dead singer, and reinforcing the idea that he did actually know the dead woman.

Trauma works on various levels, both in a narrative and visual sense. Narration comes from the day to day events, but mixed into that are also a series of distressing dreams, and conversations with a psychiatrist exploring his memories of what is going on. Visually the film early on creates the sense of the unreal space – the building that Firth lives in taking on a certain persona of a haunted environment. The building is filled with junk filled rooms, plastic sheeting, CCTV cameras, and walls covered in writing. Which in some ways could be seen as a clichéd environment, intended to play with the mind – but explanations are provided for this, which aid the overall picture. Another part of the environment, which makes for a subtle reference is that early on we see that Firth lives in room 213 – a flat number which is associated with Jeffrey Dahmer. Additionally the use of CCTV cameras provides occasional bursts of stuttered and alternately visual material, which partly reminds of My Little Eye. The dream sequences are obviously another territory to play with visual structures, and are put to good use, particularly in exploiting the characters ant-farm.

Trauma explores a variety of themes. Perhaps most obviously the traumas of loss, but in that the part memory plays in the construction of events. Another key theme is the undertone at work throughout the film, that of celebrity and the level it is held up to, especially upon the death of the person in question. One of the films most effective scenes joins the idea of memory and celebrity, and in doing so provides one of the parts with the most impact – that where Firth stumbles onto the police re-enactment of the singers last known movements – there is something really effective about the way this is executed.

In many ways Trauma is a conscious attempt at head fuck cinema. Which to a large degree it succeeds at being, though perhaps it would be a greater and more intense experience if in the end film makers didn’t have to play to an audience demanding the right to be able to understand a plot.

Title: Last Resort
Cast: Dina Korzun, Artyom Strelnikov, Paddy Considine
Director: Paul Pavlikovsky

At just over an hour long Last Resort is a short film, dealing with asylum seekers in Britain. A Russian woman arrives with her son in Britain, expecting to meet her fiancé. At customs officials treat her with suspicion, and with no sign of her fiancé she becomes desperate and asks for asylum.

As a result she is assigned a flat in the town of Stonehaven. Here she is caught in a trap, the absurd paradoxes at the core of the film. Part of which provides a parallel with the film Dirty Pretty Things. As someone being processed by the system the woman can not leave the area she is assigned to and isn't allowed to work to make money.

The process to see if she can stay takes months, and when she decides she has made a mistake and would be better off back home, she is told that it would take months for her request to be allowed to be leave to be processed. The only thing which makes life easier is the friendship she has with a local man. Contrasting the problems, the film is given a sense of redemption from the sense of warmth and the impression of it's genuine nature by this friendship.

Title:The Village

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Howard, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

The Village is the latest film by director M Night Shyamalan, the man responsible for The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. Like those previous films, The Village is a down beat and subtle thriller, which as usual does not play to the obvious expectations. As with his previous work, this means that The Village is not to everyone’s taste.

At it’s core The Village is a good vs evil parable – with the inhabitants of the village being good, while those in the wood are evil. To emphasize this basis there is a certain amount of symbology. From the most obvious idea of colour – evil is red, while yellow is more neutral. To the more subtle projection of the villagers as vegetarian, and those in the woods as carnivores, hence killers.

Past the base line play the plot is fleshed out by the relationship between two of the village founder’s children. Alongside which comes the forcible confrontation of the two sides, and in the process exposing the big picture to the viewer. The creatures feel threatened, so they menace the village, but will the village feel the need to enter the woods in order to survive?

M. Night Shyamalan delivers as always with his unique vision. One that layers details into an idea that would be very different in someone else’s hands. Providing a vividly atmospheric experience.

Title: Collateral
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem
Director: Michael Mann

Collateral is the latest film by director Michael Mann, which spans the course of one night in LA. The film revolves around the two characters of Max and Vincent. Max (Jamie Foxx) is a city cab driver, driving for 12 years, despite his hopes to one day have his own business. Vincent (Tom Cruise) is his latest fair, a man who hires the cab for the night, but is soon revealed to be a hit man. Thus setting up the tension between the two, both trying to do their job, but Max clearly unhappy to be promote the work of a killer. Along the way Mark Ruffalo, as a member of the LAPD, starts to realise that something is going on, and starts to try and track the killing.

