Calling 'Baise-moi' an ultra-violent porn film doesn't even scratch the surface. Oddly for a French film it has a one line plot summary -- a hooker and a porn star go on a two girl shagging and killing spree. The piece begins quietly enough -- bunch of people sit around chatting about how shitty life is and how there never seem to be enough drugs. Then one girl is raped, the other murders her pimp and the two go on the run into a series of increasing bizarre situations, the restrictions of society are cast aside. It's repetitive, it's dizzying, and the justifications of the main characters are a bit shakey to say the least. I once watched a documentary about a group of juveniles at a detention centre. A doctor was psycho-analysing them, wondering how they will cope with real society when all they do is sit up late watching violent films. I can imagine those guys thinking this is the best film they ever saw -- "You mean there these two birds and they sleep around and the go and kill people for no reason? Cool." In a way it feels like Natural Born Killers in the style of the gameshow 'Banzai' ... 'Are they going to sleep with them, shoot them, or both? Place bets now.' Banned in it's native country and Australia and only passed here after a ten second cut. It's crass, annoying, and you should go and see it. If only so that next time you see a so-called violent film or 'sexy' film you can smugly say you've seen something much, much worse ...
Changing Lanes’ is another attempt to create a Hollywood film using the sensibilities of a Hollywood film. It’s essentially a remake of a Tom and Jerry cartoon with human beings and the ins and outs of their ‘real’ lives. The cat is Ben Affleck, a lawyer who is slowly understanding the dodgy ethics perpetrated by his other partners and whether he can still stay true to himself within that world. The mouse of the story, Sam Jackson is a recovering alcoholic and telesales worker who finds his life slowly slipping away, partly because of his atrocious temper which comes forth whenever he feels like he’s doing the right thing.

In a strong, well-structured script, unlike a real cat and mouse caper, there isn’t an actually a villain or hero. These are both men on the edge, whose sense of right and wrong slips away as the day progresses. Both have much to lose but in different ways – and it’s interesting that when Jackson strikes against the lawyer its in material ways; when Affleck hits the telesales advisor at the roots of his life.

It’s the performances that lift this film. Affleck gives his best work since ‘Chasing Amy’ – in a part which could have been whitewashed with sleaze, he comes out looking all the more human. He should be the bad guy but we find ourselves wondering if our choices wouldn’t be too dissimilar given the circumstances. Jackson again proves himself to be an actor of massive range. It’s the first time we’ve seen this kind of character from him in a so-called mainstream film (although its similar to the low key display found in ‘The Red Violin’), and it’ll be interesting to see how things are when the Oscars come around again.

Roger Mitchell has always struck me as a very generic director – like Michael Apted he doesn’t have a particular style and in fact he often borrows from someone else. This has a very faux-Soderbergh feel to it, especially in the opening titles and the use of hand held cameras throughout. But I’m not criticizing. I’ve had enough of glossy films which spend all their time just looking perfect at the expense of the plot. Imagine how vacuous this thing might have been in the hands of Michael Bay, for example.

I’ve heard the ending being criticized somewhat. Yes it’s uplifting and hopeful, but not unrealistic and if things had ended unresolved, in this case I would have been dissatisfied. So another Hollywood film with brains. It’s almost like its the seventies again ...
Arguably the best romantic comedy this year, ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’ wins no awards for originality (and neither will the opening line of this review). Straight girl is sick of men and decides to try the feminine thing. But like every other romantic movie you’ve ever seen, it isn’t about the set-up, it’s about the journey and in this case I’ll be happy to show you onto the train.

No stars, here just talent. And what talent. Usually in low budget films, you have to take it for granted that – some – of the acting – will be a bit stilted. Staggeringly although I can’t think of a face here I’ve seen before, everyone is uniformly excellent. It feels like a movie which has dropped in from an alternate dimension where everyone here is a big, famous actor in their field. Jennifer Westfeldt as Jessica, has a stunning screen presence. But unlike Jennifer Anniston (for example) she feels like one of us – and that’s why we root for her. Similarly Heather Juergensen, as the girlfriend, is instantly likeable (and not just because of her opening scene). The fact that their already friends improves an on-screen chemistry you feel would be their anyway.

The writing is also superb. They act, they write. I was reminded of the first time I saw ‘Walking and Talking’ or ‘Love and Other Consequences’, that kind of attention to the detail of people. The blossoming of Jessica from slightly plain, the just unbelievable is totally believable. There is an obvious through route from ‘Annie Hall’ to ‘When Harry Met Sally’ to what we find her. The girls are obviously fans of there previous movies, scenes there are mirrored here with a twist. Of course to tell you what they are would spoil your enjoyment of this film, but keep an eye out for re-runs of the moment from the end of ‘Sally’ when Harry tells her he loves her, when Woody and Annie go to the movies in ‘Hall’. That this film has been released under Fox’s Searchlight banner and not as a major studio piece demonstrates how the priorities of Hollywood have changed.
Gosford Park’ is a Robert Altman film. It says so on the poster and in the opening credits. But its more particular than that – you can tell it is all of the way through. Big well known cast (check!). Multiple almost storylines (check!). Overlapping dialogue (check!). The main plot is beside the point (check!). The premise is so simple it’s a surprise no one else has given it a try. Take all of the characters who typically appear in an Agatha Christie novel. Give them the motivations you would expect, but play them for real, whilst commenting on how artificial the divide between those upstairs and those downstairs really is. Welcome back to the kinds of films we love that you make Bob.
Film It was an odd year for film. Once the post-Christmas Harry Potter / Lord of the Rings chatter had died down, all eyes were focused on the summer. ‘Spider-man’ and ‘Star Wars: Attack of the Clone’ sucked in audiences, but in hindsight both films were only partly very good. Rather than trundling out a bunch of films which everyone will have seen, this will survey some things which some of you might have overlooked and are definitely worth catching on DVD (by reposting some earlier reviews in a satirical yet time saving version of what some magazines are also doing) . Well four and one which was loved by my evil twin brother. I think you can guess which one ...
Shallow Hal’ is a very unconventional film. The concept: man (Jack Black) who fixates on finding a partner with perfect looks is hypnotised to see the inner beauty of people, so that woman (and men) who society has rejected as being too ugly/fat/both, seem blindingly attractive to him, and us when we see the world through his point of view. He falls in love with a woman he sees as an angel (Gwyneth Paltrow). The moments when Paltrow features in so-called ‘fat’ situations (the canoe ride, the dive bomb in to a pool) here become beats in which Black suspects something is wrong. It could by argued that because these sections aren’t laugh out loud funny it makes the film a failure. But these are the only times the film wallows in the situation and are actually quite adorable.

But what really marks the film out as different is the ending. If this had been the wrong kind of comedy, we would have seen Black chasing about the country looking for the hypnotist to put the spell back on so that he can see his girl they she had always been to him. Instead we have twenty minutes of John Cusack-style soul searching followed by an otherwise text book Hollywood ending, in which Black sees Paltrow’s inner beauty before her looks. This is done without a cutaway to remind us of what thin Gwyneth looked like and with a totally straight face. Adorable. So here we have ‘Shallow Hal’ – a comedy with hidden depths.
Moments It wasn’t the only time she’d died. The first time was at the hands of mecca-vamp The Master in the final episode of the first season. But that moment had been totally matter of fact – ditch in a puddle, saved by Xander, kicking again by the end of the episode. This time it was the real thing – the final ‘it’. The genius of the writing meant that it had a finality, as though the entire series had led up to this moment. For the casual viewer, the start of the episode featured a precee of the entire series, shots from every episode, including those which hinted at the end.

The actual teaser was an actualization of the idea which Creator Joss Wheadon has sited as his reason for creating the film and show – a cheerleader going into an alley and able to surprise her attacker with her funny and martial arts. As the scene played out it was clear that the world was on her shoulders. Like Hamlet, she was aware that once the events had played out she would not see the next dawn (pun intended). As the story progressed, despite the help of her friends, it became clear that Glory, the god like ‘big bad’ of the season was meddling with forces too powerful for her this time.

The final moment was about sacrifice. In an earlier episode she had been given an award for being the class protector, but that had been at high school. Since then she had been protecting the whole of the world.. For her, and for us, this was the moment her life and the series had been leading up to, she was completing the quest. The final speech wasn’t profound. It didn’t give answers. In her last gasp, she did what she always did. Said that thing which would save her friends, “the hardest thing in this world ... is to live in it.” It was a moment of hope. The final shot of the inscription on her gravestone, demonstrated all of qualities which made this show good, tragedy and comedy combined: “Buffy Summers. Beloved Sister, Devoted Friend, She Saved The World … A Lot”
Moments I’m sitting in the café at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. On the table before me are an espresso and pain du chocolate, and they are all I can smell. Around me people are talking in a din of different languages. A Japanese girl is sat at a table almost but not quite opposite to me. She has brought an espresso as well. We smile at each other, and we share a few words: ‘You alright’ Yes.’ ‘Japanese?’ ‘English?’ But its obvious that is the limit of my Japanese and her English so we sit in silence. I'm reading the English version of the guide book; hers is all in Japanese. Different versions of the same book. I put my copy down and start to eat the pain. I can tell she is intrigued by it, so I pull off a chunk, making sure there is some chocolate and offer it to her. The girl takes it gladly and smiles giddily after eating. She tries to say thank you but can’t, so I just tell her she’s welcome. When she’s finished that piece I give her some more. We sit in silence just looking at each other, until our coffees are gone. We shake hands and go our own ways.

