Monday, June 20, 2011

Day Five - "I am obsessed with music, yes. I like to hear every track that comes into the shop at least once. (Pause) Sounds mad..."

Featured review of the day: Page Eight.

Other films seen today:

Post Mortem (4 stars, won't disappoint fans of Tony Manero)

The Divide (3 stars, will play well to the FrightFest crowd and I'll be amazed if it doesn't show up there in August)

Sound It Out (4 stars, delightful documentary about the last independent record shop in Stockton and the collection of music obsessives that both run and frequent the shop)

On the Shore (2 stars, somnambulistic flic flick)

Jitters (4 stars and will make my Best of the Fest list. As this blog will attest, I am a sucker for a well made Scandinavian coming-of-age drama and this was an excellent example).

Also, a) interviewed Bob Ingersoll for Project Nim and b) attended the interview with imdb co-founder Col Needham.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day Four - "You don't even got any class..."

Today's featured review: Perfect Sense. Personally, if it had been up to me to choose which press photos to make available, I would have gone with a still of Ewan McGregor and Eva Green eating soap in the bath. I'm just saying.

Other films seen today:

Trollhunter (4 stars, clever blend of Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield that has a lot of fun with existing mythology. Pretty sure there's a Fungus the Bogeyman reference in there too. Need to see this again).

The Caller (3 stars. Enjoyable, if ridiculous horror / thriller in which the lovely Rachel LeFevre is menaced by someone who's calling her from 1977 or so. Has a couple of very effective moments and on this evidence, LeFevre deserves to be a bigger star).

Bombay Beach (4 stars. Extraordinary blend of documentary and dance that is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Ostensibly a portrait of an impoverished California community in Salton Sea, Alma Har'el's film follows around several different characters and occasionally they perform stunning choreographed dance sequences to the music of Beirut. I am not someone who is normally moved by dance sequences as a rule, but this really got to me. I'm still processing it a day later. I might even end up giving it 5 stars. Director Alma Har'el is lovely too - it's a shame there wasn't a Q&A at the public screening I went to).

Jessica Brown Findlay update: Despite repeated and increasingly desperate entreaties, I have been unable to secure an interview with Jessica Brown Findlay. I have been offered Sebastian Koch instead, which is, I think we can all agree, NOT THE SAME, as these photos will attest.

Jessica Brown Findlay:


Sebastian Koch:



Friday, June 17, 2011

Day Three - "Is that your sex hat?"

Featured review of the day: Bobby Fischer Against The World.

Films seen today:

Angels Crest (3 stars, smalltown indie drama with strong performances, slightly ruined by unnecessary ending - review to follow).

Albatross (4 stars, very enjoyable British drama featuring yet another lovely performance from Felicity Jones and a star-in-the-making turn from newcomer Jessica Brown Findlay, who I have only just realised is the sexy political one in Downton Abbey - review to follow).

In the meantime, here is a picture of Jessica Brown Findlay:


*sigh*

Day Two - "Traditionally, it's the stationery cupboard..."

Featured review of the day: Tomboy.

Other films seen today:

Arrietty (aka Arrietty The Borrower aka The Borrower Arrietty aka The Borrowers - no-one seems to be able to agree on the title, but it's this film and it was every bit as lovely as you'd expect a Studio Ghibli version of Mary Norton's The Borrowers to be - 4 stars, review to follow).

Project Nim (4 stars, fascinating documentary, see Day Six's featured film).

Page Eight (3 stars, worth seeing for performances, see Day Five's featured film).

Perfect Sense (2 stars, the first real disappointment so far - see Day Four's featured film).


Day One - "Fischer-watchers refer to this period as 'The Wilderness Years'..."

Featured review of the day: Opening Night Gala - The Guard.

Other films seen today:

Bobby Fischer Against the World (4 stars; see Day Three's featured film).

Truth About Men (4 stars, like a Danish version of (500) Days of Summer - review to follow).

Our Day Will Come (3 stars, bizarre Ginger Apocalypse drama starring Vincent Cassel - review to follow).

Tomboy (4 stars, currently the front-runner for my favourite film of the festival - see Day Two's featured film).

This was also the day of the Opening Night Party. Officially the lowest-attended opening night party I have ever been to. The dancefloor was literally deserted all night long. They did have delicious hot pork buns though, so it wasn't all bad...




Quick list of films I've already seen

Normally, by the time the festival starts, I've already seen a large number of the films on offer. This year, that number is a rather pathetic five, so something somewhere has gone terribly, terribly wrong. Edinburgh's woes this year have been well-publicised elsewhere so I won't bother going into them here but here's a blog post I wrote for The Blog No-one Reads about the Edinburgh line-up and the films I was looking forward to the most (based on a cursory glance at the programme).

Anyway, the films I've seen so far are:

The Guard (4 stars, see Day One's featured film).

Jack Goes Boating (2 stars, felt too stagey and Hoffman's lead character didn't really work for me)

Ghosted (2 stars, might have given it 3 if I hadn't seen a better British prison movie that week - liked Craig Parkinson a lot, but it was let down by a painfully contrived ending)

Meet Monica Velour (3 stars, low-key but very enjoyable, a sort of Napoleon Dynamite meets...well, meets a trailer-trash version of Kim Cattrall)

Countdown to Zero (which I'm probably going to see again while I'm up here because 1) I saw it ages ago, 2) I can't remember anything about it and 3) It's out next week).


"Hmmm. When the bloody hell is he going to get around to starting this year's blog?"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day Eight - "You've gone all Charlie Chaplin again. Silent, I mean, not schmaltzy and unfunny."

Featured review of the day: The Kid


Coming soon (although maybe not that soon): Get Low, Crimefighters, Skeletons

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day Seven - "He tossed his oatmeal at us. It's all a little confusing."

Featured review of the day: Barry Munday


Coming soon: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, The Secret in Their Eyes, Vacation!, Mr Nice

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day Five - "This trip is like going for a walk with a sick white Oprah"

Featured review of the day: The Runaways


Third Star

British drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a terminally ill young man who invites his three best friends (Tom Burke, JJ field and Adam Robertson) on a camping trip to his favourite place in the world.

Expanded version of official ViewEdinburgh review: Impressively directed and sharply written, this is a powerfully emotional British drama with superb performances from all four leads. Directed by Hattie Dalton, Third Star opens with a voiceover by terminally ill 29 year-old James (Benedict Cumberbatch) explaining that he doesn't intend to see 30 and that he's okay with that. James duly invites his three best friends – sensitive Davy (Tom Burke), practical Bill (Adam Robertson) and feckless Miles (JJ Feild) – to accompany him on a camping trip to his favourite place in the world - Pembrokeshire's Barafundle Bay - but his three friends are unaware that he plans to commit suicide when he gets there. The trip consists of the usual round of mishaps, arguments and bizarre encounters (including a make-up-wearing ferryman, Nanny McPhee 2's Eros Vlahos as an angel-winged little shit who steals Miles's watch and Hugh Bonneville as a bonkers beachcomber in search of a shipment of rare brown Darth Vaders) before the inevitable round of revelations, confessions and soul-searching. But will James' friends let him go through with his plan when they discover his intentions? The performances are excellent and the friendship between all four men feels organic and real, particularly in their easy, piss-taking banter and good-natured rough-housing (“I liked the squeaky noise you made when he had you in a head-lock”). Of the four, Cumberbatch is moving and dignified as James, while Feild adds several layers to Miles in the more obviously charismatic role (as well as demonstrating an impressive ability to cry underwater), but there's strong support from Burke and newcomer Robertson, both of whom find touching moments of their own. Vaughan Sivell's script crackles with witty, natural-sounding lines (including an extremely funny suppository gag) and familiar-sounding pointless conversations (the title comes from an argument about the correct directions to Neverland), while the emotional speeches are well handled, with Sivell showing an impressive ability to both undercut the more mawkish moments (Miles accuses James of “unnecessary fake soul-searching”) and to swerve away from the usual clich├ęs at the last moment (e.g. when James starts nagging Miles about his abandoned novel and Miles just tells him to shut up). In addition, the film is beautifully shot and takes full advantage of the gorgeous scenery, while the climax is both impressively directed and powerfully emotional. Four stars.

Coming soon: High School

Day Four - "Just so you know, my parents think you put drugs in my drink and had sex with me while I was unconscious"

Featured review of the day: Winter's Bone


Toy Story 3

Threequel to Pixar's flagship franchise, in which Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the toys get accidentally shipped off to a hellish, prison-like Day Care centre after Andy (John Morris) goes off to college.

Expanded version of ViewEdinburgh review: Directed by Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 (in 3D) opens with Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of Andy's toys – the Potato Heads (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), piggy bank Hamm (John Ratzenberger), cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Slinky Dog (Blake Clarke) – resigning themselves to being put up in the attic as Andy (John Morris) prepares to go off to college. However, they accidentally get sent to the Sunnyside Day Care centre instead where Sunnyside leader Lotso-Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty) consigns them to the hellish Caterpillar Room, full of destructive, hyper-active toddlers. Realising that they won't survive in the Caterpillar Room, the toys plot an elaborate escape, which isn't easy, as Lotso locks them up at night and runs the centre like a prison, complete with a scary cymbal-clashing monkey as look-out. Meanwhile, Woody meets some new toys when he ends up being taken home by a young girl (Emily Hahn as Bonnie) and Barbie (Jodi Benson) thinks her dreams have come true when she meets Sunnyside's resident hunk, Ken (Michael Keaton). The vocal performances for these much-loved characters are as wonderful as ever, though there are some terrific new additions this time round, most notably Ned Beatty as Lotso, Timothy Dalton as actorly hedgehog Mister Pricklepants, Michael Keaton as Ken, Kristen Schaal as Trixie the Triceratops and Emily Hahn, who is flat-out adorable as Bonnie. Similarly, the animation is also as gorgeous as ever (especially in the inventive fantasy Wild West playing sequence that opens the film) and the 3D effects are extremely impressive, with the film largely steering clear of gimmicks in favour of fleshed-out 3D environments. The script is excellent, developing several powerfully emotional themes, such as the toys' sadness at Andy not wanting to play with them anymore or various subtle observations about the lifespan and purpose of a toy. Needless to say, the script is packed full of delightful gags and devastatingly emotional moments – make no mistake, tears will be shed by adults and children alike, so bring tissues. All in all, this is a worthy threequel to the wonderful Toy Story franchise with gorgeous animation, terrific vocal performances and a brilliantly written script that's consistently both laugh-out-loud funny and powerfully emotional. Basically, those Pixar geniuses have done it again - this is one of the best films of the year and is quite simply unmissable. Five stars. EDIT: Okay, there's not much more I want to add to this, except to say that I really loved the Death By Monkeys gag and thoroughly enjoyed the whole extended Toy-Story-as-Prison-Movie thing.


Barry Munday

Black comedy starring Patrick Wilson as a libido-driven wage slave who is forced to re-evaluate his life after the double-whammy of losing his testicles and discovering he's impregnated a woman (Judy Greer) after a one-night-stand he can't remember.

Full text of ViewEdinburgh review:Superbly written, frequently hilarious and brilliantly acted by a note-perfect cast, this is a hugely entertaining black comedy that has an unexpectedly warm heart. Written and directed by Chris D'Arienzo, Barry Munday is based on the novel “Life Is A Strange Place” by Frank Turner Hollon and stars Patrick Wilson as Barry Munday, a libido-driven wage slave who spends all his time either ogling, fantasising about or trying to pick up women. However, after a freak attack by an outraged father wielding a trumpet, Barry wakes up in hospital to find that his testicles have been removed. As if losing the family jewels wasn't bad enough. Barry gets a further shock when he's hit with a paternity lawsuit by frumpy, bespectacled Ginger Farley (Judy Greer), a woman he can't remember having sex with. Secretly thrilled that the Munday line might not end with him after all, Barry attempts to step up to his responsibilities with Ginger, though he finds it an uphill struggle when he meets her family (Malcolm McDowell, Cybill Shepherd and Chloe Sevigny), particularly when, right before meeting them for the first time, Ginger informs him that she's told them that he drugged her and had sex with her while she was unconscious. Patrick Wilson is brilliant as Barry, delivering a warm-hearted, vanity-free performance that ensures the character remains likeable even when he's being an idiot. Judy Greer (finally graduating to female leads after an eternity of Wisecracking Best Friend-type parts) is equally good as Ginger and the film also boasts a terrific supporting cast that includes Chloe Sevigny (as Ginger's seemingly perfect sister Jennifer), Jean Smart (as Barry's mother), Billy Dee Williams (i.e. old Lando Calrissian himself) as Barry's boss Lonnie and Cybill Shepherd and Malcolm McDowell as Ginger's parents. The script is excellent: the dialogue crackles with funny lines and there are several laugh-out-loud moments. Highlights include: Barry unable to stifle his giggles during a genital mutilation support group; Barry committing a pretty serious faux pas during sex; and pretty much every second that Billy Dee Williams is on screen (he drives a DeLorean, for God's sake). D'Arienzo's skilful direction gets the tone exactly right, expertly blending pitch black comedy with bittersweet moments that reveal a surprisingly warm heart. This a hugely enjoyable black comedy with terrific performances from a wonderful comic cast. Highly recommended.



Coming soon: Thelma, Louise and Chantal, Putty Hill

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day Three - "I can't come to the phone right now because I'm out clearing the streets of bureaucratic vermin".

Featured review of the day: The People vs George Lucas

The Runaways

Rock biopic of The Runaways, based on the book by Cherie Currie, starring Dakota Fanning as Cherie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett.

Full text of ViewEdinburgh review (different version to follow): Directed by photographer Floria Sigismondi and adapted from the book by Cherie Currie, The Runaways opens in 1975 when Bowie-obsessed 15 year-old Cherie (Dakota Fanning) is introduced to guitarist Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) by impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Despite feeling guilty about leaving her older sister Marie (Riley Keough – Elvis's grand-daughter) to look after their alcoholic father (Brett Cullen), Cherie eagerly joins the band and is soon embarking on a gruelling schedule of tours and indulging in the usual sex, drugs and rock'n'roll shenanigans with a little experimental lesbianism thrown in. Dakota Fanning is terrific as Cherie Currie – this is essentially her movie and she delivers an emotionally engaging performance that captures both the aggressive rock chick image and the grown-up-too-soon teenager inside. Her scenes with Keough are particularly good; their relationship is as central to the film as Cherie's relationship with Joan. Stewart is equally good, capturing Jett's look, spirit and attitude, even if the character is frustratingly under-explored by the script. There's also strong support from Keough and Stella Maeve (as drummer and band co-founder Sandy West) but the film is neatly stolen by the always-excellent Michael Shannon, who gets all the best lines and several amusingly off-the-wall moments, such as having a business phonecall with Joan while having sex. Sigismondi has the expected photographer's eye for an arresting image (such as Joan mentally composing songs in a milky-white bath) and her direction is suitably stylish throughout. Similarly, the film ticks all the expected biopic boxes (drugs, arguments, breakdowns, lesbianism) and the concert scenes are well handled, particularly an early heckler-heavy gig and the central set-piece performance of Cherry Bomb. The main problem is that this is essentially The Runaways: The Cherie Currie Story, meaning that the rest of the band are frustratingly side-lined (poor Alia Shawkat gets just one line, off-camera) and the film ends when Cherie leaves the band, when Jett's story is just as interesting. Despite a few wobbles, this is a stylish and enjoyable rock biopic with terrific performances from Fanning, Stewart and Shannon. Recommended. Enjoyable, stylishly directed rock biopic with terrific performances from Fanning, Stewart and Shannon, though the fact that it's adapted from Currie's book means that only Cherie's story is explored in any depth. Four stars.


Superhero Me

British documentary in which film-maker Steve Sale attempts to transform himself into a superhero.

Directed by Steve Sale, Superhero Me is a micro-budget British documentary that opens with various comic fans and comic shop owners discussing what it takes to become a superhero. Narrowing the basics down to “Look good in spandex, learn self-defence, get a costume, a lair, some gadgets and a vehicle”, film-maker Steve Sale sets out to become a superhero with the help of his extremely supportive girlfriend (and later wife), Charlotte. With various friends operating the camera, the film follows Steve as he gets fit (cue amusing training montage), learns self-defence, flies to Naples to meet real-life superhero Entomo: The Insect Man, acquires a costume, names himself SOS, gets a theme song, tests his sonic weapons (i.e. personal alarms) on his dogs, postpones his honeymoon to fly to Florida and hang out with real-life superhero Master Legend and finally graduates to fighting crime as SOS on the mean streets of Sutton and Epsom. Along the way he discovers, amongst other things that velcro is incompatible with ninja-style stealth and that flying isn't quite as easy as it looks. As indicated by its title, Superhero Me is heavily influenced by Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me, but it's also extremely similar to last year's A Complete History of My Sexual Failures. What all three films have in common is an extremely likeable director-slash-protagonist who's willing to throw themselves whole-heartedly into the project, even at considerable personal risk. For the most part, Sale keeps things moving at a decent pace (arguably, the film spends a little too long with Master Legend in Orlando), ensuring that there's a decent laugh every few minutes. Highlights include: Steve solving the problem of how to go to the toilet and eagerly demonstrating the suit's easy-access panel (“I won't get him out now though – don't want to make this an 18”), Steve discussing his crime-fighting adventures on the phone to his mum and an amusing cut to Steve beating up some thugs, quickly followed by the caption “This didn't really happen”. The only real problem with the film is that it leaves the community of real-life superheroes frustratingly under-explored - you sense there's a whole film waiting to be made there. Similarly, there's a slightly uncomfortable moment where Steve attempts to use his powers to, er, evict some squatters. You'd never catch Batman doing that. This is an entertaining, frequently funny documentary that plays like a real-life Kick-Ass and marks Steve Sale out as a talent to watch. Three stars.



Huge

British comedy directed by Ben Miller, starring Noel Clarke and Johnny Harris as a pair of would-be comedians trying to make it big.

Full disclosure: I saw this back in September as part of a Twitter-organised test screening. I'd hoped there had been significant changes since then, but sadly, I also suspected that there was very little chance of saving it without total reshoots. Much of the following review is more or less what I wrote on the test forms at the time. Co-written and directed by Ben Miller, Huge is based on a play by Jez Butterworth and stars Johnny Harris (best known as the psycho pimp from London to Brighton) and Noel Clarke (in a curly wig and glasses that make him look exactly like Moss from The IT Crowd) as Warren and Clark, two Morcombe & Wise-obsessed would-be comedians who decide to form a comedy double-act after Clark drunkenly heckles Warren at a disastrous gig. That's pretty much it, plot-wise - they get several rejections, crash a comedy awards after-party (cue a slew of cameos from Ben's famous comedian friends, though I didn't spot Alexander Armstrong) and fall out over something or other. Unfortunately, the film has so many problems that it's hard to know where to start. Firstly, for a film about comedians it's horrifically unfunny - Clark's heckle to Warren for example is "Tell us a joke" and then a knock-knock joke ("Warren who?" / "Exactly") when invited up on stage. Secondly, the film doesn't seem to know whether Warren and Clark are actually meant to be any good - Harris insisted at the Q&A that he wasn't, but the film's coda suggests otherwise. Thirdly, both Warren and Clark appear to be a little bit...special (Warren has a personality disorder at the very least, Clark dresses like he's on day release) but the film never addresses this in any way. Fourthly, the script has some severe problems - for example, at the beginning of the film Clark is working as a waiter in a Greek restaurant and has a nice moment of chemistry with Michelle Ryan (aka Zoe Slater from EastEnders and did I mention I met her at the after-party?) as pretty co-worker Cindy. It's then revealed that Cindy is going out with the manager of the restaurant (Russell Tovey), who is, of course, an utter bastard of the first order. At this point you think "Oh good, he's eventually going to win her away from the bastard Tovey", but no - instead the characters disappear completely and are never seen again, which is a shame, because Ryan is easily the best thing in the film. Another massive problem occurs later on when the story picks up several months later (after the argument) and Clark supposedly has a big TV job where he's being pampered by everyone around him and is dating a make-up girl (Tamsin Egerton) and having producers fawn over him...and then it turns out he's just a man in a chicken suit doing an advert. Finally, as much as I love Johnny Harris as an actor, he's badly miscast here, because it's impossible to like Warren. A friend of mine pointed out that it might have worked better if Harris and Russell Tovey had swapped roles and I'm inclined to agree. Sadly, this is pretty much unwatchable as it just doesn't work on any conceivable level. One star. Such a shame, too, because I love Miller's comedy work elsewhere. Sorry, Ben.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day Two - "Sometimes it's busy but I just hit redial until it unbusies"

Featured review of the day: World's Greatest Dad

A Real Life (Au Voleur)

French drama starring Florence Loiret Caille as a pretty young teacher who impulsively goes on the run with a petty thief (Guillaume Depardieu).

Another one for the Starts Well But Tails Off list, this stars Florence Loiret Caille (who reminded me of someone but I can't think who) as Florence, a respectable German teacher who picks up petty thief Bruno (Guillaume Depardieu) and ends up going on the run with him when the cops start closing in. The performances are good (this was Depardieu's final film before his tragic death two years ago) and there's appropriately strong chemistry between the two leads - you can see why bored, overlooked Florence would be attracted to Bruno, even if he's not exactly a Jean-Paul Belmondo in the glamorous gangster department. I liked the suggestion that she only picks him up in the first place because she knows he stole her watch when she fainted in the street and she wants it back. There were lots of good scenes in the first half (my notes say "Wes Anderson feel" but I think that's more to do with the credit sequence) and there's even a decent car chase scene, but once they go on the run - just when you'd expect the film to kick into gear - it runs out of steam and meanders all over the place. Literally, in fact, since they end up drifting down stream in a punt without a pole and...nothing happens. I was expecting a Gun Crazy-style shoot-out amongst the reeds, but no. Still, it had its moments and I'm giving it a pass based on its weirdly brilliant 1930s American folk songs-based soundtrack alone. If someone knows the name of the "Picky pick pick, cloudy cloud cloud" song, please let me know. Three stars. I do sort of wish I'd gone to the Chase the Slut screening instead though.


The Dry Land

Drama starring newcomer Ryan O'Nan as a soldier with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who returns to his small-town Texas home after a tour of duty in Iraq.

Directed by Ryan Piers Williams, The Dry Land stars newcomer Ryan O'Nan (who looks a bit like Matthew Fox's younger, better-looking brother) as James, a soldier suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who returns home to El Paso, Texas after a tour in Iraq. He's given a warm welcome by his loving wife Sara (America Ferrera) and his friends (Ethan Suplee, Jason Ritter) but finds it difficult to readjust to normal life. When he nearly strangles Sara during a bout of night terrors, he decides to take a road trip with his best friend Raymond (Wilmer Valderrama) to visit an injured platoon buddy of theirs (Diego Klattenhoff as Henry) in the Walter Reed hospital. All three men were involved in the incident that injured Henry but James has repressed the memory (which, in turn, is behind his Night Terrors) and Raymond refuses to talk about it, so James is hoping Henry will help recover his memory, but is he really ready to hear the truth? It's fair to say that The Dry Land doesn't really cover any new ground - there's nothing here that you won't have seen in other PTSD-based movies - but it's superbly acted (Valderrama, O'Nan and Jason Ritter are particularly good), nicely shot and emotionally engaging throughout. There are several good scenes but the highlight for me was - spoiler alert - the guitar scene, which is already upsetting enough (it's Henry's guitar but his hands are injured), then has a sweet moment as James picks it up and plays a song Henry taught him (with all three men singing) and then takes a sudden turn in an equally upsetting direction. There's also strong support from Melissa Leo as James's dying mother, who has a powerfully emotional scene with O'Nan towards the end. Four stars. (Animal abuse watch: there's a rabbit shooting scene).

SoulBoy

British coming-of-age drama set in the 1970s Northern Soul underground music scene, starring Martin Compston, Felicity Jones and Nichola Burley.

