EIFF Day Seven – Restrepo, Toy Story 3, Jackboots on Whitehall & Monsters

June 29, 2010

Are you ready?! It’s the big finale! The festival proper ended on Saturday night with the World Premiere of Third Star but Sunday was a second chance Best of the Fest, where the most popular films received another showing.

Originally my plan was to watch three movies – which is quite enough time in a cinema in one day regardless of the week I’d had before it – but enquiries when I first arrived at the theatre added a fourth to my list. Four in one day? Ridiculous!

Never fear though, for reasons which will soon become apparent – this post won’t become a magnum opus or take you half an hour to read. Without wanting to sound too derogatory about any of the films, I don’t have much to say on each one. This is absolutely not a comment on quality, rather that there is a specific reason in each case as to why I don’t want to write endlessly about them.

Convenient that isn’t it?

Restrepo – I’m Not Qualified Enough to Talk About It!
Restrepo is a documentary which follows one company in the American Army’s fifteen month deployment in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. My above statement about lack of qualification might seem odd being as this is a film and I am (supposedly) a critic but there’s something about this that just feels too big to really pass comment on. When something is as real as this is, how can you really attempt to critique it in a way you can apply to other movies? Well the short answer is that you can’t. Bollocks.

There were however a couple of things that I can point out that made this film a strong experience for me. Firstly is the fact that although we are only really seeing one side’s view of the conflict, the filmmakers managed to keep it feeling objective. To my mind there was no agenda here; no ramming it in your face that the American Army being in Afghanistan is the right or wrong thing to do and no focus on the politics surrounding the situation, all you have here is the very real account of some of the guys stuck in the middle of it.

Secondly, which serves only to reinforce the first point further, the choices made by the filmmakers throughout do nothing to distance you from the action on screen. The voice of the documentor comes across in the way that the film is shot, edited and put together rather than through obtrusive voiceover or manipulation of material.

By no means is this an easy watch – there are moments where you catch glimpses of soldiers who have been shot and killed who you saw on screen just minutes before; there are times when the Army messes up and you see the very real consequences and there are times when it’s hard to believe the things a commanding officer has to say to get his men motivated. It’s these things however, that lend a certain credibility to the film as whole, there’s no shying away from the tough stuff and no attempts at justifying it either. It just is what it is and it was pleasantly refreshing to watch a documentary that just documented something rather than desperately pleaded for you to think one way or another – and in a way that has led to me being more reflective over what I witnessed rather than resisting like I usually would.

There are moments when it lulls, (infantry life after all is boring, being based largely on routine) but if you can get through these and have the stomach for the rest then I’d highly recommend it.

Toy Story 3 – It’s Too Big for One Man!
Being one of the most anticipated films of the year and right up there on both of our “I’m practically going to wet my pants because I’m so excited to see it” lists, there is absolutely no way in hell I could deny the big man CeeDub a crack at reviewing this with me. Sure that means I’m potentially giving away a chance to review this before a lot of other UK based movie type blog things and being more EXCLUSIVE! but you know what? Who cares! If it means I get to do it with my bestest bro, I’d rather wait until after July the 23rd to tell you how good it is.

For now let me tell you that it’s just as good as you hoped it would be, and probably a little bit better.

Jackboots on Whitehall – It Was so Goddamned Awful!
This was by far the worst film I saw throughout the festival and right up there with the worst films I’ve seen all year.

Practically everything about this reimagining of World War Two in stop motion doll style (think Team Amerca meets Robot Chicken and the Cravendale adverts without any semblance of humour) is offensive, whether that be the one dimensional stereotyped characters, the god awful dialogue, the paper thin narrative or the utterly dire voice acting. Every single big celebrity in this voice cast (which includes the likes of Ewan McGregor, Richard E Grant, Tom Wilkinson and Richard Griffiths amongst others) should hang their heads in shame for being involved in this trash.

The only real positive I can give it is to pay a nod to the stop motion which looks smooth and sleek throughout; although I wasn’t at all a fan of the way the characters’ mouths have been digitally warped to make it look like they’re talking, rather than use paper cut out mouths more akin to Robot Chicken.

I genuinely would like to meet the people who decided this film was a good idea, slap them round the face and say NO! BAD CREATIVE TYPES! Please do not see this movie and don’t be suckered into it by lulls of big cast or comparisons to other movies. It was garbage, pure and simple.

Monsters – I Don’t Want to Give Anything Away!
My final film of EIFF was a British film written, shot and directed by one man, Gareth Edwards, and he created the visual effects too! What a guy!

Monsters is basically an opposites attract love story but with giant octopus aliens. That sentence really doesn’t do anything at all to sell this movie but really it’s the only way I can describe it. One character is charged with getting another home and events conspire so that the only way they can get there is by travelling through the “infected zone” – a large part of Mexico which has been quarantined due to its alien inhabitants. Without wanting to sound cheap, I could review this movie by using elements I loved about other films this week and throw them all together. Like Third Star I loved its tight reliance on strong character relationships; like Wold’s Greatest Dad, I liked the way the action kept me on my toes and constantly surprised me; like Skeletons I enjoyed the creativity on such a small budget which didn’t feel like a limit at all; and like Toy Story 3 I loved the way it just old an interesting story – something most films don’t manage to achieve anymore.

It may sound like I’m over gushing about this film and I don’t want that to appear to be because it’s the last film from the festival I’m writing about but moreso because, alongside the few namedropped in the paragraph above, it was one of the most enjoyable films of the festival. If this movie is anything to go by, we should expect big things from Gareth Edwards in the future and I absolutely cannot wait to see what he can do with a bigger budget and talented creatives behind him – he’s certainly one to watch. If this film secures even a limited cinema release then you should definitely try and see it and you certainly shouldn’t be perturbed if sci-fi isn’t really your thing because the stars of the show here are the two characters the action revolves around, and we all like people right?

That’s your lot then, the Edinburgh International Film festival done and done Casta style. It may sound trite to say so, but it was a tough week packing in all those movies alongside having to go to work everyday. Next year I might try and get a press pass and take a week off work for it. Now why didn’t I think of that this year…?

Madden out!


EIFF Day Six – World’s Greatest Dad & Third Star

June 28, 2010

Isn’t it about time we heard about something good for a change?!


Thankfully in that regard, my sixth day in attendance at the Edinburgh International Film Festival provided not one, but two great films.

First up was World’s Greatest Dad in which Robin Williams makes first return to “non-shit” films since RV (god I’m hilarious) in one of the most surprising movies I’ve seen so far this year.

The major key to success in this case is the twist in the tail which, somewhat bizarrely, comes half an hour into proceedings. Usually I’m an advocate of going into a film blind and trying to avoid any trailers – in this instance I would absolutely recommend watching any trailers you find for this movie as I guarantee you still won’t have a clue what’s going to occur after the half hour mark – the only thing you’ll really learn is whether or not the comedy is your thing.

If after watching the trailer you find that the comedy of World’s Greatest Dad isn’t your thing – and I wouldn’t blame you if it wasn’t as it’s extremely rude and uncompromising in places – you might as well just stop reading this now and skip down further to the Third Star review. For those still here, let me tell you that not only is this film seriously funny, but when it shows it’s true colours it also raises interesting arguments into the ideas of ownership, loss, love, remembrance and what it is to live a lie.

All of the above has been said without really giving any indication as to what this film is actually about and the truth is that I really don’t want to give anything away because a lot of the fun of it is in finding that out for yourself – that way your reactions will be genuine rather than generated by expectation. I honestly have no idea if a full theatrical release is on the cards on our fairer shores as, despite largely positive reviews, it only had a brief limited run in America later last year – but if you like you comedy crude and biting and aren’t too perturbed by the fact that this movie might actually make you think as well, then I won’t hesitate in recommending you watch this as soon as it’s out on DVD as this was not only one of the highlights of festival week, but also one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen all year.

And who would’ve thought I be saying that about something starring Robin Williams?!

Casta La Vista’s first ever World Premiere proved to be a somewhat sobering experience after the raucous laughter of the afternoon; a British film by the name of Third Star which revolves around four long time friends who go on one final pilgrimage to a beach in Wales before one of their number succumbs to terminal cancer.

Bleak outlook from the outset then, but what this movie lacks in cheery disposition it makes up for in almost everything else. The core strength from which all others derive is the relationship between the four leads who solely occupy the largest part of Third Star’s all too brief ninety minutes. For the first time in a long time I felt like I was watching something completely genuine; the highs, the lows, the laughter, the tears, the arguments and the reconciliations all feel real – so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised to bump into any one of these characters whilst walking down the street. Even the few occasions in which the quartet come across people somewhat more eccentric than your average member of the public don’t feel at all out of place with the sombre overall tone of the film.

Credit where it’s due here, the four leads are all fantastic and remain entirely convincing throughout, whether they be delivering home truths, getting into fist fights or making cups of tea – but surely one of the major stars here is the direction which keeps us involved in the action at all points without ever becoming too intrusive – an extremely impressive feature film debut for Hattie Dalton.

This film was involving, touching, thought provoking and funny whilst never taking away from  the very real situation at its heart, something that could have proven all too easy in less skilful hands. It was by no means an easy watch but often the best cinema isn’t; should this receive a full release I implore you to make the effort to go and see it – which seems odd for me considering nothing explodes in it…

EIFF Day Five – Get Low

June 27, 2010

The problem, you see, with real life is that it doesn’t lend itself all to well to being dramatised and things that can sometimes seem like a good idea or an interesting story aren’t actually either. That may be a little all inclusive compared to my usual open statements but whatever, who needs form?

A man planning his own funeral to attend whilst he’s still alive might sound like something completely fabricated, but this film is semi based on events which occurred in 1938 when Felix Breazeale planned and attended his own funeral along with about ten thousand other people. Unfortunately that’s about all there is to that story so obviously it’s needs a little more dramatisation and spice to keep it more interesting right? So what do we do in this case? We make Felix a hermit who everyone hates; although no one throughout the course of the film satisfactorily vocalises why, throw in a good deal of mortality, mix in some regret, throw in a dash of sentiment and round the whole thing off with a pinch of Bill Murray. A winning recipe? (might as well keep the metaphor going…) Not really.

Felix in this case is portrayed by Robert Duvall in his first major starring role for… well as long as I can remember anyway. He’s not an actor I have any particular inclination towards or against and in this instance he manages to lead the cast well enough, however much like Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart earlier in the year, this part seems a little too aligned to what I expect from Robert Duvall for him to actually do anything particularly interesting with it. Second billing goes to Bill Murray and, shock horror, he’s as Bill Murray as he ever is which, depending on your perspective will either be a good thing or a not so good thing. I’m no Bill Murray hater but I’m getting a little bored of him just doing more Bill Murray and not something else – the majority of the laughs early on are provided by him but in the latter portion of the film where the tone becomes a little more serious, he doesn’t really have all too much to do. The performances from the rest of the cast are  decent enough but no one  really does anything all too impressive.

That’s a statement which can be extended to the whole film in fact – nothing about this feature feels all too impressive and there really isn’t enough substance to justify its ninety minute plus runtime. The majority of the action deals with the logistics of organising a funeral which, in case you didn’t already know, are all really boring. When the funeral itself finally comes around, the revelations we’re given weren’t all too shocking and as soon as I realised that was all I was getting, I was counting down the minutes for the film to wrap itself up.

Yet another case then of something that was entirely watchable whilst it was running but  left me devoid of anything afterwards – only in this case compared to other films this week, I enjoyed it a lot less during the screening. I’m sure plenty of people will watch and enjoy this movie – it certainly felt like one of the bigger releases of the festival – but if I were you, I’d probably give it a miss.

EIFF Day four – The Extra Man

June 26, 2010

Right because I’ve (somewhat unsurprisingly) fallen behind, I’m going to do what I promised and keep this short and sweet.

The Extra Man stars Paul Dano as a mild mannered young man who, through tenuous circumstance, becomes acquainted an older curmudgeonly gentleman played by Kevin Kline. Sound familiar? From a synopsis point of view this film reads extremely similar to yesterday’s The Good Heart (albeit with the inclusion of male escorts) and I’ve read a few things comparing the character relationships between the two movies which all seem to criticise the fact that Paul Dano doesn’t do anything different in either. I can’t help but feel the need to disagree in this case, certainly I can see the grounds on which the argument is based but it feels to me somewhat akin to criticising Harrison Ford for playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones too similar because they’re both wisecracking adventurers – I’m doubtful that these criticisms would have been made if these films had been made slightly further apart; perhaps that’s a poor choice of roles on Dano’s part, but it didn’t really concern me all too much even having seen both films a day apart. Although he’s of mild mannered disposition in both, he feels much more three dimensional in this effort and there’s definitely more of a conflicted element about him, even if we learn this slightly more through the narration than his performance.

Speaking of which the narration is an interesting element, partially because of its infrequency, leading it to become more of a “voice of exposition” whenever whatever we’re supposed to know at that point hasn’t come across obviously enough. Quite aside from rambling about Paul Dano and the merits of narration, there are certainly other performances which deserve mentions, particularly that of Kevin Kline who absolutely steals any scene he is in. This is largely thanks to the wonderfully offensive dialogue he is given but kudos needs to be paid to him nonetheless for making even the most criminally outdated statements seem believable. John C Reilly is also on hand to provide further comic relief but the trait which draws the laughs from his character  seems well, a bit too ridiculous to be credible. I could say something here abut Katie Holmes’ role but I can’t be bothered and that should give you some indication as to its merit.

Despite its comedic moments (which are undoubtedly where The Extra Man shines), interesting performances and the fanciful twenties/thirties gentlemanly aesthetic which fits quite pleasingly with modern day New York, something about this movie inherently disappointed me; I had a fun time whilst watching it and I certainly indulged in my fair share of the laughs, (along with the rest of the audience who appeared to be having a great time) but as has been the common theme this week, it was mostly a hollow experience and after the credits had rolled I was left wanting. The narrative swings from comedic to dramatic extremes with no real substance behind the action, even missing some of the better opportunities it gives itself to be involving, and by the end of the film I felt as though I’d just watched ninety minutes of people moving around having various interactions – it doesn’t really feel like all too much has changed  for any of the characters, except for one discovering that cross dressing really isn’t his thing.

The above is compounded by the fact it ends rather abruptly at an event we really have no investment in, with the repetition of a phrase that has somewhat forcibly been peppered throughout the dialogue; almost as though ending on this phrase provides some kind of profound point of reflection that will force the audience to think once they’ve left the theatre (forcing people to think?! How offensive!). Unfortunately though, it felt like a cheap way to draw a story to a close that didn’t really know where to finish.

So there.

EIFF Day Three – The Good Heart

June 24, 2010

The Good Heart stars Brian Cox (Jacques) and Paul Dano (Lucas) as a mismatched duo that sound something akin to the pairing in a bad buddy movie. One is a grumpy old man who hates everything and everyone, the other a mild mannered homeless guy who is hopelessly optimistic and caring towards others. A chance meeting throws these two characters and… fun ensues.

I guess now I could jump into a discourse on proceedings but I guess that there’s no real need to. It’s all stuff you seen before to be quite honest it’s all stuff you’ve seen before – what sets this film apart then from other “learning from each other” mismatch films is the tight cast of characters who all have *gasp* believable relationships with each other – whether it’s the nurse who hates Jacques because he’s a massive racist, Jacques’ personal Chinese chef (who stands in odd contrast to the former point) or just the guys who prop up the Oyster Bar; every character in this film feels like someone you maybe once ran into or maybe even know very well (although probably don’t like very much).  This is compounded by the attention to detail, particularly in the bar, which is all the more impressive when you consider it was built from the ground up and filmed (along with the other interiors) in Iceland.

What we have then is a pretty enjoyable viewing experience which happily shifts Brian Cox into centre stage and proves that Paul Dano has enough acting gumption to bear the mantle of lead. I guess my only real issue with the film came from the fact that the ending is so blatantly obvious throughout (anyone who misses the signposts deserves a slap and a wake up call) than when it finally came around, I was a little underwhelmed by it all. Similarly to Skeletons there’s a happy ending attached, and in terms of the story I kind of get why it’s there too – it’s just that when it’s made painfully explicit so early on, you expect it to be a little more satisfying when it comes around

Casta’s very first WORLD EXCLUSIVE SUPERSTAR INTERVIEW! Well kind of… After the film, director Dagur Kari and star Brian Cox stuck around for a brief Q&A. Being the non-chalant carefree kind of guy I am, I stuck my hand proudly in the air when it came time for the audience to pose questions. I, being the ever intelligent chap I am, kind of copped out and asked Brian if he was still as into and as passionate about acting as he was when he first started over fifty years ago. His reply went something along the lines of “yes I still love it, the acting never gets old, it’s the other stuff that gets in the way.” I can’t tell you for sure that’s exactly what he said or even what the mysterious “other stuff” actually is, I was a bit too flabbergasted that he was actually speaking to me and concentrated so much on looking interested that I didn’t actually absorb much of what he said. My interview technique needs work.

One thing that is for sure though, after watching this film, I don’t think I’ll ever look at Broccoli the same again…

EIFF Day Two – Skeletons & High School

June 23, 2010

In order to make sure I don’t totally fall behind and just end up not bothering writing these blogs I’m going to try and keep these reviews short and to the point – then again that’s like me writing a blog without a big waffly opening paragraph that doesn’t really serve a purpose other than to  help knock up the word count; some things are just never going to happen.

Lets kick off then! First up Skeletons, which enjoyed it’s UK premiere the day before I saw it. Right off the bat, this film feels like it shouldn’t really exist; sounds odd I know but it’s as though this film has been made by highly skilled people on next to no budget – an equation that doesn’t really add up. Following on from that the entire premise of the film – two gents travel round delving into people’s deepest secrets to disclose to significant others amongst other reasons – is so seemingly unfamiliar that you soon forget you’re watching events unfold in the English countryside on a micro budget and get lost in the whole thing. The two main characters (played wonderfully by Ed Gaughan and Andrew Buckley) feel as though they have a real dynamic between them – a relationship which drives the majority of proceedings. Oh and I feel a mention of Gaughan’s Bulgarian needs to be made. It’s in even parts impressive and hilarious – I asked in the Q&A after the film had finished from where he had learned to speak it, to which his reply went something along the lines of “from a recording of a friend of a friend of my sister’s brother in law”, it’s this kind of creativity and resourcefulness I don’t think you’d find in a big budget movie, which is a real credit to Guaghan and the rest of the film’s crew.

The real crowd pleaser in the movie though is bound to be the character of The Colonel, portrayed wonderfully (and mostly bizarrely) by Jason Isaacs (better known to most as Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter franchise). This is a performance so steeped in nuance and idiosyncrasy that I feel it would better deserve a posting all to itself  – but I’m far too disorganised to do that right? Regardless, Jason is a joy to watch whenever he’s on screen, despite it being a little difficult to understand what he says at times;  that’s a criticism that can be levied at the whole cast however and there were a number of occasions when I was a bit lost with what was going on or being said – maybe that’s just because I’m an idiot though?

More than anything though I was swept up with the romance and the fantasy of this film which is in equal parts hilarious, intriguing, mysterious and, perhaps most importantly, creative – in case you haven’t figured it out already, I had a ball watching this film. If I were to try and lay any criticism on it, it would be that the ending feels perhaps a little too schmaltzy and out of sync with the tone of the rest of the movie. However when you deal largely with themes of existentialism, memory, regret and secrets, I guess anything goes.

This film only has a really limited UK tour which can be found here – I urge you to check if it’s showing round your area and go and see it and whilst you’re watching it remember to ask yourself one thing: Is it an epic breakfast?

Later the same evening I headed across town to the International Premiere of High School. Thankfully this film is a little easier to sum up. What you have here is your basic stoner high school (forget the pun) comedy with the usual cast of stereotypical characters; the straight laced students, the jocks, the wasters and so on – thankfully the film does have a little trick up its sleeve that stops it slipping into way over familiar territory; through very tenuous circumstances everyone in the school, student and teacher alike, gets really high (hence the title), so we have the regular mix of toilet humour, inappropriate language and awkward social situations only involving a wider range of characters than usual (hearing Yeardley Smith describe how she imagines her glass dildo being Bryan Adams’ penis is something I’m not likely to soon forget).

Somewhat inevitably the narrative follows its expected scene to scene progression right through to the ninety minute mark where everything is wrapped up all tight in a neat little package. It was only afterwards that (with some helpful reminding) I realised that one of the major drivers in the plot hadn’t been resolved and that kind of really annoyed me. I get that this isn’t supposed to be a high brow, majorly involved comedy – but at the same time it’s just basic narrative construction and it feels real sloppy after the fact. Without wanting to get over critical, (after all everyone comes to Casta for the whimsy right?) there are two really great things about this movie. Correction, two great performances. Adrien Brody is great as Psycho Ed, a far throw from his more subdued performances in the likes of The Pianist, the Darjeeling Limited and The Brothers Bloom amongst others (something that I think we’ll see more of with the impeding release of Predators), adding much needed immediate threat to proceedings. The other stand out performance was from none other than Michael Chiklis – one need look no further than The Shield to get a good impression of this man’s range but this comedic performance is way ahead of his performance way back when in Daddio (anyone remember that?) – he is in equal parts pathetic, menacing, caniving, frustrating and just plain creepy. There were certainly moments where I laughed during this film, but they would most definitely have been reduced by about half if it weren’t for the two performances above and part of me wonders if anyone else could have delivered them quite as effectively.

I heard someone say that High School, being a film about weed, would be miles funnier if you were stoned. Truth is, most comedies are – so I wouldn’t really put a lot of stock in that. Nevertheless this remains a fun piece of potentially rentable entertainment, but not a lot more.

Well you weren’t really expecting short and to the point were you?

EIFF Day One – Superhero Me

June 22, 2010

The day one above refers to the first day I attended the festival which was itself the sixth day of the festival proper. That make sense? Good!

This documentary seems to fall into a category of films and literature that holds a special place in my heart; the “silly boy adventure” – where an average guy gets it into his head that it’d be fun to do something pretty stupid and then document it. Superhero Me has been touted as “Kick Ass in real life”and has all the right ingredients to be a great film; silly boys, superheros and real life consequences. Unfortunately though it takes a lot more than just the right ingredients to make a good movie and ultimately this film lacks a really key factor; purpose.

Usually in this kind of a scenario the documentor/director/star (as is often the case, Steve Sale assumes the mantle of all three) has a point they want to prove, something to discover and/or an end they want to reach. In this case simply wanting to find out what it would be like to be a superhero just doesn’t feel valid enough a reason for filming a documentary. This in itself wouldn’t be a game ender if we had enough personal involvement with Steve on his journey; there are certain moments later in the film which try to tug on the heartstrings but there’s no real conclusion to  drive the message home and thus these attempts at getting the audience emotionally engaged fall flat. I’m assuming that Steve hung up his costume at the behest of his long suffering wife and chose a safer existence than when clad in spandex; but we’re never told this – instead only being offered what happened when the Epsom Christmas Lights were supposed to be turned on.

Without any real agendum, the film barrells along merrily until the ninety minute mark where it just kind of stops and we’re left simply with two major “in depth” findings: that being a superhero is kind of fun and potentially dangerous and, there are some people out there who are already acting like superheroes and have been for quite some time. I could have guessed quite easily at the first conclusion and found out the second with a computer and ten minutes to spare on the internet.

It was a pretty fun watch but ultimately Superhero Me was a mostly hollow experience that felt more like watching a movie that a mate of yours made about something stupid he’d done rather than a serious documentary looking at the effects that superhero culture has had on our social psyche. Having said that (and making myself sound like a right pompous get in the process) I doubt very much that I would have enjoyed the film quite as much if it had been the latter, although in lieu of any real personal involvement or betterment as Superhero Me stood, it probably would have been a better film.