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Film Reviews December 2009/ A-O

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SIGNIS REVIEWS DECEMBER 2009




2012
AMELIA
BOX, The
BOYS ARE BACK, The
BUNNY AND THE BULL
CRACKS
DESCENT : PART 2, The
EXAMINED LIFE
FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, The
FOURTH KIND, The
GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, The
GLORIOUS 39
HARRY BROWN
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN
MACHAN
ME AND ORSON WELLES
MERRY GENTLEMEN, The
MR RIGHT
NATIVITY
NEW MOON: THE TWILIGHT SAGA
ONLY WHEN I DANCE


2012

(US, 2009, d. Roland Emmerich)

The end is near!

And, according to 2012, it is much nearer than we thought: 21/12/12. Apparently the Mayans knew this a long time ago but historians and scientists did not. What is going to happen – and will 2012 make enough at the box-office before there is no more box-office!

Roland Emmerich loves disaster films. He has already destroyed Washington DC (in Independence Day), New York (in Godzilla) and the whole of North America (in The Day After Tomorrow). Now it is Los Angeles, overwhelmingly spectacularly, and glimpses of the collapse of Rio de Janeiro, the Vatican and Washington again.

In fact, 2012 is a welcome throwback to those disaster movie highlights of the 1970s and has Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, Earthquake all rolled into one plus ingredients from the 90s Deep Impact and Titanic. If it is spectacle and effects on an apocalyptic scale you want, then 2012 is your movie.

The staging of the quakes, eruptions, chases, crashes, shifting tectonic plates and giant tsunamis keeps us watching, mesmerised. It is the central human plot that is gripping at an immediate 'what is going to happen next to these nice people?' level but it quickly pushes all the expected buttons rather than dramatically provocative buttons. It is a 2009 version of the old time serials with their successive cliffhangers (and there is a literally belief-defying cliffhanger with John Cusack in the middle of the film). John Cusack is the nice but novel-writing-absorbed, now-absent father. Amanda Peet is the nice wife and mother. Tom Mc Carthy is the nice new father-figure who, fortunately, has had a few flying lessons which enable some survivors to fly to China!!

The other human story is more interesting, with gripping moments because it is the science and politics story. Chiwitel Ejiofor is a good enough actor and strong screen presence to make us believe that the alignment of the planets is causing new atomic particles to bombard earth and make the crust crumble with giant fissures in LA streets and down supermarket aisles while hills and mountains can rise and re-shape the land masses and coastal suburbs can upend and slide into the sea.

Oliver Platt is the literal heavy, a pragmatic politician who is not too strong on humanity or compassion. And who better than Danny Glover as the president to make the sad announcements about the end of the world and show heroic personal self-sacrifice (well, maybe Morgan Freeman who had to do all this with great gravitas in Deep Impact)?

As with the older disaster movies, there are some oldies (George Segal) and a nice president's daughter (Thandie Newton) but there are some newer aspects including Tibetan monks, a selfish (overweight and rude) Russian billionnaire and Woody Harrelson (mad again!) as a wild mountain man who broadcasts revelations about disaster before he is whooshed away into eternity. There is even some underwater swimming heroics reminding us how much we liked this in The Poseidon Adventure.

While 2001 was something of a spiritual space odyssey, 2012 is quite a secular tale (though with its arks to rescue the chosen ones – and some airlifted giraffes, elephants etc – it has Chiwitel Ejiofor becoming a new Noah who wants to save as many people as possible and start a new world). Interestingly, no blame is laid for the disaster. It is nature, not a punishment from God, and, except for the ruthless politicians and the selfish rich, most humans are deep down nice.

Roland Emmerich knows what he wants to do and does it with spectacular panache. To make his next movie more of a classic of special effects, it would be good if he could do some more work on making the human story more interesting and dramatically complex.

AMELIA

(US, 2009, d. Mira Nair)

You would have to be a bit of a grouch (or a cinema buff who liked only more avant garde or experimental film-making) not to enjoy this old-fashioned lavishly produced portrait of aviator, Amelia Earheart, during her ten years of limelight and flying feats. Especially if you know how it ends, you can sit back and be absorbed by this visit to the US of the 1920s and 1930s. Certainly the production values, sets, costumes, songs help us to immerse ourselves in this era.

While the framework of the narrative is Earheart's last flight around the world, the film is principally flashbacks to Amelia's emerging as a successful pilot, her being in command although a passenger in the cross Atlantic flight of 1928, her further flights, her being promoted by publisher (and one of the inventors of celebrity, PR and advertising sponsorships), Geroge Putnam, her marriage, her support for women pilots and organisations, her involvement in commercial aviation and her being one of the most popular Americans during the Depression and the 1930s.

The director is Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair, The Namesake) who brings a deep female sensibility to the storytelling and atmosphere and a sensitive attention to detail as well as to the emotion of the story. And the strength of the film is Hilary Swank, looking remarkably like the actual Amelia Earheart who is glimpsed in final photos and newsreel clips. Since winning her Oscar for Boy's Dont Cry in 1999, consolidated by her second Oscar in 1994 for Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank has emerged as a versatile actress, portraying strong characters vigorously. Her Amelia has a passion for flying. The air is home for her.

Son of the founder of the publishing firm, George Putnam, had promoted Charles Lindbergh and his book after his transatlantic flight in the Spirit of St Louis. He intended to do the same for Amelia. And, he did, eventually pushing her into lecture tours, sponsoring advertising for cigarettes, cameras and her own fashion line. It was to make money to pay for her flights so she concurred even though it went against the grain for her. Putnam is nicely played as a promoter who falls in love with Amelia and marries her by that most durable of now older stars, Richard Gere. Ewan McGregor? appears as the West Point aviation lecturer, Gene Vidal (father of author and celebrity, Gore Vidal, who is seen as a young boy being helped by Amelia to overcome his fears). The screenplay posits a relationship between Amelia and Vidal but emphasises her commitment to George Putnam.

Supporting characters include Fred Noonan, (Christopher Eccleston) her navigator on her fatal flight, an expert in his field, an alcoholic, who did his best for Amelia. Mia Wasikowska is Eleanor Smith, an ambitious young pilot, and Cherry Jones, in a cameo, is an enthusiastic Eleanor Roosevelt.

Amelia Earheart lived in the early days of radio and of the newsreel so was often in the press and the public eye. She was a darling of America during the Depression and is still considered one of the most popular of Americans of the past.