The result is a glossy, high production thriller. However it's success is conflicted. The plot is supposed to be taut and spare - focussing on the dynamic between the two leads. Instead there are aspects of the film, which seem to be a little busy. On the other hand, some of the best touches come from the addition of other characters. Addition, which allows for supporting roles from Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett Smith and Javier Bardem.

For me, at least, I have a sense there is something a little awkward about Collateral. Regardless the film is made with professionalism on all levels that comes across on the visual front as well as through the performances.

Title: Hellboy
Cast: Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, Brian Steele, Ladislav Beran, Biddy Hodson
Director: Guillermo del Toro

Hellboy is the main creation by Mike Mignola, having done a variety of work for various people before concentrating on his work as published by Dark Horse. As a company Dark Horse have a strong relationship with Hollywood, having done the comic adaptations and spin offs of Alien, Predator, Terminator and the like; as well as picking up the Star Wars franchise in recent years. In turn, a number of the works originally printed by Dark Horse, have gone the other way. Probably most obviously with The Mask, and more regrettably Barb Wire, and then there is the forthcoming Sin City.

A long with that the release of Hellboy comes during a stream of comic adaptations, like Spider-Man 2, Catwoman, and the soon to be released remake of The Punisher. For some reason Hellboy was released in some places in May of this year, while being delayer till September in the UK, though it did gain a level of promotion at the same time as the release of Spider-Man 2.

The series of Hellboy books stems from a recurring combination of nazism and the occult. Which is where the origins of the character come from - the nazis planning to summon a demonic host to end the war in favour of the Germans. Anticipating the actions, American troops struck, seizing the resulting baby demon and raising him as their primary force against the occult. Which is equally the launch point for this film directed by Guillermo Del Toro; who has previous comic book experience in the shape of Blade II, as well as his own films like The Devil's Backbone, Mimic and Kronos.

The film sees the return of the forces who summoned Hellboy through in the first place. Determined to complete their original plan and bring chaos demons through to earth. With the American paranormal defence group led in the field by Hellboy trying to stop them. With the group fleshed out by the pyro-kinetic Liz Sherman and aquatic Abe Sabien, who have both become core characters in the comics.

Part of me may be reluctant to say so, but I think it probably is fair to say that Guillermo Del Toro surpasses the original material. The three supernatural and core characters seem more fleshed out on screen than on paper, which tends to be the reverse of the history of adaptations. Of course the casting is something to do with that, but the writing/characterization is obviously a factor. Again the special effects/design team are key in bringing the non-human aspects of characters to life; as well as building up the film into a big screen effects heavy action film.

Hellboy is undoubtedly filled with comic book references and is effects dependant. But while some films fail to be the sum of their parts, Hellboy works. - the characters, plot and effects come together to provide a film, instead of a showcase for the latest unconvincing CGI system.

Title: My Brother Tom
Cast: Jenna Harrison, Ben Whishaw, Honeysuckle Weeks, Michael Erskine, Adrian Rawlins, Judith Scott, Patrick Godfrey, Jonathan Hackett
Director: Dom Rotheroe

There is something primal and feral about the relationship that develops between Tom and Jessica. Two teenagers rolling around naked in the woods, finding some kind of catharsis, as they howl and lash out at each other.

Jessica is a nice catholic girl. Takes care of animals in need. Has a good family life. Tom is different from the other kids. Who he is is something he keeps to himself. But there is something destructive behind his eyes, and he spends as much time as he can in the woods. After a chance encounter, Tom sets about seducing Jessica into a strong friendship. Quickly there is a bond formed, which makes Tom the only person she can relate to when things get darker in her own life.

My Brother Tom is a low budget British film, which makes use of camera tricks and filters to make up for that, and create a strong sense of atmosphere. the performances of the two leads, and the energy between them as they play off each other, brings the film to life. A charged coming of age film, informed by a darkness and a deep desire for understanding and support.

Title: Ae Fond Kiss...
Cast: Atta Yaqub, Eva Birthistle, Shamshad Akhtar, Ahmad Riaz, Shabana Bakhsh, Ghizala Avan, Pasha Bocarie, Gerard Kelly
Director: Ken Loach

As the film makes clear early on the title is a reference to a piece by Rabbie Burns, probably Scotland's most famous poet. This latest film by director Ken Loach is in some ways more of the same, and in others a complete departure. The film is set in Glasgow, and is filled with Glaswegians and family struggles. But on the other hand at it's core is another kind of struggle, the one which rises in the spaces between cultures. The two lead characters come from different backgrounds, and when they start to form a relationship the dogma of each side threatens what they have.

Casem is a young Muslim, born in Britain from Pakistani parents. Roisin is a young Catholic, a white Irish woman teaching in a Catholic school. They meet through Casem's sister who is at the school, and start a relationship. But as things start to become increasingly serious between the two Casem is forced to reveal that he is due to be married to his first cousin as part of an arranged marriage. Instead of being the end, this becomes the beginning as the pair fight to stay together, regardless of friends, family, and the establishment, and what all of those do try and break them apart.

Ae Fond Kiss is emotive and charged, taking a very contemporary and sympathetic approach to the issues at the story's centre. Sitting watching this with a Glasgow audience, there are certain things which get a clear and obvious reaction. With that I am always curious as to how these kind of things will translate to the rest of the world.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Title: Wicker Park
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Matthew Lillard, Diane Kruger, Christopher Cousins, Jessica Paré
Director: Paul McGuigan

Wicker Park is a curiously titled remake of the French classic L'Appartment. Starring Josh Hartnett as a man preparing to get engaged to a woman, when he thinks he spots the woman who disappeared from his life two years ago. Billed as an introductory role, Diane Kruger, who played Helen in Troy, plays Lisa, the girl Hartnett's character was obsessed by. Putting his current life/relationship on the line he determines to track down Lisa. Instead he finds Rose Byrne, also called Lisa, wearing the same perfume and the same shoes. This results in a psychological spiral, where the characters revolve around each other with a mix of flash backs which build up the story. As a remake there are of course differences from the original, this version going for a greater deal of clarity, and no doubt a more up ending. Other than that, as a composition the film is well constructed, some nice touches, and a well integrated sound track. In terms of soundtrack, the inclusion of music by the Icelandic Mum is particularly striking. As for the more incidental music, composition is by Cliff Martinez, who has done a number of soundtracks - most prominently Solaris, parallels in sound being evident between Solaris and Wicker Park. Another nice touch is the subtle reference to the original version.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Like most science fiction writers, Trout knew almost nothing about science, was bored stiff by technical details. But no cry from a whistle had got very far from Earth for this reason: sound could only travel in an atmosphere, and the atmosphere of Earth relative to the planet wasn't even as thick as the skin of an apple.

- Breakfast of Champions
- Kurt Vonnegut

Place difference did not have this significance for them.
It will end, Childan thought. Someday.
The very idea of place.
Not governed and governing, but people.
-The Man In The High Castle
-Philip k. Dick

Much of the revelation was to come from the stamp collection Pierce had left, his substitute often for her - thousands of little coloured windows into deep vistas of space and time: savannahs teaming with elands and gazelles, galleons sailing west into the void, Hitler heads, sunsets, cedars of Lebanon, allegorical faces that never were, he could spend hours peering into each one, ignoring her.
-The Crying Of Lot 49
-Thomas Pynchon

'Nine-year-old kids aren't supposed to read. They're supposed to sit in front of violent video games, frying their brains'.
The kid's teeth shone an unreal white in the dark, 'I'm a rebel.'
-Want To Play?
-P.J. Tracy

Happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity
-The End of The Affair
-Graham Greene

The envelopes without strips - the licking ones - Jackie throws them on to a pile she's invented: Discard Pile B. For three-sixty an hour she's not going to lick anything. People should think about that when they send SAE's.
-Bright Young Things
-Scarlett Thomas

Yes, he thought, I'm the man with the KICK ME sign pinned on him. No matter how hard he tries he can't whirl around fast enough to see it. But his intuition tells him it it's there. He watches other people and gauges their actions. He infers from what they do. He infers that the sign is there because he sees them lining up to kick him.
-Time Out Of Joint
-Philip K. Dick

Lisa Durnau burst from the cubicle, rushed to the Paperchase store, bought a pad and a big marker. Then she ran for her train. She never made it. Somewhere between the fifth and sixth carriages, it hit her like lightning. She knew exactly what she had to do. She knelt sobbing on the platform, while her shaking hands tried to jam down equations. Ideas poured through her. She was hard wired to the cosmos. The evening shift detoured around her, not staring. It's all right, she wanted to say. It's so all right.
-River Of Gods
-Ian McDonald

A name. A title. It means nothing. Identity is a much larger and looser construct in CyberEarth. Brahma is a geographically dispersed entity across many nodes and many sub-components, lower level aeais, that may not realise they are part of a large sentience.
-River Of Gods
-Ian McDonald

Title: Phone

Cast: Ha Ji-won, Kim Yoo-mi, Choi Woo-jae, Eun Seo-woo

Director: Ahn Byeong-ki

In some ways, even from the title alone, this Korean film can be seen to be riffing off the whole success of the Japanese horror The Ring. In this case the focus is instead on a killer cellphone rather than video cassette. Though in this case there are more layers, providing more of a sense of depth than many of the current crop of post-Ring cinematic offerings.

A woman is involved in the exposure of an underage sex ring. As a result she is getting threatening phone calls, and being stalked by a knife wielding nutter. With the closure of the case she changes her number, though the computer only offers up one option, which does not bode well. When even stranger calls start coming through on her new phone she starts to learn that each of the previous owners of the phone number in question have died strange deaths. Things escalate when her niece answers one of the threatening calls.

The layering threads of threat are what provide a greater sense of tension than much of Phone’s competition. The classic themes of Asian horror films are all here – especially the malingering and spooky dead Asian girl. However the addition of what happens to the little girl is one of the things which makes Phone more memorable. Unlike the little boy in Ju-On, with his not-very-threatening pancake make-up, the little girl here is an example of strong casting. Covering the range from hyper-emotional and bratty, to emotionless and knife carrying.

Phone takes many of the strong points of this kind of film and brings them together. Combining the atmosphere and suspense provided by glimpsed images and the guidance of sound. The combination of threats makes the film denser, and keeps the story twisting about.

Title: The Isle [Seom ]
Cast: Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim, Sung-hee Park, Jae-hyeon Jo
Director: Ki-duk Kim

A couple of years old now, The Isle has finally gotten a UK release, after having nearly two minutes of material cut. Unfortunately, like Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring Again, the other film by kim ki-duk to show in the UK this year, The Isle is marred by animal cruelty. A fact which is evident even with the more extreme scenes having been removed from this version of the film.

Showing as part of this year's Asia Extreme season, The Isle fits into the half of the season which doesn't fit. Which is to say, there is the half comprised of Ju-On, Phone and A Tale Of Two Sisters, all fitting together as obvious examples of the extreme Asian films, at least in terms of horror. Then there are films like Gozu, or the forthcoming Save The Green Planet, and indeed The Isle.

To some degree The Isle is actually very similar indeed to Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring Again, even past the inclusion of animal cruelty. Both being set in very similar scenes, with close themes, and the use of very little dialogue. A mute woman runs a kind of fishing camp - a lake with series of tiny floating huts. The huts are serviced by this brooding woman - delivering food and drink, as well as occasionally providing sexual services. Things start with the arrival of a young man, equally troubled and tight lipped; though we do hear him speak a few times.

To a degree The Isle reminds in some ways of Magnus Mills' Three To See The King. The idea of the isolated little houses, with curious characters interacting in their own odd ways. Indeed they both have a certain sparseness, allowing the story to come through without being densely written.

Even with the spare feeling to the film and the way it is a lot more understated than any of the other films in the series so far, The Isle fits into the season. The undercurrents and glances contain a darkness, speaking of the character's history without spelling out every detail. The woman proprietor is a particularly conflicted character, everything coming across from her expression and actions. At no time does she speak, and at no time do we find out anything about her - but the reason the film works is because it is enough to be given the sense of something. I guess in some ways it is like a monster movie, when you catch grisly glimpses, there is more tension, than when the monster is revealed to be just a bloke in a rubber suit.

In some ways kim ki-duk has a lot of potential - his composition of visuals is striking. The two films I've seen have been very light on dialogue, which provides an extra focus on those visuals, but by the same degree that will be a problem for some film goers. As will kim ki-duk's growing reputation for animal cruelty, which is already over shadowing his ability as a filmmaker.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Title: Lirael
Author: Garth Nix
Publisher: Collins

Lirael is the second in Australian Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy - following on from Sabriel, which was discussed here recently. Like Sabriel, Lirael is listed in the teen fiction category, and continues the fantasy kingdom, where those that support the charter fight against the rise of the living dead.

Sabriel dealt with one of the three levels of the power behind the charter, the Abhorsen, the necromancer who puts the dead back rather than raising them. The Clayr were featured briefly, a race of clairvoyants who can see a multitude of possible futures. With that Lirael is a daughter of the Clayr, though much to her frustration she is different from the rest. The powers of clairvoyance come on with puberty, but for some reason by her fourteenth birthday Lirael still hasn't gained the sight. So that as the book starts with her birthday she is contemplating suicide.

However instead of throwing herself from the edge of the Clayr's glacier she witnesses a meeting between a couple of her cousins and the new King and the Abhorsen, which she shouldn't. Which brings her unwanted attention, however rather than get into trouble she is given opportunity, managing to be given a job in the mysterious and dangerous library of the Clayr. Which she explores with relish, excelling at magic, and gaining more ability than any around her realise.

Lirael has a greater time scale than Sabriel, so we stick with Lirael from 14 to 19, rather than following Sabriel as she is dropped in to the deep end as an 18 year-old. Giving us more time to get to know Lirael, and experience the ups and downs and adventures she has on the way to learning her true destiny and why she is different from the Clayr. One of the interesting ways in which Nix moves the plot along is by supplying the reader clues, so that if they are keeping up they should know exactly what is going on, while leaving Lirael without enough information to put it all together right until the last minute. Another trick that Nix uses is to follow the success of Mogget in Sabriel - the talking cat who was Sabriel's companion - who reappears in Lirael, but is secondary to Lirael's own companion, a spirit dog that she manages to summon as a 14 year old.

While the zombie assaults which were so prominent in Sabriel are less of a feature in Lirael, there are still some extensive descriptions of attacks by rotting corpses, along with the development of the bigger picture. Which is built across the years, and mounts to the cliff hanger at the end of Lirael, leaving everything still unresolved for the trilogy's conclusion.

Title: The Chronicles Of Riddick

Cast: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Alexa Davalos, Karl Urban, Judi Dench

Director: David Twohy

The Chronicles Of Riddick could well be described as the polar opposite of Pitch Black, to which it is the sequel. Riddick was a prisoner being transported aboard a space ship when it crashed on an alien infested planet. Despite his clear status as bad guy, Riddick becomes central to the crash survivors chances of making it off the planet alive. Having managed to survive Pitch Black, Riddick has spent the last 5 years keeping his head down. But when mercenaries arrive to try and capture him, he decides it is time to take action. This puts him in the position of being a potential saviour again. A group, called the Necromongers, have been travelling across the universe, leaving a trail of carnage, and forcing survivors to join their ranks.

Pitch Black had a certain rawness, tautly driven across one planet against the creatures in the dark. Here we travel across the universe, layering up special effects as much as they try to twist details and ideas into the plot – providing as much of an expansion to the whole as possible. The problem with that is that perhaps The Chronicles Of Riddick has been pumped up so much that at times it feels transparent – certainly not as tight as Pitch Black, but in saying that we have to instead take The Chronicles Of Riddick as spectacle cinema – lavish, flash, big budget, and at times cheesily silly with that. There are some nice touches throughout, the Shakespearian and Robert E Howard references are particularly amusing. But I suspect this is not a film which will be as well remembered as it’s predecessor.

Title: Stage Beauty
Cast: Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin, Hugh Bonneville, Zoe Tapper, Rupert Everett
Director: Richard Eyre

For me, one of the most ironic things about this film is when they are discussing the nature of Billy Crudrup's character versus that of Claire Danes, the suggestion that those who do it first will get more attention and celebration.

Given the similarities between Shakespeare In Love and Stage Beauty that idea should be borne in mind, especially when most discussions of Stage Beauty can't really not mention Shakespeare In Love. With some even describing Stage Beauty as Shakespeare In Love only better, which should obviously be an extreme exaggeration. Given that the base line of Stage Beauty is very much the same plot as Shakespeare In Love, with the slightest of twists.

Stage Beauty is a darker film, asking the question of what happens to the man who has spent his entire life playing women on stage, when suddenly women are allowed to play women on stage? Billy Crudrup plays that man, one who has been raised in an abusive manner to totally become the part of a woman on stage. Betrayed by his costume woman and her own desire to do what he does. Time wise the narrative takes place during the reign of Charles II, returned from exile after the execution of his father and the rise of Puritanism. The concept from there being that the Puritans felt that women on stage led to lust and evil, so they outlawed them, but with the king back on the throne and the Puritans out of power, then women can return to the stage.

On the whole the film is well done, in terms of execution and composition, the film looks good. In terms of plot/delivery the film certainly has a sense of humour, especially playing with the societal one-up-manship and the deviance of the king, but this is also where it gets darker as well. As the leading actor playing women's parts Edward Kiniston is played by Crudrup as a swaggering cocky femme, convinced of his own importance. But as someone who suddenly finds themselves out of work then the tables have turned and he finds his life crashing down.

Another scene I found ironic was the discussion surrounding Clare Danes proving that she is a woman on the advertising for her stage debut, and the need thereby to flash a tit. This seems to provide some kind of parallel with the way things work in modern Hollywood, and the media surrounding young actresses. Of course in Shakespeare In Love, Gwyneth Paltrow did nudity and won the Oscar for her part. One wonders if there is something of a copy cat nature going on with the motivation for getting Danes to flash - especially given that I am not aware of her having done nudity in the past. However the result of this scene, where Danes does indeed flash a tit, comes across as being particularly gratuitous, even more so than the notorious Halle Berry scene in Swordfish.

If you liked Shakespeare In Love you will probably very much like Stage Beauty, it is undoubtedly more of the same. If you didn't like Shakespeare In Love, you might still like Stage Beauty, it is darker, more knowing, and on the whole has a more likeable cast.

Title: The Motorcycle Diaries

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo De la Serna, Mia Maestro, Mercedes Moran, Jorge Chiarella

Director: Walter Salles

In 1952 two Argentineans set out on a journey round South America. The plan is that Alberto Granado, a biochemist, will set out on this grand adventure, travelling south through Chile, round and up through Peru, Columbia, and culminating with a celebration of his 30th birthday in Venezuela. He is joined in his travels by the 23 year old Ernesto Guevara, a man months away from becoming a doctor.

However things don’t go as planned, the motorcycle they are travelling on is past it’s prime. Slowing them down, till they have to abandon the bike and carry on in anyway they can. As people involved with medicine, and to some degree intellectuals, they are travelling to see the continent they have only read about, while also paying a visit to a leper colony in Peru, an area Guevara hopes to work in. Coupled with their problems and the leper colony the pair get a much grittier and in-depth view of the state of a fractured people. Leaving Ernesto Guevara deeply troubled by the conclusion of their journey.

This is of course the series of events which Guevara’s eyes, and led to his involvement in revolution and the politics of South America. The travels followed in this film, by Brazillian director Walter Salles (who came to the attention of the world after the success of his film Central Station), are based on the published journals by both Granado and Guevara. Gale Garcia Bernal plays the part of Guevara, the Mexican actor probably being the hottest South American property of the moment, guiding his character through the events that made the man, and earned him the nickname Che – on arriving in Chile, the pair meet a couple of girls, who guess they are from Argentina because they say “che” all the time, from which they were being introduced as doctor chubby che and doctor skinny che.

As a story the film works to balance the travails of the road trip with the life of a continent and her people. Gradually working from the breakdown to walking with people forced off their lands, the evidence of escalating poverty, culminating in the segregation of the lepers. To some degree this sees the film go from lighter territory to darker, with Guevara becoming clearly disturbed, though by working the balance, and the film being so character driven, the humour and emotion of the film is strong and keeps things going steady.

With the lakes and valleys and mountains and rivers, so much of the Motorcycle Diaries is about the scenery, the environment. Which is perhaps where one slight criticism comes in. The film stock has a certain gritty feel, which is perhaps an attempt at creating a feeling of the period, or dictated by financial restraints. But it would have been nice to have seen more of the colour and potential brought to life on film. Though one visual effect which is used to great effect is the dispersal of black and white stills through the film, a documentation of the pictures taken by the pair as they travel, as they write.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Title: The Mermaid And The Drunks
Author: Ben Richards
Publisher: Phoenix

Arrival. Departure. Beginning. Ending. One journey. One girl – Fresia Castillo – conceived in Chile, born in London – returning to Chile for only the second time in her life, after splitting up with her boyfriend and trying to decide what to do with her life. One boy – Joe MacMillan – a Scottish academic, a frequent visitor to Chile, the history of which is his speciality, returning to write his latest book.

Fresia and Joe are sat beside each other on a place, when they start to talk. On landing they go their separate ways, but destiny conspires to bring them back together again. which is when they really start to become friends, with the addition of a “will they won’t they” aspect on the romantic front. Though in that sense things are complicated when they prevent the mugging of Roberto Walker.

While in some ways The Mermaid And The Drunks revolves around the characters and their friendship, it is also, obviously, about Chile. Juxtaposing the contrasts of Fresia, an exile from Pinochet’s Chile, who despite being a Chilean is in some ways a stranger in her own land, with Joe, who despite actually being a foreigner is a regular visitor, an expert on the history and involved in the community through his support of a local football team. Through Joe the origins of Chile as a country and it’s struggles against the Spanish are fleshed out. While more recent and current events provide some of the book’s central material. Roberto’s nephew has disappeared, and after preventing his mugging the pair become involved to some degree with the search for the boy. While Joe isn’t working on his book he is playing football with a team in the poor part of town, against a backdrop of drugs and violence, which is in some ways reminiscent of the Brazilian film City Of God.

As the novel progresses the events of contemporary Chile infringe on the daily lives of the lead characters. Alternating between the two, and gradually linking the big picture together past their friendship. In some ways the novel ambles along, at times seeming as though it isn’t necessarily going anywhere. But even with that, Richard’s work comes across as being readable, such that as things come together it makes for a compelling work.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Beyond Yoshie was a long line of workers: one to even out the rice, one to add the curry sauce, one to slice the deep-fried chicken, another to lay it on top of the curry. Then someone to measure out the pickles into their cup, someone to add the plastic lid, someone to tape on a spoon, and finally someone to place the seal on the box. Each meal made its way down the line, assembled in so many small increments, until at last a curry lunch was complete.

by Natsuo Kirino
-extract from first novel by japanese writer to be translated into english, woman working in box lunch factory kills a man and her work mates cover it up.

This is some fifteen miles south of Missoula, Montana, where this same weekend drag queens from a dozen states meet to crown their Empress. This is why hundreds of Christians have come into town, to sit on street corners in lawn chairs and point at the drag queens strutting in miniskirts, and at the fifteen thousand leather bikers roaring through town on choppers. The Christians point and shout, “Demon! I can see you, demon! You are not hiding!”

by Chuck Palahniuk
Essays, journals, letters & other prose works

The children lose interest in smearing the milk jug and the girl sucks at her palm, eyes me appraisingly.

‘Perhaps for a moment.’ I edge past the worst of it. ‘Like pustules, aren’t they?’

Father Straggle swallows less than happily.

‘The jam packets – when you squeeze them out, they’re just like . . . well, they’re a little like . . .’ I give up, sit and sip my apple juice in the silence. Five or six swallows and breakfast will be done. Except I still feel below my volume,somehow, a glass or three owing, nagging me.

‘Whee-HA. Whee-HA.’ Of course he has an abnormal laugh, why would he have a normal one? How often would he get the chance to use it with his life? ‘Pustules.Whee-HA.’

In any case, it’s ugly and should be stopped.

-A.L. Kennedy - Paradise
-an extract from the new novel by A.L. Kennedy, which has just come out in hardback. from memory it looks like it is probably the same extract that was printed in the granta book naming the 10 top young british writers that was published last year. for anyone in the glasgow area, kennedy is making an appearance at waterstones in sauchihall street on the 8th of september, from 6.30pm, free tickets may still be available from the store. also of note, waterstones along with the publisher random house have put together a free book of extracts, which contains a different extract from Paradise.

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