This year Brig will have coverage every day of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) from 15th-26th June as it celebrates its 70th anniversary.
I will be there as part of the Audience Awards Volunteer team which will involve assisting in the screening of films and the counting of voting slips for films in the running for the prestigious Audience Award. Therefore I will be on site for the duration of the festival and will hopefully get time to see a bunch of films (if I don’t get in to see the UK Première of Finding Dory I think I might cry a little).
This year’s programme was launched on the 26th May and is as diverse as ever, with everything from new British talent and documentaries to world cinema and animations.
Some of the highlights I’m looking forward to seeing are Finding Dory, The White King (which is nominated for the Best British Film award and has its World Première at the EIFF), and Emma Watson’s new film The Colony.
Keep checking back to this page from 15th June for updates on what is going on at the EIFF and for tips on some of the best films we get the chance to see.
Saturday 25th June
Today was my last day at the EIFF and unfortunately one of the films I saw was underwhelming while the other was not what I was expecting.
Forsaken is a western starring Donald and Kiefer Sutherland as an embittered father and son trying to make amends while their town is besieged by ruthless land-grabbers. For the most part this was dull and cliched, with the most interesting scenes being in the final 15 minutes when the final retribution occurs. There was one scene that was actually quite touching, though, which involved Kiefer’s character having a breakdown in his father’s church. Of course, the main appeal here is seeing this famous father and son starring opposite each other on-screen and they were both as good as ever (even if I can’t see Donald Sutherland as anyone other than President Snow from The Hunger Games now!). The person that stole the show here though was Brian Cox, in yet another film at this year’s festival, as the ruthless bad guy. I really wanted to like this film but it was just too much of a slow burner that I was losing interest by the time things were getting interesting at the end and I feel like the western genre has been done better recently by Quentin Tarantino.
2 out of 5
Away stars Timothy Spall and Juno Temple as kindred spirits brought together in Blackpool who form an unlikely friendship. Whilst that makes it sound as though it will be a happy-go-lucky film with oddball friends exploring Blackpool, it is in fact a very dark and gritty drama dealing with issues such as domestic abuse, suicide and grief. Don’t get me wrong, it has its uplifting moments which make the finale all the more heartbreaking. Timothy Spall is a force to be reckoned with here as a man contemplating suicide after the death of his wife. The soundtrack was also very atmospheric, with songs such as ‘Solo Dancing’ by Indiana being played diegetically through Juno Temple’s headphones throughout the film which adds another sense of realism. While it wasn’t the British comedy I was misguidedly expecting, this was a gripping and heartfelt drama that was at times a very difficult watch.
4 out of 5
Friday 24th June
After a couple of days off, today went full force as I tried to see as many films as possible before the end of the festival this weekend. It was as diverse a collection of films as ever, from a documentary about whale hunting to a zombie apocalypse action-thriller.
The Islands and the Whales was a touching documentary about the hunting traditions of the Faroe Islands. It brought to question the sustainability of their hunting methods, with footage showing activists attempting to halt a mass pilot whale hunt, as well as the potential health risks that come with eating so much whale with scenes showing a doctor testing for mercury poisoning. While that was all interesting, it was the scenes with the Faroese families struggling with having their traditional lifestyles called into question that really humanised it all and made for a much more interesting watch.
4 out of 5
Take Down was an action movie about rich kids being sent to a reforming school on a Scottish island having to take matters into their own hands when they’re taken hostage by a group of criminals.Yes, it is as predictably naff as that description makes it sound and it has some suitably wooden acting and a corny script to boot. But towards the end of a fortnight of film viewing, some of which were quite emotionally intense, this was a prefect film to switch your brain off to and enjoy the utter nonsense as the young rich kids try to survive in the wilderness. It may be awful but it was generally strangely enjoyable, if about 20 minutes too long.
2 out of 5
The Rezort is set in a world after a zombie apocalypse where the titular holiday destination offers guests the opportunity to kill zombies. This was a really enjoyable twist on the zombie movie genre, after the frankly rather dull World War Z, as rather than showing us yet another zombie apocalypse it presents an idea of what would happen in the aftermath of 2 billion people dying. It kind of plays out like Jurassic Park with zombies but rather than just being people being chased by the walking dead (and don’t get me wrong there’s plenty of that) there’s a very interesting underlying plot involving business ethics and refugee politics.
4 out of 5
Ithaca was the biggest disappointment of the festival. Rather than being a beautiful portrait of America during the Second World War, this ended up being a plodding bore with the main focus being being on a messenger boy cycling around town delivering messages. The style of the film felt as though it was aspiring to be Forrest Gump (with a collection of short stories supposed to build the portrait of a life) but it falls flat because it doesn’t have the epic scale of that classic film, instead focusing everything on a small American town from the perspective of a teenage boy. This was Meg Ryan’s directorial debut and it definitely showed. The long static shots were unnecessary, as were the jarring shots which constantly flashed back and forth between characters as they had conversations. One of the only saving graces was the adorable little boy who plays Ulysses. By the time it reached its inevitable conclusion, I was bored out of my skin.
2 out of 5
Monday 20th June
Today was a very full day of film viewing, including the European Premiere of The Carer (where I brushed shoulders with the likes of Brian Cox – the esteemed actor, not the physicist). There was also a press screening of Will Poulter and Cara Delevigne’s new coming-of-age teen film Kids in Love, which is embargoed until its World Premiere on Wednesday 22nd June.
First up is The Colony, which stars Emma Watson as a German flight attendant who joins a secretive religious colony in order to rescue her activist boyfriend played by Daniel Bruhl. Think Argo, but with a creepy religious cult instead of an embassy. This ended up being a very different film than I had anticipated going into it. I was fully expecting a period drama rather than a tense thriller, not that this is in any way a bad thing. There were some brilliantly tense sequences (with one involving the beating of a woman being memorably shudder-inducing). There was only one real flaw with it though and that is the script. While the story is original and gripping, there was some seriously clunky dialogue including lines such as “Fuck it, what have I got to lose” springing particularly to mind. Aside from that, though, it was a very enjoyable romp.
The Colony is on general release from 1st July.
4 out of 5
Gary Numan: Android in La La Land was up there with the best films I’ve seen this year at the EIFF. It was a fascinating insight into the life of ’70s synth-pop star Gary Numan as he attempted to make a comeback after struggling with depression and anxiety as well as being diagnosed with Asperger’s. Interviews and footage of his family life are peppered with live performances of his classic songs as well as newer material to marvellous effect. By the end it feels like his story really comes full circle in the final scene where he reads one of his daughters a particularly fitting bedtime story. Like some of the best music documentaries before it (such as Amy, Foo Fighters’ Back and Forth, and Montage of Heck), Gary Numan: Android in La La Land is not only the story of a tumultuous music career but also a portrait of the mental health issues that often come hand-in-hand with it. Even if you’re not a Numan fan, or don’t even know who he is, I would highly recommend this film.
5 out of 5
The Carer stars Brian Cox as a retired Shakespearean actor suffering from Parkinson’s, whose new carer is an aspiring Hungarian actor. This is one of those charmingly heartwarming British comedies which tackles serious issues but is stuffed full of laughs along the way. Brian Cox is a revelation as Sir Michael Gifford, truly embodying his character, and has a great rapport with Coco Konig in her film debut. The post-film Q&A revealed that this film has been seven years in the making as it has previously struggled to receive funding. It is a real shame that stories as good as this struggle to be produced!
The Carer is on general release from 5th August.
5 out of 5
Sunday 19th June
Having spoken to a bunch of people at the festival, I’ve found out that everyone has a bit of a day where they crash and burn a bit due to a lack of sleep and abnormal eating and drinking. Today was that day for me. As a result I didn’t see as many films as originally intended, missing screenings of Kevin Smith’s new film Yoga Hosers and Alex Gibney’s documentary Zero Days. However, with two shifts today I still saw a few very different films.
Adult Life Skills is a British comedy starring Jodie Whittaker (who you might have seen in Attack the Block and Broadchurch) as a young woman who lives in a shed in her mother’s garden as she struggles to come to terms with the death of her twin brother. There were definite moments in this film which made me chuckle – particularly the scenes where Whittaker makes films with her thumbs – but for the most part it wasn’t particularly funny given that it is about a woman losing her grip on reality while struggling with grief. To make such an offbeat story believable requires a strong performance and Whittaker definitely gives it her all in this but given that all the attention has to be on her, some of the other characters either felt forced or weren’t given enough screen time. It would’ve been nice to have had more time with the mother and grandmother playing off each other. In addition it felt like it was trying too hard to be quirky, particularly the character of Brendan. It’s not that it wasn’t funny, but there were many scenes that felt like wasted opportunities (especially when some of the attempted jokes fell a bit flat).
