Friday, December 22, 2017


Lavish costumes and location photography cannot help this thinly plotted, dull film with its anachronistic politics.  It takes what is a genuinely fascinating late life obsession of Queen Victoria with a handsome young Indian clerk and drains it of its spikiness and shoe-horns it into politically correct nonsense.  While still apparently in mourning for her long-dead husband Albert, Victoria had already conducted a scandalous romance with her Scottish servant Mr Brown (also depicted on film with Judi Dench as the Queen.) In her final decade, she took fancy (literally, creepily) to a young muslim Urdu-speaking Indian.  The spikiness of the relationship comes from its objectification of the young male, but also the fact that she used him to learn about the culture of her dominion which she had never visited. In reality, he was the fawning man we see on screen, but also potentially a chancer (as are all courtiers more or less). His brother in law was selling Victoria's jewels in London and he was using her to advance the cause of his father's pension.  Did Abdul really believe in deference and service or was he on the make?   Stephen Frears banal film never bothers asking the tough questions - about Victoria's frustrated sexuality and exploitation of Abdul - about Abdul's motivations - about the dangerous situation in India with the rise of the independence movement, and Abdul's potential role in gaining favour for the Muslim League.  It's only interested in an anachronistic tale of love across the class, race and religious divide.   Judi Dench's Victoria is thus a radically anti-racist Queen with an enquiring mind, embattled by her small-minded Royal Household, as embodied in her pantomime-villain son, Bertie (Eddie Izzard).  The whole thing is slow-moving, and so uncurious about motives as to be a profoundly boring watch.

VICTORIA & ABDUL has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film played Venice and Toronto and opened in September 2017. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is the second instalment in the new trilogy of films, that sees the aftermath of the Rebellion's defeat of The Empire in the original trilogy.  In THE FORCE AWAKENS we saw a weakened Republic under attack by the newly resurgent remains of the old Empire, named The First Order.   The Emperor was replaced by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), with General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) as his military leader, Starkiller Base as his Death Star, Coruscant as its target, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) aka Ben Solo as his Vader.  

In response, Republican Senator Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) was running a covert militarised Resistance starring a dashing pilot called Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid BB8.  The droid happened upon a young girl called Rey (Daisy Ridley), abandoned on the desert planet Jakku, waiting for her parents, and an instinctive force user. They in turn happened upon a stormtrooper defector called Finn (John Boyega) who seemed to exist mostly for comic effect, but also to have an antagonistic relationship with his former boss Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). A largely redundant but popular side character was cantina owner Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyongo) who served to give Rey Luke Skywalker's old lightsaber.

The main questions set up by the film were whether Ben Solo would or could be turned by Rey to the Light Side of the Force having killed his father Han (Harrison Ford) in a test of loyalty to Snoke; who Rey's parents were, thus explaining her exceptional Force strength; and whether Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), living as a hermit, would be willing to train Rey to that task having failed in training Ben. Ancillary questions were how the First Order has amassed such tech and power so quickly (largely answered in the EU); and who Snoke was (which wasn't.)

And so we get to The Last Jedi, familiar with the grammar of Star Wars movies and the role of the middle chapter in a trilogy as a bridge of sorts, and eager to see if director Rian Johnson (BRICK, LOOPER) could move beyond the excessive fan service that was the only serious flaw that JJ Abrams (STAR TREK) made in his otherwise flawless and joyous The Force Awakens. Additionally, if we read the EU, we might have thought we would see some serious character development for Phasma (given the standalone book).


BRIGSBY BEAR is a heartwarming dark comedy that melds NAPOLEON DYNAMITE with ROOM and BE KIND REWIND!  It's  about a young man called James (Saturday Night Live's Kyle Mooney) who is returned to his family after being abducted as a child and raised by a couple of kranks. He struggles to adjust to reality and misses the cocooned world he lived in, most specifically the fake TV show his fake dad (brilliantly/manically played by Mark Hamill) created called Brigbsy Bear.  James is shocked that no-one else is ingrained in the TV shows mythos but with the help of a friendly cop (Greg Kinnear) and his newfound high school friends, he manages both to recreate the show and come to a kind of emotional acceptance of his past. 

The film is laugh out loud funny and goofy and features a truly brilliant cameo from Hamill. But beyond that I found it to be a particularly insightful and wry take on modern internet fuelled fandom, and the kind of "fake nostalgia for an unremembered 80s" that South Park so brilliant satirised with its "memaberries" plot line. James watches old shows on meticulously labelled VHS tapes and discusses them in online forums with fake friends his fake parents made up. He even has fake faded fan T-shirts. The way in which the school kids who didn't grow up with Brigbsy take to him also speaks to the current way in which new generations get immersed in a self-consciously old-school lo-fi pop cultural past. 

BRIGSBY BEAR has a running time of 97 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film played Sundance, Cannes and London 2017. It opened earlier this year in the USA, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, and earlier this month in the UK and Ireland.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


MANIFESTO started off as an art installation of simultaneously broadcast short films that have now been turned into a feature by director Julian Rosefeldt.  They all star Cate Blanchett as different philosophers, articulating their key beliefs in a variety of costumes and guises.  The film starts with her as a tramp rambling through a rotten concrete landscape before transitioning to Cate as an equities trader with a thick Long Island accent. But what we realise is that each segment isn't quoting a particular philosopher but  a miso-mash - apparently all pulling together to make a certain point. So in the homeless scene, we're meant to be talking about Situationism and it quotes Fontana, John Reed, Nieuwenhuys, Rodchenko and Debord. In the trader scene, which is meant to refer to Futurism, we get a mash up of Marinetti, Severine, Appollinaire and Vertov. 

As we move from Cate as Punk (Creationism) to Cate as puppeteer (Surrealism) to Cate as Newsreader (Minimalism) I was struggling to understand what I was meant to get out of this film other than a deep respect for her talents at turning accents. The excerpts are sometimes iconic, sometimes resonate with contemporary politics, but a lot of the time are just superficial and abstract. This just isn't a film that coalesced to me, in any meaningful way, and I wonder if it had better have been experienced as art installation. 

MANIFESTO has a running time of 95 minutes. The film has played as art gallery installations and in many festivals. It was released in UK cinemas last week and is rated 15 for strong language. 


The writing/directing partners Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon (THE FAIRY) return to our screens with another zany comedy with a social conscience - LOST IN PARIS. It stars Fiona as a Canadian librarian of geeky appearance and MR BEAN-like hapless physicality who goes to Paris to rescue her aunt, the majestic Emmanuelle Riva (AMOUR) who is being forced into an old-age home. The problem is that when she gets there, her aunt has gone missing.  At this point the fictional Fiona meets the equally nerdy, quirky Dom, a homeless Parisian who somehow finds enough money to dance the tango with her in an expensive riverboat restaurent and falls in love - only to find that he has a rival for Fiona's affections - a Canadian mountie!  

