Time of the Wolf — Unflinching Red Riding a stunning crime drama

The buzz preceding the “Red Riding” trilogy came via film journals and British TV blogs, and the eventual screening across one long but tense afternoon lived up to expectations. Based on a quartet of novels by David Peace (one was not filmed), “Red Riding” is an exceptional crime drama, a sprawling narrative that in the UK was primetime viewing but in the States is being released theatrically.

Set in the grimy industrial north of Yorkshire, and the West Riding district, the trilogy follows a secret history of corruption, big business and serial killing. This is the dark, depressed North of the Moors murders and the Yorkshire Ripper (who makes an appearance in the middle film), but also of ex-mining towns, destitute backwater towns, and wounded and angry male psyches.

Each film is dedicated to one year and one character: “1974” follows young journalist Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) as he investigates a series of child murders and finds himself running afoul of both the police and a land developer. Shot in grimy, yellowing 16mm, the film itself looks stained by years of pub smoke and beer stains, while the claustrophobic, doomed atmosphere will remind some viewers of David Fincher’s “Zodiac.”

“1980” follows a Manchester-based chief constable (Paddy Considine), brought in to help solve the Yorkshire Ripper case, but also tasked with investigating past police methods. This segment was shot in 35mm and feels of its era, reminiscent of other great British TV police procedurals, yet bloodier.

“1983,” shot on the “Red” HD camera, reintroduces us to Detective Chief Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), who has been in the background of the previous two chapters, but now steps up to right some wrongs out of crushing guilt. He’s mirrored by grubby, washed-up lawyer John Piggot (Mark Addy), who also begins to uncover the truth. “1983” ties together all the loose ends masterfully.

Peace’s novel and Tony Grisoni’s adaptation explore the rift between men and women, and the murderous rage in the masculine heart, compounded from economic troubles, the weight of history, post-’60s confusion and culture. Women do not fare well in this land and Peace sets about to map this hellish terrain.

Although directed by different industry veterans (1980’s James Marsh also directed “Man on Wire” and “Wisconsin Death Trip”), “Red Riding” stands as one whole piece that may be overwhelming for some, shown like it is at the fest one after the other (that’s nearly 5 hours!). But it is unforgettable.

Once More Onto the Beach — Vintage footage intrigues, science intrudes on surf doc

To hear filmmaker Clive Neeson tell it, the explosion of extreme sports comes from a combination of rambunctious kids, unfazed parents and a pristine but not very dangerous wilderness. It all started in New Zealand, where one can surf in plain sight of snow-capped peaks.

“Last Paradise” mines a collection of home movies from Neeson and others, featuring everything from backyard soapbox racing to bungee cord jumping off the Eiffel Tower, all to make a case for Kiwi inventiveness. Neeson and his childhood friends grew up surfing, but their curiosity and cultural isolation led to smaller boards for wake-boarding, then going into the snow for snow boarding — taking back an area once designated for the rich elite — and then emanating out sideways into hangliding and grass skiing using rollerblades and much else. If it’s on an incline and involves gravity, these guys want in.

We’ve seen the extreme sports compilation film, and recently the hagiography/restored footage doc has also been popping up with cameramen rifling through attics and boxes to find spools upon spools. Like landscape painters of the 19th century, home movie makers at the dawn of modern surfing realize their work now reveals a lost world — cleaner beaches and water, less people, more greenery.

That only partly explains this doc’s sudden lurch into environmental science half-way through. Neeson, himself also a climate scientist, begins to talk about global warming in a segment that is full of generalizations as much as jargon. It’s as if somebody changed the channel. Yes, the glaciers have disappeared, and commercial development has changed surf spots into high rise-filled resort beaches, but what’s this film doing in the middle of the surfing doc? And why does it then go back into the cool footage? It’s at a time like this that “Last Paradise” feels like moderately interesting vintage footage padded out with Neeson’s other interests to crawl over the “feature film” time limit. Other sections come straight from countless other surf films — light Jack Johnson-esque music, lilting reggae, cliché-filled descriptions. Global warming is also treated like it hasn’t been a constant topic for decades.

There’s also problems with the treatment of the old films, which, once silent, now has distracting foley slapped on top. When a windsurfer gets some air, we hear a “wheeeee!” on the soundtrack. When a hangglider launch goes astray and knocks over some picnicking women, we hear a clonked head on the soundtrack. The footage can stand on its own, thanks.

Which is a shame, as the film starts off with a fantastic sequence, shot from a surfer’s POV using an HD camera, and he slips into the water and rides a wave. The music, sound design and cinematography really put us inside the head of a surfer, attempting for a brief moment to best or be one with nature. But afterwards the acoustic guitar jams start up and we’re back to familiar ground. Which is fine if that’s where you want to be, but a bit of adventure sounds preferable.

BALIBO

For a country far removed from most of the world’s major conflicts, Australia has a curiously rich history when it comes to films that deal with war. With the release of Bruce Beresford’s 1980 Boer War expose, “Breaker Morant,” came an almost unattainably high bar. But the following year, Peter Weir tackled Australia’s campaign in the Dardanelles with equal poise. Hindsight has always provided a profound vantage point for such undertakings and now, 35 years after the fact, Robert Connolly turns his cinematic attention to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor with “Balibo,” which screens again today at SBIFF.

Delving into the circumstances surrounding the death of five broadcast journalists (who have since become known as The Balibo Five) in the lead up to the Indonesian invasion, Connell presents one of the most poignant and striking films to emerge from Australia in some time. With a résumé that includes films the caliber of “The Bank” and “The Boys,” Connolly is no stranger to theatric gravitas, stirringly injected into this biopic piece.

The Indonesian Government has long maintained that the deaths in the East Timorese town of Balibo were the result of crossfire between opposing forces, and Australian officials have long concurred. Connolly adheres to the commonly accepted belief, and one recently substantiated by an Australian coroner, that the five men were in fact executed by Indonesian forces as a means of stopping reports and footage of the brewing invasion from reaching the outside world.

The film also tells the story of veteran journalist Roger East (deftly portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia). East follows shortly after the five journalists’ reported disappearance at the urging of a young and charismatic José Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) to search for the truth and expose the unfolding crisis. Connolly entwines the two narratives to crescendoing effect.

What we’re left with are feelings of sorrow and anger, but as moving as the story of the Balibo Five and Roger East is, theirs is not the only tragedy recounted. An estimated 200,000 East Timorese (one third of the nation’s population) died within the subsequent conflict and its protracted aftermath.

— Brett Leigh Dicks

The Sun Came Out

It’s often said that the measure of a man is the friends he keeps. If Neil Finn’s contribution to music is not a sufficient gauge, then the respect he commands amongst his peers must surely be.

In December of 2008, the Crowded House frontman invited a collection of musical peers and friends to Auckland, New Zealand, for a second offering of his collaborative 7 Worlds Collide undertaking, and RSVPs from Johnny Marr (of The Smiths), Jeff Tweedy (and his fellow Wilco bandmates), and members of Radiohead, among others, came in., gathered for a handful of shows and to record an album to benefit Oxfam, filmmaker Simon Mark-Brown was on hand to document the proceedings.

Finn is perhaps one of the more underappreciated presences within modern-day music, aptly reflected by the musical weight carried by those that gathered for the “The Sun Came Out” undertaking. Across a three-week period, Mark-Brown lurked in the wings as this unique ensemble recorded a bevy of compositions — some they brought with them, others born in the moment.

The film opens with Finn pondering whether the undertaking was something of an ‘ego thing’ on his part. Perhaps its instigation was a little self-indulgent, but what unfolds is remarkable musical alchemy. And perhaps most remarkable of all, was just how little Finn creatively contributed. With Finn providing the means, the project takes on a life of its own, which Mark-Brown poetically details through the marriage of concert footage interspersed with documentation of some 20 musicians writing and recording.

While this approach risks detracting from the emotional impact of the songs, it does offer an intriguing insight into their genesis. Radiohead’s Phil Selway composes and records in the stairwell, Jeff Tweedy belts out the lyrics of “Calm Down” in the control room, Bic Runga and KT Tunstall renew their mutual admiration and compose the beautiful “Black Silk Ribbon,” while Lisa Germano summons all and sundry for the exuberant “Reptile.”

Mark-Brown paints a complete picture of the undertaking, capturing the rustic seaside town on a grandiose piece of coastline where the ensemble set up camp, as well as the controlled creative chaos in Finn’s elegant studio. The songs that ultimately emerge might be tinged with a degree of darkness, but they were born in a joyful and celebratory atmosphere.

— Brett Leigh Dicks

‘RED RIDING’
**** 1/2
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Paddy Considine, David Morrissey and Mark Addy
Runtime: 295 mins
Not rated, but contains scenes of violence and torture

‘LAST PARADISE’
**
Directed by Clive Neeson
Length: 103 minutes
No rating, for general audiences

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