Tag Archives: Cynthia Nixon

London Film Festival 2016: Day 13

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by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

And that’s that.  I’m back home now, in Scunthorpe, got in last night after 2 full weeks away in London.  My experience of gallivanting around the nation’s capital for 12 solid days as a professional film critic all by myself with no backup if anything went wrong has come to a close and, aside from traumatising the neighbour of the man I was Homestay-ing at on the first night by mistaking her house for his, the whole thing went off without a hitch.  I didn’t get lost, I didn’t lose anything, I didn’t run out of money like I was terrified would happen, I didn’t get robbed, I didn’t make an ass of myself in front of anybody.  No, it all went fine.  Hell, it went better than fine, it went near-perfectly.  I saw 40 films overall (41 if you count my seeing Free Fire twice) within the span of 12 days, I got into most all of the screenings I wanted to, and I managed to crank out a full-length article for each one of those days, all without my enthusiasm or energy dropping once – aside from that final night where I finished my work, collapsed onto bed, and then slept for an uninterrupted 9 hours.

I did it, in other words.  I really did it.  I had so many fears and anxieties prior to this trip that everything was going to go wrong and that I wasn’t good enough to deserve this trip and what if I hated the experience and what if I wasn’t inspired to work, and none of those mattered in the end because I did it.  Nothing went wrong, I turned in some of what I feel is my best work yet, I loved every second of the whole thing, and, once I’ve taken a day or two to recuperate, I feel fully re-invigorated and ready to start bashing out new pieces left, right, and centre – there’s the Christine/Kate Plays Christine piece I already have plotted out, and I’m finally going to tackle that “Lost Cels” entry I’ve had on the backburner for a year just for starters.  In a rarity for my life, everything was just as I had hoped and I actually pulled it off instead of falling flat on my face.  This fortnight, as previously mentioned, has been the greatest and I currently feel better than I have done in a long time.

But enough about me.  You want to know what the best films of the festival were out of the 40 that I managed to see.  Well, if you are too lazy to go looking back through all my prior articles from the festival in order to figure that out for yourself, then you’ve come to the right place.  I saw a lot of great films during this festival, 2 of which I would especially feel comfortable putting in the upper echelons of my Top 20 of the Year list if both of them come out to the general populace in time, but these are the crème-de-la-crème, so to speak.  They’re also arranged in alphabetical order rather than order of preference both because you should go and read my other articles, and because I’m lazy and really cannot be bothered right now to stamp them into a definitive ranked order.  So, without further delay, here are Callum Petch’s 10 Best Films of the London Film Festival 2016 (That He Managed To See)!

V63A9899.jpgA Quiet Passion: I usually despise costume dramas, and a torturously long and dull pair of Awards Seasons these past two years have turned biopics into a tainted genre for me, but I sincerely could not get enough of Terence Davies’ costume drama biopic of acclaimed-after-her-time poet Emily Dickinson.  Equal parts witty and tragic, Davies manages to walk the fine line between communicating to the viewer how sappingly dull Emily’s life was despite her hopes and wishes without boring the viewer, as he and a tour-de-force Cynthia Nixon performance paint a complex, sympathetic, and all-too-relatable picture of an independent, undervalued, and increasingly bitter woman forced to sit back and watch life happen to everyone but her.  A stunning film.

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Arrival: Nothing came close to Arrival at the London Film Festival, this year.  Many films tried, one almost succeeded, but nothing else was remotely on the level of Denis Villenueve’s instant sci-fi classic that offers something for everyone – hard sci-fi, existentialism, edge-of-your-seat tension, sincere sentimentality – but still has a singular identity of its own.  Containing many of the best scenes of the entire year (I am still in total awe of the phenomenal first contact sequence), Amy Adams’ best work in a long time, gorgeous cinematography from Bradford Young, an essential score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, and all masterfully handled by Eric Heisserer’s screenplay and Villenueve’s impeccable directing, Arrival is one of those films that really does remind you of just how powerful cinema can be.  Smart, heartfelt, astoundingly beautiful, more adjectives that express positive emotions!

