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LFF2016

LFF 2016 Review: The Secret Scripture

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Director: Jim Sheridan

Writer: Sebastian Barry (novel), Johnny Ferguson (screenplay)

Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Jack Reynor, Eric Bana, Aidan Turner, Rooney Mara, Theo James

Director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot) returns with The Secret Scripture, a drama based on Sebastian Barry’s well-loved Irish novel. The hidden memoir of an elderly woman confined to a mental hospital reveals the history of her passionate yet tortured life, and of the religious and political upheavals in Ireland during the 1920s and ’30s.  Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara play older and younger versions of Rose Clear, the protagonist out of place in WWII Ireland. Falling in love with a local shopkeeper Michael Eneas (Jack Reynor), they marry in secret and live on the edge of the village, away from the prying eyes of the men within; those who cannot help themselves around the beautiful Rose.

The screen adaptation of this romantic and tragic tale of a woman’s plight during the second world war has been long-awaited and it is no doubt that Sheridan is a master storyteller and a directional force. Choosing to split the story into past Rose and present (Vanessa Redgrave) was the right decision.  Rose McNulty (Redgrave) must vacate the soon-to-be demolished mental institution in Roscommon, Ireland that she’s called home for over 50 years. The hospital’s psychiatrist, Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana), is called in to assess her condition. He finds himself intrigued by Roseanne’s seemingly inscrutable rituals and tics, and her fierce attachment to her Bible, which she has over the decades transformed into a palimpsest of scripture, drawings, and cryptic diary entries. As Grene delves deeper into Rose’s past, we see her as a young woman (Mara), whose charisma proves seductive.

Mara looks beautiful in her scenes, so stunning that she even catches the eye of Father Gaunt, who, played by Theo Jones, is absolutely terrifying.  His performance is subtle and dynamic and often without dialogue as he quietly stalks her around the village.  Indeed, whereas present day Rose relies on her storytelling skill to make Doctor Grene believe that she isn’t insane, the Rose of the past looked men straight in the eye and was without fear.  It’s such a contrast that we feel the dread and tension set in early; what could have possibly happened to her to make people believe that she was insane?

Beautiful scenes of rolling Irish countryside and stunning period clothing complement the gentle romance between Rose and Michael. Reynor gets all of the credit in these scenes, as his very presence is affirming; reaching Rose at the point when her loneliness was all-consuming.  Hunted by a group of extremist men from the village, Michael has to leave Rose and that is when her fate is sealed and her horror is played out.

Such an Irish tale as it is, it was puzzling to find only a few notable Irish and English members of the cast, what with Eric Bana and Rooney Mara taking centre stage.  When quizzed, Sheridan was his usual blunt force; “if you want to get a movie made, you have to have a movie star.” Read: an american movie star, although he was very pleased when Redgrave signed up for the project “I signed up as soon as I heard I could work with her.”

Of course Redgrave was wonderful; she is fearless in attacking the human vulnerability that the older Rose has in abundance.  She narrates her scripture and tells us her story, and we are spellbound.  However, the story did lose its way and the conclusion was a real Hollywood-directed affair.  Sometimes it seemed as though we were suffocating in silence and tension which made for gripping storytelling.  However you never really felt as though you were scratching the surface and the cutting back and forth between decades could be disorientating.

It’s a comfortable watch for fans of romantic drama, but Sheridan played it too safe, and in the process made the latter part of the film obvious and somewhat of a let-down.

LFF2016

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

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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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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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