Cinema Movie Review: Irrational Man (2015)

screen-shot-2015-04-29-at-5-58-10-pmCatherine Feore returns with Picturenose‘s 900th post and her thoughts on Woody Allen‘s latest.

Sipping on a beer before the film, I overheard a wonderfully Allenesque conversation – words that he might have given to a character: ‘J’ai jamais fait du sport, je suis plutot intello’ (I’ve never been sporting, I’m more of an intellectual).

This was said without a trace of irony, I think I managed to stifle a giggle. The guy probably was an intellectual, but to utter this phrase in the Anglo-Saxon world would be an open invitation to savage derision (happily, it was uttered in Belgium). This raised a worrying question in my mind – there appear to be two camps when it comes to Woody Allen, those who are generally in the ‘he is so over-rated’ camp and those who are ‘devotees’. Am I an intello, who doesn’t like sport? All I can say is that to one of these questions, my answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.

To those in the haters camp, I might be considered incapable of critical judgement when it comes to Allen’s films. I would have to query this a little, but will confess that while I have found some of his films unsettling and some not quite as good as others, I have always found them interesting and I always get some sort of insight from them – I even liked Melinda and Melinda (2004).

Irrational Man is a reference to a book of the same name by William Barret on existentialism; the film also leans on Allen’s fascination with the novels of Dostoyevsky, in this instance Crime and Punishment. When it comes to films that address existential questions, I would place Allen somewhere between Bergman and the director of The Fast and the Furious 3, let’s say near the top. So, if this is your bag, you are in for a fun night at the cinema.

The eponymous irrational man is Abe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a philosophy professor who is resigned to the pointlessness of existence; I say pointlessness, because he has already transcended meaninglessness and despair. Refreshingly, Allen has allowed Phoenix to play an angst-ridden man without forcing him to adopt Woody-like mannerisms – other actors have been less able to resist.

Abe’s arrival on campus is widely anticipated – Rita (Parker Posey), a bored chemistry professor, who has been serially unfaithful to her often-absent husband, is particularly looking forward to meeting the new professor and potential conquest. The other main character, Jill (Emma Stone), is a student who sparks Abe’s interest with an essay where she heavily critiques one of his books.

Jill comes to idolize Abe, and fails to see that ‘he’s a wreck and he smells’. Jill is not the most interesting character, especially compared to the sassy Rita. It would be difficult to see Jill’s attraction to Abe, if it weren’t for her insipid and clinging boyfriend. Abe’s capitulation to Jill’s advances is another aspect of his moral decline.

SPOILER ALERT!

Abe and Jill overhear a discussion in a diner, where a women tells her friends about how a judge has given the custody of her child to her ex-husband who has shown little or no interest in his child to date – she has been impoverished by the legal process and sees no point in an appeal, especially since the judge seems unlikely to move and is an acquaintance of the errant father. Abe decides that he is going to intervene and murder the judge. Initially, he verifies that the judge is the despicable person he appears to be, then he starts to follow his movements and plan his crime. Abe is liberated by his action and feels no guilt afterwards, just a new found love for life. Predictably, things start to go very wrong; when Jill discovers what he’s done, she urges Abe to turn himself in.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this film as much as other Allen work; at times it felt like there had been a lot of cutting and pasting from earlier films. There were a couple of brilliant moments, for example when Abe demonstrates how Russian roulette works to a bunch of optimistic, preppy students, but on the whole, there weren’t many laughs and this can definitely be classed as one of Allen’s darker films, alongside Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

Feeling nostalgic for cheerier works, I turned to Hannah and her Sisters (1986), my preferred take on existence where – after dabbling with various religions – Mickey (Allen) finds meaning through the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup (1933), concluding: “What if the worst is true, what if there is no God and you only go round once, and that’s it? Well don’t you want to be part of the experience? It’s not all a drag and I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never going to get and just enjoy it while it lasts. And afterwards, who knows…”

Is this a great Woody Allen? No, it is not, but ultimately he is still the best at this kind of stuff – maybe too comfortable with it, as I sometimes felt in this film. To pull off a work that explicitly addresses existentialist  ideas with any aplomb requires skill – I wouldn’t place this movie (his 50th!) in the top ranking of his work to date; however, to my mind, 97 minutes in a cinema exploring existential ideas beats several evenings in reading Kierkegaard.

97 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The Deer Hunter (1978)

thedeerhunter2‘One shot’

“One shot, the deer has to be taken in one shot” is the central philosophy, proudly proclaimed by the ‘weird’ Michael Vronsky (Robert De Niro), that permeates throughout Michael Cimino‘s Oscar laden 1978 film The Deer Hunter. Set In the late 1960s in the small working class industrial city of Clairton in Pennsylvania, where steel production is the thread that binds the community, three friends from a close knit Russian-America community, Michael, Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steve (John Savage) are drafted into the army to fight in America’s ill-fated war in Vietnam. Not that they know of the impending disaster at the time. Patriotism abounds as they glorify their departure in a long wedding sequence celebrating Steven’s union with Angela (Rutanya Alda), who’s baby may or not be his.

The opening act (the films structure is often compared to that of a play, with three acts: before, during and after Vietnam – but make no mistake that this film is cinematic) is famed for its length and will either enrapture or infuriate. I fall into the former category. Over a period of time we get to know a community and all their foibles. Getting wasted in a bar early in the morning listening to Andy Williams’ I can’t take my eyes off of you while playing pool, unhinged Stan (John Cazale, who sadly passed away from cancer before the film’s release) knocking his girlfriend to the floor for allowing herself to be groped by another man, to Michael running through the streets stripping down to his bare body before having a soul searching conversation with Nick. “Whatever happens over there…don’t leave me…you gotta promise” says Nick. Michael accepts and their bond is sealed. The small details slowly lull us in and soften the blow before the intense action comes. The film resembles a Woody Allen dramedy rather than the powerful drama that it is until an America G.I is introduced to the wedding proceedings. He is subsequently taunted by the three departing hero’s for being unengaged and abrasive when probed about the action zones ‘over there’ in Vietnam. The emphasis is on being on ‘over there’, as opposed to ‘here’ with Nick declaring ‘I love this fucking place’.  They don’t want to leave but they have been forced to fight for an American dream that they already live.

Michael’s doctrine is tested on a final pre-Nam hunting trip. He will only hunt with Nick as the rest of the group are a “bunch of assholes” when it comes to hunting. He is a “control freak” who “doesn’t like any surprises”. He informs Stan that “this is this, this ain’t something else…this…is this” as he holds a bullet in exasperation at his lack of preparedness for hunting. Michael is true to his word, and will gladly walk away if he doesn’t catch his prey in one fell swoop. Nevertheless, Michael and his friends are about to learn a lesson they will never forget. After a touching rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 6 in G Minor, Opus 15-3 by John (George Dzunda), the action brutally cuts to Vietnam with a Communist-held village being napalmed by US fighter jets. A clearly wounded Michael tries in vain to be the hero and is then reunited with Nick and Steve, who have been dropped by helicopter into the vicinity. However, they are captured by the Vietcong and so begins one of the most famous, controversial and intense sequences in film history.

Whatever your reading of it, Quentin Tarantino, a huge admirer of the film, once said:“The Russian roulette sequence is just out and out one of the best pieces of film ever made, ever shot, ever edited, ever performed. … Anybody can go off about Michael Cimino all they want but when you get to that sequence you just have to shut up.” The Vietcong force captured America and South Vietnamese soldiers to play Russian roulette whilst betting on their survival. It is without doubt one of the most brutal and horrific scenes ever shot. According to Cimino, the actors didn’t bath during the shoot to make it more authentic and the slaps are genuine. De Niro and John Savage required no stunt doubles to fall from a helicopter. Michael stays strong in the madness ensuing while Nick and Steve fall apart to varying degrees. De Niro’s acting has to be seen to be believed. In one moment he goes from defiance to sarcasm, from machismo to tears, from laughter to action. He is the glue that holds his friends together in the face of extreme prejudice.

Some critics, such as Mark Kermode, who I admire greatly, will argue that the scene is flat out racist. It is certainly troubling in many regards. Black Americans are in short supply in combat, and actual instances of Russian roulette perpetuated by the Vietcong have never been confirmed. The Vietcong appear to be the aggressors and Americans the victims, but as a metaphor for the randomness of violence, fear of death and its knock-on effects, the scene cannot be faulted.

The remaining characters go their separate ways in the aftermath of their experience. De Niro being the star of the film, it is no spoiler to say that Michael survives. Upon his return to Clairton he struggles to fit in and feels “a lot of distance and far away”. His three way love triangle, teased in the wedding sequence, with Nick’s fiancée Linda (Meryl Streep) resumes. Michael attempts to discover the fate of Nick and Steve. A post Vietnam hunting trip, alone this time on the actual hunt while his “asshole” friends play about like John Wayne with Stan’s stupid little gun, shows what Michael has learned. He has in effect become the American soldier he goaded earlier, embittered and cynical. Michael is true to his word and plays the reluctant hero again in an attempt the bring the group together as it once was, rather than as a shadow of its former glory. What he discovers will change their lives irrevocably.

There is a famous rendition of God bless America sung by the group. Again, some people use this to attack the film as right-wing propaganda piece. The Deer Hunter was interpreted by some to be to the right politically of Hal Ashby’s Coming Home, the other Vietnam film that collected Oscars for 1978, starring renowned anti-war activists Jon Voight and Jane Fonda who both received Oscars for their performances. The Deer Hunter is a depiction of small town American life, which in the 1960s/70s was largely demographically patriotic, Republican-voting Americans for whom it was rare to venture into the next state let alone leave the country. If The Deer Hunter is racist because the largely realistically depicted characters don’t actively denounce the American dream, then so be it.

Young men, black and white, were routinely plucked from local communities, big cities, small towns to fight for a country’s ideology when for some they were already living in their own contended bubble. They died arguably for a cause of self preservation perpetuated by the ruling elite whilst those at the top of societies ladder, such as George Bush Junior, largely got away it.

182 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Blue Jasmine (2013)

Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's Blue JasmineCompletely mental

To view Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) is to witness a sweaty, babbling and teeth-clenching meltdown of the grandest proportion. The foundation of the story is cemented with the unstable material of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett). A long way from her marriage to a wealthy investment banker and being a well-regarded socialite from New York City, Jasmine now crashes on her younger sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) couch. Jasmine has made her Vera Wang bed, and now she must lie in it.

In Blue Jasmine, every character has a simple need and remains focused on achieving that one desire. Whether it’s a better looking woman, a new purse, a better frolic in bed, most of the characters continuously choose to avoid the truth about themselves and their lives as long as they get what they want. This is true with the exception of one character: Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie (fabulously performed by Andrew Dice Clay), who is the only one who remains true to his virtues. Good fortune gave him an opportunity and he selflessly trusted Jasmine, only to have his life ruined.

Suffice it to say, Woody Allen does not portray women in the most virtuous light. It appears to be a recurrent point, as each female character is either too narcissistic, conniving, or unfaithful to ever be trusted. However, you never stop being interested in whether Jasmine can grow out of her pampered shell or if Ginger will finally wake up and boot her to the curb.

Apart from the women, all supporting actors are men who provide appropriately subdued and lax performances allowing Jasmine to be over the top and exuberant. Each of these performances – including Louis CK, Alec Baldwin, and Bobby Cannavale – are keen in execution, but performed in a subdued manner. In sum, this mix of genuine and bat-ass crazy performances counterbalance each other to provide an unusually mental experience – you’ll be sure to see a couple of these names on the year-end awards show banners.

98 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Annie Hall (1977)


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Woody becomes Allen

It was one of the proudest days of my life when a family friend told me, in my teens, that I looked ‘a bit like’ Woody Allen, as well as having a similar sense of humour. Well, I was a fan anyway, albeit of what were accurately and deathlessly dubbed the cineast’s ‘earlier, funnier’ films in Stardust Memories (1980), the last of a trilogy of movies that definitively signposted Allen’s move away from pure comedy and into the mildly humorous auteur-ism with which a new generation of moviegoers is familiar.

Annie Hall (1977) had been a harbinger. Rather like contemporary rock music getting its hair cut and hiding its sense of the fantastical under a bushel, here was a film that was adult, mature and commanding, whereas preceding hits such as Take the Money and Run (1967), Bananas (1970) and Love and Death (1975) had been childlike and innocent. There were laughs in Annie Hall, but they wwere chuckles and discreet giggles, whereas hitherto Allen had dealt in belly-laughs, chortles, guffaws.

Annie Hall might be said to have invented an entire dramatic trope- urbane, neurosis-addled East Coast intellectuals, the ‘elitists’ that rednecks and Republicans drone on about (for which read ‘Jews’). Said trope has practically annexed US television comedy, from the brilliant (Seinfeld) to the awful (New Girl); yet watching its first incarnation in the comedy of manners that Allen and the still-mesmerizing Diane Keaton pick their way through like the live lobsters that Allen’s character Alvy Singer inadvertently drops at one point is to marvel at a model of economy and simplicity delivered with canny sophistication almost wholly absent from Hollywood today.

Not since Fred and Ginger did their thing have two characters negotiated each other with such wit and, it has to be said, actorly assurance. The great British writer of teleplays, Andrew Davies, once told the current reviewer: ‘I keep Allen’s screenplays in the bog to read while I’m going and they’re an invaluable tutor.’ The dialogue hardly fizzes with smart-alecky putdowns and zingers, but there’s lots to feast on here, such as – famously – the two old dears on holiday; ‘the food here is really terrible’; ‘yes, I know, and such small portions’. That’s Allen returning big-style to his Jewish roots, a theme which recurs often. This is a highly autobiographical movie, with ‘I’ being one of the most frequently used words in the script. It is also a profoundly character-driven piece, and Allen proves himself capable of directing a large cast with utter authority in small ensemble scenes and sketches. The performance he draws from Keaton is particularly memorable; at once neurotic and confident, sexy and severe, penitent and imploring.

In one of his more uncharitable moments, the late Leslie Halliwell in his ninth edition (1989) of the Filmgoer’s Companion, sniped as to how well the film would wear in a decade and implied that it was very much of its time; well, it hits as many targets now as it did then, possibly because the human frailties and idiocies it illustrates are so timeless.

While it does reflect that brief moment in time when liberal young people reacted against the counterculture of the 1960s (one only has to look at Keaton’s androgynous trouser suits and shirts, a million miles from the floaty. flowery creations her ilk would have sported ten years before), this is hardly a criticism that should militate against seeing a master director at work. This is the movie where Allen became *Allen*- and for that alone, it should stand as a monument to his singular art.

93 mins.

To Rome with Love (2012)

Roaming free

Another year, another Woody Allen film. I am aware that this may cause distress for some misguided souls, but not me – like waiting in line to see the latest James Bond flick, there is always a rare expectancy about every Woody pic – such is the prolific frequency of the director’s work, it’s rather like waiting for a bus, ie if you don’t like this one, don’t worry, there’ll be another along in a minute. Midnight in Paris (2011) was for this reviewer Mr Konigsberg’s finest for some time, so does To Rome with Love (2012) match up? Well…

…it is certainly keeping up Allen’s new-found love of Europe, with the romantic beauty of Rome forming a warm backdrop to an essentially charming, mostly amusing tale of the lives, loves and misadventures of the Eternal City’s residents.

And it is very good to see Allen back in his own film in a starring role, visiting Rome as the neurotic (surprise, surprise) husband Jerry of a woman in his own age bracket (which is a genuine surprise), Phyliss (the excellent Judy Davis), whose daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) is set to marry Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). However, Jerry’s frustrated talents as an opera director may be about to be given a new lease of life, when he discovres that Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), Michelangelo’s funeral director father, has a world-class singing voice – but only in the shower.

