LFF Day 2 – Good Time | Ghost Stories | The Meyerowitz Stories | Word of God

Good Time

Robert Pattinson is unrecognisable as a grungy New York criminal who robs a bank with his brother (Benny Safdie) and then proceeds to have the worst day ever as he finds himself dealing with paint bombs, escaped criminals, a lovesick teenager, and a bottle of LSD hidden in a fun fair.

Good Time is delightfully unpredictable as Pattinson’s day goes from bad to worse via the farcical without ever breaking away from its frankly unpleasant, and often ugly, realism. This is a film without any Hollywood glamour and while its plot reminded me of Victoria its camerawork lacks any smooth grace preferring instead to shove your face in the grime of violence and crime.

With a pulsing synth soundtrack Good Time provides a relentlessly gripping adventure through the scummier parts of New York. It is a lot of fun but you might occasional want to look away.

Good Time screens again at the festival on 8th October and is in UK cinemas from 27th November.

Ghost Stories

Adapted from their play of the same name Ghost Stories comes from the man behind Derren Brown (Andy Nyman) and the man behind The League of Gentlemen (Jeremy Dyson). With these combined powers you would expect something dark, witty, and deeply unsettling and that is precisely what you get here.

Nyman plays a supernatural sceptic investigating three stories of a paranormal nature as told by Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, and Martin Freeman. Each tells their story in turn before the film takes a delightful turn that I had thankfully forgotten since seeing the stage show all those years ago.

Nyman and Dyson deftly mix the comical with the terrifying, often letting subtle gags in to give the audience a moment to laugh and release some of the tension that has been tightening their stomachs. I laughed, I jumped, I gasped with realisation, I clenched my buttocks in fear and relaxed them in laughter.

Ghost Stories has no UK release yet but screens again at the festival on 6th and 14th October.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Noah Baumbach returns with his special blend of character driven comedic drama that never lacks a cinematic sheen. Dustin Hoffman plays an aging sculptor whose children from various marriages (Adam Sandler, Elizabeth Marvel, and Ben Stiller) struggle to gain his approval and clash over their different upbringings.

Baumbach is the master of creating characters with clashing personalities and simply letting them loose in a room together for our amusement. The plot of The Meyerowitz Storie is tangential to the real pleasure of watching great actors get stuck into their craft. Stiller and Sandler again reminded me that when they let it happen they both can properly act with depth, though Sandler in particular normally tries to hide this from us.

If you like Baumbach then this film is like slipping on a comfortable baggy cardigan and falling asleep in a sunny spot by the window. For everyone else there’s always Sandy Wexler.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) screens at the festival on 6th, 7th, and 12th October and then is available on Netflix from 13th October.

Word of God

The omnipresent Søren Malling stars as a patriarch of an atheist family who refer to their father as “God”. God is a failed writer and semi-successful psychologist who prides himself on making onion soup for his wife and three sons from a secret family recipe and refers to beers as “vegetables”.

God finds out he has cancer and decides he can cure himself not with medicine but by writing his autobiography. Meanwhile his youngest son tries to write poetry to woo a classmate, his middle son becomes an agoraphobic chronic masturbator, and the eldest finds love and religion. As for his wife, well she reached the end of her tether years ago.

As you can probably sense this Danish comedy throws a lot of ideas, and onions, into the pot and the result is amusing but unfulfilling and left me distracted. I definitely enjoyed myself but not as much as some of the other people in the room. Film fatigue perhaps?

Word of God screens again at the festival on 7th October.

LFF Day 1 – Breathe

Breathe

The BFI London Film Festival opened in familiar territory with a repeat of the beige-tinted past we saw at last year’s opening gala with A United Kingdom.

Breathe is the last film you would expect to mark Andy Serkis’ directorial debut as it includes no cutting edge motion capture performances and instead resembles a pair of safety scissors. Breathe is a safe choice in every way; it is a safe first film, a safe opening gala, and a safe choice to show your gran on a Sunday afternoon. Breathe is the quintessential (white) British period drama with the BFI and BBC logos proudly showcased at the start of the film.

The story is heartwarming; a young couple (Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy) have their idyllic existence interrupted when the husband contracts polio, is paralysed and relies on a ventilator to breathe. Given weeks to live near the start of the film events then take a turn for the uplifting as the couple defy all odds, and doctor’s advice, and go on to live full and happy lives with help from friends, privilege, and a stiff upper lip. Despite the rousing real life plot and some determined lead performance the resulting film is underwhelming.

Though better than I was originally expecting Breathe is a lightweight entry into the warm British historical romance canon with a look indistinguishable from its cousins. One to wait for on ITV I’d say.

Breathe is in UK cinemas from 27th October.

Dunkirk and Film Format Snobbery

I’ve been accused of being a film snob numerous times. Any time you disagree with someone about the merits of a film, particularly a blockbuster action film or comedy, you open yourself up to accusations of snobbery. In general I say, each to their own. We all like what we like, and hate with equal individuality and vigour. I reserve my right to prattle on about Footloose but turn my nose up at Step Brothers; there’s no accounting for taste.

The advance of digital filmmaking and projection has brought with it a new flavour of film snobbery; one that focusses on what format the film is projected in. This snobbery tends to favour 35mm film projection over digital and when Christopher Nolan gets involved it goes even further.

A few weeks back after the first press screenings of Nolan’s Dunkirk my Twitter feed was littered with critics and more successful bloggers tweeting about how everyone has to go see Dunkirk and more importantly how they must see it:

A. On the big screen

B. Projected on film

C. In 70mm

D. In IMAX

Seeing it in any other format simply will not suffice apparently.

I have lots of issues with this fetishisation of projection format. But first, some concessions. Yes, I have seen Nolan’s Interstellar projected in 70mm. Yes, Christopher Nolan does specifically use IMAX cameras because he ideally wants people to see the film that way. But… The fact is that not everybody can, nor should they.

If I want to see Dunkirk tonight I have the choice of heading to Waterloo for a 70mm IMAX screening and pay £18.50 or go down to the excellent Peckhamplex and pay £4.99. I will get different experiences at both and the IMAX isn’t necessarily the better. I would say roughly 70% of seat in an IMAX screen are in suboptimal positions that will result in a cricked neck or awkward viewing angle (this is not a scientific measure). Add to this the increase in cost and IMAX is simply too pricey for everyone to consider seeing the film in this format.

I suppose my real problem with the snobbery around film projection format is that it is inherently elitist. Suggesting that there is a proper, and more expensive, way to watch a film creates a strange hierarchy of viewers that only benefits the larger wallets. Let’s not forget that the critics, and sometimes little old me, have seen this film in their “best” format for free with the occasional glass of wine thrown in. They have also only seen the film in the one format so have no comparison to make.

I remain of the opinion that if a film is any good then it doesn’t matter how it is projected. A film that is beautiful and immersive should draw you in whether projected from celluloid of any size or whatever science happens inside a digital projector. So long as the format isn’t obstructing you then stop worrying about pixels or film grain, sit back, and enjoy the film.

Heck, Nolan himself doesn’t mind you streaming his films so long as they’ve had a chance in the cinema first.

Films are, and should remain, an accessible part of British culture. The obsession with 70mm over 35mm over digital may be grounded in truth but the most important consideration should be what film to watch, not what box it comes in.

Get to Know Jodie Whittaker in Four Hours or Less

Anyone not a fan of Wimbledon or Doctor Who may have missed the news that when Peter Capaldi regenerates at Christmas he will be taking the form of Jodie Whittaker. This news is particularly significant because this makes Whittaker the first woman to play the shape shifting, time travelling alien after a line of twelve men. This is either a major step forward or the biggest disaster since women thought they could bust ghosts depending on whether you pronounce it “feminism” or “feminazi”. I am not interested in debating that right now but will unapologetically eye-roll anyone arguing for the latter.

