Film reviews

Amorality play
Buffalo Soldiers, dir. Gregor Jordan.

Gregor Jordan’s new film, Buffalo Soldiers, isn’t actually that new at all. It was completed in 2001, in between making Two Hands and Ned Kelly, and sold to Miramax the day before the September 11 terrorist attacks. The reason we haven’t seen it until now is that it was seen as being too critical of the American military for a post-September 11 world (read: America), out of sync with the ‘spirit of the times’. Even now it’s copping flak from some critics in the States for its supposed anti-Americanism. It’s set on a US military base in West Germany in 1989, just as the Berlin Wall is about to fall. With no real enemy to fight, and no real purpose for being there but symbolism, the grunts fill their time stealing, fighting each other and taking drugs.

Joaquin Phoenix plays supply clerk Ray Elwood, a petty crim forced into the army as an alternative to jail, who makes the most of his position to sell off army supplies to the black market. He drives a brand new BMW, and has a nice sideline cooking Turkish morphine into smack and selling it on to the MP who controls the base heroin trade. But when Elwood decides to date the daughter of the new base sergeant just to irritate him, in between trying to sell two truckloads of weapons to an illegal arms dealer and shagging his commanding officer’s wife, his cosy life starts to unravel.

The film looks pretty, but there are narrative threads left hanging everywhere and the happy ending just seems arbitrary and gratuitous. In fact, the ‘critique’ the premise of the film implies is no more than skin deep. In reality it’s just a standard Hollywood product: hero gets in deep water, but comes out on top and gets the girl, Anna Paquin in this case. The fact that Elwood is a drug-dealing, arms-selling thief who sees the death of his colleagues as little more than an opportunity to profit isn’t supposed to get in the way of us accepting his final triumph. Not that I want the film to become a morality play—but to pass off what is mainly a cynical exercise in formula film-making as some sort of political critique seems a little hypocritical.

Allan James Thomas

Swell seas

Finding Nemo, dirs. Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich.

Next to my computer is a glass of apple juice with a plastic fish sitting in the bottom of it. There is a straw sticking out of his tail. It’s Nemo. My daughters chose cereal they don’t like just to get the toy straw from the packet. The marketing madness that has accompanied this film is a little overwhelming but don’t let it put you off. Finding Nemo is an absolute delight.

Marlin wants his family to have an unimpeded view of the open ocean—what proud clown-fish-father-to-be wouldn’t? A dazzling vista of blue for his wife and umpteen soon-to-be-hatched little tackers
to stretch their fins in. But like any property with dazzling views it costs—big time. Or should I say big teeth. Sadly for Marlin there are clearly hungry property developers at sea as on land and before you can say flake and minimum chips, Marlin is a single father of one.

Finding Nemo is about lots of ‘real’ stuff. Single parenthood, anxiety, love, fear, trust, growing up, loss, shark self-help groups and fish tank hygiene. The delightful combination of emotion, neurotic humour and whimsy allows both adults and children to giggle themselves into a medical condition.

The writers and animators at Pixar combine sentiment with wit and charm, and their voice actors (Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Barry Humphries, Willem Dafoe and Geoffrey Rush to name but a few) understand the mix with hilarious clarity.

If you have children, take them; if you don’t, take yourself.

Siobhan Jackson

Chilled out
Morvern Callar, dir. Lynne Ramsey.

Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) lives in a near-empty flat somewhere in Scotland.
The only two things that take up any space are her boyfriend’s dead body and a computer that blinks occasional messages. Morvern works in a supermarket, wears a walkman and has baths with her best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott). Not much of any note happens in her life—her body just moves through space in time to the sounds from her walkman, unconnected and melancholic. Even stepping over the body of her boyfriend jammed awkwardly in the kitchen doorway forces only momentary change in her gait.

Morvern Callar takes you confidently to a place of devastating calm and its offhand morbidity is surprisingly moving, but in the end my mind was searching for something more, something full of
comment and commitment.

Influenced by Claire Denis’ extraordinary film Beau Travail, Ramsey has not employed any snappy Hollywood storytelling rhythms to push this film along. Like Travail, Callar is slow and difficult—tempting you to stay tuned with the promise of something more than cheap thrills. Travail pays off with one of cinema’s most breathtaking final moments that retrospectively informs your entire experience of the film—Callar never makes that leap, and as a result left me flat.

Ironically, one of the film’s problems is Samantha Morton’s glorious performance as Callar—it is better than the film can cope with. Morton fills every frame with a physicality that is at once uncomfortably visceral but retains stillness and pinpoint emotional accuracy.

There are some wonderful scenes in Morvern Callar, which make it more than worth the price of admission, not to mention a hypnotic soundtrack that will keep you firmly in your seats.

Siobhan Jackson

Captains outrageous
Pirates of the Caribbean, dir. Gore Verbinski.

It began with the phone call from the très chic London dwellers. ‘We liked it. It was a good laugh,’ said the cool temperate ones. That got me wondering because those two hadn’t seen anything less serious than The Pianist for years and I wondered whether Pirates of the Caribbean was going to turn out to be really about cool harsh stylish pirate-people who pirated because of the meaningless lightness of pirate stuff. But no, it hooted from the start—mostly but not completely because of Johnny Depp.

You don’t usually get the divine Depp in Disney, but this is after all the studio’s first M-rated film. There is a lot of fighting and a few stock corpses and skeletons. My sister leaned over at one stage and said, ‘He’s being Keith Richards!’ And she was right: the next day he was on MTV admitting that he had used the Old Indestructible as his model for Captain (that should really be Cap’n) Jack Sparrow, the roving pirate marooned by mutineers. It’s a great characterisation, hilarious and sexy—even when playing it gold-toothed and kohl-eyed-wasted, Depp is magnetic.

There is someone for all the family: Orlando Bloom for the young lasses who love Legolas in The Lord of the Rings; Keira Knightley, all pouts and attitude for the lads to perve on; Geoffrey Rush as the vile mutineer Barbossa, and a whole crew of motleys dressed with some care for the look of 18th-century hygiene. Verbinski’s dental prosthetists must have had a ball—all those brilliant Hollywood smiles to cover up with snaggle-green peggles. The make-up people excelled themselves with lots of dirty fingernails and a welter of warts, wens and wotten corpses.

There is a lot of ar mateyin’ and avastin’ and belayin’ and parlayin’. Lots of leaping from bowsprits and climbing up the sides of ships with a knife in the teeth. Lots of pirate gold, and a pirate curse and did I mention a prattling parrot that poops on a redcoat? Go and laugh. And yes, they walk the plank.

Juliette Hughes



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