EIFF 2016 – Whisky Galore! (Gillies Mackinnon)

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This remake of alexander Mackendrick’s Ealing classic Whisky Galore! (1949) has been in development since the early 2000’s. Every so often the producers would attempt to drum up publicity in the press and people would wonder why bother remaking one of the great Scottish films? Production was shelved a decade ago due to a problem with funding and arguments over casting. Now that the film has finally been made it turns out to be a modest success. Peter McDougall’s screenplay is wryly funny and captures the spirit of Compton Mackenzie’s novel, while Gregor Fisher gives a warm-hearted performance as the wily postmaster Macroon.

The story remains much the same save for the addition of a sub-plot about important documents relating to the royal family which would have got the original filmmakers done for treason. On the isolated Isle of Todday wartime rationing has restricted the availability of whisky. Much to the consternation of the Islanders they’ve drank their fill and the island is now dry. While Macroon is one of the most respected men on the island, he’s not known for his joviality. A widower with two daughters, both of whom are keen to marry and may well leave for the mainland. The last thing he needs is a period of sobriety.

When the SS Cabinet Minister runs aground carrying a cargo of whisky meant for the United States the locals mobilise although not before the local Kirk minister (James Cosmo) makes them observe the longest Sabbath of their lives. Technically taking anything from the ship is theft so hapless Home Guardsman Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard) chases them all over the island trying to find proof of their subterfuge.

Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero (1983) and the TV series Hamish Macbeth (1994) did more with this kind of material and like the original Whisky Galore! tell us a great deal about the time when they were made. Mackinnon’s film is a nostalgic period piece, but not without charm. What’s missing is any sense of there being something to lose for these people. Izzard is too buffoonish to pose any real threat while Basil Radford in the 49’ version seemed like the sort of ‘decent’ person who would ruin people’s lives over the most trivial of matters. It’ll pass a Sunday afternoon quite nicely though and older viewers might enjoy hearing Gregor Fisher reprising his Hebridean news anchor accent from his Naked Video (1986-91) days.

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EIFF 2016 – Maggie’s Plan (Rebecca Miller)

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Went into Maggie’s Plan expecting an earnest drama like The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005), but Rebecca Miller’s latest turns out to be a highly entertaining comedy. Greta Gerwig plays the titular Maggie who feels she’s ready for motherhood but not marriage. Old college friend Guy (Travis Fimmel) is keen on a more traditional form of impregnation, but agrees to donate sperm and play no further part should Maggie become pregnant. Good-looking, but with an intense manner and clearly suffering from social awkwardness, Guy studied as a mathematician but dropped out and became a “pickle entrepreneur” growing and bottling his own product.

While teaching at college she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a handsome professor and literary star moving away from theory to writing his first novel. John frequently talks about his wife Georgette (Julianne Moore) in disparaging terms and implies she’s ruining his life. Maggie begins an affair despite being warned by her friend Tony (Bill Hader) not to get involved with a married man. Cut to three years later and Maggie and John are together with a young daughter plus sharing custody of his two children with Georgette. John is still writing the same novel though and is a feckless father, leaving all the hard work to Maggie while he does his own thing. Maggie begins to resent him and comes up with a plan to return him to his first wife.

Lighter in tone than her previous work with a whimsical style Woody allen has lost the knack for Miller gently pokes fun at the pretensions of her characters while remaining sympathetic to them. The manipulative and flighty Maggie could easily be unbearable but Gerwig makes her likeable despite her machinations. Moore is hilarious as Georgette whose few early appearances seem to confirm expectations she is some kind of caricature until gradually Miller reveals her humanity. Hawke is the film’s patsy, and it’s hard to to think Miller cast him without having read one of the actor’s own dreadful novels. Doubt I’ll see a scene I enjoy more this year than Moore handing him the burnt ashes of his character’s shitty novel.

EIFF 2016 – The Rezort (Steve Barker)

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For one terrible moment at the beginning of The Rezort it seems like the film might be a found footage movie but thankfully Barker is simply establishing we are in a post zombie epidemic world in which humanity fought back and won “the war.” The remaining undead have been successfully contained on an isolated island. Unfortunately super-rich company CEO Ms. Wilton (Claire Goose) has turned the place into a Westworld style theme park open to visitors who can purchase safari trips with the added bonus of using the zombies for target practice. Now a zombie theme park seems like a spectacularly stupid idea but then I remember a shipping company has rebuilt the Titanic and is currently taking bookings for a maiden voyage. So zombie theme park? Entirely plausible scenario.

