Friday, 30 December 2011

2011 Film Review Round Up

All those pesky little films that I didn't quite get round to reviewing in full earlier in the year...

Black Pond
Bit privileged to see this as it was the only screening outside of London! Unfortunately it was also the day after LFF finished so it got a bit swallowed up with that. But that's not to say it was a disappointment - it was a fresh take on the British black comedy, an impressive debut from youngsters Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe and marked the return of Chris Langham to acting. All three were there at this special screening and Q&A at the Hyde Park Picture House - to be honest it would have fitted perfectly into the LFF, not sure why it wasn't! It's shot mockumentary style, with narrative divided by talking heads from the characters explaining what was going on at that particular moment. It's quite clever - there's a lovely moment when Chris Langham's character Tom stops talking to wait for an aeroplane to pass overhead. The story revolves around a bickering family (Chris Langham and Amanda Hadingue make up the parents, with Helen Cripps and Anna O'Grady as the chalk and cheese surly student daughters) and their guest Tim (Will Sharpe acting as well as directing) who are arrested and accused of murder after a man (Colin Hurley) dies at their dinner table. The family discuss events leading up to the death, and speak about how the man had come into their lives randomly, and had become a friend when he came into their home to say his last words and die quietly as their sup spaghetti bolognese. Tim, traumatised by the incident, has also been seeking counselling from therapist Eric Sacks (Simon Amstell) who whilst simultaneously (and hilariously) telling him to get over himself, is tipping off the police with confidential details of the events. Simon Amstell does own every scene he's in - he's gleefully appalling as the morally bereft counsellor - there's a moment where he gets Tim to imagine the whole of the Thompson family are sat on a chair in minuscule form which was utter genius! It also reminds us what a brilliant actor Chris Langham is. Despite what has happened to him in previous years (and believe what you want - the actor himself let out a passionate and surprise defence and self absolution during the Q&A) there's something solid and rewarding about watching him on the screen. The film is really pretty to look at as well with homemade and low budget inspired creative effects. Black Pond is available to watch on Love Film now and the DVD should follow in 2012.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil
Again, this had a very rare screening out of London when it was released in the Summer, but when we got to the HPPH the projector had broken and we had to walk away like Charlie Brown! Boooo. Luckily the film came out on DVD just weeks later. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is flipping ingenious - an hilarious take on the 'dumb pretty students go into the woods and get killed by murderous rednecks' horror movie plotline. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two redneck-esque but harmless truck buddies who go into the woods for a weekend to do some fishing. Joining them are a group of dumb pretty students who are highly suspicious of the duo, and when one of their fold, Allison (Katrina Bowden), is taken by them all sorts of hilarity ensues. Genuine hilarity, not all the best bits are in the trailer hilarity. Tucker and Dale have saved Allison from drowning, but her friends think she has been kidnapped. So in the best interests of getting her back they stalk the men, and one by one die in comedy gold accidents, only furthering the belief that Tucker and Dale are evil killers. My favourite by far, is when Tucker accidentally chainsaws into a wasp nest and is flailing around angrily trying to get them off whilst at the same time looking like a crazed maniac with a weapon. You can see the pay-off coming before it happens, but it makes it all the more satisfying to watch. Brilliant fun, and one of the funniest films I have seen in a long, long time. I thoroughly recommend! Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is on DVD now.

Chalet Girl
As I may have remonstrated earlier in the year, I had free tickets to go and see this at the cinema, and it was quite exciting as I NEVER get free tickets to see anything - I always end up getting there too late. But then I stupidly deleted the email with all the information on, and couldn't get in to see it. Noooooooo! It was more the principle than actually missing a film I was desperate to see. But I picked it up cheap on DVD a couple of months ago. It's a classic girl power rom-com, about teenager Kim (Felicity Jones) who gets a job as a chalet girl at a ski resort in Austria to help support her dad (Bill Bailey) after her mother dies in a car accident on the way back from a skateboarding event which she was won. Not fitting in with the posh girls and embarrassing herself in front of the son of the yuppie family who own the chalet (Ed Westwick) she takes up snowboarding, in the hope her talent will crossover and she can win the pro championship at the end of her stay to win enough money to keep herself and her dad secure for several years. It's all very formulaic: of course she wins the competition, of course all the posh girls like her in the end, of course she gets the guy, of course she gets over the death of her mother... there's a few 'twists' along the way but to be honest it gets a bit tedious and your mind starts wandering. It's a shame as this a wholly British film, with lots of mention of Tesco's and even lots of snippets from T4. And I love Felicity Jones and Ed Westwick, and they're cute together but nothing really sizzles. It seems to be aimed at the wrong crowd: 13-14 year old girls would love this, but yet they try and push the risque humour and sex talk just a little bit too much. The script just lets it down - it would have made a much better toned down. More emphasis on the 'com' than the 'rom', please. In fact the best bit of the film is the wonderfully fun and silly end credits where all the cast dance around like loons and we get to see all the bloopers. Chalet Girl is out on DVD now.

Your Highness
Meant to see this in the cinema when it came out - I can't remember a time since Garden State where I haven't been to see a Natalie film in the cinema! - but I never got round to it. The trailer made me giggle and I wanted to go and see it with a group of friends but it just never happened, and then due to awful reviews it vanished pretty quickly. So I caught up on the DVD at Christmas. I wanted SO much to like it and to refute what everyone had been saying about it, but I humbly and regrettably have to agree. Your Highness is a big puerile mess. This could have been the next Monty Python, or Princess Bride but much of the problem lies in the fact that it's written by Danny McBride, who is actually very good at what he does, but he's a better performer than he is a writer. Most of the jokes revolve around sex, drugs and penises which is going to appeal to the people who will happily give this full marks - Nuts magazine. To the normal viewer you're yearning for something more. There's promise: "not triangle face, I hate triangle face!" still makes me laugh, and I loved Simon the mechanical bird. But a giggle here and there does not a good movie make. It's a shame because the fantasy/adventure plot is actually good, and the cinematography (I got quite excited when Natalie was stood in the exact same spot of the Giants Causeway I've been to) and sets are fab. It almost makes you wish they'd played it straight instead. Rasmus Hardiker, who plays squire Courtney, is by far the best thing in it. And apart from McBride you can't help but wonder if the rest of the cast, including Natalie, signed on to work with the director and their co-stars more than the witty, intelligent script. It's a new role for Natalie, and she does play the obsessed with revenge warrior woman well, but I do have to wonder at some of the things she had to do... Damien Lewis and Toby Jones are horribly miscast, the rest of the knights barely used (they had the pick of the British comedy scene, why not use them?) and Zooey Deschanel is like a completely different actress in this, and that can only be the fault of the script. Your Highness is out on DVD now, but even coming from a Natalie fan, it's not worth your pennies. Unless you actually liked Pineapple Express or are a 14 year old boy - then you've probably already seen it.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

FILM REVIEW: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Watching David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a bit like those learning to write books you get given when you’re two years old: you trace the faded grey shapes with a pen to get the fully fledged letters that become the words that make the sentence. Hey presto, you’re writing! But you didn’t do it on your own. It’s also like having a serial case of déjà vu, or turning on an eco friendly lightbulb that starts off dim and gets brighter and brighter. What I’m getting at is, as the film unfolds the story of Steig Larsson’s first of the Millennium trilogy of novels came flooding back to me: “ahhh I remember this bit” being a constant thought bubble over my head. Which then led to the slightly hollow feeling of, yes this all very admirable but what is the point?

It’s been a few years since I saw the Swedish adaptation of the book in the cinema but I was pulled in by the general buzz around the series, and the great reviews (incidentally one of the premiere shows of the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was at the 2009 Leeds Film Festival, where fans of the book literally queued around the block to try and squeeze into the sold out screening). What makes the film so special is the classic murder mystery storyline, which is thanks to Larsson, the author of the source material making it such a provocative and morbidly fascinating case. Elderly businessman Henrik Wagner seeks the help of shamed journalist Mikael Blomkvist to help solve the 40 year old suspected murder case of his niece Harriet. She vanished one day on the island of Hedestad when she was 16, and her body was never found. Henrik believes one of his family members is responsible for her death – a family wracked with alcoholism, abuse and Nazism. Simultaneous to this we have Lisbeth Salander, the unconventional heroine of the books who is a social outcast with an horrific backstory full of rape, murder and abuse but an ingenious hacker and researcher, and she teams up with Blomkvist to find out the truth about Harriet. There’s secondary storylines as well, to do with Blomkvist’s libel case and defamation of business mogul Wennerstrom that sets up the following books in the trilogy, but here, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is all about the Vagner’s estranged and malignant family and the eventual hunt for a serial killer. This story drives the film, and it’s a perfect match for Fincher who entranced with (the meh, overrated) Se7en and (the brilliant) Zodiac.

I don’t want to spend the entirety of the review comparing old with the new, but having watched and thoroughly enjoyed the original, it felt a little superfluous watching it all over again. Yes I had forgotten a lot of the detail from the story (even who the killer was!) but it all came back to me – ala this brightening lightbulb – and because each director was following a story, there was nothing new here. Yes, scenes were shot slightly differently, but we’re all essentially going to the same place. The only difference with Fincher is the ending: instead of tracking down an alive Harriet in Australia by way of her cousin Anita, Fincher chooses to make Anita Harriet, posing under another name so she would never have to face her family again. It’s interesting, but again, doesn’t add that much to the story, and I can see die-hard Larsson fans getting their feathers ruffled about it. It’s also interesting, as this film was supposed to be more faithful to the book, where the Swedish version may have veered off track slightly. It does include the final scene where Lisbeth, heading to see Mikael with a Christmas present of an expensive leather jacket sees him with his editor Erika, and knocked back, throws the present away and drives off. I wasn’t sure whether that was in the book or not – obviously it is – as it seemed tacked on to me, a side of Lisbeth that isn’t in-keeping with her tough, spiky outer shell and abhorrence of men.

This is where Fincher’s Tattoo does excel: Rooney Mara. Her portrayal of damaged but rock hard and razor sharp Lisbeth is a fully committed and brave performance, considering this is her first major role on camera. She was committed to getting the part as well, impressing Fincher enough to hire her and she delivers the goods here. Compared to Noomi Rapace’s depiction which is ultra tough, Mara is like a scrappy waif, who’s completely in control but yet looks like she hasn’t eaten a good meal in weeks (she is constantly snacking on Happy Meals, coffee and cigarettes). She also brings a vulnerability to the character – as mentioned the last scene buying a Christmas present, but also her continued visits to her former guardian who is left paralysed and mute by a stroke, but whose kindness has stuck with Lisbeth. Decency it seems, goes a long way to softening that wall around her, and she develops a fierce loyalty and dedication to those who show her such compassion. The shock of Blomkvist’s happiness with Erika breaks her bubble in this case: she was going to declare her love for him, but instead the wall is back up and she doesn’t want to let him in again. Despite of course the horrific things which happen to her in this movie – and Fincher does not dumb down any of the text – Mara is cool, deadpan (and probably unknowingly) funny, and an unflinching expert at getting what she wants. She is a huge presence on the screen, and Mara more than puts her own stamp on the character.

She also blows Daniel Craig out of the water as well, who is competent here and experienced enough to keep up with the frenetic energy of Mara, but he is overshadowed by her (he did have a few silver fox moments though… dear Lord, what’s happening to me?!). The support cast were excellent though – all the Vagners perfectly unhinged, entrenched in dark secrets. The only miscast was Joely Richardson, who didn’t seem to fit in as the victim Harriet – they should have gone for someone less well recognised.

A couple of other honourable mentions which embolden the film: the script, from veteran Steven Zaillian, is rich in menace and graphic description – some excellent lines that stay with you. It’s also really open – every member of the family, each event surrounding Harriet's disappearance – it’s all done very heavily so the audience know exactly what’s going on. That’s not to say it’s paint by numbers (though there was a lot of Daniel Craig marking reports in yellow highlighter pen: “LOOK – VERY IMPORTANT!” and a slightly clumsy moment where Lisbeth goes on Wikipedia to look Wennerstorm up.) but it does make it very clear what’s happening, and that’s a positive as the Swedish version was a lot less cooperative with the audience – you had to concentrate to keep up and remember who everyone was and how they were connected. It’s not a fault, I’m just pointing out Fincher’s Tattoo is much easier to follow, so the reveal of the killer – and his motives – has more impact. Also the music is extraordinary and will stay in your head for days, though the garish title sequence (think the Rubber Man from American Horror Story having a debauched orgy with other rubbery creatures) was a bit much. Usually title/credit sequences set up the story in the background, or cleverly whip graphics around the scene to give you an idea of the tone and events of the film ahead. This was just like having its own theme tune – very slick, very stylised, but not sure what he was getting at. I felt like I was about to start watching a TV show, not a film. Still, all very Fincher. (the trailer for this film, blaring the same opening song, was surely one of the best of the year.)

A laudable remake, but a remake all the same. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a stunning watch and just imagine if you haven’t read the book or seen the original Swedish film – perfection. But to others, like me, it's enjoyable and searing, but we’ve been here before. It's a shame Fincher didn't get there first, but judging by the success of this at the Box Office, he's probably attracted many new fans to the books so that's a success. Will the other two films follow, or will he turn elsewhere next? He may be compelled to, and they’ll, of course, be ace – it’s Fincher. But again we ask ourselves, what really is the point?

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

FILM REVIEW: Another Earth

I went into Another Earth with two overriding thoughts in my head from reviews I had seen and read: 1) it’s a good premise but it doesn’t really go anywhere, and 2) it has an amazing ending (one of the best endings of the year, apparently). This confused me, as there was no way the two statements could happily co-exist. One was right and the other was seriously loopy. I was quite intrigued to find out which it was.

Another Earth premiered at Sundance earlier this year (it seems like we have to wait almost a year before we see any of these films, doesn’t it? I’ll be previewing the next lot in a matter of weeks!) and won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for best science/technology feature (previous winners have included Primer and Grizzly Man). I loved the idea of it, and even more so for the less sci-fi approach (don’t start going into the physics of why astronomers have only JUST discovered an identical planet in the same solar system and why there has been no effect on tides or gravity – it will only spoil it for you. Brit Marling clearly comes from the same school of science as Lars Von Trier). Another Earth is not really about the other earth at all – it’s a human story of redemption; a girl trying to right her wrongs and seek forgiveness whilst this planet presides in the sky. Then the two storylines collide, and only then do you realise how integral the discovery is.

Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a brilliant young student destined for MIT when she drunkenly takes to her car after a party, and distracted by radio news reports of another earth being spotted in the sky – and looking out the window to see it for herself – ploughs into the stationary car of composer John (William Mopother – Ethan from Lost!) killing his wife and son and leaving him in a coma. She is arrested and given a jail sentence – her dreams are gone. Emerging three years later she is numb and reclusive. She moves like a ghost around her family, takes a solitary job where she won’t have to speak to people – cleaning – and walks out one night into the snow, and lies down naked on the frozen ground just so she can feel, and ends up in hospital. On the anniversary of the crash she visits the site where she killed the family, and notices someone else there – John, the man who survived. Plucking up the courage to visit his house so she can apologise for what happened, she loses her nerve and instead poses as his new cleaner. Over the next few months she continues to lie, trying to make his life better by sorting through the mess he’s let his house become. The two strike up a friendship – he has no idea who she is, and she is beginning to have feelings for him and doesn’t want to ruin their connection by telling him the truth. But then she wins a competition to visit Earth 2 – a competition she entered in the hope of escaping this world, meeting her double, and looking for answers. He begs her not to go, and taking a chance, she reveals who she really is in the hope he can forgive and accept her, and she can stay on this earth. But he doesn’t – how can he? – and she resolves to go Earth 2 – until by chance she hears a theory from a scientist on the TV and realises she must give up her own second chance for the man who deserves it more than her.

It was the point where she hears the theory on the TV that became the big turning point for me. In fact I was so sold on the idea they were going to end the film with the camera resting on her face that I wasn’t even paying attention to what the TV was saying. Had director Mike Cahill actually done that, then this film really would have had a good premise but gone nowhere with it. The theory was – and it remains a theory, and that’s what I love so much about this film, it’s all thought and wonder: the two Earths are identical, that being proven by the conversation with the NASA scientist and her ‘double’ live on a television stream previously: they have the same name, birthday and childhood memories. However, when the two Earths became aware of each other, that’s when the synchronicity stopped (because they are identical, Earth 2 must have become aware of Earth 1 at the precise moment Earth 1 became aware of it). This moment occurred just seconds before Rhoda crashed her car into John’s family – the distraction of it catalysed the crash in fact. But if the theory were true, then perhaps on Earth 2 Rhoda didn’t crash into the family? Perhaps they’re still alive and well, and going about their normal lives on the clone planet? Convinced this must be the case, Rhoda goes back to confront John – who doesn’t want anything to do with her – and leaves him her winning ticket to Earth 2.

Commence lots of bawling from me. This film was a marvel to me because it’s extraordinarily arty – of course being an indie film there’s lots of low-key but haunting music from unknown bands, minimal dialogue, lots of scenes which primarily focus on the environment that’s around Rhoda, who, now a stranger to human contact after being jailed for so long, is stirred by. There are more shots of the other earth in the sky than there is talk about it. But despite the scarcity of plot, the film never allows your mind to wander, to start thinking about where this is all heading. Therefore I had no idea she was going to give up her ticket until the moment she did it, and I have to admit it was pretty embarrassing. You wouldn’t want to have been sat next to me in the screen, I can tell ya. I haven’t sobbed so much in ages! It was the moment which elevated the film for me into magic.

BUT - and there is a but: when John accepts the ticket and takes her place on the space mission, questions began forming in my head. So, if the theory is true and perhaps synchronicity stopped and there was no car crash on Earth 2 and he can go and see his family who are alive – what about John 2? He’ll still be there as well. How will he be able to resume his place in his family when his double is there? Is the theory that on Earth 2 there was a car crash, but John died and his family survived, the reverse of the accident on Earth 1? Not exactly a plot hole, but it sobered me up, that’s for sure. Because we never go to Earth 2 in the film, we will always be wondering.

But it’s the final scene which kills the movie, and makes the second statement the correct one. It’s three months later and Rhoda is getting on with her life without John. She is returning home when she suddenly stops, turns away aghast, and then turns back again. Her double is standing in front of her. AH-MAY-‘ZIN’. At first I thought it was some kop out where the inhabitants of each earth now move about freely between each planet and it didn’t make much sense, but then you think about the time scale and you realise – just as Earth 1 had a competition to visit the other earth, so did Earth 2. And just as Rhoda won the competition on Earth 1, she also won it on Earth 2, except, of course, Rhoda 2 didn’t have the car crash, didn’t kill the family, and so she has no need to give her ticket away. She has travelled to Earth 1 to meet her double, the Rhoda we have followed through the film. It’s such a glorious moment, especially as the film just ends there, leaving you with the swelling lump in your throat.

It’s a beautiful film – delicate and fascinating in the first three quarters, and stunningly brilliant in the last 15 or so minutes. The two lead actors play off each other, so perfectly damaged – reluctant and uneasy at first, but then growing familiar with one another. I loved Rhoda’s language as well – that may seem a strange thing to say, but I loved how she told ‘stories’ to John, to make a point. It just made her so much more memorable. Brit Marling and Mike Cahill are clearly a double act to watch out for the in the future (Marling also made her name for herself at Sundance with separate feature Sound of My Voice where she played the leader of a cult, and she has lots of other projects in the pipeline, including next penned thriller The East).

Another Earth is not completely a masterpiece, but definitely something to spread the word about. I can’t wait for the DVD so I can showcase it to friends alike!

Thursday, 22 December 2011


Sometimes a film passes so far under your radar that you don't even become aware of it until it's suddenly waiting for you at the cinema. Martin Scorsese's Hugo - his first dalliance into a) the children/family genre, and b) 3D - wasn't exactly the sneakiest of features. It's had plenty of buzz from all kinds of sources, and is based on the best selling 2007 novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. All I knew about it was Martin Scorsese's astonishingly ambitious feat to rebuild the entire Gard du Nord train station - in the 1930s - at a film studio in London (and it looks amazing, with a lil help from Mr CGI). But I have never had so many people come up to me and enthuse about how excited I must be about this film because it is such a (ahem, paraphrase) culturemouse kind of film. I hadn't even seen the trailer (I still haven't) - but I was so intrigued, especially after the waft of five star reviews, that I had to go check it out for myself. And thank goodness I did otherwise I would have missed out on the cutest duo of sausage dogs known to man.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) of the title is a young orphaned boy who lives in the walls of Paris' main train station, maintaining the clocks in the building for his drunken uncle after his father (Jude Law) dies in a fire (thankfully. Sorry, Hugo!). Hugo’s time is spent trying to live in the train station without getting caught by the villainous station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and stealing parts from the station toy shop run by 'Papa Georges' (Ben Kingsley) to help finish his father’s last project: rebuilding an automaton that was found abandoned in his father’s museum. After caught shoplifting by Papa Georges, who steals his precious father’s scrapbook, he strikes up a friendship with his daughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) who’s transfixed with the idea of having an adventure, and when she becomes involved in the mystery of the automaton, she realises she has more than a passing connection to young Hugo, as does her father…

Papa Georges is of course, Georges Méliès, the famous director at the beginning of the 20th century, who many revere as the Godfather of cinema. If you don’t know the name you’ll at least know the famous image of the rocket lodged in the eye of the moon. It’s a clever story, full of imagination and invention, and all leading to the birth of cinema, which is of course, the ultimate source of visual storytelling. In some ways, Hugo Cabret is the perfect book to be adapted for the big screen – it’s just a surprise that the director of Taxi Driver was the one to land the job. But luckily, Scorsese knows what he’s doing, and the look and design of Hugo is absolutely stunning. The attention to detail, not just in the successful replication of Gard du Nord station but in the costumes, the hidden passageways Hugo navigates through, the clockwork contraptions – all thought through with precision and flair make this a feast for the eyes. I didn’t see this in 3D (I still continue to miss the point) but was tempted with this one as people have commented on how Scorsese makes full use of it in ways adventure pros such as Burton have failed.

However, once you’ve traversed the majesty of the spectacle, Hugo engages but doesn’t endure. Whilst the story never dulls, there’s a formula to it – although taking a surprising historical turn – that makes it difficult to get excited about. The key to all is the relationship between Georges Méliès and Hugo, and the tentative father-son bond that slowly welds throughout the film. Hugo brings Georges happiness and hope by making him re-live his difficult past, and realise that people still believe in him and his films; Georges in turn loves Hugo and sees himself in the young orphan and at the end takes him in as his own son. Asa Butterfield is particularly impressive as the central character, who’s given an extraordinary amount to do and pulls it off passionately – especially when Hugo is getting hot tempered. The rest of the cast are fine – Sacha Baron Cohen probably getting the most reaction. I love when he saves Hugo from the railtracks and shows he does have compassion. Chloe Moretz continues to annoy me – a minor quibble - but this is not an actors’ film. This is all about the scenery they’re propping up.

It reminded me a lot of Jeunet in style – the quirky characters, a playfulness, the slices of accordion, the awkward, bashful interactions – which brings me to the sausage dogs. Oh my, just the cutest two dogs you will ever see! Immediately they become friends and start adventuring together, just like Isabelle and Hugo. No question my favourite thing about the film!

There have been qualms over whether children will get Hugo and if the cinema stuff will be too heavy for them, but I think it is undoubtedly a children’s film, and wonderful too as it’s one they will learn and discover new things about upon each watch as they grow up and learn more about history and people. But for an adult, Hugo satiates instantly, and only the hankering for an intelligent adventure will make you want to return. And the automaton was freaky as hell... why would you want that watching over you as you sleep in a deserted train station every night?!

Friday, 9 December 2011

MUSIC REVIEW: Secret Codes + Battleships - Darren Hayes

Darren Hayes is one of my most loved people in the whole world, and quite possibly my favourite singer/songwriter (I covered a whole A4 lever arch folder once in Affirmation - the album not the song - lyrics). So a new Darren album is an EVENT in my life. This is his fourth: I'm not ranking them as they're all completely different, but this is his poppiest album to date. In fact, funny I should mention Affirmation because Secret Codes and Battleships feels like an extension of Savage Garden, rather than what we're recently used to from Mr Hayes. But it is uber sophisticated - some of the production is extraordinary, and as always we are generously treated to more than a fair amount of songs, which should hopefully keep me satisfied for another couple of years before the next record. I've had the album for a fair few weeks now, so plenty of time for analysis, deconstruction and the odd dance. On first listen, I didn't like it at all - it reminded me of early days Westlife in places. Ouch. But SC&B is so much more than that. Here's the track guide, and how it won me over. Cue mad ramblings of a Darren Hayes fan...

1. Taken By The Sea
"Coz I am an island, and you are the ocean; and all of my sadness taken by the sea"

LOVE. I tell you one thing, Darren knows how to start an album (Darkness, A Fear of Falling Under). This is beautiful - the one song which I've grown to love more and more on repeat listenings and the only song that has managed to climb up past other more instantaneous songs on the album. It's also now one of my favourite relationship songs of all time. I love the idea of you being a singular place that can get isolated and cut off sometimes, but then you can be surrounded by the ocean which represents love which will protect and embrace you. Gorgeous analogy, and when you're feeling a bit worthless and lost and you have someone special to support you through it, that is this song. I'm only going to post videos/links to the best songs in this review, so here's the first.

The illuminated umbrella! Also, this song has an amazing ending - like a wave crashing. And I love the high note on the last "you are the ocean"... sigh.

2. Don't Give Up
"and I want to run away from this, but I never leave a sinking ship"

Definitely the most pure pop on the album (the one that made me think of Westlife, plus the generic title). But it's such a feel good song it can't help get into your head, and actually it's one of my guilty pleasures - love the third chorus (above). Plus, it carries the album's title: "I can't believe it's come to this, all our secret codes and battleships" - lovely.

3. Nearly Love
"but my heart is a lonesome ghost, I never feel you anyway"

FIC SONG ALERT. This always gets me excited. A song about being in love with someone so completely, but then something happens that makes the love lessen - not go away, but change and become a paler imitation of itself. You still love that person, but it's different, and it's no longer 'the one'. I find that so sad. It's worse than falling out of love with somebody and disliking them - it's like a dimming lightbulb waiting to fade out. And isn't that so true of life? Relationships that don't necessarily just end, they change over time until you realise you love them, but not enough for it to work anymore. So inherently sad. Having said that, Nearly Love is not a grieving ballad, but a catchy confession. The "love you, love you" echoes at the end of the frankly brilliant middle 8 on the album won't be to everybody's taste but there's a genuine outpouring of emotion on this song: "and my heart's in a mess because my nearly love is not real enough to be the one". Only a slight change, but it makes a big difference - and the guilt that comes with realising that. Brilliant, brilliant! Listen here (by god it was hard to find a clip of this):

But only third favourite on the album...

4. Black Out The Sun
"and all that we've shared will slowly disappear..."

I find this song the perfect emo tantrum. Take away the moon! the stars! Black out the sun! I want to live in the dark coz I'm so miserable! But it's also a bit dark and dramatic, a bit gothy (the video is the essence of that) and I love that about it. All the "no's" and "go's" that drive each sentence, and the chorus is a proper little belter in your bedroom (clutch your chest!). The writing is mixed - a cheesy line to slight a profound one, but the quoted one above always catches me when I hear it. The second UK single from the album, and it really is very strong.

5. Talk Talk Talk
"sometimes the words are unsaid but you listen to them argue every night in your head"

The forgotten about first single, Talk Talk Talk didn't resonate with many when it first came out. The first sound of post Delicate... and it sounded completely different - it sounded like he had gone backwards. Well, they were my first thoughts anyway. I thought we had abandoned the pop malarkey. Hearing it as part of the album it fits a purpose and finds its stride. I like it a lot more than I did, but it's not one of the best - yet the "calling out..." section is one of the most memorable on the whole record.

6. Bloodstained Heart

"we can dream each other to a new day where the good guys always win and heaven still means something"

I can't say much more about this than I have already - this is Darren's epic, to follow such greats as Like It Or Not, Unlovable, Dublin Sky, Sing To Me. I'll never get tired of listening to it; it's simply beautiful. Powerful chorus, dramatic middle 8, haunting ending. Imagine that in an outdoor arena in the rain with everyone holding their lighters up... oh now I'm just getting soppy. It's fabulous live though - Darren did a lot of mentoring on this year's Australian X Factor and performed this song live on the show, as it was released as a single over there (but not yet here. Booo! Such a waste!).

(I love to think Ronan is sat there stewing over why he could never write such a good song, ha. What the hell is he doing there anyway?!)

7. God Walking Into A Room
"my friends tell me I should look around for somebody new...but they don't know you"

TUUUUUUUNE! This is my second favourite (and favourite some days) song on the album. It's one of the first few that stood out to me, although I thought he was singing "every time we kiss it's like guy walking into the room" - you know, that famous saying, when a guy walks into a room...ahem. Anyway the reality may seem a little hokier, but my God is this the catchiest song ever or what. Proper hairbrush stuff. And I love all the dramatic pounding of the music in the chorus like someone's slamming their fist down on the ground. And the "ohhhhh oh oh"'s are AMAZING. I love this song so much. It took me ages to find it (has Darren got the You Tube police out on this release?) but finally did under this wrong title, and old pic. Ahh you can't have everything. Epic pop!

8. Hurt

There are no lyrics to this song because they are all universally AWFUL. The most odious thing about this song other than its make you want to stab yourself in the eyes self pity is the fact that - growls, mutters - it's uber catchy. For a second there you forget you're singing things like "I can make you hurt! I can take you down so low I'll make you wanna cry! I can make you say goodbye!" bleuuuurgh. Darren, what were you thinking with this awful tripe you stick in the middle of the album where poor people like me may accidentally stumble across it? "nobody knows where this razor has been..." OH JESUS. I can make you Hurl, more like. Moving on. (she says quietly bopping in the background and hating herself for it)

9. Roses
"live in the moment, or wish your life away?"

Another song which slightly makes me want to puke. It's one of those "what would you do on your last night on earth?" songs, that, didn't Delta Goodrem do a couple of years ago? It's all very moody and full of high notes (though the last one is quite beautiful). At times its eloquence takes you away, but it's all a little skip-py and filler.  I suppose if you're feeling particularly thankful for life you may find it poignant but we're verging into boyband territory again. And it always make me think of Outkast...

10. Stupid Mistake
"I got lazy... on the wrong side of love, I was stupid... sold my kingdom for a war with you"


This is my favourite song on the album without a doubt and I am sooooo gutted I can't find a proper mp3 of it anywhere on tinterwebs. Mega sulk. This song is just incredible - it's the best uptempo he's ever done, the best production he's ever done, and the ending just floors me. It's unbelievably good and a crime if he doesn't release this as a single - this is the song that would get him a million more fans, just like that. It just has so many layers - oh this is my favourite part, no this bit's amazing, oh my god what is he doing here? the TWIST! The last 90 seconds are pure, pure genius. I still get excited every time I listen to it! This live performance is the best I could find but does not do it justice in the slightest. Get on iTunes and just download it. If you're a pop fan but not interested in a whole Darren Hayes album, you just need to get this song. GET IT NOW!

11. Cruel Cruel World
"and when my hope is gone, I'm feeling numb, the only one I let through is you"

This song is a bit hit and miss - there are some brilliant poppy bits (the middle 8) but then the elongated 'you's' in the chorus can grate a little. Plus the lyrics, for whatever reason, I mishear every time I listen to this song - I'm sure he's not singing "I'm kind of a racist"... ha ha ha. Let's say it's not one I actively skip when it comes on - it's a nice little ode to someone.

12. The Siren's Call

Everybody's in love with this song... I just find it hugely dull. Again, no lyrics - something about honey dripping from the finger tips of God... ugh. Again, it's something in the song that people connect with - the siren's call luring you into happiness ("I can almost feel your embrace") and a lot of people have fallen sucker to the African/gospel symphonies and Darren's angelic oooh-ing. A bit much for me, but maybe I'll get its 'genius' in a couple of years?

That's the full listing, but there are bonus album tracks if you get hand on the special/deluxe editions, and a few stand outs...

13. Explode
"And it's for the best, but the best for who? I wish I knew"

Any song that has a love hound in it is win win for me! This is one of my favourites on the whole album - so unbelievably catchy, especially the bridge - has to be the best bridge on the whole album. Really dancey, has a great middle 8 that's a dead cert for unanimous clapping at concerts! It's only a shame that the chorus lets it down slightly with its odd lyrics - he really is slamming the God epiphany down our ears this time round! He is forgiven though for his ultra high "this is the sound" which reminds everyone what a superb voice he has!

Another one that was hard to find and comes with horrible bonus 90s pic...

14. Perfect

Club music + cheesy lyrics = weakest song on the album. Next!

15. Tiny Little Flashlights
"and when you're upside down, and smoke is in the air, and when you're falling apart you see those tiny little flashlights leading the way in the dark"

Ahh, it's the plane crash song. It's only recently that I realised how blatant this song is - I knew there was a plane crash lyric, but listening to it all, the whole bloody song is about the plane disintegrating in the air and sudden death approaching - "and as we're spiralling and crashing into the sea..." now calm down Mr Hayes, no need to go all plane disaster 101 on us! On wait, of course the plane is just the symbol of a relationship. Phewwww. And a beautiful one it is too - love, love, love the chorus and the "we're all just spinning wheels..." repeat. Yes, this is a definite grower and a quiet gem at the end of the album.

16. Nothing
"when did you stop seeing me as a reflection of you?"

This song holds a special place in my heart for listening to this album - first run through this was the one song which stood out for me and I found myself clumsily murmuring along to after it had finished. On repeat listens it's an amazing song and one that deservedly stands out. The only funny thing is the echoed "nothing, nothing, nothing" which grabs your attention in the first place becomes redundant once you've fallen in love with the eloquent misery of the song. The above lyric just about nicks first place, but I also adore "another sunset needs an argument" and "how did my love turn into something that you don't really want?" Suffice to say it's a love gone sour song, and it's a fabulous one. But sadly... no videos :-(

17. Glorious
"I'm a little bit hopeful that we all carry on, but part of me just thinks we are just stardust"

Well now Darren Hayes - you've done a funeral song! And what a sunny, uplifting one it is as well - this is a beautiful send off for literally anything, and a great ending for the album. Sound the violins!

Now get it all for yourself here or the handy iTunes.  See what others thought here and here.


Sunday, 4 December 2011


I've been letting actual life get in the way of updating the blog lately - sorry folks, it's been a busy few weeks! You can always check up on my musings by visiting the Facebook page.

So, the Leeds Film Festival is over for another year.

Look, a massive banner over the Town Hall
In a hectic whirlwind of drunken upstarts, flying vampire heads, angry manga fans and sublime Japanese craziness - and 16 consecutive days in the cinema - I managed to see a grand total of 17 films, 4 Q&A's and meet a lovely director so all in all a very successful 25th year. I'll do my best to recap it all for you, but apologies my thoughts aren't as sharp as they would have been straight after the full thing. Birthdays and whatnot...

Opening Night: Wuthering Heights
I've never worked the Opening Gala before so was unprepared for how insanely hectic it is, and the genuine need for 50 volunteers. I was supposed to be working on the doors but was immediately pulled onto another section as soon as I walked into the Town Hall. Luckily for me it was the VIP area, specifically looking after the cast and crew comp tickets, plus the media melee that had been especially invited to the event. Of course, Wuthering Heights is set and was filmed all around Yorkshire so it was a special screening and an apt opener to the festival. And we had mini celebs there as well: Solomon Glave (young Heathcliffe), Shannon Beer (young Cathy) and James Howson (older Heathcliffe) plus director Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank) who was introducing her take on the much adapted Bronte tale to Leeds ahead of its nationwide release. Andrea Arnold was lovely - the biggest and warmest smile in the building. I'm afraid the rest of the cast all blended into one another (well dolled up young people all look the same, don't they?) But though the perks of the job were great, unfortunately I didn't get to see the film itself as the screen was packed out. I had been looking forward to it, but only for the sake of being there - it didn't have a big circle around it in my brochure so not a huge loss, plus bonus going home early and free pizza. There was a bit of drama as well when one of the actors had an attack of the 'don't-you-know-who-I-am' (er, no, you're all newcomers) and was escorted out for being drunk and disorderly on the balcony. Tee hee hee. Oh, listening to those 'eviction' convos is so awkward!

And now to condense the action slightly, here are my top 10 films of this year's festival, in standard racing heart inducing reversal...

10. The River Used To Be A Man
My first film of LFF11 was a slow and slight one, and makes No.10 on my list. A German man travels to deepest Africa (Tanzania) and is escorted through the isolated wilderness and swamplands by a local paddler. But when the old man dies, he is left alone in a land he doesn't understand and a route back to his car that he can't remember. It's an interesting fable on the young, arrogant white man lost in a strange land of nature and magic and the focus on these African traditions and beliefs is particularly effective, especially when he stumbles back into the old man's village and the people react to the news that the body has not been buried - sacrilege: the old man will now be resurrected as a crocodile and kill them all. Because the atmosphere is so heavily soaked in the surrounding environment there is very little dialogue and the story loses its way in places. The ending is just bizarre - leading you to believe the man miraculously escapes the foreign terrain in a way you'll never know, or he died and his escape was his last fantasy as he awaits the crocodile. It's all rather too sparse to take much from it. The Q&A with director Jan Zabeil was great though, and bless him for hobbling about on crutches to talk to us about his affinity with the area they shot in, and how there's only one actor in the whole of the film.

9. Finisterrae
This was one of the films I was most looking forward to at the festival, after watching the trailer for it at the LFF showreel preview. Two ghosts travelling on a journey to reach the end of the world where they hope to return to the land of the living. But don’t take it too seriously – the ghosts are your quintessential white sheets with two holes cut out for eyes, one of them rides a horse and one them is seeing a therapist. Along the way they encounter all types of bizarre and surreal people and situations (an annoying hippie-slash-cavewoman; a 1970s infomercial in a tree) but rather than delight and surprise it was all a bit too weird for me. There are genuine funny moments of incredulity, but for the most part it drags. The ending, where one of the ghosts turns into a frog, who is then kissed by a man and turns into a woman, and a stag wanders around an empty house... Am I looking for meaning beyond sheer randomness? Gah I wish it had been better.

8. She Monkeys
You know I’m always up for films about teenage angst! Swedish drama She Monkeys is the debut film from Lisa Aschan which chooses the sport of equestrian acrobatics as the arena for the power struggle and sexual curiosity between two young girls: Cassandra – tall, blonde, queen of the team, intimidating and inspiring; and Emma: the shy new girl with a fierce determination and a free spiritedness about her that Cassandra both envies and desires. Emma’s goal is to be as good as the other girls and get herself onto the competing team, but her friendship with Cassandra is also important to her, though it pushes her boundaries and leads to this inner angst of hating herself for being attracted to another girl, and hating Cassandra for having this intoxicating power over her. As this is a genre I love and know quite well, there’s nothing new here, and She Monkeys is so quick and precise (a fleeting 85 minutes) that – not to be too insulting – it’s rather forgettable. Emma’s younger sister Sara is actually more interesting: portraying a six year old girl who looks up to her older sibling so much she mimics her behaviour to slightly disturbing effect given her innocence. And the unexpected horse sex… why did the film have to take us there?!

7. The Whisperer in Darkness
Such an enjoyable B movie from the world of HP Lovecraft! Now, I wouldn’t profess to being an all-knowing Lovecraftian (I still can’t spell Cthulhu first time right) but I do spend the majority of my days fighting Mi-gos and Shoggoths in the hope of getting into R'lyeh so I can seal the gate before the Ancient One Yig awakens. Yeah, I’m cool. Whadda ya mean I’m supposed to be blogging? Anyway, The Whisperer in Darkness is a short story from the master of tentacles about a sceptical professor who is contacted by a farmer claiming to be terrorised by winged alien creatures. He is initially dismissive of the man’s claims and supposed ‘photographic proof’ but when he goes to visit him at his home he uncovers a sinister neighbourhood cult who have been brainwashed - and brainrobbed - by the monsters, and now support the rise of Yuggoth to end the world. The professor must save them all, but in the words of a favourite meme of mine: 

Loved the style and commitment of it, right down to the black and white imagery and shoddy but great special effects. Not in the least bit scary but a fun, fun ride.

6. Involuntary
A blackly comic anthology of stories from Sweden – the Scandinavians do their humour so well, though Involuntary has more than its fair share of drama. No stories or characters actually connect or intertwine but each one grabs the attention and the full piece flows together brilliantly. Drunken pranks between a group of long-term male friends go awry; a teacher sticks to her guns to help a pupil but alienates herself with her colleagues; a father tries to hide his firework induced injury to endure a family celebration; two bored teenage girls get a little too friendly with a webcam and alcohol; a bus driver takes accidental damage a bit too far. What’s so superb about Involuntary is oddly, how awkward and uncomfortable each story becomes. The stillness of the camera doesn’t allow you to turn away either, you live it through the characters. I think the worst for me, is the teacher after she has been ostracised for ‘grassing’ another teacher for striking a pupil, the rest of the staff passively and indirectly shut her out. She is sat with two other teachers during a lunch break whilst they are having a conversation, and she interrupts to ask the main speaker to look at her as well when he’s talking, as it’s rude to exclude a third person in a conversation between two people. He apologies, and continues the story with her involvement, but it peters out in that uncomfortable disrupting the peace fashion. It’s quite delicious, but slightly toe curling as well. I thought all the characters were so well drawn, and despite only getting a few minutes with them all, they are memorable and authentic. This screened at Cannes a couple of years ago, and director Robin Ostlund is also responsible for this year’s Play which culturemouse has previewed a fair few times throughout festival season.

5. The Other Side of Sleep
Ahh, a little beaut of a rural murder mystery. A young girl's body is found in the woods outside of a small working class town in Ireland and the impact this has on the community - a place where everybody knows each other's business and like to gossip - unravels. One person who is more involved than most is factory girl Arlene (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), who has a disturbing connection to the murdered girl: she woke up in the woods next to her. Arlene is prone to severe bouts of sleepwalking, severe enough to unlock and break through closed doors and wander the streets outside. Her obsession with the dead girl (befriending her sister, keeping newspaper articles, breaking into her house, wearing her lingerie for her boyfriend...) and her increasing nocturnal state gives the film an eerie dreamlike quality which I loved: that magical and wonderful (when it works) disorientation of not knowing what is a dream and what is reality. Campbell-Hughes gives a strong performance as the isolated and emotionally fragile Arlene who we discover is still haunted by the story of her mother's murder in England when she was just a baby and her obsession with the dead and flirting with the danger of it herself has taken over her life. It's a captivating watch and one that does not provide any easy answers. A great debut from Rebecca Daly who spoke about the film afterwards, and her own experiences with grief.

4. Snowtown
Another film I had been looking forward to seeing from the LFF preview showreel (if “looking forward to” are the right words). Snowtown was never going to be an easy watch, given the grisly reality behind what you’re watching. In 1999 Australia's most prolific serial killer John Bunting was arrested following the discovery of eight bodies in the small town of Snowtown, north of Adelaide. Three more bodies were found in the following days, and further arrests made. The ring leader, John Bunting, was a man in his 30s whose deep hatred of homosexuals, paedophiles, transsexuals, mentally handicapped people and drug addicts, coupled with his ability to charm and coerce those around him fuelled the murder spree. This film, based on two books written about the murders, focuses on one accomplice in particular: James Vlassakis, a teenage boy abused and introverted, who looks up to John as a father figure. He is initially in awe of the man, but when he discovers the terrible crimes he has been committing, he is terrified to go against him. Not exactly sympathetic to Vlassakis, the film paints a picture of a young lad with no positive role model in his life, no structure and no purpose and how he was misled too deep. John wants him to help with the murders, but Vlassakis runs away from the horror, and instead compiles his guilt by keeping his silence, and leading the victims to their death, namely his stepbrother David. More disturbing than the murder scenes (of which there aren’t many, but the victims are tortured by Bunting and his right hand man Robert Wagner in the most unending pain. There’s a scene with a toe that I couldn’t watch) is Bunting’s psychopathic picking of his victims – they are all random. A web of hate is shown displayed on the wall in one of the rooms in his house, highlighting people in the community whom he deems sick, unnecessary, evil (he had been a Neo Nazi growing up). He then selects one at random – akin to closing your eyes and pointing – and they are tortured, killed, and their bodies (most of them) stored in acid barrels in the town of Snowtown, away from where Bunting has set up home with Vlassakis, his brothers and their mother Elizabeth Harvey. It’s a powerful film, none so because of the performance of Daniel Henshall as the emotionally ruthless serial killer. His charisma and charm sucks the family in, but all the while there is something off kilter about him, something seriously creepy and demented behind that smile and those eyes, taking everything in. You know if you upset him and he says it’s okay, you’re almost certainly dead. A towering performance. Perhaps just as Jacki Weaver broke through for her role in the oft-compared Animal Kingdom, Henshall will also receive some nods when awards season comes around. Lucas Pitttaway also deserves an honourable mention for portraying Vlassakis with such ill-fated haplessness in what is his first time in front of a camera. It’s director Justin Kurzel’s first time out as well, and what he does so well is the horror of what is happening behind closed doors against the background of children playing in the streets, and riding past on their bikes. Chilling, and undeniably grim, but for any brave enough to elicit a fascination with killers and disturbing events (isn’t that all of us?) a must see. 

