LFF17 Journey, Debate & Thrill reviews: “Araby”, “Good Time”, “Promised Land”, “Racer and the Jailbird”, “Gemini”, “Lucky” and 5 others…

Films reviewed: “Araby” (pictured above), “Gemini”, “Good Time”, “Lucky”, “Promised Land”, “Racer and the Jailbird”, “The Rider”, “Sheikh Jackson”, “Small Town Crime”, “Spoor”, and “Wonderstruck”.

London Film Festival 2017 was split into strands including Cult, Dare, First Feature, Galas, Laugh, Love and Official Competition. Follow @halfacanyon for more. Here are the reviews…


Araby
– 8/10

Original title: Arábia
Directors/Writers: Affonso Uchôa, João Dumans
Starring: Aristides de Sousa, Murilo Caliari, Glaucia Vandeveld
Strand: Journey
UK/US release: TBC
“But if you get a thousand little dogs together, the big dog starts to look small.”

Araby plays a bit of a trick on viewers. During its opening stretch, not much happens. You sink into your seat. Oh, it’s going to be one of those films, you think. But then, 22 minutes in, a young boy flicks through the diary of Cristiano, his recently deceased neighbour. We hear the author’s wistful voice – along the lines of Y Tu Mama Tambien – and the title appears.

What follows is an ambling, arresting road movie. For the rest of the relatively slim film (only 96 minutes in total!), Cristiano survives from job to job, barely scraping by and just about finding a roof over his head. There are small anecdotes and songs sung with strangers that are both insignificant yet poignant enough to require jotting down on paper.

It’s in the final 15 minutes, though, that the already engaging drama truly soars and transforms into something simultaneously powerful, moving and understated. A minor delight and a low-key highlight of the festival.


Gemini
– 7/10

Director/Writer: Aaron Katz
Starring: Lola Kirke, Zoë Kravitz, John Cho
Strand: Thrill
UK/US release: early 2018
“You two were like freaky best friends. People like that kill each other all the time.”

A pretty cool noir mystery about LA, Hollywood assistants, and much more. More thoughts next year when my interview with Aaron Katz goes online!


Good Time
– 8/10

Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Writers: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress, Barkhad Abdi
Strand: Thrill
UK release: 17 November, 2017
US release: Out now
“I’m not trying to get real. I am fucking real.”

A major step up from Heaven Knows What. I will probably have a piece on this going up soon, so will save my (amazing, inquisitive, groundbreaking) thoughts for that.


Lucky
– 7.5/10

Director: John Carroll Lynch
Writers: Logan Sparks, Drago Sumonja
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston
Strand: Journey
UK release: Early 2018
US release: Out now
“There are some things in this universe, ladies and gentlemen, that are bigger than all of us, and a tortoise is one of them.”

Harry Dean Stanton’s first lead role since Paris, Texas was also, tragically, his last. More thoughts next year when my interview with John Carroll Lynch goes online.


Promised Land
– 7/10

Director: Eugene Jarecki
Writers: Eugene Jarecki, Chris St John
Strand: Journey
UK/US release: TBC
“If Elvis is your metaphor for America, we’re about to OD.”

Eugene Jarecki’s sprawling road-trip doc posits a provocative theory: “If Elvis is a metaphor for America, then we’re about to OD.” You may scoff, but Jarecki presents his comparison of Trump’s America and Presley’s hamburger-stuffed corpse with aplomb. The director rents the King’s former Rolls Royce and drives across the country, hashing out arguments with locals, musicians and actors like Ethan Hawke.

Elvis, remember, was a white man from Memphis (where 29% of the population now live below the poverty line) who rose to fame by appropriating black culture, before tripping up over his own greed. Whether or not you agree, it’s a highly entertaining trip, which includes Chuck D addressing his infamous Public Enemy lyric: “Elvis was a hero to most / but he never meant shit to me you see / Straight up racist that sucker was / Simple and plain.”


Racer and the Jailbird
– 4/10

Original title: Le fidèle
Director: Michaël R. Roskam
Writers: Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré, Michaël R. Roskam
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Eric de Staercke
Strand: Thrill
UK/US release: TBC
“Gino, get out, or I will run you over.”

Everyone should watch this film. Not because it’s particularly good, but due to the unbelievably misguided third act which gets worse and worse as it chugs along. I’m so thankful to have experienced it in a cinema with an unsuspecting audience who involuntarily laughed during the more serious moments.

(The rest is fine. Roskam produces some assured visuals and atmosphere, including some genuine thrills for the heist, and there’s sizzling chemistry between Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos. But the script is, at times, utterly bewildering, as if it was written on a dare.)


The Rider
– 4/10

Director/Writer: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau
Strand: Journey
UK/US release: TBC

A hit at Cannes and with everyone who isn’t me. It’s sort of a doc and sort of a study of Americana and sort of incredibly stretched to fill its 105-minute runtime. I was very tired when I saw it and I’m very tired now. It was one of my most anticipated films of the festival and now I’m just looking forward to getting its awful soundtrack out of my head. The music sounds like someone sat on some keyboards. This isn’t really analysis. They shoot bad bloggers, don’t they?


Sheikh Jackson
– 5/10

Original title: Al Sheikh Jackson
Director: Amr Salama
Writers: Omar Khaled, Amr Salama
Starring: Ahmad Alfishawy, Ahmed Malek, Maged El Kedwany
Strand: Journey
UK/US release: TBC

The hook of Salama’s coming-of-age tale is also the film’s weakest element: the conservative protagonist’s secret passion for Michael Jackson. It’s played for humour (the cinema audience laughed, I didn’t) and it feels out of place in a mostly sober drama about… I can’t remember. I saw it two weeks ago and it’s already left my memory.


Small Town Crime
– 6/10

Directors/Writers: Ian Nelms, Eshom Nelms
Starring: John Hawkes, Anthony Anderson, Octavia Spencer
Strand: Thrill
UK/US release: TBC

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the Nelms brothers’ pulpy, neo-noir comedy about an alcoholic ex-cop who freelances as a private investigator to get his life back on track. But let’s be honest, from that description, you’re already hooked. As a bonus, Hawkes is superb as a lovable loser whose poor decision-making – such as a taking on a murder case and endangering those around him – makes him more compelling, or at least funnier, than Columbo.


Spoor
– 3.5/10

Director: Agnieszka Holland
Writers: Olga Tokarczuk, Agnieszka Holland
Starring: Agnieszka Mandat, Wiktor Zborowski, Miroslav Krobot
Strand: Debate
UK/US release: TBC

We’re a long way from Europa, Europa. In some ways it’s Holland’s own Twin Peaks, but more the middle parts of season two. Anyway, Spoor is a total mess, but at least it’s a compelling one. Holland switches between genres and visual styles just for the sake of it, and I can see it being some people’s favourite film of the year.


Wonderstruck
– 8/10

Director: Todd Haynes
Writer: Brian Selznick
Starring: Julianne Moore, Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Jaden Michael, Cory Michael Smith, Tom Noonan
Strand: Journey Gala
UK release: Early 2018
US release: Out now
“How do you know my name?”

Was almost crying during the Superstar callback. The guy’s a genius. More thoughts next year when my interview with Todd Haynes goes online.

Follow @halfacanyon for more. Unfollow @halfacanyon for less.

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About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Feeling pullovered apart by clothes horses. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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3 Responses to LFF17 Journey, Debate & Thrill reviews: “Araby”, “Good Time”, “Promised Land”, “Racer and the Jailbird”, “Gemini”, “Lucky” and 5 others…

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  3. Pingback: LFF17 Official Competition, Gala & Special Presentation reviews: “Downsizing”, “Call Me By Your Name”, “Lady Bird”, “Good Manners”, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, “You Were Never Really Here”, “Thoroughbreds”,

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