Friday, January 26, 2007

Blood Diamond

Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounso, Jennifer Connelly

Edward Zwick's (The Seige, The Last Samurai) latest film is one of the most powerful films you will see this year. It's Hollywood with a conscience - almost.

Blood (or conflict) diamonds are gems that are mined and sold by terrorists/freedom fighters (delete according to your political persuasion) to fund their cause. This film, set during the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, focuses on two completely different Africans. Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounso) is a fisherman, trying to raise a family and get a good education for his son. His life is thrown into turmoil when the village is attacked and he is captured by a militia group and forced to work in a diamond mine. While working he finds a large, rare pink diamond, which he hides, just before he is capture by the government forces and put in prison.

Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a white mercenary from Zimbabwe who gets caught trying to smuggle diamonds across the border and ends up in the same prison as Vandy. Archer hears about the pink diamond and tries to convince Vandy to lead him to it so that they can share in the wealth. What starts as a simple task becomes complicated when Vandy discovers his family is in a refugee camp and his son has been taken by the militia to become a child soldier, so the hunt is not only for a diamond but also for a boy. They are joined on the quest by an American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly).

As the story unfolds, the film addresses many issues relating to the political situation, the ethics of diamond mining, child soldiers and wraps them up in a fantastic action movie filled with powerful emotions. Zwick did a similar thing with his underrated film THE SEIGE, where he looked at the patriot act in the US and took it to a hypothetical conclusion where martial law was enforced in New York.

Although this film does highlight the situation that existed in Sierra Leone in a fictional setting it does not really give a completely impartial view of the situation and tends to favour the diamond companies' version of the situation.

The film portrays the local militia as barbarians, and there is no doubt that they have committed atrocities in the name of their cause, which was to stop the exploitation of their country and the local people by the diamond companies. This may sound like a simplification of a complex situation but one of the greatest fears the diamond companies had about the conflict diamonds was not that they were being used to buy weapons (what do they care if the locals want to kill each other), but that the market was being flooded with cheap gems. De Beers holds a monopoly on the gem market and controls the quantity that enters the market and the price they command. This is never really pointed out in the film. There is a similar situation occurring Nigeria with the crude oil, where local guerillas are attacking installations and kidnapping oil workers to draw attention to the exploitation being carried out by the US oil companies.

However, whatever your political views are about the situation in Africa and the dubious ethics of the diamond market, you can't help but be moved by what happens in the film. Djimon Hounso is superb as the father searching for his son at any cost. He fills the role with such believable passion you can't help feeling for him. DeCaprio's mercenary, Archer, is just that – mercenary – and he does it well, it's a pity his accent doesn't always hold up but it's not any easy one to get right, especially for an American. But that is nit-picking because for the rest of the role he is superb and really looks and acts the part. What's more, Archer starts to develop a heart under the influence of Vandy and Conelly's journalist.

There is plenty of action, which anyone who has seen Zwick's other films will know he does very well. The director also avoids having a clichéd Hollywood happy ending. There is some justice, but not for all.

Apart from my quibble with diamond mining politics – if you had any conscience you wouldn't buy any diamonds, conflict free or otherwise – the film is still one of the most powerful films you will see this year – and it's a great adventure story too. Not to be missed.

Blood Diamond is on general release from January 26 through Warner Brothers.

The Fountain

Director: Darren Aranofsky
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz

Throughout its history, film has been influenced by, and borrowed from, the literary world. Apart from acting as a source for some of the most the world's enduring movie classics (film was once described as storytelling for the illiterate), plays and novels are definitely the origin of film's three-act structure. And let's not forget the recent fascination with trilogies, (even five-part ones à la Douglas Adams). While many filmmakers are under the illusion (or delusion) that they are making works of art that can only be displayed within the refined and hallowed halls of the arthouse cinema and/or international film festivals, with his latest film, Darren Aranofsky seems truly to have taken the artistic convention of the triptych and created a highly original, if sometimes unfathomable, opus.

