New Year’s Eve
Similar in concept and execution to Valentine’s Day, which was released here in February. And that’s not surprising since it is by the same director, Garry Marshall, who also brought us such urban romantic fantasies as Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride and The Princess Diaries. If you liked any of these films, then you are well on your way to liking New Year’s Eve. Otherwise, you will probably be disappointed by the massive cast providing the kind of solid but disengaged acting that shows the true talent-destroying power of Hollywood. There are Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, and a whole host of others who are all capable of better work. For Sarah Jessica Parker, this is just more Sex in the City, and of course there is the usual celebration of the diversity, vitality and magic that some people seem to associate with New York.
A challenging new film by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski that looks political at first glance, but the director has stated that his primary intention was to make a study of the “struggle of man against many.” Starring Vincent Gallo as an Afghan prisoner on the run from the US military in an unnamed Eastern European country after escaping from a prison vehicle. The film has virtually no dialogue (except for vicious interrogation scenes at the beginning), and not a single word is spoken by Gallo, whose character suffers appalling hardships trying to stay alive in a frozen wilderness. The morality of the US presence in Afghanistan, the use of torture and extraordinary rendition are all part of the narrative, but not really central to the thrust of the film, which transcends any particular conflict. The film picked up a best actor award for Gallo at Venice, where the director also received the jury award.
“A modest effort” is about as complimentary as the critics were able to get about Dream House, a film that on paper looks hugely promising. Directed by Jim Sheridan, who came to prominence with My Left Foot and continued to impress with films like In the Name of the Father and The Boxer. While he has a superb cast to work with, including Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts, Sheridan seems out of his depth in the generic horror genre. Nice family moves into an idyllic new house that hides terrible secrets; bad things begin to happen. It’s all been done before, and much better.
My Back Page
Dense, nuanced, atmospheric and long, Nobuhiro Yamashita’s My Back Page paints a picture of Japan’s student protest movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which had some similarities with activities in the US at the time. Through a story of Sawada (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a young journalist finding his way around the protests, and Umeyama (Kenichi Matsuyama), an activist who feels the pull of more radical action, Yamashita takes his time in building to an energetic and powerful climax. Outstanding performances by the two male leads, while Yamashita, who is best known for his shoe-string budget indie comedies, is not afraid to dwell on the details of the political ambivalence of the period.
Almanya — Welcome to Germany
A comedy about Turkish immigrants in Germany by sisters Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli parades and gently mocks various cultural stereotypes in its twin story about two cousins trying to work out their cultural identity. Although generally sympathetic to its characters on both German and Turkish sides of the cultural divide, the film is happy to look on the bright side of things, keeping the darker aspects of ethnic misunderstandings well in the background. Amusing and lighthearted.