chasing_asylum_01Chasing Asylum: Created with the intention of “shaming” the Australian government over their abhorrent and damn-near illegal immigration policies, Chasing Asylum has found itself more vital relevance given the current state of the Western world and our constant dehumanisation and discriminatory rhetoric towards refugees.  An absolutely horrifying glimpse into the brutal and inhuman detention centres purposefully designed by the Australian government to convince those desperately needing help to turn back or stay locked in as prisoners, Eva Orner manages to create an incisive and righteous condemnation of the kinds of policies a worrying amount of other nations are believing to be the gold standard in immigration control without losing touch of the fact that these are human beings being affected by countries who see them as nothing more than statistical parasites.  Mandatory viewing.

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Christine/Kate Plays Christine: OK, so this is now technically a Top 11 list, but the two Christines are so inseparable from one another to me – both inadvertently complimenting and contrasting, justifying and negating each other’s existences – that I can’t talk about one without mentioning the other.  Both tackling the live on-air suicide of local news journalist Christine Chubbuck in July of 1974 in different ways – Christine via an empathetic and highly-accurate depiction and communication of living with depression, Kate Plays Christine via examining the acting method, finding a meaning in an act that none of us can fully understand, and questioning the quietly sadistic reason why we’re all interested in Christine’s story in the first place – the two films are exceptional watches that have refused to leave my brain ever since I saw them.  And, for the record, Kate Plays Christine is the better film, but Christine has resonated with me more, especially with its career-best Rebecca Hall performance.

elle_02Elle: Yeah, this one really grew on me.  Partially because I saw two other films this festival that demonstrated in great detail just how badly this could have gone wrong, and partially because further discussion about it with other people has made the words coming out of my mouth not sound absolutely horrible.  Elle is button-pushing cinema made by the master of button-pushing cinema, but it also never feels exploitative or offensive, the provocations coming out of a desire to make the viewer examine and re-examine their attitudes towards sexual assault, rape culture, and misogyny – thankfully in ways that cannot be reduced to, and never even get close to, “maybe these are good things.”  Paul Verhoeven directs with assured determination, Isabelle Huppert commandingly keeps things on track at all times with a fascinatingly complex performance, and it’s honestly refreshing to watch a drama about a middle-aged woman for a change.  Plus, like I said before, it’s never ever dull.

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My Life as a Courgette: Incredibly sweet, moving, and taking full advantage of the medium of Animation, My Life as a Courgette is a wonderful drama about life in a group home for orphaned, “damaged” children.  It could stand to be longer than the 66 minutes it runs for, but that’s out of a desire to spend more time in its world and with its characters rather than any rushed storytelling issues.  Crowdpleasing but powered by a melancholy undercurrent that doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the harsh reality that these kids are unlikely to ever be lucky enough to find a new home, and at turns very funny and quietly heartbreaking, Courgette is reminiscent of The Story of Tracy Beaker and is similarly a brilliant piece of work.

nocturama_01Nocturama: At the risk of sounding like every clichéd lad’s mag writer whenever they review a particularly nasty piece of work, Nocturama really does not give a f**k what you want it to be.  It is bleak, confrontational, provocative, seemingly-pointless filmmaking that could lend itself to being called “punk rock” if it weren’t so intentionally detached in its direction, even when it is indulging in stylistic touches.  But Bertrand Bonello’s near-masterpiece, if you get it, eventually reveals itself to a searing indictment of youthful arrogance, egocentrism, and pointless rebellion, a repudiation of materialism and indulgence, and a giant middle-finger to any act of authority-bucking born out of boredom.  It is nasty, compulsive, angry, gripping, callous, essential viewing – Spring Breakers as delivered through the medium of domestic terrorism and without any of the sympathy, and just like Harmony Korine’s own near-masterpiece is gonna divide audiences like there’s no tomorrow.  You’ll either get it or you really won’t, but those that do are in for one hell of a film.

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The Handmaiden: The most pure fun I had at the entire festival, Park Chan-wook’s latest is the Park Chan-wook-iest film ever made, and all the better for it.  The Handmaiden is the trashy psycho-sexual drama that Chan-wook was born to make and he puts on one hell of a directing masterclass, here, effortlessly jumping between tones, genres, and a pile-up of twists with skilful aplomb.  Phenomenally acted, gorgeously shot, and refreshingly gay as all get out, The Handmaiden balances being ludicrous fun with a surprisingly insightful condemnation of misogynistic erotica and the patriarchy.  It does feel about 15 minutes too long and is a little slow to get going, but even as the end credits were rolling I knew that the film was one that will only grow on repeat viewings, as prior knowledge of where things will end up shine a light on elements I missed the first time around.  Plus, it’s a fantastic reminder that Park Chan-wook is still one of the very best directors in the business.

« VOIR DU PAYS » Un long métrage de Delphine et Muriel COULINThe Stopover: French film really cleaned house at this year’s festival, as you can probably tell.  The Stopover is an uncompromising drama about PTSD, misogyny, and toxic masculinity, all brought to boil in the military, and all on the verge of bubbling over during a mandated “decompression” weekend in a 5-star Cyprus resort.  Viewed through the eyes of the 3 women in a regiment otherwise entirely filled with men, The Stopover draws attention to just how tiring, draining, and menacing being exposed to this kind of rampant casual hatred from your ostensible comrades-in-arms can be, building up a surprisingly tense head of steam that pays off in a deeply disturbing way during its finale.  This is one hell of a calling card for The Coulin Sisters, who have very bright futures ahead of them if they can make further films even half as good as this.

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Women Who Kill: I had a very hard time deciding between this and Prevenge for the final slot, but in the end I gave the edge to Women Who Kill purely on the basis of Prevenge being basically guaranteed to get its due with the world when it gets a proper release, and Women Who Kill being hella gay.  Sardonic, witty, very New York, but also capable of an unsettling streak when it aims for it, this twist on the “is my partner a murderous psychopath?” subgenre is super-entertaining viewing.  Writer-director-and-star Ingrid Jungermann’s script is on-point, the performances are all spot on, and its specific immersion in the lesbian New York scene provides a refreshing perspective and a diverse and non-stereotypical collection of lesbian characters in film who all feel lived-in and somewhat real.  A real discovery, Women Who Kill deserves to find a wider audience than it inevitably will.

Callum Petch won’t play your hide-and-seek game.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

London Film Festival 2016: Day 5

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by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Regular followers of my work, whether that be written articles found on my site (callumpetch.com), my former Hullfire Radio show Screen 1, or here on Failed Critics, will likely be aware that I really don’t like costume dramas.  It’s not for a lack of trying, mind you; I don’t automatically become actively contemptuous and roll my eyes heavily whenever I spy a costume drama that I’m going to have to watch.  I just really don’t like them.  They’ve basically never grabbed me, whether they be classics of the genre like the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice, or modern critical darlings like Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd, or just apparently enjoyable fluff like Carey Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre adaptation.  I try so very hard to be interested, hooked, engaged… yet I inevitably get sent to sleep by them, and that’s not an exaggeration.  I find the dialogue to be alternately impenetrable and nowhere near as witty as it thinks it’s being, I find the conflicts to be far too insufferable upper-class-wankery to be able to get invested, the pacing to be unreasonably slow, and most all of them carry this air of self-importance to their own existence that keeps me at arm’s length at all times.

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I tell you this so that you can adequately understand just how much I love Terrence Davies’ A Quiet Passion (Grade: A-); that even I, a hardcore costume drama sceptic, could fall effortlessly in love with this absolutely phenomenal biopic of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon).  Of course, that’s probably because it steers clear of the typical costume drama problems, as well as the typical biopic problems; dressing itself up in that 18th Century upper-class English garb despite being set in 19th Century America and telling a story with issues specific to that time but free from the usual bourgeois un-relatable frivolity that turns me off of these sorts of movies.  This is a film that is far less interested in Dickinson as a poet and far more in Dickinson as a person – her complicated relationship with faith and the 19th Century’s hardline Christianity, her fears of death and mundanity, of a life unfulfilled, the difficulty of being an outspoken woman even when surrounded by supposedly supportive family, the condescension she received for trying to be a female artist, and how loneliness and self-loathing can curdle into bitterness and outward hatred.

