Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 1.Mar.05
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Dig!   3.5/5
This well-assembled documentary follows two bands over seven years--from their early collaborative friendship into rivalry and jealousy. It's a fascinating look at very different trajectories talented musicians can take.
  Dandy Warhols leader Courtney Taylor narrates the film and provides the perspective on his friendship with Anton Newcombe, founder of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Both men are fiercely talented, with a similar approach to retro indie-style rock. But their careers take opposite paths. Taylor and band (McCabe, Holstrom and DeBoer) sign with a major label and struggle to maintain their integrity in an industry that values instant moneymakers over true talent. While Newcombe and his ever-changing line-up (Gion, Hollywood, Dean Taylor, Davies and Hayes) struggle with drug addictions and diva-like temper tantrums.
  This gripping and provocative film centres on the strong bond between two bands that obviously admire each other hugely but are mutually jealous--Taylor for Newcombe's ferocious talent and Newcombe for Taylor's massive success. Taylor sticks to his guns, remains home in Portland and finds a fan base where he least expects it; Newcombe continuously makes groundbreaking music but self-destructs in rootless squalor. It's clear that both men (and the musicians around them) are extremely gifted, but it's Taylor who finds the focus needed to stabilise his life, while Newcombe sinks into drug-fuelled Spinal Tap excess.
  These goofy antics are hilariously entertaining, even as the film becomes increasingly sad and cautionary. The Brian Jonestown Massacre's outrageously bad karma is framed in contrast to the Dandy Warhols' incredulity at their rising global stardom. Subtle points are made about background influences (the Dandies all come from solid homes, the BJMs don't). And the intimate footage is simply outrageous, even if it sometimes feels indulgent; besides interviews with almost everyone involved, the moviemakers catch every notable event on film--concerts that descent into riots, recording studio marathons, tour bus shenanigans, even a drug bust along a backwoods Georgia highway. The cameras literally spent seven years with these bands, and some 1,500 hours of film was shaped into a coherent and lively story that tells us as much about ourselves as it says about these two bands.
dir Ondi Timoner
with Courtney Taylor, Anton Newcombe, Zia McCabe, Peter Holmstrom, Brent DeBoer, Joel Gion, Matt Hollywood, Dean Taylor, Jeff Davies, Peter Hayes, Miranda Lee Richards, David LaChapelle
the dandy warhols release US 1.Oct.04,
UK 1.Jul.05
04/US 1h50
2004 Grand Jury Prize:
15 themes, language, drugs
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Ong-Bak aka: The Thai Warrior   3.5/5
This organic Asian action movie uses no wires or computer effects in its astonishing battles and chases. As a result, the film has an authentic tone that makes its simplistic quest-for-redemption storyline surprisingly engaging.
  In a tiny Thai village, the townsfolk believe that the Buddha statue of Ong-Bak protects them. When a former resident (Siriput) steals the statue's head to sell on the black market, villagers send the young Muay Thai fighter Ting (Jaa) to Bangkok to find it. There he meets an entrepreneurial childhood friend (Wongkamlao) and a young woman (Yodkamol) who help him track down the sinister crime boss (Phongwilal) who has Ong-Bak's head. But the battle to get it back has only begun.
  Even though the film is extremely light on dialog, character details bring these people to life in subtle ways that we never quite expect (until the redemptive climax, of course). This subtext makes the film more than just a series of amazing set pieces. And the cast invest a bit more than just their physicality into their roles.
  But it's the action we're here to see, and the filmmakers certainly deliver! Muay Thai is much more visceral and gripping than the surreal Chinese, slick Korean or controlled Japanese styles. Nothing is faked, and to make sure we know this, director Pinkaew films key moments from various angles. These people are really jumping this high, tucking themselves through these small spaces, kicking and elbowing each other senseless. Some of the blows to the head, especially, are groan-inducing.
  But this is also action with a point to it--the muscly, controlled Muay Thai style is based on a centuries-old "science of eight limbs", so everything means something. And it's choreographed with wit and intelligence that keep us both laughing and gasping. This aspect of the film especially comes to life when the astounding Jaa takes on Westerners (Eric and Kara), and then pays off when he meets his dark-side match (Pantanaunkul). It's this inventiveness that makes the film worth seeing--and a very promising addition to the current batch of Asian action movies.
dir Prachya Pinkaew
scr Suphachai Sithiamphan
with Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Pumwaree Yodkamol, Sukhaaw Phongwilal, Wannakit Siriput, Chetwut Watcharakun, Rungrawee Borrijindakul, Chatthapong Pantanaunkul, Chumporn Teppitak, Woranard Tantipidok, Hans Eric, Nick Kara
jaa release US 11.Feb.05,
UK 13.May.05
04/Thailand 1h49
18 themes, violence, language, drugs
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This riveting and harrowingly personal true story about the Israel-Palestine issue could only have been made in Italy! Not only is it a compelling and gripping drama, but it dares to take a balanced look at the conflict through the eyes of the people in the middle of it.
