Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
< < M O R E | M O R E > >
last update 27.May.06
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
District 13   3.5/5   Banlieue 13
Here's more rip-roaring Luc Besson action (see also Taxi, The Transporter, Unleashed)--so entertaining that you ignore the silly plot. And this features some seriously jaw-dropping stuntwork.

Fed up with violence in Paris' 13th district, the French government builds a wall around it, Escape from New York-style. Corrupt cops arrest anyone who interferes with their dodgy schemes, including the fit Leito (Belle), a "free-runner" who leaps from building to building without wires or nets. Six months later, he's teamed with the similarly gifted undercover cop Damien (Raffaelli) to infiltrate the den of the top District 13 mobster (Naceri), rescue Leito's kidnapped sister (Verissimo) and recover a stolen nuke. Can two bull-headed tough guys cooperate without driving each other crazy?

The plot is pure Besson, and cinematographer-turned-director Morel keeps things moving with whizzy visual flourishes, zoom cuts and witty transitions. The action scenes are gritty and authentic, while the drama is rough and barking mad. Like The Transporter, this is noisy, energetic, homoerotic mayhem with shirtless muscle boys proving to each other who's the man.

Besides a long stretch of plot exposition in the middle, the film is a frenetic odyssey of ruthless thugs and dirty cops, plus two very limber guys up against them all. And Belle and Raffaelli are magnetic--they move so quickly that we don't have time to worry about the convoluted plot. Their leaping and running scenes are filmed in breathlessly unbroken shots--no editorial cheating at all. Sure, it's a little staged, in that Jackie Chan sort of way (with a convenient rope here, a handy ladder there), but it's also kinetic and hugely enjoyable.

There's even a strangely topical slant to the story, with the increasingly power-mad government driven to desperate excesses in its effort to clean up the messy world around them. But never mind that, the tension cranks up to almost unbearable levels as the nuclear timer counts down to destruction, and the script does have a few nice twists in its tale. It's a big, loud, stupid movie. And also very cool.

dir Pierre Morel
scr Luc Besson, Bibi Naceri
with Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Larbi Naceri, Tony D'Amario, Dany Verissimo, François Chattot, Nicolas Woirion, Patrick Olivier, Samir Guesmi, Tarik Boucekhine, Marc Andréoni, Ludovic Berthillot
raffaelli belle release Fr 10.Nov.04,
US 2.Jun.06, UK 7.Jul.06
04/France Europa 1h25

See also:
15 themes, language, violence, drugs
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Secuestro Express   4/5
There's a jolt of adrenaline in this film that never lets up for a second. Even in its quieter moments, it's a gripping, powerfully pointed examination of a society on the brink of destruction.

After a night of partying in Caracas, the wealthy young couple Carla and Martin (Meastro and Leroux) are abducted by three tough guys (Molina, Perez and Madera). It's an "express" kidnapping, meaning they get the ransom and release the victims as quickly as possible. So while Carla's father (Blades) prepares to pay the money, the kidnappers drive around town, drop in on a vicious dealer (Ospina), and threaten their prisoners with murder or rape. Nobody is sure they'll make it through the night alive.

Jakubowicz puts this story together in an outrageously electric style--overlapping dialog, speeded and slowed down film, split screens, convulsive editing, sudden violence. As viewers we are thrown right into the car for this overnight odyssey, and it's fairly terrifying. And there's more to it; the film is also a startling examination of human behaviour, which characters who are complex and unpredictable. The victims have hidden strengths and weaknesses that continually surprise us; the villains are loaded with internal conflicts.

Performances are completely on the edge--each character could snap at any moment, and many do. Maestro is especially good as a woman who discovers a way to connect with her tormenters. And the way the characters are jammed together in such a confined space is cleverly exhilarating as it allows us to see these as real people caught in a claustrophobic society they may never escape from.

It's a gritty variation on the Trainspotting/Lock Stock genre, with echoes of City of God and Amores Perros. The rough violence would be unwatchable without a continual stream of jagged humour, which keeps us emotionally engaged as the story gets nastier. The threat of brutality is almost unbearable, especially since there's no one who can be trusted (the cops are even scarier than the criminals). A skilfully made, intensely harrowing, surprisingly moving thriller.

dir-scr Jonathan Jakubowicz
with Mía Maestro, Jean Paul Leroux, Rubén Blades, Carlos Julio Molina, Pedro Perez, Carlos Madera, Ermahn Ospina, Balmore Moreno, Rider, Dimas González, Miguel Angel Landa, Elba Escobar
perez and maestro release US 5.Aug.05,
Ven 12.Aug.05, UK 9.Jun.06
05/Venezuela Miramax 1h30
18 strong themes, violence, language, sexuality, drugs
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Pedro Almodovar again taps deep into human emotions for this exquisite drama about mothers and daughters, about the things we wish we said, and that we hadn't.

Raimunda (Cruz) is a busy woman, holding her family together but refusing to give up on her dream of one day being her own boss. The aging aunt (Lambreave) who raised her is nearing the end of her life. As is Raimunda's lout of a husband (de la Torre). So now it's just Raimunda and her teen daughter Paula (Cobo). Then Raimunda's sister Sole (Dueñas) has an encounter with the ghost of their mother (Maura). Maybe she can solve some mysteries from their past, especially one involving a lifelong friend (Portillo).

Almodovar approaches this with a disarming simplicity. It looks like a sunny, relaxed, bittersweet family drama, full of everyday humour, warmth and sadness. But underneath this is a film layered with complex emotions that slowly reach up and engulf us. As the story develops, it generates a subtle Hitchcock-like vibe, watching these women get into situations far over their heads, without ever panicking. Death is everywhere in this film--old age, cancer, murder, self defence--but it's just part of life.

Performances are simply gorgeous. This is by far the best work Cruz has ever done; Raimunda is tough and vulnerable, grouchy and deeply likeable. The high point is when she sings a song her mother taught her (which refers to the film's title, "to return" or "coming back"). Even if it's not Cruz's voice, Raimunda's soul is there for us to see. And the entire cast is this good.

From the opening scene, in which we watch, in passing, women cleaning the graves of their dead relatives, we sense that this is a film about how the dead never really leave us. This is a story about how humans touch each other so profoundly that it can never be forgotten. As Raimunda is given a second chance to sort out her life's loose threads, we are stirred to make sure that we don't let our own threads dangle any longer. Magic.

dir-scr Pedro Almodóvar
with Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, María Isabel Díaz, Neus Sanz, Leandro Rivera, Antonio de la Torre, Carlos Blanco, Yolanda Ramos
cruz and cobo
release Sp 17.Mar.06,
UK 25.Aug.06, US 3.Nov.06
06/Spain El Deseo 1h58


15 themes, language, sexuality
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Warrior King   3/5   US title: The ProtectorTom-Yum-Goong
An offbeat combination of idyllic countryside and urban action, there's plenty to enjoy about this silly thriller--from the sumptuous Thai landscapes to the frenetic fight scenes.

Kham (Jaa) has grown up with an elephant named Por Yai in a mind-bogglingly gorgeous village, but on a trip to town with his father (Rungruaeng), both Por Yai and his calf Korn are kidnapped by gangsters. So Kham follows their trail to Sydney, and a vast underground world of drugs, sex slaves and illicit meat ruled by the aggressive daughter (Jin) of a businessman. Soon Kham and a disgraced cop (Wongkhamlao) are running from all manner of ruthless thugs and a dirty detective (De Montemas) looking for someone to take the fall.

The plot is almost incidental, merely giving Jaa (Ong-Bak) an excuse to indulge in outrageous fight sequences that are clearly shot without wires or stuntmen, although the sound effects guy has a heyday adding bone-splintering crunches. Jaa doesn't just fend off the normal assortment of henchmen; the filmmakers go a little nuts in creating increasingly inventive opponents.

The fights are hilariously energetic, from a gang on wheels--skates, bicycles, motorbikes and even a quad--to a scene in which Jaa takes on what looks like the same 88 fighters Uma Thurman mowed down in Kill Bill. There are also one-on-one battles with increasingly massive, unstoppable challengers in wacky locations like a Buddhist temple that's both burning and flooded. Most of these are absolutely jaw-dropping, even if they're sometimes over-choreographed.

The performers play it for both thrills and laughs; we spend about as much time chuckling as we do wincing at the broken limbs. Perhaps even more fascinating are the film's opening scenes in the lushly photographed jungle village, with people and elephants living in pure harmony--interacting, working and playing together. This colourful approach is maintained as the film transfers into the big city. And through it all there's witty character development that keeps us thoroughly engaged with the characters and what they're facing. Yes, it's all rather cheesy, but it's also great fun.

dir Prachya Pinkaew
scr Napalee, Piyaros Thongdee, Joe Wannapin, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
with Tony Jaa, Petthtai Wongkhamlao, Bongkod Kongmalai, Amonphan Gongtragan, Damian De Montemas, Tri Nguyen, Jin Xing, Sotorn Rungruaeng, Nathan B Jones, Lateef Crowder, David Chatchavan Asavanond, Jonathan Patrick Foo
jaa release Thai 11.Aug.05,
UK 28.Jul.06, US 8.Sep.06
05/Thailand 1h49
18 themes, violence, innuendo
back to the top Send Shadows your reviews!

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

© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall