Saturday, October 22, 2011

Raindance Festival 2011

Thoughts on the fest:

Whilst the Apollo is plush and it's nice to be able to see things there without selling a kidney, the festival seems a lot more heavily centered on the industry than the London film fest a couple of weeks later, and when I say industry I mean an ocean of droning, braying media types studded with the odd actor, director and producer. It's unusual in a film festival that I feel an urge to flee the screen as soon as the films is over, after all, I've heard my fair share of odd Q&A sessions at the LFF; it's pretty much just an objection to the people in general.

But to the films themselves:

A Thousand Kisses Deep:

Starts slowly and seems to stumble, looking like an ill thought-through indie that should have died in a twilight spot of a TV schedule, it quickly picks up as it centres around the unquiet life of Mia played by Venus and Attack the Block's Jodie Whittaker, dealing with the impact of a man on her life and thanks to a time-travelling lift, trying to fix the problem's of the past.
Skirting past the risk of mawkish whimsy, the film ably lays out the idea that the root of problems aren't always what they first seem and it could be a lot harder to change the outcome of things than you think. Her mistakes are embodied in the slack-eyed, reptilian menace of jazz loser Ludwig played well by Dougray Scott who succeeds in conjuring a man simultaneously charming and vile.
The denouement is satisfyingly unexpected without being an overtly twisty/turny thriller, indeed the whole film is largely confined to the one apartment building and jazz bar and a small set of characters.
The film has secured distribution and it would be worth checking out once its released

An Act of Godfrey

To script a whole film in rhyming couplets is certainly ambitious, and while there's an inevitably twee, 'luvvie' aspect to the proceedings it’s given a little more weight with the backdrop of a range of characters staying at a hotel while a conference on selling strategies goes ahead. A varied and decent cast evidently enjoy mugging along, there’s a convoluted back story which comes together quite well and lots of neat, clever little touches to the script (though maybe not as clever as it thinks it is).


It might be a tad unfair, but after This Is England it's hard to watch a film about a boy getting in too deep with some unsavoury nationalist types with any large degree of optimism of it being as good. In this case our protagonist is a quiet maths genius who has made an unwise friend in a stereotypical bomber jacket and bovver boots skinhead, also seemingly something of a maths whizz. As they spend more time together he gets more and more deeply involved, until things turn violent and he ends up leading the neo nazi gang. Meanwhile we also see things from the police perspective, chiefly involving the corruption and bribery involved in the dealings with skinheads, rival gangsters and gypsy Roma.
Apart from references to the 90s Balkan conflict and the ongoing racial tensions, there's little to set this apart from any other tale set in Europe, until the ending sequence which basically suggests that some people are always going to be evil, there's not much we can do about it and they need to be managed. It's a weird conclusion seeing as there's little that's gone before to distinguish this story from so many others (involvement with the far right stems from an estrangement from family, peer pressure from friends, wanting to impress a girl etc.), but despite this point of difference there's nothing new to add here.


Alarm bells rang at the start when it purported to be a film delivered to the Metropolitan police and various media outlets, such claims to reality fall apart quite quickly when your actors act like actors.
The opening sequence is of people viewed from POV cameras entering a derelict building and finding people in a grim and bloody mess in a dark sealed room, and in retrospect this glimpse into the future is necessary as starting the film chronologically would see a large proportion of the audience walking out early on.
So a trio of film makers set about filming three people locked in a room for 48 hours, each of whom represent a manifestation of the Id, Ego or Superego. The majority of the film follows the three subjects in the room - an introvert, extrovert and a drunk, via wall mounted and hand-held cameras in chronological order, interspersed with sequences filmed from their interviews and the film makers discussing them/the set-up, running through intros etc.
In the room, things go bad as they realise they're not getting out after 48 hours, and the three descend into violence, rape and murder, as you would fully expect would happen, apart from the fact you wouldn’t.
The problem is not the weak idea, but that this is all done in such a cack-handed way that it struggles to hold the attention.

State of Emergency

This is a lot more like a 'regular' film. Mostly linear, with the well worn story of some sort of man made accident resulting in people becoming infected/undead, getting red eyes and rushing about dispensing violence on the unaffected. A small country town, an every man, a small group of survivors holed up in a defensible building, trying radios and TVs for information, being forced to venture out into danger for supplies - there are a lot of elements that have become genre staples over the years, and yet State of Emergency has a quiet confidence to it that places it apart from dozens of also-ran indie zombie efforts.
Concerning itself more with the relationships and thoughts of the survivors, State of Emergency has numerous moments of quiet and calm as they wait out the crisis, and even the infected are calmer here then elsewhere in the genre, mainly seen quietly standing about or slowly wandering in fields, only succumbing to the usual running and snarling once unaffected humans are spotted.
Beautifully shot, there are a number of moments that make use of the mostly rural setting with vivid colouring even at night, though locations are few the film makes the most of what it does have. My pick of the festival.

Thursday, October 06, 2011



Like a 70s film set in the 80s, the music on the soundtrack almost made me gag. Despite this, I vastly enjoyed the slick, easy going surface of this beautifully shot thriller.

Playing something like a slow burn drama for the first two thirds, Gosling, despite his relative youth and slight build, is just about probable as the strong and silent archetype that has been around since the inter-war years of the last century. A man with talent and charm, he is quick to catch the eye of a pretty neighbour whose husband is currently inside. His gentlemanly behaviour gives an innocence to their relationship so that when the husband returns and Gosling's nameless driver steps back and helps in his way to keep the family together, it doesn't seem out of place.
After these moments and the seedy LA underworld asserts itself, we find ourselves more in Refn territory. Whilst hardly close to the visceral grit of the Pusher films or Valhalla Rising, there are moments of ugly violence from which the camera doesn't shy away, and even when guns are involved there is a proximity that brings urgency to these sequences, of the consequences of gunshots, stab wounds and savage beatings.
Like the best of the genre, Drive has an admirable supporting cast who breathe life into the periphery, including Ron Perlman as an arrogant Jewish gangster operating for the mob out of a pizza restaurant, and his business partner and ex-movie producer played by Albert Brooks. Carey Mulligan is as good as ever, and with an inevitably less meaty part she works well at conveying the connection and emotions that pass between her and the driver, a relationship acknowledged with looks rather than words. Brooks has few credits for things I've seen besides his voice roles, but he did play Tom the square in Taxi Driver, a film I was reminded of now and again watching Drive. As a loner character Gosling's hero is too pleasant to be God's Lonely Man, but there is an element of psychosis pushing him forward which gives the film's title a double meaning. The film's opening sequences too, bring to mind the taxi scenes, tightly shot from within the front seat of the vehicle, though in Drive the whole screen seems tight, emphasising the driver's focus and control over the surroundings as he negotiates the central nervous system of Los Angeles' roadways.

Aside from the violence, Drive marks a swerve away from the likes of Valhalla Rising, which very much brooded on landscape, memory and purpose  whilst here the story is all, with nothing else to say besides a man changing his ways to accommodate newfound love, and stumbling because it wasn't part of the plan, and because of his inflexibility. Here, though, there is little of the introspective grief at a different life lost, of plans gone awry. Instead there is acceptance.