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last update 7.Jan.10
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dir Thanakorn Pongsuwan
prd Adirek Wattaleela
scr Thanakorn Pongsuwan, Kiat Sansanandana, Taweewat Wantha, Adirek Wattaleela
with Preeti Barameeanat, Khanutra Chuchuaysuwan, Phutharit Prombandal, 9 Million Sam, Kannut Samerjai, Anuwat Saejao, Kumpanat Oungsoongnern, Arucha Tosawat fireball
release Thai 29.Jan.09,
UK 8.Jan.10
09/Thailand 1h34
fireball While the title refers to a rather outrageous game that mixes kickboxing with basketball, this is actually a routine gangland thriller. And it's directed in a style that prevents us from understanding the action or caring about the characters.

Tai (Barameeanat) is just out of prison when he discovers that his twin brother Tan is in a coma after a vicious beating from his gang boss. Working with Tan's girlfriend Pang (Chuchuaysuwan), Tai assumes his brother's identity and joins the rag-tag fireball team managed by boss Den (Prombandal). Alongside captain Zing (Sam), secret weapon Iq (Samerjai), match-throwing K (Saejao) and tough-guy Muk (Oungsoongnern), Tai plots his revenge in an environment of no-holds-barred violence. And the big final is against the guy (Tosawat) who put his brother in hospital.

While the plot is intriguing as a pulp-action premise, the filmmakers are uninterested in establishing any resonance between the audience and the characters. They continually push melodrama into our faces (complete with corny music) to in the hope of generating emotional angst, romantic tension or brotherly loyalty, but none of this ever registers because no one actually has a personality. The drama only seems pencilled in to link the action sequences.

But even here the film lets us down, since the fireball matches, street fights and even an enjoyable training match involving parkour and several annoyed neighbours are shot in close-up and edited with what looks like a paper shredder. There is no context; it's impossible to understand what's happening. We just glimpse stunts and fights that look gorgeously well-choreographed even if we can't really see them properly.

What makes this film so annoying is that the premise is actually pretty cool: full-contact basketball has a genuine visceral thrill and these scenes seem to be inventively staged. But the director and cameraman fail to capture this on screen, indulging in jarring chaos and murky images that ultimately mean nothing. And the cliche-ridden plotting doesn't help either, needlessly wallowing in corny emotion when something leaner and meaner would have been much more effective. Apparently this is due for the prequel/sequel treatment (a la Infernal Affairs), but let's hope better filmmakers get their hands on it.

15 themes, violence, language, sexuality
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The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
5/5   MUST must see SEE   Le Premier Jour du Reste de Ta Vie
dir-scr Rémi Bezançon
with Jacques Gamblin, Zabou Breitman, Déborah François, Marc-André Grondin, Pio Marmai, Roger Dumas, Stanley Weber, Sarah Cohen-Hadria, Cécile Cassel, Camille De Pazzis, Aymeric Cormerais, Jean-Jacques Vanier
marmai and grondin release Fr 23.Jul.08,
UK Jun.09 eiff
08/France StudioCanal 1h54

Edinburgh Film Fest

29th Shadows Awards

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life This exquisitely made French drama traces the life of a family through five key days over 12 years. It's a joy to watch, with vibrant characters, inventive direction and an emotional resonance that's both provocative and deeply moving.

In 1988, Robert and Marie-Jeanne (Gamblin and Breitman) are coming to terms with the fact that their eldest son Albert (Marmai) is moving into his own flat as middle son Raph (Grondin) turns 18. Over the years we also revisit them as rebellious daughter Fleur (Francois) turns 16 and follow relationships with various boys and girls as well as Robert's wine-loving father (Dumas). The family bond is strained and tested, including at least one ongoing feud, and yet there's an irresistible, indefinable connection, and a sense that they are discovering life together.

Writer-director Benzacon tells this story with plenty of snarky attitude and a lively, clever directorial style that keeps us glued to the screen. Edited together with wit and sensitivity, and scored with fantastic music, this expertly made film demonstrates real boldness in its use of both subtle surrealism and roaring comedy. And while he refuses to shy away from raw emotion, Benzacon never indulges in sentimentality.

There's never a false moment in the actors' performances, all of whom are perhaps a bit impossibly beautiful (family resemblance?). All five of the central actors find earthy honesty and multi-layered meaning as their characters grapple with love, purpose and mortality. And while there are moments that break our hearts, there are even more scenes that make us laugh out loud.

The film's anecdotal structure reveals events over the years that involve these family members both together and separately. Some sequences feel like deftly handled jokes, complete with punchlines, while others are small romances or tragedies. There's a running gag about Robert trying to quit smoking, a hilariously absurd conversation with a doctor about how he shares a name with a famous actor and a riotous air guitar competition. And when it emerges at the end with a moment of raw tenderness (plus a terrific final kick), we feel like we've lived a little more as a result of this film.

12 themes, sexuality
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I’m Gonna Explode
3/5   Voy a Explotar
dir-scr Gerardo Naranjo
with Juan Pablo de Santiago, Maria Deschamps, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Rebecca Jones, Martha Claudia Moreno, Pedro González
deschamps and santiago release UK 3.Jul.09
08/Mexico 1h46


Berlin Film Fest
i'm gonna explode Gritty and unpredictable, this Mexican teen drama has a terrific sense of pitch black comedy and some fiercely strong performances. But it's so grim that it leaves us a bit cold.

Roman (Santiago) is the rebellious teen son of a right-wing congressman (Gimenez), while Maru (Deschamps) is a working-class outsider. These two would normally never meet, but find each other one day in detention. After proving their angst publicly at the school talent show, they decide to fake a kidnapping and disappear, hiding on the roof of Roman's house, where they create a paradise out of reach. But what should they do next? Maybe steal a car and head for Mexico City.

Rising-star filmmaker Naranjo fills the screen with style and energy, fragmenting the story into Maru's angsty diary entries along with Roman's dark fantasies. He vividly captures the attitudes of these sullen teens, who are angrier at adolescence than anything else. They want their freedom, but they of course don't want to get too far from the comforts of home. Naranjo reflects their hilariously overwrought misery right through the film, quietly reminding us that these are two children. They may be on the verge of adulthood, but they're not there yet.

Santiago and Deschamps are terrific in the lead roles, and the film has a definite PIERROT LE FOU thing going on with their offhanded anarchy. Even through encounters that are violent and harsh, we can see their exploratory openness, which of course extends to their emerging sexuality. Although even they're not sure what this means. "Do you see me as a girl or as me?" Maru asks. And Roman isn't sure. But they both know that they've found someone who makes them not feel so alone.

This teasing, flirting relationship is fascinating to watch, even though the underlying narrative is pitch black. Like Pierrot le Fou (or films it inspired from Bonnie & Clyde to Natural Born Killers), we have a sinking feeling that this can't possibly end well. But we watch this from an impressionistic teen's perspective, directed by Naranjo in a youthfully hyperactive style that's impossible to predict. Although with such dark emotional undercurrents, we're not so sure we want to hang on until the end.

15 themes, strong language, violence, sexuality
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35 Shots of Rum
4/5   35 Rhums
dir Claire Denis
scr Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
with Alex Descas, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogué, Grégoire Colin, Jean-Christophe Folly, Adèle Ado, Djédjé Apali, Eriq Ebouaney, Julieth Mars Toussaint, Mary Pie, Ingrid Caven, David Saada
diop and descas
release Fr 18.Feb.09,
US Apr.09 sf, UK 10.Jul.09
08/France 1h40


Edinburgh Film Fest
Los Angeles Film Fest
35 shots of rum Quietly establishing her characters and their inter-relationships with very little dialog, filmmaker Denis uses her typically moody, vague style to explore multicultural France with dark humour and warm emotion.

Jo (Diop) lives with her widowed train-driver dad Lionel (Descas) in a Paris flat. Also in the building are Lionel's ex Gabrielle (Dogue) and Noe (Colin), a neighbour Jo has her eye on. Together, they're a sort of family, watching out for each other even as circumstances change around them. When a friend (Toussaint) retires, Lionel becomes terrified of his own old age, which opens him up to potential romance with a local cafe owner (Ado). And besides Noe, Jo is also drawn to a cute shop clerk (Folly).

The title refers to a tradition for dealing with momentous occasions. Everyone in the film is facing up to some sort of transition, although the salient point is that they're not facing it alone. Denis builds a remarkable sense of community between these people, and she does it in a poetic, understated way that's punctuated by moments of dark humour. As with most of her films, this kind of wispy approach leaves us feeling like we're watching a moving painting, unable to see what it's really about.

But what Denis does so remarkably is find the profound within the banal. Her superb cinematographer Agnes Godard lingers on the actors' faces, seeing deep beneath the skin as we follow them through everyday events that have specific meaning for each person. We can vividly identify with their private inner lives, and their interaction is bracingly authentic--touches, glances, kisses that say more than dialog could, especially with a cast this finely gifted.

But it's not a sober, mopey movie by any means. There's more real wit and romance than in any Hollywood rom-com. Sharp authenticity infuses the way both Jo and Lionel cope with the people who are in love with them, but more important is how father and daughter relate to each other. And while the film also touches somewhat heavily on big issues of racial inequality and colonial injustice, it's actually a deeply personal look at the strength of human connections.

15 themes, strong language, grisliness
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall