LFF 2018 Day 3 – Out of Blue | The Spy Gone North | Duplicate | Green Book

Day three of the London Film Festival saw me avoiding the big hitters in search of a hidden gem before hitting up the surprise film in the evening. As you’ll see I had mixed success…

Out of Blue


Carol Morley’s first film, The Falling, marked her out as a new talent with an uncompromising style and introduced the world to the wonderful Florence Pugh. In her follow up she turns her attention stateside and treads more familiar ground with a noir murder mystery. Clarkson stars as a detective investigating, with magnifying glass and everything, a killing that brings to the surface repressed memories from her own life.

I wanted so badly to like this film that it hurt all the more that I couldn’t. If most aspects of a film jar does that make it coherent? The dialogue was heavy-handed, some of the acting from supporting parts was ham-fisted, and the visuals, in sharp contrast to The Falling, were bland. When a whodunnit becomes a whocares you know you’re in trouble.

I’m sorry. I can’t go on.

Out of Blue screens at the festival on 13th, 14th, and 16th October.

The Spy Gone North

It is the mid 1990s and a South Korean spy is recruited to head North and find out what their nuclear capabilities are. With the code name “Black Venus” our spy, played by Hwang Jung-min, deliberately gets himself into a crippling level of debt before reinventing himself as a businessman with an interest in trading with the DPKR. Before long we are deep in a plot involving numerous briefcases of money, advertising deals, and a few appearances from Kim Jong-il himself.

The film looks nice and glossy and is filled with period detail and good actors in boxy suits. The plot at times gets more complex than my tired brain could follow and the film dispenses with tension in favour of endless reams of dialogue. The result is a spy thriller that delivers a history lesson rather than many actual thrills.

The Spy Gone North is a fascinating peek into the history of relations either side of the border in Korea but is a film that could do with a little less conversation and a little more action. Bonus points however for a lovely bromance that holds the film together across the DMZ.

The Spy Gone North screens at the festival on 11th, 13th, and 16th October.

Duplicate

In our first example of HeKniSciFi of the festival Ansel Elgort stars as both Jonathan and John; two brothers who share the same body for 12 hours a day each. Only able to communicate via video messages the two brothers live a life of strict routine and a few simple rules. Their carefully controlled world starts to crumble when Jonathan suspects John of lying to him and the brothers find themselves in conflict. What do you do when you fall out with the person closest to you, and you share the same body?

Duplicate is a lovely example of what I would call proper Science Fiction; it explores an idea to see where it leads without the distractions of spaceships, flashing lights, or killer robots. I won’t spoil how things unfold but Duplicate sticks to its remit and explores emotions over explosions and offers up a healthy dose of self reflection.

A smart slice of science fiction that is pleasingly unsoiled by genre trappings.

Duplicate screens at the festival on 14th, and 16th October.

Green Book

The big surprise about this year’s surprise film was that it was a film I had never heard of, and a film I probably have never gone to see if I had. Even more surprising was the fact that it is a film directed by Peter Farrelly that is a relatively straight drama without any scenes of semen in hair.

Green Book is set in 1960s America and follows the tentative working relationship between touring classical pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and his new driver/valet Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) as they drive between gigs in the American South. But wait, there’s a twist! Don Shirley is an African-American which makes his time in the South complicated and Tony is a massive racist (to begin with at least) which makes his time working for Shirley a fraught experience.

Through the film we repeatedly see Don Shirley experience a strange mix of respect and discrimination; often performing at venues at which he cannot use the same facilities as his audience. Meanwhile Tony gradually becomes (spoiler alert!) less and less racist as he finally gets to see what life is like for someone on the receiving end of his prejudices.

The film is well made, built on top of two solid central performances, and filled with plenty of laughs with a final tug on the heartstrings at the end. I can’t decide if it oversimplifies Tony’s transformation or not and whether that even matters. Green Book is a fun film with a serious heart. It isn’t going to trouble the Oscars or my DVD shelf but it not to be sniffed at either. A solid “it’s OK” from me.

Green Book is released in the UK on 1st February 2019.

Dreams of a Life – Review

In North London in 2003 Joyce Vincent died alone in her bedsit while watching television and wrapping Christmas presents. It was three years before her body was discovered, with the television still on and Joyce having “melted” into the floor. In those three years no one had raised the alarm over her disappearance, no one had come looking for her and she had seemingly managed to die completely unnoticed. Dreams of a Life tries to piece together who Joyce Vincent was and why her death went unnoticed, using only first person accounts in the form of interview footage alongside re-enactments with Zawe Ashton playing the ill-fated Joyce.

While it is tricky to fault Carol Morley on her technical capabilities in making a documentary, what she has made with Dreams of a Life is an incredibly speculative and gossipy feature that takes such a voyeuristic stance I felt like running away halfway through. Without a narrator or any other method beyond the interview footage for getting across the facts, Morley has given this film a very limited scope. Only people from Joyce’s distant past seem to be willing to be interviewed; we never meet her family or anyone who knew her around the time of her death, so any concept of what her life was like in the time immediately preceding her death is left to the wild speculation of old work colleagues.

While all of Joyce’s old acquaintances, quite rightly, describe her unnoticed death as a terrible thing and something no one should have to go through, they soon descent into gossiping about what she was like when they knew her, what they think might have gone on in her childhood (cue her Father getting some serious accusations thrown at him with no justification) and what her life may have been like leading up to her death. You can’t help but feel that for many the mystery is far more exciting than Joyce’s death is tragic.

The re-enactments are hardly objective either. While Zawe Ashton plays Joyce brilliantly, she is reduced to mostly portraying Joyce as a nostalgic loner, spending most of her time alone, singing to herself. It’s hardly the worst form of slander but certainly doesn’t seem like the best use of the documentary. What the film should focus on is how a woman came to be so isolated that no one noticed her death, not how she might have spent her time alone in her flat.

With all the speculation, gossip and judgement flying around I found myself learning much less about Joyce Vincent and much more about us as human beings. As I walked out of the cinema I was initially expressing how uncomfortable the film had made me but before long I too was speculating about what might have really happened. The message here should be to keep in touch with your loved ones and don’t let a friend fall through the cracks, not that someone is fair game for gossip if they’re dead.

Only one of the interviewees came out favourably in my opinion and that is Martin Lister (below) who was Carol Vincent’s long term-boyfriend years before her death. This was one man with fond memories of the deceased who seemed to genuinely miss her rather than simply wonder what might have happened. His final words in the film still ring in my ears and brought some much needed humanity to proceedings.

Dreams of a Life is an uncomfortable and arguably irresponsible documentary, but I’d be hard pressed to find another film which has made me feel so strongly this past year.