Spanning two millennia, the film tells the tale of three incarnations of a man (Hugh Jackman in excellent form) obsessed with immortality and the woman (a perfectly cast Rachel Weisz) he loves. In 16th century Spain, he is conquistador Tomas who receives a map from a Franciscan monk showing him the location of the mythical Fountain of Youth among the Mayan ruins of Mexico. (This part of the film makes a nice segue from Mel Gibson's latest directorial effort, APOCALYPTO.) In this section his love is Isabel, the Spanish Queen. Not only does Tomas have to battle against the Spanish Inquisition (and, no, we weren't expecting them), but also against the jungle natives who protect the old Mayan temples, in his search for the mythical tree of life, in order to fulfil his promise and win the Queen's hand.

In the present-day portion of the film Jackman is Tommy Creo, a scientist who is desperately trying to find a cure for the tumour that is killing his wife Izzi. Weisz really shines in this role. Although he makes breakthroughs in regeneration, his obsession with extending life is a marked contrast to his wife's acceptance of death. This is the most accessible section of the movie as it is a fairly straightforward love story, in the vein of LOVE STORY, but one still full of mystery.

The futuristic section is set in the 26th Century as Jackman floats around space in a giant bubble. It's not really clear if he is a cosmonaut or cosmic man, as he alternates between tranquil lotus-pose meditator and agitated tree hugger. This act is the hardest to fathom as it is metaphysical and mystical rather than just plain mysterious.

What I found interesting, in connection with the previously mentioned idea of the film as a triptych, is that film calls to mind Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. When the panels of that artwork are closed they show a world enclosed in an orb. Whether this was planned by Aranofsky or simply a coincidence I don't know. Triptychs are also used as altarpieces, and the director has definitely created a symbolic and allegorical tale of man's quest for eternal life, one that serves as a warning to those who seek eternal life in the corporeal rather than the spiritual.

As it switches back and forth between the different time zones, the film can be hard to follow and its lofty concepts may alienate audiences as they struggle to get to grips with what is happening on screen. Aranofsky's films are never easy viewing, from the scratchy monochrome and mathematics of PI to the frenetic, drug-fuelled imagery of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, but they are always thought-provoking and controversial, and THE FOUNTAIN is no exception.

The obsession of the film's protagonist(s) could be seen as a reflection of the director's own obsession with getting the film made. It has been a long on-again-off-again production, as Aranofsky wanted total creative control over the film, something that, for commercial reasons, most studios are reluctant to give to any but the most bankable directors, and even then rarely. To his credit, Aranofsky stuck to his guns and has produced a visually stunning piece of filmmaking; unfortunately it is going to struggle to find an audience. It is definitely not one for the popcorn crowd, but it will undoubtedly become a cult classic alongside auteur works such as Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and Ken Russell's ALTERED STATES, which were both hits with the chemically-enhanced viewers of their time. While I would never suggest that the best way of seeing this film is in a state of altered consciousness, it's certainly not going to make any less sense if you do. In any case, an open mind is definitely advisable.

If the film appeals to you on any level at all, (unlike most of the critics who saw it at the Venice Film Festival last year), it is worth a second viewing. Alternatively, get hold of the graphic novel, to familiarise yourself with the concept. Aranofsky describes the graphic novel as his "director's cut", as it is based on the story as it was before it was rewritten in order to make it practical to produce as an affordable movie. Like the final film, the graphic novel is not a standard comic book adaptation thanks to Kent Williams stunning artwork. A review of the book can be found here. A cheaper paperback version is now available from Amazon.

Although the film may struggle to find an audience amongst the general cinema-going public, it will appeal to a discerning sci-fi audience who like evocative films that make them ponder life's bigger questions.

THE FOUNTAIN is on release from January 26 through Twentieth Century Fox.

