Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Modest Reception - EIFF 2012

Iranian cinema is enjoying something of a moment in the sun.

"Football Under Cover", "A Separation", "No-one Knows About Persion Cats" and, I guess, "Persepolis"have all brought attention to the creative talent and culture of this country in recent years.

"Modest Reception" is not a documentary about women's football like "Football Under Cover".

"Modest Reception" isn't about the underground music scene or the universality of the adolescent experience like "...Persian Cats".

"Modest Reception" isn't a cartoon like "Persepolis".

"Modest Reception" is about love, family, loss, the nature of Iranian society...so it's just like "A Separation".

Except "Modest Reception" is nothing like "A Separation".

This is a dark, bleakly comic and, at times, genuinely disturbing film.

A couple (who may be married or not) travel through the northern region of Iran distributing huge sums of money from the back of their car.  At first it looks like this is motivated by no other reason than for the couples own amusement but as the film progresses it becomes clear that there is a very definite agenda behind their actions.

Each of the people who receives money pays a price for it...they lose a bit of dignity, they sacrifice their principles, their faith takes a battering and, in one truly bleak moment a father leaves the corpse of his stillborn child to be devoured by wolves in exchange for several million rial.  Similarly the "benefactors" also slowly find themselves stripped of their own dignity, the wild amusement of their earliest exchanges is devoured by a darkness that neither of them can throw any light on.

Not an easy watch...but one guaranteed to make you think.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Tabu - EIFF 2012

Visually stunning.

Shot in black and white and every frame could be hung in an art gallery.

You could watch this with no sound.

It's that gorgeous.

Sadly my advice would be to either watch it with no sound or lobby the film-makers to produce a coffee table book of stills from the movie.

Pretentious doesn't come close to summing up the story being delivered here.

Loooooooooooooooooooooooong periods of silence that is achingly dull and not contemplative or meaningful.

Performances that are knowingly OTT.

You cannot shake the feeling that your presence in the audience places you at the heart of a Situationist prank.

So...beautiful but pretentious and dull in equal measure.

A full house in the screening I attended suggests to me that I may be in the minority on this one.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

What is This Film Called Love? - EIFF 2012


I've met Mark Cousins a few times.

Sometimes, in conversation, I will turn those few short meetings into a friendship.

That's not my fault.

Mark Cousins makes you feel like you either are friends, could be friends or should be friends.

The fact that I lie about being his friend is really his fault.  If you think about it.

What information have I gleaned from my friendship with Mark Cousins?

He is very charming.

Really charming.

The first time I met him he was wandering around the book festival here in Edinburgh.

I introduced myself to him and didn't introduce my wife who was standing next to me.

Mark Cousins wasn't comfortable with that...he turned to my wife, asked who she was, introduced himself to her and was, basically, very charming.  This brief encounter has led to my wife developing a serious crush on Mark Cousins.

Mark Cousins is creative.

Really creative.

At another meeting with Mark Cousins I heard him deliver a speech on creativity.  It was brilliant.  Brilliant and creative.  He took us all on a long, meandering walk around Edinburgh showing us photographs of the things he saw along the way, sharing anecdotes and investigating the process of creativity.

Mark Cousins likes to dance.

Standing in the foyer of Filmhouse during this years EIFF I saw Mark Cousins start dancing while he was standing waiting for someone.  He didn't have any headphones in.  There wasn't any music playing in the bar.  He just started dancing.  It wasn't a "look at ME" kind of dance...he just sort of bopped around a little bit.  I liked it.

Mark Cousins really loves films.

I "chaired" a meeting at Filmhouse earlier this year where Mark Cousins showed a short section from his mammoth "Story of Film" documentary before he fielded questions.  His love and knowledge of film was a joy to be exposed to.  It wasn't a "listen to how much I know" type of knowledge, it was a genuine "I want to SHARE this with you" kind of knowledge.  It was inspiring.


Mark Cousins loves films, he loves to dance, he is creative and he is charming.

What is this film?

What is this film called?


"What is This Film Called Love?"

It's a film about Mark Cousins.

It's a film about film.

It's a film about love.

It's charming, creative, knowledgeable and has dancing.

I think that if you didn't know certain things about Mark Cousins you might see this film as being a bit...too Mark Cousins.

