Sep 5, 2012

24FPS @ LFF 2012: Preview (Part 1)

Once again it's that time of year - my favourite time of year - London Film Festival time, and once again 24FPS will be attempting to bring you coverage as comprehensive as I can manage (there may be a few complications this year for personal reasons). I'm hoping to see a LOT of films, get some interviews and have podcast and perhaps even vodcast content for you. But first... what's playing? Here are my personal picks of the programme.

In the first two parts I'll look at the Gala and Competition screenings, and then, across 3 more parts, I'll address the 9 major themed strands that the screenings have been divided into.

Text in italics is from the LFF programme.

Gala Screenings

Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winner, about an octogenarian couple trying to cope when a stroke leaves the wife partly paralysed and speechless.

Michael Haneke has established himself as one of the most consistently interesting auteurs working, and as a filmmaker with a particularly brutal and bleak worldview, so it will be interesting to see how he tackles the subject here; a long marriage suddenly, likely irrevocably, changed by illness and old age.

Haneke has always been a brilliant actor's director, and I'm hoping for especially strong performances in what seems likely to be, for the most part, a three-hander between Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert, reuniting with Haneke for a third time.


The true story of CIA agent Tony Mendez and his risky plan to free six Americans trapped after their embassy is seized by revolutionaries.

Gone Baby Gone was a surprisingly creditable directorial debut from Ben Affleck, which he then built on with The Town.  Argo, though, looks to be his most ambitious and potentially his best venture yet behind the camera.

The 1970's set true story of espionage - which sees a CIA agent setting up a fake film production as a front for a rescue operation - takes Affleck the director beyond the Boston crime world of his first two films, and see him leading a strong looking cast including Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston.  Hopefully this delivers what it puts me in mind of; a 70's style thriller the way Hollywood used to make them.

Frankenweenie [3D]
In Tim Burton’s whimsical retelling of the Frankenstein story, Victor’s beloved dog Sparky meets with a tragic end and the young inventor decides to bring him back to life.

Tim Burton has been seriously off the boil for the last decade, and for me there hasn't been a great Tim Burton movie since Ed Wood, 18 long years ago.  Hopefully the LFF's opening night film, which is Burton's first shot for 3D (Alice in Wonderland was a conversion, and a dreadful one at that), and an expansion of a short film of the same title, which was instrumental in getting him his first feature work, can arrest the director's creative decline.

At the very least Frankenweenie seems likely to look beautiful, Burton is always talking, on commentaries, about 'a silent movie feel', and this film's black and white stop motion has a look redolent of German Expressionism, which can only really play to Burton's strengths.  The downside?  I flat out LOATHED the previous stop motion LFF opener; Fantastic Mr Fox, let's hope this isn't a repeat of that debacle.

Hyde Park on Hudson
Roger Michell explores the secret relationship of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley.

Roger Michell is something of a journeymn, and not in a bad way, he's made films in a great variety of genres, some good (The Mother), others that are less fun than root canal (Notting Hill). Generally speaking the idea of a film directed by the man who gave us Notting Hill and a film described a 'whimsical' in the Festival guide would have me running for dear life, but there's a catch here.

Hyde Park on Hudson (which apparently doesn't have a 'the' in the title, though it still feels like one has gone missing) has an interesting cast.  A REALLY interesting cast.  It should be worth seeing just to see the brilliant Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a leading role for the first time in a while.  But it's really the three supporting actresses I can't wait to see.  Olivia Colman knocked everyone out in Tyrannosaur, here she's playing the Queen, which is quite a change of pace. Olivia Williams; one of those secret weapons I'm always glad to see in a film, plays Roosevelt's wife Eleanor, and Laura Linney plays the distant cousin that Murray's Roosevelt has an affair with.  I'll see Hyde Park on Hudson for those four performances, hopefully they'll live up to expectations and the film will live up to them.

A Liar's Autobiography [3D]
Graham Chapman’s (Monty Python) cod life story in 14 different animation styles, capturing the sprawling nature of the original and offers rare insight into Chapman’s life between surreal flights of fantasy.

Monty Python's Graham Chapman died much too young, but still managed to fit a lot of life into his 48 years.  This blend of fact and fantasy, based on Chapman's pseudo-autobiography, will hopefully reflect the humour of its subject in its approach to his story and his stories.  The 14 different styles of animation should ensure that the film never looks either boring or like any other documentary or biopic, and the involvement of Chapman's writing partner John Cleese and fellow Python Terry Jones as voice talent certainly suggests that the project bears, at least to some degree, the Python seal of approval.

What I'm expecting is a blend of animated documentary - see American: The Bill Hicks Story for reference - and surreal flights of comic fancy.  It should be fun, though I do wonder why it's in 3D.

The Manxman
World premiere of Hitchcock’s newly restored 1929 silent drama, which tells the story of two brothers who fall in love with the same girl.

In the year that the BFI has been celebrating his work, and restoring all of his surviving silent films, and in which Vertigo deposed the seemingly immovable object that was Citizen Kane from the top of Sight and Sound's greatest film poll, it's only fitting that the archive gala should be a Hitchcock film.

This is one of the (too numerous) Hitchcocks that I have yet to see, and all I really know about its blonde star, Anny Ondra, comes from the amusing footage of Hitchcock teasing her as they tested sound recording equipment for the subsequent Blackmail.  The story is different for Hitchcock; a love triangle, seemingly without much of a suspense plot, but that's one of the many reasons I'm intrigued to see it, quite apart from the fact that a chance to see a silent Hitchcock with a live, newly composed, score in a brand new restoration isn't one that comes along all that often.

The Sessions
Confined to an iron lung, Mark (John Hawkes) seeks to lose his virginity and employs a sex surrogate to help him do this. A poignant story that transforms a potentially confronting subject into a warm, compelling film.

I've been wanting to see this film since it premiered (under the title The Surrogate, which still sounds better to me) at Sundance, where it picked up good reviews and Oscar talk for John Hawkes.  Hawkes used to be a serial 'That guy', but with Winter's Bone and last year's LFF entry Martha Marcy May Marlene he's picked up much more recognition, as well as a great deal of critical acclaim.  I  hope Hawkes is as good here as I know he can be, and that he plays his character's disabilities with some restraint and realism.

Helen Hunt seems like strong casting as the surrogate who will help Hawkes' character lose his virginity; I've liked her in a lot of her dramatic work, but her recent choices haven't been of much interest to me.  This film, however, puts me most in mind of The Waterdance, which is where I first noticed, and liked Hunt.  A lot will depend on the tone here, get it right and I think those Oscar predictions are sounding reasonably solid.

The latest from Kill List director Ben Wheatley serves bloodshed and belly laughs in equal measure.

Ben Wheatley's last film was such a startling little treat that I've been avoiding any and all information on Sightseers, wanting to walk into it as cold as I did with Kill List, because that's such a rare experience for a critic, certainly with a filth any sort of profile.

In all honesty, though it doesn't seem to give much away, the LFF brochure text seems to me to tease rather more of the film's content than I'd have liked to know before sitting down, so I'm going to avoid any plot detail at all here.  What I will say is that from what I've read it sounds like an original take on some themes that will hit a strong cord with an audience, and that the tone and reception of the film will be fascinating.

The film's unknown stars, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, also supply the screenplay (with an assist from Wheatley's Kill List co-writer, Amy Jump) and I'm hoping they'll manage to mine a similar vein of dark humour to go along with the bloodshed we're very likely to see here.

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