Week 3 of the 61st London Film Festival! A team of our finest attended a whole raft of industry and press screenings at the BFI across the week and we’ve put together a blog compiling brief reviews of all of the titles we saw so you can make a more informed choice about the tickets you may want to pick up for the public screenings – or to give you an idea of what you’d like to see in the future when some of the best of these films play at our beloved Genesis!
We’ve included the good, the bad and the middling but please keep in mind these reviews are the opinions of Michael James Hall only and do not represent the views of Genesis Cinema as a whole! Let us know your thoughts…
Summer 1993 (Carla Simon, Catalonia, 2017)
Simon’s Catalonia-set autobiographical tale of loss and displacement is a slow, quiet investigation into the process of an adoptive family and how a child understands grief and the tragic departure of a parent.
Young Lara Artigas is fantastic as Frida, the child in question, and perfectly pitches a performance of brittle incomprehension, anger and a yearning for acceptance. While the film is honest, heartfelt and feels true it lacks much in the way of actual drama until its closing scenes – yet its a worthwhile tale from a shining new pair of talents in the form of lead actress and director.MJH
David Stratton: A Cinematic Life (Sally Aitken, Australia/UK, 2017)
Ex-pat Stratton has been involved in the Australian film industry since the 1960s – be it as the head of the Sydney Film Festival or in his latter role as renowned critic in print and on television. His passion for cinema – particularly that of antipodean origin – is boundless and that fantastic energy transfers perfectly in this documentary.
Stratton has an awkward charm combined with a vast, imposing filmic knowledge that inspires as well as impressing. Interviews with legends like Nicole Kidman, Sam Neil and Russel Crowe add texture to a wonderful adventure that film lovers will adore. It’s guaranteed to give you at least 25 titles to add to your “must-watch” list too.MJH
Wrath Of Silence (Yukun Xin, China, 2017)
There’s an often brilliant insanity to Xin’s Western-Samurai-inspired revenge/mystery action/drama. As the previous sentence will let you know this is something of a hybrid movie in which the mute father of a missing child searches across Northern China while gangland and corporate interests get very much in his way.
Somehow managing to be funny, crushingly violent and, ultimately, touchingly philosophical this is a schizoid diamond of a film that balances vast shifts in tone with uniformly excellent performances and deft direction. An absolute thrill.MJH
Distant Constellation (Shevaun Mizrahi, Turkey, 2017)
Sadness and nostalgia prevail in Mizrahi’s impressionistic documentary (remarkably her first feature) filmed at a rest home in Turkey. We meet a variety of ancient residents who pass their remaining time in a variety of strange ways; riding the lift aimlessly; telling wildly unsuitable tales of seduction; singing Christmas songs.
It’s a genuine glimpse into the abyss of time – made more poignant still when contrasted with images of much younger workmen creating a brand new structure just across the street from the home. The finite nature of life, the impossibility of a return to youth; the certainty of endings – all of these things are explored in a unique way in this powerful and moving – yet never overly sentimental – film.MJH
Casting (Nicolas Wackerbarth, Germany, 2017)
Wackerbath’s hilarious industry insider movie is a genuine delight. Beginning with the casting sessions for the lead in a completely needless 75th birthday remake of Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant, the cringing comedy gradually gives way to an unexpected character study of “retired” actor Gerwin, expertly and tenderly portrayed by Andreas Lust, a man who sees an opportunity to snatch potential greatness from the jaws of a crumbling production.
A stellar ensemble cast and dozens of pitch-perfect observations on the modern film industry make this a compelling, constantly entertaining picture deserving of a wide audience. MJH
Ghost Stories (Jeremy Dyson / Andy Nyman, UK, 2017)
The chilling and hugely successful stage production transfers to the big screen in this imaginative and haunting portmanteau delight. Including outstanding performances from Paul Whitehouse and Martin Freeman this is an amusing, often terrifying, always clever and finally heart-stopping delve into what may or may not lay beyond our perception.
While Nyman may not be the obvious choice for a lead man he carries the contrived tale well as he portrays Professor Goodman; a lifelong cynic and debunker of myth who is charged with explaining three “unsolvable” cases. The scares are sharp, the sense of dread tangible and the resolution an absolute joy for horror fans. A rare brit-horror must-see. MJH
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach, USA, 2017)
An astounding ensemble cast help Baumbach deliver one of his most impressive works as Dustin Hoffman essays the ageing, self-obsessed sculptor Harold Meyerowitz partnered by an electrifying Emma Thompson as his latest, drunkest partner.
With Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and a remarkable Elizabeth Marvel as the half-siblings attempting to make sense of their lives as Harold falls into ill health we are drawn into an expertly crafted world of familial drama that always rings true and often provides heartbreakingly accurate insight. It’s the sort off film that’s made with such care that even the editing style becomes an amusing character. Awkward, believable relationships and career-best performances abound in this masterclass in modern filmmaking. A total joy. MJH
My Friend Dahmer (Marc Meyers, USA, 2017)
This slow, subtle and disconcertingly sympathetic portrayal of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s teen years adapted from Nerf Backderf’s graphic novel is sure to divide opinion among audiences with some decrying its lack of action while others celebrate its humane, sharply presented tale of teen life.
Former Disney star Ross Lynch excels as the alcoholic, sociopathic Dahmer making the transition from fucked up teen to fully fledged psychopath. It’s a chilling, blank eyed performance that somehow draws empathy to an almost inhuman creature. An uncomfortable watch. MJH
Golden Exits (Alex Ross Perry, USA, 2017)
Despite boasting a stellar, all-star cast including Mary-Louise Parker, Jason Schwartzman and Emily Browning, Perry’s latest is a middling film about middle-aged, middle class people doing awful things to one another and discussing their minuscule, cliched “problems” in maddeningly soporific scenes of such Herculean length as to almost dare the viewer to sleep through the whole misjudged thing. A misanthropic, borderline misogynist mess this is the kind of lazy, disengaged filmmaking that made people dislike mumblecore in the first place. Basically unwatchable aside from one scene in which a character does something that could be considered vaguely admirable or perhaps just normal and the whole audience breathes an audible sigh of relief. Even a scene set at the perfect Anthology Film Archives in New York City can’t save this one. MJH
Lucky (John Carrol Lynch, USA, 2017)
A long goodbye from Harry Dean Stanton here as director John Carroll Lynch presents a story inspired by many of Stanton’s own quirks and characteristics as the titular character, a 90-year-old atheist, tackles a spiritual journey of sorts when faced with his own mortality.
The film charms endlessly with Stanton’s buddies (including a wonderfully well-cast David Lynch) showing up to pay their respects to the legend while there are plentiful playful nods back to his previous work such as The Straight Story (to which it could be considered a spiritual sequel), Paris, Texas and Repo Man. It’s a profoundly moving film that, even as it brings on the tears, also engenders hope in the viewer. A near-perfect picture and the best filmic goodbye imaginable. MJH