EIFF 2016: Finding Dory, Slash, Irreplaceable, Bigger Than the Shining 0 32

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Welcome to my second review report from this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. Hope you enjoy!

Finding Dory

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Although at first the idea of a sequel to Finding Dory seemed like a decision made far more out of financial than creative motivations, it turns out it’s a very worthy film in its own right.

The film takes place some time after Marlin (Albert Brooks) found his beloved son Nemo. This time the focus has moved from everyone’s favourite clownfish to the The loveable and forgetful Dory (once again voiced by Ellen Degeneres), who goes on an epic adventure of her own when she starts remembering her family from whom she got separated many years ago.

While the film doesn’t have the instant classic feeling of the previous one, it adopts a certain kind of comedic and dramatic rhythm all its own, thanks to a steady stream of laugh out loud funny gags, wonderful voice performances – Ed O’Neill steals the show as a particularly impatient octopus – and a firm grasp on making an audience tear up. 4/5

Slash

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Clay Liford writes and directs this engaging and intimate comedy that focuses on a particularly weird and wonderful area of fan fiction.

We follow Neil (Michael Johnston), a shy and awkward but creatively passionate high school freshman who loves nothing more than to write slash fiction – that’s fan fiction that involves well known fictional characters engaging in sexual acts – of his favourite fantasy Vanguard. Neil one days meets a fellow slash fiction writer, the alluring Julia (Hannah Marks), who encourages him to publish his work online in order to gain entry into a prestigious comic con event.

It’s a small scale film but it has a big heart beating at the centre of it all, not least in how it openly explores teenage angst and discovering your sexuality at an awkward age. It also has plenty of visual ambition, not least in how it brings Neil’s stories to life on-screen. 4/5

Irreplaceable

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This tender French drama-comedy stars François Cluzet (Intouchables) as Jean-Pierre Werner, a passionate and very talented country doctor who one day is given the devastating news that he has an inoperable brain tumour.

At first he tries to carry on as normal, treating his patients with all the care he usually does, but finds that the tumour is giving him symptoms that interfere with his work. So he is sent the help of a recently graduated doctor named Nathalie (Marianne Denicourt) who tries to ease his burden while trying to figure out if she can even put up with the job herself.

The film is a tad on the predictable side, particularly as it gets into the later stages of the film when Jean-Pierre’s illness comes to a head and the relationship between Jean-Pierre and Nathalie starts to blossom and complicate. But, even so, it’s still a touching, gently moving character piece with two great, complex performances at the forefront. 3.5/5

Bigger Than the Shining

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I wasn’t sure how much I could say about this, the great Mark Cousins’ latest experimental piece of cinema, including the intriguing note I was given pre-screening. Mark tweeted it recently so I’ll include that below:

As per request, I’m not going to go into specifics about what exactly the film entails but I will say that it was a fascinating and engrossing look at the idea of cinematic influence, whether overt or subconscious, and how that has (could have?) played out over the course of film history.

You’ll have to hunt around for the film as, like the note says, it’s going to be destroyed very early next year. But it’s well worth seeking out if you have the opportunity to in any way! Just when you think Mr. Cousins couldn’t do anything more to surprise the ardent film fan… 4/5

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 180

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 205

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10