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Begin Again ****

Begin-Again-5

 

Run Time: 104 mins                   Cert: 15

 

Synopsis: An alcoholic music producer teams up with a heartbroken musician to record an album after a chance meeting. 

 

At the beginning of the film, disgraced music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) visits a bar in which he hears musician Gretta (Keira Knightley) play a song she has written. Hearing potential in her music, Dan approaches Gretta to try and get her to record an album with him. At first she resists, insisting she’s going home as her life in New York hasn’t worked out. However the next day she shows up and they begin working together.

 

The movie is entertaining and fun to watch. While the story could have been predictable, “Begin Again” has a number of twists the viewer is unlikely to see coming and the ending is both pleasant and unexpected.

 

Keira Knightley gives a great performance both as an actress and a singer. Her character goes from being defeated and heartbroken to being both successful and more confident about what she really wants. Mark Ruffalo is also great in the role of Dan, a music producer with a disastrous personal life that is not all it seems. In terms of the supporting cast, James Corden and Catherine Keener are both enjoyable to watch in their respective roles as Gretta’s flatmate and Dan’s ex wife.

 

The soundtrack contains some gems that could easily be future hits.  This combined with the story and performances make “Begin Again” a very pleasant and surprisingly non-cliched film.

 

Reviewed by Lesley Logan

EIFF 2014: Hellion and Coherence

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Hellion: ****
US/ Director Kat Candler/ 98min

 

A coming of age drama revolving around breaking up of a family.

 

13 year old Jacob Wilson (Wiggins) is a is one step away from juvenile hall. He and his friends spend their free time causing trouble around town. Jacob is trying to rope his younger brother Wes (Deke Garner) into the gang. The two have little supervision after the death of their mother, and their father Hollis (Paul) is struggling to be a responsible single parent. The broken family becomes even more fragile when their mother’s sister Pam (Juliette Lewis) steps in to protect Wes.

 

The film comprises of a well paced narrative with well developed characters. All of the family are sympathetic in their dreams and goals, while Jacob’s friends are less so, as it feels that they are making things worse by being a bad influence in the young boy’s life.

 

What makes these characters and story so compelling is due to the performances. Paul appears to be better in this and more believable in this role than he was in Breaking Bad, although he was good in that show too. While both boys bring an innocence as well as displaying true emotions of hurt and anger.

 

Beautifully shot with a sunlit Texas landscape. The images encompass an isolated and desolate place that compliments the story.

 

A slow paced, but strikingly filmed drama with excellent performances throughout.

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Coherence: ****
US/ Director James Ward Byrkit/ 89min

 

An impressive debut by Byrkit that brings a new take on a dinner party movie.

 

Four couples gather at a dinner party the same evening a comet passes Earth. Dancer Em (Emily Foxler), who is unhappy with life and in a relationship with Kevin (Maury Sterling). Kevin’s ex-girlfriend Laurie (Lauren Maher) is also in attendance with her new boyfriend Amir (Alex Manugian), which is Em is none too pleased about. The group is rounded off by hot-tempered Hugh (Hugo Armstrong), his wife Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) and hosts Lee (Lorene Scafaria) and her ex-Alcoholic Actor Mike (Nicholas Brendon). During the party cellular communications and electricity are cut. The group realise that a house down the street still have power. When the friends try to go to chat with their neighbors, the couples soon discover some similarities in their circumstances.

 

Coming over as a deranged version of the Twilight Zone, this science fiction film is shot in a fly in the wall hand held style which gives the action a documentary feel.

 

The acting at times can be very melodramatic and over the top, but this adds to the chaos and fun of the storyline.

 

The pacing is extremely slow to start with, but once everything kicks off the
twists come thick, fast and never predictable. The third act especially takes things into another dimension.

 

Wild, crazy and inventive. The worst thing to do is try and make sense of the multi-stranded plot. Instead sit, relax and enjoy the ride.

 

Reviewed by Paul Logan

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EIFF 2014: The Skeleton Twins and Hide & Seek

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The Skeleton Twins: *****
US/ Director Craig Johnson/ 91mins

 

A humorous tale of family and tragedy from two members of Saturday Night Live.

 

After a decade apart, Maggie (Kirsten Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) are reunited due to failed suicide attempts. Both twins are unable to cope with their their disappointments and unfulfilled dreams. Milo moves in with Maggie and her nice guy husband Lance (Luke Wilson). However, while the siblings appear to be happy being reignited they both appear to threaten to destroy the bridges they have desperately longed to repair.

