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So bad it drove me out the cinema
30 March 2011
Viewed until it proved too much for me at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

Bad in every respect, Space Girls in Beverly Hills is the absolute nadir of ego-driven, no talent film making. All concerned are clearly having a great time but it should be illegal to inflict such suffering on a paying audience! Isn't there something in the US constitution or legal code about cruel and unusual punishment being forbidden? At best, at the very best, the film looks like a cheap and tacky piece of porn - but with all the sex edited out. If so, maybe the makers should put it back in and give us something worth watching. Except... the actors, both male and female, reek of skank and one of the reasons I baled out was the fear that sooner or later they might indeed show some skin. Burning books is wrong, burning films, if this one's at the top of the bonfire, would be a very good thing.
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Autoreiji (2010)
Yakuza mayhem à la Takeshi Kitano
30 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

Takeshi Kitano's return to his familiar stamping ground, the Yakuza, their intrigues, vendettas and highly inventive ways of inflicting extreme unpleasantness on one another, was given less than a stellar welcome by critics at the Festival. A common refrain was that there was nothing new on offer here, no new insights, just a retread of the familiar. Well, they are right, but is that really such a bad thing?

I say no, not when we get tough guys, sharp suits, black humour, extreme violence (you might never want to visit the dentist again), a convoluted plot that is hard to follow but has something to do with rivalry, inheriting the reins of power and inflicting extreme violence on the other team. Oh yes, there's also betrayal and extreme violence.

Outrage is old-school Takeshi Kitano, a (for me) welcome return to his glory days, not that he ever left them behind (I've time for all his films, if not his gameshows). If you like the man, as actor or director, then you won't be disappointed by this film, just as long as you are not expecting something new and different, that is.
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Hors la loi (2010)
It's a start, but not a very good one
30 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

There's no doubt France's colonial history is a treasure trove for film makers, and the country certainly has some coming to terms to do with its past, but Outside The Law, for all the fuss it raised in Cannes (including a protest by former white residents of Algeria), is, sadly, a missed opportunity.

True, the film does try to cover all the bases, and the French treated the Algerians appallingly, both in Algeria and in France itself. But what comes out is a very anodyne and clichéd soap opera about three brothers who eventually end up taking criminal paths, either within the Algerian terrorist movement or the underworld.

Although great care has been taken with the costumes, sets, props etc. to create a very credible sense of period, Outside The Law is let down by its script which, in striving for balance and neutrality, robs the films of any drama or tension and purses a by-the-numbers narrative. Everything is signposted in advance and duly arrives on time.

Outside The Law is to be applauded as a start in tackling this incredibly complex and still painful subject, but it's not a very good one. The protesters, who most likely had not seen the film, would find nothing to fear here. And they too also have a story that should be told. Whether other film makers pick up the gauntlet remains to be seen, but I suspect box office results for this film will show that this is a market best served by TV documentaries instead.
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Polarises, love or loath, and I loathed it!
30 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010 I saw this film with two friends at the evening, red carpet screening in Cannes. Lucky us, right? Well, no. The walk-outs began about six minutes in and continued unabated. My two companions both fell asleep! I managed to stay awake, although I tried otherwise, and when A and B both woke some 45 minutes later, we also joined the line for the exit. I realise a film is always a personal experience, but there is absolutely no story on show here, no character establishment or development. The camera lingers and busks to the point that you are mentally screaming "CUT!! CUT!!"! Whole interminable scenes do nothing to drive a non-existent narrative forwards. Visually, it often looks like it was shot on mini-DV and mastered through an unwashed milk bottle. As for the characters, especially Uncle Boonmee, do we get to know him? What do you think? Do we even care? What do you think again? The best thing about this film is, I kid you not, an electric fly swatter! Now that's something I want! It won the Palme D'Or, of course.
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Swedish madness!
30 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

Now that you've read the plot summary... Okay, a group of drummers terrorise a city with their daring musical 'raids' while a tone deaf, music hating, detective tries to track them down... The Sound of Noise is the kind of dark comedic madness only the Scandinavians do so well: percussionists as musical terrorists laying down the beat for an entire city.

