Archive for the ‘Sundance London’ Category

A Love Song (2022) Sundance 2022

Dir.: Max Walker-Silverman; Cast: Dale Dickey, Wes Studi; USA 2022, 81 min.

Ten minutes into Max Walker-Silverman’s first feature, and not a word has been spoken. A long, languid opening scene sees a woman waiting in a trailer in the midst of a fabulous, wild landscape in Colorado. The tale told is that of a past with no regrets and the hope of something to be shared in the future.

The woman’s name is Faye (Dickey), her trailer, hitched to a pick-up truck, is about fifty years old and we learn a lot about her: she has a bait-trap and catches crayfish, she makes coffee in the mornings, and enjoys Radio ‘Longines Symphonette’, where a twist of the dial offers a song suited to her mood. The wireless is about as old as the trailer – and functions perfectly. The same can be said about Faye, widowed a couple of years ago. She lives on campsite No. 7, not far from the place where she spent her childhood.

Chance encounters are her social contacts: a lesbian couple who live on campsite No.2 encourage Faye to shoot the breeze about love. A young girl arrives with four monosyllabic  brothers, their truck having given up the ghost. Faye lends them her car engine and gets the lease of a canoe for “Recreation and romantic excursions”. We see her paddling alone on the nearby lake.

Finally, about half-way trough, we meet the object of Faye’s patient affections: Lito (Studi), a childhood friend, Lito arrives with a bunch of yellow wild flowers and a docile black dog. They shared a forbidden kiss in summer camp, and more recently, the loneliness of being widowed. Their re-union is almost wordless. They play their guitars, exchange a few thoughts on their dead partners. Faye shows Lito the magic of the radio, lets him dial the perfect song. Two words, not even a sentence, will decide their future. Reticent as always, Faye takes care of the present.

DoP Alfonso Herrera Salcedo supports the slow flow of what is visible on the outside with long travelling shots. The inner workings of both characters are mirrored in the mountains, the woods and the lake. Not idyllic, but real, and enduring like the people who inhabit this weathered landscape.

In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, Emma Thompson’s Nancy tries to pays her way out of loneliness in a feature with its broken promise of something wild. Walker-Silverman’s debut takes the road of internalisation, offering so much more than the sum of its parts. Faye is a distant cousin of Fern from Nomadland. Not by chance, Dan Janvey is a co-producer for both features. Welcome to a film shot from the heart. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

The Princess (2022)

Dir.: Ed Perkins; Documentary about Princess Diana; UK 2022, 106 min.

Hot on the heels of Spencer, The Crown and the musical Diana, THE PRINCESS does not promise or deliver any new insight into the life and tragic death of our much loved, Princess of Wales. Instead Ed Perkins pieces together a documentary made up exclusively of television news footage and public records, once again showing the Diana we have seen in the media and watched on TV for over 40 years – 25 of them after her death in a Parisian car crash. This is a digest of what was fed to the general public – rather than a feast of new information revealing the truth what really happened.

When the TV camera spotlight first fell on Lady Diana Spencer, it was 1981, she was an innocent twenty year old nursery teacher;  Prince Charles a well-travelled, sophisticated 32 year old prince. They harding knew each other, let alone loved each other, as the first TV interview shows. The media version of what happened next was “The Fairy Story”. In the midst of social and political turbulence, a fairy story was badly needed. But the fairy tale ended when Prince Charles, even after the birth of his first son William, continued to lead the life of a bachelor – including his adulterous affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, who was also married and a mother of two.

Much later, in the scandalous TV interview with Martin Bashir,  Diana spilt the beans: her own romantic affairs; the self harm; Bulimia; and a suicide attempt. Now the second phase, a “Soap Opera” was to begin. A collision between the royal family, representing traditional values, and Diana’s 20th Century lifestyle was played out before a public. A Disney movie perhaps, but nothing to do with the fact that the couple had never been in love in the first place. The so-called heart-break was the base the relationship was built on. Once again the British media drove the narrative forward, as it still does today, serving the public with what it thought they wanted, rather than the real truth of the matter.

Writer/director Ed Perkins (Tell me, who I am) and his editors Jinx Godfrey and Daniel Lapira have certainly cobbled together a hoard of information but for whose benefit? Certainly not the ones who have worshipped “the princess of the people”, who was clearly at the cash cow for everyone who benefitted from her tragic story. Perhaps the best use of this documentary is as material for media students – as an example of reality television of the worst kind. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 30 JUNE 2022 FOR A SPECIAL ONE NIGHT ONLY EVENT ACROSS THE UK/IRELAND

 

Fire of Love (2022) Sundance London

Dir.: Sara Dosa; Cast: Documentary with Maurice Krafft, Katia Krafft; narrator Miranda July; Canada/USA 2022, 93 min.

French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft are the focus of this new documentary cum love story that records a life-changing visit to the island of Stromboli that would see them developing early warning systems for volcano eruptions from the early 1970s and lead to a worldwide research project that ended abruptly in June 1991, when they were killed, with 41 others, by a pyroclastic flow at Mount Unzen in Japan.

Sara Dosa (The Seer and the Unseen) bases her film on on a script by Shane Boris, Erin Caspar and Jocelyne Chaput that tells how the couple had met in Strasbourg and decided to devote their life to the beauty – and danger – of volcanos. Maurice maintained that rather than having “a long, monotonous life he would rather have a short, exciting one, dicing with danger in getting his legs burnt in boiling mud and risking life and limb to cross a lake in a rubber dingy containing sulphuric acid, making Katia, a chemist, incensed. Meanwhile she was famous for wearing metal helmets and walking along the edge of active volcano craters, captured in stunning camerawork by Pablo Alvarez-Mesa along with stunning images of the volcano Krakatoa, situated between the islands of Java and Sumatra.

Dosa and her writers flesh out the personal side of the couples’ obsession – just like Werner Herzog in A Fire within: A Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft – yet their immense scientific oeuvre of over twenty publications is not even mentioned once which is a shame since the Kraffts warned the filipino president Cory Aquino about the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, allowing for the area to be evacuated. One of the Kraffts’ final publications before their death was “Understanding Volcanic Hazards and reducing volcanic risks”. In their own words, they “may have lived kamikaze existence”, but they contributed enormously to an arcane science. And like veritable pioneers they also paid the price. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON JUNE 2022

Hatching (2022) Sundance London

Dir.: Hanna Bergholm; Cast: Suri Solalinka, Sophia Heikillä, Oiva Ollila, Reino Nordin Jani Volanen; Finland 2022, 87 min.

The debut feature of Finnish writer/director Hanna Bergholm is an intelligent blend of family dysfunction, female powerplay and horror.

The setting is a dream house in the countryside for a family divided: mother (Heikillä) is the driving force. Unsuccessful as an ice-skater, she is now a social media influencer and wants her daughter Tinja (Solalinka), a budding gymnast, to become a success story to make up for her own failure. Tinja goes along with her, but her husband (Volanen) turns avoids conflict, supporting his wife, even though she is cheating with handyman Tero (Nordin). Young Mathias (Ollila), is, like his father, very much in the shadow of the female of the species. But Tinja finds the long hours of training arduous, and lacks her domineering mother’s grit. But when a new female rival enters the fray, in the shape of her new neighbour and gym buddy. Tinja’s competitive edge kicks in with the family pets take the brunt along with a huge bird. The animal is something like Tinja’s Alter Ego: doing all the bloody stuff for her, and punishing mother and lover for their illicit affair. Solalinka is brilliant as the meek little girl betraying a brutal Dr. Hyde personality. Bergholm breathes new life into this ingenious genre thriller perfectly pitched at 90 minutes running time AS

SUNDANCE LONDON JUNE 2022

Resurrection (2022) Sundance London

Dir/Wri: Andrew Semans | Cast: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman, Michael Esper, Angela Wong Carbone | US Thriller 104′

Once again Rebecca Hall finds herself, or maybe she chooses to be, in a film where her talents surpass the material. Indeed, such was the case with her recent outings in The Night House and Permission, only has she really shined as Christine in Antonio Campos’ captivating biopic drama of the same name.

On last year showed her strength as a director in her debut Passing. That said Resurrection – Seman’s sophomore feature – is watchable largely down to Hall and her reliable co-star Tim Roth but it feels like a film you have probably seen before.

She is Margaret, a woman from upstate New York, who has survived a life-changing event, revealed in a magnetic eight minute monologue, and is now battled scarred and emotionally buttoned down as she faces the future with trepidation right up to the bloody almost feral finale. MT

SUNDANCE LONDON JUNE 2022

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022) Sundance London

Dir.: Sophie Hide; Cast: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack, Isabella Laughland; UK 2022, 97 min.

Emma Thompson is the star turn in this comedy of manners between a male sex worker and a middle-aged, widowed woman – unfortunately the outcome is not as funny as planned.

Nancy Stokes (Thompson) feels rather short-changed on the sex front after a long marriage leaves her unsatisfied and determined to remedy the situation. And she hopes hunky sex worker Leo Grande (McCormack) will make her life complete, between the sheets. The two meet in a hotel room in Norwich with the aim of giving Nancy her first orgasm – although McCormack is no Richard Gere from American Gigolo, he is certainly pleasant and playful in dealing with Nancy’s technical list driven approach to intercourse which sees him coming up against barriers, and we don’t mean just on the condom front.  Soon the two are in a psychological clinch: Leo has obvious Mummy issues – being rejected for enjoying girls and drugs. The outcome is never in doubt, after all, this is a British feel-good fuck flick.

Good Luck suffers from the rather claustrophobic setting set – the hotel bedroom (and its Norwich location, bringing to mind Alan Partridge) gives DoP Bryan Mason very little to play with in a film spoilt by its rather clumsy script.

Thompson once again makes this warchable, McCormack tries his best to make his part believable. But Good Luck doesn’t flow – possibly intentionally: this is theatre, the verbal exchanges are awkward, the whole exercise hampered by the need for witty repartee. Not a big screen outing then but ideal for a rainy Sunday afternoon in front of the TV. AS

SUNDANCE LONDON | JUNE 2022

Luzzu (2021)

Dir/Wri: Alex Camilleri | Cast: Jesmark Scicluna, Marlene Schranz, David Scicluna, Marta Vella | Drama 94′

Fisherman all over the world are under pressure in what is surely one of the most honourable professions since the time of Jesus: bringing home the catch.

Maltese American filmmaker Alex Camilleri backed by award-winning screenwriter Ramin Bahrani casts a real working fisherman (Jesmark Scicluna) in his intelligent debut feature that plays out like an agonising arthouse thriller set in a fishing Mediterranean community struggling to survive. Jesmark is one of a long line of locals making (or not making) their living from the sea. Each days he sets sails in his colourful painted luzzu – a traditional man-made wooden boat – hoping to support his newborn son who needs medical treatment. The alternative is to decommission his vessel for an EU payout and possibly getting tied up in EU red tape, or go on the black market with the island’s criminal underclass. Seemingly a no-win situation. Interestingly Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and their exotic language sounds like a cross between Sicilian and North African Arabic.

So the odds are really stacked against Jesmark who manages to look resentful, hurt and bewildered in a convincing performance that won him Best Acting award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Meanwhile, his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia) manages to make everything look like his fault, along with his mother in law. And to makes matters worse he now has to rely on a friend (David Scicluna) to help him.

Their daily catch yields a mixture of sea bream, mullet and bass, but they are forced to throw a lucrative swordfish back in the sea, although the fish is already dead,  because it contravenes EU regulations, and this is a tense moment for Jesmark who clearly feels back-footed and diminished. Clearly this is not working. So he joins forces with the unscrupulous Uday (Uday Maclean) in a soulless (!) foray that goes his integrity. This black market option requires him to go back on his tracks after dark and collect the leftover fish which can then be sold on to restaurants.

With disappointment and anger etched on his weatherbeaten face Jesmark is the embodiment of male failure. Luzzu serves a vibrant snapshot of this ancient Southern European archipelago with its age-old traditions and tightknit community dogged by global economic turndown and EU restrictions. MT

SUNDANCE SPECIAL JURY AWARD – ACTING | OUT ON 27 MAY 2022

Pleasure (2021) Sundance Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Ninja There; Cast: Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Eva Melander; Sweden/Netherlands/France 2021, 109 min.

Girls in the world of porn is the subversive subject of this first feature from Swedish director Ninja There. Expanding her 2013 Cannes award-winning short offers a timely opportunity to explore the lucrative male-dominated sector of the economy where women are literally asked to betray their own gender. Whilst the cool, analytical form may not be everyone’s taste, Pleasure is a stunning portrait of an industry just invented to titillate men.

A young Swedish woman lands in LAX and is asked a common question: Business or Pleasure? She opts for the latter, but it turns out to be an illusion. With a new name, Bella Cherry (Kappel) she will join the many hopefuls who try to make a name and fortune in the porn industry. Apart from Kappel, all protagonists are in the business – so to speak – including top talent agent Mark Spiegler. Set in the grim industrial San Fernando valley and some garish mansions, Bella joins collegues in a house where she makes friends with Joy (Reustle) who teaches the uninitiated the tricks of the trade.

When Bear (Cock), a senior crew member, asks her about her life story, Bella claims she has been raped by her father, laughing it off in the same breath and Bear warns her about the competition. Bella’s first shoot is fairly lowkey – one of the crew members is a woman. But then she enters the harsh end of the profession: rough sex, or, as it turns out, rape. Three men coerce her into hours of submission, threatening not to pay her all if she refuses to comply to their wishes.

Bella is a bit of a loner back in Sweden, as we learn this from a phone conversation with her Mum (Melander), but is determined to do her best She wants to succeed, at all costs. But friendships  soon fall by the wayside. Joy, nicknamed “trailer trash” by one of the so-called stars, pushes him into the pool. Shortly afterwards Bella sides with the producers, when Joy is clearly hurt by a male actor – but Bella keeps schtum. She is in awe of the glittering Ava (Claire), the latest ‘Spiegler Girl’ who acts in girl-on-girl features. Their love/hate relationship is the pivotal point of the feature and its abrupt ending.

There are some parallels here with a recent Swedish feature, Holiday (2018) by Isabella Eklöf. But Thyberg goes into details, including full erections. DoP Sophie Winquist keeps a firm grasp on her film with a woman’s gaze, always subverting expectations – in total contrast to a straight up porn film. But the key element is Thyberg’s unflinching attack on the patriarchal power at play. Bold and with an brilliant eye for details, Pleasure never lets the audience forget who is in charge and why. AS

SUNDANCE LONDON 2021

 

Coda (2021) BAFTAs 2022

Wri/Dir.: Sian Heder; Cast: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Dureant, Amy Forsyth, Eugenio Derbuz, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo; USA 2021, 111 min.

Teenage Ruby Rossi (Jones) is the only person in her family not afflicted by deafness in this fluidly amusing coming of age drama from American writer/director Sian Heder (Tallulah) winning Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s Baftas 2022.

Ruby Rossi is not much of an academic in her last year at High School, so she’s decided to stick with the family business joining her father Frank (Kotsur) and brother Leo (Durant) who are independent fishermen, and mother Jackie (Matlin) who does the books. But the new music teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Derbez) discovers Ruby’s fine voice and coaches her for the entrance examines at a respected conservatoire in Boston. Love interest Miles (Walsh-Peelo) supports her, but Ruby is torn between a musical career and staying put – particularly since the Rossi’s and other fishermen are planning to break away form the corrupt wholesale agency.

Refreshingly Heder avoids a didactic approach in CODA aka Child of Deaf Adults in a narrative that flows easily with its conflicting emotions, Ruby is not a victim, having to ‘translate’ for her family in sign language – she has a certain agency which she sometimes ruthlessly exploits. She disapproves of her parents’ loud lovemaking and brother Leo’s girlfriend Gertie (Forsyth) who is also over-sexed. When Gertie asks Ruby to tell her the sign language for “I love you”, Ruby shows her a completely different meaning: “I have herpes”. Leo is blown away by the “discovery”.

Set in a blue-collar community, CODA has a ring of true realism without being an agit-prop. DoP Paula Huidobro does a great job in the ‘action’ scenes on the fishing boat, as well as the close-ups. Inspite of the indulgent running time there’s never a spare moment, Heder lets her cast roam around in a feature of setbacks wild emotions; with the overly long drawn out happy-ending perhaps the only point of critique. CODA scooped three Oscars for its worthy topic more than anything else.AS

SIAN HEDER won Best Adapted Script BAFTA | TROY KOTSAR won Best Supporting Actor | EE BAFTAS 2022 | SIÂN HEDER’S CODA WINS 2021 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: LONDON AWARD PRESENTED BY BIFA | 

 

 

In the Same Breath (2021) Sundance London

Dir.: Nafu Wang; Documentary; USA 2021, 95 min.

A scathing documentary about the handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the one-party state of the People’s Republic of China – and the not so different approach of the Trump administration in the USA – is quite an eye-opener. Chinese born writer/director Nafu Wang (One Child Nation) bases her her findings of her own experiences having lived and worked in the USA for the last nine years,

Wang, born and raised in China, was visiting her mother in a city 200 miles away from Wuhan when she came across news reports stating how eight doctors had been arrested for spreading rumours about a respiratory sickness. When Wang left for the USA on January 23rd, Wuhan was in lockdown. Wang’s husband managed to get their son, who was with his grandmother, home to the USA. Wang was by now alerted and aware of the discrepancy between the censured media reports, and the real situation in China. Back home, she commissioned camera operators, often using covert mobiles ‘phones to report on what was going on in China. She also offered the story to an American newspaper, which declined.

The results were astonishing – the censored reporting of state media was completely skewed away from people dying in the streets, or posting their x-rays on You Tube in the vain hope that they would receive treatment. The lavish New Year’s Eve celebration in Wuhan became a super spreader – ignoring the doctors alarm cost countless lives. But the Chinese government celebrated the success of their medical campaign, even when people were still dying outside hospital doors.

Wang was equally angry with the reaction of the Trump government: the president and his supporters in the White House and the CDC playing down the impact of pandemic, even Dr. Anthony Fauci can be heard aping the president stating “nobody in the USA is at risk from the pandemic”. “Just like the flu” was a common statement. And so the US went unprepared into the fight with the pandemic, even the most basic equipment was lacking.

In China the government agencies hailed the “victory over the virus” only weeks after the doctors’ arrests, the authoritarian Trump administration let loose millions of pandemic deniers and conspiracy theorists. For Wang, the idealist, who never had any illusions about the nature of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the failure of the US government, is a failure of Democracy itself. AS

SUNDANCE LONDON 2021

Human Factors (2021)

Dir.: Ronny Trocker; Cast: Max Waschke, Sabine Timoteo, Jude Hermann, Wanja Valentin Kube, Daniel Séjourné; Italy/Germany/Denmark 2021, 102 min.

Italian-born Ronny Trocker’s intelligent but underpowered invasion thriller has the same fault line that runs through many German features of the past few decades: a premise that looks promising on paper but fails to come alive cinematically because everything has to serve the central construct. This may work for Michael Haneke but Trocker’s film lacks the narrative heft that makes Haneke’s features so absorbing. DoP Klemens Hufnagl tries for a ‘Huis clos’ atmosphere but he’s further hemmed in by the narrative confines, and the actors can’t inject much verve either with their underwritten characters.

Human Factors centres on a repressed and deeply conflicted upper-middle class family. For some light relief they take a break in a holiday home in Belgium near the German border but this is a sticking plaster rather than a solution to their woes. Husband Jan (Waschke) and wife Nina (Timoteo) run a PR agency in Germany, but politically they are poles apart and this tension bleeds into their ongoing campaign in the run up the country’s elections. Their kids are suffering too: Teenage daughter Emma (Hermann) is having problems at school and hanging out with the wrong crowd, her young brother Max (Kube) has lost the plot completely and is only interested in his pet rat Zorrow.

The holiday gets off to a bad start with a bungled burglary, the repercussions having a knock on affect for all concerned in this Rashomon like set-up. Nina’s gay brother Flo (Séjourné) and his partner then fetch up on the scene, and this doesn’t go down well with the rather homophobic Jan, opening up further avenues of discontent. Back in Germany on the Monday, things just go from bad to worse. AS

IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 15 February 2022 | SUNDANCE LONDON premiere |

 

Misha and the Wolves (2021)

Dir.: Sam Hobkinson; Documentary with Misha Defonseca, Jane Daniel, Evelyn Haendel, Sharon Seargant; Belgium/UK 2021, 89 min.

Sam Hobkinson (Fear City) tells one of the most bizarre stories of modern times. Misha and the Wolves could be a fairy tale, but it turns into a nightmare – and then into something completely beyond the wildest imagination.

In the remote town of Millis, Massachusetts. Belgian immigrant Misha Defonseca regaled friends and neighbours with her experiences during the Holocaust. She told the members of Temple Bel Torah how, as a little girl in during wartime 1941, she left her loveless foster home and began to search for her biological  parents who had been deported to a death camp. Taking up with a pack of wolves she walked on foot from Belgium to Germany, it what would be an eventful and violent journey.

One of her neighbours of Defonseca Jane Daniel, ran a small publishing company, the Mt. Ivy Press and offered to publish the memoir as ‘Misha: A memoire of the Holocaust Years’. It came out in 1997 and was a great success, as was the French version. In 2007, the French filmmaker Vera Belmont shot the story as Survivre avec les Loups. But the cracks started to show: Defonseca took Daniel to court, over her refusal to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. Next came a major discovery: Defonseca had used two different versions of her birth name: one for the America edition, one for the French one. Than everything unravelled quickly, thanks to forensic genealogist Sharon Sergeant, and Evelyne Haendel, a Belgian researcher and Holocaust survivor. What emerged was a completely different version of events.  Misha was born in 1937 as Monique de Wael to catholic parents in Etterbeek, Belgium. She never left home as a child.

Hobkinson then uses the Errol Morris technique, turning the narrative into a Patricia Highsmith style story where the focus is no longer Defonseca – but a gullible public on both sides of the Atlantic intrigued to have discered just another plucky Jewish survivor. The guilt surrounding lack of social responsibility during the Shoah still haunts communities who react with denial (as in Poland) or half-truths as they do in France. Misha’s real story is also chained to this process of uncovering the kindness of strangers who courageously risked their own safety to help Jews. Opportunism is still rife in the publishing world, Jane Daniel being only one example. DoP Will Pugh documents this torrid tale of a deception that provides a welcome version of the truth, an antidote to bestseller spin. Misha Forenseca still lives in Millis. AS

NOW ON RELEASE

Writing With Fire (2021) Movies that Matter Festival 2022

Dir.: Sushmit Ghosh, Rintu Thomas; Documentary with Meere Devi, Shyonkali Devi, Suneeta Prajapate; India 2021, 92 min.

This Oscar nominated documentary by first time feature directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh (also co-DoP) once again exposes an endemic culture of police corruption, bribery and misogyny in Indian culture seen through the ‘Khabar Lahariya’ (‘News Wave’) newspaper. The publication was founded just after the turn of the century by women of India’s lowest cast – the Dalit, and operates out of Uttar Pradesh, a region which usually votes for the winning Party in the General election – and this will play a big part later.

We begin with chief reporter Meere interviewing the victim of a brutal rape, and her shocked husband. Meere then walks straight into the police station to demand why nobody has been charged with the assault. Alarmingly the police are not interested in helping the victim. Clearly they are not there to serve the people or enforce law and order, but to trouser lavish bribes from their venal local overlords who continue to operate with impunity.

Although the “Khabar Lahariya’ is now digital, at the end, with 125 million followers on You Tube, the journalists are not really taken not seriously – even by their own husbands – one proclaiming the whole operation will fail.

During the 2019 election, the sitting candidate of the region left his own party, and joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP. When interviewed by the women he gives the usual lip service to fighting corruption, if re-elected, since the BJP will allow him to be active on this front, unlike his old Party. Modi and the BJP won in a landslide, not only in Uttar Pradesh. But already a week later, the journalists are repressed by members of the BJP, wearing orange outfits, and pretending to represent religious groups. The danger of absolute Hindu nationalism is obvious.

The fate of the individual members of the newspaper is also told, centring around Suneeta, Meere’s best ‘student’. Disappointingly she then decides to give up her profession and marry. Lost in that immediacy is a deeper historical look at the paper itself; while we understand its creation was unique, Writing with Fire is so invested in the present that the filmmakers fail to offer key information about its founding.

Still, now is as good a time as any to follow the paper and its evolving reporters as we watch Khabar Lahariya grow in size and influence. It’s a double-sided coin: Increased visibility means increased impact, for the journalists and their subjects, but it also places the women in the crossfire of anyone opposed to them (and that’s plenty of people, especially as the country enters a key election period).

The personal toll is never far from the frame, and while some of the documentary drags as its filmmakers cycle through repetitive scenes (a husband rolling his eyes at his wife’s work, a family railing against the impossibility of marrying off their daughter, a puffed-up subject refusing to talk to female journalists), they also put the audience very much inside the world of Meera, Suneeta, and Shyamkali.

A startling finale makes Writing with Fire one of the finest features ever made about journalism, a real eye opener. AS

GRAND JURY DOCUMENTARY AWARD WINNER | MOVIES THAT MATTER 2022

 

The Blazing World (2021) Sundance London 2021

Dir.: Carlson Young; Cast: Carlson Young, Udo Kier, Vanessa Shaw, Dermot Mulroney, Liz Mikel; USA 2021, 101 min.

Carlson Young writes directs and also stars in her first film, an extended version of her 2018 Sundance short and essentially a fantasy sci-fi. Young takes full credit for the outcome, a glittering, elaborate eye-catcher build on an anaemic narrative, held together by DoP Shane F. Kelly and PD Rodney F. Becker. But it is the evocative orchestral score of composer Isom Innis that sets the tone.

Margaret (perhaps a nod to Margaret Cavendish, who authored a 1666 sci-fi-themed tome ‘The Description of a New World Called the Blazing World’) never recovered from the profound shock of losing her twin sister Elizabeth who drowned in the swimming pool of the family mansion while her parents (Vanessa Shaw and Dermot Mulroney) were otherwise engaged in one of their spectacular showdowns. But the traumatic day didn’t end there: a haunting figure (played by Udo Kier) tries to lure her into going with him into a dark hole. She grows up to become a gloomy college student (Young) desperately trying to be re-united with her sister, who she believes is caught in another dimension, waiting to be rescued. But even respected TV astrologer (Mikel) is unimpressed by her efforts: “You should watch Dr. Who, it’s on the BBC” she advises Margaret. In Pan’s Labyrinth-style sequences she follows Kier in a bid to be re-united with her sister, swallowed up in Cagliari-like corridors. But somehow we are never quite sure which rabbit hole Margaret is aiming for. Meanwhile Kier waxes lyrical: “What the darkness eats, the darkness keeps.” Young was clearly aiming for a baroque aesthetic for her earnest protagonist on a mission – what we get is a digital makeover. AS

SUNDANCE LONDON 2021 | July 29-1 August

After the Wedding (2019) ****

Dir: Bart Freundlich | Wir: Susanne Bier/Anders Thomas Jensen | Cast: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn | US Drama 110′

One of two films out this season starring Julianne Moore. Both are remakes, but this orphanage-themed story is the one to go for.

Danish director Susanne Bier made the original ‘dogma styled’ version and was nominated for an Oscar back in 2006. The US version has two powerful female leads, and Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams make for a terrific duo as a successful business woman and a free-thinking philanthropist, respectively.

Earth mother Isobel (Williams) runs an orphanage in Kolkata, but the magnificent opening sequence has the drones sweeping in over the exotic landscape quickly establishing this as a glossy drama all about fraught relationships, love, and forgiveness rather than a grim slice of social realism. True there are some cheesy elements at the start of the film: we don’t particularly warm to Moore at first, as she sashays round her ample New York residence, nodding to domestic staff while she talks on her ‘phone. But her character soon proves to have a hidden agenda behind its rather glacial facade. She’s a wife, a mother of three and an accomplished entrepreneur married to Billy Crudup’s rather puppyish sculptor, Oscar.

Freundlich has clearly crafted Theresa with Moore in mind. She is businesslike, a loving mother to her kids and affectionate with her husband – a woman who seems to have it all – but we will later discover that she doesn’t. Her daughter (Abby Quinn) is about to get married, but she seems rather unsure of intended. But Theresa gives her plenty of cheesy assurances and she is busy organising her ridiculously lavish wedding and shooting orders at everyone in sight. At first we dislike this rather glib family.

And Isobel (Williams) isn’t much better. Although she clearly loves the beautifully polite kids in her orphanage, and particularly eight-year-old Jai (Vir Pachisia), there’s a steely dissatisfaction behind her doting gestures. And we soon discover why when she turns up in New York to take delivery of the “suitcase full of money” offered to her orphanage by a benefactor who demands a face to face meeting.

This donor turns out to be none other that Theresa. There’s a motif running through the drama that points to her sympathy for felled trees and wounded birds. But she’s also a draconian boss, and there’s a wonderful kick-ass scene involving her assistant, that you’d never get away with in Britain.

The New York scenes are typically over the top with lavish hotel suites, brands everywhere and riches beyond the dreams of avarice in Theresa’s waterfront estate. The first reveal in this strangely absorbing drama occurs when Oscar clocks Isobel at the wedding (she’s been press-ganged into attending by Theresa).

Bizarre the next reveal may be, but it certainly packs a punch. And the characters are sent reeling in disbelief and horror. At this point, Theresa decides to widen the remit of her donation, naturally with poisoned chalice conditions. Isabel may practice yoga and have a habit of kicking her shoes off without a by your leave, but she’s certainly no fool and remains skeptical of her Theresa’s motives. And with good reason. Another dramatic twist leads to the rationale behind Theresa’s erratic behaviour.

These two woman are tough as nails behind their faux sympathy. They display the spiky machiavellian capabilities of the deadlier sex. And it’s a joy to watch them in full flow in this engrossing melodrama that almost puts the BBC’s Dr Foster in the shade. Bier’s original had two male protagonists but these women are much more convincing and never fail to surprise us with their sneakiness. Although a beginner, Quinn is the only one who really displays  heartfelt feelings, but the other characters offer plenty to chew on in this meaty melodrama. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 1 NOVEMBER 2019

The Farewell (2019) ***

Dir: Lulu Wang | Comedy Drama | 98′

Korean Chinese actress Awkwafina is best known for the standout comedy Crazy Rich Asians (2018). She gets another chance to flex her undeniable talents in this slim but enjoyable farce that explores the theory of “mind over matter” with a rather satisfying takeaway.

She plays Billi, an easygoing Chinese woman who originally moved to New York as a child and returns home for a family wedding, and to say goodbye to her beloved grandmother Nai Nai who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Well, her granny’s unaware of her imminent demise, the family have decided to keep shtum: they simply haven’t the heart to tell her. And strangely, Nai Nai never cottons on to why they all seem so miserable, instead of relieved at her clean bill of health, after the scan.

Despite its cultural specificity, this is a convincing family tale like any other, and Wang spices her drama with plenty of light-hearted humour, tinged with understandable melancholy. Each family member expresses their sadness in different ways and degrees, and Wang keeps sentimentality at bay instead opting for something more nuanced and appealing. Awkwafina’s Billi is a triumph of independence and vulnerability and her dying grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) manages to be calm and philosophical. The lightweight narrative builds towards in a satisfying conclusion, offering plenty of food for thought in the final reveal. MT

NOWON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 20 SEPTEMBER

Animals (2019) ****

Dir.: Sophie Hyde; Cast: Holiday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermont Murphy, Amy Molloy, Dermont Murphy; UK/Australia/ROI 2019, 109 min.

In her sophomore feature Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) directs Emma-Jane Unsworth’ script of her own novel. It centres on two close friends Laura (Grainger) and Tyler (Shawcat) in Dublin who spend most of their time in being drunk and high on drugs. Well at least that’s the way it’s seemed for the past ten years. But now in their thirties, things are about to change.

Their story unfolds from the perspective of Laura, a struggling writer whose novel progresses a line a week – meanwhile she works as a barista in a coffee shop, to make ends meet. Her sister Jean (Molloy), once a wild child herself, announces that she has now chosen adult life and motherhood. Laura reacts with panic: suddenly casual boyfriend Jim (Fee), a very serious pianist, becomes a plausible alternative to her living the life of Riley with Tyler. But then along comes uber-pretentious author Marthy (Murphy) and Laura soon sees the error of her ways. And somehow the never fully explained cloud over Tyler’s life (some trauma in the past) becomes more important – or is it just the realisation, that their friendship is much more of a love story then they want to admit. Most features are built on the rock of a happy-ending with friendship being replaced by the great love conquering all – but Hyde raises doubts: is it really inevitable that all women should spend their life with the opposite gender just because mother nature and a concept called adulthood dictate it – or can Goethe’s Elective Affinities overcome the norm – at least sometimes?

Grainger and Shawkat carry the feature – their relationship is anything but ideal – but at least it is honest, and we are never allowed to forget it. Hyde directs with great sensibility, athough there are more than enough emotional episodes to go round. DoP Bryan Mason has a fine feel for the Dublin scene, even though the film actually takes place in Manchester. Animals is full of surprises and never resorts to the banal. It is a brave attempt at trying to align the impossible, but it manages to remain sincere: when Jim calls Laura Tyler’s wife, he is not too far off. AS

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 2 AUGUST

       

The Brink (2019) ***

DIR: Alison Klayman | US Doc 98′

Alison Klayman shadows political operative Steve Bannon from the time he leaves the White House to the 2018 midterms.

Political strategist Steve Bannon (1953-) is best known for being the co-founder of Breitbart, and is also a former investment banker, educated at Georgetown and Harvard. He served in the United States Navy for seven years and then went on to exec produce 18 Hollywood films, between 1991 and 2016. Thereafter he was the White House chief strategist from January to August 2017, and founder of nonprofit organisation The Movement designed to promote economic nationalism in Europe. Eventually he was ejected from the White House after the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Not as informative and intriguing as Errol Morris’ American Dharma that screened at Venice  last year, this fly on the wall affair manages at least to avoid glorification, hardly bringing anything new to the table – although Bannon clearly had his knees firmly under the metaphorical one in the Whitehouse during the early stages of the Trump administration.

Klayman’s (Ai Wei: Never Sorry) cinema vérité style treatment is the result of her following Bannon as part of his elite during the course of a year’s media tour intended to rebrand his image as the leader of a global populist movement. A strong and engaging orator (in the style of Ken Livingstone, Gladstone and Nigel Farage) he is clearly clubbable, and we see him taking his movement on the road, talking to various advisors on how best to support congressional candidates, and showing his support to European populist parties – including Farage’s – in preparation for the European Parliament elections in 2019.

In Europe there’s obviously the high birth rate among Muslims to consider (in Belgium), and these far-righters all agree that “immigration is a bad thing”. Bannon then sets off on a US tour, promoting Republican candidates such as Roy Moore, and those running in the 2018 midterms. This involves attending fundraiser dinners and rallies. A heckler interrupts him during a speech and he smirks, “Who invited my ex-wife?” Klayman intercuts all this with news clips from the Brett Kavanaugh hearing to the Tree of Life shooting. He keeps on keeping on. He also talks to journalists, who seem to have a low opinion of him. Meanwhile, his film TRUMP @WAR (the media) is released, about the President’s victory in the face of the violent left.

The Brink is another documentary about the general mayhem that exists in US politics, focusing on one extreme figure to another (Weiner and Get Me Roger Stone). Klayman avoids talking head interviews but there’s no mistaking her take on her subject matter.

Very much like Brexit for the UK, the Trump era is a thorn in America’s side. And The Brink tries to analyse how it all came about, but without much success. Basically politicians see themselves as in the game for the love of humanity, despite the majority of them being self-seeking, bottom-feeding forms of life. In Dante’s journey to Hell, Klayman is simply trying to explore some of the characters on the way. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

The Last Tree (2019) *** Sundance London 2019

Dir.: Shola Amoo; Cast: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock, DemmyLadipo; UK 2019, 100 min.

Writer/director Shola Amoo explores a conflicted teenager at odds with his environment in modern Britain, with his roots in Nigeria.

We meet Femi (Tai Golding) as a happy eleven-year old in rural Lincolnshire where he runs wild with his white school friends during the day, before returning to loving foster Mum Mary (Black) in a middle class area. But Femi is suddenly uprooted when his birth mother Yinka (Ikumelo) demands his return to her tiny flat in one of many high-rise blocks in South-London. Femi is stranded: on the phone he calls Mary ‘Nan’, but refuses to admit how much he is alienated by the black ghetto, and his authoritarian Mum. She punishes him physically, telling him “I did not raise you, to be rude”. To which Femi answers “You did not raise me”.

Sixteen-year old Femi (Adewunmi) has nothing but his memories, but he makes up for it by presenting himself as a proud African. Meanwhile, many of his mates are much more assimilated, and bully him. For a short while, he fells under the spell of the local mini-gangster Mace (Ladipo), but an upright teacher helps him to free himself from the clutches of petty crime. A romantic interlude just goes to enforce his alienation. But this all changes in the third act when his mother introduces him to his birth father in Nigeria.  A wealthy Christian, he rejected Yinka and his son because she believed in the old mysticism of the country and “was not ready to submit like a Christian woman.”

The structure of the feature underlines Femi’s conflict. There is only one scene when past and present interact positively and this involves his foster mother Mary. DoP Stil Williams uses a peachy pastel palette for the Lincolnshire scenes, than switches to hyper-realism for the South London interlude, before prime colours show his re-awakening in Nigeria.

THE LAST TREE (the title remains opaque) has not the narrative strength of Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother, the Devil, but relies on emotional power. Femi is black, African and disenfranchised British, but at the same time rejected on all three levels. He is not able to connect his childhood memories with anything in his adult life, and the question remains if he will find acceptance in Nigeria, or if the fragmentation will continue. Amoo’s feature has certainly structural fault lines, but he makes up partly for it with a radical passionate approach, showing a picture of unreconciled loneliness. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON | 30 MAY – 2 JUNE 2019

Sundance London 2019 | 30 May – 2 June 2019

Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival brings a selection of films to London, screening at at PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL from 30 MAY – 2 JUNE 2019. Here is a selection of the features and documentaries scheduled:

THE LAST TREE/ United Kingdom (Director/Screenwriter: Shola Amoo) – Femi is a British boy of Nigerian heritage who, after a happy childhood in rural Lincolnshire, moves to inner London to live with his mum. Struggling with the unfamiliar culture and values of his new environment, teenage Femi has to figure out which path to adulthood he wants to take CAST: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock 

LATE NIGHT U.S.A. (Director: Nisha Ganatra, Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling) – Legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline. Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Paul Walter Hauser, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

THE NIGHTINGALE Australia (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Kent) – 1825. Clare, a young Irish convictwoman, chases a British officer through the Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie

HAIL SATAN? U.S.A. (Director: Penny Lane) – A look at the intersection of religion and activism, tracing the rise of The Satanic Temple: only six years old and already one of the most controversial religious movements in American history. The Temple is calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation’s soul. But are they for real? 

THE FAREWELL U.S.A., China (Director/Screenwriter: Lulu Wang) – A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.  CAST: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG U.S.A. (Director: Daniel Scheinert, Screenwriter: Billy Chew) – Dick died last night, and Zeke and Earl don’t want anybody finding out how. That’s too bad though, cause news travels fast in small-town Alabama. CAST: Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Jess Weixler 

CORPORATE ANIMALS U.S.A. (Director: Patrick Brice, Screenwriter: Sam Bain) – Disaster strikes when the egotistical CEO of an edible cutlery company leads her long-suffering staff on a corporate team- building trip in New Mexico. Trapped underground, this mismatched and disgruntled group must pull together to survive. CAST: Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni

ASK DR RUTH  U.S.A. (Director: Ryan White) – A documentary portrait chronicling the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. As her 90th birthday approaches, Dr. Ruth revisits her painful past and her career at the forefront of the sexual revolution. 

THE BRINK U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman) – Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. As self-appointed leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message

Tickets on sale Tuesday 23 April; priority booking from Friday 19 April

Find out more at picturehouses.com/sundance

 

First Reformed (2017)***** | Sundance London

Dir: Paul Schrader | Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried | US | Thriller | 108′

Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED is a sleek and elegant beast; economical, eco-themed and uncompromising yet firing on all cylinders, powered by Ethan Hawke as an anguished Christian minister fraught with spiritual and existential thoughtfulness.

The film’s richly textured themes of religious tradition, radicalisation and global warming underpin a graceful story of faith, hope, despair and finally love, redeeming all. And we wrestle and ruminate with Hawke on his personal journey from a sombre starting point to a place of peace in a rich character study that sees Schrader back on form after his ill-advised experiments with The Canyons and Dog Eat Dog.

Hawke is Toller, a sorrowing military chaplain whose marriage has failed due to the death of his son. In a white wooden-clad church in upstate New York, he has a new start in life leading a congregation that includes Mary (Seyfried), a pregnant woman who seeks his moral support over her activist husband Michael (Philip Ettinger). It soon emerges that Michael wants to get rid of their child due to his disenchantment with the corporate world he holds responsible for climate change and pollution.

There are comparisons here with Schrader’s script for Taxi Driver and Light Sleeper which also explore despair and disenchantment, although Toller is a much more down to earth decent character than John LeTour (Defoe) and Travis Bickle (De Niro) from the outset, and only seems to lose his sense of direction when his health deteriorates, and cancer becomes a possibility, leading him into a dark place of soul-searching made blacker by a tragedy involving Mary and Michael.

Toller also becomes convinced that a local businessman, sponsoring the church renovations, is actually responsible for environmental pollution on a large scale, and this presents a moral dilemma that further challenges the minster’s troubled state of mind. As the film slides between reality and somewhere more sinister. he desperately tries to lead his followers maintaining respect, compassion and dignity. Seyfried plays Mary as an open and honest woman whose motivations at first seem enigmatic but soon become clear as the two share a mutual sense of desperation and denial. There are strong performances also from Cedric the Entertainer, as a Toller’s ecclesiastical mentor and Esther, a fellow pastor who falls foul of Toller, despite her best intentions, inspiring one of the film’s most killer lines: ” I despise you: you bring out the worst in me”. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | PREVIEW SCREENING DURING SUNDANCE LONDON

Leave No Trace (2018) ****

Dir: Debra Granik | Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Ben Foster | US Drama | 109′

A wayfarer father (Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) are the focus of  Debra Granik’s cogent coming of age docudrama that explores – without judgement or melodrama – the close but often problematic bond between parent and teenager as they go about their day-to-day existence ‘eco-warrior-style’ in the lushly wooded US Pacific coastal area.

LEAVE NO TRACE avoids dramatic conflict in its pragmatic approach to telling a contemporary story that harks back to an atavistic era of hunter gatherers portraying with complete naturalness and finesse the pair’s daily existence as they forage for food, seek out warmth and shelter, relying completely on local flora and fauna for all their creature comforts. And for a while it seems an enviable and harmonious way of life until Tom (Thomasin) grows tired of roaming around and hungers for something more – both physically and emotionally – as she discovers that nesting and belonging suits her better than avoiding society and being constantly on the move. Whether this is a male or female state of mind is a subject for consideration in this – on the surface – simple but thematically rich piece of filmmaking. Tom’s coming of age evolves as naturally as the landscape surrounding her. Clearly her father is a loner, whereas Tom is much more garrulous – clearly a product of her nature rather than her parental nurturing.

What also emerges here is a picture of rural America at its most original state: a collection of people who came together and forged a close community looking after each other in what could ideally be described as basic socialism. But when the state intervenes in the form of social care our hackles begin to rise at this seemingly unnatural intrusion into their state of grace.

With this quietly unassuming indie gem Granik questions and explores complex human dynamics: our desire for privacy and autonomy within our families, communities and even within ourselves is constantly evolving and being challenging by officialdom. LEAVE NO TRACE is a small gem that is larger than life. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 29 JUNE 2018

 

Sundance London 2018 | 31 May – 3 June

Once again Robert Redford brings twelve of the best indie feature films that premiered in Utah this January, with opportunities to talk to the filmmakers and cast in a jamboree that kicks off on the long weekend of 31 May until 3 June.

Desiree Akhavan picked up the Grand Jury Prize for her comedy drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post in the original US festival, and seven films are directed by women along with a thrilling array of female leads on screen, and this year’s festival champions their voices with Toni Collette (Hereditary) amongst the stars to grace this glittering occasion taking place in Picturehouse Central, Leicester Square. Robert Redford will also be in attendance.

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (Director: Jim Hosking,

Screenwriters: Jim Hosking, David Wike) – Lulu Danger’s unsatisfying marriage takes a fortunate turn for the worse when a mysterious man from her past comes to town to perform an event called ‘An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn For One Magical Night Only’.

Principal cast: Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jemaine Clement, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson

Eighth Grade (Director/Screenwriter: Bo Burnham) – Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school.

Principal cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Generation Wealth (Director: Lauren Greenfield) – Lauren Greenfield’s postcard from the edge of the American Empire captures a portrait of a materialistic, image-obsessed culture. Simultaneously personal journey and historical essay, the film bears witness to the global boom–bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of late stage capitalism, narcissism and greed.

Principal cast: Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel

Half the Picture (Director: Amy Adrion) – At a pivotal moment for gender equality in Hollywood, successful women directors tell the stories of their art, lives and careers. Having endured a long history of systemic discrimination, women filmmakers may be getting the first glimpse of a future that values their voices equally.

Principal cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jamie Babbit, Emily Best

Hereditary (Director/Screenwriter: Ari Aster) – After their reclusive grandmother passes away, the Graham family tries to escape the dark fate they’ve inherited.

Principal cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro

Leave No Trace (Director: Debra Granik, Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini) – A father and daughter live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. A small mistake tips them off to authorities sending them on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own.

Principal cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Director: Desiree Akhavan, Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele) –1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel.

Principal cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle.

Never Goin’ Back (Director/Screenwriter: Augustine Frizzell) –Jessie and Angela, high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what!!!

Principal cast: Maia Mitchell, Cami Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb

Skate Kitchen (Director: Crystal Moselle, Screenwriters: Crystal Moselle, Ashlihan Unaldi) – Camille’s life as a lonely suburban teenager changes dramatically when she befriends a group of girl skateboarders. As she journeys deeper into this raw New York City subculture, she begins to understand the true meaning of friendship as well as her inner self.

Principal cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams

The Tale (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Fox) – An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story.

Principal cast: Laura Dern, Isabelle Nélisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common

Yardie (Director: Idris Elba, Screenwriters: Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman) – Jamaica, 1973. When a young boy witnesses his brother’s assassination, a powerful Don gives him a home. Ten years later he is sent on a mission to London. He reunites with his girlfriend and their daughter, but then the past catches up with them. Based on Victor Headley’s novel.

Principal cast: Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Stephen Graham, Fraser James, Sheldon Shepherd, Everaldo Cleary

SURPRISE FILM! Following on from last year’s first ever surprise film, the hit rap story Patti Cake$, Sundance Film Festival: London will again feature a surprise showing.  No details as yet, but it was a favourite among audiences in Utah, and with just one screening this will be among the hottest of the hot tickets. The title will be revealed only when the opening credits roll. My bets are on Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, which picked up the World Cinema Audience Award back in January; or possibly Rudy Valdez’ drug documentary The Sentence, or it could even be Burden, which took the US Dramatic Audience Award for its story of a love affair between a villain and a woman who saves his soul. 

SUNDANCE LONDON RUNS FROM 31 MAY – 3 JUNE 2018 | TICKETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generation Wealth (2018) **** Berlinale 2018

Dir.: Lauren Greenfield; Documentary; USA 2018, 106 min.

Filmmaker and photographer Lauren Greenfield (Queen of Versailles, 2012) has put her whole working life of 25 years into this mammoth project, which is accompanied by a book and an exhibition – just to make the point. But it is not only the wealthy who are the objects of her research: Greenfield freely admits to something a woman in her documentary Thin(2006) pointed out to her: Your addiction is work.

The quote from Thin is not the only revisiting Greenfield does: the high-octane-living teens of FastForward fame are also back to report about their life thereafter. These new additions fall mostly into the category of ‘obsession’. Self-obsession usually involves finding an outlet in which to prove yourself: hedge fund manager Suzanne is not only status obsessed, but after having nearly missed the boat in having children, her latest obsession is to have a child – whatever it takes.