 

Anyone who has watched ‘Bridesmaids’ or ‘SNL’ will be amazed how restricted both Hader and Wigg are in their roles. Hader at times appears to channel his character Stefano from that show into Milo, but clearly not as over the top. These accomplished comedians use facial expressions to convey sadness and hope in their performances. Both performers are well suited for this project and have great chemistry together.

 

It is not just a two handed affair. With other gifted comic actors Ty Burrell as Milo’s teacher and ex lover and Luke Wilson adding to the comical situations the twins encounter.

 

Johnson has chosen a subject matter in depression and suicide, which is not an easy to tackle especially in comedy. However he succeeds by not being overly preachy or patronising in this dark area of life.

 

Heartbreaking, but also incredibly uplifting, together with a clever script and great performances. This is definitely one of the highlights of the year.

 

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Hide and Seek: *
UK/ Director Joanna Coates/ 80mins

 

Not to be confused with the De Niro movie with the same name, this debut feature from Joanne Coates that focuses on sexuality and desire.

In an English country house, four young people from London move in together to attempt an alternative way of living. Leah (Rea Mole), Charlotte (Hannah Arterton), Jack (Daniel Metz) and Max (Josh O’Connor) are all keen to move away from normal society and normal rules. They have a nightly rota of varying couplings amongst the four of them, with the rule being that during the night, anything goes.

There is not much that can be said about the film. This is due to the amateur nature and presentation of a piece of art that has very little to say.

The four players improvise scenarios to each other during the day, while having their wicked way with each other at night.

No narrative structure, poor performances, tedious sex scenes and annoying characters.

What may work as a short experimental art film, soon out stays it’s welcome. The whole experience feels like an X-rated episode of 80’s preschool show ‘Let’s Pretend’.

Reviewed by Paul Logan

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EIFF 2014: Greyhawk & Palo Alto

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Greyhawk: ****
UK/ Director Guy Pitt/ 91mins

 

An interesting low budget drama, which centers on a quest for Man’s best friend.

 

Mal Walker( Alec Newman) a reclusive, disillusioned army veteran, has to venture into a rundown council estate called Greyhawk, when his only friend goes missing. As he journeys further into the estate’s, Mal starts to learn it is not just his friend he’s looking for, but his own humanity.

 

Newman is exceptional in the central role as Mal. It shows that he has done the research with spending time with the Blind Legion, as he is completely believeable as a blind person.

 

What is even more remarkable is that even although Mal is such an unlikeable flawed character, we are still routing for him as an audience to find his dog.

 

The style and look is dark, gritty, bleak and murky with none of the characters involved being at all likeable. The filmmakers use the standard clichéd use of jump cuts, close ups and overused slow motion that has really been done to death in this genre, especially in UK crime thrillers. The script is predictable and has several plot holes within the story.

 

The story has some cleverly structured with some good twists. Even the ending is unexpected.

 

Guy Pitt has made an impressive unique debut.

 

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Palo Alto: ****
US/ Director Gia Coppola/ 100mins

Another Coppola joins the family business with an adaptation of James Franco’s self penned short stories.

 

Shy, sensitive teen, April (Emma Roberts) is the torn between a flirtation with her soccer coach Mr. B (James Franco) and a crush on sweet stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer). As one high school party leads into another, April and Teddy struggle to admit their mutual affection.

 

This disjointed story of the troubles of being a teenager in suburban American revolve around a conflicted narrative. The young characters appear to be revolting against something or someone, which is never fully explained, as they appear to have the fullest lives with caring parents.

 

However strangely we seem to sympathise with the main characters. This is probably partly due to the impressive performances by Roberts and newcomer Jack Kilmer (son of Val, who also makes an appearance, and Joanne Whalley) who bring a believable teenage angst to their roles.

 

It is easy to see that Gia is Francis’ granddaughter with beautifully framed shots and in capturing subtle performances from her actors. She appears to be influenced by previous teen art house films including Van Sant’s Elephant. Coppola also clearly has an affection for her characters and the material.

 

While this may be an impressive debut for a first time director, the story is just not captivating enough to ensure the meaning of the piece stays with the audience once the movie is all said and done.

 

Reviewed by Paul Logan

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EIFF 2014: Cold In July ****

 

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Run Time: 109 mins                   Cert: 15

 

Synopsis: In Jim Mickle’s powerful thriller set in 1980s Texas, a protective family man (Michael C Hall) shoots an intruder and finds himself terrorised by the man’s father (Sam Shepard). However all is not as it seems and the two men team up. 

 

At the beginning of the movie, Ann Dane (Vinessa Shaw) alerts her husband Richard (Michael C Hall) when she hears an intruder in their house. Richard shoots the intruder and within days the intruder’s father Ben (Sam Shepard) begins to harass the family. When it turns out things are not as they seem, the two men team up along with private investigator Jim Bob (Don Johnson) in an attempt to find the truth.

 

The story is well written and has some great twists. What first appears to be a psychological thriller about a man out for revenge on his son’s killer becomes something entirely different by the halfway point. From then on, the movie is full of surprises and the ending leaves a few questions unanswered.

 

Johnson steals the show and is both comic and entertaining as Jim Bob. Hall gives a reasonably good performance as a family man who finds himself involved in a violent chain of events while Sam Shepard is believable as an ex convict out for revenge.

 

The soundtrack fits with the movie consisting of rock classics from 80s bands Signal and White Lion as well as original music composed by Jeff Grace.

 

Overall, “Cold In July” is an enjoyable and unpredictable movie in which Don Johnson shines.

 

Reviewed by Lesley Logan

EIFF 2014: Hyena

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Hyena: **
US/ Director Gerald Johnson/ 112mins

 

After the promising debut from Johnson with his serial killer drama, Tony, the director returns with a lacklustre run by the mill cop thriller.

 

The film follows the “hyena” in question, a scavenger and a corrupt cop Michael (Peter Ferdinando) who leads a special task-force that tackles London’s biggest drug traffickers. Michael turns a blind eye against the illegal activity of the Turkish and Albanian criminal community of the city, however the reappearance of an old colleague from his past threatens to expose he and his unit’s corruption.

 

The main problem with Hyena is that this story has been done several times before and with better results. Johnson has clearly been influenced by
Abel Ferrara’s classic Bad Lieutenant Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher.

 

The style and look is dark, gritty, bleak and murky with none of the characters involved being at all likeable. The filmmakers use the standard clichéd use of jump cuts, close ups and overused slow motion that has really been done to death in this genre, especially in UK crime thrillers. The script is predictable and has several plot holes within the story.

 

It is not all doom and gloom however. The acting saves the piece for being truly forgettable. Especially by The lead performer Tony’s Peter Ferdinando and the ever reliable Stephen Graham who appears to be wasted in an underdeveloped role as Michael’s superior officer.

 

While the soundtrack by 80’s electronic act The The works well with the disturbing images.

 

With murder, rape and dismemberment, Hyena is distinctly unpleasant to watch. The performances may lift the overall piece, but there is just nothing here that is particularly memorable.

By Paul Logan

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Edge of Tomorrow ****

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Run Time: 113 mins        Cert: 12A

 

Synopsis: When army officer Cage (Tom Cruise) is sent to fight in a war against an alien race, he finds himself living the same day over and over again in an attempt to save his fellow humans.

 

Cage (Tom Cruise) is an army publicity officer who has no experience on the battlefield. When he arrives on a base in England, he is informed by Master Sergeant Farrel (Bill Paxton) that he will be fighting the alien race with the rest of the soldiers. After being killed by an alien, he finds himself working with experienced fighter Rita (Emily Blunt) as he repeatedly relives the previous day.

 

The script is unpredictable and resembles a sci-fi version of the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day”. Each time the timeline is reset, the viewer becomes more unsure where the story is going. Coupled with good action scenes, this is likely to keep the audience interested.

 

Cruise gives an enjoyable performance as the lead male and works well with female counterpart Blunt. The supporting cast also perform to a high standard with Bill Paxton providing comic relief as army sergeant Farrel and Brendan Gleeson playing a corrupt general.

 

The ending is disappointing in that it doesn’t really make sense. There are a lot of unanswered questions and things that don’t add up.

 

With its well written script, good performances and entertaining effects, “Edge of Tomorrow” is a good quality film but is let down by a weak ending.

 

Reviewed by Lesley Logan

Maleficent ***

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Run Time: 97 mins           Cert: PG

 

Synopsis: Betrayed and threatened, a fairy seeks revenge on a kingdom by cursing a young princess. 

 

The film begins when Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), a young fairy, becomes friends with a boy named Stefan (Sharlto Copley). As they get older, he betrays her and helps to destroy the land she lives in. This leads Maleficent to become evil and set on revenge.

 

The story is completely different from the original Sleeping Beauty and doesn’t really work. However if the audience are able to disregard the original story, this version is enjoyable. Despite being predictable at times there are a number of twists and the ending is not what the viewer is likely to expect.

