EIFF 2009 Day 3

Despite there being five film tickets inside my wallet for today, the first one did not start until 1pm, so I decided to use a good chunk of the first half of the day doing a little more sightseeing, taking my camera along in the hope of some drier pictures. Again, however it was raining, so more time was spent in the shops than admiring the architecture. 1pm quickly came around, and I just about made it across town in time.

Looking Back (US) (Youtube) - This short documentary film was shown before Isolation, approaching the same subject from a different angle. Over in America, as with here, there are a disproportionate number of veterans of recent wars - Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.. who after returning to civilian life become jobless, homeless and drug-dependant. We see the outcome of this at one of many treatment centres for homeless veterans. Albert Lewis is a volunteer at 'Irvins'. An ex-soldier who turned hard to drink and drugs and lost everything, but thanks to others like him he was able to work his way back to a stable existence. As part of his work, he takes pictures of new admissions as they enter, and then again at points during their rehabilitation, the look of pride on their faces at the comparison being enough to convince Albert that he is making a worthwhile contribution. 7/10

Isolation (UK) (IMDB)
This main feature dealt with the same issues from a UK perspective. The London streets away from the more affluent architecture paints a dismal picture for all its homeless, but with additional complications for those who have ended up on the streets because their lives and families broke down after coming back from the war. One in four end up on the streets, and those ex-squaddies who do remain in work seem to wash towards night shift work to remain apart from the outside world.

Stuart Griffiths is an ex-gulf war veteran, who came out of the desert in 1993, and six years later was homeless and separated, living on the streets. Whilst serving in Northern Ireland, he took up photography, and the more pictures he took, the more he wanted out. After some time on the streets, he learned about the Ex-Forces Fellowship, and decided to contribute his time and talents, photographing and interviewing those who have come back and suffered problems. For every person that is killed, eight more are seriously injured, but you don't hear that statistic when the government is pressed on war casualties. Over time, Griffiths' work expanded in scope to include those who have returned with horrific injuries or foreign soldiers who are members of the British army but who have tried and failed to get even basic support from the government, despite serving their adopted country with honour, much like the Gurkhas recently in the UK news, although with nowhere near such profile.

Though this muddies the waters a bit, trying to bring to attention several ingredients of what is a very large problem, Griffiths succeeds in bringing these problems to attention, with the striking photography, first hand descriptions and part-healed scars offered throughout leaving powerful imagery in the minds of the viewer. Important viewing. 8/10

Mad, Sad and Bad (UK) (official site)
Avie Luthra brings together several British Asian actors in this warm-hearted comedy drama. Meera Syal, Nitin Ganatra and Zubin Varla play three middle-aged siblings with a cantankerous, interfering but likeable mother, who is in constant shame of the lack of direction in her children's lives. Rashmi (Syal) is the object of most of the spite, having had a string of failed dates and seems to make a complete fist of all of them. Indian soap writer Atul (Ganatra) is little better, his relationship to girlfriend Julia is shaky at best, and his big idea of a Cheese Opera to leave for generations to come to remember him by does not impress one bit. Only Hardeep (Varla) shines any light into his mothers' eyes, being a professional psychologist, although his inability to have relationships for more than a an hour or get an actual wife is of constant concern. Good thing mum has no knowledge of his less than professional abuse of the confidentiality in his patients. A variety of external influences on all three - including the teasing presence of Roxy (Coronation Street's eye-pleasing Ayesha Dharker) as a predatory woman looking for something higher on the ladder than undertaker Graham, and spies poor gullible Atul as a way there - keep the entertainment going, and the relationships between the several leading cast members become nicely intertwined without the viewer getting overwhelmed in the complexities.

Mad, Sad and Bad is definitely one of the best British comedy films in ages. The script is kept tightly in order, the laughs come quick and often, and the ending was one of the best double-payoffs (a massive laugh and a satisfying conclusion) I've seen in a long while. Go see it when it comes out later this summer. 8.5/10

