BFI London Film Festival Diary – Part One

bfi-london-film-festival-2014-title-block-750x680Twelve days and 248 feature films from all over the world, the London Film Festival is definitely a force to be reckoned with and a tastemaker in quality cinema.

What follows is the first instalment of our festival diary where we endeavour to give you our top picks from the festival and what to look out for in the upcoming months.  Read on for mini reviews of the films we saw the first few days including The Imitation Game, Men, Women and Children, Serena and White God.

Day One – Wednesday 8th October
And first films first, Opening Night Gala, The Imitation Game, based on the life of Enigma code breaker and early computer builder Alan Turing.  This World War Two film is highly anticipated and guaranteed to be popular when it goes on national release later this year.

Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, 12 Years a Slave) as Turing is superb and is already tipped to be nominated for an Oscar and Keira Knightly does what she does, playing Turing’s one time fiancé Joan Clarke. Notable mentions should also be made for Charles Dance’s (Game of Thrones) quick talking Commander Denniston and Allen Leech (Downton Abbey) as John Cairncross.

This is an important story to tell about the unsung and unrecognized war hero Turing. The story will amaze and is an entertaining film from the get go. It is also a real eye opener on how badly the gay community was treated in this country as recent as the 1950’s and the treatment of the subject is very sensitive and compelling.

In brief: Does what you hope and it expect to be, entertaining but also tells a fascinating and inspiring story. Recommended.
UK release date – 14th November

Keep On Keeping On
A thoroughly charming documentary about the friendship between 90 year old Jazz trumpeter Clark Terry and young blind piano player Justin Kauflin. The film follows Terry’s ever-deteriorating health and Kauflin’s first steps in his career alongside routine visits to see Terry for late night bedside lessons.

Terry has been a mentor for young musicians all his life, with Quincy Jones being one of his many protégés. Terry is a real inspiration both musicially and personally with his phenomenal lease for life. Even though he spends the majority of the film bed-ridden and loses his sight and limbs, he’s still singing and making light of the situation and staying up late talking jazz with Kauflin throughout the duration of the film.

This is director Alan Hick’s first film, prior to this he was a jazz drummer who trained with Terry. Whether he is able to find such a uniquely understated and sweet story for his next film remains to be seen, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.

In brief: The film captures the inspirational Clark Terry and his phenomenal spirit. Highly recommended, regardless if you’re a jazz fan or not.
UK release date: Unknown
Keep On Keeping On website

Day Two – Thursday 9tOctober
Up early again, and this time to see Jason Reiter’s (Juno, Up in the Air) Men, Women and Children, a film all about the perils (dur dur dur!) of the internet and our relations with technology, based on Chad Kutgen’s novel of the same name.

The film is told in part through a surly narration from Emma Thompson and is accompanied by images of screens, tweets and texts so stylistically stands out.  A strong ensemble cast including Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer and Ansel Elgort helps to approach the subject from various angles.

The story is generally told from the parent’s view point, seeing their struggle to understand the technology that their children have grown accustomed to. It’s all a heightened sense of reality and blatantly un-subtle, sledgehammering home the messages of the various ways technology can affect our lives.   It sets out to be smart, but is all too knowing and unrealistically obvious at times.  That being said it stays pretty consistent throughout and you feel Reiter has achieved what he set out to do with the film and with the ensemble cast, I’m sure it will be successful when it’s released. If you can get past the unnecessarily over the top handling of the subject matter, you will find it entertaining enough.

In brief:  A strong ensemble cast in a film examining the effects technology can have on our lives. Entertaining and will undoubtedly be popular when released, but it’s not as smart as director Reiter will claim it is.
UK release date: 5th December 2014

Then we scooted over to see Brides, a Georgian film about prison brides which starts off strong but looses direction towards the end.

White God
A hop skip and a jump later and we’re watching White God, the latest film by Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó which won two awards at Cannes earlier this year (including the Palm Dog award!).

Lili and her dog Hagen go to live with Lili’s father. After a grumpy neighbour complains, the family leave Hagen on the street to fend for himself. Hagen then goes on a little adventure, making enemies along the way, including a dog fighting trainer who fills him full of steroids, puts him on a doggy treadmill and trains him to become a killer. Hagen ends up in the local pound and then makes a rather dramatic escape and seeks his revenge on his enemies.

In brief: This is a rather unique and bonkers film with some absolutely stunning cinematography. Highly entertaining and recommended.
UK release date: Unknown, but likely for release due to it’s popularity

Serena is based on the Ron Rash novel set in depression-era North Carolina, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as George and Serena Pemberton who run a logging empire. Of course we’re no strangers to seeing these two together, but this film was shot in 2012 before American Hustle, it’s just taken a while to get finished.

The story is a melodrama with a somewhat outdated anti-feminist message, essentially Lawrence’s character gets punished for being a strong independent woman and wanting to work alongside her husband. After working whilst pregnant, she loses her baby and then goes crazy over her inability to conceive and starts scheming.

I have heard things saying that this film is a mess and I really don’t think that is a fair description. I would however say that the story is highly outdated and doesn’t stand up in a modern world and I’m slightly at a loss to understand why they chose to tell it at this point in time. The ending could have easily been changed to modernize the story without losing the essence.

Both Cooper and Lawrence are fantastic in their roles and Lawrence looks stunning in her 1920’s frocks and Cooper is as handsome as ever. Lawrence’s Serena for the first half of the movie was an inspiration, and I was very taken by how outspoken her character was. The film was also beautifully shot, capturing the North Carolina mountains in their glory.

In brief: A rather ill conceived tale, which will have some interest because of the cast. Recommended for fans of Cooper and Lawrence or those who appreciate a period melodrama.
UK release date: 24th October

Free Fall

Free Fall is a Hungarian film by Director György Pálfi, the unofficial female counterpart to his previous film Taxidermia. Free Fall was made in 4 months for the South Korea Film Festival and is put together from seven seemingly unconnected short films. The films have rather far out concepts, there’s the germophobe couple who wear white body-suits and only kiss through cling-film, a woman who has a procedure to put her baby back inside her, a woman who no one realizes is naked at a party and so on. The films are brought together by an old woman trudging up the stairs to throw her off the top of a building, only to get up fine and repeat it again.

In brief: Thoroughly bizarre and entertaining, if at times irreverent. Recommended.
UK release date: unknown, but will be shown as part of Leeds International Film Festival

Look forward to Part 2 where we will give our verdict on other films show at the festival include X+Y, Rosewater and The Drop.