Film reviews: Kosmos | Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry | Jackpot | Ping Pong | Offender

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is an intimate portrait of the man and his work
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is an intimate portrait of the man and his work
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THE Scotsman film critic Alistair Harkness casts his eye over the latest cinematic offerings.

Kosmos (12A)

Directed by: Reha Erdem

Starring: Sermet Yesil, Türkü Turan, Hakan Altuntas

Rating: ***

LIKE his fellow Turkish filmmaker, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Reha Erdem makes strange, beguiling films, the meaning of which can remain largely out of reach without necessarily diminishing one’s enjoyment of what’s unfurling on screen. His last film to receive significant international attention was 2008’s Times and Winds, an oddball portrait of a hardscrabble mountain community viewed through the skewed perspective of three teens on the verge of adolescence. Kosmos, by contrast, is even more out-there, with the space-age connotations of the film’s title finding expression in the way its eponymous protagonist really doesn’t seem to be of this world. Introduced howling like a banshee as he runs through a snowy landscape, the fantastical Kosmos (Sermet Yesil) proceeds to save a child from a river, reviving him by screaming into his mouth. Subsequently adopted by the grateful townsfolk, Kosmos proceeds to form strange bonds with many of them (particularly the boy’s mother) but as more bizarre goings-on follow, and nearby military operations (as well as the crash of a satellite), put the locals increasingly on edge, their attitude to Kosmos – who seems to exist on a diet of sugar lumps – begins to change. Quite what we’re supposed to make of this is anyone’s guess, but the combination of Erdem’s gorgeous visuals and the cast’s committed performances proves intriguing nonetheless.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (15)

Directed by: Alison Klayman

Rating: ****

AS CHINA’S most lauded and daring conceptual artist, Ai Weiwei has become one of his country’s most outspoken critics, not least for his protest at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (in which he took a photo of himself giving the finger to the famous Bird’s Nest stadium that he’d initially helped design). This excellent film not only offers an intimate portrait of the man and his work, it’s also on hand at the very moment his visibility and international renown becomes too much for the Chinese authorities to bear. For this, credit the tenacity and good timing of 24-year-old director Alison Klayman, who found herself with a real story to tell after a small assignment to cover an exhibition of Ai’s New York work resulted in her subsequently documenting his response to the devastation of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The verité results gives us a real sense of history being captured in the making, with Klayman also smartly incorporating Ai’s own determination to document his life using modern technology – camera phones, Twitter, blogging – to give us an astonishing insight into the way the Chinese authorities suppress free speech, as well as the lengths some people are prepared to go to fight for it.

Jackpot (15)

Directed by: Magnus Martens

Starring: Kyrre Hellum, Henrik Mestad, Mads Ousdal

Rating: **

LIKE the recent Headhunters, this latest attempt to capitalise on the boom in Nordic noir is based on a story by thriller novelist Jo Nesbø. Also like Headhunters, it adopts a more insouciant attitude to crime and violence than heavyweight TV shows such as The Killing and The Bridge. That makes it a fun proposition for a while, but its Guy Ritchie-esque stylistic flourishes soon wear a little thin and only the subtitles and the setting prevent it from immediately seeming like the generic crime caper it really is. Which isn’t to to say it doesn’t have its moments. Revolving around a bloodbath triggered by a win on the football pools, there are some amusing splashes of black humour, particularly in the opening scenes in which the film’s protagonist, Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), crawls out from under a corpse while the police are investigating a massacre in a sex shop. Sadly, nothing else really sticks in the mind and the film’s flashback structure – framed by a hard-nosed detective (Henrik Mestad) interrogating Oscar about the events leading up to the shoot-out – feels very dated.

Ping Pong (PG)

Directed by: Hugh Hartford

Rating: ***

THIS documentary about the World Over-80s Table Tennis Championships follows the standard, feel-good, competition-based formula of unabashed crowd pleasers like Spellbound and Sounds Like Teen Spirit by tracking the hopes and dreams of a handful of geographically diverse participants in the hope that the resulting drama will translate to the screen. That it mostly does – albeit in quite a scrappy way – is largely down to the irrepressible spirit of its subjects, particularly super-fit British pensioner Les, his cancer riddled ping pong partner Terry, 100-year-old Australian, Dot, and former French resistance fighter Lisa, who – somewhat amusingly – is less than magnanimous when confronted with German opponents in the final in Inner Mongolia. Though director Hugh Hartford follows more players than just them, he knows they’re the stars of the show and smartly skews the film in their favour, with Les and Terry’s friendship anchoring the movie as a whole. That, of course, might also simply be down to the film’s obvious budget restrictions, but even so, Hartford deserves credit for not only capturing the essence of the sport but also exploring in a non-condescending way its value for those who continue to participate long after society would have them confined to a nursing home.

Offender (15)

Directed by: Ron Scalpello

Starring: Joe Cole, English Frank, Kimberley Nixon

Rating: **

YET another British borstal drama, Offender uses last summer’s London riots as the backdrop to a grim and violent tale of revenge that fits neatly into the raft of “broken Britain”-themed exploitation films that have emerged over the last year or two. Former Skins star Joe Cole stars as Tommy, a skin-headed reprobate who contrives to have himself sent to a young offenders institution to exact revenge on a group of criminals banged up there. The reasons are gradually revealed through glossy flashbacks to the chaos of last summer’s riot-fuelled looting (which the film treats more like an urban fashion shoot) as well as soft-focus 
shots of Tommy’s idyllic-seeming life with his pregnant girlfriend (Kimberley Nixon). The latter character detail has, of course, become perhaps one of the most over-used plot devices in the crime genre (take a guess as to whether something might happen to her and her unborn child), and director Rob Scalpello – working from a script by Paul Van Carter – compounds this with lots of overly-familiar prison movie conventions. Needless to 
say, the film heads in exactly the direction audiences might expect, without working hard enough to make the journey 
feel as fresh as its ripped-from-the-headline story really demands.