Monday, 28 June 2010

The Secrets in Their Eyes - EIFF - Cineworld - 24/6/10

So, this is the film that the Academy deemed to be better than "Un Prophete" and "The White Ribbon" eh?

We'll see.

We'll see.

Well, I did see.

Is it better than the two other films that I felt should have won the Academy Award for best foreign language film?

I guess that depends on what you mean by "better" doesn't it?

To my mind "The White Ribbon" was never going to win simply because of the fact that it was a "difficult" film. It was a little too, well, arty for the Academy. I did think that "Un Prophete" could snatch the award though because it had a more, um, conventional feel to it even if it did include the ghost of a murdered prisoner giving advice to the central character.

Having now seen "The Secrets in Their Eyes" I think that the right film won.

The right film for the Academy.

Technically "The White Ribbon" is superior and has more important things to say and, for me, "Un Prophete" was a better film technically and visually but for the Academy "The Secrets in Their Eyes" was the only one of the three that would sit well with their sensibilities and so I can understand why it won.

I'm rambling.

The film itself brings us the story of a retired Argentinian police officer, Esposito, as he revisits an old case of rape and murder. The man responsible was brought to justice, sentenced but then released to take up a role as an informant and undercover agent for another department headed up by an old enemy of Esposito. The story of how the guilty man, Gomez, is found is told in flashback as Esposito visits his old boss, Irene, to discuss a book he has written about the case. As we flit from past to present we learn that the case has left marks on everyone involved.

From this simple premise director Juan Jose Campanella crafts a film that is never anything less than engaging and is often much more. At times the suspense is unbearable...when Esposito tracks Gomez to a football stadium the ensuing cat and mouse chase is one of the most memorable scenes I have ever enjoyed in a film. Similarly when Esposito and Irene find themselves sharing an elevator with the recently released murderer the tension is almost palpable.

The performances from all of the cast are superb, in particular Ricardo Darin as Esposito is absolutely wonderful. As the young man he is full of bravado, fight and gung-ho spirit and as the older man he is world weary, rueful and's a really great performance. It's the type of performance that when it is, inevitably, performed by an American actor in the English language remake will garner an Oscar nod.

Despite so much to commend "Secrets" it does flag towards the conclusion and the denoument, when it comes, doesn't pack the punch that it could have had we been spared some fifteen minutes or so of the time it took to arrive. But this is a teeny-weeny (and possibly groundless) complaint that may well be born out of my outrage at "Un Prophete" not receiving the Oscar. I suppose that, in truth, we should be celebrating the fact that in "The White Ribbon", "Un Prophete" and "The Secrets in Their Eyes" we had three films that all garnered praise and recognition outside of arthouse cinemas...that can only be a good thing.

Mark - EIFF - Cineworld - 24/6/10

Showing as part of the “Black Box” section of the festival this was an experimental documentary film that charted the life of a young man leading up to his suicide. The tale is told by those who knew him best and through archive footage.

The eponymous “Mark” was in a long term relationship with a transexual and the two shared their lives with people who live on the outside of the mainstream. Mark appears to have been warm, kind, loving and charitable and all of the friends and family interviewed here appear equally nice. The problem is that I didn’t like any of them.

With “wacky” haircuts, a keen sense of reveling in their “difference” and the sort of liberal attitude guaranteed to set my teeth to itch it was always going to be difficult for me to really feel any sympathy for Mark and the people he left behind.

I admired his stance on animal rights.

I felt glad that he was able to love someone who many would shun.

I could tell how much he was loved.

I understood their sense of “otherness” but try as I might I just didn’t like them.

Maybe I’m a dreadful, cold-hearted sod.

The film itself is well crafted and stands as a beautiful testament to someone who might otherwise just have disappeared. The sort of friend, brother, son that we all have and who we would all miss just as much and for that the film-maker should be commended.

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Man Next Door - EIFF - Cineworld - 24/6/10

"Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours, with a little understanding, that's when good neighbours become good friends"

So said the theme tune to Australian soap "Neighbours".

Whoever wrote the lyrics had never experienced the sort of tumultous relationship shown in "The Man Next Door".

Leonardo is a trendy, slightly pretentious, middle-aged designer who lives in a beautiful, design classic, apartment in Bueonos Aires. He has a dream life...beautiful wife, good job, slightly truculent pre-teen daughter and a gorgeous home. Early one morning Leonardo wakes up to find a hole being knocked through the wall of the apartment that sits just a few feet from his living room. The flat opposite has been bought by the sinister, thuggish looking, Victor who claims he needs to install a window in order to get some of the rays that Leonardo enjoys.

So begins a game of cat and mouse between the two men which appears to have no ability to reach any sort of satisfactory conclusion. Initially our sympathies lie with Leonardo as he struggles to protect his privacy but slowly we are drawn to Victor as the elitist, snobbish attitude of Leonardo and his friends towards the more "uncouth" Victor shows itself.

A funny, menacing and thoroughly engaging film "The Man Next Door" takes a well known and well worn plot device and delivers something mean feat.

The Kid - EIFF - Cineworld - 23/6/10

Many will already know the story of Kevin Lewis and his remarkable, traumatic childhood. It was a best selling memoir and one which propelled Lewis into the mainstream world and heralded the start of a new life as one of the foremost crime writers in the country. Here Nick Moran takes the story and brings it to the big screen.

It would have been easy for this to have been a disaster. In the wrong hands the terrible abuses suffered by Kevin at the hands of his “Frankenstein in drag” mother could have been played for easy tears or cheap sentimentality. Under the direction of Moran however we are given the truth of the situation; brutal, awful, shocking bursts of violence that render us speechless and feeling more than a little ashamed of the knowledge that these things are happening in our streets.

When Lewis is eventually taken out of the family home by social services and placed in a care home he is given the safety and love that all children require. That is short lived however as social services remove him and return him to his mother where the abuse begins again almost immediately. This time a teacher senses that something is wrong and offers Kevin support, kindness and, most importantly, believes him when he eventually reveals what is happening at home. Soon Kevin is leaving home for the last time for life with a wealthy entrepreneur and his wife in the leafy suburbs.

