EIFF 2016: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, To Steal From a Thief, Ken and Kazu 0 97


Welcome to the first of my reports from the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016. I thought I’d try something new this year: doing multiple capsule reviews in one post. Hope you enjoy the coverage!

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

EIFF 2016 - Hunt for the Wilderpeople

New Zealand director Taika Waititi follows up his hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do In the Shadows with this equally funny – albeit in a much different sort of way – film that merges intricate character humour with grand adventure.

We follow Ricky Baker (impressive relative newcomer Julian Dennison) who, after spending time in foster care, is placed in the remote NZ woods with a loving woman named Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her grumpy husband Hector (Sam Neil). When his newfound foster aunt suddenly dies, Ricky finds himself going on an adventure into the woods with a reluctant Hector which spirals into a nationwide manhunt for the two of them.

Charming is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days but Hunt for the Wilderpeople fits the description down to a tee. It’s a beautiful, endearing and often flat-out hilarious film filled with loveable characters – Dennison is an absolute joy as the affably naive and determined Ricky – and plenty of little moments that mix fanciful imagination and nuggets of truth. This is a real gem of a film from one of the most talented comedic filmmakers around. 4/5

To Steal From a Thief

EIFF 2016 - To Steal From a Thief

Strong shades of Inside Man, Dog Day Afternoon and The Town (among many others) can be found in this entertaining Spanish-language heist thriller that attempts to mix crime-laden thrills with political intrigue and corruption.

What should have been a straight forward robbery at a prestigious bank in Valencia quickly goes wrong, a group of skilled robbers find themselves with more hostages than they can rightly handle and the police bearing down on them as they race against the clock to steal what they came for.

It does a lot of reminding of other, far better films and struggles once the actual robbery itself fades from focus in favour of some clunkily-handled political statements that are about as subtle as a getting whacked in the face with a shotgun. But thanks to a very strong cast, including Luis Tosar and Rodrigo de la Serna, and an astute handle on what makes an against-the-clock scene tick, it’s a competently entertaining watch. 3/5

Ken and Kazu

EIFF 2016 - Ken and Kazu

Proving that Japanese cinema can merge hard-hitting crime with depth of character as well as any American film can is this powerful crime drama from first time feature director Hiroshi Shoji (expanding the story out from his 2011 short).

We centre on the titular duo, two old friends and literal partners in crime who find their paths diverging when Ken decides to start a family with his girlfriend just as he finds out Kazu has been dealing on the sidelines of their business ruled by the ruthless Mr. Todo.

The film hits some familiar crime-drama beats, not least in the the portrayal of the ins and outs of the drug business in which the eponymous duo operate. But it’s elevated by some great performances, isn’t afraid to show the gritty reality of the duo’s tough way of life and gives an extra layer of emotional depth as we see how things affect the increasingly strained relationship between Ken and his pregnant girlfriend. This one packs a real punch. 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 0 417

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 0 448

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