LFF Review: The Grandmaster – The Weinstein Cut

grandmaster-posterStarring: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Wang Qingxiang, Zhang Jin, Zhao Benshan, Hye-Kyo Song, Chang Chen

Directed by: Wong Kar-Wai

The Surprise Film at the BFI London Film Festival this year ended up being The Grandmaster. I’m not sure how, but I hadn’t seen a Wong Kar-Wai film until this. I’ve been meaning to watch 2046 and In The Mood For Love for ages, but it hasn’t happened yet, and after seeing his latest, I don’t know how much of a rush I’m in to catch up. I should mention this review may get spoiler-y, as I don’t think I can get my point across without discussing the plot.

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LFF Review: Nebraska

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Nebraska_PosterStarring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacey Keach

Directed by: Alexander Payne

We all know elderly people who believe whatever they’re told, and some who are a little too stubborn for their own good, so it’s very likely anyone who watches Nebraska will see something familiar in the lead character. Alexander Payne’s latest film stars Bruce Dern in the lead, alongside Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacey Keach and Bob Odenkirk.

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LFF Review: Tom at the Farm

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Tom at the FarmStarring: Xavier Dolan, Pierre Yves-Cardinal, Lise Roy, Evelyne Brochu, Manuel Tadros, Anne Caron

Directed by: Xavier Dolan

Tom at the Farm is the latest film by the young Canadian director, Xavier Dolan, set in rural French Canada, quite a change in backdrop from his previous work. Dolan takes the lead role of Tom, a guy from Montreal, who visits the childhood home of his boyfriend, Guillaume, after he dies in an accident. But of course, all is not as it seems with his mother, Agathe and brother Francis. Hell bent on keeping Tom at the farm, Francis pulls Tom into a strange, abusive (but platonic) relationship.

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LFF Review: As I Lay Dying

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as-i-lay-dying-posterStarring: James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack, Danny McBride, Beth Grant, Logan Marshall-Green, Ahna O’Reilly

Directed by: James Franco

James Franco keeps churning out films faster than most people can keep track of, and they all seem to have some merit to them, making it all the more impressive. One of his latest directorial ventures is an adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year. Franco also co-wrote it (with Matthew Rager), and stars in it alongside Jim Parrack, Logan Marshall-Green, Tim Blake Nelson, Beth Grant, Ahna O’Reilly and Danny McBride.

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Preview of The 57th BFI London Film Festival

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Today the full programme for the 57th BFI London Film Festival was announced, which runs in the city from 9th to 20th October, mainly in Leicester Square and the BFI’s home on Southbank, but also featuring screenings all over London.

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LFF Review: Udaan

As father-son issues go, Rohan (Rajat Barmecha) definitely has his fair share. After the death of his mother when he was 9 years old, he was sent to boarding school by his strict father. Now at 17, he returns home to a very angry and disappointed father, who is hasn’t seen in 8 years, to find out he got remarried (and divorced), and had another son. His problems with his father escalate on his first night back when his dreams of becoming a writer are completely dismissed. (major understatement of how it goes down)

Amongst all the drama with his father, and the rebellious side of him that just comes with being a teenager, there’s a small but important, and very effective, part of the film that focuses on his relationship with his half brother. Though his initial reaction is to hate him, they bond, and he starts feeling protective towards him against their father. Without this strand to the plot, Rohan could have possibly come across as a bit of a brat, but having a focus on his relationship with his brother shows that he is a good guy, and a lot of what he does is more of a reaction to his father. 

Newcomer Rajat Barmecha is good as troubled Rohan. There’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of his acting, but he has the potential and he will get better as he does more films. Ronit Roy is worryingly good as the authoritarian father, and he’s a great contrast to the loving uncle, played by Ram Kapoor. There are a lot of potential points of discussion over the two roles, and how different the two brothers were. They were both brought up by a strict father, and yet they turned out nothing alike. I would like to believe it was intentional rather than a flaw in the script and in their performances playing brothers. 

The film looked good, however there were some lighting issues. It was either a weird choice, or someone’s inexperience with cameras showed when light from a window pretty much blacked out what was happening in the scene. The action wasn’t that important, and you could tell what was happening, but it was a little frustrating to watch. 

I know a lot of people find it difficult to enjoy a film if the content hits very close to home, but somehow I find myself appreciating it more for that reason. I think some moments will definitely hit those spots in a lot of people who have had issues with their parents, or were forced to give up their dreams, particularly desi folk (people from the Indian sub-continent). 

Udaan (pronounced Urr-aan) was selected to compete in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and screened at the London Film Festival. Its so good to see the smaller films India is producing getting the recognition they deserve. 

LFF Review: Abel

For a film about a family issues, revolving around a child with mental health issues, ‘Abel’ was quite light hearted at times. While it doesn’t make light of the issues, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes it more enjoyable, than a full-on heavy drama.

Abel (played brilliantly by the incredibly cute child Christopher Ruiz-Esparza) is a mentally disturbed kid, who doesn’t speak, or at least hasn’t in the past two years. After spending two years in a hospital, he returns home, and is soon acted like a father to his older sister and younger brother. A lot of these sequences are hilarious, seeing this little kid act fatherly towards a teenage girl, and his younger brother who isn’t that much younger than him. With his mother, he thinks she’s his wife, and its a little more uncomfortable to watch, because you’re not sure on how far that will go. While its all quite odd for the family, considering how he is acting, and because they had got used to life without him for the last two years, they eventually start getting used to the whole idea. Enter the real father.

What seems to set out to be a tale of an unusual little boy, slowly becomes a family drama making a statement on deadbeat dads. Abel, though having his mental issues, kind of adapts himself to represent what is missing in their family.

Diego Luna does well in directing his first feature film. He found the balance between keeping things light but taking the necessary things seriously. Christopher, who plays Abel, is so good, as is his brother who plays his brother, Paul. Its quite an emotional film, and definitely worth seeing.

Review: Brighton Rock (LFF Surprise Screening)

The Members Surprise Screening was actually the same, as everyone had said, to the Surprise Screening the previous night, and the film was Brighton Rock, the “re-evisioning” of the 1947 film which was an adaptation of the novel by Graham Greene. I should mention I have not read the book, or seen the ‘47 film, so my view on this film is purely based on itself. 

Going in, I was aware that the film the previous night was Brighton Rock, and was completely prepared to see it, even though most people on twitter had bad things to say about it. Having low expectations probably helped a little, because I didn’t think it was terrible, but it wasn’t nearly as good as it was trying to be. The only thing, really, that kept me going was Helen Mirren. Even though her hair was dyed a ridiculous color, I enjoyed watching her, and the scenes with her in it. Except, writer and director Rowan Joffe had to go and ruin it all with her final scene, the second to last scene of the movie. What was that? Completely ruined the whole mood off the ending. 

The movie really should have ended with Pinky (Sam Riley) on the beach. I would have thought a lot more of this movie if that is where they ended it. I know there’s the ending of the other movie and the book they had to think about, but if they going to “re-evision”, why not end it at a high point? Why drag it out further with scenes that change nothing? (think LOTR: Return of the King but on a smaller scale, and less extra scenes) At the very least, don’t add a little bit of humor- keep going with the drama, and go straight to Rose. The Helen Mirren/John Hurt scene was a massive mistake! 

The two main performances, Sam Riley as Pinky and Andrea Riseborough as Rose, were quite painful to watch. Riseborough was that slight bit better, but Riley was so dull. The dialogue was rather unexciting anyway, which I think was the point, and would have worked if delivered better, but he had no emotion what so ever. His face and voice were just blank. Even though he’s a “bad guy”, as the central character, the audience need to feel something for him to connect with the film. Maybe they were trying to dothat with his father figure being killed in the opening scene, but it did not come across that way. 

Had I not seen it for free, I probably would have been horribly pissed off by this movie, however the free ticket, and Helen Mirren kinda saved it. But I wouldn’t tell anyone to see this. That’d just be rude. 

Brighton Rock - Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough

LFF Review: Black Swan

Even though it has been categorized as a psychological thriller, but Black Swan is much scarier than your regular thriller. As well as good old-fashioned ‘jump’ moments (moments that make you jump, in case that wasn’t obvious enough), some images in the film were gruesome enough to scare. Thankfully those moments don’t cross over to gore-porn territory, but they are disturbing. I have to say, the film really isn’t for the faint hearted.

The film follows ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman), as she struggles with the role of Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake, and her rivalry with new girl, Lily (Mila Kunis).  Both Portman and Kunis are brilliant in their roles. It’s amazing what make-up and lighting can do to make them look so similar at times. But Mila Kunis’ performance was quite unexpectedly good (especially since all I know her as is Jackie in That 70s Show, and the voice of Meg in Family Guy), without giving any spoilers, when you see her in the film, she seems perfect for what she eventually represents in relation to the development of Natalie Portman’s character. Vincent Cassel’s character also plays an important part in that, and he as well is very good as the director of the production, though his accent seemed a little all over the place, whether or not he was trying to do an accent I do not know. If that’s what he really sounds like when he speaks English, then he should probably try putting on a French accent. It will be a little more believable.

The split personality, Jekyll & Hyde thing has been done many times before, and Darren Aronofsky doesn’t attempt to anything drastically new, and I think its better that way. It’s also not very complicated; there’s nothing to distract you from the main focus of Nina, and her exploration and the evolution of her ‘Black Swan’.

Visually it’s a stunning film. The ballet scenes are beautifully shot, especially the longer tracking shots. They must have been so difficult to shoot. The effects are also really good, although my favorite effects moment would be a complete spoiler. But it happens towards the end. It is so disturbing, and yet so amazing at the same time. There were so many mirrors in the film! I’m not really sure what entirely to make of that, but there were way too many to have, just because. Obviously, there are scenes were the mirror is extremely important to the drama and suspense, and sometimes the horror. But mirrors are sometimes just there, and nothing happens in them. But there is some significance to them… and I will figure out.

Black Swan has actually made me want to go see the ballet. Well, not just any, but Swan Lake, even though I know I will be disappointed that the Swan Queen ballerina isn’t going through some serious psychological problems. It has also made me really want to watch Aronofsky’s other work, which I have seen none of. That’s probably more likely.

I’ve read a few bad things about Black Swan, and while I don’t expect everyone to love it, it will be a shame if people don’t give it a chance based on what they read. I loved it, and even though I may be scarred for life.


3 Quick Reviews from the Festival

So I’m falling a little behind on my LFF reviewing… Cos I’m a little lazy. And also it takes time, which I haven’t been giving myself to write them. So here are three short and snappy reviews of the last three films I’ve seen at the London Film Festival.

LWL poster

LITTLE WHITE LIES: Guillaume Canet’s (Tell No One) film about a group of friends, and the little white lies they tell each other. It starts off with one of the group having an accident, and the rest of them decided whether or not to go on their annual vacation. It takes a moment to figure out the relationship between all of them, but maybe that’s because I just assumed they were all friends. Which, as it turns out they were. Its not clear how they became friends either, because some of them are older, some are girlfriends who don’t seem so attached to the group but know everyone well. Its a bit like a psychotic family, but rather a psychotic group of friends. And I love psychotic family stuff. So it was pretty good. And it had Marion Cotillard in it. It was mainly a comedy, or I found a lot of it funny, but it gets quite intense towards the end, which you could see coming. Its good to watch if you don’t mind subtitles. Or, you know French. Its a little long for its genre, at 154 minutes, but it doesn’t get boring.

Miral  

MIRAL: Based on an autobiographical novel by Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian journalist who grew up in an orphanage in Jerusalem, its directed by Julien Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) plays the title character, and she’s alright, but she honestly is not that great of an actor. She does look a bit like Rula Jebreal though, which is convenient. Also, not to be superficial but she’s a bit too dark skinned to play a Palestinian, I thought. (I’m South Asian as well, I’m not being racist by calling her dark.) Hiam Abbas, who plays Hind al-Husseini – the woman who began the orphanage after the partition of Palestine in ‘48 – was brilliant, as was Alexander Siddig, who plays Miral’s father. Those two really made the film much more watchable. For a autobiographical story, it does not feel like you’re watching a story through one main character; there is a lot of focus on the other women who are significant parts to the story, and it wouldn’t make sense without it. However, the film lacks that sense of it being personal. The score was good, but I felt like I had heard almost all of it before. I definitely noticed some recycled A. R. Rahman pieces. 

West Is West Om Puri

WEST IS WEST: As sequels go, this feels quite unnecessary, before and after you’ve seen the film. But, whether or not people really care 11 years later, its pretty good. It has its fair share of flaws, but it has a lot of the same humour and heart as the original did, which people may still find enjoyable. Set roughly 5 years on, all the main cast are the same, with the exception of the boy who plays George/Jahangir Khan’s (Om Puri) youngest son, Sajid. Aqib Khan is pretty decent, better in his comedy then in the dramatic moments, which there were a lot more of then I remember there being in part one. We are introduced to the original Mrs. Khan (Ila Arun) in Pakistan, who has struggled but got on with her life without her husband for 30 years, who suddenly shows up with his troubled son from his other wife. Om Puri’s English was terrible, and though it was intentional, he had been in England for 30 years, living with an English wife, and all his children speak English. Surely it would have improved. It sounded too deliberate, and became quite distracting in serious scenes. The movie is predictable, and yet very sweet. Like I said, if you like East, you’ll like West.