Films reviewed: “Bleed for This”, “The Ghoul”, “Kills on Wheels”, “Mimosas”, “The Ornithologist”, “Paterson”, “Two Lovers and a Bear”, “Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey” and “The Wailing” (pictured above).
London Film Festival 2016 was split into strands including Cult, Dare, Debate, Documentary, First Feature, Galas, Laugh, Love and Official Competition. These are the Journey and Thrill strand reviews.
Follow @halfacanyon for more. Here are the reviews…
Bleed for This – 6/10
Director: Ben Younger
Writers: Ben Younger, Pippa Bianco (story), Angelo Pizzo (story)
Starring: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Ciarán Hinds
Strand: Thrill gala
UK release: 2 December 2016
US release: 18 November 2016
“The boxing world looks shiny from the outside.”
Boxing movies are starting to resemble that episode of The Simpsons where Homer is trained by Moe into an immoveable sponge that absorbs non-stop punches and doesn’t fall down. At least Bleed for This strays slightly from the formula. For starters, it has a sense of humour, mostly through Miles Teller in reliably boisterous form. Secondly, the plot, based on the real comeback of Vinny Paz (played by Teller, of course), is a genuine physical battle – it’s a boxing movie about not being able to box.
Following a car crash, Paz spends around half of the film immobilised with a protective helmet screwed into his head. He’s lucky to be alive, and unlucky enough to still miss the ring. But how could he make a comeback? (You kinda know how, and it’s kinda entertaining to watch.)
There are a few too many clichés involved. Some are unavoidable and others, like the final scene, are unforgiveable. Still, when the screws come off and you squirm along to Paz’s pain, the movie earns itself a few points. The key to an OK boxing movie, it seems, is to skip the actual boxing.
The Ghoul – 4/10
Director/Writer: Gareth Tunley
Starring: Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Geoffrey McGivern
UK/US release: TBC
“Either you tell me what’s bothering you, or I’m gonna start banging on about alchemy and maths again.”
Rather dull and clumsy, Tunley’s slow-burn mystery peaks during the road scenes, especially towards the end. Where it falters is when any talking is required.
Kills on Wheels – 6/10
Original title: Tiszta szívvel
Director/Writer: Attila Till
Starring: Szabolcs Thuróczy, Zoltán Fenyvesi, Ádám Fekete
UK/US release: TBC
“They’re all frigid intellectual cunts. I hate them all.”
Till’s charming, bizarrely titled crime-comedy has a key hook: its central trio are disabled hitmen. What sounds like a weakness is actually a strength; they’re rarely suspected by police, and in one tense assignment, a knife in the leg causes zero pain (he’s paralysed from the waist down).
Not that this otherwise resembles a typical gangster movie. Really, it’s a coming-of-age story that comes with its own pleasures, clichés and a midjudged subplot involving a comic-book they’re writing.
Mimosas – 5/10
Director: Oliver Laxe
Writers: Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe
Starring: Ahmed Hammoud, Shakib Ben Omar, Said Aagli
UK/US release: TBC
“There’s no path through the mountains.”
I adore Gerry and Jauja, but Mimosas – a nearly wordless travelogue I saw snippets of in last year’s The Sky Trembles – is a total slog, despite the scenic 16mm imagery and mystic landscapes. Each trudge is felt, but to what end, exactly? (Actually, the end is very cool.) To be fair, I suspect there’s something I completely missed…
(Maybe I’m just a dum-dum who needs a Casey Affleck or Viggo Mortensen for my attention span.)
The Ornithologist – 4/10
Original title: O Ornitólogo
Director: João Pedro Rodrigues
Writers: João Pedro Rodrigues, João Rui Guerra da Mata
Starring: Paul Hamy, Xelo Cagiao, João Pedro Rodrigues
UK/US release: TBC
“We’re good Christian girls. We sleep together.”
A film about birdwatching gradually descends into a series of pointless provocations that loosely resemble the life of Anthony of Padua – obviously. None of it adds up to anything except the running time. How can a film with this much playful imagery and excess blasphemy be this tiresome?
Paterson – 8/10
Director/Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani
Strand: Journey gala
UK release: 25 November 2016
US release: 28 December 2016
“It’s so important to learn new things as you get older. You never know where music might take you.”
This is just to say
I have watched
the film Paterson
that was in
the LFF lineup
you were probably
for theatrical release
it was delicious
and so warm
Two Lovers and a Bear – 8/10
Director/Writer: Kim Nguyen
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Tatiana Maslany
UK/US release: TBC
“There’s a blizzard coming…”
Here’s a chilly, fantastical romance that’s best enjoyed cold. Because, on paper, Two Lovers and a Bear reads like a quirky, catastrophic mess. There’s a talking bear, an imaginary enemy, a military bunker that appears out of nowhere, and, well, you get the picture. But remarkably, these leftfield turns are only minor details in an otherwise cohesive love story held together by the chemistry of its two excellent leads. With life in the freezer, a little company goes a long way.
Roman (DeHaan) and Lucy (Maslany) are two outsiders who escaped their respective hometowns to hide in the anonymity the Arctic apparently offers. Hooking up in an isolated community, they’re two loners who still feel like loners in each other’s arms. An early sex scene suggests unspoken trauma on Lucy’s part; Roman, too, has some issues, not least when he converses with a polar bear and self-harms.
What’s going on isn’t clear at first. The film’s pleasure is in unravelling clues – some direct, some abstract – and soon the couple are venturing headfirst into a blizzard. It reminds me of a scene in Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World where a penguin confidently waddles away from the waters and heads towards its certain starvation. The creature is so confident in its direction, Herzog explains, there’s no stopping it.
So it’s to DeHaan and Maslany’s credit how much as a viewer you support their unwise, icy trek. It helps that the surreal elements carry an emotional resonance, and the less successful oddities like the talking bear are amusing enough to earn a pass. That the film and its gorgeous landscapes might premiere on Netflix is a crime, though, and hopefully it’ll get a proper theatrical release. A tragicomic gem.
Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey – 5/10
Director/Writer: Terrence Malick
Starring: Cate Blanchett
UK/US release: TBC
“Oh mother, abyss of light, all beholding.”
A spinoff from The Tree of Life, this 90-minute doc (aka a biopic of the world) would be bordering on self-parody of Malick if wasn’t already past that point. A lengthier cut of the 45-minute IMAX feature narrated by Brad Pitt, it’s a mixture of computer graphics, real nature footage and (perhaps crass?) camera phone images of 21st century communities.
It’s a draining experience – take this from someone who enjoyed To the Wonder and Knight of Cups – that adds little to the bit in The Tree of Life with dinosaurs. For me, there’s also something off-putting about the amalgam of genuine snapshots and software-created fakery; it’s impressive on a technical, but mostly a distraction as a viewing experience. Sorry, Cate.
The Wailing – 7.5/10
Original title: Goksung
Director/Writer: Na Hong Jin
Starring: Kwak Do Won, Hwang Jung Min, Jun Kunimura
UK release: 11 November 2016
US release: Out now
“If everyone’s talking about him, there’s probably a good reason.”
In Na Hong Jin’s absolutely terrifying, emotionally draining exorcism epic, there’s a violent battle between good and evil going on. The problem for Jong-Goo (Do Won), a policeman and father to a possessed daughter, is the uncertainty over who and what’s on which side.
Thus The Wailing is partly a sick detective story – a Memories of Murder, perhaps, with a long-winding trail of clues and red herrings against a ticking clock. All of a sudden, supernatural forces suggest a ghost – or possibly the Devil – has moved into the village. All signs suggest it’s an old Japanese man. But is he actually a shaman to protect the local souls? And what about the other shaman? And that woman who loves to semi-quote Jesus?
While the terror is undeniable, the logic after a gripping 156 minutes is on rockier ground. Sure, the film is rollicking, particularly an exorcism sequence that plays like a rock concert, but some of the Bible quotes muddle the climax. Still, it’s only a complaint you make after nearly three hours spent open-mouthed with awe.
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