Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008: Wall-E and Harryhausen

Danny watches two films from opposite ends of the special effects spectrum: Wall-E, and Jason and the Argonauts

Today in Edinburgh, I ordered my usual breakfast roll from the baguette shop down the road – a sausage and potato scone buttie. Only thing is that when I opened my mouth to eat it, I realised it had a big hair in it. I took it back and got a new roll and a refund. Edinburgh is full of surprises like that – for example, I got the fifth season of The Simpsons on DVD for under a tenner the other day! – and I like to think that that same feeling spreads to the film festival. Just as it seems that the festival is winding down, for me the filmic side of the whole shebang is getting uppercutted into fourth gear. (That’s even concerning the lack of films I’ve seen in the past few days, but I digress.)

The big one, at least for Den Of Geek, took place this morning – Wall-E, the new film from Pixar Studios and directed by Finding Nemo‘s Andrew Stanton. The film follows a robot, surprisingly called Wall-E, who has been left behind on Earth to clean up the mess left by rampant consumerism and disregard for the environment. It’s been seven hundred years since humans left the planet for the “final fun-tier” of outer space, and aside from a little cockroach friend, Wall-E is feeling lonely. Then he finds a new friend and everything begins to change drastically…

I feel that the less that you know about Wall-E, the better, so a lot of its key plot points are not going to be touched on in this review. But a few hours after watching it, I have to say that Pixar have struck gold yet again by eschewing the buddy/road movie plots of Nemo and the Toy Stories for something a little odder and even experimental. The film is not a silent movie as previously reported – there is dialogue to be heard, and the robots seem to replicate words with their bleeps and bloops – but it is deliberately sparse for its first third, with many lingering shots of an abandoned, rubbish strewn Earth where a series of rapid-fire gigs normally go.

There are great sight gags (one involving sporks is a great laugh) but it’s all got a melancholy kinda vibe about it as Wall-E looks up to a dusty sky with wildly expressive eyes. Then EVE, a sleeker, smarter robot with a mission appears on Earth and Wall-E begins to fall in love. And that’s all I want to say – it’s surprising just how well-written this film is as it goes places you never thought it would, taking on new perspectives with every minute. Throughout, the possibility arises that we may be seeing the start of a new kind of science-fiction film because of the level of imagination running wild – yes, it’s that good. If I was going to nitpick, I would say that it’s odd how a film with such an pro-conservation/anti-corporate agenda can bang its drum so loudly and passionately without pissing off the many Disney shareholders seeing how the movie does, but I’m not going to (I’ll leave that to this fascinating article by Devin Faraci – spoiler-heavy, so beware). Today it’s all about the film, and Wall-E is hands down the best film I’ve seen at this year’s festival.

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The complete political polar opposite, you would think, is José Padilha’s shit-storm of an action picture, Elite Squad but like I said, Edinburgh is full of surprises. Regarded, like I said previously, by Variety as a recuitment film for “fascist right-wing thugs”, the film follows a special forces police team by the name of BOPE who vow to clear up the slums of Rio de Janiero ahead of the Pope’s 1997 visit to Brazil. (This situation brings us the funniest bit of subtitled dialogue of the entire festival – “The Pope needed BOPE”. Priceless.) Their enemies? Drug dealers. All drug dealers. Their tactics? Heavy-handed and brutal. Really, there’s only so many times you can see somebody strangled with a bag in one film, let alone one week.

Padilha’s film is incredibly well-made, especially when it comes to the dealers vs cops gunfights, with the opening sequence at a soundsystem standing out. It is also full of gratuitous macho bullshit, a ridiculous voiceover and an awful nu-metal theme song that not only closes but OPENS the movie. (It’s awful. There really is no need.) As for all that Variety said about the film, you can see where they were coming from when they said it – although to be fair, the objectification of violence as bonding ritual and as a sign of maturity is, at points, levelled by a lot of talk about Alexander Foucalt’s theories on the “decay of institutions” and a subplot where lead character Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) strains at his emotional range, his family life torn at the seams by his immersion into ultra-violence… but it’s really not enough. But that, surprisingly, isn’t the whole deal.

A post-screening Q A with Padilha addressed some of the film’s problems, especially in his plans to follow-up Elite Squad and his earlier documentary Bus 174 with a film concerning the corruption and violence in South American politics – something that is only hinted at in Elite Squad – therefore creating a trilogy. With this bit of news, the faults of the film make a bit more sense – violent institutions colliding with violent institutions will only solve their problems with, well, violence. BOPE do it, the cops do it, the drug trade do it. Sure, BOPE are presented as macho gun-slinging heroes but Padilha seems to be just as aware that they’re nowhere near a sensible solution. It was great to hear the fiercely intelligent Padilha talk on his film but I won’t be recommending it much when it eventually secures a UK release. Like I said, there’s only so many bag stranglings a man can take.

It’s been a couple of days since it happened, but it turns out that absolutely everybody was wrong about the Surprise Movie. My bet was that it was The Escapist, starring EIFF guest Brian Cox; other guesses from people I met included Hellboy II, The Dark Knight and maybe something else comic-booky. WRONG! It turned out to be something called The Rocker which I’ve never heard of in my life but of which I’m pretty sure you’ll hear about from Carl.

I didn’t make it to the Surprise Movie but I did get to check out Jason and the Argonauts at the plush and lovely Dominion cinema, with none other than animation legend Ray Harryhausen in attendance. He started the show off with a little anecdote about location seeking on beaches, which turned into a talk about beaches turning into roads or something along those lines. As expected, Jason totally ripped, especially that awesome part with the skeletons, and it was an amazing experience – it was my first time watching it, as my friends were stunned to hear! Harryhausen was signing books afterwards but I didn’t feel like dropping £30 on a book I may never read so I headed on my way. Let me know if you want some of my badly taken Harryhausen photos, by the by!

Well, the festival is most certainly winding down. Today, a lot of people will be leaving, only for the general public to descend upon Edinburgh for the Best of the Fest, which I will be at. I’ll be also seeing if I can get into Faintheart, the closing night film, as well as the awards ceremony which Sir Sean Connery will be at. You never know how it’ll turn out, really – remember, Edinburgh is full of surprises.

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ps. I abandoned my Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest challenge after sleeping through both parts one and two. Total wank. That is all.