Like all big cities, Paris can be one of the loneliest places in the world. I’m a paradoxical human being. I like going to places alone, because it means I can see everything at my own pace and only see the things I want to see. But I also want to be able to share the experience. When I was in Paris, having these amazing experiences, I sometimes did feel like I was in an alien place were no one understood who I was. After the first day, whenever I heard an British accent I almost ran to it, just to discourse, a kind of relief in the ability to communicate meaningfully even for a few brief moments.

This moment wasn’t about language, but it was about interaction. For such a romantic city, there were a lot of single people touring alone. In a way it felt like we were some kind of cultural subgroup. The trouble was we couldn’t talk to each other, either through fear or because of language. When the Japanese girl sat opposite I knew I wanted to talk to her, tell her about all the amazing things which had happened to me that day, about bumping into Whistler’s Mother, about the Mona Lisa. But I was able to tell her about this one small thing by sharing it with her. I fantasize that she’s writing about all this as well on her weblog (‘…and I tasted his sweet …’), but I don’t think she is. For a time it was nice just to live in a moment with someone and it not be about service or money …
That Day

"And incidentally - a Happy Christmas, to all of you at home."

[From: Doctor Who: The Feast of Steven (or the one where he visited Liverpool)]
Moments I’m standing in press tribune at the Manchester Evening News Arena. Before me England are playing Jamaica at Netball for the bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games. The air is filled with the smell of wood, paint, popcorn, beer and the perfume of one of my fellow volunteers. It’s warm. My ears are battered with the cheering and chanting of the crowd; my mouth is dry with screaming, the palms of my hands chapped with clapping.

The volunteering process had taken eighteen months from an initial course, through application via administration, through to picking up my uniform. For all of that time it was something I was looking forward, in my future, sentences throughout beginning with ‘When I’m at the games …’ or ‘After the games …’ The process was mostly painless and as time went on I was more and more excited – it was like Christmas in middle of the year. And everyone was happy to be there. It’s odd how when you’re not actually getting paid to do a job it somehow seems to mean more to you.

But it was also about the people. Thrown together, the press room staff were an odd bunch, but within hours we had started to bond and within days we were doing all of the things it takes some groups of staff months to do – you know, being able to fit in about each other, the shorthand. Because we all let our guard down slightly, and trusted each other to some extent, and actually liked each other, we all (I hope) had one of the best working experiences we’ve ever had. For the first time in ages, I stood on that press tribune and actually liked the people I was working with, and felt that collectively we were doing a good job, trusted them all. We could pick fun of each other without much offense being give when needed. It really is the weirdest thing in the world, but some of the friendships I had in those three weeks feel more important than some I’ve had for years. For once I was in on the joke; I was content just to be there.

Although some people had grinned when they heard I would be at the Netball, I approached it with a totally open mind. On the day before the main competition began, two school girl teams were invited to play in the venue, so that the various process which would be happening during matches could practices – the results, the media, and the volunteers. As someone new to the sport it seemed interesting but not something you would want to follow. Slow, and full of stoppages. Then on the opening day New Zealand, I think were playing their opening match. Sitting on the photography bench on the edge of the court, I don’t think I’ve seen anything so balletic, visceral and exciting. For a non-contact sport it’s extremely physical and even with my rudimentary understanding of the admittedly complicated rules my eyes were pinned at the ball and the court. My love for the game became so unique that when two drunk journalists appeared on the final day and told me they were ‘stuck covering it’ and ‘didn’t like this shite’, I felt like punching them.
Trinny Woodall I think you’re either a Trinny person or a Susanna person. I had to pick one, I prefer red heads, and so here is Ms. Woodall This is a case of people buzzing about the scene for a few years and then doing one thing which seems to fit a time. This has been the year that individual style has become something not out of the reach of us regular people – it was also a time when M&S suddenly didn’t seem too old fashioned and could quite stealthy mixed with Gap and Next. These girls have been at the forefront of this; flicking through the book of the series in which they actually model the clothes (essentially working the programme on themselves) you could imagine some ladies (and gents I’ll be bound) using it as a guide. Come on – walking around town, surely you’ve noticed how tastefully dressed everyone seems? [profile, interview, related]
Mark Kermode This is a particularly person choice, because it isn’t like Kermode has done anything in particular this year (other than restoring the ‘Rape of Christ’ scene into ‘The Devils’). It’s just that for years I’ve been working on a style of reviewing of crash, bang, in, out. If a film doesn’t work, if it simply doesn’t fulfill it’s promise I’ll say it – I’ll rip it apart and put it back together. A college lecturer used to say that the best way to write a review is to look for all the positive aspects; I used to think that too for about five minutes. And that can be true of some things – I’d find it hard to rip into a college theatre production, for example. But films are different. If someone has spent £100 million on making a film, and when some pays a fiver to go and see it, and the experience was just alright, or ‘ok, I suppose’ something is terribly wrong. The new James Bond film ‘Die Another Day’ is awful. The stunts don’t work and are often a cliché; people in the screening I went to were laughing at the dialogue rather than with it; and chatting amongst themselves trying to work out the plot. So shit basically. Yet I’m seeing review after review saying, that’s its not the best film in the world, but it’s James Bond so what are you expecting. A good film? See – I’m calling a spade a spade, not a fork.

Up until about six months ago, I didn’t think anyone else looked at films my way. Then I started to pay attention to Kermode’s reviews in print in ‘Sight and Sound’ magazine, on Late Review and on the Simon Mayo Radio Five Live show. Backed by years of film going experience he knows what a good one looks like and when the film maker was treading water and will rip into them unmercifully. Here is his review of 'Like Mike' from the BBC website:
"Hideously dreadful cack about an orphan (15-year-old rap star L'il Bow Wow) whose second-hand training shoes get struck by lightning, thereby magicking the basketball skills of Michael Jackson into the dimunitive hero.

Absolutely ghastly from beginning to end, this cynical clap-trap was apparently co-produced by the NBA who should feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Most depressing is the appearance of Crispin Glover, once tipped for greatness (see Back to the Future) now soiling himself with this rancid garbage.
Point made. Give this man a permanent TV slot some time soon please. Film 2003 since Jonathan Ross seems to have forgotten he’s supposed to reviewing the weeks films not just telling us they’re on … [profile, interview, related]
Avril Lavigne This year has offered its usual moments of profound naffness. The Cheeky Girls. The Ketchup Song. Michael Jackson’s new album. But for me the single most excruciating moment is at the beginning of the promo video for Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’. Avril rides through a car park on a skateboard – we think it may be her, but her face is away from us so she might as well be stunt double. We hear her though:
“What’s up, boys?”
She skips of the board and lands on it. With so much eye make-up, it’s a surprise she can see where she’s going. Her mouth is wide open and she has a slightly angry look on her face, for no apparent reason.
Whoever the boys are, and we assume it’s the band, they’re a vagabond bunch. Of the two in shot, I’m particularly worried about the one on the left, who is wearing all black, his head down trying desperately to hide from the sun. He looks like he’s coming down with something (or coming down from something) and has a tattoo halfway up the calf of his leg (which must have been painful). He looks like he needs counseling, not the recreational activity which is selected eventually. This must be the bassist.
His friend, a spiky haired generic skateboarder type looks about, one eye closed equally unable to see anything and asks:
“So what do you guy wanna do today?” Go to work? Go to school? I try to plan ahead when I have only a finite amount of free time.
Avril has an idea:
“Dude, djwanna crash the mall?” Is this a sript? Does she actually talk like this? Does anyone actually talk like this? Let’s start with ‘Dude’. Are people still dudes in the US? I thought this term went out with the early nineties (outside of ‘The Big Lebowski’) ‘Crash the mall’? Crash it into what? If it’s in the party sense, you’re hardly going to be sneaking in are you? There are big glass automatic doors which open to welcome you inside. You won’t need to give the security guard a sixer of beer to let you in.
Spikey-haired spokesman for the boys agrees:
It’s as though they hadn’t thought of this. You’re in the mall car park! There aren’t many more options. It doesn’t look like a big town anyway. And apart from anything else, dja just do whatever Avril suggests because she’s the singer? Because you can be replaced? Would your management be happy for you to just go and hang out in the mall?
Avril’s happy now:
The rest of the video is filled which such chew your own arm off bad moments (the mock Morissette dancing on stage, the BMX, the trying on the gold jewellery, the fish hooks). The whole thing treats its teenage audience with contempt, by using prehistoric language, fashions and no irony. This is one of those videos which looks like it was more fun to make than it is to watch. But the song is really good. The follow up ‘Sk8er Boy’ is one of the best chick rock releases in months, the promo, an adrenaline pumped homage to the ‘Twist and Shout’ sequence from ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ for a post 9/11 generation. It’s been a paradoxical year all in all. [profile, interview, related]
Peter Jackson I think when it was originally announced that a film trilogy was being made of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, the director was the farthest thing from our minds. The smuggest amongst us actually had an idea he might have a good go at it. ‘Heavenly Creatures’ proved he could handle actors; ‘Meet The Feebles’ showed a keen eye for puppetry and fantasy; ‘The Frighteners’ offered both. Perfect really. But I don’t think any of us knew how perfect it would actually be. Here is a man who’s taken some really great literature and spun it off into some magnificent films that appeal to a wide audience without completely ruining the spirit of the source material. By comparison, see what kind of a mess George Lucas is currently making of his own source material. Watching the documentaries which accompanied the Extended versions, two things struck which sort of explain why Jackson has made such instant classics: as well as hiring a bunch of youngsters just out of art school to design everything, he hired two artists who had been visualizing Tolkein for years; when he cast the wrong man in a key roll, rather than just making do, he took the difficult decision of recasting on the fly and made the correct choice. I mean let’s face it, on the strength of ‘A Perfect Murder’, did you think Viggo Mortenssen would be this good? [profile, interview, related]
Paula Radcliffe Considering that I was volunteering at The Commonwealth Games, it was oddly difficult to see any of it. But I was home the night Radcliffe embarked on her attempt to win the Gold Medal in the 5000 metres, and it was the first time in a long while , found myself screaming at the television during a sporting event. Of course if the other runners had been giving way and letting her keep the inside lane she would have smashed the record, but this was competitive event and had to be seen on those terms. But as she stepped over the finishing line I was out of my chair anyway. It was the single most thrilling piece of long distance running I’d ever seen (and that includes Coe, Cram and Ovette run in the early Eighties). I’m happy to see the nation agreed with me. [profile, interview, related]
People The normal weblog will be taking a break over the next week (something going on you know), so instead I’ll be taking a look back over the past year in culture looking at the highs and lows in my own life and the things you’ll already have bumped into ... to begin with an alternative list of people ...
Film Die Another Day There is a fine line between a good James Bond and Octopussy. Unfortunately, not even a killer squid could have saved this mess. To be absolutely successful, there has to be a clear and considered story; action sequences which thrill; interesting characters. Here, the story is empty – the face changing bad guy simply creates a massive weapon with which he could to hold the world to ransom – and he uses it to take away the mines between North and South Korea; it’s never clearly established why Bond is there to begin with anyway. Eighty percent of the action sequences in the film absolutely fail to convince, and this is largely due very ropey green screening – there are shots in where its fairly obvious that some filming was done in a study – you’re willing to forgive this in the 60s Bonds, but now? In one sequence Bond uses a parachute and the fuselage of a plane to ride a waterfall. The waterfall looks computer generated; Brosnan looks superimposed on top, not part of the action. You’re immediately dropped out of the story. It’s in the characters the film makes the biggest mistake – Halle Berry’s Jinx is an absolute joy – the film only really enlivens when she’s on screen – so much so that you wish that the film was about her. That can’t be right for a James Bond film can it?
Rings Busy enjoying Sunday, so I'll give you this single treat. It's a discussion at Straight Dope containing versions of The Rings if they had been written by writers other than Tolkein. Some of them are scary:
"On this particular evening, something changed hands quietly in the back of a hobbit-hole in the Shire many miles from the dark realm of Mordor. A small, metallic something. Something which could be accurately described as a circular loop of shining metal.

The land of Middle Earth was almost oblivious to the change of ownership, which was wonderful for the two parties concerned. The trade went unnoticed among the citizens of Rivendell, it escaped the Nazgul completely, and even the dark lord himself continued straight on with his day without noticing. This was a pity for him, because it was exactly the thing he had been searching for all these years.

-- from The Mostly Harmless Ring of Power, by Douglas Adams
I'll only post that one ... but I urge you to go and have a look at the level of ingenuity at play here ...