James White – LFF Review

James White

Coming from the trio of filmmakers that combine to form the Borderline Films collective which has brought us Martha Marcy May Marlene and Simon Killer we now get the debut feature from writer and director Josh Mond.

James White does not beat around the bush as it opens with the titular James (Christopher Abbott) already spiralling out of control in a club before heading to his father’s wake. James has no job, lives with his mother and overindulges in drink, drugs, and women. He is a man buzzing with anxiety, always on the verge of violence, and constantly on edge. James White is a selfish, self-destructive mess and as a protagonist is impossible to sympathise with.

Somehow though the combination of Abbott’s raw performance and Mond’s direction force you to side with James and see the world through his eyes. Mond’s camera never leaves James’ personal space and as such Abbott is given no margin for error. With the camera constantly trained on his face and portraying a character brimming with unsettling energy Abbott gives an incredibly authentic performance as James; never letting himself slip into caricature or pantomime.

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For all his selfishness and self-destruction there is one area of his life in which James is willing to make a sacrifice; for his mother (Cynthia Nixon). Without going into spoiler territory let’s just say that James’ mother is not well and as such he has to at times step up and support her. It is during this time in the film that the story stops being about James White and instead focusses on the intimate relationship between a codependent mother and son. Neither are perfect, both are incredibly flawed, but they feel real and as such become very relatable.

Everyone involved is the film seems to be giving their all. It is incredible to think that the entire film was shot in roughly three weeks. Watching the James White is emotionally draining and exhausting as it is an 85 minute drama of constant tension and devastation. I can only imagine the weight it must have put on the cast and crew to get the film made.

James White is not a film that can be easily synopsised. To talk of its plot would be to ruin the film and could never really get across what the film is about. The film is filled with a very specific energy, a tone, and a certain aching sadness. This is a film filled with the sounds of creaking wood, deep breaths, and the ruffling of clothing. Everything feels incredibly intimate and personal.

An incredible debut filled with career making performances James White is emotionally draining and claustrophobic. No doubt this is a quality piece of cinema, just don’t expect to enjoy it per se.

James White screens at the festival this Thursday and Friday and tickets can still be bought online.

BFI London Film Festival Short Film Award

I have just watched the twelve films up for the Short Film Award at this year’s London Film Festival. Short film is an underappreciated medium and always worth seeking out. The films were a diverse bunch; some were incredible and others were so pretentious I was genuinely angry that someone would want to steal other people’s time by asking them to watch. Below are four that particularly caught my eye:



Director: Nina Gantz
A charming, surreal, and funny stop motion film about Edmond; a man looking back on the significant moments of his life. Moments that often seem to involve him trying to eat loved ones. The felt characters were enhanced with hand drawn facial features allowing creating a pleasing animation hybrid. I loved it.



Director: Maïmouna Doucouré
A French short drama with a plot! You have no idea how much you can long for plots when watching short films. Told from the point of view of a young girl Mother(s) explores what happens when the father of a nuclear family returns homes with the woman he has impregnated. Incredibly touching and with an impressive young actor at its center. I loved it.



Director: Caroline Bartleet
The first time I have noticed encountering a Kickstarted short out in the wild. A woman and her son are trapped in the house fire and dial 999 for help. All we see is the 999 operator’s face as she deals with the situation in an incredibly tense six minutes. Excellent face acting. I loved it.



Director: Jörn Threlfall
In a quiet suburban street we see a series of vignettes depicting what appears to be the aftermath of a crime. With each shot we slowly move back through the day leading up to the reveal of just what has happened. This short is shocking and has a message ingrained in it while also subtly showing how little impact an incident can have on those who just pass by. I loved it.

All the shorts are screened on Saturday 17th October in two chunks and tickets can be bought on the BFI website here and here. If you ask me, I’d go for the first block of films over the second.

Suffragette – LFF Review


Mary Poppins is probably the only other time I remember seeing a suffragette as a character in a film. Mrs. Banks had a sash and a song and it all seemed quite jolly. It is about time then that we got a decent film focussing on the struggles of the suffragettes and here’s Carey Mulligan giving it a try.

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette closely follows the story of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) as she becomes awakened by and involved in the Suffragette movement. After joining a small gang in London’s East End – we’ve all been there – she is forced to decide if she is willing to sacrifice her home, family, and job for the fight to get women the vote. Her motley crew is led by the educated Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and the group as a whole looks up to the almost mythical Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep).

Streep is featured heavily in the promotional campaign for the film but, while her presence is often teased, she only makes an appearance in one scene to deliver a rousing speech and secure a few Supporting Actress nominations. Having Streep in the role is quite apt though as the buzz of excitement around even the possibility of seeing Pankhurst speak matches that of the press scuttling off to the Suffragette press conference after the screening.

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The focus of the film is not on the high-profile historical figures played by the likes of Streep and Carter but rather on Mulligan whose face is rarely out of close-up throughout the film. I couldn’t tell you much about the setting of many of the scenes but I can tell you how Carey’s face looked at any given moment. Mulligan is undoubtedly a skilled actor, giving her best East End accent, but I struggled to connect with her character emotionally. Perhaps it was something about the script; every conversation in the film related to the issue at hand leaving no real room for any characters to be developed beyond their stance on votes for women, a topic on which no grey area was allowed. I’m not saying that votes for women is a grey area just that no character was allowed to doubt their opinion in either direction. No minds were changed and no characters had arcs.

