Wednesday, April 30, 2014


  • Premiered in Malta on 27/04/14
Review (26/04/14)
3-word review: Tragic but beautiful.  
Back in the summer of 2008, a fire at sea left only one survivor, and plunged the Maltese fishing village of Marsaxlokk into stunned silence. The details emerged slowly as Simon Bugeja, rescued from the sea after days clinging to a makeshift raft, recovered from his burns and dehydration in intensive care. His son's body was never found. Possibly the only good thing to come from this incident is this beautiful and moving film adaptation, which combines the story of those touched by the incident with the concurrent drama of perilous irregular immigration from Africa to Europe, an issue that Malta was and still is struggling with every summer. First-time director Rebecca Cremona's labour of love is a gorgeous postcard from Malta, which manages to portray some of the magic of this tiny little island without detracting from the solemnity of the fatal Simshar incident.

The fine details
A conclusive report on the incident helped the story eventually leave the front pages, but a few questions did remain unanswered. The script here does not try to answer everything or assign blame, and there is only the slightest reference to possible major illegalities, with the focus merely being on struggling fishermen ignoring fishing restrictions in order to put food on their families' table. The initial scenes with the maritime inspector are a bit clunky, besides the intentional awkwardness, and threaten to get things off to a disjointed start, but thankfully the film flows much better once the Simshar leaves port and the drama gets more intense. 
In front of the camera
I was worried some of the acting might drag the film down to TV soap levels after seeing the final trailer for the film, but thankfully most of the actors rise to the occasion. Jimi Busuttil is particularly good as Simon's father and fellow crew member, and Laura Kpegli is excellent as the subtle voice of reason amongst an increasingly desperate group of rescued immigrants. Claire Agius provides the emotional core of the film as the wife of Simon (and the 'shar' in 'Simshar'), and young Adrian Farrugia makes a notable debut as her son Theo. Lofti Abdelli was brought in to play the main role of Simon, and although his acting capabilities are clear, the obvious non-Maltese accent is unfortunately very distracting and it took me a while to get used to him in the role. Hopefully international audiences won't have this problem. 
Behind the scenes
Any complaints about the acting can be swiftly forgotten by seeing the quality of the film up on the screen, which definitely sets a new standard for films made entirely in Malta. Cremona frames the picturesque fishing village wonderfully, including a clever reveal using linen on a Marsaxlokk roof. The inclusion of the village feast and the international football match manage not to look too forced, and add the necessary colour. A handful of shots, especially during the incident and at the film's ending, are absolutely stunning. The attention to detail is also impressive, my favourite touch being the 'Lost Cat' sign on the bar's noticeboard.
In the end
Ultimately, this is a film about family. The main protagonists have their family torn apart by an unfortunate but possibly avoidable tragedy, and elsewhere many thousands risk their lives in treacherously overcrowded boats so as to give their family a chance of a better life in Europe. One of the immigrants refuses medical help so as not to be separated from her brother, and the attending doctor manages to sympathise and stay on to help her. Because the importance of family is something we can all understand, and that's what makes this film's ending so powerful.




Saturday, April 26, 2014


  • Released Internationally on 19/02/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 01/05/14
Review (26/04/14)
3-word review: Deus ex machina. 
The story of Pompeii, with an entire city frozen in time as it is covered in ash from the nearby volcano Vesuvius, is a wonderful one. Here it serves as a bookend and plot twist for a rather feeble tale of Roman-era slavery and romance. So, after Noah, here’s the second period disaster movie of the year so far. Director Paul W. S. Anderson is mostly famous for the Resident Evil films, and unfortunately this isn’t much better in terms of class or quality.
A hero bent on revenge
The film borrows heavily from various other films, with the most obvious influence being Gladiator. Lots of gladiatorial action, lots of coliseum drama, and a central hero with a score to settle. Kit Harington (Jon Snow, who knows nothing, from Game of Thrones) makes his main role debut sporting an impressive set of abdominals. As a young child he witnesses the brutal massacre of his entire family and village at the hands of a Roman senator, and many years later his exploits as a gladiator bring him to the arena of Pompeii, where said Senator is visiting, hoping to return to Rome with the lovely Cassia (Emily Browning). Her parents (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss) disapprove, but Roman senators have a way of getting what they want.
In the background
So ensues a lot of politics and romance under the shadow of the stirring volcano. Kiefer Sutherland is suitably nasty, but terribly one-dimensional, as the bad guy. With a certain inevitability we see the plot progress in such a way as to bring the lowly but manly hero into the life of the fair maiden. The details are not too important, because as expected, the volcano comes into play when necessary to throw the rest of the plot out of the window and wreak havoc on everything in sight. It is reasonably spectacular in terms of CGI and relentless destruction, and serves as the best Deux ex machina since the famous frog scene in Magnolia (from director Paul Thomas Anderson, not this one).
In the end
It’s entertaining enough, because you don’t need much story or acting when your third act has a volcano, an earthquake and a tsunami to keep everyone busy. But it feels unfortunate that what might endure as the main film about the events of Pompeii is hardly the classic that they deserve.




Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Amazing Spider-man 2

  • Released Internationally on 16/04/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 16/04/14
Review (16/04/14)
3-word review: Not that amazing. 
I think superhero fatigue is starting to set in. It's the only explanation I can think of for why I was both positively impressed with many of the aspects of this film, but also bored by the whole experience. This will be an average year, by recent cinema standards - a Spider-man sequel, an X-Men sequel, a Captain American sequel, a new group of heroes (Guardians of the Galaxy) and a hero reboot (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). That's peanuts compared to what's lined up for 2015 and 2016. So even when the film itself is great, how do the filmmakers manage to make it stand out?
Spider-man has a harder job than most at keeping us interested, given that the whole story arc was tackled successfully only a decade ago. So the novelty factor isn't too high, although thankfully the first Amazing Spider-man film managed to be very entertaining, partly due to a wonderful interpretation by Andrew Garfield. He gives us a lanky, goofy, light-hearted Spider-man who fits the costume and the persona perfectly. His chemistry with Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy) is effortless, now also thanks to their off-screen romance. The scenes between them in this film are more impressive than many of the supposedly fancier and definitely more expensive action shots, and if this were a normal film about a guy having to choose between a career and a girl it might have been a good one.
Middle chapter syndrome
The film is longer than I would have liked, but the extra time was probably necessary since at least three new villains get introduced. But this is merely the setting up of great things to come. In a development that is just briefly alluded to at the end, the Spider-man branch of the Marvel universe is about to veer off into deeper territory, with six infamous villains (the 'Sinister Six') heading to our screens in the next film. So this second film has some introductions to do, but then ends rather abruptly with a somewhat awkward ending. Not a juicy cliffhanger, like some middle chapters thrive on; but rather a rushed 'to be continued' type ending.
Lots to see
Jamie Foxx is interesting as the introverted, working class, nobody who ends up transformed into 'Electro', Spider-man's main adversary for this chapter. The effects are nicely done, including a Times Square centrepiece action sequence that shows off his abilities. He even gets an innovative electric guitar theme from composer Hans Zimmer, working with Pharrell Williams and guitarist Johnny Marr. The 3D is put to good use, and the whole electro concept is great fodder for effects. New York serves as a wonderful backdrop, and the scale of the film is befitting of the best disaster movies.
In the end
So, all in all, it's a good film. If Spider-man was the only superhero franchise out there, I would be fawning over this second film and heading back to see it again and again. But even when the action works, the hero looks good, the romance works, and the feel-good factor is thriving, it's all stuff we've seen only a few weeks ago in some similar film with different costumes. Maybe this is why TV is on such a high and small independent films are finding bigger audiences. Maybe we're tired of superheroes for now.