Mark Cousins appears in this film a lot.








But this film isn't really about Mark Cousins.

It's about you.

It's about me.

Mark Cousins just uses himself and his charm, his love of film, his creativity and his dancing to say something to us about ourselves.

With loves and hates and passions just like mine...

I could have made this film.  I didn't though...Mark Cousins did.

There are people, places and things that I am obsessed with and that define me.

I sometimes see the world around me and am overwhelmed by how beautiful if is...even now when the rain hasn't stopped falling, when I've got a cold, when I'm feeling a little depressed; I can see beauty all around me and I can still feel my heart skip a beat when I hear certain songs or think about certain films.

The difference is that Mark Cousins actually managed to capture that sense of joy on film.

In a film that says a lot about Mark Cousins he manages to say something about me.

You should probably try to see "What is This Film Called Love?" because it will say something to you and about you...you will feel a little better about things too.

You might also want to dance a little more often.

Or walked naked in the desert.

Do more press ups.

Or meet Mark Cousins then lie to other people about being friends.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Lost Chapter of Snow Passion - EIFF 2012 Somai Retrospective

An orphaned girl.

A hint of Oliver Twist.

A dash of forbidden love.





Then the usual (as far as anything is "usual" in a Somai movie) water and throwing.

What you are left with is yet another film that is utterly unlike anything else you are likely to see from any director working at the same time as Somai.  Seeing so many of his films together in such a short space of time one is struck by the fact that he was, quite genuinely, unique and brilliant.

Here the central performers are older (but no wiser) than the adolescents of other Somai works and that allows him to deal with familar themes in a very different fashion.  It's fascinating to watch a directors body of work in this way...everything crammed together, no time to really think, simply reacting to what you are seeing and feeling.

"Lost Chapter" is a tender, beautiful but disturbing and dark film that further cements the idea that Somai may be THE great director of his generation.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Flicker - EIFF 2012

A Swedish comedy about...a cleaner who is afraid of spiders, an engineer who fries his testicles with 40,000 volts of electricity, a failing CEO of a communications company, a sad and lonely man, a group of terrorists who are driven by their allergy to electricity, horrible all-in-one sleep suits and so much more besides.

In truth that's not what "Flicker" is about...those are just people and things that make up the action.

This is a film about people...the ties that bind them and the hope that lives inside of them.

Everyone in this beautiful and hilarious film is feeling desperate or alone.  They are all looking for something more in their lives...someone to love them, a cure to the troubles that haunt them, someone to care, a jolt of happiness.

Unlike a lot of modern (American) comedy this is a film that has heart and that will have you laughing out loud without ever having to rely on the vulgar, the crude or the ridiculous.  Warm, gentle, kind and hilarious...lovely.

Fred - EIFF 2012

"Does anyone have any questions for Richard or Elliott?  Yes, the gentleman on the left there."

"Oh, thank you.  First of all can I just say thank you to Mr Ledes, I thought the film was very beautiful and very moving.  I enjoyed it very much.  I wonder if I could ask Mr Ledes to say something about the omnipresence of frogs in the film...they seemed to be everywhere and could I also ask Mr Gould; will you be my friend?"

Fred (Elliott Gould) lives at home with his wife Susan (Judith Roberts).

Fred is, at best, curmudgeonly, and, at worst...plain unpleasant.

Susan has alzheimers.

They both share the home with nurses aid Victoria who cooks and cleans for them as well as looking after Susan.

Bob and Carol are Fred and Susan's children.

They arrive at their parents home and slowly we learn that Susan is soon to be moved into a care home and that Fred is to follow her there.

In the hands of a less able and less thoughtful director this would have been turned into some dreadful melodrama where the focus was on the children as they fought over the home and their would have been some overly sentimental moral at the films conclusion.

"Fred" isn't that movie because Richard Ledes isn't that sort of director.

With grace, style and compassion we simply watch the family as they prepare themselves for the move into the next chapter of their lives.  There is some bickering, there is some laughter and their is even some singing...but it isn't sentimental and it isn't condescending.  Ledes has made what appears to be a deeply personal film but that has universal appeal.

