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LONDON CALLING 2011 PART ONE

The London Film Festival is in full swing and, as with every year, I have been cherry picking the odd film that appeals to me. The first film I caught was 360, directed by Brazilian Fernando Meireilles (City of God, The Constant Gardener). It’s a drama in a similar vein to something like Babel: we see a number of stories and protagonists in cities around the world (Vienna, London, Bratislava, Paris, Rio and Denver) and, as the film progresses, we see the connections made between the seemingly-disconnected cast of characters. Screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/ Nixon) has also admitted that it owes something to Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. 360 does have a lot of central characters (from English businessman played by Jude Law to prostitute Mirkha (Lucia Siposova), Anthony Hopkins as the man searching for his lost daughter and Valentina (Dinara Drukarova), the wife of Russian thug Sergei) but unlike Contagion, this film is finely balanced so Meireilles and the excellent ensemble cast have the opportunity to give 360‘s creations enough life so that the viewer can get caught up in their world. Even Jude Law isn’t half-bad here. Come back for another LFF review, this time of The Descendants directed by Alexander Payne with George Clooney…

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ALLEN GOES AYCKBOURN
Woody Allen’s last film, Whatever Works, with Larry David, was particularly awful and pointless. So expectations for his latest effort, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, weren’t high. Returning to shooting in England (partly because these days European money seems to be the only kind he can get), You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is a drama about Helena Shebritch (Gemma Jones), married to Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and their daughter Sally Channing (Naomi Watts). Sally is married to American writer Roy, played by Josh Brolin. When Alfie splits with Helena as part of some late mid-life crisis, and takes up with brainless bimbo Charmaine (Lucy Punch), the rest of the family’s life seems to feel the ripples. Sally’s husband Roy takes a fancy to gorgeous neighbour Dia, played by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) while Helena goes to ‘find herself’. You can tell from the offset that none of it is going to end well but one of the biggest problems here is that it’s such a slight concept that it leaves your brain almost as soon as you have finished watching it. Allen doesn’t seem comfortable in this world of English manners and foibles and dialogue comes across as stilted and unconvincing in the mouths of the predominantly British cast. The character portrayed by Antonia Banderas as Sally’s boss is redundant and Punch as gold-digging airhead Charmaine comes across as unreal and caricatured. Watts turns in a decent performance as does Hopkins, who underplays things for a change. So You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is an improvement on Whatever Works but it’s hard to believe that this was the same writer/ director responsible for Annie Hall, Manhattan and even Bullets Over Broadway. So worth catching on DVD when it comes out but nothing would be gained by seeing it at the cinema.

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THE WOLFMAN COMETH

I’ve always been a sucker for werewolf movies. An American Werewolf in London was one of my favourite films as a teenager and I still have a soft spot for it. The Wolfman, the latest entry in the genre, has had a rather chequered history: finished almost two years ago, it has sat on the shelves until its release this month. Directed by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III and special effects maestro), this time around the action takes place up in Yorkshire when prodigal son Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his family home after his brother Ben is brutally murdered in the woods. He has spent most of his time in the States and has become a stage actor of some repute. But of course, Lawrence’s fate is not a pretty one. Visually The Wolfman looks sumptuous as Johnston and production designer Rick Heinrichs have created a lavish Victorian England layered with detail and texture. But its story is a little bit limited and hackneyed and Anthony Hopkins as the patriarch of the Talbot family gives a performance that is dull and unconvincing. Hugo Weaving, as Inspector Abberline, is also rather wooden and stiff. Del Toro acquits himself decently on screen though and there are some engaging setpieces, especially the night-time rampage through the gypsy camp, that hold the viewer’s attention. So if you’re in the mood for a pretty loooking bit of horror fluff, you could do worse than check out The Wolfman