LFF 2019 Day 4 – House of Hummingbird | Made in Bangladesh | Jojo Rabbit

Another international day as I toured Seoul in 1994, modern-day Bangladesh, and Germany in 1945. Turns out life is universally hard everywhere all the time.

House of Hummingbird

While Our Ladies go on a raucous day trip to Edinburgh in Seoul a teenage girl named Eunhee (Park Ji-hu) is having a very different childhood. In a cramped apartment she lives with a sister who brings her boyfriend back to their shared bedroom, a brother who beats her regularly, and parents who fight and make-up on a repeated cycle.

Over 140 minutes we live with Eunhee as she navigates the roller-coaster of adolescence. We watch as friends and romance drift in and out of her life, health scares rise and fall, and her family dynamics border on unbearable. We see the occasional flares of hope as Eunhee makes meaningful human connections, and share in her despair when loved ones let her down. Throughout it all Eunhee remains as a constant, unable to do anything but weather the storm.

This is Kim Bora’s debut film as director and she has made an intimate epic. Over the landscape of a few months in on child’s life her film explores so much. The film is long but somehow could have been half or twice the length. Like life House of Hummingbird doesn’t have a neat, finite plot. Instead it comes with the sense that Eunhee exists outside the parameters of the film and we are only glimpsing a part of her story.

A tender story that shows us a rich picture of South Korea with no filters. The running time might test the patience of some but I could have gone for another round.

Made in Bangladesh

Shimu (Rikita Shimu) is a machinist at a clothing factory in Bangladesh. She works all day, and occasionally all night, to pay the rent and support her unemployed husband. In a given day she will touch thousands of garments and earn less in a month than those basic t-shirts will sell for.

Following a fatal incident at the factory Shimu finds herself as the unlikely leader of a unionising movement in her factory. As Shimu tries to gather evidence and rally support to create a union she clashes with her exploitative employers, nervous friends, and her husband who would rather she kept a lower profile. The fight for basic worker’s rights is often a literal one.

Far from the English films that share this synopsis Made in Bangladesh is light on comic relief and moments of rousing triumph. Shimu’s journey is not easy; it is filled with slow administration, conflict with real consequences, and no promise of a happy ending. As a result it isn’t particularly enjoyable to watch. A pathetic thing to say given to subject matter but there we go.

Made in Bangladesh should be eye-opening to any Westerner with little interest in the providence of their wardrobe. The film feels authentic but also a little inert and lacks a real climax.

Jojo Rabbit

What draws attention when it comes to Jojo Rabbit is the striking visual of writer-director Taika Waititi playing Hitler while trying to make us laugh. Thankfully there is more to Jojo Rabbit than meets the eye, and a lot less Hitler than you might expect. That said, every time a swastika appeared onscreen various parts of me clenched up.

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) lives in Germany with his devoted mother (Scarlett Johansson) during the final year of WWII. Jojo is a devoted member of Hitler Youth and is passionate, if ill-informed, about the Nazi cause. His mania for the Third Reich extends so far that his imaginary friend is a chirpy, encouraging version of Adolf Hitler himself. Jojo and Hitler’s relationship is put to the test when Jojo discovers that his mother is secretly hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house.

Confronted with both his mother’s secret political leanings, and the reality of an actual human Jewish girl, Jojo starts to question the beliefs that define him.

And this is a comedy!

Waititi mines laughs through his silly portrayal of Hitler and the overall depiction of Nazi’s as bumbling oafs in a Wes Anderson-style version of Germany. Rebel Wilson, Sam Rockwell, and Alfie Allen play three slapstick Nazi officers while Johansson is left to bring heart and humanity to the film as the World’s Best Mum Ever™. Throughout the film the audience I was in roared with collective laughter as the horrors of Nazi Germany were undermined by witty lines, comic set pieces, and general gurning.

