Sunday, 29 June 2008

And the winners are...

After the lavish closing night film screening and party for Faintheart last night, Edinburgh celebrated the best of the fest today, presenting its awards at a ceremony hosted by patron Sean Connery (pictured presenting the acting award to Robert Carlyle). And the winners are...

  • Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film: SOMERS TOWN (Shane Meadows)
  • Best Performance in a British Feature Film: ROBERT CARLYLE (Summer)
  • Audience Award: MAN ON WIRE (James Marsh)
  • Best Documentary Award: ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Werner Herzog)
  • New Directors Award: MARIANNA PALKA (Good Dick)
  • Best British Short Film: SON (Daniel Mulloy)
  • European Short Film Award: 2 BIRDS (RĂșnar RĂșnarsson)
  • Scottish Short Documentary Award: CHRISTMAS WITH DAD (Conor McCormack)
  • New British Animation: SPACE TRAVEL ACCORDING TO JOHN (Jamie Stone & Anders Jedenfors)
  • Best British Music Video: HAPPINESS - Goldfrapp (Dougal Wilson)

And finally, here are my 10 best films of the fest:
WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, US)
SOMERS TOWN (Shane Meadows, UK)
OF TIME AND THE CITY (Terence Davies, UK)
THE SONG OF SPARROWS (Majid Majidi, Iran)
GOOD DICK (Marianna Palka, US)
THE VISITOR (Thomas McCarthy, US)
THE BLACK BALLOON (Elissa Down, Australia)
BETTER THINGS (Duane Hopkins, UK)
RED (Trygve Allister Diesen, US)

All of these are reviewed - or will be soon - at Shadows on the Wall. Here's a quick link to the EDINBURGH FILM FEST page, which will eventually link to reviews of all the festival films I've seen. (But I've still got a lot of catching up to do!)

Saturday, 28 June 2008

The rising star

In the week that his star-making Prince Caspian opens in the UK, up-and-coming heartthrob Ben Barnes turned up in Edinburgh to promote his much smaller-budget British comedy Bigga Than Ben, a Borat-style romp with a serious twist in its tale of two Russians trying to rip off London.

And now it's the final day of the festival, with only the awards to hand out tomorrow along with a full day of screenings tomorrow of the films the organisers have flagged up as the best of the fest. I'll be back with a rundown of the winners tomorrow.

Here are two highlights today...

Married Life (Ira Sachs, Can) ***
A terrific cast and a stylish attention to period detail set this quietly intense drama out from the crowd. Chris Cooper plays a man who is desperate to leave his wife (a terrific Patricia Clarkson) for his Grace Kelly-like mistress (Rachel McAdams), and he might even resort to extreme measures. Then his best friend (Pierce Brosnan) decides he wants the mistress for himself. Set in 1949, the film has a slow-burning Hitchcock vibe, although for the serious issues it's tackling, it also feels a bit repressed and slight.

Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, US) *****
This is my pick for the best film of the entire festival. Pixar departs from formula (for the most part) to create another beautifully animated gem of a movie. And this endearing post-apocalyptic romantic adventure never puts a foot wrong... MORE >

Friday, 27 June 2008

Top of the world

Tightrope walker Philippe Petit arrived in Edinburgh yesterday and showed off his balancing skills atop the delegate centre. He's promoting the documentary about him, Man on Wire, which traces his jaw-dropping 1974 stunt to walk on a wire between the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center.

A few highlights today...

Just Another Love Story (Ole Bornedal, Den) ***
This noir thriller from Denmark starts as a quiet study in obsession, sparked by vivid cinematography and editing, as a forensic photographer (Anders W Bertelsen) inadvertently pretends to be the boyfriend of a beautiful girl in a coma. But rather than go down the While You Were Sleeping route, this film drifts more towards Vertigo, and then into pure terror and black irony. It sometimes feels a bit contrived, but is utterly gripping

The Princess of Nebraska (Wayne Wang, US) ***
A lower-budget companion piece to Wang's A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, this is an even more effective drama about immigration and human connections, as a young Chinese student travels from her university in Nebraska to San Francisco, where she encounters friends both old and new over the course of 24 hours. It emerges that she's pregnant and trying to consider her options, and everyone offers very different advice. Lively and energetic, this is a terrific little film, with a few clunky, preachy scenes but a wonderful central performance from Ling Li.

