REVIEW: Where Hands Touch

Year: 2018
Directed by: Amma Asante
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Amandla Stenberg, George MacKay, Christopher Eccleston

Written by Fiona Underhill

British director Amma Asante has prioritised telling the stories of black and mixed-race characters in period films during her career so far – a genre where they often they are over-looked and ignored. Her breakthrough feature Belle starred Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a real-life historical figure in 18th century period costume and stately homes – which is a setting that is usually dominated by white actors on British television and in film. Her follow up A United Kingdom was set in the 1950s and starred David Oyelowo as the King of Botswana who falls in love with a white British woman. Now comes Where Hands Touch and stars Amandla Stenberg as a mixed-race German girl who falls in love with the son of a Nazi officer. Asante has shown herself to be an empathetic filmmaker, exploring the nuances of situations where characters struggle with their identities.

Twelve years in the making, this has been very much a passion project for Asante, involving a lot of historical research into the 25,000 people of colour who lived in Nazi Germany. This film focuses on those who were known as the ‘Rhineland Bastards’ and were the result of French soldiers of African descent being in that area during WWI. Leyna (Stenberg) is the product of one such union between a soldier and her mother (played by Bright Star’s Abbie Cornish). She has a younger brother who is white and as a result, Leyna feels very much the odd-one-out. Although she is happy and mostly accepted in her small community in the Rhineland, things are becoming increasingly dangerous. Her mother knows that if the Nazis come looking for Jewish people and find Leyna, they will probably just cart her away as well. Her mother believes that they will be able to disappear in Berlin, only to find that the big city brings its own problems.

Leyna must carry false papers with her, stating she has been sterilised (to prevent her mixing with white Germans). However, she meets and falls in love with Lutz (George MacKay), whose father (played by Christopher Eccleston) is a high-ranking Nazi. George MacKay has impressed me in Pride and Captain Fantastic and he does well again here, portraying a ‘gung-ho’ wannabe soldier, eager to get the front and join in the real fight. However, there is obviously another side to him, shown through the sensitive portrayal of his tender romance with Leyna. Amandla Stenberg was recently seen in Everything Everything with Nick Robinson and will soon be starring in The Hate U Give. She gives a fantastic performance here as a young woman, struggling to find her place in the world.

There has been some controversy surrounding this film – that it is insensitive to show a romance (which includes a Nazi soldier) against the backdrop of the Holocaust. This film does not ignore the Holocaust, but it does choose to focus more on a little-known aspect of the war, portraying a minority that did exist and most people would not have considered before. Also, I can understand, in our current times, why portraying a sympathetic Nazi is problematic. However, I think it is realistic to show how easily a German teenager could be brainwashed into believing the propaganda he has been fed, whilst also retaining his humanity and being capable of loving a mixed-race girl. The evil is an external pressure, rather than inherent within him. It also contrasts Lutz with his father, who is jaded due to having lived through WWI. However, his father still carries out despicable orders to save his own skin. This film does not present the issues as black-and-white, the characters are complex and flawed, but that does not mean you can’t feel something for them. It is Leyna’s relationship with her mother (and her own identity) that is perhaps the most moving aspect of the film though.

I believe this filmmaker, these actors and this story deserves your support, so if you are able to find Where Hands Touch in a movie theater near you, give it a chance. It is on selected release in the US now, UK release date is to be confirmed.

Fiona’s Verdict:

4

 

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First Reformed

JC-FEATURED-IMAGE-new

Year: 2018
Directed by: Paul Schrader
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer, Michael Gaston

Written by Jessica Peña

In Paul Schrader’s ‘First Reformed,’ we are greeted with a heavy despair and loss of faith through another venture in character study as told through the general perspective of Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke). The screenwriter behind Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed ‘Taxi Driver,’ with a hefty credit on Scorsese’s ‘Raging Bull,’ brings us his latest directorial effort in yet another depiction of “God’s lonely man.” We’ve seen the austere deterioration of Travis Bickle in ‘Taxi Driver’ where a world of sin and unjust things crept into his psyche. Here in ‘First Reformed,’ the influences of modern world environmentalism and spiritual radicalism collide in a message-heavy script. It asks big questions with big intentions, but may come off slightly pretentious toward its end, with the tendency to lose a general audience. Ultimately, there’s some stellar composition of ideologies to think on, a dreadful spiral akin to ‘Taxi Driver,’ and a steely career performance by Hawke to admire here. An ‘arthouse Taxi Driver’? Sure, but not nearly as masterful.

Toller works the service and tours at a small church in upstate New York, what was once a historical stop through the Abolitionist Movement. He’s experienced his own worst times since his son died in Afghanistan, his wife divorced him, and his health is seemingly in decline. The only line of hope is the funding and support he receives from the local megachurch ran by Reverend Joel Jeffers (Cedric Kyles). One day, he meets with one of his parishioners, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), in the hope that he’ll find time to speak with her environmental activist husband Michael (Philip Ettinger). The film begins its effect on Toller’s faith as Michael admits that he doesn’t wish for the baby they’re expecting to be born into such a damaged world. He confesses his disbelief of any good in all of society, sitting across Toller, with all of his pinned research and climate radars on the laptop behind him. Ettinger, for the time he has onscreen, is vulnerable as Michael, worrisome, visibly unstable and uncertain in regards to his future. He looks sickly as the manifestation of his radical intentions overrule. With this in mind, Toller feels it is now his duty to council Michael, not expecting what follows to be his breaking point.

Schrader’s religious background is evident in the translation from literary forms to the cold, cruel narrative that fuels ‘First Reformed.’ He’s infused it with a callback to the 1951 French film ‘Diary of a Country Priest’ directed by Robert Bresson, in which an outsider priest is unwelcome, criticised, blamed for unfortunate events, and crippled into devastation. Although not entirely original in its conception, ‘First Reformed’ nonetheless offers us the tragic story of defeated hope and how climate, environmental or political, can echo through our own morality. Its isolating scenes carefully keep us close by Toller and his walk on a thin rope.

Hawke taps into an otherworldly side of his acting that showcases a reversal in faith within his character. It’s up to perspective whether Toller truly is within his character to derail so abruptly. His demeanor is secretive and felt as an obligation to both Michael and to the world so many people leave behind. “Can God ever forgive us?” he asks Reverend Jeffers, a very convincing and supportive turn by Cedric Kyles. It’s deep within Toller’s own shortcomings in life that have paved the tenacity for his disarmament. He has an illness he tries to ignore by simply downing more scotch, maybe with a dash of Pepto Bismol. We come to know of his past affair with Esther (Victoria Hill), who works at Jeffer’s fancy Abundant Life church. Toller begins to push her and everyone else aside as he tries to understand God’s answers and just how agonizing the world has truly become.

As mentioned earlier, it is no ‘Taxi Driver,’ but Paul Schrader’s ‘First Reformed’ is a heavy story with loads to unpack, maybe even daring to ask us about the state of the world’s quiet disasters. It doesn’t give us anything quite new, but the journey into despair is engaging enough. Its morbid curiosity for the downfall of man plays well and you can tell Schrader is confident in his work, even in its most divisive moments.

Jessica’s Rating

3

Dark River

Year: 2018
Directed by: Clio Barnard
Cast: Ruth Wilson, Mark Stanley, Sean Bean, Dean Andrews

Written by Hunter Williams

Following this year’s Lean On Pete, ‘God’s Own Country‘ and ‘The Levelling‘, the withering farmlands are a dramatic staple of 2018’s arthouse cinema. Clio Bernard’s ‘Dark River’ is a standout among this particular niche.

Inspired by Rose Tremain’s novel ‘Trespass’, Ruth Wilson’s Alice returns to her home village for the first time in 15 years after the death of her father, Richard (Sean Bean). The slow and enrapturing photography introduces the vast and unruled lands, underscored by the pounding footsteps of a nearby stampede. Alice wanders the once familiar home, looking hesitantly into darkly lit rooms that spark haunting memories of her father. Bernard’s patience will never let up, allowing the creeping darkness of the woods nearby to infect whatever future the farm may have had.

Ruth Wilson (Alice), once paired with co-star Mark Stanley (Joe), reacquaint themselves with the convincing power of a brother-sister bond that hasn’t been shared for 15 years. They are both excellent performances, using words for spare parts that focus more on the traditional emotional truth often found in the eyes and staging of actors (props to Bernard for distinct direction). Wilson in particular marks ‘Dark River’ as a major work within her filmography, matching the enveloping grief of Laura Dern in Fox’s ‘The Tale’ from earlier this year.

