Gus Van Sant's latest film, adapted from the novel by Blake Nelson, about a teenager (Gabe Nevins) dealing with enormous guilt after an incident near Paranoid Park skate park.
Film of the day and second best film of the festival so far. (I'm not giving up my allegiance to In Search of a Midnight Kiss!) It's also, quite possibly, Gus Van Sant's masterpiece. Ostensibly a story about an aimless Portland teenager named Alex (Gabe Nevins, pictured on the film's remarkable poster, left), whose parents are getting divorced and who spends most of his time skateboarding with his best friend Jared (Jake Miller), which, in turn, is beginning to annoy his girlfriend Jennifer (Taylor Momsen - little Cindy Lou Who from The Grinch, all growed up). One evening, Alex goes to the Big Kids Skate Park (nicknamed Paranoid Park) by himself and has a chance encounter that will change his life. The film is framed as a story or a letter that Alex is writing and early on he says, "No...wait...I forgot...this happened earlier...they said in Creative Writing that my style was bad but I'll get it all down eventually." So the film skips about, chronologically with some scenes repeating or overlapping in the process. The strange thing is that it feels totally seamless and your brain kind of fills in the correct sequence for you as you go along. (This is hard to explain properly unless you've seen the film). It's also beautifully shot, courtesy of master cinematographer Chris Doyle (who also appears briefly as "Uncle Tommy", a key player in Alex's parents' divorce). Every shot in the film is astonishing, but highlights include: the opening shot of Portland Bridge (it's probably not called Portland Bridge but I haven't got time to google it - I welcome corrections from bridge aficionados); a shower scene where Alex is hanging his head so the water cascades off it in multiple streams (that sounds normal but again, you have to see the film); a shot of Alex skateboarding with an open umbrella; a sequence in a skating tunnel with a bright light at the end; shots of bright yellow falling leaves; and close-ups of Alex's unusual face, with his huge eyes but curiously unexpressive mouth. The film also includes some terrific variations on usual teen movie staples, such as a superbly filmed sex scene (Alex's face expressionless throughout, the camera angle hovering tightly over his shoulder the whole time); a break-up scene scored to music, where we can lip-read almost everything Jennifer says; and a conversation with his father (the only scene in which his father appears), where the father is in background of the scene and out of focus the whole time. There's also at least one shot that will make the audience gasp in shock, but to give that away would be churlish. Finally, the film has a spectacular soundtrack with a delightfully eclectic mix of songs and styles that Van Sant uses to terrific effect - for example, one scene has Alex driving around listening to rap music and then there's a quick jump-cut and the soundtrack suddenly switches to classical, which completely changes the scene and yet perfectly complements it at the same time. There's also a surprising amount of incidental music from Fellini movies, notably "Julieta of the Spirits" and "Amarcord". The performances are superb too - Nevins is exceptional, but Momsen ("Oh my God, we totally did it - no, it was fantastic!", Miller and Lauren McKinney (as Macy) are equally good. The blurb says that many of the actors were sourced from MySpace, which much have seemed like a dodgy idea at the time but it's paid huge dividends. Unmissable. Five stars.
Skills Like This
Low-budget indie comedy thriller about a slacker who discovers that he has a talent for robbing banks.
I don't know whether it's just me, but the sound in Screen 1 at the FilmHouse has seemed oddly muted on two occasions now (for both this and "Teeth") and I found myself straining to hear the dialogue both times. I hate that. Anyway, the film itself was very amusing and I liked the poster / badge / sticker campaign (see poster, left). Screenwriter Spencer Berger stars as Max, a failed playwright (the film opens with his hilariously awful production, "The Onion Dance") who suddenly discovers he has a talent for robbing banks. His two best friends (Brian Phelan as Tommy and Gabriel Tigerman as Dave) are horrified and excited, respectively and it's not long before Max is itching to rob somewhere else. However, things are complicated by the fact that he's also romancing the cute bank teller from the first heist, Lucy (Kerry Knuppe). The film had a certain knockabout charm and there were a lot of great lines, most of them delivered by Brian Phelan, who's hilarious as Tommy and the best reason to see the film. The script is pretty good and I liked the way it worked in the Onion Dance monologue at the end - I'm hoping that was a scriptwriter's joke rather than a sincerely meant moment, but it made me smile, anyway. The romance worked well too (Kneppe is very sweet), although Berger's performance teeters on smug at times and he's not always as likeable as the film seems to think he is. Respect to the afro though - I asked the director during the Q&A whether that was his real hair and apparently it was. The film also has a great soundtrack, sourced from local bands. Three stars, but that's a high three, not a low three like Saxon. Oh, and can Marta Martin (who plays Rosa, the cafe waitress) do more films please? Thanks.
Note: "Skills Like This" screened with a very amusing short by Matthew Modine called "I Think I Thought", which is worth looking out for.
Full disclosure II
I had every intention of seeing Auftauchen (aka Breaking the Surface) today but when I got to the screening, a man came out and said that the reels had arrived without labels, so they had someone who'd seen the film in the projection room trying to match up images to their memory of the film but it could all go horribly wrong and if it did, they'd stop the film and reschedule it. I'd already missed the alternative (Ex-Drummer; coming soon) so I stayed, largely because the programme had said that the film had "a rare command of that most awkward of film-making challenges, the sex scene". Sure enough, twenty minutes in, there is an impressively filmed sex scene (by which I mean intense and lots of heavy breathing rather than explicit imagery)...and then, as soon as it finished, the lights went up and the now very sheepish-looking bloke came out and told us that, essentially, we'd had our fun and now had to leave. Some very flustered audience members were giving each other embarrassed looks on the way out and saying, "I feel so cheap..." But, really, this festival is taking the concept of the tease way too far...
Coming soon:Weirdsville, Parting Shot, The Surprise Film: The Kingdom