Hannah and Her Sisters

This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review.

Set over a two-year period, Hannah and Her Sisters follows the numerous exploits of three sisters living in New York and their various friends and family. Hannah (Mia Farrow) seems to have her life most effectively in place. She is an actress, getting back into her work after taking time to raise her children, and is married to her financial adviser husband Elliot (Michael Caine). Elliot however has been harbouring a long-standing infatuation with Hannah’s younger sister Lee (Barbara Hershey), who is in a relationship with standoffish artist Frederick (Max von Sydow). At the apex of Elliot and Lee’s joint feelings of dissatisfaction with their partners, the pair sleep together, and must deal with the ramifications. Meanwhile the third sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest) is a recovering drug addict turned aspiring actress and restaurateur, self-employed as a caterer alongside her friend April (Carrie Fisher), a colleague and competitor for both acting roles and eligible men. Finally Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) is a stressed out hypochondriac, whose latest imaginary malady might turn out to be his most serious, and his last.
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Do The Right Thing

This review was originally written for French Toast Sunday as part of my USA Road Trip series. It was also nominated for me to watch by Ryan McNeil of The Matinee, and is my submission for August for his Blind Spot series.

Brooklyn, 1989. On a particularly sweltering summer’s day, racial tensions simmer amongst the everyday lives of the inhabitants of a single street. Central to everything is Mookie (Spike Lee), a young, black, pizza deliveryman, working for the Italian-American Sal’s Pizzeria, run by Sal (Danny Aiello). As the day progresses and the temperature increases, everything threatens to boil over, and does so in a life-changing way for all involved.bugginout Continue reading

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series over at French Toast Sunday.

Everett, Pete and Delmar (George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) have just escaped from a chain gang in 1930s Mississippi, with the intention of recovering the loot from the burglary that resulted in Everett’s incarceration, before the area within which it is hidden becomes flooded in a few days time. The three men – at least two of whom are amongst the stupidest creations the Coen brothers have ever concocted, which is saying a great deal – have a long way to go and a short time to get there, and their journey isn’t made any easier by the lawmen on their tails and the various obstacles that must be overcome, not least of which is coping with each other’s company. Continue reading

Fading Gigolo

This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review.

In New York’s Jewish Quarter, Murray, a failing bookshop owner (Allen), needs money. When his dermatologist (Stone) mentions she and her friend (Vergara) have always wanted a ménage a trois, Murray sees an opportunity; he recruits his florist and general odd-job-man friend Fioravante (Turturro) to become a gigolo, and soon the money comes pouring in.

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Romance and Cigarettes

Nick Murder (James Gandolfini) is overweight, pig-headed and smokes far too many cigarettes, yet is not only married to dressmaker Kitty Kane (Susan Sarandon), but he’s also seeing Tula (Kate Winslet) on the side. When Kane finds out about this, she understandably seeks out Tula, whilst Nick attempts to please all of the many women in his life. Meanwhile, we also deal with the romantic tribulations of Nick and Kitty’s daughters, their friend, their neighbours, Nick’s colleague and Kitty’s cousin. Whilst singing. And, occasionally, dancing too.
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Transformers

Part 2 in my Shia LaBoeuf: the Scourge of Cinema double-bill sees him taking on giant, transforming robot aliens as he attempts to save the world using a weird little cube, and cop off with Megan Fox. I’ve got no historical connection to the Tranformers franchise, as I neither saw the cartoon series or the animated feature from the 80s, and I’ve never played with any of the toys as a child. So unlike many people, I feel that so far my childhood has been unmolested by Michael Bay, something I was afraid I’d no longer be spared from with his intentions to paint his own brand of ridiculousness onto the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which I think now has been fortunately abandoned.I first saw the film in cinemas five years ago, when I was barely 20. At that point, I must have been just on the outside cusp of the film’s target audience, as I thought it was amazing. At that point in my life, Michael Bay was something of a favourite director of mine – I even liked Pearl Harbor – and a film that followed cars transforming into robots and beating the scrap out of each other, interspersed with eardrum-bursting explosions, comic cameos and gratuitous shots of Megan Fox bending over an engine at sunset was of course going to do nothing but good to my barely-older-than-teenage mind. Now, however, I see the film for the hollow, disorganised, puerile mess that it truly is.Granted, I’m no longer the film’s target audience, but this is my review, so I’m giving my opinions. This film is stupid. I’m on board for a story about robots from outer space that can somehow transform into cars, planes and, um, a stereo, but unfortunately most of this film is about Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky, a typical the-only-character-LaBeouf-can-play annoying, dumb every-kid stereotype with embarrassing parents, mediocre grades, stupid friends, a crappy car and a complete and utter lack of charm and charisma. As always, LaBeouf plays an annoying tit rather well, as you’d expect from having had so much practise. It transpires that Sam’s great-grandfather was an Arctic explorer who discovered the allspark – the movie’s maguffin that is capable of creating new transformers – and Sam holds the key to it’s whereabouts, because somehow a map has been engraved into his ancestor”s spectacles. Ludicrous. Two warring tribes of robot aliens – the human-loving Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (voiced by series original Peter Cullen), and the world-conquering Decepticons, led by Megatron (a wasted Hugo Weaving) – somehow learn that Sam has the glasses, and trace his location using eBay. Of course. Along for the ride is Megan Fox’s Mikaela, the girl of Sam’s dreams who is clearly from such a broken home that her family is unable to replace the clothes she clearly grew out of some years ago.There’s also a couple of sub-plots involving the squad of marines – a Michael Bay trademark – who initially encounter a Decepticon attack, and attempts by the government to decode a message recorded from the bots. Each of these strands involves barely fleshed out caricatures instead of actual characters – the marine who sporadically speaks in Spanish even though no-one else understands him, the immature ‘world’s greatest hacker’ with his irritating dance-gaming friend – and does anyone else remember when Jon Voight was a respected actor, and not reduced to offering dry exposition as the Secretary of Defense? The government strand featured one of my biggest pet peeves in films. The film focuses on a group of hackers. This group is predominantly made up of guys who look like hackers – they’re overweight, scruffy, and generally appear socially awkward. And of course the one who’s better than all of them is played by Rachael Taylor, who looks like a supermodel. There is no girl in the world who looks like that and knows how to hack. I’m aware that of all the things in the film that don’t make sense, this is relatively minor, but it’s something that has always annoyed me.

This kind of films lives or dies by the CGI, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s damn impressive. There are some sequences that look absolutely bad-ass, most notably the opening Scorpiok attack, and a massive-scale battle between both sides at the end. Starscream, the Decepticon who is able to transform into a jet, has the coolest moments, especially when he transforms in mid-flight and swings on a bridge during a strike on the Hoover dam, so in those respects the film has some enjoyable moments. The problem is that in a film for which the entire draw is robots hitting each other, there’s just not enough of it. At one point, the robots are in the middle of a catastrophic fight, yet we are left watching Voight and the hackers searching for some microphones and using morse code.

There were a lot more attempts at juvenile comedy than I remembered from my earlier viewing, and very few of them were gratefully received. At one point, a diminutive robot capable of transforming into a machine attempts to walk nonchalantly passed some people looking for it, and it tries to cover it’s face whilst walking! This is not comedy, nor is it clever, it;s just stupid. There are many more scenes like this – an Autobot ‘lubricating’ (peeing) on John Turtorro’s government agent, Sam’s asinine chihuahua Mojo, everything LaBeouf does – and the only comedic scenes that really do the job are those involving Bernie Mac as a car salesman, and Kevin Dunn and Judy White as Sam’s all-too-familiar parents.

If the idea of giant metallic creatures from space beating each other up has you foaming at the mouth with excitement – and at times this is a category I’d class myself in – then you’ll probably like about half this film. If you’ve recently had a lobotomy or are a prepubescent male, then you’ll probably like the other half. If not, just leave it alone.

Choose life 5/10

The Big Lebowski

I’ve made the point before that the list contains films of three varieties; great, popular and important. The greats arrive via the Empire 5-star 500 list, the popular from the two lists voted by the general public, and the important ones are provided by the 1001 Films to See Before You Die. Many films, though arguably important, aren’t actually very good, so one could argue that they should be remembered and acknowledged for their gifts to cinema, but not necessarily watched, as was the case with the Jazz Singer, marking the introduction of spoken dialogue to the big screen, which nowadays is dull, racist and features too many unnecessary songs. The Big Lebowski, on the other hand, is also an important film, spawning a cult following so vast there is a fan club (the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers), several books and an annual festival (creatively named Lebowski-Fest, I hope to attend one day). And yet, it does not appear among the important list, appearing here after being awarded a 5-star review and obtaining positions on both nominated lists. This is less a crime and more a cultural injustice, as the impact this film has had on society is measurable from space. Hell, they even played clips of it recently on Something for the Weekend.

So just what is it that resonates so much with the public? Maybe it’s the snappy, endlessly quotable dialogue (“Obviously you’re not a golfer), particularly everything said in the bowling alley. Or perhaps it’s the borderline caricature roster of characters on display, from John Turtorro’s lilac-hued pederast Jesus (whom nobody fucks with) to Julianne Moore’s naked yet cultured Pollock-esque artist Maud and of course John Goodman’s psychotic ‘Nam vet Walter. It’s probably got something to do with the extremely crowded plot that bears little effect upon the characters it happens to. But mainly, it has to be Jeff Bridges turn as The Dude, a man shambling and smoking his way through life, following the flow it leads him on via nihilists, urinating Chinamen, porn moguls and private detectives. That, and it’s the first great film to feature a pot-smoking lead since Cheech and Chong, and one must conclude that many of those attending Lebowski-Fest, drinking white Russians in their dressing gowns and sunglasses have similar feeling towards the weed as his Dudeness.


Me? I love it because it’s a quintessential Coen Brothers movie. It features everything you need to make a great film – a twisting plot, stellar cast (I haven’t even mentioned Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, Sam Elliot, David Thewlis, Aimee Mann or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea), terrific performances all round and a cracking soundtrack. The film introduced me to my cocktail of choice – Vodka, Kahlua and milk, easy on the Kahlua and heavy on the ice – and every time I watch it I either see something new or am reminded of a moment of pure gold I’d previously forgotten.
Choose film 9/10