LFF 2018 Day 2 – Wildlife | Sorry to Bother You | Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.

For my second day at the London Film Festival I saw a pair of debut features from Paul Dano and Boots Riley before finishing up with Ben Wheatley’s latest film about which I had previously known nothing. The theme of the day was probably slight disappointment but will I ever learn to not raise my expectations too high?


Jeanette, Jerry, and their son Joe (Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ed Oxenbould) live an idyllic family life in 1960s suburban America. Adapted from Richard Ford’s novel by Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano, and directed by Dano, Wildlife placidly observes this family as it slowly unravels while wildfires rage in the nearby forest.

Wildlife is a gorgeously shot and meticulously acted portrait of a family in turmoil. When Jerry loses his job and Jeanette becomes the breadwinner their traditional family dynamic is disrupted and poor Joe is, like us, forced to simply stand by while the grownups in his life fail to act responsibly. The wildfires that are frequently referenced become an obvious reference for not just the unstoppable destruction heading for this nuclear family but also the slow burning pace of the film as a whole.

Wildlife is an impressively restrained debut. Dano has created an aesthetically pleasing picture and clearly knows when to give his actors space to do what they do best. Mulligan in particular shines here; showing roughly three conflicting emotions with each expression. Somehow the resulting film is slightly less than the sum of its parts however. While formally impressive and a pleasant watch Wildlife is unlikely to stick around once it has been seen; there’s something in the film’s restraint that stopped me getting fully involved.

Wildlife screens at the festival on 13th, 14th, and 15th October before being released in the UK on 9th November.

Sorry to Bother You

If Dano’s debut is defined by his restraint then Boots Riley is sprinting in the opposite direction. Acting as both writer and director Riley brings us a world almost like our own but dialled up to eleven. The volume of ideas that fill most films are churned through each minute as Riley satirises capitalism, race relations, and anything else that comes into view.

The plot centers on Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield), a newly employed telemarketer who discovers he can outsell his co-workers by applying his “white voice” (David Cross) when on the phone. As Cassius moves up in his company he finds himself in conflict with his activist and performance artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and entangled in a company that offers a worry free existence to those willing to sign away their human rights. This is a film willing to show how modern capitalism could justify the reinvention of slavery but does so with the visual flair of a restrained Michel Gondry.

Sorry to Bother You exists in a world one step away from our own; Riley makes liberal use of magical realism elements that allow his imagination to run wild and not be constrained by the laws of human nature, physics, or decency. This is a defiant and confident debut from a writer-director with a lot to say. Riley deals with themes that carry a lot of weight but handles then with such irreverence that you can’t help but have fun. Please go see this because if I type any more I will spoil the plot.

Sorry to Bother You screens at the festival on 11th, 12th, and 14th October before being released in the UK on 7th December.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.

Flying solo from his regular collaborator Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley has set out on his own to make a part-improvised family drama shot in under two weeks. The titular Colin (Neil Maskell) has hired a large stately home to bring his disparate and dysfunctional family together for New Year’s Eve. While his aim is to peacock in front of his family the evening quickly becomes overshadowed by his father’s financial troubles, his mother’s imbalance, and the fact that his sister has invited estranged brother David (Sam Riley) along to reconcile a miriad of differences.

With a feel closest to Wheatley’s oldest film, Down Terrace, Colin Burstead has a loose, handheld aesthetic. The cameras follow the action as best they can as the ever growing list of characters interact in seemingly infinite combinations. This is a film filled with conflict and tension; a tone that starts from the very beginning and doesn’t relent or fluctuate until the credits roll over an exuberant disco.

This unrelenting flow of talk and tension makes the film exhausting to watch. And while the dialogue is incredible funny and relatable the film keeps promising to implode in a way it never fulfils. A neat addition to the Wheatley canon but not my personal favourite.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. screens at the festival on 11th, 12th, 13th, and 21st October before being released on BBC Two this winter.

