LFF 2018 Day 2 – Wildlife | Sorry to Bother You | Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.

For my second day at the London Film Festival I saw a pair of debut features from Paul Dano and Boots Riley before finishing up with Ben Wheatley’s latest film about which I had previously known nothing. The theme of the day was probably slight disappointment but will I ever learn to not raise my expectations too high?

Wildlife


Jeanette, Jerry, and their son Joe (Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ed Oxenbould) live an idyllic family life in 1960s suburban America. Adapted from Richard Ford’s novel by Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano, and directed by Dano, Wildlife placidly observes this family as it slowly unravels while wildfires rage in the nearby forest.

Wildlife is a gorgeously shot and meticulously acted portrait of a family in turmoil. When Jerry loses his job and Jeanette becomes the breadwinner their traditional family dynamic is disrupted and poor Joe is, like us, forced to simply stand by while the grownups in his life fail to act responsibly. The wildfires that are frequently referenced become an obvious reference for not just the unstoppable destruction heading for this nuclear family but also the slow burning pace of the film as a whole.

Wildlife is an impressively restrained debut. Dano has created an aesthetically pleasing picture and clearly knows when to give his actors space to do what they do best. Mulligan in particular shines here; showing roughly three conflicting emotions with each expression. Somehow the resulting film is slightly less than the sum of its parts however. While formally impressive and a pleasant watch Wildlife is unlikely to stick around once it has been seen; there’s something in the film’s restraint that stopped me getting fully involved.

Wildlife screens at the festival on 13th, 14th, and 15th October before being released in the UK on 9th November.

Sorry to Bother You


If Dano’s debut is defined by his restraint then Boots Riley is sprinting in the opposite direction. Acting as both writer and director Riley brings us a world almost like our own but dialled up to eleven. The volume of ideas that fill most films are churned through each minute as Riley satirises capitalism, race relations, and anything else that comes into view.

The plot centers on Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield), a newly employed telemarketer who discovers he can outsell his co-workers by applying his “white voice” (David Cross) when on the phone. As Cassius moves up in his company he finds himself in conflict with his activist and performance artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and entangled in a company that offers a worry free existence to those willing to sign away their human rights. This is a film willing to show how modern capitalism could justify the reinvention of slavery but does so with the visual flair of a restrained Michel Gondry.

Sorry to Bother You exists in a world one step away from our own; Riley makes liberal use of magical realism elements that allow his imagination to run wild and not be constrained by the laws of human nature, physics, or decency. This is a defiant and confident debut from a writer-director with a lot to say. Riley deals with themes that carry a lot of weight but handles then with such irreverence that you can’t help but have fun. Please go see this because if I type any more I will spoil the plot.

Sorry to Bother You screens at the festival on 11th, 12th, and 14th October before being released in the UK on 7th December.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.


Flying solo from his regular collaborator Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley has set out on his own to make a part-improvised family drama shot in under two weeks. The titular Colin (Neil Maskell) has hired a large stately home to bring his disparate and dysfunctional family together for New Year’s Eve. While his aim is to peacock in front of his family the evening quickly becomes overshadowed by his father’s financial troubles, his mother’s imbalance, and the fact that his sister has invited estranged brother David (Sam Riley) along to reconcile a miriad of differences.

With a feel closest to Wheatley’s oldest film, Down Terrace, Colin Burstead has a loose, handheld aesthetic. The cameras follow the action as best they can as the ever growing list of characters interact in seemingly infinite combinations. This is a film filled with conflict and tension; a tone that starts from the very beginning and doesn’t relent or fluctuate until the credits roll over an exuberant disco.

This unrelenting flow of talk and tension makes the film exhausting to watch. And while the dialogue is incredible funny and relatable the film keeps promising to implode in a way it never fulfils. A neat addition to the Wheatley canon but not my personal favourite.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. screens at the festival on 11th, 12th, 13th, and 21st October before being released on BBC Two this winter.

The Imitation Game – LFF Review

The Imitation Game

The world’s sweetheart Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the man who cracked the German Enigma code and generally did clever things with computers before computers existed. Set during the Second World War at code-cracking HQ Bletchley Park The Imitation Game follows Turing from his recruitment through to the cracking of Enigma with flashes back to his childhood and forwards to a glimpse at his struggles after the war. The film has the solid, slightly predictable, feel of a classic British period drama despite coming from an American screenwriter (Graham Moore) and Norwegian director (Morten Tyldum). It is 2014’s answer to The King’s Speech and Saving Mr Banks and as such feels a little safe and familiar.

On first glance The Imitation Game is a thoroughly enjoyable film. In fact it is a thoroughly enjoyable film but on closer inspection could have been so much better. Cumberbatch is of course brilliant in the role of the socially awkward closeted genius (nobody mention Sherlock please) and the supporting cast of Keira Knightley, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, and many others each give their best dramatic performances with plenty of humour thrown in. The acting is solid and the script allows for plenty of laughs in a film about a tedious solution to a life threatening problem. The Imitation Game even managed to make the problem of Enigma and its ultimate solution almost comprehensible. Certainly comprehensible enough for those of us watching to have a grasp on the issue and know how badly they were doing at solving it.

On the surface The Imitation Game is a fine British film, the sort to garner applause at a press screening and generate some Oscar buzz. Scratching beneath the surface however reveals a film that is far from perfect.

The Imitation Game 2

What lets The Imitation Game down is that it focusses so much on just one aspect of both the work at Bletchley Park and the life of Alan Turing. Bletchley Park was not done and dusted the minute Enigma was cracked. As the film briefly mentions there were years after cracking the code during which Turing and his team had to decide which of the decoded attacks they could avert and which they had to let happen for fear of revealing to the Germans that Enigma was no longer secure. This moral maze of weighing up human lives using statistics would have been fascinating to watch and made for a tricky test for the character of Turing but after a quick mention The Imitation Game skips on. It’s hard to understand why so much time was dedicated to a short period in Turing’s life. Cracking Enigma may have ended the war but it certainly wasn’t an immediate victory. When a film focusses on an event that finishes years before the war ends it removes any real sense of triumph as we are no longer with the characters when the enemy finally surrenders. The war is won in the blink of an eye and this climax is decidedly anticlimactic.

As for the life of Alan Turing the film does detail the messy and unfair ending to his life but I did not feel that enough was made of the appalling way he was treated by the government in the final years of his life. By the end of the film Alan Turing the man, rather than Alan Turing the code breaking machine, still remained a mystery to me. The Imitation Game shows a lot of Turing’s actions but fails to uncover what was going on inside his head. Turing’s was clearly a light of triumph and suffering but only a snapshot of the latter was afforded the audience.

The tragic personal life of Alan Turing and the triumphant decoding of Enigma make for strange bedfellows as they are presented in The Imitation Game. The two strands of the film, that of an enemy being outsmarted and of a genius being abused by a government, don’t quite tie together and as one crescendos the other nosedives leaving the audience unsure what emotion to feel. Alan Turing definitely has a story to be told and The Imitation Game is an admirable attempt at telling it but not complete.

A fine British film, by an American and a Norwegian, that will do very well at the box office and please most that go to see it. But sadly a film that feels like a missed opportunity. The press conference after the screening was filled with anger at how Turing was treated but this aspect of his life was too much of a footnote in the film itself.

You will enjoy it, just don’t over think it too much. I clearly have.

The Imitation Game has a UK release date of 14th November 2014 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of October 2014.

Below is a photo from the press conference, click to make a little too big. The main takeaway from the conference would be some advice from Benedict Cumberbatch; if you are intrigued by the character of Alan Turing then do not stop with this film. Read everything you can about Turing as The Imitation Game is only the start.

Imitation Game Press Conference

BFI LFF 2014

Tesco Value Hollywood

Not content with selling you eggs and giving you a mortgage Tesco now want to keep you entertained too.

In production right now in Paris is Paris Connections based on a Jackie Collins novel all set for a “DVD premiere” at Tesco’s who are funding the project. It even has at least one real actor in it with Charles Dance playing a Russian fashion mogul.

There’s no reason money coming from Tesco should automatically mean a film will be bad, the fact that it’s based on a Jackie Collins novel might do though.

The minute they buy the rights to a book I care about, then I will worry.