Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Typhoon Club - EIFF 2012 (Shinji Somai Retrospective)

Considered by many to be Somai's greatest film and it is easy to see why.

His themes, motifs and style are fully matured and the plot all combine to ensure that you are captivated from first frame to last.

The typhoon in question signifies the growing rage and dissatisfaction within the gang of teens who take shelter inside their school as the water that falls threatens to take on near Old Testament flood proportions.  The sheer volume of water that saturates the screen is reason enough to see this is awesome and awe inspiring.

Water is a recurring sign in the films of Somai...people fall into bodies of water for no real reason, both "Typhoon Club" and "PP Rider" open with shots of swimming pools, rivers flow by and here, obviously, rain falls.  For a Western audience water symbolizes death and rebirth and, at the risk of cultural ignorance, it is not difficult to imagine that Somai is saying something about exactly these things with his use of water.  Characters have difficult, challenging emotional and physical lives...the water offers the chance to wash oneself clean and emerge reborn.  Or maybe he just really liked soaking his actors.

What is most striking about "Typhoon Club" is the near constant movement of the a wild animal it seems to constantly be stalking both the teens and the space they inhabit.  It prowls, circles and closes in on the typhoon that threatens to wash everything away the camera is a force of nature.  The constant use of long shots and group shots ensures that we understand that Somai is rooted in the anamist belief system of Shinto.  Or maybe he just liked the way things looked.

These Somai films are interesting because they are very definitely modern and yet they share much in common with the work of earlier Japanese directors...for me, most obviously, Ozu.  The themes of the new clashing with the traditional and the worry over the youth of Japan and the encroaching influence of American culture are clear similarities.  Even though Somai favours a fluid, active use of camera and this is in direct conflict with the static, observational use of the camera favoured by Ozu there is also something very familiar about the way things look in Somais films.

A film about teenagers challenging authority and a film about our place in the natural world...challenging, thought provoking and beautiful.  Somai deserves this retrospective and Edinburgh should be glad that we have played host to it.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Sun Don't Shine - EIFF 2012

Amy Seimetz.

Aymee Sighmetzzz.

It's a good name right?

It sounds...filmy.

It sounds like the kind of name a person would have if they were making a certain type of film.

When I hear the name Amy Seimetz here is what I imagine her film would be like;

Cool...but not "hipster" cool, do you know what I mean?  Not cool like "Hey, have you seen my ironic facial hair".  No, the right kind of cool...stylish and, maybe, stylised.  It would be a film that would look cool and that would have a very distinctive style.

Smart...but not Stephen Hawking smart.  Not so smart that an ordinary person could never penetrate it.  No, this film would be the right sort of smart...carefully constructed, intelligent, witty and tidy...the kind of smart you are when you go to church at Christmas with your parents to keep them shoes, best shirt, everything ironed.  Smart.

Dark...I think it's the "Seimetz" thing.  "Seimetz" just sounds like the kind of name that has dark edges, no?  Dark is overused nowadays...Spiderman can be "dark", apparently, but I'm talking about the right kind of dark...unsettling, confusing, awkward and uncomfortable but all carried out with that style and not-hipster cool I was just talking about.

"Sun Don't Shine" is exactly that film.

It's cool, it's smart and it's dark.

It's the exact movie that a person called Amy Seimetz should be making.

It's a road movie but it's not.

It's a neo-noir.

It's mumblecore if you are lazy...the truth is that it is more accomplished and meaningful than anything from that "genre" could ever hope to be.

It's arthouse but with Hollywood style.

It's a film that asks questions and then refuses to give you pat answers...Seimetz doesn't want to be your teacher, she wants to help you think for yourself and yet she never becomes "preachy" like a Michael Hanneke.

"Sun Don't Shine" is a film that I could have watched with no's so beautiful.  Every frame is drenched in the heat and light of it's Florida setting.  You can feel the heat.  You can taste the sweat forming on leading man Kentucker Audleys top lip as he drives Kate Lyn Shell to their inevitable destiny.

"Sun Don't Shine" is a movie about love, all consuming love, the kind of love that makes you do crazy, stupid things and then pushed you towards even crazier, increasingly stupid things to make amends.  Oh, we've all been there...we've all said things, bought things, done things for people we loved so much that it hurt and then we've all gone further still.

