The Times BFI 49th London Film Festival

With Jewnathan Ross

A city’s film festival is only as good as the city itself and the celebs who put in appearances. Er, and the films. Of course.

I don’t have very much exposure to the international film festival scene outside of the Toronto International Film Festival, which is one of the top festivals around the globe. Obviously having a lot to live up to in order to impress me and my jaded Torontonian perspective, The London Film Festival really had its work cut out for it. Based on the 3 bits of criteria mentioned above (city, celebs and films), The London Film Festival was a pretty good festival, but does it have what it takes to be world class?

CITY:

This is the toughest aspect to comment on really. My love of London goes through stages. The city is meant for a “GREAT” time, not a long one. After a few years of living in London, I seem to be a bit haggard and embittered. Tired of the overcrowded population, and despicable public transport system. Really bored of this weather. Sick of making a decent salary and barely breaking even each month. And so on.

So upon discovering that a lot of the major films would be screening in Leicester Square’s Odeon West End, I was less than pleased. I still am for that matter. Leicester Square represents everything I hate about this city. (Editor’s Note: We must bear in mind, though, that if the festival is aiming to reach a world class level this is the only real option when it comes to location.) I did try to keep an open mind. I got a much more positive perspective attending festival events in its other locations such as ICA, and NFT (that is an AWESOME place right on the south bank).

This brings to mind the reason why a film festival should be held in a city such as London. Multicultural and diverse, fabulous (or at least interesting) fashion and culture scene, the history etc.

The city definitely meets this criteria, at least. Even if it is always bloody raining.

CELEBS:

I have to say the turnout was a bit lame. The A-listers that showed included Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Cameron Crowe, Simon Pegg, Nick Cave, Guy Pearce, Atom Egoyan, Terry Gilliam, Gael Garcia Bernal (PHWOAR) and a few others here and there. But take a closer look at this list. The only REAL A-listers here are Kirsten Dunst and Susan Sarandon. Most prestigious film festivals such as Toronto, Venice, Cannes and Sundance would have an overabundance of Hollywood megastars. I can clearly remember one year at the Toronto Festival we had stars such as Sandra Bullock, Orlando Bloom, Gwyneth Paltrow (oh yeah, she was at London too. Easy to forget.), Ben Affleck (ew), Kevin KIine, Penelope Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal (PHWOAR he gets around), and so many more… in the span of ONE night! Never mind calculating totals over the entire festival.

There were a few good Q&A sessions with Directors after their films. Most notably Cameron Crowe with Susan Sarandon and Kirsten Dunst for Elizabethtown. And Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon giving an Actor’s Q&A. HILARE. But there really wasn’t enough of the talent interaction aspect of the festival. Since the festival has been going on for 49 years, there is no excuse. The stars should be here to promote their films. They sure as hell get paid enough to do so.

Anyways, I lingered on the red carpet for a few of the galas.


PROOF – GWYNETH PALTROW, JOHN MADDEN (DIR)

John Madden spoke of his love for working with Gwyneth. Seemed a bit like a deer caught in the headlights when asked about Gwyneth’s pregnancy. He definitely thought that the press were trying to catch him off guard to reveal all, but it was ok. It was revealed in the papers earlier that day. Regarding the film, he says that people who saw the play would definitely be justified in seeing the film as well. He differed them enough to justify them as separate artistic beings. Yada yada yada. Nice bloke.


WALK THE LINE – SIMON PEGG, GAEL GARCIA BERNAL, TERRY GILLIAM, NICK CAVE, ETC.

Nobody from the film was actually there. Somebody should’ve alerted the press though. One poor soul (and I know he’s reading this… he’s a lovely bloke, really, but I just NEED to tell this story) actually asked Terry Gilliam (the director of Brothers Grimm, NOT Walk the Line) why he cast Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. Oh that was fab. Haha.

While none of the film’s stars were there, other non-related stars came out to pay tribute to the Cashmeister himself. Gael Garcia Bernal (PHWOAR! Like a tiny Mexican Johnny Depp he is), Simon Pegg (rushed into the theatre in disguise), Nick Cave (scary looking dude), Terry Gilliam (very funny gentleman) and quite a few more Brits I’ve never really heard of.


SCREEN TALKS: GUY PEARCE

One feature of the film festival that I thought was a pretty cool idea was the Screen Talks. These sessions were basically public interviews with film industry types such as Gael Garcia Bernal (PHWOAR), Terry Gilliam, Shane Black and Pierce Brosnan. Well, Pierce cancelled and was replaced by Pearce. Funny.

Most people were disappointed, but personally, I can’t blame Pierce for canceling. It was right about the time when Daniel Craig was announced as the new James Bond and of course Pierce’s newest film The Matador would have been greatly overshadowed by this news.

I didn’t really mind that Pierce would now be Pearce. I actually thought I would enjoy it more. After all, I’ve never even seen one James Bond film, but have seen such great cinematic pleasures as Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Memento, and L.A. Story. And of course, you can’t forget the television institute of Neighbours. I rushed all the way from Guildford and I was dripping with sweat, but just made it in time to catch Guy Pearce. He was in town to promote his Nick Cave-penned film The Proposition.

To be honest, it was bloody boring. The mood was very humdrum and Guy was just boring. Bland, too well dressed for my liking, and just plain boring. He did every once in a while say something amusing, but not enough so to prevent me from sneaking out forty minutes into his interview, causing me to smack about three people in the face with my hefty handbag. Accidentally of course.

Boring. Maybe he’s related to Luke Wilson?

FILMS:

With the festival running for 2 weeks as opposed to the usual 10 days that I’ve been used to at these things, there were quite a few films to choose from. Sadly, most of the films were screened in the daytime when people are chained to their desks. However, highlights included Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Takeshis’ (actually, that was just weird), Zozo (an obscure little diddy) etc.


A COCK AND BULL STORY

Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
DIR Michael WinterBOTTOM

This film is fucking funny. Super funny. HILARE. In fact, it got quite annoying because the guy next to me had one of those really irritating laughs. The same sound repeated over and over and over again at exactly the same speed, volume, pitch. I felt like I was stuck in a time warp or was pinned with darts to a stuck record that just keeps on spinning. Anyway, enough of my nightmarish visions, back to the film. It could have been a disaster. British comedy legends Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves. They are making a film based on a book about a guy called Tristram Shandy. So as well as playing themselves they also play characters from the book. You keeping up? Do you see? It could have been a disaster since it keeps cutting from ‘reality’ to the film within a film, and everyone is playing dual different characters and versions of themselves, so it could all have dissolved into a confusing mess (a bit like this review). But it didn’t. It’s brilliantly realised by the director, Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, 9 Songs, his name says bottom tee hee). Not much happens really, but it’s super entertaining and fucking funny. Anyway, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon were at the screening we went to, and did a Q&A. Sooooooo funny. I’m still chuckling now ho ho ho.


ELIZABETHTOWN

Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Rufus Wainwright’s Dad
DIR Cameron Crowe

Cameron Crowe is such a likable director. His films Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire, etc are always quite charming films. You can’t help but like this guy’s style and his use of music soundtracks to accompany his stories. The king of feel good films.

With my expectations so high, I was actually a bit disappointed with Elizabethtown. I don’t blame Crowe for the story was charming as usual, the use of music was very prominent, and the characters were quite likable. What makes this film fall flat on its face is…. I hate to say it… Orlando Bloom. You remember him as the beautiful elven boy with the long blonde locks from Lord of the Rings. And of course as the sweet little man playing alongside Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. But despite his good looks and English charm, he cannot carry a film (sigh, but still phwoar). Especially an American one. Playing alongside some of America’s top actresses, Kirsten Dunst and the legend Susan Sarandon, Bloom came across as shallow, speaking with a contrived accent, and just … mm.. transparent would be the best word to describe his onscreen presence. I think he’s a fabulous supporting actor, stunningly good looking, but should not be thrown into the forefront to carry such a large American film. Such a shame.

Overall, a charming film as usual, but hard to sit through for over 2 hours. Orlando just can’t carry it. (Sorry Orlando…. But please marry me and take my last name so we can call you Orlando Orland!)


FACTOTUM

Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei
DIR Ben Hamer

Based on the works of Charles Bukowski. Personally, I don’t think I get it. Starring Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei. No. I don’t get it. It was an OK film. Nothing really happened. No real character development even though you think that the characters begin to show signs of evolvement, they just fumble down the same dirty path as always. Matt Dillon plays the man of many jobs. Working only to support his drinking habits. A bit glum. A bit grey and washed out looking (I guess that’s appropriate for the mood of the film). Nothing special.

But, my boyfriend LOVED it. So it must have some appeal and charm after all. I really do like Lili Taylor though. She’s a phenomenal actress. She was even there for a Q&A with the director. Didn’t bother sitting through it because:

a. The director’s phone kept ringing and the first 5 minutes of the Q&A were about him holding up his mobile to the mic so everyone could hear his ringtone. YAWN.
b. We were rushing home to catch the next episode of Lost on E4. Damn, I am OBSESSED with that show!


THE HILLERS

DIR Sharon Attias

It’s not often that one is truly affected by a film in this day and age. I have warned you, if you don’t want to be deeply emotionally disturbed after a trip to the cinema, then do not go and see this film.

An Israeli documentary about a family who lost their son in basic training for the Israeli army. The film begins following The Hillers two years after their son’s death as the father digs up his son’s grave. The coffin is then brought to the family’s living room and the media is alerted. The Hillers basically refused to accept the army’s report that their son committed suicide, and so dug up the grave in order to conduct a new investigation with a pathologist of their choice. Not to spoil the plot too much, they eventually brought the coffin to the morgue and slept alongside it day and night for months until a neutral pathologist was brought in to re-examine the body. I won’t tell you what happens next as it is absolutely shocking.

The director was available for a Q&A after the film screened. She insisted that this film was about grief and not about politics or scandal. It’s a shame that she was so narrow-minded about her own film, as it definitely delved deeper than the subject of grief.


NEW YORK DOLL

The New York Dolls, Morrissey
DIR Greg Whitely

This documentary focuses on Arthur “Killer” Kane, legendary bassist for The New York Dolls. Unfortunately I only got to see the first half of this film, as I had to rush off to be somewhere else. Boo.

What an intriguing documentary. I was never an outright fan of The New York Dolls, but you just gotta love a glam band. This documentary follows the story of Arthur and his weird life after band. He left the band, tried unsuccessfully to resurrect his music career, was jealous of singer David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter…really… I kid you not) and when Scrooged came on TV one Christmas with Buster as the ghostly cab driver, Arthur threw a fit, beat up his wife and threw himself out of his kitchen window. While recovering in the hospital, he came across a TV guide with an advertisement for a free bible. It was either read the bible or the TV guide, so Arthur sent out the form for his free copy. It turns out that Mormons don’t send the bible through the post but rather deliver it in person. So it was that Arthur “Killer” Kane became a baptised member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, volunteering at the LA’s Mormon Family History Centre.

The film includes interviews with musicians such as members of The New York Dolls, Blondie and Morrissey. The film really kicks off when Morrissey invites The New York Dolls to reunite for a one-off gig in London. They all agree to it and you get to see the fireworks as Arthur reunites with his long term rival David Johansen (Buster Poindexter) after twenty years of feuding. And so on.


SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE

DIR Park Chan-Wook

From the director of that disturbingly incestuous and violent South Korean film Oldboy. Apparently, this is a part of a trilogy of revenge. The first was Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (which I desperately need to see now), Oldboy (if you haven’t seen it, you must. Prepare to be disturbed) and now Sympathy for Lady Vengeance which displays vivacious beauty in such dark subject matter.

Staying true to his style of filmmaking, as seen in Oldboy, the director delivers a fabulously violent and heart-wrenching story of revenge. I don’t want to reveal too much about this story, as you need to see it for yourself. The plot will have you hooked, the visuals will have you stunned, and the film as a whole will make you seek out Oldboy and Mr. Vengeance if you haven’t already.


TAKESHIS’

‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano

Like watching 1000 Japanese trailers back to back. The director of such striking Japanese films, including the not so long ago Zatoichi (blind samurai dude), has outdone himself with his latest film. One could call this “experimental”. Or perhaps just mental.

Not sure about the plot. At various times throughout the film I sort of thought I knew what was going on, but then I realised that I was kidding myself. Forget the plot. It’s not about that. It’s about the audio-visual experience. I really did quite enjoy it, even though many people were walking out of the cinema before it was even halfway through. Maybe something was lost in the translation? I doubt it. It was weird. Very weird. But a stunning film. Worth a viewing. Probably not more than one though.

For those of you who are curious about the plot, the official write-up says something like:

“This is a splintered narrative, densely populated with doppelgangers and triplegangers, which explores alternative realities and possibilities.”

Yeah we’ll go with that.


THE WENDELL BAKER STORY

Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Eva Mendes, Will Farrell (tee hee)
Written by Luke Wilson,
DIR Luke Wilson & Andrew Wilson (the unknown Wilson brother)

I LOVE Owen Wilson and Will Farrell. They are 2 of the funniest actors in Hollywood. Now, if you replaced Luke Wilson with say, Ben Stiller, then this film might have been more likeable. There’s just something about Luke Wilson that I find boring and just plain annoying. He’s not the best actor as he usually seems to play himself in every film. He’s not the funny one in the family, that’s obviously his brother Owen. And he’s not a great writer either, as this film demonstrates.

It definitely had its funny moments and a fabulous supporting cast. In addition to Owen (Editor’s Note: I love Owen Wilson. I’m going to marry him. GOD he’s gorge.) and Will, there were great performances from Eddie Griffin, Kris Kristofferson, Harry Dean Stanton and a few others. Despite the odd funny moment, the film’s plot didn’t really resonate with me. Luke Wilson is a bland leading man and only got through this film with the aid of his fab supporting cast. Perhaps if you removed Wendell Baker from this film altogether, it could’ve been quite the charmer.

As an aside, this festival has led me to the conclusion that the most boring film ever would feature: Luke Wilson, Orlando Bloom and Guy Pearce (but only if he was playing himself).


ZOZO

DIR Josef Fares

This is not a funny film, although it did have some moments of magical fantasy and black comedy. The third feature from director Josef Fares, the film begins in war-torn 1980s Beirut. Eleven year old Zozo and his family harbour dreams of emigrating to Sweden. However, tragedy strikes and Zozo joins his grandparents in Sweden alone. Zozo is pretty bloody tragic in places, but it retains a warm, tender and loving feeling at all times. It’s beautifully shot, with some lovely, sensitive lighting. The subject matter is dealt with gently, and a feeling of hope infuses the whole film even in its darkest moments. Well worth a look, and not just for the fascinating insight into the situation for Middle Eastern immigrants into Europe. Director Fares was there for a Q&A and we definitely detected a ‘frisson’ between him and his lovely lady interviewer. Get in, my son!

And so, overall we award The Times BFI 49th London Film Festival:

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