  Mohammad and Samia (Bakri and Omari) live with their five children (Ayoub, Alsaying, Aly, Hamzeh and Hasayen) between an Arab town and a Jewish settlement. They're middle-class, well-educated people whose lives are disrupted by the horrific midnight invasion of four Israeli soldiers (Miller, Russo, Shafir and Lachmy), who occupy the upper floors of their house. As the days pass, family members experience a variety of responses--frustration, resignation, confusion, rage--while Mohammad maintains his stubborn refusal to leave his home.
  Clearly, this film can be watched as a metaphor for the history of these people groups. And this aspect of the film becomes even more intriguing as the plot develops. Because this is also an intimate drama about these specific people--both emotionally intense and provocatively insightful. Combined together, these two aspects of the film give us a staggeringly humane view of the wider situation. When Mohammad and the Israeli commander face off, we understand the specific meaning of the words both utter: "Why don't you leave this house?"
  Although it drags a bit toward the end, director-cowriter Constanzo's handheld camera work maintains a strongly personal point of view; we suffer the invasive indignities along with the family. But the film goes a huge step further and adds the Israeli perspective in a series of outrageously tense scenes in which elder daughter Miriam (Ayoub) spies on the soldiers from inside a wardrobe, discovering their humanity in the process. This is a brave shift for a film that starts out like anti-Zionist propaganda. Humanising the "enemy" forces us to understand what is really going on--to sympathise with both sides of the conflict and yearn for the peaceful solution that keeps presenting itself, only to be destroyed by another apparently random, but hardly senseless, act of violence. Essential.
dir Saverio Costanzo
scr Saverio Costanzo, Sayed Qashua, Camilla Costanzo, Alessio Cremonini
with Mohammad Bakri, Areen Omari, Hend Ayoub, Marco Alsaying, Karem Emad Hassan Aly, Sarah Hamzeh, Amir Hasayen, Lior Miller, Tomer Russo, Niv Shafir, Sahar Lachmy
omari release It 14.Jan.05,
UK 13.May.05,
US 18.Nov.05
04/Italy 1h34
15 themes, language
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Untold Scandal   4/5
Choderlos de Laclos' novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been adapted in various forms over the years, but nothing prepares you for the icy perfection of this Korean period drama. A gorgeous setting and ferociously charming cast add unexpected depths to this scalding saga of manipulation.
  In the almost pathologically proper Chosun Dynasty of 18th century Korea, Jo-Won (Bae) is a charming womaniser who relishes his conquests even as he pines for the one woman he could never have, the respected Lady Cho (Lee Mi-Sook). But Lady Cho is just as ravenous, and together they wager to deflower her husband's new concubine (Lee So-Yeon) as well as a virginal widow (Jeon) Jo-Won has his eye on. Jo-Won's prize is one night with Lady Cho; but if he fails he must become a monk.
  This is a film about "lecherous and immoral" people quietly flouting the proprieties of their fading society. It's viciously witty, astutely observed and completely unnerving. And this version has the ability to catch us sharply, even if we've already seen the lush 1988 costume dramas Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont, Roger Vadim's edgy 1950s-set version or the seductive 1999 teen adaptation Cruel Intentions. No matter how many times this story is filmed, there's gold inside it.
  It helps that director E J-Yong draws out the energy and black comedy even while everyone talks and moves slowly--infusing the film with lust, even though there are only a few explicit moments. The cast fill their performances with spiky glances, slithering dialog and telling gestures. It's sensual overload in some ways--unhurried and achingly beautiful, building to a series of climactic releases in each plot strand. A couple of threads are lost at the end, but with such a strong central narrative we don't notice at the time.
  E J-Yong expertly brings out the story's themes, especially the arrogance of people who try to manipulate emotions. There's a passionate, moving centre to this film that balances the wickedness. And in the cleverly twisting ending, he manages to pull a few surprises out of the tale, even for those of us who think we've seen everything this story has to offer.
dir E J-Yong
scr E J-Yong, Kim Dae-Woo, Kim Hyun-Jung
with Bae Yong-Jun, Lee Mi-Sook, Jeon Do-Yeon, Lee So-Yeon, Cho Hyeon-Jae, Kim Hyeon-Jeong, Kim Ha-Kyeong
Jeon and Bae release 2.Oct.03,
US 15.Oct.04,
UK 22.Apr.05
03/Korea 2h04
15 themes, violence, sexuality
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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall