Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day Three: "And I woke up, naked, under a pool table and clad only in a milkman's coat..."

Featured review of the day: The Wackness


British drama about two brothers coping with the death of their mother.

British film set in Brighton, starring Thomas Grant and Aaron Johnson as Jack and Danny, two brothers who are forced to cope with the death of their mother. By an astonishing coincidence, the boys are independently wealthy and Danny has just turned 18 so he's awarded custody of pre-teen Jack. Meanwhile, Jack's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic (including keeping a dummy of his mother in the bedroom and talking to it, Norman Bates-style), while Jack throws himself into his new DJ career and a burgeoning relationship with local girl Zoe (Emma Catherwood). I wanted to like this more than I did. To my mind, as a study of the traumatic effects of grief, it doesn't do anything that Lars and the Real Girl didn't do ten times better - for one thing, the premise is never really explored as Jack creates the dummy fairly early on and nothing else really happens until the final twenty minutes or so. Also, I'm not quite convinced of Aaron Johnson's acting skillz (having seen him in both this and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging recently) though his teen heart-throb status seems assured, if the number of shirtless or clad-only-in-pants scenes here is anything to go by. That said, it was perfectly watchable and Thomas Grant was excellent as Jack. Beautifully shot too, plus -speaking as an ex-Sussex university student- it's always good to see Brighton on screen. Three stars.


British drama starring Robert Carlyle as a man trying to atone for the mistakes of his past.

Superb British drama starring Robert Carlyle as Shaun, who spends his days looking after his wheelchair-bound best friend Daz. When Daz is given just a few weeks to live, Shaun thinks back to the summer when everything began to go wrong: labelled a bully at school, his learning disability was ignored and he was expelled, eventually destroying his future through an act of destruction. At the same time, Shaun recalls that same summer as the best time of his life, when he and Daz (Sean Kelly and Jo Doherty) spent a blissful time hanging around with Shaun's girlfriend Katy (Joanna Tulej), who Shaun still thinks of as the love of his life. And when Daz goes into hospital and his teenage son Daniel (Michael Socha) goes off the rails, Shaun decides to see if he can reconnect with Katy (now played by Rachel Blake)... Directed by Kenny Glenaan (who made 2004's Yasmin), this is a powerfully emotional drama with Carlyle on top form and a potentially career-making performance from young Sean Kelly (who reminded me a lot of Shameless's Jody Latham) as the teenaged Shaun. As well as getting powerful performances from his actors, Glenaan brilliantly captures the feel of carefree summers in small towns and orchestrates some astonishing sequences, such as a shocking and heart-breaking scene in which Shaun deliberately crushes his hand in a vice out of frustration with his dyslexia. Powerful, beautifully shot and emotionally devastating, this marks Glenaan out as a talent to watch. Four stars.

Better Things

British drama directed by Duane Hopkins, about a series of fractured relationships unfolding in a community where a beautiful teenager has just died of a drugs overdose.

Quite possibly the festival's most depressing film (and as you can imagine, it's up against some pretty stiff competition), Better Things is directed by Duane Hopkins and features several unknown actors as members of a smalltown community in the Cotswolds, where a beautiful local teenager has just died of a drugs overdose (the film opens with a shot of her corpse with a needle in her arm and it's all downhill from there, emotionally speaking). Other characters include: the dead girl's boyfriend, Rob, who feels guilty about her death and seeks solace in -yes!- heroin; an old woman who can't understand why her just-released-from-hospital husband is so furious with her; an agoraphobic and depressed young woman caring for her bedridden grandmother; Rob's best friend, David, who's visited by his ex-addict girlfriend and decides to apply for methadone treatment; and, in the film's most compelling segment, a young teenager called Larry who only finds out his girlfriend Rachel has dumped him when he sees her making out with a motorcycle-riding older boy. Hopkins eschews traditional narrative in favour of a series of character snapshots and the accumulative effect is nothing short of extraordinary as the recurring theme of love's power to hurt us emerges. It's also beautifully shot, courtesy of cinematographer Lol Crawley, but what really stands out is the stunning sound design work. At one point, two characters are talking in a car and all the background noise is removed, leaving just the conversation and creating a dreamlike, surreal effect that works brilliantly. Similarly, there's very little in the way of traditional dialogue, but the few conversations that we do hear (the old couple eventually discussing their problems; Larry's angry phonecall with Rachel) are utterly devastating. An unforgettable film. Four stars.

The King of Ping-Pong

Swedish coming-of-age drama about an overweight teenager who overhears some distressing news about his paternity.

I love Scandinavian coming-of-age movies. They're probably my favourite festival genre, right up there with wacky competition documentaries (Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling, Air Guitar Nationetc). In the past few years, I've seen several delightful ones at Edinburgh, including Just Bea and Fourteen Sucks so I was really looking forward to The King of Ping-Pong. I have to say that it wasn't quite the movie I was hoping for (after the triple-bill of depression above I was really in the mood for a feelgood coming-of-age comedy) but I still enjoyed it. Jerry Johansson stars as overweight teen Rille, who lives for ping-pong because it's the only thing he's really good at and the only place where his stewardship of the ping-pong cupboard allows him to lord it over the younger kids, instead of regularly getting beaten up or bullied once he leaves the sports hall. He's also jealous of his popular younger brother Erik (the delightfully named Hampus Johansson), but when he overhears some distressing news about his paternity, Rille suddenly realises why he and his brother are so different. Johansson is superb as Rille (think Row-land from 1980s-era Grange Hill) and there was strong support from Hampus Johnansson and from tiny Alicia Stewen as Anja, a young girl who secretly likes Rille. This was much darker than I was expecting, plus the ping-pong wasn't as crucual to the plot as I was hoping, either (clearly, my dream film is one that combines Scandinavian coming-of-age stuff with sports competition docu-dramas). There were some striking scenes though (Rille's ice-throne; his drunken father unexpectedly jumping into an ice-hole; his fights with Erik) and one lovely sequence involving a truck, a car and a bridge, when Rille is driving with Anja in the passenger seat and they both break into delightful smiles. (I'd have been more than happy for the film to end at that point, actually). Also, a very weird coincidence: both King of Ping-Pong and Blood Car have the same gag, when an otherwise innocent-looking girl (Anja here, Anna Chlumsky's Lorraine in Blood Car) are revealed to be drawing extremely obscene pictures. Three stars.


Dutch drama about an ageing actress who suddenly finds her riverboat home at risk because of her overspending.

This turned out to be the perfect end to a day of pretty miserable films. Directed by Paula van der Oest, Tiramisu stars Anneke Blok as Anne, an ageing theatre actress struggling with her ex-husband's remarriage to a younger, prettier actress. Hungover after a closing-night party, she receives an unexpected visitor at her riverboat home in the shape of book-keeper Jacob (Jacob Derwig), who informs her that she's hugely in debt and risks losing her lovely riverboat home unless she comes up with some money. What follows is a heart-warming culture-clash comedy-drama (uptight accountant vs free-spirited flighty actress) that takes ideas from backstage drama movies (Blok is physically similar to Gena Rowlands), Altman-esque ensemble dramas (the 20 minute climactic party scene could have come from an Altman movie) and, as some clever-clogs in the audience correctly pointed out, the works of Chekhov, particularly The Cherry Orchard, from which it lifts its entire structure. (The director awarded the audience member 10 points at the Q&A). Blok and Derwig spark off each other well and the supporting cast are delightfully quirky without ever becoming irritating. A solid three stars.

1 comment:

MarvMarsh said...

"the ping-pong wasn't as crucial to the plot as I was hoping"

There's your poster quote right there.