BFI London Film Festival 2016

London Film Festival 2016

This site thrives on one 12 day event that occurs every year in October; the BFI London Film Festival. The festival is now in its 60th year and we are in our 7th year of covering the film bonanza in as much detail as we can without actually losing our minds. Each year the films get better and better, I see more and more films, and I get less and less sleep.

On Thursday the line-up for this year’s event was announced and I have gone through the various strands and pulled out a film for each that really has me excited. As for my overall list of films I want to see… I am currently trying to get that down to double digits.

Galas - Free Fire

Free Fire

The Gala films tend to be the hardest tickets to get your hands on but are also the most likely to get a cinema release so I advise you look elsewhere for gems at the festival. That aside I am desperate to catch this year’s closing film Free Fire as it unites the fearless Brie Larson with revolutionary Ben Wheatley. I’ve seen three Larson films (1, 2, 3) and two of Wheatley’s (1, 2) at previous festivals and cannot wait to get my eyeballs on this bloody, funny, and no doubt dazzling action comedy from a filmmaker like no other. Amy Jump has written a 1970s American crime drama shot just outside Brighton which looks as farcical as it does violent. Bring it on.

Love - The Son of Joseph

The Son of Joseph

Back in 2011 we found ourselves very briefly delving into a surreal and stylised world of Portuguese cinema. The film that ended this baffling cinematic education was The Portuguese Nun. I’m almost certain that we enjoyed it. That film’s director, Eugène Green, is back with a French film about a young man searching for his father. I guarantee that this will be a unique film that will be either tedious, hilarious, or a delirious mixture of both.

Debate - Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Werner Herzog is the only documentarian that has both appeared as a baddie in Jack Reacher and as an estate agent in Parks and Recreation. So great is the caricature surrounding Herzog sometimes I forget that he is actually a skilled filmmaker who is not afraid to offer up his opinion and produces works of lyrical beauty. His latest is an exploration of our connected world; looking at how the internet has affected our real world personal relationships. Apparently it includes the line, “Can your dishwasher fall in love with your refrigerator?”. Sold.

Laugh - Lost in Paris

Lost in Paris

My favourite film of 2012 was a strange Belgian comedy called The Fairy which starred a limber comedic duo like nothing I had seen before. In their latest they play a couple who find one another in Paris and go on a series of absurd adventures. Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel thrive on genuinely funny physical comedy that relies on flexibility, ingenuity, and impeccable timing. I will not be missing this.

Dare - The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook has brought us Korean classics including Thirst and The Vengeance Trilogy before impressing with his English language triumphs Stoker and Snowpiercer. Now he has taken the English novel Fingersmith back to his native South Korea to create an erotic and stylish period thriller that apparently involves some amazing wallpaper. No other director can wring so much tension from so little so I can only imagine what he does with this saucy source material.

Thrill - City of Tiny Lights

City of Tiny Lights

A crime thriller set in contemporary London starring Riz Ahmed and Billie Piper. This leapt out at me having watched Billie Piper give a career defining performance in Yerma at the Young Vic last week and feeling the need to double-check that she really is the incredible actress I saw that night. With a plotline involving a radical mosque, multiculturalism, and commercial development City of Tiny Lights sounds like a ripe and topical slice of modern noir set in the city I love.

Cult - The Void

The Void

There are numerous horrors I am keen to lose my composure to at the festival but the one that I keep coming back to is this throwback from Canada. Said to include the influence of John Carpenter and classic practical effects along with knowing nods to frighteners of the past The Void looks to be the perfect way for me to lose a few nights’ sleep.

Journey - Two Lovers and a Bear

Two Lovers and a Bear

Starring two of the most underrated and talented young actors working today, Dane DeHaan and Tatiana Maslany, Two Lovers and a Bear brings us magical realism in the Arctic. The two titular lovers are trying to overcome their childhoods in a remote and isolated town. Presumably a bear shows up at some point too.

Sonic - London Town

London Town

Imagine a time of social, political, and racial unrest under a Tory Prime Minister. Now stop thinking about last month and throw your mind back to 1979. Representing the festival strand dedicated to music we have a British comedy drama following a young teenager struggling with family life after his mother leaves the family home. What will help him get through this troubled time? Punk of course!

Family - Phantom Boy

Phantom Boy

At a film festival there are no BBFC certificates and as such there is no guarantee that the animated film you have chosen to see will not feature graphic sexual content. Thankfully the festival has the Family strand which is the only safe place for the young or prudish. Leo is a sick boy trapped in hospital who discovers he can leave his body and fly around like a phantom. A surreal animation about a new type of superhero.

Experimentia - Have You Seen My Movie

Have You Seen My Movie?

I am wary of the Experimenta strand as the films veer away from narrative cinema and towards pure art. For a novice like me this can be a challenging experience and writing about it is almost impossible. I get an abusive email roughly once every six months from one artist whose work I didn’t enjoy back in 2013. A film my brain might be able to comprehend is Have You Seen My Movie? which consists of a two-hour montage of scenes from other films that either feature people going to the cinema or in the act of making film themselves. How can this last for so long? Will it be enjoyable or tedious? This is the joy of Experimenta; you have to take the plunge and risk being proven wrong.

Treasures - Born in Flames

Born in Flames

Truly embracing the risk I am even tempted by a film that straddles both the Experimenta strand and the Treasures collection. In the latter group are older films that have been remastered or simply need to be revisited, perhaps having gained greater relevance since their initial release. This example is a slice of 80s feminist science fiction in which women never gained equality with men and so turn to violent revolution to fight for what is rightfully theirs. Anyone mocking SJWs online might want to watch their step.

The festival runs 5th – 16 October 2016 and tickets go on sale 8th September for BFI members and 15th September for everyone else.

The Purge: Election Year – Film Review

The Purge Election Year

In 2013 we were introduced to the concept of The Purge via a moderately OK home invasion thriller. In the near future America has followed through to its natural conclusion and holds an annual event in which all laws are suspended for twelve hours. Everything is legal from murder to… murder. The films never really explore my other crimes. An interesting concept wasted was the critical consensus and yet a franchise was born.

Just over a year later and a sequel had been knocked together. The Purge: Anarchy is not a perfect film either but at least took the feedback on board and ventured outside of a single house to see the carnage outside. Frank Grillo played a grieving father out on Purge Night to avenge his son’s death. Instead of wreaking revenge he finds himself defending the vulnerable and learning from Edwin Hodge’s resistance fighter that The Purge is essentially a way for the rich to cull the lower classes. Once again we have a concept more interesting that the film containing it.

And so to The Purge: Election Year. Grillo is back and this time his character has a name and a job! I won’t bog you down in details like his name but his job is pivotal to the plot. Grillo is now the bodyguard of a Senator played by Elizabeth Mitchell. She is coming close to winning the US election and has pledged to end The Purge if she gets into office. Naturally the elites who thrive on The Purge aren’t happy to let her win and use Purge Night to launch an assassination attempt.

Before too long Grillo and the Senator are on the streets just trying to stay alive as they stumble across numerous drama students wearing masks, loaded with blood packs, and armed with overly arch dialogue. Along the way the pair meet up with a ragtag bunch of other survivors who want to bring down the existing government by foul means or fair. What follows are a series of events, some schlocky acting, and a dramatic showdown in a church.

The Purge Election Year 2

Can they all survive the night? Will the Senator give into base instincts or can she win on principles alone? Is this film racist? All important questions I am sure you will agree.

More than ever these films feel incredibly prescient. Considering the climate in America surrounding Donald Trump and separately the Black Lives Matter movement it seems like the right time for a film exploring what happens when tyrants rule and people are killed based on their social grade. Whether this films succeeds in exploring these issues is another matter. Sadly the film just feels weighed down by its attempt at importance and takes itself too seriously when it should be having fun.

When the laughs do come they tend to be at the expense of the film or, more worryingly, in response to some of the dialogue. The films heart lies with Mykelti Williamson who plays a shopkeeper that Grillo and chums fight alongside. Williamson is a self-made man who just wants to defend his store and he does so with a series of one liners that had the audience laughing in astonishment. Williamson is given dialogue that could only have been written by a white screenwriter, James DeMonaco, writing for a black actor. I felt a similar sense of unease to when I saw The Hateful Eight and shuddered as the room of largely white males laughed as the N-word was bandied about and women were hit in the face.

A sample line of dialogue: “There are a whole bunch of Negros coming this way. and we’re looking like a big ol’ bucket of fried chicken.” There’s no way I can hear that line followed by a loud belly laugh without feeling deeply uneasy.

On the surface The Purge: Election Year is a harmless action horror with some interesting ideas bubbling away at its depths. Look too close and instead you find a cheaply made sequel that squanders its premise and betrays its diverse cast.

Gene Wilder 1933 – 2016

Gene Wilder

11th June 1933 – 28th August 2016

“I like writing books. I’d rather be at home with my wife. I can write, take a break, come out, have a glass of tea, give my wife a kiss, and go back in and write some more. It’s not so bad. I am really lucky.”

Kenny Baker 1934 – 2016

Kenny Baker

24th August 1934 – 13th August 2016

“Artoo’s reply is a rather rude sound. He turns and trudges off in the direction of the towering mesas.”

Valley of Love – Film Review

Valley of Love

Gérard (Gérard Depardieu) and Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) are a long divorced couple sent from their native France to California’s Death Valley by their son’s suicide note. He has asked them to spend the week together and put together a precise schedule for them to follow. Forced together after years apart the couple reminisce about their son and their marriage while an unsettling undercurrent runs through each scene.

The couple are visibly uncomfortable. Not only is the intense Californian heat almost too much to bear they are forced to confront their past and in what ways they might have let their son down. All the while spending time together with someone they chose to divorces decades before. Depardieu and Huppert are seasoned pros and tackle the low-key drama with aplomb. It is easy to believe there’s a real history between them and their conversation is filled with a relatable blend of tenderness and bitterness. If Valley of Love were just this, two great actors performing against a beautiful backdrop, then I would have loved the film. Sadly there was another element at play that muddied the waters.

Valley of Love 2

That unsettling undercurrent I mentioned earlier grew throughout the film and bloomed from a subtle element into something a little distracting. How do I phrase this? There was a hint of the other to the film; an exploration of the idea that death may not be the end. My issue is actually not that this idea was included in the film but that it wasn’t delved into a little deeper. As an emotional drama the film was complete but as the supernatural element felt unfinished and unsatisfying.

Again let me stress that my frustrations do not come from the performances. Everything about the two leads is authentic, heartbreaking, and subtle. Guillaume Nicloux as a director is also praiseworthy as he gives the actors room to perform whilst capturing the majestic landscape that lay behind them. Where my issues lie are with Nicloux’s script. Whilst excellent at the human element it fails to follow through on the unnecessary additional of otherworldly influences.

It could have been perfect but instead was sullied by a bold idea half executed.

Valley of Love is in UK cinemas now.