2.00pm: Monsters, Inc.
Hangover cures, anyone? The FU boozefest that delayed my writeup of the Nanni Moretti Guardian Interview (it's now available here, by the way) is still giving me grief by the time I rush into this screening with seconds to spare. Kingsley Amis once suggested that the best hangover cure was vigorous and prolonged sexual intercourse. Pete McCarthy came up with a variation on this theme, in that the very idea of a hungover Kingsley Amis having vigorous and prolonged sexual intercourse sobers you up like that.
Happily, Monsters, Inc. was a much more acceptable way of getting over those Sunday afternoon blues. And despite FilmFan's warnings, the bright colours really didn't hurt my head at all. Pixar's computer-animated monster world is a rather sweet and charming affair: unlike, say, The Nightmare Before Christmas, none of the creatures on display here could really be considered frightening. But for the purposes of the story, we have to accept that they are. Because this is a world literally powered by the screams of children, generated and collected every night by professionally trained monsters leaping out of closet doors.
Sully (voiced by John Goodman), assisted by his flatmate Mike (Billy Crystal), is the best child-scarer there is, rivalled only by the reptilian Randall (Steve Buscemi). But his professional reputation is put at stake when a little human girl goes the other way through a closet door and escapes into the monster world. Because those things can kill ya.
Apparently the computer technology used to render the monster hair in this film is state-of-the-art, with 3.2 million hairs on Sully's body alone. Not that you care, really. Because director Pete Docter and his team at Pixar animation take the same approach here as they always have: the story and characters are paramount, technical flash is merely icing on the cake. An incredibly tight script (with a high gag-per-minute rate) and a top-drawer voice cast mean that even if this film were done as a PowerPoint presentation, it would still be ludicrously entertaining. (And according to the Pixar Masterclass that follows, that's actually what they do...)
Throughout the movie, it's the storytelling that keeps you hooked rather than the quality of the animation. Even at the frantic climax - one of the most impossibly complex bits of animation I've ever seen - you only snap out of the story briefly to gawp at the technical expertise on display. Seconds later you're snapped back into it again, because you want to see how this chase turns out. I'm not prepared to get involved in the game of deciding whether Monsters, Inc. is better or worse than the Toy Story films or A Bug's Life: we should just celebrate that Pixar can now produce these movies at such a fast pace, and sit back and enjoy them.
4.15pm: Pixar Masterclass
John Lasseter - boss of Pixar Animation, the guys behind Monsters, Inc. - last appeared at the LFF some ten years ago. He did a presentation that consisted of a screening of every film he'd made to date (which amounted to half a dozen shorts and some commercials), and a question and answer session. During the latter, he revealed that Pixar had just signed a deal with Disney and were looking into the possibility of working on a computer-animated feature film together. That film eventually became Toy Story: the rest is history.
So ten years on, Lasseter and his team are returning ("as Masters!" he triumphantly announces) to tell us how their production process works. Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich, the co-directors of Monsters, Inc., use a number of scenes from the movie to show how they're developed and produced. As is obvious from any close viewing of a Pixar film, it all starts with the script. In this case, it was an attempt by Docter to come up with a premise similar to that of Toy Story, taking a common childhood fantasy and treating it as real. In the earlier film, it was the idea of toys coming to life when kids aren't looking: in the new one, it's the idea of monsters lurking in bedroom wardrobes to attack children in their beds.
Using a combination of slides, video and the Pixar team's banter (very slick - these guys must do this regularly), we're shown every stage in the production process, including the huge amount of preparation required: Monsters, Inc. took five years to make, but only 18 months of that was spent on actual animation. Story treatments and storyboards are followed by a story reel, in which the storyboards are filmed to a temporary voice soundtrack to get a feel for the flow of the movie: a little like that PowerPoint presentation I was talking about earlier. The story reel is the last chance to lock down the camera angles and editing decisions: it's an exact template used by the animators and voice cast to tell them just how the finished film should be.
The team are justifiably proud of the computing power they use to produce all this ("we dim the lights in the Bay Area every time we render a shot"), but are keen to emphasise it's not the key element in the process. Computer-generated animation is only computer-generated to the same degree that traditional animation is pencil-generated: you can't just press a button that says 'make movie'. You need a whole team of talented people using the hardware as a tool to enhance their own creativity. This presentation certainly gives you a terrific insight into how that team works: don't worry if you missed it, I suspect a lot of this material will show up on a Monsters, Inc. DVD in time for Christmas 2002.
8.30pm: Mulholland Drive
Or Mulholland Dr., as Sight & Sound magazine anally insists on calling it in their latest issue [dead link]. (That's what appears on screen during the title frame, so dammit, that's what they're going to call it.) The Hollywood street in question is the site of a violent car crash at the start of the movie, from which only Rita (Laura Elena Harring) walks away alive. In a daze, she wanders into an apartment currently occupied by aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). Together, they try to find out more about Rita's involvement in the crash (her memory is completely shattered by the trauma), and why she's got loads of cash and a blue key in her handbag. Meanwhile, in another part of Hollywood, director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is losing control of his latest picture, and being forced to take on a leading actress he doesn't want. These two stories will eventually converge in a way that only David Lynch could pull off.
Mulholland Drive's troubled production is the stuff of legend: it started as a pilot for American television, Lynch's attempt at recreating the success of Twin Peaks for the new millennium. The pilot was rejected by ABC, and the project hung around in limbo for some time until Lynch could raise the money to film an ending that would turn Mulholland Drive into a finished feature film.
It's difficult to say if you can see the join or not. Lynch did a similar thing with Twin Peaks several years ago: the video version of the 90 minute pilot has a 30 minute coda that wraps up the whole Laura Palmer mystery in one fell swoop (and it's an entirely different solution to the one eventually revealed in the TV series). At first glance, it looks like something similar's happened here, but more cunningly integrated into the rest of the movie. For the first hour and a half, it's an almost traditional mystery thriller with a beautifully building sense of suspense and the occasional surreal quirk. And then Rita and Betty listen to a woman singing Roy Orbison's Crying in Spanish, and the movie takes a gentle sidestep into wholly other territory.
As the female leads said in their post-film Q&A, the whole beauty of Mulholland Drive is that its final hour is left entirely open to your own interpretation. "Don't rush into trying to decide what it all means, mull it over for a bit", they suggested. That night in bed I found myself dreaming my way through the entire movie all over again, except my version had a whole new subplot featuring a comedy Welshman who'd moved in next door to Rita and Betty after winning first prize in a competition. What that says about my subconscious, I have no idea.
What Mulholland Drive says about Lynch's subconscious, I have no idea either: but the result is one of the most tantalising and enjoyably frustrating times I've spent in a cinema for ages. There are individual sequences as brilliantly funny and scary as anything he's ever done: the folksy menace of The Cowboy, an assassination by the world's most incompetent hitman, the huge amount of screentime dedicated to showing Angelo Badalamenti drinking an espresso. There's the genuine escalating tension of the first half, and the glorious brainshag of the second half. And as with Twin Peaks, everyone's fabulous to look at, notably Harring and Watts. Try to avoid reading anyone's interpretations of what it's all about beforehand, and enjoy the ride.
Notes From Spank's Pals
Nico - Please, someone stop Mamet from making any more movies. After his dazzling debut feature House Of Games arrived over a decade ago, we have been waiting for something equally as good, and this is not it. This film simply rehashes the same plot twists of his debut movie, but without the same style. The airport heist of the title was ludicrously contrived, the infiltration of the master criminal gang by a person from his financial backers (Danny DeVito playing his stock character) all been done before and better. Some critics point out that Mamet's direction is getting slicker, but this hardly matters when you think that his films mostly deal with illusion, and too slick an illusion spoils the effect. Gene Hackman reprises a character he has done so many times before, playing a master criminal (but would a master criminal have taken so many risks as he does in this film), that at times he appears to be playing the part in his sleep. Will Mamet ever recapture the originality of his debut film? I doubt it, and this film is already consigned to be a B list feature.
Light of My Eyes
The Cineaste - Before this review, a few words about the Sunday Times. Over my cappuccino and croissant this morning, I searched this paper’s arts/review section for any write-up about the RLFF. Rather bewildered, I had to scan the whole section twice before I actually found it. A solitary paragraph, on the nation’s most important film festival. Absolutely nothing by way of review, only a listing of three films coming up. And what were these? Why, Apocalypse Now Redux, K-PAX, and Monsters Inc., at least the first two of which are due for a general release anyway. And as if this wasn’t the epitome of lazy reporting, the whole “piece” was summed up by the website for the festival: www.riff.com. Yes, dear reader, you did read that correctly, and I’ll repeat it phonetically: are-eye-double eff. I can only hope that the RLFF powers that be have duly noticed this inexcusable mistake and demanded a very public flogging for all those responsible.
In a brief review about three weeks ago Peter Bradshaw described this as the great love story of the festival. Normally I find myself in wholehearted agreement with Bradshaw’s reviews [Spank falls to floor choking in disbelief], but on this occasion I really have to beg to differ.
Basic storyline – young chauffeur Antonio lives in a fantasy world of science fiction novels, in which he imagines himself playing out the hero in them. He meets single mother Maria, struggling with debts owed to a shady group of gangsters. Without her knowing, Antonio finds out about her debtors and offers to pay her debts for her. There were probably other important bits after this but I can’t tell you what they were because (a) I had lost interest and (b) at times I found it difficult to keep awake.
The problem with the film is that it was a mish-mash of things which never gelled together, and therefore just wasn’t convincing. Antonio is young, good-looking and a warm personality, so his character as a loner really wasn’t credible. Occasionally we had a voice-over (from Antonio), describing his heroic actions and deeds in his sci-fi adventures. This was bizarrely at odds with the romantic theme of the film and never sat easily with it. We had luscious soothing music which was no doubt expected to infer warm romanticism, but frankly came over as ludicrously fake.
When I wasn’t falling asleep my mind was wandering to other things, like fixing the leak in the bathroom overflow pipe, or how Leeds were getting on at Sunderland this afternoon. Never a good sign of an engaging film. It just came over as saccharine, opaque, sometimes cringing and hugely disappointing. The considerably muted applause at the end implied that others in the audience thought along similar lines. Come back Teenage Hooker, all is forgiven. Star rating: one.
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