Any film buff worth their salt has a couple of sterling film festivals marked in their calendar…
Whilst we can’t all afford to visit Cannes or Venice, there are thankfully a good handful of excellent film festivals in our sooty capital which offer cinephiles a great opportunity to brush up next to the cast and crew responsible for the years’ best releases, watch some cutting edge cinema and even gain some insight into the world of film production.
Whilst there are dozens of cracking film festivals up and down the country that are well worth your time, I’ll be focusing on the best ones that London has to offer in this post. There’s no substitute for the buzz and excitement that comes with a major Hollywood production, and although we’re yet to see a British equivalent of this movie-making institution, it’s safe to say that London is currently the closest thing that we have.
These festivals employ hundreds of people, see venues across the city plastered with flashy vinyl decals and bring hoards of film lovers into the city each year – which one will you visit?
BFI London Film Festival
Taking place between 2nd-13th October this year, the BFI London Film Festival is one of the UK film industry’s most anticipated events and regularly attracts scores of high profile film makers. This year’s festival is set to be as big as ever, with 225 feature films being shown over 14 cinemas and 12 days.
The East End Film Festival
Although the EEFF is taking a ‘strategic’ break this year it’s an event that you should certainly still mark in your diary. Founded in 2000, its one of the UK’s largest film festivals and offers an annual multi-platform experience for established and local filmmakers alike.
Feminista Film Festival
This year’s edition of the popular feminist-driven event will be centred around female models celebrated through the form of documentary film. Documentary cinema has recently seen a huge boost in popularity, so this should make 2019’s incarnation one of the most popular yet, make sure you book your tickets ahead of schedule!
Once a year horror stalks the streets of London in the form of Fright Fest, an annual celebration of the very best Horror cinema that the world has to offer. This 20 year old festival has seen such horror luminaries such as Clive Barker, Guillermo Del Toro and Dario Argento take to the stage to present their films, and takes place in August.
Irish Film London
Now in its 9th year, this year’s Irish Film London presents the very best in Irish Film & Animation to British audiences. Premiere screenings, Director Q&As, performances and exhibitions are all par for the course here at a pioneering festival that holds events for St. Patrick’s Day and the annual Irish Film Festival in November.
So what are you waiting for? Book your tickets, find a place to stay and immerse yourself in a world of cinema!…
When director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman have previously teamed up on projects the results have been uniformly excellent.
In 2007’s Stardust, the duo’s first collaboration, the British pair brought a cunning, dark twist on the traditional fairy-tale narrative, using Neil Gaiman’s much loved illustrated novel as a blueprint.
Their follow up, 2010’s R-Rated Kickass, once more offered a fresh take on a familiar genre, this time peppering the superhero origin story with grisly violence and foul mouthed pre-teens – once more Goldman and Vaughn leant heavily on another text: Mark Millar’s comic of the same name. The pair drew inspiration from the comics again to produce the well received X-Men: First Class a year later.
This brings us to 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, another adaptation of a little known comic book by Mark Millar which made for another surprise hit at the box office for the, now prolific, couple. This was a film that smartly riffed off familiar spy film tropes whilst keeping the audience guessing with clever plot twists and jaw-dropping action sequences. It would appear that Goldman and Vaughn had once more struck gold, but no part of me felt that this should be the start of a franchise. The tightly told origin story stuck closely to Millar’s comic book and the rapid fire comedy made up for some slight missteps in terms of tone – but, by the end of the journey, it certainly felt like a good point to stop.
But this is 2017 – and the word ‘stop’, in the movie industry has been replaced with the words ‘milk until sucked of all possible charm and fun’.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle sees the (until now) successful writing team veer wildly off-script. Having run out of source material during the first film, both writers were left in a position that would have felt alien to them: having to conceive their own plot instead of adapting one already in existence. In case you’re wondering, the results are not good.
The Golden Circle suffers from a commonly known disease known as ‘sequelitis’ and it’s surprising that neither of these veterans managed to see the glaring flaws in either their screenplay or the final product.
At 141 minutes, it is painfully long. A huge cast of charismatic actors featuring Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore and ahem…Elton John, are criminally underused. Where once the dialogue was fresh and witty – it now feels stale and remarkably retrograde. Even the action sequences, usually a highlight in Vaughn’s films, feel rote, rubbery and safe. In fact there’s nothing remotely dangerous in this film, aside from its worrying treatment of its female players.
The first film surprised us with the unceremonious execution of one of the film’s key characters, it served to be a key plot moment in the movie and a reason for it’s success: this film effectively retcons that moment and nullifies any possible peril that any of the characters might be put in. Much has been written about a particularly misjudged scene involving a tracker being ‘inserted’ into an unknowing female character (of which there are four of, all of whom exist to either be forcibly administered narcotics, spout nonsensical context or simply obliterated) – needless to say, it’s not the worst thing about this film.
Unfortunately, Kingsman: The Golden Circle commits the most serious crime of all – one committed by box-office smashes every year – it is simply boring.
The best science fiction always finds a way of inspiring awe with fantastical vistas and creatures whilst offering us a new perspective on how our world works today. Both Scott and Villneuve’s Blade Runner films offer a thrilling ride through a worryingly familiar dystopian future that throws up questions about the threat of AI, automisation and human consciousness – however, there are arguably more pressing issues facing us today, namely the rise of the Information Age, Virtual Reality and Social Networks.
These new technologies have thrown the 21st Century into a state of flux, with the connected world always waiting with baited breath for the next groundbreaking innovation. Despite this constant stream of new ideas, it’s important to remember that many of the concerns that we are dealing with today were prefigured in films made in that dark grim decade that most of us know as the 90s.
These three movies opened the minds of Sci-Fi fans in the 90s and whilst not all of them will make many critics’ top 10 list, they nevertheless offered a portentous look at some of the sticky technological issues that face us today:
Notably famed for the film that brought together stars Angelina Jolie (pre-Tomb Raider breakthrough) and Johnny Lee Miller, both on and off-set, this wacky cyberpunk thriller might have got a lot of things wrong about the way young people acted in the 90s (ie. disturbing hair cuts and excessive roller blading) but it nevertheless predicted the huge influence that hacker groups, such as Anonymous, would have on the world today.
In the last few year alone we’ve been treated to public displays of hacker powers in the shape of big political scandals such as the WikiLeaks affair to the salacious iCloud leaks of August 2014, showing us the real-world impact that disparate groups of tech-savvy individuals can have on all of us.
Johnny Mnemonic 
Thousands of jobs were created during the late nineties, in response to the speculation as to the ways that the internet could be adapted to suit businesses. This dot-com bubble led to the emergence of a new class of work which was restricted exclusively to the use of a computer.
Although the bubble eventually burst somewhere during the early noughties, it still led to the creation of thousands of new roles offering a huge variety of tech-related services around the world; whether it’s server hosting in Silicon Valley, web design in India or Liverpool marketing services, these jobs can be carried out around the clock and around the world. As exciting as this sounds, there are still no current jobs that are analogous to Keanu Reeves’ data trafficker Johnny Mnemonic – who’s hunted through a dangerous sci-fi urban sprawl by genetically enhanced Yakuza assassins intent on cracking his brain for ‘hundreds of megabytes’ of precious info.
David Cronenberg’s virtual reality thriller was unfairly overlooked upon it’s release, mostly due to it’s emphasis on lo-fi special effects and a bewildering plot. A re-watch of this curiously action-oriented film, however, reveals that the legendary auteur had his beady eye on more than just the technological advances of video games and virtual reality.
Hotshot games designer Allegra Geller (played by a seductive Jenifer Jason Leigh) is chased through both the virtual and real worlds by shady corporate types looking to stop the release of her next game – so far, so corporate-espionage thriller; it’s the intervention of obsessive fans that rings true for our world today. Never before have individuals’ lives been open to so much open criticism (or attack) and eXistenZ accurately predicted that these attacks would occur in both the real and virtual worlds, over the most trivial of things as a video game.…
Some movies fall from the same money tree, for better or for worse…
Sometimes the business of making movies can be a terribly derivative one.
Call it hedging their bets, call it a coincidence or call it plain cheating: over the years we’ve often been ‘treated’ to two movies in the space of a year that either cover the same contextual ground or are even based on the exact same intellectual property.
Now, whilst the box office potentials of these films are evidently going to be effected by each other, there’s nothing stopping both films being well received on their own merits. For example, Antz and A Bug’s Life, two films released in 1998, both concerning a plucky ant’s journey away from his colony with the purpose of seeking a sense of individuality, were both critically acclaimed. However, sometimes there is clearly just one outright winner in both commercial and critical terms:
Here are three examples of movie twins that couldn’t be any more different from one another, in terms of straight up quality:
Lincoln  vs. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 
In 2012, the popcorn munching masses of the cinemas were offered two very different representations of one of the most iconic American historical figures, from two directors who only shared one similarity in their vision: seriousness. It’s easy to forgive Steven Spielberg for the seriousness of his epic historical drama.
In the main role of Abraham Lincoln, he cast Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the most revered actors of our time, who only emerges every few years or so to uniformally stun audiences. The Tony Kushner-penned screenplay was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on Lincoln and his cabinet of rivals that he united to steer young America through the Civil War. It was considered a success, both commercially and critically, in addition it was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, including the Best Actor accolade, which Day-Lewis took home.
On the other-hand we have Timur Bekmambetov’s effort, released 5 months earlier at the start of the summer box-office season. His adaptation, based on the Historical-mashup of novel of the same name, portrayed Lincoln in a similar serious light to Spielberg’s, with one major difference – this Lincoln moonlighted as a vampire hunter. Although the Russian-Kazakh director had found success with similar genre fare before, in the shape of 2008’s comic-book adaptation Wanted, he failed to inject his movie with any kind of levity – preferring to revere his fictionalised version of Lincoln rather than poke fun at the evident outlandishness of his situation.
The film not only bombed at the box-office, failing to recoup it’s marketing and production costs, but it was also savaged by critics. As admirable as his impression of the great man was, Benjamin Walker did not pick up any nominations for his performance and has struggled to rebuild his career since…
Chef  vs. Burnt 
Released just over a year apart from each other, both Chef and Burnt feature cooking professionals with anger issues who go about seeking redemption in very different ways. In Jon Favreau’s Chef, questionably named Carl Casper attempts to revive his ruined career by cooking with his heart and reconnecting with his family. This good-natured giant, played by the writer-director with grumpy but genial charm, sets out on the road in a food truck with his estranged son and best friend, discovering why he loved cooking to start with. What follows is a heart-warming comedy-drama that treats the senses to what can only be described as ‘food porn’.
On the other hand we have Bradley Cooper’s Adam Jones (more realistic but edging on the dull) who sentences himself to cooking a million oysters in a New Orleans bar after blowing his own career in Paris a year before.
Several industrial extractor fans would be needed to suck out the hot air from this self-indulged cook. Adam might feel like he’s served his time, but his destructive behaviour does not end with his self-imposed exile. Soon he’s back in London, ruining his friends’ careers and blowing his lid all over again. Cooper performs well, but when a character is this much of an ass, it’s really hard to care if he wins his third Michelin Star or not.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice  vs. Captain America: Civil War 
In 2016, two movies were released, pitting some of the biggest names in comic book history against each other. If we were to judge these films on the merits of expectations alone, it’s safe to say that Zack Snyder’s BvS (that title is just too long to repeat) had the edge over the Russo Brother’s third instalment of the Cap franchise. When people think of superheroes, Superman and Batman are usually the first on their mind. In theory, the collision of these two heroes, a vision never before brought to the big screen, should have been a home run, but somehow Snyder found a way of turning this titanic idea into a gargantuan flop.
Dead on arrival, a huge opening led to a record-breaking drop in the second week and, thanks to poor word of mouth, the $300m production slowly limped past $870m after 12 weeks in cinemas. Meanwhile, Civil War, dealing with the moral and physical battle between the entire cast of the Marvel Universe, fared a lot better, both critically and commercially. Made for $50m less, the Marvel Studios movie made well over $1.1bn in 20 strong weeks of business.
The defining difference between these productions was in the tone of the final products. Although both movies dealt with serious issues (at least for comic book flicks), Civil War maintained a rollicking sense of fun, whereas BvS became quickly bogged down in weighty dialogue and overly-dramatic musical cues. If it weren’t for the surprise success of DC’s Wonder Woman this year, I’d be declaring the DCEU dead in the water, but the release of Justice League will be the real test of the franchise’s chances.…
The head honchos at Disney, which Marvel Studios is a subsidiary of, are starting to build up a nasty reputation for not getting along with the young upcoming directors they consistently hire for their large-scale productions.
Despite their rigid insistence to the company line that they only want to hire directors that are capable of executing their own unique vision, the head honchos in charge of producing some of the biggest releases of the last few years have fallen out with a number of young directors hired to do just this.
Edgar Wright might have received a writing credit for his work on Ant-Man, but he was unceremoniously separated from the project after Marvel saw fit to hire fresh blood to re-write a script that he had spent years working on. Similarly, dynamic duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were removed from the set of the upcoming Hans Solo film after their vision of the movie didn’t quite match up with the producers’; they were replaced by journeyman director Ron Howard hot of such ‘successes’ as Inferno and In The Heart of the Sea.
That why it’s a surprise that James Gunn, writer-director of Guardians of the Galaxy and this year’s Vol. 2 has had no problems transitioning from small scale independent movie making to big-budget blockbusters. Although he’d worked in the movie industry for nearly 20 years, he didn’t catch the eye of the men at Disney until he released a superhero movie of his own, 2010’s Super. Graphically violent, sexually explicit and jarringly off-beat, it’s hard to see why Kevin Feige and co. thought he’d be suitable for the Guardians job.
The first movie proved naysayers (like me) wrong. The film was critically acclaimed and a box-office smash, what’s more – it was really good. Packed full of the off-beat humour that many thought wouldn’t fit into a Marvel film, this was the superhero movie that no one saw coming, based on a property that was unknown to the movie going public.
Coming three years later, Gunn’s sequel is by and large comprised of the same components that made the first film such a success. Rocking retro soundtrack? Check. Quick-fire bickering and banter? Check. Obligatory CGI-rammed finale? Unfortunately – check.
It would seem that James Gunn’s healthy working relationship with Marvel and Disney is in part thanks to his ability to balance his vision with theirs. He might well succeed in convincing the studio that it’s OK to cut away from the opening action sequence to focus on a baby tree dancing to ELO, but he doesn’t quite talk them round to omitting a laughable CGI-blob that threatens to engulf an unrelated, nameless town on Earth in the final act.
As much as the Guardians series hinges on it’s unique identity, separating itself from the rest of the Marvel-U, it still conforms structurally to the way the other films in the series work. An opening prologue featuring a de-aged Kurt Russell is less surprising than it should be and the aforementioned blob/CGI-fest at the end seems a little rote, in a film that otherwise chooses to play by it’s own strange rules.
Despite these misgivings, Gunn has produced another crowd-pleaser that serves to prove the point that Marvel is far from done with making solid, action romps for a wide, engaged audience.
Sequels, Reboots and Remakes have been making the most money this year.
Is there anything original to look forward to in 2017?
Just taking a brief look at the Box Office figures for the year reveals what kind of films make the most money in today’s movie age. The top 10 internationally grossing movies of the year so far have are all been either sequels, remakes or reboots. Take a closer look and you’ll soon see that only 5 of the top 30 grossing films of the year were based on original ideas, those chosen few include: The Boss Baby, Jordan Peele’s outstanding Get Out and several Asia-only releases including, ahem…Kung Fu Yoga.
Although critics are constantly threatening that ‘franchise fatigue‘ will soon bite large scale productions where it hurts them most, support for big tent-poles, such as Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2suggest otherwise. With a packed schedule of sequels and reboots, including the now obligatory Star Wars instalment, a third film based on the Lego toys and Zack Snyder’s mammoth Justice League; you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s no room for original movie ideas anymore.
In reaction to the inevitable feeling of fatigue that you might be feeling at the moment, I’ve collected 6 trailers for movies hitting screens this year, which should surprise you with their originality and unique vision:
A director that’s been lurking in the shadows for some time, Steven Soderbergh returns to the seedy world of the heist with his 30th feature film. A far cry from the high-roller casinos of his Oceans films, Logan Lucky takes place in the deep South and involves a group of down on their luck siblings (Channing Tatum, Riley Keough and Adam Driver) seeking a way to get rich and break a family curse.
Logan Lucky is in cinemas now.
It’s been nearly three years since Darren Aronofosky’s last film, the grand but flawed Noah; he returns this year with an original screenplay and an all-star cast including Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kristen Wiig. The film centres around a young wife (Lawrence) whose peaceful domestic life is upended by a mysterious older couple, who lodge with her.
Mother! will be released on September 15th.
Director-writer Eliza Hittman’s second film promises to take the audience on yet another hyper-realistic journey through the dangerous landscape of youth and sexuality. A teenage boy in Brooklyn balances a difficult home life with delinquency and casual sex with older men he meets online. Newcomers Harris Dickinson and Madeline Weinstein lead the cast of mostly unknowns.
Beach Rats gets its UK release on November 3rd.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Grecian director Yorgos Lanthimos’ career is still in its infancy yet he continues to attract big names to work on his bizarre, high-concept projects. His follow-up to the wonderfully weird The Lobster will also star Colin Farrell as well as seasoned vets Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone and British newcomer Barry Keoghan (fresh from his trip to Dunkirk). The plot revolves around a young lad (Keoghan) attempting to introduce a plastic surgeon into his dysfunctional family.
The Killing… is out on October 27th.
Some haven’t noticed, but for the last few years Pixar have been building a slate of movies that include sequels to longstanding franchises balanced with launching original movies that take real risks in terms of new ideas. Coco‘s low-key cast is exclusively hispanic for this musical themed adventure through the Land of the Dead, as always though, the animation will be the draw for most.
Coco hit cinemas on November 22nd.
So far in his career, Alexander Payne’s bread and butter has been deeply moving character dramas about normal people, in extraordinary situations, think: The Descendants or, his last movie, Nebraska. For his next though, he’s reuniting with his writing partner from Oscar-winner Sideways, to make something a little outside of the box. Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig play a married couple seeking to reduce their environmental impact and live a better life, by shrinking themselves down to 4-inches.
Dunkirk  and War for the Planet of the Apes 
In Christopher Nolan’s tenth feature, you could be forgiven for thinking that war has never been any more real or threatening.
There’s a palpable sense of tension throughout the entirety of this highly original war movie (it’s hard to describe a 108-minute movie as an ‘epic’) that ceases to let up. The ensemble cast of mostly unknown players are propelled forward by Hans Zimmer’s metronomic soundtrack, as each strand of his carefully structured narrative slips and winds through each other.
It’s been over 75 years since the evacuation of Dunkirk, an act of retreat that has been celebrated as a military success that turned the tide of the Second World War. Over 800 civilian boats, many of them no larger than sail dinghies, made their way across the channel to aid the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, a feat as much attributed to national pride as a sense of self-preservation. Characters repeatedly utter how close to home they are, heightening both the sickening feeling of isolation as well as the fear of enemy troops touching home soil.
At it’s heart, Dunkirk is more of a survival movie than a war movie. Aside from Tom Hardy’s steadfast fighter pilot, the other players are more concerned with escaping their situations than escalating them with any kind of heroic actions. Mark Rylance and his two-man crew are hellbent on aiding the evacuations themselves, an old man and two young lads who want nothing more than to help. Meanwhile, Cillian Murphy is a shell-shocked officer struggling to come to terms with his cowardly actions and newcomer Ffion Whitehead is just a boy, willing to do anything to get home.
Dunkirk is a triumph of technical wizardry as well as tone. We fear for the characters and share in their brief moments of elation, regardless of the short amount of time that we spend with them, but this elation never feels saccharine. These are not flawless heroes fighting for democracy, they are simply men trying to do their best in an unprecedented situation.
War is the subject of another major blockbuster released this summer, what we can assume will be the final entry in the recent Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy. Matt Reeves (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Let Me In) is back for seconds and it’s clear that he cares for his friendly mo-capped apes, it’s just a shame that he couldn’t tie together the story of Caesar and his family with a little more panache.
War starts strong with a failed attack on the apes’ forest compound by a group of newly branded soldiers led by Woody Harrelson (mostly underused and immobile here), but the repercussions of this exciting opening do not lead to the kind of thrilling conclusion that we were treated to in previous instalments. Reeves takes us from forest ambush, to mass exodus, to road trip, to post-apocalypse to POW camp (dropping some questionable references to Nazi concentration camps) without ever really engaging us. Harrelson’s antagonist is a loosely shaped cliche who explains himself through pained exposition, behind mirrored sunglasses, whilst Caesar’s conflicted emotions simply make for frustrating viewing.
By the time the gargantuan 2 hours 22 minute running time is at it’s end, the immaculately rendered apes have worn their welcome out and War feels more like one of attrition than anything else.