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?

Wildlife


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.

Get In Your Eyes In Your Eyes (and Ears)

In Your Eyes

The fanboy I was a few years ago would be devastated that I was oblivious to the fact that a Joss Whedon scripted film was premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival last night. The fanboy I am these days is instead delighted by this sudden surprise piece of Whedon and in particular that he has released it online globally on the same day as its Tribeca premiere.

The film in question is In Your Eyes which was written by Whedon, directed by Brin Hill, and stars Michael Stahl-David and Zoe Kazan as two strangers who find themselves able to sense what one another is feeling. I have yet to watch for myself but the concept certainly intrigues me infinitely more than catching up on what the Avengers are getting up to.

In Your Eyes is available to stream over on Vimeo from yesterday and costs a mere $5 which in UK money comes in at around £3. This is a very friendly price if you compare it to another streaming film such as The Lunchbox (chosen at random because I recently looked it up and ran away scared at the price) which will set you back £10 on Curzon Home Cinema.

While I no longer consider myself to be the die-hard Whedonite I once was, and certainly don’t love everything he has produced, I admire the fact that he hasn’t let the franchise world swallow him up. While he may be working on one of cinema’s biggest franchises Whedon continues to work on smaller, more interesting films that are far more rewarding than their big budget siblings. After The Cabin in the Woods, Much Ado About Nothing, and now In Your Eyes I can’t wait to see what the indie half of Joss Whedon does next.

As for whether this new release is any good we turn to Northern Correspondent and The Cabin in the Woods reviewer Rach:

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Now watch the first five minutes, and maybe shell out £3, to see what you think for yourself:

In Your Eyes – Trailer from Bellwether Pictures on Vimeo.

Ruby Sparks – Film Review

Lonely writer Calvin (Paul Dano) is struggling to write his second novel when he starts to dream about a young woman. Finally inspired he starts to write the book of their first meeting and subsequent romance. Much to his surprise the girl from his novel appears in his kitchen completely unaware that she is a fictional creation. At first all is well with the enigmatic Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) but when the cracks in their relationship start to show Calvin finds himself tempted to “tweak” his dream girl by writing more about her. And you thought your boyfriend was controlling.

On the surface Ruby Sparks comes across as yet another typical indie film in which an unattractive male snares a beautiful but damaged manic pixie dream girl but there is much more to the film than that. Ruby Sparks is actually seeming to comment on the very nature of the manic pixie dream girl as the idealised romantic interest for nerds. The film goes to show that these women of fantasy are real, have flaws, and deserve to be treated as full human beings rather than whimsical ideas capable of brightening an otherwise dull existence.

While funny throughout Ruby Sparks is not an out-and-out comedy. Once Calvin and Ruby have settled into a relationship a rather dark idea starts to permeate the film; if you could “fix” your partner would you? Should you? Calvin has Ruby in the most controlling type of relationship, one in which if he wants her to love him differently he can make it so simply by typing it. The scene in which this level of control comes to a head is intense, unsettling, and a little heartbreaking. It is not uncommon in life to love someone and yet somehow hurt them more than you would anyone else.

Zoe Kazan has written a truly intriguing tale looking not just at the way women can be reduced in the male writer’s mind to a collection of quirks with no feelings, but also at the way some people try to control those they love the most. Kazan has taken on the title role herself and puts in an impressive performance as the ever-changing Ruby Sparks. Despite the changing personality there is a single coherent character present. One that both conforms to the manic pixie dream girl stereotype and tries to break out beyond it.

Other people with more impressive names are in this film but it is all down to Kazan and Dano. It is easy to sympathise with both even as one becomes an oppressor and the other simply doesn’t really exist.

Ruby Sparks is in UK cinemas 12th October 2012