3. Symbol 
Wow, I loved this! Once you get past the infantile humour it occasionally gurgles out, Symbol is a perfect slice of that sublime Japanese craziness I mentioned before. On paper there are two storylines working in tangent: a wrestler who is gearing up for his biggest fight, and a man who wakes up inside a white featureless room with no idea how he got there. But really it’s the latter story which drives the film, and amazes. Cube is already a bizarre cult classic, so imagine if the Japanese got anywhere near it. Much more playful than the American sci-fi, this man who finds himself stuck in a cube finds that when he presses (I’m stealing the IMDB line here as it’s genius) the “phallic protuberances” sticking out in the walls, each one delivers to him something unique: whether it be a vase, drum sticks, a scooter, sushi, water, an irritable tribal man, soy sauce or select copies of a series of graphic novels (cheekily they skip Volume 4 just when he’s getting into it). Experiencing several emotions – frustration, upset, glee, contentment, generally stupefied – he finally comes across a, erm, button which brings up a door and his means of escape. But of course, the door always closes before he can quite run to it. So unfolds a sort of physics/logics game where he must choose which of the objects will help him to find a way to get out of the door. This is ingenious. Just when he thinks he has found a way to the door, he finds out it is locked and he needs to find the key, and when he finds the key he finds another lock at the top of the frame which requires another key and so on and so forth. It’s just brilliant, although if you’re a viewer like me, you start getting agitated with his methods and want to shout instructions at the screen: “you’ve already pressed that one!” “why aren’t you filling the vase with soy sauce?!” “JUST PRESS ALL THE GOD DAMN BUTTONS!” etc. It’s a very involving experience. Hitoshi Matsumoto, who plays the unnamed man and also writes and directs (he’s also famed for his predecessor film Big Man Japan which also played at the LFF this year) demonstrates hilarious slapstick comedy and a dogged determination which totally wins us over. It’s what’s behind the door, and the connection his escape has to the wrestler in the outside world which suddenly reveals all the answers of Symbol and it veers into existential territory. Still, absolutely worth a watch.

2. The Artist
I was cross when I went to see this film, as I had forgotten my glasses. Not usually so much of a catastrophe but with it being French I thought I was going to struggle to read anything of what was going on, so had to sit virtually on the front row of the cinema (not so much a choice anyway as it was sold out). I had been so excited when the LFF announced they were showing this film as a late addition, as the reviews from Cannes and London have been amazing – it’s being labelled as the film of the year. But despite all the buzz it became clear that I actually knew very little about the film as the opening credits rolled. I knew it was a movie set in the silent film era in Hollywood, but I didn’t realise it was actually going to be in the silent film style. Turns out this was the best possible film to have forgotten my glasses in!
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the biggest silent movie star around, coupled with his also starring wife and amazing performance dog (in fact the wife is secondary – it’s all about George and the dog). Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is a young girl, dreaming of making it big, using her talent for dancing to get her small parts in the films George takes centre stage in. There’s a spark between the two, but they are worlds apart. But then a big upheaval in the world of cinema changes everything: pictures with sound begin to get made, and films begin to move in a different direction. George is scornful and dismissive of sound, believing it to be a ‘fad’ and parts with his long time director (John Goodman) to make his own silent movies, which draw only minimal crowds. Peppy meanwhile, rises to stardom in the world of sound and takes over the same accolades George was once receiving. George, washed up and depressed, is left by his wife and forced to sell all his possessions due to debt. He turns to drinking, and puts his own life in danger (much to the horror of his faithful dog). But Peppy has always remembered George, and goes out of her way to help him get back to the top – and also win his heart.
This film won my heart! Delightful, enchanting, uplifting – just so refreshing. Unlike anything else you’ll see at the cinema this year. I think I loved Bérénice Bejo more than anyone – she had such a light about her, and is such a good comedienne. The scene where she sneaks into George’s dressing room and starts dancing with his coat on the stand, and then he comes in and catches her is priceless! And loved the scene where they have to do various takes of their dance together because they keep getting distracted. Her warmth and love for George is iridescent, regardless of his belief she is merely taking pity on him. And she’s so sparky when she winks! But Jean Dujardin is also excellent, and well deserving of the Best Actor award at Cannes (he will sure be receiving many more noms). He’s at his best when he’s revelling in the spotlight with a faux coyness about his celebrity. His interactions with Uggy the dog (who was played by three Jack Russell terriers, but Uggy did the majority of the scenes and won the Palm Dog at Cannes .Yes! The Palm Dog! Such a thing exists! Some great dogs if you peruse the list) was wonderful to watch, but also heartbreaking at the same time as George loses his passion for life and has no regard for his well-being, setting fire to his house and trying to kill himself – Uggy does his best to keep his master alive.
The film is also exquisitely made – in black and white of course (it’s a silent film all on its own) and silent, except for some brilliantly placed moments of sound: an amazing scene in George’s dressing room when suddenly everything around him makes a sound (meta, I love it) and at the end when Peppy convinces George to star with her in his first audio feature. It’s classic without being a parody, and authentic without being try-hard. I cannot recommend it enough when it goes on release December 30th. A perfect film for those January blues! And sure to be a big fish at the Oscars.

1. Take Shelter 
I’ve seen this film twice now. The first time, which was at the LFF, I felt like someone had rigged me up to a clamp on a bench and for the majority of the film they continued to twist it, so much so that when the film ended and I had to run out quickly to help collect and coordinate response slips etc, I felt like somebody had just punched me in the lungs and I couldn’t breathe (it was probably walking out into the Town Hall foyer which was freezing cold due to the door ALWAYS.BEING.OPEN.). The second time I saw it, two days ago – as it’s now on general release – I also felt like I had been punched in the lungs. Yes it had been snowing… the point I’m trying to make is that even if I go and watch Take Shelter next Summer and it’s 25 degrees outside (you laugh), I’ll still feel like I’ve been punched in the lungs, and why? Because it is like walking down a dark corridor into your worst nightmare. The dread that will infiltrate you is extraordinary.
I’ve been looking forward to this for ages (big up Sundance) and was delighted to see it as part of the LFF, and even better to be working it (the audience loved it too). The premise is so intriguing, and then when you watch the trailer it sends tingles down your spine. Curtis (the remarkable Michael Shannon) is a construction worker, living in mid America with his wife Sam (Jessica Chastain) and young daughter Hannah. His life seems fairly normal, aside from his daughter being deaf and the family struggling to come up with the money for an operation. But then Curtis starts having apocalyptic dreams, which turn into night terrors and then hallucinations in his waking life, of the mother of all storms bearing down on the world: dead crows dropping from the sky, a wall of tornadoes, rain falling like oil. Sometimes there are people in the dreams: faceless people who are out to steal his daughter in the storm. As the portents – or madness – gets worse, Curtis becomes dually obsessed with trying to diagnose his mental illness thought to be passed down by his schizophrenic mother and rebuilding the tornado shelter at the back of the house to protect his family. Both his actions are done without the consultation of his wife, who freaks out at his unreasonable and frightening behaviour and when he loses his job and his health insurance to pay for their daughter’s operation. As the film builds to its climax, everyone including Curtis believe he is undergoing an acute psychotic disorder and encourage him to face his demons and take therapy. But what if he’s not mad at all and the storm is actually coming? 
I feel I can honestly and sensibly review this film having seen it twice. The music! It's so eerie - the xylophone notes like fingertips running up your spine to make you shudder. One of those irrepressible scores that will plummet you back into the throes of the movie after hearing just a couple of seconds. The cinematography is stunning, the CGI so cleverly used to swirl up the storm sequences that it looks pulled from a (terrifying) nature documentary. The crows flying down on Curtis and his daughter has to be one of the most breathtaking (and it is, that) moments of the film, if not cinema this year. I cannot fault the acting - someone needs to give Michael Shannon the Oscar now. He is incredible at portraying the mentally unbalanced (see Revolutionary Road) and the scene in the soup kitchen was too powerful for words. Watching it a second time I had tears rolling down my cheeks as you've got to let the emotion out somehow! Jessica Chastain continues to be a force to be reckoned with this year in another major role - she's a mother as in The Tree of Life but is the practical no-nonsense parent here to Curtis' emotionally led counterpart. She finds it difficult to understand what he's going through, but plays it so stoically. The little girl was great too - and watching it a second time, I wondered whether she had some of her father's visions as well, but perhaps I'm reading too much into things. 
My favourite scene is when they're in the storm shelter and Sam makes Curtis open the hatch. I kept thinking the film was going to end as he pushes the doors, and we were never going to know whether it was fine outside or whether they were in some sort of 'eye' of the storm. That's the brilliance with this film - you think you know what's happening, but you're never quite sure. That's why you hold your breath until the very last, astonishing, scene. For some, Take Shelter is a horror film, but for me it's a psychological drama that's a prevailing success and one you shouldn't shy away from watching. One of my films of the year. You'd be foolish not to go see it. But remember to breathe!

And the rest...

22 May - a completely undeserving winner of the Golden Owl award for Best Film – BEST FILM I tell you! By God, it was dull. I had been looking forward to it as well as the trailer looks so dramatic – it tells the story of a suicide bomber at a shopping mall in Germany, and the security guard who meets the victims of the bombing in the aftermath and they blame him for not rescuing them. A strong premise with the potential for high emotion and clever storytelling – ghosts, flashback, connecting memories, people, insignificant throwaways into the larger picture, and the question of, why? But it’s a mess. I started wondering whether I wanted to leave the cinema or not halfway through but I can never comprehend actually doing that – a nap is better. The beginning was actually fine, but then the pace and tone goes skewiff and the characters were all so tedious and unlikable. The acting was negligible. It was one of those frustrating drones of a film that bores into your mind (I couldn’t nap) and throws an invisible net over you so you’re struggling to escape it then on. The slo-mo of the force of the explosion, people flying, their faces changing as they feel shock moments before death, the loud music searing overhead – it all became melodrama wearing CGI. I didn’t feel any pathos or sadness for what was happening. And then they go and throw in a giant bunny costume near the end. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Best Film?! What kind of loony tablets are these juries actually taking with their popcorn?

Marianne - I always like dipping into Day of the Dead to see a film or two, but afterwards wonder why I bother. Last year it was the laughable The Last Employee (which won the Méliès d’Argent for best fantastique film at the festival – HA HA HA HA) and this year it was the equally implausible Marianne, which to be fair, had a write up comparing it to The Last Employee so I should really have known better. A Swedish horror film which to a certain extent plays on the success of Let The Right One In and focuses on mythical and supernatural beings in Swedish folklore, this time a ‘mare’ -  a banshee type creature who preys on the life force of a man she is seeking revenge on for a wrong-doing in her past life as a human. The story is pretty weak, and the ‘twist’ at the end leaves you slightly dumbfounded as you thought… you’d been told that already? Ack! A scorned mistress plots revenge on the man she loved returning to his wife by causing a car crash involving the couple. The man’s wife dies, and in his anger he throws the badly injured mistress over the bridge into the river. She comes back as a mare, draining his energy as she preys upon him at night. Believe me, it sounds spookier than it is. The only faintly terrifying bit is when the man lines his bedroom door with linseed so she can’t enter, and she instead goes into the nursery and kills his baby instead – that was pretty unsettling, but the fact he seems to get over this in about two days waters down the horror. It stumbles into comedy at times too, with the inclusion of a – there is no better term – ‘doofus’ mythical expert who is dating the man’s daughter. Not sure if it was intentional or not, but it seems to send up the premise rather than enrich it. And the continual moody arguments and sulks between the man and his daughter weigh the film down too much. It’s more an emo than a horror. However, the Foley-style sound effects of grinding teeth and wet clomping heels as the mare moves are inspired.

Forest - not much to say other than I HATED IT AND NEVER WANT TO BE PUT THROUGH IT AGAIN. I did however, have a successful nap. Hurray!

Detroit Metal City - I was pleasantly looking forward to this re-showing Japanese film which won audiences over a couple of years ago at the LFF. So many people had told me it was amazing, and they were actually jealous of me watching it for the first time. But I could never warm to it. I found everything OTT, the humour jarring and the plot itself ridiculous: a shy young Japanese man who dreams of being the next American heartthrob with his Swedish pop songs (“with the cheese tart in your hand…”) accidentally ends up the lead singer of death metal band Detroit Metal City, as the alias Krauser – a man who worships the devil and hates everything (according to his fans). Thus the schtick is pulling off both identities, whilst trying to fulfil his dream and win his schoolgirl crush. Eh. It wasn’t boring… plus there was a cameo from Gene Simmons as the rival death metal singer which is never a bad thing. I can think of a tonne of people who would love this; I’m just not one of them.

Mystics in Bali - now this was AMAZING. On paper I really wasn’t bothered about it at all and was kinda hoping I could sneak off after everyone was happily settled in the screen, but I felt bad and thought I better be a good volunteer and sit in. Soooo glad I did! This is a 1970s Malaysian horror film having a big screen re-release as part of the Fanomenon section of the LFF. It was the most hysterical film I’d seen in ages! The plot is, well just flaming ace: a young American student called Cathy travels to Bali to study/write some thesis on black magic and she strikes up a friendship-y romance with local boy Mahendra, who takes her to the witch/voodoo woman of the village to help her with her studies. But the witch takes advantage of her and possesses her so she can ‘borrow’ her head – which is then transported into a flying vampire head with organs hanging off the end in the best worst CGI you have ever seen in your life – to kill. Once the local villagers realise what is going on, they turn to their soothsayer (Mahendra’s uncle) to stop her. OK firstly, the dubbing is awful so therefore any delivery of any line is a punchline. Everybody laughs at everything which just induces giggles – the witch has this insane cackle that goes on for about a minute longer than it’s supposed to, and she speaks like a Jim Henson puppet. My two favourite bits: 1) Cathy vomiting up green liquid and live mice after she has spent a night being a ‘snake’ with the witch, and Mahendra asking her, “Cathy are you alright?” and 2) a random woman coming out of nowhere to save Mahendra at the end and saying something like “even though you were with her, I sill love you” – where the fuck has this woman been for the past whole of the film?! Haha, oh my, just genius. If you’ve exhausted the likes of The Room, Troll 2 and Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus then this is next on your list. Not even trying to be cult, this was banned back in the day for being too shocking – now it’s just ridiculous! And happily available on Region 2 DVD.

Repulsion - this would have been well into my top 10 had it not been retro. Polanski’s first mass market offering is evident in the work of many horror maestros today, although it’s clear he was also influenced himself – by Hitchcock. Catherine Deneuve (beautiful) plays the painfully shy Dutch girl who is left alone in her sister’s apartment in London when she goes on holiday, and the loneliness sends her into madness (and murder). There are some genuine jumpy moments and the film just builds and builds in an idiosyncratic, unnerving manner rather like our chief protagonist Carole, who is beguiling from the start. Always in a haze, who really knows what’s going on in her mind? She is plagued by terrors of a man breaking into her apartment and assaulting her, suggesting she may have been raped in the past. She’s not good with men in general – hating her sister’s boyfriend, ignoring her admirers and flinching at any attention. But then the end of the film focuses on a photograph of the family, and a young Carole who holds that same listless stare into the distance and not connecting with anybody. Perhaps she has always been mentally unbalanced, a danger to herself and others? There were some scenes I just adored, and cursed myself for not watching before so much other horror, but the last third does descend into farce territory, as the flat becomes littered with bodies. At least we didn’t get a ‘it was all in her mind!’ reveal at the end – yes, it was all in her mind, but she’s fucked up the outside world as well.

Shame - got to see this for the second time (rallying the friends round) in the Town Hall. Amaze.

That didn't really condense it at all, did it? Ah well never mind. Here's to more spills next year!