LFF Day 11 – Ex Libris | Three Peaks | Lady Bird

Ex Libris

At a bum-numbing 197 minutes Frederick Wiseman’s watchful documentary set at various branches of the New York Public Library requires you to give in to its gentle flow and not check your watch for fear of displacing yourself. When standing on a high bridge you only feel the drop beneath you when you peer over the edge and with Wiseman you only struggle with the length when you keep an eye on the time. If you give in the film with loosen you up and pull you along with its tide.

As with his many previous films Wiseman satisfies himself with no talking heads, no introductory title cards; just pure observation. The film starts at a talk by Richard Dawkins and before it ends passes through numerous other talks, committee meetings, community groups, and research projects. If there is a message to the film it is spoken by one of the library’s employees; “access to information is the solution to inequality”. We see all manner of New Yorkers make use of a hugely diverse set of services and get a real sense of the library as a place where nobody is excluded.

If you can get over the running time and find yourself a comfortable seat then this is a beautiful experience.

Three Peaks

Throughout the festival I kept a notebook with me to help jog my memory in picking apart the 40+ films when it came to write them all up. Sometimes would inspire lots of scrawled notes either because of a plethora of amazing parts I wanted to remember or grumbles I needed to make sure I included. On the flip side an empty page either means a film was so enrapturing I forgot to make any notes, or was so inconsequential I had nothing to write. Sadly Three Peaks falls into this final category; a definitive three star film.

Mother, son, and step-father are on holiday in a remove mountain cabin. On the one hand the young boy and his new father-figure seem to get along but one another’s presence occasionally grates on the other leading to moments where they lash out. These scenes are very well observed and show the subtle clashes that can happen as a family goes through change. The film then takes a surprisingly undramatic dramatic turn leading to tense and suspenseful scenes that lack the necessary suspense and tension.

A peculiar film that fails to get up to speed when it needs to.

Lady Bird

I don’t have any notes for this year’s Surprise Film either though thankfully for the completely opposite reason. Lady Bird is a delight.

Coming from the mind of Greta Gerwig Lady Bird is every ounce as offbeat and charming as you want it to be. We follow a year in the life of the titular Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) in her final year of High School as she prepares to go to college and find her place in the world. Refreshingly the heart of the film is not Lady Bird’s love story with a classmate but her love-hate relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). The two clash frequently but it is clear to everyone but themselves that they love each other deeply.

Metcalf and Ronan give layered performances as women at different stages in their lives, both equally selfish and selfless. Time spent in this casts company under the helm of Gerwig is time well spent indeed. Lady Bird is a film about learning who you are and trying not to hurt everyone you love in the process.

Lovely stuff.

Lady Bird is in UK cinemas from 16th February 2018.

Brooklyn – LFF Review

Brooklyn

“Calm and civilised and charming” is how Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) describes her hometown in Ireland after returning for a visit from Brooklyn but she could have easily have been describing the very film she was in. Brooklyn is a beautiful and sentimental film set in the 1950s when Eilis moves from Ireland to start a new life in Brooklyn. At first she struggles with being so far from home but eventually love and a career start to blossom and Brooklyn feels more and more like home. Upon returning home for a visit for a few months Eilis becomes conflicted and must decide where her home, and her heart, truly lie.

All sounds delightful doesn’t it?

What Brooklyn captures well is the feeling of moving far away from home to a more exciting place that is initially much more lonely. Saoirse Ronan is a sympathetic lead, and refreshingly Irish for a change, and easily gets the audience on her side and rooting for her in the big city. Helping her out in Brooklyn are Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters in relatively small roles but both exuding the warmth they so naturally bring to the screen. I almost shed a tear as she sat crying over letters from home. It was all very moving, beautifully shot, and winningly acted.

Brooklyn 2

The film as a whole was very sumptuous to look at. It felt like watching an advert for some indulgent premium confectionery. This is all very pleasing to the eyes but had the effect of removing me somewhat from the emotional side of the film. There are some pivotal relationships involving Eilis but I could not buy into them fully. The golden sheen of the film smoothed out any real intimacy between those involved. The climax of the film involves Eilis making a choice but the outcome felt inconsequential as I was not invested in either option.

Brooklyn is calm and civilised and charming. It is easy to get swept up in its chocolate box charms but I defy you to truly get invested in any of the romance. Saoirse Ronan is a strong actor and capably leads the film but the limitations in Nick Hornby’s script hold her back.

Good but not great Brooklyn is the kind of film the whole family can watch on a cold autumn evening.

Brooklyn airs on the 12th, 13th, and 14th October and tickets are still available to buy.

Hanna – Review

I’ve approached this post many times since seeing Hanna a few weeks back, but have struggled to successfully review Joe Wright’s latest film, a fast paced actioner about a young girl raised as a killing machine and set the task of assassinating an intelligence agent. The film is such a mash-up of styles and genres that I am going to have to review it in pieces and then as a whole.

Here are the pieces:

  • The beginning is essentially Leon in a forest, as a well-meaning European takes care of a girl and teaches her his best skill: killing. This is done well and sets an off-kilter tone to the film. Good stuff.
  • I say a well-meaning European but Eric Bana’s accent is very hard to place and is a bit distracting. Bad stuff.
  • An early chase scene is shot in such a dynamic way and edited with fantastic kaleidoscopic energy that it felt like a music video, not least because of the score provided by The Chemical Brothers. This from the director of Atonement? Amazing stuff.
  • Cate Blanchett plays more a caricature than a character as Marissa the intelligence agent both hunting and being hunted by Hanna. Think more the white witch from Narnia than Scully. Although the hair… Alright stuff.
  • On her travels to kill Marissa and reunite with her father, Hanna comes across a bohemian British family on holiday. Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams are the comedy middle class parents who find Hanna’s independence charming, while Jessica Barden is the snobby daughter who befriends Hanna and brings one of the films touching moments. For fun and heart: Good stuff.
  • On two separate occasions Hanna manages to stumble upon locals of the various countries she visits engaging in spontaneous group singing that perfectly reflects the local culture. It’s a bit too ideal. Mediocre stuff.
  • Tom Hollander plays a suitably creepy European sex club owner who for some reason doubles as a suitably creepy bounty hunter, happy to torture his way to finding Hanna for Marissa. Odd stuff.
  • Towards the end there is a pretty lame plot twist that you see coming early on. Disappointing stuff.
  • What made me love Atonement was a single shot that involved hundred of extras, a long beach and a skillful camera work. Hanna has a couple of these shots, not quite as impressive but each its own technical marvel. Awesome stuff.
  • Finally it should be said that Saoirse Ronan is amazing as the deadly but naïve girl who is utterly selfless and will kill you as soon as kiss you. Brilliant stuff.

So Hanna is filled with stuff of varying levels of quality. Joe Wright is certainly talented and is breaking new ground for himself but lacks consistency within the one film. Quite satisfyingly (from a linguistic point of view) his directing style flits between Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, at one moment moving his camera in a controlled and understated fashion and the next he whips and cuts like he’s scared of losing your attention.

This is precisely what is wrong with Hanna, while the film has plenty of good stuff it doesn’t all gel into a coherent film. Joe Wright has got two jigsaws mixed up and the pieces may look like they go together but on closer inspection don’t quite fit.

Good fun though.