Film - BFI London Film Festival (Final Week)


BFI London Film Festival 2015 is being attended for us this year by our own femme fatale, Ren Zelen. Here's her report from the final week of the press screenings...

The BFI London Film Festival continues until the October 18th 2015‎, having screened 240 films from 72 countries in 16 cinemas over a period of 12 days.

Here are some highlights from those I viewed during the final week of press screenings.

Retribution (2015)

Director: Dani De La Torre

Screenplay: Alberto Marini

Starring: Luis Tosar, Javier Gutierrez, Goya Tolado, Elvira Minguez

I found Retribution to be an absorbing, gut-churning, edge-of-your -seat thriller with moments of suspense that were pushed to the limit.

Luis Tosar stars as Carlos, an investment banker who is having a difficult morning frantically trying to sweet-talk unsuspecting clients into taking on thousands of euros worth of junk bonds which his bank needs to unload in double-quick time.

During the school run, with his daughter and young son in the car, amongst his many calls he receives one which he at first assumes is a hoax, but the insistent and increasingly threatening caller declares that he has placed a bomb in Carlos’s car which is rigged to explode if any of the passengers leaves their seat. He demands that Carlos pay an almost impossible ransom in retribution for a particular wrong he and his bank perpetrated in the past.

It is the kind of plot you might find in a high-budget Hollywood thriller, but this Spanish production would leave some of those movies in the dust. First-time director Dani de la Torre sets a relentless pace and remorselessly racks up the tension, piling on twists and developments. Two thirds into the movie I defy any parent not to start getting palpitations from the unremitting stress!

The financial-crisis subplot isn’t laboured and de la Torre refreshingly steers clear of the usual Hollywood-style macho heroics, making Carlos transform from a smooth financial operator to a flawed, vulnerable man - a father terrified for the safety of his children, eliciting an affecting and charismatic performance from the excellent Luis Tosar in the pivotal role.

This movie is a terrifying roller-coaster of emotion and tension. Strap yourself in and expect a rough but satisfying ride.

Green Room

Green Room (2015)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Writer: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat Mark Webber, Joe Cole, Macon Blair

One of the more anticipated movies of the film festival, Green Room proves to be an ultra-violent, rather more conventional, but generally satisfying sequel to Jeremy Saulnier’s critically acclaimed revenge-thriller, Blue Ruin.

When a struggling punk band ‘The Ain’t Rights’ play a last-minute booking at a remote, seedy bar, it turns out to be a meeting place for a neo-Nazi gang . The dive is packed with shaven-headed, swastika-inked white supremacists, who spit and throw bottles when the band play their first number, a spirited cover of the Dead Kennedys' classic "Nazi Punks Fuck Off."

Unsettled by the atmosphere of barely supressed violence, the only thing the band want to do is play their set, collect their much-needed pay and leave as soon as possible. But just before they are due to depart, bass guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin) slips back into the dressing room to collect a misplaced mobile phone and accidentally witnesses something that he should never have seen.

The band then find themselves herded back into the room and held hostage by a thuggish gang, all of which are ruled by unquestioning loyalty to their leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart), who is determined to make sure that the band can never tell what they now know.

Stewart gives a masterly performance as a man inured to casual violence and used to having his orders obeyed without demur. He plays the character with ruthlessness and a merciless, calculating menace (light-years away from the noble Captain Pickard). Generally though it’s a great ensemble piece, including an outstanding Imogen Poots as Amber, a gang-member also caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The movie has the taut, vicious, gritty feel of shockers such as Deliverance - if you actually enjoy films with punk music, gory violence and pit-bull dogs trained to rip out a throat, this one might well be for you.

Yakuza Apocalypse

Yakuza Apocalypse (2015)

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi

Starring: Ichihara Hayato, Lily Franky, Takashima Raiko

I’ve seen some bat-sh*t crazy Asian movies in my time, and Yakuza Apocalypse is certainly one to add to that list.

Kamiura is the most feared boss in the Yakuza underworld, reputed to be invincible. That’s basically because he’s already dead and part of a secret league of vampires.

His most devoted soldier is Kageyama, teased by the other gang members for having skin too sensitive to endure a tattoo. However, Kagemaya is Kamiura’s favourite, and when the vampire boss is finally dispatched by an assassin from the secret league of the undead, he bites Kageyama and transforms him into his successor – an invincible vampire Yakuza – and extorts him to seek vengeance.

The problem is, once Kageyama starts biting, all of the previously fearful townspeople transmute into bloodthirsty vampire Yakuza, which leaves the regular gangsters with a bit of a problem…

This was a fun plot line in itself, but add to this to graphic violence with exaggerated sound effects, an insane female gangster boss leaking milk from her ears, a foul-smelling parrot imp and the end of the world brought about by a giant, plushy frog with the evil eye, and things start getting out of hand.

It becomes a messy mix of gangster, vampire, surreal comedy and kaiju which gets increasingly absurd and goes on rather too long. Certainly not to everyone’s taste and, in some cases, it would be well to remember that less is more.


Office (2015)

Director: Johnnie To

Screenwriter: Silvia Chang

Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Silvia Chang, Eason Chan, Tang Wei

A Hong Kong Chinese musical in the spirit of ‘How to Succeed in Business …’, dealing with the inner workings of a billion dollar corporation Jones & Sunn – outlining ambition, materialism, greed, intrigue and office romance.

There is nothing surprising about the Hong Kong Chinese creating a classy musical movie. Hong Kongers may be aware of such people as Beyonce, Rhianna and Justin Timberlake, but they have no need of them. They have their own pop music (Cantopop) and their own glamorous and talented music superstars, any one of whom will sell out any arena in the country for a week running and whose records easily outsell any of the above named ‘international superstars’.

Hong Kong director Johnnie To is probably best known for his crime dramas, but like many HK filmmakers, he has been a jack of all trades. He's made ghost stories, rom-coms, screwball comedies and thrillers, and now with Office, he's directed a musical.

Office is adapted from a play called Design For Living, and To embraces its theatrical origins with a vast, open-plan stage-set, designed by William Chang, which resembles the inside of a machine. Design For Living was originally written by actress Sylvia Chang, who stars in this film adaptation playing Ms Chang, a formidable businesswoman who has risen from secretary to CEO. She also happens to be the mistress of Chairman, Mr Ho (a debonair Chow Yun-fat). She stands to make a lot of money when the company goes public but not before the auditors examine the books to make sure that all is in order.

One of her protégés (and lovers),the fast-talking David (Eason Chan) is desperate to conceal the fact that he has embezzled money from the company to fund his habit of playing the stock market. The frantic hustler then manipulates the emotions of the efficient but lonely chief accountant, Sophie (Tang Wei) who is attracted to him, thus giving the story some emotional weight.

Events are viewed through the eyes of two new interns, the keen but naïve young man, Lee Xiang (Wang Ziyi) and the enigmatic Kat (Long Yueting),who isn’t who she claims to be. As the company prepares for the future, individuals jockey for position, but manipulation and betrayal loom ever nearer.

The HK Chinese believe in improving themselves and in prospering – which means making money – a lot of it. This also fuels their love of gambling and playing the stock market. Let’s face it, most of the world is obsessed with money, the difference is that the Chinese aren’t coy about it. It’s what Feng Shui, Chinese New Year and most of the offerings made at the temple are fundamentally about – ushering in luck, because you need luck to win and winning means being rich.

And if you do make it, you don’t hide the fact. You flaunt it with designer labels, expensive cars and jewellery – the real thing only, please (believe me, most Chinese can tell the difference). To paraphrase the lines in a song by a ‘material girl’ character “If your life doesn’t have a ‘label’ then the whole thing is fake”.

I suspect that a lot of the viewing audience didn’t really know what to make of this movie - attendees started sneaking out quite early on. I found it charming, but I have the advantage of having lived and worked in Hong Kong for several years, so I enjoyed watching the Chinese musically satirising their ambitions, lifestyle and modus operandi. The Chinese desire to work hard, to be a model employee and to get on in life are all admirable traits, rooted though they are in materialism and an unshakeable sense of hierarchy.

Much as the West would like to think it makes inroads into the Chinese culture and its markets, it doesn’t really have half the impact it imagines it does. The Chinese are expert at adapting what they want and leaving the rest, and, as they subtly like to remind us – their culture has been around a LOT longer than ours.

Don't Grow Up

Now the embargo is over I can provide a brief review of a movie mentioned in my previous LFF report:

Don’t Grow Up (2015)

Director: Thierry Poiraud

Writer: Marie Garel, Thierry Poiraud

Starring: Madeleine Kelly, Fergus Riordan, Darren Evans, McKell David

The zombie genre staggers on, proving tiresomely difficult to kill. At least in Thierry Poiraud film, rather than re-treading the same old tropes, the director opted for a slight twist on this well-worn formula.

Don’t Grow Up is part zombie horror, part teen drama, but not really much of a whole. The story takes place on a remote unnamed island and follows a group of delinquents who find themselves isolated during a zombie-like outbreak that affects only adults, turning them into raging murderers. The group realises that their days are also numbered as they themselves are teetering on the brink of adulthood. Their other problem is that the children of the island are fighting back. Inflamed by the violence, armed with weapons and guns, the kids show they aren’t about to tolerate anyone that even resembles an adult.

The premise is an interesting slant on the genre, but, although there are a few shocking moments, the narrative ends up confusing and oddly paced. The film prefers to focus on the teen characters who are, alas, rather stereotypical and dull. The cinematography though, is nicely handled with the bleak island scenery being put to good use. The young cast shows promise with Darren Evans (Shawn) and newcomer Madeleine Kelly as lead Pear as standouts.

The BFI London Film Festival closes on 18th October 2015‎, with a gala performance of Danny Boyle’s movie about Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved.

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