review of Chico and Rita by Peter Larkin

Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba’s Chico and Rita (2010) 1hr 32mins

What a beautiful film this is. The animation is hand drawn to stunning effect. Chico & Rita is co-directed by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal and Tono Errando. Trueba won an Academy Award® for Best Foreign Film in 1993 for the Penelope Cruz picture Bella Epoque. Marsical is said to be the most famous and successful designer in Spain. Trueba and Ignacio Martínez de Pisón wrote the poetic screenplay. It is a love story set in Cuba in 1948, about a piano player named Chico (voiced by Eman Xor Oña) and a singer named Rita (voiced by Limara Meneses). There is a great sense of the period; there are references to the social and political affairs of the day.

The film takes Chico and Rita from Havana to New York, from Paris to Hollywood and finally to Las Vegas. Bebo Valdés who turned 92 recently, composed all of the extraordinary music while also providing the singing voice for Chico. At the beginning, Chico is an old man, who shines shoes. He remembers as a young man when he was a talented pianist and how he meets Rita. It is about the love of the period, its characters and the beauty of the handcrafted animation.

There is full frontal nudity in the film, which may surprise some viewers. There is also violence, which is done in a manner that would not look so out of place with in an epic gangster picture. The visuals are magnificent; there is a transcendental quality to them. Through every bit of detail and beauty lies the richness of what cinema can do with animation. Every frame that displays the canvas of this detail will stay with you. With David Fincher’s The Social Network and Mike Leigh’s Another Year on release, there is plenty to be excited about.

Chico and Rita is like a dream that you don’t want to wake up from. This dream is part of inventive cinema. It is one to be cherished. You do not have to be a film lover to appreciate its dazzling creative brilliance. It is film that you will remember after leaving the cinema, which quite rare these days, lets face it. For an experience like it you will always find something special, if you look beneath the surface of the mainstream offerings. review of Mammoth

Lukas Moodysson’s Mammoth (2009) 2hrs 2mins

Leo and Ellen are husband and wife living in a New York City apartment, with their seven-year-old daughter Jackie and their live-in maid and carer Gloria. Leo is a businessman for a gaming social network site. Ellen is a surgeon who works long hours. At the beginning of film Leo leaves his family, to go on a business trip to Thailand. The Mammoth of the title is the design of a pen, given to Leo by his associate on their flight.

Gloria is from the Philippines, where she has two young sons who miss their mother. Her son Salvador calls her regularly on her cell phone, telling her that he and his brother want her to come home. Ellen has a treadmill on the roof of the apartment building. In a later scene she uses it in the rain. You can feel her isolation and longing for something less stressful.

As Leo and Ellen are out of the house working, Gloria takes care of Jackie and introduces her to Filipino culture, they discuss Jackie’s favourite subject astronomy. The film amongst other things is about class. Gloria buys a basketball for your son’s birthday. Ellen is jealous and hurt that Jackie wants to spend more time with Gloria when she finally returns home from work. Ellen buys an expensive telescope for Jackie to get her attention. While on his business trip Leo becomes involves with a prostitute named Cookie, whom he respects and gives her money to go home and get some sleep.

Gael García Bernal, one of the stars of Mexican cinema, plays Leo with an air of mystery and subtlety in what he really wants from life. Michelle Williams, of Brokeback Mountain fame is affective as Ellen. There is a shot of Williams’ face where you almost see the pours of her skin. Marife Necesito is perfectly nuanced as Gloria. Sophie Nyweide is charming and well cast as Jackie. Jan Nicdao and Martin Delos Santos deliver fine performances as Gloria’s two sons Manuel and Salvador. Run Srinikornchot gives a good performance as Cookie.

Mammoth is written and directed by Lukas Moodysson from Sweden whose credits include Together and Lilya 4-ever. Mammoth is one of those films that is two hours but feels like two and half hours. There are parts that go on too long.

Mammoth is about parents, their children and the future that they fear for them. Gloria is working in America to support her two sons. Ellen has a stab victim who is young boy, she can’t stop thinking about if it was Jackie. Some Swedish critics have accused the film of misogyny. Make up your own mind.

