Directed by Matt Harlock, Paul Thomas. Starring Bill Hicks, Kevin Booth, Mary Hicks, Lynn Hicks, Steve Hicks, Dwight Slade.
THE PLOT: Talking to ten family members and close friends, and utilizing never-before seen home video footage, as well as 1,300 stills (many of which are animated here, a la the 2002 Robert Evans doc The Kid Stays In The Picture), Harlock and Thomas chart the late maverick American stand-up’s struggles to break America with his confrontational, provocative material, whilst the Ireland and the UK treat him like a rock star.
THE VERDICT: It’s sixteen years since comedian Bill Hicks passed away, and he’s now bigger than ever. There have been countless magazine articles, TV specials, biographies, tributes (including Chas Early’s impression of Hicks’ stand-up had he lived, in his 2005 Slight Return show) and now, Harlock and Thomas’ fine documentary. The British duo deliver a fascinating, even intoxicating, portrait of the maverick comedian, one that will thrill fans, and give the uninitiated an even bigger thrill. Goat Boy rides again. RATING: ****
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins.
THE PLOT: Charting the much-loved outlaw’s formative years, Robin Longstride (Crowe, with an accent seemingly honed from an Auf Weidersehen, Pet box-set) is the no.1 archer for King Richard The Lionheart (Huston) as they cut a swathe through Europe. Robin’s not only a top archer, but a top bloke too, of course, just as happy cracking jokes and gambling with his fellow warriors as he is telling the king that they’re cursed with the blood of Muslim women and children on their hands. The latter bout of brutal honesty gets Robin sent to the stocks – and so begins his crawl back through the underground to become a leader once again. This time, with a little Martin Guerre twist, as hot-headed, recently-widowed Marion Loxley (Blanchett, doing her Hepburn in a hair shirt routine) takes him on as her departed husband, in order to save the family property.
THE VERDICT: Reuniting with the man who gave him Gladiator is a smart move for the hit-hungry Crowe; truth be told, the duo might as well have called their Robin Hood outing Maximus In Tights. Sherwood’s finest doesn’t always deliver at the box-office, and theGladiator duo are all-too-blatantly trying to recreate their biggest hit here. Even the soundtrack – that Lisa Gerrard-does-Morocco caterwauling that Sir Ridley loves so much – strains not to break into that decade-old blockbuster’s musical motifs. This time though, it doesn’t quite reach the parts. RATING: **
Directed by Roger Kumble. Starring Brendan Fraser, Ricky Garcia, Eugene Cordero, Jim Norton, Brooke Shields, Ken Jeong.
An especially-comatosed Brendan Fraser plays Dan Sanders, supervising a housing development for a supposedly eco-friendly land developer (Jeong, from The Hangover) when he finds he’s got some highly active, and highly imaginative, protesters. Namely, the furry critters who were there first.
THE VERDICT: Thanks to a complete lack of warning from the PR company, I missed last week’s screening of this cartoonish comedy caper. I have yet to meet a critic who didn’t hate it. The rottentomatoes.com score? 7%. Maybe that’s why they didn’t want me to see it. RATING: *
Directed by Samuel Moaz. Starring Reymond Amsalem, Ashraf Barhom, Oshri Cohen, Yoav Donat.
THE PLOT: Writer/director Maoz was 20 years old when he took part in the 1982 Lebanon war, and he knew he was in trouble on his very first day as a gunner in a creaky old Patton battle tank. Having been instructed to shoot any approaching vehicle that didn’t stop, Maoz lost his nerve when a BMW full of seemingly terrified teenagers kept on hurtling towards them. The passengers eventually scattered, but not before they had shot one of the Israeli soldiers Maoz was supposed to be protecting. He didn’t hesitate when the next vehicle approached, but this turned out to be a simple chicken farmer. Who had to be put out of his misery after Maoz’s blind onslaught left him without a few major limbs.
And so the sweaty, frightened and confused battalion rolled on, their lack of light, sights or clear information shared leaving both them and us very much in the dark.
THE VERDICT: An interesting idea makes for a so-so film, ex-Israeli soldier Moaz turning his time as a tank gunner into a crosshair-eye account of a gruesome mission.
It’s an interesting idea, as I said, but Lebanon all too often falls back on cliches (annoyingly so), and is hindered somewhat by some very flat directing, and some poor acting. Makes Das Boot look like a certifiable classic. Which, of course, it is. RATING: **
Directed by Marco Bellocchio. Starring Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Michela Cescon, Corrado Invernizzi, Fausto Russi Alesi.
THE PLOT: The story opens in Milan, 1914, with the young Mussolini (Timi) marching for peace, and against the government. Shortly after becoming lovers with beauty salon owner Ida (Mezzogiorno), war breaks out, and Mussolini switches sides, and, with some money from his lover, he sets up a newspaper promoting war. Shortly after the couple reportedly marry, Ida being pregnant with their first child, it emerges that Mussolini has a lover, Rachele (Cescon), and a daughter. With power in his sights, Mussolini sets about wiping any trace of Ida and their son so that he can do his fascist groove thing in peace. And with his new wife, Rachele.
THE VERDICT: Veteran writer/director Marco Bellocchio takes a look at the life of Ida Dalser, Mussolini’s secret lover, first wife, and father to his son. And it’s the sort of operatic production that Benito himself would have been proud of. Were it not for the salacious but true story it was telling, of course.
It’s an incredible story, beautifully told, especially as Ida finds herself going down a Frances Farmer hellhole as she fights from inside mental asylums for official recognition for both herself and her son. Tragic. In a fittingly operatic kind of way. RATING: ****
Directed by Haim Tabakman. Starring Zohar Shtrauss, Ran Danker, Tinkerbell, Tzahi Grad.
THE PLOT: Married butcher Aaron (Shtrauss) and his young new assistant Ezri (Ran Danker), are both Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem – and therefore know that their desire for one another is one they must fight. Aaron believes that their suffering ties in with the teaching that “being a slave of God means loving the hardship”, but, as he preaches against homosexuality, his affair with Ezri blossoms. When first Aaron’s wife (Tinkerbell, I kid you not), and then the whole community, becomes suspicious, the new arrival finds himself at the centre of a hate campaign.
THE VERDICT: Forbidden love is always a potent plot device, no matter what the setting, and it certainly proves the case here. Making his feature debut, director Haim Tabakman (working with a script by Merav Doster) takes on a taboo subject and treats it with the same respect and honesty Ang Lee employed in Brokeback Mountain. Hollywood is currently working on a remake, entitled Oy Vey, I’m Gay!. Probably. RATING: ***
The IFI will be hosting a special screening of the 1961 classic Whistle Down The Wind this Sunday morning at 11am. Part of the monthly Wild Strawberries and IFI Family programme, the screening has been organised to celebrate Bealtaine, an annual festival marking creativity in older age.
For anyone who’s ever doubted that Jesus would ever go near a barn, never mind be born in one, Hayley Mills is wonderful as Kathy, who, along with her brother, come across a convict hiding out on their farm. In true Zonad style, our boy pretends to be none other than Jesus himself.
See it now – before the upcoming Andrew Lloyd Webber musical tarnishes it forever…