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Rey (MIFF)

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In 1860 a French lawyer named Orélie-Antoine de Tounens travelled to South America. Believing that the Araucanía region in southern Chile to be independent of that country’s authority, he attempted to establish a kingdom there with himself as head of state. He actually convinced several local indigenous tribes to join his kingdom, with each chieftain taking up a ministry within his new government. Ultimately de Tounen was betrayed by his own servant to the Chilean government, and they violently disabused him of his assumed status and had him exiled back to France. He lived the rest of his life as a self-proclaimed king-in-exile.

This curious footnote to South American history has been adapted by Chilean director Niles Atallah in Rey, a new and challenging arthouse drama. Viewers looking for a straight-forward narrative film will likely find the film a maddening experience. Those seeking a genuinely original style of feature film that demands the viewer work a little to receive their entertainment will be much more satisfied.

Atallah understands that history is, in part, a fictionalised narrative. There is no one alive who can speak to precisely what happened to de Tounens: what elements really happened, what part were exaggerated or fabricated, or just how fanciful his notions of an Araucanían kingdom were. In presenting the story of de Tounen’s struggle, Atallah actively forces the audience to confront the loose, half-forgotten and unreliable nature of the story. He does this with a few key techniques.

The first is in how the film is framed as a series of flashbacks, each brought on by debate during his trial for treason against Chile. De Tounen’s journey south, his conversations with tribal groups and the spiritual experience he has there are all related in very subjective ways. On top of that the trial itself is performed by actors in papier-mache masks, giving everything a deeply unsettling and artificial feel. The courtroom scenes are spectacularly performed, with the cast emphasising physical gestures and poses to compensate for their hidden faces.

The flashbacks to de Tounen in the wilds of southern Chile showcase regular sequences packed with magical realism and surreal imagery. These increase in ambition as the film goes on, suggesting a gradual loss of sanity on de Tounen’s part. Rodrigo Lisboa is excellent as de Tounen, His performance gives the character as messianic quality.

To emphasise the disjointed, half-forgotten nature of the story, Atallah shoots the picture in a variety of film formats. He blends his own work with scratchy archival footage, and then also took freshly shot film reels of his own and buried them in his own back yard for several years. The dug-up footage is scratched and degraded to the point of almost being unwatchable; Atallah nonetheless edits that footage in as well. It admittedly makes following the story an occasional struggle, but it is breathtaking in its technical ambition. It guarantees that Rey is unlike any other film you are likely to see this year.

Straightforward narrative drama is perfectly good, but it is sometimes worth stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and experiencing just how innovative and imaginative filmmaking can be. Rey is a difficult film in many respects, but for any moviegoer willing to go along with Atallah’s vision is in for a remarkable and utterly unforgettable experience.

 
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Glory (MIFF)

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When author and politician Clare Boothe Luce stated that ‘No good deed goes unpunished’, she could well have been talking about all that which befalls Tsanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov), the hapless linesman/pawn of Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s second feature. Stumbling across millions in cash whilst on duty, his honest act of alerting the authorities to the incident provides an opportunity for unscrupulous PR guru Julia (Margita Gosheva) to bury bad news on behalf of the Department of Transport.

The film’s naturalistic style adds to its increasingly bleak outlook. This is a world where everyone is out to help themselves; the truly good people are few and far between. On paper, this sounds like a morbidly serious kitchen sink drama, but Glory is much more than that. When Tsanko turns up for a press conference, Julia and her mob, feeling his crumpled suit is a little humble, strip him of his trousers and argue about who will be the one to lend him theirs. At times, Glory will slap you with gallows humour that will make you feel terrible for laughing.

Similar to Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop, albeit in a much darker hue, Glory revels in politics, uncomfortable laughs and unpleasant characters. Laughing at Tsanko’s debilitating stutter and losing a prized watch of his, it would be easy to paint Julia as a one note villain. However, outside of belittling others with one liners, Julia is softened with scenes of humanity as she and her husband undergo IVF. Tsanko, meanwhile, appears to be weighed down by his naivety and willingness to trust people. As Tsanko pursues his cast aside timepiece, you’ll be watching his quest through your fingers. In some ways, Glory seems to admonish his behaviour as much as it does Julia’s; the film’s co-directors pointing fingers at the abusers and those allowing themselves to be abused.

