BFI London Film Festival 2019 Launch

This morning saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. In its 63rd year, the festival is screening 229 feature films, including 28 world premieres. Here are some highlights from the festival programme…

Headline Galas

The opening and closing films for the BFI London Film Festival 2019 had already been announced. The festival opens with the European premiere of Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. An adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, the film stars Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, and Hugh Laurie. Martin Scorsese‘s hotly-anticipated The Irishman closes the festival. There is an embarrassment of riches among the other headline galas, including Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Marielle Heller’s (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, and Michael Winterbottom’s Greed, starring Steve Coogan and Isla Fisher.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

This year, films screening as part of the Strand Galas include Robert Eggers’ (The Witch) The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The Dare Gala is Mirrah Folks’ debut feature Judy & Punch, a fairy tale starring Mia Wasikowska. Among the Special Presentations are Takashi Miike’s First Love, and Bombay Rose, a hand-drawn animated feature from Gitanjali Rao.

Official Competition

Among the ten features in Official Competition at the London Film Festival 2019 are Haifaa Al-Mansour’s (Wadjda) The Perfect Candidate, about a young doctor who challenges Saudi Arabia’s strict social codes. Thomas Clay’s Fanny Lye Deliver’d stars Maxine Peake and Charles Dance, and is about a woman living with her puritanical husband in 17th century Shropshire. The Documentary Competition features Rubika Shah’s White Riot, about the Rock Against Racism movement, and Lauren Greenfield The Kingmaker, which focuses on Imelda Marcos. The First Feature Competition includes Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, a drama starring Eliza Scanlon and Ben Mendelsohn.

Strands

The eleven thematic programme strands are back once more at the London Film Festival 2019. The Love strand includes La Belle Époque, Nicolas Bedos’ drama about an illustrator who uses technology to replay the past, and Ga-young Jeong’s Heart. The Debate strand is particularly strong this year with Citizen K (Alex Gibney‘s documentary on Mikhail Khodorkovsky), Chinonye Chukwu’s Sundance winner Clemency, Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, and Scott Z Burns’ The Report, starring Adam Driver. Comedies in the Laugh strand includes Billie Piper’s directorial debut Rare Beasts, whilst Wash Westmoreland’s Earthquake Bird in the Thrill strand stars Alicia Vikander in an 1980s Tokyo-set thriller. Cannes winner The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão is among the films in the Journey category.

The Dare strand features animated coming-of-age tale I Lost My Body and Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird, about a Jewish boy on a journey home during wartime. The Cult strand includes Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge and Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium, with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots. Also in this category is Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, a HP Lovecraft adaptation starring Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson. The Experimenta strand includes Brad Butler and Noorafshan Mizra’s Ruptures, whilst Create includes Midge Costin’s documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. Two highlights of the Family strand are Edmunds Jansons’ Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs and Lorenzo Mattotti’s The Bears’ Famous Invasion. Finally, classics that are showing as part of the Treasures programme include David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price.

The BFI London Film Festival 2019 runs from 2nd-13th October. The full programme can be viewed here.

Film Review: Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is an enjoyable comedy drama. The picture is lighter than Wheatley’s previous efforts, yet is a finely tuned affair.

Colin Burstead has organised for his extended family to celebrate New Year at a lavish country house which he has rented out. His sister Gini has invited their estranged brother David, which could make for an awkward reunion…

Written, directed, and edited by Ben Wheatley, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead features an ensemble cast as a dysfunctional yet convincing family. The film focuses on various family dynamics, playing with a number of different strands. The action takes place over a single day. The film begins as a situation comedy, before more serious issues come to light in the second half.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead features a great script (written by Wheatley with some ad-libbing from the cast). Interactions seem entirely natural; the Bursteads certainly feel like a real family. There are some very funny lines, delivered by a variety of characters. There are also some great setups. Wheatley excels in providing a lot of amusement for viewers.

In the second half of the film, the issues that have been bubbling under come to the fore. Whilst there are confrontations, the film does not necessarily resolve every issue in a neat manner. Wheatley frequently cuts between different conversations involving different characters, which helps to build momentum to the film’s more dramatic episodes.

Performances from the large cast are good all round. Neil Maskell and Sam Riley are given the most to do, and perform well. Hayley Squires and Charles Dance are also good, and Asim Chaudhry is very amusing as Sham.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is not a film of great consequence. However, it is an accomplished picture, and showcases Wheatley’s talent for comedy drama without a hint of violence.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

Film Review: Your Highness

The trailer for Your Highness makes the film look unappealing. Some trailers can be wildly misleading, but sadly this is not the case with David Gordon Green’s film.

Prince Thadeous is in the shadow of his brave and accomplished brother Fabious, heir to the throne. When Fabious’ bride is kidnapped by an evil warlock, Fabious embarks on a quest to rescue. Following their father orders, Thadeous reluctantly agrees to accompany him…

Ultimately, Your Highness fails because the script is so poor. The film hits all the wrong notes; plodding along while the audience desperately hopes that it will pick up. At very best, a few of the jokes are mildly amusing, yet these keep being repeated until any initial amusement has shrivelled up and died.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of crude humour now and again. It can be hilarious if done right. The problem with Your Highness is that it relies on staid humour. The jokes are not very funny in the first place, and grow tired quickly with the frequent repetition. There seems to be a lack of ideas from writers Danny McBride and Ben Best. Running with very limited jokes only works if the recurring jokes gets funnier, or are at least funny to begin with.

Your Highness may have been effective if it was a straightforward spoof of the sword and sorcery genre. There is ample material that the film could have referenced and derided, but instead the film merely replicates some situations from previous films in the genre. These influences are not made light of, but simply incorporated into the narrative. Your Highness is a standard sword and sorcery movie, but with swearing and lewdness.

The film’s production values are good. Locations appear appropriate given the setting, and costumes work well to produce the quasi-Medieval look. Special effects are also decent. The action scenes work reasonably well, but are at odds with the tone of the movie.

Your Highness boasts a great cast; it is a bit of a mystery as to why they all signed on to this project. Charles Dance plays it straight as King Tallious, and Rasmus Hardiker generates most of the amusement. Main cast members Danny McBride, James Franco and Natalie Portman are hammy. This seemingly is the intention, but grates after a while.

Your Highness may be funnier depending on inebriation levels; for going into the movie sober takes a man (or woman) braver than Franco’s Fabious.