In true horror movie style we are introduced to a variety of characters who probably won’t make it to the end of the movie. Odds-on favourite for final girl status Melanie (Jessica De Gouw) is a zombie massacre survivor currently undergoing therapy and in need of some closure. Also along for the trip are her suspiciously nice Irish boyfriend, ex-soldier Lewis (Martin McCann), mysterious loner archer (Dougray Scott), hippy-ish undead rights campaigner (Elen Rhys), teenagers Jack & Jay (Jassa ahluwalia, Derek Siow), and a group of obnoxious businessmen who are clearly first on the menu.

Steve Barker has a proven track record for low-budget features having previously directed the first two entries in the zombie-Nazi Outpost trilogy for Black Camel Productions. Both were filmed on location in Scotland in less than a month but despite the short production period Barker delivered two very effective genre movies. Black Camel once again produce, this time from a screenplay by Paul Gerstenberger.

Leading lady De Gouw, impressive on cult TV shows Dracula and Arrow, holds the film together. For some reason Dougray Scott is lumbered with an American accent just as fellow Brit Richard Coyle was in Outpost: Black Sun (2012). Gerstenberger’s screenplay makes clear allusions to the the refugee crisis and the situation in the Middle East. While the market is over-crowded with zombie films The Rezort is more thoughtful than most and entertaining enough to warrant its own Outpost style franchise.

EIFF 2016 – The Correspondence (Giuseppe Tornatore)

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In this odd otherworldly love story post-grad astrophysics student and part time movie stunt performer Amy Ryan (Olga Kurylenko) is having an affair with her much older tutor Professor Ed Phoerum (Jeremy Irons).  First seen in an anonymous hotel room with a grunting Irons looking like he’s about to launch into some of the erotic manoeuvres from Louis Malle’s Damages (1992), they then go their separate ways making sure nobody sees them. Ed is married with a grown-up daughter (Shauna MacDonald) and a young son, but the two still communicate every day though by text or Skype. Ed seems paternalistic, not surprising given the considerable age difference, but Irons & Kurylenko remain convincing as lovers because her character is clearly looking for a father figure and he’s still a handsome chap.

Suddenly Ed disappears from her life, keeping in touch with Amy only through cryptic messages by text, email, or DVD recordings sent by courier. She travels to his hometown of Edinburgh (posh Scot, no need for an accent) to find out more about his absence. There are little moments that appear to be supernatural portents, a Labrador dog who approaches her in a park and seems to be trying to communicate something, a leaf banging repeatedly against her window, endless talk of parallel worlds and other selves, but the truth behind’s Ed’s absence may be something altogether simpler.

This could just as easily have been a thriller about a controlling male tormenting his lover and to be fair the film does address these concerns towards the end, but the overall mood is romantic and it just about hangs together. As with Tornatore’s last film 2014’s  The Best Offer (which felt like an upmarket version of a giallo), The Correspondence is flawed but fascinating. Scenes of Amy performing elaborate action movie scenes seem incongruous until the stunts begin to mirror her emotional state of mind. Ennio Morricone’s score helps matters, the use of electric guitar in one long recurring suite recalls Local Hero (1983, Bill Forsyth), another Scottish set film which used the landscape to magical effect.

EIFF 2016 -Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)

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Funny and moving adaptation of Barry Crumb’s novel ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’ from the director of What We Do in the Shadows. Taika Waititi’s film follows the misadventures of mismatched pair Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a 13-year old delinquent from the city, and 65-year old Hec (Sam Neill), as they inadvertently become fugitives and the subject of a massive manhunt through the New Zealand bush.

Repeat offender Ricky Baker has been given one last chance. Adapt to life in the country with new foster parents Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec or face life in juvenile detention. Militaristic social welfare officer Paula (Rachel House) wants to put Ricky away, rattling off a list to Bella of relatively minor crimes (“spitting!”) she considers to be serious but which are clearly the actions of a bored kid. Though at first Bella seems like a comic caricature with her over-the-top enthusiasm and her cat faced jumper, she’s smart and likable and wins Ricky’s trust. Hec remains aloof though preferring his own company, but Ricky finally feels like he has a place to call home.

