Part II of our report brings us to possibly the funniest movie of the 2013 festival. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been growing in stature for his acting in recent years with impressive turns in The Dark Knight Rises and Looper, both of which we thought were great. Turns out he’s a dab hand at writing and directing now as well. Don Jon tells the excruciating hilarious tale of a New Joisery lad who just cannot give up his porn. Between that, his women, his pad, his church, his family, his body he barely has time to don a white vest and sit down for family dinner. Scarlett Johansson is a revelation in this as the selfish, brilliantly accented target of Jon’s attention and Tony Danza shines in his brief scenes at the family table. Insightful, brutally honest and frequently hilarious, Don Jon managed to soar above its stereotypes.
One of last year’s grim highlights was Alex Gibney’s festival award winning film Mea Maxima Culpa, a superb piece of investigation which made us mortified and furious as well as admiring the brave victims who talked on camera. The Armstrong Lie is nowhere near as important but is still fascinating. Leading a somewhat charmed life, Gibney had bagged Armstrong (or it may have been the other way around) before the dope admissions. Sitting down with him afterwards, Gibney is clearly miffed at being lied to and it’s fascinating to see just how little Armstrong really believes he’s done anything wrong. Compulsive viewing and Gibney’s obvious enthusiasm to talk to the audience for as long as possible after the movie is a testament to his genuine interest in his subject and his audience.
The second disappointing movie of the festival came in the form of first time competition entry Parkland. Written for the screen and directed by Peter Landesman, this takes an interesting premise - looking at the lives of the less famous people affected directly by JFK’s assassination - and well, doesn’t really do that much with it. The movie probably tries to spread itself a little too thinly as we bounce between characters in eventually grating shaky cam style. Some are interesting - Giamatti’s Zapruder, others bounce past with very little to do - Zac Efron’s junior doctor, Ron Livingston’s FBI agent. It tries to add new things to a saturated story but sadly comes up short.
We bemoaned our lack of Uruguayan movie exposure before the festival and we were very glad we attempted to remedy this. So Much Water is a great little understated movie that follows a hapless divorced father as he attempts to connect with his teenage daughter and younger son on holiday. Unfortunately for him, the weather is against him and the torrential rain stymies his plans. Stuffed with hugely relatable situations and characters, the atmosphere created by the constant rain is a great backdrop for some touching comedy.
Director Joe Swanberg stated in the Q&A after the screening of Drinking Buddies that he was sick of patronising, unrealistic romantic comedies so set out to make one that was different. He succeeded in some style. Ditching a script in favour of improvised dialogue, his cast (Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick) are wonderful as the friends and lovers who drink a lot and sometimes struggle with inappropriate crushes. It’s refreshingly honest and certainly doesn’t go for easy solutions. For a change, this is a movie that doesn’t really know how to start rather than not knowing how to end.
Our second Chinese movie of the festival came in the form of Trap Street from first time director Vivian Qu. A sweet love story, laid on top of hugely sinister society issues, this offers another creepy view of Chinese life. Infused with increasingly invasive technology, the central couple’s lives are thrown to the winds when one of them is suspected of espionage. Chilling and very well directed, we’re hopeful that the recent difficulties in raising independent funding for movies in China don’t limit Qu’s ambitions. She deserves better.
Our attempt at a family pick for the festival this year was Foosball. Sadly it comes across as a bit of a Pixar-lite attempt and although the football scenes are superbly directed and hugely entertaining, the characters are weak and the story only occasionally fizzes into life. A stark contrast to Drones, a play turned movie centering around two drone controllers stuffed in a portacabin in the US desert. Cranking up the claustrophobia, heat, tension and moral questions, this great little movie probably made us think as much as any film this year. A new recruit struggles with her conscience as her tutor (but subordinate) veers towards treating his entire job as a computer game. We hope this gets a wider cinema release as it’s hugely relevant and will probably become more so as the US moves away from boots on the ground to remote war.
Our last festival film was one of the more baffling. The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas follows the title character as he attempts to boost his flagging breakfast TV show ratings and self esteem by faking his own kidnapping, in collusion with the TV station owner. It’s a promising idea but we really struggled to like it. Antonis is a hang-dog character who spends most of the film in a Shining-like desolate our of season hotel. His attempts at creating ‘molecular spaghetti’ are amusing but the film’s uneven tone makes it a hard watch. Probably worth seeing for the hilarious Eurovision skit though.
We're still not sure if we enjoyed 2013's London Film Festival more than 2012. It did seem to lack the standout 'Argo moment' but at the same time, we saw a wealth of fascinating films from around the world and heard some words of wisdom from a variety of unlikely sources. The festival still gives amazing access for the general public to hear directly from some fascinating filmmakers and gives us a great excuse to get out there and see some pretty obscure movies. We've no idea how many of the twenty-odd films we watched will actually make it to wide distribution in the UK but we hope the majority find a willing distributor. We'll be updating full reviews to our 2013 LFF review page here over the next week or so, once we've managed to untangle all the movies from our minds..... See you next year!