Archive for the ‘ EIFF 2013 ’ Category

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013

 

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013

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Well that is it for another year then. The A-List stars have departed whilst the opening and closing galas provided a maelstrom of dramatic flourish, flamboyance and glamour to our usual grey days and the momentum of the event provided ceaseless conversations amongst the locals. Except none of the former really happened did it?

 In fact the whole event passed pretty much unnoticed to local residents- and even to me who was a participant- and if pushed for a comment many would even have failed to notice it was actually taking place. Matters weren’t even helped by the fact the weather was remarkably pleasant with sunshine days and warm balmy evenings being the norm. Compare and contrast with last year when it rained torrentially and incessantly.

 The ultimate disappointment though must lie in the choice of movies selected with few of the films making too much of an impression either way. If honest I must admit the best film I saw during the whole thing was the 1971 Richard Fleischer classic, shown as part of a retrospective, 10 Rillington Place starring a suitably creepy Richard Attenborough as serial killer John Christie. It was the only film among the many I attended that held the audience in its spell throughout with a tension which was palpable; a matter confirmed when at a crucial moment I tore my eyes away from the action to observe an almost trancelike state audience caught up in the drama. I witnessed nothing like this sort of effect at the many new films I attended.

Mind you this may be because I attended mainly press showings but everyone knows how cynical a group of film critics can be. I am not sure this still applies to the younger ones who appeared to be barely out of diapers but wore their miserabilist tendencies in plaid with carefully selected geek chic glasses.

 Of the new films premiered the best, in my opinion, were Svengali, The Great Hip Hop Hoax, Oh Boy, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks and a Russian offering, Betrayal. The latter I haven’t got around to reviewing yet but it is an Almodovar styled film with the vivid colours and fiery passions replaced with Soviet chill to disorientating effect. The plot is highly implausible and relies on the viewer’s suspension of belief, but somehow this works to its advantage as opposed to its detriment.

 The opening film Breathe In starring Guy Pearce and the patriotic, set in Glasgow, closer Not Another Happy Ending with Karen Gillan were slightly underwhelming if the truth be told. As were the opening and closing parties which followed if I am being even more honest. In fact the best party I attended during the twelve day duration down as the most memorable film festival of recent times it is also not the most forgettable was nothing to do with the film festival but was held in an empty art studio with a bunch of non celebrities who could show the organisers of these stilted industry affairs how it should be done

 On the plus side the event was still a step in the right direction away from the low key efforts of 2011 which abandoned all parties and celebrity attendances. It also had the best and most consistent weather of any Scottish festival in recent years and perhaps this onslaught of sunshine distracted from the event as who wants to sit in a darkened cinema when it is sunny outside. Particularly to a nation as deprived of vitamin D as us Scots are.

 Now that it is all over however I must say that the best summary I can offer is that although 2013 will not go!

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MISTER JOHN

 

Mister John

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Featuring a flawlessly understated performance by Aidan Gillen Mister John adopts its own languid pace and despite threatening to erupt into something more dramatic and thrilling on several occasions it somehow manages to reinforce restraint and draw itself back in thus achieving individuality as opposed to generic type. This does not mean it is without its shortcomings however, it is just that often these shortcomings work in its favour.

 Travelling to Singapore after his brother John’s death-the Mister John who lends the film its title- Gerry(Gillen) attempts to sort out the estate of his more financially successful brother. After his luggage goes missing he borrows some of his brother’s clothes and in the process slips into imagining the alternative lifestyle of his more flamboyant sibling. For someone seemingly so withdrawn and wearing a cloak of sadness this new role is an extremely attractive proposition.

 It would seem sex is seemingly permanently on offer to Gerry as he assumes this new role but he has trouble connecting emotionally as he is still haunted by his wife’s infidelity back in London. Stranger still he becomes emotionally drawn to his late brother’s beautiful widow Kim(Zoe Tay) and the tension of their encounters teeters on the precipice of an affair but his emotional withdrawal prevents him from embracing this complicated entanglement.

 More of a character study than anything else Mister John relies heavily on the plausibility of Gillen’s performance and he manages to capture the pathos of his character in sublime fashion. His awkwardness is cringeworthy and this is what gives the character credibility and emotional depth.

 The screen writing and director team of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawler made a brave and admirable decision in not allowing their vision to be tampered with merely to fill a specific genre or type as this emerges as the film’s main strength.

WE STEAL SECRETS:THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS

 

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

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Surrounded in hype, recriminations , accusations and clouded truths, when the scandal surrounding Wikileaks- a website intent on revealing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of the twenty first century- and its founder, Julian Asssange, broke it was hard to decipher any semblance of the truth. With one faction claiming the documents which were leaked were in the interest of the public, the other denied this and counteracted the very same information placed the public, and whole countries, in severe danger.

The truth is hardly any clearer after watching this documentary by Academy Award winning director Alex Gibney, which admittedly falls on the side of Assange and his organisation, but what is clear that accusations of a smear campaign against Wikileaks and its founder are lent a considerable amount of gravitas whilst those who went out their way to destabilise their credibility-including some of the most powerful people in the world- are left looking rather suspect.

 The leading cast in this tale include the formerly named Assange- a blonde haired Australian hell bent on discovering the truth about the war in Iraq- a teenage hacker and Bradley Manning, a gender confused American soldier serving in Iraq with access to highly sensitive documents and footage. Without thinking of the consequences Manning shared this classified information with Wikileaks and to this day still languishes as a detainee in jail even though he has never actually had a trial convicting him of any specific crime.

 Assange on the other hand was briefly awarded rock star status when he leaked the contents of the documents on his site but this small victory was soon snatched from him when two accusations of rape in Sweden arose. These is where things get rather cloudy and off balance as the accusations of rape seem to come from two women who had consensual sex with Assange but one freaked out when the condom broke during the act whilst the other claimed he never used one. This led to claims he may have impregnated them or shared a S.T.D. and  a warrant was issued for his arrest. When he refused to take an HIV test the charges were immediately changed to rape and thus the conspiracy theories about a smear campaign began.

 At this juncture a media campaign to discredit Assange and Wikileaks-interestingly the Guardian and New York Times who shared the information he provided were absolved of any blame- began and in one of the films many incidences of black humour the phrase ‘he has blood on his hands ‘is trotted out ad infinitum via various major news stories around the globe as if to detract from the real issue at hand; war crimes being committed in Iraq.

These war crimes provide some of the most shocking images in the film and early on we are shown a helicopter attack on innocent civilians and Reuter journalists after one carrying a camera with a long lens is mistaken for a Militia with an Ak47. What is almost as shocking as the horror of this footage is the clearly audible laughter, sheer flippancy and derogatory remarks emanating from the attackers about the dead bodies they have left on the ground. Further footage showing innocent families and children being slaughtered-either through carelessness or incorrect intelligence- is equally unsettling and Assange’s claims that this is what the public need to know about the realities of war start to make a lot more sense than the counter argument that knowing and seeing such things places us all in greater danger.

 A fascinating and revealing insight into a recent scandal- Assange is still under house arrest in the Ecuadorian Embassy-this documentary provides very few answers but it does raise a hell of a lot of questions.

THE COMPLEX

 

The Complex

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‘Ghosts don’t haunt places they haunt the human mind’ is a choice phrase uttered during this Japanese psychic chiller directed by Hideo Nakata and it would be one well remembered by the films central protagonist, Asuka. At times resembling a more convoluted plotline devised by esteemed author Haruki Murakami the film relies more on cleverly constructed atmospherics than clever dialogue or acting skills. Despite falling slightly short of becoming a classic of its genre it is not wholly unsuccessful and building to a hysterical climax it is certainly worthy of note and investigation.

 Asuka (Atsuka Maeda), a young nursing student, moves into a housing complex with her parents and younger brother and straight away feels ill at ease as the complex feels abandoned apart from a young lone child playing. After befriending the child immediately strange occurrences start to happen and a shifting of emotions pervades.