This is a conceit built around the musicians themselves, taking several of their set-piece numbers and weaving them into a narrative structure. In this sense, seen as a film with the classic three act structure, story and character development etc., Sound of Noise is less successful. But as a showcase for amazing musical ability and sheer imagination, this film cannot be beaten.
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Rubber (2010)
Radial or cross-ply?
30 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

Rubber is in a genre of its own, the sentient serial-killing tyre, the kind of film you find either great or complete rubbish. Robert simply rolls across the desert, using his psychokinetic powers to kill people and destroy inanimate objects. There's no reason or logic on display here: it's what it (he?) does. Basic serial killing 101, really.

In those terms Rubber is very much a one act / one note film. It's not like there's any character development or even story arc on show here, more a series of vignettes. Robert does this, then that, then this again, and then that again.

All of which begs the question: what is there here worth watching? To begin with, writer- director Quentin Dupieux makes his off-the-wall concept actually work. In as much as a black rubber tyre can have a personality, Robert does! He takes time off to check into a motel and have a shower, for example! He picks and choose whom and what he offs! Dupieux uses his camera to give us a tyre's-eye view of proceedings, and then there's that wonderful landscape, endless horizons and sky. Visually, this is one very good looking film.

Yes, it is all utterly stupid and lacking in all logic, European auteur self-indulgent film making at its best. I wonder how on earth Dupieux got this by his producers and funders. It must have made for some great pitch meeting! Maybe he even brought his lead 'actor' along with him!

Taken as a curio, as being a film that exists on its own terms in its own niche, Rubber is great fun - for those who get and appreciate the conceit. Anyone else will find their fun elsewhere, which is fine.
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GasLand (2010)
The truth is often stranger than fiction
30 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

There are times when a documentary can be more dramatic and gripping than many a feature film and Josh Fox's Gasland is one such documentary. Offered $100,000 to let a natural gas company do some exploratory drilling on his land, Fox sets out to investigate just what's involved and opens an ecologically nightmarish Pandora's box.

Basically, the gas companies use a process called hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") to crack open the underlying rock strata and release the natural gas. This involves pumping in a chemical cocktail of great toxicity and where nature has a way...

Fox and his sometimes wobbly camera then travels around the country, meeting people whose lives and health have been irreparably damaged. He might play the effect one or two times more than is needed since we've got the point by then, but being able to set light to your drinking water is not a benefit! And the mud brown chemical concoction coming out of the tap is not something you would wish to drink anyway.

Unlike Michael Moore, whose preaching has become a turn off, Fox is laid back, non- dramatic, letting people tell their stories. The calm, matter of fact narrations add even greater drama to the story. These are ordinary people whose lives have been destroyed.

With the natural gas industry in full hue and cry after greater profits, the lawyers riding their coattails sorting out the settlements, compensation and gagging clauses, Fox is a lonely voice but his quiet resolution makes him even more worth listening to.

To those reviewers who really do seem to be paid flacks for the gas industry, I am not a socialist, do not hug trees, do not dislike capitalism, I am a guy who loves watching films and being moved by them. If you can watch Gasland and can come out still thinking life is wonderful and nobody has anything to be worried about here, then you need to look to your conscience, because we all should be very concerned indeed.
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A glorious failure
30 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2010

A sequel to the way, way better 2005 film, Evil In The Time Of Heroes is, sadly, a mess on every level. Previous reviewers have said this is a Greek film for Greeks! And I am sure in the original language the characters and situations have far more resonance. But nothing can disguise the fact that in terms of what matter; story, script, characters, development, direction and, well, everything that goes into a film, this production got away from all those concerned and, at best, looks like it's being made up and improvised as it goes along.

Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing, because let's-do-the-show-right-here can still have its charms. But for Evil In The Time Of Heroes this doesn't apply because the film is so confusing in terms of narrative and continuity it's impossible to figure out hows and whys. Historical flashbacks, featuring Billy Zane (I think a sad effort to throw in a 'name' after everything else has failed) try to make sense of what's going on but serve only to add more confusion.

Okay, so the story makes no sense but there's always the acting, right? Not in this case! This is one of those films best viewed with your eyes closed! But maybe these people are big in Greece and household names, so who knows? In any event, there is every Greek stereotype on display here, but since that's the Greeks poking fun at themselves I've no beef with that.

To end on a positive note: I really do respect anyone who makes a film and Evil In The Time Of Heroes makes a real effort. Unfortunately it doesn't go anywhere. If the film makers return to their roots, examine how and why the 2005 film works and this bigger-budgeted one doesn't, then here's all success to their third outing.
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La meute (2010)
Meandering but still entertaining sort-of-Zombie film
30 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival du Film, Cannes 2010

One of the best things about the Festival is how everyone who loves film, whether it's for fun or profit, often piles into a cinema for a shared experience, whereby you get folks of all nationalities and tastes often watching a film they normally might not bother with. The Pack is a perfect example.

This is a cross-genre horror film that also wants to make some social comments, especially about the how and why of the creatures, hence my use of "meandering" in the summary. As has been mentioned by a previous poster, it starts as one film, changes to another and then goes a different way. At the same time, the elements do work, perhaps better individually than as a whole. Even so, The Pack is fun and it's nice to see a European horror film get a good reception.

The usual genre rules are there: Don't pick up hitchhikers, don't stop at a desolate restaurant run by a weirdo, don't get caged up in the basement as a snack for locally marauding monsters. In fact, maybe give all of France and Belgium a miss?

There are the obligatory jumps and shocks, some black humour, the requisite gore and the final last standard. In that sense don't expect anything new from The Pack. But at the same time there is a sure hand on the tiller, except for this meandering, which could have been sorted out at script stage. It doesn't damage the film as more as weaken the effect it could have. But my criticism is more the disappointment of how a good film misses being great, so on that basis The Pack was given a very good reception and makes for some enjoyable thrills, chills and spills.
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Dino Time (2012)
29 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2010

An animated film that doesn't insult kids' intelligence, isn't about shifting as much merchandise as possible and won't have parents hitting the booze in the middle - that's Dino Mom.

Technically, as in terms of animation, Dino Mom hits above its weight. It's no Pixar of Dreamworks, or Disney, but nor is it churned out shovelware either. There is ability and care on show here, which extends to the characters, both humans and dinosaurs, too. The moral of the story, moms are a good thing, is simple and nicely done. The film might not stand up to repeat viewings but for a one-off treat, something the kids can be left to watch while parents do something else (Get drunk, maybe?), it's perfect.
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Really creepy good fun
29 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Film, Cannes 2010

To spoil or not to spoil, that is the question. NOT spoil! The summary tells you all you need to know and anything else would be a revelation and defeat the object. Basically, David Hyde Pierce plays his Frasier character Nils as coming from the dark side. He's whacked out all right, but only slowly do we discover just how whacked and out he is!

The Perfect Host is not a horror film, although it's easy to see how it could have been made as one, but a psychological, cat and mouse thriller of tables (dining tables?) turning and being turned as small time hood meets major lunatic!

Given the vast majority of the film takes place in one setting, the film does come over as a bit staged at times, but that also adds another dimension because staging itself plays a big part. After all, Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce's character) is staging the perfect dinner party and is not about to let some uncultivated intruder spoil things.

And then come the twists...

The Perfect Host is a little film that slips under the radar, but if you enjoy good thrillers, want a different take on the home invasion genre, just enjoy watching David Hyde Pierce (and he is most watchable) being creepy, then it's well worth a look.
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Sweatshop (2009)
Brutal. Nasty. Brilliant
29 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Film, Cannes 2011

Sweatshop is a dark, mean and nasty, grungy delight! A group of highly disposable young people decide to throw an illegal rave in a semi-abandoned warehouse; semi-abandoned because, unknown to them, its sole resident, a giant of a man with the world's largest hammer (basically an anvil at the end of a long pole), is still very much at home and determined to keep the noise down! And that's all there is to it!

Filmed over a couple of years, as and when, mostly at the weekend when people had time to work on it, Sweatshop is way, way better than you might think. There is a (sort of) backstory, which is more hinted at than explained, but it's also unnecessary since the film's director and writers, Ted Geoghegan and Stacy Davidson (who also directs) know what material they have and what their audience wants.

This means the audience can sit back, relax and watch people being smashed to bloody pulp! Can life get any better than this?
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The Infidel (2010)
Wishful thinking meets liberal self-indulgence
29 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Film 2011, Cannes

Omid Djalili is a brilliant comedian. So is David Baddiel, the writer. But The Infidel's biggest weakness is its contrived and less than fully functional script: a proud Muslim man discovers he's actually Jewish. Roll on the floor clutching your sides? Afraid not.

It's not that the film's heart is in the wrong place, but it wears its liberal credentials and heart so openly, flaunting them on both sleeves, so desperate not to offend it takes no risks whatsoever and comes over as, at best, anodyne.

Yes there are some good laughs, but they are occasional and not frequent enough. Instead, we get the author using the characters to give a wave-the-index finger lecture about the need for all of us to get on and look below the surface that is religion and judge the person. Problem is, for many people religion is more than surface deep but the core of the individual, so all reality is missing from this film. Just pause for a second and consider how a strictly religious community would most likely react to discovering one of its members is actually batting for the other side, as it were.

Well, fair enough, this is meant to be a comedy, which brings me back to my main criticism: it's not that funny. Omid Djalili has his moments, rolling his eyes and floundering around as his whole life and identity is turned upside down. He also has the perfect white, liberal, Guardian-reading, Channel 4-viewing person's ideal of the perfect Muslim family. Like I say, contrived to the nines.

This is an audience that doesn't need this film because it's already presold on it. Will the film change the mindset of the less tolerant members of the community? Of course not, because they won't go see it anyway. As entertainment it falls flat because it's too preachy, too well intentioned, telling you to eat your broccoli and explaining why it's good for you. In fact, if all concerned were not part of the charmed inner circle of British film making, The Infidel would never have got made to start with, any decent producer rejecting the script at the outset.
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Chain Letter (2009)
Barrel scraping, third division mess
29 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Film, Cannes 2010

If all you want from a horror film are some gory kills and blood, go ahead, knock yourself out and have a ball. But if you want anything more, say a decent script, a story that makes sense, characters, even one, you can root for, some logic, even internal logic, and finally a decent killer with motivation, look elsewhere. Make no mistake Chain Letter is a mess.

So much of this film makes no or very little sense it's hard to know where to start. Basically, teens who receive a chain letter and fail to pass it on get offed. Why they are getting this letter I could never figure out. How the killer manages to do what he does defies even the often screwy logic of such films. At times he seems to be in several places at once, doing different things. It's almost like the producers took every draft script and shuffled them together, pulling out 100 pages at random and saying, "Now let's make this one"!

Even if Chain Letter were good, and it's anything but, it would still not rise above the level of clichéd and derivative: the Japanese do it so much better. Heck! Just about everyone does it better!

I love horror films, I even enjoy ones that are so bad they're good. There's usually something to be found in them. But treat Chain Letter like the real thing: don't pass it on no matter what the promise, just trash it.
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Not your average family drama
29 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Viewed at the Cannes Festival de Film 2010

I've rated this film higher than most IMDb posters because, for me, it's a family drama at heart and much less a horror film. Going into We Are What We Are with that in mind will, I think, give you a better viewing experience.

This is a tight knit family bound by the usual familial ties and one not so usual one: they are cannibals. When the father dies the dynamics are turned on their head. Least of which is that the survivors have to learn how to hunt or die!

There is violence and blood, of course, and also some wonderful black humour, but all this places WAWWA only in the realm of horrible, as in horrible things going on, but nor does the film dwell on this. Instead, we get the focus on changing familial dynamics, as the two brothers, sister and mother strive to keep the unit intact and also adapt to the changed circumstances that also force them into new roles: in the past, the father was the hunter- provider.

Taken as a story of sudden trauma and the effect it can have on those closest, WAWWA is a close up and personal study. Yes, the characters are cold blooded killers and monsters, but as the title says, they are what they are and so do what they do. It's not personal, it's not gratuitous, merely necessary.

Some posters have criticised the film's technical merits. I'd argue the hand-held camera and grungy look is perfect. These aren't Hollywood actors and if you see WAWWA then you can imagine just what the Hollywood version would be like, and how it would throw out all the weight of the original to focus on the blood and guts.

