LFF 2018: A Private War (2018)

Directed by: Matthew Heineman
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Faye Marsay, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander
UK Release Date: N/A

Written by Dave Curtis

War, what is it good for? after watching documentary filmmaker Mathew Heineman’s narrative debut the answer is clearly absolutely nothing. A Private War is a biopic which follows war correspondent Marie Colvin through her stellar career.

The true horrors of war are never an easy thing to see and war reporter Marie Colvin had been to them all in the last 20 years or so. She dared to go where others wouldn’t (Iraq, Libera and Syria). Rosamund Pike plays Colvin the award-winning journalist who it seems is more at home on the front line and in danger than when she is at home in London. She is not a likeable person, she struggles in social occasions and only seems to find peace when her life is in danger.

The film begins with an overhead shot of Homs (Syria) in 2012. It is completely destroyed, buildings are barely standing and there aren’t any signs of any life. A voiceover of Colvin can be heard being interviewed on why she does what she does. It quickly backtracks to earlier parts of her career. The film sets off re-playing key points in her life that will eventually lead to that fateful day in Homs.

We have seen films like this before but what sets A Private War apart is that this is so recent. This isn’t years and years ago. This is a conflict that is still happening.  There is no turning away and not showing what is actually happening in Syria, it dares to be truthful (much like Colvin). Strong images of dead bodies of adult and children are offered held for an uncomfortable long time. Heineman isn’t doing this by mistake, he wants you to see it, he wants to put you on the front line with Colvin, to see what she saw, experience what she went through.

Rosamund Pike really does capture the spirt and voice of Marie Colvin. This may be her best performance. It is definitely her best turn since Gone Girl. It is frustrating to watch her slip further and further into depression and PTSD. Marie is not really a likeable character, so being invested in her story can solely be attributed to Pike’s performance

There is also strong support from the rest of the cast. Tom Hollander is Sean Ryan her editor at the London’s Sunday Times. His overly caring but really pushy act is well balanced. He wants the stories, but it is really worth putting Marie in those situations? By the end, you can see the torment all over his face. Jamie Dornan’s plays Paul Convoy Marie’s trusted photographer who will follow her anywhere. Dornan’s Liverpudlian accent is just about passable. In some scenes, it just disappears completely. Stanley Tucci also has a small role but he pretty much plays himself (which isn’t a bad thing).

A Private War really lands when it eventually gets to Syria and the final 40 minutes is as tense and dramatic as anything that has been seen this year. The first hour, on the other hand, is a little clumsy. It bounces around from past to present and then back again in an uneasy fashion. It just needed to be a little smoother. It does get a little confusing which doesn’t help when you are just to connect to characters and the storyline.

When A Private War focuses on Marie Colvin covering at the front it really does deliver, but it is when she back in the UK and dealing with her inner demons that the film really struggles. Thankfully, Pike puts in a barnstorming performance which could attract some buzz when it comes to award season. A biopic on a war reporter may not appeal to many but it is worth seeing for Pike alone.

Dave’s Verdict

3

LFF 2018: Stan & Ollie

Directed by: Jon S. Bird
Cast: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones

Written by Dave Curtis

Back in 1937 Laurel and Hardy were at the peak of their powers but their friendship was starting to creek. Strangely Stan Laurel was out of contact with the studio. He wanted a new and better deal. Oliver Hardy was still under contract and seemed to be happy with his current deal. With the pair at loggerheads it seems they had a dodgy working relationship. Stan & Ollie picks up 16 years later in 1953 where the comedy legends are touring the UK, trying to sort out their differences. They are now dealing with health issues, years of pent up anger and the decline in the size of their audiences. Can they mend their broken friendship, find the old magic and possibly make a new feature film, a Robin Hood parody, Robin ‘Em Good.

Steve Coogan plays Stan Laurel and John C Reilly is Oliver Hardy. Both actors’ careers are known for being funny but both are also to known for there more serious work. Reilly, in particular, has forged a successful career bouncing between the two. Here they are cast to perfection, both capturing the spirit and look of the famous duo. Coogan as Laurel is the businessman of the pair. He writes the scripts and comes up with new sketches. He always wants to be on show. Reilly’s Hardy is more concerned with his life and his wife, he is happy for Laurel to look after the other side of the work.

It is hard to separate the two leads. Coogan and Reilly share chemistry which is hard to fake. It is believable that they have been friends for years. They share good times and they share bad times. You are with them every step of the way. Coogan’s slender build helps mirror Stan Laurel’s persona. John C. Reilly also inhabits Oliver Hardy. He does have some help with decent prosthetics, especially in the later years. At first, it is a little jarring but he builds such a rounded character any concerns are quickly forgotten.

The supporting cast are also excellent. Rufus Jones as British producer Bernard Delfort is excellent value. He does get a lot of the of the best lines. Luckily, Stan and Ollie aren’t the only double on show. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda almost steal the movie from under everyone. As Delfont says at one point ‘Two double acts for the price of one’. Henderson and Arianda are the famous duo’s wives, Lucille and Ida. The pair turns up midway through and really inject a much-needed boost just at the point when the movie starts flagging.

Director John S. Baird wrings every last drop out of Bill Pope script (he also wrote Philomena with Coogan). This isn’t a film full of jokes. What it does have are funny situations performed by a strong cast. It has nods to their earlier career. A scene where they are dragging a giant truck up a flight of stairs is classic Laurel and Hardy.

Stan & Ollie is tender and funny. It captures real moments of heart, It is a little cheesy in places but the strong cast keeps the film interesting. The film is a great way to introduce a younger audience to real comic geniuses.

Dave’s Verdict

4

LFF 2018: The Old Man and The Gun

Year: 2018
Directed by: David Lowery
Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover

Written by Sarah Buddery

A legend of cinema since the mid-1960s, Robert Redford has certainly had an illustrious career. Now some 50+ films later, Redford tips a cap to his own career and gracefully retires from acting in the delightful throwback film The Old Man and The Gun.

The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” could certainly be applied to Redford himself, and it is that mentality that also applies to this film. It harkens back to the capers of yesteryear, and there is an old-world charm to it that makes it the perfect swansong for Redford. With Director David Lowery at the helm, it is evident that there is love, and a real passion for the craft of filmmaking behind this film, as well as an appreciation for the lead actor.

There is a grainy authenticity to the film, and were it not for the now older appearance of Robert Redford, it could quite easily have passed for a film made much earlier in his career! The Old Man and The Gun is endlessly charming, and the care for the making of the film and the story itself permeates throughout.

From the grain of the film and the jaunty soundtrack, everything about The Old Man and The Gun is meticulously put together, and it makes for an incredibly enjoyable watch. There’s something incredibly comforting about it; in fact, it is almost like the film equivalent of curling up in front of a fire with your cosiest slippers on.

There’s a beautiful sense of melancholy to the film as well, with Robert Redford’s Forrest Tucker refusing to put his heist days behind him, but yet also accepting that his age can sometimes be a hindrance. It is also in the scenes with Sissy Spacek’s Jewel, that this film truly sparkles (pun intended!) and they have a delightful and warming on-screen chemistry. It’s refreshing to see an onscreen relationship that features an older couple, who are simply just happy to be in each other’s company. There is the sense that they are truly kindred spirits despite their huge differences and there is something about this which just makes it lovely to watch.

The Old Man and The Gun succeeds in being both an enjoyable throwback caper, as well as a great vehicle for Robert Redford at this reported final stage in his career. It is comforting, delightful, charming and endlessly endearing. Mr. Redford, the world of film will miss you!

Sarah’s Verdict:

4-5

LFF 2018: Outlaw King

Year: 2018
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Starring: Florence Pugh, Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tony Curran

Written by Dave Curtis

I was once told if you go into a film expecting the worst, you will never leave disappointed. There is some truth in that. Early talk on Outlaw King suggested that it is the film that Chris Pine gets his cock out. Well, that is true. He does go full frontal (only for a fleeting moment), but it is only fair that he does.  Florence Pugh and several other actresses have to show some skin, he is doing his bit for equality between the sexes. Surely you can’t expect everyone to get naked apart from him? Luckily Outlaw King is relying on more than a bit of nudity to be remembered.

The film reunites director David Mackenzie with star Chris Pine (after Hell or High Water) alongside Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Florence Pugh. It is a violent and unflinching portrayal of a bloody tale in history. It is filmed in Scotland which provides a gorgeous backdrop. Scotland really is quite pretty.

Outlaw King is based on historical events (or so it says) of Robert the Bruce, a nobleman who was defeated by the English who was eventually crowned King of Scotland. Just imagine a sequel to Braveheart and this is it. Outlaw/King (the actual name) starts with Robert kneeling to King Edward Ⅰ of England. As a proud Scottish nobleman, he struggles with this especially when the King raises taxes and starts to attack the common folk.

Chris Pine sports a spectacular mullet as Robert Bruce. His accent is very subtle, in fact he barely talks at all. It is a brave decision to cast a non-Scottish actor as one of Scotland’s most famous folk heroes. He looks like he has bulked up (either that or everyone else is really small). Pine carries himself well. He fights, he makes love, he plays with his child and he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. He is the ideal man.

Florence Pugh has a bit of a thankless task. She has such strong chemistry with Chris Pine and it is such a shame when she is literally hung out to dry. She plays Elizabeth De Burgh, Robert’s recent wife. This is a very macho picture, not a lot for a female character to do. It’s all men with swords hacking each other down. The little material Pugh’s character has is performed to the best of her ability.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is one of Robert Bruce’s right-hand men. As James Douglas, he transforms himself to such a degree that he is almost unrecognisable. His accent is flawed but he definitely is committed to the part. His performance is like a guy on a night out who had one too many drinks and taken too many drugs. He is off his head, wide eyes and wired who just wants to dance all night long. It is very entertaining.

The real selling point to Outlaw King are the battle scenes. Its been a while since we seen fights and battles on this scale (and remain entertaining). A fight at night lit mainly with flaming arrows and huge fires show that David Mackenzie has an eye for the dramatic. The costume design is also convincing, from the armor to Florence Pugh’s outfits.

Whereas with Braveheart which had a runtime of nearly 3-hours, Outlaw King is just under 2. Mackenzie cut 20 minutes from it after the premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. This helps with the pacing and makes the film zip along at an entertaining rate. Sure this isn’t anything new but it keeps you interested in the characters and plot.

There are some concerns that this being a Netflix title, it may mean it won’t translate to the small screen. The battle scenes are made to be seen on the big screen. A lot of the shots are so tight that some of the details will get lost in all the chaos and mud.

Surprisingly, Outlaw King is worth the time. The big sweeping bloody and violent battle scenes paired with gorgeous scenery of Scotland and the convincing costume design makes quite a spectacle. This won’t bring any new fans to the genre but it will keep the die-hard fans happy. If you like your big battle scenes then Outlaw King will scratch that itch.

DAVE’S VERDICT:

3-5

 

LFF 2018: Shadow

Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Chao Deng, Li Sun, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang

Written by Sarah Buddery

Known for his gorgeous visual storytelling, legendary director Zhang Yimou is back with his follow-up to the disappointing (albeit aesthetically beautiful) The Great Wall (2016), and thankfully back in more familiar territory now with Chinese-language film Shadow.

More akin to his most well-known films Hero and House of Flying Daggers as opposed to the aforementioned blockbuster, Shadow is a story steeped in mysterious Chinese history that sees the director return to his legendary best.

The ‘Shadow’ of the title refers to the mantle given to those who would impersonate and fight in the place of Chinese nobility and Commanders when they were unable to do so themselves. The film focuses on one such ‘Shadow’, Jing (Chao Deng), who pretends to be Commander Yu (also played by Deng), and his journey to reclaim their homeland.

What ensues is a visual feast for the eyes, Yimou choosing a striking monochrome colour-palette for his film, based on the tai chi symbol; commonly known as the yin and yang. Not only does this symbol provide the visual framework but it also forms part of the narrative device, and that helps this film to feel truly unique.

It is a little slow in the beginning, but much care is taken to establish the delicate political imbalances, and there’s some early moments of high tension as those around him start to suspect that the ‘Commander’ is an imposter. Of course, we know he is, but the majority of the characters don’t, and this makes for a tense and unsettling atmosphere way before the bloodshed.

When the violence does come, boy does it come, and Yimou shoots the beautifully choreographed fight scenes masterfully. The muted colour palette means the flashes of red blood are dramatic and impactful, making Shadow one of the most exquisitely brutal films you will see all year.

There’s some truly spectacular moments, as one would expect with a Yimou film, and this ensures that despite the predictability of the film’s plot, that it still stays with you afterwards. This film is truly striking from a visual standpoint, and narratively speaking it is one of the more accessible of Zhang Yimou’s films. Shadow marks a triumphant return to form for the Chinese director and is easily able to stand alongside his previous notable works.

Sarah’s Verdict:

4

LFF 2018: The Favourite

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Emma Delves

UK Release Date: January 1st, 2019

Written by Sarah Buddery

It takes a special kind of director to have already forged such a unique visual style and creative method of storytelling, with relatively few major features under his belt. But Yorgos Lanthimos is one such director and one who has undeniably earned that often used mantle of “visionary” director.

Seconds into a Lanthimos film, you know who the director is, and you also know you’re in for a wild time. His films tend to divide opinion, but it is fair to say that The Favourite is his most accessible film to date. Hopefully, this then opens up the doors into the rest of his filmography and new people can discover the diversity in his films that lies behind it!

The Favourite focuses on three female characters; the petulant Queen Anne (Colman), her devoted friend Lady Sarah (Weisz), and the new servant Abigail (Stone). What follows is a riotous period romp as Lady Sarah and Abigail fight for the Queen’s attention. The Favourite is a film that veers wildly between the grotesque and the sublime, and Lanthimos’ trademark offbeat and jet-black comedy runs right through it.

Lanthimos’ equally unique visual stamp is all over this movie. There are moments of precise Kubrickian symmetry in some of the tracking shots, and it’s full of weird angles, whip-pans and fisheye lenses. The Favourite is a decadent and sumptuous feast for the eyes. This is a playful film, one that toys with you, and also one that feels indulgent, whimsical, and wild. Fans of this director will know what to expect, and The Favourite absolutely does not disappoint in this sense.

It’s possibly the highest possible compliment you could pay, given her career so far, but this is possibly the best performance of Olivia Colman’s career. She is clearly having tremendous fun with the role, but she has a remarkable knack for making the Queen consistently likeable, even in the most outrageous moments. It’s a committed and tremendously physical role for her as well, and she absolutely astounds. Equally, Weisz and Stone give terrific performances and the three of them together have a chemistry that simply lights up the screen.

Where previously his film’s have proved divisive, The Favourite may just be the film that changes people’s minds on Yorgos Lanthimos. Its exceptional A-List cast might be the major draw for some people, but The Favourite has so much more to offer beyond that. Wickedly funny and delectably dark, this is Lanthimos’ strongest film of his career, and one of the best films of the year. Go on, indulge yourselves!

Sarah’s Verdict:

5

LFF 2018: They Shall Not Grow Old

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Written by Sarah Buddery

Back in 2001, director Peter Jackson made huge technological advancements with his groundbreaking fantasy trilogy Lord of the Rings. Similarly, his latest film, WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, breaks new ground from a technical aspect, albeit with a very different subject matter.

Fusing previously unseen archive footage from the Imperial War Museum, and interviews recorded by the BBC and IWM, Jackson has lovingly restored and colourised footage of the Great War to present a vivid, immersive and enthralling documentary, unlike anything you will have seen before.

Marking the centenary of the end of the conflict, this film is also a personal passion project for Jackson, dedicated to the memory of his Grandfather, one of the many who perished during World War I. Narrated by the real voices of those who fought in the war, and through technological wizardry, the flickering black and white images are presented in vivid yet grim technicolour to give an honest and unflinching take on life in the trenches. Working with lip-readers, Jackson has also provided voice and sound to the silent footage, and the result is simply breathtaking.

Beyond its unquestionable achievements in film and technology, They Shall Not Grow Old succeeds in bringing to life the stories which run the risk of being forgotten. The ghostly apparitions of the soldiers on screen, the narration of those who lived through it, and the grisly tales of lice, rats, trench foot and death combine to present a “warts and all” telling of history. This film feels important, yet has no sense of self-importance or condescension. The soldier’s accounts are honest, surprising in many ways, and there is the hope that this film will be viewed for many years to come so that their memory lives on.

The film feels vast in scope, yet also candid and intimate. It covers wide ground right from the outbreak of war, recruitment and training, through to Armistice Day, yet it also maintains the deeply personal stories and accounts from the real people who lived through it. It certainly doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war as well and there are some grisly images expertly juxtaposed with the smiling faces of the soldiers. The effect is undeniably harrowing.

Perhaps one of the most harrowing moments occurs towards the end, however, and it is when the soldiers describe what it was like to return home. Many felt relief, but few felt victorious, and indeed the majority felt that their life no longer had purpose now the war was over. It is a sobering and sombre moment and its moments like this that might just change your perspective as the war is remembered going forward.

They Shall Not Grow Old is a triumph of documentary filmmaking, an entirely unique experience and a fitting tribute to the men who served; both the ones who returned and the ones who sadly did not. In the words of the poem by Robert Laurence Binyon from which the film takes its title, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”.

Sarah’s Verdict:

5

LFF 2018: Suspiria (2018)

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick, Chloë Grace Moretz

UK Release Date: November 16th, 2018

Written by Dave Curtis

For a person that had never seen Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic (or so I’m told) Suspiria, a viewing of the remake at the London Film Festival seemed like a good idea. I decided not to watch the original beforehand. I didn’t want to compare it. I wanted to see it with fresh eyes.

Right from the start I just want to say this is a film that will divide opinion. Its one of those you are going to love or hate!

Director Luca Guadagnino is a man with vision, that is very clear. He is also a man who has his own ideas. Suspira is achievement of sorts. It has a slow build up and then goes hell for leather in its final act. It’s able to be shocking and tedious all at the same time.  Gone are the flashing red lights that everyone was expecting from the original. Suspiria 2018 uses colours from the darker end of the spectrum. There are some splashes of colour, Dakota Johnson’s red hair sticks out making her the stand out from the crowd and the rest of the dance troupe.

Johnson takes on the role of Susan Bannion a talented dancer who is auditioning in Berlin (a city she is drawn to) at a famous dance company. The company is led by Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc. She impresses at her audition and is invited to join. She is even given a room rent free above the rehearsal studio because Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) another dancer has disappeared (they are told she has quit). Patricia has been visiting a psychoanalyst in the name of Dr Klemperer. He has concerns that the dance school is hiding something.

I can’t work out what to make of Johnson’s performance. It borders on the edge of greatness, but every time she does some heavy breathing (and there is a lot of that) I’m taken back to her awful performances from the 50-shade trilogy. I try to remember that this is the same actress from Guadagnino’s ‘A Bigger Splash’.  Her use of her body through dance is great. It is clear she is a very talented dancer. Tilda Swinton is as strong as you could imagine, brimming with confidence in every role she inhabits. The support cast are also good. Mia Goth performance is her strongest and Chloe Grace Moretz gives the film a strong opening which the whole film is built on.

The film does have a growing sense that everything is just not right. Over the two hours and 30 minutes (an hour longer than the original), everything is made to unsettle and unnerve you. From the sound effects to the music, it a makes an uneasy feeling. It also seems to never stop raining!

This isn’t a convention horror, there are no jump scares. It depends heavily on the mood and the atmosphere through the use of sound effects, cinematography and the music (Thom Yorke’s first film score). A dance routine paired with a horrible attack on one of the students is Suspiria at its best. It is bone-crunching and eerily beautiful at the same time, an odd mixture for any film to get right. The hardcore third act does rack up the stakes and the gore. Maybe, in this case, less would have been more. It all gets a bit OTT.

Honestly, I was expecting something a little bit out there and trippy. The overly long runtime really does weigh down the film. Technically Suspiria is a spectacle but overall it just lacks that degree of awe from a story that had so much promise. Will it stand the test of time like the original,? Only time will tell. All I know is that I’m still not sure if I liked it. It stays with you, constantly at the back of your mind. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Dave’s Verdict:

2-5

LFF 2018: Wild Rose

Year: 2018
Directed by: Tom Harper
Starring: Julie Walters, Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo

Written by Sarah Buddery

With A Star is Born tearing up the box office and its sights set on the big awards, Wild Rose is in many ways the UK’s answer to the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga fronted film. Very much an underdog movie in more ways than one, Wild Rose’s story may be familiar – a small-town girl with big dreams – and whilst it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the aforementioned crowd-pleaser, it is a wondrous little film that deserves far more attention than it will likely get.

Rose-Lynn (Buckley) is a feisty Glaswegian single mum who, after her release from prison, takes up a cleaning job whilst dreaming of flying to Nashville and pursuing her dreams of being a Country singer. The juxtaposition of the gloomy Glasgow skies and the “bright lights” of Nashville perfectly represent the pull between her role as a mother, and her chance to do what she loves across the pond.

What is so wonderful about Wild Rose is that Rose-Lynn’s dreams are small, she doesn’t necessarily want mega-stardom, and in fact her dreams only really span as far as getting to Nashville and there is something so charming about this. She is also someone prepared to work hard to achieve her dream, and even when the shortcuts to success present themselves to her, she approaches things with a certain degree of humility. Country music for her is her passion, her life, her reason for existing, and she simply wants nothing more than to go to the place that birthed the genre of music she treasures.

In similar stories, a character like Rose-Lynn would run the risk of seeming shallow or one-note, but she is also a person who behaves rather selfishly at times, particularly when it comes to bringing up her children. This means we as the audience feel equally torn between her two lives, much as she does herself. Julie Walters, as Rose-Lynn’s mother, provides the voice of reason in many ways, and the grounding of the character in her home-town. Watching their relationship play out is so beautiful, and the final payoff feels well-earned. There is real earnestness to these characters; they feel fleshed out and genuine, and the excellent performances are to thank for this.

Jessie Buckley as Rose-Lynn is simply revelatory. Her big voice and commanding presence seem to come out of nowhere but yet are also totally believable; her talent coming as naturally to her as breathing. She is head-to-toe “country”, but rather than appearing as if a caricature, there is an innocent quality to her that makes her so endearing. Buckley toes that line between brash and humble so beautifully, and we as the audience feel fully invested in her from the moment the film starts. Julie Walters is an absolute treasure, and as the dependable matriarch, she carries much of the film’s weight and emotion.

Wild Rose is a rapturous, crowd-pleaser of a film with toe-tapping songs and a star-making performance from Jessie Buckley, supported by the always dependable Walters. It might be a little cheesy and predictable in places, but it is a pure and spirited film that will make your heart soar and encourage you to always dream big. A truly underrated musical gem of a movie.

SARAH’S VERDICT:

4