Thursday, 23 October 2008

Film Festival update

I seem to be running out of time to get my London Film Festival screenings into some semblance of coherence. Note to self: Viewing movies after 9 p.m. and after a drink or two and a half bottle of wine is not a good idea!

The Warlords (2007): This joint China-Hong Kong production set during the late 19th Century Taiping Rebellion in China features three charistmatic leads in Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro as "blood brothers" who rise through the ranks to leadership glory. However Li fans should not come expecting martial arts mayhem since this is a prestige production, filled with busy battlescenes and somewhat sombre acting. Like so many films striving for historical accuracy, this one is far too long, goes somewhat soggy in the middle, and spends too much time on the red herring of Li lusting after Lau's mistress. Still it has sufficient "wow" moments and enough bravura turns to make it on balance a winner on screen.

Louise-Michel (2008): The less said about this film the better. I love absurdist humour and off-beat Belgian movies as much as the next guy, but this one fell flat on its surrealist face. Had I realised that it was by the same team as "Aaltra" (a somewhat missable movie about two crippled farmers who hate each other but who end up on a wheelchair roadtrip!), I probably would have thought twice about watching a movie featuring a woman (who might have been a man) hiring an assassin (a man who might be a woman) to kill the factory boss who put her and her co-workers out of employment. Still there were noticable hoots emanating from some audience members which either proves that I have suffered a humour-bypass or that there really are different strokes for different folks.

Achilles and the Tortoise (2008): I was a little afraid that the latest movie from one of my cinematic heroes, Takeshi Kitano, might be another self-indulgent effort after his previous two: "Takeshis" and "Glory to the Filmmaker", but although it forms the third part of a very loose trilogy, it had much to commend it. Takeshi, who is a keen and very able artist himself, here gives his satirical take on what it is to be an artist and how the art world can be a very phony place. Divided into three parts, the story follows the son of a rich industrialist and art patron who is encouraged by his Dad to become a great artist at the expense of both schooling and social behaviour. When Dad goes bankrupt and hangs himself and his mother dumps him with uncaring relations, the boy's obsession is given little room to grow. The next section visits him as a young man still determined to be an artist as he attends an art school which can teach him nothing and as he experiments with finding his style with his bohemian friends. However outlandish experimentation just makes his art more derivative and his every desperate effort is refused by his favoured gallery. Takeshi himself takes over the role of the still unsuccessful and unfulfilled middle-aged man who becomes more and more desperate and more and more misled to achieve artistic greatness. The fact that all of the many paintings featured in this movie -- both the "great" ones supposedly by other artists and the awful, duff ones -- are by the director himself is proof of his amazing skill. Again the film is possibly a little too long and not completely of a piece, but Takeshi's humourous observation kept me contentedly watching.
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