Welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast as hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Callum Petch, fresh from this year’s London Film Festival.
And with that, we’re done again. Back home. Another October fortnight spent gallivanting around the nation’s capital playing dress-up as a respected member of the Film Press in the books, with the articles and memories to prove that this wasn’t all a Wizard of Oz/Dallas Season 9-type scenario. Honestly, I’m somewhat glad to be back home, although give it a few days and I’ll want to be as far away from here as possible again. That old cliché of sequels never being as good as the original has turned out to have enacted itself upon my London Film Festival experiences.
So today – well, yesterday now, look, you know what I mean and that I write these on the day, hush – was my birthday. This was the second straight year in which I celebrated my birthday away from home… scratch that, away from my family, and both instances have honestly been vastly more enjoyable than those times I’ve had to spend them in the company of any number of my extended family. Part of that is because my family is utterly goddamn exhausting, and getting away from them for even just a few hours is like pure bliss, I’m not even joking. Most of it, however, is because I’ve been down here on the “job” for both years, which allows me to focus on something other than the continued terrifying encroachment of my own mortality for the day instead.
You’re not going to read about any big films, today. Sorry to disappoint you right off the bat, but that ain’t how the penultimate day of this Festival goes. Allow me to peel back the curtain and explain, for a moment. Most of the screenings during the Festival that reporters like myself attend are special Press & Industry screenings, held largely at the Picturehouse Central from the first proper day of the Festival through to the Friday before it finishes – there are also two weeks beforehand of other P&I screenings, primarily of lower-key films that won’t grab as many headlines, but I can’t comment on them because, due to my living situation being up North and largely broke, I’ve yet to go to those. They come in 3 blocks a day, and access to them only requires a valid Pass and to be close enough to the front of the line that you won’t get shut out due to over-capacity.
I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to talk to other people whilst I’ve been at the Festival, this year. As previously mentioned back on Day 6 when I related my account attending one of the Filmmaker’s Afternoon Teas, I have severe anxiety and it flares up especially bad when I’m surrounded by large groups of people I don’t know in a place I feel like I don’t belong. Until only very recently, I had incredible difficulty even asking my friends if they wanted to hang out and do stuff, so you can probably imagine how hard it is for me to work up the nerve to talk to random people, particularly since quite a lot of people at the Festival appear to know at least a few others and keep bumping into them.
Lots to get through today, so let’s not waste words and begin straight away with a film I saw on Wednesday but was embargoed from talking about until now: Journeyman (B), the directorial return of Paddy Considine, who made waves in 2011 when he unleashed the dark, moody drama Tyrannosaur upon an unsuspecting world. His follow-up… is nothing like that. In fact, for his return to the director’s chair and screenwriter’s typewriter, he’s gone borderline sentimental on us, pumping out a thematically-empty crowdpleaser about a man overcoming the adversity of a traumatic injury with the support of his wife and friends. The man is past-his-prime boxer Matty Burton (Considine), the wife is recent mother Emma (Jodie Whitaker), his friends are his former boxing team that are plagued by unspoken guilt about the injury, and the injury is severe brain damage from his years in the ring, which has stricken him with amnesia, severely damaged his mental capacities, and reduced his physical abilities to almost nothing.
Well, I was going to do another one of my lengthy, indulgent, personal anecdotes about my time at the festival so far to kick off today’s piece, since I’m under embargo for one of the films I saw today until its premiere finishes tomorrow night. However, I did not get back into my lodge until 9:30pm and, despite having been able to get the free time required to write up my thoughts on the first of the films in today’s coverage beforehand, I have only just finished writing the content people actually care about at 11:10pm. I need to be awake at 7:00am if I am to make it into Central London for one of the two The Killing of a Sacred Deer screenings that are on at 9:00am tomorrow morning (the second is for the inevitable overfill that will come from the first one), and I don’t fancy being shut out of that. So, a lengthy intro about trying to overcome my anxiety by talking to strangers at the Festival will have to be booted to another day. Sorry. In my defence, the film I stayed out for tonight was outstanding, but we’ll get to that later on.
God, what did we do to deserve Guillermo del Toro? I mean it, what did we as a collective humanity do to deserve a filmmaker like Guillermo del Toro? del Toro is one of the most technically gifted directors working today, I don’t think anyone can dispute that, but it goes further than that. It’s the way that he marries that technical ability to his absolute passion and earnest love for the worlds, characters, stories, and genres he chooses to tell that makes watching his films so wonderful. It’s there in his early horror classics, Chronos and The Devil’s Backbone, it’s there in his off-kilter approach to comic book movies with Blade II and the perennially-underrated Hellboy movies (the latter of which were my first introductions to the world of comic book movies), and it’s absolutely there in his gothic genre homages Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak. Hell, even though Pacific Rim was only “good” instead of “great,” you couldn’t blame that on a lack of tangible passion, and the shared glee in watching del Toro cash in every last scrap of industry cred he’d accrued up to that point to make the progressive, multi-cultural ode to the pleasures of the Anime and giant monster movies that he is infatuated with!
I have clinical anxiety, crippling amounts of it. When most people or works of art think of people with anxiety, it’s typically in the sense of the awkward guy at the party who can’t talk to girls, or other people but mostly specifically girls, without stammering incessantly and maybe vomiting up some ridiculous and invasive fact out of panic. And whilst I do have major problems starting conversations with people I don’t know, my anxiety – for clinical anxiety is paradoxically a universal yet hyper-personal mental illness, much like depression, so it’s not the same for everyone – goes further than that, manifesting in almost every decision I make, however big or small. Coming to the Festival last year was a major source of anxiety for me. Like, sure, it went fine and I relaxed (as much as I can relax anyway) and had a great time, but in the lead up to it I was panicking over every single thing. Was I doing this thing right, would they accept my application, do I deserve to be here at all being such an unknowledgeable fraud as I am, and so on?
Since arriving in London on Tuesday, I have had my one of the lenses in my glasses banged slightly out of place at a Wolf Alice gig, had my throat feel like it was doused in acid thanks to being sent with some accidentally well-past-use toothpaste, gained a painful yet hard-to-find ulcer on the inside of my lips, been incapable of getting an uninterrupted night’s sleep for whatever reason, and (as of yesterday) stricken down with a cold that I have no doubt inadvertently infected many other fine members of the Press Corp with by now. Yet, I strive on to bring you coverage, because I care like that. All joking aside, I’m not telling you this to try and garner “woe is me” pity sympathy, but rather because it inadvertently puts me in the right mood to watch a new Michael Haneke movie. For Michael Haneke, as anyone who has made even the most cursory glance at his filmography will be able to tell you, makes bummers. Often confrontational bummers about really horrible self-absorbed people, but always with something to say, even if it requires a fair bit of work on the part of the viewer to figure that out.
Life, as they say, comes at you fast. Just yesterday, in the opening pre-amble to the content you actually care about, I was whining of how it had been 3 days since the Festival started and I had yet to be blown away by any of the films I’d seen. I’d really enjoyed quite a few – this was not to take away from Equilibrium, The Light of the Moon, or Golden Exits – but I’d yet to fall in love with anything, and that was just unacceptable, dammit! By this time last year, I had loved The Handmaiden, and Elle, and My Life as a Courgette, and so on and so forth, so how dare all the excellent films be hiding themselves from me, or (based on comments I’d heard from online friends currently at other festivals) failing to do a better job at convincing me to not make bad decisions that I knew I wasn’t going to love anyway! And then, today, presumably to force me to quit my moaning, the Festival unleashed The Breadwinner (A) upon me, as if the everything so far was all about building my anticipation and appreciation levels up fully enough so that, when an excellent film came along, I’d recognise its excellency instantly.
When I first had a glance through the festival programme this year once it was announced in mid-September – I may just be applying rose-tinted spectacles to last year since it was my first time, but I swear everything was better-organised last year in advance of the fest (the staff have all been super kind and helpful as the festival has gotten underway though) – I felt like it lacked a lot of the obvious “wow” that 2016’s line-up had in abundance. It wasn’t like last year when I saw names like Arrival, and Free Fire, and La La Land, and The Handmaiden, and so many others littering the programme from top to bottom. That’s not to say that there aren’t big names at this go-around, I’ll be jostling to get coverage for many of them later on in the fortnight, just that there were less big-ticket names that excited me by their mere mention.
If I lived in London, and were capable of working in a cinema without having an existential crisis or eventually hating movies, I would want to work at the Picturehouse Central. I was first introduced to it this time last year, and immediately went on about just how taken I was by the venue in that day’s article, but it bears repeating, since I fell in love all over again yesterday when I turned up for the day’s screenings. Multiplexes are all largely-samey corporatized efficiency-machines, designed to put the film in front of your eyes in as impersonal and cost-effective way as is humanly-possible, whilst the (very) few independent-ish cinemas in my nearby (50-mile radius) area try their best to replicate that multiplex feel because they don’t have the budget available to do anything else.
As London Film Festival kicks off for another year, we sent Callum Petch to collect his press pass, find the wi-fi password and report back to Failed Critics HQ right away on opening gala screening of Andy Serkis’ debut, Breathe.