As their rural life is threatened by a housing agent upon Alice’s return, the past begins to overlap their future. Joe is unable to properly hold up the farm in grief of his father, but Alice insists on moving forward. Their conflict boils until not even the farmlands are able to quantify their history. The final third is the kind of bold move that will make it or break it for certain audiences. In this particular case, Bernard takes the typical Sundance fare of underlings returning home in light of a guardians death and transforming it into a disturbing resolution against abuse.

‘Lean On Pete’, ‘God’s Own Country’ and ‘The Levelling’ may be good in their own right, but Bernard is out for blood just as much as her main character Alice is. Which is why the final moments of ‘Dark River’ are as dark as the film suggests. Wilson and Stanley struggle to make eye contact, but their body language says it all: their commitment to each other is not bound by their history or land, so what does the length of the river matter if it’s already dark.

Hunter’s Rating:

4

Maturing Youth (Short)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Divoni Simon
Written by: Isabel Kruse, Chase Michael Pallante, Divoni Simon
Cast: Sean A. Kaufman, Kim Paris, Darleen Rae Fontaine, Rae’l Ba, Joshua St. Leger, Albee Castro, Terrence Keene
Runtime: 34 minutes 13 seconds

Written by Tom Sheffield

“The puzzle of life is for ones self discovery.”

Roger is an unemployed, weed smoking layabout that spends his days watching cartoons in his dressing gown. When he’s not doing that, he’s trying to chat up women in the street – so as you can imagine, he’s got no interest in having responsibilities or commitments. His care-free world is rocked when his ex, Sadie, appears on his doorstep with a young son he never knew he had. Not being able to cope with Roger’s lifestyle and attitude, Sadie walks out on him, leaving her son in the incapable hands of Roger. But when his son falls ill, Roger’s situation hits him like a truck and he has to make a decision – to continue swerving any and all responsibilities thrown his way, or to step up to the plate and be a father to his son.

The entire film takes place in Roger’s house, and the only colour in it is his Rastafarian flag dressing gown, which it appears he practically lives in. In a way, the state of the house reflects Roger’s current lifestyle – boring, plain, and there’s no effort put into it. It’s a fitting and well suited environment for this character, and the story that develops.

Kaufman delivers a first-rate performance as Roger, nailing both the lax, detestable character we see at the beginning and the Roger we get a glimpse of towards the end of the film. I won’t go into spoiler territory in this review because I implore you to seek out this film when you can to watch it for yourself. Roger is definitely a character I would love to have seen a bit more depth to, especially towards the end of the film. Granted, the film’s runtime will have been a major factor here as we also had to be introduced to a number of different characters – but I would watch a feature-film based on this screenplay and characters in a heartbeat.

Kim Paris’ brief performance as Sadie came off very natural, and whilst I would have loved to have seen more of her, her limited screen time was well utilized as she helps develop the plot, as well as give us some more information about Roger and his life. Joshua St. Leger plays the role of Junior, and whilst his lines are very limited, the rest of his performance draws out the more heartwarming moments in the film when he shares the screen with Kaufman.

Another mention has to go to Terrence Keen, who plays Doctor Riccard. Riccard is called to Roger’s house when Junior falls ill, and it’s he who is the voice of reason to try make Roger understand the detrimental effect his refusal to be a parent will have on young Junior in his future life. The character of the Doctor was a very brave and ambitious inclusion, but the character and his scenes were executed well enough in this short to not feel out of place in such a story. I’m sure once you watch for yourself, you’ll understand what I mean.

It’s evident from the bloopers and behind-the-scenes footage that play alongside the credits that the cast and crew had a lot of fun making this film, and this is evident in the end product, which is well shot, acted, and edited. These were a great addition and personally I love the inclusion of behind the scenes stuff in film’s credits so it ticked yet another box for me.

‘Maturing Youth’ definitely has taken some inspiration from films before it (one example that instantly sprung to mind was ‘Big Daddy’), but as a ‘dramedy’ short it works incredibly well, leaning more on the drama aspect aspect than the comedy. This works in the film’s favour as the humour it does provide doesn’t feel shoe-horned in.  The strong performances from it’s cast, along with a solid screenplay and direction, make this a truly wonderful short film that has a lot of heart… and it left me wanting more!

TOM’S RATING:

4

You can find out more about ‘Maturing Youth’ on their official website, Facebook, and Instagram

You can also keep an eye on R&F Entertainment’s work on their official website, Facebook, and Instagram

 

The Seagull & On Chesil Beach

WRITTEN BY FIONA UNDERHILL

The Seagull

The Seagull‘ is an adaptation of the famous Chekhov play and features a stellar cast. Annette Bening stars as Irina, an established actress on the Moscow stage and Saoirse Ronan plays Nina; a country girl who aspires to make her way onto the stage also, Corey Stoll plays Boris; a famous author and Irina’s lover, Billy Howle plays Konstantin; Irina’s son and an aspiring writer,  Mare Winningham plays Polina; a housekeeper at Irina’s country estate, and Elisabeth Moss plays her daughter, Masha; a depressed alcoholic who is in love with Konstantin.

Envy is the central theme of the film; Konstantin burns with feelings of hot jealousy of Boris’ success, complicated by the fact that he’s also sleeping with his mother. At the start, Nina and Konstantin are lovers, so Masha is resentful towards her. Nina’s feelings of admiration towards Boris eventually become something more, leading to further tragedy for Konstantin. And Irina is jealous of Nina’s youth and dismissive of Konstantin’s attempts at writing. The unusual decision has been made for the cast to use American accents, which makes as much sense in a period Russian piece as the usual British RP. This gives actors like Brian Dennehy (whom I adore) more freedom and expression. I loved the score of this film and the theatricality – there is a lovely scene in the grounds of the country estate, where Konstantin puts on a play using shadow puppets. Bening is incredible, as always and I enjoyed this film overall.

FIONA’S RATING:

3.5

 

On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach’ has received extremely mixed reactions from critics and this made me even more intrigued to see it than I already was. This is the second Ian McEwen adaptation that Saoirse Ronan has starred in, after ‘Atonement‘. It follows newly-weds Florence (Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) on their wedding night in a hotel in Dorset (next to the eponymous beach). An awkward and excruciating evening unfolds, interspersed with flashbacks explaining how they have ended up this way. I loved this framing device and the unusual structure of this film – the story revealed its layers slowly and is all the more rewarding for it.

I have gone from being totally unaware of Billy Howle to seeing two of his films in one day. I am really impressed by him and he holds his own up against the multiple Oscar-nominee here. The casting of the two sets of parents is perfect – Florence’s parents are played by Emily Watson and Samuel West (two of my favourite English actors) – they are snobby Oxbridge types whose gradual darkness is revealed. Edward’s parents are played by Adrian Scarborough and the always-wonderful Anne-Marie Duff. Edward’s mother is brain damaged and this leads to some heart-breaking, but exquisitely played scenes.

Music plays a central role in the narrative and I loved its use, from Florence’s string quartet music to Edward’s burgeoning relationship with rock and roll. The production design is impeccable; particularly the hideous maroon silk bed in the honeymoon suite and the cluttered artistic chaos of Edward’s family home. The costume design is also notable – Florence’s electric blue dress in the wedding night scenes is in bold contrast to her state-of-mind. The dress particularly works well in one of my favourite scenes that takes place on the beach itself towards the end. The framing, blocking and focus-pulling in this scene are carefully controlled, almost as if Florence and Edward are chess pieces.

As with ‘Atonement’, point-of-view is a central theme and the structure allows you to gain the perspective of both the central characters. You can see the paths that have led these two people to this point in time and get a full understanding of why the night pans out as it does. I was slightly less keen on the two scenes that take place after the wedding night (with significant time-jumps).

On Chesil Beach‘ is a complex, mature film that is an impressive debut by director Dominic Cooke. I’m really looking forward to what Billy Howle does next, as he has made a significant impression. I don’t really understand the criticisms that have been levelled at this film, as I really loved it. It engaged and intrigued me throughout and the story goes in many interesting and unexpected directions. Ronan is as tremendous as always and it captures the period extremely well. I really recommend this film.

FIONA’S RATING:

4.5

 

Tully

Year: 2018
Directed By: Jason Reitman
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Mackenzie Davis

Written by Fiona Underhill

This is going to be a hard review for me to write because I felt this film on a deeply personal level and objectivity is going out of the window. I do think this film will be viewed by those who have experienced motherhood (yes, not parenthood) in a very different way to those who haven’t.

‘Tully’ is director Jason Reitman’s third collaboration with writer Diablo Cody (after ‘Juno’ and ‘Young Adult’) and his second with Charlize Theron (‘Young Adult’). Reitman has been something of an uneven writer-director and usually quite divisive with critics. I have generally been a fan of his work and he does seem to have been particularly successful when teamed with Cody.

Tully follows Marlo (Theron) after the birth of her third child. Her rich brother Craig (Mark Duplass) suggests Marlo and her husband Drew (one of my favourite actors; Ron Livingston) get a ‘night nanny’ – someone to come in at night and help with the baby so the parents can get some rest. This seems a flawed idea to me, if the mother is breast-feeding, but the realism of the situation kind of isn’t the point of the film. Marlo eventually caves and hires Tully (another one of my favourites; Mackenzie Davis) and finds a new lease of life, waking up to a clean kitchen and freshly-baked cupcakes.

Theron has had quite a year; with the successfulAtomic Blonde and the pretty woeful ‘Gringo’. Tully is another physical transformation for her (which led to her Oscar success with ‘Monster’) although I’m not sure how much is prosthetics here. It is an incredible performance, quite apart from the physical side. Theron effectively communicates a mother barely holding it together, despite the pressures from her kids’ school and comparing herself to her perfect brother. I adore Mackenzie Davis. She has given some great performances on TV in ‘Halt & Catch Fire’ and ‘Black Mirror’ (San Junipero) and in rom-coms ‘That Awkward Moment’ and ‘What If’ and she is equally fantastic here. The dynamics between the two women as they form a close bond is at the heart of this film, and they have great chemistry.

All I can say is that the details that Cody and Reitman have captured of motherhood (especially of having a newborn baby) are painfully real and relatable. I cried several times during the film, as Marlo was doused in a juice cup, dealt with tantrums from her older children and examined her postnatal body. The house was recognisable as a real, lived-in house and her relationship with her husband felt  authentic also. It is rare to find a film that you feel speaks to your experience so accurately and for this reason, I was pretty destroyed by the end.

The plot does not go in a predictable direction, for a film dealing with a young, attractive nanny coming into the home of a older couple. Despite managing to avoid all Infinity War spoilers before seeing it, I did have ‘Tully’ spoiled for me on Twitter and this did affect my experience of watching the film. The ending will not be to everyone’s taste and I can also see people having an issue with the depiction of mental health in the film. However, there are not many films that have touched on the madness-inducing exhaustion of having a newborn or on postnatal depression – topics that it’s important we discuss as a society.

It’s difficult to say much more about this film without spoiling it and I do recommend that you go in knowing as little as possible. As I have said, I believe you will find this a very different experience depending on how much you can relate to Marlo. For me, it was an extremely well written and well acted film that spoke to me on a deeply personal level. But, I can fully understand other people not getting the same things from it. I also think the ending will prove controversial and will colour your view of the film as a whole. Definitely worth seeing, so you can make up your own mind!

FIONA’S RATING:

4

 

I Kill Giants

Year: 2017
Directed by: Anders Walter
Cast: Madison Wolfe, Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade

Written by Tom Sheffield

The poster for this film depicts a young girl stood hammer in hand facing a giant with the words ‘from the producer of Harry Potter’ placed at the very top. Having not seen the trailers or read anything about this film beforehand (or even the graphic novel on which this is based), you’d forgive me for expecting some massive fantasy showdown between a teenage girl and giants on a similar scale to the Harry Potter series.

What I actually got was something I wasn’t expecting, but I loved it all the more for it…

Barbara (Wolfe) isn’t like the other children at her school. Rather than sitting at home watching TV, or gossiping about boys, 12 year old Barbara is out protecting her family, and the Earth, from giants. We soon learn these ‘giants’ are Barbara’s very imaginative coping mechanism after her mother becomes ill. Sophia (Wade) is new to the school and Barbara’s imagination piques her interest from the moment they meet – but as Barbara’s grip on reality begins to slowly slip away, Sophia must help her new friend any way she can with the aid of new school psychiatrist Mrs. Mollé (Saldana).

Madison Wolfe is an absolute tour de force. She delivers a truly wonderful and completely captivating performance that makes her one young actress you should keep your eye on! After her impressive role as the lead in ‘The Conjuring 2’, I am positive Wolfe will become a much more familiar name over the next few years if she continues to deliver such solid performances. Imogen Poots plays Barbara’s older sister, Karen, whose suddenly thrown into a caretaker role to her two younger siblings as their mother becomes ill. Karen struggles to balance work life with her new found responsibilities, and her unappreciative siblings only add to her troubles as it becomes clear that all three of them are trying to cope with their mother’s illness in different ways. Whilst Barbara is off defending the world from giants, her brother uses his videos games as means to escape from his real life woes, and Karen does her best to keep everything feeling as normal as possible.

Zoe Saldana’s Mrs Mollé doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but Saldana, who received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier this week, brings her A-game. Mrs Mollé tries her best to support Barbara through therapy sessions, but it’s clear to her that Barbara’s powerful imagination is having a detrimental effect on her school and social life, and her poor attitude and disrespectful nature towards teachers and adults in general stems from the fact that she thinks everyone will be thanking her in the end. Barbara’s personality traits mean that if her character was in any other film, she’d be that character you instantly don’t like – but because you learn more about her as her story goes on, you can’t help but sympathize as we see things from Barbara’s point of view.

‘I Kill Giants’ is Anders Walters’ debut feature film, and it’s an incredibly impressive and very promising start to his career. His direction and vision for this adaptation were a great combination for this screenplay, and despite the films small budget, the CGI is still fairly impressive. Knowing the CGI was never going to match that of ‘A Monster Calls’, which features similar themes and is being heavily compared against in other reviews, Walters cleverly uses the scenery and weather to conceal some of the giants flaws. That being said, the story at hand is much bigger than the giants and the mid-quality CGI was a non issue for me because I was much more focused on Barbara throughout the whole thing.

The cinematography really captures the theme of this film, with the surroundings often being bleak and uninviting, but Barbara and Sophia inject a lot of colour into each scene in the form of their clothing. The scenes that take place inside the school and forest in particular are some of my favourite shots because they’re a great representation of Barbara’s mindset at the time – for example there’s a particular scene where Barbara is scared and the whole school fades to black around her and you can really feel how isolated, alone, and scared she feels at that point in time.

‘I Kill Giants’ is available to download today and I would highly recommend you take some time this weekend to give it a shot. I think it’s a real shame this film never got a UK cinematic release, but at least no one will see your tears as Barbara’s story unfolds. As much as you may read about this film being compared to J. A. Bayona’s ‘A Monster Calls’ , I think both films stand firmly on their own merits and if you ever have a day you just want to let some tears out, here’s the perfect double bill for you!

Tom’s Rating: 8.5/10

We’re currently offering you the chance to win a free copy of this film over on our Twitter page!

The Rider & Lean on Pete

Year: 2018

WRITTEN BY FIONA UNDERHILL

Two films have come out in recent weeks that are portraits of young men in the American West, made by outsiders. Chloé Zhao is from China and this is now the second film she has made examining life on Native American reservations. Andrew Haigh is from the North of England and this is something of a departure for him, as he is best known for ‘Weekend’ and ‘Looking’, which both follow the gay community. Both of these films feature horses prominently and this made me fearful to watch them. I don’t deal with animal peril well in films and get very emotionally invested in horses on film. However, I am mostly glad that I overcame this hurdle and gave these two films a chance. The scenery and locations are stunning and really need to be seen on a big screen, if you have the opportunity to do so.

Chloé Zhao has a unique way of working; she found the location and the community that she wanted to work with first and the story and characters arose from this. ‘The Rider’ treads a fine line between documentary and fiction; it is perhaps closest to ‘constructed reality television’, in that the ‘characters’ and scenarios are real, but they have been given dialogue. The 19-year-old protagonist Brady really did have a bad accident in the rodeo and was really recovering as Zhao filmed him. His real father and sister play his father and sister in the film and the ‘acting’ is unusual because of this.

‘Lean on Pete’ is a more traditional narrative film, it follows a 16-year-old boy (Charlie Plummer) who has moved around the country with his single father a lot and has wound up in Oregon. He gets a summer job working with racehorse owner/trainer Del (Steve Buscemi) and forms an attachment to Lean on Pete – an old, tired horse who is on his way out. The always-wonderful Chloë Sevigny plays a jockey who has to remind Charlie that the horses are there to do a job and earn money, they are not pets. Charlie makes the decision to steal Pete and attempts to take him to Wyoming to be reunited with his Aunt.

‘The Rider’ very much focuses on the devastating after-effects of rodeo riding. Not just with the main character, Brady (who has a serious skull injury) but also his best friend Lane, who has suffered brain damage. The allure of the horses and the rodeo is palpable because they are beautifully shot and the appeal to the young people who live on the isolated South Dakota reservation is clear. The risks are great but the rewards can also be big, not just financially, but as a means of escape. Brady has a gift for working with animals, particularly training wild horses, yet to be broken in. ‘The Rider’ is a soulful examination of masculinity and how these young men are defined by their physical prowess. When that is under threat, the devastation is clear.

‘Lean on Pete’ very much has a three-act structure and for me, the first act (with Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny) is by far the most successful. The middle section, which follows Charlie and Pete wondering the landscape is beautiful but a little cringe-worthy in places as Charlie treats Pete as a confidante. Then something takes place that I found hard to recover from and Charlie meets Silver (Steve Zahn), a fellow homeless man. I like Zahn in general, but his acting style feels out-of-step with the rest of the film. The film gets more ridiculous, plot-wise towards the end and I didn’t like it as much as the start. Charlie Plummer, however, gives an incredible performance and I’m excited to see what he does next.

What Chloé Zhao has achieved with ‘The Rider’ is a stunning feat and I cannot wait to see where she will go with her career next. Her gonzo style of film-making is so interesting and unique, I would like to see her turn her lens onto different communities and see what she draws out of them.  ‘Lean on Pete’ was, for me, a much more sensitive portrayal of the American West by an outsider than ‘Three Billboards’ (which was offensively disastrous, for me). Again, I’m very interested to see where Haigh goes in his career next. If you are able to catch either of these films on the big screen still, you should absolutely take the chance to see the stunning American landscape portrayed by two extremely talented filmmakers.

FIONA’S RATING FOR ‘THE RIDER’: 9.0/10
FIONA’S RATING FOR ‘LEAN ON PETE’: 7.0/10

Journeyman

Year: 2017
Directed by: Paddy Considine
Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Anthony Welsh, Paul Popplewell

Written by Dave Curtis

Paddy Considine’s first film ‘Tyrannosaur’ was not only a great debut as a director but it was also a stunning piece of film. Released in 2011 to a shower of praise from critics, it proved that Considine was a true talent in front of and behind the camera. It has taken nearly 8 years for his second film ‘Journeyman’ to reach the screen. So how does it fair up to his stunning debut? Directors second films are notoriously difficult to get right.

Paddy Considine this time writes, directs and stars in this gritty boxing drama. Considine plays Matty Burton; a veteran middleweight boxing champion who in a championship fight suffers a serious head injury which affects not only him, but those closest to him. Jodie Whittaker plays Matty’s loving wife and rock Emma.  This isn’t your average boxing flick, this is no Rocky 4 or 5. The fighting in  ‘Journeyman’ is not done inside the ring but outside of it. This isn’t an underdog tale or redemption story, which is truly refreshing. This is a story about going to the darkest place physically and mentally and then the journey back to recovery. 

The gift that Paddy has as director is that you can feel his passion for filmmaking and the subject of boxing. You can tell that he has a love for the sport and the boxing community. The injury that Matty endures is never laid at the feet of the sport. Rightly or wrongly his injury is just paved over as a terrible event. As a director who is still reasonably new to his craft; Paddy Considine has kept this a pretty simple looking picture. It feels unfair to compare ‘Journeyman’ to his first film ‘Tyrannosaur’ but every director gets compared to his last piece of work. It’s clear that he is a very talented director whose future work will be interesting to watch. But this could easily have been made for TV, like a really good ITV drama which would win loads of awards. It’s a shame that it just doesn’t feel very cinematic because the performances all round are outstanding and the script is nearly flawless.

Strong casting is the selling point to ‘Journeyman’. Both Paddy Considine and Jodie Whittaker put in stellar performances. Great chemistry goes a long way and both these leads carry the film. Paddy Considine has seriously been underrated on these shores and in Hollywood for far too long, he should have been given a role like this year ago. Maybe that’s why he wrote the part for himself. Considine is believable as an aging boxer and he does a descent job playing a character with serious head injuries. In the wrong hands it could have gone very wrong.

Jodie Whittaker’s stock continues to rise. Here she carries the film. As Matty’s wife Emma, she plays the role with so much heart, the viewer feels exactly what you should be feeling. Her life has been turned upside down and it’s down to her performance that grounds the whole film. The tears and sadness seem so real, my tears definitely were. For ‘Doctor Who’ fans it’s very exciting to see such a great actress about to play such an important and iconic TV character.

‘Journeyman’ gives a punch right to your gut. A film that will take you to the darkest areas of your mind but leaves you with hope and love. Considine and Whittaker’s strong performances are reminders that we have some great talent in British cinema. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 8 years to get Paddy Considine behind a camera again. That would be a shame.

Dave’s Rating: 7.0/10