Film Review: Running with the Devil

Jason Cabell’s solo directorial debut Running with the Devil is refreshing in its commitment to harsh realities over cheap thrills, for the most part. Unfortunately this doesn’t make the film particularly memorable. 

The head of a drug cartel sends two of his trusted assistants to investigate why a batch of cocaine went missing on its way from Mexico to Canada. The pair need to go through the chain to identify the problem…

An early shot of Running with the Devil is reminiscent of the very famous tracking shot from Goodfellas. Writer-director Jason Cabell uses this to set up a sharp contrast between the glamour of recreational drug use, and the brutality of the growing and supply industry. 

This contrast returns time and time again in Cabell’s film. The Colombian family existence is a world away from The Cook’s comfortable lifestyle. The narrative begins to pick up pace at around twenty minutes in. The film is sufficiently engaging, although it is relatively silly situation which propels the story.  

Given the nature of the film, Running with the Devil is not as tense as it could be. There are some heightened moments, but the film is a little flat for a thriller. The tracking of the cocaine and its steadily increasing price is a good device to emphasise the length and danger of the journey. The complete lack of character names is an odd stylistic decision. 

The use of dialogue is restrained; exposition is takes prominence in practically every conversation. There is not a lot of character building in the film, which is fine for the purposes of the story, but does not help with the generating of tension. A few key moments lack the gravitas they should have had. Cabell may have felt he needed a wild ending, but the twist  is unearned and rather disappointing. 

Performances in Running with the Devil are perfectly fine. None of the cast members really excel. Nicolas Cage is more restrained than normal, Leslie Bibb and Laurence Fishburne are not stretched by the film. The score tries its best to add tension, but is sometimes intrusive. The editing is abrupt on occasion. 

Running with the Devil is a case of execution not quite matching ambition. 

Running with the Devil will be available on Digital Download from 4th November 2019, and can be pre-ordered here

BFI London Film Festival 2019 Launch

This morning saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. In its 63rd year, the festival is screening 229 feature films, including 28 world premieres. Here are some highlights from the festival programme…

Headline Galas

The opening and closing films for the BFI London Film Festival 2019 had already been announced. The festival opens with the European premiere of Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. An adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, the film stars Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, and Hugh Laurie. Martin Scorsese‘s hotly-anticipated The Irishman closes the festival. There is an embarrassment of riches among the other headline galas, including Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Marielle Heller’s (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, and Michael Winterbottom’s Greed, starring Steve Coogan and Isla Fisher.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

This year, films screening as part of the Strand Galas include Robert Eggers’ (The Witch) The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The Dare Gala is Mirrah Folks’ debut feature Judy & Punch, a fairy tale starring Mia Wasikowska. Among the Special Presentations are Takashi Miike’s First Love, and Bombay Rose, a hand-drawn animated feature from Gitanjali Rao.

Official Competition

Among the ten features in Official Competition at the London Film Festival 2019 are Haifaa Al-Mansour’s (Wadjda) The Perfect Candidate, about a young doctor who challenges Saudi Arabia’s strict social codes. Thomas Clay’s Fanny Lye Deliver’d stars Maxine Peake and Charles Dance, and is about a woman living with her puritanical husband in 17th century Shropshire. The Documentary Competition features Rubika Shah’s White Riot, about the Rock Against Racism movement, and Lauren Greenfield The Kingmaker, which focuses on Imelda Marcos. The First Feature Competition includes Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, a drama starring Eliza Scanlon and Ben Mendelsohn.

Strands

The eleven thematic programme strands are back once more at the London Film Festival 2019. The Love strand includes La Belle Époque, Nicolas Bedos’ drama about an illustrator who uses technology to replay the past, and Ga-young Jeong’s Heart. The Debate strand is particularly strong this year with Citizen K (Alex Gibney‘s documentary on Mikhail Khodorkovsky), Chinonye Chukwu’s Sundance winner Clemency, Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, and Scott Z Burns’ The Report, starring Adam Driver. Comedies in the Laugh strand includes Billie Piper’s directorial debut Rare Beasts, whilst Wash Westmoreland’s Earthquake Bird in the Thrill strand stars Alicia Vikander in an 1980s Tokyo-set thriller. Cannes winner The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão is among the films in the Journey category.

The Dare strand features animated coming-of-age tale I Lost My Body and Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird, about a Jewish boy on a journey home during wartime. The Cult strand includes Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge and Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium, with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots. Also in this category is Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, a HP Lovecraft adaptation starring Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson. The Experimenta strand includes Brad Butler and Noorafshan Mizra’s Ruptures, whilst Create includes Midge Costin’s documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. Two highlights of the Family strand are Edmunds Jansons’ Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs and Lorenzo Mattotti’s The Bears’ Famous Invasion. Finally, classics that are showing as part of the Treasures programme include David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price.

The BFI London Film Festival 2019 runs from 2nd-13th October. The full programme can be viewed here.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an inventive, adventurous, and incredibly entertaining film.

When teenager Miles Morales gets bitten by a spider, he becomes the Spider-Man of his reality. When a experiment crosses dimensions, Miles meets his counterparts from other dimensions…

Another year, another Spider-Man movie. However, the filmmakers are acutely aware of this, making amusing reference to the many iterations in the opening gambit. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a self-aware adventure comedy. Despite the wisecracks, the film also offers sufficient heart.

The narrative of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is inventive enough to distinguish itself from other recent comic book movies. Although there is a good versus evil dynamic at its heart, the multiple dimension angle makes for an interesting storyline. The multiverse aspect may go over the heads of younger viewers, but should prove meaty enough for older audience members. The film focuses on a number of themes, with the central narrative concentrating on Miles and the responsibilities is new power brings. However, other aspects which could have felt tired, are made refreshing thanks to Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman’s screenplay. The nuance of Peter Parker’s character springs to mind in this respect.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a visual feast. The film delivers on spectacle, with an original style. Directors Rothman, Peter Ramsey, and Bob Persichetti combine computer generated animation with a hand-drawn style reminiscent of the comics. At times the images blur, emphasising movement and energy. The style of the film is immersive and impressive.

Voice casting in the film is great. Shameik Moore makes a good Miles; Moore delivers lines with sincerity. He is ably supported Jake Johnson, Hailee Seinfeld, and Mahershala Ali. Amongst the supporting cast, Nicolas Cage stands out in a small role as Spider-Man Noir. Music in the film is good accompaniment, and helps create the setting.

Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller show their appreciation of the source material, and their ingenuity in crafting something different with Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. A thoroughly enjoyable film.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is released in UK cinemas on 12th December 2018, with previews on 8th and 9th December.

Previews: Creed II Clip, Uglydolls, More!

Lots of film-related goodness in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including a new Creed II clip, Uglydolls, Missing Link, and more…

Creed II Clip

Here is a brand new Creed II clip. A sequel to 2016’s Creed, the film sees the return of Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, and Tessa Thompson. They are joined by a face from the original franchise; Dolph Lundgren reprises his role as Ivan Drago. Directed by Steven Caple Jr., Creed II will hit UK screens on 30th November 2018.

Uglydolls Trailer

Here is the first trailer for animated adventure Uglydolls. Based on the toy brand, the film is about the residents of Uglyville, who confront what it means to be different. The film features original songs by Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monáe, and Blake Shelton. Uglydolls is set for release on 16th August 2019.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Poster

Above is the latest poster for the upcoming Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the film focuses on a different Spider-Man universe. With an all-star voice cast (including Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfeld, and Nicolas Cage), Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is out in UK cinemas on 12th December, with previews on 8th and 9th December 2018.

Missing Link Trailer

Missing Link is the latest film from animation studio Laika. The film is about an explorer who  discovers the world’s most legendary creature. Featuring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, and Zoe Saldana, Missing Link is set for release on 5th April 2019.

Aquaman Poster

Here is one of the latest posters from the upcoming DC film Aquaman. Nicole Kidman stars as Queen Atlanna in the film. She is joined by Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, and Willem Dafoe. Directed by James Wan, Aquaman will hit UK screens on 14th December 2018.

White Boy Rick Trailer

White Boy Rick is based on the true story. Set in 1980s Detroit, during the height of the war on drugs, the film is about a father and his teenage son, who becomes a police informant. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Brian Tyree Henry. White Boy Rick is being released in UK cinemas on 7th December 2018.

Film Review: Mandy

Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy is quite the trip. At its best moments, the film is dazzling.

Red and Mandy live an idyllic existence in their secluded home in the forest. When a nefarious group crosses them, the couple are plunged into a nightmare… 

Director and co-writer Panos Cosmatos has crafted a revenge thriller with its own unique flair. The premise is fairly simple, but there are plenty of aspects that make the film memorable. The narrative is broken into chapters of varying length. Mandy starts with a laconic pace, setting the scene, ambience and the main characters. The pace increases after first third, as director asks viewers to surrender to the mania. 

The art direction is most striking. The use of colour and lighting give the film a distinctive look, and the cinematography offers some great framing. Allegory is important in the film, and this is exhibited throughout. The opening titles immediately set the tone, and hints towards the era. The film is very much in the mode of an 80s B movie, revelling in this style. The advert featured perfectly exemplifies the demented nature of the film. Sound in Mandy is equally striking, with Jóhann Jóhannson’s score enveloping viewers into a strange and unsettling world. 

Like Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad earlier this year, director utilises Cage most effectively. Patience is the name of the game, and other characters take centre stage to begin with. Viewers have to wait for Nicolas Cage to go full throttle, and when he does, it is glorious. There isn’t really another actor with the same energy as him, and it is really something to watch. Andrea Riseborough is as good as ever. Linus Roache plays the part of Jeremiah well. 

Despite the simplicity of the plot, Mandy is a striking and memorable film. It is quite the ride.

Mandy is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

BFI London Film Festival 2018 Launch

Today saw the BFI London Film Festival 2018 launch. Now in its 62nd year, the festival is screening 225 feature films, including 21 world premieres. Here are some highlights from the festival programme…

Headline Galas

The Opening and Closing Gala films had already been announced. The BFI London Film Festival 2018 opens with Steve McQueen’s hotly anticipated Widows, starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Colin Farrell. McQueen co-wrote the  screenplay with Gillian Flynn. McQueen’s last film, 12 Years A Slave, screened at the 2013 London Film Festival to great acclaim. Stan & Ollie, which features John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan as the legendary comedy duo, closes the festival. Other headline galas include Luca Guadagnino’s hotly anticipated Suspiria, Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, and Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?. A particular highlight is Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest. The Favourite is about Queen Anne’s court, and stars Olivia Colman, Rachel Weiss, and Emma Stone. 

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

There are several great looking films in the Strand Galas and Special Presentation programmes. They include Barry Jenkins’ follow up to Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, which is an adaption of James Baldwin’s novel. Others in this category include Lee Chang-dong’s thriller Burning, and Alfonso Caurón’s first film since Gravity, Roma, and Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Special Presentations include Michael Moore’s Donald Trump documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, Carol Morley’s noir thriller Out of Blue, and George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give. 

Official Competition

There are some big names in this year’s Official Competition. Films include David Lowery’s (A Ghost Story) The Old Man & The Gun starring Robert Redford, László Nemes’ (Son of Saul) Sunset, and Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead – Wheatley’s Free Fire closed the 2016 festival. Also competing is Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, starring Nicole Kidman. Meanwhile the Documentary Competition features Putin’s Witness (Svideteli Putina’s film featuring footage of Putin from 1999-2000) and Julien Faraut’s John McEnroe: In The Realm Of Perfection. First Feature Competition includes Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday and Paul Dano’s Wildlife. 

Strands

As in previous years, the eleven programme strands are back. Love features Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and the Sandra Hüller starring In The Aisles. Debate includes Oliver Assayas’ latest, Non-Fiction, starring Juliette Binoche and Guillaume Canet, and Catherine Corsini’s An Impossible Love. Laugh includes New Zealand comedy The Breaker Uppers, about two women running a relationship break-up service. Amongst the Dare programme is The Green Fog, which sees filmmakers Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson remake Vertigo using clips from other people’s films. Thrill includes Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project (starring Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård), while Cult features Nicolas Cage in Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. 

Jessica Hynes directorial debut The Fight is part of the Journey strand, and Create includes Joan Jett documentary Bad Reputation. Richard Squires’ Doozy, which recreates the career of Hanna-Barbera’s villain actor Paul Lynde is one of the Experimenta films being screened. The Family strand features Linda Hambäck’s animated detective tale Gordon & Paddy. Finally, there are some great films being screened as part of the Treasures strand. These include Billy Wilder’s classic Some Like It Hot and Mae West in My Little Chickadee.

The BFI London Film Festival 2018 runs from 10th-21st October. The full programme can be viewed here.

Film Review: Mom and Dad

Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad is an amusing thriller that acts as a showcase for Nicolas Cage to go ‘full Cage’. A good premise and some outlandish scenes make for an entertaining movie.

Teenager Carly and her younger brother Josh are used to their normal, suburban existence. When a mass hysteria hits their town, the siblings must protect themselves from the two people they thought they could trust…

The premise of writer-director Brian Taylor’s film is a good one. It is a high-concept idea that imagines one of the worst things that could happen. Mom and Dad does not bother with a reasoned explanation for the hysteria. It is a good thing that Taylor eschews this potential rabbit hole; concentrating on a smaller group of people rather than the wide-scale issue is more rewarding. In providing exposition during the film, the director uses these segments as an opportunity to skewer the excesses of the 24-hour news cycle.

The story begins in a linear format, before interspersing several flashback scenes. The pacing is good, although some of the flashbacks interrupt momentum slightly. Mom and Dad concentrates on the suburban American family. As such, it explores the tension between parents and adolescent children, as well as ageing in suburbia. Both parents have to deal with these issues; Talor relates these to the outward rage that parents exhibit when they are effected.

The joy of the film is to see Nicolas Cage unleashed. Director teases viewers with this, restraining the actor until the right moment. Selma Blair is a good accompaniment to Cage’s mania; she is believable as the doting mother as well as the murderous one. The violence towards Damon as cartoonish quality which must be intentional. Anne Winters gives a decent performance.

The satire meets thriller style makes for some good laughs. Brian Taylor provides an entertaining 85 minutes with Mom and Dad.