Category Archives: BFI London Film Festival

Border – Review

Fairy-tales.. They have seeped throughout time and history. Chattered imagination has been whispered in bed-time stories and campfire horrors. For centuries with been spooked by spectres, haunted by horrors, and frightened by fantasies.

In Scandinavia, adults and children have been particularly terrified by their own particular historical creatures. Creatures which Ali Abbasi has spun into a glorious modern yarn.

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Border revolves around Tina, a woman who has an “ugly” facial structure, who works for the Swedish Border Agency that screens people coming off ships. Tina has a special ability at sniffing out people’s guilt and shame. Living off the grid in a woodland area and with dog-breeder Roland, she spends her time walking the forests nearby or caring for her ailing father. When she comes across a man, Vore, who she can’t sniff out and looks like her, she becomes drawn to him. It becomes apparent that he might be uncover secrets about who she is and the pair become closer…

Border is a subversive and mysterious drama that unravels in a glorious manner. Iranian director Abbasi, whose work includes the much acclaimed Shelley, implements an intriguing modern fairy-tale. The film is an enchantment in some scenes, ghoulish in others, but utterly captivating from start to finish. The film works greatly with these tonal shifts. Offering up some impeccable sequences, including one frivolous and endearing frolic through the sun-streaked trees, the film can be a romantic story one second then horror to ponder the next.

There is also an undercurrent of social commentary here. When the film digs deeper into how we treat those who are different and especially those we deem as “ugly.” The film asks you to shift your perception through graphic sexual scenes or simply Tina being. It also gender-bends throughout and it’s non-conforming ideals make it a magnificent watch.

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The whole of the film wouldn’t work if it weren’t for Eva Melander as Tina. My god is she breath-taking here. Though unrecognisable due to her prominent prosthetics, this doesn’t sop her convey earnest and intimate emotions. Tina is a sympathetic character but doesn’t require pity. She is determined, strong, with an upstanding set of morals whilst also being vulnerable, sweet, and funny. As this film is all about her becoming, Melander beautifully develops Tina and makes a truly cinematic heroine.

Opposite her is Eero Milonoff as Vore. The pair have an instant chemistry with one another the minute they meet but Milonoff keeps his character as mysterious as possible, revealing bit by bit. Though this is Melander’s film, Milonoff is also as expressive and great as Vore, balancing between love interest and possible villain, the actor is unexpectedly alluring.

Border is a brooding film that will stay with you long after watching. That may be because of the graphic sequences and detail, but it’s also because of the soulfulness . The mood and tone matched with some gorgeous imagery are truly affecting, haunting even. There’s also a soulful and mournful message about nature and finding who you are, against the backdrop of an isolating and brutal society. Blending fantasy with social commentary, Border is a riveting and redolent affair.

Border is out 8th March

Ray and Liz – Review

First features always have smatterings of something deeply personal. Desiree Akhavan explored her New York life in Appropriate Behaviour whilst  Bo Burhnam injected his own sense of self into Eighth Grade. Filmmakers always input their souls into their films but for a first feature, it always seems more poignant – closer to the director’s reality.

For Richard Billingham, his debut Ray & Liz truly puts a picture of his life on the big screen in a complex, brooding, and utterly beautiful way.

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Ray & Liz is based onon a video artwork of photographer Billingham, as well as a book collection called Ray’s a Laugh. Billingham puts his own experiences of life in Birmingham on the big screen. The film starts off with an aged alcoholic Ray stumbling around his own flat, drinking home-brew and chain-smoking. At different times, Ray looks back at his life with the volatile Liz, their children Richard and Jason, and the world of 1970s Birmingham.

Ray & Liz is such an impacting slice of British life. The film is so detailed in its craft and really awakens this authentic period setting. . As director Richard Billingham brings the stories of his own life onto the big screen, it feels so much as though we’ve stepped into this picturesque world. As exquisite as it maybe in cinematography, and shots, Billingham imbues the background with a lot of background. It’s so distinct and detailed in the drab dirtiness of near-poverty that one familiar with that life would practically be able to smell the cheap hairspray or damp.

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Billingham deals with his own life story in such an intimate way. His tragic ode to his family doesn’t feel embittered or angered. Instead, this bleak depiction of his childhood, scattered with odd humour, has an ingrained empathy for his neglectful parents. Played by the impressive Ella Smith and the formidable Justin Salinger , their selfish and scheming behaviour is tangible throughout. The caustic manner in the way they are lends itself to the gloomy and problematic way of life for them and their children. Yet Billingham is wary to not put blame on his parents. Instead, through snippets about his uncle or brother or even himself, the director shows that this is just life as it was. Or, even, life as it is for people maligned to the outskirts of society.

Actually, this is a story about people who are society; folk scraping by on dole and redundancy money, frittering way the pennies for alcohol or begging others it by hounding and hassling. As their children attempt to find warmth in other homes, the titular pair scrounge for cigarettes on the underpass or walk their bunnies in the park without really questioning where their children have been. The films impoverished family are gloriously realised on the big screen; in all their scathing sorrow.

The earnestness on display in Billingham’s Ray & Liz is impacting. An ever-lasting ode to family life that bears it’s bruises and scars for all to see. An intimate display of despair that moves with a spirit and a soul, this poignant cinematic poetry is definitely one to see.

Ray and Liz is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Green Book – Review

Green Book is definitely one of those movies that will take you entirely by surprise. The film’s premise and trailer, indeed, set up this white saviour reverse Driving Miss Daisy. Whilst the movie certainly has elements of this, it also goes beyond this. That’s because of the core real-life friendship at the centre of it.

Directed by Peter Farrelly, who created Dumb and Dumber and Shallow Hal alongside his brother Bobby, Green Book revolves around the very true story of Tony Lip and pianist Don Shirley. Don hires tough bounce Tony to drive him around concert halls in the deep south following the guidelines of the titular book; a guide for black Americans in navigating safe spaces for them. Despite being at odds at first, Tony and Don grow a fondness whilst they also face severe violence and prejudice.

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Co-written by Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, who heard his stories from both his father and Don Shirley growing up, there’s an air of authenticity to the film that imbues the story with a loveliness. It’s apt at writing the conflict that Don Shirley suffered at the hands of deep-seated racism in Southern America.

Green Book greatly develops this relationship in an intimate and understanding way. The pair are at odds at first – the film doesn’t skirt over Tony’s own racist views and Don Shirley ruminates quietly to themselves. Through overlong drives and battling the awful prejudice they receive,) the two men find a warmth between them. The natural progression of companionship feels realistic and brings a lovely energy to this unexpectedly charming road movie.

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali really take charge with these roles and it’s through these two actors that a spirituous alliance comes forth. Piling on the pounds for his role as wise-quipping, thick fisted Tony, Mortensen evolves Tony gradually. At the beginning, the film is honest about Tony’s racial views and does not skirt over them. However, it also shows that a man can overcome his ignorance. Tony sees a fellow with Don and whilst it takes time for them to evolve together, Tony does learn. Mortensen is great in this brash yet sentimental role, proving again that he can dig deep into characters such as Lip.

It really is Mahershala Ali who defines an outward grace masking a quiet rage in this impeccably cast role. Through mannerism and the way he positions himself (plus some amazing costuming,) Ali transforms and balances all the different emotions buried inside Shirley. Since his work on Moonlight and Daredevil, Ali has proven that he is one of greatest actors working today. This is clear with the performance his does in Green Book.

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The two actors have a genius rapport together and their chemistry carries this movie. It’s pitch-perfect casting with the leads who are having fun uncovering this tale.

Green Book is a great film that is helped by its two lead actors. The pair are absolutely incredible together telling a tender story that courses through troubled times. Whilst there is something quite naïve in the moral message of the story, it is still sweet and lovely to see. That there is growth and love and understanding out there and we should embrace it when we can. Green Book is a handbook of niceness from Peter Farrelly.

Note: Green Book showcases some impressive food scenes that’ll make you absolutely starving.

