Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Critical Week: Feel the love

We saw three big Hollywod movies this week. Larry Crowne attempts to capture the star wattage of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, but is too squishy to really come alive. Transformers: Dark of the Moon tries to return to the more relaxed narrative of the first film in the series, but is still overwhelmed by metal-on-metal carnage. And Cars 2 follows up Pixar's strangest film with a spy-adventure sequel.

More anticipated were two big Cannes movies: Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life won the Palme d'Or, and you can see why - it's a bold, intensely personal exploration of existence itself with gorgeous production values and terrific performances. Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In is a ripping Hitchcock-style thriller starring Antonio Banderas as a morally compromised plastic surgeon.

Smaller, but also acclaimed, films included David Mackenzie's enjoyable Scottish music festival rom-com You Instead, the superbly unsettling Scottish horror-thriller A Lonely Place to Die, the wonderfully complex Japanese epic drama Villain and the Mediterranean island horror-thriller Siren.

Coming up this week are catch-up screenings of JJ Abrams' Spielbergesque thriller Super 8, Robert Redford's The Conspirator, Tilda Swinton in the Cannes favourite We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Kristen Scott Thomas in the French drama Sarah's Key. We also have the animated romp Horrid Henry, the urban violence doc The Interrupters and the natural realm doc One Life.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

EIFF Day 10: A royal send-off

Well, the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival wraps up this weekend with the UK premiere of The Lion King in 3D - an odd finale to a rather odd festival. The emphasis this year was on events, with a range of talks, panel discussions and thematic sessions exploring a variety of films and filmmaking issues. After a very low key first week, there seem to have been more parties and drinks receptions during the second week (clearly I picked the wrong week to be there!); after all, it's the mingling with filmmakers that makes a festival feel festive. The long-standing awards were scrapped this year (except for a short film competition), but at least they have continued the traditional Best of the Fest screenings on Sunday. My personal favourites are: Calvet, Arrietty, Shut Up Little Man, Tomboy, The Guard, Project Nim and TrollHunter. Full reviews of all the films I saw should be on the site over the next week or so. And here are are some final highlights from this weekend...

A Better Life
dir Chris Weitz; with Demian Bichir, Jose Julian 11/US ***
This low-key but extremely emotional drama is packed with important themes. And it knows it. While the story and characters are hugely involving, the script falters by trying to touch on every aspect of the situation... FULL REVIEW >>

King of Devil's Island
dir Marius Holst; with Benjamin Helstad, Trond Nilssen 10/Nor ****
Based on a true story, this finely made film recounts the events with raw honesty and an attention to character detail that continually draws us in. It's set in 1915 at Bastoy boy's prison on an island in Norway, where young men are kept in line by the strict rules of the governor (a cliche-busting Stellan Skarsgard). At the centre is new boy Erling (Helstad), whose determination to escape and natural leadership skills threaten the power structure and encourage the other boys to rebel along with him. Clearly an uprising is on the cards, and as the tension grows, the filmmakers cleverly put us right in the middle of the situation, using tightly wound dialog and skilful cinematography, production design and music. It meanders a bit in the second half, and could have done with a bit of story-shaping, but it comes together for a powerfully gripping finale.

The Lion King
dir Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff; voices Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones 94/US ****
This is indeed a timeless classic, full of excitement, humour, witty asides and memorable characters. Yet there is a strangely awkward relationship between the exceptionally inventive animation and the compelling, involving story. The problem is that the animals are just far too humanized--transposing Western values and society onto the African animal kingdom while pretending to respect nature... FULL REVIEW >> (of the 2002 Imax re-release)

Friday, 24 June 2011

EIFF Day 9: Strippers and trolls

The 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival heads into its final days this weekend, and the debates will start about whether this total revamping was a success and what should be done for next year. Meanwhile, I'm following everything here in London. And yesterday I got the chance to meet Kim Cattrall, who gives a superb image-shattering performance as a has-been stripper in EIFF film Meet Monica Velour (below). I'll have that interview up at the website in the next week or so. Meanwhile, here are a couple of highlights from the festival today...

Meet Monica Velour
dir Keith Bearden; with Dustin Ingram, Kim Cattrall 10/US ***
There's a scruffy, honest charm to this film that keeps us involved, even though the rough edges are ultimately worn down by what seems like an over-developed script. But a strong central performance wins us over... FULL REVIEW >>  

dir Andre Ovredal; with Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud 10/Nor ****
With its found-footage premise, this film feels like a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, but it's actually far more original than either as it playfully delves into Norwegian mythology for a riotous romp into troll territory. The superb camerawork is presented as a team of students chasing down a notorious poacher (Jespersen), who turns out to be part of a top secret government agency that's maintaining the country's troll population and covering up their existence. Extremely inventive special effects and a combination of humour and exhilarating terror combine to keep us thoroughly entertained. And the way it reinterprets everyday events and settings in terms of the troll population is hilariously clever. The only complaint is the set-up: surely it would have been much more effective to present this as an underground student film about a government conspiracy rather than use a tired "this anonymous video footage was discovered" disclaimer.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

EIFF Day 8: On your bike!

Today's big event at the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival is a bike-powered cinema night, at which audience members will get the chance to ride a bicycle that powers the projection of the classic animation Belleville Rendez-vous, which of course features a plot about a cyclist kidnapped to power a film. It's a genius idea for a cash-strapped, environmentally conscious film festival, especially one that has an ongoing relationship with this film's director Sylvain Chomet. Here are some other highlights today...

Shut Up Little Man!
dir Matthew Bate; with Mitch Deprey, Eddie Guerriero 11/Aus ****
Documenting both an outrageously funny-tragic story and a surprising pop-culture phenomenon, this film not only contains a hugely involving narrative, but it also astutely explores issues of voyeurism and exploitation. It starts in 1987 when Deprey and Guerriero move from Wisconsin to a small flat in San Francisco, and soon their days and nights are flooded with profane rants coming from next door. They decide to record the arguments in cast the police need them, but over the next year the madness becomes compelling. And by sharing the cassettes with their friends, they quickly spread all over the world, becoming a cult hit and sparking comic books, song, stage plays and film deals. But the question remains as to who actually owns the material, so they set out trying to find the notorious Pete, Ray and Tony whose voices fill the painfully hilarious bile-filled recordings. Not only is the subject matter fascinating, but the characters on-screen are terrifically entertaining, and director Bate assembles it all with a gleeful sense of how the absurd arguments are grounded in an even more outrageous reality.

By Day and By Night
dir Alejandro Molina; with Sandra Echeverria, Manuel Balbi 10/Mex ****
This bizarre Mexican drama-thriller will probably polarise opinions, since it takes such a low-key approach to a big, apocalyptic story. Set in the distant future, when the population of Mexico City has become unmanageable, a scientist has come up with an enzyme that he implants into the entire population, putting them on 12-hour life cycles, either day or night. The story centres on a day-living woman (Echeverria) desperately seeking her lost daughter, who we learn has been taken in by a young doctor (Balbi) on the night cycle. So when they finally get together, she is awake when her daughter and the doctor are asleep, and vice versa. This makes falling in love and escaping the domed city rather a lot more complicated. The clever story, eerily subdued performances and beautifully designed sets make this film hypnotically entertaining to watch. Although since the whole movie looks like it's in slow motion, it will test the patience of some viewers.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

EIFF Day 7: Get the picture

As the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival enters its final few days, journalists are picking through lessons that need to be learned by the organisers, who have made some fundamental mistakes with this year's drastic revamping of Europe's oldest film festival. Perhaps the move away from August's much larger Edinburgh Festival (which includes theatre, comedy, books and more) has turned out to be a mistake, as has this year's emphasis on lower-quality films from new filmmakers and star-free panel discussion events, which feel badly unattended without big movies or celebrities to attract an audience. Clearly they need to hire an artistic director, which they failed to do after the departure of Hannah McGill last year. Sight and Sound editor Nick James summed it up nicely to The Guardian: "To divorce the film festival from the rest of the Edinburgh festivals is to miss the point. It should then be underpinned by a love of world cinema – not just promoting young British talent. What it needs to do is get back in touch with cinephilia."

Whatever happens, there are still five more days of this year's festival. Here are some of today's highlights...

The Bang Bang Club
dir Steven Silver; with Ryan Phillippe, Taylor Kitsch 10/SA ***
The true story of four combat photographers covering the violence in early-90s South Africa, this film is packed with moments that take the breath away. Not only are the action scenes heart-racingly tense, but it's fascinating to watch the cast and crew recreate the conditions in which several unforgettable images were shot (including two Pulitzer-winning photos). It's also great fun to watch these four guys (played by the excellent Phillippe, Kitsch, Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld) develop a sense of trust between them as they deal with the volatile political situation leading up to South Africa's first free elections. On the other hand, the filmmakers also feel the need to add some softer material, perhaps in an attempt to lighten the mood with romance, humour and melodrama, but this only undermines the power of the true story. And it also weakens the otherwise sharp and observant filmmaking.

The Caller
dir Matthew Parkhill; with Rachelle Lefevre, Stephen Moyer 11/US ***
An intriguing idea fuels this inventive horror film, making it enjoyable watchable all the way through. Although the moment you start thinking about the internal logic, it all falls to pieces. At least the actors all deliver committed performances, and the direction is stylish and very creepy. It centres on Mary (Lefevre), a young woman fleeing a bad marriage and settling into a rather grubby flat. Soon the phone starts ringing, and the cackling woman (Drag Me to Hell villain Lorna Raver) on the other end begins to get extremely threatening. She also claims to be phoning from 1979, which means that she has the ability to cause a bit of chaos in the present day. Moyer is the university professor who tries to calm Mary's increasing paranoia, and of course they end up being more than friends. Director Parkhill shoots the film with prowling camera work that constantly emphasises the characters' isolation and vulnerability, while the set design is a riot of outrageously deep shadows and creepy hallways. But nagging inconsistencies eventually derail the plot.

The Divide
dir Xavier Gens; with Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia 11/Can **
High-energy production values and kinetic physicality keep us involved in the scrappy end-of-the-world thriller. But it isn't long before the plot and characters have nowhere left to go but down to the depths of human depravity. And by the end it's impossible to figure out what the point is. The premise is fairly simple: as New York is bombarded by missiles, nine people hole up in their building's basement - soon reduced to eight when contamination-suited goons enter and take one away then weld the door closed. In their underground prison, these survivors of course start turning on each other. The early leader is the building's maintenance man (Biehn), who has a panic room with a stash of food. But he is usurped by the increasingly power-mad Josh (Ventimiglia), and things unravel rapidly from here. The cast members really go for broke in performances that are more overwrought choreography than actual acting. Although several roles are so thankless than they become corny, in a hideously grisly sort of way. And if the ultimate message is that everyone has the potential for evil within them, we didn't really need this movie to tell us that.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

EIFF Day 6: In the deep end

The 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival continues in Scotland through the week, although I returned to London yesterday. I will however be keeping an eye on things from here, and of course commenting on festival films as they are shown. Here are two films highlights on Tuesday, and then some notes on screenings in London this week...

Jack Goes Boating
dir Philip Seymour Hoffman; with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan 10/US ***
Populated with a bunch of fragile characters, this sweet drama is assembled with skill and sensitivity. It's a clever look at how we struggle to do our best in life and relationships. Although sometimes the drama feels rather too wilfully "normal"... FULL REVIEW >

dir Celine Sciamma; with Zoe Heran, Jeanne Disson 10/Fr ****
With a remarkably naturalistic approach, Sciamma tells this involving and moving story of a 10-year-old girl (Heran) who decides to live as a boy in her new neighbourhood, playing with the boys and even getting a girlfriend. No one suspects the truth, and her loving parents are oblivious to what's going on with their boyish daughter, but her little sister works it out. The film completely avoids melodrama by telling the story from the girl's perspective: this seems like the most natural thing in the world to her, even as she knows her parents won't get it. And when the deception threatens to unravel, we feel her growing fear at what might happen as a result. It's a beautifully made film that's really worth a look.

Meanwhile, back in London I'll be returning to my usual press screening schedule, with a few big titles, including Terence Malick's Palme d'Or winner The Tree of Life, Pedro Almodovar's Cannes entry The Skin I Live In, Tom Hanks' Larry Crowne and the summer's next loud blockbuster, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Smaller films include the doc One Life, the award-winning Japanese drama Villains and Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme.

Monday, 20 June 2011

EIFF Day 5: Man and beast

The 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival will carry on without me this week, as I am returning to London today. With the festival so low-key this year, I felt that staying for the full two weeks was a bit extravagant, but I've seen films showing all through the week, so the blog will march on. And I'll rely on my colleagues to let me know if there's any news to report, as the festival press office hasn't been reporting very much. My main curiosity is about the box office: has their drastically altered programme affected attendance? Hopefully we'll find out. Meanwhile, here are some highlights for Monday...

Project Nim
dir James Marsh; with Stephanie LaForge, Herbert Terrace 11/UK ****
This thoroughly entertaining doc twists and turns as it tells the remarkable story of Nim, a chimpanzee born in a research centre in Oklahoma but raised from just a few days old as a human in New York. It was the 70s, and Nim was the subject of an experiment into whether it was possible to teach a chimp to communicate with humans using sign language. But of course, maintaining the project was tricky, and Nim was moved around through his life - to a rural study centre, back to Oklahoma, to an animal testing lab and to a home for abused horses. The people in his life are fascinating, and they tell their part of Nim's story with humour and honesty that's absolutely riveting. It's also very funny and sometimes quite sad. And filmmaker Marsh (Man on Wire) assembles it with real skill.

dir Craig Viveiros; with John Lynch, Martin Compston 11/UK ***
This dark British prison drama is a bit too overwrought to keep us engaged right to the end. Without much subtlety, it tells an inflammatory, somewhat contrived story of guilt and redemption. But the actors make it worth seeing... FULL REVIEW >>

The Last Circus
dir Alex de la Iglesia; with Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre 10/Sp ***
This almost outrageously lurid Spanish drama-thriller takes its characters to the brink of insanity and then pushes them off. It's about a sad clown Javier (Areces) whose life has been a series of tragedies and insults. But he has a good job with a travelling circus, working for the boss, the happy clown (de la Torre), while trying not to lust after his sexy aerialist wife. But things go badly, so Javier's innate sense of revenge kicks in. Spanning several decades of Franco's rule (and including one hilariously outrageous scene in which he appears), the film has such a richly textured look to it that we are unable to look away even when things get very grisly. Not everything about the story works, and it spirals out of control in the final act, but it's so audacious that we can't help but be gripped.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

EIFF Day 4: Past, present, future

The 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival hosted the premiere of David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense last night, with a starry list of guests including the filmmaker and the reunited Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner. Then continued on into the night at the festival's annual ceilidh. Meanwhile, the stripped-down festival continues to feel a little underwhelming. Despite some very strong films, the lack of a dynamic festival atmosphere makes it more like film school than a party. Here are some highlights today...

Page Eight
dir David Hare; with Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz 11/UK ***
For his debut as a film director, writer Hare chooses a low-key political thriller based on recent headlines about secret prisons and torture - although the point here is who knew about them. Nighy is terrific as usual as an intelligence agent who spots a face on page 8 of a report that has the potential to topple the government, and what follows is a tense series of situations in which he tries to come out of this alive. The superb cast includes Weisz, Michael Gambon, Judy Davis and Ralph Fiennes, and the plot is intriguing enough to hold our interest as events twist and turn. It's a little preachy at times, and also never really gathers a full head of steam. But the story is enjoyable and very pointed, the characters engaging and the actors a joy to watch.

dir Niall MacCormick; with Jessica Brown Findlay, Felicity Jones 10/UK ****
This British coming-of-age comedy-drama is thoroughly enjoyable even though it never quite figures out whose story it's telling. Essentially, it's about a 17-year-old (Jones) whose life as a promising, serious student is shaken by her constantly rowing parents (Sebastian Koch and Julia Ormond) and the wild-child antics of her new best friend Emilia (Findlay). Although by the end, the film is actually more about Emilia's affect on Beth's family. This lack of focus doesn't undermine the film's entertaining dialog and performances, although it keeps us from getting emotionally involved. But the central theme, about not letting our past interfere with our future, gets us thinking.

dir Baldvin Z; with Atli Oskar Fjalarson, Hreindis Ylva Gardarsdottir Holm 10/Ice
It's obvious why this has been called the Icelandic Skins: it's about a group of 16-year-old friends exploring their independence. As they grapple with alcohol and sexuality, they are also discovering that they have a responsibility for each other. Meanwhile, the adults in their lives are panicking, invasive, nagging and useless. Or worse. Yes, it's all a bit overstated, trying too hard to be young and cool. But there are several wonderful scenes along the way, and a real sense of the relationships between the characters. The strongest strand runs right through the whole film, as Gabriel (Fjalarson) grapples with his own sexuality in a remarkably honest way while also getting involved in what his friends are going through. Events sometimes boil over into melodrama, but it's always engaging and sometimes quite emotionally resonant.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

EIFF Day 3: Around the world

Rain arrived at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival today. We've had a gorgeously sunny week, and this is more typical weather for the festival, frankly. Much better for sitting in a warm cinema with a huge cup of coffee (bigger by the day to make up for decreasing hours of sleep) while travelling the globe on film. Here are some highlights from the festival today...

Perfect Sense
dir David Mackenzie; with Ewan McGregor, Eva Green 10/UK **
This high-concept thriller starts very well, as a mysterious illness sweeps the world causing people to experience horrible grief before losing their sense of smell. Gorgeously sensual cinematography combines with terrific acting (McGregor plays a Glasgow chef, which adds a superb wrinkle). And then we realise that Danish screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson has written himself into a corner: the story and characters have nowhere to go beyond bleak acceptance of the inevitable. While the internal logic of the premise and the structure of the central romance simply don't work, no matter how excellent the cast is and how clever Mackenzie is at wringing out tension and emotion. It just sits there on screen looking pretty, heaving nowhere we want to go.

dir Hiromasa Yonebayashi; voices Mirai Shida, Ryunosuke Kamiki 10/Jpn ****
With its usual mixture of breathtaking artistry and involving storytelling, Studio Ghibli adapts the classic children's novel The Borrowers, creating a beautiful film with something to say to all audiences. The story of two young people, a sickly boy and a tiny girl who lives in the walls of his house, is hugely involving, capturing a lovely sense of the relationship between them as well as each one's personal struggles. In addition, each scene is packed with witty touches that keep us laughing, from the crazed housekeeper to the fat cat, plus moments of raw emotion and pulse-racing tension. And visually, it's simply stunning, with a marvellous sense of light and texture, plus a vivid 3D effect without needing to actually use 3D or those silly specs.

dir Dominic Allan; with Jean Marc Calvet 11/UK *****
One of the most involving documentaries you'll ever see, this film follows the painter Calvet as he narrates his life story, retracing his steps from France to Miami to Costa Rica and eventually Nicaragua, with a sideroad to New York and a return to France to answer some big questions from his past. Along the way, we relive the events of his life through his offhanded humour, raw emotion and startling willingness to openly share even the most horrific details as he abandoned his family to work for a gangster and ended up as a drug-addicted nightclub owner whose near-death sparked a previously unseen gift for painting. It's an all-consuming film that's impossible to forget, and Calvet emerges as one of the most likeable, inspiring movie characters we've ever met.

