Tag Archives: Sundance London

The Last Tree – Sundance Film Festival London Review

Writer-director Shola Amoo’s debut feature, A Moving Image, about the gentrification of Brixton, a neighbourhood of South West London predominantly occupied by Afro-Caribbean residents from the 1940s to the early 2010s, was a didactic and at times tedious work that straddled drama and documentary. It does not prepare you for his exceptional second feature, The Last Tree, in which Amoo redefines what we think of as a British film.

It tells the story of Femi (played as an eleven year old by Tai Golding and as a late teenager by Sam Adewunmi) who is reclaimed by his Nigerian birth mother (Gbemisola Ikumelo) and taken from rural Lincolnshire to inner city London. In his new home, where love isn’t demonstrated and his mother leaves him alone, Femi is expected to sweep the floor, keep his room tidy, feed himself and not watch television. In his new classroom, he is mocked for his name. Cut to several years later and he is sure of himself but drawn into unspecified criminal behaviour, which coincides with his disinterest with his exams. He is given a mobile phone by a criminal with the promise of an upgrade.

You might expect the story to be told in a social-realist way or else with an agenda. Not so. The stylised opening, set against golden wheat fields has Femi indulge in horseplay with white kids in an unproblematic manner. Each boy yells in sequence at the others whilst in a circle, the camera panning around them. In a second sequence, Femi breaks away from the group and yells alone. This prefigures the rupture to come.

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His middle-aged foster mother (Denise Black) doesn’t want to give him up. Femi does not want to leave. He is compelled to do so. The car journey to London in which the landscape changes from rural to urban, always out of focus, takes longer than you might ordinarily expect. Amoo does not obey the conventions of economical storytelling. He wants to give sequences a weight, as well as their own momentum. It is as if he wants you to forget about expectation, to break cinema’s shorthand of cause and effect and with it our understanding of Femi’s psyche, so that there is no clear cut way he will react. His destiny isn’t written by the things that happen to him.

The adjustment in the storytelling has the effect of challenging stereotypes. There are two sequences that exemplify this superbly.

First is a scene in which Femi is beaten up in the street and he lies off the curb in the road for the longest time, getting up slowly. In another movie, this would be the catalyst for a revenge attack, but the way Femi gets to his feet is considered. It is hard; Femi’s sense of hurt is conveyed. Yet the sequence stresses his endurance; he has taken the worst someone has thrown at him.

In a later sequence, in Lagos, Femi is in a front room and waits. In front of him is an ornamental elephant tusk. Behind him is a tall, ornate staircase. A maid asks him if he wants a drink. He refuses. She asks the question several different ways, but neither receives the acknowledgement nor gratification of receiving a request, as if he had rendered her purposeless. Femi then sits alone, waiting for the longest time before his mother reappears. Then he has cause to go into another room. Amoo makes the delay the point; what happens next is an anti-climax – one he has prepared us for.

With the un-naturalistic lighting and out-of-focus backgrounds (cinematography: Stil Williams) Amoo creates an atmosphere that is slightly dreamy. We are not entirely sure when the film is set – the mobile phone suggests the last decade. Femi is at odds with both his mother and his teacher (Nicholas Pinnock) but becomes protective of a girl in class who is mocked for her blue braids and called either ‘Blix’ (slang for a gun) or ‘blick’ (slang for smoking pot) – I’m not sure of the meaning; I may need that 2008 video by Dizzee Rascal to help me. Amoo isn’t interested is establishing a relationship between them, rather to show Femi’s changing state of mind.

The film does not pit two cultures – Nigerian and British – against one another. Femi questions his foster mother’s motives and receives an explanation that he sort of accepts. He isn’t defined by ‘street music’ either. Femi finds that he likes the synthesized sound of New Order, perhaps because he is culturally synthesized himself.

The Last Tree is a vividly alive film that pulls you away from a ‘reading’. It is not a film that anchors itself to a value system. Femi is no more defined by his Nigerian heritage than by his English upbringing. The film makes a really compelling case for making us rethink identity and for appreciating people in the here and now, not as individuals severed from an authentic, defining culture but as adaptable people who can, as Amoo does in a compelling manner, create something new. It also makes The Last Tree one of the most important British films of the year.


The Last Tree screens at PictureHouse Central, Piccadilly, Central London, on 1 and 2 June and is on general release in September 2019.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Review

Coming of age stories are a particularly poignant part of cinema culture. Diving into the rich history of youth, everyone has been through a particular journey that is profound and life-affirming. LGBT cinema gravitates to these moments in our lives because it is when we first start recognising this part of ourselves, wishing to explore our attractions. But for many people, this revelation is followed by prejudice and anguish, which is what Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post focuses on.

Image result for miseducation of cameron post

Based on a book by Emily M. Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post revolves around the titular teenage girl who is caught on her prom having sex with her best friend Coley. Though her parents died years before, her uber-religious aunt sends her off to God’s Promise – a conversion camp which treats homosexuality as a sinful urge that can be prayed away. There, Cameron must learn to survive the treatment but also discover who she is and who she wishes to be.

Those fans of Desiree Akhavan’s work in Appropriate Behaviour may be expecting a similar raucous affair to her highly acclaimed directorial debut. Instead, however, Akhavan shifts narrative tones to produce a marvellously muted and deeply moving piece on a young character’s life as she is forcibly made into someone she isn’t meant to be. The script and the direction has this hum of realism that creates an alluring atmosphere. Moving from heart-breaking anguish to moments of hilarity, Akhavan navigates this complex story and carves out an almost enchanting feature.

Tinges of familiarity will linger with anyone who has experienced being a gay teenager. That ache of shame that ebbs with sexual awareness, that isolation and loneliness as family members turn from you in dumbfounding disgrace, and those people we foolishly fall in love with only for them to abandon us.  The exploration of lust-filled craving is so intensely truthful that in parts I felt like I was watching my own adolescence on the big screen. It is so intricately intimate that there are goosebumps permenantly etched into my skin.

Image result for miseducation of cameron post

The young actors are superb in portraying this. Chloe Grace Mortez has grown into her own and she is impeccable as the titular role. A quiet character, Mortez keeps most of her emotion bubbling under the surface and as the intensity of her surroundings becomes too much of a burden to bare, Mortez allows the feelings to escape with hot bursts of rage, anger, love, and humour. It’s an accomplished performance – a perfect balance of trepidation and sorrow as a time of discovery is dashed by religion zeitgeist.

Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck, as fellow students and soon close friends of Cameron’s, are brilliant supporting actors who gift us with these diverse backgrounds and stories that add variety to the story. Older performers John Gallagher Jr as Reverend Rick Marsh (a fellow “convert” and now camp leader”) and Dr Lydia Marsh (his bitter sister) are brilliant additions as pseudo-villains but both with their own quaking agenda and false personas ready to break. Ehle is particular vindictive, believing that simple mannerisms or life-style choices can force someone to “have these urges” and vehemently believing that homosexuality is a myth. Even a silent shot of her burns with venomous realism.

Without giving away the story, however, the most brutal and impassioned moment happens when Owen Campbell, as Mark, breaks down. It’s the gravest outburst that echoes the sentiments of each child there and the frustration of trying to change yourself to fit a mould carved out of ignorance and misunderstanding. Campbell takes your breath away in this moment and it shakes you to your core.

The cabin and wooded setting that confines the teenagers away from society becomes this hollow silent ground. Ashley Connor’s cinematography captures hues of brown and wisps of sunlight that exemplify the hushed aurora around. Julian Wass’ score grounds the era in the nineties alongside popular songs, the set design, and costuming. Yet this doesn’t take away from an untimely story that is raw and exposed in a beautifully honest manner.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a highly effective cinematic poem that is an ode to anyone discovering their sexuality. It works as a condemnation of conversation camps but also a celebration of youth and their vigour. Akhavan’s immense and triumphant work here is unforgettable.


