Monday, 24 September 2007

And When Did You Last See Your Father?

This British gem is a film that impacted me in a way that it will not impact most people and this no doubt influenced how much I enjoyed it. And When Did You Last See Your Father?, directed by Anand Tucker, is a film about a man’s relationship with his dying father (terminal cancer). I saw the film only three weeks after my own father died of cancer and to say I could identify with the protagonist would be an understatement (though I am not comparing my father with the character played by Jim Broadbent).

Colin Firth plays the son, and is the film’s protagonist, but we don’t see that much of Firth because much of the film is taken up in flashbacks of his childhood and teenage years. Through the flashbacks, we see how the son’s perception of his father changes over the years and how Firth, playing the adult son, thinks back on the similarities and differences between his own life and character and that of his father. I won’t say the film handled this perfectly, skipping through some scenes in a way that felt rather superficial, but it cleverly showed how members of a family hide things from each other (and know more than they let on) in order to keep the family from imploding.

The story worked for me, but the real highlight of the film was the acting. Jim Broadbent, who is always a joy to watch, is perfectly cast as the father and does a great job. Juliet Stevenson is also great as his wife, and her role could have been much bigger. Colin Firth is solid as the son, as are the actors who play his younger self.

For me, the timing of when I saw the film was incredible and difficult to describe as coincidence. I can’t imagine any other film coming close to touching so profoundly on what I was processing at the time. As a result, my assessment of the film no doubt carries a particularly heavy subjective weight, but, like I said at the beginning, I think this film is a gem and gets a solid ***+.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

The Fountain

The Fountain, by Darren Aronofsky (who directed the incredible Requiem for a Dream) was just released on video and needs to be highlighted here because it’s the best “missed it at the cinema” film I have seen in a very long time. It is not, however, a film that’s easy to understand or to describe. Is it a science fiction film? For those of us watching it here, the film worked at a variety of levels and our conclusion was it didn’t matter whether it all took place in 2006 or not. That’s the most amazing thing about this film. It is a haunting beautiful love story that works brilliantly regardless of how you understand what happened. But only if you leave the left side of your brain at the door; if you are expecting a piece of linear storytelling that you can figure out, stay away.

Hugh Jackman has never come close to an acting performance as good as his leading role in The Fountain, and the ever-engaging Rachel Weisz does a very fine job as his wife. But the film’s real stars are its stunning and gorgeous cinematography and the absolutely spot-on score. The combination of these with a story that looks at life and death and love in an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent and passionate way makes for a film that can be watched and enjoyed and discussed again and again.

This film was Gareth Higgins’ favourite film of 2006 and would certainly have made my top five had I seen it last year (which I deeply regret not having done on the big screen).

The Fountain was panned by many critics because it was deemed to be incoherent and I think they were expecting something different, something that made sense. So they just didn’t get it and treated it as a silly mess. In my opinion, it’s the same reason most critics failed to appreciate my favourite film of 2006: Perfume. You’ve got to appreciate films for the amazing stories they are, not for what you want them to be. This remarkable film can only be described as a great work of art and deserves no less than ****. My mug is up and filled with the very best (with cream).

Wednesday, 12 September 2007


I just returned from watching the hot (critically) new British film, Atonement. Based on a novel by Ian McEwan, this story of the horrific results of a teenager’s spiteful action is magnificently filmed by Joe Wright (who previously did such a great job with Pride and Prejudice).

James McAvoy (who performed so well in The Last King of Scotland) and Keira Knightley do a superb job of acting in the lead roles, making us feel the emotions of the characters in just the right way, though Saoirse Ronan as the thirteen-year old Briony outshines them both. The cinematography and music are likewise perfect for the film, which is primarily set in England between 1935 and 1940.

The film begins and ends brilliantly, with the first 50 minutes providing an example of near-perfect film-making. In fact, the film’s only real flaw is that it didn’t continue that opening day’s scene a little longer, because once the action shifts to the war, it begins to drag a bit and we could have used more background on what happened “back at the house”. Still, the cinematography in the middle of the film is breath-taking.

So how do you atone for a vicious mistake that hurts others so badly? The film’s clever ending (and presumably the book’s) provides an interesting answer. It also movingly conveys the perpetrator’s lifelong suffering.

Atonement is a great film. Don’t miss it. ***+ (verging on four). My mug is raised high on this one.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Pattern Recognition

I thought it was about time to write about something other than a movie. For the first time in a while I've read a novel worthy of note. It's the first novel I've read from William Gibson, though I hope to read a few others at least now. Like Coupland (who appears to be a friend of his), Gibson is one of those writers who does a great job of getting a handle on the changing feel of contemporary culture. Two things drew me to this novel: a reference in Scott Bader-Saye's Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (also a good book) and a general sense that the idea of pattern recognition is an important element in contemporary notions of what it means to search for truth. The novel didn't disappoint as an exploration of that theme.

The theme of pattern recognition appears in multi-layered ways throughout the story. There's the cynical view of pattern recognition as a technique that is exploited and commercialized; there's the acknowledgement that it's sometimes wasted on attempts to find patterns and meaning where there is none; and then there's the more authentic and human need to use art as a means to express hope and create community among those looking to find truth in a potentially meaningless world.

While the context is a fast-moving, mobile, technophile, young culture, I was pleased to see the writing was not annoyingly dense, confusing and aimless. Sorry postmodern lit lovers but I just like a good story, and Gibson doesn't shy from the good old beginning-middle-end method. It's not just his form, but it testifies to a point that I think he's making. Pattern recognition, seeking after truth, is not just about the search, but it's about the real possibility that there is a goal - a search can actually reveal something significant. Best read in many months.