Categories
Festivals

LFF 2008: Day 16

Slumdog Millionaire poster

Today is the final day of this year’s London Film Festival and earlier this morning I saw Slumdog Millionaire, which is tonight’s closing film.

Directed by Danny Boyle, it is the story of a streetkid from Mumbai who goes on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

I spoke to Danny last year and he told me a bit about the story, which you can listen to here:

[audio:Danny_Boyle_on_Slumdog_Millionaire_back_in_April_2007.mp3]

Adapted by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) from the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, it recently received a lot of buzz and critical acclaim at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals.

What’s interesting is that the narrative plays a little like The Usual Suspects, as we learn how the central character Jamal (Dev Patel) came to be on the game show.  

It then flashes back to periods of his life growing up as a kid from the slums (or ‘slumdog’ as some less than charitable characters in the film put it) and his desire to find the true love of his life (Frieda Pinto).

Boyle and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle don’t shy away from the poverty of the slums in the film and some might be a bit taken aback by some of the darker scenes (one early sequence had the woman next to me squirming), but at the same time there is a tremendous energy and humanity to the story.

India of the last 20 years is portrayed with a harsh sense of realism but what’s nice is that the characters and their story counterbalance this with an emotional warmth that is not only very affecting but mercifully free of easy sentiment.

Whilst the flashback structure takes a little while to really click, once the film gets going it really pays dividends, especially as it builds towards a gripping climax.

Another clever touch is the realistic portrayal of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show, complete with the right music and graphics which are expertly woven into the film and play a key part in how the story unfolds.

The cheesy tension of the TV show somehow has a new life here, with added meaning on the tense pauses and multiple choice questions.      

It is one of those films that is a little tricky to write about as I think audiences will enjoy it more if they go in to it not knowing too much. 

But this could be a genuine hit amongst a wide cross section of people – it cleverly mixes serious social commentary with a classical tale of lost love and the warm ripple of applause I heard at the end (rare for a press screening) indicates that it will have excellent  word of mouth.

It will be interesting to see how it does in India as it stars two big Bollywood stars (Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan) in key roles and may do some serious business over there. 

Credit must also to Tessa Ross at Film Four for acquiring the rights and getting Boyle and Beaufoy on board as the non-UK setting and story appears to have given both of them a creative shot in the arm.

I remember seeing Juno last year at the London Film Festival and thinking it would do very well. After showing at Telluride and being released by Fox Searchlight (perhaps the savviest studio at working the awards season) it went on to be a huge success.

Similarly, Slumdog Millionaire also premiered to rave reviews at Telluride before being acquired by Fox Searchlight – they’ll release it in the US in a couple of weeks whilst Pathe will be distributing it in the UK. 

It might not do the same kind of business as Juno but this looks set for similar buzz, which is richly deserved as it is one of the most uplifting films to come out this year.

Slumdog Millionaire opens in the US on November 14th and in the UK on Friday 23rd January 2008

Official site for the London Film Festival
Official US site for Slumdog Millionaire at Fox Searchlight
/Film with more photos from the film
Listen to our full interview with Danny Boyle from April 2007 about Sunshine

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 10

BFI Southbank

Today was more of a quiet day in which I finally caught up with a film that had been eluding me for about a week. 

It is a French drama called The Class which I was meant to see last Saturday when it had a press screening before it had it’s gala screening in the evening. 

But it didn’t happen as I was pretty tired after the Quantum of Solace screening on the Friday night.

Anyway, one of the handy things about the Delegate Centre at the BFI Southbank is that journalists can catch up with films on screener discs, which you watch on nice, widescreen monitors.

It is a little bit like a library and although I always prefer watching films on the big screen, with so much going on it can prove a very handy way of catching up with films you would otherwise miss out on.

Anyway, the film itself is the deceptively simple tale of a French teacher (François Bégaudeau) at a state school in Paris.

The actual French title is Entre Les Murs, which translates as ‘Between the walls’ which is apt as the film never (apart from one shot at the beginning) strays outside the confines of the school.

It is adapted from the 2006 novel of the same name by Bégaudeau, which in turn was based on his own real life experiences teaching in a Paris school.

Directed by Laurent Cantet it scooped the Palme D’Or at Cannes earlier this year and is a rich and deeply satisfying film.

Not only does it scrupulously avoid the cliches that can dog films set inside schools but it manages to offer a plausible snapshot of modern French society by focusing tightly on a class of pupils and the people that teach them.

Although it is shot in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2:35, the camera hangs tight on each character and never really gives us a look at the French city landscape.

Although this might sound claustrophobic, it makes the lessons and world inside of the school (the staff room, the corridors, the playground) all come alive.

The performances are uniformly excellent – especially from Bégaudeau and a very special cast of non-professional teenagers – but the film also has a tremendous sense of humanity to it without ever slipping into cheap sentiment.

This is one of those rare films that touches the heart whilst engaging the brain – a gem that I would urge anyone to go and see when it gets released in the UK.

>  The Class at the IMDb
BBC News report on the win at Cannes in May

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 9

Today was another busy day in which I spoke to a couple of directors with films showing at the Festival and saw another film in the evening.

A combination of a cold that simply will not go away and a sore neck (I somehow managed to strain it a couple of days ago) has made walking around town and even watching films a little painful. 

But despite all this, it was an interesting day and the two directors were behind two excellent films with intriguing subjects.

