BFI London Film Festival Moves Online For 2020

As we move into the second half of this awful year, the world is still dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic which has carried on spreading. Due to this fact, this year’s London Film Festival will for the most part be online with the announcement coming from BFI this week.

Taking place between October 7th – 18th, the festival is showing multiple films online as well as a number of events as BFI does it’s part in stopping the spread of the virus. They have announced up to 50 virtual festival premieres, several live and digital screenings as well as 12 new films being shown across the UK. The festival will reach further than ever before as the whole of the UK will be able to enjoy part of the festival from home for the first time. Each film will have an introduction or a Q&A and the programme will also include some free access material such as screen talks, short films, roundtables and more.

BFI London Film Festival Director, Tricia Tuttle says, “Like many other live events around the world, we’ve had to make changes to our plans in response to a global pandemic, factoring in safety concerns and restrictions – some known, some still unclear. But as we’ve undergone this planning we’ve also witnessed historical international protests, an urgent reminder of just how much we need to do to combat racism and inequality. This year has also given us an opportunity to think creatively about how we make the Festival more accessible. It was vital to us that we get back to cinemas, and are looking forward to working with independent and cultural venues across the UK who are such an essential part of our film ecosystem. The Virtual LFF programmes and these cinema screenings take the Festival out across the UK, giving people opportunities to engage in different ways. It’s a pleasure each year to speak with audiences who share the ways filmmakers have made them laugh, think, weep, or shifted their way of seeing. Through a number of partnerships and platforms, we can’t wait to share many of this year’s extraordinary new films – from around the world, from artists of different backgrounds and with many bold distinctive filmmaking voices.”

Press Delegates will also have access to screenings online via a secure library, as well as being able to attend online buyers and sellers meetings, talks and other events. The full programme will be announced in an online launch on September 8.

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Cinemas vs. Studios: Who Is Right?

For about 6 weeks now, cinemas have had their doors closed due to the ongoing global Coronavirus pandemic. It’s been a tough time for those who go to the cinema, but especially for staff who work there as some were initially let go with no pay whatsoever. Well, now another massive spanner has been thrown into the works as AMC which owns Odeon has come out to say that due to Universal releasing a film onto streaming instead of waiting for cinemas to open again for a traditional theatrical release, these chains will no longer be showing their films. But who is in the right?

The film in question is Trolls: World Tour. Yes, you read that right. The decisions being made in the head offices of some of the world’s biggest cinema chains that will affect the distribution, sales, box office takings, bonuses, pay, pay raises, and future running of said cinemas is over Trolls. Are they trolling us with Trolls?

The reason for such a brutal decision is that Universal was so pleased with the results of the film hitting homes that it is now considering releasing films simultaneously at home and in cinemas. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said this week, “The results for Trolls: World Tour exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD (Premium Video on Demand). As soon as theatres reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.” AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron came in with a swift response in the form of an open letter part of which stated, “This radical change by Universal to the business model that currently exists between our two companies represents nothing but downside for us and is categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment. Going forward, AMC will not license any Universal movies in any of our 1,000 theaters globally on these terms.” Since then Regal Cinemas owner Cineworld Group has said stated that they want to see studios respect the theatrical release window and not take advantage of the current crisis. As it stand Cineworld will still be showing Universal films for now.

The problem right now is that cinemas cannot make any money from films unless they have their own streaming service like BFI or Curzon. A lot of small cinemas and chains are asking the public to support them by purchasing memberships and gift cards, a smart move to make money when it’s needed the most. By refusing to show films from Universal, Odeon will not be screening franchises like James Bond, Fast and Furious and Jurassic World all of which are consistently huge box office hits. Universal is betting big on people wanting to stay in to watch their films as Trolls: World Tour did so well, but can lightning strike multiple times? This is what the studio wants to consistently happen; to keep bringing in the dough with both at home and in theatre screening, but there is no guarantee of that at all. Going to the cinema is a unique collective experience where you cheer, gasp, laugh and cry as a huge a group. Watching these films at home won’t compare to the joy you feel when you’re in a packed screen.

However these cinemas certainly need to wise up and not be so flippant when it comes to the decisions studios make. It’s wrong to refuse to play films from a huge studio when that is your bread and butter. Even with releasing them simultaneous, cinemas will still be earning something rather than nothing. Cinema going has been on the rise with the end of 2018 being the biggest it’s been since the 70s just goes to show people still crave that experience. It seems it’s partly to do with these franchise films as 2018 and 2019 saw the culminating end of the MCU as we know it. Big films like Infinity War and Endgame put bums on seats as do the subscription services Odeon and Cineworld offer with their monthly unlimited movie membership cards which also brings in the cash. Will people continue to want to pay these fees each month when they can’t see their favourite films on the big screen? It seems that to disregard at least three big franchises from one studio is a fiscally irresponsible move.

Part of the issue is also the current choice we have in terms of streaming. Being locked indoors for a lengthy period of time means there’s a chance to catch up on all the shows and films you promised you’d watch. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV and new kids on the block Apple TV and Disney+ all offer a wealth of content ready to be viewed at the push of a button. Plus these are cheaper than paying around £15 for one film. Take Disney+ for example, it has a staggering amount to watch (especially since the 20th Century Fox merger) which will keep adults and kids thoroughly entertained for £5.99 a month, which I believe is about the same price as Netflix whose USP is original shows and films. This will be yet another hurdle for Universal and any other studio looking to do this now and when things start to resemble normal. The competition is fierce out there with more and more bringing out streaming services with old content people love to watch over and over and new content people crave.

So, who is right? Well, they both sides have their guns and they are firmly sticking to them but neither is right and neither is wrong. Cinemas need films to bring people in, to buy the tickets, to pay for the monthly membership, to buy the snacks and the drinks. There was a slightly misguided tweet about this, which said something along the lines of cinemas don’t make money off of screenings, the make most of it through concessions. Whilst this might be true, without the films, no one will be munching on that popcorn. But studios do need cinemas to show their films, this is where people talk about their movie and they benefit from the best free marketing: word of mouth. More people talk about a film and the experience they had after going to see it at a cinema than whe they are sitting on their sofa. It just isn’t the same thing and can’t be compared. With 2019 having the biggest film of all time, why wouldn’t you want to have your film in the cinema for longer?

For now I think it is safe to assume that Trolls isn’t the start of the new new, it is a one off that did really well and got a studio thinking about its financial future. Nothing wrong with that but with the uncertainty of the movie releases right now and with some many productions on hold, who knows when we’ll see the likes of Fast and Furious and No Time to Die on the big screen. It seems that James Bond has a bit more time to die now.

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Super Bowl LIV: TV Spots And Trailers

There was some sort of sporting game last night in which two groups of men fought over an oblong shaped ball. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to them to give them each a ball to play with. Anyway, in between all that nonsense there were some exciting TV spots and trailers for some upcoming films and shows.

Here’s the ones I could actually find, whilst ignoring the Fast 9 one because they LITERALLY just had a 4 minute trailer. Frankly there are so many I’m sure I’ve missed a few of them. But do you REALLY want to see the ones I don’t care about? No I didn’t think so.

Disney+ shows (Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki)

Black Widow

No Time to Die

Top Gun: Maverick

A Quiet Place II

Invisible Man

Sonic the Hedgehog

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run

Mulan: Final trailer

Hunters

Minions: The Rise of Gru

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Joker, review

Joaquin Phoenix is Arthur Fleck, a clown for hire trying to make it as a stand up comedian in Gotham. As he tries to live his life a series of events will lead him to become the Joker.

The announcement of Joker coming shortly after Jared Leto’s take in Suicide Squad was met with confusion and trepidation. However Todd Phillips along with his co-writer Scott Silver and leading man Joaquin Phoenix have managed to recreate an iconic character into this grounded narrative.

Donning the makeup as a rent-a-clown, a single tear rolls down his cheek whilst he forces himself to look happy. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) prepares himself for a day of spinning a sign around and dancing in the street, advertising a store going out of business. It’s here where he’s jumped by a bunch of kids, beaten up and has his sign smashed in his face. This sets an early tone for the type of life Arthur has. He’s a downbeat character, whose life always seems to have been difficult, getting to grips with everyday behaviour and people isn’t something that comes easy to him. The fact that he has a condition to laugh uncontrollably and has to carry around a card to explain this to strangers doesn’t make it easier.

Playing him with his usual seemingly effortless acting, Phoenix easily embodies the disturbed and odd behaviours of Arthur / Joker as he’s navigated by Phillips who clearly has a lot of affection for this villainous character. He is after all a villain, make no mistake. As the Joker, Phoenix crafted an evil and creepy laugh which doesn’t sound like the ones we’ve heard before, just like his portrayal, it’s all new and all original. As we discover more about Arthur, we find out that he lives with his mother, he wants to be a stand up comedian, he loves being a clown. However there is something consistently unsettling about him and his behaviour, it’s unusual and hard to pin point but his mannerisms are that of someone who is trying to fit in rather than that of a person who naturally slots into society, it’s as if he’s copying to be the same. He brings a physicality to the performance as he hunches over, carrying the weight of the world. Phoenix lost a lot of weight for the role and you can see it particularly when his bones are almost poking out of him as shadows loom above.

This is a slow burn character study in the mind of an already disturbed man. As the clown mask becomes a figure for the dispossessed masses of Gotham, it feels like a modern point to bring up despite the fact that the film is set in 1981. It owes a debt to The King of Comedy which it clearly takes inspiration from thanks to Robert De Niro’s Murray Franklin, host of a talk show. He is the Jerry Langford of Joker as he unwittingly encourages Arthur. The twisted nature of Rupert Pupkin is a clear inspiration for Arthur as he struggles to understand how other people act and begins to feel ignored. Zazie Beetz brings humanity to his madness as his neighbour and Frances Conroy’s Penny Fleck portrays his unhinged mother with ease.

The theme of the film is to put on a happy face. Smile and the world smiles with you. It’s something Arthur is told by his mother and which he repeats throughout the film. Philips and Silver have both managed to craft a story in which we see someone’s pain no matter how much they smile. Their collaboration once again proves Phoenix is no joke.

5 out of 5.

Prop Store Exhibition 2019

It’s that time of the year once more where I take myself (and whoever wants to come and watch me geek out) to the BFI IMAX in London to take a look at the memorabilia on display for the Prop Store exhibition. This year was just as fantastic as the rest with lightsabers, a James Bond suit, Ghostbusters outfits, props from Back to the Future, costumes from X-Men, Batman, Gladiator and so much more. Take a look and see if anything takes your fancy.

K

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IT Chapter Two Immersive Experience

Exploring abandoned sewers, walking into the mouth of a giant clown, visiting a haunted house and being terrified by a small child are not normally my plans for a night out. However this is how I spent it recently whilst visiting the Vaults in Waterloo for the IT Chapter Two Immersive Experience.

Beginning with a faux carnival where you can play a couple of fun games, including Hook A Duck and Water Gun Shoot Out. Shortly after, you’re escorted through a swirling vortex which disorientates you and eventually leads you to an abandoned house. It’s here where it becomes considerably more horrific. I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking, rest assured that it isn’t for the faint hearted. They even had a safe word if it ever became too much for you.

Bloody good fun, scary enough with plenty to see and enjoy. I assume the movie will be considerably more terrifying. IT Chapter Two is out right now!

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Sony, Disney And The Spider-Man Conundrum

Last night it was announced that Sony and Disney had reached a stalemate in negotiations regarding Spider-Man, leaving the web crawler’s future in the MCU in doubt. As the news broke, as always, Twitter went nuts. That coupled with the fact that Matrix 4 with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss was announced, film Twitter hasn’t had a day like this since the Cats trailer was unleashed, albeit a different reaction but huge nonetheless.

Whilst is was initially hinted and rumoured, it seems everyone was very quick to react and they may have been right to do so. It began as a story which takes Spider-Man away from Marvel and the MCU, and it continued to develop into another story which is that there is still hope and talks will resume and this morning Sony Pictures has released a statement which seems to be the final nail in the coffin. It read that it is Disney’s decision to not have Kevin Feige producing the films any more, that they hope this changes in the future and that they are grateful for his guidance on the path of the character which the want to continue. (Full statement here.)

This is a very confusing statement, essentially they want to carry on with the narrative of Peter Parker / Spider-Man as he is in the MCU but without Marvel he can’t be in the MCU. Surely this is the wrong move for both companies? Up until now, Sony has 100% financed Spider-Man whilst he’s been with Disney and it’s been rumoured that Disney is offering to split the cost 50/50 and it’s still a no from Sony. Why? Honestly, why? After Spider-Man: Far From Home became the studio’s highest grossing movie of all time, why would you let this happen? Well, it’s mainly to do with money. The overall profit sharing most of which currently goes to Sony with Disney taking a smaller share and retaining merchandising rights. Disney has apparently asked for a larger share which may also include adding the remaining roster of Spider-Man characters to the MCU. It seems like a pretty fair deal which will benefit both companies, seeing how the last two Marvel movies Spider-Man has featured in went on to gross huge sums of money. It seems as if both sides are at fault (most of Twitter is blaming Sony because apparently Marvel, Disney and Kevin Feige can do no wrong…), negotiations should still be continuing and yet they seem to have given up.

It’s been a while since the web crawler was solely a Sony property, and since moving on from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, the character has gone from strength to strength. Being introduced via another movie rather than getting his own solo film, Disney smartly placed him in Captain America: Civil War 6 months after Uncle Ben’s death and him gaining his powers. Plus the casting of Tom Holland was spot on, as he embodied the role of Peter Parker whilst being a naive and quippy Spider-Man. It was perfect and all going so well. In 1999, Sony acquired Spider-Man from Marvel for $10m during a time when superhero movies were nothing like they are today. Over a 12 year period, the company made 5 solo movies, both of which at some point suffered from cramming as many villains into one of its movies as possible. It was a huge sigh of relief when we heard that Marvel and Sony brokered a deal to move him back to Marvel and Disney where he belongs. Disney has shown what a delight he can be, making sure he looks the right age and doesn’t go down the absurd path of making him unattractive and unpopular. It was a smart take which fans have loved since Civil War and his solo films are the best we’ve ever seen him.

The future of Spider-Man could currently go in multiple directions. With Venom 2 currently in production, Andy Serkis directing and Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams both reprising their roles, he could show up in there. Or in the Jared Leto lead Morbeus which is currently filming with Daniel Espinosa directing. There is also Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse which also has a sequel on the way. And of course, they can always create more solo films with a multitude of villains. One thing that they do have is a wide ranging rogues gallery to churn out. So frankly whilst all may not be lost, it isn’t exactly looking great.

This has all comes after Marvel announced their most diverse line-up yet for Phase 4. Films and TV shows including Eternals, Hawkeye, Loki, Black Widow, Shang Chi and more were all confirmed about month ago at SDCC. There was some speculation about there being a third solo Spider-Man film announced, however as it is indeed a Sony property, it would be up to them to reveal anything. The character, Tom Holland, his presence in the MCU and the Disney/Sony partnership is now in doubt, with some fearing yet another recast (it would be the 4th one across 17 years of the live action movies) and yet another Uncle Ben death, also how young will Aunt May be now? In her 20s? Hopefully not, and the ideal situation would see Tom Holland as well as the excellent supporting cast (Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon) continue tenure at Disney and possibly appear in upcoming MCU movies. But with no guarantee of director Jon Watts for now, it’s looking like he may have spun his last web for Marvel.

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Knives Out Announced For BFI London Film Festival

BFI London Film Festival has announced Knives Out will be this year’s film for the American Express Gala. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the film features a huge A-list cast which includes Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, LaKeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon and a lot more. An updated version of the classic murder mystery, Johnson has returned to the director’s chair following his 2017 film Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The writer/director says, “I’m thrilled to be screening Knives Out at the BFI London Film Festival. This film was an attempt to capture the twisty fun of an Agatha Christie whodunnit, it’s a great pleasure to be showing it in the country responsible for the genre’s golden age.”

Knives Out takes place in the home of renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) who is found dead just after his 85th birthday. With all his eccentric family gathered, an inquisitive detective called Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate as he informs the relatives that no one can leave as they are all suspects.

Tricia Tuttle, BFI London Film Festival Director says “With Knives Out, Rian Johnson has crafted a devilishly clever and wickedly entertaining new crime caper. As with his previous work, Johnson brings immense erudition and passion for the conventions of the genre he’s working in, but always makes something entirely his own. This is impeccably designed, with writing that keeps you guessing to the final moments and his extraordinary cast are at their arch and compelling best. Knives Out is a whodunit, as sharp as the blade that killed the patriarch at the heart of the film and we are overjoyed to present the European Premiere as our principle partner, American Express’s Gala.”

The film will receive its European premiere on October 8th, with the festival taking places from 2nd – 13th October. Knives Out will be released in the UK on November 27th.

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Chernobyl, review

Based on the real life events which took place in 1986, Chernobyl recreates what happened on that faithful day 33 years ago and the cover up which followed.

A disaster such as Chernobyl is an astonishing event to take in, no matter if that had happened today or years ago. Since the 1986 disaster which has killed countless people, there have been multiple cover ups about the true life events. However the creator has managed to put together the series of events which lead up to the incident. He has explained how it happened in a simplified and dramatic way without dumbing it down.

Craig Mazin, writer of the show, has a CV which includes the likes of two Hangover sequels, Scary Movies 3 and 4. An interesting change from those to this as he has the ability to tell the story of Chernobyl as a groundbreaking series which lets you in on what we’ve never seen. The control room, the lives of those within the community, those trying to cover it up and those desperately trying to tell the truth.

Deciding to keep the story telling grounded by beginning with a modest flat and Jared Harris who plays Valery Legasov listening to a tape of himself talking about the disaster. The date is April 26 1988, exactly two years after the explosion, at which point the scene jumps back moments before to show the residents of the nearby block of flats. It starts with a couple in their home when it happens, it’s a small VFX shot from a distance which draws you into the chaos of the control room. The denial of what happened comes early on when the man in charge Anatoly Dyatlov (Paul Ritter) immediately dismisses a worker who claims the reactor has exploded. It’s a thread which runs throughout the five episode limited series and has become seeded in the real history of what happened. From here, we see the story slowly unravel over the five episode period. Aspects such as the issue of the appearance of graphite, the brutal and shocking effects of exposure and putting out the fire become key immediately. Exploring these issues whilst using specific scientific terms would understandably come across as frustrating to the majority, however, whilst the language has clearly been simplified, it never feels as if the show is talking down to you. You’re very quick to understand the dangers all of these issues possess thanks to the sharp writing which wraps it in a neat, smart and approachable bow.

Whilst it may be relatively easy to understand it’s a difficult watch thanks to the spectacular makeup, effect and styling of those going through the pain of exposure. The effects of which are explored as it shows the slow decline the human body goes through, you can almost feel their pain as they deteriorate. This in turn creates painful emotional beats for their loved ones such as Jessie Buckley’s Lyudmilla Ignatenko who has to watch as her husband Vasily Ignatenko’s (Adam Nagaitis) body is being destroyed. Her actions and emotions are that of someone who is already in grief, but not quite at acceptance. Jessie’s performance is an outstandingly heartbreaking one which carries the burden of expressing what so many people would have felt at the time. At times she has a quiet and subtle way of conveying so much with a stunningly expressive face. In a similar vein, Jared Harris effortlessly embodies the doubts and fears his character has during this crisis with a few gestures here and there, and perfectly subtle facial expressions.

These two are the true stand outs of the mini series full of incredible performances from the likes of Stellan Skarsgård’s Boris Shcherbina who hides behind a wall of anger to conceal his terror as he learns of the severity of the situation; Ulana Khomyuk played perfectly by Emily Watson as she portrays someone powerful and knowledgeable; Paul Ritter who plays Anatoly Dyatlov with such brilliance you almost believe the actor is in utter denial too. Barry Keoghan makes a brief appearance in what can o ly be described as a fish out of water. The bleakness of this situation is further conveyed with the colours used as it shows the mood and tone of the nuclear power planet, its surrounding town, the people and even the buildings. All of which are draped in greys, whites, muted colours and black which helps to portray its tone in a different way.

Chernobyl is a unique part of history that no one will ever forget especially now. Using mostly simple techniques, outstanding cinematography, accurate writing, bleak tones and incredible performances, Chernobyl is one of the great modern mini series which, unlike the events it’s based on will go down in history not as as a disaster, but a triumph.

5 out of 5.

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The Irishman To Close BFI London Film Festival 2019

It’s been announced that The Irishman will be closing the 63rd BFI London Film Festival. The International Premiere for Martin Scorsese’s latest takes place on October 13th and reunites the director with his screenwriter from Gangs of New York, Steven Zaillian.

Martin Scorsese, comments “I’m extremely honoured to be having the International Premiere of The Irishman at the closing night of the BFI London Film Festival. This picture was many years in the making. It’s a project that Robert De Niro and I started talking about a long time ago, and we wanted to make it the way it needed to be made. It’s also a picture that all of us could only have made at this point in our lives. We’re all very excited to be bringing The Irishman to London.”

The film, which takes place in post-war America, focuses on the rise of organised crime across the country and delves deep into the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of Union President Jimmy Hoffa. It stars Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel. Told through the eyes of Frank Sheeran, DeNiro plays the World War II veteran, who is a hustler and hitman, working alongside the most nortorious figures in the 20th century as the film journeys through the history of organised crime and shows its inner workings, rivalries and connections to mainstream politics.

Of the announcement, Tricia Tuttle, BFI London Film Festival Director says, “What an immense cinephile thrill it is to close the 63rd BFI London Film Festival with the International Premiere of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. British Film Institute Fellow Scorsese is one of the true greats of cinema – as both a creator and a tireless champion of preservation and film history – and here he and his creative team have delivered an epic of breathtakingly audacious scale and complexity, exploring relationships of trust and betrayal, regret and remorselessness, which dominated a period of American history. This is a major occasion for film lovers and I cannot wait to share this film with UK audiences.”

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from Wednesday 2nd October to Sunday 13th October 2019, with the full programme being announced on August 29th.

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