Unlike the hyper-competative and sales-led environments of Cannes and Sundance, the London Film Festival is an altogether simpler affair, inviting members of the public to sample the films on offer. And the festival’s timing puts it in the perfect position to pick early Oscar hopefuls; many of the films in the programme are already generating early buzz and for most in the UK it’ll be the first and only chance to see them before the end of the year.
So it’s with that in mind that RT-UK editor Joe Utichi and film critic Paul Anderson have been hitting the festival to cherry pick the twenty films from the festival you’re likely to be hearing a lot about in the coming months.
Click on the films below to find out more, or click here to browse through the feature from the beginning.
It’s a long title, long film, long coats and a long time getting to the screen. There’s a lot of long going on here. It took two years to score a release once it was done, so what’s wrong with it? Well, er, nothing.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Brad Pitt‘s labour of love, is slow; very slow. Slow and long. But good westerns should be. The best western is as much about the pace and the look as it is about anything, and this looks amazing. There are sumptuous shots of prairies and sepia tinted men in hats and (long) coats saying a lot without speaking much. The film feels poetic and meditative, like you could be doing yoga while it’s on.
Yes it is Pitt’s movie but the star is Casey Affleck as the titular coward. Robert Ford always wanted to be in the James Gang, he idolised Jesse, wanted to be him, dag nabit he probably fancied him. The poster boy of the 1880’s, so myth would tell us, was a Robin Hood figure and American icon, but Jesse James was a vicious killer and this film doesn’t shy away from that, the source being a fictional version of the story by Ron Hansen.
There aren’t many gunfights as such and those that do happen flash up are brutal and over with quickly, as one suspects they probably were at the time. The parallel with Pitt’s own celebrity is interesting, this is a film as much about fame and idolisation and in the end Robert Ford thought he was doing society a favour by shooting James in the back.
Andrew Dominik is the Australian director of Chopper and in what is only his second film, rivals John Hillcoat’s The Proposition in handling the Wild West with great skill, giving the story time to breathe. Pitt stalks around brooding dark violence and menace while Affleck’s Ford is baby faced, naïve and eager to please. It is evident on this example at least that Affleck is destined to outshine brother Ben in front of the camera.
Take a cushion, you’re in for a fair stretch, but it is worth every ass-numbing minute. Gorgeous to witness, with some modern day resonance, an interesting story and subtle yet lightening performances. Paul Anderson
Wes Anderson makes a welcome return to intimately quirkily comedy after the outrageously quirky comedy The Life Aquatic. Or, Wes Anderson makes another one of those quirky comedy things. It largely depends on your point of view.
The Darjeeling Limited tells the tale of three brothers and their pilgrimage across India in search of their mother who abandoned them years prior. Former Anderson collaborators Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson join Adrien Brody as the three brothers exploring India aboard the titular train, along the way learning more about each other than they’d ever learnt before.
Like many of Anderson’s characters, not one of the brothers has much in the way of redeeming qualities, and like many of Anderson’s locations, India is presented as a country of bright colours and strange inhabitants. Indeed, it’s safe to say that if you’re a Wes Anderson fan you can’t go wrong with this film; it’s pretty-much more of the same. For anyone not so enamoured of Anderson, that’ll be a big problem as this certainly won’t be the film to change that.
In the mid to late nineties, Anderson championed the quirky American indie, but as box-office receipts and film-school grads have multiplied, so the quirky American indie is fast enveloping the entire American indie landscape, and whether Anderson’s particular brand of quirk has any originality left at this point is a big topic for debate.
Schwartzman, Wilson and Brody do fine jobs in their roles, and the film’s opener – a fifteen minute segment entitled Hotel Chevalier and co-starring Natalie Portman – makes the project worth checking out on its own. For cineastes, it’s a well-realised portrait of love and lust while Portman fans can admire the lack of clothing on display.
But Hotel Chevalier is available for free on iTunes in the US, and at this point it’s worth wondering if more of the same from Anderson in the film proper really justifies the cost of admission. Joe Utichi
Julian Schnabel is an artist in the truest sense; he makes art. He attracts like-minded individuals; Johnny Depp is not so much an admirer more a kindred spirit. Transforming a heart-breaking story into an entertaining film needed an artist’s hand and eye and luckily this film got it.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly takes its name from the deeply moving book from Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of Elle magazine in France, who, at the age of 43, suffered a huge stroke that should have killed him but instead left him paralysed save for the ability to blink one eye. His brain was fine, he could understand, but he couldn’t speak. His condition was diagnosed as ‘locked in syndrome’.
The film begins as Bauby’s eyes open after a two-week coma, and for the opening segment the camera becomes his only working eye. Eventually we get to see the twisted, dribbling mouth of the wheelchair bound victim and Schnabel cleverly takes us on a comparison journey, in home movie style, with the ruggedly good looking Parisian Bauby living and loving life.
Beautiful women surround him; Celine, the mother of his three children, (Emmanuelle Seigner), to whom he is still cruel, is a saint. His speech therapist Henriette (Marie-Josee Croze) and the woman charged with dictating the book, Claude (Anne Consigny), are now beyond his once effortless seductive powers.
The narrative unfolds as an internal monologue from Matthew Amalric‘s Bauby, complete with snide remarks at the surgeon and a preoccupation with his nurse’s cleavage. His only releases are his flights of fancy; his imagination is not locked in and consequently he dines where he likes, seduces women, and travels wherever he wants, all the time cursing for being too selfish and unkind to his children.
Henriette and Claude could lend Job some patience, as the alphabet communication system is spelt out over and over until the correct letter, then word is reached. The most moving scenes are with Bauby’s father Papinou (Max Von Sydow) shown both in flashback and in an agonising post-stroke phone call, where a housebound elderly father likens his son’s situation to his own.
The book is a deeply moving, affecting and very funny masterpiece and Schnabel has replicated Bauby’s imagined world superbly to visually stunning effect. Flawless performances deserve a wide audience and make The Diving Bell and the Butterfly one of the Festival highlights. PA
A companion-piece to the excellent A History of Violence, David Cronenberg has enlisted the help of Viggo Mortensen again and directed a script from Steve Knight who brought us the story of the London people you see but ignore, Dirty Pretty Things. And he nearly gets away with it.
Mortensen is a Russian driver for an Eastern European gangland family and is tattooed to the max. A teenage girl dies while giving birth and Naomi Watts, a midwife, is so shaken by this she decides to find out more about her. This leads to a discovery of a diary, which in turn leads her to Mortensen. And do you know what? She really shouldn’t go there.
Vincent Cassel plays Mortensen’s tighter-than-tight buddy and in usual Cassel style can make you feel the need to change your underwear with just one look. This is an extremely violent film and although not a horror picture in Cronenberg’s usual sense, some scenes are certainly horrific.
Mortensen is brilliant (Aragorn… who knew?), and Watts her usual high standard, while Cassel is just nuts.
Unlike Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises doesn’t capture the underbelly of the unseen so well. The homoeroticism is overplayed (why does Mortensen need to be naked to get a tattoo on the shoulder?) and there is no tangible sense of being an outsider looking into a closed world through the crack in the door, which would have made a half-decent thriller into a tense and buttock-clenching one.
Is this the end of horror for Cronenberg? Unlikely, but Eastern Promises is a disappointing follow-up to A History of Violence. Come on Dave, bring on the gore. PA
Disney’s first attempt at hand-drawn animation in years, Enchanted, is perhaps one of this year’s family film highlights.
The tale of a tried and true Disney Princess, Gisele (Amy Adams), who finds her Prince Charming (James Marsden) before being sent to a faraway land by an evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon), is primarily live-action, book-ended by 20 minutes of hand-drawn Disney.
The faraway land in question is New York City, and so we open with an animated Gisele singing, dancing, and generally sickeningly happy as she engages a gaggle of woodland animals in some spring-cleaning. When she’s later sent down a well and into New York City we see her struggling with her surroundings and generally having trouble living a Disney life in a cold, harsh real world.
Fortunately, the film’s ultimate message, that real life isn’t a Disney cartoon, is unlikely to play to its young target audience, but it’s the biggest gag for parents and allows the whole family to enjoy the comedy and adventure without resorting to cheap and cheerful Dreamworks-esque innuendo.
Marsden is every inch the Prince Charming and Adams, while clearly not as beautiful as most outrageously sexy Disney princesses, moves with so many obvious Disney flairs that it’s a wonder they didn’t animate the whole thing and have her mime the animations.