Beautifully photographed with a lushly emotional score, this is the kind of film that Hollywood does so well, light but substantial, emotional but inspiring, a picture of a free spirit who encouraged risk and commitment to her passion. (Previous films on Amelia Earheart include the 1976 biopic with Susan Clark and the 1994 Amelia Earheart: The Final Flight with Diane Keaton – perhaps playing too much of Diane Keaton than Amelia for some audience's taste. While watching the film, it seems that Katharine Hepburn would have relished playing her contemporary – in fact she did in the 1933 Christopher Strong in a character loosely based on Amelia Earheart.)

BARRAGE CONTRE LE PACIFIQUE, Un (THE SEA WALL)

(France.Cambodia, 2008, d. Rithy Panh)

Marguerite Duras, novelist and screenwriter (Hiroshima, Mon Amour), spent her early years in 1930s Indochina before moving to France. Her novels, Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique and Les Amants, draw on this experience and her relationship with an older local man. Un Barrage was first filmed in 1958 by Rene Clement with Jo Van Fleet, Silvano Mangano and Anthony Perkins and was called both The Sea Wall and This Angry Age. This time the director is from Indochina, Cambodian writer and film-maker, Rithy Panh, and it has been filmed on location.

The film is worth seeing for its re-creation of the period, specifically 1931. In the light of the subsequent history of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the story is particularly interesting. On the other hand, it is something of a placid film, less intense than anticipated, despite the melodramatic undertones, not a great deal of onward-driving dramatic energy. It immerses its audience in the life of the region, introduces us to characters who are not so dynamically interesting in themselves and invites us to live, so to speak, with them in the ordinariness of their lives and experience how they handle the political, economic, agricultural situations as well as relationships.

The film opens with the rice crop ruined by salt water breaching the sea wall. The small acreage is managed by the widow of a civil servant, her teenage children and a local worker called The Corporal and his two little boys. We spend a lot of time with these people, in the fields, visiting the French hotel in town, at home, arguing with French colonial land officials. This is French colonialism which, we know, will come to a disastrous end within decades.

The mother is played by Isabelle Huppert who makes any film worth seeing. Quietly, with unobtrusive body language, with her eyes, she can create vastly different characters. Here she is a bitter widow, petitioning government to extend her rights to the land, scrimping and saving, urging the building of a stronger sea wall. She is also ill with consumption. At home she has a moody son, Joseph (Gaspard Ulliel) and a sixteen year old flirtatious daughter, Suzanne (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) who idolises her brother who is ambiguously argumentative towards her and then devoted. Mother favours her son over her daughter. Both children dream of getting away.

The other central character besides the loyal Corporal is the son of a local grandee, Mr Jo (Randall Douc), ( who is smitten by Suzanne and bewildered (as is the audience) by the double standards of the family who, on the one hand, encourage a marriage that would bring in income and, on the other, look down on mixed race unions. He also is hugely ambitious to acquire land to develop a pepper industry. Joseph is particularly contemptuous and offensively racist.

When the authorities show their highhandedness towards the land traditionally owned by the people, the inevitable violence breaks out and the locals are harshly imprisoned.

So, this is a picture of a past, of colonialism, greed and cultural collision in Asia as well as a portrait of ordinary people caught up in circumstances often beyond their control. (The subject is not entirely dissimilar to Isabelle Huppert's subsequent film, Claire Denis' White Material in which she is a landowner with a difficult son but this time in post-colonial Africa.)

THE BOX

(US, 2009, d. Richard Kelly)
Cameron Diaz, playing teacher, Norma, a mid-30s wife and mother who has a deformed foot because of a prolonged X-ray accident, and James Marsden, playing scientist, Arthur, who has applied to be an astronaut, are awakened early one morning to find a mysterious box at their front door. So, the film, The Box, begins – and ends with another couple opening and reacting to their box.

Based on a story by expert science fiction and Twilight Zone writer, Richard Matheson (I am Legend), Button, Button, this film has been written and directed by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, Southland Tales).

A visitor, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella with suave gravitas and dignified voice), explains the box – its power to kill a person, and a payment of $100,000,000, if Norma and Arthur push the button in the box. To this extent, the film serves as a moral fable about the temptation to money and security and about testing the moral fibre of a person who may be willing to press a button for gain and cause the death of an unknown and anonymous person.

However, the film is also a science fiction fable. Mr Steward (one side of whose face has been destroyed) has been struck by lightning and who seems to be possessed by the power of Martians – he was part of a team of the 1976 mission to Mars which brought back samples to earth.

As the film progresses, many individuals begin to speak in sinister manner and are afflicted by nose bleeds: an insolent boy in Norma's class, the school principal, a waiter at a wedding rehearsal dinner, Norma and Arthur's babysitter for their son, Walter. This seems another version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. What's more, the NASA and CIA authorities seem to be in on what seems more and more a conspiracy. In the meantime, there is a mysterious murder of the wife of one of Arthur's colleagues and the husband has disappeared. Norma's father is in charge of the investigation.

The Box becomes more and more Twilight Zone-like and Norma and Arthur are forced to make bizarre life and death choices. Actions and choices cannot be reversed and can have devastating consequences.

The tension builds quite slowly but, looking at some of the angry comments in the IMDb blog for the film, the plot seems to have been too complicated for many American viewers and they gave up – a worrying sign that impatient viewers show such a lack of capacity for comprehension.

THE BOYS ARE BACK

(Australia/UK, 2009, d. Scott Hicks)

I am very glad I saw The Boys are Back.

If you were to ask me to say what the film is about, I would answer, 'Parenting'. That may not be the greatest enticement to decide to see the film, but it is important to say it. The film, based on a memoir by Simon Carr, is about a widowed father having to parent his six year old son (without any preparation or any innate ability to do this) and then cope with the arrival his 14 year old son from a previous marriage. Now, that may not seem the greatest enticement either – but there have not been so many films dealing with a father trying to cope with caring for his children (there was Kramer vs Kramer, but that was 30 years ago). This is an important theme and, with a thoughtful screenplay by Alan Cubitt and with the sure hand of director, Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars), it communicates, and entertains, very well. It also avoids falling into sentimentality and contrived romances.

Clive Owen, who has often played dour, unsmiling characters (Croupier, King Arthur) then has been transformed into an action hero (The International, Duplicity), now gives a wonderfully sympathetic and nuanced performance as Joe Warr, a British sports journalist who re-located to South Australia with his equestrian champion wife, Katy (Laura Fraser). He left behind his son, Harry, with his mother in England but he and Katy have their son, Artie. We learn at once that Katy had cancer. We see some brief flashbacks and the suffering and pathos of her death. Joe is distraught. Their six year old son, Artie, understands that his mother has died but cannot, self-consciously, deal with it so his responses are a mixture of the accepting, the sensible and the bewilderingly emotional. Artie is played by Nicholas Mc Anulty in a performance that seems completely real. In no way does it seem like a performance. And he and Clive Owen play naturally and persuasively off each other.

Joe copes by trying to do the normal things (meals, washing, housekeeping – the latter not well at all) - and show his love at all times for his son, preferring to say yes to his son's wishes and whims rather than say no. There are some moving and some exhilarating scenes of the two together. He also has a sense of Katy's presence, often giving advice, filmed in a completely realistic way rather than suggesting anything ghostly. In the background are Katy's parents, Barbara (Julia Blake) who is loving but organised and cautious and Tom (Chris Haywood), the silent, practical type.

Joe, meanwhile, has to go back to work as the top sports writer for the Adelaide paper and finds some support from a fellow parent, Laura (Emma Booth), whose daughter becomes great friends with Artie.

The further complication and another step in the theme of parenting arises when Harry (George Mac Kay in a just right performance) comes to Australia: tentative, afraid of his father, wondering why he was abandoned, awkward with other children but bonding with Artie. A crisis, when Joe has to go to Melbourne to cover the Australian Tennis Open leads to hard decisions, which writer, director and actors convey with the right blend of emotion and common sense.

Besides having something worthwhile to show and say about family – and emphasising how important presence, attention and, especially, play are for developing children and for parental relationships – the film is a persuasive advertisement for the beauty of South Australia (hills, coast, McLaren? Vale) on the Fleury Peninsula where Scott Hicks, in fact, lives.

(We will each bring our own experience to the characters of the film and their interactions. Since my mother died when I was seven and my brother five, I was empathising with Artie but, more importantly, I was finding Clive Owen's portrayal of Joe was helping me to understand and appreciate what my father must have experienced. It is a complement to The Boys are Back that it had this power.)

BUNNY AND THE BULL

(UK, 2009, d. Paul King)

Gore Blimey!

Actually, Bunny does not confront the bull until the end of the film and...!

The writer-director, Paul King, describes his film as a road movie within the central character's head.

This is a low-budget film that will appeal to those who want something visually different from their entertainment. It combines realism (although filmed on sets and in a studio) as well as some stylised sets and miniatures and a liberal use of animation which has stylistic flair. So, that is what it looks like.

And its content? The plot is an odd couple, buddy movie, well-acted, but they are a couple who raise ambiguous responses because of their eccentricities and the completely laddish personality of betaholic womaniser, Bunny. He is played by Simon Farnaby who does command attention while he is on screen. However, the central character is Stephen, a withdrawn obsessive-compulsive agoraphobic, played by Edward Hodge (who was so remarkable as Jesco White the homicidal folk dancer from West Virginia in White Lightnin').

Stephen's flat is filled with boxes and boxes of trivia from tickets to dental floss. When his store of vegetable lasagna is gnawed at by rats, he has to order out – which provokes his memories of the past year and his trip with Bunny (after winning cash with an unlikely bet): visits to exceedingly offbeat and odd museums, stealing a huge stuffed bear from a chalet (run by screen veteran, Sylvia Sims), meeting a mad man who milks dogs, winning a car in a bet and giving a lift to a Spanish dynamo who works in a Polish crab fast food cafe and meeting her would-be matador brother. Which leads to the bull...

Often crass, sometimes crude, sometimes silly, probably to be enjoyed by Bunny-alikes or would-be Bunnies watching it with their mates – but not their girlfriends (if they have any).

CRACKS

(UK, 2009, d. Jordan Scott)

The predominantly male reviewers at the preview of Cracks were not doing too well with it at all. Macho it is definitely not and your average male, who is frequently accused of being notoriously lacking in sensitivity, let alone empathy, will probably not be on the wavelength of Cracks and find it tedious. I would guess that the response of female critics and many female audiences would have a very different response, much more interest and understanding.

It is based on a 1999 novel by Sheila Kohler which was set in South Africa. The film-makers have transferred it to England (though filmed in Ireland) and decided on 1934 as the best period to show the isolation and primness as well as disciplinary severity of an all girls' boarding school.

The director has got in before the reviewers by noting that she watched Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Heavenly Creatures and Lord of the Flies, titles which will probably come to mind while movie buffs are watching it.

This is a very British story, stiff upper lip (with quite some subconscious simmering) with a rigorous staff (led by a purse-lipped Sinead Cusack as the principal). We are in a female 'if...' atmosphere without the revolutionary mood of the 1960s. We spend a great deal of time with the routines of the school (chapel and hymn singing, meals, dormitories, sports) and listen to a great deal of girlish chatter.

What makes the difference is the presence of the sports mistress, who specialises in training a diving squad, the glamorous Miss G who dresses and acts like the main Hollywood actresses (and femmes fatales) of the period. She is languid, sensual as well as demanding and controlling and has her favourites. One of them, the captain of the special team is Di (Juno Temple embodying the needy, jealous and angry persona of a head girl who finds her position with the teacher's favourite being threatened). When a Spanish aristocrat arrives, Fiamma (Maria Valverde) and is well-travelled, literate and an excellent diver, some of the girls are charmed. Di is not. And Miss G becomes infatuated.

Eva Green perfectly embodies Miss G.

We can guess where this is leading – and it does go there. And, we discover that Miss G is not all she seems to be but rather a former student of the school who, despite her telling exotic stories about her travels, has never left the island where the school is situated. By the end, with watching girls' cruelty towards each other, we realise we are really in Lord of the Flies territory. In view of the child abuse crises of recent decades and accusations of cover-ups by authorities more concerned with the reputation of the institution, the final decisions of the Principal remind us that this was the belief of the times – and her pronouncement is exceedingly chilling.

This is the first feature film by Jordan Scott, daughter of Ridley Scott and niece of Tony Scott.

THE DESCENT: PART 2

(UK, 2009, d. Jon Harris)

For some reason, I found watching this film a more creepy experience than many another terror and horror film – creepy in the sense that I felt the claustrophobic oppression of the search for the missing women in the deep subterranean caves, the closing in of the walls of the caves, the darkness, the potential for rock collapses (which do happen), the isolation... (Somebody else told me that she was thinking that the caves looked like film sets so she didn't feel claustrophobic, so there you are...!) I was more affected by this sequel than the original which was well done of its frightening kind.