Architect Alec Baldwin, meanwhile, is taking his own trip down memory lane, visiting the street on which he lived as a student back in the day. Chancing upon young Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), the pair discover that they have a great deal in common, which may well be to their mutual advantage. Finally, in what is the film’s funniest vignette by far, we meet Leopoldo who, tiring of his happy family life and job as a clerk, is about to discover that being a celebrity has its own price.

As with virtually every Allen picture, there’s much more good here than bad; the film’s pacing and intermittently very sharp dialogue make for a more-than entertaining dollop of whimsy and, even if some of the stories occasionally drag a little and some of the exchanges appear a touch forced, this is still likely your best bet for summer in the cinema.

112 mins. In English and Italian.

Your Life in Cinema

We just love new recruits here at Picturenose Towers, and we are *delighted* to have acquired the talents of the erudite and charming Sophie Glaser who, to open her account, muses on why perhaps we’re all much better off without a film director pulling our strings. Take it away, Sophie.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, or you know, Friday just before lunch, my mind was wandering around unsupervised and tripped on a bizarre thought. Being of the un-censoring sort, I immediately shared my musing with my 200 closest friends. The thought itself is very simple: ‘Aren’t I lucky that film directors don’t get to direct my life?!’

So, here’s the sales pitch:

If you enjoy realism, please try our special offer on Brian De Palma. A heightened sense of the dramatic and the underplayed would mean that you might not even notice it at first, you might even forget it, until a dreaded angle shot came at you. Suddenly the suspense would hit you, then Al Pacino or Robert De Niro or some other high-priced method actor would gun you down.

Supposing this happened, you wouldn’t really have much of a life left, aside from maybe a nice split-scene soliloquy in which someone remembers you fondly as the other frame lounges over some piece of scenery. All in all, four out of ten, would not recommend to the faint hearted or Kevlar-less.

If you aren’t too keen on realism why not try our implausibility offer; a Michael Bay-directed life. Imagine, if you will, a car. It sits in an oversaturated frame of an inner city parking lot, it explodes, you make a joke. Now imagine your favourite aunt sitting in an oversaturated frame in a comfy chair, she explodes, you wear a grim expression. Imagine your dog (added sats), he turns out to be working against you. You drop him off a building, he explodes, the building explodes, the city explodes. You walk away from it in slow motion, you make a death-joke that you can’t hear because your ear drums are bleeding. Cut to black.

Perhaps, on the other hand, you prefer your life a little less loud and a lot more macabre. I recommend the Burton life: you are Johnny Depp, your wife is Helena Bonham-Carter, and you live in an igloo made of quirkiness. You are quirky. You have two children, they are Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. They are quirky. Your lives a quirky. Everything is bloody quirky. Take your quirks and quirking quirk off.

Sorry, I got mildly distracted there – sticking with the peculiar, let’s move on.

A David Lynch-directed life is…complex. You stare into the mirror, or is it staring at you? You take a fishing trip with your dad and his buddies, you catch a midget dressed as a mermaid who warns you of a great evil. In the background, a cow knocks over a vase. Your life ends with heavy synth music.

Of course, much better Lynch than M. Night Shyamallamallamallamamamapijama; you are a mild-mannered nobody. Your life is uneventful and tedious. You have no redeeming qualities. Suddenly you can see ghosts/find a mermaid/start dying from pollen allergies/ruin a film, this leads you on a journey of introspection and yet more boredom. SUDDENLY SPACEMONKEYS WITH SQUID GUNS! Also, it turns out that it was the stapler that sabotaged your relationship, not your mind-numbing blandness.

Personally, I would go for the more traditional sort of director, maybe Frank Capra. Yeah, good ole Capra. Your life is okay, you have 2.4 children and you are married to a 1950s housewife who cooks, cleans and looks as she should (none of this opinionated stuff). You play baseball with your son, and you teach your daughter the value of shutting the hell up, and the baby of indeterminate sex remains in the pram or crib at all times. Your life gets rough, but everything ends up fine and you hug everyone, safe in the knowledge that as a white male you are the supreme master of the universe. You may now high-five God.

If Capra is not for you, then try Ridley Scott, the prime example of how the mono-myth can be fun in space or in Rome. You are Maximus Decimus Ripley, Petty Officer to a destroyed ship, space marine flunky and you will have your vengeance, in this sequel or the next. You spent much of your time covered in sweat in an impossible situation. Finally you devise a cunning plan to vanquish your foes. You crawl through a vent with your trusty companion Hicks, and a small girl played by 6’3″ Djimon Hounsou. You arrive at the centre of the hive and face off with the Alien Queen played by Joaquin Phoenix, and you blow him out of an air-lock to the space lions. You die, but everyone else lives happily ever…oh no, wait, they’re all dead now too. All in all, I feel as though there are maybe some flaws with this pitch.

I suppose in reality the best would be to just allow Woody Allen to direct us all – what’s the worst that could happen? We’d all be socially awkward, and eventually find some measure of happiness. I thank you.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Amour fou

Woody Allen‘s latest is a frenetic, fun-filled journey, says Matthew Schur.

For our attention-challenged generation, Woody Allen’s new film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) should satisfy. The pace of the film between scenes is fast, but the pace within the scenes is even faster. From nervous pacing to walking to jogging, the characters never stop moving and neither does the camera, creating a wonderful sense of chaos.

This movie tells the story of four disillusioned people (two couples), so unhappy with their lives that they begin a desperate search for fulfillment.

Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) is an elderly man who’s afraid of ageing and who’s still bitter about not having a son. So, he embarks upon the typical mid-life crisis – divorces his wife, buys a sports a car, marries a younger, more attractive woman – the only problem is that, at least judging by appearances, he is well into his seventies. Alfie’s wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), wrought with despair over the divorce, seeks happiness and fulfillment through spirituality, only to end up doling out lots of money to a phony psychic. Alfie and Helena’s daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), is struggling with many things, most of which stem from her husband Roy (Josh Brolin), whose own frustration is punctuated by a string of literary failures following his much-acclaimed first novel.

Only with Woody, right? The elderly Alfie falls in love with an unfaithful prostitute (bizarre, right?), Helena (who, following encouragement from her ‘psychic’, believes she has lived before) becomes enamoured with a man who’s trying to contact his dead wife, while Sally flirts with the idea of falling for her married boss who is already in an affair. Roy, meanwhile, falls madly in love with his muse who, fittingly, has a fiancée.

Each thus abandons reason in the hope that their new “tall dark stranger” will bring happiness. It doesn’t for them, but rest assured that it does for the audience – the casting is great, and the characters work brilliantly together, with the four big actors naturally shining, but Gemma Jones really standing out. The crazier she gets, the funnier the movie becomes – especially in her interactions with Roy and Sally.

Like any good Allen film, the jokes are constructed around tension-filled moments – the kind that make viewers belly laugh, but itch with discomfort at the same time. These vignettes are soaked in drama and work so well because of the context – Allen does a great job, from a narrative perspective, of building momentum via each character’s failures. And thus, the snowball effect of madness and hilarity builds and builds into a well-crafted ending – this is one of his best for a while.

98 mins.

For more information, and for release dates where you are, check the Paradiso web site.

Scarlett Johansson threesome shocker!

Oh yes…

I’d like to say you heard it here first, but it’s all over the bloody internet by now. On the back of her ‘controversial’ three-way sex romp with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in the new Woody Allen potential yawn-fest Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), scarlettjohansson.com has made the official offer of a threesome of your very own with the eponymous young lady.

Scarlett, or ‘ScarJo’ as she is being called by the young and hard-of-vocab these days, makes you an offer you can’t refuse – unless you’re not into the whole three-in-a-bed-underpants-charleston-with-famous-actress thing. It may just be intuition, but I guess this is a complete spoof, and that someone will soon be hearing from Ms Johansson’s legal team – or a tasty piece of viral marketing. The phrase “unbelievably darn lucky bastard winner” first aroused my suspicions that this site may not be endorsed by the girl herself. Of course, if you fancy a gamble, it’s like the lottery – you gotta be in it to win it. One last thing – Picturenose does not recommend you apply for this ‘position’, however tempting it may be. The scene in the movie is apparently implied rather than explicit, as I suspect this ‘offer’ is. You’re probably better off staying in and renting one of Jenna Jameson’s earlier works. Edit: it appears the killjoy morons in Hollywood big bucks central have pulled the site. Joyless idiots.

