Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Last weekend, I saw 'Brothers', a recent release, directed by Jim Sheridan, which I had been meaning to see for a while. Having seen the trailor, I thought it deserved a watch, and while there was plenty of good in the film, most of it was captured in the brief preview.
The film tells the story of Sam (Tobey Maguire), the golden-haired son of marine father (Sam Shpherd), and how the tables turn to reveal the wayward son, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhall) as the hero, and Sam as the fated antihero. Sam, a soldier in the Afghan war, gets captured by the Taliban, leaving his wife, Grace (Natalie Portman), and two daughters to grieve his loss. The mourning family lean toward Tommy, who pulls himself together, providing immense support, and assuming role of father. Then Sam returns.
That all this is pretty obvious from the beginning of the movie is pretty inevitable, given such an obvious, worn-out plot. However, it does not excuse it from a tired, uninspiring production, where none of the main characters do justice to their roles, with a possible exception of Tommy, who plays the lovable uncle, resentful son and loyal but jealous brother convincingly. There was a very funny scene where he was sitting drunk at a bar, waiting for Grace to pick him up and pick up his tab also, and he was playfully mocking the barman's nose, revealing him as harmless and childlike, but also as a 'waster'.
In fact, the most memorable character for me, one who played the part with absolute sincerity was Isabelle, the older daughter, played by the very talented Bailee Madison. She captured the subtle dynamics of family relations beautifully while her own emotions were perfectly portrayed.
As for Maguire, he just looked so young! And I know this in itself isn't a fair criticism, but I couldn't take his character seriously, even though some scenes were quite good (the family dinner-table, where he couldn't see the humour in his daughter's joke), a subtle evocation of his post-war intensity. However, by contrast, he completely overplayed his psychotic episode where he tore down the kitchen, erected by Tommy, shouting the house down, quite literally.
I think this movie needed more work. It seemed mechanical, as if the director only thought some of the scenes through, and didn't deliver it's anti-war message as clearly as it ought to have

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Stieg Larsson’s murder mystery follows the life of Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist in Stockholm who has been unjustly convicted of libelling a financial giant. Faced with jail time and fairly broke, he accepts a business proposal from Vanger, an octogenarian millionaire who lives in a remote village. Blomkvist is to move to the village and try to solve the mystery of the disappearance of the millionaire’s niece thirty years earlier. Blomkvist’s story eventually coalesces with that of Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old hacker and social misfit who has a tattoo of a dragon on her shoulder.
While thrillers aren't usually my thing when it comes to books, this was a truly intriguing plot and engaging read, not least because the characters were utterly believable, interesting and compelling. Salander is a self-confessed freak, with some sort of social dissociative disorder, but extraordinarily gifted when it comes to researching, digging up 'dirt' from unknown, often illegal sources, and wielding a golf club, which happens to come in very handy. Blomkvist, on the other hand, is completely chilled out, apparently irresistable to women, yet a very capable journalist, who goes a long way towards solving the complicated case single-handedly. However, when he realises that the workload is too great for him alone, and he comes into contact with Salander, what ensues in the dynamic between the two is extremely interesting, given what we know of both characters to date. Salander, having been the victim of a horrendous rape, not long before, finds she can actually trust Blomkvist, who treats her as a person as opposed to an object, and Blomkvist appears strangely passive in his interactions with her, yielding to her full-on advances.
One or two things didn't ring quite true in my reading of the book, and one concerned the rape of Salander, from which she seemed to bounce back rather quickly. I know she avenged her perpetrator, but it didn't seem to affect her in the traumatic way that one would expect of such a crime.
Another aspect was Blomkvist's own relationships with women. While he comes across as charming and very likeable, he can't seem to commit to any one woman, and his long-standing arrangement with Erika Berger is very dubious.
Those issues aside, it was a fantastic read, and really evoked the beauty of the Scandinvavian coutryside through all the seasons. The descriptions of the locations became so familiar that I oould almost feel I was there, wrapped up and trudging through the snowy treks of Hedestad, and stopping for a coffee and sandwich in Suzanne's cafe on the way back.
While the ending was satisfying, it's clear that Larsson was leaving it open for a follow-up novel, and I'm certainly looking forward in time to completing the trilogy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I'm coming to this a little late, (no surprises there!), so I missed the initial furore surrounding this series. Was always on the list of 'gotta watch that', along with many others. Well, I'm catching up, currently just finished the 5th DVD from season one, and what do I think?

