Category Archives: Film

The Dictator (2012) Review

Released: 16 May 2012

After Borat and to some extent the much forgotten Ali G Indahouse, a sort of mental preparation is required before you step into the cinema to watch a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. What should I expect? How far will he cross the line? Will there be two naked men rolling around together? These are all fair questions to ask. So as you sit back to the sight of a Kim Jong-il dedication, there is a feeling that you might be in for a few nervy laughs.

After the more sporadic Bruno back in 2009, Cohen needed a comeback, something that went past the spoof interviews and slapstick buffoonery. In The Dictator at least the first of these was achieved. General Aladeen is the latest persona out of Cohen’s closet, broader and more universal than his previous characters.

The plot is simple; Aladeen travels to the US (no surprise that the Americans are the subject of the jokes once more) to address the UN and promise to hold free elections in his nation of Wadiya. There is a “love” story, some backstabbing, and all of the other parts that surround any Cohen film.

But it is the comedy that we are all anticipating. How much will our sides hurt after this one? The jokes were brash, in your face and kept on firing like a well-oiled machine gun, and as usual some hit and some miss. But that is to be expected with Cohen; tasteless humour is sometimes too bland. Yet this film was clearly satirical, and some gags even required a bit of current affairs knowledge, a bit like Mock the Week but with a man dressed up as a dictator. And just to top it off, the classic inspirational “change of heart” speech at the end, which is an unashamedly obvious dig at American foreign policy.

Like in Borat and Ali G, this film is never just a one man show. Cohen is supported well from the side by Anna Faris who plays Zoey, the “love interest” in the film. Some things are better left unsaid in this relationship, but suffice it to say that through the love plot, we get a more empathetic side to Aladeen. Weapons expert Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) is terrific, playing the all important sidekick role to the Supreme Leader.

The Dictator is a film that sees Cohen back on form with a new type of character. It is formulaic, but that does not take away from the hilarity of what is another cringe worthy but highly entertaining movie, and we wouldn’t expect anything less.

What Is A “Christmas Movie”?

Christmas Eve, no better time to be sieving through the draws of DVDs, scrolling through the menus of Sky Anytime, browsing the pages of the TV guide, or if you’re feeling daring, buying a film from Box Office, in order to compile that perfect playlist of films for 25 December.

Christmas Day is a special day for family, giving thanks, and of course, watching films. There is tense anticipation, speculation as to what will feature on the box. But whether it is a classic like The Wizard of Oz or a cheesy romcom like Love Actually, everyone finds something to feast their eyes on, even after eating a dozen mince pies.

But what kind of movies are “Christmas movies”?

To start with the clichés, those films that couldn’t be more Christmassy even if they hit you in the head with a Christmas tree. How The Grinch Stole Christmas slips easily into this category, it has even got Christmas in the title. Definitely a funny seasonal comedy based on the famous Dr Seuss poem, with Jim Carrey playing the green Grinch. And I’m sure with minimal effort at all, one can recite a litany of Christmas based films.

A few golden oldies always make an appearance on the Christmas film list, but we aren’t complaining following the yellow brick road, or seeing the legendary James Stewart conquer his trials in It’s A Wonderful Life. It gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

At this time of year, we definitely cannot forget the genre that girls love, and guys pretend to hate, the romcom, films that strike a jingle bell note with everyone. A taste of British always goes down well as Hugh Grant is the man to turn to for a large helping of cheese in Bridget Jones’s Diary and Notting Hill. Even comedies that lend themselves to the sillier side of the genre such as Knocked Up or The 40 Year-Old Virgin are a delightful addition to any Christmas list.

Moving past the obvious seasonal flicks, is there space for other films even if they have nothing to do with Christmas? Do the likes of Scarface or Saw have a place on the prized playlist?

The answer is quite simply, yes. The choice of film is one thing, but the experience counts even more. Christmas is one of the few times a year in this rapidly moving world of ours, where the family come together, and film watching plays a significant part in that. After indulging in some Christmas cuisine and making your way to the sofa in a booze induced stumble, the classic Christmas movies may not be everyone’s cup of mulled wine. Perhaps the latest film on Box Office or DVD tickles your fancy. Maybe you want to attempt a Lord of the Rings marathon with the extended editions. Whatever your choice, the film doesn’t have to be even remotely related to Christmas, just as long as it is a film you all enjoy.

When your back end touches the sofa and you are sat around the TV with your loved ones, soak up the vibe, and let the Christmas spirit run through you, even if the battle for Middle Earth is occurring as you do so.

What are your favourite Christmas movies?

The Hangover: Part 2 Review

RELEASED: 26 May 2011

Wedding approaching fast, raise your drinks up, cue hip-hop music, shot of the city lights and blackout. Sound familiar? The only difference between The Hangover Part 2 and its prequel is the number 2. There is a reason you don’t make a sequel to a film like The Hangover, that being the impossibility of ever creating something fresh from a very specific structure.

This time around it is the dentist Stu (Ed Helms) getting ready for his wedding, but instead of Vegas, the Wolfpack head on over to Thailand for the wedding.

The humour is more crass, the storylines for each character become a lot less individual, and the result is something not too pleasing. The roles are reprised from the first instalment: ringleader Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu with a special affinity to sex workers, father to be Doug (Justin Bartha) who plays an insignificant part in the antics of the sequel, and last but not least, Wolfpack creator Alan (Zach Galifianakis).

It is the latter who manages to break through the sterility of the film with the awkwardness that characterised his role in part one. Twisting words and providing inappropriateness of the highest order, Galifianakis is the source of much of the comedy. The high point is definitely his relationship with the cigarette-smoking monkey, wearing a Rolling Stones denim jacket, reminiscent of Galifianakis and the baby from part one.

Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) makes a welcome appearance as camp and eccentric Chinese mobster. The high-pitched drug addict warrants a few chuckles from his attire alone, making a criminal transaction in a hoody and cravat. In a Fast and Furious-esque moment, Chow gains sexual excitement from a thrilling car chase. Nothing too surprising, but still funny.

But ultimately, The Hangover Part 2 lacks any zest that characterised the first film. There are moments of complete doziness, where the film falls asleep, filled by characters that waste screen space like the drug dealer or Paul Giamatti’s undercover cop chatacter. Even Mike Tyson is there just for the sake of making an appearance.

The film ends on a familiar note, with the slideshow of the night’s pictures. It is like watching part one, stripped of the vitality, humour, and relationships that made The Hangover the barrel of laughs that it was. Just as the gang forget their night, The Hangover Part 2 is a truly forgettable film.

 

See more reviews here

Black Swan (2011) Review

RELEASED: 21 January 2011

As 2011 draws ever closer to an end, The Smoovie wants to looks back at one of the most magnificent, raunchy and refreshing films of the year. Coming off the back of critically acclaimed The Wrestler (2009), promising and exciting American director Darren Aronofsky flaunts his stuff with Black Swan.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a highly talented ballerina in a company headed by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), and becomes excited by the prospect of filling the role of Queen Swan, now vacant due to the ended career of Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder). But Lily, fresh from San Francisco, joins the troupe, and Sayers must battle with the newcomer in a complex relationship full of sexual tension, schizophrenia, and madness. It all gets very psychological.

Black Swan is a master class in directing, provided to us courtesy of Aronofsky. The handheld single camera filming takes us right to the heart of the ballet, to where the battle for one’s inner desires takes place. It is terrific stuff, filled with thrilling and pretty gory moments. Aronofsky is able to render self-inflicted face stabbing as artistic. The attention to detail is quite frankly sublime, from the ritual of reinforcing the ballet shoes, to the consciousness of Sayers controlling her eating in the quest for perfection.

And Aronofsky has a knack for bringing out the best of his actors. You only have to think back to Mickey Rourke’s role in The Wrestler and his subsequent Oscar nomination. Portman has everything that you want to see from a role of this complexity: struggle with her inner demon, passion for the girl she can’t have, and a rollercoaster display of emotions from the plain angry to the sensuously erotic. Barbara Hershy veers between obsessively coddling to creepily demonic at times, in a truly harrowing portrayal of Nina’s mother that no doubt contributes to her mental issues. Even Kunis, whose most notable roles are in sitcoms and romcoms, gives us a truly respectable performance, especially in handling some of the risqué material.

Black Swan pirouettes and glides across the screen to a conclusion that is most fitting, and even if it does not reach “perfection” as Nina so brilliantly does, it gets very damn close.

Bill Murray Joins Coppola’s New Movie

Roman Coppola’s new movie, an extensively named A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III, has gained three new talents. Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette and Mary Elizabeth Winstead have hopped on board the project which already includes Charlie Sheen and Jason Schwartzman.

Plotwise, the film centres on a famous, rich and successful graphic designer, who, after splitting up with his girlfriend, finds his life spiralling out of control.

I know you’re thinking, “who are those two girls?” Arquette is perhaps best know for her role in TV series Medium and has recently signed up for Glutton, directed by her brother David Arquette. And Winstead? She recently starred in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

The other actors I’m sure need no introduction. Bill Murray was nominated for an Oscar for Lost In Translation, directed by Roman’s sister Sofia. Murray has a plethora of films behind his name including the iconic Ghostbusters. Schwartzman is reunited with Murray after the two co-starred in Rushmore.

