Tag Archives: In The Basement

London Film Festival 2014 – Westerns, Whiplash, Wrestling, Weird Austrians

A full week in and my London Film Festival starts here.  Huzzah!  Actually it started on Tuesday, when I dragged my very jet-lagged self to the UK premiere of The Salvation.  This film was going to have to be something special to prevent me from dozing off in my seat, and it didn’t disappoint.

salvationMads Mikkelsen plays Jon, a Danish settler in 1870s America.  Tragedy strikes shortly after a long-awaited reunion, and the locals he has surrounded himself with for the past seven years betray him, leaving him to his own devices against a notorious outlaw.  You may not have heard of Danish director Kristian Levring, but you’ll recognise many of the cast – along with Mikkelsen there are fellow Bond alumni Eva Green and Jonathan Pryce, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Douglas Henshall, and a small but striking performance by no less than Eric Cantona.  It’s a lean, tense film with great performances throughout the cast – special mentions to Mikkelsen who is excellent as ever, but also to Green, who handles a difficult role exceptionally well.  The usual Western tropes – revenge, horses, the climatic shootout – are no less effective in a Danish film made in South Africa than they would be in a Hollywood production.  Reviews appear to be mixed with many correspondents bemoaning the films clichés, but surely their existence in a film made by someone outside the inner circle is a promising sign.

Wednesday saw the screening of Wild, which I wasn’t sure about seeing initially, but decided to go for based on Oscar buzz around Reese Witherspoon’s performance.  She plays Cheryl Strayed, a divorced drug addict who decides to hike 1000 miles solo on the Pacific Crest Trail, and we learn about her life so far in flashbacks along the way.  As you’d expect, most of the film is hung on Witherspoon’s performance, and she doesn’t disappoint, channelling the obvious talent which has already seen her win a Best Actress Oscar to produce a portrayal of a woman damaged by circumstance and her own decisions, both in the hiking sequences and in flashbacks which go back many years.  Obviously the film is a little thin on plot but worth seeing for its redemptive nature and for Witherspoon’s excellent performance – I would not be surprised to see her name on many Best Actress shortlists between now and February.

After that uplifting tale came In The Basement, bringing me back down to (below) Earth with a bump.  Simply put, this is a documentary about what Austrian people do in their basements, presumably to convince the world that not all of them are like Josef Fritzl.  The participants range from the fairly normal (model train set, drums, teenage hangout, tiny swimming pool) to the truly odd and disturbing.  There’s the middle-aged woman who has an endless line of unsettling, lifelike dolls of babies, and coos over them as if they were real, in scenes reminiscent of Dawn French’s character in Psychoville.  There’s the couple who are in an S&M relationship for whom, it is ominously explained, the basement is where the really nasty stuff (graphically shown) happens.  And there’s the nice-seeming elderly man who plays in a brass band, but likes to relax in his basement surrounded by his fellow players and his large collection of Nazi memorabilia.  The film is presented without narration, and in some sequences without any interaction at all from the participants, which means you sometimes don’t have enough information about them (one couple stand still surrounded by various scenes, including their bar) while the film lingers too long on others – the aforementioned Nazi and S&M couple being prime examples.  I wanted to hear more from certain people who only got a few minutes of screen time, but what we got instead were gratuitous long takes of people being tortured for their own pleasure, which leads me to wonder whether the point of this documentary was really to give a wide-ranging perspective or just to go for cheap thrills.  It was a noble experiment, but it very much came off as the latter.

Finally on Wednesday I attended the UK première of Whiplash.  I’m happy to admit I knew nothing about this film until I got the programme.  Upon attending the festival preview, where we got a brief clip, I immediately decided I wanted to see this film, and I’m so glad I did as it’s been my highlight so far. It’s the story of a young jazz drumming protégé, Neyman (Miles Teller), his brutal teacher Fletcher (JK Simmons) and the lengths people will go to in order to be, discover and mould truly brilliant artists from raw talent.  The film is structured much like a thriller and is steeped in a clear love of jazz and music – it’s based on director Damien Chazelle’s own experiences – but is never inaccessible, the musical jargon employed is explained and demonstrated perfectly.  We’ve seen Simmons as the tyrannical boss in Spider-Man, but this performance is on another level – blistering and searing, Fletcher looms over the whole film even when he’s not on screen, driving Neyman to practise until his fingers bleed.  Even up against Simmons’ Oscar-worthy performance, Miles Teller more than holds his own as the talented young drummer who is obsessed with perfecting his craft.  It all builds to an exhilarating climax which is filmed so wonderfully that it is more heart-pumping than any film about jazz has the right to be.  No wonder it took the Audience Award at Sundance this year – I would be very surprised if that’s the only accolade it ends up with.

foxcatcherThursday saw just one film – the UK première of Foxcatcher, another true story about brothers and Olympic gold medallist wrestlers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum – yes, that one) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo).  Mark is the younger brother and feels overshadowed by Dave, until he is offered a chance by John du Pont (Steve Carrell) to train at the Foxcatcher facility in du Pont’s enormous, inherited estate.  Du Pont is not a self made man, and the shadow of his elderly mother looms large in his life; he desperately wants to impress her by training a wrestling team for the World Championships and Olympics, led by Mark.  He wants Dave on the team as well, but Dave initially resists, puzzling du Pont as he is unable to buy something for once.  I don’t want to give away too much; although this is a true story, try not to read about it before you see this film.  Instead, let’s focus on the three performances from Carrell, Ruffalo and Tatum (Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller make brief appearances, but this is primarily a film about sporting relationships).  Ruffalo is excellent as the warm, steady older brother Dave, but you knew that anyway.  Tatum is a great surprise as the overshadowed younger brother who is in many ways his own worst enemy.  But the real revelation is Carrell, an actor known primarily for his comedy roles.  If you’ve seen The Way, Way Back, you already know he is a convincing jerk.  But this is a performance on another level – barely recognisable under a raft of prosthetics and reptilian false teeth, he excels as the other man who can’t escape the shadow of an older family member.  He’s unpredictable, celebrating a win with his team one moment and them firing a gun in the gym the next.  He’s a truly terrifying creation – a man who has never known what it’s like to not have what he wants, and you wait nervously to find out how he reacts.  Again, all three performances here could be Oscar worthy, even Channing Tatum (yes, that one).

That’s all for today.  Join me in a few days as I conclude this year’s LFF with reviews including Love is Strange, Kill Me Three Times and Fury.

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BFI London Film Festival 2014 Preview

It’s that time of year again – the bathroom light has to go on in the morning, loads of good American TV shows start again, and Christmas tat is starting to appear in the shops. Yes, autumn is on the way, and with it comes the 58th London Film Festival.

by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)

lff14My initial reaction to this year’s line-up – once I had grumbled about the member’s launch being a day later than the press launch, rendering it invalid for the most part – was how many big names are missing. No room for The Theory of Everything, St Vincent (the film, not the singer), or The Equalizer; all making their Toronto debuts this week. But scratching beneath the surface yields some treasure.

First up, let’s deal with the obvious contenders. I am looking forward to Foxcatcher very much – directed by Bennett Miller of Capote and Moneyball, the film stars Steve Carrell in a rare serious role alongside Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Loosely based on a true story, the film follows the struggle between two wrestling champion brothers (Tatum and Ruffalo) which takes a sinister turn with the arrival of a mysterious benefactor (Carrell). Foxcatcher received stellar notices when it premiered in Cannes earlier this year and has also been prominently mentioned in early Oscar buzz. Other big hitters include The Imitation Game, the long-awaited Alan Turing biopic which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the tortured mathematical genius, and Fury, a World War 2 film from David Ayer (End of Watch) starring Brad Pitt. These open and close the festival respectively, and will be shown at cinemas across the country in tandem with their gala screenings. Mr Turner features an already award-winning performance by Timothy Spall as the titular JMW Turner, and LFF also hosts the directorial debut of Jon Stewart – Rosewater is the story of an Iranian journalist covering the country’s political unrest in 2009 who gets on the wrong side of the establishment.

Gala screenings I am looking forward to include The Salvation, a Danish western (!) starring Mads Mikkelsen and, bizarrely, Eric Cantona; Whiplash, a story about the relationship between a musical prodigy and his virtuoso teacher which is audaciously structured like a thriller; and The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, a wuxia starring Fan Bingbing as a witch fighting to free people from tyranny during the end of the Ming Dynasty.

the immitation game

In the official competition, the film that stands out is Dearest – the story of a couple whose lives are turned upside down when their son goes missing. One of the most eagerly anticipated films in the first feature competition is ’71, set in the streets of Belfast during the titular year and starring Jack O’Connell (Starred Up) as a wet behind the ears squaddie dispatched to keep the peace.

The documentary strand has yielded some interesting prospects. There are familiar subjects in Hockey: A Life in Pictures, National Gallery, and The Possibilities Are Endless (the story of Edwyn Collins after his stroke), and a step into the unknown with In The Basement – a film about what Austrians do – yes! – in their basements. The love strand has one particular film of interest to me – Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a couple forced to leave their apartment separately. This film has gathered some notoriety in the States for being rated R for no apparent reason, apart from its central relationship being a homosexual one.night bus

1001 Grams is an intriguing-looking slice of dark humour, and Night Bus explores the sometimes intimate, sometimes scary, but always intriguing world of the London night bus (shout out to route N1). A Hard Day is described as a neo-noir slice of Korean cinema, following a policeman who is having a really bad day. The follow-up to Monsters, Monsters: Dark Continent, had more creatures in the trailer than in the whole of the previous film put together, so that bodes well. There are also restored classic films scattered throughout the programme, from Orwell’s Animal Farm to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Guys and Dolls. And of course, the legendary shorts programmes are back, spanning all strands and giving you plenty of bang for your buck.

So although at first glance the line-up looks a bit light, a proper dissection of the schedule reveals that there is something for everyone here. The beauty of LFF has always lain in taking a chance and seeing something you would never normally buy a ticket for. I think this year will see a return to that essence for many people.

We will of course be bringing you reviews and diary entries during the festival itself, so don’t forget to check back between 8-19 October 2014 for more articles! You can find a full line up of what’s showing at the LFF 2014 on the BFI website.