Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Snow Cake (15)

Dir: Marc Evans, 2006, UK/Canada (112 mins)
Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie-Anne Moss
Following reality TV horror in My Little Eye and the psycho-angst of Trauma, chameleonic Welsh director Evans returns with a character-focused drama set in smalltown Canada.
Alex (Rickman), fresh out of jail for killing a man, picks up a pretty young hitchhiker who is collecting the stories of lonely men for her writing. Just when the journey seems to be heading to a very dark place a fatal twist occurs and propels Alex into the world of Linda (Weaver), a high-functioning autistic woman.
Moss glows as a loose woman offering shelter in the storm and Rickman is at his dry sardonic best. Weaver’s the problem though. She’s simply too familiar a face to assuage audience discomfort at another able-bodied portrayal of onscreen disability.
Even Brit sarcasm cannot stop the film straying into soppy territory, but a score by Broken Social Scene, and indie soundtrack including I Am Kloot diverts from occasional sentimental forays. Kate Taylor

Volver (15)

Dir: Pedro Almodóvar, 2006, Spain (121 mins)
Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas
When their aunt passes away, two sisters find themselves in a fix. Raimunda (Cruz) has a no-good-husband and Sole (Dueñas) suffers the ghost stories of a town where the eastern wind sends everyone crazy. Murder and resurrection ensue as family secrets spill out, forcing the women to face adversity using all the sass and deceit at their disposal.
Cruz is luminous in an astounding performance as a woman with a well-honed survival instinct. And she certainly knows how to work it, with the film’s production design having plenty of fun with Cruz’s wardrobe, legs and cleavage. Meanwhile Dueñas measures her comic timing to perfection and Almodóvar’s ability to conjure something cheeky and insightful remains unrivalled. A paean to loyalty and the female spirit, Volver is glorious cinema and the most uplifting film you’re likely to see this year. Kate Taylor

The Notorious Bettie Page (18)

Dir: Mary Harron, 2005, USA (91 mins)
Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, Lili Taylor
When profiling this 50’s S&M pin-up it would have been easy to slip into a kitsch homage that further objectified the woman behind the images. Thankfully The Notorious Bettie Page isn’t guilty of this, but neither does it unveil the fascinating psyche, which should be ripe for examination. Instead the films hits limbo. All we discover is that Page was actually, well, quite nice.
Dealt a rotten hand by various men in her life, Page hits the modelling circuit with an optimism borne of her church upbringing and we discover that many of the people producing the photographs were polite and fair, with only the kinky clientele coming in for vilification. But while the film is witty and affectionate in its period detail, there is little to explain why Page’s image has been reclaimed by young women in recent years. As biopics go, it’s a puzzler.
Kate Taylor

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (15)

Dir: Cristi Puiu, 2005, Romania (153 mins)
Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Doru Ana
Mr Lazarescu is unwell. He has a hunch that his headache is related to old stomach surgery, or maybe his leg ulcer, but his self-administered concoction of aspirin and tummy calmers washed down with cheap alcohol isn’t doing the trick. Turning grey, he feeds the cats and calls the ambulance. So begins this long journey of suffering as we lay witness to Lazarescu’s dying hours of vomit, incontinence and complaint.
Shot in stark naturalism with handheld camera work, there is no music or levity to this drowsy dose of social realism. The humour is of the blackest shade of tragic, found in the dark if occasionally forgiving view of the overworked and tired medical staff who shuttle Lazarescu from hospital to hospital. The nuances are slight however. The result is fundamentally soporific, and suitable only for those with a strong constitution who prefer to take their depictions of poverty and mortality without sweetener. Kate Taylor

Tideland (15)

Dir: Terry Gilliam, 2005, Canada/UK (122 mins)
Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Janet McTeer
Terry Gilliam is back and in provocative form with the woozy Southern Gothic of Tideland, which features a cast of damaged grotesques spinning in and out of the life of Jeliza-Rose, a resilient nine-year-old. Dealing with parental overdose, geographic upheaval and pervasive decomposition with good grace and a fiercely energetic imagination, Jeliza-Rose’s darkly magical existence fills up with dolls’ heads, rabbit holes and talking squirrels, as life becomes curiouser and curiouser,
In making the point that innocence is not something to be preserved behind glass, Gilliam risks the audience’s ire by placing a child in a world of junkies though. Most contentiously, he also hints at a sense of sexuality. But Tideland maintains such unflinching honesty in its child’s-eye-view that while occasionally discomforting, it ultimately infects you with its sense of wonder. Featuring vertiginous cinematography and spellbinding performances from Bridges, McTeer and the extraordinary Ferland as Jeliza-Rose, this fantasy film is enthralling cinema; set to challenge and inspire. Kate Taylor

Thank You for Smoking (15)

Dir: Jason Reitman, 2005, USA (92 mins)
Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes, Rob Lowe
As a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, Nick Naylor (Eckhart) is at the top of his game, with seemingly no argument he cannot charm his way out of. Socialising with fellow members of the Merchants of Death tri-force (alcohol and gun control), Naylor’s loose approach to ethical matters doesn’t deter his desire to provide guidance in the way of the world for his young son. Only the advances of an ambitious reporter (Holmes) threaten his towering sense of self-satisfaction.
The script, adapted from the Christopher Buckley novel, is snappy dialogue heaven, something that reaches its zenith when Nick arrives in Hollywood to make smoking cool again. As satire, the film’s targets are broad and everyone seems to be having too much fun to really spike them. But having defined its own moral universe, it satisfyingly swerves away from redeeming characters with false revelations, and Eckhart’s performance as the ‘yuppie Mephistopheles’ is terrific. Kate Taylor

To Die In San Hilario (12A)

Dir Laura Mañá, 2004, Spain, (105 mins)
Lluís Homar, Ana Fernández, Ferran Rañé
When a renegade gangster with a bag full of loot finds himself in the bizarre town of San Hilario he cannot believe his luck. In a haphazard case of mistaken identity, he is warmly welcomed by the natives who believe him to be in line for the town’s only industry - the staging of elaborate funerals.
While the fish-out-of-water scenario feels familiar, the homespun values of the small town are given an entertaining twist by the actions of the town’s inhabitants. Each has their own quirky perspectives on death; from a lovelorn artist suffering from multiple abortive suicide attempts, to the priest obsessed with imagining god’s face, and the beautiful woman who only falls in love with dying men, as long as they reveal their secrets. A distinctly old fashioned affair, the film’s farce has plenty of chutzpah and the comic pacing weaves well into the moments of magical realism. Kate Taylor

Forty Shades of Blue (15)

Dir: Ira Sachs, 2005, USA (108 mins)
Rip Torn, Dina Korzun, Darren E. Burrows
With her ironed blonde hair and magazine-prescribed glamour, Russian beauty Laura (Korzun) is the perfect trophy girlfriend to Alan James (Torn), an aging legend on the Memphis music circuit. Alan’s cheating, and boarish behaviour is countered by a comfortable house and a happy three-year-old son, so despite feeling numb and cut adrift, Laura does not complain. But the arrival of Alan’s estranged son Michael (Burrows), also dealing with his own marital problems, disturbs the precarious balance. As Michael views Laura first maliciously and then with another gaze entirely, the film’s tone shifts in a subtle and subdued manner, in keeping with Laura’s personal awakening.
Torn is in fine form as an egotistical bully unable to translate his love for his family beyond the display of selfish urges, and Korzun dazzles as Laura in her blankness; simultaneously attractive and powerless. The result is a film that provides an effective if bleak depiction of emotional dysfunction. Kate Taylor

Angel-a (15)

Dir: Luc Besson, 2005, France, (88 min)
Jamel Debbouze, Rie Rasmussen, Gilbert Melki
A small-time businessman and compulsive liar, Andre has left a trail of debt across Paris, so now the heavies are on his tail. Beyond hope, he decides to jump off a bridge but, at the decisive moment, spots a beautiful woman attempting the same thing. Following his instinct to rescue her, André finds himself bound to Angela, a strange companion intent on redeeming him and restoring his self-esteem - albeit with a radical approach including pimping and violence.
And it’s this odd couple, the leggy blonde and shuffling schmuck, who underpin Luc Besson’s first film in seven years. Sadly however, despite the evocative black and white cinematography that offers Paris in all its requisite majesty, the chemistry between leads feels more like a forced union than a match made in heaven. The film’s tone also sits uneasily between black comedy and self help, with the script delivering few laughs and fewer surprises. The result is an ultimately underwhelming experience. Kate Taylor

Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That! (15)

Dir: Adam Yauch, 2006, USA (90 Min)
Mike D, Ad Rock, MCA, Mix Master Mike
Strictly handheld is the style that goes in this groundbreaking concert film of a Beastie Boys show in Madison Square Gardens in 2004. Billed as an authorised bootleg, the band distributed Hi-8 video cameras to fifty fans to shoot from the crowd and the edited results reveal the gig experience from multiple perspectives. Evoking the requisite sweat and smell, the film definitely captures the experience of a stadium show and the electricity of the Beasties’ performance.
Democratisation leads to some predictable amateur cinematography, such as everyone going crazy on the zoom button for the first five minutes, but the skill here is in the edit, which is elegant and frenetic, splicing in time with Mixmaster Mike’s whirlwind scratching. As a document it works best for those who’d already consider themselves fans of the band, but would play well to anyone willing to shake their rumps in the cinema. Kate Taylor

Tony Takitani (U)

