Monday, 29 November 2010


A review

When Da Qiang, his wife Yuan Ni and two children, Fang Da and Fang Deng, encountered a cloud of dragonflies on the afternoon of July 27, 1976, in Tangshan, China; he little realized that early in the morning of the following day he would be dead, his home destroyed, and his daughter lost for the next 32 years. That night, a earthquake measuring 7.8 in the Richter scale hit the city, killing an estimated 240,000 of its inhabitants. Tangshan itself was in ruins.

However, Aftershock is not so much a disaster movie, as it has been marketed, but rather a tale of two Chinas, the one which was left behind in ruins after the quake and the death of Chairman Mao Tse-tung later in that year, and the China we know today, as I heard my fridge softly humming in the kitchen. A China of values of family and togetherness was also left behind in the scram for money of the new one.

This is also a story of survival, of memories, of guilt, of forgiveness, of redemption. The format of the film is rather conventional, although it is beautifully crafted and photographed. The special effects of the quake itself are good, although they give the impression that it lasted for a long time, although its duration was only 23 seconds (most earthquakes do not last very long). Xiaogang Feng, the director, claims that Aftershock was conceived as a homage to the quake’s victims. However, that claim is somewhat lost by the intensity of the story, the last scene being somewhat like a kite in the wind, although still emotionally charged.

The device used to link all this different historical strands is the fate of Da Qiang family. His wife attempts to get into the apartment block in the middle of the quake, but he goes instead of her and dies after the building collapses on him, and the children sunk into the abyss of the collapse. Rescuers made her to choose between her two children, as they can only save one as to lift one side of the concrete slab where they are buried under will mean that one or the other will be crushed to death. The son is saved, although with one of his arms amputated as it was crushed, and the girl is left for dead. A Sophie’s Choice like scenario so far.

However, the girl survives, waking up on top of a truck full of corpses, her father’s body next to her, and wanders off. She will remember for ever those words her mother uttered: “Save my son”. She is adopted and raised by a couple of PLA officers as if she were their daughter, as the authorities were unable to reunite her with her surviving family in the chaos that followed the quake. In a key scene, she actually remembered her name when she is being enrolled to school and she is from then known as Wang Deng.

The two siblings grow apart for the next 32 years, the son believing his sister is dead, while she knows that he and her mother are alive, she cannot forget those three words. She eventually moves to Vancouver after she marries a Canadian , while her brother Fang Da manages to create a fortune in the new China, after having started as a ‘no-good’ for anything. Helping as a earthquake relief worker, her medical training being of great help, the two siblings finally reunite, her guilt resulting from her 32 years long resentment due to those three words surfaces.

One last point: Aftershock is a weepy, so make sure to have a box of hankies next to you when you watch it.

The DVD contains the film, scene selection and set up features (5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo sound).

Aftershock is China’s official foreign language entry to the 2011 Oscars.

Director: Xiaogang Feng
Cast: Daoming Chen, Chen Li, Yi Lu
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Film Certificate: (UK)15

UK theatrical release date: 12 November 2010
DVD UK release date: December 27th

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


A review

Another Year, a film precisely crafted by a director at the peak of his creative skills; a gentle and warm yet brutal study of a certain kind of Englishness found in the social interactions of suburbia, of lines drawn on the sand which are not supposed to be trespassed, and of loneliness while being with others.

Understated and nuanced yet merciless performances by Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville, and the whole of the cast,  tear apart the conventions that underline the day to day social interactions of the middle classes. Yet Leigh’s eye is always sympathetic with his characters, never judgemental. He presents them up there on the screen with an admirable economy of means for us to make up our minds. As usual with his films, the plot itself does not amount to much, just a year on the life of a couple, their sons and those surrounding them.

The magic of Leigh’s films resides in the humanity of its details, in his compassionate yet ruthless eye, in his ability to relate with us, his audience.

Magnificently filmed by Dick Pope, with a very controlled and close camera and lighting, without any of the fancy hand held movements so many recent British movies have indulged in, the attention is always centred on the actors and the story. A lesson in film making.

This is supreme story telling, absolutely brilliant in its forensic precision!

For more information and trailer, please follow the link below:

Trailer and synopsis

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


A review

A strange, and ultimately very rewarding, beast of a film. 

The lens excruciatingly follows Cristi, a young policeman as he in turn follows a school boy and his friends as they have been caught smoking hashish on the grounds of a kindergarten located in an unspecified Romanian city (we only know that it is not Bucharest).

The camera doubles as a mirror of Cristi’s forensic attitude, as he scans the school ground for remains of the joints that the youngsters have been smoking, and in the manner that the lens follows almost every one of his movements and the environment where he moves, particularly telling are the shots where the camera focuses on a dirty light switch as Cristi enters his office, then it pans in the room highlighting the shabby furniture and computer equipment, battered steel lockers on one wall. Prophetic are also the scenes filmed in a rather posh part of the city, with badly paved roads and footpaths, so commonly seen outside the so-called developed world. Are British streets leading to a similar fate, as funding to local authorities is being savagely cut in this era of austerity?

