Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Suffragette Review [London Film Festival 2015]

Less than 100 years after all adult women in the UK were finally granted the vote, a film about the struggle to gain that basic democratic right emerges. With a dream team of female talent in front of and behind the camera, Sarah Gavron's Suffragette is a gripping start, but it becomes clear that there is far more of this true story of tremendous sacrifice left to be told.

Suffragette makes the interesting decision to follow fictional character Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) from washer woman and poverty-stricken working mother to militant suffragette engaged in escalating actions against the government. To the detriment of her own family life, she joins Edith Ellyn’s (Helena Bonham Carter) group of East London women who are spurred on by the currently in-hiding Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). As Inspector Steed (Brendon Gleeson) keeps a close eye on the women, their civil disobedience becomes more volatile and threatens to land them all in prison.

To a young audience raised in a world increasingly full of strong women who may never have even questioned their right to vote, the suffragette's struggle looks at once completely ludicrous, and at the same time teeth-grindingly infuriating. How dare men decide that women didn't deserve the vote? It’s an unimaginable situation that seems preposterous, but is still sadly relevant. The closing crawl of the film indicates the year that women got the vote in other countries of the world, and unbelievably the UK was far from the most recent.

Suffragette sits neatly alongside 12 Years a Slave as a document of the Western world's recent history where depressing barbarity was carried out in the name of old white men who were desperate to never let any power slip from their hands. The working class washer women in Suffragette are little more than slaves, being paid far less and working longer hours than their male counterparts. Those that speak out against the unfairness of the system are beaten, threatened, humiliated, ridiculed and made to feel ashamed.

And this is where the true tragedy of Suffragette lies. Because while it covers the famous incident involving Emily Davison's brave sacrifice involving the King's horse, it's really the story of ordinary women engaged in everyday action. Even Streep's Pankhurst only appears for a single scene, though her inspiration and influence is felt throughout. Maud sacrifices so much for the cause, including her beloved son and her job, and it is this tension between doing what she wants (to see her son) and what she must do (make the world a better place for future generations of women) that is so heart-wrenching.

Suffragette feels just as relevant today as it would have been in 1912. Women are abused, belittled and laughed at by men. But they also face the impossibly difficult choice of often wanting to manage a family with a desire to do something potentially more fulfilling outside of the home. It's a choice which Suffragette pointedly shows a single father tragically failing to consider. It also deals with the notion of what is basically terrorist action, as the women have become fed up with not being listened to, and decide on a policy of non-violent but destructive disobedience. In its mentions of police surveillance and brutality, and the media's tendency to ridicule those who threaten the status quo, Suffragette constantly reminds of none-more-contemporary issues.

For a period drama, Suffragette feels righteous and urgent in its fury. The performances are uniformly excellent, particularly Mulligan and Anne-Marie Duff, while Gavron's direction is best when highlighting the horrors of hard labour in the laundry and more so, the barbarity of the women's treatment during prison stints. It’s a shame not to learn more about Emily Davison as she plays such a fundamental role in the climax, but Suffragette's focus on the fictional Maud makes for an incredibly emotive journey.

Suffragette is a vital film, but feels like a strong start, rather than the definitive suffragette movie. More films on this movement would be most welcome, and for those dumb enough to think feminism is a dirty word; this is a timely reminder of its fundamental potential.

Watch the trailer:

More recent reviews from I Love That Film


More from the London Film Festival 2015

Monday, 12 October 2015

Now on Rotten Tomatoes

It has been brought to my attention by fellow blogger @benedictseal that I am now on Rotten Tomatoes as a critic for Starburst Magazine

This is huge news for me, as I can't tell you how much I use this site myself. To think that people are going to be seeing snippets of my reviews up on the site is amazing and I'm very proud to be a part of the Starburst team on Rotten Tomatoes.

So far, there are 4 reviews up under my name, though hopefully some of my older reviews for Starburst may also one day end up on there. Apparently I agree with the Tomatometer 100% of the time so far too. I'm sure that will change in time, but I guess for now I'm happy to agree with the in-crowd.

Check me out on Rotten Tomatoes here. 

