EDINBURGH ’09 dispatches (page 5) Tue.23.June : ‘Giallo’, ‘Le Donk’, Easier with Practice’, etc

Published on: June 23rd, 2009

#8 (11.15pm, Tuesday 23rd)
   Oppressively hot nearly all day today – well, by Edinburgh standards at least – and conditions in the Filmhouse, where all my screenings took place, often reached sweatbox proportions. Stepping out after my late-evening screening of Easier With Practice (about which the positive buzz turns out to be entirely justified) I was surprised and invigorated to find a thickish mist had descended on the city, instantly cooling. But I still bought and drank a litre of water from Costcutter 24 (an invaluable open-all-hours facility just across and the the road from the Filmhouse) to drink on my taxi-ride home. That’s the deal: walk in, taxi back. Late in the day I would rather spend 20 minutes writing (or sleeping) than operate Shanks’s Pony, especially when it’s a week entirely comprising 9am starts. Tomorrow: much-anticipated Canadian horror Pontypool at the Cameo, which is the “happy medium” of cinemas here between the chilly Cineworld and the furnace that is the Filmhouse.
   “Hottest” screening at the latter today – literally and metaphorically is the film universally referred to as Le Donk, but which is actually called Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee (technically speaking, the full title, as shown at the start of the picture, is Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee aka Nicholas and Dean.)
   The 6pm screening was the public world premiere with director Shane Meadows in attendance along with various crew and cast, the latter including Meadows’ old mucker Paddy Considine – this is their first collaboration since the masterpiece Dead Man’s Shoes (which I saw here a couple of years back) and is a scruffily genial, likeably unassuming throwback to their early-90s “amateur” video shorts, rough-edged, shot-on-the-fly no-budgeters that were a matter of mates larking about than anything else. 
   Le Donk, reportedly shot on five days, is a mock-documentary in the Christopher Guest vein about an obnoxious roadie (Considine) and his rapper protege ‘Scor-zay-zee’ (playing himself, it seems €¡). Le Donk (somewhat implausibly) gets a gig with the Arctic Monkeys (who pop up now and again) and sees a chance for his chubby young charge to make a name for himself.
   The dopey shenanigans, essentially a showcase for Considine’s improv-comedy skills – which are, luckily for all, pretty impressive. As he displayed, in character throughout, during the post-screening Q+A, in which the participants clutched water-bottles as they took turns cracking each other up. The audience responded with vociferous enthusiasm, and while at the moment Le Donk has no plans for a cinematic release (it’s apparently out on DVD in October), the same was said for a long time about Meadow’s last enterprise, the supposedly “little” picture Somers Town - which won the Powell award here last year before a limited but successful release.
   (Speaking of which – latest Powell odds: 6-4 Fish Tank, 11-4 Moon, 15-2 Crying With Laughter, 10-1 Unmade Beds, 12-1 The Calling, 14-1 bar*)
   Le Donk isn’t anywhere near that league, but it’s still funnier than the majority of comedies which get multiplex exposure, and if any film-maker has earned the right to blow off a little steam with his pals, it is – after Dead Man’s Shoes, This Is England and Somers Town - Uttoxeter’s finest.
   Rather slicker fare was on offer in the smaller – and even warmer – Filmhouse 2 later in the evening courtesy of Easier with Practice. Showcasing a star-making turn from Brian Geraghty as a lonely 28-year-old short story writer who embarks on a torrid phone-sex relationship with a woman he never meets, it sounds somewhat unappetising on paper but works rather beautifully on the screen, partly thanks to Geraghty’s winning, moving characterisation.
   Looking like a cross between Seann William Scott and David Morrissey, Geraghty is a revelation as the bespectacled, cardigan-wearing scribe, but there’s an awful lot to like about writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s limpid DV visuals and the way his script manages to be both droll and poignant at the same time. A recent winner of the top prize at CineVegas, this is American “indie” film-making of rather high calibre.
   Four decades ago American independent productions largely meant American International Productions – the company with which Roger Corman made his classic Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. I escaped the Midlothian heat this afternoon to take in two of the best-regarded of the series, The Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia – an apt double bill, given that both were shot in England pretty much back-to-back.
   I’d seen Masque numerous times on TV but it was great to be able to get the full impact of cinematographer Nicolas Roeg’s visuals on the big screen – there are certain aspects of the picture (especially the end) which prefigure his own Don’t Look Now. Vincent Price holds the whole thing together with a marvellous turn as the decadent, Satan-worshipping Prince Prospero, holed up for an orgiastic feast in his castle as plague (the “red death”) ravages the surrounding countryside – this is supposedly Italy in the middle Ages.
   Having read and re-read Corman’s book How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood and Never Lost A Dime (easily one of the great cinema memoirs, even if it is a touch self-serving here and there) I know all about his approach to Poe: hide the fact that nothing much happens for most of the movie with an excess of atmosphere and a hallucination/dream sequence or two. And this is duly the pattern for Masque - which, oddly, contains no “masque” as such, rather a Bal Masqué (quite a different form of entertainment).
   There isn’t really that much story here, more a pretext for elaborate production-design, costumes and Price’s performance: while at times underplaying in uncharacteristic fashion (I’ve always loved the way his voice drops to a near-inaudible whisper when revealing that his master is “the devil”), he goes into full silent-cinema ham mode for the magnificently over-the-top climax as Prospero finally gets his comeuppance.
   I found Ligeia - rated by some as Corman’s masterpiece – rather harder going. A tale of mad love, hypnotism, resurrection and ill-advised marriages, it relies much too heavily on “boo” scares: if in doubt, Corman has a black cat hurl itself through the air at the characters. And he was evidently in doubt on dozens of occasions, so often does he rely on the sinister moggy for shock value. This is a pity, as the story – screenplay by Robert Towne, no less – turns out to be surprisingly ingenious, even if the denouement is unneccessarily protracted and complicated.
   Price is on slightly lower-key form than usual as the grief-stricken, light-sensitive villain/hero, his eyes hidden behind weird, hinged black spectacles – a very “in” look back in ’64 – and he has a stronger-than-usual female lead in the form of Elizabeth Shepherd, whose other claim to fame was getting her eyes pecked out by a satanic raven a decade and a half later in the all-too-seldom-revived Damien : Omen II.
  
Speaking of things satanic, the witching hour is upon us and I’ve been banging away at the keyboard for 45 minutes. How time flies. Now it’s Wednesday 24th June: happy birthday to Nancy Allen and Peter Weller. And also to Claude Chabrol – who, as far as I know, didn’t star in any of the Robocop movies.

#7 (12.20pm, Tuesday 23rd)
   Week two at Edinburgh (I went home Sunday morning) kicked off with a 9am screening of what was for me the big movie of the whole festival – at least on paper – namely the world premiere of Dario Argento’s Giallo. Technically the premiere is Thursday, but the first press show was today, and I just sent my review off to The Hollywood Reporter (I am covering Edinburgh for THR as well as Tribune, The Auteurs and the website you are currently holding in your hand.) My “bottom line” can be divulged here: Clunky by-the-numbers Euro-thriller wastes the talents of its star and veteran director.
  
OK, I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece of the order of Argento’s finest hour – Suspiria from 1977, which I would rank in my top half-dozen favourites of “all time” (forgive the schoolboy/geekish hyperbole for a moment). But having caught Argento’s previous picture, 2007’s The Third Mother (aka Mother of Tears), in Austria a couple of months ago, it deed seem like the old genius/madman might well be entering a late-career reflowering.
   Giallo – starring Adrien Brody in a gimmicky double role (that’s not really a spoiler, as the casting adds nothing to the movie) – adds little support to such a hypothesis. A half-baked cop-vs-psycho thriller set in Turin – Argento clearly still knows his way around the city, having shot the likes of Deep Red there – it shows only occasional flashes of Argento’s usual outre stylistics, and has numerous hallmarks of the “troubled” production that by all accounts it was.
   I have higher hopes for the day’s remaining horrors: next up for me is a double bill of Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death (which I’ve seen many times on TV and love) and The Tomb of Ligeia (which I don’t think I’ve ever managed to catch before.) Then it’s Shane Meadows’ no-budget Le Donk (initial reports not promising), and later one of the “buzz” pictures of the festival, US indie Easier With Practice whose star Brian Geraghty is here to promote that one and also Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq drama The Hurt Locker, where he plays second banana to a rather terrific turn by Jeremy Renner.
   This being a busy film-day, the noon sun of course is shining warm down on Edinburgh. Up here it’s still light enough to read a newspaper outside after 10.30pm at this time of the year, a detail which reportedly impressed juror Frank Langella (the festival might consider making a bit more of this “midnight light” USP.)
   Speaking of the jury, here are my first rough odds for the festival’s main prize, the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Film…
       7-4 Fish Tank
       9-4 Moon
       13-2 Unmade Beds
       
9-1 The Calling
       12-1 Crying With Laughter, Mad Sad & Bad
       
14-1 Kicks, Running In Traffic, Boogie Woogie
       16-1 A Boy Called Dad, My Last Five Girlfriends
   Faites vos jeux!

Neil Young

Jigsaw Lounge Edinburgh 2009 index page

EASIER WITH PRACTICE : [7/10] : USA 2009 : Kyle Patrick ALVAREZ : 100m : Filmhouse (public : complimentary)
GIALLO : [5/10] : Italy (Ity/US) 2009 (copyright-dated 2008) : Dario ARGENTO : 91m : Filmhouse (press) : THR review
LE DONK & SCOR-ZAY-ZEE : [6/10] : aka Le Donk : full title “Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee – aka Nicholas and Dean : UK 2009 : Shane MEADOWS : 71m : Filmhouse (public :  £6)
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH : [7/10] : USA 1964 : Roger CORMAN : 90m approx (BBFC**) : Filmhouse (public : complimentary)
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA : [6/10] : USA 1964 : Roger CORMAN : 78m approx (BBFC) : Filmhouse (public : complimentary)

NB : the title of Shane Meadows’ film is as above, and not as previous written on this site, nor as on the poster used in Edinburgh. Meadows issued an “official” statement about his on his official website ‘s official forum. So that’s official. 
               €¡ : Scor-Zay-Zee = Dean Palinczuk, a.k.a. Dean Palo

*     6-4 Fish Tank
       11-4 Moon
       15-2 Crying With Laughter
      
10-1 Unmade Beds
       
12-1 The Calling
       14-1 Kicks  AND  Mad Sad & Bad
       
16-1 Running In Traffic
       22-1 A Boy Called Dad
      
25-1 My Last Five Girlfriends
       28-1 Boogie Woogiethis page reveals the startling fact that there was another picture entitled Masque of the Red Death starring Frank Stallone (as “Duke”), Herbert Lom and Brenda Vaccaro… Not quite a remake, Satan be praised!

**