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.

Epic – Film Review

Epic

Amanda Seyfried stars as M.K.; a young girl who has recently lost her mother (in typical children’s film style) and is forced to live with her wacky dad in the countryside. Her dad, played by Jason Sudeikis, believes that a civilisation of tiny people live in the forest by their house and spends his days searching for them. M.K. is naturally sceptical of her dad’s theory but when she chases her dog into the woods and ends up shrunk down and involved in an epic (THAT’S THE NAME OF THE MOVIE!!!) battle to claim power over the forest as she helps the Leafmen fight the rot-spreading Boggans as well as trying to return home and to her normal size.

Phew. Plot synopsised!

Epic 1

We were pleasantly surprised by Epic; it was a sweet and funny tale that didn’t overstay its welcome. The story was simple and didn’t stray too far from the classic animated film formula but was enjoyable nonetheless. The jokes were genuinely funny and stemmed from character rather than pop culture references (hello Shrek!) so the film has lasting appeal; the jokes will still be funny long after Britney Spears* is a distant memory. As we left my co-writer Kat said “that could have been a Pixar” which is high praise indeed, though perhaps not totally accurate. Certainly better than Cars* though…

Where Epic falls down is in its villains. Christoph Waltz lent his sinister tone to the leader of the Boggans and they were threatening enough but I wasn’t completely clear on why they wanted the whole forest to turn to rot. Sure they were evil, but why? Maybe they just got tired of Al Gore* harping on about the environment and decided to kill all the trees so he had nothing left to save.

Epic 2

Epic‘s strengths lie with the good guys. M.K. is a feisty female lead that may even pass the Bechdel test if talking to a queen played by Beyoncé Knowles about a genderless flower pod counts. She has a lighthearted romance with Leafman Nod, as played by Josh Hutcherson, and any time the film threatens to get too serious or more scary than its U certificate allows Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd are on hand as a pair of amusing gastropods. Colin Farrell is also present as an older Leafman but he is taking the backseat in this film and does more disapproving than anything else.

Overall the film is a lot of fun and had us both chuckling away throughout. With half-term holidays coming up next week Epic could serve as a perfect distraction for any tiny people in your life. We would advise people to see it in 2D though, headaches and double vision are abound and the 3D adds to little more than your ticket price.

*Examples of out-dated pop culture references

Django Unchained – Film Review

Django Unchained

Finally crafting the Western we know has been coming since 1992 Quentin Tarantino is as unchained as his titular character, unleashing a 3-hour behemoth with more racism, more violence, and more Spaghetti music than we could ever have imagined.

Django first appeared on our screens in 1966 as a white drifter with piercing blue eyes and a machine gun. Since then the character has become an eponymous figure in the Western film, unofficially featuring in thirty-one ‘sequels’. Now Jamie Foxx takes the form of a different Django but with eyes just as piercing, pistol-slinging skills just as unrivalled and a heart just as vengeful.

Unchained sees slave Django become a free man by the hand of slavery-hating German immigrant dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz, played with insane suavity by the charismatic Christoph Waltz. After Schultz Pretty Woman‘s Django into an excellent bounty hunter the pair’s unlikely and extremely frowned upon partnership develops from associate to kinship so much so that when Django sets out to retrieve his wife from the cordial but brutal plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) Schultz agrees to help him on his potentially suicidal mission.

After closing Inglourious Basterds with the tongue in cheek “This might just be my masterpiece,” Tarantino was clearly very happy with where the film had taken him as an artist. He had once again adopted and owned a new aesthetic style, seizing every bit of WWII iconography and paraphernalia possible and piecing together a genre film of unparalleled quality.

Django Unchained 3

Somehow outdoing himself once more Django Unchained is a Western film Best Of, borrowing iconic visuals, musical tones and characters left and right, once more blurring the line between homage and rip-off, but with Tarantino’s staple wit providing the gold that separates his film from all others when sifting the proverbial gold pan of the genre.

Of course, aesthetic glories and a genius script are nothing without an equally impressive cast. Luckily, another staple of a Tarantino film is impeccable casting. In a film with such bold themes only bold actors could thrive. Foxx and Waltz’s chemistry is compelling, funny and genuine as the pair riff through racism and work with graceful charisma. Perhaps most impressive is DiCaprio’s turn as the villainous Candie, whose immersion into the despicable character is a feat that cannot have been easy. Kerry Washington is sadly underused as Django’s wife, Broomhilda but in her short screen time she captivates the audience as much as Samuel L Jackson makes us simultaneously squirm and laugh.

Django Unchained is as funny as it is blunt; as violent as it is beautiful; as statement-making as it is simply a love letter from Tarantino to the genre. Some have challenged Django Unchained as much as some have praised it, and I can’t tell you what to make of it on some fronts but I can tell you that I sincerely hope it picks up that golden statuette next month.

Anti-white bigotry. Exploitative black racism. Masterpiece. There is something for everyone in Django Unchained.

Carnage – LFF Review

In Carnage the Cowans (Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz) are visiting the Longstreets (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) to discuss the fact that the Cowans’ son hit the son of the Longstreets’ in the face with a stick. Everything starts off amicable with the couple being over polite and middle-class about the incident, but as things progress their facades slip and rivalries form.

At first there is a shift from two feuding couples to a battle of the sexes as the wives gang up against their husbands, but before long it seems as if each of the foursome hate one another in equal measure. A this film is adapted from a play there is only one setting, the film progresses in real-time and it all hinges on excellent dialogue from Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski and quality acting from the ensemble. Each actor takes on a dual role, portraying both the compassionate version of their character and the unpleasant snob that lies beneath.

Kate Winslet gets a rare opportunity to give a broad comedic performance, Christoph Waltz displays an occasionally convincing American accent, Jodie Foster excellently plays a tightly wound wife and John C. Reilly, sadly neglected in our We Need to Talk About Kevin review, shines as a simpering pussy-cat turned alpha male.

Roman Polanski doesn’t bring any real cinematic quality to the film, instead allowing the acting to carry the film and so it could be argued that nothing is gained by putting this play on screen. However, the format allows a mainstream audience to see a quality play acted out by a collection of A-Listers you may never get together in the theatre. I love plays and I loved Carnage.

If you like to see four good actors having fun with a theatrical script that takes a swipe at middle class values then this is for you. Though if this applies to you, you’re most likely middle class, you hypocrite.

Carnage screens at the London Film Festival today and this Saturday and is in UK cinemas from 3rd February 2012.