Watch the trailer and exclusive clips from the film here. They are in Windows Media (WMV) format. Mac users should download the free Flip4Mac plug-in to watch them.


Queen of Spain

The Dagger


Bath scene


The Hospital


The Tree

The Lives of the Saints

The Lives of the Saints is the first original script by Tony Grisoni, Terry Gilliam's long-time associate (Tideland, The Brothers Grimm, Fear and Loathing). The film is set in one of the low-rent, multicultural areas of North London, inhabited mostly by that volatile combination of Greeks and Turks, and is a magical tale of wish-fulfillment and instant karma. The area is run by Mr Karva, a big, loud and brutal godfather-like man, played with mesmerising force by James Cosmo. He is a man who likes to have his own way and will go to any extreme to get it. Karva's stepson, Othello, has his own ambitions, as does his off-sider, the weak-willed Emilio. The story is initially recounted from the point of view of Roadrunner, an errand runner for Karva, who can't stand still, that is until one night when he stumbles over a lost child in the park, forever changing the lives of those who come in contact with him.

Nothing is ever explained about who the child is or where he came from. We only know he has some sort of mystical, desire-fulfilling power, which only seems to work on one person at a time, creating some great moments of tension and conflict. Young Sam MacLintock quietly underplays the child with equal parts of wide-eyed innocence and Damien-like menace.

The film is co-directed by celebrity photographer Rankin, and film and TV director Chris Cottam. Disappointingly, it is a fairly pedestrian affair, lacking the promise any real original or standout imagery to make the settings appear more magical, in line with the story. There are some powerful scenes, but most of it is fairly mundane, as is the acting, or at least in comparison to James Cosmo's larger-than-life performance. Or maybe that was the directors' intention, to make Karva an even more prominent character.

Having said that, this is one of the more interesting independent feature films to be made in London in recent years, which doesn't rely on familiar landmarks to establish its setting. Let's hope we can see more original movies that make the most of the city's diversity, without relying on stereotypical, urban stories about the obvious crime, racism and social injustices we see in our everyday lives. William Blake saw angels in the trees of Peckham Rye, new filmmakers just need to find that magic. The Lives of the Saints is certainly a step in the right direction.

The Lives of the Saints is on general release from Tartan Films on January 26.


June 5 1968 saw the end of the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Coming so shortly after the shooting of Martin Luther King, not to mention JFK and Malcolm X, it seemed like the acid-inspired aspirations for universal peace and love had gone down in a hail of bullets. If anyone doubted there was a conspiracy to stop men living in peaceful harmony, they would only have to look at history. Since the Judeo-Roman killing of Christ, it is the great men of peace who have met untimely ends, and never the despots whom governments seemed incapable, or unwilling, to remove. Apart from the four previously mentioned, the names of Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Pope John Paul 1 and John Lennon immediately spring to mind.

Emilio Estevez's film, Bobby, is not a conspiracy thriller, like Oliver Stone's JFK, nor is it a bio-pic like his Nixon. Bobby is much closer in look and feel to Irwin Allen's star-studded disaster movies of the Seventies, which were as much about the characters as the events surrounding them.

Bobby is set in The Ambassador Hotel during the day leading up to Kennedy's assassination, and focuses on the lives of hotel workers, guests and people from Bobby's campaign office, all of whom become affected by the tragic event. All these characters are fictitious, with only two of them being loosely based on real people, giving Estevez a lot more freedom and scope to develop the characters and story, by creating contemporary archetypes.

With an ensemble cast made up of some of Hollywood's elder statesmen (Harry Belafonte, Anthony Hopkins, Martin Sheen), Brat Pack veterans (Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Laurence Fishburne, Christian Slater) and today's young stars (Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Freddy Rodriguez, Ashton Kutcher), you get characters that fill the screen without ever dominating it. The different story threads weave in and out of each other, with no one story being more important than another. Some are comic, some are tragic but every one carries a message, not only about the era but also about the human condition. Some moments are truly memorable: Laurence Fishburne's speech to the Mexican staff about how to nobly overcome racism, Ashton Kutcher questioning the two interns' reason for taking drugs, Martin Sheen talking to his wife about the futility of materialism. However, it is the words of Robert F. Kennedy that have the most impact, particularly during the final ten minutes.

