Category Archives: Film Festivals

LFF REVIEW – THE IRISHMAN (2019)

LFF REVIEW – THE IRISHMAN (2019)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Stephen Zaillian – based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

Produced by: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Gaston Pavlovich, Randall Emmett, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Gerald Chamales, Irwin Winkler

Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannevale, Stephen Graham, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Ray Romano, Stephanie Kurtzuba and many more.

Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto

Distribution: Netflix

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



“I heard you paint houses…”

As well as watching new films that have yet to be released, one of the pleasures of film festivals can be when the filmmakers, writers, crew and actors themselves attend and introduce their work. Having said that, I’m not usually one for big and lengthy introductions and back-slapping celebration. I’m also not one for star-gazing and celebrity-spotting hysteria. They are just human beings; let them get about their business in peace.

But, when the cinematic geniuses that are: Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel took to the stage for the premiere of THE IRISHMAN (2019), even I was star struck! Add the brilliant actors Stephen Graham, Anna Paquin and Jack Huston to the mix and I can confirm I was in the presence of all-round film greatness.



Scorsese is the best genre filmmaker still living today. But what of THE IRISHMAN (2019)? Is it yet another cinematic masterpiece to add to an incredible list of classics that Scorsese has directed? On first watch I would say both yes and no. I sit on a fence because the film is SO long, detailed and intense, I need another sitting to really nail an absolute opinion. It’s very, very good – BUT is it a great? I remember first watching Goodfellas (1990) and feeling dazed by the end of it. It is now one of my favourite films of all time.

First impressions are that, once again, Scorsese has delivered yet another impeccable film in the gangster movie genre. Film is a collaborative endeavour though and he has surrounded himself with an army of major talents in the production and acting departments. Robert De Niro, who himself, optioned the book on which the film is based, takes the lead as Frank Sheeran. In support are the aforementioned Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham, Anna Paquin, Jack Huston and the out-of-retirement Joe Pesci. All work from a superlative screenplay adaptation from uber-writer Steven Zaillian



The story is structured, in many ways, like another gangster classic, Once Upon a Time in America (1984). An elderly character looks back on key aspects on their life; the highs, the lows, the deals, the crimes, the relationships and the bloody carnage. Frank Sheeran, as delivered by De Niro and Scorsese, is another complex presentation of masculinity. He was a trained soldier who did his duty in World War II against the Nazis. Then, on return to America, he found himself driving trucks. With a family to support he finds he cannot turn down the chance to “paint houses” and carry out important work for the mob family run by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). I must say that Pesci is a revelation as the quiet shot caller, in the shadows, giving orders out of the spotlight. His mob boss is the total opposite from the psychopaths he’s played before.

Talking of great performances, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa steals the whole film. It is incredible to think this is the first Scorsese film he has been in. It was definitely worth the wait. De Niro himself is also impressive. His role as narrator and story conduit guides us through many exhilarating scenes involving gangland deals, explosive action and violent hits. Moreover, we are also compellingly embroiled in Hoffa’s Teamster Union business conflicts, as well as, some of the most iconic historical moments from U.S. politics and history.



Scorsese’s approach to style is less frenetic when compared to his other gangster films or the rapid velocity of say, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). There are fireworks and gunfights of course, plus explosive arguments between the angry and powerful men which inhabited this era. The heated debates between Hoffa (Pacino) and Tony Provenzano (Stephen Graham) are especially memorable. Plus, I liked that Hoffa’s character had very specific demands in regard to time-keeping and punctuality. It’s beautifully filmed but the pace is not as say, rock and roll, as his other films. In one long tense sequence toward the end of the film, Scorsese uses silence rather than trademark rock music to enhance the visuals.

Overall, themes of death, murder, loyalty, friendship, politics and regret dominate the story narrative. From the nursing home where Frank Sheeran begins his epic tale, to the multitude of hits and shootouts we experience, the Grim Reaper follows these characters like a constant shadow. I wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel about Frank Sheeran by the end. He is a complex character who, as a trained killer, is difficult to empathise with. But his, the bosses and Hoffa’s stories are compelling nonetheless. However, the last part of the film raises a lot of emotionally painful questions with equally difficult answers.

Lastly, certain things about the film, such as the “de-aging” CGI and lengthy running time, detracted from my initial enjoyment. However, Netflix have an absolute monster of a gangster film here, with Scorsese once again delivering a very special cinematic offering. The irony is that it will only have a limited theatre release. THE IRISHMAN (2019), therefore, deserves to be painted and seen on the biggest screen you can find.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


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


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.


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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


LFF REVIEW – THE ANTENNA (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF 2019 REVIEW – THE ANTENNA (2019)

Director: Orcun Behram

Writer: Orcun Behram

Cast: Ihsan Onal, Gül Arici, Elif Cakman, Murat Saglam

**********SPOILER FREE REVIEW**********


The London Film Festival is here once again and I have booked in to watch a number of big studio and independent films. Not as many as my wife, who is determined to break herself on the cinematic wheel.

It really is kid in a candy store time at the London Film Festival with all manner of films on show. The first I chose was a low budget Turkish film. It’s a psychological and socio-political horror film called The Antenna (2019).

As we follow the lowly security guard, Mehmet (Ihsan Onal), and various families on the council estate, all manner of weird things start to occur when a new Satellite dish is installed. The slow pace, sharp camera angles, creepy imagery and haunting sound all combine to create an under-the-skin paranoia and fear.

Clearly the Turkish filmmaker, Orcun Behram, is a very talented director who has been learning from the best, notably David Cronenberg and David Lynch. His surreal, dystopian vision of an oppressed tower block in an unnamed state becomes an allegorical critique of Government and media control.

I was really gripped by the film, but once you get the powerful and horrific message the filmmaker is making, The Antenna (2019) feels too long. The sinister pace worked at the beginning but as the film progressed it felt draining. Indeed, while the incredible visuals and soundscape serve the message impressively, it arguably needed to be trimmed for pace to make the horror on show even more powerful.

Mark: 8 out of 11