Dog Eat Dog (2016)

“I’ve made a number of films in my career that are prestigious and important. This isn’t one of them”.

Dog Eat Dog, directed by Paul Schrader (screenplays include Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, director of Blue Collar and Mishima) is a lurid, violent crime thriller starring Willem Dafoe, Nicolas Cage and Christopher Matthew Cook. The actors and director clearly set out to have fun with this sometimes shocking tale.  Schrader regular Dafoe is particularly good as a paranoid, unstable and somehow pathetic killer. Nicolas Cage, last seen on screen with Dafoe in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, is restrained by comparison but focused, perhaps because he knew Dafoe’s intense and dangerously controlled performance could have easily stolen the show.161016 Dog Eat Dog

The three criminals, with a strong bond from shared jail time, are all deeply flawed men, all feel inadequate and desperate in their own ways. And this leads them to commit a kidnapping together against their better judgement that (of course) goes badly wrong. This film doesn’t follow many rules or formulae however, it’s sometimes funny and other times brutal.

Despite some occasional and problematic misogyny, this is fun trashy entertainment.

Phantasm (1979)

Phantasm was a low-budget independent horror film from 1979 that had a second life on VHS in the eighties.

161015 Phantasm

J J Abrams loved it as a teenager. Recently he got in touch with the director, Don Coscarelli (on the right of the photo), and arranged to get it restored. He did this by stealing the odd hour or two at a time in the lab when they should have been working on Star Wars! Tonight it was shown in its restored glory at the London Film Festival.

And what a strange and fun film it is! Dead relatives turned into growling zombie dwarfs. Swift floating silver spheres with protruding knives. A guitar playing ice-cream man saving the day. The director acknowledged influences from Invaders From Mars and Suspiria, (and I think Carnival of Souls played its part) it makes no logical sense.

It was great fun and the audience of adoring fans loved it.

Lo and Behold: Revieries of the Connected World (2016)

171013 Lo and BeholdIt’s not surprising that Werner Herzog doesn’t own a smartphone but he’s made a documentary contemplating the Internet age. Aptly, this UK premiere was followed by a q&a that was broadcast to other cinemas and homes across the country. ‘Lo and Behold’ starts with the birth of the Internet in 1969, and goes on to explore various facets of our connected world through his idiosyncratic lens.

We meet scientists who dream of a kind of hi-tech 171013 Lo and Behold2telepathy that transmits their real-time brain scans directly to other people’s heads. If technology makes us all into individual omniscient gods, we ponder the psychological effect on the next generation who grow up with that power. Imagine the inconvenience if our intelligent microwave falls in love with the fridge. Will the internet dream of itself? And we meet technological refugees, people who choose to live in a tech-free community to protect themselves from computer game addiction or radiation, the Amish of our time.

Composed mostly of talking heads and Herzog’s narration, this documentary explores the fear and wonder of our computer age. Lo and Behold!

Goldstone (2016)

Well I disagree with the Aussie critics on this one. Goldstone, which tonight had its European premiere at the LFF, isn’t the masterpiece that some critics proclaim but it does have its moments.

Maybe this is because director Ivan Sen is trying to do it all – cinematography (beautiful), editing (competent), music (hackneyed), script (slightly under-developed) – too much for one person? It could have used a bit of tightening-up, in particular the script, plotting and characters. But it’s watchable.

Its a tale of two cops investigating corruption in a mining town, where they discover the mine is trafficking prostitutes from China. It’s about how easy it is to turn a blind eye and about the exploitation of the aboriginal people, culture and environment. It’s clearly meant to be a Commentary on ‘Australia’.

The film is enjoyable though: the cinematography is stunningly beautiful, it luxuriates in the colour of the expansive outback landscape and the neon bars and dives. Unfortunately the plot is too predicable and Sen felt the need to underline each of the film’s messages with passages of laboured, unnatural reflective dialogue, often more than once just in case you’d missed the obvious themes. The supporting cast are almost all stereotypes. One notable but fleeting exception is a travelling prostitute doing the rounds of the outback settlements; her compassion, toughness and tragic backstory is hinted at just enough to give her real depth. And then she’s gone as if she’d just wandered in from a different, better movie.

Paterson (2016)

Very little happens in a Jim Jarmusch film, but that ‘very little’ is always gently captivating.

At this UK premiere, we watched a week in the life of a bus driver called Paterson, his girlfriend Laura and their English bulldog Marvin. Their daily routine and habits, incidents and observations. Small details that you only notice if you take your time.

His last film, Only Lovers Left Alive was a return to form, even though it was self-consciously cool. This film, Paterson, is perfect. Effortless, the poetry of life’s little pleasures. Oh, apparently Marvin won the Palm Dog award at Cannes for best canine – he deserved it.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

I was looking forward to this the most out of all the London Film Festival titles. It turned out to be wonderful.

I loved director Kenneth Lonergan’s previous film, Margaret, but it wasn’t easy to see. The studio buried it by delaying its release by four years, cut it ruthlessly, gave it no publicity and only a cursory cinema release. But despite its inevitable financial failure it had its champions, particularly amongst those (like me) who had seen the longer directors cut.  One of these champions was Matt Damon who arranged funding and studio interest for Manchester on the Sea.

It stars Casey Affleck as a solitary , awkward but kind man forced to become reacquainted with his wider family after a tragedy. It’s human, compassionate, exquisitely observed and, like life, a little messy. A film that is not afraid to take its time, its characters are all completely 3-dimensional with frailties, faults and foibles.

This is a sad, painful, funny, uplifting and masterful film.

Elle (2016)

I was privileged to attend the UK premiere of Paul Verhoeven’s new film Elle with the amazing Isabelle Huppert.

161008 ElleA world away from Total Recall, Showgirls or Robocop, this is a complicated and nuanced character study about a woman who is violently raped by a masked assailant in her own home. How she responds to the attack, to her son, her lover, her parents, her work and friends gradually reveals a troubled yet strong and bold woman.

Huppert’s character is unpredictable and complete and the film is by turns tense, uncomfortable, and even in places funny. Apparently no US actress would touch the provocative and controversial role. It has just been picked up for a UK release in February 2017.