Boogie Woogie (wiki)
An all-star cast including Gillian Anderson, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley and Alan Cumming come together in a film that has all the ingredients of a cracker. Alfred (Lee) and Alfreda (Lumley) are old-style art collectors, and times are hard. After selling most other things of value, attention turns to the fictional painting 'le Mondrian' - a diamond-shaped impressionist work by Piet Mondrian, the first of his 'Boogie Woogie' style. Several art dealers have their eye on it, and Art (played by Danny Huston) and Bob (Simon McBurney) are the major bidders. With Alfred sticking to his guns and never selling it to those 'who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing', the bidding amount rises amongst the ongoing bickering, betrayal and sleaze permeating the lives of these people and their acquaintances.
Though competently written with a smattering of guilty laughs to be had as the film progresses, I never really enjoyed what I saw. Virtually everyone in London is portrayed as a foppish, shallow, snarling or guffawing or blubbing idiot with constantly shifting relationships and allegiances, shameful secrets and an over-active sex life. Am I being prude? I don't think so. I guess my problems with the film were threefold; first, there is no hope in the film, everything ends as it starts, no character progression or building, and no desire on the part of the audience to care for what these selfish empty vessels do with their messed up lives. Second, I couldn't tell whether the voyeuristic tendency of the camera work was being ironic towards the nature of the industry, or just giving pervier people a reason to go see it. (I'll get that out of the way now: nudity, sex, predatory lesbianism and paparazzi panty shots, so if that's your criteria for a good film, you're away.) Lastly, the central thread of the film is just barely there. We get a 10 second refresher on the latest high bid for the painting, then some voyeurism/betrayal/deal making for 20 minutes, then lather, rinse, repeat until something happens to send it into an uproar. It all felt a little bit corny and by the numbers.
I went away from Boogie Woogie with a feeling of being cheated, and feeling a little bit sickly. Getting all these famous people together and scoring a load of cheap laughs at a section of society who are ripe for it seemed to be the selling point, rather than also going that extra mile and making something truly inventive and entertaining. It would probably benefit from a second viewing, mainly because the lives of the many primary and secondary characters are complicated and intertwined, but I doubt that would make it more enjoyable.

Oh, and do not be tempted to watch this film with your relatives. There are scenes within that will cause large amounts of discomfort for both parties. No, really. Don't. 6/10

Outrage (US) (site)
According to this documentary, there is a sizeable section of politicians in the US government that are closeted gay or lesbian. Fine on it's own you may think, but when this film highlights their gay rights-related voting records (AIDS research, marriage rights, adoption rights, etc.) as being wholly against who they are, you have a major problem on your hands. Psychologically, these people are in a state of self-denial and self-hate, and are taking it out on the gay community at large, causing major rights issues and, where anti-gay legislation is passed, such as the recent views on gay marriage, physical backlashes in the communities they represent. This is a powerful, frank and sometimes even funny film following Michael Rogers of BlogActive.com as he seeks out these closeted people and attempts to expose them for the benefit of the community at large. Once outed, many of these people actually find that the respect they were so convinced they would lose remained, and it totally flipped their voting records, often encouraging them to work positively in their community now that cloying, suffocating pressure has been lifted from their shoulders. I would urge anyone - of whatever persuasion - to go see it. 8.5/10

Horn Dog (US) (site) - A short prelude to the following film is a new work in the 'dog' series by Bill Plympton about a lovestruck hound who's amorous advances for another dog spell disaster. Plymptons' recognisable colouring book style gives an already funny work added charm. 8/10

Mary and Max (Australia) (site)
A fabulous stop-motion animation in the old style - without a computer in sight - and so much better for it. Mary is a lonely Australian kid, with a mother preserving herself in sherry and a father in a job that keeps him absent, she passes the days being bullied and watching her favourite cartoon show, 'The Noblets'. One day she chooses a random name from a phone book and sends him a letter. Max, an overweight Jewish atheist New Yorker with Asburgers Syndrome couldn't be further separated from Mary, and yet as penpals, they find much in common to talk about. The film spans the next 20 or so years of correspondence as they pass letters and gifts between each other, and muse upon the questions each poses to the other, until Max's condition threatens to break the connection for good.
There are so many delights in Mary and Max that just make it a cracker, I can't and shouldn't mention them all here. The narration by Barry Humphries (part-time Dame Edna) is an authority on the elements in the character's lives, and delivered in such a perfectly balanced way as to feel completely natural, like you are watching a more adult version of an Oliver Postgate work. The two main characters are made to come alive with a mixture of silky smooth animation work (looking more 'real' than a computer generated equivalent could ever do), and painstaking detail in the environments and incidental objects and beings that inhabit the screen. Max's imaginary friend Mister Ravioli who sits in the corner reading self-help books is an inspired twist on the theme, and Len, the agoraphobic reclusive neigbour to Mary who acts as an intermediary to them both is but one example of the comedy-tragedy theme running through the entire film. On top of all of that is the brilliant use of wistful and grande and uplifting music pieces throughout to raise the scenes another notch.
This brilliant film is constantly able to put the audience in choking laughter and bubbling tears, just like the best films always do. Absolutely, no question about it, my favourite film of the year so far. 9/10

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