Rather than use an actor to portray Kennedy, the writer/director uses actual documentary and television footage from the era, which gives the film even more power. As one of Bobby's speeches plays over scenes of war, poverty, racial inequality and corporate corruption, you can't help thinking that nothing has changed in the last 40 years, except for the lack of altruistic statesmen.

Estevez captures the mood and the look of the era, and the loss of innocence that ensued. The clothes, hair and makeup rendered many of the actors unrecognisable, such as Sharon Stone and Ashton Kutcher. Stone, as the beautician wife of the hotel manager (William H. Macy), is completely devoid of any of the glamour for which she is renowned. Kutcher, as the hippy drug dealer, complete with long hair, must have taken lessons from his That 70s Show co-star, Tommy Chong. Although there were early mutterings of Oscar nomination for Demi Moore's portrayal of an alcoholic chanteuse, it is hard to fault almost any of the performances, or to isolate one as better than another, especially as they are all essentially cameos. Never has it been truer that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Absorbing, entertaining and thought-provoking, Bobby is a film not to miss when it opens in cinemas from January 26.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho, Rinko Kikuchi
In Moroccan, English, Mexican Spanish, Japanese with English subtitles

The film gets its title from the Biblical tower that was built by a united humanity to try and reach Heaven. As a punishment for their arrogance, God gave the people different languages so they could no longer communicate and continue with the building, and they were then scattered to different parts of the world. Taking its theme from the latter part of this tale, the film focuses on three apparently unrelated tales of people in Morocco, Mexico and Japan, whose lives soon collide. However, this is more a film about the butterfly effect, where one small action has much wider repercussions, rather than a modern-day parable.

What starts with an act of generosity ends up with two young Moroccan boys accidentally shooting an American tourist, not only creating an international diplomatic incident but also impacting on the lives of the shot woman's children, their Mexican nanny and the original owner of the gun.

In keeping with the Babel theme, the film is played out in the native tongues of the countries in which it is set, so we have dialogue in Moroccan, English, Mexican Spanish, Japanese and sign language – the daughter of the gun's original owner is a deaf mute. With an excellent international cast, including Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett (whose talents are sadly underused), Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho and Rinko Kikuchi in a stunning performance. Supported by convincing performances from non-professional actors, the sense of drama is maintained throughout. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 GRAMS) manages to keep all the threads together even if the story does get a little bit convoluted at times.

At nearly two and half hours long, it's not light entertainment, but it is engrossing and just about manages to avoid a convenient happy ending.

BABEL is released by UIP and opens nationally on January 19.

Black Book

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman
In Dutch, German and English with English subtitles

Paul Verhoeven is best known for his big Hollywood films, usually involving sci-fi (Total Recall, Robocop) or sex (Basic Instinct, Showgirls). They might not have always met with critical acclaim but they were very popular cult movies. After the disappointing Hollowman, Verhoeven returned to his native Holland and made Black Book (Zwartboek), a film about the Dutch Resistance during the final months of WWII.

The story of Rachel Steinn (Clarice van Houten), a young Jewish cabaret singer, who infiltrates the invading Nazi headquarters as a spy for the resistance, is an amalgam of real characters and true stories. The film manages to avoid the usual clichés associated with wartime Jews. It shows acts of brutality, deceit and kindness from all sides of the conflict, along with plenty of surprises, making for an intensely emotional movie where you never know whom to trust, and your loyalties lie only with the lead.

None of the actors are known outside of their native Netherlands and Germany, but the performances are excellent, showing that it's not just the US and UK who produce quality talent. This film is far removed from the director's Hollywood output, but maintains all the technical prowess that made them popular, to create his most assured film to date.

