Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Risque Natalie Is Just... Well... Getting Funnier

Sorry for the delay - I saw this late one night last week in surprise and then forgot to post it! Actually I'm glad I didn't post it then because I thought it looked bloody awful. Watching it again tonight, it actually made me giggle a bit. Kind of a Holy Grail/Willow crossover, this is certainly very different and could be amazingly funny in a packed cinema. See for yourself.




A tiny part of me wishes it was straight fantasy though...shhhh.

Your Highness is out June 24.

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: The Invisible Eye


The Invisible Eye will always be a memorable film for me – not because of its quality, but for the fact that the whole screen sold out and in my desperate need to watch it I chose to sit down ON THE FLOOR on the cinema at the front and watch the whole shebang from there. I do not recommend anyone ever try this. It made me feel physically ill. Never slag off being on the front row in a cinema again because believe me there is WORSE.

And if this film had been an absolute howler it probably would have been the worst experience of my life (although I like to hope I would have had the sense to walk out of it halfway through). But thankfully it wasn’t. It was a grim watch though, with no sweet and light to take away the neck pain and bile in my throat that came with my seating position. Set in 1980s Argentina, Marita is a young teaching assistant in a school where every miniscule action made by any one person is being watched by the thousands of eyes around them. Marita must be that ‘invisible eye’ – survey the pupils she is guiding, and report any irregularities or blatant misbehaviour to the headmaster, Mr Biasutto: “call me Carlos.” – the creepiest and most hateful character I’ve seen at this year’s LIFF.

It’s clever in the fact that everyone is watching each other. In her zest to be a model employee Marita’s surveillance of the pupils becomes tainted when she becomes attracted to one of the young boys. Clearly inexperienced and confused by her feelings (she is identified as a virgin at a party because her skin is like paper) she begins to slide down the slippery slope to infatuation, and does things out of desperation which are degrading and quite uncomfortable to watch – you don’t know whether to laugh uneasily or just turn away from the screen. Whilst all this is happening Biasutto is watching Marita. At first he tries to coax and charm her, but when he realises she has been ‘spying on young boys in the toilets’ his actions and behaviour towards Marita becomes abhorrent and leads to a devastating climax.

There is something empty about The Invisible Eye. It’s not something I could tell when watching the film (I was too preoccupied with being ill), it dawns upon you afterwards when you’re struggling to find words to describe and rate the film other than, “well that was a bit grim.” Marita is quite a meek character, and so other than a few bedtime convos with her grandma we don’t see her express herself other than by her appearance and her actions. She’s a hard one to crack, to get involved with (although by the end you are completely on her side). The atmosphere of the school feels very sterile as well because of the forced oppression and obedience. It’s shot very well (use of the black and white chequered marble courtyard stands out) but it doesn’t come together in a completely satisfying way.

A good film if it does come your way but not remarkable. I do hope you get to see it on a comfy sofa, too!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Catfish



Catfish still has me in a quandary – was it a documentary? If so, was it authentic and filmed as things happened, or did they script some of it and re-film shots? Did these events happen or have they just staged them as if they did? In that case is it a docu-drama, and it’s all made up for story?

Whatever the case, this was one of the best films I have seen at LIFF this year. Constantly intriguing and then at times veering between creepy, uneasy, tragic and funny this film had a lot to offer, and a lot to say as well on the way we operate our lives today in a world motored by the internet. Whether the events are true or not they have explored an area of web life that is so often merely judged as being paedophiles posing as young boys to attract the attention of underage girls for grooming purposes. There have been countless horror stories in the press about this, and the upshot of that has been a real wariness amongst parents, and a crackdown in schools with comprehensive lessons and talks about the dangers of the internet and the importance of knowing who you’re talking to. But paedophilia while present isn’t the only force in these ‘relationships’ – people can pretend to be someone else for entirely benign and harmless reasons – boredom, one – or it can be the result of a deeper psychological issue, which is what manifests here in Catfish.

Young photographer Nev strikes up a relationship online with 8 year old Abby after she sends him a drawing in the post of one of his photos. Immediately you think you know where this is going, but as Nev starts to have contact with other members of Abby’s family – her mother Angela, her brother Alex and her sister Megan – this interest wanes and Nev begins to concentrate on other things: Megan. He is attracted by her photos on Facebook, and slowly they begin flirting. Meanwhile while all this is going on, Nev’s brother and flatmate have decided to start filming and documenting Nev’s relations with the family out of curiosity. In personal confessions to the camera Nev starts trying to find reasons why he and Megan might be really good for one another – it’s very candid stuff. But then things start to become suspicious.

Megan claims to be a singer, and starts posting recordings of songs onto Facebook for Nev. But after doing some – just basic – investigating, he realises that they are recordings taken from sites such as YouTube that she is claiming to be her own. Outraged, but in an incredulous fascinated way, Nev and his filmmakers start wondering about how to tackle this. By this point Nev and Megan speak on the phone and text regularly, and Nev begins to wonder if all of his outpourings of desire have been aimed at a 50 year old man – this is the first conclusion he jumps to.

They decide the only way to get to the bottom of this is to do some proper detective work, and travel all the way to Michigan to see the family in person. At this stage you’re so invested in the film and wanting to know what the hell is going on, you’re practically sat on the edge of your seat as they pull up to Megan’s house in the dark to peer through the windows. Catfish in some media has been described as a ‘thriller’ – well this is as close as you’re going to get in these few scenes where they discover the house Megan claims to live in is empty.

The next day they visit the main house belonging to Angela and her husband and where Abby lives, and discover that none of the people living there look like their pictures on Facebook. Only Abby it seems is real and consistent, but only to a point – she’s not a talented painter at all, just a normal fun-loving eight year old girl who likes her dolls. It all begins to become apparent that the culprit in all of this is Angela. Nev is torn over whether to confront her or not and get the truth – there’s no sign of Megan, and his continued presence at the house is becoming uncomfortable. So he tells her they need to sit down and have a talk about what’s happening – and then she bursts into tears and reveals to him the truth: nearly all of the people Nev has been speaking to over the past few months have been Angela – including Megan. He discovers her numerous fake Facebook accounts, how she used photographs of family friends and photos off the internet to put faces to these people, how she has a mobile phone for herself and one for ‘Megan’… it all sounds creepy as hell, yet Angela is a tragic figure: in reality she lives with her husband, Abby and two severely disabled sons and what started as a lie – she painted the photograph – has spiralled into a whole other life, filled with different projections of Angela as different personalities, and an escape from her normal life into a fictionalised one no-one else is aware of and one Nev has been fully duped by. The grim reality of Angela’s life makes you realise how this could have happened – and was she to know Nev would turn up at her door one day?

It’s all very sad, and a sobering climax to what was an adventure for the three young men. It’s not a paedophile or a psychopath posing as a young woman – it’s a middle aged mother trapped in her own life, wishing to be all of these people she has created. It’s only when Nev asks Angela to do the voice of Megan – then things become slightly unbearable to watch and even Nev and his crew take their cue to leave. He doesn’t question her about the ‘phone sex’ they had – I think that’s better left forgotten!

It’s only after the film has finished that you start to think about the questions I posed in the first paragraph. What actually happened here? Is Angela real? Did she really not question why they were filming her as soon as they arrived at the house? There’s quite a good breakdown on the real/fake debate here, but the filmmakers themselves stress everything is real. The thing which makes me slightly support the latter is the fact that the ending is so different. My belief is that these events actually happened, but the filming was done at different times and edited in a way to make it look like real-time. They would have had to have cleared with Angela before they filmed her and got her consent to use her real name and expose her in the film – it’s just madness otherwise.

All of this doesn’t detract away from Catfish being an engrossing and involving experience. What will come of this who knows, and what you get out of it is up to how much you buy into it. But it’s definitely one to watch as it’s a worthy example of a new generation of films about a web-obsessed society and online connections – expect upcoming features Chatroom and Trust to have more to say, but with more melodrama on show.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: The Last Employee


I think I must be having a mid film festival crisis/breakdown. Not only has the mind-numbing Tuesday After Christmas been awarded this year’s Golden Owl Award for Best Film – WTF! – but the Silver Méliès award has also gone to a film with very little merits: The Last Employee. Plugged as a German film playing up to the Japanese horror style, it was neither scary nor clever. But I think I’m going mad. Everyone else in the screening (including my other half) seemed to enjoy it so I wonder if I’ve become too hardened in all my years of churning out reviews. Maybe I can no longer appreciate a simple, well-made, effective film without wanting the extra mile. But NO, I cry! This film was well below par, especially for a horror, and I’ll tell thee all why.

The general set up had potential: psychologically frail lawyer David (Christian Berkel – Downfall, Das Experiment, Inglorious Basterds) has to make a whole workforce redundant, but one of the employees takes it harder than the rest and naturally she’s the creepy, smashing her head against the wall for no apparent reason type who then hangs herself. Or in turns out, has hung herself before he took the job, meaning he’s either being haunted by an angry spirit, or he just thinks he is. In fact I was quite enjoying the first 20 minutes or so, and thought I was going to be in for a right scary time with the woman moving about Ringu like, and slowly infiltrating his life. I think the problem was man at the helm Alexander Adolph doesn’t have the confidence in executing a horror – you could see what he was trying to do, but it all felt so amateurish. In fact at one point the audience started giggling at how bad it was – David discovering the dead woman lying next to him in the bed and his subsequent WAHHH WAHHH WAHHHH screams were not in the least bit convincing. That trick failed a few times – he also finds her in his son’s bed, but it’s an instant ‘scare’, there’s no tension in him creeping up to the sheets and slowly pulling them back to reveal her horrible face. Her face isn’t even that horrible – just a bit pale and bumpy.

Sooo many wasted opportunities. The flickering lights and distorted music in the empty office – why was nothing made of this? It got to a point where I barely noticed it anymore because nothing of any relevance happened. I liked him speaking with Greta the grandma and the long shots of her standing against the wall as you expect her to turn around as the ghost, but that doesn’t happen. It was a nice bluff, but he could have pushed it further. How about following it up with a big jumpy moment just when you feel safe again? More could have been made of the hide and seek/scary monster game the family played too, although it did generate the best scare of the film (ghost’s eyes in the blinds). There were a few ‘hints of dread’ that were dropped by the characters – David talking about the scary creatures living in grandma’s back garden which she catches and keeps in the freezer – that I was anticipating coming into play later on in the film but instead were just left hanging. Again I don’t want Adolph to be too clichéd about the story, but it felt like it wasn’t all tied together as tightly as it could have been and that’s down to a lack of experience and a lack of vision.

The ending was also a huge let down – no twist, no revelation, no explanation. Just lots of blood and characters making foolish decisions. The whole thing felt very going-through-the-motions for me, and that’s not what I want when I go to see a horror movie – I want to be entertained, impressed or just too plain terrified to care – get it off my screen! I didn’t feel anything towards The Last Employee other than a big, fat meh. Quite what everyone else was watching is beyond me.

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Sweet Little Lies


I messed up slightly with this one – got my timings wrong and missed the first 20 minutes of the film. But I was determined to watch it, so stay I did and ended up taking in a beautifully sweet, infinitely sad bittersweet tale of a young married couple who aren’t in love but desperately want to be.

Like I said I missed the beginning so I’m not very clear on how Ruriko and Satoshi met and ended up getting married, and whether their relationship was anything other than it is now: awkward, polite and cavernous. Both are very different characters: Ruriko is creative, sensitive and a free spirit, whilst Satoshi is more quiet and intense, clumsy and confused – unsure of where his feelings lie, unsure of how to express them, and unsure what they really mean for him. Both are having affairs and both keep this secret from one another, although it’s possible they know the truth and accept that this extra marital ‘bonding’ needs to exist to keep their own marriage alive.

That’s what so strange and oddly fascinating about Sweet Little Lies - the lies are sweet because they’re actually doing more to help than to hinder. Neither Ruriko or Satoshi want to be with their respective lovers – what they really want is to transfer their feelings and passion from the ‘stand-in’ to each other and make their marriage work. This is shown when they celebrate their wedding anniversary together at a restaurant where Satoshi went on a date with his girlfriend, and when Satoshi asks Ruriko if she wants him to hold her (and thus the two stand in a queer, non touching embrace for several seconds before Ruriko indicates to stop). The film is too slight for cymbal clashing displays of emotion and is about as opposite to melodrama as you can get, but that doesn’t stop the actors from being able to effectively convey their feelings despite being so reserved – every look, word and action is important. I wouldn’t say you ever fully ‘route’ for the pair, but there’s something so rewarding in their fierce loyalty to one another that makes you fully believe in their complicated relationship.

The ending was beautiful – I loved the veiled messages behind their words to one another:

“I’m home.”
“Did you go away?”
“Yes, but I’m back now.”
“That’s good.”
“How about you?”
“I’m coming home soon.”

Very glad this got a special mention from the Golden Owl jury (it would have been a worthy winner to be fair, and better than the actual champion) – it’s a film that digs its way into your subconscious and stays there, marked out for its unusual approach to love and its subtle, beautiful scenes (Ruriko lying in the grave with the dead dog to name one) and also occasional touches of black comedy which is always appreciated over here. Really interested to check out some other work by director Hitoshi Yazaki now, and it makes me wish he had been the guy to take charge of the big screen adaptation of Norwegian Wood - he would have felt at home.




Tuesday, 16 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: The Woman Who Dreamed Of a Man


Perhaps it’s time Europe did a remake of an American film. After all, a film this side of the Atlantic has barely been born before the US version is already in the works, usually a carbon copy of the original with bigger buck names and CGI thrown in for a glossier finish. 

For better or for worse, The Woman Who Dreamed Of A Man is Denmark’s answer to Fatal Attraction…but with, er, dreams. I’m not exactly happy with this, as up until the last crazy 20 minutes I thought the film was very good and was really enjoying watching the passionate affair between photographer K and lecturer Maciek develop and the way the story tousled with the idea of fate and destiny. Yes the script was ropey at times (lots of ‘surprising’ coincidences) but if you bought into the idea that these two are somehow connected to each other on a level akin to soul mates and no matter where their lives led them they will end up bumping into each other then it was a mesmerising watch. But the climax does let it down, and the cynics from the beginning will waste no time gleefully turning around to tell you what an awful 90 minutes you’ve just sat through. But somehow I can’t hate it – it was silly, but a good silly.

The film opens with K having a dream about a mysterious man – a dream so powerful she cannot shake it from reality…especially when the man turns up in real alive 3D the next morning in her hotel. Intrigued and perhaps a little bewitched, she begins to follow him until he cottons on to her presence and confronts her. Obviously sceptical about her dream, there is nevertheless an attraction between the two and they begin a lustful relationship of one night stands (in alleyways). Both are married and this puts a growing strain on the trysts, with one if not both of the pair behaving in more and more jealous and obsessive ways. Things come to a head when K’s agency sends her on a job to Warsaw, where Maciek lives (one of those coincidences!) and frightened about what she may be capable of if she goes, her husband unwittingly invites himself and their daughter along so they can have an impromptu family holiday. Messiness ensues. K cannot keep away from Maciek and her unexplainable absences and lateness cause her husband (Michael Nyqvist from the Millennium trilogy) to find out the truth about her affair. It’s once she separates from her husband that K starts to go a bit loopy – firstly taking up residence inside Maciek’s spare apartment that sits opposite his home so she watch him and spy on his family. Then she starts becoming obsessed with thoughts that every girl she sees him with is a lover, and when she is wrong begs for his forgiveness with an unhealthy need for sex (whenever, wherever) and slowly she deteriorates into this possessed woman whose only function in life is to be with Maciek. Needless to say the more intense she gets the more he backs off until he tells her to ‘get the fuck out of his life’. Then she finally loses it and starts running about with a knife… it’s all a bit too much, which is a great shame as it had potential to be a great character unravel.

The initial dream which catalysed all these events is largely forgotten about except at the end when it is revealed that he has also secretly been having the exact same dream about her. I don’t understand the point of tacking this on – if they were so connected then why not explore and conclude it in a more satisfying and gentle way? Why did you have to start throwing in all the crazy? You’re not sure at the end whether K goes back to her family, but she does appear to be the same woman she was before, indicating she has got over her madness. Closing a film like that isolates the episode, the affair between the two, and it all becomes a bit pointless and throwaway. What did it all mean in the end? Bugger all.

A very disappointing finish to what is a stylish and very sexy film. But let’s leave the Hollywood ideas to the big studios…or at least make it more about the person than the maniacal antics.



Monday, 15 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Tuesday After Christmas


I like films that are realistic, but Tuesday After Christmas takes it far too literally. Yes things happen, but they are so mind numbingly tedious, and happen to such unlikeable people that I really couldn’t care less.

A married couple with a young daughter are preparing for Christmas in Bucharest. Whilst they seem like a happy unit, the husband has been having an affair for the past few months with the family dentist, a younger and more carefree woman named Raluca. As the mistress leaves the capital to spend the holiday season with her mother, the husband’s attachment to her grows, and after lying to his wife and going to visit his lover, he reveals the truth on the Tuesday after Christmas, and despite an emotional argument and subsequent hostility between the parents they decide not to tell their daughter or the rest of the family until the new year.

It’s a strange paradox this film, as for all its dullness and slow pacing, it’s actually quite engrossing. Key scenes are just filmed in one shot, following the characters about the room until the camera finds a moment to cut away. The daughter getting her braces fitted at the dentists is a fascinating watch as she and the wife are oblivious to the relationship between husband and Raluca who are in the same room together and secretly hating the fact they can’t be alone. There’s no sexual tension as such, or secret daring touches or longing looks but yet a moment which is so trivial flies by. I commend the director for these episodes – the closing scene where the parents are getting through a dinner at the grandparents whilst loathing each other under the surface is also expertly shot, and acted. There’s a tinge of sadness about the mother being able to deftly hand the father the daughter’s present – which you see them buy earlier in the film together at the department store – behind her back without anyone noticing so they can pretend Santa’s been and gone. But sometimes these long drawn out scenes don’t work – whilst the cake eating scene is amusing it’s nowhere near as amazing as the LIFF film guide made it out to be, and the scene where the husband breaks the news to his wife that he’s met someone else just goes on and on and onnnnn, and with acting as bad as that you just want the house to collpse so you can be rid of them.

The problem with the film is that it’s a domestic drama, intended to relate to people who have been through similar events. But everything seems drab and predictable (husband tells wife, she’s mad, husband tells lover, she’s happy, husband moves into lover’s flat, etc) – there’s nothing new or interesting here, just a well directed film with a substandard script and mediocre actors. They babied their kid so much too – I couldn’t believe she was as old as eight! Subtitles also a complete mess (“the hole truth”; “witch way”) but I won’t hold that fault against them…

Don’t rush out to see this.

Tuesday After Christmas won the Golden Owl Award for Best Film at the 2010 Leeds International Film Festival.





LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Kitchen Stories


A beautiful heart-warming tale from the snows of Norway, and one of my favourites of the film festival so far.

Kitchen Stories begins really slowly introducing the audience to the research study the Swedish scientists are undertaking into the movements of single men in their kitchens. It’s done in a rather vague and detached way and apart from the odd jibe between the men about their Scandinavian neighbours (on both sides) you’re so busy trying to take everything in you’re not paying attention to why they’re conducting this survey and what its purpose is. If this sounds an odd premise for a film I beg you to look past the first 15 minutes and ignore the blurb. It’s not about the research at all, and once the main characters settle on screen the film really begins to flourish.

One of the scientists, Folke, is assigned his newest ‘host’: a bad tempered and unfriendly old man called Isak who lives in Norway. As part of the study he has to sit in an elevated chair in the corner of the kitchen, akin to a lifeguard looking over a swimming pool, and it’s quirky touches like this that bring the laughs and slowly, as you watch these two men interact with one another, you find yourself involved with their lives. It sort of reminded me of The Lives of Others but with more of a domesticated sitcom vibe.

At first Isak is resistant to having this strange man in his house observing him from on high, and starts sneakily cooking his meals upstairs in his bedroom and watching him from a hole in the ceiling. As well as the invasion, there is also the general needling undercurrent of post-war politics and divisions between Sweden and Norway. But as time goes on the two men begin to adjust to one another and the barriers are broken after Folke lends the old man some of his tobacco after he finds his stash empty. Isak we have learned, is a lonely man with no family and only two friends in the world – a man called Grant who occasionally calls round for coffee and a haircut, and his horse who is very poorly and causing Isak a lot of upset. Having now found a common ground with Folke, he begins to open up and more and more Folke is coming down from his perch to sit and laugh with the old man at his table. Isak becomes almost tender towards Folke, who too is a lonely soul without family. But soon Folke’s supervisor starts to become suspicious (hosts are not allowed to speak to the researchers and definitely not permitted to socialise) and Folke’s time with the old man is threatened.

I won’t say anymore and hopefully that’s enough to entice you in. It’s a few years old now (2003) so available to watch on DVD. The humour is dry, visual, delightful and funny events are often off-set by a moment of genuine affection by a character that further cements your routing for this unlikely but yet necessary friendship and its continuation. The kidnapping of Folke by a jealous Grant is one of the highlights of the film. I loved both the leads and unashamedly say I grew very attached to them – fine performances all round.

A surprise this one, as I wasn’t expecting very much before going in. But this strengthens my feeling that Scandinavia is a hotbed for sweet, unassuming and touching comedies and if you’ve yet to discover this fact yourself, start with a watch of Kitchen Stories.

Friday, 12 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST: World Animation Shorts

This is a selection of the World Animated shorts that I managed to see – I wasn’t actually working the second part of the showcase but I managed to sneak into the screen anyway and caught a couple at the end! Luckily, the last one I managed to catch turned out to be the best of the lot, and one of the cleverest inventive shorts I have ever seen.

Crocodile: I really liked this one! It was very odd, but an accessible odd, with some very funny moments and a lead protagonist who was very sympathetic and likeable, and therefore it’s quite sad at the end when the girl he falls for turns out to be a harbouring a crocodile and he has to leave her. Plus her finger did fall off on the bus… no, he’s better off without her.

Old Fangs: bit ‘out there’ for me, but I did like the look of the whole thing, and the way the characters had been drawn. A shame the story reeked of adolescent melodrama and nothing else. A wolf should know better.

Pigeon Impossible: This went down really well in the audience, but I’m not sure how purist animation fans will see it. It was almost like watching one of the Pixar short films you get before the feature film (FYI – Partly Cloudy is the best. My face was soaked with tears after that one – not good to watch just before the opening of Up either: the floodworks are off again!). But it was actually very enjoyable and funny – the pigeon was awesome – I loved the way it flitted between being a dumb greedy bird to suddenly having a lot of menace behind the eyes. And then setting off a torpedo. Damn they’re a nuisance.

There Are Spirits: boring. Next!

The Astronomer’s Sun: oh this one made me cry. It was really beautiful – an astronomer turning himself into a comet so he can speed the skies with his wife, whom he believes transformed into that form upon her death. But what makes it so sad is the other part of the family, the lil teddy bear, is left behind on Earth staring at a picture of all three of them together. IT’S JUST SO SAD!

Barking Island: This was quite hard to watch being a dog lover, but another film which had been conceived and drawn very well – really interesting bleeding of colours and brush strokes. But a very sad story, sob.

The Boy Who Wanted To Be A Lion: ahhh. This split a lot of people down the middle. It’s actually a very sweet tale of a deaf boy who finds a kindred spirit in a lion, and becomes obsessed with wanting to look, sound, act and live like the animal. When he decides to run away from his house and break into the zoo at night to see the lion, the short could have gone either way: become a happy fantasy where the lion takes the boy in as his own and they live together in harmony, or, the lion could have done what it does naturally – attack innocent prey that come poking about. I won’t spoil the ending as I think this short still has a long way to go in terms of distribution, but I liked the ending. I thought it was a very satisfying and memorable short.

Lipsett Diaries: If you don’t know who Lipsett is you’re going to be bored silly. I was bored silly.

Umbra: this was a bit of a weird one, but hypnotic to watch the movements of these strange creatures. Not a lot to it, though.

Love and Theft: Strangely this was voted the best out of the first selection when I didn’t think there was anything special or engaging about it at all – just clever trickery showing image after image blending into one another with an aptly riff heavy soundtrack. Yes, I suppose it’s closer to the truer form of animation but without a story I’m not one to care about these things.

Love Potato: part of the second selection (when I snuck in), I only saw the ending of this, but that was enough to draw me in. Why when the man cuts a potato does his own skin bleed? Why do the potatoes start throwing themselves at the woman driving a car so she crashes and dies? What’s up with these crazy potatoes? Sadly I’ll never know.

Red End and the Seemingly Symbiotic Society: this reminded me of Umbra in that it was also hypnotic to watch. A factory of spiders who all have their own little job to do along the conveyer belt process. Making locusts it seems, who then go out to feed on the world, and then die, and the world is lush and green again. A cycle of a form of life… or something like that.

Logorama: ***winner*** hands down one of the very best shorts I have ever seen in my life, and definitely worthy of its Oscar win earlier this year for Best Animated Short Film (beating A Matter of Loaf and Death amongst others). It’s just so jaw-droppingly clever – halfway through I had a big grin on my face and wanted to run out to recommend it to everyone immediately, and I hadn’t even seen it all! The way the story pans out there’s probably a message stamped in there somewhere (consumerism leading to climate change?) but I was too busy watching all the stunning attention to detail, my eyes bulging at all the different brands and logos they could fill up the screen with. I loved Ronald McDonald being a super badass and kicking the Haribo kid under a bus. The Green Giant was awesome (and slightly gay), and who knew the Pringles guy could be such a sleazebag? The personification of brands was a genius – the creators clearly had a field day when it came to putting the zoo together.

As a very cool surprise, Logorama is actually available to watch in full online right now, so stop whatever you’re doing and immerse yourself for the next 16 minutes in the sharpest slice of animation you will ever see.



Thursday, 11 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: A Town Called Panic


Arghhhh I love it so much! Second time in watching this and it was just as good as the first, maybe better because you know in advance all the hilarious moments and you get to watch a whole new audience experience them for the first time (I love when that happens).

The set-up is just so ridiculous having Horse as the head of the house and the Cowboy and the Indian as the petulant arguing kids who are lazy, can’t spell and always getting into trouble. I loved all their little squabbles – “he wanted to ring the bell so he deserves what he gets!”

Horse was fab too (I can’t help but think of the quote by one of the directors when talking about Horse: “he’s this year’s Carey Mulligan!” – giggles). His relationship with Miss Longree is brilliantly created – he’s the responsible man of the house, but when it comes to girls he’s a complete mess! When he’s daydreaming about her skiing down the mountain to dance with him I was just in fits! Horse had some of the great attention to details moments to work with too – such as banging away like a maniac on the piano, throwing his horseshoes off before he goes to bed, and sleeping standing up!

Too many favourite moments to pick just one – Steven angrily eating his toast and then running through his coffee; Janine crying when Steven gets arrested and the cows hopefully mooing “so are we going to the fields today, then?”; Horse trying to rebuild the house while Cowboy and Indian just sit on the sofa and watch the TV; Miss Longree fixing Horse’s car with secret mechanical skills; the lambs all changing into their night-time fleeces before bed… and many more I can’t recall. Although my absolute favourite bit was a tiny bit ruined on the second watch – because it had been translated into a different line! What originally had me in hysterics: when the animals ride home from school in Horse’s car listening to a CD, “cool sounds Donkey, rip me one!” was changed to “cool music, copy me a CD.” Travesty! Total look of disappointment on my face when I realised it wasn’t going to be on. What if the second viewing I saw is the translation they use for the DVD? I will cry.*

PLEASE all my readers go and watch this. It will brighten your mood – any mood – instantly and will probably lead to you having dangerous spasms of laughter. I can’t imagine I’m going to see a more enjoyably bonkers film all year. At 75 minutes it’s just the right length and I only hope monsieurs Aubier and Patar have more exciting adventures lined up for this bunch of crazy loons as I'm already demanding a sequel.





* I cried.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

LEEDS FIM FEST REVIEW: The Temptation of St Tony


If David Lynch made an Estonian film, The Temptation of St Tony would be it. The blurb referred to “echoes of Lynch” but I must say I was constantly thinking about him all the time – from the night terror Tony’s wife has about the woman walking towards her, from Tony’s meeting with the priest in the abandoned church (who then proceeds to walk up a wall) and to The Golden Age debauchery club at the end – this had Lynch booming all over it. Not sure if director Veiko Ounpuu is familiar with his work – if not, it’s comforting to know there are two people out there both with the same deranged imagination.

Don’t ask me to explain the plot because I can’t. From what I got: Tony is an ordinary man living in modern day Tallinn whose wife is adrift and cold, his manager is making him close down a factory leaving many workers redundant, he’s fallen in love with one of the worker’s daughters who he helped escape from a police station, and on top of all that is haunted by guilt after running over a dog with his car. And finding lots of mutilated hands in a forest as a result.

It’s enough to make you realise that one watch of this film isn’t nearly enough to understand it. But is it all bollocks or full of profound meaning? It’s unfair to compare Ounpuu so closely with Lynch as well, particularly in this regard, as it’s quite easy to rule him off as a pale imitation of a recognisable director whose work is trying to be allegorical but is actually just style. It would be interesting to read some detailed analysis on the film and some interviews with Ounpuu to get some insight – he’s clearly a talented visionary (the film is all black and white, with long sequences that are dreamy, surreal and absurd but beautiful) and while he may be influenced by many other filmmakers (Bergman, Fellini, Bunuel, and Tarkovski have been mentioned in other reviews and I would also throw in Kubrick) he has his own unique freaky stories to tell. Also hugely awed by the soundtrack at times – the ever increasing ominous marching as he’s burying the dog in the snow is so powerful.

As the film is divided into 5 acts (and I’m sure the film buffs will name each act after the particular stage of Tony’s ordeal) the film is quite easy to digest, and whilst at times you don’t have a clue what’s going on, there’s always something on screen to intrigue, engage or disgust about The Temptation of St Tony. One of the most interesting films to come out of Eastern Europe in recent years, and a film to get Estonia noticed. Definitely worth a peek if you like your films disturbing and complex, and though it was a marmite film with LIFF audiences it’s one you’ll be talking about all the way home from the cinema.




LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Children of the Beehive


Don’t expect a lot from this review, as I can’t spurt out praise being an educated filmmaker or a fan of classic films because I’m neither. I can only relay from an uninformed and apathetic angle.

It was nice. It wasn’t something I had been looking forward to seeing, and it wasn’t something I’d watch again/spread the word about.  Because it’s considered such a classic of Japanese cinema (and by the looks of the ratings it got from the audience also well loved) I’m cautious to pick at it because it’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone watching this film in the 1950s and how they would have responded to it then. For me now in 2010, I found it very slow and the characters hard to care about. The orphaned boys were lovely, and there were some heart-warming funny moments (such as them trying to lift the heavy logs).

The young actors were outstanding. But only a few of them were distinguishable as having “parts” as such, and one of the main boys who runs off with the lady was – I’m going to whisper here – annoying as hell. When he went on and on to his friend to carry him up the mountain to see the sea – one of the most surging moments in the whole film – I was moaning on in my head about how I couldn’t stand to have a whiney selfish child around me like that, especially in comparison to the rest of the kids who are hard-working, a bit mischievous but also loyal and generous. But then I had to give myself a hugggge telling off when they got to the top of the mountain and you realise he’d died…

There was a line I really loved: when a group of the boys are complaining about some of the others being weak and lazy, the soldier tells them, “they’re not weak they’re just afraid. Be decent to them so they don’t become afraid of you.”

And the music made me want to watch Gone With The Wind again. So there were some pluses.

LEEDS FILM FEST: UK Drama Shorts

Gold Top: cute and probably one of the more satisfying in the collection. A young boy helps out the milkman with his Christmas deliveries, but has his own one to make – a Christmas card for the girl he likes who lives on the round. There’s something very homely and nostalgic about a milk van, and watching it travel through the snowy country lanes in the dawn light to a chorus of clinking bottles. The simple pleasure of a cup of tea and a mince pie has never been so inviting (and I don’t even like mince pies!). The best bit was when the boy realises the girl has made him a Christmas card in return – and it’s decorated with a gold bottle top! I want one of those cards!

Watching: really not sure what to make of this one. I think it was trying to be too clever, and it ended up being unlikeable. The story and the dialogue were so unrealistic and contrived – nobody talks like that, these kind of weird events don’t happen to normal people, so don’t set it in an everyday café to elevate it. If someone came up to you and started giving you a character assassination and weird, coded instructions you would not just sit there and take it, no matter how much you’re tempted to stay by an envelope of cash and some clever words. And it was SO obvious when he shook his hand that he had stolen his watch – gah! Not only inflated but predictable. I don’t understand how the victim (awful actor) was so impressed by being conned at the end either – grinning annoyingly to himself and then becoming a ‘man of action’ by asking out the waitress. A smug waste of time.

The Terms: actually, maybe this was more of a waste of time. A father and son, who have a fractured relationship, agree to terms which give each a shot at each other with a gun after the target first gets a head start. It was supposed to be darkly comic, but again I found myself thinking, this just would not happen! Or – on this one occasion if it did – just shoot each other dead, then! I don’t care! There wasn’t enough subtext/background to support the story, so I was never vested in this short.

Part of Me: Oh, I could barely even watch this one. It was horrible. Not in terms of acting/story/direction but in terms of the graphic subject matter and the way it was presented in such a stark and brutal fashion. One of the most uncomfortable and harrowing things I ever watched. Thank God it was only a short!

The Holiday: ***winner*** I loved this! It was quite painful and sad to watch, but more in a bittersweet way than depressing you out for the rest of the day. A middle aged man pretends to be happily married and going off on holiday with his wife when really it’s an empty boast to his ‘friends’ at the burger van, and in actuality he lives alone as a carer to his elderly mother. Watching him bring the lie of going to the Costa del Sol to life by buying self-tan, stocking up on microwave meals for two weeks so he doesn’t have to leave the house, ordering a t-shirt from the internet – it hits all the tragi-comic-pitiful-base emotions you have in your body til you just ache. And the worst part – his mates knew all along he was lying… but don’t let on! It’s nice they don’t seem to care whether he’s happily married or not but they still shouldn’t let him make a fool of himself... (see, I’m vested). Really worth catching if you get the chance.

Silent Things: first thing to say about this – I recognise that girl! Yes it’s Miss Georgia from Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (God I hate that title). Nice to see her doing a broad range of work. This also wandered into the realms of incredulity but at the same time it’s perfectly possible that a bright bubbly girl would make friends with an autistic man, lead him into taking the ferry with her to France, and then at the port be responsible for having him questioned by the police for possible grooming. There were parts that worked really well – the extra element of the man having a girlfriend who is also autistic and suspicious and confused by the new girl (“you can’t just decide that someone is your friend”) was well played, although she did remind me an awful lot of the witchy neighbour in Edward Scissorhands

King of Deptford Creek: take everything I said about Watching and put it here. But actually I disliked this even more and would raise ‘smug’ to ‘pretentious poppycock’.

