Sunday, December 20, 2009



  • Released Internationally on 18/12/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 16/12/09
  • Showing in ‘RealD’ 3D at Empire Cinemas, Buġibba and in 2D everywhere else

In a nutshell

Against the odds, the man who made Terminator 2, Aliens and Titanic has made probably his best film yet.

Brand Cameron

A former truck driver, James Cameron is one of the very few directors working today who can sell a film just with his name. But whilst Jackson, Spielberg, Lucas, Burton and co. have been churning out hit after hit over the past ten years, Cameron has been lying low ever since Titanic in 1997. Very low, in fact, because whilst basking in the glory of Titanic’s unprecedented success, he visited the actual shipwreck and learnt the ways of deep-sea exploration. The resulting documentaries, Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep are the only work of his we’ve seen since, but we now have ample proof that he was hard at work.

How to hype

The project had allegedly been mulling in Cameron’s head since the early 90s, but he claims the special effects were not advanced enough at the time. Midway through this decade word starting surfacing that he was back at work, slowly developing the project, and the past couple of years have been peppered with announcements about how great the film was going to be. Hype can be a bad thing, but with a director like this claiming he has been working on a project for nearly a decade, it’s hard not to get carried away and hope for the best. A chosen few got to see previews of the special effects from as early as last March, and the praise was quite steep. Cameron is one of the directors who has fully embraced the new ‘RealD’ 3D technology, and he claimed the resulting 3D effects his team had managed to develop would be unlike anything seen before. Great expectations, indeed.

So what’s an Avatar?

Avatar is a word that has been around for quite a while, and means embodiment or re-incarnation. It took on a new meaning in the digital age, as a way of referring to your virtual persona in computer games or online communities, or more commonly, the little photo in which you think you look cute, which you use on MSN messenger or similar fora. In the context of this film, it refers to artificially grown creatures, which humans can inhabit and control from the comfort of a bed in a lab.


Forget little green aliens – these elegant creatures are tall, feline and bright blue. The Na’vi are the indigenous race on the planet Pandora, which humans are trying to settle on in the not-too-distant future. The humans are after vast amounts of precious minerals found in the planet’s rock, but the natives aren’t too pleased with the intrusion. Hence the Avatar programme, whereby scientists are trying to infiltrate the locals, learn their ways and gain their trust.

Jake and Neytiri

Relative newcomer Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation), who has struck pure gold with his performance in this most prominent role, is Jake Sully, a paraplegic war veteran who gets drafted into the program at the eleventh hour to replace his late twin brother. Lacking the expertise, but being eager to experience standing on his ‘own’ two feet again, he takes to his avatar like a duck to water, and before long finds himself deep in native territory and hospitality, where no others have managed before. The plot is rather predictable from there on, with his guide, Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña, Star Trek) being quite a stunning alien, and eventually causing Jake to doubt on which side his heart lies.

Who else is in it?

Aliens veteran Sigourney Weaver is Dr. Grace, who heads the scientific part of the program, and has to fend off the military and managerial teams who are more interested in quick results than her work. Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan, Lost in Translation) has a brief but layered role as the chief of the operation, who has to balance the demands of the shareholders back home with the lives of the Na’vi. Stephen Lang (Public Enemies) is the head of the military team, an unfortunately two-dimensional character the likes of whom we’ve seen countless times before, but who serves his purpose well and is a not-too-subtle mockery of the US military. The saving grace of the military side comes in the form of Michelle Rodriguez (S.W.A.T., Lost) as Trudy, the one soldier on Pandora who seems to sympathise with Dr. Grace and her ideals.

Truly special effects

Cameron has frequently astounded audiences with the effects in his films, from the close encounters of The Abyss to the mercurial magic of Terminator 2, and of course the rather convincing sinking of that ill-fated ship. Here, however, he clearly sets a new standard. Just like Jurassic Park ushered in the age of believable computer generated creatures, and The Two Towers elevated the craft by making one creature an emotional, heartbreaking main character, this film outdoes all that came before it. Given an extra layer of believability by the stunning 3D, the Na’vi, who count in the hundreds, populate the film, and interact seamlessly with each other, the humans, and the breathtaking habitat of Pandora. The crowning achievement is the believable love story, which is no mean feat considering that the protagonists are figments of imagination.

“All energy is only borrowed – someday we have to give it back”

Pandora has to be seen to be believed. Created from scratch, it is a central character as much as any other. It is packed with fantastic creatures that make birds of paradise look dull, jaw-dropping scenery and the most beautiful vegetation ever to grace the screen. The Na’vi are very close to nature, and they literally interact with the animals and plants around them as part of their culture. The settings are as much a marvel as the characters, and Pandora provides many of the year’s most beautiful shots, especially those involving the seeds from the ‘Tree of Souls’, the bio-luminance and the ‘floating mountains’. The overall Progress vs. Nature theme is powerfully conveyed, and in no subtle terms (maybe they should have premiered it at the Copenhagen summit).

Cameron shoots, Horner scores

Inexhaustible composer James Horner penned one of his best action scores for Aliens, and won an Oscar thanks to a few moments of sheer beauty in Titanic, so he was probably eager for Avatar to see the light of day. His score provides a voice for the alien Na’vi, with choral pieces and tribal chants, as well as complementing the many spectacular scenes with a beautiful but simple main theme. He returns to action mode for the pulsating and visceral final act of the film, rounding off what is probably his best score of the decade.

So is it perfect?

The film has its flaws, but they are mostly minor and forgivable. As mentioned, the plot is predictable, and the concept has been written and filmed before. Still, the film still manages to fly past despite its 162 minute running time, also thanks to Cameron’s effective use of video logs to propel the story forward without making his montages seem out of place. A few of the military locations and set pieces seem lifted from Aliens, but I guess that is Cameron’s vision of the future, and a couple of decades need not change much. Lang’s hard-lined character never develops beyond his stereotype, but at least he’s consistently bad and an easy character to hate. He also proves essential for a great symbolic duel between natural avatars and technological avatars – another action sequence which Cameron does with class.

