Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Criterion's re-issue of Playtime (1967) reviewed

Another link to a Beaver review, this time Criterion's reissue of Jacques Tati's Playtime (1967) which is regarded by many as his crowning achievement. It looks sharper than any other release and the green tint of the video transfer of the BFI's R2 disc is gone; most extras are ported over from the BFI and the original Criterion release but the BBC documentary and the rare US interview that are new to this release should make this a worthwhile second purchase if you already own the BFI version (which is still a very good alternative for those without a multi-region player) . For purists and Tati fans wanting the most complete release, it's a no-brainer. Criterion's re-issue of Playtime is available from the 5th of September.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Julianne Moore talks to The Guardian

Good interview with Julianne Moore about her career and new film Trust the Man in this Saturday's edition of the Guardian. Trust the Man opens on Sept the 22nd.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

EIFF round-up (20-24th of August)

It's my last day at the EIFF with only one jury screening (British comedy debut Someone Else) left for me to overlook. Due to other commitments, I'll have to pass up the film although if the lukewarm-to-negative responses are anything to go by it won't be much of a loss - my London-based EIFF colleagues weren't impressed with what they felt was the typical tourist postcard view of the capital and the allegedly so-so comedy. The ordinariness of Someone Else seems representative of the overall solid, if decidedly underwhelming quality of this year's festival programme; many films I saw showed technical expertise but few had anything interesting to say about their respective genres.

Into that category belong the schizophrenic Norwegian thriller Next Door with Lynchian sound design and shades of early Polanski in which a reclusive young man who has just been left by his girlfriend gets drawn into a circle of sexual violence and murder after being seduced by the two mysterious women living in the adjacent apartment (* * out of five), the all-too-rarely amusing black comedy Shut Up & Shoot Me from the Czech Republic about an Englishman who wants to commit suicide after his wife is accidentally killed during their holiday in Prague (* out of five), Michael Cuesta's sometimes successful but altogether shrill and sneering look at American suburbia, Twelve and Holding, which benefits from an excellent ensemble cast (* * out of five) and the French comedy One Fine Day with Benoit Poelvoorde who became famous for his superb turn as the postman-turned serialkiller in Man Bites Dog; Poelvoorde plays insurance salesman Francois Berthier who, in a plot somewhat reminiscent of Groundhog Day, finds that one day his bad fortune (his wife has filed for divorce, the espresso machine explodes, his co-workers and boss bully him) has been reversed miraculously. As sugary-sweet as Amelie but not as diverting, the film lacks a real satirical edge to sustain its one-note joke (* * out of five).

Worth a look are the following three entries: the tender and bittersweet Thai love story Midnight, My Love revolves around a Bangkok taxi driver, Bati, a loner, who meets a young escort girl, Nuan, during one of his night shifts and gradually falls in love with her. The film is full of nostalgia and palpable affection for 1950/60s Thai pop songs and the older generations' traditional, conservative way of life; the blossoming romance between the middle-aged man and the girl is told with great sensitivity and a light touch that is also evident in the kitsch and parody of the 1970s style soap operas that mirror Bati's feelings. When Bati gets involved with Nuan's clients the film briefly wanders off into gangster film and sci-fi territory which felt jarringly out of character to me. However, the film deserves credit for forcing Bati to earn his redemption the hard way, and the cautiously optimistic, quietly moving coda reminded me a little of the beautiful finale of Chaplin's City Lights. Rating could go up on a second viewing if the film gets a national distributor. (* * * out of five)

The documentary Al Franken: God Spoke is a sometimes side-splittingly funny portrait of the former Saturday Night Life comedian and left-wing radio talk show host Al Franken during his successful campaign against the FOX network and his debates with right-wing opponents Bill O'Reilly, Rush Rimbaugh and Ann Coulter. It's an illuminating depiction of the mechanisms and ideologies of the country's left-wing media and a forceful reminder of the political and cultural divide in the US; it's also free of the editorialising that occasionally mars Michael Moore's work. My only concern is that, as it ends just in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential elections, the film loses some of its urgency and topicality, and comes at least a year late (I'm only guessing but for the immediate and long-term future it may well be intended to rejuvenate disillusioned Democrat voters and the few unconverted for 2008). (* * * out of five)

It's impossible to talk about the Spanish film The Uncertain Guest in detail without spoiling it but suffice to say that this captivating and mind-bending film alternating between suspense, horror and comedy belies its seemingly generic appearance: a young architect, unsettled and living alone in his large aparment after the break-up from his girlfriend, receives a strange visitor one evening. The man asks to use Felix's phone and then disappears completely. When he begins hearing noises in the house, Felix becomes uncertain whether they are real or imagined. To say more wouldn't be fair except that the film's original approach pays off as long as one's prepared to accept that the final revelations feel a bit contrived but that's a small price to pay for Morales' sheer inventiveness. (* * * out of five)

Best Films of the Festival:

Air Guitar Nation
Summer Palace
Luxury Car

Worst Film of the Festival:

Red Shoes

Films I Missed:

The Host
It's Winter

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Criterion's new 3-disc reissue of Seven Samurai (R1) reviewed

DVDBeaver has a detailed review of Criterion's reissue of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai here. The screenshots speak for themselves; I used to own the BFI Region 2 disc and am speechless at what Criterion have produced with their new restoration. We have our own copy on pre-order which we hope to get in 2-3 weeks' time and will be reviewing it for this blog next month. Criterion's re-release of Seven Samurai will hit shelves on the 5th of September.

Looney Tunes Vol 4 Collection in November (R1)

Warner have announced the Looney Tunes Vol 4 Golden Collection for the 14th of November in Region 1 (a Region 2 set should follow soon after, as an HMV exclusive). We split this from our original news item back in July as it's quite a long listing and deserves its own entry. Here's the artwork, Warner's press release and the listing in full:

“The release of new Golden Collection volumes has become a highly-anticipated yearly event for Looney Tunes fans. We think consumers will be really pleased with the selection of shorts we have chosen for this volume. Viewers will find some of their favorites as well as some rarities,” commented Dorinda Marticorena, WHV Vice President, Kids and Sports Marketing. She added, “Warner Bros. artists were brilliant in their creation of Looney Tunes because they have brought to life such enduring characters. More than half a century later, Bugs Bunny, Tweety, Porky Pig and the rest of the Looney Tunes family are as popular as ever.”

That wascally wabbit and the rest of the gang are back in an all-star collection encompassing The Looney Tunes characters’ most memorable appearances. Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four is a four-disc collector set with 60 unedited classic, digitally re-mastered, animated shorts and will be packed with special features including commentaries, alternate audio programs, “Behind-the-Tunes” featurettes, rare shorts and more. Each disc in this set will be devoted to a theme or character and will feature 15 shorts.

Disc 1: Bugs Bunny Classics
Disc one focuses on everyone’s favorite carrot-crunching hare, Bugs Bunny and includes such shorts as Roman Legion-Hare, Rabbit Hood and Sahara Hare. The disc also includes Knighty Knight Bugs, a short in which a medieval Bugs Bunny traded blows with Yosemite Sam and his fire-breathing dragon. The cartoon won an Academy Award® for “Best Short Subject: Cartoons.”

  • Roman Legion-Hare
  • The Grey Hounded Hare
  • Rabbit Hood
  • Operation: RABBIT
  • Knight-mare Hare
  • Southern Fried Rabbit
  • Mississippi Hare
  • Hurdy-Gurdy Hare
  • Forward March Hare
  • Sahara Hare
  • Barbary-Coast Bunny
  • To Hare is Human
  • 8 Ball Bunny
  • Knighty Knight Bugs
  • Rabbit Romeo

  • Commentaries:
    • Rabbit Hood, by director Eric Goldberg. Viewers can look for a cameo by actor Errol Flynn in Bugs Bunny’s medieval adventure.
    • Operation: RABBIT, by writer Paul Dini. Viewers learn why this classic is the definitive encounter between Wile E. Coyote, “Super Genius,” and Bugs Bunny.
    • Mississippi Hare, by director Eric Goldberg. Viewers discover this unique classic featuring Bugs’ famous soft-shoe dance and the hot-tempered Colonel Shuffle.
    • Hurdy-Gurdy Hare, by writer Paul Dini. A revealing look into Bob McKimson’s classic where Bugs attempts to tame and train a wild gorilla.
    • 8 Ball Bunny, by historian Jerry Beck. An animated Humphrey Bogart guest stars in Bugs’ memorable adventure to return a little penguin to his South Pole home.
    • Rabbit Romeo, by actor June Foray and historian Jerry Beck. June Foray reveals her experiences working with Bob McKimson and Mel Blanc as she voiced Millicent, Bugs’ Slobovian admirer.

  • Alternate Audio Programs:
    • Operation: RABBIT Music and Effects Track
    • Knight-Mare Hare Music Only Track
    • Southern Fried Rabbit Music and Effects Track
    • Sahara Hare Music Only Track
    • Barbary-Coast Bunny Music Only Track
    • To Hare is Human Music Only Track
    • Rabbit Romeo Music Only Track

  • Twilight in Tunes: The Music of Raymond Scott

  • Bugs Bunny Superstar Part 1 (1976 documentary)

  • Powerhouse in Pictures

  • Fifty Years of Bugs Bunny in 3½ Minutes (1989 short)

  • The Bugs Bunny Show
    • Ballpoint Puns Bridging Sequences
    • Foreign Legion Leghorn Audio Recording Sessions

  • Trailer Gallery
    • Bugs Bunny’s Cartoon Carnival
    • Bugs Bunny’s All-Star Revue

Disc 2: Frank Tashlin Showcase
Disc two showcases the work of animator, screenwriter and director, Frank Tashlin whose trademark cartoons featured quick editing, wild and outrageous gags, and extremely odd angles. This disc contains The Case of the Stuttering Pig, which features Petunia Pig, and also includes Little Pancho Vanilla, Little Beau Porky, Porky in the North Woods and several others.

  • The Case of the Stuttering Pig
  • Little Pancho Vanilla
  • Little Beau Porky
  • Now that Summer is Gone
  • Porky in the North Woods
  • You’re an Education
  • Porky’s Railroad
  • Plane Daffy
  • Porky the Fireman
  • Cracked Ice
  • Puss n’ Booty
  • I Got Plenty of Mutton
  • Booby Hatched
  • Unruly Hare
  • The Stupid Cupid

  • Commentaries:
    • The Case of the Stuttering Pig, by animator Mark Kausler. Viewers will have a chance to explore early Porky in this classic cartoon masterpiece of gothic parody.
    • Now That Summer is Gone, by historian Michael Barrier with director Frank Tashlin. Frank Tashlin provides insight into his cinematic tour-de-force of animation; a fable in which squirrels gamble instead of gathering nuts.
    • Porky in the North Woods, by animator Mark Kausler. Viewers go behind the cinematic style and pacing of this early cartoon by comedic master Frank Tashlin.
    • You’re an Education, by historian Daniel Goldmark. Viewers find out about this final chapter in Frank Tashlin’s come-to-life trilogy featuring a musical travel guide.
    • Plane Daffy, by filmmaker Greg Ford. Viewers learn about one of Daffy’s most memorable war exploits, as he takes on the Nazis in a secret mission behind enemy lines.
    • Cracked Ice, by historian Michael Barrier with director Frank Tashlin. Frank Tashlin comments on his cartoon movie and radio parody of W.C. Squeals in ice skates.
    • Puss n’ Booty, by historian Jerry Beck. Viewers gain insight into this last great black and white Looney Tunes cartoon; a classic of animated anxiety.
    • I Got Plenty of Mutton, by filmmaker Greg Ford. Offers a look into the fast paced absurdity in one of Frank Tashlin’s more memorable World War II fables.
    • Porky’s Poultry Plant, by historian Michael Barrier with director Frank Tashlin. Frank Tashlin talks about his and Carl Stalling’s debuts as a Looney Tunes director and composer.
    • The Stupid Cupid, by director Eddie Fitzgerald. Viewers find out more about this rare teaming of Daffy and Elmer.

  • Bugs Bunny Superstar Part 2 (1976 documentary)

  • Porky and Daffy in The William Tell Overture (2006 short)

  • Frank Tashlin’s Storybooks
    • Little Chic’s Wonderful Mother
    • Tony and Clarence

  • From the Vault:
    • The Goldbrick (1943 short)
    • The Home Front (1943 short)
    • Censored (1944 short)

Disc 3: Speedy Gonzales
The third disc is devoted to “the fastest mouse in all Mexico,” Speedy Gonzales and includes Cat-Tails for Two, which features a skinnier Speedy with a sizeable gold front tooth. Disc three also includes Tabasco Road, Mexicali Shmoes and The Pied Piper of Guadalupe, all of which were nominated for Academy Awards®.

