brief notes from Edinburgh, 2003
ONE FOR THE ROAD
7/10: UK 2003 : Chris COOKE : 96 mins
Given its sub-Full Monty premise, this is a surprisingly strong and successful British comedy – one whose laughs derive in no small part from the very dark undercurrents that periodically flare towards the surface. A disparate group of men all of them having been found guilty of drunk-driving come together once a week for an awkward group-counselling session in an unnamed East Midlands town (Newark?). The strong suit is Cooke’ s script, brought to vivid life by a mostly unknown cast. Hywel Bennett (looking more and more like David Hemmings) is the only “name” on view, and he provides welcome ballast as a sleazy fat-cat businessmen who lords it over his less financially comfortable friends. Among these Mark Devenport gets most of the belly-laughs as a doughy, easy-going taxi driver–but the biggest impact is made by Rupert Procter’s delightfully two-faced schemer: all wheedling vulnerability one minute, all venal, vicious cunning the next. The story itself is a little ramshackle: Devenport, Procter and Greg Chisholm (the nominal lead as the youngest member of the group) plot to draw Bennett into a dubious business deal that degenerates into a chaotic, violent party at the latter’s country mansion. And Cooke suffers from directorial first-time-it is, with much cut-happy DV gimmickry, and some over-fussy camerawork (he’s clearly studied the bar scenes from Mean Streets). But these faults do little to detract from what is at once a genuinely funny picture, and also a piercingly bleak voyage into a post-Thatcherite provincial, pub-centred netherworld of delusional losers clinging to hollow mantras of management-speak as they drift into the abyss.
5/10: USA 2003 : Fenton BAILEY & Randy BARBATO : 99 mins
This year’s Hedwig (same producer): rise and fall of 1980s, post-Warhol Manhattan club kid Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin) and his partner-in-fashion crime James St James (Seth Green), on whose salacious memoir Disco Bloodbath the movie is based. Audience’s tolerance for camp / kitsch will be tested to full: waspy chat, extreme costumes, music of the period, set-pieces, scandalous excess of drugs/sex/violence. “The road of excess leads to a palace of… fabulousness!” St James exclaims. Split-focus biopic of Alig / St James is also chronicle of NY club scene from late 80s to early 90s — has any era of NY club scene NOT been chronicled and celebrated on celluloid? (or, in this case, cheap-looking DV directors take cue from St James’ boast that he and his pals are PROFOUNDLY SUPERFICIAL) Doesn’t help that now we’re on to the relatively obscure “club kid” period, sans celebs (‘No poor or ugly people allowed’ reads one flier.) Compensatory plusses : top-value Seth Green breaks loose with shameless, suitably outrageous performance (“I’m not addicted to drugs, I’m addicted to glamour!”) in array of wigs, makeup and costumes that must have eaten fair-sized chunk of whatever budget there was. All pretty awful on the eye though–paradoxically, cheap and ramshackle look probably creates accurate idea of the period–their artificiality, or the actors’? or both?–anything goes; they’re living their own self-referential movie, and they know it (cue the music! perception is reality). Post-modern to-camera winks and nods are entertaining, but have been done many times before–most direct comparison is 24 Hour Party People, chronicling roughly same era and similar ecstasy-fuelled culture on other side of the Atlantic (again the Warhol influence: Factory Records in 24HPP) Not in that picture’s league. Direction distinctly prone to cliché (tinkly piano!) Energetically assembled, however, and sometimes all suddenly comes together: impromptu Dallas gig with Culkin and Chloe Sevigny on stage: “Money, Success, Fame, Glamour!” he intones through a miniature loud-hailer and it all clicks into place. But, like all such bios (openly building to tragic finale, cf Auto Focus), very episodic, much less fun on way down (inevitably drug-fuelled) than up : as HE unravels, so does pics momentum somewhat garbled finale. We don’t find out what happened, and must depend on the testimony of a rat–literally. Hallucination sequence: man appears in rat costume to deliver exposition. Then all comes to sudden end–disappointing there’s no picture-credits, no “what happened next” after this messy final stretch. Directors, it seems, have attention spans as short as their heroes’.
Australia 2003 : Tony McNAMARA : 90 mins
After last years Australian Rules, and this years Ned Kelly (see Edinburgh 2), further evidence to support the theory that Edinburgh artistic director Shane Danielsen selects some distinctly underwhelming films from his own homeland. This one is a very inoffensive and minor teen comedy in which a bumbling semi-weirdo lad (Ben Lee) – named Placid Lake by his flower-child parents – engages in a geeky romance with a spectacle-wearing oddball stunner (Rose Byrne).
Writer-director McNamara seems to be aiming for some kind of cross between Rushmore and Ghost World, but doesn’t have the skill as a writer or director to pull it off and, while Byrne has plenty of svreen presence, the oft-wooden Lee isn’t much help. Even Miranda Richardson struggles to breathe much life into the stilted dialogue, with McNamara trying to milk the laziest kind of laughs out of her dippy-hippy pronouncements. Gauzily TV-bland to look at, this is forgettably mild fare that seems a baffling choice for whats supposed to be a major international film festival.
Schimkent Hotel : France (Fr/UK) 2003 : Charles DE MEAUX : 92 mins
Of all the post-USSR new countries, Kazakhstan is among the most enigmatic and fascinating – even in John McTiernans duff Rollerball remake, with its striking night-vision scene in which Chris Klein and LL Cool J try to escape on motorbikes across the vast Steppes landscape Its definitely the real thing in Shimkent, in one of most bizarre movies of year.
Conventional structure (psychiatrists interrogation of traumatised individual, then chronological flashbacks fill in the story leading up to mysterious dire event that left him sole survivor) but content is decidedly offbeat : young French businessfolk (fake?) attempt to buy into Kazakh aluminium industry!
They lose their wayAt times, a little Blair Witch if that picture took place in vast treeless expanses of central Asia. Docu feel, obvious there aren’t many actors here aluminium factory people are the real deal.
Plenty of down time for audiences to spend time wondering why and how film was made because premise, while engagingly oddball, isn’t enough on its own.
Execution, while visually striking (inevitably, given geography of setting, despite usual limitations of digital video) is dramatically inert. Proceeds in fits and starts, and were never really sure why or how. Drive a camion or camel through some of the arty pauses (check out the French peoples priceless non-reaction when their workers go on strike). All ends rather abruptly, with clunky revelation of what happened to the rest. But by this stage we don’t really know or care whats happening, who lived and who died. This reviewer found himself snoring at a crucial stage : not a good sign.
USA (US/Sweden) 2002 : Jonas AKERLUND : 100 mins
Drug-pic Spun is terrible for many reasons, but the main one is that every hyperbolic shot, every cut and every camera movement has been done 1,652,571 times before in other films, videos and TV– there’s not a trace of originality in either direction or script. Spun is like a sour parody of what you’d expect an acclaimed music-video director’s first feature to be like. Or perhaps a sour parody of all those post-Tarantino pseudo-ironic, drugs-n-thugs-n-cops pictures. Except parodies should make you want to laugh. This film may make you want to die. It’s the kind of film that gives style a bad name. Its also the kind of film that gives film a bad name. Pointless, witless, cliché-ridden, laboured, ugly, misogynistic, repetitive rubbish cynically made to pander to worst aspects of white middle-class teenage/student audiences. But they’re not quite as stupid as Akerlund and his pals seem to think. Are they?
For other reviews of films rated 1/10 an 2/10 try our Diorama of Dishonour
France 2003 : Francois OZON : 103 mins
The arthouse Identity a superficially twisty, well-acted pseudo-thriller that ultimately vanishes up its own backside, mocking you for ever having taken it seriously. Charlotte Rampling is an English crime-writer who spends some time at her publishers house in the south of France. Her calm is disturbed by the arrival of a young woman (Ludivine Sagnier) claiming to be the publishers daughter. Complications ensue or do they?
Its not entirely unpleasurable watching Ozon toy with the conventions of the thriller format and Rampling (all of a sudden, apparently one of our Great Actresses?!) has a rare old time as a character she describes as combining elements of PD James, Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell. But any of those three writers would run a mile if confronted with the flimsy nonsense that constitutes Ozons story: its as if he’d read only synopses of their novels, without ever coming close to grasping the psychological depth that makes them successful.
Instead, Ozon retreats into a film-buff smart-arsery, the idiotic twist climax (and nonsensical coda) revealing him as the latest in a very long line of phoney-fakey frauds all too happy to play the role of cinematic magus-auteur. He seems to be believing his own publicity and his reputation has now apparently grown to the point that nobody dares point out to him how absurd his English dialogue sounds in the mouths of actual English performers like Rampling and Dance (as the publisher). According to reliable sources, Ozon has now moved to the top of the list of directors Nicole Kidman wants to work with a state of affairs which, if true, says much more about her than it does about him.
Spain (Spn/Denmark) 2003 : Pablo BERGER : 93 mins
Extremely likeable, thoroughly daft and idiosyncratic satire of movie-making in the dying days of Franco. Serious subtexts occasionally surface: this is, among many things, a wry but optimistic view of early pan-European co-operation between the chilly-but-liberated north and the warm-but-repressed south: a Danish film-crew helps out a budding director (Talk To Hers hangdog Javier Camara) as he progresses from educational sex shorts to his epic entitled Torremolinos 73. But while the director has lofty aims to emulate his hero Bergman, the money-men insist on the film containing some rather more salacious and therefore commercial scenes.
The porn elements incorporated with some of the bouncy, innocent glee of Boogie Nights atmosphere is naughty rather than sordid, with period details (everything is orange and/or brown) captured unobtrusively. Direction never approaches Paul Thomas Anderson heights of inspiration, but script is strong: most amusing (and touching) moment comes when our hero has to produce sperm so that his fertility can be checked: he goes into a hospital cubicle whose walls are covered with images of naked women, but prefers to use the passport-sized photo of his own wife for stimulation.
Movie glides along on this kind of good-natured character comedy for almost all running-time, only losing momentum a little in final stretches not a scrap of self-importance here, even if film-within-film Torremolinos 73 is the most wildly pretentious grab-bag of images from likes of Fellini and Bergman. On this evidence, in fact, Berger is much more entertaining as a film-maker.
UK 2003 : Paul MORRISON : 106 mins
Cricket / racism in 1960 London impeccable pro-tolerance intentions, dull execution style would have looked and sounded (that incessant score!) somewhat dated back in 1960 (Peeping Tom), and here we are more than 40 years on still making these lukewarm pics suitable for Sunday afternoon TV, but whats it doing taking up cinema screens?
Dodgy catchphrase title that’s often (awkwardly) used (especially in relation to sport) but never explained cf Purely Belter also aimed to tackle social issues via sporting subculture and whimsical comedy only marginally more successful than French pic InchAllah Dimanche, which also featured cardboard-cut-out neighbours stirring racial strife Oblivion clearly a cut above both, but nothing here to detain those not already interested in subject matter.
Good to see Delroy Lindo back in Britain as the coach who moves in next door, of course, and the kid is fine in a Harry Potterish kind of way but sort of pic where all the kids haircuts are anachronistic, despite so much attention paid to cars, furnishings, etc. Unwisely veers into Far From Heaven country tentative forbidden romance beyond the colour bar between married Jewish woman and married Jewish man but there the comparison ends.
Why set in London 1960 when Burnley 2003 could have been used? What about lads playing-colleague Singh? (perhaps dealth with in final half-hour this critic had had enough after an hour.) Final straw : Lindos character quotes CLR James definition of style as significant form. The cheek of it in such a workmanlike middle-order movie.
For the full stand-alone review of this film click here
films seen at Filmhouse, Cameo and UGC cinemas, Edinburgh, between 12th and 23rd August, 2003
reviews written 15th September, 2003
by Neil Young