LFF Day 10 – Thelma | Downsizing | You Were Never Really Here | Let the Sunshine In

Thelma

Thelma (Eili Harboe) is living away from her devout Christian family for the first time to study biology at university. Isolated from her loved ones Thelma finds university to be a lonely place before she inserts herself into the life of the popular but welcoming Anja (Okay Kaya).

Anja and Thelma become close in ways that the latter isn’t prepare for. As Thelma begins to question her own identity she starts to suffer from seizures and experiences strange visions. Before too long an undercurrent of the supernatural has seeped into proceedings and Thelma can’t decide whether to be afraid or if others should be afraid of her.

Thelma is a striking film to look at and filled with nuanced performances but didn’t strike the right tone for me. An exciting blend of the supernatural and a character study but sadly lacking in the thrills I kept expecting to be around the next corner.

Downsizing

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing is a tricky film to review; I don’t know whether to review the film it sells itself as, or the film it actually is.

The film we are sold is a comedy starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a couple who decide to fix all their troubles by being shrunk down to five inches tall so they can join a thriving community of small people. The idea here is that being small means you need fewer resources and create less waste; it’s the only way to save the planet! Oh, and your money is worth a thousand times more in the small economy. The idea is intriguing and executed well down to the smallest detail. We get to see the scepticism of those around the couple prior to the downsizing, and the small world and the procedure required to get there are convincingly realised.

So far so good! I wonder what the film will explore in this unique situation…

With the first act finished the film takes an alarming left turn. Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau are introduced as questionable racial stereotypes and a different plot is introduced that focuses less on the small world but on issues affecting the world we live in. My man bug bear really is that this plot could have been explored without the whole downsizing premise, and that a second film could have been made to make the most of that squandered opportunity.

The resulting film is amusing but very messy.

Downsizing is released in UK cinemas from 19th January 2018 and I cannot wait to hear what you make of it.

You Were Never Really Here

It is a tragedy that Lynne Ramsay hasn’t directed a film since 2011 and We Need to Talk About Kevin so her new film was met with a long queue of critics anxious to devour her latest. And boy was it worth the wait.

The always compelling Joaquin Phoenix stars as a weary gun-for-hire who will perform any task for a bundle of cash and who is plagued by traumas from his past. Phoenix is called upon to rescue a young girl from a sex trafficking ring and finds himself embroiled in a bigger conspiracy than he first realises.

What makes this film unique is that Phoenix’s character has no interest in unravelling the conspiracy or getting to the bottom of everything. He has a single focus; protecting a young girl from harm and inflicting violence on those who are to blame. Often armed only with a hammer Phoenix is a hulking bundle of sore muscle who is relentless in his pursuit.

If this sounds like Taken then forget that notion as what we have here is something without contrivance, extraneous details, or pulled punches. The violence her is unshowy and brutal. Brawl in Cell Block 99 may be more graphic but this film is much more visceral and harder to watch for it. We spend a lot of time in Phoenix’s head and see flashes of his past as they intermingle with unfolding plot. The results is a heady brew of cinematic gold.

Ramsay’s direction is perfection. Phoenix’s performance is sublime. Jonny Greenwood’s score is bone rattlingly good. An absolute trauma of a film.

Juliette Binoche

Claire Denis directs a showcase for actress Juliette Binoche as she plays a divorced artist searching for love and finding quantity rather than quality.

A witty film in which we watch Binoche work her way through a series of lovers that she finds unsuitable in a variety of ways, all the while declaring her love life to be over. The film is a fun examination of how we are often our own worst enemies and rarely know what we actually want unless it is the one this we cannot have.

Maybe I was too emotionally assaulted by the previous film but Let the Sunshine In failed to grab me in any deeper way. A fun but forgettable affair.

Nebraska – LFF Film Review

NEBRASKA

Two years ago Alexander Payne brought the London Film Festival his Oscar-winning film The Descendants. The film about family, told through the story of a father on a road trip with his offspring, was sweet, funny, and authentic. Nebraska is not dissimilar as it stars Will Forte and Bruce Dern as father and son (Woody and David respectively) who travel 700 miles to see if Woody has won $1 million in a sweepstakes. His family sees it as an obvious scam but David decides to indulge his father as he teeters on the edge of dementia.

Along their way Woody and David stop off at Woody’s childhood town and encounter greedy relatives, old friends with grudges, and a small town mentality that never forgets. Much like its predecessor Nebraska is sweet, funny and authentic; it has moments that made the audience laugh out loud alongside scenes that can easily jerk a tear without resorting to patronising those watching. Despite being set in small town America the film is instantly relatable; who hasn’t been to a family gathering and had to watch as two people try to force conversation between a disinterested group by bringing up mundane anecdotes like a foot that hurts or asking how long it took to drive a certain journey? The humour is deeply ingrained in character, is truly funny (and often quite dark) and never resorts to cheap slapstick or a pop culture reference. This is a film I’ll love just the same in fifty years time.

Payne has chosen to shoot Nebraska in black and white and in doing so has lent the film a timeless quality and allowed the performances to take the foreground as settings and other distractions melt into the background. Nebraska is a beautiful film, both visually and otherwise, and filled with numerous naturalistic performances. Dern is a fantastic weary old man and Forte dials his usual annoying performance down to a level that allows you to forget the funny faces that are his Saturday Night Live legacy. June Squibb easily steals the show as the feisty mother and wife convinced that everyone in the past wanted the get in her knickers.

I hate reviewing films like Nebraska, they’re so good I find it hard to know what to say. I think the following three words I wrote down early on in the screening sum it up perfectly: “Sweet, funny. Perfect?”

Perfect? Yes.

ETA: Five stars seems a lot, especially considering the film didn’t blow my mind or push any boundaries, but I can’t see any flaws in it either. That’s subjectivity for you.

Nebraska screens at the festival on the 11th, 12th and 15th October and is in UK cinemas on 6th December 2013.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

The Descendants – LFF Review

Alexander Payne returns seven years after Sideways with an adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel starring George Clooney as Matt King, a man with too much on his plate. Matt is in charge of choosing a buyer for a large area of ancestral land in Hawaii, a sale which will benefit his extended family financially while harming the unspoiled land. He is also dealing with a wife in a coma she will never wake from and two unruly daughters he hasn’t been alone with for seven years. When his oldest daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) reveals that his wife was having an affair Matt decides to hunt down her lover Brian before she dies.

If this all sounds a bit too much to take in, you know how I felt in the first twenty minutes; the situation with the ancestral land confused me and seemed completely irrelevant. Luckily it all tied together in the end and I almost understand what was going on now.

The story at the core of the film is the rebuilding of the relationship between Matt and Alex as they hunt down Brian. The one thing that unites this estranged pair is their hatred of Brian and the feeling of betrayal and anger towards their comatose mother/wife. Clooney is on fine form in the less than suave role, much better playing an oaf than trying to be cool like in last year’s The American, and Shailene Woodley certainly makes an impression as his bold daughter. Let’s put Woodley down for official one-to-watch status.

Payne is the master at making quality comedy dramas and hasn’t lost the knack since his last feature, after the muddle at the start and a few awkward metaphors The Descendants comes together as a touching and hilarious family dramedy.

Special mentions: Nick Krause for bringing heart and humour to a potentially bland role. Rob Huebel, from the amazing Childrens Hospital, for taking the smallest role and squeezing every last laugh from his few line. Beau Bridges for sporting the style made popular by his brother in The Big Lebowski. And finally, Jameson for not just sponsoring the London Film Festival but for getting their product into the film in full view.

The Descendants screens at the London Film Festival on the 23rd and 24th October 2011 and is in UK cinemas on 27th January 2012.