Five. That's how many sets of tickets I had for the London Film Festival since I last wrote, but I have actually only seen four of the films. The miserable 'winter' cold that is making the rounds had me sufficiently laid low on Monday that I couldn't face going out in the damp. I therefore did not go to see Catherine Breillat's erotic riff on "The Sleeping Beauty", especially since I was not overly enchanted by her treatment of "Bluebeard" last year (although I've just reread my review and it is vaguely positive). So Michael went off on his own and reports back that I didn't miss much -- and I believe him. So what did I see?
The Book of Masters (2009): In its Festival previews, Time Out magazine was particularly scathing about this first Russian production from good old Walt Disney, suggesting that it should be avoided at all costs. However since I am traditionally a sucker for fantasy films, I was tempted to view one based on Russian folk tales and legends, and at least we were spared a plethora of talking animals and saccharine songs. Visually the movie was a feast for the eyes as storybook tableaux sprung seamlessly to life. If the the story was overly complicated and the characters a little uninvolving, at least the live-action effects were reasonably well done and the colourful landscapes enchanting. No doubt Disney will be releasing an English-dubbed version in due course, but I will not suggest for a minute that you speed down to the nearest showing when they do.
13 Assassins (2010): The Japanese cult director Takashi Miike is also usually a safe bet for me, although some of his more recent pictures in what has been a ridiculously prolific career have been less off the wall than earlier outings. In this movie the auteur has foregone his usual sparring at the bizarre and gives us a fairly traditional costume drama set in the 1840s. A group of concerned samurai seek numbers to eliminate the evil Lord Naritsugu before he achieves even greater political influence. The thirteenth is a cheeky but fearless bandit whom they encounter when they are lost in the forest en route to their quarry. The second half of the film which altogether is probably at least half an hour too long, is taken up with the bloody battle in a booby-trapped village before the Lord and his do-or-die protectors (vastly outnumbering our heroes) fight to the death. A big problem with this film is that I couldn't individualise most of the protagonists and therefore feel their loss as they fell one by one. However if spectacular and gory hand-to-hand battle scenes are your bag, you should have a ball with this flick.
Surviving Life (2010): The Czech director and animator Jan Svankmajer is another of my favourites and this is his first movie since 2005's "Lunacy", which I sort of disliked at the time but which I am dead keen to see again. This film from the master surrealist uses a combination of live actors melded into cut-out animation to produce a confusing but amazing essay on our dream life. The main protagonist, garbed in his pajamas throughout, consults an analyst to help him differentiate between his mundane waking life with his plain old wife and his double dream world with a beautiful woman. Watching from the walls are photos of Freud and Jung, who react with comic dismay at the various revelations. Like dreams there is little logic in the plot and its resolution, but lovers of the weird and the wonderful should feel right at home with Svankmajer's flights of fancy.
Sunny Side Up (1929): There were fewer 'Films from the Archives' this year to tempt me, most of them being fairly well-known to me, and indeed I had seen this confection previously. However that was many years ago and this new restoration from MOMA appealed, especially since I have recently been watching a run of Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell starrers (although this one is not from Borzage). An early musical outing for the sound era, this movie boasts a slew of classic oldies from DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, undermined by some pretty horrendous renditions in out-of-date singing styles from most of the cast. Gaynor can just about hold a tune (although her dancing is gormless), but Farrell -- reasonably appealing in his silent roles -- comes across as a great lummox with a squeaky voice in talkies. Still the film had its charming moments outside the clunky dialogue from the likes of El Brendel, especially in a few of the big production numbers. These included the bizarre sight of a host of half-garbed showgirls dancing to 'Turn on the Heat' as they moved from a melting Arctic landscape to a tropical paradise and the inclusion of a group of children taking off the emotions of the big love duet. The gal sitting to my left was chortling away with enthusiasm and I suppose it really is a movie worth seeing, if only to realise how more sophisticated the musicals of the 1930s would become.
That leaves two more films to complete this years delectations. Reviews to follow soon...