LFF 2019 Highlights Part 2

With the 63rd BFI London Film Festival drawing to a close tonight, there have been a lot of wonderful movies this year. The best films of the first week can be viewed here. Below are the LFF 2019 highlights from the second week…

LFF 2019 Highlights – Unmissable

The Irishman

In a career positively littered with jewels, Martin Scorsese manages to surpass expectations once more. The film is a magnificent gem. The Irishman is an introspective study, with Scorsese pulling no punches where it counts. READ MORE

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

Midge Costin’s documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is as immersive as its subject matter. Midge Costin’s documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is as immersive as its subject matter. READ MORE

Judy & Punch

Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy & Punch is an impressive fairy tale. Boasting a distinctive atmosphere and strong performances, the film is an engrossing watch. Foulkes has delivered an original, creative, and compelling debut with Judy & PunchREAD MORE

LFF 2019 Highlights – Best of the Rest

Knives Out

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s murder mystery Knives Out is tremendous fun. The star cast are on great form in this very entertaining film. With Knives Out, Johnson plants several red herrings, offers up twists, and delivers a hugely enjoyable film. READ MORE

Waves

Trey Edward Shults’ Waves is tender, powerful, and finely executed. There are several emotional moments, and each of these is earned by the solid script, good character development, and the filmmaker’s considered direction. READ MORE

Family Romance LLC

Werner Herzog’s documentary style drama Family Romance LLC depicts a bizarre but fascinating phenomenon. The film is both amusing and disquieting. Herzog once again shows his flair for capturing the various shades of humanity. READ MORE

Sid & Judy

On the fiftieth anniversary of Judy Garland’s death, director Stephen Kijak has created a timely and engrossing documentary with Sid & Judy. The film effectively conveys Garland’s magnetism, and does not shy away from depicting the star’s personal struggles. A very entertaining documentary. READ MORE

Deerskin

Another one of LFF 2019 highlights is Deerskin. Writer-director Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin (Le Daim) is absurd and entertaining. The film is a real treat. The film marries creativity and accessibility in an amusing package. READ MORE

The BFI London Film Festival ran from 2nd-13th October 2019.

Film Review: The Irishman


In a career positively littered with jewels, Martin Scorsese manages to surpass expectations once more. The Irishman is a magnificent gem. 

Frank Sheeran recounts his life as a mob hitman and a labour union official. Frank tells of his relationship with union leader Jimmy Hoffa, as well as some of the most powerful mobsters in the second half of the twentieth century…

Based on Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses, Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zallian have created something special with The Irishman. The film is compelling from start to finish. Running at almost three and a half hours, this is no mean feat. Instead, the film flys by in no time at all, which is testament to Scorsese and Zallian’s storytelling abilities. 

Starting with an ageing Frank Sheeran telling his story directly to viewers, the film tells a story through a second story. A road trip to a wedding becomes a vehicle for Sheeran to look back. From here, the narrative unfolds in a chronological fashion, interspersed with scenes from this road trip. The story is woven in an engrossing fashion. The script is fantastic, with snappy dialogue and captivating narration. The Irishman offers plenty of laughs, yet can change tone so effortlessly. 

Focusing on real events, Scorsese knows when to be restrained and when to be outlandish. Tying events to moments of historical importance, the film works almost to expose an underside of 20th century American history. Scorsese both emphasises the impact of one man, and positions the machine behind as a dominating force. 

Scorsese underlines how Sheeran‘s line of work impacted him, particularly later in life. The director has erroneously been accused on glamorising crime and violence in the past. It is unlikely anyone would make that mistake here. The Irishman is an introspective study, with Scorsese pulling no punches where it counts. 

Violence is sparse in the film, and utilised very effectively. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker cuts away from the most visceral on occasion, and at other times Scorsese leaves viewers no place to hide from the brutality. Scorsese’s visual flair is always present. Particularly pleasing is a reverse tracking shot which goes back forward and moves away at a critical point. Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto create some beautiful shots. The film soundtrack is excellent, and helps to set the different eras very well.

For most Scorsese fans it is genuinely a thrill to see the filmmaker reunited with not only Robert De Niro, but also Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel. Add Al Pacino to the mix, and the result is dynamite. De Niro is wonderful here, and ably assisted by a brilliant Pesci and a fiery Pacino. It is the best performance from De Niro for years, and Pesci has rarely been as strong. Other regular Scorsese contributors Stephen Graham and Bobby Cannavale are an asset in supporting roles.

Any scepticism that the re-teaming of Scorsese and De Niro may be a disappointment can happily be swept aside. The Irishman is a truly stunning accomplishment.

The Irishman closes the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs

Edmunds Jansons’ Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs is an amiable animated adventure with a strong message at its core.

When his father goes on a business trip, Jacob goes to stay in the Riga suburb of Maskachka with his cousin Mimmi. When the local park is earmarked as the site of a new skyscraper, Jacob and Mimmi enlist the help of a pack of talking dogs to stop construction…

Directed and co-written by Edmunds Jansons (with co-writer Liga Gaisa), Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs is a family-friendly animated film. The film focuses on two children’s fight to stop construction that will destroy the look and ambience of a neighbourhood. Along the way, protagonist Jacob goes on a metaphorical journey of his own.

The narrative takes a little bit of time to get going. The film does lack momentum to begin with, as the narrative focuses on Jacob’s reluctance to stay with his uncle and cousin, and his initially abrasive relationship with Mimmi. Once the main narrative of the park destruction gets going, along with the appearance of the talking dogs, the film shifts to a more engaging gear. The gang of dogs are an important addition, bringing laughs and giving the movie a spark.

Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs touches on an interesting subject for a family film, which is the struggle between idealism and realism. This idea is presented in a very digestible way, and exists within the wider context of environmentalism versus economic prosperity. Gentrification is referenced explicitly, albeit in a humorous fashion. The film presents its message in an entertaining manner. 

Animation in the film has a charming effect. There is a contrast between the detail and sometimes delicate backgrounds and the broad style of the humans. Jansons and the film’s animators have created a two-dimensional look, with the protagonists looking almost like paper dolls. It is a distinctive and likeable style.

With Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs, Jansons combines humour with adventure to deliver a message that should resonate with young and old alike.

Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: Judy & Punch

Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy & Punch is an impressive fairy tale. Boasting a distinctive atmosphere and strong performances, the film is an engrossing watch. 

In the town of Seaside (which is nowhere near the sea), puppeteers Punch and Judy are trying to resurrect their marionette show for the rowdy, hotheaded locals…

Loosely based on the Punch & Judy show, writer-director Mirrah Foulkes’ debut is an ambitious combination of fairy tale, satire, and social commentary. The filmmaker combines these elements to create a most memorable picture. 

Judy & Punch functions on a number of levels. Satirical elements are strong throughout. Foulkes’ luxuriates in the darker side of traditional fairy tales. There is a question of the supernatural, yet Foulkes uses slight of hand, just like the magic show depicted. Furthermore, the film asks questions about the nature of violence and retribution. 

The narrative mirrors the marionette show itself, albeit with a much meatier core. Foulkes seems to have fun including various elements of the show whilst keeping focus on the central strand of Judy’s journey. The film is far more satisfying for eschewing a traditional revenge narrative. Instead, Foulkes offers something more thoughtful, whilst sending a clear message. 

The setting of Judy & Punch is wonderful, with the small English town reminiscent of earlier British horror. There is a pervading sense of macabre which is delightful. The darkness comes out in violence, but also in the peril of superstition. Foulkes offers a hopeful conclusion, whilst not neglecting darker aspects. 

Cinematography in the film is great. The opening tracking of the hooded figure into the show a wonderful introduction to both the setting and the tone. Elsewhere, lighting and colour is used very effectively. The film is visually appealing; with great costumes and set design. The visuals are wonderfully enhanced by the music, which combines a new score with established pieces. 

Casting in the film is superb. Mia Wasikowska is excellent as Judy, whilst Damon Herriman brings his strikingly intensity to Punch. Terry Norris and Tom Budge are great among the supporting cast.

Foulkes has delivered an original, creative, and compelling debut with Judy & Punch. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Judy & Punch is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019, and released in UK cinemas on 22nd November 2019.

Film Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

Director Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is a reflective and at times touching drama. 

Writer Lloyd Vogel is assigned to complete a small profile on children’s television personality Fred Rogers for Esquire, a world away from his hard-hitting pieces. When he meets the beloved personality, Lloyd’s view slowly begins to shift…

It would be inaccurate to call A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood a Fred Rogers biopic. After all, he is not even the main character in the film. Rather Heller’s film, based on real events, focuses on the impact the beloved children’s personality had through the microcosm of a single person. 

Marielle Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster juxtapose the cynical writer against the earnest children’s personality. At its heart, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is about a person too cynical to believe anyone could be that good, and a person too good to let a person be that cynical. As the friendship progresses, barriers are broken down. Heller deals with these in a meditative fashion. The film ambles rather than scurries to its conclusion. 

The bookend device of an episode of the show is a very smart move from Heller. This gives a neat introduction to Rogers and his show, particularly for younger or international viewers who may less familiar with the character. It also solidifies that the story which will be told has a moral, just like in the television show. 

The script is good; characters have time to develop in a natural manner. The film is really only concerned with Rogers and Vogel, with the supporting characters not having a life beyond the two protagonists. The film has some genuinely touching moments, although it is not always as engaging as it could be. There are some good moments though, such as when Vogel believes he is part of the show. 

Tom Hanks is reliable as ever as Fred Rogers. He delivers his lines with such sincerity, it is hard not to be charmed. Matthew Rhys is also great as Lloyd Vogel. Chris Cooper stands out in a supporting role. Heller creates a sense of intimacy with her protagonists that suits the tone very well. 

Although the film lacks the pizazz of Heller’s previous feature Can You Ever Forgive Me?, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood promotes the type of kindness and sincerely that is sorely needed right now. 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019. 

Film Review: So You Think You Know How It Ends

The following short films are being screened as part of the When You Think You Know How It Ends programme at this year’s London Film Festival.

Be Still My Beating Heart

Ruth Paxton’s horror short Be Still My Beating Heart is atmospheric. The film is about a woman who is haunted by her work with dead bodies, and the illness of her sister. Writer-director Paxton mixes abject depictions with a quiet psychological terror. The sound design is great; it is a film without much dialogue so the sound goes a long way to give an indication of protagonist’s mindset. Maxine Peake is a reliable as ever in the lead role.

Nimic

The opening music leaves viewers in no doubt this is a Yorgos Lanthimos film. Nimic is about a cellist who has a chance encounter with a stranger on the subway. The film has a distinctive quality; there is a strong sense of uncanny. At twelve minutes long, Nimic does not waste time with explanation. The film is well cast; Daphné Patakia has an unnatural expression which fits perfectly. Matt Dillon’s jaded portrayal is also a good fit.

Rain, Rain, Run Away

Set during a heatwave, Clémentine Carrié’s fifteen-minute film does not go anywhere of note. Rain, Rain, Run Away (Gronde Marmaille) is about two young children who decide to run away from home. Writer-director Carrié achieves an intimacy with her protagonists, but it takes a considerable amount of time for anything significant to occur. When it does, nothing particularly noteworthy follows. Rain, Rain, Run Away has good production values, however.

Roadkill

Leszek Mozga’s stop-motion short Roadkill is weird and wonderful. At eight minutes long, it is the shortest film in the When You Think You Know How It Ends programme. Writer-director Mozga subverts the roles of human and animal. In doing so, the film questions the idea of responsibility and guilt. There are some great edits, and a nervy conclusion make for a memorable and original film. 

What Do You Know About the Water and the Moon

Writer-director Jian Luo offers a strange film with What Do You Know About the Water and the Moon. The premise is bizarre; it offers a good hook. The first line of dialogue does not occur until a quarter of the way into the film. Luo chooses to tell the story visually up until this point. The film features some good imagery, such as the reflection in the vase. The symbolism does not translate to much depth however.

White Girl

Director Nadia Latif’s White Girl is immediately unnerving. A young girl wanders the streets late at night and encounters a range of individuals. The sound design works with Latif’s choice of shots to create an unsettling atmosphere. The thirteen-minute film is pervaded by a sense of mystery; viewers do not know whether to trust those around the girl, or the protagonist herself for half the film. When an incident occurs, motives become clearer and The film ends in a wonderfully gruesome fashion. White Girl is a good calling card for Latif; hopefully we will see more from her. 

Be Still My Beating Heart, Nimic, Rain, Rain, Run Away, Roadkill, What Do You Know About the Water and the Moon, and White Girl are being screened in the When You Think You Know How It Ends programme at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: Waves

Trey Edward Shults’ Waves is tender, powerful, and finely executed. 

High school wrestler Tyler struggles with balancing practice, family life, and his relationship with his girlfriend. His sister Emily, meanwhile, struggles in the aftermath of a life-changing event…

Focusing on Tyler and his family as he faces pressure from all corners, Waves is a meditative drama. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, the film tackles powerful themes within the confines of a teen-focused drama.

The narrative has a definite break, when the focus is pulled from one protagonist and on to another. The first segment feels like a complete film when it reaches its climax. As the second segment begins it is difficult to see where Shults will take his story. As the second part continues, it is absorbing. There is humour to be found in both parts, but the emphasis remains on drama. There are several emotional moments, and each of these is earned by the solid script, good character development, and the filmmaker’s considered direction. 

Camera work in Waves is frenetic to begin with; it does not stop moving for the opening scenes. The pace and range of movement slows in tandem with Tyler’s momentum. It acts almost as a mirror to Tyler’s drive; as aspects of his life spin out of control, the camera slows to meet his level. Later in the film, the camera is more laconic, matching the personality of Emily.

Colour is used to good effect in the film, underscoring the mood and energy at times. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score is a brilliant accompaniment to the on screen action. Performances in Waves are great all round. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is completely believable as Tyler. As his life spirals out of control, his frenzy is conveyed in a disconcerting fashion. Taylor Russell is also great; she has great chemistry with Lucas Hedges. Sterling K. Brown is a strong asset as their father.

Shults’ third film illustrates the filmmaker’s considerable skill and adeptness at storytelling. Waves is memorable viewing.

Waves is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.