BFI London Film Festival – DAYS 7 & 8

black-rock-2012 movie kate bosworth lake bellBlack Rock (*)

Black Rock sees three twenty-something women return to the isolated island of their childhood in an attempt to reconcile some old differences. However a series of dramatic events turn their camping trip into a quest for survival, as a trio of ex-soldiers threaten their lives.

Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth and Katie Aselton (who also directs the film) play the three friends at the heart of the story, and for the pre-carnage, first half of the movie make a believable trio. Their friendship feels genuine and fun to watch, yet the solid set-up is wasted on a bleak second act that I found offensive, exploitative and painfully executed.

As the bloodshed begins, Black Rock gets it all wrong. The violence depicted against these girls is so extreme even a child could see that no human could withstand the bone-crunching beatings they receive. As such the level of violence never really serves any substantial purpose, and one begins to wonder what Aselton hoped to achieve by utilising such lengthy scenes of men repeatedly punching women in the face.

The exploitation of these characters continues when, through their own moronic actions, they end up wet and cold, so of course they have to strip all of their clothes off and huddle together to share body heat. It’s one very small step away from lesbian porn. Consequently by this point I was one very small step away from walking out of the screening, but persisted in the name of writing a fair review. I sincerely wish I hadn’t. Black Rock ranks amongst the worst films I’ve seen all year. Avoid it at all costs.

Song For Marion 2012 movie poster film Gemma Arterton Vanessa Redgrave Terence StampSong For Marion (***)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel proved earlier in the year that the senior audience can make a big impression at the box office. Song For Marion clearly hopes to capitalize on the same crowd with its broad entertainment value and inoffensive comedy.

Vanessa Redgrave plays Marion, a lively elderly woman who sings in a local choir for senior citizens. However when she develops cancer, singing with the choir becomes her refuge, much to the annoyance of her cantankerous husband (played by the brilliant Terence Stamp). Thus the film flits back and forth between touching drama and exaggerated comedy, as Gemma Arterton’s choirmaster teaches the pensioners how to sing hip-hop and rock classics, in imitation of real life OAP choir The Zimmers.

As you might imagine it’s all rather predictable. Stamp’s character’s journey is easily mapped out from early in the film, but there’s a great deal of honesty in Song For Marion that counteracts much of its reliance on convention. I found myself unexpectedly moved by the film’s handling of Marion’s fate, and wasn’t the only one as audible sniffles could be heard from all directions of the cinema. Much of this is down to the fine performances on show, Christopher Eccleston, as Marion’s son, as well as Stamp and of course Redgrave are each noteworthy. Meanwhile the crowd pleasing musical numbers are a great addition that will ensure the film appeals to a broad audience.

As such Song For Marion is no cinematic great, but it is a rare film that can be enjoyed by the entire family, and really will make you laugh and perhaps even cry.

Lines of Wellington (**)Lines of Wellington poster 2012 movie Marisa Paredes

Long and overpopulated, Chilean Valeria Sarmiento directs this Portuguese war epic with a star-studded cast and not enough restraint.

Lines of Wellington could have been a fantastic movie. It tells a winding tale of the French invasion into Portugal, with Wellington (played amusingly by John Malkovich) intercepting to save the smaller nation from defeat. It features exceptional period detail and a handful of solid performances.

However the problem lies with the story, in that there is an abundance of them happening at once without sufficient efforts made to link them. A great cast featuring Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Marisa Parades (who stands out proudly as best in show), and Isabelle Huppert, to name but four, is done a disservice by a screenplay that gives them too little to work with.

It fails to provide the audience with a central protagonist to bring all of the composite pieces together, but instead jumps between narrative strands without ever exploring any of them in enough detail. Accordingly the result is a film that feels jumbled—at times rushed and at others incredibly drawn out due to a near 3-hour running time. Disappointing.

great expectations poster 2012 movie ralph fiennes helena bonham carterGreat Expectations (***)

The LFF’s closing gala was the European premiere of Great Expectations. Mike Newell, who in the past has brought us great movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, along with some stinkers like Prince of Persia, takes on directorial duties. Sadly his handling of Charles Dickens’ masterful novel is not quite strong enough to make this latest adaptation a must-watch movie.

There’s plenty of good stuff going on here. Granted a lot of if comes down to the merit of the original story, which Dickens crafted so beautifully across three volumes back in the 1860s, but the film’s strong visual offerings and a couple of memorable performances ensure the film satisfies on several basic levels.

Ralph Fiennes as murderous Magwitch could have been looking at some serious Oscar contention in a better film. He always manages to bring such weight to everything he does, and here makes an impression despite being missing from much of the film. Helena Bonham Carter playing Mrs. Havisham, puts her unique spin on the famous character, although it will be noted by many that it falls well within her usual gothic comfort zone. Other famous faces amongst the cast include Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng, Sally Hawkins, David Walliams and Jeremy Irvine who proves his debut in last year’s War Horse was no fluke, this young actor’s future looks bright from here.

Those unfamiliar with the story should make an effort to seek this one out. While it might not be the definitive adaptation, it ticks enough boxes to make it a worthy introduction to the Great Expectations tale. For everyone else it’s too easily disposed of. Had Newell taken bigger risks, rather than playing towards safety and convention then this might have become one of the year’s best. As it stands it’s no insult to the source material, but ultimately contains just a fraction of its stayin