Black Book is in cinemas from January 19.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Deja Vu

Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, Jim Caviezel, Adam Goldberg

When Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer get together to make a movie you can be pretty sure there's going to be plenty of action, from their first outing together with TOP GUN up to the conspiracy theory thriller, ENEMY OF THE STATE. DÉJÀ VU is their latest collaboration and they've thrown a bit of sci-fi into the mix to make it a more interesting. In this case, the science fiction is that old stalwart, time travel.

Within the first five minutes of the film a New Orleans ferry full of sailors and families is blown up (in a typically spectacular Bruckheimer/Scott way) and ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is brought in to investigate. His investigation takes a new turn when the body of a woman turns up on the shore, apparently a victim of the blast, but who had died before the explosion happened. It's not until the FBI enlist his talents to help with their retrospective surveillance does Carlin suspect something is going on that he is not being told about. When they finally admit what they can do, Carlin wants to use the technology to prevent the bombing and not to capture the perpetrator after the fact.

The approach to the time travel conundrum is initially handled in a very believable way, where the Feds can only see back four days and are not able to deviate from that time frame. This is great for adding tension, as there are no second chances. What is interesting is the actual science behind the time travel, which kept reminding me of Nikola Tesla's experiments – the blacking out of cities, his theories on time (which were contrary to those of Einstein) and the fictional machine featured in THE PRESTIGE – all of which make the conceit all the more plausible.

Of course, there were incongruities that are inevitable with these concepts and don't really bare too much thought. They all stem around the, "but if he did that how come that happened" scenarios, and for those that like to nit-pick there are plenty of things that stretch poetic license but, to the writer's credit, they are generally handled well. And being a Tony Scott there really isn't too much time to give the scenes a lot of scrutiny. The visual style that has become his trademark is fully evident with the constantly mobile camera, colours shift and staccato editing, sets the pace as the story races against the clock.

As far as time travel movies go it's not as much fun as BACK TO THE FUTURE or as baffling as PRIMER but it is good entertainment that is a bit more thought-provoking than your average action blockbuster, with some good humorous moments and a great cast too. Unfortunately the ending is a bit typically contrived Hollywood, but that is only two minutes out of 120. Definitely worth a look, even if it is just to try and figure out the time travel conundrum.

DÉJÀ VU is in cinemas from December 15.

Watch the trailers here.


Director: Mel Gibson
Cast: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Raoul Trujillo, Gerardo Taracena

Prior to its completion there was not a lot known about Mel Gibson's latest movie beyond the fact it was about the fall of the Mayan civilisation and it all the dialogue was in Yucatec, the principle language of the Mayan. Replicating the use of ancient and native languages, as he did with the phenomenally successful The Passion of Christ, is somewhat of a brave move on Gibson's part but one that he again pulls off with aplomb. While many will accuse Gibson of artistic indulgence, or worse sins, it is his drive for authenticity that motivates his decision. Despite winning multiple Oscars for Braveheart Gibson received a lot of flak for its historical inaccuracies in the name of making a good film. With so little known about the fall of the Mayans Apocalypto isn't likely to attract so much fervent criticism. Also, it is not really so much a film about the fall of a civilisation, but the survival of one man and his family.

Jaguar Paw is a hunter with a jungle tribe in what is now the Yucatan area of Mexico. As the film opens we follow him and other hunters from the village as they capture a wild boar, before returning to their idyllic village life. Gibson adds a lot of humour into these opening scenes, usually at the expense of Blunted, another member of the hunting party. But this frivolity is a marked contrast for what ensues, as the village is attacked and those who aren't killed are captured. Jaguar Paw manages to hide his pregnant wife and child before he is captured, but this leaves them alone and vulnerable. The men and women of the village are then taken to one of the Mayan cities, painstakingly recreated by Gibson's production team, to be sold into slavery or sacrificed to appease the gods for the drought and disease that is ravaging the country. When Jaguar Paw manages to escape, he is pursued by his captors as he desperately tries to return to his family. And this is where the movie comes into its own.

The themes of decadence, political power struggles and religious fanatacism that herald the demise of the Mayan civilisation, and others that have come before and after, do serve as a timely warning to Western civilisation, but it is not the driving force behind the film.

What at first appears to be an anthropological historical drama is really just a basic chase movie. From its gentle, humorous beginning through a dramatic and often brutal second act it climaxes with an incredibly energetic and thrilling chase through the jungle as Jaguar Paw races home on foot while systematically killing off his pursuers. Fantastic handheld camerawork further enhances the intensity, while the drama is heightened, for the audience, as the movie cuts to shots of Jaguar Paw's family in peril. It may be clichéd but adrenaline rush is an apt description. The sheer athleticism of lead actor Rudy Youngblood is something to behold as he sprints through the jungle and overcomes both human and non-human obstacles. The whole cast, made up of native Americans from all over the continent, do a very convincing job of both the action and the dialogue.

As a director, this is possibly Gibson's least controversial and therefore most accessible film to date. It has the spectacle and action of classics like Ben Hur, but in a simple and engaging story, shot with stunning and intimate cinematography. The subtitled Yucatec dialogue is minimal and does present any more problems for the viewer than watching any other foreign language film. It should be pointed out that the dialogue was originally written in English and then translated, so the subtitles are what the writers wanted to say and any deviations will be in the spoken word.

This is independent cinema made with passion and big budgets. There is no doubting Gibson's ability as a director, or his attention to detail in the design if not historical accuracy, so if you didn't fancy The Passion of Christ then go and see this one. It also makes a great companion film for Darren Aranofsky's The Fountain, which is released later in January.

Apocalypto opens on January 5 2007.

Visit the official web site.

Watch the trailer

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Director: Stefen Fangmeier
Cast: Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, John Malkovich, Rachel Weisz

Dragon movies haven't been too successful in the past, apart from ENTER THE DRAGON. From PETE'S DRAGON to REIGN OF FIRE to DRAGONHEART, and many more in between, the public have not been enamoured by these fantastic beasts. Although chasing the dragon has always been popular with Hollywood, fantasy films were always a hard sell for the studios, or at least until THE LORD OF THE RINGS gave them new credibility and marketability.

The trouble with the fantasy genre is there is so much badly written and clichéd material out there. That doesn't mean it has a monopoly on tat, as all genres have their fair share of poor storytelling and substandard writing, but fantasy has even more stigma attached to it than sci-fi, with which it is invariably grouped. Most publishers specify in their submissions guidelines, "No fantasy or sci-fi", just to avoid being inundated with the aforementioned, badly scribed manuscripts that are invariably written by young men producing Lord of the Rings clones. Of course, this does mean that in their blanket denial of the genre the publishers miss out on some huge best-sellers, Harry Potter being a case in point. This is also true for Christopher Paolini's Eragon, penned when he was a teenager, and self-published until it was picked up by Knopf, where it went on to sell millions worldwide.

It is a tale of despots and the fall of the dragon-riders. Eragon (Ed Speleers) is a teenage orphan (why do fictional heroes never come from normal, well-adjusted nuclear families?), who lives with his uncle under the tyrannical reign of Galbatorix (John Malkovich) and his enforcer, Durza (Robert Carlyle). A rock is stolen from Galbatorix by Arya (Sienna Guillory), who is hunted down Durza. As she is caught, she magically sends the rock to another place where it is found by Eragon. It turns out the rock is a dragon egg, which promptly hatches, making Eragon Durza's new target. Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, are taken under the wing (so to speak) of Brom (Jeremy Irons), an old dragonrider, as they go to seek out the Varden (a sort of Rebel Alliance).

