Month: November 2006

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Martin Campbell :: UK / USA / Czech Republic :: 2006 :: 2h18

Obtaining his 007-status, James Bond becomes a full agent of MI6, the British secret service. His first mission is to try to dismantle an informal banking service to terrorists. The banker has a taste for gambling, so Bond puts on his tuxedo and sets off for a Casino in Montenegro accompanied by a beautiful representative of the Treasury, played by Eva Green. The plot does not actually follow the series, but never mind that (it’s set after the cold war!).

The first Bond movie with Daniel Craig in the lead role clearly sets out a new route. From the outset, we are presented by a violent chase scene followed by a ruthless disregard of life, property and diplomatic relations. By the time the title and opening credits show up, the traditional female form has, disappointingly, been replaced by animated scenes of violence (?!). There can no longer be any mistake that the 21st episode of the Bond series plans a change of direction. One peculiar choice is that Bond became a lot less British and a lot more like an All American Action Hero. The loss of character will be lamented but has also allowed some character development, which is rare in Bond movies. But the greatest moment of change, to my mind, occurs when a bartender asks Bond of he wants his drink ‘Shaken or stirred’, to which Bond dryly responds: ‘Do I look like I give a damn?’ A nice touch.

Although the start is somewhat worrying, the movie quickly takes a turn for the better with a spectacular chase through a building site. A masterfully made scene which creates quite a bit of goodwill to survive some of the more tedious ones, most notably the excessively long card game with silly explanations thrown in. Perhaps it is surprising that the end result is so entertaining, as there are plenty more imperfections scattered around: including an unnecessary, unappealing torture scene, Bond being miraculously saved by his leading lady and some silly product placements (the best one would be the family car Bond takes from the airport in Nassau). But that all should not put you off, there is plenty left to keep you going, which I will not ruin by spelling them out.

It might take a bit of getting used to a Bond who is more of a blue-collar killer (who calls his dead leading lady a ‘bitch’) rather than the sophisticated, gentlemanly secret agent we were used to, but why not change the rules. The new Bond, with a powerful M as his boss, is ready to affront the fictional challenges of the 21st century. Do not hesitate to go in to see the introduction of the re-invented James Bond to decide for yourselves.



Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Larry Charles :: USA :: 2006 :: 1h30

Kazakhi reporter Borat is sent to make a documentary of the United States. On arrival he falls in love with the image of Pamela Anderson and travels to the other side of the country to ask for her hand in marriage, shocking people with his bizarreness along the way.

For anyone who does not already know, Borat is a character developed by the English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for his TV-show (Da Ali-G Show). The character is a naive implicitly bisexual homophobic sex-obsessed misogynist anti-semite who confronts the general public with his prejudice and absurdly deviant tales to provoke reactions. The humor lies partly in the ridiculous tales he tells people and partly in the recorded reactions of the public.

The movie is extremely original and very funny, as was the run-up to the launch of the movie, where Mr Cohen travelled around the world promoting his film as the character Borat himself. During the movie, the viewer does not really have the time to question how much of the public reactions is real and how much is a set-up. On hind sight, I would presume most of it is set-up, but your guess is as good as mine.

Unlike in his TV-show, we see mostly people of the general public, who all seem to react in one of three ways : either they accept the most bizarre tales without question (probably thinking they did not hear it right or out of politeness), or they share their own hate-mongering views, or they just turn aggressive.

In real life, the Kazakhi government was not amused by this parody, but they are not the ones who should be worried – the image of Kazakstan presented is incredulously outrageous. The real parodied target is the US public. Personally, I am not much of a fan of reality-show type provocation. There within, the US public is an easy target (problematic race relations and religiously inherited homophobia). In filming an unsuspecting public, people say all kinds of things they do not really mean when they are just living their lives. Of course the film spectator does not know what is real and what is not, but the reactions have a certain credibility to them.

