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last update 29.Sep.10
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dir Hu Mei
scr Chan Khan, Jiang Qitao, He Yanjiang, Hu Mei
prd Chui Po-chu, Han Xiaoli, Shi Dongming, Jang Tao
with Chow Yun-Fat, Zhou Xun, Chen Jianbin, Yao Lu, Quan Ren, Zhang Xingzhe, Ma Qiang, Li Wenbo, Ma Jungwu, Bi Yanjun, Li Huan, Zhang Kaili
release Chn 28.Jan.10,
US 4.Mar.10 dvd,
UK 24.Sep.10
10/China 1h40
confucius This ambitious biopic feels chopped down from something much longer, as it leaps through the story without giving us much to engage with. It also seems to try far too hard to make Confucius' story into a standard Chinese battle movie.

In the 6th century BC, Kong Qiu (Chow), also known as Confucius, is a commoner who is admired for his wisdom. After proving himself as mayor, the king of Lu (Yao) appoints him as minister of law. He soon earns promotion for his intelligence, but is threatened by a rival king (Ma Jungwu). His success also causes jealousy back home and he ends up wandering from kingdom to kingdom for several years with his loyal disciples at his side waiting until the time is right to return home.

While Chow delivers a dedicated performance and Peter Pau provides stunning cinematography, the film is simply too preoccupied with spectacle to tell the story properly. Kong's tale is continually sidelined by big set pieces, mainly massive, effects-augmented battles. And the rest of the film centres on talky political wrangling or sentimentalised melodrama. Chow's biggest challenge, though, is to convincing deliver dialog that sounds like it came from a fortune cookie.

There's also the problem that there are far too many key characters for us to keep apart. Each is announced with a multi-lingual on-screen title, and this becomes a bit overwhelming since it's impossible to assimilate so much information while also reading subtitles of the scene that's taking place. Students of Chinese history might have no trouble here, but general audiences will be completely lost.

Still, some side characters do emerge as vivid characters, most notably Quan as Kong's most loyal disciple, the lively Yan Hui, who strangely remains young and heroic while everyone else ages. The slightly too-beautiful Zhou is also great fun as a power-wielding consort who flirts shamelessly with Kong. But aside from a superficial history lesson, there's not much to learn from this film aside from old truths about how society thrives when people are treated with civility. OK, so maybe we still need to learn that one.

15 themes, violence
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A Serbian Film
3.5/5   Srpski Film
dir-prd Srdjan Spasojevic
scr Aleksandar Radivojevic, Srdjan Spasojevi
with Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Katarina Zutic, Slobodan Bestic, Ana Sakic, Lena Bogdanovic, Luka Mijatovic, Andjela Nenadovic, Miodrag Krcmarik, Nenad Herakovic, Carni Djeric
gavrilovic and todorovic release US Apr.10 sxsw,
Ser 16.Jun.10, UK Oct.10 rff
10/Serbia 1h40

raindance film fest
a serbian film This notorious film definitely isn't porn. Yes, it's deliberately controversial and extremely grisly, but it also has a strong message that encompasses both politics and the sex industry. But it's not for the weak-stomached.

Milos and Marija (Todorovic and Gavrilovic) are horrified that their young son has found a stash of DVDs from Milos' career as a pornstar. Then one of his old costars (Zutic) offers him a new job. His new director Vukmir (Trifunovic) calls himself an artist and is making a new style of porn: Milos isn't allowed to know the plot. As Vukmir says, "Who cares about the plot of a porn film?" But there's something deeply wrong about this movie set.

A whiff of black humour makes the opening scenes genuinely engaging as this family's acceptance of the porn industry and sexuality is almost mundane. And Milos' crisis of confidence is realistic, as his experiences and his age push him into something he knows isn't quite right. He dreams of having a normal family life like anyone else, but his past simply won't let him.

The acting is very strong. Scenes between Todorovic and Gavrilovic have a genuine sweetness, while Todorovic sharply captures Milos' horror. Zutic is hilariously lusty, Trifunovic is uncomfortably creepy and, as Milos' cop brother, Bestic captures eerily accurate feelings of jealousy and desire.

The plot's voyeuristic elements are sharply resonant, as Vukmir's film is carefully planned for live broadcast without the central actor knowing what will happen next. And then there's the warped Alice in Wonderland subtext, suggested both thematically and visually. As Milos falls deeper into the rabbit hole of Vukmir's creation, he seems to be fighting against the realities of who he is. And there's real dread about what he'll find next.

On the other hand, this film will probably only be remembered for is its vile imagery. Vukmir's repulsive private collection, the fevered dream sequences and the drug-induced horrors are far too abhorrent to describe here, especially as things get increasingly violent and surreal. Along the way the film goes seriously over the top, turning hideously grisly. Which as the title suggests also has a terrifying parallel in Serbian history.

