1.15pm: Hideous Kinky
I should have been there last night. The Gala premiere of Hideous Kinky was held on Tuesday night and had in attendance the director, all four main members of the cast and author Esther Freud, who wrote the semi-autobiographical novel the film's based on. But as the lead role is taken by Kate Winslet, tickets for that were as scarce as the proverbial rocking-horse shite, and I had to make do with this matinee instead.
It's Morocco in 1972. Julia (Kate Winslet) runs away from her lover in London, and takes her young daughters Bea (Bella Riza) and Lucy (Carrie Mullan) to Marrakesh in search of enlightenment. She has a vague idea that a visit to a Sufi will solve all her problems. In the meantime she's trying to survive from day to day by taking on odd jobs such as making dolls and translating poetry, while waiting for the cheque from home that will allow her to fulfil her dreams.
The two children aren't so keen about being so abruptly uprooted from their home. Lucy is the younger and quieter of the two, but is obviously taking it all in: Bea is extraordinarily noisy and precocious, and doesn't miss an opportunity to complain about the lack of home comforts. Things settle down a bit once Julia starts having an affair with local charmer Bilal (Saïd Taghmaoui), but ultimately he will end up making her life even more complicated rather than stabilising it.
Winslet joined the cast of Hideous Kinky in between completing the filming of Titanic and the subsequent megastardom that followed its release: any later, and they probably wouldn't have been able to afford her at all. If her star quality was kind of overshadowed by the presence of Sprout Boy in Titanic, this film emphasises it. It takes a pretty committed actress to take on a role as unsympathetic as that of Julia: without someone of Winslet's calibre, you wouldn't give two hoots for this selfish cow who uproots her children purely because of her own personal problems. Winslet doesn't make her a total monster or try to justify her actions: she's simply there, which is a very brave approach to take. And all the other performances are just as good, especially Bella Riza as Bea.
Director Gilles Mackinnon apparently did the Marrakesh trail himself back in the early seventies, and his love of Morocco shows in the filming. This is quite simply the most visually staggering film I've seen this Festival: John de Borman's camera glides through shot after shot of beautifully lit scenery without ever descending to the level of a mere travelogue. The exotic feel is enhanced by the use of a large amount of local music, although it's a little let down by the occasional use of seventies rock tracks, which seem a little bit too much like an attempt to sell the soundtrack album.
Mackinnon's brother Billy provides his script as usual, and condenses the novel to a carefully fragmented sequence of scenes that require a little work from the viewer to fill in the gaps between them. This was mistaken for incoherence by a nutter in the audience at this screening, who yelled a whole sequence of incomprehensible complaints at Mackinnon at the Q&A session, before being literally booed out of the cinema by the rest of the audience. "I was in Marrakesh and nobody over there spoke English at all," he complained. "Maybe nobody wanted to talk to you," replied Mackinnon. One-nil.
4.00pm: Two Girls And A Guy
The old standard You Don't Know Me is a heavily used motif in Two Girls And A Guy. It appears as the opening theme song, and one of the characters sings it during a crucial scene. This may have been a mistake, as it manages to get across in three minutes a point that the film takes 87 minutes to reach.
Two girls - "beautiful" Carla (Heather Graham) and "cute" Lou (Natasha Gregson Wagner), according to Lou's own definition - are first seen waiting outside a New York apartment waiting for their respective boyfriends to arrive. A short discussion about their boyfriends' good and bad points reveals the embarrassing truth: they're both seeing the same guy, Blake (Robert Downey Jr). They break into his apartment and discuss how he's strung them both along for the last ten months, spinning them both the same over-the-top lines. ("My cock is perpendicular to the earth... it's attached to me, but it belongs to you.") They confront Blake with this when he returns to the apartment, and the three of them argue it out and decide what to do next. Actually, no, I've just realised, they don't.
It's a very nice central idea, and as a result Two Girls And A Guy has a terrific trailer (see the free video with the current issue of Empire magazine if you're interested). But that one idea is ludicrously over-extended when stretched into a full length feature. It has a very theatrical feel to it, not only because it virtually all takes place on a single set and is played in real time, but also because of the stylised dialogue, which is sharp and punchy without ever being actually funny. In particular, the opening scenes which feature just the two girls feel like very bad David Mamet, and nothing like real live human beings at all: you do wonder if writer/director James Toback just has a problem working with women. The film does liven up a lot when Downey appears and does his patented Dangerous But Lovable schick, but in the end the best that can be said for Two Girls And A Guy is that it passes the time inoffensively enough. A bit more offensiveness wouldn't have gone amiss.
6.15pm: Your Friends And Neighbors
"You want to know who my best lay is? Me. Nobody makes me come like I do. I know what makes me happy better than anyone else. Sure, my wife is great, but she's not... me."
Like Two Girls And A Guy, the premise of Your Friends And Neighbours involves a conceited actor screwing around. Unlike Two Girls And A Guy, it has the courage to make the characters unlovable and keep them that way for the duration of the film. It's infinitely sharper, nastier and just plain better.
The movie primarily focusses on two couples. Jerry (Ben Stiller) is an actor who loves to talk during sex, and Terri (Catherine Keener) is the lover who has to tell him to shut up in mid-screw as she can't concentrate. Barry (Aaron Eckhart) is the tosser quoted in the first paragraph, and Mary (Amy Brenneman) is his understandably disillusioned wife. Jerry starts up an affair with Mary, while Terri is seeing art gallery girl Cheri (Nastassja Kinski).
The men of the two couples are just damaged or inadequate, but their mutual best friend Cary (Jason Patric) is a fully-fledged Evil Scumbag. He works out in the gym while listening to tapes of himself whacking off. He drop-kicks model foetuses during spare time in his hospital job. When Barry asks Cary about his best lay, Cary tells the story of how he assisted in the gang-rape of a boy at school to punish him. We're only allowed once or twice to laugh at Cary's hatred of everyone in general and women in particular: for the most part Patric plays it horrifyingly straight, and a scene where he verbally abuses Terri in a bookshop actually made the temperature in the cinema drop by ten degrees. Hell, you could even forgive Patric for Speed 2 after this performance.
Writer/director Neil LaBute made a big splash at last year's Festival for the similarly misanthropic In The Company Of Men, and Your Friends And Neighbors is a tremendous follow-up. A bunch of horrible people swap partners and get even more miserable as a result: at a time when comedies try to pretend they're cutting-edge, but pull back and wimp out when it comes to the crunch, this film dares to go all the way and beyond. Don't go expecting happy endings.
8.45pm: Welcome To Woop Woop
Acclaimed by some Australian reviewers as the worst film ever made, Welcome To Woop Woop seems to have touched a nerve with its domestic audience. Director Stephan Elliott (previously best known for The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert) suggested after the screening that it's because the film is a requiem for the old Australia, the non-yuppy, non-cappuccino, non-2000-Olympics side of the country that's currently on its last legs. He could be right, because it's certainly not the worst film ever made. Quite the opposite.
A gloriously surreal prologue shows American conman and cockatoo salesman Teddy (Jonathon Schaech) fleeing New York pursued by an entire city armed to the teeth. Escaping to Australia, he picks up a hitch-hiker, Angie (Susie Porter), and the two of them start to hit it off, sexually at least. But before he knows what's happening, she's knocked him out, doped him up and married him while he's still slumped unconscious in a wheelbarrow.
Angie takes her unwilling husband back to her home town of Woop Woop, an outlaw town built on the ruins of an old asbestos mine and run by her father Daddy-O (Rod Taylor). Completely detached from the outside world, Woop Woop uses marbles for currency, has a radio station that only plays Rodgers and Hammerstein, and makes its living from making dogfood out of roadkill kangaroos and the town's dead. Daddy-O rules the town with a rod of iron, and is prepared to kill anyone who tries to escape: the rest of the film follows Teddy's attempts to get away, helped only by the local schoolteacher Krystal (Dee Smart), whose lover was killed during a similar break for freedom.
You kind of know where you are with Australian comedies, don't you? They'll start off all light and kitsch with lots of bright colours and tacky music, and then tragic things will happen and it'll all get a bit sad but everyone will pull through regardless. Welcome To Woop Woop's triumphant stroke is to play with those expectations. After the hi-energy disco adaptations of tunes from The Sound Of Music and the scenes of Daddy-O tap-dancing on the metal surface of a bar while his shoes are wired to a car battery, the film gets much darker and nastier, looking at the murky underside beneath the supposedly ideal community.
The film becomes a very intense mixture of black comedy and quite scary bits, mainly down to Rod Taylor's stunning performance as Daddy-O, the only one in the film not playing it for laughs. But this serves to intensify the laughs even more, making Welcome To Woop Woop quite unlike anything you've ever seen before. And there's one line in The Sound Of Music I'll never be able to hear again without cracking up. "Maria, what is it you can't face?" It's all in the Australian accent, you know.
Notes from Spank's Pals
Ken - Set in the early Seventies, Kate Winslet plays the selfish and totally irresponsible mother of two young girls, who has dragged them off to Morocco in order to find herself. It is adapted from the best-selling semi-autobiographical novel by Esther Freud, who was in effect one of the children. I don't know what happened to her mother in real life, but this film certainly doesn't do her any favours. The actresses playing the children are superb, as are Kate Winslet and the spectacularly colourful scenery (apparently chosen by the director Gilles Mackinnon as a rescue from the drabness of the trenches in Regeneration, his Festival hit last year). Definitely a must-see.
Welcome To Woop Woop
Ken - One of the stupidest films I've ever seen, and undoubtedly one of the best. An American conman is kidnapped while travelling through the Outback, and awakes in the tiny community of Woop Woop to find he is married to the daughter of the town strongman, and can never leave this society dedicated to turning kangaroos into dog food and constantly playing Rodgers and Hammerstein music. Needless to say it's some sort of black comedy, and has to be seen to be believed, and in all probability not even then.
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