Sightseers review | London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Jonathan Aris, Monica Dolan, Richard Glover, Eileen Davies
Screenplay: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Amy Jump
Runtime 88 minutes|Directed by Ben Wheatley

Dark, deadpan, violent and very, very funny, director Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to Kill List shows exactly why a strong script and performances often defeat even the biggest Hollywood budget. Wheatley’s movie, scripted by its stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (with additional material from Amy Jump), is a filmic cocktail mixing Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, any Shane Meadows film and Natural Born Killers. Yes, that sounds weird, but it’s right.

While many of its quotable lines have the potential to become catchphrases and its comic set pieces will no doubt become popular YouTube destinations, what underpins Sightseers is the creation of two lead characters who audiences will root for. And this is the case no matter how twisted or violent their adventures become. Continue reading

Simon Killer review | London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Michaël Abiteboul, Solo
Screenplay: Antonio Campos
Runtime 105 minutes | Directed by Antonio Campos

There is a wonderful, stylistic swagger about director-screenwriter Antonio Campos’s Simon Killer. From the moment the soundtrack kicks in and the opening sequence plays there is a tangible sense of an inventive mind at work.

It’s there in the second scene, too, which neatly subverts the convention of zooming in on a character as they share a revelation. Campos chooses to zoom out, slowly, isolating Simon (Brady Corbet), putting the audience at a distance from him. Then, the camera creeps back towards him. Bringing us closer to this young American college graduate about to sample life in Paris. Continue reading

Everyday review | London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Shirley Henderson, John Simm, Stephanie Kirk, Robert Kirk, Shaun Kirk, Katrina Kirk
Screenplay by Laurence Coriat, Michael Winterbottom
Runtime 94 minutes | Directed by Michael Winterbottom

It is a testament to the honesty and power of Michael Winterbottom’s filmmaking that the “gimmick” that will attract much of the press attention for Everyday is actually the device that delivers its intimacy and humanity.

Shot over five years, and using four real siblings (Stephanie, Robert, Shaun and Katrina Kirk), this is a movie about the mundane rituals of life: the trudge to school, the battle to make ends meet, the playground fights, the lonely nights and the despair at not being a united family. But for every rain-soaked scene there is a shaft of light, literal and metaphorical. Continue reading

Kiss of the Damned review | London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Josephine de la Baume, Roxanne Mesquida, Milo Ventimiglia, Alexia Landeau, Michael Rapaport, Ching Valdes-Anan, Riley Keough
Screenplay: Xan Cassavetes
Runtime: 97 minutes | Directed by Xan Cassavetes

What paints the most vivid picture of Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned is its readiness to take a diverse bunch of themes, actors and filmmaking styles and throw them into the pot to let them stew. The result isn’t the greatest concoction but it is different, challenging and, above all, always interesting.

If you want an idea of the mix of actors then ponder Josephine de la Baume (One Day, Johnny English Reborn), Roxane Mesquida (Gossip Girl, Rubber) and Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes’ Peter Petrelli, Gamer). As for filmmaking styles, well there’s a dash of Hammer horror, some slick 80s music-video posturings, a dinner-party talky bit Woody Allen/John Cassavetes would probably like, a dose of cinema vérite, a touch of Argento and a good few dollops of lightweight 70s porn. Plenty to keep you on your toes. Continue reading

A Liar’s Autobiography review : London Film Festival 2012

Stars: (voices) Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Carol Cleveland, Cameron Diaz.
Runtime: 82 minutes | Directed by Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett

Despite Monty Python’s collective success throughout the 70s and 80s, Graham Chapman has remained the most enigmatic and least recognisable of the team. Not for him the successful moviemaking career of Terry Gilliam or the Hollywood acclaim accorded to John Cleese and Eric Idle. Even on home turf in the UK Michael Palin and Terry Jones’s output hogged the limelight.

Chapman may quite happily have accepted the title of “he who is least well known” but as this anarchic and vibrant animated documentary reveals his real life was as Technicolor and rollercoaster-y as any film could hope to dream up. The movie’s three directors, Bill Jones, Ben Timlett and Jeff Simpson, have taken Chapman’s autobiography, helpfully narrated by him before his death in 1989 (Chapman himself would concede it would have been much harder afterwards), and drafted in teams of animators. Continue reading

Compliance review : London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp, Ashlie Atkinson, Philip Ettinger, James McCaffrey
Written by: Craig Zobel
Directed by: Craig Zobel | Runtime: 90 minutes

Engrossing, uncomfortable and infuriating, director Craig Zobel’s psychological thriller Compliance encompasses an idiosyncratic mix of characteristics. It is a push-pull movie and one unlikely to leave anyone who’s seen without a strong emotional response to the events depicted.

Those events happen to be based on true stories from the US, but the facts only serve to heighten the incredulity that audiences will come to experience. In essence this is about a sinister prank call made to a fast-food joint from a man posing as police officer Daniels (Healy). He tells the manageress Sandra (Dowd) that a young female employee, Becky (Walker), has stolen money from a customer’s purse. He adds that because he’s involved in a bigger case regarding Becky he can’t get to the restaurant himself and that Sandra and her team will have to stay on the line and help him with the investigation. Continue reading

Dead Europe review : London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Ewen Leslie, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Danae Skiadi, Marton Csokas, Yigal Naor, Jean-François Balmer, Thanos Samaras, William Zappa
Screenplay: Louise Fox
Directed by: Tony Krawitz | Running time: 84 minutes

Based on the book by Christos Tsiolkas (better known for his 2008 novel, The Slap), Dead Europe can be seen as a twisted tale of secrets, lies and the dark stories families would rather not pass on to the next generation. But, despite all the potential this suggests, its characters head out on a trip that is as uninviting as it is unlikely.

Isaac (Leslie) is a photographer – his trademark shots appear to be stark, direct-to-camera portraits that are meant to be windows to the soul – who travels from Australia to Athens following the death of his father. He has an exhibition there, but he also plans to scatter his father’s ashes back in the ‘old’ country. The mere mention of his pilgrimage prompts wails and cries from his family, particularly his mother, whose racism comes to the fore as she mutters about a curse placed on her late husband over an event during the second world war. Continue reading

The Hunt (Jagten) review: London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Susse Wold, Alexandra Rapaport
Written by: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg | Running time: 111 minutes

Sometimes you don’t need guns or big explosions to grab an audience’s attention. Sometimes you just need a huge dose of injustice. And maybe a side order of lies. The Hunt, from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, shapes up like it wants to take everything away from its central figure, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen). It targets his job, his family and his friends, and aims to drive him away from them and leave him in the wilderness to rot.

That may not sound like fun: it isn’t. But what Vinterberg successfully delivers is a film that wants to engage head and heart, and which seeks to shine a light on themes such as trust, reputation, gossip and hysteria. The Hunt is thought provoking, confrontational and never less than immensely watchable. And that goes for performances, cinematography and soundtrack. Continue reading

Love Story review: London Film Festival 2012

Love Story

Stars: Florian Habicht, Masha Yakovenko, Frank Habicht, the people of New York
Screenplay: Florian Habicht and Peter O’Donoghue
Directed by: Florian Habicht | Running time: 94 minutes

The hold New York City has over filmmakers is as enduring as the magic of the movies. Writer-director (and here, actor) Florian Habicht won’t be the last to send NYC a filmic love letter but his composition is definitely among the most quirky, offbeat, and hypnotic.

Part fiction, part documentary, and even part artistic project, Habicht takes us on a journey that touches on his own fantasies and hopes for love. He puts himself at the heart of this story: he is a man looking for amour in the big city. He meets a Russian girl (Masha Yakovenko) near the subway; she’s carrying a piece of cake. He wonders, to her, if they meet again amid these millions of people whether it might be fate. With his camera at his side, he then films New Yorkers, asking them what are the chances of meeting a second time? When he does see Yakovenko once more his next question to them is: what should happen now in this story? Continue reading

The Central Park Five review: London Film Festival 2012

The Central Park Five
Written by: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
Directed by: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon | Running time: 119 minutes

The Central Park jogger case that began on 19 April 1989 marked a pivotal moment in New York’s modern history. It forced the city’s authorities, suffering civil unrest and a rising drug problem, to address the fears of its population, for whom the mean streets had become too dirty.

While the attack and sexual assault of a young female investment banker in the park ultimately meant the city changed, for the five black and Latino teenagers arrested and wrongfully convicted of the attack, it is a story of injustice and police corruption. Even now, over 20 years later, that story has yet to be successfully resolved. Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon’s affecting film may take the form of a conventional documentary, with its mixture of archive material, stock footage, talking-head interviews and atmospheric shots of the city, but the sheer strength of its story makes it a truly remarkable piece of work. Continue reading