12:30pm: Train To Pakistan
No offence to the management of the Odeon West End and the National Film Theatre, but generally by the time you've made it through a week and a half of the Festival you're pig sick of the inside of their respective establishments. It's nice to venture further afield and see what another cinema's foyer looks like: hence a visit this morning to the Tricycle in Kilburn. Built as part of the complex that also houses the Tricycle Theatre, the cinema's literally only been open a few days, and is a beautifully designed large screen theatre that's almost nice enough to make you want to move to Kilburn permanently. Good scheduling policy, too: mainstream stuff during the week (they're currently playing The Negotiator two weeks before the rest of the UK), interspersed with a number of arthouse-type matinees, including Indian movies every Sunday lunchtime. The LFF has given them a couple of Festival premieres for their first two "Bollywood In Brent" matinees.
Train To Pakistan is actually an Indian/British co-production, with some money from Channel Four in the budget, so it's quite likely to turn up on TV in a few years time. It's set in the Punjab in 1947, during the upheavals of Partition, and follows the interlinked stories of a number of characters in a small village called Mano Majra. Magistrate Hukumchan (Mohan Agashe) is proud of the village's reputation for having Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs living happily alongside each other. But things are starting to change. A money lender is robbed and murdered, and the magistrate suspects Jugga (Nirmal Pandey), a local Sikh bandit currently having a secret affair with the mullah's Muslim daughter Nooran (Smriti Mishra). Jugga is arrested despite his protesting that he would never rob anyone in his own village. He's soon joined in jail by Iqbal (Rajit Kapur), a visiting Communist who's locked up basically for being a stranger in town. Despite this action, relations between the Sikhs and Muslims continue to break down, until the day a train pulls up in Mano Majra completely full of murdered Sikhs. Hukumchan has to take action to prevent the breakdown of law and order in his village: however, the solution he chooses may make things even worse.
Based on a novel by Khushwant Singh, adapted and directed by Indian director Pamela Rooks, Train To Pakistan has great dramatic force without ever crossing the line into full-on melodrama. The multiple plots and characters come together effectively as the film progresses, and there are a number of incredibly memorable images, such as an extraordinary sequence involving dozens of corpses floating down a river, and the climactic scene where Jugga gets to prove his heroism once and for all. It's a very impressive movie, and worth looking out for.
From the Tricycle in Kilburn to the Ritzy in Brixton: golly, I'm seeing the world today and no mistake.
Katsuhiro Otomo, famous for jump-starting the whole Japanimation genre in the UK with his 1988 film Akira, has only actually directed one complete film since then: World Apartment Horror in 1991, which never got a screening over here. Apparently his next feature, Steam Boy, should be released next year: in the interim, he's worked on several other films, directing a small segment, writing the script or acting as a "consultant". It's amusing to see the Festival include one anime film in the programme every year, which always has some sort of connection to Otomo in the credits so they can sell it to an audience that maybe only knows Akira and a couple of tacky direct-to-video movies. Still, if they're as good as Spriggan (directed by Hirotsu Kawasaki, with Otomo as screenwriter and "general supervisor") that isn't really a problem.
The plot is, quite frankly, bonkers: it's adapted from a popular Japanese comic strip about Arcam, a group of archeologists who work like Indiana Jones in reverse, hiding the existence of found historical artifacts. This is to ensure the artifacts preserve their power, and keeps assorted bad guys from grabbing them for themselves. The Spriggan are a group of special agents working for Arcam, and the most highly regarded of all is Ominaye Yu, first seen having problems in school when he discovers one of his classmates has been brainwashed into killing him. It turns out this is connected with Arcam's latest finding, the remains of Noah's Ark buried deep inside Mount Ararat.
Yu travels to Ararat to discover that a pair of old enemies are responsible for the attack on his life: his former commanding officer Major Fatmann, and his sidekick Littleboy. (Nice to see the Japanese still have a sense of humour about Hiroshima.) But in fact, the real bad guys are the Americans: particularly a robotically enhanced child called MacDougal, who is the only one to appreciate the true power of the Ark. It's a commonly held fallacy that the Ark was built as a protection against the great flood: in fact, the Ark is a huge machine capable of controlling the world's weather, which actually caused the flood in the first place. Yu and his not-all-that-French-really buddy Jean Jackmond have to stop MacDougal before he controls the planet's weather for his own evil purposes.
The last time we saw this plot was in The Avengers, but that movie didn't have the seven or eight scenes of total apocalyptic destruction (brilliantly animated with some nifty computer enhancement) that make Spriggan so much fun. Virtually every character is robotically or genetically enhanced to some degree or other, and every fight scene involves huge amounts of collateral damage to property, not to mention large numbers of anonymous footsoldiers heing hacked into gooey mush. It's this sheer over-the-top quality that makes Spriggan essential viewing on a cinema screen, as the human eye's incapable of coping with all this carnage squashed onto a TV screen for a video release. Hopefully it'll get the wider showing it deserves.
8.45pm: Surprise Film: Pleasantville
My guess for the Surprise Film this year was Jonathan Demme's Beloved. Okay, so I was wrong. Other suggestions made by the audience prior to the screening ranged from the plausible (The Mask Of Zorro) to the frankly ridiculous (Eyes Wide Shut). Ken went for the catchall approach of guessing that it would be one of the 27 films trailed on the free video given away with Empire magazine this month: what do you know, he was right after all.
Compared with some of the dross we've had as the Surprise Film in the past (Johnny Mnemonic, for God's sake), Pleasantville is for the most part a great improvement. The first film by writer/director Gary Ross, it's the story of brother and sister David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). For reasons not worth mentioning here (and the film itself skips over the setup as if it's moderately ashamed of it), the two are magically transported from their present-day lives into a 1950s black and white sitcom, Pleasantville, where they become the son and daughter of the show's main characters, George and Betty Parker (William H. Macy and Joan Allen), in an eerily perfect suburban environment.
David was a big fan of the TV show and knows all the characters intimately: he thinks the best way of coping with the situation is to blend in with the surroundings as much as possible. It takes him a while to cope with the rules of a 1950s sitcom universe: married couples sleep in twin beds, nobody has ever ventured beyond the end of Main Street, and the fire brigade are totally ignorant of the concept of fire, spending all day rescuing cats who've got caught up trees.
Jennifer is less interested in blending in, however. Within a couple of days she's slept with the high school basketball captain, thus singlehandedly introducing the concept of sex into Pleasantville. And even David ends up inadvertently changing things by putting new ideas into the head of his boss Mr Johnson (Jeff Daniels), giving him the encouragement to change his work patterns, paint pictures and sleep with Betty Parker. As the 50s perfection of the town gets corrupted by 90s values, colour starts to seep slowly into the environment, firstly into the surroundings and then ultimately into some of the people themselves. Signs saying "No Coloreds" start appearing in shop windows, and things start turning really unpleasant.
For about the first hour and a half Pleasantville is an absolute delight: the contrast between the attitudes of the 50s and 90s (as well as the contrast between a narrow fictional environment and the rest of the world) are beautifully pointed up with some brilliantly sharp dialogue. The political edge in having colour as the distinguishing mark between the two rival factions in the town is carefully played and never over-emphasised. But towards the end the film starts rambling and getting seriously mushy. By the time David is standing up in court on behalf of the "coloureds" doing a speech about how "it's something inside all of us", the film has lost it completely and is careering into that "I learned something today" territory that South Park sends up at the end of every episode. On the whole, it's worth seeing, but be prepared to only like 90 minutes of it. (Still, that's 90 minutes more than I liked of Johnny Mnemonic.)
Notes From Spank's Pals
Disney's Unseen Treasures
Ken - Many recently restored shorts, trailers and clips, entertainingly presented in person by Disney's resident expert archivist, Scott MacQueen. Highlights included Mickey Mouse's first appearance in colour (in an animated parade of Oscar nominees from 1932): but in my mind the best was the original trailer for Bambi, which shows that the film was targeted at an adult audience, and proves even Disney got it wrong sometimes. One criticism is that the "before" and "after" film restorations would have worked much better if a split screen could have been used rather than showing them one after the other.
The Opposite Of Sex
Ken - My favourite film of the Festival so far. A comedy in which Christina Ricci plays the teenage slut from hell who dumps herself on her gay half-brother, seduces his current lover, steals the ashes of his former lover, and generally turns his life upside down. This film's unorthodox style is its biggest hit: for example in the narration by Christina Ricci, in which she openly warns you that if you don't like the sort of movie that starts with a narration, you won't like this one. Later in the film following a shooting, she says, "Did you think I'd been killed? Get with the program! I'm the narrator!" You've got to see this film.
Ken - The trailer for this film appears on the free video with the December edition of Empire: as soon as I saw the video, I wanted to see this film. It's about a teenage brother and sister transported into a black and white 1950s TV show. Gradually their presence has a startling effect on the closeted town, most noticably when things and people start turning into colour. Interestingly, the film develops a theme of racial bigotry: the people who are no longer in black and white are referred to as "coloureds". Yet because there wouldn't have been any African-Americans in such a 50s soap, the film has an all-white cast. The concept is probably more fun than the final result, but well worth seeing.
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