Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010 - Day 4

Au Revoir Taipei (Tai/US) (trailer)

In the bustling streets of Taipei, diminutive Kai is about to lose his girlfriend. Off to study in France, he's under the impression they are still together. His subsequent calls to Paris are ignored, even when he shows commitment by learning French by chancing his arm as much as he can at the local bookstore, reading the pricey language books for free. When he gets the eventual call from Faye to say it's all over, he can't take it and plans a trip to France to win her back.

Plane tickets are expensive, and for a struggling out of work boyfriend, France is prohibitively far away, but he has a chance if he asks 'Brother Bao', a local real-estate dealer and small-time crime boss, for a bit of a loan to get him there. Bao agrees, but asks him to deliver a small package while he is over there.

Bao leaves much of his dirty work to his nephew, Hong, and his trio of giggling, bumbling idiot friends, who all work at the realtors showing people around. Hong hears of the package, and jealous of a young upstart making a deal, vies to get hold of the package and make some cash, with Kai taking the blame. Throw in an overambitious cop on the trail of the package, young Susie, the bookstore assistant who takes a shine to Kai, and Gao, an amiable dimwit who works in the local supermarket, and you have the makings of an underdog crime caper as their lives intersect.

It's all pretty lightweight, but good airy fun, and plenty of grin-worthy scenes throughout, and as the director hoped as we left the theatre, we all had big stupid grins on our faces, and that's as much as you'd want from a film. 7.5/10

Lucky Luke (Fr) (trailer)

I only know of Lucky Luke from his SNES game many years ago, which in turn was based on a French cartoon character dating back to the 1940's. John 'Lucky' Luke is painted alongside the famous cowboys of the old west, from Daisy Town, a fictional place somewhere near Utah. After seeing his parents die at the hands of The Cheaters Gang, a trio of no good gunmen, he finds himself unable to kill (yes, it is a cliche and not the only one but its from an old comic book so at least it predates many others), although his Colt is used instead to dispatch his foes in a variety of slapstick and improbable ways. He also has a white horse, Jolly Jumper, who helps him on his travels and happens to talk now and again. Oh and he's supremely lucky.

Luke is given the task of the President to clean up Daisy Town, since it lies slap bang on the site of the new transcontinental railroad that's being planned. Daisy Town is pretty bad these days, with bad guys outnumbering the good ones by a good margin, and the numbers are going in the wrong direction. Top of the pile is nasty old Pat Poker, the resident corrupt sherrif with his fingers in serveral pies. Kicking Pat out and taking the position of sherriff, Luke begins the job, attracting the attentions of the saucy Belle. But Pat is not so keen to give up on power and in a duel, Luke ends up killing him outright.

Driven to the edge with guilt at what he did, he hangs up his gun forever, and things quickly slip back to chaos. It's a hopeless situation, but can the arrival of Jessie James, Billy the Kid and Calamaty Jane shake him out of his defeated mindset?

It mixes American cowboy atmosphere with French humour and feel (which for the most part, isn't a bad thing here) and the result is pretty standard fare, but a nice, shallow piece of cinema that doesn't go off in any unexpected directions and has a good few inventive scenes along the way. Fans of Luke will get more out of it, especially as there were several scenes and references to the original source. It was surprisingly sweary and violent too for a comic book adaptation, suggesting it has been made for the adults who grew up on the comics, rather than todays kids. 7/10

The Oath (US) (wiki/site)

The Oath in question is that of loyalty to the Taliban, taken up by Jihadis when first joining the crusade. The film uses this as a framing device around which the lives of two men, Salim Hamdan, who was detained in Guantanamo Bay for 7 years awaiting trail, and his brother-in-law Abu Jandal, a one-time bodyguard to Bin Laden who walks free, driving a taxi in Yemen.

Hamdan was arrested shortly after 9/11 on charges of involvement, and spent some time locked up without charge, maintaining he was merely a driver. A landmark case (Hamdan vs Rumsfeld) saw Hamdan win his case that the Bush administration had overstepped their mark, only for that same administration rush through retroactive legislation to keep him locked up. Half of the film recounts the progress of the reclusive Hamdan as he fights this additional hurdle, with the help of an American military lawyer.

The other half of the film follows Jandal. Now a taxi driver, he was arrested for his involvement of the bombing of the USS Cole, but received good favour when he displayed a substantial knowledge of Bin Ladens' plans and weaponry. On hearing that several of the 9/11 bombers were people he knew personally, Hamdan co-operated and flooded the US intelligence with so much information, they postponed the Afghanistan mission. After going through The Dialogue Committee, a re-education program for jihadists, Jandal was released and provided with protection, and now works to try and influence young men who would be Jihadists, reminding them of the original aims of Islam.

Taking time to allow Jandal and the US representatives to say what they want, the film never feels forced towards an opinion one way or another. This doesn't make for a dull film, especially from the things Jandal says about his position on Jihad. The Dialogue Committee didn't turn him into a cute cuddly hippie, but merely dulled some of the sharper of his blades, and made him think in a different direction. However he is never portrayed as 'evil'. He has a sardonic sense of humour, is a loving father to his son, and though unsettling, it is difficult to say that his position is invalid. A compelling account, putting a human face on some of the most faceless on the earth. 7.5/10

Third Star (UK) (imdb)

In the heart of Pembrokeshire, four friends embark on a hastily arranged trip to the coast, to the favourite place of James, one of their number who has a special reason for returning. He has terminal cancer, and his thirtysomething friends Davey, Bill and Miles have taken time out of their busy lives to have an old fashioned seaside trip like in the days of youth. They have made him a special wheelchair to cope with the moors and beaches, and Bill has brought along a tree he grew from seed to plant there as a commemoration.

The trip is beset with problems, and the plans they made fall by the wayside, but James is determined despite his rapidly failing health that they will make it to Barafundle Bay.

The closing night screening was a special treat. Third Star is a simple, uncluttered and honest tale of old friends and complicated relationships, coming together at a time when nearves are at their most raw. The scripting in particular is excellent, and everyone will identify personally with at least of the group. All of the parts are played excellently, but in particular Benedict Cumberbatch brings to the screen a fantastic performance as James, convincingly playing both a long-time and close friend to the others and a desperate, frustrated man living with an unseen and unstoppable killer inside. He's yet to do a duff production. It's a very sad, very funny and spiritual film that doesn't descend into melodrama. It's complex themes and scenes of nature, overlaid with a beautiful soundtrack, will stay with you long after the end. 8.5/10

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