Category Archives: 2007

Movie Review: Forbidden Lie$ (2007)

I came across Forbidden Lie$, the phenomenal 2007 Australian documentary (directed by Anna Broinowski), while researching for an interview.  While perhaps not one of the best made documentaries from a technical standpoint, Forbidden Lie$ is definitely one of the most intriguing and exciting films I’ve seen this year.

Some may recall the worldwide bestselling book Forbidden Love (also known as Honor Lost in the United States), written by Norma Khouri.  Released in the aftermath of September 11, Forbidden Love tells the purportedly true story of a Jordanian woman (Khouri’s best friend) who was stabbed to death by her family in an “honour killing” simply because she was in a chaste relationship with a non-Muslim man.

The book brought the insanity of these honour killings to the Western world, and for a while, Khouri was a huge star, appearing at book festivals and on TV shows all around the world, discussing the subject like an advocate and expert.  She was pretty, charismatic, passionate, and yet completely inexperienced in love.  People lined up for hours just to shake her hand and book signings and people even wrote songs about her.  Forbidden Lie$ was ranked by Australians as one of their 100 favourite books of all time, and it was said to have sold over 500,000 copies around the world.

That’s certainly the way Forbidden Lie$ starts out, painting Khouri as a remarkable woman who fled from oppression to tell her amazing true story to the world.  But for those who know the story, things suddenly take a crazy turn.  I won’t go into it much more than that, but the title of the film says it all.

Proving that truth is stranger than fiction, the film unravels like a well-written mystery — is she telling the truth, just part of the truth, or is everything that comes out of her mouth a bold-faced lie (like George Costanza trying to lie his way out of more lies at all costs)?

Part of the reason the film progresses like this is because director Anna Broinowski approached Khouri with the intention of making a film that would tell her side of the story and exonerate her from all the allegations.  So in many ways, the film is really Broinowski’s journey as she goes from stern believer to unconvinced sceptic.  Just how far will Khouri go to prove her innocence?

There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns, as more and more secrets start coming out of the woodwork, and yet, as Khouri is often the voice we hear, we feel almost compelled to believe everything she says.

The final half-hour or so may be too long-winded and repetitive, and some of the tactics were a little cheesy, but on the whole Forbidden Lie$ is simply riveting.  I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about the documentary until only a couple of days ago.

4 stars out of 5

Good news for those who now want to see it: the entire film is available on YouTube in 10 parts.  Check it out yourself.  Here is the trailer.

And if you want to read more about the story (warning: contains spoilers), I would recommend this article from journalist David Leser, who also appears in the film — Norma Khouri: The Inside Story of a Disgraced Author

DVD Review: Eastern Promises (2007)

I had been wanting to watch Eastern Promises since it was first released in 2007 but never got around to it until now.  Directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence) and starring Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel and Armin Mueller-Stahl, Eastern Promises is a brutal, uncompromising story about a British mid-wife (Watts) who becomes involved with the Russian mafia after coming across the diary of a young girl.

It’s an incredibly dark film that has won acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the Russian mafia in the UK, right down to the tattoos their bodies are covered with.  The film was nominated for three Golden Globes (including Best Picture — Drama), and Viggo was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar (but lost it to Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood).

Eastern Promises is not an easy film to watch.  It’s hard to call it “enjoyable” because of how deeply depressing and violent it is, not to mention the mumbling (though apparently incredibly accurate) Russian accents.  But at the same time, I couldn’t help but be engrossed in the film because it kept taking me deeper and deeper into this frightening world, and there were plenty of unexpected twists and turns that kept me on my toes, uncertain as to what might happen next.  Thanks to Cronenberg, there is also this creepy, unsettling tone underlying the entire film.

Of course, there is the one scene that everyone talks about which I won’t spoil, but it’s an absolutely remarkable piece of visceral cinematic brilliance.

And you can’t appraise this film without talking about Viggo Mortensen’s performance.  It’s hard to believe watching this man on screen that he was once Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, or the loving father from The Road.  He’s an insanely good actor and in any other year he probably would have won the Oscar for his portrayal of Nikolai, the family’s “driver”.

4 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: The Orphanage (2007)

Most of the posters for this film are very disappointing, but this Spanish one's not too bad

I’m a sucker for supernatural thrillers, and for the last couple of years I kept hearing about this Spanish film called El Orfanato (The Orphanage), the debut feature of director Juan Antonio Bayona, and produced by his good friend Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and soon, The Hobbit).

I finally got around to watching it, and admittedly, the hype is justified.

The Orphanage tells the tale of a woman who returns with her husband and son to her childhood home, an orphanage, which they intend to turn into a home for disabled kids.  Needless to say, stuff happens.  I don’t think it’s a premise I’ve seen before, but I’m sure it feels familiar.

Three things that tend to be common in ghost movies: big old house, weird noises and creepy children.  The Orphanage ticks all three boxes, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s going to be a formulaic, predictable horror.  The Orphanage is multiple notches above your average supernatural story for a variety of reasons.

First, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy.  It’s a film that builds up the tension gradually, using a combination of eerie stories and spooky moments.  It unsettles you, makes you feel uncomfortable.  It rarely relies on the cheaps scares that plague horror films these days.  There are also some clever tricks that I won’t divulge, but they are freaking terrifying.  There are a couple of scenes in particular that are classics in my opinion, and they always give me chills when I think about them.

Second, you actually give a crap about the characters.  Laura, the mother and the main lead, is exceptionally played by Spanish actress Belen Rueda.  You feel her pain, her fears, and her desperation.  Rueda makes her a flesh and blood, believable character you care about.  The father, Carlos, played by Fernando Cayo, has less to do here, but he has his moments too in a subtle, controlled performance.

Third, it’s a great story!  Given the premise I described above, it would have been easy for the film to collapse into your run-of-the-mill haunted house story, but there is so much more to it.  There is mystery, intrigue, twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming.

In a way, The Orphanage shouldn’t even really be called a “horror” as that downplays the dramatic aspects of the film.  I think the main reason the movie has done so well (won 7 Goya awards) is because of how emotional and heartbreaking it is, in a way you don’t expect horror movies to be.

Watch it before the obligatory Hollywood remake comes out! (New Line has already acquired the rights)

4.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Hot Rod (2007)

Box office flop 'Hot Rod' has become a cult classic

Every now and then comes a motion picture that appears to be absolute trash to the naked eye, a film so horrendously crap that it’s awesome, a movie so stupid that it may actually be a work of genius.  2007’s Hot Rod is one such film.

Hot Rod was one of those films that came out with little fanfare – low budget, no-name actors and poor marketing.  It also had a poster that was unfortunately very similar to a much more expensive film released just a year before – Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.  Consequently, Hot Rod bombed at the box office.  To be fair, the fact that it received some scathing reviews might have had something to do with it.

(Click on ‘More…’ to read the rest of the review!)

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