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.

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