Joe Cunningham’s 11 recommendations for LFF 14

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

Unfortunately I haven’t been jet setting around the world this year to the various exciting international film festivals, but that’s what makes the London Film Festival’s compilation approach to programming all the more exciting – there’s no shortage of films that come highly-recommended that I’m desperate to see, and now they’re here on my doorstep. Already overflowing with recommendations from Michael and Catherine, I delved even deeper into the programme to select an array of films that I haven’t already been assured are all absolutely brilliant, but that look like they just might be.

Mr Turner

Mr Turner

Mr. Turner, dir. Mike Leigh

After Timothy Spall’s Best Actor win in Cannes and hearing all of the positive noises about Mike Leigh’s film as it makes its way around the festival circuit, it’s exciting to think that we’ll soon be able to hear those already infamous grunts first hand and on home soil ahead of its October 31st UK release. (Buy tickets)

The New Girlfriend, dir. Francois Ozon

Francois Ozon returns to the LFF for the third successive year after the excellent In The House and Jeune & Jolie with a film starring Romain Duris that plays in the Official Competition and comes billed as an audacious melodrama with a ravishing twist. What’s not to like? (Buy tickets)

Stray Dog, dir Debra Granik

Debra Granik met the subject of her debut documentary, Ronnie ‘Stray Dog’ Hall while making her Oscar-nominated feature, Winter’s Bone. If she tells the story of this American biker and war vet with the nuance and grace with which she depicted characters like Teardrop and Ree in her narrative feature, this should make for a fascinating watch. (Buy tickets)

The Tribe, dir. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

When our very own Catherine Bray saw The Tribe in Cannes she drew parallels to Michael Haneke, calling the Ukrainian film “unusual” and “brilliant.” Featuring a cast of young deaf performers and told entirely through sign language and without subtitles, The Tribe promises to be a completely new cinematic experience. (Buy tickets)

X + Y, dir. Morgan Matthews

Playing in the festival’s ‘Love’ strand, BAFTA-winning documentarian Morgan Matthews’ X + Y has assembled an impressive British cast that includes Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins for his tale of an autistic teenage maths prodigy (Asa Butterfield) whose talent takes him from the English suburbs to Taipei. (Buy tickets)

Metamorphoses, dir. Christophe Honore

Of the numerous clips and trailers that played at the LFF’s press launch earlier this month, it was the Metamorphoses trailer that proved perhaps the most attention-grabbing. The description of an “erotically upfront re-reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, enacted by a fearless cast of young actors in contemporary French settings” does nothing to loosen that grab on my attention. (Buy tickets)

White Bird In A Blizzard, dir. Gregg Araki

I’d been looking forward to Gregg Araki’s first film in four years long before the pleasant surprise of finding it in the ‘Dare’ strand (naturally) of the LFF programme. Again exploring his favourite themes of sex, mortality and adolescence, but this time with two of Hollywood’s most exciting stars in Eva Green and Shailene Woodley, this will hopefully be a return to form for Araki. (Buy tickets)

Night Bus, dir. Simon Baker

I don’t find myself naturally drawn towards the LFF’s ‘Laugh’ strand, but Night Bus immediately struck me as a brilliant idea that I couldn’t believe hadn’t been done before. Written and directed by Simon Baker (no, not that one), the comedy-drama will take us on a journey through London that very isn’t often experienced sober. (Buy tickets)

A Second Chance, dir. Susanne Bier

Susanne Bier, the Oscar-winning director of In A Better World, has two films at this year’s festival, and despite her English-language effort featuring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role, it’s her Danish-Swedish production starring Game Of Thrones’ excellent Nikolaj Coster-Waldau that I’m excited about. (Buy tickets)

Robot Overlords, dir. Jon Wright

I’m a firm believer that in the era of CG-animation, modern mainstream cinema is failing to adequately provide younger audiences with quality, live-action movies. This ambitious, futuristic British sci-fi in the ‘Family’ strand will hopefully buck that trend. Fingers crossed for something positively Spielbergian. (Buy tickets)

Animated Shorts For Younger Audiences, dir. Various

What other section of the programme includes a picked-on pig befriending an artistic fox? That’s the plot of the adorable-looking The Dam Keeper, and there are also shorts featuring elephants,  a ghost, a giant octopus, and a prehistoric fish in this international selection. After a bevy of serious, arthouse cinema, this should be a lovely change of pace. (Buy tickets)


Michael Leader’s 11 recommendations for LFF 2014

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

One of the best things about the London Film Festival’s smorgasbord approach to programming is that, amongst the world premieres and gala screenings, there’s an eclectic collection of exciting films of all shapes and sizes that are finally finding their UK premieres after months of international buzz. So, after Catherine’s round-up, here are my 11 picks from the programme – a mixture of the already-seen and the dying-to-see.

Second Coming

Second Coming

Second Coming

Hot on the heels of its world premiere at TIFF, Debbie Tucker Green’s Film4-backed domestic drama, starring Nadine Marshall and Idris Elba as a couple whose relationship is rocked by a mysterious pregnancy, appears at the LFF in the First Feature Competition. But it’s a London film at heart, shot locally in the South-West of the capital and written with an intimate understanding of the area’s British-West Indian community, so there’s no better place to catch it (especially its Sunday 19th screening at the Ritzy in Brixton). (Buy tickets)

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films

One of my favourites from Toronto this year, Electric Boogaloo is about as fun and informative as a documentary about a film studio could possibly be. Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood) stuffs his latest trawl through movie history with hilarious anecdotes and ludicrous clips, as he delves into the backstory of 80s eccentrics Cannon Films, the production company that brought you the likes of Missing In Action, Death Wish III, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and Masters Of The Universe. (Buy tickets)

It Follows

The wait has been excruciating, but It Follows has finally made it to UK shores after rave reviews from Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Toronto and various other international film festivals. Our Catherine Bray called David Robert Mitchell’s second feature “the best teen horror pic to emerge since The Faculty” – and, believe me, that’s high praise. Expect to see me cowering in the front row. (Buy tickets)

Catch Me Daddy

One more exciting, Film4-backed debut from the First Feature Competition line-up. Music video director Daniel Wolfe’s gripping tale of two young lovers on the run through the Yorkshire Moors is bold and beautifully shot (by Andrea Arnold’s regular DoP Robbie Ryan). And the critics at Cannes agreed, with Time Out lauding the film as an “unblinking and upsetting debut”, while The Telegraph hailed it as “a terrifically bright start for its director”.  (Buy tickets)

Bjork: Biophilia Live

If Peter Strickland’s S&M-themed drama The Duke Of Burgundy leaves you gagging (!) for more, then don’t forget his second appearance in the LFF programme, a concert film co-directed with BAFTA-winning editor Nick Fenton, documenting the live portion of the ever-inspiring Bjork’s ambitious multimedia project Biophilia. (Buy tickets)

German Concentration Camps Factual Survey

Certainly not the cheeriest of choices from the LFF programme, but this intriguing unfinished project from 1945, completed and restored by the Imperial War Museum, was initially filmed for a single, propagandistic purpose: to confront German citizens with the horrors of Hitler’s regime in order to ‘de-Nazify’ the population after the Second World War ended. From Schindler’s List to Shoah, the question of how best to document the holocaust on film has been a hotly-debated topic for decades, and this is a unique chance to see how such footage could have been used as a socio-cultural weapon. (Buy tickets)

National Gallery

I experienced something of a documentary-related epiphany about halfway into Frederick Wiseman’s patient, observational four-hour long film At Berkeley at Venice last year, and this new observo-doc about one of London’s most august institutions, a relative trifle at just under 180 minutes, should be no less engrossing or enlightening. (Buy tickets)

The Drop 

Tom Hardy cuddles a puppy! If that mental image hasn’t convinced you to see The Drop, there’s plenty to love about Michael R Roskam’s (Bullhead) adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s finely-textured, character-driven crime story, which sees Hardy appear alongside the great James Gandolfini as the bartender and manager of a run-down Brooklyn joint reduced to acting as a ‘drop’ location for the local mafia. (Buy tickets)

Tokyo Tribe

Here’s a gangster rap musical, adapted from a hyper-stylized manga series by maverick Japanese director Sion Sono (Love Exposure, Suicide Club). Need I say more? This follow-up to last year’s madcap gem Why Don’t You Play In Hell is a glorious mash-up of West Side Story and The Warriors, with wall-to-wall rapping and the incessant stylistic bombast that Sono has turned into a personal trademark. (Buy tickets)


Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s segment in horror anthology doc VHS: Viral – featuring skaters stumbling across a freaky demonic ritual in Tijuana – was one of my highlights from FrightFest last month, so Spring, reportedly a romance/horror hybrid that brings together Richard Linklater and HP Lovecraft, is right at the top of my must-see list. (Buy tickets)

The World Of Kanako

Tetsuya Nakashima is one of Japan’s most exciting directors, and his latest finds the candy-coloured pop art of Kamikaze Girls colliding head-first with the foreboding drama of Confessions, with a thread of violent bad-cop thrills tying it all together, as an unpredictable ex-detective tracks his missing daughter through the unseemly criminal world that lies beyond her seemingly perfect high-school life. The World Of Kanako sometimes feels like four films happening at once – and the experience is absolutely exhilarating. (Buy tickets)

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 Film4.com 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)


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

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

Film4.com 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