Tag Archives: Around the World in 80 Films

GFF14 Diary: Wednesday 26th Feb – The Lunchbox, Zero Charisma, and Calvary

CalvaryI spent Tuesday away from the festival, although I did manage a quick visit to the splendid Grosvenor Cinema with my three-year-old daughter for a special toddlers’ screening of some Peppa Pig cartoons. I am unfamiliar with this popular porcine series, but it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen in a cinema.

Today was my busiest day at the festival, with three films and a podcast recording session on the agenda. I met up with my good friends Dave Macfarlane (Born Offside) and Paul Fisher (The Write Club) for what has become our annual day of film discussion and moderate alcohol consumption. We arrived at Cineworld early for our first screening, not out of any sense of organisation, but because Dave’s fear of the lift meant a journey up the escalators to the top floor that Edmund Hillary would have balked at.

First up was the Indian romantic comedy/drama The Lunchbox, the debut feature from writer/director Ritesh Batra. The film focuses on a pair of strangers, brought together by an unheard mistake from Mumbai’s dabbawalas, the people responsible for a delivery system that collects hot cooked meals from people’s homes and delivers them to their work for lunch. Ila is an unappreciated wife and mother, and her fantastic food meant for her husband is mistakenly delivered to a curmudgeonly government employee a month away from taking early retirement. soon the two are communicating via handwritten letters packed inside the lunchbox, with both talking about the regrets in their lives, and suddenly finding new dreams and ambitions to live for.

The narrative is a little derivative at times, reminiscent of classics like Brief Encounter and In the Mood for Love, as well as the not quite so classic You’ve Got Mail. What elevates this film however are the excellent central performances which gave me that very rare feeling of physically willing two people on screen to somehow make things work. Plus, it’s always nice to see an Indian film playing on UK screens that isn’t nearly 3 hours long with 15 different dance routines bunged in the middle. This is a lovely film, but make sure you have time to go out for a curry afterwards as I haven’t salivated this much in a cinema since Jadoo.

After a trip to our very generous sponsors Brewdog Bar Glasgow to record a huge chunk of this week’s podcast, we headed back to the GFT for Zero Charisma, a Kickstarter-funded film about role-playing games and the eternal battle between real nerds and those affecting ‘geek chic’. The screening was sold out (meaning Dave had to spend an hour and half in a nearby pub), and there has been a lot of buzz about this film from the SXSW and Tribeca film festivals. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, and the film had the same homemade charm and outsider geek dialogue that made me fall in love with Clerks the first time I saw it. Sure, it goes for some easy laughs at times and the drama wasn’t written anywhere nearly as well as the comedy, but when it treads the difficult line between celebrating and skewering geekdom it is utterly brilliant. Destined to become one of those hidden gems people discover when browsing through Netflix and evangelize to their friends about.

Finally we found out what this year’s Surprise Film was, and although it didn’t end up being the dreamed of (but very unlikely) first UK screening of The Raid 2, it wasn’t a disappointment as it was the new film from John Michael McDonagh, Calvary. It’s a darkly comic tale of a priest (the fabulous Brendan Gleeson) who gets a death threat in confession and is given a week to put his house in order.

The first 90 minutes of the film is a pretty bleak, yet oddly funny look at rural Irish life, and Gleeson is captivating as the world-worn, but ultimately good man of God. Excellent support is provided by Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aiden Gillen, and Dylan Moran as this ‘who’sgonnadoit’ simmers along to its denouement. Sadly I can’t really judge the last five minutes of the film, and therefore the film as a whole, as I found a brand new way to live up to the ‘failed’ element of our moniker. Due to a combination of early starts, long days, and mistakenly taking the ‘night’ cold and flu tablets rather than the ‘day’ ones I fell asleep for the exact five minute the film climaxed. That’s right, I’m using the Peter Buck excuse, and I’m sticking to it. It opens UK-wide on April 11, and I will be first in the queue to confess my sin, do my penance, and watch the film fully refreshed after a good night’s sleep.

BD_Logo_WhiteThe Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

Around the World in 80 films: No. 3 – The Boss of it All (Denmark)

The Boss of it AllIn what appears to be quite a practical decision in terms of my cinematic journey around the globe, I have decided to hang out in Scandinavia a little longer and moved from Finland to Denmark. As well as being a relatively simple step in the physical plane of existence, it was also quite an easy choice for my next film, a 90 minute comedy described on the DVD case as being “like The Office directed by a mad genius”.

Hmmm.

Leaving aside the fact that I’m sure Ricky Gervais would probably tell that The Office actually was directed by a genius, the idea of a knockabout comedy directed by uber-nutjob auteur Lars von Trier intrigued me. Despite being seduced by the idea of the Dogme film movement, I have yet to find a von Trier film that I’ve actually enjoyed. The Idiots was bemusing, Antichrist was disturbing, and Melancholia was simply boring. Compared to his Dogme co-founder Thomas Vinterberg (director of the utterly brilliant Festen and The Hunt), I just struggle to see the big deal about mad old Lars.

And sadly, The Boss of it All hasn’t really changed much.

The premise is a promising one, so much so that Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz has apparently signed on to direct an American remake. The film focusses on a small IT company which is preparing to be bought out by a large Icelandic firm. However, the owner of the firm (Ravn, played by Peter Gantzler) has created a mythical ‘boss of it all’ to take the flak for all the unpopular decisions, while taking credit for anything that pleases the staff. When the potential buyer refuses to deal with a ‘stooge’, Ravn hires an overthinking and enthusiastic actor (Krisstoffer, played by Jens Albinus) to play the part of the Boss. As Krisstoffer delves deeper into his role he starts questioning his motivations, and taking increasingly erratic decisions affecting the staff and the sale.

It’s certainly my favourite von Trier so far, and some scenes are both inspired and hilarious. The trouble is that the director obviously can’t allow himself to make a simple comedy, and so gimmicks and Brechtian constructs soon get in the way of what is a rather simple narrative with a lot of promise. Just when we’re getting into the story, an unknown narrator informs the audience that due to the generic conventions of comedy we are about to introduce a surprise character to add conflict. At other times we go ten or fifteen minutes without even an attempt at a joke. It appears as though The Boss of it All would rather be clever than funny.

The other bizarre thing about the film are the number of jolting jump cut and some odd choices of framing. It turns out that von Trier was using a system called Automavision, which allows the director to choose a fixed camera position, and then a computer chooses when to pan, tilt, zoon, or cut. It’s an interesting experiment, but one that ultimately alienates the audience further from the film.

It’s not often I say this, but I’m looking forward to the American remake.

Around the World in 80 Films: The journey begins

American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper walking in streetAnother year, another set of good intentions. It’s the same every January, as well as my vague declarations to “start jogging again” and “cut out crap food”, I always head into movie awards season with a new set of film resolutions. Even the creation of this website was the result of a festive spirit fuelled desire to better myself through the education of film.

Although I mentioned on the Failed Critic Podcast Review of 2013 that my resolution was to watch more silent films (and that is something I need to do), it was while browsing my Letterboxd review of the year I realised how  little ‘world cinema’ I had seen in those 12 months. Although two of my top five of the year were foreign language films (including my film of the year The Act of Killing), only 30 out of the 231 films I watched weren’t in English.

So this year’s challenge is to emulate my great childhood hero Willy Fog (I’ve seen the cartoon series, but never read Jules Verne’s novel) and travel around the world in eighty films. My only rule is that I can’t include films I’ve already seen, and although the first twenty or so look easy enough, I’m definitely going to need some help and recommendations from people reading the site and listening to the podcast.

So starting as I hope to go on, here’s a double bill.

No.1 American Hustle (USA)

I know this looks like I’m cheating, but the United States of America is a country after all, and I’m not inclined to make things more difficult than they already are. Plus, how could I not start this challenge with a film that perfectly encapsulates its country of origin; it even says the name in the title!

American Hustle is a film based on the true story of an FBI investigation into corruption that snared some senior US politicians at the tail end of the 1970s. What makes the story worthy of cinematic adaptation is that the FBI recruited a small-time couple of con artists to orchestrate the deceit. It’s a film about the American Dream, post-Nixon politics, and the glitz and glamour of a decade that has been dusted off and put on a pedestal by a number of film-makers recently, most notably Ben Affleck’s Argo, and Ron Howard’s Rush.

The talent on show is the current cream of the American acting community, including Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., and a small cameo from Robert De Niro. Token Brit Christian Bale might as well be American by now, having portrayed one of America’s most popular cultural icons (Batman) and one of its most iconoclastic literary creations (American Psycho). In fact, I’m struggling to remember the last time I heard him with a British accent.

Director David O. Russell is one of the most feted of recent US directors, and with good reason. His latest film features his trademark focus on characters over plot, and he is obviously someone who gets the best out of his performers. What’s different from previous films is that he is wearing his influences on his sleeve, specifically Martin Scorsese and Goodfellas.

While some have complained that the story is slightly too long, or predictable, I have now seen this film twice and can’t agree with either criticism. For a film that was improvised at some key points, the main narrative holds together pretty well under close scrutiny. What makes this a great film for me is the performances, especially in the funnier scenes featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. While it may not be quite the timeless classic that it is pilfering from, it is still one of the best films I’m likely to see in 2014.

No.2 Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Finland)

The second film in my odyssey has been sat on my shelf as part of a box set for over two years. One of the earlier films from Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki, it tells the story of the fictional (but subsequently very real) Siberian punk band Leningrad Cowbows and their attempts to crack America after a local mogul tells them that Americans will “buy anything”. The resulting film is a road movie following the band (all kitted out with two foot long winklepinkers and quiffs of a similar length) as they make their way across America in an old Cadillac (sold to them by Jim Jarmusch in a fun cameo).

It’s an odd film, but very funny. The band’s manager Vlad is a wonderfully deadpan presence, and the band grow increasingly tired of his orders and the fact that he has a constant supply of cold beers that he has stashed in the cabinet holding their frozen bass player. As I said, it’s very odd.

The only Kaurismäki film I’d seen before this was 2012’s Le Havre, which has a similar feel to its central performances that, while not entirely cold, are far from the realist cinema we’re used to in mainstream Western Cinema. I could draw a definite line between the films of Stanley Kubrick, with their emotional coldness and static camera shots, and the films of Wes Anderson, particularly the quirky characters and bizarre onscreen behaviour that we see in this film. I’m now very much looking forward to the sequel Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, and the concert film Total Balalaika Show.

Right, on with the journey. Why couldn’t Jules Verne have gone with 50 days?