– . – movieScope at the London Film Festival: Day One!
movieScope at the London Film Festival: Day One!
Our first day at the 53rd Times BFI London Film Festival kicked off in style with Wes Anderson’s highly anticipated stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic story Fantastic Mr Fox. And it certainly lived up to expectation; Anderson has brought his own unique style and vision to the simple tale, turning into a quirky yet thoroughly entertaining slice of animation. True, the story has been updated, modernised and – dare we say it – Americanised but nevertheless it works, thanks in no small part to the talents of the impressive assembled voice cast.
George Clooney brings his trademark sardonic suavity to the lead character of Mr Fox, who lives with his wife (Meryl Streep) and young lad Ash (Jason Schwartzman) in modern Midwestern USA. Having buried his animalistic tendencies for years, to live a life of suburban sedation as a newspaper columnist, Mr Fox suddenly snaps and plans a series of daring raids on the local farms owned by the villainous (and English, of course) Bean (Michael Gambon), Boggis (Brian Cox) and Bunce (Hugo Guinness). When the farmers discover the theft, they take it upon themselves to capture Mr Fox – and any of his furry friends who happen to get in the way – by any means necessary.
To an audience used to seamless CGI and motion capture, the stop motion animation may seem, initially at least, bizarrely old-fashioned. In fact, Anderson seems to have deliberately played on the unreal elements that his visual approach allows for; the animal’s hair ruffles most unrealistically, for example, adding to the sense of fantasy and eccentricity that permeates the film. But soon character and story take over, helped along by that awesome voice cast, which also includes Willem Dafoe as the morally ambiguous Rat, Bill Murray as put-upon lawyer Badger and Anderson bit-part regular Eric Chase Anderson as Fox’s delightfully sarcastic nephew Kristoffersen; indeed, the dialogue is so natural and fast-paced that there is a definite air of improvisation which adds to the humour. And so, in the capable hands of all involved, Fantastic Mr Fox becomes an involving, hugely enjoyable movie that retains the heart and soul of Dahl’s original even if it reinvents it – both in tone and style – for a contemporary audience. (4 stars)
Then it was over to the BFI Southbank for an altogether different movie, the intriguingly titled documentary 45365. This is the zip code of Sidney, Ohio and, by turning their camera onto their unassuming hometown, filmmaking brothers Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross present a snapshot of everyday Americana. And so we become privy to everything from the town fair to conversations in the barber shop, the high school football team to the local elections, all shot with cinema-verite style domestic recording equipment with a minimal soundtrack and fast editing.
Without the benefit of any contextual narrative or explanatory on-screen text the film initially feels somewhat cold but, as we listen in on the conversations and witness the trials and tribulations of the inhabitants of Sidney – from the local DJ to the cop who’s seen it all – human curiosity takes over and 45365 draws the viewer in. There’s very little talking to camera; instead the Ross’s are content to capture people simply living their lives, this simple approach bringing a surprising sense of depth and pathos to the normality unspooling on screen.
Although it could never be described as cinematic, and also may take an overly-rosy view of small town USA – there’s no sight or sound of the economic difficulties being suffered by small-scale communities across the country – 45365 is an interesting and intimate window on a world many of us would otherwise never have seen. Its appeal will unlikely travel outside the festival circuit, but we would recommend checking it out if you have the chance (3 stars)
These two very different movies surely sum up the ethos of the London Film Festival; it’s a celebration of the art of filmmaking in all its many different forms, where the big-budget ‘must sees’ can sit side by side with the undiscovered gems. And, judging from the treats on offer on day one, it’s going to be one of the best years yet.
See you there!