Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
< < M O R E | M O R E > >
last update 2.Dec.05
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
A Bittersweet Life   3.5/5
Stylish and full of attitude, this elegant revenge thriller has worms itself under our skin with vivid characters and jolting emotions. It's ultimately rather indulgent, but filmmaker Kim Ji-woon has enough skill to make it work.
  Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is a loyal employee of mob boss Kang (Kim Young-chul) who, when he goes on a business trip, asks Sun-woo to watch over his young girlfriend (Shin) and "take care of things" if he discovers she's having an affair. She is, and the coolly efficient Sun-woo has a moment of conscience, letting the guy leave if he promises never to return. But this decision seems to unleash the powers of hell against him--namely a vindictive rival gang and Sun-woo's ambitious colleague (Kim Roi-ha).
  As the film gets increasingly violent and intense, the director maintains a dry, sardonic tone that makes the gruesome bloodletting almost comical. The character inter-reactions are sharply witty and timed to perfection, and the fight scenes show true inventiveness that never undermines the realism (unlike most Hollywood studio fight choreography). It's all so believable that we find ourselves drawn into Sun-woo's absurd situation.
  Performances are equally realistic, layering world-weariness with tenacious arrogance. These people are so sure of themselves that they'd rather fight to the death than admit they might be wrong. And even when they should lie down and die of their injuries, they keep going. Kim uses everything he can think of (hair, costumes, glasses, sheer attitude) to make sure we know exactly who each character is from scene to scene. Even when he springs a mystery man (Moon) on us near the finale, we know this is someone from outside the gang world.
  This is thrillingly entertaining cinema--gripping, ingenious, moving. When Sun-woo's world implodes due to a moment of emotional empathy, we find ourselves locked with him as the situation escalates beyond all sense of reason. Kim takes a few unnecessary sideroads in the final act, so the film feels overlong and a bit muddled at the very end. But as Sun-woo's quest for vengeance (or justice) inevitably leads to a surreal apocalypse, he beautifully pushes home the central theme of suppressed, unreachable dreams.
dir-scr Kim Ji-woon
with Lee Byung-hun, Kim Young-Chul, Shin Min-a, Kim Roi-ha, Whang Jung-min, Jin Gu, Oh Dal-su, Moon Chong-Hyuk, Kim Hae-gon, Lee Ki-young, Lee Mu-yeong, Oh Kwang-rok
lee byun-hun release Korea 1.Apr.05, UK 20.Jan.06
05/Korea 2h00
Cannes Film Fest
18 themes, strong violence, language
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Steamboy   3/5
From the makers of Akira, this is another example of innovative, astonishingly gorgeous animation from Japan, combining traditional hand-drawing with elaborate 3D computer design work. And even the story is extraordinarily imaginative.
  In 1866 Manchester, teen Ray Steam (voiced by Paquin) is a third generation inventor. But he soon discovers his father (Molina) and grandfather (Stewart) are on opposite sides about what to do with a whizzy steamball they invent: should it be used for commerce and military or science and humanity? Ray soon finds himself whisked off to London, where an explosive battle is about to erupt between a commercial foundation and the British government. And he's going to have to take sides.
  Ray's moral dilemma is the best thing about the story, as if helps us identify with him and travel through the increasingly outrageous, strangely relevant story. On the other hand, it also gives the screenwriter plenty of material for talky (and often preachy) dialog. And it's fairly relentless, as Ray's half-man/half-machine dad and his scruffy, half-naked granddad try to lure him over to their sides. Eventually we tire of all the philosophy--we get it already!--and just long for more spectacle.
  And at least there's plenty of that. Otomo produces the film like a big-budget epic, using music, editing, "camera" angles and directorial decisions to create an entire world on screen. As a result, the action scenes are thrilling, no matter how bizarrely surreal they get (the story occupies a Philip Pullman sort of parallel universe). And it looks simply wonderful; the screen is full of colour and movement, impressive designs and intriguing twists.
  It all takes itself a bit seriously. The only humour comes from Scarlett (Wahlgren), a young Paris Hilton-like brat who never stops whinging--and really gets on our nerves. And the characters look and speak in a slightly stilted, clumsy way. None of them develop any real personality, although we can feel Ray's tenacity, his yearning to grow up and do the right thing. And to actually make the world better, rather than destroying it.
dir-scr Katsuhiro Otomo
voices Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Alfred Molina, Kari Wahlgren, Oliver Cotton, Robin Atkin Downes, Rick Zieff, Mark Bramhall, Kim Thompson, David Lee, Oliver Muirhead, Paula Jane Newman
ray steam release Jap 17.Jul.04,
US 18.Mar.05,
UK 2.Dec.05
04/Japan 1h46
PG themes, violence
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Time Has Come  3.5/5  Voici Venu le Temps
As with No Rest for the Brave, Guiraudie creates a fully realised parallel universe for this surreal thriller. The result is utterly fascinating, even if we're never quite sure what it's trying to say.
  In a futuristic society that's reverted to an agricultural economy, Fogo Lompla (Bougnon) tracks down bandits who prey on wealthy landowners. But he's also friends with a small group (Donzelli, Rannou and thuggish interloper Figlarz) fighting for the rights of enslaved herdsmen. Fogo's latest challenge is finding the ruthless bandit Manjas Kebir (Bettenfeld) with two colleagues (Viry and Louis-Calixte). But he also has problems of the heart, as both the man he loves (Buron) and the man he's sleeping with (Dalric) are unattainable.
  Costumes and sets are an inventive mélange of several time periods, from Robin Hood England to the Wild West. Dialog is peppered with unintelligible words referring to places, food, currency and livestock. And long conversations centre on a political situation we can only barely piece together. But even with our confusion, we still feel an odd kinship with Fogo as he soulfully roams the countryside on a variety of tasks, feeling like he has nobody on his side and nowhere to call home in a place filled with political and economic chaos that's not likely to improve no matter who's in charge. Sound familiar?
  Guiraudie is clever enough to make sure Fogo's emotional journey is an extremely clear one. And Bougnon wins us over with his hangdog approach to the character, like a puppy that just wants to be loved. All of the performances are matter-of-fact. And the mostly outdoor settings are intriguingly Western-like, with strangely empty towns and fields that almost suggest a dreamscape.
  The morality in this place is fluid at best; everyone seems completely nonplussed about stealing and being robbed, or seducing strangers. At one point Fogo even has to start over again with just a blanket and the underpants he was sleeping in. But the camaraderie and interaction is riveting. And we certainly never have a clue what might happen next. Which isn't something we can say about most films.
dir-scr Alain Guiraudie
with Eric Bougnon, Guillaume Viry, Pierre Louis-Calixte, Jacques Buron Jean Dalric, Marie Collins, Dominique Bettenfeld, Valérie Donzelli, Alain Figlarz, Guillaume Rannou, François Gamard, Sylvie Milhaud
viry and bougnon
release Fr 13.Jul.05,
UK 31.Oct.05 lff
05/France 1h32
London Film Fest
18 themes, violence, nudity
1.Nov.05 lff
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Based on a novel by playwright Athol Fugard, this striking film is notable for its raw honesty. It's like a South African Boyz N the Hood, in which the central characters don't even have hope to drive them forward.
  In Johannesburg's sprawling Soweto township, Tsotsi (Chweneyagae) leads his teen gang--bookish Boston (Magano), open-faced Aap (Nkosi), ruthless Butcher (Ngqobe)--with no concern for life or property. "Tsotsi" isn't his real name; it means "thug". After he violently carjacks a Mercedes he discovers the couple's (Seiphemo and Mpumlwana) infant in the back seat. He decides to give the kid the childhood he never had, but underestimates virtually everything.
  The tight story covers just six days, but in that time the characters' lives are changed forever. Writer-director Hood draws out the story's stark themes with wit and feeling--Tsotsi grew up without parents in a land of Aids orphans. He's had no education, so he has no idea how to properly function in the world, thinking a gun is a necessary ingredient in any conversation. He's doing the best he can, but his world is so skewed that his only hope is to discover a shred of honest humanity within himself.
  It sounds fairly bleak, but Hood and his superb cast infuse it with an almost fairy tale quality. Cinematography is dense and rich, full of warmly embracing darkness, lush colour and gentle illumination. The faces are pure soul; they don't need much dialog to express what they're going through. And their wit and passion shines through--a deep desire to make life better, even if there's no honest way to do that.
  There are several significant counterpoints to Tsotsi's heartlessness: Pheto's young single mother, who helps care for the baby, at first reluctantly; Nyandeni's cafe owner, who tries to help but doesn't really get it; and of course the baby's wealthy parents, confronting the deprivation and discrimination of their own people. But ultimately it's in Tsotsi himself that the film really sings. This is a young man stuck in his childhood at the moment when he realised he was on his own. His odyssey is harrowing, thoroughly involving and powerfully life-affirming.
dir-scr Gavin Hood
with Presley Chweneyagae, Mothusi Magano, Kenneth Nkosi, Zenzo Ngqobe, Terry Pheto, Thembi Nyandeni, Zola, Rapulana Seiphemo, Nambitha Mpumlwana, Percy Matsemela, Ian Roberts, Benny Moshe
Chweneyagae, Nkosi and Ngqobe release US 24.Feb.06,
UK 17.Mar.06
05/South Africa 1h34
Audience awards: EDINBURGH FILM FEST
15 themes, language, strong violence
back to the top Send Shadows your reviews!

< < M O R E | M O R E > >

© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall