Wednesday 28 November 2018

No One Puts Olivia in the Corner

As I queued at 8:15 am on a breezy October morning, I wasn't entirely sure what I was in for. I knew it was about a heist and there was a political element to the story and there were four awesome women at the center of it all. As I was handed a copy of the book the film was based on, I started to get more excited. It wasn't what I had expected, it was far better.
When renowned thief Harry Rawlings is killed in a robbery gone wrong along with three of his partners, their widows are left behind with varying problems of their own. After Veronica Rawling is threatened by crime boss Jamal Manning, who's money Harry was stealing. Knowing that each of the wives will eventually be targeted, Veronica enlists, now single mother and small business owner Linda and Alice, who's has turned to escorting to support herself. Bringing in Belle, the four women plan a heist from what Harry left behind.

Based on the 80s British TV series of the same name, written by crime writer Lynda La Plante, the premise of four widows who's criminal husbands are killed in a job gone wrong, so decide to take over the final job themselves is gripping enough without the add cast power and the keen eye of Steve McQueen. It's a thriller that seems familiar, with the politics, corruption and betrayl making up the background. The real story is about these four women who are capable of more than they give themselves credit for. When these women are threatened, they don't cower in a corner, they take a stand and fight back. And its glorious.

It's esay to see how the story would play out in a TV series. With a multitide of characters to explore, politician Jack Mulligan and his strained relationship with his father and his desire to do something else, the Manning brothers who are crime bosses but want to do some good in their community and even the lesser seen characters such as the wife who wasn't involved with the heist, Amanda but even though there was quite a few players in the game, McQueen along with Gillian Flynn who co-wrote the screenplay, manage to condense several plot lines into a streamlined high stakes thriller.

With four lead roles for women, all bringing something different to the heist table, they all had characters that were more than the 'wife' role. Viola Davis obviously stands out and not just because she and her dog Olivia are an amazing duo just them, but she bring command and realisations to the group all the while masking her real pain over the loss of her husband. As out of all the couples, they seemed the happiest and strongest. And one last thing about the dog, Olivia, is a Westie, a west highland terrier, my favourite breed of dog. She is adorable and I'm so glad of all the screen time she has.

No one puts Olivia in the corner.

McQueen's version of 'Widows' offer more than a straightforward heist film. There are dirty politics and family struggles being played out, alongside some cchilling scenes from the chamleon that is  Daniel Kaluuya who is Manning's younger more violent brother. The film is a cold hard look at crime and how no one cares about your grief, not when there's money on the line.


Monday 26 November 2018

She Wants Revenge

She Wants Revenge, those words spark a sense of rebellion in you. Either the story or the filmmaker will be something outside of the box. Unofficially the ‘horror’ strand of the festival, the selection of films varied from traditional horror to new ways of the presenting the genre.

‘V’ broke the fourth wall with a young vampire who relates her story, in her own words, not letting on everything about her past. Taking the vampire genre and giving it a new blood, a new character and a different voice. ‘Baggage’ explored what it means to literally carry your past problems, friendships, relationships with you. Choreographed brilliantly by the two lead actresses who are attached to each other throughout the film. The idea that we are our own worst enemy was touched upon in ‘Bit’ about a dancer who finds out she failed an audition she battles herself as she dances in a mirror against a darker vicious version of herself. ‘The Other Side with Valerie Hope’ might not be a horror we’ve seen before, about a medium who finds herself in a difficult situation and her ‘gifts’ are put to the test. With a vert charismatic lead, the story does border the line of dark comedy with a very satisfying end.

New and social media makes an impact on us all, as we are fed perfected images from advertisements and other media, #EatPretty is fantastically pieced together using a technology used in beauty advertising, its grips and pulls you in with voiceovers from actors, seemingly innocent, a darker meaning lies beneath the perfect surface. The amazingly shot ‘Veiled’ explores the mythology of Jinn, using cleverly devised special effects and inspired by writings in the Quran about these creatures or beings that live in parallel with us. ‘The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs’ falls back to more traditional horror or dark fairytale with the only dialogue from a video about how to capture and trap your physical fear. It’s a cleverly devised story and as an audience vert quick to believe you can indeed keep your fear under the stairs. ‘The Blue Door’ which has no dialogue, is one the best horrors I’ve seen. Building suspense with quiet and an ever moving door that really does creep the hell out of me and everyone in the audience. The set itself felt like a character, created from old used film and TV sets, it was such a simple story but it had the best reaction from the audience. Ending on the perfectly named ‘Catcalls’ which sent shivers down my spine. Two girls take revenge on a pervert in ways you would never have guessed. Apparently based on a true story, I am really dying to know the real story!

After watching nine stories from women who are all talented storytellers, I was a bit shaken (horror has that effect on me) and also very excited to see more films from these filmmakers. Underwire is truly inspiring and I can’t wait for next year’s fest.

Monday 19 November 2018

Not Tonight Josephine

Everyone knows the film, even if they haven’t seen it. The iconic film about two down on their luck musicians who accidentally witness a mob killing go on the run dressed as women and join an all women’s jazz band. They meet sweet, slightly naive and ever so romantic Sugar who becomes best friends with one and falls in love with the other who tricks her into thinking he’s a millionaire. Labelled a romantic comedy but the screwball ethics of plot twist this the film little more than romance and comedy combined. Especially with the side mafia storyline which has a life all of its own. At times, it could be seen as two films in one and as they cross over that’s where you find ‘Some Like it Hot’.

It’s easy to forget that ‘Some Like It Hot’ was made in 1959, entering the 60s where the films changed, the mood changed, the people changed but ‘Some Like It Hot’ stands out from the crowd in more ways than two actors dressed in drag to escape the mafia. It’s also sometimes easy to forget that the film is set in the 1920s, despite the raid on the speakeasy at the start. We become absorbed into Joe and Gerry’s world and their struggle as musicians and later their life on the run.

Shot in black and white, giving the films slight film noir tone, especially where the speak easy and mafia are concerned. Marilyn Monroe actually had a contract that her films had to be in colour but as the Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis’ make up made them look terrible in colour, she agreed to the black and white film. Which is thankful, as if if you’ve seen any posters or photos from the film in colour you can see the guys’ make up really needed some toning down. The atmospheric tone and colour of the film gives it the edge, making the film feel like two stories colliding dramatically and sometimes violently. The first 15 minutes, we have a car chase, gunfire and look at life in Chicago during prohibition. Once we enter the funeral parlour (hint hint to Secret Cinema) and the world of jazz and dancing girls while the wink wink coffee is served, we finally meet the real protagonists of the film. The film noir is interrupted while the comedy takes for a sort while, until the garage massacre where the two stories crossover. Not meeting again until Florida where another violent crime is witnessed. During the scene where the Italian Opera enthusiasts are celebrating, there is sense of what was happening while Daphne and Josephine were getting to know their band mates and Sugar. This cleverly woven double bill works so perfectly as both stories continue to act like their in different stories. The magic of cinema isn’t broken once, not even at the end where nothing really is resolved. Ending on a joke and step towards the future.

As the film contains a few themes that would have raised the eyebrows of the Hays Code, the film was in fact what helped break down the ridiculous censorship rules. The film dares to be different and doesn’t care about ethics. If the film were made now, of course there would be outage BUT the film allows itself not only to commit to suggestive acts but actually calls themselves out on it. The only loose end, Sugar.

Sugar is the sweet and ‘not vert bright’ gal. She’s talented, beautiful and terribly modern. She knows all the mistakes she makes will hurt her in the end but she’s determined to live life to the fullest. But the one thing I can’t let go, why does she run after the guys at the end. She’s heartbroken but suddenly she forgives Joe for tricking her, using her, lying to her, all in a matter of minutes. I know its a film and I know it ties up the ending but it just doesn’t sit right. Sugar deserves better. But then again, so does Gerry/Daphne.

The duo at the center of the film are a perfect team. With their personalities shown within minutes of them being introduced and talking for a few lines of dialogue. Joe is the player, smooth talker at times and the one who makes bad decisions. Gerry is the practical thinker, the personality and the one who actually comes up the idea to dress in drag, he’s up for almost anything. Jack Lemmon at the time was not a big star, but he is the one who stands out from all three leads. Barely changing his voice, he morphs from Gerry to Daphne with ease and hilarity, he steals the show in every scene.

Thanks to Park Circus, this brilliant comedy is back in the cinema. Having only ever seen it on TV or DVD, the film is amazing on the big screen. It’s a rare treat to see one of your favourite films of all time in such splendour. From the witty and delicious dialogue to the wonderful cast, Billy Wilder’s masterpiece is one that will never age.

Find out about the film's re-release at BFI and where the 4K restoration will be screened HERE.

All pictures courtesy of Park Circus 

Thursday 15 November 2018

Thursday Movie Picks: Museum

Russian Ark
 Known for being shot in a single 96 minute Steadicam sequence, director Alexander Sokurov's 'masterpiece' took four attempts to complete. With over 2,000 actors involved and 3 orchestras and filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum, this film indeed is a cinematic achievement. A narrator and supposed ghost joins another traveller, a French diplomat and together they travel through 33 rooms, depicting moments from history. It's a marvel of a film but I have to admit, I felt quite lost and only enjoyed moments of it. However, it did make me want to see the palace for myself.
The Square
This film about an art museum curator who's life starts to unravel when his wallet and phone are stolen and demands them back. At the same time a new installation is opening and a marketing strategy he is over seeing goes horribly wrong. The film is satrical and critical of many things surrounding the art world, with scenes and events in the film inspired by director and writer Ruben Östlund's real life. Everyone talks about the performance artist scene BUT the film is much more than that.

Museum (Museo)
As one of the films I saw at the London Film Festival this year, despite starring Gael Garcia Bernal, my reason for going to see it, it was one of the films that made the least impact on me. Two students, wanting to do 'something' with their dull lives, decide to steal priceless Mayan artefacts from the prestigious National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. As thrillers go, the heist part of the film is smooth and is actually successful, its what happens when they try to sell the stolen goods. With everyone in Mexico on high alert for the theives, the items are literally priceless with no respectable dealer wanting to touch them and no other fence to move them on. Juan, the more ambitious of the two, becomes more and more desparate, not wanting his plan to be for nothing. While Benjamin, the one who wanted to quite before they started, is too afraid to continue until he finally comes through when its too late. Not knowing the real story, made the drama more exciting/stressful but never really understanding why the two guys did what they did was just frustrating. In the end, it felt that it was all for nothing.

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

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Way Out West

If, like me, you've seen Fivel Goes West, the sequel to the much loved An American Tail, you will of course have that song that everyone sings at the start of the film. You know the one. Everyone decides to leave New York and travel west to make their fortune. It's a great song. It is also an excellent way to begin writing about the Coen brothers' latest film, their anthology film of tales set out the west.

This was one of the films at the London Film Festival I had to make sure I bought a ticket for, I was NOT going to miss this. Standing inches away from the brothers on the red carpet before I walked it myself and settling in for the UK premiere. It was worth seeing on the big screen. Some films feel cinematic and thats what the Coens can do, create stories that need to be seen in a cinema. So, it is a shame that the film is going to Netflix, a phrase I find myself saying all too often. But at least this may encourage more people to see it as it ore available.

Anyway, happy trails folks, I hope you all get to see this fantastic 6 tales in 1. 

You can read my full review of the film over at VultureHound HERE

Friday 9 November 2018

She Makes Movies

Even though the London Film Festival was last month, I can't stop thinking about the films I saw. Having selected my films carefully (bought tickets) and saw as many films as I could (as press) I did try and see films made by women. Putting a spotlight on three filmmakers I believe deserve a mention, with films that provoked conversation, positive and negative and all I admired for different reasons.

 This story about two young women, daughters of opposing politicians, who fall in love was banned in it's home country Kenya. The ban now lifted so it can be shown in cinemas and be considered for an Oscar. Director Wanuri Kahiu sued Kenya's government in order for her film to be shown in cinemas, showing she wouldn't be pushed over or threatened.

From the brilliantly bold opening credits to the hopeful end, Kahiu's story about love that blossoms between Kena, who hopes to become a nurse and Kiki who wants to travel, is sweet and innocent. As the slowly bond as friends and gently fall in love through stolen kisses and nights out, they are never far from local gossips and the judgement of the people around them. They try and fight for their freedom but its at a cost.

Although the film was not chosen as Kenya's submission to the Oscars, 'Supa Modo' (which I absolutely loved) was chosen instead, the film was shown outside Kenya to audiences who praised the bold beautiful story. A story as tender as 'Rafiki' deserves to be seen.

Nadine Labaki's third feature film has been 5 years in the making. Years of research, 6 months of filming, Labaki has delivered as well as created a true masterpiece of a film about a young boy, living in poverty in Lebanon.  Labki won the Jury Prize at Cannes where the film recieved a standing ovation. The film and Labaki also received a standing ovation at the London Film Festival on its opening night.

Labaki's film is about a young boy, Zain, born into poverty, working on the streets to help feed his large family. After his younger sister, is sold to a much older man for marriage, unable to save her, her leaves his home. He meets and befriends a young mother and illegal immagrant, taking care of her son, Yonas, while she is at work. But one day, after being arrested, the two boys are left to fend of for themselves. The poverty and injustice, as well as a frank speech Zain gives while in prison, calling into a news programme, he talks about those who suffer, including himself and makes the choice of suing his parents giving him life.

Working with non-actors, she found two of the most amazing and profound performances from a toddler and 12 year old boy. At the screening at the London Film Festival, she told us that Zain Al Rafeea who plays Zain, was now safe in Norway attending school for the first time and that Yonas, the baby boy was in fact a girl, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole. Their stories have turned out different but this doesn't change the harsh truths that Labaki has brought to the front of people's minds with her film. She said that she wanted to do something and that the only way she knew how was through film. As awards season creeps up on us, I know the stir the film has caused but what I hope it does is spur people into action. Although Labaki has created an amazing film, this feels more than just another story that has affected people, I hoping it does more.

As the final film I saw at LFF, it couldn't have been better. Inspired by real people and real events, writer and director Eva Husson bravely decided to write a fictional story about women fighting in war and its been take so far out of proportion. The reviews I've read have either been scathing or praise, there doesn't seem to be an inbetween. But Husson is made of much sterner stuff, as proved by the way she handled the Q & A after the screening at LFF. Her first 'questions' proved that the two people talking hadn't listened and one even tried shaming her into not actual knwoing what she was doing. But Husson had done her research and by her expression, she had had to deal with people like that before. Thankfully a third 'question' backed the film for what it stood for and she thanked Husson for the film.

Cutting between present day and flashbacks, a French journalist, coping with her own loss travels to the front lines of war in a Kurdish town with batallion of women freedom fighters. The fighters themselves have suffered under the Islamic State, their families murdered, used as sex slaves, they have escaped hell to fight for freedom.

The reviews and articles questioning the actions of Husson seem to focusing on the fact women are exploited and that it is somehow glorified. I saw a brave group of women fighting for survival and for each other. The fact the women bare resemblance to real life fighters is purposeful and not distasteful. Husson said that she had taken the film to villages, wanting to be respectful and has recieved positive reaction to the film. Maybe I'm missing the point of the film but I saw a film about women fighting in wartime and that's rarely seen on screen, why aren't we talking about that?


Sunday 4 November 2018

September/October Watch List

Some films I missed off September and the very few outside the festival from October, but instead, here are the quick rounds of thoughts on some the films of the last two months:

American Animals
This film really deserves more than a few lines but for now I'll say this film is not a based on a true story, it is a true story. Its a brilliant devised combination of the fiction and reality that doesn't blur the lines of truth but in fact what each of the four guys involved in the failed heist of pricelss books. Even though you can guess the final outcome, you realise by the end that you really can never predict a story like this. The stupidity of people thinking they can pull of this theft is beyond comprehension. Documentary style works so well with the fictionalised scenes of the four guys' reality and how they remember things. And true to true crime stories, not everything is revealed. A question over some detailed is only known by one person and they never give away the real answer. A brilliant film that deserved way more attention than it got. Sometimes people just don't understand what they're missing. 4/5

Life Animated
Beginning as a tragic family story that builds into a heart warming tale of how Disney really did help one boy is just so wonderfully put together with all the usual archival materials as well as animation itself, is one of the best documentaries I've seen and one of the most beautiful stories I've heard in a long time. 4/5

Faces Places
I know some may be outraged that I'm not dedicating an entire post to Agnes Varda but one day I will. I'm actually very new to her work and the wonderful person she is, so, give me time. This has ended up with my trio of documentaries  on this month's watch list. I've not seen a documentary, in a long time where its been such a joyful and whimsical journey. Varda and photographer JR join together to take their art and hearts on the road and its perfection. Personally, I see this film and I think this collaboration gives hope to the future of art and filmmaking. I really wish they'd come to UK and paste up their giant art on villages here. 4/5

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn
Full review is over at My Film Club and can be read HERE. 4/5

For all the films I watched at London Film Festival, most, not all links to my reviews can be found HERE