Sunday, August 13, 2006

Day One – “You know what I’m afraid of? Cows.”

Films seen today: 4
Total films seen so far: 4
Total films seen so far this year: 195

Apart From That

Multi-character indie drama about the mysteries of ordinary suburban lives.






I chose this because the write-up in the EIFF programme name-checked Miranda July’s You, Me and Everyone We Know but it was ultimately kind of disappointing. After a weird and lengthy credits sequence in which all the characters are introduced but everyone talks over each other, Altman-style, this eventually focuses on just five characters: Peggy, an old woman who may or may not be senile; Ulla, a neurotic blonde woman who may or may not be cracking up; Leo, an Indian guy trying to get back together with his wife (at least I think that’s what was going on) and a Japanese-American father trying to bond with his weird and inexplicably WASPish young son, Kyle. It started well and there were some lovely scenes (e.g. Peggy stripping to her underwear and calling the fire brigade so they burst in on her; Peggy dancing in her driveway to a loud car stereo playing hardcore dance music) but at two hours long it rather outstays its welcome, particularly as it moves really slowly. Some nice ideas though. I liked Kyle’s friend’s “voice-activated television” (very Calvin and Hobbes) and Leo conquering his fear of cows by approaching cows and asking them “Are you death?”. It’s directed by Randy Walker and Jennifer Shanin and it’ll be interesting to see what they do when they get a more ruthless editor Two stars.

Sherrybaby

Indie drama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as an ex-junkie who gets out of prison and tries to reconnect with her 9-year-old daughter.

This went straight into my top five of the festival, thanks to a wonderful performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She’s been one of my favourite actresses since Secretary but this is her first decent role in a really long time. She plays Sherry Swanson, a recovering drug addict who gets out of prison after serving three years for drug-related robbery and tries to reconnect with her 9-year-old daughter, Lexi, who’s being looked after by Sherry’s brother Bob (Brad William Henke) and his wife Lynn. At the same time she struggles with her addiction and tries to hold down a hard-earned job with children while keeping on the right side of her officious parole officer (Giancarlo Esposito). It’s a superbly written film with great characters (notably Danny Trejo as fellow ex-addict Dean) and some terrific scenes – one casually shocking scene in particular gives a heart-breaking insight into the source of Sherry’s problems. It’s, er, a great film for Shallow And Obvious Reasons too – Maggie spends almost every scene scene naked, topless or wearing a flimsy low-cut top, though I for one was glad when she hopped out of bed and turned the light out right before her sex scene with Danny Trejo. Superb film. Five stars.


The Flying Scotsman

Scottish drama based on the true story of Scottish cycling legend Graeme Obree, starring Johnny Lee Miller, Brian Cox, Billy Boyd and Lovely Laura Fraser.

An excellent choice for the festival’s opening film, this is a beautifully filmed Scottish drama which, at the time of writing is shockingly still without distribution. Johnny Lee Miller (he was married to Angelina Jolie, you know) stars as Scottish cycling legend Graeme Obree, who smashed the world one-hour cycling record on a home-made bicycle of his own design that he nicknamed “Old Faithful”. The film also touches on his background (he was severely bullied as a result of having a policeman for a father) and his constant battles with crippling bouts of depression. My first thought after seeing this was “Johnny Lee Miller in ‘Decent Performance’ Shock!” but that admittedly facetious comment shouldn’t detract from the fact that this is his best performance to date - his intense, haunted expression is perfect for Obree. There’s also strong support from Brian Cox and Lovely Laura Fraser as Obree’s long-suffering wife. First time director Douglas Mackinnon (no relation to Gilles, as far as I know) shoots everything in a surprisingly colourful palette and there are some nice comic touches too, largely from Billy “Comedy Hobbit” Boyd, though also from one of the cast of cult Scottish comedy Absolutely as one of Graeme’s sponsors. Steven Berkhoff is also on hand as an Evil Cycling Honcho who keeps banning Obree’s cycling positions. The cycling scenes are well handled, with some extremely impressive Steadicam work and the film itself is genuinely moving in places. Four stars. One question though – WHO is that gorgeous woman in the photos of Brian Cox’s dead wife?

Love Sick

Romanian film about a lesbian relationship between two university students.

Another film that, like Apart From That didn’t really live up to its initial promise, despite a relatively short running time. It stars Maria Popistasu and Ioana Barbu as Kiki and Alex, two university students in Bucharest who fall madly in love. It’s presented in a refreshingly non-sensational manner and there’s genuine chemistry between the two stars, but it seems odd that the film-makers decided to complicate things by having Alex struggling to escape from an intense relationship with…er…her own brother. It all perks up a bit towards the end but there’s a very boring middle stretch during which my eyes may have closed a little. It’s no Show Me Love, put it that way. Two stars.

Meme-spotting.

It often happens at Edinburgh that the similar (or occasionally identical) scenes will occur in different films. This year I’m going to attempt to catalogue them. Because, you know, I’m weird that way. Anyway, both Sherrybaby and Love Sick had scenes where someone aggressively tried to talk to the main character while the main character was on the phone.

The FilmHouse Film Quiz

I was asked to join a team for the legendary Edinburgh FilmHouse Film Quiz earlier tonight. Rather impressively, we won, scoring 138 out of a possible 142 points and trouncing 18 other teams in the process. It was an extremely hardcore quiz, comprising dialogue rounds, quote rounds, music rounds, picture rounds, Oscar rounds and all sorts of other things. It also lasted two and a half hours! So no early night for me. We won two crates of lager and The Respect Of Our Peers. The most impressive moment was when one of our team nailed the 12 point, 6 clue question after one clue (10 points for getting it at two clues, 8 points for 3 clues etc). The question? “Which star was born on October 16th, 1925?”

3 comments:

Ullat said...

That's bizarre! (the quiz question, I mean -- obviously I googled the answer) You wouldn't have thought that particular star would inspire such devotion...

FilmFan said...

He said it was as a result of a childhood obsession with Bedknobs and Broomsticks, coupled with the fact that her birthday was the same as a friend of his. But he was an enormous geek, so who knows? Very impressive work though.

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