Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Day Six - "The dog has spoken."

Films seen today: 4
Films seen so far this festival: 29
Films seen so far this year: 220

The Lost

Independent American drama about a small-town psychopath, based on the cult novel by Jack Ketchum.

This is very good but the sickening violence at the end has probably killed its chances of getting a decent release. Shame, because until the climax, it’s an enjoyably pulpy study of a small-town psychopath. I haven’t read the Jack Ketchum novel on which it’s based, but I’m certainly going to try and track it down. (A credit at the end reads: “If you liked the movie, read the book. If you didn’t like the movie, read the book.”) It’s set in a small town in the American Midwest and stars Marc Senter (sure to be a household name among film fans by this time next year) as Ray Pye, a charming, eye-liner-wearing sociopath who could have stepped out of a 1950s biker movie. The film opens as he commits a brutal murder and then we flash forward four years and discover that Ray’s still walking around because the police couldn’t make the case stick, despite him being the only suspect. Ray continues to deal drugs and have sex with a string of teenage girls, but cracks are beginning to appear: an ex-cop’s girlfriend, Sally (Megan Henning) has gone undercover at his mum’s motel to spy on him, while his erstwhile girlfriend Jen (Shay Astar, who looks a lot like Aisleyne from Big Brother 7) and his best friend Tim (Alex Frost), who both witnessed the murder, are close to breaking point. On top of that, he meets Katherine (Robin Sydney), a beautiful woman from a rich background and finds himself falling in love with her. But is she just after a walk on the wild side or does she have something else in mind? There are some unusual character touches in the film, such as the relationship between Sally and her 60-year-old cop boyfriend, Ed (character actor Ed Lauter, who really ought to make more movies) and Ray’s bizarre walking style, which a caption at the beginning informs us is the result of Ray putting beercans in his boots to make himself look taller. Director Chris Sivertson displays a definite sense of style and uses some effective techniques, such as a speeded-up sequence of Ray angrily trashing a hotel room. There’s a subtle Twin Peaks vibe to the small town sequences that works well. The performances are all good (particularly Megan Henning) but the film really belongs to Senter, who thoroughly inhabits the role and even manages to elicit glimmers of sympathy before the horrific, blood-soaked climax (think Sharon Tate) completely obliterates that. Not for the weak of stomach but definitely worth seeing. Four stars.

Snakes On A Plane

FBI Agent Samuel L Jackson fights a bunch of snakes. On a plane.

Not strictly an Edinburgh Film Festival film, admittedly, but the fact that there were no press screenings for this at all meant that I had to see it at the first available public screening. And it was fantastic . Has any film ever delivered so completely on its premise as Snakes On A Plane? I don’t think so. After about 30 minutes of character build-up (during which you can have fun trying to guess who’s going to get “snaked” first), a crate-load of deadly poisonous serpents are released on a plane (in order to ensure that FBI Agent Samuel L Jackson’s key murder witness doesn’t make it to trial, since you asked) and all hell slithers loose. The film’s directed by David R. Ellis, who knows a thing or two about enjoyably trashy thrillers, having directed both Cellular and Final Destination 2. Sure enough, though many of the snake-related deaths are played for laughs (a couple getting snaked while joining the Mile High Club; a man acquiring an unwanted trouser snake during a bathroom visit; a snake emerging from the cleavage of an overweight woman), the film never descends into farce, despite its clearly ridiculous premise. Jackson is terrific, barking out a series of hilarious lines (“Sporks?” and, in one glorious sequence, zapping snakes with a tazer gun. Julianna Margulies (hot off a great guest spot on The Sopranos provides the “sky candy” as resourceful flight attendant Claire, while there’s amusing support from Rachel Blanchard (as a thinly-veiled Paris Hilton clone), Kenan Thompson (who gets all the best lines that aren’t allocated to Jackson, as a rap star’s reluctant minder), and David Koechner as the chauvinistic co-pilot. Basically, you could make a list of everything you wanted to see in a movie called Snakes On A Plane and by the end of the film you’d have everything ticked off. Put simply, it’s the most fun I’ve had in a mainstream Hollywood film this year. Five (yes, five) stars.

Wristcutters – A Love Story

Offbeat indie love story set in an after-life for suicides, starring Patrick Fugit and Shannyn Sossamon

Normally I can’t stand Shannyn Sossamon, so I was expecting to have reservations about this, but I have to admit, this is the first film I’ve liked her in. Patrick Fugit (from Almost Famous) plays Zia, a heartbroken twenty-something who kills himself after he’s dumped by his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb, still not quite a big star, though she’s getting there). However, Zia winds up in a purgatory populated exclusively by other suicides and where everything is more or less the same as in the real world, “just a little worse”. Zia meets a host of eccentric characters, each of whom are introduced with a short, frequently blackly comic flashback showing how they “offed”. When he discovers that Desiree also committed suicide he hooks up with Russian misfit Eugene (Shea Whigham) and moody Gothic hitchhiker Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) and they embark on a road trip, in a car that just happens to have a black hole under the front seat. The script is quirky, inventive and frequently funny – the bickering relationship between Eugene and Zia is a definite highlight (“I am not sitting in back. Everyone knows that man in back does not have cock.”) There are also superb cameos from Tom Waits (as the mysterious Kneller) and from Arrested Development’s Will Arnett as a kind of afterlife cult leader. This doesn’t have distribution as yet, but fingers crossed that someone picks it up, as it deserves a decent release. Four stars.

Summer ‘04

German thriller starring Martina Gedeck as a 40-year-old German woman whose idyllic family life is thrown into disarray by the actions of her son’s 12-year-old girlfriend.

I saw Martina Gedeck in Atomised recently but I hadn’t twigged that she was the actress from Mostly Martha until I read the programme notes for this. She stars as Miriam, a 40-year-old German woman holidaying in her summer house by the sea, together with her husband Andre (Peter Davor) and her 15-year-old son Nils. However, her idyllic family life is shattered by the arrival of Nils’ precocious 12-year-old girlfriend Livia (Svea Lohde) and the two engage in a sexual tug-of-war for the affections of Bill (Robert Seeliger), a handsome middle-aged man that Livia picks up during an afternoon of sailing. Director Stefan Krohmer maintains a superbly tense atmosphere throughout and you’re never quite sure what’s going on in the character’s minds and how much they’re lying to everyone. The performances are superb, particularly Gedeck, who deserves to be as well known over here as, say, Emmanuelle Beart. There are a couple of quietly shocking scenes and the film builds to a powerful climax. One of the films of the festival. Four stars.


Paul said...

Sounds like you're having a lot of fun up there. Sickening violence, porn, Biblebashing taxi drivers. All grist to the mill.

ullat said...

I like the premise of Wristcutters -- a purgatory just for suicides seems so apt. But the execution just sounds a bit indie schmindie for me. You'll have to tell me more about it when you get back...

Anonymous said...

Apparently Wristcutters was based on a short story by Israeli writer Etgar Keret called Kneller's Happy Campers (from the collection The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God), and has also been adapted as a comic book called Pizzeria Kamikaze. I guess a lot of people are as taken with the idea as I am.

ullat said...

That was me again, by the way. Damn you, blogspot!

ullat said...

Sorry if the 4 (now 5) comments got your hopes up!