The Constant Globe-Trotter

360 (2011)

55th BFI London Film Festival

Opening the BFI London Film Festival is Fernando Meirelles’s “360” — in reality an international production, but for London’s purposes the director’s second British film after “The Constant Gardener.” It’s a modernization of Arthur Schnitzler’s sexual-morality play “Reigen” (a k a “La Ronde”) adapted by acclaimed screenwriter Peter Morgan, who’s had most of his success with semi-fictionalized biographies such as “Frost/Nixon” and “The Damned United.”

Although the material is venerable, the film comes across as something of a Johnny-come-lately to the fad of interconnected stories, popularized in the last decade by Mr. Meirelles’s Latin American peer Alejandro González Iñárritu (who was surely first choice for this project).

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Rematch for American Independence

In the Loop (2009)

IFC Films

Armando Iannucci is one of the most successful satirists in contemporary British television, a revered writer-director whose influential news spoofs "On the Hour" and "The Day Today" launched the careers of Steve Coogan, Chris Morris and playwright Patrick Marber in the 1990s. Because of Britain’s lamentable record of translating its TV heroes into cinematic damaged-goods, the arrival of "In the Loop" has been greeted with some understandable trepidation in Britain, borne out of the fear that only the curse of the "British comedy film" can bring down a reputation as unblemished as Mr. Iannucci’s.

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Old Heroes for a Strange New World

Richard Foreman/Miramax Films

The year 2008 was very strong culturally, a big improvement on 2007. In the early months of the year, it seemed like quality films were being released every week and even the summer blockbusters were of a very high standard ("Wall-E" just misses out on my top 10). One notable omission from my list is "There Will Be Blood," which I very much expected to like but found it to be an arrogant, over-rated mess. I may well revisit it in future and learn to love it. I also didn’t think much to "Of Time and the City" and I haven’t yet managed to see "Gomorrah." Although "The Dark Knight" is the third best film of the year for me (solely as a film), in its Imax format I would elevate it to first position as the richest cinematic experience of the year.

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Farewell My Communism

24 City (2008)

MK2 International

Perhaps shamefully, this was the first film of Jia Zhangke’s I’d ever watched all the way through; my only previous experience of his work being approximately half of "Unknown Pleasures." I have probably always held a slight suspicion that he’s one of those extensively garlanded East Asian minimalists who owes a good portion of his reputation to the articulate patronage of the evangelizing critic Tony Rayns. I should probably reassess this reductive preconception because I enjoyed "24 City" very much, even though I get the impression it’s one of Mr. Jia’s minor works.

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Interview With the Vampire

Frost/Nixon (2008)

Ralph Nelson/Universal Studios

Anticipation levels weren’t particularly high for the Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival’s opening film, perhaps because the latest effort from Ron Howard isn’t the kind of prospect to set a festival crowd’s pulses racing. Mr. Howard may also have seemed like a desperately uncool choice of director to adapt Peter Morgan’s hip play, but he in fact does a very good job with a script that leaves no room for his trademark mawkishness. He also delivers a film that’s much more cinematic than Stephen Frears’s direction of Mr. Morgan’s screenplay of "The Queen."

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Echoes of Distant Voices

Of Time and the City (2008)

Grain Barge - Bernard Fallon
Hurricane City Films and Digital Departures

"Of Time and the City" had another good festival in London this week to add to its respectable tour through Cannes, Edinburgh and Toronto, among others. Terence Davies’s return to filmmaking after an eight-year absence is being hailed as an extraordinary comeback for the almost forgotten arch British miserabilist.

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For Sprightly Teacher, Life Is Sweet Indeed

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Simon Mein/Miramax Films

It will be interesting to gauge the reaction of American audiences to "Happy-Go-Lucky," Mike Leigh’s latest film and winner of the Silver Bear at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival. The film is Leigh’s riposte to perceptions that he’s a purveyor of grim kitchen-sink realism, as he presents us with a main character, Poppy (Sally Hawkins), who is an eternal optimist who strives to see the good in everyone and every situation. Such a disposition is not an alien one to Americans, with their culture that highly prizes optimism and friendliness; but the film and its central character Poppy haven’t gone down too well in Mr. Leigh’s native Britain, where cynicism and pessimism are virtually national traits.

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Holy Imax, Batman!

Warner Bros. Entertainment

 Critics have written many words about "The Dark Knight" since its release, and it might seem unnecessary to contribute more at this stage. But there is one aspect of the film that has been noticeably under-hyped. Christopher Nolan hasn’t gotten enough credit for the way he’s successfully managed to integrate Imax technology into the mainstream cinematic format.

Having seen "The Dark Knight" in both an Imax and a regular 35mm projection, I can attest that it is an excellent film in whichever presentation it’s viewed in. Its undeniable quality signals a coming-of-age for the comic-book genre, and the film demonstrates Hollywood moviemaking at the top of its game.

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This Too Is England

Somers Town (2008)

Optimum Releasing

Shane Meadows now finds himself at a crossroads after the success of "Dead Man’s Shoes" and "This Is England." While both films saw him refining his talent for earthy naturalism and homespun humor into something more substantial, both films arguably fall just short of greatness because of Mr. Meadows’s reluctance to fully examine the more complex themes he’d begun to experiment with.

All eyes will now be on "Somers Town" for any evidence of continuing maturity, but in that respect the film will disappoint many. It’s a pleasant enough comedy and isn’t really a bad film at all – it can hold its head up high in comparison to most British comedies – but just feels something of a backwards step for Mr. Meadows.

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