Pre-Festival Film Splodge

I'm just starting my Edinburgh Film Festival run today. The run up on the train was beautiful, and Edinburgh is bathed in summer sunshine. Before the first day starts, I thought I'd include a trio of festival-style films that I've recently managed to catch before the festival starts proper tonight.

Submarine (UK) (wiki/site)

Richard Ayodade is the knowingly unusual sort from such classics as The IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, (we'll pass over the Dean Learner interviews for now). So I was surprised to see that he is moving from crazy-haired oddity to movie director, and even more surprised to see his first choice of subject matter - the imperfect blossoming romance of a teenage boy in 1980's Wales.

Oliver Tate, who may or may not share some similairities with Ayodade's formative years, is a thoughtful but downtrodden and routinely bullied boy in secondary school. Caught between the bookish nature inherited from his straight-laced parents and the increasing need to be one of the popular gits who make everyone elses' life a misery, the one constant in his life is Jordana, a mysterious, red-coated girl with a rebellious, don't care personality and a knowing smile that turns his legs to mush. When Oliver sees the opportunity to make points at a fat girls' expense, he grabs it with both hands, and his world is forever changed.

Some synopses I have seen about this film tend to paint it as a 'raving hormone teen desperately trying to lose his virginity' story, and while that plays a small part, it is over and done with before the halfway point, concentrating instead on the shifting balance of relationships and how two people cope with events that undermine their foundations. Ayodade has made a comedy, although few times will you be laughing out loud, it's more a work that encourages knowing smiles and embarassing realisations that the lead character is living the lives of everyone in the audience, give or take a stolen kiss or two. It occasionally bares fleeting shadows of some of his earlier work in front of the camera, and even has a touch of French cinematics about it here and there with his camera work and score. It's perhaps best appreciated without knowing much more about it, as a quiet observer through a short period of a young man's life. 8/10

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (Fr) (wiki/site)

So many French films begin the same way, an overly consise narrator spends much of the first ten minutes explaining some incidental details about one of the characters in the film, not sparing us the extra information regarding their exact distance from a given landmark. It's an introductory trick done many times previous, for instance with Amelie and Micmacs, and though I groaned a little at seeing it done yet again, it marked the start of an otherwise enjoyable film.

Adele Blanc-Sec doesn't stop with it's half-inching of ideas there, you'll see plenty of familiar themes throughout, especially from the likes of Indiana Jones, and Night at the Museum, with computer-generated pterodactyls swooping through the streets of early 20th Century France. Even the chief bad guy is a dead ringer for the Gestapo bloke from Raiders of the Lost Arc.

But no matter, even though it's pillaging left right and centre it's still a good flick. Blanc-Sec is a well-heeled and ultra-confident young woman - a character based on a series of comic book novels from a few decades ago - with the forceful nature of a Kathrine Hepburn persona causing any man who values his standing to carry out her polite but forceful requests with little more than a dumbfounded look. At the moment, Adele Blanc-Sec is on her way to the pyramids in search of an Egyptian mummy who will help her with the sticky task of bringing her sister back to life after an unfortunate tennis incident. Typically other things get in the way, most notable is the aforementioned airborne dinousaur, and the elderly professor who has worked out a way of taming it's craving for flesh with the power of his mind.

Things get plenty more absurd than that, but it's all tempered by the rip-roaringness of it all, without which you'd be tempted to take things in it more seriously, which would then turn the mind to incredulity and ridicule at what was unfolding. Suspend that pesky disbelief for a second and enjoy the ride. It might not be Indy, but this imitation has a good deal of laughs and entertainment, and a brief and unexpected (but moustache-twirlingly welcome) flash of ladyflesh. 7.5/10

Senna (UK/Fra/US) (site)

Formula One has it's fair share of criticisms, and two of them I can relate to. Firstly, F1 can get pretty dull, especially when your maiden race is a processional fare where little happens outside of the pitstops. In the late 90's and 2000's, this was often the case, especially with the car specs at the time, and the likes of Schumacher insisting on driving faster than everyone else for every damn race. The second criticism is that that F1 is a hugely political sport, and this muddies the out-and-out racing aspect with politically-motivated rules changes, team-mate rivalries and uncomfortable tensions within the paddock when the house of cards teeters and falls.

Senna touches on both these points, a biography of the man who joined the F1 scene in 1984 and stayed there for a decade before tragically hitting the Tamburello corner wall at Imola in 1994, and becoming the third casualty of that dreadful race weekend, what would be seen as a massive low point in the history of the sport. I had only recently started watching F1 a season or two previous back then, and was just getting to grips with the teams and relationships, and I remember the moment well. My formulated opinions of the man prior to his death didn't progress beyond seeing him as the git that had a bit of a falling out with Prost and won most of the races before Schumacher came along, instead of letting the Brits through for their turn. This film is a good way to get an appreciation of the history of the man from a different perspective.

Senna spent the late 70's and early 80's go-karting; a simple, true racing discipline where politics rarely if ever got a look-in. Moving away from his native Brazil to an unfamiliar Europe to compete in F1, he found the political additions to his distaste, but even so he still showed great ability and by 1986 had got a drive with McLaren, a race-winning team. It was there that the skirmishes with his team-mate, the Frenchman Alain Prost - and F1 boss Jean-Marie Balestre, who was best buds with him - started both on and off the tracks. The rare footage dug up from TV interviews and private moments shows a deeply bothered and frustrated man, sticking through it all in the hope that one day he will just be able to leave the difficulties behind and just race.

F1 is a sport that is best enjoyed when you see the whole package; not just the racing, but the drivers, the teams, and the governors at the top who pull the strings and make things happen. Watching the cars go round is not much fun unless you know what's going on inside the minds of the people driving them: The clashing personality types, the friendships, the rivalries, and the sportsmanship. This film is a really satisfying tribute to the work and career of the man, that will be automatically on the list of any F1 fan worth his salt, but even if you aren't into the sport, it is also a fascinating biography of a man who became an icon for his native Brazil at the point where the country was in desperate need of financial help, where poverty was rife and their futures seemed hopeless, this man stood up to give them something to be proud of. 8/10

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