What I love about this film is that is does something relatively unique in modern cinema, but arguably the oldest of the cinematic arts - proper technically brilliant slapstick comedy in the best tradition of Keaton, Chaplin and Tati.  And just like those great films, it makes us laugh out loud at its silliness while also pulling at our emotions and genuinely moving us. Gordon and Abel are truly talented, and make movies of such unabashed joy they deserve to be better known. And if you thought that hackneyed park bench foot tapping dance scene in LA LA LAND was cute, check out Emmanuelle Riva and her fellow nursing home paramour in the most adorable dance scene I've scene in a long time. And that speaks to this film's social conscience - asking us about how we consign old people to a parking lot waiting for death, rather than acknowledge their same yearning for love, dance, magic!  This is a film not to be missed.

LOST IN PARIS has a running time of 83 minutes and is rated 12A for infrequent strong language and moderate sex references.  The film played Telluride and the BFI London Film Festival 2016. It was released earlier this year in France, Estonia, Belgium, Lithuania, Switzerland, Hungary, Argentina, South Korea, Sweden, the USA, Brazil, Japan, Poland, Germany, Bulgaria, Uruguay and Mexico. It's currently on release in the UK and Ireland in cinemas and on streaming services. 


TROPHY is a meticulously edited, beautifully shot, and most of all provocative documentary about the ethics of big game hunting and its interaction with rare species conservation.  Its directors - Christina Clusiau and Shaul Shwarz (AIDA'S SECRETS) - are on the record as saying that they began making the doc to pretty much indict the commercial hunting industry, and there's certainly plenty of explicit, unpalatable and indeed disgusting footage of rich white men paying large sums of money to shoot (NOT track and hunt) game at point blank range and then take crass selfies.  One of them even cites the Bible as sanctioning such savage activity, which will be like a red rag to a bull to any liberals watching.  But the film is careful to balance this with the equally dogmatic and arguably naive opposing views of anti-hunting activists who quite earnestly and rightly want to save lions like Cecil, but have no concept of the complexity of policy making and unintended consequences in Africa.  There is no possibility of a utopian solution - compromises and second best options are the only viable way forward.  

This film poses just such a compromise, which is to allow limited commercial hunting as well as the sale of rhino horns, and to use those funds to subsidise anti-poaching and breeding measures. The people used to defend such a policy are of varying credibility. The most prominent in the film is a commercial rhino breeder who does seem to care about saving them from extinction and his sunk his personal wealth into doing so but stands to make a fortune from trading in their horns.  But the one who really impressed me was an anti-poaching activist who also leads commercial hunts.  He seemed to be the most articulate about the irony of killing some animals to save others - the most aware of the complexity of the situation - and the most deeply committed to their long-term survival.  His views really impressed me, and made me deeply reconsider my views on this issue, which is the most one could ask of any documentary.  In addition, I delighted in the beautiful cinematography of South Africa and Zimbabwe, while simultaneously being horrified by, and rightly not being allowed to avoid, the sight of animals being killed for sport.

TROPHY has a running time of 105 minutes and is rated 15 for strong language. The film played Sundance and SXSW 2017.  It opened earlier this year in the USA and Canada. It opened in the UK and Ireland a week ago and is still showing in cinemas and on demand. 


BEACH RATS is a beautifully observed brave film about a teenage boy struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality.  It's written and directed by award-winning sophomore director Eliza Hittman and benefits from delicately beautiful, 16mm, nostalgia-tinted photography from celebrated French cinematographer Helene Louvert (PINA!) The film stars British actor Harris Dickinson as a 19 year old high school graduate called Frankie, without job, car or aim in life.  His father is dying, his mum (Kate Hodge) is an exhausted caregiver, merely observing his comings and goings, and the only real emotional reaction we get from all that is Frankie looking bemused and distant and filching his dad's meds.  What he does have is a bunch of jock friends with whom he hangs out at the beach in Brooklyn, getting high, and up to no good. Against this typically "bro" hetero backdrop, boasting about conquests, Frankie attempts a tentative relationship with Simone (Madeline Weinstein), but she soon realises that he's not into her, and maybe gets the reason why. It's testament to the nuanced and subtle performances from both actors that we never truly know how far she gets it.  Simultaneously, Frankie is exploring the world of gay chatrooms, and moves from online flirting to midnight hook ups at the beach. I love the way that the director handles these without awkwardness or squeamishness, and never objectifies Frankie.  It's rare to see such an honest depiction of casual sex in any film, let alone showing homosexuality. Kudos to all involved but especially Harris Dickinson who gives a truly astounding break-out performance.

BEACH RATS played Sundance 2017 where won Best Director. It also played the BFI London Film Festival. It was released earlier this year in the USA. It was released in the UK and Ireland last Friday in cinemas and on streaming services. It will be released in Germany on January 25th 2018. The film has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated 15 for strong sex, nudity, drug misuse and language. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017


THE MERCY is the latest in a long line of treatments of the infamous 1968/69 round the world yacht race called The Golden Globe. It captures the imagination because it's a pure challenge between man and the elements - to sail a boat with rudimentary equipment around the world single-handed over many months - a test both of the boat and man's ability to deal with extreme isolation and peril. I have long been fascinated by the type of people who are driven to face such challenges - whether climbing mountains above the "death zone" - or sailing into peril. And the Golden Globe, more than other races, epitomises the strange pull on a certain type of man to prove himself. It attracted both professional sailors and rank amateurs - and that too is one of its attractions. The idea that anyone could simply get into a boat and sail around the world appeals to a sense of old-fashioned adventure.

THE MERCY focuses on just one of the nine entrants to the Golden Globe race - the most notorious - Donald Crowhurst. It may well be best to watch it knowing absolutely nothing about him, but as the story is going to 50 years old next year, I'm going to go ahead and discuss its broad outlines in order to review the film. Crowhurst was a talented electronic engineer and weekend sailor in coastal waters. But he was struggling with his business, and was reliant on an investment from local entrepreneur Stanley Best to stay afloat. Crowhurst saw entering the race as a chance to gain the kind of fame and fortune that Sir Francis Chichester had earned when he went round the world with just one stop the year before. If he could prove the value of his pioneering electronic gadgets on board a famous voyage, regardless of winning, Crowhurst would be set up for life. But, because he was reliant on yet more sponsorship from Best to build his boat, if he failed to sail, or dropped out early, he would lose his house, boat and business. The stakes could not, therefore, have been higher.

