Thursday 21 December 2017


Augusto (Vladimir Brichta), a down on his luck actor with an occasional career in software pornography just wants to find a steady gig so that he can help provide for his son. Heading into an audition for a daytime soap opera at one of Brazil's largest networks, when he sees the line of clowns headed into a different stage area he decides to try out for that instead. Using his natural charisma to impress the American "gringo" in charge of the show, he then quickly becomes a firm favourite with the young audience. But as the fame of his character starts to go to his head, Augusto begins to indulge in all of the excesses you wouldn't expect from a children's television personality. Except maybe Richard Bacon.

Following the Boogie Nights template closely, Bingo: The King of the Mornings is able to offer a compelling story due to the performance of Vladimir Brichta as Bingo. He's got the portrayal of the sad clown nailed, and as a man driven by his hunger for the fame he isn't allowed to have without wearing face paint, it's in many ways a typical tale of 80s greed.

The 80s setting helps sell that this quite old fashioned show would be a draw for audiences. One nice touch is that the subtitles also look like they are straight from the 80s; like they're providing some VHS tracking info. Based on the true scenario of the transposition of the Bozo the Clown character to Brazil in the early 1980s, if one things smacks of inauthenticity it's that it's hard to believe any parent allowing their child to watch this terrifying show. In a year that has given us Pennywise the Clown in Andy Muschetti's adaptation of IT, even Stephen King's creation would have to doff his cap towards Bingo in the terrifying stakes.

The feature directorial debut of Daniel Rezende, whose most notable work has previously been as editor of such films as City of God, it's undeniable that Bingo is a handsome looking film. The 80s stylings never seem forced or for comic effect, and as Augusto frequents the seedier parts of town to indulge in his reckless lifestyle, it's always shot with style. Bingo: The King of the Mornings, the Brazilian BAFTA contender for Best Film not in the English Language, may use its over-sized clown shoes to tread familiar ground, but it's delivered with style and a disconcertingly sinister smile on its face.


Wednesday 29 November 2017

78/52 review

Comprised of 78 shots and 52 cuts, the shower scene in Psycho is one of the most famous moments in cinema history, shocking audiences by killing off its lead character less than half way into the film. Quite easily one of the most studied and discussed moments in cinema history, this new documentary aims to pull back the shower curtain to reveal unknown facts about the film and the process of making that iconic scene.

78/52 is a deep dive down the plughole, with talking head contributions from Bret Easton Ellis, Leigh Whannell, Karyn Kusama, Janet Leigh's body double, Eli Roth, Scott Spiegel, Walter Murch, Guillermo del Toro and Jamie Lee Curtis to name but a few, all who have opinions about Marion Crane's last moments. It's worth questioning how much dissection is necessary or even asked for. Although the approach is more populist that academic, anyone who has ever studied cinema will have studied the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and in particular his most memorable scene. This is film theory presented as fact, and is therefore unlikely to appeal to an audience unfamiliar with Psycho.

It may be talking into a bathroom-shaped echo chamber populated by film obsessives, but there's an appealing degree of theorist confirmation to documentaries of this ilk. Adopting a similar format to the Stanley Kubrick/The Shining dissection Room 238 but with far less crazy (or are they?) conspiracy theories, 78/52 is able to offer new readings that may prove educational to some; for example the foreshadowing in the films early scenes where Marion drives with rain lashing down on her windshield with wiper blades slashing across. 

It's not just the shot structure and editing that gets put under the microscope. Bernard Hermann's iconic string score come under close scrutiny, as does the foley artistry of the scene. How do you recreate the sound of stabbing? The answer, melons. There is some efforts to put Psycho within the context of Hitchcock's other films of the era, but mostly to point out how much it stands alone in his filmography. Shot in black and white on a small budget with the crew from his television show, on paper it should not have been the success it was.

Gus van Sant's shot for shot remake of Psycho is also given a fair amount of attention, for whilst being ultimately a failure that couldn't recreate Psycho's specific charm and shock levels, was at the very least an interesting document on how it's very hard to duplicate film history. The film delves into how the influence of the shower scene and its meticulous construction has been felt across cinema from Jurassic Park to Raging Bull and beyond. Educational without too much pandering, what also works for this film is that, despite it not being able to emulate the same level of tension as the Master of Suspense, it is able to create some sort of sustained dread. This is particularly noticeable in the final sequences of the film, as the scene and the documentary reach their crescendos.

One for fans and film obsessives who like to pore over every detail of the films they love, 78/52 is a great documentary that's well worth checking in and checking out.


Saturday 25 November 2017


You may not be immediately aware of who Tom of Finland was or his artwork, but it's unlikely you're unaware of the impact the work of Tom, AKA Touko Laaksonen has had on gay culture and fashion of the 1970s and 80s, and therefore most forms of popular entertainment. His intricately shaded pencil drawings of burly moustachioed men in leather and uniforms helped shaped the iconography of the era.

This biography starts with Touko (Pekka Strang) as a soldier fighting in World War II, hiding his homosexuality and engaging in illegal and dangerous sexual encounters with other soldiers. Returning home from the war to live with his sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), his attempts to come out to her are dismissed as him being confused and changed by the war. Opting to continue his sex life with unknown men in public bathrooms and wooded areas often raiding by the police, he uses his provocative, often pornographic drawings as calling cards to reveal his homosexuality to others. Spanning a long period of time from the Second World War to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the secretive nature of Touko's life shares more in common with an espionage thriller like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, except the content of the articles being passed around is a little bit different.

Where the film falls down is in its exploration of the man as an artist. His wartime persona and the impact his killing of a Russian soldier had on him is well covered in the first half of the film, but the story is crying out for more to be revealed about his method and inspiration. This is better explored once Touko begins to understand his international, more mainstream appeal and flirts with the prospect of new horizons in the open atmosphere of California, but there's a lack of actual artwork on show, save for a few brief scenes of Touko sketching. Given that his images are so indelible, this is often a frustrating element of the film.

The film is respectful of Tom's legacy and of his romantic life with long term partner, Veli (Lauri Tilkanen), but some parts of the film have fallen for classic biography pitfalls, including some questionable old man make-up effects and a visit to foreign lands where everyone speaks with a certain Finnish twang. Thankfully this is largely forgivable, particularly when the film does so well at capturing the covert, secretive tone of Touko's earlier years.

A lot of the work seems tame and even quaint by today's standards (to the point where his work was celebrated in his native Finland by appearing on postage stamps), but the film makes clear that this was a different time that was unaccepting of his homosexuality, and that the images created by Touko were extremely dangerous to be in possession of. As told to him by one official, also leading a secret life, "it's not just a picture. It's an atomic bomb".

As an important artistic figure it's right that his life should be celebrated; it's just a pity the film didn't take a leaf out of Touko's book and sketch things out with more detail.