  • Cat-Tails for Two
  • Tabasco Road
  • Tortilla Flaps
  • Mexicali Shmoes
  • Here Today, Gone Tamale
  • West of the Pesos
  • Cannery Woe
  • The Pied Piper of Guadalupe
  • Mexican Boarders
  • Chili Weather
  • A Message to Gracias
  • Nuts and Volts
  • Pancho’s Hideaway
  • The Wild Chase
  • A-Haunting We Will Go

  • Commentaries:
    • Cat-Tails for Two, by actor Stan Freberg and historian Jerry Beck. Stan Freberg shares his experiences working with Bob McKimson on this “Of Mice and Men” parody featuring George and Benny and Speedy Gonzales.
    • Mexican Boarders, by filmmaker Greg Ford with director Friz Freleng. Friz Freleng comments on this fan favorite appearance of Speedy’s cousin, Slowpoke Rodriquez.
    • Nuts and Volts, by animator Art Leonardi and historian Jerry Beck. Art Leonardi talks about animating one of the last cartoons of the great Golden Age of Looney Tunes.
    • The Wild Chase, by writer Paul Dini. Viewers find out more about this classic race between the Looney Tunes two fastest characters, Road Runner and Speedy Gonzales.

  • Alternate Audio Programs:
    • Cat-Tails for Two Music and Effects Track
    • Tabasco Road Music Only Track
    • Mexicali Schmoes Music Only Track
    • West of the Pesos Music Only Track

  • Friz on Film (2006 Documentary)

  • From the Vault:
    • 90 Day Wondering (1956 Short)
    • Drafty, Isn’t It? (1957 Short)

Disc 4: Cats
Disc four is entirely devoted to the theme of cats and features such shorts as The Night Watchman, Pizzicato Pussycat, The Aristo-Cat and others. The Night Watchman is a Merrie Melodies cartoon that was the first short with Chuck Jones as director.

  • The Night Watchman
  • Conrad the Sailor
  • The Sour Puss
  • The Aristo-Cat
  • Dough Ray Me-ow
  • Pizzicato Pussycat
  • Kiss Me Cat
  • Cat Feud
  • The Unexpected Pest
  • Go Fly a Kit
  • Kiddin’ the Kitten
  • A Peck o’ Trouble
  • Mouse and Garden
  • Porky’s Poor Fish
  • Swallow the Leader

  • Commentaries:
    • Conrad the Sailor, by filmmaker Greg Ford with director Chuck Jones. Chuck Jones talks about one of his early Daffy cartoons featuring a rare performance by prolific movie voice actor Pinto Colvig as Conrad Cat.
    • The Aristo-Cat, by director Eddie Fitzgerald. Viewers learn more about this classic appearance of Hubie and Bertie as they torment the anxiety-ridden Pussy Cat.
    • The Aristo-Cat, by filmmaker Greg Ford with director Chuck Jones. Chuck Jones comments on one of his more stylized cartoons.
    • Dough Ray Me-ow, by historian Jerry Beck. Viewers gain insight into Arthur Davis’ take on the lovable lug of a housecat, Heathcliff, who is set to inherit a million dollars if he can outsmart a tricky Parrot.
    • Pizzicato Pussycat, by Daniel Goldmark. Viewers find out about Friz Freleng’s musical genius in this underrated gem which highlights his sense of rhythmic comedy.
    • The Unexpected Pest, by actor June Foray and historian Jerry Beck. June Foray talks about her experiences working with Robert McKimson on this classic featuring Sylvester the Cat.

  • Alternate Audio Programs:
    • Cat Feud Music Only Track
    • The Unexpected Pest Music Only Track
    • Go Fly a Kit Music Only Track
    • A Peck of Trouble Music and Effects Track

  • Behind the Tunes (2006 documentary featurettes):
    • One Hit Wonders
    • Sing-a-Song of Looney Tune
    • The Art of the Gag
    • Wild Lines: The Art of Voice Acting
    • Looney Tunes: A Cast of Thousands

  • From the Vault:
    • Porky’s Breakdowns
    • Sahara Hare Storyboard Reel
    • Porky’s Poor Fish Storyboard Reel

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

EIFF: Air Guitar Nation (2006)

Had scant interest in seeing Air Guitar Nation (as I'm no fan of rock music at all) but this docu, a loving and respectful look at the Air Guitar US and world championships and the colourful personalities of the players, was wonderful fun and one of the few unique discoveries at this year's EIFF. In an Air Guitar competition, contestants are given one minute to perform a song which on a superficial level means to simulate plucking the non-existent strings but in truth it's an altogether more abstract art form about reflecting the spirit and essence of the music in individual style. The film follows two young men, aspiring air guitarist Dan Crane aka "Bjorn Turoque" from New York and the reigning US champion David Jung aka "C-Diddy", an Asian-American who uses a Kung-fu style. C-Diddy defends his title and travels to Finland for the World Championships which the US partook in for the first time in 2003 (the world championships started in 1996). Gathering enough donations from friends and fans for the journey, Turoque follows C-Diddy to Finland to try proving himself once more.

The passion of the filmmakers and the contestants for Air Guitar is so infectious, the showmanship and the swipes at the competition so hilarious, that this knowingly ironic and fast-paced film is bound to attain a cult following. Pic's only shortcoming is that it limits its focus mainly on the American players during the last two rounds of the World Championship: even with our limited knowledge of the art, it would have been intriguing to see the performances of their world rivals in full but in current form you only get the American performances unedited. Still, the film was an unexpected and absolute pleasure. By the way, make sure you stay for the full end credits or else you'll miss one of the funniest punchlines I've heard all year. The assembled press was in stitches. * * * * * (out of five)

EIFF: Colour Me Kubrick (2006) (updated with Observer article link)

Update: this Observer article from 1999 gives more background information on Alan Conway's life and is good complementary reading for the film.

Saw Brian Cook's Colour Me Kubrick twice at the festival this past week and I'm glad to say that the film held up on second viewing: it's the true story of the gay Kubrick impersonator Alan Conway who in the 1990s conned young impressionable gay men he was attracted to, his pharmacist, the owner of a posh London bar chain, a male nurse and local comedian Lee Pratt (all of whom had money, goodwill and connections) into believing that he was the famous but reclusive director Stanley Kubrick while the real Kubrick was away shooting Eyes Wide Shut at Pinewood Studios. The fact that Conway looked nothing like Kubrick made his feat all the more impressive but he was eventually exposed after trying his trick on the New York Times critic Frank Rich who instigated a press investigation into the matter. Charges weren't pressed against Conway because his victims couldn't bear the idea of having to testify to their humiliation in a public trial.

