end-of-watch-poster

FESTIVE BEHAVIOUR 2012 PART THREE
The last film I saw at this year’s London Film Festival was End of Watch, which is a gritty police drama set in South Central Los Angeles starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. Directed by David Ayer, Gyllenhaal and Pena make a very decent team and the hand-held feel, which lasts for most of the film, is well-handled. Ayer wrote Training Day, so he definitely has the right pedigree for this. Alright it’s not that different to what you’ve seen before but it is well-made. What makes LFF an interesting festival is its diverse raft of films and End of Watch doesn’t feel out of place here. I am glad I saw it as Gyllenhaal is always watchable and in fact, he is turning into a very decent character actor. Recommended…

robot-and-frank-poster

FESTIVE BEHAVIOUR 2012 PART ONE
It’s that time of year again when London Film Festival hits town. The amount of films I see each year depends on what else I am doing at the time and this year, fortunately or unfortunately, I have had a week without freelance subbing, so I could catch a few of the films on offer.
The first thing I saw was Robot & Frank, a science fiction movie set in the near future starring Frank Langella as Frank, an elderly former cat burglar who has an estranged son Hunter (James Marsden) and a flaky daughter Madison (Liv Tyler). Frank’s son is worried about his well-being and so he gets him a robot companion to assist him (the voice of Peter Sarsgaard), something the old man initially resents. But of course, before too long, Frank gets attached to the robot and begins to see him as his only friend. Langella is excellent as is Susan Sarandon as librarian Jennifer. Sarsgaard also displays vocal dexterity as the voice of the robot and considering that this is director Jake Schreier’s feature debut, it’s a pretty assured work. Robot & Frank is a film that makes you think, that stays with you after you leave and is exactly the sort of film that the London Film Festival should be showcasing…
Beware of Mr Baker is a documentary about former Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Made by Rolling Stone journalist Jay Bulger, which shows just what a headcase Baker is. The musician was interviewed down in South Africa by Bulger, who gives us a chronological chart of the subject’s life, from his teen years obsessed with jazz to meeting Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce in the Sixties. He is definitely a larger-than-life character and this helps to make Beware of Mr Baker an entertaining watch. Rock stars should be scary mavericks and Ginger Baker certainly falls into this category. Bulger has assembled an interesting biographical documentary although sometimes the use of animation to illustrate points in Baker’s life can be a little grating at times and you aren’t sure how much of the doc is staged…
Grassroots is an American indie film directed by American TV staple Stephen Gyllenhaal and starring Jason Biggs and Joel David Moore about a local council election in Seattle. Biggs is journalist Phil Campbell, who gets sacked from his job on the Seattle Stranger, and so decides to help his friend, Grant Cogswell, (Moore), run for office. You get to see the usual political cliches here (sleeping with political allies, betraying your girlfriend, doing unethical things to get noticed) but it’s pleasant enough, if extremely lightweight. Biggs works well on screen and Moore stays just the right side of annoying. Support from Lauren Ambrose as Campbell’s put-upon girlfriend Emily Bowen is likeable enough. Grassroots tries to make some serious socio-political points but Gyllenhaal doesn’t have the weight and gravitas as a writer/director to pull it off…

the-descendants-poster








LONDON CALLING PART TWO

As promised, here’s reviews of the two other films I caught at press screenings at this year’s London Film Festival.
First is The Descendants, directed by Alexander (Election, Sideways) Payne and starring George Clooney, Matthew Lillard and Beau Bridges. Clooney plays lawyer Matt King in Hawaii and the film opens to reveal the fact that Matt’s wife Elizabeth has just had a terrible boating accident and she is in a coma in a hospital. As well as dealing with her wife’s predicament, King is also the head of the family trustees and the entire family has to vote what to do with a large unspoilt piece of land in Hawaii, whether to sell it to developers or leave it unspoilt. It turns out that King and his relatives come from a family whose wealth can be traced back to the fact that their ancestor married a Hawaiian princess in the 19th century. Unfortunately, as King battles with what his and his family’s future holds, certain things come out about his wife, causing him to rethink his life with his two daughters. The Descendants shows the same sharp and keen eye for dialogue and getting the best out of actors that Payne displayed with Election and Sideways. Clooney, a little inconsistent in his film choices, made a smart move here as he is very sympathetic and very human as the father and husband whose world has suddenly changed in an instant. The rest of the cast are also very good including a particularly degraded looking Beau Bridges as King’s cousin, Shailene Woodley as King’s difficult teenage daughter Alexandra and Payne uses the idea of Americans with a foothold into Hawaii very effectively. We see Hawaii as a place with the same problems as the US mainland. Bittersweet and funny at the same time, The Descendants is a well-made and accomplished drama with a very likeable cast and a strong script…
A Dangerous Method is the latest effort from David Cronenberg and looks at the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and how modern psychoanalysis was created. This is the third collaboration between Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen, who plays Freud. The ubiquitous Michael Fassbender (X-Men First Class, Shame) is Jung while Keira Knightley plays Sabina Spielrein, a troubled Jewish Russian girl who comes to Jung for treatment. There are a number of flaws in A Dangerous Method: it feels too much like a play rather than a film with its theatrical setpieces and Knightley just doesn’t convince here, pushing her chin out to show the audience that she’s not all the ticket. The tone is rather arch, cold and self-important too which is a shame because the story of Jung’s friendship with Freud is one that should be intriguing and engaging. Mortensen and Fassbender do have some chemistry as the doomed friends but none of it really gels. Cronenberg is a strange director and while he should be applauded for trying to move outside of his comfort zone, A Dangerous Method really doesn’t work although it does look stunning…
Here’s a few pics from the press conferences for both film with Cronenberg, Payne and others…

Black-Swan-Poster1-550x814










FESTIVAL IN THE BIG SMOKE
The last month has been crazy so this is the first chance I’ve had to put a post up about the London Film Festival, which ended at the end of October. Because I was freelancing and then away, I didn’t go to many films this year. The LFF, unlike Cannes and Toronto, is not a film market and one of its main purposes is to showcase film for the cinemagoing public. It has also created buzz for a number of significant British films the last few years: Slumdog Millionaire and An Education were helped by their showings at the LFF. It is a fantastic festival and I look forward to attending it each year.
The first film I caught was The King’s Speech, a drama starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter and directed by Tom Hooper. Now Firth, while a likeable actor, usually just bumbles through his roles but here as the future King George VI, afflicted with a terrible stammer, he is playing against type. Geoffrey Rush plays antipodean exile Lionel Logue, who is brought in by George’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, to try to help him overcome this problem. Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth is actually quite good, acting as a decent foil for Firth. TV veteran director Hooper (Cold Feet, Elizabeth I) brings an assured touch here, humanising the Royals and with a perfect eye for period detail, thanks to Eve Stewart’s sumptuous production design, lifts The King’s Speech above more than just the usual Royal-focused film with an eye to attracting American audiences. Rush is superb as the man who becomes George’s friend, determined to help him out despite the protestations of the Archbishop of Canterbury and King George himself. Guy Pearce, who plays Edward VIII, the monarch who resigned and went to live with Mrs Wallis Simpson, makes his role go a decent way and his arrogance is a nice counterpoint to George’s warmth. There is talk of Oscar nods for The King’s Speech and it would certainly be warranted…
Next up is Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder. This is a film that has attracted much speculation and divided audiences who have seen it. Portman plays Nina, a classical dancer who is offered the role of the prima ballerina in a new production of Swan Lake after their principal dancer Beth Macintyre (Ryder) leaves. Vincent Cassel is svengali Thomas Leroy, the head of the ballet company, who isn’t convinced that Nina is capable of playing both the White Swan and the more evil counterpart, the Black Swan, in Swan Lake. So Nina becomes obsessed with trying to pin down the other role, with her life seemingly falling to pieces around her. Black Swan looks incredible, dark and menacing, but the problem here is that Portman’s Nina is an obnoxious, narcissistic and unsympathetic character, so when the film ends on a low note, because the audience can’t empathise with her, it leaves you feeling quite cold. None of the other characters are particularly likeable either with Cassel a bit of a shit who had a fling with Beth before the company got rid of her and only Lilly (Kunis), who befriends Nina, comes across as remotely human. So Black Swan works as a technical exercise and there’s no denying Aronofsky’s prowess as a director but it’s clinical and rather portentous in places with a protagonist that you never really get to care about.…
Finally there’s 127 Hours, directed by Danny Boyle with James Franco, Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn. Boyle is an incredible director, able to turn his hand to everything from hedonistic drama (Trainspotting) to post-apocalyptic zombie horror (28 Days Later). He is a very stylish director who knows how to entertain his audience. 127 Hours recounts the true-life story of Aron Ralston (James Franco) an American adrenalin junkie who decides one weekend to take a biking, hiking and climbing trip out to the middle of nowhere in Utah but comes unstuck when he gets trapped in a canyon when a rock falls and pins his arm. It’s interesting that 2010 has seen the release of this as well as Buried but the two films are approached in a very different way. Only Danny Boyle could make a film about a man trapped in a canyon for several days and still make it entertaining. 127 Hours looks fantastic with the Utah scenery captured incredibly on camera, thanks to the cinematography of Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle (the latter he worked with on Slumdog Millionaire). James Franco, on who this film stands or falls, is also pretty convincing as he transforms from a man only interested in making himself happy to someone a little more aware of his friends and family. Boyle could have made a crowdpleasing followup to Slumdog after the worldwide success of that film but it is to his eternal credit that he picked what comes across as a very personal project. The world of modern cinema would be a poorer place with Boyle making films in it and 127 Hours is an engaging, tense and ultimately uplifting movie…
I was lucky enough to go to the press conference for 127 Hours so here’s a few shots from that…

clooney-press-conf-pic-233









FESTIVAL BEHAVIOUR

It’s October and that means that it’s been the London Film Festival. I’ve been going to the LFF for a number of years and I have gotten to see some fairly impressive films (and some that have been eminently forgettable). In 2009 I have been a little more selective than in past years but here are my capsule reviews for the films I’ve seen in the last three weeks:
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a ‘reimagining’ of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant that starred Harvey Keitel as the drug snorting, nun raping cop. This time around it’s Nicolas Cage and it’s directed by Werner Herzog. If you were hoping that Cage might break his Eddie Murphy-like run of atrocious films, then I’m afraid you’ll be rather disappointed. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans plays like a bad pastiche of a terrible Eighties movie with a particularly poor script, a strange and incompetent turn from Cage (whose strange wig continues to sit on his head like a dark brown omelette) and a film that doesn’t really amount to anything at all…
Fantastic Mr Fox, adapted from the Roald Dahl childrens book, directed by Wes Anderson, is a stop motion animation film with the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzman. Normally I find Anderson’s films twee, annoying and deliberately arch but his style suits Fantastic Mr Fox with its jerky style of animation refreshing after a diet of bland CGI. Clooney and Streep are good value and the story of Mr Fox, a reformed chicken house thief, who falls foul (if you’ll pardon the pun) of three evil farmers, is told likeably and in a visually engaging way. Anderson moved the action from England to a fictionalised US but it does work. My only criticism is that Fantastic Mr Fox may be too surreal and unsettling for children. But it uses the director’s quirks to unusual and memorable effect…
The Men Who Stare At Goats is yet another George Clooney film, but this time it’s a comedy loosely based on Jon Ronson’s book about a bizarre US army unit who believed they had special powers. Directed by Clooney’s friend Grant Heslov, The Men Who Stare at Goats also stars Ewan MacGregor as journalist Bob Wilton, Jeff Bridges in wonderful form as Bill Djanjo, the insane head of the US Army’s First Earth Battalion and Kevin Spacey, who plays Larry Hooper, the psychotic failed science fiction writer. Clooney is Lyn Cassady, the member of the battalion who draws Wilton into the web of strangeness, taking the journalist on a quest that doesn’t really have a point. Bridges is hysterical as the naive hippy head of the battalion who falls from grace and disappears for years. MacGregor as the straight man holds it all together on screen while Clooney displays his continuing adeptness for comedy. The Men Who Stare at Goats is a film that deserves to be seen and contains a number of laugh-out-loud moments including the scene where Cassaday and Wilton drive over a landmine, stranding themselves in the middle of the Iraqi desert. A rare treat…
The Informant!,
about corporate whistleblower and starring Matt Damon, is Steven Soderbergh trying to make a Coen Brothers film. The problem is that the execution isn’t very funny and there really is nothing here. Damon is horribly miscast, his character is a bumbling sociopath and the supporting cast like Scott Bakula couldn’t be more wooden if they tried. Add the annoying Marvin Hamlisch score to the mix and you have a comedy that just doesn’t work on any level with nothing to recommend it…
The Road, adapted from Cormac MacCarthy’s enervating novel about a world after a terrible disaster and the father and son who try to survive, is very well-made but staggeringly depressing. Director John Hillcoat, who helmed the brilliant western The Proposition, has created a world literally without colour: everything on screen is grey. Viggo Mortensen as the father of the boy does acquit himself well on screen but, apart from the very end, this is a place without any hope. There are some genuinely disturbing moments but you leave the cinema totally drained. Unlike something like Children of Men, where the viewer does get the odd break from the futility of it all, The Road is pure, undistilled misery…
Up In The Air, the third film with George Clooney here, is a light and fluffy comedy about Ryan Bingham (Clooney), a man who works for a company whose job it is to fly around the US and fire employees from other companies. But everything changes when Natalie (Anna Kendrick) is hired and the place he works for chooses to ground Bingham and force him to reassess his life and career. Clooney is enjoyable to watch on screen and his casual girlfriend Alex, played by Vera Farmiga, is gorgeous but there really isn’t a lot here. I will say that Up In The Air doesn’t have a pat happy ending…
I did go to the press conference for The Men Who Stare At Goats, where I got to see Clooney, Spacey, Ronson and director Heslov…



PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS
W. from Oliver Stone was the most recent film I caught at the London Film Festival. A biopic of President George W Bush played mostly for laughs, showcasing some of his early life juxtaposed with recent events, Josh Brolin (from The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men) is the eponymous W while Elizabeth Banks, a US TV staple actress, is his long-suffering wife Laura. It’s a bit of a redundant film: Brolin tackles Bush’s naivety and ignorance smartly but the film does come across as one of those TV movie biopics with a little more money thrown at it. The supporting cast (Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Thandie Newton as Condi Rice) are adequate but they become nothing more than reductive caricature. It’s a strange choice of topic and while the broad comedy makes it accessible to the general moviegoing public, it removes its satirical teeth. Stone is a director who hasn’t made anything of note in over two decades now and W. will do nothing to change this. A curio of a movie but not one that will be remembered by posterity…



A FEW MORE FILMS…
Synedoche, New York is Charlie Kaufman’s latest film and this time he’s directed it himself. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a struggling playwright in the small town of the title whose wife Adele Lack played by Kaufman regular Catherine Keener paints miniature portraits. When his wife disappears to Berlin with their daughter and never comes back, this forces Cotard to reexamine his life and he decides to put on a play of his life. But since this is Charlie Kaufman, it’s nowhere near as linear or as traditional as it sounds. Synedoche, New York is a truly bizarre film that tries to reflect the absurdity of celebrity (Cotard’s wife becomes an art celebrity in Germany while his daughter effects a ridiculous German accent as does his wife’s friend Maria, portrayed amusingly by Jennifer Jason Leigh and the playwright develops a strange and unexplained illness). The film did make me laugh a few times but I also felt that perhaps it was just to bizarre to elicit anything other than bemusement in the cinemagoer. It makes Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich look like Tony Scott films by comparison. But it is worth watching if you have a couple of hours to kill and don’t mind seeing something that is obtuse and ultimately a little unsatisfying…
Adoration is the latest film by Canadian director Atom Egoyan and the problem with it is that while it’s well-acted and well-directed, it leaves the audience totally cold. After losing his parents in uncertain circumstances, Simon (Devon Bostick) is reluctantly being raised by his Uncle Tom (Scott Speedman). Simon’s memories of his mother Rachel (Rachel Blanchard), an accomplished violinist, and father Sami (Noam Jenkins) are shrouded in mystery. Sabine, played by Arsinée Khanjian, is Simon’s teacher and she attempts to unravel the secrets of the boy’s life. It turns out that all of these characters are linked by something that’s occurred in their collective pasts. But you can’t sympathise with any of the characters and it all warrants a big shrug at the end. Go and see it if you like slightly arch, worthy Canadian films…



CINEMATIC BEHAVIOUR
The last couple of weeks, since I’ve had no subbing work, and I’m accredited for the London Film Festival, I decided to go to as many films that caught my interest showing there. I’ve started doing reviews of political films for a magazine I’ve done a little bit of subbing for, Total Politics, but I’ve tried to cast my net a little wider. Having said that, the first film I caught at the LFF press screenings the Friday before last was The Baader Meinhof Complex, an intelligent German film that attempts to get inside the heads of that infamous 1970s terrorist organization. Andreas Baader (played convincingly by Moritz Bleibtreu), Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) are the three heads of this group, which starts life as a misguided attempt to check what they see as rampant American imperialism. The real problem here is that Baader Meinhof was a brutal and murderous group who were a bunch of naive German liberals who convinced themselves that what they were fighting for was justified. Having said that, the cast is excellent and director Uli Edel with writer/ producer Bernd Eichinger create a compelling snapshot of 1960s and 1970s Germany and the cast are superb…
Then last Wednesday I went to see Frost/ Nixon, Ron Howard’s latest film based on the phenomenally successful stage play that looks at chat show host David Frost’s attempts to interview disgraced US president Richard Nixon to push him to some kind of admission on air. The two leads are played by the same actors as on stage: Michael Sheen takes on David Frost while Frank Langella is Richard Nixon. Although visually neither actor resembles the men they portray, they both have distilled enough of their mannerisms and their characteristics to convince the audience. In fact, Frost/ Nixon is quite a heavyweight film considering that Howard’s last film was The Da Vinci Code and he manages to make his case with style and pizazz. Sheen, who has also played Tony Blair in The Queen a couple of years ago, gives us a Frost who is nearly all surface and no substance, a playboy who picks up gorgeous women on airplanes and who is so keen to break America that he is prepared to bankroll the Nixon interview out of his own pockets. Langella has a melancholy that serves to humanize Nixon while still maintaining some of the menace of the former president. It is uncertain how much of this has been mythologized and altered for fictional purposes but it is an effective and thought-provoking film that looks at the fall from grace of one of America’s most controversial political figures ever and shows the influence that Frost used to command, an influence and celebrity thanks to the Frost/ Nixon interviews. I admit that I never saw the play but the film doesn’t suffer from seeming overly theatrical and that is testament to Howard and an excellent supporting cast that includes Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt as Frost’s long-suffering researchers on the project and Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s former chief of security. I would recommend Frost/ Nixon to people who love All The President’s Men or Three Days of The Condor and is a worthy addition to the canon…