LFF 2018 – third report

With the LFF now thoroughly under way…

Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You was fun, interesting, provocative and unpredictable (especially that third act swerve!), but could it be that it was a victim of its own hype? After having been described as something you’d never seen before it turned out to be… kind of a Kaufman/Gondry kind of deal. It reminded me of things like Human Nature and The Science of Sleep, albeit with its cinematic tomfoolery used in the service of Marxist consciousness rather than its predecessors’ more privileged navel-gazing. Those movies are great bedfellows, though, and there is a lot to recommend in this film (not least of which are the performances of Lakeith Stanfeld, Armie Hammer and Tessa Thompson). Ultimately though, this might be one of those films that’s more fun to talk about at 2am than anything else.


The Coens’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs turned out to be patchy, unable to sustain its length, and weirdly ugly. I’ve seen a lot of people claim this film looked great. Nope – remorselessly digital, in the worst way: flat and artificial. Some nuggets of greatness drift through its waters, but you have to sieve for them. I liked Scruggs though; the demon clown, the deadly moron entertainer, always looking to correct the narrative, draw focus, rig the game and polish his stature. Very Trump.


Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan’s Wildlife plays out like a minor classic of 20th century American literature, which is fitting as that’s what it’s adapted from. It looks beautiful, in a sparse rural Montana kind of way, but the simply structured story of abandonment and adultery is ultimately a platform for Carey Mulligan’s towering performance as a wife slowly, wilfully, going over the edge. The film as a whole is slim (which is fine – not everything is War and Peace), but perhaps can’t help but be anything else but a showcase for her acting. The final image is a doozy, though.


Roma turned out to be a straight-up contender for film of the year – at this point I honestly believe it’ll come down to this vs A Star Is Born. Cuaron’s tale of an indigenous Mexican housekeeper and the 1970 middle-class Mexico City family that employs her is perhaps his masterpiece. It’s beautifully shot, acted with rare grace and subtlety throughout, and filled with moments of transcendence. The scene where a doctor attempts to subtlely excuse himself from a birth was perhaps my favourite moment of the entire festival. Truly great. Coming soon to Netflix, but good lord see it on a big screen if you can. I am slightly worried about the fact that Beck seems to be writing an orchestration for it though. The version we saw had no music at all, over the opening or ending credits or throughout. What are Beck and Cuaron up to…?


I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History as Barbarians (Dir: Radu Jude) spoke most smartly about our times to me. A Romanian artist plans a public re-enactment of a famous World War II battle – or was it an atrocity? The battle for narrative, and the power of the endlessly reanimated past in the living present, are huge themes, and this film rips into them with rare power. Probably the most unashamedly smart film I saw at the fest, wearing its brains on its sleeve and pushing towards a deeply unsettling ending.


Following on from Widows, Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer was another powerhouse acting juggernaut / female-led crime flick. The review for this seem more lukewarm than for Widows, which has been getting endless applause both for its genre power (which Destroyer also has) and its insights into how power operates in American society (not so much). I really enjoyed both films, but I’ll say this – Destroyer’s twists were the ones I didn’t see coming, and while Widows had the best actors, Destroyer has the star. There are thing Kidman can do with a glance than no amount of “quality” acting can reproduce. Do yourself a favour and see both.


My LFF voyage continues in my fourth report…

LFF 2018 – second report

With the pre-festival screenings done, the main event kicked off…

Widows got the festival off to a high-octane start with an excellently enjoyable slice of explosive heist action. But more than that – it was also a compelling exploration of systematic power imbalances, corruption, inequality and the perennially disappointing nature of men. Also; straight off the bat, the best dog of the festival. Much fun to be had in debating the best performance: Davis, Debicki, Kaluuya… for my money though, Cynthia Erivo steals it out from under them (ha!). Probably Steve McQueen’s least interesting film, but still better than 95% of the crime flicks out there.


More thrills, this time of a highly contained nature, in Norwegian single-location thriller The Guilty. Mostly focussing on the face of one man (an dodgy cop exiled to the boredom of emergency call telephony while under investigation) and the voices on the other end of his telephone line, this film milked its setup for all it was worth. Could he solve the riddle of what was unfolding? Could he, should he, go beyond his remit to try and save a life? White knuckle stuff, with nothing but two rooms a monitor and a Bluetooth headset.


Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy was one of my most-anticipated films of the festival – that trailer! – but for me it was a minor disappointment. Stylised to the point of slightly tiresome alienation, its characters never felt real to me, and so all their screaming and wailing ended up as light and sound signifying… if not quite nothing, then not a lot. Better in the second half, when it’s just pedal-to-the-heavy-metal (ha!) action, but even then they have Cage face off against his most interesting foes first, rather then build up to them as a climax. Still, the diluted-pupil aesthetic makes this a unique and memorable film, whatever its flaws. And Cage is as Cage does.


It’s…. nnngggggggggg… crazy EVIL” – Nicholas Cage esquire in Mandy

The Surprise Treasure was a treasure indeed, but we were politely asked NEVER TO REVEAL what it was. It’s not hard to find out. It’s certainly one of the director’s best works and a classic of the biopic genre – now lovingly restored to clarity and caption-readability.


Note: film shown at the LFF was of a much greater clarity than the above screenshot…

Meanwhile, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead proved that while Kevin Wheatley is one of the UK’s most exciting directors, he only truly hits top gear when Neil Maskell is involved. This film has been described by some as “Mike Leigh on acid” (a comment repeated in the Q&A, to which sadly failed to catch the reaction of Leigh himself, in the audience), and is a darkly humorous and slyly observant slice of lower-middle-class savagery. Tea is served alongside booze, lies and recriminations in a hired stately home as Wheatley loosely plays with the dynamics of Coriolanus (the movie’s working title: Colin, You Anus). A very vaguely psychotic, Brexity Abigail’s Party, with Trap music.


Neil Maskell, above, radiates the potential for profound psychic violence. You know, like, arguments and stuff.

My LFF roundup continues with my third report…