Friday 28 September 2018

London Film Festival Picks

Having to narrow my selection down to 10 films is always difficult. I’d also like to point out that its 50:50 for gender representation, this was an conscious and unconscious decision.

Here are my picks:

The Ballard of Buster Scruggs
Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen
This is an obvious one. It’s the Coen brothers so there was no way I was going to miss this. An anthology film or 6 Coen stories in one film, taking place in the Old West. With vast cast and various stories, I expect there to be unexpected genre twisting as well as dark at hell humour. 

Dir: Nadine Labaki 
Where has Nadine Labaki been? She’s been missing from the film scene for years after her second feature. But she’s back (and hopefully in London) with her Cannes stirring drama about a young boy living in poverty who sues his parents for bringing him into this world. A different from her previous films but I’m still very intrigued and excited to see what Labaki has to show us.

Dir: Wanuri Kahiu
I’d heard great things from TIFF and after seeing the trailer and reading about the director, who is suing Kenya as they have banned the film, I knew this was not to be missed. About two women, both daughters of politicians who form a friendship which becomes something more. I hope, Wanuri Kahiu wins her case. 

Girls of the Sun
Dir Eva Husson
Eva Husson returns to LFF after her 2015 film ‘Bang Gang’ (which I enjoyed) but this time with a war genre film about inspiring women who lost everything and fought for their future. Haven’t read as much about this film but as I admire Husson, I wanted to see what she did next.

The Breaker Upperers
Dir: Jackie van Beek, Madeleine Sami
New Zealand 
My friend and I saw countless trailers and posters for this comedy about two women who break up relationships for weak people who can’t speak to their partners, while in New Zealand. It came out the week we left so I’m very happy we get to see it on the big screen in the UK. It looks hilarious and after the raving reviews from NZ as well as Australia, I’m sure its going to be. 

The Fight
Dir: Jessica Hynes
To be honest, I saw Jessica Hynes in a boxing ring in the picture and immediately wanted to see the film. Then I saw that she is also directing. I’m a big fan of Hynes in anything really so I was going to see this film no matter what. 

The Sisters Brothers
Dir: Jacques Audiard
Again, to be honest, Joaquin Phoenix is in this film, so, I was of course just going to this anyway. But to add a bit more reason behind the pick, I remembered when the book came out and loved the story (never got round to reading it) and soon after found out the film was being made with Phoenix. Two hitmen brothers in the old west are on the hunt for someone who stole from their client, but it seems they get a whole lot more than they bargained for. Great overall cast and well, its Phoenix. 

Sorry to Bother You
Dir: Boots Riley
I was obsessed with the trailers for this Sundance hit and loved the story. It seems strange and familiar but set in an alternative reality. Slightly science fiction but not obvious. This is what I’ve gathered from what I’ve read. The cast is amazing, not only does Armie Hammer pop but it has Lakeith Stanfield AND Tessa Thompson in lead roles - YES!

Dir: Ivan Ayr
They had me at ‘feminist policing, Indian style’. The story is about a police sting gone wrong with female officer caught at the centre. Along with her superior, the two women work together to fight against crimes against women. Not heard or seen anything like this from India so I’m really looking forward to this one. 

School’s Out
Dir: Sebastian Marnier
Had to have a ‘creepy’ pick in my list and nothing is more creepy that children. A group students seem to harbour some dark secrets after a teacher leaps to his death. The picture in the catalogue was creepy and chilling, just a group of teens staring out with blank faces while a teacher looks scared. Super, I’m in!



Wednesday 26 September 2018

Literally, A Room Of One's Own

A while back (three years ago) I pitched an idea to a website I had written a couple of posts for. Unfortunately they weren’t interested, so I thought, oh well, I’ll post it on my blog. Years later, it finally happened. My idea was that all writers have a place they like to work it, be at home, a cafe, a bar, a forest, beach, castle, rollercoaster etc. But even though their locations change, there is always a desk or desk space involved. I got the idea from Vanity Fair who interview a creative about their desk. They are always uniquely theirs, sometimes littered with papers, figurines lined up on the computer, photos and memorabilia hanging on the wall, all have their own way of working which I think is fascinating.

Remember how, when you’re a kid and you’re excited to see your friends’ room? It could naturally be a child’s curiosity but I think, now that I’m older, that being able to see someone else’s room, was a way to get to know someone better. A bedroom, at any age, even if you share, is place where you can be yourself. How you decorate and what you display is a part of who you are. Usually it is the only place you can freely decorate as you want. It is a literal expression of your personality. But that might be going too deep. For anyone who moved away from or stayed in halls at Uni, you either try to make that space your own or you distance yourself from, just using it for the time being. I like to surround myself with familiarity if I’m going to be somewhere for a considerable amount of time. But in the sanctity of my room, my desk transforms into my gateway to ideas, not just the internet which is the ultimate portal, but sitting at my desk I can or at least try to create something new. Whether it is writing about film or writing a story. A desk, a room, is something personal. A space you might share but there will always be something that is just yours and if you don’t have that, you need to.

Here’s a peek into where I work....

Monday 24 September 2018

The Dude Abides: 20th Anniversary of The Big Lebowski

Its been 20 years since we first saw that tumbleweed rambling across the big screen and Sam Elliot’s smooth cowboy wisdom like voice introduce one of the most iconic characters in modern cinema. I’m talking about The Dude. 

Back in 1998, after their award winning ‘Fargo’ had captured an audience two years previous, Joel and Ethan Coen did something completely different. I know you can say that after every film they do, but this was different. The film was not critically successful and left audiences confused. A story about the laziest man in Los Angeles who becomes mixed up with a kidnapping, blackmail, extortion, pornographers, bowling league games, feminist artists and Nihilists would have at least earned some attention. But, the Dude abides. The film is not a cult classic (and rightly so) spawning theory books, screenings, an annual festival celebrating everything ‘Dude’ and even spawned a religion, Dudeism, which I am a priest of. The Dude has stood the test of time and I’d say it was down to Jeff Bridges immortal portrayal and the Coen’s pure genius for creating the story and the characters.

The Big Lebowski, a simplistic plot that becomes complicated but is in fact a film that has created so many theories, there are books dedicated to pulling apart and piecing it all back together. It’s a dream to analyze, especially as I’m sure the Coens are just quietly laughing all these film writer inject their own ideas onto the story. My favourite of theories, surprisingly comes from a religious angle and even more so after reading Cathleen Falsini’s book ‘The Dude Abides’. She says that the characters are all sexually starved and letting out their anger and feelings in various, sometimes absurd way, bar The Dude who seems to float by these human urges, although, not saying he wouldn’t say no to be seduced by Maude. But if we were to deleve deeper in the minds of the Coens, my bet (and part of my dissertation) is that we’d find the genre-twisting machine going at full speed.

As masters of genre twisting, in my opinion, the Coen brothers have injected film noir into a western set up that just makes sense in the crazy universe of the Dude and the cast of characters. The Coen brothers have cited that they were influenced by the work of Raymond Chandler and wanted to write a detective story but have a conventional character, like The Dude, who was based on a close friend of theirs, at the centre. There is far more to the characters and plot than meets the eye, in my opinion, the Coens are the masters of genre twisting. Drifting effortlessly from what feels like a Western, to film noir, complete with voice over, a flawed detective, a red herring and even an unusual femme fatale with an affected accent.

The Big Lebowski is definitely one of my favourite films and it was honour to introduce the 20th anniversary screening at the Watershed in Bristol in July, as part of Cinema Rediscovered. In my intro I mentioned how the rug in the film is really the catalyst for the story and without that rug, The Dude would never have gone to see Jeff Lebowski. It sets the plot in motion and triggers off a whole line of events that I don’t think even The Stranger saw coming. The rug really does tie the film together.

The Big Lebowski is back in cinemas from today, thanks to Park Circus. Go see this cult classic on the big screen!

Go to Park Circus to find out where it’s playing near you.

Saturday 22 September 2018

After the Thunderdome

The Thunderdome is what I called the day the London Film Festival tickets are released to Members. As there are most likely thousands of member everywhere, they all scrabble around at 10am on an early September date to get up to two tickets for the films they want to see in October. I used to queue up early, very early, like, first train of the day each year so I would guarantee that I get all my films. This was only because the BFI website was notoriously rubbish and hadn’t worked in years. However two years ago, they got their act together and fixed it. Sort of. I had been queuing since 6:30 am (no joke) but when the box office finally opened, I was still waiting in line by 10:30. My friends who had wisely stayed at home to book online got all their tickets before and even booked my most urgent requests for me too. There were two reasons for this; one, the site had been fixed and two, the first two people in the queue had a novel’s worth pages with films they wanted. With the limit at two per screening, they were obviously buying for every showing of every film. Bastards. I learnt my lesson, stay at home and pray the WiFi doesn’t f*** up. But there are other forces controlling the outcome of ticket sales.

I first went to LFF, and I think I recall this every year without fail, back in 2006. I had just started college and was able to study my favourite subject, film. As I was already watching any films I could get my hands on and reading a variant of film related magazines and some but very few sites (back then websites were very basic) and so at the advice of my teachers I sought out other ways of consuming films. By chance I came across that year’s catalogue and saw that Steve Buscemi was doing a screen talk. I quickly called the box office (this was a while after the ticket release date) and bought myself a ticket. On the day I went, I also managed to pick up a ticket for his latest film, ‘Interview’ for the opening night. I got to walk on the red carpet for the first time, I even dressed up after I heard it was a premiere. I was so excited to go and loved every second of the whole thing. I even asked a question (a stupid one) at the screen talk. Even though I only went to two events, it was the start of a beautiful obsession with LFF and only fed my film obsession. 

Looking back, if those film and talk had been now, they would have been sold out by the time I went to book. Year after year, it becomes harder to get seats and screenings, mostly because BFI introduced a higher membership, Champions who are able to book first. They snap up ALL the best tickets and seats and leave crumbs for the members, gad knows what’s left for the public. 

Despite the scrabble for tickets, its always a mixture of exciting and infuriating. But I always have great memories each year. Back in 2009, the Coen Brothers were at the festival with ‘A Serious Man’ and bought a ticket to the opening night. I suggested to my family to all meet in London for lunch and I made them stay with me until 8pm as the film was at 9pm. I missed the brothers on the mini red carpet BUT I was near the front inside and couldn’t resist taking a photo. The flash caught their eye so I have a picture of them both looking over at me wondering ‘what the hell’. In 2013, I managed to get a ticket to ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ and a front row seat. I was so excited and worried I was late I ran across the red carpet only to find I was 40 minutes too early. I missed the brothers and cast on the red carpet but I go to see them up close again on stage. This year, I have an opening night ticket for Coens’ latest, ‘The Ballard of Buster Scruggs’. It’s not front row but I’m hoping the brothers make an appearance.

I'll be blogging about the festival on October and I will covering the films for Vulturehound



Thursday 20 September 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Farm

Animal Farm
Based on the George Orwell novella of the same name, this story about farm animals revolting against their human owner, running him off his land and home, the animals establish order, only to be overthrown by a dictator who makes their lives near impossible. The famouse line 'All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others' starts off as a rule (the first part) that the animals live by but as the pigs start to take over the farm, moving into the farmhouse, dressing in human clothes, the latter part is added. The freedom the animals hoped for decends into a chaos, with executions, banishments and the sad death of Boxer. Unlike the novella, the film has a slightly brighter end, I'm guessing this is due to the fact animation was seen as something for children to watch BUT the animated film although brilliant, its violent and grim. Maybe not something for the children to watch.

Dark River
 Based on the novel 'Trespass' by Rose Tremain, sheep shearer Alice returns to the farm where she grew up after her father dies. She was told that she would inherit his tenancy but ends up in a legal battle with her brother who also stands to inherit. Having not seen each other in years, the siblings find it difficult to live with each other, with secrets from the past, the reason why Alice left years before and the relationship they had with their father clouding over any future the have. Its depressing to watch, a slow build up to the grim ending, plus the 'secret' why she left? Well, that revealed in the first 15 minutes and hangs over the rest of the film like a dead sheep.

God's Own Country
Continuing the British farm films, ending on a positive note too, God's Own Country is a beautifully made film. Johnny lives day to day working on his family's farm and getting drunk in the local pub and engaging in rough casual sex. As the farm needs extra help during lambing season, Johnny's dad hires Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker. Johnny is at first hostile towards Gheorghe but eventually two become intimate. Having not experienced a loving relationship before, Gheorghe shows Johnny how to be tender, breaking down his emotional barriers. A brilliantly written love story that doesn't feel run of the mill.

Don't forget to check out where it all started over at
Wandering Through the Shelves

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Edinburgh Film Festival: Terminal

When a film looks and feels stylishly superb, right down to the key chain a character has, the dialogue should be perfectly matched, however, there are a few liberties to take. If its a film noir, certain elements to the story and the characters that inhabit this world need to be checked off. Is there a femme fatale? Check. Is there mystery or two? Check. Is there a MacGuffin? Check. Is the atmosphere dark, full of mist and in an obscure location? Check. Are there criminals involved? Check. Is there an odd obsession with Alice in Wonderland? Well, that last one of the list is unique to Terminal and at times is overbearing.

Set in a city with no proper name, referred to as the precinct, characters meet at The End of the Line cafe at the station terminal. A strange waitress serves tea, coffee and sticky buns and offers advice to a man who wants to kills himself and gets involved with a couple of low level hitmen. The two stories take place side by side but its unclear which happened first. The two hitmen are on a job from the mysterious 'top dog' hoping to take over his legacy and his work. They are sent round in circles where the waitress keeps appearing, eventually they are holed up in a flat for two weeks, waiting for the phone to ring. All is over seen by the oddly places station master, who also seems to be conveniently just where you need him. Everything comes full circle with the truth eventually revealed in a very theatrical way, meant for the audience but its clear the waitress is enjoying herself very much.

Writer and director Vaughn Stein obviously loves film noir, very much. He even said it as the Q&A after the screening. But sometimes when you love something so much you need to take a step back and look at what you’ve done. Is it what you wanted or is it all the cliches you could possibly go for thrown into one?

I don't think its fair to rip into the film with a piano wire but there were several elements I found so jarring. Bad accents, accents that just didn't suit characters, dialogue that sounded like it had been taken from student film, the overuse of Alice in Wonderland references, the really jarring accents, all these things, overshadowned what I think Stein was trying to do. The story, bare bones, was actually really well thought out, twists and turns to shady nightclubs, stuffy flats and a old futuristic looking security room, all these parts of the film were brilliantly executed. BUT the dialogue needed a good edit. I really admired the look and style of the film, the gritty 'precinct' and creepy atmospheric train station were amazing to look at, kudos to the locations and production design teams. The star of the show was most definitely Margot Robbie is a role she created herself, she was clearly having lots of fun, its just a shame she went full on femme 'obvious' fatale.

This was the first film I booked for EIFF as I was keen to see this bizarre looking film noir with neon lights and dark tunnels. I really hoped I'd love it but I fear I was expecting too much. I'd been keen to see what Vaughn Stein does next though, maybe looking at what went wrong here and making something new? We'll wait and see.

Monday 17 September 2018

August/September Watch List

Ant-Man and The Wasp
With the memories of Infinity War still fresh in our mind, this Marvel film takes a minor detour with comedic characters and a scattered background story for the villains. The first Ant Man film was more of a heist where as this sequal is a rescue operation. Saving Pym's wife who has been missing in the Quantum realm for decades, now (apparently) is the time to fetch her back. As Scott is still under house arrest following the events after Civil War, the comedic timing is ramped up, as well as the emotional family connections. Its a fun fast paced ride to the happy conclusion BUT the mid credits scene literally takes all that away. 3/5

Skate Kitchen
Full review over on My Film Club which can be read HERE. 5/5

To All the Boys I've Loved Before
 Of all the Netflix (original) films out there, this is the one that I watched twice. Its a romantice teen drama and sometimes these seem like they are overcrowding the streaming service BUT this felt a little different. A shy girl who writes secret letters to her crushes, has a close relationship with her sisters and has more to offer than a soppy tale about unrequited love. She teams up with her past crush, Peter so it isn't awkward between her friend (also past crush) Josh who recently broke up with her sister, to make Peter's ex-girlfriend want him back. Its complicated but it doesn't have to be. In thinking she's pretending, Lara Jean, actually falls for Peter who has fallen for her long before realisations are shared. You could untangle this and say it was all rather pointless and a quick conversation with an old friend could have fixed everything BUT then you wouldn't have this adorable film to enjoy. 4/5

The Meg 
After a billionaire funds a deep sea research lab, they dive into the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the ocean, believing that the trench is far deeper that realised. The diving team breach the trench but they encounter an ancient giant shark, Megalodon, allowing it to swim through the barrier. The scientists then, with the help of Jason Statham, capture or kill the shark. In Empire magazine this month there was an article about the art of the 'big dumb movie' and of course 'The Meg' should have been just that BUT alas, the film was trying too hard to be 'clever'. Although I did laugh at some awkward attempts at trying be rom-com, I wasn't as entertained as I had hoped. I think I might read the book instead. 2/5

The Awful Truth
A screwball comedy about a married couple who are cheating on each other so decide to divorce as they can't trust the other but then become jealous of each other when they try to move on, stop me if you've heard this one before. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play the hopless couple who are still in love with each other to perfection. Its very silly in places but you'd expect that from a 30s screwball. Its not as good as others but scenes where people keeping hiding the bedroom and the final scenes in the cabin are very amusing. 3/5

Public Schooled 
 I missed the screening of the film at EIFF so luckily its on Netflix so I didn't miss out. Socially awkward Liam has been home schooled by his overprotective mother, Claire, and is about to take his SATs early so he can go to Cambridge University as they both planned. But when he sees a pretty girl with one leg, Liam decides to enroll at public school for the remainder of the semester. Claire believes he is rebelling and teaches him different ways to rebel, getting it out of his system. Its sweet in places and Judy Greer is just brilliant, its fun film that doesn't have nice neatly tied up ending but rather chooses the realistic path with a bit of hope sprinkled in. 3/5

The first African American police officer of the Colorado Springs department infiltrates the local Klu Klux Klan chapter, based on a true story is a story I am very much intrigued by. With the help of a caucasian officer, the two men go under cover, in person and on the phone. It seems wrong to only sum up this film is a few sentances apart from saying how brilliantly the film is constructed, with John David Washington as Ron Stallworth giving a performance not of anger but a true detective making this more than a great story. Everyone has talked about the ending which shows the current state of America, showing how things haven't really changed, which is a better note to end the film on as the story, the case had a successful ending. 4/5

Crazy Rich Asians
Correct me if I'm wrong about this not passing the Bechdel Test.

Moving on, I loved this film! Fair enough, I did see it at a preview with the cast of the film. This film is not only groundbreaking and hoping this will help change things for the better but the story and characters are also well put together. Rachel is a college professor, she isn't struggling in life or have bad relationships with friends or family, she is well grounded and in love with Nick. Nick, who is very much in love with Rachel, wants her to meet her family in Singapore. Nick had kept it secret that he comes from a literally crazy rich family and also, literally throws Rachel into the whole crazy rich life. Its a baptism by fire as Rcahel meets family, deals with jealous ex-girlfriends and Nick's overbearing mother who claims she wants the best for her son but doesn't see that Rachel is that. Its essentially a rom-com but with a hell of lot of pizazz! There are of course stand outs of the film, Awkwafina steals every scene she is in as Rachel's friend Goh Peik Lin, she was also hilarious at the preview too. Gemma Chan is also so subtly brilliant, conveying a heartbreak amidst such happiness. I really hope this film continues to be a huge success in the UK as it was in the US. More films like this please! 4/5

Sunday 16 September 2018

Three Women

If you haven’t the series and don’t want to know anything about the story, you have been warned, spoilers ahead.


When there is a murder mystery to be solved at the heart of a character story and everyone just assumes it’s a man from the get go, you automatically know it’ll be a woman as the main assailant. But what Sharp Objects cleverly does is divert the viewers’ attention to make you doubt this ‘murder mystery’ rule. The distraction comes in the form of characters that are bold and beautiful. The story becomes about the characters that inhabit the story making you forget the reason for the whole series. They are damaged, full of secrets that will have you guessing until the end, they are in pain but hope for a better life. They want answers of their own but they have to suffer to get them. The characters that inhabit the world of ‘Sharp Objects’ are all internal, emotional or physical anguish. 

Unlike other ‘murder mystery’ stories, there is no comforting resolution. There is closure, for the main character and for the case itself but not in the conventional sense. The case is closed as the murderer is caught and captured but a sudden and devastating twisted reveal is shown at the very end of the last episode. For those who didn’t read the book, this comes as a shocking surprise in the way the real killer is shown in jittering and violent camera shots. The show has had its disturbing elements but nothing is more disturbing than the end scene and the mid credits scene. The viewer is left with a bad taste in their mouth, at least, I was. 

The series has been compared to books by V. C. Andrews, maybe for its melodramatic family dynamics and the focus of a wealthy family with disturbing secrets. The show’s fuel is secrets, some we never really see the full picture of either. Past events are hinted at, sentences interrupted, glances across a room, hazy flashbacks where we the viewers are left to decide what really happened. These moments and scenes aren’t really part of the main narrative, they are there as background information so we can understand the town and Camille’s past, piecing together why she acts the way she is. One of the main reasons is her mother, Adora. Overbearing, uncaring, selfish and arrogant, but softly spoken and manipulative, Adora likes to believe she is higher and more important than anyone else because she is wealthy and in her mind, is regale and deserves to be admired. Her treatment of Camille is hostile but because she is quiet and cunning, she doesn’t immediately come across as terrible person, creating an illusion that she is reasonable. Amma, Camille’s half sister is an enigma throughout the story. She seems assured of herself, claiming she can get boys and girls to do what she wants, confidently starting arguments and flirting with older men. She is also vulnerable, being scared of her mother at the same time craving attention. From each episode Amma’s unstable persona is at first confusing but later starts to become disturbing. The town’s people say, there is something off with those Preaker girls and there is. Camille being at the center of the story is more obvious about her pain and dysfunctions. She drinks and hides evidence; she is suffering from long seated trauma, yet no one can determine how to help her. She is scarred, inside and outside but again, she doesn’t get the help she needs. Only her friend and editor want to help. Her return to her hometown of Wind Gap is meant to be her chance for closure as well as to get a story about the murders. At the end of the last episode it feels that she is finally able to achieve both a satisfying close to her past and continue her life, living with Amma but the cruel twist at the end doesn’t bode well for Camille. It seems that she’ll never be at peace. 

Throughout the story, hints at the secrets and past turmoil are shown but there is a constant feeling of unease, even at the end when the case is closed. The feeling of dread never goes away. There is a dizzying sick feeling when Adora is revealed to have poisoned Camille’s younger sister and actually the cause of her death. The suspicion that Adora may actually also be responsible for the two murders is pushed to the side while Camille and Amma fight for their lives as they are spoon fed poison every hour. This is Adora’s way of showing affection, keeping her daughters close and weak so she can ‘take care’ of them. But when the sisters are rescued, Adora is arrested; the continued feeling of dread never goes away. For me, this was because I didn’t think Adora killed the two other girls, Ann and Natalie but distracted by Camille moving on with her life I didn’t seem to care. Adora had always appeared as odd and cold, it was good to see a villain caught. But when Camille finds the teeth of the wind Gap victims in Amma’s creepy dollhouse, the cold sweat of dread crept back. Amma is confirmed as the murderer, along with the assistance of her roller skating friends, in quick violent cuts. It’s disturbing but yet it’s a brilliant way to end the slow burner of series. It’s a murder mystery I won’t let go of in a hurry, hence why I’m writing about it weeks after its finished.

Having not watch that many shows on TV lately (I’ve been stuck to Netflix for months), ‘Sharp Objects’ had my attention, right down to the teeth tiled floor in that hideous dollhouse. My guess is that, it’ll be a while before a story like this has me hooked for a while.