Kacey Jordan, an adult film star famous for her relationship with Charlie Sheen is repentant – but not before filming her own suicide attempt. Florian Homm, a hedge-fund manager who once had 600 M Euros to his name, fell foul of the US regulatory system and cannot now leave his native Germany, after having been imprisoned in Italy. He calls Germany “a prison”, but is truly proud of the fact that he bought his teenage son a prostitute in Amsterdam, “to make a man out of him”. His son watches on with his current girl friend, blushing. But there are also examples of redemption such as when Iceland’s economy boomed, a young fisherman suddenly found himself behind a desk in a bank. After the bust, he is back proudly fishing with his son, happy to have escaped the big time.

The pusuit of beauty has always been a major topic for the director (Beauty CULTure, 2011), and it is frightening to see the young Kardashians in their early teen years. But even more harrowing is Eden wood, ‘trained’ by her lower-middleclass Mom from Arkansas to win and compete in “Toddlers and Tiaras”, wishing for nothing more than a whole room full of money. Six years later, Eden has somehow managed to morph into a cheaper model of the Kardashians. Finally Cathy Gant, has spent all he money on beauty treatments in Brazil whilst neglecting her daughter, who now suffers from body dysmorphia with terrible results.

The lost American dream – lost to a mixture of capitalism, narcissism and greed is there for all to see. Nobody looks at the Jones’ next door any more, but at the Kardashians on TV. “In my work, I often look at the extremes to understand the mainstream”, says Greenfield. Perhaps she should have added “at myself”. Her interviews with her sons Noah Gabriel are as heart-breaking as her professional portraits. Cool teenager Noah puts it simple but devastatingly: “I got used to growing up without you around. The damage has been done”.

The hyper-saturated colours and absurdist wide angle-effects give the documentary a carnival-like atmosphere: this is a bonfire, not only of vanities, but also the last roll of the dice of a global civilisation (China and Russia having successfully joined the club), hell bent on destroying itself. Just asthe pyramids with all their splendour were the last gasp of the Egyptian pharoahs; in the make-believe world of TV, everyone is measuring themselves against each other with tragic consequences: the death of family, traditions and even human emotions. Unlike Egypt, this will not be the end of one civilisation, today’s humans are determined to take the whole planet down with them. AS

NATIONWIDE FROM 20 July 2018

Marjorie Prime (2017)

Dir.: Michael Almereyda; Cast: Lois Smith, John Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins; USA 2016, 99 min.

Director/co-writer Michael Almereyda (Experimenter) adapts Jordan Harrison’s play for the screen in an un-stagey  triumph that interweaves Beckett, Sartre and Phil Dicks, exploring themes such as memory, family and death – the latter not only on a personal level, but concerning humanity as a whole: “Computers have all the time in the world”.

Eighty-five year old Marjorie (Smith) is suffering from the onset of Alzheimers and her loving family, daughter Tess (Davis) and her husband Jon (Robbins), have installed a simulated, personalised digital projection of her dead husband Walter (Hamm) in the futuristic house near the beach. Walter is in his prime, around forty, and received daily tuition by Tess and Jon about Marjorie’s life – the exception being the death of her son. Walter is also instructed to look after Marjorie’s health; he tries to make her eat and drink regularly. But basically, his function is to make Marjorie’s decline more palatable for her. They reminisce over the feel-good features of her youth, such us the crush on a high-ranging French tennis player. And Tess reminds her husband that the man in question was hardly French, just Canadian, and only an amateur player. But Jon shrugs this off: allowing Marjorie a great deal of slack, and flattery is only a minor sin. The longer the ‘interactions’ go on, the more one suspects that all participants are holograms – something author and director have clearly intended. Computers may have all the time in the world, but the human race is only too ready to be replaced by them. To start with, they have a much more precise recollection than the human race. What stands for memory, is just the recollection of the original incident, re-memorised and re-told so often that the original event assumes only a random connection to the present.

DoP Sean Williams uses the house in Long Island as a perfect background for this placcid chamber piece. Colours are subdued and the functional building is just the perfect bland showcase for the holograms. Late Schubert strings are the ideal score for this endgame, where everything is in the past; the waves of the ocean more pacifying and reliable than humans. It is good to see Geena Davis in a major role again, but Lois Smith is the centre of this Artificial Intelligent drama which plays out as a long good-bye. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FRO 8 NOVEMBER 2017

Dina (2017)

Dir: Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles | Cast: Dina Buno, Scott Levin | Doc | US | 102′

Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles explore the joys and idiosyncrasies of an autistic Jewish couple who meet and marry in this poignant and quirkily humorous vérité portrait of love and companionship. DINA serves as an understated tribute to emotional resilience and an indomitable desire for human closeness.

Although there are clearly moments of awkwardness and embarrassment here, Santini and Sickles are never patronising, treating their subject matter with respect and dignity. DINA emerges an engaging and revealing study of human tenderness at its most touching and honest.  48 year-old-widow Dina Bruno is certainly forthright but not apparently autistic when we first meet her making arrangements for her second marriage to Scott Levin, who works in the local Walmart. She is clearly on the outer fringes of the ‘spectrum’ whereas Scott is possibly more affected. The two met at an outer Philadelphia social group for ‘neurologically diverse’ adults. Dina has been ‘retired sick’ after a stabbing attack from an ex (‘the psycho’) left her depressed and traumatised. Her first husband died of cancer.

Although the couple both seem keen on each other, it’s clear that Dina is the more experienced, sexually and emotionally, of the two. Living alone in a flat above a shop, Dina is armed with a strong sense of self-esteem and, although overweight, is happy in her skin with few of the anxieties that bug most modern woman. However, Scott has always lived with his loving parents and is possibly a virgin, admitting to masturbation and given to romantic crooning of “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”,  but expressing a deep fear of tactile expression and sex. Something that Dina is determined to remedy, and Scott willing to learn.

Tenderness and tolerance are the watchwords of Dina and Scott’s relationship. They make a rather endearing couple on a bus trip to the New Jersey seaside for the first time, but when Dina presents him with a copy of The Joy of Sex, Scott is clearly out of his comfort zone. But sex – or lack of it – never becomes an issue between the two of them, simple another step on their journey towards mutual fulfilment. The wedding night is relaxed and informal with a focus on their enormous champagne glass-styled jacuzzi, rather than the lack of action between the sheets  (“I wonder what a honeymoon is like for a passionate couple” – muses Dina, aloud).

Scott’s parents are a warmly supportive couple who encourage him not to worry when he breaks down in tears over his performance anxiety, and this contrasts sharply with Dina’s fractious relationship with her slim, blond mother who finds her daughter ‘self-absorbed’. The couple are clearly sociable and have regular meet-ups with close friends Monica Ferrero and Frank Costanzo, whose happy marriage gives Dina and Scott something to hope for.

The filmmakers avoid a judgmental approach leaving the couple plenty of space to express themselves freely without time pressures in this well-crafted indie that never overstays its welcome. There’s a feeling here that Scott and Dina are forging something worthwhile and wonderful – in a small way, but a meaningful one nevertheless. When two people decide to really make a go of things, the result is invariably a success!. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 20 OCTOBER 2017

GRAND JURY PRIZE DOCUMENTARY WINNER | SUNDANCE US

 

 

Bitch (2017)

Dir.: Marianna Palka; Cast: Marianna Palka, Jason Ritter, Jaime King, USA 2017, 93 min.

Writer and director Marianna Palka (Good Dick) also stars in her anarchic portrait of a woman pushed aside by her husband once too often. BITCH is a slim but taut and deftly-handled feminist parable – the sheer pace and untamed aggression making it gripping and watchable.

Jill (Palka) runs home and kids for her husband Bill (Ritter), who works for a city corporation and is hardly ever home. Spending most of his time in the office, he sexually exploits a dependent co-worker into the bargain. When she gets sacked in a widespread office cull, Bill puts in a good word for her, but is rebuffed by the boss and vents his frustration on his wife, undeservedly calling her a bitch. Something snaps in Jill and she turns into a vicious virago, making life hell for husband and four children, whom she has served efficiently for so long. Moving into the cellar of the family home, Jill starts growling and behaving like a violent dog. The family is obviously shocked, and Jill’s sister Beth (King) suggests a psychiatric home. But Bill is against the idea – what would the neighbours think?. But his absence from work costs him his job, and when his lover arrives, inquiring caringly about his wellbeing, Jill ‘smells’ her presence and goes berserk. Scots actress Palka is astonishly convincing in both animal and human form, and shows how ultimately behaviour, rather than negotiation, is sometimes the only way to bring change. DoP Armando Salas assists with a handheld camera, capturing the human dog during long runs through the neighbourhood. The jazz score by Morgan Z. Whirledge is just right for this explosive tale which should send alarm bells to all males of the human variety. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 OCTOBER 2017

Wilson (2017)

Icarus | Sundance London (2017)

Dir.: Bryan Fogel; Documentary with Gregory Rodchenkov; USA 2017, 120 min.

It started out more like a prank: amateur cyclist and filmmaker Bryan Fogel (Jewtown) wanted to take performance enhancing drugs to get into the top ten of the best amateur cyclists at the Haute Route mountain tour in Switzerland, having finished 14th the year before. When he contacted the Russian Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov (*1958), head of the Russian branch of WADA (World Anti-Doing Agency), to deliver said forbidden drugs, Rodchenkov was only to happy to deliver and monitor Fogel’s performance. Ironically the Fogel actually did worse on the drugs, so the filmmaker had a stunning success on his hands.

At the winter and summer Olympics in Vancouver (2010) and Beijing (2012) Russia fared very badly, and Vladimir Putin ordered “success”, particularly for the Winter Games in Sochi (2014). And results improved magically: whilst the Russian team finished sixth in Vancouver, on home soil Russia won 33 medals, including 13 Gold – coming first in the overall result. As it turned out, Dr. Rodchenkov had a big part to play. After being caught with his sister (also an ex-athlete like himself) dealing drugs in Moscow, he was sent into one of the horrendous “psychiatric” hospitals in 2011. His “redemption” on his release was to help the FSB (formerly KGB) to overcome the controls of the worldwide WADA organisation, in charge of monitoring and controlling the athletes. It helped, that the good doctor would be director of WADA in Sochi. There, he and his team collected and froze urine samples of Russian competitors before they started their steroid regime and human growth hormone injections, which Rodchenkov and his team later substituted for the contaminated samples taken officially by WADA at the time of the competition. They used a crude system of ‘re-distribution’, including the use of backdoors and hidden portals in the walls of the WADA facility.

Rodchenkov claims: “I don’t believe the Olympic Games could be won without any kind of pharmacological support”. And Don Catlin, former director of the UCLA Olympic facility, tested Lance Armstrong 50 (!) times during the latter’s career: his findings were always negative, before Armstrong confessed in 1913. Whilst Vitaly Mutko, who served eight years as Minister for Sport under Putin, was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister, another college of Rodchenkov died of a “sudden heart attack”. Luckily for Dr. Rodchenkov he had fled to the USA, and now lives under cover in the Witness Protection Programme, after The New York Times run his full confession.

ICARUS runs like a thriller: the charming Rodchenkov is first one to help Fogel to cheat, before investigations lead to the death of his friend and college – and threatens his own into the bargain. Fogel follows his every move, putting himself in a dangerous position. Whilst Rodchenkov had to leave his family behind, he at least got away alive. But it should not be forgotten that Russia is staging the Football World Cup next year, and that, after the majority of Russian competitors were banned at the Rio Olympics, these Russian track and field athletes will compete in London in August at the World Championships in front of a paying public. AS

SUNDANCE LONDON 1-4 JUNE 2017

Crown Heights (2017) | Sundance London 2017

Dir.: Matt Ruskin; Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul; USA 2017, 94 min.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin’S conventional portrait of Colin Warner is emotionally convincing. The Black teenager was wrongly convicted of murder as an eighteen-year-old, and had to spent 21 years in prison, before being released due to the efforts of his his best friend.

In 1980, Colin Warner (Stanfield), a Trinidadian emigrant, worked as a car mechanic in New York, and stole cars in his spare time. He had a stable home life and no record of violence. When two detectives arrested him, he thought it was down to his car heists – but to his surprise, he was accused of murdering a young man in Flatbush. Without motive, murder weapon or any physical evidence, Warner was convicted of Murder in the Second Degree, and was incarcerated in a High Secirity prison, to serve 15 years to life. The only “proof” in the trial was an “eye-witness”, a 15 year old boy, who cut a deal with the police for a crime he committed, in exchange for him naming Warner as the shooter. In prison Warner soon lost his temper, beating a warden which resulted in him spending two years in solitary confinement. Whilst he later calmed down, this incident cost him his parole in 1995. Due to the efforts of his friend Carl King (Asomughan, a co-producer), who risked his job and marriage, the truth finally emerged, and Warner was finally freed in 2001, to live in freedom with his wife Anoinette (Paul), whom he had married in prison.

CROWN HEIGHTS reminds us that miscarriages of justice in cases of black men are a regular affair. Ruskin enriches his drama with clips of speeches by Reagan, Bush sen. and Bill Clinton, all of them proudly announcing new and tougher laws aimed at the presumed violence carried out by minorities. It is only logical that King, asked by Warner, why he is working so hard for the truth, answers: “This isn’t just about you, it’s bigger than that. It could have been me”. DoP Tim Gills sticks with reliable images of social realism, and Lakeith, who was in contact with Warner, succeeds in giving us an absorbing emotional rollercoaster of twentyone years. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON | 1-4 JUNE 2017

Walking Out (2017) |Sundance 2017

Directors|writers: Alex Smith, Andrew Smith Cast: Josh Wiggins, Matt Bomer, Bill Pullman | 91min | US | Adventure Drama

walking-outDirectors Alex and Andrew Smith make a welcome return to Sundance 15 years after The Slaughter Rule, with an auteurish inter-generational hunting adventure that is spare on narrative but long on macho bonding and wild grunting from its rather one-dimentional male leads.

With the cherished memory of hunting with his traditional father (Bill Pullman) echoing in the snowbound landscapes and mountain streams of Montana, hard-bitten dad Cal (Matt Bomer) takes his own teenage son Ted (Josh Wiggins) on an adventure that serves both as an iniation into the world of big game hunting and a rites of passage endurance test that will see their roles reversed and their lives changed forever.

Ted is a rather introspective Texas teenager attached to his mobile phone and his life in the city. Although he baulks at the idea of spending time out with his spiky father Cal, who loves nothing more than to track a moose or a stag, once Ted gets a taste for hunting and shooting, he starts to enjoy the wilds of nature until an accident forces him to dig deep into his inner reserves of stamina, courage and mental resiliance. WALKING OUT is a predictable but well-crafted drama enriched by Todd McMullen’s magnificent widescreen retro-style photography that gives the piece an almost poetic and transcendent feel. MT

SUNDANCE LONDON 1-4 JUNE 2017 | PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL

 

 

Sundance London 1-4 June 2017

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SUNDANCE LONDON kicks off on 1st JUNE for a whole weekend of American independent narrative and documentary films that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, U.S.A this January.

THE BIG SICK Director: Michael Showalter, Screenwriters: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail NanjianiBased on the real-life courtship: Pakistan-born comedian Kumail and grad student Emily fall in love, but they struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail must navigate the crisis with her parents and the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart.

Principal cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher International premiere. 

BITCH 

Director/Screenwriter: Marianna Palka– A woman snaps under crushing life pressures and assumes the psyche of a vicious dog. Her philandering, absentee husband is forced to become reacquainted with his four children and sister-in-law as they attempt to keep the family together during this bizarre crisis.

Principal cast: Jason Ritter, Jaime King, Marianna Palka, Brighton Sharbino, Rio Mangini, Kingston Foster International premiere

BUSHWICK 

UnknownDirectors: Cary Murnion, Jonathan Millot, Screenwriters: Nick Damici, Graham Reznick – Lucy emerges from a Brooklyn subway to find that her neighborhood is under attack by black-clad military soldiers. An ex-Marine corpsman, Stupe, reluctantly helps her fight for survival through a civil war, as Texas attempts to secede from the United States of America.

Principal cast: Dave Bautista, Brittany Snow, Angelic Zambrana, Jeremie Harris, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Arturo Castro. UK premiere

9438-UN17_CROWNHEIGHTS_still1_KeithStanfield__byBKutchinsCROWN HEIGHTS 

Director/Screenwriter: Matt Ruskin– When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend, Carl King, devotes his life to proving Colin’s innocence. Adapted from This American Life, this is the incredible true story of their harrowing quest for justice.

Principal cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom

Winner of Audience Award: US Dramatic

dina_still1 copyDINA

Directors: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini – An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story. (Documentary) Special preview screening

Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary

A Ghost StoryA GHOST STORY

 Director/screenwriter: David Lowery– This is the story of a ghost and the house he haunts.

Principal cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo, Rob Zabrecky, Liz Franke

The-Incredible-Jessica-JamesTHE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES 

Director/Screenwriter: Jim Strouse

 Jessica James, an aspiring NYC playwright, is struggling to get over a recent breakup. She sees a light at the end of the tunnel when she meets the recently divorced Boone. Together, they discover how to make it through the tough times while realizing they like each other—a lot.

Principal cast: Jessica Williams, Chris O’Dowd, Lakeith Stanfield, Noël Wells

MARJORIE PRIME

Director/Screenwriter: Michael Almereyda

In the near future—a time of artificial intelligence—86-year-old Marjorie has a handsome new companion who looks like her deceased husband and is programmed to feed the story of her life back to her. What would we remember, and what would we forget, if given the chance?

Principal cast:  Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Lois Smith, Tim Robbins UK premiere | Winner of the Alfred P Sloan Feature Film Prize

Walking-OutWALKING OUT 

Directors/Screenwriters: Alex Smith, Adam Smith)

 A teenager journeys to Montana to hunt big game with his estranged father. The two struggle to connect, until a brutal encounter in the heart of the wilderness changes everything.

Principal cast: Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins, Bill Pullman, Alex Neustaedter, Lily Gladstone

WILSON 

Director: Craig Johnson, Screenwriter: Daniel Clowes

Wilson, a lonely, neurotic, and hilariously honest middle-aged misanthrope, reunites with his estranged wife and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter he has never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, he sets out to connect with her.

Principal cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Cheryl Hines UK premiere

Winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize

D O C U M E N T A R I E S

ICARUS-Sundance-Still copyICARUS 

Director: Bryan Fogel – When Bryan Fogel sets out to uncover the truth about doping in sports, a chance meeting with a Russian scientist transforms his story from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller involving dirty urine, unexplained death, and Olympic Gold—exposing the biggest scandal in sports history.

Winner of the US Documentary Special Jury Award

svii_in_coral_triangle_-_photo_by_xl_caitlin_seaview_survey-copyCHASING CORAL 

Director: Jeff Orlowski

Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers, and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world. This is Orlowski’s follow up to his standout eco-doc CHASING CORAL (2012) (Documentary) Special preview screening

Winner of the Audience Award: U.S. Documentary

SURPRISE FILM!For the first time this year the Sundance Film Festival: London will feature a surprise film. We can’t say too much, but it was a favourite among audiences in Utah, and with just one screening this will be among the hottest of the hot tickets. The title will be revealed only when the opening credits roll. By our reckoning it will either be I DREAM IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE or JOSHUA.

SUNDANCE LONDON | 1-4 JUNE 2017 | PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL

 

Little Men (2016)

Dir: Ira Sachs | Cast: Jennifer Ehle, Greg Kinnear; Paulina Garcia, Theo Tapitz, Michael Barbieri, Talia Balsam | USA 2016, 87 min.

Best known for his theatre work, director and co-writer Ira Sachs’ follow up to his screen debut Love is Strange is a keenly observed story of two teenage boys whose friendship is threathened by parental intervention and an overdose of middleclass cultural aspirations.

Jake (Taplitz) moves with his parents, psychologist Kathy (Ehle) and actor father Brian (Kinnear), from a small flat in Manhattan to a bigger place in Brooklyn. The reason for their advancement is the death of Brian’s father, who left them the flat and a shop, where Chilean emigrant Gloria (Garcia) works and lives in a small backroom with her son Tony (Barbieri). Both boys are in their early teens, interested in art, and want to go to a prestigious high school. Due to her friendship with Jake’s grandfather, Gloria is still paying the same rent as when she moved in years ago and Brian needs to increase her rent to supplement his meagre income as a fringe actor and he is encouraged in this decision by his sister Audrey (Balsam), who owns a share. But Gloria cannot to pay any more and when Jake learns about the eviction order for his friend Tony, he breaks down in tears and asks his father in front of Gloria, to reconsider.

Even despite its meagre running time of 87 minutes, LITTLE MEN suffers from this rather slim narrative but the glaring flaw lies in the cultural discussions between father and son. Sachs takes very much an adult view of teenage boys: fourteen year olds do not engage in lengthy discussion about the proper way to become an artist – unless they are child prodigies – and very few are capable of intensely watching a performance of Chekov’s Seagull, even with a parent as the lead. LITTLE MEN would have been more convincing if Sachs had focused more on the conflict between Jake’s high-minded parents and the Chilean immigrant, Gloria. Performances on the whole are convincing, with a brilliant turn from Paulina Garcia in the role of Gloria. DoP Oscar Duran employs sensitive panning and long tracking shots to show the anguish and disappointment of all concerned. But a superfluous ‘second’ ending leaves even more to question. Had Sachs taken a more teenage viewpoint of the storyline, LITTLE MEN could have been a real gem. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 23 SEPTEMBER AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS.

 

Author: The J T Leroy Story (2016)

Writer|Director: Jeff Feuerzeig | With Laura Albert, Bruce Benderson, Dennis Cooper, Winona Ryder

110min | Documentary | US

Jeff Feuerzeig’s laboured and tedious documentary endlessly explores the story of a damaged woman writer who posed as a man and a transsexual and tricked stars and ordinary people for nearly six years in America.

Claiming sexual abuse from her mother’s boyfriend, Laura Albert aka J T Leroy first came to fame in the late 1990s with a slew of tales that purported to represent the voice and zeitgeist of a section of the community, gaining overnight notoriety. Celebrities such as Winona Ryder and Courtney Love claimed to be on close terms with the amorphously sexual literary talent whose second novel once premiered at the Un Certain Regard sidebar in Cannes.

But the hype ended in 2005 when Laura Albert was revealed as a buxom Brooklyn mother who adopted an English accent purporting to be LeRoy’s manager when actually it was all a con. Albert comes across as a narcissitic bore and during her flowery attempts to redeem herself – decked out as a siren – our interest continues to flag.

Feuerzeig interweaves his expose with multiple flashbacks, news footage and technical flourishes – images of literary works appear to fly out of Albert’s black-gloves hands and onto the screen intercut with interminable shots of an old-fashioned recording tape, but the tale she tells fails to fascinate after the first half hour when it becomes mired in endless detail as revelation jossles revelation.

If you are interested in the American fame dream or cult of celebrity this may well appeal but otherwise leave well alone. MT

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON | FULL PROGRAMME

The Intervention (2016)

Director | Writer: Clea DuVall

Cast: Clea DuVall, Melanie Lynskey, Natasha Lyonne, Vincent Piazza, Jason Ritter, Ben Schwartz, Alia Shawkat, Cobie Smulders

90min | Comedy | UK

Actress turned filmmaker Clea DuVall’s debut, a gender-bending reunion comedy, is well-acted and watchable enough despite its trite take on relationships of the sexual kind. It follows a weekend get-together for a group of old timers who meet up in a glorious colonial country house where they end up judging each other with drastic consequences. THE INTERVENTION never really leaves the drawing board, despite some moments of insight: navel-gazing, self-analysis – call it what you will – it’s always a mistake to look at relationships from the outside in – as this group of unappealing characters soon find out but not always to their detriment. Does DuVall really think she’s being edgy or clever with her sexual shenanigans in the 21st century? Judging by THE INTERVENTION the answer is would appear to be ‘yes’.

The group of late thirty somethings is lead by DuVall herself who invites everyone to her Ralph Lauren-style Savannah estate where her unsmiling sister Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and bed-dodger husband Peter (Vincent Piazza) are encouraged – in a bizarre showdown – to seek a divorce. The passive aggressive initiator of this ‘group’ decision is Annie (Melanie Lynskey) who is having problems with her putative marriage to non-person Matt (Jason Ritter). Widower Jack (Ben Schwartz) who is dating 22 year-old Lola (Alia Shawkat), are also the target of much bitchiness but Lola turns out to be the saving grace.