The film shows Crowhurst in a sympathetic light - a charismatic family man with real smarts - but out of his depth in preparing for such a voyage against a very tight deadline. The boatbuilders can't always get first choice materials, his design is untested, and he hasn't got the time to build the electronics that should make a trimaran able to right itself when capsized (it's chief safety problem). Sponsors are hard to come by, but he does get recording equipment from the BBC and instructions to send back updates to his rapacious press agent. Money is tight. The stress builds, and he spends much of his final night before sailing in tears. The omens are bad - the champagne bottle won't crack against the hull, the test voyage takes two weeks rather than three days, and even when he sets sail on the race, he has to tow back to sort out his sails.

It's very clear from early on that he neither the open water sailing experience nor a suitable boat for the voyage. The early parts of the film show him to be very honest and logical in laying out the problems he has to solve. As he slips down the coast of Portugal and onto Africa his speeds are underwhelming and he spends his time manually bailing out the hulls. At some point he decides to make a simple deception - and fakes a speed record. But that does't yet mean that he's decide to fake the entire voyage. The film shows beautifully the slow slipping into fakery. But there's a moment when he takes the plunge - when he starts genuinely faking his progress, using enigmatic radio messages and refusing to give his precise bearings. At this point, though, it's a logical reaction to desperation. He wants to give us, but is in an invidious financial position. Another problem for Crowhurst, as the film so clearly shows, is that slight fakery is exacerbated by his press agent Ronald Hallworth - a man with shady ethics who takes Crowhurst's deliberately vague reports and exaggerates and firms them up with fake accuracy. This puts Crowhurst in as much of a bind as his financial problems, because he can’t very well drop out of the race in a position on the map where he’s not meant to be anywhere near! And so the film shows a man under insupportable pressure decide to fake his voyage, and because this means complete radio silence, slip into madness. I’ll say no more here, although I have written my thoughts on how this is handled below the episode notes for those who are interested.

THE MERCY succeeds because of the central performance of Colin Firth (THE KINGSMEN)- showing a range and nuance that makes this perhaps his finest performance since A SINGLE MAN. It’s a sympathetic but harrowing portrait of a good, intelligent and earnest man who desperately needs to speak to his wife in private and seek solace and advice but cannot. Yes he told a lie, but to save his family from ruin, and in the absence of any emotional support. And who then sails for months, in isolation, and becomes unmoored from reality. It’s also, despite it’s specific context, a deeply relatable story about what loneliness and stress can do to one. The film also benefits from being shot on the open sea, and on celluloid - an authenticity that’s hard to replicate in a tank - and than creates one or two really quite beautiful images. By contrast, when it comes to the land-based scenes, director James Marsh (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) seems to get through them in a rather workmanlike manner.

Because this is Firth’s film - rightly so - those cast in smaller roles are little more than quickly essayed character traits. Rachel Weisz (THE LOBSTER) is merely there to be deeply sympathetic as Crowhurst’s supportive wife Clare, unwilling to tell him not to proceed because she wants to support his dreams, even if it means ending up on the dole and alone. Clare is also given a rather bombastic final scene which, in its (bizarre, to my mind), condemnation of the press, felt anachronistic, and certainly didn’t happen. David Thewlis is mono-dimensionally creepy as the press agent Hallworth. And we get a cameo from Simon McBurney as Sir Francis Chichester, but he’s bizarrely unused as the film develops even though his reaction to Crowhurst’s voyage was one of the more interesting.

The film suffers from a lack of context. Crowhurst’s struggles are easier to understand and sympathise with when you realise how far the other sailors suffered from stress and isolation - the story of Moitessier in particular shows how easy it is to become unmoored. And although unprepared, he was by far not the most amateur of the sailors - that honour goes to Chay Blyth who literally had to learn to sail as he went. But perhaps that would’ve taken too much time to explore? What the screenwriter, Scott Z Burns (THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM), could’ve done quickly and easily was introduce a scene where we learn that both the pumping hose and the box of spare parts was left onshore by mistake, making Crowhurst’s voyage harder to sustain. I also feel that more time could’ve been spent on establishing Crowhurst’s philosophy of life as a kind of game before the race, to help give content to the 25,000 words of Philosophy written in his logbooks at sea. Because even as he became unmoored, there was a through line from earlier beliefs, and again that speaks to his intelligence.

Overall, I did enjoy the film, mostly for Firth’s performance, and because even when done narrowly, it’s a fascinating tale. I suspect that for people who truly want to understand the psychology of not just Crowhurst, but all the men who took part in the race, and its dramatic emotional consequences, the 2006 documentary, DEEP WATER
 reviewed here, will remain the first port of call. I can also heartily recommend reading The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by the Sunday Times journalists Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall. This was published immediately after the race, in 1970, and benefited from the authors being able to comb over the log books and other documents that came off Crowhurst's boat, as well as interviewing those involved in the race. I found it to be an incredibly well researched and fair-minded book, deeply sympathetic to Crowhurst and quoting liberally from his writings. The makers of this film seem to disagree, which I find odd. Another valuable book is Chris Eakin's A Race Too Far. This covers the race in its entirety, looking at all the participants. It therefore goes into less depth on any one of them, and quotes liberally from the Tomalin and Hall book. It was published just last year and therefore can interview participants and their families.

THE MERCY has a running time of 101 minutes and is rated 12A in the UK for infrequent strong language. It will be released in Portugal on November 23rd, in the Netherlands on December 14th, in Australia on February 8th, in the UK on February 9th, in Poland on March 2nd, in France on March 7th, in New Zealand on March 8th and in Germany on March 29th. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


After a dismally dull experience of BATMAN VS SUPERMAN and walking out of SUICIDE SQUAD after 30 minutes, it was only my recent enjoyment of WONDER WOMAN that made me vaguely interested in seeing the new DC multi-character action film, JUSTICE LEAGUE. I'm pleased to report that, given incredibly low expectations, I actually had a good time watching the film, thanks to the fact that Superman remains dead for much of it, and the charisma vacuum that is Henry Cavill, and sheer flabby uninterested of Ben Affleck are diluted by both Wonder Woman's earnest awesomeness and a trio of great new additions to the franchise. I was genuinely amused by Ezra Miller's nerdy, funny Flash, and suspect that his character benefited most from Joss Whedon taking over the reins as director once the portentous heavy-handed Zack Snyder left for personal reasons. That Miller went from playing a genuinely unnerving psycho in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN to a disarmingly hapless teen here shows great range.  I also really liked the teasing of a more earnest backstory involving his incarcerated father played by Billy Crudup - who manages to communicate pained selflessness in a few brief scenes. Perhaps most surprisingly, I loved Jason Mamoa's rock-star ragged Aquaman. This was a great shock after he failed to impress in the CONAN remake and GAME OF THRONES - but that suggests scripts and directors that cast him for his body and not his evident charisma and ability to turn a genuinely comic line.  His AQUAMAN is an ancient hero, pissed off with the world, performing small acts of kindness while blind drunk. Insofar as he has an arc, it's realising that he has to take responsibility for saving the world and be a true heir of Atlantis. Similarly, in this film, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman also has to assume the mantel of leadership and become an icon of  hope, just as Superman had been.  The final new addition is newcomer Ray Fisher's Cyborg, Victor Stone.  He has the most serious role to play, as he struggles to come to terms with his powers and the role his father played in mutilating him.  In the context of a rather silly film, it's his character that is the most moving.  Against this cast of genuinely funny and moving characters, it was easy to quickly move past Ben Affleck's continuing banality as Bruce Wayne and Henry Cavill's po-faced, charisma-less Superman.


IN A LONELY PLACE is a superbly acted thriller starring Humphrey Bogart as a once-successful, no cynical Hollywood screen-writer called Dix.  As the film opens he asks a coat-check girl back to his apartment, ostensibly to tell him the plot of a murder-mystery she's reading so he doesn't have to read it before adapting it.  Naturally this involves her screaming "help" as she re-enacts it.  The problem is that the girl is found murdered the next day and Dix is the prime suspect until his new neighbour Laurel (Gloria Grahame) provides a false alibi and they start an affair. It starts ominously. Laurel is interviewed by the police with Dix sitting behind her looking menacing - the picture shown above. He reveals he saw her wearing a negligee. There's a lot of sexual tension and provocation right there. After this, the film really gets interesting, as we see these two characters evenly matched. Both are mature, probably sexually experienced, and go into their new relationship with their eyes open.  Both are also flawed. The question is how far this hard-drinking, violent, resentful man can ever be healed by his lover, and how far Laurel will stick it out against a background of increasing distrust and then fear.  Grahame's portrait of a woman genuinely in love with a man who is at the very least bordering on alcoholic and violently angry and at most a murderer is nuanced, heart-breaking and feels authentic.  It's one of her best, and is what I would love her to be remembered for, rather than the silly "girl who can't get enough" from OKLAHOMA!


WOMAN OF THE YEAR is a romantic comedy from director George Stevens (SHANE, GIANT), starring a very young Katherine Hepburn and less young Spencer Tracey.  They both play journalists on the same paper, but that's about all they have in common. Tracey's Sam is a salt of the earth sports journalist with few pretensions.  Hepburn's Tess is the daughter of a diplomat, raised in many countries, fluent in many languages, addicted to work, wielding political influence, and feted by all.  The meet-cute is a public argument about the role of merits of baseball that results in a mutual attraction and a tentative attempt at dating.  She goes to a ball game in a hat and gloves, he gets bored and abandoned at a party with diplomats. And yet despite all this, they get married.  


CAT PEOPLE is the iconic low budget creepy horror film from celebrated director Jacques Turner, producer Val Lewton, and DP Nicholas Musuraca. Set in contemporary New York, it tells the story of a recent Serbian immigrant called Irena (Simone Simon, with a haunting, lilting accent that does much to add to the mystery of film) Irena is haunted by the mythological tales from her home town of a strange cult of cat people or witches who fled persecution from Serbian King John.  As the movie opens, Irena is drawn to a black panther at the zoo, and while she lives in fear, she also causes fear in animals.  She is befriended by a straight-laced all-American apple-pie man called Oliver (Kent Smith). He marries Irena despite the fact that his similarly straight-laced co-worker is clearly in love with him, even putting up with Irena's demands to stay celibate as she fears that if they had sex this would trigger her into becoming a vengeful, violent cat woman.  

The brilliance of the film is how it takes a low budget, a handful of sets, and no stars, but manages by sheer force of directorial and cinematographic brilliance to conjure up a pervading sense of uneasiness and fear. Key scenes include Oliver's co-worker Alice (Jane Moore) being stalked home on a dark night, harshly lit by street-lights.  Another has her dive into a swimming pool out of fear, and the camera turn and turn, showing the reflection of water on the walls. It's hard to say why this is so very creepy. And yet, decades later, the film still has the power to mesmerise and fascinate. 

CAT PEOPLE has a running time of 78 minutes and is not rated. 


LOST IN AMERICA is a classic American comedy from the mid-80s, satirising our addiction to commercial success. It's directed by, written by and stars Albert Brooks (BROADCAST NEWS) as a successful and smug but neurotic advertising exec and a big LA firm. He's just sold his house to trade up to an even larger one and is about to order a stupidly expensive car.  But when the promotion he's been expecting is denied him he loses his temper and storms out of his job, persuading his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty - AIRPLANE!) to join him by selling everything they own, buying a motorhome, and travelling through America to "find themselves".  The problem is that they're pretty feckless, obviously have to lose their money to force them to face reality, and see their yuppie entitlement testing in the "real world".

The movie holds up really well, thanks to the fact that we still live in a time where people talk about finding themselves and living authentic lives, but are addicted to Stuff and Status.  The lack of self-awareness drives the comedy  - every time the husband meets someone and says he's trying to live like EASY RIDER it's so palpably absurd it cracks you up. But what's amazing is how far the people he says this too believe him or at least admire him for trying.  There's also the daily insults and grappling to deal with the difference between commercial promise and reality that get to us all, even today - like when you lay out $44k for a car, all in, but the leather seats are really vinyl, or when you bribe the hotel reservations clerk for the bridal suite, and it turns out to be the "junior" version and really rather ordinary.  Brooks just gets the indignities of modern life.  The result is a film that is genuinely smart, laugh-out-loud funny, and yet darkly honest about the compromises we are all forced to make.  It's basically saying we all aim high but fundamentally want a nice easy life.  I'm comfortable with that. 

LOST IN AMERICA has a running time of 91 minutes and is rated R. 


To complement the release of FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL - the true story of ageing Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame's affair with a younger British actor - the BFI is showing a number of her most famous films. This weekend sees the release of THE BIG HEAT and IN A LONELY PLACE. The former is a digital restoration of the 1953 noir thriller by Fritz Lang - the iconic director of METROPOLIS and M. It has long been a favourite of mine - a taut tale of corruption and the price of doing right - beautifully acted and shot. The film stars Glenn Ford as Sergeant Dave Bannion - a lone ethical cop in a dark world. Ford is perhaps best known to modern audiences as Clark Kent's dad in the original Christopher Reeves SUPERMAN film but before then he had long established himself as a charismatic if not conventionally good looking character actor, best known for the original 3:10 TO YUMA. Bannion is married to a loyal loving wife, Katie, played by Jocelyn Brando (MOMMIE DEAREST - and yes, the sister of Marlon Brando), and has a cute daughter. Every time we see his family home the score is upbeat and cutesy - a haven of good wholesome family values - all teddy bears and frilly curtains. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Kenneth Branagh's new adaptation of Agatha Christie's iconic murder mystery is sumptuous, dynamic, faithful and great fun.  Set on the luxurious trans-European steam-train in the 1930s, the film is a locked-room mystery.  The train is derailed into snow and the renowned detective Hercule Poirot has to solve the murder on one of the passengers before the train is dug out and the police arrive.  The tension builds as the passengers realise that one of them must have done it - but how can Poirot sift the truth out of the conflicting clues - a woman running through the carriage in a red kimono - a second railway guard with a missing button - charred blackmail notes - and so many frenzied stab wounds.....

Branagh's film is firmly in the tradition of the absurdly over-cast ensemble films of the past - Sidney Lumet's 1974 version starring Albert Finney and Lauren Bacall - and the 2010 David Suchet version with Jessica Chastain and Toby Jones.  This version stars Branagh with a quite magnificent moustache as Poirot; Jonny Depp well cast as a nasty criminal called Ratchett; Dame Judi Dench as the Princess Dragimirov; Daisy Ridley Penelope Cruz; Josh Gad and many others.  For me the two actors who really stood out were Willem Dafoe and Michelle Pfeiffer - but I can't tell you why without ruining character reveals and plot twists!

Monday, October 16, 2017

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI - BFI London Film Festival 2017 - Closing Night Gala

With THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, writer-director Martin McDonagh (IN BRUGES) has created a genuinely surprising, slow-paced character drama that's also scattered with his trademark dark, filthy humour. But don't be fooled by the trailer that's basically a "best of" some of the funniest bits. This is a much slower, darker and in some senses profound drama that he's created before, and to my mind, all the better for it. 

The starting point of the film is that Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand - FARGO) is angry the local police have not found the man that brutally raped and murdered her daughter Angela. In a fit of frustration and pique, she hires three old billboards outside of the town on a little-used road and puts up a provocative sign asking for justice from police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson - WOTPOTA). This sets of a series of events that seem to spiral out of control in a tat for tat revenge plot.  It pits Mildred against Willoughby and his stupid racist deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell - MOON) and Dixon against the poor schmuck who sold Mildred the billboard space (Caleb Landry Jones - TWIN PEAKS) and the town against Mildred.  As her violent ex-husband's hapless young girlfriend points out, violence begets violence. And that's the point when Mildred (and we) realise that the point of the film isn't to find out who did it, and to apportion blame, but to get to a point where we can just let it go.

I loved this film for three reasons. First, as with all McDonagh films, there's a strand of nasty humour that I absolutely adore. Second, McDormand's performance is genuinely award-worthy - not simply for the angry swearing but for the profound pain that underlies it, and invokes our sympathy even as she does selfish, near-unhinged things. Third, I am so rarely surprised by cinema, but this movie totally surprised me three times.  It took characters and events in directions I couldn't have predicted but which made sense and surprised me. I have real respect for authors who can take a character that I initially hate and turn my opinion around and that's what happened here - and it was utterly satisfying. 

So a great film - if deeper and darker and more considered in its pacing than McDonagh's previous work. This may disappoint some fans but I hope they appreciate it for the layered and disturbing but ultimately hopeful work that it is. 

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI has a running time of 115 minutes and is rated R. The movie played Venice, London and Toronto 2017. It opens in the USA on November 10th; in Australia and New Zealand on January 1st; in Italy, Spain and the UK on January 12th; in Argentina, Germany and Singapore on January 25th; in Philippines on February 14th; and in France on February 28th. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

LADY BIRD - BFI London Film Festival 2017 - Day 11

LADY BIRD is a funny, moving, beautifully observed relationship drama centring around the teenage girl of the title.  It's an assured directorial debut from writer-actor Greta Gerwig (MISTRESS AMERICA) and features another impressive performance from Saoirse Ronan (ON CHESIL BEACH) in the lead role, fearlessly matched by Laurie Metcalf (ROSEANNE) as her mother.  This relationship is at the heart of the film, with its class-frustrations echoed in Lady Bird's relationship with her long-time best friend.  To be sure, we also see the 17 year old navigate relationships with boyfriends too, but these aren't at the heart of the film

Christine McPherson is a quirky, smart but frustrated teenager who adopts the Lady Bird persona to mark herself as different from the bland Sacramento society in which she lives.  She dreams of moving to New York and attending a liberal arts college where she'll find people with interests similar to her own. The central tragedy of this film is that she takes that frustration out on those who love her the most, principally her mother Marion.  Marion is another strong personality, and as much as she loves her daughter, she's frustrated that Christine doesn't appreciate what her parents have sacrificed to put her through private school.  Marion is also deeply hurt when she discovers that Christine has been mocking their house as being "on the wrong side of the tracks" because it doesn't live up to the flashier houses that some of her friends live in.  This relationship is at the very heart of the film and is so relatable and brilliantly observed that it's worth watching the film for that alone.

But there's so much more to admire in this film. Christine is oblivious to the fact that her father (a beautifully tender performance from Tracy Letts) has lost his job.  And although he's not the centre of the film there's such humanity in seeing this highly qualified man having to apply for the same graduate entry jobs that his also over-qualified son is applying for.  He seems to be a truly selfless and decent man, and reminded me a lot of Willem Dafoe's character in THE FLORIDA PROJECT.  I also loved the relationship between Christine and her childhood best friend - and the way Christine ditches her for a more glamorous set to attract a new boyfriend.  It's a betrayal and reconciliation we've seen a million times in teen comedies, but so much more authentic and real here.  Finally, I loved the way Gerwig handled Christine's love life, and a particularly touching scene between Ronan and her boyfriend played by Lucas Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA). My only minor criticism of the film is that I wanted to see more of that relationship after that scene - it felt strange to me that it didn't continue.

Overall, this is a truly impressive directorial debut from one of the most original and intelligent voices in cinema.  I really admire Gerwig's mission to give us something that feels more authentic than typical coming of age dramas, and her willingness to show life as it is - financial struggles, selfishness, arguments, even Christine's deliberate acne - the movie we LIVE rather than the movie that plays in our head, as she said in the post-film Q&A. 

LADY BIRD has a running time of 94 minutes and is rated 15 for very strong language  and brief strong nudity. LADY BIRD played Telluride, Toronto and London 2017. It will be released in the USA on November 3rd, in the UK on December 29th, and in Spain on May 4th 2018. The film has a running time of 93 minutes.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE - Day 11 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

The following is a group review from Meester Phil, Duncan and Nicki and I:

Lynne Ramsay (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) returns to our screens with the extreme revenge thriller YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE.  Joaquin Phoenix plays an extremely disturbed man who was abused by his father as a child and takes care of his mother as an adult.  He's also a veteran who now earns a living rescuing people for money armed with a blunt hammer.  At the start of the film he's commissioned by a politician who's wife just committed suicide to find their runaway daughter who's been captured by a paedophile ring.  Except his exfiltration is messed up by some corrupt cops. At that point, the film goes into a revenge thriller involving potentially some politicians and maybe the idea that the dad was somehow molesting the daughter. The film is deliberately tricksy with the timeline and motivations and how far we can trust the slippery memory and perception of the lead character. 

Duncan and Nicki describe the movie as too arthouse, bizarre, all over the place and difficult to follow.  They came out wondering what the point was.  And we're still sitting in the bar trying to figure out what exactly happened. Even Meester Phil conceded that Lynne Ramsay may have been being too obtuse for her own good.  But everyone did love the cinematography - particularly the way in which Lynne Ramsay used extreme close-ups and almost shot from the victims point of view, looking up at a looming killer.   Meester Phil in particular loved the use of mirror imagery, lights through rain, blurred imagery, and the beautiful and impactful shots of underwater scenes. All agree that it was visually great.  Finally, we all really loved Jonny Greenwood's unique and dramatic score, and the use of already existing music for juxtaposition.  There are some very twee songs that underscore some very violent scenes and it works brilliantly.

My final comment is that a lot of the way that violence and revenge was handled reminded her of Park Chan Wook. I walked out of the film thinking that Ramsay had watched a lot of the Vengeance trilogy and taken something of Lynch's use of music.  

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE has a running time of 85 minutes. The film is rated 15 for strong violence, injury detail and child sex abuse as a theme. The film played Cannes 2017 where it won Best Screenplay alongside THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER and Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor.  It also played London 2017. It opened in 2017 in  Belgium, France and Spain. It opened earlier in 2018 in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Romania. It opens on March 9th in the UK, Ireland and Norway; on March 22nd in Denmark, Greece, Croatia and Russia; on April 6th in the USA; on April 13th in Poland; on April 26th in Germany and in Sweden on April 27th.

THE FLORIDA PROJECT - Day 11 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a beautifully shot and acted social drama that's a rightly tough watch.  It tells the tale of three kids living hand-to-mouth in motels in Orlando, a stone's throw from Disneyworld and yet a world away from rich kids being indulged.  The star of the film is Brooklyn Kimberly Prince, who plays a young girl called Moonee.  She's very precocious and full of attitude that she's learned from her young and damaged mother Halley (Bria Vinaite).  Halley barely has enough money to buy food but somehow has money for cigarettes. She so feckless with money that when she has it she wastes it and then turns tricks to get more.  It's hard not to hate her, but then you realise that she probably experienced as dysfunctional a childhood as her daughter is currently experiencing.

So what we get in this film is a two-hour portrait of an unfit mother and I spent most of the film inwardly anxious that her kid should be lifted out of this and into care. And that offset what I think was meant to be an enjoyable portrait of kids getting up to capers - scamming people for free ice cream and whatnot in a jaunty comedy.  I was just too angered by the social trauma to be amused.  I also found that Moonee's antics started to grate. I'll freely admit that this is a highly subjective criticism, but I'm not used to having small kids around and I just found her behaviour deeply annoying. In fact, for me the most memorable and affecting performance in the film was Willem Dafoe's motel manager who exhibits common sense and humanity in a performance against type and worthy of awards recognition. I also think the heightened saturated colour and cinematography is some of the most memorable of this festival.

THE FLORIDA PROJECT has a running time of 115 minutes and is rated R. 

THE LOVERS - Day 11 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

Azazel Jacobs' THE LOVERS is a light, art-house version of IT'S COMPLICATED in which husband and wife Mary and Michael, who are both cheating on each other, discover that they're actually attracted to each other again.  The first hour of the film proceeds with hardly any dialogue - the emotional arc is all conveyed through looks, texts, reactions.  It's really quite wonderful to see and you need actors like Debra Winger and Tracey Letts to pull it off and sustain the audience's interest. The second thirty minutes of the film sees the culmination of all this lying  takes its toll - both on the couple, their son and their lovers. I have to say that I was a bit surprised in how Jacobs decided to resolve the issues, and that the film is pretty forgettable, but I certainly enjoyed it while it lasted. 

THE LOVERS has a running time of 94 minutes. The film played Tribeca, Melbourne and London 2017 and was released earlier this year in the USA and Canada.

Friday, October 13, 2017

DOWNSIZING - BFI London Film Festival 2017 - Day 10

DOWNSIZING is a deeply patronising movie that pulls of the remarkable feat of being both annoying liberal and socially conscious AND offensively racist. There's probably a decent 45 minute episode of Black Mirror in there somewhere, but the surrounding 90 minutes of meandering, indulgent padding renders the whole work frustrating and meaningless.

The big concept of the film is that a bunch of Norwegian scientists have invented a way to miniaturise humans to 5 inches tall. And if humans can do this, they can leave a much lighter environmental impact, as well as use their current net wealth to live a deeply luxurious life. After all, you may not be able to afford a 10,000 sq ft mansion but you can probably afford one the size of a shoebox. This range of motives for "downsizing" reflects a parody of the cultures that DOWNSIZING deals with. So the liberal touchy feely hippie Scandies downsize to save the world and their mini-colony looks like The Shire. By contrast, Americans downsize to afford a luxury retirement in Disney like gated communities. 

Of course, this being (a piss-poor attempt at) sci-fi, none of the actual world-building makes sense. The downsized wouldn't survive rain or insects and there's an irony in the amount of energy being created in the downsizing probably making climate change worse. None of this would matter if the story was captivating and you cared about the characters. But the story is all over the place. Is this about an everyman recreating his life once his wife leaves him? Is it about finding yourself on a gap year trip to Norway? It is a piece of propaganda about climate change? Or is an undercover expose about illegal immigrant working conditions? It's like writer-director Alexander Payne through Big Ideas in the air like so much confetti and the result is a baggy, poorly scripted and edited mess that outstays its welcome. Worst of all, much of its comedy in the latter half of the film lies in taking the piss out of a Vietnamese woman's strong accent. In 2017. This is just flabbergastingly offensive on a Jar Jar Binks level. 

DOWNSIZING has a running time of 135 minutes. The film is rated 15 for strong language, drug misuse and sex references.  The movie played Venice, Toronto and London 2017 and will go on release in Spain and the USA on Dec 22nd, in Australia, New Zealand and France on Dec 26th, in Norway and Turkey on Jan 5th, in Argentina and Bulgaria on Jan 11th, and in the UK, Germany and Sweden on Jan 18th.

HAPPY END - Day 10 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

Meester Phil and I walked out of HAPPY END after an hour of tedium and inanity.  Advertising blurb suggesting it's a sharp satire of contemporary French financial and racial inequality in the shadow of the Calais migrant camp was wildly overblown. There's a rich family. It includes Isabelle Huppert. They run a construction company. There's a feckless grandson who may or may not inherit the company. There's a granddaughter who's mum just attempted suicide. There's a little baby who's shot on an iPhone with text messages indicating her train of thought. What there isn't is drama or meaning or any kind of coherence.  In fairness that might have all been resolved in the final 45 minutes but life's too short to find out.

HAPPY END has a running time of 107 minutes. It played Cannes, Sydney, Melbourne, Toronto and London 2017.  It opened earlier this month in France and Austria. It opens in Belgium on Oct 11th, Germany on Oct 12th, Hungary on Oct 26th, Sweden on Nov 3rd, the UK on Dec 1st, the USA on Dec 22nd, and Norway on Dec 25th.

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER - Day 10 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

Yorgos Lanthimos’ THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is an exceptionally brilliant dark horror movie based on a Greek myth that I won’t name for fear of spoiling the story. The first hour of the film sees building dread and foreboding. A heart surgeon called Stephen (Colin Farrell) has struck up a sinister looking relationship with a 16 year old called Martin (Barry Keoghan). Is he seeking sexual favours, grooming him? The gift of an expensive watch and the lies speak to that. But then Stephen introduces Martin to his family - wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and his kids Kim and Bob. So maybe Martin is just a loner who needs mentoring? About 45 minutes into this exquisitely paced film, Kim and Bob suffer paralysis and loss of appetite. A battery of medical tests suggests there’s nothing wrong with them. And an hour into the film we learn the reason for this mysterious mythical illness. The reactions it provokes are both darkly funny and tragic, as family members vie to make their case, and cold hard-headedness faces sentimentality.

Lanthimos’ shooting style is so deliberately paced and framed that it reminded me of Kubrick. There’s a couple of scenes where Stephen walks through hospital corridors that become so tense because of precisely where the camera is placed and the accompanying music. Although we shift locations many times, there’s a kind of claustrophobia in this film as grind toward the inevitable conclusion. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis’ complete, compulsive control of the frame matches Stephen’s refusal to be ruffled until the last, and the deliberate, daringly deadpan language from co-scriptwriter Efthimis Lanthimos. I also loved the score that borrowed from orchestral music and opera, heightened with dramatic sound effects to emphasise the portentousness of the action.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough for its sustained tension, otherworldly tone and superb construction. I can’t say that I cared about any of the characters but that’s not really the point. I was captivated by the story and the sheer technical brilliance with which it was put on screen. 

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER has a running time of 109 minutes and is rated R. The film played Cannes 2017 where it won Best Screenplay tied with You Were Never Really Here. It also played New Zealand, Melbourne, Toronto and London.  It goes on release in the USA on Oct 27th, in France, Greece and Bulgaria on Nov 3rd, in the UK on Nov 17th, in the Netherlands on Nov 29th, in Hong Kong on Nov 30th and in Hungary on Dec 28th. 

JOURNEYMAN - Day 9 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

JOURNEYMAN is a banal, thin, waste of time. A movie that says nothing new about boxing and adds little to the "Lifetime movie of the afternoon" genre that we haven't seen in rehab movies like STRONGER or MILLION DOLLAR BABY.  The direction is workmanlike, the scope narrow, and really the only reason to watch it is the characteristically good performance by Jodie Whitaker in one of the lead roles.  Paddy Considine plays a local hero boxer who gets punched into a coma in his One Last Match.  When he comes round he's frustrated, violent, and his wife (Whitaker) leaves him with their baby. His lovely friends who'd abandoned him then step in. By the end, everyone's back on side because, hey, they're all basically lovely people.  There's no dramatic tension. There's no real character development.  The boxing scenes don't work. The love story is so predictable it's frustrating.  And there isn't even any criticism of a sport that serially harms people.   I honestly don't know why this has been described as a tearjerker.  Frankly, Considine's performance is a series of physical ticks that was one stutter short of Simple Jack. This is a crashing disappointment after Considine's fantastic directorial debut TYRANNOSAUR - a movie of great artistic ambition and impressive execution. 

JOURNEYMAN has a running time of 92 minutes. It will be released in the UK on February 16th 2018.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

SWEET COUNTRY - Day 9 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

SWEET COUNTRY is a film of power and beauty that knocked me for six and took a while to digest. It stands as one of the best films of this year's LFF, and certainly one of the most important.  It contains a unique directorial vision, a unique true story, and provocative questions for all of us at this time of heightened fear of the Other.

The film is set in post-World War One Central Australia, on a series of small cattle farms. The hero is an aboriginal cattle farmer called Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), a decent man who works for another decent man, station owner Fred Smith (Sam Neill). Unfortunately, their oasis of mutual respect goes against the prevailing tide of racism and injustice in this wild frontier.  A newly returned solider (Ewen Leslie) manipulates Fred into lending him Sam, his wife and niece, to work for him for a few days.  This good turn sets in motion a series of events that culminate in Sam shooting the white man in self-defense and going on the run.  Act Two sees Sam and his wife being chased down by the local lawman (Bryan Brown) and Act Three sees him face whatever justice a black man can get in 1920s Australia.  To say more would be to ruin the plot.

There's so much to admire in this film that it's hard to know where to begin. To state the obvious, the director Warwick Thornton (SAMSON & DELILAH) has a unique interest in bringing Australia's alternative history to the screen - in showing the violence and exploitation that doesn't show up in textbooks. Instead of Aussie folk hero Ned Kelly he wants to give us  a true indigenous hero - Sam Kelly - and he wants to ask us if he'd fair any better in the justice system today.

But the great and wonderful thing is that Warwick Thornton's projects are so much more than just pedagogical. He has a really unique directorial vision. For a start, filming this story as a western allows him to tell us something about the wild frontier (in)justice at this time.  Second, he makes bold choices, all of which seem to pay off.   I loved his use of quick flash-backs and flash-fowards to add nuance to his characters and build suspense for the audience.  For instance, the ostensible bad guy in the movie is basically a racist bully, but he's also a very traumatised war veteran who's self-medicating with a lot of alcohol. I also loved the equally bold choice to have no musical score in this film, but to really ramp up the tension by focusing on the sound of every footstep, locked shackle and cocked rifle.  But most of all, I just love the visual vastness and harsh beauty of the landscapes as a context for this very small-scale human tale - with these people quite simply dwarfed by greater forces - whether nature or institutional injustice.  There's a deep humanity to the tale - and Hamilton Morris' performance in particular.  And I can't think of anything more chilling than Sam Neill's final line in the film.

SWEET COUNTRY has a running time of 110 minutes. It played Venice, Toronto, Adelaide and London 2017. The film is rated 15 for strong violence, injury detail, violence and racism as a theme. 


PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN is a really fascinating and subversive story about the real-life creator of Wonder Woman, told in a disappointingly conventional and banal manner by director Angela Robinson (HERBIE FULLY LOADED, says it all).

The story begins in 1920s Harvard-Radcliffe, where Professor Marston (Luke Evans) is a psychology professor with a theory of dominance and submission and proto-feminist views on how women should rule the world. This is frankly unsurprising as he's married to the fantastically smart, sexy, unconventional Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall - dazzling) - who is intellectually everything a Wonder Woman should be.  They both fall in love with Marston's teaching assistants - a student called Olive (Bella Heathcote), a woman who knows what she wants, but is far more submissive than Elizabeth.  The three form a menage a trois that is truly based on love as well as sex, but are kicked out of Harvard.  Forced to earn a more conventional living, Elizabeth becomes a secretary, both women have kids, and Marston invents Wonder Woman after a trip to a S&M costume shop that blows his mind. He combines the dominance and submission of both the women in his life - their fierceness and softness - to create a modern comic that will very deliberately radicalise children with ideas of feminism and, er, bondage. 

I recently got a trade hardback of the early Wonder Woman comics and it was shocking to see how overtly sexual they were - some of the frames are like something out a Bettie Page film. But also how radically feminist they were, despite Wonder Woman's ludicrous outfit.  And I love how this film shows how subversive the character was, but also questions the more dubious aspects of the supposed feminism through the framing device of an interrogation by Connie Britton's moral authority.  The story - and Rebecca Hall's character - are enough to make this film worth watching.

The problem is that everything about the direction is utterly conventional to the point of banality. Every set choice, the way the scenes are constructed, the utterly forgettable score - it's all so dull. And it's particularly sloppy not to have the characters age over the 25 odd years of the film. It was incredible - and drew me out of the film. It's not the origins story that Wonder Woman deserves and I won't be rushing out to see another Angela Robinson film any time soon.

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN has a running time of 107 minutes and is rated R. The film played Toronto and London 2017. It opens in the USA on October 13th, in Germany on November 2nd, and in the UK on November 10th.

DARK RIVER - Day 9 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

Clio Barnard's DARK RIVER is arguably one of the finest film's of the festival. It's a dark, sparse, claustrophobic chamber drama - beautifully acted and edited, with not an ounce of fat on its bones. It's so emotionally intense that the 90 minute runtime feels like three hours in the best possible way.  By this I mean that it didn't feel overlong at all, but I really felt emotionally rung out by the end of it. I suspect that it's a film that's going to be with me for days to come - its scenes haunting me. 

The film rests on the twin performances of Ruth Wilson (THE AFFAIR) and Mark Stanley (DICKENSIAN).  Wilson plays a capable sheep farmer called Alice who returns home after a 15 year absence when her father, who had abused her as a child, finally dies.  She's still massively traumatised by that abuse, and Clio Barnard depicts it as a kind of visceral haunting.  Alice believes her father would've left her the tenancy of the family farm, but the person sitting in possession is her angry brother Joe (Stanley). He resents Alice for leaving, and her need to update farming methods. In fact, he'd rather sell the farm to property developers than co-farm with Alice.  

Over the 90 minute the tension between the two until we have the expected final confrontation and revelation that leads to some kind of emotional pay-off.  There's a real vulnerability and violence to the lead performances and Stanley matches the more famous Wilson pound for pound in the confrontation.  I won't say more for fear of spoiling the outcome.  However, I was surprised to find that Meester Phil had an utterly different interpretation of the final scene to mind, which suggests that this film is even more slippery than I'd thought. 

DARK RIVER has a running time of 89 minutes. The movie played Toronto and London 2017. It opens in the UK and Ireland on February 23rd and in the Netherlands on August 2nd. It is rated 15 in the UK for strong language. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

REDOUBTABLE - Day 8 - BFI London Film Festival 2017

Michel Hazanavicius’ REDOUBTABLE is not so much a full-scale biopic of Nouvelle Vague auteur Jean-Luc Godard but a portrait of his three year functional marriage to actress Anne Wiazemsky, 17 years his junior, in the late 60s. As the age gap would suggest this is not so much a marriage of equals as one of an acolyte and an over-bearing demanding selfish man, although she is genuinely in love and can't see it at first. As the film opens, Godard discourages Anne from acting, calling actors jumped up fools, and encourages her to go back to university for a proper "political education". What does he mean by this? Why, that Anne should adopt the same Marxist revolutionary views that he has. 

All goes well enough until the 1968 General Strike. It was a volatile period where workers were protesting and Parisian students had also basically shut down the City.  Godard goes to Cannes and with a bunch of other directors has the festival shut down too - something I have some sympathy with - there is something a little absurd, after all, about showing rom-coms and dramas when France is on the verge of revolution. But of course, Godard takes it too far. He demands that other directors and his wife sacrifice opportunities according to his political demands, and viciously mocks those who have the temerity to disagree with him. He puts down his wife in public, embarrasses her with his radical and anti-semitic views, and then goes into a massive sulk when she takes on a film role in Czechoslovakia, culminating in what I think should never be described as a selfish act, but in this case clearly is! - a suicide attempt.

From my description of the events of this film, one would think it was a remarkably grim watch. But it isn't! To be sure, Godard is a massive arsehole with some really offensive views, but the way in which Havanacius portrays this is so witty and inventive that it was still a great watch.  In particular, the director juxtaposes the serious dramatic action with bright coloured costumes and sets and merry music - one of my favourite scenes has a car packed with people viciously arguing set to a jaunty orchestral version of Perry Como's Magic Moments.  Another great scene has Godard trying to shame his wife into refusing a film role that contains a lot of nude scenes, and that scene is shot with both actors unnecessarily nude.  There are so many great moments like this that I can honestly say that this is a truly funny film. I also want to gives special praise to Louis Garrel in his best role since MOTHER as Godard. He goes the whole hog, creating a fake bald patch, wearing those specific glasses, and adopting the Godard lisp.  It's a great performance because it's simultaneously funny, knowing, obnoxious and sad - for example, I never once doubted that Godard loved his wife, it's just that he's also a selfish misogynist too. 

Overall, REDOUBTABLE is a must watch for cineastes and for wider audiences it will resonate as a portrait of a marriage of unequals, of verbal abuse, but also a film of immense wit and humour: a surprisingly fun watch.

REDOUBTABLE has a running time of 107 minutes. The movie played Cannes, Toronto and London 2017. It opened in France and Israel earlier this year.