WAKING NED is a tender-hearted Irish comedy about the mixed blessings of a huge Lottery win. Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) learns from a notice in the Irish Times that there's a jackpot winner in his own little town of Tully More (pop 52), and after holding a chicken supper for his fellow villagers he and his wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) narrow down the suspects to one: Ned Devine. Ned indeed turns out to hold the winning ticket. He also turns out to be dead. Terrified that the windfall will go the same way as Ned's corpse, Jackie enlists the help of his old pal Michael (David Kelly) in an elaborate scheme to gull the Lottery people and pocket the loot for themselves.
Debut writer-director Kirk Jones handles the often farcical plotting with admirable zest, and keeps the tendency towards twinkling Oirishness firmly in check. While the sight of Ian Bannen and David Kelly whizzing around bollock-naked on a motorbike isn't altogether agreeable, the easy familiarity of these two old stagers is nonetheless key to the film's charm. A subplot involving a pig farmer and a single mum is sketchy, and the black comedy ending is straight out of Father Ted, but Waking Ned, even at its flimsiest, is hard to dislike.
Nanni Moretti's Aprile isn't the worst film of the year, but it's certainly the most inconsequential. A follow-up to his acclaimed Dear Diary, it's a rambling tour through the Roman film-maker's latest preoccupations. On the professional front, he dithers over making a musical about a pastry chef, assembling cast and crew only to abandon the project on the first day of shooting. Personally, he's as nervous as a kitten over his wife's pregnancy, and is further distracted by television reports on the forthcoming Italian elections.
Moretti is an excitable, hand-wringing type, which might explain why his film is so desultory and uneven: whether buzzing around Rome on his Vespa or ranting on a soapbox at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, he seems unable to concentrate on anything for more than five minutes. This might not matter so much if he had anything that resembled a point, but he seems almost proud of his own whimsical irrelevance. How his wife puts up with him I couldn't say. Aprile is no more than a home movie that should have stayed exactly there - at home.
Any hopes raised by the sight of Amy (Clueless) Heckerling's name in the opening production credits were dashed within five minutes of A Night at the Roxbury. Expanded from a Saturday Night Live sketch, which will mean practically nothing over here, this comedy about a pair of lame-brain disco playboys is clueless in all the wrong ways. Steve and Doug Butabi (Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan) work in their dad's fake-flower shop by day; by night they cruise around LA being refused entry into all the desirable nightspots. So they dream of opening their own dance place and - hey presto - find an unlikely patron in the form of a nightclub impresario (Chazz Palminteri, his name significantly uncredited), the only person in town who can't see through their fake tans and vulgar jewellery to the dorks they really are. Perhaps the brothers' head-bobbing disco moves are funny within a two-minute sketch, but the script (which took three people to write) is short on wit and long on daft slapstick routines. After a while you may find the film's imbecile energy a source of fascination in itself: how long can they keep this up? The answer is 82 minutes, though judging by the funereal silence at the press screening it probably seemed a good deal longer.
"You live alone, you're born alone, you die alone" - thus reflects the protagonist of Gaspar Noe's Seul Contre Tous, a flashy, brutal, nihilistic study of a mind in freefall. Set in the cheerless reaches of provincial France, it burrows deep into the consciousness of an unemployed butcher (Philippe Nahon) whose parents died in a concentration camp. Having done time for knifing a man he believed had abused his daughter, he goes on the run after viciously assaulting his pregnant mistress. Noe makes us privy to the butcher's interior monologue, a relentless stream of bilious rage and despair that seems to admit no relief.
The film has already garnered prizes from festivals around the world, including the Critics' Prize at Cannes, and will doubtless enthral filmgoers who like their misanthropy served raw and bloody. To be honest, I found the whole thing a trial to sit through; the pitiable anguish of Nahon's performance aside, the gimmicky captions, intermittent gunblasts and modish editing all speak of a director almost adolescently eager to epater.
Liam McGrath's documentary Southpaw recounts two years in the life of Francis Barrett, a 19-year-old light welterweight boxer from Galway who became a folk-hero when he qualified for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. An unusual folk-hero at that: Barrett was the first traveller ever to represent Ireland, a background as beleaguered and poor as any pugilist's. The film values grit and edge over style, and the boxing has more the look of a brawl than any contest of agility. But Barrett carries himself with a dignity and a curious innocence one doesn't readily associate with his profession.
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