A South American Let The Right One In? Si.
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Better than his last one?
29 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2010

Where you see a film also plays a part in how you perceive it. Local fleapit or multiplex, or at the premier film festival with a press conference afterwards? If the latter, then the audience is either going to be friendlier or more hostile, because an audience of film critics and journalists does not hide its feelings. As soon as the end credits start to roll, so do the cheers and / or catcalls. In the case of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (YWMATDS) the applause outweighed the abuse, but was more of the affectionate kind, relieved even. And by that I mean relief that we hadn't sat through a stinker like Pandora's Box. So yes, WMATDS is better than Allen's last film.

It's fun watching a quality cast strut its staff, and only in a Woody Allen film do people live in super apartments without seeming to do any actual work! Oh well, his world, not mine.

This is Woody still in reflective and contemplative mode. There is, fortunately, more humour than has been displayed on previous outings, but the essential message here is that the tall dark stranger is Death and we will all meet him one day. Not that the film is depressing, but nor is it one with a happy end as such.

All the characters are flawed, but I do wonder if Allen intended the lack of sympathy I felt for them - all of them! - to such an extent. There is nobody here to root for, but at least we're spared Allen inserting himself into the action (especially if it involves him scoring a hot babe and rattling off his quickfire dialogue, standing out like a sore thumb). But for watching characters flail around, not satisfied with their lot, all looking and hoping for better / more / something else, but all not sure what, YWMATDS makes for a fascinating watch.
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Best mad scientist film in decades
29 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2010

How can anyone take The Human Centipede seriously? Please! It is so far out there it's calling long distance and sending postcards airmail! A mad scientist captures tourists and joins them mouth to anus to make a human centipede! Why?? Why not?! He's a mad scientist! That's what mad scientists do! Mad science stuff!

IMDb classifies The Human Centipede as Horror / Drama / Thriller. It is also an intensely black and macabre comedy. Some of the dialogue is hilarious, such as the threats made by the Japanese 'segment' of Dieter Laser's insane creation.

Technically (Yes, technically!), the film looks way more expensive than its budget would suggest and the craft on show (direction, lighting, acting (!), camera) is very professional. Given the constraints of the situation, the actors especially turn in a fine job. One day you're a couple of girlfriends, looking for the local disco and getting lost, the next you're a helluva lot closer than you or nature ever intended!

I saw the film at a market screening, laid on as an extra because the first one was full to bursting.

The Human Centipede is a sick and guilty pleasure and I loved it.
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Macabre (II) (2009)
Excellent horror-slasher
29 March 2011
One of the highlights of my Cannes 2010 festival, Macabre dishes up the deaths in very assured and bloodily violent form. In a nutshell: 6 young people end up trapped in a house with a very nasty matriarch and her equally nasty offspring. Yes, there is a reason why the baddies do what they do, but you need to see the film for that!

It's true, as has already been posted here, Macabre does not break any new ground and perhaps jaded palettes will find little here to their taste, but like a well engineered German car, the film delivers the goods in messy style. Breaking with, say, the US tradition, those whom you think would or deserve to survive, do not, nor does the order of their going follow typical genre rules. Unlike in British horror films there is also no humour to alleviate the situation, although local audiences will clearly get a laugh from the stupidly bumbling police - I found them overplayed and irritating - who fortunately also provide more fodder for the maniacs!
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Protektor (2009)
Could have been great, is merely good
29 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2010

Protektor was the Czech Republic's official submission to 82nd Academy Award's Foreign Language in 2010. It didn't win.

Okay, if you want to know the plot go read the IMDb summary, that's what it's for. But if you can't be bothered: Czech radio journalist Emil starts to collaborate with the Nazis to protect his Jewish actress wife, Vera.

But Protektor is no Schindler's List and on the scale of Holocaust-themed films it comes way down, being essentially a relationship drama. His career takes off and hers, well, is over and if she's not careful, so is her life. But the unforgivable flaw with the film is that there is no tension here, no atmosphere. Everything unfurls in a drawn out and typically central European narrative manner. The film is simply flat and dull.