Oh no…

Regular readers will know what we here at Picturenose think of the current trend for remaking every film ever made, and my thoughts in particular (Klaatu Barada Remake Nikto!, There Will Be Dude), but I think I’ve finally found the film that should never be remade. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) is apparently being remade by an even more horrific coupling than Brad and Janet – Fox and British Sky Broadcasting. According to the deal, Sky will premiere the film in October 2009 on its tawdry, lowest-common-denominator Sky Movies channel, and it will then be available for their video-on-demand service. If there was ever a way to bring a 30-odd-year-old movie to a modern audience, this wasn’t it. There is no news on who has drawn the short straw and will direct or ‘star’ in it, but they all seem mighty pleased it’s going to happen. I’m not normally one to use hip and trendy internet-speak, but the phrases ‘WTF’ and ‘FFS’ seem surprisingly apt here.

Oh lordy…

I think the UK Daily Telegraph may have been a little short of comumn inches recently. They published a (non) story regarding future casting for the alleged Tarantino remake of Russ Meyer’s classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Following on from her shocking, outrageous (yawn) girl-on-girl kiss with Madge on the MTV awards what seems like a hundred years ago, and her very public inability to cope with anything, Britney Spears is being touted by ‘a source’ (hmm) as the prospective lead role, Varla. Quoted by some other spurious source:

‘Quentin is convinced Britney will be brilliant. She’s delighted. She thinks it could turn her career around.’

‘It is perfect Tarantino material. He wanted to get Britney first. She’s playing the most important character.’

Meanwhile, both Spears’ and QT’s people have both said this is complete bollocks. According to other sources (funny how nobody wants to go on record) QT himself would prefer porn actress Tera Patrick, as she looks, well, more Asian, like the original Varla, Tura Satana. She apparently, is ‘thrilled’ as well. Confused? You will be…

Cassandra’s Dream (2007)

Cassandra's DreamWhat dreams may come

Woody Allen completes his ‘London trilogy’ with this surprisingly dark, moody effort. The title refers to the name that close-knit brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) Blaine give to their newly acquired pleasure boat, paying some £6,000 for which only adds to the pair’s financial difficulties – Terry’s a gambler whose habit is spiralling out of control, while Ian is looking to invest in a Californian hotel chain, to get away from the struggling restaurant of his father (John Benfield). A surprise visit from their generous millionaire uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) could be their way out of a hole, but the potential benefactor has a surprise request – Howard’s looking to make a real killing of his own, and he wants his nephews’ help…

Allen quickly proves himself adept at handling the mechanics of a psychological thriller, territory into which he has not previously strayed. With its naturalistic dialogue and menacing camera angles, the film quickly disavows any audience expectations of customary Woody belly laughs. Rather, what we have here is a sense of genuine foreboding that grips early and is only occasionally loosened: both brothers have to learn that all actions bring consequences, but one of the pair turns out to be far more professional about the task in hand than the other.

That’s not to say the film is entirely bereft of humour – Allen, removed from his traditional angst-ridden exchanges, nevertheless shows a flair for the Brit domestic scenes, with the exchanges between nagging wife (Clare Higgins), Blaine Sr and the brothers providing a few wry chuckles as well as providing insights into the close-knit family bonds that are about to be broken.

It falls down a little in its conclusion, which unfortunately gives the impression that writer-director Allen ran out of ideas just when things were getting really grim and interesting, but the sense of the screw turning in an entirely credible prosaic family setting makes up in overall effect for the script’s occasional shortfalls. Death is a dirty business, as the boys discover quickly. Recommended.

108 mins.