In a nutshell: Soulful and original, Treme brings you into the heart of a city like no other.
Popcorn rating: 4.5/5
Set in the sizzling heat of New Orleans just three months after Hurricane Katrina, US drama Treme was one of the headline shows for new channel Sky Atlantic when it launched earlier this year, sharing advertising space with the likes of Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and the stylised hit Mad Men.
From the creators of The Wire (and starring Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce), there was a lot riding on Treme – not least in New Orleans itself, where residents awaited the series with trepidation. Fortunately, Treme has not disappointed, winning award nominations, critical acclaim and general (although not universal) acquiesence from the city itself.
Named after the New Orleans neighbourhood in which it is set, Treme follows the intertwining lives of several locals, each coming to terms with life post-Katrina. Leading the ensemble cast is Wendell (a worthy star) as charismatic trombonist Antoine Batiste, living from gig to gig and struggling through a shambolic personal life. Other characters include a Mardis Gras Indian Chief, a chef, a DJ, a trumpet player, two buskers – see where we’re going with this? It is no coincidence that so many of Treme‘s residents are cut from a musical cloth. This is the famed party capital of the south and it is music, languid and soulful like a beating pulse beneath the skin, which takes a deserved place at the heart of Treme, drawing everything together from moments of joy to moments of despair.
Of course, with such a large central cast and so many interlinking storylines, it can be difficult to keep up – like so many of the best US dramas (Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy), it can take a while to get a hook on who is who, what is what. The sheer complexity of the plot(s) meriting repeat viewings before you can fully get into the swing of things. Treme will never be a drama you can pop off to make a cup of tea halfway through. No piece of dialogue is throwaway in this unfolding behemoth.
Given its subject matter – it would be easy for the story to slide into over sentimentality and yet, while it does not flinch from the devastation Katrina left in its wake, Treme never feels sycophantic, instead allowing the richness of its characters combined with an honest and compelling story to draw you in. Like that famous joie de vivre of New Orleans, there is just something infectious about Treme.
Archive for February, 2011
Tags: Clarke Peters, David Simon, Hurrican Katrina, Kim Dickens, music, New Orleans, Sky Atlantic, The Wire, Treme, Wendell Pierce
Tags: Alex Pettyfer, aliens, Dianna Agron, DJ Caruso, I Am Number Four, Mogadorian, teen movie, Timothy Olyphant, Twilight
In a nutshell: Just another blah blah blah teenage movie
Popcorn rating: 2/5
*Ugly, sociopathic baddies in big boots and long black overcoats chasing a…
*tall, dark and handsome hero, freshly arrived in Middle of Nowhere America complete with chiselled biceps, sexily dishevelled locks and a BIG secret, which makes him REALLY moody. He develops a healthy interest in the…
*beautiful, artistic, loner love interest who is ..
*adored to obsession by the local, slightly psychotic jock who gets his kicks bullying…
*the school nerd, who is befriended by the tall, dark and handsome hero…etc
And that’s the plot really. Except to give it a BIG TWIST, in I Am Number Four the hero schoolboy (who looks about 24) is actually an ALIEN. And not just any old alien – a “special” alien, one of nine super fighters who are destined to save his planet or mankind or whatever.
Throw into the mix a few obvious plot devices (your dad? The one who knew all about aliens and stuff, is missing? Wow) and lurch from scene to scene with no rhyme nor reason (your guardian just died and we’re being chased by crazed aliens? Time, methinks, to nip into the darkroom so we can share a “very safe romantic moment looking at some arty photos with no mention whatsoever of sex or anything icky like that). What’s not to love?
Plenty. And it’s a shame really, because even with the stereotypes, I Am Number Four could have been so much better, if it had had the nerve to stray from the beaten path of teenage movie cliche. As it stands, not only is it predictable and fairly patronising to its target audience but it’s boring – spending too much time focussing on a yawnsome romance and following the non-exploits of beautiful, well off people who are about as engaging as a dead salmon.
In fact the only plus points are the action scenes. The opening of I Am Number Four is wonderfully riveting, belying the boredom to come with a thrilling and explosive chase through a forest with suitably shocking results. Unfortunately, we have to sit through the rest of the emo dross before we get to the second high point, a strong action climax, complete with monsters, baddies, big guns and even a hot bird on a motorcycle. Then, its quickly back downhill with our hero saying his “sad” goodbyes to Nowhere USA and leaving the story wide open for a whole new franchise. Sigh.
Tags: 2004 film, drama, Frank Wedekind, Hélène de Fougerolles, Innocence, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Marion Cotillard, suspense, thriller
In a nutshell: An intriguingly dark fairy tale, which is more Brothers Grimm than Disney.
Popcorn rating: 4/5
Director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s debut feature Innocence (an adaptation of the Frank Wedekind novella) is a bittersweet tale of young girls living in an isolated school in France. It is rumoured Wedekind’s tale was inspired by Enid Blyton’s English boardng school series Mallory Towers. But, with new pupils arriving semi naked in coffins and the eerie control displayed by the primary school age schoolgirls in their burningly white uniforms – jolly hockey sticks and midnight feasts this isn’t.
In one sense, Innocence offers its pupils freedom and fun, with little supervision and a forest parkland to explore and play in. Yet it is also a prison lacking in human warmth, an eerie, pensive undertone creeping underneath this childish idyll. There is no contact with the outside world and, other than two young female teachers and two elderly servants (also women), barely any contact with adults. There are strict rules, things are “forbidden” with an unknown punishment for transgressors – when one girl, distracted by grief at losing her dreams, climbs the wall in a bid to escape, she is never to be mentioned again. We find out no more than that. Innocence is rife with secrets, dank, underground tunnels, and unexplained rituals. Each happy, playful scene is underpinned with a feeling of dread, similar to the subtle and impending doom of a good horror film – and which is all the more unsettling for being packaged up within a quiet, apple pie sweet setting.
Visually, Innocence is stunning. The girls’ technicolour ribbons and their austere white uniforms against the natural background of the forest is like a series of beautiful paintings. Colours are strong and bright while the natural lighting, be it shards of sunlight streaming through the aged trees or the glow of lamps blinking on in the shadowy night time forest, create scenes so endearing you might easily see them on a tin of shortbread.
However, while it is doubtless an aesthetically beautiful piece, as a film Innocence, at times, suffers from trying just a little too hard. Its child actors give very natural performances yet there is a feeling that, rather than encouraging the actors to chatter on as children might, dialogue is, at times, cut back to retain that odd, dreamlike tone. Similarly, the symbolic – and repeated – scenes of bubbling water go on just a little long, hammering the point home and turning the pace from leisurely to too slow.
Similarly, for those who prefer the usual beginning, middle and end story arc, all the ends neatly tied up, be warned that Innocence lacks a central narrative, instead viewers get a chance to dip their toes into a haunting, surreal world. What is this place? Why are the girls there? Where do the older pupils go? Questions hang in the air; all we are offered is suggestions and yet more mysteries, building suspense until it is so taut it may well snap – only to end with an equally odd sense of childish happiness and hope.
An evocative, original tale which at times intrigues, at times frustrates, Innocence may not appeal to the action junkies out there, but is well worth watching if you are looking for a change from the usual run of the mill.
Tags: Dogtooth, film, foreign film, foreign language film, Greek films, highly recommended, odd, Oscar, perturbing, Prix Un Certain Regard, Yorgos Lanthimo
In a nutshell: Beautiful, surreal and worryingly possible.
Popcorn rating: 4.5/5
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimo, Greek film Dogtooth is slow, unsettling and (especially when you consider the Ftrizl case) all too real. Yet it is utterly, disarmingly compelling. It’s easy to see why it won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the forthcoming Oscars, and garnered a top rating of 93% on movie review site, Rotten Tomatoes.
