Friday, 1 December 2006

November film roundup

Passport To Pimlico *** - First of this month's triple-bill of classic Ealing comedies, this is a high-concept movie in which the London suburb of Pimlico declares itself to be an independent state. The situations start off funny (such as stopping Tube trains on the Victoria line for customs checks) but even across the slim running time the jokes start to wear thin.

Kind Hearts And Coronets **** - A wonderful and very funny piece of classic British cinema whose biggest achievement is encouraging complicity between the audience and the (at best, amoral) protagonist who seeks to murder his way to the inheritance he believes is rightfully his. Alec Guinness, as several members of the same dynasty, is exceptionally good. Thoroughly deserves its place on IMDb's Top 250.

The Ladykillers ** - This other well-known Ealing comedy starts promisingly, with a gang of thieves masquerading as unlikely concert musicians taking up residence in a boarding house with the intention of using their unwitting landlady in a daring million-pound heist. However, as the film descends into pure farce, the humour has dated less well and eventually becomes both tiresome and uncomfortable.

Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan *** - There is little left to be said about this film which has been thoroughly examined, re-examined, praised and criticised. Yes, the film is in places extremely funny, but also makes for uncomfortable analysis. Is it highly offensive or good satire? Is it ever right to manipulate people into condemning themselves without giving them the right to explain themselves? This is an entry into a growing trend in television comedy in particular, in which ordinary citizens are humiliated in the name of entertainment. The two best things that can be said for Borat are that its performer is utterly fearless and that it is a masterpiece of editing. The worst thing that can be said is that it is highly dangerous.

Brick ** - This is explicitly a film noir, transplanted into a modern Californian high school, complete with analogues for all the standard cast of characters of a noir, from grizzled policeman to femme fatale. Some of the cast provide fantastic performances, but the film overall fails to compel, because of the sheer effort that it demands from its viewer: the dialogue is swift and idiomatic (and there is no subtitle track on the DVD) which means that the plot is often baffling rather than exciting. This is a real shame, because in mood it does successfully recall not only classic noir but also contemporary works such as David Lynch's Mulholland Dr., with its cool, mysterious atmospherics and lingering cinematography; but without the ability to draw the viewer into its highly artificial world, it cannot maintain its sense of intrigue.

Tsotsi *** - More or less a South African answer to City Of God, Tsotsi follows a thug from the Soweto township near Johannesburg as he steals a car from a rich neighbourhood, only to discover that he has accidentally kidnapped a baby as well. As the film meanders towards his possible redemption, it takes some time to ponder both what has changed since the days of apartheid when the novel was written (the baby belonged to rich black parents) and what has not (the crippling poverty and squalor for millions of people). Unfortunately the impact of the film is lessened by a weak ending and by missing some opportunities to be as profoundly moving as it could potentially have been.