Battle of the Century, BFI London Film Festival, Carol, Chronic, Desierto, Green Room, Movies, Preview, Ruben Guthrie, Schneider vs Bax, Sherlock Holmes (1916), Sunset Song, The End of the Tour, The Ones Below, The Wave, The Witch, Truman
This year’s BFI London Film Festival began on 7 October 2015 with a gala screening of Suffragette. The festival, which boasts 240 films from 72 countries in 16 cinemas over 12 days, is a must-visit for this particular blogger, and each year I aim to cram as many movies into five days as I possibly can. This year, I was able to see two extra movies, the surprising and brutal Bone Tomahawk, and Black Mass, which sees Johnny Depp remind everyone he can still act/put in a good performance/be hypnotic for all the right reasons. With those movies already under my belt – and having proved so good as well – my optimism for the other movies I’ve chosen to see is running high.
As an appetiser for those five days (and to give everyone an idea of some of the movies that are likely to be reviewed in the near future), here are the movies I’ve pinned my hopes on, and which will hopefully prove to be as gripping and/or entertaining, or as absorbing and/or rewarding as they look likely to be. (A special thanks to the various reviewers on the BFI website, whose capsule reviews I’ve taken the liberty of adapting for this post.)
Wednesday 14 October
The Witch – In 17th-century New England, a devout Christian family are banished from their plantation. They relocate to a humble farm situated on the edge of a dense forest to live a life of self-sufficiency. With the elements taking their toll and food growing scarce, the family are thrown into despair when their youngest child inexplicably goes missing. As they hunt desperately for the lost child, tensions and paranoia breeds within the family and the growing belief that a supernatural force is at work slowly leads them to turn on each other.
Chronic – An uncompromising study of grief and isolation, which focuses on David, a full time care-giver for the terminally ill. Seemingly altruistic and entirely devoted to his work, it becomes clear that David’s dedication to his patients comes at the expense of his own personal life and with each new client his attachment to them veers increasingly toward the unhealthy. Starring Tim Roth.
Desierto – Whilst attempting to cross the border from Mexico into the United States, a group of illegal immigrants find themselves stranded when their truck breaks down, leaving them no choice but to make the rest of the journey by foot. But upon entering US territory, the gang become the unsuspecting target of a gun toting racist who has taken the concept of border control into his own hands, and is determined to pick them off one by one. The second feature from Jonás Cuarón.
The Ones Below – Kate and Justin are a successful, wealthy couple expecting the birth of their first child. One day they notice that the vacant apartment below theirs has new occupants, Jon and Theresa, a married couple also expecting a new addition to the family. Kate and Theresa strike up a tentative friendship, but while Kate experiences fears and doubts concerning her pregnancy, Theresa is filled with the unquestioning joys of impending motherhood, as though it were her life’s vocation. When Kate and Justin have their new neighbours over for dinner, an already awkward night is shattered by a tragic accident which has a chilling impact on all their lives.
Thursday 15 October
Carol – Therese (Rooney Mara) is an aspiring photographer, working in a Manhattan department store where she first encounters Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring older woman whose marriage is breaking down. Ambushed by their sudden attraction, the two women gravitate toward each other despite the threat their connection poses to both Therese’s relationship with her steady beau and Carol’s custody of her beloved young daughter. The latest from Todd Haynes.
Truman – A character study of two old friends – Julián and Tomás – who are reunited, just as Julián is entering the final stages of cancer. Tomás flies over from Canada to Madrid to visit the ailing actor and his pet dog Truman, to whom Julián is devoted. Over four intense days, as the focus of conversation constantly reverts to the notion of mortality, the friends look back on their lives – their loves, successes and failures – and speculate on what the future holds.
Green Room – When an unsigned punk band, The Ain’t Rights, book an impromtu gig at a seedy dive bar frequented by neo-Nazis, they are expecting a tough night. But when they accidentally become witness to a murder, the band find themselves trapped in the venue’s green room, hunted down by a gang of thuggish mercenaries (fronted by a truly unsettling Patrick Stewart) determined to ensure they keep their mouths shut.
Friday 16 October
The End of the Tour – A low-key two-hander by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), which documents the five days that Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg) spent with acclaimed writer David Foster Wallace in 1996, following a national tour to promote his novel Infinite Jest. Based on the many hours of taped conversations that Lipsky recorded, Ponsoldt’s film creates an intimate portrait of the man and his art, anchored by an intuitive performance from Jason Segel as Wallace.
Rediscovered Laurel and Hardy: The Battle of the Century (1927) – The long, thought-to-be-lost Laurel and Hardy silent comedy, The Battle of the Century has been rediscovered via the ‘Mostly Lost’ film Workshop at the Library of Congress Film department. It comes courtesy of a collector – an eagle-eyed film accompanist – and has been restored by Serge Bromberg. The eponymous battle starts in the ring then turns into a battle royale of staggering scale… with pies! Only half of the film had been available to watch – including a section of the pie fight – until now. Also showing: You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928), Double Whoopee (1929), and Big Business (1929).
Saturday 17 October
Schneider vs. Bax – Nobody wants to work on their birthday. Neither does Schneider (Tom Dewispelaere), a suburban father whose glamorous wife is planning a dinner party to celebrate. Nevertheless, he takes the job and travels to the countryside where he must shoot and kill one Ramon Bax, a novelist who lives alone in the reed fields of the Netherlands. It should be a piece of cake for a slick and experienced professional killer like Schneider, but much like Bax, nothing in this oddball thriller is easy to execute: the writer’s neurotic daughter turns up unexpectedly, while the assassin accidentally picks up an unwanted passenger along the way.
Ruben Guthrie – ‘Let’s get smashed!’ The battle cry of our eponymous, party animal ad-man proves inadvertently prophetic after a drunken rooftop dive from his swanky Sydney pad. Adding insult to near-fatal injury, Ruben’s long-suffering Czech model fiancée Zoya walks out, issuing an ultimatum: quit alcohol for a whole year and she’ll return. Maybe. Sceptical at first, it’s only when Ruben genuinely attempts to sober up that he realises just how much his job, his lifestyle and an entire society isn’t just underpinned by boozy excess, but actively enables it.
Sunday 18 October
Sunset Song – It’s the early 20th-century in rural Scotland and Chris Guthrie is a young woman with plans. Excelling at her schooling and in possession of a burgeoning independent streak, she seems destined for a job in teaching. But family life has its own pull and her religious father exerts a formidable force on his brood, as well as on her mother whose body he treats as both refuge and battleground. As the constellation of her family shifts around her and romance comes calling, Chris grows into womanhood just as the First World War begins to devastate a generation. The latest from Terence Davies.
Sherlock Holmes (1916) – News that a long sought-after Sherlock Holmes film had been found caused a sensation amongst fans of the great detective. It was based on the popular play by William Gillette and links film representations back to this key stage work in the Holmesian canon. Gillette made a unique contribution to our image of how Holmes looks and to the development of the character of Moriarty. Gillette’s performance is the key thing to watch out for here. And for Chaplin fans, there is a chance to see the character of Billy in action, which he played on stage back in 1903. Beautifully restored and tinted by Rob Byrne of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
The Wave – Kristoffer Joner plays Kristian Eikfjord, a first-rate geologist who is about to leave the remote town of Geiranger, Norway to take a top job with an oil company in the big city. Leaving his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) to join them later, Kristian sets off with the kids, but some unexplained power outages in the nearby mountains are playing on his mind. If his suspicions of an impending landfall are correct, the town will have only ten minutes to evacuate before an 80ft tsunami engulfs it.