 
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Atypical

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Created by sitcom veteran Robia Rashid, best known for her work on How I Met Your Mother, Atypical strives to offer an authentic portrayal of the autism spectrum. As shown through Sam (played superbly by Keir Gilchrist), we get a series of embarrassingly awkward social situations coupled with an all-too-familiar need for independence and love. His mannerisms, mainly his fixation on his favourite topics and his very to-the-point way of talking to others, ring true of my own experiences. I was diagnosed with autism at an early age, and through all the support groups and social gatherings I’ve been a part of, I’ve met more than a few people that would see something of the familiar in Sam. Consulting real professionals in the medical industry for reference, Rashid creates Sam as a depiction of autism that may come across as a caricature, but carries enough of his own character to make it fit. He’s unflinchingly honest, to the point of inducing cringe comedy with his matter-of-fact statements in almost every scene, but nevertheless, this rings true.

However, more so than the accuracy, it’s the fact that his condition informs his character, rather than solely being his character, that deserves praise. Representation of people with autism in the mainstream still has a long way to go in terms of proper acceptance, given how the mostly erroneous stereotypes attached to the term ‘autistic’ still exist, but it seems that Rashid’s intent has paid off.

If only the rest of the show was as finely-tuned. For a show literally called Atypical that has a tagline of ‘normal is overrated’, it is quite frustrating that this show feels as tired as it does. Outside of Sam, the rest of the cast is populated by stereotypes that have been regular staples in film and television for a very long time by this point. The overworked mother, the distant father, the abrasive and bratty sister, the best friend whose dialogue is 70% sexual innuendo, the high maintenance girlfriend; after a while, it becomes less a show about autism and more a standard sitcom that an autistic character just happened to wander into.

To make matters worse, the fact that such a frank and honest depiction of autism is sided with so many characters that rarely feel connected to the same level of reality induces cringe in the worst way possible. Any scene that doesn’t involve Sam’s sister (made into the most watchable character of the lot thanks to Brigette Lundy-Paine’s performance) ends up feeling like this is a show that wants to understand autism but apparently still hasn’t figured out basic human interaction itself yet. Then again, when your comedy reaches the point of comparing people with autism to meth addicts, chances are that human interaction wasn’t on the cards in the first place.

Atypical, for as faithful and (mostly) considerate that it is concerning autism, is swimming in too much of the same old junk to really stand out.

 
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Game of Thrones S7 E2: Stormborn

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Dragonstone”, put all the pieces in place and today’s episode, “Stormborn”, is all about taking the first faltering steps on the march to war. So what happens? A shitload, so let’s recap.

We open with a storm lashing Dragonstone. There’s a war room meeting with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill). There’s little love lost between Dany and Varys, the former believing the latter to be disingenuous and disloyal. Varys delivers a typically eloquent rebuttal and an uneasy alliance is formed between the pair, on the condition that if Varys betrays Dany she’ll burn him alive. Classic Targaryen.

Next minute Melisandre (Carice van Houten) pops in to hitch her wagon to Dany’s team. Her prophecy has been amended from “the prince who was promised will bring the dawn” to “the prince or princess who was promised will bring the dawn”. Tyrion observes that it’s something of a mouthful but Dany approves. Melisandre suggests Dany forge an alliance with Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Tyrion chimes in, saying he likes and trusts Snowy and “I am an excellent judge of character”. Dany agrees, on one condition: Jon has to bend the knee. Tyrion gets an uncomfortable look on his face. Always with the knee-bending, these people.

Meanwhile, at King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) is laying on the anti-Daenerys propaganda from atop the Iron Throne. Afterwards, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) impresses upon Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner) the wisdom of choosing to side with the Lannisters and the queen. More specifically Jaime reckons it’d be pretty great if Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) would meet with a messy end. Tarly is tempted by Jaime’s silver (or should that be golden?) tongue, so Olenna better watch her back.

Winner of ‘Westeros’ Most Creepy’ five years running, Qyburn (Anton Lesser) shows Cersei what he reckons is the perfect solution to their dragon problem. He unveils… a big, fuck-off crossbow and has Cersei fang a bolt into a massive dragon skull. Cersei approves.

Back in Dragonstone’s war room a plan is beginning to emerge. The Iron Fleet will take Ellaria Sand’s (Indira Varma) Dornish soldiers to King’s Landing to lay siege alongside Olenna Tyrell’s army. “Two great kingdoms united against Cersei” is how Tyrion pitches it. Olenna is salty and wants to know exactly what he and Dany bring to the table. Tyrion answers that they’re going to take out the Lannister’s seat of power: Casterly Rock. Everyone grudgingly admits that, yeah – that’s actually a pretty good plan – although Olenna doesn’t trust Tyrion or “clever men” in general.

Later Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) end their will they/won’t they arc by falling squarely on the former. Certainly Grey Worm may be lacking in the penis department (such is the price of being an Unsullied) but he can use his mouth quite well, judging from Missandei’s reaction, and we’re treated to an oddly tender sex scene that is consensual and no one dies. Which in GoT is a huge win.

Elsewhere Samwell (John Bradley-West) has decided he’s going to use a banned technique to cure Jorah Mormont’s (Iain Glen) greyscale. Archmaester and fantasy-version-of-a-climate-change-denier, Marwyn (Jim Broadbent) has specifically forbidden Sam from doing so but the big fella will not be stopped. Sam begins to pick Jorah’s scabs, politely asking him not to scream, and we’re treated to the grossest segue way in the show’s history as we juxtapose scab picking and pus to a close up of moist pie crust.

Speaking of pie, it’s Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey)! Remember him? Well Arya (Maisie Williams) does and the pair exchange pie-cooking tips in a tavern. Hot Pie express surprise at Arya’s destination being King’s Landing, after all Jon Snow is back at Winterfell. Arya is shocked and happy to hear this news and leaves the tavern, mounts her horse and has a moment of indecision. Does she head to King’s Landing to kill the queen, or see Jon? It’s a choice between revenge and family and – this time at least – Arya chooses family. It’s a sweet moment.

Speaking of Jon, Samwell’s message regarding the mountain of dragonglass at Dragonstone has arrived. This makes up Snowy’s mind, and despite the protestations of almost everyone at court, he’s off to see Dany. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is particularly adamant that Jon shouldn’t go, asking who the hell he’s going to leave in charge! “Until I return, the North is yours.” Jon replies, which does rather suit Sansa if we’re being completely honest.

Before Jon departs, Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) tries to ingratiate himself to Jon by mentioning Catelyn and Sansa. It doesn’t go well. Jon gives Littlefinger a big choke, and tells him to stay away from his sister unless he wants a savage beatdown out the back of Macca’s carpark.

Finally, aboard the Iron Fleet, Theon (Alfie Allen) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) share a cabin with Ellaria. Yara and Ellaria get along like a house on fire – a sexy house, mind you – and try to enlist Theon in a threeway. As we’ve already seen this episode, lacking a todger doesn’t need to end the boudoir activities, but before anything can happen the whole caper is savagely cockblocked by Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) who smashes fair into the fleet.

We’re treated to the first large scale battle scene of season seven and it’s as bloody and visceral as you could hope for. The casualties of the battle include two of the Sand Snakes – Obara (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Nymeria (Jessica Henwick) – with Ellaria and Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) captured by Euron’s men. Could this be his gift to Cersei? Euron also manages to best Yara in battle, holding her at knife point and goading Theon into action. This is Theon’s moment to prove his redemption arc is for real… but instead he turns craven and dives off the side of the boat.

Theon survives but the Iron Fleet is in tatters, proving that the best laid plans can go tits up when you’re up against a sexy pirate man.

All in all “Stormborn” is an effective and surprising hour of television. Everyone’s motivations feel faithful to the characters and the battle has genuinely changed the stakes, reminding us that everything is up for grabs and no one is safe in Westeros. Euron continues to feel like a fresh, vital character and his barnstorming battle scene is as exciting as it is dismaying.

Hopefully next week team Dany will have more luck with Casterly Rock, and we’ll be here to chat about it.

 
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I Am Not Your Negro (MIFF)

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The title of Raoul Peck’s fine documentary contains just the right note of provocation and of rebuttal to the patronising aspects of a racially-divided America. It centres upon the work of the novelist and writer James Baldwin who died in his sixties back in 1987. What is so shocking, and Peck knows this only too well, is that the film’s themes, and Baldwin’s stance, are still so relevant and contemporary. It reminds one a little of a recent much-discussed book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo Lodge. Peck uses Baldwin’s unmistakable clarity of thought to have one last tilt at the racial antagonism that is still the stain on the whole American project.

Baldwin, who grew up in a very large family in Harlem in the 1930s was both gay and black and he was so disgusted by some aspects of his home country that he went to live in Paris. He remained connected to the black struggles and was a friend of three important black intellectuals and leaders. These were; Medgar Evers (who headed up the moderate National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

The film, which is based on Baldwin’s partially unpublished recollections, deals with the ideas and lives of these three men. He does not simply idolise these men but he gives them and their ideas the critical seriousness they deserve.

As noted, Peck doesn’t find it hard to intersperse footage from more recent times that illustrate the continuing racial problems. The Rodney King beating for example, used with deadly economy here, is still unwatchably brutal. And, as we know, from such recent events as those in Ferguson Missouri, the Black Lives Matter movement continues to resonate and motivate.

If all this sounds merely grim, or like a history lesson lecture that people would shy away from, then that would be to do the film a profound miscarriage of justice. Baldwin (who appears in sparkling form in 1960s televised debates at the Cambridge Union) is always an engaging voice and presence. The narration of his prose by Samuel L Jackson is also beautifully done. It is tragic that there hasn’t been more progress but this film is more than just a howl in the wilderness it is a finely constructed piece of filmmaking and a riveting watch in its own right.

 
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The Trip to Spain

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It has been seven years since Michael Winterbottom persuaded Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon that their off-the-cuff banter (originally seen on the set of Tristram Shandy) was so good that they could blarney their way through a whole film (The Trip, 2010). Then they made it to Italy in 2014. So, you can just imagine the genesis for this one. “Where shall we go this time? Spain’s nice this time of year. Spain’s nice any time of year…”

So, the boys, well, middle aged men (fifty is the new forty), are off again on the flimsiest of excuses, sampling the seafood and doing those killer impressions all over again. And why not?

As implied, this shouldn’t really be a series. Critics will fall over themselves to point out that the beats are all the same – the set up shot of gourmet food hitting the pan, the cut to the two comedians at the table with the wait-staff hovering, then there has to be a sequence in the car (Steve’s very new-looking Range Rover) where they cover a kitsch song amusingly, and of course, the vistas that are so wonderful they lift your spirits just panning across them. There’s a bit of an arc of a narrative too, for Steve at least, as his agent deserts him and his love life tanks. Rob, by comparison, has a loyal wife and two adoring kids so he can feign the desire to escape but be safe in the knowledge of what he can go back to. There is an implicit comparison of their life choices or destinies and that little touch of competitiveness, beyond just their ability to do impressions, which adds a note of piquancy.

The heart of the appeal is still the impressions though and their extraordinary ability to riff on these in character as it were. Some of these sequences are to die for. No spoilers here but just an antipasto. The bit where they do Sir Anthony Hopkins from The Bounty is touched with comic genius. There are many other really delicious exchanges too and you find yourself laughing out loud at quite a few points in the film.

So, it is a formula. Who cares, when you have these two in full flow? Frankly they could hop round a few more European countries as Winterbottom’s original insight into this unlikely conceit manages to still hold.

 
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A Monster Calls

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“How does the story begin?” Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) asks the titular Monster (Liam Neeson) in the opening of J. A. Bayona’s follow-up to his 2012 critical darling, The Impossible. “It begins as most do, with a boy too old to be a kid and too young to be a man,” the monster replies, and Conor’s circumstances seem so familiar to this kind of story. He is reclusive, prone to daydreaming, bullied relentlessly, and lives with his single mother (Felicity Jones) except, in addition to this, his mother is terminally ill and one night at 12:07 a monster calls.

There is a great yew tree on a nearby hill in the local graveyard. Conor witnesses the tree come to life one night and take the form of a mammoth monster, reminiscent of those from early 20th century Hollywood films such as King Kong; the misunderstood beast. The tree smashes through his window, steals him into the night, and tells him he will tell Conor three stories and then Conor will tell him the fourth and that fourth story will be Conor’s truth. But then Conor wakes up. His room is intact and any sign of the monster has vanished.

Conor goes about his life, receiving his daily torture from the school bully and generally lashing out as his mother’s condition worsens, but eventually the monster returns and tells the first story. Full credit should be given to the art team behind these magical sequences, as they are exactly what you would assume the bubbling imagination of a kid like Conor would conjure, full of intense colours and a dreamlike smoothness where one moment bleeds into the next. But the stories themselves are not what they seem.

