Friday, 30 September 2016


One of the biggest hits of Cannes 2016, Jim Jarmusch's Paterson has finally debuted a trailer. After a hefty summer and autumn of festival screenings, it's due to arrive in British cinemas on the 25th of November, and in American cinemas on the 28th of December, with an apparent eye on awards consideration. Given how much the U.S. critics seem to like it, that's not an unrealistic possibility. Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani star.


'A powerful debut feature'
Fabien Lemercier, Cineuropa

'Malian cinema has found a promising and intriguing new voice'
Pamela Pianezza, Variety

'Coulibaly is a talent to watch'
Boyd van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter

It'd be one thing pencilling in films to represent global diversity in cinema for my 2016 London Film Festival lineup - a noble thing, at least. But it's another to know that those films are as good as Daouda Coulibaly's debut feature, Wulu. Already a prominent and popular title on the fall festival circuit, the drug smuggler thriller is set to build on the acclaim it received in TIFF's Discovery slate with a showing at LFF just a week from now. Exciting to see a new director making such a strong, positive impression - one to watch indeed!


Of all the surprise choices made by the official jury at Cannes earlier this year, the Best Director tie was likely one of the least shocking. One of the two recipients (the other being Graduation's Cristian Mungiu), Olivier Assayas, won for Personal Shopper, the polarizing ghost story starring Kristen Stewart, who particularly impressed critics at the festival. It's not the first trailer for the film (you can find that here), but it is the first created for the American market; Personal Shopper opens in the US on the 10th of March.


Time after time, it's an idea whose validity only solidifies further, that in a creative context, lesser means often necessitate greater innovation. Within the context of the zombie horror sub-genre, it's that innovation that too frequently engenders naff, insubstantial riffs on the same trite concepts. Yeon Sang Ho, rather than lessening his means, limits his physical scope in Train to Busan, itself an attractive proposition - too rarely do high-concept thrillers like this betray their essential limitations, and suffer as a direct result. But that's not even this film's strongest asset. That comes in Yeon's interpretation of innovation, a sound and sincere calibration of character development and of mise-en-scene. The score is clunky, the cinematography is unremarkable, the dialogue is passable; it's not the individual components that raise Train to Busan above the standard of its manifold genre brethren, it's how Yeon chooses to employ them within the design of his overall scheme. He forges tension through emotion as much as through thriller fundamentals like space and sound; he crafts memorable images without sacrificing their vital narrative value, indeed crafting them from that very value; he establishes familiar plot lines before upending them in surprising, often affecting ways (his initial adherence to them, however, does cast some of Train to Busan's politics in an unflattering light). And with a focus on the human element that extends far beyond a mere depiction of heroism and vague social responsibility, Yeon's film bites harder than you ever expect it to, not least with the aid of tremendous performances from the cast. Though its excellence in many regards may be stymied by its timidity and regressiveness in others, this is a genuine display of innovation in the most satisfying manner.


It's been a bloody long time coming, but John Dower's My Scientology Movie is finally getting a British theatrical release date! You may recall its world premiere almost a year ago, at the 2015 London Film Festival. Sure, the title above refers to at as 'Louis Theroux's My Scientology Movie,' and you're likely to hear most refer to it as that, just as An Inconvenient Truth was reported as having won Al Gore an Oscar (it didn't). But Dower's the director and co-writer, and thus surely deserves at least as much credit as his fellow co-writer and star. Out in the UK on the 7th of October.


It's nothing but bad weather for Hurricane Bianca, a well-intentioned project with more talent involved than you'd ever know from watching it. Its low-budget, crowdfunded 'charms' I can get past, but only to a point - when lack of financial capacity subsides to simple lack of creative capability, the whole enterprise is exposed as a shoddy sham. And trust and believe, my hopes may have been high, but my expectations were low - I willed Hurricane Bianca to stir up a comedy storm, and when it didn't, I willed myself to weather the shitstorm that erupted in its place as best I could, to laugh at the jokes that weren't entirely there, or even not there at all, to show a sign of support for a film that I already had supported, right up until seeing it. Matt Kugelman is evidently inspired by the crassness, the corniness, the coarseness of drag humour, most specifically the acid-tongued Bianca del Rio, the drag persona of lead Roy Haylock and also his character's alter ego in the film. But those inspirations are wasted on Kugelman, his inability to translate them into the kind of comedic content that his star (and greatest asset) can manipulate so brilliantly at the best of times gutting Hurricane Bianca of what should have been its very essence. Kugelman has ideas indeed, if not necessarily of his own devising, but they're swamped beneath cliches that neither he, nor his cast, nor his editors, nor apparently anyone can exploit to the full subversive potential of the art form that is drag. Bring a raincoat, because Hurricane Bianca sure gets sloppy.


If there's one way to get Americans to watch a documentary, it's putting Leonardo DiCaprio front and centre of the entire film. To that end, I fully support what might otherwise appear to be enormous amounts of narcissism flooding out from the trailer for Before the Flood, and anyway, the message is just too compelling to ignore. Fisher Stevens' environmental doc premiered at Toronto earlier in the month, where it was the second runner-up for the People's Choice Documentary award, and is released in the US on the 21st of October.

Thursday, 29 September 2016


'[An] accomplished autobiographical first feature'
Allan Hunter, Screen Daily

'Shahrbanoo Sadat is, in many respects, a one-of-a-kind filmmaker'
Benedicte Prot, Cineuropa

'A promising debut feature'
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

Afghanistan's first female film director in history, and the youngest-ever filmmaker to be granted the Cannes Cinefondation residency six years ago (she was 20), Shahrbanoo Sadat is one of the most exciting young talents in the world of cinema. At Cannes this year, she premiered her second feature, Wolf and Sheep, to great acclaim, and was rewarded with the prestigious C.I.C.A.E. award. The film is a semi-autobiographical tale set in rural Afghanistan, as yet untouched by the war, though concerns for the safety of the largely-international crew and some narrative details relocated the filmmaking to Tajikistan - now how many films have you seen directed by a 20-something Afghan woman shot in Tajikistan? That's a major part of the appeal of Wolf and Sheep for me, and of why it has made my London Film Festival lineup this year.


Eschewing the sprawling, abstracted, multi-perspective approach to a tribute doc preferred by many who assume the task of helming such a project, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's de Palma opts for a leaner, simpler style, sourcing its analytical commentary from one voice alone: the director himself. We hear enough of what everyone else regards of a filmmaker's work, but what of the filmmaker's own opinions? In strictly linear fashion, with attention paid to each and every film in his canon to date, Brian de Palma walks us through his career, shedding a little light on aspects of each feature that may not be evident in their content, or offering up a subjective take on their meaning and significance, both as individual works of art and as fragments of an oeuvre that is arguably either among cinema's most under- or over-praised. It's de Palma's show, as each of his films invariably are too, and Baumbach and Paltrow wisely let him loose - a septuagenarian reclined in a chair for the vast majority of the film, he is revealed to be as active and as brilliant an artist as ever he was, until a brief epilogue casts a somewhat sombre shadow over this depiction; consideration toward the decline in his output in recent years is likely related to other factors, possibly even more unfortunate. Baumbach and Paltrow can't take much of the credit for the film that de Palma is, then - theirs is the concept, which is undeniably sound, and much of its success ought to be attributed not to the directors but to the editors, Matt Mayer and Lauren Minnerath - though it's entirely fitting that its subject should claim the lion's share of that credit. A genius both behind and before the camera.


'An ingenious mix of the personal and the historical'
Joan Dupont, Film Comment

'A shining example of what appears to be a growing genre: the documentary examination and celebration of the art of narrative cinema'
Kent Jones, Film Comment

'Essential viewing for cinephiles and Francophiles alike'
Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter

Clocking in at 3 hours and 15 minutes, the second-longest of my 2016 LFF films (on the whole, an uncommonly brief bunch), Bertrand Tavernier presents Journey Through French Cinema. It's sure to be a real treat, watching a master of the medium reflect on the culture which inspired him, to which he himself has contributed enormously, and which has proven such a vast influence on my own appreciation of the medium. And critics seem to agree that the film is a treat indeed, having praised the film since its premiere at Cannes this year. I look forward to spending a few hours with Tavernier and French film, and also to the planned second part of this proposed double feature of docs from the great director.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016


Paramount hopes to hit hard this awards season with Fences, August Wilson's adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play. It's directed by Denzel Washington and also starring him; alongside the two-time Oscar-winner is two-time nominee Viola Davis, each actor reprising their Tony-winning roles in the hopes of securing Academy Award glory this time around. You get the message: this has awards written all over it, and the above trailer goes a good way toward proving why Paramount must be so confident that Fences will reap what it's attempting to sow. Released in the US on Christmas Day.


Gangster movies are rather less common than you might consider, at least within mainstream studio or arthouse fare. So it's consistently disappointing, though never surprising, when the next new gangster drama follows that same well-trodden path, that same tired template recycled over and over before and beyond themselves. Pablo Trapero's points of reference are inevitably similar and short in supply, but there's really no excuse for such a lack of vision. He takes a remarkable true story, shoehorns it into a pedestrian style of filmmaking, and relies on some brash artistic decisions and the reliable adequacy of his overall approach to fashion The Clan into the mediocre movie that it is. Indeed disappointing, and too rarely surprising. The real rub is that one waits patiently for Trapero to attempt something different, something original, to get something plainly right, and is only let down further by the plain wrongness of those attempts; a jarring edit or an obvious soundtrack choice occur only infrequently, and yet one may then find oneself pining for such wrongness once again - anything to disrupt the general monotony. The Clan's most compelling disruption is due to its fantastic cast, committed to their roles just as their director is committed to aping Scorsese. There just aren't words to describe the chilling menace of Guillermo Francella's disarming, enormously layered turn as Arquimedes Puccio, a patriarch with terrorist ties that prove as damaging to those inside the clan as to those outside it. That's yet another familiar beat of the gangster movie, and it's predictably underwhelming in being lifted straight from the pages of history. Francella goes deep, but Trapero's film is an altogether shallow slice of pallid pulp.


I'll admit to being sold already on The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are talented and tasty performers, respectively, and Andre Ovredal earned his stripes with the critically acclaimed Trollhunter. This schlocky horror will show at the London Film Festival in October, and will open in the US on the 21st of December.


James Franco, you can get a brief, temporary pass if King Cobra is actually good, and if you're actually good in it. Otherwise, of course I'm here for a true story film about murder in the gay porn industry. And lead Garrett Clayton is perfectly cast as underage performer Brent Corrigan, not least because I'd rather watch his porn than Brent's. Out in the US on the 21st of October, after a screening in the London Film Festival. brb, just need to go to the bathroom for a bit...


'Verhoeven is now the same age as Bunuel when he directed That Obscure Object of Desire. May his French period last even longer'
Fernando F. Croce, MUBI's Notebook

'Paul Verhoeven at the height of his artistic powers'
Kenji Fujishima, Movie Mezzanine

'A tour de force turn from Isabelle Huppert'
Lisa Nesselson, Screen Daily

Now how did this happen? Having convinced us all that the Paul Verhoeven we all used to love (or hate) was nowhere to be found, with 2006's Black Book his only credit since 2000's Hollow Man save 2012's low-budget curio Tricked, which itself only arrived in US theatres this February, Paul Verhoeven teams up with David Birke, the writer of such classics as Freeway Killer and 13 Sins for Elle, one of the unexpected critical hits of 2016. Isabelle Huppert stars as a woman who uses her experience of being raped to turn her life around in strange, provocative ways. Huppert received raves when the film opened in Cannes, and it shot to the top of many lists as the frontrunner for the Palme d'Or; its exclusion from the jury awards was just one of several highly controversial decisions reached by George Miller's panel that day. The reception was so strong that Sony Pictures Classics picked the film up in order to give it an awards season run in the US, where it opens on the 11th of November. Its UK theatrical release arrives on the 24th of February, but not after it has screened at the London Film Festival next month, and you can bet it's on my programme!


The online film community was rather taken aback by the announcement of Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th as the opening night film for the 2016 New York Film Festival. Little knowledge of her new project had been disseminated, with most focused on her OWN show Queen Sugar and her upcoming Disney film A Wrinkle in Time - surely enough work for one person! But her film about the US' treatment of its black citizens in the light of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution looks to be one of the best of the year, documentary or otherwise, particularly with this impactful trailer. Netflix will open 13th online in the US and the UK alike on the 7th of October, and will also handle its US theatrical release on the same date; the ever-reliable Dogwoof will oversee its British release, also on the 7th. It's also showing in the London Film Festival, following its NYFF world premiere.


A zombie apocalypse movie which uses its premise not so much as a platform on which to build shocks and scares, but a sage dissection of what it means to be human, both in how it defines us and in how we choose to express our humanity. Indeed, The Girl with All the Gifts is sage enough to acknowledge that these are concerns of such enormity that it can only pass comment upon them, submit a few pithy but provocative points to this debate, and thus earn the right to exploit the debate for its own benefit. Even when succumbing, as it regularly does, to the banal standards of the zombie movie template, Colm McCarthy's film finds innovative ways of staging these sequences and of using them to enrich its theoretical examination and to send the plot off in a mildly unexpected direction. Mike Carey's adaptation of his novel carries a vaguely nihilistic streak in its depiction of the frustrating, unrelenting futility of efforts to save ourselves, and our definition of humanity; he proposes that the only escape route is through love, which affords The Girl with All the Gifts a welcome warmth, though a trait that actually ends up stymying the film's potency. McCarthy's understated visual design is no doubt the product of budget restraints, but it allows for a greater focus on emotional and philosophical content, a more rewarding alternative. This approach itself allows the chance for the film's actors to shine, and they do - Glenn Close, in particular, hasn't been given the opportunity to go this deep on film for years, and, if for nothing else, The Girl with All the Gifts will forever hold a place in my heart for that fact alone.