After a brief period of normality Kevin is plunged into the criminal underworld of London and finds himself earning money in illegal bare knuckle boxing matches and being the “front” for a bar that is simply operating as a long firm. At this point Kevin meets a girl, falls in love and, almost inevitably, has the rug pulled from underneath his feet yet again.

The way in which Kevin takes retribution and finds hope is almost unbelievable but it is true and it is an ending that brings a tear to the driest eye and a warm feeling to the coldest heart. The story of Kevin Lewis is remarkable...what starts as a dark tale becomes a story of hope, inspiration and triumph.

Nick Moran is a well known face thanks, in chief, to his great performance as “Eddy” in “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. As a producer and director he is also a well respected talent (his biopic of Joe Meek “Telstar” is a lost classic) and in “The Kid” he has shown that he has the ability to produce a mainstream film that will also please the cinephiles. He has drawn a fabulous performance from Rupert Friend as Kevin and managed to create one of the great screen villains in Gloria (played with a sense of true evil by Natashca McElhone).

A wonderful story.

A wonderful film.

A remarkable man.

We should be thankful for many reasons to Kevin Lewis.

The Good Heart - EIFF - Cineworld - 23/6/10

Brian Cox delivers a brilliant performance as misogynist, misanthrope, racist, sexist, homophobic “Jacque” who runs a dingy bar where “walk ins” and women are NOT welcome.

Jacques has a problem, his heart is no good and he suffers heart attacks with such regularity that he is known by name to all the hospital staff...who all hate him as much as he hates them. On one visit to the hospital he finds himself in the bed next to a timid young homeless youth who has failed in his attempt to end his own life. For reasons known only to Jacque he decides to find him after his release and take him under his wing as heir to his kingdom...the former oyster bar that now passes as his pub.

The young man in question is Lucas (Paul Dano) and he is, at first, less than delighted by the offer of free room and board with the curmudgeonly Jacque. As time passes the two form a strange kind of love for one another and all appears to be well until late one night when a distressed, French air hostess called April (Isild Le Besco) arrives soaking wet in the bar and crying. She has lost her job for being afraid of heights. Lucas takes her in much to the disgust and annoyance of Jacques.

Following a row between the two Lucas banishes April only to discover that Jacque has taken to her and feels that he has been a fool to let her go. At this point Jacque is placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant and following another heart attack appears to be on his way out of this world he so loathes forever.

The film is soaked in dark hues but it never feels cold, the bleak bar that Jacque calls home looks inviting and otherworldly. With a cast of characters including a “chimnist” and a “stimulator” (respectively a chimney sweep and a gigalo) it feels like this is a hipster hang out as opposed to the drinking den of choice for people who are one step up the ladder from being a bum.

A sad but heart warming ending ensures that “The Good Heart” will be remembered as much for it’s story as it will be for the masterful performance of Cox.

A Small Act - EIFF - Cineworld - 23/6/10

I’m not what you would call a “charitable” person.

I don’t have any direct debits for the myriad good causes there are.

I haven’t ever ‘phoned in and donated money to Comic Relief or any of the other charity telethons.

Occasionally I will drop a coin in the bucket being waved in front of me as I enter the football stadium on a Saturday.

It’s not that I don’t care about those less fortunate than I am it’s just that I am too lazy to fill in the form...I also love to procrastinate.

“A Small Act” follows the story of one woman who did make the effort to show some charity and the impact that has had on the lives of many, many people.

Hilde Back left Germany in 1940 to avoid the concentration camps. She fled to Sweden but without her parents and slowly began to build a new life. At some point in the late 1970’s she decided to sponsor a child in Kenya. The sponsorship money would pay for the childs education through high school (children in Kenya do not receive free secondary education).

As far as Hilde was concerned that was that.

It didn’t cost her very much money and it was absolutely no effort.

The child she sponsored was Chris Mburu. After high school he went on to University, specifically Harvard where he graduate in law. He is now a human rights lawyer for the United Nations. He always knew the name of the woman who had sponsored him and eventually he met her and the two formed a close bond.

That would be enough to make for an interesting documentary feature but director Jennifer Arnold also follows the efforts of an organisation set up by Chris to provide scholarships for able but financially poor students to attend high school. The lives of three young Kenyans as they struggle to pass the final exam against the backdrop of poverty and political upset as well as the threat of genocide provides another dimension to the film that means it is never less than captivating,

“A Small Act” has a simple message...the actions we take do have consequences and we can make a difference in the world.

Where’s that direct debit form?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Barry Munday - EIFF - 21/6/10 - Cineworld

Patrick Wilson is fast becoming a real favourite of mine.

I'm sure he'll be delighted to hear that.

"Hard Candy", "Little Children" and "Watchmen" are all films that could feature in my list of favourite films.

What is most interesting about Wilson is that he has managed to avoid becoming any particular type of actor...he isn't "the hunk" or "the weirdo" or any other label. What he is, is a very fine actor, capable of creating characters that the audience can believe in. It isn't every actor who would take on a role like "Jeff" in "Hard Candy"...there aren't many redeeming qualities about a paedophile and one cannot imagine it being a role that created "buzz" in Tinseltown. But I get the feeling that Wilson cares not a jot about how people, studios or executives perceive him; he wants to take on roles that interest him and that challenge him...come back to me after "The A-Team" to see if I've changed my mind on that.

Here Wilson plays the eponymous "hero" of the film, the sort of awkward loser who thinks he is a wow with the lay-deeeez but who, in reality, is far from it. Sure he has moments of "success" but they are fewer and further apart than he would like to admit. Following an incident in a cinema that involves an irate father and a trumpet Barry finds himself sans testicles and he has to face up to life without them and what they represent to him.

Shortly after this he receives a letter informing him that he is the alleged father of an as yet unborn baby...the result of a very drunken encounter with Ginger (Judy Greer) who isn't exactly the sort of "babe" Barry likes to convince himself he is successful with. But stripped of his manhood and aware of his being the end of the family line Barry throws himself into the role of father and in the process begins to fall for Ginger.

On the surface this may look like a Judd Appatappapappatoe movie in the vein of a "Knocked Up" but this is a world away from that. This is tender, funny, sweet, romantic and full of ruminations on the nature of manhood, family relationships and love. With a supporting cast that includes Cybil Shepherd, Malcolm McDowell and Chloe Sevigny this is also a film that has enough quality to ensure that it never slips anywhere below excellent.

What really makes this film is the relationship between, and the performances of, Wilson and Greer. It's a real treat to watch two people with so much talent playing opposite one another. The slow thawing in their relationship is a joy to watch and is never less than convincing. For Greer it is the sort of performance that could propel her to household name status and for Wilson it simply cements my feeling that he is one of the most talented actors working today.

HIGH School - EIFF - Cineworld - 22/6/10







That particular "joke" appears in "HIGH School" more than once.

Given that it isn't funny the first time it's difficult to imagine why a writer would deem it worthy of a repeat.

That's the level we're operating at with "HIGH School" boys and girls.

Those of you who think that "Cheech and Chong" are funny may well love this, or if you think that "Superbad", "American Pie" or any other film of that odious ilk is amusing then this is the one for you.

People who are high on the old wacky-mac-daddy-baccy are NOT funny.

Oh, I know THEY think they are.

I know that THEY are laughing.

But they are under the influence of drugs.

For the rest of us spending any more than three minutes in their company is about as amusing as the holocaust.

This film would like you to believe that it is following in the sacred footsteps of John Hughes but it isn't. Where Hughes understood what made teenagers tick and crafted a world where all of their adolescent angst, hormonal rage and desperate desires could be wrote large on the silver screen here John Stalberg has "crafted" a desperately hollow vision of the life of modern teens.

I'm glad that my high school wasn't anything like this and if Stalbergs was I'm REALLY glad I wasn't around him at the time.



Your film like totally sucks broseph.


You heard.

brilliantlove - EIFF - Cineworld - 22/6/10

It's not brilliant.

It has nothing to do with love.

Love isn't the same as infatuation.

Love has no relation to sex.

Calling a woman you love "my filthy girl" exposes you as someone who doesn't understand what love is.

This was an empty, shallow, unpleasant, violently misogynistic and deeply unattractive film that offered nothing of worth to the viewer.

For romance it offered sex, for art it offered artifice, for beauty it gave us ugliness.

There is no doubt that the director and writer beleived that they were crafting a wonderfully clever film about love and desire but they weren't...they managed instead to deliver a film that presented a series of poorly drawn, repellent characters who, in the real world, one would want nothing to do with.

"Manchester" (no, really, that's the lead male character) and "Noone" (I promise you I am not making this up) live in a lock-up (I know, I know but this is all true) and spend their days having sex, photographing their sex (shocking stuff eh?) and, in the case of Noone, stuffing birds (she is a means rearranging skin we are told on at least two occasions) while the outside world carries on doing meaningless things like working, learning, supporting the poor and needy; losers.

"Manchester" very rarely wears a shirt...he's the sort of guy who is really "out there", you know, just, like, living it man. He's got tattoos and everything. He's the guy who thinks that wearing skinny jeans past the age of 24 is acceptable and who believes himself to be "eccentric" because he wears fingerless gloves...almost all of the time. I hated him and hoped that before the end of the film something awful would happen to almost does but Noone saves him, and act which so enraged me I wanted to get up out of my seat and set fire to the screen.

"Noone" is just beautiful and she loves sex. Like, she really loves it. She spends her days having orgasms and recording herself talking about them for Manchesters amusement. She must achieve orgasm more often than any women in the history of cinema. But that's, like, so liberating yeah? The writer and director (both men) are showing how, like, women can enjoy sex too, yeah? What an insight.

Manchesters love is so powerful that he eventually stages an exhibition of his pornographic photographs of Noone without her permission or knowledge. Love, eh, it's a wonderful thing. I know that whenever I think of my girlfriend and how important she is to me, how I would do anything for her, how I want her to be happy, safe and secure with me that I think the only way to show that to her is take some "dirty" pictures of her then stage an exhibition of them without letting her know. Doesn't everyone?

I cannot express clearly enough what a nasty little film this was and how utterly loathsome the two central characters are.


If there is any justice in the world this will sink like a stone to be "enjoyed" only by people who still think that showing graphic sex is still, somehow, "shocking" or's not, it's just porn and another example of the film industries inability to treat women with anything other than contempt. Everyone involved should be ashamed...not because of the sex but because they made a film without a heart, without a soul and without any purpose.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

An Interview with Ben Miller

I was in the shower last night.


Totally naked.

Except for my underpants of never know when the fire alarm might go off and you have to make a quick dash for the safety of the street. Imagine that. Your house on fire and you naked on the street with all the firemen staring at the length of your hose. Terrifying.

Just as I prepare to work up a real lather with the Imperial Leather my telephone rings.

I popped my head out of the shower to see who it was and I didn’t recognise the number.

Normally I don’t answer the ‘phone if I don’t know who it is but on this occasion I jumped out of the shower and answered.

“Hello, this is Paul Laird”

Hi Paul, this is Ben Miller

At this point I felt very exposed.

I had met Ben, comedian, writer and director Ben a screening of “The Crab” a few days earlier and given him my card and asked him if he would mind answering a few questions for me. He had said sure and I had, reasonably, expected never to hear from him again. Now here he was on the other end of the ‘phone and I was naked, save for my soggy underpants.

In the interests of protecting my carefully crafted “Oh, yeah, I’m a proper journalist me” persona I decided not to tell Ben about the wet pants or the wet anything else. Nor did I tell him that I had never conducted an interview over the ‘phone before and did what I do best...faked it.

Ben is here at the EIFF and is a jury member so I asked him what film he would choose to close the festival if it were the final festival ever.

I actually think I would choose “The White Ribbon”. It’s the best film I’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s so technically accomplished but it also has something important to say. Some directors are technically very good but have nothing to say or have something to say but no real ability, Hanneke though manages both. It really is an amazing film, “Hidden” was another of Hannekes films I loved but “The White Ribbon” just addressed a series of important issues about race and outsiders...big subjects and themes like what exactly we did in the 20th century. I think it’s a really important film.”

At the other end of the spectrum Ben what film would you play for Judas, trapped for all eternity at the bottom of Dantes “Inferno”. How would you torture him?

Ah, I have to be diplomatic here really don’t I? It would have to be something without a soul. The sort of film that, on the surface perhaps, appears appetising but is actually just an exercise in plot points and demographics. Gosh, this is tricky...I’m going to go with “Sex and the City 2”. I mean, anything with “2” in the title isn’t done for love is it? Or art. I like the idea of a moral man like Judas, he was a disciple after all, being confronted with references to Jimmy Chu shoes too.”

I like the idea of crafting fantasy films featuring the people I’m interviewing...what about “The Ben Miller Story”, who would you cast to play the lead role?

Rob Brydon. It has to be. There is no other man for the role.

And what about the soundtrack, what music would you have playing over the opening and closing credits?

While I do like “pop” music I think I would want something scored, so I would probably ask someone like Christian Henson, who scored “Huge” (this is Bens new feature film) or maybe Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of “Devo”, who scores most of the music for Wes Andersons movies

At this point the true extent of how bizarre this whole situation was; me, naked and wet trying to appear all calm and professional while interviewing a performer who I really respect and who I would like to be asking more searching questions of but unable to do so as I was holding a ‘phone in one hand and typing his replies to the, frankly, fatuous, questions I was asking in the other became too much and so I thanked Ben Miller for being kind enough to give me some of his time and went back to the shower.

Ben Miller...a funny man and, clearly, a very nice and a thoughtful man.

The Runaways - EIFF - Cineworld - 21/6/10


Kristen Stewart eh?

Quite the performer.

She has a whole range of one emotion.

In this biopic of Joan Jetts first band, the eponymous Runaways, we get to see all that Stewart has to's not much to be honest with you. In "Adventureland" her monotonal performance perfectly suited the character, here though we needed something more than just "surly".

What happens to Stewart when she is too old to play obstreperous teens in love with vampires doesn't look good from here...unless she surprises us all and reveals that she can actually act as opposed to simply sulk across the screen.

Sadly this film is little better than the leading ladies performance; it's dial-a-rock 'n' roll-cliche as we discover, shock, the music industry isn't very nice to women, people take drugs, drugs are bad, people in bands have an elevated sense of their own importance and fame is fleeting.

The one saving grace was the performance of Dakota Fanning who is fast becoming a major talent. Making the transition from "cute" child actor to serious actor isn't something many manage but she is doing it with, apparently effortless, ease. Here she is utterly convincing. An Oscar within the next ten years is my prediction.

Like the music of the band this was bubble-gum "shock"...sticky and after about five minutes a bit tasteless.

Superhero Me - EIFF - Cineworld - 21/6/10

Steve Sale is an ordinary man.

He has a house, a wife and a full time job.

He's an ordinary Joe.

But Steve Sale is NOT an ordinary man because Steve Sale is SOS!

SOS is a real life superhero.

He's got a costume.

He's got a theme tune.

He's got a rape alarm fitted into one of his gloves!

What more do you people want?

This is Sales first film and he has made a warm, funny and affecting film despite a budget of no pounds and no pence, no experience and an editing suite that consisted of his laptop.

Filming on whatever camera was available to him at any given time (including his mobile telephone) Sale documents his efforts to become a real live superhero. Along the way he postpones his honeymoon, meets other crime fighters in Naples and Florida, recruits a sidekick and discovers that, yes, there really is a hero in all of us.

This is an inspiring film for two reasons; firstly that there are heroes out there in everyday life but secondly because in Sale young, inexperienced film-makers now have a role model, a hero, who has shown them that with a good idea and commitment you can make a film that means something.

That's all from me...BLOGMAN.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Crab - EIFF - Filmhouse - 20/6/10

Rona Mark brought us the weird and wonderful world of "Strange Girls" the last time she attended the EIFF.

This time around she has delivered another weird but even more wonderful film.

Levi (a brilliant Guy Whitney) has a genetic condition (ectrodactyl) which has left him with hands that, in days past, would have seen him labelled as "lobster boy" in a freak show. Levi has settled on the label "The Crab" because, as he puts it; "I prefer pubic hair". This sort of crude aside is Levis stock in trade...he is possessed of an intellect that would put most of us to shame but after his stubborn insistence at university not to include citations in his thesis on poetry he is left without a degree and without a publishable manuscript.

Washed up and bitter Levi spends his days drinking, drinking, smoking and being bitter and twisted. The person who bares the brunt of most of his vitriol is his girlfriend Courtney (Kelley Dwyer) who loves him in a way that simply leaves Levi angry. The real object of Levis own particular brand of "love" is his best friends girl, Jane. As Levi moves from crush, to infatuation and then onto full blown obsession things move from ugly to horrific.

Rona Mark clearly wants to create films that do more than simply treat your eyes for ninety minutes. This is an intelligent and provocative film. Their are moments of dark comedy, high drama and emotional trauma and all delivered with a style all of her own. She is to be lauded for being brave enough to make a film like this.

Guy Whitney is terrific here, he is waspish, intelligent and darkly brutal throughout. His character is a tortured genius and the performance itself is genius. Alongside Vanessa Smith in "Chase The Slut" this could well be the performance of the festival.

Chase the Slut - EIFF - Filmhouse - 19/6/10

Ryan Denmark who scored a huge hit with "Romeo and Juliet vs the Living Dead" at last years EIFF returns with another fabulous feature.

This time around he is directing a script written by leading lady Vanessa Claire Smith which tells the story of Chase (Smith) who has what can only be described as a "bad reputation". She drinks a lot and she sleeps around even more. With little, to no money, she relies on her wealthy friend Tibb (Danika Sudik) to give her tips in exchange for carrying out dares...most of which have sex at their centre.

