Smile Through It II: The Next Chapter

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My Blueberry Nights

Posted by Oli on Monday 25th February, 2008

Monday’s been a pretty nothing-y kind of day – hossie appointment early this morning for K, after which I dropped her at work and came home.

I sat and watched most of Last King of Scotland, Kevin Macdonald’s flick about the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda and his Scottish doctor who fails to realise what’s going on under the rule of the infamous dictator. It’s a fantastic film, Macdonald’s first fiction turn after the incredible BAFTA-winning documentary Touching the Void. If you’ve not seen either of them, I can’t urge you enough to see them.

Touching the Void is not your usual dry documentary, but even if it were the story alone is compelling enough to keep you clinging to the edge of your seat. Before I saw it I didn’t have much love for documentary feature-making, but Macdonald shows that docs can be just as exciting – if not more so in a lot of cases – as any Hollywood bang-for-your-buck blockbuster.

Last King of Scotland is mostly remarkable for it’s two central performances – Forrest Whittaker as Amin (for which he won the Best Actor Oscar last year) and James McAvoy, the then-up-and-coming, now bona-fide star, who plays his personal physician. It’s brutal and gruesome in parts, but please don’t let that put you off (there’s enough warning to let you look away), with the two leads performing an almost perpetual dance around each other which draws you in. It is by no means a demolition job on Amin, but rather a carefully drawn portrait which shows you not only how terrible he was, but also how charismatic, how inspiring and how self-confident he was. When you see this film it helps you to understand how leaders and dictators like Amin, like Hitler, can rise to power when they seem so extreme. It’s all about the cult of personality.

I didn’t get through the entire flick before heading to fetch K from work, from where we headed straight to the gym and then on to the cinema to catch Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights.

Wong is known for his art-house foreign language movies, many of which have been considerably successful over here in their given scene, although you may not have heard of them. This is his first English-language film, for which he recruits a cast which combines Marquee names like Jude Law and Natalie Portman with solid British thesps like Rachel Weisz, top character actors like David Strathairn and is lead in an outstanding debut performance by better-known-as-singer/songerwriter Norah Jones.

Strathairn is worth the price of admission alone, as one of the greatest portrayals of alcoholism as I’ve seen on screen. It’s not just the perfect notes he hits in his various levels of stupor, but the contrast he creates with his daily working persona, the classic working-man’s drunk.

Jones is very good too, carrying the film on her shoulders with no noticeable nerves or lack of conviction. But one of the key things in turning in any good performance is the people you have to work with and when you play one-on-one scenes throughout a picture with the likes of Law, Weisz and Portman, you know they’re going to help you raise your game.

It’s not a flawless movie and it feels a lot longer than it’s 90-0dd minute running time, but it’s definitely worth a watch if you’re into tails of life and love and everything in between. It’s a little heavy on the food-fetish for my tastes, but each to their own.


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