Adventures in the LFF (Part 2)

More filmic adventures from the London Film Festival. Fear the spoilers…


Only the second film from Human Traffic director Justin Kerrigan, this is one of those terribly awkward cases where a film is obviously a work of great passion for the director involved, and seems to be heavily based on his own relationship with his father – all of which makes it rather difficult that it doesn’t quite work. Robert Carlyle is the mysterious father of a teenager in South Wales circa 1988 – he works for an ‘agency’, strides around like an extra from The Professionals, and is involved in a strange investigation of a sinister Satellite TV company. Meanwhile, his teenage son is struggling at school, and trying to figure out his place in the world, but both their worlds are built on a fantasy that’s about to be shattered. There are some great performances and it’s a very stylish film, but the decision to play the situation ambiguous is more confusing than anything else – essentially, Carlyle turns out to be an ex-travel agent who’s had a nervous breakdown and is now going into full-blown schizophrenia, and the end of the film strongly suggests that the kid has known all along – but it’s all played in such a heightened, strange way that you’re never sure whose perspective you’re seeing it from. It’s an emotionally honest film with some great scenes, and yet the central concept and twist simply doesn’t carry enough power or weight.


It’s easy to be cynical about Asian Horror. What used to be endlessly cool is now rather repetitive and dull, but Hansel and Gretel is one of the best to come along for a while, simply because it’s not a retread of the old vengeful ghost routine. Instead, it’s an enjoyably dark fairy tale, as a man crashes his car in a forest, is found by a young girl and taken to a gorgeous little cottage deep in the heart of the forest. Here, she and her two siblings are living with their oddly nervous parents, and all seems to be well until the man tries to find his way back through the forest, and can’t. Then the parents unexpectedly vanish, and it soon becomes clear that the children are not only in posession of some serious powers, but they really don’t want the man to leave… Gorgeously designed and directed, this is South Korean cinema firing on all cylinders, delivering plenty of atmosphere and some thoroughly entertaining chills. In certain ways, it’s a South Korean take on the fantastically bleak Twilight Zone episode ‘It’s A Good Life’, but it also makes sure that the shocks and chills are accompanied by a strong emotional undercurrent, and while the children may be monsters in certain respects, it also makes sure we understand what made them monsters. There are moments where the storytelling is a little too peculiar, the kids’ powers are a little ill-defined and the addition of a religious serial-killer was possibly going a bit too far, but this is still eminently creepy stuff, and a major step up from most of the last couple of years of Asian Horror output.


Bridge to Terebithia was an odd film – terribly flawed and clunky in many respects, and yet I admired the way it handled its sudden shift into darkness, and the way it handled the idea of death in a completely upfront and honest way rather than trying to sugar-coat it. I was vaguely interested to see if director Gabor Csupo would improve with his next film – and the answer’s a resounding ‘no’. The Secret of Moonacre is an adaptation of The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, and while that might have been a charming kids book that was worthy of an adaptation, what we’ve ended up with is creaky in the extreme, a messy, shambling kids movie crammed full of belch gags, incoherent plotting, flat performances and some incredibly bad editing. Dakota Blue Richards (from The Golden Compass) is the girl who’s sent to stay with her gruff uncle (Ioan Gruffud), only to find that there’s a curse on the valley where she’s now living, and she has to end the feud between two families before the Valley is destroyed for reasons which are never properly explained. Some very good actors give some very bad performances (especially Natasha McElhone, an actress who varies from astonishingly good to appallingly bad depending on who’s directing her), and while Dakota Blue Richards looks great and wears some very pretty frocks, she’s still a decidedly unimpressive actress, while the sight of Tim Curry waddling around as the leader of a gang of grumpy Emo Goths dressed as Uruk-hai-themed Droogs was something I could have done without. The kind of kids film that has to throw in aimless chase sequences, comedy fast-motion and people treading in horse crap in order to keep its target audience amused, this is cheap and charmless stuff that’s unlikely to enchant anyone.


A jolly, rambunctious Icelandic comedy that follows two families on their way to (amazingly) a wedding in the country, and the catalogue of errors that follows them at every turn. Altmanesque in the right way, this is great fun and builds up a selection of plotlines, bouncing between them and showcasing plenty of raw charm. Anyone with a dislike of handheld cameras should consider themselves warned, as this is a Dogme movie in all but name, but its difficult not to be swept along by its gritty, grimy energy.


From the directors behind the award-winning The Child, this is another dose of French miserabilist thriller, with a situation that’s a little too complicated for its own good, but which sees an Albanian girl having an arranged marriage with a junkie so that she can get Belgian citizenship – but the junkie doesn’t realise that the girl and her accomplice are planning to kill him off so they don’t have to pay him. Then, the relationship between her and the junkie starts to deepen, and things get complicated… It’s beautifully played, but there are some exceptionally weird storytelling choices here that make it difficult to work out what’s going on. One major plot development happens completely offscreen without any warning, while one character is officially diagnosed as pregnant, but later told that she isn’t without any explanation of the previous diagnosis. There’s some very powerful stuff here, but it’s ultimately a slightly cold film that doesn’t let you be close enough to the story to become truly engaged.


Or, the story of Ozploitation, and how at the same time as producing quality movies like Picnic at Hanging Rock, Australia was also the second home of Exploitation cinema, churning out a bizarre selection of ferociously lurid b-movies crammed with more gore, sex and exploding cars than you can possibly imagine. An explosive documentary that’s packed to the rafters with moments of sheer disbelief, this is an affectionate and energetic portrait of cinema gone stark raving bonkers, with everything from comedy chunder to 10-meter-long monster pigs. It’s funny, brutally honest and huge fun, although the constant stream of excess does get a little wearing towards the end, and it’s hard not to think that cutting ten minutes out would have made a stronger film. For lovers of trash cinema, however, this is an absolute must-see…’

To be concluded…

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