Saturday, 13 May 2006

Film roundup: the missing reviews, part 1

I try - hard - to review every film as I watch it, not least because it is only really possible to do justice to a film if it's still fresh in my mind. At the time of writing this entry, I have 46 unreviewed films, mostly watched between six and twelve months ago. I have extremely brief notes on these and will try to convey this as fairly as possible. This is the first in a series of minireviews in an attempt to catch up.

Perfect Blue *** - Unusually amongst the animé films I've seen, this is a character-based thriller. If Hitchcock had tried his hand at animation, the result might have looked something like this. A young "manufactured" pop star gives up her place in the most popular girl band around in order to pursue a career as an actress. Soon enough, she finds herself being stalked and people near to her suffering gruesome murders. Increasingly hysterical, it's never really clear whether she is in real danger or whether this is a manifestation of her own internal demons. It's a genuinely taut psychological thriller in which, ironically, the animation is the biggest distraction.

Teaching Mrs Tingle ** - A trio of cardboard-cutout schoolkids accidentally take their overbearing teacher hostage and then, unable to release her, play a series of psychological games on her. The scenario is not remotely plausible and this is best viewed as wish-fulfillment fantasy. Nowhere near the standard of other Miramax films of its time.

Pieces Of April *** - A young woman, misunderstood by her family, plans a Thanksgiving dinner for them, only to befall a series of disasters that threaten to prove what her estranged family thinks they already know: that she's an irresponsible mess. The success or failure of this independent film (shot on HDV) depends on the viewer's ability to imagine two parents who like and trust their daughter so little. The film labours its points a little too hard in places, but ultimately achieves its goal: we do feel sorry for April, and hope that the meal will be a success.

Million Dollar Baby **** - Despite having no interest whatsoever in boxing, I was mesmerised by this brilliant drama about an ageing boxing coach who reluctantly takes on a female student. Clint Eastwood stars and directs, proving once and for all that his extraordinary career is still going from strength to strength. Morgan Freeman is, of course, fantastic. But both are upstaged by Hilary Swank, whose Oscar-winning performance is heartbreaking and utterly compelling.

The Rules Of Attraction ** - On the one hand a fantastic technical tour de force, the only major problem with this film is that it's so incredibly unlikeable. Nasty, horrible, self-absorbed characters do nasty, horrible, selfish things to each other and everybody feels miserable. There are hints that the film is trying to be something more - an ignored lover who commits suicide could be seen as the equivalent of Miss Lonely Hearts in Hitchcock's Rear Window, the one true tragedy in a sea of otherwise rather meaningless lives. But actually, the back story (the central character is supposed to be Patrick American Psycho Bateman's brother) and the director's technical prowess are the only reasons to see this film.

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