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 filmGoodnight 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.
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. TheLighthouse (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, TheLighthouse (2019) is a hard film to endure, but an even harder one to forget.
I watched a load of films in October due to the London Film Festival mainly. I also wrote a lot of reviews too and realise that, with not enough hours in the day, or desire to read the ramblings of a narcissistic cineaste most people may not have had the time to read them all.
So, I have consolidated all my October reviews into one post and made it a quick and easy reference point for films currently out or coming out in the future. Here are quotes from the reviews with the usual marks out of eleven!
A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018)
“Director Feig is able to blend the comedy, noir and thriller very well. While I would have preferred the tone to be darker we may not have got Blake Lively’s stunning comedic turn as the bitchy femme fatale, and that is worth the admission fee alone.”
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
A STAR IS BORN (2018)
A Star Is Born (2018) is a great cinematic experience. The story is familiar but the performances, direction and the songs all combine to create a very emotional journey; making a fine example of classic Hollywood storytelling at its best.
(Mark: 9 out of 11)
BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
“Overall, Drew Goddard deserves praise for delivering a very sharp script. . . mainly style over substance, ultimately this is a satisfying B-movie-pulp-fiction-violent-extravaganza with twists that provide an entertaining blast in the noir night sky.”
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)
“… feels like Coens-lite, without the existential depth of No Country for Old Men (2007). However, the Coen’s films improve with each viewing as you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance occurring between the lines.”
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
“. . . is 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 respect and love.”
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
“Overall, this film made me feel really sad. This is a haunting character study of the outsider; a man who is literally like a dog. He is faithful, loyal and eager to please but ultimately let down by the human cruelty of those who exploit him.”
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE FAVOURITE (2018)
“Lanthimos’ direction of his three stellar leading actors is superb; with Olivia Colman delivering one of the most memorable performances of the year. Weisz and Stone are also quite brilliant in a devilishly quirky Machiavellian and lustful tale.”
(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
FIRST MAN (2018)
“. . . is methodical, slow-burn and restrained in performance and shows Chazelle’s expert range. It is a wonderfully striking film. The visuals and scientific renditions relating to space travel are incredible and contains a moving human story at the heart.”
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE NUN (2018)
“. . . has lots of shadows, darkness, blood, screams and a gruesome supernatural monster but, despite Farmiga’s committed performance, makes little narrative sense and suffers from poor characterisation.”
(Mark: 5 out of 11)
“Peterloo 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. . .”
(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
THE PREDATOR (2018)
“. . . is a mash-up of: science fiction, action, war, spy, and TV-movie-of-the-week tropes. It moves at such an alarming pace you get an explosive film which, while moving rapidly, does not make much logical sense.”
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
“What works is the connection between Brock and his extra-terrestrial host. . . it’s turned into something of a comedy double act; albeit with Venom biting the heads off baddies. Tom Hardy’s rat-a-tat spats with his parasite make it worth a watch!”
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**
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.
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.
As I’ve written before I’m an avid short film viewer and maker. To tell an impactful story in a lesser period of time to a feature film can be a very difficult but ultimately rewarding experience. Plus, as a member of the audience and filmmaker myself I love seeing the different ways other creatives tell their stories in this medium.
‘Thrill of the Chase’ was curated by the London Film Festival and featured five shorts from Europe and I must say they were of the highest quality. I mean some of the budgets on these must have been very good because they were shot, acted and edited to an exceptionally brilliant standard.The first short, 1745, was a period pursuit drama. Two slaves, wearing big, colourful, tartan, traditional and unwieldy dresses of the Jacobean era, have escaped from a nearby castle and are chased by a steely Scottish Laird, hell bent on recovering his “property”. It’s incredibly well shot as the colour of the costumes countered the misty, green and vast mountainous landscapes up close and from a spectacular god’s-eye view. Overall, it’s a commendable story of two women escaping patriarchal oppression and abuse, set amidst an exquisite looking but harsh Scottish Highlands.
Next up was Oksijan. Set in the harsh contemporary now it also involved a set of characters escaping an oppressive regime. This time is was a group of Asylum seekers, adults and children, encased in the potential moving tomb of an articulated lorry transporting them from a refugee camp. Their deadly journey from Calais to the United Kingdom was made perilous by the air running out. A thrilling and suspenseful short it both raised the pulse and important issues in regard to the plight of human beings fleeing war torn countries.
After Scottish and English film productions we next had Hot and Cold from Poland. This was a very harsh film, thirty-five minutes long, and all shot in one take. Technically, it was incredible as the camera follows a young junkie mother throughout her day and her encounter with woman looking to get revenge on her husband. It’s a towering study of motherhood, grief and addiction which creates a claustrophobic nightmarish drama with the colour-bled bleakness of Polish council estates. I wasn’t sure the one-take was actually necessary as the narrative could’ve been pruned but it was very powerful nonetheless.
The final two films came from France and Germany respectively. Both reminded me of mini-versions of excellent feature films. The French film Les Miserables (not the Victor Hugo version) concerned cops on a dangerous estate and their heavy-handed dealings with gang-members. It’s well filmed and acted, containing the bruising feel of the classic French movie La Haine (1995).
Similarly, the final short was another drama but this time of the romantic kind. Till One Cries concerned two drug-addled millennials sharing a crazy night within an urban German milieu. It reminded me somewhat, without the shot-all-in-one-take business, of the brilliant crime-romance Victoria (2015) and showed the hedonistic highs and lows of two free-wheeling characters.
Overall, the programme was full of gripping drama and thought-provoking subject matter. I’d say the ‘Thrill of the Chase’ title was slightly misleading in my mind, as the films tended toward, not your classic genre thrillers, but rather more social realism and cinema verité than movie artifice. Indeed, it may have benefited throwing in a shorter, punchier thriller with an element of comedy to break up the incredibly heavy themes of the films presented. Nevertheless, this was a set of Premier League short films, in terms of production, performance and storytelling quality.
SCREENWASH – 2016 BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL
The 60th BFI London Film Festival took place between the 5-16 October 2016 and it has very much become a cultural highlight of my year. If I could afford it I would love to take a holiday and go and see as many films as I could as the Festival offers a wonderful array of movies from all kinds of talent, genre, philosophical and geographical parts of the world.
Thanks, on the main, to my wonderful wife booking tickets, I was able to see a number of films this year. I have reviewed them individually on my blog, however, for ease of reference here’s a quick-fire review with marks out of eleven for each film I witnessed. Overall, they were all very good choices and should definitely be caught at the cinema when, and if, released. By the way, full spoiler-free reviews can be found on my blog.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
A MONSTER CALLS (2016)
This is an impressive monster movie for all the family. The performances of all involved are excellent, notably Lewis MacDougall as the angry and afraid Connor; a youth facing uncertainly over his unwell mother (Felicity Jones). Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona directs very confidently, with a dark palette of live action, effects and animation that give the audience an exciting canvas to gorge on. Moreover, Liam Neeson’s-voiced monster is, while initially threatening, a fantastically animated screen beast. The stories-within-a-story are deftly weaved and overall this is a film which, while scaring the very young, will provide fine entertainment for everyone. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016)
Nate Parker’s impressive drama is a compelling watch and while not as startlingly stylistic as the big-budget-spaghetti-slave-Western Django Unchained (2012), The Birth of a Nation is a heart-breaking narrative which posits the power of the scriptures and damns the beast of humanity which allowed free people to be stolen and made to serve others. Overall, the film works as a lower-budget epic in the vein of Braveheart (1995) and Spartacus (1960), while covering similar ground thematically as Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave (2013). Parker as writer-producer-director-star deserves incredible praise for independently producing such a moving film on such a relatively low budget. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
FREE FIRE (2016)
Free Fire is an all-out-ballsy-gritty-shoot-em-up which employs a wonderful 1970s setting to dress his actors up in flares, beards, sideburns, dagger-collars, long hair and Cuban heels, all while delivering a fast-paced-high-octane-gun-fest. The premise is very simple: an arms deal between a Rhodesian gun runner and the IRA descends into chaos as opposing sides split amidst a series of bullets and double-crosses. The cast are brilliant, but I personally loved Armie Hammer’s suave Jewish hit-man and Sharlto Copley’s obnoxious Afrikaner; plus Sam Riley is also a standout as the junkie prick whose behaviour ultimately screws the deal. Ben Wheatley is a talented filmmaker and here he moves away from the insane satire of High Rise (2015) to give us an altogether more satisfying genre bullet-fest. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
This is one of those films which moves at its’ own pace and in scenes of quiet drama, sporadic violence and subtle flashbacks, filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan builds a truly formidable narrative and character study. Casey Affleck portrays a lost soul with such exquisite pathos you could feel his characters’ pain jump out from the screen. His scenes with Michelle Williams genuinely made me want to cry because they were so sad. Yes, this is Affleck’s film as he haunts the screen with a truly award-winning performance. I wholeheartedly recommend this heart racking drama which stretches the emotions while also providing flickers of light amidst the pain of existence through humour and empathy for the tough working class characters. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
Julian Barratt is portrays a failing actor who reignites his most famous character to assist the police in a grisly crime. Overall, this is an uneven comedy in terms of the plot and lacks the cinematic verve of the ‘Cornetto trilogy’ created by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. However, Barratt is a comedy genius and his performance, some silly costumes, wigs and set-pieces make this worth watching. Barratt filters his cowardly, proud and foolish ‘Howard Moon’ persona into the flailing thespian with much hilarity. Moreover, Simon Farnaby hams up his Danish stuntman role to perfection and Russell Tovey is hilarious as “The Kestrel” (don’t ask!) The sight gags, parodies and one-liners come thick and fast and this is recommended for everyone who loves offbeat comedy. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
PHANTASM (REMASTERED) (1979)
This classic horror film gets the 4k restoration treatment from JJ Abram’s Bad Robot company and the film remains a right royal horror blast today. Phantasm is a synthesis of genres from rites-of-passage, suspense, horror and science fiction. Ultimately, it’s the epitome of a cult classic and a triumph of concepts over finance. It’s full of mood and atmosphere and has a creepy synth-based soundtrack that cranks up the fear factor. Overall, super-positive director Don Coscarelli created an imaginative fantasy concerned with death and mourning that has stood the test of time. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
This is a very animalistic and instinctive film dealing as it does with beasts both human, canine and equine. The lead actress Marillier is a prominent force throughout as her journey follows a carnal, chemical and gory path following a student initiation ‘ceremony’. Ducorneau, the director, gets a great performance from this young talent as her character transforms from angel to devil without the loss of audience empathy. This is both an entertaining contemporary horror film and a very intelligent one. It works on so many different levels with themes covered including: veganism, peer pressure, animal cruelty, sexuality, lesbianism, homosexuality, hedonism, nature versus nurture, cannibalism, family etc. It crosses genres effortlessly and has one of the most disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
And while I did not see loads of films they were ALL excellent. The best of the best for me though was MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016).
2016 – BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – FREE FIRE (2016) – REVIEW
TITLE: FREE FIRE (2016)
DIRECTOR: Ben Wheatley
SCREENPLAY: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
CAST: Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor, Babou Ceesay, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley etc.
STORY: An arms-deal-gone-wrong sets off a blistering gun fight in an abandoned Boston warehouse.
REVIEW (CONTAINS SPOILERS):
I admire the film director Ben Wheatley, and his writing/editing partner Amy Jump very much. They essentially are in the kind of industry position I would love to be in. They make independent low-medium budgeted films, seemingly on their own terms, get cracking actors involved and receive decent critical praise too. Moreover, they have become FILM 4/BFI/London Film Festival darlings receiving funding and heavy promotion for the films High Rise (2015) and most recently, the incendiary comedy-thriller Free Fire (2016). The latter closed this year’s festival to a packed and thoroughly entertained Odeon Leicester Square and I was very fortunate to see Wheatley and his stellar cast introduce the film.
While I admire Wheatley’s career progression I have loved and not-quite loved his work. His first film Down Terrace (2009) was delightfully eccentric gangster film, while his next Kill List (2011), was a terrifying tale of two hit men’s descent into hell. Kill List fell apart for me with the grim yet overly surreal and symbolic ending, however, his work on comedy-serial-killer film Sightseers (2012) Dr Who, and Ideal confirmed him as a very talented filmmaker. A Field In England (2013) could be praised as a brave filmic experiment which did not quite work as a story; while the stylized J.G. Ballard adaptation High Rise (2015) was an incredible film to look at, with Wheatley presenting some of his best work to date. However, the last 45 minutes was so chaotic it lost focus and while this was, arguably, in keeping with Ballard’s vision I would have preferred slightly more clarity.
I sensed from his brief introduction that Free Fire (2016) was Ben Wheatley’s attempt to return to something less socio-political, psycho-sexually and philosophically complex than High Rise (2015). He basically said, “I wanted to make a film with guns where people get hurt.” And he has certainly succeeded there, because Free Fire is an all-out-ballsy-gritty-shoot-em-up which employs a wonderful 1970s Boston setting (actually shot in Brighton) to dress his actors up in flares, beards, sideburns, dagger-collars, long hair and Cuban heels, all while delivering a sweaty-fast-paced-high-octane-bloody-gun-fest.
The premise is very simple: an arms deal between a Rhodesian gun runner and the IRA descends into chaos as opposing sides split amidst a series of bullets and double-crosses. Having established the characters into archetypes such as the professionals, soldiers, sidekicks, junkies and Brie Larson’s broker the narrative splinters spectacularly into magnificent mayhem. The cast are all brilliant, but I personally loved Armie Hammer’s suave Jewish hit-man and Sharlto Copley’s obnoxious Afrikaner; plus Sam Riley is also a standout as the junkie prick whose behaviour ultimately screws the deal.
The whole thing plays out like a live-action cartoon but Wheatley and Jump do invest some empathy and likeability into the characters too. The subtext of world politics was not lost on me as Irish, Afro-American, South African, and American nationalities all face-off and later there’s a brilliant use of an old John Denver country classic. The script is terrific, full of violent delights and sparkling one-liners throughout as the cast spit out insults and zingers with glee. Do you remember when you play gunfights with your mates in the playground? Well, this is the film equivalent of that – except with more blood and violence and death.