Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 28.Dec.05
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Herzog has an astonishing touch with documentaries, managing to inject his personal curiosity while letting his subject matter speak for itself. The result here is one of the most gripping and emotional films of the year.
  Timothy Treadwell became something of a celebrity due to his obsession with living among Alaskan grizzlies every summer, protecting them from poachers, befriending them and filming them. And also fashioning himself as a sort of American Steve Irwin, fearless and knowledgeable. David Letterman jokes with him, "Am I going to one day read a story about you being eaten by one of these bears?" And sure enough, in 2003 he and girlfriend/assistant Amie Huguenard were killed by the bears they were studying.
  Treadwell's own footage tells the story--stunningly intimate clips of him interacting with grizzlies and foxes, becoming one with them. He also talks to camera, and in outtakes displays both a showman and a bit of madness, raging about civilisation as the enemy to his idyllic view of nature. Edited with this is Herzog's own journey, visiting the Alaskan locations and talking to the people who knew him. Most notable are Treadwell's emotional ex Palovak and the friends and experts who discovered the bodies and figured out what happened.
  The film is structured around the tragedy, and keeps cycling back to it from different angles as it digs into Treadwell's personality. The result is emotionally wrenching, often chilling, and infused with Treadwell's energy and humour. He clearly knows the risks, and that this was his place in life and death. And it gets even more compelling as we discover more about this man who so oddly combines bravado and childlike enthusiasm. When he opens up to his own camera, it's genuinely startling.
  All of this footage is brilliantly compiled, balancing Treadwell's simple, sentimentalised view of nature with critics who thought he was doing the wrong thing. What emerges is a fascinating exploration of the collision between human nature and mother nature--how we long to see the earth as a warm, friendly place, when it's actually a fairly brutal food chain.
dir-scr Werner Herzog
with Timothy Treadwell, Werner Herzog, Jewel Palovak, Willy Fulton, Kathleen Parker, Franc Fallico, Warren Queeney, Sam Egli, Val & Carol Dexter, Larry Van Daele, Marnie & Marc Gaede
treadwell and friend
release US 12.Aug.05,
UK 3.Feb.06
05/US Lions Gate 1h43
Sloan Prize:
15 themes, strong language
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The Magician 3.5/5
With an unflinching reality-doc style, writer-director-actor Scott Ryan livens up what's essentially a grim examination of a lowlife Melbourne thug. There's nothing particularly new here, but the storytelling style makes it worth a look.
  Ray (Scott Ryan) is a hitman who prides himself in his efficient way of making people disappear. His driver Max (Andrighetto) is making a documentary about him, shooting with a video camera from job to job. There's the guy (Adam Ryan) who's quickly dispatched in his garage, the fellow criminal (Mason) who doesn't leave town when he's told, a man (Lindsay) who requires a bit of convincing, and the hostage (Walker) who may find a way to save his own skin.
  We watch everything through Max's lens, and he clearly admires Ray. The film's extended takes mostly feature Ray talking straight to camera in a way that blends Tarantino-esque banality with Kath & Kim satire. This is sharp black comedy that keeps us laughing even as it repels us with Ray's brutal existence. The limited perspective and settings (mostly in the car or hotel room) prevent the film from ever developing into a fully rounded portrayal of a hitman, but clever editing and inventive improvisation keep it lively and engaging.
  The acting is both raw and amusing, nicely balancing comedy with realistic brutality. We never sympathise with anyone, but we're gripped by Ray's magnetic personality, as is everyone he encounters. The story is told out of sequence, editing each isolated episode together into one overriding narrative arc and punctuating it with absurdly hilarious moments. Such as Ray consulting the hostage in the boot to settle an argument he and Max are having.
  Conversations range from thoughtful (about drug addiction or Ray's army past) to ridiculous (about how gay Hollywood is). Several sequences are horribly violent, either building to gripping suspense, shocking us with a sudden act or simply presenting death as Ray's matter-of-fact business. Alongside this are comical running gags, such as an ongoing saga involving underpants that has a perfectly dry punchline. Or the sexuality subtext that keeps interfering with the conversations. Walking the knife-edge of humour and horror this successfully is no mean feat, and it bodes well for whatever Ryan does next.
dir-scr Scott Ryan
with Scott Ryan, Massimiliano Andrighetto, Ben Walker, Kane Mason, Nathaniel Lindsay, Adam Ryan
ryan and walker
release Aus 29.Sep.05,
UK 5.May.06
05/Australia 1h23
15 themes, violence, language
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Paradise Now   4.5/5 SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
This film is an insightful, provocative examination of terrorism, as well as a thoughtful look at the Palestine-Israel situation. It's also a crackling, entertaining dramatic thriller that everyone should see.
  Said and Khaled (Nashef and Suliman) are happy-go-lucky buddies in the occupied West Bank, drifting from job to job without worrying too much. Said is interested in Suha (Azabal), daughter of a famous martyr. And then a friend (Hlehel) tells them they've been chosen for a suicide bomb mission in Tel Aviv. Suddenly their life becomes gravely serious as they grapple with the issues, face their doubts and embark on a mission that doesn't remotely go to plan.
  Yes, this story is told from the PLO perspective, and it is definitely sympathetic to their cause. But the filmmakers take a deeply personal approach, and as a result they can probe political issues with an emotional resonance that avoids preachiness and vilification. Set alongside Spielberg's similarly themed Munich, this film feels much more engaging and perceptive, and also more suspenseful, since the situations feel strikingly real, photographed with documentary simplicity.
  The actors are also raw and honest as warm-hearted, complicated guys whose life is interrupted by a higher cause. Their families and friends are oblivious, although Said's mother (Abbass) knows something's up. And their decision to go forward with the plan is wrenching--from "In one hour we'll be heroes, with God in heaven" to "Is there no other way?" We feel the situation of a people group asked to accept inferiority, not democracy. They have no choice but to respond with their own bodies, even though they know it won't actually change anything.
  This simple, unadorned filmmaking gets into the minds and hearts of its characters without judging them. It's so plainly truthful that it forces us to accept the validity of their motivation even if we detest their actions. By presenting life's detailed banality, filmmaker Abu-Assad actually manages to say something new about a thorny situation. Add nervewracking suspense, gripping emotion and the subtle but clear statement that violence solves nothing and only provokes more revenge. It's a knotty, challenging knockout of a film.
dir Hany Abu-Assad
scr Hany Abu-Assad, Bero Beyer
with Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Amer Hlehel, Hiam Abbass, Ashraf Barhom, Mohammad Bustami, Oliver Meidinger, Nabeel Shaheen, Wagde Ode, Mohammad Kosa, Amjad Al-Imlah
nashef and suliman release US 28.Oct.05,
Isr 10.Nov.05,
UK 14.Apr.06
05/Palestine 1h30

25th Shadows Awards

15 themes, brief language
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Seven Swords   2.5/5
This wuxia tale from 17th century China is filmed like a sweeping epic, with a complicated plot, lots of colourful characters and scene after scene of breathless action. But while it looks beautiful (and gruesome), it's much harder to follow than crossover hits from this genre like Hero, House of Flying Daggers or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
  To stop insurgence, the Qing emperor simply outlaws marshal arts. His general Fire-wind (Sun) sees this as a chance for riches and power, so he plots a trail of destruction across the nation, heading for a notoriously feisty village. But they're ready for him: seven inventive sword-wielders are prepared to protect their people at any cost--a warrior (Yen), thinker (Lai), lover (Lu), wise man (Lau), loner (Tai), optimist (Chow) and a woman (Young) who still needs to discover herself. It's going to get messy.
  The film is almost pure action, with brief interludes to establish character interaction, romance and politics before we launch into another astonishing sequence of unbridled grisliness. Tsui films this spectacularly, with a fine eye for colour, landscape, fight choreography and human faces--it looks gorgeous, and he spends a lot of time developing the characters and their interaction. On the other hand, the action scenes extremely disorienting, shot in close-up and edited away from key moments so we're never quite sure what's happening until it's all over.
  This incoherent approach seeps into the entire film. Indeed, it's very hard to get into from the start, since we have little idea who's who when names like Mud-trot and Stone-beast are being thrown around. But once the plot kicks in, there's an over-arching resonance that makes it worth sticking through. There are two lovely romances in here, one of which has added weight since both the man and woman are outsiders. The mad-eyed villains seem to have wandered in from a Mad Max movie, which adds a level of electric terror. And the story is full of clever twists and turns, with grounded and gritty performances. But it really makes your head spin, and not in a good way.
dir Tsui Hark
scr Tsui Hark, Cheung Chi-Sing, Chun Tin-Nam
with Donnie Yen, Leon Lai, Charlie Young, Lu Yi, Lau Kar-Leung, Sun Honglei, Kim So-yeun, Zhang Jingchu, Tai Liwu, Duncan Chow, Jason Pai Piao, Ma Jingwu
young and lu release Chn 29.Jul.05,
UK 24.Feb.06
05/China 2h06
Opening Night:


15 themes, violence, grisliness, sexuality
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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall