Tuesday, February 24, 2009



  • Released Internationally on 05/12/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 11/03/09

A little bit of history

  • June 1972 – Watergate break-in foiled.
  • March 1973 – Evidence of the involvement of the Nixon administration comes forth.
  • August 1974 – Richard Nixon resigns the US presidency – to date the only person to do so.
  • August 1976 – David Frost signs a contract with Nixon, outlining the interviews.
  • March/April 1977 – Frost interviews Nixon over 12 days, each session lasting around 2 hours.
  • May 1977 – Four 90-minute programs are broadcast, drawing over 40 million viewers.
  • April 1994 – Nixon passes away four days after suffering a stroke.
  • January 2004 – Writer Peter Morgan approaches David Frost about writing a play based on his 1977 interviews.
  • August 2006 – ‘Frost/Nixon’, the play opens in London, to rave reviews.
  • September 2007 – David Frost publishes ‘Frost/Nixon’ – his book about the interviews, including full transcripts of all the recording sessions.
  • October 2008 – A big-screen adaptation, directed by Ron Howard, premieres in London.
  • February 2009 – Despite not having even been born for the first 6 dates above, this viewer finds the film to be engrossing, exciting, and one of the best-made films of the year.

A sense of occasion

The opening titles merge into archival audio and footage of the Watergate hearings, interspersed with behind-the-scenes preparations as Nixon is about to make his resignation announcement. Director Ron Howard also uses the clever technique of mock-documentary shots, where actors from the film give brief, into-the-camera interviews, in character, which provide intimate information about how it felt to be watching those broadcasts at the time. These snapshot interviews pepper the film throughout, and help add insight as well as remind us that we are watching landmark history events.


We then head downunder to find David Frost, who at the time was hosting a talk show on Australian television. The lively showman, with something of a playboy reputation, is intrigued by the happening across the globe, and dreams up a television coup that could draw in millions of viewers. Strongly believing in his idea, he sets about building a team to help bring it to life, and contacts Nixon’s team to try and set up a meeting. As expected, his idea is shot down by friends, advisors and advertisers, but he keeps at it, even forking out the initial cash from his own pocket. As the project miraculously takes shape, everyone’s excitement is palpable. Michael Sheen, whom you might remember as Tony Blair in The Queen, reprises his acclaimed role from the play, and it’s evident that this is a character he is by now very comfortable playing. His charm and optimism win everybody over, but when push comes to shove and the interviews get rough, he shows what a great interviewer Frost is and why he was a worthy adversary for Nixon.


Also reprising his much-acclaimed role from the play is Frank Langella (Good Night and Good Luck, Superman Returns) as Nixon. The veteran stage and screen actor has the added difficulty of portraying a widely-known character, yet despite not much of a physical resemblance he becomes the president remarkably, and at no point does it feel like you’re watching an impersonation. His elegant voice and manner instantly convince you that this man once ruled the world, yet his eventual defeated expression and sweaty upper lip manage to show a man who is carrying a heavy burden. It’s a joy to watch him and Sheen spar throughout the film.

Stranger than fiction

Watching a film like this, and knowing that this actually happened a few decades ago makes it all the more captivating. A few liberties with the truth were taken by writer Peter Morgan when the play was written, and the film script was adapted by Morgan himself. Most variations from the truth are mere technicalities, as highlighted by Frost in his book, and detract nothing from the essential facts. One of the fictionalizations, a late-night phone call by Nixon on the eve of the crucial interview, was hailed by Frost himself as a ‘masterpiece’.

The rest

The great Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13, Murder in the First) gives an upright and determined performance as Nixon’s chief of staff, who leads the Nixon team and at times seems to be the only person who truly believes in the ex-president and who will do anything to safeguard his interests. Frost’s team is made up of Oliver Platt (A Time To Kill, Indecent Proposal) as editor Bob Zelnick, Sam Rockwell (Matchstick Men, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) as author Sam Renton Jr. and Matthew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice) as producer John Birt. En route to the US, Frost also picks up the lovely Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall – Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Prestige). Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, The DaVinci Code) directs.

In the end

From the word go, the film makes it very clear that what the public and the press want is an apology from Nixon, and Frost sets out to get that apology on prime-time TV. Throughout the film, Howard builds beautifully towards the grand finale. Watching the interviews unfold is a joy, as Nixon cleverly ‘stonewalls’ all Frost’s questions and plays out the interviews exactly as he wants to, but watching Frost come back in the ring as he desperately tries to break Nixon down is one of the cinematic highlights of the year.


You can see a few clips from the original interviews here: http://www.frostnixon.com/


Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscars for 2008


  • Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
  • Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
  • Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
  • Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
  • Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
  • Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
  • Best Animated Feature: WALL-E
  • Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
  • Best Foreign Language Film: Departures (Japan)
  • Best Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
  • Best Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
  • Best Art Direction: Benjamin Button
  • Best Costume Design: The Duchess
  • Best Makeup: Benjamin Button
  • Best Live Action Short: Toyland
  • Best Animated Short: La Maison en Petites Cubes
  • Best Documentary Short: Smile Pinki
  • Best Visual Effects: Benjamin Button
  • Best Sound Editing: The Dark Knight
  • Best Sound Mixing: Slumdog Millionaire
  • Best Music Score: A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
  • Best Song: Jai Ho, Slumdog Millionaire

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gran Torino

Gran Torino Title2

  • Released Internationally on 12/12/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 20/02/09


In a nutshell

Recently widowed Walt Kowalski is retired after a lifetime of service in the car-making industry, and as a soldier in the Korean War. He has strongly-held beliefs about manhood, the American way, religion and the influx of immigrants into his neighbourhood, but they’re all about to be tested by his relationship with his troubled neighbours.

Welcome to the neighbourhood

Despite being of Polish descent himself, Walt considers himself a true American, and openly dislikes all the immigrants moving into his locality, just as he picks on his Italian barber and disapproves of his son’s Asian car. He knows what he likes, right down to his favourite brand of beer and his prized possession – a 1972 Ford Gran Torino, and he’s determined not to make anyone change his mind. His neighbourhood is attracting a large number of immigrants however, especially Hmong families, who are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia. He makes no attempt to befriend his Hmong next-door neighbours, and all he asks is that they stay off his lawn.

So many issues, so little time

One of the great feats of this deceptively-simple film is the large number of issues it manages to tackle so convincingly in under two hours, which is what makes it so enjoyable to watch and so effortlessly flowing. The character of Walt manages to combine the increasingly important topics of racism, growing old, religion and violence, and the film manages to be a remarkable study of all of them. Walt’s relationship with the village pastor, whom his wife was very close with but who he calls an ‘over-educated, 27-year-old virgin’, is particularly amusing to watch.

The man who makes the movie

The film starts, ends and is all about Clint Eastwood. He directs, acts, produces, and even lends his gravelly voice to the end credits song. The role is perfect for him because with such a rich on-screen history, it’s easy to see him as the hardened, experienced old man who’s still as tough as nails and not to be messed with. His weathered face, his deliberately slow pace, and his attention-demanding voice are enough to put genuine fear into the most loud-mouthed of youths.

Changing priorities

As the local gangs start to pick on the fatherless girl and boy next door, Walt comes to the rescue – at first just to stop the inconvenience to his property, but later out of genuine concern and righteousness. Hailed as a hero by his Hmong neighbours, he finds himself slowly drawn into their world, and takes on the missing paternal role in the life of the unconfident and bullied son. As his feud with the gangs begins to escalate, Walt is forced to decide just how much he is willing to sacrifice so that his immigrant neighbours can finally find some peace in their new neighbourhood.

In the end

The film delivers on every level. Clint Eastwood is fascinating to watch, and the different aspects of his changing character are easy to sympathise with. Despite his hardened exterior at the start of the film, every change we see in him comes about convincingly, and he never loses face or seems defeated – on the contrary, he rises above everyone else and becomes a man we should all aspire to be like. All the action happens within the same few blocks of Michigan neighbourhood, and there aren’t any fancy special effects, but this is one of the best-written and important films to come out of 2008.





Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Pink Panther 2

Pink Panther 2 Title

  • Released Internationally on 06/02/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 11/02/09

The sequel to the reboot

Inspector Jacques Clouseau is back, whether the world likes it or not. The bumbling French detective, made famous by Peter Sellers in the 60s and 70s, is once again out to reclaim France’s national treasure, the priceless pink diamond dubbed ‘The Pink Panther’. With a chequered history, and featuring numerous actors throughout the years, the franchise now contains eleven films, spanning over forty-five years, and of greatly varying quality. Steve Martin enjoyed moderate success when he revived the role in 2006, and most of the cast of that film are back for this sequel, as is the titular diamond with a habit of getting stolen.

The dream team

The world is in a state of panic as a mysterious criminal who goes by the name of ‘The Tornado’ swiftly makes off with priceless artefacts from England, Japan and Italy. An international team of the greatest detective minds is assembled, and based on previous achievements Clouseau is asked to lead the team. This doesn’t go down too well with his boss, Chief Inspector Dreyfuss (John Cleese, replacing Kevin Kline from the 2006 film), who firmly believes Clouseau is a nitwit. This impression is soon shared by the rest of the dream team, and after numerous public embarrassments he is thrown off the team, and the mystery solved without him. Or so they think.

All-star cast, in all-star locations

The main box-office draw is presumably the cast, which include Jean Reno (Léon, The Da Vinci Code) and Emily Mortimer (Young Adam, Match Point) reprising their roles from the 2006 outing as members of the French police staff. The dream team includes Andy Garcia (The Godfather Part III, Ocean’s Eleven) representing Italy, Alfred Molina (Frida, Spider-man 2) representing the Brits, and the stunning Aishwarya Rai as a crime expert from India. Jeremy Irons makes a brief and laconic appearance as a rich art expert thought at one point to be the ‘tornado’ in question. Very nearly upstaging all these big names are the wonderful European locations used extensively throughout the film. Set primarily in Paris, the film is a virtual tour of the city, both indoor and outdoor, and the French action is interspersed with scenes in The Vatican and other historic locales, adding some much needed class to an otherwise sometimes ridiculous film.

Silly isn’t always funny

This is the most jarring flaw of a generally fun film. A number of sequences deteriorate into poorly-executed slapstick, and despite his many talents Martin doesn’t always have the panache to pull them off. Some scenes are painful to watch, especially with stars like Garcia and Molina having to spout cringe-inducing dialogue. Thankfully, the film is peppered with a few sequences that do in fact work, and occasionally work wonderfully, but overall the film is evidently trying too hard to be funny.

In the end

Steve Martin has showed us he can be one of the funniest actors around, but despite successfully managing to revive the Clouseau character, it’s far from his best work, and the surrounding film is often flat and simple. Still fun at times, with a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments, but it works best simply as a tourist guide to Paris.





Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Reader

The Reader Title

  • Released Internationally on 10/12/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 04/02/09


In a nutshell

Michael Berg is a German teenager who in 1958 embarks on a passionate love affair with on older woman, Hanna Schmitz. The relationship ends abruptly, but they get back in touch with each other many years later, after he has followed a high-profile war crimes trial in which she is the defendant.

Not your average cradle-snatcher

Apart from the usual trysts, the relationship between these two seemingly-mismatched lovers also involves sessions of him reading to her from the books he is studying at school; something she seems to enjoy. He is eager to please, and therefore complies willingly. Later, whilst he is studying law and attending her trial without her knowledge, he discovers that her apparent fetish for being read to dates back to her days as an SS guard in the Nazi concentration camps. He also suddenly realises that she is hiding a secret that she is determined to keep safe, even if it costs her her freedom. As the only person who knows her enough to understand what is happening, he is torn between speaking up and keeping silent, and unsure about which one is the right thing to do.

A man shaped by his past

We first meet Michael Berg in 1995, when he is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes as a cold, unsentimental man who admits to having been deeply affected by his teenage affair. His failed marriage and superficial relationships, even with his own daughter, seem to stem from his ambiguous feelings for this older woman with a horrific past. How he acted at her trial continues to haunt him, and he eventually seeks redemption in trying to resume his reading relationship. The same character is also brought to life by an impressive young German actor, David Kross, who plays the difficult role of the 15-year old Berg caught up in his first sexual relationship, as well as the 23-year old Berg who attends her trial as a promising law student. Both actors complement each other wonderfully, and it is easy to see beyond them and understand this troubled man as one person.

A woman hiding secrets

Kate Winslet has received numerous accolades for her equally-impressive performance as Hanna. Sporting a German accent throughout, she discloses little during her early scenes as Berg’s unconventional but bossy lover, yet she seems as involved as he is. But after she disappears from his life without warning, her effect on him takes on an ominous tone as the trial uncovers her dark past during World War II. Reviled as a monster by everyone else, she still casts a shadow over Berg’s life, and eventually he turns out to be the only person she can claim as a friend. Winslet’s powerful performance also covers her later years, when we, just like Berg, are left uncertain about how to feel about her.

A crew-list of note

The film is directed by Stephen Daldry, who brought a smile to everyone’s face with Billy Elliot in 2000 and then shot up to the A-list with The Hours two years later. Amongst the film’s producers are the late Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, two great directors and producers who sadly passed away before they could see the film completed. David Hare, an established playwright, adapted the screenplay from the novel of the same name, just as he had done so successfully with The Hours.

In the end

Starting off deceptively as a story about an unconventional love-affair, the films truly takes off in the second act, and ends as a thoughtful and important film about doing the right thing. A classy film, with excellent acting throughout.





Monday, February 02, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

 Button Title

  • Released Internationally on 25/12/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 04/02/09

The storytelling skills of Scott Fitzgerald

Back in 1921, the celebrated American author F. Scott Fitzgerald (who penned The Great Gatsby), wrote the short story from which this film takes its name, which is a very brief and enjoyable read. The title character was born looking like a seventy year-old, and to the surprise and often embarrassment of all around him he slowly and surely grew younger, until his mind went blank as a tiny baby. The novella doesn’t take itself too seriously, and all that was used for this screenplay are the characters’ names and the concept of a man ageing backwards.

The wonderful writing of Eric Roth

Award-winning screenwriter Eric Roth, whose words have embellished films such as The Insider, Munich and Forrest Gump, fleshed out the story considerably, opening the film in New Orleans a few years ago, as hurricane Katrina was about to wreck havoc. On her deathbed, Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is getting some quality time with her only daughter (Julia Ormond). As they pore through the pages of a diary written by a certain Benjamin Button, the facts about his extraordinary existence come to life. Roth has succeeded brilliantly in changing a whimsical anecdote of a story into a larger-than-life tale of love, loss and the sacrifices some must make in order to have a few moments of true happiness.

The universal appeal of Brad Pitt

Anchoring this fine movie is a career-best performance by Brad Pitt, the actor who most women want to meet, and most men want to be. His admirable career may be partly due to his looks, but is mainly due to a string of excellent performances and unconventional roles, and he remains an actor who is fascinating to watch at work. His complex performance here goes hand in hand with the cutting-edge special effects, as he progresses from a frail and bent (but clearly recognizable) man in his eighties to the mid-forties man we all see in the press, through to a clear-faced twenty-five year old, with physical and facial features altering accordingly. Often acting just with his face, as it was superimposed on somebody else’s body, he still gives Button a life of his own, and draws us into his tragic story as we follow him on his unique journey.

The amazing grace of Cate Blanchett

Twelve years after he was born, but still looking like a man well into his seventies, he meets a young girl named Daisy, and an unusual friendship is born. As the years go by and his physical transformation becomes apparent to her, he tries to win her affection, but she goes off touring the world with her dance troupe, and rejects his advances. His patience and determination are rewarded when she returns home in the early 1960s (when they’re both in their forties, and they both look it), and their friendship quickly blossoms into romance. This is undoubtedly the high-point of the film, as these two lovers in their prime share a few magical years of normality. Blanchett shines during her flashback scenes in the film, and also has the difficult task of re-living all her emotions as a dying woman in her eighties during the present-day scenes.

The magical vision of David Fincher

Weaving all the above together in a wonderful fairytale is the deft touch of director David Fincher. The acclaimed director of such gems as Fight Club, Se7en, and the recent Zodiac brings it all together seamlessly, and with the help of standout cinematography, art direction and music creates a film with a glorious vintage look and feel, without ever letting the details or special effects come in the way of the curious case in question. One particular sequence stands out as probably the most beautiful in all of the films I have seen from 2008, as Button takes Daisy sailing and they enjoy their small and deserved share of the good life. The scenes, combined with Alexandre Desplat’s music, and coming after such a great build-up, make for a masterful movie moment. It’s also to Fincher’s credit that such a long film rarely films dragging, and if anything gets better as it progresses.

In the end

What struck me most about this remarkable film is that it doesn’t try to hit you over the head with any big message. There’s no political ideal, no preachy philosophy, no complex twists or tricks. It’s just a great tale, told beautifully, and in my books is one of the best films to come out of 2008.