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Tag: London Film Festival

Reviews

Review: Cicada [London Film Festival]

October 14, 2020

What happened to the web series? For one brief and shining moment, around the early 2010s, it was flourishing. It gave us creators like Issa Rae, Desiree Akhavan, Abbi Jacobson, and Ilana Glazer. It seemed ripe for the picking of talented individuals who had stuck their middle finger up at the perceived norms and taken their fate into their own hands instead of that of older white dudes who handed out the cash. In 2016, Matthew Fifer debuted his web series, Jay and Pluto, after a successful Kickstarter campaign and now he returns with Cicada, a meditation on the impact of trauma.

The film, co-directed by Kieran McClure, follows Ben (Fifer), a bisexual man going through the motions in New York City, painting apartments for West Side “DILFS”, and seeing the doctor for nausea that can’t be explained as he repeatedly vomits in the morning seemingly to expel something. After a broken engagement he is, as his sister refers to it, “back on the dick”, meeting (mostly) men online, in work, at clubs, on the subway platform, in the bathrooms of bars. Ben hasn’t been out for long, due to trauma he refuses to deal with from his past, and admits that he has never been able to be truly intimate with someone without being drunk or high. This is until he meets Sam (Sheldon D. Brown) while browsing at a bookstore. It isn’t clear what makes Sam different, why Ben decides to ask him for a drink rather than a fuck, but the two begin to bond and slowly fall into the regular patterns of a relationship.

One night Sam asks Ben about his first time with a man. At first, Ben is cagey, describing the experience of Kirsten Dunst in The Virgin Suicidesleft alone on the football pitch when he awoke in the morning, rather than his own experience but Sam persists. Ben, reluctantly admits he was “young” and leaves it at that, but Sam understands the implications. The film focuses itself mostly around this issue; how do those with trauma try to move on? Both men are carrying it, as Sam is reluctant to hold hands or kiss in public due to being the victim of a homophobic drive-by and we see flashes back to Ben’s childhood aware that something happened there that he can’t let go of. 

Cicada / BFI

Cicada, an autobiographical story from Fifer’s own life, seeks to understand how this trauma manifests in both men. Ben is seemingly doing great with Sam, he wants to be committed and, for some reason, no longer needs substances to do that, yet he’s haunted by an ongoing molestation trial that is all over the news. Sam, however, lashes out when he feels like he’s not in control. First, when Ben shows up to his place of work with flowers and, second, when Ben introduces him to his friends, Sam picks a fight as things are becoming “real”. This is most likely related to his father, to whom he is not out, and the internalised homophobia he is harbouring since his attack.

Trauma and its effects have been depicted more commonly in film over the past few years, and Cicada joins a recent few that don’t aim for sensationalism but rather work to explore that experience realistically. For example, Jennifer Fox’s experimental and ground-breaking film The Tale told the story of the sexual abuse she faced as a young girl, and Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale followed a traumatised woman who was seeking revenge. All of these are creating a new wave in cinema, led by women and minorities, that refuses to be silent about the things that make us, as a society, uncomfortable. However, engaging in discussions of sexual abuse with the realm of queerdom navigates some tricky optics, ones that have to contend with decades of pseudoscience that have tried to link the two. In its personal focus, it feels like Cicada never reaches to make a grand statement about queer people, but it also doesn’t feel like it has fully considered where this conversation might go. 

Cicada / LFF

This is all fascinating territory and, as a film, it is a bold choice to try and engage with it, yet it doesn’t quite all come together. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting in various ways; it just doesn’t rise to the severity of its subject matter. It’s ending feels a little neat for a story about how trauma manifests and its script, at times, can feel a little by-the-book, especially during the early scenes of Ben and Sam’s relationship.  It all feels somewhat trapped within that millennials-in-New-York-style indie movie that has risen in popularity since the premiere of Lena Dunham’s GIRLS in 2013 (though it’s definitely one of the better ones).

Cicada is a strong debut for Fifer and his team. It made me wonder what they could achieve with a bigger budget and more time. Fifer has managed to navigate that tricky terrain from the internet to the big screen and has been able to manifest something emotional, artful, and thought-provoking. As is typical for debuts, it’s imperfect but shows promise. It asks a lot of questions but doesn’t quite find every answer. It’s bold, yet limited, but what comes next is something to keep an eye on.

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

Cicada has yet to be given a UK release date.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On the Value of Youth

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Reviews

Review: Kajillionaire [London Film Festival]

October 7, 2020

One of the most quoted lines in all of literature is from the beginning of Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This has, for hundreds of years, surmised our feelings towards our families. We view others with envy, the seemingly perfect families, nuclear and close, while we resent our own uniquely unhappy one. For Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), the oddball protagonist of Miranda July’s Kajillionaire, that unhappiness is incredibly unique. 

Old Dolio, named after a man who won the lottery in the hopes she might end up in his will, is from a family of scammers; small-time criminals who are happy to skate by, or so they say. Her father, Robert (Richard Jenkins), prefers this half-life, one in which the rent is always due, and turning fast tricks is both an adrenaline rush and a necessity. “Most people want to be kajillionaires,” he says, but it doesn’t interest him. While her mother, Theresa (Debra Winger) is equally baked into this life on the fringes but, maybe more so than her father, shows little affection for Old Dolio. 

Kajillionaire
Credit: Focus Features.

It’s because of this life that Old Dolio has become more of a worker than a daughter. She works the scams as she’s asked to; stealing from the post office, conning a wealthy married couple, and then attempting to do the same to their daughter. All to earn a little extra cash, never too much, $20 here, $50 there. This family isn’t interested in robbing banks, in splitting millions of dollars three ways, but rather playing against the system as a means to survive. 

That is until Melanie (Gina Rodriquez) shows up, a chatty and beautiful woman who exposes the family’s dysfunctionality, while they’re running a job. Melanie, intrigued by the strangeness of Robert and Theresa is pulled into the thrill and ease of these jobs and begins suggesting cons of her own. The first is to scam the old desperate customers she serves at work, to convince them to give her that antiques and to sell them on at a profit; the sad and lonely praying on the sad and desperate. Then, as the money does start rolling in that value system, about living on very little, is tested.

It’s from here that each new step exposes, to Old Dolio, that her perception of family is misguided. She watches her mother warm to Melanie, watches her become crucial in the family’s newest scams, and sees what her life could be like if her parents acted as if they loved her. In one scene, she even watches as her parents play happy families as part of a con, and she sees that they do know how to be kind, they just choose not to be. 

This yearning, for connection and to be seen, is Miranda July’s favourite territory. In her short stories, people, often lost young women, explore their tangible and fragile connections with others, and her novel sees a lonely woman find love in the strangest of places. Her previous films, Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) and The Future (2011), showed a kooky side, one that saw talking cats narrate tales of existential crisis and awkward salespeople creating intimate connections with customers. She is an artist who likes to explore the uncomfortable, the strange, and the confusing and Kajillionaire is an excellent addition to July’s Theatre of the Lonely. 

Kajillionaire
Credit: Focus Features

Old Dolio is lonely. She has never been called affectionate nicknames, never been hugged, or caressed yet she is “addicted” to the neglect of her parents. She doesn’t know what an alternative life would look like until Melanie tries to show her. This queer connection at the centre of this small world is Old Dolio’s driving force to look for something different, to seek the love she deserves. 

In July’s deft and absurd hands, Kajillionaire is enrapturing, strange, and overwhelmingly joyful to watch. It feels distinctly of its own creation and each left-field acting choice, visual, or plot point only furthers to strengthen the overall whacky experience. It is, at times, heart-breaking then romantic, then silly, then serious, then funny, and manages to give each feeling, each beat, just as much credibility. As you watch pink suds droop down from cracks in the ceiling of the disused office where the family lives or the way they crouch behind low walls to avoid the landlord, if you examine the strange outfits Old Dolio dons, or watch her try to army crawl along the floor as a form of apology, you can’t help but feel that Melanie sums it up best; “Most happiness comes from dumb things.”

Kahjillionaire (Official Trailer)

Kajillionaire is available to rent on BFI Player as part of the London Film Festival from today. 

It is released in cinemas nationwide from Friday 9th October 

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Sofia Coppola

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Editorials

Must-See Films at London Film Festival 2020

September 24, 2020
London Film Festival - Big Picture Film Club

The London Film Festival has announced its program for October 2020. And will be offering the opportunity for many new people to view their program. Because many of the festival selections will be available not only on BFI Player during the festivals run but also in cinema events across the UK.

But which films should you check out? Today I am going to suggest seven films on the festival roster to look forward to. And tell you why they should be on your watchlist. Let’s begin.

Another Round (Druk) (Drama)

Danish director Thomas Vinterberg has reteamed with The Hunt‘s Mads Mikkelsen for this drama about four high school teachers. Their aim – to see if life is improved by maintaining a consistent alcohol blood level. With a killer premise, helmed by a great director and one of today’s best actors, Another Round should be an interesting ride. And if it’s half as good as The Hunt, audiences will definitely be pleased.

Mads Mikkelsen getting drunk in Another Round [Source: IMDb]

The Cheaters (Classic Crime)

The festival also includes some restored and recovered films for classic film lovers. One of the more interesting ones being the oldest film at the festival. Made by filmmaking pioneers the McDonagh’s sisters and restored by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia; it follows the story of an embezzler’s daughter falling for the son of her father’s worst enemy. 1929s The Cheaters is one of Australia’s major surviving silent films. And audiences can now see it as originally intended.

The Cheaters restored at the London Film Festival [Source BFI]
Romance and crime in Australian classic The Cheaters [Source: BFI]

Friendship’s Death (Classic Sci-Fi)

Another older entry in the London Film Festival’s program is this science fiction film about an alien android named Friendship (Tilda Swinton). Who lands on earth in the midst of the Jordanian Black September War. And begins debating with a journalist about if humanity is worth saving. Swinton is one of the all-time greatest actresses. So the opportunity to see an early performance from her in even more detail, thanks to a restored print, is too great to refuse.

Friendship's death at the London Film Festival [Source: Mubi]
An early performance from Tilda Swinton in Friendship’s Death [Source: Mubi]

Mangrove (TV)

The latest project from Steve McQueen, the Oscar-winning director behind great films like 12 Years a Slave. Mangrove is part of McQueen’s Small Axe series. Which is based on the real experiences of the London West Indian community. It focuses on the trial of nine activists falsely accused of inciting a riot at Notting Hill’s Mangrove restaurant. With McQueen’s involvement and the current political climate regarding race and the police, this looks to be a hard-hitting; important watch.

Mangrove at the London Film Festival [Source Empire]
On trial in Steve McQueen’s Mangrove [Source: Empire]

Relic (Horror)

There has been a lot of buzz around Relic since its Sundance debut earlier this year. The film centres on a mother and daughter as they try to look after their grandmother. However, the grandmother’s house slowly begins to be infiltrated by supernatural forces that seemingly parallel the onset of the grandmother’s dementia. It has already been compared to Hereditary and The Babadook. So, if you’re looking for an atmospheric, symbolic horror film, Relic will be right up your alley.

Relic at the London Film Festival [Source Signature Entertainment]
The poster for Relic [Source: Signature Entertainment]

Ultraviolence (Documentary)

This documentary explores various deaths that have occurred at the hands of the UK police force. As well as the heart-break many families have suffered because of it. This doc may be too much for some. With a warning given on the festival website, due to footage of real violence. But in a year that has seen worldwide condemnation of police violence, Ultraviolence looks to shine a light on the dark side of UK law and order.

Ultraviolence [Source YouTube]
The movie that according to the trailer, “the police and politicians will not want you to see”. [Source: YouTube]

Wolfwalkers (Animation)

The latest offering from Cartoon Saloon, who previously made Oscar Nominee’s Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner; Wolfwalkers is the beautiful animated story of Robyn, who journeys with her father from England to Ireland to destroy the wolf population. But Robyn’s resolve is soon tested when she befriends Mebh, an Irish wolfwalker (someone who becomes a wolf when they sleep). With gorgeous designs, an intriguing story, and an acclaimed studio backing it, Wolfwalkers could be another awards contender in the making.

Wolfwalkers [Source Hollywood Reporter]
Robyn and Mebh in Wolfwalkers [Source: Hollywood Reporter]

So ends our list of London Film Festival films to look forward to. You can find more information about these and other festival film screenings on their online program. And lastly please share your thoughts on these films if you get the opportunity to see them.

Also Read: BAFTA: Steering Towards Greater Inclusion

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Reviews

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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