Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009

Time to catch up with some more reviews. Last year the Film Festival was brought forward to avoid clashing with the official/fringe/book/etc festivals, and the experiment was obviously a success in growing the audience because they've kept the June dates this year. I went to five films (should have been six but I had to miss one because I was working away from Edinburgh). So here they are, and a great bunch they were too.

Humpday (****) Lynn Shelton 2009

A very funny adult comedy about married Seattle couple Ben and Anna who have an old college friend of Ben's (Andrew) drop in unexpectedly. Ben and Andrew end up at a party with some arty friends, get rather stoned and end up proposing to make a porn film to enter for Humpfest (a real-life Seattle amateur porn festival). They declare that they will produce a piece of off-the-wall artistic erotica: and what could be more off-the-wall than two straight guys (them) having sex with each other on camera? The rest of the film, much of it improvised, follows their misgivings (and bravado) as the day of filming approaches, Anna's reaction, and Ben's and Andrew's wonderful awkwardness when confronted with a hotel room, a camera, and each other. Marvellous performances from Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard as Ben and Andrew, and from Alycia Delmore as Anna. A very silly film, but one for anyone who has ever agreed to something when drunk or stoned and then had second thoughts. I doubt it will come on general release, but watch out for it at your local arthouse.

Black Dynamite (****1/2) Scott Sanders 2009

A terrific spoof of all those Blaxpoitation films from the 1970s: not so much Shaft as the hundreds of inferior imitations. Black Dynamite doesn't miss a trick: like Airplane! it leaves no gag ungagged, no cliche un-cliched. For example, the films it's spoofing made heavy use of split-screen camerawork so of course there is a scene with the screen split. Except in this film the screens are showing opposite sides of the same room, with the middle missing so characters walk off one half of the screen and then reappear in the other half a couple of seconds later. Then there's a boom mike that keeps intruding into another scene with hilarious results; a gloriously evil villain who is of course a kung fu expert but no match for Black Dynamite. Black Dynamite survives an attack by three Uzi-wielding hoods with no more than a scratch (cue cliche surgery dialogue about "Half an inch to the left and....") but of course dispatches his assailants with a shot each from his handgun. And so on, and on. The evil plot goes right to the top (the chief villain turns out to be Richard Nixon), and the laughs go on right to the end. Michael Jai White stars, and co-write the script. One to watch out for.

The Crimson Wing (***) Matthew Aeberhard, Leander Ward 2008

The first nature documentary for a while from Disney, this is the story of a year in the life of a Lesser Flamingo. Lesser Flamingos breed at Lake Natron in Tanzania, and nowhere else. Natron is a salt lake with so many dissolved chemicals it's extremely toxic to most life-forms, but it supports algae on which the flamingos feed. It is so salty that if the fledgling flamingos are unlucky they can get salt encrustations on their legs which harden into "plaster casts" which effectively doom them to predation. The film is stunningly beautiful, but suffers from a very Disneyfied voiceover by Mariella Frostrup. OK, in Britain we get spoiled by David Attenborough, but it would have been nice to have more space to admire the birds and the landscape without being constantly told what we were seeing. In the Q&A session afterwards someone made a similar criticism of the score by The Cinematic Orchestra, though neither Hilary nor I had found that obtrusive. OK, it's not a return to the cutesy anthropomorphism of The Living Desert with its Praying Mantises "dancing" to mouth harp music, but you'd still know it was Disney: at least I think you would, despite its having been made by two young British directors.

Both were present for the Q&A, and were pointing out that feature-length nature films are very rare these days. It will be interesting to see how Disney market it: whether it gets much of a theatrical release or whether it goes quickly to the cable channel and DVD.

So far, so good. But the last two films I saw were a whole order of magnitude better, and if I allowed myself to award more than five stars they would both have more.

The Maiden Heist (*****) Peter Hewitt 2008

The posters for this one all emphasise that Morgan Freeman stars in it. Which is true, but the main character is played by Christopher Walken and there is an equally large role for William H Macy. It's an ensemble piece, for sure, and all three are a joy to watch, though at the end of the day it's Walken's film. Described by its director as a latter-day Ealing comedy (with echoes of both The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt) it tells the tale of three art gallery security guards each of whom has over the years developed a strong affection for a particular piece in the gallery. For Walken it is Lonely Maiden, a painting of a wonan standing on a shoreline. Freeman's love is a landscape, while Macy adores a sculpture of a nude warrior (in front of which he likes to strip off - when the gallery is deserted! - and adopt the same pose). they are horrified to learn that the gallery has sold their favourites to a museum in Copenhagen as part of a deal, and they decide to steal them and put fakes in their place. Easy to say, even for security guards, but getting the fakes and finding a way to do the switch is fraught with difficulty, many of them arising from Walken's vocal (and art-blind) wife. They eventually get themselves assigned to the security detail guarding the removal of the pieces, but their troubles are only just beginning....

This film began with a plot treatment which Morgan Freeman saw and loved. He suggested Christopher Walken, and William H Macy jumped aboard somehow. He was originally though of for the main Christopher Walken role, but he insisted on playing the (frequently naked) sculture freak. The chemistry between all the leads is marvellous, and if this film doesn't go on to become a comedy classic I will eat my festival brochure. Amazingly, the producers have yet to secure cinematic distribution for it even in the States, so it's possible we'll get it before the Americans do. It will bear repeated viewing, that's for sure. DO NOT MISS IT.

Adam (*****) Max Meyer 2009

A story about two strangers.,. One a little stranger than the other.....

Adam is a love story about two neighbours. Beth is a teacher, and Adam designs software for toys. Oh, and Adam also has Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's is a autistic spectrum disorder which can manifest itself in various ways such as a liking for routines and habits, a tendency to take figures of speech literally, and an inability to "read" non-verbal cues. On the plus side, "Aspies" tend to be bright and to have talents in areas such as mathematics or music. They also have a vast capacity for memorising details: a good thing sure, but conversations can easily turn into The Day I Met The Nerd From Hell as of course they don't pick up on your get-me-out-of-here discomfort as they cheerfully describe every feature of their new camera or whatever.

Asperger's is best-known to most folk these days from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, whose narrator has it. My family know it more directly, as my son Ruairidh has a very mild version (he gets additional help in school but doesn't need help socially). The whole family, Ruairidh included, went to see Adam, which was the closing gala premiere of the festival. It was strange, in that we saw some things coming that the average audience member had to wait for, as when Beth is telling Adam how her previous boyfriend upset her and says "When we were together, he slept with other women"; and "Could you give me a hug?" "Yes"... (pause)...."Adam, please give me a hug". Ruairidh said he found it freaky when Adam opened his kitchen cupboard and it contained just dozens of boxes of All-Bran and packs of macaroni and cheese. Ruairidh has definite eating patterns, though in his case these revolve around Coco Shreddies, margarita pizza, tortellini, Muller-Lite yogurt (strawberry or vanilla), bananas and bourbon biscuits (a bit like less sweet Oreos). he said he looked at Adam's cupboard and thought "That's my life on the screen". Which is, I suppose, the point.

Hugh Dancy gives a wonderfully accurate performance as Adam, and Rose Byrne also shines as his NT ("neuro-typical", ie "normal") neighbour and lover. The plot takes a few unexcected turns and leaves you guessing right up to the end in some ways.

I think the beauty of the film, and of Dancy's performance, is that it manages both to show how normal in many ways Asperger's sufferers are - how they can and do function in everyday life with jobs, girlfriends, even wives - and also how their condition isolates them, putting a moat of mutual incomprehension between them and the world. Dustin Hoffman nailed the portrayal of an severely autistic savant in Rain Man: Dancy has done the same for this related but very different condition. If there were justice in the world he would get a Best Actor nomination for the Oscars. Maybe he will. Anyway, go and see it. Take your neurotypical friends.


At 06 July, 2009 03:18, Blogger Persephone said...

As you may remember, one of my daughters is on the autism spectrum, with a label of PDD-NOS. In your post, you've sung the praises of cinematic portraits of Asperger's and of severe autism. I would like to recommend Snow Cake starring Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver as a woman with HFA (high functioning autism). It was filmed in Canada with an English and Canadian cast (with the exception of Weaver who is American). One of my favourite moments in the film is that of neighbour who tells Rickman's character: "I know all about it. I saw that movie." She's referring to Rainman, of course, and this underlines the double-edged sword of Hoffman's performance; people think that is what autism is. Both you and I know the truth to the statement "If you've met one person on the autism spectrum, you've met....one person on the autism spectrum."

At 06 July, 2009 23:19, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Thanks for the reviews - I'll have to watch out for those. We now have a movie festival here in Vegas too, being so close to Hollywood lots of actors come out for it.


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