CamFilmFest Diary: Day 5

Date: Monday 17 September

Films: 2 – Untouchable; The Lodger

Beverages: 1 cappuccino, 2 teas

Biscuits: 2

Verdict: Another disappointing number of screenings today, due to review writing and Take One editing duties. However, both were great choices. Untouchable was an unashamedly feel-good drama about the relationship between a paralysed rich guy and a poor immigrant ex-con who becomes his carer. It might sound like Oscar-bait, but it’s a genuine joy to watch, with excellent performances from the two leads.

The Lodger, Hitchcock’s classic silent suspenser from 1927, was an atmospheric treat: the great man doing everything in his power to cast suspicion on Ivor Novello’s mysterious boarder. It might not be able to compare with the best of Hitch’s works, but it’s undoubtedly a strong stepping stone to greater things. The new score by Nitin Sawhney was too insistent at times for my liking, but still added layers of tension to the action on screen.

CamFilmFest Diary: Day 4

Date: Sunday 16 September

Films: 1 – North by Northwest

Beverages: 1 coke

Biscuits: 1

Verdict: A poor performance today, thanks to the combination of a late night last night, a long-ish film today and a need for an early night. North by Northwest as terrifically entertaining on the big screen as ever it was, with Cary Grant at his most suave and Hitch clearly having a ball with several classic set-pieces rubbing shoulders with each other. Preceding the film was a talk by director Richard Bracewell on Hitchcock’s technical expertise, examining his use of montage, composition and point of view shots. Fascinating stuff, if necessarily brief.

Must try harder tomorrow.

CamFilmFest Diary: Day 3

Date: Saturday 15 September

Films: 3 – Rebecca; War Witch; Dead Before Dawn 3D

Beverages: 1 americano, 2 cokes, 1 red wine

Biscuits: 1

Verdict: Hopes for a four-film day were sadly dashed, but there can be no finer way to begin a festival day than seeing a classic Hitchcock, which Rebecca unquestionably is. The big screen really allows the gothic visuals and sumptuous sets to immerse the audience, while Hitch’s camerawork subtly suggesting the offscreen presence of the first Mrs De Winter works a treat. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in the lead roles are great, but the icing on the cake is a supporting cast that includes Nigel Bruce AND George Sanders – legends both.

After that came War Witch, a drama about a young girl brutally recruited in to a rebel army in the Congo and her attempts to deal with the atrocities she is forced to commit. It sounds harrowing and it occasionally is, but director Kim Nguyen sensitively portrays the violence and trauma that Komona undergoes, never allowing the film to become an ordeal. On the contrary, it’s a moving and rewarding experience.

Dead Before Dawn 3D rounded off the day with a welcome dose of silliness as zombie demons (a.k.a. Zemons) threaten to take over the world, in a homage to The Evil Dead among many, many others. The cast – including another legend, Christopher “Great Scott!” Lloyd – give it their all, summoning up plenty of giggles if not outright guffaws.

CamFilmFest Diary: Day 2

Date: Friday 14 September

Films: 3 – Hope Springs; Camp 14: Total Control Zone; The Pleasure Garden

Beverages: 1 cappuccino, 2 teas, 1 coke

Biscuits: 2

Verdict: First full day of the festival began with a catch-up screening of Hope Springs, which I missed last night as it clashed with Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love. A few decent moments aside, Hope Springs felt artificial and often descended in to the painfully predictable. Meryl Streep reprises her role from Mamma Mia, while Tommy Lee Jones plays Tommy Lee Jones. Best bits played over the end credits.

Camp 14: Total Control Zone was eye-opening if nothing else – the true story of a man who escaped from a North Korea labour camp, where he had spent his entire life. Some pretty hideous stories emerge, and though director Marc Wiese admirably lets him speak for himself, the documentary would have benefited from a longer stay in the editing suite.

Finally, the Hitchcock Revisited strand kicked off with The Pleasure Garden, the director’s first full-length feature from 1925. Plenty of laughs, thrills and saucy goings-on in this ripe melodrama about two dancers on the London stage. A few unmistakable Hitch touches help it rise above the average.