Dir: Jun Ichikawa, 2004, Japan (75 min)
Issei Ogata, Rie Miyazawa, Shinohara Takahumi
Tony Takitani is a lonely illustrator who discovers the coordinates of his own emptiness when love arrives. Having never considered it before, he is awoken to compassion when he encounters Eiko, an impeccably dressed young woman who consents to life as a gifted housewife.
The film is full of signifying objects, trombones and cashmere coats
externalising emotions the characters are unable to grasp. Tony can only draw mechanical objects, which are rendered in minute technical detail. Eiko uses clothes to compensate for an inner void. Unfortunately shopping addiction consumes Eiko and a love of Chanel leads to her downfall.
Adapted from a Haruki Murakami short story, the film evokes a finite world, and is less about internal wranglings than conveying a temperature – a muted mood shot in grey and pale blue with a distanced voiceover breaking the narrative spell, as the camera constantly pans left to right through the rooms of Takitani’s life. Kate Taylor

Dumplings (18)

Dir: Fruit Chan, 2004, Hong Kong (91 min)
Ling Bai, Miriam Yeung Chin Wah, Tony Leung Ka Fai
Aunt Mei may look like a foxy 20-something, with luminous skin and a fabulously trashy wardrobe, but it’s more than anti-aging creams that defy her sexagenarian status. There’s something in those dumplings.
Her famous dish leads Mrs Li, a faded soap star, to visit Mei for a taste of such rejuvenating powers. Desperate to retain her philandering husband, she begs Mei to up their potency and discovers there’s a high price to pay for a dewy complexion.
Mei remains cheery and mysterious about what exactly those tasty parcels contain, but when it becomes clear that the source lies in utero the film delights in a visceral horror that is certainly not for the squeamish or recently pregnant.
Dumplings is simultaneously a witty fable on the perils of vanity and a swoon-inducing paean to beauty, with master cinematographer Christopher Doyle wringing every drop of pleasure from each frame. Kate Taylor

Song of Songs (15)

Dir: Josh Appignanesi, 2006, UK (81 min)
Joel Chalfen, Nathalie Press, Leon Lissek
Set in the Orthodox Jewish community of North London, Song of Songs is a wilfully cryptic portrait of incestuous violence and sexual desire. Joel Chalfen gives an intense performance as a troubled school teacher who has rejected his background, with emerging talent Nathalie Press (My Summer of Love) as his devout sister returned from Israel to bring him back into the fold and make peace with their dying mother.
As a debut feature it is difficult to measure how much of the film’s ambiguity is actually confusion on director Appignanesi’s part. Certainly the film’s style is distinctive – we follow characters through the streets viewing the backs of their heads, the cold tones linger in dark places as characters hide behind curtains and pivotal events of the past are alluded to but never explained. It is good to credit an audience with intelligence, but the film ranges from intriguingly enigmatic to frustratingly incomprehensible. Kate Taylor

Tell Them Who You Are (15)

Dir: Mark Wexler, 2005, USA (95 min)
Dads, eh? While Mark Wexler’s documentary on the work of his father, legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler, starts out as a puff piece of respectful platitudes from Hollywood royalty, it quickly develops into a fascinating examination of paternal relations.
Growing up in the shadow of Haskell’s talent, arrogance and magnetism, Mark clearly displays a chip on his shoulder from a lack of affection and respect, which leads to some compelling cameras-at-dawn interplay between the irascible old man and his whiny progeny.
In his twilight years, Haskell sees the film as an opportunity to say something true, yet Mark’s intentions seem clouded by a lack of confidence, manifested by petulant antics such as overdubbing Haskell’s political rants and eavesdropping by leaving the microphone on when he’s not in the room.
So, while more sympathy may be elicited by Haskell for having a drippy son, the film certainly makes the point that mavericks are no fun to grow up with. Kate Taylor

Lobo (Wolf) (15)

Dir: Miguel Courtois, 2004, Spain (124 min)
Eduardo Noriega, Patrick Bruel, Mélaine Doutey
Based on real events, this political thriller depicts the agent, code-named Lobo (‘Wolf’), who infiltrated Basque-separatists ETA in the mid-1970s leading to over 150 arrests.
Starting out as a simple man with a conscience, we follow Wolf as he becomes a conflicted mole, who hooks up along the way with an attractive female activist who has a predilection for keeping her balaclava on in the bedroom. Quickly ascending the organisation’s upper echelons, Wolf finds them to be squabbling fanatics, who are busy bumping each other off over differing interpretations of revolution. But the secret service who recruit him are little better, acting as manipulative puppet-masters enslaved by personal ambition and the political machinations of their superiors.
Wolf’s journey was no doubt an extraordinary one, but this straightforward rendition lacks tension, with not enough shadows to define the intrigue, and insufficient appeal to rise beyond blandness. Kate Taylor

C.R.A.Z.Y (15)

Dir: Jean-Marc Vallée, 2005, Canada (127 min)
Michel Côté, Marc-André Grondin, Danielle Proulx
A Quebecois coming-of-age drama set in the 1970s, C.R.A.Z.Y follows a family of five sons as they rebel and compete for the affection of their father, a loving but unrepentantly macho man.
Fourth son Zac’s life is already difficult enough, having been blessed with a messianic gift for healing, but when a series of stolen glimpses and brief encounters lead to confusion over his sexuality, he works out that in the eyes of his dad it would be preferable for him to be a drug-addled dropout than an affront to the hereditary order of masculinity.
The period detail is shot with wit and an obvious affection for the era, and the film’s bizarre digressions offer an eccentric charm, although it tends to meander off-course in a trippy and spectacular fashion. And Zac’s character is never really likable enough to be sympathetic, so the only satisfaction comes from observations that are strictly domestic. Kate Taylor
Align Center

Offside (PG)

Dir: Jafar Panahi, 2006, Iran (88 min)
Sima Mobarek Shani, Safar Samandar, Shayesteh Irani
Even if you are fleeing to the cinema to escape football media saturation, you cannot fail to be charmed by Offside, a footie film where not a single shot of the match is shown. Instead we see Iran’s World Cup 2006 qualifier against Bahrain from the perspective of a group of girls who attempt to smuggle themselves into the all-male stadium.
As stereotype-busters go, the sassiness of the Tehrani girls, matched with their knowledge and passion for the game is refreshing and often hilarious. Rounded up and penned in an enclosure frustratingly close to the action, they are watched over by young army guards on national service who would much rather be tending to cattle than putting up with a bunch of cheeky female fans.
Shot with a lightness and spontaneity that keeps the girls’ enthusiasm infectious, the film gently pushes forward its wider perspective in women’s rights. Kate Taylor

Poseidon (12A)

Dir: Wolfgang Petersen, 2006, USA (99 min)
Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Jacinda Barrett
Recognising the dramatic potential of catastrophe, a few years ago Channel Five soap opera Sunset Beach featured a calamitous luxury cruise. Liberally pilfering from Cameron’s Titanic and the original Poseidon Adventure, divas in evening gowns waded through sets made of chipboard trying to find high ground while Gabi had an affair with her husband’s brother (the priest!).
This slightly more expensive tread-through of the 1970’s disaster flick replaces such hysteria and camp with CGI explosions aplenty and an unsentimental race for survival. Strong jawed determination comes courtesy of twinkly-eyed gambler Lucas (an ex-navy seal) and worried patriarch Russell (ex-Mayor of New York, and fireman!), with Peterson confidently maintaining tension to the end. But the lack of mental breakdowns or crises of faith may leave disaster fans feeling cheated. And a soggy performance from Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas as the sole concession to hairspray and sequins is unforgivable. Kate Taylor

36 (15)

Dir Olivier Marchal, 2004, France (110 min)
Daniel Auteuil, Gérard Depardieu, André Dussollier
“What about our ethics code?” Asks the play-it-by-the-book Police chief. “I’ve wiped my arse with that for years,” snarls back Klein (Depardieu), a friendless cop hungry for promotion. And so it goes, with Vrinks (a very Pacino-esque Auteuil) as Klein’s rival, the stage it set for the two officers to do whatever it takes to bring in a violent gang and win the chief’s job. Both have unorthodox approaches to securing information, which leads to a nasty circle of retribution.
36 sets its sights on the masculine thriller territory of Michael Mann, but unlike Heat there is no character shading, and the film, steeped in genre conventions, simply passes off tired clichés as short-hand. The breakneck velocity of plot points propels things forward, yet for all its violence the film is essentially anaemic. The set pieces don’t crackle, and an unrelenting score make it feel stylistically more akin to a car advert than cinema. Kate Taylor

Wal-Mart The High Cost of Low Price (PG)

Dir: Robert Greenwald, 2005, USA (95 min)
It’s not often that you feel Michael Moore’s presence would add a little subtlety to a subject. But this documentary, on retail behemoth Wal-Mart, is in dire need of some levity and wit.
The cataloguing of Wal-Mart’s sharp practices is laudable and extensive, highlighting the impact of new stores on the pre-existing smaller traders who get muscled out. It goes on to show the low-wage culture and how this is systematically maintained by the pressure on employees to put in free overtime, aggressive anti-union activities including surveillance and intimidation, and the offering of healthcare insurance that is so expensive that employees are encouraged to apply for state benefits.
The film successfully reunites the cheap products of the store with the exploited labour that created them but the execution is crude, with poor camera work, cloying musical underscores and a hysterical misuse of statistics that ultimately weakens its credibility. Kate Taylor

Russian Dolls (15)

Dir: Cedric Klapisch, 2005, France/UK (125 min)
Romain Duris, Audrey Tatou, Kelly Reilly
Slouchy Parisian lothario Xavier (Duris) is tussling with the void between his expectations of love and work, and the imperfect realities of adulthood. With his novel on hold, he scrapes by on bitty journalism and ghost writing, with the memoirs of a 24 year-old supermodel presenting a dream solution to his troubles.
A job writing a cheesy soap opera forces him to examine melodramatic clichés however, as well as pairing him with sassy co-writer Wendy (Reilly), who has her own hang ups and unsuitable attractions.
A sequel to Klapisch’s L’Auberge Espagnole, Russian Dolls has an obvious affection its characters, even if it occasionally slips into smugness. But for the most part this is a charming tale of yearning and disappointment, which despite suggesting that only in a fallen world can there be a perfect love, remains sharp in its wider observations on human tendencies for self-sabotage. Kate Taylor

Brick (15)

Dir Rian Johnson, 2005 USA (110 min)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas
Brendan, a hard-boiled loner, returns to town to piece together the disappearance of an ex-lover. A sinuous trail of clues leads to multiple beatings from henchmen warning him off the seedy realm of thwarted drug deals and poisonous femme fatales he has uncovered. So far, so Noir. The twist here is that the film is set in a high school, with a cast of teenagers getting cryptic for kicks.
Brick’s underworld has it’s own vocabulary and this jive talk is delivered in an often-incomprehensible mumble. Adolescent affectation abounds as the camera gazes lovingly over shoes, a Rubik’s cube is used as metaphor and pretty lens-flares puncture the suburban desolation of parking lots, storm drains and basement dens. There is charm in Brendan’s detached self-possession, but the head-scratching jargon overcompensates, a masquerade for genuine intrigue. Depending on your leanings you will either find Brick a stylish tonic or a total waste of time. Kate Taylor

Paradise Now (15)

Dir Hany Abu-Assad, 2005 France/Germany/Netherlands/Israel (90 min)
Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal
A young man holding gun aloft falteringly starts to read his speech. The camera breaks down. His handlers chomp bread nonchalantly. He tries again with great effort. This will be his martyr video, his suicide note. Suddenly his head clears and his voice perks up – he looks into the lens and tells his mother of a water filter she would like that is selling cheaply in town.
Paradise Now succeeds in creating moments of irony and emotional resonance that give the urgent drama a memorable depth. As Palestinian friends Said and Khaled embark on a suicide mission, the film humanises its protagonists, illustrating their frustrations and the lack of options they believe are available to them. Saha, a strong-willed woman that Said is in love with, represents a forcefully persuasive moral counter balance. And the audience is left with a powerful conclusion that haunts long after you’ve left the cinema. Kate Taylor

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (15)

Tommy Lee Jones, 2005, USA/France (121 mins)
Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakum
When Mexican immigrant Melquiades Estrada is shot on the Texan border, the authorities are quick to turn a blind eye. But as his sole friend, obstinate cowboy Pete Perkins (Jones) is determined to reap a bloody justice and fulfil the promise to lay the corpse to rest back in Estrada’s homeland. And to accompany him on this voyage Perkins kidnaps the border guard (Pepper) responsible for the murder.
Scripted by Guillermo Arriaga, writer of Amores Perros and 21 Grams, Three Burials maintains the intensity of these previous films, its traumatised characters sweltering equally in the diner and trailer park as in the empty desert. Although violent, the masculinity here is not muscle-bound, but defined by a gritty compassion, with the integrity of Perkins’ promise standing as a show of strength against a vast harrowing loneliness. With respite in small exchanges of hospitality and mercy, Three Burials offers a soulful and sweaty journey.
Kate Taylor

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (12A)

Dir Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005 US (109 mins)
A legend in the underground circles of lo-fi American music, the bizarre life of Daniel Johnston marks this documentary as more compelling than fiction. Identified early as a black sheep in his devoutly religious family, Johnston demonstrated a prodigious musical talent matched with a hunger for fame. But just as his simple and affecting song-writing started to win peer recognition, his mental illness worsened and his life has been marred by his devil-fixated persecution complex ever since.
The film spins its tale out beautifully, creatively incorporating the rich archive of Johnston’s early Super8 films and artwork. And while Johnston is no longer lucid enough for interviews, his voice is ever-present via the cassette tapes where he has compulsively recorded his thoughts since adolescence. The film suggests no romance in Johnston’s condition, instead it offers a poignant account of his relationships with friends and family, an appealing offbeat humour and a smattering of great songs. Kate Taylor

Metal A Headbanger’s Journey (15)

Dir Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, Jessica Joy Wise, 2005, CA, (96 mins)
Tony Iommi, Alice Cooper, Bruce Dickinson, Lemmy
The aim of Sam Dunn’s documentary is to offer an anthropology of heavy metal. It’s a chance to reflect on where it’s come from, why it remains maligned, and who really invented that ‘devil horns’ hand gesture.
Treats come in the form of Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, shot in a grubby twilight Birmingham, and Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) recounting his triumphant statement to the US Senate in 1985. However, things come a cropper for Dunn when he meets the Norwegian death metallers who actually burn down churches, and tellingly the film’s credits include both therapist and moral guide.
The roll call of contributors is lengthy, but many are wasted (in every sense) as we catch a soundbite or two rather than extended commentary. And while Chuck Klosterman and Rob Zombie offer insights into the role of metal in embracing outsiders, the rhetoric remains cultural and free of economics. A film made by fans for fans. Kate Taylor

Don’t Come Knocking (15)

Dir Wim Wenders, 2005, DE/FR/GB/US (111 mins)
Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange, Tim Roth
The set of an unnamed Western is thrown into chaos when Howard Spence (Shepard), seasoned actor and carouser goes AWOL. Hired by the film insurance company, a fastidious private detective (Roth) sets out on his trail. But having spent thirty years playing cowboys, not even Spence knows where he’s heading, and the film charts his befuddled odyssey and subsequent wrangles with unexpected paternity.
As the drink-addled and inarticulate hero, Shepard, collaborating with Wenders again after their success with 1984’s Paris, Texas, offers us a man lacking in agency away from the rigour of a shooting schedule. And following his cue, the whole film drifts and mooches, in no hurry to reach a destination.
Instead, the pleasures offered are of landscapes without maps. The desert and small town Americana are rendered spellbindingly as Spence’s psyche unfurls, while an anchor is found in the classy performance from Jessica Lange as his old flame. Kate Taylor

Monday, March 20, 2006

Pavee Lackeen – The Traveller Girl (15)

Perry Ogden, Ireland (88 mins)
Winnie Maugham, Rose Maugham, Paddy Maugham

This directing debut for renowned photographer Ogden deploys non-professional Irish actors in semi-improvised situations not unlike their own lives. Ten-year old Winnie (Maugham) struggles against her schooling, while Mum Rose (Maugham Snr.) struggles bringing up Winnie and her nine siblings, all of whom live in caravans as travellers. It’s unvarnished, zero-budget stuff, with wildly varying performances and, at times, scarcely any dialogue, incident or narrative progression. But stick with it to unlock its charms. The inherent grimness is largely implied in lyrical detail, rather than hammered home, and in Ogden’s hands, Winnie’s meandering, unassuming tale becomes quietly compelling. Andy Murray

V For Vendetta (15)

James McTeigue, 2005, USA/Germany (132 mins)
Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt

It’s 2020 and Britain is a totalitarian state run by a hysterical politician (Hurt). Time for a new gunpowder plot, and the mysterious V (Weaving) is the masked man ready to light the fuse. But political ideals are entwined with a personal thirst for vengeance, with V steadily bumping off a shopping list of villains involved in the government conspiracy that created him.
A reluctant protégé, Evey (Portman) cannot decide if he is a deranged psychopath or moral warrior. And neither can director McTeigue, who portrays V as an improbable love interest and martyr-figure long after he has lost audience sympathy. At constant pains to stress it’s prescience on matters of terrorism and the erosion of civil rights, the film trips over its own plot holes and confuses infantile rhetoric with intelligent comment. Still, some cool explosions, an impressive domino rally and the pseudo-philosophy will generate lively post-screening pub discussions. Kate Taylor

The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada

Tommy Lee Jones, 2005, USA/France (121 mins)
Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakum,

Taking the law into his own hands, modern-day cowboy Pete Perkins (Jones) is on a mission to see his murdered best friend buried in Mexico, and the killer made to understand the extent of the crime. Texan Tommy Lee Jones and Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga draw on both themes and the Tex-Mex border locations of director Sam Peckinpah, to reclaim the Western from those damn-fool post-modern revisionists, while making a few sly revisions of their own. Grounded in a credible vision of dead-end, small towns, and of lives lived in quiet desperation on both sides of the border, the film offers a stark parable of revenge and redemption. Dripping with grim humour, moral ambiguity, and scenes of Gothic grotesquery, it’s also beautifully shot by Chris Menges, and woundingly well-acted. Yes, this is the real thing at last. John Wayne and Randolph Scott can rest easy. The Western is back. Steve Balshaw

Transamerica (15)

Duncan Tucker, 2005, USA, (103 mins)
Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Graham Greene

When male-to-female transsexual Bree (Huffman) discovers she has a 17-year-old son, Toby (Zegers), she must reconcile her past before undergoing the operation that will finally make her a woman. Terrified of telling the truth, Bree poses as a missionary, bailing Toby out of jail and taking him on a road trip, which takes their father/mother and son relationship down some bizarre moral avenues.
Transamerica is an involving drama that sensitively deals with gender dysphoria and the performative nature of family structures. The film has an indie ruggedness, boasting an unforgettable performance by Desperate Housewives’ Huffman who constantly touches and inspires as Bree finds affirmation in femininity. Toby’s journey is told with deft skill by writer/director Tucker, as the teenager’s yearning for an idealised father is pitted against the discovery that his dad is a she-to-be. This human and moving story finds relief in unexpected humour. Alison Cain

Romance & Cigarettes (15)

John Turturro, 2005, USA (115 mins)
James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi

Ambitiously aiming for a lumpen lyricism with a semi-musical take on the travails of working-class domesticity (and male self-pity), John Turturro sadly pulls up short of delivering a Dennis Potter dreamscape. Gandolfini¹s middle-aged average joe falls for a Winslet on the side – a redhead Brit as linguistically acrobatic as she is physically voracious – and, strangely enough, wife Sarandon doesn’t take kindly to his new ‘beaver diet’. Uppance, in various forms, beckons. A veritable jukebox of jittery pop-song comments and congruences gets lip-synched or sung along to as Gandolfini (no soprano here) successively suffers castration anxiety, catholic guilt, circumcision and a bigger C, and an eccentric entourage of family and neighbours dip in their oars. But, despite pedigree (a kill-for cast; Coen Bros production credits), the odd bit of energetic panache, and palpable envelope-pushing intent, the pic’s eventually hobbled by a curiously scattershot syntax and ragbag grammar – most of its failures lie in the twixt-trax fades and segues. Paul Taylor

Lens Flare - Steve Manford

Highlighting film talent and activity in Manchester and beyond

“By then my delusions of grandeur were kicking in, I started to think I really was Orson Welles. With some sort of eating disorder perhaps.”

Following the success of his directorial debut, an apocalyptic Situationist documentary, man-about-town Steve Manford found he had a taste for filmmaking. On the eve of the premiere for his latest opus, he tells The Mix Manchester about literary inspiration and cinematic heroes.

“My first film, Year Zero: The true story of Phase 4, happened because I was reading a biography of Orson Welles,” Manford recalls. “I’d read it a few times, and it always inspired me especially the bits about the Mercury Theatre – all the stuff he did with John Houseman. I was reading about War of the Worlds, and thought, ‘Wow – how could you do it now, with no money, no talent and no equipment?’ So Year Zero started off life as a fucked up little art project in my head, and the more I wrote it, the more it started to resemble a film script.

“I tried to get a director friend involved, but he was busy. He said ‘Why don’t you it?’ So I got Kirsty Bloy who works at the Workers Film Association (WFA) involved and Sid Simon, who used to work in advertising. I rang up Tony Wilson to provide the Situationist overview. The casting was all done at the bar at the Temple; Guy Garvey, the lads from I Am Kloot, and Scott Alexander. We could only do it bits at a time, depending on availability. So we started in October and finished shooting in December. Then we had to wait ages while Kirsty got a G5 with Final Cut editing software on it. We premiered the film in May 2005 and that was a right old laugh.

“I wrote The Paper Trumpet based around a chapter of The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. It’s one of the chapters that didn’t get into the 1979 film version, set in a bar where Oscar plays in a jazz trio. It’s a big metaphor for West German post-war guilt. Oscar drums, and takes everyone in the bar back to their childhood and they all pee themselves. And I thought this is great, this is Greg (aka musical master of disguise Lord Mongo). So I wrote it round him.

“We did the filming in Club V. Matt Norman who does the Doves videos, and Mark Thomas from Soup Collective, who works with Elbow, got involved. They were interested because they do loads of music videos and this was off-its-head nonsense. They insisted that they use cine-film and I was like ‘Yeah!’ I wanted it to look like it was shot in 1919 anyway. By then I was starting to obsess about FW Murnau and Fritz Lang. I’d been watching The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and M and all that shite. So I wanted it to look like Eastern Europe to fuck.

“It was huge for me. We shot it over two days. Used a lot of stunt piss, which was fun and games. Well it was black and white so we’d just add water, any non-specific liquid.”

As for Manford’s filmmaking inspiration? “I could rabbit on for days about Orson Welles and what a God he was. And how I’m really fucked off he’s dead so I can’t go and talk to him. Like that amazing scene in Ed Wood. Wood is another filmmaker I feel a lot of kinship with. Though I must admit that I do not go for angora. Cashmere, not angora.”

The Paper Trumpet world premiere, plus live music Sound of Confusion and The Fremen, 8pm- late, 28th March, Night & Day. £5/£4 with Flyer. www.sskproductions.com

//photo credit//
Jon Jordan

Notes on a Massacre

David Belton’s experience as a BBC news producer in Rwanda left him determined to help the survivors tell their story in the film Shooting Dogs, as Jemma Kennedy discovers.

The fictionalisation of any historical event is a risky move, particularly one fresh in the collective memory. For anyone who watched the horror of the 1994 Rwandan genocide unfold, the idea of a dramatisation for the Western market may raise questions about the right of outsiders to turn someone else’s reality into entertainment. But as David Belton, the producer and co-writer of Shooting Dogs explains, “I felt strongly from my experience of Rwanda this was a country with message to convey, and it was important the message was conveyed by its survivors.”

The film itself is based on true events surrounding the Ecole Technique Officielle, a Catholic school in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. A UN military base during the escalating conflict, it became a refuge for Rwanda’s minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were fleeing the guns and machetes of extremist Hutu militia. But when the orders came for the UN to withdraw, 2,500 refugees were left behind. The ensuing massacre was systematic and ruthless.

The facts of the story are explored through the eyes of those with the option to leave, including the school’s director Father Christopher, young English teacher Joe Connor, a visiting BBC crew and UN soldiers. All have come to Rwanda to make a difference, the question is, will they do anything to help those who are dependent on them for protection?

The key scenes of the film document five days of agonised waiting for a decision from the UN authorities about whether the soldiers should stay or withdraw. As fuel, food and medicine begin to run out, and the machete-wielding Hutu extremists prowl the school perimeter, the sense of imminent catastrophe grows. At the centre of the story is the fate of Joe’s star pupil Marie, a young girl seemingly destined for great things but whose ethnicity makes her a target in her own country.

David Belton’s experience as a BBC news producer in Rwanda sowed the seed for the film. It was also his decision to use survivors of the massacre to provide the bulk of its crew and actors, and to shoot in the original location of the site of the Ecole Technique Officielle.

For actress Clare Hope-Ashitey, who, in her first major film role, plays Marie, it was a daunting task. “Meeting the people was fantastic, although in many ways distressing too because they have been through something so horrific. But, at the same time, they all showed an incredibly inspiring amount of strength and togetherness. It’s so daunting to go into someone else’s country and try and tell someone else’s story. Once it finally hits, you think, ‘I’ve no right to be here,’ but they were so encouraging.”

It’s a theme echoed by Belton. “We had nothing but help and support from the Rwandans,” he says. “They were quite offended the film Hotel Rwanda was shot elsewhere because its producers felt it wasn’t appropriate to go back to the original location. The Rwandans’ had a need to revisit their past, however difficult it was and we thought that was their right.”

Hope-Ashitey adds; “When we were filming, the atmosphere wasn’t about anger, animosity and feelings such as ‘why didn’t you help us?’ It was more that we can’t do anything about situations that have happened but we can try and educate everyone so it doesn’t happen again.”

Although Shooting Dogs unflinchingly explores the role of the West in allowing the genocide, ultimately it explores much wider themes such as personal moral choice and the responsibility of individuals. Within this story, the West’s withdrawal means the wild dogs of the title will be spared - the UN soldiers used to shoot the strays feasting on corpses - but the Tutsis and moderate Hutus will not. It’s a powerful metaphor about the amoral ability of those in power to ration human lives and one that is chillingly bought into focus at the film’s climax, when a Tutsi father begs the departing UN soldiers to humanely kill his children with bullets, rather than leave them to the Hutu machetes.

Belton is keen to point out, however, that the film was not made merely to castigate the failure of the West. “I’ve met enough people in Africa, not just priests, but aid workers, teachers, even UN staff, who have a strong spiritual core as well as a very clearly defined sense of personal morality,” he says. “That was really important to tap into. It was important this film didn’t just say, ‘It’s the fault of the UN and all our Western governments are useless’. It’s also about personal morality and your own set of beliefs. Whatever they are, they can make a difference.”

A strong cast is headed by John Hurt as the indefatigable priest Father Christopher, who can save souls and birth babies single-handedly, but whose faith in God, as well as the potential of human beings to do good, is no match for the bloodlust of the Hutu militia. Meanwhile the liberal ideals of Joe Connor, played by Hugh Dancy, are tested to the limit when he is forced to choose between abandoning the camp to secure his own safety, or staying behind to comfort his pupils and friends at the risk of almost certain death. Clare Hope-Ashitey, in particular, gives a devastatingly restrained performance as the naive Marie, whose hopes for survival are pinned on her white teacher. And it’s this insistence on the exploration of ideas through character that enables the film to rise far above any potential didacticism.

The brave and intelligent script also poses a range of complex questions about the various by-products of colonialism, including the impact of the so-called impartial BBC cameras, and the role of the Western aid worker, who often have to battle the temptation to star in their own Oxfam ads. In one penetrating scene, a BBC reporter discusses her inability to feel emotionally moved by the carnage she sees around her, because at the end of the day, ‘they’re just dead Africans.’

So does Belton think Western viewers are now so immune to the horrors of TV news footage that we respond better to dramatic stories?

“It’s a good question,” he muses. “I think the danger of jumping in with drama is that you’re saying, ‘let’s not worry about television news, it’s not important’. Of course news is really important. It’s important at a journalistic level to ask the tough questions. If you don’t ask them at the sharp end, then whatever messages you want to convey when you do a drama are never going to be very good. I think it’s more about television news people realising they are have to compete with people who are keen to get dramas made. Of course we can tell a story in television news. I used to work at Newsnight and my job was to tell a story, and if I told it properly, an audience should be convinced. But I think it’s incumbent for news people not to churn out Third World news from that same old conveyer belt. There are more original ways of covering such stories.’

And in a similar vein, at the recent BAFTA awards, Lord Puttnam spoke about his renewed faith in the ability of the film industry to demonstrate that education and entertainment need not be mutually exclusive. So while British filmmakers may not have always been able to compete with the commercial success of their American associates, it’s clear British sensibility has never been more important in creating art that has a function beyond escapism. Shooting Dogs is a vital addition to that tradition of powerful political drama but also for great storytelling. It is not always an easy film to watch, but it is rewarding on every level.

SHOOTING DOGS (15), Michael Caton-Jones, 2005, UK/Germany (115 mins). John Hurt, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Hugh Dancy. Released Friday 31st March. www.shootingdogsfilm.blogspot.com/

A Lit Fuse

Can terrorism ever be justified? V for Vendetta has a big question at its core, but Kate Taylor is unsure of the answers the film provides.

Under the gaze of the London Eye and opposite the Houses of Parliament, County Hall stands grandly on the bank of the Thames. As head of the GLC in the early 1980s, Ken Livingstone would post a billboard of London’s rising unemployment figures on the roof, blighting the view from Thatcher’s window, and antagonising the Conservative government. Today however, the main hall is temporarily occupied by the creators of V for Vendetta, a film that seeks to reclaim Guy Fawkes plot to blow up Parliament; there’s treason in the air.

“I’d like to think a lot of people in government would see this film and have a little thought about what extreme government can do to citizens and what positions the citizens find themselves forced into,” states Stephen Rea, who plays the detective dispatched to bring V, the film’s vigilante anti-hero, to justice.

Key cast and filmmakers are gathered in a room regaled in the flags of the film’s totalitarian government, with a giant V mask looming overhead. Stephen Fry is master of ceremonies. The atmosphere suggests a heightened regard for this action film and it is quickly and unanimously agreed by the panel that the film is trying to tackle something significant – beyond how Natalie Portman looks with a crew cut. This film, they say, is prescient and here to spark debate. It is, Rea claims, “An intervention into something we are living through.”

For audiences primed by the recent spate of political filmmaking, this may seem like a welcome addition to the canon, but hang fire. V for Vendetta is a resolutely explosion-filled popcorn-friendly action film; a genre not traditionally associated with current affairs – beyond the changing accents of villains to reflect political foes of America. So forget the small-scale sophistication of Good Night, and Good Luck and think big blockbuster territory, more in line with the apocalyptic climate change disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow. The science (or in this case the politics) may be a bit iffy but it will be seen by millions more people than will ever hear of Syriana.

What gives V for Vendetta its edge is that it is adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Moore, who has already suffered the cinematic renderings of his comics From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has steered clear of the project and renounced Hollywood, but Lloyd remained supportive. Further non-conformist credibility is leant by the fact it is the Wachowski brothers, creators of The Matrix trilogy and possessors of a wide subversive streak, who have done the adapting.

The story is set in a fascist London of the near-future, and centres around Evey (Natalie Portman), a young woman rescued from secret police when she defies a curfew to cross the city. Her rescuer V (Hugo Weaving), is an enigmatic masked man (fond of Shakespeare and indie chanteuse Cat Power), who introduces Evey to his complex worldview and plot to blow up parliament. Evey finds her own political awakening as V battles his personal demons, setting on a murderous spree. Meanwhile it is detective Finch (Stephen Rea) who carries the story forward, trying to stop V’s plans while the fireworks and dramatic flashbacks spiral noisily around him.

The film’s most salient point is that totalitarian regimes can occur by degree, and by consent, as a culture of fear pervades and people willingly accept the loss of their civil rights in return for a sense of protection. Here Fry, who plays Deitrich, a talk show host who must keep his sexuality and copy of the Koran secret from the regime, points to the controversial Prevention of Terrorism bill currently going though UK legislation and the USA Patriot Act, both giving governments unprecedented access to information. “The film doesn’t directly address them, but it looks at issues of the individual and the State,” says Fry, pointing at films such as Zardoz and Logan’s Run as dystopian future-set counterparts. As V opines in the film “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

But while the big points made by the films Fry mentions were universal, the most controversial elements of V for Vendetta lie in the specifics. It is the film’s near-nowness that proves worrying. Unlike even the political allegory of Farenheit 451, with its real books consumed in flames, this film features an uneasy mix of contemporary and historical references.

Presumably designed by director John McTiegue for audiences who need a little help to decipher how incisive and relevant the film is, the mish-mash is unsettling. We have the mass detainment, medical tests and open graves of the Holocaust, and detainees with their heads’ bagged and orange uniforms evoking Guatanamo Bay. The film is cut with what seems to be real footage of police riots, and the Tube bombs. And September 11 looms in the portentous assertion that blowing up a building has the power to change the world. What makes this striking is that it is uttered with relish not by the villainous government, but by V, the man of the people.

As to the still sensitive subject of the 7th July London bombings, how ready are UK audiences to welcome a plot point involving an underground train packed with explosives? Director McTiegue is unwilling to be drawn, “We’d finished shooting in London before the bombings. It had no impact on the cutting room floor. You go with the material you have.”

V for Vendetta will certainly be read differently in different territories and by different political camps. The comic book was written in the 1980s and was a reaction to Thatcherism, but by using contemporary references the film offers a series of direct readings on the current War on Terror. The film’s ideological starting point seems in line with the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, the shadowy government is full of ‘spin doctors’ willing to manufacture fear to control its citizens. But a series of hysterical leaps see it spiralling into a rampant paranoia - at one point presenting Avian Flu as a Wag the Dog-style government conspiracy.

This rampant mistrust is confused and the danger lies in whose arguments the film will be used to defend. While you get the impression the filmmakers are none too pleased with US foreign policy, the fascist State they depict - one of government controlled single faith media and citizens persecuted because of their faith and sexuality, makes as good a case as any for bombing Saddam Hussein. It also has about as much of a clue regarding exit strategy. The logic runs that after a government is overthrown people will unite through symbolism. And the freedom they gain will be the right to be an individual, that capitalist unit of consumption. But this is never really thought through, for V flits between anarchism and nihilism. His violent self-elected vigilante, as admired by Evey, is no great leap away from a suicide bomber.

Alternative forms of protest are swiftly dismissed as hopeless. Evey is an orphan whose parents were peaceful activists disappeared for giving out leaflets. Bizarrely the film seems to chastise them as ineffectual and selfish for choosing their values over their daughter. The film suggests there is no collective resistance movement, nor ability for citizens to self organise without the leadership of a brave and charismatic man who wears a long black coat. This adolescent male fantasy takes the film’s anti-authoritarian stance to the political level of petulant teenage door-slamming.

But while some of the film’s rhetoric can be easily dismissed as bonkers, and V is certainly indulged as mad man as well as genius, the most unpalatable aspect of the film revolves around its portrayal of torture. There is an explicit suggestion that while torture can brutalise and damage, it can also make people free of fear, and unlock human potential.

Portman however, is philosophical about her character’s transformation, “Coming from Israel, it was very interesting for me to consider the mindset of someone who goes from being non-violent to being drawn towards using violence to express her political beliefs. And I enjoyed the fact that it was a complicated journey that can be interpreted on many different levels; maybe Evey is being manipulated, maybe she’s finding her true self. I appreciated that sort of complicated view. It was something I’d been thinking about a lot – what would make someone want to do this sort of thing?”

Beyond the film’s political pretensions, it certainly satisfies in its Friday night popcorn remit however. The pyrotechnics offer a cathartic thrill and the film is loud and rousing, worth the booking to see it on its simultaneous release on IMAX screens. And action fans can rejoice in the fetishised Matrix-style slow motion violence, a camera angle from inside the barrel of a gun, and a spectacular 22,000-piece domino rally. That the film is also contentious enough to spark debate is an accomplishment.

Joel Silver, the producer also responsible for the Lethal Weapon franchise and the first two Die Hard films, puts it bluntly, “I’ve made a lot of stupid action films in my life and will always try to make stupid action films, but I think this one is a very smart film. I think that people will feel differently when they see this. It makes you think about things that are going on. There’s a lot of dialogue, more than I’m used to. And we do blow up a lot of buildings again, but here the characters talk about it a little more.”

//Box Out//
P for Portman
Her favourite book is Lolita and relative to the average she would describe herself as ‘on the politically aware side.’ So what’s a Nabakov wielding smart cookie like Natalie Portman doing in a flick like this?
“When I first received the script I was so shocked by the fact that a big Hollywood action movie could actually have substance and something that’s provocative. It was going to make people feel very strong things and think strong things, whatever those various reactions will be. And I thought ‘This is crazy, I want to do this!’”

Syriana (15)

Stephen Gaghan, 2005, USA, (126 mins)
George Clooney, Jeffrey Wright, Matt Damon

Oil is a dirty business. So concludes this multi-threaded thriller of corruption, family bonds and political assassination, spanning the US, Lebanon and Iran. Clooney is a seasoned CIA agent given sudden cause to question his orders, Damon is an oil analyst on the ascendant, and lawyer Wright seeks to iron out the chinks in a US oil company merger.
Similar to Traffic, which Gaghan scripted, this is a cinema of simultaneous information. Interlinked narratives range from US governmental plots for Iranian ‘liberation’ to Islamic extremism among the immigrant workforce in the oil fields. All this chopping and changing mean you never get much emotional investment in any character, but the film certainly packs a cerebral punch. Kate Taylor

20 Centímetros (20 Centimetres) (18)

Ramón Salazar, 2005, Spain, (112 mins)
Mónica Cervera, Pablo Puyol, Miguel O’Dogherty

Marieta is a narcoleptic transsexual prostitute, yearning for a full sex change, yet cursed by the huge penis that remains between her legs. While her appendage proves to be an advantage in her profession, the sudden sleeping fits are less beneficial, as she finds herself waking up in ever more strange scenarios.
It is while Marieta sleeps that the film strikes its defining note in a series of technicolour dance extravaganzas - dream sequence wish fulfilments that revel in their own camp brashness. 20 Centimetros is a bizarre and uneven championing of life’s underdog dreamers. Kate Taylor

El tren de la memoria / Train of Memory (12A)

Marta Riibas & Ana Perez, 2005, Spain, (85 mins) Documentary

This documentary explores the experiences of Spanish migrant workers in Germany in the early 1960s. Victims both of Franco’s desire to eradicate signs of a poverty he refused to acknowledge, and of Germany’s need for cheap, easily exploitable labour, the workers themselves offer chilling parallels with the Nazis treatment of the Jews. Nothing really changes: the factories of Germany are still filled with foreign ‘guest-workers’; and lest we become too smug, we should recall recent British tabloid paranoia about ‘economic migrants’. A timely reminder of the human suffering - as well as the political motivation - that exist behind such sneering, hate-mongering headlines. Steve Balshaw

The Devil’s Miner (12A)

Richard Ladkani & Kief Davidson, 2005, Germany/US (82 mins) Documentary.

14-year old Basilio and his younger brother Bernardino are pretty much average lads – running in the school corridors, playing football, watching telly and teasing their little sister. Except they’re also the family breadwinners, working down the local mine in Cerro Rica. This contemporary documentary, told chiefly from their viewpoint, illuminates their curious local community: caught on the cusp between ancient and modern, performing traditional carnival dances wearing tracksuits and baseball caps. Although their profession’s noisy, dark and perilous, the Bolivian boys themselves are level-headed, likeable and philosophical, so the result’s less down-beat, and more insightful, than it might have been. Andy Murray

Kidulthood (tbc)

Menhaj Huda, 2005, UK (90 mins)
Noel Clarke, Red Madrell, Aml Ameen

When Larry Clark’s Kids was released ten years ago, it was hailed as a ‘wake up call’, but those New York skaters seemed a million miles away from our own street youth. Finally, Britain has a cinematic snapshot of life as a teenager in Kidulthood. Screenwriter Noel Clarke (aka Mickey in Dr Who), has fashioned a story set in a single day in West London, tackling issues from suicide, to gun culture and happy-slapping,
Like many recent Britfilms, it has a TV drama quality, but it would be wrong to use the words ‘Grange’ and ‘Hill’. With its grime and hip hop soundtrack, this could happily play to the intended target audience. It’s funny and rude and will probably upset Daily Mail readers. But there’s a poignancy and a message too, which come to the fore as the film draws to a powerful finale. Philip Ilson

El Calentito (18)

Chus Gutiérrez, 2005, Spain (90 mins)
Veronica Sánchez, Macarena Gómez, Ruth Díaz, Nuria González,

Sara is a shy teenage virgin, ready to reluctantly drop her draws for her creepy boyfriend when one night he takes her to the El Calentino club and she discovers Punk! What’s more this is all-girl punk, and the band Siux have just had a bust up and need a replacement member for their meeting at a record company the next day. Her highly-strung mother may not like it, but the time has come for Sara to be introduced to her inner punk goddess.
Lesbian encounters, speed snorting, sexual awakenings, trannie unionisation, a military coup and a cameo from Almodóvar ensue. The music may be more Shampoo than The Slits but El Calentito has an irresistible exuberance and amphetamine energy that keep the story thrilling and the characters charming to the end. A zesty coming of age story that gives fascism a good bashing. Girls rock. Kate Taylor

The Proposition (18)

John Hillcoat, 2005, Australia / UK (104 mins)
Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, Danny Huston

A Nick Cave scripted Western set in Australia, The Proposition sees Charlie Burns (Pearce) deciding between the hanging of his captured younger brother, or tracking down and killing his older brother Arthur (Huston), responsible for the slaughter of an entire family.
Winstone is excellent as Captain Stanley, the broken man putting the proposition forward, attempting to civilise the outback with his own brand of British colonial honour, while Watson shines as his naïve wife, her tenderness tainted by a growing thirst for retribution.
But although brutal and bloody, The Proposition never truly looks into the jaws of the beast. Arthur is set up as a psychopathic monster, yet the few psychological insights offered are a fondness for sunsets and Irish folk songs, and his belief (as Peggy Mitchell might say) that the most important thing in life is family. The villains here are cartoon rogues, and the film is overly amused at its own violent goriness. Kate Taylor

Habana Blues (15)

Benito Zambrano, 2005 Spain/France/Cuba (115 mins)
Roberto Sanmartin, Alberto Yoel Garcia

Feckless Cuban musicians Ruy and Tito get their big break when a top Spanish record producer comes to town. But as ever there are strings attached… Yes, it’s that old ‘creative integrity versus commercial imperatives’ dilemma once again. Throw in a concert to keep a historic theatre open, and increasing tensions between the two musicians, and you have all the hallmarks of a generic rock movie. But the film’s location provides a new twist - the producer is working with a US distributor looking solely for bands prepared to criticise the Cuban regime, and thus turn their backs on their homeland forever.
A neat snapshot of the current Cuban music scene, it reveals the increasing influence of America, and suggests the importance of retaining a sense of cultural heritage. There are no real surprises, but likeable performances and plenty of easy charm make this a deft social commentary. Steve Balshaw

Tsotsi (15)

Gavin Hood, 2005, UK/South Africa (94 mins)
Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Rapulana Seiphemo

Set in a Soweto shantytown, a crew of small time gangsters scrape by, pulling in money from violent muggings. Then a nasty car robbery shakes the film's momentum, as Tsotsi discovers a gurgling baby in the back seat. The child sets Tsotsi on a dangerous journey, tussling with the discovery of a conscience.
The film is harsh. And brave too. For the first twenty minutes Tsotsi is so unsympathetic that it’s tempting to give up and leave the cinema. But dim rays of light emerge, illuminating his character and circumstance. The light grows through superb performances from Pheto as Miriam, a dignified single mother and Chweneyagae, compelling as the desperate lead.
Everything is played for unflattering honesty and the film constantly avoids straying into sentimental territory. Faced with the conundrum of how bleak a picture to paint at the end, director Hood leaves audiences with both an imprint of violence and the possibility of redemption. Kate Taylor

Lens Flare - Leah Byrne

Highlighting film talent and activity in Manchester and beyond

From renegade screenings in bars and basements to new cinema nights and film festivals, there is barely a week in this city that you won’t have an opportunity to see a programme of short films. In fact it’s easy to trip over them without even trying.

This ‘stumble upon’ effect happens quite frequently with audiences finding Future Shorts in Manchester. From its early days upstairs at Trof in Fallowfield, to the current residencies at Odd Bar in the Northern Quarter and Cellar Bar on Oxford Road, Future Shorts has sought to engage audiences beyond the hardcore of usual suspects

“I think a lot of the people we get are first-timers,” says Leah Byrne, coordinator of Future Shorts Manchester, “particularly at the Cellar Bar. They’re people who’ve seen a poster, haven’t got much to do that night and decide to pop in. Then they come up at the end and say, “I kind of expected this to be a bit crap, but I loved it!””

The Future Shorts blend aims to be audience-friendly, sitting uniquely at the glossier end of the screening scale, and often peppered with award winners and international festival favourites. And brevity, it seems is always best. “The longest films we show are just over 20 minutes,” states Byrne, “but we tend to keep them a fair bit shorter. Content can be anything from documentaries to music videos to animation from all around the world, and we balance serious themes with more light-hearted stories.”

Future Shorts was started in London and currently boasts sites all over the world (including Paris, Cape Town and Moscow) in a circuit that simplifies the exhibition process via readymade DVD compilations. Byrne got involved through volunteering at the Commonwealth Film Festival, working with shorts programmer Eva Nelander, who initiated the Manchester branch, and is now charged with continuing the momentum, “It’s building quite steadily at the moment, there’s two nights now and I’m looking for a few more.”

So how are this city’s screenings distinctive? “A lot of the Future Shorts groups are centrally programmed from London,” Byrne explains. “They send out the films they’ve selected for the month and they get screened across the network. But we’ve been doing things a bit differently up here. I view the films they send and if there’s any that I like they’ll go in. But otherwise I look through selections from various festivals, source films through the internet, and go on personal recommendations. Quite often, now that word’s got around, filmmakers we’ve shown previously will get their friends and colleagues to send material to me directly.”

Byrne considers how Future Shorts fits into the wider Manchester shorts scene, which is often more focused on locally produced content and filmmaking audiences, “I think it’s interesting to see how it’s developing. It’s fantastic when we can get filmmakers down to introduce their work, and people can ask questions. And there’s definitely a group of people that you see at all these short film events who are really keen, which is great. But it’s also nice to develop new audiences for it. Good quality shorts are something everyone can enjoy.”

Future Shorts takes place at Cellar Bar at Manchester University Students Union (open to all + cheap beer) on the first Tuesday of the month and Odd Bar is on the last Tuesday of the month. Find out more at www.futureshorts.com/manchester

¡Viva Cinema!

The ¡Viva! 12th Spanish and Latin American Film Festival brings ten days of cinematic festivities to Cornerhouse. Andy Willis believes there’s much to celebrate.

¡Viva! is now one of the biggest celebrations of Spanish and Latin American cinema in Europe. With the 12th incarnation of this Manchester fixture, 2006’s festivities arrive early, with Princesas on the 9th of March, and events continuing until the 19th of March. During that stretch we can expect an array of dramas, documentaries, shorts, surprise visitors and themed parties, as Latin film festival fever takes over the Cornerhouse on Oxford Street.

The recent widening of the festival to include the cinemas of Latin America might not have pleased some die-hard Spanish cinema fans but it has ensured that ¡Viva! now has many more films to pick from. With such a packed programme, it might be difficult to get your head around everything that’s on offer, so here’s a few suggestions.

The opening film, Princesas, has already been widely praised on the international film festival circuit, and is a suitable starting point. The film focuses on the tough lives of two prostitutes and offers both humour and realistic drama in a moving combination – Pretty Woman it is not. Starring the engaging rising star of Spanish cinema, Candela Peña, Princesas is directed by the reliable Fernando Léon de Aranoa, whose previous outings have included the gritty Barrio (1998) and Los lunes al sol (2002). His work is often compared to that of Ken Loach, although perhaps without the steely political perspective that director brings to his subjects.

