Film in Detail
A deeper look at the films that matter - and more fantastic movies you might enjoy too.
Director Ken Loach is well known for making great, hard-hitting movies about ordinary people in modern Britain and other parts of the world facing (and dealing with) tough challenges. But one of his best loved films is Kes which has always been popular with young audiences not just because of its realistic setting in a Yorkshire mining town, but because it's one of Britain's best ever movies about being a kid.
But in fact there is another movie by Loach that also tells the story of a boy growing up and will also be enjoyed by children today although it's a very different movie in other ways. We're talking about Black Jack the rip-roaring tale of young English boy swept up in the adventure of his life in the later years of the eighteenth century.
Based on a novel by children's author Leon Garfield, the film tells the story of honest young Tolly Pickering, who is forced to go on the run with a villainous ruffian named Black Jack. As the two enter a world of body snatchers, strange private asylums and travelling fairs, adventure and mishap are never far away and friendship can be found in the most unlikely places.
Having been lovingly restored after becoming a "lost movie" for many years after it first came out in 1979, FILMCLUB highly recommends Black Jack for an older KS2 and younger KS3 audience.
Way back in the days of black and white films, science fiction was cheap to make.
A bit of tin foil, a man in a rubber alien suit, a few cardboard 'rocks' to suggest the surface of a distant planet, and you were on your way. Then came 2001: A Space Odyssey, made at the end of the 1960s, and suddenly audiences started expecting amazing special effects and spaceships that actually looked like they could fly to Mars. Today, when people think of sci-fi, they probably think of Avatar, which cost a staggering $230m to make.
But you don't need that kind of money to put together a film with aliens. Just ask the guys who made the new alien invasion movie Skyline, at a tenth of the price. If you're working with lower budgets, though, you do have to know what you can show without looking silly. You also have to have really good ideas. Some critics argue that the best film in any sci-fi series - say the original Star Wars (aka Episode IV: A New Hope) - is the first, cheapest one.
The terrific District 9 cost a little more than Skyline, but still a fraction of the price of Avatar. It has everything you could want from an aliens-on-earth movie, including a huge mother ship floating in the sky and convincing extra-terrestrials. But it has plenty of surprises up its sleeve, one of which is the great use it makes of realistic South African slum settings.
Another excellent recent sci-fi film of recent times is Moon. It takes place in an industrial moon base, of which we see a few rooms and a couple of corridors. In a daring move, the exterior shots are made 1970s-style with models rather than CGI. It's not what most audiences expect these days, but the models look great now - and they won't seem out of date quickly in the way that state of the art computer effects do.
Moon owes a lot to maybe the greatest cheap space movie ever, Dark Star. It's about the very bored crew of a small space ship whose job is to destroy planets. It features a bomb with a personality problem and an alien that is basically a beach ball with claws. It's very funny, and very inventive.
And making all of these movies look extravagant is Primer, which the film-makers claim cost $7,000. It follows all the rules of smart low-budget films - small cast, a limited number of sets - to tell a great story of a two friends working on something that turns out to be a time machine. The plot cleverly explains why the two of them have to spend time locked in a motel room together. The important thing is that watching it, you never get the feeling it would be a better film if it had cost a fortune to make.
Samantha Morton is not just a brilliant actor but a talented director too. At 33, Morton is a veteran of films ranging from director Steven Spielberg's Minority Report to Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown and Lynn Ramsay's Morvern Callar. Given her considerable range, it should come as no surprise that Morton is good with actors. Yet it's not easy to move behind the camera after years showing off in front of it.
And it wasn't easy for Morton to depict parts of her own life in The Unloved, her debut as a director. The film draws on her own - not entirely positive - experience of first living in care homes and then surviving on the streets of Nottingham. She started to draw storyboards for The Unloved when she was just 16 and living in a homeless shelter - not quite knowing what she was doing, but feeling that she had to communicate her experiences in some way.
The Unloved follows the story of an 11-year-old girl called Lucy, played with understated grief by Molly Windsor. Lucy's mother is unable to give her the love she needs while her father beats her. In a children's home she befriends another girl, witnesses appalling abuse and runs away to find her mother. That we watch the story from inside Lucy's head gives the film an extra layer of poignancy.
Morton has talked about time spent on creating different atmospheres to allow us into Lucy's head. "There are three distinct worlds in the film - the outside world where Lucy is like the queen of her childhood kingdom, the inside world of the care home which is just mad, and the claustrophobic world of her dad's house which is very intense and raw and threatening. A child sees the world like that."
The film boasts a strong script co-written by Morton and Tony Grisoni. It is also, despite its challenging subject matter, visually alluring - it looks as if Morton has definitely been influenced by working with Scotland's Lynne Ramsay. Best of all, however, is the fact that The Unloved avoids any hint of sentimentality and is not afraid to slow right down when Lucy's story - and, indeed Morton's - needs the space to unfold.
You don't have to be a sports fan to have a favourite sports movie when the film is good enough, you can get swept up in the story without caring (or even knowing about) the details of what's going on in the action scenes. Take for instance the fantastic comedy/drama Machan. On the face of it, it's concerned with the sport of handball, little played in Britain. But in fact what the movie's about is hope.
The handball in question is being played by the national team of Sri Lanka at a prestigious tournament in Germany. And if you didn't know that handball was popular in Sri Lanka, you weren't alone because as the film (based on a true story) makes clear, the team didn't even exist until an invitation to the tournament falls by chance into the hands of a group of friends living in an urban slum and desperate to build new lives for themselves in Europe.|
At that point, they form themselves into a hastily-assembled and comically inexperienced national team with the aim not of sporting triumph but getting to Europe with legal visas and starting new lives. But first, they will have to compete against the best handball teams the world has to offer. As hare-brained schemes go, it's a classic but it makes for a movie that is often both hilarious and moving.
The director was Uberto Pasolini, who had previously been one of the producers of the hugely successful 90s British film The Full Monty. And the "feelgood factor" of that movie is very much present here as well. Although the film doesn't shrink back from showing the very real poverty the characters are living in, it also provides plenty of moments of warmth and humour. And here at FILMCLUB, we would happily recommend it for any of our older members who might be looking for a sports movie with a difference this summer...
Here at FILMCLUB, we're huge animation fans and with reliable favourites like Pixar and Studio Ghibli coming out with hit after hit, we're spoilt for choice these days - and that makes it all the more exciting when an unexpected animation treasure takes us by surprise!
This year, it's been The Secret of Kells, a stunning Irish film that seemed come out of nowhere - rivaling the likes of Pixar's Up, Disney's The Princess And The Frog and Fantastic Mr Fox in the Best Animated Feature nominations at the 2010 Oscars.
Produced by the people behind weird and wonderful animations like Kirikou and The Sorceress and Belleville Rendezvous, The Secret of Kells' blend of Celtic myth and medieval history is no less engaging or unusual. Set in a remote abbey in 9th century Ireland, the film centres on Brendan, an ordinary 12-year-old whose extraordinary destiny is revealed by a mysterious newcomer to the monastery, Brother Aidan. Brendan is training to be a monk like his uncle and guardian, Cellach - who's obsessed with fortifying the monastery against Viking invaders and bans Brendan from leaving its grounds.
Though the arrival of Aidan, an "illuminator" (someone who hand-illustrated precious manuscripts in the era before printing) turns Brendan's head and sparks his imagination. Before long, he's undertaking daring adventures in the forbidden forest to obtain exotic herbs and berries to create the brightly coloured inks needed to complete the mysterious Book of Kells - a real-life illuminated manuscript of the Four Gospels, renowned for its vibrant and elaborate illustration.
Brendan's quest is a compelling story in itself - and The Secret of Kells is all the more intriguing for not painting its heroes and villains in plain black and white - but what makes the film so special is the jaw-droppingly imaginative animation style. Inspired by the techniques from the illuminated manuscripts, the flat intricate patterns and swirling colours create an eerie, mystical atmosphere that's a world away from the more realistic computer animations we're used to.
It also perfectly complements the narrative, which plays as an enchanting coming of age fable as well as touching on ideas about art, philosophy and literacy. With plenty of fanciful, funny touches and some scary scenes too (atmospheric enough to give a jolt to older Filmclubbers but abstract enough that they're unlikely to trouble younger ones) The Secret of Kells is a rare treat.
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