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LFF 2016 Review: Manchester By The Sea




Reviewer:  Freda Cooper

Director:  Kenneth Lonergan

Stars:  Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Matthew Broderick

Certificate: tbc

LFF screenings 9th and 11th October 2016

 Released 13th January 2017


As it approaches its half way point, this year’s London Film Festival has already set the bar extraordinarily high with the likes of ‘A Monster Calls’ and ‘La La Land’.  And there seems to be little chance of a drop in standards, even if some of the titles are quieter propositions.  Like ‘Manchester By The Sea’.

Lee Chandler (Affleck) works as the janitor for a group of apartment buildings in Boston.  It’s a drudge of a job and his life isn’t much better.  But it all changes when he receives a phone call telling him that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died from a sudden heart attack. Lee is devastated enough by losing his brother, but when the contents of the will are revealed, he also finds out he’s been made guardian of Joe’s teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a young man with no plans to uproot to Boston and start a new life.

Which doesn’t sound like much of a plot.  And it isn’t.  Because this isn’t a film about pure narrative, but an emotional journey, one that takes time and where the end of the film gives just a tiny flicker of hope.   It’s set against a New England fishing community, where Joe Chandler is the more responsible, more reliable and highly respected of the two brothers.  In flashbacks, we see Lee’s life in the town, with wife Randie (Michelle Williams) and children, as well as Joe’s diagnosis with heart problems and his shaky relationship with wife Elise (Gretchen Mol).  The two brothers are both involved in fishing, alongside George (C J Wilson), spending days out on the boat with Joe’s son Patrick, who is clearly being raised in the family tradition.

Those flashbacks are essential to understanding the background to the story, especially the reasons why getting Lee to talk is akin to banging your head on a brick wall. Kenneth Lonergan’s script encourages us to speculate further as we discover that he’s not liked in the town and his return to sort out Joe’s affairs isn’t in the least bit welcome.  He’s taciturn, borderline rude and finds it impossible to have a conversation with anybody, even refusing general offers to socialise.  In fact, the only time he comes out of his shell is when he goes to a bar, gets blinddrunk and picks a fight with whoever happens to catch his eye.  It doesn’t matter who they are, he just wants to fight.

The reason is a tragic accident, which devastates Lee and Randie and destroyed their marriage.  As the police point out at the time, he didn’t commit any legal offence, but he’s permanently consumed with guilt, despises himself and desperately wants to be punished.  He might feel better if he was, and it’s an unexpected connection between the film and ‘A Monster Calls’.

All of which is why we are watching a man who never smiles, speaks almost in monosyllables and looks like he has all the miseries of the world heaped on his drooping shoulders.  Becoming guardian to his nephew Patrick means he has to deal with other people but, initially, he still holds back.  The teenager, on the other hand, seems to be holding up well under the circumstances – too well, as it turns out.  Because the inevitable moment arrives when something small goes wrong at home and he completely breaks down.  It’s just one example of Lucas Hedges’ impressive performance as a confident, articulate young man who is not afraid to speak the truth as he sees it.  A stroppy teenager movie this is not.

This solemn and absorbing examination of guilt and grief is definitely an actor’s piece, and that actor is Casey Affleck, a solitary figure in the town where he was brought up and who, on the outside, seems to be his own worst enemy.  He’s genuinely difficult to like but it’s a testament to Affleck’s performance that you still have some sympathy for him because the events in his past weren’t his fault – even if, as far as he’s concerned, they were.  But Affleck doesn’t have it totally his own way.  Kyle Chandler’s Joe is the brother was everything Lee wanted to be, but couldn’t.  And there’s the quiet, almost omni-present C J Wilson as George, in a performance so credible and subtle that he looks like he genuinely belongs in the town.  His look of shock and bewilderment after Joe’s death is coupled with embarrassed snuffles and it’s stand-out stuff.

If ‘Spotlight’ was the quiet film of 2016, ‘Manchester By The Sea’ looks set to take over that mantle in 2017.  It’s unglamorous and unassuming but also a film that displays great depth, compassion and understanding.  After its appearance at the London Film Festival, it’s released in the UK in January, which points towards an awards campaign.  One that, in all likelihood, will focus on Affleck.


Freda's been a film fan all her life - the best qualification for the job! As well as being a Movie Marker regular, she has her own blog, Talking Pictures - - and a podcast of the same name - She can even be heard burbling on about films every Friday morning on BBC Surrey and Sussex!


DVD/Blu-ray Release – LFF 2016 Review: Free Fire



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.

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LFF 2016 Review: Prevenge



Director: Alice Lowe

Stars: Alice Lowe, Kate Dickie, Jo Hartley, Gemma Whelan

Released: 2016

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

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2017 Nominee Reviews

LFF 2016 Review: Nocturnal Animals



imagesDirector: Tom Ford

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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