REVIEW: First Man

Year: 2018
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler

Written by Rhys Bowen-Jones

You’d think the moon landing would have a bigger filmography. By my count, there are 25 films about the general Apollo program, two of which are Men In Black 3 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Given such an astonishing feat, it was about time it received a proper cinematic treatment, and Damien Chazelle (of Whiplash and La La Land fame) is on hand to deliver just that.

And my word, does he deliver.

I’m not sure how much I need to say about the film. First Man is about the moon landing. It’s about NASA, rocket scientists, Neil Armstrong’s family, and Neil Armstrong himself as they attempt to finally get one over on the Russians in the infamous space race of the 1960s. First Man does do a splendid job of filling in many of the gaps in my knowledge of the story, and it does so on the shoulders of two tremendous leading performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy.

First Man is a step out of Chazelle’s comfort zone. Having given us back to back show-stoppers in music-centric and impressively stylish efforts, he reigns back the sweep pans and on-the-beat camera cuts in favour of something far more paranoid. This becomes immediately apparent in its stunning opening scene with the introduction to how the film uses its shaky camera. Shaky camera has its criticisms when used poorly (badly choreographed fight scenes, I’m looking at you), but Chazelle uses it so perfectly here. It manages to absolutely convince you that Ryan Gosling has literally been sent to space in a tin can. Armstrong endures multiple trips to at least the Earth’s atmosphere, and the way they’re shot from almost entirely within or attached to the space craft made me feel, as cliché as it sounds, like I was right in there with him and that this might completely fail at any second.

Chazelle wants to express a combination of total wonder of what’s possible with a sense of complete isolation as the key players of the film rocket towards a seemingly impending doom. Shots of Armstrong sitting alone at the dinner table surrounded by darkness, or shots of Claire Foy’s Janet Shearon (Armstrong’s wife) standing alone in a doorway, again surrounded by darkness, imply so much of their relationship; their personal dilemmas, their frustrations with one another, their annoyance at their reluctant thrust into fame, all the while dealing with 2 blissfully unaware young children whose only preoccupation is whether they can play outside.

The necessary confrontation between Janet and Neil is shot with the same quiet intensity as a space trip, with Neil facing a reality he didn’t want to; having to tell his young children he might not come home. This is sure to be one of the many highlights Gosling and Foy send off for their almost guaranteed award nominations. Some may think Gosling is just being Gosling, the quiet, stoic leading role who doesn’t say all that much and stays focused on the job, but when your mission is the most dangerous mission in human history that may be your end, you could forgive his stoicism. Foy leaves a particularly strong impression as the wife left at home with the kids, as she stands up to the NASA scientists who, in one instance, cut the connection to her radio linked to Mission Control. As an aside, Claire Foy now has back to back stunning performances after Unsane earlier in the year, and I can’t wait to see her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

What I feel is important to address is that First Man isn’t the space adventure some may expect. It spends the majority of the film firmly on Earth, getting to know its key characters and showing us the blood, sweat, and tears that went into getting onto the moon. Having said that, when it does go to space, it goes. The fuck. To space.

The space scenes are spectacular. From its first flight to the Apollo 11 mission we all came to see, it begins being shot with surprising restraint. I kept wishing for the camera to just pull back slightly and give us a wide shot, I found out the long way that the restraint is worth it for what’s to come. The moon landing sequence is a stunner. It’s a knock your socks off, awe-inspiring, blow your face clean off its hinges sequence. Much of the film has a very old-school, grainy look to it to give it a 1960s authenticity, but the switch to IMAX for this sequence is put to fabulous use. The gargantuan size of the actual moment of a human being setting foot on the moon is given the wonder treatment with one of the film’s rare flashy moments in which the camera swoops down the shuttle’s steps and just stops dead in its tracks, almost in shock, to appreciate the horizon. The vastness of the moon laid out in front of our very eyes. It’s jaw-dropping. The time Chazelle and co. spent building up to this very moment is all completely worth it. This was a moment felt by the entire cinema, as the music cuts out completely, it was just us, Neil Armstrong, and the moon. You could’ve heard a pin drop. Dozens of pairs of eyes locked on the screen, transfixed by something so spectacular that I can’t say I’ve experienced a moment like it in film in a long time. Of all this film’s impressive elements, this sequence is the crowning achievement and it deserves all the praise it receives.

There is so much more that could be praised. Justin Hurwitz’s score has an almost ethereal feel at times, balletic at others, and completely epic when it needs to be. The music rarely swells to the overwhelming levels of, say, Hans Zimmer’s glorious work on Interstellar. Like the rest of the film, it holds itself back until it needs to, and when it hits the moment it needs to, it completely overwhelms you with its sheer power and beauty.

On a similar note, the sound design is sure to be one of its many award recipients come February. During the major space sequences, the aforementioned Gosling-in-a-tin-can stuff, the clanging and the clattering and the spinning and the exploding and the ringing all bring you to near breaking point. When you feel the sound has reached its highest point, it somehow finds another level, and then another, and then another to bring me to gasping-for-breath levels of anxious.

First Man is stunning. It’s an astounding achievement for a young director on the winning streak of his life; it has two award-worthy leading performances; it’s gorgeous to look at; it’s amazing to listen to; and it’s an utterly overwhelming experience. See it on the biggest, loudest screen you can. Chazelle, you’ve done it again.


Rhys’ Verdict:



LFF 2018: Colette

Directed by: Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw

Screening at LFF: 11th & 12th
UK Release Date: 25th January, 2019

Written by Sarah Buddery

A very personal project for Director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice), Colette was the final film that he and his partner Richard Glatzer worked on before Glatzer sadly passed away in 2015 – and indeed it was a script that had been on Westmoreland’s radar since 2001.

Now finally bringing their story to the screen (Glatzer is credited for screenplay, and there is a rather lovely tribute at the end), there is a timeliness to this true story – despite its late 1800s grounding – that feels surprisingly relevant. Following the story of Colette (Knightley) and her older husband Willy (West), Colette’s salacious stories of a young Parisian woman named Claudine are released under her established author husband’s name. Together, they start a genuine phenomenon, and between writing, Colette embarks on liaisons with Southern Belle, Georgie Raoul-Duval (Tomlinson) and the androgynous Missy (Gough). It is only a matter of time however before Colette wishes to be seen as an author in her own right, and sees a life for herself beyond her husband.

Keira Knightley gives a fantastic performance as the titular character, and her arc from humble country girl to confident Parisian socialite is beautifully pitched. She continues to show her strengths, particularly in period dramas, and she ensures this character is believable and compelling throughout. Dominic West also gives a great performance as the portly Willy, cutting a larger-than-life figure with both his outlandish screen presence and rotund form.

The production design is suitably sumptuous with the costumes and splendour of Parisian aristocracy being exquisitely crafted. All of this is to be expected with a film such as this, but what was so unexpected was its exploration of gender politics and its celebration of queer culture was surprisingly forward-thinking given its period setting. There is a poignant relevancy to this film regarding women, and the struggle for equality. Colette as a character is one who struggles to be recognised for her work in a “man’s” world and this is something which is sadly still so telling in modern Hollywood.

This is the sort of film where you know exactly what you’re getting, but where it might be a little generic in its execution, it is exceptionally progressive thematically and in tone, and this is something which may surprise. With fantastic performances, and a lavish setting, Colette is a film that will sweep you off your feet.


Sarah’s Verdict


LFF 2018: Widows

Year: 2018
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Colin Farrell

Written by Dave Curtis

Back in 2011, I was a runner in a post-production house in London. At the same time, an up and coming director had finished filming his second feature film and was deep into the sound mix. This man would go on to win an Oscar and become one of the most wanted directors in the industry. His name was Steve McQueen.

He was just finishing Shame, his second link up with Michael Fassbender. (The first being ‘Hunger’). Steve was nice enough to answer all my questions. He enjoyed Nandos most days (he likes his chicken dry with no spices if you were wondering) and most importantly he was polite to the runners (many directors were not). It’s fantastic to see him doing so well. After the success of 12 Years a Slave it seems he has the pick of any actors or project he wishes. Fast forward to 2018 and his new film Widows opens the London Film Festival, a great honour for any British director.

Based on a British TV series from the 80s and popular book, Widows has been relocated to Chicago from London. Viola Davis plays Veronica, a recent widowed wife whose thief husband (Liam Neeson) died with his gang in their latest heist. After being threatened by a local gangster, the wives take on their husbands debts.

McQueen’s latest feels like his least personal project but also his most ambitious. It has given him the chance to try something different and use all his tricks that he has learnt from his previous films. When Widows is at its best it really does soar. The all-star cast elevates it and the smartly written script really cements it as a solid film. McQueen’s control shines through, a man so comfortable and confident in his abilities as a director.

The film starts with a bang and the tone is set.  The pacing rarely lets up and that is mostly down to the cast. Coming off the back of an Oscar win for Fences, Viola Davis once again delivers a performance which she has come to be known for. The backbone she gives Veronica is also the backbone to the film; strong and unwavering. She also has eyes of steel which are so intense. Out of a cast of so many it is always hard to mention just a few. Daniel Kaluuya is truly menacing as Jatemme Manning (the brother to Brian Tyree Henry’s Jamal Manning). He surely is the best Britain has to offer at the moment. Elizabeth Debicki offers some laughs as Alice, a fellow widow. She clearly is having fun in the role.

The director of photography Sean Bobbitt work also stands out, the camera work is exciting and ambitious. Some of the shots are inventive, in particular a scene which involves Colin Farrell having a very heated discussion in his car. The editing is also smooth which helps with the pacing and some of the music and song choices are very clever.

What Widows does well, is overshadow the very few flaws it has. Some of the characters aren’t really all there, I know the original husbands aren’t really it in but a bit depth to their backgrounds would have helped (Jon Bernthal is once again under used). Also, dare I say it, but some of the twists and shocks were a little predictable.

This is a fine piece of cinema where a great director has assembled a stunning cast who all contribute. There are no weak links. Widows is a character-driven heist film, not the other way around (the heist comes second). That doesn’t stop it being exciting, it’s very brutal and feels uncomfortably real for its entire runtime.



LFF 2018: Thunder Road

Directed by: Jim Cummings
Starring: Jim Cummings, Kendall Farr, Nican Robinson

Screening at LFF: 10th, 11th, 12th, 20th
UK Release Date: Not yet announced

Written by Sarah Buddery

Sometimes going into a film with little prior knowledge results in the biggest of surprises, and that was very much the case with Thunder Road. Jim Cummings’ passion project (he writes, directs, and stars in this) is an extension of his short of the same name from 2016.

In what is perhaps one of the best opening scenes of the year, we meet Jim Arnaud (Cummings) at his mother’s funeral, delivering the greatest eulogy/dance sequence ever. No, really. Veering wildly between emotional hysteria, and deadpan asides, the sequence is nothing short of genius, and immediately establishes the tragi-comedy tone. If you’re not sold from this incredible opening diatribe, then the rest of the film is unlikely to hook you, but it is hard not to be lured in with Cummings enigmatic performance.

What follows is a film which manages to constantly surprise and delight, delving into grief in a very real yet humorous way, and exploring other themes such as the joys and trials of parenthood, and examining what it is to be a man and particularly how men deal with emotions as well.

It’s hard to imagine this film as 15 minute short as it packs a lot in, yet in its exploration of Arnaud as a character, it absolutely flies by. As already mentioned, Cummings is the beating heart of this film, and in his direction in particular, he manages to make the film feel precise as well as wonderfully unhinged. It has something of an unscripted feel, yet the comedy and the writing is so well executed and perfectly timed. There is measure and control to his performance, even when the character is wild and hysterical, and it is a performance which is equal parts insane and sublime. In a just world, he would be receiving awards consideration; it really is that good.

There’s a couple of plot threads which are left open-ended which is a little frustrating, but that aside, this is an accomplished tour-de-force from triple-threat Jim Cummings. As a cinematic exploration of one man’s state of mind and his way of coping with tragedy, this film succeeds. Few films can make you laugh and cry until it hurts – almost in equal measure – and also to the point where it becomes hard to distinguish one from the other. Thunder Road is tragi-comedy in its purest form, striking the perfect balance between the two, and also managing to be both simultaneously. A surprise hit, and honestly for that opening scene alone it is worth a watch!

Sarah’s Verdict



Year: 2018
Directed by: Jamie Patterson
StarringApril Pearson, Louisa Lytton, Karl Davies

Written by Abbie Eales

Young lovers Rebecca (April Pearson) and Michael (Karl Davies) are on their way to a romantic get-away when they find themselves with a flat tyre, in the dark, in the middle of the British countryside. Rebecca becomes paranoid that someone is watching them and tensions between the pair grow. The couple soon find their way to an idyllic cottage in the countryside, where the tension ratchets up further as a sinister presence lurks in the dark.  Shoes go missing, the TV turns itself on and then there is the phone call for the mysterious Alva…

Jamie Patterson’s ‘Fractured’ at first appears to be a straightforward combination of the stranger-on-the-road movie and the home-invasion trope. However, what unfolds over the short running time is far more interesting and tense affair as some familiar horror clichés are broken down, with some deft directorial touches elevating this above many high-concept low-budget films. Shades of Halloween, Los Cronocrimenes (Time Crimes) and fellow Brit horror Hush (2008) permeate throughout, but Patterson’s directorial voice remains firm.

The electronic score is also reminiscent of John Carpenter, but it does feel a little heavy-handed in places, with some scenes possibly being better left to play out without the punctuation.

Both Pearson and Davies are excellent in their roles, with their nuanced performances ensuring that Fractured could stand up to repeat viewings despite the neat sting in its tail.

While it’s a fairly short affair Fractured is thoroughly diverting and is elevated above many low budget horrors by some great performances, great direction, and good cinematography.

‘Fractured’ is available on Amazon Prime now.



REVIEW: Operation Finale

Year: 2018
Directed by: Chris Weitz
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent

Written by Elena Morgan

A team of Mossad and Shin Bet agents set out to track down and bring to trial Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), the Nazi officer who masterminded the Holocaust.

Based on a true story, Operation Finale is a drama that does the job it sets out to do. It’s a film that feels like its main aim was to tell this story with great care as its subject matter is naturally incredibly poignant. However, that does make for a film that is sensitive but is also lacking any tension or fleshed-out and interesting characters.

There’s a scene just before the team leaves Israel for Argentina where Eichmann is suspected to be hiding, where each member talks about who they lost in the Holocaust. It humanises them all and shows the personal stakes they each have in bringing this man to court. However, besides from that, a lot of the characters are interchangeable and have no real defining characteristics.

Oscar Isaac plays Peter Malkin, a man who’s typically a hitman but in this case is one of the guys planning the operation to take Eichmann alive. He gives a good performance, and there are flashbacks sprinkled throughout the film showing who was taken from him during the Holocaust, but he’s not a particularly layered character, instead mainly being the ‘Good Guy’ to Eichmann’s ‘Bad Guy’.

The scenes where it is just Ben Kingsley and Oscar Isaac in a room together talking are the most interesting. It’s verbal sparring at its finest as they play a game of cat and mouse with one another, both of them taking on the role of the negotiator as they try and get what they want.

Ben Kingsley is brilliant as Eichmann, straddling the line between heartless and sensitive. His previous actions make him irredeemable, but seeing him with his family, and how he talks about why he did what he did and how he was one part in a larger machine, makes him a fascinating villain. Everyone is drawn to him, even if they are repulsed by him, and Kingsley’s almost serene take on this man is great to watch.

There’s a lot of good things about Operation Finale;  the acting, costumes and filming, but it’s never great. Unfortunately, it lacks the depth or intensity to make the story truly compelling. Many of the story beats are what we’ve seen before in the genre, with the finale especially feeling like a poor man’s Argo.

Operation Finale is a perfectly fine, well-intentioned film, that’s entertaining enough. It’s just a shame that with so much good stuff in it, it never becomes something memorable.



GRIMMFEST 2018: Anna and the Apocalypse

Year: 2018
Directed by: John McPhail
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Marli Siu, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins

Written by Sasha Hornby

“What if High School Musical had zombies?” When Anna and the Apocalypse was first conceived, this was the pitch. 8 years later, this zom-com Christmas musical is taking the film festival world by storm – and met with uproarious laughter and applause as the Grimmfest closing film. Set in the peaceful British town of Little Haven, a global pandemic threatens to derail Christmas. Anna (Ella Hunt), and her friends, John (Malcolm Cumming), Steph (Sarah Swire), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Lisa (Marli Siu), plus ex-boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins), must fight and sing their way to survival.

The film opens (after a wonderfully animated opening credits has run) with Anna, and best friend John, getting a lift to school from her dad, Tony (Mark Benton). Some minimal exposition occurs during this journey; as the trio discuss Anna and John’s plans for post-school – Anna wants to travel the world, John wants to go to art school – the radio plays a news bulletin detailing the flu-like disease doing the deadly rounds.

Even those uninitiated in zombie lore know the story from here. The infected die, and their still-animated corpses single-mindedly seek out living humans for sustenance. Meanwhile, our hapless heroes have to traverse their sleepy town, now teeming with the living dead, to reunite with each other. In this respect, Anna and the Apocalypse has little new to add to the undead canon. The same rules apply – don’t get bit, avoid the hordes, aim for the brain. There is a quaint social-commentary attempted as the zombies are easily distracted by flashing lights, glittering tinsel and vlog-style videos made on a phone. For the most part though, the evolution of living to undead is familiar.

What does stand out is the way the kids navigate the end of the world. We all remember being 17, and thinking we’re all grown up and know everything we need to know. The titular Anna is no exception. She’s tough, and practical. And stubborn. She believes she can still go globetrotting, even in the face of Armageddon. Ella Hunt is the perfect choice for Anna, as she exudes effortless cool in every frame. It’s easy to root for her. She also manages to look bad-ass while wielding a novelty candy cane as a weapon. John is Anna’s polar opposite. He’s a little geeky, unashamedly wears a light-up festive jumper, and definitely doesn’t keep his cool. Malcolm Cumming has impeccable comedy timing, playing bumbling yet adorable fool with aplomb. If he doesn’t go on to become a top talent in British comedy, I will be very surprised.

If you thought the only antagonist in Anna and the Apocalypse was the zombies, you’d be dead wrong. John’s nemesis Nick is the school bad boy, played with delicious delight by Ben Wiggins. Wiggins walks with an unrivalled swagger, clearly relishing his big moment crooning about his zombie-killing skills. The real big bad though is acting head-teacher Savage (Paul Kaye), who so clearly hates children, you have to wonder why he ever became a teacher at all! He is utterly demented, void of any compassion, finding the zombie apocalypse a massive inconvenience to his plans for school domination. Kaye is a scene-stealer, delivering each line with a harsh wit. His descent into nihilism is hammed up to 11, with one particular song standing out for hilariously painting Savage as a cartoon villain.

The soundtrack is chocked full of absolute bangers. It has been 3 days since I saw the film, and I am still humming “Hollywood Endings”. To categorise Anna and the Apocalypse is an impossible task. It has been called “La La Land meets Shaun of the Dead.” I say think Glee, but set in Grange Hill, with more blood. Every song is delightful, many laugh out loud. An entirely inappropriate Christmas serenade, sung like a wicked version of the “Jingle Bells Rock” performance in Mean Girls, had me weeping. Everyone commits so fully to the musical trope of bursting into explanative ditties, or emotion-laden refrains, singing and dancing their hearts out for us on screen, they earn your buy-in.

Anna and the Apocalypse is an absurdly good time, dripping in laconic Scottish humour, with a cast of misfits you can’t help but care about. I recommend everybody make this their festive film treat when it’s released in cinemas on November 30.

Sasha’s Verdict


LFF 2018: The Hate U Give

Year: 2018
Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Algee Smith
Screening at LFF: 20th & 21st
UK release: 22nd October

Written by Sarah Buddery

If Spike Lees’ BlacKkKlansman was the powerful, resonating and necessary film for adults in 2018, then The Hate U Give is the same in terms of potency but packaged in a way that is accessible to young adults and teens. Beyond that, however, this film has messages and relevancy across the board, and alongside the aforementioned Spike Lee joint, you’d be hard-pushed to find two films more relevant to our times.

Amandla Stenberg (who fans will recognise as Rue from The Hunger Games) absolutely astounds, and a lot is placed on her young shoulders in this film. We spend almost the entirety of the film’s runtime with her, and the nuances in the way she shows the development of her character are mesmerising. She portrays the duality of a girl torn between her “white” school and friends, and her “black” neighbourhood, family, and peers expertly. From the offset, there is the sense of a character caught between worlds, not really feeling sure of what one she belongs in, and this theme of identity is beautifully played throughout. Anchored by Stenberg’s performances, this idea of belonging and identity is something which resonates beyond race, and ensures this film is accessible to a wider audience, particularly it’s teen target audience.

The film takes a little while to settle into its groove, and indeed initially plays out like any other teen movie. Whilst the “slang” and very obvious steer towards a teen audience grated initially, in hindsight it was completely necessary, the earth-shattering events Stenberg’s Starr witnesses are a jarring gut punch into her teen normalcy, and the tone of the film from here on out, is very different.

The Hate U Give is a film which feels consistently, and perhaps horrifyingly relevant, it’s quiet broiling tension and anger eventually exploding in a way that is simultaneously cathartic and a call to action. This is a film which demands a response, and one which perhaps more than anything, encourages young people to use their voice. Throughout, it emphasises that it is having the courage to speak out that is seen to be greater than any act of violence, and the voice is the most powerful weapon you could have.

The final act is absolutely stunning with Stenberg’s performance being at its absolute peak, with emotion and talent beyond her years. It’s an act which is simple, defiant, earned, and incredibly powerful, and it is here that the film truly shines.

The initially uneven tone of the film perhaps lets this down slightly, but this is a film with something to say and it is important that audiences give it the time to listen to it.




Year: 2018
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

Written by Megan Williams

Ever since I went to see Spiderman 3, I’ve been waiting for Sony to grant Venom a second chance and give the character a stand-alone film. And, after writing two articles on the trailers, Venom is finally here!

Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a reporter who is assigned an interview with Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the CEO of the ‘Life Foundation’. After finding out that Carlton is experimenting on people by combining them with alien symbiotes, Eddie accidentally becomes intertwined with one of the symbiotes named Venom.

When the film was released it was met with critical slating, saying that the film’s tone was odd and uneven and that, overall, it wasn’t very good. However, I am in the minority. Venom is nowhere near as bad as critics are saying.

Tom Hardy was great as Eddie Brock and the voice of Venom; their interactions with each other was the biggest highlight of the film. It also brought in a lot of humour that blended in effectively with the visuals; most of it came from Venom’s dialogue, as he reacted to each scenario, as well as Eddie’s dialogue and actions towards this unfamiliar creature.

The soundtrack and score were also fantastic, bringing in a mixture of classical music, hip-hop and rock, all of which suited the film’s tone and story. Venom wouldn’t have looked out of place if it had been released in 2005, and while some people would see this as a problem, I personally didn’t; the presentation of the film worked for the most part.

Unfortunately, the first act’s tone and pacing was a little uneven and seemed ‘uncomfortable’ with setting the story up. However, once Venom was introduced, these aspects improved and the film flowed a lot better than it did in the first act. Another issue I had was with the CGI. Throughout most of the film, it was fantastic and Venom’s portrayal was very accurate to the comic books, which I loved. However, the CGI was extremely dodgy and hard to follow in the third act so, unfortunately, it wasn’t consistent.

Overall, Venom was entertaining, funny and a lot of fun. It is not as bad as initial reviews have been saying and, if you are still interested in seeing it, then I would recommend it.