Free Fire – LFF Review

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It is 1978 and in a Boston warehouse four members of the IRA are meeting a flamboyant South African arms dealer to buy cases full of automatic weapons. Americans there to facilitate the deal and keep the two parties under control fail at their jobs when a previous fight between minor players in each team flares up and the warehouse becomes the setting for a full on shoot out. As the cast scramble on the dusty and dirty ground bullets fly around striking concrete, ricocheting off metal, and thudding into flesh. For the next ninety minutes Free Fire is relentless fun.

Writer/director Ben Wheatley, again teaming up with writer Amy Jump, has made a film wildly different from his existing excellent oeuvre and yet distinctively his own. There have been comparisons made between Free Fire and Tarantino but I would argue that Wheatley and Jump’s film is a purer film than the likes of Reservoir Dogs. A Tarantino film feels as though it is trying to impress you while Wheatley’s are honest cinematic expressions. The violence in Free Fire is brutally authentic; each bullet wound suitably incapacitating its recipient and nobody leaving the warehouse either unscathed or with impeccable attire. Jump and Wheatley’s dialogue is similarly authentic, if more hilarious that your average trade negotiation, but the laughs come from incongruity and character beats rather than clever pop culture references.

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The warehouse in question is filled with an eclectic bunch of actors clearly chosen for their skill and suitability rather than their box office appeal. From the sole female actor in the form of Oscar darling Brie Larson we have the mainstream talents of Cillian Murphy and Armie Hammer through Sharlto Copley to the less known but equally talent likes of Noah Taylor and Michael Smiley. The entire cast gives it their all; nobody giving into vanity or shying away from an unlikeable character. As they sweat and bleed the characters all end up filthy and caked in a cocktail of dirt and bodily fluids and nobody is allowed the opportunity to play the noble hero. It is also a true ensemble cast as there is no lead role or hero to root for; we have a rag tag bunch of criminals all out to screw over one another.

Wheatley directs a film of nearly endless action with aplomb despite it being a departure from his previous work. You always know where each character each and who is aligned with who; at least as much as Wheatley wants you to. The sound design too deserves praise as the gunshots are given the deafening burst of sound they deserve hammering home the film’s dedication to authenticity. A gun fight is never going to be a pretty sight and not everyone will walk away unharmed or at all. The audience feels every shot fired and, while some shots miss, when a bullet finds a human home you can really feel it.

Free Fire is a simple and precise film; it does not exist to deliver a message or make a political statement but is here to entertain and delight, something it does with ease. Free Fire is 90 minutes of pure joy and I cannot wait to watch it again in March when it hits cinemas.

BFI London Film Festival 2016

London Film Festival 2016

This site thrives on one 12 day event that occurs every year in October; the BFI London Film Festival. The festival is now in its 60th year and we are in our 7th year of covering the film bonanza in as much detail as we can without actually losing our minds. Each year the films get better and better, I see more and more films, and I get less and less sleep.

On Thursday the line-up for this year’s event was announced and I have gone through the various strands and pulled out a film for each that really has me excited. As for my overall list of films I want to see… I am currently trying to get that down to double digits.

Galas - Free Fire

Free Fire

The Gala films tend to be the hardest tickets to get your hands on but are also the most likely to get a cinema release so I advise you look elsewhere for gems at the festival. That aside I am desperate to catch this year’s closing film Free Fire as it unites the fearless Brie Larson with revolutionary Ben Wheatley. I’ve seen three Larson films (1, 2, 3) and two of Wheatley’s (1, 2) at previous festivals and cannot wait to get my eyeballs on this bloody, funny, and no doubt dazzling action comedy from a filmmaker like no other. Amy Jump has written a 1970s American crime drama shot just outside Brighton which looks as farcical as it does violent. Bring it on.

Love - The Son of Joseph

The Son of Joseph

Back in 2011 we found ourselves very briefly delving into a surreal and stylised world of Portuguese cinema. The film that ended this baffling cinematic education was The Portuguese Nun. I’m almost certain that we enjoyed it. That film’s director, Eugène Green, is back with a French film about a young man searching for his father. I guarantee that this will be a unique film that will be either tedious, hilarious, or a delirious mixture of both.

Debate - Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Werner Herzog is the only documentarian that has both appeared as a baddie in Jack Reacher and as an estate agent in Parks and Recreation. So great is the caricature surrounding Herzog sometimes I forget that he is actually a skilled filmmaker who is not afraid to offer up his opinion and produces works of lyrical beauty. His latest is an exploration of our connected world; looking at how the internet has affected our real world personal relationships. Apparently it includes the line, “Can your dishwasher fall in love with your refrigerator?”. Sold.

Laugh - Lost in Paris

Lost in Paris

My favourite film of 2012 was a strange Belgian comedy called The Fairy which starred a limber comedic duo like nothing I had seen before. In their latest they play a couple who find one another in Paris and go on a series of absurd adventures. Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel thrive on genuinely funny physical comedy that relies on flexibility, ingenuity, and impeccable timing. I will not be missing this.

Dare - The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook has brought us Korean classics including Thirst and The Vengeance Trilogy before impressing with his English language triumphs Stoker and Snowpiercer. Now he has taken the English novel Fingersmith back to his native South Korea to create an erotic and stylish period thriller that apparently involves some amazing wallpaper. No other director can wring so much tension from so little so I can only imagine what he does with this saucy source material.

Thrill - City of Tiny Lights

City of Tiny Lights

A crime thriller set in contemporary London starring Riz Ahmed and Billie Piper. This leapt out at me having watched Billie Piper give a career defining performance in Yerma at the Young Vic last week and feeling the need to double-check that she really is the incredible actress I saw that night. With a plotline involving a radical mosque, multiculturalism, and commercial development City of Tiny Lights sounds like a ripe and topical slice of modern noir set in the city I love.

Cult - The Void

The Void

There are numerous horrors I am keen to lose my composure to at the festival but the one that I keep coming back to is this throwback from Canada. Said to include the influence of John Carpenter and classic practical effects along with knowing nods to frighteners of the past The Void looks to be the perfect way for me to lose a few nights’ sleep.

Journey - Two Lovers and a Bear

Two Lovers and a Bear

Starring two of the most underrated and talented young actors working today, Dane DeHaan and Tatiana Maslany, Two Lovers and a Bear brings us magical realism in the Arctic. The two titular lovers are trying to overcome their childhoods in a remote and isolated town. Presumably a bear shows up at some point too.

Sonic - London Town

London Town

Imagine a time of social, political, and racial unrest under a Tory Prime Minister. Now stop thinking about last month and throw your mind back to 1979. Representing the festival strand dedicated to music we have a British comedy drama following a young teenager struggling with family life after his mother leaves the family home. What will help him get through this troubled time? Punk of course!

Family - Phantom Boy

Phantom Boy

At a film festival there are no BBFC certificates and as such there is no guarantee that the animated film you have chosen to see will not feature graphic sexual content. Thankfully the festival has the Family strand which is the only safe place for the young or prudish. Leo is a sick boy trapped in hospital who discovers he can leave his body and fly around like a phantom. A surreal animation about a new type of superhero.

Experimentia - Have You Seen My Movie

Have You Seen My Movie?

I am wary of the Experimenta strand as the films veer away from narrative cinema and towards pure art. For a novice like me this can be a challenging experience and writing about it is almost impossible. I get an abusive email roughly once every six months from one artist whose work I didn’t enjoy back in 2013. A film my brain might be able to comprehend is Have You Seen My Movie? which consists of a two-hour montage of scenes from other films that either feature people going to the cinema or in the act of making film themselves. How can this last for so long? Will it be enjoyable or tedious? This is the joy of Experimenta; you have to take the plunge and risk being proven wrong.

Treasures - Born in Flames

Born in Flames

Truly embracing the risk I am even tempted by a film that straddles both the Experimenta strand and the Treasures collection. In the latter group are older films that have been remastered or simply need to be revisited, perhaps having gained greater relevance since their initial release. This example is a slice of 80s feminist science fiction in which women never gained equality with men and so turn to violent revolution to fight for what is rightfully theirs. Anyone mocking SJWs online might want to watch their step.

The festival runs 5th – 16 October 2016 and tickets go on sale 8th September for BFI members and 15th September for everyone else.

High-Rise – Film Review

High-Rise

What do I even say about High-Rise? Everything about this film is so distinct and unique it defies description or definition. It is a unique entity and so is hard to line up and compare against all other films. I’ll do my best for you.

In a slightly askew version of London in 1975 Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a modern concrete high-rise. Inside he meets all manner of unusual character brought to life by an impressive cast list you’re better off finding on IMDb than me typing out here. The tower has everything a resident might need from a swimming pool to a market and Laing soon realises it has its own social structure too. On the lower floors live the families and poorer residents while at the top reside the wealthier residents and local celebrities. In the penthouse Laing finds the building’s visionary architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons).

All is well, if a little surreal, for a short while but before long a riot/party/social uprising begins and all hell breaks loose. In a surreal manner naturally. By this point in the film I entered an almost dreamlike state in which I felt like I was watching the film through a haze. Could this have been down to it only being 3pm and my watching my third film of the day or was I being elevated to a higher plane through cinema? I’ll let you decide.

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The combination of screenwriter Amy Jump, here adapting J.G. Ballard’s novel, and director Ben Wheatley once again produce a unique beast. Not only is it different from all the other films at last year’s film festival but distinct from everything their collaboration has produced before. The tone veers wildly, and sublimely, from comedy to horror to drama. This is the film you expect Ayoade or Gilliam to make and yet the result is distinctly Wheatley.

And the set! The set is that of a gorgeously brutalist tower block with, presumably fake, cast concrete inside and out. Having recently toured the Southbank Centre as part of a celebration of brutalism I feel especially qualified to say the set design was top-notch; both bleak and beautiful as life in London so often is.

I have pages of notes with various thoughts and comments on the film but on reflection I can’t help but feel that sharing these would you might take away from the surprise and delight that High-Rise has in store for you. You will laugh, you will wince, you will marvel at the almost naked sight of Tom Hiddleston. If there’s one film you need to see to stay relevant at a cinephiles dinner party, this is it.

It’s like Snowpiercer but vertical. I loved it more than I understood it.

I will admit that the film did lose me at times but for sheer no hold barred inventiveness I can’t withhold a single star.

High-Rise is out in UK cinemas now and I dare you not to watch.

Sightseers – LFF Review

A Birmingham couple in the first flushes of love embark on a caravanning holiday to the Lake District. On their travels they visit museums, have grim sex, take in the countryside, and kill innocent people without remorse. Extrapolated from a sketch by writers & stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe Sightseers is a comedy so dark it can only be British.

It’s tricky to explain why but Sightseers fits my sense of humour almost perfectly. While the joke about two tourists near Keswick on a killing spree has the potential to get old the fact that the real laughs in the film are rooted in excellent characterisation and clever dialogue means the film is surprising and fresh right down to its final bleak twist.

This is a film that will have you leaving the cinema both quoting lines of dialogue and recalling with horror graphic images of violence. What Sightseers gets right where Seven Psychopaths (out today and reviewed here) gets it wrong is that this film does not try to admonish itself for including violence, and incidentally is much less indulgent in the violence, along with having a much more coherent plot with better direction, writing, acting, and presumably better catering too.

Director Ben Wheatley is known for his tense, violent films and shows here that he can do comedy too. He manages to capture perfectly the grimness of Tina and Chris’ romance while also capturing the natural beauty of the Lake District. This would make an excellent advert for holidaying in England if it weren’t for all the brutal killing.

Sightseers is a near-perfect black comedy that brought back nostalgic feeling to this West Midlander whose childhood was filled with trips to the Lakes to kill innocent bystanders. (OK, so maybe we didn’t kill anyone.) If you are a fan of dark British comedies then I would be amazed if you haven’t already seen this.