Wednesday, 3 November 2010

London Film Festival 2010 Review

Belated, I know, but here's my review of the London Film Festival 2010. As much as I love Leeds, this was by far the best festival I've ever been to, just in terms of scale. It's nice to go to lots of different, new cinemas for a change and also know you're seeing some of the most highly anticipated films of the next few months before anyone else. The programme was huuuuuge to what I'm compared to, and the fact I only had two days there was unbelievably frustrating (especially as I gambled on missing a few as they would come to Leeds a few weeks later, and they bloody didn't! No Happy Few or Plans For Tomorrow for me this year - if ever). But, I did as much as humanly possible and even though we didn't get tickets for the UK premiere of Black Swan (sob, sob) I did get to see some films I've been previewing on these pages in the last 10 months and also a couple of others that caught my eye. And overall in terms of enjoyment, it was a pretty good show! Which made me not want to leave and watch MORE films! Grrr.

Here's how it went down.

The Magic Tree
Saturday, the BFI
The perfect kid's film! So being myself, I was having a whale of a time. An enchanted tree is chopped down and made into all kinds of furniture, which in turn take on magical properties. One such piece, a red chair (who is leading my favourite character in a film this year race) escapes a removal van to make friends with three children, who mistakenly wish for their parents to go away leaving them with their horrible aunt. Discovering the chair grants their every wish, they set off in search of their parents and hilarious kiddy fun ensues. It struck me as a cross between Enid Blyton's The Wishing Chair (which made me wonder, WHY has nobody made that into a film, ditto The Faraway Tree?) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks - magic and fantasy tinkering with reality and normal children, who were great in this and looked like they had an absolute ball making it. There's the quintessential bald, greedy, untrustworthy baddie as well who was akin to a Wheeler in his stooping stilts! I guess the only down side is watching it as an adult you notice the rudimentary design flaws and plot holes that gleeful immersed children would miss (how could they shoot UP the water slide? How?! And what was the point of it anyway when they could have flown over the sea?! bah!). But, suspend your disbelief at least for 83 minutes: this is pure joy, and that chair was so God damn adorable when it rattled the pans outside the tent to let the children know the baddie was approaching, I just wanted to clap like a monkey. Here's the trailer as a treat, just because it has a) the chair flipping down a hill and b) it smashing through a window James Bond stylee!

AWESOME. Such a shame no-one's going to see this!

Little White Lies
Saturday, Curzon Mayfair
My favourite film of the festival. It was always going to be - the premise is about as close to culturemouse heaven as you can get: childhood friends reunite years later to go on holiday together and all the bottled up angst, emotion and lies overspill into one another's lives. I've written pages of this stuff! And even better because it's French, and French Cinema is one of my most favourite things to indulge in. All that being said, I am a little tired of following characters as they travel mundanely along and then WHAM! a car smashes into them (slight spoiler of two minutes in) - I'm just waiting for it now rather than being propelled into utter shock. But at least it's used in the beginning here, and not to end the film with a bang, and the repercussions - if slightly predictable - do impinge upon the whole film making it extraordinarily emotional and distressing, so if you get to see this in the next few months for pete's sake take some tissues. This is a very different offering from director Guillaume Canet whose last film was the belting thriller Tell No One, and leading star François Cluzet also crops up here (looking distractedly like Dustin Hoffman) as the owner of the complex where the friends stay. I loved the natural, authentic pace at which we were introduced to the characters - it meant that you could really warm to them and care for them deeply later on when their various turmoils boil to the surface. Marion Cotillard was wonderful and hypnotic to watch, and there were also great performances from Benoît Magimel and Joel Dupuch, but each of the characters had an interesting arc/storyline to watch. The tone and mood of the film was also smartly cast like a yo-yo, going from hilarious to devastating, philosophical to sudden jaw-dropping (there's a fun relaxed moment that is abruptly stunned into silence by a comment from one of the friends - you could feel the horror in the cinema!). It was just so easy to spend time with them, and the hours just flew by. A wonderful film - spoilt only by the stabbing of a lobster halfway through. Why, Mr Pinchy eaters, why?! The trailer's in French and completely baffling to newbies, but...

... BAND OF HORSES IS IN IT! MY FAVOURITE SONG! So I'm posting it anyway.

Leap Year
Saturday, Vue West End
I don't really feel anything about this film, which is odd because it's provoked such an extreme reaction from its violent, masochistic themes of stark isolation and loneliness. Laura, a work from home journalist, lives by herself in Mexico City - a painfully lonely existence inside four walls only broken by an occasional visit to the supermarket and nights out in clubs to bring men back for empty sex. Then she brings home a man who does seem interested in her and returning to see her, but he is sadistic, cruel and possessive - yet this seems to be what Laura has been craving all along. It is uncomfortable to watch at times, but I just didn't feel anything for the main character. She's too much of a shell to truly care about, or is that just me being a callous bitch? I felt like I should be sympathising with her, but she wallowed too much in her own misery and it was off-putting. She didn't seem tragic enough - there, I said it! But the film was far from boring - it kept me rapt throughout, and I liked that it was told from the POV of the apartment (perhaps another reason I felt emotionally detached from Laura). I also liked how the mystery of the blocked red square on her calendar signalling February 29th played out - initially you think it's like a big full stop, the end to another dismal month she crosses off days for anyway; then you are told it's the anniversary of her father's death which means a great deal to her, but then it becomes something much more ominous. Absolutely stunningly brave performance from Monica del Carmen (and you can see it at the Leeds Film Festival this month).

