London Film Festival

REVIEW: The Rider (2017)

After suffering from a near fatal head injury from the rodeo, young cowboy Brady (Brady Jandreau) tries to find a new identity for himself when he is not able to do what he’s always known and loved.

The Rider is interesting as it blurs the line between documentary and drama. Jandreau plays a version of himself, it’s his real-life head injury you see at the start of the film, staples in his head and all. This realisation that this story is so close to home for all the cast involved makes it even more touching and brilliant.

The Rider is about the American heartland and what it means to be a modern cowboy. The dangers these young men face and the difficulty of finding another purpose in life when the rodeo is all they’ve known. Brady is an amazing rider and horse trainer, seeing him with the animals, their connection is clear, so watching him struggle when he can’t do that anymore is tough to watch. Jandreau gives a subtle yet brilliant performance, he’s often quiet and controlled so when the tears or frustration appear it’s even more powerful.

The Rider is just a beautiful film in every way. A beautiful story, stunning cinematography of a gorgeous landscape and haunting music. You don’t need to love horses to fall in love with this film – I certainly don’t. The performances and characters and the subtleties of this film stick with you. It’s a brilliant film about a group of people and a career that seems to be dying out, a very different kind of Western. 5/5.

Advertisements

REVIEW: Columbus (2017)

When Jin’s (John Cho) father becomes seriously ill, he travels from Seoul, Korea to Columbus, Indiana to wait to se if he recovers. There he befriends Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young woman who loves the city and its architecture.

I will start this reviewing by being honest and telling you that I did miss a bit of this film due to nodding off in the cinema. I’m not sure how much I missed, maybe about 15 minutes in the middle, as I felt my eyes drooping and waking myself up by my head suddenly falling forward. While I the fact I had a snooze might not make Columbus a bad film, I think it was a sign it’s a film that wasn’t for me. Now onto the review proper.

Columbus is a very slow film, focused on two different people who find someone to talk to. Jin doesn’t want to be stuck in this town as he waits for his father to either get better or die, he mostly stays because Eleanor (Parker Posey), his father’s friend, says he should. Casey loves her town, her job in a library with her friend Gabe (Rory Culkin) and while she’s smart and everyone says she should go away to college, she’s reluctant to leave her mother (Michelle Forbes). Cho and Richardson both give great performances and they do feel like an unlikely friendship.

Columbus does some really interesting things with how it frames its characters and the landscape, with buildings and sculptures often getting more space on the screen than the people. There’s one scene where you are seeing the characters through their reflection in mirrors rather than face on. This makes a layer of distance between the viewer and the characters. This along with the fact that important conversations or character moments are often unfinished or seem to happen off screen makes it difficult to connect with the characters and what they are going through.

Columbus is a beautiful looking film with a calm, soothing soundtrack, but not a lot really happens. While everyone gives good performances, there’s not enough to pull you in and become attached to any of them. If you like interesting architecture, with characters walking and talking about architecture, Columbus might be for you. 2/5.

REVIEW: My Friend Dahmer (2017)

Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) struggles with a difficult family life with a manic mother (Anne Heche) and a father (Dallas Roberts) who doesn’t understand him. As he tries to navigate high school and his teenage years, it solely becomes clear he doesn’t fit in with his peers.

My Friend Dahmer is a study of the teenage Jeffrey Dahmer, before he became one of America’s most notorious serial killers. Lynch gives a great performance as the shy yet unnerving young Dahmer. From his mannerisms to how he moves, everything about him seems not quite right. Add his fascination with disintegrating roadkill with acid and poor social skills it’s a captivating yet unsettling performance.

Dahmer is a loner and doesn’t have any friends until Derf (Alex Wolff), Mike (Harrison Holzer) and Neil (Tommy Nelson) start to include him and make a Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club. Though can they really be called friends when they seem to manipulate him and like the infamy of being associated with him brings rather than who he is? With his so called friends and his parents who don’t take a real interest in him, the film offers a kind of nature vs nurture debate.

My Friend Dahmer blends the weird, creepy and darkly comedic incredibly well. It’s unsettling as you see Dahmer become more and more distant and angry as he tries to deal with his life, but then there’s sudden moments of humour, with situations that you probably really shouldn’t be laughing at.

My Friend Dahmer is a chilling insight into the life of a young killer. Lynch gives a captivating performance and with its blend of dark humour and suspense, it is definitely worth watching. 4/5.

REVIEW: Journey’s End (2017)

Set in the trenches in Aisne in March 1918, the story focusses on C Company and it’s officers, led by the young Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), as they wait for the German offensive they’ve been warned is imminent.

Journey’s End is a claustrophobic and tense film. The way it’s shot makes you feel like you’re in the trenches beside these young men. This is achieved by a lot of close ups and the fact you as the viewer only see as much as the characters do. Like them, you get no warning when there’s sniper fire or a barrage of bombs, you have the same information as the characters do and this increasingly racks up the tension.

The majority of the film is set in the trenches and in the officer’s dug out. The dynamics between the five officers, Stanhope, Osborne (Paul Bettany), Trotter (Stephen Graham), Hibbert (Tom Sturridge) and Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), switch between camaraderie to violence and anger as the pressures of their situations rest heavily on their shoulders. All actors give brilliant performances but Claflin was the standout. I’ve never thought he was a bad actor, but he never made much of an impact on me before, in Journey’s End he’s magnificent. The fear, anger and frustration was clear to see as he struggled to look out for his men when it seems like there’s no hope at all. He turns to drink to get him through but that in no way stops him being a good Captain, even as it’s clear to see his mental state is deteriorating.

While Journey’s End is a bleak film, there’s still moments of humour, most of them coming from the officer’s interactions with the cook Mason (Toby Jones). It’s often gallows humour but they are trying to make the most of their terrible situation. These moments of humour help flesh out all the characters as you get to see their personalities when they’re not just focused on what’s a few hundred metres across no man’s land.

Journey’s End is a powerful and gripping film. Everything comes together, the costume and set design, the simple yet haunting music, and the great performances, to make this a great war film. 4/5.

REVIEW: Don’t Think Twice (2016)

dont-think-twice-posterWhen Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), a member of a New York City improv troupe called The Commune, gets a huge break, the rest of the group made up of his best friends and girlfriend, all start to realise that they might not all make it.

Don’t Think Twice is really funny. It can sometimes be a bit dark with its humour or even slightly inappropriate depending on the scene but it all works really well. These are funny people so the scenes when the Commune are performing are naturally funny but then when these guys are just doing normal stuff like hanging out at a bar they are still funny.

Don’t Think Twice is surprisingly sweet and touching. It offers an insight into thirty-something comedian’s lives and how they use humour and their own experiences to make others laugh. It’s also a great look into how a group of friend’s function. It’s truly an ensemble film with each character having their time to shine and their own story arcs on display. Sam (Gillian Jacobs) isn’t sure she wants her life to change when she gets offered the chance of fame, Allison (Kate Micucci) loves to draw comics, Miles (Mike Birbiglia) hasn’t had a meaningful relationship for years, Lindsay (Tami Sagher) still lives with her parents while Bill’s (Chris Gethard) father doesn’t really understand his son’s passion. They each have their own problems and dreams and while they might get mad at or jealous of each other, that doesn’t mean they stop caring. The entire cast does a great job of making these people feel real and funny, they say inappropriate things at times and they wind each other up but really they feel like a real group of friends.

Don’t Think Twice is funny and sweet and a surprising rollercoaster of emotions thanks to a great ensemble cast. 5/5.

REVIEW: Letters from Baghdad (2016)

letters-from-baghdadA documentary about Gertrude Bell, the most powerful woman in the British Empire who helped shape the destiny of Iraq after World War One.

Letters from Baghdad is an interesting blend of archive footage and letters from Bell and first-hand accounts from her friends and colleagues. Bell’s letters are a voice over from Tilda Swinton while the letters and accounts from other people are from actors, playing the part of the real historical figures as if they were being interviewed. It’s an interesting setup that takes a little while to get used to but having all these first-hand account soon pulls you into the rich history of Iraq and Gertrude Bell. Also Bell’s letters helps you feel more connected to her as she not only writes about her day to day life in Iraq but her opinions on the people she meets and how she does miss her family, her father especially.

Gertrude Bell is a woman I had never heard of before seeing this film. Bell travelled across Arabia, sometimes being accused of being a spy, working in archaeological digs and ended up being recruited by the British Government to draw the borders of Iraq. She knew T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) and Winston Churchill, she socialised with Muslim, British and German women alike and Iraqi royalty. It is a shame that she has been all but written out of history. She did a lot for Iraq including setting up the National Museum of Iraq practically single handed.

Letters from Baghdad is not only a historical documentary, it does shine a light on how British and American involvement in the Middle East has both aided and hindered the region throughout history, but it also looks at the attitudes of the time towards women in positions of power and who have independence, and how some of those attitudes have still not changed a lot.

If you want to learn more about Iraq’s history and a remarkable woman that has almost been forgotten from history, then do check out Letters from Baghdad. 4/5.

Letters From Baghdad – Official Trailer from Letters from Baghdad on Vimeo.

REVIEW: An Insignificant Man (2016)

an-insignificant-manA political documentary following Arvind Kejriwal an activist who wants to end political corruption but soon realises that the only way to do that is with politics and so newest political force in India is born – The Common Man’s Party (AAP).

An Insignificant Man is fascinating, well-structured look at India’s political landscape, especially the campaigning leading up to the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections. It follows Kejriwal and his party as they struggle to make themselves a formidable force against The Congress, Mahatma Gandhi’s party and the party that’s ruled India for the majority of the years since India’s independence, and he opposition party BJP.

Other notable people featured in the documentary are Yogendra Yadav, an academic and co-founder of the AAP. Yadav was often the most pragmatic person in the party having studied politics for so many years. He is the kind of person who knew you could only pick certain battles and not go promising everything to everyone. His and Kejriwal’s relationship was interesting as Kejriwal was often stubborn and make big promises to do with free water and energy bills that many people, Yadva included, thought were too extreme. Santosh Koli was another interesting AAP candidate, she was a formidable woman and while her story was cut short (it’s a documentary so you can google her if you like) I really liked what you saw of her in An Insignificant Man and wished she could have had the opportunity to make a bigger political impact.

I knew nothing of Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP and the political landscape in India in general before watching An Insignificant Man but this film did a great job of showing who the man is, both the good and the bad, and what he and his party stands for. It made this recent piece of political history exciting and almost thrilling at times while also still showed the farcical side of politics. There are indeed laugh out loud moments in this, for instance when one politician is told to stop shouting over other campaigners in an interview and he said “I’m not shouting, I have a loud voice.” An Insignificant Man really shows how politics is just as absurd and flawed in India as it is anywhere else in the world.

An Insignificant Man is an interesting documentary about a group of people who do almost the unthinkable of starting a new political party. It feels honest and does not try to judge Kejriwal or AAP, it simply follows them through the ups and downs of campaigning, showing the successes and the failures. It really is a fascinating film. 5/5.