Sunday, 28 June 2009

Fest Day 11: Friends and quirky lovers

Festivals in both Los Angeles and Edinburgh are winding up this weekend, and I'm looking forward to taking some time off to recover from my continent-hopping time at both festivals. I'll be back on Monday with the best of the festivals as well as the award winners. Here are a few films that are highlights of this weekend, including the Edinburgh closing film Adam (pictured). The first three films below are at Edinburgh, the last four at Los Angeles...

dir Max Mayer, 09/US **
Hugh Dancy stars in this strained and over-cute romance about a guy with Asperger's who strikes up a friendship with a neighbour (Rose Byrne) that leads to romance. The script is badly over-written, with dialog that's too smart and sweet for its own good and a plot that's so structured that there's no room for real life in it. Some moviegoers will fall for the quirky charm and pushy sentimentality, but others will find it nearly unbearable. > FULL REVIEW

Mary and Max
dir Adam Elliot, 09/Australia *****
My favourite film from both festivals, this animated movie for adults comes from the genius behind the short Harvie Krumpet. It's about a little girl in Australia who feels like an outcast and starts a pen pal relationship with a middle-aged man with Asperger's in Manhattan. The film combines raucous comedy and heartbreaking emotion, as these two people become an integral part of each other's lives over the decades - and each other's only real friend. The claymation-style imagery is simply stunning, but it's the characters wo win our hearts, beautifully voiced by Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
dir Carlos Saldanha, 09/US ****
The first two films were nothing to get that excited about, but this one is actually more fun - with a stronger adventure-style plot and a couple of terrific new characters who bring some badly needed sharpness to the otherwise bland gang. First is Scratte, a female foil for our hero squirrel-rat Scrat, who provides both competition for that elusive acorn and a bit or silly romance. The second is the swashbuckling weasel Buck (voiced by Simon Pegg), who leads the "herd" on an action-packed odyssey to rescue the silly sloth Sid from a possessive T-rex mother. It's still corny and prone to sappiness, but the animation is better than ever. > FULL REVIEW

Hollywood Je T'Aime
dir Jason Bushman, 09/US ***
This feature feels almost like a sequel to Bushman's short Serene Hunter, which also starred the almost unbearably charming Eric Debets as a gay Parisian with relationship problems. In this film, a bad breakup sends his character to Los Angeles to start his life over - and in unnaturally quick succession he finds a place to live, a circle of friends and a great job. But part of the point is that, even if everything goes well and you're in the sunniest place on earth, you still have to deal with your personal baggage. The film is likeable and often very funny, but also recognises the dark side of things.

Cold Souls
dir Sophie Barthes, 09/US ****
Paul Giamatti plays an amusing version of himself in this surreal, Charlie Kaufman-esque comedy thriller about a middle-aged actor who puts his soul in storage so he can concentrate on playing Uncle Vanya. Yes, he feels a liberating lightness, but his talent disappears and his relationship with his wife (Emily Watson) is badly strained. But there's a nasty wrinkle when he tries to get his soul back, and he gets intangled with a gang of Russian soul traffikers. Witty and inventive (writer-director Barthes says the script was based on a dream), the film gives Giamatti one of his best roles ever. And beyond the riveting plot, it cleverly addresses issues of identity and humanity.

dir Cherian Dabis, 09/Canada *****
This insightful immigration drama is packed with fantastic characters and razor sharp observations. It's the story of a mother and son who emigrate from Palestine to Chicago to live with her sister (the fabulous Hiam Abbas) and family. and nothing goes as expected. Set in March 2003, the film examines American attitudes toward Arabs in a fresh, provocative way that really catches our attention. Even when the plot takes some slightly obvious turns, the characters are so vivid that we are always fully engaged with them.

Paper Heart
dir Nicholas Jasenovec, 09/US ****
This is such a sharply inventive mock-doc that it can't help but win us over. Yes, it's quirky and goofy, but it also has some interesting things to say about love and relationships. At the centre is comedian Charlyne Yi, who sets out to examine the reasons why she's incapable of falling in love by interviewing people all across the country. In the process of making the film, she meets actor Michael Cera and the two start a tentative relationship, which the filmakers within the film think will make a perfect counterpoint to her doc. The result is sweet and hilarious, and extremely well played by the cast.

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