The movie is probably funnier if you are an American yourself then if you are not, but contrary to many critics, I do not feel there are any lessons to be learnt here. If anyone learned anything it will have been Cohen himself, as he was really there. You would need to be very strong-willed not to go in to watch Borat after all the fuss which has been kicked up, to make up your own mind, but be warned that the movie, besides being uncomfortably hilarious, is also quite disgusting (morally and visually).


Anche libero va bene

Kim Rossi Stuart :: Italy :: 2006 :: 1h48

Renato has two children who are the world to him. Raising his children and dealing with the world around him is a lot asked for his fragile composition. He tries to stand tall, to surmount the pressures on him. But it is not easy. To at least have the illusion of strength, he mimics assertiveness with an air of arrogance to, if even just for once, have the impression he is not being walked over. But his efforts are insufficient, his weaknesses exposed to a world which does not accept them. His 11 year old son stands as his support, even though he is really too young to handle it. Renato lashes out around him to protect himself, hurting the others and hurting himself.

A sad, dramatic tale which is so ordinary that it is easy to relate to. But Renato is so weak that it is frustrating. There is not much left of Italian culture in this movie, it is just a family in a crisis, a crisis induced by an imposed freedom of a modern, liberal society. A society where people have to fend for themselves, people who are not capable of it. Consider the core as Houellebecq rendered credible, but add on a crust of humor. This can not be watched lightly, as, any which way you turn it, it is a depressing tale.

Lady Chatterley

Lady Chatterley

Pascale Ferran :: France :: 2005 :: 2h38

For those who do not know DH Lawrence’s famously erotic story, we follow the emotional turmoil of a young, upper-class woman at the Chatterley mansion in the English countryside. It is the time of industrialisation, and society is split radically into two groups. Lady Chatterley’s husband is unfortunately a war cripple, and their dutiful, uneventful life together leads her into the arms of the solitary (lower-class) gamekeeper. As their love develops, she comes to a full bloom.

In essence, the movie presents us a tale of desire and love. The title’s change in emphasis from the Lover to Lady Chatterley herself is a remarkable one. The eroticism and the class struggle are issues seen from a completely different perspective today than at the time of writing by Lawrence. The talented director, Ms Ferran, slows us down from our normal lives in the first half to bring you down to the speed of life at the mansion. Somewhat setting the issues which were so at the heart of DH Lawrence to a backdrop, the movie concentrates on Lady Chatterley herself, dissecting her desire and the birth of Love.

With the poetic beauty of the gardens, the countryside and the seasons, the couple’s love affair becomes that natural step in a person’s life. The love which flows here comes from a desire born from deep within the heroine, not so much a desire to be loved but more a desire to have a child mixed with a physical desire of the other. This sexual origin develops romantically into the maturing love which binds people for life. A curious change of emphasis for lovers of DH Lawrence, and a brilliantly worked out approach for lovers of cinema today.

Before going in to watch this magnificent movie, bare in mind that it progresses slowly, the value of which you will come to understand as you get through the movie. It also implies that it risks to bore the younger members of the audience who will ask themselves why it took two and a half hours to show a woman falling in love. If you think you can handle it, do not hesitate to go and watch it, you will be well rewarded.

Prête-moi ta main

Prête-moi ta main

Eric Lartigau :: France :: 2006 :: 1h30

Luis is 43 years old, works as a perfume designer, lives comfortably and has a large family who want the best for him. One day, they decide he should get married. In a state of shock, Luis hires his friend’s sister to pretend she’s his fiancé, in the hope of calming them all down. Of course, this does not quite work out that way.

A plot which should have made light humor with a cast to match leaves a certain expectation of tranquil comedy. Unfortunately that is also exactly what we get. A few funny lines here and there and supposedly funny costumes are the ingredients of a movie which fails to surpass its premise. The usual mixture of the absurd with ‘serious’ sentiments leaves a structure which will depend entirely on the dialogues, or on a strong fan base. The former is somewhat granted but the latter will be the breaking point. Mostly, if you are not a big fan of Chabat, you could just as easily skip over this movie, even if it is raining. Charlotte Gainsbourg is charming as ever, but that does not justify the entry. If you have a say in the matter, see what else is playing.