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London. "Margaret," "Surviving Life," "Last Waltz"

Films by Kenneth Lonergan, Jan Švankmajer and Martin Scorsese are each playing at single venues in London.
The DailyMargaret

Earlier this week, Jaime Christley posted a petition calling for Fox Searchlight to give critics an opportunity to see Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret so that they might consider the film for their year-end best-of lists and/or their awards-season voting. Today, Margaret's popped up in London.

"Shot six years ago in New York, this breathtakingly ambitious drama of clashing ethics and responsibilities, plotted like a novel, was to be Lonergan's second film after the much-admired, Oscar-nominated You Can Count On Me (2000)," writes Tim Robey in the Telegraph. "Only now does it reach us — many recuts, budgetary crises and legal squabbles later. In such situations — the many vexed movies of Warren Beatty spring to mind — it's hard not to imagine that there isn't something deeply wrong at the heart of a project, or at least in its resulting shape. So what's particularly astonishing about Margaret is that it feels so burningly right. It's rare, unstable, and kind of a masterpiece, albeit one you'll have to race to catch in its single London venue, or risk waiting for a DVD release beset by who knows what further complications."

"What a mesmerising movie this is," writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. "If Lonergan couldn't cut it down, that is because it deserves four hours and will one day get it. A street accident killing a pedestrian (Allison 'West Wing' Janney, who has five minutes to sear her tragedy into our skulls), haunts and traumatises teenage witness Lisa (Anna Paquin). Lisa can't sort out her grief-filled rage. It becomes part of her compound rage against life, incorporating Islamic terrorism, parental divorce (dad on a distant beach, mum romancing ageing opera fan Jean Reno), the precocious confusions of sexuality, the mumbo-jumbo classroom poetry that has hidden but vital meaning (a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem bestows the film's title), and the thousand ills, alarms and apprehensions that adolescent flesh is heir to."

The Independent's Anthony Quinn, though, finds it to be "an intermittently enjoyable but overlong and uneven film…. Lonergan creates some very funny scenes — like a Shakespeare class in which a single line from Lear gets Matthew Broderick into a pickle — but can't shape them into a coherent whole. At one point it's suggested that Lisa has battened on the tragedy as a means of working out in her own 'moral gymnasium' (the coinage is from Shaw), though the charge of unassimilated issue-mongering could just as easily apply to Lonergan. In the last 40 minutes he lets the movie run away from him completely as one character is killed off, more tantrums thrown and a rough truce negotiated."

But for the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, Margaret is "provocative and brilliant, a sprawling neurotic nightmare of urban catastrophe, with something of John Cassavetes and Tom Wolfe, and rocket-fuelled by a superbly thin-skinned performance by Anna Paquin. Its sheer energy and dramatic vehemence, alongside that raw lead performance, puts it way ahead of more tastefully formed dramas."

Viewing (2'35"). Margaret is "one of the great American films of the year," argues the Guardian's Xan Brooks.

Update: Time's Mary Pols "most of Thursday trying to track down Lonergan" and finally got in on a conference call with him: "Lonergan had heard about the petition, although he's not hashtagging #TeamMargaret himself. It wouldn't be appropriate. Plus he's not on Twitter. 'My Twitter experience is limited to listening to other people talk about their Twitter experience,' Lonergan told me. He couldn't be more touched by the outpouring of support, which Paquin and the other cast members do know about. 'I love this movie,' he wrote to me in a statement sent over before the monitored phone call. 'I love the actors. I have never worked harder or longer on anything in my professional life. It would mean everything to me if the film could at least have a fair chance at a life of its own.'"

 

Also opening in London today, specifically, at the ICA, is Jan Švankmajer's Surviving Life (2010), "about an office drone who strikes up an affair with a gorgeous woman in red," writes David Jenkins in Time Out London. "They rendezvous in his dreams. He discovers a method of artificially stimulating his dreams so he can play out this extended fantasy. But the more time he spends in this dream world, the more the swarms of eccentric erotic symbols (smashed melons, broken eggs, a teddy bear with a giant phallus) start to take on life-altering meanings. Expounding on (and cheekily refuting) Freudian and Jungian dream logic while dazzling the eye with animation that falls somewhere between South Park, Yellow Submarine and Terry Gilliam's work for the Pythons, this manages to be Švankmajer's most poignant and  fully-formed feature to date."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw finds that "the film interestingly and subversively takes its stand on the idea that dreams are the real thing; waking life is an exotic, strange tissue of unreal diversions."

And finally for now, on the weekend that sees Hugo opening across the UK, Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz (1978) sees a two-week run beginning today at BFI Southbank. "It's been named the best concert film of all time, but The Band's star-studded 1976 swansong hasn't entirely escaped the ravages of time," finds Tom Huddleston in Time Out London.

At the very least, it's "a notable record," adds the Independent's Quinn, "not just for the guest cameos — Dylan, Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, et al — but for the lurking presence of Scorsese himself, putting his camera right in the middle of the action and popping up in person during the interviews. Impossible to view now without strong stirrings of nostalgia."

For the Guardian's Bradshaw, it's "a lavish, dynamic act of fan-worship and [Scorsese's] interviews with [Robbie] Robertson reveal a charismatic figure. Paired with nervy bassist Rick Danko, Robertson looks remarkably like Harvey Keitel's Charlie opposite De Niro's Johnny Boy in Mean Streets: a charming if complex authority figure with his troubled subordinate. A heady time capsule."

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