To make matters worse is the character of Vera, who is, quite simply, a preening and self- obsessed egomaniac. Don't think for a moment I'm saying she deserves what she gets because she is Jewish. But she does deserve everything she gets she embarks, among other things, on a highly visible and dangerous affair and then adopts on a course of behaviour that is quite literally suicidal. It is impossible to like or even sympathise with such an unpleasant individual.

Protektor wants to examine how people react under such circumstances but it fails with Emil too. The character is never properly defined. Does the film wish to say that many people also drifted into collaboration as opposed to embracing the enemy with love at first sight? I suppose so, but the director busks around the subject in such a way that his intent is never clear.

Visually, in terms of sets and costumes, camera-work and lighting, Protektor looks great. But unless you're a completist or fan of Central European cinema, or just want to see why the Czech Republic didn't take home the Academy Award, there's no real reason to see this film.
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How did they get away with this?
29 March 2011
I would love to know how writer-directors Edward and Rory McHenry pulled this off. That they were probably drunk as skunks or sniffing adhesives when they thought this up is understandable. You need some kind of off-the-wall craziness at times. And the idea, making a puppet film about the Nazis invading England is also Class A. Even satirizing war films and any other target within reach ticks the right boxes. But...

Jackboots on Whitehall is one of the worst films I watched at last year's Cannes film festival. As in it's rare I can think of no reason to watch it again, ever! Even for fans of bad films, and bad films can be hypnotically fun in a special way, there is nothing here worth slowing down for and looking at.

Despite the incredible voice cast assembled, the script is dire. The jokes, verbal and visual, and are non-existent. The puppets are cheap and cheerless. Unlike Team America: World Police, there is nothing of any depth going on here whatsoever. Jackboots is the cinematic equivalent of a group of seven year old boys playing and getting rowdier and rowdier at each turn. Sure, they're having fun but it's not fun to watch or listen to.

Viewed at the Festival Cannes 2010 but I wish I hadn't.
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Brotherhood (I) (2010)
He ain't heavy, he's my brotherhood
29 March 2011
Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2010

The fraternity (and sorority) system is something very peculiar to US colleges, but thanks to films such as Animal House people in other countries now have a very good idea how things work: all beer, parties and panty raids right? Not quite! Because Brotherhood takes the concept of initiation rites and works it into a very taut thriller about power and abuse and how far would you be willing to go to protect your fellows as opposed to doing the right thing.

Not wishing to give anything away (I don't write spoilers, even intentionally), what starts out as a prank, robbing a convenience store, spirals out of control as every attempt to put right the wrong just makes things worse. Pretty soon, to misquote Macbeth, those involved are now so deep in the brown and red stuff that turning back is no longer an option.

The kicker at the end, by the way, is excellent.
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One of my Cannes 2010 highlights
29 March 2011
Proving that size does not matter (as in size of budget), The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a triumphant tour de force that took me out of the Cannes sunshine, away from the beaches and babes and you know what? I don't care!

Writer-director J. Blakeson has come up with a wonderfully twisty, turny and gnarly thriller about a kidnapped heiress (Gemma Arterton - brilliant) at the mercy of two vicious gangsters (Eddie Marsan - fantastically evil - and Martin Compston - not playing with a straight deck).

Now comes the dilemma. To spoil or not? NOT! But suffice it to say, nothing is as it seems and just when I thought I had the film sussed and it was going to take a certain route, the tables were turned each time.

The acting is superb, direction, camera-work all very assured. These are people who know not only their trade but also art. The tension is palpable, nail biting even. Heck! The film also works as a Kidnapping For Dummies! And if such games are part of your love life then you'll certainly pick up a tip or three here!

You won't find me giving away the ending, but it also comes out of left field and is most satisfying. You want a taut thriller that bites and doesn't let go? This is it!
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Dead Cert (2010)
Neither one thing nor the other
29 March 2011
A bit like my old school reports, Dead Cert invokes comments such as "Must try harder" or "Can do better" and "Needs to pay more attention."

A London gangster-vampire hybrid, which is a fine idea in itself, Dead Cert is a case of ambition running way ahead of ability in, well, just about every department! So badly do the two concepts fail to meld, or work even on their own individual basis, it makes me wonder what kind of script the film has. Did it even have one or were the cast allowed to busk their way through? There's certainly no sign of firm direction on show here.

