Sunday, 20 June 2010

FILM REVIEW: Thunder Soul

Thunder Soul, Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010
Fri 18 June 20.20 Cineworld
Sat 19 June 15.45 Cineworld

The Kashmere Stage Band formed in a predominantly black high school in Kashmere, Texas in 1969 under the direction of Conrad O Johnson, known to the kids as 'Prof'. Just as African-Americans had emerged out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, they saw the 70s as their time to shine, to pay homage to the generation that made opportunities possible - like the opportunity to be in a first class band so extraordinary that, although composed of teens, wins best stage band in America two years in a row. This is their story, told 35 years later for the purpose of reforming as a tribute to a frail, 92-year-old Prof.

The reunion is heart-warming and full of emotion as every member travels from across the world back to the very same band room where they escaped to so long ago, away from the streets and away from trouble and into the hands of Prof - a man who taught the fatherless to be a men and became a patriarchal figure to the entire group. The resulting sound is a phenomenal mix of funk led jazz, every work created by Prof and recorded onto LPs that are best-selling collector's items today. The group's success took them to unimaginable places, first beating all white bands across America, and then accepting invites to be treated as bonafide artists across Europe and Japan, lighting up every stage they danced across.

The reunion is a spiritual time as they dust off untouched trombones and stroll misty-eyed down memory lane, and this documentary captures unfathomable events that will move every single viewer, fans of soul and funk or not. (Kelly Rae Smith)

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FILM REVIEW: Thelma, Louise et Chantel

Thelma, Louise et Chantel, Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010
Mon 21 June 18.15 Cineworld
Tuesd 22 June 20.15 Cineworld

Like Thelma and Louise, Thelma, Louise et Chantel is a feminine adventure but with a middle-aged twist a la Mamma Mia!, all wrapped up in hilarious and raunchy French dialogue with a soundtrack that really kills it.

Three very different old friends come together for a road trip to the south of France in order that they might attend the wedding of Gabrielle's ex and father of her children. As any escapade will do, this one has its detours and so it unfolds that the other two companions have their own interests in this husband-to-be, along with each of their own insecurities, sadness and an urgent need for liberation.

Gabrielle is a vivacious, sexually charged and gorgeous woman who loves the attention of young and older fellas alike, until she discovers more than she wanted to know about the ex. Chantal is a wife and mother in the process of beating cancer, a battle that has robbed her of one breast and thus her confidence as a desirable woman. She can't let go of things like the death of her dog (she carries him everywhere with her in a cooler) and the memories of her dead sister that link her rather insignificantly it turns out, to Gabriella's ex - a revelation that worsens her feelings of being invisible first before eventually liberating her. And Nelly is an English teacher who is quite literally stripped down to her barest bones before she looks at her life honestly enough to make some changes.

Hilarity ensues throughout and though it can be argued that this is another passenger on the train of films about confidence-seeking older women, it will still make you want to high five them all when it's all said and done. It is hot, it is funny and it is, especially, honest. (Kelly Rae Smith)

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FILM REVIEW: Frontier Blues

Frontier Blues, Edinburgh International Film Festival
Mon 21 June 12.15 and Tue 22 June 13.55

The title Frontier Blues refers to the lonely landscape, the vast isolation of the Steppes that is the barren backdrop for the different lives of four Iranian men. Each story is ordinary but void of a human connection that they all so obviously need. Hassan connects with the audience first while showing us his box of license plates which he collects when he's not combing or cleaning or simply walking about with his other obsession, his pet donkey. Hassan wanders uselessly while claiming to be very busy, and carries a cassette player that plays Francois Hardy's Tous les Garcons et Les Filles, which is indeed so lovely that locals give him free rides in the back of a truck in exchange for hearing the beautiful ballad. He lives with his shop-owning uncle who receives so little satisfaction at his business that much of his time is spent gazing at his own monotonous ceiling fans. Hassan eventually goes to work with Alam, who works on a chicken farm while also learning English so that he can escape one day, he prays, by boat with the Persian woman for whom he has fallen. And finally there's the minstrel who still holds a torch for his wife even though she ran off with a guy in a green Mercedes Benz three decades before. He poses throughout the film with four young boys for a photojournalist wishing to make a series about Turkmen in their regular habitat, a move that shows off the incredible craftsmanship that has gone into shooting this film. It is a slow-going production because of its delicate message of despair that is told so tenderly but one that still favourably received for its thoughtfulness. It isn't harrowing, but may make you sad, and it isn't a happy film, but it may make you smile. Kelly Smith

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Film review: Barry Munday

Barry Munday, Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010
Mon 21 June 21.35 Cineworld,Fountainbridge
Tue 22 June 21.45 Cineworld, Fountainbridge

It's such a pity when a pretty lovable and respected cast such as this chooses to take part in a film that was probably as good and definitely funnier when it was done the first time and called Knocked Up. Who knows who thunk it first but it's also a shame that whispers of 40-year Old Virgin sneak in there too and cause one to leave the cinema feeling as if perhaps it should have been titled Barry Mundane.

It's an enjoyable rip-off though, if you dig the actors, and I do. A believably obnoxious Barry Mundane played by Patrick Wilson likes to invite women out of his league for happy hour at Chilis. He also wears Hawaiian shirts, pretends to do insurance work and drifts through life as your average douche bag until two things happen. One, he has a forgettable but conceptional sexual encounter with the virginal and undesirably-attired Ginger, an irritating character made endearing by Judy Greer, just before he (Two) quite rightly has his testicles attacked by a trumpet and then surgically removed.

Typically, this one night stand turns into more than that and well, let's not pretend that you don't know the rest.

Some special people also include the adorable Chloe Sevigny who plays a Miss Perfect by day and pole dancer by night, and the always welcome face of Cybill Shepherd as Ginger's mother.

It's entertaining once the redundance is accepted but steer clear if you want what most of us want out of the EIFF, something that's wonderfully unconventional.

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Film review: The Kid

The Kid, Edinburgh International Film Festival
Wed 23 June 2010 20.35 Cineworld, Fountainbridge
Thur 24 June 2010 18.00 Cineworld, Fountainbridge
Director: Nick Moran

The Kid, based on a best-selling novel by Kevin Lewis, is Lewis' own horrific account of growing up in a council estate in 1970s London. As a child, Kevin is locked away, friendless save for his drawings on the walls, and beaten by his haggard, chain-smoking mother (Natascha McElhone) while his alcoholic father consistently escapes to the pub. After temporary relief at a foster home, an unthorough and gullible social worker mistakenly sends Kevin back home where, as a teenager, he is finally beaten unconscious and sent to a home that saves and forever affects him. A school teacher also becomes a hero at this point of the story by physically ensuring Kevin's retreat to his new haven and sends him off equipped with a set of headphones, cassette player and the classical music that beautifully soundtracks the entire film.

Kevin's new father shows him the foreign feeling of affection and supports him in every endeavor no matter how senseless or grand, until the father's unexpected death which causes his life to gruesomely unravel. Rupert Friend is the adult Kevin, with a performance that makes the hard realities to come so real, it's often unbearable to watch the harshness happen to a character with whom the audience undoubtedly loves and sympathises.

In the events that follow, including loss of his girlfriend and mortgage, and becoming a janitor by day, money-making punching bag by night, Kevin squirms in and out of danger and finally back to his derelict childhood home to attempt suicide. During this time, he also decides to document his life story in an effort to explain his emotional incapabilities to the woman he loves, his future wife, who would later transcribe his words and submit for publishing, resulting in the 2003 autobiography.

Stories, harrowing ones such as Precious, about troubled teens who find their way with the help of the teacher who went above and beyond have, of course, been told before but this film proves they should be told because they're true. It's an inspirational story with the cast and direction that convey it with brilliance.

Lewis has since followed up The Kid with the novel, The Kid Moves On.