In the end

I’m not completely sure whether it was my expectations or the spectacle I was watching, but there was an undeniable sense of occasion when watching this epic unfold. Cameron has managed to create an entire world, down to the last detail, and his effects wizards have made it one of the most beautiful worlds we have ever been transported to. But this is no effects demonstration held together by a flimsy plot – it’s a well-written, well-rounded and engrossing film that should appeal to a wide range of audiences. James Cameron has delivered once again, and has lovingly crafted a film that I predict will stand the test of time. Treat yourself this Christmas – go watch it in 3D as it is meant to be seen.



Monday, December 14, 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus



  • Released Internationally on 16/10/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 25/11/09


In a nutshell

From the skewed vision of Terry Gilliam comes an eccentric fantasy tale that, whether audiences warm to it or not, will be remembered as the film Heath Ledger was acting in when he died.

An inconvenient truth

Having completed his seminal work on The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger moved onto a smaller British project. He had completed about half of his scenes when he was found dead, and during the media frenzy that ensued, this film was put on hold. Not one to be outdone, director Terry Gilliam eventually saw the film through to completion. One would have to assume that the intentions were three-fold: to bring Ledger’s final work to his audience, for artistic reasons – so that the project is completed, and probably financial reasons – so as not to waste all the pre-production and work that had been done up to his death.

The what of whom?

The film is a bizarre and colourfully imagined fairytale, as one would expect from the creative mind of director Terry Gilliam. Originally famous as the sixth member of Monty Python, and the man responsible for all their zany animations, and for directing their feature films, Gilliam has continued to direct, with his films varying in content from the complex science fiction of Twelve Monkeys to the grey paranoia of Brazil. Here he conceives a travelling roadside theatre troupe in present-day London, which offers audiences the chance to wander through their own imagination and choose between enlightenment and temptation. No, this is not a true story.


The basic plot premise is that the ancient Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer – The Insider, Up) once made a deal with the devil, and the devil has now returned to claim Parnassus’ daughter on her 16th birthday, as agreed. The bet is re-negotiated, however, and Parnassus and ‘Mr. Nick’, the devil, must try to seduce five souls as they traverse through the ‘imaginarium’. First to five wins, and gets the girl. The road-show picks up an apparently amnesiac stranger (Ledger) who proves skilful in drawing crowds and might help Parnassus win the wager.


The much-publicized method of completing the film despite Ledger’s demise was roping in Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farell to complete his role, something that it was claimed would fit into the narrative due to its fantasy nature. We quickly realise how when the first unlucky guy to stroll through Parnassus’ shiny curtains somehow changes appearance halfway through the imagination sequence. The high-calibre Ledger replacements do their job nicely, also due to the superficial resemblance to Ledger once make-up and styling have their say, but the end result is often distracting and ultimately detrimental to the film.

In the end

Worth seeing, if only for Ledger’s final performance and a taste of Gilliam’s vivid imagination, but overall a very disjointed and often absurd film. With so much craziness happening on screen, one needs a constant backbone as a point of reference – however one such constant went missing, and the film suffers as a result.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Intermission - Tanzania

Dear readers, whoever you are...

I'll be taking a break from adding reviews because I am now in Tanzania working in a rural hospital for the next 6 weeks. I've just uploaded reviews for the last 2 films I saw in Malta, which are released tomorrow. I also got to watch The Hurt Locker on the plane to here, which was quite great, so I might add a review at some point. Otherwise, I'll be back on the island, and back adding reviews, in the first week of December (just in time for the festive films and for the Oscar-bait movie releases). Bye for now....




  • Released Internationally on 28/05/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 21/10/09

Showing in Real3D at Empire Cinemas, Buġibba and in 2D everywhere else

In a nutshell

When was the last time you saw an adventure film who's hero had dentures, a creaky back and used a walking frame? No, not Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I mean a proper senior citizen who won't shirk away from using his dentures in combat if the need arises. And this wonderful vintage hero is only one of the many great, original joys of Pixar and Disney's latest offering.

Growing up

We first meet Carl when he's a wide-eyed young boy who thrives on adventure stories and dreams of the wilderness, with a burning desire to emulate his hero, the great explorer Charles Muntz. After this brief introduction we're treated to possibly the highlight of the film - a simple but elegant montage of Carl's life, as he grows from strapping young man to shuffling old fellow. The montage could have been a short film of its own - it's beautifully done. Without needing any words, the director helps us fall in love with this little old man in just a few minutes, as we skip through his balloon-man job, penniless but lovely marriage, touching married life, and all that follows. As so often happens, his childhood dreams get shelved in favour of more practical projects that arise, and Carl's dreams of exotic travel never materialise.

Going up

Sticking to his old ways, Carl fights off developers to keep his rickety old house intact, and refuses to budge. He may not be a spring chicken, but like a smaller version of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, he laughs off any suggestions of retirement homes. But when he can't hold out any longer, his old promise to visit Angel Falls in Venezuela stirs him up and he does the unthinkable. Add hundreds of helium balloons to a tiny wooden house and you have a good old-fashioned fairytale on your hands, kept reasonably believable by some deft storytelling and animation. This is one of the joys of Pixar and Disney films - they're not afraid to make a film about an old man steering a floating house, and they even manage to make it warm, moving and important.

Meeting up

The trip is exciting enough (as one would expect, given the mode of transport) but once he gets to South America the real peril starts. In true adventure-story tradition, the eclectic mix of sidekicks helps lift the story and make the protagonist a man who faces decisions and changes over the course of the story. With him from takeoff is the wonderful Russell, a not-too-bright but completely genuine budding boy scout, who's sense of pride and exhilaration probably reminds Carl of a younger him. The relationship between the two burgeons as expected, but the predictability doesn't detract anything from the chemistry these two animated characters manage to show. Also on board, at first quite reluctantly, are Kevin, an inappropriately-named designer bird in need of assistance, and Dug, a hilariously dim dog who talks thanks to a device similar to the monkey's one in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.


Between moving reminders of age's merciless progress, and endless fine humour, there's an action adventure worthy of any blockbuster film, with breathtaking locations, fancy gadgets and an unstable nemesis who might have spent too much time away from polite society. From high-flying hand-to-hand combat aboard zeppelins, to authentic dogfights in the skies, this film propels the ageing Carl where Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker and James Bond have gone before. But most importantly the film never takes itself too seriously, whilst on the other hand never seeming held back by the fact that it's an animated film.