Fans of Broadchurch, the ITV crime drama created by Doctor Who‘s incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall, will recognise Whittaker as grieving mother Beth Latimer but she may be less known to some. In the following I highlight three other performances of hers that are easy to find online and don’t last for 24 episodes.

Attack the Block


Way back in 2011 I sat close to, but by no means with, Jodie Whittaker and her friends at a screening of Joe Cornish’s directorial debut Attack the Block at Somerset House the one year I managed to convince Film4 that I was a VIP.

Setting my bragging aside for a moment this film remains a great watch, particularly for anyone concerned about Whittaker’s alien battling skills. In Attack the Block Whittaker teams up with the young gang, led by a pre-fame John Boyega, who have mugged her to tackle an alien invasion on a South London estate. The film is a lot of fun and Whittaker is the audience’s emotional route through proceedings. And what is more Doctor Who than fighting aliens in London?

Attack the Block is available to stream on Amazon Instant Video.

Black Mirror – The Entire History of You

Finishing off the startling good first series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is this dark tale of obsession, jealousy, and tech. Like Doctor Who this series works best when it uses science fiction to explore very human ideas.

In The Entire History of You humans have an optional implant in their brains that allows them to record their every waking moment. Naturally this leaves people obsessing over every small detail of their day and replaying innocuous moments looking for deeper meaning. This particular episode is one of Black Mirror‘s finest and the whole episode pivots on intense scrutiny of Whittaker’s performance as we hunt for the subtext written on her face.

Black Mirror – The Entire History of You is available to stream on Netflix.

Adult Life Skills

This small independent comedy drama about a young woman stuck in arrested development crept in and out of cinemas this time last year. The film affords Whittaker a showcase for her skills and the one proper lead role I’ve seen her in.

Not enough people saw this film when it made it to the cinema and I don’t think many people even had a chance to so I suggest you seek it out now so that you can form an opinion of Whittaker beyond her gender. There are lots of silly jokes to distract you from the fact that the film is hitting you in the soft bits where your feelings live.

Plus… at various points she pretends her thumbs are two people travelling in a spaceship so there’s a tenuous Doctor Who link for you.

Adult Life Skills is available to stream on Amazon Instant Video.

Don’t Knock Twice – Film Review

Coco Chanel once advised that before leaving the house you should remove one thing. The point being that less is more and an overabundance of accessories can spoil an underlying aesthetic. In cinematic terms Don’t Knock Twice takes a simple creepy premise and drenches it in weird plot twists and the two solid central performances are overshadowed by an amateurish supporting cast.

Don’t Knock Twice follows two plot strands; one surrounding teen Chloe (Lucy Boynton) who knocks twice on a door that will apparently summon a witch if knocked on twice and the inevitable fallout from that decision, and a second following Chloe as she tries to reconnect with her estranged mother Jess (Katee Sackhoff). The two storylines intertwine and their relationship is tested by a battle against supernatural forces but the two strands don’t play off each other nicely. This isn’t The Babadook where the monster is a manifestation of the familial issues in the rest of the film.

Sackhoff and Boynton give the film’s only two convincing performances as two damaged souls hesitantly reunited while all hell breaks loose. There’s an decent movie hidden in here somewhere but they are hugely let down by their fellow actors who are in turn given little to work with. One character in particular was often being laughed at by the audience as a result of the bizarre behaviour she was forced to portray. In a horror you need to be able to put yourself into the character’s position and that’s hard when people aren’t behaving like any human you’ve ever met.

That’s not to say that Don’t Knock Twice isn’t effective at the scares though. The witch itself is fantastically realised and there were moments of real terror in the film. One fellow audience member embarrassed himself with the height at which he jumped from his seat, and for once that man wasn’t me. Sadly, as I’ve mentioned, by the end of the film those scares have been diluted by other less successful elements, and a final act that was needlessly complicated and inserted a twist where none was needed.

If Coco Chanel were here I’m sure she would advise taking off the unnecessary twist and the bulk of the weaker supporting players to reveal the well fitted, emotionally fulfilling and delightfully scary horror film about mother-daughter relationships underneath.

Won’t watch twice.