LFF 2018 Day 5 – A Family Tour | Vox Lux | Destroyer

I’m five days into the festival now and starting to hit my groove; the films get better and I’m slowly forgetting what life was like before the festival began.

A Family Tour

Director Ying Liang is in exile from mainland China having run foul of the Chinese government. With A Family Tour Liang brings us the story of a director (Gong Zhe) in exile from mainland China having run foul of the Chinese government. The film is set in Taiwan where the director, her husband, and young son are attending a film festival while meeting up with her mother who is ostensibly on a package tour from China.

The family’s trip to Taiwan is carefully stage-managed, with the director’s mother taking part in a sightseeing bus tour while her banished family members follow along in taxis while pretending to be family friends who happen to live nearby. Liang directs the film with a gentle pace, his love of long shots clearly a staple of his work as he has a taxi driver criticise the fictional director’s work for the very same trait. Through the family’s interactions we learn of the difficulties inherent in speaking out in China. The directors critical work has not only forced her to relocate but has a lasting effect on those she left behind. And as she prepares for her latest semi-autobiographical film we see the deep emotional effect creating art from her life has on her.

While at times testing the audiences patience A Family Tour is a moving film with a serious message to share. Go see the film the Chinese government would rather you’d never heard of.

A Family Tour screens at the festival on 15th, and 16th October.

Vox Lux

In a film narrated with a wry gravel by Willem Defoe we see the career of a pop diva flicker into life after a near death experience. Celeste (Raffey Cassidy & Natalie Portman) is Lady Gaga, Sia, and Taylor Swift rolled into one glittering star. We first meet Celeste at school where a tragedy thrusts her into the spotlight, in which she performs a song with her sister (Stacey Martin) and enters the nationas hearts. From this small level of fame she is plucked by a manager (Jude Law) and when we next meet her in 2017 she is a household name preparing for her comeback tour.

Vox Lux presents us with the musical artist as deity narrative with its tongue firmly in cheek. This is the darkest of comedies and opens with, what I imagine will be, controversial scenes and from there holds celebrity to the light so we can see right through it. In the film’s first half Cassidy gives us the fledgling version of Celeste. She is nervous and unsure of herself but is gradually finding her inner confidence. By the time Celeste has morphed into Portman we have a strutting, quaffed, and sequined nightmare to deal with.

A film that walks with a swagger and doesn’t care if you like it or not. Can you tell I loved it?

Vox Lux screens at the festival on 15th, and 16th October.

Destroyer

“Nicole Kidman as you’ve never seen here before!”, is precisely what this film wants us to say about it. But do you know what? Destroyer does show us Nicole Kidman as we’ve never seen her before so… well done them. Kidman stars as Erin Bell, a deeply troubled detective who is forced to confront a past trauma when an old adversary reappears on the scene. Bell is a broken woman; a non-functioning alcoholic, failed mother, and a shell of a human being. As she hunts down her nemesis she revisits members of a gang she once infiltrated and we see glimpses of the past that created the ghoul we see before us.

Kidman is at her best playing both the nervous novice cop and the hard-boiled, and well pickled, detective she becomes. Director Karyn Kusama, fresh from impressing with The Invitation, has created a crime classic with a worn-in authenticity and gripping scenes of both explosive violence and quiet reflection.

There are a few silly moments and clunky lines of dialogue but I would happily put Destroyer alongside Hell or High Water as crime dramas I will happily watch a decade from now.

Destroyer screens at the festival on 14th, 15th, and 20th October before being released in the UK on 25th January 2019.

Saving Mr. Banks – LFF Film Review

SAVING MR. BANKS

Mary Poppins is a special film for me; it is one of those childhood films that I have watched countless times and so holds a special place in my film-loving heart. Because of this a film about the creation of the classic musical is not going to have to try very hard to win me over. That said I wasn’t expecting Saving Mr. Banks to get to me so much that I’d have to start keeping a tally of just how many times I had cried. From the opening moments when a piano played the film’s overture to the closing credits I was a mess.

Saving Mr. Banks covers the period in Disney’s development of Mary Poppins when the original novel’s author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) reluctantly travelled to Disney studios to work on the script and decide whether or not she would finally be willing to relinquish the rights. Travers did not want any singing or animation in the film and generally disapproved of any attempt to Disney-fy her book so screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) were given a hard time by a woman who was not afraid to speak her mind. Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks) was heavily involved in the project as if he couldn’t get Travers to sell him the film right he would be breaking a promise he made to his daughter decades earlier.

Alongside the story of the making of the film we see flashbacks to Travers’ childhood and meet the inspiration for Mr Banks, her father Robert Goff Travers (Colin Farrell) and for Mary Poppins herself (Rachel Griffiths). While the scenes at Disney are mostly fun and played for laughs, as Travers’ British bulldog nature comes to clashes with the cheery American sensibility of Disney and friends, the childhood scenes gradually turn from lighthearted antics to an all more serious nature. By the end of the films things have all gone a little bit tragic as we see the real reason Travers wrote the book and why she is so defensive about any changes Disney wants to make.

This being a Disney film about Disney they obviously don’t come out too badly but they are brave enough to poke a little fun at themselves and their overly cheery nature. In one scene Travers says to a stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear “Poor A. A. Milne” which shows they aren’t censoring the real writer’s disdain for Disney adaptations. As for the cast, everyone is firing on all cylinders as Emma Thompson once more manages to break the whole audience’s heart simultaneously with a single subtle look, and even Colin Farrell pulls of both comedy and pathos convincingly. Worth noting that Paul Giamatti rounds out the cast as Travers’ chauffeur who slowly wins her over with his sunny charm.

The combination of the dramatic childhood scenes, the heartwarming period at Disney, and my own personal connection to the original film of Mary Poppins proved to be a little too much for me to handle. At five separate occasions I found myself welling up in spite of myself and tears were frequently falling down my cheeks. In the scene when Let’s Go Fly A Kite is first performed all three elements combined together and left me an emotional wreck. I consider myself as someone who very rarely cries at films but that one scene had me weeping like never before in a cinema. I just hope none of the other critics saw.

Would this film be of any interest to someone who hasn’t seen Mary Poppins? Probably not but as someone who considers the film and integral part of their childhood it is a completely subjective masterpiece that hit me in just the right spot to have me making a spectacle of myself in public.

One star for every moment I got all weepy.

Saving Mr. Banks is in UK cinemas on 29th November 2013.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

The Cabin in the Woods – Review

I have a film theory degree so I should probably be able to form actual words about that, but, holy shit.

The Cabin on the Woods is released on Friday 13th April 2012

Special guest review courtesy of Rach from nph-fan.com

Cabin in the Woods – Trailer

Thanks to MGM having a minor financial collapse, The Cabin in the Woods has been waiting to be released since 2009. I’d all but abandoned hope of ever seeing it in the cinema but this past week the film has gained a release date, poster and its first trailer.

Written by Joss Whedon (of Buffy fame and Dollhouse shame) and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield), The Cabin in the Woods stars a host of attractive young things alongside acting heavyweights Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. I sadly spoilt myself long ago with the twisty parts of the plot, suffice to say that this is Scream meets Hostel via every other horror film.

For my taste the trailer sells the film short and gives far too much away (hence the lack of a dissection) but is embedded below regardless:

Interesting to see that there is no mention of the film being released in 3D, when the 3D conversion was at one point blamed for the film’s delayed release.

The Cabin on the Woods is released on Friday 13th April 2012 and I’m excited.