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

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LFF 2018: Green Book

Year: 2018
Directed by: Peter Farrelly
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini, Mahershala Ali

Written by Sarah Buddery

To the surprise of everyone (who was able to avoid social media at least!) the surprise film at London Film Festival this year was Green Book; the Peter Farrelly (Yes, a Farrelly brother) directed film based on the true story of musician Don Shirley.

With the leading roles played by two actors synonymous with awards success – Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen – those in the know were already expecting great things from this film, and to those who perhaps were less aware, this film did indeed turn out to be a surprise in more ways than one.

Anchored by two fantastic leading performances, Green Book is a heartfelt, charming, and endlessly watchable film about friendship, differences, race, music, and family. A possibly strange comparison to make but it comes across as a slightly higher calibre Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Ali and Mortensen having a natural “odd couple” friendship, and with the plot focused towards making it home in time for the Holidays evoking the spirit of the aforementioned 1987 comedy classic.

What Green Book has that gives it the edge, however, is much greater thematic richness, and whilst on the surface level it is an odd couple-road movie, the issues of race and identity are also explored in beautiful ways. Don Shirley (Ali) is an enigmatic character, but behind the outward displays of wealth is a man whose music is considered “too white” to those of his shared heritage, and the colour of his skin is something which still leads to him being openly discriminated against. The “green book” of the title refers to the guide that Mortensen’s driver to Shirley, Tony, is handed, which provides guidance on appropriate hotels and restaurants that Shirley would be welcomed into.

Initially, Tony is seen as quite prejudiced and it is his journey throughout this film is an incredibly interesting one. Both characters in fact have arcs that are incredibly different, yet they tie so beautifully together in tandem, with a certain musicality that seems fitting for the subject matter. Tony is a tough guy, a family man, but also a man who fails to see a world much beyond his locale. Don, on the other hand, is well travelled, but also incredibly closed off to those around him. He gives off the air of someone who doesn’t want to open up to people and would much prefer to keep himself to himself.

Of course with a film like this there is some degree of predictability. We know the characters are going to see some growth and change throughout the course of the film, barriers will be broken down, and they’ll emerge on the other side as changed men. However, despite all of that, Green Book remains incredibly charming throughout. There is a bounce and an exuberance to the film, with a natural chemistry between the two leads. It really is impossible not to fall in love with this film.

Mahershala Ali, building on his incredible performance in Moonlight, gives probably the best performance of his career so far. There is such preciseness to his movements and facial expressions, and it takes a great deal of skill to make a character which initially seems so cold, to be instantly likeable. Viggo Mortensen is transformative in the role of Tony, fully embracing the brashness and larger than life persona of the character he is playing, and it is simply a joy to watch the two of them together.

Bolstered by incredible performances, wonderful chemistry, and thematic richness, Green Book is one of the best feel-good films you will see all year. It’ll warm your heart and help you to see the goodness and joy there is in the world. And frankly, that’s something we all need right now.

SARAH’S VERDICT:

4-5

LFF 2018: Roma

Year: 2018
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Nancy García García, Verónica García

Written by Sarah Buddery

‘Roma’ may just be Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece. A bold way to start any review, but ‘Roma’ is a bold film, and the praise being heaped upon it already is thoroughly deserved.

Cuarón’s love letter to his country and his childhood exhibits some of the most exquisite filmmaking from the Mexican director, and the decision to shoot in black and white results in some of the most beautiful shots in any film this year. Cuarón’s camera (he also did the cinematography) travels with the characters with beautiful fluidity, pausing delicately to provide an intimacy with them.

‘Roma’ is a film which transcends normal filmmaking. It is a film which more often than not, doesn’t even feel like you’re watching a film. It feels like watching a story unfold, a story that we are fully invested and involved in. Everything about ‘Roma’ feels real and authentic. It feels like we the audience are not voyeurs on these characters and events, but instead of watching from the outside, we are totally involved and present. This makes the emotions so tangible and involving, that when it is all over you are left feeling totally breathless. ‘Roma’ is an out-of-body experience, and one which you will never want to end.

Seen through the eyes of Cleo (Aparicio), ‘Roma’ is the story of a time and a place, of change and politics, of the divide between rich and poor, and whilst it explores all of these things, it never strays away from Cleo. Because of this, the film remains above all else a testament to motherhood and strong women. In places it is uplifting, and in others it is devastating, but it is consistently authentic, honest, and powerful.

The sound design isn’t perhaps the first thing people pick out in a film, but the sound of ‘Roma’ is absolutely incredible. It feels so immersive and so real, the sounds of the city happening around us, voices and noises coming from all directions causing you to study every inch of the screen. It is hard to describe, but ‘Roma’ does really need to be heard to be believed.

Visually striking, aurally immersive and emotionally captivating, ‘Roma’ is undoubtedly one of the finest films of the year and arguably Cuarón’s best film. It is certainly his most personal film, and the labour of love that this film represents permeates through every single frame. With exceptional performances, beautiful imagery, and the finest sound design in recent years, ‘Roma’ isn’t just a film which deserves to be seen on the big screen, it is one which deserves to be heard on the big screen. It bears repeating: ‘Roma’ is a masterpiece.

SARAH’S VERDICT:

5

LFF 2018: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Year: 2018
Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson,

Written by Dave Curtis

Have you ever wondered how many ideas rattle around the inside of Joel and Ethan Coens head? The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the end product of some of those ideas they could no longer contain. This Netiflx produced film has every thing you love and hate from the brothers, fantastic characters, a host of famous names, snappy smart dialogue, beautiful cinematography and strong bloody violence.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology of short stories set in the old west. It was once destined for the small screen as a TV series but luckily it has been given the big screen treatment, the landscapes alone deserved it. The film starts with a shot of a book, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. A hand appears and turns the front cover to reveal the first chapter which is accompanied by a carefully drawn picture from the upcoming story. With it is a small section of dialogue, teasing what is about to happen. This happens every time a story ends and a new chapter begins.

First up is Buster Scruggs himself, played by Coen Brothers regular Tim Blake Nelson. First seen riding his horse (named Dan) playing a guitar and singing at the top of his voice. He might come across as fun time cowboy but really he is a crack shot, deadly as he is polite. This chapter is classic Coen Bros. Funny and violent. A full film of just Buster Scruggs would have been all we needed. It is a fun and blistering first 30 minutes, if only The Ballad of Buster Scruggs could maintain that level.

James Franco as a bumbling bank robber in the second short story gets the best line and biggest laugh in the whole film. Over the next few short stories there are a collection of more serious and darker tales. Don’t worry the usual humour is sprinkled about. There is Liam Neeson as a travelling entertainer of sorts. Tom Waits searching for gold. Zoe Karzan who joins a wagon train to search for a new life in Oregon. Brendan Gleeson (sorry no beard) and others in stagecoach journey. In all this the movie takes a slight dip. Each story is different in appearance and tone. The transition between story could have been worked out better. Maybe using a reoccurring character or location would have smoothed it out (but what do I know, the Coen Brothers are masters and definitely know better than me). Apparently this is the longest film the two brothers have made and in some places it does feel that way.

If its one thing that the Coen Brothers do well is Westerns and stunning landscapes. Cinematographer Bruno Delhonnel here working with Joel and Ethan for the second time (The first being ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’) captures the mood and feel for each little story perfectly.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs may not be the Coen Brothers best film, but a bad film for them is still better than most films released today. The problem is when it’s good it is really good and that reflects on some on the slower stories. A strong start and beautiful cinematography enriched by a score by Carter Burwell tides this film together. The cast are just the icing that brings it all together. Tim Blake Nelson is the films VIP.

 

Dave’s Verdict:

3-5

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

4

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.

DAVE’S RATING:

4

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

4

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.

SARAH’S RATING:

4

LFF 2018: After The Screaming Stops

Year: 2018
Directed by: Joe Pearlman, David Soutar
Genre: Documentary

Written by Dave Curtis

From what I remember when I was a young boy, “Bros” were the biggest band in the UK. They were always on ‘Going Live‘ with Phillip Schofield and Sarah Green on a Saturday morning. Sadly I only recall one of their songs; ‘When Will I Be Famous?’ (I’ve been told they did have other hits). It turns out the band spilt up and haven’t performed together for over a quarter of a century. Originally the band consisted of 3 members: Matt Goss, Luke Goss (twin brothers) and Craig Logan, who quit the band in 1987. So in 2016, the two brothers announced they would be playing a date at the O2 in 2017. One problem – the brothers aren’t really on talking terms and don’t exactly see eye to eye.

After the Screaming Stops‘ picks up with Matt and Luke in the run-up to the big reunion gig. Matt Goss is now having a very successful career as a Frank Sinatra type singer in Las Vegas and Luke Goss is now a Hollywood actor. You may have seen him in Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Blade 2‘ and ‘Hellboy 2‘. Each brother is now living their own life. The documentary follows the brothers as they try and rehearse for the reunion show. It’s fair to say that it doesn’t go as smoothly as planned.

Having little to no knowledge of Bros doesn’t dampen the enjoyment for this rather surprising documentary. It is definitely a film of two halves which play very differently.  The first half an hour or so is more like a real-life mixture of ‘Spinal Tap’, ‘Alan Partridge‘ and David Brent from ‘The Office’. Matt Goss comes out with some truly memorable quotes which I think are unintentionally funny. Sometimes the laughing seems cruel but it is unavoidable. It seems he is trying to play up to the camera, after all, he is the frontman. The second half gets a lot more serious. Finally the two brothers are in the same room and years of pent-up anger and jealousy spills out in front of the camera. There are huge arguments which come close to punch-ups, but there are also sweet, tender and heartbreaking moments.

It is clear that the brothers love each other but with years of built-up emotions it was never going to be smooth sailing. What’s great about ‘ATSS’ is that the camera never shies away from anything. It’s all caught on camera. It could have been heavily cut. Props should be given to the filmmakers Joe Pearlman and David Soutar for that but it should also be given to Matt and Luke Goss. It is a brave thing letting the world see you like this and they come off the better for it. In the end you can’t help but root for them.

If you are a Brosette then you will come out smiling but luckily for everyone else, there is a lot to get out of this. It’s not so about the music itself but the relationship of the two brothers and luckily that is enough.

DAVE’S RATING:

3