Category Archives: Film Festivals

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE FAVOURITE (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE FAVOURITE (2018)

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Produced by: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Yorgos Lanthimos

Written by: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara

Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn

Cinematography: Robbie Ryan

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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The London Film Festival organisers were very keen to impress we keep our phones off during the screening of The Favourite. Thus, I infer that the filmmakers are also keen that no spoilers are given away; something I will respect during this review. From the marketing blurb I have culled online, The Favourite:  “sees Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster (2015), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)) on rollicking, virtuoso form with Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz revelling in the wit of his 18th century royal court life.”

Unlike The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lanthimos is not working from an original screenplay he wrote with Efthymis Filippou; instead he’s taken an adaptation by Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis. Conversely, it is not as eccentric a premise as those previous films and structurally it is actually quite conventional. The story itself sets Rachel Weisz’ Duchess of Marlborough as advisor to Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne in the early 1700s; while Emma Stone’s fallen “Lady” enters the fray and attempts to gain the Queen’s favour while usurping Weisz’ character.

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Historical films relating to Machiavellian scheming, sexual misadventure and political intrigue are legion. Dangerous Liaisons (1988), A Royal Affair (2012) and the recent Love and Friendship (2016) are but a few examples; however, none of them are as absurd, surprising, funny, moving and as crazy as The Favourite. But, this is not a parody of period dramas. Instead, Lanthimos brings his own directorial vision to the story with his often ludicrous switches in tone, while skilfully maintaining a strong emotional balance and intrigue throughout. His use of the fish-eye lens creates a distorted effect making the characters seem trapped by their surroundings and circumstances. Furthermore, the lighting is quite wonderful too with natural and candle light dominating the proceedings.

Lanthimos’ direction of his three stellar leading actors is superb; with Olivia Colman delivering one of the most memorable performances of the year. Her Queen Anne is both pathetic and empathetic at the same time. Anne is to be pitied, laughed at and laughed with throughout. While I genuinely have little sympathy for royal figures, Anne is humanized with great power by the performance. Preying and manipulating her are Weisz’ and Stone’s characters. Weisz’ is, in particular, quite brilliant as we never quite know if her decisions regarding the war against Spain and the increased taxes are to benefit her or the Queen. Moreover, I know Stone won an Oscar for La La Land (2016), but she is even better in this film. Her eyes light up at each devilish choice her character makes; revelling in the skulduggery as ambition fuels her desires. I must add that Nicholas Hoult is quite brilliant too in a supporting role.

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Overall, The Favourite (2018) may not be appreciated by those who prefer their period dramas to be played straight, as it were. The language and behaviour of the characters is often foul and crude but while seeming anachronistic it is paradoxically authentic too. Lanthimos’ interpretation of the screenplay is rather complex. He seeks to humanize, satirize and ridicule life in the Royal Court but without us ever hating the characters. The narrative asks for understanding but also critiques their choices. You kind of wish Weisz and Stone would show some solidarity but ultimately they are narcissistic players craving power, much to the detriment of their sickly Queen — portrayed by the astounding Olivia Colman.

Mark 9.5 out of 11

 

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

Directed by: Mike Leigh

Produced by: Georgina Lowe

Written by: Mike Leigh

Starring: David Bamber, Alastair Mackenzie,  James Dangerfield, Eileen Davies, Liam Gerrard, Bronwyn James, Philip Jackson, Rory Kinnear, Nico Mirallegro, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, Tim McInnerny plus many more.

Music by: Gary Yershon

Cinematography: Dick Pope

Production company: Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Thin Man Films

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

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Peterloo (2018) is a film of voices, of speech, of reform and of freedom. It is Mike Leigh’s thirteenth feature film production and clearly a labour of love for him, his production team and the army of actors who put their hearts and souls into this powerful work of cinema. Four years in the making, this historical document, as well as paying tribute to those who campaigned for the vote in the 1800s, is also a passionate love letter to Northern England and the proud working classes of the era.

The film begins in 1815 at the battle of Waterloo and then brings us into the factories and streets of Manchester and surrounding Northern areas. As with many Mike Leigh films you can feel the palpable authenticity in the settings, accents and places the characters live. Leigh also cuts to local magistrates who hold up the draconian laws designed to keep the poor in their place; handing out savage justice such as the death penalty to one man for stealing a coat. We also visit London and experience those ruling classes who inhabit the Houses of Parliament and Royal palaces, lording over the oppressed workers.

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The character strokes are broad at first before Leigh further develops their personalities. The dialogue is delivered formally initially as the characters educate the audience regarding various laws affecting them. This seems jarring but also serves the documentary and historical nature of the piece. As the narrative strands build steadily to the fateful march the editing throughout cross-cuts between the ruling, working and legal classes representing their differing perspectives. The march was intended to be a peaceful demonstration; a plea for Parliamentary reform and the desire to be heard. Surely, that’s the right of everyone in a civilised society?  Well, not in 1819.

With the film driven by a whole host of wonderfully written speeches, it could be argued, Peterloo, lacks the warmth and humour of Leigh’s other more personal films. However, there are some formidable performances amidst the huge cast. Maxine Peake is earthy and convincing in her representation of a mother struggling to make ends meet. Rory Kinnear brings an intelligence and pride to the confident character of Henry Hunt; a wealthy landowner committed to reform and repeal of the onerous ‘Corn Laws’. As is the case with Leigh’s other films the acting is uniformly impressive because you know months of planning and rehearsal would have been committed to the production.

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The film is also shot beautifully by cinematographer Dick Pope. There is a strong leaning toward a naturalistic lighting palette. Interiors are often bathed in sunlight shining through windows onto the shadowed faces of the characters. His camera is placed ideally to capture the rural and industrial locations of the era. There’s also some wonderful framing within arches and factories. Lastly, Leigh’s meticulous approach to authenticity reveals the machinery from the time, such as the looms and printing presses. Similarly, you can almost feel the reality of the epoch through the excellent costume design.

The final act brings us to the fateful day itself. Mike Leigh handles the massive crowd scenes expertly and shows the injustice and barbarism brought about by the cavalry and law enforcements attacking up to 80,000 people who are protesting for change. Having spent a few hours establishing the characters and their relevant causes the emotional impact of the attacks by the ruling classes is palpable. This is ultimately very powerful cinema which resonated with me because it reminded of the historical events down the ages where people have been murdered or injured while trying to make their voices heard.

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Peterloo may not be for everyone as it is a long epic with a plethora of dialogue heavy scenes. Yet, I was enthralled as the language and passion of such discourse is very eloquent and heartfelt. The sheer scale of the filmmaking itself is also impressive even if the narrative lacks a specific personal focus throughout. Mike Leigh’s approach is very clear as it represents the working class as victims to an oppressive regime which has no regard for human suffering. Indeed, it should be every person’s basic right to have a voice and given past and current social and political events Peterloo contains a message that remains very valid today.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

PETERLOO (2018) will be released in the UK on 2nd November 2018

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – BORDER (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – BORDER (2018)

Directed by: Ali Abbasi

Produced by: Nina Bisgaard, Peter Gustafsson, Petra Jonsson

Screenplay by: Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, John Ajvide Lindqvist

Based on: Border by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Starring: Eva Melander, Jorgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren

Music by: Christoffer Berg, Martin Derkov

Cinematography: Nadim Carlsen

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. Indeed, one of Border’s many strengths is the constant way co-writer and director Ali Abbasi invokes the strangeness of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s original short story to constantly shock and move us. Because while linear in structure and reliant on structural beats from the rites of passage, romance, fantasy and crime genres, Border, is one of the most original and interesting films you could see all year.

We open with the lead protagonist, Tina, working for the Swedish Border Agency. She is a seemingly sad and isolated individual with, what she believes is, a chromosome deficiency in her genetics. Her features leave her open to cruel ridicule from members of the public. However, she is excellent at her job. In fact, her hook is the ability to literally smell fear or guilt on the people coming through customs. Subsequently, Tina’s superiors start to use her to investigate more serious crimes.

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As this is occurring Tina meets Vore, a man with a similar “condition” to her and this is when her life really begins to spiral into very dark and exciting places. Similar to another film I saw called Beast (2017) the film is, at its heart, about sexual awakening and breaking free of the constrictions of society and family. Eva Melander, beneath the very convincing prosthetics, gives an outstanding performance of a woman finding out an incredible truth about herself and her past.

As a character study this film is very powerful. Tina’s world is turned upside down and she is faced with some horrific choices at the end. Arguably, the crime element of the story doesn’t quite meld with her rites of passage journey. Moreover, some of the fantasy elements from Scandinavian folklore required further research after the fade out. Yet, this remains very brave filmmaking with fascinating themes relating to: ritual and child abuse; nature versus nurture; good versus evil; and how those humanity believes to be outsiders should not be treated as monsters but instead with respect and love.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – DOGMAN (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – DOGMAN (2018)

Directed by: Matteo Garrone

Produced by: Matteo Garrone, Jeremy Thomas, Jean Labadie, Paolo Del Brocco

Written by: Ugo Chiti, Maurizio Raucci, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso

Starring: Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Alida Baldari Calabria

Music by: Michele Braga

Cinematography: Nicolaj Brüel

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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If you were the Italian Tourist Board you would certainly NOT direct potential visitors to view Matteo Garrone’s films about contemporary Italian life. His brutal depiction of Neapolitan gangsters in Gomorrah (2008) was violent and unforgiving. Similarly, his grim snap-shot of Roman contemporary life, in Dogman (2018), is again a hopeless, violent and nihilistic experience.  While there are glimmers of kindness and some possibility of escape, Dogman offers its characters little more than gut-wrenching pain and emptiness. It’s genuinely high quality filmmaking but up there with, Lean of Pete (2018), as one of the most depressing films I have seen all year.

Dogman starts in positive enough fashion with Marcello Forte as an Italian everyman making a living as a dog sitter, walker and groomer. His interaction with the animals he looks after is both humorous and touching. In order to make ends meet though and provide for the young daughter he worships, Marcello deals small quantities of cocaine. This inevitably opens the door for possible trouble. Forte is incredibly well cast. He has a kind but haunting face. It is dominated by big eyes, a crooked smile and wonky teeth. He loves his job, his animals, his friends and family. Like a dog in character, he tries so hard to be loyal and liked but every one of his decisions seems to lead to tragedy. His loyalty to the local thug, Simoncino is illogical and the main cause of Marcello’s downfall.

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Now, I enjoy a decent villain. Often the villain in a movie can be thrilling to watch and sometimes the best aspect of a movie. But Edoardo Pesce’s nemesis Simoncino is the epitome of evil; he is TOO real. He is a drug-addled-ex-boxer-bruiser who has absolutely no sense of loyalty or honour. He terrorises the local businesses and bullies Marcello mercilessly. Marcello tries his hardest to keep his head above water but the likes of Simoncino and his continued poor choices combine to drown his soul. The scariest thing is that Simoncino feels real in his animalistic tendenicies. He is genuinely frightening like some rabid beast, unleashed and out of control.

Overall, this film made me feel really sad. Marcello looks like a clown without the make-up and his pained expression plagues the film especially in the latter stages of the drama. You just want Marcello to get some luck but life just won’t cut him a break. This is a haunting character study of the outsider; a man who is literally like a dog himself. He is faithful, loyal and eager to please but ultimately let down by the human cruelty of those who bully and exploit him.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Produced by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Megan Ellison, Sue Naegle, Robert Graf

Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Starring: Tyne Daly, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Heck, Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits and many more.

Music by: Carter Burwell

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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Soon to be appearing on the streaming behemoth Netflix, the Coen Brothers latest film is a difficult one to recommend to those not familiar with their quirky vision of humanity and existence. Set within the Western genre the film presents six stories seemingly unconnected but those which resonate resoundingly on the theme of death. The stories are called:  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Near Algodones; Meal Ticket; All Gold Canyon; The Gal Who Got Rattled; and The Mortal Remains respectively.

The closest film this anthology resembles from recent times is the riotous black comedy Wild Tales (2014). Moreover, if you ever saw the Coens’ eccentric mid-life crisis comedy A Serious Man (2009), you may recall the prologue which depicted a short stand-alone piece about a ghostly dybbuk visiting a woman at night. Indeed, that story was seemingly unconnected to the film which followed, however, the Coens’ are such skilled storytellers you sense there is a link be it symbolically or thematically.

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Overall, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a genuine mixed bag, in a good way. Their mischievous alchemy combines genres – within the Western setting – such as: musical, comedy, horror, crime, thriller and even romance. Moreover, the filmmakers have reached into their decades of film experience and cinematic bag of tricks to deliver an entertaining and memorable collection of: characters, songs, bloody deaths, jokes, landscapes, snappy dialogue, dark humour and spitfire action.

The cast are uniformly brilliant and as well as some familiar faces there are some newer actors added to the Coens’ stable of performers. Bill Heck, especially, in the story The Gal Who Got Rattled, impressed in his role as a likable cowboy. Overall, and in a similar vein to Hail Caesar (2016), this feels like Coens-lite, without the existential depth of say No Country for Old Men (2007) or humanity of Fargo (1996). However, the Coen’s films often improve with each viewing as their work is so full of stylish depth. Quite often, you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance which is occurring between the lines.

Mark 8.5 out of 11

LONDON SHORT FILM – 90 SECOND SCI-FI CHALLENGE SCREENING!

LONDON SHORT FILM – 90 SECOND SCI-FI CHALLENGE SCREENING!

I’m writing this as a thank you to the London Short Film meet-up group who kindly screened, along with 15 other brilliant films earlier this week, my short film DON’T TRUST ME (2018).

DON’T TRUST ME (2018) is a 90 second short sci-fi thriller made for the LONDON SHORT FILM – Meet-Up Group competition.

Written, directed and edited by Paul Laight it starred the brilliant MELANIE GAYLE. She stars as a temporal scientist faced by her worst fears when an experiment goes wrong.

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It was shot one fun Saturday in a few hours, for a budget of around £20 and a bag of crisps!! Please check out the film here:

The competition winner was brilliant too and called THE PERFECT CURE (2018) – that can also be seen here:

Do check out www.londonshortfilm.com for film screenings and competitions and loads of fun stuff.

Also check out my website too: www.fixfilms.co.uk