I've not read the novel because I am not a huge fan of fantasy literature, and because I find so little time to read that I become very selective about what I choose. Seeing the ERAGON movie was my first introduction to the characters and plot, so I had no way judging how faithful it is to the book, which is probably a good thing. However, I suspect it is fairly close because the story does come across as if it was written by a teenager, and I hope my opinion wasn't clouded by the knowledge that it was.

Having said that, the movie is clearly aimed at a teenage audience that enjoyed THE LORD OF THE RINGS and the escape into fantasy realms these films offer. However, I wouldn't call it a family film, in the way that Pixar animations are. ERAGON doesn't really offer enough to keep the adults engrossed. That is not to say that visuals aren't stunning. The dragon is beautifully realised and believable, for a CGI character, which is further helped by Rachel Weisz's voice over characterisation. As she is a pivotal character this is very important. The battle scenes were well-orchestrated and used real people instead of CGI armies, but it was simply another fantasy battle scene that resembles Helm's Deep meets the Triwizard Tournament.

The main interest, especially among teenage girls, is the lead role played by Ed Speleers. He does a commendable job, delivering the often clichéd dialogue, as do the other actors. Malkovich camps it up as the evil ruler and Carlyle seems to be having fun as the heavily made up Durza. In fact he called his role, "playing, not acting".

Whether it falls under the curse of the dragon movies we will see in the coming weeks, but with plenty of eye-candy and plenty of action, along with impressive, and seamless, special effects it will certainly keep the under-twenties entertained during the holidays. And it may even appeal to older fans of LOTR, but Jackson's trilogy is a hard act to follow.

ERAGON is in cinemas from December 15

Visit official site

View trailer here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Stranger than Fiction

Director: Marc Foster
Cast: Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Hollywood hasn't been known for its risk-taking in recent years. Between the remakes, sequels (and prequels), literary classic adaptations and comic book movies all the truly original films get passed over, only to be snapped up by the more visionary independents. Some of the more savvy studios have created their own indie divisions, realising there is money to be made (art doesn't usually come into the equation), but from the safety of distribution deals. It's thanks to this that we got to see some original, off-beat films like Donnie Darko, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. Stranger than Fiction is another movie of that ilk.

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a tax inspector. His life is dull and routine, bordering on the obsessive/compulsive. He has no real friends, and a few work acquaintances. One morning he hears a woman's voice narrating his life, describing in eloquent detail the minutiae of his boring existence. Naturally, this causes him some concern.

Elsewhere in the city, renowned and reclusive author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is struggling with her latest novel, Death and Taxes, about a tax man called Harold Crick. Although she won't admit to writer's block, she can't find a way to kill off the main character because in her books the protagonists always die.

The trouble starts when Harold hears the words, "Little did he know that events had been set in motion that would lead to his imminent death". Harold figures out that what he is hearing is a story being narrated so enlists the aid of an eminent professor of literature (Dustin Hoffman) to try and discover what the story is about.

Added to this mix, Harold is auditing Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a feisty young woman who runs a small bakery. In an unlikely turn of events the pair fall for each other, as Harold tries to break out of his routines and have a life, while he still can. He is also trying to track down the author to convince her to alter the ending of the story.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, this really is a great feel-good movie. It has romance, it has comedy and it is surreal enough not to make them cloying. Ferrell is brilliant, managing to get both laughter and tears from the audience as the put-upon everyman, playing it with just the right amount of deadpan. Hoffman seems to be building up a body of work playing intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals. Gyllenhaal is vivacious as Ana, giving another mesmerising performance without overdoing the theatrics. Thompson's hand-wringing, chain-smoking author is just the right side of manic eccentric, without going over the top, which could be quite easy to do, turning Eiffel into a caricature rather than a character.

It helps that the cast has a great script to work with. Zach Helm has written a screenplay that is as surreal as Charlie Kaufman, but with a lot more love and laughter.

Highly recommended off-beat rom-com that even blokes can enjoy. On general release from December 1.

Official website