LFF REVIEW – KNIVES OUT (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – KNIVES OUT (2019) – SPOILER FREE

Written and directed by: Rian Johnson

Produced by: Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Christopher Plummer, Jaeden Martell etc.

Cinematography: Steve Yedlin

****** SPOILER FREE ******



“What is this, CSI: KFC?”

Rian Johnson seems to have been writing and directing for years, but interestingly, KNIVES OUT (2019), is only his fifth release since his debut film, Brick (2005). His last film Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) was, of course, a massive hit across the galaxy. However, having watched it again recently, I felt it was racked with inconsistencies in tone and suffered weak storytelling.

Indeed, I was shocked that such a meta-filmmaker as Rian Johnson, with such a unique approach to genre, was given the Star Wars gig. To me, his filmmaking talent was too offbeat and so it proved. Because, while The Last Jedi (2019) had some memorable moments, (mostly Adam Driver), it did not work as a Star Wars story.

With his latest film, a murder-mystery-comedy-thriller, Johnson is on more solid ground. His penchant for quirky characterisation, irreverent jokes and wicked twists is more than suited to an Agatha Christie pastiche. Especially because this one has more tricks up its sleeve than the Magic Circle. I personally love the detective genre and Johnson successfully pays homage and deconstructs the murder-mystery tropes with a brilliantly funny script. Aiding Johnson is a star-studded cast, all of whom run with the joke superbly.

The plot begins in a traditional fashion; with a heinous “crime.” The story then spins into a complicated and devious web of lies and double-crosses. It concerns famed author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), and his family of sons, daughters and grandchildren. A multi-millionaire writer and owner of a publishing empire, he has managed to upset every one of his family members. So, you can guess what happens to him on his 85th birthday celebration.

Following Harlan’s apparent suicide, Lakeith Stanfield’s police detective investigates, with the assistance of famed sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). With a ridiculous Southern accent, Craig, seems more parodic than the other actors. But, he gives a fine comic performance nonetheless. Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer are also on great form. But, a playing-against-type Chris Evans, arguably steals the show as the overgrown, spoilt rich kid.

Overall, this is film is a so much fun. It should be viewed firstly as a comedy, although the murder mystery plot itself is full of ingenious plot reversals. With everyone a suspect, the fun derives from trying to work out who did it and seeing if there are any holes in the plot. All kinds of satirical, political, sight-gags and murder-mystery in-jokes are brilliantly delivered by a committed set of A-list movie actors too. Moreover, from the big mansion setting, to the costumes and the meticulous set design, it was a lovely film to look at too.

To conclude, Johnson is back on the form he showed with the incredible sci-fi film Looper (2012). Because, Knives Out (2019) definitely has the force with it, working brilliantly as a fast-paced, witty and intricate work of, admittedly style-over-substance, entertainment.

Mark: 9 out of 11

LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019)

Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Written by: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Produced by: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder

Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

******* SPOILER FREE *******



If you haven’t seen the Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy (2014), then I urge you to do so. It is genuinely one of the most startling and creepy films of recent years. It psychologically gets under the skin with the story of a mother and her two children, isolated, as she recovers from reconstructive surgery. The directors, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, proved themselves adept at creating memorable imagery, tense dread and a shocking ending up there with the horror classics.

With their latest film The Lodge (2019), they have once again ventured into the horror genre. Working with a fascinating screenplay from Silvio Casci, the film is full of intriguing themes relating to religious cults, grief, isolation, post-traumatic stress and family dysfunction. However, despite stellar work from the cast and compelling direction, the film never quite filled me with fear, nor shocked me enough to satisfy my horror needs. It works well as a slow turning of the screw type story, but at times it was too slow for me.



In essence the narrative is similar to Goodnight Mommy (2019); two kids and a maternal character are trapped together in one location and things get weird. Richard Armitage portrays Richard, a father to Aidan (Jaden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), who is desperate for them to connect with his new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). To precipitate this they spend Christmas at their remote holiday lodge, as you do. When Richard is called back to the city for work, Grace and the kids’ relationship begins to get cold. Thus, amidst the isolation and snowy landscape, a frozen atmosphere exists inside and outside the cabin.

Overall, the film is worth watching for Riley Keough’s committed performance as Grace; a victim of childhood trauma trying to be part of a caring family. Her character is striving for sanity, however, she gets something else altogether. The directors also do sterling work and create a compelling image system, notably around dolls, snow and religious iconography. The lodge itself is rendered creepy with sharp angles, overhead shots, skin-crawling music and darkness all used to sinister effect. But, despite the quality of the production, the central premise, slow pace and confusing plot developments drained any fear I felt by the end. Nonetheless, fans of The Shining (1980), The Thing (1982) and any number of cabin-in-the woods-horror films will find something to chill them here.

Mark: 7 out of 11


LFF – ROUND-UP REVIEWS INCLUDING: CALM WITH HORSES (2019), COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019) & WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (2019)

LFF 2019 – ROUND-UP REVIEWS

One of the great things about film festivals is you can find loads of lower budget and independently made cinematic gems, amidst the big studio projects. Thus, I like to try and see as many smaller scale films if I can, rather than just watch the ones that are likely to go on general release anyway.

Due to my daily work commitments I didn’t get to see as many films as I would like, but here are three I have seen this week. Each is very different, but they all demonstrate, despite featuring some well- known actors, an independently-minded cinematic spirit.

***** SPOILER FREE *****


CALM WITH HORSES (2019)

First time director Nick Rowland has an assured debut with this contemporary rural gangster film set in Southern Ireland. Caught between the right and wrong side of the law, Arm, portrayed with brutal tenderness by Cosmo Jarvis, finds his loyalties torn between his family and venal crime bosses. The ever-impressive Barry Keoghan features as his drug dealer friend, who doesn’t necessarily have his best interests at heart.

It’s a harsh tragedy with an element of hope represented by Niamh Algar’s struggling single mum, hoping to escape for a better life. Ultimately, the story beats inhabit familiar territory, with elements of Mean Streets (1973), Of Mice and Men (1937), Bullhead (2011) and Miller’s Crossing (1990), echoing amidst the slashes of violence, colourful language and tough Irish characters.

Mark: 8 out of 11



COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)

Filmmaker Richard Stanley had not directed a film for over twenty years, so when I saw he had filmed a HP Lovecraft short story – I WAS IN! Stanley was famous for being sacked from the ill-fated Island of Dr Moreau (1996). Indeed, the 2014 documentary, Lost Soul (2014), is still one of best docs I have seen about filmmaking. Mainly because everything went wrong, but also because Richard Stanley is such as interesting person too. Thankfully, this latest low-budget horror film was completed without too much trouble.

Given it is an adaptation of Lovecraft, Color Out of Space (2019) is unsurprisingly a cosmically bonkers horror film, which descends into all manner of insane occurrences. It centres on the Gardner family, portrayed by Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson, who along with their teenage kids, must confront the terrors that befall them when a meteorite hits their isolated farm. Building slowly, all hell breaks loose in the final act, as Cage lets rip with another crazed performance. Trippy and stylish with some fantastic gore, it lacks depth, but has cult film written all over it!

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (2019)

Set in a desolate border town, the film opens with the kindly Magistrate (Mark Rylance) meeting Johnny Depp’s venal Colonel Joll for the first time. Joll is convinced those “Barbarians”, who live in the desert and mountain areas are going to threaten the fabric of the mighty Empire’s society. So, Joll begins a campaign of torture and oppression against them. The Magistrate and Joll constantly clash as the former seeks understanding and empathy over brute force.

This cerebral and allegorical drama is based on a famous literary classic, written by J. M. Coetzee. Brought to the screen by the ultra-talented Columbian filmmaker, Ciro Guerra, it’s quite slow, but I found it absorbing nevertheless. Mark Rylance is absolutely spellbinding. No one can do contemplative acting quite like him. His character was so noble and just, I really felt for him and the oppressed indigenous peoples’ cause. Arguably, the film could have been more dramatic in places, however, it still presents a damning indictment of colonialism and heavy-handed military rule.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


JOKER (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

JOKER (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Produced by: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

Based on : DC Comics’ Joker created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Bill Camp, Zazie Beetz, Francis Conroy, Glen Fleshler, Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron etc.

Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir

Cinematography: Lawrence Sher

**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



“Is it just me – or is it getting crazier out there?”

There’s no let up for poor coulrophobes. You wait so long for an evil clown and two come along in quick succession! First Pennywise hits the big screen twice. Now, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix deliver an incendiary cinematic masterpiece, based on DC’s uber-villain, Joker.

With Marvel’s cinematic universe heroically saving the world and making Disney a lot of money in the process, everything was looking a bit bright in the comic book film world. Not anymore, because Joker (2019) brings darkness, chaos, delusions and insanity to the screen. This film doesn’t reflect a safe world full of heroes, but instead illustrates one without them or a shred of hope.



The year is 1981. The place is Gotham. The symbol of this urban disintegration will be downtrodden clown, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Crime and garbage ravage the city and social services budgets are being cut. Arthur struggles with his mental health, his clown work and his unwell mother (Francis Conroy). He attempts to find solace in stand-up comedy, but his psychological problems stretch to uncontrollable laughing fits, making people laugh AT him, as opposed to WITH him. He seeks potential romance with a neighbour, Sophie (Zasie Beetz), but his world begins to collapse when he loses his job and his medication is cut off. Attacked by kids on the street and bankers on the tube, Arthur is forced to fight back. But, violence begets violence, as a new, more dominant persona comes to the fore.

Joker (2019) is a bravura and risk-taking character study charting the downward spiral of both a city on the edge; and an individual losing touch with the real world. Rather than being cared for by the system, Arthur is thrown to the gutter, only to rise up with fire, violence, colour, costume and maniacal chuckling. From the mean streets of Gotham comes not calm, but social unrest and protests; not a hero but a painted villain, dancing and plotting bloody murder.



I have read that there have been complaints that the film trivialises mental health. Well, having experienced a close family member suffer mental breakdown and have a friend commit suicide due to extreme anxiety, I actually think Joker (2019) presents madness in a very truthful way. Mental health is scary, unpredictable, difficult to treat and prone to startling bursts of uncontrollable energy. It’s hard to comprehend what happens in people’s brains to make them act a certain way and this film captures that. The reason the film is scary is because mental health is scary. If it is not treated, then people can harm themselves and others. Therein lies the truth and tragedy of mental illness.

Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely incredible as Arthur Fleck/Joker. Hysterical laughter echoes and haunts the screen. Every cigarette he smokes drags nicotine anxiety into his ravaged lungs. As violent outbursts jolt and as his skinny body dances, I felt a gamut of emotions including: fear, humour, shock and sadness. Fleck’s transformation into Joker is a slow-burn trajectory and masterful acting performance. He tries to avoid violence and confrontation, but it’s drawn to him like a moth to a flame. He tries to make people laugh, but sadly only ends up hurting them. Joker is an outsider desperate to step inside and be part of society, but, even down to his unknown parentage, he is rejected at every turn.


As well as Phoenix, Todd Phillips deserves much kudos for creating an incredibly dark, but impressive cinematic experience. He is ably assisted by the startling cinematography of Lawrence Sher, who captures that gritty, paranoiac and urban look perfectly. Much praise also to Hildur Guðnadóttir, who, for me, has orchestrated the musical score of the year. Lastly, the genius of marrying cinematic classics like Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983), with a DC comic-book super-villain is an absolute masterstroke. Indeed, Joker (2019), is one of the most memorable and compelling films of 2019. Why so serious? Watch it and discover for yourself.

Mark: 10 out of 11



LFF REVIEW – JOJO RABBIT (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – JOJO RABBIT (2019)

Written and Directed by: Taika Waititi

Based on: Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

Produced by: Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen etc.

***SPOILER FREE***



After watching the astounding Joker (2019) earlier in the day, and having my psyche shook by that descent into hell, I needed something lighter to watch afterwards. A comedy about the Nazis, World War II and Hitler himself, therefore, probably wasn’t the ideal choice. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed Taika Waititi’s furiously funny war satire.

Essentially, JoJo Rabbit (2019), is a rites-of-passage comedy with a heavy dose of pathos, tragedy and combat thrown in. The story concerns JoJo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a young German boy who has a staunch commitment to the Hitler Youth and the Nazi Party. So much so he conjures up a vision of Hitler (Taika Waititi), to act as a kind of spirit guide through his everyday life. Safe to say, Hitler isn’t the best teacher, especially with Waititi’s mischievous and ridiculous representation.

JoJo Rabbit (2019) has a wonderful character arc for the lead protagonist, who benefits from an empathetic performance by sterling young actor, Roman Griffin Davis. JoJo, through his wartime experiences slowly learns the horrors of Nazi propaganda and the real truth about the Jewish people. It’s a heartwarming and touching story which advocates love over hate, even in the face of such dark terror.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is jojo-rabbit-trailer.jpg

While Waititi’s comedic turn as Hitler threatens to plunge the film into tonal chaos, Scarlet Johansson and Thomasin McKenzie ground the film in emotional depth with moving acting portrayals. Sam Rockwell also contributes brilliantly as a German Captain, charged with training JoJo and other Hitler Youth members. Stephen Merchant is also ideally cast as a fastidious Gestapo Officer. The scene where he and his Nazi cohorts search JoJo’s house is one of many memorable scenes throughout the film.

Overall, Jojo Rabbit (2019), takes an incredible risk creating humour out of such tragic events as war and the Holocaust. But, by ridiculing Hitler and the Nazis, there is a sense that Waititi is taking back power through rapid humour. Conversely, the jokes come thick and fast. There are sight gags, physical humour, puns, cartoon violence, illustrations, slapstick and so many zinging one-liners in the irreverent screenplay.

At times it was like ‘Monty Python’s Flying Germans’, such was fast pace, sketchy and surreal nature of the jokes. One could argue that the jokes undermines the more tragic elements of the story. It’s a tough thing to do, to make you laugh AND cry; as the bombs fall and bullets fly. Nevertheless, by the end, Waititi manages to just about retain the balance between parody and pathos.

Mark: 9 out of 11


LFF REVIEW – THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019)

Directed by: Robert Eggers

Written by: Max Eggers, Robert Eggers

Produced by: Rodrigo Texeira, Jay Van Hoy, Lourenco Sant Anna, Robert Eggers, Youree Henley

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson

Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke

******* SPOILER FREE ********



Robert Eggers debut feature, The Witch (2015), was a startling debut and deserved the critical acclaim it received. Alas, personally, it left me cold as a story, because I felt little empathy for the characters. By the end, I was totally disconnected from the madness that ensued. Yet, while it failed as a horror film, it did have great performances from the cast and an incredible eye for period detail and language.

Obviously, a talented filmmaker such as Eggers is not going to care what I think; and quite right he is too. Building on the folklore and legends of yesteryear established in The Witch (2015), he has once again delivered a highly ambitious cinematic work on a relatively low budget with The Lighthouse (2019). Indeed, with a superbly researched screenplay full of salty dialogue, authentic locations and insane visuals, I connected way more to this than his debut film.

Shot on black-and-white 35mm with a 1: 19 aspect ratio, Eggers has left us in no doubt his intention to aim for the cinema for the purists among you. Formally though, these creative choices also force the audience into the same claustrophobic, black-hearted watery hell our characters must endure. Moreover, Eggers takes joy in oppressing his characters and the audience. The Lighthouse (2019) is a brilliant but harsh to watch. I mean I felt like I’d been working on a bloody lighthouse myself, such was my mental exhaustion by the end.

The film benefits from two incredible acting performances by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Dafoe represents the experienced sea-dog, with Pattinson as the younger and more secretive, Winslow, The two men drink, eat, work, spar, clash, fart, shout, drink some more and slowly but surely begin to unravel amidst the isolation of the unforgiving rocks, crashing waves and squawking gulls. Full of incredible imagery, devilish sounds and creeping dread, ultimately, The Lighthouse (2019) is a hard film to endure, but an even harder one to forget.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


READY OR NOT (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

READY OR NOT (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Produced by: Tripp Vinson, James Vanderbilt, Willem Sherak, Bradley J. Fischer

Written by: Guy Busick, R. Christopher Murphy

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie Macdowell etc.

Music by: Brian Tyler

Cinematography: Brett Jutkiewicz

******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ********




I hadn’t heard too much buzz about this reasonably low-budget fun cat-and-mouse-horror B-movie, but the poster really grabbed me. Thus, as I have an Odeon Limitless Card, I thought why not take a chance. I’m glad I did too because Ready or Not (2019) is a highly efficient, violent, funny and pacy horror film.

After a quick flashback, which foregrounds the gore to come, we are introduced to soon-to-be-wed Alex (Mark O’Brien) and Grace (Samara Weaving). They are to be married amidst the opulent surroundings of the Le Domas family home. The huge commanding property and the gigantic grounds establish we are in the playground of the wealthy and these rich kids play rough.

After an uneventful wedding ceremony the fun really begins. Well, I say fun, because essentially it’s a game of “Hide and Seek” meets Hard Target (1993) meets Saw (2004) meets Get Out (2017). The similarity to Jordan Peele’s classic horror is loose, however, there is an element of social satire with the millionaire family hunting down a person of perceived lower social standing.



But the Le Domas family, headed by Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell, are about to meet their match in Grace. Raised in foster homes she is a fighter and imbued with terrific energy by star-in-the-making Samara Weaving. Moreover, Grace, like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, raises her game and battles back. As the body count rises and the blood spills across the screen, Grace’s wedding dress becomes a symbol of carnage, as opposed to love.

Ready or Not (2019) is an unpretentious ninety-minute movie gem. It’s not the most original work I will watch all year, but it had me very entertained with some great tension and blood-curdling deaths. The theme of the rich sacrificing the underclasses for continued existence could have been developed further, but why let it get in the way of a bloody good game of hide and seek.

Mark: 8 out of 11


Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!