Edinburgh 2008: What to Watch

We share twenty of the best movies screened.

by | July 1, 2008 | Comments

The Edinburgh International Film Festival is well underway in the Scottish city, screening hundreds of brand new films and cramming A-listers into posh hotel suites. This year, Rotten Tomatoes is proud to be an official media partner of the festival, and we’ll be presenting an award to one of the films in the programme. Click here for more information.

Edinburgh Castle

The festival has, in the past, played home to the world premiere of Serenity and the European first-show for Clerks II. Its programme is open to the public, and provides a wide variety of home-grown, European, American and international cinema. Last year’s festival saw two of the freshest movies of the year play to UK audiences for the first time – Knocked Up and Ratatouille – and they were joined by the indie likes of Hallam Foe and French warbler Les Chansons d’Amour.

In short, there’s something for everyone of every age, gender and nationality, and it’s probably one of the most relaxed and, in turn, exciting festivals on the calendar. It’s also a good place to start or join in that ever-exciting early awards buzz, and with that in mind we thought it’d be a good idea to let you know what we think of the films on display so you can add them to your wish-list.

We’ve picked twenty interesting films from the programme so far to tell you all about. If you didn’t make it to the festival, this is your guide to the hot films to look out for in the coming months!

The Edge of Love

Set in London at the beginning of the Second World War, The Edge of Love revolves around charmingly scruffy poet Dylan Thomas (played by Matthew Rhys), famed for his intense, romantic verse, and the two loves of his life – wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and childhood sweetheart Vera (Keira Knightley).

The material lets the talented ensemble produce career best work; Knightley, despite an initially jarring Welsh accent, is pitch perfect as the slightly naive but banterous Vera, whilst Miller impresses hugely with her portrayal of an emotionally damaged, promiscuous pleasure-seeker.

It’s all fairly depressing, and not entirely convincing, with the spiralling self-destruction on show dredging up all the ‘tortured poet and his muse’ clich�s found in a million bad TV literary adaptations. The result is a well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful stab as serious, romantic drama that is not as clever or affecting as it thinks it is. Orlando Parfitt

Summer

Robert Carlyle makes a welcome return to form in Summer, an intelligent and brilliantly-acted family drama. The Scot plays Shaun, an embittered middle aged man who spends much of his time reluctantly caring for his wheelchair bound best friend Daz. The film goes onto examine what bought him to this point in his life, uncovering years of misfortune, bad decisions and an uncaring establishment. Shaun then looks back with rose-tinted glasses at his youth and yearns for the freedom’s of his salad days, before his troubles began. Fairly bleak to-to-be-sure, but intensely moving and powerful too, thanks to the emotionally resonant central performances. OP

Donkey Punch

With Donkey Punch, you get two great movies for the price of one; a brilliantly set-up, marvellously tense teen thriller, and a barmy, magnificently over-the-top slasher horror. It’s just a shame they’re shoe-horned together in the same film.

We begin with a trio of girls from Leeds, Northern England, on holiday in Mallorca and getting ready for a night on the tiles. Eventually they meet up with four good-looking men who persuade them to continue their night on a yacht they’ve ‘borrowed’ from the harbour master.

Things suddenly take a turn for the nightmarish however when one of the men delivers the donkey punch of the title (we won’t reveal what it is, but it’s kind of disgusting). She drops dead, and now the lads must try and get rid of the body and calm down the two remaining girls.

It’s a brilliant set-up, but suddenly a new film cranks into action, as the girls begin picking off the lads one-by-one in increasingly bizarre, over-the-top and hilarious ways. Those with a strong stomach should still definitely seek out Donkey Punch – a refreshing, if maddeningly schizophrenic antidote Hollywood norm. OP

Mum and Dad

Very rarely does RT get shocked, sickened or appalled at the cinema these days. This little indie horror film at Edinburgh turned out to have one of the highest concentrations of sheer wrongness we’ve ever seen – in a good way.

Mum and Dad revolves around airport cleaner and Romanian immigrant Lena who, one night, after a series of misadventures, finds herself unable to get back home. ‘Luckily’ her seemingly-happy-go-lucky colleague Birdie offers her a bed for night with her family. Thinking her troubles are over, at least in the short term, Lena accepts, but the invitation turns out to be a one way ticket to a hellishly violent, sadistic suburban hell.

Birdie’s sinister ‘family’ includes ‘Mum’ — a barmy, torture-obsessed housewife whose sadistic deeds are made all the more shocking by her maternal pretentions — and ‘Dad’, a fat, greasy sexual predator who wears a party hat. So begins a nightmarish journey for Lena as she is forced to abandon all humanity to escape this twisted family unit.

if you’re a hardcore horror fan and have a strong constitution — and have a healthy disregard for family values – then you should check this out, just don’t say we didn’t warn you! OP

Elite Squad

A deserved winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin this summer, Elite Squad, Jose Padilha‘s testosterone-fuelled actioner revolves around Nascimento, commanding officer of BOPE, the hard-as-nails paramilitary wing of Rio’s police force entrusted with keeping order in the cities drug-cursed favelas.

Macho and ultra-violent, the director defiantly take sides in the drug war through blaming both drug dealers and their rich clients for the violence and social problems their trade creates. However Elite Squad is more even handed than some have suggested, with Padilha not shying from showing the brutality of BOPEs methods and the widespread corruption in the police force. OP

The Wackness

An amusing exercise in ’90s nostalgia, The Wackness is anything but wack…

It’s New York in 1994; Cobain has just shot himself, Biggie and Tupac are still friends and Giuliani has only just been elected mayor. Experiencing it all is Luke (played by former child star Josh Peck) a self-confessed loser in his last year at high school – and also a part-time pot dealer.

We meet him in the office of one of his clients – and best friend – Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), a self-medicating psychiatrist. The film then follows the pair through one long, hot, life-changing summer.

It’s the often hilarious script that stays in the mind. Kingsley generally gets the best lines (when Luke tells him he feels down, he asks “is it because of Kurt Cobain?”), and despite a wavering New York accent, shows a real flair for comedy. OP

Standard Operating Procedure

Standard Operating Procedure is essential viewing, but often difficult to watch. Master documentary maker Errol Morris (who won an Oscar for his Robert McNamara interview The Fog of War) sits down with (almost) all of the prison guards responsible for the sickening scenes of prisoner humiliation and torture that emerged from Abu Ghraib prison in the aftermath of the Iraq war.

You may find Morris’ empathy with his subjects, almost all of whom show little remorse for their heinous acts, hard to bear, but it’s arguable that by simply letting these individuals have their say they damn themselves far more than any liberal commentator could. Documentary at its most powerful and timely. OP

Timecrimes

Imagine the basic conceit of Groundhog Day — a man is forced to relive the same day over-and-over again – re-imagined as an atmospheric, jolly creepy Spanish horror film and you’ll be somewhere near to Timecrimes.

This superbly sinister effort follows Hector — an ordinary suburban guy who one night glimpses a naked woman through the trees. He goes outside to investigate, but finds himself attacked by a rather angry and aggressive man with a bandage head.

The movie is at its most effective in the opening scenes in the woods, with director Nacho Vigalondo proving adapt at conjuring scares and making guys with bandaged heads look very creepy indeed. Timecrimes, along with the similarly well-produced Spanish-horror-thriller [Rec], proves the Iberian peninsula a fertile breeding ground for brilliantly made frighteners with brains. OP

Somers Town

After the success of This is England, Shane Meadows returns with Somers Town, a smaller-scale but still hugely affecting film again revolving around adolescents on the margins of society.

Thomas Turgoose (spectacular as the young skinhead in England) plays Tomo, a teenager from Nottingham who — for reasons that are never explained — arrives by train in London despite not knowing a soul and having nowhere to go. After he’s mugged and loses all his money, he befriends Marek, a Polish boy living with his builder father. They soon become close friends, and both lust after the hot French waitress who works in their local cafe.

It’s a simple, almost plotless story, but one that is made immensely powerful by the characteristically superb and naturalistic performances. The simple shooting style – the film is shot in black and white and features little camera movement – amplifies the bonhomie and natural chemistry of the two young leads as they embark on a series of hilarious scrapes. OP

Blood Car

A spectacularly silly, amusing and gory examination of the world’s problems with fossil fuels, Blood Car is set to become a cult favourite.

Set in the near future – with cars rendered almost non-existent by the scarcity of oil – this low budget effort centres around Archie; an ultra environmentally conscious vegan kindergarten teacher who has been trying to build a car that runs on vegetable juice.

One day, with the car engine refusing to run on the fauna-based liquid, he accidently cuts his hand, a drop of blood dripping into the contraption and immediately starting the motor. The result? Green fingered Archie has inadvertently invented a car that runs on human blood.

It’s a hilariously dark stuff that feels like it could have evolved from a Grindhouse fake trailer. A deliciously tasteless scene towards the end of the film, featuring a trigger-happy government agent and Archie’s kindergarten class, is worth the price of admission alone. OP Faintheart

The Edinburgh Film Festival drew to a close at the weekend with the world premiere of Faintheart, a sweet and sentimental romantic comedy set in the world of Viking re-enactments.

Faintheart revolves around Richard (Eddie Marsan), an overgrown kid who is far happier brandishing his broad-sword in battle than he is in facing up to family responsibilities at home. When he misses his father-in-law’s funeral in favour of a Viking brawl, wife Cath (Jessica Hynes) kicks him out, leading our hero on a quest of the heart as he struggles to win her back with the help of his Norse chums.

It’s charming stuff, played for laughs by a uniformly excellent cast and the script is chock-full of comic gems, laughing along with its subjects without ever actually poking fun at them. The result is a fine family film that is sure to leave a smile on your face. Chris Tilly

Man on Wire

Philippe Petit‘s successful 1974 attempt to cross the gap between the Twin Towers on a tightrope is documented in this kinetic film from James Marsh as a fast-paced caper about a charismatic Frenchman’s drive to do something outrageously necessary. From the moment the Man on Wire starts we’re introduced to Petit as a man with passion and belief who is convinced that these two buildings were built for him to cross.

What follows is an examination of the method behind the madness, as the sheer endurance trial that was the planning of the event is shared through Petit and his key collaborators. He spent 45 minutes on wire, but rigging it, sneaking the rigging into the building and planning the entire operation took years, stretching right back to a news article he read in a dentist’s office about the Twin Towers’ construction. The film leaves its audience in no doubt that Petit is special and that this act of rebellion – the walk was totally illegal – was his gift to the world. Absolutely gripping stuff. Joe Utichi

Let The Right One In

It’s hard to know how much to reveal about Let the Right One In. Such is the nature of the film’s delicate plotting that it’ll prove to be a different but equally fulfilling experience should you be aware of its subject matter or not before you watch it. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, the film’s fantastical elements disguise the real human drama of its characters and while it might, on the surface, appear to be a new twist on a familiar genre, at its heart it’s one of the most original coming-of-age stories in years.

As Oskar, young actor Kåre Hedebrant’s confident performance is at turns sweetly innocent and surprisingly dark. If your tolerance for foreign-language films is limited, let this film change your mind. If the idea of a coming-of-age story fills you with dread, let it convince you otherwise. In fact, if you only see one film that’s off the beaten path this year, you’d do very well to let the right one in. JU

Red

When an old man (Brian Cox), fishing by a river, is forced to witness a group of young hoodlums shoot his dog he becomes determined to see justice prevail; pursuing the boys’ fathers (Tom Sizemore and Robert Englund) to encourage them to punish their sons and, when that fails, turning to the law. Red is a heartrending tale of a man who has lost everything trying and who is desperately to hold onto what’s right, Brian Cox is relentless in the lead role, delivering a stunning and strangely disturbing performance as he seeks retribution.

The film may go a little too far before the end, but for the most part it’s brilliantly gripping with shades of Stephen King about its thrilling structure. JU

The Visitor

Walter is a sad, lonely, embittered Connecticut teacher whose life has been on a downward spiral since the passing of his wife. However, all of that changes when he is sent to New York to present a paper on economics, and arrives to discover an immigrant couple living in his long-forgotten apartment. Understandably perturbed, Walter kicks them to the kerb, but compassion leads him to go after them and invite the strangers into his empty home.

The Visitor is stirring, heartbreaking stuff, told at a stately pace perfectly in keeping with the story unfolding. Director Thomas McCarthy truly gives his characters time to breathe, and as their story slowly plays out, it’s impossible not to be swept up in the gut-wrenching emotion of it all. He’s helped out by a grandstanding performance from Richard Jenkins as Walter. It’s brilliantly multi-layered and full of subtlety and nuance.