The Miseducation of Cameron Post is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

First Reformed – Review

Up until First Reformed, I had pretty much given up on Paul Schrader, the screenwriter turned director whose best films – Blue Collar, American Gigolo and The Comfort of Strangers – are way behind him. His 2013 collaboration with Bret Easton Ellis, The Canyons, featured an embarrassing Lindsay Lohan in soft porn. His 2016 adaptation of Eddie Bunker’s Dog Eat Dog starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Cage strove for black comedy but came across as distasteful. After years of working outside the studio system in Hollywood on films in various states of compromise, including Dominion, the prequel to The Exorcist, on which he was replaced by Renny Harlin, Schrader was overcome with cynicism. In the opening of The Canyons, he shows us a derelict movie house, effectively saying ‘cinema is dead’.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that a man with a Calvinist upbringing should rise again, returning to religion and the stuff of Robert Bresson, the French director he idolized in his book ‘Transcendental Style in Film’. Yet it is! At a time when America has veered lazily to the right, Schrader, aged 71, has found his voice, subject and purpose.

First Reformed tells the story of Reverend Toller (a goatee-free Ethan Hawke) who ministers to a congregation of six in a 250 year-old renovated church, First Reformed in Albany, upstate New York. The church is something of a local landmark – Toller offers tours, with a one-size-fits-all baseball cap for sale. Toller tries to live within the church’s means, refusing the offer of a plumber to deal with deficiencies in the men’s room – an apt description of Schrader’s oeuvre. He is surprised when one of his parishioners, a modestly pregnant Mary (Amanda Seyfried) asks him to speak to her husband, Michael (Philip Ettinger), who doesn’t want to bring a child into the world.

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Never the most commercial of directors, Schrader eschews wide screen for the Academy Ratio (1.37: 1) that we associate with black and white movies of the 1930s. In the film’s opening, the camera moves slowly towards the white clapboard church where Toller spends his days writing in his journal – a familiar Schrader trope. For the most part, the camera is static. There is little music on the soundtrack save for those performed by a small choir. In being reductive and restrained, Schrader exercises perfect control over his material. Even when he stages – in a literal flight of fancy – the ‘magical, mystery tour’, his choices work.

Michael is concerned by the effect of climate change: the chance to stop it was, according to his reading, lost in 2015, coincidentally the year that the climate accord was signed in Paris – I said Schrader was cynical. His attempts at eco-activism left him frustrated. After their first meeting, in which Toller tries to convince Michael to live with both hope and despair (‘you can’t have one without the other’), Mary calls Toller back to the house. She has discovered a suicide vest.

Toller has his own problems. He may have cancer. His marriage collapsed after he allowed his son, Joseph, to go to war in Iraq, where the young man died. Toller drinks to assuage his guilt. However, he performs his religious duties diligently, tidying up the gravestones in the churchyard and participating in a conversation with young Christians in the nearby Abundant Life 5,000-seater worship complex – a religious shopping mall to Toller’s corner shop.

Toller’s attempt to minister to Michael doesn’t end well. He finds himself on a collision course with polluting industrialist Edward Balq (Michael Gaston), who represents big business’ indifference to the destruction of the planet.

The film recalls, in very direct fashion, Schrader’s iconic screenplay for Taxi Driver, in which ‘God’s lonely man’, Travis Bickle (Robert de Niro) took on a politician, Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris) before re-focussing his efforts more locally. You work out pretty early on what the climax will be – it builds to the re-consecration of First Reformed church. Yet there is something inevitable – Schrader-like – in how the action pans out.

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The film’s biggest surprise is Hawke, who gives a thoroughly controlled, interior performance. He has to pull off a scene in which he lies, fully clothed, on top of another person in an act of homage – I won’t explain it further – and convinces completely. He is contrasted with Pastor Jeffers (Cedric Kyle aka Cedric the Entertainer) who complains that Toller ‘spends too much time in the garden’. Jeffers has embraced big business, but Balq is worried that Toller might give the re-consecration ceremony a political dimension.

The drama is riveting through its essential simplicity whilst still having something to say about considering how mankind will be judged for ruining the planet. Schrader encourages the audience to value hope and despair as a dual response to 21st Century challenges and offers his most engaged and engaging film in decades.