 Strange noises from the next apartment and an alarm clock which goes off every morning at 5.30 am arouse feelings of unease which are not assuaged by friends at college informing her the complex has a reputation for being haunted.Matters only worsen after she discovers a malnourished corpse in her neighbouring apartment but she also forms a bond with one of the young men, Sasahara (Hiroki Narimiya),  drafted in to clean up the apartment.

Things however take on even more sinister twists and turns and strange happenings conspire in Asuka no longer able to distinguish between what is real and what is merely a product of her obviously disturbed state of mind. It would be unfair to divulge too much of the plot but matters become more frenetic resulting in a frenzied exorcism to rid her apartment-or is it her mind- of the evil spirits which torment  and occupy a place in her psyche.

 Skilfully executed The Complex is relatively successful on its own terms however it will not trouble classics of its genre and although compared to Japanese classics such as The Ring it is simply not in the same class as that film. It is still worth checking out though as it does compel the viewer to try and distil the reality of unfolding of events from what is simply imagined or feared.

NOT ANOTHER HAPPY ENDING

Not Another Happy Ending

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Scottish based films and accents  are few and far between during the Edinburgh Film Festival so it was a pleasant surprise when it was announced that this years Festival closer was this independent Scottish rom-com directed by John Mc Kay featuring a strong Scottish cast and ably helped along by a soundtrack strongly featuring local talent. A pleasant breeze of a film it will not ruffle too many feathers and similarly to the opening effort-Breathe In- will come and go without making too much of an impression either way.

 The story focuses on an author Jane Lockhart( Karen Gillan) who strikes lucky with her first novel based on autobiographical experiences. The immediate attraction between her and her publisher, the suave but temperamental Tom Duval( Stanley Weber), is apparent from the get go but both are in denial and refuse to acknowledge their feelings for each other  instead entering into a terse and tumultuous working relationship.

 Despite this Jane is happy about the success of her novel but as a result discovers her pleasure has an unpleasant and inconvenient side effect: writer’s block. Matters are made worse in that she is planning to leave Tom’s publishing company as soon as the novel is completed but whilst the audience is aware that the reason she is reluctant to finish the work is that once it is done she has no reason to have any further contact with him, she seems ignorant to this obvious fact.

 Along the way a reunion with the father, who abandoned her as a child and who has contributed so much to the dearth of despair at her disposal and made her writing such a resounding success, is affected and this also adds confusion to her already confused and  emotional state.

 The whole plot is as fluffy as one of the cup cakes Gillan’s character makes in her bid to stifle her writer’s block and re-ignite her muse. It is a competent enough film with strong performances-Gillan is better than she has been before but as I have never been convinced of her acting prowess this is not as high a commendation as it initially appears- and a script which although predictable has a few tender moments. The soundtrack-including ‘Cherry Pie’ from Glasgow girl band favourites Teen Canteen- complements the action unfolding perfectly and the whole thing is a pleasant experience but it is also one which is not going to rock anyone’s world.

THE GREAT HIP HOP HOAX

The Great Hip Hop Hoax

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At first the tale of two students from Dundee who adopt American accents and pretend they are Californian in the ruthless pursuit of fame as rap stars  simply because their Scottish accents had them laughed out an A&R meeting and referred to as the ‘rapping Proclaimers’ seems unbelievable.,However this ploy which enabled them to a attain a lucrative recording deal, convincing and fooling everyone they met may seem even more highly implausible but it is in fact a true story. Jeanie Finlay delivers this documentary in a style which recalls the tale of Billy Boyd and Gavin Bain-whose stateside doppelgangers went under the pseudonyms Silibil ’n’ Brains- at the apotheosis of their deceit -around nine or ten years ago- intercut with more serious recent hindsight interviews from the duo. It is a fascinating watch and one which details the sheer determination and chutzpah necessary in achieving fame.

