Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day One - “Do you promise never to develop a thing for seahorses?”

Featured review of the day: Sam Mendes' Away We Go (Opening Night Gala).

Mary and Max

Australian stop-motion animation about Mary, a little girl in 1970s Australia, who becomes penpals with middle-aged, overweight New Yorker Max Horovitz.

I confess, I didn't have particularly high hopes for this, because I was worried it would be like some of the atrocious European animated films I've sat through in the last year – atrocities like Free Jimmy, Terkel in Trouble or The Ugly Duckling and Me. Happily, it turned out to be what I'm sure will be one of the best films of the festival. Written and directed by Adam Elliot (whose Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet I will now be seeking out), Mary and Max is filmed entirely in stop-motion animation, only the characters are rather more grotesque than we're used to seeing in mainstream animated movies, even by the standards of Henry Sellick's films. Beautifully narrated by Barry Humphries, the film begins in 1976 with 8 year-old Australian schoolgirl Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitmore and, later, Toni Collette) deciding, on a whim to write to someone in America to find out whether babies really do come from the bottoms of beer glasses, like her recently-deceased grandfather told her. So she picks a name at random from the phone book and ends up becoming pen-pals with middle-aged, overweight New Yorker Max Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman, sounding uncannily like Dustin Hoffman), who is eventually diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. They write to each other over a period of twenty years, bonding initially over their shared love of chocolate and a children's cartoon called The Noblets. The script is really wonderful and Humphries' narration is so perfect that I would happily listen to the entire thing being read on the radio. Needless to say, it's packed full of great lines and visual gags – I particularly liked all the scenes involving Mary's pet rooster, Ethel.The animation is wonderful throughout and Elliot uses colour in interesting ways – the Australia is sort of sun-bleached brown, while New York is entirely black and white, except for red lipstick and the various objects that Mary sends Harvey through the post, like the red pom-pom he wears on his head (see picture above). (This idea of happiness bringing colour to drab black and white lives is also brilliantly used in the upcoming film Kisses, which I half expected to be in the EIFF). Other highlights include: Max giving Mary advice on dealing with bullies; Max explaining his various Aspergers-related run-ins with the law ("Fortunately, I forgot to tell them that I was a member of the Communist Party"); and Mary's romance with Damien Papadopolos (Eric Bana), the Greek boy next door. Also, if Elliot ever needs funds for his next film, he ought to seriously consider selling copies of his adorable plasticine models of pugs. Anyway, this was a delight from start to finish – a superbly written, beautifully animated film that's both darkly funny and deeply moving. Five stars. No sign of a UK distributor yet though – hopefully someone will pick it up soon.

Away We Go

Indie comedy / drama directed by Sam Mendes, starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as a thirty-something couple who take a road trip in order to decide where they should raise their imminent child.

Away We Go is the featured ViewEdinburgh review for Day One (see link to review above), but owing to its unusual scheduling (Are Opening Night film press screenings usually only a few hours before the film?), it was also the second film I saw today. I don't have a huge amount to add to what I wrote in the review, but I definitely think it's a better Opening Night Film than last year's. It's very un-Mendes-like too, in the sense that if you had to guess who directed it, you wouldn't pick him. (For the record, I'm a huge fan of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, but less keen on Road to Perdition and Jarhead). Great role for Krasinski too - if the beard was a deliberate attempt to distance himself from The Office's Jim, then it really worked. There are a few things that will stay with me from this film, but I particularly liked: the scene where Allison Janney moves in for an inappropriate snog and then thinks better of it - most directors would film this in close-up and go for a big laugh, but Mendes makes it weird and interesting by having Janney's neglected 13-year-old daughter being chatted up by two sleazy guys in a truck in the background; Burt's phone voice and pretty much every scene with Burt on the phone but specifically the scene where Verona's sister tells her how lucky she is; the hilarious stroller scene ("You won't have that much fun again till you discover ORAL PLEASURE!"), which is so good it's worth mentioning twice. Four stars.

Pardon My French

French comedy starring Chiara Mastroianni as a blocked writer who develops a friendship with her young female stalker (Agathe Bonitzer).

Or “Un Chat Un Chat”, original title fans. To be honest, this didn't work for me at all and I may have voted with my eyes once or twice. Chiara Mastroianni (who looks so much like her father that it's actually quite disturbing) stars as Celimene, a blocked novelist who's very dissatisfied with her life, to the point where she keeps telling people to call her by different names. She also has a sleep-cake-making habit that's becoming a bit of a problem. She divides her time between looking after her ultra-smart young son and hanging out with her best friend (Sophie Guillemin, who I was delighted to see on screen again, as she hasn't been in a UK-released film in years) and also strikes up a friendship with her friendly female stalker, a young woman named Anais (Agathe Bonitzer). This annoyed me on several levels. First of all, Celimene is almost impossible to like – she's selfish, humourless, neglectful and just not very interesting – it doesn't help that Mastroianni's performance seems very lifeless throughout. That makes it impossible to care about whether or not she gets back with her ex or, indeed, about any of her relationships. There's also nothing to the story – I only saw the film a couple of hours ago and I'm struggling to remember anything that could conceivably be described as a plot. The programme says “a wonderful comic turn by Mastroianni”, but if she gave anything resembling a wonderful comic turn, it must have happened while my eyes were closed. First outright stinker of the Festival so far. One star.

Opening Night Party

Lots of fun, as usual. Teviot Row House is a superb venue (same as last year) and there was live music by Alexi Murdoch, whose music is featured heavily in Away We Go. In fact, it turned out John Krasinski (see below) was a huge fan of Murdoch's music and had suggested him to Mendes for the soundtrack. We also had a nice chat about The Office. Also chatted to Brian Geraghty (who was losing his voice) and the producer of Mary and Max.

No comments: