Friday, 19 October 2012

London Film Festival Round-Up - Part 3

Directed by Jake Schreier from a Christopher D. Ford script, Robot and Frank is set 'in the near future' and is the story of Frank (Frank Langella) a former cat burglar who is beginning to show signs of memory loss and dementia. With Frank living alone in upstate New York, his practical, family man son Hunter (James Marsden) and bohemian globe trotting daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) both want to help to take care of their father who was absent in prison for large portions of their childhood. Hunter, in an attempt to look after his father, leaves a robot - voiced by Peter Sarsgaard - to act as butler, companion and health assistant to the grumpy and messy Frank. 

Without a password to switch Robot off, Frank reluctantly begins to form a bond with his new 'appliance' especially as he sees potential in Robot as a partner in crime. A regular visitor to his local library, Frank likes the librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) and bemoans the loss of the books all to be replaced by the technology that is gradually updating the world around him. Robot and Frank considers the questions of ageing; our memories making us who we are and the nature of the changing roles between parents and children. Langella plays Frank as not entirely likeable and a man who has been slow to cast off the ability to deceive and manipulate those around him for his own selfish goals. 

Through Robot we see the straights and flaws of Frank's character as the Robot goes about his duties in a impersonal personable way. The script brings out gentle comedy and is at it's best when the gentle tones of Sarsgaard's Robot is in conversation with Frank. Well acted by a strong cast, Robot and Frank considers ageing and life through subtitles with Robot being the conduit to consider aspects of character and of family relationships that would have made the film very straight forward without his inclusion.

Rating: 3

Documentary Beware of Mr. Baker is about legendary English drummer Ginger Baker best known from the bands Cream with Eric Clapton and Blind Faith. Considering himself a jazz drummer, Baker is an astonishingly talented musician who helped to revolutionise percussion in rock music in the 1960s. The warning of the documentary's title comes form the unpredictable and aggressive nature of Baker who's heroin drug habit helped fuel his many antics and difficult nature. Director Jay Bulger befriended Baker and manages to both rankle and wrangle interviews out of the drummer while interviews with his compatriots, family and musical admirers fill in the narrative. All admire Baker's talent but none aspire to his particular personality. 

The documentary makes use of well crafted, visually interesting animation to re-enact some of Baker's excesses and excessive behaviour giving the audience a flavour of the mayhem, musical majesty and bizarre contradictory elements colliding within Baker. The documentary is awash with some of rock music's finest moments and an education in the history of drumming. Ginger Baker may have become somewhat forgotten by rock history and it is not unreasonable to have presumed him dead. Coming away from this documentary, it is not difficult to speculate that he might well have inspired the creation of Animal from The Muppets and a drumming duel between them would be a thing of rock legendary.

Rating: 3

For No Good Reason is a documentary about the life and work of the English artist/cartoonist Ralph Steadman. Steadman is known, amongst other things, for his illustrating Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Having always been determined to change the world through his pictures the amiable Steadman is interviewed by his friend, actor Johnny Depp in order to discuss the artist's body of work and exploring the process of his art. The documentary directed by Charlie Paul is extremely stylish with animation that does justice to Steadman's work and is a visual delight in and of itself. 

Footage of Steadman's collaborators including Hunter S. Thompson makes this a rich consideration of the efforts of Steadman's generation to change the world through their political art and social commentary. The preternaturally youthful looking Depp also narrates the film and the rarity of Depp using his actual voice in a film is of interest in and of itself. At times For No Good Reason is overly stylised but this is a minor quibble and with a running time of one hour twenty nine minutes it sticks to it's points and lets the art do the talking - which is the point of the art in the first place.

Rating: 4


Spike Island's title refers to the venue of The Stone Roses gig in 1990 and is the fictional story of a group of Manchester fans of the band trying to get tickets for and attempting to attend the gig. Matthew McNulty plays the lead nicknamed Tits and he and his school/band mates aged 17 are at the cusp of life where a great album seems to have been written just for them individually and everything is possible. Mixing comedy with darker drama the period film is aiming to capture the culture of the time when working class Manchester seemed to be the epicentre of innovative music. 

For the most part the film does succeed but begins to traverse into Eastenders level of family misery as the boys have to contend with dying fathers, abusive parents, poverty and feckless older brothers. There are some nice touches with well known Manchester bands such as Oasis and the Happy Mondays being referenced by fictional characters incorporating the distinctive Brit Pop strut of the time. The drug culture and determined ambition of the type of bands catapulting out of Manchester at the time is also invoked by the film. 

Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones does allow for the experience of real first love to be played out well with McNulty's character, all rose tinted by a great soundtrack and nostalgic memory.  Outside of McNulty however, the other characters become interchangeable and the film without the great music of The Stone Roses begins to have little to say beyond a more reputable soap opera episode.

Rating: 2

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