Wednesday 30 October 2019

Let's Talk About Greta

Let’s talk about Greta.

Please be aware, there are SPOILERS, but none that would spoil the film.

Earlier this year it seemed that a new trend in psychological thrillers was starting, one involving older women as the villain, the threat but after ‘Ma’ and ‘Greta’, the trend died down. Unlike the former, ‘Greta’ had something different to bring to the horror/ psychological thriller border, it’s all about the women and barely a man in sight.

For those who didn’t watch any of the trailers out there for the film and for those who didn’t see it at all, ‘Greta’ is about a young woman, Frances, who has recently lost her mother and moved to the city to be away from her father who doesn’t show much interest in her. While she stays with her best friend and works as a waitress in a fancy restaurant, she feels as if she’s missing something. This is when she finds a small green handbag and does the opposite of what any old city dweller would do, she decides to take it to back to the owner in person. She meets Greta, a widow, living a quiet lonely existence and who appreciates the kind gesture. The two soon becoming friends, giving what the other seeks, comfort. But with all too good to be true happy coincidences, Frances discovers that Greta actually has lots of small green handbags, each with names and numbers on them as well as fresh ones just waiting to be left around the city.

This isn’t just your basic lonely lady turns stalker thriller horror, there is thought behind the divinely simplistic plot and the three main character triangle. In any other story, there would be a lame half constructed love story somewhere buried and in another type of story, there would a sexual element, especially if Greta was switched for male character instead. But these twists and turns aren’t needed in Neil Jordan’s film, he has two leads and one supporting that make their own impact on screen. Suspense and intrigue are still part of the story, with information about Greta’s past coming to light little by little and it’s not a completely unbelievable one either. She had a ‘difficult’ relationship with her daughter who is now dead so the information is second hand, adding more to the suspense and mystery of what Greta is really capable of and as Greta’s crazy outbursts get worse, you really don’t want to know what she will do, you would think that was enough to never go back to her house again, but Frances doesn’t stop to think about this.  

With Isabelle Huppert as Greta, the mystery and charm that surrounds the character is already built into her persona. Making Greta a piano teacher was also an excellent touch as not only could it be a nod to one of her most famous films but piano is and will always be seen as something you must control. Greta wants to be a mother to Frances but she wants everything her way, she must have ultimate control, much like the piano teacher. Chloe Grace Moretz as Frances is probably having the thankless role in the story, as the kind of person who still holds small town ideals and believes that you can be kind to everyone. Selfishly, she does want a mother figure to be around as she misses that connection but in doing so, she ignores her friend’s very open and obvious warnings. But her role is thankless because she is the victim caught in Greta’s web of madness so has to act accordingly. The ace in the pocket of the film is Erica, Maika Monroe, who continues her scream queen status (sort of). She is the voice of reason, be it from a wealthy family who lives in an amazing loft apartment in New York. She is meant to be the rich clueless party going background noise to Frances’ kind simple values and quiet demeanour, but instead she is the third piece in the character triangle. Refreshingly, Erica takes the place of the ‘love interest’ and is the best friend/roommate/street wise New Yorker who doesn’t hold a grudge and doesn’t let arguments with friends be the end of the conversation, she is the saviour. But the best part of this whole film is that because it’s a very simple plot, with characters that have very obvious motives (to an extent) everything is accepted. There is very little to question apart from why is Frances’ dad so useless and why was Stephen Rea even in the film? Which again, is something so rarely thought about with this type of genre film. The threat of Greta is something to be feared but if you have friends like Erica, they have your back.

Its time to take another look at ‘Greta’ and appreciate what she is.

Thursday 24 October 2019

Brittany Runs a Marathon

I’m sure I’m not the first person to look at themselves in the mirror then at the exercise bike in the corner. You know the one with dust on it as its been some time since you’ve taken that out for a spin. Then vow to themselves that they will make a change. But 10 minutes later they’re back at the computer or watching a film eating off brand Oeros. Writer and director Paul Downs Colaizzo was inspired by his roommate Brittany who did in fact turn her life around and run a marathon to write a story, not entirely about her but inspired by her. This morphed into ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ and it is by far more about than a story about a woman who goes running.  

Brittany is 28 years old; she leads a very unhealthy lifestyle. All her friends and people she knows seems to be getting their life together except her. She works at a theatre in the evenings, parties until the very early hours then slumps home and sleeps most of the day away. She’s broke, in debt, drinks, takes pills, gives blow jobs to guys in bathrooms at clubs and eats junk food. But after going to the doctor who tells her she needs to lose weight, she is spurred on to start running. But this pathway was never just about the weight, she wants to improve her life and feel good about herself.

For a film title that is very literal, the film itself is about much more. Brittany doesn’t just run an actual marathon; she runs a life marathon and goes through so many stages. The repetition of her standing ready to go running for the first time is used whenever she feels like she’s going to relapse or when she is about to take the plunge. Its showing that we will always have a fear in the back of our mind that we end up revisiting time and again but it is possible to overcome it. Brittany goes through changes, not just the satisfaction of losing weight and feeling like a lady again. Being happy that ‘people hold doors’ for her is a small but great feeling, which I understand. She also changes her attitude to how she takes care of herself, including her own relationships, particularly with Jern, who hasn’t got it together yet by the time she has. They like each other but she knows she can’t look after him and herself and they’re grown up enough the know this.

Another aspect of the film that I admired were the friendships. Brittany and her ‘best friend’ Gretchen live together, party together but the latter doesn’t support the former. It can be appreciated they each have different goals in life and their own form of happiness, but this toxic friendship, rarely explored on screen beyond superficial arguments, is something Brittany decides to leave. Better for her and probably better for Gretchen too as she can realise what kind of friend she was. Leaving this toxic environment behind, Brittany is then free to cultivate her new and supportive friends who want nothing more than to help and be her friend, through all the ups and downs she goes through. It’s true that at your toughest times, you know who your real friends are.

I would say, aside from a few characters in TV shows where I felt represented on screen, this is the first time I’ve seen a character that feels like me. Some of the things that Brittany even says about being the ‘fat funny sidekick’ or how guys say things to her that they wouldn’t to other girls, I had a lot of that during college, Uni, work places where this happened, I was treated like one of the guys and not in a good way. I also had the same struggles she has with not being able to focus and just feeling less than. On personal level I can connect. I’ve also tried to turn my unhealthy life around a few times. I was on track about 5 years back where I even lost weight but I had a trampoline accident where I injured my back. I was misdiagnosed by a few doctors which meant my recovery was longer. I ended up in physio which helped but I will forever suffer with back problems. This really set me back, I put on weight again, I was stuck at the same old job, but very slowly I moved on. I swam every week and gradually stopped regular heavy drinking then I busted my knees, back to square one. I ended up in a hell cycle again last year when my contract ended with a job I really loved and to be honest have been having a terrible time all round, health, money, career wise BUT seeing this film, with a character I can really relate to was inspiring on more than ‘what a great film’ level.

The film was a hit at Sundance and was picked up by Amazon BUT the film will be in cinemas for a limited time (I heard) so please go see this, if not for the story then for the amazing Jillian Bell who plays Brittany, a real person and a real inspiration. 

Wednesday 23 October 2019

BFI London Film Festival Picks 2019

 This has been an odd year in terms of festivals, overall, I think. My picks from the festival this year are very different from each other and there wasn't really a running theme that I found throughout the festival for me. But if I had to pick, religion and faith did come up quite a few times in film in different capcities.

I obviously have to mention the two 'big' films I was excited to see and they are again, of course part of my picks, Knives Out and Jojo Rabbit. But I have praised them enough in their own reviews/posts. Instead I wanted to focus on other films which may or may not be getting as much attention.

I'm usually quicker off the bat with my top picks but after breaking my record and watching 24 films, you'll excuse the delay. With still a few more reviews to be posted and at least 4 from Zavvi to be released too and one that is actually being posted in November by Vulturehound, this year has been all over the place. Anyway, these are my top picks:

An unexpected film by all accounts, this French dark as night comedy about a man so obsessed with his 100% deerskin jacket disappears into the countryside, pretends to be a filmmaker and plans on making his jacket the only one in the world.  Its bizarre and brilliant at the same time but will it get a release? Only time will tell. If there is cinema justice, it will.

Another unexpected delight for me at the festival, about a group of friends who decend upon Edinnurgh one afternoon before a school choir competition. Its funny, irreverent and just an all round 90s set delight.

Each year I manage to see one documentary and as this is a celebration as well as an exploration into the cult of 'Showgirls' of course I'd pick this one.

Arab Blues 

Beautifully understated dramady about a woman returning home to set up her practice as a Psychoanalysist but as her family doesn't believe in her or the need for her as well as the local police stepping in and adding to the disruption, she proves to herself and the doubters and even some of her clients that she is indeed needed and wanted. 
Review for this coming soon! 

Saturday 19 October 2019

First Love - BFI London Film Festival

When I first read this title, I immediately thought of The Maccabees song (same title) and the funny thing is, the song actually fits perfectly amongst the Yakuza, their henchmen, the crooked policeman and the of course the boxer who just happened to be walking past at the right time in the wrong place. The song doesn’t necessarily work word for word but it does have the same tone as Leo and Monica’s story. I won’t try and summarise the stories on the film as they cross over and over again so I’ll write brief intro.

Over the course of a day a crooked cop and Yakuza snitch plan to steal a drug shipment and set off war with the rival Chinese gang but nothing goes according to plan. Caught in the middle of all this is Leo, a dedicated boxer who has just found out devastating news, but his life changes the minutes he bumps into Monica, a drug addict who has been held captive by the Yakuza to settle her father’s debts. It’s one crazy night that isn’t without a blood bath or two.

The actual carnage of the night is brutal and bloody but isn’t without comedy. There are several scenes that take place that shouldn’t be amusing but you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous events playing out, particular in part to Kase, the Yakuza henchman who is betraying his people. His plan seems air tight but anything that could go wrong, goes wrong, leaving him to kill quite a few people in the process, to his annoyance. Another overtly comedic recurring theme is the underestimation of Juri, girlfriend of murdered Yakuza member who was also helping keep Monica captive. She survives the most throughout the film from almost rape, murder, explosion and finally turns rabid dragging around an axe to kill the one she believes is responsible. Its very funny and painful at the same time, but the one thing to learn here is, NEVER underestimate a woman.

One of the best and worst meet queue for a romance is definitely between Leo and Monica. The former takes out the corrupt cop with one swift punch, all because the latter asked for help. This sets in motion a long night of survival. As Leo feels like he has nothing left to loose, plus only being told that he needs someone to fight for other than himself, is a massive hint to what is to come next. Leo’s and Monica’s romance isn’t sickly over the top but is subtle and sweet, their trust grows first and seeing as they are in a life or death situation, that is more valuable than over dramatic moments.

The weird and wonderful moments in ‘First Love’ are exactly what I’d expect from the director of ‘Blade of the Immortal’, Takashi Miike. An entertaining crazy fuelled story with a very sweet delicate centre.


Wednesday 16 October 2019

Our Ladies - BFI London Film Festival

Based the novel 'The Sopranos' taking us back to the 90s, a group of friends are let loose on the streets of Edinburgh before a school choir competition, all with similar things in mind, booze, boys and having fun.

My full review can be read HERE on Zavvi.


Tuesday 15 October 2019

Knives Out - BFI London Film Festival

Rian Johnson's eagerly awaited murder mystery does exactly what it says on the poster, its a 'whodunnit' set in modern America, complete with accented detective and family full of suspects.

My full review can be read HERE over at Vulturehound.


Monday 14 October 2019

Earthquake Bird - BFI London Film Festival

Walking into a film without knowing anything about it can be exhilarating as well as nervous experience. The latter as you don’t want to feel like you wasted your time and the former as the story could be literally anything. Over the course of LFF I tried to just walk into as many film like this as possible. But unlike all the others, I ended up having to wait 90 minutes standing in a queue for ‘Earthquake Bird’, delayed due to technical issues in the screen so my experience of this film was already soured. Had I not had to wait all that time, my feet killing me, I think I would have felt differently as I don’t think that wait was worth it.

Lucy Fly has been living in Tokyo for 5 years having left her home country Sweden under mysterious circumstances. She is called in for questioning by police in connection with the disappearance of Lily Bridges, an American friend of hers. In flashbacks, Lucy begins a relationship with Teiji, an introverted and rather solemn photographer. She is also introduced to Lily by a friend who asks her to show her the city. They become tentative friends but when Lily meets Teiji, things start to unravel for Lucy.

 Set up as a thriller and with a sense of dread from the beginning as Lucy returns to work after a period of time, we aren’t aware for the reason why at the start, it’s obvious Lucy is hiding something. At first the story seems to be about where Lily is and what happened but the film ever so slowly changes into a character breakdown and the workings of an obsessive relationship between Lucy and Teiji. The former can’t stop thinking about him and doesn’t want to be without him, believing that he is the only person who understands and sees her. While the latter wants to take photographs of her all the time and at first never wants to leave his apartment with her. He likes to make her jealous by giving his attention to Lily and barely touches her in public, not even holding her hand. It goes from romantic to incredible creepy and frustrating all one moment, eventually morphing into a toxic atmosphere which makes him unfeeling and her paranoid.

This paranoia Lucy goes through isn’t helped by the later constant presence of Lily who is essentially an attention seeker, wanting what she shouldn’t have, controlling those around her. Appearing harmless and friendly, she subtly manages to get Lucy wrapped round her finger as she has does with previous ‘friends’. Lily is a threat but Lucy is made to feel as if she’s going crazy, especially as Teiji is next to useless in this matter. Ultimately, it’s difficult to connect with any of the characters and feel any sympathy for them which is a shame in Lucy’s case as she is guide to the story in the flashbacks and the present. The only time you can feel anything for Lucy is rage when it is finally revealed she has been betrayed. You can feel her pain blazing from the screen, this is mostly due to Alicia Vikander’s beyond brilliant performance. She impresses in this bilingual role, immersing herself into life in Japan, nearly blending into the background in her bland clothing. She doesn’t wish to be seen but is by Teiji, played by Naoki Kobayashi as the soulful artist and at the same time an intimidating presence.

A slightly supernatural element is woven into the story that also doubles as part of Lucy’s mysterious history, her belief that death follows her, with a few unfortunate examples in the film to prove this theory adds to the film’s slow burning thriller elements. Aside from brilliant performances from Vikander and Kobayashi, the story steadily takes a nosedive, especially the conclusion of the film which just feels rushed and not thought through giving it little impact. Despite this flaw, I find it odd that the film is going to Netflix and not making it to cinemas. As it is an adaptation of the award-winning novel of the same name by Susanna Jones, I thought there might be an audience already out there ready to go back to the story.


Sunday 13 October 2019

Make Up - BFI London Film Festival

Setting a thriller by the coast gives any film an automatic sense of mystery and dread all at the same time, especially if said film begins at night. The waves crashing against the rocks sets the tone and foreshadows conflict but just waves coming in and out of the shaw, with a rain heralding the arrival of something sets up an uneasy sense that something isn’t quite right, at least that’s how Claire Oakley’s debut starts.

Teenager Ruth travels to a Cornish holiday caravan park to be with her boyfriend Tom of 3 years. She eventually settles into life at the almost deserted park in its off season. She gets a job and even makes a new friend, wig maker Jade. But after finding possible evidence that Tom may have cheated on her, her paranoia turns to obsession, making her question her own self-worth and a new sexual awakening.

As a mystery and dive into possible insanity, the story and character work perfectly. Slowing dragging you into the troubled and rather bewildered world of Ruth’s. But the rather skewed shift into Ruth’s attraction towards the more confident but separate from it all Jade is unexpected and eventually feels forced, despite the one or two indicators that Ruth isn’t entirely comfortable with herself. As tries to follow possible clues as to whether Tom has cheated on her or not are fantastically shot, making each bizarre discovery feel like a piece of a bigger picture that, like Ruth, we haven’t fully grasped yet. Ruth and Jade’s friendship is built to feel like Jade knows more than she lets on but the quick switch to the film actually being about Ruth’s new sexual awakening is odd and out of place. But as soon as its established that THIS is what the film is really about the poetic imagery vanishes and feels empty. The mysterious edge the film began with washes away and leaves us with a few romantic moments but ultimately has so many questions left unanswered.

Despite the feeling of being left without a solved mystery, Claire Oakley’s debut feature does make you wonder what she has to offer next. Beautifully shot and hypnotic (to begin with) is feels like a promising beginning and excitement to see what she does next. 


Saturday 12 October 2019

You Don't Nomi - BFI London Film Festival

As a fan of the notoriously damned film 'Showgirls', watching a documentary that not only celebrates it but also goes deeper into why it failed at the box office and how it found a second life as a cult film was really what got me hooked. Its a film that not only loves 'Showgirls' but also an ode to film criticism.

My full review can be read HERE over at Zavvi.


Friday 11 October 2019

Wounds - BFI London Film Festival

Director Babak Anvari delivers a festering hole of pain and mystery with a very confusing story that seems to try and cover too many horror tropes at the same time. At least its a pleasant casting surprise with Armie Hammer who feels as confused as we do watching it.

My full review can be read HERE over at Vulturehound.


Thursday 10 October 2019

The Dude in Me - BFI London Film Festival

Whoever said body swap comedies are over? Giving the comedy sub-genre another breath of fresh air is 'The Dude Inside Me' when a uptight businessman and gangster switches with a timid and shy teenager after a bizarre accident. There are plenty of laughs as well as fights and even a heartfelt side plot.

My full review can be read HERE over at Vulturehound.


Bad Education - BFI London Film Festival

 Based on the true story about a superintendent and his vice who stoles millions of dollars from the school district as well as hiding other things about himself. Its brilliantly played out and easy to get sucked into the story. 

My full review is available over at Vulturehound HERE.


Wednesday 9 October 2019

On a Magical Night - BFI London Film Festival

A very French film about love, marriage and the past. A serial adulterer goes through all her past lovers including her husband's younger self, trying to figure out what she should do about her present husband. Sounds silly and it is but its also enjoyable.

My review is over at Vulturehound and can be read HERE.


Tuesday 8 October 2019

Deerskin - BFI London Film Festival

 Jean Dujardin is Georges. He is obessesed with his deerskin jacket. What if his jacket was the only one in the world? Armed with a video camera, a plastic poncho and a ceiling fan blade, he can make that dream come true.

This is, so far, my favourite film (apart from Jojo Rabbit - review soon) of the festival this year.

The full review is over at Vulturehound and can be read HERE.


Sunday 6 October 2019

Controversy Becomes Her

 The first version of this review appeared on Vulturehound and can be read HERE

Controversial seems to be Catherine Breillat’s middle name especially when talking about her filmography as well as her written work. Unfortunately, ‘Romance’ is mainly known for being one of the films that features unsimulated sex but this bleak, unglamorous look into an unhappy woman’s love and sex life is more than the controversy that follows it.

Marie’s boyfriend Paul refuses to have sex with her, leaving her unsatisfied and sexually frustrated. She decides to explore her desire through various encounters with men, even engaging in a sadomasochistic relationship, but every night she returns to Paul, desperately in love with him.

Marie is not happy. In fact, in one of her first scenes, she is crying, because of Paul, a cold stone-faced man who really doesn’t give a damn about her. Marie is the seen as the epitomy of frustration and despair. Even the moments of ecstasy she craves so much are filled with as a sadness that feels like she can never overcome. We feel her ongoing frustration while being in love with a man who shows no affection, sexual or otherwise and wanting to fulfil her sexual appetitive which takes her to some dark places. All her pain is stemmed from Paul and he feels like the villain of the story but Marie isn’t entirely blameless. She obviously doesn’t deserve the treatment she receives from the men she meets (including Paul) but she also seems to enjoy the pain. Left to her own devices she actively seeks out the pain she receives. It isn’t until the end where she realises her worth and takes drastic revenge.

Breillat’s films always highlight and discuss female pleasure through social and sexual conflicts. The character, Marie seems deny herself any sort of pleasure by staying with Paul. Even when she has affairs, she keeps to strict rules for herself dare she adventure any closer to her ultimate goal of pleasure. Always dressed in white apart from the red dress near the end, she both unattainable and easily seduced all at the same time, conveying various emotions with one expression and tearful outbreak. Breillat exacts this character from Caroline Ducey as if she is slowly and painful performing surgery and that is someone to admire.

If you’re looking for an overlooked gem full of insight and long deep and meaningful conversations about the past, present and the future then you will be disappointed. ‘Romance’ is not the film for you, especially if you’re suffering from issues same as in the film. However, if you have been craving that streak of delicious and unaccountable behaviour that heroines sometimes lack, prepare to me be dismayed and entertained. 

Maggie - BFI London Film Festival

The preconception with comedies is that you expect to laugh and while there is plenty of amusing moments throughout ‘Maggie’ the majority of the time, at least past the initial plot point, confusion sets in as to what is actually going on and it becomes more difficult to just accept what is happening. From sex in the X-ray room to catfish predicting earthquakes to sink holes and breakups, this comedy really does cover a lot of weird and not always wonderful moments.

After believing that she and her boyfriend are the ones caught in the X-Ray room, Yeo, a nurse at a private hospital goes through a series of odd events. From helping a doctor to try and trust people again after everyone calls in sick to work, to her lazy boyfriend who finally getting a job filling the sink holes appearing around the city and with her relationship itself after his ex gives her some quite disturbing information. This is all narrated by the Maggie of the title, a catfish that sits in the hospital.

The story and characters literally go all over the place in the film making difficult to follow or even care what is happening to the characters. The bizarre nature is numerous to a point but the film starts down a more serious tone that feels out of place and problematic. Yeo and Sung-won morph into being the central characters taking over from the possibly more fascinating hospital and its patients. The decent into more serious relationship drama makes the film loose whatever random momentum it had at the start.

To say ‘Maggie’ is whimsical is an understatement, at least by typical comedic standards. But the most interesting angle played out is in the narrator, Maggie herself, as she is unreliable. She isn’t actually present for 90% of the film’s action but seems to know a hell of a lot more than a catfish should. As Maggie herself predicts a few earthquakes and the sink holes that keep happening, she may in fact be more than your average catfish.

A flawed but amusing at times comedy that tries to cover far more than it really needs to. One thing I’d like to know, is what the hell was that hospital advert with gorillas about?!


Friday 4 October 2019

The Lodge - BFI London Film Festival

When a thriller turns to horror by way of religion and fear mongering, it can lose its way, which, in a near singluar location with a handful of actors could work but alas, The Lodge falls short.

My full review is over at Vulturehound and can be read HERE.