Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008
It’s EIFF time again, and if it seems earlier than usual, that’s because it is. But even though the move to June from Edinburgh’s full-on Festival month of August is a significant one and not without risk, at the end of the day it still boils down to the same thing; tons of new movies and just two weeks in which to see as many of them as possible. So here begins my day-by-day guide, wherein I will attempt to review at least three movies per day, ahead of their public screening on the same day. That’s the challenge I’ve set myself; here goes…
- Wednesday – The Edge of Love
- Thursday – Elegy, Before the Rains and Sleep furiously
- Friday – Donkey Punch, The Wackness and Three Miles North of Molkom
- Saturday – Somers Town and The Visitor
- Sunday- Lemon Tree (Etz Limon) and Summer
- Monday – Reviews of Paris, Stone of Destiny and Better Things
- Tuesday – ‘Married Life’, ‘Love and Other Crimes’ and ‘The Surprise Movie’
- Wednesday – Dummy, Elite Squad and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
- Thursday – The Wave, Sleep Dealer and The Fall
- Friday – Let The Right One In and Man On Wire
- Sunday – WALL-E Review
1. Wednesday – The Edge of Love
Of course I’ve shot myself in the foot straight off, as there’s only one movie to choose from today, the Festival’s glitzy opening film The Edge of Love. Starring Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller, it’s set to be the Festival’s biggest red carpet event in years, but is the movie itself any good?
Well, it’s not bad, but it could really do with being better. The story begins in 1940s London where Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) is earning a living by scripting propaganda films. He runs into old flame Vera (Knightley), who whiles away her time singing in disused Underground stations to keep the nation’s spirits up. Sparks fly between them immediately, but Thomas is married now, to spontaneous Irish firebrand Caitlin (Miller) who, after initial suspicion, decides Vera should be her new bosom buddy. Also hovering in the background is William (Cillian Murphy), a young soldier who clearly has his eyes on Vera, if he could only distract her from Dylan for just one minute!
So the stage is set for this tangled knot of relationships to unwind under the war-torn skies, but director John Maybury (Love Is The Devil) doesn’t do a very good job of telling the story. He has a keen eye for striking images – Knightley has never looked more beautiful on film – but can’t bring the story into focus, leaving us with a film that is more coherent visually than narratively. Dylan Thomas is a central figure but, despite a good performance by Rhys, Thomas’s character is never clearly defined; he is more a plot device, useful to this film for provoking certain actions by Caitlin, Vera and William. The film’s conclusion suggests that its main focus has been the friendship between the two women all along, but even though it tries to convince us of this by the unwise insertion of ‘home movie’ footage from happier times, it doesn’t quite ring true.
One of the film’s most effective moments is the pivotal scene between Dylan and Vera, where she ultimately gives in to his advances. Leading up to the moment he is begging her to “let me love you”, to which she finally replies “alright then. Love me”. The camera remains on Rhys’s face, and time seems to stop as the words float in the air. Maybury is provoking us to ask what a real loving response here would be – is Dylan’s selfish desire really love? Ultimately this film is unsatisfying, but it does ask some interesting questions about love, and looks lovely while it goes about it.
Edge of Love scores 3/5
2 Thursday – Elegy, Before the Rains and Sleep furiously
It’s something of a Ben Kingsley fest at EIFF this year, with the shiny-headed knight appearing in three films over the course of the Festival. The most weighty and ‘significant’ of these is Elegy, a rather too portentous adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel The Dying Animal, in which Kingsley plays David, an influential author and lecturer who is also fond of charming his young and impressionable female students into bed. When Consuella (Penelope Cruz) joins his class, he sets about her like a dog on heat, and soon finds himself, much to the disapproval of his poet friend (Dennis Hopper), grappling with more emotion and commitment than he bargained for.
The change in title from book to film is a key pointer to Elegy’s main problem. The central themes are man’s animal desire for sex above all else and the small problem of death. Big themes, but pretty raw and messy ones, as Roth’s title suggests. But Isabel Coixet’s film wants to be more poetic and, you guessed, elegiac, and it ends up caught up in its own importance. It’s worth seeing for the performances though; Kingsley is wholely believable as the charismatic but empty-hearted cynic, and Cruz gives depth to a character that could easily be all surface. Hopper is also excellent in his best role for years, bringing some much-needed warmth and humour to this sombre film.
