Tag Archives: BFI

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Hope Dickson Leach

Written by: Hope Dickson Leach

Starring: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden

Music by: Hutch Demouilpied

Cinematography: Nanu Segal

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I grew up watching visions of the English countryside as represented by television shows such as H.E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May and James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. With such rural narratives you were never far from a beautiful landscapes, wonderfully sunny skies and country folk working together, on the main, as a community. Hope Dickson Leach’s independent British drama is an altogether different beast. It’s a muddy, grieving, bloody and filth-ridden exploration of how tough family and farming existence is.

Featuring some fantastic performances from Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton the story is very simple. Clover (Kendrick) returns from Veterinary College following the sudden death of her brother. While her father is steadily drinking himself to death, she tries to make sense of her sibling’s apparent suicide. Her father, an army man and farmer is living in a caravan next to the battered family home. The farm business is sliding to bankruptcy and their home has been rotting since the Somerset floods a couple of years before. All round their property and livestock are threatened by damp, disease and death.  In short: this is NOT The Darling Buds of May.

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Ellie Kendrick, who I recognised from several TV shows including Game of Thrones, absolutely owns the character of Clover. She is seen as weak and unreliable by her father but is in fact an intelligent and resilient character who is prepared to work hard and dig deep for some respect. The plot itself reminded me a lot of the Michael Caine gangster classic Get Carter (1971); accept with a female lead and more cows. As Clover attempts to steady the fortune of the farm, caused in part to mis-management by her father and brother, she also turns detective, stealthily delving into circumstances relating to her brother’s death.

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Overall, Hope Dickson Leach has made a really touching personal story of grief. This is a very emotional story about a family torn apart by death on personal and financial levels. I don’t know much about farming life, but while it may be idealized in certain books and films the reality is much tougher. Animals, while commodities are often culled because of disease and farmers are at the mercy of the weather. Moreover, it would appear to be much tougher for women too progress in a male-dominated world which favours sons over daughters.  What the film ultimately shows too, in many brilliantly acted and directed scenes, is we must transcend our differences and work together as one – as family – in order to survive.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

 

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SCREENWASH – 2016 BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL

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)

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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)

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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)

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MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA (2016)

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)
manchester-by-the-seaMINDHORN (2016)

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)
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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)
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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) 

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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). 

2016 – BFI – LFF – FREE FIRE (2016) – REVIEW

2016 – BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – FREE FIRE (2016) – REVIEW

TITLE:  FREE FIRE (2016)

DIRECTOR: Ben Wheatley

SCREENPLAY: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley

CAST:   Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor, Babou Ceesay, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley etc.

STORY:   An arms-deal-gone-wrong sets off a blistering gun fight in an abandoned Boston warehouse.

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REVIEW (CONTAINS SPOILERS):

I admire the film director Ben Wheatley, and his writing/editing partner Amy Jump very much. They essentially are in the kind of industry position I would love to be in. They make independent low-medium budgeted films, seemingly on their own terms, get cracking actors involved and receive decent critical praise too.  Moreover, they have become FILM 4/BFI/London Film Festival darlings receiving funding and heavy promotion for the films High Rise (2015) and most recently, the incendiary comedy-thriller Free Fire (2016). The latter closed this year’s festival to a packed and thoroughly entertained Odeon Leicester Square and I was very fortunate to see Wheatley and his stellar cast introduce the film. 

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While I admire Wheatley’s career progression I have loved and not-quite loved his work. His first film Down Terrace (2009) was delightfully eccentric gangster film, while his next Kill List (2011), was a terrifying tale of two hit men’s descent into hell. Kill List fell apart for me with the grim yet overly surreal and symbolic ending, however, his work on comedy-serial-killer film Sightseers (2012) Dr Who, and Ideal confirmed him as a very talented filmmaker.  A Field In England (2013) could be praised as a brave filmic experiment which did not quite work as a story; while the stylized J.G. Ballard adaptation High Rise (2015) was an incredible film to look at, with Wheatley presenting some of his best work to date. However, the last 45 minutes was so chaotic it lost focus and while this was, arguably, in keeping with Ballard’s vision I would have preferred slightly more clarity.

