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Much funnier than most of what Hollywood has to offer
It's incredibly rare to hear genuine laughter in a cinema. There were some real laughs in this - some due to crisp dialogue, some due to good comic timing, pratfalls etc. It's not a masterpiece but it is a genuine labour of love and far funnier than most of the stuff the mainstream producers "produce". Casting is well thought out, the story is clearly told from beginning to end, there is some nice camera work (especially of the riverside locations in Newcastle) and the music is spot on. I sincerely hope that someone puts this into British cinemas. A few niggles: possibly overlong: at times it does feel a bit like a bunch of students mucking about: the loan-shark subplot is a bit daft. Incidentally don't get the idea that I'm anti American: the people involved in St Trinians should watch this and learn what makes people laugh.
The Waiting Room (2007)
Ralf Little has a pee - twice
There's nothing I dislike more than male directors pointing cameras at women sitting on the bog. In this film there are two long caressing shots of a naked Ralf little having a wizz. Apart from that, there isn't really enough story to sustain interest for nearly two hours. It would have made a decent soap episode, but the dramatic problem - getting two fairly sensible characters to give up on failed relationships - isn't really big enough for a feature. Acting is good throughout, although RL has "little" to do. Cinematography is excellent and congratulations to all concerned for getting up and doing it. There are far worse things on at the cinema. My favourite bit was the video which the kids kept playing, of Dad on the telly.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Not terrible but don't believe the hype
This isn't a long film by modern standards but I spent the last quarter waiting for it to end. There are lots of good things in it - the images of Indian slums are dazzlingly put together and there is some nice humour in the face of adversity. Best of all is the music, which should definitely bag an Oscar. But there is a lot wrong with it. Here are my main niggles: 1. The device of linking Jamal's answers on "Millionaire" to stories of his past life works at first but rapidly gets repetitive. Here the film suffers from its relationship with the novel. This sort of device works better on the page than on film. 2. The central love story, which is imposed on the film in order to give it some narrative drive, doesn't really convince. Frankly when he kissed her at the end I didn't care one way or the other. It was impossible to care, because we had never been given enough insight into the characters' feelings for each other. 3. The author of the book is by his own admission is a highly privileged man who has never been to a slum. He is no nearer to the realities of Indian poverty than I am (in England). Many of the incidents are the sort of things which regularly crop up in outsiders' views of India. For instance, the mutilation of children to increase their income from begging has been described in the memoirs of dozens of English sahibs. I found many of the episodes stereotypical.
Overall this is a good film and much better than the usual Hollywood nonsense, but it's too clunky and contrived to be classic as some have claimed.
Dean Spanley (2008)
Why do the critics hate it?
First let me declare an interest. I am a screenwriter. When I first started I used to imagine my lines being spoken by the actors I loved, ie the great actors. I soon learnt to change my ways. In this film, Alan Sharp has written pages and pages of dialogue which can only be delivered by top class actors. It's a huge risk: but that's what we like in this business - a man who puts his cojones on the block. Fortunately, the actors are top class and they do deliver. Sam Neill is, in my view, turning into a great actor before our eyes. First he breathed life into Cardinal Wolsey: and in this film he's even better. Honourable mention must also go to Baron Dunsany's book. Question for budding screenwriters: how many similar books are out there waiting to be discovered? Criteria for inclusion: pre-war (therefore out of copyright), popular in their time, unashamedly commercial rather than great literature. It's no use looking in bookshops: these books are all out of print and the writers forgotten. Second honourable mention goes to Screen East, for backing this subtle and tasteful and surprising story about repressed grief. It's one of the perennial themes and all the bangs and explosions and robots in the world won't make it go away.
Touching study of love and old age
A marvellous short film dealing economically and beautifully with three main themes: the way that love can transcend time and keep part of us young: the sense of alienation that older people feel when things change around them: and the effect of Alzheimer's. There are plenty of other levels of meaning in there as well, but in spite of the wealth of content, the primary effect of the film is emotional - as it should be. Excellent performances by grown-up actors, cut-to-the-bone writing, thoughtful direction with no showing off. Sad but by no means depressing. I don't think short films get much better than this. Sadly this film has not been as widely seen as it should, for very prosaic legal reasons.
The Edge of Love (2008)
Is there really a story in there?
I'd like to think that there is a space in the market for "intelligent" and "adult" films which aren't just about exploding robots, hidden magic worlds etc. This film ticks many of the required boxes, but I think it plays into the hands of fans of non-intelligent and adult films who are always ready to say "where's the story? What am I supposed to get excited about?" There is a definite problem that there is no clear protagonist. It's very easy to be sniffy about McKie and Hollywood story structure: but, on the other hand, it's very hard to make a film unless you have a protagonist who is in jeopardy and who changes as a result. Vera (KK) probably gets the most screen time: but she doesn't really change much. William (Cillian Murphy) is the character who faces the greatest danger: but we don't see the film through his eyes. Overall, I think the performances and the film-making generally are good enough: there is also plenty of adequate dialogue and texture in the writing: but the story isn't really strong enough. It's really a Sunday evening, one hour, made for TV drama which fits very well with the remit of BBC television: but I can't see why it should be on the big screen. Re Sienna Miller as Caitlin, I heard Mark Kermode deliver a spectacular condemnation before I saw the film. I sort of agree that the accent is all over the place but that for me wasn't the real problem: I just don't think she is mad and bad enough. The gooey ending with KK and SM struggling to part, and sort of promising always to be friends, is absurd. At no point in the film has their friendship ever been an important issue for the audience, and it is ridiculous to expect the audience to start caring about it here.
La graine et le mulet (2007)
Should have been a nearly-great film
Lots to like about this film. Use of non-actors gave it a superbly involving real-life feel. Very balanced portrayal of "ethnic minority in society" issues. Nice ensemble writing which didn't leave me wanting to know who the protagonist was. The central character Slimane was an oldish grafter who was rather tired of life: his story was mainly about his attempts to leave something behind for the next generation: perhaps an underexplored area for film. Fantastic acting by (pro) Hafsia Herzi who is going to be a big big star. Main drawback is the editing. I'm perfectly capable of dealing with gently-paced films which allow the audience to observe the characters intimately, as if eavesdropping. I just think this took it a bit far. I'm surprised the distributors didn't insist on shortening it.
This is what cinema is for
The last days of the Shah and the Iranian "Revolution" are seen through the eyes of spirited young girl. The amount of humour worked in with the grimness is astonishing. The animation style, although highly restricted, never becomes boring. Use of music is excellent. I think it's important for all of us to know what it's like being personally involved in a "revolution". The picture which emerges is very clear. All extreme ideologies are just excuses for bullying. Since I've started preaching, I should add that we should all make the effort to go and see French films, because the Americans couldn't make a film as good as this in a thousand years. If we don't pay to see films like this, no-one will make them. I've deducted one star because I think the Vienna section slightly overlong, but don't let that put you off.
The Savages (2007)
Very good film but how is it a comedy?
Excellent performances from everyone involved and a very good script: but I chose it thinking it was a comedy, due to a highly misleading blurb on the video box! Not everyone would be so open-minded! In particular I would like to mention the restraint shown by the writer. It would have been so easy to show us exactly how Lenny was a useless father: but we were left to work it out for ourselves, by observing the results of his handiwork ie his unhappy children.
Hollywood struggles endlessly with the "portrayal of minorities" issue. I was very impressed with the sympathetic portrayal of Caribbean and African immigrants in the nursing home. Another gold star for the writer: it would have been so easy to show the nursing home as a living hell: but she resisted the temptation. And she resisted the temptation to demonise Laura Linney's boyfriend, which would have been so easy.
All in all a victory for unfashionable "English" qualities of holding back, showing restraint, etc. Too many films leave too little to the imagination.
Son of Rambow (2007)
Another British film that needed more rewriting
Some great ideas in there. The central notion of two kids remaking Rambo for the "Screentest" competition was great. However there were plenty of longueurs, especially in the scenes about the pair's schoolmates. I was a child once and the school scenes left me completely cold. A lot of money and time were spent without generating any real emotional impact. Also a real problem about tone, something which is so hard for people from a non-film background to get right. The school scenes, the film-within-film scenes and the home-life scenes were all on different levels of reality. Jessica Stevenson was almost too good as the Plymouth Brethren mother, driving a serious drama about child-escaping-from-religious-life, but it was competing for screen time with other stories in different genres. The answer to all these problems is to work harder on the script. Anything written by its director is always a bit suspect in my eyes. There should be people (eg producer, director) scrutinising every word before anyone picks up a camera.