Sunday, 23 October 2011

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Tales Of The Night


I heart Michel Ocelot. A LOT. When I was a young un' we had a VHS tape at home called Princess and Princesses and it was a collection of 6 fairy tales filmed in this eye-catching black silhouette look - something which obviously sticks in the mind of a child who is used to technicolour cartoons or puppets or live action slapstick. It was different, felt slightly 'edgier' somehow, and the stories were just wonderful. If only I could remember them now! I have searched on and off for years for this series that we had on Video, with only the above mentioned as a reference guide. Because this style of filmmaking is so striking and unusual, it led me to one person - Michel Ocelot: a French director who first started out in Cine Si in the 1980s before moving onto feature films (one of which is deceptively called Princes et Princesses but was made far too recently for it to be the same one). It was Cine Si which my VHS came from. I still can't pin-point the actual stories (one was about an evil king who stole the four winds and trapped them in a bag, ala the Greek myth, and one was about a mountain that was made of jewels - the jewels in their natural colours illuminated against the black shapes. But that's all I can remember!) and I'm not even sure if we still have the tape at home. But something about it has stuck with me, and that's why I was so excited to see Michel Ocelot's new film Tales of the Night at the London Film Festival. I've never seen any of his work on the big screen before, so I was in for a treat - an even bigger treat when I got free chocolate as it was a gala premiere! And because it was a premiere... the man himself was there as well to present the film and do a Q&A afterwards. It was like being with royalty! Unfortunately a lot of the questions were pandered towards the little kids in the audience who obviously ask stupid questions - for the cute factor - but I did love how he said he didn't like 3D but he was just doing it as an extra challenge! The part about "people will give you more money if you say you'll do a film in 3D" was slightly more alarming... But to the film itself.

Tales of the Night actually draws a lot of inspiration from Cine Si by having the film made up into 6 beautiful fairy tales from across the world. The tales are seemingly “invented” by three friends who are working in a closed theatre, throwing out ideas to one another of the stories they’d like to tell, and then using computer images for inspiration and creating the costumes themselves, as two of them are always cast in the tale, which they then perform at night in the theatre under the watchful gaze of a bemused owl.

The 6 stories are:

The Werewolf - a French folk tale about a young man's curse, and the betrayal of two sisters who both claim to love him, but only one of them is true and the other wants him dead. 

Ti-Jean and Beauty Not Known - a Caribbean tale about a man who goes adventuring down a cave only to find himself in The Land of the Dead and an opportunity to gain many prizes if he can pass 3 tests set by the King. This was my favourite story - I just loved how perfectly it came together with all the classic elements of a fairy tale. Plus the ending was superb as well, as the man rejects the prize he wins as he doesn't want to rule the dead and he has a girlfriend back home! tee hee, a touch of the modern. This one was also the prettiest to look at.


The Chosen One of the Golden City – a Central American tale, about a golden city in the Aztecs where a young pretty girl must be sacrificed to a monster to keep the city aground and the people rich in gold. A young traveller takes on the beast and slays it and wins the girl, but are the people really free? Probably the weakest of the six, but was interesting to see how Ocelot changed the original ending of the story - or made the theatre workers change it - because he did not like it and it offered no 'moral'.

The Tom Tom Boy – an African tale about a boy who yearns to play the drums but annoys those around him. One day he saves an old man from a beast, and as a reward is shown how to play the magic tom tom drum, which can make anyone dance. He saves the life of the ill king, and brings peace to the village. The funniest of the tales.

The Boy Who Never Lied – another African tale. An intriguing one this - the theatre worker tasked with playing the princess throws a tantrum as she hates her character so much! A boy’s honesty is tested by a cruel princess who fakes an illness with the only cure being his beloved horse’s heart. Torn by his love and friendship his horse dies for him, and because he can admit this to the king, he has proved he cannot lie and so he can marry the princess. She is ashamed of her trickery, and promises their first child will be lifelong friends with the foal of the horse who died.

The Girl Doe and the Architect’s Son – a classic folk tale of romance! A young man rescues a girl from marrying a cruel evil sorcerer and escapes with her. The angry sorcerer casts a spell to turn the girl into a beast. The man believes she is now a doe, and seeks out the fairy who can turn her back into a girl. The fairy lives in an EGG. Stop right there - she lives in an EGG. This is amazing. The EGG THAT BREAKS ALL SWORDS. The man and his guardian are hounded all the way by a crow who tries to help, and who turns out to be the transformed girl, and she is restored by the man’s love for her. It's a great story to end on.

From the master storyteller, Tales of the Night is an absolute delight, and a great entrée to Michel Ocelot if you've never seen any of his stuff before. If you adore world myths and fairy tales as much as I do and you've never heard of this man before, you seriously need to get on it. He is enchanting, the art is beautiful, and a deadpan sense of humour also enriches the mix of fable and fantasy. A fabulous way to end my festival experience.


Thursday, 20 October 2011

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Back To Stay



Back To Stay is a lovely little Argentine film I caught at the London Film Festival, drawn in by the story and also the line “the house is as much as a character as the people in it.” I do like anything where a place also has its own living and breathing presence and personality, particularly old houses, Usually used in a supernatural sense, and the premise beginning with “after the death of their grandmother…” I thought there may be hints of it during this film. There is, once, but it’s a watching rather than a haunting. Back To Stay is about three sisters, their bond and their own individual coming of age.

In an unnamed city somewhere in Argentina, three teenage sisters live alone in a big old deteriorating house, styled in the past by their grandmother, who has, as the film starts, died a short while ago. There is no mention of the girls’ parents so it is assumed they are orphans and it is their grandmother who raised them. Now left alone on the tip of adulthood they must navigate these difficult times by themselves, helped only by a male friend who appears to be either a neighbour or the ‘handyman’ of the house.

The three girls are very different. The eldest, Sofia, is at college, but is shown to be irresponsible, childish, bossy and prone to wearing some of the most inappropriate of clothes! Marina is the middle sister, studious, sensitive, rational and seems to be the only one who cares when the bills need paying or when the washing machine breaks. She has a crush on their male friend/handyman Francisco and in the opening scene we see her break up with her boyfriend. Violeta is the youngest, and has a vacant dreaminess about her and she floats from room to room, staring for hours at the TV and going through her grandmother’s clothes. She’s supposed to be at school but never goes, and has mysterious dalliances with a boy at the house whilst her sisters are at college.

The camera rarely leaves the house – occasionally venturing into the garden or the garage, but we never leave the site – the girls come and go but we stay with the house. It’s what holds them together – they've inheried it. The three of them are close, but there are tensions between Sofia and Marina: Sofia thinks Marina may be adopted as there are no pictures of her as a baby and she looks so different to them (it is never proven whether she is or not, though Marina’s violent reaction when she finds out that’s what Sofia has been telling people suggests she has an inkling herself). They don’t seem to miss their grandmother – it’s more her absence which has stunned the girls, forcing them to be adults sooner than they are ready. It’s a shock when Violeta suddenly leaves one day, to be with her boyfriend when he is offered a new job in a place “far away”. Marina and Sofia must alter their routine, but Sofia begins to keep things from Marina, shut her out and lock herself in her bedroom, upsetting her frustrated sister. Then Sofia begins to sell furniture and re-decorate spontaneously without a thought for Marina, but as time passes the two girls start working together to fashion the house as they would like to live there. The film’s alternative (Spanish) title “Open Doors and Windows” is as much about the house as it is about the girls’ emotions.

It’s an intimate study of family, relationships and characters. All three girls are interesting to watch (Violeta particularly enchanting with her beauty and listlessness) and there’s never a dull moment. It’s a quiet film – no music adding to sense of hushed atmosphere in this big empty house – file it under “not much happens but it’s wonderful to watch”. It lingers in the memory long after – such a curious and watchable little film is Back To Stay. Worth checking out if you ever get the chance.


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Shame




This film was just in a league of its own. It's funny - my other top rated film from this year's London Film Festival, Like Crazy, is beautiful, and raw, and completely worth its five hunks of cheese. But Shame is just impossibly brilliant. It seems trite to give it the same rating in a way. If Like Crazy were a diamond, then Shame would be a pearl: more exotic, smoother, richer. (I'll stop blabbering in a minute and get talking about the actual film) It just oozes style, and when it's got such a compelling and provocative narrative to anchor it then here is a film you all - every one of you - need to see.

It's a film about sex; desperate, physical, animalistic - sex portrayed as a disease, an addiction, like drugs, or alcohol or gambling. That's not to say it's not a sexy film; there are some scenes which are hypnotic, but as the title suggests this is not a celebration or a joyride in any way. It reminded me a lot of American Psycho: a wealthy businessman, all charm and charisma on the surface, but nursing a dark and disturbing private side. But whilst Patrick Bateman is a psycho, Brandon feels shame.

The film opens with Brandon (Michael Fassbender), troubled and sexually restless on the subway into work, locking eyes with a fellow commuter: a young girl who notices his unwavering attention and is first embarrassed then turned on by him. As she stands to get off the train we - and Brandon - see she has a wedding ring on, but he jumps up to stand by her anyway. He is a man of no limitations or morals, just the need to pursue: like a predator has sniffed out his prey and is hunting it down. Whether she freaks or not is unsaid but she rushes off the train and he loses her in the crowd. It's such a powerful scene, just chemistry and desire emitted over no words. This is a test for Brandon - and he does not even question it. He would have had her if he hadn't lost her. His insatiable lust and slavery to sex is revealed quickly through an addiction to porn and frequent visits to and from prostitutes. Behind all this, his sister (Carey Mulligan) is trying to get in touch with him, but he ignores her until one day he comes home to find her in his apartment. Sissy is erratic and bubbly, and seems every bit as unhinged as Brandon. He agrees she can stay for a while, and the two of them banter affectionately until she sleeps with his boss one night and his rage - at her and himself - explodes, his anger at her intrusion into his life and the expose of what he is to her. She loves him and needs him, but he cannot even accept himself let alone another human being. As the film goes on and he tries to date, he tries to be a brother, we begin to realise just how deeply sick this man is, and can he be saved?

I loved the New York setting and how it's filmed: the soft lighting, the music - all classical jazz piano, the smoke and whiskey bars. It felt very Mad Men esque at times (Fassbender has more than a bit of the Don Draper about him) but yet modern and more brutal. Some of the scenes are shot so intimately - Brandon and Sissy speaking into each other's mouths at certain points, and aggressive nude scenes between them fuelling the tension between them with throbbing undercurrents of the taboo (I thought they'd go there, but they didn't). By far one of the most stunning scenes of the film is Carey Mulligan's acoustic smokey rendition of "New York, New York" at a jazz bar - Brandon's boss entranced, Brandon has tears rolling down his cheeks after some emotional push point is pressed. She sure has a voice on her (where was she keeping that?!) and so much is revealed to the audience about the sibling relationship through that song alone.

Both actors are extraordinary - their best roles to date by miles. Carey Mulligan plays the victim so perfectly, yet with an elegant poise about her regardless. Now I'm beginning to realise what all the excessive praise is for. And Michael Fassbender - who let's face it, is rapidly becoming an A-lister, the actor to have in your movie - is relentless and unpredictable, but his break downs to camera reveal so much pain. His struggle is transparent, and for that reason the audience is pulled to him, a pity and fascination that makes Brandon not completely corrupt. They both have to be nominated to the hills for this joint performance.

Though gorgeous on the eyes, this isn't an easy watch - particularly the last 20 minutes or so of the film, where the drama and the pace is ramped up to 11. This film offers no answers to Brandon's condition - it is a portrait of a man is a dark place whose professional and emotional barrier is beginning to crumble, such is the emotional strain Sissy puts on him, and his inability to enjoy or experience emotional sex - only the cold necessity of the act of it. Yeah... don't go watch this with your parents. The film comes full circle as Brandon, recovering from shocking and scarring events, is back on the subway and locking eyes with the same girl again. Another test. Before we know what will happen, the camera masterfully cuts out.

My favourite film of the festival and one to be in awe of: Shame is mesmerising, unforgiving and one of the best films of the year. Long live British cinema!


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: On The Ice


I was looking forward to On The Ice after previewing it at Sundance earlier this year, plus the fact that it's set in one of my favourite places - Alaska. Beauty and intrigue ahoy! Sadly that isn't what happened.

Best friends Qalli and Aivaqq live in a remote Alaskan town where there isn't much to do apart from hunt, drink, play cards and smoke. The two teenagers lead very different lives: Qalli has just got himself a place at University and a way out of this desolate existence; Aivaqq has just got his girlfriend pregnant and must now prepare for fatherhood. After a trip out on the ice the morning after a big party, a fight erupts between Aivaqq and mutual friend James, and in self defence and protection, Qalli accidentally kills James with a knife. Aivaqq, stunned after James attacked him with a shovel, comes to and believes it is him who fatally stabbed their friend. Panicking, the two decide to dispose of James' body under the ice and head back to the town to say there has been an accident. As the townsfolk - meagre in these parts - grieve over the death of such a young boy, Qalli and Aivaqq must keep their story in order and cover their tracks, in case anyone, such as Qalli's father or James' girlfriend, should suspect otherwise. And then there's also the pressure of the guilt...

...that sounds pretty good, doesn't it? It reminded me a lot of Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park which is a quiet little gem. But this is very poor. The idea was executed clumsily and without much conviction and the characters weren't particularly engaging either. But the biggest problem of all was, with this type of film, so much emphasis needs to be on the inner struggles of the people affected by this 'tragedy' and the acting needs to be powerful and expressive, enough to stir the audience and showcase their thoughts and feelings in small actions, small movements. But the acting was horrible. Yes they are all first timers, and locals, but is this really the best the casting agent could do? Aivaqq in particular is wooden as a stump. Is it so cold they can't relax and live the lines they're reading? If it's a study in grief Qalli seems more pre-occupied than wracked with pain.

You don't get a great sense of the town either - just hints of a community. There should have been more of a focus on James' family before the killing, more of a build up to how these events would shatter the town. The 'singspiration' to unite the family members was a nice inclusion but there wasn't enough time to linger.

The best bit of the film by far is when Qalli's father discovers the badly hidden body, and demands to know the truth - Qalli is forced to admit to him - and to Aivaqq - that he is the one who killed James. There's a moment of horrified recognition and resignation on his father's face, and for a second you think he's going to help them string out the lie to protect his boy. But surprisingly he gives him a choice, so he can decide for himself. He can either bring the body back to town and confess, or he can dispose of it properly. This monumental decision is then scuppered by Aivaaq who takes matters into his own hands, and so the ending of the film is ruined by a bad script. It had no effect on me whatsoever who ended up getting the blame or not - it fell flat.

Perhaps it was because I'd seen this story before that I expected more from it, and I wanted the white beauty of a snow capped land. On The Ice falls short on so many levels, I'm pretty disappointed with what we got.



Monday, 17 October 2011

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Dark Horse


It's Todd Solondz's new film! Still slightly traumatised from watching Happiness several years ago, but love Welcome to the Dollhouse so I have an admiring if slightly perturbed view on his work, though recent offerings haven' done so well with fans and critics. Dark Horse was said to be his most warm hearted film yet (I love that he gave himself the 'challenge' of doing a film without any rape or paedophilia) and though little was known about the plot, the cast was pretty stellar (a couple of them returning as reoccurring roles from previous films). I expected weirdness and wrongness in equal measures.

Abe (Jordan Gelber) is a 30 something overweight, pop music loving toy collector who still lives with his parents and works at his dad's real estate company. He meets Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding, and asks for her number. A week later he asks her to marry him, believing he has found a kindred spirit and the love of his life, but she turns him down. He is angry at the world: angry at his father (Christopher Walken) who he thinks treats him unfairly, angry with his smart successful brother Richard (Justin Bartha) and refuses to speak to him; angry at his cousin Justin (Zachary Booth - the weird son in Damages) who is better looking than him and also works at the company, but most of all just angry at the word and the belief people are horrible and humanity is a cesspool. He is pitied by his mother (Mia Farrow) who treats him like a child, his colleague Marie (Donna Murphy) who bails him out at work, and patronised by smiley store assistants in Toys R Us. But things begin to look up when Miranda calls him back and reluctantly agrees to his proposal.

I'll stop there because halfway through the film things begin to turn a bit odd. Solondz has always played with daydream and hallucigenic sequences in his previous films, and it's no different here with Abe frequently imagining Marie visiting him to give him advice about a situation, or rescuing him from a mess he's gotten himself into. But never to the point where what is real and what is imagined begin to blur into one another as in Dark Horse. I started to question whether what we had been seeing had actually happened as the second half of the film becomes more abstract and cryptic, and you don't have a clue what's going on. I began to just take every scene for what it was worth.

Even though Abe is unlikable, lazy and a complete loser he's a fantastic character - Gelber (in his first big role) plays him brilliantly. I loved that he had a Thundercats obsession, and spends most of his time at work bidding for toy figurines on Ebay! His rant in Toys R Us when he's trying to return a scratched toy is amazing too - "you'll be hearing from my attorney!" What happens (or what doesn't, depending on how you look at it) is depressing, but not as disturbing as traditional Solondz. Abe is the dark horse of the family, but he never truly delivers any potential, and there ain't gonna be a happy ending. The supporting cast are great - Selma Blair's Miranda almost comatose from her disturbances, and sporting some unfetching but suited great bags under her eyes. Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken are so game as the parents who love their son but also want him to grow up (there's a stingingly awkward scene where they meet Miranda's parents and discuss road bypasses and traffic), but Donna Murphy as the cougar secretary just steals the show.

Fabulous soundtrack as well (I seem to be noticing this a lot lately) - the upbeat cheesy 90s pop is a stark contrast to the miserable characters and their miserable lives. The film starts with a really fun choreographed scene at a wedding, where Abe and Miranda meet after sitting out the dancing and then closes with Marie zoning out into a daydream of her and Abe slow dancing as the office life carries on around her.

The bizarre nature of the film as it continues its la la la path make Dark Horse hard to sum up, and hard to categorize. It's definitely Solondz, but different. A return to form? Well, not one of his best but it has a certain charm about it even though it doesn't make sense. Is it all supposed to be random and unexplainable or are their analogies to draw up? And does it actually matter? Worth a look, anyway.




LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: 50/50


Not something I would have been eager to see had it not been part of the London Film Festival, 50/50 opens up a new genre with a "cancer comedy" (can-com? com-cer?), though the range isn't going to be very big, and to be honest it doesn't need to be as this film sets a high enough standard for the premise to be left alone.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is in his mid 20s, has a girlfriend, a job in radio, and best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) to hang out with. Then he is told he has cancer - a rare kind of tumour growing on his spine - and he is forced to deal with a situation so extraordinary to him and to remain calm for his parents (Anjelica Huston, Serge Houde) and girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard). His chances of survival are 50/50, and as he starts chemotherapy to try and kill the cancer he is sent to a therapist (Anna Kendrick) to help talk through his emotions, and whilst clashing at first, the two become connected by his resistance to her by-the-book techniques and Adam's condition becoming life threatening.

The film is written by Will Reiser, and based on true events which happened to him: being diagnosed with cancer early in his life and his ups and downs to fight the disease and win. Seth Rogen, a close friend to Will (and plays the same support role in this film) who watched him battle against the odds, suggested he put his experience into words and write a screenplay showing not only the tragic and painful side to cancer, but also the comic side, the parts that make you laugh and make the world not seem so bad. The balance is expertly achieved as I was laughing and crying in equal measures throughout, only serving to make 50/50 a powerfully engaging film to watch as you follow the characters to a point in their lives that is terrifying, and also life affirming.

There are so many stand alone terrific scenes in this film. There's no shying on the darker moments: the pain and sickness of chemotherapy, the breakdown of relationships as the other person can't and doesn't want to understand what the person is going through; the frustration of being out of control; of losing friends in the same position who are a rock and an inspiration, and the fear that fuels; people telling you how to feel and stating what stage of emotion you've now reached; of staring death in the face and not being ready to face it. For the laughs Reiser chooses to channel most of this through Seth Rogen's character (it's hard to believe this film would be as successful as it is without the inclusion of an actual comic). The shaving the head scene, using "I have cancer" as a pick up line in a club, trying to give positivity by listing successful celebrities that have defeated the disease "that guy out of Dexter, Lance Armstrong, Patrick Swayze...." There's the odd cliche in there as well which can only be fictionalised - the love interest in Anna Kendrick for example - but the tight script, smart and honest dialogue and full hearted performances by the actors trump it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is brilliant with his range, showcasing all the emotions so believably and with a quiet vulnerability that makes the latter scenes so upsetting to watch. (James McAvoy was originally cast in this role but had to drop out - I just cannot see it now) Seth Rogen, who I cannot normally stand, is unmissable here - his takedown of the cheating girlfriend is absolutely hilarious, and one of the best gleefully spiteful rants I have ever heard in my life: "I've hated you for months and now I have proof that you suck as a person!" He's a bit of a dickhead, but his love and loyalty to his best friend softens him immensely. The banter between them is wickedly good, with one liner after one liner meaning this film is going to be high on the quoting front: "that's your make-a-wish? You could be having sex with hookers whilst skydiving right now." I loved the ditziness of Anna Kendrick who is adorable in everything she does. Anjelica Huston is wonderful as the grief stricken over anxious mother: "I only smothered him so much because I love him." I loved they get a dog for the "healing process" and call him Skeletor. I love they hold a celebration/farewell party for Adam at work when he's perfectly fine. I love that even though you know he will be fine I spent a good 10 minutes in the third half perpetually crying as Adam opens up his mother, and says goodbye to everyone before his final operation.

No film has tackled this subject before so it's unique - cancer is always portrayed so fatalistically, a device for tragedy, but this is an actual journey with real highs and lows and characters you are attached to. 50/50 is unique and will have you spiralling through all the emotions but I highly recommend it.

This was also a premiere, and it was a delight be in the presence of Will Reiser, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick for a Q&A afterwards. I feel this film lacks the weightiness to give it a shot at the Oscars, but the response from the audience to how authentic this film is, and how it has helped them, is reward enough.




LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Like Crazy


"They were kids that I once knew..."

So I've been getting steadily more excited about Like Crazy since it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year and ever since this trailer* was released a couple of months ago. I had a slight spaz attack (at work) when I saw it had been included at the London Film Festival this year, and it was top of my list of tickets to get. Quite frankly if I hadn't got any others except for this I would have been happy (I made a joke we should get tickets for both screenings...now it doesn't seem so ludicrous). Anyway we GOT tickets and this was my second film of the festival. And it seemed like it came out of nowhere and I had no time to prepare for watching it. But there was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn't like it. It's just how much would I like it?

What I ended up going to was the European Premiere. When we got there, the red carpet was just winding up and Felicity Jones was being ushered inside. Then she and director/writer Drake Doremus presented the film, and came back to do a Q&A afterwards, which was amazingly brilliant and lucky. The perfect experience of seeing a film I have waited forever to see, and was going to see 4 months before anyone else in the UK! And Felicity Jones is a such a cutie, a British grace, and Drake a candid inspiration - the story of Like Crazy was not fictional.

Anna (Felicity Jones) is a British student studying abroad in LA when she meets Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and writes a love letter to him and sticks it to his car window. They start dating, and soon develop a passionate relationship and a deep connection to one another. But after a year Anna's visa runs out and she has to return home to London. Deflated at the prospect she makes a rash decision to stay on over the Summer so she and Jacob can spend all their time together. But after popping back home for a wedding, as she lands in LA to reunite with Jacob she is stopped at customs and told of her visa violation. She is sent back to the UK and banned from entering America. She never got to Jacob. Time passes: phone calls are missed; life becomes work and jobs after Uni. But then she tearfully invites him to stay with her in London, and they try and re-ignite that spark. But it's not the same, and they drift apart again, having to live in different countries. They start new relationships, but they can't break free of one another. Drastic steps are taken, heated arguments erupt, loyalties fractured - will they, can they, should they... give up all they have for one another, to be together?

This film is abundant with tiny moments in a relationship that are so staggeringly significant and real, it makes the experience special yet uncomfortably emotional to watch. Jacob is an apprentice carpenter, and one of the first things they share together is her showing him the desk where she writes, and reading him a poem that she's written and never shown anyone else. Months into their relationship, he builds her a chair, to be her own and to write on, with the inscription "like crazy". This gift, along with another - a bracelet saying "patience" - become parts of him once she is living in the UK, and when her boyfriend Simon buys her a new chair as a surprise (a tacky cushioned thing - and I thought he had chucked the other one in the tip!) and when she breaks her bracelet in an embrace with him, her apparent happiness falls apart before our very eyes as what really matters to her is disappearing.

Difficult truths and deep set frustrations burst out constantly -the most affecting being Jacob's "I don't feel like I'm a part of your life... I feel like I'm on vacation", which has stayed with me since the trailer. I find it heartbreaking. What I didn't realise is this film had no script - each scene had an outline, but it was up to Felicity and Anton to improvise the dialogue and the movement, and I find that astounding. They only had a week together to flesh out the characters of Anna and Jacob and their natural chemistry is remarkable. Jacob is the more likable ("I saved a cat from a tree once"), purely because Anna is more the culprit to dictating the mood of their relationship, but her performance is phenomenal. She is an unbelievably talented and emotive actress, and deserves to extend her Best Actress award at Sundance into the awards circuit in the next few months.

Every part is as wonderful as I had expected it to be but it's so inherently sad. I thought I knew what was going to happen but more than once I was surprised by the turn in the story. And when I guessed how it was going to end my already shaken up like a fizzy bottle feeling worsened and I started fiddling with my ring even more. The shower scene at the end will split optimists and pessimists in two. I'm surprised at my reaction as I'm an eternal optimist in love and believe you need to fight hard and work hard for it, but yet they made each other so unhappy. Are they bad for each other, or are they made for each other? Can they never be with anyone else as that will just be a waste, but have they lost what they once had for good? I go back to the poem that Anna reads at the beginning of their relationship and perhaps there's some hope in that. "I thought I understood it... but I didn't."

Plus there's this:



Replay, replay.

You've never seen a film like this before. It's so raw and more sad than I thought possible - if you're in a relationship you will identify with a part of it and it will hit a nerve. I felt quite subdued afterwards, but I'm already aching to see it again, and make every person I know watch it (and cry). It's young love/long distance love/fairytale love... "we mythologised the relationship" - all the books they made of their relationship: ticket stubs, drawings, poems, diary entries... but real love is not so pretty and easy as all that.

Like crazy Like Crazy.

 



*the fact that I just re-watched that trailer and started welling up as soon as I saw the two characters and then properly had a little cry when Anna picks up the phone and says "hey" as her voice breaks has made me realise this film has got me now. It's special.


Sunday, 16 October 2011

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: 17 Girls


Get ready for a slew of film reviews from this year's London Film Festival which I've just had the delight of spending four days at. Time gone too soon! I've seen some great films this year - at least two 5 cheese reviews coming up - so if you get a chance to see any of them I'd urge you to do so.

But let's start first with a film from the French Revolutions section of the festival, and the first one I got to see: 17 Girls.

Now when I read about this I laughed and said it sounded familiar to a film I'd heard about through work. I thought the premise sounded great, and of course I adore French cinema so it went on the list. It was only when I saw the words "based on a true story" that things clicked. This was another version of that same film I'd heard about! That film was The Pregnancy Pact. So I did a bit of digging, and found a news story I'd never even heard of before about a series of teen pregnancies occurring within a high school in Gloucester, Massachusetts and rumours surrounding the girls - known as the Gloucester 17 - had become pregnant by a pact they had made together. This has never been proven, but wild speculation and gossip has fed many televisual interpretations and adaptations of the events including stints on Bones, Law & Order and the aforementioned TV movie The Pregnancy Pact starring Thora Birch as a journalist who visits the school to write a story on the girls for TIME magazine. And now there's a new offshoot - from 'the other side of the pond' this time: France.

17 Girls is the debut film from Delphine and Muriel Coulin, and I think they were more inspired by the ideas coming out of the events in Gloucester rather than trying to copy them immediately (though they still use the same number of girls more or less, to suggest a pact or 'cult'). But the setting is now a run down seaside town in France, and our protagonist is the first girl at the school to find herself (accidentally) pregnant at 17 years old.

Popular ring leader Camille (Louise Grinberg - The Class) is struggling with an absent mother and brother when she falls preggers, but decides keeping the baby will do all kinds of wondrous things for her so encourages her friends to get pregnant as well. Out of this comes the idea that they will all live together, buy a big house off child benefits, and take turns babysitting each other's offspring whilst the mother revises for school exams, and so on. The girls feed off this dream. As Camille is a popular figurehead in her high school, other girls start getting pregnant too in order to gain her approval and entrance into this elite club/commune, and aside from Camille herself there are two other stand out characters in the group: small auburn haired Clementine who is best friends with Camille, and Florence, a hanger-oner who becomes part of the "cool group" when she is the first one to reveal to Camille that she is also pregnant.

Clementine, because of her childlike size and general naivety, lacks the confidence to flirt and be with boys, and resorts to paying one of them to sleep with her. Her conservative parents flip, and are terrified she is too small herself to give birth. At one point she runs away, and the girls "dream house" is instead realised as a run down caravan on the beach, where Clem hides out for a few days before the bad weather, cold and loneliness resort her to calling back her worried mother. Florence (The White Ribbon) is a shy girl who is desperate to be included, and is shocked by the news Camille is pregnant which is seemingly because she is pregnant herself, and the two can finally bond over a shared connection. But later in the film it transpires that Florence has been faking her pregnancy with a fake bump/pillow, and she is expelled from the group. Camille's reaction was very interesting at that moment of revelation - the fuel to the pregnancy 'pact' had come from Florence being pregnant too, and the things they could do together. But then she was found to be lying all along. If she hadn't, would 16 other girls be pregnant right now? It's a moment of clarity for Camille who is authoritative in her swagger and so boisterous about the genius of their plan.

For what it's worth, the directors do a great job of portraying the girls as just that: young girls who enjoy pillow fights, splashing in the pool, Coca Cola, and drawing on each other's swollen bellies. They're not ready to be mothers. And they also show the bleakness of the town they live in - it's dead to the girls, who are bored to tears with nothing to do. They have little to no ambition, all they really have is one another. But there's very little input from teachers, parents or the boyfriends/fathers of these unborn babies - there's the odd scare driven lecture or forcing he girls to watch a video of an unedited childbirth - but as viewers we are left to focus on the girls, and their mischievous rebellion by forming a super group of single mums. But ultimately, even they are confused about why they have done this. Is a political statement? Is it a trend gone horribly wrong? Is it peer pressure? Is it a pact? Because they don't preach a message, the film starts losing its way, too.

Unfortunately it was always going to descend into melodrama, which is a shame as I would like to have seen more comment and exploration of the aftermath. But either one of them was going to die (probably Clem as she had problems during the pregnancy, and she would have been the token tragedy) or Camille was going to lose the baby, which she does at the end during a car crash. The lead up to that - with Camille driving the girls around unlicensed - makes you hold your breath a fair few times as you wait for something terrible to happen. But no - she crashes alone. Whether it was deliberate to lose the baby she is now terrified of having, or it was a genuine accident - like the conception - is never answered. Camille disappears soon afterwards, becoming folklore amongst the young mothers who are left to grow up alone with their babies.

17 Girls is enjoyable and everything you expect it's going to be, and stems from a great idea. But there was little substance to it and it had nothing to say, which meant it was unable to rise much above a decent TV movie - though the young cast are fresh faced and vibrant to watch, and it's a true to the bones account of adolescent friendship in a dead beat town.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

FILM REVIEW: Midnight in Paris



I ADORED THIS FILM. I’m not going to bide my time getting to the conclusion with this one, it was just fantastic. It reminded me of Tennessee Williams… if he had written about Paris and time travel. Clearly he wouldn’t, but the ideas of memory and dreams and living in the past – there were all there. You could even argue the character of Adriana was the quintessential fragile beautiful female protagonist!

I like Woody Allen but I haven’t seen enough – only bits and pieces and not nearly enough of the classic stuff as I should have. I loved Matchpoint (though everyone I know hates it) but found Vicky Cristina Barcelona deeply disappointing. But all reviews and internet speak suggested Midnight in Paris was a return to form, and Woody Allen having completed his cinematography tour of London and Barcelona headed to Paris to film his new one, which opened Cannes earlier this year. 

California couple Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) tag along with Inez’s parents (Zachariah from Supernatural playing the dad!) on a trip to Paris. Gil, a successful screenwriter, is trying to write his first book and the only thing he has ever liked, and seeks inspiration from the streets of Paris, particularly the rainy streets of Paris. Inez is more interested in dining out, shopping for their Malibu home once they’re married, and after bumping into some friends including former college professor Paul (Michael Sheen), following him around and listening to everything he has to say, sidelining Gil in the process. After snubbing a night of dancing, Gil goes off on a walk around Paris at night, and as the clock strikes midnight, is pulled into an old fashioned car and fantastically transported back to the 1920s, where he mingles with F Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), is helped by Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and seeks advice from Salvador Dali (a fabulously on form Adrien Brody). He also meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a young woman who has moved to Paris to study fashion but has become involved in several affairs with famous painters, including Pablo Picasso. He finds himself increasingly attracted to Adriana the more time he spends in the 1920s world and the less time he spends with Inez in the present, and becomes conflicted about where his heart truly lies and where he truly wants to be.

This film is absolutely magical - a wonderful story full of whimsy, romance, fantasy, humour and such a fluid innocence. It’s all down to Owen Wilson, who is being the good Owen Wilson here, and I’d go so far as to say it’s one of his best performances. Finally he is bringing everything he delivers in a Wes Anderson film somewhere else! And here is the junior to Woody Allen’s senior, capturing the bumbling, self-deprecating man perfectly. I thought he was absolutely charming, and his pure wonder at meeting his famous heroes and muses in the alternate reality makes him almost adorable. He’s a joy to watch in every scene. Contrast that to Rachel McAdams, here playing the most hateful of unappreciative self-obsessed bitches, it’s impossible not to like him and buy into everything that happens to him, and the allure of Paris. I’m not a huge fan of the romance capital of the world (isn’t it just a big city?) but here it does suit the role of a powerfully enchanting place. I do think it could have been London or Rome or Prague though… though the beginning of the film is a postcard showreel of its sights and haunts, it’s the past that Woody Allen focuses on here, not a tourist trip (though we do get a wander round Versailles).

The two threads of the film worked in such harmony with one another. I loved his venture into the world of the 1920s every night, the thrill of not knowing who he was going to meet next (Woody Allen pulls out all the stops here) and what impact they will have on him. But then I also loved the present day Paris, the way he struggles with reality and his relationship with Inez and her parents, and even though she is such a monster to him, I secretly wanted her to accidentally fall into the nostalgia world as well and realise he was telling the truth. But of course there is no redemption for her: she is hard and straight talking, no-nonsense and lives in the present. Gil, always believing he was born far too late, has the openness and emotion to let himself into this world. Although the private detective following Gil must have opened his mind a little too much as he found himself trapped in the era of Louis XVI! It was like being transported into a fairytale, and that’s why I spent the majority of this film with a big grin on my face. I loved the exchange between Gil and Adriana as they are transported back to Adriana’s golden age, the Belle Epoque (I did wonder why she was going on about the golden era of belly pork all the time), about living in the past and Gil’s realisation that everybody’s golden era is from a time that’s been and gone, and living in the present is always going to bring dissatisfaction. But Adriana chooses to stay in the past, and it’s then Gil knows he must let her go.

As well as the poignancy there’s moments of hilarity too – two of my favourite scenes are where Gil corrects Paul on a Picasso painting in an art gallery (having been with Picasso the night before as he was painting it) much to the open mouth of Inez and the hand-in-air woops of the audience. Then there’s the scene where Gil steals and creatively wraps up Inez’s pearl earrings as a present for Adriana, only for his fiancée to walk through the door as he’s about to leave and then freak out about the maid taking them. 

It’s a perfectly crafted story, one rich with satisfaction. Though some of the plot points are hokey I had suspended by disbelief a long time ago. I loved the use of the smaller characters, the way he uses the tour guide (Carla Bruni) to translate Adriana’s diary which he finds in the present on a bookstall, and how all the focus has been on the two main females in his life, yet at the end Gil is walking home the girl who works in the vintage record store, who shares his love for rainy Paris in a beautifully sweet finish. 

For whatever reason, Midnight in Paris just elevated itself for me. It’s a film that fills you with joy, and warm fuzzy feelings as well as the experience of having enjoyed a great story. But there’s more to it than that as a hundred films can make you feel that way. It’s the imagination and banter of Allen, the trusting good nature of Owen Wilson, and the escape within an escape that is so rare in adult films that makes you want to walk down a cobbled street, listen to an old song on the radio, and dream of your own special golden era, waiting for a car to drive by and take you there. One of the best films I've seen all year.


FILM REVIEW: Drive



I saw a clip of Drive at Movie Con a couple of months ago, and we were warned before it started of the extreme violence involved – violence not really on a par with Final Destination 5, which we had also been warned about, but then you’re always sure of where you are with a teen film. The warning before the Drive clip was more alarming, and I dutifully crouched between my fingers. It was the scene in the lift. People who have seen the film will know what I’m talking about – others who haven’t, THERE’S A HORRIBLE SCENE IN THE LIFT. Think Casey Affleck in The Killer Inside Me. But, on the other hand, there’s also an amazing scene in the lift, as before we get the extreme violence we also get ultracool, smooth, gorgeous filmmaking as our protagonist gently pushes the girl away from the enemy and kisses her – like a final goodbye – bathed in a golden light, the pace slowed right down. And that’s the style of Drive – the effortlessly cool movie of the year.

If you don’t know the story behind the making of Drive then you should – I banged on about it here quite a bit. You don’t often get anecdotes that pre-empt a film like that, and it engaged me immediately. The story not so much. Based on the novel by James Sallis it’s about a man (Ryan Gosling), only called ‘Driver’, who works for stunt car scenes in L.A. by day but at night he’s a getaway driver for bloodied heists. His life is interrupted by the arrival of a woman in his apartments called Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, who have moved here as the husband and father, Standard, is serving time in prison. Slowly a bond begins to form between the three of them, and without a lot being said he becomes the father figure of the family. But then Standard is released from jail, and caught up in some messy business with a dangerous bunch of mobsters led by Nino (Ron Perlman). Driver agrees to help him out because he cares about the family, but things go badly wrong and he finds a contract has been placed on his head. 

My word this film had some cast. Not only Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan as the leads but Bryan Cranston! Christina Hendricks! Ron Perlman! I was excited just watching the credits come up, never mind anything else. They were all brilliant – even Carey Mulligan who I find a tad overrated. Bryan Cranston was utterly sympathetic as the too-trusting mechanic who goes to the wrong people to get money for his race car dream. And it was great to see Christina Hendricks in a non Joan role, here playing the trashy deceiving foil in a raid on a pawn shop. I did find it interesting how Ryan Gosling specifically asked for his character to have very little dialogue (too many “talky” films lately) – it makes Driver a lot harder to read, and to relate to. There are no clues given to why he is the way he is, and why he’s involved with underground criminals. It adds to the enigma of the film, which of course in turn makes it cooler, as the protagonist is admirable (if for his loyalty) but also intensely mysterious.

The star is the soundtrack. Nicolas Winding Refn is a brilliant director, creating moods and tone out of colour and dreamy slo-mo, but it’s the music he chooses to set the story to (and a deserved nod here to composer Cliff Martinez, who also did the music for Wicker Park – now I know he’s a God) that stylises the film. Its instant electro-pop sounds ooze cool, and coat the film in a class and charisma that catches your attention from the very first frame. Standouts include “Tick of the Clock” which opens the film, and “A Real Hero” where the Driver seals his fate. The only not completely convincing touch? The chic-flick style hot pink credits font. It does throw you into When Harry Met Sally for a second or two.

The only thing which spoiled the film for me, which I thought was amazing to watch and to immerse yourself in, was the unnerving sense of extreme violence that could happen at any minute. There’s a hammer. There’s a fork. There’s slicing up you don’t want to ever see again. It’s unflinching, but the heart involved in the relationship between Driver and Irene (and the little boy in fact) and the astonishingly assured car chases and getaways make this mesmerising. It’s far better than the nearest film I could compare it to, which is the aforementioned The Killer Inside Me.

Be prepared to hide a few times (yes I’m a girl!) but go and see Drive and marvel at the anti-Hollywood that’s being produced from a group of its elite.




Saturday, 8 October 2011

X Factor Live Show 1: Blog



Live Shows have begun... so let's blog!

19:32: Oh good good, Dermot's suit is boxy and ill fitting.

19:36:  Hmm, Tulisa is looking suspiciously like Cheryl....

19:38: I need to find my X Factor drinking game rules somewhere, godammit.

19:41:  First up is Amelia Lily, for the girls. She's actually one of my favourites from the auditions, etc. Plus now she has light pink hair! There must be a trend in reality TV for that at the moment...

 Anastasija - BNTM 7
Amelia Lily - X Factor



19:44: I thought that was OK... she can definitely sing, and she made it fun. Plus, PINK HAIR.

19:48: Now it's Jonny for the Over 25s... I don't get this at all. And OMG, what is happening?! It's like Rhydian all over again, but MUCH MUCH WORSE.

19:51: THAT REALLY WAS HORRIBLE.

19:53: That "heeeeere's Jonny" thing better not be hanging around.

19:59: Next up it's Rhythmix for the Groups. They're so hip and cool!

20:03: They're representing all girls across the country....lolwut? 

20:04: Best girlband to have ever been on the X Factor....lolwut?

20:05: Oh Frankie Cocopops can fuck right off. Why on earth is he there?! Why do girls scream at such a boyslut? Truly bizarre.

20:07: Oh and don't re-brand him as an eyeliner wearing, leather jacket wearing, pointy shoe wearing ass.

20:09:  Surprisingly but deliciously poor.

20:11: Are the judges actually mad? Unanimous good comments!

20:17: My favourite girl! Sophie Habibis. But I hate her new look :(

...Now
Then...


20:20: Awww, she is GOOD.

20:23: Next it's Jonjo for the Overs... someone I forget is even in the competition.

20:28: Mehhhhh. It was unremarkable, and tonight's first negative feedback from the judges.

20:33: I wonder why the producers have chosen THE BIG TWIST to completely take away the interactive element of the show? It does seem odd. I also think it's a bit lame... give the controls to moi!

20:36: Essex twosome Two Shoes doing Girls Aloud - zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

20:40: "I like fun....but not that kinda fun" - oh, Gaaaary.

20:41:  SOB STORY ALERT. It's the guy whose hat has now turned into his actual hair - James Michael (never trust someone with two first names).

20:42: Oh no, the hat is back!

20:44: James Morrison/Michael Buble snorefest.

20:45: Playin' REAL INSTRUMENT credibiliy, yeah.

20:47: God, it's times like this you miss Aiden Grimshaw.





20:52: Misha B now... can't wait for Misha T a bit later on, and then Misha W.

20:54: PLEASE GOD NO SOMEONE TURN IT OFF

20:57: Now, I love my boybands, and there's two of them on the show this year. First up it's Nuvibe (erlack on the name). Let's see if they're gonna be the best of the boys.

20:59: No. They're not.

21:01: I feel like I'm back in the 90s! Those dance moves are so Triple8. The next generation of boybands, Tulisa? I think you need a sit down with the culturemouse.

21:09: It's scouse hairdresser Marcus. 

21:11: Eh... it's alright. No one has blown me away this evening. 

21:14: Also, delayed reaction: what the hell is Kelly Rowland wearing? It's like a Christmas jumper with lime green shades. 

21:15: Ohhhhhhhhh it's the token overweight diva in the Overs. Probably doing a power ballad or warbling to Shirley Bassey. I'm off to make a cuppa.

21:18: Disintegrating with cringe (yes I can hear it from the kitchen.)

21:23: By the way there's a homemade apple and raspberry crumble in the oven just to make y'all well jel.

21:29: Now it's the other boyband, The Risk, who are the best boys by default.

21:32: Why are boybands so smooth these days? Why do they all wear shirts and blazers? They're better singers than Nuvibe, but there's no pop! Where's the pop?!?


....ahhh, that's better.

21:36: Last of the Boys, it's Craig. He gave up working in a biscuit factory for this?!

21:38: Oh, he really is the best singer though. Kudos. Best performance of the night.

21:41: This has really bogged in the middle, but now we're down to the last two contestants, and they're two of the most interesting.

21:46: I have to admit Kitty in the Overs is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine... I love how ridiculous she is! Get ready for this one.

21:49: Madness! She is engaging, though. 

21:51: The judges wanted more drama?! I think she's pretty spent after her light up outfit at Boot Camp.

21:52: Awww it's my other favourite - lil Irish Janet! And now she has auburn hair.... lush. She reminds me so much of Diana Vickers, and I ended up getting pretty obsessed with her. I hope she continues to be kooky!

21:54: Ooh she's doing one of the loveliest songs.

21:56: Hmm, pretty and safe. I kinda wish she'd stepped it up a bit, tbh.

21:57: "Muma" yyyyyes Kelly. Good comments though!

So here's my top 5 from Week 1...

5. Marcus
4. Amelia
3. Janet
2. Craig
1. Sophie

And here's who should be going home tomorrow...

Girls: Misha B
Boys: Frankie Cock
Over 25s: Sami
Groups: oh all of them.


Results tomorrow!