Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Critical Week: It's raining again

The 18th Raindance Film Festival kicks off tonight in London, showcasing independent films for an audience that definitely needs to find someplace warm and dry for a few hours. For some reason the press office has limited journalists' access to films this year, so the only ones I've seen are those I saw elsewhere, including the opening night puppet-animation romp Jackboots on Whitehall (hilariously anarchic); the drama Huge, about British stand-up comedy (uneven and difficult); the surreal descent into mental dysfunction that is Ollie Kepler's Expanding Purple World (flashes of insight but ultimately a downer); the low-budget American horror romp Vacation! (a great premise completely falls apart); and the uber-grisly A Serbian Film (oddly intriguing), which is part of a special section on banned or censored films. Full reviews and a list of all the films is on the website.

Meanwhile, critics were shown two anxiously awaited biggies: the pre-teen vampire horror Let Me In and the Facebook biopic The Social Network. Even though both films are out elsewhere, British critics aren't allowed to say anything about them yet - I'll just mention that I liked one a lot better than the other.

Also screening were two horror films (the unhinged and very black Aussie comedy The Loved Ones and the much darker and creepier Irish freak-out Outcast), two small intimate movies (the British war veteran drama In Our Name and the Mexican sex-and-depression drama Leap Year), and two docs (homeless disabled musicians in the Congo in Benda Bilili! and an artful essay on economic decay in Robinson in Ruins).

This coming week we have Michael Douglas in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, George Clooney in The American, Zac Efron in Charlie St Cloud, Hilary Swank in Conviction, the Thai Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and the Hong Kong horror Dream Home. And then there's next week's film festival - the Iris Prize in Cardiff - for which I'm on the jury this year.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Critical Week: Secrets of success

Animation ruled this week, as two of the most enjoyable films I saw at press screenings were cartoons, namely the raucous and very silly 3D romp Despicable Me and the more intriguingly subtle and artful Oscar-nominee The Secret of Kells (pictured).

Three Hollywood movies were less successful simply because they were more formulaic and had most real life polished right out of them. Ben Affleck's The Town was well above average, as it at least has a genuinely introspective tone and enjoyably earthy action. Worst was Julia Roberts in the far too glossy find-yourself travelogue Eat Pray Love. Somewhere in between was the Heigl-Duhamel rom-com Life As We Know It.

And then there was the usual mixed bag of offbeat movies: Julian Schnabel's Israel drama Miral holds us enthralled until an abrupt final reel; British indie The Be All and End All honestly looks at mortality from a teenage perspective; and the lively road movie Africa United follows a group of kids hitchhiking from Rwanda to South Africa in the name of football while dealing off-handedly with some of the world's biggest issues. But the best film of the week, hands down, was the small French comedy My Afternoons With Margueritte, in which Gerard Depardieu gives a disarmingly astute performance as a simple middle-aged man discovering his own intellect for the first time.

This coming week, London critics will be watching the vampire remake Let Me In, teen horror-comedy The Loved Ones, Irish horror Outcast, British comedy-drama Fit, world music fairy tale Benda Bilili and British cinematic essay Robinson in Ruins.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Critical Week(s): Censored!

Sorry about the delay, but sometimes you just need a holiday (and I needed sunshine after spending the summer months inside a cinema). And no, my sudden silence wasn't caused from watching the notoriously banned A Serbian Film (pictured), which the UK censors wanted to chop so harshly that it was pulled from last month's FrightFest. Yes, it's extremely full-on, taking a very graphic approach to its story, but it's also a surprisingly insightful horror movie.

More contained thrills were to be had with Buried, which locks Ryan Reynolds in an underground wooden box for 90 minutes of real-time squirming, although it's a little too mannered perhaps to really work. Burning Bright, meanwhile, traps Briana Evigan in a boarded-up house with a live tiger - all the more impressive and scary since it's not computer-animated.

From abroad, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest cleverly ties up the loose ends of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy; Olivier Assayas' ambitious Carlos tells the story of the notorious 70s terrorist with skill and detail (although at three hours long, I wondered if the full five-hour version told us even more); Chow Yun-Fat plays Confucius in a massive Chinese biopic that struggles to turn the philosopher into an action hero; and from Iran The Hunter is a chilling drama about urban angst.

But even with all of these thrills, Chris Smith's sharply well-made Collapse wins the award as the week's (or even the year's) most horrific film: a documentary that holds very little hope for the future of Western civilisation. So thankfully we also had the restored and reconstructed version of Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis to make us gasp with wonder.

Coming up this week: Ben Affleck's The Town, Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love, Julian Schnabel's Miral, animated hits Despicable Me and The Secret of Kells, festival fave Africa United, and Brit indie The Be All and End All.