Category Archives: edfilmfest

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013: Preview

Eiff2013

It’s less than two weeks to go until the start of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013. Hopefully by now you’ve managed to get your hands on a programme and have started thinking about what you want to go and see.

If not, one of this year’s addition is a very well put together app I’d recommend downloading right now. Here you’ll get access to the whole programme at your finger tips, as well as being able “star” the ones you like the look of before you decide to order tickets (which unfortunately you cannot do via the app as yet).

What’s New?

The first thing to note when going through the programme is that director Chris Fujiwara seems determined to continue the good work he started in 2012. As such the only changes are minor: a return to the audience awards and multi-buy ticket deals, and an abandoning of outdoor screenings and Cameo Cinema were the only real things I could spot in terms of the logistics of the festival. In other words Fujiwara is relying upon the strength of the the films he has chosen rather than any gimmicks to get people along to this year’s fest.

The Tent Pole Titles

Opening the festival this year is Breathe In starring Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones and Amy Ryan amongst others. It sees Pearce play a music teacher who longs for the days when he used to be a starving artist. When his family hosts a UK exchange student (Jones) he falls for her as she brings out a side to his personality he had all but given up on.

Monster’s University continues EIFF’s long standing relationship with Pixar, and will give festival goers a chance to see the much anticipated prequel to Monster’s Inc a month before the rest of the UK. It tells the story of Mike and Sulley’s days at college where their differing methods of scaring make them instant frenemies.

Finally the festival closes with Not Another Happy Ending, a Scottish film starring Karen Gillan (Doctor Who‘s Amy Pond) as Jane, a young Glaswegian author. It sees Jane embark upon ‘that difficult second novel’. Difficult because according to her publisher, Tom, she is “too happy”. So Tom decides to secretly try and make Jane’s life worse as a drastic way to get her unblocked.

(Warning! This trailer seems to show the whole film:)

The Strands

Alongside the normal strands showcasing directors, American/British films, documentaries and horror films come two unique to 2013.

Focus on Sweden and Focus on Korea showcase around half a dozen new films from each of these respective countries.

The Swedish content is mainly dark in its subject matter from Call Girl to Sanctuary to Belleville Baby. Roland Hassell, however, seems to poke fun at the Swede’s love of noir crime drama as a retired detective tries to solve the assassination of their Prime Minister in the 1980s, using a terrible televisual re-enactment as his primary source of evidence.

The Korean strand shows the country’s love for conspiracy thrillers (think Oldboy). The Berlin File, and Pluto fitting snugly into this category. The other films however, seem to have more of a focus on unwrapping Korea’s past. Jiseul covers the Korean War in 1948, National Security depicts the torture of a pro-democracy prisoner in 1985, and Virgin Forest is a more personal tale of two differing perspectives on a family’s history.

Best of the Rest

Other films that will surely catch the eye of most attendees at this year’s festival include Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, The East starring Ellen Page, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks and Magic Magic starring Juno Temple.

Of course with over 150 films/events to see at the festival there’s plenty more to discover. Please do let me know what you’re looking forward to in the comments below.

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EIFF Round-Up: Part Two – Killer Joe, Young Dudes and NFA

Part Two of my Edinburgh International Film Festival Round-Up sees films centering on a KFC-loving hitman, an apocalypse, and homelessness respectively.

Killer Joe

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Opening this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival was Killer Joe, a controversial film about a family is desperate need of just about everything.

Chris (Emile Hirsch), the son, is in desperate need of cash, he owes a local drug lord a lot of money. He finds out his estranged alcoholic mother has a life insurance policy for $50,000, so approaches his father (Thomas Haden Church) to concoct a plan to kill off the mother and get the money. Rather than carrying out the deal themselves, they decide to hire Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a police officer with a side business in killing.

The only problem is they don’t have the $25,000 Joe needs to carry out the deed, however Joe agrees to take Chris’ other-wordly sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as ‘collateral’ until the family gets their cash.

As the description suggests this is a black comedy at its very blackest. It is clearly not a film interested in the morality of the characters (since aside from Chris and perhaps Dottie) they have none. Instead, it seems more interested in the deranged situations such amoral characters can find themselves in.

Each actor is perfectly cast and carries out their role to perfection. In particular Juno Temple adds layers to a young, innocent character trying to find her identity in an environment no young person should be near.

In many ways, however, Killer Joe felt a bit pointless. Unless you’re a fan of this blacker than black humour, there’s not much in terms of character development, story or theme to chew on.

It reminds me of the final scene of Burn After Reading in which J.K. Simmons’ CIA character muses on the movie’s events by saying, “What did we learn?” and failing to answer the question goes onto say, “I guess we learned not to do it again.”

Likewise with Killer Joe it’s a film that actively avoids analysis and instead opts for a series of apparently pointless events. In short, not my kind of film.

Young Dudes

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Heralding from Taiwan, Young Dudes was probably the most disappointing of the films I saw at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.

It concerns two young men who believe the apocalypse is coming, and so start a kind of online cult to try and build an ark that will save them from the end of the world. They soon enlist the help of an Eastern European female, and the three do a series of web shows and publicity stunts which capture the imagination of the world’s media. However, it’s not long before one of them gets abducted by beings out of this world.

The problem with Young Dudes was that while the concept and humour the piece was engaging, its characters and their relationships were not. It’s a film which seems interested in the internet and popular culture, but what it’s actually saying about these things is unclear.

In fact most of the film seems purposefully unclear. As such, I was just left pondering what exactly I had seen and why it was important. Young Dudes is certainly an imaginative film, but also one lacking in the traditional story-telling techniques to allow me to engage with its themes.

NFA

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NFA, on the other hand is a film with a clear theme and narrative. Homelessness is on the agenda, as the film’s main character, Adam (Patrick Baladi) finds himself in a hostel with no recollection of how he got there.

Things get stranger as he tries to make his way back to his house only to discover its abandoned and the police claim there is no record of his residence there. Could it be Adam, articulate and thoroughly middle class really is homeless?

The film is mainly well done, and is carried through to its conclusion without the type of over-the-top ridiculous twist that could have blighted such a story. As it zips along, it deals well with the real issues those who find themselves homeless in Britain must come across.

Nevertheless, once you realise what has happened to Adam and consider the events of the film post-credits, it starts to unravel a bit. As such, the main problem with the film is that in choosing a middle class character to be the film’s homeless lead, it seems like there’s too many hoops it has to jump through to make it work.

Rainbow, the film’s director, used to work in a homeless shelter, and said he came up with the idea for the film after hearing so many answer the question “How did you end up homeless?” with “I don’t know.”

I must say, I would have rather heard a more realistic story based on all the people he met, than the contrived version we ended up getting, presumably to make middle class audiences more engaged with the film’s theme.

It seems ironic that in trying to get middle class people to engage with the issues of the film, Rainbow felt it necessary to put them at the heart of the movie rather than the people it actually effects.

EIFF Round-Up: Part One – Exit Elena, One. Two. One & Berberian Sound Studio

The Edinburgh International Film Festival ended around a week ago, so here’s my first of three round-ups detailing one American, one Iranian, and one British film respectively.

Exit Elena

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Shot in 4:3, there’s something incredibly intimate and also unnerving about Exit Elena, the story of a young live-in carer made to feel a little too welcome by Cindy, the matriarch of the house.

Elena is tasked with looking after Gert, Cindy’s almost immobile mother. However, her difficulty comes not in trying to do her duties as a nurse, but in trying to get the balance right between professionalism and familiarity in her first-ever job as a carer.

The film is small on budget, scale and location, giving a sense of claustrophobia that is both very funny and very cringe-inducing. With a sense of humour that will be familiar to fans of The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm, this is a film which loves to grasp the truth of situations. The results are often funny but also insightful.

If there’s a complaint to be made about Exit Elena, it’s almost that its situation is so well-defined, it could just as well be a documentary as a drama. In the Q&A after the film we learned that all the characters play versions of themselves. Cindy, for example, is the director’s mother. As such you could argue this is a film high on truth, but low on imagination.

One. Two. One.

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The middle of Hunger sees a long dialogue between the films protagonist, Bobby Sands and a priest. In a film dominated by silence, it’s an incredibly affective scene, not least because the ten minute scene was shot without cuts. This gives it a sense of urgency and reality as both characters are unable to escape the difficult questions they ask of each other.

One.Two. One is a whole film of such conversations. Set in Iran, it sees its main characters coping with the aftermath of an attack by an ex-lover a woman which has left her with scars over her face.

Each scene lasts around ten minutes and does not contain any cuts. It sees characters in a variety of every-day locations (a bank, beauty salon, cafe, etc.) mainly conversing about the aftermath of the attack.

The unusual nature of the film takes a while to get used to. However, once I got in tune with its rhythm I found it very rewarding. Everything about the film is incredibly carefully constructed, meaning a look or a word can carry a lot of emotional depth.

The film certainly won’t be for everyone, it is possibly more on the side of experimental than wholly engaging. Nevertheless, for those who can get into its ebb and flow quickly, the performances, dialogue and unique use of long takes offer a creative and insightful cinematic experience.

Berberian Sound Studio

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Dun dun. Dun dun. Dun dun dun dun dun dun…..

Sound matters. Especially when it comes to horror movies. Imagine Jaws without the music. It would just be a camera moving gracefully through water. In many ways Berberian Sound Studio is a celebration of sound. Especially when it comes to horror movies. Italian horror movies to be precise.

Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a British foley artist who has been got a job on his first horror movie. More used to making British nature documentaries, there’s a clash of cultures as his unfussy British ways collide with the Italian passion and flair of his colleagues.

The film gives an insightful and funny insight into the world of post-production sound. Vegetables, high heels and frying pans are used to make all sorts of weird and wonderful noises. None quite so weird and wonderful, however, as those who must impersonate goblins and witches. Unsurprisingly the unusual effects produced provide some of the most hilarious moments in the film. Especially as no shots from the film-within-a-film are ever shown. Director , Peter Strickland, knowing the audience’s imagination is far more powerful than whatever grotesque image he could have shot to match each sound.

As the film nears its conclusion the often claustrophobic film starts to get stranger and stranger. Gilderoy starts to find it harder to keep it together as he finds himself listening to effects in his flat one moment, then without realising it finding himself at work the next. The sound of the film remains the same as before, but the images that accompany it start to seem out of place.

The ending of the film is unusual enough to be quite jarring and a little unsatisfying. Nevertheless, the film is brave, unique and funny enough up to this point for it not to matter too much. For lovers of film, sound and Italian horror in particular it is surely a must-see.

EIFF 2012: Two for animal lovers: Rent-a-Cat & The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus

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Rent-a-cat is a Japanese film about a young woman (Sayoko) who is a lover of felines. She has so many felines she decides to lend them to lonely strangers, “to fill the hole in their hearts”.

Like the protagonists in Amelie and Clueless/Emma, we soon find out that although Sayoko loves helping people, she needs help just as much as her lonely customers. For example, she displays many of her life goals on her wall, the most important of which is that she gets married by the end of the year.

The film has a very light-hearted tone, key moments are repeated through out the film, such as the customer’s shock as how cheap the rent-a-cat service is, and Sayoko’s apparently far-fetched alternative methods of income (ranging from fortune telling to stockbroking). Another highlight is Sayoko’s ugly neighbour who constantly derides her with ridiculous insults.

The film’s nature relies heavily on its eccentric characters and premise, and you will probably know within about ten minutes whether this is the type of film you like. It has charm and personality in spades, but does not attempt to bring anything new to the medium of film.

As such, it is the type of movie perfect for a relaxing Sunday afternoon, but perhaps lacking the same level of imagination as similar films like Amelie or Kiki’s Delivery Service.

In summary, Rent-a-Cat is a film a bit like a hot cup of tea: something that will give you a warm glow after you experience it, but not something that will drastically change the course of your life.

The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus poster

The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus is the latest film from Alexander O. Philippe whose The People Versus George Lucas was shown at EIFF two years ago.

Paul, for those of you with the memory of an aquatic sea creature, correctly predicted all seven of Germany’s matches at the World Cup in 2010, and then went on to predict the winner of the final, Spain, giving him a record any sport’s pundit would be bragging about for the rest of their career.

The film is probably more in-depth than a film about a psychic octopus has any right to be. We get interviews the employees of Paul’s aquarium in Oberhausen; his English agent; Spanish world cup winners; bookmakers; and even the late Paul himself (via two “animal communicators”).

Like The People Versus George Lucas, it also features fan videos with a surprising number of songs from a surprising number of countries written in honour of the eight-legged soothsayer.

What Philippe does with this film is to strike a great tone between the bizarreness of the topic and the public’s undeniable obsession with it. So on the one hand we have the animal communicators hilariously contradicting each other about Paul’s message for humankind, and on the other we have an academic talking about famous sea creatures in ancient mythology and how Paul causes us to question just how much we know.

As a result we get a documentary which is very entertaining to watch, but also asks the right questions about why it is we become so obsessed with something we know cannot possibly be true.

In the Q&A after the film Philippe talked about his interest in pop culture and how easily it is often dismissed. Whether it’s Star Wars or psychic animals, it’s great to see filmmakers exploring these areas because trivial as they may be on one level, people’s interest in them is undeniable; and that seems to be what interests Philippe most.

The Life and Times of Paul the Pyschic Octopus doesn’t work quite as well as The People Versus George Lucas for precisely that reason; people just are not as obsessed with it. However in and of itself it is still a highly entertaining, smart and engaging documentary.

EIFF’s Love Stories: What is this Film called Love? & Future My Love

Documentaries come in many shapes and sizes. Most are about biographical, whether that be other people or organisations (like say Grizzly Man; Man on Wire; or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room). Rarely are they about the autobiographical, unless it is an attempt to use their experiences to promote a cause, like Al Gore or Morgan Spurlock.

Two films at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival are the exception to this rule. Both deeply personal and both about love, although in very different ways.

What is this Film Called Love? is Mark Cousins’ latest film after the epic 15-hour The Story of Film: An Odyssey. It is the polar opposite of such a film in scale and ambition. It opens with Cousins explaining he has three days in Mexico City alone, and that he has decided to cut himself off from the world, but record what he is doing on a tiny, mobile-phone sized camera (the same ones he gave to the children in Iraq in My First Movie).

Early on he decides to print off and laminate a picture of Sergei Eisenstein, the Russian director of Battleship Potemkin, and bring it with him as he walks the streets of the most populated city in the Western world.

As he walks along he starts to imagine conversations with the deceased director in his head, he imagines what places Eisenstein must have seen when he shot a film there many years before. He wonders what he would make of things as varied as mobile phones, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the grand cathedrals of Mexico City.

Interspersed with all this are Cousins’ own thoughts as he sees an old woman struggling with her bags; remembers the time a few weeks earlier he stripped naked in the valley of the gods; and sees a fly teetering on the edge of a bridge above some heavy traffic. It’s at this point he quips:

This started out as a film about nothing, now it’s a film about less than nothing, a fly.

This line kind of sums up the film. It’s a film about nothing, or less than nothing. Yet, more simply it’s just living in Mark Cousins’ head for three days, seeing what he sees, walking where he walks, and allowing ourselves to think as he thinks.

A deeply personal film, which despite its self-centredness is never boring. Spending time with Cousins is reminiscent of spending time with Herzog in his documentaries. Both have a way of thinking and expressing themselves quite different to the norm. At times their ideas and expressions sound crazy, yet it’s that intelligent kind of crazy you can’t help but engage with and reflect upon.
What is this Film Called Love? is not an easy-sell, but for those willing to give it time, joining Cousins on his strange and glorious journey of self-discovery should provoke similar strange and glorious thoughts on our own discovery of the self.

The second very personal documentary I saw was Future My Love by Maja Borg. It’s a film which cleverly balances two strands. The first is a poetic message to Borg’s ex, as she tries to come to terms with their separation by revisiting Jacque Fresco, a subject in her previous documentary, Ottica Zero.

Fresco takes up the other strand. He is a ‘futurist’ who believes society is fundamentally broken and instead of dreaming up inventions that make lives better on an individual level, we need to start over and use technology to design a society that works for everyone, not just the fortunate few.

Borg’s choice of subject is certainly interesting. Fresco, now in his nineties, is a passionate, articulate interviewee. And his opinions, while far-fetched do have a certain appeal to them. The problem comes in that Borg seems uninterested in conducting interesting interviews like Herzog or Theroux might, interviews which really get to the heart of their subjects and reveal things only they as interviewers could reveal.

So after thirty minutes, I felt like I got everything Fresco was saying and had to listen to him witter on for another hour about essentially the same thing. Fresco is not the only person Borg interviews, but most of the others have little extra to offer and as such the film meanders more like an art project than a narrative.

The poetic messages Borg narrates to her ex have a little more weight to them. Her reflections on love and the future are honest, reflective and seem to build a lot better than the rest of film. Nevertheless I suspected after thirty minutes of Future My Love I would be offered little new, and for me this proved to be the point.

While its subject-matter is well chosen and there is a lot of thought put into the film, as a documentary I don’t feel Future My Love works; as an art project however, it has merit. But I feel its lack of cohesion and direction overall holds it back from being something much better.

EIFF 2012: Scotsman criticises Mark Cousins appointment as Patron

Mark tildaEIFF

I, like many film fans this year, have loved working through Mark Cousin’s fifteen-hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Something that will surely be known as the definitive guide to film; and clips from which will be used in films classes the world over for many years to come.

As someone who follows Cousins on twitter, it’s been great to hear his thoughts and recommendations on this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. It’s great to have such a well-respected film expert attending my home film festival.

So for me, Mark Cousins appointment as a patron does not come as a shock, in fact given his long-term commitment to the festival, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.

However, if you read this article in the Scotsman, you’d think it was the craziest idea since a movie adaptation of the board game Battleship:

The man behind a revamp of the Edinburgh International Film Festival that led to it being branded a “disaster” and a “debacle” has been made a patron of the rescued event.

Mark Cousins, the writer, film-maker and former director of the festival who led last year’s changes, has replaced Sir Sean Connery as a figurehead in what has been called a shock move.

For those unfamiliar with the events leading up to last year’s ‘disastrous’ film festival. Essentially Edinburgh’s organizers had failed to appoint an artistic director until December 2010.

In the mean time Mark Cousins and Lynda Myles were asked to come up with some creative ideas to ‘relaunch’ the festival in light of having their budgets slashed.

They came up with a blueprint and some ideas were chosen by the festival’s organisers, including guest curators. Most of these guest curators did not turn up, and that element of the festival was very disappointing along with a much poorer selection of films than normal.

However, it should be noted that Cousins had nothing to do with the implementation of his ideas; the films that were selected; or many of the poor choices that were made.

Blaming him for ideas when no one else seemed willing to come forward with them strikes me as the type of desperation normally associated with contestants on The Apprentice.

Also as this article in The Guardian makes clear there were not treated altogether fairly by festival organizers last year, with a lot of confusion regarding their precise role.

In short, the Scotman’s article seems deeply unfair to Cousins, who I am sure many festivals would love to have as their patron. And I’m sure most regular attenders at Edinburgh International Film Festival would join me in congratulating Cousins on his appointment.

Public React to EIFF’s Killer Joe

Last night (Wednesday 20th June) saw the opening of Edinburgh International Film Festival with the gritty black comedy Killer Joe.

A brave and controversial choice for the festival’s opening, it contained scenes of brutal violence and sexual perversion. But what did the public make of the film? Was it all too much to handle? Or did they just set back and enjoy the whole depraved ride? Here’s a summary of their thoughts via Spotify

  1. jutough
    Still puzzling over Killer Joe at @edfilmfest .. sing of a good film? Ken Hay and team did a great job of a memorable opeining night
  2. ChadLDN
    FYI I’ve seen ‘Killer Joe’ & thought it was dull, poorly acted and trying TOOOO hard to be dark & cool.
  3. NinjaWorrier
    #edfilmfest opening night a definite winner. Despite some misgivings re mysogynistic aspects of Killer Joe, it”s masterfully made.
  4. jwoodoliver
    Killer Joe, great choice for EIFF opener, sleazy, dark, disturbing with top notch performances from McConaughey and Juno Temple. Go see it!
  5. martinjsmith
    Being told endless times before the screening that Killer Joe is a comedy was a bad sign. Lame, artless misogyny #edfilmfest
  6. davidlloydreid
    Killer Joe. Interesting. Violent. Disturbing. Surprising. A “brave” choice to open. ChrisJcanpullitoff
  7. Scojo83
    Been to the premiere of Killer Joe with @fee_jackson. I really enjoyed it, but it definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste.
  8. Zaleary
    Killer Joe occupied the space between hilarious and sadistic, boldly shouting that sex and violence aren’t just for cheap entertainment.
  9. atecoats
    Been to Edinburgh premier of Killer Joe. A bit like Coen bros films with bumbling amateur criminals. Very funny. Great!
  10. quiettrickster
    Killer Joe: Crikey. Manages to be both deeply unpleasant and highly entertaining. Doesn’t give you – or the plot – time to breathe. #eiff
  11. Beathhigh
    ‘Killer Joe’: claustrophobic; mind-blowing performances; great sets; wonderful direction and camerawork. Hell is other people….