LFF Day 7 – Professor Marston & the Wonder Women | Brawl in Cell Block 99 | Bad Genius | So Help Me God

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women

Professor Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) invent the lie detector, enter into a polyamorous relationships with a student (Bella Heathcote), and then pool these influences to create the most popular female superhero Wonder Woman. This film may look like a typical period drama but contents may include feminism, sadomasochism, and scenes of a progressive nature.

The film offers a fascinating look at the way Wonder Woman was specifically designed to insert feminist values into the mainstream; something that remains all to relevant today as the reception to the recent Wonder Woman film has shown. That said the focus is definitely on the Marstons rather than on Wonder Woman herself.

With all its good intentions and potentially subversive content Professor Marston & the Wonder Women still feels a bit too safe. Despite three great central performance, Rebecca Hall as strong as ever, I never got the sense that the characters existed outside of the scenes shown in the film.

A refreshing change to the norm but a few degrees short of authentic.

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women screens at the festival on 12th and 15th October and is in UK cinemas from 19th November.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Anyone who has seen S. Craig Zahler’s previous film Tomahawk will never forget its slow build to a shocking and violent climax. In his second feature Zahler has repeated this pattern with multiple waves of calm building to increasing extreme explosions of brutal, graphic violence.

An unrecognisable Vince Vaughn stars as Bradley (not Brad) a man who tries to live his life right and by a strict, if questionable, moral code. Unfortunately events conspire against him and Bradley finds himself descending deeper and deeper into a spiral of savagery as he is forced to use brutality to protect his family.

Starting off grounded in reality Brawl in Cell Block 99 evolves into a bloodthirsty fantasy that makes excellent use of practical effects. This film is not for the faint hearted as the visceral sadism had me audibly wincing and a fellow audience member covering their mouth with a handkerchief, their glasses in hand.

A masterpiece of the macabre. Not one to watch alone.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 screens at the festival on 11th, 12th, and 13th October.

Bad Genius

Talented scholarship student Lynn starts at an expensive new school and finds herself surrounded by wealthy classmates whose parents have paid their way to better education. When exams loom Lynn is seduced by money she and her father desperately need to help her less gifted fellow students cheat.

After initial success Lynn and friends get more and more ambitious, and greedy, and try to pull off bigger and bigger cheating schemes. Imagine Ocean’s Eleven set at a Thai school complete with slick camera moves, double-crossing, and increasing complex cons.

The film is a lot of fun and has a superb young cast led by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying. The film is sadly let down by an unjustifiable runtime of over two hours and an ending that jars with all the fun had up to that point. There’s a perfect film hidden somewhere in here.

Bad Genius screens at the festival on 13th and 15th October.

So Help Me God

A truly bizarre documentary from directors Jean Libon and Yves Hinant follows Belgian Judge Anne Gruwez as she goes about her work. Gruwez is a fascinating subject to watch as she tackles all manner of horrendous crimes with terrific gallows humour.

We sit in on meetings with murderers, thugs, and thieves as Gruwez handles them all with a no-nonsense attitude. She is equally unphased when exhuming a body or listening to a woman describe how voices told her to kill a child. There is nothing this woman has not seen or heard before. The only time her interest is truly piqued is when learning about new sexual practices from a dominatrix, or advising a family about the trouble that come from marrying first cousins.

The film is an interesting curiosity but doesn’t linger long once you’ve finished watching.

Christine – LFF Review

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The life and death of Christine Chubbuck has become a modern myth; the story of the newsreader who shot herself live on air at the age of just 29. Sadly this particular myth is not fiction and has now been brought to the big screen by director Antonio Campos with Rebecca Hall in a career best performance as the titular Christine.

Refreshingly Christine does not linger on the act itself but explores the character of Christine and what might have led her to take such a drastic action on live television. Christine is living with her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), lusting after her coworker and lead anchor (Michael C. Hall), and struggling to get taken seriously by her boss (Tracy Letts). None of Christine’s problems are insurmountable but the film subtly shows how numerous issues can culminate in a drastic act. Without obliquely explaining why she took her life the film simply shows us the circumstances of her existence and leaves us to make our own conclusions.

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Despite the morbid subject matter Christine is not a bleak film. While it might have been easier to make a dour drama about a woman on the brink of depression, Campos has decided instead to celebrate the life of Christine Chubbuck. We get to see what drives her and are shown the passion she had for the local news. Christine took herself and her job seriously and thankfully the film mirrors this and does not turn her legacy into a freakshow. The delicate way the film balances humour and human insight is admirable. By the end of the film Chubbuck is no longer an enigma but a relatable person who just went one fatal step too far. Christine may be about a tragedy but the film itself is not tragic.

Responsible for portraying this complex character is Rebecca Hall; an actor not placed in the foreground often enough. Hall gives Chubbuck a heart and provides the soul behind the eyes of a reserved and seemingly uptight persona. The performance she delivers here should be seen as as a real achievement that will hopefully make her a firmer fixture in the cinematic landscape. Hall has come a long way since her part in Starter for 10 a decade ago.

Roughly 20 minutes too long Christine is otherwise flawless. What we have here is not just a tribute to a woman who died far too young but a showcase for an underrated British talent.

As enjoyable a film about suicide as there is likely to be.

Please Give – Review

At first I thought Please Give was a dreary drama but upon learning it was actually a comedy, a genuine funny and understated comedy, I couldn’t help but go and see it. Coming out of the screen I was incredibly happy with the film, and find it hard to find fault with it.

Please Give is a quite beautiful moving and dark comedy following one woman trying to atone for the fact that she scams the families of the deceased in order to stock her vintage furniture shop. Catherine Keener plays the part well, gradually revealing the humanity in a woman we’d otherwise have no sympathy for.

Meanwhile her daughter is struggling with the way she looks in a very understated way, and towards the end of the film Sarah Steele plays a scene with no dialogue to help her which almost broke my heart. To say any more about that would ruin the film.

The third strand of the film is taken up by the elderly neighbour of the family who sold her flat to them so they can expand their own when she dies. Her two granddaughters, Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet, often visit and take care of her and have problems of their own, but again I’ll stop short of explaining the entire film for you. Suffice to say that Hall and Peet play two wildly different characters with ease and extremely convincingly.

The entire cast, including Oliver Platt as Keener’s flawed but funny husband and Ann Morgan Guilbert as the elderly neighbour, take to their roles perfectly lending the film a very natural and believable feel.

While the film has it’s share of drama it is always very understated and the laughs are regular. In case you hadn’t realised yet I really liked Please Give; its got great actors doing great acting with a great script.

This film is good.