Monday, 31 October 2005

October film roundup

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie *** - Fun, cool and sassy animé that seems to be drawn most obviously from Batman and, more specifically, The Joker. The only bum note is the computer whiz Ed who manages to be annoying in every single scene.

Office Space *** - A bit like Falling Down, only with fewer bazookas. Wish-fulfilment comedy that doesn't quite strike the right chord. (Is an intelligent, articulate computer programmer really going to feel more valued doing manual work salvaging fire-damaged goods?)

The Dukes Of Hazzard ** - Fun while it lasts, but instantly forgettable. Hopefully (but not obviously) the role of Daisy Duke - who exists solely to elicit vital information from male characters by wearing tiny denim shorts and / or exposing a lot of midriff - is a recurring joke rather than appalling cliché.

Swimming Pool *** - Enigmatic and mysterious, but beautifully shot, this is either patent stereotyping or brilliant subversion.

Somersault ** - Slow-burning drama about a teenage girl finding herself through running away and experiencing casual and not-so-casual sex. Well-acted but overall rings false.

Tokyo Godfathers *** - One of the least "animated" animations I've ever seen, this is an unusual way of celebrating the spirit of Christmas (complete with its own Holy Trinity and miracle baby) with doses of high humour and gritty realism.

Wallace And Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit **** - Sounds a bit daft to say this about a film whose central character is a plasticene dog who knits recreationally, but somehow this film doesn't seem quite as "real" as W&G's earlier adventures. The animation, acting and script are all first-class.

The Castle Of Cagliostro *** - Hayao Miyazaki's first film is as beautiful as one might hope, allowing for the fact that it was made twenty years before Spirited Away. It also includes many of what would come to be regarded as the director's hallmarks: Young girl on the cusp of adulthood; flying machines; a European location.

Hotel Rwanda **** - Harrowing and shocking (and true) account of the atrocities in Rwanda that shows that the appalling treatment of one human being by another is not a feature limited to historical cases, but for some people is still a threat today. Inviting inevitable comparisons with Schindler's List, a more interesting parallel is The Pianist: in that film, one man is helped by dozens of people (who place themselves at massive risk, for no apparent reason) whilst in Hotel Rwanda, one resourceful and brave man uses every avenue open to him to save as many people as possible. Directed by Terry George, the author of The Boxer, which also invites speculation that he is comparing the situation in Rwanda with that in Northern Ireland and asking: If we can let this genocide happen, even under the watchful eye of the UN, what does this say about us as human beings? And are we not close to monsters ourselves?

Friday, 14 October 2005

Minireview - Napoleon Dynamite ***

The title character is a geeky, freaky high school kid who lives with his older brother (and whatever assorted relative can be bothered to look after the pair of them) in some kind of 1980s timewarp, where life is simpler, fashions are naffer, but the Internet still exists. He has one friend at school and, perplexingly, a girl who may or may not be interested in him - but otherwise, he lives in an isolated bubble, in which he even appears to be mostly free of the kind of torment that one might expect of an uber-geek in an average American high school.

Honestly? I have no idea whether or not I liked this movie. In fact, since I started reviewing every film I watched, I have seen and had an opinion (one way or the other) on more than 300 movies. Until Napoleon Dynamite, I have never come out of a film feeling quite so bewildered. I don't know whether I like the character or whether I'm supposed to be rooting for him. I'm unsure whether I buy the story.

Tacked onto the end of the closing credits is a significant coda - shot some time after the rest of the film - which subtly shifts the perspective we have on several key characters. It's a self-consciously odd thing to do at the end of a film that is inherently basking in its own oddness. For this reason alone, it fails to work effectively as either a comedy or a drama.

Minireview - Ghost World ***

Based on a graphic novel - what "cult" films coming out of America these days aren't? - this is a rather slight film about two misfit teenagers leaving school and starting to explore the wider world. While one tends towards a more conventional life - finding a steady job and spending the proceeds shopping for housewares - the other is determined to remain resolutely outside mainstream society. To that end, she strikes up a bizarre relationship with a weirdo older man, a jazz obsessive who she sees as being similarly marginalised by a society so demanding of conformity.

For the most part, despite the bizarre relationships, it's quite a believable film and engrossing in its own way. The performances of Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi, in particular, are compelling. However, a few points niggle. Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch aren't quite weird enough - or weird-looking enough - to seem plausible as social outsiders. Birch's character, Enid, is broadly unpleasant rather than simply counter-culture, making it hard to empathise with her; she treats strangers, her friends and her admirers with the same contempt.

Some cameo appearances and throw-away references to other comic books start to grate after a while - it starts to feel like an incestuous comic-book love-in. (Not surprising, given that the director's previous film was Crumb, about the graphic novel author Robert Crumb - who also cropped up as a character in American Splendor. Evidently, the world of graphic novels is a small and close-knit one.) But the main difficulty with the film is that there is no plot to speak of; rather, a series of occasionally self-destructive vignettes. That may well have been the raison d'etre of the original novel - the celebration of a tiny slice of a tiny life - but it makes for a frustrating motion picture experience.