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.

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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 -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.

 

EIFF 2016 – Preview

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Artistic director Mark Adams unveiled the lineup for the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival taking place between the 15th and 26th of June. It’s an interesting lineup continuing the Festival’s current admirable direction towards discovering smaller independent movies. I’ve been looking through the programme and here are my highlights though as ever with festivals there will hopefully be a few new discoveries along the way.

EIFF is notorious for opening on a downer and we’ll soon find out if Tommy’s Honour, a Scottish film starring the ubiquitous Peter Mullan can buck the trend. It does have the novelty value of being directed by former Robin of Sherwood star Jason Connery though.

The knives are ready and sharpened for the closing night gala, a remake of the Ealing classic Whisky Galore! It comes with a long and troubled production history and a previous attempt to film it back in 2006 fell apart. The official website for the film is a bit odd, even chastising original director Alexander Mackendrick for the “folly” of choosing to film the original in black and white.

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Yet there’s some serious talent involved. Gillies Mackinnon (Small Faces) directs, while the screenplay is written by Peter McDougall whose name probably means little outside Scotland but back in the 70s’ and 80s’ he wrote a series of uncompromising television plays including Just a Boy’s Game and A Sense of Freedom then stopped writing for the screen altogether in the early 90s.’ I’m not expecting it to match the original but at least it should be interesting.

Agnieszka Smoczynska’s fascinating looking The Lure is described in the programme as a musical fairytale about two mermaids working in a burlesque club with “kitsch, communist-era styling and off-the-wall collection of upbeat 80s’ songs.”

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Giuseppe Tornatore’s last film, the haunting La Migliore Offerta was given a shabby straight-to-DVD release in the UK under the non-descript title Deception and edited for length so hopefully The Correspondence will fare better. It’s partly set in Edinburgh with Jeremy Irons as an academic carrying on an affair with former student Olga Kurylenko.

My enthusiasm for Maggie’s Plan is tempered by an deep loathing of Ethan Hawke but apparently the movie spends a great deal of time making fun of his pretensions. Hitman movie Mr Right (Paco Cabezas) features Anna Kendrick falling for Sam Rockwell’s dance-loving hitman, and Mark Cousins Bigger than the Shining focuses on premonition in the movies and male rage.

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There’s also Sam Neill in New Zealand comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waitit). Thomas Vinterberg’s hippy movie The Commune, 24 stalwart John Cassar directing Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in western The Forsaken, and Dougray Scott as a zombie hunter in Steve (Outpost) Barker’s The Rezort.

Adams mentioned at the press launch that Scottish road-movie Moon Dogs (Philip John) is well worth seeing. Other recommendations from folks who’ve attended festivals elsewhere include Mammal (Rebecca Daly), Sand Storm (Elite Zexer), and Parched (Tannishtha Chatterjee). There’s also a couple of Gerard Depardieu movies, The End (Guillaume Nicloux) and Saint Amour (Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kerven), but I doubt EIFF will have invited him back after he got waylaid in a pub on the Isle of Skye and never made it to the Festival for a screening of Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara) a couple of years ago.

Pow!!! Live Action Comic Strip Adaptations: The First Generation

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Looking at the early days of comic book adaptations this retrospective has a fine mixture of pop art classics including to quote Ralph Fiennes in The Lego Batman trailer, “that weird one in 1966,” the Batman (Leslie H. Martinson) movie. Monica Vitti changing her hairstyle in every scene for Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise, Vadim’s sexually charged Barbarella, Corrado Farina’s beautiful Baba Yaga, and I envy anybody seeing Mario Bava’s sublime Danger Diabolik on the big screen for the first time.

Altman’s Popeye was the first movie I ever saw in a cinema and it will be interesting to see if my adult self dislikes it as much as I did when I was five. Mike Hodges camp classic Flash Gordon is always welcome, with Sam Jones likeable hero travelling into space and encountering magnificently ripe performances from Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton, and Max von Sydow.

Only ever seen Shogun Assassin, the edited together travesty cut from two Lone Wolf Cub movies so look forward to seeing one of the originals Sword of Vengeance (Kenji Misumi).  Also new to me are hitman movie Golgo 13 (Jun’ya Sato), Pam Grier Blaxploitation movie Friday Foster (Arthur Marks), and Tin Tin and the Golden Fleece (Jean-Jacques-Vierne) a remarkable looking live action adaptation of Herge’s classic comic book series.

