EIFF 2016 Round-Up

It’s been another fantastic year at the Edinburgh Internation Film Festival and, whilst I didn’t quite beat my record from last year, I did see a wide variety of films and enjoyed a good deal of them. It’s going to be a while before the vast majority of you can even see most of these, but here’s my brief thoughts of all that I witnessed over the course of these past two weeks.


Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Release: 24 June (US), 16 September (UK)

What We Do in the Shadows’ Taika Waititi brings us this charming and hilarious comedy with a good dose of action and heart. Julian Dennison is a revelation as the young miscreant forced to team up with a very curmudgeonly Sam Neill as they try to survive in the wilds of New Zealand. Another bold step forward for Waititi as a director, and certainly proves he has the scope and talent to handle Thor: Ragnarok. 9/10

Macbeth Unhinged

Release: N/A

Angus MacFayden directs this modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play, and to say the recent Michael Fassbender/Justin Kurzel version is better would be an understatement. This is a dull, cheap and utterly pretentious movie that is confined for almost its entire runtime to the backseat of a limo. The entire production feels like it was put together by an incompetent film student considering the amount of rookie mistakes on a technical level (don’t even get me started on the film’s score, which sounds like it was created by pressing shuffle on a playlist of random royalty-free music). In other words, don’t bother. 1/10

The Fundamentals of Caring

Release: June 24 (Netflix)

Fairly standard road trip comedy made enjoyable by some solid gags and a strong cast. Paul Rudd is essentially playing a slightly more depressed version of his usual persona, but Craig Roberts is the real standout as the foul-mouthed handicapped teen he cares for, and Selena Gomez is actually pretty decent in it too. Best thing is, if you’ve got Netflix, you can literally watch this right now. 7/10

Finding Dory

Release: June 17 (US), July 29 (UK)

Already done a full review of this that you can read here, but in summary: another solid effort from Pixar with all their usual trappings, but certainly not the instant classic its forbearer was. 8/10

Moon Dogs

Release: N/A

Another road trip movie as three teens trek from the Shetlands to Glasgow for various personal reasons. Strong central performances from the main cast, especially Tara Lee as the promiscuous Caitlin, but a mostly predictable plot, abandoned story threads and some very shallow supporting characters dampen the experience. 6/10

The White King

Release: N/A

This dystopian drama certainly sets up an interesting world but ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. Though a great deal of mythology and back-story has been created, it never really takes advantage of that and just tells a basic story of a broken family. The world is quite interesting though, there are one or two interesting set pieces, and the presence of Jonathan Pryce makes any movie better, but ultimately it’s a movie you could easily live without. 6/10

Jet Trash

Release: N/A

Robert Sheehan and Sofia Boutella star in this Indian-set crime drama that’s a little too complicated for its own good. The cinematography is beautiful and really captures the look of Goa, but the drama is a little overblown and it all ultimately amounts to very little. 5/10

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Adult Life Skills

Release: 24 June (UK), N/A (US)

Funny and touching dramedy about arrested development and struggling with loss. Attack the Block’s Jodie Whittaker is a magnetic lead as the peculiar woman-child living in her mother’s shed, and for someone still struggling to break into independent life myself I found it quite endearing. Perhaps a bit overlong, but still overall a funny and touching little movie. 7/10

Little Sister

Release: N/A

Amusing and sweet little film about a family that includes a goth nun and disfigured war vet, but one that kinds of meanders without much point. Addison Timlin gives a great lead performance and it’s great to see Ally Sheedy still working, but some dangling plot threads make the eventual conclusion feel abrupt and questionable. 6.5/10 little-sister-44-1

Firstborn

Release: N/A

Boring and unoriginal horror movie that tries to recapture the feel of 70s classics like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist, but frustratingly lacks anything scary. Though there are some interesting ideas are floated about, none of them are taken advantage of in an interesting way in favour of the easiest option. The film is far too visually bland for its genre, shot more like a kitchen sink drama than a horror, relying entirely on lame sound effects and jump cuts for its “frights”. 2/10 thea_forest_still_layered_default-14471

Harold & Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story

Release: N/A

A fascinating and emotionally charged documentary about one of Hollywood’s unsung couples, Harold & Lillian is not only an interesting insight into sides of the film industry nobody talks about but a beautiful account of a romance that sounds like it was made for the movies. If you’re really into the history of cinema and love stories, definitely give this a watch. 8.5/10

Slash

Release: N/A

Delving into the phenomenon of erotic fan fiction, Slash doesn’t necessarily advocate the interests of its main characters but it certainly makes you understand their passion. It delivers a much-needed counterpoint to the view that fanficcers are nothing but talentless deviants, and it does so in a respectful but hilarious way. It’s also refreshing to see a movie explore teenage sexuality in such an honest way; no Hollywood movie today would even dare being this ambiguous. 8/10

Forsaken

Release: 19 February (US), N/A (UK)

Real father-and-son duo Kiefer & Donald Sutherland team up for the first time in twenty years in this decent but not particularly special western. The performances are strong all around from both Sutherlands, Brian Cox, Demi Moore and Michael Wincott, along with some nice production design and a solid action climax, but the story is incredibly generic and predictable for anyone with even the lightest knowledge of the genre. 6/10

Yoga Hosers

Release: 2 September (US), N/A (UK)

Kevin Smith’s bizarre mash-up of Clueless and Gremlins isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of maple syrup, but if you’re into movies that throw insane ideas at the wall with little concern for the consequences, Yoga Hosers is one you can have a blast with. Not all of the jokes hit and a lot of them require pop culture savvy, but the unadulterated fun and enthusiasm that exudes from the production is as potent as whatever Smith was smoking when he wrote this. Certainly a long shot away from the director’s 90s glory days, but certainly a step up from the interesting but tonally inconsistent Tusk, this movie may only appeal to the already-converted, but that’s OK considering it clearly wasn’t made for anyone else. 7/10

Away

Release: 7 October (UK), N/A (US)

A by-the-numbers grungy British drama only held afloat by some decent central performances. Timothy Spall and Juno Temple make for an interesting pair as two lost souls on the streets of Blackpool, and Constantine’s Matt Ryan makes for a surprisingly intimidating figure, but the amount of clichés and melodrama here make the nearly two hour run time feel like an eternity. Also, note to directors: telling your story out of sequence doesn’t immediately make it better. 3.5/10

The Virgin Psychics!

Release: N/A (US, UK)

Sion Sono’s manga adaptation is an insane ride filled with more risqué sex jokes than any Western comedy would ever allow. The fact that everyone in the movie takes this ridiculous story about virgins gaining superpowers at the point of orgasm seriously only makes it funnier. The plot does drag a bit and some characters prove to be pretty pointless, but its insanity and surprisingly sweet and honest message about finding true love keep it entertaining throughout. Then again, compared to Sono’s masterpiece Love Exposure, this is practically tame. 8/10

Ithaca

Release: N/A (US, UK)

Hollywood sweetheart of the 90s/early 00s Meg Ryan makes a surprising directorial debut with this WWII-set coming-of-age tale. Alex Neustaedter makes for a decent lead and there are strong supporting performances from Sam Shepard and Hamish Linklater, plus there’s Ryan herself and her old partner-in-rom com Tom Hanks in a small role. However the milquetoast tone, unfocused story, and the obvious messages about the effects of war makes the film miss that sweet spot between sad and uplifting, ending up being neither. 5.5/10

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The Last King

Release: 17 June(US), 24 June (UK)

A simple but fun Norwegian historical epic from the director of Pathfinder, The Last King’s basic story of royal heirs and duelling factions serves as the template for some stunning shots of frozen landscapes and some brilliantly done action sequences; skiing has never looked cooler. That and it’s got Tormund from Game of Thrones in it. 7/10

The Lure

Release: N/A (US, UK)

A twisted modern reimagining of The Little Mermaid, this Polish fantasy musical takes elements of the Hans Christian Anderson story and bizarrely melds it with Chicago and Species to create a unique and frankly bonkers experience. Not all the music is great and the film can’t seem to decide if these interludes are diagetic or not, but the lead performances from Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanksa are great and the special effects to turn them into mermaids are impressive (even though it’s obvious they couldn’t afford to show the transformation very often). 8/10

Sticky Notes

Release: N/A (US, UK)

A by-the-numbers cancer drama saved by the strength of its leads, Sticky Notes manages to get by purely on the strength of Rose Leslie as a struggling dancer and an absolutely brilliant performance by Ray Liotta as her foul-mouthed dying father. The story drags a lot near the end and the final twist is somehow both obvious and confusing, but at least its heart is in the right place. 6/10

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The Colony

Release: 15 April (US), 1 July (UK)

Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl lead this true story drama about a German-run cult in Chile that’s equal parts fascinating and frustrating. The performances are strong from both leads and Michael Nyqvist as the deranged cult leader, but the script is fairly by the numbers with ill-defined characters and some pretty stilted dialogue; it was clearly written by people whose first language isn’t English. The film disappointingly also doesn’t go into much detail, skimming over interesting facts and instead ramming the same clichés about cultists we’ve always seen. Regardless, it’s still an important story to tell and the final act is incredibly tense if somewhat anti-climactic. 6/10

The Lovers and the Despot

Release: 23 September (US), N/A (UK)

A documentary covering the fascinating story of the abduction of South Korean movie director Shin Sang-ok and his wife Choi Eun-hee by Kim Jong-il, The Lovers and the Despot does highlight a tale that needs more attention but doesn’t go nearly in depth enough as it could. There are a lot of areas like the specific films Sang-ok made in North Korea (including Pulgasari, which is basically a Communist Godzilla movie) and his career in the United States afterwards that gets brushed over, and ultimately the film feels a little too emotionally detached from the story. If you’ve never heard about this before, it may be an interesting watch, but it could have been so much better. 6.5/10

The Library Suicides

Release: 5 August (UK), N/A (US)

I never thought a thriller set in a library entirely in Welsh could be gripping, but The Library Suicides manages it. Catrin Stewart pulls off a convincing dual role as twin sisters Ana and Nan as they delve into dark deeds dealing with their mother’s past, and the film makes strong use of its isolated and claustrophobic environment. The film’s final reveal comes off a little clumsy, but besides that this is a sharp and well-directed piece of cinema that will keep you guessing. 7.5/10

Mojin: The Lost Legend

Release: 18 December 2015 (US), N/A (UK)

This Chinese blockbuster heavily recycles elements from every Western adventure movie under the sun to create a cheap imitation of superior products that makes the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movies look like Raiders of the Lost Ark in comparison. The characters are either bland or annoying, the plot is generic and nonsensical, and the special effects vary from decent to downright poor. Also, though no real fault of the film, the English subtitles provided are atrocious; it’s an incredibly broken translation full of poorly chosen wording and spelling mistakes that provides far more humour than anything the film intentionally provides. 3.5/10

Mr. Right

Release: 8 April (US), N/A (UK)

Combing action with romantic comedy is rarely a good idea, but Mr. Right pulls off the mash-up mainly thanks to its fantastic cast and a witty script from Chronicle scribe Max Landis. Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick make for a delightfully kooky couple, and supporting turns from the likes of James Ransone and RZA add more to the laughs. The action sequences are a little choppy, but the humour is spot-on and rarely fails to get a laugh. If you like a little blood in your romance, this is definitely one to check out. 8.5/10

Whiskey Galore!

Release: N/A (US, UK)

A remake of the Ealing Studios classic, Whiskey Galore! provides good natured old-fashioned comedy hijinks but not much more. The cast is all around strong, particularly Eddie Izzard as the pernickety Captain Waggett, along with some lovely visuals and a good score by Patrick Doyle, but its perhaps a little too quaint for its own good. 5.5/10

Brakes

Release: N/A (US, UK)

A strange but quite captivating improvised comedy shot guerrilla-style showing the ends and beginnings of various relationships out-of-sequence; kind of like (500) Days of Summer but with a darker sense of humour. Some stories are better than others and the lo-def approach can get very distracting (watch Tangerine to see this style done right), but it nails that uncomfortable sense of humour that will have you squirming as much as laughing. 7.5/10

The Rezort

Release: N/A (US, UK)

The basic concept of Jurassic Park but with zombies has so much potential to be a fun-filled rollercoaster of a movie, but The Rezort takes itself far too seriously to be enjoyable. The initial set-up is well-handled and the world they’ve created feels tangible mainly thanks to some topical metaphors, but underneath it’s just another generic zombie movie filled with all the same clichéd situations and characters that are either bland or annoying. Fun in short bursts, but doesn’t go far enough to become a guilty pleasure classic. 5/10

Kids in Love

Release: 26 August (UK), N/A (US)

Trite and self-important coming-of-age tale that spouts generic pretentious wisdom as if it’s the first movie to ever come up with these concepts. The script is a slapdash of clichés with numerous dangling plot threads left unresolved, and the decent cast assembled are given nothing to do but party and be self-important dicks to each other. Will Poulter is one of the best young British actors working today, but here he comes across as a boring and unlikable moaner who we’re constantly told is cool but nothing he ever does backs that up. A film that is almost 50% just montages of young people hanging whilst trendy music plays in the background, Kids in Love often resembles a Gap or Budweiser commercial more than it does a feature film. 2.5/10

Holidays

Release: 22 April (US), N/A (UK)

Anthology films are always a mixed bag, because certain segments are bound to be better than others. Holidays is no different in its assemblage of festive-based horror stories. The stories range from darkly funny to quite disturbing, with Kevin Smith’s Halloween segment and Scott Stewart’s Christmas being the most fun, whilst Gary Shore’s St. Patrick’s Day tale and Nicholas McCarthy’s freaky Easter short are more likely to make you uncomfortable. Some of the stories feel a little underdeveloped and others only have tangential relation to their respective holiday, but they’re all at least interesting to watch. 6/10

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Author: Jenny Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer. Also, I'm trans. That shouldn't be important, but it kind of is.

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