Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 28.Jan.05
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Aliens of the Deep   3/5
Cameron clearly became obsessed by the ocean while making Titanic. This is his second underwater Imax 3D movie, here focussing on the otherworldly realities of deep-sea creatures. It's visually stunning, but can't resist going slightly too far with its premise.
  The intriguing idea is that exploring the ocean floor is as revelatory as travelling deep into outer space. So Cameron invites experts from the space programme onto deep-diving subs, exploring the kind of geography and, perhaps, life they might one day find on another planet. As the astonishing diversity of undersea life shows itself on-screen, their observations are kept to a minimum--basically a lot of "wows" combined with Cameron's lame "rock on" exclamations.
  Since many of these creatures have never been seen before, even the biologists are speechless. These are truly mind-bending animals that look like parachutes, tubes or fish-toad hybrid things. Nobody has a clue what they are or how they function, so they're rarely explained at all. But they are staggeringly beautiful to look at, especially as they swim in front of us in gigantic 3D! Just seeing them is enough, although it would be nice to have more than merely the gushing amazement of the submarine passengers to help us understand.
  As the film progresses it becomes increasingly clear that Cameron's interest isn't under the oceans after all. Eventually he abandons the sea altogether for a series of increasingly elaborate flights of fancy to distant planets. These sequences are impeccably animated--they look gorgeous and pose interesting questions about the possibility of life on other planets. But they take over the film, pulling us from reality into conjecture. Cameron is basically saying that the oceans are only a practice pool for deep space travel, which is what he thinks is really important.
  But after watching this film, it seems like we should abandon space exploration entirely and concentrate on finding out what life is like right here on earth. Because we clearly have absolutely no idea what's happening on two-thirds of our own planet!
dir James Cameron, Steven Quale
with James Cameron, Djanna Figueroa, Jim Childress, Pan Conrad, Kevin Hand, Loretta Hidalgo, Tori Hoehler, Lonne Lane, Megan McArthur, Anatoly Sagalevitch, Kelly Snook, Maya Tolstoy
cameron and crew release US 28.Jan.05,
UK 11.Feb.05
05/US Buena Vista 50m
U mild themes
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The Cat Returns   3/5
From the studio that brought us the sublime Spirited Away comes another surreal adventure story. It's not nearly as clever or insightful, but it's so inventive and, well, bizarre that it's still worth seeing just for its genre-busting outrageousness.
  Haru (voiced by Ikewaki/Hathaway) is a chaotic teen who's always in trouble for something. After she rescues a cat from being run over by a truck, she learns that she's inadvertently saved the crown prince of the Cat Kingdom. She's both intrigued and a bit frightened to attend a banquet in her honour, hosted by the Cat King himself (Tamba/Curry). But the fact that he wants her to marry his son is a bit worrying, so she asks the Baron (Hakamada/Elwes) and his sidekicks--fat-cat Muta (Watanabe/Boyle) and heroic crow Toto (Saito/Gould)--for help.
  Like Spirited Away, the story is so nutty that you watch with slack-jawed amazement. Who could ever think up something like this? It's thoroughly engaging, especially as it begins to twist and turn into a kind of warped Alice in Wonderland adventure that gets seriously scary for poor, scatter-brained Haru. There's something about having an airhead as the protagonist that makes this film truly endearing--she seems completely clueless about what's happening to her. Her ability to take these increasingly odd situations on board somehow makes her all the more likeable. While everyone around her is so suspiciously untrustworthy that you really wonder if and how she can ever get back to her normal life.
  The animation, like other Ghibli productions, combines lushly detailed backgrounds with relatively simple-looking characters, then keeps everything moving in a startlingly eye-popping way. Kinetic action, sweeping vistas and mind-bending fantasy fill the screen. The way the cats take on human characteristics is both funny and creepy--the kind of thing kids would love. And the way it turns genuinely macabre while remaining blissfully silly is something Hollywood couldn't achieve if it tried. Even though it's very thin, adults and kids will find it a refreshing change from the formula.
dir Hiroyuki Morita
scr Reiko Yoshida
original voices Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Tetsu Watanabe, Yosuke Saito, Tetsuro Tamba, Aki Maeda, Takayuki Yamada, Hitomi Sato
dubbed voices Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliott Gould, Tim Curry, Judy Greer, Rene Auberjonois, Andy Richter
haru saves the prince from certain death release Japan 19.Jul.02, US 22.Feb.05 dvd,
UK 27.May.05
02/Japan Studio Ghibli 1h15
U themes, some suspense
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Le Clan aka: Three Dancing Slaves   2/5
le clan Earthy, tough and very masculine, this tale of three brothers is full of powerful scenes and extremely strong performances, even if it never quite comes together in a meaningful way.
  Middle brother Marc (Cazale) is the focal point, as he feels completely unhinged about his life. Not that he'll let anyone know this! A natural leader, he adopts a rude attitude to deflect his insecurities. He feels helpless to protect his younger teen brother Olivier (Dumerchez); and when older brother Christophe (Rideau) returns from prison with a desire to straighten out his life, Marc feels betrayed and alone. It doesn't help that there are no women in their lives. Or that their father (Lochet) is so ineffectual, still stunned by the death of his wife.
  Director-cowriter Morel captures young male life vividly--the brothers hang out with their gang of friends, clowning around, getting in fights, working out at the gym and obsessing about sex. The film is shot with an intriguing blend of gritty colour and artful light, but this is undermined by an awkward inability to get some key bits of action on film, which Morel tries to cover with choppy editing. Several important scenes are badly botched, leaving us frustrated and unclear as to what happened.
  Still, the feelings are beautifully captured on screen--the way a sense of powerlessness launches these young men on a nasty spiral of escalating violence and revenge, all while they alienate the friends and family who could help. The strong cast creates extremely compelling characters, and their interrelationships are vivid and intriguingly complicated. Alas, the vague writing and direction never help us understand the tension between the brothers, and clumsy gaps in the filmmaking obscure important events. In the end it almost seems like the film is actually about Olivier's emergence from his fog through a romance with one of Marc's pals (Kechiouche). But even this is unfocussed. And in failing to highlight his themes more coherently, Morel misses the chance to say something significant about the important issues he raises.
dir Gaël Morel
scr Christophe Honoré, Gaël Morel
with Nicolas Cazalé, Stéphane Rideau, Thomas Dumerchez, Salim Kechiouche, Bruno Lochet, Vincent Martinez, Jackie Berroyer, Aure Atika, Nicolas Paz, Mathias Olivier, Gary Mary, Geordie Piseri-Diaz
cazale and rideau release France 16.Jun.04, UK 13.May.05,
US 26.Aug.05
04/France 1h30
15 themes, language, violence, nudity
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Downfall Der Untergang   4.5/5
Based on the memoirs of Hitler's personal secretary (memorably recorded in the 2002 documentary Blind Spot), this painstakingly researched film recounts the final days of the Third Reich in a vividly powerful way.
  Traudl Junge (Lara) is a young woman genuinely intrigued by the chance to work for the Fuhrer (Ganz), even though she has her doubts. In 1945, after working closely with him for more than two years, she's in his Berlin bunker as the Soviet Army closes in. Over those final days, she watches Hitler's steely resolve dissolve into suicidal paranoia--taking his wife Eva (Kohler) with him, as well as his right-hand man Goebbels (Matthes) and his wife (Harfouch) and children.
  Significantly, the filmmakers allow Adolf Hitler to be portrayed as a human being rather than a monstrous villain. As a result, he's much more menacing--callous, idealistic, fiery, intelligent, stubborn, obsessed and more than a little mad. Ganz's edgy and mischievous performance brings him to life unlike any previous film incarnation--and the result is jaw-dropping. Delusions of both victory and betrayal cloud his mind and infect everyone around him.
  It also helps that the film is impeccably assembled. There are countless characters, but director Hirschbiegel and writer Eichinger help us identify with the salient ones. Lara is excellent as Junge, who's little more than an observer. But even this is powerful, because the film is bookended with actual clips of Junge that crackle with urgent resonance. Other standouts include Harfouch's Magda Goebbels, with her reluctant but unstoppable resolve, Kohler's cheery-but-shadowed Eva Braun and Kretschmann as Eva's tormented brother-in-law Fegelein.
  Each character has a specific reaction to both the events of these last days and what they know of Hitler's actions during the war (that most choose cyanide capsules and/or a self-inflicted gunshot tells us a lot!). The film feels almost startlingly real, abandoning gloss for intensity and humour. Battle sequences are terrifying, and a constant sense of comedy, irony and desperation keep it all on firm footing. This is an important film that has a lot to say to us right here and now. It's also notable that this is Germany's first film about Hitler in nearly 50 years.
dir Oliver Hirschbiegel
scr Bernd Eichinger
with Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Juliane Köhler, Thomas Kretschmann, Ulrich Matthes, Corinna Harfouch, Heino Ferch, Christian Berkel, Matthias Habich, André Hennicke, Birgit Minichmayr, Donevan Gunia
kohler and ganz release Germany 16.Sep.04,
US 18.Feb.05,
UK 25.Mar.05
04/Germany Constantin 2h20

25th Shadows Awards

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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall