The 58th BFI London Film Festival

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by Joanna Orland

The annual BFI London Film Festival returned for its 58th year with a host of stars descending upon the city to celebrate cinema. A large selection of diverse films were on offer at this year’s festival, with many prevalent themes running through the programme October 8th-19th, 2014 . Festival director Clare Stewart explains this year’s lineup which consisted of opening gala The Imitation Game, closing gala Fury, surprise film Birdman and an array of other excellent work with Whiphlash by Damien Chazelle and Mommy by Xavier Dolan being our two favourites.

"Fury" - Closing Night European Premiere Gala Red Carpet Arrivals - 58th BFI London Film Festival Clare Stewart

Our reviews, interviews, videos and photo gallery from the 58th BFI London Film Festival:

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’71
Directed by Yann Demange
Starring Jack O’Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer

by Amanda Farley

’71 is Yann Demange’s debut feature set in west Belfast in the early years of the conflict.

Private Gary Hook, an ordinary Derby lad, is sent to Belfast. Arriving in a place that is “not abroad’ but completely alien, on his first day he is deployed on the Falls Road to assist with house-to-house searches. Quickly caught up in a violent riot, Hook is separated from the rest of his regiment. Lost behind enemy lines and unsure of who he can trust, he desperately struggles to make his way back to the safety of his barracks. Caught is a dangerous power game, Hook becomes a pawn in a much bigger and darker game of war and politics.

Gregory Burke’s script combines Irish history with a compelling chase story. The traditional war saga so often seen on screen is refreshed by the familiarity of the setting. There is nothing odd or alien about the back streets of Belfast, which is what makes the violent eruptions all the more shocking to a modern audience so used of the foreignness of war images from Afghanistan or Iraq. Burke also raises the idea of war not as a means of right or wrong, good or evil but as a result of tribe mentality and the desire to belong to a family of sorts. Every person in this story is desperate to retain some kind of control and willing to make sacrifices to protect the tribe they associate with.

’71 is a tense thriller that grabs you from the start and O’Connell’s performance as Private Hook is exemplary. He is a rising star and his rawness brings an authentic element to the role that elevates an ordinary boy from Derby into a hero. He is supported however by an excellent cast. Sam Reid is wonderful as the naive commanding officer at odds with Sean Harris’s cynical plain-clothes intelligence operative Captain Browning. While Barry Keoghan and Killian Scott also offer noteworthy performances.

Demange has created an excellent film. He balances the pace and action of the drama with character stories and the result is an engaging journey into a world that doesn’t pass judgement on either side of the troubles. Aided by David Holmes’s terrific score ’71 is a film that really works quite well.

A Little Chaos: Alan RickmanAlan Rickman

by Joanna Orland

Alan Rickman is director and star of A Little Chaos. The film is set in Versailles and co-stars Kate Winslet as a landscape gardener in the court of King Louis XIV. Alan Rickman and a star studded carpet attended the screening of the film at the 58th BFI London Film Festival.

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A Second Chance (En chance til)
Directed by Susanne Bier
Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Ulrich Thomsen,  Maria Bonnevie and Nikolaj Lie Kaas

by Joanna Orland

Danish director Susanne Bier’s thriller A Second Chance defies all odds by being completely predictable yet remarkably gripping.  Contrived in its plot, tense performances and solid directing make this film worth the watch.  From practically the opening scene, the audience is fully aware of what plot is about to unfold, and what moral questions we will need to debate.

Danish policeman Andreas (Coster-Waldau) is a new father and as the strong foreshadowing implies, this will not be the case for long.  Indeed, something happens to his baby and he ends up swapping his son’s body for that of a junkie’s baby as he feels that this particular criminal has no right to have a child to only neglect it.

As it is obvious where the plot is going, it is quite the feat that A Second Chance is still as watchable as it is.  A strong performance by Coster-Waldau in particular helps to build the tension in this film.  Later in the film the predictability of plot twists do become even more so contrived as Bier is shamelessly making the point that we have no right to judge who deserves to be a parent and who doesn’t.  Nonetheless, this film is enthralling from start to finish.

With its predictable baby-swapping storyline and moral debate on the right to raise a child, A Second Chance deserves at least a first.

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Bypass

Directed by Duane Hopkins
Starring George MacKay

by Joanna Orland (reviewed at the 71st Venice Film Festival)

Tim is a decent young man forced into a life of crime as he struggles to take care of his family and himself. After his mother dies and his older brother is put in jail, responsibility falls to Tim to take care of his family home, his younger sister and his girlfriend as his health suffers and the pressure mounts. Tim wants to do the right thing, but his situation gets more and more dire in each scene. His circumstances are mirrored by his declining health which is used throughout as a metaphor for his descent into a life of trouble which he delves so deep into there is nearly no escape.

George MacKay gives a harrowing performance as Tim. It is no wonder he was nominated for this year’s EE BAFTA Rising Star Award, only to lose out to Will Poulter. MacKay is still a star on the rise as he single-handedly makes this film gripping. Other performances in this film are not as strong, with the character of his girlfriend Lilly being an unnecessary role that takes the plot a bit too far for its own good.

Well written and directed, Bypass is a bleak view on broken Britain on a more personal level as director Duane Hopkins allows MacKay to carve out a very empathetic and humanistic character with Tim. Its few plot-driven flaws aside, Bypass makes a very thrilling drama with an excellent lead performance.

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Camp X-Ray
Directed by Peter Sattler

Starring Kristen Stewart, Payman Maadi and Lane Garrison
Screening at BFI London Film Festival October 9th, 2014

by Joanna Orland

The only way I can review this film on its cinematic and storytelling merit is to temporarily ignore all of the political implications it inevitably connotes.  Camp X-Ray is the story of an unlikely friendship between Guantanamo Bay prison guard Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) and detainee (Payman Maadi of A Separation). Maadi gives an incredible and powerful performance as detainee Ali Amir, using raw emotion to portray the strife of his character. Kristen Stewart gives an expected one-note performance, but in the case of portraying Amy Cole, the underplaying of the character works perfectly. She becomes believable, empathetic and mesmerizing. The relationship between the two characters unfolds predictably but beautifully in this heart-warming yet gritty drama.

The political implications are hard to completely avoid and will anger parties on both sides of the argument.  It is no wonder that this film has found itself in the Debate strand of the 58th BFI London Film Festival.  Parallels are drawn between the victimization of a female soldier institutionalized in a military setting of sexism and questionable moral obligations, and the victimization of a Guantanamo Bay detainee, forcing the issue that everyone is a victim of war. On the other side of the story, Cole has no doubt that Amir is not guilty of his crimes which she isn’t even aware of. This is not through her guilt of soldiering in Guantanamo, but merely through her admiration of his character. Overall, this is a political minefield.

I didn’t do the best job of ignoring the political implications of this film but as it’s such a heated subject, it is nearly impossible to do so. But solely as a film, this is a very powerful one. A film well made, a story well told, and acting that is gripping in every scene. A controversial but must watch.

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Charlie’s Country
Directed by Rolf de Heer
Starring David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr and Luke Ford

by Amanda Farley

Charlie’s Country is the latest film from director Rolf de Heer and Actor David Gulpilil and it is a triumph of storytelling. While not strictly autobiographical, this film is very much about Gulpilil, who co-wrote the script with de Heer.

Charlie (Gulpilil) lives in a remote Aboriginal community in northern Australia, where the traditional culture is disappearing due to government intervention and white culture seeping in. When his gun and spear are confiscated Charlie feels powerless to control his own destiny. Unable to hunt and feeling lost Charlie decides to live in the old way.

Leaving his community he moves into the bush. Where he goes in search of regaining his history and living like his ancestors. Confronted with the harshness of the elements and his own ageing body Charlie is eventually forced back to the settlement and from there to a hospital in Darwin. It will be a long time until he rejoins his community and his journey back to his home takes him to some dark and surprising places.

Gulpilil (who won the Best Actor award in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes) is breathtaking. He has an effortless charm and humour that leaves the audience continually wanting to spend more time with him. He is the glue around which everything else fits and he provides a performance that is career defining. He also brings humour and sense of hope to the story that helps to show life as it really is. Everything about this film feels authentic and real.

The best and most surprising part though is the slowness of the story. De Heer creates a naturalism that embraces the stillness of nature and life. Nothing feels hurried and yet each moment is filled with such soulful truth that the audience is captivated from beginning to end. He trusts in the power of the story and his actor and the result is an electrifying real portrait of the indigenous community and the hardships they face.

This is a story that should be heard and it is a film that is charming, sad, delightful and heartbreaking. If you only see one film this year, this would be an excellent choice.

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The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

Directed by Ned Benson
Starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Nina Arianda, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt and Jess Weixler

by Joanna Orland

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is three movies in one. Director Ned Benson wanted to tell the story of a relationship, but to do the narrative justice, he wanted to tell it from the perspective of Him (Connor played by James McAvoy) and Her (Eleanor played by Jessica Chastain). The result is two films, or one 3 hour film of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her which premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. This was supposed to have been it for DOER, but after this first rendition debuted, commercial pressure kicked in and Benson decided he wanted a wider audience for his film, so condensed both into one all-encompassing feature – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.

DOER: Them is a fine romantic drama dealing with loss, bereavement and the end of a meaningful relationship. The idea of perspective is a bit lost in this edit and the story plays out relatively straight. If anything, Eleanor appears to be the main focus of the story as the central figure in the relationship troubles between her and Connor. The normally excellent Chastain becomes a slight irritant in the film and is for the first time in her life, outperformed by an outstanding ensemble cast of supporting actors.

Viola Davis is the true star of this film in a supporting role as teacher and friend to Eleanor. The fact that she’s likely not featured in the Him version of this film is a genuine disappointment. William Hurt also gives one of the best performances of the film as Eleanor’s father, while Ciarán Hinds thrives as Connor’s. Bill Hader as Connor’s best friend is a refreshing casting choice, taking him away from his typical comedic fare to remind the audience of his talent as an actor. Casting Isabelle Huppert as Eleanor’s French mother is also a stroke of genius, and the most believable mother/daughter casting I have ever witnessed.

And then there is James McAvoy. The Scottish actor has grown into one of the finest of his generation. He takes on fantastical roles in X-Men and The Chronicles of Narnia, harsh and gritty characters such as Bruce in Filth, and then comes into this sensitive and underplayed dramatic role as Connor and with a mere look in his glimmering eyes, can convey all of the character’s emotions without a word spoken.

While the Them edit of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is missing something, I very much would like to continue this journey with Connor and Eleanor and find out what each has to say for themselves. I look forward to Him & Her to gain perspectives on this sad story.

 

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: James McAvoyJames McAvoy

 

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Ned BensonNed Benson

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The Drop
Directed by Michaël R. Roskam
Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini

by Joanna Orland

Tom Hardy has a chameleonic voice.  From playing the English that he is to Ivan’s Welsh in Locke to nonsense as Bane in Batman, Hardy has mastered the art of voice acting.  In The Drop Hardy morphs his voice yet again, this time into the form of a Brooklyn accent.  A classic mob story, Bob (Hardy) is a bartender and “just a bartender” as he works for his Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) at his bar, a business that is used to launder money for the mob.

Marv gets greedy and arranges the robbery of his own bar in order to defy the mob.  Meanwhile, Bob finds a puppy in a garbage can and falls for the woman Nadia (Rapace) whose trash can it is.   Nadia eventually warms to Bob’s charms, but their budding romance and pet ownership is disrupted by Eric Deeds, the dog’s owner and Nadia’s ex-boyfriend.

Watching Hardy snuggling with a puppy is probably one of the best things about this movie.  Plot twists become absurd, and very little empathy is felt towards any of the characters.  The performances while mostly high calibre sometimes wane into laughable territory, some intentional, some most definitely not.

While not a terrible film, The Drop may do just that off of our film radar.

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The Duke of Burgundy
Directed by Peter Strickland

Starring Sidse Babett Knudsen and  Chiara D’Anna

by Joanna Orland

Director Peter Strickland follows the darkly abstract, critically acclaimed Berberian Sound Studio with the dreamlike, incredibly stylized The Duke of Burgundy.  This film is a visual and aural feast, more so than his previous film which utilizes audio in particular to create its mood.  The Duke of Burgundy is much more palatable and interesting than Strickland’s former work.  Abstractness once again prominent, The Duke of Burgundy however also manages to explore the relationship between two lovers as they test each other to the limit.

Sidse Babett Knudsen is remarkable.  Her portrayal of Cynthia is both cold and dominating, yet sensitive and vulnerable.  Cynthia studies butterflies and moths, Evelyn (D’Anna) is her student and lesbian lover.  Evelyn demands that Cynthia express her love through sado-masochistic role play in which Evelyn is being dominated by Cynthia.  Once the audience realizes that this relationship is merely role-play, words and actions that meant one thing are suddenly meaning something much more sinister.

Their relationship begins to unravel as Cynthia is clearly not comfortable in the dominant role.  There are moments of humour in this otherwise stylized tale as Cynthia practices her routine of dominance.  After much performance, Cynthia begins to tire of this routine and yearns for a relationship with Evelyn which is based in their reality.

This film is anything but based in reality.  The decadent visuals are erotically sensual, even the opening titles imply so as they credit “perfume by Je Suis Gizella”.  Much as Cynthia’s expression of dominance, everything is over the top in this film, and beautifully so.  With a very 1970’s European feel, the film strays into psychedelic territory, Lynchian in nature, but sexualized through and through.  While erotic to the core, it is tastefully so and a masterful work of art.

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The Face of an Angel
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring Daniel Brühl, Kate Beckinsale and Cara Delevingne

by Joanna Orland

While based on the true crime story of the Amanda Knox trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher, The Face of an Angel is a much more high level take on the truth of the story.  Modeled on Dante’s Inferno, the film explores the media’s fascination with crime and how the story is presented to the world, in addition to the ideas of love and loss.  It as pretentious as it sounds, if not more so.

Thomas (Brühl) is a filmmaker wanting to tell the story of the Knox trial, portrayed in this film as fictionalized renamed characters. The character of Thomas is directly based on the film writer’s experience in investigating this story in order to adapt it into a movie. He found writing dialogue between Knox and Kercher difficult, so started to incorporate his own perspective into the story. From his perspective, the journalists covering the trial were getting “sucked down a plug hole into the inferno” of this unsolvable mystery, and so begins the intertwining of Dante’s work into this true crime story that focuses on the sensationalism of the media.

Parallels are drawn between the journalists and the students Knox and Kercher. The stories intertwine as does Thomas’.  Winterbottom places Thomas in the middle of this circus to clarify that filmmakers are also part of the media and not exempt from criticism. Who are we to decide who is innocent or guilty – surely this should remain for the courts to decide without our interference and influence.

In addition to the fictionalized and very abstract portrayal of this infamous true crime story, there are also the themes of love and loss at the heart of this film, and Winterbottom honours the victim Kercher, someone who has been very much overlooked in the circus of it all. Where is the media empathy towards the Kerchers and why is all of the attention on Knox?

There are good things about this film and there are frustrating things about this film. Overall, it is a depressing, debate-sparking examination of the media’s obsession with crime and their irresponsible methods of reporting the news.

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The Falling
Directed by Carol Morley
Starring Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake and Monica Dolan

by Amanda Farley

Carol Morley’s new film The Falling is an interesting and distinctive piece that transforms the traditionally prim world of a 1960’s all-girls school into a dark and mysterious environment where secrets and mysteries threaten to destroy the thin veneer of youthful innocence.

Lydia (Maisie Williams) is 16 years old and completely inseparable from her best friend Abbie (Florence Pugh). When Abbie reveals that she has lost her virginity an invisible barrier begins to form between the two girls. Unable to understand, Lydia finds herself lost in her own insecurities and discomfort. When it also becomes clear that Abbie is pregnant, the purity of their childhood bond begins to crumble. Lydia can no longer predict her friend’s actions and begins to feel the growing separation.

When tragedy strikes, Lydia is cast into a world of hurt and loss. The break between Abbie and Lydia seems to release a dark energy that affects everyone. Be it an illness, an occult echo from beyond the grave or simply a communal fantasy, it marks the beginnings of womanhood. As Lydia and the other girls begin to suffer the same fainting symptoms, first shown by Abbie, a contagion originates that soon infects the school.

Morley provides plenty of suspense and humor. The headmistress (Monica Dolan) is particularly wonderful and her no nonsense approach to the fainting episodes provides some of the best comedy. One of her cures includes neatly pricking a student with her broach to revive her. But this film is darker than that, sex and longing are very much at its center. Lydia’s dysfunctional relationship with her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake) is perhaps the most interesting story. There is a sense of longing in Lydia that is palpable. Her search for a connection and sense of belonging, while displaced to the act of physical intercourse, is really only a shadow of her real desire for maternal love and acceptance.

Tracey Thorn is responsible for the soundtrack, and the end result is eerie, lyrical and beautiful. The music manages to echo the femininity of the story while also enhancing the overall sense of Englishness. The use of colour and nature also adds to this sense of idyllic Englishness that is then shattered by the darkness of events as they unfold. Morley’s artist background is evident in this film and her use of colour and movement create a distinctive style. Some of the choices do not always work but her experimental nature is interesting and means that the audience is always enthralled by the beauty of the world unfolding and dismantling before their eyes.

Exactly where The Falling fits genre wise is less clear. It mixes elements of the occult with a dark psychological drama and then adds some great black comedy into the mix. The one thing that is certain is that this film is an odd but beautiful journey into the darker side of Englishness and femininity. With such a strong female presence both in front of and behind the camera there is a sense of excitement as to what this director will do next and what brave new worlds will open up as more women are inspired, by work like this, to tell the stories they want to tell.

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Far From Men
Directed by David Oelhoffen
Starring Viggo Mortensen and Reda Kateb
Screening at BFI London Film Festival October 18th, 2014

by Ruth Thomson (reviewed at the 71st Venice Film Festival)

In writer/director David Oelhofffen’s Loin des hommes (Far from Men), Viggo Mortensen (speaking convincing French) plays Daru, a teacher in a small village school in the Algerian mountains who has formerly seen military service. The year is 1954 and colonial conflict is imminent as Algeria begins its struggle for independence. Trouble arrives in Daru’s peaceful existence in the form of Mohamed (Reda Kateb), a young man from a neighboring village who has killed his cousin and is to be taken to Tinguit for trial by the ruling French authorities. After initial reluctance to be involved, Daru sets out on this journey with Mohamed, as the only alternative is to let him go on alone and unarmed to a certain death.

As their journey progresses so too does their relationship and we learn that Mohamed’s crime was only committed out of the necessity to protect and feed his own family. He now faces death at the hands of his cousins, which would then require his young brothers to take revenge in keeping with their local customs. In order to prevent these multiple deaths, his only solution is to get to Tinguit and surrender to his execution. Along the way, the two men fall in with Algerian rebels amongst whom are former colleagues of Daru’s – old friends now seemingly on opposite sides of this new conflict despite Daru’s attempted neutrality. The lead characters evolve gently thanks to two quietly moving performances – Mohamed’s youth and naivety are most evident when he asks the older man what it feels like to sleep with a woman – he knows that he will die without first-hand experience. Daru’s increasing protectiveness of Mohamed is subtly conveyed, as is his ambiguous identity: though only twenty miles from his birthplace, his Spanish parents caused the French to see him as an Arab, whilst the Arabs see him as French.

Early in the film, Daru chastises Mohamed for having no courage or honour, both of which ultimately run deep in the protagonists as they journey together and finally face the choice of dying for honour or living with courage.

Based on the Albert Camus short story ‘L’Hote’ (which can be translated as both ‘The Guest’ and ‘The Host’), Loins des hommes is a western, a buddy movie, an action adventure, and a relationship drama all rolled in to one: but most of all it’s a beautifully told and deeply moving story. With an evocative ambient score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and stunning cinematography by Guillaume Deffontaines, it takes us back in time to a distant uprising in North Africa whilst reminding us of the moral ambiguities and questions of identity that infuse so many current conflicts.

 

Far From Men: Warren Ellis & Nick CaveComposers Warren Ellis & Nick Cave

 

Far From Men: Viggo MortensenViggo Mortensen

Foxcatcher: Steve CarellSteve Carell

by Joanna Orland

Foxcatcher held its UK premiere at the 58th BFI London Film Festival where we spoke to star Steve Carell about his portrayal of John E du Pont. Starring Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, the film is based on the true story of the relationship between sibling wrestling world champions Dave and Mark Shultz, and multi-millionaire John E du Pont. This dark story tragically goes from that of sibling rivalry to murder.

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French Riviera (L’Homme qu’on aimait trop)
Directed by André Téchiné
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Canet and Adèle Haenel

by Joanna Orland

A sprawling and cluttered story, French Riviera is confused about what type of story it is trying to tell – Is it the story of a casino war?  A story of a conman?  A mob story?  A murder mystery?  A courtroom drama?  A story of a daughter wanting independence from her mother?  Without streamlining the many paths that this story takes, the audience is merely confused rather than entertained.  The fact that this story is based on real events of the Nice casino wars of the 1970’s is the film’s undoing.  The “based on a true story” warning on the screen at the start of the film is clearly used as a get out of jail free card to never quite sort out the story at the heart of the film.

The film’s only salvation is its wonderful performances by the three leads.  Catherine Deneuve never does any wrong and continues her streak as the matriarch of the story.  Guillame Canet is intriguing as Maurice.  The audience is never quite sure of his motives, for better or for worse.  The standout of this film is by far Adèle Haenel as daughter Agnès who is mesmerizing in every scene.  Her face is beautiful and expressive without being overtly revealing.  I may be in love.

Overall, the film is too rambling and unfocused to retain the audience’s attention or empathy.  If the director chose one angle to tell the story from and stuck to it, perhaps there would be something in there worth watching.  As it stands, this film is a mess and nevermind the audience, even the film itself doesn’t know what it’s about.

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Fury
Directed by David Ayer
starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal

by Joanna Orland

The cruelty of war is still an issue we face today, and Fury is a needed reminder, lest we forget. Director David Ayer follows gritty police drama End of Watch with even grittier World War II drama Fury starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal and Logan Lerman as a team of soldiers in charge of commanding a tank known as Fury. The film focuses on familial bonds formed during times of crisis, with the cruelty of war destroying characters as they evolve from empathetic men into soldiering killing machines.

Boyd (LaBeouf), Gordo (Peña), and Grady (Bernthal) have been a unit of soldiers, fighting together as a team since their days in North Africa, with Wardaddy (Pitt) as their leader and father figure. The year is now 1945 and the fight has moved to Germany. The team in charge of Fury have lost the fifth member of their ‘family’ and a young Norman Ellison (Lerman) is commanded in as a replacement. The other four members of the Fury crew immediately resent Norman as it harshly reminds them of the loss they incurred. Norman’s character is weak and not ready for war – he was trained as a typist, not a tanker. With death as a permanent risk in the enemy territory of Nazi Germany, Wardaddy forces Norman to embrace the cruelty of war to become a killing machine, and therefore, a true family member to the crew of Fury.

Norman’s evolution from naive and sensitive American boy to hardened World War II soldier is played with a great maturity by relative newcomer Logan Lerman who more than holds his own in what is essentially a leading role amongst an ensemble cast which includes such acting veterans as Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal. Pitt and Peña are excellent as always, but the performance that truly stands out in this film is LaBeouf’s. His role is merely supporting, but he does it to great effect. With his mere glances towards Wardaddy, the audience understands that Boyd was the original Norman to Pitt’s Wardaddy, but he is at the end of his evolution. He approaches the role of the very religious Boyd with strong emotion, and is either crying or welling up in every scene without producing an over-the-top performance. His subtlety and sensitivity in this film is a key contributing factor to its heart.

Not since Saving Private Ryan has a World War II film shown such gruesomely horrific battle scenes that work to traumatize the audience, but in a necessary and affective way. The action scenes are not as artistic or powerful of Saving Private Ryan, but Fury does come close to inducing a similar sick feeling in the audience as brutality is on full display. Even when the action is on a break, the gruesomeness remains on high as body parts and blood are scattered everywhere across the battle scene. Norman’s induction into the Fury team is for him to clean up the remains of the fifth member of the family, whose partial blown off face is still stuck to the surface. There is nothing subtle about this film.

Gruesome cruelty is the effect of war. Fury tells the story of how in spite of this brutality, the human spirit can prevail.

 

Fury: Shia LaBeoufShia LaBeouf

 

Fury: Jon BernthalJon Bernthal

 

Fury: Brad PittBrad Pitt

 

Fury: Michael PenaMichael Peña

 

Fury: David AyerDavid Ayer

 

Fury: Anamaria MarincaAnamaria Marinca

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Hungry Hearts
Directed by Saverio Costanzo
Starring Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher

by Ruth Thomson (reviewed at the 71st Venice Film Festival)

Hungry Hearts, based on the novel The Indigo Child by Marco Franzoso and directed by Saverio Costanzo is an intriguing and original genre crunching film with excellent central performances from Adam Driver and Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher. It has a strong pace and for the most part builds a strong sense of tension. It’s only somewhat let down by Costanzo’s heavy-handed methods of conveying the gradual gear changes from romance, to drama, to thriller and beyond – as it strays into comedic clichéd territory, detracting from the whole.

Driver and Rohrwacher are Mina and Jude, a young and hip New York couple who meet in a particularly endearing opening scene and in no time at all are married and pregnant with an artfully dressed apartment complete with rooftop vegetable garden. It’s hard to see at this stage what’s going to put the thrill in thriller, but the idyll gradually begins to splinter and crack as Mina, a diminutive and quirky soul from the start, begins to reject the notions of modern medicine, refusing to go to scans and insisting her instincts will tell her what’s best for the baby. This goes from bad to worse after the child’s birth, with Mina’s refusal to expose him to anything outdoors or to feed him meat (or much else) pushing Jude to take his son to the doctor in secret where his worst fears are confirmed – the child is malnourished and not growing.

Costanzo effectively conveys the fragility of this small young family against the backdrop of a grim and gargantuan New York, one that seems capable of crushing the endeavors of individuals, whether to grow some veg or raise a child. The director says his own time spent living in the city was a period of particular unhappiness and isolation and this comes across in Mina’s characterization – an introverted foreigner with little support struggling with her mental health.

Whilst a unique and often compelling look at relationships, parenthood, post-natal depression, domestic conflict and the urge to protect, Hungry Hearts sadly does stray too far into melodramatic absurdity. As Mina’s instincts begin to look increasingly sinister, the pop music featured in earlier scenes is replaced by jabbing Psychoesque strings – just in case we don’t realize she’s becoming a bit of a basket case (we do). Likewise, the sudden use of a fish eye lens midway through the action is effective in conveying the claustrophobia of their small apartment but as it rests on Mina’s increasingly emaciated figure, she becomes more and more of a caricature. As a result, in a climactic scene which should have been drenched in tension, there was a distinct murmur of laughter here in Venice.

Well worth seeing for great performances, but slightly off the mark in tone and style.

Our interview with director Saverio Costanzo.

Our interview with Adam Driver & Alba Rohrwacher.

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The Imitation Game
Directed by Morten Tyldrum

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech

by Amanda Farley

Alan Turing’s story is a difficult one to tell. Writer Graham Moore uses three different periods in Turing’s life to explore the history of this pioneering British scientist and mathematician.

Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) was part of a team of code-breakers working to crack the Enigma Code during the second world war. Aided by his friend fellow code-breaker Joan Clarke (Knightley) and a small team of some of Briton’s finest minds, he managed to help Britain win the war before being prosecuted and chemically castrated in 1952 for gross indecency, due to his homosexuality.

Directed by Morten Tyldum, this film celebrates Turing’s oddness. Opening in 1952, we then move between his war years and his time at school. Turing’s life is beautifully weaved together and Tyldum and Moore manage to capture a real sense of the tragedy and greatness of the man. Exploring his sexuality and the level of secrecy that haunted him during his life, this film makes for gripping viewing.

Cumberbatch is wonderful as Turing. As he has proved time and time again he has a natural ability to play highly intelligent, if also slightly awkward, characters. Turing is no different. He makes him abrasive, confident, totally impossible and completely charming. While Knightley brings a pluckiness to Joan that plays well against Cumberbatch’s sombreness.

This is a beautiful film, with a strong cast about an interesting historical figure. It does however lack a little spark. In trying to tell so many different things, the film never really explores anything fully and that is a shame as it constantly feels like there is something much more interesting and real just beneath the surface.

With that aside, I am writing this review on a computer and I imagine you are reading this on one too. That says a lot about the lasting legacy of Turing’s work and this film is a lovely way to honour the life of a man who saved so many lives and contributed so much to society.

The Imitation Game: Benedict Cumberbatch The Imitation Game: Benedict Cumberbatch & Keira Knightley
Benedict Cumberbatch has a name so good, he applauds it. Keira Knightley agrees. Has also decided to go by “Benedict Cumberbatch”.

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Jamie Marks Is Dead
Directed by Carter Smith
Starring Cameron Monaghan, Noah Silver, Morgan Saylor, Madisen Beaty, Liv Tyler and Judy Greer

by Joanna Orland

Jamie Marks Is Dead – or is he? Adam and Gracie discover the body of Harry Potter Jamie Marks by the river. Jamie’s ghost begins to haunt them, and befriends Adam in this dark supernatural story. It’s a bit of a bizarre premise how easily Adam befriends a creepy sinister ghost, but the themes and tone of the story make it a gripping and eerie watch.

The performances are monotonous and the film score consistently ambient, both to great effect as the audience can’t help but be almost hypnotized by the mood of this film. As Jamie and Adam grow closer as friends, Adam grows closer to the supernatural world, eventually encountering further ghosts. At this point, the story derails slightly as the key focus of this story is, and should, be Jamie’s relationship with Adam.

There is perpetual confusion over why Jamie has returned. He is clearly the victim of bullying, but that is about the extent of what we know about Jamie. In fact, we don’t know all that much about Gracie or Adam either. This is more of a supernatural moodpiece than it is a character study. Overall, this results in Jamie Marks Is Dead being more style over substance, but even so, it is mesmerizing in its delivery.

In a market oversaturated with supernatural teen stories, Jamie Marks is Dead stands out for its artistic merit and eerily haunting tone.

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The Keeping Room
Directed by Daniel Barber
Starring Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Sam Worthington, Muna Otaru and Kyle Soller

by Joanna Orland

This film is so empowering for its strong female characters, it is actually somewhat of a surprise that it comes from a male director.  During the American Civil War, two sisters, Augusta (Marling) and Louise (Steinfeld) along with their African American slave Mad (Otaru) are left alone to defend their land and themselves as their men have gone to war.  When an accident occurs, Augusta is forced to venture out into the land to fetch medicine for her sister.  On her journey, she encounters a pair of volatile Yankees (Worthington, Soller) who stalk her like prey.  The three women are forced to take matters into their own hands in order to survive.

The tone, performances and directing make this a very tense thriller, but genre wise it is primarily a western, from the rare female perspective.  Brit Marling gives a gritty yet haunting performance as Augusta, the matriarch of the household in lieu of parental figures.  There is no singular enemy except for the collective of men hollowed by war who come to rape and pillage whatever is left of the land and women.  This enemy is embodied by the two Yankees that Augusta encounters on her search for medicine.  While the men are strong, the women are never portrayed as the weaker sex as they put up a hell of a good fight when defending their home, their bodies and their lives from these villains.

A tense thriller from the female perspective is exactly what the western genre needs to keep it from being stuck in the 1800’s.

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Kelly & Cal
Directed by Jen McGowan
Starring Juliette Lewis, Jonny Weston, Josh Hopkins and Cybill Shepherd

by Joanna Orland

Kelly & Cal is a lovely film about coping with change & then some.  Juliette Lewis is brilliant as Kelly in a rare lead performance from the woman whose full time job is as frontwoman for band Juliette and the Licks.  Kelly is a new mother, struggling with postnatal depression as her husband barely engages in their marriage.  Struggling to deal with this change in life, Kelly befriends high school student Cal (Jonny Weston) who himself is struggling to cope with a life-changing accident that has left him wheelchair bound.  This friendship borders on inappropriate, sometimes uncomfortable, but also beautiful as they use each other to cope with their overwhelming new stances in life to give each other hope and the power to accept their fates.

The role of Kelly feels tailored to Juliette and vice versa.  A former Riot Grrrl turned mother who longs for her days in a band with a penchant for bass-playing and blue hair dye.  Full of nostalgia, her connection with the teenage Cal reignites this lost youth of Kelly’s fond memories.  Spending time with Cal allows her to forget her troubles of not bonding with her new son, drifting away from her husband, her isolation in suburbia and her fear of losing her identity.  Cal is a romantic at heart, in the guise of a brash and angry teenager.  He confides in Kelly about the girlfriend who left him behind after his accident, and eventually begins to feel romantically towards her.  He puts her on a pedestal, listening to recordings of her ex-band Wet-Nap and their hit Moist Towelette (composed and sung by Lewis herself), he spies on her when she’s in her home, he takes her out on what are essentially dates, and all the while Kelly is toying with this flirtation rather than rejecting it.  Eventually, this relationship reaches boiling point.

Kelly & Cal is a serious story told with the perfect balance of drama and comedy.  The serious dramatic content is nuanced with a brilliantly subtle comedic performance from Lewis in particular.  The most memorable moment being a scene where Kelly pleasures herself to a photo of George Clooney, who gave director Jen McGowan permission to use his likeness in such a fashion after McGowan coerced Lewis to ask him for his blessing after he produced the actress’ last film August: Osage County.

The drama, comedy and performances come together to make Kelly & Cal a beautiful story filled with authenticity.

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Leopardi
Directed by Mario Martone
Starring Elio Germano, Michele Riondino and Massimo Popolizio

by Amanda Farley

Mario Martone’s latest film focuses on the life and work of Giacomo Leopardi, one of Italy’s most celebrated poets, considered by many to be second only to the great Dante. Yet for most this film will be the first introduction to a man who’s prolific collection of writing continues to capture people’s hearts and imaginations.

This is an undoubtedly beautiful feature. Shot in many of the original locations from Leopardi’s life, from his family home in Recanati, to Florence, Rome and Italy. There is an authenticity and attention to detail that brings the world into sparkling focus. It is easy to fall into the reality of this eighteenth century story and to grasp the pain, beauty and excitement of life as Leopardi (Elio Germano) lived it.

Beginning with his childhood in Recanati, we see him grow from a boy into a youth and finally we witness his deliverance into independence and manhood. We watch as his intellect develops and his body decays. While living in Recanati he is nurtured and later trapped by his father’s (Massimo Popoliz) love and emotionally damaged by his mother’s (Raffaella Giordano) distance and severity.

Despite the company of his brother (Edoardo Natoli) and sister(Isabella Ragonese) Leopardi longs for something more. The studies which have freed his mind are now his prison but spurred on by a passionate exchange of letters with Pietro Giordani (Valerio Binasco) Leopardi begins to see a life for himself outside of his father’s library.

Flash forward ten years and Leopardi is in Florence with writer Antonio Ranieri (Michele Riondino). Accepted as a literary figure of note, Leopardi struggles with both his finances and ever deteriorating heath. The relationship between Ranieri and Leopardi is at the heart of this and the film explores the growing dependance of Leopardi on Ranieri and his sister Paolina (Federica de Cola).

Elio Germano is excellent as Leopardi, he gives a nuanced and touching representation of a man trapped by his own brilliance and loneliness. His depiction of Leopardi’s physical afflictions is subtle and truthfully done. His perfectly conveys the poet’s increasing fragility and deterioration even as his mind continues to develop and expand. The rest of the cast are well chosen and Popoliz in particular gives a wonderful performance as the loving but domineering father figure.

While this is an ambitious and brave attempt to tell a difficult story the film has several failings. It is obvious that Leopardi is loved by those who encounter him, but yet the script never lets the audience in and as such it is hard to understand why he inspires such affection. From the audience’s perspective there is a distance that is never bridged and that makes it harder to care about this beautiful, damaged man. Martone’s desire to educate veers towards didacticism and at 144 minutes this is an indulgent mistake that takes away from the story being told. The overall effect is one where concept is king rather then character.

Martone does look to create a sense of relevance and with Sascha Ring providing a modern score to mix with period pieces it creates a fresh and different sound. He also uses Leopardi’s poetry to great success at the end of the film. The closing images and the words to Wild Broom” (“La ginestra”) are a perfect parting scene. It captures the beauty and loneliness of Leopardi’s existence in a way that truly resonates. This film may run slightly too long but it does bring Leopardi to life in a way that will hopefully inspire audiences to read his work.

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Listen Up Philip
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss and Jonathan Pryce

by Joanna Orland

Listen Up Philip will surely be a hit with the critics, but its pretentiousness may prevent it from finding the mainstream audience it deserves.  With very Rothian (Philip Roth) overtones, the story follows Philip (Schwartzman) as a young writer about to breakthrough with his second novel.  He catches the attention of the acclaimed and elderly author Ike Zimmerman (Pryce) who becomes his mentor of sorts.  His relationship with girlfriend Ashley (Moss) is falling apart, much as his previous relationships have.  Philip always comes first.

Jason Schwartzman is typecast but perfectly so in Listen Up Philip – arrogant and self-indulgent in all of the right ways.  Philip is a man who doesn’t compromise whether it be for what’s good for his career or his relationships.  He is barely likable as a protagonist but Schwartzman’s portrayal is practically perfection as he plays Philip with a subtle sense of irony, immediately winning over the audience onto Philip’s conceited, irrational and selfish side.

Elisabeth Moss is also perfectly cast as Ashley, and helps the audience get an insight into how anyone could care for such a selfish man.  Moss’ screen time and feelings towards Philip help the audience to empathize not only with her character, but with Philip as well as her mere presence softens his harsh persona.

While Philip’s story is the main focus of this film, the narrative is divided into three strands, one to follow each of the main characters – Philip, Ashley and Ike.  Philip and Ashley are by far the most engaging narratives, but Ike’s is a necessary story arc to piece it all together and help Philip onto his path.  The stories and character backstories are all glued together wonderfully by the narration of Eric Bogosian who gives the audience further insight into the characters with an almost irreverent tone that complements their personalities.  Bogosian’s narration also fits seamlessly with the tone of this film, enhancing its character and humour to make it one of the most enjoyable indie films of the year.

While Listen Up Philip may deter audiences looking for likeable protagonists, it will satiate the appetite of Philip Roth fans and sardonic indie film lovers worldwide.

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Madame Bovary
Directed by Sophie Barthes
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Ezra Miller, Rhys Ifans, Paul Giamatti and Laura Carmichael

by Joanna Orland

Director Sophie Barthes has provided the world with yet another adaptation of the timeless classic Madame Bovary. Based on the Gustave Flaubert novel, Madame Bovary is the plight of a young married woman as she suffers from boredom and engages in extra-marital affairs and consumerism.

Taking inspiration from Andrea Arnold’s 2011 adaptation of another classic, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Barthes sets her film in a rural landscape with lingering shots of the environment and ambient sound to flatter the visuals. Where Arnold’s use of such scenery creates a dreamlike atmosphere, Barthes under-uses this technique to create merely a dull ambience. Now this could either be that the mood of the film is merely dull, or the dullness of the ambience mirrors the boredom that Madame Bovary is feeling in her daily mundane life. Either way, this film is overall dull, but the character of Madame Bovary is an empathetic one in the hands of the always excellent Mia Wasikowska.

Wasikowska is a younger, childless version of Bovary in Barthes’ adaptation. She carries the role with ease and is mesmerizing on screen. The only shining light in this otherwise dim tale. Ezra Miller seems very out of place as a love interest to Madame Bovary. He is very ill-suited to this film. The rest of the cast is filled out nicely with Rhys Ifans and Paul Giamatti among others, but all feel very under utilized.

Overall, this is a technically fine film with a strong lead performance. The mundane boredom that Madame Bovary feels in her life mirrors the feeling that the audience has from watching this film. A solid effort, but soulless in its failed execution.

 

Madame Bovary: Mia WasikowskaMia Wasikowska discusses Madame Bovary

 

Madame Bovary: Luke TittensorLuke Tittensor on playing a character with a club foot

 

Madame Bovary: Sophie BarthesDirector Sophie Barthes on adapting Madame Bovary

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Mommy
Directed by Xavier Dolan

Starring Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon and Suzanne Clément

by Joanna Orland

For the young age of 25, Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan has a masterful repertoire of films that could take other directors a lifetime to create. With five films in as many years, Dolan is finally garnering the critical acclaim he has always deserved with his latest masterpiece Mommy. A writer, editor, costume designer and star of many of his films, Dolan is the true definition of auteur. Out of his many talents, he is most renowned for his distinct directing style for which Mommy won him the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Mommy is Dolan’s most substantial film to date and has his signature tone of dreamlike visuals set to a pop-filled soundtrack, melding to create an almost ethereal experience. As Dolan comes from a music video directorial background, it makes perfect sense that his movies have a stylization to them that is strongly driven by music. The song choices that Dolan uses in his films are amongst the first elements he decides upon when making a movie. He’s so inspired by song, that he has even written entire film scripts based on songs he’s heard on the radio.

Mommy: Xavier Dolan

“A movie might originate from a song. It might be the real origin of a film, solely. I wrote one script, a story that I was entirely inspired by hearing Calvin Harris I Feel So Close To You. I heard that on the radio and I was like, ‘Oh that song!’ and I wrote an entire movie”, explains Dolan.

With dark subject matter at its core, Mommy is still a joyous experience with its classic pop music from the likes of Oasis and Celine Dion, and its use of humour including the nod to Antoine-Olivier Pilon’s resemblance to a certain former child star. The substance in Mommy comes from the relationship between its three central characters – mommy Diane (Dorval), son Steve (Pilon) and friend Kyla (Clément). The performances from the three actors are outstanding. All having worked with Dolan previously, they seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the director allowing them to embody his vision to perfection.

The story, soundtrack, visuals and performances are all stunning, but it is Dolan’s directing that defines this film as a masterpiece. Dolan has chosen a very risky tactic in order to depict the claustrophobia and anxiety that the characters are struggling with. Dolan has filmed most of Mommy in 1:1 aspect ratio, meaning much of the screen is rendered black with the picture centred in a square dimension. This works to great effect, especially during one of the most liberating and exhilarating scenes later in the film. Never before have I seen the aspect ratio of a film mirror the characters’ moods. While some may find it a distraction or a frustration, it works gloriously in creating empathy in a completely unique, exciting and fresh way.

Mommy looks to be Canada’s entry for the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category. If this doesn’t win Dolan the award he so deserves, at least it will gain him international recognition as an accomplished and masterful filmmaker.

 

Mommy: Xavier DolanDirector Xavier Dolan

 

Mommy: Nancy GrantProducer Nancy Grant

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Mr Kaplan
Directed by Álvaro Brechner
Starring Hector Noguera, Nestor Guzzini and Rolf Becker

by Amanda Farley

Jacob Kaplan (Héctor Noguera) is 76 years old and trapped in the humdrum ordinariness of his life. Having fled to South America from Europe during World War II, he was named for greatness but the older he gets the more he feels his inadequacy. He has no great legacy to leave behind and time is running out. Meanwhile his family can’t help him. His sons are distracted by their own careers, his granddaughter is a typical teenager and his wife, while ever faithful, doesn’t understand Jacob’s end of life crisis. But then hopes arrives in the form of an elderly German bar owner, known locally as ‘The Nazi’. Suspicious of this man, Kaplan begins to investigate with the help of the hapless Contreras (Néstor Guzzini), a down on his luck ex-police officer. It’s not long before he’s convinced he’s found a runaway nazi and with greatness now within his grasp he and Contreras hatch a plan. Inspired by the story of Adolf Eichmann, they will kidnap the German and secretly take him to Israel to stand trial. This plan starts a chain of events that lead to some unexpected and surprising outcomes.

This is director Alvaro Brechner’s second feature after Bad Day to Go Fishing and shows Brechner’s exceptional storytelling skill at work. He has a wonderful ability to comment on the frailty and contradictions of human nature while never passing judgment. Instead we see storytelling that takes difficult ideas and the unpalatable parts of human behaviour and looks at them with a respect and humour that allows the audience to be conspirators rather than judge. He also shows his ability to portray characters that have real depth; these people seem real and nuanced despite the ever increasing ridiculousness of the situations they create for themselves.

This is helped by the fact that Mr Kaplan has a strong cast of actors. Héctor Noguera is sublime as the lead and manages to bring warmth to a character that could so easily have become self-indulgent and clichéd. Néstor Guzzini also gives a good performance as a hapless but loveable loser, a man who always means well but yet never quite manages to get it right. It’s lovely to see the buddy genre restyled here with two characters that connect across a generation. They are well paired; the grumpy Mr Kaplan against the younger and more insecure Contreras. Both have failed but in different ways and all they have left is one man who believes and one man who wants to believe. The resulting journey leads to some emotional and poignant realizations.

Shot in Uruguay, this film is a wonderful explosion of colour and sunshine. From the white sandy beaches to the contemporary city apartment it shows the country at its best. What’s more, it captures the humour and love of the people. Although terribly sad in its own way, this film never forgets the humour that comes even in the darkest moment. Mr Kaplan might have a terrible grasp of logic but his heart is always in the right place and Brechner uses both the character’s words and silences to show this.

This film looks at both the small and big moments that make up a life. It does so in a way that doesn’t shy away from the ridiculous but that also never falls into the trap of flippancy or glibness and that’s what makes it a quixotic journey that is definitely worth seeing.

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Mr. Turner
Directed by Mike Leigh
Starring Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson and Lesley Manville
In UK Cinemas October 31st, 2014

by Joanna Orland

Director Mike Leigh pays tribute to J.M.W. Turner in this biopic that explores the last twenty-five years of the British artist’s life. Timothy Spall was named Best Actor at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for his role as Turner, but the true accolades are deserved for cinematographer Dick Pope who translates Turner’s visual style and works to the big screen in an accomplishment worthy on its own artistic merit and not just as tribute. The visuals being inspired by Turner’s work as much as the story itself is inspired by his life, is a (brush)stroke of genius and the primary source of enjoyment in this otherwise long and drawn out character study.

The painter whose dying words are known to be “The sun is God” is most famed for his work depicting the brilliance of light. The film’s landscape visuals do his work justice, but when it comes to plot, pace and performance, Mr. Turner is rather bleak in comparison. Lacking in plot, this film is far too long to be considered an enjoyable watch. There are some excellent performances, notably Marion Bailey as Turner’s love interest Mrs. Booth who is a delight in every one of her scenes. Timothy Spall grunts his way surprisingly to Best Actor accolades as a surly Turner who is completely unempathetic and rather vulgar as a human being. This is why the film is not actually about Turner the man, but about Turner’s art wrapped in the guise of a biopic.

While I can’t recommend this film as a character study or narrative, its visuals are something worth spectating. Perhaps they would have even made the real J.M.W. Turner, surly and self-absorbed as he was, take notice.

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My Old Lady
Directed by Israel Horovitz
Starring Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas

by Amanda Farley

Mathias (Kevin Kline) is broke and broken but when his estranged father dies and leaves him a beautiful Paris apartment and a gold watch, it finally seems like his luck has changed. Using the last of his money he flies from New York to Paris, where he plans to sell the apartment and start again. There’s only one problem, this inheritance comes with the added addition of Mathilde (Maggie Smith) and her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas). While he may technically own the apartment, it turns out that his father bought it as a “viager” – an ancient French system for buying and selling apartments – and he can’t sell it until Mathilde dies. Now completely broke and out of options, Mathias is forced to move into the apartment as a lodger, a setup which leads to some interesting personal discoveries and the unearthing of dark family secrets.

With its all-star cast My Old Lady is the directorial debut of renowned playwright Israel Horovitz. Throughout the film, Horovitz’s skill as a writer shines through. While he doesn’t do anything to redefine cinematic language, he does create a world populated with characters that feel real and painfully truthful. Each person has their own dark secrets and flaws and we follow them as they battle with themselves and each other to try and find some sense of resolve. The script also manages to successfully navigate that tricky space between comedy and tragedy. Kevin Kline is particularly adept at finding the right equilibrium between humour and tragedy in his role as a self-loathing divorcee recovering from alcoholism and haunted by memories of the past.

Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas are however never outshone by Kline’s brilliance. Smith brings a sense of likability to her role that could so easily be missing. Her ability to be truthful makes a dubious character completely relatable and allows us into Mathilde’s logic in a way many less talented actors never could. Meanwhile Scott Thomas has an air of vivacity and life that brings some much needed energy to this rather confined world. Her scenes with Kline are especially kinetic and their on screen connection brings a sense of depth that really helps highlight how the sins of the parents are visited upon the children.

While this film might not set the world alight, it does make for some compelling viewing.

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Near Death Experience
Directed by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern
Starring Michel Houellebecq

by Ruth Thomson (reviewed at the 71st Venice Film Festival)

This film does exactly what it says on the tin. Forty-five minutes in we were losing the will to live so much we followed the example of many others in the screening, took the plunge (since the protagonist wouldn’t) and exited the building.

French author and poet Michel Houellebecq stars, if that’s the word, as Paul, a middle-aged, puny and depressed call centre employee with colleagues and a family who are only seen in the early stages of the film (as far as we know) from the neck down, no doubt to heighten our sensitivity to his extensive isolation and misery. One day he tells his wife he’s going out for an hour and, lycra clad, heads off into the hills on his road bike. He proceeds to wander aimlessly around whilst musing on killing himself and dramatically stands on steep ledges arms outstretched without actually doing the deed. At the time of our departure he appeared to be stuck to a rock face, limbs outstretched, Spiderman style.

Directed by the seemingly fairly pretentious Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine, Near Death Experience may of course have turned out to be a masterpiece, but given that unlike Paul we do actually value our time on earth, we didn’t stick around to find out.

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The New Girlfriend
Directed by François Ozon

Starring Anaïs Demoustier, Romain Duris, Raphaël Personnaz and Isild Le Besco

by Amanda Farley

Francois Ozon’s latest offering The New Girlfriend is a sexually charged and wonderfully funny tour de force.

Claire (Anais Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) have been best friends since childhood and are completely inseparable. That is until Laura becomes ill and dies, leaving behind her husband David (Romain Duris) and their new born baby, Lucie.

Struggling to cope with the loss of her friend Claire resolves to honour her promise to Laura that she would look after David and Luice. However when she drops by unannounced she is confronted with an unfamiliar woman. That is until she looks closer, only to find David wearing one of Laura’s old dresses and a wig. Shocked by what she has seen Claire is at first disgusted but as time goes by she becomes intrigued and as David opens up to her about his compulsions, a strange new friendship is created.

With Claire’s acceptance, David begins to grow in confidence but with Laura’s ghost always present things begin to quickly spiral out of control. As Claire becomes more and more embroiled in David’s life, it’s not long until it begins to put a strain on her own relationship with her husband Gilles (Raphael Personnaz). It’s obvious that while this isn’t a typical affair, there certainly something more then friendship on offer.

Ozon offers up a film that has a very Hitchcockian style feel about it. There is an undeniable Norman Bates quality about David. The way he is slowly morphing into the woman he loved is both creepy and touching, while his exploration of his gender is charged with possibility. It’s exciting to see his character evolve.

There is also a lot of humour in this film. Ozon manages to exploit the cracks in these characters to find some great moments of truthful comedy. Always moving forward, the story looks at the subversion of the gender role while constantly coming back to the theme of forbidden passion.

The real heart of this film though is the brilliance of the two leads. Virginia, as the female side of David, is instantly relatable and natural. Duris offers a wonderful performance and harnesses a feminine energy that is beautiful to watch. Meanwhile Claire is no less fascinating. As she confronts her own desires we see a complex inner struggle subtly portrayed. She brings a depth to the film that provides a much needed contrast against Duris’s more manic energy.

Based on a short story Ozon transforms the material into a witty and provocative look at gender and forbidden desire. This is a film which celebrates play and in which we find lovable and relatable characters. Although it veers towards farce at time Ozon manages to balance that with a sense of the melancholic. Definitely a fun and enjoyable journey to go on.

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Phoenix
Directed by Christian Petzold
Starring Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld and Nina Kunzendorf

by Amanda Farley

In this film noir drama from director Christian Petzold we enter an athmospheric world of lies and lost chances.

Hoss plays Nelly Lenz, a concentration camp survivor. Emerging from the horrors of the camp she undergoes major reconstructive surgery to rebuild her damaged face. Unable to replicate her old appearance doctors remind her that a new face could be an advantage.

Unable to move on and desperate to recapture her past existence, Nelly goes in search of her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), a man who may have betrayed her to the Nazis. When she finds him, his reaction is not what she expected but lured by his attentions and desperate to grasp at any echo of her lost identity she agrees to his plan. As Nelly pretends to be herself in order to please Johnny and help him claim his dead wife’s estate, she begins to find herself again.

Phoenix is Petzold’s sixth collaboration with Hoss. Looking at Germany’s recent history the film explores the period directly after the Second World War. With concentration camp survivors returning to their homes, we see the discomfort of a society that would rather forget what it is daily confronted with. There is a freshness about this period that Petzold captures, it is a part of history often overlooked in cinema and it provides a powerful backdrop to this dark relationship drama between a husband and wife, hidden from each other by their own secrets.

Hoss excels in this complex role. Her performance is both powerful and nuanced and her ability to play a character, who is playing a character, with such effortless ease illustrates her skill as one of Germany’s finest actresses. Combined with Petzold’s storytelling prowess, this makes a story that should feel far fetched and implausible, completely believable. This is a suspenseful drama that is reminiscent of Hitchcock. The closing image of the red dress and Nelly’s rendition of Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash’s Speak Low, perfectly sum up the elegance of this film. Always understated but always powerful, both Petzold and Hoss bring a world to life that echoes in the imagination well after the end credits have finished.

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Rosewater
Directed by Jon Stewart
Starring Gael García Bernal

by Joanna Orland

America’s number one satirist Jon Stewart goes from talk show host to filmmaker with his debut feature Rosewater. Still focused on political material, Stewart tells the story of Maziar Bahari, the Iranian-born Newsweek reporter who was captured by the Iranian government and tried as a spy during the social unrest of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections.

Based on Bahari’s memoirs, Stewart’s adaptation uses humour amongst the drama to humanize both Bahari (Bernal) and his captor, never emanating preachiness in a film whose partial intention is to raise awareness of those who unjustly remain in captivity. Gael Garcia Bernal embodies the role of Bahari with a likability that even the real, articulate and friendly Bahari himself can’t compete with. Under Stewart’s direction, the character Bahari undergoes more of a transformation than what occurred in reality, Stewart himself explaining how the character needed to seem weaker at the start of the story in order to make the key moment when he raises his camera all the more dramatically effective.

With some of the character and narrative elements embellished to heighten drama, the humour of this film is based solely in truth. Even as things begin to seem hopeless to Bernal’s Bahari, it is hard for him to not find the situation ridiculous. A journalist is being accused of being a spy with the media in general being accused of existing as a newly instated espionage organization supporting the Zionist agenda. Footage of Bahari’s interview on The Daily Show, which was used as evidence against him in the reality, is recreated to emphasize the ludicrousy of these accusations. The Daily Show correspondent Rob Riggle claims to be a spy as he interviews Bahari about life in Iran, leading to the Iranian government accusing Bahari of meeting with a spy, which of course means he too must be a spy. Bernal’s Bahari is fighting a losing battle trying to explain the concept of satire to his Iranian captors.

