The BFI London Film Festival begins tomorrow, opening with Tom Hanks vehicle 'Captain Phillips', and with over two hundred feature films on offer, we're kicking off with some bite-size reviews. Tonight we take on retro-mockumentary 'Computer Chess', sociological study 'Gare Du Nord', and indie romantic drama 'The Spectacular Now''. If you're yet to buy tickets to any of the festival's vast selection, please do also have a gander at our LFF 2013 preview.
'Computer Chess'(LFF 2013 Screenings: Thurs 10th + Fri 11th + Sun 13th)
Setting your comedy in the world of 1980s computer programming and framing it in black-and-white mockumentary style takes some chutzpah. 'Computer Chess' pits teams of programmers against one another in the quest to discover whether it is indeed possible to beat a human being at chess using a computer. Events develop in an unpredictable fashion, especially when the computing world collides with a self-help workshop weekend that happens to take place in the same hotel.
'Computer Chess' begins particularly promisingly, firmly establishing its retro setting, thanks to a plethora of dated technology and an array of period-worthy spectacles and facial hair. Similarly, the script offers amusing deadpan wit, delivered impressively by the committed cast. Yet a sense of overriding dissatisfaction and a dissipating lack of charm with 'Computer Chess' soon appears, as the film meanders, unsure whether to plunge itself into complete parody or retain its foundations of realism. (SD)
'Gare Du Nord'(LFF 2013 Screenings: Fri 11th + Sat 12th)
This mysterious docudrama set in the iconic Parisian train station is a classy piece of observant filmmaking. We dip into the story of Ismael (Reda Kateb), a postgrad researching Gare du Nord for his thesis. He strikes up a reluctant relationship with an ageing professor, Mathilde (Nicole Garcia), where they edge towards their own romance while watching lives intersect on platforms.
Claire Simon’s dystopian vision of Gare du Nord intrigues without veering into artistic pretence. Simon depicts a sub-society evolving out of the swathes of migration to Paris from every corner of the globe. Concepts and norms regarding race, gender, age, money, love and security have been perverted by this unforgiving bustling environment. Tales and rumours abound in the crowds, tinkering with people’s imaginations and altering the truth. The threat of hostility and tragedy always lingers nearby and yet the unease is offset by these touching and mystical moments in the lives of those passing through. Engrossing and charming. (RK)
'The Spectacular Now'(LFF 2013 Screenings: Thurs 10th + Fri 11th + Sun 20th)
Best Drama at Sundance 2013 and film critics fawning over it, 'The Spectacular Now' is truly a misnomer of the hype machine. The second big venture from the writer of the bittersweet rom-com '500 Days of Summer', we follow the story of quasi-frat-bro Sutter (Miles Teller), a hip-flask swigging high-school senior who has just broken up with his perfect girlfriend. After a heavy night out in the aftermath, Sutter meets the quirky and unconventional Aimee (Shailene Woodley). Aimee falls in love and begins to de-douchify Sutter, offering a new perspective on life. Under Aimee’s encouragement, Sutter goes on the trail of finding out more about his absent father.
The film is deeply flawed and would not have stirred any interest in the late 90s/ early 00s where this kind of plot was regularly hurled out into the sick buckets of US TV teen drama. The premise of the story doesn’t fly either, as Sutter is posed as the popular life-of-the-party kind of guy, but plays out as this insufferable smarmy character with no redeeming dimensions revealed throughout the film. Nevertheless, there are elements to celebrate, notably Shailene Woodley’s composed performance marking the human and tender touches to the film. Moreover the leads are refreshingly not photogenic, which gives the romance a bit of needed earthiness. However, don’t be fooled by editors scrambling for an original rom-com. The “Now” is implausible and unspectacular. (RK)
Find more info and purchase tickets at bfi.org.uk/lff.