Cert: TBC Runtime: 132 mins Director: S. Craig Zahler Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Tom Guiry, Marc Blucas and Don Johnson
S. Craig Zahler’s astounding debut Bone Tomahawk amazed me. It has such grit and tenacity, I couldn’t wait for his follow up. Brawl in Cell Block 99 starring a Vince Vaughn that I enjoy watching these days. He really has turned his career around recently especially in True Detective Season 2. He really seems like a good fit for this film. What is Brawl in Cell Block 99 about you ask? Vince Vaughn plays Bradley, a former boxer-turned-mechanic at a crossroads in his life. With his marriage on the rocks and his career well and truly in the gutter, he teams up with an old acquaintance for a stint as a drug courier. But while his risky new venture proves initially lucrative, a drug deal gone wrong sees him behind bars and set to face his toughest, most dangerous assignment yet.
This film delivers the violence, however, with a purpose and is almost just given the narrative. Zahler turns the protagonist into an antihero. With superb zeal. Nothing is gratuitous or overdone. It’s simply a great story with simple plot, done in a purposeful way. Bring a strong stomach with you to S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl In Cell Block 99, a casually vicious ode to 1970’s exploitation that pulls no punches, kicks, backhands or wet-crunchy head stomps that will make your balls retreat up in those nether regions. My only real gripes are that some of the dialogue exchanges are kind of stilted, and the staging of characters in some scenes seems too stiff and unnatural.
Vince Vaughn gives a solid performance – a strong emotional character, who only expresses his emotions when he is alone, otherwise he keeps straightforward and mixes little jokes in his treat for easing his own inner feelings. Jennifer Carpenter goes as realistic as it gets. The rest of the characters are well-developed too. Much like his grisly debut Bone Tomahawk, Zahler takes his time with the characters, developing the story around them to make them as complex as possible. With that and the editing it’s quite a while before the film resembles its title, Zahler doesn’t employ any fast cuts through his action scenes instead he’s willing to plant his camera in a room and let his actors get on with it.
Cert: TBC Runtime: 115 mins Director: Martin McDonagh Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage and Abbie Cornish
Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is LFF’s closing gala film. With a stellar debut with In Bruges and a decent follow up with Seven Psychopaths. McDonagh seems to be evolving to a new kind of genre. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems a lot grittier than any of his other works. What is it all about you ask? It’s been seven months since her daughter was murdered and foul-mouthed, tough-as-nails Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is fed up. Fuelled by grief and outraged that the investigation has gone quiet, she provokes the local police department with a series of messages plastered on three disused billboards outside her home town of Ebbing, Missouri. So begins a rapidly escalating and very public feud between Mildred and venerated community leader and family man, Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). The situation is exacerbated when blundering side-kick, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) gets involved. Just as unhinged as Mildred, but with a significantly lower IQ, Dixon’s penchant for violence is stoked by his leaden, borderline psychotic mother to whom he is unhealthily attached.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is probably the most un-predictable film I have watched in a long time. Martin McDonagh has made one of the finest dark comedies of our time. It may be his finest work too! McDonagh knows how to balance comedy with drama. One second you are crying with laughter the next you feel hollow and dead inside. McDonagh uses the 10 stages of grief so elegantly, the town’s anger grows towards Midred but as time goes by the characters evolve and find peace within themselves. McDonagh balances it so well in his screenplay and within the film itself. As for the actual visual look to Three Billboards, it has a very natural look to go with the aesthetic of the setting. But the heavy tint in the reds really show the issues that are within Ebbing.
McDonagh’s screenplay comes alive with a great ensemble cast. When you have multiple actors of such high calibre you wouldn’t expect any less. Frances McDormand gives one of her finest performances in many years. Mildred is as good as Marge Gundarson in Fargo. She is an utter bad ass and her search for justice is admirable. You can feel her pain, and her un-predictability make her a memorable character. Sam Rockwell provides another great performance for McDonagh. One of our finest character actors goes another level here. His journey is one of the stand out parts of Three Billboards. We would hope a supporting actor campaign will happen for Mr.Rockwell. Woody Harrelson, Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish all provide stellar performances. As mentioned McDonagh’s screenplay would be nothing without his actors. Three Billboards, Outside Ebbing Missouri is a worthy closing gala film at LFF this year. It’s what the cinematic experience is all about laughter, soul searching and heart. A very special piece of cinema indeed.
Cert: TBC Runtime: 95 mins Director: Lynne Ramsay Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, John Doman and Judith Roberts
Lynne Ramsay brings her Cannes fan favourite You Were Never Really Here to LFF. We Need to Talk About Kevin was her last film, and if that is anything to go by we are in for a treat. Joaquin Phoenix knows how to pick a film and this seems like a Joaquin classic choice. It has been dubbed the Taxi Driver of the 21st century, with a tag line like this you have to watch it. What is You Were Never Really Here about then? Joe (Phoenix) is a Gulf War veteran and former FBI agent turned killer-for-hire, specialising in saving victims from child sex rings and living at home with his ailing mother. When Nina, a US Senator’s daughter is kidnapped, he is contracted to dispense with the perpetrators and save the girl (Ekaterina Samsonov). Having located Nina in a seedy New York brothel, Joe’s escape plan suddenly derails, unleashing a maelstrom of violence that ultimately takes him deeper into the hallucinatory darkness and closer to the truth.
Lynne Ramsay take a bow, You Were Never Really Here is a tour de force at LFF this year. I’ve had to watch Ramsay’s adrenaline filled masterpiece twice. This was to ensure that I will have my fill until it’s actual release day. From the opening scene we are inside Joe’s mind and body. He has had a harrowing journey in life but he has good intentions for the innocent of the world. What elevates You Were Never Really Here is Jonny Greenwood’s electrifying score. The beat takes you on a pulsating journey through the dark underbelly of this horrible world. Ramsay’s direction and narrative has elevated You Were Never Really here from a simple action/thriller into a dark and thought provoking noir. You won’t see slow motion shots, fast paced gun-slinging or scantly clad ladies. This is a tale of man fighting his own personal demons while saving an innocent child, The CCTV sequence in particular is a sequence I adore. It’s such a simple effective method and Ramsay captures it effortlessly. She has woven the tale to perfection, you have no real moments of obviousness in the narrative. You have to pay attention to the finer details throughout to understand Joe’s past. Simplicity elevates You Were Never Really here into a masterpiece and Lynne Ramsay’s finest work to date.
Joaquin Phoenix gives one of his finest performances since The Master here. His mental and physical preparation can be felt through out. You tend to forget this is Joaquin most of the time, it’s just Joe. There is a Travis Bickle feel to Phoenix but Joe is his own character. The scene in the sauna in particular is nothing but stupendous. His transition is pure cinema and closer view into his mind. Ekatarina Samsonov gives a top performance too. Limited screen time was her only issue, but she truly is Joe’s driving force in this journey. Her awareness of the role is astounding, especially the dinner table scene. You Were Never Really Here is a masterpiece. The depiction of PTSD and trauma is un-paralleled. It’s simple, effective and leaves the audience thinking. It isn’t for the faint at heart, but it will boil your blood and give you heart palpitations.
Cert: TBC Runtime: 116 mins Director: Joachim Trier Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Henrik Rafaelsen
Joachim Trier is at the forefront of Norwegian filmmakers at the moment. With Louder Than Bombs and Oslo, August 31st under his belt Thelma is his latest. It has received wide praise across the festival circuit and it has now arrived at LFF. Foreign language horror is a genre within itself and I will always watch them. What is Thelma about you ask? Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a young biology student living away from her strict family for the first time. While she attempts to enjoy her new-found independence, her parents’ influence remains palpable, thanks to regular phone calls in which they check up on their daughter’s every move. But Thelma’s life is turned upside down when she meets beautiful classmate Anja, whose presence appears to awaken long-dormant, supernatural powers within her.
Thelma is a mysterious drama-supernatural-thriller, once it’s out for distribution I hope it will not be miss sold as a horror! Thelma is beautifully shot Joachim Trier is so intricate with the camera. Thought has gone into each scene, and each camera angle. Trier takes his time to evolve a scene and this what enhances Thelma’s watch-ability. The are some scenes with CGI here, and they are very well done. You almost won’t notice they are CG, except from the fact that you know you are watching something impossible. That’s good. Thelma is not heavy on big effect stuff, but the effects that are, are excellent. It’s a slow burn film, it kept my interest through out. It won’t be for everyone but I would implore a cinema lover to give it a try. As for Eili Harbore gives a 21st century face lift to Carrie for me. She has such a haunting stare, but her journey as a new university student to her sexual awakening is just breathtaking. Kaya Wilkins as the love interest gels well with Eili. She really is the teacher that leads her down the path of sin. Thelma is an LFF highlight for me, and one of the best films of the year.
Cert: TBC Runtime: 101 mins Director: Hong Sangsoo Cast: Kim Minhee, Seo Younghwa and Kwon Haehyo
Hong Sangsoo is a film-maker I have always wanted to study but time isn’t always on my side. At LFF this year I have a chance to start this with On The Beach at Night Alone. Kim Minhee gave an impressive performance in Chan-wook Park’s The Handmaiden this year and I hope it continues here. So what is On the Beach at Night Alone about? In the opening scenes of this bittersweet post-break-up film, we find Young-hee visiting a friend in Hamburg and nursing a broken heart. With all the enthusiasm of the romantic drifter abroad, Young-hee (The Handmaiden’s Kim Minhee) ponders relocating there, but life in the German city is also alienating, resulting in much lost-in-translation humour. Meanwhile, back in Gangneung and with the soju flowing, Young-hee questions the social attitudes that have punished her relationship with a married film director.
For an introductory film to Hong Sangsoo I wouldn’t recommend. If you have the patience for observing his work, it’s worth a try. The improvisation of scenes by his cast can be hit and miss at points. But Kim Minhee does pack a punch when she gets to the nitty gritty of her current state of mind. What surprised me was his camera technique, what some might consider amateurish I call bold. Key moments are highlighted by a very un-polished zoom. Sangsoo created a natural flowing film with no tendency of structuring the tale. He wanted to convey emotion more than anything. The one take dinner scene in particular was very gripping. Kim Minhee gives a very strong performance, the two sides to her character are intriguing and what makes the film stand out. On the Beach at Night Alone is subversive and it won’t please the general masses, but I do applaud it and what Sangsoo tried to achieve.
Cert: TBC Runtime: 121 mins Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, Barry Keoghan, Sunny Suljic and Raffey Cassidy
The return of the man, the myth, the legend Yorgos Lanthimos to my screen is a highlight for me at LFF. The Lobster director has captivated my mind with his body of work. Colin Farrell returns to work with this cinematic giant, along with the so hot right now Nicole Kidman. If any film was going to topple Raw for my film of the year it could be this! What is The Killing of a Sacred Deer about you ask? Steven (Colin Farrell) is a wealthy cardiothoracic surgeon who lives a harmonious existence with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children Kim and Bob. Unbeknownst to his magazine-perfect family, Steven has formed an odd friendship with fatherless teenager Martin, to whom he brings gifts and offers financial support. When Steven decides to introduce Martin to his unsuspecting family, the sinister intentions of this strange young man become frighteningly clear.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer was a tame film for Lanthimos. That being said the dark road it takes is very Lanthamosian. From the opening shot of heart surgery you know you are watching his film. Killing of a Sacred Deer may not topple Dogtooth or The Lobster but it’s one of his strongest films. He seems to be evolving his style a lot more here, the use of tracking shots for long dialogue is sublime. The dialogue that Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou is so dry-pan, but the dark comedic tone resonates through out. As the plot develops as an audience member you are challenged to decide the fate of the characters, Lanthimos does well with audience engagement. The ending in particular was the tensest I have felt in the cinema for a while. The plot does wear slightly thin for a 119 minute run-time, it needed fleshing out more or possibly trimmed down a bit more. The use of a Shinning-esk score really keeps you in the right mood for the duration. The heavy prolonging drum is still giving me goosebumps.
Barry Keoghan is Martin has to be the most sinister and twisted teenager I have seen on film. The naivety in his face counterweight his satanic side. One of the most memorable characters I have witnessed in cinema for a long time. Hopefully he will receive the recognition he deserves. Colin Farrell’s second appearance for Yorgos was very different. The journey he takes during the film is mythological and the choices he make are tough. One imagines he enjoys putting a few extra pounds on for Yorgos. Farrell can not do any wrong in my eyes currently. Nicole Kidman has very limited scenes, she is so cold and hollow but that’s her character. She plays a mother I would’t wish on anyone, I loathed her (in a good way). As for Sunny Suljic and Raffey Cassidy they give very mature performances for such young actors. The Killing of a Sacred Deer can be a tough watch at moments, but it’s what Lanthimos thrives on. One of 2017’s best by far and a worthy British premier at London Film Festival.
Cert: TBC Runtime: 90 mins Director: Cory Finley Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke and Anton Yelchin
Thoroughbreds is part of the official competition at London Film Festival this year. This is Cory Finley’s debut film and Anton Yelchin’s last film before he sadly passed away. What intrigued me to this film is that I am not sure what to expect. The inclusion of Anya Taylor-Joy in the cast is a bonus, she is a rising star in cinema right now and watching her develop is a bonus. What is Thoroughbreds about then? Two teenage girls reignite a childhood friendship to deliciously dark ends, in this witty contemporary noir. Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke), reunited when Amanda’s mum asks Lily to help her daughter study. Having personally euthanized the family horse, Amanda is notorious amongst the blue-blood community of her Connecticut suburb. It’s a fact Lily clearly finds fascinating. Neither is afraid to shock or offend, and their competitive trading in acerbic quips soon intensifies to the point where they jokingly plan to kill Lily’s loathsome stepfather Mark. However, in their attempts to impress each other, the plan soon becomes serious and together they dupe a small-time drug dealer (Anton Yelchin) into helping them.
Cory Finely is a film-maker to keep an eye on. Thoroughbreds is an up market version of Daria (this is how I can summarise this film). From the opening sequence of a homemade euthanization of the family horse to the cold claustrophobic shots, Finley has a distinctive voice. He has directed and written a pure dark comedy that blends with a hipster thriller. His narrative looses it’s way at some moments, but for a debut this is solid. The dialogue between the two leads is luscious, focus is key here or you will miss something out. The tone is very consistent, but what helps elevate it even more is that haunting score. Olivia Cooke stood out for me, she embodied such a sad and damaged person. You feel for her in so many ways. The fake crying scene with her and Anya Taylor-Joy was a personal highlight for me. As for Taylor-Joy she grows from strength to strength, I did loath her a lot in the film. She was like a bad rash you couldn’t get rid of. It was bittersweet seeing Anton Yelchin in Thoroughbreds as it was his last film. He always picked good directors to work with, and the acclaim Thoroughbreds is receiving he picked another good horse. Cory Finely is one to watch people, mark my words!