LFF Day 5 – Happy End | Thoroughbreds | Funny Cow | Gemini

Happy End

Michael Haneke is anything but a boring director and as Happy End opens with the live streaming of an overdose it feels like we are in for a controversial treat. Sadly in reality the film’s most controversial aspect is its almost gleeful avoidance of plot or dramatic events. In fact the real meat of the story is skipped over with the audience left watching characters refer obliquely to events without us actually seeing them.

With Funny Games Haneke tortured the audience by making them complicit in the suffering of the characters. With Happy End Haneke instead tortures the audience by boring them with tedious inaction and irrelevant diversions. No film of the festival has been such a slog or required so much energy to just stay awake.

The BFI’s synopsis claims this film to be “formidably intelligent” and a “slyly satirical gem”. Clearly the film was too smart or too sly for me as I truly did not enjoy it, and not in an exciting or scandalous way; I was just bored senseless.

With a cast including Isabelle Huppert and Toby Jones Happy End is a waste of good talent and everybody’s time.

Happy End screens at the festival on 9th and 13th October and is released in UK cinemas on 1st December.

Thoroughbreds

From a disappointing master to an encouraging newcomer. Thoroughbreds is the debut feature of Cory Finley and stars the always impressive Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy as a pair of privileged young women who start off as reluctant study buddies and, without ever really becoming friends, start to flirt with murderous ideas.

The two leads handle their unsympathetic roles with confident assurance and are accompanied briefly by the late great Anton Yelchin as a local drug dealer out of his depth with two women who have everything to lose but the privilege not to ever risk losing it. Despite there being no likeable characters the film absolutely sucks you in and has you rooting for the baddies.

Finley directs with a witty eye and his script and imagery are accompanied by a perfectly off kilter percussion-heavy score. The result is a dark and deeply satisfying little gem.

Thoroughbreds screens at the festival on 9th, 10th, and 11th October and is in UK cinemas on 9th March 2018.

Funny Cow

Funny Cow is a curious beast. The first feature written by actor Tony Pitts, the film follows an aspiring comedian (Maxine Peake) from her childhood, through an abusive marriage, to success as a stand-up. I was expecting a familiar rags to riches period drama following the rise of her career but Funny Cow is nothing so simple as that.

It is hard to explain what Funny Cow actually is without just showing you the entire film. It is not a comedy; let’s make that clear for a start. This film is a bleak drama with occasional light relief and then when the laughs really start coming they are marred with period-appropriate inappropriate jokes and then a deeply depressing trip to the toilet. Even when we see Peake’s comedian as a success in scenes peppered throughout the film she isn’t being funny, instead she delivers a dark monologue to camera.

Without any marketing material out yet I can’t tell whether Funny Cow meets expectations or not but I honestly wasn’t expecting to feel so deflated by the end. Maxine Peake is incredible in the lead role and I hope she gets more chances to showcase her skills. It is refreshing that Funny Cow does fall into the formulaic mould of Billy Elliot or numerous other British films but at the same time I wish it had found its own coherent shape.

Funny Cow screens at the festival on 9th and 15th October.

Gemini

I am unfamiliar with the work of writer-director Aaron Katz but having seen and enjoyed Gemini I have a sudden urge to devour his back catalogue.

Lola Kirke is the personal assistant to Zoë Kravitz’s movie star but after a night of partying Kirke finds herself turning from assistant to amateur detective when tragedy strikes and blood is spilled. The resulting film is a joyfully authentic modern noir set in modern-day Hollywood and filled with self involved murder suspects.

Aaron Katz has produced a film that looks stunning, is deftly plotted, and has enough self-awareness to be incredibly amusing throughout. The film has a lot to say about the town in which it is set, and the perils of celebrity, but it never stops being fun and never strays from its noir influences.

One of those films that I struggle to explain the joys of so please just go and see it for yourself.

Gemini screens at the festival on 9th and 11th October.

Anton Yelchin 1989 – 2016

Anton Yelchin

11th March 1989 – 19th June 2016

“The ability to have a choice in what you do is a privilege.”

Green Room – Film Review

Green Room

A punk band fighting to become neither mainstream nor anonymous end a low-key tour with a last-minute gig at a club for neo-Nazis. As they arrive at the club they are hesitant and unsettled but decide to not back down, instead planning to simply play the gig, grab their money, and get out. Having successfully played the gig and grabbed the money one member of the band sees something he shouldn’t have and the final part of the plan, the getting out, becomes all the more important and all the less likely. Trapped in the club’s green room the band are up against a horde of violent skinheads, fighting dogs, and a ruthless leader in the shape of Patrick Stewart. What follows is ninety minutes of nerve shredding terror and bloody violence.

Jeremy Saulnier shot into the world’s consciousness last year with his second feature Blue Ruin. The film impressed with its grim story of revenge, stripped down aesthetic, and shockingly unpredictable narrative. Saulnier was flagged as a writer and director to keep you eye on and with Green Room you will be glad we all did. Green Room is a beautifully dark film that quickly ratchets up the tension and never ever lets you take a breath. Repeatedly what you considered to be core characters are brutally dispatched or critically maimed leaving you painfully aware that nobody is safe or guaranteed to make the final reel.

Green Room 2

Saulnier has assembled an eclectic and skilled cast consisting of his frequent collaborator Macon Blair alongside indie heavyweights such as Alia Shawkat and Mark Webber and more mainstream stars including Imogen Poots, Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart. No actor is given special treatment with Stewart dialing his performance down to a calm and collected simmering menace and with Blair far from sidelined as a strangely emotive skinhead. Despite varying degrees of experience both take to the stage with confidence and bring complexity to their characters. The film is an ensemble piece with good characterisation on both sides of the barricaded door. When someone dies you know who they were and so each death matters.

And there are plenty of deaths. And blood. And gore. Green Room is at its heart a horror film and is most importantly deeply terrifying. The threat on hand is not a spooky ghost or a chainsaw wielding maniac but relatively intelligent human beings who simply wouldn’t hesitate to cut, maul, or (as a last resort) shoot you if it got you out of the way. What makes Green Room a success us that the film is, within the realms of horror, so scarily plausible and plays on the fear that if someone wants to do you harm there’s very little you can do to stop it.

As a horror film Green Room is near perfect. It is without frills and fuss with no extraneous details or distractions. The premise is simple; a group of people are trapped where they do not want to be and must get past scary men to escape. The joy of the film is in its execution. An execution that holds nothing back and constantly surprises and horrifies. I gasped, I groaned, and I hid my face.

I loved it.

Green Room is out in the UK on 13th May 2016.

Like Crazy – LFF Review

British student Anna (Felicity Jones) falls in love with an American, Jacob (Anton Yelchin), overstays her visa, gets deported and so begins a whole series of angst, longing, love and despair. Shot on the fly with improvised dialogue, director Drake Doremus is going to encourage comparisons with Blue Valentine as Like Crazy has a similar natural, unstructured style. Sadly I didn’t like Blue Valentine that much…

Like Crazy certainly felt authentic, the characters seemed like real people with real, mundane problems and spoke in a genuine way. Unfortunately hanging out with a couple isn’t always a bundle of fun. When Anna and Jacob are at the height of their romance it can feel a little awkward, even irritating, as you watch them find each other adorable and share intimate moments together. The pair don’t even let us see the contents of the notes they pass together. How annoying. Later on when their relationship is put under the strain of forced separation, you get the sensation of watching friends forging on with a relationship you believe to be long dead, which leads us to the other issue I have; I didn’t want their relationship to succeed.

Felicity Jones is as wonderful as you’d expect but Anton Yelchin’s Jacob simply isn’t good enough for her. While Anna flies across the country and risks violating her student visa for Jacob, he can’t even pay her a visit without having a loud strop. In a romantic drama I need to want the romance to succeed or the whole experience can become quite frustrating. While Anna has appalling taste in men, Jacob is much more successful; I defy you to not fall for either Felicity Jones or Jennifer Lawrence by the end.

Jones and co. should be commended though for creating characters real enough for me to get so annoyed by their choices. Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead as Anna’s parents are not only a good source of comedy but the sole characters I fully empathised with for as they watched their daughter make a series of clumsy mistakes in her love life.

Like Crazy is a gorgeous film with great performances but left me unsatisfied. Though with this being a realistic portrayal of a love story, perhaps that was the point?

Like Crazy is in UK cinemas on 3rd February 2012.

Like Crazy – Trailer

We’ve been excited about this film even before it caused a stir at Sundance. Admittedly this was because I am completely in awe of its star, Felicity Jones, but now I might get myself some company in the Felicity Jones fanwagon.

Both the trailer and poster below look gorgeous and I can feel my heart breaking already. If (500) Days of Summer, Scott Pilgrim and Submarine have taught me anything it’s that I can’t resist a film about a rocky relationship by a unique young director.

A bit of investigating gives me a potential UK release date of 3rd February 2012 and we’ll be plugging it like crazy* until then.

*Pun intended