Someone once told me “Great character films tell us things we already know but surprise us none the less”. Mammoth does not quite have that quality to really surprise us. However, the reality that a mammoth pen and two expensive watches will get you up to five grand in America and only $40 in Thailand is heartbreaking. The Arbor review by Peter Larkin

Clio Barnard’s The Arbor (2010) 1hr 34mins

“It’s always the parents” a friend once told me, in regard to the scene in John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under The Influence (1974), when Muriel asks her father to stand up. That very quote echoed in my brain while watching Clio Barnard’s The Arbor, a stunning documentary biopic of playwright Andrea Dunbar (1961-1990), best known for ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’, which was adapted for the screen and directed by social realist filmmaker Alan Clarke. Dunbar wrote her first play The Arbor (1977) at the remarkable age of fifteen, for a classroom assignment for GCSE English. She reworked it with the help of her teacher to get it to a performance standard. She premièred it at the Royal Court Theatre, London in 1980 directed by Max Stafford-Clark.

The Arbor is Dunbar’s local housing estate Brafferton Arbor in Bradford, West Yorkshire. The style of the film is filmed with the actors lip-synching to the very people they portray, who were family and friends of Dunbar. They talk to the camera and also play out scenes, all of which are both truthful and unforgettable. Dunbar had three children with three different fathers. Natalie Gavin, who resembles a young Samantha Bond, portrays Dunbar as a teenager. Gavin is more beautiful than the real Dunbar, but this does not matter, her performance is both realistic and memorable. There are surrealistic and almost tranquil scenes of Andrea’s teenage years. For the recreation of her play ‘The Arbor’ she addresses the camera, states the scene and acts it out with family and friends. All of this happens on her front lawn, while the neighbours watch. It has to be seen to be believed.

If there is one performance you will never forget, it is that of Andrea’s eldest daughter Lorraine Dunbar. It is a riveting performance by Manjinder Virk. Her story brought tears to my eyes. It’s like a dagger to your heart. Her mother did not love her as much as she did her other two children because Lorraine was half Pakistani. This film should be experienced. As a friend once said to me, after the filmmakers have made the film, it is not their film anymore it belongs to the audience. We, as the audience, should embrace this masterpiece of filmmaking, discuss it with people and even ourselves.

Film critic Roger Ebert often references the following from fellow critic Robert Warshow. “A man goes to the movies. A critic must be honest enough to admit he is that man.”

Roger Ebert said “That doesn’t make one person right and another wrong. All it means is that you know how they really felt, not how they thought they should feel”

The Arbor will spark that recreation of intense and truthful discussion about real people, who most of us never knew.

As Ebert has said “I believe that empathy is the most essential quality of civilization”

You will feel empathy, you will reflect and try to understand Lorraine.

The Arbor will leave a lasting impression, whether you love it or hate it. You never will forget where you were when you saw it. Every time you think about it, you will remember Lorraine’s face, her tragic situation and choices. Heartbreaking.

Three out of nine of Ingmar Bergman’s children attended his funeral, because of his neglect as a father and his affairs with various women. Harold Pinter’s affairs with Joan Bakewell and Lady Antonia Fraser destroyed his then wife Vivien Merchant who died from alcoholism in 1982. Pinter’s son Daniel did not speak to him for the rest of his life. Watch it and find out what happens to Lorraine.

If you leave the cinema hating The Arbor you will repress it deep into the ground. If you love it you will bury it into your subconscious forever. I empathised with Lorraine. I left the cinema a broken man because it wasn’t fair. Lorraine needed her mother. review of The Omen (1976) by Peter Larkin

Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976) (18s) 1hr 46mins

Stars: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, Harvey Stephens

The Omen is the part of a group of films to symbolise a child associated with devil. Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) also feature this theme. It is written by David Seltzer who famously said “I did it strictly for the money”. Jerry Goldsmith’s epic film score won the much deserved Oscar in 1976. The film was released in the U.K. on 6th June 1976; it stars Gregory Peck as Dr. Robert Thorne, his wife Katherine is played by Lee Remick. In Rome, on 6th June, Robert Thorne is told that his newly born has died, he decides to substitute it with an orphan and protect his wife by never telling her the truth.

Soon after, Thorne is elected as the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, He moves to Fulham to live happily with his wife and the child whom they name Damien. On Damien’s fifth birthday, the nanny commits suicide on the top floor looking out at all the guests. A new nanny Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw) replaces her shortly afterwards. Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) knows of Damien’s origins and warns Dr. Thorne and also tells him that Katherine is pregnant and Damien plans to kill the unborn child. Photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) has been investigating the Thorns ever since the Nanny’s suicide.

The thing that makes the original 1976 Omen so memorable is that it is so believable. What would you do if you were told that your child was the literal antichrist? Ignore it as Peck’s character does?

