Tuesday, December 30, 2008


 W Title

  • Released Internationally on 17/10/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 31/12/08


As George W. Bush’s eight years in office come to a close, he is without doubt one of the most recognizable and talked about people of the century so far. With his decisions affecting millions, and his media presence frequent and worldwide, he has been the face of America for a very turbulent two terms, and has stirred emotions (mostly negative) in people across the globe. With the dust hardly having settled, and as his face on the news was being replaced by those of Obama, McCain and Hillary Clinton, Oliver Stone was cooking up his biopic just in time for the elections.

Oliver’s twist

Stone has never shied away from controversy, and made a name directing celebrated films about war (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July), presidential controversy (JFK, Nixon) and the use of violence and the media (Natural Born Killers). His recent, weaker efforts included one of the first major films about 9/11 (World Trade Centre), although this latter film skirted controversy and focused on the humane aspect. In W., Stone combines all the above topics and views to make a film of two parts – a look at the life and rise to power of a president’s son, who defied the odds to become president himself, twice; and a controversial look at why said president chose to invade Iraq in March 2003.


The two aspects of the film run in parallel, with Stone switching comfortably back and forth between Bush’s past personal and political life, and the security council meetings in 2002/3 before the Iraq strike. We travel back to W’s high-school years and early career disappointments, which didn’t go down to well with his father (the eventual president, of course). Stone paints a picture of W as the rebel son, and Bush senior having more trust and hope for Jeb, the younger, smarter son. But after beating alcoholism and finding a good political advisor, W defied his parents’ wishes and ran for governor, an eventual victory that started him on the road to two terms at the White House, as opposed to his father’s one.


Interesting and novel as the flashbacks may be, Bush’s personal life pales in comparison to the oval office drama of the post-9/11 days, which we remember so clearly and which are obviously still affecting the world today. Weapons of mass destruction, UN inspectors, anthrax, aluminium tubes, Saddam, Powell, freedom fries – it’s all here, and it’s amazing that more than five years have already passed. The whole Iraq debate is heightened further by comparisons with Bush senior’s similar decisions in the first Iraq war. This whole Iraq part could have been made into a film of its own, and considering how long W feels, maybe it should have.

Stranger than fiction

The challenge, of course, is separating the fact from the conjecture. We can all go back and check what was said in press conferences and in UN meetings, but we can only guess what was said during high-level cabinet meetings, and when Bush senior used to scold his son. Still, Stone makes it all seem believable and plausible, with the advantage of hindsight. There’s even a healthy dose of ‘dubyaspeak’ – lovely quotes from the wordsmith himself – tossed into the dialogue, including his ‘misunderestimated’, his ‘fool me once’ gaffe, and his ‘containment doesn’t hold any water’ wisdom.

Who’s in it?

Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men) steals the show as the man in charge. Despite having a much bigger jaw, the resemblance works well enough in the film, and once the hair, swagger, voice and expressions are thrown in, there are a few scenes where you could be mistaken for thinking it was archive footage. Elizabeth Banks (Zack and Miri Make a Porno) is poised and blow-dried as his wife Laura. James Cromwell (The Queen, L.A. Confidential) is ominous and dominating (although not too lookalike) as Bush senior. Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws, Mr. Holland’s Opus) is eerie and Machiavellian as vice-president Dick Cheney, and he is depicted as one of the major forces behind the invasion (rightfully so, in retrospect). Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale, Syriana) tries his best to prevent invasion as Secretary of State Colin Powell, but eventually is convinced, and convincing, otherwise. Thandie Newton (Crash, M:I-2) tries her best to impersonate Condoleezza Rice, but ends up making a caricature out of her. Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream) is Barbara Bush, and Toby Jones (The Painted Veil, Finding Neverland) is Karl Rove, the political mastermind who was behind W’s rise to success. Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs) is secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld (remember him?!) and Ioan Gruffudd (The Fantastic Four) makes a short and awkward cameo as Tony Blair.

In the end.

The board-room wrangles that led to the decision to invade Iraq make for fascinating viewing five years later with the war still raging, though Bush never openly admits his mistake in the film, as he has more or less done in real life. His personal past and family scenarios are watchable, but not very relevant because ultimately all that matters is that he got the top job. Plus they must be taken with a pinch of salt since they’re partly guesswork. The subject matter is definitely worthy of a film, but maybe this was made too soon, and too much was crammed in.



Tuesday, December 23, 2008


 Australia Title 

  • Released Internationally on 26/11/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 25/12/08

Preview (18/11/08)

In a nutshell

Set during World War II, this film is unashamedly epic in scope, and hopes to be the biggest thing ever produced down under. It’s a stirring love story between a British aristocrat who inherits a large tract of land in Australia, and one of the men who helps her move the cattle across the country to avoid the bombing of Darwin (the city) during the war.

Who’s in it?

Nicole Kidman is Lady Sarah Ashley, and with a name like that you can probably imagine what she talks and walks like, and what she likes to drink in the afternoon. The rough cattle-hand whom she meets down under is played by Hugh Jackman, who like Kidman is also an ozzie, as is the rest of the cast. David Wenham (300, Faramir in The Lord of the Rings) plays the excessively slimy Neil Fletcher, who isn’t too pleased with Ashley taking over the ranch. The film is directed by the amazingly talented Baz Luhrmann, who last graced the big screen with probably the most spectacular film of the century so far – Moulin Rouge!

Why we’re hyped

Luhrmann has a short, but stunning filmography, and besides Moulin Rouge! has also directed Romeo + Juliet and Strictly Ballroom in the 90s. Since then, he staged a successful version of La Bohème on Broadway, and set about researching Australian history to see when best to set his next epic project. He claims to have made the film as grand and moving as such classics as Gone with the Wind and Out of Africa, which might sound pretentious, but is still mouth-watering. It’s highly unlikely that this film can live up to the massive hype it has generated (also courtesy of Oprah), but anything by Luhrmann should still be, at very least, a feast for the senses.


Review (23/12/08)

Out of Australia

Our epic journey begins with the arrival of prim and proper Lady Ashley in rough and ruthless Australia, where the dry season is a killer and the beef trading business is not exactly well done. As she arrives with all her spotless luggage and slowly starts to realise how much adjusting she’ll need, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a remake of Sydney Pollack’s gorgeous Out of Africa from over 20 years ago. As mentioned above, Baz Luhrmann drew some inspiration from the award-winning safari-fest, and the early similarities are remarkable. Thankfully, the plot soon veers off in a totally different direction, and the only resemblances remaining are the wonderful vistas of the titular countries, and the unconventional love story between two very different people.

The Wizard of Oz

Australia’s very own Baz Luhrmann is evidently still in top form. From the outset, he waltzes through the introductions using some of the playful editing and imagery he put to such good use in Moulin Rouge!, and once again every scene is a beautiful spectacle of colour. A simple early shot of a horse rising out of a billabong (small lake) is exquisite, and helps remind us that this is no run-of-the-mill director, but one who has fashioned some of the most striking sequences in recent memory. This attention to detail persists throughout the entire film (and it’s a long one), and looks great on the big screen. The wartime-era views of Darwin port, both before and during the bombings, sometimes focus more on aesthetics than on realism, and this helps enhance the whole fairytale aspect of the film.

Rescuers Down Under

While the love story and heroic journey make for great storytelling, there comes a point where the plot seems to have thinned and burnt out too quickly. But any doubts are quickly blown away by the oncoming war, and by the film’s secondary plot about race, equality and the ‘stolen generations’ of aboriginal children, which comes to the fore. This is personified by the attention-grabbing performance of a twelve-year old debutante, Brandon Walters. He brings such life and charm to the character of the aboriginal child Nullah, that he is as pivotal to the film as the two main stars. His relationship with the star couple forms a moving trio that lifts the love story to heights it could never have achieved on its own. He gives a memorable face and voice to the aboriginal children who suffered during the past century, and who were first in line when the Japanese bombers flew down from Asia.

Cinema Paradiso

Adventure, fate, victory, love, war, salvation, justice. These are some of the main themes that have brought movies to life over the years, and which we watch again and again in different forms and with different protagonists. Baz Luhrmann has ambitiously weaved them all into his grand fairytale, and has managed to pull it off with panache. His love for cinema, showmanship and storytelling is evident in every scene, and he has managed to give us a good-old fashioned yarn to feel great about. This is what going to the movies is all about, and it’s the perfect Christmas film for story-lovers, whatever their age and whatever their tastes. A dazzling masterpiece.



Tuesday, December 16, 2008


 Inkheart Title

  • Released Internationally on 23/01/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 17/12/08

Preview (18/11/08)

In a nutshell

Based on a rather successful German children’s book, this fantasy tale brings a host of colourful story-book characters to life, literally. A young girls discovers that her father has a rather unusual talent – when he reads her story books the characters spring to life. But when reading a book called Inkheart, he accidentally reads the nasty characters out into our world, and his wife into the book. No, this is not based on a true story.

Who’s in it?

Brendan Fraser (The Mummy trilogy, Bedazzled) stars as Mo, the man with the reading prowess. Sienna Guillory (Eragon, Love Actually and Malta’s own Helen of Troy) is his misplaced wife and newcomer Eliza Bennett is his rather fortunate daughter. Their quest is assisted by an eccentric aunt (Helen Mirren - The Queen) and the book’s author (Jim Broadbent - Moulin Rouge!, Bridget Jones’ Diary, the latest Indiana Jones, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe). The colourful fantasy creatures that come crawling off the pages include performances by Paul Bettany (Wimbledon, The Da Vinci Code) and creature-actor par excellence Andy Serkis (King Kong, Gollum).

Why we’re hyped

Ever since The Lord of the Rings stormed to critical, popular and box-office heights, a number of fantasy films have tried to fill the void left by its absence. The Harry Potter franchise, another phenomenon, is already reaching its cinema conclusion, and children and adults need new magical creatures and fantasy worlds to escape to. This book is the first of a trilogy, and seems to have attracted all the right kind of attention. With a stellar cast like the one listed above, I think we can be cautiously optimistic that this will be an extraordinary Christmas film for all ages.


Review (16/12/08)

Flights of Fancy

It’s not easy being a fantasy film nowadays. Despite the huge surge in interest in the genre created by the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises, very few of the fantasy films that inevitably followed have been able to match their appeal and success. Even the Narnia films are struggling to keep their franchise going, despite excellent source material, whereas the recent Eragon, Stardust and The Golden Compass made only modest splashes at the box-office. So I often approach the genre with caution, for fear of having to sit through a middle-earth rip-off, or a piecemeal mess. Which is why I was very pleased to discover that Inkheart is neither.

The film about the book

The story starts off as an ode to books and reading, and its wonderful introduction makes you want to rush home and read everything on your bookshelves. The main character is a book-restorer, who scours the globe leafing through antique book-shops looking for relics to revive, but who is also on the lookout for a very particular, and rare book called Inkheart. The central theme about the wonder of books continues throughout the film, and is crucial in the grand finale, and this alone should be reason enough to take your children to see this fairytale.

Motley Crew

The large cast of major and minor characters are all very colourful and eccentric in their own way, and they’re brought to life with gusto by the all-star cast. Their odd appearance mixes well with the modern-day yet picturesque settings to create a fantasy world which has sprung from the pages of books into our own world. Along with characters from the titular book, there’s a host of well-known creatures from much-loved classics, and they all converge at the end for a spectacular reading session that tries to set everything right and send everyone to the story they came from.

Funke and Original

German author Cornelia Funke has crafted a fun, vibrant and original story, which should appeal to children of all ages, and which has translated very well onto the big screen. Despite a nemesis that looks uncannily like a Balrog, she manages to steer clear of many of the usual fantasy clichés, and I sincerely hope that the two sequels she wrote are also made into films as entertaining as this one.




Monday, December 15, 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

 Zack and Miri Title2

  • Released Internationally on 31/10/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 10/12/08

Preview (18/11/08)

In a nutshell

Yes, you read that correctly. Yes, it’s showing at your nearest cinema. No, it’s not an adult film. Well, yes, it is for adults, but it’s a comedy.

Who’s in it?

Kevin Smith, the man behind the Clerks phenomenon and a handful of equally hilarious and respected comedies, wrote, directed and edited this subtlely titled comedy. Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) and Elizabeth Banks (the Spider-man franchise, Laura Bush in the upcoming W.) star as the title characters – two long-time friends who’s relationship never went that extra mile, and who share a flat but are having trouble finding rent money. When they reach rock bottom and their landlord turns off their water and electricity, they come up with a plan that’s so crazy it just might work. Thus begins the pre-production on the low-budget adult space-flick, Star Whores. The new Superman, Brandon Routh, and Justin Long co-star as friends who already seem to be in the business. Craig Robinson (The Office, Pineapple Express) is their colleague who ends up as the film’s producer, a role he relishes, and frequent Kevin Smith collaborators Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson (both from Clerks) help out on and off screen. Real-life porn star Traci Lords adds some sleaze to the cast as an actress loosely based on herself.

Why we’re hyped

Over the past two decades Kevin Smith has given us six unique and enjoyable comedies set within his ‘View Askew’ universe – using repeat characters and a roughly continuous story. He also penned and directed the underrated fatherhood drama Jersey Girl, and this time around seems to have managed to mix the uninhibited humour of the former with the sentimental touch of the latter. He’s also taken his love of Star Wars to a whole new level. This is one filmmaker who loves what he does, and so far it’s showed very clearly in everything he’s done.


Review (15/12/08)

Necessity is the mother of invention

When we meet the instantly likeable title duo, things aren’t looking rosy, and the dire straits described above lead them to seriously consider the unthinkable. This is where Kevin Smith registers his first feat – he actually makes it seem believable. After a few establishing scenes, a minor incident with a mobile phone camera, and a healthy dose of desperation, the two characters progress from platonic flatmates to budding porn stars in what seem like natural steps. It helps that they’ve got no family to be embarrassed in front of, but otherwise the plot manages to unfurl much less ludicrously than I expected.

Sleaze and filth

However, once the camcorder starts rolling, things get nasty, and we’re soon reminded that this isn’t your average romantic comedy, and the film’s second act doesn’t hide much when it comes to chronicling the making of an amateur porno. Craig Robinson is especially hilarious as the casting director and producer, and Jason Mewes seems to have no inhibitions at all when it comes to doing what Kevin Smith’s films require. So despite being an ultimately sentimental story about two very good friends, it’s not something you’d show at a baptism party.


When the film reaches its crux, and the two main characters have to decide whether making an adult flick together is going to ruin their seemingly perfect friendship, the films owes a lot to Elizabeth Banks, whose warm acting and wonderful smile lift her character way above the rest, and give the plot something to aim for. Seth Rogen plays his usual self, which works fine considering that the role was written with him in mind.

Porn Stars have feelings too

The third act slows down a little, and at a point leaves us wondering what on earth happened to the coveted epic they’re making, but it soon picks up and manages to wrap things up nicely, convincingly, and without too much sugar coating. Kevin Smith has written and delivered yet another smart comedy, which can stand proudly alongside his previous gems.




Sunday, December 14, 2008


 Changeling Title

  • Released Internationally on 31/10/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 03/12/08

Preview (18/11/08)

In a nutshell

Based on a true case that occurred in the US in the 1928, this emotional drama is about a mother’s struggle to find justice when she realises that the son who is returned to her after a kidnapping isn’t in fact her own.

Who’s in it?

Angelina Jolie dominates the poster, promotional material and screen-time as Christine Collins, the mother on a mission, and her performance has received heaps of praise since the film screened at the Cannes film festival. The ever-entertaining John Malkovich portrays a local minister who embraces Collins’ cause and helps her fight her way to the truth. Amy Ryans, who was very impressive as another distraught mother in Gone Baby Gone plays a convicted prostitute who befriends Collins and helps her through the darkest part of her ordeal.

Why we’re hyped

Ron Howard was originally approached to direct, but he eventually declined, and Clint Eastwood took over. The man-with-no-name himself has peaked in his old age, and has directed some of the best films of the past decade, including the wonderful Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Letters from Iwo Jima. These character dramas seem to be his forte, and they suit his subtle and unhurried style. He also wrote the soft but effective musical score, as he has done on many of his recent films. With him behind the camera, and Angelina Jolie in front, this Oscar-bait of a movie has class written all over it.

Review (16/12/08)

Mum on a mission

The film opens with a few scenes showing the relationship between Collins and her only son, before quickly arriving at the day in question when he disappeared. A brief mention of the father establishes that she is an only mum, and as the drama unfolds it becomes more and more evident how this son was her reason for living. Like every mum should, she tries everything to get him back as soon as possible, but unfortunately for her she is living in Los Angeles in the 20s, when apparently the police force was as clean as a Zimbabwe election.

The city’s finest

Eastwood’s film is as much about the distraught mum as it is about the corrupt LAPD. The focus on the laughable police department is essential as it proves to be the reason for most of Collins’ trouble, and the delay and eventual error in returning her son. Determined to improve their tarnished public image, the boys in blue will stop at nothing to get some good press, even if it means shushing up a single woman with a serious complaint, and forcing her to smile for the cameras as if the police have reunited her with her son. The embodiment of the conscienceless police force is wonderfully done by Jeffrey Donovan as the police captain, and it’s him and his army of goons that the audience should find it easy to hate.

Tales of mystery and terror

The hatred soon shifts target though, as Collins is placed in a rather unorthodox psychiatric hospital, where the staff leave much to be desired. Although psychiatric hospitals are easy targets for filmmakers who want to stage a few terrifying scenes, the archaic practices displayed here are possibly excused by the period setting, and in fact the film clearly explains that the procedure of mental health referral was changed by cases such as these. Later, the truth starts emerging about the boy’s whereabouts, and we suddenly realise that there are much worse things than being a corrupt cop or a psycho psychiatrist.

Tres Jolie

The plot takes a number of turns, and keeps us interested by providing a mini-climax every half-hour or so, rather than slowly building to one huge one. And tying everything together is the magnificent performance by Angelina Jolie, who holds steadfast throughout and never looks like giving up. She looks great in this period setting, and it’s gripping to watch her battle on and finally earn a few moments of joy in her life. It seems her real-life experience raising around 76 children with Brad Pitt has paid off, because she clearly shows us how Collins was a mum we would all be proud of.