Saturday, 1 July 2006

June film roundup

An even quieter month than last, at least I've made up for a lack of quantity with some better quality.

Wah-Wah **** - This autobiopic (is that a word?) from Richard E. Withnail Grant could have been an indulgent vanity project extolling the brilliance of life in late colonial Swaziland; or it could have turned into morbid self-examination, full of guilt and angst. That Grant steers a successful course between these murky waters is to his credit. The tragic aspects (such as his father's drink problem, violence and divorce) are handled sensitively and are offset by moments of warmth and humour (and sometimes out-and-out comedy). It may poke fun at the British class system, but on the whole this is not a political film, nor especially complex, preferring to tell its story through vignettes rather than epic sweep. The cast are universally wonderful.

My Neighbour Totoro **** - Two young sisters move to a new home and find it and the surrounding forest inhabited by strange creatures that only they can see. Critics have argued that animé master Hayao Miyazaki has made his reputation - and that of Studio Ghibli - by endlessly repeating the same story over and over. So it appears here at first glance, with many Miyazaki trademarks present and correct. If anything, this is more lightweight than some of his other films; there are no profound observations on growing up (Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service) or mankind's impact on the environment (Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind). Instead, we are presented with a simple, uncomplicated but beautiful and tender portrait of childhood. My Neighbour Totoro is a sort of cross between Alice In Wonderland and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. It's not a comedy in the Disney sense of the term: when the viewer laughs, it is not likely to be for humour, but for joy.