Tag Archives: 2010 Reviews

SIFF 2010: Nowhere Boy ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 22, 2010)

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There’s nary a tricksy or false note in this little gem from U.K. director Sam Taylor-Wood, which is the toppermost of the poppermost on my SIFF list so far this year. Aaron Johnson gives a terrific, James Dean-worthy performance as a teenage John Lennon. The story zeroes in on a specific, crucially formative period of the musical icon’s life beginning just prior to his first meet-up with Paul McCartney, and ending on the eve of the “Hamburg period”. The story is not so much about the Fabs, however, as it is about the complex and mercurial dynamic of the relationship between John, his Aunt Mimi (Kirstin Scott Thomas) and his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff). The entire cast is excellent, but Scott Thomas (one of the best actresses strolling the planet) handily walks away with the film as the woman who raised John from childhood.

SIFF 2010: Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 22, 2010)

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Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is a frenetic and cacophonous biopic that attempts to paint a portrait of the late proto-punk rocker Ian Dury…with rather broad strokes. Andy Serkis does do an amazing job at convincingly affecting the polio-twisted physicality and equally twisted persona of the man who gave us classics like “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick”, “Spasticus Autisicus” and the eponymous anthem, which has also become an oft-repeated catchphrase.

Despite some rousing music numbers and a vastly entertaining Serkis (playing his gruff-voiced Dury like a cross between Joel Grey’s emcee in Cabaret and Robert Newton’s Long John Silver in Treasure Island), director Mat Whitecross (who seems heavily influenced  by Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz) and screenwriter Paul Viraugh never quite get a handle (or a rhythm stick?) on what it was that made Dury tick.

SIFF 2010: The Extra Man **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 22, 2010)

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SIFF’s opening night film is an uneven, yet at times drolly amusing dramedy from American Splendor directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. The directors co-scripted with Jonathan Ames (adapting from his source novel). Once again, Berman and Pulcini plunge into a writer’s mind-well, two N.Y.C. writers-a young aspiring novelist (Paul Dano) obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a playwright (Kevin Kline), who rents him a room. Both characters’ eccentricities pile up faster than you can say “cross-dressers and gigolos”. The film is a quirky, oddball mash-up of The Producers and Midnight Cowboy. John C. Reilly and Katie Holmes also join the fray. Kline’s wondrously insane performance is the main attraction, and Dano officially confirms what I have suspected for some time now: he is the Bud Cort of his generation.

SIFF 2010: Son of Babylon ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 22, 2010)

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Son of Babylon  is a tremendously moving “road movie” from Iraq, Set in 2003, weeks after the fall of Saddam, it follows the arduous journey of a Kurdish boy named Ahmed (Yasser Talib) and his grandmother (Shazda Hussein) as they travel south to Nasiriyah, the last known location of Ahmed’s father, who disappeared during the first Gulf War.

As they traverse the bleak, post-apocalyptic landscapes of Iraq’s bomb-cratered desert (via foot, hitched rides, and alarmingly overstuffed buses) a portrait emerges of a people struggling to keep mind and soul together, and to make sense of the horror and suffering precipitated by two wars and a harsh dictatorship.

Sometimes with levity; “I’m going to go call Sadaam,” a man says to Ahmed with a wink as he excuses himself to go take a leak.  At other times, with understated eloquence; when one of their travel companions questions the futility of the pair’s fruitless search through the morass of mass grave sites spanning Saddam’s killing fields, the grandmother says “Losing our sons is like losing our souls.” The man’s mute reaction speaks volumes.

Director Mohamed Al Daradji  and screenwriter Jennifer Norridge have created something that has been conspicuously absent in the growing list of Iraq War(s) movies from Western directors in recent years-an honest and humanistic evaluation of the everyday people who  get caught in the middle of such armed conflicts-not just in Iraq, but in any war, anywhere. With  few exceptions (David O. Russell’s Three Kings comes to mind), most of the Western-produced films about the Iraqi conflicts have generally portrayed the Iraqis as either faceless heavies, or at best, “local color”.

While the film makers do allude to some of the politics involved,  the narrative is constructed in such a way that, whether Ahmed’s father was killed by American bombs or Saddam’s own pogroms becomes moot. This is a universal story about human beings, rendered in a  direct, neorealist style that recalls Vitorrio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.

If the film has a message, it is distilled in a small, compassionate gesture and a single line of dialogue. An Arabic-speaking woman, who is also searching for a missing loved one at a mass gravesite sets her own suffering aside for a moment to lay a comforting hand on the lamenting grandmother’s shoulder and says “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Kurdish, but I can feel this woman’s pain and sadness.”

There’s one thing I can say for certain regarding this emotionally shattering film (aside that it should be required viewing for heads of state, commanders-in-chief, generals, or anyone else on the planet who wields the power to wage war)…I don’t speak Kurdish, either.