Category: 2011

Las Acacias

This was one I missed at LFF this year (it won the Sutherland Award for most original first feature) so was glad of the chance to catch it this week. It’s the debut film from Argentinian director Pablo Giorgelli, the story of a lorry driver traveling from Paraguay to Buenos Aires who gives a lift to a woman and (unwittingly) her four month old daughter as a favour to his boss. That’s about it for storyline, don’t expect Love Actually.

The pair don’t say much  – the first part of the journey is spent in frosty silence as Ruben, the driver, pretty much ignores Jacinta and her child, not offering her so much as a sip of water and leaving her to lug her bags into the lorry by herself. At one point he considers paying for them to go on the bus rather than put up with them any longer. Ruben doesn’t even ask her name until about halfway through the film but it’s a significant moment when he does. Prompted by his inability to remain grumpy in the face of an exceptionally adorable baby, the silences gradually become less uncomfortable and more companionable – when Ruben opens up about his own son, who he hardly knows, you get the feeling this is something he hasn’t talked about for a long time. By the final scene, which is as halting and tender as the rest of the film, you’re in no doubt of what has passed between them.

It’s one of the most honest portrayals of falling in love that you’ll see on screen – the anxiety, insecurity and fear of new relationships are all reflected here and despite the long scenes where nothing happens, you can’t take your eyes off the two of them. Well. three of them – the baby puts in a great performance too. And there’s something about those logs Ruben is hauling that we see mainly in his rearview mirror. They are always watching – silent and stoic witnesses to the life changing events going on up front.

Advertisements

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Interesting one this – I’ve not read any of the books or seen the original movie so came to this one fresh as a daisy, knowing nothing except that Daniel Craig looks good in his undercrackers. The opening credits gave me a fair idea of what to expect – thumping Trent Reznor soundtrack and lots of dark, forbidding images. This ain’t no Sound of Music. And with David Fincher directing, if it was the Sound of Music, Maria would be a serial killer with mother superior’s head in a box.

Most of the film is fairly standard serial killer thriller, quite sleekly done, with some dark and grimly violent touches. Craig is ok as Blomkvist, the investigative journo on the trail of a lost girl – though he’s quite a cold fish, and you never really warm to him. Some of the detail at the beginning about why he was being sued was a bit hard to follow, but if you’re one of the zillions of people who have read the book am sure you know all the background anyway.

Once it gets going it’s reasonably gripping – my companion for the night pointed to a man on the red carpet and said ‘he’s the bad guy’ but it wasn’t terribly hard to work out, which meant there wasn’t an awful lot of suspense. Rooney Mara plays crazy/beautiful/damaged perfectly, and has an almost ethereal presence in parts – and it’s always good to see Christopher Plummer, with or without knee boots.  What did annoy me was the ending – in a serial killer thriller, once the serial killer is revealed, that’s pretty much it surely, your brain says ‘that’s all folks, get yer coat’. But here there is another ten minutes or so of unnecessary story, almost like you are going straight into a sequel. Pointless and a bit annoying.

So overall not bad and watchable enough, but it lacked the Fincher killer punch that it needed to make it great. What is important to note, however, is that there are two scenes where Daniel Craig is in his pants. Thank you.

Margaret

Interesting history to this one – having had a fair sized hit with You Can Count on Me, Kenneth Lonergan followed up in 2005 with Margaret, an epic New York drama about the ever increasing circles emanating from the witness (and part contributor) to a road accident. The original version, reputedly four hours long, became the subject of a pitched battle between Lonergan and Fox Searchlight – which ended up in the courtroom – and after years of wrangling, this is a far shorter version though still not as short as Fox might have liked. What this meant is that it had a very limited release in the states this September and it’s only just appeared this side of the pond. And in one lone cinema at first… until word of mouth and twitter (have a look at #teammargaret) stepped in and got it a few more screenings.

So after all that, and after three years in the edit, it’s fair to expect a bit of a mess. But nope, even with the cuts Lonergan was forced to make this is a completely engaging and quite fascinating film. It wasn’t the most comfortable cinema experience ever, there was a stink of mothballs, there was excessive sweet rustling, endless toilet visits and some Olympic standard hushing from the man next to me… but I have to say none of this distracted me much.

Lisa, a priveliged teen (played by a very young looking Anna Paquin before she started dating vampires) distracts a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) while out shopping for a cowboy hat, causing him to run a red light and squish Monica – poor Alison Janney, in a brilliantly played and slightly gruesome cameo. To protect herself and the unfortunate driver, Lisa lies to police about the red light but as she dwells on the incident later, she starts to worry she’s done the wrong thing and after tracking down the victims friends, is increasingly driven to tell the police the truth.

Swirling around the fall out from the accident, and what make this a fascinating film, are Lisa’s relationships: with her mother (fraught), her father (distant, both physically and emotionally) and her teachers (a couple of great little roles for Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick). She has all the usual teen anxieties, exacerbated by her struggle to come to terms with her role in the accident and its aftermath – and in a city still reeling from 9/11.

It’s a sprawling film, there’s a lot to take in and a lot to think about, but it never gets boring thanks to a strong cast and in particular Paquin’s excellent performance. I’d be interested to see what Lonergan eventually left on the cutting room floor, it’s long at two and a half hours but I could definitely have seen more (and I’m not the world’s biggest fan of long movies). It’s opened up on a few more screens now so well worth trying to catch if you can.

PS I have to confess I did come home and google it to find out who the mysterious Margaret actually was. Not telling you, but I think some of the impact of it might have been lost in the edit.

This is a good piece by the Guardian’s Tony Paley on the drama around the drama

My Week With Marilyn

This is a very nice film, one you could happily sit down with granny and watch on Christmas Day. It’s very nice. Everyone in it is very nice, and it’s a very nice story – innocent young man skinny dips with Marilyn Monroe (no bits on display to offend granny so don’t worry) and saves a movie. It’s the sort of thing that pops up on BBC4 occasionally and fills a dull evening while you’re painting your nails.

Judy Dench is in it, she’s very nice. And Derek Jacobi pops up at one point (honestly, is it just me or does everyone burst out laughing when he appears in a film these days? I have a bit of a Pavolvian reaction to him). Kenneth Branagh’s Olivier is performed with extremely high camp and quite enjoyable for that – if you’ve seen The Prince and the Showgirl this does go some way to explaining the pained expression Sir Larry wears throughout. And Michelle Williams, of course, is much better than quite nice, giving a pitch perfect turn as Monroe – although without the pneumatic bosoms (I think they pad her arse out here and there mind you). She gets the little girl lost thing spot on, makes you think there must be a much grittier film to be made about Marilyn at some point if anyone’s brave enough to really tell her story.

There isn’t much else to say – it’s a quite nice film, quite nicely done. Granny will like it.

Take Shelter

I missed seeing this at the festival and really regretted it, Michael Shannon is fast becoming one of my favourite actors, not least for his darkly sexy performance as government agent van Alden  in Boardwalk Empire (he’s joined here by another Boardwalk stalwart, Shea Whigham). In Take Shelter he plays Curtis, a man suffering from hallucinations and terrible dreams about impending doom – the sort of dreams where you wake up silently screaming and drenched in sweat. Having a mother with paranoid schizophrenia leads him to think his worst fears of heading the same way are being realised and despite seeking out help, he slowly but surely loses control and his idyllic family life descends into chaos.

Curtis struggles between understanding the visions are all in his head and his desperate need to prepare for the worst even at the expense of his job and often, heartbreakingly, the people he loves. Shannon is nothing less than brilliant and surely a cert for an Oscar nomination – this is a fairly long film at two hours, but it never feels too drawn out: he’s magnetic – you can’t take your eyes off him.

Jeff Nichols has directed a powerful and breathtakingly beautiful film that serves as a grim reflection of our times as well as a sensitive portrayal of the impact of mental illness. It’s got a great ending too, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Highly recommended.

Tabloid

Towards the end of Tabloid I properly got the giggles – the story became so ridiculously bonkers that I just lost it. This is the story of the Beauty Queen and the Manacled Mormon – a tale of obsessive love, kidnapping, rape, pornography and cloning, which filled pages and pages of the tabloid press in Britain during the latter part of the 70s. The beauty queen in question, Joyce McKinney, has her knives out for director Errol Morris, claiming he misrepresented the film to her to get her to take part – she’s suing him and has been turning up at us screenings to heckle. Brilliant. McKinney is obviously not impressed with her portrayal as the sex in chains hooker and the reappearance of the journalists who exposed her for this at the time, when she was presenting herself as a lovelorn rescuer of poor Mormon boys, cutting them free of their protective undercrackers for their own good. She had converted to Mormonism to find herself a nice husband, and she wasn’t about to let him escape.

Morris tells the story with a healthy nod to the farcical side of what went on, from taking a troupe of bodyguards to the UK to kidnap Kirk Anderson (the manacled Mormon in question), to the tabloid frenzy after her arrest and her release on bail which she spent upstaging Joan Collins and kissing rock stars. Then there’s the cloning, which I won’t spoil here, but which is the point at which I totally lost it. McKinney gives good testimony, she’s had a long time to perfect it – maybe she genuinely believes it herself, and certainly the truth isn’t as cut and dried as the papers reported. But boy, did it sell papers.

Fascinating, brilliantly told and not one to eat a bag of crisps during (please note this if you were the man sat behind me in Curzon Soho) – this is a skilled look at the nature of celebrity culture and the impact of obsessive love and a timely insight into an industry that has almost eaten itself.

There’s a great piece on this story in the Guardian.

Jack Goes Boating

Philip Seymour Hoffman is usually a fairly good bet in a film, he chooses interesting roles which he plays brilliantly – and he’s directed very capably for stage too. A man without a shred of vanity, he’s one of my favourites so I was looking forward to this, but have to say I found it a bit of a wearying experience.

This is Hoffman’s first film as director and in the main, it is pretty much as you would expect – he gets strong performances from the cast, a lot of whom played their parts on stage, and it feels very much like a quality indie. This was of course a sucessful off Broadway play, and that’s where I think the problems stem from – it doesn’t have an awful lot going on and some of the scenes, like Jack learning to swim, go on a bit too long to stay interesting.

It’s not terrible, Hoffman shows some flair as a film director and the burgeoning romance is touchingly told – but for me it still felt a bit stagey and lacked the narrative bite to make it really watchable. On the plus side, as a first go, this is not bad at all, and it will be interesting to see what comes next.