Films seen today: 7
Films seen so far: 20
Films seen so far this year: 211
German drama about a gang of four young women on a run-down housing estate.
I had one of those weird experiences with this, where you arrive after the film’s started but then it suddenly turns out you’re watching a short film (in this case Live Boys by the same director as Princess). Anyway, I’d heard good things about this, and it was enjoyable enough but nothing special. The somewhat ironic title (explained, rather brilliantly in the final shot) refers to a gang of four young women who live in a run-down housing estate in a West German suburb. In the opening scene, Yvonne (the hardest-looking one, played by Henriette Muller) casually punches a female commuter in the face for no explained reason, causing one of her friends to remark “I’m really going to miss you, Yvonne.” Sure enough, it turns out Yvonne’s going to jail, so the gang try and decide how to spend her last day of freedom. However, Yvonne’s not actually planning on going to jail at all and hatches an alternate plan. Meanwhile, Katharina (Irina Potapenko) conducts a half-hearted relationship with a train-spotting boyfriend, while sexually aggressive Jenny and precocious Mandy are just happy to tag along and don’t really get plots of their own. There are some good scenes, particularly a rather startling slapping scene towards the end (perhaps more shocking because it’s been established that the, er, slapper works as a nurse) and a neat scene without dialogue in which Katharina helps her neighbour throw some plastic Christmas trees down the garbage chute. Director Birgit Grosskopf (seriously? Her surname is “Bighead”?) also achieves a neat effect by having firecrackers constantly going off throughout the film, a bit like the scene with Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights only not as horrible. Three stars.
The Right of the Weakest
Belgian drama by Lucas Belvaux, about a group of laid-off steelworkers planning a heist.
I was really looking forward to this, because writer-director Lucas Belvaux’s Trilogy was one of the most exciting film experiences of the year back in 2003. Set in the French industrial town of Liege, The Right of the Weakest (or La Raison du Plus Faible, original-title fans) stars Belvaux as Marc Pirmez, an ex-con determined to go straight. Visiting his local pub, he soon falls in with a group of steelworkers who’ve recently been made redundant and it isn’t long before a plan is hatched to rob the steel factory safe. It’s extremely well acted and you really care about the characters, particularly Belvaux, who has a fascinating face. There are some superb scenes too, such as when Mark forces Robert to imagine a robbery going wrong, or when “Bob” tries on disguises and plays with the guns like a little kid. The tension builds brilliantly throughout and by the end you’re almost begging them not to go through with it. The programme’s description of the film as “Ken Loach meets Jean-Pierre Melville” is so good that it’s worth repeating here. An astonishing final shot, too. Four stars.
London to Brighton
British drama about a prostitute and a young runaway who flee to Brighton in order to escape some dangerous criminals.
This is the first feature by British writer-director Paul Andrew Williams, who looks set to be a talent to watch in years to come. It stars Lorraine Stanley as Kelly, a prostitute who has taken 11-year-old runaway Joanne (Georgia Groome) under her wing. The film opens with a distressed and beaten-up Kelly forcing Joanne to hide in a toilet cubicle while she quickly makes enough money for them to get away. They then flee to Brighton and it quickly becomes clear that some dangerous criminals are after them, including Kelly’s pimp, Derek and a mob boss’ son. The cleverly structured script layers in intermittent flashbacks, in which we discover how Joanne and Kelly met and what exactly happened to make them go on the run. This is a cut above the usual British gangster rubbish, with strong dialogue and two lead characters you really care about. The performances are excellent, particularly Stanley. There’s also strong support from Johnny Harris and Nathan Constance as the two main crims, both of whom are terrifying but in subtly different ways – Harris, in particular, does well to make his character even remotely sympathetic. There are some terrific scene here, particularly the nail-bitingly tense finale. Heart-breaking final shot. Four stars.
South Korean horror movie about a pair of red (actually pink) shoes that chop people’s feet off.
I might as well put my cards on the table here – Asian horror movies are probably my least favourite genre. They always seem to end up the same way, with lots of screeching on the soundtrack, jarring musical notes to let you know where the scares are, a fondness for flickering lights and a load of incomprehensible stuff involving ghosts and hair. Sadly, Red Shoes is no exception. Basically it’s about a pair of red (actually pink, but everyone calls them red) shoes that cut your feet off if you nick them off their rightful owners or something. There’s lots of blood and some very nasty imagery but it wears out its welcome way before the end. Worse, an already bonkers storyline is rendered totally nonsensical by some truly atrocious editing, to the point where it’s impossible to tell what’s a dream sequence, what’s flashback, what’s fantasy and what’s reality. (If you can work out how the little girl ends up in hospital then you were paying way more attention than I was). It doesn’t help that the character of the daughter is really, really annoying. However, it does have an intriguing central relationship between the lead character and her, er, interior designer. The programme notes describe this as a homage to Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes but I’m not convinced, because why make the shoes pink if that’s the case? I bet they’re calling the shoes pink in Korean. Two stars.
British romcom starring Stephen Mangan as a feckless 30-something who can’t decide between two women.
Watchable but ultimately disappointing British romcom which will be very lucky indeed if it wangles a proper release. Stephen Mangan (“You may remember me from Green Wing and that coffee ad where I walk across the washing line”) plays David, a feckless 30-something cheating on Lisa, his girlfriend of three years (played by Susan Lynch), with flighty Nina (Lara Belmont, from The War Zone). However, as soon as he plucks up the courage to leave Lisa, Nina dumps him, leaving him bouncing around his friends (including married Shaun Dingwall and terminally single Christopher Coghill), wondering where it all went wrong. And that’s actually pretty much it. Ultimately this doesn’t work because we don’t care enough about David’s happiness (he is, after all, an unutterable bastard) and it’s not funny or romantic enough to work as a romcom. That said, the script is well-observed in places and there are several good lines and moments. Two stars. Must Try Harder.
One Fine Day
Belgian comedy starring Benoit Poolevorde as Francois, one of life’s losers who wakes up one day to discover that he can do no wrong.
Not to be confused with the underrated George Clooney / Michelle Pfeiffer romcom, this was, frankly, brilliant, despite the fact that I had to go through four DVD players in the VideoTec before I could see it properly. Benoit Poolevorde (from Man Bites Dog) plays Francois, one of life’s perennial losers. Francois has become accustomed to his daily routine of constant misery, from problems with his ex-wife, to being ignored at work right down to an exploding coffee machine and noisy neighbours. However, one day he wakes up and everything is perfect: his coffee machine works, the neighbours are quiet, he gets promoted at work and the pretty girl he has a crush on sits next to him at lunch. The next day is the same and things just keep getting better and better for Francois. Surely it can’t last? There’s a definite hint of “Le jour de Groundhog” here and the clever script explores some intriguing ideas about happiness and what happens when you get everything you ever wanted. Poolevorde is terrific as Francois and the film is frequently hilarious and full of inventive touches, even if the surreal musical number seems a touch out of place (delightful as it is). Four stars.
In Between Days
Canadian drama starring Jiseon Kim as Aimie, a Korean teenager with a crush on her best friend Tran (Taegu Andy Kang).
I’d heard great things about this, but it was something of a disappointment, though how much of that was down to the appalling sound in Cineworld Screen Five is a matter of debate. Set in Toronto, this is yet another ‘young girl coming-of-age’ movie, this time starring Jiseon Kim as Aimie, a Korean teenager who has recently relocated to Toronto with her mother. Her best friend is Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), a Korean boy her own age, on whom she has a massive crush. However, Tran’s attentions are beginning to be drawn elsewhere. The film makes a virtue of its ultra-low budget DV origins and has some acute observations on the heartbreaks of adolescence but it doesn’t really work because Aimie is such a passive character. There are some nice scenes though and their friendship is genuinely moving, particularly when Aimie lets Tran sleep in her wardrobe. Two stars.
Conversations With Taxi Drivers (I)
As I blearily grabbed a cab to my 9am screening this morning (don’t start – I’ve got a massive blister, alright?), I got suckered into the following conversation with my taxi driver:
Taxi Driver (let’s call him Dave): “9 o’clock’s a bit early for a film. What’s that all about?”
Me: “I’m a film critic – it’s a press screening for the Film Festival. It’s supposed to be good.”
Dave: “A film critic, eh? What’s your favourite film of the last decade?”
Me (thrown, sleepy): “Er…let me think…probably L.A. Confidential .
Dave: Oh, aye. I haven’t seen that. Or maybe I have. Anyway, have you ever seen The Thin Red Line?”
Me: “Ha ha! Yeah.”
Dave: “Why do you laugh?”
Me: “Me and my friends argue about it all the time. They all say it’s a masterpiece but I’m not convinced.”
Dave: “You know the first scene? What did you make of that?”
Me: “Er…well, let’s see, that was well over a thousand films ago for me. Remind me?”
Dave: “It’s all about the Bible, see? There’s a snake and [Dave then proceeds to detail all the Biblical references in the film. Luckily we arrived at the screening just as we were getting to Noah’s Ark].
Both In Between Days and Deep have supposedly “cool” English-speaking characters called “Steve” that the leads almost have sex with.