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Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008 Overview

30 Jun

Somers Town

With over 130 films shown over two weeks, seeing everything at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival was always going to be on the tricky side. At the end of the fortnight I notched up in the region of twenty-five films, four talks, a handful of industry panels and a number of shorts.

I still managed to miss some things I really wanted to see, such as Man on Wire and Encounters at the End of the World, but time was against me. I also hope that their success might get them a wider release in the next six months so all should not be lost.

Before the memories fade I wanted to get down my top five films for posterity:

1. The Fall

Glorious in both its scale and vision, The Fall was by far my favourite film of the Festival. It’s easy to be blinded by magnificent vistas and high adventure, but it’s the heart of the story, seen in the relationship between Roy and Alexandria, that really captured my imagination. Director Tarsem Singh tells how he nearly abandoned the fantasy sequences when he saw the actors in the hospital scenes and its not hard to see why – the action scenes are almost an added extra.

2. Somers Town

Director Shane Meadows and star Thomas Turgoose team up once again to show the rest of the British film industry what can be done with a low budget, simple premise and fine script. Every moment of its sparse 75-minute running time is a joy to watch, with much of the picture feeling improvised and a bit rough around the edges. The black-and-white adds a slight documentary feel at times, with the closing moments leaving a smile on the face of the hardest viewer.

3. Of Time and the City

Although it took me a while to actually track this one down – I sat through The Order of Myths by mistake, knowing there was a capital ‘O’ in the title somewhere as I read the screening guide a bit too quickly one morning – I was pleased I finally did. Unlike anything else I’ve seen at the cinema, though vaguely reminiscent of those Mitchell and Kenyon BBC4 documentaries, this ode to Liverpool was beautiful in its simplicity. As director Terence Davies narrates, his fruity tones a comforting guide through the years, his memories are heartfelt while the images of a changing city are almost heartbreaking. That’s a lot of heart.

4. Elegy

I’m not going to go into detail with this one as I still don’t really have a mass of good reasons for why I liked it so much. At the time I thought it was going a bit too slowly, Ben Kingsley’s narration a bit too smart, a bit too all-knowing. As it went on and we learnt more about him I warmed to it, with the introduction of Dennis Hopper as his best buddy a huge plus point. Halfway through I realised I didn’t have a clue where it was going and by the end I felt it was verging on being melodramatic but by this point I didn’t really mind. So there you go, I enjoyed it. I’m a bit surprised myself.

5. WALL-E

I feel a bit guilty about this one, as the huge amount of worthy fare on offer elsewhere probably deserves a bigger push than a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster. Still, this was funny, sad, clever, optimistic, epic, small-scale, human, humane and had Michael Crawford in it (sort of). I’ll be reviewing other films from the EIFF on the blog over the next week or so and will try to make up for my guilt there. Until then, if you get a chance to catch WALL-E on the big screen, please do. It’ll make you smile, and after watching the news these days, that’s something worth paying good money for at the multiplex.

EIFF 2008 Day-by-Day: Saturday 28 June

28 Jun

Warsaw Dark

Saturday started for me at 11am with moody Polish political thriller Warsaw Dark. Not my usual sort of start to the weekend, Warsaw was inspired by the death in 2001 of one-time Polish minister for sport, Jacek Debski. Thought to have been ordered by crime bosses, a prostitute called Inka was at the centre of the real-life story, represented here by Anna Przybylska as Ojka.

After the murder of a Polish official while in the company of Olka, the girl is taken hostage by a hitman and humiliated by him. At least I think he was a hitman, and he definitely seemed to be humiliating her. The problem here is that not much was explained, with the viewer left to piece together the mystery (I’m sure there was some mystery in there) while people talk at each other by the banks of a river by police. I’m afraid I don’t have anything positive to say about this one so I’ll move on…

Next up was Cadaver, a new South Korean horror flick that starts off following a group of medical students as they begin working on various dead bodies for research. Dark secrets from the past soon emerge, with gore being kept to something of a minimum. Characterisation is strong and their are fine performances and a often witty script. By no means a classic, Cadaver would be a fine watch on DVD.

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EIFF 2008 Day-by-Day: Friday 27 June

27 Jun

Better Things

Following the disappointment of Faintheart yesterday, I wanted to try and end the week on a more positive note so caught up with a film I’ve been meaning to see since last week, Better Things.

The first feature from short film director Duane Hopkins, Better Things is a look at the love lives of various couples in a rural part of England. Schoolchildren, drug addicts and OAPs all come under the microscope, their complex relationships followed with almost documentary-style detail by Hopkins.

Thought provoking and moving, I’d be hard pressed to say I really enjoyed it, but I’d still recommend it for the fantastic performances of everyone involved and the clever use of sound (and lack of) to convey what’s going on in the mind of the characters’.

In the early afternoon I was lucky enough to interview Tarsem Singh, director of my favourite film of the Festival, The Fall. Enthusiastic and delighted to be promoting something he finished filming over two years ago, the final interview won’t see publication until September time in The Skinny when the guys from Momentum seem to think The Fall will reach UK cinemas. About time too.

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EIFF 2008 Review: WALL-E

27 Jun

WALL-E

What better topic for a new kiddie-friendly Pixar movie than the destruction of Earth’s eco-system through over population and the subsequent evacuation of the planet by the entire human race? Thankfully WALL-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class), the star of the new movie, is on hand to make the subject slightly more palatable.

WALL-E has been abandoned by humanity and his robotic colleagues, doomed to collect and recycle tons of waste that, when successfully removed, will one day lead to the return of the world’s population from space. While on duty one day, WALL-E is interrupted by the appearance of a scouting ship containing a flying droid – EVE – which goes on to search for life on the planet.

Having recently recovered a single flower during his work, WALL-E soon gives EVE the result she needed by handing it to her. Her subsequent return to the scout ship, and subsequently to the mother ship, is heartbreaking for WALL-E who has fallen in love with EVE. Now he must show her that he loves her and somehow get back to Earth…

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EIFF 2008 Day-by-Day: Thursday 26 June

26 Jun

Let the Right One In

As the week rattles along at a fair old speed, tiredness is catching up with me. I maybe mentioned elsewhere about early starts and late nights, and after a fortnight days tend to blur a bit. Last night I went to a UK Film Council hosted celebration of various new short film makers and had a good chat with some of them.

I had a great start to Thursday with a screening of the new Pixar animated movie, Wall-E. Set around 700 years in the future, it introduces us to WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class), a Johnny Five-ish robot whose job it is to clean up after the humans who have left Earth following their success at ruining its ecology.

WALL-E happily tends to his rubbish until new arrival EVE sends puts his wires in a twist and causes him to set out on an epic journey for love across the stars. It’s a great little film and you’ll never look at Frank Spencer in the same way again.

After a spot of lunch at the ever-glamorous Sainsbury’s Extra I went along to a very interesting seminar on the future of mobile video. Some amazing statistics – out of 6 billion or so people on the planet over 3 billion have mobile phones while far less own a PC – make it look like video use on mobile phones could be the Next Big Thing.

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EIFF Day-by-Day: Wednesday 25 June

25 Jun

Ray Harryhausen

With my Death Defying Acts review for the Evening News sent in, today could be spent watching more films and meeting a living legend.

I started off watching Of Time and the City, director Terence Davies love letter to Liverpool. Archive footage of the city and a highly personal commentary from Davies combine to make this a beautiful ode to a city long gone and yet still going strong, time taking its toll on the man and the streets he knew and loved.

Next up was Dreams with Short Teeth, a documentary about science fiction author Harlan Ellison. Renowned for classic episodes of The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and Babylon 5, as well as a slew of novels, Ellison is a dream subject.

Ellison’s outbursts on the world around him are hilarious and always spot on. Perhaps only of interest if you are a fan of the man, I’d certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the creative process.

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EIFF 2008 Review: Fear(s) of the Dark – (Peur(s) du noir)

24 Jun

Fear(s) of the Dark

Recurring nightmares, bloodthirsty hounds and parasitic girlfriends; just some of the elements featured in a piece that boldly fuses the idiomatic vignettes of five multinational animators working under one title: Fear(s) of the Dark.

More or less an ensemble piece unified by a host of similar thematic threads, the film does exactly as it sets out to do by exploring the shiver inducing world waiting to be encountered after the lights go out and our existence is drained of colour.

On the whole, Fear(s) is an engrossing and often unnerving watch as, in a vein not too dissimilar to the sensory bombardment of Artuad’s Theatre of Cruelty, viewers are repeatedly assaulted with flashes of almost ethereal white light and enough screeching to put a horde of banshees to shame.

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