Thursday, 23 October 2008

LFF8: Homegrown talent

Paul Bettany turned up at the London Film Festival last night, laughing about the bald head he's sporting as part of the now-filming Darwin drama Creation. He was supporting a small British film he's in, Broken Lines, accompanied by his costar (and the film's cowriter) Doraly Rosa and director Salli Aprahamian. Their post-film Q&A (picture snapped with my phone) was lively and entertaining. As we left the cinema, the red carpet was in full swing for Michael Winterbottom's new film Genova, starring Colin Firth (pictured with Winterbottom), who was accompanied by his costars Willa Holland and Perla Haney-Jardine. Their film was introduced by London Mayor Boris Johnson. They had a big party last night, but as usual, mere journalists weren't in on the festivities.

The big gala tonight is the British premiere of Oliver Stone's W, which I'm seeing this morning. And here are some film highlights from yesterday and today...

Achilles and the Tortoise ***
Takeshi Kitano's latest look at art and commerce is another offbeat bit of nuttiness about the life of a painter who can never quite achieve fame, despite a prolific output. The title refers to an ancient story about how, in a footrace, the lightning fast Achilles can theoretically never catch up with a tortoise, and Kitano is clearly riffing on the elusiveness of fame and fortune. The film is thoroughly enjoyable, but never quite comes together

Broken Lines ***
This low-budget British drama examines one of the festival's recurring themes: how grief can create big changes in our lives. It's the story of two couples (cowriter Doraly Rosa and Paul Bettany, and cowriter Dan Fredenburgh and Olivia Williams) who are in the middle of crises that stir both journeys of self-discovery and relationship re-evaluation. It's a dark, moody, beautifully shot film with some very strong acting, but it's also a bit overlong and indulgent.

Sugar *****
Instead of using their first hit Half Nelson as a springboard into mainstream Hollywood, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck go somewhere far more interesting, following a baseball player (Algenis Perez) from the Dominican Republic on his quest for fame and fortune in America. The film is lushly shot, but assembled like a documentary, which gives the filmmakers the flexibility to be truthful rather than formulaic. Audiences may want to standard plotline, but this is far more interesting. And a seriously lovely film.

The Secret Life of Bees ***
Speaking of warm and fuzzy, this honey-glowed drama from the American South stars Dakota Fanning as a teen who flees her indifferent father (Bettany again) and moves in with a houseful of wise women led by Queen Latifah. The strong cast features Jenifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys, and while the film is over-designed and far too sweet, it also has a nicely raw underdurrent of painful emotion to keep us interested.

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