Never Let Me Go 
Sunday Gala showing, Vue West End
We didn't manage to get tickets for Black Swan, but this was the one big gala screening we did manage to bag. I can't remember if I spoke about Never Let Me Go after finishing the book a few months back in preparation for the film - well I didn't like it, but I hated Alex Garland's screenplay of this. The book is, like it seems all Kazuo Ishiguro's books are, about repression, British pride and not allowing yourself to be open and true with the person you love. Alex Garland spent more time on the 'sci fi' element of the story, which isn't what captivates you at all. What captivates you is the relationship between the three main characters, and it played second fiddle here to clones, sickness and operating tables. Huge chunks of the book were missed out (Ruth stealing the tape and Kathy and Tommy going hunting for it in secondhand shops, Ruth telling Tommy that Kathy hates his drawings and laughs at him behind his back, Ruth just being generally more of a bitch) which meant the important plot points felt watered down. I felt they could have been developed a lot further to make things clearer and more powerful for an ignorant audience - the material was there so why overlook it? The other main flaw was the acting calibre of Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. Being top billing the film had to race through the boarding school/childhood bits to hurry up and get to the faces people had bought tickets for. And that was a real shame because Hailsham is such an integral part of the story, and shows the burgeoning love between Kathy and Tommy and here it's hopped, skipped and jumped over by the screenplay. Also a shame as the kids were really good - lil Kathy was the spitting image of a baby Carey Mulligan - I felt like it was her, just filmed about 15 years ago! The teachers were undeveloped, too. Of the cast elite, I thought Andrew Garfield was brilliant as Tommy, thoroughly believable even just in walking. Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley also solid, although this doesn't have the weight of Oscar success about it anymore - it's just not satisfying and powerful enough. The Baftas will love it, though. As one better and more prominent critic put it "it's too contrived to be tragic" and that is 100% spot on.  Buuut, it was very emotional and made me cry a lot, particularly when Tommy screams out his frustration on the road. It gets an extra slice of cheese for that.

Pretty Girls Make Graves (11 short films)
Sunday, the BFI
A very up and down mix of short films from all over the world focusing on adolescent young girls (I made notes between each one coz I'm sneaky). I'm afraid a lot of them were above and beyond me in their arty pretentiousness, which is often the problem I have with short form of anything. With Venus vs Me, Sister, Fur and Bit you can just take my hand and whoosh it over the top of my head. I didn't get it. But thankfully, there were some I did. I loved the utter sweetness of That Thing You Drew where an art fascinated deaf girl is inspired by a graffiti-ed penis on a wall and starts unknowingly copying into all of her school books, much to her teacher's concern. A more knowledgeable boy saves the day, and they have a good giggle about it over an anatomy book later. It's just lovely! Release the Flying Monkeys was also awesome for the fact they create an angry heavy metal fan out of a tortoise who is 'hanging about with other female tortoises to make his ex-girlfriend tortoise jealous'. Hee! Vlog was really interesting as it flips on you halfway through: you think you are watching a girl videotaping her escape from her abusive father, but really it's all a show for her fake emo blog (weirdo). But it was a delight when Julian Barrett's name came up in the opening credits to the short film The Savage Canvas. I just knew it would be amazing from the off, and it was! The best and most enjoyable short of the two hours. Here's a teaser:

Hopefully once it's done the rounds the full thing will be available to watch online - it's just genius when he starts shouting at the little madam like he's a child himself! It was worth it just to see that.

Love Like Poison
Sunday, Curzon Mayfair
It's a bit sad when your favourite thing coming out of a film is the song used on the closing credits, isn't it? This was a very odd film - it was watchable and definitely intriguing as to where it was heading (although it did seem to end very suddenly!) but I couldn't make up my mind at the end how I felt about it, and I still can't reviewing it now. I liked the film's honesty, and exposing the realities of adolescence (the awkward kissing scenes, etc) and the suggestive plots, but at times it felt swamped in melodrama - too much fainting for my liking! The religious onus was very heavy handed, a little scary at times, and having been raised Catholic myself I found it hard to fathom. But France is more devout than England, so maybe the pressure is more overwhelming there. The title is clever - God's love is like a poison because it can screw you up? It made me not want to bring up my children Catholic, that's for damn sure. But adored the choral cover of Radiohead's 'Creep' at the very end - it seemed very fitting with the girl's state of mind, and it was a nice musical flashback too. Listen:


Beautiful. Slightly spoilt by the fact that it's all over The Social Network trailer which I didn't realise until searching for the song when I got back from London, but at least I know this is where I discovered it first.

So no special Five Cheeses film to bring back to the blog, but I still got to see some fantastic films. Here's to next year when perhaps I'll get to go for longer than just a glimpse.

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