18 themes, language, strong sexuality, extreme violence
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A Town Called Panic
3.5/5   Panique au Village
dir-scr Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar
prd Philippe Kauffmann, Vincent Tavier
voices Stephane Aubier, Bruce Ellison, Vincent Patar, Jeanne Balibar, Benoit Poelvoorde, Veronique Dumont, Nicolas Buysse, Frederic Jannin, Bouli Lanners, Christine Grulois, Christelle Mahy, Eric Muller
corboy and indian release Bel 17.Jun.10,
US 16.Dec.10, UK 8.Oct.10
09/Belgium 1h18


a town called panic Extremely silly and often very funny too, this quirky stop-animated romp might have been better as a half-hour short, because there's not really much to it. But it does manage to keep us chuckling with a continual stream of throwaway gags.

Cowboy and Indian (Aubier and Ellison) are like bickering kids in the home they share with Horse (Patar). Their neighbours Steven and Janine (Poelvoorde and Dumont) are highly strung but loyal friends, and they get rather annoyed when Cowboy and Indian accidentally order 50 million bricks to build a barbecue for Horse's birthday. Then the house walls start disappearing, and the culprit seems to be a team of underwater thieves. So Cowboy, Indian and Horse head off to stop them, ending up at one point inside a gigantic mechanical penguin on the North Pole.

The plot makes little real sense, but then it doesn't try to. The film has a freewheeling structure that makes it feel like it was created by 10-year-olds, as it meanders from one fantastical scene to another. And at the centre, Cowboy and Indian are like a Belgian Beavis and Butt-head, cracking goofy jokes as they do one stupid thing after another. There's also a romantic subplot as Horse tries to woo the sexy red-head music teacher Mme Longree (Balibar).

What makes this colourful film watchable is its deranged sense of humour and deliberately ridiculous animation. These are tiny plastic toys brought to life with inventive touches that are simple and effective. And the voice cast adds plenty of sharp personality. There isn't anything to it, really - not a speck of subtext or irony. It's just a zany romp featuring a bunch of boneheads. But it is absurdly funny.

It's also somewhat inconsistent, which is why it would have made a better short, because the humour could have been more finely focussed. As is, the film is all over the place, then a crazed South Park style of comedy finds a big laugh in the most unexpected place. It's also so insanely inventive that we can't help but be amused all the way through it.

PG themes, language, some violence
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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
dir-scr Apichatpong Weerasethakul
prd Simon Field, Keith Griffiths, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
with Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Natthakarn Aphaiwonk, Geerasak Kulhong, Kanokporn Thongaram, Samud Kugasang, Wallapa Mongkolprasert, Sumit Suebsee, Vien Pimdee
Saisaymar and Pongpas release Tha 25.Jun.10,
US Sep.10 nyff, UK 19.Nov.10
10/Thailand 1h54


london film fest
Uncle Boonmee Stunning cinematography goes a long way to making this surreal, difficult film watchable. Although there are moments of vivid honesty and a continual stream of light comedy, the story is fairly impenetrable for Western audiences.

In his isolated farmhouse, Boonmee (Saisaymar) is dying from a kidney condition. So his sister-in-law Jen (Pongpas) and nephew Tong (Kaewbuadee) come to spend time with him as he's cared for by his Laotian farmhand Jaai (Kugasang). Then one night at dinner, they're joined by Boonmee's wife Huay (Aphaiwonk), who died 19 years earlier, as well as their son Boonsong (Kulhong) who disappeared several years later and has now become a kind of monkey-man. And when his death gets closer, Boonmee wants to be taken back to an isolated cave.

The paranormal elements of this film are so matter-of-fact that they're actually funny. Everyone's a little unsettled by Huay's ongoing presence, and no one quite knows what to say to the furry Boonsong. (You almost get the feeling that this could be remade as an Adam Sandler comedy.) But of course writer-director Weerasethakul has much more serious things in mind, commenting on the connection between humans, animals and plants while playing with mythological imagery that surely means more to those familiar with Thai culture.

Tonally, the film is virtually silent, with an almost subliminal soundtrack and minimal dialog. The camera is mostly still as well, taking in scenes with a lush sense of colour, sunshine and shadows. The result is eerie and dark, with a mystical sense of reality that expands far beyond the natural world. In addition to ghosts and monkey-men, there's also a talking catfish that has an intimate encounter with a princess (Mongkolprasert). But how all this links to Boonmee's story remains aloof and untouchable.

Clearly, the idea is that Boonmee's illness has drawn these spirits to him, so it's understandable that city-slickers Jen and Tong are a bit uncomfortable about all of this. And the film is made in a way that feels almost painfully slow and indulgent. But there are also wacky moments that make us laugh out loud, and some achingly beautiful imagery that will be very difficult to forget.

PG themes, sexuality
30.Sep.10 lff
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