In the morning I went up to a members club in Soho where I met up with Mark Hartley, the director of Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary about the wave of Australian exploitation cinema that flourished in the 1970s.

He was a very funny and engaging guy to talk to and made light of the numerous noises that plagued the drawing room we spoke in.

Not only was there the ubiquitous police sirens that routinely plague Soho, but at one point there was a knocking on the walls and door so persistent that I though Jack Nicholson was going to burst in with an axe.

His film is a real gem – a very energetic and engaging documentary that I think will get a great response at the festival and generate good word of mouth.

It features a lot of hilarious footage from some films of the time – some of them which beggar belief – but also makes some interesting points about Aussie culture as well.

At lunch time I went to one of my favourite bars in town to flick through the day’s papers, especially The Times which (as you might expect) was full of W. coverage.

You can listen to the full interview with Mark here.

Cover of The Times

The newspaper is the sponsor of the festival and last night’s premiere was also The Times gala screening (each big premiere at the festival has it’s own sponsor). 

I liked the film although some of the people I have spoken to about it have been decidedly mixed in their reaction.

Part of the problem is that Bush has been in everyone’s face for the last 8 years and I think there is a certain amount of fatigue over the 43rd US president.

That said, it is interesting to note that since the US primaries began in January he has effectively been a ghost figure overshadowed by the extraordinary presidential campaign.

In fact, I wonder if in future Oliver Stone would be tempted to make a film about these primaries as they have been filled with great characters, had a gripping narrative and also revealed much about America as a country.

Maybe the problem the film has had in the US is that it can’t cover the almost unbelievably dramatic real events of the last year, including the current financial meltdown – surely the final nail in the coffin of the Bush era.

Despite all this I thought W. was a brave piece of film-making.

Although it would have been easy to take cheap shots at Bush it explored his life through the lens of the build up to Iraq in a way that was both thoughtful and engaging.

It charted at number four in the US box office last week (it appears more people were interested in seeing a talking dog) but I suspect it will do better in foreign territories.

One of the massive advantages of bar I was in was that it has free and easy wifi, which is surprisingly difficult to find in London.

Laptop

No horrible BT OpenZone login nonsense or failed connections, just a popup window saying you’re online. Perfect.

This is part of the reason I frequent this place so much and use it as my de facto office in town. Other establishments please note.

I edited and uploaded my Mark Hartley interview on to my laptop before heading off down to a hotel in central London where a lot of the interviews for the festival are taking place.

For some of the bigger films a PR company or the distributor will arrange a press junket where different media outlets go along and chat with the cast and/or director for an allotted period of time.

For some of the smaller films at the festival with a smaller PR budget the filmmakers hook up with journalists a designated spot at the bar of the hotel.

It’s a bit like speed dating as you pick who you want to talk to and then move on to the next table.

In the afternoon though I met up with the director Ari Folman who is the man behind Waltz With Bashir, one of the key gala screenings at this year’s festival.

The film is really quite something, a startling animated documentary dealing with Ari’s own struggle to remember his experiences as an Israeli soldier in Lebanon during September 1982.

He was a very interesting man to speak to, not only because he directed the film but because it is actually about his own experiences.

I asked him a bunch of questions about the style of the film and how he realised them on screen and also about how the film was received in Israel.

Despite the fact that the film deals with some shocking subject matter – culminating in the Sabra and Shatila massacre which saw thousands of Palistinean refugees slaughtered by Lebanese miltitia whilst Israeli troops turned a blind eye – he told me that the reception has been very good.    

The film is really quite unique in that it combines many disparate elements – history, politics, animation, music, interviews and the documentary form – to brilliant effect.

I hope it gets a wider audience than just the arthouse circuit as the timely anti-war themes are  complemented beautifully by the groundbreaking animation.

Later in the evening I went to a screening of The Baader Meinhoff Complex which details the terrorist movement that gripped West Germany in the late 60s and 1970s.

It focuses on the Red Army Faction, the left-wing militant group formed by radicalised children of the Nazi generation, who fought an international terrorist campaign opposing American imperialism and the German establishment throughout the 1970s.

At two and a half hours long it is a farily gruelling story, but given the current political and social turmoil of the present decade it makes for interesting viewing to say the least.

I should be speaking with some of the cast and crew on Monday, so I’ll write more about it then, but it screens at the festival on Sunday and Tuesday.

> Interview: Mark Hartley on Not Quite Hollywood
Ari Folman at the IMDb
The Baader Meinhoff Complex at the LFF site

Categories
London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 8

 W. press screening

Today was the day of the European premiere of W., the new Oliver Stone film about President George W. Bush.

It screened as the Times Gala at the Odeon Leicester Square, The (London) Times of course being the sponsor of the London film festival.

I went to the press show in the morning and although I had some doubts going in, must confess I really rather liked it.

I’ll post a longer review in a separate post, but one of the most interesting aspects was the reaction of other people who saw it too. 

One person I spoke to afterwards said they were upset Stone didn’t ‘nail Bush’ (quite an image that) and another expressed his surprise that he didn’t know what Stone thought of Bush (?!). 

I suspect it will be a film divides viewers, but not necessarily along the lines one might suspect. 

Added to all this, I had the surreal experience of David Frost sitting right near me just a few minutes before the film started.

In the same cinema just over a week ago I saw a film about him and President Nixon and now I was sitting near him before a film about President Bush.

W. kicked off what was a really busy day in which I also saw Che, The Class and The Wrestler

So by the end of it all I was really, really tired.

> W. at the IMDb
> Reviews of W. at Metacritic
> Find out more about George W. Bush at Wikipedia

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 6

This morning I went to the press screening of Waltz With Bashir which is showing at the Centrepiece Gala on Friday.

It deals with the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre and the memory of the Israeli soldiers involved in the invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s. 

Directed by Ari Folman, it examines his own experiences on that mission and the struggle to remember what happened when he interviews various army colleagues from the time.

The strange title is taken from a scene with one of Folman’s interviewees, who remembers taking a machine gun and dancing an ‘insane waltz’ amid enemy fire, with posters of Bashir Gemayel lining the walls behind him.

Gemayel was the Lebanese president who whose assassination helped trigger the massacre.  

The most unusual and startling aspect of the film is that it is animated, an unconventional approach for what is essentially a documentary.

Although very different in theme and tone to Creature Comforts it appears to adopt the same device in which real conversations are animated and stylised. 

A hugely ambitious film, it took four years to complete and is and international co-production between IsraelGermany and France.

Back in May it premiered to huge acclaim at Cannes and was one of the front runners to win the Palme d’Or

Much of that praise is richly deserved because this is an arresting and highly original film.

It deserves particular credit for taking a highly politicised and contentious event and yet somehow makes a wider point about the futility of war whose relevance is not just confined to the cauldron of the Middle East.

Another aspect which makes this story so intrguing is that the Israeli troops were not guilty of the massacre itself but of standing by and letting Lebanese miltia murder Palestinian refugees. 

It is the memory of, or rather the inability to remember, this event that lies at the core of the story. Has Folman unconsciously blocked out the memory? Does guilt cloud any rational perspective? 

The raw power of the source material is enhanced by some extraordinary imagery, with a remarkable and inventive use of colour for certain sections, especially those involving the sea.

Added to this is Folman’s narration which has an almost hypnotic effect when set alongside the visuals, almost as if the audience is experiencing a dream whilst watching the film itself. 

The film won 6 Israeli Film Academy awards (including Best Picture) and looks likely to be a strong contender for the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.

It might seem like a strange film to make about such a serious subject but it’s surreal approach only makes the horrors of war seem all too real. 

This is the trailer:

 

Waltz With Bashir screens at the festival on Friday and opens in the UK on Friday 21st November

> Official site
> Waltz With Bashir at the IMDb
> Reviews of the film from Cannes back in May

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 5

Today there was a Time Out gala screening of Hunger which is one of the highlights of this year’s London Film Festival. 

It is the debut feature film of artist Steve McQueen and explores the 1981 IRA hunger strike, one of the key episodes of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

This involved a group of IRA prisoners in the Maze led by Bobby Sands go on a protracted hunger strike in order to pressurize the British government to recognise them as political prisoners.

What is interesting is the way the film explores the hellish physical and mental toll this took on the prisoners and guards at the Maze prison.

I didn’t feel I was being lectured to about the wider politics of the Troubles, but rather being forced to confront the sharp end of the conflict as well as the lengths humans will go to in extreme situations.

There are some remarkable performances: Michael Fassbender as the stubborn and  obsessive Sands, Liam Cunningham as the priest who questions the strike and Stuart Graham as a prison guard are just some of the excellent performers who don’t sound a single false note.

Although when it screened at Cannes earlier this year, there were the usual dumb headlines about a ‘controversial’ film about the IRA, but you shouldn’t be put off by the historical context.

Although the modern history of Northern Ireland has inspired some woefully misguided films (A Prayer for the Dying and The Devil’s Own spring to mind), what’s interesting is that McQueen manages to takes inside the insane brutality of the conflict by focusing on the particular situation and environment inside the Maze.

Some sequences are tough to watch: the prison guards getting rough with inmates, the prisoners smearing their walls with excrement or two people simply debating the reasons for the hunger strike, but all are handled with an incredible amount of finesse and skill.

One scene in particular is stomach turning, but somehow all the more effective for showing the depths to which some sank during this period. 

It is not a partisan film, although it is fair to say that the focus is more on Sands, particularly the coda of the film which I think some have misread.

Within the confines of the prison – and some sequences outside – the chilling atmosphere of the time is brilliantly evoked through some superb widescreen lensing by Sean Bobbit.

The sound too is well crafted, with little in the way of a conventional score and a lot of effects coming from the prisoners themselves, particularly the banging from inside the cells which at certain points is overwhelming.

Despite the potential pitfalls that surround any film about The Troubles, this is an audacious work more in the tradition of Alan Clarke’s Elephant or Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday – boldly intelligent examinations of a dark and complex conflict.  

I wrote about Hunger in greater detail after I saw it last month and since then I have heard McQueen express his sense of being an outsider coming into the British film industry from the art world.

On The Guardian’s Film Weekly podcast recently he told Jason Solomons:

I just wish there was more …passion with the film world here. 

Maybe people are too inhibited.

Maybe because I’m an outsider who came inside and I see how the house is operating and I think ‘bloody hell’.  

On the evidence of this film we need more passionate outsiders like Steve McQueen, because this is a stunning piece of work that deserves as wide an audience as possible.

Check out the trailer here:

 

Hunger opens in UK cinemas on October 31st

> Hunger at the LFF
> Official UK site for Hunger
> Steve McQueen at the IMDb

Categories
Cinema London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 4

Today the London Film Festival saw a gala screening of Religulous, a documentary featuring US comedian Bill Maher that explores the issue of religious faith.

Directed by Larry Charles (who also directed Borat) it is a riotous and frequently hilarious examination of why human beings believe in stories which cannot be proven, ideas that are often cruel and organisations that are usually corrupt.

The end result is a cross between Michael Moore, Borat and Maher’s own HBO show Real Time in that it is a guerilla documentary that poses smart and often humourous questions at why people believe what they believe.

Using the major faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam as the foundation of the film, it also visits numerous religious destinations such as Jerusalem, the Vatican and Salt Lake City, interviewing various people connected to them.

I suspect that the reaction to this film will largely depend on whether you are religious or not.

For those who believe in God it will be a blasphemous blast of outrage whilst for those who don’t it will come as a welcome assertion of doubt.

What’s interesting about the film is that although it points out some of the more ludicrous aspects of religious faith (i.e. the talking snake, a guy trapped inside a whale, death sentences for novelists, magic underwear) it is all undercut by a solid base of intelligence.

Maher has clearly done his homework on the various faiths under the microscope and whilst he doesn’t shy away from joking about them, he also poses some serious questions about the nature of belief and it’s effect on the human race.

As Maher has said about the film, the approach isn’t just to knock religious faith but to examine why and how religion has come to affect human beings:

I’m not trying to mandate that people think anything in particular. I’m just suggesting there’s a different way to think. That’s just free speech.

But when it comes to religion, free speech has been off-limits for many years. 

This film is certainly a counterblast to the notion that religion shouldn’t be discussed openly.

But aside from the subject matter, there are many interesting aspects to the film including three that really stood out for me.

The first involves the theological discussions – many of which descend into unintentional hilarity – such as a conversation with a ‘fake’ Jesus at a religious theme park(!) who Maher informs that the resurrection story is a myth that actually predates Christianity.

The second is the clever editing and use of subtitles which contradict their subjects by voicing concerns or offering points the interviewees forgot to mention. 

(One example is the insertion of doubts expressed by the Americans who drafted the US Constitution, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams when someone suggests America is a ‘Christian’ nation.) 

The third is the rough and ready camera style which doesn’t shy away from showing the barebones crew hovering around Maher or the numerous B-roll shots which explain how they filmed where they did and the difficultirs involved.

In some ways this approach mirrors Borat and I’m sure some of the same tactics and inventive legal releases were used in order to get people to speak.

I am almost willing to guarentee that a lot of UK critics (like some of their US counterparts) will be snooty about this film, adopting a Pontius Pilate stance, saying that whilst they agree with Maher’s thrust, they disapprove of his smugness and unfair ‘attack’ on religion.

In some ways this misses the point of the film – it is meant to defalte the pomposity of religion and make us laugh at the numerous absurdities it has spawned.

The target audience here is not people of faith, but rather the agnostic and atheistic. In a sense it highlights the nonsense of religion in order to advocate the sense openly criticising those you disagree with.

Whilst many defenders of faith will say they are under attack from ‘smug atheists’ in the ‘liberal media’, surely the events of this decade have shown has dangerous religion can be in the hands of important global figures.

In a world where the current US president has stated that God shapes his foreign policy, religious fanatics encourage acolytes to fly planes into buildings and people are convinced that the Bible is actual fact, this film that shows us doubts worth believing in.   

Religulous is scheduled to open at UK cinemas in December

> Religulous at the IMDb 
> Find out more about Bill Maher and Larry Charles at Wikipedia  
> Reviews for Religulous at Metacritic

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 3

BFI Southbank and IMAX

One of the nice things about the London Film Festival is that a lot of filmmakers are in town and today I spoke to Toa Fraser, who is the director of Dean Spanley, which screened tonight at the Odeon West End.

Set at the turn of the twentieth century and based on the novel by Baron Dunsany, it deals with a misanthropic old man (Peter O’Toole) who unexpectedly re-lives happy and painful memories thanks to the revels of a drunken curate (Sam Neill).

I’ll put the interview with Toa up on the site in the next 48 hours.

In the evening I saw the new Bond film Quantum of Solace, which aside from being one of the biggest films of the year is also having it’s first public showing as part of the festival on Wednesday 29th.

It might seem strange for such a commercial film to be part of a festival that showcases a diverse selection of films but from the organisers point of view it is a bit of a no-brainer.

Not only will the spotlight on a Bond world premiere help illuminate other parts of the festival, but the fact that 007 (like Harry Potter) is one of the few British cinema icons that connect to audiences on a global level.

The head of Sony Pictures UK (who are distributing the movie here) said before the film began that it was the first time anyone had seen it, so anticipation was high.

In many ways it delivered the goods with Daniel Craig’s more serious Bond working as well as it did in Casino Royale.

Although it looks good and will no doubt do great business at the box office, I do having a nagging doubt as to whether Marc Forster was the right director for this kind of material.

What’s odd about the film is that there seems to be more action than usual (even for a Bond film) but it’s a bit rushed and a lot of the set pieces lack the finesse and ingenuity of more contemporary rivals like The Bourne Ultimatum or The Dark Knight.

