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Euro-AICN: Two Weeks Notice; TTT; About a Boy; Bend It Like Beckham; The Lawless Heart; Moon Energy Machines

Father Geek here with Robert in Rome and the Euro-AICN Report for this week...

Hi people. First column of the year, so it’s quite usual to give you a few top lists from our part. James Bartlett did a wonderful job to share his thoughts about this year (there was not a great period, I have to agree) and to give us also a new bunch of reviews. From my part, I find very difficult to list ten movies which excited me. Of course, The Two Towers is one of them (I can’t find an important flaw on this movie, except maybe that people who didn’t saw the FOTR extended version and haven’t read the book will have some trouble to understand the elf cloak scene). Probably my second preferred movie was Lilo & Stitch, which give me the impression that Disney was coming back (then, Treasure Planet arrived…). I was also really moved by The Pianist, even if I’m not totally enthusiastic about its screenplay. Between other movies I enjoyed, I would insert Bowling For Columbine, Insomnia, Ice Age, Signs...

Of course, considering I’m living in Italy, there are a few movies that are not in release yet and that could have been easily in my list, as Gangs of New York, Chicago, Adaptation, About Schmidt, Spirited Away and Auto Focus.

Between movies that disappointed me, there are Far From Heaven (it’s an interesting movie, but I can’t stand the ingenuousness of both the main characters), Talk with Her (it seems I’m the only person on earth I didn’t like it), Dancer Upstairs (it’s quite ridiculous sometimes), Panic Room and Windtalkers.

Of course, there are a lot of very awful movies, but I suppose you’re not interested to hear another one blaming Scooby Doo…

Well, in Italy it was a disastrous year for our production. It was quite impossible to see a great movie (with a very good exception, Emanuele Crialese’s Respiro, starring Valeria Golino). And the movie we hoped could change this situation, Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio, was an unbelievable mess, as you probably know (or maybe not, considering that it was a terrible flop outside Italy). Well, I wrote an article about a very interisting animated project and I hope that next year (or even before) I could start this column announcing it was greenlighted. Enjoy!

Moon Energy Machines Project

During the last twelve months, the state of the art of the Italian animation has moved from a promising situation to a very bad one. Nevertheless, just in the ’98, the success of “La gabbianella e il gatto” (a.k.a. Zorba and Lucky) generated great expectations for a new renaissance of the field. Unfortunately, a number of artistic and box office failures, like “Momo”, “Aida” and “Johan Padan”, didn’t give answer the spreaded expectations. That has created an atmosphere where financial supports finding represents a very hard task for the Italian cartoonists, even if many high quality projects have been recently proposed. “Moon Energy Machines” is one of them. It comes out from an idea of Daniele Lunghini, a name that should be familiar to people who love animation. In fact Lunghini, thanks to “Le foto dello scandalo” (Shame’s photos,) succeeded in beating “For The Birds” and “Father and Daughter” (the last 2 Oscar Awards winners in the category for “short film animated”) at the World Animation Celebration. This “noir” 3D short represented a new way to tell a story, an original and involving narrative technique. At present, Moon Energy Machines is creating great interests in the expertees, also because it could be one of the first Italian movies completely made in 3D. For sure it is an ambitious project but with an estimated low budget (around 2 millions of dollars, a very low costs if compared with the budget of the titles mentioned at the beginning of this article). What is the story? First of all you can see with your own eyes on the official website,, some aspects of the project.

Lunghini describes MEM as a mix of The name of the rose+The three Musketeers+The Round Table Knights. The story basically flows in the middle of the 16° century, in Europe.

We meet the two main characters, Sakura and Maclain, when they both are 8 years old and 2 objects enter into their life, definitely changing their destiny.

Sakura is a Japanese girl that lives in a southern island of Japan. One day Sakura finds a book on the shore of the beach. The book, coming from a wrecked Portuguese ship that was sailing to China. That book will reveal to be very precious for the inhabitants.

In the meanwhile, the young Maclain finds, in an open market, a mysterious Japanese sword. The sword seems to play a very fascinating melody that attracts him. Thanks to this sword, a traditional katana, Maclain will overcome an hard challenge. This scene is one of the most beautiful of the movie.

Both the book and the sword will be stolen, leading our heroes (already eighteen years old) to leave their country and to go around looking for them. Than the action moves to Italy, where Sakura obtains new important information thanks to Baldovino, a friar that will help her to search the book she lost, travelling throughout England, where she will meet Maclain.

I don’t want to tell more, but it certainly represents a very stimulating project. The interaction between the two characters seems to succeed on the base of their envolving relationship (are they in love?) according to the standard of successful TV serials like Avengers or X-Files. But I think many more love scenes could be added.

The action sequences result very impressive and able to fully attract the audience attention. In particular, the challenge initially faced by Maclain could rise the spectator to a very astonishing sequence.

Also the secondary characters result very interesting. Baldovino, his faith in books is comparable to one he has in God. Wanna, a witch, representing the competition between sense and illusion. Personally, I don’t think that the title will stay that, because only at the end it will become clear what the Moon Energy Machines are (by a different point of view you could think about a scientific documentary).

Anyway, MEM could be a very interesting novelty among the Italian productions, usually performed without considering the Italian audience preferences. It could represent as well a good source of profits, especially considering its very low budget, consisting of 2 or 3 million dollars. Such amount of money is affordable even by indies. I think it can also represent a good starting point for the making of an attractive TV serial.

James Bartlett sent me a bunch of great stuff, including his 2002 top list (Best and Worst) and three reviews

(Be Careful... many Spoilers)…

The Best Of 2002

It wasn't a great year for films really; whether that's down to 9/11 and the WGA dispute in the USA or the closure of Film Four in the UK, I really don't know, but the fact of the matter is that films - and more importantly the scripts - were on the whole pretty average and the emphasis on paying stars huge fees for shoddy work continued unabated.

My list of films almost entirely comes from the independent-ish/low budget-ish sector or reflects specific genres - maybe this is the way to go, or at least to attract an audience who wants more than an instantly forgettable popcorn night out.

10. Brotherhood Of The Wolf

An absolute cracking film this was - period setting, a true spooky story and kick-ass action - and it would have been much higher up the list except for the last 20minutes, which were almost a different film; a real shame.

9. Rabbit-Proof Fence

An awesome-looking and effective story about the policy of the Australian Government towards aboriginal children from mixed relationships. Deftly directed and never too judgemental, it told an amazing story and did it well.

8. Monsters, Inc

The first of two cracking animation films in the Top 10, Monsters, Inc was an amusing and smart film. John Goodman and Billy Crystal's voices worked so well with such a good script and the story - monsters in the cupboard that come out when the light is switched off - hits a chord with all kids, old or young.

7. xXx

One of the purest thrilling entertainment films I have seen for a while. Sure, Vin Diesel is no Olivier, but he didn't need to be with the wicked set-pieces and stunts that were involved in the ludicrous story. A switch-off-the-brain hit that could signal "Farewell Mr Bond".

6. Ocean's 11

An absolute stonking film from Soderburgh et al. Sharp and cool all the way through, it really worked as an ensemble piece and entertained thoroughly.

5. Hable Con Ella / Talk To Her

Yet another beautifully observed and moving character piece from Almodovar. How does he keep turning them out? To make us love a character when we know they have done wrong is great writing - and great acting too. Talk To her really resonates.

4. The Lawless Heart

A little seen British film, this was a superbly written and acted story about a set of characters that come together for the funeral of one of their friends. As we see their separate stories and how they intertwine, we are totally drawn in and enthralled. It was a minor classic and gave me hope in a very bad year for the Brit film industry.

3. Ice Age

I have seen this animation about four times already and I laugh out loud every time I see it. I was instantly totally encapsulated in the world of these very odd and opposite characters: the mammoth, sabre-tooth tiger, sloth - and the masterly Scrat. Brilliant voice work again reflects a brilliant script.

2. 28 Days Later

2002 looks like it was the year that Hammery-type horror came back into vogue; Brotherhood of The Wolf, Dog Soldiers (see bubbling under) and Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, which was a great zombie film with amazing camerawork and images. It was a riot all the way through - and pretty scary too.

Bubbling under..

24 Hour Party People - great music, funny script

Mulholland Drive - incomprehensible Lynch at his best

Dog Soldiers - enjoyable werewolf shlock horror

Donnie Darko - original and different, if flawed

Frailty - intense and well acted

Harry Potter/Chamber of Secrets - great entertainment and better than the first film Kissing Jessica Stein - a funny and effective story about love and sex

Lantana - smart adult drama

Spider-Man - cartoony but in the best way

Signs - some real great work

The Best Film of 2001... Bend It Like Beckham

It may have been early in 2002 and sure, it may have benefited from Beckham/World Cup Fever, but BILB was a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. It looked great, everyone gave it their all and despite some clumsy dialogue it was a sheer "big smile" movie from start to finish.

Bend It Like Beckham

d. Gurinder Chadha Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Anupam Kher, Juliet Stevenson

Note: David Beckham is Captain of the England football team. He is married to "Posh" from The Spice Girls and their fame (in England at least) borders on the extraordinary. They are described as "New Royalty" - a worrying trend for two people who do not seem to have many brain cells between them, yet they seem blissfully happy and have more money than I will ever see, so fair play to them. What do I know anyway?

Jasminder Bhamra (Jess to her friends) is a football-mad - her hero is David Beckham. When fellow football-freak Jules (Keira Knightley) asks her to join the local team, Jess faces the problem of telling her parents.

They do not consider football to be a suitable hobby for their youngest daughter: she should be following family and religious tradition and learning how to cook; looking for a husband - after all, her sister is getting married and seems perfectly happy about it.

Encouraged by team coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) Jess sneaks out to play and her and Jules form a striking partnership in the team. Ultimately, they make the Cup Final - and the news arrives that an American Scout is coming to watch the two J's.

Of course, the Final falls on the same day as her sister's wedding. Jess is torn between the responsibilities to her family and her own wishes - wishes that include her growing attraction to Joe - who Jules and her have agreed is off limits.

Director Chadha has covered this area before; her insight into the modern British Asian community - often at conflict within second and third generation, between old traditions in a modern-day society (shown early on when a mobile rings - and all the old aunts reach for their handbags.)

Jess really has an astonishingly difficult time breaking through this barrier - and the choice of football as the lever is a shrewd one. Whilst it is inconceivable that there are schools that do not allow girl football teams, here you get the double trouble of Jess growing as a modern British Asian and making her hobby something that some people still cannot accept - let alone her parents.

It is of course Jess' dad Mr Bhamra (Anupum Kher - via a touching anecdote) who comes through in the end. He sees a daughter so sad at being banned from doing what she wants that he relents; she attends the cup final and gets her place at a USA University - somewhere they take women's' soccer seriously.

Sports movies often fall by the wayside on their clumsy action scenes, but these girls can clearly play really well and the scenes really work. The relationship between Jules and Jess is convincing and the summer weather that accompanies the clearly enjoyable shoot comes across in the wining performances by the entire young cast.

That aside, there are many laughs, a great comic turn from Juliet Stevenson as Jules' mother, convinced her daughter is a lesbian because she wears sports bras and likes football - another clever example of parental over-concern of a different sort relating to football.

It drags a little and some of the dialogue is clunky, but overall it works really well, shines brightly and is not too soccer-obsessed that it is a bore for those uninterested in the sport.

Hugely accessible, it may also open eyes about Asian culture too - very necessary considering the riots in England last year. Best of all, it never falls into cliché traps and director Chadha does a great job, especially juxtaposing the soccer match with the wedding celebrations.

A real treat, with cross over potential.

The Worst Films Of 2002

It is worrying to see that several of these include big studio, big budget, big star, big director films. Quite apart from the moral question of how that money could have been better spent to helps the world, it also showed a continued flagrant disregard for the cinema-going public: just stick a star in it and the idiots will come in droves.

Bubbling under was a close-run thing by the way - they nearly all made it to the 10.

10. Swimfan

Supposedly a Fatal Attraction for the 00's, this limp swimming (!) based psycho-girlfriend film posited a nasty view of women that turned me right off - despite a good performance from Erika Christensen.

9. Waking Life

Indie darling Richard Linklater directed this incomprehensible animation-based treatise on life. Dull, confusing and tiresome.

8. Training Day

I know this got Oscar nominations for both leads - Ethan Hawke for Christ's sake - but I found it lazy and badly-written, despite Denzel Washington's usual good work. He's an Oscar actor sure, but he's deserved the statue for better roles than one where he plays the stereotype black man from the 'hood. Maybe it was a stretch for him, but as his body of work goes, it's not up there.

7. Men In Black II

Sure, it was a huge hit - see my introduction notes - but I thought it wasn't a patch on the original. A confused story, some crap action. A flop.

6. Queen Of The Damned

Rushed out to capitalise on the late Aaliyah's vampish film role, this was unfocused, pretend-erotic twaddle, with yet another poor performance from Stuart Townsend.

5. The Count of Monte Cristo

All I remember about this film is how so very, very long it took to get into second gear - and then to finish. And the Count himself was so unlikeable as a character. Still, it looked nice.

4. Hearts In Atlantis

Not many saw this one - lucky you I say. It was Stephen King tripe about a man who mentors the kid who lives below him with his wise sayings and his talk of a shady past. Hopkins on auto-pilot - shame on him - and an utterly pointless film.

3. Die Another Day

I know it's sacrilege to criticise Bond and I think Pierce Brosnan is very good, but this film was just a total mess. It was all over the place and it's woeful CGI effects - compared to xXx - made it look embarrassing in comparison. But it did what it said on the tin.

2. Collateral Damage

Tanked so early in the year, probably taking Arnold Schwarzenegger with it - though he does have Terminator 3 coming up. It was a pseudo-terrorist thing that got caught in the 9/11 hysteria and was buried. But it had no need to be, as it would have died on it's own; truly laughably dire.

Bubbling Under..

Minority Report - Spielberg's usual over-long direction and not enough action

Possession - really dull; what was Neil LaBute thinking?

Road To Perdition - utterly heartless and soulless

The Scorpion King - bahhhh went the sheep

Austin Powers in Goldmember - over-indulgent and unfunny

The Worst Film of 2002... About A Boy

Head and shoulders the worst this year for me and I know many people loved it. Yes, I know that Hugh Grant did better job than usual (which isn't saying much, let's be honest), that the Weitz Brothers are good directors (in their genre), that Nick Hornby writes good books and that it came with a Working Title stamp, but I just hated it. The main reason was that Grant's character, Will, was such a feckless, lazy, unlikeable pratt - he kept saying he had no friends, hobbies or interests, yet at the end he got it all!

He targets single mothers as he thinks they are easy prey (ugh!) and that poor child that he befriends - what does he do to help him? Does he try and help his mother, get her some counselling, take her out for a meal to talk over her problems? No, he buys the boy trainers and gets his hair cut, then sends him home to his suicidal mum. How many times did Marcus have to say his mum wasn't well - yet Will was too shallow, lazy and stupid to hear this cry for help.

And then, to top it all, at the end of the film Will - unbelievably - is surrounded by all the other characters, as if they are were all one big happy family. I almost walked out of the cinema in disgust.