Actually, Part 2 follows immediately from the original. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) escapes from the caves where she and her companions had been exploring and had encountered creeping, sightless creatures, who tracked their victims by sound, attacking and devouring them – with more than a touch of gore and blood. And also actually, the follow-up re-runs much of the plot, atmosphere and effects of the original – and proves itself a sound and solid sequel.

A group of police and caving experts descend into the caves in the Appalachian mountains (which look quite beautiful, especially in many aerial shots). And, there is a redneck sheriff who takes no notice of warnings about firing his gun and causing an avalanche (which he does). As before, groups separate and are pursued by the creeping creatures who wreak the same kind of devastation.

A principally British cast assume their American accents for the searching troop.

Writing this, the eerie atmosphere of the dark and claustrophobic caves returns – so the film must have been effective.

EXAMINED LIFE

(US, 2008, d. Astra Taylor)

A film on philosophy – based on the Socratic premiss that the unexamined life is not worth living.

Not exactly the topic one expects to find for a film but Canadian writer-director, Astra Taylor, is both philosopher and film-maker and decided to interview some of the intellectuals who have had an influence on her, giving them ten minutes each to answer questions she poses and to develop their answers according to their particular approaches and offer insights and practical dimensions to their thought.

She had come across a book about the nature and effects of walks (Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit), so she invited her guests to travel and, principally, walk. This offers them an opportunity to philosophise outdoors, in the fresh air rather than in an academic context. It is interesting to observe their body language as well as listen to them, to observe what they wear (generally simple and unassuming) and to discern the passion and intensity of their views and their convictions in putting them forward. This means that the film is more cinematic than might have been expected. There are talking heads, certainly, but also action and variety of locations to keep the audience attentive rather than simply listening to lectures. In a Greek tradition, they are philosophers in the marketplace like Socrates, and Peripatetics.

This is Astra Taylor's list of speakers with some indication of their concerns as well as where they were when they were interviewed.

Cornel West, who has become something of a media celebrity (and an advisor to the Obama campaign, though the film was made while George Bush was still president). West is interviewed in a taxi travelling through Manhattan. He questions the concept of aiming for wholeness. Rather, we have built on disasters and life can never be complete or whole. This is a romanticism of which he is very critical.

Avital Ronell walks in a New York square, with curious onlookers, upset that she is limited to ten minutes and questioning the meaning of a search for meaning.

Peter Singer is in New York's 5th Avenue, in crowds on the street outside the fashionable shops questioning people's choices between saving a child from drowning in a pond and ruining their good shoes but their unwillingness to send the price of a fashionable pair of shoes to a charity. His description of ethics is very other-focused, a secular nobility of human nature.

Kwame Anthony, cultural theorist, seen with luggage moving through Toronto airport looks at respect for differing traditions and not placing one over the other. He is from Ghana with a British parent as well – and comments about the role of the father as provider and protector in western custom whereas it is the mother's brother, the uncle (and he has six nephews and nieces) who has the family responsibility. Is one better than the other?

Michael Hardt is rowing a boat in a park pond speaking about anarchy and revolution.

Martha Nussbaum is more engaging to listen to as she walks, presenting insights into capacities and capabilities as a way of showing potential for ethics and politics.

Slavoj Zizek, from Slovenia, has had films made about him and has hosted a documentary The Perver's Guide to Cinema. He is not bashful and does not hesitate with his views. With a council worker's jacket on, he talks from huge garbage dumps and urges humans to become more artificial, because that is how the world has developed, rather than hankering after an idealised, impossible world.

Judith Butler is a Berkely feminist and gender philosopher who takes a walk with Sunaura Taylor, who has opted to live in San Francisco as the most disabled friendly city, the director's sister, who is wheelchair bound because of a muscular and bone disability but who is an articular thinker and an artist. They discuss social space, expectations of what is 'normal' behaviour and reaction – and illustrate their points by buying and fitting on a pullover in a store as well as a sad story of a boy who swished when he walked and who was thrown from a bridge and killed by school students , questioning how a murderous intent could result from reaction to a way a boy walked.

There is no dialogue between the 'cerebral celebrities' themselves. Rather, this is a brief showcase for some contemporary thinkers to stimulate a willing audience.

FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, The (LE PREMIER JOUR DE RESTE DE TA VIE)

(France, 2008, d. Remi Bezancon)

This is the kind of story the French do so well, a focus on a family, their interactions, their crises. It is different in its screenplay and in its structure. It takes place over five days, but not consecutive days. Rather, the days are significant over a period of twelve years, each one focussing particularly on the father, the mother, the older son, the younger son, the daughter. This leads to the cumulative effect of getting to know each character very well.

Once the audience is on the wavelength of what is happening in the storytelling, the insights of the writing, the warmth of the family bonds (despite lots of disagreements) and the fine performances, the film becomes quite a moving, sometimes endearing experience.

The father is a taxi driver, a good man with limitations who, sometimes, does not understand his wife and children at all. The wife is loving but, as the years pass, feels that she is ageing and losing her beauty and is not appreciated. The older son is a surgeon who moves out of the family home at the beginning and who lives a professionally successful career but a somewhat morose personal life. The younger son is the eternal procrastinator who does find a goal in life through his wife connoisseur grandfather. The daughter is young, rebellious as she becomes a teen, falls into all the traps that this kind of girl could but, eventually, after fights, she makes good.

The film was popular in France and won three Cesar awards, including most promising actress for Deborah Francois as the daughter and Marc-Andre? Grondin as the younger son. The film travels well outside France.

THE FOURTH KIND

(US, 2009, d. Olatunde Osunsanmi)

Do you believe in UFOs? Do you believe in alien abductions? – which are the closest encounters, of the fourth kind.

This is one of those serious-faced melodramas that try to pass themselves off as true, authentic and documented to a little-suspecting public. The star, Mila Jovovich, even comes on screen at the beginning to explain that she is acting the role of a psychologist, Abigail Emily Tyler, who really experienced what we are about to see re-enacted. We the see the 'actual' video footage of the 'real' Dr Tyler and this is inserted all through the film, tapes of her and of her therapy sessions, and some audio tapes, where disturbed clients reveal how they can't sleep,how they see mysterious owls inside and outside their room. Sometimes the two versions are presented simultaneously on split screen. The clients ultimately collapse mentally because of their experiences of the aliens (whom we do not see at all).

All kinds of disclaimer devices are used to indicate how authentic the film is. Names are deleted to protect privacy. Professionals and the sheriff are given aliases for anonymity. And, at the end, when Mila Jovovich comes on screen again, details of the fate of the characters are listed – and we are told that many of them, including the observing psychologist (Elias Koteas), Abby's estranged son, Ronnie, and the sheriff (Will Patton), would not contribute to the film.

If one wasn't used to this kind of film (Blair Witch, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity), one might go for it as real.

So, sit back, relax (well, no, that is not the right word for some of the jolts and shocks) and just join in the melodramatic speculation of what could (?) happen.

It is all very earnestly done but provides very bad PR activity for potential alien visitors to earth (always, it seems, to the US, the favoured port of call for aliens – at least in the movies). The writer-director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, appears, in fact, as the interviewer of the fake 'real' Dr Tyler!

GLORIOUS 39

(UK, 2009, d. Stephen Poliakoff)

Something of an old-fashioned, post-Hitchcock, British drama/melodrama with sinister characters, political overtones and a blonde heroine in peril. A film that critics easily deride as implausible and derivative but which audiences who accept heightened melodramas may well enjoy.

The title refers to the beautiful summer weather of 1939 which, however, culminated in the invasion of Poland and the declaration by Britain of war against Hitler.

The film focuses on a family, happy, living a somewhat idyllic life. Anne (Romola Garai), adopted, is an actress. Her brother and sister, born to her parents (Bill Nighy and Jenny Agutter), Ralph (Eddie Redmayne) and Celia (Juno Temple) are devoted and Ralph, with the support of his Tory politician father, has taken up a post in the Secret Service.

Tension enters when a politician friend (David Tennant) is murdered and suspicion turns towards an enigmatic family guest, Balcombe (Jeremy Northam) and Anne's discovery of some archived foxtrot records which turn out to be recordings of sinister meetings. There is reason for suspicion as we learn. Some aristocratic Britons feared war because they would lose their property and way of life were Hitler to win, so they plan to buy him off with money grants to halt re-armament (which indicates how out of touch they were). They abhor Churchill and his willingness to stand up to Hitler. And, it seems, they stoop to spying and murder to protect the secrecy of their conspiracy. One of the victims is a genial actor who works with Anne (Hugh Bonneville).

Sometimes the film is reminiscent of those old John Buchan spy stories like The 39 Steps.

As well as the strong cast already noted, Julie Christie appears as Aunt Elizabeth and Christopher Lee and Corin Redgrave appear in the framing of the film where a young boy in the present goes to interview them as to what happened to Anne. We know that she is hounded by the conspirators and interned by them. But...

Fans of old British movies will be pleased to see Muriel Pavlow briefly at the end of the film.

So, a bit of old-fashioned, colourful English politics and drama.

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE

(US, 2009, d. Steven Sodernergh).

The film just stopped after 78 minutes and one was tempted to ask in the words of the classic song, 'Is that all there is?' That was all there was in terms of plot as well as characterisation which, one hoped, would be the main point of the film.

The girlfriend experience was not what I had imagined it was. This girlfriend experience, here, is a technical name for a $2000 an hour appointment with a high class Manhattan escort. It is not just a sexual encounter but, rather, the escort provides a sympathetic ear for the client's story, with conversation, a meal, a drink and a night.

The film was directed by Steven Soderbergh. There is the Soderbergh of the popular entertainments like the Ocean's capers. There is the Soderbergh of the up-market social commentary films like Traffic, Erin Brockovich and the Che films. Then there is the Soderbergh of small-budget, sometimes experimental films that may or may not find an audience. The Girlfriend Experience, despite its widescreen and generally glossy look is one of the films for the last category. It consists of glimpses over a few days of the life of the escort, Chelsea, and her clash with her actual boyfriend, Chris, a gym instructor.

We see Chelsea with various clients, mainly listening in to the conversations (the film is not particularly visually explicit at all). Chelsea then writes down the encounters for a book. Some of the clients are sympathetic. One is a nasty sex website manager. Another is a Jewish jeweller. She also meets an interviewer. Finally, there is a client with whom she thinks she can have a genuine relationship, which brings about a confrontation with Chris who has been invited by businessmen from the gym to go to Las Vegas for the weekend. And, that is what we are left with – to make of the glimpses what we will.

This is complicated by the fact that Chelsea is played by a student, Sasha Grey, who in her late teens decided that she wanted to work in the pornography industry in Los Angeles and became something of a celebrity in her field. She looks glamorous here but tends to perform in the impassive reaction style.

The film takes in some topical references to the time it was made - during the 2008 US election campaign with some pro-Obama statements and some Pro Mc Cain urges – and some anxious comments and complaints from the business clients of both Chelsea and the gym about the credit crunch and the bail-out of the banks. (It is 20 years since Soderbergh won the Palme d' Or inCannes for Sex,Lies and Videotape and thebeginning of his varied career of big-budget shows and offbeat experimental films like this one.)

HARRY BROWN

(UK, 2009, d. Daniel Barber)

Since Michael Winner directed Charles Bronson in the 1974 Death Wish and it became the archetypal movie for a reference to urban vigilante films (and led to several sequels and imitations and derivatives), it is very difficult to review this kind of film. On the one hand, one must deplore an individual taking the law into his or her own hands and executing in the streets those who have committed crimes that have eluded official justice. We are not executioners. On the other hand, the atrocities committed by thugs who have no compunction on ordinary citizens do, as the scriptures say, call out for vengeance. Audiences can identify emotionally with the pain, frustration and, sometimes, the inefficiency of police and courts in achieving just penalties.

Of course, any film, Death Wish or Harry Brown, is not intended as a final answer one way or the other. Audiences will bring their values to watching the film and assess the situations and the characters' actions accordingly. A vigilante mentality will cheer. A non-vigilante mentality will empathise with the suffering and the experience of thug victimisation and try to think further on what needs to be done in society to break cycles of unemployment, drug dealing and consumption and develop the proper means of justice. This is what a story can do well: offer us experiences that challenge our presuppositions and make us question the society in which we live.

This is a review by someone based in London for some years. The film's picture of the estates, the dangerous underpasses, the young people hanging about, the propensity for mindless violence are part of the headlines and the radio and TV news. Interestingly, Harry Brown avoids the race and ethnic issues which seem to dominate the headlines. The gangs here are all white men and women.

Again, the media is frequently alarming as stories of innocent elderly people being assaulted, robbed and even killed in their own homes. The week of Harry Brown's UK release saw the story of three young men putting fireworks through a letter box which led to the burning down of the house and the death of a mother and daughter.

Harry Brown spends quite some time establishing its elderly characters, Michael Caine very effective as Harry whose wife dies after a long illness, and David Bradley as Len, his friend and chess partner at the local pub who is harrassed by the thugs and is not going to take it any more. Harry was a marine in Ulster but has left that in the past. However, his disgust at the behaviour of the unrepentant men and the drug-dealing scum of London sends him back to his weapons and his going on a confrontation and killing spree. The sequence where he meets with the scarred and disfigured dealers in their squalid house (with Sean Harris – memorable as Thomas in the Jeremy Sisto Jesus – giving a powerfully seedy performance) is frighteningly tense.

The police are represented by Emily Mortimer and Charles Creed-Mills?. They are limited by their abilities and what they can actually do in the face of lawyers' advice to criminals, lack of evidence and police work on more important issues than the deaths of old age pensioners. Iain Glenn is the rather smug police chief.

It was Peter Finch's character in Network who got people to yell out from their homes, I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more. That's what happens in vigilante films like Harry Brown.

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN

(US, 2009, d. F. Gary Gray)

'Disturbing' is probably the word I would settle on to describe the effect of Law Abiding Citizen. It is also unbelievable (though in these days of terrorist attacks and the availability of destructive technology to wreak havoc has to be kept in mind). And, by way of warning for an audience which may be interested in the theme of crime, vengeance, law and justice, another word to describe some murder sequences is 'horrible'. Two of them, in particular, could be upsettingly macabre and blood-soaked.

This is another citizen vengeance film (a long way from Death Wish). It also contrasts with the more local and, in comparison, restrained violence of the British revenge and justice drama with Michael Caine, Harry Brown, released at the same time as this film.

We are in no doubt from the beginning that revenge is in store with the very brutal killing of an engineer's wife and daughter. When the prosecutor makes a deal with one of the accused (the brutal one) to testify against the other. The engineer objects to doing deals with murderers, especially the star prosecutor who is highly ambitious and arrogant. The engineer goes off broken and smouldering, leading to a deranged mind that targets the whole justice system and its failures. But, ten years pass.

When the engineer begins his revenge, he does it, as we say, with a vengeance – and that is an understatement. It all becomes mysterious as he does not conceal what he does and lands in jail, abusing the judge in a bail hearing case and confining himself to prison where he makes deals with the prosecutor which, when broken, lead to brutal deaths. The mayor is bluntly and dominatingly angry and closes down the city. How can the killer be stopped?

If that is intriguing, by all means see the film and how it works out, allowing for the aforementioned cautions and for the always ambiguous responses elicited by stories where an individual, a law abiding citizen, goes out to singlehandedly wreak execution on those who seem to have escaped the justice system. One of the reasons for seeing it, despite the increasingly incredible plot developments (and probable impossibilities), is that it is very well made and tests audience sympathies for the engineer and also for the prosecutor – and fighting against time limits and impositions.

They are played, rather quietly and in a softly-spoken way, very effectively by Gerard Butler as the engineer and Jamie Foxx as the prosecutor. A very strong supporting cast includes Bruce McGill? as the DA, Colm Meaney as an old-style detective and Viola Davis in a cameo as the more-than-no-nonsense mayor.

F. Gary Gray uses Philadelphia as a character in the film. It looks striking – with reminders of the founding fathers' establishing of the justice system there. And the pace is quite intense, moving quickly over the plot improbabilities and testing the audience responses to the arrogance of each character.

'Disturbing' is the word used at the beginning of this review. 'Frightening' is the word for the end. The fact that such destruction could be wrought by an individual taps into fears of terrorism these days – and the fear that authorities and threatened individuals never know when and where they could be killed.

MACHAN

(Sri Lanka/Italy/Germany, 2008, d. Uberto Pasolini)

Machan is based on a true story. The focus is on migration from Sri Lanka and the possibilities and impossibilities of getting visas to go to Europe.

Two young men think up a scheme to get out of Sri Lanka and into Europe. They see an advertisement about a handball competition. They decide to make themselves the Sri Lankan national handball team but don’t bother to learn anything about the rules or practise because they intend to escape once they are in Europe.

The film focuses on the stories of the various men, their lives in Colombo, their hardships. It also focuses on the differences between the rich and the poor. However, once the team gets to Germany and are humiliated in their first game, they do get some team spirit in order to score at least one goal. After that, they disappear from the hotel – and a postscript suggests that they have not been heard from since.

The film preceded Slum Dog Millionaire into the theatres but did not have as wide distribution, though extremely popular in Sri Lanka itself. However, there is something of the same spirit of life in the subcontinent, hardships, but some forms of hope and optimism.

ME AND ORSON WELLES

(US/UK, 2009, d. Richard Linklater)

Before Orson Welles became a towering figure in American cinema at the age of 27 with Citizen Kane, he had made a huge impact in the theatre, especially in New York City, with his Mercury Theatre. Already the subject of several films, realist (Cradle will Rock) and fictional (Fade to Black), Welles is the dominating presence in this film about the first week of the Mercury Theatre in 1937, the rehearsals for Welles' production, Caesar, a pared-down version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (in 90 minutes), in contemporary dress (with black Fascist overtones), as well as scenes from the performance on opening night which ensured Welles' stature at the age of 23.

Welles is played with extraordinary bravura by British actor, Christian Mc Kay, who had done a one-man show on Welles in theatre, and who resembles the younger Welles and can do a Wellesian grin that reminds us of Harry Lime. Other members of the group shown in the film include Joseph Cotton (James Tupper) and George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin) who played Marc Antony. Welles, of course, played Brutus, making him the centre of the play and the tragedy.
Welles' producer and mentor was John Houseman (Eddie Marsan), who was able to keep the peace and ensure the show's going on.

But, the film shows us behind the scenes at the Mercury (filmed, in fact, in the restored Gaiety Theatre on the Isle of Man). The 'Me' of the title is a school student, Richard Samuels, based on the experiences of actual actor, Arthur Anderson. Richard is outside the Mercury with would-be performers when Welles chances on him and is impressed by his responses and hires him to play the slave, Lucius, and sing in the scene where Brutus tries to sleep before the final battle. Also behind the scenes is Welles' young assistant, Sonja Jones, whose ambition is to meet David O. Selznick and become a star (and, as Richard discovers to his dismay, is not too scrupulous about means to this end).