 Naturally charismatic, Billy Boyd attracted the attention of Gavin Bain the first time they met and an inseparable friendship was forged. Discovering several things in common what became apparent was they both had musical ambitions so joining up with a third party they formed a rap group singing in Scottish accents and became a local cause celebre due to the individual nature of their act.

Dreaming of bigger things they travelled to London and wangled an audition but were laughed at because of their Scottish accents. Disheartened, but not out, Bain-a natural born mimic- started talking and performing in an American accent. Partly  act of revenge and partly wanting to have their talent recognised through whatever means it took, the pair then both adopted Californian personas and started living, talking and breathing these imaginary characters twenty-four seven.

 Of course such a tactic is not without its drawbacks and the more attention and success which came their way, the more the chance of being discovered also hovered in the background.  Therefore some necessary self sabotage was necessary every time things looked like becoming too big whilst drug and alcohol abuse did not help to assuage the paranoia which was lingering in the air, but merely aggrieved it.

 Eventually the constant  living  a lie became too much for Boyd when abandoning the pursuit of fame in favour of marrying his childhood sweetheart and raising a family became a more attractive option thus spelling the end of the duo as a working entity.

 It is hard to imagine how two canny lads from Scotland were able to pull the wool over so many eyes but it does make an amusing tale. Particular highlights are Boyd’s blagging his way backstage into the Brits-photos with everyone fom Siouxie Sioux, Kelly Osbourne and Kasabian confirm this- where drinking with Daniel Bedingfield the first realisation that he is involved in such a grandiose  lie emerges during a heavy drinking session wherein the singer casually comments ‘I thought you were Scottish’. It is then he realises the whole ruse has a limited time frame and desperate to capitalise on this pressurises the perfectionist and reluctant Bain to rush a record out but all to no avail.

 A great exposé on the gullibility of the music industry The Great Hip Hop Hoax is an enjoyable ride which reveals that gall and chutzpah are sometimes all it takes to succeed. Despite this Boyd and Bain never actually achieved all they could as the pressures of the lie they were living eventually overtook any ambitions or creativity. This is a shame as it would have made a better ending if they had actually attained international success and then revealed the truth. This is a minor quibble though and it is still a worthwhile docufilm

The Great Hip Hop Hoax is on BBC2 Scotland at 9pm Friday October 11th.

THE BERLIN FILE

 

The Berlin File

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Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan this contemporary Asain thriller starts off at full throttle and rarely loses its pace or momentum throughout. It is far from a simply followed plot though and admittedly I found it required a lot of attention and still came across as quite convoluted, although this may have been intentional to keep the audience on their toes. However as there is so much perfectly choreographed action and so little dialogue it is difficult to keep track of who is who never mind what is actually going on so by the end of the film I was exhausted in trying to keep up and meanwhile the characters had managed to elicit little sympathy so it was hard to care what became of them.

 Opening with an illegal international arms deal which goes wrong the central protagonist a North Korean spy, Pyo Jong-seong (Ha Jung-woo), then finds himself in a world of double agents and red herrings where even his wife is suspected of betraying him. What follows is an intricate web of deceitful lies and mistrust involving the Middle East, Russia and most significantly South Korea whilst the drama unfolds in Berlin thus giving the whole thing a totally international feel with everyone pursuing a different agenda. The relationship between Pyo and his wife although a loveless affair is complicated further by the fact she informs him she is pregnant and despite her disloyalty in other matters he is definitely the father. They then embark on their escape only to encounter a series of different factions who want to bring them down.

  As stated before this is essentially an action movie so the plot and character depth always come second to this but unfortunately this is the films main drawback. Whilst there is no more action than your typical James Bond movie-or even a Die Hard- but whilst the Bond franchise has at least twenty films behind it where some character traits have been established this films characters all left me totally unmoved. By the end of the film it was still unclear exactly what was going on and I was paying particularly close attention.

 Despite this the action sequences were expertly choreographed and brilliantly executed therefore anyone who loves an action movie will not be disappointed. I however wish there had been more of a structured and clear story to hang these amazing sequences onto.