And then just when we were all relaxed and laughing at Hitler & co. Waititi would pull the rug out and make painfully clear the real horror that the Nazi war machine wrought. Jojo Rabbit is a laugh riot until you are hit in the gut. The gasps of surprise were just as audible as the guffaws.

Jojo Rabbit walks a fine line between satire and distaste but ultimately I think it lands on the right side. I was expecting to laugh, and I certainly did, but I wasn’t expecting to be moved too. Tentatively I’d called the film a success but I have to admit there’s a part of me wondering why they wanted to make it in the first place.

Second guessing yourself every time you laugh can be exhausting.

Lucy – Film Review


Science Fiction has a bad reputation. When the term is used it is often associated with variously coloured humanoids flying through space in the pursuit of an inconsequential MacGuffin. When Science Fiction is at its best it is not simply about the setting of the story but rather about what the story must contain and what it must do with it. A truly great Science Fiction story will take an idea and extrapolate it to its natural, or unnatural, conclusion. While you might criticise Lucy for being silly it takes the idea at its core and runs with it. It does this at breakneck speed and without hesitation.

The idea we are asked to consider with Lucy is a familiar one. If human beings were only using 10% of their brain capacity what would happen if a drug gave them access to the full 100%? The concept of us using only 10% of our brains is not remotely true but this is cinema so we must all suspend our disbelief and move on. Anyone with a memory lasting at least three years will remember that this subject was dealt with in the thoroughly mediocre Limitless in which Bradley Cooper uses his increased brain capacity to get a nice haircut and amass a large personal fortune. In Lucy the titular character, as played by Scarlett Johansson, is in the midst of smuggling a mind-expanding drug when the packet leaks and her body is infected. With her brain capacity ratcheting up to its maximum she must evade those who implanted her with the drug and decide what to do with the immense amount of knowledge she is rapidly digesting.

For Lucy the increased real estate in her cerebral cortex is not something that should be used for financial gain. Instead infinite knowledge leaves her numbed as her emotions dull and she seeks out a way to utilise her powers for the good of mankind. While Limitless was about personal gain Lucy knows that with knowledge comes enlightenment and the need to share. With such a similar premise it is impossible not to compare Lucy with Limitless but the former certainly comes out on top. There is a huge void between the two films and it is filled with a lot of excellent set pieces and a wide scope that spans not only the globe but the history of the universe.

When we first meet Lucy she is a spunky young woman hanging out with her new boyfriend (Pilou Asbæk – Borgen/lots of Danish films you probably haven’t heard of). He tricks her into delivering a mysterious package which leads to her taking on the unpleasant role of international drug smuggler with her innards as the cargo hold. When the ruthless Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi – Oldboy) and his suave British spokesman (Julian Rhind-Tutt – Green Wing) explain that they are willing to kill every member of her family, no matter how remote, Lucy has no choice but to comply with their plans.


Thanks to misogynistic henchmen Lucy finds herself groped and beaten up. It is this act of violence that causes the drug to leak into Lucy’s system and gradually crank up her brain capacity. As the film progresses Lucy gains more and more abilities; learning to take full control of her body, then objects around her, and finally… Maybe you should see for yourself. In trying to abuse Lucy and treat her as an object rather than a human the men instead raise her to a level where no man can compete. Indeed an endless supply of both mobsters and police struggle to so much as slow her down.

Johansson puts in another fantastic performance to add to her recent array of intriguing acting choices. No longer is she the eye-candy in the Marvel line-up or taking the dubious position of muse to Woody Allen. Scarlett Johansson is frequently in the most talked about films and putting in high level work. Here we get to see her take on two roles; that of the chirpy young women and then the highly logical and emotionally blank (almost) superhuman she becomes. By the end of the film Lucy lacks the flaws that make us human. Her every action is graceful and considered and her face no longer shows happiness, fear, or any sign of effort. Johansson’s talent is showcased as she portrays the contrast between these distinct versions of her character and does so with nuance.

While Johansson is working hard to prove herself as this year’s hardest working actor Morgan Freeman simply plays Morgan Freeman. This version of Morgan Freeman is a scientist whose early lecture helps explain the concept to us in plain English and provides Lucy with some hope and a sense of purpose towards the end. His slow speech pattern is literally (literally) the only time you have to rest in the film as everything else is turned up to 11. If you need to take a toilet break wait for Freeman to open his mouth and hurry.

The film has a ridiculous premise but has a lot to say and it does so with confidence. It takes itself very seriously and feels no need for wry asides or comic relief. In fact it feels the need for no relief at all; the film is a tight 89 minutes and doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Writer and director Luc Besson has described the film as taking the form of Besson’s own Léon: The Professional then Inception and finally 2001: A Space Odyssey. It wears the influences of each on its sleeve along with dozens of other genre classics.

More than anything Lucy is supremely entertaining. I found myself with a racing pulse and decimated nails come the final curtain as my body physically responded to the experience. You might want to dismiss Lucy as being idiotic but you’ll be missing out on one hell of a fun film.

Whether it will stand up to closer scrutiny I cannot yet say but coming out of the screening Lucy was most definitely a five-star film.

Lucy is on wide release in the UK from 22nd August 2014.

Don Jon – LFF Film Review

Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the perfect example of how well a child star can turn out. Since his childhood spent making us laugh in 3rd Rock from the Sun Gordon-Levitt has steadily been building up an acting CV filled with impressive roles in both indie fare and mainstream blockbusters. Now to impress us further he has written and directed his own feature in which he also stars. Oh Joseph, is there anything you can’t do?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Jon, a man obsessed with his car and his body and who is nicknamed Don Jon by his friends because of his unbroken streak of taking home a different woman every night they go out. Much as Jon loves these illicit encounters there is one thing he loves more than sex; Jon is addicted to porn. While a real woman comes with limitations and complication with porn Jon can find exactly what he wants and lose himself in a way he has never been able to achieve with sex itself. The wide variety of porn available at his fingertips has warped what Jon expects from a real life sexual encounter and his streaming smut is something he refuses to give up.

One night at the club Jon comes across the first woman who doesn’t fall for his charms and somehow manages to NOT go home with him. This woman is Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and she isn’t going to let Jon get her in bed without him first playing along with her idea of what a relationship should be. Barbara does not approve of porn but has a weakness for romantic comedies (cue an amusing parody with Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum) which has warped her own expectations of what men should do for their woman. Jon and Barbara go through the motions of a relationship as they meet one another’s friends and family but Barbara can’t live up to Jon’s pornographic ideals and he isn’t the romantic lead she’s looking for. With the help of a classmate, at the night school he attends to impress Barbara, an older woman called Ester (Julianne Moore) Jon learns that there’s more to life than porn.

Gordon-Levitt directs with a confident and deliberate style with an almost aggressive use of carefully cropped pornographic clips which are frequently utilised throughout the film to show how Jon’s world is warped by the contents of his internet browser history. As a writer he has crafted a film that strays from the usual path and tells a unique story of one man’s personal growth that is as far from cheesy or saccharin as it is possible to be. Gordon-Levitt has a lot he wants to say about the way the media as a whole gives us dangerous levels of expectations from our significant others and at times the message gets a little heavy-handed but when the film is working at its best the lesson is deftly handled.

The highlights of the film for me were Jon’s weekly trips to church during which he would confess the previous seven days worth of sins, his sexual exploits are counted up for the Father’s benifit, followed by a family dinner. It is at these meals that we see what has made Jon into Don Jon with his aggressive vest wearing father (Tony Danza) and fawning mother (Glenne Headly) who are two fantastically realised caricatures. Brie Larson makes a mostly mute, and a slightly too brief, appearance as Jon’s sister who seems mostly disinterested in her family but offers him the best advice of the film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first foray behind the camera is not perfect but is a bold and commanding debut with a lot to say. Somehow he manages to tackle a tricky subject without making the film seem cheap or smutty. I think his success can be marked by the fact that a sex scene towards the end of the film had the woman sitting next to me in floods of tears after having spent the rest of the film laughing out loud.