First time actor Harvey Stephens plays Damien with a sense of subtle ambiguity. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick give brilliantly realistic performances. Billie Whitelaw is unforgettable as the mysterious Mrs. Baylock. There is good support from David Warner and Patrick Troughton.

Every time that I hear the track from Jerry Goldsmith’s score on my iPod as the Thorns approach the church, I can feel the roots of my hair being pulling at, just as the late great Lee Remick’s hair was by the little devilish Harvey Stephens.

It is a film about our fears. Richard Donner’s dazzling direction not only illustrates the material, but also orchestrates to a high intensity. Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography makes England a bleak and eerie place. Stuart Baird’s editing is sharp and coherent.

The Omen is a masterpiece of horror cinema. Every time I watch it I marvel at how seriously it takes itself. You will never forget that last shot. It is one to truly remember.

Another Year review by Peter Larkin

Mike Leigh’s Another Year (12s) 2hrs 9mins

Stars: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Oliver Maltman, Karina Fernandez, David Bradley, Peter Wight.

My introduction to Mike Leigh’s films was the Siskel and Ebert review of Life is Sweet from 1991. When Roger Ebert said, “Our next movie is Life is Sweet. The Wonderful, very funny and very touching new film by Mike Leigh” when I heard the passion in Ebert’s voice I knew I had to buy all of Leigh’s films. Now I’ve seen his latest masterpiece Another Year. It could be his most subtle film. It is certainly one never to be forgotten. Another Year is about a geologist called Tom (Jim Broadbent) and a medical counsellor called Gerri (Ruth Sheen) a husband and wife in their late fifties who live in suburban London. Who care for their friend Mary (Lesley Manville) who suffers from alcoholism. The film takes place over the four seasons of the year. This synopsis describes it perfectly “Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Family and friendship. Love and warmth joy and sadness, hope and despair. Companionship. Loneliness. A birth. A death. Time passes….. It is a film about these things and more. It is cinema at the top of its form. So subtle, no back-stories, no sub plots, just life told through the eyes of Mike Leigh and his actors.

Mary’s main problem with alcoholism is rejection from the men in her life. In The Spring, we learn about this and about Ken (Peter Wight) an overweight man who is an old friend of Tom’s and also continues to battle with rejection. We meet Tom and Gerri’s son Joe (Oliver Maltman) and later his girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez) who discuss traveling to Paris together amongst all things. We meet Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley) and the burden he has to deal with, with his son Carl (Martin Savage) and other things. We also have small roles for the excellent Phil Davis and Imelda Staunton of Vera Drake (2004) The performances are excellent all round. But, the film belongs to Lesley Manville, who gives a performance; which is riveting and emotionally drained with true authenticity, you really believe that Tom and Gerri have been married for thirty years. You really believe and empathize with Mary’s pain. You believe everything. Leigh’s pacing, along with the camera and the editing is perfect. He has not lost his touch.

Mike Leigh loves his actors. When I watched the scenes with Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen I thought of High Hopes (1988) The scene when Jim Broadbent goes to work reminded me of his character Andy the chef in the kitchen in Life is Sweet (1990) when I saw the scene with Phil Davis and Ruth Sheen I thought of High Hopes again! There is a brief exchange between Phil Davis and Lesley Manville and I remembered Grown-Ups (1980) The passing of time… it is very evident with these wonderful actors and their careers.

Is there anything more painful to see a desperate woman flirting with her best friends’ son and failing at it? You can feel the wounds and sorrow and you see it in Lesley Manville’s beautiful and worn face. Mark Cousins said “The whole point about cinema, surely, is the close-up of the human face” The scene were Mary first meets Katie is heartbreaking because Mary feels rejected by Joe and manipulated by a woman who has higher qualifications than her.

Ciaran Carty, film critic of The Sunday Tribune wrote “Cinema is about people: make the characters believable human beings and you’ve got a film.

You can feel the cold in the scenes of the winter season, and its claustrophobia. Dick Pope’s cinematography is masterly and beautiful throughout.

Roger Ebert wrote these words in his reviews of the following

1. Almost Famous (2000) “Oh, what a lovely film. I was almost hugging myself while I watched it”.

2. Ghost World (2001) “I wanted to hug this movie. It takes such a risky journey and never steps wrong”.

3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995) Oh, this movie is so sad! It is sad not because of the tragic lives of its characters, but because of their goodness and their charity”.

These quotes sum up the beginning, middle and end of Another Year for me. I quote Roger Ebert and Mark Cousins because they thought me everything I know about how to express my love of film through prose.