Thursday, 24 June 2010

EIFF 9: Luck of the draw

Brian Cox faces the press on the red carpet for the UK premiere of his new film The Good Heart, which reunites him with his L.I.E. costar Paul Dano. Yes, it was another sunny day in Edinburgh, and there's definitely a sense that the festival is starting to wind down. Only three days to go, plus the best of the fest on Sunday. If we survive the parties on Friday and Saturday.

It's cooler here today, but still sunny. Here are some more highlights...

The Good Heart
dir Dagur Kari; with Paul Dano, Brian Cox 09/Ice ***
Set in New York but shot largely in Iceland, this dark, gritty drama has moments of earthy humour and raw emotion in its story of a grumpy old bar owner (Cox) whose heart attack spurs him to reach out to a homeless guy (Dano) who might be his only shot at a legacy. It's a remarkably well played film, with gruff intensity and strong characters. And it looks very cool - gritty and dark and full of textures and shadows. But the plot is repetitive and gnawingly predictable.

dir Hetherington & Junger 09/US ****
This doc makes every Hollywood war movie look utterly fake. It's shot completely in the hot zone in Afghanistan, with much of the footage coming from cameras on the soldiers' helmuts. This gives us a ground-level view of the action, and it's thoroughly involving - funny, harrowing, downright terrifying. And along the way, the young guys become fully rounded characters as we follow their 15-month deployment, during which they lose a few colleagues to injury and death, while struggling to make any ground against an enemy that's virtually invisible. We also see their interaction with the local villagers, which is tricky and sometimes very tough. But it's the raw emotions that catch our attention - the highs and lows that change these young men forever.

My Words, My Lies, My Love [Lila, Lila]
dir Alain Gsponer; with Daniel Bruhl, Hannah Herzsprung 09/Ger ***
Bruhl is charming in this slightly uneven German comedy about an unambitious guy who finds an unpublished manuscript in a drawer and passes it off as his own to impress a girl. But she sends it to a publisher, sparking a literary phenomenon - and he's understandably not very comfortable with this fame. Especially when someone claiming to be the real author turns up. The film is warm and engaging but never very inventive, relying on a couple of clunky plot points and loud slapstick where more subtle wit would have worked better. Still, it's entertaining and probably ripe for an American remake.

The Crab
dir Rona Mark; with Guy Whitney, George Stevenson 10/US **
Whitney stars in this film as a man with a deformation that makes his hands look like crab claws. But that's the least of his worries, as it's his abrasive personality that alienates everyone around him. Over the course of this film, he falls for a feisty woman who sees past his hands but ultimately loses patience with his annoying cynicism. The most implausible thing about the film is that he has any friends to begin with - and the filmmaker seems to realise this, as she makes no effort to redeem him. An intriguing movie, but far too bleak a comedy to win over the audience.

A Spanking in Paradise
dir Wayne Thallon; with Andrew Hawley, Simon Weir 10/UK ***
Set in Edinburgh, this loose and very low-budget comedy centres on a young human rights lawler (Hawley) who comes to town to stay with his uncle (Weir) while he waits for his American visa to come through. The hitch is that his uncle runs a brothel under the cover of the Birds of Paradise sauna, and several mini adventures ensue. Lively, offbeat characters make the film thoroughly disarming, as do some extremely silly set pieces. But while it's enjoyably watchable, the film isn't quite as funny as it could have been.

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