It moves at a measured pace but avoids tipping over into slowness.  Whole months can suddenly pass without any prior warning, Emily continues to write but often makes no further progress in stature as a poet – late on in the film, she mentions having had 11 poems at most published at that late point in her life – her days empty and unfulfilling as friends come and go, family members marry or depart, and Emily slowly becomes more reclusive and difficult for people other than her sister Lavina (Jennifer Ehle) to be around.  It’s something that becomes really affecting the longer the film runs for, the viewer slowly acclimating to the fact that Emily, in life at least, ultimately became and lived the very life she was so afraid of succumbing to.  It’s hard, but truthful, like the Brontë works that Emily admires yet are written off by male tastemakers out-of-hand as worthless trash that grab the heart but not the memory, and that’s what makes the film hit.  Davies’ script is brilliant, but it’s also often a very light thing, which I don’t mean as an insult.  It’s genuinely witty, highly quotable, and manages to craft a great complex sketch of its subject.

That complexity then ends up being wonderfully realised by a revelatory Cynthia Nixon.  She’s bitingly witty in ways that are hilarious and hurtful.  She’s clearly wracked with great pain and aching desire, the kind where you want to give her a great big hug and tell her it’s all going to be alright, but it’s the kind of pain that’s deep-seated and toxic, where she wants intimacy but can’t stop herself from pushing away anybody who gets too close.  She’s not always likeable, but she’s always sympathetic, and this herculean work by Nixon is what helps elevate A Quiet Passion into being one of the year’s best films.  It’s immensely entertaining viewing, captivating and measured without becoming ponderous and glacial, witty and sophisticated but also heartbreaking and solemn, of a time yet universal in its relatability.  Quietly brilliant and loudly phenomenal at the same time; Emily Dickinson could not have received a more fitting movie.

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Conveniently, or possibly rather shrewdly on the part of festival programmers, the other big film screened today, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (Grade: B/B+), is also a measured character study about a creatively unfulfilled poet, this one played by Adam Driver.  Paterson (Driver) lives in Paterson, New Jersey with his loving wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their bulldog Marvin, and works as a bus driver.  His real passion appears to be writing poetry, poetry that he’s really good at, but he resists labelling himself as a poet and, in fact, refuses to show anyone his book of poems despite the urgings of Laura.  He goes through life following the exact same daily routine, living modestly and quietly and never really doing much of consequence, as we see through the one week of his life that the film covers.

Paterson doesn’t say much, and we don’t get to see inside of him that much, but one gets the sense that, despite his claims that he’s content with his lot in life, he’s deeply unhappy with much of it.  Or, at the very least, that he’s unfulfilled with the direction his life is going in.  Laura appears to feel similarly, but where Paterson’s unspoken unfulfilment leads to him sheltering his creative output to the rest of the world, Laura instead throws her energy behind 20 different things at once – interior decorating, cupcake making, learning the guitar so she can become a world-famous country singer – hoping that at least one of them sticks and brings the validation she so desperately craves.  It’s a study of two people who don’t know what they want but do know that, aside from each other (as the film never once hints that they are anything other than deeply in love with one another), what they do want is not this.

As somebody who himself has been struggling lately with uncertainty and anxiety over not knowing exactly what it is he actually wants in life, Paterson frequently managed to strike a genuine chord with me, but maybe not enough for me to become as enthusiastic about it as I was with A Quiet Passion.  It’s a very dry and introspective film, sometimes too much for its own good due to just how hard it is to get much of a read on Paterson himself.  That said, it also possesses a sardonic wit and sense of humour about itself that manifests itself in often unexpected but incredibly funny ways, as the film finds the funny in the mundane weirdness that can occur in your day-to-day life.  Driver is really good, but I was more impressed by Farahani and her effortlessly charming and lived-in performance, and the pair have a wonderful sweet chemistry together that re-routes the film every time it threatens to meander off the tracks.  It’s very Jarmusch, to reduce things to their bluntest terms, so your enjoyment will vary depending on your prior tolerance for Jarmusch films.  As for me, I was engaged more often than not, and there are some moments of genuine profundity in here.

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My journeys into the realm of getting press or rush tickets for public screenings have been wildly hit-and-miss so far, with the surprising find of the vital Chasing Asylum and the expectation-exceeding Christine being followed up by the sadly disappointing Jewel’s Catch One and, now, the nasty and awful Chameleon (Grade: D-).  The debut feature from writer-director Jorge Riquelme Serrano and playing in competition, Chameleon follows a bickering lesbian Chilean couple, Paula (Paula Zúñiga) and Pauli (Paulina Urrutia), the day after they host a going-away party for Paula, who is moving to London for a job.  They wake up, shower, clean up the house, have a bicker about leaving the taps running, and then the doorbell rings.  It’s a handsome young man (Gastón Salgado) who was a friend of a friend’s at their party last night, and he’s brought glasses and wine to make up for said friend supposedly acting like a jackass.  Paula invites him in but is suspicious.  His story sounds shady, he seems really interested in ploughing the ladies with wine, and he doesn’t seem to get the hint during much of Pauli and Paula’s bickering that he needs to leave.

Then things get nasty.  There’s the germ of an interesting movie in here – particularly since the director clarified in the post-film Q&A that it was made in response to the disproportionately high rate of violence against women in Chile – but the way that Chameleon goes about it is in the nastiest, ugliest manner possible.  If the film removed the open nastiness for something more subtle and unsettling, or chose to dive deep into examining why the man does what he does, then maybe the film could have had something.  Instead, the more unsettling moments of gaslighting and emotional manipulation are undercut by extended sequences of sudden extreme violence, forced-drugging, and some good-old-fashioned rape for good measure.  The film also fails to find anything to say about the subject beyond “random violence by monstrous men is a thing that happens,” and that’s nowhere near as unique an insight as Serrano seems to believe it is.

But it doesn’t stop there, either.  For one, this is somehow the third film I’ve seen in as many days whose attempts to challenge our preconceptions about rape and the issue of consent turn out to be, “But what if the woman WANTED to be raped?” and maybe we should just stop men from writing stories about rape for the time being.  (Side note: that sentence is actually unnecessarily reductive and harsh to Elle, which I think handled this complex and provocative idea somewhat well, but dear lord do I need that film to come out so I can actually talk about it with other people.)  Whilst for two, the film opens and briefly flashes back to the young man performing the same sort of routine on the gay man he attended the unseen party with, and although the film and the director refute him being so, this ends up leading to the film tracking in some of the harmful stereotypes of depraved bisexuals that I, someone who identifies as bisexual himself, am just so sick and tired of seeing in the media, especially since much of his treatment of his victims carries sexual undertones on his part.

The only thing that saves Chameleon from being an utterly disgusting disgrace is the fact that it at least has the common sense to realise that what is happening is disturbing and unconscionable, and doesn’t intentionally become exploitative garbage.  But the longer it runs on for, the clearer it becomes that there is no point being made here, and that there being no point being made is not intentional.  If it were more like the underseen Compliance or Michael Haneke’s original Funny Games, Chameleon may have been salvageable.  Instead, I do not blame the drove of people who walked out just prior to the hour mark.  The only reason I stayed myself was due to my principle of never walking out of a movie, and even I have to question whether that was worth it.

Day 6: Amy Adams makes first contact as Denis Villeneuve follows up the instant classic Sicario with Arrival.

Callum Petch knows you’ve always had a feather head.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!