Wednesday 30 October 2019


Now in cinemas is Harmony Korine's follow up to Spring Breakers, the Matthew McConaughey starring stoner comedy, The Beach Bum.

McConaughey stars as Moon Dog, a one time respected writer who know lives his days in Florida with wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) and hanging out with his best friend Lingerie (Snoop Dogg). When events take a tragic turn, Moondog hits the road looking for inspiration for his next novel, meeting up with friends and like minded miscreants along the way.

McConaughey is no stranger to playing people under the influence of drugs. Never mind the naked bongo playing of his personal life that became the talk of the tabloids, he played one of the all time classic stoner characters as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. That character was a cool guy who found common ground with those a few years younger than him through recreational drug use, exuding that natural McConaughey charm with his now ubiquitous catchphrase "alright, alright, alright". Here McConaughey plays Moondog, a character that can only be seen as a de-evolution of Wooderson, waxing lyrical and pontificating like James Franco's Alien in Spring Breakers. That's fine, and Wooderson is a hard act to top, but whereas that character seemed wholly believable, Moondog can only exist in this bizarre world that Korine has created, full of obnoxious, entitled people with no regard for how their choices are effecting those around them. As an uncredited Jonah Hill states, "d'ya know what I like most about being rich? You can be horrible to people and they just have to take it".

Korine has clear designs for The Beach Bum to be some sort of stoner odyssey as Moondog wanders around with his typewriter hoping to find stories to include in his next book like some sort of whacked out Kerouac, and so McConaughey has many short, sweet and seemingly improvised interactions with a variety of larger than life characters played by a roster of famous faces with mixed comedic results. Martin Lawrence's Captain Wack struggles to land the (admittedly wayward) tone of the film, resulting in a ship's captain who doesn't know the difference between a shark and a dolphin, whereas Zack Efron's stripey bearded, Christian rock loving arsonist Flicker leaves an impression as unforgettable as his fashion choices. The most memorable of the supporting cast is Lingerie, a ladies loving rapper and stoner played by Snoop Dogg. Yes, I know he's hardly stretching himself with this role, but he's a welcome grounded presence among some of the more ridiculous posturing in the film.

Shot fast and loose by Benoit Debie, Korine's (and Gasper Noe's) regular cinematographer; it's a vibrant, colourful, almost psychedelic film that never looks less than beautiful. It's perhaps a credit to McConaughey that he feels comfortable enough in his career to start making bold choices again, and although Moondog shows some sort of direction in life and depth towards the finale with his credo that "this life gig's a rodeo, and I'm going to suck the nectar out of it and fuck it raw dog until the wheels come off", most of his actions in the course of the film make him appear to be a largely unlikeable clown with a complete disregard for anyone else. It never appears that Korine wants us to dislike his fantastical characters, that I would worry aren't too much of an exaggeration of people he's encountered in his own life. One thing's for certain; by the end of the film you'll be sick of hearing people say the name Moondog.

The main fault with The Beach Bum is that it aims to be an aspirational, if juvenile, experience, but instead comes over like a fever dream of relentless misogyny, debauchery and abuse of privilege that even the cast of Jackass would say had gone a bit overboard. The party soon turns into one you wouldn't want to see through to the end, even if Moondog has promised you some of his best drugs once the sun has set. Fans of Korine's previous film may find moments to savour amongst all the madness, but on the McConaughey scale, this one is just "alright".


Monday 28 October 2019

HONEY BOY - London Film Festival review

Honey Boy follows the life of young actor Otis across two timeframes, as the older incarnation uses his time in rehab to reassess his childhood and the volatile relationship he had with his father. 

I would say that Honey Boy is loosely based on the life of Shia LaBeouf, but within seconds of the film's introduction to a 22 year old Otis (Lucas Hedges), performing a stunt on the set of his latest big budget action film (and complete with a nod to LaBeouf's often mocked "no, no, no, no, no" approach to line delivery), it's clear that, with the exception of the names of the main characters, this doesn't stray too far from the truth. To remove any doubt, the film then launches into a montage of the young Hollywood star's hedonistic lifestyle, culminating a car crash that leaves the actor with severe injuries, much like LaBeouf's own accident during the production of Transformers 2 that almost cost him the use of his hand and required major surgery to fix.

Entering rehab to work on his drink problem and the PTSD from his accident, Otis is tasked by his therapist (Laura San Giacomo) to keep a journal as part of his recovery, something that sends him, and the action of the film, back to his childhood in 1995 when he was starring on a kids TV show. Chaperoned by his braggadocio father James (Shia LaBeouf in a not too convincing balding hairpiece), Otis learns how to grow as a performer from James, a combat veteran and former rodeo clown with endless cheesy one-liners that impress no-one but himself. A recovering alcoholic who's displeased at having to live vicariously through his more talented son, James is a domineering, selfish, often abusive jerk towards his son. It's too LaBeouf's credit that despite all this, the relationship between Otis and James is one you want to see succeed, and touched with moments of sweetness, such as when they hold hands as they approach a taco stand, only breaking contact under the threat that someone might see them and misinterpret their affection.

Director Alma Har'el, best know for her documentaries Bombay Beach and LoveTrue that openly blended fact and fiction to create scenes of magic realism, makes her narrative feature film debut here by bringing her established style to LaBeouf's extremely personal script. Once the enfant terrible of young Hollywood with some performance art projects that were met with much sniggering derision, after a few years in the wilderness LaBeouf silenced a lot of his critics with his role in Andrea Arnold's American Honey and his method intensity on David Ayer's Fury, permanently scarring his face in the pursuit of a realistic war wound. Playing what is a thinly veiled approximation of his own father here, he delivers an often bombastic performance that could veer into caricature if not for the grounding influence of his scene partner, Noah Jupe, as the 12 year old Otis. The scenes between the two of them that take up the bulk of the story are often loud, vindictive shouting matches and with a constant fear of what might happen to the young Otis, but LaBeouf's script, although not short of dramatics (one stand out scene places the 12 year old Otis on the phone, acting as the go-between for his warring parents by mimicking their voices as he relays their hurtful messages to one another), stops short of feeling like a misery memoir.

Under Har'el's direction, Honey Boy lets some touches of dream-like fantasy come into play as the film heads towards its climax, but the earlier sections are all about raw human drama, and although Hedges's scenes are far outnumbered by the extensive flashbacks, the damaged masculinity he offers is unlike anything I've seen him take on before, with his older Otis bridging the gap between his younger self and the lingering cloud of his father. In a strange way, although this film is LaBeouf's story on screen, and you will undoubtedly leave the film with a new appreciation for how he's found a way to process the unresolved traumas of his childhood as an actor and the relationship with his father, the most crucial piece of the puzzle is the performance of Noah Jupe as the younger Otis, who delivers the best performance of the film by no small margin. 

To some this could be too easy to dismiss based on your feelings towards Shia LaBeouf and his somewhat erratic persona, but Honey Boy is a raw, emotional, deeply personal story that is pleasantly, gratifyingly moving.



Saturday 26 October 2019

VIVARIUM - London Film Festival review

On the look for their first home together, primary school teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her boyfriend Tom's (Jesse Eisenberg) attempt at house-hunting sees them unexpectedly trapped in an uninhabited, labyrinthian suburb that they cannot escape from. When a box arrives containing a baby boy and a note telling them to raise the child in order to be released, Gemma and Tom begrudgingly look after the rapidly ageing boy whilst looking for other means of escape.

A very weird take on the modern suburban nightmare, writer/director Lorcan Finnegan's Vivarium is undoubtedly one of the strangest films in this year's festival's cult strand, sitting somewhere between a horror and a bitter societal satire. The house they are taken to by their estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris - so sinister in Channel 4's The End of the Fucking World) is surrounded by road after road of identical cookie cutter houses, part of the otherworldly estate of Yonder where the clouds resemble something more like a 1980s TV weather map than reality, and any attempt to drive away sees Gemma and Tom end up exactly where they started.

Forced into a mundane routine in a house they do not want, they try to burn it down only to see the damage disappear, left with no option but to parent a child that is not theirs. Prone to letting out high pitched screeches when he doesn't get things his way or is forced to wait for his morning bowl of corn flakes, the boy (un-named, but with a dress sense not dissimilar to estate agent Martin) is both adorably sweet and the most devilish looking child this side of The Omen. His innocent demeanour does start to wear down the defences of Poot's Gemma over time, seeing her step into the traditional motherly role that she fights against for as long as she can. Conversely, Eisenberg's despair at the situation and unfiltered distain for the ever-growing boy has him spiralling into a deep depression that pushes him into a negligent father role and further and further away from Gemma.

The basic premise of Vivarium is sound enough, if not a little overstretched as a feature film. Even with the presence of Oscar nominee Eisenberg and the ever dependable Poots, this is clearly film made on a low budget but with a wealth of ideas. Stripped down to the basics, it may have worked better as a single episode of a dystopian TV show (even the house they are inside is no. 9), and if the cold, bland CGI rendered setting never looks realistic (almost like a modern version of Beetlejuice's the Maitlands getting stuck in their own miniature model, although far less visually stimulating), it does add to the sense that they've walked into somewhere truly bizarre and actively dangerous. 

The obvious nightmare scenarios of the horrors of parenting, expected gender roles and feeling trapped in a mundane, repetitive, suburban existence remain surface level, but quite what it's actually trying to say about these things largely remains a mystery. It is, at times, darkly comic (there's a perverse joy in seeing two grown adults actively hate a small boy), and the performance from an against type Eisenberg is nihilistic fun, but it's Poots's character who's front and centre for the majority of the film, and the one who deserves the most praise for delivering a solid performance in an occasionally baffling film.



Friday 25 October 2019


Grieving over the unexplained murder of her husband, Sarah (Sarah Bolger) continues to raise her children in a rough neighbourhood whilst forever under the judgemental eye of the locals. When small time thief Tito (Andrew Simpson) breaks into her house and uses it as a place to store the drugs he's selling, Sarah is forced to defend her family in an extreme way. One of the hits of this year's Frightfest, Abnor Pastoll's A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is out now.

Sarah is a typical mum, trying to stop her kids from eating the sweets as they go around the supermarket and taking apart her kids toys to get batteries for her vibrator, just for a moment of relief from the pressures she's under. Her son Ben hasn't spoken since witnessing the murder of his father, with rumours around the community that it was drug related something Sarah is eager to quash. Her problems only worsen when after stealing a stash of drugs from the boot of some local dealers' car, hoodlum Tito decides to prey upon this vulnerable woman and use her house as a base for his nightly drug dealing operation. Sarah hopes Tito might be able to offer some information about her husband's death, but when the situation becomes too dangerous, she takes drastic steps to ensure the safety of her children.

The closing night film at this year's Frightfest, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is categorically not a horror film in the traditional sense, but is a thriller that pushes the boundaries of what an audience might be able to handle. Once Tito descends upon Sarah's world it's edge of your seat stuff that will probably have you sitting on the seat in front by the end of the film, although there's also plenty to make you look away due to its stomach churning moments of graphic detail.

As the young mother at the centre of the film pushed to do unimaginable things to protect her family, Sarah Bolger is fantastic throughout. Able to express so much frustration about her life with just a look, it's one of the performances of the year, and when pushed to extreme lengths and revealing unexpectedly dark depths, Sarah remains an empathetic and engaging character. Edward Hogg's local gang boss on the hunt for Tito is a little bit larger than life, but the threat he offers is still shockingly believable.

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is a dark, disturbing and pleasantly grisly thriller with an astonishing lead performance from Sarah Bolger, a definite star in the making. Well worth seeking out, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find will chill you down to the bone and then keep on going.


Wednesday 23 October 2019

NOCTURNAL - London Film Festival review

One of two films at the festival that starred Cosmo Jarvis, Nocturnal follows Pete (Jarvis) as he forms a close bond with school girl Laurie (Lauren Coe). But what are Pete's motivations behind his obsession with her? A labourer and all-round handyman at the school where Laurie goes, Pete starts to watch her beyond the fence of the running track where she trains. As the new girl at the school with few friends, Laurie latches onto the attention being paid to her by this older man, befriending him and agreeing to meet up with him after school for drinking late into the night.

I'll preface this review with a warning that potential spoilers may follow about the plot of the film. I say 'potential spoilers' as I'm not sure whether the big reveal of the film is meant to be a mystery to the audience at all, because to me it was blindingly obvious from the moment Pete set eyes on Laurie that he's the father that wanted nothing to do with her when Laurie's mother (Sadie Frost) fell pregnant. It's something that isn't "revealed" until then end of the second act, but every preceding scene between Pete and Laurie is spring-loaded like a jack in a box with Pete desperate to tell her the truth but without the emotional maturity to do so.

I would say that despite this frustrating element of the film there's still plenty to recommend, chiefly the performances of the two leads. As a show of acting skill, both Jarvis and Coe should be commended for delivering compelling performances that are better than the material they're working with. With this and Calm with Horses, Cosmo Jarvis is carving out a niche as a loveable lunkhead with questionable decision making abilities. He's fantastic in the film, as is his co-star Lauren Coe, but it's a shame the film is plagued with logic issues that render some of the more dramatic scenes a bit laughable. The film builds and builds towards the reveal you know is coming, but boy, the way Pete reveals his big secret to Laurie is staggeringly thoughtless, even for a character who's unable to articulate his feelings.

Worth seeking out for the performances, Nocturnal has all the hallmarks of a gritty relationship drama and is attractively shot for the most part (don't film your characters in front of a huge window and not expect the camera crew to be visible), but has flaws in its believability and execution that are hard to ignore.


Tuesday 22 October 2019

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA - London Film Festival review

One of the weirdest films shown as part of the cult strand at this year's London Film Festival, Johannes Nyholm's Koko-Di Koko-Da sees married couple Elin & Tobias (Ylva Gallon & Leif Edlund Johannson) embark on a camping holiday in order to salvage their relationship after a tragic loss that has affected them both deeply. But when a trio of murderous oddballs appear from the woods, Elin & Tobias find themselves trapped in a bizarre recurring nightmare from which there appears to be no escape.

During one night of camping in a wooded area just off the main road, Elif wakes in the night in desperate need of a pee. When her husband Tobias rejects her idea of peeing under the tent flooring, she ventures into the trees and encounters a trio of psychopaths merrily sauntering by, singing "Koko-Di, Koko-Da" over and over again. Elif and her husband are both attacked and killed, but the film then returns Groundhog Day style to the moment Elif wakes Tobias needing a pee, with Tobias assuming what he's just experienced to be a dream.

It may share a basic plot function with Groundhog Day, but this is a very different animal, offering a very real and poignant study of grief and marital breakdown and very little in the way of joy. There's plenty to dissect about what it all means and what the three characters represent (a large mute man dressed like a lumberjack and carrying a dead dog, a lank haired woman with pigtails and lead by Peter Belli's jolly little man who resembles Lyle Lanley from The Simpsons), but at times there's an overwhelming feeling that Koko-Di Koko-Da is being weird for weird's sake.

I couldn't tell you how many times the film cycles through the same scenario with very little learned from the previous go around, which does test your resolve to see the film reach something akin to a logical climax. To be fair, there are occasional breaks away from the repetitive nature of the story with some kabuki theatre segments that are undeniably gorgeous to look at, and the final act does offers a jarring conclusion that will make you think back over everything you've just seen. There is an issue with the focus of the film which, although the story is spurred on by the shared trauma this couple has and always returns to the same jumping off point of the wife needing to take a leak, the film is solely told from the point of view of the husband. It's a cyclical film so it's more of a case of a minor grievance being amplified due to repetition, but on one of the goes around could they have not given the wife a bit more agency on what is going on?

At times a frustrating watch due to being SO F**KING WEIRD that may make you wonder if the experience is worthwhile, but like the infectious little nursery rhyme ear worm the characters sing as they appear out of the woods, the surreal scenario of Koko-Di Koko-Da will by cycling through your brain for a long while after the film ends.



The feature directorial debut of Dolly Wells sees an aimless young woman, Lilian (Grace Van Patten), move in with some of her father's friends after a break up. The home of famous author Julia Price (Emily Mortimer), Lillian forms a combative bond with her reclusive benefactor via notes left in her journal that leads her to think Julia might be the perfect subject for a documentary.

Formerly a regular face on British TV screens in the like of The Mighty Boosh, Peep Show and The IT Crowd, not forgetting big screen appearances in the Bridget Jones series, Dolly Wells is perhaps best known for the TV series she co-created and starred in with her long time best friend Emily Mortimer, Doll & Em. Here she takes on the role of writer/director to tell the story of Grace Van Patten's Lilian, enlisting Emily Mortimer as a famously reclusive novelist forced to house this young woman in search of a direction in life.

Grace Van Patten has slowly been building a career as an in demand indie darling, appearing in Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories, Adam Leon's Tramps, and from earlier this year, David Robert Mitchell's Under The Silver Lake. Here she's front and centre, appearing in nearly every frame of the film as a spirited Lilian, unsure of what direction to take and waiting to start looking for a new apartment with her father, currently in France with his new girlfriend. There's a risk that some of Lilian's social flaws that lead to the break up of her relationship with Nate (Gary Richardson), like always forgetting to take a towel for after a shower and using other people's toothbrushes, could have been presented as cutesy manic pixie dream girl foibles to be cherished and adored, but the other characters around her, namely Mortimer's Julia and Timm Sharp's dog walker, George, can barely tolerate her presence at the start of the film. Julia even dubs her "the entitled oaf", a title Lilian is keen to prove Julia wrong about.

Good Posture is one of those delightful little indies that makes you realise how inherently cinematic New York is. Filmed in and around the Bed Stuy neighbourhood Dolly Wells now calls home, there's lingering, static shots of the beautiful houses with the steps leading up to the front doors and tracking shots of the local streets and their inhabitants, staring back at the ethereal spectator of the camera. If Lilian isn't in a situation you would want to experience, at least hers is a world you would like to visit.

Having said that, a lot of the action takes place within the four walls and garden of Julia Price's house, with the majority of Julia and Lilian's interactions delivered via snippy notes they leave for each other in Lilian's journal as they argue over dinner (helpfully narrated for us). Mortimer's Julia is an ever present character, but she doesn't actually appear in the film very much, leaving Julia Price to be something of an enigmatic figure mostly hidden behind a closed door, right up until the end of the film. This is partly offset by a device the film has of having real life well known authors such as Zadie Smith, Jonathan Ames and Martin Amis waxing lyrical about their love for (the fictional) Julia Price's work. It's a little jarring at first, but once it's apparent this is footage collected by Lilian and her cameraman Sol (a hilariously on form John Early) for their unauthorised documentary, it makes a lot more narrative sense.

Owing a debt to some of the big hitters of the independent movie scene like Noah Baumbach and Daryl Wein, it's at times a little rough around the edges in its presentation but thanks to its witty, engaging script and hugely likeable cast, Good Posture is able to stand up straight and hold its head up high as a delightfully charming little indie. Expect great things from Wells and Van Patten in the future.


Sunday 20 October 2019

LITTLE MONSTERS - London Film Festival review

Dave (Alexander England) is a failed musical and man-child struggling to deal with the end of his relationship and forced to move in with his sister and her young son, Felix. Helping out to earn his keep, when Dave takes Felix to school he becomes enamoured with his teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong'o), offering to help out on the school trip to a local farm. Unfortunately, this wildlife park is situated next to an American army research base, and a zombie virus is infecting the soldiers. Teaming up with Miss Caroline to protect the children, they face off against an ever-growing zombie horde and the tantrums of a diva-ish children's TV personality, Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad).

Little Monsters sets out its stall early, with Alexander England's Dave dressing his nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) as Darth Vader in an attempt to woo back his ex by proposing to her. But when they walk in on her having sex with another man, Dave doesn't even consider how inappropriate the situation is for a young boy to be in, leaving Felix standing there for an extraordinary long time in front of two naked people. It's this kind of joyously uncomfortable situation the film thrives on, putting children in front of adults struggling to deal with grown up problems, using foul language to express themselves.

The action begins proper when Dave arrives at Pleasant Valley Farm for what should be an enjoyable, educational day out with his nephew and his classmates, but what Dave hopes will be a chance for him to woo the caring Miss Caroline by showing her how great he is with the kids. Except he isn't. Also competing for Miss Caroline's affection is Josh Gad's Teddy McGiggles; a man dressed in a green polka dot suit with a sock puppet for a sidekick, who it's clear is using his fame and popularity with the kids to bed as many mothers as possible. Gad is having an absolute ball playing against his family friendly persona, and when the shit hits the fan and his life is under threat, there's an undeniable joy in seeing the voice of Olaf from Frozen shout obscenities in front of little children. Juvenile? Maybe. Fucking funny? Yes.

England, who resembles a Chris Hemsworth stunt double in the vein of Ben Stiller's Tom Crooze, is  a funny, likeable lead, despite his character's arrested development rendering him somewhat of a doofus. Still, the indisputable shining star of the film is Lupita Nyong'o, as a positive bundle of energy forced to deal with the idiotic man-children around her whilst caring for her brood of school children, and that's before the zombie outbreak occurs. When the zombies do attack, she's forced to think on her feet, leading a conga line through a field of zombies to help up in what best represents a safe house for them, the nearby souvenir shop.

Although the basic survival set up may be nothing new with the film owing a clear debt to everything from Return of the Living Dead to Shaun of the Dead, it's the likeable cast and uniquely Australian comic sensibility that sets it apart. One of the comic highlights of the London Film Festival, Little Monsters is a gory, delightfully funny and surprisingly sweet zombie film with great turns from Gad, England and Nyong'o. Seek it out when it hits cinemas in a few weeks time, as this might be your new favourite zombie comedy.


THE EL DUCE TAPES - London Film Festival review

From hours of VHS footage filmed by a friend, The El Duce Tapes follows the lead singer/drummer of hardcore band The Mentors, El Duce, known for his shocking on-stage persona where he wore a black executioners hood, and as the poster boy for the sub genre of music he dubbed "rape rock". Spliced together with vintage recordings of other examples of early 1990s debauchery (Roseanne singing the Stars and Stripes at a ball game, Milli Vanilli, and appearances by a hooded El Duce on the Jerry Springer show), this shock doc tries to uncover more about the man underneath the mask.

Early on the film shows us how El Duce, AKA Eldon Hoke,  was able to provoke the audience with raucous appearances on talk shows like Hot Seat with Wally George and Jerry Springer, where, on an episode about the effect his music might have on young minds, he tells the rape victim on stage with him that she "look(s) kinda familiar". After this shocking introduction to the persona of El Duce, directors Rodney Ascher (Room 237) and David Lawrence (also serving as editor) use the assembled footage recorded by Ryan Sexton (in the early 90s an up and coming actor and fan of El Duce's band) to soften our view of El Duce. Described by his The Mentors bandmate as a comedian, Eldon, via on camera interviews recorded by Sexton, is clearly a troubled soul battling a serious drink problem, but not quite the monstrous, misogynistic provocateur his on stage alter ego would suggest.

Although the film may successfully show Eldon to be more than an obnoxious caricature designed for shock value, it also shows the increasingly blurred line between the monster and its creator, as Eldon is confronted by Sexton to justify his band's misogynistic and anti-gay lyrics (the doc helpfully displays the lyrics on screen for songs such as 'Suck, Fuck, Cook and Clean") and conflict on whether or not to play at a concert promoting the white power movement, something Eldon states on camera he does not believe in.

There's a sense that although Eldon knows his songs are hurtful to some, his desire to entertain and provoke a reaction, for want of a better word, trumps that. El Duce may only be a familiar figure to fans of 90s hardcore music and his outrage-baiting act well worn territory by now (at one point he states he should become America's first dictator and build a wall at the Mexican border), but it's surprising to find out how far his influence and infamy reaches, not least towards the end of this film when we discover El Duce's involvement in one of the most talked about conspiracy theories in rock and an appearance in a certain documentary by Nick Broomfield.

Presented in an attractively lo-fi way with on screen fonts ripped straight from a VHS tape, it's almost like this doc is designed to be one of the videos El Duce appeared in during the 90s; mail ordered from an ad in the back of a music mag, to be passed around between friends and put on at parties to shock and disgust people. Directors Asher and Lawrence give shock rock the shock doc treatment and do ultimately paint El Duce as a tragic figure, but a compelling one to uncover.


Friday 18 October 2019

EMA - London Film Festival review

From Pablo Larrain, the acclaimed director of Tony Manero, No and Jackie, Ema follows a young dancer forced to give up her adopted son after a tragic fire. Deciding she wants to be with him over anything else she has in her life, Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) is willing to give up her husband Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal), and do whatever is needed to track Polo down and be his mother again, no matter how many lives she has to burn to ashes along the way.

Ema opens with a searingly indelible image, as Ema, decked in protective gear and wielding a flamethrower, looks on at the traffic signal she has just set fire to. It's this flair for pyromania that has caused her world to fall apart, following a fire caused by her son Polo that has burnt and scarred her sister's face and seen him re-enter the care system to be adopted by someone else. The film starts in the wake of this event, and tries to fill in as many of the blanks as it can with an early montage sequence, intercut with a pulsating, modern expressive dance sequence choreographed by Ema's husband Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal), the video screen behind them bathing the dancers in the light of an ever changing sun. It's beautiful and its vibrant, but in what is a common occurrence in the film, the visual display outweighs the reveal of the main story points, leaving us starting on the back foot.

As is quickly revealed, the separation of Ema, Gaston and Polo is one Ema aims to be as temporary as possible, as she hassles Child Protective Services for information on his whereabouts and then unleashes a calculated, often dastardly and cruel plan in order to get back into his life. Using the help of her dance troupe, your feelings towards this masterplan may differ wildly from a display of a mother's unconditional love to unquestionably sociopathic behaviour. What is indisputable is that Ema's methods are morally complex, to say the least.

Personally, I found a whole lot to enjoy in Mariana Di Girolano's performance as Ema as she plays with the lives of others, namely Raquel (Paola Giannini), the divorce lawyer she hires but can only afford to pay in dance, and a firefighter named Anibal (Santiago Cabrera), both of whom Ema has sexually charged relationships with. Her actions are cold, calculated and self-serving for sure, but there's a propulsive drive to the film that doesn't allow you to question her morality plays too much, until her well choreographed plan reaches its crescendo and the true depth of her plan is revealed.

Di Girolamo has a youthful, innocent face that allows her character to get away with the many manipulations she has at work, but along with her selfish behaviour, this counteracts against her standing as an obvious mother figure and can make her seem like a spiteful brat. It doesn't help that Polo isn't much of a presence for a large majority of the film, and seems to be in far safer hands with his new family. It's also surprising that Larrain regular Gael Garcia Bernal's Gaston is such a secondary character in the film and in Ema's life, as the power dynamic between them says a lot in the short time we see them together. There's an argument to be made that Ema is drawn as a modern, unstoppable feminist superhero figure (wielding a flamethrower will do that), using her sexuality to get herself the family she thinks she's entitled to, but the film stops short of tipping too far into pulp territory.

Character flaws aside, what you definitely come away from this film with is how beautiful it is. The dance sequences in warehouses, basketball courts and on rooftops lit by the Chilean hillsides behind them are often breathtaking, and you don't have to come to this film with an appreciation for modern dance to see how visually arresting the movement is. In that respect, Ema, with her shock of slicked back blonde hair, is the perfect centre-point for the film and its exquisitely lit, bold, vibrant colour palette. The dancers, her lovers, the lights, the camera... the whole world literally revolves around her as she moves through it with shark like intensity.

Larrain's films are always well crafted and executed, but to my mind his films have never moved along with such rhythm before, thanks to the infectious reggaeton music that accompanies most of the dances. By the end of this film you may not be a fan of Ema's character, or in fact most of the key characters who will leave you will many moral quandaries. There's a pervasive nature to the film's erotic thriller leanings that are shocking, but after the dust has settled it's the rhythm and the visual flair that will be the enduring elements of the film.


HARPOON review

When three friends take a boat trip to celebrate one of their birthdays, things take a drastic turn when rivalries and long held resentments soon rise to the surface and they have to find a way to work together in order to survive. One of the surprise hits of this year's Frightfest, Rob Grant's Harpoon has now premiered on the Arrow Video Channel.

The tone of the film is set out early on, thanks to the irreverent voice-over provided by Fleabag and Stranger Things actor Brett Gelman. Although this has obvious elements of horror throughout, the story is told in a comic fashion (as can be seen in the trailer above), with its set up and limited locale milked for all its worth. At the top of the film we meet Jonah (Turbo Boy's Munro Chambers), his best friend Richard ( Christopher Gray) and his girlfriend and object of Jonah's affection, Sasha (Emily Tyra). After Jonah and Sasha purchase Richard a harpoon for his birthday, all three of them head out to sea on Richie's pleasure boat "The Naughty Buoy" to test it out, only for secrets to rock the boat and have all three passengers fending off verbal and physical attacks from the other two.

Made with no major stars and on a minuscule budget, although it's a shame this slice of nautical nastiness won't get a proper theatrical run, it's something of a 'get' for Arrow to release on their platform as there's plenty in Harpoon that should see it sail into the minds of genre fans. Gender and class politics, unrequited love, the drinking of seagull blood and the nastiest looking arm injury this side of Green Room; it's all here. There's also plenty of double-crossing to keep you guessing and, despite the cast being likeable and watchable enough, there's enough flaws evident in their characters that should any of them not survive the ordeal, there's a feeling that they probably deserved it.

In its pared back, adrift in the Atlantic, close quarters setting Harpoon provides a thoroughly effective and claustrophobic little thriller, and something different to the danger coming from the water as you might expect. In fact, the only jaws you'll see here will be the audience's hitting the deck as we reach the gory, shocking finale. Prepare to feel a little queasy.


HARPOON will be available on the ARROW VIDEO CHANNEL (and also Amazon Prime and Apple TV) from 18th October

Tuesday 15 October 2019

DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER - London Film Festival review

The directorial debut of The Inbetweeners and Friday Night Dinner star Simon Bird, Days of the Bagnold Summer stars Monica Dolan and Earl Cave as a mother and son navigating their way through the summer holidays in British suburbia when the six week holiday Daniel was supposed to be spending with his father is abruptly cancelled.

Based on Joff Winterhart's 2012 graphic novel of the same name, Days of the Bagnold Summer has a similar narrative drive and tone to a Daniel Clowes book, just stripped of any exoticism you might get from an American setting and instead set in a typically boring, beige British suburbia. There's a popular strain of teenage graphic novels at the moment, including Charles Forsman's The End of the Fxxking World, that are having successful adaptations into live action. For all intents and purposes they're just like the dystopian YA novels that have birthed film franchises like Hunger Games and Divergent, but with much lower stakes and lead by pasty, socially awkward main characters. Much more relatable, don't you think?

Daniel is one of those kind of characters who, for all his supposed teenage rebellion, is crushingly normal in a way that is wholly relatable. Unlike other graphic novel characters who've made the jump to the big screen, He's never as confident as Ghost World's Enid Coleslaw or verbose as American Splendor's Harvey Pekar, but there's something about his characterisation that reminds of those characters. Neither cartoony or a normcore charicature, he's well drawn, and not just in ink. Brought to life by Earl Cave (son of musician Nick), Daniel is a moody 16 year old with long, lank hair and a Metallica hoody, just like you'd see hanging out on the corner of any suburban cul-de-sac. Quiet, shy and awkward, he says mean, passive aggressive things to his mother basically out of teenage duty to rebellion, something that he hopes to express better by starting his own metal band. As his mother Sue, Monica Dolan is simply fantastic. Trapped in a fashion time-warp that's ageing her beyond her years, she's an adorably kind natured person hoping to find a piece of happiness for herself, and Daniel. With Daniel's father out of the picture starting a new family in Florida, Sue has devoted the last few years to raising Daniel and put her own happiness on the back burner, but when Daniel's smooth talking teacher (Rob Brydon) asks her out on a date, maybe the summer won't be a complete loss after all.

I wasn't aware of the original graphic novel before seeing the film, the main draw being the potential of something great offered by director Simon Bird, AKA Will from The Inbetweeners, in what is his first directorial offering. Best known as a performer (but also the co-writer of the short lived sitcom Chickens), the characters Bird plays tend to display a sort of 'switched on' savvy nature that probably doesn't veer too far away from the man himself. With a script written by Lisa Owens adapted from the original book, it's perhaps a surprise at first that there's no characters here that could be comparable to Will Mackenzie or his friends, but it's ultimately a strength that the film hasn't tried to be a clone of something that came before it. Sure, the basic genus of the film means there's comparisons to be made from other graphic novel adaptations and Bird himself has stated that Richard Ayoade's excellent Submarine is among his cinematic influences, but any DNA this shares with other off kilter teen movies stops when we reach the character of Sue. She is as equally important to the film as Daniel is, and makes for a compelling, if unlikely, character to root for.

There's a large percentage of the story devoted to both Bagnold's doing their own thing whilst trying to find themselves over the summer, but the film is at its best when the two leads are together. Bird manages to capture the unspoken bond between Daniel and his mum, most notably during the highlight of the film when they both enjoy a family trip to the seaside that manages to be impossibly sweet without them saying to each other much at all.

On paper, both written down and drawn,  Daniel could quite easily have been a petulant Kevin and Perry clone, but Cave, best known for his brief but memorable appearance as Frodo in the TV adaptation of The End of the Fxxking World, gives Daniel a lot of warmth and heart, making him a real underdog you want to see succeed. However, it's safe to say that the real star of the show is Monica Dolan as the unassuming Sue, who makes your heart bleed for every typically normal suburban single mum out there trying their hardest for their kids without much fanfare or appreciation from their offspring. This isn't a film with dramatic confrontations or bombastic moments, but Dolan packs so much emotion into little looks and pauses that you'll want to ring your mum as soon as you finish the film and apologise for being a rotten little teenager.

A love letter to every boring suburban summer you had growing up, Days of the Bagnold Summer is an understated joy to watch.

DEERSKIN - London Film Festival review

Part of the cult strand at this year's London Film Festival, Quentin Dupieux's latest film sees Jean Dujardin's Georges become obsessed with his new Deerskin jacket, posing as a filmmaker and turning to crime in order to complete his outfit.

Dupieux, also known as Mr Oizo to fans of 90s Levi's ads, returns to behind the camera with this pairing with The Artist's Jean Dujardin to tell the story of a man who, following his separation from his wife, becomes obsessed with his new Deerskin jacket. While staying in a small French village Georges meets Denise (Celine Sciamma regular Adele Haenel), a bartender and aspiring film editor. Together they collaborate on Georges video diary that shows him forcing strangers to give up their outerwear so that his deerskin jacket is the only jacket left in existence, with Georges turning to murder to make sure the job is done.

Dujardin is fantastic as the pompous, preening Georges, forever enthusiastic about adding another deerskin piece to his outfit and looking ever more laughable along the way. The jacket in itself is a horrible looking garment, even if it does have all of its tassels intact. But Georges's cocksure belief that he's standing out from the crowd as a new fashion icon is never undersold by Dujardin, delivering a great comic performance that's tapping into the rich vein of ridiculousness that exists in fashion for men of a certain age, always ripe for parody. Admittedly, dressing head to toe in deerskin isn't a fashion choice you often see, but is it really so different than wearing a James May-esque bold print shirt?

There was perhaps an expectation that Dujardin would make a leap to Hollywood films after his, some would say, surprising Best Actor Oscar win for The Artist, but as fans of his work in the OSS 117 series will attest, he's completely at home and in his element here in this smaller, bizarre film that plays up to his charming doofus-like strengths. Dujardin plays Georges with so much un-earned confidence in himself, portraying such a clueless, self-important lunatic who's so sure that everyone is jealous of his jacket, or as Georges would put it, his "killer style".

Fans of Dupieux's previous work, in particular his sentient killer tyre film Rubber, will know what sort of humour to expect from him. This is a dark, often ghoulish comedy that revels in its unpredictability and shock value, generating lots of laughs from the sheer boldness of its character choices. As Georges falls deeper and deeper under the spell of the jacket which may slowly be exerting some sort of psychic power over him (or it may all be a figment of his imagination), with murder seeming to be the only logical next step, the weapon Georges crafts from a ceiling fan is disturbingly efficient in its creation and delivery.

There's a lot in Dupieux's work that goes far beyond the surface thrills, and Deerskin is no different. Not only is the dynamic between Dujardin's deluded killer and the much younger Denise mocking that stereotype of a man who has hit a certain age and then found himself a younger woman, the choice of Dupieux to have Georges wait outside a cinema to kill off its patrons as they leave is a comic assault on his audience, saying that if you think you're going to be safe and free from his pervasive ideas when you leave the cinema, think again.

A delightful new addition to the "killer clothing" sub-genre, Deerskin is In Fabric for men in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Less off the rack as it is off the wall, it's an absolute gem of a film.