26 April, 2010

First Nominations for 2010: The Shorts

As announced at the Tampere Film Festival in Finland, the documentary short Lummikko (The Little Snow Animal) has been selected by the festival’s international jury for a nomination for the 23rd European Film Awards. There are now seven short films already nominated for European Film Academy Short Film 2010, an award presented in co-operation with a network of festivals across Europe.

The nominees for 2010 so far are:

Lumikko (The Little Snow Animal)
by Miia Tervo
Finland 2009, 19 mins, documentary
In the Tampere short film nominee, a 16-year-old girl calls a radio night talk-show, telling the host about her miserable life. In a unique associative mixture of fiction, documentary, animated scenes and music, the film captures the inner universe of a troubled teenager struggling with the consequences of her deeds.

Venus Vs Me
by Nathalie Teirlinck
Belgium 2009, 27 mins, fiction
The short film nominee selected at the Berlin International Film Festival deals with twelve-year-old Marie who has problems putting her childhood behind her. Ever since her young mother brought home a new boyfriend, Marie’s questions have gone unanswered and communication would seem to be impossible. Marie desperately tries to win back her mother for herself, at the same time seeking comfort in the world of her memories.

ØnskeBørn (Out Of Love)
by Birgitte Stærmose
Denmark 2009, 29 mins, documentary fiction
Selected at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, this documentary short tells a gripping story about the experiences of children in an unreal-looking Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, told in an unorthodox way.

by Thomas Wangsmo
Norway 2009, 14 min, fiction
The Ghent short film nominee is about a young man who makes a most untraditional living. In a city where young, rich people will spend whatever it takes to get what they want, Thomas provides them with a service no one else will. And loathes himself for doing it.

Der Ampelmann (Lights)
by Giulio Ricciarelli
Germany 2009, 14 min, fiction
In this comedy short, nominated at the Valladolid International Film Festival, a bored cop in the middle of nowhere wants to prove himself. He sets up traffic lights at a lonely bridge, messing up the villagers’ routine with his new rules. With dry slapstick, the film mildly pokes fun at the law.

Les Escargots de Joseph (Joseph’s Snails)
by Sophie Roze
France 2009, 12 min, animation
The Cork short film nominee is a charming and beautifully animated story about a shy, introverted little boy who collects snails. One day he gets swallowed up by his own belly-button and discovers the disturbing world of the ‘navel-gazers’- and with that the importance of others. The film displays exquisite technical control, whilst maintaining a delicate and human touch throughout.

Blijf Bij Me, Weg (Stay, Away)
by Paloma Aguilera Valdebenito
The Netherlands 2009, 24 mins, fiction
The Angers short film nominee is an authentic family drama about a single mother and her teen-aged daughter who doesn’t get along with her mother’s new lover. Their every day life is by fights and jealousy. Only in moments, when she her mother all to herself, the daughter feels safe and happy. Torn between her daughter’s needs and her own, the mother only sees one solution for herself to be happy again and makes a serious decision. Brilliantly acted and true in every little gesture, this drama is highly moving despite its brevity.

The next three nominees will be presented in June in co-operation with the Krakow Film Festival (Poland), the Norwegian Short Film Festival Grimstad (Norway) and the Edinburgh International Film Festival (UK) respectively.

When the annual cycle is completed in September, the nominees will be presented to the more than 2,000 members of the European Film Academy, who will select the overall winner, the European Film Academy Short Film 2010 which will be presented at the 23rd European Film Awards Ceremony on 4 December in Tallinn/Estonia.

18 April, 2010

Titanic (1997)

See worthy, but not a classic

Winner Best European Actress (Kate Winslet), People's Choice Awards and nominated for Outstanding European Achievement in World Cinema (Kate Winslet), European Film Awards 1998

Well I remember my intitial reaction to James Cameron's sweep-all-before-it 11 Oscar winner in 1998 - my film critic career was still in its infancy then and, like seemingly most of the civilized world (it was the most succesful film ever until Cameron's Avatar (2009)) overtook it recently, though thankfully not with Academy Awards), I was blown away by the scale, sweep and power of a film that, as far as I knew, was an accurate account of the sinking of HMS Titanic, a story of human folly and arrogance, and the thousands of souls who paid the ultimate price.

Ahem. Well, it must now be said that Cameron's film has really not aged that well - there's no doubting the efforts of the ensemble cast (with Kathy Bates, David Warner, Billy Zane (probably the best thing in the film, as the pantomime-villainesque would-be husband Cal Hockley) and many others following the lead of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, both whom enjoyed break-out successes as star-crossed lovers Rose and Jack), and the actual sinking of the ship (sorry if that's a spoiler) is achieved in a dramatic and genuinely moving fashion.

No, it's the set-up and script that you have to have problems with on subsequent viewings. 2,200 people (including a namesake of mine) were aboard the ill-fated liner - how difficult would it have been for Cameron to have found a truly original, adult tale from such a selection? And just how believable are DiCaprio as a supposedley 'experienced' youth of the streets and Winslet as a poor little rich girl? Answer? Not very, so sorry.

And the script? Oh dear. Cameron makes the ill-inspired move of trying to be ironic at every turn, and we all know how dangerous a game that is for Americans to play, don't we?

For example:

Trudy Bolt: What's the artist's name?
Rose: Something Picasso.
Cal Hockley: [scoffs] Something Picasso? He won't amount to a thing.

Oh dear.

Now, don't get me wrong - the ending is impressive, and Titanic will doubtless endure as a testament to spectacle, but little else, in much the same way that William Wyler's overrated Ben Hur (1959) (which won the same number of Oscars) already has.

But People's Choice Award for Best European Actress? I don't think so. As with Godzilla (1998), it just shows what can happen when you give people the vote.

Awards: Click here for details.

194 mins.

12 April, 2010

In the Name of the Father (1993)

Father, forgive them

Nominated for European Film of the Year (Jim Sheridan), European Film Awards 1994

A controversial one this, but, considering you've got Jim Sheridan (who co-wrote Terry George's Some Mother's Son (1996) with the director) at the helm, and it tells the story of the wrongful 15-year imprisonment of the 'Guildford Four' following the Guildford pub bombing by the IRA in 1974, that probably goes without saying, right?

Central to Sheridan's powerful, emotive adaptation is Gerry Conlon (Daniel-Day Lewis), whose book Proved Innocent tells the story of his wrongful incarceration, the death of his father Guiseppe Conlon (Pete Postlethwaite) in prison and his eventual release along with Paul Hill (John Lynch), Patrick 'Paddy' Armstrong (Mark Sheppard) and Carole Richardson (Beatie Edney) in 1989.

Their convictions were quashed because of the police torture that was shown to have been used to extract the original 'confessions' and revalations that evidence that would have cleared the four was withheld from the defence. Clearly, the Brits have much to be ashamed of - Terry George and Jim Sheridan's screenplay ran into a little hot water at the time of the film's release, because it plays fast and loose with some (but only some) of the specifics of the injustice that played out over 15 years.

In a wonderfully moving duet, Gerry and Guiseppe are shown to have been interred in the same prison - while this was actually not the case, it matters not a jot to this reviewer. The film is all about human truth and agony and, with a stirring performance from Emma Thompson as the four's impassioned defence lawyer, it's one that will have you raising the roof at its climax. Simply wonderful.

Awards: Click here for details.

133 mins.

03 April, 2010

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Dude abides

Nominated for Screen International Award for a Non-European Film (Joel Coen), European Film Awards 1998

What better film is there to mark the return of James Drew (JD) and Colin Moors (CM) to side-by-side reviewing, than Joel and Ethan Coen’s sublime mixture of Chandler and ten-pin bowling, The Big Lebowski (1998)? Of all the films we’ve ever discussed, this takes the prize for being the most eminently quotable and, perhaps, the funniest. To all our faithful readers, with thanks – we only hope it’s a strike.

“Not on the rug, man!”
“That rug really tied the room together.”

JD: A little background, to begin – my reviewing partner and I also double up as long-time members and some-time captains of a Brussels-based bowling team, The Vikingettes (don’t ask) and so we can announce with authority that ten-pin bowling is perfectly chosen by writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen as the game of choice (and his tipple of choice is a White Russian) for their film’s central character, Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), better known to his friends Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi) as ‘The Dude’. “Now, ‘Dude’ – ” (as the film’s narrator, The Stranger (Sam Elliott) intones at the beginning of proceedings), “that’s a name no-one would self apply where I come from, but then again, there was a whole lot about The Dude that didn’t make much sense to me.” According to the Coens, Dude (based on a real-life acquaintance of the pair) is “a man in whom casualness runs deep” and, truly, he’s all that. Little, apart from perhaps his Vietnam-obsessed buddy Walter (seriously, Goodman is just so good in this role) fazes the man, but when two thugs come calling at his house, looking for his wife, Bunny (Tara Reid) who owes money all over town (“My wife? Bunny? Do you see a wedding ring, man? Does this place look like I’m fucking married? The toilet seat is up, man!”) and then pee on his rug, Dude realizes that he has been the victim of mistaken identity, and sets out to ask LA’s ‘other’ Jeffrey Lebowski – The Big Lebowski (David Huddleston) for recompense. A pompous, crippled millionaire to whom Bunny is a mere ‘trophy wife’, Lebowski is initially more than rude towards Dude, but seems to change his attitude when Bunny is allegedley kidnapped. Thinking that perhaps the thugs who ’soiled’ Dude’s rug may also be the kidnappers, Lebowski and his servant Brad (another simply brilliant turn, in a film that’s littered with ‘em, from Philip Seymour Hoffman) provide Dude with the $1 million ransom in a sealed case, a beeper so he can be reached at any time, and instructions to act as bag man. “Her life is in your hands, Dude.” Unfortunately, Dude decides to involve Walter…oh, fuck.

“That’s a great plan, Walter. That’s fuckin’ ingenious, if I understand it correctly. It’s a Swiss fuckin’ watch.”
CM: Involving Walter in anything more complex than grocery shopping is simply asking for trouble. Sure enough, what should be a simple case of dropping the money off in return for Bunny’s freedom quickly becomes a fiasco of epic proportion. “Fuck that! I love you, Walter, but sooner or later you’re gonna have to face the fact that you’re a goddamn moron!” This really is the essence of the Walter/Dude relationship. Walter is well-meaning, but clinically insane. The Dude likes him despite his obvious shortcomings but occasionally, Walter’s schemes and daydreams push the wrong buttons and Dude momentarily loses his legendary cool. On this particular occasion, he decides that the plan in which they throw the money in a bag out of a moving car could be improved tremendously by scrapping it entirely and grabbing one of the kidnappers and locating Bunny by “beating it out of him”. The Dude is less than enamoured of this plan.

“What’s a pederast, Walter?”
“Shut the fuck up, Donny.”

JD: ‘Donny’, as portrayed by Steve Buscemi, is the hilarious constant recipient of the shitty end of the stick in the narrative – the second line of dialogue above is by and large Walter’s only interaction with his so-called friend, with its style of delivery ranging from apathy to complete rage, depending on Walter’s mood. And the ‘pederast’ in question? Ah, that would be one Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), a bowler of some clout whose sexual tastes run, apparently, to the ‘exotic’. “Nobody fucks with the Jesus!” Singularly unimpressed with Walter’s on-lane antics (he had previously pulled a gun and threatened an opponent with “a world of pain” if the hapless (and pacifist) bowler doesn’t mark a frame as a zero after he allegedly stepped over the line while bowling, and has rearranged a league game because he doesn’t roll on the Sabbath), he is however a man of some grace when it comes to rolling, as a simply hysterical ‘ball kissing’ set-piece proves. In fact, the film’s joy lies in its set-pieces, with actors of the calibre of Julianne Moore as Maud Lebowski, the Big Lebowski’s avant-garde artist daughter, only too happy to be along for the ride. “Vagina.”

[On video] “You must be here to fix the cable.”
“Lord. You can imagine where it goes from here.”
“He fixes the cable?”
“Don’t be fatuous, Jeffrey.”

CM: Maud shows a video and explains to Dude about Bunny’s ‘career’ as a porn star. She also intimates that she thinks there is more to this kidnapping than first meets the eye – “This compulsive fornicator is taking my father for the proverbial ride.” The Dude, being as he is, isn’t as concerned about the whereabouts or well-being of Bunny as he is for his rug. The relationship between Dude and Maude is one based purely on mutual benefit. Naturally, some benefits may outweigh certain others, but everyone leaves satisfied in the end. Kind of. This relationship is but one of many in the movie, but one of the more intriguing – is she, or is she not his “special lady”? She’s certainly too haughty to call Dude by his “preferred nomenclature”, always referring to him as Jeffrey.

“Your phone’s ringing, Dude!”
“Thank you, Donny.”

JD: And it is in exchanges such as this that the film’s delight is also manifest – Dude is keeping a lid on it, but his frustration is reaching boiling point. As he complains at one point: “I could have been sitting here with just pee stains on my rug!” – instead, he’s been drawn into a labyrinthine plot of truly Raymond Chandleresque (The Big Sleep) proportions but, at least unlike Chandler’s infamously contrived masterpiece, which the film is also a homage to, The Big Lebowski has an ending that is both appropriate and satisfying. We are, of course, giving nothing away.

“Love me.”
“That’s my robe!”

CM: Yes, the hero gets the girl and rides off into the sunset, Donny and Walter marry their childhood sweethearts, and Bunny turns up safe and sound. OK, not really. This is a Coen brothers film, after all. As my esteemed partner in rhyme alluded to above, things work themselves out to a nicely rounded finish but will probably not be entirely what you may expect or hope for. As a piece of art, it’s one of the more unusual, especially for the F-word count. ‘Fuck’ and its variations and derivatives is used 292 times in total, clocking in at – if my Windows calculator serves – 2.49 utterances per minute. If you really haven’t the time to watch the whole movie, try just watching the swearing here on YouTube.

So, why watch it? It’s got nihilists, bowling, an allegedly depraved Mexican, a poor man’s version of electro band Kraftwerk, excessive swearing, excessive use of the word ‘Dude’ and a rug that really tied the room together. What’s not to like?

Awards: Click here for details.

117 mins.