Imagine the scene. You live with your siblings and your parents in an isolated compound. You never set foot outside the high fence which surrounds the house. You believe everything your parents tell you. That a zombie is a small yellow flower, a phone is a salt shaker, a pussy is a big light, the sea is a leather chair, that overhead planes are toys, which sometimes fall from the sky. You believe killer cats stalk the world outside the fence and that they already attacked your father and killed your brother, the one who lived on the other side of the fence. You believe you can’t ever leave your home until you have lost a dogtooth. You believe this because you don’t know any different. Your family and this secluded house with its high trees and swimming pool and sterile, white walls is all you have ever known. This is Dogtooth.
Upsetting the balance in this tightly wound autocracy comes Christina, a security guard regularly brought in by dad to relieve the son of his sexual frustrations.
Christina’s arrival heralds the simmering tensions of the young adults moving to boiling point. The eldest daughter slashes her brother with a knife for playing with her toy plane. The youngest hits him with a hammer, explaining: “I didn’t do it. A cat did it, a cat with a hammer.” Christina offers the eldest daughter presents (a headband, video tapes of Hollywood movies) in return for sexual favours. There is a visiting cuckoo in the nest, the result of which must be suppressed.
Other than a passing reference to badly behaved children, no full explanation is ever given as to why the family live their life as they do. The ending is purposefully ambiguous. There is no history given. All we are offered, all we get, is a glimpse into a dystopian microcosm – stilted dialogue, lighting that is is bright, gauzy, harsh, like an overexposed photograph; images that are evocative, dreamlike, slightly off kilter. The overall feel is of a sterile, oddly perturbing, utterly compelling home movie.
Dogtooth won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – it is too unsettling for that – but it is a muted and original nightmare that will lead to questions, for which there is no answer. Highly recommended.
Tags: alien, comedy, Greg Mottola, hot fuzz, jason bateman, Kristen wiig, Nick Frost, Paul, Seth Rogen, shaun of the dead, Simon Pegg, spaced
In a nutshell: Coulda been a contender
Popcorn rating: 3/5
Two main things make me wary of a new film (well three, if you count Katherine Heigl). 1 The studio refusing to have any press or pre screenings, denying reviewers a chance to rate it before any bums have paid to be on seats to see it. 2. Way too much pre-release hype; nothing is ever that great. So, considering how ubiquitous Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, writers and stars of Paul have been of late, could their alien comedy live up to expectations?
The answer is no.
See, Paul is ok. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. Anyone I know who has seen it, couldn’t be bothered talking about it that much afterwards. It’s a bit like death by disinterest, which is surely harsh after previous outings by the duo (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) have proven to be just so damn quotable – “Who died and made you f*cking king of the zombies?”, for example.
Sure, Paul’s got a few chuckles and even a decent action scene. Jason Bateman is funny as the man in black (though sidekicks Bill Haggard and Joe Lo Truglio get the best laughs), Seth Rogen as the ‘I’m so f*cking cool it hurts’ Paul is amusing, for the most part , Kristen Wiig is quirkily sweet as the love interest. And, for the geeks, there are more movie references (in jokes) than you can shake a light sabre – or samurai sword – at.
Paul should tick all the right boxes. So why doesn’t it?
Pegg and Frost’s talents lie in quintessentially British humour, that affable, self deprecating comedy centring around ordinary people in mundane settings, facing the extraordinary. And that’s what’s missing here. Paul is an American film and it is playing (somewhat patronisingly) to an American audience, serving up the same old, cloying sentimentality, predictable story arc and obvious jokes (oh look at the old lady lamenting the loss of her weed – oh ha ha ha, cos she’s like an old person and like, she’s into weed, man, ha ha ha).
Paul may have the Pegg and the Frost, writer and stars of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, doing their geeky everyman thing but the one missing ingredient this time is old comrade in arms, writer and director Edgar Wright. And it shows.