More Film Festival

I really can’t face trying to write up different short reviews of the same films, so I’m going to be green and recycle this set of three of the more fantastic genre flicks from this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival for both the Woolamaloo and the FPI blog:

Well that’s another Festival season coming to an end and the finale of the 60th Edinburgh International Film Festival – where did the time go? Among the diverse films I managed to catch at this year’s Film Fest there were a number of interesting genre pieces drawing on comics and the fantastic genres, not least among them being a new collaboration between director Terry Zwigoff and the Most Excellent cartoonist Dan Clowes; the pair had previously created the movie version of Dan’s Ghost World, which by coincidence I first saw at a previous EIFF. Their new movie, Art School Confidential (which I think is due for general release relatively soon in the UK), expanding upon the original short comics strip which appeared in Eightball.


A somewhat directionless young man decides to attend the art department of his college (where he has the brilliant John Malkovich as a jaded and bitter lecturer). He knows (or thinks he knows) that he wants to be a great and famous artist but has no idea how to create his own voice or style; advised by a lecturer to experiment with different styles he is later castigated by the same tutor for having work which is too diverse and without focus. The film fillets the pretensions of many artists and students and the notion of art itself, set against a backdrop of (possible) romance and a serial killer loose on the campus (the arrest of one art student by over-zealous campus police mirrors recent events in the US where campus police arrested an English student who had written a story about a murder and thus became a murder suspect in their eyes, so not far fetched!). The film mixes a jaundiced eye on human nature and art and a bleak philosophy with Clowe’s usual mixture of misanthropy mixed with humour; it is unlikely to convert new fans but anyone who loves Dan’s work will get a huge kick out of Art School Confidential (I loved it).

Joon-ho Bong’s Gwoemul (aka The Host) is a million miles from Art School, being a Korean SF-Horror monster movie. I can’t resist a good monster movie so along I went and disappointed I was not, especially as Bong put in an appearance to talk about the movie as a bonus. Recent Korean genre flicks, especially crime, thriller and horrors, have a tendency to be somewhat over the top in terms of the scenes and the actual scenario (not that this stops me watching them of course); Bong said he specifically wanted to get away from that sort of Tartan Asia Extreme kind of film and although he delivers plenty of major monster moments as a mutant emerges from Seoul’s Han river the focus here is really on the dysfunctional family attempting to save their youngest sibling trapped in the creature’s nest.

Along the way Bong draws a picture of utterly ineffectual Korean authorities, both unable to deal with the monster which emerges from the river and unwilling to listen to the family as they try to save their youngest member from a nasty fate; this is apparently a deliberate parody of events a few years before when an American officer told a local assistant in a US Korean base to dump toxic chemicals down the sewer and the Korean authorities proved utterly unable to prosecute the officer. The dumped chemicals, in the best horror tradition, are the cause of a strange mutation in the river, which begins as a curiosity, glimpsed briefly in a montage of scenes as Bong builds up the anticipation until finally unleashing his river monster on a crowd of Seoul citizens as it suddenly displays legs and leaps from the water to begin chasing screaming people across a riverside park. It’s a pure romp of a monster movie but one which has a nice family theme as its focus rather than simple gross-out horror effects (although there are some nice scenes on that score too). Not a masterpiece perhaps, but a hugely enjoyable Asian monster movie.

Wristcutters: a Love Story is a movie which caught my eye in the EIFF programme early on – the story of a young man who commits suicide only to wake up in a purgatory which looks rather like living world (except duller, more run down and no-one can smile) sounded familiar to me; in fact it sounded like the plot of the graphic novel collection Pizzeria Kamikaze. There was a good reason for this – the film is sourced from the same short story by Israeli writer Etgar Keret that illustrator Asaf Hanuka collaborated with for the comics. In fact at a post-screening Q&A session writer/director Goran Dukic explained that not only had Etgar approved of the variations on the story he had made for the movie version he had called Goran during the making of the movie to explain about the graphic novel and how he thought certain parts of the graphic novel might benefit from some of the adaptations made for the movie.


After committing suicide at the start of the movie (following a bad break-up with his girlfriend) Zia finds himself in purgatory, holding down a job at the Pizzeria Kamikaze. The world looks just like the real world, but the colour is washed out, everything is worn out and no-one can smile; the music on the radio and the diner’s jukebox are all by bands who had members who killed themselves, such as Joy Division and Nirvana. In fact it is a depressing place, but what can you do? Commit suicide again? What if that meant waking up somewhere even more depressing? After bumping into a former friend who had arrived after killing himself, Zia finds out his ex had also taken her own life a few months after his suicide. Now that he knows she is in the same purgatory Zia finds a form of purpose as he and his new friend, crazy Russian musician Eugene (who topped himself by pouring his booze over his electric guitar on stage – rock’n’roll!) embark on a road trip to find her, picking up hitchhiker Mikal (the gorgeous Shannyn Sossamon from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Rules of Attraction) along the way.

Made on a shoestring, singer/writer/artist/actor (dammit, no-one should have so many talents!) Tom Waits came on board early on which Goran said helped out no end in managing to get the film made, while Goran’s producer Mikal P Lazarev also acted in the movie as Nanuk, a throat-singing mute Eskimo (no, I’m not explaining that, its best experienced). As the movie progresses we often get little flashbacks on different characters, showing how they killed themselves, interspersed with some simple but brilliant imagery. Despite what could be a very depressing subject matter (everyone is dead by their own hand and stuck in a morose limbo world) Wristcutters is quite brilliant; funny, intriguing, romantic and ultimately a life-affirming and upbeat movie, albeit in a delightfully weird way.


Between the philosophical musings, the inherent humour in the characters and their situation (for example a ‘black hole’ under the car seat where everything dropped gets lost evolves to be an actual black hole), the bizarre but loveable characters and the road trip, we have ourselves a damned fine little movie here; think a combination of Jim Jarmusch with Donnie Darko and you start to get the idea. And like Donnie Darko I have the impression that this could easily be a sleeper movie, bypassing a lot of the mainstream media but building itself a real audience when it finally gets released (no UK date yet, alas, so keep an eye out for any film festivals). Wristcutters has been my favourite movie of the whole Film Festival this summer and one of the quirkiest and frankly best movies I’ve seen this year; now I need to go back and read the graphic novel version. Ain’t It Cool News gave it a 5 out of 5 rating and the film has been creating a big buzz on the film festival circuit; I reckon a lot of you would love it too. Meanwhile you can check out more not only on the official site but also on the MySpace blog (set in Afterworld, USA) along with some clips of the film.

Also in Film Festival news Kevin Smith’s Clerks II picked up the Standard Life Audience Award this weekend, with movie and comics writer Smith making a rare UK appearance as part of the Fest’s Reel Life feature.