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Filmclub Reviews - Political thriller without pace or punch

Director: Roman Polanski

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall

Out now on DVD

Rating: 2 out of 5

Ewan McGregor plays an appropriately nameless ghost writer assigned the task of re-shaping the memoirs of ex-prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) into something publishable. However, soon he is dragged not only into the suspicious contrivances surrounding Lang but the fishy nature of his predecessor's sudden passing.

Although McGregor plays the character well as an isolated figure, his relationships with other characters, particularly Lang's wife Ruth, are deeply unconvincing, as is his English accent. Brosnan is equally, if not more, disappointing as he ploughs through each scene with the enthusiasm of someone clearing away coasters at his wife's funeral.

But the flawed acting is only the tip of the iceberg. Though the film is visually immaculate, it is also unimaginative and the structure is choppy, rendering it not only confusing but distant. The screenplay isn't much of a saving grace either, as every scene is either loaded with unsubtle subtext or awkward humour; in fact the most engrossing dialogue is probably between McGregor's character and his satellite navigation system.

The plot is weak from the start and becomes increasingly improbable as the protagonist is drawn further into Lang's ambiguous past, leading him to play private detective. He unravels the mystery through a series of coincidences, including meeting a rambling old local and then a Google search, surely the epitome of a writer's get-out-of-jail-free card.

In short, the film can probably be best summed up by the ghost writer himself when he describes Lang's autobiography as "the cure for insomnia". My sentiments entirely.

Xanthe Young, 16, Chauncy School, Hertfordshire

Rating: 4 out of 5

The opening shots of ferry workers directing cars and lorries around one driverless, stationary vehicle in heavy rain is complemented by a powerful score to raise the audience's expectations to thriller mode.

The film then moves to daytime and an unusually secure publishing house where we meet the ghost of the title (McGregor), playing a character who is somewhat apart from the publishing executives and the political players he will be working with.

Your expectations that he will stay out of the politics are nicely eroded as his character is drawn into writing a response for the prime minister when he finds out he is to be charged with war crimes.

The film feels as if it is in two parts. The beauty of the first half, setting up the political and personal background of the characters, is in the detail of the locations, the sets and the real subtlety of the characters, with the added treat for the audience of almost every character being played by a fantastic actor.

As the ghost begins to investigate the death of his predecessor he is given a lead by an old man (Eli Wallach) and later as the tension builds the audience is treated to Tom Wilkinson as a professor with a very subtle touch of menace.

This is the icing on the cake as we are already being spoiled with some fantastic performances from Olivia Williams as the PM's wife and Pierce Brosnan as a PM who may be about to pay for his dubious political decisions. The pace increases as the ghost seems to have pieced together the jigsaw and Polanski's direction is reminiscent of Frantic, really drawing you in, making you root for the ghost and fearful as to whom he can trust.

A number of reviewers have commented on the film's similarity to some of Hitchcock's best thrillers and I can see why. This is a film that really grabs your attention, initially for its subtlety and later through the well-paced plotting that has you moving towards the edge of your seat. I'll definitely be recommending it to our Filmclub members, probably in a double bill with North by Northwest.

Tracey Phillipson, film club leader and community, arts and business co-ordinator at Wanstead High School, east London

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Filmclub gives thousands of schools free access to its 4,500-strong film collection. Each week, teachers and pupils will review everything from new releases to cinema classics for TES Magazine


Director: Max Giwa, Dania Pasquini

Starring: Nichola Burley, Ukweli Roach, Diversity, Flawless, Charlotte Rampling

Released on DVD on September 27

Rating: 3 out of 5

After Step Up found a previously untapped audience for modern dance films, the hype has become bigger and bigger. StreetDance takes advantage of the craze and gives us a film filled with flips, jumps and moves that most of us are in awe of just to watch.

Carly (Burley) is part of a street dance crew who are competing to be the UK's best dance group. But when leader Jay (Roach) decides to leave - and they are drawn against the UK champions - their chances look slim. On top of this they have nowhere to rehearse. While Carly is delivering sandwiches to a ballet school, owner Helena (Rampling) offers a place for her crew to rehearse. In return, they must allow some of the ballet dancers to join the crew and compete with them.

The characters are typical street dance stereotypes with no distinctive characteristics so I really didn't know what to make of them. But with all its flaws and predictability, I still enjoyed it - it had a sort of charm. The dancing was unbelievable, as expected, and entertained throughout. A fair film that delivers on what it says - even though it has its flaws.

Aleena Din, 15, Macmillan Academy, Middlesbrough

Director: Mai Iskander


Released on DVD on September 27

Rating: 4 out of 5

In Zaballeen, a town outside Cairo that is home to just over 60,000 people, recycling garbage is people's way of life, their livelihood and their education.

Or it was, until a foreign recycling company stepped in and took away 20 per cent of the garbage using the latest technology. With the Zaballeen community suffering, its residents began to worry about what the future would hold for them.

Producer and director Iskander effectively explores the different lives of the rich and poor, and a community where everyone knows each other, children are given adult responsibilities and are indeed more educated than their parents.

We are introduced to three boys with different dreams, but dreams which change our view on the little things in life, such as trash. But I felt uncomfortable watching this film. I never thought about people using garbage as a way of surviving. The hand-held camera makes us feel like another person struggling in Zaballeen. The documentary has the power to make us look at our own futures and give us hope.

Mel Stevenson, 17, New College, Swindon.

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