56th BFI London Film Festival
Always a beacon for hot new movies from around the world, this year’s LFF boasts a great line up of SF films both in the Cult strand and in other areas of the programme.
Attending last Thursday (11th October) I took in two films from the Cult line-up and one from the Love strand.
First up was Doomsday Book, a South Korean triptych with three standalone shorts linked by their perspectives on the end of the world. Directors and writers Kim Ji-woon and Yim Pil-sung have spent several years completing this movie, and advances in special effects and CGI in that time have undoubtedly helped. On what must have been a small budget by Hollywood standards, a zombie apocalypse, sentient robot and a ‘Deep Impact’ aftermath are expertly realised.
The opening Zombie short and closing Armageddon section both employ considerable broad humour, particularly in their depiction of how the broadcast media deal with these crises. While this raises plenty of laughs, it does undermine the dramatic beats elsewhere in these tales. That said, the little girl portrayed in the final short did bring a lump to my throat as she contemplated the terror she had drawn to the planet.
The middle story is distinctive in its slower pace and more thoughtful approach to the subject matter, as a robot technician is called to a monastery where a mechanical unit believes he is Buddha incarnate. The robot effects are truly astonishing and far more effective than those in, say, I Robot, and the script deals in some thorny religious debates. Only the ending, which any SF fan will guess within two minutes, disappoints slightly.
Next up was Room 237, the much hyped documentary about fans of The Shining with wild theories about the subtext of the movie. The film is composed of five voiceovers illustrated with clips from the film, and others in Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre, plus some odd bits of All The President’s Men and An American Werewolf in London.
As if the visuals weren’t bizarre enough, the narrators voice some very strange beliefs – for instance, a poster of a skier is in fact a Minotaur, continuity errors are anything but, and Kubrick faked the footage of Apollo 11. There are some sound film theories here – such as that The Shining reflects on white American oppression of the American Indians- which are borne out through the subtext and the main text of the movie. But much else in this doc is simply ridiculous. The film left me wanting to watch the original movie again with fresh eyes, but could have achieved that in half its running time.
My final film was Robot & Frank, shot in 2011 and not due for a UK release until 2013. Directed by first timer Jake Schreier, this is predominantly a buddy movie with Frank Langella as an ageing jewel thief with memory problems, and Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of Robot, who moves in as a home help. Before long, the mis-matched couple are plotting a robbery to help protect their local library from developers.
In sharp contrast to Doomsday Book, Robot is portrayed by a man in a suit, but after two minutes that ceases to trouble you, and the character of the ‘droid comes to the fore. This really is a quite charming film, well paced, with lots of subtle humour, and a great cast (Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, and James Marsden all appear in supporting roles). A few of the police procedurals don’t ring true, and there is an unbelievable plot point towards the end of the film, but Robot &Frank deserves a wider audience.
The LFF runs until 21 October, and tickets are still available for many of the showings. So take a chance on an unfamiliar movie, and celebrate the variety of SF cinema today.