EIFF 2016: The White King, The Love Witch, The Mine 0 153

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Welcome to our third review report from this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. Hope you enjoy the coverage!

The White King

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This dystopian sci-fi drama is adapted from the best-selling novel by György Dragomán. Something of a half way house between The Hunger Games and Empire of the Sun (although nowhere near as good as either of those), it takes places in an alternate world where, for the last 30 years, the portrayed society has been living under a totalitarian government, shut off from the outside world, that preaches things like unity and duty.

We see this world of brutal and ultra-controlling dictatorship through the eyes of 12-year-old Djata (newcomer Lorenzo Allchurch) who seeks out desperate methods for himself and his mother (Agyness Deyn) when his father is held prisonor for being a traitor to the cause.

There are some very interesting ideas going on here, not least in how it takes a fresh allegorical look at Nazism and the corruption of power and warped societal beliefs. And there are some great performances, including Allchurch who impresses in his first feature role, Jonathan Pryce who is captivating as his ruthless Colonel grandfather and Deyn who has some very powerful scenes as Djata’s devoted mother.

However, it never truly convinces with the world that it’s trying to portray, only merely skimming the surface of those aforementioned ideas – it’s never really clear why this society has arisen or how it’s able to function without interaction with surrounding nations – and presenting certain unfolding events without any real logical reason. It’s certainly interesting and ambitious but ultimately frustrating and unsatisfying. 2.5/5

The Love Witch

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One of the more unique films I’ve seen at the festival thus far could easily be mistaken for a film that came out 40 or 50 years ago, what with its faux visual aesthetic and internationally campy nature.

The plot follows a beautiful witch named Elaine (Samantha Robinson) who uses her looks, seductive charm and specially made love potions to lure various men to her and get them to fall in love with her. When she moves to a new small town to continue her work, it garners the suspicious attention of a determined local police officer.

Although I did find the overall idea started to wane in the second act, dragging its feet and getting rather repetitious because of its overlong two hour runtime, there’s a good amount of fun to be had in how it mixes together everything from campy and theatrical character interactions to a genuinely tragic undercurrent that comments on female sexuality and how society has (and continues to) treat the gender. 3/5

The Mine

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Part of the Focus on Finland strand of the fest, this political and business-themed drama explores a fictionalized version the ill-fated Finnish nickle-zinc-uranium mining company Talvivarra that caused some serious environmental damage.

We specifically follow Jussi (Joonas Saartamo), a young father and husband who takes on a job at the company that offers good money and a certain amount of prestige. However, he soon begins to have his suspicions about the ethical practices going on there, specifically his boss’ unwillingness to be clear about the very likely environmental impacts of the uranium on the surrounding lakes.

Visually slick though it may be, I have to say I found the narrative rather turgid and repetitive, bombarding the audience with tons of technical information that all merges into one another after a short while and, frankly, nothing you couldn’t have gotten from reading Wikipedia. The straining relationship between Jussi and his wife also feels surface-level and rather clichéd, while the overall message of “big companies are more interested in money than people and the environment” tells you absolutely nothing new. 2/5

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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