Friday, 17 June 2011

EIFF Day 2: Boys will be boys

The 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival continues in mostly sunny Scotland, with its rather off-beat programme enticing curious filmgoers. Critics are a bit more mixed - there aren't many of us here, and all of us have found some real gems (my best so far is the documentary Calvet) and duds (the disappointing Mackenzie-McGregor reunion Perfect Sense) - both will be reviewed over the next few days, The last of an actual festival atmosphere is also a problem, as the press facilities are pretty basic and there haven't been any starry parties to speak of. So we buckle down to work and watch the films themselves instead. Here are a few of today's highlights...

Bobby Fischer Against the World
dir Liz Garbus; with Bobby Fischer, Henry Kissinger 11/US ****
Strikingly well-assembled, this straightforward doc chronicles the chess champ's life using first-hand reminiscences and a wealth of historical footage. It's surprising, involving and ultimately very moving... FULL REVIEW >>

Our Day Will Come
dir Romain Gavras; with Vincent Cassel, Olivier Bartelmy 10/Fr ***
This outrageous and bizarrely comical thriller asks us to accept one simple fact: life in France is so bad for bullied redheads that they want to escape. And in the case of Patrick and Remy (Cassel and Barthelmy), they'll do a bit of damage before they go. The film is thoroughly gripping, audaciously funny and grotesquely violent as we follow this odd couple - a jaded therapist and a frazzled teen - on a more-than-slightly crazed road trip. It's also very entertaining, mainly because we haven't a clue what kind of mayhem they'll throw themselves into next. Yes, it feels rather made up as it goes along, but it also has a whiff of gonzo genius about it.

Truth About Men
dir Nicolas Arcel; with Thure Lindhardt, Tuva Novotny 10/Den ****
A witty exploration of the creative process, wrapped in a twisty voyage of self-discovery, this film might be a bit gimmicky for some viewers, but it's a terrific festival movie. It centres on Mads (Lindhardt), a screenwriter who is struggling to live up to his early promise. He has also just given up on his long-term relationship, and as he drifts through the following months seeking inspiration and romance, he discovers some important things about himself and the world around him. All of this is filtered through Mads' sharply observant narration, which includes his visions of how he hopes things will go as well as how he wishes he had handled things. It also becomes completely entwined in the movies he has written, which gives this film an added kick through its hilariously knowing look at story structure.

NB. My web host has somehow managed to lock me out of its server and I am now unable to fix or update the Shadows website, perhaps until I get back to London. Meanwhile, this blog will be updated daily.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

EIFF Day 1: All that heaven allows

The 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival kicked off last night with the Irish action comedy The Guard, followed by a somewhat subdued opening night party. The festival is drastically stripped down this year - fewer films and a lot less available for industry and media delegates. Even the film selection is a bit sober, relying on undiscovered gems to build momentum over the next 10 days. There isn't a single high-profile premiere here, but there are some solid mid-range offerings and lots of potential in the smaller and foreign selections. I've seen a couple of excellent films during press screenings over the last three days. Here are comments on a few films from today's programme...

The Guard
dir John Michael McDonagh; with Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle 11/Ire ****
Writer-director McDonagh brings to this film the same blend of black comedy, dark emotion and grisly violence as his brother Martin's gem In Bruges. And it's also another terrific character for Gleeson ... FULL REVIEW >>

Oliver Sherman
dir Ryan Redford; with Garret Dillahunt, Donal Logue 11/Can ****
Quiet and thoughtful, like an emotional and intelligent stage play, this film confines its story to three characters for a darkly involving look at responsibility and the limits of human kindness. Seven years after their tour of duty on the front line, Sherman (Dillahunt) turns up unannounced on the doorstep of his former comrade Franklin (Logue), who generously offers to help. Although his wife (Molly Parker) starts to have doubts. The actors keep the film taut from the start, while the story's warmth and intensity keep us on our toes.

Phase 7
dir Nicolas Goldbart; with Daniel Hendler, Jazmin Stuart 10/Arg ***
Pitch black comedy sets this Argentine thriller apart from the crowd - it's like Rec meets Shaun of the Dead as a small block of flats is quarantined from a global epidemic. But in their isolation, the residents start to turn on each other. What makes it engaging is that the story is told through the eyes of a funny, scruffy young guy with a heavily pregnant, extremely hormonal wife. He doesn't want to get involved in the internal war, but finds it impossible to avoid. The comedy is so dry that it doesn't really make us laugh, although it nicely balances the increasing grisliness right up to the cleverly ironic ending.

Fast Romance
dir Carter Ferguson; with Jo Freer, William Ruane 11/UK *
This Glasgow-set Love Actually wannabe is a multi-strand rom-com made on a shoestring budget by people who clearly don't have much film experience. The direction and editing are jarringly awkward, the acting is far over-the-top and the score is deeply annoying. There is some cute plotting, and a couple of the actors manage to create believable characters amid all the over-directed goofiness. But the central premise (a collection of mini-romances that start at a speed dating night) never actually carries through, And while there are some talented people on-screen and behind the cameras, the real question is how this got into an international film festival. Locals will enjoy seeing their city (and their friends) on film, and that's about it.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Critical week: Doppleganger

In London screening rooms this week, the most memorable image was of Dominic Cooper demonstrating his serious acting chops in The Devil's Double, the violent true story of Latif Yahia's life as a stand-in for the notoriously violent Uday Hussein. Other festival movies on show were: Lars von Trier's evocative Melancholia with Kirsten Dunst, Jodie Foster's offbeat comedy-drama The Beaver with Mel Gibson, Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer in the moving drama Beginners, and Lee Chang-dong's astonishingly beautiful drama Poetry.

We also had Aidan Gillen's reunion with Jamie Thraves for the quirky South London drama Treacle Jr, James Gunn's enjoyably genre-busting superhero drama Super, Dougray Scott in the scruffy British rom-com Love's Kitchen, and the darkly moving Italian period romance Sea Purple.

This week I'm heading to Scotland for the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival, which kicks off Wednesday night with the Irish action-comedy The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle. Of the 17 films already in my EIFF diary, I have David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense, David Hare's Page Eight, James Marsh's Project Nim, and the thriller Trollhunter. Watch for daily festival blogs starting on Thursday, including observations on this year's revamped and stripped-back EIFF.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Critical Week: At world's end

Notorious filmmaker Lars von Trier's latest opus Melancholia screened to London critics this past week in the wake of its controversial but award-winning premiere at Cannes. It's another ambitious, provocative, achingly gorgeous movie that leaves us shaken and unsure whether we love or hate it. Just my kind of film, in other words.

More populist entertainment was had in the relentlessly hilarious Bridesmaids, starring Kristen Wiig, although the relentlessly unfunny Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz wasn't nearly as much fun. The indie film this week was Jamie Thraves' Treacle Jr, a South London comedy-drama that's slightly uneven but will probably be praised like Thraves' The Low Down. The foreign film was David's Birthday, a moving but rather operatic drama from Italy. And the documentary was Born to Be Wild 3D, telling the superb stories of two women who rescue baby animals in breathtaking, razor-sharp Imax.

This coming week sees some more festival films on the screening schedule: Ewan McGregor in Beginners, Mel Gibson in Jodie Foster's The Beaver, a much-acclaimed dual performance from Dominic Cooper in The Devil's Double, James Gunn's comedy Super, and maybe I'll finally find time to catch up on a few screener discs I still need to watch. Next Monday, though, I'm off to Scotland for the drastically revamped 65th Edinburgh Film Festival: watch here for daily blogs and all the dirt. If there is any.