Shrew’s Nest – LFF Review

Shrew’s Nest

In post-Civil War Spain two sisters live alone together in the same apartment they have lived all their lives following the death of their mother and departure of their father. Older sister Montse (Macarena Gómez) is agoraphobic and never leaves the apartment. Her conduit to the outside world is her younger sister Elisa (Nadia de Santiago) who she rules over with religious fervor. Montse is haunted by the spectre of their father and trapped inside an apartment that holds dark memories and a closet-load of secrets. Montse’s carefully controlled universe is disrupted when upstairs neighbour Carlos (Hugo Silva) literally lands at her front door after falling down the stairs. Montse takes him in and tries to care for his horribly broken leg herself before both Carlos and the audience start to wonder if he will ever be allowed to leave.

Despite initial scenes of solemnity and overt religiosity Shrew’s Nest does not take itself too seriously. While able to ratchet up tension when necessary this is not another Spanish horror looking to having you jumping out of your seat in fright. The currency of value here is that of entertainment and storytelling. The overall plot resembles that of a fairytale, an incredibly grim fairytale perhaps, one in which a woman on the edge will do anything she can to keep the only man to have entered into her life since the disappearance of her father. When Montse finally gives in to madness, or perhaps just allows her latent madness to come to the surface, blood is spilled and Shrew’s Nest does not hold back on the gore.

Shrew’s Nest 2

As the film gets more and more ridiculous and the body count rises the audience began to visibly and audibly react as one. The laughs were deep and hearty but when pain and injury were inflicted on-screen an audible gasp ran down the room and two particular moments invoked arms shooting into the air in shock as everyone instinctively moved to bite their fist or cover their face. After a traditional stoic beginning Shrew’s Nest evolves into a madcap slasher horror which is a hell of a lot of fun and crazy in all the right ways.

Despite the fun Shrew’s Nest does jar occasionally when unveiling a particularly unpleasant plot point set in Montse’s past. Amid all the fun is a dark story that is altogether more unsettling that the comic murder and kidnap. While perhaps this provides motivation for the actions of the characters it came across as unnecessary in what is otherwise an enjoyable horror with a cheeky approach to the genre.

With solid support from Nadia de Santiago and Hugo Silver the real standout performance comes from Macarena Gómez as a woman with a dark past who finally gives in to her madness. With impressive direction from Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel in their first feature film Shrew’s Nest comes highly recommended for an fans of horror that wants to make you laugh and wince more than it wants to make you jump.

Shrew’s Nest has no UK release date yet but screens at the London Film Festival on the 10th of October 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

The Imitation Game – LFF Review

The Imitation Game

The world’s sweetheart Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the man who cracked the German Enigma code and generally did clever things with computers before computers existed. Set during the Second World War at code-cracking HQ Bletchley Park The Imitation Game follows Turing from his recruitment through to the cracking of Enigma with flashes back to his childhood and forwards to a glimpse at his struggles after the war. The film has the solid, slightly predictable, feel of a classic British period drama despite coming from an American screenwriter (Graham Moore) and Norwegian director (Morten Tyldum). It is 2014’s answer to The King’s Speech and Saving Mr Banks and as such feels a little safe and familiar.

On first glance The Imitation Game is a thoroughly enjoyable film. In fact it is a thoroughly enjoyable film but on closer inspection could have been so much better. Cumberbatch is of course brilliant in the role of the socially awkward closeted genius (nobody mention Sherlock please) and the supporting cast of Keira Knightley, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, and many others each give their best dramatic performances with plenty of humour thrown in. The acting is solid and the script allows for plenty of laughs in a film about a tedious solution to a life threatening problem. The Imitation Game even managed to make the problem of Enigma and its ultimate solution almost comprehensible. Certainly comprehensible enough for those of us watching to have a grasp on the issue and know how badly they were doing at solving it.

On the surface The Imitation Game is a fine British film, the sort to garner applause at a press screening and generate some Oscar buzz. Scratching beneath the surface however reveals a film that is far from perfect.

The Imitation Game 2

What lets The Imitation Game down is that it focusses so much on just one aspect of both the work at Bletchley Park and the life of Alan Turing. Bletchley Park was not done and dusted the minute Enigma was cracked. As the film briefly mentions there were years after cracking the code during which Turing and his team had to decide which of the decoded attacks they could avert and which they had to let happen for fear of revealing to the Germans that Enigma was no longer secure. This moral maze of weighing up human lives using statistics would have been fascinating to watch and made for a tricky test for the character of Turing but after a quick mention The Imitation Game skips on. It’s hard to understand why so much time was dedicated to a short period in Turing’s life. Cracking Enigma may have ended the war but it certainly wasn’t an immediate victory. When a film focusses on an event that finishes years before the war ends it removes any real sense of triumph as we are no longer with the characters when the enemy finally surrenders. The war is won in the blink of an eye and this climax is decidedly anticlimactic.

