Catherine Bray’s 11 recommendations for LFF 2014

19 Sep, 2014 Posted in: London Film Festival, Opinion

Alan Partridge’s favourite Beatles album is The Best of The Beatles. By the same token, one of the world’s best festivals is the LFF. It’s not about screening films first, it’s about putting together the juiciest compilation of the year’s best movies.  That said, they’ve still managed to squeeze in 16 world premieres. The team are all picking their personal picks from the fest, and these are mine. It was supposed to be 10, but we just couldn’t bear to cut it down (and have still had to miss out a ton of gems), so we ended up turning it up to 11. Here are my 2014 LFF recommendations – enjoy!


The Possibilities Are Endless, dir. Edward Lovelace and James Hall

I saw this beautiful doc from directors-to-watch Edward Lovelace and James Hall at SXSW and it’s really stayed with me since. Following the process of singer Edwyn Collins piecing his identity back together again after a stroke, it’s such a moving, and brutally beautiful piece of filmmaking, I can’t wait to see it again. (Buy tickets)

’71, dir. Yann Demange

Probably your last chance to catch Jack O’Connell in a film before he becomes a megastar (Vanity Fair agree with us on this), the debut feature from Yann Demange is a Film4-backed firecracker of a thriller about one man trying to survive behind enemy lines. (Buy tickets)

Foxcatcher, dir. Bennett Miller

Alongside Maps to the Stars, this was one of my favourites at Cannes this year – Bennett Miller’s masterful unpicking of masculine bravado has a chilly understated brilliance that ensures the inevitability of its tragic climax connects like a sucker punch to the gut. Not your typical Oscar tearjerker. (Buy tickets)

The Duke Of Burgundy, dir. Peter Strickland

This is a Film4 backed one, but you don’t need to take our word for it that it’s brilliant – following its Toronto premiere, film industry bible Variety picked The Duke of Burgundy as one of the best of the fest, praising “British director Peter Strickland’s straight-faced yet deviously funny homage to ’60s and ’70s Eurotrash erotica [...] for sheer aesthetic overindulgence, nothing else on screens right now can touch it.” (Buy tickets)

The Immortalists, dir. Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado

I often feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day or days in a life, and the idea of extended lifespans is fascinating to me. It’s a big deal for scientists too, so I’m really looking forward to checking out what the boffins have to say about humankind’s quest for immortality in this doc. (Buy tickets)

The Surprise Film, dir. ?

An LFF institution, the surprise film is a blindfold gamble which usually manages to confound the pundits. Personally, I’d love to see Birdman again, which I was blown away by in Venice, or Alex Garland’s extraordinary looking sci-fi Ex Machina. But it’ll probably be something completely off my radar. (Buy tickets)

Whiplash, dir. Damien Chazelle

The main reason to see Whiplash is Miles Teller’s extraordinary performance as Andrew, a driven young drummer pushed to his limits. I saw this at Sundance and was initially lulled into thinking we’re rooting for Andrew. Not really – he’s more a Mark Zuckerberg style protagonist and all the more interesting for it… (Buy tickets)

Rosewater, dir. Jon Stewart

The always annoyingly funny and talented Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) adds another string to his bow here as director of this true story of a journalist detained for 188 days in Iran. I’ve not seen it, but word from Telluride was strong. (Buy tickets)

Altman, dir. Ron Mann

Formally, this doc (which I caught at Venice) about the late, sometimes great Robert Altman isn’t radical, but that’s not the point – this is a headfirst plunge into the career of one of America’s foremost post-war auteurs, laden with detail, charm and emotion. (Buy tickets)

Girlhood, dir. Celine Sciamma

Another favourite from Cannes, Celine Sciamma builds on the momentum she achieved with Water Lillies and Tomboy to deliver her finest work yet – a lively coming of age movie boasting the best use of Rihanna’s Diamonds yet to grace our screens. (Buy tickets)


Film4 Productions at TIFF 2014

18 Sep, 2014 Productions Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Toronto

We round up the enthusiastic reception of the six Film4-backed films which played at Toronto 2014, including the world premieres of The Riot Club, The Duke Of Burgundy and Second Coming.

The Riot Club


Left to right: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Lone Scherfig, Holliday Grainger, Ben Schnetzer and Douglas Booth

Ahead of its UK release this week, Lone Scherfig’s Film4-backed adaptation of Laura Wade’s acclaimed stage play Posh received its world premiere in Toronto, and the dapper cast – including leads Sam Claflin, Max Irons and Douglas Booth – took to the red carpet. Critics praised these young stars, with The Telegraph’s Tim Robey writing that the film is “perfectly cast in its main roles [...] Sam Claflin has a hard, bitter edge to him – he’s a lone wolf, seeing what he can get out of this bunch, seizing his chances to pounce. Douglas Booth affects a raffish nonchalance that’s perfect for a character whose corruption and predatory contempt for women are papered over by a veneer of charm. And Max Irons, given range for a lot more doubt and self-awareness than Miles had on stage, is hugely impressive.”

The Riot Club is in UK cinemas now.

The Duke Of Burgundy

Chiara D'Anna and Peter Strickland introduce The Duke Of Burgundy

Chiara D’Anna and Peter Strickland introduce The Duke Of Burgundy

Director Peter Strickland took to the Bell Lightbox stage to introduce his third feature with a list of continuity errors in one hand (’11 minutes in, we’ve got a problem with a compost heap…’), and a recording of mole crickets in the other, giving the audience a taster of the unique viewpoint and amateur entomology that makes up The Duke Of Burgundy. Rave reviews followed in The Telegraph (‘hair-raisingly kinky’), The Guardian (‘this is not just a filthy movie. It’s a considerable work of art’) and The Hollywood Reporter (‘a constant delight’), and the film was included in festival season highlight round-ups in The DissolveLittle White Lies and Variety.

The Duke Of Burgundy screens at the BFI London Film Festival in October.

Second Coming

Second Coming

Second Coming

Receiving its world premiere in TIFF’s Discovery strand was the directorial feature debut of playwright Debbie Tucker Green, starring Nadine Marshall and Idris Elba as a couple whose domestic life breaks down in the aftermath of an unexplained pregnancy. Andrew Barker at Variety called the film an ”engrossing psychodrama” which offers “a fine showcase to a very fine cast”.

Second Coming screens at the BFI London Film Festival in October.

Mr. Turner

Timothy Spall

Timothy Spall

After premiering in Cannes earlier this year to rave reviews and a Best Actor prize win for Timothy Spall, Mike Leigh’s biographical drama about British painter J.M.W. Turner travelled across the Atlantic for appearances at both TIFF and Telluride (as did Misters Spall and Leigh, as you can see above and below). NPR’s film critic Bob Mondello called it “a wheezing, growling, snorting work of art; every frame worthy of a frame”.

Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh

Mr. Turner will receive a Festival Gala screening in October at the BFI London Film Festival and goes on general UK release on 31st October.


Yann Demange

Yann Demange

Both director Yann Demange and future megastar lead actor Jack O’Connell attended the Canadian premiere of their Troubles-set thriller, which opened earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival. The film was screening in the festival’s Discovery strand, and critics squarely focused on both the first-time feature director and his rising star. In Vanity Fair, Jordan Hoffman wrote: “it takes a great deal of skill to shoot chaos in an orderly way, and Demange nails it. The first 30 minutes of the film are pure and direct, in a deceptively documentary-seeming style, but with a furious mounting tension,” and remarked that, paired with his breakout performance in last year’s Film4-backed prison drama Starred Up, “it is clear that O’Connell’s got chops”.

’71 screens at the BFI London Film Festival in October, and goes on general release in the UK on Friday 10th October.



The cast and crew of Hyena introduce the film (photo courtesy of Ben Roberts)

The cast and crew of Hyena introduce the film (photo courtesy of Ben Roberts)

A full entourage of cast and crew were out in force to back up director Gerard Johnson as he introduced the Toronto crowd to his compelling corrupt cops thriller, which Sight & Sound contributor Ashley Clark called “nasty, grimly funny, and stylish with a great, perma-ruffled lead turn from [Peter] Ferdinando”.

Hyena will be released in 2015.

