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last update 13.May.11
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Fire in Babylon
dir-scr Stevan Riley
prd John Battsek, Charles Steel
with Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Colin Croft, Deryk Murray, Andy Roberts, Bunny Wailer, Colin Cumberbatch, Hilary Beckles
fire in babylon release UK 20.May.11
10/UK 1h28

london film fest
Fire in Babylon This documentary about the 1970s-1980s West Indies cricket team may seem like it would be specific for fans of the sport. But by looking at the bigger picture, the film finds a lot to say about the world beyond the sport.

In the late 1970s, the West Indies team developed an iconic style of playing that would dominate the sport for the next 15 years, the longest winning streak in any sport. And this spark was a massive blow to racial tensions around the world, most notably for their former colonial rulers in Great Britain. The story is told completely from the perspective of the West Indians themselves, with lively anecdotes, pointed observations and, of course, great music.

Shot in vivid colours and edited with a bright sense of Caribbean style, the film has an enjoyably offhanded island tone that's hugely engaging, especially since the guys who are sharing their experiences all have big smiley personalities. Their narration is never remotely dry, packed with telling observations and comical asides as they discuss both their triumphs and some very difficult challenges along the way.

The film also has a sense of history to it, tracing the origins of West Indian culture and how the colonists used cricket as a way to "tame the natives", even though the African slaves were no more native than they were. So when these island nations achieved independence, the sport became a way they could prove to their former masters that they were just as good at it, if not better.

While the film is fascinating even if you know nothing about cricket, the kaleidoscopic editing loses us, jumping around between the guys talking and extensive archive footage, wandering down sideroads into a wide variety of themes and events. With so many people seemingly talking at once, it's rather overwhelming. But key elements stick, most notably the exploration of racism and violence on the pitch, controversial incidents that took place on various tours (including a scandalous trip to South Africa during the Apartheid years) and the way these players made the world see them as winners through sheer force of will. Indeed, they were one of the greatest teams ever. In any sport.

PG themes, language
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Flying Monsters 3D
dir Matthew Dyas
prd Anthony Geffen
with David Attenborough
attenborough and friend
release UK 6.May.11
10/UK Atlantic 40m
flying monsters 3D There's a slightly goofy tone to this enjoyable, eye-catching Imax 3D doc that gleefully breezes past the conjecture to entertain us with images of airborne dinosaurs in a variety of settings.

Some 220 million years ago, reptiles developed the ability to take to the air in order to munch on flying insects. And over the next 150 years, they evolved into massive winged creatures the size of small airplanes. Drawing on extensive fossil records, Attenborough walks us through this period as we look at the bones, animated recreations of the animals and also some gimmicky fun as they're juxtaposed into modern environments. We also see that at least one species has survived into the present day.

Attenborough's breathless narration and on-screen presence is perfect for this kind of film, as he anchors the speculation in believable scientific facts and probable theories. Using phrases like "most scientists believe" before each statement reminds us that we don't know very much about them beyond the fact that they once populated the whole world.

And the animation is just as fanciful, adding swirling hair as the gigantic Quetzalcoatlus soars above England alongside Attenborough's glider. But have you ever seen a lizard with hair? Earlier species like the Dimorphodon and Tapejara are rendered with vividly colourful flourishes that look great on screen even if they're pure guesswork. And yes, we also get to see the more familiar brownish-hued Darwinopterus. Although sadly these species lived millions of years apart, so we don't get to watch any wacky aerial battles.

The wittiest touch is to have a tiny pterodactyl romping around the scientists' lab, with Attenborough wondering "where did it go?" when it darts behind his computer screen like a parakeet that has escaped from its cage. These kinds of things also remind us how much of this film is essentially fiction. But that certainly doesn't lessen the enjoyment of seeing these beasts soaring through prehistoric skies in Imax 3D.

And in the end, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the way Attenborough puts these creatures in context with the rest of the animal kingdom, where they fit in the food chain and of course the salient fact of their extinction. Because unlike dinosaurs, their demise probably had more to do with the fact that birds evolved later and more efficiently, and the pterosaurs simply couldn't compete.

U some grisliness
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Men for Sale
3.5/5   Hommes à Louer
dir Rodrigue Jean
prd Natalie Barton, Jacques Turgeon
men for sale release UK 23.May.11 dvd
09/Canada NFB 2h24
men for sale Over the course of a year, the filmmakers spoke to 11 young men on the streets of Montreal as part of the Sero Zero project. It's a remarkably honest look at male prostitution, but the limited approach and excessive length make it more a research project than a documentary.

These guys got into prostitution as young as 12 because it was an easy way to earn cash for drugs. It was also an escape from their difficult childhoods. Now in their early 20s they look startlingly unwell, and some are seriously ill. Although most are straight, they continue to sell their bodies to get drugs. Some have extraordinary stories to tell, one doesn't want to show his face on camera, and we meet an older ex-pornstar who says he's trying to get off the streets and escape the drug habit. But none of them are doing much to break the cycle.

Skilfully shot on video, the film is a long series of talking heads, revisiting the same guys over the months as their lives spiral ever downwards. There are glimpses of the film crew putting microphones on the guys, and a few shots of them walking to and from the interviews or talking among themselves, but otherwise it's just young men recounting their experiences to camera. And they're essentially all saying the same things.

There are interesting moments as the film goes on and on. Each man knows that his life is depressing, but he carries on because prostitution is easy money, even with the threat of prison, disease or violence. It's fascinating to see how they struggle to define their sexuality and masculinity, and it's sad how most of them are unable to form any kind of relationship. There's also the disturbing fact that most of them were clearly high during the interviews, which makes us question their release forms.

It's not easy to watch two and a half hours of this in one sitting. It would have been more effective divided into episodes or with some personal touches (such as their first names) to help us latch onto personalities and follow each story. Instead, it feels like a random collection of anecdotes and drug-addled opinions. But as a document about life on the streets, including telling observations about drugs and Aids, this is an important piece of work.

15 strong themes, language, some sexuality
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Vidal Sassoon
3.5/5   How One Man Changed the World With a Pair of Scissors
dir Craig Teper
scr Heather Campbell Gordon, Craig Teper
prd Jackie Gilbert Bauer, Michael Gordon
with Vidal Sassoon, Michael Gordon, Mary Quant, Ronnie Sassoon, Grace Coddington, Beverly Neil, Joshua Glavin, Christopher Pluck, Tony Beckerman, Christian Hutenbaus, Harold Leighton, Trevor Sorbie
sassoon release US Apr.10 tff,
UK 20.May.11
10/UK 1h33
Vidal Sassoon Everyone recognises the name, but few know anything about the man. And this warm, upbeat documentary tells his life story in a way that's lively and enjoyable, even if it seems unwilling to explore any dark corners.

At age 81, Vidal Sassoon has an astonishing youthfulness, the result of a lifelong obsession with health and fitness. As he takes us through his history, hair-care expert Michael Gordon prepares a picture-book about him. We follow Sassoon's life from childhood in a Jewish orphanage in London to apprenticeship with an East End hairdresser. Inspired by art and architecture, he starts taking risks with hair, becoming a fixture on the cutting edge of the 50s and 60s and changing hairstyles forever in the process.

The film is packed with surprises about Sassoon, from anti-fascist marches in post-war London to a year on a kibbutz in Israel at age 20. He also took acting classes to purge his Cockney accent and is a die-hard Chelsea fan. Even more interesting is seeing how his iconic haircuts spring the design world. And the film nearly bursts with Sassoon's energetic personality, as director Teper cleverly mixes present-day interviews and extensive archive footage.

Sassoon is clearly aware of his tendencies to diva-like tantrums, but his singular attitude is what pushed him to reject pretty hairstyles and come up with something more angular, based on the geometry of the face. His five-point cut shook up the fashion world in 1963, and we still see it daily. We also get get to see him giving two famous haircuts: Nancy Kwan (right after Suzie Wong) and Mia Farrow (for Rosemary's Baby).

In addition, there are terrific clips from his appearances on What's My Line and with the young Regis Philbin and Noel Edmonds. But it's the way his former colleagues talk about (and with) him that's most endearing, including his wife Ronnie and ex-wife Beverly. And even if they're perhaps too overwhelmingly positive - stressing his impact on fashion, style and even women's lib - it's clear that he really has changed the world with a pair of scissors.

PG themes, some language
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