Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Andrea Arnold
Stars: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBoeuf, Riley Keough
LFF screenings 8th and 11th October 2016
Released 14th October 2016
The long – and sometimes winding – tradition of the road movie gets a revival at this year’s London Film Festival in the shape of Andrea Arnold’s Cannes Jury Prize winner, ‘American Honey’. And there’s an early flavour of what to expect when two of the main characters look significantly into each other’s eyes. To the soundtrack of “We Found Love In A Hopeless Place” at a Walmart checkout.
They’re teenager Star (Sasha Lane) and Jake (Shia LaBoeuf), one of a crew of young people selling magazines door to door. She’s walked out on her partner, left her little brother and sister with their less than maternal mother in the hope of joining the gang. She gets the job and it takes her on a journey that covers mile upon mile of open road between major cities, where she learns more about herself and life in general.
In itself, the idea of a road movie is hardly breaking new ground. Over the years, they’ve developed traditions all of their own: drink, drugs, sex, stolen cars, swimming pools, gullible wealthy people and more. And every single one of them is in this film, although so much emphasis is placed on drink and drugs that it’s repetitive to the point of monotony. It’s impossible to escape the feeling that we’ve been down this road before and more than once. And that’s because we have, except this time it’s the 21st century and it’s today’s kids. That, though, is where the difference between this and other road movies ends.
That’s not to say that the film is all bad. The camera work is a plus point, displaying director Andrea Arnold’s taste for strong images. There are plenty of them and, to give things a contemporary edge, she’s gone for a 4:3 ratio, giving us an almost square screen. The camera is almost always hand held, so the overall effect is of something shot on a mobile phone. That means energy and spontaneity. But ‘Tangerine’ did it first – and used real mobile phones.
And there’s some good performances going on. Newcomer Sasha Lane has the right mix of vulnerability and streetwise sass as Star. You can’t blame her for wanting to escape her boyfriend and she turns out to be smarter and more resilient than she initially appears. The other performance worth watching is Riley Keough as the crew’s boss, Krystal, who has just one thing on her mind. Money. There’s something of the porn star about her and, as far as Star is concerned, she’s also her number one rival for Jake’s attention. Theirs is a tetchy relationship.
But here’s the sting in the tail. The film is just 20 minutes short of three hours and, if the rest of it was as good as the cinematography and the acting, it wouldn’t be a problem. But it doesn’t come close. It’s repetitive – selling magazines, raving it up at night, drink and drugs on the road, round and round again – and as tedious as Shia LaBoeuf’s silly plait, which looks like it was just clipped to the back of his head. Which it probably was.
It’s a massive disappointment, given Arnold’s reputation. We know she can do tough, edgy and impactful – but it’s all swept away under a mass of rambling tedium, bringing nothing new to the genre. This honey most certainly isn’t sweet.
DVD/Blu-ray Release – LFF 2016 Review: Free Fire
This article was originally published on 18th October 2016 following it’s showing at the 2016 London Film Festival
Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley
Released: 31st March 2017
Oh Ben Wheatley. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Down Terrace, Kill List. Sightseers and now, finally, Free Fire.
Shooting his films, his way is something Ben Wheatley does with uncompromising and unnerving consistency.
The frequency and quality of his output may be the envy of filmmakers and this crafty litter number feels like a conclusion to a series of high concept, lo-fi films (against standards similar films), which have all in their own way squeezed every drop of creativity from one of cinemas most creative minds.
The big names and crowd-pleasing aesthetic suggest his next film could be a world away from the smart and small gifts he keeps on giving.
Free Fire is in essence a highbrow cineaste’s worst nightmare, a film with little plot, character development or theoretical subtext. It is, instead 90 minutes of profane, violent, loud, lurid fun and the perfect way to end LFF 2016.
27 films in, most of the serious kind I had hoped to get a jolt to my senses with this film. It didn’t disappoint.
What little plot there is focuses on an arms deal in an abandoned Boston warehouse in the 70’s. We know it’s the 70’s from the music and font that greets the opening credits, and shortly after from the hair and costumes.
Justine (Brie Larson) brokers a deal between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer), who intend to sell them a stash of guns. When shots are fired during the handover, complete pandemonium ensues, with everyone at the scene suddenly thrust into a game of survival.
And that is literally that, but my word does Wheatley have fun with it.
The majority of the film is a shootout but Wheatley switches between that, dialogue, a few character beats and douses them in his signature dark humour and playfulness. His characters all get moments of action and wordplay; one liners zing past at the speed of a bullet.
Initially it is hard to figure out the geography of the space and where everyone is situated, but as the film takes a pause for breath it’s clear who, where and more importantly how everyone is.
This is a Friday night; crowd pleaser but serious critics may cite the lack of anything substantial and even a disinterest in the shootout.
I didn’t feel either. Maybe my fan boy liked the film more than most but as someone with experience of how complex a shoot with many moving parts can be, I appreciate Wheatley’s skill at stripping things down and more importantly getting them done.
It may not be the most serious film, but it’s seriously fun, you can see that in everyone’s performances. It’s the kind of film actors grow up secretly wishing they could do once. The shootout you play in your garden, in computer games or paintball.
Don’t think about it. Just enjoy it. Brilliant bang for your buck.
LFF 2016 Review: Prevenge
Director: Alice Lowe
Stars: Alice Lowe, Kate Dickie, Jo Hartley, Gemma Whelan
Not since Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Baby’s Day Out have I seen a baby taken center stage, cause as much mischief and deliver such acerbic dialogue as the baby in Prevenge.
And as it is seen mostly as a bump and heard as a creepy and cloying voice it is some feat to build a film around this almost phantom presence.
But it’s not entirely Phantom.
If that wasn’t enough to peak your interest, then I should probably mention this baby is a manipulative murderous mastermind.
Alice Lowe (Sightseers) has taken a look at the pregnancy handbook; decided it needed a new chapter and delivered an insane and insanely funny directorial debut.
Ruth is a heavily pregnant, recently widowed woman on a mission. Driven by the voice and orders of her unborn baby, she tracks down those she feels responsible for her partner’s death to exact a special kind of revenge.
The results are darkly comic, crazy; sometimes cringe worthy, controversial and even chilling.
This is a comedy that sometimes steps so far into the wrong it creates its own version of right, and you feel lucky to be watching something so twisted.
The humour is laid on in spades but there is a seriousness to the riffs on the idea of happiness, loneliness, love, lust and of course, motherhood.
All of these themes are weaved into an economical, efficient and engaging script that sets up its premise intriguingly and hurtles along with glee and gusto.
Blood is spilled but a truth and fearlessness from Lowe herself takes the film in directions you don’t expect.
It is the best kind of comedy, cutting and cynical but also charming and cute.
The hilarious murders are often bookended with a moment of truth; a reality check that reminds us there is more to it than blood and guffaws.
The real delight in watching the film is watching with the knowledge Lowe was pregnant at the time of filming. Her pregnancy was written into the script as a way of making the film in a limited time frame, before she gave birth and that sense of honesty, fearlessness and urgency simmer beneath the surface of her performance.
Shot beautifully by Ryan Eddleston, supported by an unnerving score, the film plays perfectly as a comedy, thriller and (at times) horror.
The murders Ruth commits follow some of the biggest laughs you’ll have in a cinema this year, but are played straight, brutal and bloody. Here we are reminded that Ruth is a woman on the edge, with a mission, and a taste for killing.
Prevenge is a fine addition to Lowe’s catalogue of complex comedic creations and she deserves plaudits for creating something so tight, lean and entertaining within such a short time frame (the shoot was 11 days).
I laughed as much as I winced. Squirmed as much as I spluttered, and had a lot of fun. Like the baby driving the plot Prevenge is a beautiful and twisted little gift
LFF 2016 Review: Nocturnal Animals
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams
Released: November 4th 2016
Tom Ford’s sophomore Directorial effort opens with the sight of an old naked woman dancing to a score reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, that wouldn’t look out of place in a perfume advert were it not for the woman being of the unconventional and dare say un-photogenic type.
It is a lurid and dazzling way to begin a film and it establishes a connection between satire and shock, which continues through this very enjoyable and watchable thriller.
The film is essentially two separate stories merged into one via Amy Adams character, a successful art dealer on the surface, but struggling financially and emotionally with her Husband.
Her idyllic life is shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband who she has not seen in years, which tells the story of a teacher who finds a trip with his family turning into a nightmare.
As Susan reads the book, she is engulfed by memories of their past and forced to examine hers and her own dark truths.
The fictional story becomes a film within a film and is the stronger of the two strands. Thrilling, slick, sinister and sad, it holds up as well as any of the (many) thrillers I have seen at LFF so far.
The cast in this strand is also exceptional, Jake Gyllenhaal (playing both ex husband and the teacher), Aaron Taylor Johnson and Michael Shannon are 3 points of a triangle with shifting morals and needs that share the role of antagonist to gripping effect.
Whilst the strand set in the present, complete with flashbacks that bind it and supply meat to Susan’s state of mind are satisfying and sometimes inspired they never quite plumb the depths of discussion and emotion the fictional strand does.
Her troubles are also really that of the ‘first world kind’ but in the context of the film are believable enough to propel the narrative.
Adams does well with a role that is actually quite restrained, although some of the funniest and most scathing lines are hers.
Ford obviously has fun satirising the LA Art and Fashion worlds, as well as the notion of beauty, wealth and class. It is a far funnier film than it first appears.
As is to be expected the film looks stunning and doesn’t waste a shot. The direction is excellent as its shifting tones never jarr. There is one plot hole that I am still struggling get my around but it’s a throwaway moment in a film that doesn’t have many.
With so much to look at it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if the film left them feeling cold and un-involved, but it does quite the opposite and immerses you in both stories.
Whether you connect with both is debatable but you can’t say Ford hasn’t tried to give you enough to enjoy and has avoided trying to play it safe.
If there was any more proof needed of that, then the ending does precisely what Hollywood tends not to.
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