Adapting Miss Highsmith

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Patricia Highsmith’s biographer Joan Schenker delivers her talk, ‘The Talented Miss Highsmith: What She Did For Love about Carol/The Price of Salt and how it ties into the rest of her work plus screenings of Carol (Todd Haynes) and Michel Deville’s Deep Water starring Isabelle Huppert.

A Celebration and Critical Appraisal of the Cinema du Look 

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Cinema du Look was initially derived as a dismissive term for the work of a trio of young French directors (Leos Carax, Jean-Jacques Beiniex, and Luc Besson) in the 80s by critic Raphael Bassan who who felt their films had more style than substance. Many still feel that way. Only Carax carries any kind of critical respect, while Beineix has fallen away, and the ridiculously prolific Besson now churns out genre movies through his highly profitable Europacorp studio. These films were often simplistic in terms of worldview, but incredibly complex in terms of their use of imagery and music and they redefined the look of French cinema.

EIFF are showing seven movies. Carax’s sci-fi love story Mauvais Sang, famous for the clip of Denis Lavant dancing through the street to David Bowie’s Modern Love, and his grand folly Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. From Beineix, his wonderful thriller Diva, and the more problematic Betty Blue. Mercifully we’re spared his Roselyne and the Lions. Besson gets the MVP treatment with three films screening. Christopher Lambert’s lovelorn thief hiding out in the Paris Metro in Subway, Anne Pariallaud as the punk turned assassin La Femme Nikita, and the astonishingly beautiful Jean Marc-Barr in his free-diving epic The Big Blue.

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There’s another retrospective showing a peak period Christopher Lambert movie. This time a restored version of Highlander is getting a 30th anniversary screening with the Kurgan himself Clancy Brown attending. Devotees of the film will know Brown rarely talks about his time working on the movie due to a fallout with the film’s producers so this could be an interesting evening.

So far there are In Person events with Diva bad guy Dominique Pinon, legendary British producer and longtime David Cronenberg collaborator Jeremy Thomas, and if you still have enough affection for his 90s’ work Kevin Smith will be there. Adams suggested there will be more stars announced in the next few weeks.

EIFF 2012 – Pusher (Luis Prieto)

“Frankie my friend, you owe me money.”


Sadly not a Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009, Werner Herzog) style reworking with the premise of an earlier film turned into something strange and new, this flashy remake moves the action from Copenhagen to London and mimics the style and plot of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s debut Pusher (1996, ) but fails to capture its emotional intensity. Frank (Richard Coyle) botches a drug deal after getting lifted by the police while carrying gear borrowed from amiable gangster Milo (once again played by Zlatko Burić who appeared in all three of Refn’s Pusher movies). While comparisons are inevitable Luis Prieto’s film remains watchable enough thanks to a charismatic turn from former Coupling star Coyle cast against type and the strength of Refn’s narrative which still grips from the moment Frank finds himself in trouble. 

There is plenty of gangster movie posturing in Refn’s movie but there was a sense these people had inner lives; that they existed outside the clichés of the genre. In one memorable sequence the towering Serbian enforcer Radovan (Slavko Labovic) spoke of his dream of retiring from a life of ripping out kneecaps and opening a restaurant. Most of the characters seemed trapped by their circumstances be it poverty or their involvement in crime. Moments of reflection are skimmed over in the remake. There is a hamfisted attempt at conveying the human cost of Frank’s trade with a harmless old shopkeeper being leaned on a little too heavily but when Prieto cuts to a close-up of a dog sadly observing the aftermath the effect is anything but subtle.


You could understand why Kim Bodnia’s Frank worked with Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen).  These two seemed like friends and Frank was a thug, smarter than Tonny but not by much. Coyle’s Frank is more intelligent and would surely figure Tony (Bronson Webb) for a liability long before he lands him in it.  While Coyle and Burić are effective the rest of the cast act like they are in an episode of The BillAgyness Deyn looks far too healthy for a woman who is supposed to be hooked on drugs and desperate to escape from her destructive lifestyle. Pusher 2012 is an interesting film to watch for long-time admirers of Refn, though a new entry in the series would have been preferable. The film is worth seeing however for Coyle, the impressive neon-tinged visuals by cinematographer Simon Dennis, and the score by Orbital.