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Shadows Film FestSHADOWS ARTHOUSE FILMS 05
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
On this page: ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM | ROAR: LIONS OF THE KALAHARI
SKY BLUE | WILD SAFARI: A SOUTH AFRICAN ADVENTURE
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last update 5.May.05
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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room   3.5/5
There's a straightforward narrative approach to this astonishing documentary about quite possibly the biggest fraud in history. Besides its essential historical importance, the film is filled with telling, chilling, gripping details. But when it starts getting bogged down in accounting minutiae, our eyes begin to glass over, like they did during the news coverage.
  Enron was one of the most promising, successful companies ever, inventing things to trade (energy possibilities) and making a fortune in the process. But this money had to come from somewhere; the entire accounting system was smoke and mirrors, borrowing money from future earnings that never materialised. In the end, the Enron employees and the entire population of California paid the bills, while the executives got hundreds of millions of dollars. And, eventually, prison time.
  There are more than a few shocking revelations here. First is the fact that everyone--the major banks, the government, top accounting firms--knew exactly what was going on, despite the denials. That Enron CEO Ken Lay was a good buddy of the entire Bush family is no coincidence (although the film only mentions this in passing). And it's shocking to see how Enron deliberately buried California with a fake energy crisis that generated billions in profits, broke the state's budget, crushed millions of people and directly led to a Republican takeover of the governor's office! With events laid out so coherently, it's clear that this was actually a vicious coup.
  The film is expertly and entertainingly assembled from TV footage, videotape and interviews with key players, including the book's authors McLean and Elkind, whistleblower Watkins and toppled Governor Davis. Their amazing stories paint a picture of greed gone mad in a company without even a hint of a moral compass. On the other hand, the film is perhaps 20 minutes too long, there are too many characters to keep track of, and the myriad accounting loopholes blur into a foreign language. So it's a pity that we're so dazed by the time Gibney finally reaches his vitally important point: corporate culture by its very nature is soulless ... and perhaps evil.
dir-scr Alex Gibney
narr Peter Coyote
with Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind, Sherron Watkins, Gray Davis, Kevin Phillips, Amanda Martin, Max Eberts, Carol Coale, Jim Chanos, Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Andrew Fastow
skilling release US 22.Apr.05,
UK 28.Apr.06
05/US 1h52
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
15 themes, language, some sexuality
4.May.05
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Sky Blue   3.5/5
With a gorgeous blending of animation styles, this English version of a Korean sci-fi adventure has a strong enough story and characters to keep us interested, even if the translation and vocal dubbing aren't quite up to scratch.
  It's 2142 and global warming has decimated the planet, leaving a privileged remnant of humanity living in the self-contained city Ecoban, which is surrounded by survivors who aren't allowed inside. Jay (voiced by Cavadini) is a young woman working on the Ecoban security force who tracks down an interloper who turns out to be her childhood boyfriend Shua (Worden), who now works with the resistance outside the city. As a revolution brews, Jay has a serious conflict of interest between Shua and her boss Kade (Thornton).
  The animation looks absolutely amazing, populating 3D-rendered backgrounds with more cartoonish people. And the combination works beautifully. The settings look like something from The Matrix--a grimy but high-tech earth that looks pieced together from the residue of civilisation, grey and gloomy following a 100-year-long rain shower. This is an inventive imagining of the future, and even with its heavy-handed parallels to current environmental politics, the plot is compelling and involving. It's full of strong character elements, as these peoples' pasts and presents collide unexpectedly, bringing up old rivalries and exposing old secrets. Action sequences have an exciting, lyrical poetry to them, and they cleverly balance the film's quiet introspective moments.
  Where it stumbles is in the English soundtrack. The character voices are efficient but lacking in much personality, which is a problem when the character animation is so simple. And the dialog itself is stiff and awkward, preventing us from really losing ourselves in the film's world. It's still a grippingly fascinating story, with a dreamlike feel that makes the most of both the dingy grey and the sudden vivid colour. But with livelier, more idiosyncratic voices--as well as more believable dialog--these interesting people and places could have sprung to life in a vivid way that would have done justice to the artistry.
dir Sunmin Park
scr Sunmin Park, Howard Rabinowitz, Jeffrey Winter
voices Cathy Cavadini, Marc Worden, Kirk Thornton, David Naughton, Karl Weidergott, Rebecca Wink, Bob Papenbrook, Andrew Ableson, Sunmin Park, Marc Scarpa, Jamie Simone, Mark Lindsay
shua and jay release Korea 17.Jul.03 (original version),
US 31.Dec.04,
UK 8.Jul.05
03/Korea 1h30
CANNES FILM FEST
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
L.A. FILM FEST
12 themes, language, animated violence
29.Apr.05
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Roar: Lions of the Kalahari   4/5
Director Liversedge describes this film as "the real Lion King", and he's absolutely right. His crew spent two years filming lions in Botswana's Kalahari Desert, capturing the real-life dramas and relationships, and then editing all that footage into a 40-minute Imax film. And the resulting film has a startlingly strong narrative structure that really grabs hold, giving the lions personalities without humanising them.
  The story centres on an old lion king, watching over his isolated water hole with his two lionesses--one older and experienced, the other younger and impetuous. As the lionesses prowl for food among the animals that stop for a drink, the lion lounges in the shade waiting for his food. But his life isn't purely leisure: besides fathering the older lioness' cubs, his role is to protect his women and their territory from an encroaching young male.
  The intimate nature of Liversedge's footage is astonishing. He gets his cameras extremely close to the lions, catching the action and interaction with remarkable detail. And there are a lot more than lions--this waterhole is visited by herds of moody elephants, jittery giraffes, daredevil springboks, cheeky meerkats and other wildlife, all of which interacts in a complex way with the lions. And the dusty, desert landscape takes on a life of its own as is cycles through various seasons.
  It does at times feel like a TV documentary, with its straightforward, descriptive narration and unadorned, sun-drenched cinematography. The difference is the Imax format, which throws us right into the excitement of each moment, most notably when the lionesses are pouncing on their prey. And the narrative flow of the film also makes it far more involving and satisfying than most informative docs. Because it's so entertaining that we're not aware how much we're learning.
dir Tim Liversedge
scr Eleanor Grant
narr James Garrett
roar
release US 1.May.04,
UK 15.Jun.05
04/Botswana
National Geographic 40m
PG animal violence
30.Apr.05
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Wild Safari: A South African Adventure   4/5
This Imax 3D doc has such a simple structure that it's remarkable no one thought of it before: the filmmakers take us on a safari around South Africa in search of the Big Five, a term from 19th century trophy-hunting days that refers to the elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard and lion. We're driven by our intrepid guide Eichenberger, assisted by a few local trackers who perch on the front of our jeep. And what we see is amazing. Especially in 3D.
  There's very little background information, just minimal narration and some impressive animated maps that let us know what we're seeing and where we are. We just watch the wildlife in its natural habitat, all in protected reserves. It's so raw and real that we really feel like we're right there. And if you've been on a safari before, you know how real it is--although on an actual safari there's no guarantee of glimpsing everything at once.
  The elephants and rhinos give us great shows, complete with playful youngsters and wary adults. The Cape buffalo, despite being one of the most elusive and dangerous of the bunch, aren't quite as fascinating on the big screen, so get a slightly short shrift here. Then we get to the leopards, an extremely interesting segment that follows a male and female in a surprisingly seductive mating dance. And finally it's time for the lions, and the filmmakers don't give up until they get some truly remarkable footage that includes both male and female action, as well as the curious fact that giraffes are utterly fascinated by lions and peer at them over the tops of bushes for hours at a time.
  In the end we feel like we've actually been on a safari. The sheer size and depth of Imax 3D imagery completely engulf us, and the filmmakers assemble the material simply and effectively, relying on the remarkable work of their cinematographers to get us up close and very personal. But it also feels rather a lot like a sales pitch for South Africa tourism. And a rather effective one at that.
dir-scr Ben Stassen
narr Chuck Hargrove
with Liesl Eichenberger, Elmon Mhlongo, Morgan Leel
white rhinos release US 8.Apr.05,
UK 18.May.05
05/South Africa
nWave 45m
U some animal violence
30.Apr.05
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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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