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Archive for June 2009

EIFF Awards 2009

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Today, the award winners of the 63rd Edinburgh International Film Festival were announced in a public ceremony at the Filmhouse Cinema, by artistic directors Hannah McGill and Diane Henderson, alongside patrons Sir Sean Connery and Seamus McGarvey.

MoonThe big prize, the Michael Powell Award (Best New British Feature Film) was inaugurated in 1993, and is supported by the UK Film Council. It was adjudicated this year by an international jury comprising Joe Wright (director of Atonement), Claudia Puig (film critic), Sacha Horler (actress in My Year Without Sex), Janet Street-Porter (journalist, author) and finally, Frank Langella (most recently starring in Frost/Nixon). Edifyingly, they deigned to select Duncan Jones’s majestic first feature, Moon. The jury citation went as follows: “We award MOON for its singular vision and remarkably assured direction as well as for the inspired manner in which it transcends genre. The central performance by Sam Rockwell embodies the film’s emotional complexity and compelling philosophical perspective”.

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The Girlfriend Experience ***

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Girlfriend ExperienceHard, cold steel opens The Girlfriend Experience – the texture of a wall in a Manhattan apartment, and analogue to the film’s quasi-documentary aesthetics. It focuses on a high-class escort named Chelsea (played by Sasha Grey, the 21 year-old AVN Award-winning adult film star) who is pressed to diversify her business model as credit starts to crunch and client belts start to tighten in contemporary New York. She is almost the antithesis of Jennifer Connelly’s part in Requiem for a Dream – a girl from a comfortable background, whose choice of career is motivated by concerns of financial independence (rather than heroin addiction), whose work is fairly tasteful (rather than painfully degrading). One presumes that both reflect aspects of reality, and that most often women in the industry are somewhere in between.

With a quick turn-around in October 2008, director Steven Soderbergh has managed to immediately capture the spirit of the times, while perhaps sacrificing narrative scope and cinematic depth. His cool, intellectual approach keeps the film from descending into lasciviousness. But there is an unnecessary fragmentation of the story, complemented by random footage of what I can only presume are Soderbergh’s indie musical buddies, jamming on the streets of NYC. Such indulgences lend a sense of imbalance to the film. In contrast to its steely style, Grey’s acting is – intentionally – wooden. This generally works well – Soderbergh presents one less ontological quandary, leaving us to observe the star of adult entertainment as the up-market escort, rather than obfuscating her character with aspirational over-acting. It is even believable, up until the major turn of the fragmentary narrative, one which is predicated on Chelsea’s predilection for “personology” and unconvincingly delivered by Grey’s miniature performance. Due credit must go to Chris Santos though, who is in his element as Chelsea’s boyfriend, a compassionate but quietly anxious character who simmers beneath his perpetually toothy, customer-facing grin.

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Written by James P. Campbell

27/06/2009 at 23:10

Wasted *

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WastedAmongst the great British cinema on offer at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, there is a terribly poor showing from Scottish film-makers. A repeat offender, Wasted is the sort of film concocted by young folk who, inspired by masterpieces like Sweet Sixteen and Trainspotting, come to the wrong conclusion that slice-of-life under-class misery is intrinsically compelling viewing. In spite of some pleasing cinematography, pulled off despite poor equipment and obviously insufficient resources (or poor use of funding), the film bombs. Even the efforts of two pretty worthy young actors can’t save an awful, awful script. Almost entirely filler, it insists that the majority of words to pass the lips of its characters are to be banal and unrealistic asides. To accompany inauthentic lines are a side-order of badly cast voice-over parts, which betray young actors who cannot mask their out-of-place upper-middle-class accents. There are some ephemeral scenes between its romantic leads – when they raid the terribly posh fridge of a trick, for example. Not enough, unfortunately.

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Written by James P. Campbell

26/06/2009 at 14:00

Giallo *

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There seems to be an opening for a horror fan amongst the programmers at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. They just can’t seem to programme interesting horror. Over the last few years, their selections have been high-profile trash: from Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, through Land of the Dead and H6: Diary of a Serial Killer, to Giallo.

GialloTaking its name from a long-established genre moniker, Giallo should be a smart incision in the skin of this typically Italian thriller/slasher bastard (or at least, a witty send-up). Unless I’m missing something… (this is quite possible, given my ignorance of the rich film history it clearly references; the detective could symbolise contemporary American horror; the eponymous killer might even stand for the genre itself!) …this is a bizarrely stupid film: internally inconsistent, stylistically incongruous, skin deep, paying barely cursory lip-service to substantiality. However reminiscent of Dario Argento’s classic works, it abandons everything which made them so well respected. We follow a stewardess, Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner, gamely putting on one of the least credible American accents in film), whose sister has been abducted by a cab-driving Turinese serial killer (Byron Deidra). Legendary local detective and former New Yorker Enzo Avolfi (a petrified Adrien Brody) hunts the murderer with a barely tangible fervor. That’s basically it, aside from some plot points haphazardly lifted from the genre and slapped together with lazy bemusement.

Even if it’s meant to be a joke, it’s an intolerably bad one – unlike the infinitely superior Antichrist. Admittedly, it is at the expense of film past, not audience present – but as a cinematic fart it out-stinks Antichrist by far. The script seems to have been strangled by its umbilical cord. It is beyond expositional, more than prosaic: repetitive, ridiculous. Character relationships are introduced by naming (c.f. “Hey, what’s my little sister up to?”). Plot is so riddled with holes that it is incredible, a fatal flaw which prevents the audience from entertaining the film’s propositions. Inevitably, once a critical mass of viewers have been worn down, the well-meaning crowd can’t help but ridicule the film, bursting into laughter at each further P we are supposed to make believe. The impatient critical audience will boo, if they are still awake. Does Argento want us to be so self-aware, so disconnected from the plasticine world he’s created?

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Written by James P. Campbell

26/06/2009 at 01:10

The Missing Person ****

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– “Are you hiding, or seeking?
– “Right now, I’m drinking.

Apparently, noir revival is a well established method of tackling contemporary moral and political anxieties: developing anti-heroes who stand outside ethical murk and presenting compelling arguments without becoming didactic. Just as Brick addresses teen violence without being pigeonholed as a Columbine movie, The Missing Person tackles the psychic fallout of 11 September 2001 without being a 9/11 movie. As far as I can tell, these are not conscious considerations. In fact, 9/11 is just part of the fabric of reality which informs and subverts what is essentially a love letter to a forgotten era. Taking the conventions of classic film noir and twisting them to reflect the modern world, Buschel’s pacific sensibility pervades The Missing Person.

Missing Person2

Michael Shannon (Oscar-nominated for his part in Revolutionary Road), plays John Rosow: a grizzled, groaning, alcoholic, apathetic, New York private dick. Other descriptions which have caught my imagination include: “craggy, cool and endearingly naive”, or “a tragic slab of a man who we can’t help but root for”. Buschel initially had in mind Vince Vaughn (who might have been terrible as Rosow) but as fate had it, Amy Ryan (who supports as Miss Charley, secretary to Rosow’s employer) suggested her then partner Shannon as “another tall guy”. Shannon’s face, you will recall, is remarkable – perfect for the part – like a hybrid of Cagney and Liotta. He can draw an accent to match the face: Buschel casually describes him as “a natural drunk”. His quietly lived-in performance, perfectly executed dead-pan quips, and the flashes of insight that surface from his “watery drunk eyes” are captivating. In fact, Shannon effectively carries the film.

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Written by James P. Campbell

25/06/2009 at 21:10

Goodbye, How Are You? ***

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We couldn’t choose between Eastern and Western civilization, so we came to a compromise: we will be uncivilized.

Goodbye How Are YouBoris Mitic is the one-man band behind Goodbye, How Are You?, the latest of his avante-garde literary documentaries from Serbia. It is a study of the impact war and political strife have on culture and language. An essay film in 24 scenes, Mitic describes it as “satirical verité” or a “visual anthology of applied aphorisms“: an attempt to translate the popular Slavic literary form of satirical aphorism into cinema. These aphorisms are very short texts, revealing a hidden truth behind familiar conceptions, by way of a subversive twist: an unorthodox commentary which circumnavigates moralizing didactics through black humour, sarcasm but humanism. As literature or film, these texts necessarily demand audience engagement: we have to solve the puzzle to appreciate its meaning (you are not appreciating the work if you don’t know why you are laughing). This makes for compelling viewing, although often too intense and slightly lost in translation.

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Written by James P. Campbell

25/06/2009 at 00:30

Moon ****

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MoonMoon, a giant leap for first-time director Duncan Jones, makes intelligent and affectionate use of many ideas from the great science fiction concept films. It is modest and virtuous, but in the best way – whilst reverent and perhaps a little too modest, too conservative in scope, it refuses to exploit its inspiration, and sticks to a moral code that keeps its philosophical investigation beyond most kinds of reproach. It is also a film best seen without reading any previews or analysis: that’s best kept for the post-viewing experience! We follow Sam (a role written for Jones’s buddy, Sam Rockwell), an isolated lunar technician maintaining a Helium-3 harvesting operation on the dark side of the moon. He lives with Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), an apparently benevolent computer and mouth of the base. And soon, he is due to return home, reaching the end of a three year contract.

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Written by James P. Campbell

23/06/2009 at 23:55