Thursday, 21 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Judy And Punch

OK, slight cheat here - more on that later...

Judy And Punch
Dir. Mirrah Foulkes / Dur. 105 mins / Country. Australia
Festival Strand:- Dare Gala
In A Nutshell:- The traditional story of Punch and Judy is reinvented as a darkly comic revenge fantasy in which Judy strikes back in order to give Mr Punch his comeuppance...

The Good:- It’s very timely - taking an old British tradition and shining the glare of MeToo upon it feels very now. Damon Herriman makes for a suitably villainous Punch, by turns arrogant, cowardly, drunken and angry. Dodgy Irish-style accent aside, Mia Wasikowska is convincing enough as the victim turned warrior Judy.

The Bad:- I really struggled to fill up anything in the “Good” section. I just didn't like this film. I expected to (obviously, otherwise I wouldn't have bought a ticket, I guess) as it looked it ticked the kind of genre-blending and stylised filmmaking that I normally enjoy. There was something about the uneven tone of this film that just didn't click for me, however, and sadly I found myself waiting for it to end. Do I think it’s a bad film? No, but it was definitely a film that just didn't click for me. A lot of elements on paper look like something I’d enjoy but combined they just didn't work for some reason (and the blending of different UK accents in one town - Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, etc., while was clearly a conscious style choice, was something that I just found jarring)

The Verdict:- A rare disappointment from the festival - I absolutely see what the filmmaker was doing with this one but it just wildly missed the mark for me.

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- Director Mirrah Foulkes and star Mia Wasikowska were on hand for the intro and Q&A. Foulkes talked about casting someone that she felt could be villainous and sympathetic at the same time for Punch (to be honest, I didn't get that from the film; I just found Punch to be utterly unpleasant). She also had some nervousness about how the UK would react to her taking a traditional and very British piece of popular culture and putting her own spin on it.

The Cheat:- OK, in all honesty, this was the last film I saw at the festival and, after about six weeks of posting these, I didn't want to bow out on a downer. So I've cheated slightly and swapped this and the last one so that I can end on a higher note...

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Rocks

Just three more to go and that’s the entire festival covered...

Dir. Sarah Gavron / Dur. 90 mins / Country. UK
Festival Strand:- Special Presentation
In A Nutshell:- A young girl tries to cope with looking after herself and her young brother after their mother leaves them.

The Good:- Given the heavy subject matter, it’s a film that does its best to highlight the joy and fun in the lives of the protagonists. That’s not to say that it shies away from the heavier aspects, just that it isn;t defined by the more serious moments. The young cast are uniformly strong - all the more impressive given that they are largely first time actors. I’m not the biggest fan of child actors but I have to say that D’Angelou Osei Kissiedu playing little brother Emmanuel definitely managed to steal every scene he was in. Bukky Bakray as the titular Rocks definitely marks and-coming talent to watch out for, holding the film together, but Kosar Ali as best friend Sumaya has definite screen presence too. While it’s not afraid to fully embrace the sadness of the situation that Rocks and Emmanuel find themselves in, it manages to do so with a vibrant energy that is lacking from a lot of social-realist cinema. In some ways, it reminded me a little of Eighth Grade which felt like it was a film about teenagers but from a teenager’s perspective.

The Bad:- I thoroughly enjoyed this one and can't think of anything about it that was particularly lacking or needed improvement.

The Verdict:- A vibrant but occasionally heartbreaking slice of teenage life that manages to feel like it appropriately represents the age group it’s looking at without being patronising. 

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- At the Embankment Garden Cinema again as all of them were for the last day. An intro and Q&A from the director and screenwriters plus the key members of the cast. The development process was highly collaborative with the cast working for a long time with the screenwriters to craft an authentic feel to the dialogue as well as utilising a lot of improvisation throughout the shoot as well. Around 150 hours of footage were shot for them to edit down into the final film. For the actors, the food fight scene in the school was among their highlights from the filming process - less so for the wardrobe and make-up departments who had to reset afterwards…

Monday, 18 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Ema

We’re in to the homestretch now - it’s the last day and one last blitz; I managed to pack in four screenings on the last day to finish.

Dir. Pablo Larraín / Dur. 102 mins / Country. Chile
Festival Strand:- Festival Gala
In A Nutshell:- A dancer and her choreographer husband struggle with the fallout of their failed adoption attempt.

The Good:- It’s a fascinating film dealing with a complex web of relationships spun by main character Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) as she attempts to find a way to deal with and come back into contact with the adopted son that was taken away from her. She’s a screwed up character and this film would also fit into the bracket of unconventional romances given the tangled set of relationships she navigates and manipulates. The film very much belongs to Mariana Di Girolamo who owns the screen throughout - she is never less than fascinating to watch. The film is elevated as well by the brightness and liveliness of the dance sequences weaved throughout, adding a vibrant and colourful feel to the film.

The Bad:- I was unconvinced by some of the characters reaction to revelations towards the end of the film and am not 100% sure about the ending but it’s a minor gripe.

The Verdict:- A fascinating and tangled character study of damaged personalities with a bright and vibrant dance element that lifts it up.

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- At the Embankment Garden Cinema for this and all the remaining films. A very brief introduction from Mariana Di Girolamo, looking almost unrecognisable without the bleach blonde hair of Ema.

Friday, 15 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Deerskin

Let’s keep it weird.

Dir. Quentin Dupieux / Dur. 77 mins / Country. France
Festival Strand:- Cult
In A Nutshell:- One man’s murderous love affair with his jacket.

The Good:- It’s weird, it’s stylish and very, very deadpan, it’s short and doesn’t outstay its welcome - all things that are definite bonuses when it comes to high concept cult films. Jean Dujardin plays the newly single married man who blows all of his cash on a deerskin and begins a Christine/Shining-style relationship with it. Dujardin is great and delivers some very funny moments - audience reaction was strongly positive throughout on this one. It maintains the humor levels even when events take a darker turn with some nicely deadpan black comedy moments. The ending also manages to subvert expectations while still tying back to previous events in a pleasing way.

The Bad:- There wasn’t really anything I didn't enjoy about this one.

The Verdict:- Another highlight and again the sort of thing that I love to find at the festival 

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- At the actual BFI for this one. No intro or Q&A for this one but the screening was delayed by a Q&A session with Robert DeNiro beforehand (which did explain the huge numbers of autograph hunters hanging around…)
Side note:- the director is also known as Mr Oiseau and is responsible for the old Flat Eric music video (an internet meme in the days before internet memes…)

Thursday, 14 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Vivarium

Let’s get weird.

Dir. Lorcan Finnegan / Dur. 98 mins / Country. Ireland
Festival Strand:- Cult
In A Nutshell:- A couple get stranded at a property viewing in a nightmarish identikit neighbourhood with no way out...

The Good:- This was playing in the Cult strand (the strand from which I have unsurprisingly seen the most films) and it very much fits the bill. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots play the house-hunting couple who find themselves trapped in a Milton-Keynes-style new build community which won't let them leave. Things then take a turn for the even stranger - it’s one of those films, though, that I think it’s best not to know too much about. It’s definitely my kind of strange. Director and writer Lorcan Finnegan has worked for Charlie Brooker’s production company and it definitely feels like it has a similar sensibility to something like Black Mirror. Of the cast, Imogen Poots is probably the standout although the two actors portraying “The Boy” also deserve a mention for their suitably “off” performances.

The Bad:- Personally, I find Jesse Eisenberg a little bit one note - he’s not one of my favourite actors. He’s fine here but I always feel like he’s playing Jesse Eisenberg as a character.

The Verdict:- Definitely a winner at the fest for me - just the sort of odd, strange little number that I like to see.

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- Odeon Tottenham Court Road (the only one I saw at this venue this year) but no intro or Q&A for this one.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Rare Beasts

Time for a directorial debut...

Rare Beasts
Dir. Billie Piper / Dur. 87 mins / Country. UK
Festival Strand:- Laugh
In A Nutshell:- What would happen if, instead of ditching the terrible first date at the start of a romantic comedy, you went out with that one instead?

The Good:- Another in this year’s theme “anti-romantic” films (along with Dogs Don’t Wear Pants and Heart) and a string first showing for a first time writer-director. There’s a distinctive feel to the film and it’s got some funny lines and dialogue, right from the off. One of the advantages of writing and directing is that Piper clearly knows exactly how she wants to play main character Mandy in this - she’s unafraid to go all out and show a character in all their complex, contradictory and slightly unhinged glory. Leo Bill has a fascinating screen presence as the honest but unpleasant Pete and Kerry Fox and David Thewlis provide strong support as Piper’s parents (with their own unconventional relationship).

The Bad:- It maybe throws in a few too many directorial tics in an effort to create something distinctive and one scene change in particular from what seems to be a foreign wedding to a pub in Camden felt a little too choppy. There was also an element of Pete being so unpleasant at times that it was difficult to understand why they were even in a relationship- which I get is the point but it felt a little too much like there was nothing to recommend him at times.

The Verdict:- A promising first film from Piper with some pleasing directorial style and genuinely funny moments. I’d definitely be interested in seeing what she comes up with next.

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- Curzon Mayfair for this one. Billie Piper, Kerry Fox, Lily James and Henry Woolf were all in attendance with Piper and Fox coming back out after the screening for the Q&A. Piper talked a little bit about the difficulty of starring while writing and directing and said that it was something that she would think twice about before doing again. Unfortunately, I had to leave to get to me next screening so didn't get the full Q&A.
Side note - the Curzon Mayfair is quite small so the press area was just in the bar. I arrived a bit early so sat in the bar and was ridiculously excited when Billie Piper stood next to me a couple of times before the auditorium opened. What? I’m a lifelong Doctor Who fan, of course I’m going to be excited about being sat next to Rose Tyler!

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Heart

More quirky comedic stylings from South Korea.

Dir. Ga-young Jeong / Dur. 70 mins / Country. South Korea
Festival Strand:- Love
In A Nutshell:- A young woman having difficulty with a married man she’s having an affair with visits a previous married lover for advice.

The Good:- It’s a pleasingly quirky concept - Ga-young (named after the writer, director and star) visits her previous lover - a married man - for advice about the married man she’s currently seeing. The film was compared to Fleabag and I get the comparison; like Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s play/series, this film follows a woman struggling her way through personal relationships in a messy and chaotic fashion. It had some enjoyable moments of humour and the lo-fi, almost play-like staging work in its favour. Jeong makes for an engaging and likeable lead and it’s very much her film.

The Bad:- It loses its way in the last section when it becomes about her making a film about the events that form the beginning of the film. It’s a little too meta and makes the film feel as if it ran out of ideas az to where to go. Given that it’s got a very short running time anyway, it’s a little disappointing that it feels like it doesn't have enough to sustain even that.

The Verdict:- An engaging pair of leads and sokme funny dialogue keeps the interest in this off-kilter romantic comedy even if it does run out of steam some time before the end.

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- Back in the uncomfortable ICA for this one and no intro or Q&A this time round.

Monday, 11 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Greed

The latest in a long line of collaborations between Steve Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, A Cock And Bull Story, The Trip) and probably the most narratively straight-forward of their films.

Dir. Michael Winterbottom  / Dur. 100 mins / Country. UK
Festival Strand:- Headline Gala
In A Nutshell:- An extremely thinly-veiled Sir Philip Green analogue celebrates his sixtieth birthday in the style and excess in which he has lived his life.

The Good:- It really is a very thinly veiled critique of high street mogul Sir Philip Green - Coogan plays a wheeler-dealer who builds an empire based on buying and stripping companies of their assets to further his own wealth. In much the same vein as films like The Big Short, Greed does a good job of explaining tricky financial concepts without them seeming to be dry and boring. There’s a strong selection of current comedic talent on display with David Mitchell, Tim Key and Shirley Henderson all clearly enjoying their roles. There are also some very funny lines and sequences and the whole thing moves along ata strong pace.

The Bad:- Coogan’s performance feels a little Coogan-by-numbers - it’s the sort of performance we’ve seen from before and is beginning to feel a little worn at this point. Overall, the film doesn’t particularly feel like it’s saying anything new about the nature of greed and the sort of people who are motivated by it. Also, the closing scenes and montage about exploitation of workers don't quite feel earned - they feel somewhat like they’ve been included to justify revelling in the excess beforehand.

The Verdict:- It’s an entertaining and funny film with a barely disguised caricature of Sir Philip Green on offer but beyond the laughs, it feels like it’s struggling and ultimately not massively succeeding to make any deeper points.

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- The Embankment Garden Cinema again but, given this was a morning screening, no one on hand for any intro or Q&A.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - The Surprise Film:- Uncut Gems

It’s one of the hottest tickets of the festival and this is the first time I’ve been to it. Every year, they pick out a film to be screened which won't be announced until you sit down in the cinema to watch it. Previously screened Surprise Films include Green Book, Lady Bird, Birdman and No Country For Old Men amongst others so it's often a good way to see something that may well end up heavily nominated come awards season. Judging by the response on Twitter, this year’s choice was somewhat divisive. Given that one of the heavily rumoured possibilities was an adaptation of Little Women, I have to say that I’m pleased with the way it did go.

Uncut Gems
Dir. Josh & Benny Safdie / Dur. 134 mins / Country. USA
Festival Strand:- Events
In A Nutshell:- A jewellery store owner races against time in an escalating series of bets and gambles in order to pay off a debt due for collection.

The Good:- I really enjoyed the Safdie Brothers’ previous film, Good Time, which had a similar gritty 70s crime drama feel to it (it’ll be all the rage these days thanks to Joker but they did get there first). This time, though, there is a strong element of black humour running throughout. Adam Sandler plays it straight here and proves as he did in Punch Drunk Love that he can pull off an affecting performance when not making, shall we say, less than hilarious comedy films; I’d happily watch him in other serious roles. It’s genuinely one of the most tense and stressful films that I’ve watched, ratcheting up the tension to almost unbearable points at times. It’s also one of the first films that has genuinely managed to convey to me, Mr Non-Sporty, the tension and excitement of needing to see a desired result in a sporting match - no mean feat! Also, being non-sporty, I didn't realise that Kevin Garnett was a genuine basketball player - playing yourself is often a tough thing to pull off on screen and he does a great job.

The Bad:- It is a very male-dominated film and that feels like something of a backwards step - it’s probably one of the themes of 70s films that it would be best not to replicate.

The Verdict:- I was completely absorbed by this film and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sandler is fascinating to watch when playing it straight and the Safdie Brothers have a style and energy to their filmmaking that sweeps you up. Definitely one to go and see.

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- Back on the extra super recliners at The Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square (so very comfy). No live intro or Q&A but we did get a specially filmed intro from Sandler and the Safdies who couldn’t be there in person as it was Yom Kippur.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Dogs Don’t Wear Pants

I had an unexpected gap between films on Day 8. The advantage of the festival is that there are 345 films playing so the likelihood is that you’ll be able to find one from your wishlist to fill up any unexpected downtime.

If there seemed to be an unintentional theme to this year’s festival, it would probably be weirdly twisted anti-romances. Like this one...

Dogs Don't Wear Pants
Dir. J-P Valkeapää / Dur. 105 mins / Country. Finland
Festival Strand:- Dare
In A Nutshell:- A widowed man with a young daughter attempts to find a connection to his dead wife by indulging in auto-erotic asphyxiation with a dominatrix.

The Good:- You can probably guess by the “nutshell” description that we’re firmly into non-conventional territory here. The film is anchored by strong central performances by Pekka Strang as the grieving Juha and Krista Kosonden as Mona. It’s a tricky subject - the intermingling of sex, pain, love and grief - and there is a murkiness to the characters motivations and desires that makes it fascinating to see how it will unfold. The black humour laced throughout helps to keep it moving and offsets some of the more squeamish moments - for those of without strong stomachs, there are a couple of moments that wouldn't be out of place within a horror film (the Japanese horror film Audition sprung to mind at one particular point). The film also has a pleasingly ambiguous ending - for a film that very much plows its own path, it feels like a suitably fitting way to leave the characters.

The Bad:- I thoroughly enjoyed this one - I can’t think of anything that was particularly bad about it.

The Verdict:- Definitely not for everyone - if you like your romantic comedies to be advertised by a white poster with the two main leads on it then this is not going to be your cup of tea. However, if you like your romance with a dark, twisted and blackly funny edge then this will right up your alley (so to speak).

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- Back on the recliners at the Vue West End for this one. Director and co-writer J-P Valkeapää along with star Krista Kosonen were on hand for a Q&A after the fim. It hadn’t originally occurred to the director to refer to the film as a romantic comedy but he now (only half-jokingly) does so. There was a period of research undertaken with a dominatrix - the most surprising thing about that being the number of people who were quite happy to let a prospective film crew watch what was going on! In terms of performance, there wasn’t a lot of improvisation - given the potentially painful nature of the BDSM scenes, a lot of choreography was needed which limited their ability to throw new stuff in.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Family Romance, LLC

A new effort from Werner Herzog with a curious blend of fiction and documentary.

Family Romance, LLC
Dir. Werner Herzog / Dur. 89 mins / Country. USA
Festival Strand:- Create
In A Nutshell:- Fictionalised recreations of real events following the staff of Family Romance, LLC; a company which offers friends and relatives for hire.

The Good:- It definitely has a distinctive feel - the cast are non-professional actors, all speaking their native Japanese. There’s an oddly heightened feel to it by having essentially play themselves in recreations of the sort of real life events that Family Romance, LLC caters for - whether that be hiring someone to play your father as you are ashamed of your actual alcoholic father or attempting to recreate the feeling of a lottery win by being surprised with further fake wins. There are some nicely amusing moments and main “actor” Yuichi Ishii clearly has some acting ability given that his day job is hiring himself out to professionally pretend.

The Bad:- The whole thing feels a little thin and stretched out. It doesn’t seem like there;s enough there to sustain the ninety minute running time. While Herzog definitely has an eye for the interesting and the quirky, this feels somewhat slight by his standards

The Verdict:- There are some nicely amusing and touching moments in this oddly heightened docudrama and the non-professional cast all have a sense of charm about them that helps carry things through but this feels like a somewhat disposable effort from Herzog.

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- Back at the Prince Charles for this one but no intro or Q&A for it.

Monday, 4 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Making Waves: The Art Of Cinematic Sound

There was a good selection of factual-based filmmaking on offer at this year’s festival - here’s one of them.

Making Waves: The Art Of Cinematic Sound
Dir. Midge Costin / Dur. 94 mins / Country. USA
Festival Strand:- Create
In A Nutshell:- Films aren’t just pictures, you know. A history of and tribute to the unsung heroes of the filmmaking world - the ones who make it sound as good as it looks...

The Good:- It’s definitely a part of the filmmaking world that doesn’t get as much glory as the visual part of cinema but sound is a as big a part of the whole experience as what you see on screen. There are an impressive number of A-list names on hand for the talking heads - Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, David Lynch and Barbara Streisand are just a few of the big names who’ve leant their names to it. The film offers a history as well as focussing on some of the big names in sound design - Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now), Ben Burtt (Star Wars) and (Terminator 2, Jurassic Park). There are some fascinating tidbits along the way - stereo sound only really became a thing in cinemas thanks to the Barbara Streisand version of A Star Is Born and her pushing for it to be heard in the best possible way; the jet sounds in Top Gun aren’t actual jets as it sounded too thin but chopped up, slowed down and remixed lion, tiger and monkey noises. The film also has a leasing analogy for sound design , comparing the different parts of the sound mix to the different parts of the orchestra.

The Bad:- It was an enjoyable and informative documentary - I can't think of anything that I didn't particularly enjoy about it.

The Verdict:- If got even a passing interest in how things work behind the scenes on a film then is is definitely a doc for you

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- Over at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square for this one. On hand for the intro and the Q&A were director Midge Costin and writer Bobette Buster. Alright, I admit, I’ve become a monster - I was at it again with the questions… This time, I was curious as to whether there was anyone that they wanted to interview but weren’t able to. From the States, Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers were on the list; they didn't have the budget to travel but would have loved to have got directors like Danny Boyle and Terence Malick if they had. The production process took a while as it was - it was around 9 years from start to finish with three years of filming for the interviews - they had something like 200 hours of interview transcripts to work through...

Friday, 1 November 2019

WatchSeeLookView At The LFF 2019 - Color Out Of Space

Time to let things get properly weird...

Color Out Of Space
Dir. Richard Stanley / Dur. 111 mins / Country. USA
Festival Strand:- Cult
In A Nutshell:- Based on an HP Lovecraft short story, the arrival of a strange meteorite has an impact on the local alpaca farm run by Nathan Gradner (Nicolas Cage) and his family.

The Good:- Director Richard Stanley has had a less than easy career - his first film Hardware was successfully sued by 2000AD for plagiarising one of their Future Shock short stories and he was famously fired from his last film prior, the Marlon Brando-starring The Island Of Doctor Moreau in 1996. This is a long awaited comeback and an enjoyable one it is too. Stanley has crafted a suitably Lovecraftian adaptation which manages to capture the feel of Lovecraft while steering clear of some of the less savoury parts of the man’s work (notably his misogyny and racism). Nicolas Cage gives a reasonably restrained performance to start with - of course, it’s not long before he’s given the opportunity to go full Cage. The nature and intent of the alien is suitably vague and that feels in keeping with the source material. There a sense of combined horror and wonder at times too.

The Bad:- There are some nice homages to other films, notably The Thing, although it does feel a little like it begins to stray slightly closer to copying rather than homage at one or two points. There are also some character reactions which feel a little odd and choppy but I suspect that’s a conscious choice.

The Verdict:- It’s a fun and stylish slice of sci fi horror with a good helping of Nicolas Cage going mental. What’s not to enjoy?

The Venue / Intro / Q&A:- The Vue West End for this one and Richard Stanley was on hand for the intro and Q&A. This was very much a labour of love in some respects for him - he’s a lifelong Lovecraft fan, having had the stories read to him by his mother while he was a child (!); he later returned the favour by reading them to her as he nursed her while she was dying. The film itself came about off the back of the success of the film Mandy - the producers of that film were looking for something else non-conventional to go with next. Nicolas Cage himself was instrumental in the project (and allegedly ran up a £30k bar tab on the night he called Stanley to talk about it!).
Having broken my way into Q&As, I was back with another question this time - I was curious as to how much of a Nicolas Cage performance is down to the director’s influence and how much is pure Cage. Apparently, he’s not as crazy as you would expect in real life. When it comes to allowing him to go his own day, they sat down beforehand and identified four or five scenes where he could improvise; the rest were as scripted.