Police, Adjective, as the name implies, is about language, meaning, lack of meaning and multiple meanings of words, this chain started by Cristi’s conflict between his conscience and his duty as a police officer, as seen by his superior. Language, how we use words and what we actually mean, or do not mean, when we say something, this is the core of the film, leading to scenes with a calm and slow burning kind of humour, scenes that also lead to question my own use of language and what I actually mean when I open my mouth. I may decide not to open it ever again...

Particularly informative is the meeting between Cristi, his colleague Nelu and the philosopher Commander of the police station, Anghelache (wrongly translated as Captain in the subtitles, perhaps as an attempt to emulate the language used in American TV police series), resulting in the frantic search for a Romanian dictionary throughout the whole of the building.

A rewarding film that analyses with forensic precision the use of language, officialdom, morality, conscience, and the compromises we take during every minute of our lives to just get on. I did not only truly enjoyed it, but I also feel that Police, Adjective will slow burn in me for years to come.

Director & Screenwriter: Corneliu Porumboiu
Cast: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Irina Saulescu, Ion Stoican Marian Ghenea, Cosmin Selesi, Serban Georgevici, George Remes, Adina Dulcu, Dan Cogalniceanu, Costi Dita, Alexandru Sabadac, Anca Diaconu, Radu Costin, Viorel Nebunu, Emanoela Tigla, Daniel Barsan, Bungeanu Mioara.

Distributor: Artificial Eye

LEAVING reviewed

What film reviews have in common with buses, at least in this blog? Simply, you wait for one for ages, and when they come, they do so in three. If you did not see Leaving when was exhibited out there in the big bad (or good) world, then you are for a treat in your cosy homes as Metrodome Distribution is releasing the DVD in the UK on November 29th, 2010.

Kristin Scott Thomas pulls a magnificent performance as Suzanne, a middle age British woman supposedly “happily” married to a French doctor based in Nîmes, near the border with Spain. French veteran actor Yvan Attal portrays Samuel’s intensity, despair, humiliation, contempt and a desire for revenge when Suzanne leaves him for a younger man, Iván, a Spanish labourer hired to convert a unused outbuilding into a physiotherapy treatment room, as she desires to return to work after an absence of fifteen years (the kids will soon fly the nest).

As you may have deduced from the above, Catherine Corsini’s film reverses the usual stereotype of the husband leaving in pursuit of a younger model as Suzanne is the one who leaves the conjugal home, partly because she is tired of the daily routine of cleaning, making sure that the kids are ready for school, and cooking (just to face their moans as she dared to serve chicken twice in a day!). Iván, charmingly played by Sergi López, offers her the last chance to be a full and complete woman once again, of feeling as a fifteen year old girl once more, of getting out of a daily routine which can only be described as managed terminal decline.

In this sense, Leaving can not only be described as a feminist film, in so far as the stereotype of middle age man leaving woman for a younger one has been reversed, but also as anti-ageist, as Suzanne is clearly not far away from the last stage of her life. From this point of view, the passionate love scenes, expertly handled by Corsini and her cinematographer, Agnès Godard, are essential to convey that feeling to recapture, to reclaim, her life as a full woman when it is still possible.

Leaving is also a stark analysis of the patriarchy that still lays under the family as a social institution, and underpinning bourgeois society, a theme very dear to French film makers.

I truly enjoyed it, raising my mood from sadness to anger and to expectation all the way through until the completely unexpected finale, which caught me totally on the wrong foot, in spite of a clue having been laid early on.

The DVD contains an enlightening and not too long interviews to Catherine Corsini and Kristin Scott Thomas, UK theatrical trailer plus the usual scene and setting up options.

Leaving will be released in the UK on 29th November 2010.

Jirí Menzel’s Closely Guarded Trains revisited

I first saw Closely Guarded Trains when it was still fresh out of Czechoslovakia (when it still existed as a nation), back in the late 60s, in Cinema Arte in Viña del Mar, Chile. The irony of its humour impressed me as a young man, and continued to do so in later years as I watched it either in the box or when shown at Hull Screen sometimes in the 80s, if I remember well. I would have suspected that I would have grown tired of it by now (as I am sure it may well be the case for those of you who have been through film school or film studies courses). However, I found out that this is not the case,

I think that Closely Guarded Trains is as fresh and pertinent as it was then, back in the 60s.

This film, being a classic of European New Wave cinema, had had many studies, books and articles dedicated to it, so I will not dwell on it. I will only say that this parody, with a sting attached, where a small railway station in war time German occupied Czechoslovakia acts as a mirror for the whole country, produced during the Communist period (the Prague Spring) and primarily made as a covert criticism of Communist officialdom and their propaganda machine, has a message that can be translated in contemporary English as: “We are in it all together”.

Merry Christmas, Mr Cameron. Merry Christmas, Mr Clegg.

