(US, 2009, d. Tom Ford)
Colin Firth has received a great deal of acclaim for his role as George, a Christopher Isherwood-like professor of English in California in 1962. After winning the Best Actor award in Venice, 2009, he was nominated for many awards, including the Oscar. It has confirmed Firth as a strong and versatile actor (despite Mamma Mia!) after such films as Easy Living, And when did you last see your father, Genova and even such tongue-in-cheek straight roles in the St Trinians comedies.
A Single Man is based (with some variations) on Christopher Isherwood's novel. It takes place over one day in 1962 with news of the missile crisis and Cuba in the background. However, it is a sad day for George. Jim, his partner of 16 years is dead. George goes through the routines of his professorial day, lecturing on Aldous Huxley to uninterested students, except for the precocious Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) who stalks George and who, later that night, offers him something of a new life. George, however, has felt suicidal and remembers his time with Jim (Matthew Goode). There are some flashbacks to their meeting in 1946 as well as some scenes of their life together.
(US, 2009, d. Miguel Arteta)
Somebody said that youth are always revolting! Not so, would say Nick Twisp (though probably with a larger and more elegant and linguistically adventurous and sophisticated vocabulary), the hero (though probably anti-hero in the 1960s sense would be more appropriate) of three novels by American writer, C.D.Payne. They have a cult following in the US.
It may be better to get to the hand-wringing part of the review first: the film does reflect some of the permissive aspects of contemporary society, especially in adult divorces and partnerships and their impermanence, and teenager's preoccupation with sexuality (especially the opening scene in Nick's bedroom) and virginity (as in loss of). That said, the point of view of the screenplay and of Nick Twisp is that maturity and commitment are best, especially after the immediate experience of the loss of virginity whether it be in happy circumstances or in stupid circumstances. And that is positive.
(US, 2009, d. Jason Reitman)
Up in the Air can mean that something is uncertain – and the central character of this light drama with serious overtones finds that his life and choices are up in the air. But, he is also up in the air, literally, as he strives to clock up ten million air miles (on American Airlines which get lots of publicity throughout). He is continually on the move around the US from his home and his company base in Omaha, Nebraska, feeling at home in airports and familiar with their check-in rituals, security rituals and boarding rituals (although he does a double take as the flight attendant seems to ask him, 'Cancer?' but she is offering him a soft drink, 'Can, sir?)'.
The reason he is up in the air is that his job is one that has been on the rise in recent years. His company sends him out to do a dirty job for companies, firing their employees. Through the film there are collages of disbelieving Americans, the whole range of gender, ethnic background, social status, facing being fired – and a whole range of responses from resignation to despair and threatening suicide. The company tries a soft sell (but relentless) manner which many see through. They are also offered a folder with severance terms, presented as if this was the greatest opportunity for a new life.
(UK, 2009, d. Gerard Johnson)
Tony sounds an innocuous title for a film. And Tony himself seems an innocuous type, wandering around north London, but very stilted and awkward in his attempts at communication. He is the kind of person that one might find hanging around and think that he was harmless.
Not so. Tony has been jobless for 20 years and is virtually unemployable - we do have the opportunity to see him at a job interview, oblivious of what he is communicating about himself and his self-absorption and his unreliability. He has lived in a flat for ten years, munching corn flakes for breakfast, watching violent videos and going for walks. He ends up in all kinds of strange situations: phoning a sex centre with the number on display in the telephone box, offering to join two druggies and taking some speed, staring at a quarrelling couple in a cafe, in a small, upstairs brothel, in a gay bar...
But, Tony kills people, dismembers them and tosses the parts in plastic bags into the Thames.
(Norway, 2009, d. Erik Poppe)
A moving film.
Troubled Waters takes its title from Paul Simon's song which is played twice during a crucial scene and its repetition. The troubled waters are evident. However, the full title of the song is Bridge over Troubled Waters and exploring that theme opens up the drama and the spiritual dimensions of the drama.
Here is a film which is commercially interesting but which incorporates into its plot aspects of Lutheran spirituality and practise without embarrassment. Norway, even though like other European countries it is marked by an increasing secularism, has a Lutheran tradition which is part of its heritage and, as the film indicates, can contribute to religion, morality and to its culture.
(Malaysia, 2009, d. Yasmin Ahmad)
Malaysian writer-director was very serious about telling stories that were cross-cultural and cross-religious in a Malaysian context with films like Mukhsin and Septem. Tragically, she died at age 51 in 2009 after completing this film.
Malaysia is a Muslim country but it has many Hindus and Christians – which sometimes makes for contentious relationships and enmities. The Romeo and Juliet archetype can be very important for this society and Yasmin Ahmad made popular films, geared to a younger audience, drawing on the age-old story. She also incorporated the variety of language (and songs) that are used in Malaysia.
(UK, 2009, d. Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson)
When St Trinians appeared in 2007, it was meant to be a throwback to the British comedies of the 1950s, especially the classic The Belles of St Trinians from 1954 (which led to some lower brow sequels). The 21st century version seemed too knowing, too much innuendo and only spasmodically funny. So, it is a surprise to find the sequel so entertaining.
This time the girls are more cartoonish caricatures, much more like Ronald Searle's original sketches. And the dialogue is particularly PGish which makes it more like the original as well.
There are quite a few laughs and smiles, especially in some of the incidental dialogue and one-liners, often at the expense of the pretty but dumb girl. There are far fewer girls as pupils and, apart from Celia Imrie and Toby Jones, no staff except for Rupert Everett's Miss Fritton, the headmistress, can be sighted. While there are some shenanigans in the school, the action takes place outside.
(US, 2009, d. Jonas Pate)
Sounds promising. Kevin Spacey as a Los Angeles psychiatrist whose wife has killed himself and, while he is still practising, has opted out of ordinary life and taken refuge in drugs. However, it is not quite as engrossing as it might be. Perhaps it is the patchwork nature of the plot, with the focus on the shrink and then the focus on the stories of some of his clients. Reaching for an adjective to describe this, one might call it somewhat 'Altmanesque'.
Where the film is a little different is in the client list. They are not just from Los Angeles. They are from Hollywood or aspire to success in Hollywood. This gives the film a rather more wry tone than usual. There is the philandering film director who wants permission to philander (an uncredited Robin Williams).
(Indonesia, 2009, d. Andibachtiar Yusuf)
The story of Romeo and Juliet has been told and re-told. Here it provides a basis for an Indonesian story about football fanaticism and hooliganism. Which means, of course, that the fans of Jakarta and the rival fans of Bandung become the equivalents of the Capulets and the Montagues. And the enmity is literally deadly. In this situation, a Jak is smtten by a Viking girl (the name for the Bandung fans), the latterday Romeo and Juliet.
For a western audience, this is a surprisingly accessible story (as well as for many Asian audiences, though the film has been banned from screening in neighbouring Malaysia). This is the world of young adults all around the world, students and workers, in their T shirts and jeans, with popular music, with a much less traditional approach to moral behaviour, communicating in their slang and being hostile in local swearing. It seems that secularisation is not just a phenomenon of older Christian countries but with so many of the Muslim countries in Asia or in Africa.
, 2009, d. Ron Clements and John Musker) An enjoyable Disney feature although the opening does not bode well with a rather soppy song and some gooey scenes of mother reading The Frog Prince to two little girls. Then the title comes on and the film picks up considerably.
US commentators were quick to point out that this seems to be the first mainstream American animated film to feature an African American lead. Though Disney had some elements (a song in Dumbo, a Southern setting in So Dear to My Heart), it is surprising that it was only in 2009 that this breakthrough in colour has arrived.
And breakthrough it does. The setting is New Orleans just prior to and during World War I. And setting is very important for the liveliness of the show. This is New Orleans, the home of jazz, with plenty of music and song (and an alligator, very friendly despite his big teeth, called Louis who plays trumpet!), with foot-tapping rhythms, colourful characters in even more colourful costumes, and some voodoo into the bargain.
And, Disney has not forgotten an array of animals, some cuddly (well it is difficult to cuddle frogs but one would if one could, even though the heroine screams at the prospect of kissing one, but that was before she was transformed into a frog herself) and friendly, like glowworms, and some fiercesome, like gnashing alligators.
(US, 2009, d. James McTeigue)
A blogger wrote that a lot of the audience walked out of Ninja Assassin during the first fifteen minutes (though one would guess that they went during the first seven) and then remarked, quite rightly, that if they had thought about the title of the film, they would never have walked in. This is definitely a niche film, target audience mostly male, fans of martial arts and action shows of the graphic novel variety. There is not all that much more one can say about it except to admire the skilful direction of James McTeigue (the intriguing V for Vendetta and assistant to the Wachowskis on the Matrix films and Speed Racer). Also for admiration is the intricate choreography for the Ninja fights (and one can see why Tarantino admires this kind of thing and includes it as a feature of Kill Bill). It is the editing that should receive high admiration. The pacing, cuts, angles all make for a, to use a cliché, kaleidoscope of ninja action.
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