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.

Room – Film Review

Room

For seven years Joy (Brie Larson) has been held captive in just one room and for the past five years she has been kept company by her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who has grown up without knowledge of the world outside. Their lives consist of trying to stay fit and healthy within their universe of the small room and watching the flat people on the magic television. At night Jack hides in the wardrobe when their captor pays Joy a visit and on Sundays they are brought treats including essential clothing and tinned fruit.

Room is absolutely heartbreaking. That’s all you really need to know. Repeatedly throughout the film something would happen and I would find myself welling up again and again. Joy and Jack are so brilliantly realised by Larson and Tremblay that everything that happens to them, either good or bad, hit me right in the sleep deprived, emotional part of me. Tremblay gives a surprisingly authentic performance for someone so young and Larson is just so raw you can’t help but feel every emotional beat for yourself.

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Emma Donaghue has skillfully adapted her own novel and as director Lenny Abrahamson has sensitively brought it to life. For the most part I was just sitting there crying but when Abrahamson needed to inject tension and jeopardy my heart was beating loudly in my throat. It’s not often I am this emotionally invested in the characters onscreen; so many films at the festival are entertaining but pass by without my head and heart getting involved. Room is not that kind of film. Room drags you through all the emotions and leaves you feeling deeply affected and emotionally drained.

Go see and be sure to take a few boxes of tissues. Expect lots of awards buzz for Larson at the very least*.


Room is in cinemas now.

*Written back in October before she won every award going

Check Yourself Before You Trainwreck Yourself

Trainwreck

I loved Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck. It was painfully funny, genuinely moving, and featured an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton. There is so much to love and yet… and yet… Before I went to see Trainwreck someone mentioned that perhaps the film had a surprising number of jokes about race and sexuality for a romantic comedy about a straight white couple.

Just like that the seed was planted.

I have a confession to make. I am privileged. I took the quiz on CheckMyPrivilege.com and scored 170 earning myself the title of “Shitlord”. I am a white able-bodied heterosexual cis-male atheist who was born in a prosperous Western country and as time goes by I learn more and more how lucky that makes me. This means that I do often having to stop and think about aspects of media that would otherwise pass me by. The main result of this has been an exploration of feminism and learning to understand all sorts of new phrases like “patriarchy”, “the male gaze”, and “victim blaming”. It makes certain types of film a lot harder to enjoy but ultimately is a good thing.

Trainwreck is arguably a huge feminist success story. In the lead role is a woman who enjoys sex, has a decent job, and talks to other women about subjects other than men. Good stuff. We have a winner. Let’s move along now. Oh crap there’s still racism and homophobia to deal with.

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With my mind tainted by the idea that Trainwreck might not be completely kosher I couldn’t watch the film without each joke about race or sexuality sticking out. I kept a tally and reached a count of 16 jokes in total that boiled down to either “Ha! You’re gay!” or “Ha! You’re black!”. As I said before this is made all the more jarring considering the film was about a white woman falling in love with a white man. That’s not to say the cast is entirely white; Schumer’s love interest, played by Bill Hader, has a best friend who just happens to be black (and LeBron James) but the race jokes still find their way in.

Just to be clear I am not saying Trainwreck is ground zero for all racist and homophobic comedy. I’m not even saying that Trainwreck is either homophobic or racist. What am I saying then? I guess I am asking questions; I am wondering whether a comedy can exist that not only shows feminist qualities but does so without turning race or sexuality into cheap jokes. Does comedy need a target to be funny? Can you have a joke without someone being the butt? Amy Schumer is an excellent comedian and writer and has created a film bursting at the seams with jokes that will make you weep. Could it have done without those 16 jokes? I’d say so. Am I being over-sensitive? Perhaps.

Go and see Trainwreck and judge for yourself. It really is a magnificent comedy.

Don Jon – LFF Film Review

Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the perfect example of how well a child star can turn out. Since his childhood spent making us laugh in 3rd Rock from the Sun Gordon-Levitt has steadily been building up an acting CV filled with impressive roles in both indie fare and mainstream blockbusters. Now to impress us further he has written and directed his own feature in which he also stars. Oh Joseph, is there anything you can’t do?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Jon, a man obsessed with his car and his body and who is nicknamed Don Jon by his friends because of his unbroken streak of taking home a different woman every night they go out. Much as Jon loves these illicit encounters there is one thing he loves more than sex; Jon is addicted to porn. While a real woman comes with limitations and complication with porn Jon can find exactly what he wants and lose himself in a way he has never been able to achieve with sex itself. The wide variety of porn available at his fingertips has warped what Jon expects from a real life sexual encounter and his streaming smut is something he refuses to give up.

One night at the club Jon comes across the first woman who doesn’t fall for his charms and somehow manages to NOT go home with him. This woman is Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and she isn’t going to let Jon get her in bed without him first playing along with her idea of what a relationship should be. Barbara does not approve of porn but has a weakness for romantic comedies (cue an amusing parody with Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum) which has warped her own expectations of what men should do for their woman. Jon and Barbara go through the motions of a relationship as they meet one another’s friends and family but Barbara can’t live up to Jon’s pornographic ideals and he isn’t the romantic lead she’s looking for. With the help of a classmate, at the night school he attends to impress Barbara, an older woman called Ester (Julianne Moore) Jon learns that there’s more to life than porn.

Gordon-Levitt directs with a confident and deliberate style with an almost aggressive use of carefully cropped pornographic clips which are frequently utilised throughout the film to show how Jon’s world is warped by the contents of his internet browser history. As a writer he has crafted a film that strays from the usual path and tells a unique story of one man’s personal growth that is as far from cheesy or saccharin as it is possible to be. Gordon-Levitt has a lot he wants to say about the way the media as a whole gives us dangerous levels of expectations from our significant others and at times the message gets a little heavy-handed but when the film is working at its best the lesson is deftly handled.

The highlights of the film for me were Jon’s weekly trips to church during which he would confess the previous seven days worth of sins, his sexual exploits are counted up for the Father’s benifit, followed by a family dinner. It is at these meals that we see what has made Jon into Don Jon with his aggressive vest wearing father (Tony Danza) and fawning mother (Glenne Headly) who are two fantastically realised caricatures. Brie Larson makes a mostly mute, and a slightly too brief, appearance as Jon’s sister who seems mostly disinterested in her family but offers him the best advice of the film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first foray behind the camera is not perfect but is a bold and commanding debut with a lot to say. Somehow he manages to tackle a tricky subject without making the film seem cheap or smutty. I think his success can be marked by the fact that a sex scene towards the end of the film had the woman sitting next to me in floods of tears after having spent the rest of the film laughing out loud.

Don Jon screens at the festival on the 20th October and is in UK cinemas on 15th November 2013.

BFI London Film Festival 2013