Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 7.Sep.06
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Black Sheep   3.5/5   Schwarze Schafe
Free-spirited and hugely entertaining, this outrageous multi-strand black comedy from Berlin skilfully captures the lively energy of its characters and settings.

Five stories only briefly intersect: After an outrageous date, compulsive liar Boris (Hosemann) tricks his best friend (Cathomas) into doing something unthinkable. River tour-guide Charlotte (Böwe) runs into an old friend and wishes her drunken boyfriend (Peschel) hadn't chosen that moment to show up. Breslin and Julian (Stadlober and Schilling) find a way to make money without working, but it's easier said than done. Satanists Fred and Arnold (Kirchberger and Zillmann) set up a ritual to improve their fortune. And three cocky Turks (Uzun, Özdemir and Hanschmann) need money and sex, and find happiness in the last place they look.

This is a crowd-pleasing movie, as filmmaker Rihs keeps the action moving briskly, with constant jolts of razor-sharp humour and hysterically tasteless sex and vulgarity. But there's such a sweet tone underneath it all that it's impossible to be offended. Well, mostly. And while each plot thread has a moment that makes you groan out loud--bodily fluids, dismemberment, a mind-bogglingly profane sex act--there's also a tenderness that catches us off guard.

Rihs films this is crisp black and white, referencing 1950s European filmmaking even as he adds subtle touches of colour. He sustains a breathless energy, pausing only for moments of revelation and catharsis as these pathetic people find some sort of meaning in their lives, generally when they least expect it. Along the way, he inventively catches the culture of Berlin, traversing the city geographically and politically, and commenting pointedly on the divide between east and west within both the city and the country.

And the film is jammed with memorable moments, from Boris' rowdy sex-a-thon and the moment Charlotte finally speaks her mind to the boys' encounter with a cynical hooker (Kastrinidis) and a Granny's extremely rude awakening. Stir in jazzy music, witty editing and barbed politics, plus playful acting with an emotional resonance. It does feel a little gimmicky and superficial, but it's so much fun that we cant help but love it.

dir Oliver Rihs
scr Thomas Hess, Oliver Rihs
with Marc Hosemann, Jule Böwe, Robert Stadlober, Tom Schilling, Kirk Kirchberger, Daniel Zillmann, Eralp Uzun, Oktay Özdemir, Richard Hanschmann, Bruno Cathomas, Milan Peschel, Irina Kastrinidis
Uzun, Hanschmann and Özdemir
release UK Aug.06 eiff
06/Germany 1h35

18 very strong themes, language, sexuality, violence
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New Police Story   3/5
At least Jackie Chan movies tend to be lively, especially the ones he makes in Hong Kong. This spin-off from his four-film Police Story franchise is as energetic and enjoyable as ever. And also as preposterous.

Wing (Chan) is the head of an elite Hong Kong police team that's set up and destroyed by a sinister gang of extreme-gamer rich kids (Wu, Chiang, Go, Yin and On). A year later, rookie cop Frank (Tse) literally drags Wing from the gutter and begs him to sober up and come back to catch the gang. Can Wing put his life back together, reunite with his girlfriend (Yeung) and finally catch the villains?

Silly question. But this film never gives up trying to throw us off the scent. No matter how ludicrously convoluted the plot gets, it's thoroughly predictable, and much of the dialog is downright dire. But there's a massive set piece every few minutes to keep us amazed at the daring stuntwork. From running (or biking or skating) down the vertical sides of skyscrapers to the frenetic carnage of the utterly gonzo runaway bus sequence, this film is never remotely dull.

It also never quite decides whether it's a serious cop movie or a zany farce. Both genres are constantly present, often shifting from gritty to silly and back within a single line of dialog. This makes the whole film feel awkward, especially when Chan has to do some serious emoting, which is not his forte. He's much better at comedy, and the humorous banter between him and his costars has a nice zing to it.

Meanwhile, the action is breathtaking, even if it makes little logical sense. Chan's style is somewhat choreographed, but it's such good fun that we never want it to end--and at over two hours we sometimes wonder if it will. The script has a disturbing tendency to continually call ruthless murderers "thieves", there are a few disastrously sentimental scenes, while the romantic subplots never get off the ground. But the overwrought final sequence is so much fun that we don't really care.

dir Benny Chan
scr Alan Yuen
with Jackie Chan, Nicholas Tse, Charlie Yeung, Charlene Choi, Daniel Wu, Dave Wong, Deep Ng, Kai Chi Liu, Coco Chiang, Hayama Go, Terence Yin, Andy On
tse, choi and chan release Chn 24.Sep.04, US 16.May.06 dvd,
UK 13.Oct.06
04/China JCE 2h04
15 themes, violence, language
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The Page Turner   3.5/5   La Tourneuse de Pages
Tension and innuendo swirl through this creepy French drama, which so gleefully deploys the tricks of the evil nanny genre that it could have been titled The Hand That Turns the Pages.

Melanie (Richalet) is a promising 10-year-old pianist whose dreams are dashed by the thoughtless behaviour of celebrity musician Ariane (Frot) at her big final exam. A decade later, she finds herself interning at the law firm of Ariane's husband (Greggory), quickly volunteering to watch their pre-teen son (Martynciow) for the summer. So she moves in with the family, and slowly sets about extracting her revenge. Opportunities abound: a tiny lift, a basement swimming pool, a pet hen, a kitchen full of sharp knives, psychological freak-outs--which will Melanie employ?

Most of the fun here is in the guessing. We chuckle as filmmaker Dercourt knowingly drops hints and red herrings all over the place. Each of these characters is a bundle of vulnerabilities; getting revenge, even in the most unthinkably horrible way, seems too easy. And in many ways the film is just a big waiting game, as we patiently remain on the edge of our seats wondering what Melanie's plotting. And even what she's actually capable of doing.

As a result of the elaborate pictures we build in our minds, the actual denouement is a little disappointing. Although it seriously lingers in the memory long after the film ends. This is mainly due to the astonishingly cool performance of Richalet (L'Enfant), who gives away so much with the tiniest of glances. While those around her--Frot mainly, and also Greggory and Martynciow--expertly nail their naively trusting characters. They have surprises up their sleeves as well. As do Ariane's musical partners, played with texture and edge by De Guillebon and Mollet.

Dercourt toys brilliantly with our expectations. Even the pieces the musicians play (from Shostakovich to Schubert to Bach) have a sinister edge to them. But in the end, the film feels somewhat superficial. It's admirable that Dercourt resists falling for genre cliches and cheap scares, but honestly, that's exactly what this film needs.

dir-scr Denis Dercourt
with Déborah François, Catherine Frot, Pascal Greggory, Xavier De Guillebon, Clotilde Mollet, Antoine Martynciow, Julie Richalet, Christine Citti, Jacques Bonnaffé, Martine Chevallier, André Marcon, Arièle Buteaux
frot and françois release Fr 9.Aug.06,
UK 3.Nov.06
06/France Canal+ 1h25

PG themes, violence
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The U.S. vs. John Lennon   4/5 SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
Expertly assembled, this crisp, coherent documentary digs into Richard Nixon's infamous list of enemies, centring on the campaign to rid the nation of one of the most famous peaceniks in history.

After a scene-setting prologue, the filmmakers start with Lennon's childhood, the Beatles, their arrival in America and their vocal peace-and-love reaction to the situation in Vietnam (see, of course, Give Peace a Chance and All You Need Is Love). But as Lennon got more vocal in his anti-war stance, especially when he teamed with performance artist Yoko Ono, Nixon's paranoia escalated, leading to government-ordered wiretapping, surveillance and a plot to deport them.

The filmmakers compile an amazing collection of footage, much of it unseen. And they contextualise it by interviewing a wide range of witnesses, from friends and family to journalists, fellow performers, political figures and former FBI agents. They also let others have their say through archival footage, including Lennon himself, as well as Nixon, J Edgar Hoover and younger versions of the interviewees.

The historical chronology is peppered with relevant songs, while Lennon's on-camera comments reveal a thinking artist whose message of complete and utter non-violence is perceived as a threat by those in power. His publicity stunts (weeklong in-bed press conferences, the global "War Is Over" ad campaign) are simple and extremely clever. And the film taps into his personal relationships, revealing a side of the man we've rarely seen before. Instead of giving up and quietly returning to the UK, he stood his ground and eventually sued the US government for harassment, an action that led to the revelation of Nixon's enemies list ... and ultimately the Watergate break-in.

The film gets a little lost in its own importance at the end, but the message is startlingly simple: there's a choice, peace or war, with nothing in between. This is nothing new, but in the late-60s and early 70s (and even now) there were very few people so tenacious about pointing this out. Martin Luther King was killed for saying this. And they tried everything they could to silence Lennon. His tenacity is a real inspiration.

Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.
Martin Luther King, 3 April 1968

You say you'll change the constitution;
Well you know, we all want to change your head.
You tell me it's the institution;
Well you know, you better free your mind instead.

—John Lennon/Paul McCartney, Revolution

dir-scr David Leaf, John Scheinfeld
with Yoko Ono, George McGovern, Gore Vidal, Walter Cronkite, Ron Kovic, Carl Bernstein, Geraldo Rivera, Tom Smothers, John Sinclair, Bobby Seale, Mario Cuomo, Angela Davis
lennon and ono release US 15.Sep.06,
US 8.Dec.06
06/US Lionsgate 1h39

London Film Fest
12 themes, language
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall