Tag Archives: LFF 2013

Failed Critics Podcast: Captain Phillips, London Film Festival, and glorious Arnie

Escape Plan Arnie SlyWelcome to this week’s Failed Critics Podcast, and after the austerity of recent weeks we’re back to our usual obscene length.

As well as reviewing new releases Captain Phillips, Escape Plan, and Le Week-End, we also hear from our roving correspondent Carole Petts who is reporting back from London Film Festival, and Steve watches The Phantom Menace for the first time as a ‘critic’. That’ll go well.

We’re taking a week off next week (boo!), but we’ll be back at the start of November with reviews of Thor 2, Bad Grandpa, and whatever arty emotional nonsense James has gotten around to watching.

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London Film Festival Diary: Only Lovers Left Alive, Exhibition, and Don Jon

In her final London Film Festival Diary for this year, Carole Petts gets to spend some time with a vampiric Tom Hiddleston and a porn-addicted Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Only Lovers Left AliveAfter the emotional fallout of Friday, I was ready for some more light-hearted fare on Saturday, but unfortunately I had chosen to see Love Will Conquer All, a collection of short films in the Love strand of the festival.  I can’t really put it any better than the description from the BFI website: “Eight short films examining an assortment of expressions of affection, from first love to unrequited love to unconditional love. With additional heartbreak, lust and resentment thrown in for good measure.”  Particular favourites of mine were Orbit Ever After, a film about first love with only the small matter of being in separate spaceships to contend with; The Phone Call, a harrowing piece starring Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent about a crisis centre worker and the person on the end of her line; and Out Of Darkness, a black and white film with nine different actors all telling a singular story of loss and heartbreak.

On to Saturday evening and the gala of Only Lovers Left Alive, a vampire film by Jim Jarmusch.  After the obvious excitement of walking past Tom Hiddleston on the red carpet (a very well put-together man) we settled in for what I was convinced was going to be a dryly humourous, vaguely satirical meditation on vampiric folklore as is per Mr. Jarmusch’s usual way.  Boy, was I surprised.

First of all, this film is hilarious – actually laugh-out-loud funny in parts, even though the humour is as dark as you would expect from a Jarmusch film about nocturnal, blood-sucking creatures.  A large part of this is down to the excellent lead performances from Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton (one of my heroines) as the titular lovers, and small but excellent performances by the supporting cast, including John Hurt and Jarmusch alumni Jeffrey Wright.  At the same time, the film plays out at a slow, dreamlike pace with very little in the way of plot – but as is so often the case with Jarmusch’s films, simply being in its universe is entertaining enough.

The film smartly avoids clichés from the genre.  These are modern vampires where blood must come from hospitals and willing doctors – “this is the 21st century…you can’t just make people disappear anymore”.  In fact I don’t actually remember the word vampire being used – and in a nice little twist the living are referred to as zombies, sleepwalking through their lives.  The film is also a love letter to Detroit – its rise as the centre of America and its swift decline.  The dilapidated city is shown in all its haunting glory at night, and the film is beautifully shot and designed both aurally and visually – a true treat for the gothic lovers among us.

If you’re looking for a love story with a healthy shot of jet-black humour, you could certainly do worse than this film.

Finally – Sunday brought my final two showings, the first of which was Exhibition, the latest from British director Joanna Hogg.  Exhibition follows an artist couple who are planning on selling their modernist house – it is suggested (although never explicitly explored) that there has been a traumatic event in or around the building which has been the catalyst for this decision.  There is a distance between the couple – they both work in the house and communicate by telecom.

I am a fan of Hogg’s sparse, static, fly-on-the-wall style of film-making but I can fully understand why it’s not to everyone’s taste.  As with all her films, the nub of the story is left unsaid, which can be frustrating but adds to the feeling of being an observer – you would never fully explain a previous incident during an argument in real life.  This won’t win any new converts but for fans of Hogg it’s another triumph of realistic drama, which may need time to think about afterwards.

Last but not least, the evening brought my festival to a close with Don Jon, the directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  JGL also wrote and starred in the film as the titular Jon, a bartender who is frequently out on the prowl for women, and a porn addict to boot.  His life seems to change when he meets Barbara (Scarlet Johannson) who has her own ideas about the perfect relationship.

I get the feeling that Don Jon is trying to say something about the way that women and men interact, and how that is changed by the consumption of media by both sexes.  It succeeds to an extent, but there is never really a powerful moment that makes this point hit home.  There are plenty of attempts, and by no means is the fault left purely at the male door – a mundane exchange in a DIY store lays bare the fact that women are as prone to artificial, media-instilled fantasy as the man who can only be satisfied in front of his MacBook.

The ending felt a little forced, but the film is snappily directed by JGL, and frequently hilarious.  As a first-time outing it’s very promising, but with a word of warning – it would probably make uncomfortable viewing for a first date.

That’s it for this year.  I’ve had a great time this past couple of weeks, and I look forward to seeing what LFF has in store for us next year.  Thank you for reading.

Carole will watch most types of film and particularly anything starring Nicolas Cage, leading to her firmly-held belief that The Wicker Man remake is the funniest comedy ever produced.  She hates Grease.

@The_DarkPhoenix

London Film Festival Diary: Parkland, The Grandmaster, and 12 Years a Slave

In the second installment of her London Film Festival diary, Carole Petts looks at the latest film looking at the JFK assassination, yet another film about the man who taught Bruce Lee how to kick Chuck Norris’ arse, and the hugely anticipated new film from Steve McQueen.

PARKLANDGreetings from the morning after the night before.  As I mentioned at the start of the article last week, the shortening of the LFF to under two weeks means that there is often an issue with fitting everything in, and this is illustrated by the fact that I haven’t had a proper meal in three days (I’d like to thank Nutella and satsumas for their support during this difficult time).

The tail end of this week has been fraught to say the least with seven screenings in 5 days, so let’s get going!

First up on Wednesday was Parkland, a film based on the novel Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the directorial debut of former journalist Peter Landesman.  The film captures the experiences of peripheral figures during what is one of the defining moments of modern history.  We follow several characters involved, from the Secret Service and FBI to the doctors who battled so hard to save JFK during his final moments.  We also see the incident from the perspective of the most famous home-moviemaker in history, Abraham Zapruder (whose film is the only recording of the assassination) and uniquely the Oswald family.

I think it speaks volumes that this film is still resonating so much with me after six other screenings.  The various stories are skilfully woven together, even if some are under-explored in the relatively lean running time.  This was a theme acknowledged by Landesman during the Q&A where he mentioned that certain characters could have had their own film.  Probably the most affecting strand is that of Zapruder – a relatively ordinary person who was at the cutting edge of technology with life-changing results.  At one point the film is printed and a room of Secret Service personnel sit down to view the film with Zapruder, only for the tape to start with footage of his grandchildren playing.  This underlines the fact that the life Zapruder formerly knew vanished in those short seconds.

Overall I would recommend watching Parkland.  If you’re a conspiracy nut, it won’t be for you – its definitive story is that of the lone gunman and Landesman gave short shrift to any other theories afterwards.  It’s difficult to single out a single performance in a great ensemble cast but my eye was particularly caught by James Badge Dale (previously best known as a glowing baddie in Iron Man 3) as Robert Oswald, a very nice understated performance.

The next viewing was the ever-popular Surprise Film.  After the ritual (and fruitless) guessing game we had a video introduction from director Wong Kar Wai, and an in-person introduction by Harvey Weinstein, for Hong Kong’s Oscar 2014 submission The Grandmaster.  I sensed a slight defiance from Weinstein during his introduction in which he promised a “kick-ass martial arts film” and later I learned that there has been some controversy over final cut in this film which may explain it.  The film is based on the true story of Ip Man, a Wing Chun master who eventually trains Bruce Lee.

Here’s the thing – if you are really promising a kick-ass martial arts film, you need more than ten minutes of fighting.

The film starts off well with a wonderfully choreographed fight scene, but soon gets bogged down in exposition, a wildly uneven plot and an unconvincing love story.  The film wants to flick backwards and forwards seamlessly through timelines, but instead gives the impression of poor editing.  However, knowing that the film has had 20 minutes taken off for international release, it’s difficult to say whether this is an inherent flaw of the film or whether it is simply the victim of Weinstein’s over-zealous scissors.  I would be interested to see the original cut to compare, as I think the bones of a good film are present.  In the form that I saw, however, I can’t recommend it.

On to probably the biggest entry in my calendar this year – the European premiere of 12 Years A Slave, the true story of a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery in the mid 1800s.  This is actually the first Steve McQueen film I have seen (unless you count his short which plays in Tate Britain) so I have no frame of reference for how he is developing as a film-maker, but on this evidence I need to rectify that gap in my knowledge immediately.

A stronger (in every sense) film that last year’s Django Unchained, 12 Years is an unflinching portrayal of a shameful passage in human history.  The film has been noted for its brutality, and indeed it is a difficult watch at times, but the violence is never gratuitous.  Indeed, the first time we see such viciousness the results are not seen outright but rather implied by a tattered and bloody piece of clothing, which was still powerful enough to make the audience gasp.  Such moments are implicit to understanding why this intelligent family man found himself in such a situation, along with the fellow slaves he meets along the way.

There are many outstanding performances in the film but Chiwetel Ejiofor is the centrepiece – as the titular slave he anchors the whole film with a masterful study in quiet, understated dignity.  A special mention also has to go to newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, whose character must live with being her master’s “favourite” with all that entails.

It seems almost churlish to simply label 12 Years A Slave as a great film.  It is far more powerful than that – a deeply emotional yet clear-eyed look at this microcosm of pre-Civil War era American life, the film transcends entertainment and becomes essential viewing.  Expect to see this doing the rounds at all awards ceremonies next January and February.

Carole will watch most types of film and particularly anything starring Nicolas Cage, leading to her firmly-held belief that The Wicker Man remake is the funniest comedy ever produced.  She hates Grease.

@The_DarkPhoenix

London Film Festival Diary: Gravity and Clint Mansell

We’re very pleased and proud to present our latest contributor, Carole Petts. Unlike the rest of us she lives in London and is able to report back from this year’s London Film Festival.

Gravity Sandra BullockThis is my third year in attendance at the London Film Festival, and every year it feels somehow bigger. Last year the festival literally did grow, taking the events outside of their natural West End/South Bank dwellings and putting on screenings in places such as Hackney and Islington. However it also contracted; shortening from three weeks to under two. This makes it pretty difficult for even the most committed film-goer to cram in all the screenings they would like to take in, and makes the annual post-launch appointment with the planner and highlighter even more fraught.

This year matters were not in any way helped by the total failure of BFI’s payment system on the first morning of the members sale, leading to much anguish and, for myself, a near three-hour queue on the South Bank for tickets. Happily this ended with me getting all the tickets I had planned for, and this has made the experiences so far even sweeter.

My festival started on Thursday night with a late addition to the programme – an entry in BAFTA’s regular Masterclass strand with the composer Clint Mansell. I’m a big fan of Darren Aronofsky, so the chance to see this talk with his musical collaborator was one I couldn’t turn down. Clint was excellent value for money and whoever took it upon themselves to put a bottle of red wine on the table deserves a pat on the back – he was slightly nervous at the start but a couple of glasses seemed to put him much more at ease. Clint spoke frankly about his lack of formal musical training and how the partnership with Aronofsky has blossomed through both of them trying to figure out what they were doing in their respective roles, sometimes by means of trial and error. I did get to ask him a question and he gave a very expansive answer, including the fact that Lux Aeterna (aka the song for the X-Factor, or as Clint put it “the song that bought my house”) was originally written for a project long before Requiem for a Dream.

Friday night was quite literally a big one – the gala screening of Gravity had taken place at Leicester Square the night before, but I decided instead to see it on the biggest screen in Britain – the BFI IMAX. Event organiser Stuart Brown stated in his introduction that this had been the hottest ticket of the festival and that he’d had to turn down many famous names who had called asking for tickets. Director Alfonso Cuarón had been holding a Screen Talk at the NFT just before our showing, so he popped in to personally introduce the film.

I’d like to point out that I am not particularly enthusiastic about 3D films. I think most of the time it is superfluous and a cynical way of charging more for a ticket. The exceptions to the rule, in my opinion, are Avatar (regardless of your view on the film, you cannot argue that it was a huge step forward in the use of 3D) and Life of Pi, which I felt was the best use of the technology to give depth to landscape until now. Gravity joins this shortlist as one of the few films I feel has made use of 3D to deliver a cinematic experience which is breathtaking in both its ambition and achievement.

You probably know the synopsis already – Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are two astronauts on their first and last missions respectively. Disaster strikes when their shuttle is destroyed, and they are tied only to each other in the vast expanses of space. It’s much better if that’s all you know going in – even the destruction of the shuttle is different to the one depicted in the stunning, one-shot trailer, and the film is all the better for it. Bullock gives an excellent performance as the rookie who ends up in the first situation any astronaut is trying to avoid, and Clooney is, well, he’s standard George Clooney – witty and smooth, without some of the irritating smarmy qualities that can come through in his performance sometimes. Gravity is a nerve-shredding film that switches pace with ease, and succeeds in conveying both the sheer vastness and the contradictory, terrifying claustrophobia of space. See it in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find, from November 8th.

Finally in this entry comes my annual viewing of shorts. Due to the dedication of the animated shorts this year to children’s films – because they clearly don’t get enough of them during the year – I’m seeing two strands this year: Love and Laugh, which was the subject of last night’s The Best Medicine. Highlights from the selection included Penny Dreadful, a film about a child kidnapping going horribly wrong which reminded me a lot of Seven Psychopaths (hey, I enjoyed it); Things He Never Said, a hilarious wish-fulfilment fantasy where a man tells his girlfriend what he really thinks; and Talking Dog For Sale 10 Euro, where a man finds the titular advert in a coffee shop and decides to ignore his own misgivings. Some of the shorts didn’t quite work – the audience sat in baffled silence during Drunker Than A Skunk, a strange animated poem – but the beauty of short films is that there’ll be something else along in a moment which will probably be more your cup of tea.

That’s it for this week! Join me next week when my festival (and wardrobe) really gets going with gala screenings of Parkland, 12 Years A Slave, the always hotly-anticipated Surprise Film (last year was Silver Linings Playbook; this year my money is on The Butler or Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) and my own personal highlight, Only Lovers Left Alive, as well as Don Jon, Exhibition and the Love shorts.

See you next week!

Carole will watch most types of film and particularly anything starring Nicolas Cage, leading to her firmly-held belief that The Wicker Man remake is the funniest comedy ever produced.  She hates Grease.

@The_DarkPhoenix