TIFF 2014: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films

15 Sep, 2014 Posted in: Festivals, Opinion, Review, Toronto Editor Michael Leader stays up past his bedtime to sample the delights of TIFF’s Midnight Madness strand…

Electric Boogaloo

Let me set the scene. It’s 11.15pm, I’m glugging full-fat Pepsi and my pockets are full of Hershey’s Milk Duds. The queue for the night’s Midnight Madness screening wraps around the block from the Ryerson Theatre and it’s clear from both the t-shirts on view and the sheer determination involved that this is the die-hard audience – the cult devotees who’ll gladly stay up late and wait in line for a bit of trashy genre fun. And it doesn’t get more trashy or fun than tonight’s offering: the world premiere of Mark Hartley’s documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films.

I’ll admit, I’m a tad young to have fully experienced Cannon Films’ mid-80s heyday, when Menahem Golan and Yolan Globus stamped their company logo at the head of countless action, horror and just plain uncategorisable movies. The assembled Midnight Madness gang, however, are clearly seasoned veterans, and almost bring the Ryerson’s roof down when asked to bark out their favourite Cannon joint. Lifeforce! Breakin’! Superman IV: The Quest For Peace! Death Wish 3! Missing In Action! American Ninja! Geeky pleasures, all – and don’t you dare call them ‘guilty’.

In a similar vein to Hartley’s Ozploitation deep dive Not Quite Hollywood (which received its international premiere at Midnight Madness in 2008), Electric Boogaloo is light, accessible and anecdote-heavy, turning both the Cannon Films owners and the films they made into larger-than-life characters. With perfect clip choices and impeccable comic editing, Hartley teases out the ridiculousness of some of Cannon’s craziest creations – such as Lou Ferrigno throwing a bear into space (Hercules), or the inherent absurdity of an action movie starring Sylvester Stallone centred around the sedentary sport of arm wrestling (Over The Top). The end result is a rare doc that is laugh-a-minute, loving and ludicrously entertaining.

It’s also a compelling document of a bygone era of the film industry. A cast of interviewees familiar and unknown (including Tobe Hooper, Franco Zeffirelli, Michael Dudikoff, Molly Ringwald and Elliott Gould, amongst many others) are corralled together to speak of Golan and Globus’s rise to prominence, and their method of pre-selling film ideas to foreign markets based on titles, posters and ‘name’ stars such as ‘the two Chucks’ Norris and Bronson (or Charles, to you and me).

At their peak, Cannon had upwards of 40 films a year in production, they owned cinema chains in the UK and they made movies that ranged from action schlock to auteurist arthouse (with directors including Jean-Luc Godard, John Cassavetes and Barbet Schroeder). Some of their films even courted Oscar buzz, before reckless ambition and box office failure sunk Golan and Globus’s dream of kicking it with the majors.

You couldn’t imagine a similar group of crackpots making a similarly successful go of it in 2014, and looking at it in retrospect, Cannon’s history is almost (almost) as outlandish as the films they made. It’s the perfect Midnight Madness premiere, and in Electric Boogaloo, Hartley captures this wild, untold story with infectious enthusiasm, making it a must-see even if you’re not already a paid-up member of the Cannon cult.

Read more reviews from Toronto 2014

TIFF 2014: The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness

11 Sep, 2014 Posted in: Festivals, Opinion, Review, Toronto

Michael Leader catches the highly-anticipated behind-the-scenes documentary The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness, which charts an integral year in the life of Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli…


At Venice last year, one of my highlights was seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, the inspiring, animated engineering epic The Wind Rises, with the festival crowd. This past week, TIFF topped Venice by offering a Ghibli double bill on its very first day of press screenings. How could I resist?

First, I played catch-up with Catherine Bray, who caught The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya at Cannes earlier this year, but the second film was easily my most-anticipated of the festival: The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness, a fly-on-the-wall documentary shot within Ghibli’s walls as both The Wind Rises and Princess Kaguya neared completion.

With unprecedented access and insight, director Mami Sunada was present as both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata put the finishing touches to their final masterworks – essentially the most invigorating, impressive mic drop in animation history – while plagued by looming deadlines, production pressures and their own existential entanglements.

The resulting film is delicate but illuminating, a gift for Studio Ghibli fans to treasure but also a rare document of one of the few studios in contemporary cinema history that have attained the profile and reputation to require such observation. From in-depth interviews with Hayao Miyazaki and Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki to scenes charting the brainstorming, auditioning and recording of Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno’s lead voice role in The Wind Rises, The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness has much to offer. But it’s in little asides such as charming scenes following around the studio cat, which mimic Miyazaki’s own fondness for finding wonder from different perspectives, that Sunada goes beyond simple behind-the-scenes concerns and creates a documentary that stands on its own.

Frankly, double billing Princess Kaguya and The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness was an emotionally exhausting experience, not least because the documentary manages to capture the Ghibli magic that is jeopardised by the imminent retirement of both Takahata and Miyazaki. A final scene, with Miyazaki staring out of an office window and imagining a chase sequence over the local rooftops – cut to scenes from every Miyazaki film from The Castle Of Cagliostoro onwards – represents a career of making the mundane fantastical in microcosm. Keep an eye out for this one, it’s essential viewing – and not just for Ghibli die-hards.

Read more reviews from Toronto 2014

TIFF 2014: Love & Mercy

09 Sep, 2014 Posted in: Opinion, Review, Toronto Site Editor Michael Leader indulges his inner music geek with Bill Pohlad’s biopic of Brian Wilson, starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as the influential Beach Boy…


I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a little allergic to biopics, especially those focusing on musicians, but something dragged me to Love & Mercy, a biographical drama that homes in on two episodes in the life of influential songwriter and pop soundsmith Brian Wilson.

Both Paul Dano and John Cusack star as Wilson in scenes set two decades apart. In 1966, the younger Wilson challenges the boundaries of popular music and the industry expectations of his group, surf-pop band of brothers (and one cousin) The Beach Boys, with the ambitious Pet Sounds long-player and follow-up single ‘Good Vibrations’. Meanwhile, in the late 1980s, an older, visibly frazzled Wilson is held hostage by his therapist, manager, producer and legal guardian Dr Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti, sporting a ludicrous hairpiece), until a car saleswoman (Elizabeth Banks) takes it upon herself to break Brian free and reunite him with his estranged family.

As pop mythology goes, there’s nothing quite like Brian Wilson’s story. What sets it apart from similar chapters in rock ‘n roll history is not only the drastic decline from inspired genius to broken recluse, but also its uniquely happy ending, which saw Wilson return to the spotlight in the 1990s and 2000s, both as a solo artist (finally perfecting the ‘lost masterpiece’ that was sunk by successive nervous breakdowns, Smile) and with The Beach Boys.

Love & Mercy doesn’t quite do the story justice, but for every clunky sequence of dialogue that sounds copied-and-pasted from a VH1 Behind The Music voiceover (‘I’d like to propose a toast to the highest-selling single by The Beach Boys, ever!’) or pilfered with a wink from Wikipedia footnotes (‘Have you heard the new Beatles?’ ‘You mean Rubber Soul?’), there are qualities that save it from the daytime TV biopic doldrums.

Indeed, the 1960s scenes may include some of writer Oren Moverman‘s worst work, but for what is essentially a dramatic restaging of recording sessions there’s a lot of joy to be had seeing Dano flesh out (literally – with a bit of bulk he more than looks the part) Wilson’s winning way with session musicians and unconventional song arrangements. Director Bill Pohlad really revels in these scenes, revealing Wilson’s process as he incorporated odd sounds into his pocket symphonies and conceptual suites, and the enthusiasm is infectious as you see pop landmarks materialise before your eyes and ears. John Cusack, on the other hand, aims high with a performance that stretches him further than in years, but his mannered, distant Wilson has something of a Rain Man parody about him.

This is by no means a classic, and I still can’t shake the familiar feeling that you’re better off listening to a run of Beach Boys records and reading up on the history than sitting through 2 hours of biopic slush, but Love & Mercy isn’t a bad film. And while Oren Moverman, who co-wrote Todd Haynes’ brilliant myth-drenched Dylan flick I’m Not There, chooses to root this biopic in historical moments, transcendent music and easy sentimentalism, there’s something quite appropriate about that, given the subject.