The most controversial ¡Viva! offering since Julio Medem’s Basque Ball, Iluminados por el fuego is Argentina’s first fiction feature to tackle the experiences of the Malvinas / Falklands war head-on. A journalist interrupts his work on the legacy of the war to rush to hospital. There he finds a fellow soldier from the conflict dying after attempting suicide. This set-up leads to extended flashbacks that reveal the pair’s experiences on the Islands. Raw and harsh, the film is influenced by a plethora of Hollywood war films but still manages to compile its cinematic clichés in a striking and thought provoking way. Never simplistic, the film offers a refreshingly honest version of the war. The film is adapted from a book by Edgardo Esteban and he will be present at the festival, offering audiences the chance to quiz him about his work.

One of the main strands of the festival this year involves a retrospective of Madrid’s punk tinged Movida scene of the early 1980s. Festival director Linda Pariser says that ‘the inspiration for the retrospective came from a 2005 article celebrating 25 years since the birth of the movement in one of Spain’s leading daily papers El pais’. Although she herself doubts if the origins of the movement can be so easily pinpointed, 1980 would prove to be a key year in Spanish cultural history and the undoubtedly the start of something special. The Movida period is the setting for the new film El Calentito from one of Spain’s leading female directors, Chus Gutierrez. The action takes place around the El Calentito night spot and tells the story of a shy young girl whose life is transformed when she joins an all girl punk band.

Those dosed up on punk thrills will be able to further investigate a number of films produced during that explosion of creative energy. Spanish legend Pedro Almodóvar is the biggest name to emerge from the Movida scene and it is always worth revisiting his groundbreaking early works to see his genius developing. Screenings include the guerrilla-style Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón, Labyrinth of Passion and Dark Habits. Another key film of the period is Arrebato, described by Pariser, as ‘the most famous and phantasmic cult film in Spanish history’. Saturday 11th March sees a Movida themed day of talks that will reflect upon the cultural significance and lasting influence of the period, and a party, where exclusive goodies are promised to those dressed in their best 80’s punk clobber.

An important aspect of the festival is its regular archive spot. This allows audiences the chance to see films they would otherwise be unable to experience. This year it has thrown up two intriguing titles. El húsar de la muerte is the oldest surviving Chilean feature film. It tells the tale of national hero Manuel Rodriguez and this ultra rare screening, accompanied by live music, will be one of the highlights of the week. The archive strand also contributes another film to look out for, Enamorada. Perhaps best known as the actor who played General Mapache in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Emilo Fernández was also one of Mexico’s greatest directors. Enamorada is his take on The Taming of the Shrew, transposing the story to revolutionary Mexico.

If engaging with tough social issues gets too much, the festival offers a number of titles offering some light relief. Tapas, an enormous hit in Spain, is a quirky, bittersweet comedy that, as the title suggests, offers snippets from the lives of the inhabitants of a Barcelona working class neighbourhood. It has certainly impressed Linda Pariser who has marked it top of her ‘ones to watch out for in 2006’ list.

Barcelona is also the setting for another film that has garnered rave reviews on the festival circuit, El Taxista ful. This film introduces us to typical Barcelona cabbie, 52-year-old Jose R. Well, maybe he’s not that typical as he steals, or ‘acquires’, all the taxis he drives. It is described by director Jo Sol, somewhat enigmatically, as a meditation on ‘the loneliness caused by the competition between equals’. Feel free to give him your own take on economics and property rights as he will be present for a Q&A at the screening.

Over the years ¡Viva! has included a number of films in the Catalan language, but ones in Basque are much rarer. Aupa Etxebeste! is such a film. A comedy of manners, it centres on a middle class family desperate to keep up appearances. Certainly something of a linguistic novelty, the film can also be seen as a political statement due to the language it was shot in.

More mainstream fare can be found with thrillers such as Hormigas en la boca. Set in Cuba, it follows a criminal trying to catch up with his girlfriend and his loot after serving 10 years in jail. Slick and stylish, the film offers plenty to satisfy those with an appetite for taut action and multiple plot twists.

Football fans might want to check out Real – la pelicula . This film focuses on five Real Madrid fans from around the globe who all share an obsession with what is now officially the wealthiest club in the world, and was, purportedly, General Franco’s favourite football team.

Recent years have seen the number of documentaries shown at the festival increase. Along with that has come a rise in quality. This year’s selections are no exception, with many of the offerings having an overtly political focus. Perhaps the highlight of this strand, if not the festival as a whole, is the revival of Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 classic Soy Cuba. A classic propaganda film, it celebrates the Castro-led revolution in such a strikingly cinematic manner it leaves most contemporary documentaries looking like they should only ever be screened on television. If you only catch one documentary this year, this is the one. In fact if you go to just one film at the festival this is the one.

¡Viva! 12th Spanish and Latin American Film Festival is at Cornerhouse, Oxford Street from 9-19 March. For full programme details go to www.vivafilmfestival.com

The Matador (15)

Richard Shephard, 2005, USA/Germany/Ireland (96 mins)
Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis

When failing businessman Danny (Kinnear) and charismatic assassin Julian (Brosnan) are thrown together by a chance encounter in a Mexican bar, a peculiar friendship starts to blossom. As they venture into the underground world of the hit-man they discover they’re not too dissimilar after-all.
Shedding his Bond-hero guise, The Matador sees Brosnan stretching his performance in his most entertaining role yet. Defying limits of the buddy genre, it’s a pleasantly surprising film all round. A quirky, dark comedy peppered with surreal moments – such as Brosnan in a cheerleader’s outfit - promising to steal laughter despite your biggest protests. Alison Cain

Crossing The Bridge – The Sound of Istanbul (12A)

Fatih Akin, 2005, Germany/Turkey (91 mins)
Alexander Hacke, musicians including Sezen Aksu, Erkin Koray

If you know nothing of Turkish-related music beyond Paul Anka’s hoary hit Istanbul (Not Constantinople), here’s a handy catch-up digest. Alexander Hacke, bassist with industrial pioneers Einsturzende Neubauten, hosts this odyssey around the musical spectrum of modern Turkey. It’s certainly a teeming scene, taking in traditional revivalists and street musicians to politicised rappers. The kinetic, refreshing result, with scarcely one silent moment, illuminates a whole culture through its music. Perhaps, though, the enterprise lacks a single human face to engage with. Hacke’s a virtually invisible presence, and the relentless barrage of musical tourism, while undoubtedly fascinating, is a shade overwhelming. Andy Murray

Tickets (15)

Ermanno Olmi, Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach, 2005, Italy/UK/Iran (109 mins)
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Carlo Delle Piane, Silvana De Santis

Tickets brings together three international directors to create a collaborative film set on a single trans-European train journey. Olmi, Kiarostami and Loach have constructed a narrative relay-race from their characters’ chance encounters, and the transitory nature of travel is reinforced by the film’s impressionistic style– images are reflected in windows or glanced through carriage doors. Although the loose storyline perhaps raises more questions than it finally answers, it’s an interesting snapshot of human nature on the move. Loach typically ups the ante in the exhilarating final section, when three young Asda workers in a Celtic away trip are forced to confront their own national prejudices. Jemma Kennedy

Good Night, And Good Luck (PG)

George Clooney, 2005, USA (93 mins)
David Strathairn, George Clooney, Patricia Clarkson

This is a crisp and serious depiction of CBS broadcaster Edward Murrow’s risky 1953 challenge to the methods of Senator McCarthy during the Communist witch-hunts. As director, Clooney trumpets his liberal values with a moral rhapsody for dark times, drawing prescient conclusions on the importance of US self-scrutiny on the issue of democracy and the value of crusading journalism in a climate of fear.
The atmosphere is taut and smoky, with sharp performances all round and Strathairn particularly electrifying as Murrow. While the film’s nostalgic lingering on machismo occasionally feels misplaced, musical interludes from jazz singer Diane Reeves keep it classy and refreshing. Kate Taylor

Mirrormask (PG)

Dave McKean, 2005, UK/USA (101 mins)
Rob Brydon, Gina McKee, Stephanie Leonidas

Helena (Leonidas), a fifteen-year-old juggler desperate to rebel against her circus-running parents, finds herself in a regretful limbo when her mother has an accident. While sleeping she is transported to a parallel world and embarks on the quest to find the Mirrormask which offers redemption and passage home.
The pairing of comic book writers Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman (screenplay) should be enough to get the clientele of Forbidden Planet salivating. Which is handy as there is little else here that will translate beyond a cult audience. Those seeking a credible fantasy film for young people will be disappointed.
Certainly Mirrormask has visual flair, and a flash of charm in the captivating spectacle of a roomful of robotic jack-in-the-boxes primping Helena into a backcombed goth princess while singing The Carpenters’ Close To You. But this is a standout moment in an otherwise painfully slow film, the script a convoluted jumble. Kate Taylor

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

Bros Quay, 2006, (99 mins)
César Saracho, Gottrfried John, Asumpta Serna

Felizberto the Piano Tuner is enlisted by the sinister Dr Droz to take care of the bizarre collection of automata he keeps at his island sanctuary. But Droz is a master manipulator, and possibly a magician. To enter his domain is to lose oneself. The Brothers Quay’s second foray into live action creates the same creepy, kinky, hermetically-sealed artificial world as their animation: a place of veils, mirrors, fetish objects, laughing doll-faced mannequins, and meaningless rituals. Actors become part of the artifice; their movements heavily choreographed, their gestures looped, reversed, and repeated, their portentous dialogue deliberately stilted. The narrative splices together Phantom of the Opera, The Tempest, and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, and filters them through Borges and German gothic romances. This is film as logic-defying as fever-dream or fugue: rich, strange, and - quite literally - entrancing. Steve Balshaw

Manderlay (15)

Lars Von Trier, 2005, Denmark/USA (139 mins)
Bryce Dallas Howard, Danny Glover, Isaach de Bankole

Following her harrowing experiences at Dogville, idealistic gangster’s daughter Grace (Howard) arrives at Manderlay, where slavery continues 70 years after its supposed abolition. The second part of Von Trier’s Brechtian ‘American Trilogy’ is a complex, often uncomfortable parable about the brutal realities of racial and cultural oppression, the snares of moral obligation, and the unexpected challenges of freedom, democracy, and self-determination.
Unfortunately, having raised and explored many challenging moral and ethical questions, (applicable not simply to the legacy of American slavery but to that of colonialism and empire building throughout the world), Von Trier can’t quite resist giving the Yanks one final kick. So he ends by repeating the irritating and crass trick he pulled in Dogville; abandoning any pretence of wider allegorical application by having David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ play over an end credits montage of specifically American racial oppression. For this he loses a point. Steve Balshaw

Capote (15)

Bennett Miller, 2005, Canada/USA (98 mins)
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr.

When a Kansas family are murdered at home, author Truman Capote (Hoffman) embarks on a dark journey of the soul, researching his controversial book on the killings, In Cold Blood. Spurred by the connection to his own Southern outsider past, Truman immerses himself in his material, forming complex bonds with the killers in the process.
Despite the murders occurring before the first frame, Capote maintains a constant delivery of dramatic punches as the killers’ fate is postponed and Truman begins unravelling. Hoffman’s unsparing portrait of a man whose sensitivity and charm is offset with vanity and egotism is awesome to behold, and Keener is superbly understated as Truman’s confidante, Harper Lee.
Taking as read the book’s classic status, the film dwells on the dubious responsibility of artist to subject, and tangled contracts of mutual exploitation. Shot in chilly tones with tremendous confidence from first-timer Miller, this is incisive and thrilling cinema. Kate Taylor

Lens Flare - Dan Turner

Highlighting film talent and activity in Manchester and beyond

On the bus at night, stuck in a rain-swept traffic jam, going nowhere. Then an annoyingly loud woman starts blathering into her mobile and the bleeps start among fellow passengers – vibrations, text message alerts and novelty ringtones. Your tolerance starts to plummet and irritation soars. Connecting, a short film by Dan Turner takes this scenario and pushes it to dramatic effect, resulting in a Falling Down moment where one man decides he just can’t take it any more. The film is one of North West Vision’s Digital Shorts and is currently proving a success on the festival circuit.

With a dystopian atmosphere and claustrophobic cinematography that plays with the neons of water and electricity, it’s easy to see Turner’s admiration for Se7en and Fight Club director David Fincher. “Of recent filmmakers he’s my key influence,” Turner states, “The kind of stories he goes for, dark twisted things, are what I want to do. He’s also a very technical director using innovative techniques and I think that’s important.”

Born in Stockport, and inspired by his father’s love of Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart classics, Turner studied film at university, and got a job in a production company on graduation. Working on various film and television productions, including experience with directors Mike Nichols and Steven Poliakoff, in spare time Turner continually wrote his own material.

“When I came out of uni I was naïve about how long it would take. It is a long process. You have to build up a body of work,” Turner says. Now the 28 year old has two successful shorts to his name (previous film 4:37 can be viewed at www.bbc.co.uk/filmnetwork). And while Turner continues to learn his craft on promos, commercials and TV work, the plan is now to get cracking on a feature.

“What I want to do is direct films,” Turner concludes. “I’m working on two feature script ideas at the moment. I’d definitely like to do more shorts, but you could do a hundred of the best shorts in the world, and it’s still only a feature that’s going to get you noticed.”

Connecting is showing in Kinofilm Manchester International Short Film Festival in the Made in Manchester programme, Thursday 2nd March, 6pm at the Green Room.

Long haul, short flights

The 10th Kinofilm Manchester International Short Film Festival has landed. Kate Taylor checks the highlights.

Ten years. For a person it’s still childhood. For a duck it’s a good innings. And for a film festival it’s a marker of survival instinct and audience canniness. So does the tenth instalment of the Kinofilm Manchester International Short Film Festival mean that Kino’s all grown up?

The signs are there. A sponsorship deal with Baby Cow Manchester reflects a commitment from Steve Coogan’s production company, and has also resulted in a new comedy strand. The Kinofilm Cinemobile, a 100-seater screening room on wheels, has been unmissable for the past fortnight, showing shorts in car parks across the North West. And the festival’s pull continues to see international filmmakers travelling to Manchester for a chilly ten days in February and March.

Still, if the festival has grown wise it has lost none of the anarchic edge that make it unique. Audiences can still expect to see films that they can’t see elsewhere, and there’s plenty on show to reflect the organisation’s underground roots such as the feature double bill of Pink Narcissus and Thundercrack, with the traditionally rowdy Kino Extreme screening and cult retrospective Suspect Package programme throwing bad taste into the mix.

But what of short film? Is this a vintage year for shorts? Festival programme manager Angela Reilly certainly thinks so, particularly in the region, “North West shorts are comparing really well with the international selection, I’d say better than last year. The Made in Manchester programme is strong and the city definitely has a lot of talent.”

And due to increased DIY screening activity in the city, Reilly sees audience appetites on the up too. “Kino Tales that we started last year has expanded. Kino Fantasy is new, we’ve also added Leap Years, which is tales of childhood and we’ve reintroduced a Women in Film programme,” Reilly says. “A lot of filmmakers and film students attend. It’s a supportive atmosphere and this year the delegate centre will be in the Green Room so we’ll have access to the bar.”

Ah yes, the bar. A drink beforehand often enhances audience receptivity to shorts. So to help navigate the broad and diverse selection on offer, The Mix has knocked back half a shandy and investigated some of the best films audiences should look out for.

Firstly, and possibly the hippest short film ever made, Yeah Yeah Yeah by Marcal Fores (International Student Shorts and International Award Winners) is an indiepop dream with a riot grrrl soundtrack from Bratmobile, Le Tigre and Comet Gain. This Spanish teen romance features much vinyl-swapping action, a Michel Gondrey inspired ping-pong scene and a surrealist heart that will charm you senseless.

Also on a musical theme Green Vinyl, by Kleber Menonça Filho (Experimental Shorts), is a creepy Brazilian short told in stills and voiceover. A mother gives her daughter a box of 7-inch singles but is told she must not listen to the green vinyl. It’s The Ring or Pandora’s box or the Garden of Eden, except with a jingly jangly folkrock song that leads to random amputations. The film’s ambitious leap from supernatural story to psychoanalytic allegory pays off with an insight into temptation and what it is that makes mothers so cranky.

In Kitchen by Alice Winocaur (Women in Film) a woman’s neuroses are brought to the surface when she decides to cook something special for her boyfriend. Finding she cannot bring herself to slice open the live lobsters she has bought, the black creatures start climbing over the work surface and creeping around the flat. So our French heroine does as any woman on the verge would – has a cry, smokes some cigarettes and starts eyeing up the blender. The dark humour has a bittersweet ending and a pathos that confounds much criticism against the medium.

These are short films that either take the turn you weren’t expecting, or floor you by revealing hidden depth or resonance. And it’s this that can make a good shorts programme just as satisfying and memorable as a feature film experience.

Meanwhile if all this grown up stuff is not for you, don’t panic, Oh My God by John Bryant (Kino Horror) caters amply for the twisted sicko audience contingent who thrill to the spectacle of gratuitous blood-spurting injuries. In the vein of schlock short film classic Forklift Truck Driver Klaus, this is a sheer dumb splatterfest, this time with a Texan edge. Very wrong and very funny.

Another marker of the festival’s success is BlueFiRE! the cultural diversity strand of Kinofilm. Suhail Khan, BlueFiRE! project coordinator attests to the key element’s popularity, “It’s grown tremendously. Within the 10 days of Kino, BlueFiRE! has six days of programming, both films and the KiX strand of education events. It’s a festival within a festival. Last year we broke all box office records to do with BlueFiRE! and we plan to break them again this year.”

The programme here is a mix of shorts and features and includes collaborations with BFI Blackworld and a free screening in association with BAFTA and North West Vision of A New Day in Old Sana’A, a feature from Yemen. Music fans have reason to rejoice with a double bill of UK documentary premieres; Afropunk, a documentary featuring key bands talking about the African American experience of punk rock and (Khan’s personal favourite) The Congos and Friends, Fisherman Style, a film from world reggae label Blood and Fire. Capturing the live sessions of the reworking of new vocals on the Lee Perry’s original beat of Fisherman by The Congos, the film features Horace Andy, U-Roy and Gregory Isaacs, and will be followed by a live PA from Blood and Fire Sound System.

10th Kinofilm Manchester International Short Film Festival runs from 24 February – 5 March. For full details of the Kinofilm, BlueFiRE! and KiX programme go to www.kinofilm.org.uk

Film Cement and The Mix

The Mix Manchester was a new fortnightly lifestyle and listings magazine for Manchester, UK. Covering film, art, music, theatre, literature, comedy, gay, and nightlife listings, the magazine contains a vibrant mix of reviews, previews and features. It was distributed throughout Manchester by WH Smith Distribution.

I say was, maybe it still is. Last week the publishers and editors parted company. The publishers are planning on continuing The Mix, and the editors may put together their own mag. As editor of the film section I'm not sure where I fall in all this, but while it is all in the balance and it looks as though Issue 3 may not be released I thought it would be good to publish the contents of the film section from all the issues. The writers worked hard and there were some ace contributions that deserve to be read. Copyright is owned by the contributors and no reviews remain under embargo.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I don't really have time to start something new, so it may just exist for a while as an archive. Alternatively if the writers want to continue, I'm happy to keep posting reviews and features up...