Bigga Than Ben (Halewood, UK) ***
Ben Barnes (aka Prince Caspian) stars in this raucous mock-doc about two Russians (the other is played by Andrei Chadov) who visit London with the intention of making a film to help their countrymen rip off the British system. It starts with Borat-like inventive wackiness, knowingly satirising everything about the city while also creating a series of vivid characters. But when it turns very serious, it stops being quite so engaging. It's a rather drastic shift that the film never quite recovers from. There are some superb themes in here, but once the hilarity ends we kind of lose interest.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Heavy hitter

The big guy himself, Sir Sean Connery, was spotted roaming around the festival delegate centre yesterday - he's not easy to miss. I actually felt a shiver when I heard his voice right behind me, and tried to turn around to gawk at him with a shred of dignity. (Is that possible?) Anyway, he's a patron of the festival and is on hand to give out the awards this weekend.

Soon afterwards, my week in Edinburgh came to an end as I headed back to London by train. I'll be watching the rest of the fest from afar. But I've already seen a number of films that will be showing over the next few days.

Here are some highlights today...

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (Wayne Wang, US) ***
Wang continues his observational approach to filmmaking with this gentle drama about a retired scientist from China who travels to Seattle to visit his daughter, who has made her home in America for the past 12 years. It's an insightful and quietly involving film that touches on some strong issues without ever getting too political about it. Wang's companion film The Princess of Nebraska, which addresses similar themes with a strikingly different cast and setting, is playing tomorrow.

Man on Wire (James Marsh, UK) ****
It may seem like a lot of time has passed, but this documentary is thoroughly gripping as it traces Philippe Petit's legendary stunt to walk a tightrope between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. This well-assembled film is a fascinating combination of heist movie (tracing Petit and crew as they plan and then sneak in to accomplish this remarkable feat) and a historical document about the twin towers, which were unfinished at the time. It also reminds us of how much the world has changed over the past few decades.

The Fall (Tarsem, UK) ***
Filmmaker Tarsem took several years to shoot this film around the world, exploring the most visually stunning settings he could find for a Princess Bride-style tale of a young girl who's told an epic story by a depressed young soldier (the excellent Lee Pace) who feels trapped in his hospital bed. But as we go on, it becomes doubtful that this story will have a happy ending. It's a little rambling and uneven, but it looks absolutely gorgeous.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Getting animated

The legendary Ray Harryhausen (who turns 88 on Sunday) arrived in Edinburgh yesterday, so I siezed on the chance to see his iconic classic Jason and the Argonauts (1963) on the big screen at the gorgeously art-deco Dominion Cinema, which has been lavishly updated with comfy recliners and sofas. The screening was fantastic in several ways, including the appearance by the master himself, who introduced the film with a series of anectotes and witty comments. What was most impressive was how his effects work actually still holds up today - yes, it's a bit jerky and sometimes looks like pasticine in closeup, but it's also just as convincing as any computer-generated-effects movie out there today. And in many ways it's more effective because the human element is so much stronger. Even if much of the film is a bit dated, and sometimes cheesy, the plot itself is superb, with vivid characters and sense of raw, sexy physicality that puts our clunky efforts (see 300) to shame. And the action-effects set pieces still have the ability to get our hearts racing.
Highlights today include...
Dummy (Matthew Thompson, UK) ***
Fascinating and ultimately moving British drama about two teens left alone when their mother dies. The eldest is 18 and thinks he can care for his brother, who has created a dummy of her in her old bedroom. And things get even more complicated as neither seems able to confront the truth about their situation. Beautifully filmed and acted, and pretty wrenching stuff.
The Black Balloon (Elissa Down, Aus) ****
Toni Collete stars in this Aussie drama about a family that moves to a new town and struggles to fit in due to the fact that one of their sons has a combination of autism and attention-deficit. Told from the point of view of the other teens, this is a bright and summery movie that keeps us laughing and sighing, then brings out the emotional resonance in the story.
Eden (Declan Recks, Ire) ****
From Ireland, this warm, gentle drama examines a marriage at the point where everything seems to have turned stale. It's the week before the couple's 10th anniversary and both of them have some serious decisions to make. The film is made with remarkably insight into human behaviour, while capturing the local Irish culture. It's also stunningly well shot.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Bharat Malluri, UK) ****
Frances McDormand and Amy Adams star in this frothy period comedy set in London's lively theatreland, as a mousy housekeeper helps a socialite juggle three boyfriends and make some key decisions - all in 24 hours. There are some strong themes here, but the filmmakers let them settle to the background and concentrate on the comedy and romance - and it somehow works.
Elite Squad (Jose Padilha, Br) ***
Muscly and vicious, this Brazilian drama looks at life in Rio's favelas from the cop's perspective for a change. The moral dilemmas are gripping, but the film takes itself far too seriously to ever connect with us... MORE >
Shiver (Isidro Ortiz, Sp) ***
This effective Spanish thriller centres on a teen who's allergic to light, who moves with his mother to a remote village in a deep valley. Of course, the locals are wary of the newcomers, especially when the boy seems to be present at a series of vicious murders. Essentially this is yet another "there's something evil in the woods!" horror movies, but the filmmakers use the seetting brilliantly to crank up the tension.
Note that my reports from the rest of the festival will come from London, as I'm heading home this afternoon. I'd only ever planned to spend a week here in Edinburgh, and now I need to go south and catch up on my work!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Deep vein thrombosis

I am sure that sitting through five or six films a day can't be good for my legs. To say nothing of my mental health. Yesterday's films were all emotional rollercoasters, reducing me to tears more than once (I blame my general state of exhaustion) and sending my brain spinning for answers to questions I'd never begun to think about. In other words, it was a great day at the cinema! I love movies that make me think. Even if a day full of them leaves me virtually unable to walk.

A nighlight lst night was the Q&A following a screening of Warsaw Dark, Christopher Doyle's latest film as a director (he's pictured here with actress Anna Przybylska and cinematographer Rain Li). The film is a challenging story of political assassination, obsession and control, told with a fractured narrative that leaves us unable to make much sense of it. But it looks gorgeous, and carries an intriguingly emotive punch. The session afterwards was a lot more fun, as Doyle hopped around the stage posing and mugging and cracking jokes. He also gave insightful answers to the questions, and framed the film as a work of art like a painting, sculpture or jazz composition.

Films today include:

Goodnight Irene (Marinou-Blanco, Por) ***
This fascinating film shifts and changes as it goes, from a gentle comedy about two miss-matched neighbours who form a bond to a missing-person drama and finally a road movie about another miss-matched pair of friends. The characters are intriguing and very nicely played, although the film's odd structure leaves us feeling a little cold.

Death Defying Acts (Armstrong, UK) ***
This story from the life of Harry Houdini is engaging and artfully well-directed, and it features another superb performance from Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) as a girl whose mother (Catherine Zeta-Jones) worms her way into the life of the famed musician (Guy Pearce) while he's visiting, yes, Edinburgh. Zeta-Jones and Pearce never really emerge as proper characters, but the film is still thoroughly enjoyable.

Jason and the Argonauts (Chaffey, UK) - rare big-screen presentation of this 1963 classic, as part of a Ray Harryhausen retrospective attended by Harryhausen himself!

Summer (Glennan, UK) - Robert Carlyle stars in this drama about loyalty and loss - comments tomorrow.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Jealousy and obsession rule

There was a definite theme among the films I saw on Sunday here in Edinburgh, as people were consumed with jealousy and obsession. In The Kreutzer Sonata, Danny Huston (pictured with costar Elizabeth Rohm) plays a husband convinced that his wife has bene unfaithful with a violinist (Matthew Yang King) while playing Beethoven's infamous chamber piece. Based on the Tolstoy story, this is a clear companion piece to Huston's Ivansxtc, also directed by Bernard Rose. It's earthy and gripping, filmed in a guerrilla style and relentlessly disturbing. And it includes a terrific scene with Danny and sister Angelica. Huston, Rose, Rohm and King were att at the screening for a very lively Q&A afterwards.