In the meantime, Richard has met a young would-be writer and gives her short story to Sonja to give to a friend at the New Yorker.

In terms of marketing, it is the star who plays Richard who is foremost. Serious critics and viewers have turned up their noses because Richard is Zac Efron, better known to teenies and tweenies as the star of the High School Musicals. However, he fits the part very well here, an earnest but sometimes callow youth who has potential. Efron has, in fact, shown acting skills and comic style in Hairspray and, particularly, 17 Again. Sonja is played by Claire Danes.

The screenplay is based on a novel by Robert Kaplow and is very smartly and wittily written. The film was directed by Richard Linklater (whose varied films include Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, Dazed and Confused and School of Rock).

Welles emerges as a creative genius not plagued by self-doubt (at least, not in public) but an egotist of the highest order who pontificates about everything, who, when one thinks he is showing sincerity and kindness, proves that he is a spiteful man who brooks no opposition. Maybe Caesar, his radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds in 1938 which made many Americans think Martians had invaded America, and Citizen Kane were his peak and he was only in his 20s. While he made many more interesting films, his career was a mixture of highs and lows, grandeur and movie twaddle, this is a telling portrait of an often obnoxious genius.

THE MERRY GENTLEMAN

(US, 2009, d. Michael Keaton)

A fine film but one which requires some patience and attention from an audience which usually prefers something faster-paced with more action. The title is also misleading – the initial setting is Christmas but the lead, Frank Logan, a seedy and unwell hitman, is not a merry gentleman at all.

Michael Keaton has directed this film with great attention to detail and visual style. It is set in Chicago, not the city we might immediately recognise, but the city of streets and offices, apartments and restaurants – and in winter. Keaton also appears as Frank Logan, a serious, even low-key, performance without any reminder of what a comic actor he has been in the past.

The somewhat improbably plot (with quite a number of coincidences) is carried by Keaton's sensitivity and the fine and sympathetic acting of Scot Kelly Macdonald. Katie, a battered wife, escapes to Chicago and a receptionist's job and a chance to begin again. When Katie sees Logan contemplating suicide on a building ledge, she screams and he falls backwards instead of to his death. Logan goes about his work but makes contact with Katie. And, on a level of friendship, they click. One of the detectives investigating Logan's crime (Tom Bastounes) is attracted to Katie and pursues the case to a revelation.

There are many conversation sequences, quietly spoken with many pauses, but quite intensely felt.

There are also a number of religious motifs throughout the film, Katie's finding sanctuary in a local Catholic Church, a moving explanation to her non-religious co-receptionist about the effect of the statue of Jesus reaching out and demonstrating this just as Logan is about to kill himself, a later visit to the Church for the final meeting between Logan and Katie. The abusive husband (Bobby Cannavale) also goes though a rather charismatic conversion to Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. And there are some God discussions.

A pleasing film that is not necessary to see but, if one surrenders to it with patience, a rewarding film.

MR RIGHT

(UK, 2006, d. Jacqui Morris)

Mr Right is a romantic comedy set in London's Soho and Brick Lane with an excursion to Northhampton. Because it is set amongst London's gay community, it has been billed as a 'hom-rom-com' (and a reviewer who did not care for it – or thought this up before he went in), labelled it a 'hom-rom-com-bom'.

Directed by Jaqui Morris from a screenplay by her gay brother, David, who plays Tom the art gallery proprietor, it begins as a fairly indulgently camp introduction to a group of characters who are mainly involved in the arts and media. It builds up to a dinner party where tensions run high and break ups are the order of the day. It picks up a bit in terms of interest in character and themes when a would-be actor who is a better cook and caterer goes home to visit his working class, fairly non-comprehending family. The other character who is a little more interesting is a father, divorced, whose wife has been killed in a car crash, who is trying to bring up his very young daughter while trying to maintain a relationship.

Much of the dialogue seems over-written, complicated clauses and sentences which militate against a feel of credible and realistic conversation. Some of the acting seems stilted and, at the beginning, a fair amount of posturing. Reticent in terms of language and sexual behaviour, it hopes to appeal to a sympathetic audience for some understanding.

NATIVITY!

(UK, 2009, d. Debbie Isitt)

Who would have thought that a British film about putting on a Christmas Nativity Play could be described as 'a Catholic movie'! And, from the British point of view, it offers two social surprises: when some local councils are banning explicitly Christian Christmas decorations as potentially offensive to members of other religions (many of whom reply that they are shocked that any Christians would be ashamed to present emblems of its belief), it is a pleasure to watch the city of Coventry playing host to a school's play in the ruins of the Cathedral; and, when may complain that the BBC are anti-Christian, the corporation has produced and financed Nativity!

Writer-director, Debbie Isitt, likes creating situations and improvisation. She did it with wedding preparations in Confetti. Now she goes off to Coventry with actors Martin Freeman and Marc Wooton and sends them as teacher and teacher's assistant into a Catholic primary school, to a particular class, where they have the Principal's command to put on the annual Nativity play. It is a mixture of niceness, mayhem, children's talents, parents' concerns.

And it is more than that because Martin Freeman plays Mr Maddens, a performer who became a teacher and whose friend, Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins), now rival, teaches at the private school nearby and has great success each year with his pageant-play, and whose girlfriend, Jenny (Ashley Jensen), went to Hollywood and left him to become a producer. And, it is more than that as well, because the Principal (Pam Ferris) has imposed her exuberantly simple nephew, Mr Poppy (Mark Wooton), on Mr Maddens (who is a rather morose presence to his students, still pining for his girlfriend) and who, in real life, might frighten teachers and parents with his bouncing into every class activity, in the school yard and in the class room, and seems to have boundless energy which is now finding a project into which it can all be channelled (with everyone saying, 'phew'!)..

And it is more than that too. In a moment of pique with his rival, Mr Maddens says that his girlfriend is coming to his Nativity play with some Hollywood executives. This means even more mayhem as Mr Poppy quickly spills the beans, the Principal is delighted, the parents ambitious and the media make a feast of it. Even the mayor (Ricky Tomlinson) offers the ruins of Coventry cathedral as the venue for the play.

There are auditions, rehearsals, children upset, children wanting particular parts, more rehearsals – and the continuing embarrassment about the anticipated Hollywood visit.

You know all will be well at the end – but how will this all happen? Both credibly and incredibly without too much dependence on Hollywood, despite Mr Maddens and two of the children flying there to see Jenny.

The play itself defies all credible belief, of course, because it is large scale and spectacular, beyond the means of the school and, maybe, of the city – but within the movie's budget.

It is a kind of primary school rock opera, a children's perspective on the Gospel story – though, with all the TV talent shows and competitions these days, we live in a world where young children expect and are expected to perform routines that are better suited to adults. That said, it is a lively show which children will probably enjoy, perhaps the parents, but maybe not all the teachers who know what actually happens behind the scenes.

In keeping with the explicitly Catholic tone of the school and the film, a clear version of Silent Nights is sung during the final credits.

NEW MOON (THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON)

(US, 2009, d. Chris Weitz)

What follows is probably a superfluous review – insofar as New Moon is already being hailed as the fastest and vastest pre-booking movie event of all time. Since the four novels by Stephanie Meyer have sold gazillions of copies, the market of teenage girls (and, so we are informed, of 40-something mothers) is at the ready. The first film Twilight was such a success that it was an instant cult movie. A year later, New Moon. And only a wait of seven months before the next sequel arrives, June 2010, Eclipse (and for the astronomically minded, the fourth novel is called Breaking Dawn).

Both screenplays so far have been written by Melissa Rosenberg. She has a great talent for capturing the moods of teenage romance, the language of teens and Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass – as well as American Pie!) has the skills to pace the action and dialogue to the timing and pace for the niche audience. (Which means that many adults are going to find it slow going at first as Bella (Kristen Stewart) lives out the title, mooning intensely for benign vampire Edward Cullen (pallid and passive Robert Pattinson whose heartthrob status will increase exponentially, as they say, with the release of New Moon) who has decided to leave her and the town of Forks in the US northwest. Bella relies on her father (Billy Burke) relies on her best friend, Jacob (an athletic Taylor Lautner) who loves Bella but has personal werewolf problems of his own.

When the huge wolves do appear, the film perks up considerably with some unexpected action and some good special effects.

There is also an excursion to Italy to meet the Volterans, the ancient upper class leaders of the vampire clan, led by Michael Sheen taking time out from being Tony Blair or David Frost (and speaking his lines clearly which can't be said for the leads).

Kristen Stewart is a strong presence as Bella, even if she has to do a whole lot of mournful mooning. Robert Pattinson disappears for a lot of the film except for some brief ethereal apparitions but earns his billing in the final half hour. Taylor Lautner provides a good contrast with the vampire. And the film ends with a finely dramatic question...

So, it looks as though New Moon does exactly what it set out to do, please the huge number of readers, provide a female teenage audience with a film that is theirs, and make a case that, despite the Dracula history, there can be some nice and honourable vampires.

NOWHERE BOY

(UK, 2009, d. Sam Taylor- Wood)

Nowhere Man was a popular Beatles' song. Nowhere Boy is the story of the boyhood and adolescence of John Lennon.

Probably, it depends on your interest in John Lennon's personal story as background to his music, his writings and his media personality. If it does, you may well be satisfied with the focus on 1957 when John discovers his mother, Julia, who lived not far away while he was brought up from the age of five by his mother's sister, Mimi, and her husband, George Smith. Mimi was a rather uptight and prim person (seemingly modelling herself on the young Queen Elizabeth), a complete contrast to her younger sister, a very outgoing woman who needed male company but who was rather fragile and prone to breakdown.

John was tormented by not knowing anything about his father and by his discovery of his mother and her perceived irresponsibility. What developed was something of a love-hate relationship – but, ultimately, more love than hate. Because, as he says at the end, Mimi was both parent to him and guardian (as she signed his passport application for him to go to play in Hamburg), he loved Mimi – and the film tells us that he phoned her every week until he died.

The film, made on location in Liverpool, certainly re-creates the city and its atmosphere in the 1950s. It is life in suburbia, school, fetes and their music groups and clubs. And the icon is Elvis Presley, John aping his look and swivel style. When Julia teaches him to play the guitar, he practises long and hard and then creates a band with his friends. He is introduced to the younger Paul Mc Cartney and then the young George Harrison.

Aaron Johnson gives his best to the portrayal of Lennon (though the accent wavers at times). But, the interesting drama of the film is the conflict between Julia and Mimi. Since two fine actresses take these roles, the drama is quite powerful at times. Anne Marie Duff is the good-time girl, Julia, (though, on the evidence of her boxed-in performance as Leo Tolstoy's daughter, Sacha, shows how she would have been very effective as Mimi). However, Mimi is played with her accustomed tight manner, with some warmth deep under the surface, by Kristin Scott Thomas.

Which means that, even if an audience is not attracted by Lennon's life, Nowhere Boy is a serious look at a post-war British family, its trials and the effect on a young boy. But, he did become, both in life and in death, one of the most celebrated of 20th century personalities.

ONLY WHEN I DANCE

(UK. 2008, d. Beadie Finzi)

A pleasingly straightforward documentary about ballet. It follows two young teenagers, a boy and a girl, during their training, the travel to overseas competition and the possibilities for their future careers.

The difference is that the boy and the girl are from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

We are introduced to Irwan and Isabella and their parents. Isabella's parents are poor but want the best for their daughter. Irwan's parents are also poor and live in one of the most dangerous drug-dealing and crime-centred areas of the city. (The film-makers had to get permission to film because of the dangers and liaise with the designated contact with the drug lords daily.) Irlan's father has come to terms with his son's choice of career (not the done thing for a boy in this part of Rio where the expectation is generally jail or a coffin). Both of the students are trained at the Centro de Dance, Rio, where the director, Mariza Estrella, takes a personal interest in their progress. However, since Isabella is black, she warns that ballet is an occupation for whites and the wealthy and she will find conscious and unconscious opposition – she does.

The film follows the familiar structure of following Irlan and Isabella for a year at home, school and dance centre. There is also the focus on finding the money for the expenses of the trip, extra jobs, grandmother's help, resorting to loan sharks.

Both Irlan and Isabella can certainnly dance. Irlan is particularly talented and his two performances for the competition in Lausanne are showcased, a classical piece and an intense modern dance based on Nijinsky and his breakdown. Isabella is able to travel to New York for a competition. Her style is more classical.

With the success of Billy Elliot on screen and on stage and the myriad films and television shows and competitions for dance, this film has an audience out there who will appreciate the story, the personalities, the struggles and the dancing.

Created by: malone last modification: Tuesday 16 of November, 2010 [04:14:36 UTC] by malone


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