Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Film Review: Double Take

A difficult film to review here as right from the outset it doesn’t fit into a particular genre that well – it could just as easily be classed as a documentary, as it could a political thriller.

While there were many enjoyable moments, it seemed to strike an uneasy balance between providing lessons on history, paranoia, fear and politics; focusing particularly on the space race and the politics-of-fear culture present through the Cold War. For me it felt a little too pointed and even pretentious trying to draw parallels between Hitchcock’s fear of his double and the various pairings it drew attention to, including Nixon and Khrushchev.

Some amusing moments were created through the use of coffee adverts, though I’m still not sure if that was the intended reaction, and also Hitchcock’s introductions and apparent dislike (even fear) of television as a medium provided some light relief from the full-on political nature that the film developed.

I came out feeling that if I knew more Hitchcock films it would probably have helped; ‘The Birds’ provides the basis on which the story is built throughout along with multiple short clips from some of his other films. That said, it didn’t lose my attention even though I wasn’t familiar with all the quotes.

Without wishing to be particularly damning, I think it is well worth another view (if only to try and spot more of the references) but on an initial viewing left me feeling a bit dazed and confused as to what the film was trying to tell us, except that it was unmistakeably an odd and even slightly disturbing film about Hitchcock.

Double Take (2009): 3/5

Friday, 23 April 2010

Film Review: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

Not knowing what to expect from this film, I was pleasantly pleased with what it turned out to be.

Filmed in 4:3 and black-and-white on a handheld camera, from the outset it had a feeling of a 1940’s musical – the score sounding brilliant and with periods of tap dance and beautiful, short songs in between the fairly sparse dialogue.

The musical scenes presented an intimate setting in various clubs and recording situations with trumpeter Guy and his small jazz ensemble playing some nice swinging tunes – again, complementing the period feel of the film.

As Guy descends into self-obsessed longing for his lost love, Madeline, his smoky music brilliantly echoes his feelings as does Madeline with her melancholic songs filled with desperatation as she tries to look on the bright side.

A simple story but lifted into a different class with a stunning orchestral soundtrack and jazzy interludes, it proved that modern films can still be full of moments reminiscent of the Fred and Ginger classics, mixed with a bit of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker of course.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009): 4/5

Film Review: Racing Dreams

This documentary focused on three young kids, Brandon, Josh and Annabeth as they battled to win the World Karting Association’s National Championship and achieve their dream to make it big in NASCAR.

The story proved an unpretentious account of the lives (both racing and personal) of the three children as they and their families battled personal and financial issues to reach the top of their game. Filmed in such a way that it told the story beautifully without any direct interviews that so often over-power a documentary, it was a really nice film that appealed to even those who don’t like racing.

It perfectly highlighted the corporate nature of modern-day racing – the “I’d like to thank my sponsors, my tyre supplier and chassis builder” interviews with the race PA announcer that followed each win told how even ones so young knew the importance of the people giving them the money to race, and how desperate they are not to lose it.

An excellent story more about the kids than the racing, but with some real edge-of-the-seat action, coupled with a heart-warming personal edge makes this a truly spectacular film.

Racing Dreams (2009): 5/5

Film Review: Mickey B

This Northern Ireland adaptation of Macbeth was set in the maximum security Maghaberry prison with a cast of serving prisoners, and was shot as part of a prisoner rehabilitation programme by The Educational Shakespeare Company.

While it is difficult to criticise a film based on good intentions, for me, on pure entertainment, the film did not succeed. The acting was understandably shaky, although one or two standout performances provided some drama, and the colloquial language helped break the feeling that the actors were uncomfortable with their lines. It was, however, an otherwise flat production, which even though it only lasted one hour still felt too long.

That said, the value of this film is in its ability to promote prisoner rehabilitation. Some may question the choice of Macbeth (and a particularly violent portrayal of it) as the correct film to produce in this situation, however the underlying story parallels the prisoners’ situation – choose violence as your method of getting what you want and you live and deal with the consequences.

While the production quality (the prison surroundings, the shaky camera work and the cold blue screen cast) could have filled the story with edgy drama and tension, the unsteady acting killed any atmosphere that may have been created and made the whole thing feel a bit corny.

Not the best film we’ve seen at the festival by a long way but nonetheless a worthwhile project.

Mickey B (2007): 2/5

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Film Review: Down Terrace

For me, this turned out to be a real surprise at the Festival. Expecting another pointlessly violent, cockney, Guy Ritchie-style British gangster film, it proved to be anything but, with some brilliant acting from recognisable TV stars, in the first film from director Ben Wheatley.

The film itself swings from moments of hippy-esque, drug-fuelled calm to spontaneous brutal violence, but interspersed with deadpan, almost slapstick comedy and genuine laugh-out-loud moments (especially from Belfast’s own Michael Smiley), in such a way that the audience is left constantly thinking “what next?”.

Moments of real intrigue in the storyline and brilliantly delivered humour, combined with the fact that the whole thing is all put together so naturally, make this one of the best British films I’ve ever seen.

Down Terrace (2009): 5/5

Film Review: Adrift

This was an unexpected hit at the festival – mainly because the other film that was due to be showing was cancelled as it was stuck on a plane, unable to get to Belfast due to the volcano eruption! Nonetheless, it proved to be a solid feel-good film about love and separation.

The central character was a young girl (Filipa) who was witnessing (along with her siblings) the gradual demise of her parents’ marriage. She sees her mother pushing her father away and mirrors these traits when she meets a boy while on holiday.

A story of her struggles with coming of age as her parents finally split up, it progressed at a pace that kept the attention levels up and didn’t drag out anything unnecessarily.

The cinematography in particular stood out with some wide shots of stunning country really helping to immerse the viewer in the story, and used throughout to emphasise the characters having a moment of relection.

Overall, a nicely made film that didn’t take too much thought to stay with the story.

Adrift (À Deriva (2009)): 3/5

Film review: The Living Room of the Nation

Having never before seen a Finnish film, I was looking forward to this documentary, which featured a collection of short clipped segments from various people throughout Finland.

Filled with moments of humour, fear, pain and love it presented a story good enough to capture me for the duration. It presented a sequence of contrasting images throughout - the birth of a new-born baby sat alongside the deterioration of a minister suffering with his obesity in his old-age, being thrown out of his home. On reflection it seemed to feature the widest range of emotions it was possible to create.

However, I felt the moments of sadness, in particular, could have been more drawn out and helped to create a greater feeling of empathy – as it was, these few moments of tenderness felt a little constrained and short-lived.

Overall, an interesting portrayal of the various lives of the people it featured, shot entirely with static cameras, indoors (as the title suggests), but with few stand out moments to lift it above other documentaries.

The Living Room of the Nation (Kansakunnan olohuone (2009)): 3/5

Film Review: Dogtooth

This film from Greek director Giorgios Lanthimos proved to be a popular event at the QFT.

The film was billed as a shocking portrayal of children held captive by their parents. In reality it turned out to be far more shocking than most people were expecting.

As expected, in a style similar to Haneke, the film provided a darkly comic storyline which went on to fully explore the depths and depravity of human nature. However, it used topics that felt even more uncomfortable to watch than some of Haneke’s films, the foremost being the parents instigating an incestuous relationship between two of their children, which is then played out in full; uncensored.

It was interesting gauging the reaction of people watching the film: the viewer seemed happy enough to laugh along in disbelief with the story until this part of the film, at which point the mood in the theatre completely changed and suddenly we felt much more empathy with the suffering and naivety of the children. It was as if this was the first thing we had so far seen that we thought was totally wrong.

The few moments of sudden, shocking violence certainly produced stunned gasps from everyone in the theatre - especially from those who like cats...

The unresolved ending added to the general unease and left us feeling a bit short-changed, but it was certainly one of the most talked about films, with some people loving it and others feeling they couldn’t even rate it on the paper form everyone is given as part of the audience review!

That said, a film which can tell a disgusting and challenging story in this way and provoke a reaction like this from its audience is surely one worth watching, and the various technical ploys used to unsettle the viewer (unfocused framing, action happening just out of shot, people not framed correctly with heads ‘cut off’), never mind the disturbing plot mark it out as something different.

Dogtooth (Kynodontas (2010)): 4/5

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Film Review: Shirley Adams

Over the course of the Belfast Film Festival, I am going to be posting short reviews of some of the films we see. Feel free to add your comments at the end of the blog and share any experiences you may have. Note, there may be spoilers, so beware.

First up, Shirley Adams.

This was an intimate, thought-provoking portrayal of a mother's struggle to cope with her disabled son.

The majority of the story in the first half was told through reactions and expressions rather than a great amount of dialogue, and with the lead character appearing in almost every frame, the viewer is forced in particular to analyse her thoughts throughout an often difficult-to-watch film.

The handheld, shuffling and very close-cropped camera work adds to the feelings of tension and discomfort for the viewer throughout.

An interesting sub-plot involving a departed husband who has left the family through an inability to cope with his son's disability, means the added feelings of rejection felt by both mother and son are clear to see and feel.

The interesting relationship between violence and poverty is hinted at throughout; a single act of violence leads to the utter destruction of a previously happy family.

Although a compelling story, the climax was perhaps a little contrived, with the build up removing some of the tension and surprise that could otherwise have resulted, but maybe I've seen too much Michael Haneke and have come to expect the surprise element...

Overall, a good start to what promises to be an excellet film festival, and speaking of Haneke, tomorrow night's film is Dogtooth, which has been compared to some of his work. Can't wait!

Shirley Adams (2009): 4/5

Friday, 2 April 2010

Holiday Time

Easter is here, and it is almost holiday time again.  A few days off will be nice and we're hoping to explore some of the Northern Ireland countryside.

Speaking of which, we were up at the North Coast last weekend with a friend of ours who was over from England.  It doesn't matter how many times we go there, it always impresses me.  The Giant's Causeway is a treat (even when the weather is as ferocious as it was when we were there), and the coastal drive back home is brilliant, winding its way through valleys, over hills and alongside cliffs.

We also had a sneaky stop off at Bushmills distillery, where, needless to say, a bottle of 'medicine' was purchased...it was on offer!  The tour there is still good, and the guide was more informative than most - especially when he got asked stupid questions from some girls on the tour!

My surround sound system is now up and running - watched a film on it last night.  As is typical, it turned out not to be filmed in 5.1 surround sound so we had to make do with 2.1...but watched a few minutes of another film that is in 5.1 and the sound was incredible...glad we don't have neighbours too close!

The Belfast Film Festival is looming too - we have got our festival passes, so we can go to as many films as we like.  Saves me narrowing down my list of films - there really is so much going on, it'll be nice to head down after work and sit and watch something different each night.

So for this weekend, Ellen's dad is over for Easter.  In store for us is a trip to the brilliant St George's market to buy some food for a Sunday lunch, enjoy some music and maybe a bacon bap.  Then a lazy day in Belfast before heading to the airport.  I'm even getting a haircut!

Then I am off next week, and I have my birthday in the middle of it, so lots of fun.  In the meantime, back to work...