As for the life of Alan Turing the film does detail the messy and unfair ending to his life but I did not feel that enough was made of the appalling way he was treated by the government in the final years of his life. By the end of the film Alan Turing the man, rather than Alan Turing the code breaking machine, still remained a mystery to me. The Imitation Game shows a lot of Turing’s actions but fails to uncover what was going on inside his head. Turing’s was clearly a light of triumph and suffering but only a snapshot of the latter was afforded the audience.

The tragic personal life of Alan Turing and the triumphant decoding of Enigma make for strange bedfellows as they are presented in The Imitation Game. The two strands of the film, that of an enemy being outsmarted and of a genius being abused by a government, don’t quite tie together and as one crescendos the other nosedives leaving the audience unsure what emotion to feel. Alan Turing definitely has a story to be told and The Imitation Game is an admirable attempt at telling it but not complete.

A fine British film, by an American and a Norwegian, that will do very well at the box office and please most that go to see it. But sadly a film that feels like a missed opportunity. The press conference after the screening was filled with anger at how Turing was treated but this aspect of his life was too much of a footnote in the film itself.

You will enjoy it, just don’t over think it too much. I clearly have.

The Imitation Game has a UK release date of 14th November 2014 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 9th and 10th of October 2014.

Below is a photo from the press conference, click to make a little too big. The main takeaway from the conference would be some advice from Benedict Cumberbatch; if you are intrigued by the character of Alan Turing then do not stop with this film. Read everything you can about Turing as The Imitation Game is only the start.

Imitation Game Press Conference

BFI LFF 2014

OXI: An Act of Resistance – LFF Review

OXI An Act of Resistance

Bear in mind as I discuss this film that it forms part of the London Film Festival’s Experimenta strand meaning that it is experimental; something a little different and so likely to go completely over my head.

A french detective (Dominique Pinon) is investigating the financial collapse of Greece during the recent eurozone crisis. He goes to a sphinx (Gabriella Wright) and accuses her of stealing from the Greeks. The sphinx then goes on to retell ancient Greek plays by editing the script for scenes out as we watch both the scenes that are being acted and her at a computer screen. The Greek plays about Antigone (Julia Faure), Creon (John Shrapnel), and Oedipus (Lex Shrapnel) are presented to draw parallels between the ancient morality tales and modern-day politics and the bureaucracy that has led Greece to such an unstable position.

In amongst these surreal vignettes the film contains documentary elements involving real modern-day Greeks including interviews with philosophers, economists, politicians, and members of the public. To add more confusion to the mix sometimes the actors seem to be talking out of character but about their character. The collective effect of all these elements is a powerful one. And a confusing one.

OXI An Act of Resistance 2

OXI did not seem to be on the audience’s side and stepped immediately into its odd format without feeling the need to prepare viewers for what was coming. For such an unusual film I felt that I needed some guidance in how to deal with the film but instead simply sat and experienced it almost like a dream. My knowledge of ancient Greek literature is as limited as you might expect so I am unsure if I simply lacked the basic background knowledge to fully “get” the film. At various times I thought I was lost before grasping with my mind and finally getting a hold again on this slippery piece of cinema.

I will happily admit that the film left me baffled and at times exhausted but for the most part it was a gripping and involving experience. When you aren’t sure of the narrative of a film nor whether the person on-screen about to speak is an actor or a real person you are forced to sit up and take notice. I found myself hanging on every word trying to decipher what was happening and when I was unable to grasp the meaning of specific dialogue I instead went on attempting to simply understand the base emotions being conveyed.

What I got from the film was a real sense of anger and injustice at what has happened to the Greek economy. If that was what the filmmaker Ken McMullen was trying to convey then the film was undeniably a success.

Just please don’t make me try to explain it again. This is definitely an example of where art meets cinema and I invite you to watch it but please do tread lightly.

OXI: An Act of Resistance has no UK release date yet but screens at the London Film Festival on the 9th of October 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

BFI London Film Festival 2014 Line-up

BFI London Film Festival 2014

It has begun. Booking for BFI members began for this year’s London Film Festival this week and it was the usual bloodbath as cinephiles fought to obtain tickets to this latest collection of cinematic delights. There are plenty of gems to be found among the hundred of films within the line-up and plenty that don’t star Benedict Cumberbatch or Brad Pitt. Ticket go on sale for the public on Thursday 18th September and you can peruse the full catalogue online at bfi.org.uk/lff. Each film is assigned to one of eleven strands at the festival. Below I take you through the strands one by one and pick out a personal highlight for each.

Love

Love is Strange
Love is Strange

The love strand is all about love, lust, and everything in between. What greater examination of love can there be than looking at a couple 39 years into their relationship? The couple in question are Alfred Molina and Footloose‘s own John Lithgow, a pair who find themselves looking for somewhere to live when one loses his job. During the hunt for a new home each stays at a different apartment and this new distance puts their relationship to the test. From what I have read this is the film to make you fall in love with love again and so is a must see at this year’s festival. Both Molina and Lithgow are hitting career highs and to have them come together as a couple promises to be unmissable.

Debate

Rosewater
Rosewater

Jon Stewart is best known for presenting the scathingly truthful comedy news show The Daily Show, a show that far too often feels like the only honest coverage world news can get. Who better than to present his directorial debut as part of the strand designed to spark debate. Focussing on world politics rather than comedy Stewart explores the incarceration of BBC journalist Maziar Bahari who was arrested for treason while covering the 2009 elections in Iran. If there is anybody who can cover such an event in a balanced way it is Jon Stewart.

Dare

Thou Wast Mild & Lovely
Thou Wast Mild & Lovely

When looking for a daring piece of cinema you can’t go wrong with what the writer-director calls a “magical-realism-romcom-mumblecore-western-with-horror”. The plot involves a married man taking a summer job on a ranch staffed by just the ranch owner and his daughter. I can only imagine what unfold as the BFI give it the just as baffling description of “a rural erotic horror romance”. Sign me up.

Laugh

Night Bus
Night Bus

I’ll let you figure out for yourself what this strand is all about. Night Bus has a simple enough premise; for ninety minutes we follow a double-decker through the streets of London at night. As passengers get on and off we meet a variety of characters, all travelling through the capital when most people are asleep. This appeals to me simply because I know first-hand the joys of the night bus and am curious to see how they translate to the big screen. Possibly one of the most “London” of the films at the festival.

Thrill

The Salvation
The Salvation

An actor that most befits the word “thrilling” is the great Dane Mads Mikkelsen. Mads is taking his chiselled cheekbones to the old West in the what the BFI have dubbed a “smørrebrød western”; I just hope they don’t say that to the director’s face. Fleshing out the international cast are Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and the increasingly prevalent Eric Cantona. If you weren’t convinced at the first mention of Mads Mikkelsen then you clearly haven’t watched enough of his work.

Cult

The Town That Dreaded Sundown
The Town That Dreaded Sundown

You’ve to be careful with cult cinema as what one fan might watch on a weekly basis, you might struggle to sit through once. My pick in this strand is the perfect example of this; a remake of a 1976 horror film set in a world in which the original film is not only true but exists as a film. Call this a sequel, remake, or reimagination, I call it a future cult classic.

Journey

My Old Lady
My Old Lady

There are a few things make a film extra-appealing to me and one prime factor is the presence of a British actor over a certain age. Kevin Kline plays an American writer who inherits a Parisian flat but is unable to sell it unless he can convince its current tenant to move out or die. That tenant? Why it’s Maggie Smith! I’m sold. The Journey strand is filled with journeys, destinations, and beautiful locations.

Sonic

The 78 Project Movie
The 78 Project Movie

Sonic is a collection of films and documentaries that surround the subject of music. My pick of these musical delights is a documentary about American folk music in which the film’s director travels the country recording all manner of musicians performing folk songs on retro recording equipment. The film promises to be a love letter to folk music and analogue technology. Sounds lovely to me.

Family

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow
The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

The Family strand is precisely what it sounds; a collection of films the whole family can enjoy. As someone without children to hand I would also like to point out that a film suitable for children isn’t automatically out-of-bounds for an adult. The more I read about this particular film the more I want to see it. A satellite crashes to Earth and turns into a girl who, along with a cow that used to be human, seeks help from a wizard who has been turned into toilet roll. Pure joyful madness.

Experimenta

Vampire Bat
Imitations of Life

In Experimenta art meets film to create something that doesn’t necessarily feel the need to contain a narrative, character, or any of the usual cinematic devices. Do not go into this expecting the usual collection of shorts, Experimenta is something else entirely. This particular collection of shorts takes existing films and remixes, reshapes, and remakes them. Some will delight you, some with infuriate you, but none will be anything you have seen before.

Treasures

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Here’s what I love about the London Film Festival and the BFI in general. When hearing that part of the festival includes the screening of classic films you might presume that the chosen features would be those held up as artistic masterpieces; beautiful but not necessarily fun. Instead what we have, amongst the artistic, musical, and masterful, is one of the most intense horror films committed to film. While lacking in the gore and nudity more common nowadays Massacre instead maintains a tense, almost unbearable, tone of absolute horror and suspense.