It is the character based sequences that actually work better, with the relationships between Bond, M (Judi Dench), Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and Camille (Olga Kurylenko) portrayed with the kind of wit and subtley that might surprise some audiences.

Another aspect to the film that might attract some column inches is the rather dark – if entirely plausible – view of the United States as a cynical and amoral superpower. Even the British don’t escape unscathed with one scene appearing to hint at the Blairite acquiescence to the Bush administration in the war on terror.

For more thoughts on the film check out my post here.

Quantum of Solace screens at the festival next week before opening everywhere on October 31st.

Dean Spanley opens in the UK on December 12th

> Quantum of Solace and Dean Spanley at the LFF site
> My first thoughts on Quatum of Solace
> Toa Fraser at the IMDb

Categories
Festivals

LFF 2008: Synecdoche, New York

In the last decade Charlie Kaufman has become one of those rare screenwriters whose work has even overshadowed the directors he has worked with. 

This is quite a feat given that he has collaborated with Spike Jonze (on Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) and Michel Gondry (Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). 

However, it is fair to say that all those films bear certain recognisable tropes: ingenious narratives, surreal images and a tragi-comic view of human affairs.

It would also be fair to assume that his directorial debut would be similar, but Synecdoche, New York does not just bear token similarities to his previous scripts. 

In fact it is so Kaufman-esque that it takes his ideas to another level of strangeness, which is quite something if you bear in mind what has come before.

The story centres around a theatre director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who starts to re-evaluate life after both his health and marriage start to break down. 

He receives a grant to do something artistically adventurous and decides to stage an enormously ambitious production inside a giant warehouse.

What follows is a strange and often baffling movie, complete with the kind of motifs that are peppered throughout Kaufman’s scripts: someone lives in a house oblivious to the fact that it is permanently on fire; a theatrical venue the size of several aircraft hangars is casually described as a place where Shakespeare is performed; and visitors to an art gallery view microscopic paintings with special goggles. 

But despite the oddities and the Chinese-box narrative, this is a film overflowing with invention and ideas. 

It explores the big issues of life and death but also examines the nature of art and performance – a lot of the film, once it goes inside the warehouse, is a mind-boggling meditation on our lives as a performance. 

Imagine The Truman Show rewritten by Samuel Beckett and directed by Luis Buñuel and you’ll get some idea of what Kaufman is aiming for here. 

I found a lot of the humour very funny, but the comic sensibility behind the jokes is dry and something of an acquired taste.

Much of the film hinges on Seymour Hoffman’s outstanding central performance in which he conveys the vulnerability and determination of a man obsessed with doing something worthwhile before he dies. 

The makeup for the characters supervised by Mike Marino is also first rate, creating a believable ageing process whilst the sets are also excellent, even if some of the CGI isn’t always 100% convincing. 

The supporting cast too is very impressive: Catherine KeenerMichelle WilliamsSamantha MortonEmily WatsonHope DavisTom Noonan and Dianne Weist all contribute fine performances and fit nicely into the overall tone of the piece. 

Although the world Kaufman creates will alienate some viewers, it slowly becomes a haunting meditation on how humans age and die.

As the film moves towards resolution it becomes surprisingly moving with some of the deeper themes slowly, but powerfully, rising to the surface.

This means that although it will have it’s admirers (of which I certainly include myself) it is likely to prove too esoteric for mass consumption as it has a downbeat tone despite the comic touches.

Having seen it only once, this is a film I instantly wanted to revisit, so dense are the layers and concepts contained within it.

On first viewing it became a bit too rich at times for it’s own good. However, it isn’t often that filmmakers aim this high.

I certainly haven’t seen a film like this in years.

N.B. Apparently the first word of the title is pronounced “Syn-ECK-duh-kee”. 

The following video from Cannes back in May showed the confusion over how to pronounce it:

Synecdoche, New York screens at the London Film Festival on Tuesday 28th and Wednesday 29th October

* It opens in the US on October 24th in limited release but the UK release is TBA *

UPDATE 25/10/08: In an earlier version of this article I wrote that Judy Chin was in charge of makeup for this film but just to clarify, Mike Marino designed the ageing makeups whilst Judy was department head of the rest. (Thanks to Mike for getting in touch to point this out.) 

Synecdoche, New York at the IMDb

Watch the press conference at the official Cannes site
> Check out the reaction from Cannes about the film
Categories
London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 1

Crane outside the Odeon Leicester Square

The 52nd London Film Festival opened tonight with the world premiere of Frost/Nixon at the Odeon Leicester Square.  

I went to the press screening this morning and I was very impressed – not only were the central performances of the same calibre as the stage play, but it is fascinating look at two very interesting characters. 

Although Peter Bradshaw gave it the thumbs down in The Guardian today, I felt Ron Howard did an admirable job at preserving the qualities of the source material.

It might not be the heavyweight Oscar front-runner some were expecting, it is still high quality film-making with a raft of excellent performances. 

The audience reaction this morning seemed positive – some of Nixon’s best lines got hearty laughs – but I’m curious as to how it will do.

A friend of mine went to a press screening last night and said that although he liked it, that audience was a little more muted in their response.

Some of the problems it will face are the absence of major stars, it is quite ‘talky’ and the fact that a younger generation might not care that much about Richard Nixon or David Frost.

But, as a big fan of the play, I was surprised at how much Howard didn’t alter and that he kept it rooted firmly in the contrasts of the two main characters, which is the main reason the material works. 

You can read my full review of Frost/Nixon in a separate post, but I think it’s also worth setting the scene a little bit about the festival and what’s going on over the next 3 weeks.

First of all the London Film Festival is sort of ‘festival of festivals’, which means that whilst it doesn’t have the importance of Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Venice or Toronto, it does have the advantage of picking the best films from these festivals and even, in some cases, showcasing films that have not shown at any of them.

It doesn’t perform the same industry function as Cannes or Sundance in that networking and distribution deals are much rarer, but it does provide an opportunity for the public to see some of the year’s best films be they high profile Oscar contenders or more art-house fare. 

This year some of the high profile screenings at the festival include:

As usual there will be a series of talks, panels and strands which include French films, shorts and documentaries.

BFI Southbank entrance

For accredited folk like me  there have been regular screenings down at the BFI Southbank for the past couple of weeks and I’ve already seen some films I’ve really liked, such as Religulous, Sugar and Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist

But more about them when they actually screen at the festival. 

Last year I did a series of podcasts from the festival, where I discussed various films and events but that proved to be harder work than I imagined.

It involved recording, editing and uploading a lot of audio and I wasn’t really sure at the end of it all if that was the best way of reflecting what was going on. This year I’m going to try and be a bit more flexible.

For example, I want to cast the net a bit wider with my interviews.

I’ll be speaking to some of the actors and directors behind some of the more high profile films but I’m also keen to hear from anyone else at the festival – maybe you have a short film there, are going a talk or just attending a screening. 

I’ll put up a post each day about what’s happening from my angle which  will usually involve the films I’m seeing and generally anything of interest, such as photos, links and news. 

But if you have any suggestions feel free to contact me – you can use the contact form on this site or email me via [email protected]

You can also reach me via FacebookLinkedInMySpace and Twitter.

The Times report on this year’s lineup
Official LFF website
Check out our reports from last year

Categories
Festivals

LFF 2008: Frost/Nixon

The film version of Peter Morgan‘s play about the Nixon interviews conducted by David Frost in 1977 made me a little nervous. 

As someone who was a huge admirer of the London stage production back in 2006, I had concerns that many of qualities that made it work so brilliantly on stage could be ironed out for the big screen.

However, it is to the film’s great credit that director Ron Howard and Morgan (who wrote the screenplay) have not only preserved the insight and charm of the play but made it work in a different medium. 

For those not familiar with the story, it explores how ambitious English talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) persuaded the disgraced former US president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) to a series of taped interviews nearly three years after his resignation. 

They culminated in a dramatic admission by the 39th president that he had essentially betrayed his country. What is particularly interesting about Morgan’s version is the way it shows the incredible tensions and ironies behind the scenes of what is now a famous piece of television history. 

Whilst Nixon was resigning in August 1974, Frost was presenting a very light-hearted talk show in Australia – one sequence shows Nixon pondering Frost’s offer whilst the presenter himself is filming a low budget item in Sydney about an escapologist.

It also shows the window of opportunity opened up for Frost by the US media, who were reluctant to pay the former President for a news interview and felt that Frost was something of a lightweight when it came to asking the tough questions. 

All the major networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) turned Frost down and he was forced use some of his own money to finance the project. 

Professionally and personally he had a lot at stake and much of the script’s power comes from contrasting two men looking to reignite their careers in the form of these televised interviews. 

The stage version managed to brilliantly tease out the contradictions and characters of both men and Sheen and Langella were both outstanding in their roles. 

Thankfully Howard has managed to preserve the power of their portrayals and although conventional Hollywood wisdom would have been to cast bigger names, the decision to stick with the actors who knew these characters so well has proved to be absolutely correct. 

Sheen does a superb technical impression of Frost but also conveys the charm and drive that made the interviews happen, whilst Langella gets beneath the infamous veneer of  Nixon, showing us how formidable yet fragile he could be. 

The supporting cast are uniformly excellent: Matthew Macfadyen as John BirtOliver Platt as Bob Zelnick, Sam Rockwell as James Reston, Jr. and Kevin Bacon as Jack Brennan, all convince in their roles as key aides to the two central characters. 

Also notable is the vivid period feel, with the costumes and sets adding an all encompassing sense of realism that the theatre can’t quite provide.

With his cinematographer Salvadore Totino, Howard has also opted for a more intimate approach with the camera usually staying quite close to characters rather than giving us lots of establishing shots of the Californian setting.

It is worth noting that some liberties with actual events have been taken – Frost himself has highlighted that Nixon’s famous confessional answer didn’t come at the end of filming and that a crucial sequence prior to that never actually happened. 

Although this leaves some debate about Morgan’s approach to history, which he has achieved huge success with in recent years scripting The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, it does make for powerful drama as well as demonstrating how slippery remembering events can be.

It remains to be seen how this will do at the box office, but despite the high brow nature of the material, there is a surprisingly accessible quality on display here. 

The genial nature of Frost’s ambition and the politically incorrect tone to Nixon’s stubbornness help make both characters a compelling double act. 

What might seem like a dry, talky period piece is brought to life by the energy and charisma of the two performers. As they duel in front of the cameras about Vietnam and Watergate, they joust off it about Italian shoes, cheeseburgers and women. 

It is this surreal mix of the personal and political that lies at the heart of why the play and this film version work so well. 

In the fictionalized details of the Frost/Nixon interviews we can see the deeper truths about how the powerful abuse their position and how that is presented to the public who have been betrayed.

Frost/Nixon opens the London Film Festival tonight and is released in the UK on Friday 9th January and in the US on December 5th   

> Official site for Frost/Nixon
> Frost/Nixon at the IMDb
> The Times with a piece by director Ron Howard about making the film and an interview with David Frost about his verdict
> Find out more about Richard Nixon at Wikipedia
> Read a transcript from the interviews at The Guardian

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival News

London Film Festival 2008: Lineup Announced

The full lineup for the 52nd London Film Festival has been announced.

Amongst the highlights are Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, W., Quantum of Solace, The Class, Che (in two parts), Waltz With Bashir and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

GALA SCREENINGS

Frost/Nixon (Opening Film): Ron Howard directs this adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play about the interviews David Frost (Michael Sheen) conducted with the disgraced Richard Nixon in 1977. Morgan adapted his own play and this could well be a heavyweight awards contender if it is anything like the highly acclaimed play.

W. (The Times Gala): Oliver Stone’s political biopic of George W. Bush which sees Josh Brolin play the outgoing US president. A highly impressive supporting cast includes Elisabeth Banks, Thandie Newton, Scott Glenn, Richard Dreyfuss, Toby Jones and James Cromwell as the film charts his extraordinary road from the black sheep of the Bush dynasty to the US presidency.

Genova (The Mayor of London Gala): Director Michael Winterbottom’s latest film is about a man (Colin Firth) who relocates to Italy with his two young daughters (Willa Holland and Perla Haney-Jardine) as he comes to terms with a family tragedy.

Waltz With Bashir (Centrepiece Gala): One of the most acclaimed films at Cannes earlier this year was this anti-war documentary. Director Ari Folman which uses animation to explore his own experiences in the Israeli Army during the first Lebanon War. Realising the limits of his own memory, he tracks down and interviews old friends and comrades in a politically charged study of innocence, memory and war.

Quantum of Solace (Film on the Square Gala): The 22nd James Bond film (which easily makes it the longest running franchise in film history) is directed by Marc Forster and sees Daniel Craig return as the legendary secret agent.  This film picks up the storyline just one hour after the end of Casino Royale, making this the first direct Bond sequel, as 007 fights the urge to make his latest mission personal.

The Other Man (Hewlett-Packard Gala): The latest film from award-winning theatre and film director Richard Eyre is about a husband (Liam Neeson) who suspects that his loving wife of 20 years (Laura Linney) may be cheating on him. Antonio Banderas and Romola Garai star in supporting roles

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Sky Gala): Woody Allen’s latest sees him relocate to Catalonia with this tale of two US students Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) both fall for the charms of Latin seducer Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Things are further complicated when his tempestuous ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) re-enters the scene.

The Brothers Bloom (American Airlines Gala): Writer-director Rian Johnson (who made the startling debut Brick in 2006) has assembled an impressive cast for a comedic twist on the heist movie. Brothers Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) are expert swindlers still searching for the perfect con, who lure an eccentric heiress (Rachel Weisz) into their elaborate scheme.

Easy Virtue (MasterCard Gala): Australian director Stephan Elliott revisits Noel Coward’s social comedy, retaining the 1920s setting, whilst giving it a modern feel. It is about a young aristocrat (Ben Barnes) who impulsively marries a glamorous and sexy American (Jessica Biel), which leads to a culture clash. The ensemble cast also includes Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth and Kris Marshall.

Che [Part 1 & Part 2] (Tiscali Gala): Stephen Soderbergh’s biopic of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara (Benicio del Toro) is screened in two parts. The first chronicles his rise from doctor to successful revolutionary and the second deals with his attempt to orchestrate the great Latin American revolution.

The Class (Sight & Sound Special Screening): The winn er od the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is an adaptation of François Bégaudeau’s novel Entre les Murs, which is based on his experiences working in a school in Paris. Bégaudeau himself plays a committed teacher attempting to reach out to his pupils through language and literature.

Hunger (Time Out Special Screening): Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen ventures into film making with this drama about the 1981 IRA Hunger Strike led by Bobby Sands. Michael Fassbender plays Sands, whilst Stuart Graham and Liam Cunningham star in supporting roles.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunger S. Thompson (Documentary Gala): ‘Gonzo’ journalist Hunter S. Thompson is the latest subject for documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, who uses a wealth of archive footage and high-profile interviewees such as Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Carter, to paint a fascinating portrait of the counterculture icon. Johnny Depp (who played Thompson in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Laothing in Las Vegas back in 1998) narrates along with extracts from Thompson’s work.

The Secret of Moonacre (Family Gala): Based on the popular children’s novel The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, director Gabor Csupo’s latest offering follows Maria Merryweather (Dakota Blue-Richards), an orphan who inherits a book that provides a key to a past world and may answer the riddles of Moonacre Manor. With supporting performances from Ioan Gruffudd and Juliet Stevenson.

Slumdog Millionaire (Closing Night Film): Danny Boyle directs this true life tale of a poor teenager in Mumbai who goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in order to find his true love. It has already got rave reviews at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals and looks like an early awards contender.

FILMS ON THE SQUARE

These are the other notable films from around the world that will be screening in cinemas in Leicester Square during the festival.

24 City (Ershisi Cheng Ji) (Dir. Jia Zhangke / China)
Achilles And The Tortoise (Dir. Takeshi Kitano / Japan)
Adoration (Atom Egoyan / Canada)
American Teen (Dir. Nanette Burstein / USA)
Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi / USA)
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Dir. Uli Edel / Germany)
Ballast (Dir. Lance Hammer / USA)
A Christmas Tale (Dir. Arnaud Desplechin / France)
Dean Spanley (Dir. Toa Fraser / UK, New Zealand)
Il Divo (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino / Italy)
Frozen River (Dir. Courtney Hunt / USA)
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Dir. Kim Jee-Woon / South Korea)
Hamlet 2 (Dir. Andrew Fleming / USA)
Heart Of Fire (Dir. Luigi Falorni / Germany & Austria)
Incendiary (Dir. Sharon Maguire / UK)
Johnny Mad Dog (Dir. Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire / France, Belgium & Liberia)
Lake Tahoe (Dir. Fernando Eimbcke / Mexico)
Let’s Talk About The Rain (Dir. Agnès Jaoui / France)
Lion’s Den (Dir. Pablo Trapero / Argentina)
Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Dir. Peter Sollett / USA)
Of Time And The City (Dir. Terence Davies / UK)
A Perfect Day (Dir. Ferzan Ozpetek / Italy)
Quiet Chaos (Dir. Antonello Grimaldi / Italy)
Rachel Getting Married (Dir. Jonathan Demme / USA)
Religulous (Dir. Larry Charles / USA)
The Secret Life Of Bees (Dir. Gina Prince–Bythewood / USA)
The Silence Of Lorna (Jean – Pierre & Luc Dardenne / Belgium, France & Italy)
Sugar (Dir. Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck / USA)
Surprise Film
Synecdoche New York (Dir. Charlie Kaufman / USA)
Three Blind Mice (Dir. Matthew Newton / Australia)
Three Monkeys (Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan / Turkey, France & Italy)
Tokyo! (Dir. Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Bong Joon–Ho / France, Japan)
Tulpan (Dir. Sergey Dvortsevoy / Russia)
Two Lovers (Dir.  James Gray / USA)
Tyson (Dir. James Toback / USA)
The Warlords (Dir. Peter Chan / China)
Wendy & Lucy (Dir. Kelly Reichardt/ USA)

For a full list of films showing at the festival go to the official LFF website.

> The Times report on this year’s lineup
> Official LFF website
> Check out our reports from last year

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival News

Slumdog Millionaire to close the London Film Festival

Slumdog Millionaire will be the closing film at this year’s London Film Festival.

Directed by Danny Boyle, it is the story of a streetkid from Mumbai (Dev Patel) who goes on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

I spoke to Danny last year and he told me a bit about the story, which you can listen to here:

[audio:Danny_Boyle_on_Slumdog_Millionaire_back_in_April_2007.mp3]

[ad]

The film recently received a lot of buzz and critical acclaim at the Telluride Film Festival and looks like an early awards season contender.

It will screen this week at the Toronto Film Festival and opens in the US on November 28th.

A UK release is expected for early 2009.

This is a clip from the film:

Here is the official press release:

London – Wednesday 3 September: The Closing Night Gala of The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival will be the European Premiere of Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is the story of Jamal Malik, an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who finds himself  just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’.

Arrested on suspicion of cheating, Jamal tells the police the incredible story of his life on the streets, and of the girl he loved and lost. But what is a kid with no interest in money doing on the show? And how does he know all the answers?

When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the police and sixty million viewers are about to find out … Dev Patel (Skins) stars alongside an all-Indian cast including Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Madhur Mittal and Freida Pinto in this uplifting drama set and shot in India.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE was adapted for the screen by Oscar®-winning writer Simon Beaufoy (THE FULL MONTY) from the bestselling novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup.

The film was produced by Christian Colson and Executive Producers Tessa Ross and Paul Smith, with cinematography from Boyle’s regular collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle (28 DAYS LATER).

Pathé Distribution will release the Film4 funded film in the UK in early 2009 and Pathé International is handling international sales.

In addition to bringing the Festival’s 16 day celebration of cinema to a close, Danny Boyle will give a career interview as part of the Tiscali Screen Talks series.

Sandra Hebron, the Festival’s Artistic Director comments: ‘We’re thrilled to be closing our Festival with this latest film from one of the UK’s most talented and versatile directors. Pulling together a wealth of talent from two continents to tell this moving and truly contemporary tale, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE will bring this year’s Festival to a vibrant and cheering close.’

On having his film invited to close the London Film Festival, Danny Boyle comments: “I am delighted that the film will receive its European premiere at the London Film Festival. I hope that Londoners will respond to this story about another great megatropolis – Mumbai, “the Maximum City”.’

The full programme for The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival will be announced next Wednesday (10th September).

The London Film Festival runs from 15-30 October 2008

> Official site for the London Film Festival
> Official US site for Slumdog Millionaire at Fox Searchlight
> /Film with more photos from the film
> Listen to our full interview with Danny Boyle from April 2007 about Sunshine

[Photo Credit: Ishika Mohan / TM and © 2008 Fox Searchlight / All rights reserved.]