Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cairo Time - "A nice way to spend a lazy Sunday"

If you google, top ten Canadian Films of 2009, Cairo Time will be right there at the top of the list. As if that isn't enough, it went on to win best Canadian feature film award at last year's Toronto Film Festival. No small feet, but then the director Ruba Nadda is something of a veteran of Canadian cinema, having written and directed 17 feature films.

Cairo Time has much going for it. Beautiful, exotic locations and an excellent cast, with Patirica Clarkson at the helm. Clarkson (Lars and the Real Girl, The Station Agent) plays Juliette Grant, a magazine editor who comes to Cairo to rendzous with her husband, a UN peacekeeper, only to find him continually delayed by work. Tareq played by Alexander Siddig (Kingdom of Heaven), is a friend of Juliette's husband and is assigned to collect her from the airport in her husband's absence. The pair like each other and slowly develop a friendship, which towards the end of the film blossoms into love.

Patricia Clarkson is, as always, a joy to watch and the pairing of her and Alexander Siddig is charming and believable. The only disappointment was that Clarkson wasn't given the enough to do. The pen ultimate scene in the film, in which we think Clarkson may reveal (to her husband who has unexpectedly arrived in Cairo)that she loves Tareq is brilliant. In those few minutes of screen time Clarkson runs through a gambit of emotions creating a truly exquisite cinematic performance. But it's too brief. The film in general lacks drama and is the poorer for it.

Having said all that if you allow yourself to be swept up in the locations, stunning costumes and charming performances, this is a touching and entertaining way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon. Or indeed any afternoon. Just don't expect any drama.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Messenger "See it for Sure"

This is the directorial debut of Oren Moverman, best known perhaps, for penning the screenplay of the arthouse film Jesus Son. The Messenger certainly stacks up against Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar winning war epic The Hurt Locker as one of a new breed of films discussing war and the fallout from it, in a modern context, not just on the traditional battlefields of the past.

Ben Foster, is outstanding as Sgt Will Montgomery, an Iraq war hero, who is injured in the line of duty and then assigned back in the US, to inform the families of dead soldiers of the fateful news of their own tragedies. His new assignment falls under the instruction of Senior commanding officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) a recovering alcoholic.

True this all sounds incredibly depressing, but there are light touches, using Harrelson's practiced comic timing to great effect. And the introduction, half way through, of the widow Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton) as the love interest for Will creates another layer to the film. Showing a level of intimacy rarely since these days in love stories. The scene in the kitchen, (you'll know it when you see it) in which the lovers touch for the first time is breath taking in it's simplicity and truth. Oren Moverman obviously trusts his actors and seems to allow them ultimate freedom. In this scene particularly he places the camera in such a way that you almost feel like a peeping tom invading the couple's private moment.

The film does get slightly lost in the second act when Harrelson and Foster go (for no discernible reason )on a mini road trip. It meanders abit at this point, but stick with it, there is some comic relief and Moverman gets the film back on track for a positive and powerful ending.

To end the film there is a final wide shot of Olivia's house with an open door and her son playing just outside. Olivia and Will who have been talking in the foreground go inside. The beauty of the final shot as a piece of storytelling is that so much is suggested about Will's future. That by walking through this open door, new possibilities appear and Will may finally find love and renewal, after all he has been through.

Life During Wartime - "Not Everyone's Cup of Tea, but worth checking out"

Life During Wartime directed by Todd Solondz is the (sort of) sequel to his 1998 cult classic Happiness. I say sort of sequel, because Todd uses the same characters, but played by different actors and continues their stories ten years on. Having only hazy memories of Happiness, viewed far too late one night many years ago,it was a relief to find that Life During Wartime is a stand alone and unique film, dealing in a darkly humorous way with sexuality, pedophilia and loneliness.

The cast which includes Allison Janney (best known as CJ Craig in the West Wing) and Shirely Henderson (Think British cinema,ie Trainspotting, Bridget Jones' Diary, Wonderland etc) as sisters, are excellent. Their performances are adept and detailed. Alley Sheedy (from Breakfast Club fame) also makes a brief appearance as the now famous sister who is sleeping with Keau Reeves. Small aside - You never see Reeves, though do (apparently) hear him in the throws of lovemaking with Sheedy.

Newcomer Dylan Riley Snyder plays Timmy (Allison Janney's youngest son) who is horrified to discover that his father (whom he believed dead) is alive and being released from prison after serving a ten year sentence for pedophilia. Timmy finding it impossible, at 12, to express very complex feelings about his father, instead creates problems for his mother and her new boyfriend, which turn out to be irreparable. As with Happiness there are multiple storylines which intersect showing a world full of pain and doubt.

The script is clever, but simple, never overstating anything. With pangs of sadness and touches of dark humour it's nothing if not original. Not surprising then that the script recently won best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival.