Friday, 19 October 2012

LFF 8: Something completely different

There was a mini Python reunion at the 56th BFI London Film Festival as Michael Palin and Terry Jones came out for the premiere of the offbeat Graham Chapman animated bio A Liar's Autobiography. For us bleary-eyed critics, the end is finally in sight as the festival winds down on Sunday. Here are some more highlights...

A Liar's Autobiography
dir Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett; voices Graham Chapman, John Cleese 12/UK ***
Using recordings of Chapman reading the book about his life, several teams of animators have ambitiously created a kind of stream-of-consciousness 3D tribute. And his Python partners are on board as well to recreate their surreal journey to stardom. The result is wildly inventive but difficult to engage with, even if you're a fan. This is certainly not a straightforward retelling of Chapman's life story. Every element of this film is infused with the same surreal absurdity that infused Python's comedy: much of it feels like distracted sideroads, there are frequent moments that cross lines of taste and propriety, some scenes go on far too long before reaching their punchlines, and other sequences are simply sublime. This is aggressively experimental storytelling without a proper narrative; instead, what we get is a thematic, stylised sense of a man who with his friends helped change forever what we find funny.

Good Vibrations
dir Lisa Barros D'Sa, Glenn Leyburn; with Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker 12/UK ***
A colourful biopic of Belfast's "godfather of punk", this 1970s romp is packed with lively characters, outrageous situations and terrific music. But while its heart is in the right place, the plot is too fragmented to really resonate with audiences who might not already know the story. Good Vibrations is the iconic record store opened in 1960s Belfast by Terri Hooley (Dormer), who despised the religious and political violence around him and just wanted music. And when he discovered punk he started a record label to promote the bands, but he never bothered about the business side of things, and was continually in danger of bankruptcy. It's a colourful film packed with entertaining details of the period, great music and larger-than-life characters. But for those unfamiliar with the real-life events, it feels chaotic and uneven, so it's not easy to keep up with. Even so, it's a warm portrait of a man who did everything for love of the music.

My Brother the Devil
dir Sally El Hosaini; with James Floyd, Fady Elsayed 12/UK ****
Punchy and emotive, this British drama deals with intense themes in its story of two brothers caught between subcultures in northeast London. Even though it gets a bit overwrought, this is a beautifully observed film that gets us thinking... REVIEW >

dir Scott Graham; with Chloe Pirrie, Joseph Mawle 12/UK ****
An impressive feature debut for writer-director Graham, this contained drama creates a vivid sense of time and space in a bleak corner of the Scottish Highlands. And with minimal dialog, he explores hugely involving characters facing their own unexpected internal crises. Shell (Pirrie) is a 17-year-old living with her father (Mawle) at an isolated petrol garage. She knows all the customers, who are perhaps a bit too friendly with her, and there's a young man (Iain De Caestecker) who wants to take her away from all of this. The film is a marvel of observation, catching the tiniest details of interaction between these people. And most impressive is the way we begin to understand Shell's confused, hopeful longings.

Sleeper's Wake
dir Barry Berk; with Lionel Newton, Deon Lotz 12/SA ***
From South Africa, this darkly unsettling drama gets under the skin with its vivid characters and creepy situations. It's often very difficult to watch, as internal problems drive people to do inexplicable things. And the filmmaking is perhaps a bit too taken with some sort of depth of meaning we can't quite access. It's about a man (Newton) grieving over the death of his wife and daughter in a car crash he feels responsible for. He heads to an isolated cabin to get away from his life, and there he meets another grieving family - the father (Lotz, who starred in Beauty) is a fiercely religious man with a hot temper, the daughter (Jay Anstey) is overtly sexual and determined to rebel against her dad however she can. As these people swirl around each other, tension rises on all kinds of levels, all mixed in with the raw beauty and danger of the nature around them. It's gorgeously shot and acted, but perhaps a bit over-directed, which leaves it feeling somewhat stagey as everything boils over.

And finally, as promised: The Rolling Stones from last night's premiere of Crossfire Hurricane - Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger.

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