Saturday, August 27, 2005

Day Nine – “Look! An idiot!”

Day: 237
Film total today: 3
Films seen so far this year: 225 (12 to go)

No bears or sheep today. There was that weird hedgehog / platypus thing in Mirrormask though.


Children’s fantasy drama from the creators of the Sandman comics, starring Stephanie Leonidas as a circus performer who gets sucked into the mysterious Dark Lands.

Very odd, beautifully realised film, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, the writer and artist behind the Sandman comics. In a neat reversal from the running-away-to-join-the-circus fantasy, Stephanie Leonidas plays Helena, an artistic teenager who longs to escape the circus, which is owned and run by her loving parents, Rob Brydon and Gina McKee. However, when her mother falls ill, Helena gets sucked into the mysterious Dark Lands, a dream world that seems to be made up of images from X’s own drawings. As you might expect from the creative team involved, the film looks absolutely stunning from the sock-puppet credits sequence to the effects-heavy finale, even in the live-action sequences, which make great use of some unusual Brighton locations. It’s also well-acted and has some amusing cameos voicing the various creatures (Stephen Fry etc). The main problem is that the story isn’t very exciting and the direction fails to capitalise on the built-in suspense of the set-up, particularly during the poorly-paced finale. That said, it’s never less than gorgeous to look at and there’s a wealth of detail in the design that will reward repeated viewings. A definite curiosity – worth seeing. Three stars.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Documentary about cult artist and musician Daniel Johnston, detailing his rollercoaster career and his battles with mental illness.

Fascinating documentary by director Jeff Feuerzeig. I’d never even heard of Daniel Johnston, so this was a real eye-opener, by turns funny, riveting and heart-breaking. Johnston is something of a cult figure in America, thanks to both his cartoonish artwork (which reminded me of both Robert Crumb and the drawings in Napoleon Dynamite) and his own unique brand of folk music. The film points out that interest in Johnston really took off after Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt of the artwork for ‘Hi, How Are You?’ (see poster, above) on several different photoshoots. As with Capturing the Friedmans, Johnston was obsessed with movie-making when he was growing up, so there’s no shortage of archive footage. The film deals with Johnston’s childhood (including his obsessions with Captain America and Casper the Friendly Ghost, as well as the fact that he used to tape-record his mother bawling him out and then make movies where he’d dress up in her clothes and dub her dialogue onto his performance), his rollercoaster career and his difficult relationships with girlfriends, his best friend and his manager. It also details his battles with mental illness - during one particularly horrific bout, he wrestled control of a plane away from his father, causing them both to crash. Miraculously, they both survived - the interview with Daniel’s father about this incident is heart-breaking. As a result, Daniel has spent most of his life in and out of various mental institutions – some more successful than others; the voice-over amusingly informs us that one time, Daniel “was committed to an asylum, released by clerical error and actually opened for Firestorm at CBGBs that night…” There are some very weird scenes – for some reason, the lead singer of Butthole Surfers is interviewed while getting dental treatment. Ultimately, the film is heart-breaking, funny and inspirational, in equal measure – it’ll also make you want to buy at least one Daniel Johnston album and you’ll probably find yourself singing “Casper the Friendly Ghost” for the rest of the day. Four stars.

Surprise Movie: Lords of Dogtown

Fictionalised version of the events documented in Stacy Peralta’s Dogtown and Z-Boys, about the birth of the skateboarding craze and the three guys who started it all.

I completely fell for the guy’s introduction on this one – he was offering a prize to anyone who guessed the film from his clues. Someone guessed “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” and won the prize, so when the Columbia logo came up, that’s what I thought the film was. It wasn’t, of course, it was Lords of Dogtown instead, which I’d already seen. Pity – I was probably the only person in the entire audience who hoped it actually was the Deuce Bigalow sequel. Lords of Dogtown was a good choice though and I didn’t mind seeing it again. It’s directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who made Thirteen, and her rough-edged, semi-documentary style fits the film perfectly. It also has a cast that is so achingly hip that it hurts – Victor Rasuk (from Raising Victor Vargas) as Tony Alva, John Robinson (from Elephant) as Stacy Peralta and Emile Hirsch (who will be a huge star) as skating bad boy Jay Adams. There’s also great support work from Heath Ledger (doing a great Val Kilmer impression as Skip) and from Michael Angarano (from Sky High and Dear Wendy) as Sid, as well as Rebecca DeMornay as Jay’s mum and Johnny Knoxville as local big-shot Topper Burks. If the story sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen Peralta’s documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, from which he adapted the script. This is a must-see for anyone who liked that film – it’s extremely well acted (Hirsch the stand-out), the skating scenes have a genuine energy to them (helped by the fact that the leads all learned to skate like pros); and there’s a terrific soundtrack that Hardwicke puts to good use. Highlights include: Jay’s seduction of Stacy’s girlfriend, while dancing to Hendrix; Skip making surfboards while singing Maggie May; the use of ‘Wish You Were Here’ over the skating championship sequence; Jay taking out a vicious bully with the judicious use of a skateboard to the side of the head; Sid’s sex scene with “Thundermonkey” (America Ferrera), in which he asks her to “Tell me I’m a great skater”; and the moving final Dogbowl reunion. Definitely worth seeing. Four stars.