Sunday, 31 October 2010

London Film Festival Wrap-up

Well, another LFF bites the dust and allows me to return to my usual mishmash of film-viewing, a combination of new premieres on the satellite film channels (like this week's "GI Joe: Rise of Cobra" and the Rob Zombie's remake "Halloween 2", both exceptionally stupid and nearly unwatchable), favourites and 'gotta-sees' from my ever-growing collection, and whatever arthouse offerings have accumulated amongst the DVD backlog and from foreign-language channels. First, however, I am duty-bound to finish the two remaining film festival reviews -- to explain why I chose these titles and what I thought of my choices:

Biutiful (2009): This is the fourth full-length feature from the Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and the first not to be written by the talented Guillermo Arriaga (who has now begun his own directing career). I thought his debut feature "Amores Perros" an amazingly brilliant calling card and although I reacted to his next two features, shot in English, with decreasing enthusiasm ("21 Grams and "Babel"), I was eager to have a look at his return to Spanish-language filmmaking, especially when I noticed that powerhouse compatriot directors Cuaron and Del Toro were listed among the producers. Set in Barcelona's less touristy environs (i.e.slums), the film boasts a magnificent central performance from Javier Bardem as a 'fixer' dealing with illegal immigrants, a single father struggling to provide a living for his two children and to protect them from their mentally-ill mother, a gifted medium who is able to communicate with recently departed spirits, and finally a man who has received news of his own impending death from cancer. There is no glamour and not much chance of redemption in his desperate existence in this seedy underworld milieu. Therefore his attempts to do the right thing in an increasingly hostile, malignant, and doomed life ultimately make for a truly depressing film. The one fact that emerges, however, is that Bardem is one of the great actors of our generation. If only he had applied his talents to a potentially more likeable movie.

Kaboom (2010): It was a matter of principle to see this film since it was one that the director Gregg Araki pulled from the recent FrightFest programme on the grounds that he didn't want his movie to receive its UK premiere in front of "a bunch of geeks". How diplomatic! After its international premiere at Cannes, it might have been more user-friendly to say that he had already decided to allow the film to be shown at this year's LFF. But if you want to trade insults about "geeks" (or freaks for that matter), after viewing this disappointing farrago, I am tempted to say that this auteur of independent 'queer cinema' only makes movies for a fringe audience and an easily-pleased one at that. I thought his recent "Mysterious Skin" showed a new-found maturity, after his 90's trilogy of teen trauma ("Totally Fucked Up", "Doom Generation", and "Nowhere"), but he seems to have regressed badly.

As a line from the film says, the end product on display here is "nuttier than squirrel shit". Pretty-boy lead Thomas Dekker has just begun university, together with his best gal friend, a lesbian who appears to have taken up with a witch. His character Smith may appear to be gay-inclined too as he ogles his buff roomie, but he is not adverse to rampant sex with whomever opportunity provides. We are teased by a mystery of disappearing co-eds, hostile animal-masked attackers, and growing unease and paranoia, where nothing is what it seems to be. However rather than playing on the potentials of this quasi sci-fi plot, Araki turns to a completely bonkers chain of events to produce an ultimately stupid, mind-boggling, and disappointing finale. Kaboom indeed!

In summary, I can't say that this year's festival was one of the better ones. Perhaps I was unfortunate in my choice of films, although all of them -- bar the Korean entry -- had their moments. None of them however really resonated with me to the extent that I will be counting the moments to their next viewing. However, distance lends enchantment, so they say, and my feelings could well mellow with time.
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