This year, for the first time, I volunteered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I worked at the Registration Desk, which meant giving delegates (guests, press people industry members, etc) their passes and sometimes picking people up at the airport. It was a lot of fun, and a great way to see who was coming to the festival, which directors and actors were doing what when, which press representatives were coming as well. That’s how I saw that Chris Hewitt (from EMPIRE) was doing a little talk at the Festival Sq, so I attended! Overall, I’d have to say this was a fantastic experience. I got to meet wonderful people, including but not up to Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie and Liam Cunningham (*wink*), saw some wonderful films, attended amazing events, and watched Simon Helberg play jazz piano at a party. Truly an experience I’d love to repeat next year!
Now, moving on from the sappy stuff. Because I had lots of airport and afternoon shifts, I didn’t watch a whole lot of films, but I did manage to attend nine screenings, plus the EMPIRE Podcast recording (which was brilliant! it featured Brian Cox and Elijah Wood, and you can check it out here). I’ve been putting off writing reviews for these films because I wanted to do a neat little round-up, and since the festival ended yesterday (*sobs*), the time has come!
Life After Beth, 2014
dir. Jeff Baena
“Broken-hearted after the death of his girlfriend Beth, Zach is initially delighted to be given another chance when she returns from the dead.” Described as a zom-rom-com, Life After Beth is a sweet if slightly creepy love story. The humour is understated and not in-your-face like a mainstream zombie comedy would do (yes, I’m referring to Zombieland), rather it has a little of the same DNA of Shaun of the Dead, while it focuses more on these central characters rather than the whole world. Dane DeHaan as the grieving Zach carries most the film in a very subtle way. In just a few days, this character suffers so many changes, and with a more over-the-top actor, it could have been goofy, but with DeHaan, Zach is a likeable, realistic person. However, all the other characters are also very well-developed. His parents, played by Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser, are very odd and they don’t really understand what is happening to their son, and his brother, played by Matthew Gray Gubler, is kind of a dick, but also a bit crazy in a sweet sort of way. And Aubrey Plaza as Beth steals the show whenever she is on screen. Different from her usual deadpan, slightly angry characters, Beth is a lovely girl who just doesn’t understand what is happening to her (with, you know, being undead and all), and through her we get glimpses of her relationship with Zach pre-death. In the end, this film is mostly a character study hiding behind a plot-driven zombie-comedy, and it explores human nature and interpersonal relationships in an interesting way.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Runaway Day, 2013
dir. Dimitris Bavellas
“A strange epidemic strikes crisis-torn Greece: hordes of Athenians are fleeing the city for no definite reason.” As a concept, this is seemed quite interesting. However, the execution left a lot to be desired as the film followed the paths of Maria Fragoyanni, a housewife, and Loukas Tsitsanis, a nerdy unemployed man who has a lot of debt with the bank. There isn’t a specific story, the films switches from Maria to Loukas as they run away from their lives, and sometimes it switches back to their homes, Maria’s husband and Loukas’s mother and brother. On all the televisions, the same show is playing, a man talking about the disappearances, asking why this is happening, and his speech seems to trigger these people who run away. He was similar to Roger Allam’s Lewis Prothero in V for Vendetta in the way that he addressed the audience. Sometimes the film would cut to this young girl who met with Maria or Loukas at times, and she’d take their hand and take them places. She seemed to know what she was doing, and there was even a sequence when there was no running away, only Maria, Loukas and the little girl watching a band play at a park. More and more people started to run away, children, adults, Maria’s husband, Loukas’s mother. In the end, it wasn’t a character study, and it wasn’t a story with a plot, it was very dull, really. Far too long for what it was trying to accomplish (though what that was remains a mystery to me).
