Monday, 15 October 2012

LFF 4: Take a bow

Quartet director Dustin Hoffman and his cast members Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Sheridan Smith are all in London today for their film's gala screening at the 56th BFI London Film Festival as the glamorous festivities continue around the city. Also doing the rounds today are Chris O'Dowd and his four songstress costars (Jessica Mauboy, Deborah Mailman, Shari
Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell) in The Sapphires. Not that critics get to enjoy the glitz - most of us are stuck in early morning press screenings and overcrowded press conferences.

dir Dustin Hoffman; with Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon 12/UK ***.
The subtle intelligence of Ronald Harwood's script undergirds what's otherwise a rather breezy-glowy drama. And the veteran cast members make the most of this subtext, while director Hoffman adds a spark of humour and a whiff of romantic comedy. It centres on an English retirement home for musicians, which is shaken by the arrival of an iconic soprano (Smith) who had a brief, messy marriage to another resident (Tom Courtenay). As the annual gala performance approaches, someone gets the idea to reunite the quartet from a famed performance of Verdi's Rigoletto, which Jean really isn't up for. The cast is, of course, having a ball - and it's warmly infectious to watch, with just enough spark that it avoids sentimentality and a continual stream of little moments that catch us off guard with earthy humour and raw emotion. In other words, it's a nicely made film that lets us just sit back and enjoy ourselves.

Midnight's Children
dir Deepa Mehta; with Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami 12/Can ***.
It's usually a risky proposition to let a novelists adapt their own work for the big screen, and this film is a case in point. It's packed with moments that are hugely involving, but Salman Rushdie's (right, on the LFF red carpet) script is badly over-written, filling in way too much detail while indulging in constant literary touches that are fascinating but distracting. In some ways, this is like an Indian Forrest Gump, as Bhaba's central character is born at the stroke of midnight as India gets its independence, then marks key moments of his life along with his country. Along the way we get a running history of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh along with a very dramatic life story that relies on a heavy dose of magical realism. It's fascinating and beautifully shot and acted, but far too wordy for its own good.

The Sapphires
dir Wayne Blair; with Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman 12/Aus ****
Based on a true story, this crowd-pleasing comedy is packed with sparky characters and situations, plus powerfully dramatic moments that catch us by surprise. It also uses great music to keep our toes tapping all the way through... REVIEW >

What Richard Did
dir Lenny Abrahamson; with Jack Reynor, Roisin Murphy 12/Ire ****
Even before things take a turn in this beautifully shot and acted Irish drama, we know something is coming (the title's a hint too). Filmmaker Abrahamson is a master at subtle suggestion, taking scenes that feel happy and freewheeling and adding a gentle undercurrent of menace. So when the story gets much more darkly emotional, it's deeply unnerving. Reynor gives a superbly natural, understated performance as Richard, a golden-boy 18 year old with a group of rugby pals, a new girlfriend (Murphy) and very cool parents. But his actions at a drunken house party cut a swathe through his optimism, and as he struggles to deal with the situation, he feels like his whole life is unravelling. Loosely based on a real event, the film never turns into a melodrama despite the potential in the premise: it remains raw and edgy with a lively vein of humour that turns bleaker and bleaker as the story develops. A haunting gem.

Room 237
dir Rodney Ascher; with Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks 12/US ***.
Subtitled "Being an Inquiry Into The Shining in 9 Parts", movie geeks will love this documentary, which lets five of them expound their sometimes outlandish theories about a seriously confounding film. Not many of their theories hold water, but it's a terrific exploration of filmmaking as art. Stanley Kubrick was a genius filmmaker who never did something by accident, so the quirks and jarring background detail in The Shining must mean something, right? Some of these theories are observant and thought-provoking, while others are just bonkers. In the end, there aren't many ideas here that are terribly insightful (would you be shocked to know that Kubrick wove mythology and fairy tales into his work?), and frankly you could pretty much prove anything by deconstructing a movie frame by frame. But it's a thoroughly entertaining exploration of the extremes of fan culture. And a marvellous look at the repeated images and themes in Kubrick's work.

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