Elliott Gould as the titular "Fred" is magnificent...he is capable of incredible warmth and kindness, particularly towards his granddaughter, but equally capable of complete contempt for the adults who are so desperate to take control of his life.  It's a wonderful performance and one that, in a better world, would achieve recognition from the sort of audiences who normally only cram the multiplexes for that dullard from the "Twilight" movies.

"Fred" is gentle and deeply moving, it's a film you should see.

"...will you be my friend?"

"Well, I dunno know who you are...but I am."

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Typhoon Club - EIFF 2012 (Shinji Somai Retrospective)

Considered by many to be Somai's greatest film and it is easy to see why.

His themes, motifs and style are fully matured and the plot all combine to ensure that you are captivated from first frame to last.

The typhoon in question signifies the growing rage and dissatisfaction within the gang of teens who take shelter inside their school as the water that falls threatens to take on near Old Testament flood proportions.  The sheer volume of water that saturates the screen is reason enough to see this film...it is awesome and awe inspiring.

Water is a recurring sign in the films of Somai...people fall into bodies of water for no real reason, both "Typhoon Club" and "PP Rider" open with shots of swimming pools, rivers flow by and here, obviously, rain falls.  For a Western audience water symbolizes death and rebirth and, at the risk of cultural ignorance, it is not difficult to imagine that Somai is saying something about exactly these things with his use of water.  Characters have difficult, challenging emotional and physical lives...the water offers the chance to wash oneself clean and emerge reborn.  Or maybe he just really liked soaking his actors.

What is most striking about "Typhoon Club" is the near constant movement of the camera...like a wild animal it seems to constantly be stalking both the teens and the space they inhabit.  It prowls, circles and closes in on them...like the typhoon that threatens to wash everything away the camera is a force of nature.  The constant use of long shots and group shots ensures that we understand that Somai is rooted in the anamist belief system of Shinto.  Or maybe he just liked the way things looked.

These Somai films are interesting because they are very definitely modern and yet they share much in common with the work of earlier Japanese directors...for me, most obviously, Ozu.  The themes of the new clashing with the traditional and the worry over the youth of Japan and the encroaching influence of American culture are clear similarities.  Even though Somai favours a fluid, active use of camera and this is in direct conflict with the static, observational use of the camera favoured by Ozu there is also something very familiar about the way things look in Somais films.

A film about teenagers challenging authority and a film about our place in the natural world...challenging, thought provoking and beautiful.  Somai deserves this retrospective and Edinburgh should be glad that we have played host to it.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Sun Don't Shine - EIFF 2012

Amy Seimetz.

Aymee Sighmetzzz.

It's a good name right?

It sounds...filmy.

It sounds like the kind of name a person would have if they were making a certain type of film.

When I hear the name Amy Seimetz here is what I imagine her film would be like;

Cool...but not "hipster" cool, do you know what I mean?  Not cool like "Hey, have you seen my ironic facial hair".  No, the right kind of cool...stylish and, maybe, stylised.  It would be a film that would look cool and that would have a very distinctive style.

Smart...but not Stephen Hawking smart.  Not so smart that an ordinary person could never penetrate it.  No, this film would be the right sort of smart...carefully constructed, intelligent, witty and tidy...the kind of smart you are when you go to church at Christmas with your parents to keep them happy...best shoes, best shirt, everything ironed.  Smart.

Dark...I think it's the "Seimetz" thing.  "Seimetz" just sounds like the kind of name that has dark edges, no?  Dark is overused nowadays...Spiderman can be "dark", apparently, but I'm talking about the right kind of dark...unsettling, confusing, awkward and uncomfortable but all carried out with that style and not-hipster cool I was just talking about.

"Sun Don't Shine" is exactly that film.

It's cool, it's smart and it's dark.

It's the exact movie that a person called Amy Seimetz should be making.

It's a road movie but it's not.

It's a neo-noir.

It's mumblecore if you are lazy...the truth is that it is more accomplished and meaningful than anything from that "genre" could ever hope to be.

It's arthouse but with Hollywood style.

It's a film that asks questions and then refuses to give you pat answers...Seimetz doesn't want to be your teacher, she wants to help you think for yourself and yet she never becomes "preachy" like a Michael Hanneke.

"Sun Don't Shine" is a film that I could have watched with no sound...it's so beautiful.  Every frame is drenched in the heat and light of it's Florida setting.  You can feel the heat.  You can taste the sweat forming on leading man Kentucker Audleys top lip as he drives Kate Lyn Shell to their inevitable destiny.

"Sun Don't Shine" is a movie about love, all consuming love, the kind of love that makes you do crazy, stupid things and then pushed you towards even crazier, increasingly stupid things to make amends.  Oh, we've all been there...we've all said things, bought things, done things for people we loved so much that it hurt and then we've all gone further still.

If you haven't then you've never been in love.

Seimetz knows what love can do to people.

Mermaids and swimming pools.

Water and sunshine.

Sex and death.

Love and lust.

The heat...

Murder and passion.

Examples of films this cool, this smart and this dark are a cause for celebration...we should celebrate Amy Seimetz.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Grabbers - EIFF 2012






On a Friday night it isn't often that you want to watch Agnes Varda's "Vagabond" or Ozu's "Late Spring".  Not because these are not two very fine films indeed...in fact the opposite is true; these are genuine masterpieces.  The point is after a long week at work it's rare to find yourself parked on the sofa thinking; "I need something existential...I need something that will force me to really consider the deeper meaning of my own life."  There are times when that is exactly what I want from a film and I've watched Ozu more often than I've watched Spielberg...but not on a Friday night!


On a Friday night you want to watch something that will allow you to forget that your 9-5 isn't exactly fulfilling you...you want something that will lift your spirits...you want something that will make you jump as often as it will make you laugh out loud (I'm not doing LOL...I'm just not...even though I just did).

Director Jon Wright has managed to deliver a film that does all of that.

This screening was a near sell out and every person there clearly enjoyed every minute of this monsters from outer space attacking a small Irish island action-scifi-comedy-romance bundle of joy.

The film tracks the process of the inhabitants of Erin Island as they try their damnedest to avoid having their blood sucked by the genuinely impressive "grabbers".  How they do that isn't something I can divulge here because, unlike Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, I don't believe in ruining films for people who haven't seen them.

What I can say is that "Grabbers" is a movie that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and send you home happy that you made the effort to see it...it's daft, it's light but gloriously so.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Nuclear Nation - EIFF 2012

Few of us will ever forget watching the images of devastation that accompanied the events of March 2011 in Japan.

The tsunami and the nuclear disaster that followed cost many lives to be lost, many homes to be destroyed and many families to be left with a deep sense of loss.

The news media however is not a patient beast or a thoughtful one and within just a few days the story slipped from top spot in the news and within a few weeks it barely warranted a mention.  Now, over a year later, few outside of Japan ever think of what happened.

Thankfully a more thoughtful and patient source of information exists in the shape of filmmaker Atsushi  Funahashi who spent the best part of a year living with and documenting the experiences of those from the town of Futaba in the Fukushima Prefecture.  Many hundreds of those residents were forced from their homes by the disaster and moved into an abandoned high school on the outskirts of Tokyo.

It is from inside this high school that we are reminded of the real and terrible legacy of the disaster.  We meet fathers who have lost wives, sons who have lost mothers, elderly men and women forced to sleep on the floors of classrooms and eat pre-packaged bento box lunches, children plunged into the chaos of new schools and a wonderfully stoic farmer who has refused to abandon his cows...his life, he says, is tied to these animals.

Director Atsushi suggested, prior to this screening, that this was not a film that he could ask us to enjoy and he was right but what he has delivered is a film that forces us to feel...we feel the incredible loss of the families, we feel the pain of local leaders who want only to secure a brighter future for their residents, we feel the anger of all at the lack of support or care from their political leaders and we feel a deep sense of anger at the irresponsible and morally bankrupt actions of the corporations involved in this sorry tale.

We also feel a great sense of hope and awe as we watch these people who have been so battered by events try to remain upbeat, focused and resolute.  Life is hard, they seem to tell us, but it is worth living and fighting for.  Hope, we soon accept, is important.

Atsushi has already started work on a follow up film...his relationship with his subjects now transcending that of filmmaker and object.  He understands that this is a story that must be told and he has proven with "Nuclear Nation" that he is the right person to tell it.  A moving and inspiring film that deserves to be seen by everyone.

"Nuclear Nation" will be shown at Cineworld on June 28th at 20:15

Exit Elena - EIFF 2012

The great joy of a film festival is that you are able to take chances and see something that you know nothing about and then be surprised.

I knew nothing about "Exit Elena".

I knew nothing about director Nathan Silver.

I didn't know if it was a horror film, a romance, a comedy, a documentary...nothing.  I hadn't even read the blurb in the festival program.

I just took a chance.

The titular Elena (played by one of the films writers Kia Davis) is an assistant nurse; a sort of live-in nursing assistant who gets her first job living with and working for the Akerman family.  Her job is to care for the elderly grandmother of the family who lives with her son and daughter in law.  The Akermans are friendly and welcoming but Elena, intially, shows little interest in them other than in fulfilling her duties.  Over her time she grows closer to the family and eventually becomes one of them in all but name until an unfortunate incident sees her lose her job and, consequently, her home.

Shot in a documentary style and with much in common with the mumblecore likes of "Hannah Takes the Stairs" and "Humpday" "Exit Elena" manages to elevate itself above and beyond those films by creating a sense of reality and tangible tension that is missing in many actual documentaries and from most of the mumblecore scene.  The camera is never intrusive and we are allowed to simply observe the characters as they talk, sleep, argue, eat and play...quickly one is immersed in the world of the film.

This is down, largely, to the incredible work of Nathan Silver.  He has managed to produce a film that looks incredible (the locations and the lighting are perfect) and that also manages to hold the audience firmly in its grasp from start to finish.  That "hold" stems from the fact that one is constantly waiting for something to happen although you are never quite sure what it is that you think should be happening and from the superb performances of the cast.

There are several "mockumentaries" and found footage movies but none of them hold a candle to this low budget gem.  A great script, believable action, interesting characters and a feeling, at its conclusion, that there are more questions to be asked and more answers to be found from another viewing.

I took a chance and was rewarded a hundred times over.

You should take a chance too.

"Exit Elena" is showing at Cineworld on the 24th and 25th June at 19:20 and 18:20 respectively.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

California Solo - EIFF 2012

Robert Carlyle.

Do you need another reason?

Robert bloody Carlyle.

He's one of those actors who manages to be good even when the material might not be...always worth watching.  An actor with real ability and range.

Also...he's just cool.



Yes, so?

In "California Solo" Carlyle plays a former Britpop star who, after the death of his brother (the bands lead singer) fades into obscurity and is now managing a farm outside of Los Angeles.

It's from this terrifically simple premise that director Marshall Lewy manages to craft a warm hearted, truthful and convincing film that has something to say about love, family, hope, fear and the horrors of loneliness and guilt.  Most importantly though he has managed to say something about our fame obsessed society by holding a mirror up to the supposed glamour of it all and showing us that the reality can be lives destroyed by expectation and failure.

When Carlyles improbably named Lachlan MacAldonich gets pulled over while driving under the influence he finds the stable life he has built for himself after the paparazzi stopped snapping slowly begins to unravel.  The D.U.I charge brings to light an old drugs charge that leads to interest in him from immigration officials.

With no money, no family and no real friends Lachlan finds himself in a vulnerable position.  Spiraling out of control and growing increasingly desperate he eventually turns to a long forgotten ex-wife and a daughter he barely knows exists for help.  Ultimately he discovers that you always end up paying for your mistakes...even if that payment is delayed.

This film could have been a disaster...the Britpop idea could have seen a soundtrack jam-packed with Oasis, Blur and Pulp records, Carlyle could have spent the entire film with a Mockney accent and a parka and his redemption could have come in the form of a reunion of his band "The Cranks".

Thankfully Lewy is a sharper writer than that and Britpop stays firmly in the background with only a brief snippet of the classic Charlatans track "The Only One I Know" as evidence of a scene that few outside of the UK even knew existed.  Instead Lewy focuses on the man who has lived his life in the fast lane but has now been forced onto the hard shoulder...he has created a believable character and one who, thanks to Carlyle, is able to take the audience with him on his journey from security to chaos.

California solo...but never so low.

PP Rider - EIFF 2012 - Shinji Somai Retrospective


Even the cineliterate amongst us would probably struggle to state, convincingly, that they had ever seen any of this Japanese auteurs work.

EIFF Artistic Director, Chris Fujiwara, has decided to grant Somai his first major retrospective at this years festival.  It is clear from listening to Fujiwara speak that he feels a great sense of injustice on behalf of the, sadly, deceased Somai.  A towering influence on Japanese cinema and on several young Japanese directors it is, perhaps, curious that so little is known about him here.

Released in 1983 "PP Rider" is, on the surface, a fairly familiar tale; a group of young teens embark on a road trip in search of one of their peers.  We've seen that story before in films like "Stand By Me", "The Goonies" and many others.  What sets "PP Rider" apart is the thrilling way in which Somai takes such a well known plot and delivers something that is, genuinely, unlike anything else you are likely to see.

The young teens in question are Bruce, JoJo and Jisho; two boys and a girl with boyish qualities.  Spending the afternoon at the school swimming pool they fall foul of the school bully Depunaga.  Confronting him in the parking lot of the school after their humiliation the group witness his abduction by some Yakuza and set out to rescue him.

What follows is a road trip that involves corrupt police officers (a theme repeated in much more detail and with heightened realism in Gen Takahashis glorious epic "Confessions of a Dog" in 2011), a school teacher who is more hindrance than help and whom the teens treat, for the most part, with near total disdain, incompetent Yakuza and a host of other wired characters (and I do mean wired).

Those who have seen "Beat" Takeshis "Kikujiro" will be well aware of the humor that can be derived from the mix of precocious children and ineffective adults as well as the nuances of Japanese humor.  "PP Rider" is even more wickedly hilarious as well as being wonderfully heartwarming in places.  Somai has, even in a film this early in his career, a very clear and distinct style...characters are almost perpetually in motion, rarely, if ever, are there shots of characters on their own but instead there are myriad group shots and long shots that constantly set the action and force the audience to see past just people.

On the evidence of this it would appear that Fujiwaras decision to shine the spotlight on this Japanese master has been the correct one and, with luck, this will the first step in bringing his work to a wider audience here in the UK.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

EIFF Pre Opening Night

So, I'm sitting in the bar of Filmhouse.

Listening to a little bit of Trojan ska on my iPod, looking at the people, perusing the catalogue for EIFF 2012.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch sight of a man I recognise; it's Chris Fujiwara the artistic director of the festival.  He's looking over the bar, no doubt feeling a strange mixture of nerves and excitement as his festival opens in a little over 24 hours.

"I tell you what he would like Mozzer", says the little man who lives in my brain but who isn't my brain, "He'd really like it if you went over, introduced yourself and then babbled about how excited you are about this years line up."

"Are you sure?  Because he looks like he probably has more important things to do with his time than speak to a stranger who runs a film blog that is read by fewer people than are in this bar"

"No...he'd love it.  What right thinking person doesn't want to be accosted by total strangers on the eve of one of the biggest nights of their life?  Go on...go over..."

"I'm really not sure about this you know...and also, he's just about to present a special screening of "The French Connection" before hosting a Q&A with William Friedkin...I think I'll just leave him alone."

"Listen, I am telling you...people like that LOVE it when people foist themselves upon them just before important moments."

As I walk across the bar I can hear the other little man who lives in my brain but who also isn't my brain saying; "You're just going to irritate this very important man and make a fool of yourself.  Turn back now...before it's too late."

It's already too late...I'm now in front of Chris Fujiwara.

He is charming and accommodating.  I tell him how excited I am and he tells me that he too is excited.  I mutter something about my love of Japanese cinema and the Somai retrospective and he shares a little of his knowledge of those films.  I could be wrong but he seemed genuinely not to mind my approaching him.

Now...I think this little encounter tells you everything you need to know about the EIFF; it's the film festival for film fans.  Sure there are press aplenty and talent in abundance....sure there are deals being done across the city...sure there is business...but thanks to Chris and his team this years EIFF is mostly about the experience of the audience.

They have put together a genuinely exciting programme and ensured that there really is something that will appeal to everyone...that's no mean feat and we should all be grateful to them for their efforts.

Later I spend 104 minutes watching one of the greatest films of all time, "The French Connection", in a crowded Filmhouse 1 before enjoying hearing one of the greatest directors of all time, William Friedkin, regale the audience with tales from his career.  On paper the festival doesn't begin until tomorrow with a screening of Friedkins latest "Killer Joe" but for those of us who were there tonight the festival has already begun.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Le Gamin au Velo - The Kid With a Bike


In every way.

After the horror of "A Dangerous Method", a film that managed to wipe out years of good will towards Cronenberg and solidify my loathing of Knightley, it was a delight to exit a cinema feeling that my faith in film, art and my fellow human beans had been restored.

The Dardenne brothers are serious film-makers and men who are well respected at home, abroad and by the film community.  With "The Kid With a Bike" though they have made a film that will play with a wider audience...it is, at the most basic level, a simple story of a boy from a broken home desperately seeking someone, anyone, to love him and it will touch everyone who makes the effort to see it.

Crucial to the film working is the performance of Thomas Doret as "Cyril"...the kid with a bike.  In a world where so much is made of performances that are, no better than, average this is a performance that should leave you speechless.  Doret is absolutely convincing as a damaged, traumatised, violent, loving, bruised and battered boy who has been let down at every turn by a father (the brilliant Jeremie Renier) who is the very definition of "absent".

Dorets relationship with local hairdresser Samanthan (Cecile De France) is achingly honest and accurate as the two come to terms with whatever it is that has bound them to one another.  De France is fabulous as the woman who decides that the broken young boy she chances upon deserves one person who will stand by him, love him and support him.  There is no reason for her to be that person...there is no blood tie but she sacrifices her time, her money and her reputation to do the right thing.

With your local multiplex about to be poisoned by the second "Titans" movie I would suggest that you trot along to your nearest independent cinema and support a film that actually has something to say and that will leave you feeling much better about yourself and the world around you.

Monday, 26 March 2012

A Dangerous Method

If you would like to read a review of David Cronenbergs "A Dangerous Method" can I suggest you read this review by Mr Phillip French.

I am afraid that I cannot offer a review of the film.

Instead I am going to launch into a vicious tirade against Kiera Knightley.

This "actress" simply stinks up the room in every single scene she appears in...in every single film she has ever appeared in.

"Never Let Me Go"...a wonderful story by a wonderful writer totally ruined by her non-performance, ably assisted by the equally awful Carey Mulligan.

"Atonement"...proper film, great source material and yet again she single handedly ruins every scene she appears in.


"Pride and Prejudice"...a film where all she had to do was play herself, a simpering posho, and she couldn't convincingly manage that.

"Love Actually"...it takes a special talent to out-stink the sort of people who appear in Richard Curtis films but Kiera does the business.

"Bend it Like Beckham"...horrifically miscast but still manages to be the worst performer in a film that also features Jonathan Rhys Meyers...what an achievement!

I know, I know...this all sounds terribly mean spirited and, possibly, just plain hateful but I just cannot stand the fact that there are genuinely talented actresses in the world, scrabbling around in dead end jobs,  trudging around a series of soul destroying auditions and living in near poverty while this simpering princess is raking in top dollar and trotting up and down the red carpet because of her parents connections.

It's sickening quite frankly.

Look at someone like Vicky McClure...a bona fide talent.  An actress who has managed to put herself physically, emotionally and mentally into situations that have dragged shattering performances from somewhere deep within herself.

Compare that with whatever it is that Knightley is doing in the "Pirates" franchise.

Here, in "A Dangerous Method" she seems to confuse portraying madness with a gurning competition in some Yorkshire village in the early 1900's and ends up looking like Compo from "Last of the Summer Wine".  

She may also be the only actress in the world  who can appear tied to a bed, in a basque, her breasts revealed, being spanked by Michael Fassbender and leave every male in the room admiring the wallpaper.  I'm not even joking.  In what is meant to be a scene of sexual desire, shame and arousal she manages to rob it of any sexuality or sensuality and leave us with...nothing.

It would be wonderful to think that Knightley is destined for made for TV fare but when a respected film critic like Mr Phillip French describes this film as "admirably acted" then I fear that the extent of her familial connections has stretched so far as to render her bullet proof and we must all brace ourselves for a probable return in  "Pirates 5" and, quite probably, "Domino 2".



Ladies and gentlemen.

Excuse me.

Can I have your attention please?


Right, thank you.

My name is Paul and I am here to confess something to all of you.


This is much more difficult than I thought it would be.


The thing is.


You see.

Oh good grief...I didn't like "Amelie"

There...I've said it.

I feel much better now.

Why did I tell you that?

Well, on the surface there would appear to be some similarities between "Amelie" and "Delicacy".

Audrey Tautou...check.

An unorthodox love story...check.

Defiantly French...check.


But it is important to note that "Delicacy" is, in every way, a superior film to "Amelie".

Where "Amelie" was clunky, deliberate and a touch patronising "Delicacy" is more subtle, less obvious and knowing instead of patronising.

It's a joy.

Tautou plays Nathalie...the beautiful wife of Francois.  The pair are gloriously in love with one another.  She adores him, he adores her, they adore each other...were it not for the warmth of the performances of both Tautou and Pio Marmai you could hate them!

When Francois is knocked down by a car Nathalie is left alone, shattered and hopeless.

The years pass and she builds a new existence but, importantly, never creates anything resembling a life. She remains without hope and she remains without joy.  Losing herself in work and experiencing life vicariously through her best friend and the family she is building with her partner.  She eats, she sleeps, she works...but she does not feel anything other than a dreadful sense of loss.

One day her co-worker Markus enters her office to deliver some papers.  Wordlessly Nathalie approaches him, takes his head in her hands and kisses him with such passion and such intensity that he is left breathless and wordless.  Things like this don't happen to people like Markus...he is an outsider, a Swede making his way in France, he is too, really, a little too tall, he is overweight, he is balding and he does not have the Hollywood dental work that passes for "normal" today.

From this brief encounter a brilliantly funny and beautifully warm love story begins to unwind.  A game of cat and mouse is played between the two...with neither really sure what is happening or, indeed, if anything is happening.  They fall for each other but can't bring themselves to accept it.  They accept it but nobody else appears able to.

The real joy in "Delicacy" is in the honesty that stands at the heart of Markus and Nathalies relationship...she never has to deny her love for Francois, he never has to pretend to be something he is not.  At no point is there a suggestion that the only way to this beautiful womans heart is to go to the gym.  There is no ghastly "Pretty Woman" style shopping montage with Nathalie "making over" Markus.  He is who he is...it is him that she falls for and neither one sees any need to change that.

I suppose that one would have to label "Delicacy" a "rom-com" because it is both romantic and genuinely funny but where it differs from the sort of films that Jennifer Anniston makes in Hollywood is that the romance never feels anything other than real, pure and true.  For that reason alone "Delicacy" deserves to be seen and to be praised.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Devil Inside

"The Exorcist" is, unarguably, one of the greatest films of all time.

That doesn't mean that there isn't room in the world for another great possession/exorcism movie.

"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" came close.

"The Last Exorcism" blew it in the final few moments.

Here we have another attempt that, on paper, would have looked like a cracker but on film ends up being the sort of snore-fest that makes a Daniel O'Donnell concert look like the last days of Rome.

Arriving in Rome beautiful young American Isabella has come to find out the truth behind her mothers mysterious deportation from the States to a mental hospital following her brutal slaying of a nun and two priests.  What she discovers are two rogue priests who help her to see that her mother is possessed and not simply mentally ill.

There follows all the usual contemporary exorcism markers...inverted crucifix, bodies bending, twisting and contorting, spider-walks, red eyes and tortured priests.

The problem for this sort of film is that "The Exorcist" is flawless.

In the same way that all slasher flicks since "Halloween" have been increasingly ridiculous and overly reliant on torture porn tricks so the likes of "The Devil Inside" cannot best what has come before and so rely on a checklist approach to film-making that renders the final product, at best, diverting and, at worst, dreadfully dull.

The found footage stylings on show here were better deployed in "The Last Exorcism" and it's difficult not to see this as being the death rattle of that particular trick...which is a shame because, as we saw in "Blair Witch" and "Paranormal Activity" it offers the possibility of real scares and the ability to disconcert an audience.

So, I keep waiting for a new exorcism movie to rival the greatest film ever made (copyright M. Kermode!) and praying that in order to meet the desires of people like me some studio executive doesn't greenlight a remake of "The Exorcist" with Justin Bieber playing Regan.