EIFF 2012: 7 Days in Havana Movie Review 0 43

EIFF 2012 - 7 Days in Havana Movie Review

Set in Havana, Cuba, this anthology film tells seven individual stories arbitrarily interconnected over the course of a week. Each part is directed by a different director, including Benicio Del Toro and Gaspar Noé, and it’s no surprise to find that not all of the segments (or days of the week as the movie is structured) work, either on their own or as part of the whole package.

When it works it really works, with two or three of the days flowing fantastically and standing on their own as fascinating and compelling miniature stories. The ones which do work include the first story entitled “El Yuma,” which takes place on Monday. Directed by Benicio Del Toro, it follows a young man (played by Josh Hutcherson) who has flown into Cuba to attend a film school programme. He has some time to kill the day before and stays with a local man who also drives him around. The segment is effective in showcasing an outsider, in this case an American, lost in translation but nevertheless trying his best, leading to an awkward encounter that is pitched perfectly.

The others that work include “Jam Session,” taking place on Tuesday, directed by Pablo Trapero and following a film director who’s in town to receive a film festival award. It’s a funny and idiosyncratic little tale that’s weirdly compelling to watch, thanks largely to the performance of Emir Kusturica as the director. And there’s also “Dulce amargo,” set on Saturday and directed by Juan Carlos Tabío, following a woman as she tries to bake things in time for a local celebration all the while unknowing of something her daughter is planning.

Unfortunately that’s where the positives end as the four other segments are a mix of ineffective, boring and bizarre. The Wednesday-set “La tentadión de Cecilia,” helmed by Julio Médem and telling the story of a young singer torn between staying with her current boyfriend or starting a new life and career in Spain, is equal parts melodramatic and indulgent in nature, although offers the most substantial tie-in to another of the segments. The Thursday-set “Diary of a Beginner,” directed by Elia Suleiman, is utterly pointless and pretentious as we follow a man aimlessly wandering around his hotel and the local streets observing people.

Friday’s “Ritual,” directed by the controversial Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, Enter the Void) is striking but nonetheless weird and completely out of sync with the rest of the film. And finally the Sunday-set “La fuente,” is intriguing to begin with but is ultimately plodding and unsatisfying, making points about communitys pulling together to achieve something and religious belief but never in a way that feels substantial.

For at least three out of the seven segments, 7 Days in Havana is a compelling and oddly interesting slice of Havana life but the other four parts cloud any enjoyment as an overall experience. The film’s main issue is that it doesn’t feel connected enough and could have massively benefited with a stronger woven together narrative instead of being seven different stories that are only vaguely (and I stress that word) linked. Anthology films have been done many times before and much better than this.

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7 Days in Havana is released in UK cinemas on July 6th.

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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 0 345

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 0 370

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