our film reviews: from armchair viewing to the festival front row

29 October 2006

[Reel-Reviews] Falling (3 stars)

This five friends reunited film has an ambiguous translation at its start - the German language title is 'Fallen'. The film festival titles it 'Falling' as above, but the subtitles had it down as 'Floating'. It might sound like a little thing, but I think it makes all (some?) of the difference.
Each friend has a past to live up to, a present to capture, a future to behold and fall into, a reputation that preceeds them, and ideas that define them - plus secrets to be told...

A great enemble showcase piece, highlighting the talents of six of Austria's best contemporary women in film (the cast and director, Barbara Albert), what it makes up for in characterisation, it ultimately lacks in a plot which slightly struggles to transcend its cultural context. Maybe a case of being genuinely lost in translation.

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[Reel-Reviews] For Your Consideration (3 stars)

After his take on dog shows, Christopher Guest turns his satirical eye to the thing he surely knows best - making movies. It's the story of the cast and crew of 'Home for Purim', a small-scale and limited production (in every sense). But when Oscar buzz hits the set after a crew member reads a rumour online, the rivalries, jealousies, and egos *really* start to take centre stage...

Film-making itself provides opportunities for some of the most self-obsessed, shallow and superficial dialogue, characterisation and narrative - the characters' unquestioning acceptance of its absurdity giving all the more tragi-comic potential. For me though, the jokes were just a bit too "in" and the whole thing slightly too knowing to make me care enough about any of them.
Not 'best in show', but certainly a solid third place.

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[Reel-Reviews] Infamous (5 stars)

What makes a 5 star film? I may change my mind in days to come on this film but I feel I have to go with my gut instinct when the film ended. Unlike Bobby seen earlier that afternoon that 'logically' is a 5 star film, this film took me on a journey and into a different realm, which in this genre makes for a 5 star film in my book.

Toby Jones plays the 'eccentric' late 20th century author Truman Capote impecabbly, which is an odd word to use given how much this film is about people being used by others, especially Capote. Small in stature, Truman is larger than life, but complex too. The film follows a foreseeable course but I did not expect how we were going to be taken there by director and script writer Douglas McGrath.

The script is based around the creation of Capote's book, In Cold Blood. This depicts in a "new form of reportage" the brutal murder of a family in a Kansas town. We are left to ponder to what extent this form of reportage lies in the literary genres of fact or fiction. Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), one of Capote's few non-society companions, has no doubts about Capote's aims as he extracts the base material for his book from the townsfolks and the murderers themselves.

The film could run its course and in many ways it does. Ultimately we are left wondering where the line between fantasy and fiction lies in Capote's own mind - and whether we too have experienced this through the film maker's lens.

At the time though I was taken in by the harrowing ending to this film and particularly a shot of Capote looking in a mirror where every emotion just runs across his face from sheer joy to sheer horror. This is a wonderful but desperately sad story.

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[Reel-Reviews] The Lineup (3 stars)

This 1958 classic from director Don Siegel appeared newly restored at the London Film Festival thanks to work by Sony-Columbia. We heard some of the restoration story from their chief restorer at this viewing - interesting to hear someone literally talking about 'the film' as something equally crafted and masterminded as the director's piece.

This is a cop-thriller based in San Francisco centred around a drug trafficking ring and the increasingly desperate attempts of a psychotic hitman to recover his employer's goods from the innocent tourists who have acted as carriers.

The drunken / maniacal driving and other action scenes around San Francisco are compelling enough to keep a contemporary audience on the edge of their seats.

The film is noted as "very influential" and is certainly a classic. It is somewhat difficult to rate fifty years on so 3 stars may be unfair. Nonetheless this is a chair-gripping 86 minute race from the opening scene to the 4.30pm harbour siren.

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27 October 2006

[Reel-Reviews] Bobby (4 stars)

This is the story of the eponymous assasinated senator - isn't it? The short answer is it's not that simple. It is the story - scrap that, the stories (plural) of a group of unrelated, everyday Americans in the Ambassador Hotel in June 1968 over the 18 hours before RFK's shooting.

Much of the film uses an incredibly clever interweaving of news footage from the months before and day of the assination itself with a brilliant ensemble acting piece (oh, that a cast...). But to even say this much implies it's a film building up to a shooting scene - and it's not: it's a film about a day in the life of everyday America but with echoes down the decades. There are references to voting and the Presidential primaries, but also to everything from fashion and current affairs, to MLK's assasination and Vietnam. And Estevez whispers in our ears the reminder that there are no shortage of parallels to our own times...

Of course you can't miss what you never had, but this is Estevez's version of events surrounding the "President they never had". And Bobby's really a minor character in what is actually a study of the signs of the times. As one of the campaigners says, "Now Dr King is dead, there's only Bobby." Just a man - not the Senator or a presidential hopeful, but a man, and one whose election to high office could have impacted our world in ways we dare not guess. And yet he was only one man - an individual, one of us.

The pivot point is Laurence Fishburne's chef telling a tale of the medieval king who would become Arthur. He was not always thus, it was a role that he grew into, and yet was all along - a once and future king. Estevez's film forces us to ask the question - if Bobby Kennedy was that once upon a time, who is our current once and future king?

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[Reel-Comments] London Film Festival Viewing

A list of the films we're seeing at the London Film Festival:

- Little Children (2006 dir. Todd Field)
- Princess (2006 dir. Anders Morgenthaler)
- Bobby (2006 dir. Emilio Estevez)
- Infamous (2006 dir. Douglas McGrath)
- The Lineup (1958 dir. Don Siegel)
- For Your Consideration (2006 Christopher Guest)
- Breaking and Entering (2006 dir. Anthony Minghella)
- Falling (Fallen) (2006 dir. Barbara Albert)
- Day Night Day Night (2006 dir Julia Loktev)
- Hollywoodland (2006 dir. Allen C)
- Anche libero va bene (Along the Ridge) (2006 dir. Kim Rossi Stuart)

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[Reel-Comments] Audiences are strange

Audiences are strange! I'm not saying everyone has to have the same reaction to a film as me but surely there are some things that you don't laugh at?

Point incase: in Little Children a sex offender who has served his time leaves the front door of his aged mother's house. It's a well to do neighbourhood yet this guy has been harrassed by a vigilante group formed largely of one local resident. As he leaves the house with a pensive face the front door swings shut and we see flyers stuck to the front door with gaffa tape, then we get a shot from above of him walking across the garden where the path has been sprayed with the word 'evil'.

Now what in this scene possessed a substantial proportion of the audience to laugh out loud? My only explanation is that it was nervous laughter because they couldn't cope with the scenario.

How many films have I been to where this has happened? It's not just limited to London, it's also happened in Manchester and Toronto (that's conclusive proof obviously from such a wide survey).

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[Reel-Reviews] Princess (4 stars)

A brother seeks revenge on his dead porn star sister's memory, and for the abusive life of her five year old daughter. But despite its harrowing premise, Princess is a fairy tale at heart.

Beautiully animated, disturbingly graphic and wonderfully banal, this 80 minute slice of fantasy takes you where no live action film about porn, murder, abuse and revenge ever could. One of the highlights for me was the limited use of live action scenes throughout the animation, with a couple of key characters only ever appearing in filmed footage shown in the cartoon world - a spuberb and subtle device for highlighting every aspect of fantasy at the film's centre.

Tartan Films have picked it up for distribution in the UK - do try and see it. Anders Morgenthaler, the director, said there were more people in Odeon West End Screen 1 last night than saw it on release in its native Denmark...

An animated Leon for the 21 century.

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[Reel-Reviews] Little Children (4 stars)

This film brilliantly portrays life below the outer masks of outward normality.

The world of this Boston suburb portrays a certain version of 'normal life'. Brad (Patrick Wilson) and Sarah (Kate Winslet) shake up their worlds and their families through an intense affair over six months. In parallel the whole community is shaken by a sex offender (played by Jackie Earle Haley) returning to a community, or perhaps we are more shaken by their reaction to him.

The story and the various relationships are told through a series of seemingly innocent yet profound objects:

- A jester's hat: makes a dad feel second best to mum
- A thong: divides a husband and wife (as well as providing the best comic moment in the film)
- A red swim suit: arouses a summer affair
- A portrait of wife and husband: depicts a husband overshaddowed by a wife
- A pair of shoes: represents a son's loss
- A kitchen knife: brings abuser and abused together in an unlikely setting

The film is not unlike American Beauty for it's look at the underside of life. It talks of holding on too tightly to objects, dreams, and ambitions from the past but also of being too easily distracted by new glittery ones. Meanwhile the relationships of here and now drift by untended and unloved.

A magnificent film but didn't wholly transport me to another world, hence 4*.

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24 October 2006

[Reel-Comments] reel spirituality - kes

Don’t go to a cold and rainy bonfire party - join us for a cosy film night…

by Ken Loach (rated PG)

The second of four films exploring the theme of “The Outsider” – alienation, isolation, exclusion and “the other”.

Every 1st Sunday of the month at Nexus, Northern Quarter
Doors: 6.30pm Film starts: 7pm prompt

If you want to explore the film’s themes and issues:
Post-film discussion: 9.15pm onwards Evening ends: no later than 10pm

Feel free to bring your own food. Drinks and snacks available on the night.
+ Book stall of film and spiritual books +
See Sanctus1 for more details.

Other films in this series include:
3rd December - Old Boy (18)
7th January - The Life Aquatic (15)

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[Reel-Previews] son of man

Unfortunately this isn't showing when we're at the festival, but based on the review and other synopsis material, Son of Man is definitely going to find its way onto our rental list...

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23 October 2006

[Reel-Reviews] millions (5 stars)

Millions – Danny Boyle’s techni-glo, super-spirit-filled loveliness of a film.

Whether you’re 12 or 112, go watch. A film with humour, pace, provocation and warmth – but without the sentimentality. More like this please Danny...

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19 October 2006

[Reel-Comments] the first film of the festival

Last night was the opening gala for LFF - The Last King of Scotland.

Most of the usual film sites are covering the festival, but the Guardian Unlimited Film site has a good section of interviews, reviews, features, top picks, etc. Obviously, due to their sponsorship, The Times site is the most full of detail at the mo, but it's not somewhere I'd visit often if it weren't for the sponsorship collaboration...

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18 October 2006

[Reel-Comments] London Film Festival

Today's the day when it all kicks off... Check out the website for new competitions and sign up for the podcast. There's also a great rough guide to the festival.

I have to say that the Tube ads are a bit underwhelming - but I did spot them all over the place when I passed through the Big Smoke yesterday.

Not long now...

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15 October 2006

[Reel-Reviews] napoleon dynamite (2 stars)

Napoleon Dynamite is a quirky indie film charting the nothing happening, small-town life of the protagonist – dealing with his dodgy salesman Uncle Rico, his chat-room-wannabe brother Kip, and his new friend Pedro’s campaign to be elected school president. It’s a film in which almost nothing happens – but I guess that’s Idaho for you… The tagline is “He’s out to prove he’s got nothing to prove”. Exactly.

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[Reel-Reviews] lost in la mancha (4 stars)

Fulton and Pepe’s documentary of Terry Gilliam’s doooomed and never-completed feature film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, is a brilliantly revealing insight into the paranoid, fragile and tempestuous process of film-making. A decade after he first had the idea, and on a budget of only $34m (ie tiny! but still the biggest budgeted feature film using only European financing), Gilliam and his crew are beset by problem after problem after problem – overhead noise from the nearby NATO airbase, the mother of all hail storms and subsequent flash flood, the illness, absence and conflicting schedules of the cast, many pan-European linguistic and geographic co-ordination problems, and an eventual insurance claim for a cool $15m. Frankly, it makes even my hard weeks at work look like making daisy chains in the sunshine…

A film about a fantastical dreamer of a director, a bunch of filmic outsiders, maybe even victorious losers in a way.

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