Hope Lies At The Edinburgh Film Festival – Dispatches From The Field #2

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It’s become something of an annual tradition for Rob Girvan to cover the Edinburgh Film Festival for Hope Lies. You can follow him on Twitter for up to the minute commentary. Tales of the youthful connect this batch of reviews. 

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Following on from the success of the mammoth The Story of Film, Mark Cousins has returned this year with A Story of Children and Film which presents a more intimate look at world cinema from the perspective of young people and their relationship to film.  

Instead of treating us to the usual approach these documentaries have with their lists, and talking heads, Cousins records a simple shot of his niece and nephew in his living room, playing with toys. From this, he builds the documentary based around their emotional reactions. Shyness, curiosity, anger and destructiveness all feature, and are used by Cousins to give us his personal selection of his favourite examples of children in cinema.  

These range from some of the more obvious American pictures such as The Night of the Hunter and E.T, to foreign-language classics such as The 400 Blows, right up to the modern era and Moonrise Kingdom. Most interesting are those films which have never been released outside of their home territories. In particular, Moving, a 1993 film by Shinji Sômai, looks intriguing. One of the best compliments that I can pay the documentary is that it makes me want to seek out many of these films, and I hope the film encourages a distributor to take a gamble on releasing them. 

Cousins doesn’t so much want to tell us about children and cinema, but rather to remind us about what it was like to be a child, and that in many respects, cinema itself is still very much in its infancy. 

The downward spiral of Pixar continues with the release of Monsters University. While Monsters, Inc. was never top tier Pixar, it was fun, sweet and had an inventive third act. While it is difficult to hate Monsters University, it doesn’t hold a candle to the first film, let alone the rest of the studio’s back catalogue. 

The prequel shows Mike and Sulley in their early days as they go through school with dreams of being Scarers, the monsters who frighten children and collect their screams as an energy resource. Trouble is, while Mike has all the technical knowledge, he isn’t very scary. Sulley has the opposite problem; he can scare children easily, but has coasted through life, and can’t rise to the challenge of the technical side of the job. Starting out as competitors, an accident causes them to join forces and fight to become the best Scarers on campus….

It isn’t difficult to see where the film takes you, and it leans very heavily on the teen comedies of the past, including my favourite part – a fantastic homage to Carrie. But this is also the films greatest problem – it doesn’t do anything new. We know the former enemies are going to become best friends. We know the jocks are going to show up and be shown up by the end of the film. We know there will be a third act “everyone falls out” moment, because that is what these comedies do. 

Ironically for a world filled with monsters, there is very little imagination on display. It will pass the time, and you don’t come out disliking the film. But it never reaches the heights which Up managed to achieve, or the Toy Story series. Monsters University is good, but when it comes to Pixar films, good isn’t enough. They have set such a high bar, that films such as this and Cars 2 can’t compare. We know Pixar are capable of so much more. Fingers crossed that we see some of that old magic back sooner rather than later. 

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The sometimes bored and vapid existence of rich kids is the subject of Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, a huge disappointment, which fails in any meaningful way to provide any depth to the story or characters.  

Based on real events, The Bling Ring is about a group of pretty stupid LA teenagers who become addicted to breaking and entering into the homes of famous people such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom and stealing some of their property. Of course they are not the smartest people on the block and are soon caught by the authorities. 

…and that is about it. Don’t expect the film to deliver any more plot than that. Endless scenes of the gang entering houses, looking at shoes and jewellery are intercut with equally endless scenes of them in expensive clubs, drinking expensive drinks and listening to awful music. I can’t think why audiences are not relating to them. 

Strangely, while Coppola doesn’t seem to have enough of a story to tell here, she also believes that her audience needs the subtext bashed into their heads. In one particular scene, the voiceover by one of the characters remarks that while they don’t know for sure why the gang robbed the homes, they felt it may have been because they wanted to be part of that celebrity life style.

Really? I think we could have all guessed that from the plot summary. The voiceover is Blade Runner bad at stating the obvious. 

The one shinning beacon in the film is Emma Watson, who at least looks like she is having a lot of fun playing an airhead who seeks fame without any of the work required to get into the creative industries.  

There has been speculation that the film is designed to be as empty as the characters. Even if that was the case, what then is the point of making it? It offers no insights, it doesn’t work as a docu-drama and you come out of the film with a feeling of “so what?”. Easily Sofia Coppola’s most disappointing work.

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