July 25, 2010

Film Fest: Day Eight

Today was my one day off work entirely: no day-job and no work at the Festival. Just a day to go and watch movies. I certainly don't think I saw as many as I could've (or planned too), but it was nice to have the day off just the same.

I'm not familiar with Allen Ginsberg's famous poem, with it's impact or with it's poet. I know the name Ginsberg, but do not know his work. I'll cop to that. HOWL is bio of the poem, and as such we learn little of the man. The script is taken from HOWL, court transcripts and interviews with Ginsberg (played magnificently by James Franco).
The interview talks to us of the lead up to writing HOWL, the process in writing it and little bits of Ginsberg's life. This is intercut with the obscenity trial, which seems a little lifeless at times. A little too stagey. We see nothing of the impact of the poem outside of the courtroom - the focus of the film is so tight, and so intent on not inventing anything, we never really get the full social impact HOWL had. However, it must be commended for not imposing it's own meaning on the work.
The various styles on display make for a kaleidoscopic effect: there is the interview, the writing process and reading in black & white, the trial and segments animated to Franco's reading of HOWL.
This would likely resonate more with someone who knows the poem, who knows Ginsberg and who knows poetry. I enjoyed the film (aside from the random high-pitched whine coming from the theatre's speakers), but I don't think it will have much of a lasting impact on me.

I Love You Phillip Morris
Making the decision to not see a film straight after HOWL, and allowing myself time to sit and have lunch before I Love You Phillip Morris allowed me a chance to catch my breath, albeit briefly, before once again diving into the Festival madness.
I Love You Phillip Morris is a bit of a mad romantic comedy. Jim Carrey is a scary looking con-man, with a whacked out kind of hair do, who falls in love with Ewan McGregor's sweet Phillip Morris in prison.
Similar in tone to Bad Santa, no surprise as the writers of that are the directors here, it doesn't quite match that films outrageous hilariousness. I'm not sure if this has been toned down since it first screened, and I first heard about it, but it doesn't seem overly outrageous. Sure, you still get the full-on shot of Jim Carrey fucking a guy in the ass, but the rest of it seems... I don't know. Maybe it was more my expectations of outrageousness.
In any case, the love story at the heart of it all, is sweet. In a creepy kind of way. Ewan McGregor gives one of his best performances in years, as the sweet and slightly naive Phillip Morris. Jim Carrey's Steven Russell is a little creepy in his utter devotion and obsession with the love of his life. He's a constantly lying con-man, continually ending up in hospital for various reasons.
The comedy is there, never real full belly laughs, but it makes for a more than enjoyably wee film. You're not likely to see a romantic comedy quite like this again.

A Town Called Panic
I don't know if I can fully explain this slice of Belgian insanity. Not in the way that I couldn't explain Enter the Void, but more in the way that to explain this film, to break it down, might detract from your viewing and appreciation of it. I'll try my best and be as brief as possible.
Indian, Cowboy and Horse live together in a small village. It's Horses birthday and Indian & Cowboy have forgotten. They race to get Horse a gift and in so doing set off a chain of events that sees them on many, many adventures. It's a sugar-rush of a insane child-like invention you just have to let yourself go with.
It was the most enjoyably bizarre film I have seen in some time, and one I wanted to watch again straight away. Seek it out.

A Prophet
Continuing the theme of prison films for the week, A Prophet follows Malik, a young French-Arab sent to prison and his life there. Aside from yet another idiotic texter, I found it difficult to get inside the film. Where Animal Kingdom throws you in with the family, I felt like A Prophet kept us at arm's length; possibly because I cannot personally relate to life in prison and that feeling of isolation and having no-one.
The transformation of Malik throughout the film is something phenomenal: it's hard to reconcile the Malik at the end of the film being the Malik at the start the change is that impressive. He gets taken under the wing of some Corsicans, who run the prison, and quickly teaches himself the ins and outs of prison (and criminal) life.
One perfectly wel timed power surge later (cutting power out to most of the surrounding block. Just after I told the stupid texter to stop using her phone) we were up and away again. Things become a little strange when Malik begins seeing Reyeb, an Arab he killed to stay alive and get in good with the Corsicans, and strange flashes of prophecy. It doesn't really gel with the otherwsie realistic film: all grim shades of grey and Malik's scarred body.
It's a great film, a new French crime epic, but it just didn't connect with me. I far more enjoyed Anima Kingdom and Cell 211.


  1. A Town Called Panic - good lord, I can't get the brilliance and madness of this film out of my head. Maybe it's just the return to childhood that the film evokes or maybe it is the anarchic weirdness within. I found a comment from one reviewer which said "A Town Called Panic is the kind of movie in which you will see a horse in a Santa Claus suit, riding on a manta ray in order to dupe a race of wall-stealing fish people" and that just about sums up why it is the most fun I've had in a cinema for a long time (because of what is on screen, rather than in spite of what is on screen).

    HOWL was interesting in bringing a period of time to life and I did enjoy its use of animation which made it a good counterpoint to Gainsbourg which also used animation and live action but the latter film did so to much better effect (and it had Doug Jones to help out). And while I'm a fan of Franco, having Don Draper from Mad Men along for the ride was the bigger selling point.

  2. It's kinda tough on the rest of the films I saw that day that A Town Called Panic was such a sheer sugar-rush of brilliance. It blew them all out of the water really.
    I hope against hope it will get some kind of cinematic release here.