About A Boy

d. Chris and Paul Weitz

Galloping out of the stable is this Nick Hornby book adaptation that features Hugh Grant as Will, a guy who is nearly 40 and happily spends his days doing nothing. He watches TV, drives a fast car, plays snooker and gets his hair done - financing it all by living off the royalties from a song his father wrote.

Consequently, as he admits, he has no opinions about anything and nothing of interest to talk about - he must be a wow at parties! As for women, he considers no man to be an island, with him as Ibiza (so last millennium,) so they come and go, with no relationship ever lasting more than a few weeks.

One day, Will hatches a plan - go for single mothers! It is foolproof he reckons: they often have a damaged view of men, so if he acts the charmer he can bed them and be a "good" person as well. When he bores of them, he has a perfect reason to break up - the pressure of getting involved with a women and her child. Nice guy.

He attends a single parent support group posing as "Ned's" dad and meets Suzie (Angela Smurfit) there, but his plans for romance with her end abruptly when he is saddled with a morose 12-year-old called Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) on their day out.

When Marcus is dropped home, he finds his mother Fiona (Toni Collette) comatose from a drugs overdose. A few days later, Marcus calls Will, reckoning that his mum needs a boyfriend to make her happy - and keep her alive.

Will tells him to get lost, but Marcus threatens to expose him as a liar. Marcus begins to come round to Will's house to watch TV and tentatively a friendship develops as Will slowly realises that Marcus is deeply unhappy - bullied at school, worried about his mother, no friends and so on.

Romantic Comedies - if this is what this can be described as and seems to be marketed as - have several Golden Rules that you must follow for them to work. The major one is that you must really like the main character so that when they get their true love, we are happy for them.

But with Will, you never like him. He is shallow, selfish and cynical (what a nasty plan to meet women) and ignores the desperate situation Marcus and his mother are in for most of the film. So ultimately we end up with a film about a desperately sad young boy and his suicidal mother and their supposed saviour - a lazy, shallow guy who really does not help them at all.

That is until the last 5 minutes of the film when, miraculously, Will gets together (after lying again with the same plan) with Fiona (Rachel Weisz.) Then we end the film with everyone as friends and a happy extended family.

God! This ending was so contrived and totally unbelievable - Will was initially accused of being a child-molester for Christ' sake! - yet everyone ends up happy! OK, this is film-land and MAYBE you can suspend belief that much, but worst of all was that Will had not done anything to deserve this happiness - or to get the girl - he had not followed Golden Rule 1.

About A Boy, whilst at least shedding Grants' floppy hair image and providing some good lines - and a great little soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy - is an utterly charmless mess. Directors the Weitz Brothers (the auteurs of "American Pie") have clearly over-stretched themselves here and what you get is a film that, like Will, is a nasty piece of work.

One of the worst this year and I'm sorry to say it's a British movie from the usually reliable Working Title (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and A Funeral etc).

Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

d. Peter Jackson Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Seam Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys Davies, Orlando Bloom, Bernard Hill, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lee, Domonic Monaghan, Billy Boyd

The second film in director Peter Jackson's trilogy has a lot to live up to after the huge success - and phenomenon - that was 2001's The Fellowship Of The Ring and it signals it's intentions by starting immediately from when The Fellowship of The Ring ended.

Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam Gangee (Sean Astin) are still on their way to Mordor, where they plan to destroy the Ring that Frodo carries - a ring that is beginning to affect Frodo in much the same way as it's previous owner, Gollum, was affected; by making him slightly possessed.

However, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas (Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies and Orlando Bloom), their companions from the first film, are on a different mission - to rescue the other hobbits Merry (Domonic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) from the orcs, the plug-ugly henchmen of Saruman (Christopher Lee), the nasty wizard who wants to conquer Middle Earth and return it to the overwhelming evil of Sauron.

The film is essentially spilt into two as a result; Sam and Frodo are soon joined by Gollum (an amazing physical and vocal performance by Andy Serkis), who somehow persuades Frodo to let him guide them to Mordor, even though Sam is highly suspicious of his motives.

Meanwhile, Gandalf - now Gandalf The White - has returned to the story. He goes with Aragorn and the others to appeal to King Theoden of Rohan (Bernard Hill) for his help. But Theoden is under evil's spell and responds only to his nasty sidekick Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) - that is until Gandalf works his magic.

As Saruman and his orcs raise their army for the final battle to destroy all human resistance, Theoden and his men seem the last hope. The people leave their city and retreat to Riven's Dell, a huge castle in the side of the mountain, to wait for the final battle.

It looks like it's going to be a short-lived affair; Theoden's men number a few hundred, even with the last-minute help of the Elves, but even then, the orcs are several thousand.

The battle, stunning in its detail and scope, is long and harsh. All seems lost, but then Gandalf arrives with reinforcements and the good people and creatures seem likely to live to fight another day, especially when Merry and Pippin arrive with their new friends - the various types of trees who make up the Treebeard clan; trying fighting a huge oak tree!

As for the ring, Gollum is struggling to reconcile his good and evil side ("we wants the precioussss/but Frodo has been good to me") and we are not sure if he is as good as his word as he leads Frodo and Sam nearer to Mordor.

Whilst unquestionably an amazing spectacle and head and shoulders above most SFX films, The Two Towers was quite unengaging emotionally; character development was pretty much the theme of the day and whilst this added much grist to the mill, it still felt a little disjointed. The treebeard stuff was also very slow and almost unnecessary. Or perhaps The Fellowship was just so spectacular that we have been spoiled.

As for the acting talent, the CGI-generated Gollum stood out; he was not just an animated feature or a comic aside, he was a vital character, plus Viggo Mortensen and Bernard Hill were highlights among the human actors.

Hell alone knows how this will all knit together in Part 3, but it's bound to be amazing, whatever it is.

Two Weeks Notice

d. Marc Lawrence Sandra Bullock, Hugh Grant, Alicia Witt

Two Weeks Notice again teams up director Marc Lawrence with his "Miss Congeniality" star Sandra Bullock - a sensible idea that, as Miss Congeniality was a huge hit.

Bullock plays Lucky Kelson, a smart, kooky-ish singleton lawyer who spends her time and energy saving New York's environmental and cultural sites from the wreckers ball and chain.

When her own local neighbourhood community centre is threatened by her biggest enemy the Ward Corporation, she sets out to stop the demolition by approaching George Wade (Hugh Grant) in the street.

George is a bit of a rake; his brother runs the Wade company and he just spends his time lunching and seducing women - usually their company lawyer, which explains why he soon offers to give Lucy a job. Despite her reservations, Lucy agrees only if he promises to save the community centre.

The two opposites clash at first - especially since George seems incapable of deciding about anything - and Lucy soon becomes his confidante and best friend; she helps him choose his shirts and ties, organizes his schedule and eventually, arranges his life.

George's reliance on Lucy becomes overwhelming and when she is called out of her best friend's wedding by George for "an emergency" which is nothing of the kind, she finally gives her two weeks notice - only to find that she is jealous of her replacement June Carter (Alicia Witt) and how well she and George are getting on together. For his part, George now feels that without Lucy his life is missing something.

Two Weeks Notice is a smartly written and funny romantic comedy that brings out another improved performance from Grant. The story works really well and just stays on the side of believable without falling into mush or cliché, though the "Best Friend" characters are really underused and don't work - a problem in this genre.

That said, I am no Sandra Bullock fan at all and whilst I agree that she is funny in this film, I still don't like her. Sorry. She clouded my opinion of the film overall, but as a romcom it's one of the far better ones.

James Bartlett

That's all for today See you next week

Robert Bernocchi

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