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Review: Monsoon [London Film Festival]

October 13, 2019

Monsoon begins at a junction. The cars pass, slowly and orderly, before mopeds and vans swirl into the mix. Chaos fills the road with no markings, no sense of order, but yet there is no catastrophe only narrow misses and swerving bikes. The camera rises up, higher and higher, enlarging the scope of the madness, of the disorder, before cutting to Kit (Henry Goulding), who sits in a taxi, on his way to a hotel. 

Kit has returned to Vietnam after 30 years in England. His family escaped during the war after his father was arrested when Kit was only six. He is back in Saigon to find a location to spread his mother’s ashes but he finds that the little he does remember of his once home is gone – the small pond behind the flat he grew up in where he used to play, has been filled in and built over and the building the flat is in is likely to be knocked down in due course. He remembers flashes, brief and small images from his short time in Saigon, but he lacks more than that. When his family fled they burnt all their family photographs to protect those closest to them, so they couldn’t be identified.  

Monsoon / Peccadillo Pictures

While in Saigon, Kit meets Lewis (Parker Sawyers), an American man in Vietnam to set up his clothing company ‘Curve’ – so named because Lewis is ‘not straight’. The two meet for a drink on a rooftop bar, discussing their online dating profiles, before heading back to Kit’s hotel room. They kiss, take off their shirts, and it feels like it might be leading somewhere but the film cuts to the two men, post-sex. It’s disappointing that the sex in Monsoon is so regulated, with each scene cutting away before anything really raunchy or even tender happens. The only scene with any hint of actual sex is during a hook-up Kit has on a trip to Hanoi, as he turns his lover around and kicks aside his leg in a move of aggressive sexuality.

This is an all too common problem for queer cinema; figuring out who it is appealing to, a queer audience or a straight one? Sex scenes, like those in Call Me By Your Name or Brokeback Mountain, are short and relatively un-sexual in their sparseness to keep a straight audience interested and the former came under fire for watering down the famous ‘peach scene’ from the book. In the case of Monsoon, it feels the director and writer, Hong Khaou, wanted the sex but worried about alienating a straight audience which leaves the film feeling somewhat censored, as if there are parts missing.  Especially in contrast to the other queer film’s screening at the festival like Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced which is deeply erotic and charged, the tender nudity in Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, or the full-framed rawness of the sex in Lucio Castro’s End of the Century.

Goulding and Sawyers have good chemistry and their scenes together do feel the most real and warm, their flirting feels playful and sweet. Goulding’s performance in-particular is quiet and brooding most of the time which adds another string to the bow of a man who’s already been compared to Clark Gable. Yet something feels like it’s missing (and it’s not just the sex). 

Henry Goulding / PHOTO: GQ.

Hong Khaou’s debut film Lilting in 2014 was about a young gay man living in London trying to form a connection with the mother of his dead boyfriend. It was a deep and rich film that delicately unravelled itself before your eyes. In this way, Khaou’s films feel like they are about translation; of language, of emotion, of experience. They find themselves within a world of shifting cultures and personal hardships. They’re often quiet, still, and creeping. They look at disconnection and wonder what fills that gap between people. They look at loss and how it wraps itself around you and consumes you. Yet, Monsoon doesn’t quite live up to the emotional weight of Lilting nor does it seem to have the same focus or drive. It loses itself in what it’s trying to say and ultimately never quite makes its mark. It’s hampered by dialogue that is riddled with exposition. As such it never really feels like the film is in the moment and, as an audience, we’re being asked to catch up constantly. 

As emphasised by its impressive opening shot, Benjamin Kracun’s cinematography is the film’s strongest asset. The slow-moving or often still camera compliments Kit’s position – stuck between England and Vietnam, between past and future. He is mysterious and doesn’t reveal his cards right away and the camera does the same, its slow pans and stationary shots of skyscrapers don’t reveal their intention immediately, but cause you to wonder and guess at their meaning in a way that feels considered and intentionally vague. Kracun, whose recent credits include the dark thriller Beast and the rave oriented Beats, is certainly one to watch.

Despite its stronger moments, Monsoon unfortunately doesn’t feel like a worthy follow-up to Lilting. Instead, it finds itself lost somewhere between romance and family drama, unable to really make an impact in either category. While the chemistry of its two leads is, at times, palpable it’s not enough to turn it into the Before Sunrise or Columbus it feels like it wants to be. 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Monsoon will be distributed by Peccadillo Pictures.

A release date has yet to be announced.

Monsoon (Film Clip)

Also Read: Understanding The British Rom-Com

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Reviews

Review: Honey Boy [London Film Festival]

October 11, 2019

‘The only thing my dad gave me that was worth anything was pain and you want to take that away from me,’ says Otis, a former child actor who is currently attending court-ordered rehab. He is in the process of therapy, something that is being recorded to prove to the courts he is recovering and  Honey Boy was written from that exact place. 

Shia LaBeouf, once a famed child actor and now more commonly known for his performance art and various arrests, wrote the first draft of the script from rehab where he sent it to Alma Har’el, a friend and confidant (who would later become the film’s director). It was an unfinished draft, born from LaBeouf’s therapy sessions, and once LeBeouf was out of rehab the two finished it together. While this might sound like the kind of Hollywood vanity project fuelled by ego that you might expect from someone in LaBeouf’s position, it’s couldn’t be further from it. It’s tender, disarming, sympathetic, hypnotising, and raw. 

The film follows an adult Otis (Lucas Hedges) as he examines his past and his relationship with his father after being diagnosed with PTSD from his childhood. Through flashbacks, we see a younger Otis (Noah Jupe) on the set of his TV show (with scenes reminiscent of Even Stevens) and his life with his father, James (Shia LaBeouf). Their life, in a motel complex somewhere in LA, is not the life you’d expect a child star to live. Otis often walks himself home and steals food from the set. While his dad grows weed in secret by the freeway and attends AA meetings regularly. It is not the lifestyle that comes to mind when you think of the ‘Hollywood Elite’ who are so often pontificated about.

Writer and star Shia LaBeouf / Photo: Larry Busacca

This life couldn’t be further from that of the Kardashian’s or any other Hollywood ‘royalty’ we have become used to. Otis’s dad refuses to hold his hand anywhere people might see them, he doesn’t want to be seen to be soft or caring. He is an addict, four years sober, who didn’t achieve what he wanted. He is a  former clown and performer who, after an arrest and sexual assault allegation, found himself divorced and working for his prepubescent son. He is an abuser, emotionally and physically. He’s a man in pain. In some moments we feel his pain and at others, we detest him – sometimes feeling both simultaneously. We see his hurt, we see its roots and we see its reach. 

Can we inherit pain? If those around us, who raise us, are racked with hurt do we then carry that burden too? How do we take that on? How does it manifest within us? How does it hinder us, grip us, affect us? Some scientists believe that the trauma of our parents changes our genetic markers while others disagree. Either way, growing up near so much pain is bound to have an effect and Honey Boy wants to understand that effect, to inspect it, and portray it. 

Director Alma Har’el / Photo: AdAge

Har’el’s direction does just that by cutting right through to the essence in this, her fiction film debut. Her ability to jump from bombastic montages set to thumping hip-hop to quiet, sombre, introspection is masterful. She straddles the narrative and the avant-garde with ease, superbly creating a dreamlike, hazy, feel to the overall film while continually rooting it in reality. She makes the film feel like memory and reality are converging on each other, the line between them becoming hazier with each scene but then, all at once, plummeting back into certainty. She continually charms you with humour and light before shocking you with aggression and gloom. It’s LeBeouf’s world but Har’el weaves it into a tapestry that is complex and disarming. 

Har’el is also skilled with actors. LeBeouf’s performance is a career-best as he draws the character, based on his own father, in the grey areas. Outside of LaBeouf, there isn’t a dud performance to be seen. Relative newcomer Noah Jupe shines as a young boy managing his father’s temper and expectations while elsewhere Lucas Hedges continues to prove he’s one of cinema’s most interesting and versatile talents as the older Otis. FKA Twigs (in her film debut) exudes cosiness and melancholy as the girl growing up across the street from Otis, her performance is deeply rooted in physicality and quietness. Even Natasha Lyonne, though never seen on screen, provides audio cameo in one of the films funniest yet tragic scenes as Otis’s mother. 

Honey Boy, at its core, is a portrait of broken people. From those who are trying to build themselves again and those who have shattered beyond repair. It’s about addiction and the ways in which we become our parents. We watch their demise, their mistakes, and then do the same thing in a way that feels almost inevitable, unavoidable, and mythic in its tragic nature. The film itself feels like therapy for its writer but not in a way that feels solipsistic or melodramatic. It feels deeply personal and intimate yet never closed off. It feels like Honey Boy is an example of something not often seen, in which an artist abandons their ego, owns up to their mistakes, and cuts through all the noise to tell an honest, human, story.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Honey Boy is scheduled for release in December.

Also Read: The Lighthouse (Review)

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Reviews

Review: The Lighthouse [London Film Festival]

October 10, 2019
The Lighthouse

How long ago was it that you saw a great black and white film? A few days, weeks, months or is it that long ago that you forget it? Well, if there’s one black-white movie you will remember forever, it’s The Lighthouse from director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Tell-Tale Heart). Together with co-writer Max Eggers, he wrote a very compelling story that is being turned into a masterpiece by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.

Follow the light

Thomas Wake (Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) are two lighthouse keepers who are being sent to a remote island. They will live there for only a few weeks but that will be much harder than they think. While both of them are lighthouse keepers, it’s Wake who’s clearly in charge of the lighthouse. Instead of being Wake’s prodigy, Winslow seems to be his slave. He needs to get the food in the pouring rain and heavy wind and needs to clean up the mess. At first, he’s fine with doing all these chores but it doesn’t take long before that feeling changes.

Living together 24/7 in a very small place is putting pressure on both men. Winslow is getting more agitated about his work, wants to operate the lighthouse and wants a woman he can love instead of living with an “old man”. Wake, on the other hand, is getting more annoyed by Winslow his behaviour and finds him very ungrateful. Deep down he wants someone who takes care of him and who appreciates the things he does. How long will it be before the men are getting at each other throats?

Perfectly crafted film

Since winning the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival where the film got its world premiere, The Lighthouse is creating an Oscar buzz. One or multiple Academy Awards would be well-deserved as this movie is an outstanding one for many reasons.

This film was shot on 35mm and in the Academy ratio and it’s so liberating to see a modern film like that. These days we get to see revivals from more older films shot 33mm and so it’s great to see that director Eggers decided to honour that unique way of shooting in a more recent movie. If this would have been shot in colour, it would certainly have not the same effect. The Lighthouse is visually perfect and it fits the story impeccably well.

A big part of the movie is without a doubt the sound, especially at the beginning when there are not a lot of conversations. Whether the loud honks are imitating the sound of the boats passing by or just to create the right atmosphere of this film, they do the trick. It gives The Lighthouse a very special horror vibe but at the same time, the film also becomes a drama and psychological thriller. It transcends genres, that’s for sure.  

The writing process for this film must have a very interesting one. There’s not much dialogue going on in this movie. Most of the conversations are either monologues of the two men following each other up or some drunk debates. Sometimes they don’t make any sense, especially when they come from Wake who’s suffering from loneliness, but they will leave you breathless.

Dafoe and Pattinson outdo themselves

These are monologues that are being brought perfectly by both Dafoe and Pattinson. What Pattinson (High Life, The Lost City of Z) didn’t have in The King, he has now in bucket loads in The Lighthouse. Charisma, the power to drawn people to the screen and to the ability to put on a spot-on performance. From someone who shows respect and loyalty at first to a broken man who doesn’t let someone walking over him. Pattinson allows us to sympathise with his character who has to endure a hard time. His performance reminds us of the one he put on in Good Time.

What about Dafoe (The Florida Project, At Eternity’s Gate)? Well, he’s just superb as the drunken, unstable and confused lighthouse keeper who has lost the grip on reality. The hangover scenes between the two men are just gold and bring a fun element to this film.

The Lighthouse guides you to the cinema

If there’s a movie you have to see on the big screen, it’s this one. After making the brilliant The Witch, director Eggers pulls it off again. The incredibly dark and hypnotic The Lighthouse will blow you away with its smashing cinematography and intense score and is an impressive two men act from Pattinson and Dafoe. Catch it while you can during the BFI Film Festival on Friday the 11th of October or Sunday the 13th. If you can’t make it, then you’re going to have to wait until the beginning of next year. Not sure if you want to wait that long… 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

(This review was written as part of Big Picture Film Club’s coverage of the BFI London Film Festival 2019)

The Lighthouse (Official Trailer)

Also Read: The Unlikely Success of A24

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Reviews

Review: Joker

October 4, 2019

Whether you know him as Clown Prince of Crime or the Harlequin of Hate, you know who we’re talking about. The Joker! That green hair, the pale face and the bright red lips are back because of director Todd Phillips (Due Date, The Hangover). However, the Jester of Genocide was never this human, terrifying and compelling as he’s in Joker. The man you have to thank for that: the dazzling Joaquin Phoenix.

From party clown to murderer

Welcome to Gotham City in the ’70s. It’s a time during which a massive economic and political crisis is threating the city, that’s crumbling down completely. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is one of the people who have to endure those uncertain times. He’s having mental health problems, a cigarette addiction and when his social worker won’t give him medication, life becomes even worse. His job as a clown and his ambition to become a stand-up comedian bring a little bit more laughter to his life. Most of the time way too much laughter as Fleck has to deal with his uncontrollable laughter decease. Despite his troubled and dark life, he’s trying to give his mother (Frances Conroy), with who he lives together, the best life possible. He’s cooking her food and watching her favourite show “The Murray Franklin show” together.

His life gets even darker when he is fired from his job and when his comedy act isn’t working. When people are making more and more fun of his incurable decease, something in Fleck’s mind snaps. Ready to take revenge on those who mock him and those who neglected him when he and his mother needed them the most (such as Thomas Wayne). What happens when his anger, frustration, and vengeful feelings are being enhanced by the troubled society? Well, then Fleck becomes the Joker!

Give the man an Oscar

You probably have seen joker in multiple shapes (Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger,…) and many different films (Batman, The Dark Knight,…) but no one or no film comes as close as the real thing as this one by Phillips.

The main reason is without a doubt the stunning performance from Phoenix (Walk the Line, You Were Never Really Here). Having to portray a broken, confused, desperate but also vindictive, violent and determined man must have been extremely hard to do. Phoenix pulls it off extraordinarily. He’s shy, reserved and insecure as the comedian but strong, violent and reckless as the Joker. We can still hear his hard and cruel laugh. By the end of the film, he made us feel confused, uncomfortable and astonished, all in a good way though. We certainly need to applaud Phoenix’s stunning psychical transformation.

While Phoenix does rise above everyone else, this is not a one-man show. As the entertaining, suave and typical talk show host, we see captivating and intriguing Robert De Niro (The Irishman, Silver Linings Playbook). It might not be his best work but the last scene with Phoenix makes up for that big time. That talk and everything around it shows the best of the best of both actors and will leave you breathless way after the film ended.

The motherly emotions are being brought to life by the great and captivating Conroy (American Horror Story (TV series), Mountain Rest) as the sad, confused and naïve Penny. More wonderful supporting performances come from Brett Cullen (Ghost Rider, The Dark Knight Rises) as the egocentric, powerful and forceful politician Thomas Wayne and from the fine and delighted Zazie Beetz (Lucy in the Sky, Deadpool) as Fleck’s neighbour who’s a little spark of light in his life.

More than just a comic

While watching Joker, you might even forget that this movie is based on the DC Comic characters. Phillips made such an immensely mature movie. Instead of focussing on the superhero side, Joker becomes a psychological study of a damaged and mentally ill man. Phillips wasn’t only able to create this via the brilliant acting performances but also via the impressive cinematography from Lawrence Sher (The Hangover, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) and the bombastic music from Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl (TV series), Sicario: Day of the Soldado).

Phillips and Sher already worked together during The Hangover films and their partnership is again spot on. While Phillips brings the Joker story to life by work, Sher does it with dark, enigmatic and mysterious images. Images of which you ask whether they’re happening or whether they’re just Fleck’s imagination. That very last scene is really the highlight of their corporation. If you add the grandiose, over-the-top and disturbing musical score from Guðnadóttir to it, you feel the gloomy, dark and disturbing vibe coming out of the (IMAX) screen instantly.

Who’s laughing now?

Well, pretty sure it’s director Phillips. Since the world premiere during the Toronto Film Festival, both critics and audiences fell in love with Joker. Not so hard to guess why. This brilliantly made, perfectly performed and spot-on dark character study will blow you away big time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Joker (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Joke’s On You: The History of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis

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Review: Waiting for the Barbarians

September 28, 2019

Last year, director Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent, The Wind Journeys) made furore with his Birds of Passage (original title: Pájaros de Verano) and won nineteen prestigious awards with it. Pretty sure that his newest film Waiting for the Barbarians, which is also his first English-language feature, will receive the same success. Not only because of the superb performance of Mark Rylance but also because he created a visually attractive, emotionally and stunningly crafted movie.

The compassionate Magistrate versus the frigid colonel

The unnamed Magistrate (Mark Rylance), who’s working in a distant outpost near the frontier, is living a humble and down to earth life. There’s not much going on his village and so he enjoys his spare time by doing some writing. However, that peace is disturbed by the arrival of colonel Joll (Johnny Depp). Despite the Magistrate good intentions, the colonel has everything but that. No interrogation tactic is too cruel for him to make sure that every Barbarian is serving ‘justice’. After concluding that Barbarian people are indeed savages, the colonel decides he has seen enough for now and says goodbye to the village.

The colonel might be gone but the troubles are still present for the magistrate. After encountering a homeless (and Barbarian) girl (Gana Bayarsaikhan) in his village, he decides to take her in. Not only because he’s good to everyone but also because she had to endure a hard time by the hands of the colonel. She seems a closed book at first but after opening up to the Magistrate about herself, her family and her future, he wants a future with her. Sadly, she wants to return to her family. Even though it would be against his people their beliefs, the Magistrate decides to help her to get back to the Barbarians. However, both his town as well as the colonel see this as treason. What will await him when he returns home?

Mark Rylance outclasses everyone

If this story sounds familiar, then you’ve probably read the novel by the South African-born writer J. M. Coetzee. His work was the inspiration for this film. Just like the book by Coetzee itself, this movie has many great things to offer.

One of them is the strong performance of Rylance (Dunkirk, Ready Player One). We haven’t seen a lot of actors who can play such a modest, honest and poignant role as he does in such an outstanding way. To some, it might seem that he’s underplaying it but that’s where his brilliance comes in. Big emotions subtlety performed. Who’s absolutely not subtle is colonel Joll, played by Depp (City of Lies, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) in a dark and mysterious way. His character is the opposite of Rylance’s. A cold-blooded and cruel colonel who only wants it his way. While we don’t see much emotions of Depp, due to the nature of the colonel, he still puts on a convincing display.

He’s another of those big names attached to this film but it takes a long while before we see a glimpse of Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse, High Life). While we, from the bottom of our hearts, want to believe the powerful traits of his officer Mandel, it’s hard to do that. Not only because of Pattinson’s laughter but also because he lacks a little bit of charisma in this movie. His performance might have its flaws but it was still very enjoyable to watch. The female touch and emotions are provided by Gana Bayarsaikhan (Wonder Woman, Ex Machina). She brings an even more vulnerable and touching vibe to this movie which certainly balances out the masculinity in this film.

Congratulations to the entire crew!

The production crew behind Waiting for the Barbarians (source: IMDB)

Despite the performances being on point, they’re not elements that stand out in this film. No, it‘s clear that the teams behind the camera are the ones that excel in this film. There’s no doubt in our minds that the members of the makeup department are really the ones that brought this film to life. The gashing wounds, the painful injuries or the deep cuts. With that in mind, we want to say that this movie isn’t for the light-hearted. We also certainly want to applaud cinematographer Chris Menges and location manager Youssef Abagourram. They were able to bring together beautiful, eye-catching and diverse landscapes, which light up the big screen in a gorgeous way. You have to stay until the very end to see one of the most beautiful made scenes in this movie.

Captivating, intriguing and splendid movie led by Mark Rylance

Waiting for the Barbarians is divided into four different segments, which represent the four seasons. They all have delightful stories to tell, stories you need to see and hear. Want to catch this captivating, intriguing and splendidly made film that included a dazzling performance from Rylance? Well, then you’re in luck. This movie will be screened at the BFI Film Festival London on Sunday the 6th, Monday the 7th and Wednesday the 8th of October.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

(This review was written as part of Big Picture Film Club’s coverage of the BFI London Film Festival 2019)

Waiting for the Barbarians (Teaser Clip)

Also Read: Ad Astra (Review)

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Reviews

Review: Ad Astra

September 23, 2019

Life in 2017, First Man in 2018 and now Ad Astra. We can hear you thinking “not another movie about space. Aren’t there enough of these?”. Well, maybe but certainly not like this one from writer/director James Gray (The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant). While his Ad Astra is indeed about an astronaut on a space mission, it’s also about a personal mission to reconnect with a long lost father and coming to terms with life. That intense and emotional story, the marvellous performance from Brad Pitt and the stunning effects created make from Ad Astra a movie you should see.

3,2,1… Go!

Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), who has no parents anymore or a wife and kids, is fully dedicating his life to his missions. Space has no secrets for his anymore… or maybe just one. Due to strange powers coming from an unknown source, the earth is facing distractions destruction, death, and fear. McBride is being called in for a top-secret mission that’s not only going to have a massive impact on his professional life but also on the personal one. He will be sent up again. This time to Neptune to check out where the powers come from. However, Neptune might not be the only thing he encounters on that planet. According to the last intel, his father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) is still alive after the latest failed assignment.

While having to deal with this very unexpected news, McBride has to prepare himself both mentally and physically for this next mission. During most of the preparations, he has been able to keep his cool but the news about his father might be too hard for him to handle. Due to the death of a fellow astronaut and due to the feeling that he’s being abused by the government, McBride might not be able to stay at focussed as he normally would be. After getting even more disturbing news about his dad, it seems that his mission is becoming in more danger. Will he be able to keep it all together and make from this mission a successful one or will he have to abort his mission for the very first time in his career?

Out-of-this world special effects

It’s for you to find out whether the voyage will be successful or not but at least one thing will have great success: This film! For many different reasons.

The brightest star of this movie is without a doubt the special effects that are being used. The visual effect department delivers out-of-this-world work with Ad Astra. Right from that very first scene, we feel what it should be like when we would be in space. That height and McBride descending the stairs is certainly a scene that will dazzle everyone. People with a fear of heights might need to close their eyes during that breathtaking moment. You feel the natural light but also the darkness of the universe coming your way.

While we all know that director Gray didn’t send it team up to space, the special effects made it look very real. The beautiful twinkling stars, the colourful rings of Neptune and the yellow heat of the sun. It’s all there coming to life thanks to the SFX team. If you’re dreaming of going to the moon yourself or you’ve always wanted to know what it would be like living in a spaceship, the impressive visuals will give you the perfect insight.

Brad Pitt takes Ad Astra to new heights

What Ryan Gosling did for First Man, Pitt (Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, The Big Short) is doing for Ad Astra. Whether it’s as the dedicated, strong and professional astronaut or as the insecure, lonely and divided man, Pitt gives himself 100% every second. Some might say that his expression is a little bit monotonous but apart from the mission, there’s not much going on in McBride’s life either. Thanks to Pitt’s voice-over, the feeling and emotions from McBride are been highlighted even more.

The fact that Ad Astra is focussing mainly on McBride means that the more supporting roles are being pushed to the background. While Tommy Lee Jones (Just Getting Started, Shock and Awe), Donald Sutherland (American Summer, Basmati Blues) and Ruth Negga (Warcraft: The Beginning, Loving) are all captivating, wonderful and enjoyable to watch as H. Clifford McBride, Thomas Pruitt, and Helen Lantos, they don’t get much time to showcase their expertise which is a shame. Sadly the emotions fall a little bit flat more towards the end and it feels like this movie is dragging on. Some unnecessary and strange moments could have been left out in this film.

Ad Astra is a shooting star

It wasn’t so long ago that this film got its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Since then it’s been loved by both critics and fans. Due to the dragging feeling at the end and some strange events happening throughout the film, this film lost some light. However, it still gets three and a half very bright stars because of the captivating emotional scenes, stunning visual and top-notch Brad Pitt.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Ad Astra (Official Trailer)

Also Read: How Sci-Fi Imagined The Future

Reviews

Review: Hilda

Life can be great: Wonderful friends and a loving family to spend time with, doing whatever you want and just having amazing moments. However, it can also be the total opposite. You’re going through a very rough time and you don’t have much to look forward to. Hilda has to deal with that hard and difficult life. Her emotional and gripping story is being told by writer/director Rishi Pelham (Tape) and this results in a moving, captivating but also sweet and vibrant film.

Dancing through an incredibly difficult time

Hilda (Megan Purvis), a teenage girl living in London, is going through some troublesome moments. Insecure about who she is and uncertain about her future. Her family is falling apart every day a little bit more. Her mum and dad are verbally abusing each other and also Hilda has to deal with that. She’s about to become a big sister for the second time and so it looks like her life won’t become any easier.

However, there’s something that keeps her going: dancing. Whether it’s at the club, at school or just in her room. Dance is her way to express herself. Luckily for Hilda, her life is about to become much better after meeting her best friend Ayala (Yasmin Al-Khudhairi). The two girls come from two totally different backgrounds but there’s instant chemistry between them as they share the love for dancing. Finally, there’s some light in Hilda’s life but after the birth of her little brother, darkness comes again…

Unique and personal story

During our talk with the director, he mentioned that the story for this film came from a ride on the tube during rush hour. A young teenage girl had her headphones plugged in and it sounded like there was metal music coming out and she was just dancing along on her seat. All she needed was the music and her imagination. It’s a very unique and personal story and that’s certainly visible in this movie.

That personal connection isn’t only present in the storyline but also the cast and crew themselves have a special bond. Director Pelham and Al-Khudhairi, who plays Ayala, knew each other before making this film as they both studied in Manchester, just like some other crew members. Even if there would be no friendship to begin with, we would understand why Pelham would cast Al-Khudhairi for his movie. She delightfully brings a bright, open, funny but also sombre and serious element to this film. She’s at the start of her acting career, as Hilda is her debut film, but we’re sure she will be gracing our screens very soon with more work.

Opposite her and as the main character we see Purvis (Sunset Hill, The Young Cannibals) who gives a special, moving and captivating performance. Pelham organized multiple workshops before shooting the film so that everyone could get used to the harsh words and poignant script. The actors saw each other multiple times before shooting whether it was in character or not and that paid off for this movie.

Where there’s darkness, there’s also some light

Hilda her life might be full of darkness but she still finds some light during her dances so the dance cinematography for this movie was as important as the acting performances. Luckily for Pelham, he could count on a very talented dancer called Justyna Szymanska. She and Purvis had numerous practices and thanks to their cooperation, the dance routines came to life. Another crucial aspect of this film is the combination of sound and light. Right from the very first scene, you notice that it’s spot on. Upbeat music combined with flashing and colourful light during the club scenes and more black and light colours and slower music during her dance practices.

Catch it when you can

Hilda recently got its premiere at the Raindance Film Festival and so far this is the only festival where this film will be screened. However, we hope that this film will reach more film festivals soon because it’s a beautiful, passionate and genuine film made with a lot of love and dedication.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

HILDA (Official Trailer)

Also Read: The Formula For A Successful Film

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Reviews

Review: Driven to Abstraction

September 20, 2019

Are you an art collector who’s on the lookout for an authentic Pollock, an expressive Monet or a fabulous Motherwell or are you a lover of fine artwork? Then you should check out the thought-provoking and interesting documentary from director Daria Price (Out on a Limb, Survival of the Fittest). You will be (re)introduced to one of the most intriguing, well-known and unbelievable cases of forgery fraud the art industry has ever known: The Ann Freedman case.

Was it greed or naivety?

It all started in 2011 when the highly regarded art gallery Knoedler announced that after being in the art business for 165 years, it would close its doors. Most people in the art world were very astonished when that news hit the papers apart from some who knew what was going on: Knoedler and its president Ann Freedman were sued for art forgery.  After literally trying to buy her way out of this, Freedman’s case got even more attention but not in the most positive way. Art dealers and advisors but also journalists and buyers start keeping an extremely close eye on Knoedler and Freedman.

When there are no shipping papers, no contracts with the buyers or no exhibition records of the paintings, then you know something is off. But how much did Ann Freedman know? Was she aware that the painting she sold for a multi-dollar budget were fake or was she victim of a con artist just like the buyers themselves? Did she handle out of greed or out of naivety?

The destruction of Knoedler in every way possible

In this documentary we get to know what happened (and what not happened) from the people who followed this case from incredibly close by. Whether it’s Michael Shnayerson (Contributing editor for Vanity Fair), Patricia Cohen (reporter of The New York Times), different artists or even Freedman’s attorney Luke Nikas, you’ll get a 360-degree angle of what went on between the uprising of the prestigious new art gallery to its destruction. It doesn’t matter whether you knew about this story beforehand or not, you will certainly gain new, unique and fascinating insides from those first-hand sources.

Because of the worldwide attention this case got, a lot of different and divergent opinions were formed. Which events took place and which were fake just for the sake of attention? Director Price wanted to represent all those different points of view in as many ways as possible and decided to use multiple coverage images. Most of them are interviews with important and respected people so it can feel a little bit repetitive. However, because they all have some exciting and entertaining things to say, Driven to Abstraction is able to keep your attention all the way. Price also used official documents, historic pictures, and newspapers to make sure that there’s a lot of diversity in her latest work. If you into a crime/documentary feature then you will love Driven to Abstraction as this is exactly how it should be.

Did she or did she not know? Get the answer at the Raindance Film Festival

Did the painter who forged the paintings know what was going on? Was Ann Freedman in on the $80 million forgery scandal that shook the art world? What happened to the people who became the victims of Knoedler. Driven to Abstraction will allow you to form your answers to all of these questions. Pretty sure you will be discussing this documentary with your friends and colleagues next time you go for a pint. First, you should stop at the Raindance Film Festival where this fascinating and well-made documentary will be screened on the Saturday 21st of September and Monday the 23rd of September.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

(This review was written for the Raindance Film Festival)

Driven To Abstraction (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Five Great Films About Filmmaking

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Reviews

Review: The Farewell

‘Based on a true story’ are words even the most casual of movie-goers will recognise. They’re almost in-built into the DNA of modern filmmaking, no matter how loosely they’re used. Lulu Wang’s second feature The Farewell, however, announces it’s ‘based on an actual lie’. 

In 2013, Wang found out her grandmother (her Nai Nai) had Stage 4 Lung Cancer and was given three months to live. Her family decided not to tell Nai Nai she was sick, something that is relatively common in China, as a way to spare her the pain of knowing that her life was ending. Instead, they staged a ruse wedding as an excuse for everyone to travel home, to Changchun, and say goodbye. 

The Farwell is introspective and layered with a beautifully melancholic score by Alex Weston and gorgeous cinematography by Anna Franquesa Solano. It is a rich meditation on culture, family values, the familial bond, mortality, morality, truth, and pain. It features a cast of talented actors, who imbue the family at the centre of the story with nuance and complexity, led by a dazzling Awkwafina as Billi, a Chinese-American woman who acts as a stand-in for Wang. 

The Farewell / A24

As Billi returns to China she is forced to confront the parts of herself that have shifted since she left when she was six-years-old. It was a move that left her feeling disjointed. In China, she feels American, she speaks a language she can’t read and every so often doesn’t understand certain words or phrases. In America, she feels lonely. Her family and her happiest memories are from her childhood in Changchun. She feels as if her connection to her home is dwindling, fizzling out before her eyes. The house she lived in was sold, her Nai Nai’s old house is long gone since the neighbourhood was renovated, and she lost her Grandfather when she was younger and was unable to attend his funeral. When she hears Nai Nai’s diagnosis, she fears she’ll lose her too and her connections to her childhood, and to China, will be severed for good. 

Billi wants this visit, the one that might be her last with Nai Nai, to mean something but she’s not sure it can if Nai Nai doesn’t know the truth. In western culture, we are obsessed with knowing everything, obsessed with the truth no matter how much it hurts. We cannot conceive, even for a second, that knowing it all might not be in our best interests. We have difficulty embracing the mere idea of collectivism, as our identities are often built around the western ideal of individualism and our societies exist around the self, our histories are built on it. We live our lives within family units and social groups but ultimately we live for ourselves, first and foremost, but The Farwell lays out its delicate counter-argument. 

‘In the East, a person’s life is part of a whole,’ Billi’s uncle reminds her, that Chinese culture and family values differ significantly from her American ones. It is then, their final act of kindness, of love, to carry the emotional burden of illness for a family member. To let them live their final few months without that knowledge, without the emotional weight of such news. As the old phrase goes: what we don’t know can’t hurt us. Or, as Billi’s mother says, ‘When people get cancer they die… it isn’t the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear.’ 

Writer and director Lulu Wang / Photo credit: Elias Roman

The Farwell is not unaccompanied this year either, as 2019 has been a busy year for directors exploring their personal histories, with the past two months alone seeing the release of Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory and Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. Yet, even in a somewhat crowded field, Wang’s film feels distinctly unique. It’s deeply particular and has emotional heft that writhes beneath the surface. The evocations of childhood, Billi’s grandfather, and her inner conflicts are exquisitely drawn yet Wang deftly weaves in moments of comedy that are tender, perfectly contrasting the sombreness of the occasion – often boldly directly juxtaposing the two. 

The Farwell is uprooting in the best ways. It modifies your thought process, dissects your preconceived notions and challenges you to let them go. It’s quiet and looming, with each character being worthy of their own two-hour film to see how they respond to the lie. The Farewell is the kind of film that demonstrates what cinema can be (powerful, moving, and specific) especially when diverse creators are able to handle their own stories, ones they draw from personal experience. It’s clear that Wang is a bold cinematic voice, one that has something distinct and nuanced to say, with a long career ahead of her. So, rather ironically, The Farewell feels like a significant arrival. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Farewell (Official Trailer)

The Farewell is in cinemas nationwide on the 20th September.

Also Read: The Unlikely Sucess of A24

Reviews

Retro Review: Blade Runner 2049 (Spoilers)

September 18, 2019
Blade Runner 2049

The original Blade Runner has proved eerily predictive of many things for its 2019 setting. OK, there are no flying cars or high functioning androids. But the images of smog-choked streets, ruled by mega-corporations and a workforce that is treated as subhuman because of their origins feel very relevant today. And there was, of course, the unfortunate passing of actor Rutger Hauer. Who died in the same year that his character Roy Batty did.

With the first film making a monumental impact on popular culture, and it’s increasing relevance based on unfortunate happenstance I thought I would take the opportunity to look back at the long-awaited sequel to blade runner. Which picked up the story 30 years later and took 35 years to be released.

It’s always difficult making a sequel to critically acclaimed films, especially when they are released so long after the original. But during its release, Blade Runner 2049 was called one of the best sequels ever made. Perhaps even better than the original. But two years on does the sequel still stand as sturdily as its predecessor?

Synopsis

In 2049 old replicants (human-like androids used for manual labour) are being hunted down and killed by newer models. However, when K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant employed by the police to retire other replicants, discovers that a replicant was able to produce a child he begins to tug on the threads of the mystery. Eventually leading to him to the attention of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his nefarious forces. And into the path of former blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

What did I like?

Firstly, Blade Runner 2049 continues the originals trend for stunning visuals. Everything about this movie looks amazing. Whether it’s the set design that perfectly blends the futuristic, the modern and the mythical into a unique world that feels thematically appropriate for the characters and story or the beautiful Oscar-winning cinematography from Roger Deakins. Which makes every frame look like a piece of art. Or the special effects that never once look fake or out of place. Everything in this world feels authentic and organic, doing a lot to tell the story without dialogue.

The cast is also fantastic. Everyone does a great job inhabiting their roles. Making their characters feel like characters and not merely actors reciting lines to you. The standouts are Ryan Gosling, who does a great job inhabiting the stoic replicant K and Harrison Ford who reprises his iconic role as Rick Deckard; even with his comparatively limited screen time, Ford still manages to steal the show.

And like the first film, 2049 also concentrates on both weighty philosophical questions about identity, technology and corporate greed that feel truly relevant to today’s world. But it also incorporates spectacular action sequences. Which makes for a very entertaining and thought-provoking watch. There are some very interesting set pieces and concepts peppered throughout this film which will give you much to think about and remember long after the ending credits. Including, holographic AI and the question of their sentience. Underground replicant resistances and a tense fight scene taking place in a glitching hologram nightclub.

In fact, as its own standalone film, 2049 works quite well. Creating a fully functioning world with some good performance and great philosophical ambitions. While never forgetting to be an entertaining movie.

What did I not like?

However, as a sequel to Blade Runner (1982), 2049 really falls short. With the main problems being the story, pacing and characters.

2049’s story is unfortunately bogged down by lots of exposition. With several characters frequently explaining the plot to each other, something noticeably minimal in the original Blade Runner. And it never fails to draw the viewer out of the experience because of how obvious it is. The story is also rather lightweight because of the lack of significant consequences. For example, we are told that replicant reproduction will break the world. But aside from one scene with the replicant resistance, nothing in the film’s world indicates that our characters actions are having any impact. Lessening the tension of the film’s story.

There are also plot elements that feel extraneous e.g. K’s hologram girlfriend who can almost pass for being human. An interesting concept, but it serves no narrative purpose aside from illustrating that no one is special. Something which is already dealt with when K learns his true origins. This concept feels like padding. Which makes the narrative feel unfocused and causes the pacing to drag significantly.

Lastly, 2049 suffers from bland characterisation. K is a boring lead. He’s stoic and by-the-books, lacking the edge that made Deckard a compelling protagonist. The occasions when he emotionally conflicts with himself are too few and far between to make him engaging. And because he’s a virtually invulnerable replicant, the movie lacks any sort of tension on a character level. But the worst offender of flat characterisation are the villains. Niander Wallace is a typical capitalist with a god complex and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is your typical hard staring badass. Compared to Blade Runner’s replicants who had relatable goals, wanting more time to live their lives, these villains just come across as dull.

Verdict

Blade Runner 2049 is not a bad movie. The set design, cinematography and special effects are all fantastic. Nothing feels out of place in the world they’ve created, and it makes for very stimulating viewing. Everyone in the cast gives a good performance with Ryan Gosling really fitting the part of K and Harrison Ford doing particular justice to his iconic role from the original blade runner. And the blend of action and interesting concepts will definitely keep you entertained.

The problems come when you begin viewing the film as a sequel to blade runner. When faced with the memorable characters, cinematic storytelling and overall cohesiveness of the original, Blade Runner 2049 really feels like an unfocussed pale imitation.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Blade Runner 2049 (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Harrison Ford: Nerf Herder or the Grave Robber?

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Reviews

Review: Hustlers

September 17, 2019

Think about it: What’s the destruction of the businessmen of Wall Street? The recession, a brand new and more successful competitor or the market collapsing like a house of cards? Well, writer/director Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) provides you with her “Hustlers” the most intriguing answer to that question. Led by the astonishing Jennifer Lopez, this movie becomes an incredibly entertaining, vibrant and amusing one.

Money, money, money. It’s a rich man’s world

Meet Destiny (Constance Wu). A very classy woman living in an upstate neighbourhood in a fancy house. It seems like she has it all but your eyes deceive you. Being questioned by an interviewer (Cate Smit), we get the feeling that her life wasn’t always this glamorous. Let us tell you what happened. It wasn’t so long that Destiny worked in one of the most lucrative bars in New York. Sadly, due to not being an expert in dancing and the fierce competition, she’s still in the need of money. Especially because she has to take care of her grandmother. However, the salvation is near and comes in the stunning form of Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). She’s the hottest act in town and earns more money than any Wall Street guy can ever count. Destiny knows that you can always learn from the best and after grabbing together all her confidence, she approaches Ramona. The rest is history!

Destiny is now part of the hustlers’ elite: Ruling over men and their money, swimming in champagne and buying everything her heart desires. The dream life is happening right then and there! As Ramona would say: “They’re hurricanes!”. What a shame that the depression of Wall Street affects the whole economy, including their business. The women now need to be more creative to make sure that the money keeps on coming. They find the perfect solution: Starting to work on their own and just use the bar as their base. It seems like a very dangerous game to play but the hustlers aren’t afraid to take risks. For Destiny, there’s even more at stake now that she became a mother. How long before this game becomes too risky? How long before their dream turns into a nightmare?

Who runs the world? Girls!

A film about strong women, gracious and dedicated women need exactly that kind of actors to bring the story perfect to live. The casting team made sure that that was exactly was “Hustlers” got. The very first Hustler we meet is Destiny, played by the pleasant Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”, “All the Creatures Were Stirring”). Wu brings out the emotional, loving but also devoted and insecure side of her character beautifully. When Destiny is introduced to Ramona, she really gets that “waaaw!” vibe and that’s exactly what we got thanks to the stunning Jennifer Lopez (“Shades of Blue”, “Lila & Eve”). There’s no denying that Lopez oozes confidence, glamour, and determination and she certainly elevates her co-star performances to a much higher level.

Who wants to watch this film to see Cardi B and Lizzo might be disappointed. They’re prominently used in both the trailer and poster but you can count their scenes in the actual film on one hand. Another tiny negative point when it comes to the characters is the nudity used in this movie. Yes, we’re aware that “Hustlers” is about women putting their bodies on display to please men and to get money but a little less flesh certainly wouldn’t have hurt this film.

The fast and furious

What do Wall Street and the Hustlers’ business have in common, apart from the men in fancy suits? A lot of money is going around in an immense fast-paced environment. It’s exactly that kind of vibe that the editing team of this film craftily and skilfully made with fast and abrupt transitions. Sometimes it goes a little bit too fast but that certainly didn’t stop us from enjoying the film. Just like the movie itself, the music and cinematography are vibrant, upbeat and exciting. There’s always something interesting happen in “Hustlers” that will keep you drawn to the screen. What a shame that in the last part of the film that bubbly vibe is decreasing and that the emotions aren’t fully there. Your attention might decrease a little bit towards the end of the film.

Academy Award-Worthy?

During the opening weekend, “Hustlers” made a $33 million debut and we’re sure that that number is just a small amount of what the movie will earn around the world. Some predict that Jennifer Lopez will be nominated in the “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” during the Academy Awards. We’re not 100% sure if we can agree with that but something we can agree on is that “Hustlers” is a movie you need to watch! It’s an incredibly entertaining, colourful and exciting film with captivating performances and a retro look.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Hustlers (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Breaking Through The Box Office

Reviews

Review: 7 Reasons to Run Away (From Society)

September 16, 2019

An unwanted son, a businessman and a groom walk on-set… It sounds like the beginning of a joke but it couldn’t be any further from the truth. They’re all part of a dysfunctional society created by directors Gerard Quinto (“Interior. Family”, “Fotógrafo”), Esteve Soler (“Interior. Family”) and David Torras (“Interior. Family”). The three directors already worked on the same project and decided to come together for one more and we’re incredibly lucky they did. Their newest collaboration turns out to be a stunning, bizarre (but in a good way), amusing and one-of-a-kind film.

A society like no other

Think that your parents are crazy, annoying and unfair? Well, pretty sure that the ‘Family’ chapter of “7 Reasons to Run Away (from Society)” will change your mind. “El fill” (Pol Lópe) is being verbally abused by his parents and gets to know terrible things about his life: He was an unwanted child, got sexually abused by his grandfather and he’s nothing but a failure in his parents’ eyes. How will he cope with confessions about his ‘lovely’ family? From one psychologically disturbed family to an old couple who are spending their days watching television. There seems nothing on the TV, apart from programs about solidarity (yes, that’s the name of the second chapter of this film) and charities. However, one stranger from an unexpected place is changing the wife (Vicky Peña) and her husband’s (Ramon Fontserè) ordinary evening into an extraordinary one.

They’re not the only ones whose lives are about to change but also for ‘The Wife’ (Emma Suárez) is something about to happen. While we learned to count numbers from primary school, it seems that that wasn’t the case for her. After being awake by a mystery man (Sergi López) who asks her what comes after six, she becomes paralysed by the thought of which number that could be. She’s been living on the sixth floor herself and the floor above her seems scary, dark and hellish. What will the worried, anxious and scared ‘The Wife’ find when she heads upstairs? A black hole, the Devil or just… nothing? She might or she might not have to face death but who certainly has to do that is ‘The Woman’ (Àgata Roca) in the fourth chapter called ‘Property’. While looking for a fitting property, she’s being told that multiple suicides have taken place in the apartment she’s looking at. Most of us would run away as far away as possible from that place but she doesn’t. She gets intrigued and stays for the entire viewing. Will she buy it or not?

The story continues

We’re halfway through the film and things get even crazier than they were before. In ‘Work’, we’re being confronted again with inequalities. ‘The Wife’ (Lola Dueñas) has everything she could ever wish for (glamorous clothing, a loving husband, a fancy property) but still, she’s feeling incredibly unhappy. There’s the need for more exuberant things. If you think that the story is about a rich woman wanting more than she already has, well, you couldn’t be more wrong. After hearing a loud noise from her basement, she opens the door to see what’s going on. What will she find and what does it have to do with work?

It’s clear the directors are intrigued by death and dying and that’s why they invented the sixth of “7 Reasons to Run Away (from Society)”. In ‘Progress’, they tell the story of a man (Borja Espinosa) who’s on the verge of dying but who can still be saved by the woman (Aina Clotet) who found him bleeding next to the road. He’s on the journey from life to death but how far will things progress? Will he see light at the end of the tunnel or will the light go out right before his eyes? From death to a wedding, it’s only a small step in this film. A bride (Núria Gago) and a groom (David Verdaguer) are about to say their vowels to each other in front of the church and their friends and family when doubt is filling their minds. After stepping aside to talk about their feelings, future, and commitment to each other, they made a decision. Will we hear the wedding bells ring after all?

Every chapter has a unique story to tell

Remember The Ballad of Buster Scruggs from the acclaimed directors Ethan Coen and Joel Coen? Well, 7 Reasons to Run Away (from Society) is just like that but this time all the craziness is taking place in a (modern) crazy society instead of the Old West. Whether it’s that elderly couple in their small home, the happy bride and groom in the wedding church or the lonely woman in a shambolic apartment, every short film has a unique story to tell. You can see this movie as seven shorter ones without making the connection between them but there’s something that connects them: They’re all about a dark, troubled and mysterious society.

Darkness and greatness rule

Don’t expect too much colour in 7 Reasons to Run Away (from Society). There’s a obscure side to every story and that comes with black, gloomy and shady colours. When we think about a socially impaired society we might think about murder, death and a lot of action and while we get some of that in this film, it’s mostly about the witty, clever and funny conversations between the characters. Conversations that are brought perfectly by the great cast!

An entertaining, peculiar and psychedelic movie

After premiering at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival earlier this year and making stops in Spain during the Málaga Film Festival and South Korea for the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, 7 Reasons to Run Away (from Society) is now coming to London for its UK premiere. While you probably don’t want to be part of the film’s broken society, hearing and seeing all the odd stories will be an absolute eclectic, unique and psychedelic thrill. You can watch “7 Reasons to Run Away (from Society)” during the Raindance Film Festival on Thursday 26th of September and Friday 27th of September.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This review was written as part of the Raindance Film Festival 2019

7 Reasons To Run Away (From Society) – Official Trailer

Also Read: “A Million Little Pieces” Review