The plot of Colour Me Kubrick is basically the same hoax played over and over again with different victims but the repetition never becomes an issue credit for which goes to Anthony Frewin's economical and witty script, and the pacing is just right at 86 minutes. The script misses the opportunity to develop the intriguing subplot about the ongoing investigation into Conway's hoaxes further and it rather glosses over the darker aspects of his life but at least it's intelligent entertainment that earns its laughs. The film quotations are appreciably smart (note the use of music from Kubrick's films in a new, often ironic, sometimes straight-faced context) and Cook has cast the picture shrewdly. The supporting cast is unanimously very good (particularly enjoyed turns by William Hootkins, Richard E. Grant and Jim Davidson whose entrance got one of the biggest laughs at both screenings); and John Malkovich gives an excellent comic performance that would have been pitch-perfect were it not for a short scene where Malkovich/Conway takes a shot at Malkovich the actor; it's a smug gesture and too self-reflexive, and it's out of character with the rest of the film. Vicky Russell's inventive and intentionally shrill costumes enrich the film enormously (an ample reminder of how much comedy can be wrought from outlandish visuals) and the production design looks and feels authentic. * * * * (out of five)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Snakes on a Plane (2006) & EIFF

Took a break from the festival to see New Line's Snakes on a Plane last night: the pic gets enough things right to defy expectations of an outright disaster, provided you can take the film for what it is (Sam Jackson describing it accurately as a nice way to spend 2 hours on a Saturday afternoon). Jackson plays FBI agent Nelville Flynn who has taken Sean Jones, the key witness in the trial against Asian gangster Eddie Kim into custody. Kim's men locate the plane which is to get Jones to Los Angeles and smuggle crates full with snakes on board to kill Jones and the other passengers. Snakes is a great concept but the film, parts of which were reshot after ideas from its internet following were included in the script, is merely adequate even if the added gore and gleeful bad-taste humour give the film an edge that the originally intended PG-13 cut almost certainly would have lacked. Characters are expectedly one-dimensional and director David Ellis seems uncertain in which direction he should take the film. Snakes has one or two genuinely good jump scares but it's short on real suspense and as a collaboration of sorts between its makers and its audience, it feels a little too self-conscious and pre-packaged for comfort. A case of not-as-good-nor-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been, it's acceptable while it lasts and only marginally more memorable than other hogwash for its unique production history. * * (out of five)

At any rate, Snakes is preferable to the Korean horror Red Shoes (shown to the public this Saturday morning) which so promisingly takes its inspiration and the title from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's wonderful 1948 ballet drama of the same name but my hope that the picture would be any good lasted for just five minutes. The plot revolves around a pair of pink shoes that exert a terrible influence on anyone drawn to them and leave their wearers dead with their feet chopped off. When eye specialist and shoe collector Sun-jae discovers the shoes on the subway train and brings them home to the run-down flat where she is living with her daughter Tae-soo, it sets events in motion that have their origins in a tragedy dating back to 1940's Japan. As so many other Asian genre films before it, Red Shoes is about the disintegration of the family and the bond of the mother with the daughter and the father as the catalyst for the break-up, but like everything else in the film, it's dealt with at such a high pitch and a lack of subtlety that manages the rare feat of making the Hollywood genre staple comparatively and positively sedate. The whole endeavour has an overbearing score and sound effects cranked up to eleven, genre cliches (wicked black-haired girl spirit with obscured face), jump scares and false alarms in such overabundance that my initial disappointment gave way to boredom and outright annoyance very quickly. To say it's unworthy of Hans Christian Andersen's tale and Powell and Pressburger's film, would be kind if not telling the full truth; frankly, it's so outrageously pathetic that you don't even give a damn about the twists it produces in the finale. zero stars (out of five)

Friday, August 18, 2006

RIP Monty Berman and the 'gong man'

Kenneth Richmond, the man who famously struck the gong for J Arthur Rank, has died at the age of 80. Read more here.

And Monty Berman, film and TV producer, is dead at 93. While he was most famous for a string of ITC hits in the 1960s - The Saint, Jason King, The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk Deceased - I will remember him for the horror films he produced with Robert S Baker in the late '50s, including Jack the Ripper (1958) and The Flesh and the Fiends (1959), a surprisingly good take on the Burke and Hare story, with Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance. A worthy competitor to Hammer Studios, the invincible horror-makers at that time.

According to IMDB, he died on June 12. It just made the Guardian this week.

The New York Times, on the other hand, seems to think the poor chap passed away in Monte Carlo in 2002. If so, I guess you just can't keep a good man down.

(Actually, my bad - The NY Times was talking about Monty M Berman, a costume designer born in the same year!)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

EIFF impressions (17-18th of August)

Luxury Car, the winner of this year's Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes, is a stirring and reflective tale about country school teacher Qi Ming who comes to visit his daughter Yanhong in Wuhan. Having promised her cancer-stricken mother that he will find her brother who has gone missing more than a year ago before she dies, he asks a sympathetic police officer for help. Yanhong, who works as an escort girl at a karaoke bar and has a lover in her boss, the gangster He Ge, struggles to keep her job secret from her quiet but alert father, and her rejection of a volatile customer complicates matters further. The film is a sumptuously shot and captivating look at the state of contemporary China, putting the difficulties of making it and living in metropolitan society into sharp contrast with traditional country life. The scenes between Yanhong and her father are particularly affecting in that Ming quickly realises exactly how his daughter makes a living but he remains unwavering in his love and support for her. His meetings with the cop, in which both men share their anguish over having lost track of their sons, are equally characterised by a defiance not to let life's disillusionments triumph over their hopes and spirits. Wu Youcai and Li Yiquing are terrific as the two old men who face and bear the setbacks that life deals them with great dignity and generosity while Tian Wuan and Huang He show nuance and conviction in their roles as the secretive couple. Among the best films of this festival. * * * * (out of five)

In the Korean drama April Snow, stage lighting director In-Su gets a message that his wife has been involved in a car accident. At the hospital he meets the quiet Seo-young whose husband was in the passenger seat of In-Su's wife's car, with both spouses left in a coma. The discovery that their spouses have been knowing and meeting each other for years causes In-Su and Seou-young to ponder why their partners began the affair in the first place. Looking for comfort and sensing that the other shares their own sense of abandonment, they are drawn to each other and cautiously begin a relationship. This could have been a good picture; you can see the potential in both the story and the film itself inasfar as that it's been shot and directed in understated fashion but it increasingly feels less natural than pre-conceived and too remote. Any restraint the film shows is betrayed by the terrible piano score, and the whole thing is so tediously long that a more economical length might have salvaged the pic to some extent. * (out of five)