Don Jon screens at the festival on the 20th October and is in UK cinemas on 15th November 2013.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Under the Skin – LFF Film Review

Under the Skin

Under the Skin is not a film trying to make things easy on its audience so the synopsis I have come up with here is only as accurate as I can hope to get after just one viewing. Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien who has landed in Scotland and taken human form. In order to maintain her appearance she must kidnap and dissolve human beings she finds along her way.

Capturing human beings does not prove difficult for an alien with Scarlett Johansson’s face. In cheap clothes she drives around the streets in a white van asking for directions until she finds a man who won’t be missed and who is willing to follow her home. Once in her surreal home the men follow Johansson inside on the promise of sex but soon realise that lovemaking is not on the cards. The visuals involved in this act are sublime and surreal and I really don’t want to spoilt them for you. Suffice to say that this is low budget Sci-Fi at its best and the focus is on atmosphere and imagery rather than fancy gadgetry or boring exposition.

While the opening shot is reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as we see some abstract shapes come together slowly to form an eye, the rest of the film has more of a The Man Who Fell to Earth feel about it though with much less dialogue and without being nearly so awful. The setting of the film is Scotland and we are mostly shown busy roads and foggy countryside rather than gleaming spaceships. All we ever see of anything resembling and alien craft is an expanse of either black or white space. If the devil is in the detail this sparse production design is positively heavenly.

At the heart of the film we are seeing our world through the eyes of an alien and the perception clearly is that we can be easily exploited through our greatest weakness – men’s desire for women. Johansson’s alien’s survival depends solely on the fact that men will find her beautiful and want to instantly have sex with her. The proof of the film’s concept is that not all the men involved were actors and that Johansson actually drove around Glasgow in the van, disguised by a short dark wig and English accent, and real men gladly got in with her. Man’s almost animalistic desire for sex is our downfall in Under the Skin and ultimately is what brings about the film’s conclusion.

A surreal and lyrical experience Under the Skin is not Sci-Fi for those who like space battle and explosions but for those who like a unique look at the human condition. This is very much Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction though a special brand that strips back even the dialogue and prioritises atmosphere and visuals (not just visual effects). Scarlett Johansson has clearly taken a risk in appearing in a British Sci-Fi film but it has most definitely paid off thanks to excellent work from director Jonathan Glazer.

Under the Skin does not yet have a UK release date.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Hitchcock – Film Review


Over Christmas the BBC decided to celebrate the great Alfred Hitchcock by screening some of his films, including the wonderful Rebecca, and co-producing drama The Girl which portrayed Hitchcock as an abusive sex pest as he directed Tippy Hedren in The Birds. The Girl was a fantastic piece of drama with Toby Jones giving a deep performance as Hitchcock and the film taking a strong, if not necessarily accurate, stance on the type of man Hitchcock was.

Now in cinemas we have Hitchcock which takes place just before The Girl as Hitch (“hold the cock”) tackles his new production of Psycho against the advice of everyone but his long-suffering wife Alma (Helen Mirren). In contrast to the sinister tone of the BBC’s effort Hitchcock has a more jovial atmosphere. Anthony Hopkins plays Hitch with his tongue in his cheek and seems to be aiming more for caricature than for character. The film opens with Hopkins addressing the camera in the style of Hitchcock and this nicely sets the audiences expectations for the rest of the film.

Hitchcock 2

While the main plot is concerned with the less than smooth production of Psycho the more interesting story at play here is the relationship between Alma and Alfred, something that was far from the spotlight in The Girl. As Hitchcock becomes engrossed in his new film, and new muse Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson giving her best performance in a good few years), Alma cheats on him in the worst way possible; by helping to adapt a script for another man. Mirren and Hopkins make for a great dysfunctional couple; much as they may fight there’s an underlying love that breaks through. In a film with little authenticity it offers a glimpse of genuine tenderness.

Where Hitchcock goes slightly astray is in its fantasy sequences involving Ed Gein, the psycho who inspired the novel Psycho which inspired the film Psycho (which later inspired the Gus Van Sant remake Psycho). While the rest of the film is one loose bikini away from becoming Carry On Hitchcock these brief interludes are closer to Carrie than Carry On. Hitchcock dreams about talking to Gein and even starts fantasising about using the psycho as a psychotherapist. The scenes are jarring and have no real impact on the rest of the film so are a bizarre inclusion.

Hitchcock 3

Hitchcock does not fare well from direct comparison with The Girl lacking as it does the dramatic weight, distinct message, and flawless acting of the latter. A direct comparison isn’t exactly helpful though as they are two different beast. The characters involved may share names but they do not share personalities and neither do the films; one is most certainly a drama and the other more of a comedy. The two films can contradict each other and still co-exist.

For my money Hitchcock is just as valid as The Girl; it is less enthralling but makes up for it in entertainment value.

We Bought a Zoo – Trailer and Pics

In April last year we were wondering what had happened to Cameron Crowe after his latest film Elizabethtown had a less than successful release. One month later we discovered he was planning on writing and directing We Built a Zoo and now a year and a bit later it has a new name (removing the possibility of a building montage) and we have a trailer:


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Well, it certainly looks like a heart-warming family film. Nice to see a film with animals in a zoo that don’t talk, we’ll just have to guess which is the sassy one.

Now if you fancy a lingering look at Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and some animals we’ve got you covered with some stills from the film. There’s even a few pictures of Crowe himself, proof he still exists:

Slow News Day

It’s a bit of a slow news day today, but there are a few rumours floating around that aren’t quite worthy of a full post each.

Firstly Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson are tipped to costar in a romantic comedy Breathers: A Zombie Lament, a romantic comedy about a zombie adjusting to living as one of the undead and all the prejudice that comes with it. Could be interesting if it goes ahead.

The second piece of news is that Warner Bros are looking to adapt Neil Gaiman’s gorgeous comic series The Sandman into a TV series. They’re hardly the first to try and the fact that it takes place mostly in a dream world makes it particularly hard to film. They are supposedly talking to Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural, about the possible series which may be a good thing.

I’m feeling very non-committal today, but it’s hard to get behind these projects when they might come to nothing. Here’s a little treat as compensation:

A Little Treat

Iron Man 2 – Review

As it’s a bank holiday all you’re getting is a long overdue review of Iron Man 2. For the short version: It’s not as bad as I had expected after reading other reviews. For the longer version:

Don Cheadle is the New Terrance Howard
Neither Cheadle nor Howard gave particularly stand out performance as Rhodey and the transition of actors was covered in Cheadle’s first bit of dialogue; “Look, it’s me, I’m here. Deal with it. Let’s move on.” The recasting was neither a big improvement or a major failure, just slightly pointless.

Scarlett Johansson is Very Pretty
Another big name that doesn’t make too much of an impact beyond making Gwyneth Paltrow look positively dowdy in comparison.

Sam Rockwell is Awesome
Rockwell continues to show just how versatile he is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him give two similar performances and doubt I ever will… unless he plays the same character twice.

Robert Downey Jr. is Awesome, In a Different Way
Downey Jr. often seems to just be playing himself but in this way makes whatever character he’s playing seem incredibly real. There is something wonderfully naturalistic in the way he delivers dialogue.

It Was More Than a Set-Up for The Avengers
A lot of criticism portrays this film as building up for the big team up rather than being a film in it’s own right. While the Avengers are mentioned it is a minor point and I felt the film had a plot, of arguable quality, of its own.

The Film is Alright
No it isn’t as good as the first but this is the best cast of any super hero film so far and they didn’t cram in too many bad guys. The film was enjoyable and gave me what I expected, even if that was something a little unsatisfying.