Tag Archives: London Film Festival

LFF gala premiere: Kate Winslet’s Labor Day

15 Oct
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Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in Labor Day

Last night was the May Fair Hotel Gala Premiere of Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. It was great to be back on the red carpet – I used to go to all the LFF galas when at Time Out and The Times. Kate Winslet looked radiant in red, though she complained of “pregnancy brain” to one interviewer on the red carpet. What awesome timing, though – to be pregnant while promoting a film called Labor Day!

As to the film itself, it’s nearly brilliant. It has a great set-up: an agoraphobic mum (Kate Winslet) and her young son are forced to drive an escaped con (Josh Brolin) to their home, where he lies low until he can escape. The sense of menace is mixed with a palpable sexual tension as he ties her up “for her own good”, so that she can’t be accused of being his accomplice.

But later, when he unties her and starts doing jobs around the house, it becomes clear that he is not merely a good man, but an absurdly good one, the kind you wouldn’t find outside Mills & Boon (the film, by Jason Reitman, is based on a novel by Joyce Maynard). He fixes the car, the furnace, the garden wall; he cooks, he cleans, he irons with his shirt off; he teaches the son baseball and is kind to his disabled friend. In a faintly ludicrous sequence, reminiscent of a three-handed version of the pottery scene in Ghost, he teaches mother and son to make a peach pie, one of many heavy-handed visual metaphors for the family they are building together. Once the looming menace is replaced with the simpler fear that the police will find him before they can live happily ever after, the film loses much of its tension.

Me interviewing Francesca Cardinale

Me interviewing Francesca Cardinale

And then on to the after-party at the May Fair Hotel, which specialises in putting up stars from the world of film and fashion. Here I bumped into my old Cannes mucker, director Paul Wiffen, always with a stylish hat on his head and a beautiful actress on his arm. This time the young lovely was Francesca Cardinale, niece of the great Italian actress Claudia Cardinale, currently at a top acting school in Rome, opposite Cinecita.

I interviewed Francesca briefly, though between my lack of Italian and her lack of English, all I could glean was that she has a small role in Those Happy Years, an Italian film  well received at the Toronto Film Fest, and showing at the London Film Festival on Oct 18 and 19; and that in Paul Wiffen’s forthcoming secret agent romp SpyFail she plays the daughter of one Maria Gratis Tuttilenotte (geddit?) who is bent on revenge.

Wiffen also says he is on the verge of a casting coup for his secret agent character, Roger Most. I am sworn to secrecy until the ink has dried on the contract, but it’s someone handsome, debonair, ludicrously funny, and richly deserving of another big-screen outing. Watch this space.

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Salman Rushdie on adapting Midnight’s Children

30 Dec

It’s a truism that great books make lousy movies. Film is about economy of expression; novels (with some exceptions, such as Ian McEwan or Murakami) are about density of language. Salman Rushdie, who has adapted his own gloriously unfilmable novel Midnight’s Children for the screen, even admitted as much in the Screen Talk I attended at the BFI London Film Festival.

Rushdie began his surprisingly warm and funny talk with an old joke about two goats who break into a projection room and start eating reels of celluloid. “What do you think of the movie?” asks one. “I preferred the book,” says the other.

So why do it? Rushdie said he chose to write the screenplay himself so he would have no one else to blame if it all went terribly wrong. It’s to his credit that it doesn’t, quite: the film, like the book, is still critical enough of Indira Gandhi to have angered the ruling Congress party at the Kerala Film Festival, and it was only a few days ago that it finally secured a release date (Feb 1) in India. And to anyone who hasn’t read the original, it will still be an enthralling, colourful epic. But it doesn’t work as a film.

The sprawling narrative about the end of colonial rule in India and the problems of Partition requires way too much exposition, not helped by the late addition of a voiceover (narrated by Rushdie) which the director decided was needed to retain the flavour of the book’s prose. More problematic are the magic realist elements – a group of children, born at the stroke of midnight, August 15, 1947 when India achieved independence, grow up each with their own superpower – which just seem silly on screen. You half expect Ian McKellen to show up in his Magneto hat.

“Kill your babies,” William Goldman famously said of screenwriting. Rushdie is no King Herod. He did say he was proud of an extra scene he added at the end, where the two rivals confront each other; but he might more usefully have worked on his skills of subtraction.

Rushdie spoke movingly at the LFF Screen Talk of his long love of film, honed in a rep cinema while an undergraduate at Cambridge (just as I had the Penultimate Picture Palace and the Phoenix while at Oxford – that first taste of European art movie, Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God, lifted the top of my head clean off). Let’s hope Rushdie now turns his hand to an original screenplay.