BFL London Film Festival Diary – Part 4

pingpongsummer4Over the next few days I had a friend in town, so I had to take a break from the intense film watching of the last few days. However I think the films I saw these days were some of my favourites at the festival so in no way am I complaining. Read on for reviews of Whiplash, White Bird in a Blizzard, Foxcatcher and more.

Day 7 – Tuesday 14th October 

Ping Pong Summer
In my preview of the Laugh strand of the festival I suggested that maybe this was a funnier The Way Way Back and thankfully I wasn’t wrong.

Ping Pong Summer is a coming of age film about Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) and rapping sidekick Teddy Fryy (Myles Massey) as they spend their summer at Ocean City avoiding bad guys, meeting girls, hanging out at Fun Hub and of course playing ping pong.

The film is 80’s to the max, everyone’s in neon, walking around with giant boom-boxes and dropping slang all over, nothing is left out of place. The humour is well placed and totally irreverent which fits the pastiche of the film and in some ways reminded me of Dance Dance Revolution post-apocalyptic comedy The FP.

For a lot of the younger cast this is their first feature, but they all put in strong performances especially Myles Massey and Helena May Seabrook who plays Michelle, Radical’s older sister. The newbies are accompanied by some comedy old-timers including Lea Thompson (Howard The Duck, Back to the Future), Susan Sarandon (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Thelma & Louise) and Amy Sedaris (Strangers With Candy). Comedian Judah Friedlander (30 Rock, American Splendor) also has an all too brief cameo in the film.

In brief: Hilarious 80’s comedy, if you like silly, this ones for you. Without a question, one of my favourites at the festival.
UK release date: You can now watch the film on demand on the BFIplayer

Day 8 – Wednesday 15th October

White Bird in a Blizzard
This is the new film from Gregg Araki (Smiley Face, Mysterious Skin) based on the young adult novel of the same name by Laura Kasischke. The film tells the story of Cat Connor (Shailene Woodley) who is dealing with the disappearance of her mother. Told in flashbacks and the present day we find out about Cat’s difficult relationship with mother Eve (Eva Green) and we slowly find out what happened to Eve. Alongside the central story we see Cat do what teenagers do, hanging out with friends Beth (Gabourey Sidibe) and Mikey (Mark Indelicato) and gets it on with the cop investigating her mother’s case.

The film is set in 1988 and makes the most of the period, Cat is a goth and if you ever thought “I want to see Shailene Woodley do flailey armed goth dancing” then this is the movie for you! There’s a soundtrack featuring Cocteau Twins, Echo And The Bunnymen, This Mortal Coil et al to suit.

To be honest, this film never stops feeling like a YA story, so as such I think the film would only appeal to a certain demographic, one that can appreciate a slightly silly YA thriller. That being said, I’m definitely that demographic and loved it! Shailene Woodley put in a great performance, and it was nice to see her in a slightly sexier role than in The Fault in our Stars. The scenes with her, Gabourey Sidibe (Precious, American Horror Story) and Mark Indelicato (Ugly Betty), though generally superfluous to the over-arcing story, were really entertaining and some of my favourite scenes in the film.

In brief: Entertaining teen thriller with an 80’s goth vibe.
UK release date: 13 March 2015

My Old Lady
This is a rather entertaining film starring Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey) and Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral), it is based on a play by renound playwright Irael Horowitz who also directed the film. The film gives room for Kline and Smith to do what they do best and even though set mostly in one house in Paris, Horowitz does well to make it feel like a film and not a filmed play. There was also a great supporting role from Dominique Pinon (Amelie, Delicatessen)

In brief: Entertaining, but definitely for a slightly older audience, one to take your mum to.
UK release date: 21 November 2014

Day 9 – Thursday 16th October

I lasted 30 minutes with Moneyball, so I approach this wrestling bio-pic by Bennet Miller with some caution.  I found the film rather slow paced at times, but this helped to keep the suspense between the ever deteriating relationship between coach John du Pont (Steve Carrel) and wrestler Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum).

From his previous roles we know that Steve Carrel (Anchor Man, The 40 Year Old Virgin) is a great actor, and his spine-chilling and darkly comedic portrayal of John du Pont is what makes this film enjoyable.  Despite the general air of himbo about him I generally like Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street) in his movies. However I found it hard to connect with his portrayal of Mark Shultz the character was very one dimensional, it was difficult to go past his pronounced undercut prosthetics. However seeing him in the skimpy outfits reminded me of Magic Mike, which is in no way a bad thing! Mark Ruffalo’s (The Avengers) portrayal brother David was a little more engaging.

Though not surprising for one of Millers films, the film is a complete sausage fest and the women are completely inconsequential. So much so, that I didn’t realize until afterwards that Sienna Miller was playing David Shultz’s wife, she literally said two words! Though it’s understandable that a film of this nature would not have any prominent female roles, this fact was hardly going to endear the movie to me in any way.

In brief: Worth watching alone for Carell’s performance, though be prepared for a sausage fest. Enjoyable to a point, but generally takes itself way too seriously.
UK release date: 9 January 2015

Whiplash is about the power play between young jazz drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) and his teacher Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).

Fletcher is horrible, homophobic and completely vicious in his teachings and spits out a torrent of insults throughout the film. This is the role that J K Simmons (Spider-Man, Juno) has been waiting for, he attacks it with such venom and his performance steals the show.

Miles Teller (Divergent, The Spectacular Now) is also commendable as Andrew and really pulls off the drumming scenes. He has been drumming since his teens but practiced intensively for the role and it shows.

In brief: You’ll have never seen a musical film quite like this, thrilling and intense. Highly recommended
UK release: 16 January 2015

The Face of an Angel
This is Michael Winterbottom’s (24 Hour Party People) attempt to make a film about the Meredith Kercher murder and is based around screenwriter/director Thomas’s (Daniel Brühl) attempt to write a screenplay for a film based on a very similar murder case.

Thomas makes a visit to Siena to research the story and meets journalist Simone (Kate Beckinsale) and young Melanie (Cara Delevingne). We then witness Thomas’ internal decline, dealing with the breakdown of his marriage and ever growing drug problem as he’s confronted with the difficulties of putting together the script.

The film presents the story of the murder quite clearly and raises all issues in the case. The most interesting part of the film for me was the journalist’s discussion of the case, their different views on who did it and the depiction of their role in coverage. However the story rambles and is less convincing as Thomas gets further into his own despair.

The film highlights it’s own flaws, stating that it’s hard to make a film about such an inconclusive murder case. And as a result to fabricate plotlines for his film, Thomas makes a rather convoluted connection between the story and Dante’s Inferno. This results in some rather odd dream sequences, which jar with the rest of the film.

In brief: If you had a particular interest in the story of the Meredith Kercher case you will find interest in the film. However it loses direction in the conclusion of an unfinished story.
UK release: Unknown

Day 10 – Friday 17th October

Winter Sleeps
Winter Sleep won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year so we were expecting great things of this film. This film is over three hours long, and the majority of the film is set in the hotel which Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) manages during winter, and involves long dimly lit conversations between Aydin, wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) and sister Necla (Demet Akbag).

Aydin is an interesting narcissistic character, fast to pass judgment on his wife and sister as he does in length throughout the film. Even when he comes to make amends for his actions, he does this in such a self-centred manner, it’s quite spineless to watch. His wife Nihal is interesting, and we see her struggle to carve out something for herself in a life her husband has fabricated for her. The highlight scene of the film is when she tries to take matters into her own hands.

In brief: This is a great film, however it is slow paced, introverted and subtle and requires work from the viewer to be fully appreciated.
UK release: 21 November 2014

This is a documentary about a group of women who decide to set up a not-for-profit funeral service in their small Australian steel town. In the process of setting up the service, they have to deal with the death of one of their community and planning the funeral for their friend.

The funeral parlour industry makes millions out of grieving families every year. In the same way that people are having more DIY unique weddings, this film questions why there isn’t more options for alternative funerals. The only option is to spend ridiculous money on coffins and burial plots and can leave grieving families struggling with the debt for years.

The film, urges people to bring up the discussion before the mourning process so that it can be properly considered and shows that it is not that difficult to set up an alternative DIY funeral, it’s just understanding the paperwork.

The film also features a suiting soundtrack by kings of the macabre Nick Cave and Warren Ellis who have both been champions of the film.

In Brief: A rather charming film, which makes you think about death in a different way.
UK release: unknown
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