This was one of the films I was most looking forward to - it has a terrific cast (including two of my favourite up-and-coming actresses) and a lot of things going for it, but ultimately it wasn't as quite good as I wanted it to be, though I still enjoyed it. Not to be confused with Soul Boy (also playing at the festival), SoulBoy is directed by Shimmy Marcus and set in 1970s Stoke-on-Trent. Martin Compston stars as Joe, an assistant deliveryman who spends his evenings in crappy local pub nightclub The Onion with his idiotic best friend Russ (Alfie Allen, giving the same performance he always gives). However, no-one in The Onion appreciates Joe's somewhat individualistic dance moves and when he hears about the burgeoning Northern Soul scene in the Wigan Casino nightclub he's persuaded to check it out, not least because he's smitten with haughty hairdresser Jane (Nichola Burley). However, he soon discovers that Jane is a) going out with dancefloor king (and utter bastard) Alan (Craig Parkinson) and b) has her own special space at the front that only the best movers get to dance in. Realising that he has to learn the Northern Soul dance styles if he's going to have a chance with Jane, Joe turns to kindly Mandy (Felicity Jones) to teach him the moves, unaware that she has a huge crush on him. Compston is excellent as Joe and it makes a nice change to hear him speaking in a non-impenetrable accent for once. I also liked that his dance moves were...achieveable (i.e. slightly rubbish). Jones and Burley are equally good and there's strong support from the always excellent but still little-known Craig Parkinson - you'll know his face, because he looks like a cut-price Paddy Considine. There's also a sub-plot with Pat Shortt (from the excellent Garage) as Joe's boss, who's in love with one of his customers (Jo Hartley) but that doesn't seem to go anywhere. There were a lot of things I liked about SoulBoy - the depiction of the Northern Soul scene (complete with Wigan-bound buses from all over the country and a uniform involving long leather coats, singlets and Adidas bags that I didn't quite understand), the 70s period detail and the performances, as well as several individual scenes, but it also has its fair share of problems. For one thing, Allen's character disappears after a fairly crucial plot detail and that entire sub-plot is left dangling. Similarly, without giving too much away, the climax didn't quite work for me and I felt a better director could have made more of the choosing-between-two-women scene. The script doesn't help in that regard - as lovely as Mandy is, there's never a moment where Joe really falls for her, while Jane is sufficiently softened throughout the film so that there's no reason that they shouldn't be together. Still, I did enjoy it and will probably see it again when the National Press Show rolls around. Great soundtrack too, obviously.


Lucky

Documentary from the director of Spellbound, examining the lives of people who've hit multi-millon dollar jackpots on the State Lottery in the US.

I really enjoyed this. Spellbound is one of my favourite documentaries of the last few years (it's the sine qua nonof the competition-based feelgood documentary genre) and while this never gets close to hitting those heights, it's still an enjoyable and thought-provoking film. Director Jeff Spitzer basically follows several different people who have all won multi-million dollar jackpots on the State lottery in the US. They include: Vietnamese ex-pat Quang Dao (who still feels guilty about leaving his family in Vietnam and builds a huge plot of land to keep his family together in the US); shy, unhygienic loner James who lived with his parents his whole life and was broke and on the verge of suicide after they died, only to hit the jackpot with his last $10); all-American husband and wife Kristin and Steve (and their two kids - I could relate to the son; his "I'm not good with change at all" was nearly my quote for the day), who win an astonishing $110 million and find it hard to deal with the change in their relationships with their friends but who try to compensate by putting the money to as many good causes as they can think of; university maths professor Robert, who played the lottery "for the fantasy value", despite knowing the odds of winning were 18 million to 1 (hilariously he explains how he picked his numbers and then says "and then I just used those same numbers for 2 and a half years and then I won"); and obnoxious, crotchety old-timer Buddy, who fritters it all away as fast as he possibly can and doesn't help anyone with it (his boss astutely comments that "Winning the lottery is like throwing Miracle Grow on your character defects". There's also: a guy whose bastard friends played a practical joke on him (from "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and made him believe he'd won (and taped it); a group of 80+ teachers who hit a massive jackpot but ended up with only a few thousand each after taxes; and Verna, a poor black woman who spends between $70 and $100 a day on the lottery and has only ever won $5000 but remains optimistic that her day is coming and plays numbers based on dreams or numbers she notices popping up in her day-to-day life. The film covers the moment the subjects won (using news reports) and picks up their stories some time after they've won before coming back a year later for an update. Spitzer also includes some animated inserts and some fascinating lottery-based FACTS, such as the fact that an unclaimed jackpot is known as a Clarence Jackson Jnr. The stories are by turns uplifting, amusing and heart-breakingly sad and the film really makes you question whether winning the lottery is all it's cracked up to be. Highly recommended and likely to make by Best of the Fest list. Four stars.


Out of the Ashes

Documentary that tells the remarkable story of the Afghan cricket team, who rose from obscurity to become international competitors.

I might have enjoyed this more if I hadn't seen Lucky immediately beforehand. To be honest, it was a choice between this at the FilmHouse and The Red Machine at Cineworld and I chose this partly because I couldn't be arsed to walk back to Cineworld after spending most of the day there. Anyway, Out of the Ashes tells the remarkable true story of the Afghan cricket team, who rose from obscurity to become international competitors, thanks to sheer hard work (it's worth noting that they trained with minimal facilities and had never faced a professional team before their World Cup qualifying matches) and the dedication of inexperienced head coach Taj Malik Aleem. One slight criticism is that the film foregrounds the team's success, which robs it of some crucial tension at certain points; similarly, it actively shies away from the actual cricket, as if afraid that too much cricket would put people off...a film about a cricket team. That said, there's a lot to like here, largely because the characters are so compelling, notably Taj (there's a heart-breaking moment in the middle of the film that hurts the film quite badly), the Minister for Cricket (complete with personal bodyguard), who criticises everything in Jersey, saying that Afghanistan is better; a good-looking rookie player; and several other team members. The achievement of the team is both remarkable and inspirational but it didn't quite deliver the emotional punch I'd been promised, perhaps because you already know how it's going to end. Three stars.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day One - "I mean, I'm wearing Star Wars underpants, for God's sake..."

Featured review of the day: Opening Night Gala - The Illusionist

The People Vs George Lucas

Documentary exploring the betrayal felt by Star Wars fans at the combined atrocities of the re-edited versions, the prequels and Jar-Jar Binks.

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, The People Vs George Lucas explores the betrayal felt by Star Wars fans at the combined atrocities of the re-edited versions of the original trilogy and the crushing disappointment of the three prequels, to say nothing of Jar-Jar Binks. The film is split into four chapters: Just A Nerf Herder from Modesto takes a look at Lucas's early beginnings and explores the phenomenal success of the original Star Wars films,examining the deep and lasting effect they've had on Star Wars fans everywhere; The Great Tinkerer discusses Lucas's obsession with re-editing the original trilogy (at one point going so far as to say the original version would no longer be available), examines the many issues fans had with the re-mastered versions (e.g. Greedo shooting first, the re-insertion of a poorly animated Jabba the Hutt) and explaining Why It Matters (someone points out that if Da Vinci turned up in a time machine and tried to change the Mona Lisa there'd be an uproar); Revenge of the Geeks lists the crimes of the three prequels (step forward, Jar-Jar Binks) while generously acknowledging that kids still like them; and A New Hope? looks at the ways in which fans have continued to make their own versions, re-editing the existing films themselves and creating their own spin-offs, tributes and re-enactments. Philippe has assembled a wealth of terrific material that includes fan-made films (the bits where people use their pets as Ewoks or wookies are guaranteed to elicit "Aaahs"), archive footage, film clips, comedy clips (Jon Stewart berating a bemused Lucas on The Daily Show) and home movies as well as interviews with dozens of fans both young and old – a clip of a young girl looking to her father for approval when she says she likes Jar-Jar is just one of several highlights. Philippe has also rounded up an eclectic selection of talking heads, including Lucas's biographer (Dale Pollock), several film critics (Glenn Kenny, Chris Gore and Todd Hanson among them), film historians, cultural commentators, writers (Neil Gaiman), comedians (Simon Pegg, Jared Christmas), artists and film-makers, as well as interviewing the creators of several of the best fan-made films (including Chris Strompolos, whose full-length Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation I saw a few months back). The editing is excellent, particularly in the stitching together of some of the fan material. In addition, there are some very funny lines (Jared Christmas's handjob analogy is priceless) and the film deserves a lot of credit for giving Lucas his due, most notably in pointing out that he actively embraces the fan film culture, even going so far as to make sound effects available for free online.
This is a hugely enjoyable, frequently funny documentary that explores some intriguing cultural issues and provides a fascinating insight into the passionate nature of Star Wars fandom. Highly recommended. Four stars.


Pelican Blood

British drama starring Harry or Luke Treadaway as an obsessive bird-watcher whose desire to kill himself after his 500th rare bird isn't diminished by the sudden reappearance of his old girlfriend (Emma Booth).

Directed by Karl Golden, Pelican Blood stars Harry or Luke Treadaway (okay, it's Harry, but seriously, who can tell them apart?) as Nikko, an obsessive bird-watcher (or Twitcher) who has recently been released from a mental hospital after being sectioned by his well-meaning but exasperated sister, following a failed suicide attempt. Unbeknownst to his two best friends (Doctor Who's Arthur Darvill as Cameron and Ali Craig as Bish), Nikko intends to kill himself after spotting his 500th rare bird and he's already up to bird number 498. When his ex-girlfriend Stevie (Emma Booth, from The Boys Are Back) reappears on the scene, his friends and family are horrified, blaming her for Nikko's suicide attempt, but the truth is a little more complicated. The performances are fine (particularly Craig and Darvill who add much-needed comic relief) and I'm never going to object too strongly to a film with nudity this gratuitous (Booth walks around topless just to wind up Nikko's sister and uptight brother-in-law) but this didn't really work for me overall. For one thing it struggles to link its two strands - on the one hand it's a romantic comedy about obsessive bird-watchers and on the other it's a dark, angst-ridden drama about suicidal self-harmers rekindling a potentially destructive relationship. Worse, it side-lines the more interesting elements of the story (e.g. Nikko's friends and family panicking when Stevie reappears) and instead goes off on a weird tangent involving an illegal egg collector. On top of that, characters behave inconsistently from scene to scene and the ending will make Shakespeare students everywhere squirm with embarrassment. Oh, one other thing that annoyed me - the introduction of Stevie (where you don't realise that they already know each other) is too clever-clever for its own good and adds nothing to the story other than early annoyance at the film-makers. It does have a good score though. Two stars.


Boy

New Zealand coming-of-age comedy-drama from the director of Eagle vs Shark, about an 11 year-old boy who finds that his just-out-of-jail father doesn't quite live up to the mythologised image he'd built up around him in his absence.

The second best film of the day. I was a huge fan of Taika Waititi's Eagle vs Shark so I was very excited to see this and it didn't disappoint. A charming and funny coming-of-age tale, it's set in 1984 and stars James Rolleston as Boy, an 11 year-old boy who idolises Michael Jackson almost as much as he idolises his father, who's currently in prison. Boy spends his days hanging out with his friends (including two sisters named Dallas and Dynasty), keeping an eye on his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), looking after his pet goat and pining after pouty classmate Chardonnay (RickyLee Waipuka-Russell). While his grandmother is away at a funeral, Boy enjoys being the head of the household but then his father Alamein (Taika Waititi) gets out of jail and moves back in. ("This used to be my old room. You can still use it though.") Initially overjoyed, Boy gradually realises that his father might not be the heroic figure he'd imagined him to be. This is a treat from start to finish with likeable characters and a script that's both laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely moving. It's also brilliantly directed and edited throughout - the opening montage set to Boy's class presentation is a work of genius and could stand alone as a short. There are several wonderful scenes and moments but highlights include: Boy imagining his father's spoon-based escape from prison; Alamein's obsessions with 1980s TV (his Dukes of Hazzard car-entering style is hilarious); any scene involving Rocky and his "powers" of telekinesis; and Alamein's well-intentioned snippets of fatherly advice, such as telling Boy and Rocky, "Don't get into the Nazi stuff" just after proudly showing them the swastika he carved into their wall as a child. I'm already looking forward to seeing this again and not just because I started to feel sleepy (through no fault of the film) in the last 20 minutes or so. Highly recommended. Four stars.


Red Hill

Australian thriller starring Ryan Kwanten as a small-town cop who comes up against an escaped killer on his first day on the job.

Ryan Kwanten (aka True Blood's Jason Stackhouse) stars as Shane Cooper, an Australian city cop who's transferred to smalltown Red Hill because his heavily pregnant wife has been advised to keep her blood pressure down following a previous miscarriage. Just Cooper's luck then that on his first day he encounters escaped killer Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis), who's seemingly intent on gunning down every member of the police force. And as if that wasn't bad enough, there's also a ravenous wild animal on the loose. This is already the third or fourth film I've seen so far that starts brilliantly but then tails off halfway through and fails to deliver on its initial promise. The performances are excellent (Kwanten proves he can do likeable without resorting to Stackhouse-like dim-wittedness) and the characters are intriguing, particuarly the aptly-named Old Bill (Steve Bisley), the no-nonsense chief cop in charge of the manhunt. However, any tension involved in awaiting Conway's arrival is dispensed with almost immediately and the rest of the film is mostly a stalk-and-shoot affair, interspersed with the occasional ridiculous moment (the bit where the jungle cat appears is worse than the whole of Kimmeh vs The Mountain Lion in Season 2 of 24) and some increasingly awful lines - the final scene, for example, is peppered with unintentional laughs and features one of the worst last lines in recent memory. Shame, because for the first 25 minutes or so this was very promising. Two stars.

Day Zero - "Did you know a dolphin can only hold its breath for twelve minutes?"

Two Eyes Staring

Dutch horror film in which a young girl experiences some creepy goings-on when her parents move into a house inherited from her estranged grandmother.

Two Eyes Staring (Zwart Water, original title fans!) is a Dutch chiller that's desperate to acquire the tag-line "The scariest film since The Orphanage". Sadly, despite certain similarities, it is nowhere near as scary as The Orphanage. The plot centres on 9 year-old Lisa (Isabelle Stokkel), who has a loving father (Barry Atsma as Paul) and a fascination with her mother, Christine (Hadewych Minis) that she doesn't really understand. When the family inherit a creepy house in the Belgian countryside from Christine's estranged mother, Christine reluctantly agrees to sell their old place and move in, ostensibly because it will free her up to pursue her dream job. Shortly after moving in, Lisa finds one of her mother's old diaries that she wrote as a child, a diary that seems to hint at the fact that her mother had a sister that neither Lisa nor Paul have ever heard of. Things get worse when Lisa befriends Karen (Charlotte Arnoldy), a ghostly girl she finds in the cellar, but is her new friend all in her head or is something sinister going on? Two Eyes Staring starts brilliantly, generating a creepy atmosphere and teasing out the details along the way. It's also beautifully shot throughout and has superb performances, especially from young Stokkel. However, the plot loses its way around the 60 minute mark and starts introducing elements that either come to nothing (Paul's weird co-worker) or only exist to provide a quick shock (a couple of scary scenes involving Christine) and are quickly brushed over instead of explored. Having spent all that time and effort on the build-up, the film then completely fails to deliver a satisfying climax, which is a shame, as there's a lot here to like and a better script could have made this something special. Warning: contains potentially upsetting scenes involving a rabbit. Three stars.



The Last Rites of Ransom Pride

Western starring Lizzy Caplan as a female outlaw attempting to buy back the corpse of her deceased lover.

This is just about one of the worst films I've ever seen at Edinburgh. Badly written, poorly directed, atrociously edited and featuring some truly dreadful performances, it's essentially a western in which gunslinger Juliette Flowers attempts to buy back the body of her deceased lover Ransom Pride (Scott Speedman) with the unwitting live body of his younger brother, Champ (Jon Foster). Along the way, Juliette and Tramp clash with a series of bounty hunters and ne'er-do-wells and the lead begins to fly, though the scenes are so badly shot and edited that it's impossible to tell who's shooting at who. The film is also unforgivably boring and dull throughout and the only good bits come from a sorely underused Peter Dinklage as...well, to be honest, I was never entirely sure who he was supposed to be. Oh, I tell a lie - the film did have another plus point, namely that Lizzy Caplan (most recently seen in Hot Tub Time Machine) looks utterly gorgeous throughout. I'd happily watch her play the same character in a different movie, but Ransom Pride is just plain rancid and there's no pride in that. One star.


Monsters

Offbeat road movie starring Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able as a pair of travellers in South American who have to negotiate their way through territory inhabited by giant squid-like aliens.

Written and directed by Gareth Edwards, Monsters stars Scoot McNairy (In Search Of A Midnight Kiss) and Whitney Able (who looks like a hotter version of Hannah Spearitt) as an aspiring photographer and the engaged daughter of his billionaire publisher boss, who find themselves on an unplanned road trip through an area of South America that's infested with giant squid-like aliens. The film is unusual, beautifully shot and has great performances from McNairy and Whitney, but it also bangs you over the head with its multiple METAPHORS (and, worse, has the characters vocalise comments that would have been better left to the audience) and I felt it could have done a lot more with its premise. That's not to say there aren't a handful of lovely moments along the way, such as a chilling scene involving a swamp or the strangely beautiful finale. There are also lots of fascinating details, such as the ubiquitous gas masks (suggesting that the Americans are actually wreaking more havoc than the aliens with their incessant bombing), murals (see photo), protest signs and cartoons featuring the monsters on TV. A solid three stars, even if it leaves several tantalising avenues unexplored.

Son of Babylon

Road movie about a grandmother and her grandsin searching for the boy's father in post-war Iraq, three weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Directed by Mohamed Al-Daradji, Son of Babylon is a story about a grandmother and her young grandson, Ahmed, taking a road trip to try and find the boy's father, three weeks after the fall of Saddam. The father disappeared almost twelve years previously and the grandmother suspects he was being held in a prison at Nasiriyah so they travel to Nasiriyah hoping for news of the prisoners' release. Along the way they encounter a series of fellow travellers, including: an outspoken man who first attempts to rip them off but is later won over by their courage and strength of character; a young boy who befriends Ahmed and helps out with a stubborn bus driver; and Musa, a kindly middle-aged man whose confession shocks and disgusts the grandmother, causing Ahmed to plead for forgiveness on his behalf. I enjoyed the first half of this enormously, but, for whatever reason, it failed to hold my interest towards the end. That said, it's worth seeing just for the euphemism "I'm going to call Saddam" for when you're going for a piss. Strong performance from the child actor, too. Three stars. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to call Saddam.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Quick list of films I've seen already

Normally, by the time the festival starts I've already seen a good handful of films in London beforehand, but for whatever reason (and it wasn't for lack of trying, as my failed attempt to get into a screening of The Runaways will attest - there was *actual pleading, but to no avail), I've only seen a small handful this year, some of which will be the featured reviews on my ViewEdinburgh coverage. They include:

Opening Night Gala - The Illusionist (wonderful, 4 stars)

World's Greatest Dad (very dark, very funny - 4 stars)

Winter's Bone (bleak, tense, brilliantly acted - 4 stars)

Heartbreaker (charming, funny - 4 stars)

22 Bullets (missed the first five minutes and ended up missing all , will attempt to catch the beginning - 4 stars)

The Rebound (generic Catherine Zeta-Jones romcom - no idea what this is doing in the festival - 3 stars)

EDIT: I forgot I'd also seen Hung but as I saw a test screening of it back in September it would be unfair to judge it on that version. I'm intending to see it again during the festival and will review it properly then. I tried to contact Ben Miller on Twitter to ask if he'd made any changes as a result of that screening but so far, no reply.

Finally, here's a link to a post I wrote for The Blog No-one Reads about the Edinburgh line-up in general and a couple of the films I'm looking forward to seeing.

Edinburgh Film Festival 2010

The Annual Apology

As you may have noticed, I only managed three full days of blogging last year, which is an appalling FAIL on my part. Obviously I was just having too much fun, so I'll try very hard not to have as much fun this year. One of my reasons for starting the blog in the first place was so that I'd have mini-reviews (that could easily be knocked up into ViewLondon reviews) all ready to go when the films eventually got released, so it was actually a massive pain in the arse to have to review several of last year's films from memory (Boogie Woogie) and in some cases (Spread, My Last Five Girlfriends) I had to actually see the films again, because I couldn't remember a single thing about them. On a similar note, I am intending to go back over last year's blog and at least fill in a few interview links on the films I ended up reviewing when they came out, but I think we both know how likely that is.

The Story So Far

Anyway, I've been here since Sunday afternoon and apart from being an Annual Special Guest on Duncan's team at the monthly FilmHouse Film Quiz (we came third, destroying our perfect record, at least as far as the June quiz was concerned) I've mostly been trying to get a stack of reviews done before the festival starts on Wednesday. So far: two down, thirteen to go. Argh.

A Few Random Thoughts

1) As is tradition, I spent the four and a half hour train journey going through the programme and sorting out my screening schedule. I've highlighted a list of 60 films I really want to see (eight more than last year and the year before that) but I know from the year I actually did see 60 films in 13 days (Edinburgh's 60th anniversary - it seemed like a good idea at the time) that that's next to impossible, so I'll settle for the more usual 42. The only problem is deciding which 18 films not to see, if you see what I mean.

2) I'm staying at the Budget Backpackers hostel again this year. I had hoped, what with this being my 10th Edinburgh in a row (and also covering it for ViewEdinburgh for the third year running) that some kind soul might have offered me a Guest Of The Fest hotel room, but no such luck. Still, it's not all bad - Budget Backpackers have free wi-fi now (well, £1 for 7 days, but close enough), which should help things enormously.

3) Like last year, I'll be doing a review per day for ViewLondon's sister site ViewEdinburgh.co.uk, but I'll also be posting links to them here, along with potted reviews of basically everything I see while I'm up here. Aiming to manage more than three days of blogging this year but, well, I say that every year. Still, hope springs eternal and all that.

4) And finally, the same bit of pedantry as last year (and the year before). In previous years, I've called the first day of press screenings "Day One", but that's confusing when the festival actually starts a day later. In 2008 and 2009 I called the first day of screenings "Day Zero" and no-one died, so I'm doing the same again this year.

5) With Budget Backpackers, the newly-discovered sockets in Monbodo and my genius system for sneakily using the power sockets in the FilmHouse, I think I may have found the Holy Grail of quiet places to work with both sockets and free wi-fi. Whether this translates into actual productivity remains to be seen.

6) EastEnders Watch: Sanjay's here every year, Mel (Tamzin Outhwaite) was here in 2003 or so, I interviewed Mas last year and apparently Zoe Slater: Terminator (aka ManHands) is turning up for the Huge premiere. Goal for this year: Interview Zoe Slater.

7) No press screening as yet for Mr Nice, even though every single other filmhas a press screening. Very annoying. Sort it out please, E1. No press screening = no reviews.

"Hmmm. When the bloody hell is he going to get around to starting this year's blog?"

Wrapping up EdFilmFest 2009 (a year late)

A few notes about last year's Festival.

Total films seen: 42

The Bestival of the Festival

The Top Ten Films I saw at the festival were:

1) Fish Tank
2) Mary and Max
3) Modern Love Is Automatic
4) Pontypool
5) Big River Man
6) Easier With Practice
7) The Hurt Locker
8) Humpday
9) Little Soldier
10) The September Issue

Special mentions to: My Last Five Girlfriends, AntiChrist, Spread, Le Donk and The Girlfriend Experience.

That said, if I included the films I saw before the festival started, the list would also include Moon, Mesrine (parts I & II), Adventureland and Rudo y Cursi, the first two of which would definitely have made it into the top ten above.

Highlight of the Festival: Meeting and interviewing Gerald Peary, brother of Danny Peary, of "Guide For The Film Fanatic fame (aka The Book That Changed My Life - it's where "FilmFan" comes from). Also had great interviews with Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, Jesse Eisenberg, Brenda Blethyn, Mas from EastEnders and the very lovely Andrea Riseborough, who, quite rightly, wouldn't let me take her picture.

Disappointment of the Festival: No Surprise Film this year. Still not sure why, though if I had to guess, I'd say because they're more trouble than they're worth.

Party of the Festival: Definitely the Le Donk party, complete with Le Donk and Scor-zay-zee performing on stage.