Friday, 7 October 2016

LFF 2: Looking for trouble

The 60th London Film Festival demonstrated its size today with a blinding array of screenings all over the city. And in the press zone, our screenings were all overcrowded, vividly showing that (1) the festival has too many movies, (2) the wildly popular films are being screened too few times, and (3) there are too many journalists and industry professionals who need to see them. But then, this is a massive festival that's covered all over the world. It may not feature many proper world premieres, but it's bringing the best of the premiere festivals to an audience that's clamouring for more of this kind of programming. Some highlights from Thursday...

American Honey
dir-scr Andrea Arnold; with Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf 16/UK **. 
Filmmaker Andrea Arnold astutely slices through American youth culture with this meandering road trip, which is gorgeously photographed by Robbie Ryan and played with bracing honesty by its fresh-faced cast (pictured above). But with so little structure to the plot, the extended running time feels at least an hour too long. Especially since the events stop making logical sense and the characters stubbornly refuse to take their own internal journeys.

La La Land
dir-scr Damien Chazelle; with Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone 16/US ****.
This colourful musical about Los Angeles is both a celebration and a cautionary tale about the city of dreams. Its buoyant tone and fizzy performances make it a delight from start to finish, even when things turn rather dark along the way. Writer-director Damien Chazelle proves that Whiplash was no fluke: this is a bravura display of pure cinematic joy. FULL REVIEW >

King Cobra
dir-scr Justin Kelly; with Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater 16/US ***
Based on an outrageous true story, this film grips the audience with its colourful characters and unpredictable situations. But the script struggles to find a point of view, which means that it's not easy to identify with anyone on-screen, so it's difficult to find the emotional core to what happens. A more focussed dramatic approach might have made a better film, but this is still a riveting story.

dir-scr Barry Jenkins; with Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland 16/US ****
With its intimate approach and deeply resonant themes, this film gets under the skin right from the start, putting us in the shoes of the lead character at three points in his life. His journey to self-discovery is difficult, partly because he is painfully withdrawn due to his tough life experiences. And what this movie has to say is so important that it deserves all the the attention and awards it gets.

dir Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra; with Harshvardhan Kapoor, Saiyami Kher 16/Ind ***
Infused with music and history, this bold Bollywood epic parallels a modern story of forbidden love against a mythological romance. The settings and design work are stunning, with frequent cutaways to elaborately choreographed songs. So even if it all feels somewhat corny for Western audiences, the grand scale keeps it entertaining. FULL REVIEW >

And along with La La Land, there were two films I saw in Venice screening today in London: Francois Ozon's terrific post-war drama Frantz and Stephane Brize's deconstructed 19th century drama A Woman's Life.

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