Monday 20 November 2017


As is abundantly evident in this new documentary, Jim Carrey is at an incredibly interesting point in his career. His most recent film appearance was in The Bad Batch, a Netflix movie that came and went with little fanfare. If you've seen that film and don't recall Jim Carrey appearing in it, that's probably because his role as a waif thin transient with a gigantic beard rendered him near unrecognisable from the A-list movie star who appeared in Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber and Mr Poppers Penguins. Seemingly eager to expand upon (or possibly destroy) his movie star image, this Netflix documentary looks behind the scenes of one of his most lauded dramatic performances, as Andy Kaufman in the 1999 Milos Forman film, Man on the Moon. Although some stories of Carrey's method approach surfaced at the time, the actual footage has been in the possession of Carrey since that film wrapped. The reason he's kept it away? Well, therein lies the story of this documentary.

Placing the film in the context of his career and the other films he appeared in at the time (The Truman Show clearly had an equally profound effect on him and his position as a celebrity), it's a testament to one of Carrey's strongest abilities as an actor; to lay himself completely bare on screen. Although as a reflective Carrey says in the intimate talking head interview that drives this film, it isn't even him up on screen. Talking about hearing he got the part whilst sitting on a beach in Malibu where 30 dolphins suddenly appeared, Jim claims he received a telepathic message from Andy saying "sit down, I'll be doing my movie".

Carrey's get out clause of "what happened afterwards was out of my control" is debatable, and a lot of the footage filmed by a small roaming crew of documentarians (comprised of Kaufman's former girlfriend, Lynne Marguiles, and his former writing partner, Bob Zmuda) captures Carrey only responding as if he was Andy, and some extraordinarily bad behaviour, including wandering around with a paper bag on his head to the complete exasperation of director Milos Forman, and turning up to set drunk as Kaufman alter-ego, Tony Clifton. Notoriously hard to handle when portrayed by Kaufman in the 70s, highlights of the Man on the Moon behind the scenes footage see Clifton, played by Bob Zmuda, arrive at the Playboy Mansion to cause havoc (with some sycophants commending Carrey's method until Carrey himself turned up), and Carrey as Clifton walking around Spielberg's offices demanding to see "the real shark".

Carrey offers no apologies for his/Andy's/Tony's behaviour, and despite some of the cast and crew of Man on the Moon taking it in good humour, it's almost a surprise Carrey worked ever again. Perhaps they saw it, as this film casually suggests, as a movie star desperately trying to prove himself as a legitimate actor and not just as a clown. Carrey is resolute in his claim that it was Kaufman on set, not him, and although it's amusing to see former co-workers like Judd Hirsch and Jerry Lawler puzzled, bemused and (allegedly) angered by Carrey's antics, a meeting between Kaufman's daughter and Carrey as Kaufman has potentially emotionally scarring implications that are hard to fathom.

Having undergone some personal turmoil recently that has kept him off cinema screens, when Carrey stares directly down the camera lens and into your living room, it's hard not feel compassion for the man. Even with his beard, he's still incredibly youthful looking at the ripe old age of 55, but there's something about those eyes looking back at you that make you realise you've probably underestimated him as a performer for his whole career. Putting the Kaufman channeling to one side, this film is a great study of the artist's method, and although they could have included input from Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, etc, by keeping the sole contemporary voice as Carrey's it is able to focus on his power as a performer, on screen and off.

This documentary (to give it its full title, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton) will help ensure that Carrey's lengths to go method will go down in history, although in classic Kaufman fashion, it's hard to tell if it was a joke and who was in on it with Carrey, Kaufman and Clifton the whole time.


Sunday 22 October 2017


This new documentary follows folk singer Shirley Collins who, after an extended period of over 30 years where she would not and could not perform, attempts to find her voice.

For those in the know, Shirley Collins has a standing as one of the best voices of the new folk movement of the 1950s and 60s. Often performing with her older sister Dolly, she was known for her musical innovations within the folk scene, until 1980 where due to personal issues stemming from her husband leaving her for another woman, she found herself unable to sing.

Largely retreating from public life she has hardly sang since, but after celebrating her 80th birthday she decided to record a new album Lodestar, for which this film serves as an in depth behind the scenes document. To complete the story, actors have been employed to appear in mock 16mm footage and Hannah Arteton (sister of Gemma) provides narration from Shirley's diary entries and writings at the time of her rise.

Knowledge of obscure 50s and 60s folk singers is not necessary, as Shirley is a delightfully open lady who is happy to re-discover old personal letters and share her stories of travels to America whilst enjoying her semi-retirement in Sussex. It's clear from the many people who are happy to talk about her (comedian Stewart Lee pops up to ask her about the times she performed at The Troubadour in London) that she is truly adored among the folk music scene.

The personal issues that lead to her retreating from her life as a performer are handled openly and honestly, and whilst not incredibly dramatic, clearly still affect her deeply. The film also serves as a lesson to those who don't make the most of their god given talents, with scenes showing Shirley frustrated with the changes to her once youthful, soft voice, worried that her performances either aren't a true expression or are letting the songs down. On the contrary, her voice is delicately cracked, aged and honest, as is Shirley in this telling of her quaintly English story.


Saturday 14 October 2017

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 - London Film Festival review

Part of the BFI London Film Festival's cult strand, S. Craig Zahler's follow up to Bone Tomahawk is the Vince Vaughn revenge thriller (yes, really) Brawl in Cell Block 99.

If you're familiar with the work of Vince Vaughn, you'll probably know him from the immense potential he first showed in 1996's Swingers (as Trent, a loudmouth ladies man who glides through the L.A. scene on his effortless charm), followed by 20 years of comedies of varying degrees of quality. He's dipped his toes into dramatic waters in that time (2001's thriller Domestic Disturbance and last year's Mel Gibson helmed Hacksaw Ridge, for example), but it's as a comedic actor that he's best known. Which is why Brawl in Cell Block 99 makes for such a bold (and bald) move from Vaughn; using his imposing physical presence to deliver a character who's like nothing else we've seen from him before.

Bradley Thomas (Vaughn) starts the film as a man down on his luck, losing his auto repair job and discovering that his wife Lauren (Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter) has been having an affair. Choosing to step up rather than walk away, he uses his connections to get a job in drug trafficking that will help rebuild his family life. Cut to 18 months later, and Bradley and Lauren have become an old fashioned criminal success story, with a new house and a baby on the way. It's virtually impossible to say anything more about the plot of the film without spoiling it, but needless to say things go sour for Bradley and prison awaits him.

If I can pick one word to describe Brawl..., it's violent. But if I can have a second word it's slow. Sometimes frustratingly so. Some scenes of Vaughn walking down corridors or stairwells bring to mind the episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Milhouse are late to school, leading to a contest to see who can walk the slowest before Milhouse freaks out and runs off into the distance. When I watched this film I felt like Milhouse, having to keep myself from yelling at the screen for Vaughn to get moving while I watched a man the size of a mountain walk quarter speed, like Herman Munster had gone to prison.

Having said that, you would anticipate from the title that this film takes place mostly in a prison, but you would be wrong. It's over an hour into the film before Vaughn even arrives in prison, and it's not even the correct prison where the actual brawl of the title is due to take place. As described by Don Johnson's warden, this is not maximum security, it's "minimum freedom", with all of the electro-shock belts and bone breaking that go with it. That's not to say that the preceding hour doesn't have its moments of thrills, action and rage, but it's a long wait for the promise of that purposely Grindhouse-style title to arrive. But when it does, oh boy.

An example of Bradley's pent up rage is shown to us early on when he arrives home to discover his wife's affair. He methodically and effectively beats up her car, taking off wing mirror appendages and the hood of the car like it's a real life Street Fighter 2 bonus round. The scene is not especially dramatic or emblematic of Bradley's violent nature, but serves to show us that when violence is needed, this is a guy who has anger and strength in reserves and can clinically execute an opponent.

S. Craig Zahler has clearly chosen to aim for a slower, 1970s thriller vibe (if this film existed 40 years ago, it would have starred Charles Bronson for sure), and although he over shoots the target by some way, this film has enough pitch black dark humour, extreme face trauma and moments of genuinely shocking violence that it needs to be seen with as big as an audience as possible. If you need a litmus test to find out which of your friends are as deeply disturbed as you are, watch this with them and listen to the laughter flow.

Despite some knock-off '90s Tarantino style dialogue (no one says handcuff him, they all say "give him jewellery"), there's so much to enjoy about Brawl..., largely down to the presence of Vince Vaughn who, trying to give his career a shot in the arm and show audiences what he's capable of, has succeeded in surprising all of us.


Friday 1 September 2017


Amid the rise of the boutique DVD label such as Arrow, Indicator, Criterion, etc, there are those who say "no more!". Well, to them I say, "no, more!" And so I'm happy to see a new series of titles released under the Vestron Video label that celebrate some ultra obscure movies that you aren't going to find anywhere else. First to be released is 1987's Blood Diner.

An opening crawl positions Jackie Kong's Blood Diner firmly in B-movie territory, renouncing practitioners of blood cults while at the same time hoping to trick the audience into thinking they're about to see something trull satanic; for example, stating that "all of the mutilations, body dismemberments and cannibal rituals were performed by seasoned professionals". It has a severed tongue firmly in cheek.

Our two main characters are the Tutman brothers, Michael and George (Rick Burks and Carl Crew). Together they run a local eatery that bring delicious vegetarian food to the masses, with their "Tuesday Surprise" a particular favourite. As you might have deduced from the title and the fact this is a cheesy 80s horror film, their food is not what you would traditionally class as vegetarian, but rather the deep fried remains of victims of a murderous rampage that has been targeting some of the local vegetarian hotspots, including a nude aerobics class and a club where the brothers are able to meet unsuspecting women to lure back to their restaurant/murder scene. It's here that they meet a sticky end, either by getting their head plunged into a deep fat fryer, or by going back for their purse when they should be fleeing for their life.

Of course there's a reason behind all this dismemberment that goes further than re-stocking the pantry, and that would obviously be to re-animate the goddess Sheetar that their long departed Uncle Anwar (offed in a police shoot out that saw him "armed with a meat cleaver in one hand and his genitals in the other") worshipped. Taking orders from Uncle Anwar's brain in a jar, he gives the boys a gross grocery list of body parts that would make Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill wince.

Wilfully offensive and misogynistic, Blood Diner is the kind of film where you can tell that the supporting cast have also done porn at some point in their career. Written by Dukey Flyswatter (frontman for post-punk rock band Haunted Garage and voice of the Imp in Sorority Babes, but I'm sure I didn't need to tell you that), it's a madcap mess of a movie, but never tries to be anything but that. It's definitely kinda hokey, but there's so much to appreciate (and on blu-ray I'm sure this is the best the film has ever looked) including zombies and cannibal feasts and the fact that one of the key supporting characters is made out of crude paper mache.

With a post-punk aesthetic that shows a no holds barred approach to offending as much of its audience as possible, this film features a wrestler named Jimmy Hitler, the two worst homicide detectives in the world, and the greatest reveal this side of Troll 2's true meaning of Nilbog. The tagline, first they greet you then they eat you is simply delicious, and it has a barnstorming and barmy ending that means you leave the film on a high. If you're looking for a generous helping of cult film with a side of silliness, here's one to takeaway. This bodes well for the next films to be released on the Vestron label.



The second release under the new Vestron Video label sees a shadowy government agency try to cover up for the fact that they've accidentally released a CHUD (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller) into a small town community, and he's started to get hungry.

There are a number of reasons why you may want to watch Bud the Chud. Maybe you saw the first film and wanted to see where the story, set in the New York City sewers, went next (This film has literally nothing to do with its predecessor)? Or maybe you're a fan of the work of Gerritt Graham (A recognisable supporting player given the title role here, even if he's a zombie corpse)? Or maybe you're a fan of trash cinema, a sub-sub-genre of pulpy films which this is a part of. That sounds a little unfair, but if it's not trash it's at the very least almost there; like the tea bag trail left behind on the lid of a bin.

Robert Vaughn appears in one of his hammiest roles (no small feat) as the Colonel in charge of the CHUD program, hoping to secure funding for future research into the reanimation of dead soldiers and desperate to keep the little snafu of Bud's release under wraps. Unfortunately for him some stupid teenagers have accidentally defrosted Bud's infected corpse and he's now making his way around town turning other people and the occasional dog into CHUDs along the way. If comparing him to other zombies, Bud is more like Day of the Dead's Bub than anyone else. Not merely a mindless killer, he's able to have a degree of thought, organising others to follow him in the pursuit of people to eat. At one point he goes and gets a haircut, which I'm pretty sure has never happened in a Romero film.

It also definitely didn't happen in the first film, as the CHUDs here have been given a dramatic makeover both in look and in demeanour. They don't even dwell underground anymore, and that's literally the second half of their name. Bud would be more accurately described as a CHAZ (Cannibalistic Humanoid Army Zombie), but then his name wouldn't rhyme, would it?

With their sharpened teeth and goofy grins they're almost cute. It's no surprise that the finale bears a resemblance to Joe Dante's Gremlins 2, a film series that mirrors the CHUD series' pattern of serious original, jokey sequel. It's also worth noting that the writer of Bud the Chud, Ed Naha, also wrote the original Troll film, another film whose sequel bore no relation to the first installment.

Despite his bitchin' mullet, lead annoying teenager Brian Robbins achieved nothing really of note as an actor, but has gone on to achieve some degree of infamy as director of such cinematic gems as Eddie Murphy's A Thousand Words, Meet Dave and Norbit. Also featured is Tricia Leigh Fisher, daughter of Debbie Reynolds and younger sister of Carrie Fisher. As Katie, the object of Bud's affection, she's not called upon to do much more than deliver spiky comebacks to the boys, and during the finale don a terrible swimsuit that Bud and the CHUDs find so appealing that they're willing to jump into a potentially deadly swimming pool to be near her.