My rating: ★☆☆☆☆
The Skeleton Twins, 2014
dir. Craig Johnson
“When a failed suicide attempt lands aspiring actor Milo (Bill Hader) in the hospital, his long-estranged twin sister, dental hygienist Maggie (Kristen Wiig), invites him to recuperate at her house.” At first, it looks like The Skeleton Twins is going to be very depressing. And why would you even hire Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader to play such sad characters? But as soon as we se Milo’s suicide note (“see ya later :)”), we see what this film is truly about. These two characters have so much history, so much emotional baggage, and the audience arrives right in the middle of it, in the climax of their lives. Maggie and Milo are both lost in very different ways, and they can’t really cope alone. This could have been Lifetime-channel sad, it had all the markings of it, but with the talents of Hader and Wiig, and the wonderful script written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman, these two characters are quirky, sweet, a bit depressing, and even really funny at times. Ghosts from Milo’s past return in the shape of his old English teacher, Rich, played by Ty Burrell, and Maggie has to struggle with feeling trapped in her marriage with Luke Wilson’s Lance (whom she loves but maybe not enough) and wanting to be free. They come together and fight, argue, dance, sing, get high. It’s a beautiful story about sibling-hood and family, as well as the many shapes and forms of love. And it’s such a beautiful film as well, set in the suburbs of New York in the autumn, when everything is shades of orange, yellow and brown, and the Halloween scenes are absolutely stunning. This is a wonderful film that deserves to be watched again and again.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Set Fire to the Stars, 2014
dir. Andy Goddard
“Celebrating Dylan Thomas’ centenary, this intriguing semi-biographical drama focusses on a week in the life of the great poet as he prepares for a series of performed readings in the US.” This biopic is, as Elijah Wood pointed out during the Q&A after the screening, a character study. Here we are introduced to Dylan through John as they go on readings, to pubs, and when John takes them to his parents’ cabin in Connecticut before they go to Yale. It’s intimately shot, and especially with the black-and-white, it looks like an old film. Celyn Jones and Elijah Wood have fantastic chemistry, and they play off each other really well during their many confined scenes. This is a extraordinarily ambitious and successful directorial debut by Andy Goddard. But perhaps what is best about this film is the music. The score written by Gruff Rhys is incredibly jazzy and it flows seamlessly throughout the film. When they characters were silent and the music played, it added a whole new meaning to their actions, and in the opening sequence it definitely set the tone of the entire film.
Sometimes it felt like the film went on for a bit too long, and there wasn’t enough of Kelly Riley, who played Thomas’s wife. But overall it was a stunning film, and a brilliant effort from a first-time director.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
dir. Leigh Janiak
“What looks like the perfect honeymoon turns more and more sinister.” Another directorial debut, now by Leigh Janiak, who also co-wrote this script with Phil Graziadei. This film follows Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) as they go on their honeymoon in Bea’s family’s cabin. It’s a secluded place, right before summer, and there is no one around, except another couple, Will and Annie, whom Bea and Paul encounter once while looking for somewhere to eat. After that, strange things start to happen, especially after Paul finds Bea “sleepwalking” during the night, naked, having lost her nightgown. It is an intense horror film. There aren’t jump-scares, only the rising tension as Paul tries to find out what is happening to Bea, who keeps forgetting things, being distant and strange, acting completely out-of-character. At the beginning of the film, we get to know these characters, and see how loving they are with each other, and everything that happens between them throughout the fuelled by love. There are elements of Cronenberg, Hitchcock and Kubrick which manifest more clearly from the middle. The end is completely unexpected in the best of ways. This is definitely the best, cleverest horror film I’ve seen in a long time.
