Albert Nobbs (2011) dir: Rodrigo García

I didn’t know anything about this movie but was curious as Glenn Close was the lead -and having seen her in ‘Damages’ I was reminded that she has been noticeably absent from the big screen recently.

This film is based on the short story ‘The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs’ by Irish novelist George Moore which first appeared around 1918 and Close played Albert in the stage play back in 1982 – the film has been a personal project of hers for a number of years.

I read Empire’s review of this movie before writing this (not something I normally do) and although I love this magazine, I thought the reviewer was being a total dick.

Set some time in the late 19th Century in Dublin, Albert Nobbs is a woman who has masqueraded as a man so that she is able to work as a head waiter in a posh hotel. Dedicated to her job, naïve, introvert and dreadfully lonely, she carefully saves her hard earned money so that she can one day buy her own business. Her world suddenly changes when her actual sex is discovered and this opens her eyes to the possibility of a future where she perhaps doesn’t have to be alone.

It was interesting watching such a quiet understated performance from Glenn Close, no barn storming here, in fact so understated that I could feel how squashed this character had become, a cog in a wheel, not wanting to bring attention to herself, not wanting the masquerade to slip – but still daring to dream.

I’m not going to go through the various plot machinations, but I was kind of expecting the various strands to be predictable and actually – they weren’t. The supporting cast all do pretty well with their Irish accents (to my non-Irish ear anyway) and although small scale I was hooked to the end and came away curious to know whether such things (you’ll know what I mean if you see the film) actually happened.

Don’t Worry About Me (2009) dir: David Morrissey

David Morrissey is one of the UK’s great actors and this is his first feature film as a director. Adapted from the play ‘The Pool’ originally written and performed by Helen Elizabeth and James Brough, Morrissey worked on the screenplay with them and bravely cast them in this film. Shot in three and a half weeks in Liverpool with the £100K budget raised from local businesses, the film is about a new romantic relationship, spread over one day, between Tina (Helen Elizabeth) and David (James Brough), and how this relationship allows Tina to address her painful past and move on with her life.

Simply shot but often effectively framed by stills photographer Stuart Nicolas White, the film pretty much stands or falls on its two leads who are at the centre of the story and this I felt was it’s great strength and weakness. Neither actor had worked on screen before so the director obviously brought his considerable experience to aid and refine their performances. The result is that Helen Elizabeth is fantastic in her role, making her character ‘Tina’ a real natural screen persona. She’s so good that James Brough’s ‘David’ can be seen very much acting his socks off, but his director is not getting the same level of natural performance from him.

The film is definitely worth catching for Helen Elizabeth’s fine portrayal. It’s an interesting story and you definitely care about the characters and want to know what will happen to them. David Morrissey has done a pretty good job with his first film and I look forward to his next. In the UK it’s being released on DVD and being screened on the BBC in March.

Freestyle (2010) dir: Kolton Lee

The third project from Film London’s microwave scheme where a film is produced for a budget of £100,000 (with all the constraints that brings), ‘Freestyle’ is the sort of story that usually comes out of American indie cinema and is probably the first British basketball related movie.

The story of two black teenagers from ‘opposite sides of the tracks’, ‘Ondene’ (Lucy Konadu) from a well off family who have hopes of her going to Oxford University and ‘Leon’ (Arinze Kene) a basketball freestyler who lives on a council estate. Leon is secretly studying and has dreams of going to university but needs to win the Freestyle championships so he can use the prize money for his tuition fees.

The film is small scale, though thanks to director Kolton Lee and the producing team around him, achieves much beyond its budget. The story is simply told but wears its heart on its sleeve. I have to say that I didn’t immediately warm to the film but by the end was won over by its charm and the enthusiasm of the cast.

Talking of which, the cast had a mixture of non-actors (who would actually be able to freestyle for the film) and experienced actors. Both groups acquit themselves pretty well, in particular Rhoda M’Hango (‘Prunella’) a basketball enthusiast who went for the part of an extra but is great here as Ondene’s antagonist and Alfie Allen (‘Jez’) who has all the best lines and really carves out his role.

In the UK it has a multi-platform release (including selected independent cinemas) on the 26th February and is out on DVD a week later, and although aimed squarely at a teen audience has much to offer anyone looking for a different type of British film.

Heartless (2009) dir: Philip Ridley

I had no preconceived expectations for this film whatsoever as I had no idea who Philip Ridley was so I sat down to watch with interest.  (Turns out he wrote ‘The Krays’, is a playwright and lyricist and is a very nice man who is passionate about film making.)