While the 2009 Iranian presidential elections may not seem as current of an issue in present day with all that has happened in the Middle East since, this story is a reminder of just how much it is still relevant, how some of these people are still being held captive without trial, with more innocents joining them in captivity or losing their lives daily due to the oppression of a corrupt system.

 

Rosewater: Jon StewartJon Stewart

 

Rosewater: Maziar BahariMaziar Bahari

 

Rosewater: Amir El-MasryAmir El-Masry

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Second Coming
Directed by debbie tucker green
Starring Nadine Marshall, Idris Elba and Kai Francis-Lewis

by Amanda Farley

Second Coming is the second feature film written and directed by London playwright debbie tucker green.

It is set in modern day London and follows Jax (Nadine Marsall) as she comes to terms with her pregnancy. After four miscarriages she never expect to have any more children. Especially because she hasn’t had sex with her husband (Idris Elba) for quite a while or anyone else for that matter. Confused and suffering from visions she is unsure if she should keep the baby. As her marriage and her relationships with her family and friends begin to suffer, Jax becomes more and more convinced that this baby is miraculous, in fact it might just be the second coming.

tucker green is an exceptional writer. She has the ability to say so much even when her characters say nothing. A master of the pause or half said thought, she brings to life a family that is glorious in its ordinariness. In depicting life in such a naturalistic way she is able to really get to a level of humour very seldom seen on screen. She crafts a world where the light and shade of human nature are under a spotlight and where we see people we instantly recognise as real. Their truth feels effortless.

She creates a real sense of intimacy within this world. It feels incredibly truthful and it is wonderful to see a black family portrayed with such heart and authenticity. In fact everything about the film from the raw and messy soundtrack to the handheld camera helps to build a sense of verisimilitude.

The cast are well chosen. Especially Kai Francis-Lewis who is wonderful as Jax’s son JJ. Having just turned 12 this year he is an actor worth looking out for in the future. He has a natural gentleness and his scenes with Idris are gorgeous. They really capture a sense of the the father and son relationship and you can feel a real connection between both actors.

The story never shy away from the hardness or darker side of human nature. In fact it seems to celebrate our flaws and frailties in a way that is refreshing and different.Throughout tucker green’s voice shine through and it is a voice worth listening to. Ambiguous though the story might be, it is completely captivating from start to finish. We feel like privileged voyageurs, watching a life unfold before our eyes, lucky to have the opportunity to glimpse into this family’s life.

The film isn’t without its flaws but this director, this cast and this kind of storytelling are certainly something we need to see more of.

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Serena
Directed by Susanne Bier
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Rhys Ifans

by Joanna Orland

Is Susanne Bier OK?  The two films that she has to showcase at the 58th BFI London Film Festival both have overlapping themes of miscarriages and the deaths of babies having catastrophic consequences.  While A Second Chance is a subtle Danish thriller about a dead baby, Serena is an in-your-face American mess about many things, including a dead baby.

Primarily, this film is about Serena and her husband George Pemberton.  They fall in love and she is a strong woman who ends up co-running George’s lumber business as well as his life.  The start of the film is sappy and sexual, never quite divulging much about these characters outside of their attraction to each other.  Eventually Serena becomes jealous of the child George fathered out of wedlock before they had met, and things get a little bat shit crazy very quickly.

The melodramatic content of this film is ridiculous.  The characters are underdeveloped and the plot too thin, so when the shit does hit the fan, it’s even more over the top and nonsensical than need be.  The performances are good because, well, it’s Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.  Jennifer in particular is a beauty on the screen and lovely to watch, but these roles and this film are not good enough for talent of their calibre.

I don’t know why this film was made and I don’t know why anyone should ever watch it.  Out of the two dead baby films that Bier has on display at the 58th BFI London Film Festival, A Second Chance is the only one worth a chance.

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The Silent Storm
Directed by Corinna McFarlane
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Damian Lewis, Kate Dickie and Ross Anderson

by Joanna Orland

I managed to sit through nearly an hour of this film in anticipation of it redeeming itself at some point.  It nearly did with the arrival of Ross Anderson’s Fionn, but not enough so to keep my interest.

Set on a remote Scottish island in the 1950’s, The Silent Storm is the story of Balor (Lewis), a minister whose losing his congregation to the mainland.  He has a violent temper and mood swings that unnerve his wife Aislin (Riseborough).  Apparently they’re upset and arguing because of the child they lost during labour, but to be honest – is this a marriage that could have survived if it wasn’t for the minister’s hard stance against divorce?

Fionn arrives to add a point to the triangle and is just about a glimmer of light in this otherwise dim film.  Anderson is quite endearing in his first feature role and somehow seems more suited to the screen than television veteran Damian Lewis.  Lewis gives a performance suited for the stage rather than screen in his melodramatic portrayal of Balor, which becomes so over the top at times you’d be forgiven to mistake it for pantomime.  While his accent thoroughly Scottish, it seems more suited to a Mike Myers character than to a minister in a serious Scottish rural drama.  Whether it be the directing that put Lewis’ performance so out of sync with the character, or if the film is just a bad film with no redeeming qualities, I’m not quite sure at this point.  All I know is that after an hour of enduring it, I understood why everyone was leaving for the mainland and decided to join them.

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Stray Dog
Directed by Debra Granik
Starring Ron Hall and Alicia Hall

by Joanna Orland

The American Disillusion has filled the void left by the once hopeful and prosperous American Dream.  This dream Americans still convince themselves of is what makes the country’s citizens so very patriotic, and they are willing to fight to the death to defend it.

Director Debra Granik met Ronnie ‘Stray Dog’ Hall while filming her previous film Winter’s Bone.  On the surface, Ronnie is a classic American archetype – biker, war veteran (of both Korea and Vietnam), supporter of veterans, friend to his neighbours, husband to Mexican wife Alicia and stepfather to her children.  As much as Ronnie has given to the system, it has not returned the favour.  Ronnie is a strong, emotional, sensitive, funny, caring, complex and wonderful human being who sacrificed much to defend his country in war.  He was left to fend for himself to defeat his PTSD upon his return to America, as he lives in poverty, stating how he almost preferred his time living in Korea to his present in America, and could see Mexico as a prosperous place to live out his days as it reminds him of how America was in the 1950’s.

Where much of reality television would exploit a trailer-park resident biker subject matter for comedic and entertainment value, Granik explores the complexities of a character such as Ronnie.  He’s a passionate, hardworking and intelligent man in a less than ideal situation.  He wiles his days away learning Spanish on his computer, spending time with his lovely wife and helping war veterans and victims make better lives for themselves.  He also spends time visiting with his daughter and granddaughter who is a teenage school dropout, pregnant and about to marry her boyfriend whose job is working at McDonalds.

The true message of disillusionment becomes overtly demonstrated upon the arrival of Alicia’s twin sons Jesus and Angel.  During the documentary’s filming, the twins processed their paperwork and moved to America to join their mother in search of a better life north of the border.  The disappointment exudes from their faces.  Together they reminisce about their lives in Mexico, comparing Mexico City to their American trailer park as they wonder why they left their girlfriends, homes and lives behind for something less.

Stray Dog flips the stereotype on its head and exposes the American Dream for the American Disillusion that it has become.  Humorous on the surface but deeply sad beneath, no other documentary so accurately captures the problems and day to day issues of modern America.

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Testament of Youth
Directed by James Kent
Starring Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell, Anna Chancellor

by Amanda Farley

Testament of Youth is James Kent’s first feature film and it is beautiful and heartbreaking and just plain wonderful.

Opening with the celebrations for Armistice Day the story then rewinds four years to the summer of 1914. Where we are introduced to Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander), a young woman determined to follow her literary ambitions and study at Oxford University. Overcoming the opposition of her father (Dominic West) with the help of her beloved brother Edward (Taron Egerton) she is allowed to sit the entrance exam.

Life seems perfect, particularly as she is also busy falling in love aspiring writer Roland Leighton (Kit Harington). That is until Britain declares war on Germany and the idyllic world of pre-war Britain vanishes. Replaced by fear, final farewells and telegrams of lost lives. As the men head to the front Vera is unable to remain behind with her books. Putting her studies on hold she enrolls as a nurse and places herself as close to her loved ones as she can.

Kent presents a film that not only deals with the terrible loss that is inevitable with war but also of the female experience within that. He creates a world of beauty while never forgetting the horror that underpins it. He is assisted in this by the skill of Rob Hardy and Max Richter.

Hardy yields his camera like an artists brush, creating intricate images that capture the imagination and bring the world he is depicting into a heightened state of existence. This is not just a film, it is a love poem to a lost generation. While Richter’s sensational score adds splendor, gravitas and subtlety to the images on screen. There is a delicacy to his work that pervades through even in the darkest of moments and which binds the overall feeling of the film.

A feeling of intimacy. The characters feel personal and open. Through the use of their poetry and letters, the audience is allowed to look into their very souls. To see their true beauty and to know their thoughts, loves and hidden desires. What is most striking though is that none of it feels forced. Kent’s background in documentary making serves him well. There is an authenticity in what he has crafted that helps to make us believe in these people and to open our hearts to them.

Vikander’s star quality is obvious on screen. She effortlessly balances Vera’s likability with her unyielding certainty of what is right and we can’t help but fall in love with her version of this iconic hero. She brings her to life with such intelligence, vivacity and spirit that the audience fall completely under the character’s spell.

Kent’s version of Vera’s memories is a retelling for this generation. He has reworked the story for a new era and ensured that the lives of those lost live on in our memories.

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Whiplash
Directed Damien Chazelle

Starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons

by Joanna Orland

Blood, sweat, a single tear. Whiplash exudes passion and physicality like no other film. The story follows music student Andrew as he strives to be a great jazz drummer in the vain of Buddy Rich or Charlie Parker. He’s got the talent to be one of the greats, but does he have the drive?

What started off as a short film for director Damien Chazelle has turned into an epic and award-winning feature. Based on his own experiences as a jazz drummer, Chazelle captures the hard work and determination that it takes to succeed in doing what you love. Work ethic must be a hugely important concept to Chazelle to have shot Whiplash in a mere nineteen days with only ten weeks of editing. The result is a masterpiece.

Chazelle takes the music genre and flips it on its head by giving it a filmic sports treatment. More like Raging Bull than Mr. Holland’s Opus, this film puts a mentor and student head to head to battle it out with everything on the line. A student-teacher relationship like you’ve not seen before on film, the dynamic between Andrew (Teller) and Fletcher (Simmons) is electrifying, dangerous, abusive and empowering. No doubt, there will be much discussion of this film’s moral teachings, but at its core, it is offering itself up for debate – how far should someone go in order to achieve greatness?

The visual rhythm of the film is paced to the music seamlessly and passionately. The way this film is musically constructed makes the audience even more empathetic to Andrew’s plight as they too can feel the music and feel the passion he feels for it. Whiplash makes jazz music accessible to a wide audience by immersing them in it, but also by humanizing it.

Andrew’s drums are an extension of his soul and body. You can feel the passion in his playing, but you can also see his sweat and blood all over them. It’s so extreme that at one point Fletcher barks orders to clean the blood off of his drum set. The drums are definitely the third central character in this film, and never before has an inanimate object felt and looked so alive. The drums’ performance is nearly as good as the two lead actors’, Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.

Miles Teller’s star has been on the rise since The Spectacular Now, but this film will assuredly put him on the map as an acting force to be reckoned with. A drummer himself since age fifteen, Teller bares his soul in front of the camera and gives everything in his portrayal of Andrew. I honestly felt his desire to succeed and the suffering he was struggling with in order to achieve his dream. No one could have played this role as sincerely and brilliantly as Teller has.

J.K. Simmons has been a well-established character actor for many years. Finally, this is the leading role that has been long overdue for him. He excels as a terrifying music maestro. He instills fear not only in Andrew, but in the entire audience as his mere on screen presence can send a chill down people’s spines. While Simmons has had a long and illustrious supporting career, this is his best performance to date and it only took a leading part to get it from him.

The entire film is intense, gripping and evocative, but none of it as much so as the end scene. This is potentially one of the greatest finales portrayed in modern cinema. So fully immersed in this scene I was, for a few minutes, I actually thought I was at a live concert. The thunderous applause and standing ovations this film received tells me that perhaps I’m not the only one to fully lose themselves in the moment.

Never has a jazz movie been so emotionally evocative. Blood, sweat & a single tear must have gone into making this film one of the greats.

 

Whiplash: J.K. SimmonsJ.K. Simmons

 

Whiplash: Damien ChazelleDamien Chazelle

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Wild
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann and Michiel Huisman

by Joanna Orland

Reese Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed in the true story of overcoming one’s demons. Cheryl is dealing with grief, the loss of her mother is something she never overcame. The demise of that relationship causes others in Cheryl’s life to unravel as she’s distant from her brother and her marriage to Paul is falling apart at the seams. She turns to drugs and sex to escape the pain, but she finds no solace until her 3 month trek across the Pacific Crest Trail in the Wild.

Adapted from Strayed’s novel by acclaimed writer Nick Hornby, Wild has 3 distinct voices – Strayed’s, Hornby’s and director Jean-Marc Vallée’s. Cheryl is a strong female character and her portrayal on the big screen feels as intimate as if it were being read directly from the pages of the book. Vallée’s use of flashback and audio to tell Cheryl’s story gives the audience the feel of being inside Cheryl’s head. Flashbacks are often dreamlike, utilizing sound design to create an intimacy which would be unachievable otherwise. Layers of Witherspoon’s whispered and spoken dialogue are interwoven between flashbacks and present day reality to give the distinct impression that she is remembering these moments as she treks through the wild, and we the audience are privy to her thoughts. This abstract and detached technique is one of the most subtle yet innovative uses of sound I have seen in a modern film.

In addition to the dialogue connecting the pieces of the story, music is used to the same effect, notably in the form of song. This is where Hornby’s distinct voice comes into play. Songs may play or be sung in present day which triggers memories for Cheryl, again using abstract detachment to link the narrative. For a non-musical film to tell its story using music in such a way, is an inspiration.

Cheryl’s flashback sequences often focus on her relationship with her mother, played by the enigmatic Laura Dern. Laura is such a joy to watch in this role, I almost felt as if she were my own mother, and mourned her loss in a way I wouldn’t have if this role were played by a lesser actress. While Laura is crucial to her part, Witherspoon feels merely adequate. With a very strong and solid performance from the actress, the element missing here is depth. Witherspoon, even in the grittiest of roles, feels too sweet and light for a character who is going through the depths of hell, trying to climb her way out. Witherspoon’s inferiority in this role is only enhanced by the fact that as recently as April of this year, Mia Wasikowska took on a similar role as Robyn Davidson in Tracks, the story of a woman’s trek through the Australian desert. Whereas you could feel the weight of the world on Wasikowska’s shoulders as her journey progressed, with Witherspoon, the mood feels like more of a casual stroll.

Overall, Wild is an engaging journey of self-discovery. A strong female lead coupled with an intimate soundscape makes us all search for our own answers in life.

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The Wonders
Directed by Alice Rohrwacher
Starring Alexandra Lunghi, Sam Louvyck, Alba Rohrwacher and Monica Bellucci

by Joanna Orland

Awarded the Grand Prix at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Alice Rohrwacher’s tale of a young girl coming of age as she struggles to maintain her relationship with her father while forging her own identity, is a beautiful ambient rural drama. Set in the Italian countryside, the story follows Gelsomina as she is desperate to enter her family farm’s honey product into a televised competition. Her stubborn father refuses to oblige, too proud to admit his failures, desperate for the love of his daughter, while simultaneously pushing her away.

The father uses his children to work on the family farm. Gelsomina is his pride and joy and most dependable worker. She is desperate to please him and takes charge of her siblings and great pride in her work. Family friends begin to criticize the father for using his daughters as labourers and in return, he employs a young German boy who is brought over as a troubled youth, with the German government paying the family to give him board and to teach him the value of a hard day’s work.  While the father thinks he is doing his daughter a favour, Gelsomina begins to silently resent her father and begins to drift further from him, while forming a friendship with the young boy. Against her father’s wishes, she enters the family honey into the television competition, and relationships are tested to great dramatic effect.

The directing of this film is beautiful. Rohrwacher has a strong appreciation for her landscapes and makes the rural environment as much of a character as the main family members. Rohrwacher also has a particular fondness for Gelsomina who holds most of the camera’s attention throughout the film. She thrives in extreme closeups, notably as she shows off her talents of working with the bees.

The cast is nicely expanded by the father played by Sam Louvyck in an excellent performance. The relationship he forges with daughter Gelsomina is naturalistic and subtly emotional. The young children of the family provide amazing comic relief and are so adorable, it’s ridiculous. Even the children’s performances are naturalistic and this family feels like a proper unit.

Fantastic directing and performances make The Wonders one of the most subtly affective gems of 2014.

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Yellowbird (3D)
Directed by Christian De Vita
Starring Dakota Fanning, Seth Green, Richard Kind, Christine Baranski, Danny Glover, Jim Rash, Yvette Nicole Brown and Elliot Gould

by Joanna Orland

Yellowbird is an endearing story told through beautiful animation.  Having strayed from his nest as a mere egg, the nameless Yellowbird lives amongst ruins and rabbits with only a Ladybug to claim as his friend.   Through a twist of fate and the encouragement of Ladybug, Yellowbird finds himself leader of a flock as they must migrate to Africa.  This is a classic tale of self-discovery as a lonely outsider finds his confidence, a new family, and even a name.

Based on the artwork of Benjamin Renner (Ernest and Celestine), Yellowbird has a very strong cast including the voice talents of Seth Green, Dakota Fanning, Danny Glover, Elliott Gould, Jim Rash and Christine Baranski.  Many adventures and mishaps ensue as Yellowbird leads his newfound flock to Africa. The characters Yellowbird meets along the way come to life through these excellent voice talents but none as prominently as Yellowbird himself, Seth Green.  No stranger to voice acting (Family Guy, Robot Chicken…), Green brings a youthful innocence to Yellowbird, but with the maturity of someone who’s refined his skill of voicing animation.  It’s no wonder Green has found more success in voice work than he has in on screen roles.  He is a charming delight.  With the rest of the characters being voiced by well known or familiar actors, Yellowbird amusingly becomes a game of guess the voice.

Yellowbird is lighthearted, emotional and humorous, and will no doubt capture the attention of children and their parents alike.

The 58th BFI London Film Festival Photo Gallery:

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