EIFF ’11 Day Seven – On the Shore, Jitters & Meet Monica Velour

June 20, 2011

 

On the Shore
Michel (Daniel Duvall) is a police officer with a problem; he’s afflicted with terrible apathy for life and is suffering from constant nightmares – that all changes though when he discovers the body of Sandra, a beautiful woman who has committed suicide. Michel manages to construct an image of who Sandra was through various unethical practices and it’s not long before he becomes obsessed with her completely.

Whilst at first scenes depicting Michel’s supposed relationship with Sandra is presented ambiguously (did he know her at all before her death?), it’s not long before it’s established that he’s completely nuts. A lot of the fun to be had early on in this movie is in trying to fathom how much of this relationship is a complete fabrication of Michel’s imagination, so as soon as that is taken away from the audience it becomes dull a lot quicker than it would have had the intrigue been kept alive a little longer.

It’s not all bad though, I did enjoy how this film documented the whole life cycle of a relationship from excited beginnings to tearful goodbyes – even if one person in that relationship never really existed to the other; there’s never any question however of Michel’s love for Sandra, just very obvious doubts about his sanity.

If anything this film lacked conflict; even those close to Michel and Sandra only ever have slight doubts as to Michel’s sincerity and his mental state – leaving Michel to blunder around chaotically without any real consequence to his ever more extreme actions. Without there being anything more than Michel’s enthusiast consumption of any information he can find about Sandra, his delusional relationship with her is far too one note to carry the weight of the movie as a whole.

Should you go see it? I’d verge (only just) on no for this one, it was the best film I saw today (not saying much as you’ll read below),

 

Jitters
This film has been promoted as an Icelandic big screen version of Skins, a fact that it wears happily on its sleeve throughout. The problem you’ll face trying to replicate an entire series of a show on screen is that you inevitably replicate an entire series. No amount of italics is ever going to do that sentence justice, so let’s just get on with it.

Gabriel is a young Incelandic chap who comes over to our fair shores for a three week exchange; whilst over he meets and smooches a boy. This fact is then summarily forgotten for most of the film. After carefully being established as the main character, Gabriel then returns to Iceland to a veritable soap opera cast’s worth of people who all then also become the stars of the film. Gabriel is often nowhere to be seen for minutes at a time leading to this becoming somewhat of an ensemble feature; unfortunately Jitters doesn’t seem to realise this and every now and then tries to push Gabriel back to the forefront – what the filmmakers also fail to realise is that Gabriel is pretty rubbish and no fun to watch. As you can probably gather, I didn’t have a great time watching this film.

Maybe this is the old man in me, but I couldn’t help but watch this and think back to when I was seventeen; if I could go back and meet the seventeen year old Chris Madden I’d give him a clip round the ear and tell him to stop bloody moaning. That’s how I felt the entire time watching this movie, every thing that’s happening to every person is the most dramatic thing in the world ever and part of me just wanted to shout out GROW UP! This led to a massive emotional disconnect with the kids on screen, so much so that when one tops herself because her gran is so annoying, I couldn’t help but stifle a laugh – probably not the intended reaction there then.

Jitters’ main crime is that it just has far too much going on all at once as every single character has some drastic life affecting drama going on; you’ve got the lead who is confused by his sexuality, the girl with the alcoholic mother trying to find her biological father, the horny tough guy who is constantly on and off with his missus and, who could forget, the girl who knocks herself off. Without any real focus we amble carelessly through multiple narrative arcs and

Despite not being overly long, it felt like this film went on for bloody ever – the constant flip flopping between characters and dramas left this a draining watch; one that would have fared much better had it had a more intent focus on its main character.

Closing note: Jitters also wins a special award for having the worst on screen representation of Manchester I’ve ever seen; they should have just called it Cambridge and have been done with it. Boo!

Should you go see it? Nope, there’s really no reason to watch it; just go buy Skins on DVD instead – it probably lasts just as long.

Meet Monica Velour
Dustin Ingram co-stars alongside Kim Cattrall in this supposed coming of age comedy about a young semi-obsessive soft-core pornography fan who seeks out his now aging idol in a desperate bid to win her friendship; imagine The Girl Next Door were Elisha Cuthbert twenty years older and Emile Hirsh a hell of a lot more creepy and you’re almost there.

Things start off promisingly enough and there are a few laughs to be had between lead character Tobe and fun supporting cast comprising of his wiseass grandpa, sheltered next door neighbour and that weird obsessive girl who likes him a bit too much – unfortunately the laughs dry up quick as Tobe goes off on his road trip to try and meet hunt down the titular Monica Velour. Kim Cattrall plays the aging washed up porn star well enough but from the moment she’s on screen all she really has to do is spurn Tobe’s advances until the moment she eventually cracks and sleeps with him. Understandably this makes both her situation and the film a whole lot worse.

I get the impression that in the all important emotional “learning the lesson” scene towards the end of the film, Tobe is supposed to come off as being incredibly sweet with just a hint of naivety about him, but I just couldn’t shake the image of him being obsessive to the point of delusion – a stone’s throw from pulling a knife and finishing them both off. That’s the main problem with the film as a whole; as an audience we are never really given the reason to back Tobe because he always comes off as too much of a stalker.

Whilst I can understand the concept behind the movie, ultimately it doesn’t pay off because shortly after Tobe meets Monica, there’s nothing really left for the film to do other than throw a few hamfisted life lessons around late in the game, and that’s its most unforgiveable crime; a coming of age comedy should always have the main character come to realise something of their own accord, no matter how inconsequential it may seem and this is how we know they’ve come of age; unfortunately Meet Monica Velour stuffs this up almost as bad as it does everything else.

Should you go see it? That’s a no three times in a row! Whilst it has funny moments, there’s not enough heart here to make it worth watching – just go buy the Girl Next Door on DVD instead – it’s miles better.

 

 

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EIFF ’11 Day Six – Perfect Sense, By Day and By Night & The Divide

June 19, 2011

 

Perfect Sense
Okay so now that the film has premiered and the embargo has been lifted, I’m finally able to tell you about Perfect Sense; the Ewan McGregor and Eva Green starring, David McKenzie directed British production that tells the story of two people who fall in love as an affliction spreads the earth that causes the population to lose their senses one by one.

When I told Chris that I wasn’t allowed to write about the film until Sunday his instant reaction was the same as mine; isn’t it only shit films that are embargoed? If Perfect Sense is anything to go by then we can firmly answer that questions with a resounding NO! Let’s not beat around the bush on this one, I loved Perfect Sense and it’s been eating me up that I haven’t been able to tell you about it until now.

In true Chris Madden roundabout style I’m going to tell you what I loved about this film by talking about another one. Around four years ago when Children of Men came out I remember thinking “that looks like the stupidest idea for a film” yet despite my early inclinations I saw it and was blown away; it was such a grand tale told on such a personal level, it tapped into innate fears that I believe we all share, the direction was fresh and interesting and I really bought into the concept despite my distaste for the actor in the lead. All these things are true of Perfect Sense too; this is a story that is heavily influenced by events taking place on a macro-scale, yet we never lose sight of the two characters at the centre of it all, both trying to find a way to carry on living their life each time they lose one of their senses.

There are so many good things about this film that I’m really going to struggle to limit myself (for length’s sake) but if there was any one thing that really really stood out as being great about this film, it would undoubtedly be the score. Max Richter (who last year contributed to the excellent Shutter Island) has really pulled it out of the bag with this one; the music is subtle when it needs to be, poignant when it’s appropriate and is absolutely harrowing at the most emotionally involving moments. Outstanding.

Perfect Sense verges on having one of the most tragic endings I’ve seen, quite a drain after the emotional day I’d already had with Angels Crest and Project Nim – this isn’t a film to watch then when feeling vulnerable; but is one that will prompt you into appreciating what you have in life and, if you’re anything like me, cause you to re-evaluate the things you think are important. Top notch stuff.

Should you go see it? Yes – it’s a long time since I’ve been this emotionally affected by a film. It’s solidified itself in my top ten of the year so far and I can’t quite see it being shifted out anytime soon – even if it does star Ewan McGregor.

 

By Day and By Night
Overpopulation has (for some reason or another that I couldn’t quite fathom) led to the inhabitants of the Metropolis being split by the use of an enzyme into two “shifts,” half who live during the day and the other half that function through the night – a nice side effect (at least for those running the Metropolis) is that the enzyme should regulate the population’s emotions making them nice and manipulatable in the process.

Aurora is a mother living in the day shift who is desperately seeking out her child Luna who has gone missing, Urbano is a night shift scientist who prevents Luna’s death and somehow in the process manages to make her switch shifts so that she now functions solely at night. In the background we are slightly exposed to two of the men not bound by the shifts, one a scientist partially responsible for the introduction of the enzyme to the population of the Metropolis, the other a typical “overseer” character who isn’t happy about Aurora’s actions given that the enzyme should have eliminated any attachment she had to her child. They are forced to interject and after successfully tracking Urbano and Luna down, Aurora is left communicating with them solely through recorded messages being as they can never be conscious in the same time period. They decide to escape the Metropolis to see if they can find any way to break out of their shifts and live life together.

A lot of plot given there, but it’s such an interesting concept that it bears writing down just to see if I actually understand it myself… That’s not to say the By Day and By Night is an overly complicated film, quite the contrary as the above is mostly all there is to it – its simplicity is actually quite deceptive given the concept that frames the film’s reality.

This is a very minimalist production in almost all aspects and it takes a few very bold strokes along the way – in the last half an hour once Aurora, Urbano and Luna have left the Metropolis there are around three lines of dialogue; the very nature of their diametric existence means they have no one to talk to – in this period it’s the score carries the weight of the film and fortunately it manages to a very good job. As much as this stripped back approach might engage some people, I can see how it might be very off putting to others. To say that this film is slow just doesn’t come near to describing it and depending on your preference you’re either going to come down saying that it’s masterfully paced or frightfully dull…

By Day and By Night is an extremely interesting film and proved to divide audiences in its native Mexico; it’s a very arty film which I enjoyed a lot, but even as I was watching it I really couldn’t imagine a full audience of people ever going to watch it – one for hardcore indie sci-fi fans then perhaps.

Should you go see it? I get the impression that the very nature of this film won’t appeal to most people so I’m going to leave this one up to you. I can see how it would bore the pants off some, yet I found it a beautifully subtle, often moving watch.

 

The Divide
BOOOOOO!

Can I finish there? No? Okay then…

In the opening scene of The Divide we witness as an unidentified American city goes down in flames; panicked building inhabitants flock down to a well stocked bunker that just so happens to be under their building and somehow the thin metal door manages to protect them from nuclear armageddon and a building collapsing on top of them. Pretty soon I was wishing that the door had stuck and I was made to sit watching their charring corpses for two hours. It probably would have been more of an entertaining watch.

Locked up in the bunker we have the usual requisite mix of end of the world survivors; a mother, a child, a paranoid schizophrenic, some wiseguys, a timid guy who wears glasses, a black guy who won’t take no shit and an interchangeable main character, played in this instance by the best Milla Jovovich-alike in the business. It’s a real shame then that precisely none of these people can act; seriously this film features some of the most ham-fisted performances I’ve ever seen, particularly from Michael Biehn who many of you might remember used to be able to actually act.

Ten minutes in and I was severely bored; we were already going through the standard motions of the delirious people trying to escape, the self assumed leader shouting at everyone and half of the bunker’s inhabitants not trusting the other half, but then something great happened (I’m using the word “great” liberally there); hazard suited soldiers break into the bunker, steal the child and then make off with her. The ten minutes which followed that teased at something greater going on were a breath of fresh air, but almost as soon as the concept had been introduced, the soldiers seal up our survivors in their bunker to mete out their own fate. It’s been a long time since I saw such a disappointing turnaround in a film; any promise it might have shown was quickly snuffed out. This is further compounded by the fact that this film is far too long, after the door has been sealed shut we’re left going through the standard motions of watching the few survivors gradually be whittled down and terrorised by the ones whose screws come loose earliest; it just takes its sweet time doing it.

It’s a shame then that the film has such a pleasant score; it doesn’t fit with the film whatsoever but is really standout on its own. Kind of makes me a little sad that it wasn’t used in a film where it actually worked. Knew I could find one thing nice to say about it…

If anything The Divide just reinforces the fact that if you’re ever facing an end of the world type situation you’re either best going at it alone or topping yourself there and then, because other people are just shit. Shame it took it so bloody long to get that point across…

Should you go see it? No, nope, no way, no how.


EIFF ’11 Day Five – The Troll Hunter & The Caller

June 18, 2011

The Troll Hunter
It’s not that often that a film’s release passes my by completely; that I’ve read nothing about it or seen no trailers up until the buzz starts coming in – it’s a rare occurrence in which I’ve heard great things about a film before even hearing its name but that was the case with The Troll Hunter so I marched in with high expectations and… well then the film started…

There’s a type of film that I’m immediately as uninterested with as brother Wakeman is with superhero movies; that every time that I hear about a new one being made I, without fail, heave a sigh and wonder “haven’t we had enough already?!” Long term Casta fans will find no surprise in the reveal that this “genre” is found footage. Imagine then my disappointment after all the positive vibes from before the film for me to see an opening blurb saying “this footage was sent to authorities and blah blah blah.”

But fear not! This is yet another example of Chris Madden’s combination of unreasonably high expectations and unfairly low tolerance levels being completely wrong! Whilst in general the use of found footage is lazily executed, this film proves there’s always room in a saturated market for people who do things the right way. The Troll Hunter has a simple set up; some students are trying to make a documentary about a suspected bear poacher, they hassle him at length and follow him deep into the woods one night only to encounter… six legged tigers! No wait… I mean… Trolls!

One of the usual problems encountered in found footage films is that they’re so bloody boring; never taking a second to really lighten up or let us get to know the characters. Not so in this case as there’s great verve, energy and humour throughout, thanks largely to the setup that three of the four main characters are students trying to film a documentary who are ridiculously excited about everything. This leads to a level of enthusiasm quite unlike anything I’ve seen in this type of film before – what’s more it’s really really funny. The tongue in cheek tone manages to pervade the entire film, right up until its closing scenes – lesser films would have dropped any sign of wit around the beginning of the third act when things inevitably start going wrong; the fact that The Troll Hunter doesn’t, and feels no detriment as a result of the maintained humour, is a true achievement.

Any problems? The trolls themselves look a bit stupid but then again… they’re trolls; what are they supposed to look like? The troll effects are pretty nifty, but mostly shot at night (sunlight kills trolls for those not too au fait with their mythology) so it does take a while until you get to see one in full, but then at least you do get to see them properly (take notes Cloverfield). Nothing major then, it’s perhaps a little long but certainly never overstays its welcome.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the already touted Hollywood remake never comes to pass, as I’m almost more than certain that everything that makes this film great will undoubtedly be lost in translation.

Should you go and see it? Absolutely; whils it’s already a sell out at the festival, it’s currently slated for a September the 9th release in the UK and is already out in most other parts of the world. Rare Exports made some good headway for Scandinavian cinema last year, but The Troll Hunter has single-handedly done enough to make me sit up and take notice of future releases.

 

The Caller
There’s a lot going on in The Caller; Rachelle Lefevre stars as Mary, a recently divorced, seemingly unemployed new inhabitant of a creepy apartment whose lights don’t seem to work properly. She’s being harassed by her ex husband (played by Liev Schreiber-a-like Ed Quinn), she’s dating a teacher of advanced mathematics and just to distance this from your standard rom-com, she also starts receiving mysterious phonecalls from a woman claiming to be living thirty years in the past. Think The Lake House with added dramatic music, a lead character who’s scared of everything, a telephone that won’t stop ringing (just stop answering the damn thing!) and Luis Guzman.

I wasn’t too taken with this film and it took me about forty minutes to figure out why. By this point we know Mary is being actively stalked and threatened by her ex husband, we know she is suffering from paranoid delusions and we know she’s getting phonecalls from a malicious woman in the past; but we don’t know to what end these things are happening. There’s no long term threat here; it’s not as if Mary has a plan to deal with any of these things, or that there’s some kind of time pressure on her to do insert *thing* here before it’s too late – she just keeps rolling with the punches until about ten minutes before the final credits roll, at which point The Caller seems to realise it needs to pull its socks up and actually deliver something.

What it does deliver happens to be a mite unsatisfying given how intriguing the premise of a time travel horror is; the film’s ending is bland and uninspired and whilst I certainly didn’t expect this to be the most competent time travel film ever, there are certain tenets that you just can’t ignore; the first of which is Chaos Theory (particularly the Butterfly Effect). To suggest that Mary’s timeline has been altered significantly throughout the course of the film, only for her to be living in the same apartment with the same abusive ex husband still trying to break through her door serves only to negate the impact that the changes in her timeline could (and indeed should) have had on her life. I really like the idea of time travel (or more specifically in this case, the idea that events in two specific time periods share a non-linear causal relationship), and it’s always disappointing to see it employed so lazily.

Whilst not everything is terrible (I actually really liked the opening credits and there’s some great voyeuristic camerawork going on early in proceedings), there’s certainly more wrong than right here; in fact it feels like there’s not enough of any one thing to keep this movie afloat – if there had been more horror, more time travel or even more romance, this could have risen above the type of mediocrity it has seemingly assigned itself to. In my opinion, it’s always better for a film to do one thing really well than lots of things kind of well.

Should you go and see it? Nope – nothing special going on here; it flirts with time travel in as bare bones fashion as possible, isn’t particularly scary or imaginative and will leave you feeling massively uninspired and underwhelmed.


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

June 17, 2011

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!

Albatross
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.



EIFF ’11 Day Three – Arriety, Project Nim & AN EMBARGO!

June 16, 2011

 

The Borrower Arrietty
Studio Ghibli give a Japanese twist to the undoubtedly familiar British tale The Borrowers. If you’re like me, you’ll probably remember either the rubbish BBC2 miniseries of the Mary Norton story, or the even worse 1997 big screen version starring John Goodman; thankfully the Ghibli version breaks the mould of rubbishness we’ve been subjected to in the past.

Written by everyone’s favourite Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, we follow the headstrong Arrietty, a teenage borrower who is just old enough to start joining her father on borrowing ventures in the house of the human beans who live above. Obviously stuff quickly starts to go wrong – it wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise would it?

If you’ve read any of the borrower’s books then the story should be quite familiar to you as the film sticks close to its roots. That’s not to say however that this version is purely superfluous as this is a delightful film to watch; the animation carries all the nuance, subtlety and flair we’ve come to expect from Studio Ghibli whilst giving a sense of scale we’ve perhaps not encountered in their other efforts – it’s not only in the animation that this sense is conveyed, but also largely in the sound effects; dripping taps, whirring refrigerators and rain showers are all given a weight that effectively suggests how these every day noises would sound to people of limited stature. This animation knocked it out of the park on all levels for me and is a happy addition to the already impressive Ghibli collection and a worthwhile watch for audiences of all ages.

A word of caution though for those intending to see it at the festival – particularly those with small children; although the programme states voice talent of the likes of Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, the press version I saw was subtitled. Whilst this didn’t detract from my experience whatsoever (indeed I found the Japanese dubbing only added to the charm of the whole thing) the subtitles may prove too much for the younger audience members. It’ll definitely be worth taking them to see it when it’s released with English dubbing as it’s a breath of fresh air in amongst all the rubbish 3D CG clones.

Should you go see it? Did you read the above?! Of course you should! If you can’t catch it at the festival it’s currently due a UK release on the 26th of August.

Project Nim
Coming from director James Marsh (Man on Wire) this documentary couldn’t have a better pedigree or a higher bar to reach, but Marsh proves that lightning can strike twice in this wonderfully affecting recounting of the titular Project Nim.

In the early seventies, a group of scientists from Columbia university conducted an experiment to see if a chimpanzee (Nim) raised in human surrounds could be taught to communicate using sign language – we follow their progress from Nim’s birth right through his early formative years, up until the study becomes strained and Nim gets a little bit too big to handle…

Project Nim adopts the use of standard talking heads albeit in an extremely effective way, choosing only to centre on those who were directly involved in Nim’s upbringing at each stage in his life, subtly shifting attention to and from those who are most relevant at any given point in time. It’s also told in a much fairer manner than most documentaries I’ve seen of late and pulls no punches when it comes to the conflicts and disputes between the people who were involved in Nim’s life – if somebody comes off like an egotistical idiot, then chances are that impression is deserved.

Later on in the proceedings there are some relatively disturbing scenes focused around the period of time which Nim spent in an animal testing lab, so you may need a strong stomach and some tissues on hand to get through from start to finish. It’s not all doom and gloom though and there are enough smatterings of hippy mentality and seventies ideologies to keep you grinning throughout – plus of course there’s Nim himself who proves delightful to watch.

The only real thing missing for me was a deep questioning of whether what the various scholars and teachers did throughout the project (in putting Nim into an extended science experiment) was the thing to do; whilst it seems almost undeniable that (for the most part) Nim enjoyed a better quality of life than most other chimps in captivity, that doesn’t do much to answer the ethical and moral questions surrounding the project as a whole.

Should you go and see it? Yes, absolutely – it’s the best documentary I’ve seen since yesterday, and like most great documentaries will have you leaving the cinema reflecting on and questioning what you’ve just seen.

Perfect Sense
Yowsers! Casta La Vista finds itself under its very first press embargo! We’re not allowed to pass comment on this film until Sunday so be sure to check back then for thoughts on this and Sunday’s movies.

Should you go and see it? I can’t tell you!

Well the third day was two thirds brilliant and one part mysterious! Be sure to come back tomorrow for reviews of Angel’s Crest, Albatross and Jack Goes Boating.


EIFF ’11 Day Two – Bobby Fischer Against the World, Shut Up Little Man! & Our Day Will Come

June 15, 2011

Bobby Fischer Against the World
Oh god, what could be more boring than a documentary about chess? Don’t be fooled Casta fans! What starts off as a documentary about a young chess master and his rise to fame, soon becomes a character study of a paranoid schizophrenic whose ego and delusions secure him a fall from grace the likes of which I have never before seen.

Don’t be too concerned if you’ve never heard of Bobby Fischer before – despite the fact that he rose to meteoric fame in America in the early seventies (with his chess world championship match taking on almost epic cold war significance), the documentary starts off at Bobby’s roots and tracks his chess career from prodigal beginnings to world championship contender. The film is split into three distinct parts; before, during and after Fischer’s 1972 world championship game against the Russian Spassky – each one leading nicely into the next, giving a very satisfying whistle stop tour of Fischer’s life without dwelling overlong on any one part.

Bobby Fischer Against the World adopts a now standard format of archived footage and talking heads and congratulations need to be passed on to director Liz Garbus and her team for the wealth of footage they have managed to find to tell their story. I was however left feeling that some of the talking heads were a little tacked on – sure it’s great having heavyweights from the world of chess throwing in their two cents, but if they had little to no contact or interaction with Fischer at the time then what use is it focussing on them over the people who had relevance at that point in time? It almost feels like watching a Winston Churchill documentary in which David Cameron appears to tell me that Churchill was one of the most celebrated men of the 20th century – more than a little unnecessary. Forgive me for getting gripey there, but that really was my only major issue – there were at points a few too many people to remember who was who and I was spending longer focussing on who they actually were rather than what they were saying…

Complaining over, it actually worked in my favour that I knew nothing about Fischer before seeing this film as it added a sense of drama and intrigue to the proceedings quite unlike any documentary I’ve seen before – does Fischer win his championship match? What happens then? Whilst other documentaries might reach their peak around the end of act two (more on that below) this film really knocks it out of the park when documenting Fischer’s downward spiral into madness in its endgame – (chess reference, tick!) and thus is a thoroughly entertaining watch from start to finish.

Should you go see it? It’s a very well put together film and I’d certainly recommend giving it a go, however whilst it’s not exclusively for chess fanatics, some knowledge of the basic rules and principles of the game is probably beneficial to help get the most out of it.

Shut up Little Man!
With around a third of the film festival’s programme being made up of documentaries, it’s hardly surprising that I’d catch two in a row at some point. Imagine the proliferation of any number of internet memes or crazes without the internet actually existing yet – that’s basically Shut Up Little Man! in a nutshell. It’s the late eighties and two young friends (Mitch and Eddie Lee) live next door to two old, very sweary men (Pete and Ray) and (not so) surreptitiously record their drunken arguing – through time and coincidence these recordings reach cult underground status until everyone wants a piece of the pie and all manners of “ownership” issues arise.

Shut Up Little Man! starts off as a very funny and stylishly made documentary which couldn’t have been more different to the morning’s earlier film; a distinct lack of archived footage means that the filmmakers had to be more creative to make the documentary more than just a sequence of audio tracks and stills – they use present day Mitch and Eddie Lee to re-enact many of the early events of their story with actors replacing Pete and Ray – it’s an interesting idea which, although a little jarring at first (it’s always weird seeing forty odd year olds acting like twenty year olds) works well enough to convey the events that occurred.

The film builds satisfyingly and reaches its peak at around the hour mark – by this point the recordings have spread all over America, three different parties are trying to make a film of it all and oft repeated snippets of the recordings are only just starting to outstay their welcome. It’s at this important point though that the film starts to tail off – it does verge on asking very interesting questions about ownership, privacy and what constitutes intellectual property – however shies away from these and instead returns focus back on our present day original pair. Mitch embarks on a journey to try and get some interview tine with Pete and Ray’s sometime roommate Tony, and Eddie Lee descends into nonsensical ramblings about what constitutes art – whilst of course still making a few bucks selling Shut Up Little Man! merchandise out of his basement.

The documentary suffers from an awareness of itself – there’s a noticeable dip in quality once they start documenting the making of the documentary, and the fact that there’s nothing to do in the last thirty minutes but talk about the legacy of Shut Up Little Man! twenty years later goes to show that they really just stretched an interesting sixty minute story into a requisite ninety minute shell.

In all fairness though the filmmakers do attempt to show both sides of the story, and Eddie Lee in particular comes off as having delusions of grandeur and an over inflated sense of celebrity than could perhaps be reasonably expected from a man of his stature – unfortunately though in veering away from the questions about whether any of the actions that took place were right, this documentary loses any sense of importance and instead serves only as a comparison piece to how easy it is for these kind of things to spread in modern society.

Should you go see it? Only if you have the ability to withstand the same two or three lines of dialogue over again for ninety minutes or an interest in the origins of the Shut Up Little Man! phenomenon – one which, to be perfectly honest I hadn’t heard of before this film.

Our day Will Come (Notre Jour Viendra)
Vincent Cassel stars in this French drama which, at the outset appears to be a case of “psychologist helps repressed angsty teenager overcome his issues,” but soon descends into sheer madness. And not in a cool way.

Olivier Barthelemy (Rémy) is a bullied redhead with a bad case of pent up anger whose path crosses, seemingly by chance, with that of Cassel’s character Patrick. Things start off reasonable enough with them trying to find Rémy a girl, but pretty soon they’re buying crossbows, escaping to Ireland and forcing men to kiss at weddings. There’s no sense of progression to the events onscreen, certainly not that I could see anyway – no one scene contains anything too bizarre, but put them together and you’re left with a confused and sloppy mess that I couldn’t wait to be over.

This film really took me back to Studying drama at degree level and encountering shock plays where people dig up and eat dead babies. I didn’t get it then and I sure don’t get it now and frankly I’m quite happy not getting it all. There’s probably something deep and meaningful going on here; a retelling of some classic allegory or a housing of subtle themes that will be pored over by academics ad infinitum, but to me (and I imagine most other regular joe cinemagoers) this was nothing short of a complete waste of time; even if one of the main themes is that even the French don’t like ginners.

Should you go and see it? Well done Our Time Will Come – you’ve secured my first resounding no of the festival!


EIFF ’11 Day One – The Guard, Phase 7 & Fast Romance

June 14, 2011

 

The Guard

Well it gives me great relief to start off my coverage of this year’s film festival to say that the co-ordinators have picked themselves a winner for their opening film.

Brendan Gleeson stars in this Irish black comedy, the directorial debut of John Michael McDonagh which is every bit as hilarious as you’d expect coming from the brother of celebrated playwright Martin McDonagh. Doyle (Gleeson) is the lone member of Galway’s local police enforcement who tends to do things his own way, making him unpopular with colleagues from neighbouring regions. Don Cheadle plays an FBI agent somewhat out of water in rural Ireland, trying to catch a group of drug dealers who are awaiting a $500 million dollar shipment of narcotics (or is it half a billion?). I can already hear you groaning at the inevitable odd couple, buddy movie that lay ahead, but don’t be fooled; this is Gleeson’s movie from start to finish – a combination of his wonderful deadpan delivery and hilarious scripting (“I’m Irish, racism is part of my culture”) lead to this being one of the funniest films I’ve seen all year.

It’s not just Gleeson however who is worth watching in this film; the cast at large give great deliveries of some really tight, well written dialogue, with (Casta favourite) Mark Strong putting in a particularly notable supporting performance as a philosophising drug trafficker. It’s only really Cheadle who doesn’t have much to do, but as the one straight man amongst a relatively oddball cast, his only really purpose is to move the plot along at various points – a task he completes very competently.

Instant comparisons are obviously going to be drawn between this and In Bruges given the involvement of both Gleeson and one of the McDonagh brothers, however other than their wicked sense of humour and great dialogue, there’s not much more to tie them together. For me The Guard is the better film as Gleeson is given so much more to chew on than in his earlier outing and there’s not a spot of Colin Farrell in sight.

Should you go and see it? Yes. It’s a very funny and enjoyable watch – it is, however, the opening film of the festival, so I’d be surprised if tickets were still available. Your best bet then will be to keep an eye on the Best of the Fest line up when (slash if) it’s announced, or to go see it when its (current scheduled) release date of the 19th August rolls around – it’s only showing at a limited number of screens around the UK, but is well worth hunting out.

 

Phase 7

Next up: Argentinean effort Phase 7 – in which a mysterious pandemic is killing off much of the world’s population. The focus here however isn’t on a crack team of scientists trying to find a cure, nor a rogue terrorist cell hell bent on causing mayhem and destruction, we instead follow events through the eyes of young couple Coco and Pipi whose residential building is quarantined early into the virus outbreak.

It’s Coco who bears the brunt of the screentime as events are quickly focussed on the inhabitants of their apartment block over those happening in the outside world. It’s no surprise then that suspicion begins to fall on others within the building and it’s not long before the neighbours are all up in arms with each other; Coco then has to rely on the mysterious (and more than a little paranoid) Horacio to help him take care of business and ensure the safety of his heavily pregnant other half.

The story itself is passable but largely forgettable; certain points feel too contrived or simply too convenient, and we’re never really given much of an insight on to what this mysterious virus is – whether that be the cause, the cure or simply the symptoms. Certain points are forgivable, however when characters begin to act inexplicably only for you to find out after the fact that one of the major symptoms of the virus is a rapid onset of delirium, you can’t help but feel that you really should have been told that somewhat earlier.

Despite the fact that this is obviously a low budget film, it feels reasonably well put together; however two things really take off some of the sheen and both are with regards to the subtitles (bear with me): first up, they’re in a bold white font which can often prove difficult to read – especially when there is a lot of light or bright colours in the shot, secondly, and more importantly, the grammar throughout is fairly ropey and there were a few instances where I was scratching my head trying to decipher what the characters were saying (after having had trouble reading it on the screen, naturally). Foibles yes, but important nonetheless – after all when you’re being asked to suspend your disbelief for ninety minutes, it’s the little things that will either seal your conviction or take you out of the experience entirely – these things took the professionalism of the whole film down a notch or two, which is a shame because for the most part I was impressed with how the obvious budget limitations hadn’t adversely affected the production.

Should you go and see it? I’m fairly down the middle on this one because, whilst it’s a nice effort in parts, the niggles mentioned above take it from being an interesting idea to a missed opportunity. That being the case I’d recommend that you give it a miss at the festival and instead hunt out Right at Your Door from about five years ago which is similar in both concept and scale, although feels much more well rounded in both its production and in the story itself.

Fast Romance

I’ve never really been a fan of films with multiple interlinking narratives (think Crash, Love Actually, 4.3.2.1 – that kind of thing) because as much as it’s nice to have a big ensemble cast, or the implication that one set of actions can affect someone else far away, I’ve always thought that each of the micro-narratives has to be interesting enough in itself for me to buy into the thing as a whole – no film has been able to do that for me yet and unfortunately Fast Romance does nothing to change that fact.

The concept is simple; seven people from Glasgow go speed dating, then stuff happens. One of the stories is a little funnier than the others, one a little more sad and one a little more serious; were it to end there it might not be such a problem, but half of the characters know each other so when they’re not involved in their own romantic stories, they’re busy having tea and toast with their friends in even more nano-narratives. This mass interweaving of stories and events leads to the whole thing feeling like one of those late night extended editions of Hollyoaks that that used to roll around once every three months or so (and perhaps still do – I shudder at the thought). The humour is right at that same level too, drawing most of the laughs from over reliance on bad language and goofy facial expressions.

As a whole Fast Romance feels overly bloated; it has some nice ideas sure, but there’s just too much going on for the good stuff to really shine through – I can easily see this being the start of a new soap, and would in fact be surprised if none of those involved actually had experience writing for TV before. The problem there though is that this isn’t TV and you’re only selling yourself short when your film gets to a point and just ends seemingly halfway through some of the characters’ stories; there is no “next episode” to rely on here, only a post event monologue from one of the leads to fill you in on “what happened next” – shame they couldn’t have done that with most of the fat in the proceedings…

I feel a little bad ripping on such a low budget independent effort, however that’s what you open yourself up to when you put yourself up on such a large stage – were the same team to come up with something new in the future, I’d probably give it a go; there’s promise here, albeit obscured behind the annoying quick jump zoom shots and the over intrusive soundtrack.

Should you go and see it? I wouldn’t if I were you – whilst there are a few laugh out loud moments, the film is overlong and no one of the many narratives are captivating enough to really draw you in. Should it ever roll around to being on channel four late one night then I’m sure you could do worse if there was nothing you’d rather watch on any other channel, but in terms of the Film Festival, I’d be very surprised if your £9 couldn’t be spent a lot better.

 

Day one done and three films down – six and nineteen (respectively) to go! Come back tomorrow for reviews of Bobby Fischer Against the World, Our Day Will Come and Shut Up Little Man!