A Faustian story of Jamie (played by Jim Sturgess in a pretty committed performance), a young man with a heart shaped birth mark covering part of his face and upper body, who shuns direct contact with people but sees lizard type daemons dressed as hoodies on the streets of East London. These daemons go around viciously killing people.

Watching it I felt myself torn in different directions because the film is both pretty conventional and kind of obvious where it’s going to any horror fan, and yet unconventional at the same time with it’s setting and style. So watching it, I could feel myself going “this is not too good”, then something would happen and then I’d go “actually this is really good after all”, then something else would happen and it would be “oh man that’s annoying – you should watch more horror films mate” then boom “that’s pretty clever, I’m hooked!”.

Afterwards, I realised that I had missed some of the subtle details in the overall design and look of the film but other story elements were a bit obvious and I personally would have preferred the film to have ended differently – but that’s just me.  But you know what?  I really liked it! And it was great to see part of East London (Shoreditch to Bethnal Green) which I’m pretty familiar with. I even noticed that one particularly seedy looking location (where Jamie hooks up with a rent boy) is the exact spot where I often park (not to pick up rent boys I hasten to add but to go to one of the many great Vietnamese restaurants round the corner). Anyway, I digress.

Interesting supporting cast includes Luke Treadaway, Noel Clarke, Timothy Spall and the lovely Clémence Poésy. The always brilliant Eddie Marsan almost steals the movie as ‘Weapons Man’ (and is worth the price of admission alone) and Joseph Mawle is pretty creepy as ‘Papa B’.

I think it’s going to split an audience’s reaction (which is not necessarily a bad thing) – but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Le Donk and Scor-zay-zee (2009) dir: Shane Meadows

Any movie from the Shane Meadows/Paddy Considine team-up is always welcome and here they go back to their roots and the character of ‘Le Donk’ who has been around for about 10 years.

Self funded (with help from Warp) and shot in 5 days with no script and no idea how it would turn out, this mockumentary features Shane Meadows playing a ‘Martin di Bergi’ version of himself as he follows Le Donk (Paddy Considine),  a music industry loser and abuser who you kind of like and his new 20 stone rapper protégé Scor-zay-zee (played by himself) going up to Manchester to roadie for, in Le Donk’s words: ‘The Arctical Monkies’.

I watched this all the way through with a smile on my face – I was pleasantly surprised at how well it all worked – it could easily have been awful.  Enjoyable stuff. The whole audience left happy. Can’t say fairer than that.

Oh – don’t leave as the end credits start – you’ll miss a very funny monologue from Le Donk.

Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008) dir: Kari Skogland

I saw this a while ago but just hadn’t had a chance to put pen to paper (so to speak).

This is a very loose adaptation of an autobiography by a former IRA member who decided to pass information over to the British security services – the film is set in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. I didn’t have any pre-expectations about the film – all I knew was that it was a thriller.

Having got over the awkward voice over at the start (which just totally threw me – it didn’t make any sense!) – the film evolved into a exploration of a young man, Martin, living in Belfast, caught between the British and the IRA and not wanting to be part of either.

And what a great story it made. Jim Sturgess was utterly convincing as Martin and once I’d got over the fact that it was Sir Ben Kingsley doing the voice over, and his weird wig (which was far superior in The Wackness (2008)) – I was gripped.  Jim Sturgess has got to be one of the best young actors around.

Its been released in the UK but I don’t know who has picked it up for the USA.

Newsmakers (2009) dir: Anders Banke

Apologies, it’s been too long since my last post. So, interesting stuff this Russian cop movie. Since, ‘Nightwatch’ I’ve been slowly becoming a big fan of Russian movies and this is no exception.

After a confident score opens the film, (I’m sure I’ve heard the musical phrase it uses somewhere else!??), we’re launched into an impressive gun battle that reminded me of a sequence in Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’:  an armed gang calmly takes on the police in a roaming gun battle through the city streets.

Actually its just occurred to me that there are several sequences that remind me of other films – rocket launcher from window takes out van, “the quarterback is toast!” I remember thinking. I digress.

This is an independent Russian Swedish co-production so I’ll let it off the hook. Where was I? Yes gun battle.

Unfortunately, this is part of a police stakeout gone awry,  leaving a major PR disaster on the police department’s hands.

So what do they decide to do?

Well, they agree to turn the hunt for the criminals into a tv show – to be broadcast live.  Despite some iffy, naive and convenient plotting throughout the film, including why a TV broadcaster would wish to risk innocent bystanders getting blown apart live in front of it’s viewing public – I really enjoyed it – and it has a few surprises up its sleeve as the gang gets cornered inside a massive urban tower block.

It’s great to see entertaing action movies from outside the USA and Asia, and I’m looking forward to a couple more Russian films that are in the pipeline.