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!