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: The Taste of Tea


The most beautifully bonkers film I have seen in a while – utterly delightful and a perfect way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon!

Firstly, the cinematography/scenery/colours are gorgeous and made me want to visit rural Japan – so many forests, mountains and peaceful idylls waiting to be discovered. The serenity of living in a place like that was expertly used in the film as well, with the characters sat out on the porch (horrible Western term, sorry, don’t know the Japanese!) drinking tea and staring off into the distance. Sometimes they would just get up and walk, exploring the depths of their minds with the exploring of new places. And there occasionally meet random folk on their travels, whose stories are non sequitur but generate a lot of laughs (baseball man, mud man, jungle girl “she’s back… AS A COMEDIAN!”)  or adding a bittersweet memory to the life of a character (the uncle visiting an ex girlfriend who is now married).

What made this film the perfect Sunday treat was that there was no plot. No concentration to be had, or linking up events, or a big twisty climax at the end – this was purely watching a family and following the various members as they went about their daily lives. I just needed a blanket and a hot cup of tea in the cinema with me and I would have been happy! And because director Katsuhito Ishii brings his vivid imagination to the filmmaking process, we get a truly unique insight into the minds of the characters – extraordinary surges of joy and sadness you just won’t see anywhere else: when the son watches a train take away the girl he loves, as he cries the train comes out of his head; or when the daughter finally manages to do a back-flip on the horizontal bar to vanish the 50 foot version of herself that’s been following her around, in her happiness the world is consumed by a giant sunflower. And then there’s the ‘shit’ story, which is just too priceless to spoil here...

The daughter was my favourite – she was such a cutie! I loved the way she believed by doing a back-flip she would get rid of the giant version of herself. Nothing else would have worked, only that – it shows the amazing power of the mind. The grandpa was also wonderful, and his interactions with the daughter were some of the best moments of the film (“why are you a triangle? WHY ARE YOU A TRIANGLE?”). But the grandpa, despite his odd ball manga pose antics, is actually the most affecting character of all, as his death leads the family to find individual flip books he drew of them, each capturing a moment in their lives which represents simple innocent happiness – I was envious of them having such a precious gift to keep! In fact, that would have been a spot-on moment to end the film, but we hadn’t had the giant sunflower eating the Universe at that point so of course it had to continue.

I feel privileged to have been part of only the second audience in the UK to have ever seen this film – it deserves a distributor for its quirky tales and heart in abundance. It leaves you feeling fuzzy with a big grin on your face and is visually stunning. Please excuse me while I go pour some miso soup and get the Go board out.





Sunday, 7 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: The Bothersome Man



Some films have this amazing idea, which could be brilliant if executed in the right way with the right amount of pathos, intelligence and philosophy. The Bothersome Man gives it a good go, but is ultimately flawed by its murkiness.

Andreas becomes aware that he is being driven in a bus through the middle of nowhere. He is the only person on the bus. He is dropped off at a remote station, where he is greeted by a welcome banner, and a man who drives him silently onwards until they reach a city. Here is told where he lives, where he works and goodbye. Thus Andreas begins a new life in this new city, where he has to carve out relationships and emotions for himself. He battles silently with questions whilst everyone around him smiles blandly and is obsessed with furniture, wealth and wanting bigger houses. Then he comes across a man who seems to think the same way as him: that everything is grey and lifeless. After attempting to live in this soulless concrete jungle and also realising he cannot die after he walks away from throwing himself under a train, he resolves to meet this man and in sharing a kindred spirit, his desperation to leave ever increases.

It’s extremely absorbing, and because the dialogue is sparse and clipped, as a viewer you are the one asking the questions rather than the characters. How did he get there? Why is he so different to the people around him who seem content and dismiss him as soon as he starts speaking of memory and feeling? Why can’t he die? What is his purpose in this place? What will happen to him? Unfortunately the film is unable to answer those questions, nor provide enough clues and allegory for us to satisfy ourselves. We can have a stab at it – and I’ll give my own interpretation in a moment – but there are holes that cannot be filled. It’s almost as if the director wanted to fulfil many different theories and by not committing to any certain path the film falls into the same shade of grey as the world his protagonists inhabit.

This is how I saw it. Andreas, in his ‘real life’ was unhappy and isolated, and so he killed himself. Whether this was by throwing himself under a train and this is repeated later on as an extension of his depression or as a Sisyphus type punishment of being doomed to repeat the same action over and over again is questionable. Because his suicide was selfish and unnatural, instead of graduating to the true afterlife he is sent to a kind of purgatory, or limbo which is the grey city where he is given a new life, a chance to do things over again and perhaps be content with it all. Most people are content, and are numb to any real bursts of emotion or immune to confessing their inner thoughts, but Andreas brings the same outlook with him, and his unable to settle, and again without just learning to deal, he tries to kill himself again. Only this time it doesn’t work – he just gets patched up by some aloof men in a van, and sent back to his home again. Is this his eternal punishment for suicide? When he goes to visit the man whom he believes is as unhappy as he is in the new city, and discovers the ‘hole’ which offers music, the sounds of children playing and the smell of baking and the beach he tries all possible means to open up the hole and escape into the ‘heaven’ just on the other side of the wall. But he’s unable to get through before he is caught and sent to the ‘government’ of the city, who after realising that there is no more they can do for him, send him back on the bus from whence he came, and out of the city. When the bus eventually comes to a stop and he gets out, he is in an icy wilderness and left alone as the bus drives away. Now he is in ‘hell’.

I’ve read a lot of other stuff too – how this is actually more of a commentary on how modern day life is evolving, how the ‘hole’ can also represent a womb, or a vagina, or even homosexuality (that’s a bit of a far out theory if you ask me). It depends on how you look at it, which is always a beautiful thing about cinema and I applaud films that can master different experiences for the individual viewer. The Bothersome Man is worth going to see for that alone.

It’s the story of the film which takes precedence over everything else – the acting, directing, cinematography being OK – but you can’t help thinking of other ways they could have gone, things the director could have explored further or different actions Andreas could have taken. I also came away thinking I would have demanded more answers from the very beginning, but then I guess there wouldn’t have been a film to be made after that, would there?

If you get to see this film and enjoy it, I would thoroughly recommend a read of Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead as it’s very similar to this, but happier!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Gooey Natalie Is Just Lovely

The No Strings Attached trailer is here! Saved by the last few seconds, and the fact that Natalie looks mega cute in it.



Natalie's first romcom...ever. Secretly surprised and looking forward to this. Shh - don't tell anyone!


IT'S THE LEEDS FILM FESTIVAL 2010!

AAAAAAAA-lleluia! It's here! The Leeds Film Festival kicks off tonight in the city for another two and a half weeks of cinema joyjoy. (I'm going to go right out and say November is officially the best month ever - FACT. Basically Halloween, Bonfire Night, the Film Festival, my birthday, the German Market, and so merrily on)

This reminds me of queuing up for The Orphanage back in 2007.. not fun times

Once again I'm working the festival and you can check out daily updates on my special LIFF blog here: http://screenmouse.wordpress.com/ which also contains all of my reviews from last year's festival if you are bovvered, like. It's going to be a VERY busy 13 days for me starting from tomorrow as I'm practically working 14 hour days. So don't expect this blog to get updated too much (as if it's ever - HA!).

I must say on first look at the programme I was pretty disappointed with this year's line up. As I mentioned in my London post there were a few films I was expecting to travel up which haven't (desperately upset about Happy Few - I wanted to see it on the premise alone but then I found out it's by director Antony Cordier whose first film Cold Showers I had accidentally seen at the Leeds Film Festival in 2005 and I was convinced his new film would be here this year. Grrr!). A lot of the stuff I had just never heard of, which is fine, but I wish they would show more upcoming films than re-releases, old favourites and really obscure documentaries that nobody goes to see (believe me, I've worked them!). But I'm happy with my rota (I get to work at the HPPH! Wahoo!) and having re-read the programme a few times it is growing on me. I think I set my sights too high having previewed the cream of the crop this year, and I have to face facts: Leeds is not on a par with Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and London. It's (whisper) not even on a par with Edinburgh. But there's still a lot to be proud of, and hopefully it will just grow and grow and I'll get to be a part of that as it happens.

To preview I'm counting down my Top 15 Films To See At This Year's Festival as well as throwing in a few other well-known (but less culturemouse appealing) titles as well. Leeds Film have constructed their own top films list which you can see here, but of course mine is better. Hark.

**As a note, The Kings Speech opens this year's festival tonight (annoyed as I'd assumed I had free tickets to go ala Bright Star last year but for whatever reason volunteers didn't get in, and we have free tickets to Never Let Me Go instead WHICH I'VE SEEN ALREADY! ahem) but as it's sold out, if you want to catch it before it goes on general release in January it's showing at the HPPH again on the 20th.**

15. Erratum
A man is forced to confront the people from his past after a mysterious accident strands him in his home town




14. Kidnapped
'Them' made by the producers of [REC] - now Spain wants a go at home invasion terror


 
13. The Woman Who Dreamt Of A Man
Your soul mates appears to you in a dream, and then you see him breathing and walking the next day. Too bad you're both married


 
12. Twosome
Young Czech couple go off on a road trip to try and reignite lost passions, but are distracted by a new addition to the twosome


 
11. A Taste of Tea
A young girl is followed by a 50 foot version of herself, what more do you want from a film?! O those kerazy Japanese





10. Sweet Little Lies
Quietly a marriage is falling apart, in this beautiful looking film from the director of Strawberry Shortcakes


 
9. The Invisible Eye
The Lives of Others set in a school? As long as there's an unstable and confused teacher I'm happy


 
8. The Secret of Kells
It's an enchanting, mythic, gorgeous looking Irish cartoon for kids and bigger kids, so it is, so it is


 
7. The Last Employee
In the style of a classic Japanese horror ghost story... but with Germans in it instead!



6. Vital Signs
French Canadian cinema, woot woot! A lost young woman becomes immersed in her job at a nursing home and starts to forget her own world...


 
5. Catfish
Thee docu-drama that is emerging from the festival circuits a real standout - an honest and harsh expose on the web obsessed world of today


 
4. The Bothersome Man
Man wakes up in a strange place with no idea how he got there, and is forced to live with a new family and see new friends... Kafka-tastic


 
3. How I Ended This Summer
The winner of this year's Best Film at the London Film Festival comes to Leeds...and it's all things icy!


 
2. The Silent House
Shot in just one take, this is a haunted house story from Uruguay that is likely to unsettle you for weeks


 
1. A Town Called Panic
"Cool sounds Donkey - rip me one!" - I for one can't wait to see this utterly bonkers trip again on the big screen - it's just delightful, and my number one film to watch this year at the festival


 

Others of passing interest: Never Let Me Go, Leap Year, The American, The Loved Ones, Inside Job, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Zonad, Animal Kingdom, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, Pepperminta.

Some I'm working, some I'm not. I won't get to see all of the 15 but I'll try me best! The Bothersome Man kicks off my adventure tomorrow night. What type of adventure are YOU going to have? - please come and support the film festival! You can browse the rest of the catalogue here at Leedsfilm and if you see a good 'un I haven't mentioned yet let me know so I can share the secret!


See you in a cinema soon...


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

London Film Festival 2010 Review

Belated, I know, but here's my review of the London Film Festival 2010. As much as I love Leeds, this was by far the best festival I've ever been to, just in terms of scale. It's nice to go to lots of different, new cinemas for a change and also know you're seeing some of the most highly anticipated films of the next few months before anyone else. The programme was huuuuuge to what I'm compared to, and the fact I only had two days there was unbelievably frustrating (especially as I gambled on missing a few as they would come to Leeds a few weeks later, and they bloody didn't! No Happy Few or Plans For Tomorrow for me this year - if ever). But, I did as much as humanly possible and even though we didn't get tickets for the UK premiere of Black Swan (sob, sob) I did get to see some films I've been previewing on these pages in the last 10 months and also a couple of others that caught my eye. And overall in terms of enjoyment, it was a pretty good show! Which made me not want to leave and watch MORE films! Grrr.

Here's how it went down.

The Magic Tree
Saturday, the BFI
The perfect kid's film! So being myself, I was having a whale of a time. An enchanted tree is chopped down and made into all kinds of furniture, which in turn take on magical properties. One such piece, a red chair (who is leading my favourite character in a film this year race) escapes a removal van to make friends with three children, who mistakenly wish for their parents to go away leaving them with their horrible aunt. Discovering the chair grants their every wish, they set off in search of their parents and hilarious kiddy fun ensues. It struck me as a cross between Enid Blyton's The Wishing Chair (which made me wonder, WHY has nobody made that into a film, ditto The Faraway Tree?) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks - magic and fantasy tinkering with reality and normal children, who were great in this and looked like they had an absolute ball making it. There's the quintessential bald, greedy, untrustworthy baddie as well who was akin to a Wheeler in his stooping stilts! I guess the only down side is watching it as an adult you notice the rudimentary design flaws and plot holes that gleeful immersed children would miss (how could they shoot UP the water slide? How?! And what was the point of it anyway when they could have flown over the sea?! bah!). But, suspend your disbelief at least for 83 minutes: this is pure joy, and that chair was so God damn adorable when it rattled the pans outside the tent to let the children know the baddie was approaching, I just wanted to clap like a monkey. Here's the trailer as a treat, just because it has a) the chair flipping down a hill and b) it smashing through a window James Bond stylee!



AWESOME. Such a shame no-one's going to see this!




Little White Lies
Saturday, Curzon Mayfair
My favourite film of the festival. It was always going to be - the premise is about as close to culturemouse heaven as you can get: childhood friends reunite years later to go on holiday together and all the bottled up angst, emotion and lies overspill into one another's lives. I've written pages of this stuff! And even better because it's French, and French Cinema is one of my most favourite things to indulge in. All that being said, I am a little tired of following characters as they travel mundanely along and then WHAM! a car smashes into them (slight spoiler of two minutes in) - I'm just waiting for it now rather than being propelled into utter shock. But at least it's used in the beginning here, and not to end the film with a bang, and the repercussions - if slightly predictable - do impinge upon the whole film making it extraordinarily emotional and distressing, so if you get to see this in the next few months for pete's sake take some tissues. This is a very different offering from director Guillaume Canet whose last film was the belting thriller Tell No One, and leading star François Cluzet also crops up here (looking distractedly like Dustin Hoffman) as the owner of the complex where the friends stay. I loved the natural, authentic pace at which we were introduced to the characters - it meant that you could really warm to them and care for them deeply later on when their various turmoils boil to the surface. Marion Cotillard was wonderful and hypnotic to watch, and there were also great performances from Benoît Magimel and Joel Dupuch, but each of the characters had an interesting arc/storyline to watch. The tone and mood of the film was also smartly cast like a yo-yo, going from hilarious to devastating, philosophical to sudden jaw-dropping (there's a fun relaxed moment that is abruptly stunned into silence by a comment from one of the friends - you could feel the horror in the cinema!). It was just so easy to spend time with them, and the hours just flew by. A wonderful film - spoilt only by the stabbing of a lobster halfway through. Why, Mr Pinchy eaters, why?! The trailer's in French and completely baffling to newbies, but...



... BAND OF HORSES IS IN IT! MY FAVOURITE SONG! So I'm posting it anyway.




Leap Year
Saturday, Vue West End
I don't really feel anything about this film, which is odd because it's provoked such an extreme reaction from its violent, masochistic themes of stark isolation and loneliness. Laura, a work from home journalist, lives by herself in Mexico City - a painfully lonely existence inside four walls only broken by an occasional visit to the supermarket and nights out in clubs to bring men back for empty sex. Then she brings home a man who does seem interested in her and returning to see her, but he is sadistic, cruel and possessive - yet this seems to be what Laura has been craving all along. It is uncomfortable to watch at times, but I just didn't feel anything for the main character. She's too much of a shell to truly care about, or is that just me being a callous bitch? I felt like I should be sympathising with her, but she wallowed too much in her own misery and it was off-putting. She didn't seem tragic enough - there, I said it! But the film was far from boring - it kept me rapt throughout, and I liked that it was told from the POV of the apartment (perhaps another reason I felt emotionally detached from Laura). I also liked how the mystery of the blocked red square on her calendar signalling February 29th played out - initially you think it's like a big full stop, the end to another dismal month she crosses off days for anyway; then you are told it's the anniversary of her father's death which means a great deal to her, but then it becomes something much more ominous. Absolutely stunningly brave performance from Monica del Carmen (and you can see it at the Leeds Film Festival this month).





Never Let Me Go 
Sunday Gala showing, Vue West End
We didn't manage to get tickets for Black Swan, but this was the one big gala screening we did manage to bag. I can't remember if I spoke about Never Let Me Go after finishing the book a few months back in preparation for the film - well I didn't like it, but I hated Alex Garland's screenplay of this. The book is, like it seems all Kazuo Ishiguro's books are, about repression, British pride and not allowing yourself to be open and true with the person you love. Alex Garland spent more time on the 'sci fi' element of the story, which isn't what captivates you at all. What captivates you is the relationship between the three main characters, and it played second fiddle here to clones, sickness and operating tables. Huge chunks of the book were missed out (Ruth stealing the tape and Kathy and Tommy going hunting for it in secondhand shops, Ruth telling Tommy that Kathy hates his drawings and laughs at him behind his back, Ruth just being generally more of a bitch) which meant the important plot points felt watered down. I felt they could have been developed a lot further to make things clearer and more powerful for an ignorant audience - the material was there so why overlook it? The other main flaw was the acting calibre of Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. Being top billing the film had to race through the boarding school/childhood bits to hurry up and get to the faces people had bought tickets for. And that was a real shame because Hailsham is such an integral part of the story, and shows the burgeoning love between Kathy and Tommy and here it's hopped, skipped and jumped over by the screenplay. Also a shame as the kids were really good - lil Kathy was the spitting image of a baby Carey Mulligan - I felt like it was her, just filmed about 15 years ago! The teachers were undeveloped, too. Of the cast elite, I thought Andrew Garfield was brilliant as Tommy, thoroughly believable even just in walking. Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley also solid, although this doesn't have the weight of Oscar success about it anymore - it's just not satisfying and powerful enough. The Baftas will love it, though. As one better and more prominent critic put it "it's too contrived to be tragic" and that is 100% spot on.  Buuut, it was very emotional and made me cry a lot, particularly when Tommy screams out his frustration on the road. It gets an extra slice of cheese for that.






Pretty Girls Make Graves (11 short films)
Sunday, the BFI
A very up and down mix of short films from all over the world focusing on adolescent young girls (I made notes between each one coz I'm sneaky). I'm afraid a lot of them were above and beyond me in their arty pretentiousness, which is often the problem I have with short form of anything. With Venus vs Me, Sister, Fur and Bit you can just take my hand and whoosh it over the top of my head. I didn't get it. But thankfully, there were some I did. I loved the utter sweetness of That Thing You Drew where an art fascinated deaf girl is inspired by a graffiti-ed penis on a wall and starts unknowingly copying into all of her school books, much to her teacher's concern. A more knowledgeable boy saves the day, and they have a good giggle about it over an anatomy book later. It's just lovely! Release the Flying Monkeys was also awesome for the fact they create an angry heavy metal fan out of a tortoise who is 'hanging about with other female tortoises to make his ex-girlfriend tortoise jealous'. Hee! Vlog was really interesting as it flips on you halfway through: you think you are watching a girl videotaping her escape from her abusive father, but really it's all a show for her fake emo blog (weirdo). But it was a delight when Julian Barrett's name came up in the opening credits to the short film The Savage Canvas. I just knew it would be amazing from the off, and it was! The best and most enjoyable short of the two hours. Here's a teaser:


Hopefully once it's done the rounds the full thing will be available to watch online - it's just genius when he starts shouting at the little madam like he's a child himself! It was worth it just to see that.





Love Like Poison
Sunday, Curzon Mayfair
It's a bit sad when your favourite thing coming out of a film is the song used on the closing credits, isn't it? This was a very odd film - it was watchable and definitely intriguing as to where it was heading (although it did seem to end very suddenly!) but I couldn't make up my mind at the end how I felt about it, and I still can't reviewing it now. I liked the film's honesty, and exposing the realities of adolescence (the awkward kissing scenes, etc) and the suggestive plots, but at times it felt swamped in melodrama - too much fainting for my liking! The religious onus was very heavy handed, a little scary at times, and having been raised Catholic myself I found it hard to fathom. But France is more devout than England, so maybe the pressure is more overwhelming there. The title is clever - God's love is like a poison because it can screw you up? It made me not want to bring up my children Catholic, that's for damn sure. But adored the choral cover of Radiohead's 'Creep' at the very end - it seemed very fitting with the girl's state of mind, and it was a nice musical flashback too. Listen:

 

Beautiful. Slightly spoilt by the fact that it's all over The Social Network trailer which I didn't realise until searching for the song when I got back from London, but at least I know this is where I discovered it first.