Green Book is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Destroyer – Review

Nicole Kidman has had a long history of transforming in her roles. From her Academy Award winning performance in Hours saw her wear a crooked prosthetic nose to her scruffy look for The Paperboy,

Look at her gaunt and sunken face in the brittle Destroyer, it looks as though Kidman goes to great lengths for this gritty thriller.

Directed by Karyn Kusama, who also gave us phenomenal films such as  The Invitation and Jennifer’s Body, the film revolves around LAPD detective Erin Bell. When she was young, she was placed undercover with a gang of grungy bank thieves. However, the whole operation went haywire and now Erin suffers from the consequences. Alcoholic, gruff, and estranged from her daughter, when a murder arrives on her beat

Like a combination between True Detective and Point Break, Destroyer is a formidable piece of work that is anchored by Kidman’s gruelling performance. It really is the actress who keeps this piece moving and, in a similar way to Atomic Blonde, when she takes the punches, she truly takes the punches. She is affected by everything and Kidman makes us feel every bruise. There’s great support from Sebastian Stan and Tatiana Masalany but Bradley Whitford’s performance is the true scene-stealer here as a pompous and crooked lawyer.

Nicole Kidman in Destroyer

Toby Kebbell’s villainous Silas should stalk the whole film. His menace or craze should be haunting, just as Kidman’s Erin is stalked by the mere thought of him. But he is barely seen and underused (as per the norm in Kebbell’s portfolio.) With a ridiculous hairstyle reminiscent of a Charmed villain, It’s a shame because the film has to have Erin brood on a proper monster of a man but, instead, it never comes to fruition.

Karyn Kusama’s previous work The Invitation was an adept and different look at the horror/thriller genre but with Destroyer, it feels like a step back because there is a lack of originality. The story does twist in an unpredictable manner and is shot gorgeously but then falls back on usual clichés. For once it would be nice to see a film with a detective who isn’t gruff nor an alcoholic but still has the battle the seedy underground. The genre-tropes, much like the punches, are felt here.

It is the same with the music. Theodore Shapiro’s score is reminiscent of Johnny Greenwood’s for You Were Never Really Here which gives it this generic feel. Synth heavy night time scenes with some softer violins – it’s like composers have the archetype and it doesn’t feel original in Destroyer. That being said, the sound design is impeccable and every crunch of bone upon bone

Overall, the film is a good maudlin police drama where you are gripped enough to follow the story to the bitter end. There are some absolute gorgeous scenes here including a snow-scape that is one of the most beautiful shots I’ve seen. Kidman goes to massive depths in order to transform into this character and it shows here. Though the film may feel somewhat predictable in places, the emotional and physical heft that Kidman goes through is enough to keep you invested.

Destroyer is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Beautiful Boy – Review

There have been many movies made on addiction. Even A Star is Born focuses on  the debilitating disease. Stories like these need to be told because we need to understand the struggles of those suffering, the heartache of the families, and support ways we help people blighted

Director Felix Van Groeningen, the open and honest story about addiction. Based on the memoirs of Nic and David Sheff, Beautiful Boy revolves around a father struggling to keep his eldest son Nic of drugs. Going over several years, Nic recovers and relapses repeatedly, unaware of the impact his addiction is having on his family.

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Timothée Chalamet came into prominence with Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor (and also made millions and millions fall in love with him.) As brilliant as his performance is in that film, the end roaring fireplace credit sequence a particular highlight, it’ll not prepare you for how astonishing he is in Beautiful Boy. Chalamet has the difficult task at portraying Nic Sheff’s constant battle with addiction,  Chalamet is captivating which makes the film more brutal. From Nic’s candidness about why he chose to take drugs to his relapses, Chalamet gets into the grittiness of addiction. The young actor is open and each experience Nic goes through here is palpable. Scenes of desperation, illness, and disease are harrowing yet you can’t keep your eyes off him. He’s haunting here and no matter what lengths he goes too, you feel compassion, pity, and solace for him.


