A Mighty Heart
Michael Winterbottom's procedural drama based on the kidnapping of journalist Daniel Pearl, starring Angelina Jolie.
Full disclosure: I was suffering a bit this morning, so perhaps it's fair to say that I wasn't really in the mood for this. As a result, I nearly nodded off a few times, to the point where I actually missed the final caption about Angelina's character at the end. Based on the kidnapping and (SPOILER for anyone who doesn't read newspapers) eventual beheading of political journalist Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), the film concentrates on the efforts of the US (represented by sinister character actor Will Patton, which doesn't bode well) and Pakistani authorities to track down those responsible for the kidnapping before it's too late. Angelina Jolie plays Daniel's pregnant wife, Mariane, herself a political journalist, who tries to keep a level head throughout the ordeal. Essentially the film is a procedural drama, shot in a hand-held documentary style - literally all we see of Daniel after his kidnapping is his image in the photos released by the kidnappers. Jolie's performance is superb and she embues Mariane with extraordinary reserves of strength and courage: the speech where she defends what Daniel was doing ("With the greatest respect, sir, that is exactly the business of a journalist") is pure Oscar-clip material. Unfortunately, the film just isn't that exciting, not least because of its horribly unhappy ending. In addition...and unfortunately there's no sensitive way of saying this but...well...you do feel kind of cheated for not getting to see "the video". Basically, I wanted to see Dan Futterman's head come off. There, I said it. Also, the title is never explained (presumably it applies to Mariane) and that kind of thing always annoys me. Three stars.
The Witnesses (Les Temoins)
French drama starring Emmanuelle Beart, about a young male hustler in 1984, whose various romantic liaisons are complicated when he contracts a new mystery virus.
Directed by Andrew Techine, this is an enjoyable, oddly old-fashioned French drama, from its blocky, bright red opening credits to its 1980s setting and subject matter. Emmanuelle Beart (still sporting a little too much of a Trout Pout for my liking) plays a struggling author who's just had her first child and is having difficulties adjusting. (At one point a friend discovers the baby crying downstairs while she wrestles with writer's block with ear-muffs on upstairs). Her husband, Mehdi (Sami Bouajila) is a no-nonsense cop, intent on cleaning up the red-light districts. Meanwhile, Sarah’s friend Adrien (Michel Blanc) falls for cocky young hustler Manu (Johan Liberau), a young man he met while cruising in a park. However, when Adrien takes Manu to Sarah’s beach house for the weekend, Manu falls for Mehdi and the two begin an affair. The first half of the film is extremely strong – the performances are good, the characters are well drawn and the story is interesting. However, once Manu contracts “the virus”, it becomes a little anti-climactic. You think that either Mehdi or Sarah are going to get AIDS as well but for some reason the film cops out of that decision and gives them both the all-clear. There’s also no dramatic revelation with the affair itself, as Sarah doesn’t seem remotely shocked that Mehdi swings both ways. In fact it’s Adrien who feels betrayed and he wasn’t even sleeping with Manu. Still, rather this than disease-of-the-week style Hollywood melodramatics and any film where Emmanuelle Beart repeatedly takes her clothes off can’t be all bad. Three stars.
Argentinian drama about a teenage hermaphrodite who's being pressured to decide whether she wants to live as a woman or a man.
This was easily the best film of the day. It also won the Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes, fact-fans. Ines Efron stars as Alex, a 15-year-old hermaphrodite whose parents (including Ricardo Darin from “Nine Queens”) have dealt with her condition by exiling the family to a remote island. However, now that Alex is approaching adulthood she’s being pressured to decide whether she wants to live as a man or a woman. To that end, her mother invites some friends from Argentina to stay with them, one of whom just happens to be a surgeon who specialises in gender reassignment surgery. They also bring their teenage son Alvaro (Germain Palacios), who doesn’t know anything about Alex’s condition but soon finds out the hard way. So to speak. Impressively directed by Lucia Puenzo, “XXY” is beautifully shot and features a stunning central performance from Efron. Darin is superb too, as is Palacios, who has an amusing line in gormless charm. There are several excellent scenes, including a couple of surprises and a number of real heart-breakers towards the end. There’s also a weird fish imagery thing going on (Darin’s character is actually named “Kraken”) which I didn’t really understand. Also, this must be the day for feeling slightly cheated, but it’s a shame the production didn’t spring for a prosthetic effect (if you see what I mean and I think you do), particularly as it plays such an important part in the film. Four stars.
The Waiting Room
British romantic comedy about two characters whose lives are transformed by a chance meeting.
This enjoyable, low-key British romcom opens with a couple, Anna (Anne-Marie Duff) and George (Rupert Graves) hurrying home with their two kids, sticking the telly on and then rushing upstairs to have sex. All very well, except you then find out that they’re actually having an affair and that George is married to Jemma (the lovely Zoe Telford) and lives next door (one of the kids is his, Anna’s a single parent). Meanwhile, care worker Steven (Ralf Little – or rather Ralf Not-So-Little as his all-too-frequent nude scenes kept insisting) is having doubts about his own long-term relationship and when he briefly meets Anna at Wandsworth Station, neither of them can get the other out of their minds. This is a nicely acted, very sweet little British romcom, even if you’re in no doubt whatsoever as to how it’s going to end. That said, it really must be Day Of The Cop-outs today, because even this film denies you the Affair Revelation scene. It’s also slightly inconsistent in that Jemma is repeatedly horrible to George and yet suddenly she’s the one upset about their relationship. It’s also hard to reconcile the happiness of the opening scene, given the enormity of the affair they’re embarking on and especially given Jemma’s subsequent relationship with Anna. Still, it’s very sweet and very watchable and there’s strong support from Frank Finley (as a patient who brings Anna and Stephen together) and from Phyllida Law, who breathes new life into the elderly-dying-patient-with-words-of-wisdom cliché. Nice use of Wandsworth, too. Three stars.
John Waters: This Filthy World
Filmed version of John Waters' solo show, in which "the Pope of Trash" discusses his life, his films and whatever else comes to mind.
Directed by Jeff Garlin (of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame), whose direction basically consists of pointing the camera at John Waters while he’s on stage and occasionally cutting to an uncomfortable-looking college audience. This is basically Waters’ own solo show and he’s frequently hilarious, whether delivering a brilliantly obscene punchline to a routine about Michael Jackson (I would have made that today’s quote but I didn’t write it down), discussing deviant sexual practices (trust me, you don’t want to know what “blossoming” is), talking about his film career (his favourite of his own films is, surprisingly, “Female Trouble”) or ruminating on Hollywood (e.g. wondering why Charlize Theron never thanked Aileen Wuornos in her Oscar acceptance speech). There’s not that much else to say about this, really, other than that the show is thoroughly enjoyable and I laughed out loud several times. Four stars.
John Waters Q & A
Unfortunately, the promised 45 minute Q & A was something of a disappointment, owing to a rather rowdy audience (they actually started whistling at one point) and some fairly dull questions, though at least we didn’t get the usual “How do you find funding for your movies?” question. Waters wrapped the Q & A up himself, so I suspect he wasn’t really enjoying it and the tedious pink-haired fuckwit who wouldn’t shut up certainly didn’t help matters. The best part was when he talked about his friendship with and respect for Andy Warhol and speculated on what Warhol would be doing if he were alive today.