Source Code – DVD Review

I stand by our original review of Source Code; it is a thoughtful piece of sci-fi with a great idea at its core and a thought-provoking ending. What lets it down is that the perfect ending is about 10 minutes before the end credits and that the film gets a little lost in the middle as it focuses more on action than the big idea at play.

Great performances all round, and a very sympathetic running time, help to keep Source Code an enjoyable, tight thriller with as much brains as brawn driving the story forward.

The major bulk of the extras take the form of talking heads mixed with some behind the scenes footage. As usual the heads mostly talk about how great everyone was, though a few interesting titbits do slip through. It’s clear that plenty of behind the scenes footage was shot, so it’s a shame there’s no in-depth documentary, the sort I relish beyond all reason.

A nice addition is a set of beautifully animated short pieces called Expert Intel which briefly explain the science behind the plot to Source Code. You have to admire any DVD extra which briefly delves into trying to explain quantum mechanics to a mass audience.

Also available are an audio commentary with Jake Gyllenhaal, Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley and two different trivia tracks which can be switched on to enjoy alongside the movie. I had neither the time nor the inclination to watch the film three more times to sufficiently test these features.

Source Code is a fun film and with its agreeable running time is a DVD you might actually get round to watching more than once. To finish, some talking heads:

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Source Code is out on DVD and Blu-ray today and you could do a lot worse.

Source Code – Review

In the first half of Source Code there is little more than an average Sci-Fi, as Jake Gyllenhaal’s soldier Colter Stevens is repeatedly sent back into the “memory” of a man who died in a train explosion. Stevens task is to find the bomb and identify the bomber before he releases a dirty bomb in Chicago. What lets down this side of the story is just how easy the task is, it only takes a handful of trips back to the train for Stephens to succeed and Stephens still finds plenty of time to fall in love and investigate his own situation.

The real idea at the centre of Source Code is not the bomb on the train but the soldier performing the investigation. Exactly how Stevens is able to enter the memory of a dead man, and experience locations and people the man did not himself experience, is where the real intrigue of the film lies. Here we have a bit of a philosophical quandry, not just explosions and running around with guns.

Sadly the intriguing section of the film is left to the end and the more by the numbers “stop the terrorist” plot dominates. A few more trips into the source code would have been nice, even if truncated to a few key moments which could have highlighted a little more the difficulty of the task at hand.

While not exactly as big a statement as Moon for Duncan Jones, Source Code still gives you something to think about and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Jeffrey Wright and Vera Farmiga give excellent support, portraying two people trying to do the right thing, with potentially different motivations. Michelle Monaghan is pretty but doesn’t have much else to do really.

See Source Code for a short bit of Sci-Fi with a real idea at its core, even if it does get a bit lost in trying to distract you with guns and finger pointing along the way.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – Review

I wasn’t expecting much going into The Prince of Persia and as soon as I spied Papyrus typeface onscreen, a major peeve for font nerds and civilised society, I thought my expectations were going to be met. The incredibly rushed opening sequences didn’t help either, rather leaving me a bit confused and impatient. As someone who has never played the game on which the film was based I needed a slightly gentler introduction into the world.

I suppose they were simply trying to get the back-story out of the way so that the story itself could begin and to be fair they succeeded at that. Once my haze of confusion lifted, and I got over Jake Gyllenhaal’s accent, I found myself actually enjoying the film. What saved the movie for me was the humour present throughout. It wasn’t exactly clever humour but the general back and forth between Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton made the long desert journeys and bizarre plot all the more bearable, and Alfred Molina was a real highlight as the charismatic Sheik.

Sadly the plot really is bizarre, though surely all the more plausible in a video game, as Gyllenhaal and Arterton fight over a knife that can turn back time while his family troubles rage on in the background. The Prince of Persia isn’t going to be watched for it’s plot, it is going to be watched for its attractive cast and the promise of some action. On these points the film does deliver and while it’s not the most fun I’ve had inside a cinema this year there are worse ways to while away two hours.

The film does have a lot to thank its actors for as had the cast not been so damned attractive this review would look a lot different. I’m shallow like that.