First Reformed is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn – Review

Jim Hosking, though only really creating two films, has one of the most unique voices in cinema. The filmmaker, who crafted the insanely brilliant movie The Greasy Strangler, has a brilliant and vivid imagination. The British director is daring to push the boundaries of dark comedy, digging under the skin in a squeamishly succulent way.

His follow up to The Greasy Strangler is the wonderfully bizarre and greatly realised An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. 

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Lulu Danger is in a rut. Her own husband, Shane, has fired her and she spends most of her time wondering what could’ve been. Home alone, Lulu finds an advert for an old flame and he is performing near her. Pushed by the hi-jinks of Shane, Lulu decides to kidnap a hapless hit-man named Colin and run off to a hotel with bundles of cash in order to see the titular Beverly Luff Linn. But will he be happy to see her? And are there other forces keeping them apart?

There’s a continuation of The Greasy Strangler humour as your enter the world of Beverly Luff Linn. A lot of this relies on the delivery on the dialogue, which is a brilliant combination of deadpan and hysterical. The stilted flow of weird phrasing, awkwardly placed pauses, and moments of pure lunacy come from passionate players. Highlights include Craig Robinson, who’s dialogue mostly consists of grunting (and, well, farting,) and Emile Hirsch overtly expression-filled Shane Danger. There is a whole collection of actors that greatly populate this film with their distinctive performances.

Jermaine Clement is well versed in this kind of humour. Similarly to his character in Eagle vs Shark, Clement’s simple yet well-meaning Colin is terrific has he tries to woo Lulu after falling in love with her. He’s great to watch alongside Aubrey Plaza and their verbal ping-pong match and chemistry (certainly carried over from their indelible pairing in Legion,) are insatiable to watch.

Which brings us to Plaza herself. As the lead Lulu, Plaza is simply superb. She is able to take you from lofty aloofness to intense emotion in seconds. There are always sparks lighting behind her eyes as the turbulent emotions rage inside Lulu. Plaza is able to bring Hoskings brand and then some, adding yet another memorable character to her impressive back catalogue.

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The eighties feel of the film gives the film a lush and great aesthetic. The  hues of pink against the stodge of brown create this glorious period look that fleshes out the characters and also makes it striking to look at.

I feel remiss in saying that this film will polarise people butin many ways, that’s true. Hosking’s writing and his direction is bristling for some, enjoyable for many. And whilst I don’t think everyone will come out of An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn satisfied and hungry for more, those who click into Hosking’s eschewed and devilishly delightful darkness will have a delicious time. Unpacking his particular breed of nastiness and mirth, Jim Hosking’s work here is a fun ride.

You must see it immediately. Immediately. Immediately. Immediately. Immediately.


An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn is out in cinemas 26th October! 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Review

Coming of age stories are a particularly poignant part of cinema culture. Diving into the rich history of youth, everyone has been through a particular journey that is profound and life-affirming. LGBT cinema gravitates to these moments in our lives because it is when we first start recognising this part of ourselves, wishing to explore our attractions. But for many people, this revelation is followed by prejudice and anguish, which is what Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post focuses on.

Image result for miseducation of cameron post

Based on a book by Emily M. Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post revolves around the titular teenage girl who is caught on her prom having sex with her best friend Coley. Though her parents died years before, her uber-religious aunt sends her off to God’s Promise – a conversion camp which treats homosexuality as a sinful urge that can be prayed away. There, Cameron must learn to survive the treatment but also discover who she is and who she wishes to be.

Those fans of Desiree Akhavan’s work in Appropriate Behaviour may be expecting a similar raucous affair to her highly acclaimed directorial debut. Instead, however, Akhavan shifts narrative tones to produce a marvellously muted and deeply moving piece on a young character’s life as she is forcibly made into someone she isn’t meant to be. The script and the direction has this hum of realism that creates an alluring atmosphere. Moving from heart-breaking anguish to moments of hilarity, Akhavan navigates this complex story and carves out an almost enchanting feature.

