Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2013: Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

Director Paul Greengrass returns to the tensions of the post 9/11 era, with a gripping account of the 2009 hijacking of a US cargo ship.

Based on the real life account of Richard Phillips, it depicts how he and his crew came across a gang of pirates whilst travelling the dangerous shipping lanes of East Africa.

Early on we see the contrasting figures of Phillips (Tom Hanks), as he leaves his wife (Catherine Keener) at the airport, and the skinny Somalian pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who is forced out to sea by his bosses.

In this we see a snapshot of globalisation: the well off captain of a US cargo ship and the poor fisherman with an AK-47, both conducting their own forms of business but ultimately caught up in events outside of their control.

Billy Ray’s script touches upon these issues but wisely skips ponderous, explanatory dialogue, instead opting for a lean depiction of a particular event.

Within this, the film touches upon the seemingly incongruous aspects of modern piracy, ships using water hoses rather than armed security as owners won’t insure them and the desperation of Somalis who face a choice between piracy and selling Khat.

Greengrass and his cinematographer Barry Ackroyd do a highly efficient job of getting us quickly into the action and ramping up the drama without resorting to sentiment or bombast.

Ackroyd’s distinctive handheld style and Christopher Rouse‘s pacy editing gives the proceedings the necessary kick, helping to sustain the tension in the bright sunlight of the ocean or the dark bowels of the ships.

As it reaches its latter stages and the US military response cranks into life, the tensions kicks up a gear with the kind of precision you might expect from the director of the best Bourne movies.

Looking at the film overall, we see different genre elements at play: it quickly builds up steam to become a chase film, a hostage drama, a portrait of two clever but defiant individuals and ultimately a study in endurance.

Hanks is dependably solid in the title role, with one remarkable scene at the end which will surprise many and may secure him a lot of awards attention, and the rest of the cast are convincing, especially Abdi as the lead pirate.

After the relative disappointment of Green Zone (2010), this marks a return to form for Greengrass and in some ways could be seen as a companion film to United 93 (2006).

Both contain extended interior sequences and explore how people react under extreme, life-threatening situations. Whilst United 93 remains the superior work, Captain Phillips is another sturdy addition to the Greengrass CV.

It may lack the thematic weight of some of his previous films, such as Bloody Sunday (2002) and United 93, but it shows his brilliant knack in wringing out tension and emotion from real life events.

Captain Phillips opens the London Film Festival on Weds 9th October and also screens on October 10th.

(It opens wide in the UK on October 18th)

> Captain Phillips at the LFF
> Official site
> Reviews of Captain Phillips at Metacritic


London Film Festival Lineup 2013

LFF Lineup 2013

The London Film Festival announced its 2013 lineup this week with its traditional blend of British premieres and acclaimed films from the festival circuit.

Running this year from October 7th-20th, it opens with Captain Phillips, which features Tom Hanks in the title role, and closes with Saving Mr Banks, which again stars Hanks.

One of the advantages of the festival is that it usually cherry picks the most buzzed about titles from the year’s major festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

This year the lineup looks especially strong with films by Greengrass, Alfonso Cuaron, The Coen Bros, Steve McQueen, Stephen Frears and Alexander Payne.

Although most of the high profile films are showing in the gala section, since last year films have been presented in themed strands, including: LoveDebateDareLaughThrillCultJourneySonicTreasures, and Family.

There are also competition strands: Official, First Feature and Documentary.

Here are my picks, divided up into Must Sees, Worth Checking Out and Mildly Intrigued.


  • Gravity: Alfonso Cuaron makes his long awaited return with this tale of two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded in space.
  • Captain Phillips: Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) returns with a true life thriller about a US ship hijacked by Somali pirates.
  • 12 Years a Slave: Steve McQueen follows up his acclaimed first two films, Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), with this epic account of account of slavery in pre-Civil War America.
  • Blue is the Warmest Colour: The winner of the Palme D’or at Cannes this year is a hugely acclaimed love story from director Abdellatif Kechiche. Starring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.
  • Nebraska: Director Alexander Payne’s black and white road movie is a portrait of the smalltown midwest starring Bruce Dern, who scooped the Best Actor prize at Cannes earlier this year.
  • Philomena: Stephen Frears demonstrates his customary flair for extracting brilliant performances in this moving drama starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis: The early 1960s folk scene is the setting for the Coen brothers’ latest, which played to acclaim at Cannes earlier this year. Starring Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan.


  • Labor Day: Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) adapts Joyce Maynard’s novel about a young boy and his mother (Kate Winslet) who meet a stranger in trouble (Josh Brolin) and take him back to their house.
  • The Invisible Woman: Directed and starring Ralph Fiennes, this is the story of the famous author and his affair with actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones).


  • The Epic of Everest: The official film of the famous 1924 attempt to climb the highest mountain in the world.
  • Night Moves: Thriller about radical environmental activists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard) who find themselves in a moral maelstrom, from director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy).
  • Mystery Road: An Australian thriller which sees an Aboriginal police officer returning to his home town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. Directed by Ivan Shen and starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving and Ryan Kwanten.
  • We Are the Best!: Lukas Moodysson’s (Lilya 4 Ever) coming of age tale is about three teenage girls in Stockholm forming a punk band.
  • Foosball 3D: A 3D animation about good and evil meeting on the football pitch. Directed by Juan José Campanella, this is his first feature since the Oscar-winning The Secrets in Their Eyes (2009).

I’m sure there will be other films of note and some events (which at the time of writing are still TBA).

For a PDF of the schedule just click here.

> LFF Official site, Facebook page and Twitter
> Previous coverage of the LFF


Vue London Film Festival Competition

Vue Cinemas are offering three people the chance to be an official reporter for this year’s BFI London Film Festival.

If you are a budding critic or reporter then this could be a good opportunity to cover a film festival and get some experience of reviewing films.

The three winners will report back on the Festival as a guest Tweeter on Vue’s Twitter page and the prize includes: 4 days entrance to the festival, plus travel and accommodation expenses as outlined in the terms & conditions.

To be in with a chance of winning, you have to do the following:

  • Explain in up to 400 words why you want to be the official London Film Festival reviewer for Vue.
  • Write a Twitter-style 140-character film review.

To enter just click here.

> London Film Festival
> Vue’s Twitter Page

Interviews London Film Festival Podcast

Interview: Mark Hartley on Not Quite Hollywood

Not Quite Hollywood is a new documentary exploring the world of Australian exploitation cinema that began in the early 1970s.

Directed by Mark Hartley it shows how a new generation of maverick filmmakers capitalised on the relaxing of censorship laws to create wilder films on smaller budgets.

Whilst more refined directors like Peter Weir achieved worldwide acclaim with films like Picnic At Hanging Rock, more maverick directors and actors created a crazier breed of exploitation movie.

This is the trailer:

Many of the titles were sloppily made, politically incorrect and outraged critcs but some also made money in their home country and abroad.

One of the pleasing aspects of the documentary is Hartley’s irreverent approach, which allied to a huge amount of clips and interviews with the likes of George MillerQuentin TarantinoBarry Humphries and many others, makes for a thoroughly entertaining examination of Australian film culture.

I spoke with Mark recently about the film which is screening at the London Film Festvial this week.

You can listen to the interview here:


You can also download it as a podcast via iTunes by clicking here.

Not Quite Hollywood screens at the London Film Festival on Saturday 24th and Tuesday 28th before getting a UK release in March.

Download this interview as an MP3 file
Mark Hartley at the IMDb
> Official website for the film
Buy tickets for the film at the LFF website


LFF 2008: Day 2

The London Eye and Big Ben

It was a bit of a muted day for me today as I am still trying to shake off a cold and had to catch up on some rest. 

However, nothing was going to stop me from the press screening this morning of Charlie Kaufman‘s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York

I’ve put up a more detailed post about the film here, but it really is a startling film that is going to spark off a thousand arguments about it’s meaning, overall quality and what the hell is going on in Kaufman’s head.

The plot involves a theatre director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who moves his company to a warehouse where he attempts to create a life-size replica of New York as part of his new play. 

Catherine KeenerMichelle WilliamsSamantha Morton and Hope Davis co-star. 

It gets a gala screening next week, so I’ll write more about it then but I’m sure that it will be a film talked about in years to come as either a work of genius or madness – perhaps even both.

The response at the screening was respectful to begin with and there were some laughs sprinkled throughout but as it went into a third act I sensed a weary sadness taking hold. 

That is part of the theme of the film, but also because it is actually dealing in some rather heavy duty subject matter towards the end despite the surreal ‘Kaufmaness’ of it all. 

I’m very keen to see it again as it is an extremely dense and layered film – some of the concepts are truly ingenious – and will probably grow with repeated viewing. 

One of the main gala screenings tonight was Rachel Getting Married, which is directed by Jonathan Demme.

It stars Anne Hathaway as an ex-model who has been in and out from rehab for the past 10 years, who returns home for the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt).

There are some interesting and accomplished things about the film, notably the raw and loose shooting style Demme has opted for as well as two fine performances from Hathaway and DeWitt.

But despite the Oscar buzz surrounding it I was disappointed at the lack of any real drama and the insufferable nature of many of the conversations in the film. 

Emotions and thoughts are too easily verbalised and at it’s lower moments the film plays like an unofficial sequel to Margot at the Wedding – another wedding set film from last year which explored similarly tedious forms of middle class self loathing.

There is also a scene involving a dishwasher that is so interminable that I would have actually rather washed some dishes for the duration of it.

Debra Winger is also utterly wasted in a small role which made you wonder why they bothered casting her in the first place.  

That said I think Hathaway has a good shot at an Oscar nomination for her work here, even if the film itself is something of a disappointment. 

If you have been to the festival or want to discuss any of the films then do leave a comment below or email me.

> My full review of Synecdoche New York
> Rachel Getting Married at the IMDb
> Gala screenings at the LFF this year

Festivals News

Frost/Nixon to open the 52nd London Film Festival

Frost/Nixon, the film version of Peter Morgan’s play about the famous TV interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon, will open this year’s London Film Festival on Wednesday 15th October.

Directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer and Working Title, it sees both principals reprise their West End and Broadway roles as Michael Sheen returns as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon.

The supporting cast includes Kevin Bacon (Jack Brennan), Oliver Platt (Bob Zelnick), Sam Rockwell (James Reston Jr.), Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones (Swifty Lazar) and Matthew Macfadyen (John Birt).

Set during the summer of 1977, the interviews between Frost and Nixon became a huge TV event as over 45 million viewers tuned into to see what their disgraced former leader had to say about his role in the Watergate affair.

Sandra Hebron, the Festival’s Artistic Director says:

“We’re delighted to be opening our festival with this fascinating study of a unique moment in cultural and political life. Engrossing and entertaining by turns, and brilliantly performed, it is a film with strong London links and a perfect opener for this year’s festival.”

Screenwriter and executive producer Peter Morgan notes:

“I’ve been so fortunate with FROST/NIXON, working with two world-class directors in theatre and film and watching two lead actors at the top of their games. Now, having the film premiere at my hometown just completes a thrilling, fairy-tale ride for me.”

On behalf of Working Title, producer Eric Fellner added:

“We are thrilled to open the London Film Festival with FROST/NIXON, and it is entirely appropriate as London is where the journey began for all of us when we saw and were enthralled by the original play when it opened here in August 2006.”

Imagine Entertainment’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer concluded:

“We take great pride in documenting the lives of those who have changed our world. What David Frost and Richard Nixon said and did in their series forever altered public perception of authority figures and the media’s role in interviewing them.

We are honoured that the London Film Festival is allowing Imagine and Working Title to open its festival by showcasing our story of these two men and their stunning display of truths.”

I remember seeing the play in the West End back in November 2006 and was riveted by how it explored the tensions behind the scenes, the negotiations that were struck over what could be asked, the motivations of the two principals (in many ways Frost had as much at stake as Nixon) and how it brilliantly weaved history with informed speculation.

It is good to see Sheen and Langella return for the film version as both gave knockout performances on stage – Sheen in particular gave one of the most impressive portrayals I have ever seen in a live theatre.

The film version – if it delivers the goods – looks like an end-of-year awards contender.

Frost/Nixon will open the London Film Festival on Wednesday 15th October, opens in the US on 5th December (in limited release) and in the UK on January 9th 2009.

> Official site of the London Film Festival
> Frost/Nixon at the IMDb
> Gareth McLean of The Guardian interviews David Frost back in August 2006
> New York Times review of the Broadway production
> Find out more about Watergate at the Washington Post