The Life and Times of Paul, the Psychic Octopus
Alexandre O Philippe’s documentary The People vs George Lucas, shown at Edinburgh a couple of years ago, was a hugely entertaining look at Star Wars fans’ love/hate relationship with their favourite films,and their creator. His latest also looks at how celebrity culture affects and inspires its followers, through the story of the cephalopod who enjoyed a stunning run of accurate predictions during the 2010 world cup.
Opening on a melancholy note with Paul’s funeral, the film then looks at his rise to fame, his effect on those around him, and the question of whether or not his predictions were anything more than a massive fluke. Many of those interviewed – Paul’s UK-based agent, for one – clearly have their tongues in their cheeks at least part of the time, but the film is careful to allow Paul, and the other animals who make brief appearances, to retain their dignity. It’s like a more flippant version of last year’s Project Nim. Even the psychics who claim to receive messages from the deceased octopus are not mocked (at least not openly; the viewer can draw their own conclusions). It’s a nice balancing act that results in an entertaining film that asks sensible questions about a silly subject; although the relatively brief running time is quite long enough.
7 Days in Havana
A portmanteau movie from directors including Benicio del Toro, Gaspar Noe and Laurent Cantet (among others) that comprises seven short films set in the titular Cuban city. That’s quite a few shorts, and I did feel that maybe 5 days in Havana would have allowed several of them valuable extra breathing space. As it is, the stories are on the slight side, starting with Josh Hutcherson as a young actor who has a brief encounter on s drunken night out. Emir Kusturica amusingly plays himself as a drunk, grudgingly accepting an award from the Havana Film Festival, but the most memorable and disturbing segment is Noe’s voodoo vignette. While as a full movie it may not totally satisfy, Havana itself – as always – looks, and sounds, beautiful.
This year’s opening film is a lurid, violent, occasionally funny slice of melodrama from William Friedkin; though if I hadn’t known, I might have taken it for a lost work by Oliver Stone.
Matthew McConaughey is on great form in the title role, as a cop who moonlights as a hired killer. He’s employed by a spectacularly dumb white trash family for a plan masterminded by Chris (Emile Hirsch) to kill his mother for the insurance payout. As Joe normally demands payment up front, Chris agrees to put up his younger sister Dottie up as collateral. Dottie (Juno Temple) appears to be away with the fairies for much of the time, but to what extent is tough to say.
Obviously, the plan goes wrong, and it does so in a fairly OTT manner. I was unaware going in that the film is based on a play (by Tracey Letts) but it became obvious well before the end. It actually feels like something Quentin Tarantino trying to write like Tennessee Williams; the mix of explicit violence and black comedy is sometimes uncomfortable, and the characters never feel as though they have any existence beyond the stage.