Thursday, 11 October 2012

LFF 1: Monster mash-up

Tim Burton hit the red carpet in Leicester Square last night, opening the 56th BFI London Film Festival with his new movie Frankenweenie. He was accompanied by cast members Martin Landau, Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara, plus the usual LFF luvvies. (Uninvited, I was at a screening of Argo with most critics.) Here are some highlights today...

dir Tim Burton; voices Winona Ryder, Martin Short 12/US ****.
Expanding his 30-minute 1984 short, Burton has created one of his most enjoyable movies in years. Not only is the adventure thoroughly engaging, but it's packed with references to great monster movies. In other words, it's the kind of classic you can watch over and over... FULL REVIEW >

dir Michael Haneke; with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva 12/France ****Haneke never makes easy movies, and this is no exception. But as he explores the relationship between an ageing couple, Haneke avoids the bleakness that has characterised most of his films. And without even a hint of manipulation or sentimentality, he moves us deeply... FULL REVIEW >

The Hunt
dir Thomas Vinterberg; with Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen 12/Denmark ***.
This provocative, difficult film won three prizes at Cannes, including best actor for Mikkelsen. With its askance approach to the hot potato topic of child abuse, this is not the kind of film you can just ignore. Especially since it's actually about collective paranoia... FULL REVIEW >

dir Prakash Jha; with Arjun Rampal, Abhay Deol 12/India ***.
Since it's from Bollywood, this thriller feels somewhat overwrought and bombastic compared even to Hollywood's most ridiculous blockbusters. But it also has a story that works its way under the skin, daring to explore a complex moral dilemma that has remarkable relevance. Based on a true story, it's about two best pals (Rampal and Deol) who get involved in a grisly fight between police, the government, a multinational corporation and the rebels taking everyone on from their jungle hideout. The hitch is that one is a senior police officer in charge of tracking down the terrorists, and his friend goes undercover to help supply information, only to discover that the rebels are actually only trying to protect poor villagers from government and corporate greed. The emotional story is very punchy, and sometimes a bit corny, but the filmmaking is robust and energetic. There are even a few big musical numbers cleverly worked into the plot.

Dead Europe
dir Tony Krawitz; with Ewen Leslie, Marton Csokas 12/Aus ***
An intensely dark, foreboding tone is the best thing about this perplexing thriller. While playing around intriguingly with issues of race, religion and sexuality, the film gets under our skin even though we are never quite sure what's actually going on. Kind of like the central character himself. Leslie is terrific as an Australian photographer who has never been to Europe to see the old country, and when he finally gets to Greece with his father's ashes, everyone talks about an old family curse. He travels on to Paris and Budapest, discovering bits of information along the way while being haunted by the memory of a young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) he failed to help in Athens. Oddly, the more people explain the situation, the less we feel like we understand it properly. So the conclusion feels enigmatic and more than a little sinister.

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CRITICAL WEEK: Along with festival films, I caught up with a few general releases over the past week, some of which are also in the LFF. These include Paul Thomas Anderson's fascinating but difficult The Master, Ben Affleck's raucously entertaining true thriller Argo, the beautifully played drama The Sessions, the lively black comedy Ruby Sparks, the sharp but uneven neighbourhood comedy-drama The Oranges, the enjoyable film-set documentary Radioman, the creepy-emotional Polish drama Suicide Room, and the spectacular 4K restoration of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia.

Outside the LFF this coming week I'll also see the Wachowski's generational drama Cloud Atlas, and Chinese action epic The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate and, yes, the new James Bond movie Skyfall.

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