There’s not much to say about Sheen, oh, apart from the whole going crazy thing. This will be Sheen’s first film project since departing (not so peacefully) from hit sitcom Two and a Half Men. Since that fateful day, Sheen went on a hit and miss tour of ramblings called My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option. The actor has also confirmed his participation in new TV show Anger Management.

The film is currently in production and set for a 2012 release, although the date is still unclear.

Lumumba (2000) Review

RELEASED: 27 September 2000 (Belgium)

With Black History Month approaching it’s finale, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at a film about Patrice Émery Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo, and the key figure in Congolese independence from Belgian colonial rule. Don’t start yawning because this isn’t the epically long biographical type of film, but instead, Raoul Peck delivers a wonderfully inspirational movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s without problems.

Lumumba tells the tale of a man with the dream of an Independent Congo. The film opens with this man, Lumumba, heading towards his ominous fate. Bodies are chopped up and thrown into the fire. It’s almost as if Peck is saying,  “welcome to the independence struggle”. From this point we are taken back to the beginning of the story, from Lumumba as a beer salesman. Well, everyone has to start somewhere. Russia and the US get involved (as usual) and then there are even more issues.

First piece of advice before watching Lumumba, do your homework because this movie doesn’t offer a comprehensive history lesson. Much of this has to do with the pace of the film which progresses very quickly. One moment Lumumba is selling beer and next minute he is PM of an independent Congo, but the build up seemed to be simple, lacking the gusto that it needed. The result was choppy with seemingly pointless interjections like the scenes with Lumumba and his wife, the latter receiving scanty airtime, and their relationship did not develop, nor did it really kick off.

Having said that however, Lumumba had enough power to see it through and the fantastic cast is to thank. Eric Ebouaney’s representation of Lumumba is moving as he delivers an array of defining speeches even as the power slips from his grasp. He stands defiant in a room full of army officers with guns may we add. Certainly a gutsy thing to do. Conflicts with military head Joseph Mobutu (Alex Descas) and President Kasa Vubu (Maka Kotto) are electric, clashing ideologies and personalities, all the things that lead to a civil war. Descas is sadistic as the power hungry future dictator and Kotto is perfectly diplomatic in contrast to the extremity of Lumumba and Mobutu. The balance, the struggle, and the tension are excellent.

Visually, the film hits home hard. Peck knows how to create that shock factor, especially when capturing the execution of Lumumba and his two compatriots. The gunshots reverberate through the deadly silent woods and not only are key figures dead, but Peck captures an atmosphere of pessimism and suppression, devoid of any hope, confirmed by the figure of dictator Mobutu sitting on a throne-like chair.

There is something bittersweet about the message of this film. We are drawn in by the inspirational figure of Lumumba, his tenacity, vigour and passion. But at the same time, we can’t be comfortable by the promise of a dictatorship that looms at the end of Lumumba, especially as we have been on a journey through the hard fought independence of the Congo.

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Don Johnson Joins Tarantino’s Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino is busy doing what he does best, assembling fantasy casts full of surprises for his films. The latest project in the Tarantino world is Django Unchained, a film based on Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 movie Django.

Don Johnson is the latest addition to a cast that boasts the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Who is Don Johnson I hear you ask? A quick trip through TV history to the 80s is where Johnson’s best known role as James Crockett in hit detective drama Miami Vice can be found. And now he is in a big Tarantino film. Score! Johnson will play villainous plantation owner Spencer Bennett.

Christoph Waltz who won an Oscar for his role in Inglorious Basterds, is reunited with Tarantino for Django Unchained, as is Stacey Sher who collaborated with the director on Pulp Fiction. And lastly, Kurt Russell who has replaced Kevin Costner in this upcoming film, rekindles his link with Tarantino after the two worked together on Death Proof.

Major plot details are unclear as of yet, but the film follows liberated slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and bounty hunter Dr King Schultz who cross Bennett whilst in search of a bounty, but they end up being stabbed in the back by him.

It is all set up for something potentially quite bloody. But we expect nothing less of Tarantino. With a stellar cast and a top notch director at the helm, this film has great potential.

 

Smoovie Spinback: American Beauty (1999) Review

RELEASED: 1 October 1999

On the surface, the American suburbs are a peaceful place with pretty flowers, but behind closed doors, the suburbs are not what they seem in this Sam Mendes directed comedy-drama American Beauty. Boasting an impressive five Oscar haul, the film from way back in 99’ is an impressive modern great.

The first thing that strikes you about this film is none other than Kevin Spacey, especially as he beats the meat in the shower in the opening scene. Spacey earns another feather in his career cap. He really does have a knack for playing creepy roles, and his character Lester Burnham, a man having a mid life meltdown, is no exception. Spacey conveys desperation and breakdown in his perving on daughter Jane’s (Thora Birch) mate, Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari). He tries to beef up, ends up smoking weed, and adopts that “take no shit” attitude which has him working in the ironically named Mr. Smiley’s burger joint. Spacey is fantastic at being pathetic to the point of hilarity. Wearing his Mr. Smiley’s uniform, he busts his wife having an affair, and here follows an accomplished piece of acting, blending both comedy and sadness showing a man with internal turmoil.

At first, Lester may seem like the stereotypical man with a midlife crisis, but he is a character amongst a plethora of caricatured stereotypes. Everyone is bigger, more outrageous, but with a twist, all in the name of satire. Col. Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), who gives a wonderful performance dealing with repressed homosexual desire, is overly militaristic, in an attempt to hide his feelings, and Carolyn Burnham (Annette Benning) brilliantly portrays her unhappiness with husband Lester, veering from breakdown, to verbal jousting of the screaming kind.

These domestic scenes are some of the most gripping moments of American Beauty, showing a family, who on the surface are gleaming, but are cracked within. Hats must go off to cinematographer Conrad Hall, who won an Oscar for his vision in this film. The numerous wide angle shots captured a real atmosphere of detachment and emptiness that runs through the film. Watching a family eating dinner has never been so tense, with unsaid words bubbling under the surface. Even the camcorder shots communicate that Big Brother message, someone is watching you.  Oscar winner Alan Ball’s script must get some credit too. The dialogue is quite frankly compelling. At one point, Lester says to his wife at a party with the utmost sarcasm, “I will be whatever you want me to be”. Appearances are shattered and Mendes controls the satire to perfection.

Beautifully provocative and at times very close to home, Mendes’s American Beauty is a classic featuring great performances, direction, script, the whole works. It is poised between comedy and drama, with futility turning into laughter, but at the same time offering an unsettling picture of suburban America as we know it.

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Iranian Actress Jailed and Sentenced to 90 Lashes for Film Role

Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr has been sentenced to a year long jail sentence and 90 lashes for her role in an Australian produced film.

The movie, entitled My Tehran For Sale, appeared in the 2009 Adelaide Film Festival, but is banned in Iran.

Cyan Films are the South-Australian company behind the film, which was directed by Iranian-Australian Granaz Moussavi. My Tehran For Sale was shot in the Iranian capital, and is highly critical of the tough policies invoked. Vafamehr plays a young stage actress whose work is banned by the authorities.

Producers Julie Ryan and Kate Croser said they were “deeply shocked and appalled” by the sentence. Ryan and Croser are unaware of the exact reason behind the sentence, but they think it is related to a scenes where Vafamehr appears without a hijab.

The producers were not impressed by the sentence. They said, “We would like to express our deep shock and sadness at the sentence imposed by the Iranian government against actress Marzieh Vafamehr.”

Ryan and Croser mentioned that they had worked with an Iranian production company on the film and obtained all the necessary paperwork.

Director Moussavi said, “The accusations against Marzieh have no grounds.All the documentation has been provided to the Iranian court to show that permits were in place for the production of the film.”

Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd also had denouncing comments to make.

“The Australian government condemns the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is deeply concerned by reports that Ms Marzieh Vafamehr has been sentenced to one year in jail and 90 lashes for her role in an Australian-produced film,” a spokeswoman for Ms Rudd said.

It is certainly an unfortunate ruling and a sad state of affairs for Iranian film and art.

Steve Jobs Biopic In The Pipeline?

Sony Pictures has stepped forward in an attempt to acquire the film rights for the biography of Steve Jobs, a book endorsed by the late Apple co-founder himself.

According to Deadline, the deal for the rights is worth $1m (£642,000) to $3m (£1.9). Sony is probably the most fitting studio for the biopic after being the people behind Oscar winning The Social Network.

Source Code producer Mark Gordon has already been flagged up to produce the film.

The biography, entitled with the utmost simplicity, is called Steve Jobs and is written by Walter Isaacson. Following the death of Jobs recently, the book has had its release date moved forward from 21 November to 24 October. Isaacson has also written biographies on Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin so he is not newbie to documenting great people.

The biography is bursting with interviews and conversations with the Apple co-founder, friends, family members, colleagues and competitors. It is described as “a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur”.

Based on pre-orders alone, Steve Jobs rose to the top of Amazon bestsellers list.

If this film were to be made, it would not be the first time Jobs has received some screen time. Way back in 1999, a partly funny docudrama aired on TNT called Pirates of Silicon Valley. It was about the two brains behind Apple and Microsoft, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

But with Jobs’ biography potentially getting the Hollywood treatment, there are plenty of questions looming. Is it too soon to make a film about Jobs? Who will play the technology giant? And will the film be a big success, pleasing friends, family and more perhaps more importantly, fans of Jobs?