As Mulligan’s Maud got involved in the movement the film introduced various characters whose involvement and sacrifices seemed that much greater. It left me with the feeling that we had been following the wrong woman and were only seeing half the story of the suffragettes. If we were supposed to use Maud as a proxy for the audience it might have helped to turn the camera away from her face and towards what she was experiencing.

At last year’s festival I finished The Imitation Game wanting a better film to honour Alan Turing and with Suffragette I felt the same. The suffragettes deserve a better film than this to show the world what they were fighting for. From the moment the film starts the slow fades between text cards setting the scene imply a sense of importance but the story it then tells lacks the emotional connection and scope that is needed to really drive the message home.

The film is perfectly OK and might get some buzz in the short-term but I expect it to languish on ITV on a rainy Sunday afternoon in years to come.

Suffragette opens the Film Festival tonight and screens again tomorrow. Some tickets are still available online. Suffragette then opens in UK cinemas on 12 October 2015.

52 Tuesdays – Film Review

52 Tuesdays

Set and filmed over a year’s worth of Tuesdays this remarkable directorial debut from Sophie Hyde follows young teen Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) as her mother (Del Herbert-Jane) transitions into a man. While undergoing hormone treatment and adapting to life as a man James asks Billie to move in with her father but they agree to meet up for one day every week to ensure they stay in each others lives. Over the course of this year it is not just James that undergoes a dramatic change as while he tries to become the man he always wanted to be Billie explores her own sexuality and finds herself transitioning from a girl into a woman.

You’ll have to excuse me, I think I am about to gush.

52 Tuesdays is a special film. The performances are supremely and convincing and result in naturally flawed characters I really believed in. Despite the potential for the film to get preachy considering the subject matter there was more emphasis on authenticity than getting any particular message across. Potentially heavy issues were dealt with using a refreshing lightness of touch; not trivialised as much as they are humanised.

The film is as much an exploration of young female sexuality as it is about transitioning gender. It looks at the notion of identity, maturity, and love. There is even an exploration of the ideas Men, Women & Children was toying with but there is no sense that the audience is being bashed about the head with them. 52 Tuesdays is simply a well-considered and well made film which succeeds in normalising a niche experience.

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What more do you want me to say?

Each Tuesday is introduced with a few seconds of news footage from the week it was filmed giving the film a real sense of time and place. The relationship between Billie and James is at once the strongest on-screen familial relationship I’ve seen in a long time and on the verge of breaking down at any moment. The progression of time leaves the two characters changed from the start of the film to its end and the question becomes whether the two individuals at the film’s close can have the same relationship they shared at its start.

52 Tuesdays is sweet, sexy, and painful. 52 Tuesdays wears its heart on its sleeve and while not perfect it is made with love, determination, and authenticity. 52 Tuesdays is a special film.

52 Tuesdays is in UK cinemas from today.

Still the Water – LFF Review

Still the Water

On the subtropical Japanese island of Amami two young teenagers find themselves struggling to deal with their parents while awkwardly taking their first romantic steps together. Kyôko (Jun Yoshinaga) lives with her parents in a house shaded by a 400-year-old banyan tree. Her mother, a shaman, is sick and dying and all Kyôko and her father can do is try to make her comfortable and savour the time they have left together. Kyôko’s friend Kaito (Nijiro Murakami) has moved to the island with his mother. They have left a city life in Tokyo and Kaito’s tattooist father behind. As Kyôko must come to terms with losing her mother while surrounded by a large extended family, Kaito is forced to adjust to life with just his mother on an island cut off from civilisation and his heritage. Through sadness, anger, heartbreak, and companionship Kyôko and Kaito are bonded together and a sweet teenage romance blossoms.

Spread out over two hours Still the Water is not a film of thrilling action and explosive stunts but one of quiet emotions and the slow development of characters and relationships. Rather than follow the traditional three act structure made up of scenes that service a simple plot and drive towards its conclusion Still the Water instead takes on a more fluid pace. Scenes flow from one to the next in slow, lyrical fashion with mood and tone more important than exposition and function.

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Kyôko’s journey through the film is one tinged with sadness. Much as the impending death of her mother casts its shadow over events she remains a positive presence and could never be said to have wallowed. Moments featuring Kyôko and her parents just sitting around their house and talking are tender in their simplicity. These authentic moments of a family enjoying each other’s company, teasing and joking with one another, are what make the film sing. Kyôko’s story is so painfully sad because the audience believes in her family and the love they share. There is an innocence to be found in the story of a young girl and her sick mother, a fable told through numerous Studio Ghibli films, and upon losing her mother this girl finds her strength within the sadness.

Kaito’s story is just as painful for him but tinged more with anger than sorrow. Wrenched away from his previous life in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo and struggling to deal with the separation of his parents Kaito turns his mother into his own personal antagonist. Kaito’s pain is at once completely understandable and totally unreasonable. His upset comes not from a logical place but from a deep instinctive sense of betrayal. Despite both having trouble in their families when Kaito and Kyôko are together they retreat into childish playfulness and happiness. Theirs is such a tender, tentative romance. One that flashes into maturity when emotions and events come to a head and Kyôko shows her strength by putting aside personal grief to try to control her young love’s rage.

If what I have said so far sounds like waffle then it is only because Still the Water is so hard to justify using words. This is a film that expresses itself best through stunning visuals, quiet moments of contemplation, and a gentle rocking pace. Writer & director Naomi Kawase has created a film that feels truly organic. A natural phenomenon that talks of the loss of innocence and subtle power that love can bring.

A quiet film about love, life, and death Still the Water will make you smile through your tears.

Still the Water is on limited release in the UK now..

BFI LFF 2014