Adventures in the LFF (Part 1)

Time for a look at some of the cinematic shenanigans I’ve been getting up to in the last week. Fear the spoilers…

NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST

Richard Linklater’s film Before Sunrise is one of the sweetest, most genuinely romantic films I’ve ever seen (even though it is slightly trumped by the older, wiser Before Sunset), and one of the best things about it is the way it holds the attention despite the fact that nothing really happens beyond “Boy meets Girl, Boy and Girl wander around and fall in love, Boy and Girl part”. Now try and imagine if Before Sunrise had been made as a commercial studio film, and the producers had said “Yes, well, we need a bit of conflict! Can’t there be an evil ex-girlfriend? And how about some cheerful gay friends for the main male character?” Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist isn’t terrible – there are some genuinely sweet moments, and you can see the kind of film it’s aiming to be, but this tale of a couple getting together during one crazy night in New York is just a bit too calculated. Kat Dennings as Norah is both excellent and seriously gorgeous, while Michael Cera is his usual reliable self – but it’s really getting to a point where he does need to move beyond the gawky teen schtick and prove that he can do something other than endless variations on George-Michael Bluth from the classic and much lamented Arrested Development. If this had been a dirt-cheap indie and been allowed to be more rambling and life-like, it would have worked – as it is, it’s slick, well-executed, but lacking the soul it desperately needs.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE RAIN

One of many, many films about bourgeois French people getting very angsty about themselves. It’s the tale of a documentary team trying to make a film about a rising female politician (who also happens to be a family member of one of the team), and while it’s very well made, the tone is all over the place, and it ends up feeling like at least three films inexpertly welded together. Not without its charm, but unlikely to leave you completely bowled over unless you’re in the mood for more French angst.

FROZEN RIVER

A gritty, emotional thriller about a working mother in New York State who’s desperate to find a way of making ends meet, and falls into the trade of people trafficking across the Native American Mohawk territory that links the US to Canada, with the help of a sullen Mohawk woman who’s estranged from her people. With a jangling visual style and an emphasis on grit and grime, it’s not the easiest film to get into, but it does end up exerting a serious grip, slowly ratcheting up the tension (especially in one run involving an indian couple that has unforseen consequences). There’s also some much-needed humour, great performances, and it all builds up to an impactful ending that manages to be completely satisfying and emotional without going for cheap sentiment.

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

That dangerous phrase “Woman’s picture” gets used here, as we’re in female bonding/nostalgia territory – in the early Sixties, abused child Dakota Fanning goes on the run from her no-good daddy (a sweaty Paul Bettany) and tries to find out the truth about her late mother, ending up at the house of Queen Latifah, Sophie Okenodo and Alicia Keyes. Result? Lots of life lessons, a smattering of civil-rights themed issues, and plenty of tragedy and triumph over adversity. It’s actually very well acted, and Fanning shows the first sign of maybe getting away from that creepy wise-child thing she’s been stuck with for a while. The whole thing is finely put together and nowhere near as syrupy as you might expect – but it’s also completely free of surprises, and the only male viewers who really need to bother are any Paul Bettany completists in the audience.

NEW TOWN KILLERS

The model of the kind of fast-paced, energetic film where you really shouldn’t think about the plot too much, Richard Jobson’s latest film is almost an excellent Brit action thriller, but suffers from the problem of many ‘Man on the run’ thrillers – i.e., how the hell do you keep it going once you’ve exhausted the initial setup? The basic plot is that a Parkour-loving criminal is offered the chance to get his sister out of serious debt – all he’s got to do is play a somewhat deadly game of hide-and-seek for 12 hours against a pair of high-class bankers (Dougray Scott and Alistair MacKenzie). Naturally, the game is soon running out of control, but the plot soon becomes terribly implausible, and it can’t quite keep the interest going for the whole running time. It’s similar in basic tone to horror author Christopher Fowler’s novel Disturbia, but without the more challenging subtexts Fowler threw in, and while there’s some good stuff here and some well-executed setpieces, I’m not really sure it’d stand up very well to a second viewing. Dougray Scott does make a very good bad guy, however – although it’s still hard to believe that he was the first choice for Wolverine in the X-Men films, and Hugh Jackman only got the role because the horror that was Mission: Impossible II went over its shooting schedule…

More tomorrow…

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