The 57th BFI London Film Festival


by Joanna Orland & Ruth Thomson

This year’s BFI London Film Festival was less of a star-studded affair, and more about the films themselves. Key films featured at this year’s festival, reminding the audience and the world that the BFI London Film Festival is a strong contender on the world’s film festival circuit. Highlights included 12 Years a Slave, Under the Skin, Gravity, Philomena, Captain Phillips, Inside Llewyn Davis, and more.  There were so many excellent films, let’s get to it.

My top 5 festival highlights this year were very hard to decipher.  There were more worthy films this year than there have been at any festival of recent years.  My top five favourite films are not necessarily the best films of the festival, but they are the ones that I personally felt connected with.

5) Inside Llewyn Davis:  I initially liked this film, but I didn’t love it.  It’s been with me for a week now and it has grown into the film that has stayed with me both musically and artistically.
4) Under the Skin:  I saw this film in Venice.  It is a masterpiece.  It is very abstract and will be divisive amongst the public and critics.
3) Captain Phillips:  Tom Hanks, Paul Greengrass, a stylistic action film with a dramatic core.  This is pretty much the perfect film.
2)  Blue is the Warmest Colour: A 3 hour French epic about a lesbian romance, but primarily about a young female character in her formative years of self discovery.  The most beautiful film of the festival.
1)  Nebraska: Alexander Payne’s black and white film about a father and son was the most emotional film on a very human and relatable level.  Bruce Dern’s performance is the one to beat come Oscar time.

Merely a teaser of some of the red carpet interviews and press conferences from this year’s festival.

Read on for our full festival coverage, with film reviews and red carpet interviews from this year’s BFI London Film Festival:

12 Years A Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt

by Ruth Thomson

Coming relatively hot on the heels of Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Spielberg’s Lincoln, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave jumps headlong into the slave trade – heading south to the cotton plantations of Louisiana to tell the true story of Solomon Northup (Chitawel Ejiofor) who published his memoirs in 1853. You may have guessed from the title that he was a slave for 12 years.

His abduction from his former life as a free, educated and respected family man in New York and his subsequent brutal existence in which he has to pretend for his own safety to be unable to read or write is shocking to watch. The various masters he has to bow to include a relatively benevolent Benedict Cumberbatch, a loathsome (and excellent) Paul Dano and an especially sinister Michael Fassbender. As plantation boss Edwin Epps, Fassbender gives Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie in Django a run for his money in the abhorrent/evil/masochistic stakes. Though not quite as physically menacing, his quirks and complex feelings for  Patsy (the unfortunate young slave who has caught his eye) imply a descent into madness against a tiny flicker of humanity, all which make him a more interesting character. Fassbender’s recent smart ‘I don’t want an Oscar’ announcement will probably mean that he gets just that.

12 Years A Slave does exactly what it says on the tin – and it does it very well. It’s a moving story well told with excellent performances throughout – Brad Pitt makes a brief appearance with some interesting facial hair (beard + no moustache = wrong) and keep an eye out for cameos from Mad Men’s Sal and the diminutive star of last year’s LFF, Quvenzhané Wallis. The brutality is brutal – I had my eyes closed 10 minutes in (though that was slightly pointless as Hans Zimmer’s score adds to the assault) as many familiar images appear – lashed and lacerated flesh, strung up bodies hang from trees in the background whilst white folk go about their business in the foreground. I can’t help but hope that the next slave trade blockbuster (fingers crossed it’ll be a few years away) finds a new way to tell the story: otherwise it feels a little gratuitous watching those same scenes over and over again. But the Academy will love it – and hats off to the original Solomon whose story certainly deserves to be told.

Afternoon Delight
Directed by Jill Soloway
Starring Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch

by Joanna Orland

This independent film won director Jill Soloway the Best Directing accolades at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. A fresh take on the bored housewife theme, Afternoon Delight is about Rachel (Hahn) who is struggling to overcome boredom in her sexless marriage to Jeff (Radnor). She is seeing therapist Lenore (Lynch) once a week to vaguely discuss her issues, but she almost seems to not even have the will to overcome them. On a unique night out for Rachel and Jeff, their friends take them to a strip club in order to help spice up their marriage. Jeff treats Rachel to a lap dance by the stripper McKenna (Temple) which somehow awakens something in Rachel.

The story follows the relationship between Rachel and McKenna as Rachel takes the stripper into her home in an attempt to help “save” her. Obviously this is also an attempt to save herself and her marriage. The script is strong, but the performances are what keeps the momentum in this film. Everything about it is so naturalistic, even in the unlikely story of a suburban family taking in a sex worker into their home to babysit their 5-year-old child. McKenna is no pretty woman. She blatantly enjoys her work and has no shame in what she does. She helps Rachel realize what is important in life, part of which is sexually connecting with her spouse.

While the film is interesting to watch, it’s not one that will live on in our memories. It lacks that special something that gives successful indie films their launch into the mainstream. Even so, if you fancy a little indie gem to watch, this could be the delight you’re looking for.

All Is Lost
Directed by JC Chandor
Starring Robert Redford

by Joanna Orland

Life of Pi without Richard Parker, Cast Away without Wilson, 127 Hours without chopping an arm off. A sound designer’s dream, a yachtsman’s nightmare. That pretty much sums up All Is Lost, a claustrophobic ambient thriller set on a sinking yacht, using negligable dialogue to build the tension and show the struggle of Robert Redford’s nameless character.

This film is a great showcase for the silent acting skills of Robert Redford along with the power of sound design. Sadly the premise becomes more and more unbelievable as Redford’s “our man” character struggles to survive in spite of all odds being against him. The first problem is that we don’t even know this character’s name, and we never learn it. How can we fully empathize with a character we know nothing about? We know he’s got at least one person in his life that he cares about due to the opening voiceover of his letter, but who this person is and what relationship they have, who knows. What is he even fighting for?

In spite of some absurdities and lack of character development, All Is Lost is a gripping watch. It is so tense throughout that I was a nervous wreck watching it. It is so immersive in its visuals and sound that I honestly felt sea sick during the first fifteen minutes. If this film doesn’t put you off sailing, I don’t know what will.

This is not a must see, but it is an enjoyable yet tense watch. The ending disappoints for various reasons, but even so, what’s wrong with watching Robert Redford and only Robert Redford on screen for nearly two hours?

The Armstrong Lie
Directed by Alex Gibney

by Ruth Thomson

Lance Armstrong: icon, survivor, champion, cheat, liar. The seven time Tour de France winner and most celebrated cyclist of all time finally admitted to having used illegal substances throughout his career after years of vociferous denial in January 2013 on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oscar winning documentary makes Alex Gibney had already begun filming in 2009 to make what he anticipated would be a relatively warm profile of the great champion when Armstrong’s final downfall began: he was stripped of all his titles and banned from competitive cycling for life by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in 2012. So the film Gibney has ended up with was not what he first set out to make. He sets this up from the start, explaining that his initial subject was to be Armstrong’s great comeback in 2009, four years after he’d retired from the sport. Now titled The Armstrong Lie (after one of the early finger pointing articles in the French press) the documentary prominently features two particular interviews with Lance – one earlier this year post admission, and the other, with a dramatic dark backdrop and much cockier body language, from four years ago in which he looks directly into the camera and repeatedly lies.