'House' seems to me to have handpicked aspects of all the medical dramas, stirred them randomly in a witch's brew and come up with a fortuitous result. It contains the irreverence of 'Scrubs', the melodrama of 'ER' or 'Gray's Anatomy', and the explicit gore of something like 'Nip/Tuck'. It also borrows elements of forensic shows like CSI, where the doctors break into the patients houses seeking clues for whatever ails them, like a medical 'whodunnit'. Hugh Laurie is superb as the brilliant but caustic and sarcastic Doctor House. So cutting and unpleasant as to make one like him, however that works...? I think he says all of the things that you wish you could say, but know you couldn't. His relationship with his colleagues is interesting. He's constantly bickering with the hospital's chief administrator, Cuddy, often making schoolboy remarks on her clothes or appearance. He's bullish to his team of doctors, coming up with flash diagnosis and dismissing any suggestions they might have, to defend his own judgements. We are given brief glimpses into his private life, (playing the piano alone in his dimly-lit apartment on Christmas Day), suggesting his loneliness and inability to open up. He has but one 'friend' among hospital staff, whom he has 'man-to-man' conversations with, and there is the suggestion throughout season one of a potential relationship with Cameron, the only female doctor on his team, who clearly likes House, despite everything. (I know I could find out where this goes if I jumped forward, but I refuse!)

There are too, moments of emotional depth, which are presented in a subtle way, and not overplayed as they tend to be in the likes of 'Grey's Anatomy'. An example from season one was when House was presented with the trumpet of the famous jazz musician he treated, probably his most coveted possession, and on receiving this gift, they share a moment of understanding. In response to why House pops pills all the time, he replies "I'm in pain", to which the musician concurs "Aren't we all?"

If I have any negative criticisms of the show, it's probably something around the fact that it follows the same structural make-up in each episode...person gets sick, they make a wrong diagnosis, person gets worse, they do a bit of research, and hey presto, they come up with the most random, but correct diagnosis by the end. All of this forms the backdrop to a very subtle development of House's life and relationships with the other characters. This should account for more of the storyline if I had my choice, and events should develop at a faster pace. The other characters support Laurie well, but really Laurie dazzles in his depiction of House, without whom, I suspect, the show would be second-rate.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Bad Lieutenant

I feel compelled to do a blog on this film to advise you NOT to go to it. Admittedly it's not my type of film anyway, but that aside, it left no lasting impression, which to me is even worse than strong dislike.

The basic plot is about a 'bad' (very bad) cop hunting down a murderer while battling with his own inner demons. Winding up with an injured back for life, he becomes addicted to drugs, not only for medicinal purposes. While fighting for a serial killing drug lord, he comes down heavy on minor offenders, treating them brutally to acquire their stash of drugs, which he shares with occasional lover, prostitute Frankie (Eva Mendes). Some scenes are completely overdone, ie where he holds two old ladies up, cutting off the oxygen supply of one to virtual death.

The only vaguely interesting thing in the film were the images of the iguanas and alligators, often accompanied by blaring music. I liked them from an artistic standpoint. While I'm sure director Werner Herzog intended them to be symbols of some great truth, it was lost on me...

...Like most of the film. It was devoid of depth and credibility, and the overriding feeling I got from it was: Life is crap. How depressing!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Letters to Juliet

Hmmm...well, my cheeks are still clammy after seeing that movie just now. So, it's effective in its romantic and emotional seduction, if ever so slightly contrived.

It tells the story of Sophie, a fact-checker for The New Yorker, who goes to Verona with her fiance for a pre-wedding honeymoon (as you do!) However, it turned out that her charming fiance was more interested in researching wine and attending wine auctions for the opening of his new restaurant in New York, leaving Sophie to her own devices. So, she joins a group of volunteers who reply to letters written by young girls to 'Juliet' seeking advice about love. She, happens upon a letter written 50 years previously by Claire, hidden behind a rock, and replies. Next, (you've guessed it!) Claire arrives (Vanessa Redgrave), with her obnoxious grandson, Charlie. So begins their quest for Lorenzo Bartollini, of whom there are hundreds. But, Sophie's skills as a fact-checker come into play, and they manage to narrow it down somewhat. The relationship between these three characters, Sophie, Claire and Charlie develops as they pursue Lorenzo in a fairly predictable fashion. I'd like to say it takes some unexpected twists and turns, but no... This is a film about comfortable and comforting stereotypes and about a fairytale ending that can be expected from the outset, but sometimes a bit of melodrama and a happy ending is ok. It is funny in parts too, mainly from Charlie's rather forthright arrogance and in the sarcastic dialogue between him and Sophie.

The shots of Italy were stunning, not only the ancient streets of Verona, but the open countryside of Sienna, miles upon miles of vineyard, and the moon casting light each night over the sleeping towns. Vanessa Redgrave fits beautifully into such a setting and is dazzling in her conviction of the existence of true love. The doey-eyed Amanda Seyfried plays her part well, though personally I didn't see any uniquely individual qualities setting her apart from such actors as Drew Barrymore, Reese Witherspoon etc...

On the whole, what you see is what you get with this movie. It's not very challenging, thought-provoking, nor does it cross into any new areas. But it is a sweet romantic comedy, and allows you to travel to the exotic fields of romantic Italy for a little under two hours.