Wednesday, 19 October 2011

LFF Day 8: Dear John

Along with We Need to Talk About Kevin, John C Reilly has two more films in this year's London Film Festival - and they come from three very different genres. Several actors pop up more than once in this year's line-up, including George Clooney, Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon and Michael Fassbender. But Reilly wins the prize for the most varied roles. Here are notes on his two other films, plus one more...

dir Roman Polanski; with Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster 11/Fr ****
Based on Yasmina Reza's play God of Carnage, this claustrophobic film takes place almost entirely between four characters in a single New York apartment. But it's absolutely riveting, because of the filmmaking and directing as well as the bracingly smart script. It also helps to have Winslet, Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C Reilly playing two couples who come together after their 11-year-old sons are involved in a playground fight. Yes, the script is extremely theatrical, spiralling around as each character gets the upper hand, lashes out and so on. But Polanski keeps it crisp and pacey with an inventive use of the space, letting the actors grab hold of the characters and run with them.

dir Azalee Jacobs; with Jacob Wysocki, John C Reilly 11/US ****
This offbeat drama is kind of a coming-of-age story, as it focusses on the overweight teen Terri (Wysocki), who lives with his unstable uncle and feels likt an outcast at school. It probably doesn't help that he wears pyjamas because they're more comfortable. But he's taken under the wing of the principal (Reilly), who clearly has a thing for misfits, being one himself. What follows is a surprisingly involving series of events as Terri quietly begins to accept who he is and make some friends along the way. It's a low-key film, with a constant undercurrent of deranged humour and a series of genuinely touching moments too.

Magic Trip
dir Alex Gibney, Alison Ellwood; with Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs 11/US ***
Gibney and Ellwood got their hands on the film Kesey shot as he and his Merry Pranksters drove their psychedelic bus across country in 1964. Originally intended to be a feature film, but never coming together at the time, it's now assembled as a freewheeling documentary. Colourfully edited together with wit and insight, it's thoroughly entertaining to watch, as we've never seen such intimate footage of these people before. On the other hand, the voice-over present-day interviews sound like fond nostalgia rather than any attempt to make sense of what happened. Sure, most of the time everyone was lost on LSD, but this film starts to feel almost like a yearning reminiscence of happier, higher days. Still, the context is strong, as we see both how the Pranksters responded to and affected the times they lived in.

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