If you haven't then you've never been in love.

Seimetz knows what love can do to people.

Mermaids and swimming pools.

Water and sunshine.

Sex and death.

Love and lust.

The heat...

Murder and passion.

Examples of films this cool, this smart and this dark are a cause for celebration...we should celebrate Amy Seimetz.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Grabbers - EIFF 2012






On a Friday night it isn't often that you want to watch Agnes Varda's "Vagabond" or Ozu's "Late Spring".  Not because these are not two very fine films fact the opposite is true; these are genuine masterpieces.  The point is after a long week at work it's rare to find yourself parked on the sofa thinking; "I need something existential...I need something that will force me to really consider the deeper meaning of my own life."  There are times when that is exactly what I want from a film and I've watched Ozu more often than I've watched Spielberg...but not on a Friday night!


On a Friday night you want to watch something that will allow you to forget that your 9-5 isn't exactly fulfilling want something that will lift your want something that will make you jump as often as it will make you laugh out loud (I'm not doing LOL...I'm just not...even though I just did).

Director Jon Wright has managed to deliver a film that does all of that.

This screening was a near sell out and every person there clearly enjoyed every minute of this monsters from outer space attacking a small Irish island action-scifi-comedy-romance bundle of joy.

The film tracks the process of the inhabitants of Erin Island as they try their damnedest to avoid having their blood sucked by the genuinely impressive "grabbers".  How they do that isn't something I can divulge here because, unlike Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, I don't believe in ruining films for people who haven't seen them.

What I can say is that "Grabbers" is a movie that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and send you home happy that you made the effort to see's daft, it's light but gloriously so.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Nuclear Nation - EIFF 2012

Few of us will ever forget watching the images of devastation that accompanied the events of March 2011 in Japan.

The tsunami and the nuclear disaster that followed cost many lives to be lost, many homes to be destroyed and many families to be left with a deep sense of loss.

The news media however is not a patient beast or a thoughtful one and within just a few days the story slipped from top spot in the news and within a few weeks it barely warranted a mention.  Now, over a year later, few outside of Japan ever think of what happened.

Thankfully a more thoughtful and patient source of information exists in the shape of filmmaker Atsushi  Funahashi who spent the best part of a year living with and documenting the experiences of those from the town of Futaba in the Fukushima Prefecture.  Many hundreds of those residents were forced from their homes by the disaster and moved into an abandoned high school on the outskirts of Tokyo.

It is from inside this high school that we are reminded of the real and terrible legacy of the disaster.  We meet fathers who have lost wives, sons who have lost mothers, elderly men and women forced to sleep on the floors of classrooms and eat pre-packaged bento box lunches, children plunged into the chaos of new schools and a wonderfully stoic farmer who has refused to abandon his cows...his life, he says, is tied to these animals.

Director Atsushi suggested, prior to this screening, that this was not a film that he could ask us to enjoy and he was right but what he has delivered is a film that forces us to feel...we feel the incredible loss of the families, we feel the pain of local leaders who want only to secure a brighter future for their residents, we feel the anger of all at the lack of support or care from their political leaders and we feel a deep sense of anger at the irresponsible and morally bankrupt actions of the corporations involved in this sorry tale.

We also feel a great sense of hope and awe as we watch these people who have been so battered by events try to remain upbeat, focused and resolute.  Life is hard, they seem to tell us, but it is worth living and fighting for.  Hope, we soon accept, is important.

Atsushi has already started work on a follow up film...his relationship with his subjects now transcending that of filmmaker and object.  He understands that this is a story that must be told and he has proven with "Nuclear Nation" that he is the right person to tell it.  A moving and inspiring film that deserves to be seen by everyone.

"Nuclear Nation" will be shown at Cineworld on June 28th at 20:15

Exit Elena - EIFF 2012

The great joy of a film festival is that you are able to take chances and see something that you know nothing about and then be surprised.

I knew nothing about "Exit Elena".

I knew nothing about director Nathan Silver.

I didn't know if it was a horror film, a romance, a comedy, a documentary...nothing.  I hadn't even read the blurb in the festival program.

