Wednesday, 20 June 2012

EIFF 1: The kickoff

The rebooted 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival kicks off tonight with William Friedkin's Killer Joe, starring Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Matthew McConaughey and Thomas Haden Church.

Killer Joe
dir William Friedkin; with Emile Hirsch, Matthew McConaughey 11/US ***.
This film's unhinged plot constantly catches us off guard with its bizarre twists and turns, all of which are grounded on the hapless characters. But despite strong filmmaking, it feels like we're watching a play, especially in the contained final act... FULL REVIEW >

dir Amiel Courtin-Wilson; with Daniel P Jones, Leanne Letch 11/Aus ***
Based on the real experiences of Jones, who plays a version of himself, this intensely personal drama gets under the skin quickly and stays there. The filmmaking is sometimes a bit pretentiously arty, but there's such a gritty earthiness to the film that it's impossible to look away. Jones and Letch have terrific chemistry, bouncing off each other with charming sweetness and hot tempers that could tear each other apart. This is a story about an ex-con drug addict who desperately wants to make his squalid life better, but he's terrified of change. So what chance does he have? Haunting and important, but at times difficult to watch.

dir Luis Prieto; with Richard Coyle, Agyness Deyn 12/UK **
Coyle is superb as a cocky low-life London drug dealer whose life takes a few nasty twists and turns - bad luck combined with risky decisions that squeeze him into a nasty corner. Coyle also has terrific chemistry with his sidekick Bronson Webb, which is strained to he breaking point, drawing out some intriguing subtext that the script seems frightened to explore. And this is a big problem. There's little here that hasn't been said in countless urban London dramas, and the central relationship between Coyle and Deyn never remotely ignites, which kind of leaves us unable to really sympathise with anyone in the story.

The Invader
dir Nicolas Provost; with Issaka Sawadogo, Stefania Rocco 11/Bel ***.
This extremely detailed exploration of one man's odyssey is provocative and riveting, even when it takes some grim turns. It centres on Amadou, an illegal immigrant from somewhere in French-speaking Africa (the charming, intimidating Sawadogo) who ends up in urban Belgium trying to survive. He's clearly a smart, resourceful guy, and everyone he meets likes him, but his status makes getting ahead impossible. After breaking from his traffickers, he meets Agnes (Rocco), and sees her as his greatest hope. But this of course puts a bit too much pressure on her, which leads Amadou into a spiral of dehumanising frustration. The film looks terrific, with a sharp sense of human physicality and glassy modern life. But where the story heads is also very, very dark, which makes he film sometimes feel rather melodramatic.

In non-festival screening news, I also watched: Steve Carell and Keira Knightley in the funny and ultimately moving apocalyptic drama Seeking a Friend for the End of the World; Benjamin Walker in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which we know would be ridiculous before we even saw it; Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche in The Players, a French anthology about infidelity that's riotously funny and surprisingly pointed; another anthology film, 7 Days in Havana, an engaging if rather superficial collection of dramas directed by Gaspar Noe, Elia Suleiman, Benicio Del Toro and others; and the eerie drama Electrick Children, about a 15-year-old from an isolated religious community who is sure she's had an immaculate conception.

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