RT-UK's What to Watch at the Edinburgh Film Festival

We scour Oscar-bait as it heads to Scotland for a celebration of all things big-screen.

THE BEST OF THE US
We cross the Atlantic (figuratively) to take a look at the five top films playing in Edinburgh from the US of A.

In the Shadow of the Moon - dir. David Sington
In the Shadow of the Moon
Featuring Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Michael Collins and Jim Lovell

Theory: There's nothing more exciting than listening to the former astronauts for the Apollo missions tell their tales of visiting the lunar surface. Except perhaps being one of them. Yes, David Sington's In the Shadow of the Moon is a little heavy on the America-the-Great, but it's also one of the best documentaries of the year; a fascinating portrait of men so brave that most regular Joes couldn't possible comprehend their journey.

And, to its credit, it allows them to get on with it - there's no narrator - we're just shown fascinating footage from the moon's surface, from the launch pad, from the shuttle, and in between these men tell us their story.

For the real space-junkies, there's doubtless little in here to learn, but for the rest of us the film is full of fascinating factoids and, like the best movies set in space - fictional or not - it'll leave you feeling smaller than the smallest needle in the biggest haystack.

"The excitement, majesty and extraordinary human accomplishment of the American lunar program of the '60s and early '70s is rousingly captured in In the Shadow of the Moon."
- Todd McCarthy, VARIETY

"This exquisite documentary about the Apollo program takes the magic of moon flight and miraculously makes it downright down-to-Earth."
- Frank Lovece, FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL

Ratatouille - dir. Brad Bird
Ratatouille
Starring Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano and Peter O'Toole

Films about rats, it seems, don't tend to go down well with the squeamish movie-going public. That's just about the only way to explain the poorer-than-expected box office returns for the gem that is Ratatouille. Of course, we're not talking bomb here - it's currently sitting at around $300m so they won't be remortgaging - but it's a surprise considering it's one of Pixar's finest movies in a crop of fine movies.

The project, about a gastronomic rat named Remy who finds himself the sous-sous-chef at a posh restaurant, has a troubled history; original director Jan Pinkava was replaced by Brad Bird with barely a year of the seven-year development time left on the clock. Pinkava left Pixar and has "no comment" on the whole affair, but given last year's troubled Cars the tabloid tales have knocked a little of the sheen from Pixar.

Fortunately the film - credit to Bird and Pinkava - is astonishing and more than settles any doubts about the affair affecting the movie. As is traditional with Pixar, the actors are chosen because they're right for their characters and the film's visuals shame every other CG movie released this year. Bring on Wall-E.

"Displaying the usual meticulousness associated with the Pixar brand, Ratatouille is a nearly flawless piece of popular art."
- A.O. Scott, NEW YORK TIMES

"A film as rich as a sauce béarnaise, as refreshing as a raspberry sorbet, and a lot less predictable than the damn food metaphors and adjectives all us critics will churn out to describe it. OK, one more and then I'll be done: it's yummy."
- David Ansen, NEWSWEEK

Death Proof - dir. Quentin Tarantino
Death Proof

Caught up in this year's Grindhouse scandal - Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made two back-to-back flicks to be put out as one and then no-one in America went to see them - Death Proof is the Weinstein Company's first attempt at recouping some of the expense internationally. It's Tarantino's half, which means lots of talking, lots of references to classic pop-culture, and plenty of hot women with well-manicured feet.

The film follows Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) as he crosses country to do damage to a bevy of beauties in his "death proof" car - he can crash it at any speed and live to tell the tale. So we first meet Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) and her posse (Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd and, notsomuch, Rose McGowan) before the film shifts state and introduces us to stuntgirls Tracie Thoms and Zoe Bell (who was Uma's stunt-double on Kill Bill and their friends Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rosario Dawson.

But it's not so much about the story or the characters as it is about the Tarantino dialogue, the homages to seventies B-movies and the fake film grain added to make it look like the print has been kicked around a bit. One segment is even in black-and-white suggesting it's not even a complete print and the missing reel has been substituted with one from a black-and-white version of the film.

Death Proof, the standalone, replaces a title card pointing to a missing reel in the Grindhouse version with the full version, a seedy lap dance from Ferlito. And it's steamy-hot but, of course, all the good frames have been ripped out - presumably stolen by projectionists as the print gathered dust. It's all a very heart-warming reference to classic B cinema.

As a standalone, Death Proof is far more satisfying than it is as part of Grindhouse, though a scene with Michael Parks, while far too good to cut out, doesn't working without the audience having seen Planet Terror. The irony is that, because Planet Terror builds to a crescendo ending and is followed by a film that takes a while to get going, Death Proof should have been the first part of Grindhouse and Planet Terror should have been the first to be released independently. Still, forgive the Weinstein mistakes and be sure you see Death Proof, even if you're one of the lucky ones to have already seen Grindhouse.

"All the nutrition of a narcotic compound."
- James Rocchi, CINEMATICAL

"A beautiful piece of Americana. Stupid, and brilliant."
- Alistair McKay, SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY

Knocked Up - dir. Judd Apatow
Knocked Up

There's a reason this comedy - usually a tough genre with the critics - is currently sitting in the nineties on the Tomatometer; it's genuinely that good. From The 40-Year-Old Virgin helmer Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen stars as a man whose one-night-stand turns into a twenty-year commitment when his beau, Katherine Heigl, turns up pregnant. Oops.

Perhaps the buzziest film of the year - an R-rated trailer first circulated virally ages ago - it's a laugh-a-minute romp through hysterically inappropriate gags with Rogen chewing the scenery at every opportunity, and fantastic supporting performances from Paul Rudd and Alan Tudyk.

Keep an eye out for Jonah Hill - you're about to hear his name a lot when Superbad hits cinemas - and be sure to bring the girlfriend. Knocked Up's real success is that it appeals to every demographic, with just the right mix of cheap laughs and heartfelt drama that both sexes will fall in love with it, and it's loveable "hero".

"A refreshingly frank, funny odd-couple comedy with engaging leads and too many belly laughs to count."
- Tom Charity, CNN.COM

"Apatow's gleefully raunchy movies are, in an odd and charming way, extremely family-friendly."
- Joe Leydon, VARIETY

Paranoid Park - dir. Gus van Sant
Paranoid Park
Starring Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen, Daniel Liu and Dillon Hines

Gus van Sant is fascinated with adolescence, and his fascination has thrown out some deeply meditative films in the last few years. From his Cannes triumph Elephant, through Last Days and now Paranoid Park, van Sant's stoic trilogy is a labour of love that seems to shun convention at every turn.

While Last Days, ostensibly a biopic of the final hours of Kurt Cobain, and Elephant, about high-school serial killers, have courted controversy, Paranoid Park plays things decidedly safer, adapting Blake Nelson's novel about a skater boy who accidentally kills a security guard while venturing out-of-bounds on Portland's rail network.

And because it's safer it's also probably his most accessible of the three - Elephant and Last Days did little until their powerful endings while Paranoid Park first introduces us to Alex (played by newcomer Gave Nevins) before exploring how the accident affects his life.

The film looks beautiful and is rather unconventionally shot in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, while 8mm cutaways punctuate the film gracefully. It's a testament to van Sant's ability that he can say so much by doing so little; you could collect the film's dialogue on a postage stamp.

"Van Sant has composed an emotional mosaic that brings you inside Alex."
- Kirk Honeycutt, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

"Bears some similarities with Elephant. A similarly photogenic teen milieu is shot with fluid, graceful camerawork; a non-linear structure slots together like a puzzle to reveal the panicked mindset of a boy under agreat deal of stress."
- Wendy Ide, THE TIMES

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