Red Army Review: Out Now in Cinemas!

Red Army is finally in selected UK cinemas. If you're in London, it's on at the Picturehouse Cinema until Wednesday. It's brilliant and well worth a watch, even if you're not an ice hockey fan!

Here's a snippet of my review from Cannes 2014:

Like an infinitely superior version of Rocky IV, Red Army intertwines politics and sport with the Cold War being fought in the ice rink instead of the boxing ring. This incredibly heartfelt and occasionally hilarious documentary tells the story of the Soviet Union’s awe inspiring national ice hockey team as team captain Slava Fetisov turns from national hero to endangered traitor.

The Red Army hockey team are legendary for their incredible skill on the ice, competing in the Olympic Games in the late 70s and through the 80s. As the USSR went through turbulent years of Communism, KGB repression and gradual political change, its most notable sports stars and national heroes were finding success in the arenas but difficulties in dealing with their over bearing coach and the dictatorial control others had over their lives.

Read the rest at Tastic Film.

A quote of mine also made it into the trailer for this film, so check it out below:

Friday, 9 October 2015

George Miller Mad Max Fury Road Q&A

I had the great honour of attending a Q&A with Mad Max Fury Road director George Miller last Thursday at the Tottenham Court Road Odeon. He's an absolutely fascinating guy and I could listen to him talk about filmmaking all day. The tricky part is getting it all transcribed! I covered the event for Starburst Magazine so you can read the full transcript by clicking here. 

In London to promote the Mad Max: Fury Road Blu-ray release, visionary director George Miller spoke about the incredible production of the film, his version of DC’s Justice League, the cultural impact of Furiosa and finding a replacement for Mad Mel Gibson. Oh what a lovely day...

Read more at Starburst Magazine here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The End of This is England

I've just written a little something over at The Daily Heckle about the end of the This is England saga, which finished on Sunday night with the last episode of This is England 90.

I've spent the last maybe six or seven years using This is England as an example of how films use specific techniques to create emotional response, while teaching A level Film Studies. That means every year, I get to watch some of the most powerful scenes with my students again and again.

In the meantime, This is England 86, 88 and 90 have all now come and gone, and while I'll truly miss catching up with the gang, I hope this is where it ends. It was simply phenomenal television.

You can check my article at The Daily Heckle here:

This is England 90 and the End of an Era.

Sicario Review

From its incredibly ominous opening, right through to the pitch-black climax, Sicario is scintillating crime cinema at its finest. With a trio of commanding performances at its centre, Denis Villeneuve proves yet again that he is an excellent director of morally complex thrillers. Packed with tense set-pieces and a standout turn from Benicio del Toro, Sicario has the power and potential to please both arthouse audiences and the mainstream crowd.

Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an idealistic FBI agent who is hunting down victims kidnapped by cartels in Arizona. When her crack unit uncover the bodies of over 30 victims, she is enlisted by a shady elite task force, headed up by the flip-flop wearing Matt Graver, played with effortless cool by Josh Brolin. But Kate is left in the dark by the officials that have drafted her in, as the war against the ruthless drug trafficking cartels intensifies, Kate finds herself out of depth. Operating around the dangerous border between the U.S. and Mexico, Kate becomes embroiled with an operative even shadier than her superiors; a man with a past so murky, it can be difficult to know which side he is on.

Benicio del Toro is great as the blank-eyed, shark-like presence at the heart of Sicario’s dark moral core. His Alejandro is a suspicious man from the moment Kate lies on him. The suit, the quiet determination and his overall moody demeanour make him a difficult character to warm to. But compared to Blunt’s much more wide-eyed and straight-laced Kate, he is a far more interesting character. It is very welcome to see a female lead in this kind of film, with Blunt managing to deflect much of the machismo that surrounds, and is directed towards her, but unfortunately her character gets overshadowed by the huge presences of Brolin and del Toro. Still, Kate is the moral compass of the story, and a vitally tough character adrift in a sea of suspect individuals.

Towering above even these fine performances is the atmosphere created by Villeneuve and his collaborators. Roger Deakins’ cinematography, so often praised in any film he elevates, is stunning here. Every shot drips with tension, particularly as Deakins takes a sky-high view of the border and messy towns and roads below. Accompanied by an incredibly moody score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, it’s the kind of film you can’t shake off easily. And more importantly, it’s a film you will almost immediately want to see again and again and again.

Violent, tense, terrifying and strangely beautiful; Sicario should be seen in the darkness of a cinema, but will likely leave you stumbling for the light.

More from Cannes 2015


Watch the trailer below:

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Irrational Man Review

Another year means yet another Woody Allen film, and more importantly, another chance for admirers of his work to bask in the characters he creates. Working again with the radiant Emma Stone after their previous collaboration Magic in the Moonlight, this time Joaquin Phoenix joins Allen as the irrational man of the title. Long time fans of the director can expect much of the same from this film, but Irrational Man finds the auteur on particularly light-footed form in its frothy tale of love and murder.

Phoenix takes the lead as Abe Lucas, a philosophy professor whose reputation as he moves to a new college precedes him. He is there to teach, to write and to drink as much as he can between delivering lectures. Emma Stone is the student in his class who becomes infatuated with Abe and his bleak, but brilliant intellect. Stone's smart Jill catches the attention of Abe with a particularly original paper, and the pair become friends, complicated by Jill's boyfriend's understandable jealousy and Abe's developing relationship with another lecturer. Abe's complete loss of purpose in his life may be a strange part of his charm but it is soon to be interrupted when he hatches a plan to help a complete stranger by murdering a corrupt judge.

What starts out as a rather predictable looking romance takes a sharp turn when Abe and Jill overhear a conversation at a nearby table in a diner. From here, Allen balances the romantic elements with an altogether more interesting and outlandish murder plot. Several little twists and turns later, and Allen has dispatched an amusing morality play with some standout scenes sewn into his brusquely paced screenplay.

While the film starts out with Phoenix rattling out voiceover that couldn't be any more clearly written in Allen's distinctive voice, the characters soon start to develop. Phoenix seems to have stumbled in, still stoned from the set of Inherent Vice, and does a wonderful job of investing Abe with a believable and not completely unsympathetic misery born out of having lost hope that he can actually make a difference in the world. Emma Stone also gets her own voiceover, and her Jill eventually emerges as the real hero of the film. However, Phoenix gets the more interesting role as he finds a renewed lust for life, and a cure for his impotence, when he decides to kill a judge out of kindness to someone that he has never met. This perfect murder gives him purpose and his transformation from paunchy slob to charismatic anti-hero is a pleasure to watch.

While the love affairs take a backseat to the planning, performing and aftermath of the murder, Irrational Man is irresistibly silly fun. When keeping the intellectual mumblings of academics to a minimum, and revelling in Phoenix's responses to those who are trying to decipher the method and motive for the murder, Irrational Man comes alive. It's occasionally sweet, frequently silly and features a great slapstick death scene, but really this is Allen coasting on mostly familiar ground. Same time, next year?

What did you think of this film? Sound off below...

Mia Madre (My Mother) Review

Deftly balancing comedy and drama, My Mother is a film that leaves audiences laughing hysterically in places, but drying their eyes by the conclusion. Primed for a miserable realist drama about a woman watching her elderly mother's slow decline from pneumonia, My Mother frequently surprises the viewer with its perceptive prodding of the relationship between a determined female director and her annoying lead actor, played with relish by John Turturro. It could have been a real slog, but with expertly timed moments of extremely welcome levity, My Mother is instead a surprising treat.

Film director Margherita (Margherita Buy) is struggling with the endless stresses of making a movie, while also coping with the added heartache of looking after her dying mother. The film she is directing is about a factory full of workers being threatened by impending layoffs and her lead actor from America is causing her extra concern by fluffing his lines and acting erratically on set. Her personal life is a bit of a mess, with a relationship recently ended and a daughter off skiing with the girl's father, Marguerite’s ex-husband. Confronted with the demands of working on the set, and the crushing inevitability of her mother's illness, Margherita's mind is torn between two places at once, leading her to re-evaluate her relationships.