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last update 21.Oct.03

back to the top MILWAUKEE, MINNESOTA
folland and garity festival
dir Allan Mindel; scr RD Murphy
with Troy Garity, Alison Folland, Randy Quaid, Bruce Dern, Hank Harris, Debra Monk, Josh Brolin, Holly Woodlawn, Suzanne Petri, John Judd, Maren Lindow
release UK 3.Dec.04, US 3.Jun.05 03/US 1h35 3 out of 5 stars
There's a kind of anti-Fargo feel to this film that shows in the title, which pokes fun at that fact that it seems irrelevant that Milwaukee is in Wisconsin, not Minnesota! This is a film about the quiet dignity of Midwesterners and the interlopers who try to take advantage of them. But it's also a story about one man's journey: Albert (Garity) is a 30-year-old mentally disabled man who still lives with his mother (Monk), works for a local shop owner (Dern) and is a champion fisherman. But when his mother dies suddenly, the sharks circle around trying to trick him out of his nest egg. First there's a con artist team, with the cute but not-too-bright Tuey (Folland) posing as a Time magazine reporter with her hypochondriac 16-year-old brother (Harris) in tow. Then a slimy travelling salesman (Quaid) arrives and starts to unearth past secrets to win Albert onto his side. But these and other swindlers vastly underestimate their prey!
  Despite the icy exteriors, the film has a dark and very warm look to it that draws us in instantly; these are people we find interesting and natural. Mindel's gentle direction and Murphy's sweet script tap in to honest human rhythms in a lovely way until the machinations of the script start turning. At this point it becomes more of a black comedy about people who take advantage of those less fortunate. And as we start to see what's going on here, it gets more interesting, but all of the conclusions aren't terribly convincing. Performances are good though; Garity's self-aware Albert has a dignity that sets the performance apart from more showy Hollywood portrayals of disability. And Quaid's smoothie huckster is the other standout, simply because we can see that there's more to him than meets the eye. But as we begin to put the pieces together, we realise that the film really has no teeth; the villains are nasty but they're more likely to eat each other than to harm the film's one innocent. It's all very well-made cinematically, and very watchable, but there's nothing new. [15 themes, language, violence] 20.Oct.03 lff
back to the top PERSONA NON GRATA
palestinean terrorists talk to stone festival
dir Oliver Stone
with Oliver Stone, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat, Jasan Yosef, Meir Pail, Gideon Ezra, Miguel Moratinos
release UK Oct.03 lff 03/US 1h26 3 out of 5 stars
After the heavily slanted Fidel Castro documentary Comandante, it's good to see that Stone has centred himself more effectively with this insightful look at Israeli-Palestine. He simply dives in head first, visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah, talking with leaders in both governments as well as terrorist organisations. What emerges is one of the sharpest examinations of what's happening ... because it's a firsthand account.
  This is compelling, fascinating material, and the reasoned comments from Peres are revelatory. He seems to be the only truly levelheaded person in the region, willingly admitting to Israel's mistakes and taking a realistic look at possible solutions in a place full of "angry people who can't hear each other anymore". On the other hand, the lack of an interview with Arafat leaves a big gap; Stone meets him but isn't allowed to talk, and Arafat's only to-camera speech (which is a news clip) is un-subtitled like all the Arabic and Hebrew speech in the film. So really the only Palestinean perspective comes from terrorists spouting the company line or people on the street--not people in power to actually do something about it.
  Stone uses the digital format well, allowing him to mix in news footage seamlessly. But the camerawork is chaotic, and the finished film feels like it was amateurishly edited by a teenager on his new Mac, overusing graphic effects and leaving in far too much rough footage. But as Stone goes into a darkened room to talk with three shrouded terrorists, he taps into the raw emotions of the conflict ("How can we not respond when they kill our people and demolish our homes?"). In the end, he refuses to offer answers, letting his subjects observe that peaceful coexistence seems impossible now, leaving only three alarming options: continued war like in Belfast or Yugoslavia, an oppressive Apartheid-type system, or a new Berlin Wall. That Stone never comments on the issue is remarkable, even if it leaves the doc feeling simplistic. But despite the annoying filmmaking style, it's also one of the most lucid examinations of the situation we've seen yet. [themes, violence, language] 16.Oct.03
back to the top THE TROUBLE WITH MEN + WOMEN
mcfadden, ashfield and delamere festival
dir-scr Tony Fisher
with Joseph McFadden, Kate Ashfield, Matthew Delamere, Karine Adrover, Vas Blackwood, Christine Tremarco, Karen Tomlin, Neve McIntosh, Christopher Simon, Doraly Rosen, Sally Mitchell
release UK Nov.03 lff 03/UK 1h20 1 out of 5 stars
There are clues on the screen that this low-budget British romance was shot years ago and has sat on a shelf awaiting editing or completion funds or whatever. What isn't so obvious is why it was made at all. Matt (McFadden) is a nice 20-something guy in London trying to get over being dumped by his girlfriend (McIntosh). His best friends are a couple--noncommittal Vinnie (Delamere) and thoughtful Susie (Ashfield)--and as he spends time with them he learns a bit too much about why their relationship isn't as perfect as it seems. He starts meeting new girls, but none of them seem good enough to be The One. Until Susie tells him that she and Vinnie might break up because she wants someone who's more romantic.
  The plot isn't bad, but writer-director Fisher never invests anything that makes it stand out above the pack of similar romantic dramas. We can guess how it will end, even though the road there is fairly rocky. And the characters never really come alive--they're rather unlikeable and vague, without much personality. Although some performances are a bit uneven, the cast isn't bad; Ashfield is excellent and McFadden is charming as a kind of lightweight young Colin Farrell. But they all seem badly under-directed, and we never see inside them. Meanwhile, the script is full of ill-defined conversations and philosophical quotes that seem inserted to in a feeble attempt to add some depth. There's a lot of talking about gender roles and the confusion of love and romantic difficulties, but these are the kind of conversations we have when we're teens, not adults. It's like Fisher has just discovered the powerful concept that relationships are hard work! The film looks intriguing, with cool blurry video effects that seem more like padding than anything meaningful. Basically this should have been a short; hopefully Fisher will mature as a filmmaker and find something to say in his next feature. [adult themes and situations, language, drugs, sex] 13.Oct.03 lff
rossellini festival
dir Guy Maddin; scr Guy Maddin, George Toles
with Mark McKinney, Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Medeiros, Ross McMillan, David Fox, Darcy Fehr, Claude Dorge, Brent Neale
release US 30.Apr.04; UK 7.May.04 03/Canada 1h49 4 out of 5 stars
Based on a screenplay by Kazoo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day), then adapted in the by Canadian art-filmmaker Maddin, this unforgettably warped movie is a work of genius ... if you're looking for something way off the beaten track. It all kicks off when beer mogul Lady Port-Huntly (Rossellini) declares that her company is hosting a contest in Winnipeg--"chosen by the London Times as the worldwide capital of sorrow"--to find the world's saddest music. It's 1933 and the grand prize is enormous, so entrants arrive from all over the world, including three members of the Kent family, who all draw their grief from the death of their wife/mother: War veteran father Fyodor (Fox) is representing Canada; Broadway producer son Chester (McKinney) represents America with his girlfriend (de Medeiros), who gets advice from her tapeworm; and cellist son Roderick (McMillan) represents his adopted country of Serbia, where his son died and his wife went missing. All have strange links to the literally legless Lady Port-Huntley, who stands to make a fortune: "If you're sad and like beer, I'm your lady!"
the saddest music in the world   This intriguing story is told in Maddin's inimitable style, with extremely grainy monochrome footage, sometimes hand-tinted or colourwashed. There are constant visual gimmicks, goofy back projection, B-movie sets and seriously camp performances. But he also manages to get to the heart of his characters, so if you can accept the bizarre approach, the twisted melodrama is surprisingly compelling and emotional. With undercurrents of tragedy and deep sadness, this feels like a David Lynch movie--visually, thematically and in the vicious black humour. Meanwhile, the competition is staged like a deranged Eurovision Song Contest, with a series of knockout battles after which the winner plunges into a pool of beer (while Americans listen via radio enviously--it's both the Great Depression and Prohibition). That the actors manage to find resonance amid this romantic-musical-comedy chaos is a minor miracle, but their complex interrelationships actually mean something. Each person must deal with powerful emotions--love, hate, jealousy, grief--as the battles escalate to all-out war. The film works on so many levels that it's hard to count them all. And if you're willing to enter its universe, it's absolutely wonderful. [15 themes, language, some violence] 13. Oct.03 lff
back to the top SAVE THE GREEN PLANET!
shin and baek festival
dir-scr Jun-hwan Jeong
with Ha-kyun Shin, Yun-shik Baek, Jeong-min Hwang, Jae-yong Lee, Ju-hyeon Lee, Ju-bong Gi
release release Korea 4.Apr.03, UK 24.Sep.04, US 22.Apr.05 03/Korea 1h58 4 out of 5 stars
On the surface, this outrageous Korean action-comedy is over the top madness; underneath there's both a tender drama and a fascinating rumination on humanity and the earth. That all of this works brilliantly--if you let it--is nothing short of a miracle! Living in the remote countryside, Lee (Shin) is a paranoid young man convinced the world is about to be destroyed by aliens from Andromeda. He has isolated the top spy as Kang (Baek), the CEO of a chemical corporation. So Lee and his circus tightrope-walker girlfriend (Hwang) kidnap Kang and try to get him to tell them how to save the planet from destruction. Meanwhile, two detectives are on the case: the unorthodox veteran Chu (Jae-Yong Lee) and the up-and-coming Kim (Ju-Hyeon Lee). Can Lee figure out the truth before the apocalypse? Or is he just a nutcase who needs to be taken down before he kills again?
save the green planet   That writer-director Jeong manages to keep us guessing about which character is the real villain right up to the very end is no mean feat. This is brilliantly inventive filmmaking that somehow walks the tightrope between full-on sci-fi adventure and psychological thriller ... and we're not sure which one it is until the final scene. Scenes are punctuated with moments of sheer horror and grisliness, silly animation and outrageous fantasies, and references to all sorts of horror and science fiction movies. And Jeong also touches ideas and themes from paranoia, oppression and bullying to loyalty, love and tolerance. OK, so it's basically gonzo mayhem from start to finish, but at least with these ideas gurgling underneath there's a subtext that makes it worth chewing on. And along the way he brilliantly combines every creation theory imaginable into a kind of coherent narrative leading up to global warming! The actors are very clever, keeping us guessing with mercurial performances that veer wildly from manic insanity to lucid thoughtfulness in the blink of an eye. And it also needs to be said that this is one of the coolest-looking movies you'll see all year--truly imaginative touches fill every scene, keeping it funny, scary and utterly gripping. [18 themes, strong violence and gore, language] 20.Oct.03 lff
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall