Saturday, 13 October 2012

LFF 2: Nose to nose

A couple more days down in the 56th BFI London Film Festival and sleep-deprivation has already set in. On Friday, I was in cinemas from 9am to 10pm - and three of the films I saw were 2.5 hours long. That's excessive even for a film junkie like me. It's turned quite cold in London, but the rain has held off for the most part, which helps of course with all the red carpet premieres. Stars on hand over the past couple of days have included Quvenzhane Wallis (below, attending with her film Beasts of the Southern Wild); Marion Cotillard (Rust & Bone); Gillian Anderson, Martin Compston and Lea Seydoux (Sister); Jason Biggs (Grassroots); Mads Mikkelsen (Teddy Bear), Elle Fanning (Ginger & Rosa); and Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement (Laurence Anyways). Here are some film highlights...

Robot & Frank
dir Jake Schreier; with Frank Langella, Peter Sarsgaard 12/US ***.
A warm tone masks the sharp edges of this film's script. It feels like a heartwarming story about an old man and his mechanical sidekick, but is actually about much more than that. It's often also very funny as it follows feisty retired cat burglar Frank struggling to get used to the robot his son (James Marsden) bought to help take care of him. But as he gets used to the idea, Frank starts teaching the robot his old trade, which sparks his imagine that maybe he can get back in the game as well as perhaps woo the local librarian (Susan Sarandon). The gentle pace understates the comedy and makes it feel a little light and goofy. But it's also engaging and entertaining, and reminds us that getting old doesn't mean giving up on life.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
dir Benh Zeitlin; with Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry 12/US ****
With a soaringly introspective style, this eerily dreamlike film is anchored on a thunderous performance from 6-year-old Wallis. Her tight perspective gives themes of inter-connectedness and perspective a startlingly childlike honesty... REVIEW >

dir Stephen Gyllenhaal; with Jason Biggs, Joel David Moore 12/US ***
Based on a true story, this film captures a real sense of underlying anger on the streets of America, as it traces how one offbeat campaign tapped into this passion. The characters are sharply drawn and well-played by a sparky cast, even if it feels a little too tidy in the end. It's set in 2001 Seattle, as Phil (Biggs) helps his rather nutty friend Grant (Moore) run for office against a long-time incumbent (Cedric the Entertainer). Their counter-culture campaign actually takes hold, and as election day approaches, things twist and turn - especially in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The film has a scruffy energy to it that holds out interest, and the actors are superb (including a nice supporting role for Lauren Ambrose). But the film kind of skirts around politics, never having the courage to nail its flag to the wall. So it's a good thing that, like Grant, the film has its heart in the right place. And that it's chaotic charm wins us over.

Ginger & Rosa
dir Sally Potter; with Elle Fanning, Alice Englert 12/UK **.
Set in 1962, this intensely personal drama captures the hysterical mood swings of youth in some surprising ways. But the fragmented structure makes it difficult to engage with, especially as the characters descend into dark melodrama... REVIEW >

Laurence Anyways
dir Xavier Dolan; with Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clement 12/Can ***.
With each feature, 23-year-old Dolan gets more ambitious. This third time out, the unusually gifted filmmaker pushes things just over the edge into self-parody, but still tells a powerfully provocative story with a strong emotional undercurrent... REVIEW >

dir Ursula Meier; with Kacey Mottet Klein, Lea Seydoux 12/Swi ****
This riveting, low-key drama has all kinds of dark corners but never feels bleak due to its honest approach to characters who are just trying to do the best they can. And as we get more involved in their life, the film becomes quietly moving... REVIEW >

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