Monday, 1 October 2007

Quarterly film roundup - July to September 2007

Tideland ** - At the beginning of the DVD of this self-consciously macabre, fiercely-offbeat film by Terry Gilliam, the directory himself pops up onscreen. He pleads with the audience to see the film for what he is, and he delivers a heartfelt (if excruciating) expression of gratitude to the little girl at the centre of the story. And small wonder that he feels the need to excuse his work and to thank his star (or his character); this child is placed through the sorts of indignities one wouldn't wish on anyone, from looking after her dead and decomposing drug-addict father, to exploiting the sexual urges of a local simpleton. This is a deeply troubling, voyeuristic film and whether or not Gilliam intended it to be a celebration of childhood resilience - of the ability of a young mind to protect itself by wrapping itself in fantasy - doesn't make it any less uncomfortable to watch. Like Pan's Labyrinth, the exotic fantasy cannot begin to atone for the grim reality.

Dirty Pretty Things **** - A British immigrant makes a grim discovery in the bathroom of the hotel where he works illegally and is faced with an impossible dilemma. He cannot go to the authorities, yet he cannot allow such inhuman barbarism to continue. Showing an underbelly of British culture rarely explored on screen means that it is hard to judge the true-life accuracy of the story. But the central performances are extremely compelling, and the lines between good and evil are sufficiently blurred to allow for the outcome to be in some doubt.

Volver *** - A young girl kills her abusive father and is protected from the obvious consequences of the crime by her mother. Life starts to improve, despite being overshadowed by a mysterious - maybe even ghostly - figure from the past. Like many Spanish dramas, or so it seems, this one deals with strong women characters and about the relationship between child and mother. Its benign supernatural element, rather than adding a new dimension to the drama, seems more like a quirk deliberately inserted to give more depth, but this does remain a slickly-executed film.

The Simpsons Movie *** - Every once in a while, a film is so eagerly anticipated that it can only disappoint. The question then is, by how much? What margin for failure does a television show as successful and beloved as The Simpsons have? On the plus side, there are plenty of strong laughs to be had. But it's not a particularly memorable experience, particularly when the TV series does have so many memorable gags, albeit ones that have been repeated ad infinitum. One is left desperately hoping that the forthcoming Futurama television movies will offer something more substantial.

Die Another Day ** - Even by the standards of most Bond movies, this is wildly-implausible - sometimes even completely baffling - entry in the girls 'n' gadgets genre. Nothing, from the opening credits onwards, gels properly or makes much sense. And, seen with the hindsight of the excellent Casino Royale, it is perhaps a very good thing that this was Brosnan's last outing as the suave superspy.

Lovers Of The Arctic Circle *** - A film about coincidences, about tiny choices having profound effects, and of life's occasional savagery. It's mostly a handsome production, but the deliberately obfuscated conclusion greatly lessens its dramatic impact.

Paris, Je T'Aime *** - Eighteen leading filmmakers from around the world shoot a short film each, each on the topic of love, here strung together into a single two-hour anthology that seems to go on much longer. The best of the stories are humorous, memorable, and moving. Some are just surprising. The problem is not even that some of the stories aren't very good: it's more that there are just too many. Pick and choose eight or ten and you might have a superb film. Hopefully the DVD will allow just this; maybe it will even have a jukebox function. But over the course of eighteen segments, the ensemble's flaws are obvious. For a start, it's too uneven. And even the rules laid down by the producer haven't been followed consistently. While most directors have chosen the topic to mean romantic love specifically, this is not always the case. However, as a quick introduction to directorial style, it works surprisingly well: Tom Tykwer's segment is like having the essence of Run Lola Run distilled into five minutes, for example, and the Coen Brothers, Sylvain Chomet and Gurinder Chadha likewise. But at no point does it convey the supposed magic of Paris; with only five minutes or so each to tell a story, none of the directors felt like allowing their romantic backdrop more than a mere glance of screen time.

Road To Perdition *** - A frustrating, but meticulously made and beautifully shot, gangster film, whose biggest crime is to depend overly on cliché. As a result, key plot points will be obvious to most viewers well in advance. Its roots as a graphic novel are occasionally exposed, with an uneven story and line sketches where characters should be. For all its pulchritude, Road To Perdition lacks the depth it aspires to. There are many better examples of bad-man-as-good-guy films out there.