Tag Archives: London Film Festival

Failed Critics Podcast: Fury in a Half Shell

fury 4Apologies for the lack of podcast last week. Due to technical errors that we won’t bore you with, we couldn’t fix some audio issues. But never mind! We’re back this week with a review of the BFI London Film Festival 2014, which Carole kindly dragged herself back from New York for.  Steve and Owen also get a chance to go over old ground as they review ‘71 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

We also had a new release review of the latest David Ayer war film Fury, starring Brad Pitt, and a near unanimous opinion on Shia LaBeouf. Probably not the one you’re expecting, either!

Join us next week for a spooky Halloween special. Until then.. Cowabunga. Sorry.

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London Film Festival Part II: Revenge Of The Festival

It’s not often I turn to a complete stranger (I am a Londoner, after all) and whisper, “I’ve only eaten free Green & Black’s chocolate and baked goods from Costa all week.  I think I’m dying”.  It’s even rarer for this opening gambit to elicit a sympathetic smile and a “I know what you mean” in response.  Such is the emotional state we are to be reduced to in the home stretch of the 58th London Film Festival, the busiest I have ever seen.  After all, I am seeing a mere 13 films (not including shorts) in 6 days; other, hardier souls have been trapped in Leicester Square for the full twelve.

15-6-4930.JPGSo, my long weekend begins with Love is Strange – a feature which came to my attention when the MPAA rated it R for no fucking reason whatsoever apart from the fact that it’s about a gay couple.  I like John Lithgow, I love Alfred Molina, so this was a no-brainer to catch.  And it doesn’t disappoint – the sweet tale of a couple who have been together for nearly forty years – but are only now finally able to formalise their union – at times threatens to tip into sentimentality, but manages to teeter away at the right times.  It’s a simple tale of what happens when a couple are forced to live apart through no fault of their own, and the pressures this puts on their family ties.  It’s light on story but makes up for it with excellent performances; Molina and Lithgow you would expect, but also from Marisa Tomei, who shines as the slightly spoilt writer who eventually finds a sudden intrusion into her family life too much to bear.

On to the next film, a Norwegian comedy (!) 1001 Grams.  This was a complete wildcard as I just liked the description in the brochure and it is also Norway’s official submission to the Best Foreign Film category at next year’s Oscars.  It starts off brightly enough – a young scientist attends a Parisian conference on the actual weight of a kilo, which apparently depends on many factors, such as whether the weight in question has been touched or not.  But that one slight joke tries to sustain a whole film, and when it realises that it won’t stretch far enough, it throws in a tragedy and a forced love interest to try and shore things up.  The problem was, I ended up not caring for these shoehorned plot points, and just a few days later I can barely remember anything about the film.  Definitely one of the more forgettable experiences of the festival.

On then, to The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.  Or, to give the film its full title, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, for this is an edited version of two full length sides of a marriage in crisis, Him and Her.  Thus, in his debut feature-length film, director Ned Benson does what Quentin Tarantino has never been able to – swallow his pride and edit together two films to form a perfectly coherent and satisfying single feature.  And it is wholly satisfying; a surprisingly stellar cast including James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, William Hurt, Ciarán Hinds and an excellent Bill Hader elevate what could have been a sappy mess into a parable about what happens when you don’t communicate in a long-term relationship (this and Gone Girl would make an excellent first date double-bill for sadists, I feel).  Well-plotted and with some surprises along the way, I left feeling like I actually wanted to watch the Him and Her versions as well, and I will seek them out when they arrive on Netflix.  Side notes: I met James McAvoy here and he was lovely.  I can be cool around famous people for about 5 seconds.

The next day – Saturday – brought a few surprises.  Going in, I was not sure what to expect from any of the three films I was watching that day.  And given that they included the new film from Michael Winterbottom and an Aussie action-comedy starring Simon Pegg, I did not expect the film that I would still be thinking about even now to be a drama about gangland Brixton.

honeytrap-002Honeytrap is loosely based on true events; centred on Layla, a recent immigrant from Tobago who comes to live with her mother on a council estate in south London.  Immediately she feels out of place – her mother (who seems to have got thoroughly used to not being a parent in Layla’s absence) can’t or won’t buy her any new clothes to replace the ones she has grown out of, so she steals outfits to fit in with the other girls.  This desperation to be accepted seems to pay off when she is eyed up by a hot local rapper, but the attention soon turns into something much darker.  Director Rebecca Johnson has spent 10 years working with youngsters in Brixton, making films with them, and it shows – there is an easy naturalism to every performance (she told me that only the main players actually went through a casting process – many were picked from the estates she has been working on for a long time) which makes the inevitable denouement much worse.  Only when it’s far too late does Layla realise the consequences of her action; she (and we) can only watch in horror as the inevitable denouement plays out before our eyes and the situation spirals away from her, out of her control.  It’s a horrifying, powerful film that I can imagine being shown as a vital part of the schools curriculum, and one that I would urge everyone to watch if possible – this is British talent at its best, in front of and behind the camera.

So perhaps a little unfairly, I went into The Face of an Angel expecting great things.  Directed by Michael Winterbottom and “loosely” based around the murder of British student Meredith Kercher, the film does not directly address the murder but rather the media reaction to it.  This is done by using the rather clever framing device of focusing on a filmmaker, Thomas (Daniel Brühl, watchable as ever) as he researches the murder in order to, well, make a film about it.  The problem with using Thomas as a framing device is, he should never really be the focus of the story; he should be presenting another way of thinking about it.  And although the films starts this way – Thomas hammers home the point that everyone is obsessed with the alleged murderers but they forget someone actually died – by the time a Return of the King-esque stream of apparent endings comes along, he does become the focus, and the film loses its way.  This is more of a lament of the media, complete with the obligatory caricatures – the slimy Daily Mail journo who embellishes his stories, the American who holds court in the cafe waiting for the actual courts to make up their mind, the local expert.  Winterbottom’s goal here is clearly to hold up a mirror to these people, and to let us all know that they should be under scrutiny as well as the accused.  But the sad truth is, they wouldn’t exist if we did not want to know every seedy detail in cases such as these.  Inevitably, no-one ends up very likeable in the film – except for Cara Delevingne’s character Melanie, who is a bouncy, cheerful English student.  But ultimately you don’t feel like she is relevant to the story in any way.

simon_pegg_kriv_stenders_kill_me_three_timesFinally on Friday night, an Aussie comedy (!) about a hitman, Kill Me Three Times.  Except it’s not really about the hitman (played by Simon Pegg), although I don’t blame the distributors at all for selling the film that way in the UK. Rather it’s about an elaborate revenge plot/insurance plot spun three different ways, which ends up going awry, as all the best plots do.  It’s pretty smart for an action comedy and did conjure up memories of Grosse Point Blank at times (Pegg did say in the Q&A afterwards that Martin Blank is his favourite on-screen assassin), albeit played out against stunning Australian scenery.  You won’t remember much about it when it’s over, but it’s an entertaining ride for an hour and a half, and the action is enjoyably messy.

Sunday, the final day, brings a certain melancholy and simultaneous relief over everyone – the poor girl introducing Carol Morley at the screening of The Killing in Hackney looks like she is about to keel over.  Which is appropriate, seeing as a main theme in The Falling is exactly that – Abbie, a promiscuous young student at a girl’s school in the 1960s, falls pregnant and starts to suffer from fainting and fits.  Soon enough her group of friends all come down with this mysterious affliction, with less reason.  I was a big fan of Morley’s previous feature, Dreams of a Life – an excellent documentary about a woman who lay dead in her flat for three years – but this failed to ignite any interest in me whatsoever.  The highlight is an excellent performance by Maxine Peake as the agoraphobic mother of one of the girls (played by Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones – sometimes decent, but sometimes quite wooden).  The film does pick up towards the end, but unfortunately the denouement needs more development beforehand to sustain it, and it never quite gets there.

And finally, the last film of the festival altogether, Fury.  I have a feeling that we will go into this more in this week’s podcast, but as a personal note I thought the performances were excellent, even though the film as a whole doesn’t quite reach the heights of great war films.  The revelation for me was Shia LaBeouf, playing a meaty role thoughtfully (although to be perfectly honest, I have never seen him in anything outside Transformers and Indiana Jones, and I’d prefer to forget both of them).  If this is where being a bit “kooky” gets him, then more power to his elbow.

Thanks for reading, and see you next year.

*faints*

Failed Critics Podcast: The Return of the Fat White Duke

The Guest Dan StevensThat’s right ladies and gentlemen; just two weeks after saying some emotional goodbyes and handing over the keys to Failed Critics Towers, James has come crawling back begging to help out. Luckily for him, Steve’s holiday presented the ideal opportunity for a coup d’état and a triumphant return as guest host for one night only.

Luckily for you, Owen and Carole are on hand to keep the ego in check, and provide some much needed analysis of the week in film, including the launch of London Film Festival 2014. Elsewhere we review new releases Before I Go To Sleep and The Guest, and Triple Bill sees the team discuss Movie Recasting Decisions.

Next week we’ll be back to normal with Steve in charge and James banished to the forbidden zone until Christmas. Basically it means more puns and less French cinema.

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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