At a night club the two girls spy "Gabe" (Michael Kirby) a boy in a rust colored shirt. Tibb decides that she will marry him but offers Chase $1500 to seduce him (Gabe is a virgin and Tibb wants someone to "break him in"). What follows sees Chase plunged into the bizarre world of Gabes religion...followers worship Noah and pray for the next great flood and the men have animals who act as spirit guides. Slowly but surely Chase finds something of comfort in the isolated community and embarks on a voyage of self-discovery and realisation.

What starts as a silly and left-field comedy slowly unfolds to become something much more serious film with something important to say about relationships, love, friendship and commitment.

Vanessa Smith is startlingly good, delivering a performance that highlights her gift for comedy but also showcasing a real ability to show raw emotion. She is a talented actress and her script is as worthy of the same level of praise that was heaped on Diablo Cody for "Juno".

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Toy Story 3 - EIFF - Press Screening - Cineworld - 18/6/10/

The Godfather trilogy?

The Lord of the Rings marathon?

The Star Wars series?

The Indiana Jones quad?

The Police Academy movies?

Listen, the idea of sequels is as old as movies themselves...the problem is that very few of them are any good.

Godfather part one and two...genius.

Godfather part three...weak at best.

Lord of the Rings...only an Ork could really "enjoy" all three.

George Lucas ruined the entire series with his prequels and besides "Return of the Jedi" was rubbish.

Indiana Jones was great for three parts (you can argue about "The Temple of Doom" I suppose but I loved it) but the "Crystal Skull" was awful.

The "Toy Story" series though has now achieved the impossible...three films that are equally good.

In fact, forget it, I'm going to just say is now the best series of films ever made.

Make no mistake "Toy Story 3" is absolutely brilliant.

The gang are all back...Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest.

This time they have to come to terms with the fact that Andy is now seventeen and is heading for college. Their days are's the attic or the dump. Thanks to an error by Andys mother the gang end up in "Sunnyside" day care...which, at first, appears to be the answer to all of their problems; children aplenty all day every day and the promise of a happy ever after. All is not as it appears however and soon things take a turn for the worse which requires Woody to save the day.

I couldn't tell you how many times I laughed out loud during this is packed with terrific jokes and great visual gags too. The new characters are fabulous and the pace is thrilling. I also cried on more than one occasion...tears of real emotion as the toys faced danger or faced up to the fact that Andy was a big boy now and didn't need them.

Pixar have now managed what the likes of Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola couldn't...they have made a movie series that contains no weak link.

When this hits the multiplexes buy a ticket for opening night and then buy another for the next night..."Toy Story 3" needs to be seen more than once.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Last Rites of Ransom Pride - EIFF - Filmhouse - 18/6/10

Like "Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia" on speed.

Which is quite the achievement given that "Bring Me the Head..." is quite the acid trip already.

Tiller Russell has crafted a Western movie that is completely modern while totally comfortable with the conventions of its genre.

Sepia soaked, Southern baptist bible quotations, desert backdrops, "voodoo Mexicans", bloodbaths, carnage and revenge are all present and correct as Juliette Flowers attempts to take the body of her felled lover, the eponymous "Ransom Pride", back from the clutches of some dark and dangerous Mexicans to be buried alongside his mother. The only way she can achieve this is by delivering Ransoms brother to her in exchange...the journey to achieve this is twisted and bloody.

With a terrific performance from Lizzy Caplan as Juliette and a memorable appearance by Dwight Yoakam as the father of her lover sitting alongside a wonderful cameo by Kris Kristofferson "Ransom Pride" is destined for cult status but, in truth, it deserves much more than that because it is a film that has been made by a director who clearly loves making movies and who has an original eye.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Two Eyes Staring (Zwart Water) - EIFF - Cameo - 17/6/10

Elbert Van Strien is a director who knows his horror history and, as importantly, his horror present.

"Two Eyes Staring" is a psychological horror thriller that paints a none too pretty picture of family life, sibling rivalry and takes a sneaky peak at matricide along the way.

When Paul and Christine inherit her mothers home in Belgium Christine doesn't exactly leap for joy. Dark secrets about her family and their past are already clearly bubbling under the surface. Their daughter, the permanently frowning and worried Lisa, is equally lacking in enthusiasm for the move...and it soon transpires that she has good reason to be fearful of what may lie in store.

Lisa soon replaces her imaginary friend from Holland with a new one...the cellar girl. The cellar girl is pale skinned, dark eyed and fond of causing mischief for Christine. She is also more than she first appears to be and by the films end she is, conversely, much less than we thought she was.

Their are knowing nods to (among others I'm sure) "The Shining" (I can't say why without giving away a crucial part of the plot), "The Exorcist" (the imaginary friend who soon becomes far from friendly), "Don't Look Now", Hideo Nakatas "Dark Water" (the original title of the film is "Black Water"), several J-Horror spooks and monsters ("Ringu" and "Ju-On" as well as the aforementioned "Dark Water"), "The Orphanage" and I even detected a hint of Rona Marks "Strange Girls" at one stage.

Van Strien provides enough frights to cause audience members to jump a little and enough creepy images to create the basis of nightmares for weeks to come. The fact that the director himself can only name a handful of other Dutch horror films (including "The Lift" and "The Vanishing") tells you that the very fact he was able to get this film made at all is an achievement, the fact that he has produced something so memorable is a testament to his abilities.

My first film of the 2010 EIFF and it didn't disappoint.

The film is showing again on the 22nd of June at 10:30 (Cameo 1).

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010

This is it.

Today marks the start of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and I couldn't be any more excited.

Make no mistake this is a film festival that ranks right alongside the "big boys" of Cannes and Sundance.

There are films that will surprise, shock, upset, provoke, amuse, titilate, excite, exhaust, entertain, elevate and a million other things.

The EIFF is not a festival that is insular...this is a festival for film makers and film fans. The "industry" are here, of course, but truly this is a festival where the audience is the most important thing. While the press get the chance to interview stars and directors so too do the audience as nearly every screening is accompanied by a Q&A with someone connected to the film. You can sit in the bar of the Filmhouse and find yourself right beside the lead actor, the director, the producer of the film you've just seen.

Last year I managed to see 18 films in just 11 days...while working full time. It was exhausting but it was worth every late night, every mad dash and every penny. I saw films that became important to me (most especially a wonderful film about returning soldiers called "Isolation" which was one of my favourite films of the year) and I saw films that became significant in the "market" ("Moon", "The Hurt Locker" and "Spread" were all on show).

If you are here in Edinburgh please make the effort to go along and see something...take a chance on something you wouldn't normally go and see, see a documentary from somewhere exotic, catch a horror from Scandinavia, throw yourself into the midst of the "Under the Radar" selections. The EIFF is YOUR festival...seriously, it is friendly, welcoming and more fun than should be allowed.


I can't wait for my first film.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Filmhouse - 11/6/2010

Werner Herzog is madder than a box of frogs.

That is something we can all agree on.

He is also a director who has made several films that can be classed as genius.

It's a thin line.

Here he turns his eye (or an iguanas eye) onto Abel Ferraras "Bad Lieutenant"...a disturbing and nasty film about a corrupt police officer.

Herzog creates a film that is entirely his own.

This is not a remake but a reimagining.

With alligators, iguanas and dogs it is also undeniably a Herzog film and not a Ferrara film.

The story is simple; a police officer saves the life of a prisoner left locked in police cells as the flood waters of Katrina rise around him, Nicholas Cage dives into the water to save him and ends up with back pain that leaves him reliant on pain medication for the rest of his life. That back pain sees him turn to cocaine, ketamine and who knows what else and he begins his descent into a life of madness and chaos. Eventually he finds redemption, of sorts, and a happy ending is delivered.

Cage is fabulous as the deranged police officer, it's the sort of role that only he can pull off. Hot on the heels of his Adam West impersonation in "Kick Ass" he is enjoying a renaissance and I hope it continues because he is a performer that I have always enjoyed.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Killer Inside Me - Cineworld - 10/6/10

For many people, myself included, Casey Affleck was a stand-out performer in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and he proved that was no fluke with another great showing in "Gone Baby Gone". Throw in his turn alongside Matt Damon in Gus Van Sants "Gerry" and you have an actor who is building up a fine body of work (we'll ignore "American Pie 2") and who is proving himself to be more than capable of carrying a film and creating the sort of "noise" that is reserved for the likes of Di Caprio and Damon.

In this adaptation of Jim Thompsons novel director Michael Winterbottom sticks close to the source material and, as a result, delivers a film that is, at times, brutal and chilling. The central part of Lou Ford, the handsome young deputy sheriff of the sort of Southern town where every woman is called "ma'am" and every man is addressed as either "sir" or "boy" needed a performance that could embody "good old boy" charm and Southern manners while also delivering the sort of physical violence that hasn't been seen since "Irreversible".

Winterbottoms decision to turn to Affleck was a stroke of genius as he gives a performance that will go down in cinema history as one of the most terrifying killers ever to stalk the silver screen. Make no mistake here, Afflecks Lou Ford is more chilling than Hopkins Hannibal Lecter and the match of Perkins Norman Bates. It's the sort of performance that announces to the cinema going public that you are a "serious" performer and that tells the studios that you can carry a movie.

The story is horribly simple as Lou beats his lover, local prostitute Joyce (Jessica Alba), to death in order to frame an old enemy for the murder. From there his life unravels and he is forced to murder two more people and is indirectly responsible for at least two others. All the while Affleck is charming and cool, immaculately dressed and totally in control of his emotions. It is an entirely convincing performance.

The supporting cast are fabulous too, in particular Alba and Kate Hudson as the unsuspecting and unfortunate victims of Fords love and violence. Both women will surely be in the running for Oscar nominations and if Affleck isn't there beside them it will be proof, if any further were needed, that the Oscars are not about rewarding the best but rewarding the best paid.

"The Killer Inside Me" isn't a film for everyone; it is brutal, violent, erotic and disturbing but for those of a strong disposition it is a rewarding experience.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Onion Rings

I took an American friend to the cinema last night.

He's over here on business from Utah.

For those of you unfamiliar with the charms of that particular state let me just say it isn't exactly a cultural hotspot. It's the sort of place that equates arthouse with liberal...not a good thing. It is a Republican state now and always will be. It's not the sort of place for the likes of you and I dear reader.

As we prepared to leave for the cinema I was extoling the virtues of a British arthouse audience compared to the multiplex audience he would be used to.

"These people are serious about film" I said "They see it as an artform and not just as entertainment".

He is a cultured man and as much of a cinephile as Utah allows him to be so he was excited about what lay ahead.

His initial impressions of the Filmhouse were very good.

As we sat in cinema three he remarked "I wish we had a cinema like this in Utah, there must be an audience for this sort of film, it can't just be me"

I was feeling quite smug.

My city, my cinema...cultured, arty, exotic.

Imagine my horror as a young couple sat down in the back row two seats apart from us and proceeded to take out a packed lunch (at 9pm) which included an enormous bag of "Bobbys" Onion Rings.

Onion Rings.

Onion Rings.

In a packed cinema?

They reeked.

I made a jokey comment about the situation but it made no difference and so I had to put up with the whiff of stale onions for the duration.

This was made even worse by the arrival of a Spanish couple who sat in between me and the Onion Twins and sucked each others faces intermittently during the film. That sort of thing might be fine on the Continent or at a swingers party but in a packed cinema on a wet Tuesday night in Edinburghs Filmhouse cinema....really?


The cinema is a place to go and WATCH films.

It isn't a place to eat a picnic or copulate.

If you want to eat a picnic or copulate do it somewhere where that might be acceptable...a park or a bedroom perhaps.

I'm slowly drifting towards misanthrope.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Magnolia - DVD - 6/6/10

Don't panic.

It is 2010.

I'm well aware that I have taken eleven years to see this movie.

What can I tell you? There are a lot of movies and I only have so much time. I'm going to miss some. Including some of the good ones. I'm sorry.

While it may have taken eleven years I'm glad that I've finally found the time to sit down and watch "Magnolia".

It is fabulous.

A grand, mesmerising, twisted, dark, Altmanesque tale that tackles family, fidelity, morality, immorality, faith, fame, success, failure, happiness, life and death. At over three hours long it has the time to do so but it never drags or sags. It races along at a breakneck pace and yet manages to find enough time to draw characters that you feel for, believe in and understand.

It's an amazing feat.

P.T Anderson wrote and directed "Magnolia" two years after "Boogie Nights" and at only 29 years old.


Simply amazing.

The stories, and there are several, include...

The wife of a successful television producer, Linda (Julianne Moore), and her efforts to come to terms with the fact that her husband, Big Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is dying. She is riddled with guilt over her infidelities and she falls apart in spectacular fashion as she entrusts her husbands nurse, Phil (Philp Seymour Hoffman), with the task of delivering an overdose of liquid morphine. She then makes an attempt to take her own life while sitting in her car.

At the same time on the set of Big Earls most successful show "What Do Kids Know?" (a quiz where three adults challenge three kids) the host Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) is also dying and has made an effort to reconnect with his daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters) prior to filming only to be turned away. On the set Jimmy collapses and one of the kids Stanley (Jeremy Blackman) is buckling under the pressure to succeed from his father and embarrasses himself by wetting his pants.

Jimmy Gators daughter, Claudia, is a coke addict and finds herself visited by kindly, geeky, Christian cop Officer Jim (John C. Reilly) who is following up on a complaint about the noise. He is immediately attracted to her and she sees in him a chance of redemption and so they agree to go out on a date.

A former contestant on the show, Quiz Kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) is fired from his job and makes a fool of himself by declaring his love for the barman in the gay bar he frequents. He is desperate to have corrective oral surgery (braces) and needs to find the money for it, as he is convinced that straight teeth will bring him luck in love.

Frank T.J Mackey (Tom Cruise) is a male sex guru who's "Seduce and Destroy" seminars make him wealthy and infamous. During an interview with a female journalist Frank is confronted with the fact that she has discovered that he has lied about his family life. His story of who his parents are is untrue...the journalist has learned that his father is Big Earl Partidge.

At the same time Big Earl asks Phil to find his son for him and bring him to him before he dies.

Are you following this?

I'm only scratching the surface.

A myriad of people, stories and events collide and interact here.

Every single person on screen delivers a performance that can rank among their best. Julianne Moore is incredible as the broken Linda. Tom Cruise is, frankly, astonishing as Frank. The fact that he didn't win the Oscar he was nominated for is shameful. P.T Anderson manages to draw out consistently wonderful performances from every one of his actors.

It isn't an exaggeration to say that "Magnolia" is a masterpiece.

It is a masterpiece.

The ending, as surreal and disturbing as any in cinema history, is worth the wait.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Black Narcissus - Filmhouse - 2/6/10

What do you want from a film?

Do you want to be entertained?

Do you want to be challenged?

Do you want to be made to think?

Do you want to be frightened?

Do you want to be shocked?

Do you want to see beauty?

Do you want cinematography that blows you away?

Do you want a film that tells the story of a group of nuns who move into the former "house of women" in a remote Indian village to set up a school and who then fall prey to a madness that ends horribly for all concerned?

If that's what you want then Powell and Pressburgers gem "Black Narcissus" is the film for you.

If that isn't what you want then you should stop reading might even want to think about giving up on breathing.

Deborah Kerr stars as Sister Clodagh who has donned the Habit in order to forget the love she lost as a young women in Ireland. She is placed in charge of a rag-tag bunch of Sisters including Sister Ruth who soon falls in love with Englishman, Mr Dean played by David Farrar and then slowly descends into madness before throwing herself at Dean and then at Sister Clodagh but in very different ways. Oh, and just for good measure Jean Simmons plays an exotic native girl who is Lolita to the power of ten.

Madness, love, passion, desire, lust, religion, faith...all wrapped up in a film that is so beautiful to look at that you could easily watch it without sound and be as entranced as you are with it. The credit for that, in large part, lies at the feet of cinematographer Jack Cardiff who was a mainstay of many of Powell and Pressburgers films.

"Black Narcissus" isn't a film that you can afford to miss. It should feature high on any list of films to see before you die. Sixty-three years old and it still has the ability to shock and it looks as fresh now as it would have in 1947. It is a film that demands that you love it...few will be able to resist it's charms.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

An Interview with Alex Zane

Alex Zane.

Television presenter.

Stand up comedian.


Film reviewer.

Annoying isn't it?

No, not really because Zane, as well as ability, has a charm and likeability.

Actually, that is annoying!

I decided to pitch my own cutting, incisive interview technique (which lacks any ability, charm or likeability) up against Zane and ask him the questions that needed to be asked.

That's not quite true.

What I really did was ask him some frivolous questions that I thought you might enjoy reading the answers to, I don't think you will be disappointed.

The more observant film fans amongst you will have noticed that Alex shares a surname with Hollywood hunk Billy Zane. I asked Alex which of the other Zanes film roles he would most like to have played; Cal Hockley in "Titanic", the voice of John Rolfe in "Pocahontas II", Elrich in "BloodRayne" or Billy Zane in "Zoolander"?

I’d choose Billy Zane as himself in Zoolander, because in it he transcends the idea that he’s just a jobbing actor and becomes ‘Billy Zane’ an oracle of wisdom, a soothsayer of sorts, all in the one line “Listen to your friend Billy Zane, he’s a cool dude” during Zoolander and Hansel’s altercation.

