EIFF 2016 – Preview


Artistic director Mark Adams unveiled the lineup for the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival taking place between the 15th and 26th of June. It’s an interesting lineup continuing the Festival’s current admirable direction towards discovering smaller independent movies. I’ve been looking through the programme and here are my highlights though as ever with festivals there will hopefully be a few new discoveries along the way.

EIFF is notorious for opening on a downer and we’ll soon find out if Tommy’s Honour, a Scottish film starring the ubiquitous Peter Mullan can buck the trend. It does have the novelty value of being directed by former Robin of Sherwood star Jason Connery though.

The knives are ready and sharpened for the closing night gala, a remake of the Ealing classic Whisky Galore! It comes with a long and troubled production history and a previous attempt to film it back in 2006 fell apart. The official website for the film is a bit odd, even chastising original director Alexander Mackendrick for the “folly” of choosing to film the original in black and white.


Yet there’s some serious talent involved. Gillies Mackinnon (Small Faces) directs, while the screenplay is written by Peter McDougall whose name probably means little outside Scotland but back in the 70s’ and 80s’ he wrote a series of uncompromising television plays including Just a Boy’s Game and A Sense of Freedom then stopped writing for the screen altogether in the early 90s.’ I’m not expecting it to match the original but at least it should be interesting.

Agnieszka Smoczynska’s fascinating looking The Lure is described in the programme as a musical fairytale about two mermaids working in a burlesque club with “kitsch, communist-era styling and off-the-wall collection of upbeat 80s’ songs.”


Giuseppe Tornatore’s last film, the haunting La Migliore Offerta was given a shabby straight-to-DVD release in the UK under the non-descript title Deception and edited for length so hopefully The Correspondence will fare better. It’s partly set in Edinburgh with Jeremy Irons as an academic carrying on an affair with former student Olga Kurylenko.

My enthusiasm for Maggie’s Plan is tempered by an deep loathing of Ethan Hawke but apparently the movie spends a great deal of time making fun of his pretensions. Hitman movie Mr Right (Paco Cabezas) features Anna Kendrick falling for Sam Rockwell’s dance-loving hitman, and Mark Cousins Bigger than the Shining focuses on premonition in the movies and male rage.


There’s also Sam Neill in New Zealand comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waitit). Thomas Vinterberg’s hippy movie The Commune, 24 stalwart John Cassar directing Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in western The Forsaken, and Dougray Scott as a zombie hunter in Steve (Outpost) Barker’s The Rezort.

Adams mentioned at the press launch that Scottish road-movie Moon Dogs (Philip John) is well worth seeing. Other recommendations from folks who’ve attended festivals elsewhere include Mammal (Rebecca Daly), Sand Storm (Elite Zexer), and Parched (Tannishtha Chatterjee). There’s also a couple of Gerard Depardieu movies, The End (Guillaume Nicloux) and Saint Amour (Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kerven), but I doubt EIFF will have invited him back after he got waylaid in a pub on the Isle of Skye and never made it to the Festival for a screening of Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara) a couple of years ago.

Pow!!! Live Action Comic Strip Adaptations: The First Generation


Looking at the early days of comic book adaptations this retrospective has a fine mixture of pop art classics including to quote Ralph Fiennes in The Lego Batman trailer, “that weird one in 1966,” the Batman (Leslie H. Martinson) movie. Monica Vitti changing her hairstyle in every scene for Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise, Vadim’s sexually charged Barbarella, Corrado Farina’s beautiful Baba Yaga, and I envy anybody seeing Mario Bava’s sublime Danger Diabolik on the big screen for the first time.

Altman’s Popeye was the first movie I ever saw in a cinema and it will be interesting to see if my adult self dislikes it as much as I did when I was five. Mike Hodges camp classic Flash Gordon is always welcome, with Sam Jones likeable hero travelling into space and encountering magnificently ripe performances from Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton, and Max von Sydow.

Only ever seen Shogun Assassin, the edited together travesty cut from two Lone Wolf Cub movies so look forward to seeing one of the originals Sword of Vengeance (Kenji Misumi).  Also new to me are hitman movie Golgo 13 (Jun’ya Sato), Pam Grier Blaxploitation movie Friday Foster (Arthur Marks), and Tin Tin and the Golden Fleece (Jean-Jacques-Vierne) a remarkable looking live action adaptation of Herge’s classic comic book series.

Adapting Miss Highsmith


Patricia Highsmith’s biographer Joan Schenker delivers her talk, ‘The Talented Miss Highsmith: What She Did For Love about Carol/The Price of Salt and how it ties into the rest of her work plus screenings of Carol (Todd Haynes) and Michel Deville’s Deep Water starring Isabelle Huppert.

A Celebration and Critical Appraisal of the Cinema du Look 


Cinema du Look was initially derived as a dismissive term for the work of a trio of young French directors (Leos Carax, Jean-Jacques Beiniex, and Luc Besson) in the 80s by critic Raphael Bassan who who felt their films had more style than substance. Many still feel that way. Only Carax carries any kind of critical respect, while Beineix has fallen away, and the ridiculously prolific Besson now churns out genre movies through his highly profitable Europacorp studio. These films were often simplistic in terms of worldview, but incredibly complex in terms of their use of imagery and music and they redefined the look of French cinema.

EIFF are showing seven movies. Carax’s sci-fi love story Mauvais Sang, famous for the clip of Denis Lavant dancing through the street to David Bowie’s Modern Love, and his grand folly Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. From Beineix, his wonderful thriller Diva, and the more problematic Betty Blue. Mercifully we’re spared his Roselyne and the Lions. Besson gets the MVP treatment with three films screening. Christopher Lambert’s lovelorn thief hiding out in the Paris Metro in Subway, Anne Pariallaud as the punk turned assassin La Femme Nikita, and the astonishingly beautiful Jean Marc-Barr in his free-diving epic The Big Blue.


There’s another retrospective showing a peak period Christopher Lambert movie. This time a restored version of Highlander is getting a 30th anniversary screening with the Kurgan himself Clancy Brown attending. Devotees of the film will know Brown rarely talks about his time working on the movie due to a fallout with the film’s producers so this could be an interesting evening.

So far there are In Person events with Diva bad guy Dominique Pinon, legendary British producer and longtime David Cronenberg collaborator Jeremy Thomas, and if you still have enough affection for his 90s’ work Kevin Smith will be there. Adams suggested there will be more stars announced in the next few weeks.

What Does a Movie Star Need a Rocket For Anyway?


This is my contribution to the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows And Satin, and Silver Screenings. I’ve chosen Timothy Dalton’s suave turn in Joe Johnson’s highly entertaining adventure movie The Rocketeer (1991). Considered a flop on its initial release The Rocketeer now has a deserved cult following and Dalton’s performance as Neville Sinclair, the dastardly movie star who’s secretly involved in a Nazi plan to conquer America, is a huge part of the film’s appeal. Contains spoilers so if you haven’t seen The Rocketeer now is the time to stop reading.

“It’s a rocket, like in the comic books.”

Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo’s witty screenplay retains the nostalgia for 30s’ movie serials, horror films, and dime-store novels present in Dave Stevens original 1982 comic book but changes certain aspects. In Stevens original comic there is no Neville Sinclair. Instead the hero’s main adversary is Lothar, a highly intelligent former circus strongman on a mission of revenge for the death of his beloved who died when an escapology act went wrong. For Lothar, Stevens borrowed the appearance of Rondo Hatton, the 40s’ B-movie villain whose remarkable features were the result of acromegaly. Though Lothar retains Hatton’s physical characteristics in the movie he’s a lunk, a henchman working for Dalton’s Nazi spy.

The leads have also been altered to fit the wholesome family image required of a Disney production. In the comic Cliff is a tarnished angel, a wayward flyboy running from his past and complicit in the death of Lothar’s girlfriend. In the film he becomes a clean cut all-American boy played by former Dynasty star and Moldavian Massacre victim Billy Campbell. Likewise his girlfriend in the comic is not just inspired by 50s’ glamour model Betty Page, she clearly is Betty Page right down to her chosen career as an ‘art’ model. Not going to happen in a Disney movie so worldly Betty becomes sweet wannabe actress Jenny (Jennifer Connelly).

“What’s going on Sinclair? Lenny’s dead, Wilmer’s all wrapped up like a mummy in County General. You didn’t play straight with me.”


Dalton is the money on this picture though. Between Bond movies as legal troubles kept Eon Productions from moving forward with what would have been their third Dalton 007 outing ‘The Property of a Lady.’ We first see Neville Sinclair in a meeting with the Mob boss Eddie (Paul Sorvino) he hired to steal the prototype rocket pack from Howard Hughes (Terry O’ Quinn). Instead the prototype has ended up in the hands of Cliff and his mentor Peevy (Alan Arvin) though Sinclair does not yet know this. Dalton looks every inch the matinee idol pulling off the fashion for a pencil thin moustache a la Fairbanks & Flynn which is something not every contemporary actor can manage. He’s wearing leather breeches, a white shirt, and carrying a fencing sword giving us an immediate indication of the type of movie star Sinclair is and also recalling Dalton’s own turn as the dashing Prince Baron in Mike Hodges Flash Gordon (1980).

Eddie does not like being talked down to by somebody he clearly thinks is a fake so resorts to intimidation to try and find out what the package is, but Sinclair doesn’t flinch. Only when Eddie calls him “half a lunatic” does he snap and hold his rapier to the gangster’s throat. The matter is settled by Sinclair offering more money and revealing what the package involves but not what he intends to do with it. From this scene we learn everything we need to know about Sinclair. Strong, smart, physically capable, maybe a little crazy, and willing to do anything to get hold of the rocket. There’s also a hint of villainy which occasionally reveals itself from behind the movie star facade.

“Neville Sinclair? Oh brother. This I gotta see.”


Cliff and Jenny give us more insight into Sinclair’s star persona when they head to the movies on a date. Jenny is desperate to see the new Sinclair movie but Cliff is not so keen preferring Jimmy Cagney. “Lounging around in a dressing gown and walking poodles in the park” says Cliff dismissively. This marks him out from the swashbuckling actors Sinclair’s looks are modelled on, Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn appealed to both male and female audiences. Sinclair is a bit more Ronald Colman, the ladies choice, and the jibe about dressing gowns and poodles suggests Sinclair makes classy dramas set in drawing rooms and romances. Only when Jenny explains it’s a war movie called ‘Wings of Honour’ with Sinclair as a pilot does Cliff give in.

Later in the diner Cliff describes the movie to his flying buddies who all join him in taking the piss while Jenny sulks. No point explaining to them the champagne bottle he drops behind enemy lines at the end is symbolic. These guys will probably roll their eyes when they see Claude Raines do the same thing at the end of Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) with a bottle of Vichy wine. Here we sense a possible rift between these two youngsters. Cliff is happy enough in his world and not seeking to move beyond it while Jenny wants more from life and from her boyfriend. A situation Sinclair will exploit later in the movie when he begins to work his charm on Jenny.

“She gets to play a scene with Neville Sinclair and we play scenery.”


Jenny is an extra in Sinclair’s latest production, ‘The Laughing Bandit.” It’s a The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, Michael Curtiz) style swashbuckler with Dalton dressed up in a Fairbanks/Flynn type outfit and engaged in a Rathbone style duel with a Sheriff of Nottingham type. After running through the villain he swings on a chandelier and lands on a banquet table grabbing a goblet of wine and drinking it down. The take is ruined though by the producer’s daughter cast as the love interest, murdering her only line in a “Yonder lies the castle of our fadder” accent. Dalton’s disgusted reaction shot is priceless, and the first moment he will drop his guard during this sequence and show the villain.

The next take runs smoothly but is ruined by somewhat by Cliff wandering onto the set looking for Jenny and knocking the fake castle wall onto Sinclair.  “Never let it be said Neville Sinclair never brought the house down” but secretly he’s raging. Somehow in the melee it escaped everybody’s attention he deliberately stabbed his co-star for attempting to steal the scene.

Sinclair takes the director aside and demands Jenny be fired, at least until he overhears Cliff describing the rocket pack to Jenny, who isn’t really listening because her boyfriend just flattened a movie star with a castle and cost her her job.. Sinclair pushes most of the crew out of the way to get to Jenny before she leaves. Offering her a part in his next movie Sinclair suggests a date at the South Seas Club, the fancy restaurant she mentioned earlier to Cliff when she complained about having to eat at the diner again.

“Who do you think they’ll believe? A cheap crook or the number three box-office draw in America?”


The contrast between Sinclair’s world and Cliff’s is clear. The South Seas Club is the sort of place where a cabaret singer starts her act by emerging from a giant clam and singing a Cole Porter song. The first person they meet is Clark Gable, W.C. Fields visits them at their table and compliments Jenny on her breasts. In this scene Sinclair tries to charm the unwitting Jenny into revealing more information about Cliff and the possible whereabouts of the rocket pack. It’s reminiscent of the scene in The Living Daylights (1987, John Glen) where Dalton Bond tries to get Kara Milovy to trust him by claiming to have been sent by her lover to help her. He’s charming as hell even though he’s lying through his teeth.

All through this sequence there are cutaways to Cliff as he tries to escape from Lothar beginning with a scene recalling the opening of Hemingway’s ‘The Killers’ as Eddie’s goons threaten the patrons at the diner, while Lothar pursues Cliff across LA until he ends up sneaking into the South Seas and donning a waiter’s uniform. Interrupting Sinclair & Jenny’s meal it is then we see a side of Sinclair that proves his true villainy. He’s rude to waiting staff. It’s all downhill from there and the evening ends the only way a date like this can, with Sinclair firing a Tommy Gun at Jenny’s boyfriend as he flies through the glass roof in a rocket pack invented by Howard Hughes.

“a spy? A sabouteur? A fascist? All of the above.”


While Cliff makes his escape Jenny ends up captive in Sinclair’s boudoir. He tries to charm his way out, claiming he was blackmailed into kidnapping her, but he makes a grevious error. She’s a fan, and he starts spinning lines of dialogue from his back catalogue. “You said that to Greta Garbo…” Sinclair changes tack by offering Jenny a dress from the fine selection he keeps in his wardrobe, but hell hath no fury like a scorned fan. Jenny lamps him from behind with a vase.  Locating a radio in Sinclair’s basement she tries to call for help, but a German voice answers. The penny finally drops when she finds his Nazi handbook.

“I do my own stunts.”


Nazi spy rings were active in America but there does not seem to have been any Hollywood stars who showed much of an interest in fascism, or at least if they did they kept it to themselves. There was however an anti-Nazi League whose members included Edward G. Robinson and Groucho Marx. It seems even Hollywood stars as dodgy as Errol Flynn had some limits, as do mobsters in this movie with Eddie turning against Sinclair when he finds out he’s been working for the Nazis.

The finale takes place on that pinnacle of Nazi aviation, the Zeppelin with Cliff and Sinclair having a James Bond/Red Grant style punch-up in an enclosed area. It’s a pretty even affair with both actors handling themselves well, but ended abruptly by the inherent design flaw of the Zeppelin essentially being a fire hazard and a massive hydrogen bomb. Cliff actually asks Sinclair to help them escape, mistakingly believing a movie star must  have a conscience. Sinclair drops his English RP delivery for the first time and speaks in his German accent as he makes his farewells. “I’ll miss Hollywood,” Cliff deliberately sabotaged the rocket though, but Sinclair is right, he does miss Hollywood, hitting instead the LAND part of the famous sign and and destroying it.

“Film fans were saddened by the news that actor Neville Sinclair was killed in a tragedy when flaming debris fell on his touring car…”


Hollywood hides the true nature of Sinclair’s death with a fake story that keeps the movie star’s legend alive. Some Eddie Mannix style fixer will have had the night of his life covering up a mass shoot-out between mobsters and Nazi stormtroopers, a burning Zeppelin flying over Los Angeles, and the reason why the famous HOLLYWOODLAND sign reads differently this morning. It’s the perfect Hollywood ending for a film that functions equally well as an adventure movie and a love letter to classic era cinema.

52 Films By Women – April

Signed up in January for Women In Film’s pledge to watch at least one film helmed by a female director per week. You can do so here if you want to take part. 52 Films By Women

I am going to try and see a new film by a female director every week, but I will occasionally revisit films I haven’t seen in a while, or personal favourites. U.S. Go Home and Miss Julie are first time watches. Blue Steel I saw on VHS not long after it came out but haven’t seen it since. Somewhere is a personal favourite and for me one of the best films of the last decade.

13. Blue Steel (1989, Kathryn Bigelow)


I remember this Jamie Lee Curtis action movie as being a fairly straightforward genre piece but I was wrong. Blue Steel feels like a sister movie to The Hitcher (1986, Robert Harmon), a weird intimate dance of death between a young innocent and an older madman who is at once antagonist and mentor. No surprise to find both films were scripted by Eric Red, who also wrote Bigelow’s vampire movie Near Dark (1987).

14. U.S. Go Home (1994, Claire Denis)


Remarkable coming of age tale set in the 60s’ from one of the finest directors in world cinema. 15 year old Martine (Alice Houri) and her best friend Marlene (Jessica Theraud) attend a party held by older teenagers but are hampered by her mother’s insistence they take her over-protective big brother Alain (Gregoire Colin). Leaving the party Martine persuades a reluctant US serviceman (Vincent Gallo) to give her a lift home. This could be a scene played for tension, yet he seems lonely and more afraid than her. Originally made for television series called Tous Les Garcons et le Filles de leur Age, it has a languorous feel, nothing much happens and but these small moments have a profound on these youngsters and you get a sense when they meet again in the morning their relationships with each other have changed irrevocably.

15. Somewhere (2010, Sofia Coppola)


Always a pleasure visiting Sofia Coppola’s lovely mood piece about a feckless movie star (Steven Dorff) reconnecting with his young daughter (Elle Fanning). There’s no plot, just them hanging out at the Chateau Marmont, with a brief trip to Italy for press tour. Written with an insider’s knowledge of growing up in the industry it’s a quietly affecting drama, beautifully directed by Coppola and even better than her most famous film Lost in Translation (2003).

16. Miss Julie (2014, Liv Ullmann) 

miss julie

Former actress Liv Ullmann adapts August Strindberg’s play successfully relocating the setting to Northern Ireland. On a Midsummer’s Eve bored aristocrat Julie (Jessica Chastain) makes a pass at John (Colin Farrell), who is at once horrified and filled with desire. The two flirt and bicker through the night, both aware of the class restrictions placed upon them, their hostility and sexual attraction growing as the night goes on until inevitably things end in tragedy. Beautifully shot by Mikhail Krichman it’s far preferable to the Mike Figgis version filmed in 1999 and both Farrell and Chastain are outstanding.