EIFF ’11 Day Four – Angels Crest, Albatross & Jack Goes Boating

Angels Crest
Adapted from the novel by Leslie Schwartz and directed by Gaby Dellal, Angels Crest tells the story of how a small tight knit community deals with the tragic death of an infant, and the different attitudes of the town’s inhabitants towards those deemed responsible.

Imagine the scene – you take your adorable three year old out up into the mountains, you arrive and he’s asleep so you leave him for a few minutes. You come back and he’s gone – after a furious night searching along with everyone else in town, you eventually find your child frozen to death in the snow less than a quarter of a mile from where you’d parked your car. Now imagine explaining that to a small town of people your life is hopelessly intertwined with; the child’s mother who already hates your guts, friends who think of your child as family, a grieving grandmother, your friend’s child who just want to play with your son… Now imagine that you suspect foul play in the child’s initial disappearance; that’s Angels Crest.

A lot of things in this film feel purely perfunctory – the acting in particular isn’t going to break any moulds or win any awards; Thomas Dekker leads the cast nicely enough, there’s decent support in Lynn Collins as the child’s mother and it is always nice to see Jeremy Piven playing Jeremy Piven. Whilst this film can be said to evoke certain emotional reactions out of its audience, I felt that these were down more to the nature of the situation the film is focussed around, rather than on those playing out the events.

Where Angels Crest really does shine though is in its photography. The camerawork in this film is beautiful; its mountainous settings allow for breathtaking vistas and stunning shots of indigenous wildlife (wolves and deer amongst others) the likes of which are not usually seen outside of a big budget BBC nature documentary.

I’ve flitted a little back and forth there, but feel that I can best sum this film up with a Behind the scenes note: as I write this I’m in a cafe immediately after seeing the film trying to type up notes into my phone (who needs a laptop?). Two of your standard indie critics are sat opposite me ripping this film to shreds – usually I’m the one who “doesn’t get it” but in this case I can’t help but feel that it’s them who don’t. They talk about how this film is unambitious and fails to rise much above soap opera; they sit over analysing every slight detail and systematically treat every misgiving as a personal attack against their sensibilities as film critics – geez lighten up guys! No one is trying to reinvent the wheel here; it was, at least in my opinion, an involving and affecting story that kept me engaged for the entirety of its run length – even if I was slightly distracted at the outset by the omission of the apostrophe from its title.

Should you go see it? Another resounding yes from me – but maybe not straight after the films I saw yesterday; after all there’s only so much emotional punishment a person can take!

BOO! Stop crowbarring the name of your film into its final two minutes as if it’s something profound you’ve just done! It’s annoying and rubbish, so just stop it!

Sorry… appear to have started on the wrong foot there…

Okay… composure… Albatross is a small scale British production (go on Isle of Man films!) which centres around the whirlwind effect one headstrong and boisterous teenage girl (Emelia – played by Jessica Brown-Findlay) can have on an already unhappy family. You’ve got the straight laced daughter who is studying for her A levels and planning on going to Oxford (Beth – played by Felicity Jones), the Dad who’s struggling with writer’s block and getting past the success of his first novel twenty years earlier and the Mum who seems to just be pissed off at everyone all the time – oh and the requisite six to ten year old who just turns up and says something cute every now and then. In walks aforementioned overconfident teen and causes havoc; cue initial rebellion by each family member, impromptu actions of poor judgement, family breakdown, emotional struggle and inevitable self-discovery and (semi) redemption. I’d get on my horse about how conventional this all seems (and will do so further on for the next film) but in this case it’s forgivable as Albatross pulls it off with a certain charm and humour; it may be uninventive but it’s sure not boring.

Despite that I had certain misgivings on its choice of focus; by centring attention on Emelia rather than the effect her actions have on one specific family member (either Beth or the father) we’re left with a rather unconvincing emotional turnaround in the film’s final act. Would it have been a better film if we’d concentrated more heavily on how Beth’s life had been turned around by Emelia? How meeting this fun, carefree and at times reckless girl had forced her to revaluate her own life, causing her to seize the day and grasp every opportunity? Maybe, but it probably wouldn’t have been quite so funny.

Ultimately the film loses its way and somewhat into pure schmaltz with just a tinge of melancholy in its final scenes – a shame after it looks as though it might try something ballsy in its closing moments.  As it stands then, it almost feels almost like a coming of age film with no real coming of age about it; just a reckless sense of abandon, some teenage rebellion and a tacked on semi-happy ending.

Should you go and see it? Yes is going to ever so slightly edge it in this case – it’s funny enough to deserve a watch, but probably not impactful enough to remember for long…

Jack Goes Boating
I love Phillip Seymour Hoffman, he’s just so big and cuddly! Genuinely though I think he’s a great talent and always consider him alongside Paul Giamatti as great actors who I thank god will never get too big. Imagine my excitement then to hear that PSH’s directorial debut is showing at the festival, and what’s more he stars in it alongside the ever wonderful Amy Ryan. The anticipation was almost palatable!

Hoffman stars as Jack, a mid thirties single guy who’s a bit weird and has never been in a long term relationship. Amy Ryan stars as Connie, a mid thirties single girl who’s also a little bit weird and has also never been in a long term relationship. Jack and Corrine share some mutual friends who set them up; these friends are not so happily married, and as one relationship develops, the other breaks down. There are funny bits, there are dramatic bits and these two elements often intertwine, leaving you unsure of whether you’re allowed to laugh or not.

Is any of this sounding familiar? As generic as this review is so far, it’s not a patch of how cookie cutter this whole indie comedy drama is; sure the characters and situations are a little different, but it’s a general set up you’ll have no doubt seen before. It feels like an extremely safe bet as a big screen directorial debut which would be understandable for a newcomer, but from someone with Hoffman’s pedigree I couldn’t help be disappointed. It doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong but the things it does right have been done right many times before and frequently by better films than this.

Should you go and see it? It’s not a complete waste of time but there’s nothing even remotely original going on here – there are far better films to see at the festival, although it may be worth a watch once it comes out on DVD – especially if you love Hoffman as much as I do.


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