The premise that if it wasn’t for his comeback attempt he’d have gotten away with it, grabs your attention from the start as Gibney goes back over the early days of the story: Armstrong’s triumph over testicular cancer and dominance of the sport from 1999-2005. Contributors include cycling experts such as David Walsh who pursued the truth throughout Armstrong’s career, and many of his former teammates – all of whom doped. What comes to the fore is not just the widespread use of drugs throughout the sport at this time – it certainly seems to have been ubiquitous – but Armstrong’s power and control over his colleagues. His certainty that he would never be caught seems to have increased as his fame, sponsorship deals, and charitable foundation spread. No matter your moral perspective on his use of drugs, what is tougher to take is his use of his status as a cancer survivor and philanthropist to underpin all of these denials.

Gibney’s film gives an illuminating insight into the world of pro cycling (from doping scandals to team tactics) and conjures up the frenetic excitement of Le Tour – roadside fans shouting, cheering and chasing their idols as they weave through the mountains of Europe. There are several stunning landscapes as the long mass of Lycra whizzes through fields of sunflowers, over bridges, and through Alpine villages. But the man at the centre of the story, and his relationship with Gibney (who admits to being taken in) are on shakier ground – how successful can a documentary be if we all know the subject has been lying from the start? Gibney’s slight over infatuation is also apparent in the indulgent length (over 2 hours) and the fact that there is a certain amount of repetition.

Regardless it’s a compelling enough story, and a dramatic enough downfall, to be a gripping watch.

La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitre 1 & 2 (Blue is the Warmest Colour)
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Starring Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, Jérémie Laheurte and Aurélien Recoing

by Joanna Orland

Blue is the Warmest Colour, or The Life of Adèle Chapters 1& 2 as it directly translates from its french title, is the most intimate film, not just sexually, but cinematographically and character wise. It is sensually filmed with extreme closeups and details of the on screen action, notably of Adèle as she sleeps, breathes, eats, talks and is. The camera work and directorial style immerses the audience into the film, acting as a character in its own right. With a running time of three hours, this film never outstays its welcome and after it finishes, you will long for more of Adèle, ready to emotionally embrace her and all of her flaws.

The film intimately follows Adèle from high school through to her twenties. She is a troubled young woman, unsure of who she is and who she should be with. She meets Emma and their very physically steamy and emotionally intense relationship begins. This film features the most graphic lesbian sex scenes I have witnessed on screen, to the point of thinking that they must have actually had sex to have filmed these. They also went on for an unnecessarily long duration, but were effective in fully immersing the audience into Adèle’s world, mindset and emotional framework.

This character study of Adèle is the most beautiful, intimate, immersing and engrossing character study in cinema. The amount of subtle imagery, notably of the colour blue, is stunning.  This film is very much deserving of the Palme D’or it won at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Tom Hanks
Captain Phillips

Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Tom Hanks

by Joanna Orland

In the words of my dad, “I loved the film Captain Phillips, but Google ruins everything.  I looked up the real Captain Phillips and it turns out he’s a real asshole”.

Luckily for the audience, Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips sternly, but very much in the usual likable Tom Hanks fashion.  It is another Oscar worthy performance from one of the world’s greatest actors.  Director Paul Greengrass, known best for making two of the Bourne films, has knocked it out of the park with this film as he perfectly balances drama with action, creating an experience filled with tension and empathy for all of the characters, even the villains.

The story follows the true events of an American ship’s hijacking by Somali Pirates.  The Maersk Alabama was captained by Captain Richard Phillips when it was boarded by four Somali hostiles.  Captain Phillips was kidnapped and kept in very claustrophobic conditions on a lifeboat with the pirates for days before being rescued by the Navy.  He later went on to write the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea which this film is based on.

Greengrass filmed Captain Phillips in a very realistic fashion.  He brought the cast and crew out onto an actual lifeboat on the water to film most of the scenes, resulting in the cinematographer actually throwing up on Tom Hanks’ shoes due to sea sickness.  When casting the Somali pirates, he insisted on actual Somalis to play these roles and reached out to the American Somali community to find the actors who play these pirates remarkably convincingly and with great empathy.

You would think that a film with such strong emotional content could be guilty of having sappy moments that play on the vulnerable audience, but this is not the case with the stylized and gripping Captain Phillips.  Greengrass never panders to the audience’s need for tear-jerking moments between Phillips and his wife, or a picture of the real Captain Phillips before the credits roll.  No, this is treated as a serious dramatic action film and it is one of the finest films coming out of Hollywood at the moment.

Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks

The best of Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks at the Captain Phillips press conference.

Child’s Pose
Directed by Călin Peter Netzer
Starring Luminiţa Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Ilinca Goia

by Ruth Thomson

Highly acclaimed Romanian family drama Child’s Pose won the Golden Bear accolades at Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. It stars Luminita Gheorgiu as steely matriarch Cornelia an affluent architect with a surgeon husband living the good life amongst the upper classes of bourgeois Budapest. With her blonde coiffure, rouge lips, pearls and furs she’s very Carmella Soprano – and that goes too for her fierce maternal instincts. Unfortunately for Cornelia, against the advice of her friend and ally Olga she had only one child who she now obsesses over – the grouchy, disaffected, rude, and infantile Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache). Barbu lives with his girlfriend Carmen (who not surprisingly doesn’t come up to his mother’s exacting standards) and Cornelia’s only source of inside info is their shared maid, who she scrutinizes for scraps of detail as to what he’s been eating and which books are by his bed. Cornelia’s otherwise harmonious existence is shattered when Barbu, speeding, overtakes a car on the highway hitting and killing a child.

The drama that ensues peels away each layer of Cornelia and Barbu’s relationship as she goes into full ‘Controlia’ (as her husband calls her) mode, pushing away the one person she loves most, more and more. A pivotal scene is the inevitable confrontation between Cornelia and Carmen, the dreaded mother in law encounter in full force, a terse tug of war which suddenly takes an  unexpected turn. The film builds towards another painful meeting – that of the two mothers, one already heartbroken at the death of her fourteen year old, the other terrified at the prospect of the imprisonment of her little boy, even though he’s now an adult, dismissive and disinterested in any kind of relationship with his mother.

Child’s Pose is a formidable study of the female psyche and its ability to blur the lines between love, obsession and control. Ultimately however it fails to push as far as it could into the dramatic potential of the scenario and we’re left really just thinking that old Olga was right – two kids are a safer bet than one.

Masterclass: Clint Mansell

by Joanna Orland

Film composer Clint Mansell is best known for his work as Darren Aronofsky’s regular composer, as well as from his work on films Moon, The Hole, Stoker and Filth. He is also known for his music career as frontman of the band Pop Will Eat Itself. After Pop Will Eat Itself disbanded, Mansell found himself living in New York City where he happened to meet young filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. This led to Mansell scoring Aronofsky’s debut feature Pi, and it set him on his successful film composing career path.

The Masterclass in affiliation with both BAFTA and the BFI London Film Festival brought Mansell to talk to the audience that sat before him. The talk started with a clip from Enter the Dragon in which Bruce Lee teaches his young student to feel rather than to think. “It’s about feeling, it’s not about intellectual decoding”, is Mansell’s approach to film composition. He marvelled at his own success in a modest, endearing and inspring fashion. Clips of his past work, including the standout piece in Requiem For A Dream, reminded us why he became the success he is today.

In spite of being the mastermind behind such impactful scores, Mansell gives credit to his colleagues including directors and musicians. “I’m a terrible piano player. I wouldn’t even class myself as a musician”, he modestly states. The most inspirational and useful point Mansell has made during this career retrospective is that the mood and pace of the score is everything. He often takes a cut of the film and plays an improvised score throughout its entirety to learn where music can make an emotional impact.

“Musically, I’ve never connected with anything… jolly. I really haven’t figure out how to score something humorous”, he says of his usually dark filmic choices. One of his collaborations with Aronofsky was the rather unfortunate film The Fountain. I have never been shy in expressing my disdain for this film as I strongly believe it to be the worst film ever made on an A list level. Having been inspired by Mansell’s work shown throughout the evening, I braced myself for the clips of The Fountain as I haven’t seen it since its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006. Is it as bad as I remember it to be? Worse! My friend next to me was in fits of hysterics having never seen the film and realizing just how bad it could be based on the short clip alone. Mansell discussed people’s hatred for the film by marvelling at the public’s outright contempt for it. He genuinely seems to believe that Aronofsky was ahead of his time, with films like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life merely continuing where The Fountain left off. He challenges the public to smarten up and not expect dumbed down films, accusing them of not being mentally ready for the likes of The Fountain. I understand he wants to defend his work, and I am all for the audience not being spoonfed straightforward, dumbed down content, but please – a bad film is a bad film. Aronofsky himself cried at its Toronto premiere, supposedly so proud of the work he was presenting. But perhaps even he realized what a load of pish this film is and maybe these were tears of mortification rather than pride?

This brings us onto Mansell’s work on another Aronofsky film, Black Swan. This provided a new challenge for Mansell – taking the score of Swan Lake and appropriating it for the film’s score. “Black Swan was one of my easiest films. Tchaikovsky did the heavy lifting, I just gave it a polish”, he modestly claims.

As the Masterclass was coming to an end, Mansell broke out of his predominantly modest demeanour to express his passion for film score and sound, “People say the best scores are the ones you don’t notice. I say fuck you – it’s another character in the film”. Whether or not he’s right about this is subjective. Either way, his scores are full of character and his work will go down in history as some of the best film composition in this cinematic era.

The Congress
Directed by Ari Folman
Starring Robin Wright, Paul Giamatti, Danny Huston, Harvey Keitel and Jon Hamm

by Joanna Orland

This film is a mess.  There are so many good ideas, intentions, and messages, but The Congress struggles to make sense of its own narrative. A true disappointment as it is rife with potential, and one would expect a more cohesive output from director Ari Folman.

Folman’s previous film, Waltz With Bashir, was a thing of beauty.  It was the first animated film to be nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar.  The autobiographical animated documentary about the Sabra and Chatila massacres of the 1982 Lebanese war was a humanized story with stunning visuals and a superb form of story-telling.  The Congress, however, is none of these things, except on the visual front of course.

The sci-fi film which begins in live action, stars actress Robin Wright as herself.  She is an aging actress whose best days are behind her (the film’s version only of course – in reality, she is thriving on House of Cards).  Her agent (Keitel) attempts to convince her to accept Hollywood studio Miramount’s offer to buy her image from her.  Studio executive Jeff (Huston) approaches Robin with the offer, explaining how all of the main Hollywood actors are selling their images to the studios.  The process is simple – they scan her body, her face and her emotions.  They will own Robin Wright.  They will make her image star in many Hollywood films by way of computer generated Robins.  She must promise to completely retire from acting in order to partake in this deal.  She reluctantly agrees in order to earn enough money and freedom to spend time with her ill son.  The contract is valid for 20 years.

Fast forward 20 years later and Robin is now a big Hollywood star thanks to her 20 year long computer generated career.  An aged Robin drives up to Miramount Studios for a congress where the studio will be showing off their latest technology that allows people to transform into animated avatars.  The congress is held in an animated world, so Robin must partake in animated form.  Miramount now want to sell Robin’s image to the public allowing them to transform into her.

The film then goes on to explore issues such as turning people into products and choosing escapism over reality.  There is also a sex scene between an animated Robin Wright and an animated Jon Hamm, who is sadly not playing himself.

This film then gets even weirder, nonsensical, and the thread of its narrative is completely unwound.  As abstract and lost in its ideas as this film is, it is not and never could be as terrible as Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, but we’re walking a thin line here.

Don Jon
Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza

by Ruth Thomson

Meet Jon, he’s a pumped up gym obsessed, womanising egomaniac who like all good Italian American boys in New Jersey loves his family, church (like Philomena this is not a great ad for Catholicism), pasta, and porn. You’re going to love him – not!!! Jon’s number one thing in life is his porn addiction which does it for him time and time (and time and time) again in a way no real woman can (because we like missionary position too much – dullsville).

This charmer is the title character of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut – and for good measure he’s somewhat mistakenly cast himself in the leading role too. Scarlett Johansson is Barbara, the classy (or not) lady with whom Jon attempts a real relationship, Tony Danza and Glenne Headley are his stereotypical parents (all ‘when are you going to meet a nice girl’ over post confession Sunday lunch) and Julianne Moore is the mysterious older but hot Esther hovering on the periphery.

The opening scenes are pretty obnoxious – prepare yourself for a lot of porn montages and witty dialogue along the lines of ‘she’s an 8, no she’s totally a 9, no way that bitch is a dime!’ There are also numerous repetitive scenes of our leading man doing his thang and picking up the ladies. Twenty minutes in I was losing the will to live. Fortunately things pick up when DJ meets Scarlett and the stage is set for romance – or at least it would be if Jon knew how to delete his browser history – d’oh! And fortunately again the plot does take an unexpected twist which leaves us wondering what damages our perception of healthy relationships more – men’s delusional love of porn or women’s delusional love of romantic movies and the notion of ‘the one’.

I’m sure JGL is capable of a lot more than this in the director’s chair (I hope), but Don Jon’s not without some entertaining moments and Scarlett J as the gum chewing feisty/high maintenance Barbara is particularly entertaining. JGL in the title role however is not so hot, with an appallingly over-egged Jersey accent, and most disturbingly of all in a reversal of Victoria Beckham syndrome he’s so pumped here that his head is basically way too small for his body. WTF?!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt discusses his directorial influences.

The Double

Directed by Richard Ayoade
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn and Noah Taylor

by Joanna Orland

The Double is a Lynchian drama, abstract in narrative and visuals with surreal and emotive use of sound design. The narrative follows Simon James played in typical fashion by Jesse Eisenberg. He is a ghost walking amongst us. He is a non person. He is overlooked by the girl he is infatuated with, his boss, his colleagues, his mother, and even the security guard at work who asks him for ID on a daily basis. Things are grim for Simon James, and get worse when his doppelganger James Simon arrives as the new office darling at work.  James is everything Simon is not. He is confident, successful, authoritative and a ladies man. He is ruining Simon’s life as he thrives in every aspect of life that Simon struggles with. And it’s driving Simon into madness.

The directorial style of this film is reminiscent of previous work of David Lynch or Terry Gilliam as it is a surreal adaptation of the Dostoyevsky story also entitled The Double. Richard Ayoade’s directorial style is dark, stylized and signature. It visually looks like a vague companion piece to his previous film Submarine but is very different in storytelling structure. Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as Simon and James.  While his range is limited and his yin yang versions of Simon/James are both very much Jesse Eisenberg, he uses nuances and subtleties in each role, allowing the audience to merely look at these characters side by side and be able to tell who is who. Quite a feat for an actor who supposedly has no range and who himself could be the actual doppelganger of Michael Cera.

I thoroughly liked The Double, but understand that it has limited appeal and may struggle to find its audience. Even so, I hope it succeeds as Ayoade is one of the most interesting directors of the moment –  likeable, surreal, ambitious and has that perfect amount of awkwardness. Imagine how awkward life on the set of The Double must’ve been with Richard Ayoade and Jesse Eisenberg interacting with each other! #Awkberg.

Jesse Eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg on playing polar opposites.

Richard Ayoade

Richard Ayoade

Richard Ayoade on directing 2 Jesses.

Craig Roberts

Craig Roberts

Craig Roberts on working with Richard Ayoade on The Double.

Drinking Buddies
Directed by Joe Swanberg
Starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston

by Joanna Orland

Drinking Buddies is a smart and realistic portrayal of relationships and their complexities.  Director Joe Swanberg is credited as writer, but in the Q&A he admitted to never having before written a script and heavily relying on improvisation for all of his films, including Drinking Buddies.  The improvisation in this film is a work of art as it leads to some very honest explorations of romantic dynamics.

Olivia Wilde plays Kate.  Kate works in a microbrewery with Luke (Jake Johnson) and they spend their days drinking beer and flirting.  Kate is dating Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke is in a longterm relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick).  Complications occur with every dynamic and it is a true joy and engaging experience to watch it all unfold.  The naturalistic and improvised dialogue allows the actors to discover their characters alongside the audience.  With full control of their dialogue, they truly become Kate, Luke, Chris and Jill with each of these actors giving their best performance to date.

While the marketing for Drinking Buddies may give it the appearance that it is a standard rom-com, the reality of it is that it is absolutely not.  It is something much more and should be heralded for what it doesn’t say, as much for what it does.

Anna Kendrick

Anna Kendrick

Anna Kendrick about improvising her character in Drinking Buddies.

Joe Swanberg

Joe Swanberg

Joe Swanberg being awesome.

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
Directed by Chiemi Karasawa

by Ruth Thomson

This is an intimate portrait of Broadway legend, Sondheim darling, and all round award winning show biz badass Elaine Stritch. Now aged 88 she’s known to today’s audience as lovely Jack Donaghy’s no nonsense mother Colleen in NBC’s 30 Rock, but made her Broadway debut way back in 1946. Residing regally in a corner room of New York’s Carlyle Hotel she’s still working – the film follows her and her loyal musical director Rob Bowman as they present her one woman show in her adopted NYC as well as her real hometown of Detroit. She’s something to behold belting out those tunes in her signature outfit of just an oversized white shirt and black tights over startlingly long and skinny ostrich legs – as Tina Fey says she does things her way, ‘she doesn’t need to wear pants’. Many anecdotes emerge – the time she dated JFK but then rather mistakenly fell for Rock Hudson – but the film is very much set in the present. Contributors include her recent colleagues Alec Baldwin and Nathan Lane as well as her unlikely soul-mate to whom the film is now sadly dedicated – James Gandolfini , who reflects ‘I’ve no doubt if we’d met when we were both 35 we’d have had a torrid affair, which I’m sure would have ended badly’. Elaine Stritch and Tony Soprano – now there’s a thought.

During filming Ms Stritch is hospitalised on a number of occasions – she’s open about her struggle with diabetes but what comes to the fore even more is her lifelong tortuous relationship with alcohol. These are the most illuminating moments, the most moving are her memories of her idyllic ten year marriage to John Bay and her anxiety at the prospect of forgetting her lyrics, grappling with time as her abilities diminish.

Although the other big names contributors are on the billing their contributions are short – this, appropriately enough, is very much a one woman show. Director Chiemi Karasawa doesn’t take us into any particularly unexpected territory, but does succeed in presenting Elaine in full force, not just as she performs but as she barks orders at the cameraman to zoom out (‘what is this a skin commercial?!’) and retake a scene which she thinks he’s messed up. One things for sure – she’s a true trooper and there’s no doubt that despite her talk of imminent retirement back home in Michigan, for now, the show must certainly go on.

Enough Said
Directed by Nicole Holofcener
Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener and Toni Collette

by Ruth Thomson

Grown up rom-com Enough Said is the fourth film from writer/director Nicole Holefcener and brings together two of American TV’s greatest stars, the late great James Gandolfini AKA Tony Soprano, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, formerly Elaine in Seinfeld but more recently an Emmy award winner for her title role in Veep.

They play portly amenable archivist Albert, and sparky masseuse Eva, two middle aged divorcees who meet inauspiciously at a party and share in their dread of the forthcoming departure of their only children for college. At the same party Eva also meets poet Marianne (Catherine Keener who appears in all Holofcener’s films) and the pair strike up an unlikely friendship, bonding over the failings of their ex-husbands. Marianne’s was particularly awful, dreadful in the sack and with some seriously irritating guacamole habits. Oh and he was an archivist too btw…. The chemistry between Tony and Elaine, I mean Albert and Eva, is endearing and genuinely funny and the other performances all add much – Keener’s self satisfied Marianne and the always brilliant Toni Collette as Eva’s other BFF Sarah, a woman so openly uninspired by her marriage and children that she can’t stop moving her furniture around.

As a straight forward rom-com there’s lots to enjoy, but the film also has plenty to say about female relationships – Eva’s awe at Marianne’s perfect home and exotic career, and her over familiarity with a friend of her daughter Ellen (Tracy Fairaway) as she seeks to fill the gaps in her life. As Marianne’s influence over Eva increases she also begins to sabotage her blossoming relationship with Albert highlighting that ever so slightly female habit of unfairly judging new partners on distinctly small-minded/crazy terms. On the basis of Enough Said I’ll certainly be looking out for Holofcener’s next film and won’t be surprised if we see JLD in another lead role soon. Sadly the same can’t be said for James Gandolfini who by all accounts shared many of Albert’s good qualities – kindness, sincerity, and humour. It’s a good thing that we have this reminder that there was more to him than Tony Soprano.


Nicole Holofcener

Nicole Holofcener discusses Enough Said. Photo courtesy of @BFI.

Grand Piano
Directed by Eugenio Mira
Starring Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishé, Allen Leech and Tamsin Egerton

by Joanna Orland

Imagine the film Phone Booth, but instead of a phone booth, it’s a grand piano.  If this sounds as awesome to you as it did to me, then this movie is for you!  No further explanation necessary.


Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Starring Souleymane Démé, Anaïs Monory and Cyril Guei

by Ruth Thomson

Set in Chad, Grigris (written and directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun) opens with the title character busting some of the funkiest moves you’ve ever seen in your life. As a chanting crowd gather round him he tears up the dance floor spectacularly with increasingly double jointed disco moves. Turns out Grigris (Souleymane Deme) struts his stuff for extra cash – by day he’s a poor photographer’s assistant, and his mesmeric dance ability hides disfigured legs and a prominent limp. Grigris is going nowhere fast, but things look up when he meets wannabe model Mimi (Anais Monory) – who matches him on the 0% body-fat stakes. This is one skinny couple.

It’s an unlikely love story (she’s super hot and a head taller than him for starts – in real life that only works for Tom Cruise) but as Grigris and Mimi take more and more knocks they turn to each other in the hope of a better future away from the violence and hatred of their hometown. The film is beautifully shot and the two lead performances are sensitive and smart, but the narrative lets itself down a little and we’re left with not much sense of what lies ahead for them, together or apart.

Hello Carter

Directed by Anthony Wilcox
Starring Charlie Cox, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Schneider

by Joanna Orland

I fell asleep during this film. This British rom com tries so hard to be quirky, but falls flat. Carter is single, homeless and unemployed. He is living with his aunt and is hung up on his ex-girlfriend Kelly. He runs into Kelly’s American Movie Star brother Aaron on the tube, the whole contrived plotline kicks off.

The visuals are bleak, the soundtrack is outdated, the performances stunted. Not exactly an uplifting rom com. A must avoid.

Hide Your Smiling Faces
Directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone
Starring Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Colm O’Leary, Thomas Cruz, Christina Starbuck

by Joanna Orland

This film is deceptive.  When it first started, I braced myself for yet another ambient rural drama, this one about young boys whittling away their childhoods in rural America.  The pace is slow, but the nature is beautiful and the acting very realistic.  The imagery throughout the film is very much centred on nature, but mostly focusing on death.  Conversations the children have are about death, there are dead animals, and basically in every scene there is some image, threat or conversation involving it.  This was becoming an exhausting watch.

But somehow in spite of the grim subject matter and drawn out narrative, Hide Your Smiling Faces is haunting, eerie and absolutely gripping.  It is very much foreboding so you know it won’t end well, and as I had to unfortunately run out of the cinema for a red carpet date, I don’t know how it ends, except for knowing it isn’t well.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver and John Goodman

by Joanna Orland

Inside Llewyn Davis is a fine piece of cinema with an excellent soundtrack, brilliant performances, and skillful filmmaking. It is not the Coen Brothers’ best film to date, but it is still a wonderful watch and example of an immersive cinematic experience in storytelling.

The story is structured as a biopic, but follows the fictional Llewyn Davis, a folk singer struggling through his life and his career, both of which have fallen flat since the start of his solo career after having moved on from his musical partner Mike. Llewyn is a very talented man, or at least the actor playing him is as the songs he sings are wonderful joys. First point of action from watching this film is to buy the soundtrack. (Pre-ordered!)

This is a character study rather than a linear narrative as we follow Llewyn on his incredible journey. The film’s other prominent character, the cat eventually known as Ulysses, also has a parallel adventure that we never fully learn the details of, but this is a nice metaphor nonetheless. There are many subtleties in this film such as Ulysses, and it is a beauty to experience them. The scene stealing and most memorable moment of the film is no doubtedly the small role played by Adam Driver (GIRLS) with his hilarious backing vocals from “Outer Space”. The audience could not contain their laughter. This is the absolute highlight of the film, and a character point for Llewyn as he completely disregards his future and chance for royalties to continue living moment to moment, and unsuccessfully at that.

In spite of this ingenious comedic scene, the film’s main flaw is its use of comedy. When played seriously as in this scene, it works perfectly and helps forward the narrative and Llewyn’s character development. Unfortunately for this film, at times it is played as straight comedy including a particularly fickle performance by the usually brilliant John Goodman. If this change of tone was omitted, this could have been one of the festival’s and the Coen brothers’ finest films. Comedic comedy moments aside, this film is a joy and a brilliant piece of cinema.  The songs and Llewyn’s story have been playing over and over in my head since yesterday’s screening.

Kill Your Darlings
Directed by John Krokidas
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Jack Huston and Michael C. Hall

by Joanna Orland

When thinking of actors to best play the legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, the English actor Daniel Radcliffe, best known for playing Harry Potter, would’ve been the last to come to mind.  My preconceptions of Radcliffe’s Ginsbergian talents were off the mark.  He fully encompasses Allen’s character, bringing a new and wonderful rendtion of the late poet to life on screen.

Kill Your Darlings opens with the most enigmatic scene.  A young man cradling an older wearied man in a pool of water.  There is blood.  There is poetry.  There is imprisonment.  There is tension.  There is love lost.

The story then goes back in time to Allen Ginsberg’s less than nurturing household.  His mother is mentally unstable, his father a poet, and Allen is about to embark on his journey as a student at Columbia University.  It is at Columbia University where he learns the fundamentals of poetry, rhyme, and metre, which he dismisses as simple and boring.  He is searching for something more, and he finds it in his friend Lucien Carr (DeHaan).  Together with William S. Burroughs (Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Huston), these four are eager to tear down the literary institution with their New Vision.

This is a well known story about the foundation of the Beat Generation.  What is surprising about this film is the subplot that is much less well known – Murder.

David Kammerer (Hall) is the victim.  Lucien Carr is the murderer.  What unfolds is shocking and scandalous.  It is rather unclear how a story of such consequence could vanish within the history of these men’s literary works. Now that I have been made aware of its occurence, it will be the first thing to come to mind when thinking of Ginsberg, Kerouac or Burroughs.

The film does well to follow the entangled group of young writers, full of promise and insecurity, to a messy climax that has somehow not overshadowed the careers and legacies of the Beat Generation.

Dane DeHaan

Dane DeHaan

Dane DeHaan talks about his character Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings.

Jack Huston

Jack Huston

Jack Huston on researching his role of Jack Kerouac.

Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe on Allen Ginsberg.

LD-03295RCC	Photo credit:  Dale Robinette
Labor Day
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire and Clark Gregg

by Ruth Thomson

This is director Jason Reitman’s fifth film – previously he cranked up George Clooney’s air miles in Up in the Air and sprinkled sardonic indie fairy dust over Ellen Page and Michael Cera in Juno.

Labor Day tells the story of agoraphobic and depressed single mum Adele (Kate Winslet) and her 12 year old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) who does his best to combat his mother’s crushing loneliness with breakfasts in bed and a book of hand written ‘husband for a day’ vouchers – cleaning the house, cooking a meal etc – (his real father called it quits some years earlier to set up home with his secretary and family no 2). But let’s face it: some needs can’t be met by a 12 year old making your breakfast. Enter Frank (John Brolin), an escaped convict who needs to hideout in their home before getting on his way at nightfall. In the meantime he cooks up a mean chilli, changes some light bulbs, cleans the kitchen floor, and teaches Harry to play ball. Oh and he looks like Josh Brolin. Ripped and with a hint of menace. You can’t really blame Adele can you…

The whole premise is set up well from the start. In just a few minutes Winslet’s stellar performance and Henry’s narration (by Tobey Maguire) leave us in no doubt as to Adele’s fragile vulnerability and the gaping hole at the heart of the family. Franks dramatic and threatening arrival immediately sets you on edge and the stage is set for something gripping if elusive in its tone. The film is hugely enjoyable and ably acted but it does veer startlingly from one genre to another – one minute it’s a gripping drama with a minimalist sinister score, the next a cheesy romance complete with Spanish guitar – the peach pie scene (yes reader, he bakes) – is so over the top that it prompted audible laughter. And I’m pretty sure Reitman wasn’t aiming to tick the comedy box too.

A scenario that starts tense and terse ends up in some seriously schmaltzy territory which is a shame. Nonetheless Labor Day is definitely worth a watch (if just for the Dawson Leery cameo!)  Just get ready to suspend belief and cross your fingers for a fairy-tale ending.

Jason Reitman

Jason Reitman

Director Jason Reitman discusses the music and sound of Labor Day.

Directed by Steven Knight
Starring Tom Hardy

by Joanna Orland

Locke is a ship-in-a-bottle film with Tom Hardy at the helm of not only the wheel of a car, but the whole film. If Tom Hardy is not engaging with 90 minutes of screen time in one location, then this film fails. Luckily his performance is as brilliant as the script, with Locke turning out to be one of the most well received films at this year’s Venice Film Festival. So much so, that the press conference question of “Why is this film not In Competition?” garnered a round of supportive applause from the audience full of press.

The script is essentially a radio play filmed on screen in five days, in one location. The subject matter is as mundane as concrete (literally it is about concrete) with lead character Ivan Locke working in high stakes construction. Director and writer Steven Knight reckoned that if he could make something as mundane as concrete seem interesting, then he was on the right path. Obviously it is not only about concrete – the film title is Locke not Concrete.

Ivan Locke is a construction foreman who gets in his car and begins his real time road trip. His life unfolds over a series of phone conversations he has in his car, and conversations he has with his dead father as he dialogues with himself along the way. Locke is a man who is intent on doing the right thing, even when the right thing hurts many people, himself included. Even when the right thing isn’t actually the right thing. He is a man on a mission, to be the best he can be. This film is the best it can be and a bonafied hit not only at this festival, but perhaps in the awards season to come.

Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy discusses his input into character Ivan Locke.

Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott does excellent voice work in Locke.

Steven Knight

Steven Knight

Director Steven Knight on why Locke is a ship-in-a-bottle film.

Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk and Stacy Keach

by Joanna Orland

I had lowered expectations for Alexander Payne’s latest drama after his last film The Descendants starring George Clooney was a huge disappointment. In addition, Nebraska stars Will Forte of MacGruber fame and Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad‘s Saul) who is wonderful, but comedic in tone. I should not have prejudged any aspect of this film. I was blown away not just by Payne’s redemption, or Forte and Odenkirk underplaying their roles, but by Bruce Dern who gives the performance of his career.

Alexander Payne takes a documentary approach to his narratives. He wants to capture reality in the world, rather than glamourize a story in Hollywood fashion. He has done just this with Nebraska, using his method of casting real people as versions of themselves rather than actors in support roles, which helps the trained actors to play the reality of a scene. It’s not just the people in his film that Payne insists on being real, but for his filming locations, the director insists on location scouting for the right set and to capture it as it really is. This is how the city of Hawthorne is portrayed in Nebraska, allowing it to become a character in itself.

This is Alexander Payne’s best work to date as a filmmaker. He uses nuances and external sources to develop Dern’s character of Woody Grant. The film begins as a father son road trip with David (Forte) and Woody Grant on their way to Lincoln, Nebraska because Woody insists he needs to pick up the million dollar jackpot he believes he’s won after receiving junk mail in the post. David agrees to take his father as he realizes that this is a way for them to bond, and also his life isn’t exactly thriving back home in Montana.

The film evolves from a father and son road trip into an examination of the lost American Dream as David and Woody end up staying with family in Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne. It evolves further into an exploration on familial relationships with a large extended Grant family on full display. It evolves yet again and becomes somewhat of a nuclear family romp as Woody and David are joined by brother Ross (Odenkirk) and mother Kate (a foul-mouthed and hilarious June Squibb) on a mini adventure filled with humour, character development, and touching moments. The film then comes full circle to explore the father and son bond, and by this point, I have to say that I was welling up. Payne does an excellent job of building this world, family, and most of all, the character of Woody Grant.

It is not merely the traits or histories that the supporting cast endow upon Woody that make him the character that he is – it is Bruce Dern’s strong, subtle and emotionally provocative performance. Payne has said that Dern’s theory on Woody is that this is a guy who is mentally checked out for twenty minutes of every hour, and this is exactly how he is playing him. The comedic and dramatic are balanced perfectly. His mannerisms from the look in his eyes to the way that he walks, show how Dern fully embodies this tragic character. He deservedly won the Best Actor accolades at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and I expect him to do the same at this year’s Oscars.

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska has proven that I have feelings! I equally welled up and laughed throughout. The festival is done for me now, there’s nowhere left to go.

Night Moves
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard

by Joanna Orland

Night Moves has a promising start as an ambient drama that is stylistically building its tension to a rather unsatisfying climax.  Exploring political issues through the means of environmental activism, this film never quite connects with its audience as the characters are very hollow, their motives very shallow, and the consequences rather predictable.

While the political motives of the characters are somewhat explored, or at least mentioned, the character dynamics and developments are left untreated.  We cannot be quite sure of what relationship Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) has with Dena (Dakota Fanning).  How do these people even know each other?  What brings them together for this common cause?  There is no need for ambiguity, in fact, quite the opposite.

In spite of its shallow exploration, the mood and feel of the film are perfect.  The slow pace, music, and visuals are a feat to have executed in this manner, but it is a shame that it is wasted on this thin plot and these horrid two dimensional characters.

If you’re wanting to explore Kelly Reichardt’s film catalogue, a much better film to seek out is the glorious Wendy and Lucy starring Michelle Williams and a dog named Lucy.

Jesse Eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg discusses his performance in Night Moves.

Only Lovers Left Alive
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt and Anton Yelchin

by Ruth Thomson

In Only Lovers Left Alive, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Adam and Eve are basically a pair of hipster vampires. And if you’re going to make  a movie about hipster vampires, who better to cast than Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, and where better to set it than the crumbling and decaying streets of downtown Detroit – with a hint of exotic Tangiers thrown in for good measure.

Adam (Hiddleston) is an angst ridden musician, bored of eternity, cheered only by the odd wistful memory like the time Schubert nicked some of his work. His days – sorry I mean nights – sitting around strumming his guitar are broken up only by visits to the local hospital for some dodgy dealings to keep him in a plentiful supply of thirst quenching blood. Sensing her spouse’s vampirical malaise Eve returns to him from Morocco (where her best buddy is Christopher Marlowe played by a particularly pasty looking John Hurt) to cheer him up with her new favourite thing – O Neg Ice Lollies. Their contented and weirdly touching domestic bliss is shattered only by the arrival of Eve’s bratty kid sister (Mia Wasikowska) who insists on a night out which ends badly for Adam’s friend Ian – note to self, never make out with a vampire.

The film is mellow, witty and dry – short on action but big on deadpan literary references and with some great lines – ‘it just goes to show we know shit all about fungi’ muses Adam to Eve in a particularly romantic moment. All the performances are great but Swinton is particularly striking – slipping through the night like some sort of frosty fashionista, but warmly effervescent and romantic in her love for Adam. At the heart of the film is their relationship, still strong and strangely moving after centuries together, and when their survival is under threat you can’t blame them for taking the necessary bloody action – no matter the cost. Just keep your eyes peeled the next time you’re out in Hoxton – there can be more to those hipsters than meets the eye.

Directed by Peter Landesman
Starring Zac Efron, Colin Hanks, Tom Welling, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton

by Joanna Orland

Americana cinema has a love affair with a piece of American history that will live on in people’s minds for decades to come – the assassination of JFK. There have been various counts of media written and filmed about the historic event, with Oliver Stone’s conspiracy theory film starring Kevin Costner as the most prominent piece. Parkland revisits this story of JFK’s assassination, but rather than focusing on the conspiracy or the politics, it focuses on the people surrounding the event and how it affects them each personally.

The film is done in a rather flowing montage style with a consistent soundtrack as accompaniment. In spite of this rather loose flow, there isn’t one character that doesn’t engage the audience. We care about each and every one of them. And there are many of them. This is an ensemble cast to rival the most complex of Robert Altman films.

Parkland is the hospital where both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald were taken after they were each shot. The cast of medical staff trying to save their lives include pretty boy Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden and Colin Hanks. Secret Service staff includes Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Welling. Civilians include Paul Giamatti. Oswald’s family includes the wonderful Jacki Weaver as his mother in a bit of an offbeat role.

This film brought tears to the eyes. It is heartfelt and moving. Who knew that there was still more to tell about this story?

The Parrot and the Swan
(El Loro Y El Cisne)
Directed by Alejo Moguillansky
Starring Luciana Acuña, Rodrigo Sánchez Mariño, Walter Jakob

The Parrot and the Swan (El Loro Y El Cisne), written and directed by Alejo Moguillansky, follows a documentary crew on assignment in Buenos Aires making a film about a number of local dance groups including a ballet company rehearsing Swan Lake and a quirky contemporary ensemble whose idiosyncratic efforts raise the perplexed eyebrows of the Miami based producer footing the bill. At the heart of the crew is the unassuming (in the extreme) sound recordist El Loro (‘The Parrot’) whose girlfriend has just dumped him in a spectacularly abusive letter. So when the vivacious swan (Luciana Acuna) floats by one day and catches his eye it’s only a matter of time before these two very different species hook up.

Unfortunately the only scenes in the film which have any emotional sway at all are the relatively few between the two title characters. The other minor characters and the extensive dance extracts add very little to the already shaky narrative. Luciana Acuna does light up the screen – I’ve never seen anyone else manage to look appealing whilst brushing their teeth in bath water – and there’s some nice use of Tchaikovsky’s music to hint at aspects of their romance, but ultimately it’s just not enough to make this hang together. It also culminates with the most irritating closing credits I have ever seen.

Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
Starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan

by Ruth Thomson

In 2001 former BBC journalist and Blairite spin doctor Martin Sixsmith was formally ‘resigned’ from his job at the Department for Transport over a scandal involving the media coverage around 9/11. In the years following he turned to writing novels and books on his specialist subject, Russian history. Enter the unlikely figure of Philomena Lee – an elderly Irish lady desperate to find the child who’d been taken from her 50 years earlier by nuns quick to chastise her for her sexual sin. A career swerve for Sixsmith followed as he took on this ‘human interest’ story and in 2009 published The Lost Child of Philomena Lee chronicling their endeavours at finding the boy, Anthony.

In Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope’s adaptation for screen (directed by Stephen Frears), Coogan himself plays the world weary Sixsmith and Dame Judi Dench is the warm hearted Philomena, a woman unreservedly delighted by hotel bathrobes, breakfast buffets, and romantic novels. They’re unlikely companions but their relationship evolves as their quest progresses and Martin still wallowing in self-pity over his public humiliation finds he has much to learn from Philomena who, as Frears says of the real life one, ‘wears her tragedy lightly’.

At the heart of the story is the Catholic Church and the not so holy trinity of sex, shame and penance – three things that have dominated Philomena’s life completely, but are angrily rejected by Martin.  The order of events are slightly altered for the film and some artistic license is taken in portraying the two leads – certain qualities are played up to exaggerate the difference in their social status – as the real Philomena said (enjoying her moment on the red carpet at Leiciester Square aged 80) she’s not quite such a ‘dafty’ in real life.

Dench as always is superb – she brings Philomena to the screen with a mix of warmth, strength and humour, whilst Coogan is convincing as the harsher edged hack – though he does himself admit that the performance is ‘50% Martin, 30% himself, and 20% other bits and pieces’. I guess his inability to fully inhabit a character 100% is either a blessing or a curse depending on whether or not you’re a fan. Philomena is an incredibly moving watch, with a powerful message of forgiveness at its core, but for me despite loving a lot of his work, Coogan’s presence (along with a pretty cheesy score by Alexandre Desplat) gives it a slightly made for TV feel. But it’s testament to a remarkable woman who hopes that by bringing it to the big screen she may help others who suffered the same injustice at the hands of the church.

Steve Coogan

Steve Coogan

Steve Coogan on Philomena.

Stephen Frears

Stephen Frears

Director Stephen Frears on Philomena.

Philomena Lee

Philomena Lee

The real life Philomena Lee.

Sophie Kennedy Clark

Sophie Kennedy Clark

Sophie Kennedy Clark on playing a young Philomena.

Kathleen Hanna
The Punk Singer

Directed by Sini Anderson
Starring Kathleen Hanna

by Joanna Orland

This film is purely for the fans of Riot Grrrl founder, Bikini Kill and Le Tigre frontwoman Kathleen Hanna. And what a great soundtrack! People not familiar with the feminist movement Riot Grrl or Hanna’s music could still appreciate this documentary, assuming they have a fondness for the 1990’s. This film about the singer takes us back to the start of her career through clips, interviews, and most importantly the music.

Interviews with Kathleen herself are the most revealing. A vulnerable side to the notoriously stern and stubborn woman came through as she revealed her story, and even her emotions, to the camera. This film mostly focuses on her youth and musical foundation with punk band Bikini Kill and how she was a contributing factor to both feminism and alternative music making it into the mainstream. Her relationships with other bands of the time including Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney and her husband Adrock’s band The Beastie Boys are all prominently featured. And then she met Johanna Fateman.

After emotionally broken from her days in Bikini Kill, she met Johanna Fateman through Jo’s Riot Grrrl fanzine. They instantly became best friends and the inspiration for Le Tigre was ignited. JD Samson was asked to join them and the rest is history. Eventually Kathleen decided to quit making music and retract herself from the spotlight. There are some genuinely touching interview clips of her admitting her stubbornness wasn’t helping anyone, least of all herself, and she discusses her illness which she was eventually diagnosed with. She is an inspiration not only to girls and women, but to people who want to have a voice and be heard. It’s good to have her back on the music scene and on screen in this revealing, touching and inspiring documentary.

Revisit the Loose Lips interview with Le Tigre.

Saving Mr. Banks
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman

by Ruth Thomson

It’s 1961 and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) is at the height of his power, ruling over an empire of smiling employees and adored animated characters in his films and theme park. One person he’s struggling to charm is the frosty Mrs. P.L Travers, the Australian-born English author of the Mary Poppins children’s books. Travers (Emma Thompson) is contemplating selling him the rights to her beloved character but has exacting standards as to what’s in and what’s out – there must be no animation, no colour red, no made up words, no silly songs, and why on earth does Mr. Banks have a moustache?!? From the moment Mrs. Travers arrives distastefully in the City of Angels (‘smells like chlorine, and sweat’) Walt and the songwriting Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzmann and B.J. Novak) have their work cut out for them.

The film jumps between this Hollywood clash of cultures, sparkling vividly in Disneyesque techni-colour with a vibrant period score by Thomas Newman, and sparser flashback sequences of her rural childhood in Australia and her loving but flawed father (Colin Farrell) which serve to slowly hint at the true inspiration behind her stories.

Hanks and especially Thompson are terrific and very funny in their portrayal of two diametrically opposed dynamos very much used to getting their own way with Thompson getting the lions share of the good lines – her eye rolling disgust on arrival in a hotel room stuffed with cuddly toys itself speaks volumes. And there’s nice supporting performances from Paul Giamatti at his hangdog best and The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford. But another true star of the film is 1960s L.A, or at least Walt Disney’s bit of it – the style, design, sets, costume and cinematography all colourfully evoke that bygone and intoxicating age of the Hollywood Studio.

With the exception of some slightly laborious scenes in the flashback sequences, this is a masterful piece of family entertainment – sprinkled with so many spoonfuls of sugar (including a particularly nice one over the closing credits), that surely Walt himself would approve.  Mrs. Travers on the other hand…

Colin Farrell, Emma Thompson & Tom Hanks

Colin Farrell, Emma Thompson & Tom Hanks

Hilarious highlights from the Saving Mr. Banks press conference.

The Spectacular Now

Directed by James Ponsoldt
Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bob Odenkirk

by Joanna Orland

Sutter (Teller) is your typical teenage goofball.  Girlfriend, popularity and drinking problem to boot.  Sutter’s girlfriend Cassidy (Larson) dumps him due to a huge misunderstanding, and his life is to forever change.  He goes on a huge drinking binge and is found asleep one early morning by Aimee (Woodley).  They become fast friends and eventually boyfriend and girlfriend.  Sutter’s relationship with Aimee forces him to examine his life and why it is that he’s a bad influence on everyone around him.  He also must learn to accept living in the “Now” rather than the future or past, and to accept responsibility for his actions.

The Spectacular Now starts off with very little promise.  Miles Teller’s performance as Sutter is antagonizing as he comes across as genuinely arrogant, unintelligible, and not very likable even though the character Sutter is the protagonist and the director’s intention is for the audience to like this character and to empathize with him.  About halfway through the film there is a shift.  Teller’s performance, or perhaps it is the script, vastly improves and finally the audience is in the now alongside Sutter on his journey of self discovery.

There are some very good moments in this film, but it is unfortunate to have to sit through the first half to get to the excellent second half.  The unbalanced nature of it is disconcerting, but by the end of the film I was glad to have stayed along for the journey.

Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm)
Directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal

by Joanna Orland

Last year, Xavier Dolan directed one of my favourite films of recent – Laurence Anyways. His follow up one year later is Tom à la ferme – an ambient rural thriller which sees star Dolan as Tom, who is held emotionally, and somewhat physically captive on the farm of his dead boyfriend’s family. The audience is held captive alongside Tom as this film is gripping yet frustrating, and can also stray into dangerous unempathetic territory.

This film plays out with tension and genuine engagement with the characters, notably Tom. Xavier is so captivating as an actor and director, he cannot help but eminate talent as the nearly teenage prodigy that he is. At age 24, Tom à la ferme is his fourth film and he is already an award winning talent and top director to come out of the thriving French-Canadian film scene.

Tom à la ferme does not triumph in spite of Dolan’s blatant talent and engaging method of story-telling. There are some character flaws so great that the audience cannot quite understand their motives, which can often break the cinematic illusion and lead to comedic moments intended as drama. Dolan’s signature style prevails with his flair for painting visual pictures and soundtracks likened to watching the most beautiful and epic of music videos. He interweaves thematic subtleties into his films that only a fine tooth comb could overtly access. For instance, the ferme (farm) address is number 69, but not in a sexual manner – it represents the two parallel characters of Tom and Francis dealing with their grief in both unison and opposite forms – one through sadness, one through rage.

Dolan is a talent to watch. At the top of his game, yet still on the rise. Tom à la ferme is merely a small bump in the road of his career and he will no doubt find his way off of the farm and back to the city.


Directed by John Curran
Starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver

by Joanna Orland

Based on author Robyn Davidson’s memoir of the same name, Tracks follows Robyn (Wasikowska) as she travels across Australian deserts from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with noone other than her dog and four camels in tow.  Photographer Rick Smolan (Driver) helps Robyn fund this adventure by getting her to enter into a deal with National Geographic for them to do a story about her journey.  Smolan features throughout the film at various points throughout her journey to photograph her.

The substance of this film is in Mia Wasikowska’s performance.  She is mesmerizing and fully immerses the audience in her portrayal of Davidson, aka the “Camel Lady”.  From learning to train camels, to her struggles in the desert, the audience is with her 100%.  Adam Driver as Smolan is the perfect casting choice.  He doesn’t even need to do anything for the audience to be on his side – they love him.  Every time he appears on screen, the audience roars with laughter.  He has this same effect in the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis in which he has a small, but memorable role.  He is comic relief, but also a fine dramatic actor who knows how to balance the comedy within the realm of drama.

Tracks is not just a story about a woman’s journey across the desert, it is about a woman doing things on her own terms.  A character piece with a vast and expansive landscape at the helm.

Trap Street (Shuiyin Jie)
Directed by Vivian Qu
Starring Lu Yulai and He Wenchao

by Joanna Orland

Vivian Qu’s debut feature looks great, is well acted, but is underwhelming as a dramatic narrative. Li is an urban surveyor who meets Guan while on the job. Guan is a research scientist who works at a mysterious labratory on Forest Lane. So boy meets girl – check. Their first date goes well and it seems to be progressing nicely. Li also installs secret surveillance cameras in his spare time. Themes of surveillance and espionage are throughout and are reminiscent of the post Edward Snowden society that we are currently living in.

“Trap street” refers to an old cartographer’s trick of drawing a non-existent road onto a map in order to protect their work from copyright theft. If a trap street features on another map, it would be obvious plagarism. In this film, the meaning is inverted as Forest Lane is a “trap street” in terms of it doesn’t appear on any official maps in the area. There are other thematic links to the title present throughout the film, but the main idea of the film is more about a dystopian society.

The film is well acted as Lu Yulai makes an endearing lead. He’s full of innocence and hope in this lacklustre drama. The film’s reputation had expectations running high. It was the surprise film at this year’s Venice Film Festival and Vivian Qu has an established career as a film producer. Sadly, this is not a career defining debut feature from the producer turned director.

Under the Skin
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Starring Scarlett Johansson

by Joanna Orland

A beautiful ambient thriller that has elements of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Tree of Life, AI and The Man Who Fell To Earth. Under the Skin epitomized this year’s Venice Film Festival themes of isolation and without imitation, there is no creation. This ambient and beautiful film will find itself to be the most divisive of any festival. One must go into it with an open mind and find meaning rather than be spoonfed.

Jonathan Glazer adapted this film from the 2000 Michael Faber novel of the same name. It is not for the faint of heart or the closed-minded. Very little dialogue is used in this ambient, abstract visual and aural feast. Scarlett Johansson does not need even to say a word as her physical performance speaks louder than words ever could. The plot is never realized as we are never informed of what Johansson’s character is, or what she is doing. But she does it so captivatingly well. The genre is not easily identifiable – part horror, part arthouse.

While using ethereal imagery, director Glazer decided to use real people rather than actors as the support cast to Johannson’s main alien character. Set in Scotland, the film could not be any more gritty and grounded in reality, yet in parallel, it is overtly otherworldly. While the main character and the story all seem alien, it is in fact a story that has been told many times before. Frankenstein and AI are prime examples of a humanoid character turned against society who actually wants nothing more than to belong. Under the Skin is potentially the best telling of this classic story, for mature audiences only.

The Zero Theorem
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon

by Joanna Orland

I knew I wouldn’t like this film. Out of Terry Gilliam’s film directing work, I am only a fan of Twelve Monkeys. I could not even get through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas despite 3 attempts – I remember it fondly for the nap time I achieved. For some reason I thought that what Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis did for Twelve Monkeys, Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon could do for The Zero Theorem. I was so wrong. I have no idea what these A-list Oscar calibre stars are doing in this absurd sci-fi film. All of the acting is hammy, the script flat, the cinematography cartoon-like, and outside of a few fun moments, this film is a ridiculous piece of work. Avoid Avoid Avoid!

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