A Town Called Panic (Fra/Bel/Lux) (wiki)
The best way to imagine the content of this film is to think of the Cravendale Milk adverts (which are clearly a homage, having seen the film) give them some subtitles, and extend them to an hour's length, adding in some darker and still more absurd humour. It's the first big screen outing for the adventures of Cowboy, Indian and Horse, who have their own cult mini series in France.
The trio live contentedly in their country home on the hill. Next to them is Shouty farmer Steve with his obedient to a fault farm animals, and just down the road is the music school, where Horse's love interest, Longree gives piano lessons to a range of unsuitable animals. When Cowboy and Indian do their best to make good on Horses' birthday, they set in motion a whole series of mad events that send them off on a grand adventure featuring robot penguins and ninja scientists, wall-stealing coneheads and long-range snowball fights. It's all deliriously mad.
French humour outside of France can go down like a lead weight, or can soar successfully over its audience. There never seems to be any middle ground. Fortunately, this one absolutely hits all the right buttons. If you love absurdest comedy, or laughed at the aforementioned milk ads, you'll be in constant stitches with this. It loses a little ground in the middle, but the sheer breadth of inventive and madcap humour here more than makes up for it. 8/10
Inside Job (US) (wiki)
Increasing numbers of documentary films are being released to appreciative audiences. However, some of the earlier efforts were perhaps a little loose in their research citations which left them open to criticism, especially from those they were criticising.
There will be an awful lot of powerful people having a go at the content of this film, although I doubt they will get very far. An exhaustive review of the state of the US (and therefore the world) economy in light of the collapse of the market in mid 2008. It plays out as a chronological series of events leading up to the bubble burst, helpfully explaining how everything worked (or didn't) along the way. Boasting a large list of high ranking business representatives and politicians including the French and Singapore Prime Ministers, US Treasurers and some of the higher up nobs in some of the banks that were bought, or doing the buying. Many, however declined to comment in the film, something that is made clear just at the point in the film where standing up and defending their actions might have been a better idea.
The story of how companies, banks and countries fell in the wake of the crash started with how it all kicked off, the finger pointed squarely at the deregulation of savings and loan banking practices in the early 80's, through the aggressive action by some banks to stop regulation of 'derivatives' - ways for banks to make larger profits from more risky investing - to the toothless advisory bodies set up in the wake of the relatively sedate crashes in the 70's and 80's.
It all makes for jaw-dropping, fascinating and depressing scenes of repeated denials that anything was inappropriate or wrong, even after the catastrophic events since, which tripled US unemployment and doubled their national debt. As a stand out example, Frederic Mishkin, Governor of the Federal Reserve and one of the few high-ranking politicians who agreed to speak to the film-makers, spends most of his airtime telling us how he doesn't know anything, making his outlandish wages look even more unjustified. Glenn Hubbard's increasingly irate and threatening comments during his interviews were fortunately preserved for posterity on film and shared with us here.
For those thinking that this is just another Bush-bashing exercise, I'd like to add that the focus of the film is not directly on the administrations at the time, and when they are mentioned, there is no noticeable bias in the criticism. It takes a look at all the administrations from Reagan onwards, and finds them all (including Obama's) having a serious lack of balls when it comes to stopping the rot. There were times when the audience were audibly shocked at what they heard, the gasps more vocal and meaningful than those emitted during any horror flick.
It's understandably easy to become weary of yet another doc that tells us how knackered our world is, which makes it more crucial to ensure you see the most important ones. It might sound dry and stodgy subject matter to work through (warning: graphs, explanations, statistics), but what is here is more entertaining and shocking than anything that could be made up; it actually happened. It's real and important and is almost certainly going to happen again, because the people who engineered the first tsunami are still holding the positions of power. Watching this film (and reading up on the info-packed site that accompanies it) might just equip you to make the decisions that steer you through it. 8.5/10
How I Ended the Summer (Rus) (wiki)
Set in the harsh beauty of the northern straits of Russia, this is an isolation film showing the degeneration of a working relationship between two meteorologists in a remote outpost where relations are the only strands holding things together and keeping them sane. Sergei has been there for years, his wife and child left for warmer climes a few years ago leaving him to do the work and get back to them when he can. He is joined by Pavel, a young and enthusiastic university student, who is there on a posting so he can write his essay on what he did. It's clear that his enthusiasm for the subject waned some time ago. Despite it nearly being the time for Pavel to leave and return to university life, relations between them are not great from the off; at the start of the film Sergei is already acting like a disappointed father to a layabout son, constantly having to correct his readings, remind him how to do things, and stop him from killing himself through his own ignorance.
Sensing his own vacation soon, Sergei takes the boat for a few days to the other end of the island to pick up some of the trout for smoking that his wife loves so much on the sly, leaving Pavel to communicate with the base and send readings. Unfortunately he chooses exactly the wrong time to leave, as Pavel receives a grave and important message for Sergei in his absence. Their deteriorating relationship stops Pavel doing the right thing when they return, and this becomes the start of a very dangerous time for the both of them as their faltering trust in each other begins to crumble.
There are parts of Summer that work really well; the protracted and speeded up shots of night following day are cumbersome but they accurately share with the viewer the never-ending isolation for them both and the monotony of days, but it's the second half of the film that begins to give way slightly as the pair become increasingly hostile to each other; you think really bad things are going to happen, and then they don't even though you would swear blind there was no way around them. It's these dashed expectations, rightly or wrongly, that stop the film from ever becoming great, and simply staying at 'alright'. 6.5/10
The Temptation of St. Tony (Est/Swe/Fin) (site)
Such an unusual film, this. It is more parable than story, split into six chapters. At the beginning it cites a line from the beginning of Dante's Inferno: 'Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost'. This is an accurate summary of the journey of Tony, a middle-ranking manager for some company of sorts, whose grotesque work colleagues and unpleasant wife mean that the most treasured thing in his life is his precious and very shiny Bentley. That is, until one day after having a very unusual run in with some corrupted police, he helps a beautiful woman escape their clutches. Tony and this mysterious woman remain the only real constants throughout the chapters, which become more and more detached from reality - and for Tony, more dangerous and deranged, the whole thing a set of abstract representations of consumerism, capitalism and greed.
I should have listened to my finely honed rubbish-film-sensors, but I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. Its not that Tony's story is without some merit, because there are entertaining and sometimes even beautiful things to be seen here; it's just that, like the culture it mocks, so much of the film is thrown away by the director when you think it will become a strong part of the narrative, which after happening repeatedly, left me cold and unfulfilled. 4/10