CamFilmFest Diary: Day 1

Date: Thursday 13 September

Films: 2 – Tabu (pre-festival film so doesn’t really count); To Rome With Love

Beverages: 1 cappuccino, 1 tea, 1 glass of red wine

Biscuits: 1

Verdict: Good start. Tabu was a damn good warm-up, with its impressive and imaginative storytelling, followed by Woody Allen’s lightly enjoyable divertimento – an entirely inconsequential work but with enough laughs and silliness along the way to make it worth seeing. Those looking for any resemblance to the real world should apply elsewhere.

32nd Cambridge Film Festival

Cambridge Film FestivalIt’s now only a few days until the 32nd Cambridge Film Festival kicks off. From Thursday 13th September I will once again be hanging around the screens and bar at the Arts Picturehouse where most of the action takes place, as is my wont (though there’s a fair few screenings in other locations around the city too, like Emmanuel College and the Buddhist Centre). For me and many others, it becomes a second home.

Last year I was a general festival volunteer, but this time I’m on the editorial team of Take One, the official festival review. So I’ve been busy planning which films I want to see (all twelve films in the Hitchcock strand for starters) and which I’ll be reviewing, as well as helping out with the general editorial preparation. I’ll specifically be overseeing the daily edition of the magazine, which may only be a two-sider but will still be enough to fulfil my childhood ambition of becoming a newspaper editor. I can only hope there will be an opportunity to bark “Stop the press!” at someone.

So if you don’t see much from me on this blog during the next two weeks, it will be because I am busily occupied with writing or editing film reviews. I urge you to visit the Take One site between 13-23 September, as we aim to cover every single film screened. I’ll try and post updates here too as and when I can, but do stay in touch on Twitter for regular festival chatter.

From the Cambridge Film Festival

Cambridge Film Festival

I’ve spent the last seven days at the 31st Cambridge Film Festival, the one time in the year when it feels like film really matters close to home. Thanks to festival director Tony Jones and his dedicated and seemingly tireless team, we in the Cambridge area get to (briefly) feel like the centre of the cinema world; all sorts of anticipated releases and undiscovered nuggets get shown to crowds both large and small. There’s also a steady stream of guests (usually directors or cast) who take part in post-film Q&As and interviews, and screenings of films in unusual venues, like university colleges or outdoor locations around the region.

This year I volunteered my services as a general helper-outer to see how a festival operates from the inside. So far it’s been an utter pleasure. For the first time in my life I’ve been an actual usher in an actual cinema, actually taking people’s tickets and directing them to the correct screen (hopefully). I imagine the novelty wears off pretty quickly but it’s still one thing ticked off my bucket list. I’ve helped to tidy up screens (the Cambridge crowd aren’t a particularly messy lot), do some washing up and hand out leaflets on the street. Yet it never feels like a chore; everyone really is there because they want to be. For us volunteers the only tangible reward is the occasional free coffee (as well as taking in the odd film or two, of course).

Being among a group of fellow enthusiasts in the lively bubble of a festival where schedules sometimes change at the last minute makes for an expectedly buzzing atmosphere, perceptible throughout the festival’s main venue, the Arts Picturehouse. Yet if panic ever does take hold, it never reveals itself. It was almost a disappointment to discover that the festival operation was as smoothly-running on the inside as it appeared from the out (some core staff may wish to dispute that statement, but I maintain that I have yet to witness anything that even remotely approaches the wild-eyed terror one might expect upon hearing news of eleventh hour ‘problems’).

As for the films themselves, you certainly get to see a nice old mixture. The opening night gala screening of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), with guests Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Peter Straughan and Tomas Alfredson, was a packed affair and enthusiastically received. The following day I caught the French film Tomboy (2011), a low-key drama that expertly captures the anguish of growing up, and a screening of Sweet Smell of Success (1957), which I had not seen before and absolutely loved.

Since then I’ve also seen the first half of Red State (2011), which I would like to finish at some point; Drive (2011), a pleasingly mean and moody neo-noir; and Gibraltar (2011), a fascinating documentary about the rock’s recent history about which I knew precisely nothing.

Now there’s only four days left until I have to go back to the day job. There’s still the UK premiere of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011) to come, as well as the traditional Surprise Movie on Sunday (only Jones knows what it is and it really could be anything). I will certainly miss the atmosphere, meeting other film addicts like myself and rubbing shoulders with the well-known and the dogged unknowns. But then perhaps it’s best to leave before the novelty of clearing up after customers really does wear off.