Monday, August 21, 2006

Day Five – “Can you imagine how big Jesus would have been if only he’d played the guitar?”

Films seen today: 5
Films seen so far: 25
Films seen so far this year: 216

Change of Address

French drama about a French horn teacher with crushes on both his kooky female flatmate and one of his students.

A friend of mine summed this up perfectly on the Guardian Film talkboards: “What happens if Ross from Friends moves in with Phoebe and none of the others are around?” Writer-director Emmanuel Mouret (who has an amusing hangdog expression and looks a lot like Sean Hughes) stars as David, a French French horn teacher looking for a room to rent. After meeting ditzy blonde Anne (Fanny Valette) he’s soon sharing both her apartment and her bed, despite her professed attraction to someone else. (The scene where they sleep together while both fantasising (out loud) about the people they fancy is extremely well done and very funny). Evidently David’s not much of a one for boundaries because apart from fancying his flatmate he also falls in love with Julia (Audrey Tautou-alike Ariane Ascaride) one of his music students. After a shaky start, things seem to be going well with Julia…until they meet smooth-talking restauranteur Julien (Frederique Bel) when he stops a bag-snatcher from stealing her bag. This is a beautifully written, achingly funny film that will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever had their dream girl stolen from right under their nose. There are some lovely scenes, particularly the montage of Anne and David playing Monopoly, having sex and just hanging out. The performances are lovely too – Valette basically is Phoebe from Friends, though she looks a lot like Hope Davis. Frederique Bel is extremely good as Julien – it would have been very easy to make that character objectionable and it’s to Mouret’s credit that he never goes down that route. As a result the film perfectly strikes balance between heart-breaking and funny. Four stars.

Colour Me Kubrick

British drama based on a true story, starring John Malkovich as a conman who impersonated Stanley Kubrick.

Subtitled “A true…ish story”, this is an engaging, frequently funny comedy-drama with a superb performance by John Malkovich. He plays homosexual con-man Alan Conway, who spent a large part of the 1990s impersonating legendary reclusive director Stanley Kubrick, even though he appears not to have actually watched Kubrick’s films or learned his filmography. The film isn’t especially deep – we never, for example, really get to know Conway or understand just why he did what he did – but it’s no less enjoyable for that. There are some wonderful touches throughout, such as the film being scored with classical tracks from Kubrick’s films. This is frequently used to amusing effect, such as Thus Spake Zarathustra playing over a scene of Conway going to the laundrette, or a telephone ringing in time with The Blue Danube. Malkovich is clearly having a lot of fun, using a variety of weird accents and getting thoroughly carried away with the whole thing (“Little Tommy Cruise would like a part…”). There are also a series of increasingly bizarre celebrity cameos scattered throughout (e.g. Leslie Phillips, Honor Blackman, Richard E Grant, Peter Bowles, the woman who played Nurse Gladys Emmanuelle on Open All Hours, etc), culminating in the frankly astonishing sight of Jim Davidson playing a Dick Emery-type entertainer and singing “Hello…is it me you’re looking for?”. (I’m a confirmed Davidson hater, but it has to be said, he’s very, very good in this). The only time the film loses its way is during the asylum sequence (“I’m Stanley Kubrick!” “No, I’M Stanley Kubrick!” etc), when his fellow patients (Ken Russell, Shaun Parkes and Peter Sallis – that’s how weird this film is) are all mugging horribly and it looks very amateurish. There’s also strong non-comic support from Bryan Dick (who should be Doctor Who after David Tennant – the campaign starts here) and Robert Powell as a journalist, who, for some reason, is the only character who talks to the camera. Worth seeing, assuming it gets a proper release – at the time of writing, a) it doesn’t have one and b) it’s already available on DVD in France. Three out of five stars.

Twelve and Holding

American indie drama about three twelve-year-old kids dealing with the death of one of their friends.

This shot straight into my Top Five of the Festival. Directed by Michael Cuesta (who made L.I.E), it stars Conor Donovan as Jacob, a shy 12-year-old boy with a port-wine stain on his face, whose charismatic twin brother Rudy is killed in a traumatic tree house fire caused by some neighbourhood bullies. The film then follows the impact of Rudy’s death on his small circle of friends, including neglected psychiatrist’s daughter Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum) and overweight Leonard (Jesse Camacho). Malee develops a huge crush on one of her mother’s patients (Jeremy Renner, in what can only be described as “the Sam Rockwell role”) while Leonard decides to rebel against his overweight family and get into shape. Meanwhile, Jacob plots revenge on the two bullies that started the fire. The performances are terrific – these are characters you really care about and Cuesta’s superb direction really exploits that, ensuring that there’s at least one “hold your breath in fear” moment for each of them. Of the supporting cast, Renner is easily the stand-out in a complex part, but there’s also good work from Annabella Sciorra as Malee’s mother and 24’s Karen Hayes as Jacob’s mother. There’s also a really weird cameo by Tony Roberts (from Woody Allen’s “early, funny” films) as a doctor. The script is superb, achieving an effective balance between scenes that are darkly funny and occasionally shocking, while the climax is nothing short of devastating. Unmissable. Five stars.

Gretchen

Low budget American indie comedy about a geeky high school girl with RAGE issues.