Many Pixar regulars contributed to making this another star entry in the Pixar/Disney collection. Pete Docter, who directed Monsters Inc. and co-wrote Toy Story and WALL-E, wrote and directed this time around. John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, who brought us A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo respectively, are the producers. Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, The Insider) provides the menacing voice of Muntz, whilst voice actor Ed Asner is the gruff voice of Carl. Composer Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) conjures up a wonderfully waltzy main theme that can be moulded to suit the sentimental early scenes, as well as serve as a heroic fanfare to complement the action later on.

In the end

I've said it before and I predict I'll be saying it in future - Pixar and Disney have done it again. As they've been doing on a yearly basis since Toy Story, they've released yet another spectacular film which isn't only one of the best animated films of the year, but one of the best films in any genre. I wouldn’t say that Up is as much of a masterpiece as Finding Nemo and WALL-E, but it could partly be due to my getting used to their standards of excellence. It's hardly surprising any more that the animation and effects are beautifully done, but once again they've written a heart-warming story that is fresh, moving, and hugely entertaining.


Mark's Mark 8/10


Trailer: (High-Res QuickTime)





  • Released Internationally on 03/04/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 21/10/09


In a nutshell

James was planning a legendary trip to Europe during his last summer before going to college, but his parents’ financial cutbacks force him to spend his summer at the other end of the spectrum – attending to the arcades at the local Luna Park.

First impressions

The first impression this film gives isn’t very promising, but it fortunately turns out to be a wrong one. The opening scenes are typical of many recent sex comedies, with college students convening on someone’s house to drink themselves into oblivion and discuss loss of virginity. Coupled with the fact that Greg Mottola, the director, previously brought us the entertaining but formulaic Superbad, I was expecting more of the same.

Credit crunch

But once the opening scenes are over, and we realise James’ (Jesse Eisenberg) dreams of a chick-filled summer are fading, the film drops the relentless frat-boy dialogue and focuses on his real and pressing problem of finding a summer job to finance his college education. The only job he finds is the one he was trying to avoid – Adventureland. The local amusement park isn’t half as exciting as the name would suggest, and he even misses out on the slight excitement of manning the rides by being assigned to the arcade games.

Against type

I really started getting interested in this unusual film when James started meeting his colleagues at the park. Martin Starr (Knocked Up, Superbad) is a wonderful character as the all-round loser with insight, Joel. His anti-hero persona fits in perfectly with his mind-numbing job, and it takes James a while to access the wealth beneath the surface. Bill Hader (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) is his usual enthusiastic self as the park manager. Kristen Stewart (Into the Wild, Twilight) is once again well-cast as the sexy but reserved love interest, Em, who manages to seem both very interesting and emotionally damaged. But the most surprising character was Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as Mike, the park handyman. Shedding his usual funny-guy image, he makes Mike a dark and unsettling character, which both James and probably the audience are unsure about. His involvement with Em is definitely not the stuff of romantic comedies.

In the end

Although on very small scale, the drama is very realistic and is both well-written and well-acted. Many of the peripheral characters are the usual stereotypes, but the main three are definitely not, and they make for refreshing and interesting viewing.


Mark's Mark 6/10


Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia

  • Released Internationally on 07/08/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 07/10/09

In an eggshell

Based on two true stories, this mouth-watering film chronicles how American cooking legend Julia Child ended up in the kitchen, and how 21st Century blogging sensation Julie Powell was inspired by her to get her life in order.


Less known this side of the Atlantic, Julia Child is something of an institution over in America. After living in France for many years due to her husband’s diplomatic postings, she grew to love French cooking, and learnt the art to very high standards in order to pass the time. Her love of eating and cooking grew into a book project with French co-authors, because she was shocked to find that nobody had ever published a French cookery book in plain English. She therefore invested all her time and experience into a guide for ‘servantless’ American housewives. The success that followed led to television cooking specials, more books, and celebrity chefs as we know them today.


A sure sign of the times, this film can claim to be the first major release to be based on a blog. I’m assuming you know what a blog is (since you’re reading one now), but back in 2002 they were in their infancy. Julie Powell, newly married and reluctantly moving further from the city centre, was in an emotionally draining cubicle job handling post-9/11 complaints, and seeing her dream of becoming a writer slipping away. After much encouragement from her husband, she hatched the Julie/Julia project, a daunting attempt to cook her way through all 524 recipes in Child’s first book, within a year, and blog about the experience. She felt it would bring discipline and purpose to her life, and it turns out she got the recipe right. What started as simply something to do started attracting an increasing following, and she eventually went on to reach her goal, publish the writings as a book, and be a writer (now also with a film adaptation).

Through the eyes of a child

Meryl Streep, yet again, is excellent. She becomes Julia Child so convincingly, yet she doesn’t let the mannerisms, shrill voice and bubbly character stop her from turning in some fine acting. Child was an immense woman at over six feet, with an infectious laugh and voice that gave her no-nonsense approach such appeal with her audience (you can have a look here). With the help of various clever Gandalf/hobbit-style camera tricks, Streep towers over her co-stars and becomes Julia. The sheer joy she exudes on moving to Paris helps her settle in and love the locals, and this sincere love for the French way of life is what she gave back in her book.

Different time, different place

The film follows the two story lines deftly, and despite them being on different continents and in different centuries the various parallels are highlighted as the two projects take shape. Amy Adams, who co-starred with Streep in last year’s Doubt, portrays Julie Powell and the struggles of her annus mirabilis are intriguing to watch. It is in fact quite a nice surprise that the film manages to be so entertaining and engaging, seeing as half of it is essentially about an average person’s self-serving in-house project. But I guess that’s one of the plus points of blogging – Powell’s thoughts and troubles struck a chord with her unknown audience, and eventually with publishers, and now with cinemagoers.

Moral support

The most evident and significant parallel between the two stories is the unfaltering support these two woman had from their dedicated husbands. Both marriages appear passionate and respectful, and both husbands are depicted as admirable in almost every way. Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, The Terminal) is quietly brilliant as Mr. Child, and Chris Messina (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) is equally admirable as Mr. Powell.

Low-calorie delight

The book was adapted for the screen and directed by one of the queens of romantic comedy – Nora Ephron. The director of lasting favourites such as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail manages to lift the film from being simply another biopic, and she laces it with so much fun and great food that it’s easy to be swept up in the enthusiasm. Very little goes wrong in these two stories, and there’s very little not to like about these two characters. Just make sure you eat something beforehand, because I sat through it on an empty stomach and it was delicious torture.



(500) Days Of Summer

(500) Days of Summer


  • Released Internationally on 17/07/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 07/10/09


In a nutshell

"This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story.”


The above warning opens the film, so don't take it out on me for spoiling any surprises. A few breaths later, the solemn narrator (veteran voice actor Richard McGonagle) also provides an explanatory note about the film's title. Summer is the name of the girl in question. The boy, a young romantic named Tom, is an architect who somehow ends up working in a greeting card company, writing those funny or touching few lines inside the cards we buy for loved ones. He's not particularly fond of his workplace, until Summer breezes in to work as his boss' assistant. Thus begins Day 1.

The days between

As expected the film covers the 500 eventful days in this love-struck man's life, from the moment he sets eyes on Summer, to the time he finally manages to move on. The film jumps back and forth between various key days amongst those 500, and very early on we meet him on a particularly bad day, when he has been unceremoniously dumped. By slowly unveiling his states of misery and elation in different points in the relationship, the non-linear narrative of the film manages to be interesting and occasionally surprising, without getting too complicated.

Love is grand

Resisting his pathetic advances at first, Summer eventually warms to his boyish charm and something more than friendship blossoms, despite her being adamant about not wanting a relationship. As tends to happen, he quickly falls head over heels in love, and before you know it even strangers in the street seem friendlier, and his walk to work becomes a march of fresh air and a bouncy celebration of what's right in the world (as well as a hilarious set-piece resembling something out of Enchanted). Everything about Summer makes him glow - her knees, her hair, her lips, her quirks. His work performance follows suit, but we all know it's short lived.

Love sucks

Despite returning his affections, Summer isn't exactly skipping to work herself, and once some bickering and strained feelings set in, she calls it a day. Shocked to his core, Tom unravels within days, reduced to a bed-bound depressive wreck and eventually risking his health and job. Everything about Summer makes him seethe - her knees, her hair, her lips, her quirks. He looks back in anger, and like every heartbroken young man he declares that he doesn't want to get over her - he wants her back. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who looks uncannily like the late Heath Ledger, and who appeared opposite him in 10 Things I Hate About You) is instantly likeable as Tom, whilst managing to symbolise pathetic love-casualties everywhere.

Time heals

The only advice his friends, co-workers and sister can offer him is a selection of overused clichés of the 'many fish' variety, but ultimately Tom manages to slowly stagger to his feet and get his life back on track. Like the rest of the film, his attempt at recovery and closure is complex but refreshingly genuine and realistic. This persistent sense of realism is largely due to the wonderful performance by Zooey Deschanel (The Happening, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). Her Summer is a true girl next door - a three-dimensional, lovely yet flawed person whom we can easily fall in love with one minute and despise the next. Her unconventional portrayal is possibly the one ingredient that makes this romantic comedy trump many of its peers.

In the end

The ‘love’ section at any DVD store is quite crowded, but with different facets, settings and characters we are occasionally still treated to something fresh and memorable. This unassuming film doesn’t try to be too epic or authoritative on the subject, but by narrowing its focus it manages to hit many nails on many heads, and also to be one of the most pleasant films of the year.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


Monday, October 05, 2009

Red Cliff

Red Cliff

  • Released Internationally on 10/07/08 and 07/01/09 (2-Part version)
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 30/09/09

In a nutshell

Chinese director John Woo, who has made some of the better American action films of the past two decades, returns to his roots to bring us an epic slice of his homeland’s history.

A bit of history

For those of us not versed in the ancient history of China, the film opens with a brief explanatory note. This film is set around 208 AD, when the Han Dynasty was crumbling to an end, making way for the period of disunity known as the Three Kingdoms period. Intricate details are not essential to the enjoyment of this retelling, but the film manages to impress on the audience the large scope and significance of the grand Battle of Red Cliffs, which brought about this turning point in Chinese history, and which is the subject of this ambitious film.

John who?

With numerous writing, production and direction credits under his belt, John Woo crossed over to Hollywood in the early 90s and directed a string of hard-hitting action films. He established his own very visual style with the huge hits Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Mission: Impossible 2, with trademark slow-motion balletic action sequences and numerous doves flying around to enhance the aura. He has now returned to the Chinese film industry to direct a screenplay he helped develop himself, and thankfully his skills are very much on display, whilst keeping slow-mo and doves to a minimum.

Abridged Western version

The film was made in two parts, totalling over four and a half hours, and released as two separate films in the Far East. The film was a huge success and it now the most successful entirely Chinese film ever made (which came in handy since it was the most expensive one too). This summer, and trimmed down two and a half cut was unveiled for Western audiences, so that the film could be released as a whole. Despite entire sub plot and lengthy scenes being given the axe, the resulting film manages to be very self-sufficient and coherent, although those enthralled by the epic would do well to seek out the original versions.

More than war?

The film is to all intents and purposes a simple A versus B story. ‘A’ being the ruthless Prime Minister Cao Cao and ‘B’ being an alliance between the two great warlords of southern China Liu Bei and Sun Quan. The films quickly sets this grand battle up, and then regales us with all the strategies, backhand moves, preparations and passion that goes into this extensive war, without ever becoming tedious or detailed. The final act of the film presents the culmination of all the preparations, with a staggered and masterful assault on Cao Cao’s forces, who are however fully aware of the oncoming attack. In a male-dominated film, the subplot of the wife of one of Sun Quan’s viceroys adds some much needed warmth and intimacy to the proceedings, and her valiant attempt to do her bit for victory plays a pivotal role in the battle’s outcome.

Who’s who?

This being an entirely local production, I for one was completely unfamiliar with all the cast and crew apart from Woo. The size of the production, however, was enough to attract many of the most established and respected Chinese names to the film, and the result is an ensemble cast that shows no cracks and keeps the focus firmly on the important war at hand. Standouts are veteran actor Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (Internal Affairs, Hero) as the viceroy Zhou Yu, whose righteous poise and calculated actions help inspire his army, and clearly show us which side we’d rather be on. Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers) is also wonderful as the strategist Zhuge Liang, and his changing expressions foretell the shifting fortunes of the war.

Technically speaking

When action of such a huge proportion is concerned, special effects play a vital role, and here they are up to the task. With helps from thousands of extras from the Chinese army, Woo manages to make the battle scenes entirely believable as mammoth set pieces, and there’s no doubting that a whole dynasty is at stake here. The final assault unleashes all that we have seen accumulating, and is a battle of Helm’s Deep proportions. The computer-generated images are only slightly weak when it comes to scenes on the river, but ultimately they are very sufficient, and hardly a distraction. The script manages to entertain us with the unusual strategies and tricks of war, without becoming too complex, and the battle occasionally springs surprises that even William Wallace would be proud of.

In the end

The first half hour had me dreading a tedious war film that more resembles a documentary re-telling of history, but the film picks up pace and John Woo manages to make us care about his characters and marvel at their expertise in the strategy room and on the battle field. This film should appeal both to history buffs and to lovers of epic battle films, and is a well-made and enjoyable advertisement for Chinese cinema.


Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Soloist

The Soloist


  • Released Internationally on 24/04/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 30/09/09


In a nutshell

Steve Lopez is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. One day he bumps into an unusual street act – an eccentric homeless man with hints of musical greatness. He delves deeper, and the friendship that forms between them changes both their lives in subtle but significant ways.

The real Steve Lopez

The two main characters in this tale are real and this story happened a few years ago in Los Angeles. After a series of columns chronicling his encounters, Steve Lopez published a book, on which this screenplay is based. The man we’re presented with doesn’t aspire to any great nobility or selflessness – he’s after a good story. But as he returns to the homeless man’s haunts again and again for the next chapter of his story, he can’t help being drawn in and trying to help bring this man’s life back on track. What he slowly realises, however, is that not all change is good, or desired.

The real Nathaniel Ayers

Nathaniel is quite a sight. With a patchwork wardrobe and all his possessions in one shopping cart, he roams the streets, taking in the sights and sounds of LA, but never leaving the world of his own. His pressure of speech reveals a turbulent flow of thought, genius and anxiety going through his head. In brief flashbacks we learn how a childhood dedicated to music quickly revealed a talent far beyond his peers, and how he was ushered out of his parent’s poor neighbourhood and into one of the country’s finest music schools. Then the voices started, and all alone in a big city Nathaniel is slowly driven from the road of musical concentration, and out of his apartment. He’s scared to return home, for fear of the voices returning, and a homeless man is born.

The real LA

Filmed on location in Los Angeles, the film makes extensive use of the real location nicknamed Skid Row, ‘home’ to a huge community of homeless people, and a hub of social outcasts and problems. Driven by his curiosity and work, Lopez ventures deep into this scary landscape, and slowly earns Nathaniel’s trust whilst keeping him among the structures he’s come to call home. The film doesn’t do LA any favours, but is a harsh reminder of the often unseen horrors that exist in even the most lauded cities.

Who’s in it?

The resurgence of Robert Downey Jr. (Chaplin, Iron Man, Tropic Thunder) continues with his portrayal of Steve Lopez. At times unlikeable, at times confused, but ultimately passionate and with past hurts of his own, he provides the average man that the audience can relate to. Sadly far from average is the man racked by schizophrenia, brought to life convincingly by Jamie Foxx (Ray, Collateral). The usual Foxx image is quickly forgotten thanks to a combination of hair, makeup and pained acting. The always interesting Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich, Capote) is Lopez’s ex-wife, editor, and point of reference. Sitting in the director’s chair is Joe Wright, who already has two gems under his belt – Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. He’s possibly to blame for the erratic editing and filming that proves unsettling through most of the film, and ultimately holds the film down.

In the end

It’s hard to pick out anything wrong with The Soloist, but there’s something in the final product that doesn’t gel as well as it should. Which is a pity, because with such a good story, and two such fine actors, this could have been something truly great.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


Monday, September 21, 2009

District 9

District 9

  • Released Internationally on 13/08/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 09/09/09 (how appropriate)

In a nutshell

Blurring the line between immigrants and aliens, this original and gripping science-fiction film from South Africa puts extra-terrestrials in a whole new light.


The film wastes no time in presenting the striking image of an enormous spacecraft hovering ominously over the Johannesburg skyline. The engaging mock-documentary style mixes in a few interviews with news footage to quickly explain how 28 years ago this massive mothership appeared in the sky, came to standstill, and then did nothing. After much debate, we humans decided to break in, and a million weak, malnourished and generally docile aliens were found inside. With the eyes of the world watching, the South African government did the noble thing and gave them asylum in a fenced district – District 9.

Illegal immigrants

The metaphor for illegal immigration is immediately apparent, also thanks to not-so-subtle imagery. The aliens are treated by Johannesburg residents as a drain on resources, a nuisance, and a potential source of crime and danger. The town is full of signs prohibiting their entrance, they are nicknamed ‘prawns’ due to their appearance, and as the years go by the government is pressured into somehow getting rid of them. A huge eviction campaign is started, with plans to shift the entire prawn population to a ‘tent city’ far from the city centre.

Wikus Van De Merwe

During the opening documentary-style scenes, we are given a quick tour of the operation headquarters by a geeky-looking type who seems eager to impress. Wikus (impressive newcomer Sharlto Copley) is put in charge of the evacuation, thanks to some good old favouritism, and we join him on the much-advertised first day of the project. The replies his fellow colleagues give during interviews give us a sense that something is going to go incredibly wrong, but we are initially in the dark as to the nature or scale of the problem.

The issues at stake

Besides the focus on tensions between locals and immigrants, the film also delves into the artillery issue, with large corporations putting lives at risk in the search for dominance in the weapons market. These dubious ethics and the overriding racial conflicts manage to lift this film high above similar outings in the genre. The middle section of the film relies less on the documentary style and progresses like a thoroughbred sci-fi action film, but the hand-held camera work and overall style maintain the sense of realism and urgency that makes this film so distinctive.

Who’s in it?

Young South African director and visual effects artists Neill Blomkamp made a short film in 2005 entitled ‘Alive in Joburg’ (available online here). This film is a development of that 6-minute film into a fuller story, and was made with support from Peter Jackson’s production company. There are no big names on show, nor are they missed. The two principal actors both contributed to the original short, and they do a fine job, as do all the cast and crew. The visual effects are effective without ever being overdone, and the sparse score is a fine finishing touch.

In the end

Whilst borrowing concepts from Aliens, Independence Day and even The Fly, this film stands out as wonderfully original film, and should also appeal to those not usually drawn towards sci-fi. One of the best films of the year, and hopefully the start of a fruitful and entertaining directing career.


Trailer: (High-res Quicktime)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs


  • Released Internationally on 18/09/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 18/09/09


Showing in Real3D at Empire Cinemas, Buġibba and in 2D everywhere else

In a nutshell

Based on the children’s book, this gourmet computer-animated disaster movie blends comedy, science-fiction and drama to bring an impressive array of great new characters to the screen.


Like all great fairytales, this one kicks off in a quaint imaginary town – a seaside haven on a tiny island underneath the ‘A’ of ‘Atlantic’. The town thrives on the sardine industry, and every family business is built on sardines. Then one day, the world at large realises that ‘sardines are super gross’, and suddenly the future of the town looks fishy. Enter Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader, Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder).


Flint has dreamed of being an inventor since he was a few feet tall, and his mind is always set on the next great idea. Not deterred by the failure of most of his ideas, he sets his sights on saving his hometown with the invention of a machine that, to put it simply, makes food out of water. Flint is a wonderful character that draws from fictional inventors we’ve seen over the decades – complete with zany haircut, lab coat, lack of social skills and the ultimate back-yard laboratory which could rival Dexter’s.


Over on mainland USA, aspiring weather girl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris, Scary Movie, Observe and Report), lands the job of covering the worthless news story of the opening of this tiny town’s ‘Sardine Land’ theme park, but she gets more than she bargained for when shortly after arriving she witnesses the unintentional launch of Flint’s latest invention into the atmosphere. As the two, who have more in common than initially apparent, meet, it starts raining burgers.

Food glorious food

What follows is a wonderful feast of animation, as the town is whipped into a feeding frenzy over Lockwood’s invention and its resulting weather phenomena. From his lab Flint takes everyone’s orders and the town is covered in favourite foods three times a day, at mealtimes. But gluttony and chaos risk destroying the town, and in true disaster-movie style the entire world is soon at stake.

Quite a character

Endearing as the main couple may be, they are nearly outdone by the impressive host of supporting characters. After endless sequels in the computer-animation field, it’s wonderful to find something so fresh and new, with so many great new faces. Flint’s father, who epitomises the strong and silent type, manages to look hilarious and yet be the emotional anchor of Flint’s adventures. He is brought to life by the voice talent of James Caan (The Godfather, Mickey Blue Eyes). Equally funny is the local police chief Earl Devereaux, voiced to perfection by none other than Mr. T (of The A-Team fame), a Johnny Bravo-type cop who is convinced that Flint is up to no good. The greedy and manipulative mayor is given ample pantomime malevolence by Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Spider-man). Last but not least, the undistinguished cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt, The Woodsman, Miss Congeniality) rises from obscurity in the finale to provide some of the humorous highpoints.

In the end

With the exponentially increasing output of computer-animated films, it’s inevitable that some miss-hits wouldn’t reach the lofty standards set by Toy Story and friends. Thankfully, this film manages to be up to scratch in every department – the animation is a joy to behold, the story is crazy but not without heart, and the laughs are frequent. It may be loads of nonsense, but it’s great fun.






Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Funny People

Funny People


  • Released Internationally on 31/07/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 16/09/09


In a nutshell

The man behind nearly all the great ‘bromantic’ comedies of the past four years has written and directed his third film, and this time around it's as much dark drama as raunchy comedy.

Funny people?

The title doesn't necessarily refer to what the protagonists are doing on screen. It refers to the type of people whose lives we are delving into, because this is a poignant and thought-provoking few months behind the scenes in the lives of a few fledgling comedians and one established superstar. It’s written and directed by Judd Apatow, who wrote and directed The 40 year-old Virgin and Knocked Up, as well as producing and/or writing a host of other recent comedies.

George Simmons

Apatow was Adam Sandler's flatmate a while back, a role which included filming Sandler during his frequent prank calling. He wrote the role of comedy megastar George Simmons specifically for Sandler, and he starts off the film with actual footage of their teenage antics. Simmons is an established comedian with a number of blockbusters under his belt, a mansion one is likely to get lost in, and a suitably over-the-top celebrity lifestyle full of autographs, women and money. But a check-up shows some nasty blood counts and within a few minutes of the film starting he learns that he has acute leukaemia, and it doesn't look rosy. He walks out of the clinic stunned, and inevitably starts viewing life differently.

Ira Wright

Over on the low-budget side of town, aspiring stand-up comedian Ira (a role written for Seth Rogen - Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) is struggling to make ends meet, and his stage career is cough-starting and spluttering. It doesn't help that his two flatmates and fellow comics Mark (Jason Schwartzman, from Rushmore, in a wonderfully laid-back role) and Leo (Jonah Hill, from Superbad, playing his usual self) are getting more work than he is. But after Simmons shows up at the stand-up club and takes to the stage before him, they meet and exchange compliments, and Simmons ends up giving him a call asking for some writing work and hiring him as his assistant.

Estranged people

As Ira learns about Simmons’ death sentence, he encourages him to reach out to his loved ones, rather than keep the news secret. The problem is, Simmons’ glitzy life has left all his friends and family out in the cold and his life is full of employees, not friends. He takes Ira’s advice though, and reaches for the phone to try and build bridges with the many people he has hurt over the years. This brings new warmth into his life, and everyone around him starts noticing his new improved self.

The one that got away

Top of his ‘to phone’ list is the previous love of his life, Laura (Leslie Mann, from Knocked Up, and Apatow’s wife) who is now married and a mother of two kids after leaving Simmons due to his infidelity. They reunite and realise that there’s still something there, but she is torn between the feelings for him and the normality and stability of life with her kids and husband (Eric Bana, from Munich and Star Trek, in a hilarious and effortless supporting role).

Nothing wrong, nothing usual

It’s hard to pinpoint anything wrong with Funny People. The acting is consistently strong and switches seamlessly from comedy to drama, and the script from Apatow is the best he’s written yet. And despite its excessive length there’s an air of quality and meaning to every scene. But the overall feeling is a very mixed and awkward one, as was possibly intended by Apatow. The film doesn’t fit into any neat category, and one could be forgiven for not knowing whether to literally laugh or cry. Like a Monty Python sketch, the high-points are frequent and throughout, rather than building to any grand finale or punch-line.

In the end

One has to admire Apatow for bringing this script to the screen, because it is a very daring move after the huge success he has enjoyed with his more straightforward comedy. The dark nature of most of this film isn’t comfortable viewing, and the feeling as the end credits roll is ambiguous. A moving portrayal of changing priorities in life, sprinkled with an occasional oasis of crude comic relief.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Time Traveller’s Wife

Time Traveller's Wife

  • Released Internationally on 14/08/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 09/09/09

In a nutshell

Based on the best-selling novel, this is the unusual love story between a normal woman and a man afflicted with unintentional, unpredictable and often unsafe time travel.

Land of the lost 2?

As an addition to the long list of stories about time travel, this one can claim to have a number of truly original concepts and ideas, and it manages to feel fresh and innovative. Henry DeTamble is an average-looking young librarian who often disappears without warning and then re-materialises after a variable amount of time, in his birthday suit. Where he goes can be past, present or future, although he seems to have a preference for major events in his life, which pull him in 'like gravity'. He takes nothing with him, and can spend anything from minutes to weeks in his destination date, so he usually has to resort to stealing, breaking-in and running to avoid being arrested as a streaker.

Where's the love?

Despite the elaborate time-travel aspect of this story, the titular reference to his wife, Clare, is due to the fact that the main focus here is the love story, and how time-travel threatens to tear them apart. After meeting Clare and starting a relationship, Henry finds himself often travelling back to her childhood, where he meets her, and therefore the chronology of their love-life is not exactly run-of-the-mill.

A blessing and a curse

I recently had the pleasure of reading Audrey Niffenegger's wonderfully conceived debut novel, from which this screenplay was adapted by Bruce Joel Rubin (who previously penned numerous successful films including that other unconventional love story, Ghost). The upside was naturally that I could devour every page of the book not knowing what lay ahead, but the downside is how it affected my viewing of the film. The intricate unfolding of relationships over time is handled masterfully in the book, and with adequate explanation but no spoon-feeding, the bigger picture falls into place beautifully. The detail and explanation also serves the very important role of adding an appropriate amount of credibility to the premise, and avoiding lacunae in the time-travel logic.

Gone with the Wind 2?

Unfortunately, since like most films this one clocks in at less than two hours, some trimming was necessary. I doubt that attempting to cram everything into a sprawling four-hour epic would have done justice to the book, or that it would have been very watchable, however this inevitable rushed result has some major flaws. First of all, the film doesn't manage to 'sell' the concept of Henry's genetic illness as well as the book, due to lack of detail and explanation, and I feel this is essential if the audience is to embrace this love story. Secondly, entire swathes of sub-plot are dropped without a mention, making the story seem a bit two-dimensional. Lastly, the book owed a lot of its gripping nature to the balance between the heartfelt and timeless romance between Henry and Clare, and the grisly and often shocking violence and trauma that affect their lives. These traumas are largely smoothed over in the script, resulting in a saccharine film with a PG-13 rating, but less edge and drama.

Who's in it?

Eric Bana (Troy, Munich) is the man with the time-management issues, and a radiant Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Wedding Crashers) is his patient and suffering wife. Henry's only hope for a normal life, geneticist Dr. Kendrick, is portrayed by Steve Tobolowsky (Memento, Groundhog Day), and his close friend Gomez by Ron Livingston (TV’s Sex and the City and Band of Brothers). Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) was the man in the director’s chair.

In the end

It’s hard to pinpoint anything in the film that is bad, but the film never really takes off or feels truly magical. The performances are occasionally bland, and if they’re not feeling it, I doubt many of the audience will. It’s probably unfair to compare it to the book, but the film doesn’t seem to manage to be the timeless romance it sets out to be. By all means watch the film, but do yourself a favour and savour the book first.


Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Land of the Lost

Land of the Lost


  • Released Internationally on 05/06/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 02/09/09


In a nutshell

Based on the science-fiction TV show from the 70s, this adventure ride mixes time travel and what is fast-becoming Will Ferrell's trademark type of humour.

Lost in space

When I heard about this film and saw the promotional material, I was looking forward to a silly but fun mix of thrills and laughs. Unfortunately the focus here is firmly on the silly. The plot, for example. When it comes to plot, every time travel tale requires a certain amount of suspension of belief, however, that doesn’t mean you have to treat your audience like toddlers. The ‘plot’ here has to be seen to be disbelieved. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) is a zany and rather unorthodox scientist who has dedicated most of his life and a hefty sum of taxpayer's money to the invention of the ‘tachyon amplifier’, a backpack-sized contraption that looks like something a ghostbuster would wear, but which he claims can take him hurtling through time and space. Not surprisingly, it does, and before we know it Marshall, an enthusiastic student fan of his (the very British Anna Friel), and an incredulous redneck (Danny McBride - Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express) are squinting into the sun on a desert alien landscape.

The lost world

Having very briefly skimmed over the details about how exactly our adventurous trio got there, and exactly where (when?) they are, the action kicks in. We first meet one of the locals, Chaka (newcomer Jorma Taccone, in a ridiculous low-budget costume), and then a rather grumpy Tyrannosaurus rex catches wind of our heroes, and proceeds to chase them for the remainder of the film. The dinosaurs and landscapes are all very eye-catching, and one has to assume that that’s where most of the film’s budget was spent (as opposed to costume design and polishing the script).