From the get-go this premise is a non-starter but easy enough on the eye – the interiors and countryside providing most of the interest – along with mouthwatering food-porn scenes and lashings of ice cold liquor. Drunken accusations fly amid bouts of charades whereafter the couples retire for scenes of a sexual nature (why oh why do filmmakers dwell on endless boring sex scenes in a comedy?).

The upshot here is a mundane and moderately amusing drama where unattractive characters reveal nothing of consequence. MT

SUNDANCE LONDON | FULL PROGRAMME HERE

 

Goat (2016)

Director: Andrew Neel  Writers: David Gordon Green et al

Cast: Virginia Gardner, Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Danny Flaherty, Jake Pickering, Austin Lyon

96min |  US | DRAMA

US director Andrew Neel’s men only testosterone-fuelled fraternity tale is, as you’d expect, long on bolshy male-bonding and short on characterisation. Rather more in the mould of The Riot Club than 22 Jump Street, it follows teenager Brad (Ben Schetzer) on the first year at Cincinnati’s Brookman College after a vicious mugging has left him under par and psychologically scarred during the summer vacation. Although his elder brother Brett (Nick Jonas) is there to watch over him this proves to be offer consolation once he arrives in the macho environment where he undergoes a violent initiation routine of hazing.

This film offers a trenchant and unflinching look at all-male environments where uncotrolled aggression and bullying go unchecked while posing as brotherhood and eventually reach outlandish proportions and tragic consequences. Although Neel makes us feel the blunt force of this relentless brutality he gives us little in the way of backstory or textural context to make us care about any of the individuals cooped up in a macho web of tribal warfare, based on Brad Land’s 2004 memoirs and scripted by David Gordon Green.

Ben Schnetzer gives a resonating performance as the young man determined not to let his masculinity crumble in the force of circumstances; his whole college persona and social life and seems to hang on a successful outcome in the initiation war. For many GOAT may prove almost unwatchable at times but Neel keeps the tension taut and the undertone lyrical with a few Latin phrases and occasional moments of introspection amid the stark realism and Ethan Palmer’s handheld camerawork in an around the Ohio countryside. Arjan Miranda’s atmospheric score punctuates the action in an arresting indie drama. MT

SUNDANCE LONDON | FULL PROGRAMME

 

Sundance London 2016

In June this year Robert Redford brings a selection of American independent narrative and documentary films that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in January this year. Although the winners have been picked up for distribution and will appear in the coming year, this should be a worthwhile film festival – best of all – it comes right to your doorstep in Central London. 

THE JT LEROY STORY  (Director / screenwriter: Jeff Feuerzeig) –The definitive look inside the mysterious case of 16-year-old literary sensation JT LeRoy – a creature so perfect for his time that if he didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent him. Perhaps someone did? The strangest story about story ever told. (Documentary)

2498THE GREASY STRANGLER | International premiere

The Greasy Strangler (Director: Jim Hosking) – When Big Ronnie and his son Brayden meet lone female tourist Janet on Big Ronnie’s Disco Walking Tour—the best and only disco walking tour in the city—a fight for Janet’s heart erupts between father and son, and the infamous Greasy Strangler is unleashed.
Principal Cast: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo, Gil Gex, Jesse Keen, Joe David Walters

GOAT – International premiereGoat copy
Goat (Director: Andrew Neel) – Reeling from a terrifying assault, a 19-yearold boy pledges his brother’s fraternity in an attempt to prove his manhood. What happens there, in the name of “brotherhood,” tests both the boys and their relationship in brutal ways.
Principal Cast: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Virginia Gardner, Danny Flaherty, Austin Lyon

Indignation copyINDIGNATION – UK premiere
Indignation (Director / screenwriter: James Schamus) – It’s 1951, and among the new arrivals at Winesburg College in Ohio are the son of a kosher butcher from New Jersey and the beautiful, brilliant daughter of a prominent alum. For a brief moment, their lives converge in this emotionally soaring film based on the novel by Philip Roth.
Principal Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, Ben Rosenfield

INTERVENTION | UK premiere

The Intervention (Director / screenwriter: Clea DuVall) – A weekend getaway for four couples takes a sharp turn when one of the couples discovers the entire trip was orchestrated to host an intervention on their marriage.
Principal Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Natasha Lyonne, Ben Schwartz

Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance (Melanie Lynskey)

LIFE ANIMATED \ International premiere

Life, Animated (Director / screenwriter: Roger Ross Williams) – Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who could not speak for years, slowly emerged from his isolation by immersing himself in Disney animated movies. Using these films as a roadmap, he reconnects with his loving family and the wider world in this emotional coming-of-age story. (Documentary)

Winner of the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary

MORRIS FROM AMERICA | UK premiere

Morris from America (Director / screenwriter: Chad Hartigan) – Thirteen-year-old Morris, a hip-hop loving American, moves to Heidelberg, Germany, with his father. In this completely foreign land, he falls in love with a local girl, befriends his German tutor-turned- confidant, and attempts to navigate the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence.
Principal Cast: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Jakub Gierszał, Levin Henning

Won: Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic; U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance (Craig Robinson)

other-peopleOTHER PEOPLE | UK premiere

Other People (Director / screenwriter: Chris Kelly) – A struggling comedy writer, fresh from breaking up with his boyfriend, moves to Sacramento to help his sick mother. Living with his conservative father and younger sisters, David feels like a stranger in his childhood home. As his mother worsens, he tries to convince everyone (including himself) he’s “doing okay.”
Principal Cast: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Maude Apatow, Zach Woods, June Squibb

TALLULAH | International premiere

Tallulah (Director / screenwriter: Sian Heder) – A rootless young woman takes a toddler from a wealthy, negligent mother and passes the baby off as her own in an effort to protect her. This decision connects and transforms the lives of three very different women.
Principal Cast: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkeit, Uzo Aduba

weiner-sundance-2016WEINER | International premiere TBC

Weiner (Directors / screenwriters: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg) – With unrestricted access to Anthony Weiner’s New York City mayoral campaign, this film reveals the human story behind the scenes of a high-profile political scandal as it unfolds, and it offers an unfiltered look at how much today’s politics are driven by an appetite for spectacle. (Documentary)

Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary

WEINER-DOG | European premiere

Wiener-Dog (Director / screenwriter: Todd Solondz) – This film tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading comfort and joy.
Principal Cast: Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, Zosia Mamet

SUNDANCE LONDON 2 – 5 JUNE AT PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL

 

The Voices (2014) |

Director: Marjane Satrapi

Writer: Michael Perry

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver

US  Comedy Drama Thriller

This Dexter-inspired ‘serial killer pulp thriller’ is Marjane Satrapi’s imaginative follow-up to her breakout hits Persepolis and Chicken with Plums.  There are some good ideas here, and her first film in English shows that quirky comedy can work across the cultural divide, although it’s not an outstanding success on all levels. Casting the superbly versatile Ryan Reynolds as the lead is an inspired choice: as disturbed warehouse stocker Jerry, Reynolds conveys normality with a dark side but, strangely, inspires our sympathy rather than dislike for his troubled character who is a sad victim of circumstance. Having been forced to kill his mother as a child, he wears his schizophrenic tendencies smartly tucked away behind the serene (almost autistic) gaze of an ordinary pleasant-looking guy next door. Respectably holding down his job and even volunteering to organise the entertainment at the office party; he drives a jeep and lives in a disused factory complete with pink cladding and neon signs. Not only that, he talks to his dog Bosco and cat Mr Whiskers and they talk back with accents (a Glaswegian cat and a dog with a Southern drawl are hilarious). Desperately keen to find a girlfriend, his forays with co-workers of the opposite sex, (superbly played by Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick) end in violent death for all concerned.

In Michael Perry’s screenplay, laughs are few but welcome in contrast to the highly inventive elements (Jerry stores the heads of his ‘dates’ in the fridge but they carry on talking) and brutal violence (stabbing his date to death by accident when pursuing her in the woods) that puncture Jerry’s volatile and psychopathic facade. THE VOICES is tonally out of kilter as an outright comedy or a horror outing; continually throwing us off-guard, not sure what to expect.- but somehow it’s an addictively watchable film with some unexpected moments of pure genius. Recommended. MT

REVIEWED DURING SUNDANCE UK WHERE WE TALKED TO MARJANE ABOUT DIRECTING RYAN REYNOLDS (below)| ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 23 MARCH 2015

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Dinosaur 13 (2014)

 Director: Todd Douglas Miller

Main Actors: Susan Hendrickson, Peter L. Larson, Neal L. Larson

105 mins    Doc   US

In the summer of 1990, a group of palaeontologists from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research discovered the fossilised remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex, later to become known as ‘Sue’. Prior to this discovery, only twelve T. rex’s had been found, and all of these were less than 40% whole. In contrast, over 80% of ‘Sue’ survived, making her the largest and most complete T. rex ever found.

The group from Black Hills Institute, led by Peter Larson, paid landowner Maurice Williams $5,000 for the remains, before taking them to their base in Hill City to begin the process of restoration. In 1992, however, the FBI and National Guard swooped in and seized the remains, claiming that ‘Sue’ had been found on federal land, making her the property of the federal government. Later, ownership of ‘Sue’ would also be claimed by the Sioux tribe, and by Williams, who declared that he had never sold ‘Sue’ to Larson.

This, and the complex legal trial which followed, is the story told by Dinosaur 13, presented primarily in the words of Larson and the Black Hills palaeontologists themselves. The talking heads are handsomely shot, if a little over-cut: one gets the sense that both the filmmakers and their subjects are working hard to make the material dramatic. Luckily, they succeed.

As the film’s coverage of the trial continues, one becomes increasingly aware of the complexity of the legal situation that Larson and his cohorts found themselves in, but slowly it dawns that the moral complexity is being overlooked: sympathy for the palaeontologists is never questioned, and the court case is never presented as being anything other than unjust. And yet, the federal government brought a 39 count 153 charge indictment against the Black Hills Institute and its workers, primarily for fossil theft and customs violation. The incident with ‘Sue’ was simply part of an ongoing investigation, and these charges were not pertaining to her discovery. The trial itself, then, is somewhat at odds with the subject of the film, if we take ‘Sue’ to be its subject – but the film seems to imply a conspiracy, pulling constantly back towards the T. rex. In doing so, the film finds its strongest emotional weight, but also its biggest problem.

There’s no denying that, as we watch those involved talking us through events, we become moved both by their sense of pride and by their sense of injustice – but we never gain any insight into their working methods. The practices they are being asked to account for in a court of law are never called into question. By presenting such a one-sided account, the film forces us into feelings of sympathy and injustice, but at the same time it undercuts these very same emotions by leaving one with the bitter taste of manipulation. If a more balanced point of view had been presented, and we had arrived at the sense of injustice ourselves, the feeling would be all the more powerful.

Still, the defendants’ passion for their discovery is disarmingly engaging, and there’s no belittling the love they clearly still feel for ‘Sue’. In essence, then, one could call this a love a story. Indeed, it is a love story loving told – and that might just be where the problem lies.  Alex Barrett

DINOSAUR 13 IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 AUGUST 2014

Finding Fela (2014)

Director: Alex Gibney

119min   US   Documentary

Well-known, prolific documentary-maker Alex Gibney has recently given us Mea Maxima Culpa; Julian Assange in Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets and Lance Armstrong (The Armstrong Lie). This time he turns his camera on the Nigerian political activist and prolific musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

Born into a Nigeria’s elite in a wealthy and educated family in 1938, the enigmatic and colourful Kuti and his feared band, the Koola Lobitos, dominate the music scene in Nigeria in the 1970s and 80s with his self-styled ‘Afrobeat’ – music: a mélange of jazz, soul and funk beats, the best known of which is the album “Zombie”. Gibney scrabbles around piecing together patchy footage of this maverick music-maker, flitting between his political life and ‘art’. Often tuneless and meandering on for hours, the musical tracks and performances of this trance-like genre never really reach a climax yet somehow these rhythmic vibes lead listeners to the mysterious, exotic heart of deepest, darkest Africa conjuring up a world largely unknown to audiences in the sixties and seventies.

Gibney’s film takes on this meandering style, sprawling through the life of the man he calls ‘a visionary’ but also who appears sinister and dark.  Told alongside excerpts from New York choreographer Bill T Jones’s lively Broadway musical ‘Fela!’, which offers much information about his band’s dance methods and style, Gibney fills in the gaps with archive footage and interviews (from Paul McCartney) which are more formal in nature, telling of his family background in Lagos (where he learnt to play classical piano) and subsequent performances at his ‘Shrine’ club in the capital, although there is scant information on his musical influences apart from a cursory mention of ‘Jay Z’ .

What emerges is a mercurial personality who seems rebellious and provocative by nature, highly duplicitous yet rather traditional; peddling an anti-establishment populist agenda for human rights in his country yet at the same time cutting a large swathe through Lagos’s nubile scene and marrying 27 women in one ceremony, behind the back of the woman he was already happily married to at the time (and father to her children).  Yet women had a benign influence over him from early on: his strong mother (an feminist lawyer whom he worshipped) and his long-term lover Sandra Izsadore, an African-American Black Power campaigner, give interviews and seem to be articulate and highly appealing individuals. His academics brothers trained as doctors and seem very calm and serious. Gibney compares him to Bob Marley, but there is little of Bob Marley’s charm, infectious charisma and musical legacy to this figure, whose music seems largely unknown in the West for obvious reasons that will emerge: coming away you feel unengaged and slightly bemused in contrast to the positively uplifting experience of Marley (2013).

More than anything, Fela Kuti comes across as a confrontational figure who used music as a ‘weapon’ against the Government who reacted to him aggressively with frequent episodes of police harassment and violence – one of which left his 82-year-old mother fatally injured and many of his family members and acolytes hospitalised. After a brief exile in Ghana, he formed his own party “Movement of the People” he fail to gain election. Often arrested by Nigeria’s corrupt military government, he chose to remain in his native country. Dabbling in traditional ‘witchcraft’ and other arcane practices he later developed AIDS, dying in 1977. His funeral was attended by 1 million Nigerians. MT

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REVIEWED AT SUNDANCE UK APRIL 2014

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Fruitvale Station (2013) Sundance UK 2014

Director/Writer: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Michael Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray

90min  US   Drama

The towering presence of Michael Jordan dominates this rousing, rose-tinted tribute to 22-year-old Oscar Grant who lost his life during an incident on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) during the festivities in San Francisco on New Year 2009.  Ryan Coogler’s debut drama so impressed both audience and jury, it won three top awards at Sundance 2013, echoing the sentiment surrounding the tragedy of an ordinary man who falls victim to unfortunate circumstances and is shot by the Police.

Ryan Coogler puts a relentlessly positive spin on this ‘paean to a victim’ ex-con man-child who is surrounded by strong, female support in his life from his sympathetic mother (Octavia Spencer), his hispanic lover Sophina (on whom he cheats) and healthy young daughter (Ariana Neal). But his explosive temper is never far below the surface as evidenced during his time in prison (we never find out why) and with his ex-employer, who sacked him for bad time-keeping. So he spends his time cruising around with friends and goofing with his daughter while his partner holds down a demanding job.  And while this is a loving portrait of a black family who care for each other, the drama also aggrandises Grant, and in so doing, builds an unrealistic portrait of innocence before it milks the audience for sympathy and opprobrium.

Although Grant consistently comes up ‘smelling of roses’ in life, he did not deserve to die and Michael Jordan honours the memory of the man with a charismatic performance that convinces us of his good intentions going forward, particularly when we see him rescuing an injured dog by the roadside and bribing a store-owner to allow his female friends to use the bathroom during New Year’s Eve festivities. Grant’s death was outrageous and to deny this would be unconscionable but the disingenuous way Coogler handles the narrative sets Grant up as a martyr, in a way he does not really deserve. MT

The Policeman who shot Grant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter eventually served 18 months in prison.

FRUITVALE STATION screens during Sundance Film Festival from 25-27 April 2014

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Little Accidents (2014) Sundance UK 2014

Director/Writer: Sara Colangelo

Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Lofland, Josh Lucas, Chloe Sevigny

US  Drama  105min    Slow-burning mining drama really feels like the pits.

Grim reality bites for three people thrown together in the aftermath to tragedy in a depressed mining town. Sara Colangelo’s bleak drama tackles themes of class, comradeship and guilt affecting a community when ten families lose their loved-ones and potentially their livelihoods.

Boyd Holbrook plays Amos, a coal miner who is the only survivor of the accident. He’s faced with the invidious task of giving evidence on behalf of his co-workers to secure a large cash settlement from the management or keeping quiet in case the mine is shut down, risking the futures of those unaffected. Another victim is teenager Owen (Jacob Lofland from Mud) whose father was killed and whose mother (Chloe Sevigny) wants to use her settlement to spoil her bereaved sons incurring the envy of his schoolmates, one of whom, JT, is the son of the manager (Bill Doyle) implicated in the accident, caused by professional negligence. During a scuffle in the woods,  Owen witnesses JT’s death in a fall and is forced to remain silent whilst his mother (Elizabeth Banks) waits in agony for news.  The fallout to all this is intriguing and immersive as Colangelo explores the different relationships and dynamics, feeling her way intuitively with a slow-burning visual narrative, assisted by Rachel Morrison’s softly focused camerawork that makes good use of the dourly atmospheric West coast landscapes.

SUNDANCE UK RUNS FROM 25-27 APRIL 2014

 

 

 

Memphis (2014) Sundance UK 2014

This dreamy cinema verité piece from writer-director Tim Sutton makes for an inventive sortie into the life of a struggling blues musician played by Willis Earl Beal.  Sutton’s meditative camera follows Willis (whom he claims has God-given talent) and he wanders in a daze through downtown Memphis; where sultry, mysterious visuals enrapture and entrance, telling the story through mood rather than classic narrative format.  Boys ride bikes, his grandfather follows on crutches and there is more than a hint of romance. Occasionally Beal breaks into song with snatches of bluesy, jazz music suggesting the beginnings of new compositions or are they just musical memories.? A frustrating film that somehow leaves us wanting to know and hear more. MT

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MEMPHIS IS SCREENING AS PART OF THE SUNDANCE UK FILM FESTIVAL IN LONDON FROM 25-27 APRIL 2014 

Hits (2014) Sundance UK 2014

Director/Writer:  David Cross

Cast: James Adomian, Lorenzo Beronilla, Joseph Bevilaqua, Matty Blake

96min   Comedy Drama  US

Known for Arrested Development, David Cross’s dark comedy debut explores the cult of celebrity in the YouTube generation and the unrealistic expectations it engenders.  Set in Liberty, a small town in upstate New York, a series of deluded and embittered characters struggle to make a living.  Dave Stuben (Matt Walsh) spends his days haranguing the local council over his civil rights. His daughter Katelyn (Meredith Hagner) is desperate for fame as a singer and will do anything to appear on ‘The Voice’, an X-Factor-style programme.  When Dave’s angry outbursts appear on YouTube, a local friend and drug peddler (an older-looking Michael Cera) decides to show them to his client Donovan (James Adomian) who mashes them up on a video that goes viral.  The fallout is predictably hilarious, but it’s the comedy performances and well-formed characterisations that make this piece consistently enjoyable, much in the same way as John Morton’s BBC outings 2012 and W1A.  Cross slightly loses control of his material in a feature that often feels chaotic and overwrought. A tighter rein on the bitter outbursts would work in its favour; that said, HITS conveys its message cleverly as a worthwhile piece of 21st century satire. MT

SUNDANCE FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 25-27 APRIL 2014

 

 

The One I Love (2014) Sundance UK 2014

Director: Charlie McDowell

Writer: Justin Lader

Cast: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson

Drama   91min   US

Flailing marrieds Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) and Ethan (Mark Duplass), visit a relationship counsellor (Ted Danson) who recommends some R&R in a tranquil villa deep in lush California countryside. When they arrive, the visitors’  book bears testament to the healing power of the place but surreal events take over, forcing them to reconnect in this inventive take on navel-gazing and couple dynamics.  It’s impossible to reveal more without giving the whole plot away, but suffice to say that Charlie McDowell’s romantic comedy turned psychodrama is well-acted, intriguing and carries an unexpected sting in the tale. MT

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THE ONE I LOVE IS SCREENING DURING SUNDANCE UK 2014 FROM 25-27 APRIL 2014

 

 

 

They Came Together (2014) Sundance UK 2014

Director: David Wain  Writers: David Wain and Michael Showalter

Cast: Cobie Smulders, Paul Rudd, Christopher Roland, Michael Shannon

83min   RomCom   US

Following in the vein of  Matt Damon’s Promised Land – this clichéd rom-com meets corporate demon versus local entrepreneur flick is one truckle of cheesiness.

Molly (Amy Poehler) is small sweet-shop who faces serious competition from Joel’s big chain megastore that opens in the road opposite – and, 0f course, despite the competition, they fall in love. Told through flashback during a cosy dinner between Molly, Joel and their friends; their love story is hilariously revealed with all the usual side-dishes of getting together, splitting up, re-uniting, meeting the parents (and the grandparents) and so forth, with some laugh-out-loud moments and uneven patches where the jokes are re-worked until rather threadbare.  That said, the performances are entertaining throughout especially from the leads and Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders and Max Greenfield who work hard to bring it all together.  A mixed bag of sweeties, then, but enjoyable in the end.  MT

THEY CAME TOGETHER IS SCREENING DURING THE SUNDANCE LONDON WEEKEND FROM 25 APRIL 2014 at 02, NORTH GREENWICH LONDON

Sundance London 25 – 27 April 2014

20148109_1SUNDANCE LONDON is a great way to catch up on the latest US indie titles hot off the runway from Sundance Utah and brought to you by the lovely Robert Redford.  Conveniently, it all takes place under one roof at the O2 Centre which is just a hop away on the Jubilee Line from the centre of town.  Plenty of cafes and bars nearby if you fancy a bite to eat and there are music events too, so it’s not just a paradise for cinephiles. We covered SUNDANCE UTAH in detail but here’s a round-up of the films we particularly recommend amongst the 20 titles offered.  Booking opens on 28th March, so get your skates on!

image004BLUE RUIN — A mysterious outsider’s quiet life turns upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance.  In a US version of LEON, he fights back at the men who have ruined his life. Director and Writer Jeremy Saulnier hasn’t quite got the caché of Luc Besson but you can’t have everything and this indie thriller is every bit as stylish and moody. Cast: Macon Blair, Amy Hargreaves, Sidné Anderson, Devin Ratray, Kevin Kolack.

THE CASE AGAINST 8 : Shot over five years, this newsworthy documentary picks up on the same-sex marriage theme, exploring the case to overturn California’s ban, it follows a motley crew of campaigners in their fight for justice.  Sundance US Documentary Winner for Directing.

_FINDINGFELA copyFINDING FELA : the indefatigable, award-winning Alex Gibney (Silence in the House of God) is at it again with this musical documentary about  Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who created the musical movement Afrobeat and used it as a political forum to oppose the Nigerian dictatorship and advocate for the rights of oppressed people. This is the story of his life, music, and political importance. In conjunction with the film, there’s a free performance from Dele Sosimi, one of the original members of Fela Kuti’s bank, with an Afrobeat orchestra on Sunday, 27 April.

_TRIPTOITALY copyTHE TRIP TO ITALY: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon head off to the continent for a fun-filled epicurean outing to search out the finest wines known to humanity and delicious food too.  Not to be confused with the BBC2 series that starts on April 4th.

KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER: (Director: David Zellner, Screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner) — The dark humour of this  Coen Brothers-style drama has a strange appeal it also stars one of the writers Nathan Zellner as a decent guy who helps a doltish Japanese woman,  convinced that a satchel of money buried in a fictional film is, in fact, real.  Leaving her structured life in Tokyo for the frozen Minnesota wilderness, she comes across people even weirder than herself, in her quest for the pot of gold. Cast: Rinko Kikuchi. Winner of a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. UK Premiere

 

LITTLE ACCIDENTS (Director and screenwriter: Sara Colangelo) — In a small American coal town living in the shadow of a recent mining accident, the disappearance of a teenage boy draws three people together—a surviving miner, the lonely wife of a mine executive, and a local boy—in a web of secrets. Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, Chloë Sevigny, Jacob Lofland, Josh Lucas. International Premiere

FOR THE FULL PROGRAMME CHECK OUT THE WEBSITE.  SUNDANCE LONDON 25 -27 APRIL 2014

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