This was something of a disappointment, although, as with In Between Days, the distorted sound on the Video Projection Unit in Cineworld 5 is partly to blame as it was literally painful to listen to at times. The programme write-up gets this exactly right with its description of Gretchen as “like a cross between Napoleon Dynamite and Welcome to the Dollhouse”, but it’s not quite as good as the comparison suggests (for one thing, the casting of slightly older adults as high school kids doesn’t really work). Courtney Davis (who looks like a slightly chubbier Amy Adams) plays Gretchen Finkle, a nerdy, awkward girl in love with local bad boy Ricky (John Merriman). However, when Ricky turns his attentions elsewhere (“Ricky likes sluts”), Gretchen gets an attack of RAGE and takes her revenge. This lands her in the Shady Acres Centre for Emotional Growth where she falls for yet another bad boy with the same consequences, prompting her psychiatrist to ask her, “Gretchen, do you know what a pattern is?” As with Napoleon Dynamite there are some great lines (“Love is not against the rules!” “Actually, it is”), several off-the-wall moments (Gretchen throwing a toilet seat) and some extremely funny physical details (e.g. Gretchen’s “stealth” running style; a hilarious “rave” sequence), but the good bits are few and far between and the film makes its 98 minute running time seem remarkably long. Having said that, I’d like to see it again without the sound distortion, because I bet it’s funnier second time round. Two stars for now, with one in reserve.

Destricted

Porn. But by respected arthouse directors, so it’s alright.

Yet another nightmare in store for the chaps at the BBFC. Destricted features a group of arthouse and mainstream directors –including Matthew Barney, Sam Taylor-Wood, Marco Brambilla, Gaspar Noe and Larry Clark – turning their hand to, ahem, “erotica”. Or, to give it its proper name, porn. I was annoyed to discover that there are actually another two films that were supposed to be included, but Edinburgh apparently only chose to screen five of them. It’s their prerogative, of course, but I wish they’d at least mentioned it in the programme notes. Anyway, the result is something of a mixed bag. Barney’s film begins with a five minute close-up of an inert cock, which slowly becomes erect and that part of the film works really well. However, the rest of it features a man (apparently Barney himself) going to extraordinary lengths to have a wank, with the aid of what looks like a large potter’s wheel and a turnip up his arse. At least, I think it was a turnip. His “clay” also appears to be made of ejaculate and he keeps rubbing himself on it as it turns. Really, it has to be seen to be believed. And it really should come with a “Kids – don’t try this at home!”-style warning. Brambilla’s film only lasts about two minutes but it’s easily the best of the lot. It’s comprised of a rapid compilation of images from sex scenes, from both mainstream and pornographic films (I recognised Sherilyn Fenn’s hairstyle from the shower scene in Two Moon Junction but that was it), set to a great soundtrack and edited so that the images seem to overlap each other and the performers are in the same positions. I’d estimate that there are only maybe two or three frames of each film, so it would be…er…illuminating to go through a DVD copy of it. It could be like a picture round in a film quiz or something. Or not. Sam Taylor-Wood’s film was, frankly, ridiculous and featured an actor having what looked like a very painful wank in the desert. At one point he’s leaning over on one elbow on painfully rocky ground. Also he doesn’t seem to be enjoying it very much and surely that’s the point? I’m not sure he even finishes, but he lets out a giggle-inducing sigh when he finally stops and his facial expressions (it’s all in a medium shot) are equally amusing. I also couldn’t stop imagining the cameraman shouting “Come on, hurry up – the light’s going!” Larry Clark’s film is basically a “casting couch”-style porn film but all the non-sex bits are really good – ironically the film would have worked much better without the explicit sex. Anyway, Clark (mostly off-camera) interviews a series of male would-be porn stars, all of whom are either in their late teens or early 20s. He asks them all about their porn experiences and their sex lives, before asking each of them to strip off, the old perv. He then chooses one and the lucky winner (a skinny, vaguely Gothic, sensitve-type – let’s call him Teen X) gets to interview a series of porn starlets (again requiring them to get naked) before choosing one to shag on camera. The interviews themselves are quite interesting and all the porn stars come across really well, except the 40 year old one, who is clearly bonkers. Yet that’s who Teen X chooses. The sex scene itself is pure hardcore porn and the only other interesting bit is that Clark keeps the camera running for the rather messy santorum-related business during the anal sex scene (if you don’t know what santorum means, google it), resulting in the woman amusingly exclaiming, “Woah, hang on – might have to stop for a minute…” halfway through and Teen X getting a little freaked out. The final film is by Gaspar Noe (who made Irreversible and Seul Contre Tous) and it basically involves a woman masturbating with a giant teddy bear and a man having sex with a blow-up doll (before putting a gun in its mouth). They also appear to be watching the same porn film, even though they’re in different bedrooms. All very basic, you might think, except –ah ha!- Noe has added strobe lighting. Truly, the man is a genius. No, not really – his film was almost as bad as the desert wank one and it seemed to go on forever. On balance, it’s probably a three star film overall, since the good or average films outweigh the bad ones. It is apparently getting a cinema release as well, so knock yourselves out.

Meme-spotting

Stretching this a bit now, but Gretchen’s comical running style in Gretchen is remarkably similar to Ned’s in Neo Ned.

8 comments:

ullat said...

Sorry to hear about your wifi issues. Can't wait to hear your verdict on Snakes on a Plane!

MaxFischer said...

>>Stretching this a bit now, but Gretchen’s comical running style in Gretchen is remarkably similar to Ned’s in Neo Ned.

Ha, I bet it isn't, even. Are they wearing the same kind of green jumper?

Anonymous said...

Destricted isn't going to be too much of a nightmare for the bbfc, what with it already getting an 18 cert. I'm curious as to why they didn't show two of the sections of the film, though.

ullat said...

Forgive my ignorance, which character did Karen Hayes play in 24?

Alex Crawford said...

Twelve and Holding sounds interesting and a little bit Mean Creek-y. Fair comparison?

FilmFan said...

Ullat > Karen Hayes is the character name - she's in Season 5. I couldn't remember the actress' name. (It's Jayne Atkinson).

FilmFan said...

Fischer > It really, really is. And no, they're not.

FilmFan said...

Alex > Very fair, yes. It's maybe a little darker, with shades of Lawn Dogs.