Let’s start with some nominees for the Michael Powell Award. Life Just Is starts with several characters watching a film on TV. One comments: “That’s 90 minutes of my life I’ll never get back”. This is what is known in Film Studies circles as ‘asking for trouble’.
I won’t comment further on the script, as I left about half way through. I took no pleasure in doing so – getting a film made obviously entails a great deal of work, and I generally feel I should at least watch the end result properly before putting the boot in. But this time I just couldn’t.
He film is a tale of middle youth angst, starring a bunch of twentysomethings. The opening scenes are among the most stilted I’ve seen in years; a group of people sitting awkwardly in a room that, it is painfully obvious, is not where they live in real life (it is absurdly tidy), delivering dialogue with lengthy pauses between each line. It feels like watching an early rehearsal of a fringe play. Whatever effect director Alex Barrett was aiming for is missed by miles.
It’s not as though he’s lacking in visual sense, though his influences can be a bit obvious; there’s a nice shot that follows one character along a street before circling round in front of him. But this will do him little good if he can’t master shooting dialogue that sounds as though it’s being delivered by actual human beings.
I am something of a sucker for films set in Cuba (even more so than for films set in Edinburgh). You’re pretty much guaranteed stunning locations and a great soundtrack. So John Roberts’ Day of the Flowers, the story of two bickering sisters taking their father’s ashes back to Trinidad, was always going to score some easy points from me.
There’s plenty more to like in the film as well, starting with the cast – Eva Birthistle and Charity Wakefield as the leads, and Carlos Acosta as the inevitable local romantic interest (the excellent Bryan Dick is sadly left largely on the sidelines). Against that, the plot unfolds in rather predictable fashion. You know Birthistle’s determinedly self-reliant and perpetually right-on character will have her preconceptions challenged, and will learn to accept help from the right sources. You know that she and her more materialistic sibling will fall out before becoming closer; and you know that some family secrets will be unexpectedly revealed (though some of the details here were left a little vague). It hits all the emotional beats in a fairly effective manner, but that’s not always enough. There are a lot of films in cinemas, and for a release to stand out it generally needs either a massive marketing budget, or to be very, very good. Day of the Flowers is an entertaining watch, but the screenplay needed a further polish to raise it above the ‘fine for TV’ level.
Much better is California Solo. Robert Carlyle stars as a former britpop star now living quietly in California, where he works on a farm. Haunted by guilt over the death of his brother, he drinks far too much. When he’s caught driving drunk, an old drugs possession charge leaves him facing deportation.
It’s no surprise that Carlyle is terrific. What’s less expected is the fine screenplay from director Marshall Lewy. Lachlan (Carlyle’s character) has clearly spent a fair chunk of his life acting like a bit of a shit, yet Carlyle gives him the charm and charisma to show why his friends stick with him.
Better yet,the screenplay allows Carlyle to gradually reveal the character without having to spell things out. It makes it’s points about the need to accept and face the past without resorting to easy sentiment, and is all the more moving for it. Highly recommended.
A very different kettle of squid is Grabbers, yet along with California Solo, it’s perhaps the most satisfying film I’ve seen at Edinburgh yet this year. What we have here is essentially the Irish Tremors. It’s not quite as good as Tremors – few films are – but it’s several cuts above your average monster movie.
Something nasty and hungryis emerging from the waters around a tiny Irish island. It drinks blood, bites off heads, lays eggs and thrives in water – and there’s a big storm on the way, which makes things all the tougher for alcoholic Garda cop Richard Coyle and his perky, by-the-book partner Ruth Bradley.
The film looks good, and has impressive creature effects. The cast is strong – Russell Tovey delivers some top drawer drunk acting – and, most importantly, someone has paid attention to the script, which delivers plenty of laughs. You’re bound to get a chance to see this one, and hopefully in cinemas: it’s a dead cert for FrightFest, and deserves a decent release.