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10 reviews in total 
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21 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
A masterpiece: one of the great American documentaries of the decade., 14 September 2009

This disarmingly fresh, utterly engrossing - and ultimately very moving - documentary takes as its starting-point the tragic tale of Chris McCandless. McCandless was the twentysomething American adventurer whose lonely death in the Alaskan wilderness also forms the focus of Sean Penn's fictional feature Into the Wild.

But as well as addressing the specific details of McCandless's controversial life (and even more controversial demise), director Lamothe covers a surprisingly expansive amount of geographic and thematic terrain as he journeys cross-county - driving, then hitchhiking - in McCandless's footsteps.

Indeed, the film becomes not so much about McCandless or Lamothe (though it's certainly to some degree a portrait of both) but a more general rumination on the ambitions and limitations of the generation to which both belonged (the picture is part-dedicated to 'Generation X') and also a celebration of rural America's more eccentric backwaters.

At various points Lamothe's path inadvertently intersects with that of Penn and his crew - producing some hilarious (and shaming) contrasts between Hollywood's methods and Lamothe's resolutely lo-fi approach. Not that budgetary and technical limitations make this any kind of rough-and-tumble affair: Lamothe, who provides genial, clear-eyed, articulate narration throughout, certainly knows how to frame shots and assemble a compelling narrative.

He also allows himself one bit of virtuouso show-offery in a hyperkinetic 'Gen-X' montage of found footage from America's turbulent recent past, turbo-propelled by Nirvana's raucously-anthemic 'Breed'.

For all its merits - and pretty much everyone I have recommended it to has responded with great enthusiasm once they tracked it down - 'The Call of the Wild' remains a bizarrely underexposed, off-the-radar title. But make no mistake - this is emphatically one of the best American documentaries of recent years.

Public Sex (2009)
17 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
embarrassingly poor, 3 March 2009

Astonishing that this was the only British film reckoned worthy of a slot in the Tiger Competition at Rotterdam 2009. Programming the film at all was a baffling move, but to position it in such a prestigious slot is an embarrassment for all concerned.

It's a rubbishy, mirthless Brit-com that's opportunistic and exploitative, but without any of the positives of old-school "exploitation cinema."

Slim but convoluted plot hangs on the illicit sexual activity 'dogging' - semi-public in-car coitus - a practice that made some salacious UK tabloid headlines a couple of years back.

Here it becomes the saucy/seedy pretext for a sloppily-scripted, tut-tutting exercise in larkish prurience, involving various feckless young adults (one of them a priapic Geordie satyr played by newcomer Richard Riddell, who deserves much better material) in and around the Newcastle region.

NB : Given the location and subject-matter, surely 'Go Forth, Tyne Dogger' would have been a better title.

Eden Lake (2008)
25 out of 63 people found the following review useful:
vile, 3 September 2008

Thuddingly opportunistic yuppie-nightmare Brit-horror is unbearably gruelling to endure - but NOT in the way the filmmakers intended. Ludicrous (sometimes even hilarious) as a thriller, it has a crass fear-of-the-underclass subtext that's much more repellent than the (gratuitous) bloodshed on view.

Fans of Thomas Turgoose (who gets a misleadingly prominent billing in the opening credits) should go and see 'Somers Town' again instead: he's very much a minor background figure here and has hardly anything to do.

Everyone else should also steer well clear. I like harrowing shockers as much as the next gorehound - there's a niftily nasty little British movie at the moment called 'Mum & Dad' that shows how the genre can work - but pretty much everything about 'Eden Lake' stinks to high heaven (I'm tempted to say 'would you Adam and Eve it?')

Shame, shame, shame on you, James Watkins.

23 out of 37 people found the following review useful:
for my money, better than 'This is England', 18 February 2008

Though clearly a bit of a "quickie" project made in the immediate afterglow of This Is England - and featuring that film's young star Thomas Turgoose in one of the two main roles - the DV-shot, (mainly) black-and-white, minimal-budgeted 'Somers Town' is by no means a "minor" Meadows. Indeed, in terms of tonal consistency, concision and cumulative emotional wallop, it's in several ways a more satisfying enterprise than its bigger, BAFTA-winning "brother". Indeed (again), there have been very few more moving films from any director since Meadows' own Dead Man's Shoes (2004) - though in this instance it's very much a case of joyful rather than sorrowful tears. This is a delightful, quietly topical, deceptively slight miniature about teenage friendship and first love - scarcely new subjects for cinema, but handled with sufficient sensitivity, humour and spirit to emphatically justify such a choice of material. Meadows and his scriptwriter Paul Fraser, meanwhile, deserve particular credit for so deftly maintaining such a delicate balance between the bouncily engaging story and its sad, even tragic subtexts.

11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
One of the most remarkable cinema debuts of the decade, 12 April 2007

Breathingly remarkably fresh life into a hackneyed-sounding plot, Taking Father Home announces the arrival of a terrific new film-making talent. Filmed for almost nothing with a borrowed camera and featuring a cast almost entirely made up of friends and relatives of Ying (in China, as in Japan and other East Asian countries, surnames come first) and his producer/creative-partner Peng Shan, Taking Father Home is the story of a teenager (Xu Yun) from a remote village who travels to the big city of Zigong with no money and a brace of ducks in a basket on his back. His mission: to find and retrieve his errant father, who walked out on his family six years before.

Yun learns an awful lot very quickly once he arrives in Zigong, as there's no shortage of mentor-figures eager to impart advice. His is a compelling quest, and we're with him every step of the way thanks to Ying's remarkable evocation of Zigong's sights, smells and sounds: if this weren't enough, he somehow manages to express the mood and character of an entire culture with just the simplest of touches and what seems to be the most basic of dialogue. By the end, Taking Father Home has become an utterly engaging emotional experience, and Ying has established himself as one of world cinema's promising young talents. You'll be hearing much more of and from him in years to come.

Sheitan (2006)
52 out of 80 people found the following review useful:
amazingly, this unheralded little movie is the scariest and funniest film of the year - and, perhaps, the best, 24 April 2006

French shocker Sheitan is, against all odds and expectations, some kind of demented - and utterly disreputable - masterpiece: the scariest, most uninhibited movie of the year, and also perhaps the funniest.

It's by some way the best picture I've seen since A History of Violence: I was really blown away by its punkish energy, unpredictability and confidence; most of all, I loved the way director Kim Chapiron (who I'd never heard of before) mixes horror and humour. So many movies try that balancing-act and come a cropper: Chapiron makes it look easy. She (or is it a he?) also puts the wildly overpraised Haut Tension and Calvaire very firmly in their place: Sheitan resembles both pictures in many ways, but is much their superior in terms of ambition, execution and sheer balls-to-the-wall chutzpah.

It's a picture I knew nothing about before arriving in Amsterdam (for the Fantastic Film Festival) and spotting it in the catalogue: the presence in the cast of Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci caught my eye, but I went in fearing the worst - anticipated a flashily hollow exercise in exploitational style a la Jan Kounen's dire Dobermann (Kounen is, as it turns out, thanked in the end credits), reckoned I might well exit after 30 minutes if it didn't grab my attention. New after five minutes I was going to be in my seat for the duration: hyperkinetic nightclub opening sets the tone/pace/look (much hand-held camera-work, rapidfire editing, up-close-and-personal shots of the youthful protagonists).

Main characters are three pals of varying degrees of boorishness: Olivier Barthelemy as knucklehead Bart, who rapidly gets into a daft dancefloor fight and is smashed over the head with a wine bottle; Ladj Ly and Nicolas Le Phat Tan as Thai - this latter pair relatively sensible and restrained in comparison with their lecherous, thuggish mate. When Bart is ejected from the premises, the trio head off (at reckless speed) in Ladj's car, along with barmaid Yasmine (Leila Bekhti) and another copine, Eve (Roxane Mesquida). After careering through the city streets, the five (accompanied by Bart's dog Tyson) head for the countryside and the farmhouse where Eve's parents supposedly reside. No sign of the folks: instead it's maniacally grinning farmhand/housekeeper Joseph (a near-unrecognisable Vincent Cassel) who provides an extremely hearty welcome. It doesn't take too long for all hell to break loose - perhaps literally, 'Sheitan' being the Persian word for Satan...

Like most of the best films, the less you know about Sheitan beforehand, the better: and any synopsis can't really hope to capture what makes the picture so exhilaratingly effective. Best seen in a crowded cinema - ideally after a drink or two - this is a genuinely disturbing, genuinely hilarious rock-the-house crowdpleaser. Too extreme and jittery for some, no doubt - but how terrific it is to stumble across a film bursting with so much wildness and life. A no-holds-barred rural Gothic: touches of Jeepers Creepers here and there, a bit of Cabin Fever - with Barthelemy's Bart a Gallic cousin of James DeBello's pricelessly doltish Bert from the latter.

And while Chapiron's direction and script (co-written with Christian Chapiron) are, of course, crucial, special mention must be made of Barthelemy, without whom Sheitan might not even work at all. His performance as the hapless Bart - whose sullen idiocy is punished in truly extravagant style - represents astonishing work. Bart is notably unintelligent, relentlessly unsympathetic: unredeemed and very probably unredeemable - a considerable challenge for any actor, never mind one making his first feature-film. But in Barthelemy's hands he becomes a compelling, utterly convincing three-dimensional creation - a startling intrusion of cloddish reality into what is otherwise a mind-bending journey into the surreal and the grotesque.

8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
A terrific, one-of-a-kind, searingly compelling experience, 14 April 2006

Dazzling uber-narcissistic one-man-band self-portrait, shot on a shoestring by Norwegian self-obsessive (narrates in halting English) G.H.J.

Travels to India in search of enlightenment (unwise.) "Finds himself" bemid the Ashrams/Himalayas etc.

Underfed mid30s man, suffers midlife shenanigans: hypochondriac / diabetic / overanalytic / borderline sociopath. We feel pity and love for the c*nt, hpless schmuckk that he is. We forgive him his dopey trespasses: behaves very caddishly to girlfriends, previous GFs.

We feel odd pity / contempt combo, which grows into something rather deeper by the end (via remarkable scene with him and his dead father's corpse). Hits the bottle very hard. Idolises Bukowski (fair enough) and Mishima (dodgy).

Has great, inspiringly instinctive knack for film-making / editing / framing / composition / music / cinematography, which saves the day and then some. This is what Tarnation could and should have been, but somehow wasn't. Makes you think of Coppola's "little fat girl" quote: ironic that she should turn out to be this thin Norwegian 40-y-o.

Yeah, ". . . and suddenly one day, some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the next Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father's little camera, and for once the so-called professionalism of movies will be destroyed forever and it will become an art form."

Forest (2003)
18 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Fliegauf's debut announces a film-maker not merely of strong potential, but of impressive achievement., 14 April 2003

Forest begins with a wordless sequence in which we see people entering a busy shopping mall, to a soundtrack dominated by an ominous, rhythmic rumbling. The camera holds on certain faces for a few seconds before moving on. Next, in a series of long scenes, we see these people going about separate lives which occasionally intersect. The film ends with a repeat of the opening sequence - which by now has an altogether different set of meanings and resonances.

Last year a pair of promising new Hungarian directors emerged on the international film-festival circuit in Kornel Mondruzco (Pleasant Days) and Gyorgy Palfi (Hukkle). Now along comes Benedek Fliegauf, whose debut announces a film-maker not merely of strong potential, but of impressive achievement. David Stratton's review of Forest in Variety magazine includes two startling facts - that Fliegauf's application to the Hungarian Film School was rejected (how long will those responsible remain in their posts?) and that Forest's large cast* is made up entirely of (unpaid) non-actors.

If this is true, Hungary must either have a huge reservoir of untapped talent among its ordinary citizens, or else Fliegauf is some kind of genius at handling his 'performers.'.There's no weak link in any of the scenes, which are usually intense two-handers between people in various kind of relationship or personality crisis. We're never `told' who any of the characters are, or where they live, or (in many cases) their names. Zoltan Lovasi's hand-held digital-video camera is almost invariably 'in your face' - or rather in their faces - holding close-ups for minutes at a time, or swinging back and forth between the participants to record their reactions: there are few cuts within scenes (Lili Fodor is credited as editor).

Though full of talk, Forest is an inscrutable structure riddled with tantalising ellipses: the film is a mood piece, constantly hovering between comedy and nightmare. Scenes may begin in relatively innocuous style, but soon detour into troubling, sinister territory - as when a thirtysomething father discusses his 10-year-old's dawning sexuality with his increasingly unsettled wife; or when the discussion between a pair of young lads, apparently about the purchase of an old car, takes an abrupt turn into weirdness as they start talking about another, unspecified, apparently human 'object' one of them has acquired.

Dialogue-heavy and structured as a series of confrontations, Forest may seem like material better suited to the stage than the screen - or perhaps a short-story collection. But Fliegauf (with Lovasi) is careful to make this an explicitly cinematic experience: the tight focus and wobbly pans emphasise just how much we are being directed towards certain details - it's often frustrating that we aren't allowed to see the 'whole picture,' especially towards the end when there's a very mysterious, short sequence set around a campfire.

At such times, Fliegauf's approach can feel like a slightly strained kind of strained eeriness - the nature of the project is such that some will inevitably complain that it is too wilfully and self-indulgently enigmatic. But the director's intriguing ideas about storytelling style and content, plus his assured control of sound and image suggest he deserves the benefit of any doubt: Forest is the poetic, ambiguous, rewarding debut of an ambitious artist whose chosen medium happens to be cinema.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
one of Europe's rising-star directors barely wastes a frame, 12 December 2001

They've qualified for their first World Cup, and the poshest ex-Yugoslav state can also boast one of Europe's rising-star directors: Cvitkovic barely wastes a frame as he brings in Kruh in mleko at a lean 68 minutes of monochrome.

Recovering alcoholic Ivan is sent by his wife to buy groceries. On his way back he bumps into an old pal and rapidly falls off the wagon, with catastrophic consequences all round.

Doesn't sound much like a comedy, but the disasters escalate so quickly and cruelly they tip over into crazy farce. Think Some Mothers Do 'ave Em, as written by Raymond Carver.

Los (2001)
5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Film of the year..., 11 December 2001

Conceptual-art portrait of Los Angeles County, comprising 35 two-minute shots of streams, hills, buildings, factories, gardens, highways, rivers, cattle, trains, people, the ocean, a cemetery, the skyline, policemen, back streets, a jail, soccer players. Bennings' camera remains static, and in the absence of commentary the only sounds we hear are whatever's audible in each of these places: snatches of dialogue, distant background music, the rumble of cars and trains.

Needless to say, Los won't be to all tastes - in today's market-oriented climate, such a project necessarily runs the risk of 'pretentiousness' accusations - but it's surprising how quickly you adjust to the film's unique rhythms, and this is a very straightforward, accessible kind of experimentalism. In terms of an artist using cinema to express himself, it dwarfs almost all this year's 'conventional' releases: if any film of 2001 can possibly change the way its audiences think about and view their world, it's James Benning's mysterious, majestic, magical Los.