Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist, opening Edinburgh Film Fest 64


Under director Hannah McGill, Edinburgh International Film Festival has been steadily building its reputation as a platform for great animation - showing the UK premieres of Ratatouille, Wall*E, Up - and this year Toy Story 3 - in a bumper year which includes the world premiere of the hotly tipped 'British Team America': Jackboots on Whitehall. But few films could be better suited to open the festival than Sylvain Chomet's follow-up to the Triplets of Belleville, which seduced audiences the world - the Illusionist, from a Jacques Tati script. For not only does this film deal with the art of illusion and make believe, through a vaudevillian magic act - much like the Presto short which front-ended Ratatouille - but it's a hymn to Scotland and a love song at that.


When James MacGregor wrote on Netribution many years ago that Chomet was set to make a film in his adopted homeland of Scotland, I was a little suspicious that he would take the task seriously. Perhaps like his segment of Paris Je T'aime, it would be a short look at some of the delights of Edinburgh's winding streets and windswept corners. What comes out instead is an unrestrained love letter, capturing the city we've all seen and loved, but going further, flying above the rooftops to give it a twist of magic and delight I've never seen.

The film couldn't be better suited to the festival, indeed in one scene the magician Tatischeff hides in the Cameo cinema - one of the festival venues - and watches a little slice of Tati's Mon Oncle, a knowing wink to the film's origins. In some ways you could see the film as a sister film to Up - perhaps 'Down' would best name it - an old man, close to his end, goes on a journey, accompanied with the optimism of a child. Indeed the theme tune is almost the same and there's an animal side kick to boot.

illusionist2It is perhaps unfortunate that a dispute regarding the Tati estate should emerge ahead of the film's release, but the information released by the Richard McDonald, the grandson of Tati certainly increases understanding of the film. To realise that the giant of French cinema had himself come from the Parisian music hall, and left a young woman there with his child; that the age of his never-met daughter would have been the same age as Alice in this story when he was writing it - it becomes not just a touching tale of patricarchal care, but a poem from an old man to a young girl as she crosses the threshold to womanhood.

Indeed Tatischeff behaves impeccably, sometimes to the point of silliness - sleeping on the sofa in his age, and creeping off in the middle of the night to take on an extra job so he can buy Alice the pair of shoes, or dress or jacket that she desires. There's certainly no comment on materialism here - his function his largely to conjure, from thin air, the possessions she demands, while she seems solely motivated by getting such things. Still it's the one way they can communicate - with her Gallic and his French - neither subtitled, and leaving the audience with the sense of watching a silent film.


Review: Four Lions


Four Lions Bombers


You've heard about it, Chris Morris' jihad comedy, making terrorism funny and all that. How does he do it? Well the Dad's Army influence is certainly there: the comedy is in the power play and false grandeur of some deluded blokes who want to show the world what for.

Four young men with very similar accents to those of the lead characters here managed just that back in 2005 on 7/7. Four Lions uses comedy to try and uncover the men behind the grainy CCTV footage and martyrdom videos left behind, as well as point out the fallibility of the police in terrorist incidents.


Five cracking free, pay-what-you-want feature films online

Here's some picks of filmmaker owned and distributed free (as in lunch) feature films you can download or watch online that really stood out over the last year. Most of them are 'pay what you want' and as ultra-indies they are produced, distributed and promoted by the filmmaker - so anything you donate goes to help them pay off their debts and make more.

Nasty Old People

Hanna Sköld, Sweden, 2009,

Pensioners and the far right make unlikely bedfellows in this remarkably accomplished debut feature from Hanna Sköld. It follows the angry, headstrong yet arresting Mette who in her work as a carer is given some of the most stubborn, difficult and neglected old people of her community. She is also a neo-Nazi.

It's a set-up I haven't seen at cinema before and the inevitable turning point for her could easily have been played for cheap and preachy point-scoring. Instead it's a complex and thoughtful drama, often funny and interspersed with mumblecore-y animations. It's peppered with broad and mostly believable characters. It's not perfect, but for a film made mostly on a €10,000 budget, with some completion funds from Film i Skåne, shot over a year in weekends and evenings, it's perhaps the first pay-what-you can live action film that looks and feels like a much bigger budget European arthouse film.

Licensed under Creative Commons, No Commercial, Share Alike
Download torrents: Nasty.Old.People.2009.XviD [837 MB] or Nasty.Old.People_2009.dvd.iso [3.7 GB]
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RIP: A Remix Manifesto

Brett Gaylor, USA, 2008

RIP is one of those films I've resisted seeing for ages because I thought it would just repeat the same arguments we've heard countless times from the copyfighting movement. More fool me - it's an entertaining and fascinating film, with a good pacing things to keep the interest up. It's central debate centres on the contrary attitude of the media industry who have made so much money from hip-hop, fairy tales and spoofs - towards remix, mashups and sampling. This issue, which currently prevents much of the creative sector from monetising such work, without a well paid media team does occasionally get confused with the more complex and debatable area of the pirate movement. Nevertheless it asks fair questions - I don't have a right to opt out from the 3,000+ adverts I see each day, and now they are lodged in my headspace, surely I have some ownership over them. Or rather, if, as Churchill said, 'the empires of the future are the empires of the mind' then the ability to adapt and remix that culture is a vital part of keeping such empires in check.

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Sita Sing the Blues

Nina Paley, US, 2008

Self-funded and made entirely in Flash, Nina Paley's retelling of the Indian epic Ramayana has been screened around the world and picked up dozens of awards and much acclaim. The songs of Annette Hanshaw weave links between the present-day story of the breakup of Nina's relationship, against the classic love tale of Sita and Rama.

Doubtless embittered by her own experiences, Paley scoffs at the Ramayana's portrayal of devotion and patience in the face of a break-up, and the film has picked up some criticism in India. Nevertheless the running improvised commentary by a group of a shadow puppets, the technicolor animation and songs of Leti, which were a discovery for me, plus the openness with which Paley shares her experience, made it a moving experience. And as it's under a Creative Commons license - if you think you can improve any part of it, you can make your own cut. As well as the video file, hosts versions in everything up to 4k size if you're able to get your hands on a digital cinema projector.

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Just to Get a Rep

Peter Gerrard, US/UK

From Edinburgh-based American Peter Gerrard and upcoming Scottish production company Accidental Media (nominated for five new Talent Scottish BAFTAs), J2GAR is a graffiti documentary which takes us around America to explore the route of possibly the most visually recognisable and impacting art movements of our generation. Short at under an hour we don't get to hear from the many people to whom graff is a nuisance or hear mention of Banksy, but everything else seems to be here, including the guys who invented bubble lettering.

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The Hunt For Gollum / Born of Hope

Born of Hope dir: Kate Madison, UK-Int, 2009 / The Hunt for Gollum dir: Chris Bouchard

Want to experience more of middle Earth but can't wait until the New Line Hobbit films arrive, Born of Hope is a 70 minute feature telling the tale of Arathorn and Gilrean, the parents of Aragorn. For an illustration of quite high the production values of 'no-budget' self-financed work can go, the burgeoning Lord of the Rings universe fan-films promise much. The 40 minute Hunt for Gollum was the first serious fan-film from the universe released, set before the first Lord of the Rings book/film and featuring sme stunning British countryside that no doubt must have helped inspire Tolkein when first describing middle earth. Both come with the obligatory copyright disclaimer but also supportive quotes from members of the WETA team suggesting on this occasion New Line/Peter Jackson concluded non-profit fan support will benefit the franchise more than harm it.

The Hunt for Gollum

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Born of Hope

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LFF Preview: Nowhere Boy


The London Film Festival will close tonight with the world premiere of the feature debut from artist Sam Taylor-Wood, Nowhere Boy. It takes a look at the early years of John Lennon, when he was being brought up by his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas in a fantastic performance), getting into music, and taking guitar lessons from a young squirt called Paul McCartney. Suchandrika Chakrabarti reviews.


LFF Preview: Starsuckers



Starsuckers is the second feature-length documentary from writer/director Chris Atkins, who made the BAFTA-nominated Taking Liberties in 2007. The film takes an in-depth look into celebrity culture - and sleb journalism - and the results are both laugh-out-loud funny and worrying.

The issue of made-up stories making their way into showbiz gossip columns was discussed by George Clooney and Kevin Spacey at the press conference for Men Who Stare At Goats last week (after the London Film Festival press screening).


Of course, there was nothing new about the debate, but it was intriguing, hearing two celebrities, who have been hounded by the media, describing how it feels, right in front of us. In fact, we got to watch it happen - in each of the two press conferences I saw Clooney in (Goats and Fantastic Mr Fox), he was besieged by a number of questions about his private life, namely when the hell he was going to get married and have kids. Some of the non-tabloid journalists later complained about this hijacking of precious press conference time. Who really cares? Well, as Starsuckers shows, we're all meant to, because caring about slebs makes us buy stuff...


LFF Preview: An Education



An Education, which which has its UK premiere tonight at the London Film Festival, is based on a short memoir written by newspaper journalist Lynn Barber, which was published in Granta. The story was adapted for the screen by Nicky Hornby, and stars Carey Mulligan in an acclaimed turn as 16-year-old Jenny (based on the young Lynn), and Peter Sarsgaard as David, the older man who shows her what life is like beyond school and the suburbs.


LFF Preview Roundup

theinformantAhead of the London Film Festival's opening night tomorrow, here's a round-up of some highlights from Suchandrika Chakrabarti.

The LFF's press screenings begin before the festival begins, and carry on during it, with the previews of the big gala films, like the opening night's Fantastic Mr Fox (gosh, they do love a bit of Wes Anderson) and the George Clooney-starring The Men Who Stare at Goats, are saved for the morning of the screening. So you'll have to wait just a little bit longer for those.

In the meantime, you can read on for reviews of the latest Matt Damon movie and the mockumentary stylings of Michael "George Michael Bluth" Cera...


Last Stop 174


A strong, well-made drama that always feels original despite being set in much of the same social background as the major international successes that were ‘Central Station' and ‘City of God' (life and crime in the favelas, homelessness and the search for lost family).  Crime, drug addiction and evangelicalism are presented without judgement but as what they are: human attempts to survive.  Watching the experiences and conditions that lead characters to commit atrocious acts helps explain these actions for what they are - misguided rebellions against a society that has administered them countless injustices.

Cris Vianna gives a heartfelt performance as a mother searching for her child, and there are some fantastic uses of Brazil's most famous land mark, the Christo Redempto statue, as an all seeing conscience watching down on sins committed.  Sublime cinematography and strong performances from a cast boasting only three professional actors embellish a gripping story, though its real originality is in the truthful psychological study of the protagonists decline.


Favela on Blast

favela_on_blastPropelled forward with the raw exuberance of the music and characters within the dance music scene of Brazil's favelas, rarely is a documentary so sexy, foul-mouthed and downright fun.

Refreshingly void of narration or authorial presence, ‘Favela on Blast' drops you in at the deep end of Rio's ‘Funk Carioca' scene, relying only on personal accounts from the D.J's, M.C's and characters within it.  And tell their story they do, with the same relentless energy and bravado as their music, raw machismo is countered by even blunter female comebacks in hilarious tit for tat musical exchanges.  Music and image are combined confidently to create mini-crescendos followed by the breathing space reminiscent of the morning after.

Though the film might pack even more punch if condensed to around an hour, ultimately the overestimated playing time doesn't detract too heavily from this explosive experience.  Sit back, turn it up and don't even try and stop yourself bouncing in your seat.


The Reader: This is my truth, tell me yours*


This review is going to be full of spoilers; if you don't want to know, best look away now.

So, for the remaining reader: The Reader hinges on the power of writing, and the flexibility of the truth. It can make or break lives. Reading aloud draws two people into a decades-long relationship; the shame of illiteracy leads to a terrible crime and a life of penance; a  Holocaust survivor's book puts six female ex-SS guards on trial.