Film reviews: My Old School, Free Chol Soo Lee, Anais In Love

Alan Cumming in My Old School

Alan Cumming in My Old School - Credit: Cory Knights

My Old School (15)

Director: Jono McLeod.

Featuring: Alan Cumming, Dawn Steele, Lulu and Clare Grogan

105 mins

**

It’s been a gradual process, but it is now seemingly obligatory to include animation in any documentary. Unless it is made up entirely of existing footage, like recent royal docs Princess and Elizabeth, most documentarians use it to visualise information and stand in for footage they don’t have. It’s better than live-action reconstruction of events, but isn’t there something inherently lightweight about animation? Aren’t cartoons just a bit cartoony?

In 1993, a gawky new student, Brandon Lee, arrives in the fifth year of secondary school in a relatively affluent Glasgow suburb. Everybody seems to think he looks a bit odd and old for a 16-year-old but after some initial resistance, he begins to fit in, make friends and becomes a straight A student with a fierce determination to study medicine. But, of course, Brandon is not what he seems.

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The bulk of the film is split between animated recreations of events in 1993 and present day interviews with classmates from the time. The animation style is straightforward and rudimentary, similar to the Beavis and Butthead spinoff, Daria. The interviews are conducted in a schoolroom set, with all of them sitting in pairs and reminiscing about the old times. The central figure, the man who once pretended to be Brandon Lee, refused to appear on screen but did agree to an interview so his words are lip synced by Alan Cumming, who was once set to play him in a film version that fell through.

The fortysomethings chatting away about the old days (one of whom is director McLeod) are all great company but the whole enterprise has the forced levity of a school reunion. They are all so busy catching up and enjoying themselves, the film kind of forgets what it is about. There are moments touching on the unreliable nature of memory, of group delusions and that perhaps there was something deeply sinister going on here but nobody really wants to dwell on that heavy stuff. At that end the closing credits roll in a bright, jokey, cartoony typescript, Lulu sings the theme tune and everybody is laughing and smiling because they’ve had a marvellous time. Good for them, but what was in it for us?

Free Chol Soo Lee (15)

Director: Julie Ha and Eugene Yi

Featuring: Chol Soo Lee, KW Lee, Ranko Yamada

In cinemas 

83 mins

****

This is one of those unbelievable true stories about an outrageous miscarriage of justice, made special by the outrageous miscarriage not being the focal point. If anything the film rather brushes through the events that led to a Korean man being identified as a Chinese murderer in early 70s San Francisco. The wrongness of the conviction is taken as a given. Instead this powerful and thought-provoking film focuses on the effect his incarceration and the campaign against it had on the Korean and larger Asian community and the man himself, who'd struggle to deal with the pressure of being a figurehead.

As you’d expect of this kind of story, the racism is as casual as the corruption is scandalous. Brought to America when he was 12 by his mother, the young Chol Soo struggled to learn the language and was soon getting into trouble. Even though he wasn’t anywhere near the murder of a Chinese gangster in a crowded Sunday afternoon street in Chinatown the police had no compunction against framing him as the murderer.

Free Chol Soo Lee

Free Chol Soo Lee - Credit: Free Chol Soo Lee

Anais In Love (15)

Director: Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet

Starring: Anaïs Demoustier, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Denis Podalydès, Jean-Charles Clichet and Christophe Montenez

French with subtitles

98 mins

***

For her debut as a writer/ director Bourgeois-Tacquet has chosen to address one of the eternal cinematic quandaries: is the main female protagonist in a French film a delightful, charming, carefree spirit who cheerfully disdains social conventions, or is she a selfish, self-obsessed wrecking ball. Ditzy or dragon: it's never an easy decision is it?

Anaïs (Demoustier) is a twentysomething living in Paris who is perpetually late, for meetings, parties and with the rent.  After breaking up with sort of boyfriend Raoul (Montenez,) she has an affair with a middle-aged publisher Daniel (Podalydès), before then becoming totally smitten with writer Emilie (Tedeschi), who happens to be the partner of Daniel.

The question posed is whether Anais is actually capable of being in love, and the film itself has a commitment issue. Its approach is far too breezy and distracted to make it much of a comedy or romance but that's ok - who needs all that drama anyway? The performers are engaging and the director has a light effortless touch. It's like a Rohmer film, without the boredom.

Anais In Love

Anais In Love - Credit: Anais In Love

Visit www.halfmanhalfcritic.com for a review of the blu-ray of Buster Keaton’s The Saphead, released by Eureka Masters of Cinema.