Sunday 31 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #22 Sundown & #23 Lamb

And so we reach the end of this year’s filmathon at the BFI* with two films that feel very representative of the diversity at the Film Festival (as well as some nice synchronicity to finish off).

Dir. Michel Franco / Dur. 83 mins
Strand:- Official Competition

In A Nutshell:-
As an interrupted family holiday prompts a return home, Neil fakes a lost passport in order to remain and invent a new life for himself, free from old constraints…

The Good:- I really enjoyed Michel Franco’s entry into the festival last year, New Order, so was looking forward to this one. It’s a different pace to Franco’s previous effort but no less compelling for it. I feel like, outside of Tarantino films, I haven’t really seen Tim Roth in anything for ages and I’d forgotten how good he can be. Roth plays Neil with a quiet, enigmatic style that holds the attention throughout. There’s a moment where Neil’s motivations become clearer that prompted na audible response of surprise from the audience that was quite satisfying,

The Bad:- Nothing particularly springs to mind on this one.

The Verdict:- It’s a slow burn character study of a man in crisis and Tim Roth’s performance holds the attention throughout. One to watch.

No Q&A at this screening.

Last film…

Dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson / Dur. 106 mins
Strand:- Cult

In A Nutshell:- A grieving sheep-farming couple discovers an unusual birth from one of their ewes and raises the offspring as if it were their own. (I’m not sure a nutshell really will do justice to this one.)

The Good:- It’s as if, very consciously, the filmmakers have bolted together two very distinct films - a family drama about isolation and loss and an insane fantasy horror. The tone that this creates is strange and unsettling which is perfect for the sort of film they’re clearly aiming for. It’s also another in the recent trend of brightly lit horror films, with the horror playing out in the broad light of day for the most part (see Midsommar and others). The cast are strong in what is essentially a three-hander (plus one more, hard to really judge on performance being a product of a combination of an actor and CGI).

The Bad:- Some of the CGI in a couple of scenes is a little wonky looking which slightly undermines the effect that they were going for. Also, the ending is extremely underwhelming and anticlimactic after the brooding, menacing build up - there was a real sense of deflation in the cinema at the end.

The Verdict:- It’s an absolute mental premise and is, for most part, carried off in a stylish and thoughtful, only maybe slightly let down by a lacklustre ending.

No Q&A at this screening.

Random Synchronicity:- Without realising it, I’d booked Icelandic films as the first and last films for the fest. Also, given the relatively small nature of the Icelandic film industry, both films had an actor in common - both films featured Björn Hlynur Haraldsson in key roles.

So there we have it - another film festival done for another year. Closing thoughts next time…

* To be replaced next month by another bumper bundle of screenings at the BFI as I go to a load of Mike Leigh films with him doing Q&As, the new Edgar Wright film (again with Q&A) and an animated
 reconstruction of a missing Doctor Who story. Oh, plus doing a load of gigs and going to see some live comedy too. Sleeping? Sleep is for sleepy people. Let’s get a kebab and go to a disco.

Saturday 30 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #20 7 Days & #21 Succession

Getting near to the home stretch now…

7 Days
Dir. Roshan Sethi / Dur. 86 mins
Strand:- Laugh

In A Nutshell:- After an awkward first date, Ravi and Rita find themselves locked down together when a global pandemic hits.

The Good:- It was only a matter of time before we started to see films not just made during lockdown but centred on the lockdown itself and this is a good example of what can be done in limited locations with minimal budget. Having worked together on the TV series Miracle Workers, Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan have good chemistry onscreen which is definitely required as, barring a few talking heads and vocal cameos, this is largely a two-hander between the two of them. The Odd Couple-style humour is played nicely and there are some decent laughs throughout. The pair also have the chops to pull off the more dramatic moments of the film too.

The Bad:- It maybe feels a little too close for comfort to us coming out lockdowns to be reminded about it but that is a minor criticism (and one that will fade with time).

The Verdict:- It’s that rare beast for me - a romantic comedy that I actually enjoyed, thankfully because the emphasis is on the comedy of the situation.

Q&A Notes:- Director Roshan Sethi was there - he’s Karan Soni’s partner and they wrote it together while locked down. The film itself was shot over 8 days last summer in between actual lockdowns. The interviews with couples at the start and end of the film are played by members of their families, including Karan Soni’s parents. Their intention was for it to feel authentically Indian and not explain any particular terminology / cultural specifics.

When I saw this next one, it was a preview. It’s taken me so long to write about it that it’s now a review....

Succession - Season 3: Episodes 1 & 2
Dir. Mark Mylod / Dur. 57 mins & 59 mins
Strand:- Special Presentation

In A Nutshell:- Following his bombshell moment at the end of season 2, Kendall Roy gears up to go to war with his father Logan.

The Good:- This is only the second time I’ve been to a TV screening at the fest (indeed this year marks the first year that they've had a full programme of TV screenings and that's largely due to the increasing overlap between TV and film in terms fo talent and quality) and it’s a funny one to review. It’s really a screening that only makes sense if you’re already watching Succession; fortunately, I absolutely love the show and am definitely watching it so excitement was high for this one (I wasn’t the only; this was the rowdiest crowd I’ve ever experienced at the fest - whooping, clapping, cheering, hollering throughout). It didn’t disappoint - season three so far is sustaining the level of backstabbing intrigue and hilarious sweary dialogue that the first two seasons have set the bar for. It’s a credit to Jesse Armstrong and the writing team that they have managed to create a set of loathsome characters that still remain compelling to watch - not an easy tightrope to walk.

The Bad:- Not a criticism as I still thoroughly enjoyed it but I do wonder how long the show can sustain the back and forth backstabbing that makes up the core of it and avoid the risk of repeating itself. Also, I am going to have to rewatch these to get all the dialogue I missed due to the rowdy crowd!

The Verdict:- If you’re already a Succession fan then this season (so far) absolutely will not disappoint. If you’re not yet one then don’t start here, crack on with season 1!

Screening Notes:- An introduction from Jesse Armstrong along with Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, Matthew Macfadyen, Alan Ruck and J. Smith-Cameron. Brian Cox channelled his inner Logan Roy in his description of the two missing main cast members (“one’s a moron and the other’s a fucking traitor”) to the delight of the audience.

Friday 29 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #18 - Hit The Road & #19 - Encounter

We’re getting there now. Stay on target…

Hit The Road
Dir. Panah Panahi / Dur. 93 mins
Strand:- Official Competition

In A Nutshell:-
We follow a family on a road trip for reasons that become clear as the film unfolds…

The Good:-
It’s a funny and touching film helped along by performers who all bring different energy to their roles. I’ve never been the biggest fan of a lot of child actors - it’s a fine line between cute and obnoxious after all - but Rayan  Sarlak is good fun here as the noisy and slightly weird youngest child. The slow burn reveal of the reason for the family’s trip and the cost upon them as a unit works well, drawing you into their dynamic. The cinematography is incredible with a broad range of Iranian vistas throughout. Although I wasnl;t familiar with any of the music myself, the use of 70s Iranian pop music throughout almost figures as an additional member of the family on the trip and makes for moments that manage to be both funny and heart-wrenching.

The Bad:- On this one, nothing in particular springs to mind.

The Verdict:-
A funny and moving road movie with some nice fantastical touches to accompany the gorgeous vistas on display.

No Q&A for this screening.

Dir. Michael Pearce / Dur. 108 mins
Strand:- Thrill

In A Nutshell:- A father races to save his sons in what appears to be an impending invasion by microscopic alien organisms.

The Good:- It’s a tricky one to say too much about without revealing more than you should know going in but the opening sequences of the aliens arriving via meteorite and attacking people’s insides along with Riz Ahmed’s desperate race to get his sons and get them to safety do sweep you along and into the story. As seems to be the theme this year, the film featured performances by two child actors that I didn’t hate.

The Bad:- It wasn’t the film I was expecting it to be - deliberately so but that was disappointing given what I’d hoped I was going to be watching. The ending was fine but became something more pedestrian than I was hoping it would be. I also have to say that I found Riz Ahmed’s American accent to be pretty unconvincing and it was distracting me a lot of the time.

The Verdict:- This one started promisingly but turned into a more lacklustre film than I was hoping for. The premise was interesting but, for me, the execution didn't quite live up to it.

No Q&A for this screening.

Wednesday 27 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #16 - All Is Vanity & #17 - Nitram

It’s gonna be double bills all the way now, I reckon, as I keep missing days!

All Is Vanity
Dir. Marcos Mereles / Dur. 73 mins
Strand:- Dare

In A Nutshell:- A photographer, a model, a make-up artist and a runner are staying the weekend in a studio flat for a shoot. Things take a turn when one of them disappears…

The Good:-
I’m going to struggle with this one as I’m afraid that, despite being on paper exactly the sort of film that I should like, it really didn't float my boat. It’s also tricky to say a lot about it without spoiling it as it’s one of those films that is best gone into without any knowledge of what it’s about.

The Bad:- For me personally, this was a perfect storm of elements coming together to create something that just didn't gel. The performances weren’t great, the characters were not especially likeable and pretty thinly drawn which combined to make them uninteresting and the elements which should have been fun and playful somehow came across as smug and pretentious. I don’t usually like to give predominantly negative reviews but I just didn't really enjoy anything about this.

The Verdict:- A complete misfire for me on every level and disappointingly so as it really is the sort of film that not should I enjoy but is probably the sort of thing I’d end up making.

Q&A Notes:- The director and some of the key cast were there. It was an entirely self-financed film filmed in  the single location over a period of about 11 days. The film was very scripted but, during filming, the actors were encouraged to improvise around the start and end of scenes to give the impression of having just dropped in mid-conversation.

Dir. Justin Kurzel / Dur. 112 mins
Strand:- Official Competition

In A Nutshell:- Based on a true story, this tells the story of Martin Bryant and explores the build up to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, Australia.

The Good:- The film adopts a low key and unsensational way to depict the story of a young man who doesn’t fit in to the world around him. It’s a tricky subject to tackle and this feels like the best approach - the film has a strong sense of unease throughout but doesn’t attempt to explain, justify or judge its subject. Credit has to go to Caleb L
andry Jones for a performance that holds the attention throughout even when he is a difficult character to truly empathise with. There are many potential contributing factors for his actions but the film doesn't try and pin it down on any one of them which is to its credit. In fact, it is the gun laws that made this such an easy feat to accomplish that are the intended target of this film.

The Bad:-
Nothing immediately springs to mind for this one.

The Verdict:- An unsettling and compelling film which treats a difficult subject with a refreshing lack of sensationalism.

No Q&A for this one.

Monday 25 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #14 - The Phantom Of The Open & #15 - The Odd-Job Men

Yeah, oops, skipped a few days there due to hectic real life type real life-iness so let’s double up for a few days to crack on through this, especially asd the festival’s been over for a week now!

The Phantom Of The Open
Dir. Craig Roberts / Dur. 102 mins
Strand:- Special Presentation

In A Nutshell:- Based on a true story, crane operator Maurice Flitcroft dreams big and gets himself a place in the British Open. The catch? He’s never played golf before…

The Good:- It’s a tricky line to walk - crafting a film whose main character you are meant to laugh at but not in a way that is condescending or pitying. It’s a line that, for the most part, screenwriter Simon Farnaby and star Mark Rylance manage to balance thanks to the humour of the script and Rylance’s portrayal of Flitcroft as a decent if fanciful man. Credit must go to Sally Hawkins as well for giving his wife Jean a sense of dignity and steeliness that stop her from being someone caught up in a madman’s scheme. It’s funny and heartwarming in equal measure with supporting performances that compliment the central ones perfectly.

The Bad:- It wobbles on the edge of veering into sentimentality a few times but is pulled back from that particular brink by the performances of Rylance and Hawkins.

The Verdict:- If you’re after a genuinely funny feelgood film with a distinctly British flavour (after all, we love to root for a talentless underdog) then this is definitely one for you.

Screening Notes:- No Q&A at the end as it was one of the gala screenings (in fact, it was the world premiere) but we did get intro from director Craig Roberts alongside Simon Farnaby, Mark Rylance and other cast members (plus one of Maurice Flitcroft’s sons). There isn’t ever too much said in the intro as it’s difficult to say much without spoiling the film.

The Odd-Job Men
Dir. Neus Ballús / Dur. 85 mins
Strand:- Laugh

In A Nutshell:- Blurring the line between fact and fiction, we follow a week in the life of new recruit plumber Moha as he comes to work with the soon-to-retired Pep and the less-than-thrilled-to-be-working-with-him Valero…

The Good:- It’s an enjoyable slice of life drama that follows the three plumbers as they work on the various jobs required of them throughout a working week. The cast give great performances considering that they are actual plumbers, albeit ones who've been put into fictional situations.

The Bad (Me):-
Full disclosure - I hit the traditional “mid Festival slump” during this film and struggled to keep my eyes open. The “Bad” here is my inability to be fully focussed on the film - it’s a gently paced film and this was, sadly for me, the wrong film to have at this point in the fest.

The Verdict:- It’s an enjoyable view into the world of the odd-job men, held together by the three central performances.

Q&A Notes:- Definitely an unusual set up for a film - a mixture of scripted and documentary. Scripted in the sense that the director scripted out the situations they would find themselves in but documentary in that they weren't given any advance notice of what was going to happen, each situation had a genuine plumbing problem and they were left to sort it out by themselves (however, given the director present the best part of two years prepping the film with them between their day job, she had a reasonable idea of how they would react in those situations).
The director spent her time sneaking her way into various plumbing schools during the initial search for subjects and must have seen somewhere in the region of 1000 plumbers for the main roles.
The ending of the film originally took place in a hairdressers but was reshot after it became clear this wasn’t really working.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #13 - Boiling Point

Back on track with this next one. 

Boiling Point
Dir. Philip Barantini / Dur. 92 min
Strand:- Thrill

In A Nutshell:- A struggling chef navigates an evening’s work at a busy restaurant as personal and professional problems begin to collide…

The Good:- First off, it’s a technically impressive film with the whole film unfolding in a single 90 minute take but technical gimmickry is not enough; fortunately; the film has an energy and pace thanks to the talents of its cast and the urgency of the direction that keep you gripped from start to finish. In fact, I was so swept up in it that I stopped focussing on the fact that it was just the one take. Stephen Graham is, unsurprisingly, great as chef Andy whose personal life is falling apart and beginning to impact the day to day running of his restaurant but Vinette Robinson is just as impressive as his trusted senior who is supportive but at breaking point. The supporting cast all play their parts too from those who are there for the duration to smaller roles like the patronising food hygiene officer. 

The Bad:- Honestly, not a lot springs to mind as I was genuinely swept along by this one.

The Verdict:- Definitely one of the highlights of the festival for me and another powerhouse performance from Stephen Graham.

Q&A Notes:- The director, Vinette Robinson and Ray Panthaki were on hand for the Q&A.
The film was based on an earlier short - the original plan was for the opening twenty minutes of the film to be the single shot and the rest of the film to be conventional quick cutting but that wasn’t working.
The film was rehearsed in stages with the front of house restaurant staff coming on first to get up to speed before the kitchen staff were then brought in. Shooting began in March 2020 with an original plan to shoot 8 takes over 4 nights; they managed 4 takes over 2 nights before the pandemic shut down production. The take used in the final film is Take 3.

Tuesday 19 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #12 - Titane

Ah, we’ve hit one of those films where I’m tempted to post the whole review as just a single shrug emoji...

