Catfish

Catfish

catfish

Wow – what can I say, I thought this was an amazing film documentary.   Nev Schulman, a hip New York photographer in his twenties, shares a loft with two filmmakers – his brother Ariel and their friend Henry Joost. They document dance events.

Abby an 8 year old girl, who like painting, contacts Nev via myspace to ask if she can paint one of his published ballet photos. He writes back to encourage her. She sends him the finished painting and a letter from herself and her mum. Nev start a correspondence  with Abby and her mother sends more paintings. They are pretty good for an eight year old so his friends begin to document the story.

Then Abbys older sister Megan contacts Nev. She is nineteen beautiful and a musician. She sends some songs. They start to chat online. Over nine months they become closer via  the net and phone and there’s an attraction between them. Nev falls for Megan and her family, but are they all they seem? The friends decide to take an impromptu road trip to their small town and find out.

SPOILERS!!! –

After watching for about ten minutes I pretty much guessed how things were going to pan out in terms of the ‘mystery’  and although the trailer and some scenes make this out as some kind of serial killer scenario it most definitely isn’t.

Though it’s obvious who the deceiver will turn out to be what is most amazing is her genuine likeable character and also how her real family is easily as interesting as the one she created on the internet.

The filmmakers by contrast seem to be more cynical and worldly. So much so that you start to question whether they have worked out the deception and are just exploiting this peach of a story that has fallen into their lap. Parts of the film feel staged and have lead to accusations that events have been recreated and altered or that the whole thing is a fake documentary.

Whether this is true or not it only adds more layers to what is a truly riveting tale about deception and fakery. There are so many levels and judgments woven into the story almost unconciously. Everyone manufactures their personality to some extent on line but – how much is real and how much is fake? When everyone’s faking to some extent -where is the moral centre? Which deception is worse – the one for profit or the emotional one? Why does society think it’s better to be a  young NY hipster artist than a small town painter and housewife? Is it acceptable to fake scenes in a documentary?

Loose Cannons

Loose Cannons

Loose Cannons

Loose cannons is an Italian comedy about Tommaso, a gay boy  from a rich conservative family in Southern Italy. Though he’s out in his Roman life his family don’t know he’s gay. He and his brother, are to be made head of the family pasta business at a special dinner.

Tommaso decides he will come out at the dinner. Before he can his older brother steps in revealing he is also gay, his father has a heart attack and disowns him. Tommaso is left minding the family business whilst his dad recovers. Should he come out to his family or not rock the boat? Things are complicated by him falling for an intriguing female colleague and the arrival of his sweet boyfriend and camp buddies from Rome.

The film didn’t really live up to my expectations. I thought it  would be more Almodovar in tone. Revelling in the comedy culture clash between the Roman gays and the rich conservative family but this doesn’t occur until act three. For most of the film Tommaso and his dad are in stasis and the middle starts to drag. To cure this the plot moves on to the mother, her sister and grandma – whose youthful affair we learn of in flashbacks.

The trouble is there are just too many different scenes off the main spine, and lots of ideas and characters feel slightly under-developed and unresolved.  The Grandma’s story seems the most separate. There’s a strong thematic connection between her life and Tommaso’s, but this could have been made stronger if she took him into her confidence more in the present.

Both Ilaria Occhini as Grandma and Riccardo Scamarcio as Tommaso give good performances but overall it feels like an ensemble film that’s not quite sure of it’s lead story, soft pedalling both the drama and the comedy.

The Thorn in my heart

The Thorn in my heart

The thorn in my heart is a feature documentary by Michel Gondry about his Aunt Suzette – who was as a primary school teacher in small village school for all of her working life.

The film documents her return to each of these schools, where she meets up with her grown up students. They have great fondness for her an she is described as an imaginative teacher ahead of her time but also a little strict.

By way of contrast we see her with her family and focus on her difficult relationship with her son Jean Yves. He is a middle aged gay man who still lives at home with her, and is a dreamer and creative detached from the world. He loves super 8 films and model making What Michel might have been in a different incarnation.

We see Jean Yve’s train set in the inter titles, but I was a little disappointed that the film didn’t have more of Ghondy’s own trademark surreal animation in it. There is one great  sequences where  Michel and Suzette give a workshop to  kids about making invisible costumes for film and afterwards we get to see the magical film they created.

Over all a loving crafted exploration of Ghondry’s relatives and the family dramas are revealed with a lightness of touch. (Something I’m sure I wont be saying about his next film – The Green Hornet!)

Monsters

Monsters

I saw Monsters a couple of days ago. It’s a really great low budget film directed by Gareth Edwards. It was shot in Mexico and the southern US on video, on a shoe string. All the dialogue and action for each scene was improvised around a  plan. So it has the feel of a documentary, albeit one with occasional CGI aliens.

The film is set in the near future. A probe from Mars exploded over the border regions of Mexico the US dispelling alien spores, these grow into giant creatures. Now the region they inhabit has been annexed.

A  news photographer is charged by his boss to bring his daughter home. To get back the two must travel overland through ‘The Contaminated Zone’ round the border. They must navigate dangerous terrain and crossings with the help of the locals. All the while avoiding the rampaging aliens.

The film is an allegory about immigration and the treatment of Mexicans by their richer US neighbour. It has really good performances by the two leads and all the locals (non actors). Plus a great score and sound design that aids the feelings of unease.

As well as directing and editing, Gareth Edwards created all the visual effects himself on a home computer. The majority of them look spectacular, but their are one or two dodgy close ups, saved by evocative sound. All in all I think he’s done a pretty amazing job to create a stunning thoughtful lo/micro budget film that easily stands up to Hollywood blockbusters like District 9.

Chico and Rita

Chico and Rita

I went to see Chico and Rita last night. I thought it was a beautiful looking film, wIth great production design. The cars and backgrounds were particularly stunning. It had some lovely animation ( although a quite a few dodgy bits as well.) Best of all it had a brilliant Jazz and Cuban soundtrack with lots of great musical sequences.

Pre Revolution early 50’s Cuba. Chico is a talented piano player who spots Rita singing at a bar. They sleep together but fall out the next morning thanks to the arrival of Chico’s girlfriend.

A friend gets them a gig and they gradually become a succesful professional act. Rita is offered a contract in the states without Chico. After they row she decides to accept.

Later, poor and broke Chico follows her  but she has become a big solo star, married to her manager. Jealous of their relationship her husband gets Chico deported. Years later the two of them meet again, when their luck has changed.

As a film it hasn’t really stayed with me. I don’t think this is because the characters are immoral or unlikeable as one review suggested. I think they are very likeable, believable and realistic, which is an achievement for animation.

The problem is the star crossed lovers story. Despite the fact it spans decades of their lives it doesn’t develop Chico and Rita’s relationship. I think if they’d had been together as a couple dealing with the stresses and strains of life it would have been a stronger narrative. With such potentially rich characters I could see this working. But as it is, the boy-meets-girl-looses-girl plot repeated just doesn’t quite sustain it.