I just took a chance.

The titular Elena (played by one of the films writers Kia Davis) is an assistant nurse; a sort of live-in nursing assistant who gets her first job living with and working for the Akerman family.  Her job is to care for the elderly grandmother of the family who lives with her son and daughter in law.  The Akermans are friendly and welcoming but Elena, intially, shows little interest in them other than in fulfilling her duties.  Over her time she grows closer to the family and eventually becomes one of them in all but name until an unfortunate incident sees her lose her job and, consequently, her home.

Shot in a documentary style and with much in common with the mumblecore likes of "Hannah Takes the Stairs" and "Humpday" "Exit Elena" manages to elevate itself above and beyond those films by creating a sense of reality and tangible tension that is missing in many actual documentaries and from most of the mumblecore scene.  The camera is never intrusive and we are allowed to simply observe the characters as they talk, sleep, argue, eat and play...quickly one is immersed in the world of the film.

This is down, largely, to the incredible work of Nathan Silver.  He has managed to produce a film that looks incredible (the locations and the lighting are perfect) and that also manages to hold the audience firmly in its grasp from start to finish.  That "hold" stems from the fact that one is constantly waiting for something to happen although you are never quite sure what it is that you think should be happening and from the superb performances of the cast.

There are several "mockumentaries" and found footage movies but none of them hold a candle to this low budget gem.  A great script, believable action, interesting characters and a feeling, at its conclusion, that there are more questions to be asked and more answers to be found from another viewing.

I took a chance and was rewarded a hundred times over.

You should take a chance too.

"Exit Elena" is showing at Cineworld on the 24th and 25th June at 19:20 and 18:20 respectively.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

California Solo - EIFF 2012

Robert Carlyle.

Do you need another reason?

Robert bloody Carlyle.

He's one of those actors who manages to be good even when the material might not be...always worth watching.  An actor with real ability and range.

Also...he's just cool.



Yes, so?

In "California Solo" Carlyle plays a former Britpop star who, after the death of his brother (the bands lead singer) fades into obscurity and is now managing a farm outside of Los Angeles.

It's from this terrifically simple premise that director Marshall Lewy manages to craft a warm hearted, truthful and convincing film that has something to say about love, family, hope, fear and the horrors of loneliness and guilt.  Most importantly though he has managed to say something about our fame obsessed society by holding a mirror up to the supposed glamour of it all and showing us that the reality can be lives destroyed by expectation and failure.

When Carlyles improbably named Lachlan MacAldonich gets pulled over while driving under the influence he finds the stable life he has built for himself after the paparazzi stopped snapping slowly begins to unravel.  The D.U.I charge brings to light an old drugs charge that leads to interest in him from immigration officials.

With no money, no family and no real friends Lachlan finds himself in a vulnerable position.  Spiraling out of control and growing increasingly desperate he eventually turns to a long forgotten ex-wife and a daughter he barely knows exists for help.  Ultimately he discovers that you always end up paying for your mistakes...even if that payment is delayed.

This film could have been a disaster...the Britpop idea could have seen a soundtrack jam-packed with Oasis, Blur and Pulp records, Carlyle could have spent the entire film with a Mockney accent and a parka and his redemption could have come in the form of a reunion of his band "The Cranks".

Thankfully Lewy is a sharper writer than that and Britpop stays firmly in the background with only a brief snippet of the classic Charlatans track "The Only One I Know" as evidence of a scene that few outside of the UK even knew existed.  Instead Lewy focuses on the man who has lived his life in the fast lane but has now been forced onto the hard shoulder...he has created a believable character and one who, thanks to Carlyle, is able to take the audience with him on his journey from security to chaos.

California solo...but never so low.

PP Rider - EIFF 2012 - Shinji Somai Retrospective


Even the cineliterate amongst us would probably struggle to state, convincingly, that they had ever seen any of this Japanese auteurs work.

EIFF Artistic Director, Chris Fujiwara, has decided to grant Somai his first major retrospective at this years festival.  It is clear from listening to Fujiwara speak that he feels a great sense of injustice on behalf of the, sadly, deceased Somai.  A towering influence on Japanese cinema and on several young Japanese directors it is, perhaps, curious that so little is known about him here.

Released in 1983 "PP Rider" is, on the surface, a fairly familiar tale; a group of young teens embark on a road trip in search of one of their peers.  We've seen that story before in films like "Stand By Me", "The Goonies" and many others.  What sets "PP Rider" apart is the thrilling way in which Somai takes such a well known plot and delivers something that is, genuinely, unlike anything else you are likely to see.

The young teens in question are Bruce, JoJo and Jisho; two boys and a girl with boyish qualities.  Spending the afternoon at the school swimming pool they fall foul of the school bully Depunaga.  Confronting him in the parking lot of the school after their humiliation the group witness his abduction by some Yakuza and set out to rescue him.

What follows is a road trip that involves corrupt police officers (a theme repeated in much more detail and with heightened realism in Gen Takahashis glorious epic "Confessions of a Dog" in 2011), a school teacher who is more hindrance than help and whom the teens treat, for the most part, with near total disdain, incompetent Yakuza and a host of other wired characters (and I do mean wired).

Those who have seen "Beat" Takeshis "Kikujiro" will be well aware of the humor that can be derived from the mix of precocious children and ineffective adults as well as the nuances of Japanese humor.  "PP Rider" is even more wickedly hilarious as well as being wonderfully heartwarming in places.  Somai has, even in a film this early in his career, a very clear and distinct style...characters are almost perpetually in motion, rarely, if ever, are there shots of characters on their own but instead there are myriad group shots and long shots that constantly set the action and force the audience to see past just people.

On the evidence of this it would appear that Fujiwaras decision to shine the spotlight on this Japanese master has been the correct one and, with luck, this will the first step in bringing his work to a wider audience here in the UK.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

EIFF Pre Opening Night

So, I'm sitting in the bar of Filmhouse.

Listening to a little bit of Trojan ska on my iPod, looking at the people, perusing the catalogue for EIFF 2012.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch sight of a man I recognise; it's Chris Fujiwara the artistic director of the festival.  He's looking over the bar, no doubt feeling a strange mixture of nerves and excitement as his festival opens in a little over 24 hours.

"I tell you what he would like Mozzer", says the little man who lives in my brain but who isn't my brain, "He'd really like it if you went over, introduced yourself and then babbled about how excited you are about this years line up."

"Are you sure?  Because he looks like he probably has more important things to do with his time than speak to a stranger who runs a film blog that is read by fewer people than are in this bar"

"No...he'd love it.  What right thinking person doesn't want to be accosted by total strangers on the eve of one of the biggest nights of their life?  Go on...go over..."

"I'm really not sure about this you know...and also, he's just about to present a special screening of "The French Connection" before hosting a Q&A with William Friedkin...I think I'll just leave him alone."

"Listen, I am telling you...people like that LOVE it when people foist themselves upon them just before important moments."

As I walk across the bar I can hear the other little man who lives in my brain but who also isn't my brain saying; "You're just going to irritate this very important man and make a fool of yourself.  Turn back now...before it's too late."

It's already too late...I'm now in front of Chris Fujiwara.

He is charming and accommodating.  I tell him how excited I am and he tells me that he too is excited.  I mutter something about my love of Japanese cinema and the Somai retrospective and he shares a little of his knowledge of those films.  I could be wrong but he seemed genuinely not to mind my approaching him.

Now...I think this little encounter tells you everything you need to know about the EIFF; it's the film festival for film fans.  Sure there are press aplenty and talent in abundance....sure there are deals being done across the city...sure there is business...but thanks to Chris and his team this years EIFF is mostly about the experience of the audience.

They have put together a genuinely exciting programme and ensured that there really is something that will appeal to everyone...that's no mean feat and we should all be grateful to them for their efforts.

Later I spend 104 minutes watching one of the greatest films of all time, "The French Connection", in a crowded Filmhouse 1 before enjoying hearing one of the greatest directors of all time, William Friedkin, regale the audience with tales from his career.  On paper the festival doesn't begin until tomorrow with a screening of Friedkins latest "Killer Joe" but for those of us who were there tonight the festival has already begun.