Saw Black Brush Friday morning: it's a low-key deadpan comedy from Hungary in which the four chimney sweepers Zoltan, Anti, Papi and Dofi spend their days smoking drugs and cigarettes and sunbathing on the rooftops rather than going about their job. When their boss entrusts Zoltan with a large sum of money to complete their work, giving them until the next day to get the job done, and Anti loses all the money in a cockfight, the four get involved with a Hare Krishna-style religious sect and go after a friend's goat who has eaten Zoltan's driving licence and Anti's lottery ticket to retrieve the money before their boss returns. Black Brush is indebted to the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki and it's a likeable, often diverting but ultimately too slight comedy with lovely black-and-white cinematography, a moody soundtrack and a convincing lead quartet. Charming oddball humour (drug-addicted goats, slaughtering of the latter with a samurai sword) and flashes of surrealism make up for the meandering script that goes off the trail too often before the end. As a 45 min short, it might have been superb. * * * (out of five)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Guardian's Xan Brooks on the new practice of no-shows for critics

The Guardian's Film Unlimited web editor Xan Brooks has written a perceptive blog entry about the increasing practice of the studios to no longer show some of their films to critics before the theatrical release.

EIFF impressions (14-16th of August)

Three days into the festival, I can say that going by the films I've been able to see so far, they have picked a very solid selection for this anniversary year: Monday I sat in press showings for Guernsey and In Between Days, and would have stayed for Art School Confidential, Terry Zwigoff's latest film (which attracted a substantial number of critics and industry delegates), if by that time in the early afternoon I hadn't been so exhausted from the long shift. With so many films screening within 15 minutes of each other and at different venues, it's regrettably impossible to see them all: the British feature Lives of the Saints sounded intriguing as did the Iranian entry It's Winter which word of mouth suggests is very good.

A few words on the Monday showings: Guernsey is a Dutch film that looks at the state of modern marriages from the woman's perspective. Anna, an international aid worker commuting between Egypt and her home city Rotterdam, is happily married to Sebastien with whom she has a young boy. But she clashes with her estranged sister who once used to be Sebastien's girlfriend, and her life is thrown off-balance when a colleague commits suicide on a recent business trip. She discovers that Sebastien is having an affair, she begins to question the motives behind the relationship between her father and his new, much younger wife and she gets increasingly uncertain about her own emotions. The film has a terrific lead in Maria Kraakman and it rings true in its description of, and reflections on the complex and entangled nature of modern relationships; it's also a work of great restraint (music is sparsely used if at all) which often relies on gestures and facial expressions to communicate the meaning of what we see. The calm and measured pacing is a mixed blessing: key scenes gain great intensity and intimacy through it but the pic also feels slightly overlong in spite of running just 90 mins. **** (out of five)

In Between Days
tells the story of Korean girl Aimie who has moved to Canada with her mother but finds it very difficult to settle down in her new life in Toronto. The only person she feels close to, is Tran, a teenage boy and Korean like herself, but they struggle to keep up their friendship, feeling drawn to each other but also distrusting one another unfairly. The picture, atmospherically shot on handheld DV, gives an authentic feeling for Aimie's emotional solitude and her longing for companionship, her first experience of love and disappointment, and yet it lacks a sense of urgency, that extra emotional punch. I enjoyed In Between Days a lot (Jiseon Kim who plays Aimie, is particularly good) but it never soars to greater heights. *** (out of five)

Tuesday I saw the documentary The Empire in Africa which chronicles West African state Sierra Leone's descent into political corruption, chaos and bloodshed starting in the early 1990s until it came to an end eleven years later: the film is narrated by musician Richie Havens and recounts through archive footage how a group of rebels started a civil war in order to wrestle control over the country's diamond resources back from Western corporations and triggered a conflict that cost the lives of several ten-thousands of innocent civilians. Interviewees include President Kabbah, his ministers of Information and Defence, ECOMOG commander-in-chief Koroma, representatives of the civil society and homeless villagers who have been taken in by malnutritional centres. The film paints a dense, comprehensive picture of the political and humanitarian failures of the West, Britain included, and makes for harrowing viewing in its unflinching depiction of the atrocities inflicted on civilians and the fighting between the warring parties. Some scenes, including the destructive impact of Nigerian cluster bombs on villages and the militia's execution, mutilation, torture and degradation of civilians, even young children, suspected of working for the enemy, are near-unbearable to watch. Unlikely to crossover into the mainstream like Michael Moore's work or Al Gore's upcoming film on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, The Empire in Africa is a tough sell and will present a challenge to any bidding distributor but it's a passionate project and a timely reminder of the appalling conditions in, and the dire need for support of the world's poorest country. **** (out of five)

New R2 release for Don't Look Now in October

Nicholas Roeg's 1973 classic Don't Look Now with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie gets a re-release on Region 2 on the 23rd of October, this time under Optimum (who have also taken distribution rights for The Third Man and The Wicker Man over from Warner UK, both arrive on the 25th of September and 4th of October respectively). No word from Optimum about any extras for this reissue as yet but we hope they fix the audio (which Warner and Studio Canal absolutely botched on the original R2 disc) and ensure that the new video transfer retains Roeg's original colour scheme (Paramount's old Region 1 disc had decent audio but the colours were all wrong).

RIP Bruno Kirby


Guardian story here.

Meet the Fockers; What's Eating Gilbert Grape?; Leon

Watched a few films over the weekend with friends; none of them was bad, and one was exceptional.

I loved Meet the Fockers, the 2004 sequel to Meet the Parents. I'm a sucker for the first film, so it was with great delight that I sat down to the follow-up, even though I'd been told (by critics - bah!) that it was crap. Well, if you order popcorn, you don't judge it by haute cuisine standards. By popcorn standards, this was a blast. It was funny, silly and of course all very cheesey when it got to the sentimental bits. The film is helped by an excellent cast in Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand. Teri Polo seems a little awkward, and isn't given much to do.

My friend insisted I watched What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, the 1993 drama starring Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. When I saw Lasse Hallstrom was director, I wasn't keen - I find Chocolat and The Cider House Rules spoiled by a sentimentalism that gets just a little suffocating by the end. I am pleased to report, then, that Gilbert Grape was more low-key than I expected, and genuinely moving.

But Leon (1994) was the greatest surprise of the weekend for me. I was impressed that Luc Besson managed to get such truly emotional drama to sit so comfortably alongside the traditional elements of an action thriller. Jean Reno is heartbreaking in the title role of a man whose career is killing people, and yet who connects to life through his love for a potted plant, Gene Kelly and an orphaned girl (Natalie Portman). The two stars effortlessly brought tears to my eyes from their first encounter.

My ratings?

Meet the Fockers * * * * *
What's Eating Gilbert Grape? * * * * *
Leon * * * * * (I will not be surprised if this climbs to a five on subsequent viewings)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Only Yesterday (R2) in September

Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday (1991) will be released by Optimum on the 4th of September. Takahata was previously responsible for Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and My Neighbours, the Yamadas (1999). Optimum's DVD will include the usual storyboards, a making of and the theatrical trailer.

Criterion's line-up for November

Criterion have announced three new titles for November: Krzyzstof Kieslowki's The Double Life Of Veronique (1992), the German silent film classic Pandora's Box (1929) and Carol Reed's Graham Greene adaptation The Fallen Idol (1948).

The Kieslowski film already exists on two very good (as identical) Region 2 DVDs from MK2 and Artifical Eye (available here) so we may do a comparison between the Criterion and the Artificial Eye when the Criterion has been released. In addition to the Kieslowski interview and his three short films from the AE, the Criterion will include an audio commentary by Annette Insdorf, a new documentary on Kieslowski, new interviews with Irene Jacob and composer Preisner as well as a booklet with essays by Jonathan Romney and Slavoy Zizek.

The Fallen Idol is available on Region 2 from Optimum at a very reasonable price but with no extras; Pandora's Box is out on a 2-disc set.

Monday, August 14, 2006

(Update) Forbidden Planet SE & Superman Set (R1/R2) in November

Warner (US) have announced that they will be releasing Forbidden Planet (US 1956) in Region 1 on a 2 disc version and a boxset that includes a replica of Robby the Robot on the 14th of November. Forbidden Planet is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest and tells the story of Commander Adams and his crew who are sent to Planet Altair-4 in the 23rd century after Earth has lost contact with the scientists inhabiting the planet. The pic is regarded as one of the most influential sci-fi films ever, featuring pioneering special-effects as well as the first entirely electronical score recorded on film; Alien, Star Trek and Star Wars among others are indebted to this film. Full details of the announcement are here; the artwork is below. The R2 DVD follows on the 27th of November (specs to be confirmed) and be pre-ordered here

Also to come from Warner on the 28th of November is a new Superman Collection set and an individual release of Superman II (1980) as original director Richard Donner envisioned it (almost all of his footage was shot before the studio replaced him with Richard Lester). Update: The Region 2 set comes out on the 20th of November.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

White Palms (2006) & Snow Cake (2006) (EIFF impressions)

Attended the festival's first Industry Screenings I was assigned to today, and signed in the press and delegates for the showings of White Palms and Snow Cake at Filmhouse 1. The former was screened early in the morning, perhaps as a result of that attracting only two journalists which is a pity as the Hungarian film was not only just as solid as the star-studded British-Canadian co-production (ten times as many critics showed up for Snow Cake) but more adventurous in its story-telling and technically very impressive.

White Palms is like the festival opener The Flying Scotsman a sports drama and they both revolve around troubled men excelling in their sport but the similarities end there. White Palms is the story of champion Hungarian gymnastic Miklos Dongo who suffered as a boy under his abusive coach Puma in early 1980s Debrecen but reconciles himself with his troubled past when he strikes up a friendship with Canadian athlete Kyle (Kyle and adult Miklos are played by real gymnasts) and competes against him in the Hungarian championship finale. The film begins with Miklos' arrival in Canada and then settles into a long flashback to his childhood experiences that is the picture's highlight with wonderful production design that vividly recreates Debrecen in the not too distant Communist era, and it's carried by a mostly wordless and magnificent turn from youngster Orion Radies. The film's second half which focuses on Dongo's and Kyle's friendship is nowhere near as good but gains in momentum when director Hajdu crosscuts between the present-day championships and young Miklos' life-endangering stunts at a Russian circus that he joined as a teenager. See White Palms for Radies' performance and a fantastic first half. *** (out of five)

Snow Cake is a bittersweet drama in which cop Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman) gives hitch-hiking girl Vivienne Freeman a lift home but on arriving in town (Wawa, Ontario), a truck driver runs into Alex's car and wounds the girl mortally. Traumatised from the accident, Alex visits Vivienne's highly autistic mother Linda (Sigourney Weaver) who seems unaffected by the news of her death. Linda convinces Alex to stay for a few days and he befriends her neighbour Maggie (Carrie-Ann Moss) who has as much emotional baggage as Alex and everyone else in town. Snow Cake never quite succeeds in making its characters' inner conflicts dramatically compelling and it leaves a plot thread involving Maggie and the local policeman who has an interest in her unresolved when that would have presented an opportunity to create more conflict. Still, it's a charming, occasionally impressively lensed film (DoP Steve Cosens makes good use of Ontario's outdoor scenery) and the star trio Rickman, Weaver and Moss is uniformly excellent. *** (out of five)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lady in the Water (2006)

(Spoiler warning: it's impossible to discuss the film without giving some scenes away so don't read on if you want to remain unspoiled)

Superintendent Cleveland Heep runs the apartment complex The Cove in Philadelphia which is inhabited by a young Asian student with her elderly mother, a bodybuilder, a group of drug junkies, an old lonesome man, a Mexican family and a wordsmith with his son. Having seen to his new tenant, the brusque film critic Farber, Heep discovers a girl in the building's swimming pool and takes her in. The enigmatic girl, Story, turns out to be a character from an old bedtime story, a sea nymph from the subterranean Blue World, the passageway to which is located beneath the pool. Its inhabitants are the benevolent "Narfs", sea-bound creatures who co-existed peacefully with humans centuries ago. They have now sent Story to try finding a kindred spirit and to spread peace among humans again. An evil wolf is trailing Story and Heep, with the help of his fellow tenants, tries to protect and return her safely to her own world.

Lady in the Water originated as a bed time story that M Night Shyamalan reportedly told his daughters (to whom the film is dedicated) in instalments and which he expanded upon as he went along: this would explain why his new picture is such a rambling, disjointed mess that asks you to put aside notions of reality and to accept that the usual rules of practicality don't apply here. One of my issues with the film is that even if you are prepared to go along with the anything-goes fairytale logic of Lady in the Water (and I can see many people giving up on it within the first twenty minutes), it simply doesn't reward your trust in it with any real magic and intrigue. Worse, Shyamalan takes convenient short-cuts to propel the story forward (Heep and his fellow tenants readily accept Story's otherworldliness and the roles she assigns them in their attempt to crack the puzzle of how to return her to the Blue World) and yet he never develops the film's mythology enough to make us want to engage with and invest in it. What is at stake exactly? What is the history behind Story and her people? Why don't the tree monkeys intervene sooner to stop the wolf?

In short, the film creates an alternative universe without ever fully (if at all) explaining the ideas and rules behind it which only confirms my suspicion that Shyamalan didn't have a clear, laid-out concept to begin with and simply made it up as he went along. It's lazy and ill-conceived, and it conforms to undignified stereotypes (the Mexican family shrieking hysterically at some insect in their flat in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the picture, i.e. the Korean student and her mother) of the building's multi-cultural community which in light of his own Asian ethnicity the director ought to have known better than to indulge in. However, it's really one of a piece with the other stultifying choices Shyamalan has made, the first one being the inclusion of the film critic Farber who is shown as a self-righteous, presumptuous and mean-spirited man whom the other characters and Shyamalan at large implicitly blame for endangering Story's life. The scene, in which Farber, facing the wolf, foolishly assumes he won't be killed because this is a family picture but is then viciously slaughtered by the beast, is essentially Shyamalan's open fuck-you letter to the critics who slated The Village and his public behaviour in the aftermath of that film's release. It's one of the few scenes in Lady in the Water that is genuinely interesting because it raises questions about the intentions behind it and to what ends it's meant to work. It's an abrasive gesture that openly invites further criticism so that I wonder whether Shyamalan knowingly provokes it so he can position himself as a martyr; the point being that by using the other characters' outrage at Farber earlier on Shyamalan implicitly paints himself as a misunderstood and unfairly maligned man.

In any case, it's unedifying to watch because the film with its awkward lurches in tone from comedy to suspense and slight PG-13 horror is so misconceived and underdeveloped that it only weakens instead of bolstering Shyamalan's defence. He also gives himself a crucial role in the film, as the writer who, according to Story, will inspire new leaders with his ideas. It's an unsavoury, self-aggrandising move that smacks of deep narcissicism and it'll leave anyone but the already converted distinctly unimpressed. It's self-exposure of the kind that is fascinating and yet saddening to watch. Lady in the Water is a fantasy that never takes flight, a tale that has no grace and poetry (which makes Shyamalan's sincerity and unshakeable belief that it does work so baffling, but it's as good a measure of his self-delusions as any); and it's the first film in which Paul Giamatti impressed me less than usual: I found his acting a bit too mannered this time but he still brings out his character's vulnerability and his sympathy for others, so that you fleetingly get a sense of how moving the film might have been in better circumstances. It's a terrible picture but as an insight into how the man behind it sees himself and his critics, you're bound to remember it for longer than the other baloney that the studios have released so far this summer. * (out of five)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Guardian: Animation for grown-ups & Tippi Hedren interview

Wanted to draw your attention to this piece in today's Guardian about how currently showing feature film animation is moving away from children's stories to adult material in films like Richard Linklater's Philip K Dick adaptation A Scanner Darkly opening next week, and precursors like Ralph Bakshi's 1970s cartoon Felix the Cat.

Also came across a rather short interview with Tippi Hedren who talks about her experience of shooting The Birds and her fraught relationship with Hitchcock.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

RIP Patrick Allen


Patrick Allen was a bit of a legend in the voiceover world. In the past decade or so he gained a cult following with his voiceovers on the Reeves and Mortimer show, and more recently, as the voice of E4.

His film appearances could be hit-and-miss, but his fans (including myself) were fond of him. I first remember hearing his distinctive voice in the prologue to the classic Carry on up the Khyber (1966), one of the few truly great films in the Carry On comedy series.

Last year I was introduced to Captain Clegg (1962), one of Hammer's most underrated films. As arch-rivals Clegg and Collier, Peter Cushing and Patrick Allen play off each other brilliantly. My enduring image of Allen is when he doffs his hat respectfully to the late Captain Clegg.

I now doff my hat respectfully to Patrick Allen, a much-loved British star.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Harder They Fall (1956)

I am pleased to say that Humphrey Bogart got the swansong he deserved with this 1956 drama. The signs were not good when I came across the DVD. Director Mark Robson - who he? IMDB informs me he directed Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Von Ryan's Express and Earthquake, all of which signals middle-of-the-road, but this is a surprisingly punchy drama (sorry, I swear I chose that adjective before I noticed the pun).

The story is typical noir, starring Bogey in a typical role. He is Eddie Willis, a sports writer desperate to do more than earn his crust, and struggling to rise above the seediness and corruption of the boxing world. He strikes a deal with shady New-York boxing promoter Nick Benko, played by Rod Steiger in just the sort of role he relishes. Willis becomes press agent to Toro Moreno, a South American boy of poor stock, whose seven-foot-plus stature makes him ripe for stardom, despite the fact he can't throw a punch. It becomes increasingly apparent that the promoters are taking Toro for a ride in order to make their bucks, and Willis takes pity on him.

There's warmth in Bogie's struggle to reconcile the cynicism he needs to get by in a dark and merciless world with his humanitarian instincts. The boxing scenes are photographed and edited in an effectively pacey and hard-hitting manner (if there are too many unintended puns here, that is only a reminder how often we writers use 'fighting' language to describe the impact of art). The final showdown is disarmingly brutal.

The one false note is the final shot; the movie held up on its own without having to labour a political point.

Nevertheless, a gutsy movie, and it was satisfying to know that while Bogart's career ended prematurely, it did not, like so many, end with a whimper.

My rating? * * * * * (4/5)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Johnson reports from the Edinburgh International Film Festival

Went to the Filmhouse earlier today to attend a staff meeting of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (hereafter EIFF; official website) which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year from August the 14th-28th, and where I will be working in a voluntary position as an Industry Screening Assistant. It's my first opportunity to work at a festival of this size which is a very exciting prospect, and with a bit of luck, I should be able to cover a few films for the blog as well. The meeting began with a short speech from Artistic Director Shane Danielsen who will be presiding over the festival programme for the last time, with critic Hannah McGill to take over next year. The mood was relaxed and the passion of the organisers for the festival infectious; it promises to be an exciting and inspiring two weeks.