Dir. Julia Ducournau / Dur. 108 mins
Strand:- Special Presentation

In A Nutshell:-
Alexia, a young woman with a strange obsessive relationship with cars, finds herself on the run in a precarious situation after giving in to her murderous impulses…

The Good & The Bad:- 
I’d seen Ducournau’s previous film Raw and enjoyed that, so was looking forward to this but it's one of those films where I’m struggling to pick it apart. Let’s try and highlight some of it. Agathe Rousselle definitely holds the attention as the messed-up and desperate Alexia accompanied by Vincent Lindon as the fire chief who she finds herself sheltering with. There were some moments of bleak humour that did get a laugh out of me and there are some oddly touching moments to the realtionship between these two broken individuals. I think that the main issue for me that I had with the film was that I just didn't understand Alexia as a character and was at a loss as to what motivated her to do what she did at various points in the film other than the fact that she is murderous and, frequently, pretty stupid. It was also hard to suspend disbelief around the disguise she subjected herself to; given that this is a film that features some pretty out there fantasy-based sequences, it feels almost silly to say this but it did have an impact on the film for me (and I guess if I was focusing on this minor aspect, I wasn’t caught up enough in what was happening to see past that).

The Verdict:- I think what I can say about this is that it's not a film that I connected to or enjoyed. It just wasn’t one that worked for me, sadly.

No Q&A at this screening.

Monday 18 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #11 - The French Dispatch

Time for one of the most hotly anticipated films of the festival*.

The French Dispatch
Dir. Wes Anderson / Dur. 102 mins
Strand:- Gala Presentation

In A Nutshell:- An obituary, a travel guide and three stories highlight the work of the magazine The French Dispatch on the occasion of its final issue.

The Good:- The good news is that Wes Anderson is still firing on all cylinders here in what is probably his most overtly comedic film. The episodic structure and recreation of a magazine format on screen is perfectly suited to Anderson’s style; arguably he’s been making borderline episodic films for years anyway. The cast are uniformly good, with old hands and newcomers alike slotting superbly into the Anderson style. Of the three stories presented, the one depicting Benicio Del Toro’s tortured artist prisoner is probably the best but that’s no slight on the other tales. Particular shout out to Jeffrey Wright for looking like he’s been appearing in Wes Anderson films for years, so effortlessly does he fit into the Anderson style. Anderson’s practical use of moving sets as well a selection of lovely moments where the camera across actors and physical props used to create the illusion of a freeze frame are beautiful uses of the screen.

The Bad:- If I have a minor criticism (and it is minor), it’s that the animated sequence, while funny, didn't quite work for me in terms of the style of animation. I get the necessity of that scene (from a budget point of view) but the animation just doesn’t feel quite good enough for the task. Also, if you’re not a fan of Anderson’s work, I suspect that this is unlikely to win you over (fortunately for me, I am a fan).

The Verdict:- A truly joyous romp and up there with The Grand Budapest Hotel as one of Anderson’s best. Go and watch this one.

Screening Notes:- No Q&A as such as it’s a gala presentation but we did get an introduction and a music video from Jarvis Cocker whose music can be heard as the pop star Tip-Top in the middle section of the film. There was a video introduction from Wes Anderson who is currently in Madrid filming his next film, Asteroid City, so couldn’t be there in person. The highlight though was brief appearance from the editor of The French Dispatch, Bill Murray, who came out for a few minutes and was as charming and funny as you would hope Bill Murray to be (he’s already finished his filming for Asteroid City).

*It’s worth noting that I didn't book a ticket for the new Edgar Wright film Last Night In Soho at the festival as I’m seeing it later in the month at the BFI with him doing  full Q&A.

Sunday 17 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #9 - The Worst Person In The World & #10 Queen Of Glory

Oops, I inadvertently didn't post one yesterday so let’s double up today.

The Worst Person In The World
Dir. Joachim Trier / Dur. 127 mins
Strand:- Love

In A Nutshell:- A look at the life of Julie, a restless and indecisive medical student-cum-photographer-cum-writer…

The Good:- It’s a fun and lively film, with great performances from the three lead characters. The structure laid out at the start of a prologue, twelve chapters and an epilogue works nicely to give you a sense of how far the journey is. There’s a nice realism to the scenes where they interact with friends and family which is balanced out by a couple of scenes of high fantasy, most notably a frozen time sequence and a magic mushrooms trip. It’s very funny in places but also manages to bring in some moments of genuine emotion without feeling sentimental. It’s a testament to the writer and director that, in different hands, this has all the capability of sliding at times into slightly cliched romcom territory but they manage to deftly avoid that, largely by managing to put in some very and occasionally inappropriate moments (I doubt many other Hollywood romcoms would have a scene where two characters, trying their best not to cheat on their partners, would watch each other going for a piss. Of the main actors, it’s Renate Reinsve that anchors the film and deservedly won at Cannes for her role in this film.

The Bad:- There’s a voiceover technique which is used quite effectively throughout much of the film but seems to oddly disappear by the end. Also, the “frozen time” sequence was enjoyable enough but felt a little out of place with the rest of the film.

The Verdict:-
Funny and genuinely touching in equal measures while avoiding the pitfalls of a standard romantic comedy, this is one to watch.

No Q&A for this screening.

Queen Of Glory
Dir. Nana Mensah / Dur. 78 mins
Strand:- Laugh

In A Nutshell:-
Ghanaian-American Sarah’s life is thrown upside-down when she inherits a Christian bookshop after the death of her mother

The Good:- It’s a confident debut and does a good job of highlighting the pull that first generation immigrants feel between the country they’ve grown up in and the culture that their parents came from. Mensah plays the lead role herself and is a compelling lead. There are some nice moments of comedy as well as an emotional payoff to the journey that the character of Sarah goes on. 

The Bad:- Overall, it feels a little by-the-numbers; there’s no real surprise in how it all ultimately unfolds.

The Verdict:- An enjoyable comedy but with not enough truly funny moments to make it really memorable.

Q&A Notes:- The film was largely funded via Kickstarter; Nana Mensah never initially intended to play the lead role as well as writing and directing but that was the financial reality of the project. Due to the low budget nature of the film, a large number of friends and family of the cast and crew also appear in it (the next door neighbour’s daughter and mother are played by her real life daughter and mother). Mensha’s family genuinely do own a Christian bookshop which was used for the filming - filming had to take place there on Sundays as this was the day the store was closed due to them all being at church!

Friday 15 October 2021

London Film Festival (LFF) 2021 #8 - Cannon Arm And The Arcade Quest

The end of day three and one of the few documentaries that I’m seeing this year (in contrast to last year which was pretty documentary heavy, largely due to pandemic-based reasons). If you’ve seen King Of Kong then you can consider this a companion piece of sorts (with some crossover…) Cannon Arm And The Arcade Quest Dir. Mads Hedegaard / Dur. 90 mins Strand:- Love In A Nutshell:- Danish arcade legend Kym Cannon Arm sets out to beat his own personal best of playing arcade game Gyruss for 49 hours straight on a single coin. His aim this time is to top 100 hours… The Good:- It’s fitting that this one sits in the “Love” strand of the festival as it’s a joyous celebration of friendship and camaraderie within a section of society that is often pushed to the fringes. The near silent Kym and his group of arcade-playing, poetry-spouting, Bach-analysing friends are there to support and cheer each other on through thick and thin. While it covers similar ground and feels thematically slightly similar to the documentary King Of Kong (in that both films chart an arcade obsessive’s quest to beat a record), there’s no Billy Mitchell-style villain of this piece; the game itself being the obstacle to be overcome.* The film also does a good job of successfully winding up the tension for Kym’s record attempt, managing to make footage of a man standing at an arcade machine for hours on end somehow epic. The Bad:- There’s a running theme about particles, quantum theory and the universe as a whole which is maybe laid on a bit thick for my tastes but it’s a minor personal quibble in an otherwise enjoyable film. The Verdict:- It’s a film that has a lot of love for its unconventional subjects and is all the better for it. One of those lovely hidden delights that the film festival is all about - it’s always a joy to find a film that you can’t wait to recommend to other people and look forward to being able to watch again. A highlight of the festival for me. Q&A Notes:- The director’s original plan was for the film to be more cinema verite but that changed when it became apparent that Kym rarely spoke, not exactly making for fascinating viewing on its own. Once he discovered the supporting group of friends though, the film came together. This is the director’s first feature length film after making predominantly short films. He has tried Gyruss but wasn’t very good at it; he prefers other games such as Galaga. * Mitchell does make a brief cameo appearance on the phone and his fate in the King Of Kong is also mentioned.