After my day off at the Nottingham Beer Festival, I was back in the capital and ready to commence my fourth day of the 55th BFI LFF (who doesn’t love a good acronym?). Like Wednesday, Friday began with a horribly early start. Up at 7am to avoid rush hour, I arrived at Leicester Square with loads of time before the first screening at 9.15am — as per usual, the tube was horrific; an overcrowded battery farm of hot, bothered and groggy commuters, all seemingly angered about the fact that you’d chosen to ride that particular tube.
After having coffee with a few new acquaintances, we headed into the Vue West End to begin queueing. Screen 5 — a cinema with perplexingly high armrests — was the venue; everyone filtered in with a sense of excitement and anticipation for the film we were about to see. Shame, the latest from director Steve McQueen, was expected to be one of the festival’s biggest hits, particularly after it premiered to much critical praise at Venice. It stars Michael Fassbender; him and McQueen had previously collaborated on 2008 hunger-strike biography Hunger, which won a host of awards on the circuit. Carey Mulligan, recently of Drive, plays the female lead, another name that garners attention at the moment. On with the review…
Shame (dir. Steve McQueen, starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan)
Shame, the portrait of a sex-addict living in New York, is an intense and atmospheric masterpiece, difficult to watch but utterly immersive. It’s brilliant from start to finish, not merely one of the best of this year’s festival but quite comfortably one of the best of the year. As it was such a standout I’ll do a full review and post that separately. For now let’s just say 5 stars!
Wow. As I made my way out of the cinema I could barely walk, Shame had turned me into a wreck. It isn’t just a film that engrosses you while you are watching it; it’s also one that stays with you afterwards — I have yet no idea how long this feeling will last, but if it dissipates within a week I’ll be amazed. What on earth could follow that? I checked my schedule — two French films at the Soho House. Nope, that wasn’t going to do it (see Blog 3 to find out why I didn’t want to go to Soho House). Instead, I decided to consult the LFF programme guide, which contains all of the public screenings. On at the Vue today was 50/50, a new comedy with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon Levitt — I’d missed the press screening, so this was a perfect opportunity to catch up!
Getting public tickest as a press delegate is a strange affair. For any weekend/evening films, we can request tickets from the relevant PR company, though those are not guaranteed and are only confirmed around 24 hours beforehand. For daytimes screenings the policy is a little different — turn up at the cinema, queue for a bit, hope that there’s one or two left over.
So, I chatted to a couple of people at the Vue, who informed me that the box office would open at 11.30, and then stood around casually flicking through the programme and humming to myself for an hour. Once they did get there I was second in queue (I would’ve been first but it hadn’t occurred to me to stand in line) and, to my delight, I managed to get a ticket.
In public screenings you are given specific seat numbers; I guessed I’d end up right at the front. Of course, I did. After grumbling a bit to the girls next to me about how much this was going to kill my neck, I started to appreciate the extra leg room. As a man with relatively long limbs, it’s a rare pleasure to stretch out in a cinema. The film began…
50/50 (dir. Jonathan Levine, starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon Levitt)
Labelled as a ‘cancer comedy’, 50/50 is a brilliantly balanced film, perfectly mixing laugh-out-loud moments with cry-your-eyes-out moments. ‘Cancer comedy’ may sound like dangerous and potentially offensive territory, but Will Reiser’s screenplay avoids any possibility of it ever seeming crass or stupid. The film is actually based on Reiser’s real life — he is a cancer survivor, and his experience comes across strongly in the realistic twists and turns.
50/50 may be populated by one-dimensional characters (barring Joseph Gordon Levitt as the lead) and driven by a straightforwardly structured narrative, but aside from these negatives, it does everything else completely right. It’s quite an experience to be heartily laughing one moment and then to feel a tear or two forming the next; rarely is this juxtaposition achieved without unfortunate overlap.
As neither a comedy, nor a tragedy, but by possessing plenty of both, it also manages to avoid that dull grey area in the middle. 50/50 is tonally beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable. Who’d have thought you could make a film like that about cancer?
Now faced with a free schedule, I walked across the Thames (on a bridge, that is) to the Southbank and stopped at EAT, where delegates currently get 10% off. When you pay £6 for a steak & cheese melt (that inexplicably contains mushrooms), a bag of crisps and coke, you realise that 10% off really makes no difference. Oh well.
I decided to head to the BFI and check out the delegates centre, which had opened while I was away covering the beer festival. The surroundings are comfy and you can get free tea/coffee/water all day, plus chat to some of the PR team who are based in there; overall it’s pretty good. The question of what do next arose… I was completely exhausted after a lack of sleep over the previous week, but a big part of me wanted to carry on with my first LFF. After checking the programme, it was obvious what I needed to try to get into — at 6.30 there was a Q&A with Seth Rogen and Will Reiser, the guys behind 50/50.
The lovely people at the BFI box office politely assured me that chances of getting a ticket were slim, but I was welcome to wait around and try. I did just that, for about an hour and a half, and rather surprisingly me and a couple of others managed to get in. I settled down at the front left; apparently it was being broadcast live on Youtube and I presume it will go up on the BFI channel afterwards, though it hasn’t as of yet. Below is my transcription — I didn’t record it but I noted down some of the most interesting/funniest exchanges…
Q&A – Seth Rogen and Will Reiser, hosted by Edith Bowman.
Seth Rogen and Will Reiser (pictured above with Anna Kendrick at the 50/50 London premiere) make their way rather tentatively onto the stage, following the sprightly Edith Bowman. They take their seats, pour some water, play around with the absurdly long microphones.”I just wish it was more phallic,” utters Rogen to much laughter.
The Q&A session gets underway with some questions that Bowman has prepared for our American guests. Reiser talks about his experience with cancer, and how afterwards he really wanted to make a film that depicted the side to it not often shown in film; Rogen furthers this: “We thought that the comedic perspective was underrepresented in this type of movie.” Reiser states that him and Rogen are “comedy writers” and that they wanted to parody movies like The Bucket List.
Rogen explains that they “really wanted to make it feel real and honest” and that “a bad cancer comedy might just be the baddest movie ever made.” I think he might well be right.
We then see a clip; it’s the scene where Rogen’s character hears that Levitt’s chances are 50/50 (hence the film’s title). He reacts by saying that it’s “not so bad… if you were a casino game you’d have the best odds!” Reiser says that Rogen improvised that line as well as a few others. During the clip, Rogen lists some celebrities who have fought cancer, “Lance Armstrong keeps getting it and he’s fine!” In the scene in the film he mistakenly says “Patrick Swayze”, who actually succumbed to his illness, as Levitt points out to him. This was curiously cut from the BFI clips. Rogen muses that it might be offensive if taken out of context.
We then hear a question from Youtube. The questioner asks the panellists what they think of big-budget movies (50/50 was made for only $8 million). Reiser sharply asks Rogen to “tell us about The Green Hornet.” Rogen murmurs his response but quickly redeems himself with “we are converting it [50/50] to 3D and we think it’ll be good!”
There is then a question from the audience about one of the film’s characters, the dog Skeletor. The person asks Reiser if he had his own pet, which helped him get through his illness.”Aside from Seth?” he jokes.
The relatively light-hearted questions continue; somebody asks Rogen who’d play him in a movie about his life. “I’d choose Jonah Hill,” he says. “Fat Jonah Hill or thin Jonah Hill?” Reiser adds.
They talk a bit more about Reiser’s experience. They never tried to chat-up women with the Cancer angle (as the two characters do in the film), but Rogen does tell an anecdote about them using it to skip the queue for Batman Begins, which was “the equivalent of getting laid.”
The light-hearted banter continues. Rogen calls Reiser a “pretentious asshole” after he says his favourite film is The Apartment, insisting that Ghostbusters is better. They also talk about a scene that was cut from the movie where Levitt goes to ‘laughter therapy’. Reiser says that it’s hilarious, and that we should all check it out on Youtube.
Things take a turn for the serious when an audience member, who is suffering from cancer, states that he thought the film was spot-on. It is a heartwarming and touching moment; both Reiser and Rogen are visibly moved by the praise. The entire audience takes a collective breath and pauses to think for a moment. They haven’t all seen the film but, as noted in my review above, the man is right — it really is an excellently balanced depiction. Not long after, we make our way out of the BFI’s NFT1 where the event was held. As far as Q&As go, this one was excellent — funny, interesting, with a few decent questions. Overall, a good way to spend a couple of hours.
The next blog will go up Monday morning. I’m seeing Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, and Hara-Kiri, the new film from Takashi Miike. Barring any restrictions, it’ll contain reviews of both of those. I’ll also try to take a few more pictures next week!