Monday, 26 September 2016


'Confirms and strengthens the careers of two increasingly mature, prolific directors, captains of their own styles and own significance'
Diego Battle, Otros Cines

I was keen to include cinema not merely representative of diversity, but also diverse in its own diversity, in putting together my screening schedule for LFF next month. A South American film with LGBT+ themes is a perfect fit for fulfilling this agenda, and it is thus that Marco Berger and Martin Farina's Taekwondo made that schedule. Despite being a title of which I had no awareness prior to its announcement on the LFF slate, in meeting the aforementioned standard of contributing toward representing a wide range of films, in making an intriguing proposition in and of itself, and in showing at a time where I had no other arrangements, I was eager to include it on my programme. Popular gay filmmaker Berger teams up with cinematographer and documentary filmmaker Farina for their first collaboration, a sexy, suggestive light drama set on a vacation in Buenos Aires. Hawt!


For all that Antoine Fuqua may be a forceful director, ever seeking a dynamic set-piece and a capable director of action, he's a dismal storyteller. Tasked with remaking a classic remake of another classic, and handed a promising script by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, he yet again proves himself incompetent at dealing with the most basic elements of filmmaking, and The Magnificent Seven thus falls far short of the magnificence it touts. Whether smearing the screen with sun-dappled lens flare courtesy Mauro Fiore's insipid cinematography, or flattening out all the thematic texture with John Refoua's workmanlike edit and his own inability to stage dialogue, Fuqua ensures that, no matter what noble or exciting aspirations to which this film may strive, it'll eternally fail to strike one as anything nobler than just average. The warning signs arrive early - whatever hopes you may harbour that The Magnificent Seven might recreate the timbre of Hollywood's many iconic mid-century Westerns are succinctly dashed by sorry choices such as an unremarkable aesthetic scheme and an astonishing over-reliance on ADR (entire sequences feature not a single word visibly uttered on the screen, yet line after line exits the speakers). Better to sit back and anticipate the inevitably arresting action, which papers over some issues of confusion and continuity with its general fast pace and some committed performances. No-one commands the screen quite like Denzel Washington, and there are vivid turns from Vincent d'Onofrio, Lee Byung Hun and Peter Sarsgaard (the narrow winner of the most closely-contested game of 'Who Would Paddy Fuck First From The Cast?' in years). Strictly surface pleasures then, but pleasures nonetheless.


'Cristian Mungiu [is] one of the leading European filmmakers of the day... Graduation [is] his most mature film to date'
Dan Fainaru, Screen Daily

'A beautifully crafted work of storytelling that resonates long after you see it'
Nick James, Sight & Sound

'Gripping and meticulous'
David Jenkins, Little White Lies

As one of the most essential and influential auteurs of the modern era, it was inevitable that Cristian Mungiu's Graduation would make my list of potential titles for my 2016 visit to the BFI London Film Festival. The film won not only great reviews but an official jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered in May, before embarking on a predictably packed schedule of fest screenings through the rest of the year. The drama about a father's attempts to manipulate a corrupt system in order to secure his daughter entrance into a prestigious university in the UK has been hailed as yet another piercing account of contemporary Romanian society from Mungiu, one of the brightest lights in the Romanian New Wave. Graduation is bound to be one of the most talked-about and written-about films of 2016 for many years to come.

Saturday, 24 September 2016


'Just lovely'
David Hudson, Fandor

'Green makes films for anyone willing to enter his peculiar universe of expressive purity and (mostly) suspended cynicism, to which "Joseph" reps one of his most beguiling invitations'
Guy Lodge, Variety

'As a film that's actually about goodness, Le Fils de Joseph is quite a rare beast'
Emma Myers, Brooklyn Magazine

If you're looking for a real European film festival experience, you can't do much better than Eugene Green. This most esoteric of auteurs has premiered films in Cannes, Locarno, Turin and, most recently, Berlin, where his latest, The Son of Joseph opened earlier this year. I'm guaranteed to see no other film quite like it at the London Film Festival next month, where it comprises one part of my 23-strong schedule. With good reviews from critics from the various festivals at which it has screened through the year, this is a title that I'm certainly looking forward to seeing, not least for the fact that it's a tad unlikely to ever arrive at a cinema near me!


Lorenzo Vigas explores the details of distance - physical, emotional, psychological - in From Afar, an ironically intimate insight into the lives of those whose own insight is stymied by society. Simmering underneath the film is the constant, oppressive drive of a societal machine that seeks to discard those for whom it has no particular use; bubbling to the surface are the painful results of such a process, as embodied by dislocated souls, as distant as they can possibly be from one another, yet connected by this common trait. Vigas observes his characters as though longing to connect with them himself, studying them for some sign of trust, a gesture or an action that might betray the thoughts and feelings to which they dare not admit. Under immense pressure, they relent, and From Afar thus builds a beautiful portrait of its characters in revealing both what they choose to reveal, and what they choose not to, yet cannot keep within. Enigmatic and sometimes narratively improbable, the film projects a great depth of empathy, triggered by the viewer's own empathetic tenure to its protagonists; Alfredo Castro and Luis Silva's sensitive performances provide an ideal inroad for us, in spite of (or perhaps due to) their roles' reticence toward openness and honesty. Vigas' exploration of distance is outstanding in its breadth and in his appreciation of how to realize it both thematically and formally. However, he lets himself down by employing a style that doesn't feel fully authentic, a kind of banal amalgamation of the outlooks of too many similar arthouse auteurs. He has tremendous talent himself, and ought to nurture it further, to a highly promising future in filmmaking.

Friday, 23 September 2016


'A characteristically gentle, affectionate and wryly amusing domestic drama from Hirokazu Koreeda'
Geoff Andrew, Sight & Sound

'It's hard to think of another filmmaker who maps the emotional landscape of divorce-torn families as precisely as Kore-eda'
Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times

'[Kore-eda] remains one of the best filmmakers the world has'
Bilge Ebiri, The Village Voice

There's pretty much no getting past Koreeda Hirokazu as a director. Are there any others who command such a faithful following in the international arthouse community, in such large numbers, and do so with such a commercially viable style? And who manage such a feat making roughly a film a year? Keeping up with Koreeda is an easy task for film fans, however, given the consistent quality of his output. The latest is After the Storm, which opened at Cannes to typically good reviews in May and will make my LFF 2016 programme next month. The drama about a fuckup father trying to rebuild relationships with his family stands a firm chance at being one of my fest favourites this year.


Nicolas Pesce's debut film, on which he serves as writer, director and editor, all for the first time, is horror The Eyes of My Mother. It's had a healthy festival schedule through 2016 in English-language countries, kicking off with a Sundance premiere in January. Its final fest showing prior to opening in the US on the 18th of November will be at the BFI London Film Festival in October. Looks stylish and intriguing, and has garnered some great reviews already.


Boy oh boy has it taken a while for Steven Okazaki's Mifune: The Last Samurai to make its way out of the festival scene, or even back onto it! After screening in Venice Classics' documentary programme last September, the next engagement for the Mifune Toshiro portrait will be in London next month, more than 13 months after premiering! Okazaki's film features commentary on the great Japanese actor from acclaimed film professionals as well as Mifune's friends and family. Looks like an excellent doc, from a highly talented director, about an equally talented performer.


A gleefully absurd, caustic Kiwi comedy from Taika Waititi, more than proving his worth again as a writer of great skill, and also as a director of unexpected perspicacity. Hunt for the Wilderpeople may be too devoted to the regressive cliches it employs, even if only to gently subvert or aggressively mock them, to reach the level of high art, but the comedic heights reached herein are compensation enough. All that this script needed, in truth, was an able cast and a sure hand at the helm, and Waititi's mildly inventive, emotionally astute direction smartly provides the latter. The former is equally solid, with performances registering all along the comedic scale, and the film's finest situating themselves somewhere around the middle; little known local actors Rima Te Wiata and Julian Dennison make terrific impressions indeed. Dennison in particular is a marvel, matching the tone of Waititi's dialogue perfectly, a young actor in apparently total, effortless control of his craft. And, as with all good comedies, Hunt for the Wilderpeople rollicks along on the strength of a crackling screenplay, a variety of memorable performances, and a clear, mostly unimpeachable sense of purpose. It suffers a little from possessing an indubitably male-centric perspective, and from taking an easy road in plot, theme and style frequently throughout; Waititi seems content only to lightly embellish his material with the kind of diversions and flourishes that might have augmented it further, though might too have blighted what brilliance it has already achieved. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fine, fun film overall, a wholly satisfying work of low art, and proud of it too.


I shifted from one foot to the other during this Blue Jay trailer - appreciating its naturalistic sweetness one moment, resenting its affected whimsy the next. But the positive responses from critics at the Toronto International Film Festival deemed the trailer worthy of posting, and so here it is. Alex Lehmann's debut non-documentary feature opens in the US on the 7th of October, and stars Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson.

Thursday, 22 September 2016


'Stark but surprisingly tender and beautifully-made'
Keith Shiri, BFI

'The chance to see a part of the world we'd otherwise never know'
Norman Wilner, Now Toronto

It'd be a slow weekend at the U.S. box office if only four new American feature films were released. But for Nigerien cinema, it's an entirely different matter. Since the turn of the decade, only four features have hailed primarily from the West African nation, so what a treat it is to be able to catch the fourth to date, award-winning filmmaker Rahmatou Keita's The Wedding Ring, at LFF 2016. Rare to get such a chance, rarer still when the film is also directed, written by, and starring women. Screening in the Contemporary World Cinema strand at Toronto earlier this month, where it received its premiere, and due to make only its second festival screening of the year in London, Keita's first non-documentary film tells the story of a Sahelian woman of noble birth and educated abroad, returning to her home in the Sultinate of Zinder, suffering from lost love and struggling to re-adapt to this more traditional way of life. It's certain to be one of the most unique and valuable viewing experiences at LFF for me this year.


The painter plays the poet in Gabriel Mascaro's Neon Bull, a conceptually sound and superficially daring film whose hollowness is both highlighted and elevated by its stylistic beauty. Mascaro uses his flair for striking imagery combined with the verisimilitude established by an otherwise-naturalistic mise-en-scene to legitimize the down-and-dirty travelling culture he depicts here, but if the film never sinks into poverty porn, there's a notable dissonance between topic and treatment. For all that each gorgeous tapestry of the make-do lifestyle may compel the viewer, marvelling at Mascaro's innovation and incisiveness in his lighting and blocking schemes, there's no sense that the film is achieving its purpose of illuminating this lifestyle, hitherto largely unexplored in cinema. Is it all merely a sumptuous distraction from the fact that Neon Bull actually illuminates very little on this subject, or would the film be more expressive were all its thematic and artistic intentions synchronized? One examines the action, lulled by its realistic rhythms and its honesty, corrosive yet charming; one then yearns for a deeper meaning to this action, and, upon discovering none, attempts to settle into this earnest, sensitive character piece; one's attempts are interrupted by Mascaro's insistence on putting style before substance - as crude a statement as that has now become in this medium, its relevance has not diminished over time. Explicit scenes of sex are wonderfully frank and unabashed, though they reveal practically nothing about the characters. The prevalence of sex and nudity in even the most mundane of scenes makes a more piquant, prescient point, though only slightly. The principal take-away from Neon Bull is that there's a lot to look at here, but only a little to actually take away.


In the unceasingly inconsistent career of director Adam Wingard, one sees as clearly as anywhere else in cinema that a good movie is always, unfailingly reliant upon a good concept. The genesis of what eventually will show on our screens, the foundation for what a team of thousands will create - the movie itself is vitally dependent on its strength and quality, regardless of what wizardry that team may concoct to improve the experience. Indeed, Wingard is proof that a bad concept can inspire bad filmmaking, and vice versa. Blair Witch is a bad concept, I'm afraid, and you're correct to infer thus that it inspires bad filmmaking, but it's primarily just a really, horribly bad concept. 17 years on from The Blair Witch Project, it requires analysis as its own entity, yet connections and comparisons are inevitably rife; suffice it to say, briefly, that Wingard takes most of what worked in 1999 and either ditches or desecrates it. But even aside from its direct relation, Blair Witch is quite obviously a massive mistake - whether or not it purports to upend the cliches it employs most generously, there's nothing valuable in watching the same old scares recycled over and over. It's an incessantly familiar film, whether or not you've even seen either of its predecessors, and gains utterly nothing in ramping up both the scare quota and the volume to numbing levels - conversely, it loses a lot of its impact. Yet Wingard is proficient in manufacturing effective horror sequences, as trite as they may be. Blair Witch intends to increase the fear factor as it progresses, and, in spite of its frequent failings, its adjacent success in this regard makes this movie at least a little worthwhile. It also begs the question: with talent like this in his hands, why couldn't Adam Wingard have put it to better uses? A better concept, to start?

Wednesday, 21 September 2016


'This is Serra's best film'
Kent Jones, Film Comment

'Albert Serra's amazing The Death of Louis XIV is that rare film which is beloved both by the most hardcore cinephiles, and the general public'
Nina Menkes, Filmmaker

'Much as certain novels can be described as page-turners, this film is incontestably a frame-turner'
Jonathan Rosenbaum, Film Comment

Any good film fan would do well to schedule some Albert Serra into their festival programmes, should they get the chance. The Catalan director's first film since 2013's Locarno Golden Leopard winner Story of My Death, The Death of Louis XIV has attracted arguably the best reviews of his career to date, a career that's seeing Serra's star rise with each new feature. Premiering at Cannes in May, and embarking on a hefty and award-winning festival run through the summer and autumn, it'll arrive at LFF next month, where it naturally ranked highly indeed on my list of must-see titles. Easily one of my most-anticipated films of the year.


Lookie here! Keanu Reeves in a role that actually suits him! Renee Zellweger proving why she became such a big star in the first place! Gugu Mbatha-Raw for any reason you like! Frozen River director Courtney Hunt finally back behind the camera! Nicholas Kazan getting back to writing promising thrillers! ngl, The Whole Truth looks right up by street - I love courtroom thrillers, and I'm so ready for this. So ready! Out in the US on the 21st of October.


Yesterday, the 20th of September, Academy Award winning filmmaker Curtis Hanson died, aged 71. He was an acclaimed and widely-celebrated writer, director and producer, with a litany of classic titles and lesser-known gems to his credit, and will be very sorely missed by regular moviegoers and cinephiles the world over. Often lauded for his portraits of masculinity in his film works, Hanson was also responsible for some of the most perceptive films about women in recent Hollywood. He had a remarkable run of films from the early 1990s, directing The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The River Wild, L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, 8 Mile and In Her Shoes consecutively. He received three Oscar nominations for 1997's L.A. Confidential, winning alongside Brian Helgeland for Adapted Screenplay, and was also a Golden Globe, BAFTA, EFA, PGA and Cannes Palme d'Or nominee, and a Critics' Choice, LCC, LAFCA, NBR, NSFC, NYFCC and WGA award winner. Hanson's final film was 2012's Chasing Mavericks, from which he departed as director mid-production due to heart surgery; he retired from filmmaking due to a reported diagnosis of Alzheimer's. This is a tragic loss for all of Hanson's loved ones, and for the international film community as well.


You'll find plenty high praise for David MacKenzie's Hell or High Water elsewhere, but not here. All that I could expect from a modern-day crime Western, it delivers - no more, no less. As this genre is designed to do, MacKenzie's film, from Taylor Sheridan's script, satisfies one's every desire in what it ought to accomplish, and its proficiency is regarded as adequate justification for its existence. So Hell or High Water is consistently engaging, never surprising, characterized by both a lack of true ambition and its relative success within its modest aspirations. Crime dramas with social consciences are a dime a dozen these days, but it's interesting to gauge the juxtaposition of this sense of moral responsibility with the usual codes of Westerns - Sheridan's apolitical approach is a wise, appropriate one, and he possesses a fine skill for courting offence without actually causing it. Between his dialogue, Gilles Nuttgens' handsome cinematography, and the vibrant, unfussy work of the whole ensemble (with the usual exception of an over-acting Ben Foster), Hell or High Water marks a cumulative effort to cut a film entirely from 'local colour,' and it's a strong effort. And yet, for all that its makers may be wise to every last detail of rural Texan landscape and character, this quality produces a film that's perfectly functional, but nothing else. I reserve high praise for high achievement only, and it's thus that Hell or High Water appears a little lowly.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016


'An agile, vicious work that's anchored by extraordinary performances from Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn'
David Ehrlich, Indiewire

'The play has been superbly opened out'
Graham Fuller, Screen Daily

'[Rooney Mara] makes Una a sharp, discomforting stunner'
Christopher Schobert, The Film Stage

Few, if any, who caught stage director, now film director Benedict Andrews' Una at showings either in Telluride or Toronto earlier this month doubt it: Rooney Mara is one of the finest young American actors in the industry today. She and co-star Ben Mendelsohn have both drawn raves for their turns in the controversial drama, which also screens at the London Film Festival next month, its third fest appearance this season. Although as yet not attached to any distributors, it's certain to spark awards buzz upon general release, whether that be this year or next. As a big fan of Mara, and intrigued by the plot and the positive reviews, Una naturally made my list, one of 23 titles that I'll catch at LFF 2016.


I am so ready to have the sugar-coated sensationalism of this trailer spoilt by Hidden Figures, and the sugar-free reality of what actually happened in this true story to be sweetened right back up by Theodore Melfi's unashamedly uplifting film. At least, that's what I'm hoping for. One way or another, Hidden Figures is here to rewrite the history you were taught, and to teach you a new thing or two in its place. A wide release Stateside is due on the 13th of January after a limited, Oscar-qualifying run sometime in December; a UK release will arrive on the 24th of February, if you haven't all caught the illegally-uploaded screener copies online by then! Trailer #1 can be viewed here.


In the name of all that is holy, who thought this was a good idea? Ben-Hur, that most epic of epic stories, reduced to a cut-rate, bargain basement exercise in empty bombast. This was once a tale of literally biblical proportions, and while I'm not one to lament a conscious step away from religious reverence in any aspect of life, that this sorry film has squandered all awareness of such magnitude is plainly regrettable. And yet it maintains its piety, neither diluted nor negated by its high-octane extravagance, itself a quality wielded with brute force and carelessness. The film's key misstep is in its fundamental misunderstanding of what kind of film it needs to be. Timur Bekmambetov may have appeared the right man for the job of re-imagining this classic tale, and while Ben-Hur certainly strives for the bold, callous bluster of his best films, it lacks both the resolve and the means to execute these intentions appropriately. Cheap effects and a lack of opportunity for genuine innovation seem to stifle Bekmambetov, and one instantly identifies the folly in his hiring: this uncompromising stylist with this monumental material requires more than what modest resources with which he's saddled here. And yet their modesty seems anything but, considering the inevitable failure of such an enterprise; Ben-Hur as a sporadic action film, with a cast of tanned white people and C-listers Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell in the principal parts? Who thought this was a good idea? God knows I didn't.

Monday, 19 September 2016


'It's rare to see such confidence in a first feature'
Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter

'Ducournau's control of her material is masterful'
Chloe Roddick, Sight & Sound

'Inventively grisly (or gristly)... stylistically rich, super-macabre'
Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily

Striving to see a wide variety of styles in my annual excursions to the London Film Festival, I normally schedule at least a few genre titles into my programme. Debut feature film director Julia Ducournau's Raw could meet my quota alone, by the sounds of things. Critics at Cannes ate the cannibal drama up, and its FIPRESCI prize win there wouldn't be the last of its festival triumphs, as a citation from TIFF proved only yesterday. A headline-grabber already, several months away from its first confirmed theatrical release, this ought to be a must-see for all cinephiles and genre film fans headed to LFF this year.


Matt Ross' earnest, open-minded treatise on the benefits of alternative lifestyles may lack the sense to follow through on its more intelligent impulses, ameliorative ambiguities that query the very thoughts that fuel Captain Fantastic's premise, but at least it possesses them at all. It starts as it ends, in a tiresome tidal wave of twee uplift, blithely sweeping away any such hopes you may harbour for genuine complexity and sensitivity. But what appears to be a simple screed swiftly evolves into a smarter work altogether, one whose broad strokes both smother its intelligence and allow it to thrive unsuspectingly. The cumulative impact of Captain Fantastic is one of even-handed openness, an encouragement to embrace one another not in spite of our differences but in support of them. It's a trite point to make, I know, and it's one which Ross frequently appears deaf to himself, yet the thornier aspects of the film actually serve to enhance the effect. So long as one is savvy enough to see it, the questionable behaviour of several of these characters may not consistently be questioned by director, but are free for endless audience scrutiny, and deposit layer upon further layer of depth to this insightful social satire. It's a shame, then, and unfortunately not even an inevitable one, that Captain Fantastic eventually reverts to the kind of quirky indie comedy stylings, all white smugness and patriarchal back-patting, that it had seemed to flout ever increasingly as it progressed. Like his central character, Ross' heart is in the right place, but it leads him to one wrong place after another.

Sunday, 18 September 2016


A dignified, authentic yet highly-moving crowd-pleaser
Fionnuala Halligan, Screen Daily

A sober and yet profoundly stirring contemplation of family, roots, identity and home
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

I've been singing the praises of Australian director Garth Davis ever since he collaborated with the great Jane Campion on her fabulous TV series Top of the Lake. So there was little doubting that his new film Lion would make my LFF 2016 watchlist. The film has just claimed the first runner-up spot in the People's Choice awards at TIFF and, with The Weinstein Company behind it, this true-story drama looks headed for potential awards glory later this year and into 2017. Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman star. Released in North America on the 25th of November.


The key to winning the coveted Grolsch People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival? Please everybody! Funnily enough, that's a pretty good key to winning that other big award at the end of February that we can't seem to stop obsessing over - it's no wonder that seven of the last eight TIFF People's Choice picks went on to claim Oscar nominations for Best Picture, three of them winning the actual award. This year's winner is the beloved musical La La Land from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, though it's not the only award that has been bestowed upon one of the many titles screening at the festival this year. The official Platform jury declared Pablo Larrain's Jackie Kennedy biopic Jackie their top pick from their selection, while a handful of other juries also chimed in. Check out all of their choices below:

Grolsch People's Choice Awards

Grolsch People's Choice Award
La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

Grolsch People's Choice Award - First Runner-Up
Lion (Garth Davis)

Grolsch People's Choice Award - Second Runner-Up
Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair)

Grolsch People's Choice Documentary Award
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)

Grolsch People's Choice Documentary Award - First Runner-Up
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (Steve James)

Grolsch People's Choice Documentary Award - Second Runner-Up
Before the Flood (Fisher Stevens)

Grolsch People's Choice Midnight Madness Award
Free Fire (Ben Wheatley)

Grolsch People's Choice Midnight Madness Award - First Runner-Up
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Andre Ovredal)

Grolsch People's Choice Midnight Madness Award - Second Runner-Up
Raw (Julia Ducournau)

Platform Awards

Toronto Platform Prize
Jackie (Pablo Larrain)

Toronto Platform Prize - Special Mention
Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait (Khyentse Norbu)

Canadian Awards

Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film
Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie)

City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film
Old Stone (Johnny Ma)


FIPRESCI Prize - Special Presentations
I Am Not Madame Bovary (Feng Xiao Gang)

FIPRESCI Prize - Discovery
Kati Kati (Mbithi Masya)

Other Awards

NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere
In Between (Maysaloun Hamoud)

Dropbox Discovery Programme Filmmakers Award
Jeffrey (Yanillys Perez)