FilmBath + AMPLIFY!

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In a mirror of this post from last year, I’m here again to blame my recent blogging quietness on FilmBath Festival. Yes, even in these Covid-struck days, we are putting on a film festival. It’s different — smaller, for one thing, with just nine films over five days (last year we screened dozens of features over 11 days). But, as if to make up for that, we have a New Thing…

AMPLIFY! is an online virtual film festival — which, in short, means you can enjoy it if you live anywhere in the UK. I won’t go into the full marketing spiel, but instead point you in the direction of the website. Here’s a fun bonus, though: if you want to order tickets (or, for best value, a festival pass), use the code “LoveBath” and you’ll get 10% off. (So we’re clear: I don’t get any bonus or benefit of kickback for plugging either festival. I’m just letting you know what I’m up to, and clueing you in to a cool thing.)

AMPLIFY!’s lineup features a bunch of UK premieres (including Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut, Falling); previews (like thriller Rose Plays Julie, which screened at last year’s LFF but hasn’t yet had a wide release); timely documentaries (including The Mole Agent, about an octogenarian spy — yes, I said documentary); other special treats (including the new restoration of silent classic Waxworks ahead of its Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release); and stuff that you might not get a chance to see otherwise (like a strand of Catalan films). I’ve had a chance to see a couple of the films, and I’d recommend Patrick — a dark comedy mystery about a nudist camp handyman who’s lost his hammer. I rather loved it.

And if you are in the Bath region, the FilmBath schedule is online here (top tip: Nomadland is close to selling out already). It’s going to be a bit different to normal, so there’s information about all that in the FAQs.

Putting on two festivals has meant more work, of course, and the fact that AMPLIFY! is a collaboration between four festivals has introduced new challenges –– primarily to do with it being online, which none of us have done before (who had, before this year?) But we’re getting there. And when we do, normal blogging service will resume.

FilmBath Festival – Opening Night

I’ve never been to a film festival before. The expense and organisation of travel and accommodation, battles for tickets and/or never-ending queues for entry, racing to dozens of screenings a day… it’s just not my thing. (I don’t know if major festivals are really like that, it’s just an impression I’ve picked up from attendees on social media, etc.)

But when there’s a film festival one stop on the train away from your house, well, you can’t say “no”, can you? (Doubly so when you work for said festival and get comp tickets…)

FilmBath Festival isn’t among your Sundances or your Canneses or your Venices or your Londons. Nor is it one of those festival that just specialises in one thing, like documentaries or shorts. There are no red carpets or world premieres; no overtired critics trying to review 5,000 films every day or websites setting up media centres to churn out slightly stilted YouTube interviews with cast and crew desperate to promote their movie. Instead, it’s a local festival giving local people a chance to see previews ahead of general release; films that have already been released but didn’t make it to one of Bath’s cinemas; and smaller, interesting movies that might be difficult to see at all outside a festival.

Yesterday’s opening night kicked off the festival with a double bill of the first of those, including an exciting late addition to the lineup — so late it didn’t even make the brochure. (Ooh, look at all the beautifully precise punctuation and spelling and whatnot in that brochure! What geniuses must have worked on such a thing!) I saw both films, and I’ll write full reviews nearer their wide releases, but for the time being…

The Report at FilmBath Festival

First up was The Report, an All the President’s Men-style thriller about the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture post-9/11. It’s written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, who’s probably best known for writing a handful of Steven Soderbergh movies, plus contributing to arguably the best Bourne movie and Daniel Craig’s final Bond film. At the centre of the story is Star Wars’s Adam Driver as Daniel J. Jones, the senate staffer tasked with combing through millions of pages of secret documents to find the truth. As if to highlight the significance of the story, there’s an all-star supporting cast, led by Annette Bening and Jon Hamm, plus Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Corey Stoll, Ted Levine, Jennifer Morrison, and several other recognisable faces. It’s a methodical and gripping film, seemingly as dedicated to explaining the truth as is its protagonist. Imagine if we lived in a world where this was the R-rated war-related true story that became the year’s highest-grossing film at the US box office (as opposed to the one that was).

The Personal History of David Copperfield at FilmBath Festival

Next, that late addition: Armando Iannucci’s new adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. It’s got another all-star cast, headed by Dev Patel as the eponymous young man. Obviously such colourblind casting has provoked comment, and I guess some people won’t be able to get over that, but it doesn’t matter. Dickens’s novel is a thick tome, here condensed briskly into two hours, and there’s a lot more going on than the colour of people’s skin. Its whipcrack pace is both one of its greatest assets (it moves like the clappers) and its biggest drawbacks (it winds up feeling a bit too long). But it’s frequently riotously funny, and the namey cast are sublime, including (deep breath) Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Gwendoline Christie, Anna Maxwell Martin, Benedict Wong, Paul Whitehouse, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aneurin Barnard, plus many other faces you might recognise depending how much British TV you watch. Plus, its affection for the emotional power of the act of writing is sure to make it a favourite for many authors (and wannabes).

Two completely different films, then, but both very much in my wheelhouse — as I said, I’ll review them later, but I enjoyed them both immensely. An exceptionally strong opening to a festival that promises many more delights (Jojo frickin’ Rabbit!) to come.

FilmBath Festival continues until 17th November. For information about what’s screening and to buy tickets, look here. You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Letterboxd for timely updates about what I’m seeing.

All quiet on the 100 Films front

If you thought last month was a slow’un for reviews, hoo boy, look how this one’s going!

The main reason is I’ve been keeping myself busy working at FilmBath Festival, spending my days editing other people’s writing about films (amongst other things). One of the main tasks has been editing all the text for the brochure, which is officially out today — if you live in or around Bath, look out for a physical copy; everyone else, you can read it online here. (If you spot any mistakes, they were all deliberate. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

The 2019 festival has a genuinely exciting lineup — a mix of previews for high-profile movies you’ve heard of and smaller gems that have primarily been on the festival circuit. (If you’re the kind of person who attends film festivals, especially big-name ones, there’s a fair chance there’s nothing new here. Some of the stuff on show has even been on general UK release, it just hasn’t played in Bath.) And there’s at least one advance preview of a film tipped to be an awards season frontrunner, so that’s particularly exciting. Even if on an initial flick through only a couple of movies jump out, I’ve found when you start to read about these films they almost all get really interesting. I figure most of my readership is outside the Bath area (heck, stats say most of my hits come from the US nowadays), but, nonetheless, I’ll also mention that tickets are on sale to the general public from today. (FYI, I don’t get anything for promoting this, I’m just mentioning it because it’s what I’ve been up to.)

As for 100 Films, hopefully I’ll get back on its case soon. Though I’ve been meaning to post a review of Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans all week and haven’t got it together, so…

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

2014 #95
Wes Anderson | 83 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

Fantastic Mr. FoxQuirky cult-y director Wes Anderson tries his hand at stop motion animation with this Roald Dahl adaptation, in which an all-star cast voice the tribulations of a gaggle of talking animals — led by the eponymous vulpine — who come into conflict with three vicious farmers.

I’ve never seen a Wes Anderson film before, but his reputation is such that I don’t think you need to have to spot that Mr. Fox has been heavily Anderson-ised. It’s probably for the best I’ve not actually read Dahl for decades, because the purist in me would hate it for that. So it’s Quirky with a capital Q, and yet, miraculously, not irritatingly so — it feels like it should be considered self-consciously Quirky, but somehow isn’t. Instead, it’s almost (almost) charming. Whatever, it works.

Ostensibly a kids’ film, because it’s based on a children’s book and it’s animated, I don’t think it really is a film for kids. Not that it’s unsuitable for them, but only so in the literal sense that it’s an animated movie without extreme violence or swearing. A lot of the humour and the storytelling style, not to mention the slightly-creepy animation, are clearly aimed at a more mature viewer. The aforementioned animation was shot at the half-normal speed of 12 frames per second, to emphasis the nature of stop motion. That’s part of the creepiness, but it’s also the gangly designs, and that the animals look like they’ve been made out of real fur (because they have), which ruffles all of its own accord (accidentally moved by the animators’ hands, of course, but when seen in motion…) Honestly, I think it would give some kids nightmares more than joy.

Fox familyCompositionally, I thought I’d get sick of the squared-off 2D style, but Anderson’s cleverer than that. It might look flat and lacking in dimension at first, but that’s the starting point for variation, including some great bits of depth (farmer Bean trashing a caravan is a particular highlight of this), and when it breaks form (like a rabid dog chase) it’s all the more effective. There’s also a fantastic score by Alexandre Desplat. Not your usual plinky-plonky Quirky Kids’ Movie music (though there are instances of that), but something more raucous. Nice spaghetti Western riffs, too.

The main downside is the ending: it kind of reaches a conclusion, but also kind of just stops. It’s like Anderson doesn’t know how to end it… which, as it turns out, is almost exactly true. The ending isn’t the same as the book, because Anderson and co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach weren’t happy with it, but they couldn’t think of anything else. The final moments they’ve ended up with are apparently based on alternative material found in Dahl’s original manuscript, making it faithful (in its own way) while also settling the writers’ desire for a new finale. As I said, I’m not convinced.

(While we’re on trivia, residents of or regular visitors to Bath may spot the recognisable red facade of the Little Theatre towards the end. Its appearance is indeed based on the real one, though goodness knows why.)

Fantasticer in the future?Fantastic Mr. Fox is the kind of film I feel I may enjoy more on a re-watch. Indeed, some comments on film social networking sites (e.g. Letterboxd) do suggest that it only improves the more you see it. Having parked any desire for faithfulness to the original at the door, then, I feel there’s a chance the film’s boundless originality and almost-incidental outside-the-norm creativity may potentially render it an all-time favourite. But that’s something future viewings (if or when ever they occur) will have to ascertain.

4 out of 5