No one was in attendance for Elegy, although director Isabel Coixet had been here a few days back. It's a twisted drama about a professor (Ben Kingsley) who has an obsessive relationship with a student (Penelope Cruz). Jealousy infuses the relationship, from various angles. And while the performances are terrific (including wonderful turns from Dennis Hopper and Patricia Clarkson), the film feels slightly uneven and downbeat, mainly due to Kingsley's slight miscasting. He just never generates any badly needed emotion or sympathy.

Tonight I'll watch Warsaw Dark, directed by famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle. It's been called hypnotic and dreamlike, which could be a good thing. Or not. I'll let you know tomorrow.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Beautiful people

Hollywood actor Enrique Murciano (right) tried to bring a bit of California sunshine to Edinburgh yesterday, wearing trendy shades despite the fact that it was raining buckets outside. He almost pulled it off, too, as for a couple of hours watching his new film Mancora, we are transported to sunny Peru for a road movie that sends a car full of gorgeous people to the eponymous coastal town, where they hook up with all the wrong people, indulge in a bit of local drugtaking and generally wear very little clothing. It's a fascinating film packed with surprisingly adult themes, although it does drag a bit in the final act as we wait for someone, anyone, to snap out of their self-indulgence. Thankfully they do, and the film's sexy, sun-drenched imagery is just what we rain-soaked moviegoers needed.

The rain didn't dampen the photo call for Stone of Destiny, the Scottish heist-caper movie based on a true story. Pictured above: writer-director Charles Martin Smith, Charlie Cox, Robert Carlyle, the real Ian Hamilton (played by Cox in the 1950-set film), Kate Mara and Billy Boyd. Some reviews in Scottish papers have been extremely sniffy. Sure, it's an open-hearted, fairly cheesy romp, but only true cynics could hate it.

Meanwhile, Good Dick turned out to be one of the best films of the festival, although no one seems able to use the title in a sentence without eliciting a giggle. Actor Jason Ritter and writer-director-star Marianna Palka were on hand to chat to the audience. It's an extremely well-written romantic comedy that never plays down to the audience, and packs some serious messages subtly around its oddball but extremely endearing characters.

My late-night screening was the world premiere of Crack Willow, a very dark British film that drifts into surreal David Lynch territory with subliminal cutaways and freakout images. Writer-director Martin Radich looked a bit Lynchian too as he introduced the film, which I think was about the anger and confusion that follows grief - but I can't be too sure. For adventurous filmgoers only.

Today's highlights include...

Better Things (Duane Hopkins, UK) ****
An impressive new voice in British cinema, Hopkins uses seriously inventive camerawork, editing and sound design to examine issues of love and death, with some rather intense scenes of drug addiction as well. It's a powerful, disturbing and very bleak drama.

The Kreutzer Sonata (Bernard Rose, US) - the director reteams with his Ivansxtc star Danny Huston (plus sister Angelica) for a drama about obsession, based on a story by Tolstoy - comments coming tomorrow.

Elegy (Isabelle Coixet, US) - Dennis Hopper, Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson and Peter Sarsgaard star in this university drama based on a Philip Roth novel - comments coming tomorrow.

Paris (Cedric Klapisch, Fr) ***
This multi-strand drama from Paris features strong performances from Romain Duris, Juliette Binoche and Fabrice Luchini (plus a scene-stealing cameo from Karin Viard).

King of Ping Pong (Jens Jonsson, Swe) ***
Intriguing coming-of-age story about an awkward teen who begins to suspect that he may not actually be the son of his adventurer father after all - simply because he and his cool little brother are far too different. Surprising and involving.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Get the party started

Friday was party day in Edinburgh, mainly due to the terrific late-night bash thrown by Optimum Releasing in honour of two films that premiered here last night: Donkey Punch (cast pictured above with director Olly Blackburn, second from right) and A Complete History of My Sexual Failures (I had a rather hilarious chat with director Chris Waitt and his girlfriend Alex, who we see him meet in the film). The casts and filmmakers from both movies were in town for their screenings, the usual press interview process and then the party at The Caves, a gothic underground cavern nightclub. The atmosphere was terrific, and among the minglers were journalists, press officers, festival workers, industry types and lots of actors and filmmakers, including Danny Huston (here with The Kreutzer Sonata) and Shane Meadows and the cast of his new film Somers Town (right). A very good time was had by all.
Films yesterday included Trouble Sleeping, a provocative drama about Muslim asylum seekers in Edinburgh that starts out feeling a little low-budget and clunky, then emerges with real emotional power as it examines a wide variety of issues and allows some of the cast members to dig very deep indeed, most notably Alia Alzougbi as a young mother with a dark secret. She was present at the screening with director Robert Rae, and was presented with an acting award.
Red was another surprise, starting as a gentle drama about a man (the brilliant Brian Cox, who arrives in Edinburgh today) who quietly tries to find a sense of justice when three teens cruelly attack his dog. But it turns into an extremely complex morality play, turning darkly disturbing as well as extremely tense and violent. A very clever film. Director Trygve Allister Diesen (Scottish-Norwegian!) and writer Steve Susco were on hand to talk about it afterwards.
Some highlights today...
Good Dick (Mariana Palka ,US) - black comedy with Jason Ritter - comments tomorrow.
Stone of Destiny (Charles Martin Smith, UK) ****
Straightforward period caper drama, based on the true story of a group of university students in the 1950s who plotted a heist to steal Scotland's Stone of Destiny from its place under the Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey, where it had resided since 1292. There's nothing particularly stylish or inventive about this film, but it's efficient and hugely entertaining.
Slingshot (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines) ***
Gritty and raw handheld drama set in a lively Manila shantytown, where people are forced into a series of dodgy dealings just to survive. And much of their time is spent trying to stay away from the corrupt cops. Lots of characters and action fill the screen, but no one really emerges with a central story - instead, the town itself becomes the star.
The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, US) ****
This gentle and very personal drama is almost disarming in the way it cuts across one of the West's most contentious political issues without ever getting political. And it features a terrific lead performance from Jenkins... MORE >
Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris, US) ****
As opposed to the more politically angled Taxi to the Dark Side, Errol Morris investigates how something like Abu Ghraib could have happened on a human level. The result feels like a terrifying new genre: the horror doc... MORE >
Mancora (Ricardo de Montreuil, Spain) - drama about a lust-filled holiday road trip - comments coming tomorrow.
Crack Willow (Martin Radich, UK) - a moving father-son drama with touches of surreal nightmarishness - comments coming tomorrow.
Mum & Dad (Steven Sheil, UK) ***
Outrageous, deliberately shocking low-budget British horror about a young airport worker who goes home with brother-sister colleagues and is forceably adopted into the family - including ritual scarring, slave labour and a freaky procedure that leaves her unable to scream for help. Entertainingly grisly black comedy that gets even more crazed as it progresses. Although it's definitely a bit too much.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Nostalgia and exhaustion

My first full day here at the Edinburgh Film Fest was a very long one - five films from 9am to after midnight. But it was a great day, and I managed to stay awake not only through all of the films but also until my weekly BBC Five Live film review slot at 1.30am. It probably helped that I walked a total of at least two and a half hours around the city between screenings. Blood circulation always helps, I've found.

The highlight of the day was the screening of Terence Davies' new film Of Time and the City, an impressionistic documentary about his hometown of Liverpool. It's a simple, gorgeous film that mixes various kinds of images with a collage of audio narration, music and clips. And in the end it's more about age and nostalgia - and therefore thoroughly universal. Davies (pictured) was at the screening and gave us a fantastic 45-minute Q&A afterwards. So much personality and passion for his work, even with the obstacles that have kept him from working for the past eight years.

The other highlight, sort of, was a late-night screening of the cheap-o horror comedy Blood Car, shot on no budget at all by filmmaker Alex Orr, who was here to introduce the film and then offered a hyperactive, hysterical Q&A afterwards. The film is so badly made that it boggles the mind - with no sense at all of continuity, but a hilarious storyline (about a vegan who's trying to invent a motor that runs on wheatgrass, but inadvertently creates an engine that needs blood instead). Throw in some hilarious references to the high price of petrol and ubiquitous American federal agents, not to mention gratuitous sex and gore. I have a feeling it will probably become a cult classic.

Also yesterday, I caught Majid Majidi's The Song of Sparrows, a beautiful Iranian drama about a man trying to make ends meet in whatever way he can, and then struggling when he realises he needs to bend his strong moral code to help his family. Bristling with life, elegantly shot and edited and full of vivid characters who are all grappling with internal issues, this is one of my favourite films of the year so far. Not surprising since Majidi's The Colour of Paradise (1999) is one of my favourite films of all time!

Here are some of today's offerings...

Trouble Sleeping (Robert Rae, UK) - drama about a Palestinian woman in London - comments coming tomorrow.

Somers Town (Shane Meadows, UK) *****
After the terrific This Is England Meadows is back with another stunner, a sensitive gem of a film looking at two teens (brilliantly well played by This Is England's Thomas Turgoose and newcomer Piotr Jagiello) as they meet and become friends around London's Kings Cross. It's rather slight plot-wise, but rich in themes and packed with humour and drama as the boys become infatuated with a Polish waitress. Full review coming soon.

The Wackness (Jonathan Levine ,US) ***
There's a nicely gritty tone to this tale of drugs and friendship on the mean streets of New York City. But as the plot and characters lose their believability, the film almost collapses under its pretensions... MORE >

Red (Diesen and McKee, US) - Brian Cox, Tom Sizemore and Amanda Plummer in a smalltown thriller - comments coming tomorrow.

Querelle (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Germany 1982) - part of the Jeanne Moreau retrospective, this incredibly atmospheric drama is based on a Jean Genet story and plays out like a fevered dream of lust and suspense.

Donkey Punch (Olly Blackburn, UK) ***
Fans of gratuitous gore and violence will probably enjoy this grim pseudo-thriller set on the open sea with seven hot young things. But it's not actually scary, suspenseful or unpredictable... MORE >

Thursday, 19 June 2008

A bit of glamour

The 62nd Edinburgh International Film Festival kicked off last night in style, with the world premiere of John Maybury's film The Edge of Love, starring Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller, plus Matthew Rhys (as Welsh poet Dylan Thomas) and Cillian Murphy. Also in attendance were festival patron Sean Connery, filmmaker Terence Davies and actor Danny Huston. Some of today's festival highlights...

Of Time and the City (Terence Davies, UK) - review coming tomorrow.

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, Fr) ****
French filmmaker Assayas examines the changing face of the family in a fragmented world. With vivid characters and a story anyone can identify with, the film is packed with telling and moving observations.... MORE >

Elegy (Isabelle Coixet, US) - review coming soon.

The Song of Sparrows (Majid Majidi, Iran) - review coming tomorrow.

A Complete History of My Sexual Failures (Chris Waitt, UK) ***
With a willingness to make himself look like a complete loser, filmmaker Waitt creates a hilariously entertaining mock-documentary that strangely blurs fact and fiction... MORE >

Before the Rains (Santosh Sivan, India) ***
Sumptuous camera work and strongly internalised acting make this morality play worth seeing as an intriguing examination of a serious culture clash. But it's all slightly underdeveloped... MORE >

Blood Car (Alex Orr, US) - review coming tomorrow.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Heading north

Four hours on a train from London to Edinburgh isn't hugely exciting, especially since the scenery barely changes (see photo) - aside from the quality of the light as we pass through sunshine and cloudiness. But it's so much better than flying - and much faster since I avoid
all airports.

I arrive in Edinburgh in about an hour, just in time for the opening festivities.I have 34 films in my diary over the next week - any wagers on how many of them I skip?

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Preview of coming attractions

Yes, this is the blog home of SHADOWS ON THE WALL, designed to allow for more instant updates on films, festivals and whatnot, especially when I'm on the road and don't have the same access to proper site updates.

As with the regular website, this is designed to be interactive, so let us know what you think, and what you'd like to see here.