BFI London Film Festival: A Monster Calls – Review

J. A. Boyona is a monster.

Ok, he’s not but he is a really gifted director who manipulates our emotions and toys with our tear ducts. A prodigy of Guillermo Del Toro, Boyana has crafted his own style which is fantastical realism blighted by a sheer visceral undertow (although The Impossible is perhaps an exception to this rule.) With L’Orphanage being perhaps the most astute and poignant supernatural horror film of recent years, his work has reached absolute critical acclaim. One hopes he doesn’t lose this for the next Jurassic Park film but, certainly, all of his tendancies are there with A Monster Calls.

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This is a delicate and beguiling film that enchants with it’s an absolutely storming film centring around child trauma and grief. Unabashed to show the darker elements of a sickened mother (Felicity Jones’ appearance is a shocking but truthful depiction of a cancer sufferer,) the film circles Connor’s own sorrow at the events and his completely anger. It’s achingly beautiful as he tries to navigate this distressing landscape and is terrified of letting the truth of his anguish out. In this respect, A Monster Calls is harrowingly honest with a soulful root to it that teaches us how complex humans really are, even our children. With the younger characters portrayed with this range of feelings, the lack of patronisation and honesty makes this a fantastic film for all ages.

He is surrounded by more adept actors such as Felicity Jones; who plays illness and hope in this engaging character, wistful entrancing you into her folly and Sigourney Weaver; an uptight grandmother unravelling emotionally with her daughter (though as great as she does it, the British accent is disconcerting.) Even Toby Kebbell manages to shake off his recent flops to master the great talent we all know he has despite a brief performance.

This realistic British family struggles are immersed into a grander scope of fantastic as Liam Neeson’s wise tree (a mixture of Groot and Aslan) visits Connor to impart knowledge to the young lad to better his circumstances. The watercolour tales splash upon the screen in glorious colour and immerse you into the world of Connor and his mother. Utilising this aesthetic for the fantasy story really builds on the childlike elements as well as the mature adult painting skill.

You’ll not leave this screening without etches of tears sticking to your face. It will unearth the deepest sobs and the utmost grief. But as always, Boyana miraculously interweaves joy and wonder into the movie with the most glorious imagery and motifs that will ring out.

 A Monster Calls says that as flawed as humans are, our truth is always the most important – no matter how dark it can become. And it’s OK to feel that way.

A Monster Calls is out 6th January 2017 

BFI London Film Festival: Certain Women – Review

by Jamie Garwood 

In the last ten or so years of reviewing films and witnessing the beginning of genuine brilliant careers and attending film festivals around the country, you get to see films from all walks of life, that gestate somewhere and manifest into a whole project that appears in your home city. It is a privilege to witness them when they come to fruition.

And yet you sometimes search for the roses amongst the odour. You always miss the boat on certain auteurs or writer-directors who are swooned over by peers and critics of the current age, and yet you miss their coming out party. You try to second guess yourself and wonder maybe it is your point of view or background that is not doing justice to the film, and sometimes it just cannot be helped.


Certain Women, is that sort of film. Kelly Reichardt, is rightly acclaimed as a light for female directors in the still male dominated world of popular cinema from her feminist western Meek’s Cutoff to her fable Wendy and Lucy. Reichardt comes from a less heard voice of middle America, telling stories rarely seen and sometimes pushed to the boundaries of social documentary.

Reichardt has also hit upon a budding relationship with Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) as her muse of sorts. This film is based upon the short stories of Maile Meloy who herself is from Montana, where the film is set.

The palette of the film is stark and grey, the tone of the film is ponderous and plodding. From the start of the film with a long cargo, freight train coming from the east to the west – establishing the new settlers coming out west perhaps – the shot goes on for as long as the cast and early production members are listed. We then cut to a clandestine affair taking place between lawyer, Laura Wells (Laura Dern) and Ryan Lewis (James Le Gros). The set up looks clandestine due to the lack of discussion between the two and his abrupt departure.

We follow Laura as she deals with an injury lawsuit client Fuller (Jared Harris) who took an early pay-off and thus denied himself a big pay day in court. His own shortcomings come to a head when he takes a security guard hostage when seeking evidence of his being screwed by the system, this belief becomes fact when Laura recites to the illiterate Fuller her statement to the corporation she was meant to be fighting.


From his arrest, we cut to Gina Lewis (Williams) who is married to Ryan, the guy we saw having an affair earlier. Gina has aspirations of building a house with sandstone and attempts to take some from an elderly man who lives on his own, there is tension between Gina and Ryan which serves as reason
for his affair.

Then we cut to a horse handler, Jamie (Lily Gladstone) who on an evening drive goes into a night class where people are. There she meets the teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart) who gives the class as extra income despite the 8 hour round trip to Belfry from Livingstone.

Jamie seeks solace from her loneliness by listening to Beth’s classes and their brief discussions in a diner before her long journey home. Beth stops coming to the classes due to the arduous journeys prompting Jamie driving to Livingstone to see her one more time.

That is the synopsis as best I can describe, not a lot else happens throughout the film, with the ponderous framing and narrative taking shape as I describe it. There is not a lot of incident and a lot of plot points are not resolved or concluded; Gina does not learn about Ryan’s affair, Laura is forgiven by Fuller for her shortcomings and the film ends with Jamie back in the stables with her horses.

To be cruel you could call this film boring, having seen versions of slow cinema, it felt stale that with a cast of this much talent there was not a lot asked of them in terms of character development. However, the film is an attempt to comment on the alienation and loneliness felt by people in the less populated states of America, where you work to live and live to work. Yet you hoped for more of an emotional impact, however, this perhaps Reichardt’s modus operandi, she wants you to see how other people live in poverty.
The role of farm hand Jamie, is beautifully played by Lily Gladstone who does the most with what she is given, gaining the most emotional resonance when she departs Beth and Livingstone, welling up as she drives away from what she felt was a genuine connection with somebody else.

It is those sort of connections that were lacking throughout the film that was reaching for contemplation but left this reviewer frustrated. Overall a shame as it does not do justice to the beautiful landscape photography captured by Christopher Blauvelt (The Bling Ring).

Certain Women will be released in the USA by IFC Films on October 14th.

BFI London Film Festival: Call Back – Review

It’s every actors dream to get that callback. Called back because you are good at what you do and you stand out in a crowd. For aspiring actor Larry de Cecco, the tough and ruthless world of acting isn’t treating him so well. Awkward advert auditions after awkward advert audition, it appears that this man desperately wants a break. The mundane, monotony of his day job as a removal man pays the bills but seems to be consuming his soul in the process.

Acting out in juvenile and outright bizarre manner seems to be his only past time until Alexandra a struggling actress comes to couch surf in his apartment. Things change, but certainly not for the better. Despite the characters presented before us, Call Back is nothing other than purposely cringe worthy. Even the man’s voice is a run of the mill game show host impression, almost as if he is constantly practicing his so called acting skills. A black, bleak comedy that delves into the deepest parts if a fragmented, damaged human mind. Larry is an eccentric fellow, a take no crap kind of man (unless it’s for an audition). He says odds things, does things that people wouldn’t dream of, yet he clings onto his religion as some kind of gravitational pull towards normality. Albeit, faith can’t save him from the devil he is about to transform into.

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As Alexandra makes herself at home, Larry’s dark uncontrollable urges surface as he watches her undress through a hidden camera in her room. Creepiness fills the screen as the fact that couch surfing is strange anyway but now such a thought rapidly becomes the last thing on any woman’s list. Alexandra’s fate is completely undeserved as we witness Larry utterly loose his mind. Chilling sequences representing his unhinged stoicism resemble a somewhat disturbing resolution similar to that of Hitchcock’s Psycho and such films of the same ilk.  As things take a tumble into dark territory, faith seems to be the only thing he clings to, well that and his various auditions he attends.

From the get go Call Back is a hard one to stomach. It seems the minds behind this project wanted to give us a film that we really have to hate to love, although this certainly isn’t for the average Joe. As this rather short feature develops it is truly unnerving how he can go about his business and not even be bothered by his actions because he goes to church and all is forgiven.  The premise is there but as we see Larry transform into this beast, one can’t help but think that in this case, the Indie road simply wasn’t the right one to take.

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Call Back is the American Dream’s cousin from hell. You can have the house, have the job, perhaps even have the girl for just a minute and in the end it becomes a terrifying nightmare. A very raw and extreme exploration of how fragmented the human mind can be and also not to judge a book by its cover – this man may seem like a successful actor yet underneath it all he has done something unspeakable.

Until, of course. he gets a call back.

Call Back is part of the BFI London Film Festival 


The Accountant – Brand New Digital Comic

The Accountant seems like a complete boring movie but we swear it’s going to be good. Well, that’s what it screams with the countless amount of clips and trailers that are bouncing around.

The film revolves around a math savant who has more affinity for numbers than people (aka, every smart person role ever created.) On the outside, he simple works for a small town CPA office. But behind closed doors, Christian runs every account for the criminal underbelly and soon the police are on his trail.

Ehhhh, one minute it looks good, the next it looks terrible. But this digital comic has something might to it.

What do you think?

The Accountant is out November 4th