The joke wears thin towards the end, and the film threatens to undermine years of classic animation from Disney of old, but when it works it really works, and it’s a joy to behold. It’s also worth a trip just for some hand-drawn animation, though on that score a CGI squirrel during the New York sequences rather ironically ends up stealing the show. JU
A wealthy couple take peachy son and cuddly dog to summer home for a well-earned break. While dad and son sort out the sailing boat, that nice polite boy staying with friends’ next door pops round for some eggs. D’oh, he smashes them, asks for more and smashes those too. Hang on why is he wearing gloves?
So begins a descent into torture, bondage, humiliation, violence, blood and audience culpability. Yes, as an audience member one feels complicit and voyeuristic, as the so-called games are unveiled. Haneke wants to evoke this feeling; he wants the troubled youth and aggressive society in which they inhabit to be all your fault.
Funny Games is a deeply unlikeable film, but there is no criticism implicit in that, it is meant to be unlikeable. No one cries better on screen than Naomi Watts and as ever she is willing to visit the land of raw for her art and as usual does it brilliantly. Tim Roth as the husband is a bit-part once he gets clobbered with a golf club and it is Michael Pitt who steals the show as the creepily polite psychopath accomplice to Brady Corbet‘s egg-smasher. It was ever thus with cinema psychos that the more ‘normal’ they seem the more sinister they really are.
The nods and winks to the camera are a touch irritating as is the rewind bit in the middle but if you’ve seen the original you’ll be expecting all that. Funny Games is an uncomfortable, disturbing film perfect for festivals. PA
Lonesome Jim writer James C. Strouse marks his directorial debut with Grace is Gone, a moving portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife in Iraq and his role as a single parent to two young girls.
What’s most remarkable about the film is that it doesn’t attempt to politicise its story at all. As John Cusack‘s Stanley Philipps opens the film, leading his team at an out-of-town shopping complex in a chant about how the customer is always right, we instantly connect with him, and as he learns of his wife’s fate a couple of scenes later we’re already invested in his life. So when his brother, unaware of Grace’s passing, later attempts to chastise Stanley for his position on the war he’s quickly silenced. It’s a film about family conflict, not political conflict, and it’s all the stronger for it.
The film takes a journey with Stanley as he abandons his commitments, pulls his kids out of school and takes them on a road trip with the sole purpose of keeping the news of their mother’s death from them. It becomes an albatross that hangs over Stanley, but it’s just as much an enabler, for on the journey he gets to grips with his role as a parent and his relationship with his kids.
Cusack has never been better, his nack for engaging an audience more essential here than ever due to some of the more dubious decisions Stanley makes along the way, and Strouse directs with much-needed reserve, never allowing the film to get in the way of Stanley’s story. JU
Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes‘ film about a seventies glam rock idol, split filmgoers down the middle. You either get it and it’s a masterpiece or you think there was nothing glamorous about the seventies and all bands look like bricklayers in make up. This time round Haynes is lucky, Bob Dylan already polarises people.
Haynes has taken six moments in Dylan’s life in I’m Not There, married them to what he believes is the musician’s personality at the time, and cast six different actors to play him, including a woman and a black kid.
Littered throughout the piece are references to characters in Dylan songs and well-documented events throughout his life. None of the characters is called Bob Dylan however. Ben Whishaw is Arthur Rimbaud, reflecting the singer’s love for the poet, Heath Ledger plays him as an actor troubled by his success and disappearing from view; Richard Gere, whose sequence is the weakest in the film, is Billy The Kid, a nod to Dylan’s appearance in Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, and Marcus Carl Franklin is supposedly a black 12 year-old Woody Guthrie, a youth out of time. The stand-out performance and the one that takes up most screen time is Cate Blanchett‘s as Jude, a singer at the height of fame struggling with the constant barrage of questions about the meaning of the songs and the singer’s authenticity. To her credit, five minutes in you forget she’s a woman.
Ambitious and inspired, it’s a little long and full of too many Dylan in-jokes and references. It won’t change your mind either way about Dylan but it might encourage other filmmakers to try future biopics in this way. PA
Theory: There’s nothing more exciting than listening to the former astronauts for the Apollo missions tell their tales of visiting the lunar surface. Except perhaps being one of them. Yes, David Sington‘s In the Shadow of the Moon is a little heavy on the America-the-Great, but it’s also one of the best documentaries of the year; a fascinating portrait of men so brave that most regular Joes couldn’t possible comprehend their journey.
And, to its credit, it allows them to get on with it – there’s no narrator – we’re just shown fascinating footage from the moon’s surface, from the launch pad, from the shuttle, and in between these men tell us their story.
For the real space-junkies, there’s doubtless little in here to learn, but for the rest of us the film is full of fascinating factoids and, like the best movies set in space – fictional or not – it’ll leave you feeling smaller than the smallest needle in the biggest haystack. JU
While most outside America will be unfamiliar with the name Christopher McCandless, the story of his abandonment of civilisation in favour of hiking across America on his way to Alaska is one we can probably all relate to. Who hasn’t thought about throwing off the shackles and experiencing nature in all its glory?
Of course most of us are either too scared or too sensible ever to attempt to do that and that’s perhaps why McCandless’ tale is so intoxicating; his journey is one we all wish we had the courage to take.
Sean Penn directs Emile Hirsch in this adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild, about McCandless, and while it runs a little long, at 140 minutes, in takes in some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable and keeps us gripped throughout as we join our young lead on his journey into either enlightenment or insanity.
Penn deifies McCandless a little too readily, encouraging us to make an idol out of him, and while most will happily do just that, it also makes it hard for us to engage with the film. Penn’s embrace of no-frills solitariness is flawed by the trailers, catering and crew we know to be behind single shot.
No, real credit must go to Hirsch, who goes out of his way to inhabit McCandless regardless of the creature comforts available to him off-screen, for it’s with him and him alone we must ultimately spend two hours of our time with. JU
Jason Reitman‘s debut feature, Thank You For Smoking, coming, as it did, in the same year as his father Ivan’s My Super Ex Girlfriend, was a brilliantly biting satire about the tobacco industry and suggested that perhaps dad’s talent had been well and truly passed on.
His second, Juno, continues his trend for witty comedy, casting Ellen Page as a high-school girl whose desire to lose her virginity leads to an unfortunate bout of pregnancy. She meets Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner through an ad in the Penny Saver and agrees to adopt the infant their way. But nine months is a long time, and pregnancy seems sure to bring with it a whole heap of inconvenience.
Page is brilliant as Juno, and a cast of recognisable supporting players back her up with aplomb. It’s definitely full of quirk – it’s an American indie after all – but, like Thank You For Smoking, there’s something real at the film’s heart and we’re encouraged to believe the quirk rather than let it wash over us. JU
The most high profile of the recent glut of war themed releases – due mainly to its stellar cast – Lions For Lambs gets its title from an alleged quote from a World War One German General who said of the British troops, “never before have I seen such lions led by such lambs”. Apocryphal or not the debate over right against might is real enough.
There are three layers to the film. The first is a moral, ethical, hypothetical discourse with Robert Redford as a scarily convincing looking college Professor and Andrew Garfield as the owner of a fine mind behind a surfer exterior; the second is a political and strategic debate with media and PR consequences featuring an electrifying face off between Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise. Thirdly is the actuality of the troops in a war zone.
The performances are flawless with Cruise on his best smarmy bastard form as the ambitious senator and cheerleader for the masters of war trading blows with Streep’s journalist, over a new plan for the war in Afghanistan. Streep pleads mea culpa over the media’s acquiescence during the first Iraq/Afghan surge, but is less compliant this time even in the face of an exclusive story. Redford and Garfield debate whether seriously smart people should ‘do something’ with specific reference to two soldiers, Redford’s ex pupils, from neighbourhoods ignored by Uncle Sam who worked hard for their college grades then enlisted to make a real change.
And yes it is those same soldiers we see in the war zone, injured and low on ammo. Lions for Lambs is a one eyed view on the futility of the war on terror. Redford’s politics are all over it despite his best efforts at balance with Cruise’s hawk view. Nothing happens in the film in terms of action bar a few exchanges from the pinned down troops; it’s all about the dialogue and its evident that this is what Redford wants to achieve. When you leave the cinema and go to the pub he wants you to engage and discuss the politics of a war that few in the US want anymore.
