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February 11, 2009 10:29 pm
Three Monkeys (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Under the Sea (Howard Hall)
Hotel for Dogs (Thor Freudenthal)
F*ck (Steve Anderson)
Notorious (George Tillman Jr)
Friday the 13th (Marcus Nispel)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a director who likes to let things unfold slowly. He is also a proficient photographer. Watching the Turkish director’s latest film, Three Monkeys, you will repeatedly be struck by the first of these facts and will not be surprised to learn the second. The film moves at such an exceptionally languid pace, with the camera static for much of the time, that this seems almost to be a story made up of a couple of dozen still photographs, some of them strikingly composed, others apparently banal. But there is something powerful happening here: Ceylan is interested in exploring and revealing thoughts, having them gradually register on faces before our eyes.
The film opens with the build-up to and then the aftermath of a fatal car crash. We learn nothing of the victim but we quickly discover that the culprit, Servet, is a shifty player on the political scene who persuades his long-standing driver, Eyüp, to take the punishment for the crime so as not to damage Servet’s prospects in an imminent election. The driver dutifully accepts, knowing that his family will be cared for while he’s in prison and he himself will be rewarded on his release within the year. But things, of course, go far from smoothly for the driver, his wife Hacer and their son, who seems set for a life of petty crime. One possible escape route seems to be offered by a job that requires the son to have his own car, and to get this his mother consents to approach the politician to ask for a loan. This proves to be another fateful decision.
Some of the action, notably one raw, extended scene between Eyüp and Hacer (pictured above), occurs on screen, but this is really about the visible consequences of unseen events – indeed, the big event that has shaped the characters’ lives, the death of a child, occurred years before the story begins – and about how the people who suffer are often not the guilty ones but those closest to them. So long as you can adjust to the singular pace of the story-telling, then this film, which won Ceylan the best director award at Cannes last year, is a powerfully affecting piece.
If you have children who might be diverted by 40 minutes of natural wonders, and you can get to an Imax cinema, then Under the Sea 3D (left) is a treat. The cameras take us on a virtual tour of the Coral Triangle off the coast of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and the Great Barrier Reef. We get to watch in extreme close-up the faintly repulsive sight of a sea turtle chowing down on a jellyfish, and to experience many other uncannily close encounters, notably with a forest of garden eels and some ludicrously cute Australian sea lions. You may find it all but impossible to resist the temptation to reach out and try to stroke the chins of these last creatures, who seem to be frolicking right in front of your face.
Dog-loving children with a high tolerance for jokes about canine excrement and urine may warm to Hotel for Dogs, the plot of which is pretty much summed up in the title. An orphan brother and sister, miserable with the latest in a long line of foster parents (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon in fairly mirthless roles), discover kindred spirits in their home city’s population of unwanted dogs. So, with the help of some like-minded pals, they set up a family-cum-canine foster home in an elegantly dilapidated hotel and set about solving the problems that arise, many of them related to bodily waste, with Heath Robinson-like ingenuity. The premise is sound but the script is rather clunky and the film suffers from an uncertainty of tone. Still, there is clearly a pre-teen audience out there keen to see dogs of varying cuteness interacting with the winsome Emma Roberts, who plays the orphan girl, and this reminds us that Eric’s daughter/Julia’s niece is set to
become a big star.
For something rather different there’s F*ck, a moderately amusing documentary about the second most offensive word in the English language. Steve Anderson gathers together some prominent interviewees, from Ice T to Pat Boone, with Billy Connolly providing most of the laughs. Though not without interest, it is too parochial, too narrow in its vision, as it focuses ever more acutely on the notion of free speech in the US. The film was actually made in 2005 and perhaps the distributors could have urged Anderson to splice some non-American material into this, some reference to Kenneth Tynan, say, or Hanif Kureishi talking about the original title for Sammy and Rosie Get Laid – The Fuck – to give this broader appeal.
The word crops up frequently, often as part of the Oedipal agent profanity, in Notorious (right), a frankly ludicrous, unilluminating biopic of the late rap star known variously as Christopher Wallace, The Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls. The fact that it is produced by Wallace’s mother, Voletta, means that we were never likely to get an objective view of the subject, although he hardly emerges from this as an angel. But it’s a dim, poorly executed, eccentrically cast film and you’d be better off seeking out Nick Broomfield’s 2002 documentary Biggie and Tupac.
It’s nearly 30 years since the original – although as it was a rip-off of Halloween, original is hardly the word – was unleashed on the world, so perhaps the time is ripe for a remake of Friday the 13th . Interestingly, this present-day version – directed by the man who brought us the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so eagle-eyed cinephiles may spot a trend of sorts in Nispel’s career – is technically rather better than its predecessors, to whose storyline it refers, but the moral thrust remains the same. Essentially it was always a bad idea to have extramarital sex the first time round, and the same goes for the new breed of hapless youngster – although in this neo-conservative age they are equally likely to be sliced and diced for the sin of getting drunk or stoned.
A spot of illicit sex is what sets the plot in motion in King of the Hill (Gonzalo López-Gallego ), a rather intriguing Spanish horror film/morality play in which a man goes on the run from an implacable, well-armed and for the most part invisible foe. It’s getting only a limited release but is more disturbing and more intelligent than Friday the 13th.
Steve Martin (left) and John Cleese are, or rather were, two of the greatest comic stars of the past 50 years. Alfred Molina, Emily Mortimer, Geoffrey Palmer, Jean Reno, Lily Tomlin, Andy Garcia and Jeremy Irons are actors of significant talent. All this has been wasted on The Pink Panther 2 (Harald Zwart), a comedy with no redeeming features that may be, in what is now a depressingly competitive field, Martin’s worst film to date.
Nigel Andrews returns next week. His report from the Berlin Film Festival will appear in FT Weekend this Saturday
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