Which is more than can be said of the festival opener The Flying Scotsman (2006) which was screened exclusively for staff afterwards: the film is based on the real-life story of Scottish racing cyclist Graeme Obree's triumphs at the world championships in 1993 and 1995. He designed his own unique bike frame, appointed his friend Malcolm as his manager and, following months of hard training, set out to beat the current world record in cycling the largest distance in an hour. His success is regarded as a triumph of art over science, of the unsponsored, unsupported individualist over the establishment. Yet he faced a struggle against the WCF who, fearing for their authority and lack of competition, went on to ban the use of Obree's design in the tournament, citing health and safety reasons; furthermore, he was suffering from severe depression.

I wish I could say that the film turned out to be as inspiring as the man whose achievments it depicts but it is much less interested in Obree the person with his assets and flaws and his innovations than the feel-good factor that his successes in 1993 and 1995 provide. It doesn't touch enough on his ongoing struggle with depression so that, going by what the film chooses to show us, you'd almost be bound to think that his attempted suicide was just the result of Graeme's bullying by a gang of former schoolmates when in truth a number of factors contributed to his depression (among them the death of his brother in 1994, and his low self-esteem that would come to the fore if he lost a race). Like many other biopics, The Flying Scotsman feels incomplete and the problem, I think, is essentially not so much the restriction that a 2 hr running length imposes on the scope of the story re-told in the film, but the choices that are made in the adaptation: the film compromises itself by focusing too much and too obviously on the uplifting aspects of Obree's life; at least it neglects a more balanced adaptation that would give an edgier and more troubling account for the commercially more viable route of toning down the discomfort and reassuring us instead (would that at least it wouldn't feel so forced). It shows a kinship to Hollywood biopics like A Beautiful Mind and it ignites just as much interest which is to say not nearly enough. It's uninvolving for the most part (in spite of committed performances from Johnny Lee Miller, Billy Boyd and Brian Cox) and it condescends to its audience with an awful James Horner-style score that is blatantly signposting the mood of each given scene without adding anything interesting to it. What distinguishes this and a few other market-driven films from piffle like Ron Howard's is that it's piffle produced in our own backyard. It begs the question of why parts of the British film industry are still following the Hollywood template when the likes of Ken Loach and Scottish debutant Andrea Arnold with her Glasgow-set drama Red Road have reaped the rewards in Cannes earlier this year with challenging and stimulating films? I guess it's something to do with the standard riposte of having to satify the commercial market too but who says that we can't have some intelligence to go along with our entertainment? ** (out of five)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Terry Gilliam interviewed by the Guardian

Ex-Monty Python Terry Gilliam, best known for Brazil (1985) and Twelve Monkeys (1995), talks to the Guardian's Stuart Jeffries about his upcoming film Tideland in which a 9 year old girl, living with her dad on a dilapidated farmhouse in Texas, immerses herself in a fantasy world of her imagination. Gilliam talks a bit about the film's production history and the scenes that will most likely cause controversy on the film's release Friday next week. Tideland's official website is here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Criterion's new 6-disc Rohmer set reviewed

DVDBeaver has a detailed and glowing review of Criterion's new set of Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales (1963-72) including the films The Bakery Girl of Monceau, Suzanne's Career, My Night at Maud's, Claire's Knee, La Collectionneuse and Love in the Afternoon on their site. The set sounds intriguing (at any rate a must-buy for French cinema afficionados) and we may review the films ourselves at some point.

Tarzan Vol 2 Collection in October (R1)

Coming courtesy of Warner on the 31st of October is a second collection with the classic Tarzan films starring Johnny Weissmueller: the films in this set include Tarzan Triumphs/Tarzan's Desert Mystery, Tarzan and the Amazons/Tarzan and the Leopard Woman and Tarzan and the Huntress/Tarzan and the Mermaids, with two films spread across one disc. The R2 set should follow soon after.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Death of Mr Lazarescu (R2) in October

Tartan are going to release the Cannes Un Certain Regard winner The Death of Mr Lazarescu (which is currently showing in arthouse cinemas across the country and which we reviewed favourably the other week) in October on Region 2 with an exclusive new interview with director Puiu and a shortfilm included as extra material. Official announcement is here; we'll update with the artwork asap.

Warner officially announce the next Batman film

Rumours have been circulating around the net for two weeks or so but now Warner have made it official: Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) will play the Joker in the next Batman film which again will be directed by Christopher Nolan with Christian Bale in the leading role. The film's official title is "The Dark Knight", and the script is being written by Jonathan Nolan, the director's brother. The film should be released sometime in 2008. Here are quotes from Warner's announcement:

"As a follow up to last year’s blockbuster Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan is set to direct Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Dark Knight, written by Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. The film will be produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Christopher Nolan. Additionally, Christian Bale will resume his role as Bruce Wayne and Academy Award nominee Heath Ledger has been cast as The Joker. The announcements were made today by Jeff Robinov, President of Production, Warner Bros. Pictures.

Christopher Nolan revamped the Batman franchise in 2005 with the immensely successful Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale in the title role, which chronicled the early years of the superhero. Nolan first garnered attention from critics and fans in 2000 with the groundbreaking drama Memento, which he wrote and directed. He went on to direct the thriller Insomnia, starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, and recently wrapped production on The Prestige, with Hugh Jackman and Bale.

Bale was most recently seen in the ensemble cast of Terrence Malick’s The New World. His other credits include Little Women, Portrait of a Lady, Metroland, American Psycho, Laurel Canyon and Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, which was his first starring role.

Ledger most recently earned Oscar Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Award nominations and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in the award-winning drama Brokeback Mountain. His other credits include Casanova, Monster’s Ball, Lords of Dogtown, The Brothers Grimm and The Patriot.

“Chris’ unique vision is what made Batman Begins such an outstanding film and we could not imagine anyone else at the helm of The Dark Knight,” said Robinov. “We also can’t wait to see two such formidable actors as Christian and Heath face off with each other as Batman and The Joker.”

“I'm excited to continue the story we started with Batman Begins,” added Nolan. “Our challenge in casting The Joker was to find an actor who is not just extraordinarily talented but fearless. Watching Heath Ledger's interpretation of this iconic character taking on Christian Bale’s Batman is going to be incredible.”