#LFF2015 - Our London Film Festival Reviews Are HERE!

#LFF2015 – Our London Film Festival Reviews Are HERE!

To Do List has previewed 18 Unmissable Films at the 2015 London Film Festival – and now we’re reviewing those very same films for your delectation….

So, read on for our 2015 London Film Festival reviews – we’ll be adding to the list as we notch up the films!

★★★★★ Room | 11-13 October

A triumph of cinematic storytelling – a genre-defying rollercoaster of emotions, a suspenseful thriller with true heart.

How to do justice to this fantastic film? It’s not enough to say that the acting is spot on, but it’s true: Brie Larson is utterly convincing as a young mother successfully raising her child against all the odds, and newcomer Jacob Tremblay is captivating and five year old Jack, for whom the world is just one small room. Elsewhere, the supporting cast is more than up to the task, not least a magnificent turn from Joan Allen.

It’s also not enough to say that the script – Emma Donoghue adapting her own bestselling novel – and Lenny Abrahamson’s direction are masterful, which they most certainly are. This is not a simple thriller-by-numbers, nor is it a triumph of style over substance. Abrahamson has taken a sensitive, nuanced screenplay and created a film which manages to be engaging and entertaining without being exploitative, and which packs a real emotional punch.

The problem with reviewing Room is that it really does provide a filmgoing experience which deserves not to be spoiled. So, while one might say that this is a film which gloriously transcends its  subject matter – a mother and son unlawfully incarcerated – to explore the true strength and dedication of family, the battle of good versus evil, the psychological effects of deprivation and the miraculous ability of a child’s unburdened mind to find hope and happiness in the bleakest of places, one might also say that this is a film that you should just go see for yourself. SW

★★★★½ Departure | 9 & 10 October

A heartbreaking ode to the many autumns of life – a poetic eulogy to love and loss that is as sensitive and contemplative as it is beautiful to behold.

Debut writer & director Andrew Steggall arrives with an understated yet emotionally charged contemplation of those transition periods in life – where the green leaves turn russet and fall to the ground, to be replaced, eventually, hopefully, with something new.

Elliot is arriving, somewhat self-consciously – and not a little precociously – at a significant changing point in his life: verging on adulthood, discovering his sexuality, and going through a Byron-esque phase of contemplation and imagined histrionics. He and his mother, Beatrice, are not on holiday at their house in the South of France, but rather making one final visit to clear things out before the property is sold.

For her part, Beatrice is clearly a wife and mother on the edge – putting on a brave face, clinging on to those final moments before Elliot ceases to be her boy and becomes a man. Her husband, Philip, has decided that the house must be sold – Beatrice, packing away memories that never quite lived up to expectations, struggles to come to terms with saying goodbye to a piece of her life that was never her choice to begin with.

Into this fragile, almost mournful scenario arrives Clément, the enigmatic local teenager who, inevitably yet convincingly, shows to Elliot a glimpse of future possibilities.

Steggall has assembled a fine cast: Alex Lawther – excellent as a young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game – takes centre stage as the ever-so-pretentious young romantic Elliot, whilst Juliet Stevenson perfectly catches the mood as the melancholic Beatrice.

Director of Photography Brian Fawcett conjures up shots of breathtaking beauty, whilst the music – a score by Jools Scott, snatches of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Dvořák, and the beautiful ‘Catch the Wind’ by Oliver Daldry – is at once wistful and hopeful.

Emotionally charged, expertly paced and engagingly performed, Departure is a low-key gem: coming-of-age tale combined with mid-life contemplation in such a way that one is minded to think afresh about the cycles of life, and the many autumns we must hope will be followed by spring.  SW

★★★★ Brooklyn | 12-14 October

A charming tale of self-discovery told with warmth and wit – inconsequential, but impossible not to like! 

Every year, there’s an ‘inoffensive’, crowd-pleasing film which breaks out from the festivals and wins the hearts of the public in a way that makes it hard for those who dole out awards to ignore them. What makes these films an interesting phenomenon is that they tend to be amongst the most divisive, especially amongst film critics. Films like Shakespeare in Love, The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game, Les Miserables, War Horse, Seabiscuit et al leave some critics reaching for the superlatives whilst others are snoring and dreaming of the next Terrence Malick opus. What everyone can agree on is that these films tap into a rich vein in terms of box office performance, and push through into awards season on a wave of public support.

Add to that list, then, Brooklyn – which, for this reviewer at least, is a likely contender for awards nominations in the New Year. By no means is Brooklyn doing anything new – this is Sunday afternoon TV movie territory, as sensitive Irish emigrant Eilis (the always excellent Saoirse Ronan) finds herself torn between her new life in New York and the safe familiarity of life at home in Ireland. And there are, of course, men on both sides of the Atlantic – Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen) and red-headed eligible Irish bachelor Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) – for Eilis to choose between.

None of this is life-changing stuff, and for all the set-up the climax feels unnecessarily rushed, as if screenwriter Nick Hornby (adapting Colm Tóibín’s novel) and director John Crowley have lost interest. But, no matter how hard you try, it’s hard not to like Brooklyn – on at least a couple of occasions, only the most cold-hearted will not have a grin plastered across their faces. And what’s the harm, eh? The pejorative sense of the label inoffensive seems somehow to suggest that what we really want from a good film is to be offended. Often, it is the warmth of familiarity which offers the cinematic escape we need. SW

Take Me To The River

★★★★ Take Me to the River | 10 & 11 October

First time director Matt Sobel transforms the family reunion film into a tension-filled tightrope walk of suppressed memories, burgeoning sexuality, secrets and lies…  

Beautifully shot, masterfully paced and sensitively handled, Take Me to the River is the story of a family reunion gone wrong – or rather, going wrong, predictably but unstoppably. Logan Miller plays Californian teenager Ryder, who is on the cusp of adulthood and comfortable with his sexuality. More comfortable, certainly, than his mother’s Nebraskan family, for whom even a pair of short red shorts is too Liberace-esque for comfort.

Ryder is keen to reveal all, but his parents know otherwise – and so, red shorts notwithstanding, Ryder is expected to keep a low profile. An unsettling event in the barn upsets these shakily laid foundations however, and soon Ryder is an outcast amongst his own family.

Director Sobel gently yet relentlessly ratchets up the tension, as Ryder’s not uncomplicated friendship with young cousin Molly raises the suspicions of her unremittingly intense father. Ryder’s is a family of secrets, forgotten histories, broken trusts and fragile truces – and for Ryder, becoming a man means coming to terms with the fact that, oftentimes, things aren’t quite what they seem.

Take Me to the River is a film you will wake up thinking about the day after you see it: disturbing and disquieting, yet beguiling and beautiful as dark realities often are. SW

★★★½ High-Rise | 9 & 11 October

An unremitting satire on Thatcherite capitalism that hits its mark but is hard to love.

Ben Wheatley, whose Sightseers was one of the standout films of 2012, directs this adaptation of JG Ballard’s dystopian classic – a 70s set, Clockwork Orange-esque satire on both social idealism and the Thatcherite conservatism that followed.

Tom Hiddlestone – bizarrely still a 33-1 outsider to be the next James Bond, there’s big money to be made there! – is Robert Laing, a young doctor who moves into a brand new high-rise development expecting a life of anonymity, but is instead thrown into a world of impermeable class strata, unfulfilled promises, failed dreams and thwarted ambition.

The opening scene makes all to clear that this story will not have a happy ending – for most of the inhabitants of the building, nor even for their pets… And with characters who are well painted yet mostly unloveable, this is not a film to test your emotions, rather a stylish yet soulless “How Not To Live” educational video.

Maybe that’s the point – this is a dystopian vision after all, and relentlessly satirical, perhaps to a fault. Hiddlestone is ideally cast, as are supporting players Sienna Miller, James Purefoy, Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans and a scene-stealing Jeromy Irons, and the whole thing looks stunning – but the problem with satire is that it is often (perhaps needs to be) cold, straight-faced and cynical. All good stuff when tackling class inequality, dispassionate capitalism, elitism, misogyny and social deprivation – but a ‘fun’ film it does not make.

Engaging then, well made, and never dull – but lacking in the heart and soul needed to really make you feel something.  SW

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)

★★★ Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) | 8, 10 & 11 October

A not-so-modern exploration of teenage lust which just about holds the attention…

The problem with a film with the word modern in the title – even in parenthesis – is that it can become incredibly dated. There is even the risk that, by the time it reaches the public, it’s already out of date. And sure, Bang Gang tells the story of teenagers who use instant messaging apps to let each other know when the next orgy will be, and who post videos of each having sex on private online forums, but somehow it all still feels a little tame. Young adults have sex – some of them have a lot of sex – and the idea of bored teenagers getting together for booze, drug and sex fuelled parties probably won’t come as a shock to many people.

Of course, Bang Gang isn’t necessarily here to shock, but perhaps to cast some new light on an evolving phenomenon, if not a new one. And so we meet Laetitia and George, best friends who find themselves at the centre of the Bang Gang – a group of school-friends who get together for parties of partner swapping and general funtimez debauchery. George is established as the brazen hussy who only has eyes for bad-boy Alex, Laetitia is the shy tag-along who might just have a chance with the not-overly-shy Nikita.

Of course, as Shakespeare almost wrote, the course of true lust never did run smooth, and typical teenage romantic complications arise, albeit in a more explicit setting. Same old same old then, in some respect, as girl meets boy, boy tells girl he likes her, girl falls in love, boy gets bored with girl, boy notices girls best friend… Certainly, High School Musical this ain’t, but Shortbus it ain’t either. You probably won’t leave the cinema having learnt anything new, but there are enough flashes of humour and character developments to keep you awake to the credits. SW

Don't Grow Up

★★½ Don’t Grow Up | 8 & 10 October

A frustrating case of what might have been – Thierry Poiraud’s twist on the well-trodden zombie apocalypse theme is an opportunity missed.

So close, and yet so far. Don’t Grow Up could have been the missing link between The Hunger Games and 28 Days Later – a smart, sassy, youthful mash-up of teenage angst and zombie annihilation. To some extent, Don’t Grow Up is that film – it’s just not anywhere near as good as it could have been.

The premise is simple, yet inspired: grown-up’s become zombies and attack the young folk, young folk fight back, whilst fearing the unescapable truth – that we all grow up, and we have no control over it. Ah, the makings of a fantastic film – hey, maybe even a quadrilogy! Our heroes are the remaining inhabitants of a youth facility on an unidentified, presumably British, island, who wake one day to find that their carer has disappeared. Off into the local town they trudge, only to discover – surprisingly slowly – the horrifying truth that adult-kind has gone potty.

Unfortunately, a nifty idea does not necessarily a good film make. Undeniably there are moments of horror, and moments of tenderness, and all the things in-between. However, three key issues keep screaming out from the screen throughout: 1) there is no attempt at all to explain the sudden transformation undergone by the adult population, 2) teenage delinquents they may be, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t realise a lot sooner that something was amiss – perhaps when they walk into town and see not a single person? and 3) it clearly isn’t set in Britain. Or rather, it might be set in Britain – we have to assume so, because all of the actors are speaking with British accents – but it definitely wasn’t filmed in Britain because, well, it’s just obvious, ok?!

The latter objection might seem unfair, but here’s the thing: the human eye is pretty good at spotting things that don’t look quite right, especially when you’re looking at them for 90 minutes. Very early on in Don’t Grow Up, your brain will be shouting “SOMETHING IS WRONG HERE!”. The streets don’t look right, nor the buildings, and let’s just not even talk about the landscape. Where is this island anyway? And, another thing, why has this zombiefication only affected (apparently) the people on the island?

It’s good to leave a cinema with questions, but it’s not good if the big questions are What? Where? Why? How? and Why again? SW


Reviews by Rupert Dannreuther & Stuart Wilson.
Stuart Wilson

About 

I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like: nice pubs, film marathons, not doing real marathons, bad comedy, plays/musicals with shorter second halves, and the Oxford comma.