Closely Guarded Trains: Czechoslovakia, 1966, 93 mins.
Director: Jirí Menzel
Writers: Bohumil Hrabal (novel), Bohumil Hrabal (screenplay)
Cast: Václav Neckár, Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodský

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Let Me In

A review

Matt Reeves’ Let Me In, what a disappointment! I do not normally give points to films, however, if I had to do so to Let Me In, it would get no more than 5 out of 10, and that because of Chloë Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Their powerful portrayal of the two central characters, Abby (Eli) and Owen (Oskar) saves Let Me In from being just another eminently forgettable horror flick. Matt Reeves claims in a Twitter Q & A session that he was inspired by Dial M for Murder, I dare to suggest that he rather should had been inspired by Psycho instead, particularly by the shower scene. A key problem with this film was expressed in an overheard comment made by someone when I was leaving the cinema: “I am desensitized.” When we reach the final scene in the school swimming pool, I just did not care, not any more, because of the lack of subtlety not only of its treatment, but also of all the previous gory scenes. In the original Swedish film, the restraint of its treatment injected even a bit of humour into this macabre scene, something which is totally absent in Reeves’ version.

To give Matt Reeves his due, he gave a good attempt to make an American version of the Lindqvist book, the problem is that the original film is so beautiful that it is very difficult to compete with it. He fails to do so. Where the Alfredson’s version begins with a poetic scene of snow falling, a very soft sound on the background, Reeves begins with a convoy of police cars escorting an ambulance, all sirens and shouts blazing, setting straightaway the overcooked and overbearing tone and pacing of Let Me In. In a way, I could say that Reeves made two films in one, a typical American style horror film, and a story of love and longing of two twelve year old misfits, Owen (Oskar), a bullied boy with dreams of revenge, traits of a psychopath killer already growing in him, and Abby (Eli), a girl who may be not be a girl after all, who is also twelve, the difference being that she has been twelve year old for a very long time.

Alfredson captures this central theme of longing, longing for a childhood to be as that of everybody else: for Oskar to be able to go out to school and around without being bullied, and for Eli to be, for once, a twelve year old human being she actually was once upon a time who can establish a close relationship with a boy of her own age as if she were a child, without seeing that boy simply as a source of blood. Both Chloë Grace Moretz and Lina Leandersson were able to powerfully express that inner conflict tearing Abby ‘s (Eli’s) inner self apart.

Reeves, while he is also able to capture that sense of longing, his overblown treatment of the violent and gory scenes manage to disrupt that central story to properly unfold, the pacing just completely blows it apart. Even so, in one scene where Abby (Eli) disposes of the “father” (Richard Jenkins) in hospital, after he has been captured, Alfredson manages to shoot it in a much more effective manner; even the make-up on the face of the actor was more realistic than in the American version (which looks too much like any other horror film monster rather than the face of a common guy disfigured by acid). However, in almost every other scene, Reeves’ overcooked treatment fundamentally disturbs the pacing of the film and looses the nuances of the original: Virginia catching fire ends up with the top floor of the hospital in fire, the shots of Abby jumping onto his victims are so ridiculous, I could have seen that it was a mannequin on top of the unfortunate victims even if I were a mile away, the blood splattering everywhere, or the old Abby appearing under the sweet and pretty face of the twelve year old Abby is grotesque and it goes on for too long (when she jumps and licks the blood on the floor after Owen tries to make a pact with her by mixing their blood); in the Alfredson version, there is just a hint of Eli’s old self appearing on her face, and much more realistic, at that.

There is one scene, which I thought it was crucial, in Let The Right One In missing in Let Me In: when Eli confronts Oskar after she went into his apartment in spite that she was not invited in (and, therefore, putting herself in mortal danger), remonstrating the first words she heard him saying when he was stabbing at a tree pretending it was the boy bullying him, and expressing that she does what she does because either she does it or she dies, while Oskar has options, yet he is already developing as a potential psychopathic killer. That that world weariness, is intensely conveyed by both Chloë Grace Moretz and Lina Leandersson.

However, Lina expressed that sadness, the sadness of a vampire who does not want to be one, a killer who does not want to kill, so intensely that I could feel it throughout my being, particularly in that scene in Let The Right One In when Eli is doing the Rubik cube. It was just unbearable to watch.

If you have seen Let The Right One In, perhaps to see Let Me In may be a bad idea as it is disappointing. I did bite my fangs on its neck, and found the blood to be rather anaemic. However, if you have not seen the Alfredson film, you may enjoy it: there is a darkness and world weariness in it missing from most contemporary American vampire movies. If Chloë continues to perform as she has done here, she could well be one of the great American actors of the 21st Century. On the other hand, perhaps Let Me In is worth seeing just because of her performance, and that of Kodi Smit-McPhee.

When I got home from the cinema, the cats hissed at me. Should I worry?

Trailer and stills

To read DVD and Blu-ray review please click here.

Let Me In DVD will be released in the UK on March 14, 2011.