Monday, 27 October 2008

LFF12: Surprise!

The surprise film last night was Darren Aronofsky's Venice-winning The Wrestler, which was one of the films on a short list of possible titles being batted around by us critics. Even though I'd already seen the film, I was happy to watch it again, because it's a real gem. Also, at the end of the screening, Aronofsky and his star Mickey Rourke (who should win the Oscar for this, frankly) took the stage for a long and hilariously raucous Q&A session. Rourke was relaxed and too-cool in his snakeskin jeans, and the banter between the two men was terrific.

Here are some highlights from yesterday and today...

The Secret of Moonacre **
The tone of this fantasy adventure is eerily unsteady, veering from silly slapstick to earnest tragedy and never quite settling down at all. And the plot - about a girl (played by The Golden Compass' Dakota Blue Richards) who discovers that she holds the key to ending a generations-old family feud and saving the planet - is just a bit too wacky for its own good. The production design is also a problem, with sets and costumes that are both overwrought and underaged. At least most of the cast is good.

Hamlet 2 ***
Steve Coogan plays a high school drama teacher in Tucson who writes an ambitious and potentially offensive musical sequel to Shakespeare's classic. The first half of the film is resolutely unfunny, with Coogan overplaying every broad gag to the point where you couldn't laugh if you wanted to. Then something happens: Catherine Keener cuts loose, Amy Poehler shows up, and it gets very funny indeed. By the time his cast is performing the stage production's show-stopper Rock Me, Sexy Jesus, we want to stand up and sing along.

The Wrestler *****
Darren Aronofsky switches styles completely for this doc-style drama about a professional wrestler who's still struggling in the ring two decades after his hey day in the 1980s. Mickey Rourke's astonishing central performance gives the film both a lively sense of humour and a surprising amount of heart - he's a force of nature on screen, and is absolutely superb here. His interaction with Marisa Tomei (as his stripper semi-girlfriend) and Evan Rachel Wood (as his estranged daughter) is simply wonderful. In a fair world this film would be up for every Oscar out there.

Easy Virtue ***
This British class comedy, based on the Noel Coward play, has enough sparky humour to keep us entertained, plus terrific supporting performances from Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth. The central roles are a bit trickier, but Jessica Biehl and Ben Barnes keep them lively and often very funny, if not terribly complicated. And even though the bitterness and passion never boil over like we hope they will, it's still great fun, and has a nice message about how life experiences change us.

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