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Thursday, 12 October 2017

London Film Festival (so far)

I said that seven out of eight wasn't bad for FrightFest. Well I'm only batting 2 and a half out of four so far for this year's LFF. With four films seen and two to go over the weekend, I can enthuse over two of them, react kind of 'meh' over one, and admit that I really disliked the fourth.

To deal with the worst first, the audience for "Ghost Stories" seemed to be comprised largely of fans of the original stage play on which the movie is based, some of whom raised their hands to admit to having seen it multiple times. I've not see the play but both the programme blurb and the enthusiast who introduced the film promised scary thrills. I was expecting some sort of compendium movie like the old Amicus productions, but instead was given the tale of ghost-debunker Andy Nyman (one of the co-writers and co-directors and also the lead player) being asked to explain three so-called inexplicable cases of ghostly apparitions. Well -- and big SPOILER coming -- it was all a fever-dream from his hospital bed with the sickroom staff featuring in each episode. Apart from some clever sound effects there was not a single jump or shock to be found and the film-makers seemed to subscribe to the school of bad horror film-making that things shot in total blackness are scarier than well-lit frights. They weren't here. 

Next up was "Blade of the Immortal" from the prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike, who was in attendance to introduce his 100th (!) film (and he's but two years Tarantino's senior). Since there was to be no Q and A afterwards the presenter fired a few questions before the showing, one of which was to ask how many people had been killed in his movies. This was an impossible question to be answered and today's film upped the ante astronomically -- a classic samurai tale based on a famous manga series and the kind of film the director loved from Japan's cinema past. The twist here is that a witch has fed our protagonist sacred bloodworms which can heal the most horrific and life-threatening injuries, making him immortal. Seeking revenge on the bandits who murdered his adored little sister, he is joined by another youngster seeking revenge for the swordsmen who murdered her father: cue constant and extreme bloodshed in non-stop battles. This is exactly what one has come to expect from the auteur and it is masterfully presented. 

I usually try to choose silents from the Festival programme and our third selection was "Little Veronika" aka "Innocence", described as 'Austria's most beautiful silent film' from either 1929 or 1930, recently restored and hailed as a great discovery. I've read reviews by others in its praise, but could not work up any great enthusiasm for the oft-told tale of the naïve and inexperienced country girl who is corrupted when she visits the big city. The viewing was somewhat spoiled by the presenter who told us in detail exactly what we were about to see, leaving no room for any fresh reactions and who more or less told us how the film would end. I can't say that the film was particularly 'beautiful' in any way, although the location scenes of old Vienna had some historical interest. The lead actress Kathe von Nagy was actually 25 years old when the film was shot which made her a little long in the tooth to be playing a pre-Communion teenager. I was also slightly perplexed why the film was titled "A Virgin's Ordeal" with French intertitles rather than German. As I wrote above: 'meh'.

Yesterday we saw the latest movie from the masterful Guillermo del Toro which was a complete delight and which ranks right up there with his very best: "The Shape of Water". Set sometime in America's Cold War past, it tells the improbable love story between Sally Hawkins, a mute cleaner at a secret government laboratory, and  a captured aquatic creature (straight out of "The Creature from the Black Lagoon"), which is intended as some sort of secret weapon against the dangerous Russkies.. Security at the lab is being handled by the sullen-faced and cruel Michael Shannon, who fails to prevent Hawkins from escaping with her new friend, the creature, to be kept in her bathtub until she is able to return him to the sea. I don't always like Hawkins, but she was terrific in this role, as was Octavia Spencer as a fellow-cleaner, Richard Jenkins as her effete next-door neighbour, and Michael Stuhlbarg's Dimitri posing as an American scientist. The telling was a little leisurely and the sub-plot about Russian spies a little extraneous, but one so warmed to the characters (other than Shannon) that we were charmed and cheered the fantasy of this inter-species romance. 

Reviews of the remaining two movies next week....
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