Thursday's report from the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL with Dave, sitting in the very nice National Film Theatre as he awaits yet another screening. You may find him propping his eyes open with cocktail sticks this time next week.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is the worst type of film you can get out of mainstream Hollywood - yes, worse even than nude women being chased by knife-wielding maniacs, because at least those films are working to provide pleasure to their audience, no matter how immature and gross that may be. (Alright, so maybe not. But almost!) No, what we have in The Men Who Stare at Goats, aside from an irritatingly long title I'll get fed up of typing out soon, is a smug, idiotic film, so convinced it's hilarious in its ironic absurdity and 'look at all this oddness; it's great they can be odd, of course, but hahahaha, isn't their oddness funny!' attitude. I'm sure the writer would argue he's all for oddness and love not war, but it portrays all these attitudes so ludicrously that it seems to be screaming for straight-laced normality under all the madness. It all relies heavily on stupidity, most notably the paranoid superiority-complex of the American army; as they say, "We can't afford to let the Russians lead the way in paranormal research!" I can probably sum up the film's failure in one repeated joke it uses: Lynn Cassidy's (George Clooney) pyschological army troupe are known as "Jedis", and he repeatedly emphasizes that Ewan McGregor's reporter Bob Wilton doesn't have these Jedi powers. If such jokes might amuse you enough to overlook an unbearable plucky score, no apparent aptitude for using sound or image in an inventive fashion, and McGregor's ever-terrible American accent, maybe this one's for you. D
The frequently abstract and painful Wolfy is as icy and cold and devastated in appearance as you might expect from a Russian film. The subject - a little girl hopelessly desperate to hold onto her wandering, loose, volatile mother - is dealt with in a similarly detached way, what with the emotionless retrospective narration, but the artistic aesthetics embue the film with bountiful emotion. Take the first scene, for example - spots of blood on the crisp white snow as the pregnant mother runs from police across the cold expanse. Or a spellbinding, languid zoom out as the mother spins her daughter a story. It's an unsettling, powerful sit, ultimately uncompromising in its grim attitude towards this 'family', but it's also beautiful in its use of perspective, camerawork and particularly the soundscape, from the eerie sound of the spinning top to the harsh, halting Russian language. B+
Balibo is another accomplished Australian film at this year's fest, even if it does contain the niggling question (explicitly asked within the film): why does this story have to be centered on Australians when they are the tiniest fraction of those murdered in Indonesia's invasion of East Timor? Nevertheless, the tale - one of thousands recounted years later once the country was liberated - is an absorbing one, complimented by the loose, observational camerawork and some strong work from Anthony LaPaglia (as the journalist investigating the deaths of five Australasian reporters sent to the country ahead of the invasion). While the sharp editing keeps things tense and gripping for much of the film, the continual flirtation with the greater storyline proves distracting, as the film acknowledges the entire tragedy but defiantly sticks to this one story. B