Combined with McCarthy’s economic script – which brilliantly deals with the sensitive topic of immigration without ever feeling preachy or patronising — it makes for a magical movie-going experience that will provoke thought, discussion, sadness and joy in equal measure. Truly outstanding stuff. CT Alone in Four Walls

One of the most powerful documentaries in a long time, Alone in Four Walls introduces us to the inmates of a Russian prison for boys aged 11-14, interspersing their daily activities with tales of their crimes from the boys themselves and from their families and victims. It’s hard to know what to feel about these inmates as they go through the usual struggles of adolescence and the regional struggles of poverty on one hand and then we’re told, in police report detail, what found them in the institution to begin with.

Emotionally harrowing, with an incredible attention to cinematography, this, like all documentaries should be, is a window on a world we’ll never come across, but more than that it’s a frighteningly appropriate film for a world in the throes of increasing teenage violent crime. Want to keep kids out of jail? Showing them this would be a good place to start. JU

Encounters at the End of the World

Werner Herzog returns to documentary filmmaking with Encounters at the End of the World, this time travelling to Antarctica to share stories about the people who call the frozen continent home. Starting off, and frequently returning to his base in McMurdo, a desolately grey and dreadfully functional town that most in Antarctica call home.

Herzog’s typically editorialised commentary singes the film with humour, as he shares with us his insistence to financiers that he wouldn’t be travelling all that way to make another movie about penguins, though, of course, he finds a researcher to plug with questions about the flightless birds’ sexual proclivities and mental instabilities. There are moments of extreme humour as he interrupts a woman’s tales of her travels by opining that “her story goes on forever,” and wonders how many languages have died in the time he’s been talking to a man who’s explaining, at great length, how often languages die.

But, equally, there are scenes that seem extended for no reason other than to keep the running time feature length and while Herzog finds plenty of characters, few of them seem compelling enough to warrant the journey. People who call Antarctica home are bound to be slightly weird by our standards, but are they really as crazy as Herzog seemed to hope on his journey out there, or are they just people doing their job exploring extremes so that we don’t have to? JU

WALL*E

Not only is WALL*E one of the freshest films of the year – some critics have even thrown around the word ‘masterpiece’ like they believe it this time – but it’s also one of the loveliest, most charming and most accomplished animated films of all time. Pixar’s tale of a little robot, WALL*E, who dreams of a new companion in the shape of a sleek and shiny probe called EVE is a testament to Pixar’s emphasis on story and emotion.

It shouldn’t work – not in an era of big, noisy and exposition-heavy event movies – and yet it really, truly does. Within a few minutes without even a hint of dialogue the film has you totally invested in this little character’s journey and you’re with him right until the end. Combine such a strong core with some of the most beautiful and creative artwork ever seen on screen and WALL*E deserves to be remembered as a proper classic. JU

The Black Balloon

The Black Balloon is a typically-bright but satisfyingly-dark Australian drama about a teenage boy, Thomas Mollison (Rhys Wakefield), whose autistic brother Charlie (Luke Ford) requires constant attention and whose acting out is starting to put a strain on the friendships Thomas is developing at a new school. When a girl comes along, in the form of a beautiful school friend, Thomas’ relationship with his brother, and parents who’ve largely ignored him to take care of Charlie, will be tested.

Toni Collette and Erik Thomson co-star, but it’s really a movie for Wakefield and Ford, with the latter particularly brilliant as the autistic Charlie. It’s a selfish side of caring that’s rarely witnessed but inevitably present; a teenager’s desire for a “normal” brother and a relationship with his parents that’s hampered by the special needs of his sibling and it’s handled delicately and emotionally without delivering and overly-sentimental piece. JU

mancora

Mancora will be compared to Y Tu Mama Tambien, being that it’s about a sexually-charged road trip involving three hot, young things in a Spanish-speaking country, but there’s something decidedly more real about the consequences of these actions. As incest makes way to tribal drug trips, the characters go on hard, real journeys and push themselves to their limits, perhaps in an attempt to find some feeling within them: as the film begins, our lead, Santiago, has lost his father to suicide and finds that he’s disillusioned with his surroundings.

But, rather disappointingly, the film quite simply isn’t as entertaining as Alfonso Cuaron‘s predecessor, and the conclusion of the journey feels false and all too convenient. Nevertheless, it’s of a high quality and should make stars of its leads if it’s given the exposure in North America that it deserves. It certainly marks Ricardo de Montreuil as a director to watch. JU

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