Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 11.Sep.05
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Daybreak   3/5 Om Jag Vänder Mig Om
This three-strand Swedish drama has a lot to say about urban life, and it's beautifully filmed and acted. But it's so relentlessly miserable and serious that it's not easy to watch.
  Over the course of one long night, three families are put through the ringer. Agnes (August) suspects her surgeon husband (Eklund) is cheating on her, but isn't remotely prepared for the revelations when they come. Three years after her divorce, Anita (Petren) finally lets her bitterness erupt against her ex-husband (Andersson) and his new wife (Sanna Krepper). And the bricklayer Anders (Magnus Krepper) is working too many hours to support his family, then an unusual job for a paranoid couple (Lindstrom and Hirdvall) finally makes him question his priorities.
  The basic theme is how the frenetic pace of modern life divides us as human beings. These people are all struggling with time, money, fear, depression and anger at the injustice around them. And none are very good at dealing with these things, letting bitterness, betrayal and dishonesty erode their relationships. With such a well-worn theme, the writer-director Runge needs something fresh to grab us with his insights. But while the film is impeccably made and extremely raw and emotional, it's also unbearably gloomy, without a moment of real-life humour.
  That said, the cast is terrific--easy to identify with even when they become unreasonable and completely crazed, as most of them do. August, Andersson and Magnus Krepper have the most sympathetic roles--we feel their pain as they confront extremely uncomfortable truths. Meanwhile, Eklund, Petren and Lindstrom are the out-of-control monsters with only a fragment of humanity left inside.
  The three stories don't intertwine at all--they're only connected by the themes and the fact that all take place on the same night in the same town. When in its final moments, the film brings the strands together in a rather oblique way, Runge finds a faint glimpse of hope in the early morning sun. It's the only thing that makes the film (and life!) bearable. Although for some viewers it might be too late.
dir-scr Björn Runge
with Pernilla August, Jacob Eklund, Marie Richardson, Leif Andrée, Ann Petrén, Peter Andersson, Sanna Krepper, Peter Lorentzon, Magnus Krepper, Marika Lindström, Ingvar Hirdvall, Camilla Larsson
eklund and august release Swe 14.Nov.03,
US 2.Feb.05,
UK 16.Sep.05
03/Sweden 1h48
15 themes, language, violence
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Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence 3.5/5
The staggering beauty of Oshii's animation more than makes up for the fact that his plot is completely impenetrable. But this film is so inventive and visually spectacular that it leaves us wondering what we ever saw in The Matrix.
  Set in 2032, when the line between humans and machines has been completely blurred, the seasoned cyborg (robot body, human mind) detective Batou (Otsuka) is investigating a murder committed by a gynoid (super-realistic robot) that seems to have developed a soul, or a ghost. With his rookie partner Togusa (Yamadera), Batou follows the trail through Yakuza thugs, government conspiracies and computer hackers until he gets to the corporate boss (Takenaka) who may be responsible for this shift in robotics.
  The essence of this film is an examination of how people are becoming more machinelike, while machines are becoming more human--and both are clinging to the faintest hints of humanity. There are only a couple of organic creatures in the film; the most notable is Batou's faithful Bassett hound. Everyone in the story seems to be searching for signs of real life--moral choices, pain, affection and belonging. And what they find isn't very hopeful, because creating more lifelike robots will cause actual humans to slip further into obscurity.
  These fascinating ideas are embedded within a plot that's almost impossible to follow. Extensive sequences seem to repeat on a loop or drift off into dazzling tangents. But it looks so astonishing that we don't mind. This is far and away the most intricate, detailed, imaginative animation ever put on screen--several sequences literally take the breath away as the animators blend the ancient, modern and futuristic with wit and ingenuity. And it's not empty spectacle, as the story's rich themes are echoed in characters who are full of attitude and emotion. It's also packed with literary references, philosophical mumblings and provocative existentialism. The central investigation is just strong enough to keep us intrigued, but it's the extreme gorgeousness that lingers in the memory even more than the emotive conclusion. Pathologically enigmatic, but amazing.
dir-scr Mamoru Oshii
with Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Atsuko Tanaka, Tamio Oki, Yutaka Nakano, Naoto Takenaka, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Masaki Terasoma, Hiroaki Hirata, Sumi Mutoh, Hiroyuki Kinoshita, Kenichi Mochizuki
batou and a gynoid release Jap 6.Mar.04,
US 17.Sep.04,
UK 28.Oct.05
04/Japan Studio Ghibli 1h39
15 themes, language, violence
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March of the Penguins   3.5/5 La Marche de l'Empereur
Honestly, we know a documentary about penguins will be entertaining simply because they're so silly. And big-screen nature docs always look marvellous. So we're guaranteed an enjoyable 85 minutes, and this film certainly delivers that. Although it's not, actually, that exceptional.
  The film charts the nine-month annual cycle of the emperor penguins of Antarctica, beginning with their 70-mile march from the sea to their mating grounds, then the torturous months as the males and females take turns caring for their chicks, while the other treks back to the sea for food. All in the most punishing winter on the planet. It's an astonishing side of nature--you wonder how a species could survive this kind of existence. And yet they seem almost happy about it.
  And this is the filmmakers' first mistake. They anthropomorphise the penguins far too much, giving them hopes and dreams and love lives, but no sense of humour. Which is a ludicrous thing to do when the most delightful aspect of a penguin is its hilarious physicality. The narration is just far too po-faced, giving us lots of important information but missing the entire point of the experience: we want to laugh. (Apparently the original French version dramatises the tale, giving voices to the penguin characters.)
  The second mistake is to sanitise everything, complete with slushy score (by Alex Wurman) and genteel voiceover (by Freeman), so even the few on-screen deaths are given a tragic nobility. By leaving out the muck, the film feels a bit fake. But that's not to say it's bad. The cinematography is absolutely stunning; the crew persistently tracked the penguins for more than a year, and their ability to get up close and personal is remarkable. (Stay for the making-of outtakes in the closing credits.)
  This kind of documentary is thoroughly watchable because the subject matter is so engaging. Seeing these people-like birds tenaciously follow an essential but brutal rite of passage is fascinating. Chuckling at their ridiculous physicality is great fun. But if the filmmakers had tipped over into full-on comedy or poop-and-all nature, or maybe both, it could have been something unforgettable.
R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
Laurie T, Minneapolis: "I loved it and the crazy thing is my cat loved it - he sat in front of the TV cocking his head and watching the babies and all their cheeping. It was hilarious watching him watch them! so I told people my cat recommended that movie!" (7.Apr.06)
dir Luc Jacquet
narration Jordan Roberts
narrator Morgan Freeman
original scr Luc Jacquet, Michel Fessler
original voices Romane Bohringer, Charles Berling, Jules Sitruk
emperor penguins release France 26.Jan.05, US 24.Jun.05, UK 9.Dec.05
05/France Warners 1h25
U some violence
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Room 36   3/5
Filmed in black and white with splashes of red blood, this camp mystery thriller is thoroughly entertaining as long as you're not expecting anything too terribly slick.
  The eponymous Room 36 is in the scruffy Midlothian Hotel, where various people's paths cross over the course of a busy London night. Illicit sex, clandestine meetings, secret contacts and a bit of spying and subterfuge all converge in a muddle of mistaken identity and a growing body count. Key players are the slick henchman Connor (Herzberg) and his contact Miss Woods (Booroff), trying and failing to swap a briefcase of cash for some incriminating film (hidden, naturally, in a case of McGuffin's Face Cream). Or die trying.
  The increasingly twisted plot isn't terribly easy to unravel, but director-cowriter Groom is having too much fun sending up the genre to take anything too seriously. Details and running gags abound in every scene, mostly references to Hitchcock films in which the protagonist must think of an ingenious plan to get out of a seemingly impossible situation. As a result, it's quite enjoyable--not for any clear-cut solution, but for the path taken to get there.
  Since it's filmed in monochrome on an extremely small budget, the film has a creepy and rather wacky period feel. The satire is so broad that it sometimes feels like a slapstick spoof, especially as the nosey hotel staff pokes around and the pesky corpses refuse to stay hidden. All of this is laced with irony, which keeps it both funny and surprisingly tense, especially during the grisly suspense sequences that show how difficult and messy murder can be("I've got to get a new job," Connor moans as he scrubs yet another blood stain).
  There's not really a point to the film, beyond the general pastiche. But Groom's glee is infectious, and makes the most of the ramshackle production values. It's nothing particularly special, but it's a nice example of someone who had an idea and actually got his film made (and, even more remarkably, distributed) against all the odds.
dir Jim Groom
scr Jim Groom, David Read, Tim Dennison
with Paul Herzberg, Portia Booroff, Brian Murphy, Norman Mitchell, Frank Scantori, John Cater, John Forbes-Robertson, Nicola Branson, Crispin Harris, Paul Garner, Darby Hawker, John Marriott
herzberg and booroff release UK 16.Sep.05
05/UK 1h29
15 themes, language, violence, nudity, sexuality
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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall