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LFF2016

LFF 2016 Review: Personal Shopper

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Reviewer:  Freda Cooper

Director:  Olivier Assayas

Stars:  Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz

Certificate: Tbc

LFF screenings 11th and 13th October

Released 3rd March 2017

Until recently, Olivier Assayas’ ‘Personal Shopper’ was in danger of sinking without trace in the UK.  Metrodome had signed it up, but the company’s sad demise threw all that up in the air and it was some weeks before a new distributor was announced.  Icon will release it in early March next year.  All of which begs the question of whether or not it’s been worth waiting for.

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is in Paris, working as a personal shopper to a high profile celebrity who’s nothing short of a nightmare.  And she hates her job.  She’s also a medium, trying desperately to contact her recently deceased twin brother on the other side.  Her attempts aren’t successful, but then she starts receiving mysterious texts which lead her to believe that she can still get back in touch with him, which she longs to do. 

It’s a story that starts out with promise, looking like it’s going to be about the contrast between the materialistic nature of her job and the emotional side of her life.  But it’s not and it doesn’t go anywhere much.  We see one of the spirits she contacts, an especially malevolent one, so there’s a large part of the film that’s a ghost story, set on the fringes and less than glamorous side of the fashion industry.  From a ghost story, it moves to being a murder mystery, and a particularly unconvincing one, although the unsettling effect of receiving anonymous text messages is effective enough.  That might have something to do with your knowing who the culprit is right from the very start.

Assayas’ previous offering, ‘Clouds Of Sils Maria’, was  equally enigmatic.  It also starred Stewart, again hovering on the edge of the lives of the fabulously rich and famous.  But, with more rounded characters, excellent performances and a complex relationship at its centre, it was a more satisfying proposition.  We don’t get that here.  Not that Stewart isn’t a strong enough actress to carry the film.  She is, but her character isn’t and she always seems isolated, even when in the company of others.  She seems to exemplify the idea that being a medium or having similar powers isn’t so much a gift as a curse.

There’s another similarity with ‘Clouds Of Sils Maria’ and one that leads to even greater frustration.  Assayas’ trademark style of editing, leaving his audience in mid-air with and abrupt scene ending or a fade that seems a couple of beats too early.  It seems more exaggerated here and it’s never wholly clear whether he’s trying to get us to think for ourselves or is just showing off.

I was so perplexed by ‘Personal Shopper’ I decided it needed to roll around in my mind for another 24 hours.  Some movies just need extra time.  But the upshot is that I’m none the wiser. If anything, I’m more baffled than ever, especially given Assayas’ track record.  Make of the film what you will.  There are plenty of people who think it’s wonderful.  I’m just not one of them.   

 

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 - https://fredacooper.wordpress.com/ - and a podcast of the same name - https://soundcloud.com/freda-14/talkingpictures6october2016. She can even be heard burbling on about films every Friday morning on BBC Surrey and Sussex!

LFF2016

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

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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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LFF2016

LFF 2016 Review: Prevenge

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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

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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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