Lost in translation

Just when the film is starting to look like a Jurassic comedy, a whole new breed of villain arrives on the scene. Unfortunately inherited from the TV series, and inexplicably left looking exactly like they did in the 70s, the so-called Sleestaks look like sleep-walking mini-Godzillas, and seem horribly out of place next to the genuinely menacing and much better-looking T-rex. This clashing of 70s homage and 00s special effects is found throughout the film, and makes one wonder whether the crew actually knew what sort of film they wanted to make.

In the end

Despite all the above, at least director Brad Silberling (Casper, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) manages to provide a number of scenes where Ferrell and McBride’s off-kilter comedy gets to shine, resulting in some of the less cringe-worthy scenes. Ferrell’s starry-eyed enthusiasm and unfounded savoir-faire perfectly fit his role here, and despite the flaws around him he remains a joy to watch. Apart from that, this is one big, misguided mess.


Mark's Mark 5 out of 10


Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds


  • Released Internationally on 19/08/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 26/08/09


In a nutshell

Quentin Tarantino brings his unique brand of filmmaking to the enduringly popular subject of World War II.

Take a good story

When Tarantino announced he would be making a war film, I doubt anyone expected a run-of-the-mill telling of some particular aspect of the war. As 2008 showed, the tragic events of over half a century ago offer a rich basis for human drama, both factual (Defiance, Valkyrie) or imagined (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Reader). Tarantino opted for the latter, and has allegedly had this alternative history brewing in his mind since before Kill Bill. The setting may be WW2, but the core of the film is a story of pure vengeance, though this time on a much grander scale than the intimate revenge of The Bride in Kill Bill.

Add a fancy title

The titular Basterds are a rogue squad of Jewish-Americans handpicked by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) for a mission in Nazi-occupied France. The brief is simple - hunt down Nazis, take no prisoners, scalp them, and let word of their cruelty get out so as to terrorise the Reich all the way to the moustached top. Tarantino offered no official explanation for his misspelt title, apart from it being an artistic flourish, so one has to assume it's merely a play on the French pronunciation of this fearsome band's label.

Choose the finest ingredients

Brad Pitt's name and face are understandably plastered all over the promotional material for the film, but by no means is he the only star of this picture. His role as the heroic Raine, leader of the Basterds, provides most of the comedy in the film, and his thick Tennessee accent and black humour serve as a useful counterpoint to the barbaric and graphic nature of his crew's deeds. But there are two lesser-known names that make you sit up and take note. German actor Christoph Waltz is the smiling but ruthless Nazi Hans Landa, ‘the Jew hunter’, in a brilliant performance, not least because of his fluent use of English, French, German and Italian as needed. And French actress Mélanie Laurent gives us a true heroine to root and feel for as the resourceful Shosanna. Looking very much like a French Uma Thurman (Tarantino's frequent collaborator and alleged muse), she stands out as the most vivid and human character in the whole story, and I wouldn't be surprised to see her or Waltz be mentioned come award season. Diane Kruger (Troy) has a smaller but pivotal role as a prominent German actress with wavering allegiances, Mike Myers (Austin Powers, Shrek) has a brief cameo as a British general, and Eli Roth (director of Cabin Fever and Hostel) and B.J. Novak (TV’s The Office) are two of the infamous scalp-hunters.

Add garnish to taste

The director's trademark flourishes are all present here, making this very much a Tarantino tale set in WW2 rather than simply a war movie directed by Tarantino. The main titles are stylistically similar to those of Kill Bill, and the narrative is once again divided into clearly distinct chapters with grandiose storybook titles such as "Once Upon a Time... In Nazi-Occupied France". The storyline is mostly, but not entirely, chronological this time, but it is also punctuated with very brief and often hilarious flashbacks to emphasize certain memories. Plus there's loads of his deft little touches like couples of aggressors staring down at their victims (though not in car boots this time), copious film references, Sergio Leone-style close-ups during stand-offs (even when sitting down) and the good old Wilhelm scream. There's even a snippet of explanatory narration by Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown), and another brief uncredited role for Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), at the other end of a phone line. The graphic violence is also present, as expected, however it comes in a few very short, intense bursts.

Add a generous amount of Morricone

Music is always an integral part of Tarantino's films, and this is no exception. In his early films Tarantino gained a reputation for picking out classic songs which perfectly fit his scenes, and which younger generations could discover thanks to the resultant soundtracks. In Kill Bill and his recent Death Proof, he veered towards selections from classic film scores rather than pop songs, most prominently Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores. The maestro himself was apparently due to provide an original score for Basterds, but had to bow out due to his busy schedule. However many key sequences in the film are scored with selections from his enormous body of work, along with those of other composers and a few songs from various eras. Historical accuracy is secondary here - the music fits each scene like a glove and on numerous occasions adds tonnes of pathos or excitement to the proceedings. Much as I love his earlier music choices, I think these grandiose score cues fit his flamboyant type of filmmaking better, and I hope this trend continues.

Bring to the boil

The excitement is never lacking. It is an often used measure that a good film should provoke feelings in the viewer, whatever feelings those may be. By that yardstick Basterds is a triumph, as from the opening scene is drips with palpable tension and suspense, as even the most seemingly amicable and pleasant of conversations are wrought with the distinct feeling that any second things are going to combust and shots are going to ring out. Each chapter in this chronicle has its own taut climax, and the film benefits hugely from the overall air of unpredictability this alternative history provides. Last year, despite being entertaining, Valkyrie suffered from an inescapable feeling of inevitability, since it was based on fact. Here, anything can happen.

Allow to simmer

Tarantino presented a hurriedly-edited version of his latest fare at the Cannes festival last May, which garnered mixed reviews but heaps of worthy praise for Waltz’s performance. He then had a few more months to fine tune and re-edit the film, before releasing the finished product we see today. Thankfully, he didn’t sacrifice length, because each sequence is wonderful to watch, and the film’s two and a half hours soar past thanks to the chapters and their individual showdowns.

Serve fresh

This is a director still as fresh and enjoyable as he was when he burst onto the scene in the early 90s. A glorious romp of a movie, with heaps of style enhancing, rather than detracting from, the great storytelling and excellent acting.


Mark's Mark 9/10


Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)