When things go awry Ricky takes off but his attempts to go Bush prove hopeless, and Hec finds the starving youngster but unforeseen circumstances force them to camp out in the bush for a month. On the way home they stop at a bothy (no idea what Kiwi’s call a hut for travellers in the country). Pinned to the wall is a news article suggesting Hec may have abducted Ricky and warning people to look out for them. With Hec having done time in the past and Ricky facing being returned to the child welfare system the pair decide to go on the run, pursued by the clearly unhinged Paula, social services, the police, a trio of dim-witted hunters, and eventually the military.

While Waikiki’s earlier films Eagle Versus Shark (2007) and What We Do in the Shadows (2014) were similarly colourful affairs Hunt For the Wilderpeople is much larger in scale. With its use of the landscape and subplot about a rare animal hiding in the forest it put me in mind of another Sam Neill movie The Hunter (2011, Daniel Nettheim), essentially delivering a comic version of the themes present in that film as this taciturn loner learns become an unlikely surrogate father to a young boy.

Neill is an effortlessly charismatic straight-man while Dennison is a real find making a character who could easily have been irritating lovable. There’s also a welcome cameo from Rhys Darby as a conspiracy nut hiding out in the jungle, and Waikiki makes a brief appearance as a Church Minister with an unusual line in eulogies. A huge hit in New Zealand, Hunt for the Wilderpeople should do well internationally. Marvel fans might want to seek it out as Waikiki will be directing the next Thor movie.

 

52 Films By Women – May

Signed up in January for Women In Film’s pledge to watch at least one film helmed by a female director per week. You can do so here if you want to take part. 52 Films By Women

I am going to try and see a new film by a female director every week, but I will occasionally revisit films I haven’t seen in a while, or personal favourites. Been a bit busy this month so only managed two entries but will catch up. Both of these are first time watches.

17. Solaris (1968, Lidiya Ishimbayeva, Boris Nirenburg)

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Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 science-fiction novel has been well served by cinema versions from Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) and Steven Soderbergh (2002), but this 1968 Russian TV adaptation got there first. The film faithfully adapts Lem’s story about a psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (Vasiliy Lavanov) travelling to a ship orbiting the planet Solaris and finding the few remaining members of the crew are experiencing visitations from people from their own pasts. Kelvin soon encounters his own visitor, in the form of his dead wife Hari (Antonina Pilyus), her otherness expressed through an establishing close-up, her face half in shadow, the shot held for an unsettlingly length of time until it dawns on Chris what he’s seeing.

Lacking the resources to show the ocean planet or an elaborately designed space-ship co-directors Lidiya Ishimbayeva and Boris Nirenburg still manage to create a feeling of being off-world. The set design looks like a 60s’ Communist era hotel with lo-fi sci-fi tech added but this minimalism works. This is a story about haunted spaces and their framing and use of camera angles gives the film an otherness and also suggests we are observing them as perhaps the sentient planet is watching them too.  It’s an interesting adaptation though it may only be of interest to fans of the original novel or as a counterpoint to its more famous cinema cousins.

It seems Ishimbayeva worked on a number of other films although her IMDb entry only mentions Solaris and I found it quite difficult finding a resource for Soviet cinema prior to 1989 so any recommendations or information about her career would be welcome.

18) Beyond (2010, Pernilla August)

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Directorial debut of actress Pernilla August (The Best Intentions) about the lasting effects a traumatic childhood can have on a person. Noomi Rapace plays Leena, who reluctantly returns to her hometown when she finds out her mother is dying. Her well-meaning husband (Ola Rapace) insists on accompanying her against her wishes so they move with their two young children back into the family home. Cue flashbacks to Leena’s upbringing in the 70s’ as she remembers her parents drink-fuelled destructive relationship. Leena has done everything to forget her past and confronting it begins to bring out the worst in her putting a strain on her own marriage and affecting her own relationship with her kids. Beyond is a tough watch but rewarding. It’s often quite upsetting, but it perfectly conveys that feeling of dread in households like these where any kind of an argument, however innocuous,  can lead to violence.