Lilo & Stitch

Lilo & Stitch

Lilo & Stitch is not your average Disney flick, and is a serious contender for the best animated movie I’ve seen in a long while, just slightly behind Monsters Inc. If you’d previously dismissed Disney as saccharine dross featuring a journey of some kind by a reluctant hero (or heroine) aided by a couple of wise-cracking sidekicks usually voiced by Eddie Murphy, then think again. This is no Aladdin, Mulan, Lion King, or—shiver—Little Mermaid.

Instead, Lilo & Stitch is an energetic, funny movie, aimed at kids, but full of the film references and humour that adults appreciate, just like the critcally acclaimed output of Disney partner Pixar. There is of course, a message—this is Disney, after all—but it is delivered with refreshing subtlety, not ladled on by the spoonful as we’ve seen in previous movies. Best of all, Lilo & Stitch is not a musical. Sure, the movie is peppered with Elvis songs (more Elvis songs than ever appeared in any single Elvis picture), but they simply add to the kitschy Hawaiian backdrop and are genuinely humorous rather than grandiose.

Stitch, actually known as Experiment 626, is an alien genetic experiment, designed to destroy all he touches with superhuman strength and ferocity. His creator Dr Jumba Jookiba (voiced by David Ogden Stiers), a self proclaimed “evil genius”, is imprisoned and Experiment 626 banished to a distant asteroid. However, by creative use of his bodily fluids, 626 escapes and makes his way to Earth pursued by Jookiba and the one-eyed Agent Pleakley (Kevin McDonald, from The Kids in the Hall).

Earth is considered a nature reserve by the aliens, and so rather than blast Experiment 626 with their pleasingly liquid laser guns, Jookiba and Pleakley must bide their time until they can grab him in secret.

626 lands on Hawaiian island of Kauai and is mistaken for a weird looking dog. He is adopted and named Stitch by Lilo Pelekai (brilliantly voiced by Daveigh Chase), a troubled, exuberant and quirky young Hawaiian girl who is obsessed with Elvis and taking photos of sunburnt tourists. She lives with her sister Nani (Tia Carrere), who struggles to provide for the troublesome Lilo since their parents died and attracts the attention of social worker, Cobra Bubbles, who has more than a passing resemblance to Pulp Fiction’s Marsellus Wallace (both are played by Ving Rhames).

Lilo & Stitch is set in a bright, vivid Hawaii, helped by the amazing watercolour backgrounds (apparently the first time Disney has done that since the 1940s). Writer-Directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders must take credit for producing Disney’s least formulaic movie in recent memory and creating relatively complex, engaging characters: when we first meet Lilo she ends up punching a classmate in the face, which is not traditionally how Disney has gone about creating sympathetic characters. We can share Lilo’s sister Nani’s world weary resignation and frustration and the family situation rings true. It’s small things like this which root the movie and allow it to spin off in surreal directions (Stitch’s Elvis impressions and his ability to use his claw as a record player needle and his mouth as a speaker).

I’m hoping that Disney will learn some lessons from this and their relationship with Pixar and start producing more movies of this calibre. Unfortunately, Disney’s next releases, Treasure Planet and Jungle Book 2 seem to be looking at the more traditional way Disney makes movies, which is a shame.

Lilo & Stitch
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Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Director Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Stars Chris Sanders, Daveigh Chase, Tia Carrere, Ving Rhames, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin McDonald, Jason Scott Lee
Genre Animation, Comedy, Family

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Cos์ Fan Tutte

Così fan tutte

When I was young and going through puberty, I used to love the foreign erotic films on cable television so much more than the overt and bland hardcore pornography of the US. The foreign films not only had stories and plotlines but they were just sexier. There was always more lingerie and the suggestion of sex was more powerful than just flat out coitus. Tinto Brass was always considered a well-respected European erotic filmmaker. Although he may be best known for his notorious work on “Caligula”, his films “Miranda” and “The Key” were considered erotic masterpieces. They took place during World War II and the women were empowered.

In 1992’s “Cos์ Fan Tutte” aka “All Ladies Do It”, the leading lady Diana Bruni (played by Claudia Koll) is in love with her husband Paolo (played by Paolo Lanza) but loves to have erotic encounters with other men. At the same time, she tells her husband about these encounters as if they were fantasies. Since he thinks they are just Diana’s imagination, he gets extremely excited. The theme of anal sex also plays an important role in the film. The entire film is a feast for the eyes with female and male nudity and wonderful shots of women in thigh high stockings, garter belts and other lingerie. While “Cos์ Fan Tutte” may not be as sexy or as stylish as other Tinto Brass movies, it still manages to be very sensuous and fun.

A majority of the movie is basically a flashback that takes place during the early 1990s. Diana sits at her desk and wishes for her husband to return. She writes a letter to an advice column in an Italian women’s magazine. The movie then goes back and tells her story. From a pretentious female poet to a seedy “pirate of love” who love women’s behinds, the characters are colorful to say the least.

The encounters get more and more intense and sexual as the film goes on. At first, it is just pinch and a kiss or a touch here and a touch there. Soon, it becomes full adultery. Alphonse, the pirate of love who loves female’s bottoms, (played by Franco Branciaroli) is disgustingly seedy but very educated at the same time.

Diana inherits an apartment in Venice and her time away from her husband is not only filled with Alphonse but her own cousin too! Diana discovers that her aunt (who left her the apartment) was just as sexual, if not more. Inspired by this, Diana set off on new adventures. Once Paolo finds out that these so-called fantasies are real, he leaves her. The sexual encounters reach their pinnacle when she goes to an outside rave, takes ecstasy and basically goes on a sexual rampage. The C&C; Music Factory song “Everybody Dance Now” is altered and a different, more sexual version, is used as the theme. By the end, she is strung out, drunk, sexed out, used, abused, and with her breasts exposed.

The dynamic of the marriage and the infidelity along with feminine liberation is extremely interesting. His wife’s so-called fantasies excite Paolo with other men but he cannot stand it when they are true. The film also asks questions about the roles of men and women. Diana works at a lingerie shop where her boss is constantly touching her and trying to have sex with her. It is pure sexual harassment. Tinto Brass even makes an appearance as he comes in with a young lover. He is just as touchy with the ladies who work at the store.

The themes of fidelity and marriage are the most serious issues. Paolo is furious about Diana’s adultery but refuses to have sex with Diana’s sister when he is tempted (even though his body tells him yes). The film basically asks the question: Can a woman be satisfied with just her husband? In the film, the concept of adultery is basically looked upon as a cultural taboo.

Even though conclusion is cute and somewhat unbelievable, the viewers want the couple to live happily ever after. In real life, many couples would not last in a relationship like this one. While Paolo must accept Diana’s liberation, he is happy just to be with her.

Claudia Knoll is exceptionally beautiful while many may think of her as a “bimbo”. The viewers must keep in mind that this is not a typical movie. This is an erotic film. There’s a difference. Knoll is voluptuous and extremely sexy, especially when she is wearing lingerie that accentuates her breasts and hips. She has both a naive quality to her as well as a slightly perverted quality too.

Brass truly is a master of erotic foreign film. Even though “Cos์ Fan Tutte” is much more blatantly sexual than some of his other films, there is an artistic beauty to all of his work. The scenery of Italy and Vienna is magnificent. Brass is a master at picking wonderful locations. While the scenery and music in “The Key” is much more beautiful, “Cos์ Fan Tutte” still has a signature Brass style. In this unrated version, there are many shots of both the male and female body parts but penetration is never shown. Still, the average movie fan may be surprised with all of the nudity.

“Cos์ Fan Tutte” aka “All Ladies Do It” is much more of a fun foreign erotic film than the passionate relationship stories of past films by Brass. Cult Epics re-released the Unrated version of this film on DVD along with stills, an interesting Tinto Brass interview, outtakes, and other minor bonus materials.

While the subtitles may turn some American viewers off, the sound of the spoken Italian language is so beautiful. Knoll’s real voice is sexy and fun loving. A dubbed version would never be able to project that. While the transfer is much more clean and clear than “The Key” or “Miranda”, the DVD is not as clear and crisp as the typical US film. As a film, “Cos์ Fan Tutte” is much more modern but less artistic and stylish than other Tinto Brass films. If voluptuous Italian women having wild affairs in sexy lingerie is your thing (like it is mine), “Cos์ Fan Tutte” is a fun and sexy film by a master erotic foreign filmmaker.

Cos์ Fan Tutte
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Cos์ Fan Tutte (1992)
Director Tinto Brass
Stars Claudia Koll, Paolo Lanza, Ornella Marcucci, Isabella Deiana
Genre Erotica, Comedy, Drama

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Meet the Fockers

Meet the Fockers Movie Review

Meet the Fockers

Meet the Fockers is the follow-up to the Jay Roach’s hugely successful and generally funny Meet the Parents (2000), where Robert De Niro was finally granted his life-long wish of graduating to comedy acting after trying desperately hard in Analyze This (1999), Analyze That (2002) and, uh, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000). That’s not to say Bob hasn’t been funny in previous movies, consider his darkly humorous Rubert Pupkin in Scorcese’s The King of Comedy (1983) and the goofball Harry Tuttle in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), but Meet the Parents was where De Niro finally found his form and shook off the Mafia persona he’d riffed on for decades.

He was helped by Ben Stiller as the uptight Gaylord Focker, the prospective son-in-law to ex CIA man Jack Byrnes (De Niro). Nobody does uptight quite as well as Stiller, he’s made it an exquisite artform, and the interplay between Stiller’s anxious, eager to please Focker and the suspicious Byrnes was superb. Everything that could go wrong when Gaylord Focker’s fiancé Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) takes him to meet her parents did go wrong, and most of the enjoyment in the movie was watching Stiller squirm in a variety of uncomfortable situations.

The inevitable sequel has now rolled into town and doesn’t mess with the formula, it just serves up more of the same by giving Gaylord embarrassing parents and bringing the whole Byrnes family over to meet them before the wedding. And again, the fun is watching Stiller become more and more wound up by things he can’t control.

Dustin Hoffman is a gifted comedic actor, who was superb in I Heart Huckabees(2004), if slightly adrift in the existential script, but comes to life as Bernie Focker, an ex civil rights lawyer who gave up practising to become a stay at home father. Hoffman clearly relishes the role, and his infectious enthusiasm lights up the screen whenever he appears.

Barbara Streisand, who plays Gaylord’s mom Roz Focker, is a sex therapist who works with old people, putting some zip back into their marriage. This is Streisand’s first movie role for almost ten years, but she has so much zest you’d think she’d been churning out comedies for the last decade.

Together Roz and Bernie are casual, progressive parents, the antithesis of Jack and Dina Byrnes and their uptight, secretive nature. It’s a battle between liberalism and conservatism, Jews and Gentiles, the unconventional and the traditional, with Gaylord stuck in the middle trying to please both sides and failing miserably.

There are some great set-pieces, such as a supposedly friendly game of touch football (“Dina, you and I will take on Jack and Roz. Come on, Jack, it’ll be fun – we’ll swap wives.”), a dinner where Gaylord’s dried, shrivelled foreskin from his circumcision (that his parents have proudly kept) ends up in the fondue, and a sub-plot where Jack becomes convinced that Gaylord might already be a father.

Everybody seems to be having a great time in the movie it seems churlish to criticise it, but somehow it doesn’t feel as funny as it could be. I laughed, but not as much as I wanted to. Perhaps some of the jokes were just too familiar from the first movie (a problem that the Austin Powers franchise suffered from, also directed by Jay Roach), perhaps it was because I’d recently seen Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy which is hysterically funny from beginning to end and Meet the Fockers slightly pales in comparison.

But I’ve yet to see a bad Ben Stiller movie (okay, there’s Mystery Men (1999), but that’s an anomaly and seems to be gathering cult status for reasons beyond me), so you can be sure that you will enjoy this film. Put it this way, if you liked the first movie, the chances are good that you’ll like this one, too.

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Meet the Fockers (2004)
Director Jay Roach
Stars Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson
Genre Comedy

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Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots Movie Review

Kinky Boots

When the young Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) inherits the family business, a failing shoe factory in Northampton, he feels like a fish out of water. Unable even to operate the office intercom, he finds that one of his first tasks is to make fifteen of his workers redundant. Cheap imports from abroad are slashing the market for handmade shoes and faced with the economic realities, Charlie is uncertain how stop the slow spiral towards extinction.

But two people jolt him into a new course of action. An outburst from sacked worker Lauren (the elfin-faced Sarah-Jane Potts), suggesting Charlie discover new markets, and a chance meeting with larger-than-life drag queen Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in a London alleyway make him realise that perhaps salvation can be found producing kinky boots for a niche market of cross dressers and transvestites.

Kinky Boots follows the tried and tested British movie formula established in Calendar Girls (2003), The Full Monty (1997) and Billy Elliot (2000). It mixes a bit of light hearted humour, a touch of social realism, and, despite the occasionally overwrought drama, everything always works out in the end. There are no real surprises here, and even a vague feeling of déjà vu, as the plot unfurls; but you’d have to be a bit of a cynic to really hold it against Kinky Boots. Despite clichéd portrayals of bumbling bosses, earthy workers, drag queens, wives who just don’t understand and the pretty worker who does, the movie has a charm that dares you not to like it.

The movie succeeds thanks to the two main leads. Joel Edgerton has a face stuck in the 70s, recalling British actors Robin Askwith and Richard O’Sullivan, but the Australian thespian, previously known for playing Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels, pulls off a flawless Northampton accent and pours enough earnest personality into the role to make him eminently watchable.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (who also appears in Four Brothers and Serenity opening this month) resists the urge to go completely over the top, camping it up when Lola is “performing”, but also drawing himself inward to demonstrate Lola’s vulnerable, insecure side. Lola and Charlie are instinctively drawn together because they’re both filled with uncertainties, and this theme of identity forms the backbone of the movie.

Shaun of the Dead‘s Nick Frost who plays Don, a factory worker slightly offended by Lola’s presence and sceptical of Charlie’s attempts to find a new direction for the shoe factory, is effortlessly funny. But on the whole this is a forgettable, paper thin film that adds nothing new to any of the subjects it touches on. Kinky Boots is diverting while it’s on the screen, rinsing itself out of the mind within minutes of leaving the movie theatre.

If you liked The Full Monty, or the twee output of Richard Curtis, then you’ll like this. It’s charming, inoffensive stuff, solidly helmed by Julian Jarrold, directing his first feature film after a career directing TV dramas like Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2002). If, on the other hand, you don’t, at least you’ll know exactly what you’re avoiding.

Kinky Boots
6 / 10 Pixelsurgeon Verdict
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Kinky Boots (2005)
Director Julian Jarrold
Stars Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, Nick Frost, Ewan Hooper, Linda Basset, Jemima Rooper
Genre Drama, Comedy

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Alien Autopsy

Alien Autopsy

Alien Autopsy is a disturbing film, but not—surprisingly—because of its queasy scenes of faked extraterrestrial necropsy, but because on a superficial level I never thought I’d live to see the day when Declan Donnelly would share big screen space with Harry Dean Stanton, and on a less superficial level the fact that it plays with with the truth in a way that benefits Ray Santilli’s bank balance.

Ten years ago, Ray Santilli claimed to be in possession of some authentic footage of an actual autopsy carried out by the US military in 1947 on a being found in a crashed alien spacecraft. If true, this was the biggest news since… well, ever, as it would prove beyond doubt that we are not alone in the universe. The repercussions were unimaginable: it would shake the foundations of science and cause a major rethink for the world’s religions, with the exception of perhaps Scientology.

The grainy, shaky footage from Roswell, New Mexico, divided people, with those who wanted to believe on one side (remember, this was a time when The X-Fileswas at the height of its powers) and sceptics on the other. It’s fair to say that Santilli’s story was dubious at best and certainly not helped by his ambiguous comments, retractions and refusal to have the film tested. Admittedly, he later released strips of film which were positively identified as originating from 1947, but sadly this proved nothing as the film strips supplied were either blank leaders or contained images unrelated to the autopsy footage. In short, the strips could have come from any similar film stock from the period and it was difficult not to suspect an elaborate hoax.

Perhaps the most telling evidence came from the actual footage itself. Although gruesome, it had several tell-tale signs that perhaps this was a modern recreation, not a real postmortem. The alien seems slightly rubbery, and the surgeons handle it rather gingerly, as if more robust manipulation might reveal that it’s actually made of foam or silicone. The scalpel cuts to the head and body are tentative, not the firm strokes of experienced surgeons and the skin had none of the elasticity of real flesh. Key moments, such as the removal of the ribcage, are inexplicably missing, perhaps suggesting that they were difficult to fake. An excellent analysis of the film’s apparent goofs can be found on The Truly Dangerous Company’s website.

Items visible in the alien autopsy footage, such as the wall-mounted telephone and clock, have been the subject of intense debate, with some suggesting the phone’s curly cord is an anachronism and others pointing out that phones with curly cords did exist in 1947. However, the accuracy of the phone and clock do not prove the film is genuine or a fake, simply that if it was a hoax, someone was doing their homework.

Despite mounting evidence that this was a faked autopsy, Santilli maintained that the footage was genuine, even producing the alleged cameraman in 1996 for a video interview which was shown on Japanese TV. The crude attempt to mask the cameraman’s identity by filming him in silhouette was compromised simply by turning the TV’s brightness up. As a result Santilli refused to allows the footage to be shown in the US.

As the years went by and the fuss subsided, the consensus seemed to be that the video was a clever fabrication and was almost forgotten about until the movie, Alien Autopsy, rekindled interest in the subject.

The movie is a sort of biopic of Santilli (played by Declan Donnelly) and his best friend Gary Shoefield (Ant McPartlin) and concedes—for the first time—that the alien autopsy video that was shown on TV around the world was actually shot by Santilli and his friends. We’re asked to believe that Santilli did buy realfootage of the Roswell alien autopsy, but the film stock began to degrade so much that he was forced to recreate it as he’d borrowed money for its purchase from a crazy, sadistic art dealer (Götz Otto) who’d kill him unless he got his hands on the alien film.

We’re also asked to suspend our disbelief as it’s suggested that the alien body—which would take the services of a skilled special effects house to create—was fabricated by a company that made shop mannequins owned by Santilli’s gran’s boyfriend and filmed by a kebab shop owner (Omid Djalili). In the film, Santilli views the autopsy footage as a money-making exercise after the recreation had been made, which surely jars with the real course of events.

Ant and Dec are two of the most famous TV presenters in the UK, and even if they did start their professional careers as actors on kids’ drama series Byker Grove, their cheekie chappie personas are so ingrained in the collective mind of any audience it becomes an uphill struggle to stop viewing them as Ant and Dec, the TV presenters rather than Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly the actors. In the context of this movie being a comedy, Ant and Dec do okay, even if the other actors surrounding them are in another league (I’m thinking here in particular of Omid Djalili who proves once again that even with a tiny bit of dialogue he can work wonders). Harry Dean Stanton, who plays Harvey, the cameraman who shot the “real” alien footage in the 1940s, simply does that hangdog, slightly seedy performance we know and love. He could be on autopilot, but it’s difficult to tell because he does it so well.

As a comedy film, it’s fine and raises the occasional chuckle (although the real laughs come at the expense of Star Trek’s Jonathon Frakes who presented the Fox special Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction? and whose comically arch delivery gets another airing in this film). But as a part of something larger it takes on a more cynical edge.

The film suggests that Santilli really does have alien autopsy footage that no-one has seen yet, and I’ll bet that if this film sparks any media interest, Santilli will start doing the rounds again, offering the “real” footage for sale. As someone with a Fortean disposition, part of me is intrigued to watch this unfold (as I was when the alien autopsy footage was released in the mid nineties). It’s impossible to review this film properly without being aware of the full story behind it. A good starting point, is this article by George Wingfield which appeared in Flying Saucer Review in 1995, and cuts through much of the fog to present a plausible sequence of events, even going as far as to suggest who else may have been involved in creating the fake footage with Santilli.

The ironic thing is that there is a truly fascinating story begging to be told here, and that’s the real story of the Alien Autopsy hoax, as it really happened. The writers and directors have missed a trick here by pandering to the cynical, money-making whims of Ray Santilli.

Alien Autopsy
6 / 10 Pixelsurgeon Verdict
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Alien Autopsy (2006)
Director Jonny Campbell
Stars Declan Donnelly, Ant McPartlin, Bill Pullman, Harry Dean Stanton , Omid Djalili, Jimmy Carr, Morwenna Banks, Götz Otto
Genre Comedy

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