Now, it's fair to say that CHUD 2: Bud the Chud (to give it its full title), is not a great movie. It's also questionable as to whether it's even a good one. But yet it's a film that I have a soft spot for, and have seen many times over the years since I discovered the joys of cult horror movies. This is never going to achieve the same sort of recognition as Troll or Troll 2 and I can't imagine there are many cinemas lining up to add it to their midnight movies rosters, but beneath the simple make-up and awkward comedy scenes lies a film that can't fail to raise a smile from anyone who's seen it.

That's partly down to the infectious and never ending theme tune that almost hypnotises you into going along with the movie, but perhaps most likely down to the performance of Gerritt Graham as Bud, who brings a lot of childlike charm to the role and will undoubtedly have you rooting for him to kill the annoying teenagers as soon as possible. He's an actor you may recognise from his role in one of the Police Academy sequels or possibly as Beef in Brian De Palma's recently re-appraised Phantom of the Paradise, but to me he's always going to be Bud the Chud.

So far I'm fully on board with the titles that Vestron have chosen to re-release, but I do think they've missed a trick in not taking the opportunity to rebrand this film somewhat to move it away from C.H.U.D., a film that has no cultural cache in the U.K. and to the best of my knowledge has never been commercially available on these shores. Sure, you could own an imported DVD of the region 1 release, but what kind of loser (me) would do that? The box art, although an accurate reprint of the original marketing, does nothing to represent the film, or its comic tone.

It's a shame that this film is burdened with the baggage of its predecessor, as although it might not be as well respected as the far more serious in tone original, it's the better of the two films. Not necessarily in terms of filmmaking craft, but if you asked me which of the two I'd like to sit down and watch, it's this one every time. Sure, the CHUD make-up doesn't go much further than a pair of comedy teeth and a slap in the face with some talcum powder, but the finale manages to deliver some decent visual effects, and in Bud, a different take on what it means to be a zombie.


MOON DOGS review

When Michael (Jack Parry Jones) suspects his girlfriend is cheating on him whilst away at university, he decides to make the trek from his home in the Shetland Islands to Glasgow, taking his step brother Thor (Christy O'Donnell) along with him. Having to lie, cheat and blag their way there, they enlist the help of Caitlin (Tara Lee), a feisty singer who wants to get to Glasgow so she can perform at the Celtic Connections festival, even if she doesn't have a band to back her up. Or does she?

It's a basic setup not a million miles (or even the distance from the Shetland Islands to Glasgow) away from the 2002 road trip comedy, Road Trip with added John Cusack 80's classic The Sure Thing, and the film is scattered with moments that would not look amiss in an American high school comedy, with occasional dips into much darker territory that seem to be present to stop the tone from getting too light.

After the initial drawn out set-up that sees Michael fail his final exams because of his stepbrother Thor, it's the introduction of Tara Lee's Caitlin that really kicks the film's plot into gear. Showing more attitude than she was called upon to show in A Date For Mad Mary, it's her characters actions that really drive the film, often veering into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory as Michael tries to win back his girlfriend. I've always been a hesitant defender of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype that Caitlin surely is, as although she's edgy, charismatic and sexually confident, she's not just all black nail varnish and raging insecurities. It's hard not to be completely enamoured with her character after hearing her sing, and she is in completely in control of her end goal and is using the two stepbrothers to help her achieve that. Although she may do so unwittingly (or wittingly), she is not just present to fulfil the many fantasies of the lead male.

She does have a damaged, Silver Linings Playbook quality and a dark past thats surface is only scratched at during a scene where they steal from some sort of small town drug lord; and even if certain aspects of her story are a tad predictable, Lee's performance is still enjoyable throughout. Likewise, Jack Parry Jones' Michael has sparky chemistry with Lee and the two share a number of memorable scenes. Sadly, the same can't be said for Christy O'Donnell's Thor, who as a multi-instrumentalist descendant of Vikings/teenage runaway should not be the least interesting character in the film. He's only noticeably present when the love triangle scenes come into play, but even then it's pretty clear that one of the sides of this triangle is not as developed as the others. To be fair to O'Donnell he does exactly what is asked of him, but his characterisation is weak in comparison to the others.

In its final act Moon Dogs goes to great lengths to resolve one of its storylines, but it's the least interesting and least developed of the story arcs, leaving another hastily resolved and the other hanging in the balance. I can only assume that this is because the film didn't know how to satisfyingly resolve the other, more interesting arcs, but it's a real dramatic flaw that damages the resolution of the entire film. It's as if the writer chose this moment to desperately avoid cliches at all cost, but it's here that a bit of narrative predictability would have been appreciated.

Despite its obvious mis-steps there is still a spark of something special within Moon Dogs. The scenery on their road trip is attractive, there's some decent, inventive music that truly makes the best of their celtic connections and there's a lot of promise of greater things shown by the lead actors.

Moon Dogs is out now in cinemas.


Tuesday 22 August 2017


Christophe Honore's latest oddity is screening today as part of Picturehouse Cinemas' Discover Tuesdays strand, and it's a head-scrambler to say the least.

This film screened at the 2014 London Film Festival but is only now making its way to the general public. But why, you may ask? Well, probably because it's a film that stretches the boundaries of film as a visual medium, not to mention the limits of taste and decency and, unfortunately, entertainment.

A re-telling of parts of Ovid's epic poem about the creation of the world and beyond, it's about as accessible as that sounds. Told in director Honore's native French (although largely a visual experience), the closest thing the film has to a main character is Amira Akili's Europa; following her life on the banks of a river and relationships with Jupiter, Orpheus and Bacchus. From there the film journeys into non-sequiturs that aim to retell Ovid's myths through modern French society.

For an adaptation of a fifteen book life's work that has been published in almost every language, it's surprising how much this is a resolutely visual adaptation. At times it resembles flipping through a book of photographs that work well as still images, but never meld together coherently. One of the biggest aspects of the film is its attitude towards sexuality and nudity. It presents a fluid display of gender constructs such as an early scene where a hunter stumbles across a transsexual woman bathing, only to be showered in glitter; but as the film progresses and more young, beautiful cisgender women shed their clothes, this feels less like artistic representation and more like opportunistic lechery on the part of the director. It's a shame that the flagrant nudity becomes a distraction, as it's when studying the themes of gender identity and biology within modern and classic settings that the film is at its best.

Purposely avant garde in its approach, if you're a fan of classic poetry there may be something here for you; but your average cinema audience, even one more accustomed to frequenting an art house establishment, will find this near impenetrable. It's unquestionably shot with skill behind the lens and there is intriguing, abstract imagery on show and the wonder of what the next bizarre thing may be, but without a story structure resembling anything like a narrative film it's a tough decision whether to keep watching or not.


Monday 21 August 2017


Out now on DVD and Blu-ray is the story of Chuck Wepner, the boxer many people called "the real life Rocky", including himself whenever he saw the opportunity.

The saying goes that all the best sports movies aren't really about sports, well The Bleeder is a movie about a sports movie, so where does that leave us? Based on the life of Chuck Wepner, a boxer who was given a title shot against Muhammad Ali in 1975, and although he didn't win (not a spoiler), the fact he lasted until the 15th round against one the greatest fighters of all time was enough to make him a folk hero in his home state of New Jersey.

Getting a taste for fame as the so-called "Heavyweight Champ of New Jersey", Chuck started to enjoy all of the benefits that came with his newly minted persona, leaving his wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) and child at home. Promising to stop his boozing and womanising ways, things only get worse when Chuck hears about a new film that bears more than a passing resemblance to his own life; Rocky. Soon he's back out on the town claiming to be the real life Rocky, lapping up the attention he can get and hoping to make contact with Sylvester Stallone to talk about some royalties.

The film's title The Bleeder refers to the derogatory nickname Wepner was labelled with before his rise to fame (the man could take a punch, but not without some damage), and although out of context it makes the film sound like a cockney gangster thriller, it's at least more descriptive than the films US title, Chuck, which last time I checked was a TV show about a nerdy CIA super spy.

As a film about outward displays of damaged masculinity, it couldn't have a better cast. It's saying something that the most well-rounded and articulate male character in the film is the brief appearance of Sly Stallone (in an impressively accurate performance by Morgan Spector), with Schreiber's Chuck and Ron Perlman's Mickey-esque boxing trainer, Al, both looking and acting like they've been raised in the boxing ring. The film shows Chuck watching the Anthony Quinn movie Requiem for a Heavyweight, and Quinn's gruff masculinity is very much the model for Schreiber's performance. Strong, closed off; a walking meat slab of neurosis and internal demons.

It's clear that this has been a passion project for Schreiber who as well as starring has a writing credit, and among the supporting cast is his former real life partner, Naomi Watts. Playing Linda, a sassy, brassy barmaid who pops up at convenient intervals in Wepner's life, it's pretty clear what her character's purpose is as soon as she appears on screen; and although their relationship is the closest thing Chuck has to a Rocky/Adrian romance, it's hard to shake the feeling that this is where the most dramatic license has been taken. Schreiber and Watts have obvious, palpable chemistry, but their story together smacks of retconning to appease their real life counterparts, which is at a detriment to the drama of the film. Likewise, the cordial relationship between Wepner and Stallone displayed seems like the product of legal intervention.

Putting that aside, the brief boxing scenes are affective, and there is a narrative drive in seeing where Chuck and Rocky's life stories intersect and where they differ wildly. Despite what Wepner and the blu-ray box art would tell you, although they share similar underdog rises to fame it's the fact that Wepner, with all of his flaws, is not a real-life Rocky that makes him an interesting, watchable man. With echoes of other 'be careful what you wish for' films like Boogie Nights, Goodfellas and Wolf of Wall Street, it's the performances that make The Bleeder a successful story of a man obsessed with his own fame.


Monday 7 August 2017


A love story between a boy, a girl and a computer (but not as kinky as it sounds); making its blu-ray debut this week is one of the 1980's most memorable tie-in theme songs. Oh, and the movie it comes from.
Miles (Lenny von Dohlen) is an architect, constantly running late for meetings due to his completely unorganised nature. Taking advice from one of his co-workers, he decides to invest in one of those new fangled "home computers" to help get his life in order. Kitting out his entire apartment with interconnected gadgets, he soon finds he is able to use this new technology to help woo the beautiful cellist Madeline (Virginia Madsen) who has moved in upstairs.

I'm not even going to try and sugar coat it; Electric Dreams is top of the list of films that are less famous than the theme song attached to it (Chariots of Fire, raise your hand too). But that's not to say that this is a completely forgotten film, as there are many devoted fans that adore its slightly goofy '80s charm. Any film warning of the danger on our over-reliance on technology but only featuring quaint 1980s technology has to be treated with a degree of kindness, and although looking back it would be easy to scoff at the innocence of Lenny's technophobe, in a pre-internet (as we know it) world envisioning an inter-connected network of gadgets and appliances that control every aspect of Miles' lifestyle and hear his every command, Electric Dreams is a film that can be seen as fairly prophetic.

With its themes of AI running wild and increasingly dumb life choices (his computer starts to overheat so Miles pours WINE on it), the setup could quite easily have come from a Stephen King horror novella. But rather than becoming the deranged killer Jobe in The Lawnmower Man, the sentient computer Edgar (voiced by Harold and Maude's Bud Cort) is a romantic at heart. Fancying himself as a musician, Edgar seemingly invents Garage Band to impress Madeline's classically trained cellist, although only hearing it through the walls she obviously believes Miles to be the maestro in a Cyrano de Bergerac/Roxanne-esque twist. When Miles starts to take the credit in order to advance his relationship with Madeline, that's when things between them turns sour.

With music playing such an integral role in the story, you'd hope for a banging soundtrack (which it certainly has), nothing more so than Giorgio Moroder/Phil Oakey's song, Together in Electric Dreams. Director Steve Barron cut his teeth directing music videos (including A-Ha's legendary Take on Me video) so it's no surprise that at times his feature debut resembles a collection of videos. It's built into the narrative of the film to make sure a sudden fast edited musical interlude doesn't seem out of place, and the relationship between Miles and Madeline is encapsulated in the flirty montages that pepper the film, such as their trips to Alcatraz and the fun fair.

It's pretty clear from the start what journey Lenny von Dohlen's character is going to go on. I mean, he's no Maxwell Caulfield (Grease 2 forever), but when he walks on screen with his bow tie he looks like he's been cast as the geek in a Madonna video, just waiting to be given a makeover and start wooing the ladies. Von Dohlen is best known for playing socially awkward weirdos (see also, Twin Peaks), but he's a charming enough screen presence and shares enough chemistry with Virginia Madsen to make this an almost impossibly sweet trip down random access memory lane.


Bonus Features:
Miles and Madeline - New interviews with Lenny von Dohlen and Virginia Madsen that make it clear how close the pair became during production and have remained friends ever since.
Is This a Story? - New interview with director Steve Barron
Electric Dreaming - New interview with writer Rusty Lemonade

Monday 31 July 2017


Don't pay too much attention to the cheeky box art that makes this look like an Indiana Jones clone; apart from being made in the 1980s and co-starring Kate Capshaw, it has literally nothing else in common with those films. Venturing into worlds created in other people's dreams, the most obvious comparison would be to Christopher Nolan's Inception, but there's a ton of other influences to include when talking about this film, including Alan J. Pakula's conspiracy thriller The Parallax View, Stephen King's pulpier novels and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street. There's no bones about it, Dreamscape is a very peculiar film.

Dennis Quaid (in an early lead role) plays Alex Gardner, a young man with psychic abilities but with no outlet to use them except for winning at the race track. When he is approached by a research facility hoping to unlock the secrets of its patients dreams, Alex becomes a reluctant contributor, but things take a turn for the sinister when Christopher Plummer's government agent sees their research as a way of controlling the President after he starts to have nightmares about a nuclear holocaust.

There's a lot to love about Dreamscape, and not all ironically. As well as some genuinely interesting sci-fi elements and ethical dilemmas, this film has an abundance of kitsch charm to offer, such as casting Cheers' Norm (George Wendt) as a Stephen King-esque author who unwittingly stumbles upon the dark government plot when researching his new book; Maurice (father of Jean-Michel) Jarre's banging soundtrack and the trippy, psychedelic dreamscape effects that although dated, still pack a punch and look great on blu-ray.

One of its aces is the strong cast, supplied by frequent David Lynch casting agent Johanna Ray, which  explains why future Twin Peaks supporting players Chris Mulkey and David Patrick Kelly appear here. Dennis Quaid puts in a solid performance in his first starring role, which when you consider his co-stars are Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer is no easy task. Getting the raw end of the deal is Kate Capshaw, who as Von Sydow's second in command is given little to do except serve as Quaid's love interest.

The best thing Dreamscape has going for it is it's captivating visuals. Connecting brainwaves and entering other people's minds you immediately think of Christopher Nolan's Inception, but rather than the steely, cold world his film portrayed, Dreamscape is all about colour. Although some of the dream journeys Gardner takes are played for laughs (like a hen-pecked husband who dreams of his wife having an affair with his brother) and resemble Bill and Ted's scramble through their cartoony darkest fears in Bogus Journey, others take cues and hues from A Nightmare on Elm Street by creating deep red, shadowy worlds. Even David Patrick Kelly's unhinged psychic psycho has a Freddy Krueger-esque quality to him, to the point where he even uses razor fingers to attack someone.

It's worth noting that Dreamscape co-writer Chuck Russell's first film as director was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, a film considered by many to be the high point of the sequels and with similarly visually inventive dream scenarios, and it would be unfair not to state that Dreamscape pre-dates Freddy Krueger's debut in cinemas by a couple of months so any similarities must have fittingly been made subconsciously. With its identical scenario of killing people within their dreams to kill them in real life, it seems 1984 was not a good year to try and get a good night's sleep.

Although not the grand conspiracy thriller it aspires to be, Dreamscape has a great cast and excels at creating visually arresting worlds that still hold up 30 years later.


Bonus Features include:

The Actor's Journey - A new interview with Dennis Quaid about his time making the film
Dreamscapes and Dreammakers - A look back including interviews with the director Joseph Ruben and co-star David Patrick Kelly
Nightmares and Dreamsnakes - looking at the creation of the Snakeman costume
Snakeman test footage
Stills Gallery

Tuesday 11 July 2017


From acclaimed director Pablo Larrain, Neruda is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital.

After opposing the new President in post-war Chile, eccentric poet and politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) is forced into exile for his communist views, taking refuge whilst planning his escape from the country with Gael Garcia Bernal's police chief Oscar Peluchonneau hot on his trail. During this time Neruda enlists the help of his supporters to continue to spread his work, with Peluchonneau revealing scandalous details of his personal life in an attempt to discredit him.

The sixth film from Pablo Larrain (and third in two years), if his English language debut Jackie was your first exposure to his work as a filmmaker, Neruda is a solid introduction to his Spanish language films (see also, No and Tony Manero). Larrain's films have always erred on the political side, with most of his work studying the varying impact the Pinochet regime had on his home country of Chile. Neruda is no different, showing how the opposing sides in this cat and mouse game used propaganda to support their own ideologies and political beliefs.

Like Jackie, this is not a complete life story of the title character but more of a snapshot of their life during a time that would come to define them. It lacks the emotional connection that Jackie had, largely down to that film's Oscar worthy central performance of Natalie Portman. That's not to say the performances in Neruda are bad, but they are not as captivating as Portman, but then, not many things are. Larrain's direction is solid, with the story moving at such a pace that it rarely stays in one location for more than one scene; but this does make it dizzying at times, adding to a sense of disconnect as the film purposely never reconciles which of its two central leads we should be behind. You would think Gael Garcia Bernal's fascist officer of the state would be the nominal villain, but this story is never as clean cut as that. Pompous and acutely aware of the power of his celebrity, Gnecco's Neruda is far from the figurehead the uprising would want him to be.

It paints a bleak landscape for Neruda to occupy, but what the film lacks is any real dramatic tension in his pursuit. This could have been the compelling backbone to the film that acts as the driving force for the narrative, but The Fugitive this is not. It's a shame that as a necessity of the story Gnecco and Bernal do not share the screen more, for as representatives of opposing forces using similar methods to spread their word, they make for interesting counterpoints.

Never sure of what is truth, what is fiction and what lies somewhere in between, this is a film about the power of the word and as such suffers somewhat as a cinematic experience. Having said that, there is a level of playfulness with the form (Larrain's use of rear projection during the driving scenes is befitting with the era, if not a little jarring to see), and for those who are looking to expand their knowledge of the films of Pablo Larrain, this unconventional biopic is a great example of what he is capable of.


Friday 9 June 2017


Bringing together a collection of films that impressed at Utah's finest film festival earlier this year, Sundance London is like a greatest hits version of the main festival, with the cream of the crop skimmed off and flown over the Atlantic. Sure, you miss out on a lot of the aspects that Sundance is known for, like oversized scarves and frostbite, but I'm okay with that. Plus, the whole event takes place at Picturehouse Central, which is definitely up there with the most beautiful cinemas in the country. I had arranged for myself a fairly meaty schedule of 11 films over 3 days, including a mammoth 5 films on the Saturday that would necessitate me skipping direct sunlight for the day. Sunavoidance, if you like.

The first film on my schedule was Marianna Palka's Bitch, about a married woman who de-evolves into a feral state when her life becomes too much of a dull routine. Directed by and starring Marianna Palka who also gave us Good Dick (it's hard to avoid innuendos when talking about her films), this film sees her re-unite with Good Dick co-star Jason Ritter, here starring as a boorish, unappreciative husband who finds his traditional gender role challenged when left to do all the things he took for granted. Like a 21st century Mr Mom, it's a much more absurdist, out there concept that misses the frission that the central relationship in Good Dick had, but was fun in a slightly Twilight Zone kind of way. Adding to that feeling was disorientation was the knowledge that Palka was seated directly behind me throughout the screening waiting for her Q&A, which doesn't half put you on edge when you're trying to critically appraise someone's film.

Continuing the Twilight Zone theme, next up was Marjorie Prime, a very thought provoking drama that wouldn't be out of place if it were an episode of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror. Using holographic projections of lost loved ones to help people engage their minds and hopefully gain closure on events that have shaped their lives, it's an often sad drama about ageing and the fragility of memory that is set in one of those magnificent glass fronted beach house properties that you only see in films. Films about technology can come across as cold and sterile and Marjorie Prime is no exception, with the film's clear origins as a stage play adding to that disconnect. Still, it succeeds in its storytelling techniques, painting vivid pictures as it tries to evoke memories, with deliberately reserved performances from Geena Davis, Jon Hamm helped in no small part from a score co-produced by Under The Skin's Mica Levi.

Ending the first day of Sundance London was the surprise film, that through some clever reasoning I had narrowed down to two possibilities, Band Aid and Patti Cakes. Seated in the cinema waiting for the film to start, it turned out that my reasoning was sound as one of the off duty volunteers casually turned to me and told me what film it was going to be minutes before the credits began. Bearing in mind that I had never spoken to this guy before in my life, I chose to take his eagerness to share this information as a sign that the film was going to be a good one. And that it was.

Following the fortunes of wannabe rapper, Patricia "Killa P" Dombrovski, Patti Cakes is easily one of my favourites of the festival, and like The Greasy Strangler from last year's festival, it's one of those films that you want to help spread the word of as far and wide as possible. Desperate to free herself from the dead end job in a dive bar she has to help support her train wreck of a mother, Patti (Danielle Macdonald) yearns to follow her real passion in life, spitting rhymes with her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). Forced to endure cruel taunts about her weight all her life (Dumbo and White Precious spring to mind), Patti engages in street corner rap battles that leave her victorious but with her nose bloodied. Desperate to make something with her life, she teams up with the musical wunderkind Basterd the Anarchist Anti-Christ, Jheri and her Nana to create a new sound that will rock the New Jersey suburbs. The bratty little sister of School of Rock and 8 Mile, it's impossible not to get swept up in a film as joyously eccentric as this. The film is getting a release from Fox Searchlight, and has enough charm that it has the real potential to become a crossover hit.

Onto Saturday, where I knew I would be seeing two films featuring the up and coming Lakeith Stanfield, who impressed in Short Term 12 and had a memorably hazy supporting role in Donald Glover's Atlanta. The first of his appearances today was in Crown Heights, winner of the Dramatic Award at Sundance. Now set to be released by Amazon Studios, Stanfield stars as Colin Warner, a man wrongfully convicted of murder in 1980 and forced to spend many years behind bars despite protesting his innocence.

I did have a couple of issues with the film, such as the repeated image of dejected phone calls between Colin and his friends on the outside bearing that most annoying of movie traits, no one saying goodbye before hanging up the phone. It sounds trivial (and it is), but there's so many interactions that end this way it becomes almost comical.

There are clear political connotations to his incarceration and the film shows us soundbites from Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton about their methods of combatting crime. What is missing from the film, particularly in a year when we have films like Ava DuVernay's 13th that highlight the issue, is an emphasis on how this is a reflection on Colin Warner being a black man, rather than an innocent man. The director made clear in his Q&A after the film that Warner's innocence was his focus, but it's hard to shake the feeling that a more pertinent story was there to be told. Stanfield's performance should be commended for its understated nature, as he believably embodies a man frustrated by a justice system that cannot provide justice for him.

The next film on the agenda was Walking Out, a modern day telling of a classic Montana short story, seemingly designed to teach the locals about respecting their unique habitat. Directed by twins Andrew and Alex Smith, the film stars Matt Bomer as a father trying to reconnect with his son by taking him on a hunting trip similar to the one his father took him on at the age of 14. I'll be honest that this was not a film I was expecting much from, but was pleasantly surprised by how moving it turned out to be. Once you have looked past Matt Bomer's impossible good looks to believe him as a man that lives near a mountain (he's like a supermodel cowboy), the film ventures out into the snowy wilderness to tell a story of father/son bonding that often rivals The Revenant for a bleak outlook on nature's will. I think it's best to go into this film knowing as little as possible, but let's just say that snow hits the fan and the pair are forced into a situation that they will have to fight to overcome. It's a solid performance from Bomer, but the bulk of the praise should go to his on-screen son Josh Wiggins, who often has to literally carry the story along.

The highlight of Saturday's line-up was a talk with director David Lowery ahead of the screening of his film Ain't Them Bodies Saints and the Sunday night screening of his new film, A Ghost Story, both starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Chaired by Empire Magazine's editor Terri White (who, it turns out, has excellent fashion sense), Lowery revealed how his career as a writer, director and editor has taken shape, starting with camcorder ghost stories he would film with his brothers to his time working on an excellently titled reality TV programme, Divorce Party. Deciding not to go to film school, his first script went through the Sundance Labs and although not making it all the way to completion, he decided he liked it enough to make it into his first feature film, Lullaby.

It was an honest and revealing chat, and Lowery was upfront about his cinematic influences (PTA and David Gordon Green rather than the often compared to Terrence Malick) and his move into the studio system when directing last year's Pete's Dragon, whilst also dropping into conversation at least twice that he was a vegan. This talk was followed by a screening of Ain't Them Bodies Saints which, although I have seen previously, got me really excited for what Sunday night's A Ghost Story might bring.

One thing that was apparent at this festival was the rise of the streaming giants, Netflix and Amazon, as major purchasers and distributors of content from Sundance. There were at least two films I saw with the Amazon Studios tag at the start, and one for Netflix; Saturday night's film, The Incredible Jessica James. The second of the day's films to feature LaKeith Stanfield (although in a much smaller role that Crown Heights), The Incredible Jessica James stars The Daily Show's Jessica Williams in the title role of a lively and spirited children's theatre teacher.

Now, there's certain things you expect from a Sundance film. Often they are weighty dramas that will become major players in awards season; often they are edgy comedies that may never be seen outside the walls of the festival. It's fair to say that The Incredible Jessica James defied expectations as this was one of the most straight forward but "subversive" romantic comedies I've seen in years, best described as Kimmy Schmidt meets Fleabag.

A bizarre blend of naughty language and inspirational life lessons for children, the film utilises fantasy scenarios for Jessica to make sense of her love life and her desire to reunite with her ex Damon (Stanfield) whilst also embarking on a new romance with recent divorcee Boone (a charming Chris O'Dowd). Now, I know I was just giving the film a kicking for being somewhat conventional, but it's perhaps a shame that the film wasn't just a straight romance between Williams and O'Dowd as they share undeniable chemistry together. It's just a shame there wasn't more of that and less of the children's theatre segments that portray Jessica James as an emotionally selfish brat, as it became incredibly difficult to reconcile the character's many foibles with the strong, forthright woman she was meant to be.

It was certainly well appreciated by most of the audience who got a lot of laughs from the film and Williams is someone who when given the right vehicle will be a major star, but personally it felt like less of a film and more of an extended pilot for a potential sitcom about life for a kooky MPDG in the big city, which given that Netflix already has Kimmy Schmidt is unlikely to happen.

Onto the last film of Saturday night going into Sunday morning, the second film of the day after The Incredible Jessica James to be set in the New York neighbourhood of Bushwick was the appropriately titled Bushwick. Knowing that the basic premise was "huge former wrestler battles terrorists" I was prepared for some midnight movie madness, introduced by the director as "a fucked up movie about New York on fire". Starring Brittany Snow (not a former wrestler) and Dave Bautista (a former wrestler), Bushwick sees Snow's Lucy team up with janitor and ex-special forces Stupe (Bautista) to make their way across town safely when an army of domestic terrorists descend on the borough and try to take it over.

Essentially Under Siege versus Cloverfield, like the latter film Bushwick is made up of series of long tracking shots blended together to appear like one long take. Well, mostly, as occasionally the film decides to ditch the gimmick for no apparent reason, only to return to it later. It's important to note that the handheld footage is not captured by a character's camera, but instead is a floating voyeur zooming in to collect gory detail when it's on offer. Before his rise to cinematic fame in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Bautista had followed a number of ex-wrestlers into the slightly ropey, direct-to-video action genre. It's fair to say that Bushwick is of a higher calibre than those films, but only just. With its often ridiculous levels of violence and social commentary that will have you questioning whether the film is anti-military or pro-gun violence, its high concept will appeal to gamers and midnight movie fans alike.

After the screening of the film the Q&A was understandably cancelled due to the horrific attack that occurred on London Bridge and Borough Market. I most certainly don't want to make light of the tragic events that occurred in London on that night, but exiting a cinema into Piccadilly Circus and seeing the confusion on people's faces was a surreal experience I hope I never have to repeat.

Returning to Picturehouse Central on Sunday morning, it goes without saying that the mood was slightly different than it was the day before, but it was encouraging to see that an effort was being made by the city to carry on as usual. The first film of the day was  Beatriz at Dinner, a replay of the film that had opened the festival on Thursday night with a gala screening with star Salma Hayek in attendance. The story of masseuse Beatriz, who when her car breaks down is invited to have dinner with the upper middle class couple she knows, is a masterwork of social trauma that sees Hayek's spiritual character face off against a man who embodies everything she hates.

Miguel Arteta and Mike White excel at awkward social situations, although since their introductory film Chuck and Buck they have mostly played this for laughs; Youth in Revolt and Cedar Rapids spring to mind. Here, the tone has once again shifted darker; wholly appropriate considering the themes that are targeted here. Apart from Beatriz, the most central figure to this story is John Lithgow's hotel magnate Doug Strutt, a power hungry megalomaniac who, after asking Beatriz where she is from, sees no social boundaries in following up with, "where are you really from?".

Although White and Arteta have claimed that Donald Trump was not the target of the film (they were satirising the social set that holidaying dentists turned hunters were borne from), following his election this film has taken on a new meaning and a deeper resonance. Lithgow has always excelled at playing arch villains, but his Strutt is much more insidious man. Self aware whilst also being completely deluded, he boasts "I have opinions and because I have money people listen". It's a barnstorming performance from Lithgow that will enrage anyone who veers slightly to the left in the current political climate. This is a film about activism; about not sitting politely at the party while others openly mock your beliefs. It's a powerful and thought provoking film, and one that with any justice will earn Hayek some attention when awards season comes around.

The second film of my Sunday schedule was Michael Showalter's highly anticipated The Big Sick, starring Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani and Ruby Sparks' Zoe Kazan. I'll prefix this review with the fact that I am a huge fan of Kazan's work, and despite being a self-confessed Manic Pixie Dream Girl apologist I thought her dissection of the character trope in Ruby Sparks was damn near spot on. Ditto the work of Michael Showalter who was one of the masterminds behind Wet Hot American Summer and its Netflix revival series, and who had recently found his dramatic layers in the Sally Field starring Hello, My Name is Doris and the excellent Alia Shawkat series Search Party.

I had avoided reading too much about this film as possible, including what the title was actually referring to, but knew this was based on Nanjiani's real life experience of meeting his wife Emily V. Gordon and the pressures of entering a relationship that was against what was expected from his family.

Nanjiani (playing a lightly fictionalised version of himself) is Kumail, an Uber driver who is pursuing a career in stand-up comedy and hoping to secure a place at the Montreal Comedy Festival. After being heckled by Emily (Kazan) at a gig they embark on a relationship that has everything either of them ever wanted, with the added wrinkle that his family assume he will accept an arranged marriage with one of the endless beautiful young Pakistani women his mother awkwardly invites around for dinner. It's refreshing to see a culture clash relationship so complex and conflicted, but it's important to make sure an appropriate amount of the kudos goes to Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily's parents. It's hard to think of a film where the relationship with the potential future in laws is the most important aspect, but this is a film that values family connections more than even the Fast and Furious franchise.

It's been proven time and time again that the romantic comedy genre is able to inject some new and refreshing ideas, and The Big Sick is a perfect example of that. Yes, there's a formula that it follows to a certain degree, but as an immigrants story and a love story it works. It may be helped by the knowledge that it's based on his real life, but Nanjiani is an appealing presence on screen whose worldview is one that will hopefully find a wide audience.

The final film of the day and of the festival was also the most highly anticipated, especially after the Q&A from the day before; David Lowery's A Ghost Story. Again, this is a film that I knew little about going in except for the information I got from the poster and the basic synopsis of Casey Affleck dying and returning to the house he shared with Rooney Mara as a ghost under a white sheet. Shot in Academy ratio (a square format that resembles an old slide), the basic set up is one that immediately piqued my interest, and seeing Lowery re-team with Mara and the controversial figure of Affleck made this a must see.

The most immediately striking thing about the film is how subdued and elegantly haunting it is. I assumed that the depiction of the sheet ghost would be played with a modicum of humour, but in the context of the film it is not at all, instead conjuring an image that is instantaneously recognisable to anyone and providing a story (a life story) that will have audiences questioning everything they know about time, space, death and everlasting love. Lowery must have been well aware of what an audacious idea this was, but he has managed to avoid any of the possible pitfalls of embarking on such a risky project and delivered a meditative piece that is both formally creative and incredibly touching. If you want a film that has an extended scene where Mara devours an entire pie with Affleck's sheet ghost looking on, and for it to be entirely captivating, look no further.

And so my extremely hectic weekend at Sundance London drew to a close, with a whole barrage of thought provoking cinema and some stand out future classics mixed in too. There were a whole host of other films I wasn't able to see that I'll be checking out when possible, such as the Woody Harrelson comedy Wilson, the documentary Dina, about an autistic married couple and Icarus, the doping scandal documentary that took home the audience award people were voting for across the weekend. Of the films I saw, I'll be posting more in depth reviews of my favourites over the next few weeks, so please keep an eye out for those.

Sundance London, I'll see you again next year.