Suffragette – LFF Review

Suffragette

Mary Poppins is probably the only other time I remember seeing a suffragette as a character in a film. Mrs. Banks had a sash and a song and it all seemed quite jolly. It is about time then that we got a decent film focussing on the struggles of the suffragettes and here’s Carey Mulligan giving it a try.

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette closely follows the story of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) as she becomes awakened by and involved in the Suffragette movement. After joining a small gang in London’s East End – we’ve all been there – she is forced to decide if she is willing to sacrifice her home, family, and job for the fight to get women the vote. Her motley crew is led by the educated Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and the group as a whole looks up to the almost mythical Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep).

Streep is featured heavily in the promotional campaign for the film but, while her presence is often teased, she only makes an appearance in one scene to deliver a rousing speech and secure a few Supporting Actress nominations. Having Streep in the role is quite apt though as the buzz of excitement around even the possibility of seeing Pankhurst speak matches that of the press scuttling off to the Suffragette press conference after the screening.

Suffragette 2

The focus of the film is not on the high-profile historical figures played by the likes of Streep and Carter but rather on Mulligan whose face is rarely out of close-up throughout the film. I couldn’t tell you much about the setting of many of the scenes but I can tell you how Carey’s face looked at any given moment. Mulligan is undoubtedly a skilled actor, giving her best East End accent, but I struggled to connect with her character emotionally. Perhaps it was something about the script; every conversation in the film related to the issue at hand leaving no real room for any characters to be developed beyond their stance on votes for women, a topic on which no grey area was allowed. I’m not saying that votes for women is a grey area just that no character was allowed to doubt their opinion in either direction. No minds were changed and no characters had arcs.

As Mulligan’s Maud got involved in the movement the film introduced various characters whose involvement and sacrifices seemed that much greater. It left me with the feeling that we had been following the wrong woman and were only seeing half the story of the suffragettes. If we were supposed to use Maud as a proxy for the audience it might have helped to turn the camera away from her face and towards what she was experiencing.

At last year’s festival I finished The Imitation Game wanting a better film to honour Alan Turing and with Suffragette I felt the same. The suffragettes deserve a better film than this to show the world what they were fighting for. From the moment the film starts the slow fades between text cards setting the scene imply a sense of importance but the story it then tells lacks the emotional connection and scope that is needed to really drive the message home.

The film is perfectly OK and might get some buzz in the short-term but I expect it to languish on ITV on a rainy Sunday afternoon in years to come.

Suffragette opens the Film Festival tonight and screens again tomorrow. Some tickets are still available online. Suffragette then opens in UK cinemas on 12 October 2015.

Inside Llewyn Davis – LFF Film Review

Inside Llewyn Davis
When it comes to the latest film by the Coen brothers I pretty much just want to tell you that it’s a great film, both funny and moving and blah blah blah, and for you to just go to see it. This is Joel and Ethan Coen we’re talking about here, they don’t really make bad films. Ok, so they have made a couple of false moves but no one’s perfect; Judi Dench did a cameo in Run for Your Wife after all. If you need more convincing I will go on…

At the centre of Inside Llewyn Davis is, surprisingly, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) a folk singer in early 1960s New York. Davis has hit hard times and doesn’t have a home, a consistent gig, or a stable relationship. We follow him during one terrible week as he hits even harder times which involve an unwanted pregnancy, a creative compromise, and a ginger cat with a habit of running away. We see a man at his lowest ebb who is forced to reconsider his dreams in favour of actually making a living.

The Coens work their usual visual magic and Inside Llewyn Davis has its own distinct look with a limited pallet of browns and greys and a slightly soft sheen to shots that allows the blacks to deepen and makes skin, particularly on Carey Mulligan, positively glow. You’ll have to see the film to understand what I’m wittering on about. The film is set in a harsh winter and the muted colours that leave everything looking infinitely colder. While everyone is wrapped up warm in heaps of attractive knitwear poor Llewyn doesn’t even have a winter coat making him seem all the more pathetic as he shivers within the stark scenery.

Inside Llewyn Davis is about a failing musician so does feature a lot of scenes of a man in dire straights and is not without pathos but this doesn’t mean that the film loses its sense of humour. The screening room erupted with laughter throughout the film as little nuggets of comedy gold were mined by the fine array of character actors at work. The Coens are so often at their best when holding up relatively unsympathetic leads for our amusement and somehow end up earning our sympathy.

When the crowd fell into a hushed silence it was as we all listened in awe to one of the films numerous musical performances. Inside Llewyn Davis is not a musical but with musicians as its core characters there are frequent performances during which we are treated to the entire songs rather than just snippets. These heart-felt folksy tunes are mostly sung by Isaac himself who has a beautiful voice and he was occasionally joined by the likes of Mulligan and Justin Timberlake who aren’t too shabby either. Timberlake plays a gloriously saccharin singer of cheesy songs, the recording session of one of his songs is a film highlight, and Mulligan his unfaithful wife.

This is a film with soul and on the Coen brothers scale sits most easily alongside A Serious Man in quality and in tone. A decent proper film with no gimmicks or distractions Inside Llewyn Davis is a lovely way to spend a cold afternoon.

Inside Llewyn Davis screens at the festival on the 15th, 17th and 19th October and is in UK cinemas on 24th January 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Shame – Review

In Shame Steve McQueen directs Michael Fassbender as sex addict Brandon, a man who is forced to take a second look at the way he lives his life during a visit from his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), as he finds they have too much in common when it comes to their attitudes to sex.

Shame has been a popular topic for discussion for months, and we certainly weren’t immune, not for the assured acting or dazzling direction on display, but for the (frankly intimidating) full frontal nudity and apparently endless sex scenes. Having now actually seen the film I was surprised to find that the sex wasn’t such a huge presence throughout, yes there was plenty there but it never felt excessive or unnecessary. McQueen also made a good job of filming the sex in a static, matter-of-fact manner without the soft focus and close-ups of body parts we’re so familiar with. Only one particularly sleazy sex scene towards the end is given the glossy treatment, but is all so seedy and Fassbender looks so miserable that it can’t be described as titillating.

On the subject of McQueen’s direction, isn’t it gorgeous? The film is filled with stunning shots with some inspired camera placements (bear with me). Often in Shame the camera remains still throughout a scene, allowing the action to play out around it whether fully on-screen or not. At various points the camera is left behind the heads of two characters as they talk, this seemingly bizarre choice is well-judged. By having the audience essentially lurking in the room behind the characters McQueen makes the actions on-screen seem all the more real and transforms the viewer from an audience member into a trespassing voyeur. Editing can often serve to distance us from a film, but leave us standing just behind a couple on a station platform and we could just as easily be eavesdropping on a conversation out in the real world.

As the damaged pair of siblings, Fassbender and Mulligan are both playing characters hiding their fragile underbelly. Mulligan as Sissy is an outwardly outgoing individual masking her internal suffering while Fassbender’s Brandon is a more reserved soul, seemingly completely in control while unable to tame his libido. Powerful acting from two of Britain’s future national treasures. My biggest worry with Shame was that I would find it hard to empathise with an oversexed Lothario but gradually Fassbender managed to coax some sympathy from me. While I was never exactly rooting for Brandon, by the closing credits he had earned my pity at the very least. Curse you Fassbender, you got me in the end.

Stunning, provocative and surprisingly emotive; Shame is a film which keeps its cards close to its chest and never truly lets you in as it has its way with you. Go and see it, just not with your nan.

5 Stars = Absolute Amazement.

Drive – DVD Review

Ryan Gosling is an unnamed driver making his living by fixing up cars or driving them for whoever is willing to pay regardless of any moral ambiguity involved. A quiet, almost childlike figure, Gosling’s naive driver becomes involved with his neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and finds himself embroiled with dangerous criminals and reacts in a horrifically violent manner.

When I first reviewed the film I called it, “a slow, gorgeous, and tense drama” and when declaring it the 4th Best Film of 2011 I described it as, “sleek and smooth, Drive lures you into a false sense of security with its tense yet relaxing atmosphere before erupting into shockingly graphic violence.” Obviously all of this remains true of the film on DVD, it looks stunning and the unique soundtrack sounds great. If you’re looking for a great new release filled with stellar performances, a surprising plot and stylish direction then look no further.

If you’re a film nerd looking for a DVD crammed with extras then sadly you’re out of luck.

The only special feature on the DVD worth writing home about (check the post Mum) is a 40 minute interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn, but there are no documentaries or commentaries in sight. If you are truly desperate for extra content, I’m afraid two trailers and a photo gallery are going to have to suffice. I know not everyone cares about the special features but for those that do this DVD is a disappointment, especially considering the US release is much more well-endowed.

In summary, Drive is a five star film and well worth owning despite a deficit of DVD extras. Drive is out on DVD and Blu-ray on January 30th 2012.

Shame, Sex and Full Frontal Nudity: The NC-17 Debate

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle online over the fact that Shame has been given the rating of NC-17 in America. Shame being a drama about a man with sex addiction containing “strong sex” and full frontal sexy nudity of both the male (Michael Fassbender) and female (Carey Mulligan and many more) variety, it is not too surprising that an 18 certificate applies in the UK. So why is it that a similar rating in the US is seen as an exercise in draconian censorship and a death sentence at the box office, leading some people to ask whether “the MPAA be empowered to make parenting decisions“?

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