In a much more traditional vein is Before The Rains, a Merchant-Ivory production that never quite gets off the ground. Linus Roache plays Henry, a spice-merchant in 1937 who is intent on building a new road through the South Indian jungle before the monsoon season hits. It soon becomes clear that he is engaged in an illicit affair with his maidservant Sanjani (Nandita Das), a situation that becomes volatile just as Henry’s wife (Jennifer Ehle) and son arrive on the scene. Henry attempts to carry on as normal, involving his Indian assistant TK (Rahul Bose) and trying to keep the affair concealed, but it is only a matter of time before the pressure-cooker scenario explodes.
Director Santosh Sivan constructs the story’s context very well; there is a great sense of place due to some gorgeous cinematography, and several good scenes effectively convey the political and social unrest of the era. But the story itself never comes alive, and the overarching sense is of having seen this kind of thing done much better before. There is one very good scene in which the central twist occurs, and it feels for a moment like the film is about to spring to life. But alas, it is one highlight in an otherwise flat and conventional drama.
My third selection for today is the one I would recommend highest, with the slight caution that it is a slowly paced documentary that makes no concessions to mainstream plot-devouring audiences. If that doesn’t put you off, then sleep furiously is well worth 94 minutes of your time. Taking as its subject a tiny farming community in rural Wales, Gideon Koppel’s film is an observational collage of scenes from the lives of its inhabitants, interspersed with wide contemplative shots of the landscape and backed by a sweet soundtrack from Aphex Twin. Uniquely the film is just as much about the place as it is the people in it, so the largely unmoving camera focuses on animals and the natural world as much as on specific ‘characters’.
The village’s mobile librarian is the nearest thing to a main character in the film, and through his small talk with various library patrons we are given a window into a much more peaceful and sensibly-paced lifestyle, one which, as the film makes clear in its downbeat conclusion, is slowly disappearing from our country. While the film occasionally tests the patience, I have a sneaking suspicion that that is the intention, and after settling in to its rhythm I found sleep furiously to be a highly rewarding experience.
- Elegy (3/10)
- Before the Rains (2/10)
- Sleep furiously (4/10)
3 Friday – Donkey Punch, The Wackness and Three Miles North of Molkom
Arriving on a wave of pre-release hype from UK movie magazines, Donkey Punch, which has its British premiere at EIFF tonight, is in fact nothing special. The set-up is good, as three English girls on a boozy holiday hook up with four lads who happen to have the run of an incredibly swanky yacht for the night. As one of the boys gives the girls a tour of the yacht debut director Olly Blackburn creates an air of palpable tension; it’s clear that the scene is being set for very bad things to happen. Everyone’s in the mood for some holiday hedonism, but things take a turn for the fatal during the very 18-rated sex scene, and soon they’re all trying to kill each other.
Donkey Punch swiftly descends into conventional horror territory, which is a shame as it starts with enough style and confidence to suggest that it’s the new Shallow Grave. But if Blackburn is going to match Danny Boyle’s successes he’ll have to come up with something more original than this. That said, the ‘death by flare gun’ moment is truly stunning.
Also earning a place on the ‘disappointing’ list is The Wackness, our second chance to see Ben Kingsley doing his thing during the Festival. To his credit, his performance here as bong-smoking psychiatrist Jeffrey Squires is about as removed from his turn in Elegy as could be, and proves that he can do funny when he wants to. It doesn’t make this story, concerning the coming of age of a graduating school kid (Josh Peck), any more interesting though.
The big idea of Jonathan Levine’s comedy is that it’s set in New York in 1994 – how dope is that?! – but while references to Boyz II Men and Forrest Gump raise a nostalgic smile, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for this story to be happening in this period. It’s like Levine just had the “hey, I’m gonna set a movie in 1994!” idea, and then couldn’t be bothered thinking of a decent story to tell. Added to that, the film’s first 45 minutes is dull, dull, dull, with one lifeless scene following another, and Peck’s performance is just annoying. But it has a few funny lines, and a hilarious use of Nike Air.
I’m not a huge documentary-watcher, but strangely my recommended movie today is another documentary, although a much more crowd-pleasing one than sleep furiously, my choice yesterday. Three Miles North of Molkom follows the experiences of a handful of punters at the No Mind festival, a new age retreat in Angsbacka, Sweden (which is three miles north of Molkom, by the way), and while it initially seems like it’s setting itself up to take easy potshots at ‘crazy’ people, it’s actually really involving, and very funny too.