There are many Vietnam references and lots of questions needing answers and decisions to be made as a consequence. What do you want to do? Do you want to end the war on terror? Do you think you should act/protest/enlist/run for the Senate? America’s liberal, artsy intelligentsia is pricking consciences but does anyone or should anyone outside the US care? PA
Ang Lee‘s startling ability to jump between projects as diverse as Hulk, Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain is almost as exciting to behold as every new film from the director is.
Lust, Caution is no exception; it’s a thrilling, breathtaking, dramatic, devastating and enrapturing film about a young girl who goes undercover in World War II-era Shanghai in an attempt to woo and then assassinate a key political figure.
Based on an Eileen Chang story, Tony Leung is Mr. Yee, a seemingly untouchable man whose heart is won by Tang Wei‘s Wang Jiazhi. And while Leung is outstanding, it’s Tang Wei, in her first role, who really steals the show, delivering a nuanced and emotional performance as a girl torn apart by politics and her heart, two elements that rarely see eye-to-eye.
Key sexual moments between Yee and Wang are shot explicitly, though never exploitatively, and it’s interesting to note that the film will be released as an NC-17 in the US. The rating is commercial suicide, but the film simply wouldn’t have the power it has without the sex scenes so it helps that it’s penned by the exec in charge of the studio, long time Lee collaborator James Schamus.
Breaking box-office records in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Lust, Caution deserves to have the same cross-over effect as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and here’s hoping this is the NC-17 film that breaks down the confines of the curious American ratings system. JU
Let’s get the disappointment out of the way first; Machete is the only fake trailer attached to the theatrical standalone print of Planet Terror. It makes sense that it’s Robert Rodriguez‘ trailer that made the cut, but for those of us outside the United States for whom the idea of pirating the camcorder jobs done on Grindhouse doesn’t sit right, it’s a crying shame. We’re missing out on Edgar Wright’s brilliant Don’t, Eli Roth’s inspired Thanksgiving, and Rob Zombie’s brilliantly-titled Werewolf Women of the S.S. You can sit all the way through the credits; you’ll be wasting your time.
Honestly, the idea of experiencing the whole, balls-to-the-wall grindhouse experience was the biggest disappointment facing fans outside North America, but the Weinsteins’ needs must, and their decision to split the flicks could have been forgiven had the full experience, at the very least, survived two ticket prices. We got some extra time with Death Proof, but the Planet Terror that’s hitting cinemas is the same cut premièred as part of Grindhouse, providing ample opportunity to queue up all the fake trailers within it. As it is most theatregoers outside of the US will, in fact, be missing that full experience at the very least until the DVD arrival of Planet Terror. So why bother?
Well, for starters, perspective is important. As much as the brothers Weinstein plan to reap the rewards that come from double-dipping the Grindhouse experience internationally, we are still getting two films from a pair of the most creative film-makers on the planet. Death Proof is unadulterated Tarantino, and Planet Terror is the funniest zombie movie since Shaun and the goriest since 28 Days.
The films exist in something of a shared universe. For those who’ve seen Death Proof first, nods to Jungle Julia’s fate and an expansion of that somewhat cryptic Dr. Block/Earl McGraw scene will bond the two films even if they’re covered by separate admissions, and the fake film grime and dodgy projection effects cross both features.
Multi-hyphenate Rodriguez creates a stunning world in which he unleashes his zombie plague, draws delicious characters straight out of seventies B-movies, and lets his actors run wild with them. Freddy Rodriguez Rose McGowan shine, but with the remaining cast performing so brilliantly around them it’s the ensemble that sells it. JU
It’s a tricky thing, the what-to-do-with-the-old-folks-when-they-start-to-lose-it movie. Filmmakers are always battling with the question of balance between dark humour and pathos, not forgetting to allow just enough dignity to prick everybody’s conscience about dealing with the elderly. One of the better more recent attempts was Away From Her based on the short story by Alice Munro with Julie Christie as an Alzheimer’s victim. The Savages nails the balance beautifully.
Directing her own script, Tamara Jenkins has landed two of cinema’s best in the lead roles. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are John and Wendy Savage, siblings suddenly thrown together after years of non-communication, to take care of their father who is rapidly descending into dementia. John is writing a book on Brecht, he is also about to end a long-term relationship and Wendy is a penniless playwright in an unfulfilling relationship with a married man.
So they’re pretty uptight people, right? What plays out is a beautifully told story of responsibility, guilt, communication and selfishness with a heavy dose of realism. Philip Bosco is dad Lenny, a heady mix of deaf, cantankerous and incontinent, who beat his kids when mum left and wasn’t as bothered about caring for them as they are about him now.
Hoffman plays the pragmatist, managing the situation with the adroitness of a nursing home administrator. Linney’s Wendy is more emotional and tries to get dad into a beautifully landscaped home but sadly dad fails the test, so she buys a lava lamp for his room. What is prevalent throughout is the brilliant comedic touch in Jenkins’s script, which allows some hilarious bickering between Hoffman and Linney, especially when he puts his neck out playing tennis.
To its credit The Savages doesn’t bash you over the head with its message about being good to the old folks. Some people get ill and old, Lenny cuts a pathetic and pitiful character, but we all die and luckily the script is funny and nuanced enough, while being executed brilliantly by the leads, not to make it maudlin. PA
Michael Moore is back with a new documentary about the healthcare system in America and its ill-treatment of patients who are paying through the nose for medical cover.
Sicko presents a compelling case against HMOs, but as with most of Moore’s work it is more than obvious that while the facts are indisputable there are plenty more he’s chosen to ignore. For this British critic, his portrayal of the socialised system of our NHS made that abundantly clear. Yes, as Moore shows us, we don’t pay for our hospital visits, and the cashier in hospitals gives us money for transport home after an operation, and our doctors are, indeed, incentivised to offer the best care to their patients.
But Moore neglects to ask how long we need to wait for a hospital bed in many cases. Or if people ever get sick because the hospitals they’re staying in aren’t clean enough. This is where our NHS fails, but because it doesn’t support Moore’s case it’s simply not mentioned.
That the treatment of patients in America is shockingly inhuman in many cases is obvious, and Moore uncovers a huge number and variety of horror stories about it. Like much of his work, though, while the film will inspire plenty of discussion through its accessibility, the discussion about Moore himself will outweigh that of the subject he examines. JU
You can tell that Son of Rambow came from a pair of creative types. There’s something about the notion of a couple of friends getting together after school with a video camera and a vague memory of cool things they’d seen in movies and putting together their own tribute that just screams creativity and one wonders how much of the film came from Nick Goldsmith and Garth Jennings‘ own experiences as kids.
When his parents strict religious beliefs force him out of a Geography lesson and into the hallway, Will meets troublemaker Carter and strikes up an unlikely friendship. Carter teaches Will a little of his streetwise attitude and, when he’s shown First Blood, Will convinces himself he’s Rambo’s son and shows Carter a sketchbook full of colourful illustrations which tell a slightly odd but rather wonderful story.
The pair set out to make a sequel in which Will, as the Son of Rambow, attempts to rescue his dad and save the world. Along the way they pick up some collaborators, but when tensions fray on set their friendship, Carter’s relationship with his brother, and Will’s relationship with the church are all called into question.
Best known for producing and directing Hitchhiker’s Guide as well as any number of the nineties greatest music videos as Hammer and Tongs, Goldsmith and Jennings bring their creative flair to an independent level with this heart-warming coming-of-age story that’s been gathering momentum since its debut at this year’s Sundance.
But what’s most important is that Son of Rambow is so much more than its basic premise. Those of us who grew up with grand designs to make the next Indiana Jones will identify with Will and Carter, but all can identify with the film’s grander themes. Lead brilliantly by its two confident young leads, Son of Rambow may well be the best British movie of the year. JU
The last few years haven’t been kind to the Brothers Coen. Indeed, you have to go back to 2001 – past The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty – to get back onto comfortable ground when it comes to their work, and considering these are the guys who brought the world Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski, that’s a crying shame. Fortunately with this year’s offering, which played as the surprise movie at the LFF, the Coens have gone back to those roots and have delivered a film worthy of the standards they’ve previously set. No Country for Old Men is classic Coen, both sumptuously involving and wickedly funny.
Based on the book by Cormac McCarthy, the Coens have brought their unique sensibilities to bear on a tale of a drug deal gone wrong and the $2 million in cash found at the scene by a hunter living a modest life in Texas. His name is Llewellyn Moss and he’s smart enough to know that someone will be coming for the loot. But it soon becomes obvious you can’t prepare for Chigurh, an assassin with a flair for creative execution and an enthusiasm for high body counts.
