LFF Day 5 – Happy End | Thoroughbreds | Funny Cow | Gemini

Happy End

Michael Haneke is anything but a boring director and as Happy End opens with the live streaming of an overdose it feels like we are in for a controversial treat. Sadly in reality the film’s most controversial aspect is its almost gleeful avoidance of plot or dramatic events. In fact the real meat of the story is skipped over with the audience left watching characters refer obliquely to events without us actually seeing them.

With Funny Games Haneke tortured the audience by making them complicit in the suffering of the characters. With Happy End Haneke instead tortures the audience by boring them with tedious inaction and irrelevant diversions. No film of the festival has been such a slog or required so much energy to just stay awake.

The BFI’s synopsis claims this film to be “formidably intelligent” and a “slyly satirical gem”. Clearly the film was too smart or too sly for me as I truly did not enjoy it, and not in an exciting or scandalous way; I was just bored senseless.

With a cast including Isabelle Huppert and Toby Jones Happy End is a waste of good talent and everybody’s time.

Happy End screens at the festival on 9th and 13th October and is released in UK cinemas on 1st December.

Thoroughbreds

From a disappointing master to an encouraging newcomer. Thoroughbreds is the debut feature of Cory Finley and stars the always impressive Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy as a pair of privileged young women who start off as reluctant study buddies and, without ever really becoming friends, start to flirt with murderous ideas.

The two leads handle their unsympathetic roles with confident assurance and are accompanied briefly by the late great Anton Yelchin as a local drug dealer out of his depth with two women who have everything to lose but the privilege not to ever risk losing it. Despite there being no likeable characters the film absolutely sucks you in and has you rooting for the baddies.

Finley directs with a witty eye and his script and imagery are accompanied by a perfectly off kilter percussion-heavy score. The result is a dark and deeply satisfying little gem.

Thoroughbreds screens at the festival on 9th, 10th, and 11th October and is in UK cinemas on 9th March 2018.

Funny Cow

Funny Cow is a curious beast. The first feature written by actor Tony Pitts, the film follows an aspiring comedian (Maxine Peake) from her childhood, through an abusive marriage, to success as a stand-up. I was expecting a familiar rags to riches period drama following the rise of her career but Funny Cow is nothing so simple as that.

It is hard to explain what Funny Cow actually is without just showing you the entire film. It is not a comedy; let’s make that clear for a start. This film is a bleak drama with occasional light relief and then when the laughs really start coming they are marred with period-appropriate inappropriate jokes and then a deeply depressing trip to the toilet. Even when we see Peake’s comedian as a success in scenes peppered throughout the film she isn’t being funny, instead she delivers a dark monologue to camera.

Without any marketing material out yet I can’t tell whether Funny Cow meets expectations or not but I honestly wasn’t expecting to feel so deflated by the end. Maxine Peake is incredible in the lead role and I hope she gets more chances to showcase her skills. It is refreshing that Funny Cow does fall into the formulaic mould of Billy Elliot or numerous other British films but at the same time I wish it had found its own coherent shape.

Funny Cow screens at the festival on 9th and 15th October.

Gemini

I am unfamiliar with the work of writer-director Aaron Katz but having seen and enjoyed Gemini I have a sudden urge to devour his back catalogue.

Lola Kirke is the personal assistant to Zoë Kravitz’s movie star but after a night of partying Kirke finds herself turning from assistant to amateur detective when tragedy strikes and blood is spilled. The resulting film is a joyfully authentic modern noir set in modern-day Hollywood and filled with self involved murder suspects.

Aaron Katz has produced a film that looks stunning, is deftly plotted, and has enough self-awareness to be incredibly amusing throughout. The film has a lot to say about the town in which it is set, and the perils of celebrity, but it never stops being fun and never strays from its noir influences.

One of those films that I struggle to explain the joys of so please just go and see it for yourself.

Gemini screens at the festival on 9th and 11th October.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – DVD Review

Film
It’s the Cold War and there’s a mole in the circus (the upper echelon of MI6). It is up to Gary Oldman’s Smiley to sniff out the mole and look miserable doing so.

The most understated film about spies you will ever see. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy doesn’t focus on dramatic chase scenes or explosions; this is a film about men mistrusting other men as they sit around in smoke-filled offices sharing suspicious glances. This is a British film of incredibly high calibre; from the acting of Oldman, Firth, Cumberbatch, Hurt, Strong, Hardy, Jones and friends to the fantastically textured production design. Tinker oozes class from its every pore.

The plot may not be the easiest to follow, and the final reveal of the mole comes with little satisfaction, but there is no doubt that this is a special film including a career defining performance from Gary Oldman. Why not spend a few pennies and class up your dangerously teetering stack of DVDs? If you need more convincing read the full review from last September.

Extras
For a change I’m not going to rant about the lack of extras on a DVD, everyone let out a sigh of relief. This DVD comes with a commentary from Gary Oldman and director Tomas Alfredson, some deleted scenes and a thirty minute interview with John le Carré, author of the original novel (as if you didn’t know). It’s not exactly a treasure trove of extras but as this is a film mostly made up of people talking in rooms (love it) there’s not much for a behind the scenes documentary to reveal.

Summary
Slow burning spy thriller of the finest British quality well worth owning on DVD.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has been out on DVD and Blu-ray for ages, I’m just incredibly lazy.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy DVD provided by BBCShop.com

My Week With Marilyn – Review

Before we get onto the film I’d like to tell you a story about how I found the Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford. Standing in line at the Odeon we noticed that the cinema wasn’t even showing My Week With Marilyn, clearly we were at the wrong Odeon. At this moment two women in the queue abandoned the cinema with one saying to their friend, “there’s still time to catch Marilyn.” Presuming that they meant the film and that they were heading for t’other Odeon we stalked them, darting from tree to lamppost to remain unseen. After a longer than expected stealth walk the two women lead us to a Picturehouse we didn’t realise existed. I love a good Picturehouse and this was no exception: lovely décor and sitting on the back row we had enough leg room to do the can-can had the need arisen. Lovely cinema. ANECDOTE OVER

My Week With Marilyn covers one week of production of the Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) directed The Prince and the Showgirl, as the star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) clashes with her director and finds an ally in 3rd assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). The much-disputed facts come from the memoirs of the real life Colin Clark so the film takes on a very subjective view of events.

As the film begins we are introduced to Clark, an eager young man with a dream of working in the movies, and the family connections to make it happen. Before long he has gotten himself a job on Lawrence Olivier’s new film, a job allowing him to interact with Dame Sybil Thorndike (played with no effort needed by Dame Judi Dench) and flirt with costumer Lucy (Emma Watson at her more convincing). At this point the film is playing as a enjoyable piece of British period cinema, everyone having fun with their roles, particularly Branagh, and the sense of anticipation at the impending arrival of Monroe was shared by characters and audience alike.

When Monroe arrives everyone holds their breath; while Monroe herself could turn heads, Michelle Williams so captures her essence that it is a marvel to behold. I still can’t decide whether or not footage of the real thing was slipped in as there were moments when Williams simply became Monroe. It is more than an imitation, it is an embodiment.

Having said all that Monroe frustrated me at first, her diva-like behaviour as she was constantly late to set seemed unjustifiable and left me far from sympathetic. It was only later as Marilyn and Colin became close that I began to understand this ephemeral character. With filming stressful Marilyn starts to depend on Colin, bunking off with him and refusing to sleep without him by her side. At this point Williams is able to show the severe vulnerability of Marilyn Monroe and brought some much-needed depth to the character. At various points the script tried to veer Marilyn towards cliché but Williams always managed to steer clear.

As essentially the lead, Eddie Redmayne as Colin was not the most dynamic of characters. Rather than do anything of interest Colin only ever seemed to have things happen to him. Not terrible in itself but I feel like Redmayne has a lot more to offer than this film gave him scope for. The only other true stand-out performance alongside Williams was from Kenneth Branagh who was gleefully camped up for his role as the great Sir Lawrence Olivier. Whenever Branagh was on-screen the film was infinitely better.

While a lot of fun My Week With Marilyn doesn’t have a lot going on beneath the surface. As the epilogue tells you at the end, this week was not the most significant for either Olivier or Monroe. Perhaps it was for Colin, but I’d have rather spent more time watching the two legends go head to head and struggle to work together. Besides, how can you ever sympathise with anyone who lets Emma Watson down?

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Review

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, in which Smiley (Gary Oldman) is tasked with finding a soviet spy amongst the upper echelon’s of MI6, is pure class.

With a stoic lead performance from Gary Oldman, a performance allowing just two and a half displays of emotion, sets the tone in this slow and steady retelling of John le Carré’s now classic tale. As spy thrillers go this is definitely one of the most sedate. The story unfolds at a relaxed pace, no detail is rushed past and no flashback is over in a flash. With a pace this slow the film risks becoming boring, but the quality performances filling out every scene don’t allow for this to happen.

The subtle direction never wavers and refuses to get distracted by the action appearing on-screen. A scene featuring torture and murder is shot in exactly the same fashion as Gary Oldman returning home and walking through his house. It is such a thoroughly British film, one evoking a certain Izzard routine, it is surprising to find the director is Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director of Let the Right One In.

Oldman is not alone in providing quality acting, the whole stellar cast shine in this no-frills production. Tom Hardy and Mark Strong are the best I’ve ever seen them, Colin Firth continues to carve out his position as a “proper actor”, John Hurt and Benedict Cumberbatch are joyful to watch as ever and Kathy Burke is a little bit of a revelation. It feels like a genuine treat to see the best of British given the space to strut their stuff.

Where Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy leaves itself open to criticism in with the coherency of the plot. It wasn’t always clear exactly how a particular scene fit into the overall plot, and once the mole was revealed it felt as if any of the suspects could have been in the same position with almost no huge effect on the rest of the film.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a film of rare quality but is a little too emotionally detached to bring pure joy. Regardless, you are required to see it when released on 16th September 2011.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Trailer

Forget the trailer for War Horse, there’s another film with its first trailer out this week and it has a few shots of horses and a lot more dramatic looking British luvvies. Sadly, as it’s comprised of mostly dramatic faces we can’t really do a trailer dissection, or we could but it’s Friday and we’re too tired.

How many of the following can you spot: Gary Oldman, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Konstantin Khabensky, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Roger Lloyd Pack, and Mark Strong.