The main thing that makes it so watchable is the presence of a true skeptic called Nick, an Australian rugby coach who has no idea what he’s agreed to come to. As he is exposed to chanting sessions, tree-hugging ceremonies and power-cleansing moments, he pretty much articulates what most of the cinema audience will be thinking. The fact that through the course of the retreat he goes on to have a genuinely moving experience, without losing his recognisable human-ness, makes the whole thing truly compelling. That and laughing at all the crazy people.
- Donkey Punch (2/5)
- The Wackness (2.5/5)
- Three Miles North of Molkom (4/5)
4 Saturday – Somers Town and The Visitor
Well, we’ve hit the weekend and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this festival-going lark sure takes a lot of stamina. For which reason I’m just reviewing two movies each for today and tomorrow. But don’t worry, all four films I’ve chosen to cover are excellent, and between them they comprise my four favourite films of the festival so far.
I propose that the best way to spend Saturday afternoon is bathing in the warm glow of Shane Meadows’ new film Somers Town. After the intense and powerfully moving This Is England, it seems Meadows has decided to take a walk on the lighter side, reuniting with 15-year old Thomas Turgoose, who made his sensational debut in the former film, to tell a simple heartwarming tale of friendship. True to Meadows’ form, the setting is a grim one, a London where the Gherkin isn’t front and centre but is glimpsed in the distance between cranes and high-rises, but the film’s black and white photography should alert us to the possibility that this film may offer a take on life that’s a step away from reality.
The story that unfolds begins with a slight air of unease that’s compounded when homeless Tomo (Turgoose) is mugged and robbed of all his worldly possessions. It’s brutal, but is actually uncharacteristic of what follows. Tomo meets Polish immigrant Marek (Piotr Jagiello), at a loose end while his dad works, and together they hatch a plan to woo Maria (Elisa Lesowski), the French waitress working at the local café. And that’s it. For 75 minutes Meadows lets us hang out with these two boys, and it’s an absolute delight. Turgoose proves again that he is an excellent natural talent with perfect comic delivery, and writer Paul Fraser fills the script with hilarious scenarios, many of which have a natural, improvised air. A sequence involving the two boys, Maria and a wheelchair is wonderful, beautifully shot and the highlight of a really great film.
You’ll need something quite special to top that, and fortunately Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor’s is very special indeed. McCarthy’s debut feature was The Station Agent, a small film about a small guy, and it suggested the arrival of a filmmaker with a real eye for character detail. The Visitor confirms that promise and builds upon it, showing again McCarthy’s ability to shape believable and compelling characters, and adding a wider political scope to his cinematic vision.
Richard Jenkins plays Walter, a bored academic in Connecticut who gets a shock when he travels to New York for a conference and finds Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira), a refugee couple, living in his Manhattan apartment. After initially throwing them out, he has a change of heart, and so begins a friendship that significantly changes Walter’s life.
The film’s plot has many turns, some of which are a little problematic, but any story failings are compensated for by the fantastic acting and McCarthy’s excellent characterisation. Jenkins in particular, an actor who has had mostly supporting roles up to this point, conveys a world of emotions and thoughts with the smallest of glances and expressions, making the film’s conclusion deeply moving. His performance is matched by the beautiful Hiam Abbass, who appears midway through the film as Tarek’s mother and is equally affecting in her role (more about Abbass tomorrow when I review Lemon Tree, which she stars in; she’s fantastic and definitely my new favourite actress).
The Visitor’s plot encompasses several hot-topic issues – refugees, citizenship and the ‘angry parent’ nature of America – but it’s not an ‘issue’ movie. It’s really about people, and fully demonstrates McCarthy’s expertise at drawing an audience into multiple characters’ lives and allowing us to experience the journeys they are on. This is exactly what all the best movies do, and The Visitor is certainly one of the best I’ve seen for a while.
- Somers Town (3.5/5)
- The Visitor (4.5/5)
5 Sunday- Lemon Tree (Etz Limon) and Summer
Two brief reviews today, and as with my choices yesterday they are both examples of the best things I’ve seen at the Festival so far.
