Friday, 7 October 2016

LFF 2016:
A Monster Calls / The Handmaiden /
The Red Turtle

Well bugger me with a candlestick and call me Karen if it isn't that time of year again: it's the London Film Festival, a whole entire festival of films about London Records, the label that was home to such stellar talent as The Rolling Stones, ZZ Top and Gay Dad. What's that? Oh, right. Ignore me. Here are some film reviews!

A Monster Calls
Juan Antonio Bayona's fantasy-drama is heavy on the fantasy and light on the drama, suggesting he might be the ideal choice for an FX-heavy blockbuster like, say, the next instalment in the increasingly dull Jurassic Park series. Not that A Monster Calls is dull at all; in fact the scenes in which young Lewis MacDougall's tormented protagonist summons Liam Neeson's stunningly-rendered giant tree man (think a really fucked-off Ent) are some of the most entertaining in cinemas this year. But Bayona, working from a script by Patrick Ness (working from his own novel, working from an idea by Siobhan Dowd), sets up a promise early on about the healing power of storytelling which never quite delivers.

There's much to love here, not least some eye-ripplingly gorgeous animated sequences and a pivotal performance from Felicity Jones, but while Bayona is busy tugging on your heartstrings in the final act he's letting the opportunity for a truly thought-provoking fable slip through his fingers. Also, just a thought: when writing the lonely, awkward schoolboy with problems at home requiring a supernatural solution these days, I'm fairly sure writers aren't legally obliged to include the three antagonistic bullies, the leader of whom is clearly destined for a nasty comeuppance. And yet here we are.

The Handmaiden
Park Chan-wook is back in vengeance territory, thank God, although he's also in his fifties now, which means that as an arthouse director he is required to spend miles of footage (or, more likely, petabytes of memory) shooting young girls having it off with each other in the most graphic scenes you can get away with in a mainstream movie. And so The Handmaiden gets the Blue Is The Warmest Colour award at this year's LFF for the most comically extended scenes of fanny-on-fanny action which do more to titillate than advance the plot, although at least Abdellatif Kechiche's 2013 sapphic slurpathon had a believable and tender love story behind it.

Park's film, based on Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith, is a tale of con artists, double-crosses and heavy scissoring which starts off slowly, finds its rhythm in the middle and reaches a satisfying climax, but goes on so long your buttocks eventually get sore. Completely rewriting the novel's third act, Park stretches the story into a flabby revenge tale that lacks the lean, mean spark of his celebrated Vengeance trilogy. As expected, it's sumptuously shot and has a healthy seam of black humour running through it, but Park's shock tactics have lurched from smartly-crafted stomach-churning violence and brain-spinning plot wrinkles to adolescent lesbian fantasies. That's all well and good if you just fancy a wank, but less so if you came to the cinema for a different kind of stimulation.

The Red Turtle
Written and directed by Dutch animator Michaƫl Dudok de Wit and co-produced by Studio Ghibli, The Red Turtle is a seamless marriage of European and Asian sensibilities: hopelessly romantic and dreamily inscrutable, it's a dialogue-free fairytale that leaves you baffled, but in a warm and glowing kind of way, like that's just the way things are. Dudok de Wit's designs are simple but gorgeously animated, and while the premise (man is washed up on desert island) necessitates vast, empty backgrounds, it also allows the animation to breathe, pulling you into its carefully-crafted world. A triumph of originality and unpredictability, with solid support from some comedy crabs.

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