Saturday, 31 March 2012

LLGFF 4: Double exposure

The BFI 26th Lesbian & Gay Film Festival includes a range of archival screenings stretching from hits of the past year all the way back to the early days of cinema. And the highlight this year was a chance to see the films of iconic film pioneer Peter de Rome on the big screen, with the man himself in attendance to chat with the audience. Filmed on Super 8 in the 60s and 70s, his shorts are mainly erotic glimpses into New York life, but it's the way they're shot and edited that's so groundbreaking. And this inventiveness can inform today's generation of filmmakers who are working on iPhones and webcams. Here are some highlights from Friday and Saturday...

Fragments: The Incomplete Films of Peter de Rome
dir Ethan Reid; with Peter de Rome, Leee Black Childers 12/UK ****
Way ahead of his time, the unassuming British filmmaker Peter de Rome has made a name as a porn director, but there's clearly much more to him that that, as this insightful, engaging documentary shows... FULL REVIEW >

Gun Hill Road
dir Rashaad Ernesto Green; with Esai Morales, Harmony Santana 11/US ***
For a story set in the Hispanic subculture, this film takes on some rather enormous themes, contrasting intolerant machismo with a real-life situation that would test anyone's mettle. While the plot isn't particularly original, it's played with real power... FULL REVIEW >

dir Baldvin Z; with Atli Oskar Fjalarsson, Hreindis Ylva Gardarsdottir 11/Ice ***
It's obvious why this has been called the Icelandic Skins: it's about a group of 16-year-old friends exploring their independence. In addition to being a bit overstated, the filmmaker tries too hard to make everything achingly young and cool. But there's also an honest exploration of relationships... FULL REVIEW >

Stud Life
dir-scr Campbell X; with T'Nia Miller, Kyle Treslove 12/UK ***
Most films set in East London are gritty, edgy dramas, so it's refreshing to see a comedy centred on people who vividly demonstrate the city's diversit. And while the plot sticks to a rom-com structure, there are surprises along the way... FULL REVIEW >

Thursday, 29 March 2012

LLGFF 3: Obsessions

If there's a theme to this year's BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, it's got to be obsessive love. An unusual number of films in the programme feature stalkers, from the predatory student in Absent (above) to the prowling "uncle" in Beauty - two of my favourite films from the festival so far. What's nice about this is that it shows a maturity in filmmaking, as writers and directors play with new genres to explore issues of gender and sexuality from unexpected perspectives. Here are some highlights from Wednesday and Thursday...

dir-scr Marco Berger; with Carlos Echevarria, Javier De Pietro 11/Arg ****
As he did in Plan B, writer-director Berger explores latent homosexuality in this low-key thriller, which has an added ethical/legal dilemma. The film is a bit obtuse, but it gets under the skin... FULL REVIEW >

dir-scr Oliver Hermanus; with Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan 11/SA *****
Intensely personal filmmaking takes us deep into this darkly involving drama about a man who simply doesn't have the skills to deal with his inner desires. And watching it is a challenging, moving experience that's hard to shake... FULL REVIEW >

dir-scr Maryam Keshavarz; with Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy 11/Fr ****
This Iranian drama was far too provocative to be filmed in Tehran, but shooting in Lebanon gave filmmaker Keshavarz the opportunity to inventively explore some hugely important themes in an unusually honest way...  FULL REVIEW >

The Green
dir Steven Williford; with Jason Butler Harner, Cheyenne Jackson 11/US ***
Strong writing, directing and acting make this issue-oriented film more engaging than we expect as it sends its characters through a seriously harrowing situation. And while it doesn't say much about child abuse, it makes some potent comments about our tendency to jump to conclusions... FULL REVIEW >

Jobriath A.D.
dir-scr Kieran Turner; with Jobriath Boone, Jerry Brandt 12/US ****
Fast-paced and colourful, this documentary chronicles the astonishing story of a gifted artist who never found the success everyone knew he deserved. It's recounted with energy and warmth by people who lived through the events. Sadly, Jobriath died at 36 at his piano...  FULL REVIEW >

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

LLGFF 2: God loves you

This year's BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival has a decidedly political tone, and there have been a few films over the past few days grappling strongly with issues of sexuality as they relate specifically to politics in the church. On Saturday, Bishop Gene Robinson (above) attended the festival to introduce the Sundance-winning documentary Love Free or Die, followed by a Q&A and then a tea party! And one of the most popular screenings on Sunday was the Catholic-themed The Perfect Family, starring Kathleen Turner. The central message of these films (and many others in this festival) is that God is about love, not fear. And that religion teaches us that marginalised people need a lot more than just tolerance. Here are some highlights from Monday and Tuesday...

Love Free or Die
dir Macky Alston; with Gene Robinson, Barbara Harris 12/US *****
While this is a documentary about the first openly gay bishop in Christendom, it's also much more than that, exploring religion from a distinctly relevant perspective. It not only forces us to examine our opinions, but it moves us to tears... FULL REVIEW >

The Perfect Family
dir Anne Renton; with Kathleen Turner, Emily Deschanel 12/US ***
This engaging comedy-drama astutely observes a woman struggling to balance her religious beliefs with real life. While the film gets increasingly serious as it goes, it holds our interest - and our emotions - while making several very important points... FULL REVIEW >

dir Dee Rees; with Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans 11/US ***
With an original slant on the coming-out and coming-of-age story, this film gets under the skin through its realistic characters and situations. Some scenes are over-played, but the film's still hugely involving... FULL REVIEW >

Our Paradise
dir Gael Morel; with Stephane Rideau, Dimitri Durdaine 11/Fr ***
Gifted French filmmaker Morel explores fairly dark themes in his films, refusing to make things easy for his characters. And this strikingly involving film is no exception, following a relationship that starts out rather bleakly and gets increasingly unnerving... FULL REVIEW >

This Is Not a Dream
dir Ben Walters, Gavin Butt; with Dickie Beau, Glenn O'Brien 11/UK ****
The material in this documentary is so colourful that it almost obscures the film's thesis-like structure. The central idea is that the advent of video has had a huge impact on society. As a result, the gay art world has changed culture while also being influenced by it... FULL REVIEW >

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CRITICAL WEEK - Yes, amid all of this, screenings continue apace for London critics. This week's films in a nutshell: Julia Roberts in the eye-catching fairy tale Mirror Mirror, British animated comedy-romp The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists!, entertaining horror romp The Cabin in the Woods, Julie Delpy's hilarious sequel 2 Days in New York, the quirky indie comedy Jeff Who Lives at Home, Ben Drew's gritty East London drama Ill Manors, and the lavish Danish period drama A Royal Affair. And next week's offerings include the 3D action sequel Wrath of the Titans, Jason Statham action in Safe, Henry Cavill action in The Cold Light of Day, the British comedy All in Good Time, Catherine Deneuve in Beloved and the acclaimed Finnish comedy-drama Le Havre.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Requisite Blog Photo: Happy ever after

LLGFF 1: Reel life

The 26th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival kicked off on Friday night with Thom Fitzgerald's Cloudburst, and away we go. The LLGFF is one of the UK's biggest festivals, with premieres from all over the world and a range of provocative films that challenge stereotypes to explore extremely topical issues. A few highlights this weekend...

dir Thom Fitzgerald; with Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker 12/Can *** 
A particularly colourful performance from Dukakis makes this film unmissable, even if the story wobbles in the final act. But along the way, the character-based comedy and drama are thoroughly engaging, even as they comment on a hugely important issue... FULL REVIEW >

dir Jeffrey Schwarz; with Vito Russo, Lily Tomlin 12/US **** 
This superbly well-made doc has an emotional sting in its tail that lingers long after the final credits. It tells the story of tenacious gay activist Vito Russo, who spearheaded causes before his time and changed the world in the process... FULL REVIEW >

Revealing Mr Maugham
dir Michael House; with Selina Hastings, Armistead Maupin 12/UK ***
Even though he achieved huge success, prolific writer W Somerset Maugham was misunderstood because he was such an outsider. This comprehensive academic-style documentary traces his life and legacy with telling insight... FULL REVIEW >

Ballroom Rules
dir Nickolas Bird, Eleanor Sharpe; with Anny Salerni, Marsia Bergh 12/Aus **** 
While documenting the same-sex dancing scene in Australia, this gentle, intimate documentary explores big issues in the lives of people who face bigotry and stereotypes had-on. So the film offers a glimmer of hope for a more tolerant future... FULL REVIEW >

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Critical Week: Let's drink to that!

A highlight in the cinema this week was the chance to watch a stage performance of Stephen Sondheim's Company at New York's Lincoln Center on the big screen. The all-star cast is simply terrific (pictured are Martha Plimpton, Steven Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris), and being able to see them in close-up makes these stage-to-cinema screenings worth looking out for.

But the biggest press screening this past week was for the impending blockbuster franchise-launcher The Hunger Games, a stormingly entertaining film that more than lived up to the hype. We also had Elizabeth Olsen in the eerie psychological freak-out Silent House; Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker in the enjoyable and moving road movie Cloudburst; Luis Tosar and Gael Garcia Bernal in the inventive, powerful Bolivian drama Even the Rain; the full-of-life Arabic village drama The Source; the sensitive French romantic-drama Angel and Tony; the offbeat, unnerving Argentine thriller Absent; and the comprehensive, entertaining Bob Marley doc Marley.

This coming week, London critics will be treated to the fairy tale comedy Mirror Mirror, Ben Drew's Ill Manors, the animated British comedy-romp The Pirates!, Julie Delpy's anxiously awaited sequel 2 Days in New York, the horror thriller Cabin in the Woods, Jason Segel as Jeff Who Lives at Home, and the Danish historical drama A Royal Affair. In addition, Friday is opening night for the 26th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, one of Britain's biggest film events, which takes place at BFI Southbank - and I'll be blogging regularly on the films and parties over the festival's 10 days.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Critical Week: You betcha!

Julianne Moore gave a storming performance as Sarah Palin in the HBO movie Game Change, based on a memoir about the McCain presidential campaign. The film is a bit dense, but Moore lights up the screen ... kind of like Palin lit up the campaign. This helps it feel a lot less like a hatchet job than it could have been, turning Palin into an intriguing, engaging and yes, flawed character, like everyone else in the story. And the cast is excellent, including Ed Harris (as McCain), Woody Harrelson and Sarah Paulson.

Back in cinemas, UK critics were treated to Matt Damon in Cameron Crowe's bloated romantic-drama We Bought a Zoo, Mark Wahlberg in the ludicrous action-thriller Contraband, Audrey Tautou in the intriguingly involving French comedy-tragedy Delicacy and the enjoyably offbeat literary romance Bonsai from Chile. I also caught up with the slick all-star French special ops thriller Special Forces, the emotionally resonant issue-based dramas The Green and Gun Hill Road, and two remarkably engaging docs: Vito, about a gay activist, and Fragments, about the unfinished films of porn guru Peter de Rome. And best of all was a specially restored edition of Ken Russell's iconic 1971 classic The Devils with Vanessa Redgrave as a hunch-backed 17-century nun and Oliver Reed as a libidinous priest.

This coming week, screenings continue apace, including the year's first huge most-anticipated blockbuster The Hunger Games, Olympic Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as a long-term couple in Cloudburst, Elizabeth Olsen in the horror thriller Silent House, and two films about water rights: the Belgian comedy The Source and the Bolivian drama Even the Rain.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Critical Week: Save the trees

One more film caught in California this past week...

The Lorax
dir Chris Renaud; with Zac Efron, Danny DeVito 12/US **

Dr Seuss' Eco-fable is transformed into a raucous adventure comedy in this colourful animated feature. And it's a little embarrassing really. Not only has the story been padded out with lame jokes and unnecessary side plots, but the film's pacing is all over the place, leaving both kids and their parents bored. To impress a girl, Ted (Efron) ventures outside the artificial environment of his town to find an extinct living tree, and in the process learns a lesson about caring for the environment. But the film is a chaotic mix of random story threads and thin characters we can't identify with at all. Which makes it feel meandering and oddly dull despite the hyperactive energy. At least the animation is sharp and wacky, with some nice touches in between the irrelevant slapstick. And the message comes through clearly. But seeing Seuss' original drawings in the closing credits only magnifies how out of balance the film is. Read the book instead.

I'm back in London on Tuesday, and have a few screenings lined up, including Matt Damon in We Bought a Zoo and Mark Wahlberg in Contraband, plus a couple I know nothing about: Forgiveness of Blood and Delicacy. And there will no doubt be a few others that come up along the way...