Not that I in anyway encapsulate that kind of gravitas. I have once in my life been witness to an altercation involving a friend. I was at the far side of a car park rubbing my lips along the side of a van, in an attempt to cool them after foolishly ingesting some chili vodka, when I noticed my friend being punched. What happened next reminds me of the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in ‘The Shining’ when he senses Danny is in danger and travels all the way to the hotel to help him only to get an axe in the back. I ran and ran and ran to the other side of the car park, went ‘What’s going on?’ and got head butted in the face, thus ending my ill thought through intervention.

My close friends know that I am currently working on a script for the film of your life, Alex, which I am calling "I'm Alex, not Billy, Zane". I'm now giving thought to casting and wondered who you would like to play the part of "Alex" in the film? Thanks to the miracle of CGI you can select an actor who has already shrugged off this mortal coil.

I’m going to use the CGI option but not because he’s dead, because I’d like to look like him circa 1977, when Smokey and the Bandit came out. Burt Reynolds was my hero as a child and Smokey and the Bandit is in my Top 5 movies of all time (4th place). I’ve always loved watching car chases and cars driving fast, Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, The Blues Brothers, these were the films that first alerted my senses to what cinema could offer.

I met Burt Reynolds once in LA doing an interview, that went well enough for him to say at the end “What’s your name, I’ll remember you?” to which I replied “Alex Zane”.

The following day I walked into a whiskey bar on Sunset Boulevard with my friend and Burt Reynolds was sitting in there. I turned to my friend and said, “I know Burt Reynolds” to which my friend said, “No you don’t”. In an attempt to prove myself right, I took my friend over to where Burt was sitting, said “Hi Burt, I interviewed you yesterday” to which Burt Reynolds replied “Oh yeah, Alan right, Alan Zone”.

If that isn't the best anecdote you have heard this year then you are either Stephen Fry (who I imagine regales himself with amusing anecdotes all the day long) or you are dead. What more do you want? It's got Burt Reynolds in it for goodness sake...that's the very definition of a great anecdote. Well, it is for me.

Whenever I hear the description "disc jockey" I always think of tiny men riding seven inch singles around a hit parade themed race track, which, I will admit, says much about me and very little about anything else. But a disc jockey you are, so what music would you chose to have playing over the opening and closing credits of "I'm Alex, Not Billy, Zane"?

I think the closing credit music of a film is as important as the opening. I think the greatest musical end to a film is The Pixies: Where is My Mind over the final scenes of Fight Club. But there are others too that bear less relevance to the plot but, for me, are equally effective, The Prodigy’s Funky Shit at the end of Event Horizon or A Whiter Shade of Pale at the end of The Net both work really well. I think I’d choose AC/DC: You Shook Me All Night Long for no other reason than I’ like to walk out of the cinema with that song playing. For the opening, presumably over my birth, I’d use Yazz: The Only way is Up (Baby). Or perhaps The Bangles: Walk Like an Egyptian, which is the first single I bought, and thanks to CGI I’d be born walking like an Egyptian in that terrifying and unsettling way you get when you apply CGI to babies, like in Son of the Mask.

I haven't ever kissed a girl in the back row of the cinema and, at 36, I think that the time may have passed but what about you, a younger, better looking and more talented man?

I see going to the cinema as more of a solo experience. Perhaps if I’d had a girlfriend as a teenager I might have experienced those ‘back row’ moments but I did not. Therefore I don’t just believe in the cinema not being a suitable location for a date but I struggle to empathise with those who do. Obviously if you’re going to be grown up about it, fine, you sit there and enjoy a film and upon leaving you discuss the highs and lows of the movie experience, I understand that. But if you’re just looking for a dark room in which you can hide away and make squelching and sloshing noises with your partner, elsewhere should you wander, perhaps to Laser Quest, a bowling alley, a shopping centre, a youth club, some woods, a cave, the engine room of a ship, under a bridge, some wasteland, Hull, the moon, but not the cinema.

I did go to the cinema with my schoolmates once to see Groundhog Day. Some older boys through popcorn at us throughout and no one kissed.

I'm very pleased to see that Alex didn't have a girlfriend as a teenager. If he was sat at home listening to The Smiths and crying then we may well be at the start of a beautiful friendship. As there must needs be opposition in all things though, if we are going to be friends that means there will have to be enemies. Which film would you force your enemy to watch on rotation for eternity?

Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace. It takes a truly bad film for you to sit through it and then afterwards have no real memory of what occurred on screen so emotionally uninvolving was the whole experience. That’s Lawnmower man 2. All I remember is it’s in the future, there are some of those punky skate boarder-y kids who always seem to inhabit the backstreets of future cities and there may have been a sequence involving a motorcycle of some description. It makes Highlander 2 look like the Godfather Part 2.

So there you have it.

Alex Zane has managed to drop in the names of "Lawnmower Man 2" and "The Mask 2" yet still comes out of this interview smelling of mean feat I'm sure you will agree.

Many thanks to Alex for agreeing to answer my questions and for those of you based in Edinburgh make sure you take the time to see the man himself during the Edinburgh Festival.

Vagabond - Filmhouse - 31/5/10

The frozen body of a young women lies in a ditch.

She is beautiful but her clothes and hair are dirty.

She has no possessions or any identification.

Who is she and how did she end up where she has?

Director Agnes Varda takes us on the road with the young vagabond and provides us with the answers to these questions and in the process asks us to think about even bigger questions; are we ever free, can we really be independent, do we have free will and what price do we pay for trying to be free, independent and to make choices?

The young woman is Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) and we follow her as she hitch-hikes across Southern France meeting other vagabonds, doing odd-jobs, setting up home with a Tunisian vineyard worker, attempting to become a potato farmer with the help of a philosopher/goat farmer and, ultimately, dying in a ditch.

It's a tragic tale but filled with moments of warmth and humour.

Bonnaire is absolutely wonderful...full of fight, righteous indignation and vim. She seems, on the surface, to be totally free but as we become more and more involved with her we see that she is a prisoner just as much as anyone who is holed up in an office working nine to five. She is utterly reliant on others for everything and her end, when it comes, is all to easy to predict.

A clever, cautionary tale that is all too relevant to the world we live in now despite it being twenty five years old.