First up is Lemon Tree, a small story that takes place on both sides of the Israel/West Bank border. Hiam Abbass, the actress I was so impressed with in The Visitor, is just as good here, giving an incredibly restrained and powerfully moving performance. She plays a Palestinian woman who ends up in a legal battle with the Israeli Government over the lemon grove that has been her family’s livelihood for 50 years. Like The Visitor, Lemon Tree focuses on a personal situation within a much bigger political context, and while the result is a resolutely small film, it’s a very good one nonetheless.
Summer is another film that’s powered by a brilliant central performance, this time from Robert Carlyle. He is heartbreaking as Shaun, a man broken by the hand life has dealt him, and Kenny Glenaan’s film weaves present and past together to create a clear picture of how Shaun has ended up where he is today. Although at times hard to watch because it’s so sad, Summer is never morose or glum; it looks beautiful and the music often gives it a dreamlike quality. It’s arguably Carlyle’s best performance ever, certainly his most recognisably human one, and provokes such compassion and emotion that it left me feeling quite drained. Highly recommended.
- Lemon Tree (Etz Limon)(7/10)
- Summer (8/10)
6 Monday – Reviews of Paris, Stone of Destiny and Better Things
Cedric Klapisch’s latest, Paris, could be described as the French Love, Actually, in that like Richard Curtis’ film it focuses on a handful of parallel stories – all taking place in the French capital, with one exception – and features a cast of some of the biggest names in Gallic cinema. There’s Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris as a brother and sister, Francois Cluzet (from breakout hit Tell No One) and Fabrice Luchini as another pair of siblings, and loads of other recognisable faces.
The similarities with Curtis’ blockbusting rom-com end there though, as Paris is a much more muddled film, which doesn’t ultimately amount to much. With elements of comedy, tragedy, existential enquiry and travelogue all thrown into the pot, Paris struggles to maintain momentum with any of its stories, and is actually far less satisfying than last year’s short film compendium Paris Je T’aime, which arguably looks at life and love in the city much more effectively.
Being the pre-eminent Scottish film festival, it’s only right that EIFF should feature some big new Scottish films in its line-up. The biggest this year is Stone of Destiny, the true story of how Glasgow Uni student Ian Hamilton and a handful of friends broke into Westminster Abbey and made off with the titular rock in 1950. It’s doubtful that the event had quite the national impact that this flag-waving (and at points unbearably cheesy) comedy drama portrays, but it still seems a story worthy of big screen treatment.
Charlie Cox plays Hamilton with a painfully bad Scottish accent but makes for a decent leading man, while Billy Boyd, almost 15 years older than Cox but still just about pulling off the ‘50s student look, brings his usual mix of cheeky charm and sense of drama to the proceedings. Robert Carlyle also turns up and almost destroys all the goodwill I had for him after his fantastic turn in Summer, inexplicably doing a an accent that rivals Cox’s in the grating stakes.
Still, at least the makers of Stone of Destiny realised that a few laughs go a long way, something that the makers of the painfully bleak and wilfully humourless Better Things could have done with remembering. It’s been billed as the most anticipated British debut of the year, but hit short film director Duane Hopkins’ eye for a nicely framed shot isn’t enough to make this soul-destroying tale of heroin addicts in middle England worth losing 90 minutes to. Avoid.
- Paris (3/10)
- Stone of Destiny (2.5/5)
- Better Things 1/5)
7 Tuesday – ‘Married Life’, ‘Love and Other Crimes’ and ‘The Surprise Movie’
In his immediate post-Bond outings, Pierce Brosnan seemed to be consciously distancing himself from the suave womanising image that playing the superspy had left him firmly stamped with. But Married Life sees the Irish rogue fully embracing the ‘smooth charmer’ side of his personality once more, and the film is all the better for it. His wittily self-aware narration gives a deceptively light tone to this ‘40s-set tale of “the things we do for love”, which hides some dark themes under its shiny surface.
Good as Brosnan is, it is Chris Cooper who really makes this film worth watching. He adds yet another complex and layered performance to his bursting CV, this time as the husband who wants to leave his wife (Patricia Clarkson) for his mistress (a platinum-blonde Rachel McAdams), and decides that murder could be the easiest way out. Director Ira Sachs handles the film’s shifting tone well, moving from frothy comedy to nail-biting tension with ease, resulting in a very satisfying character drama.
For those wanting to get away from big stars and costly camera angles, Love and Other Crimes is about as low budget as it gets. The debut film from Serbian director Stefan Arsenijevic, it’s a sort-of comedy that centres on the humdrum lives of a group of small time criminals in Belgrade. We join Anica (Anica Dobra), girlfriend of crime boss Milutin (Fedja Stojanovic), waking up on the day that she intends to make her escape from this dead-end life, and the film proceeds to detail the various events of this single strange day.
Arsenijevic’s film is so low-key that it occasionally veers towards blandness, but he sprinkles it with enough surreal humour and absurd character moments to just about keep things interesting up to the beguiling conclusion. My highlight is a scene in which Anica pays a visit to an old boyfriend, ending with a moment of laugh-out-loud visual comedy that’s all the funnier because it’s so unexpected.
And I can’t let this day go by without mention of The Surprise Movie which, as the title suggests, is a surprise. In previous years it’s been sublime (Pulp Fiction), forgettable (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers) and somewhere in between (The Kingdom), so who knows what this year will offer. Whatever the case, there’s nothing that captures the pure pleasure of moviegoing quite like having no clue as to what you’re about to watch until the moment the title comes up onscreen. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
- Married Life (7/10)
- Love and Other Crimes [aka Ljubav i drugi zlocini] (6/10)
- The Surprise Movie (?/10)
8 Wednesday – ‘Dummy’, ‘Elite Squad’ and ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’
My three reviews today reflect the fantastic variety that is on offer in Edinburgh this year. There’s a glossy period comedy, a furiously violent police thriller and a moving family drama from a debuting British director: truly something for all tastes.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day sees the return of Amy Adams, fresh from her Enchanted Oscar nomination and just as irresistible. The setting is London, 1941, and Adams plays Delysia Lafosse, an airheaded but gorgeous starlet trying to decide between three men, taking everything she can from all of them while the getting’s good. Thankfully governess-for-hire Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand, brilliant as ever) is on hand to help sort out Delysia’s life, although between you and me it’s pretty obvious from the word go which of the fellas is Mr Right.
Adams has a hint of classic Marilyn Monroe about her as Delysia, giving a performance that’s essentially Enchanted’s Elle with a whole heap more sexiness, and the always reliable Ciaran Hinds brings some calm amidst the storm as a kindly lingerie designer (only in the movies…), sharing some wonderful scenes with McDormand. It’s all hugely enjoyable fun, and a welcome break from the more intense Festival fare.
Speaking of which, Elite Squad – whose title conjours up fond memories of Frank Drebin – throws us into the violent Rio de Janeiro favelas that 2002’s City of God first unveiled, but this time it’s the cop’s eye view we’re seeing things from. It’s a fictional work, but the uncomfortable feeling that what we’re seeing is very close to reality is both thrilling and terrifying. The ‘squad’ of the title are the Special Police Operation Battalion, and the film focuses on one intense mission, circa 1997, to clean up Rio de Janeiro ahead of a visit from Pope John Paul II.
Added to the pressure of leading the mission successfully, Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) has a baby on the way and is keen to replace himself, but the Squad’s near-fascist recruitment process only allows the most incorruptible cops through. It’s in the film’s second half, as we follow two hopefuls through this unbelievably brutal process, that Elite Squad becomes utterly compelling.
British director Matthew Thompson’s debut feature Dummy enjoys its World Premiere in Edinburgh today, and on this evidence Thompson fully deserves his slot in the British Gala section beside established talents Shane Meadows and James Marsh. Dummy is a drama that investigates the different ways two brothers deal with the death of their mother, with 18-year old Danny (Aaron Johnson) submerging himself in drugs and DJ culture, while younger brother Jack (Thomas Grant) has a more disturbing reaction, taking on some of his late mother’s behavioural traits and creating a ‘dummy’ version of her that he talks to.
Thompson elicits two excellent performances from his perfectly cast young actors, and while the film tackles some dark themes, it is a deeply moving and finally hopeful piece of work. Michael Müller’s well-crafted script deftly shifts focus between the boys’ individual experiences, their relationship together and the wider issues affecting children left without parents, all in under 90 minutes. I’m not going to succumb to the strong temptation and say “you’d be a dummy to miss it”, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
- Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (4/5)
- Elite Squad (4/5)
- Dummy (4/5)
9 Thursday – The Wave, Sleep Dealer and The Fall
German mega-hit The Wave is apparently based on real events, but it’s best to take that claim with a pinch of salt and instead enjoy it as an exaggerated piece of cautionary speculation. It details the events of one week in a German high school in which, as a way of educating his class about autocracy, teacher Rainer decides to run the class on the principles of a fascist regime. Some students treat it as a joke, some are disgusted and others begin to embrace this new order; unfortunately Rainer doesn’t foresee the devastating effects that this experiment will have for all concerned.
Director Dennis Gansel‘s film works largely because of Jürgen Vogel’s excellent performance as Rainer; we are never really sure of his motives, and while some of the students’ actions and responses stretch credibility, the complex treatment given to Rainer’s character helps ground the film. And while the tragic conclusion is inevitable from the outset, Gansel builds up to it in such a way that ensures The Wave packs a mighty punch in its closing moments.
Also well worth catching today is Sleep Dealer, a very low budget Mexican sci-fi that, like all the best examples of its genre, explores questions about what’s most valuable to humanity while simultaneously telling a great story. It borrows from the best, with a soundtrack reminiscent of Blade Runner and a central concept involving humans connecting to a giant network that owes a debt to The Matrix, but director Alex Rivera adds his own unique touch to things, excelling at creating a future world that is believable without feeling the need to explain all of its technology.
While the shoddy special effects are a little off-putting, the strength of the central story, involving a hacker from rural Mexico going to Tijuana after his father’s murder by the government, helps to overcome budgetary limitations. Rivera also does a great job of suggesting the multiple ways in which ‘connection’ is important to humanity, giving the film a valuable extra dimension.
But just edging out these two for my pick of the day is Tarsem Singh’s new film The Fall. Completed in 2006 but floundering in an unreleased netherworld ever since, hopefully this breathtaking, exciting and humorously self-aware adventure will be available to a wider audience soon. The director, who’s previous offering was the much-maligned Jennifer Lopez starrer The Cell, is known for being a master at visuals but not so hot at actually telling stories, so the fact that The Fall takes storytelling as its central motif is either Tarsem’s way of taking his critics head-on, or just a sign of sheer bloody-mindedness. Whatever the reason, the result is wonderful cinema.
It’s 1920s Los Angeles. Lee Pace, having got rid of the appalling English accent he attempted in yesterday’s Miss Pettigrew, is Roy, a hospital bed-bound stuntman who is also just a little heartbroken and suicidal. He is befriended by Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a 9-year old girl stuck in the hospital as a result of a fall, who convinces the unenthusiastic Roy to tell her a story. This Princess Bride-esque set-up gives Tarsem the opportunity to let his imagination go wild, and he creates some amazing visuals, covering a multitude of real locations, as Roy spins his yarn.
Several elements come together to make the film great. The first is the natural chemistry between Pace and Untaru: when we watch them talking together it really feels like we’re eavesdropping on a totally unrehearsed situation. Untaru occasionally stumbles over lines or seems to not really be paying attention to Pace; she is so clearly not a professional actress that all we get is her raw life and charm, and it works – she’s adorable. Equally effective is the way Tarsem blurs the line between the fantasy world of Roy’s story and the real world of the hospital. This allows for plenty of witty asides from characters within the story, but also crucially means that come the conclusion, when we really need to care about how things are going to end, the fantasy story has strengthened our understanding of what is at stake in reality, making for a gripping and satisfying finish.
Added to these pleasures, the film’s stunning visual quality, from the gorgeous black and white opening sequence to the dazzling blue city of the story’s finale, is the icing on the cake. The Fall is a treat of a film, and since this is the only opportunity to see it in the UK for the foreseeable future, it’s got to be my top recommendation today.
- The Wave (3/5)
- Sleep Dealer (3.5/5)
- The Fall (4/5)
10 Friday – Let The Right One In and Man On Wire
Time is not my friend at this moment, so I’m going to briefly recommend two movies today.
The first is the excellent Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in), probably the film that’s been most highly recommended to me by other journalists I’ve spoken to during the festival. I finally got to see it myself, and they weren’t wrong. It’s a Swedish vampire movie, and it’s done in the most subtle and low-key way imaginable. The film begins very slowly, and uses silence very effectively, telling a story that’s more quietly chilling than all-out scary. The low budget is used to brilliant effect, as the film looks fantastic and the handful of special effects sequences are inventively staged for maximum effect. The best thing about LTROI is that it doesn’t try to be too clever in terms of the established rules of vampire films, but instead adheres to them in continually fresh and inventive ways. On top of this it has a wonderful soundtrack and the best ending that I’ve seen in a long time.
Totally different but equally essential viewing is Man On Wire, James Marsh’s documentary about tightrope artist Philipe Petit, who performed an illegal wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. This film details just how he and his friends achieved it, with everyone involved telling their part, along with re-enactments and archive footage illustrating the story. Petit himself is an inspiring and fascinating character, and his infectious personality lights up the film. But it’s in the recreation of the amazing feat itself that the film becomes transcendent. As those who saw Petit do this seemingly impossible stunt retell just how awe-inspiring it felt to see him walking in the air, we are fully caught up in the same sense of awe. It’s magical stuff.
- Let The Right One In (4/5)
- Man On Wire (4.5/5)
11 Sunday – WALL-E Review
After almost two weeks of new movies, Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008 has reached its final day. As is traditional, it’s Best of the Fest day, giving punters one more chance to catch some of the Festival’s most popular and successful films. Looking at the line-up there’s some I agree with, some I missed and some whose place on the list I might question, but if you pushed me for guidance I would urge you to opt for Man On Wire, Summer, Miss Pettigrew Live for a Day or The Wave. If you want to know why, you can find all my thoughts on these movies in the reviews I’ve stacked up this week.
But which is my Best of the Fest? I hear you cry. Right up until yesterday it was Tom McCarthy’s excellent character drama The Visitor, a film that I would urge anyone with a beating heart to go and see when it goes on general release on 4 th July. But good as The Visitor is, it must take second place to the absolutely unmissable WALL-E, which I saw yesterday and, I think, is the best film of the year so far. Yes, it’s even better than There Will Be Blood. I don’t know how, but Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton has managed to improve on Pixar’s unprecedented standards; WALL-E is a masterpiece.
If you don’t know already, WALL-E is the name of a little robot who is completely alone on earth, 700 years in the future, cleaning up the mountains of waste that humans have left behind. Humans are not extinct, but to reveal what has happened to them would give away one of the film’s great surprises. All I’ll say is that it’s not pretty, but it is wickedly funny.
The problem for WALL-E is that he’s lonely; having been at his job for so long, he’s developed something of a fascination for earth’s myriad discarded treasures, including a devotion to an old videotape of Hello Dolly! that he watches ad infinitum. The little chap yearns for a connection like the one he sees onscreen when Michael Crawford and Marriane McAndrew hold hands, and when ultra-sophisticated search-bot Eve lands on earth, WALL-E sees a potential friend. From here, the sky is not even the limit for where Stanton and his team of brilliant animators take the story.
So yes, it’s a film about robots, electronic utilitarian things, but if you remain unmoved by their adventure by the time the credits roll, I am willing to bet that you have no soul. Even though there isn’t a single living thing captured in any of its shots, WALL-E surges with human warmth, humour, life and love, and in its visual splendour and audio ingenuity it is transcendent in the way of the greatest works of art. The opening scenes on earth are stunning in their vast beauty, and when the action moves into space the visuals become simply breathtaking. Similarly, the sound is amazing; veteran sound designer Ben Burtt has given the two main robots ‘voices’ bursting with character, and the film’s music is wonderful, ranging from low-key synths to full-blown orchestra, always helping to tell the story and often affectionately referencing classic movie scores.
And this is WALL-E’s other winning hallmark; just as the main character is in love with images on a movie screen, the film itself is one big love letter to the movies and their transformative power. From overt references to 2001 and Manhattan, to WALL-E’s unmistakable resemblance of ET, to the dialogue-free first 30 minutes in the spirit of the pre-talkie era, the film is steeped in classic cinema history. This is no pastiche, the references clearly come from the filmmakers’ hearts, and reassert the fact that Pixar are not in the business of making quick flicks to keep your kids entertained for 90 minutes (don’t worry though, your kids will love WALL-E). WALL-E belongs up there with the greats that it pays homage to, primarily because every element (the visuals, the sound, the jokes, the movie references) contributes to the telling of the story, and nothing is allowed to get in the way of that. It’s a story that will be told countless times in cinemas all over the world this summer, but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant or important. It is without question the best of this Festival.
- WALL-E (5/5)
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