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I sensed from his brief introduction that Free Fire (2016) was Ben Wheatley’s attempt to return to something less socio-political, psycho-sexually and philosophically complex than High Rise (2015).  He basically said, “I wanted to make a film with guns where people get hurt.” And he has certainly succeeded there, because Free Fire is an all-out-ballsy-gritty-shoot-em-up which employs a wonderful 1970s Boston setting (actually shot in Brighton) to dress his actors up in flares, beards, sideburns, dagger-collars, long hair and Cuban heels, all while delivering a sweaty-fast-paced-high-octane-bloody-gun-fest.

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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.  Having established the characters into archetypes such as the professionals, soldiers, sidekicks, junkies and Brie Larson’s broker the narrative splinters spectacularly into magnificent mayhem.  The cast are all 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.

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The whole thing plays out like a live-action cartoon but Wheatley and Jump do invest some empathy and likeability into the characters too. The subtext of world politics was not lost on me as Irish, Afro-American, South African, and American nationalities all face-off and later there’s a brilliant use of an old John Denver country classic. The script is terrific, full of violent delights and sparkling one-liners throughout as the cast spit out insults and zingers with glee. Do you remember when you play gunfights with your mates in the playground?  Well, this is the film equivalent of that – except with more blood and violence and death.

 

 

 

2016 BFI – LFF – PHANTASM REMASTERED (1979) – REVIEW

2016 BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – PHANTASM REMASTERED  (1979) – REVIEW

TITLE:  PHANTASM REMASTERED (1979 / 2016) DIRECTOR/SCREENPLAY:  Don Coscarelli

CAST:   Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury

STORY:    A grieving boy and his older brother come face-to-face with an evil Funeral director named ‘The Tall Man’ and all hell breaks loose.

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REVIEW (CONTAINS SPOILERS):

This brilliant low-budget cult horror film from 1979 was made independently for around $300,000 by then twentysomething Don Coscarelli.  It has subsequently been lovingly remastered by J.J. Abrams production company Bad Robot and comes back to the screens in a glistening, shiny and bloody new print. Director Coscarelli introduced this screening and seeing it at the Central Picturehouse in Piccadilly was certainly a wonderful experience for this horror fan!

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Where do you start with a bizarre story such as this?  Well, firstly Phantasm is a great example of ideas and imagination being worth more than any big Hollywood budget. It’s the reason the film is held in such high regard by horror film fans. Indeed, if you can conjure up a series of iconic images, empathetic characters and scary moments and manage to tell a half-decent story then you have got a great chance to create a memorable experience for a cinema-going audience.

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The film opens with a grisly murder and then a funeral, before we are introduced to thirteen-year-old Mike and his older brother Jody. The brothers are grieving for the recent loss of their parents but remain close. Mike hangs out at the graveyard and then becomes suspicious of the funeral director when he incredibly picks up a heavy coffin on his own.  Mike manages to convince Jody and their friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), a local ice-cream man, to investigate further and they are drawn into a series of insane and life-threatening situations.

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The narrative while seemingly linear jumps from one surreal set-piece to another and contains memorable images and characters such as: ‘The Tall Man’ portrayed menacingly by Angus Scrimm; the silver killing spheres; the murderous yellow-blooded dwarves; and the inter-dimensional portal which leads to a strange slave-planet. These are all unforgettable and the stuff of bloody death and nightmares. While the plot lacks clarity at times it moves at some pace and the combination of small town life mixed with insane killing devices and crazed creatures creates a wholly memorable mix.

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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 Coscarelli created an imaginative fantasy concerned with death and mourning that has stood the test of time. It may lack the polish of big budget productions but the scares and surrealism reminded me of the works of Italian horror-master Lucio Fulci and Spanish filmmaking genius Luis Bunuel. It’s a film I would wholly recommend for devotees of horror and science-fiction and for those who like their movies raw, inventive and nightmarish.

Check out the trailer here: 

2016 BFI – LFF – THE BIRTH OF A NATION  (2016) – REVIEW

2016 – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – THE BIRTH OF A NATION  (2016) – SPOILER FREE REVIEW

TITLE:  THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016)

DIRECTOR/PRODUCER/WRITER: Nate Parker

CAST:  Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Colman Domingo, Aja Noomi King

STORY:  At the turn of the 1800s a charismatic preacher must decide between a life of slavery or to stand up and fight against his brutal captors.

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REVIEW:

This drama, written, produced, directed and starring by Nate Parker has, since its release at the Sundance Festival, created a whole host of controversies. There is a historical rape prosecution of which Nate Parker was found innocent of in 1999; there are accusations of historical inaccuracies in the story; plus the passivity of female characters within the narrative has been criticized too.  Not surprising though because any film about slavery, rape, abuse and murder is bound to set the cultural world, internet, film industry, social media, historians etc. alight with debate.

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Personally, when I watch a film I prefer to judge it purely on whether it has entertained, informed, provoked thought and created emotion. The filmmakers’ personal history or whether a film meets certain quotas on political correctness or even whether the history has been altered to suit a narrative are important factors but not my main viewing considerations. Of course, if it is an exploitative piece of crap then I would call it; but mainly I ask myself: did the film entertain me and is it a good story done well?

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Well, inaccuracies and controversies aside I was thoroughly moved and taken with emotion by The Birth of a Nation. It is ambitious, independent filmmaking which takes a figure from history that stood up against oppressors and fought back against the injustices that befell him and his people. In little over two hours we get a microcosmic view of the character of Nat Turner and the horrific period he lived in and get a short, sharp and shocking drama. Turner is shown to be an intelligent, proud and spiritual force who inspires those around him to fight against the brutality all around.

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You cannot underestimate Parker’s vision and determination to bring Nat Turner’s ‘story’ to the screen. On such a relatively low budget (reported to be £10 million) it is an admirable and risky project to pursue and deliver. 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 from their country and made to serve others.

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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). It may not have the artistry of Steve McQueen’s directed epic, but it is still an important film about a fascinating historical figure. Whether it is accurate or not the film still made compelling viewing and Parker deserves all the praise he gets for such an assured debut.

2016 BFI – LFF – RAW (2016) REVIEW

2016 BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – RAW  (2016) – SPOILER FREE REVIEW

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TITLE:  RAW (AKA – GRAVE) (2016)

DIRECTOR/SCREENPLAY: Julia Ducorneau

CAST:  Garance Marillier, Laurent Lucas, Rabah Naït Oufella, Ella Rumpf

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REVIEW: Often you watch films and think it’s not a great movie but such is the intriguing premise or themes, it could make a fascinating essay. With Raw, however, it’s both a bloody good coming-of-age-gory-horror-story and has a number of thematically powerful messages that makes you think too. Indeed, in this film meat is definitely murder.

It begins with innocent-goody-two-shoes-veggie-star-student entering her first week at Veterinary college. With it being the first week she is subject to the more experienced student practical jokes and initiation ceremonies; all amidst hedonistic sex and drug parties reminiscent of something from the fall of the Roman Empire.

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Not surprisingly this is a very sexual, 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. 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.

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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, initiation, fitting in, animal cruelty, sexuality. lesbianism, homosexuality, animalism, sisterhood, hedonism, nature versus nurture, cannibalism, family etc.  It crosses genres effortlessly and has one of the greatest and disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time.         

 

 

2016 BFI – LFF – MINDHORN (2016) – REVIEW

2016 BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – MINDHORN (2016) – SPOILER FREE REVIEW

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TITLE:  MINDHORN (2016)

DIRECTOR:  Sean Foley

SCREENPLAY: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby

CAST: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Steve Coogan, Jessica Barden, Russell Tovey.

STORY: Over-the-hill actor Richard Thorncroft reprises his 1980s TV role of Mindhorn in order to track down a vicious murderer on the Isle of Man.

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REVIEW:             

This hilarious comedy from the mind-tanks of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby is an absolute joy, both paying homage and taking the piss out of 1980s cop shows, actors, television and the Isle of Man in general. It centres on washed-up actor Richard Thorncroft, who having been a big TV star in the 80s is now an overweight, balding mess living in a Walthamstow bedsit. Thorncroft’s star rose when he portrayed a Manx detective with a very special power: through a Soviet bionic eye he was able to literally SEE THE TRUTH of the criminals.

 

Flash forward twenty-odd years and Thorncroft is making ends meet with corporate video jobs and working on adverts for girdles and deep-vein thrombosis socks. That is until a vicious and murderous lunatic is on the rampage on the Isle of Man, and by some insane quirk, will only speak Mindhorn to himself. So, Thorncroft dons the “eye of truth” again and heads back to the Isle of Man before catching up with his ex-wife, former stuntman and far-more successful TV nemesis portrayed by Steve Coogan.

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Overall, this is an uneven comedy in terms of story and plot and lacks the cinematic verve of the Cornetto trilogy created by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. However, Julian Barratt is a comedy genius and his performance alone makes it 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. Indeed, fans of The Mighty Boosh, Alan Partridge, Harry Enfield’s Norbert Smith and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place will love this comedic gem.