Category Archives: Glasgow Film Festival 2013

Failed Critics Podcast: Glasgow Film Festival Special

The ThievesHello Scotland! This week’s Failed Critics podcast sees James head north of the border to report back from Glasgow Film Festival. With the reluctant blessing of the rest of the critics, he is joined this week by two special guests; Dave McFarlane from our ‘sister podcast’ Born Offside, and Paul Fisher from our new upstart rivals on the Write Club podcast. They review South Korean heist movie The Thieves, as well as documentary Men at Lunch and the microbudget feature Breakfast with Curtis.

James is also joined by the excellent film writers Steven Neish and Amy Taylor at the first UK showing of Stoker, and they discuss that as well as their thoughts on Cloud Atlas, Citadel  and Songs for Amy, the new film starring Sean Maguire (ask your parents, or the weird old guy you make podcasts with).

Finally we have a Scottish-themed Triple Bill where James does his best not to upset his guests.

The pod is back to normal next week (thank God!), where the usual lot will be back with the films they’ve seen that week and their favourite movie car chases in Triple Bill.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 22/02/13

gfflogoIt’s been a long, but brilliant week at the Glasgow Film Festival, and it was with great sadness that I embarked on my last day here. It started with the world première  of Staande! Debout!, a Belgian/Finish film about the after-effects of an autoworkers strike that paralysed Belgium in 1997. It’s a fictional account (but based on the very real experiences of the striking workers) of Felix, an old man who never got over the closure of the car plant where he worked. When his best friend dies, Felix decides to gather his surviving comrades to honour him. It’s an emotionally stark and desolate film, complimented by shots of a decaying industrial town in provincial Belgium. But also a powerful exploration of the human cost of capitalism, and a reminder that figures on a balance sheet are individual people, with their own hopes, fears, and varying levels of resilience.

The afternoon presented me with A Late Quartet, the fictional feature debut of Yaron Zilberman. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, and Catherine Keener, it tells the story of a string quartet’s struggles to stay together in the face of Parkinson’s disease, infidelity, and competitiveness. Sadly, it’s a rather boring and navel-gazing glimpse into the world of ‘rich white people’s problems’. Eastenders for the upper-middle-classes. Imogen Poots impresses as the daughter of Robert and Julliet Gelbart (Hoffman and Keener), and Christopher Walken is surprisingly not playing Christopher Walken for once. Overall though, the pace is flat, the characters are self-obsessed and uninteresting, and I couldn’t wait for it to end.

Before I head home to work on a film of my own (and who knows, maybe I’ll be back here next year in a slightly different capacity), I’m going to sign off with a few awards. I’m thinking of calling them the Glasgees…

Best Performance

There have been a number of great performances this week; Imogen Poots in The Look of Love; Ann Dowd in the otherwise pretty nasty Compliance, Soren Malling in A Hijacking; and Jack Black’s career-best turn in Bernie. A special mention should go to the cast of Cloud Atlas, who do an incredible job charging through multiple eras, races, and even genders. For me though, I have to give the award to Theo Green in Breakfast with Curtis. A non-professional actor, who puts in the kind of performance you might see in a Ken Loach film, but a happy one.

Best Documentary

Although Indie Game: The Movie and The Day that Lasted 21 Years were both excellent films, The Final Member is the one documentary that really caught my imagination. A incredibly story, told by fantastic characters, with a wonderful soundtrack. This will be a firm festival favourite in the coming months.

Best Foreign-Language Film

The Thieves came mighty close to winning this, but it just felt a little too Hollywood. A Highjacking however, is the type of film Hollywood would never make, and that’s a real shame. It’s an incredibly tense film about the hijacking of a Danish freighter by Somali pirates, and the increasingly fraught negotiations between Peter (CEO of the shipping company) and the hijacker’s translater and negotiator. A battle of wills and wits commences, and caught in the middle is the ship’s cook Mikkel. Brilliant.

Best Film

It has to be Cloud Atlas, with its bold, brave, and breathtaking take on David Mitchell’s ‘unfilmable’ novel. You have to admire the film’s incredible ambition, and if you’re in the mood to forgive its sense of self-importance, and some ridiculous make-up jobs, you will be knocked over by a juggernaut of a movie. An absolute must-see.

And that’s it. I would like to thank everyone at Glasgow Film Festival (particularly Kirstin Innes, Laura Doherty, and Hannah Cosgrove), and of course our coverage sponsors Brewdog Glasgow. See you back here in 2014!

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival was sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars. Cheers for all the beer & burgers.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 21/02/13

Can you guess what it is yet?
Can you guess what it is yet?

Once again, I spent the first part of my day hurriedly writing my up diary from the day before in a desperate attempt to get it on-line before it became irrelevant. Well, the first part of my day was spent sculpting a Pixar character from a cardboard box, pipe cleaners, and duct  tape. It entertained my two-year-old daughter for approximately 30 seconds, which is pretty good going at the moment.

After that I spent some time getting through my festival screeners. The first was The Day that Lasted 21 Years, a documentary charting the US-funded Brazilian military coup that ousted the popular (and most importantly, democratically elected) socialist President Joao Goulart and led to a military dictatorship that lasted over two decades. This film is clearly the result of hundreds of hours of painstaking research into the subject by director Camilo Tavares, and it’s a very enlightening expose of an often-ignored period in American imperialism. It benefits from interviews with major players at the heart of the scandal, and at times made me hugely angry. My only criticism would be that after spending nearly an hour building up to the events of the coup, the end of the dictatorship is glossed over in a matter of minutes.

Reported Missing is a creepy German psychological thriller, but without the thrills. Lothar has been separated from his wife and daughter for years, but when he receives a call telling him that his daughter has disappeared he is drawn into a strange underworld where hundreds have children have gone missing and no one seems to care. Early scenes are genuinely unsettling, and the music and direction made me think of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but with the disaffected youth instead of psychotic pigeons. Sadly, the film unravels quite quickly, and the hint of a good idea ends up going nowhere. A very frustrating film.

Finally I got out to a cinema, and I am so glad I did. A Hijacking is a Danish film about the hijacking of a Danish freighter by Somalian pirates, and the film charts the increasingly fraught negotiations between the Danish shipping CEO Peter, and Omar, the negotiator and translator for the pirates. Caught in the middle is Mikkel, the ship’s cook who ends up as the pawn between the pirates and the company when the Captain is taken ill, and who acts as the proxy for the audience on the ship as the weeks and months pass. Omar in particular is a fascinating character, constantly reminding both Mikkel and Peter that he isn’t a pirate, and that he wants to get this sorted out as soon as they do. He’s clearly a professional though, he always seems to be one-step ahead in the negotiations. I was really impressed by this film, from the performances to the direction which cranked up the tension to Argo-esque levels.

Pick of the Day for Friday 22nd February – Indie Game: The Movie

This brilliant documentary charts the progress of a pair of independent game companies and their efforts to create a hit in a crowded marketplace full of huge multimillion dollar industrial behemoths. You can draw parallels between the games industry and the hegemony of modern Hollywood, or just sit back and watch geeks gon’ geek. Lovely stuff.

Indie Game: The Movie is showing at the CCA Cinema at 7pm.

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 20/02/13

The American Psycow at Brewdog Glasgow
The American Psycow at Brewdog Glasgow. I believe the youth vernacular is nom nom.

I seem to be following a pattern here. The more things I have to write about for this diary, the less time I have to get things down on paper, or whatever we call the electronic version of paper. Yesterday was a another great day in Glasgow, and the most fun I’ve had all week at the festival.

It started with a screening of The Thieves, one of the highest-grossing South Korean movies of all time, and my favourite film so far this week. It’s a very polished heist movie in the style of Ocean’s Eleven. Maybe even Pacific Ocean’s Eleven? Hello, is this thing on?

The film focuses on a Korean gang of thieves  led by a guy called Popeye, and including characters who go by the name of Chewing Gum and Peppsee. Nice. After a close call with the police following their latest crime (which cold-opens the film in the style of Mission Impossible, with just the right blend of humour and action), they decamp to China to steal a $30 million diamond from a casino. To complicate matters, the job is being put together by Macao Park, a notorious thief who double-crossed Popeye during a job five years earlier.

The film manages to keep momentum all the way through its 135 minute runtime, largely helped by a complex plot of twists and double/triple-crossings, and some of the finest action and stunt-work since John Woo’s early Hong Kong work. It also boasts brilliantly written female characters, the kind you almost never see in a Hollywood action movie. This is one of the few films that will be tempting me to break my new DVD embargo when I can finally get my hands on it.

I was joined at that screening by Dave McFarlane from Born Offside and Paul Fisher from The Write Club, and afterwards we retired to Brewdog Glasgow to record the bulk of our GFF Special Failed Critics Podcast. I’ve already raved enough about the beer and food at Brewdog, so today I’ve gone for the ‘picture says a thousand words’ approach with a photo of my beautiful burger.

The meeting was great fun, and my first experience of recording Failed Critics in the same room as the contributors. I just wish we could do it like this every week! We reviewed The Thieves (which we all loved), as well as Breakfast with Curtis, and the new documentary Men at Lunch. Our Triple Bill of favourite films set in Scotland contained some real surprises, and not a single soul picked Braveheart! You’ll be able to hear the fruits of our labour next week.

Finally, Dave and I made our way to the GFT for the festival’s Surprise Film. Weeks of rumour and speculation were over, and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was announced to volleys of beach balls filling the auditorium. I think GFF really deserve some credit for securing this hotly anticipated film, I just wish I had enjoyed it more. Or even a little.

Spring Breakers is about four college girls who dream of going to Spring Break, and end up robbing a diner to pay for their dream holiday. While there, they get into more trouble with the police and are bailed out by a drug deal slash rapper played by an unrecognisable James Franco (literally unrecognisable – I didn’t know it was him until I checked IMDB a few minutes ago). Things inevitably get worse, the film climaxes in dream-like chaos. It’s certainly a brave film, especially in the casting of teen stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. I just didn’t get it. The loud music, the nudity, and the violence all felt like a film made by and for teenagers. While not as loathsome as Project X, its constant bombardment of the audience with shocking images and crazed party goers still felt more aspirational than foreboding.

It didn’t help that at points the audience were laughing at the film, rather than with it, especially during a surreal section where Franco’s drug dealer starts playing Britney Spear’s ‘Everytime’ at his piano by the pool. A scene with him showing the girls around his apartment would have been a lot funnier if I hadn’t already seen it done better by Krazee-Eyez Killa in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Despite all this, it’s certainly a unique film, and unlike anything else I’ve seen this week.

Pick of the Day for Thursday 21st February – Whisky Galore!

One of the finest Ealing comedies, and a contender for my Scotland Triple Bill in yesterday’s podcast recording, Whisky Galore!’s tale of shipwrecks and treasure troves of whiskey would be a great pick in any circumstances, but the opportunity to see it on Glasgow’s The Tall Ship is surely too good an opportunity to turn down (especially as today’s screening of The Thieves is already sold out!).

Whiskey Galore! is showing at The Tall Ship at 8.20pm. Tickets HERE

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 19/02/13

Mark Millar discussing Kick-Ass 2 as much as he is allowed to
Mark Millar discussing Kick-Ass 2 as much as he is allowed to

I started this diary with a combination of high hopes and great ideals. The trouble is, I’m having so much fun at Glasgow Film Festival I’m struggling to find time to do the boring work of actually writing things down. Today was one of those rare days of relative rest; no screenings planned and just the one event to attend. Still, I somehow ended up watching a couple of films and writing up my diary at nearly midnight yet again.

I won’t bore you with the details of my non-festival life (I got a haircut, and handed in a lost phone to the police). What I will do is tell you what I’ve learned about Kick-Ass 2, and Mark Millar’s other projects in the pipeline.

I watched Kick-Ass in the afternoon, in preparation for the Mark Millar (creator of Kick-Ass, and comic-book writer extrordinare) event, and it was even better than I remembered. It’s one of the strongest comic-book adaptation storylines in a very long time, and the cast are uniformly excellent. It’s very funny, the action is brilliantly directed, and it has a killer soundtrack. Plus it has Nicolas Cage doing an Adam West impression. In short, it’s pretty perfect. So the news that original director Matthew Vaughn, and screenwriter Jane Goldman were no longer involved in the sequel, and that their roles would instead be carried out by the director of Never Back Down, worried me greatly. I went to listen to Millar talk about the sequel hoping he would allay my fears.

And to an extent, he did. Millar’s openness used to get him into trouble, and he told a few anecdotes that demonstrated his previous lack of media training, and willingness to ‘play the game’. He’s a big Hollywood player now though, and while the talk was very interesting with regards to his work and the film-making process, this wasn’t the place to come for gossip and unguarded comments.

Millar was very open with his thoughts on the adaptations of his work, and admitted that he would “rather kill a project than have it come out crap”. Apparently an American studio was very interested in adapting Millar’s American Jesus series, but he had to turn them down when they wanted to remove the Jesus aspect of the story. He is also sticking to his principles in writing just one more Kick-Ass book (which he all but confirmed would make it onto the big screen) and finishing the story there.

As a Nicolas Cage fan (yes, that is a thing), I was particularly interested to hear about his input on the first Kick-Ass film. Millar was full of praise for Cage, and told the audience how Big Daddy’s Adam West-style staccato delivery was Cage’s idea, as was the stroke of genius for his moustachioed character to disguise himself with a slightly larger moustache. Millar went on to say that Jim Carey is a similar presence in the sequel, and that his character, though not pivotal, ends up stealing every scene he’s in. It sounds like Kick-Ass 2 may be in safe hands after all.

Millar’s next project with Vaughn and Goldman is Secret Service, a story Millar describes as “My Fair Lady meets The Spy Who Loved Me”. Casting is complete, and shooting should start soon, although Millar is now getting too good at playing the game to reveal any more than that to a room full of strangers.

Other little tit-bits we learned yesterday:

  • Plans for a Wanted 2 movie are “at a stage”
  • Millar was four days into filming Miracle Park when he found out about Josh Trank’s Chronicle, and had to kill the project as the two were pretty much identical
  • Although we sadly didn’t get a sneak peek at Kick-Ass 2, there will shortly be 3 “really good” teaser trailers online
  • Most worryingly of all, Millar said that the Dawn of the Dead remake is his favourite of all of the ‘Dead’ series!

I spent the evening relaxing at home with one of my favourite Scottish films in preparation for a big day of screenings and podcast recording tomorrow.

“I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you”.

Pick of the day for Wednesday 20th February – The Thieves

The surprise film has become a staple of the festival circuit in recent years, and Glasgow Film Festival usually delivers in spades. Recent choices for this slot have included David Lynch’s Inland Empire, and last-year’s mumblecore delight Jeff, Who Lives At Home. We’ll be recording our GFF Podcast Special directly after this screening with our instant reactions.

The only disappointment will be from those who miss out on a ticket for a screening that will almost certainly sell out.

The GFF 13 Surprise Film is showing at Glasgow Film Theatre at 8.30pm.

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Stoker

stokerSo, Stoker. Hmmm. I’m just going to have to start writing this review, and hope I have something to say by the end of it. I know that doesn’t seem very professional, or even sensible, but it’s incredibly difficult to find things to say about a film that has so little to say itself.

Park Chan-wook‘s first foray into English-language film-making was one of my most anticipated films of Glasgow Film Festival, and indeed the whole of 2013. I couldn’t wait to see what the director of a masterpiece like Oldboy could do with what appeared to be a Hitchcockian psychological thriller, with a dash of American Gothic, and possibly even a hint of something more supernatural. The film tells the story of India Stoker (Mia Waskikowska); a girl who loses her father and best-friend (Dermot Mulroney) on her eighteenth birthday. Her father’s brother, Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) appears at the funeral, and moves in with India and her increasingly fragile mother (Nicole Kidman). Uncle Charlie clearly has dark secrets and hidden motives, and while India is suspicious of the man she never knew existed, she finds herself increasingly infatuated with him.

I am desperately looking for positives here. The direction is very stylish at times, and the use of sound is brilliant (India has a skill that allows her to hear things other people cannot, and the viewer is drawn into this aural soundscape in a very satisfying fashion). We are also ‘treated’ to some shocking set-piece scenes, with some images as indelibly burned into our retinas as the octopus scene from Oldboy. The problem is that the film amounts to little more than a few excellent scenes and disturbing images.

The story is threadbare, with not much in the way of action to propel the narrative. What little does happen feels forced and convenient, rather than believable. Characters just don’t do what they’re supposed to do. In some films this could be seen as a brave attempt at ‘anti-storytelling’, but in a film which clearly cites Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt as a major influence, this is unforgivable.

The central performances aren’t bad, it’s just that they don’t get the opportunity to show any great development. Matthew Goode does a reasonable ‘creepy uncle’, but the lack of depth to his character means there is no real twist; nothing to really catch us by surprise. The shocks are all telegraphed, and anyone who has seen one of the slew of ‘sensual psychological thrillers’ from the early 1990s (think The Hand the Rocks the Cradle or Malice) will have a pretty good idea how this plays out in the opening few minutes. The way in which the film plays with vampire mythology (from the title, to India’s attack on a student with a sharpened pencil/wooden stake), and then forgets about these set-ups is frustrating, and symptomatic of a script that feels like a first draft.

It’s not a bad film, it just isn’t good. And from a director who has delivered so much in the past, that is hugely disappointing.

Stoker is released in March

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 18/02/13

Glasgow Subway System - open at normal times today, not that's you'd know
Glasgow Subway System – open at normal times today, not that’s you’d know

Today was the day I really felt I was covering a film festival. I had tickets for back-to-back showings, in the middle of the afternoon, on a Monday. There’s just something glorious about watching films when you’re ‘supposed’ to be at work.

I tweeted that I was prepared for an uncomfortable afternoon in Cineworld Screen 18, as I’d chosen to watch Compliance and The Paperboy in quick succession. What I wasn’t totally prepared for was how horribly my prediction would come true.

Compliance is inspired by true events [BEWARE – HERE BE SPOILERS], and is a study in authority and, as the title suggests, compliance. It is a technically well put together film, with a few excellent performances (particularly Ann Dowd as the restaurant manager, who essentially allows the events to happen). However, this was not an enjoyable film; watching it felt like a violation of my own body. If it actually had anything new or original to say on the subject of people unquestionably following orders from authority figures, then I might be able to admire the emotions it elicited. Instead, the story feels as if it is told purely to shock us, the cinematic  equivalent of the stand-up comedian who tells a rape joke. Yes, some humans are abominable shits, but all Compliance feels capable of doing is confirming this fact without further understanding of what drives people to such behaviour. As it is, all that’s left for this movie to be is a piece of entertainment and, like The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film, I genuinely worry about the mindset of anyone who enjoys a film like this. Compliance: sometimes the story is better off staying a Wikipedia article.

The Paperboy was a little less shocking, but equally sordid in its tone. Set in 1960s Florida, it tells the story of sibling reporters (Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron) investigating the conviction of a cop-killer played by John Cusack. Luckily this film just about holds it together, largely due to its impressive cast. McConaughey continues his recent career renaissance here, and Zac Efron proves to be more than a pretty face. Most entertaining though are Cusack (in a greasy, malevolent role that is his finest performance in years), and Nicole Kidman, whose turn as an Alamaba sexpot is the dark heart of the film. The film still contrives to be a bit boring at times, but the last 20 minutes are phenomenally tense and well executed.

Pick of the day for Tuesday 19th Feb – Breakfast with Curtis

If you fancy watching a film made by a unique writing/directing talent, filmed in the director’s house over a few weeks and starring their friends, well, you could try and blag a ticket to one of the sold-out screenings of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, or you could watch Laura Colella’s heart-warming Breakfast with Curtis.

Five years after an incident that caused a seemingly irreparable rift with his neighbours, online bookseller and care-free bohemian Syd asks their 14-year-old son Curtis for help recording a video blog. What follows is a beautiful coming-of age film about one of those seminal summers where rifts are healed, old secrets emerge, and boys finally become men.

Breakfast with Curtis is showing at 7pm at the CCA Cinema.

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 17/02/13

Bike Polo - exactly as you'd imagine
Bike Polo – exactly as you’d imagine

After a relaxing start to the day spent watching my brother-in-law play Bike Polo (exactly as it sounds, and at the same time unlike any sport I’ve ever seen before), I made my way back into central Glasgow to catch more of this brilliant festival.

After a stop off at the Glasgow Film Theatre press office (and I’ll never tire of being referred to as a “lovely journalist”) to pick up a few more DVD screeners, I made my way to the 6th floor of Glasgow’s Cineworld. Apparently this used to be the tallest cinema in the world. Now, I’ve not got the time or inclination to check such facts, but I couldn’t help being both impressed and utterly underwhelmed by this nugget of information. Glasgow does look rather lovely all lit up at night though.

I was at the cinema to see Stoker. Not just my pick of the day for Failed Critics, but one of my picks of the year for potential greatness. So it was with a heavy heart that I left the cinema to record a review with Steven Neish and Amy Taylor. It turned out I wasn’t alone in my disappointment, and we spent a good part of the recording laying into a film we had all wanted to love.

The podcast will be out next week, and my review will be up tomorrow, but in short the biggest problem with the film was that very little happened, and anything that did happen was both telegraphed and confused. It was a visually striking film, and I was particularly impressed with its use of sound. It’s just that the plot felt like a first draft from an early-nineties erotic thriller, and the actors had very little to do.

Luckily Steven and I then got to wax lyrical over the merits of Cloud Atlas, while Amy described her joy at seeing Sunset Boulevard on the big screen for the first time. I’d just like to thank them both once more for their time and company over this weekend.

After that I retired to the Brewdog Bar, via a fraught bus journey after discovering that Glasgow must have the only mass transportation system in the world that closes at 6pm on a Sunday. Luckily our wonderful sponsors looked after me via the medium of great beer and food, and I was even able to ‘call in’ a report for the Failed Critics Podcast from the bar. The second time that day I’d felt like a proper journalist.

Pick for today: Simon Munnery: Fylm-Makker

Stewart Lee’s favourite comedian is bringing his new show to the Glasgow Film Festival. I’ve no idea what to expect, except that it will be brilliant.

Simon Munnery’s show starts at 9.15pm, at GFT2

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas Weaving Old GeorgeAfter Ang Lee’s visually striking, if slightly lightweight version of ‘the unfilmable novel’ Life of Pi last year, comes an even more ambitious adaptation in the shape of the Wachowski siblings and Tom Twyker’s take on David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. A labyrinthine epic spanning six different narratives over a 500-year period, the film has already divided critics and film fans on the other side of the Atlantic following its release last year. The UK finally gets its chance to make up its own mind this week.

Cloud Atlas stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Broadbent in various roles across the six storylines. Other actors who appear in at least two (and often more) of the narratives include Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, and an often unrecognisable Hugh Grant. Unfortunately, this will be the first sticking point for members of the audience, as the make-up work to enable these actors to appear as such a diverse range of characters is both incredible, and at times horribly jarring. Seeing Hugh Grant as an angry Korean restaurant manager, for example, is possibly the most disturbing cinematic sequence since, well, most of Antichrist. Looking beyond the make-up, some actors handle the range of performances required with more élan than others, with Hugo Weaving and Jim Broadbent displaying fabulous versatility, while Tom Hanks struggles in a few scenes; particularly as the Irish (possibly?) gangster Dermot Hoggins.

The key for this type of multi-layered film to succeed is that none of the interweaving storylines should bore you, and on the whole this is true of Cloud Atlas. In fact, a number of the strands would make excellent films in their own right. The personal stand-out story for me was the story of Robert Frobisher, a disinherited young libertine (Sturgess) who obtains work as the amanuensis to a world famous composer (Broadbent). Their working arrangement gives Frobisher the time and inspiration to write the Cloud Atlas sextet, a piece of music which echoes throughout the film’s extraordinary score. At times I wanted the film to give this story a little room to breathe and stretch its legs, but as soon as this pre-Second World War environment of duty, honour, and forcibly concealed sexuality got its hooks into you, the film moved onto a different timeline.

There is a huge potential for this to go horribly wrong and it really shouldn’t work, but somehow the Wachowskis and Twyker are performing cinematic alchemy right before our very eyes. On paper, there is so much about this film that shouldn’t work. Tonally, it’s all over the place; one minute you’re watching a farce about pensioners plotting an escape from the nursing home from hell, the next a dystopian science-fiction parable about conformity and rebellion. The editing can be hugely disorientating, sometimes jumping between three or four different narrative strands in a matter of seconds. Everything about this film is exactly what they teach you not to do in film school. And maybe that’s why some people (myself included) will love it.

There are moments I laughed out loud at the sheer lunacy of it all, especially during a frankly bizarre storyline set in the distant future where Tom Hanks and Halle Berry talk in an infuriating patois (“ain’t the tru tru”) and Hugo Weaving turns up an amalgam of Old Gregg and The Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh. I’m still not entirely sure what happened during that period of the film, but it never bored me for a second. And that’s the triumph; in a near three hour running time, with six separate narratives, it never once loses momentum. It is a relentless juggernaut of a film, and afterwards I felt like the victim of an intellectual hit and run.

I still find it hard to recommend though, as I know full well that a great number of people will hate it more than the Wachowski’s Matrix sequels. I just can’t help loving it more than The Matrix.

Cloud Atlas is released nationwide on Friday

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 16/02/13

jmsAfter what feels forever (or at least as long as a Judd Apatow film), my Glasgow Film Festival experience is well and truly under way. This is by far the biggest, and most prestigious film festival I have attended, let alone covered in any kind of blogging capacity. There is a definite buzz in the air, as the great, good, bad, and unheard converge on this fair city to celebrate film.

And is a fair city, despite what people might have you believe. When I mentioned to friends and colleagues that I was off to Glasgow for a week, I had to immediately add ‘to cover a film festival’ to avoid the kind of looks I usually reserve for fans of The Only Way is Essex. That said, you could hold a film festival on the hard shoulder of the M25 and I would think it was the most magical place on Earth.

Note to self: copyright motorway hard shoulder film festival idea.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Steven Neish (@popcornaddict) and Amy Taylor ‏(@TrashTaylor), and had originally planned to record our conversation for the one-off festival podcast I’m producing. Unfortunately I got too caught up in excitable tweet up chat, and before I knew it I had to run off to see my first film. We’ve rescheduled for Sunday, when we’ll all have some films under our belt.

So it was a relaxed start to the festival for me yesterday, with just one film. Michael Winterbottom‘s fourth (if you count The Trip) collaboration with Steve Coogan, and once more they’ve produced a character study of an often-misunderstood, egocentric, and uniquely British celebrity. The Look of Love is a biopic of Soho peep show ‘legend’ and one-time richest man in Britain  Paul Raymond. It details his successful business exploits, but focusses on the many women in his life; particularly on his relationship with his daughter. It’s an enjoyable film and the soundtrack, visual style, and casting of a number of British comic talents make the first half a good-natured romp.

The biggest problem I had with the film was Coogan’s performance, which at times bordered on Alan Partridge going to a fancy dress party as Tony Ferrino. That observation alone feels mean-spirited and snarky though, and can we really blame Coogan for having created such an iconic character that audiences struggle to differentiate between him and his alter-ego?

The real stars of The Look of Love are the female cast, in particular Anna Friel as Raymond’s wife Jean, Tamsin Eggerton as his ‘muse’ for the launch of his first magazine, and Imogen Poots as his daughter Debbie, who spends her life desperate for his validation. Poots is appearing later in the festival in A Late Quartet, and is fast becoming an actress of immense talent.

Today’s pick of the festival is Stoker – The first English-language film from Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) is the art-house equivalent of a new Star Wars film. One of the most unique directors working in film today presents a twisted midnight-black tale about young India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) infatuation with the creepy uncle (Matthew Goode) who comes to stay after the death of her father. Nicole Kidman continues her career renaissance (you can also see her in The Paperboy at Glasgow Film Festival) as India’s fragile mother.

Stoker is showing at Cineworld at 4.30pm today.

BD_Logo_White
The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

GFF13: Breakfast with Curtis

Breakfast with Curtis tableI have a confession to make. When I read that Breakfast with Curtis was a micro-budget indie film about some quirky characters, and filmed in the writer/director’s house with her friends and neighbours playing the main roles; well, let’s just say I was apprehensive about spending ninety minutes in their company. I’ve turned off too many wilfully quirky films with larger budgets and recognisable actors over the years to have held out much hope of this film being any good.

And sometimes the most wonderful feeling in the world is being proven utterly wrong.

The film opens on the type of incident most children will have experienced, when 9-year-old Curtis (Jonah Parker) is verbally abused and threatened by his neighbour Syd (Theo Green) for throwing stones at his cat. It’s a situation that immediately tapped into one of my childhood fears; that of scary grown-up neighbours who seemed like an entirely different species. Every childhood friend of mine knew a garden where they dare not kick their ball, for fear of incurring the wrathful neighbour. As adults we’re conditioned to fear the wild and uncontrollable youth, but like a spider trapped in a bath, they are probably more afraid of you than you are of them.

Five years later, and with a neighbourly cold war with its roots in ‘the incident’ showing signs of thawing, Syd (the rather bohemian online bookseller who threatened to crush young Curtis’ skull) asks Curtis to help him film some video blogs for his business. Curtis is unsure, but his home-schooling mother persuades him to take on a project that will help build his self-confidence, as well as bridges between the two households.

Our interview with director Laura Colella gives a fascinating insight into how the film came about, and the process used to make it. Syd’s housemates are friends and neighbours in real life, and many of the film’s sweetest and most genuine moments are simply cinematic portrayals of these ‘real lives’. Right down to the video blogs that Curtis shoots and edits to Syd’s great pride and delight, which are genuine videos Jonah filmed with Theo. These connections provide the creative spark for the film, and help it to avoid layering characters with increasingly bizarre affectations and foibles purely to raise a laugh. The inhabitants of Colella’s world remain grounded in reality, and it is a rare film that is happy to simply invite us to share in the lives of some wonderful people.

Breakfast with Curtis will not appeal to everyone, even those without the prejudices that I admit to having about ‘this type of film’. Colella herself admits that “plot-driven and predictable work doesn’t interest me”, and viewers who want ‘something to happen’ may walk away disappointed. However, anyone who wants to see a heart-warming tale of a boy’s first seminal summer, and simply likes to spend time in the company of funny and interesting people, will love it.

Breakfast with Curtis is showing at Glasgow Film Festival on Saturday 16th February at 5.20pm, and Tuesday 19th February at 7pm. Tickets are available here

GFF13: The Final Member

Tom Mitchell, and his plans for Elmo's final resting place
Tom Mitchell, and his plans for Elmo’s final resting place

There are generally two types of theatrical documentary. One involves months, even years, of meticulous research, planning, interviews and fact-checking. The other type often feels like all the film-maker needed to do was turn up, start filming, and let the characters tell the story. The Final Member is firmly in the second camp, but is taken to another level by some beautiful photography, a wonderful soundtrack, and a tension-building finale to rival the best Hollywood thriller.

Siggi Hjartarson runs the world’s first and only Penis Museum, in Iceland. His collection started in the 1970s with a joke gift of a bull’s decapitated member from a friend (odd, but certainly more original than a ‘grow your own girlfriend’ kit and some chocolate boobs). Over the years his collection grew, and he now has thousands of specimens of mammalian penises. Just one thing is missing from his House of Glans though; a Homo sapiens penis.

Believe it or not, two men have chosen to volunteer their phallus to the museum. 93-year-old Pall Arason is Siggi’s preferred candidate; a famous Icelandic adventurer who claims to have slept with 300 women “not counting prostitutes”. Pall’s rival is 60-year-old Tom Mitchell of the USA, a man who introduces himself “I’m Tom Mitchell, and I’m an American”. Pall’s fame in Iceland would make him the ideal candidate, but his advancing years may potentially cause too much shrinkage, and Tom is prepared to go to great lengths, including offering to donate his penis while he is still alive, in an effort to beat off the competition from Pall and ensure his Yankee Doodle Dandy becomes “the most famous penis in the world”.

Siggi’s frustration with Tom’s overzealous communications and ideas for how best to display his penis lead to some of the film’s most wonderful moments. The absurdity of the situation finally dawns on Siggi when he receives word that Tom has commissioned his own display cabinet for Elmo. That’s right, Tom has named his penis Elmo, but don’t worry, it was “long before the Muppet appeared”. Siggi is furious at the eroding of his authority, and issues Tom with a ‘take it or leave it’ offer and heads off to translate a book by a Spanish monk into Icelandic.
Honestly.

The real star of the show is Pall Arason though. His brief appearances in the film are a wonderful portrayal of the type of eccentric character you fear the 21st century will no longer produce. In the absence of a documentary of Pall’s life, we’ll have to make do with archive footage of his appearance on a UK television show (unnamed, but it surely must either be The Word or Eurotrash), where a poor researcher is charged with making a plaster cast of Pall’s penis. The ensuing cock-up is comedy gold that left me laughing out loud in spite of myself. Sometimes the simplest things please the simplest minds.

In spite of my remarks in the opening paragraph, I know how much hard work went into making this documentary. To use a football analogy, the best kind of referee is one that you don’t notice during the match. In film terms, the greatest success of The Final Member is that you don’t notice the artifice of the film-maker encroaching into a compelling story.
The Final Member is destined to become a festival hit, and you can be one of the first to see it at the Glasgow Film Festival on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th February. 

Tickets are available here.

GFF13: Interview with Laura Colella (Breakfast with Curtis)

Saturday sees the UK Première of Breakfast with Curtis, the latest film from writer/director Laura Colella. It’s a wonderful micro-budget film made in Laura’s house, and starring her friends and neighbours.

Breakfast with Curtis tableFive years after an incident that caused a seemingly irreparable rift with his neighbours, online bookseller and care-free bohemian Syd asks their 14-year-old son Curtis for help recording a video blog. What follows is a beautiful coming-of age film about one of those seminal summers where rifts are healed, old secrets emerge, and boys finally become men.

We spoke to Laura ahead of the festival.

Firstly, how did the idea for making Breakfast with Curtis come about?

Before making BREAKFAST WITH CURTIS, I had been struggling to get a larger-budgeted project off the ground. It was to be my third feature, and I thought it was normal to expect my films to keep growing in terms of the size of production. The trend in the industry was of course going in the opposite direction. After a few years, I was dying to just make a movie, and returned to my roots as a hands-on filmmaker who likes to write, direct, shoot, edit, etc. I looked around at the crazy characters and great locations in my immediate environment and decided to formulate a story based on them.

There are some very strong acting performances in this film, and I think viewers will be surprised to find that you cast your non-actor neighbours in leading roles. Did it work so well because the actors are playing versions of themselves or because of the writing/filming process you used? Or were you just very lucky to be living among some great undiscovered thespians?

I think all of those answers are true. I wrote for my actors, and we had shoots with tiny crews and minimal production that were relatively low-stress and comfortable for them. I did a lot of takes, and listened and worked for the performances that I knew were right and workable. A lot of the performances came together in the editing room, which I think is usually true with experienced actors as well. The reality is that many professional movie actors, at least in the United States, are not necessarily highly trained, so I don’t see a big division between actors and non-actors. Casting to type and innate qualities often brings invaluable richness if that person can be directed well.

One thing that struck me as I watched this film is that there isn’t a traditional antagonist, or even much conflict beyond the initial incident that leads to the rift between the neighbours. In fact, it’s one of the few films I’ve seen where I’d like to grab a drink with all of the characters. Is this something you consciously aimed for when writing the script?

Many people who’ve seen the film have said they’d like to come live with us or have a drink with us, and that feels great, because I was really trying to capture the spirit of fun around here. I do try to avoid formulaic conflict in my writing. Although we’re trained to expect it, I think more interesting and complex things happen when that expectation is not met. Purely plot-driven and predictable work doesn’t interest me. I think my stories are more theme-driven, and I like to incorporate humor and detail as much as possible.

There are a number of obvious restrictions with low-budget film-making. How do you turn those restrictions in opportunities? Is it simply a matter of taking advantage of serendipity? (such as being able to use Jonah’s real-life videos of Theo, or the wonderful blanket of snow that allows for some beautiful shots in the film)

Turning restrictions into opportunities is a great way to make micro-budget movies. We used a relatively inexpensive camera (a Canon 5D Mark II) that had certain limitations, for example, but you can make amazing images with it that look gorgeous even projected on a giant screen. Jonah and Theo’s videos were one of the initial inspirations for the project. There were so many examples of serendipitous good fortune throughout the making of it, ranging from the weather and the way things grew in the garden that year, to the generous participation of people who came on board to help us through post, such as my fantastic executive producer and post guru Mike Jackman.

What do you have planned for your next project? Would you like to work with your neighbours again at some point in the future?

I’d love to work with them again, and there have been a lot of jokes about sequels. I’m still hoping to get the larger-budgeted project I mentioned off the ground, and have another script I’m currently working on.

Finally, we’ll be recording a special edition of our podcast from the festival and celebrating Scottish films and film-making. We’re asking everyone we speak to for their three favourite films set in Scotland.

Wow, here’s the thing: I don’t watch a ton of movies, because I’m so busy with work, and mostly read when I have leisure time. But I’ll say TRAINSPOTTING, LOCAL HERO and GREGORY’S GIRL. I need to see more – please send recommendations!

Breakfast with Curtis is showing at Glasgow Film Festival on Saturday 16th February at 5.20pm, and Tuesday 19th February at 7pm. Tickets are available HERE, and our review is now online

Glasgow Film Festival preview

stoker

This Thursday (14th February) sees the start of the ninth annual Glasgow Film Festival. Growing in size and stature every year, the 2013 festival is the biggest yet, with over 360 events, 57 UK premieres, and 6 world premieres.

The great thing about the GFF is that, as well as being able to watch highly anticipated films from the likes of Joss Whedon (with his lo-fi take on Shakespeare’s anti-rom-com Much Ado About Nothing), Michael Winterbottom (The Look of Love, starring Steve Coogan as porn baron Paul Raymond), and Chan-wook Park (with his first English-language film, Stoker), film fans can also watch cinematic classics in entirely different surroundings (including Jaws on a boat, and The Passion of Joan of Arc in Glasgow Cathedral with live accompaniment).

As well as film, the festival features live musical performances, Q&As with the stars and creators of TV shows like A Game of Thrones and Fresh Meat, and even a live review of the new Aliens: Colonial Marines video-game (followed by a 70mm screening of Aliens on the big screen.

While most films and events are priced at a very reasonable £8.50, there are also a number of free events including the opening of the latest BFI Mediatheque on Friday 22nd February at Bridgeton Library.

Failed Critics will be in Glasgow during the festival to report back on the films not to miss, as well as exploring the cinematic history of this wonderful city. We’ll also be recording a special edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, and maybe even getting a special guest or two on to talk to us*.

*By special, we mean Dave MacFarlane from Bornoffside.net and Paul Fisher from TheWriteClub.co.uk. They’re special, in a way.

For those of you lucky enough to be in Glasgow next week, here are our picks of the festival:

The Final Member
Destined to become one of the surprise hits of this, and many other film festivals; The Final Member is one of those documentaries where it seems all the film-makers need do is show up and point their camera at the subject. Siggy Hjartarson is the curator of the world’s only Penis Museum, in Iceland, and although he has thousands of mammalian specimens he is missing one vital object. A human penis. Believe it or not, the race is on between a 95-year-old Icelandic explorer/womaniser and an younger American who is prepared to go to great lengths (if you think that pun is bad, wait until our full review) to make his penis famous.

The Final Member is showing on Friday 15th February at 3pm, and on Saturday 16th February at 7pm.

Breakfast with Curtis
If you fancy watching a film made by a unique writing/directing talent, filmed in the director’s house over a few weeks and starring their friends, well, you could try and blag a ticket to one of the sold-out screenings of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, or you could watch Laura Colella’s heart-warming Breakfast with Curtis.

Five years after an incident that caused a seemingly irreparable rift with his neighbours, online bookseller and care-free bohemian Syd asks their 14-year-old son Curtis for help recording a video blog. What follows is a beautiful coming-of age film about one of those seminal summers where rifts are healed, old secrets emerge, and boys finally become men.

Breakfast with Curtis is showing on Saturday 16th February at 5.20pm, and Tuesday 19th February at 7pm.

Stoker
The first English-language film from Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) is the art-house equivalent of a new Star Wars film. One of the most unique directors working in film today presents a twisted midnight-black tale about young India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) infatuation with the creepy uncle (Matthew Goode) who comes to stay after the death of her father. Nicole Kidman continues her career renaissance (you can also see her in The Paperboy at Glasgow Film Festival) as India’s fragile mother.

This is one film where we have no idea what to expect, but except to be entertained.

Stoker is showing on Saturday 16th February at 8.30pm, and Sunday 17th February at 4.30pm.

GFF13 Surprise Film
The surprise film has become a staple of the festival circuit in recent years, and Glasgow Film Festival usually delivers in spades. Recent choices for this slot have included David Lynch’s Inland Empire, and last-year’s mumblecore delight Jeff, Who Lives At Home. We’ll be recording our GFF Podcast Special directly after this screening with our instant reactions.

The only disappointment will be from those who miss out on a ticket for a screening that will almost certainly sell out.

The GFF 13 Surprise Film is showing on Wednesday 20th February at 8.30pm.

A Hijacking
Scandinavian drama has never been held in higher esteem than it is right now, and The Hijacking is another example of the excellent film-making coming out of Denmark. This is a taut and ultra-realistic film about the hijacking of the Danish cargo ship by Somali pirates, and the ensuing stand-off and negotiations.

A Hijacking is showing on Wednesday 20th February at 8.45pm, and Thursday 21st February at 4pm.

A full list of films, including online booking facilities, is available on the Glasgow Film Festival website