On the trail, too, is an aging Sheriff called Bell who’s convinced the world has changed on him a little too much as he jumps from crime scene to crime scene hoping to track Moss down before Chigurh has a chance.
Full of just the right mix of drama, action and comedy, this is the sort of movie that’ll have you engrossed until its final moments. And if it does get a little bogged down in Texan philosophizing in those final moments, they do nothing to touch what’s come before. JU
It’s easy to forget in this multimedia, mass media, and global communications world just how important radio used to be at times of major unrest or trauma. The 1960s was a turbulent decade of change and 1968 in particular was the most incredible year. Martin Luther King was assassinated, so too Bobby Kennedy and, in Washington DC at least, there was a man who gave hope to those with a sense of hopelessness following those two tragedies. Talk to Me is his story.
Ralph ‘Petey’ Green was an ex con, raised by his maternal Grandmother, who learned to DJ in jail playing records his Grandma sent him. Between songs he would speak the felon’s point of view. A recovering junkie and alcoholic he spoke the same language and had been to the same places. Released early thanks to a deal he cut with the warden, he bullied his way into a job at Washington radio station WOL, whose head of programming, Dewey Hughes, was the brother of a fellow inmate. Don Cheadle plays Green and Chiwetel Ejiofor is Hughes.
The film plays out as a ‘what Petey did next’ to a glorious soundtrack of soul and funk music over two decades. Cheadle plays Petey with such exuberance, even when showing his many flaws, that all thoughts of ‘that accent’ in Ocean’s are banished forever. This guy was bling way before bling existed. Green set up volunteer programmes all over the city and encouraged poor kids from the projects to get educated and avoid the path leading to incarceration. Can you imagine Wogan having the same effect? TV snapped him up and he became a big star and eventually quit drinking.
he performances of the two leads are what save the film from becoming a plodding catalogue of Petey adventures. Ejiofor plays the black man working in the white man’s world brilliantly; the initial exchanges between him and Cheadle when Petey derides him by calling him Mr Tibbs are lightning. Hughes went out on a limb for Green and the two became firm and lifelong friends.
The studio boss is Martin Sheen; comically corporate and at first exasperated by Hughes’s decision to employ Green. But it soon becomes apparent to everyone that Green has a connection to the street and the listeners the station wants to reach, through his own experiences and his articulation of the civil rights issues and the plight of the Afro-American; evidenced by his heartfelt announcement of the shooting of Dr King, equal parts sad and angry. Suddenly the voice of the street was being heard by ‘The Man’.
Green had bucket loads of self-belief which the film overall lacks. Take the lead performances away and Talk to Me doesn’t go anywhere, which is a shame because the story deserves better. PA
Are there any better ‘lived in’ faces than Benicio Del Toro‘s? If he saw you at the bus stop and introduced himself as a recovering heroin addict you’d believe him right? Conversely Halle Berry is too beautiful, that smile, those cheekbones, that skin! Luckily they got cast in the right roles, then.
Berry and David Duchovny are prosperous and sexy and utterly devoted to each other and their two kids. Then he gets shot and killed trying to help a woman being attacked and suddenly lives are shattered and the people involved are ill equipped to pick up the pieces. Del Toro plays Jerry, he and Duchovny’s Brian have been best friends forever. He’s a failed lawyer and junkie going to his addict meetings and working as a janitor. Berry turns to him after the shooting to help her get her life back on track. She asks him to come live in the garage, converted after the fire of the title, so they can lean on each other and patch up their lives. This works up to a point but their relationship is strained as Del Toro gets on with the kids really well, knows some of their secrets (because their dad told him), and fulfils some of the role that Duchovny hadn’t a chance to. Berry’s character Audrey is in denial and not coping with her loss.
It is a gently humorous film with a brilliantly convincing performance from Del Toro, especially during cold turkey after a relapse into the old ways. Berry is tearful and luminous but it seems as if it’s nothing more than just a job, emotionally there is no depth. Yes there is a lot of sad, and a drizzle of schmaltz and a surprising amount of emotional intimacy; Bier handles the pace, relationships and chemistry with the actors with expert ease. The kids are really cute too.
Overall it’s unclear what Things We Lost in the Fire is trying to say. Life goes on? We all suffer loss and face traumatic events and sharing is good? Whatever the message, it would be ignored without Del Toro’s mighty performance. PA