 

Jolie gives an excellent performance as the title character. She looks the part, clearly enjoys the role and is both entertaining and fun. Elle Fanning is pleasant to watch as Aurora and the pair work well together. Sharlto Copley gives an average performance as King Stefan, but his Scottish accent is not particularly good.

 

“Maleficent” also has comic relief in the form of the fairies played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple. Temple in particular shines as the youngest of the three.

 

The 3D effects are subtle but nice to look at. Colours are also well used despite the film’s dark themes and the costumes are nicely designed.

 

Overall, Maleficent is an enjoyable film with some good performances but does not do the original story justice.

 

 

Reviewed by Lesley Logan

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014 lineup announced

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The full line up for this year’s Edinburgh international film festival was unveiled today by artistic director Chris Fujiwara. The programme includes 156 feature films from 47 countries with 11 world premieres, eight international premieres, seven European premieres and 95 U.K. premieres.

 

Highlights include Anton Corbijn’s “A Most Wanted Man,” starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto,” starring James Franco and Emma Roberts; and Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York,” inspired by the case of former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, starring Gerard Depardieu.

 

EIFF will also host the world premiere of “Castles in the Sky” from Gillies MacKinnon, the story of the Scottish engineer and developer of radar Robert Watson-Watt (played by Eddie Izzard). The film is one of the contenders for the Michael Powell Award for British films, whose line-up was announced previously. Competitors also include “Set Fire to the Stars,” the debut feature from Andy Goddard, a semi-biographical drama depicting the life of Dylan Thomas and starring Elijah Wood, also screening as a world premiere.

 

Special Screenings include Anthony Baxter’s “A Dangerous Game,” the follow-up to “You’ve Been Trumped,” exploring American property developer Donald Trump’s incursion into Scotland; and this year’s family gala will be the U.K. premiere of the animated heist adventure “The Nut Job,” featuring the voice talents of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser and Liam Neeson.

 

The International Feature Film Competition, which highlights filmmaking that is imaginative, innovative and deserving of wider recognition, includes deadpan tragicomedy “The Owners” from Kazakh director Adilkhan Yerzhanov; Nils Malmros’ study of the extremes of human tragedy in “Sorrow and Joy”; Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’ “To Kill a Man,” a tense and restrained study of a how far a man will go to protect his family; “Ice Poison” by Midi Z, portraying the economic and moral crisis affecting young people in Taiwan; and Dietrich Brueggemann’s emotionally wrenching “Stations of the Cross,” which screens as part of the Focus on Germany.

 

The International Feature Film Competition line-up also includes the international premiere of relationship drama “X/Y” from actor-director Ryan Piers Williams, starring America Ferrera; Koji Fukada’s “Au Revoir L’ete,” a portrait of a girl of the edge of adulthood; “Han Gong-Ju,” the debut feature from South Korean director Lee Su-Jin; Nathan Silver’s “Uncertain Terms,” set at a home for pregnant teenagers; “Club Sandwich,” a coming-of-age drama from Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke; and “Concrete Clouds,” the directorial debut of Lee Chatametikool.

 

After a three-year hiatus, this year’s festival will see the return of the award for documentary feature film. The nominees include “Garnet’s Gold” from director Ed Perkins and “‘Til Madness Do Us Part” from Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing; Samantha Fuller’s tribute to maverick American filmmaker Samuel Fuller in “A Fuller Life”; Davi Pretto’s “Castanha,” a portrait of a 52-year-old cross dresser; and the world premiere of “Life May Be,” a meditation on art and identity from Mark Cousins and Mania Akbari.

 

Completing the line-up are Farida Pacha’s “My Name Is Salt”; “Chantier A,” an imaginative account on the reshaping of Algeria, directed by Tarek Sami, Karim Loualiche and Lucie Deche; Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s “Manakamana,” which stages a meeting of technology and spiritual belief aboard a Nepalese cable car; Thomas Heise’s look at the everyday lives of inmates and guards at a juvenile prison in Mexico in “Staedtebewohner”; and “My Red Shoes” by Sara Rastegar, a family portrait set against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution.

 

EIFF’s audience award will return this year. This year the nominees include Jim Mickle’s revenge thriller “Cold in July” with Michael C. Hall and Don Johnson; John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s investigation of the life of a brilliant photographer, “Finding Vivian Maier”; and Jeff Baena’s zombie romantic comedy “Life After Beth,” featuring star turns from Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan and John C. Reilly.

 

Several Special Screenings take place across the festival, including the world premiere of “Tony Benn: Will & Testament,” directed by Skip Kite, a portrait of the long-time Labour M.P., who died in March, and a retrospective screening of docudrama “Culloden” from Peter Watkins, which portrays the 1746 Battle of Culloden in the Scottish Highlands.

 

EIFF has teamed up with Empire magazine to host “The Greatest Movie of All Time” as voted for by Empire readers for their 301st issue. The winning film has been revealed as “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” and it will have a rare theatrical screening at the festival on June 25.

 

EIFF and Empire will also present a series of Hero Hangouts, which will see a variety of celebs interviewed live on stage, including “Cold in July” star Don Johnson; Elijah Wood, in Edinburgh for his starring role in “Set Fire to the Stars”; Noel Clarke, who produced “We Are Monster,” and produced, directed and starred in “The Anomaly”; and Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne, the co-directors of the Closing Gala “We’ll Never Have Paris.”

 

The American Dreams strand has been expanded to highlight the resurgence of American Independent cinema and includes the European Premiere of Craig Johnson’s “The Skeleton Twins,” starring Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig and a powerhouse performance from Nicolas Cage in “Joe,” directed by David Gordon Green. International premieres include insightful family drama “Hellion,” directed by Kat Candler and featuring Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis, and Leah Meyerhoff’s poetic road movie “I Believe in Unicorns.”

 

Directors’ Showcase presents work from established auteur directors and emerging talents. The selection includes the long awaited U.K. premiere of Bong Joon-ho’s futuristic thriller “Snowpiercer,” starring Chris Evans, John Hurt and Tilda Swinton, and the hand-drawn animation “Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?” from Michel Gondry. Also in the Directors’ Showcase are “Cathedrals of Culture,” an expansive project exploring the soul of buildings from six acclaimed filmmakers including Wim Wenders and Robert Redford; and Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang’s “Stray Dogs,” allegedly his farewell to cinema.

 

Wicked and Wild will feature the world premiere of Noel Clarke’s futuristic thriller “The Anomaly,” starring Ian Somerhalder and Brian Cox; Eli Roth’s depraved take on cannibalism in “The Green Inferno”; the nerve-shredding thriller “Let Us Prey” from Brian O’Malley; and Leigh Janiak’s intimate horror “Honeymoon” starring Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway as newlyweds.

 

The For the Family strand brings together films from around the world that both children and adults can enjoy, including the international premiere of “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” the IMAX film narrated by Morgan Freeman; the tale of one cat’s adventure to save the day in “The House of Magic”; and the family adventure “Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang,” based on a Spanish comic book.

 

The New Perspectives strand offers a range of work from emerging filmmakers, including Terry McMahon’s gritty drama “Patrick’s Day”; Noh Young-seok’s thriller “Intruders”; and Hisham Zaman’s “Letter to the King,” an ensemble piece about five people who take a day trip from a refugee camp to Oslo. The world premiere of London gangster drama “The Guvnors,” directed by Gabe Turner, features a notable performance from Harley Alexander-Sule, one half of the hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks; and Geethu Mohandas’ “Liar’s Dice” explores an uneasy alliance between a vulnerable young mother and an ex-soldier.

 

Fujiwara said “A film festival must keep trying to remain challenging, provocative and responsive, and I believe the programme we’re unveiling today shows our success at doing that this year. It’s a diverse and artistically strong programme that will delight and surprise our audiences, both old and new, and that will reward those who share our passion for exploring cinema in all its forms.”

 

As previously announced, the festival opens with the world premiere of Gerard Johnson’s “Hyena,” and the Closing Gala is the international premiere of “We’ll Never Have Paris,” co-directed by Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne.

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Newsreel (W/e 25th May 2014)

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DreamWorks Animation has announced that The Penguins of Madagascar will now open in Nov 2014 & Home will move to March 2015.

 

Joel and Ethan Coen will write the Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg project that chronicles the true story of James Donovan.

 

Benedict Cumberbatch & Adam Scott join the cast of Black Mass.

 

‘Godzilla’ director Gareth Edwards set to direct first ‘Star Wars‘ spinoff film for 2016.

 

Edgar Wright has left AntMan due to creative differences with Marvel.

 

Winter Sleep, a film by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, has been named the winner of the Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. Julianne Moore won a Best Actress prize for Maps to the Stars, while Mr. Turner star Timothy Spall was named Best Actor. Bennett Miller won Best Director for Foxcatcher starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell.

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past transports to the top of the U.S. Box-office.

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