3 out of 5
The Childhood of a Leader is one of the weirdest, most niche pictures that has been released in a while. Described as “a grippingly dispassionate period psychodrama” pretty much hits the nail on the head. The story tells the tale of a young boys power struggle with his parents juxtaposed with the post-WW1 rise of fascism. The superficiality of it all certainly made it dispassionate seeing as it came off like one of those films where it is artistically beautiful (it is probably the best looking film at the EIFF) but the script is largely devoid of much progression apart from a few taught sequences. The cinematography was stunning and the way that many of the scenes were framed was very interesting with very grandiose mise-en-scene. Scott Walker’s screeching score is probably one of the best things about this blatantly unsubtle film, adding some immediacy to a meandering script which is divided into chapters (“The First Tantrum”, “The Second Tantrum” etc.). Praise should also be given to Tom Sweet, the boy who plays Prescott, as he manages to keep your attention as his character’s behaviour escalates. When the most interesting plot point is the twist in the last scene, it just feels like a bit of a wasted effort given all of the talent involved.
2 out of 5
I ended up re-watching Maggie’s Plan for a shift today as well and it bares well upon repeat viewing, with some more of the script’s nuances coming to light.
Saturday 18th June
Today was a big day of premieres, with the U.K. Premiere of Finding Dory and the World Premiere of The White King.
Finding Dory is the long awaited sequel to the Pixar classic which sees Dory, Marlin, and Nemo go on an adventure to try and find Dory’s long lost parents. Anticipation for this film has been building for so long that there was slight trepidation as to whether it would live up to its predecessor. Have no fear, though, as on the Pixar scale this is much closer in quality to Toy Story 3 than Cars 2. As animation techniques continue to evolve, Dory looks even more stunning than Nemo from the bright colours to the way that the light glints off the water. It also manages to perfectly balance the old and the new, with old favourites including Crush the turtle appearing alongside new characters Hank the octopus, and Destiny and Bailey the whales. These new characters bring even more heart as well as comic relief which make this funnier than the first film. It has been a long time coming but Finding Dory really doesn’t disappoint!
Finding Dory will be out on general release from 29th July.
4 out of 5
The White King tells the story of 12-year-old Djata whose father is taken away from him in a dystopian dictatorship. This may make it sound like another wannabe Hunger Games where children fight against a dictatorship but in fact it is very different in that it really explores the ideologies behind their predicament. In the post-film Q&A, Jonathan Pryce (High Sparrow in Game of Thrones) made an interesting statement that it stands as a stark warning given recent events. It really is more of a talker than an action sci-fi movie, but gives food for thought as well as having some quite tense sequences. Agyness Deyn gives a harrowing performance as Djata’s mother and the chemistry between her character and Djata makes the story even more believable. One flaw, though, is that the source novel is a series of short stories in this world so it has clearly proven difficult to adapt. Therefore some events can sometimes feel a bit randomly stung together, but they do still prove important to the final trajectory of the storyline and the film never sags given its brief runtime of 89 minutes.
4 out of 5
Friday 17th June
It’s not just films on at the EIFF, there are dozens of panels, Q&As, and (when in Rome) lots of alcohol. Today I attended a panel called “How to Make the Most of a Film Festival” which featured guests such as The Times’ Chief Film Critic Kate Muir who explained how to make the most of networking opportunities at film festivals rather than just sitting in cinemas all day, every day.
On that note… Time to talk about all of the films I saw after that!
It was another busy day of film viewing and the eclectic variety of films today went from supernatural horror, to documentary, to a film about a pig on a road trip. No, I’m not making that up.
Firstborn is about a young family who is terrorised by supernatural entities after the birth of their first child, starring Antonia Thomas from Misfits and Sunshine on Leith. This film, whilst playing on very common ideas in the horror genre like creepy kids, manages to retain quite a lot of originality. What starts out as a family drama, with newfound parenthood taking its strain, you get really invested in the characters before the supernatural activity escalates and the tension heightens. The final payoff was unexpected and is made all the more creepy for a great performance by the young actor Thea.
4 out of 5
Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story is a documentary which tells the story of Lillian Michelson (a film researcher) and Harold Michelson (a storyboard artist) after they eloped to Hollywood. This was a charming and fascinating film which balanced the stories about their family life and professional lives with case studies of films they worked on (from The Birds to Spaceballs). By including interviews with Hollywood names such as Danny DeVito, Alfred Hitchcock, and Francis Ford Coppola, it gives a real insight into Harold and Lillian’s undervalued and practically unheard of careers. I would highly recommend this to those who are fans of classic Hollywood.
4 out of 5
Mr. Pig tells the story of a 75 year old cancer patient who goes on a road trip through Mexico to sell his rare prized pig. This film has certainly proved to be divisive, with some finding it to be heart-warming whilst others have seen it as depressing and preachy. I found myself relatively unenthused by it but there’s definitely positives to take away from it. The main appeal of this film is the beautiful cinematography which really highlights the Mexican landscape from sandy beaches to cobbled streets. In addition the performances by Danny Glover and Maya Rudolph give some heart to characters that may have otherwise been quite unlikeable, but the real star of the show here is Howard the pig.
2 out of 5
Thursday 16th June
After last night’s opening gala, Tommy’s Honour, today was the first full day of the festival. Today I saw Maggie’s Plan, Whisky Galore!, Sick, and The Fundamentals of Caring. Whisky Galore! is embargoed until its World Premiere as the closing gala of the festival on 26th June but here are some short reviews of the other three:
Maggie’s Plan stars Greta Gerwig as a woman whose plan to have a baby on her own is derailed when she falls for a married man. As quirky US indie dramadies go, this definitely fits the mould – it has the feel of a Woody Allen film. Whilst this film has a great ensemble cast, the show is completely stolen by Julianne Moore’s performance as the uptight Georgette (the scenes featuring Moore and Ethan Hawke in Quebec are some of the highlights of the film).
Maggie’s Plan is on general release 8th July.
4 out of 5
Sick is a Croatian documentary about the struggle of Ana, a gay woman whose parents had her locked away in a psychiatric hospital to treat her homosexuality. Yes, it is as intense as it sounds but given all of the LGBT+ issues in the media right now it feels even more important than ever. Some of the scenes showing the inside of the hospital contained some haunting images, with the majority of the film being voiced-over by Ana. It’s clearly not an easy watch, and some scenes are so unnerving it almost feels too invasive, but the insight into her psychology is fascinating.
Sick doesn’t currently have a general release set but you can catch it at EIFF on 18th June.
3 out of 5
The Fundamentals of Caring is hands down my film of the day. It stars Paul Rudd as the carer of a disabled young man and Selena Gomez as a hitchhiker who go on a road trip across America. In a really strange kind of a way it is like a bromantic version of Me Before You with added dick jokes, which help to stop what could’ve been a rather twee film from devolving into cliche. Instead, much like Little Miss Sunshine, you get really invested in these oddball characters on their adventure which has resulted in a film that can make you laugh out loud one second then have you on the verge of tears the next (it’s a good thing I managed to hold it together seeing as I was on shift at that screening!).
The Fundamentals of Caring is a Netflix original movie and will be released on Netflix on 24th June.
5 out of 5
Saturday 11th June
This was the day of the all-staff meeting where all of the volunteers and paid staff came together for the first time this year at the Edinburgh Filmhouse. Not only did we get given our staff passes and information but they also screened a film for us.
The film in question was Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which gets its UK Première next week at the 70th edition of the EIFF.
From the director of the bizarre offbeat vampire film What we do in the Shadows (Taika Waititi) comes this comedy about a 13 year old child and his foster uncle running away into the wilderness while being pursued by child services and the police.
Sounds weird? Well, it kind of is. It seems to resemble the quirky charm of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (another film about runaway children) with the understated charm of another coming-of-age indie film The Kings of Summer without being overbearingly quirky or cloyingly sentimental. Not only was it actually laugh-out-loud funny (I don’t mean a couple of chuckle worthy moments, I mean full on tears of laughter most of the way through the film) but truly heart-warming as well.
I genuinely couldn’t recommend this film highly enough – if you don’t get the chance to catch it at the EIFF, I would highly suggest seeing it when it is due for general release in September.
5 out of 5
That wasn’t the only big news to come out yesterday though. The guest list at the EIFF is continuing to grow with Hollywood star Meg Ryan now confirmed to be walking the red carpet for the UK Première of her directorial début Ithaca. She joins the previously confirmed names coming to the festival including Kim Cattrall, Peter Mullan, and Kevin Smith.