Monday, 29 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)

This is it - the end of the festival experience. It’s been a wild ride - comedy, sci fi, animation, Westerns, subtitles, musicals, French boundary pushing and Nicolas Cage - but all good things must come to an end; that ending being a film that I’ve been wanting to see in some form for nearly twenty years. It was first attempted back in 2000 and fell apart due to a series of almost farcical misfortunes (as documented in the film Lost In La Mancha) and, after some legal wranglings, is now complete and ready to view. In a way it feels odd to say it but I’ve finally seen...

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Dir. Terry Gilliam / Dur. 132 mins

In A Nutshell:- 30 years in the making, Terry Gilliam’s suitably Gilliam-esque take on the Don Quixote story finally hits the big screen.

The Good:- This is a tricky one to review objectively - I;ve been following this film’s progress for nearly half my life so there’s an unusual weight of expectation upon it (which is even acknowledged in an opening on-screen graphic) and also, having watched the documentary and read about it, I was expecting the story to take a certain direction which it then didn’t (the script having been almost continually rewritten over the years, according to the Q&A afterwards). It’s very much thematically on a par with previous Gilliam works such as The Fisher King and Baron Munchausen which also deal with a central (potentially) delusional figure and the blurring of the lines between what is real and what isn’t. It dials down some of the more fantastical elements you would expect from a Gilliam film but that works for the story they’re trying to tell and adds to the questioning of what is and isn’t fantasy when they are used. Cast-wise, Adam Driver is well cast as the objectionable ad exec at the heart of it but the film belongs to Jonathan Pryce who is delightful to watch as Quixote.

The Bad:- There are a couple of moments of breaking the fourth that feel a little jarring but ultimately this is a film about making films so I guess it fits. The female characters feel a little underserved, particularly Olga Kurylenko’s sex-obsessed character.

The Verdict:- In some respects, my knowledge about previous attempts to make this both hampered and enhanced the experience. I definitely need to watch it again without that expectation on it so that I can take it in for the film that it actually is. Overall, though, it was a satisfying watch for me as a fan of his work and felt like a fitting summary of themes that he has playing with throughout his career.

Festival Tidbit:- I got to see Terry Gilliam in person and watch the UK premiere of a film he made in the same cinema as him! As a lifelong Monty Python fan and fan of Terry Gilliam as a filmmaker, this was really rather exciting for me.

Next Time:- That’s your lot for festival updates, all done. And I think that's a good place to leave off on the month of film reviews. It's a long theme to sustain and is probably making things a little one note around here. Three weeks is still a good run for a theme! So what will the next blog bring? Let's all find out together, shall we? (Yup, I don't know either...)

Friday, 26 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - All The Gods In The Sky (2018)

Sticking with the experimental theme today for this French language film (but in a different way to yesterday eye-blistering Cage-iness)

All The Gods In The Sky
Dir. Quarxx / Dur. 98 min

In A Nutshell:- Simon cares for his sister Estelle, left disabled following a childhood game gone wrong, but is there hope of otherworldly salvation from their situation?

The Good:- It’s a challenging film, particularly in the depiction of the relationship between Simon and his sister Estelle. Another first time director although this one is an expansion of a short film he previously made with the same key cast members. Like Duplicate (but in a tonally very different way), it’s a compelling and assured debut film with some intriguing imagery and moments or surreal humor balancing out the darker scenes within (some of which wouldn't be out of place within the confines of a horror film). The main duo of Jean-Luc Couchard and MĂ©lanie Gaydos are both extremely compelling as Simon and Estelle; Gaydos in particular in what is a physically and mentally tough role to play.

The Bad:- The plotline with the small girl who befriends Estelle felt a little to me like it didn’t really achieve a full resolution and meandered to a halt as the final act kicked in.

The Verdict:- This was another wildcard film for me - I didn't know much about it and took a punt. I’m certainly glad that I did as it was a film with a strong directorial voice and a compelling if difficult watch in places.

Festival Tidbit:- Jean-Luc Couchard is a famous comedian/comedic actor in his native Belgium and is very much playing against type here, something that the director Quarxx (yes, just the one name like Cher) lamented is unfortunately lost on non-Gallic audiences.

Next Time:- We’ve reached the final film in the festival experience and it feels like it’s a fitting one to cap off the festival experience.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Mandy (2018)

Oh, we are down the rabbit hole now, people. I’ve blogged before about my enjoyment of the mentalness that is the modern day oeuvre perpetrated by the force of acting nature that is Nicolas Cage but I think we have finally achieved a level of Peak cage which it will be extremely hard to top. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...

Dir. Panos Cosmatos / Dur. 121 mins

In A Nutshell:- A nutshell really won’t do justice to this - the Wikipedia tag of “action horror” or my description of it as “Cage embarks upon an ultra-violent quest for revenge on the religious fanatics who have wronged him” in no way gives you the full flavour of this film.

The Good:- While stylistically very different (being visually neon-lit and 70s-drug-fuelled in its aesthetic), it some small way there is a similarity to the work of David Lynch in that the characters all operate within a world that makes sense to them. It manages to somehow be an insane mash-up of influences such as Mad Max, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and French comic / animated film Heavy Metal while still very much feeling like it is its own beast. There’s a sort of languid dreaminess to the first half of the film which is then completely overturned by the high-octane ultra-violence of the second half. When he does flip out, Cage is on fine form, even managing to wring out some sense of genuine emotion in amongst the over-the-top anger and action film star ability to endure superhuman punishment. The visual style is incredible too - it’s definitely a feast of the eyes in terms of lighting and composition and very much deserves to be seen on a big screen.

The Bad:- Well, it’s not going to be a film for everyone. It very much screams “cult” right from the opening frames with the 70s/80s Universal logo so it sets its stall out pretty clearly. 

The Verdict:- If you’re a lover of cult/pulpy films and Nicolas Cage going full Cage then this is definitely the film for you. It looks absolutely amazing and there's nothing quite like this out there. If the audience are anything to go by, this will definitely be playing in the cult cinema circuit for years to come..

Festival Confession:- I couldn’t get into the official festival screening but such was the demand that the Prince Charles Cinema have added about twelve extra screenings so I went to one of those. I’m still counting it as a festival as I saw at one of the official cinemas during the festival so it counts, I tell you!

Next Time:- We’re still in the realm of the experimental with a provocative French film.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Sorry To Bother You (2018)

Another first time director today with another confident debut. Let’s not bother with too much ado-ing here and get straight into it.

Sorry To Bother You
Dir. Boots Riley / Dur. 111 mins

In A Nutshell:- A young black man discovers his inner white voice to enable to scale the heights of the corporate telemarketing world.

The Good:- It’s certainly an unique film. It deals very heavily with the concepts of race relations, workers rights and how much we’re willing sacrifice and compromise our principles in the pursuit of the capitalist dream (highlighted nicely by the concept of WorryFree, a company which clothes and feeds you in return for signing yourself over to them in a form of modern day slavery) but does so with a strong sense of humour and outright absurdism that stops it from veering too far into the realm of the preachy; the scene in which two characters threaten each other in largely complimentary ways was a particular favourite. Lakeith Stanfield is a compelling presence as Cassius Green, ably assisted by David Cross in providing his “white voice”. The direction by Boots Riley has a nice sense of style to it, especially in the way in which Cassius is dropped (literally) with desk and all into the home environment of the people he cold calls. The films veers into unexpected territory later on but best you discover more about that yourself...

The Bad:- It’s a little bit uneven in places (the aforementioned veering feeling like quite a switchover into almost a different film) and there’s a lot going on but, overall, it manages to pull it all off.

The Verdict:- Boots Riley is definitely a talent to watch out for - there’s an energy and humour to the film, along with a nicely defined visual style, that carries it through any of the rougher edges. I’d be keen to see what he comes up with next.

Next Time:- We’re descending far further into the depths of the absolutely insane with a full-on smack in the face full of Nicolas Cage...

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Duplicate (2018)

Surprisingly, given my tendency towards that which both science-y and fiction-y, this is the first sci-fi related film for the fest. Although, in reality, the sci-fi trappings are really just a hook for a character-based piece..
(This is definitely one of those films that it’s best going into without really knowing anything about it. I’ll try to avoid being spoiler-y but apologies if I don’t quite manage it.)

Dir. Bill Oliver / Dur. 95 mins

In A Nutshell:- Jonathan, a man apparently slaved to his routine, begins his day by reviewing a video message from the identical looking but far more relaxed looking John, relating the events of his day. Johnathan ends his day by leaving a similar message...

The Good:- It’s a tightly directed low budget affair held together by the central dual performance from Ansel Elgort. I must admit, I’d seen him in Baby Driver and didn't really think that much of him in that (which was in part due to the way the role was written) but here he definitely showed his acting chops, credibly creating two separate characters. Also, the decision to tell the story from only one of the characters’ point of view creates a real sense of tension and genuine disquiet as to what the other character is getting up to. The device of utilising video messages as the only way for the two main characters to communicate also works very well. For a debut feature film, there’s a real sense of confidence and assuredness about it on Bill Oliver’s part.

The Bad:- The actual explanation for the main characters’ situation is very much there as a hook to hang the story from and feels a little bit like it’s best not to think about it too much. There’s also a late reveal about their situation that feels like it’s there to introduce the possibility of a life-threatening device purely to drive the tension of the final act. These are, however, minor niggles that in no way spoiled my enjoyment.

The Verdict:- An enjoyable character piece with strong performance(s) from Ansel Elgort. I’d definitely be interested to see what Bill Oliver comes up for his next project.

Festival Tidbit:- Not too much I can share on this one really as the director Q&A delved into the specifics of the film and I don’t want to give too much away.

Next Time:- Let’s keep things high concept with a satire on race in a corporate environment and the nature of capitalism which is surprisingly nowhere near as heavy as it sounds...

Monday, 22 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Mirai No Mirai (2018)

I’ve run through a few different genres so far (it’s always goods to mix these things up) some time to shift gears again and switch over to animation today.

Mirai no Mirai (2018)
Dir. Mamoru Hosoda / Dur. 100 mins

In A Nutshell:- The arrival of a new baby sister, Mirai, turns four year old Kun’s world upside down.

The Good:- It’s a very sweet natured character piece about a four year old boy who steps into various fantasy situations as a way of coping with the arrival of a new sibling and the shift of focus that brings about in his parents. There are some nicely observed moments of humour and the moments between the family have a nicely genuine feel to them, particularly in the discussions between the parents about their ability or lack thereof to be good parents. The fantasy sequences in which Kun imagines conversations with a humanised family dog and an older version of his baby sister (the titular Mirai Of The Future) are enjoyable as is the sequence where he imagines himself trashing the house with a younger version of his mother.

The Bad:- I think the unfortunate side is that Studio Ghibli have been such a powerhouse in this area that it suffers by comparison to one of their works. It may seem a little unfair but it’s hard not to compare it to one of their more whimsical efforts.

The Verdict:- It’s an enjoyable enough animated yarn but ultimately feels a little slight - I’m already struggling to retain a lot of the details of it. I did enjoy it but, compared to some of the other films I’ve seen, it’s not strong enough to stand up there with the best of them.

Festival Tidbit:- The film’s director wasn’t able to be there in person so sent a recorded intro. Unfortunately, he speaks no English and the video was (mistakenly, I’m assuming) not subtitled so i have no idea what he was saying. Still, it was nice he made the effort to record something even if I don’t know what that was...

Next Time:- The first forsay for me this festival into the realm of something science fiction related

Friday, 19 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Been So Long (2018)

“Blimey, are you still going with this whole film festival thing?” I pretend to hear you ask as a dramatic tool to give me potential material for an opening paragraph. 

“Yes,” comes my equally imaginary reply, “I love films so I’ve booked in to see a shitload of them.* Buckle up as we’re only at about the halfway point. Yes, you’re right to make your mouth do that “oh” thing in surprise.”

Been So Long (2018)
Dir. Tinge Krishnan / Dur. 100 mins

In A Nutshell:- A bright, neon-lit, Camden-based romantic musical comedy about a single mum falling for a fresh-out-of-prison ex-con.

The Good:- Look, we all know that I’m a sucker for a good musical. It’s like an album you can watch. Given that British musicals are pretty thin on the ground, I thought I’d give this one a go. The real standout in this is Michaela Coel. I’ve not seen her Channel 4 series Chewing Gum but may have to now as she was a revelation. Funny, smart, strong, terrifying and vulnerable is a difficult mix to pull off but she manages it with aplomb. It’s very much her film and she drives it along. That isn’t to say that the rest of the cast aren’t enjoyable too (especially Ronke Adekoluejo) but she is definitely the stand out. The chemistry between her and ArinzĂ© Kene feels believable too (possibly assisted by the fact that they've been real life friends for about 10 years). Also, it’s good to see London portrayed on film as somewhere bright and vibrant for once rather than dour and dingy (British films) or full of Beefeaters and red buses (any American film). There are also a good few laugh out loud moments in there (including a surprise participant in a musical number).

The Bad:- I have to say that the songs were fine but not really that memorable. I didn't find myself humming any of them afterwards and haven’t felt an urge to listen to the soundtrack so a bit of a drawback for a musical. Also, George MacKay’s performance is amusing at times but does veer into stagey pantomime quite a bit which sort of works for the character but feels a bit tonally jarring. In fact, a few of the supporting characters and their subplots feel a bit thinly sketched without a real satisfying pay off.

The Verdict:- Despite the lack of instantly hummable tunes (I think that The Greatest Showman may have spoiled me for new musicals for the time being), I still enjoyed this. Michaela Coel is immensely watchable and the film kept me engaged through to the end. A feel good film that's worth a watch (yet another one that will landing on Netflix soon…)

Festival Tidbit:- The songs were written by Arthur Darvill who played Rory in Doctor Who (I genuinely did not realise this before I booked it).

Next Time:- Let’s get animated, shall we?

* I think you’ll find that “shitload” is indeed the collective noun for a lot of films.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (2018)

It’s a biggie today - this is one of the ones that I was determined to get a ticket for. Today’s entry is...

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen / Dur. 132 mins

In A Nutshell:- The Coen Brothers are back with a Western-themed anthology films covering six thematically linked but tonally different tales of the Wild West.

The Good:- Originally conceived as a six part series for Netflix and now retooled into a single theatrical theatre, Buster Scruggs gives you the best of all worlds from the Coens, running the gamut from fantasy-tinged screwball comedy musical (the eponymous “The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs” which has a tinge of Hudsucker Proxy about it) through to the grittier drama with the limited character dialogue (although it does contain many monologues) of “Meal Ticket”. Cast-wise, being an anthology has given the opportunity to throw a lot of names in there - Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tyne Daly and an almost unrecognisable Tom Waits to name a few - all of him are well-suited to their particular tale. Thematically, the spectre of death looms heavy over all the tales and is addressed in different ways. 

The Bad:- There’s a slightly problematic depiction of Native Americans, I would say. The film is very much a homage to Westerns of the past as much as it is just the Coen Brothers doing their own thing but this felt pretty out of place as a depiction in modern times.

The Verdict:- Going down the anthology route definitely paid off - none of the stories were strong enough to have carried a feature on their own but all fit nicely into an anthology structure and, while thematically speaking the spectre of death may loom large over each of them,  the differences in tone and style (form comedy through to gothic horror by the end) are stop it from feeling too dour or oppressive overall. Conversely, the format probably prevents it from being one of their all time greats but it’s still top notch Coen entertainment. 

Festival Tidbit:- Tim Blake Nelson spent around five months learning to twirl a gun and play a guitar while riding a horse for his role. Plus the Coen Brothers were there! Very excited about getting to see them in person and hear them talk about the film.

Next Time:- A London-based for the London Film Festival. Seems fitting, really.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Border (Grans) (2018)

It’s film, it’s a festival, it’s in London - it’s the London Film Festival. (Look, when you’ve got a themed month, your intros are going to cover pretty much the same ground. They really aren’t a lot of different ways that you can summarise “I sat in the dark and watched filmy goodness on the big screen”.) Today, we’re venturing into the territory of Swedish noir fantasy with a choice that was a bit of a punt - after all, isn’t the whole point of going to a festival to try out something new?

Border (Grans)
Dir. Ali Abbasi / Dur. 108 mins

In A Nutshell:- Tina, an unusual looking woman, works as a customs officer where her hyper sense of smell allows her to sniff out crime. One day, she meets a similar looking individual coming through customs and her life changes...

The Good:- It’s an intriguing concept - the key element is the mystery behind who or what Tina is and why the stranger, Vore, who comes into her life seems to be so similar to her. The cast are good too - Eva Melander as Tina and Eero Milonoff as Vore build a convincing chemistry. Melander’s performance in particular is compelling to watch. There are also some nice moments of odd humour.

The Bad:- It’s a film that contains a series of reveals and, unfortunately, barring a humourous surprise earlier on in the film, I didn't feel that many of them were that surprising (difficult to say too much here without spoiling it). There were a few shocked gasps in the audience from time to time which surprised me as I’d think a festival audience would contain a lot of people who’d seen a lot of films.
(Side note:- The experience was also slightly marred for me by being sat next to two women in their sixties who I think had picked the wrong film to watch as one of them kept asking her friend to clarify what was going on, while offering explanations that very much missed the point of what was going on. Much as I love seeing films on the big screen, the downside is other people.)

The Verdict:- Overall, this was the first miss of the festival for me but only by comparison to the other films. There’s a lot in there to recommend for lovers of odd foreign fantasy but something didn’t quite gel together overall for me. I’m still glad I went to see it but I have to say that it is the one I’ve enjoyed the least so far.

Next Time:- Time to break out one of the heavy hitters of the whole festival but who’s it going to be? There’s only one way to find out…

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

WatchSeeLookView Month At The LFF - Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)

The London Film Festival continues ever onwards...

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)
Dir. Ben Wheatley / Dur. 95 min

In A Nutshell:- A family  gathering for New Year’s doesn’t go to plan with the arrival of the estranged brother.

The Good:- It’s a relatively low-budget affair and a character-based piece with a strong cast including amongst others Ben Wheatley regular Neil Maskell, Doon Mackichan, Bill Paterson and Charles Dance (playing brilliantly against type as cross-dressing Uncle Bertie). As expected, the arrival of an estranged family member does not lead to events going to plan but the celebration has already begun to veer off the rails even before his arrival. It’s certainly not a cheery piece but there are strong moments of humour amongst the misery. Neil Maskell is probably the stand out as the titular Colin but it’s definitely an ensemble piece and they all, for the most part, get their moments. The camerawork and editing style add to the escalating tension, building to number of intercut sequences at the end as events spiral towards the climactic confrontation. One of the things that Wheatley always manages to achieve stylistically is to build a sense of menace and tension and this is no exception.

The Bad:- With the exception of Asim Chaudry, the family friends feel a little bit underserved by the film. Additionally, I don’t know if this was just me not paying attention but there suddenly seemed to be some extra guests at the party in some of the closing scenes and I was slightly distracted by the fact that I didn’t know who these people were and where they’d come from.

The Verdict:- I’ve enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s previous films even if sometimes they haven’t fully worked for me; there’s always been something in there that has kept my interest and made me come back for more. I think that, for me, this is his most satisfying film overall (even if I did leave feeling like certain characters had been treated unjustly!)

Festival Tidbit:- According to Ben Wheatley in the Q&A afterwards, the original title was Colin, You Anus but was changed when it was pointed out that no one would go the box office ands ask for tickets for “the Anus film”. Also, he's currently working on a follow up series featuring the same cast - will keep an eye out for that.

Next Time:- A Swedish fantasy film about an unusual looking woman who meets someone with a similar look...