Tinges of familiarity will linger with anyone who has experienced being a gay teenager. That ache of shame that ebbs with sexual awareness, that isolation and loneliness as family members turn from you in dumbfounding disgrace, and those people we foolishly fall in love with only for them to abandon us.  The exploration of lust-filled craving is so intensely truthful that in parts I felt like I was watching my own adolescence on the big screen. It is so intricately intimate that there are goosebumps permenantly etched into my skin.

Image result for miseducation of cameron post

The young actors are superb in portraying this. Chloe Grace Mortez has grown into her own and she is impeccable as the titular role. A quiet character, Mortez keeps most of her emotion bubbling under the surface and as the intensity of her surroundings becomes too much of a burden to bare, Mortez allows the feelings to escape with hot bursts of rage, anger, love, and humour. It’s an accomplished performance – a perfect balance of trepidation and sorrow as a time of discovery is dashed by religion zeitgeist.

Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck, as fellow students and soon close friends of Cameron’s, are brilliant supporting actors who gift us with these diverse backgrounds and stories that add variety to the story. Older performers John Gallagher Jr as Reverend Rick Marsh (a fellow “convert” and now camp leader”) and Dr Lydia Marsh (his bitter sister) are brilliant additions as pseudo-villains but both with their own quaking agenda and false personas ready to break. Ehle is particular vindictive, believing that simple mannerisms or life-style choices can force someone to “have these urges” and vehemently believing that homosexuality is a myth. Even a silent shot of her burns with venomous realism.

Without giving away the story, however, the most brutal and impassioned moment happens when Owen Campbell, as Mark, breaks down. It’s the gravest outburst that echoes the sentiments of each child there and the frustration of trying to change yourself to fit a mould carved out of ignorance and misunderstanding. Campbell takes your breath away in this moment and it shakes you to your core.

The cabin and wooded setting that confines the teenagers away from society becomes this hollow silent ground. Ashley Connor’s cinematography captures hues of brown and wisps of sunlight that exemplify the hushed aurora around. Julian Wass’ score grounds the era in the nineties alongside popular songs, the set design, and costuming. Yet this doesn’t take away from an untimely story that is raw and exposed in a beautifully honest manner.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a highly effective cinematic poem that is an ode to anyone discovering their sexuality. It works as a condemnation of conversation camps but also a celebration of youth and their vigour. Akhavan’s immense and triumphant work here is unforgettable.


The Miseducation of Cameron Post is out in cinemas on the 31st August!

Skate Kitchen – Sundance London Review

The first feature film from Crystal Moselle, after her 2015 truth-really-is-stranger-than-fiction documentary The Wolfpack, is the kind of film that is both about everything and nothing. It’s about the big stuff – maternal, fraternal, platonic, romantic relationships along with self-image and what makes us tick – and the small stuff that occurs along the way.

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The film opens with newly 18 year old Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) suffering an injury during a session on her skateboard. Worried that worse injuries could occur next time, her mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) bans her from skating. It doesn’t last long. Camille can’t stand not skating, especially not since she discovered and joined The Skate Kitchen – a group of young women who love to skate as much as she does. When her mother catches her out vicious arguments quickly form causing Camille to move from the suburbs and join her new friends in New York City. She’s soon submerged in her newly discovered subculture, making true friendships and discovering herself along the way.

The film follows some familiar coming-of-age beats – there’s the initiation period, the honeymoon period and things getting hitting the deck courtesy of a possible romantic partner – but that doesn’t stop the film being quietly revolutionary in its own way due to how raw and real at whole lot of it feels. From the larger sequences (parties and at the skate park) to the smaller hangouts and just skating around the city these sense of finding your tribe remains omnipresent. There’s a sense of self-discovery in every conversation Camille has and everything she does; each step leading her to the person she’s meant to be.

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That’s not to say the dialogue is heavy and loaded – far from it! Instead the performances and the accompanying dialogue seem naturalistic and raw. It frequently feels like we’re sitting in on their hangouts, listening – to them speak about parents, boys and periods to name but a few topics – in a truthful, self-deprecating and slightly world-weary way that feels real. Few films have such developed female friendships or devote this much time to looking at their dynamics. And that’s something that truly needs celebrating.


Skate Kitchen played at Sundance Film Festival