Each story changes the black and white nature of old fairy tales for something more emotionally didactic and complex. “So, who’s the bad guy?” Conor asks the monster. “Sometimes, no one is the bad guy.” These tales act as a kind of koan for Conor, where it is not about finding an answer that is key, but understanding that the question itself elicits difficult interpretations. This introspection will come to inform Conor’s own struggles.

In these moments, the film strides confidently, self-assured in its complexity. But there are other moments where it stumbles. For a film that trades in the notion that nothing is black and white, the bully who terrorises Conor irks. He is at no point redeeming, makes fun of Conor’s dying mother, and is revealed as an all-out psychopath when he decides to no longer beat Conor, because that way Conor will become invisible, on par with death during those emotionally sensitive teenage years. He is waging psychological warfare that would leave even Freud blushing. In this story, it seems, the bully is indeed the bad guy.

Another moment that works, in and of itself, but highlights some issues with the rest of the film comes when Conor’s absent father is introduced and the levity he brings with a few tender moments of humour highlights how emotionally stark the rest of the film really is. This is a heavy film for a kids’ movie. More moments like this could have done the film wonders.

The resolution to Conor’s inner turmoil is itself satisfying and as complex as one could hope, especially for a kids’ movie. But, somehow, it all feels cheapened by the way the film trades in easy emotional triggers. Of course, we will feel bad for a kid with no friends. Of course, we will feel bad for a kid whose dad does not want him. Of course, we will feel bad for a kid who is beaten on a daily basis. Of course, we will feel bad for a kid whose mother is dying. And so on. However, these elements are woven into the very D.N.A. of A Monster Calls. It seems no matter how deftly J. A. Bayona ties this all together, and he does so with flair and grace, it was always going to feel cheapened by the very black and white tropes it warns its protagonist to avoid.

Lochley Shaddock is a novelist, essayist, film critic and screenwriter/director

 
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Kiki, Love to Love

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Kiki, Love to Love is a sex comedy that shows the fun and misadventure that accompanies uncovering the sexual aspect of relationships. It’s a passionate and romantic comedy about sex, not a raunchy tale of debauchery.

That being said, Kiki, Love to Love is definitely not for the prudish. The film starts with a visual comparison of animal and human intercourse, and immediately goes into a discussion of harpaxophilia, also known as arousal from robbery.

That’s just one of the colourful words that audiences can learn from Kiki, Love to Love, but despite the salacious nature of the film, it has real heart. At its core are five stories of love in a Madrid community, not tales of the depraved. This film treats sex as one of the fundamental parts of a relationship, even when that sex is uncommon.

Director Paco León also stars as one half of a couple looking to reignite the spark in their relationship. León plays Paco and Ana Katz plays his wife, also named Ana. Paco and Ana, with encouragement from their friend Belén (Belén Cuestra), adventure into the world of sex clubs. Some of the film’s funniest moments – and also some of the lewder – happen as Paco and Ana discover the fetish community.

León’s storylines invite us into the lives of these characters in a way that might start as uncomfortable for some, but is approachable, welcoming even.

Kiki, Love to Love is a comedy that takes the high ground and does not resort to mocking fetishes. The film takes them as very serious character traits that lead to some of the comedic moments, finding the humour and reality of the search to uncover a fetish, understand what turns someone on, or an effort to create an orgasm.

One of the particularly questionable relationships is between José Luis and Paloma, played by Luis Bermejo and Mari Paz Sayago, respectively. This couple’s story, about a plastic surgeon and his wife, approaches an uncomfortable and complicated border of assault that is not properly wrapped up.

The ensemble performances are all strong and ground some of the more heightened situations in the film. Despite moments that reach for an obvious laugh, the blend of physical, situational and smarter comedy brings even more life into the film.

Despite the risqué subject matter, Kiki, Love to Love is not pornographic or crude. It is romantic, sensual and funny, but definitely adult. It is a stereotypical Southern European way of thinking about love and making love, but with a fresh voice and modern situations.

If all of this sounds familiar… Kiki, Love to Love is a remake of Josh Lawson’s comedy The Little Death. Unlike that film, though, Kiki killed it in its native box office and will most likely do better in Australia than its source material did. Go figure.

 
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Tokyo Idols (MIFF)

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Japan often seems a strange country. It is similar enough to English-language cultures to feel familiar, yet different enough to seem a bewildering mess of contradictions and oddities. Take idol culture: teenage girls singing and dancing to cloyingly upbeat pop music, all the while developing frighteningly dedicated fan bases keen to pay regularly for photo opportunities and meet-and-greet sessions. They are the subject of Tokyo Idols, a fascinating but flawed new documentary by Kyoko Miyake.

The film primarily follows 20 year-old Rio Hiiragi, who is among more than 10,000 aspiring singers attempting to succeed as an idol. Rio sings and dances at small-scale concerts, holds Internet live chats with her fans, sells photographs of herself in various outfits, and regularly meets her most ardent fans at so-called ‘handshake’ sessions. Those fans are almost entirely middle-aged men. It is an immediately discomforting set-up that Miyake then explores over the course of her documentary.

It initially seems like some appalling sort of legalised paedophilia, with idols starting their careers as young as ten years old and with a seemingly endless array of nervously obsessive men following their every move and gesture. As the documentary unfolds, however, it begins to reveal a much more complex cultural phenomenon at work. Through a combination of fly-on-the-wall observations and interviews with idols, commentators and self-professed ‘otaku’ (the middle-aged obsessive fans), Miyake draws a picture of a generation of men failing to properly connect with the real world and electing to live a safe, non-confrontational fantasy instead. They find intimacy not in an adult relationship but in the momentary touch of a handshake and the security of worshipping attractive teenage girls who will never reject or argue with them.

It seems an odd combination of insecurity, sexual desire, romance and an almost paternal affection all at the same time. It would be easy to ridicule or even demonise these otaku, but Miyake carefully allows them to express and explain their lives in their own terms. For some it reveals quite disturbing pathological obsessions. For other it shows a surprising self-awareness; one man, who broke up with his girlfriend and started spending all of his money buying merchandise and access to Rio, openly admits he has effectively ruined his own life.

The film is an imperfect one: Miyake focuses her camera carefully on the otaku, and sidelines the broader audience that exists in Japan for the teen idols. You can see the women in most of the concert scenes, carefully framed so at to effectively render them invisible. As presented Tokyo Idols would suggest that middle-aged otaku comprise the entire audience for idols, yet while the otaku are clearly widely prevalent the documentary itself notes that idol culture is a billion dollar business. The most popular idol band, the pop culture juggernaut AKB48, regularly sells new songs and albums in the hundreds of thousands. By focusing so tightly on the most negative aspect of idol culture, Miyake creates an incomplete and slightly dishonest film. This is a shame, because the debate at the core of the film remains a fascinating and provocative one.

Idols – both male and female – already have a growing fandom in the English-speaking world. Those fans may be attracted to Tokyo Idols by its subject matter, but may come away feeling a little confronted by some of the truths behind the phenomenon. For anyone new to idols it does provide a strong and engaging insight; it is simply a shame that it displays an incomplete picture.

 
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Paris Can Wait

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Despite being easy on the eye and relatively painless to endure, Paris Can Wait is also startling in its pointlessness. To bandy about an oft-used cliché, this really is a film about nothing, a paean to good food and good wine, and little more. The fact that the film marks the belated feature directorial debut of 81-year-old Eleanor Coppola (who famously crafted the behind the scenes footage for the doco, Hearts Of Darkness, which chronicled the making of Apocalypse Now, directed by her husband, Francis Ford Coppola) only makes it more frustrating. After all these years around the film industry, couldn’t Coppola have come up with something, well, more?

Paris Can Wait takes in the journey of Anne (the ever luminous and always watchable Diane Lane), who heads from the south of France to Paris by car while her movie producer husband, Michael (Alec Baldwin), is off on business. The hook? She’s being accompanied on the journey by Michael’s colleague, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), who instantly makes his intentions clear by informing Anne that in France, attitudes towards marriage and infidelity are different than they are in America. Unashamedly trying to seduce her, Jacques intentionally takes the long route to Paris, with the pair enjoying a host of restaurants and historical monuments along the way.

Instantly hobbled by its sleazily unsympathetic leading male character, Paris Can Wait is little more than a glossy travelogue, with Arnaud Viard offering tedious exposition on every historical site that the pair visits and Diane Lane doing her best to add new inflections to each restaurant-bound food-gasm that she’s required to perform. With the whole so light and inconsequential, the film’s very rare darker moments (with Anne and Jacques revealing some of the pain in their respective pasts) sadly hint at what could have been a far meatier and more engaging affair. Instead, Eleanor Coppola settles for a fluffy soufflé of a film sorely lacking in two essential cinematic ingredients: substance and meaning.