Friday, 24 October 2014

London Film Festival round-up: October 18

 - Heists, prison breaks, car chases, double-crossings, a twist ending – Son of a Gun features pretty much every staple of the action genre you can think of. Fortunately things don’t get too bloated thanks to a compelling relationship between protagonist JR (Brenton Twaites) and father figure Brendan (a typically watchable Ewan McGregor), who become criminal partners after meeting in prison.

Above all though this is a sleek, zippy action thriller with an emphasis on thrills over character, but with just enough personal interest to make you care about them

 - Crucially, David Alvardo and Jason Sussberg’s new documentary is called The Immortalists and not, say, ‘Immortality’. This subtle semantic difference confirms that the filmmakers’ interests are more geared towards the type of people who dedicate their lives to ‘curing’ aging and what drives them to do so, rather than the scientific possibility and the moral implications of living forever.

That’s not to say these fascinating questions aren’t raised at all – there are handy on-screen graphics to explain the more complex scientific theories, for instance - but that the film is more concerned with prompting us to consider the motives of people preoccupied with eradicating the aging process. Do they fear dying? Or the death of loved one? Or do they have the benefit of all humanity in mind?

As you’d perhaps expect the scientists documented are somewhat eccentric, especially the bearded, pint-guzzling Aubrey de Grey, the man who came up with the often quoted idea that the first person to live to 1000 might already be alive. They make for fascinating character studies and prompt plenty of poignant reflections that will occupy your mind long after the credits have rolled.  

 - In some ways Monsters: Dark Continent is a distinct departure from Gareth Edwards’ preceding film Monsters, with a shift in tone from subdued romance to macho warfare. But its positioning of the alien invaders at only the periphery of the story is very reminiscent of the original.

Where the first film used the sci-fi set-up to explore themes of immigration, Dark Continent imagines a war against the aliens to occur alongside the ongoing US involvement in the Middle-East, and in doing so raises questions of the effectiveness and morality of foreign military intervention. It’s an intriguing premise, but one that the film shows little interest for the first 2/3rds of its running time, where instead a bunch of bland, one-dimensional soldiers are introduced, and long kinetic sequences of them fighting that fail to draw us in.

But the final third becomes strangely contemplative and philosophical, while the characters are placed into scenarios that finally give them some overdue depth. This final part somewhat redeems the film, and offers something to mull over for those willing to stick with it to the end.

 - In Chinese film Shadow Days, Liang Rewei (Liang Ming) and his pregnant girlfriend Pomegranate (Li Ziqian) move from the city to a small rural village of his childhood, to find a lifestyle at odds with his fond memories. Director Zhao Dayong uses drained colours, a still camera, music-less soundtrack, long takes and sparse dialogue, that rids the enforcers of the government’s one-child policy of any of the glamour they perceive themselves as having.

The film can get bogged down in this sparse naturalism and at times fail to grab our attention, especially in scenes with little dialogue or narrative purpose, although the very occasional break into the realm of the supernatural are made all the more creepy for their disparity. The climax is devastating, but might have had a greater impact with more emphasis on building character.   


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