Steve Carell has made impressive strides in dramatic performances such as Foxcatcher, Battle of the Sexes, and The Big Short. Here, however, is certainly his best work. Carell is tremendous as David, hopelessly and urgently trying to help his son, no matter what he puts him through. Each agonizing phone call to every late night search, Carell inhibits this father who is slowly abandoning his son through sure resignation. But also he has to be a father to his other children and a husband to his wife whilst also working at a writer. His balance to control Nic’s recovery with his day to day life.

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Carell and Chalamet make an earnest and heart-breaking pair; with all the chemistry of a father-son pairing whilst honing in the tragic gravitas of drug-addiction for a family. Director and co-writer Van Groeningen does well to keep Nic as a sympathetic character but also shows the impact of his struggle on the rest of his family. Not just his mother Vicki (an brilliant as always Amy Ryan,) and his step-mother Karen (a phenomenal Maura Tierney,) but his little brother and sister who feel the ripples of each of Nic’s deterioration.

Beautiful Boy is an emotive experience. There is some uneven filmmaking which has some very confused editing and leaps through time. Yet with the intimate and stirring performances, you’ll find yourself captivated even if it is an excruciating watch.

Van Groeningen ends the film on statistics. It’s clear that the Sheffs’ impacting stories serve to tell a bigger story. One of the biggest epidemics in the USA, it’s important that these movies make an impact on you and see how you can help those in need.

Beautiful Boy is out on DVD & Blu-Ray.

The Raft – Review

Humans. We’re an interesting breed, aren’t we? We’re alarming happy then wickedly sad. We have huge bouts of rage and anger yet have huge amounts of compassion and kindness within us. We’re interesting, frustrating, and glorious all at once.

And yet we cause such destruction. We hurt each other, murder each other, and go to war for no reason at all. What causes us to do these things? Why are we so violent?

Well, it takes an experiment to find out!

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When anthropologist Santiago Genoves had his plane hijacked, something sparked in him; As someone who has spent his whole life studying violent behaviour in people, this was truly a catalyst for me. After all, why did people commit such horrendous acts? This led him to conduct an experiment aptly called The Raft. In 1973, Genoves gathered eleven men and women from different races, nationalities, and social backgrounds and put them together on closed-quarter raft that sailed across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Mexico Genoves hope was that the experiment would eventually led to sexual jealousy, rivalry, and, indeed, violence. But what happened on the raft…nobody expected.

For those who haven’t read about the results of The Raft, and are eager to see the film, I’d turn away from this review because it’s impossible to talk about it without talking about the conclusion.

Director Marcus Lindeen uses grainy archive footage and a replica raft in order to tell this story. Gathering the remaining participants of the experiment – Maria, Mary, Rachida, Edna, Fe, Servane, and Eisuke – Lindeen builds a wooden version of the vessel they floated on. The the now aged women reminisce on the time they spent on the boat, whether that’s their sexual experiences or their own irritations with the experiment. It’s intriguing to see these women and Eisuke after so long as they struggle to remember everything or even struggle with the pain of what they remember.

It transpire that many had life-altering experiences. For example, Fe felt transformed from the voices of her ancestors who had been forcefully shipped across the same seas.

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There has never been a film about a psychologist or scientist in which they come out the nice guy. In fact, they are also egomaniacal mad-men who would push the boundaries of their experiment in order to get the results they want. With
The Raft, this is no different. It’s really Santiago’s frustration at there being no animosity between the participants that drives the drama. He tries so hard to spark something yet even when he is banging rocks together, he barely gets a flame. From taking over as Captain from Navy-trained Mary to revealing secret answers of questionnaires in order, Santigo grows increasingly angry that he cannot cause friction between the group. What he does do, however, is cause anger towards him…

It is tricky to gauge how the participants were in 1970. The archive footage is mostly silent and grainy but Lindeen tries to piece them together in order to paint a great picture. That being said, The Raft is an interesting watch because Genoves sets out to discover what causes people to turn to violence but misses the point entirely. Despite the different backgrounds, these eleven people really came together and stayed afloat without conflict for over three months.

As Fe states, he turned “us and them” into “us” and maybe that’s just a brilliant message for the world.

The Raft plays as part of the BFI London Film Festival!