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last update 13.Jul.09
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dir-scr Lars von Trier
prd Meta Louise Foldager
with Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
dafoe and gainsbourg release Den 20.May.09,
UK 24.Jul.09, US 23.Oct.09
09/Denmark Zentropa 1h44

edinburgh film fest
antichrist Von Trier is a filmmaking genius, but this will challenge even his faithful fans. The expert direction, editing and photography are all here, along with two amazing performances. But this warped Adam and Eve myth is seriously hard to stomach.

After the accidental death of their young son, a couple (Dafoe and Gainsbourg) struggles to cope with their anguish. As a therapist, he offers to help her come to terms with the heartache that has landed her in hospital. But when they head to Eden, their isolated woodland getaway, the grief turns to pain and despair, and all of nature seems to conspire against their recovery. This eerily echoes her thesis on female nature, as events take a turn that's feral and terrifyingly gruesome.

If read as a metaphor for a couple dealing with grief, the film is packed with solid, provocative images and ideas. But what's on screen is so explicit that it's impossible to watch it symbolically, as Von Trier combines sex, violence, religion and instinct in graphic, lurid ways that are beyond imagination. The story's climactic fourth chapter is almost unwatchably horrific.

And yet it's bracingly well-made, with lush cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle that looks like a dream turning into a nightmare, including clever slow-motion and effects work that get us into the minds of both characters. These telling touches cut through the more shocking images, allowing the actors to create characters who are vulnerable and raw, even when they turn the tables on each other in violent ways.

Dafoe is terrific as a man trying to do his best while struggling to avoid his dark instincts. His story is both a tale of survival and an expression of love strained to the breaking point. Meanwhile, Gainsbourg is simply astonishing in a difficult role as the shattered wife who finds it impossible to regain her equilibrium. But then, she's also descending into madness, something that's apparently not new for this character, and Gainsbourg is utterly unafraid to take her to some grisly extremes.

Obviously, there's a problem with a premise that portrays men as masters of their natures while women are the victims of theirs, so they lash out both at men and themselves. The black-and-white prologue and epilogue suggest that everyone has to pay for their sins. But Von Trier's misogynist storytelling is at least complex and challenging, using freak-out images and ideas from the start while somehow maintaining a gritty emotional undercurrent.

18 themes, very strong language and sexuality
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The Athlete
4/5   Atletu
dir Davey Frankel, Rasselas Lakew
scr Rasselas Lakew, Davey Frankel, Mikael Aemiro Awake
prd Davey Frankel, Rasselas Lakew, Darryn Welch
with Rasselas Lakew, Dag Malmberg, Ruta Gedmintas, Abba Waka Dessalegn
lakew and malmberg release UK Jun.09 eiff
09/Germany 1h25

edinburgh film fest
the athlete An intriguing combination of documentary and drama, this film tells the remarkable story of Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila in a fragmented style that effectively parallels various events in his life.

In the 1960 Rome marathon, Bikila (Lakew) becomes the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal, returning to Ethiopia as a national hero. Then at the 1964 Tokyo Games, he'sthe first runner to defend his marathon title, only a few weeks after an appendectomy. But his life takes an unexpected twist in 1969, and instead of giving up, he works with his coach and friend Onni (Malmberg) to retrain for dogsled archery events in Scandinavia.

Filmmakers Frankel and Lakew use a wealth of documentary footage to portray Bikila's history, intercut with the events of 1969, during which he is beautifully played by Lakew. These dramatic scenes are sharply shot to capture both the raw landscapes of Ethiopia and the inner tenacity of Bikila himself. They're also packed with tiny details that both give us insight into Bikila's life and echo events we see in the newsreel footage.

Along the way, the film taps into both Bikila's strong personality and the much bigger events he was part of. For example, his barefoot victory in Rome had extra resonance since Italy had once colonised and plundered Ethiopia. And the filmmakers also use Bikila's experiences at three Olympics to give his life an almost cyclical structure of overcoming the odds and being a victim of fate. They also beautifully capture Ethiopia's deeply religious culture as well as the complex notion of patriotism in a tribal country.

And even more potent is the examination of fame and success, as Bikila struggles with the weight of his hero status while never quite living up to either his own ideals or his role as a husband and father (his wife and children are never seen in the film). This is done in a low-key way that might feel a bit soft and toothless, but quietly carries a steely message about inner strength and dignity. With Bikila's inspiring ability to focus on a goal, the film really earns its emotional kick.

PG themes, some violence
16.Jun.09 eiff
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Black Dynamite
dir Scott Sanders
scr Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, Scott Sanders
prd Jenny Wiener Steingart, Jon Steingart
with Michael Jai White, Salli Richardson, Kym Whitley, Tommy Davidson, Kevin Chapman, Byron Minns, Mykelti Williamson, Bokeem Woodbine, Tucker Smallwood, Richard Edson, Roger Yuan, Arsenio Hall
release UK Jun.09 eiff,
US 4.Sep.09
09/US 1h30

edinburgh film fest
los angeles film fest
black dynamite This outrageously wacky blaxploitation pastiche keeps us laughing nonstop for its first hour, simply because it plays everything dead straight. After this point, it may still be sharply funny, but the thrill is gone.

Muscled ladies' man Black Dynamite (White) is a legend in 1970s drug-ridden Los Angeles. When his brother is murdered in a drug deal gone wrong, he teams with his former CIA colleague O'Leary (Chapman) to solve the mystery. He gets help from his pals, the flaming Cream Corn (Davidson) and tough-guy Bullhorn (Minns), and also has time to romance the orphanage activist Gloria (Richardson). And the trail to the killer leads him through the kung fu treachery of the fiendish Dr Wu (Yuan) right to Tricky Dicky's White House.

Director Sanders hilariously captures the period through an exaggerated production design that's packed with gigantic afros, huge jewellery, pimp-mobiles and costumes that look like lurid wallpaper. The grainy, brown-hued cinematography sometimes struggles amusingly to keep up with Dynamite's quick moves, and the film is packed with wobbly camerawork, groovy songs, gratuitous screen-splitting and an hysterical barrage of musical stings.

And then there's the dialog, which is unapologetically absurd and delivered with straight-faced precision by the up-for-it cast. White is almost always shirtless, flexing his muscles and riotously growling his way through each scene, punctuating most lines with "Can you dig it?" Black Dynamite's way with the ladies is superbly well-played, generating terrific chemistry with Richardson, Whitley and others. And the starry supporting characters, all of whom have witty names, all get big laughs along the way.

It's a bit frustrating that the inventiveness seems to dry up about halfway through. The filmmakers maintain the comical tone, but don't take it anywhere else; the movie gets too bogged down in the irrelevant plot while repeating the same jokes and continuing the clever running gags. Sanders continually finds ingenious ways around his limited budget, such as using creaky old footage to add stunts and explosions to action sequences. But by the end, we begin to think it might have worked even better as a 30-minute comedy sketch.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
18.Jun.09 eiff
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Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus
dir-scr Ace Hannah
prd Paul Bales, David Michael Latt, David Rimawi
with Deborah Gibson, Lorenzo Lamas, Vic Chao, Sean Lawlor, Jonathan Nation, Mark Hengst, Michael The, Chris Haley, Dustin Harnish, Dean Kreyling, Stephen Blackehart, Dana DiMatteo
lamas, gibson and lawlor release US 26.May.09,
UK 7.Aug.09
09/US 1h29
Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus Clearly aiming for the Snakes on a Plane audience, this outrageously cheesy film could have worked with a little more discipline in the writing and directing, as well as a more satirical approach. Because the cheap effects and corny plot are actually rather entertaining.

Oceanographer Emma MacNeill (Gibson) finds herself in a cover-up conspiracy after an incident in which a shattering glacier releases frozen specimens of massive prehistoric creatures into the ocean, where they immediately start attacking whales, oil platforms, passenger jets and the Golden Gate Bridge. She teams up with her old professor (Lawlor) and Japanese scientist Shimada (Chao), and all three are quickly drafted by a shady government official (Lamas) to lend their expertise to stopping this horrific menace.

Writer-director Hannah writes ludicrously over-serious dialog that's delivered with po-faced sincerity by the cast. There are moments that are sharply silly, but he directs everything dead straight, which is utterly inexplicable for a premise as preposterous as this. But alas, there are no tongues in cheek, and the insistent music is exactly like a disaster-of-the-week TV movie rather than a pastiche of it (there's even a love theme over the closing credits). And despite the micro-budget, the filmmaker clearly thought he was making a blockbuster.

Only there's so little money at work here that they can't even create the money shots with their homemade digital effects sequences, most of which are repeated two or three times. And they make some basic mistakes (the shark's fin leaves no wake, for example). Add to this amateurish editing that forces us to imagine what's happening in key moments. Even the conversations between the characters are chopped to bits, which makes all of the performances feel wooden.

This isn't to say the film is no fun. The way everyone quietly flirts with Emma is pretty amusing, as is her spark of lust with Shimada. Some of the supposedly meaningful conversations are almost sublimely nonsensical. And dig those disco glow-stick pheromones! But it's all so simplistically done that it makes you feel like you could make a better movie than this on your home computer.

15 themes, language, grisliness
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall