First, a few service announcements. A reminder that there is a free movie every month at the Workmens Den pub at the Quays - next month (9th April) is the Eighties classic Say Anything with John Cusack. Details here if you fancy coming along - yours truly is doing the introduction so you can heckle while you're there...
There's also a season of screwball comedies at the Lighthouse every Wednesday in March. This week was the brilliant It Happened One Night - a film that even people who haven't seen it will recognise from the scene where Claudette Colbert attracts a lift while hitchhiking by hitching up her skirt. But there's also The Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday - all well worth seeing. And they're repeated at the weekend, so you have two chances each week to catch some laughs.
And... back to normal service. I saw a bunch of great films during the film festival a few weeks ago, including Macdara Vallely's Babygirl. The story of a teenage girl growing up in New York with a mom who's only interested in her latest boyfriend, it was inspired by a mom and daughter the writer/director saw on a bus one day. A skeevy guy tried to chat up first the girl, then the mom - who gave him her number. In the movie, Lena had had enough of her mother's string of useless guys and decides to get rid of the latest man by any means necessary. Yainis Ynoa is absolutely brilliant as Lena - she's definitely one to watch, and Vallely's script keeps you guessing as to who is really the bad guy in this situation.
Another one I'd recommend was Pablo, the story of famous film title designer Pablo Ferro. Ferro is a total legend, having worked on the likes of Dr. Strangelove, Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affair, Harold and Maude, A Clockwork Orange and Midnight Cowboy. He's designed some of the most iconic and recognisable film title sequences ever produced, some more famous than the films they appeared in.
He started out in advertising, and it's impossible when you watch some of his Fifties and Sixties TV adverts not to think of the old MTV cartoons and all the hyperactive graphics that followed.
The animation part of the film takes you on a visual journey through Pablo's memories, while the documentary footage features interviews from the likes of Jon Voight, Beau Bridges and Robert Downey Snr. Ferro is clearly still a mega-talented guy at 72, but there's been a real dark side to his creativity too, with years lost to substance and alcohol abuse, financial problems and family breakdown. Pablo was a fascinating watch and I'd highly advise checking it out if it gets a cinema release.
One that didn't tickle me as much was, once again, the Surprise Film. I love the idea of the surprise film, of not knowing what's going to pop up on a big screen each year in front of a packed Savoy 1 audience. But in the last ten years I think I've only been happy with the actual movie once - that was for The Squid and the Whale in 2005. And this year was no exception, with a film that was ultimately underwhelming.
Welcome to the Punch is the new movie from Shifty director Eran Creevy. Shifty was a really auspicious debut and I'd had high hopes for this one. Punch concerns London detective Max James McAvoy) who's obsessed with bringing bank robber Jacob Sternwood to justice (Mark Strong). When Sternwood's son is injured during a heist that's gone sour, he is forced to return to London for the first time in years, and Max sees his chance to finally catch his nemesis. But the two men soon find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy that's much bigger than their personal battle.
I had three main problems with this movie. One was that Sternwood is an infinitely more interesting character than Max. If he had been the main character, I'd have been gripped from moment one, but he's not. Instead we're stuck with McAvoy's bitter cop, who's straight out of the super-intense detective book of cliches and spends most of the film scowling at everyone. So the wrong guy is the hero.
Creevy has assembled a super-talented cast, but the script is not up to the same standard. Andrea Riseborough, who I think is the best actress of her age-group in the U.K. right now, is wasted in the thankless role of Max's police partner. Peter Mullan is Sternwood's long-time friend, another character who could have been interesting but ultimately goes nowhere. As the police chief, David Morrissey really looks like he'd rather be anywhere but here.
What's worse is that the film feels like a routine TV police procedural, sort of like The Bill or The Sweeney. When you strip away the fancy production design (and it really is fancy - the film looks gorgeous), that's all it is. A cop show. Albeit one with the most confusing plot ever. Two weeks after seeing it, I'm still thinking of new, unanswerable questions about the plot.
Still, overall the film quality in JDIFF this year was high - roll on next year.
Next blog, I'll be talking about TV writing, specifically what I learned from some veteran writers while I was over in the States...