My rating: ★★★★☆
dir. David Gordon Green
“An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.” Nicolas Cage’s most subtle, nuanced performance in a very long time. Cage’s Joe is a man who has a quiet intensity about him, and the performance is breathtaking, a show-stealer amongst an array of brilliant acting. Though the film begins slow, simply showing the simple life led by these central characters in this small, dangerous community, as the relationship between Joe and Gary (Tye Sheridan) begins to develop, the story picks up an interesting pace. They become almost like father and son, and Gary has to struggle to protect his mother and sister while keeping away from his father, who is a good-for-nothing, violent alcoholic. And all the while, we are also introduced to the supporting characters, who are mostly three-dimensional and well-developed, except perhaps for Connie, who seems mostly pointless. In fact, the female presence in this isn’t particularly strong, and even when they are there, there doesn’t seem to be a lot for them to do. Except for Joe’s female dog, maybe, who is definitely the strongest female character in this film. Still, it is a fantastic film, gritty and intense, with a somewhat surprising ending.
My rating: ★★★★☆
dir. James Ward Byrkit
”A dinner party is disrupted by a power failure. Initially attributing it to unusual occurrences caused by a comet passing close to Earth, the guests eventually realise that something is terribly wrong.“ This is weird. It’s science fiction and suspense, and the concept seems fairly simple, but it is very weird. The start is normal, just a bunch of friends gathering for a dinner party, it could be start of any horror film ever. There’s the introduction of the characters’ relationships in a very obvious manner, there is pleasant conversation – it feels a lot like a mumblecore film at the start actually. But then it all gets so strange after the power goes out. Not much can be said about it without spoiling the plot of the film, except that it sort of makes sense in a weird sci-fi kind of way. The acting is solid, the highlight being Nicholas Brendon, who is probably used to acting strange events since he played Xander for seven years in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the end, for such a weird film, this was surprisingly funny and enjoyable.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
dir. Bong Joon-ho
”In the near future, attempts to find a technological fix for global warming have backfired disastrously.“
Brilliant. Stunning, intelligent, and brilliant. A comment on society and class, this film follows Curtis (Chris Evans) as he reluctantly leads a revolution on the train which carries the last humans on Earth who embarked after an attempt to end global warming backfired and brought the ice age back. In the train, the lower class lives in the tailgate, the back cars, whilst the richer classes live in the front, enjoying the luxuries of the ecosystem inside the train, and all of it is led by Wilford, the creator of the train. During the film we learn more about what happened to Earth, how they all got inside the train, how the train works, and what life was like in the tailgate compartments in the beginning. It is a poignant story, nuanced, terrible, sad and touching, and it puts the class system into perspective. Chris Evans carries this film beautifully. Curtis is the most interesting, different character he’s ever played, and he does him in a fascinating way. However, the whole film is awash with brilliant performances, from Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer and Jamie Bell, as well as Kang-ho Son and A-sung Ho, who speak mostly in Korean during the film. Snowpiercer is an immersive experience, and the most beautiful and gritty film in a long time.
My rating: ★★★★★
We’ll Never Have Paris, 2014
dir. Simon Helberg, Jocelyn Towne
Based on the real-life events that brought Helberg and Towne together, We’ll Never Have Paris is a bit like Annie Hall. It’s got the neurotic leading man, the kooky best friend who has an esoteric side, an odd unsatisfying rebound relationship. However, Devon is nothing like Annie Hall, which is a good thing, because she is a much stronger woman, she knows what she wants, even as she tries to find herself. There is something very charming about these two main characters, and Helberg’s Quinn (who is based on himself) is much more likeable than Woody Allen’s Alvy, perhaps because his efforts of getting Devon back are borne out of genuine love rather than Not Wanting to Be Alone. Still, the film suffers from a lack of Alfred Molina, who is Quinn’s father, and an overabundance of Maggie Grace’s Kelsey, who is the girl Quinn “leaves” Devon for. However, after Quinn decides to pursue Devon again, and flies to Paris, the story truly picks up, and that’s when some of the funniest parts happen. This is a surprisingly laugh-out-loud film, not only a feel-good summer rom-com, but also filled with genuine comedic moments (though I still wish there’d been a Nic Cage impression there, because Helberg does a fantastic one). And as the film ends, we are hopeful for Quinn and Devon’s relationship. It’s a wonderful, happy film, and it was a great way to close the festival.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
review by Mariana Duarte