Edinburgh International Film Festival 18 - 29 June
This year I went to see seven films in the festival.
19 June Greyhawk
A lovely film, starting off rather bleak and seemingly getting bleaker as it progressed, but with an ending which while not uplifting was at least moderately happy. The film concerns a ex-soldier blinded in Afghanistan, whose guide dog Quince is stolen by a group of teenagers on the Greyhawk estate. The film follows his efforts to track down his dog.
In the Q&A session after the film, the director Guy Pitt and principal actor Alec Newman explained that they wanted the blind character to be pretty unsympathetic. Too often blind people are portrayed as people to be pitied, and they wanted to move beyond that by deliberately making him hard to pity. His relationship with a woman on the estate who helps him shows just how prickly and downright unpleasant he can be, and why not? He's a wounded ex-serviceman, and they're not necessarily going to be full of loving kindness. Plus, someone has stolen his guide dog FFS.
I can't see this film getting a general release, but I'm glad I saw it.
20 June Cold In July
This one, on the other hand, is already on general release, and if there is any justice deserves to be a huge hit. based on the novel by Joe R Lansdale, it has a plot full of twists and turns, where the film keeps going off in new directions you didn't expect. It starts out with a picture-framer (Michael C Hall) shooting a burglar dead. The dead man's father (Sam Shepard), just out of prison, starts stalking the framer's family. If I started to describe the many ways in which that basic plot is subverted, I would spoil the film for you: and you really should go and see it. The plot twists get a whole new shot in the arm when private eye Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson) shows up. Johnson was at the post-screening Q&A, and it appears that he will be playing Jim Bob Luke in other Lansdale adaptations for television fairly soon. Something to look forward to, at least if they show them in Britain.
The film was brilliant from start to finish, with a terrific cast and a great script (off which the cast happily improvised some great moments). Don't miss it. I certainly intend to see it again, though as we're shortly off to Spain that may need to wait for the DVD release.
23 June My Accomplice
This was the kind of quirky film that the British do really well. Hilary said it reminded her of Gregory's Girl, and it certainly shares some characteristics with the Bill Forsyth masterpiece. A central relationship which doesn't go to plan, a great sense of place (it's set in Brighton)(and Wivelsfield, if it exists....). Oh, and there is a bloke dressed as a seagull who turns up every now and then, rather like GG's penguin. As IMDB puts it, the film has "a small cast of everyday eccentrics that usually don't make it into films: Bulgarians, adults with learning disabilities, very tall women and elective mutes". We liked it a lot.
24 June A Practical Guide To A Spectacular Suicide
This one was fun, and very Scottish. It follows Tom (Graeme McGeagh)a teenager who has tried many times to commit suicide and has been sent for compulsory psychotherapy after a drowning attempt. We see a lot of his sessions with his therapist Dr Watson (Patrick O'Brien), which are hilarious. We also see his developing relationship with a fellow-patient Eve, played by the gorgeous Annabel Logan. We never find out what Eve's mental problem is, but Annabel told us at the Q&A (which was attended by all the main actors as well as various directors, writers, producers....) that she had decided for herself what Eve's back story would be. She didn't tell us though. Someone at the Q&A compared the film with Harold and Maude, which seems reasonable (a similar kind of black humour dealing with suicide). Amazingly, NOBODY in the whole bunch of principals who were present had ever seen Harold and Maude. (What do they teach them in these schools?.....)
28 June A Dangerous Game
This one was directed by an Englishman (Anthony Baxter), though much of its subject matter concerns Scotland. It forms a sequel to You've Been Trumped, which looked at the golf course which billionaire Donald Trump built over a protected wildlife site in Aberdeenshire. He was allowed to do this because the local MSP just happens to be Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, who arranged for Trump's vanity project to gain exemption from planning controls. (I am not alone on thinking that once we have our independence, there will be a reckoning to be had with Mr Salmond over this business.) We follow the continuing story of Trump's Balmedie development, but we also see other golf courses for the super-rich which threaten natural or human heritage, in particular one planned for Dubrovnik (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we follow the progress of the protests against them.
A couple of small things. Michael Forbes, the leader of the Balmedie campaign, was voted Glenfiddich Scot of the Year 2012 (beating Olympic champions Chris Hoy and Andy Murray as well as Billy Connolly). In response, all Trump's hotels boycotted Glenfiddich! And did you know that golf courses around the world consume water sufficient for the needs of 80% of the planet's population?
Special praise due to Karine Polwart for her contributions to the film and its soundtrack.
Anthony Baxter has got distribution lined up for the film, but needs money to produce all the digital film packs needed to get it into cinemas. He is raising this via crowdfunding.
Oh, and Trump has abandoned his plan to build a second course at Balmedie. Yay!
29 June Atlas
No IMDB or Wikipedia entry for this one, which was billed as a documentary celebrating the lives of prostitutes as tragic heroines of a universe with its own laws, neither moralising nor glamorising them.
This was the only film I really hated in the festival. In fact I left about halfway through, and I NEVER walk out of films. Nor was I the first to do so this time. The film was uniformly dark - I mean literally dark, being shot at night with little of no additional lighting. The endless shots of women injecting heroin or smoking crack began to get annoying early on, especially with the pretentious voice-overs in various (subtitled) languages. The five-minute shot of a woman masturbating in a bored way didn't hold my interest. But it was the footage of a newly-slaughtered goat being out into a bowl that decided me that I'd had enough. I've seen a goat being slaughtered like that in Yemen, and it doesn't especially disturb me, but it's not what I had in mind when I booked to see a documentary of the sex industry.
Here are two reviews of the film, which seems only to have surfaced for the Edinburgh festival. The first is a gushing and pretentious analysis, by someone I suspect is connected with the festival. The second is by a reviewer who saw a preview, and whose opinion matches mine pretty much exactly.
29 June We'll Never Have Paris
And so we arrive at the final film of the festival, a romantic comedy written and directed by Simon Helberg of the Big Bang Theory, who also stars in it. He described the film as partly autobiographical: the opening credits say "Based on a true story....unfortunately." Basically the film is about the attempts of Quinn (played by Helberg) to propose marriage to the girl he has loved since primary school, and the various things that get in the way.
For quite a bit of the film I kept finding myself thinking that it was like a feature-length episode of Seinfeld, or perhaps even more one of Friends. Quinn comes over as incredibly whiny and self-obsessed (imagine a far, far worse version of Ross in ), and I kept wanting to punch him: probably not Helberg's intention. Even by the end I found him very hard to like, though there were plenty of laughs along the way, and some brilliant scenes. I didn't like it as much as the first five films I saw in the festival, but coming a few hours after the dire Atlas it was as welcome as Some Like It Hot. Good fun really, and I dare say it will turn up in mainstream cinemas later on.