Budgetary constraints are obvious, but time and again talent can cover for this if the core elements are present and correct. But where there is no drama or tension, where the characters are so flat as to be thinner than cardboard, then why should the audience care?
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Robin Hood (2010)
Robbing the audience to give to the Hollywood rich
28 March 2011
First out of the box: this is not the Robin Hood we know and love, but rather the character's backstory and intended to be the first film in a trilogy which, given how this one has performed, is never gonna happen.

On paper, this A-list cast and director, Ridley Scott, together with a big budget, should have been a sure success. But it's also on paper the film collapses, because Brian Helgeland's script is ramshackle, wobbly and downright uninteresting. The result is like everyone concerned is making / acting in a film of their own!

Russell Crowe is, well, his usual self and makes no attempt to conceal his phoned in performance. Cate Blanchett at least tries harder, but ends up portraying a woman from a completely different era, and where did she get that accent?

Costumes, sets are as top notch as you would expect, but the battle scenes, especially the climatic one against the French invasion (D Day-style landing craft? C'mon!) are confused and lack drama. But by the time this procession of clichés has played out and we reach that stage, you won't be caring either way.
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Amazing piece of cinema, powerful. dramatic, moving
17 May 2009
Viewed at the Festival de Cannes 2009 (Market screening)

Since I am not Chinese, or of Chinese extraction, City of Life and Death has a different resonance for me. I know of the Nanking massacre (for which, it has to be said, the Japanese have yet to apologise or even properly acknowledge) from my own interest in history, as well as the John Rabe story (the Nazi who helped save thousands of Chinese civilians, until recalled to Germany since Hitler did not wish to upset his Japanese allies).

Therefore, for me, City of Life and Death retells a fearful part of history, but not one with which I have any direct connection. So while this film may resonate a certain way for Chinese viewers, be they from the mainland, Hong Kong or overseas Chinese, I can tell you that I, as a European, have seldom seen a film so powerful, gripping, dramatic and moving.

City of Life and Death is not nationalistic propaganda or a reversioning for the screen: no punches are pulled. The woman next to me was in tears. So be warned, this is not easy viewing. But by featuring on a few characters, allowing them to become fully three-dimensional human beings (not Chinese, not Asian, but human beings who live, love and feel) director Lu Chuan makes his audience feel and share their fear and terror as the Japanese invaders commit atrocity after atrocity on the fallen city's inhabitants. Never forget, this actually happened.

If anything, Lu Chuan soft pedals on the horrors. They are depicted, but are not front and centre. This is not a horror film so gore hounds and ghouls should seek their thrills elsewhere. Rather, it is the arbitrariness with which the Japanese went about their murderous work that scares. Wrong place, wrong time: rape, torture, murder. This wasn't the efficient, methodical murder the Nazis introduced, but rather cold brutality, as a cat toys with a helpless mouse. Unthinking, unreasoning, just because.

Filmed in black and white, City has so many images and scenes that remain fixed in you mind long after the final credits have rolled. Lu Chuan even selects the grain and grading according to the action. The use of colour would, in this case, have weakened the film.

But if City of Life and Death were just two hours of suffering it would be unworthy of an audience. So Lu Chuan gives us the central characters of Mr. Tang (John Rabe's secretary), Miss Jiang (a schoolteacher) and Kadokawa (a sensitive Japanese soldier who witness but cannot delay the unspeakable). All of them are helplessly swept up in the maelstrom, which Lu Chuan leavens with scenes of (attempts at) normal life, normal human interaction and naked attempts at survival. These are people with whom one can identify and empathise.

Yet, at heart, City of Life and Death is extremely uplifting. The message, at the end, is positive and optimistic. In writing this review, the film is coming back to me again. What I once read, black and white on a page, has been made real for me and, yes, I'm emotionally moved by it.

If you believe in the power of film, want a break from popcorn entertainment, are looking for a film that can make you feel (as opposed to having your emotions manipulated) then please go see this one. It's rare when I think a film should be seen, deserves to be seen, but City of Life and Death belong in that very rare category.
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