SCREENWASH – 2016 BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL – by PAUL LAIGHT
The 60th BFI London Film Festival took place between the 5-16 October 2016 and it has very much become a cultural highlight of my year. If I could afford it I would love to take a holiday and go and see as many films as I could as the Festival offers a wonderful array of movies from all kinds of talent, genre, philosophical and geographical parts of the world.
Thanks, on the main, to my wonderful wife booking tickets, I was able to see a number of films this year. I have reviewed them individually on my blog, however, for ease of reference here’s a quick-fire review with marks out of eleven for each film I witnessed. Overall, they were all very good choices and should definitely be caught at the cinema when, and if, released. By the way, full spoiler-free reviews can be found on my blog www.paulraylaight.wordpress.com.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
A MONSTER CALLS (2016)
This is an impressive monster movie for all the family. The performances of all involved are excellent, notably Lewis MacDougall as the angry and afraid Connor; a youth facing uncertainly over his unwell mother (Felicity Jones). Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona directs very confidently, with a dark palette of live action, effects and animation that give the audience an exciting canvas to gorge on. Moreover, Liam Neeson’s-voiced monster is, while initially threatening, a fantastically animated screen beast. The stories-within-a-story are deftly weaved and overall this is a film which, while scaring the very young, will provide fine entertainment for everyone. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016)
Nate Parker’s impressive drama is a compelling watch and while not as startlingly stylistic as the big-budget-spaghetti-slave-Western Django Unchained (2012), The Birth of a Nation is a heart-breaking narrative which posits the power of the scriptures and damns the beast of humanity which allowed free people to be stolen and made to serve others. Overall, the film works as a lower-budget epic in the vein of Braveheart (1995) and Spartacus (1960), while covering similar ground thematically as Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave (2013). Parker as writer-producer-director-star deserves incredible praise for independently producing such a moving film on such a relatively low budget. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
FREE FIRE (2016)
Free Fire is an all-out-ballsy-gritty-shoot-em-up which employs a wonderful 1970s setting to dress his actors up in flares, beards, sideburns, dagger-collars, long hair and Cuban heels, all while delivering a fast-paced-high-octane-gun-fest. The premise is very simple: an arms deal between a Rhodesian gun runner and the IRA descends into chaos as opposing sides split amidst a series of bullets and double-crosses. The cast are brilliant, but I personally loved Armie Hammer’s suave Jewish hit-man and Sharlto Copley’s obnoxious Afrikaner; plus Sam Riley is also a standout as the junkie prick whose behaviour ultimately screws the deal. Ben Wheatley is a talented filmmaker and here he moves away from the insane satire of High Rise (2015) to give us an altogether more satisfying genre bullet-fest. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
This is one of those films which moves at its’ own pace and in scenes of quiet drama, sporadic violence and subtle flashbacks, filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan builds a truly formidable narrative and character study. Casey Affleck portrays a lost soul with such exquisite pathos you could feel his characters’ pain jump out from the screen. His scenes with Michelle Williams genuinely made me want to cry because they were so sad. Yes, this is Affleck’s film as he haunts the screen with a truly award-winning performance. I wholeheartedly recommend this heart racking drama which stretches the emotions while also providing flickers of light amidst the pain of existence through humour and empathy for the tough working class characters. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
Julian Barratt is portrays a failing actor who reignites his most famous character to assist the police in a grisly crime. Overall, this is an uneven comedy in terms of the plot and lacks the cinematic verve of the ‘Cornetto trilogy’ created by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. However, Barratt is a comedy genius and his performance, some silly costumes, wigs and set-pieces make this worth watching. Barratt filters his cowardly, proud and foolish ‘Howard Moon’ persona into the flailing thespian with much hilarity. Moreover, Simon Farnaby hams up his Danish stuntman role to perfection and Russell Tovey is hilarious as “The Kestrel” (don’t ask!) The sight gags, parodies and one-liners come thick and fast and this is recommended for everyone who loves offbeat comedy. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
PHANTASM (REMASTERED) (1979)
This classic horror film gets the 4k restoration treatment from JJ Abram’s Bad Robot company and the film remains a right royal horror blast today. Phantasm is a synthesis of genres from rites-of-passage, suspense, horror and science fiction. Ultimately, it’s the epitome of a cult classic and a triumph of concepts over finance. It’s full of mood and atmosphere and has a creepy synth-based soundtrack that cranks up the fear factor. Overall, super-positive director Don Coscarelli created an imaginative fantasy concerned with death and mourning that has stood the test of time. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
This is a very animalistic and instinctive film dealing as it does with beasts both human, canine and equine. The lead actress Marillier is a prominent force throughout as her journey follows a carnal, chemical and gory path following a student initiation ‘ceremony’. Ducorneau, the director, gets a great performance from this young talent as her character transforms from angel to devil without the loss of audience empathy. This is both an entertaining contemporary horror film and a very intelligent one. It works on so many different levels with themes covered including: veganism, peer pressure, animal cruelty, sexuality, lesbianism, homosexuality, hedonism, nature versus nurture, cannibalism, family etc. It crosses genres effortlessly and has one of the most disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
And while I did not see loads of films they were ALL excellent. The best of the best for me though was MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016).