We’re into week 3 of industry screenings here at LFF and we’re ready to give you a heads-up on the best and worst of week 2! As ever these opinions are those of Michael James Hall and Tom Kelly – not of Genesis Cinema! Let us know your thoughts…
Stronger (David Gordon Green, 2017, USA)
Green’s drama stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, one of the iconic figures of hope following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 opposite the tremendous Tatiana Maslany as Erin Hurley the woman who becomes both his lover and carer following his injury.
This graphic and often moving film is unlike anything Green has previously offered – gone are the indie quirks and subtle charms of George Washington and All The Real Girls along with much of the flair and humour of, say, Pineapple Express. What we have here is a bold, true, Oscar-nudging story that hits all the familiar beats and offers little in the way of nuance. That’s not to say Gyllenhaal’s performance isn’t worthy of its inevitable acclaim – he is, as usual, tremendous – or that the film doesn’t approach its topic soberly and without prejudice but it’s considerably more straightforward than one might have hoped and supporting characters who promise much deliver little. It’s certainly moving, it certainly doesn’t shy away from the physical facts of disability – but it also doesn’t maintain its bravery when it comes to style and structure. MJH
Bobbi Jene (Elvira Lind, 2017, Denmark/Sweden/Israel/USA)
A truly fascinating insight into the life and work of Bobbi Jene Smith, the feted American dancer who, after ten years with Israel’s Batsheva dance company decides to return to the US to strike out on her own.
Bobbi Jene is a brave, relentless and utterly strange subject – her honesty in performance and in her interactions with others is utterly disarming; her talent hypnotic, sometimes overwhelming.
The film is elegantly handled by Elvira Lind who is right there, up close and personal, at every turn of Smith’s unusual life. An excellent and compelling watch. MJH
King Of Peking (Sam Voutas, 2017, China/USA/Australia)
By Michael James Hall
Voutas’ love letter to cinema is a cute, warm and fuzzy feature focussing on a father and son who, after their pop-up cinema business goes under, accidentally invent mass DVD piracy.
The early sequences – full of nods to Beetlejuice, Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom and Lethal Weapon – are genuinely amusing but as the plot progresses the laughs dissipate somewhat. It certainly has its charm and cinephiles will adore the film soundtrack music guessing game the pair play throughout but it’s certainly more a fitting homage than it is a must-see picture. MJH
By Thomas Kelly
This Beijing-in-the-90s-set, Mandarin-language comedy comes from Australian writer-director Sam Voutas and is a light-hearted scoop of charm, nostalgia and hilarity. Father and son: Big Wong and Little Wong are strapped for cash when their small-time projection business goes down in flames and Big Wong is forced to take a job as the janitor in a local cinema. Because of custody issues with Little Wong’s mother, Big Wong is forced to think of another way to earn money which he does through his technical expertise as he and Little Wong start a lucrative DVD piracy business – King of Peking.
The two leads have a brilliant chemistry which leads to most of the laughs in the film – Little Wong played by Wang Naixun is the perfect dry and sarcastic antidote to Big Wong’s (Zhao Jun) overly-enthusiastic and somewhat childish actions and arguments. This is a cineliterate film which will call to mind Cinema Paradisoand directly reference 80s and 90s classics such as the Lethal Weapon series, Big Wong even nicknames their duo ‘Riggs and Murtaugh’. A vein of Antipodean comedy runs throughout it and you feel it’s closest cousins as a film would be some of Taika Waititi’s back catalogue. With a few touching moments, and some surprisingly stunning shots this comedy really comes to life mixing Chinese and western culture charismatically. It’s warm and big-hearted, and a very worthwhile 88 minutes spent in the cinema. TK
Lean On Pete (Andrew Haig, 2017, USA)
A rare beast indeed here from Haig who conjures a remarkable performance from star-on-the-rise Charlie Plummer as Charley; abandoned by his mother, his father a dead weight and a stranger in a new town, he befriends a low-rent horse trainer (a perfect Steve Buscemi) and begins to care for of the titular horse.
An examination of life on the peripheries of American society this is a story in which failure and loneliness are the rule rather than the exception and loss is a way of life. The rays of hope cast in this picture are fleeting but illuminating and beautiful. It’s an unmissable but absolutely heartbreaking film that also sees yet another superb showing from Chloe Sevigny as a deadbeat jockey. MJH
Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz, 2017, Israel)
Leor Ashkensi, Sarah Adler and Donation Shiray star in this exploration of the aftermath of the inexplicable death of a young soldier at a remote Israeli checkpoint.
Director Maoz bravely and expertly shifts tone between unbearable tragedy and the blackest of comedy as the ridiculousness of the military system is explored alongside a more poetic insight into how we cope with the past and how families cope with profound loss. It’s no easy watch but played with such grace as to mesmerise. MJH
A Fantastic Woman (Sebastian Lelio, 2017, Spain)
Lelio’s remarkable picture, starring Daniela Vega (who is surely a shoe-in come Awards season)is a suitable companion piece both to his 2013 film Gloria and this year’s Beauty And The Dogs (see last week’s blog for review) in that it both celebrates the strength of a unique woman while simultaneously exposing the failings and prejudices of a society and a system that is blinded by gender.
It considers the situation of Marina, a trans woman dealing with personal tragedy while the systems in place to protect seem to turn on her at every corner – even her home and workplace become unsafe, her body invaded and even her validity as a human being questioned. Marina is a towering character, stunningly portrayed by a swaggering, superb Vega and this is an inspiring, outstanding film. MJH
Roller Dreams (Kate Hickey, 2017, USA)
By Thomas Kelly
In her debut documentary feature, director Kate Hickey brings together exuberant archive footage and the former stars of 1980s Venice Beach, where ‘Mad’ and his gang created a new art form in roller-dancing. Set along with the backdrop of 1980s LA: civil unrest, gangs, racist police and the violence that came with it all – a group of people came together to bring magic and creativity, skills and fun to a pre-gentrified Venice Beach.
You cannot help but smile and marvel at the footage that is shown of the 80s dance crew as they create and choreograph to hip hop, R&B and disco classics mixed with the outrageous and vibrant outfits and colours of the 80s and early 90s. The documentary is put together in fairly straight-forward manner: archive footage combined with talking heads of the stars telling their combined story and personal stories. However, the lack of style in the filmmaking isn’t a problem – the archive footage is so good that you could be mesmerised and watch it all day, and the personal stories are both uplifting and heart-breaking at the same time – each member is unique and memorable. With the incurrence of gentrification and the racially motivated police and local government – a sadder and more upsetting tone is struck in the second half of the film and really strikes a chord as their art and creativity is forced away from them. Parts of this film will also really resonate with those who were very skilled at something but are now past their prime, in particular sportsmen, as well as those wishing they had continued to pursue dreams. An incredible, and really quite poignant mix of euphoric creativity combined with melancholic regrets and familiar but all too unjust upsets make this film special, and one that clearly shows the lack of progress in racial relations today, as well as the diminishing artistic license people have that comes with gentrification. TK
By Michael James Hall
Kate Hickey’s small, wonderful documentary charting the rise and fall of the roller-dance scene at Venice Beach, California during the ‘80s and ‘90s not only captures the essence of an optimistic, joyful and youthful time but also, through its charting not only of the key players on the scene but also the way it was co-opted and appropriated, rails against racism, gentrification and (a common theme at this year’s festival) the death of the American dream.
Ultimately the film celebrates the moments in people’s lives that mean the most – those fleeting hours of youth where anything is possible – yet it refuses to shy away from the heartbreak of ageing and unfulfilled potential. The talking heads format may seem a little static but it’s interspersed with evocative, joyful archive footage that gives a ring of profundity to the whole venture. MJH.
Take Every Wave: The Life Of Laird Hamilton (Rory Kennedy, 2017, USA)
By Thomas Kelly
From acclaimed documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy comes this exhilarating and hugely cinematic documentary on the life and times of surfing giant Laird Hamilton.
From his upbringing in Hawaii to his radical innovations in the world of surfing, this film paints a vivid portrait of a man who was and still is willing to challenge the norms of the surfing world, and has always been driven to fearlessly take on the unknown. With some incredible archive footage from years gone by to contemporary magnetic, long drone shots of him foil-boarding, and talking heads of Hamilton’s family, friends, former-friends and surfing legends and enthusiasts – a clear picture emerges of a man who has changed the way people think about a sport. From his innovations of tow-in surfing with ‘The Strap Crew’ to his current endeavours: foil boarding and having a family – you gain a true insight into a unique individual, the sport he loves and the element of nature that challenges his mind and body everyday. The fact that the director is female has perhaps balanced out what is a well-known macho world and Kennedy has done a fabulous job of combining so many aspects and people of Hamilton’s life into a clear, accessible and comprehensible film about a surfing legend and his life’s progression, that stands easily alongside other cult surfing documentaries such as Riding Giants in terms of cinematic prowess. TK
By Micheal James Hall
Laird Hamilton (who may be familiar to B-movie fans for his lead role in the mind-boggling surf pic North Shore) is the undisputed king of the big wave. A surfer like no other; hits feats and innovations have caused as much controversy as they have celebration in the surf community over the decades and here we have his life story writ large.
The surf scenes both new and archive are both well rendered and spectacular – a visual delight – yet the film lacks any narrative drive and its two hour run time allows these weaknesses to highlight themselves. The film too often gets mired in the detail of Hamilton’s technical surfing developments and moments of drama feel somewhat lost. Hamilton also comes across as something of an ego-driven dickhead at times which is not ideal for a sympathetic protagonist.
The casual viewer may be a little lost at times but regardless – those scenes in the surf are absolutely magical. MJH
The Cakemaker (Ofir Raul Greiner, 2017, Germany)
The ever-fantastic Sarah Adler (Foxtrot, reviewed above) is paired with Tim Kalkof as they find a unique way to mourn the passing of her husband and his lover (the same man, natch) – through the power of pastry.
While there’s plenty of food porn to delight those who enjoy such things this unlikely tale is never as profound as it would like to be, nor as controversial as some may perceive it to be with its German/Israeli setting and handling of Jewish homosexuality. It is, however, a compact and unusual character study that veers away from high drama in favour of detail, subtlety and subtext. Strangely, Greiner’s direction can feel a little amateurish at times yet for the most part this is an involving, nuanced tale. MJH