Still from Fury (photo courtesy of the BFI).
London Film Festival, the fine pastures of men in non-prescription glasses and TK MAXX blazers. You ask them how they are, and it’s all: “Yeah mate, 17 films in, having a mid-LFF crisis. I feel like the kid in Let The Right One In, but the Swedish one not the American remake. Know what I mean?” All these guys give a shit about is Paul Dano’s career arc and how much the BFI don’t appreciate Powell and Pressburger.
If you’re not of the LFF persuasion – more the Odeon or Netflix type, happy to endure your cinema experience without the person next to you making off-the-cuff jokes about Shia Labeouf, or without watching a sweating film director automate their way through yet another Q&A – then we’re here to help.
Here's a quick breakdown the best films we saw at London Film Festival which closed on Sunday, set for release in the not-too-distant future.
Mommy – Dir. Xavier Dolan
Xavier Dolan, prodigious, self-obsessed child-hero of the film industry, is back again to tell everyone what a slow learner Orson Welles was (yes, that’s an actual quote). Themes from his previous films I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats prevail in Mommy, whichfollows a young and damned kid with ADHD as he and his potty-mouthed mother strike up a sort-of-love triangle with a neighbour.
It's the 25-year-old’s fifth feature, and Dolan turns the volume up to 11, where it remains for two hours and 20 minutes with squawking and fighting in brash primary colours, all shot with shaky handheld and a Céline Dion soundtrack.
For critics lazy enough to start labelling directors as hipsters, then Dolan’s usually exhibit A, with Mommy no exception. It’s as indulgent as his last release Lawrence Anyways. It's relentless and absurd and almost unwatchable. And yet, virtually everyone seems to be loving it.
Mommy is released in March 2015.
Fury – Dir. David Ayer
Brad Pitt and Shia Labeouf stride into the Corinthia hotel for their press conference. They’ve been keeping us waiting for half an hour. “He’s probably out the back, covering himself in peanut butter,” I say to anyone that’ll listen. But Shia’s freshly pressed and clean cut, almost looking like he wants to be there. Pitt, in a shirt, blazer and tie with a moustache like Lord Flashheart, stares down the room, almost daring anyone to say anything qualified about the screamingly three star World War Two Oscar Whore he’s here to sell. No one does.
Fury is a capital A acting job, far more interested in the violence of war and the proclamations of morality than the flawed characters underneath the soldiers. It puts you inside that tank, no doubt. It puts a gun in your hand and the fear of God in you. It's another grandstanding film, and in word and deed, American to the core.
Fury is released in cinemas on the 23rd of October 2014.
Whiplash – Dir. Damien Chazelle
Set in present day New York, Whiplash stars Miles Teller as an obsessional jazz drummer at one of America's best music conservatories, who is pushed beyond the edge of his limits by a monstrous teacher convinced he could be the next Charlie Parker. It's superbly composed by debut director Damien Chazelle, who is a former jazz drummer himself.
The guy next to me actually shouted “No. Don’t. Please!” when Whiplash began its fade to black. And the whole room stood to whoop and applaud in this wonderful wave of spontaneity, which is pretty cool for a debut and makes you fleetingly think, "Yeah fuck you real job. Film Critic for life." Then a row of TV and old press guys rise and applaud the director as he comes on stage – and, oh God, yes – the director is younger than you.
And you remember how little you’ve ever been paid and all the times you’ve fried your brains on Glen’s Vodka and girls with boyfriends and Sheffield-standard dope and Monday Night Football. And you realise this film – nominally about jazz drumming – is also about Realising Your Potential And Making the Most of Your Ability. You haven't realised yours, but for 106 minutes it's just been dangled up there on the silver screen before you. Part annoying, part motivating.
Whiplash is released in cinemas on the 16th of January 2015.
Björk Live: Biophilia – Dir. Peter Strickland
Biophilia is Björk’s multimedia love song to the natural world, replete with a David Attenborough voiceover and directed by Peter Strickland, oh he of all the indie films with all the five star reviews that failed to connect with anyone beyond film club.
She floats on stage, that otherworldly singular entity known as Björk, dressed like a shining mollusc, hair like an anemone. She’s followed by a live drummer, a dude playing "laptop" and about 20 Icelandic choir-nymphs in flowing, shimmery dresses, their long beautiful hair thrown in waves. Alexandra Palace waits in anticipation – oh so quiet.
Björk unfurls her child-banshee vocals in the round, 16 cameras swirling like moths to a flame. What does it sound like? High-concept avant-garde opera realised with the time signatures of Dizzy Gillespie and the pseudo-epicness of Sigur Rós. But there’s no Killer Whale slowly corkscrewing through the air here, just minutes-long footage of giant squid being consumed by parasites. Which, it has to be said, turns out to be pretty sexy.
Björk: Biophilia Live is in UK cinemas now and on DVD and Blu-ray from the 3rd of November.
Bypass – Dir. Duane Hopkins
Bypass was shot last year on location in Gateshead, the working class town on the southern bank of the River Tyne, over the course of nine weeks with a skeletal crew and a budget of around £1 million. London-born "rising star" George MacKay plays the film’s vessel Tim. He’s a good kid, and he’s a criminal. It’s an attempt – the director Duane Hopkins has said – at a “lyrical” social realism; there are plenty of lens flares and throbbing ambient soundscapes as Tim lurches from chances bad to chances worse.
The film got largely hammered in the reviews, which Hopkins blames on what he sees as the almost total Londoncentricness of the culture vulture classes – this repulsion at anything that even suggests at an it’s-tough-up-North miserablism. “It always surprises me that people in London will react to these types of films by questioning if this is really what the rest of this country is like," Hopkins told VICE, "And you have to say: ‘Yes, there are these people leading these other lives’”.
Bypass is still waiting for distribution. Here’s hoping it isn’t ignored.
Bypass will be released 2015, date TBC.
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