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5 things we learned from Fury's press conference Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 24 October 2014 06:39

David Ayer's Fury, is out now in UK cinemas. It's a thrilling, horrifying war movie that strips conflict down to the bare bones of adrenaline, a race to survive reinforced by the relative naivety of Logan Lerman's newcomer to the group piloting a Sherman tank (played by Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal).


The director and cast gathered to talk about the film at the London Film Festival. Here are five things we learned from the Fury press conference:


1. Working with David Ayer is tough


David Ayer has always had a thing for action and chaos: in End of Watch, he covered Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal in cameras to get a handheld sense of urgency. It's a tough gig, says Michael: "Working with David is like getting a root canal. It sucks."


But the pair continue to work together, despite the dental pain. "I wrote the role of Gordo with Michael in mind," admits David.


2. Each character had a detailed back-story


Each character had a detailed back-story, says Logan: "We all had very specific back stories. we worked for months before shooting." Lerman know where he came from, what his is father did, his education…


But David chose not to include any of those scenes where the group's backstories were mentioned. "It ultimately became a directorial choice to cut out the now-I'm-going-to-tell-the-audience-who-they-are-stuff," says Ayer. "It's testament to how good the cast are that we didn't need the standard issue stuff."


3. Fury is not a film about sides


Fury is "not a film about sides", says Brad Pitt. "It's a film about acute psychological trauma."


Indeed, the claustrophobic experience of the soldiers facing the horror of conflict is all the more effective for its visceral, apolitical focus.


For the director, the bond between the cast was central to communicating that.


"It's about a family. This family happens to drive around a tank and kill people," comments David.


"Talking to vets, even vets who have recently come home, one said war is ludicrous. You can't look at it," adds Pitt. "We constantly slip into conflict no matter how much we evolve... always."


One journalist asks another question along those lines. Pitt looks at him and says he has nothing more to add. Well, quite.


4. Shia LaBeouf found the project extremely rewarding


Shia LaBeouf's preparation to play the role of Bible-reading Boyd has been widely covered in the media, from reportedly not washing to cutting himself on the cheek to make his scars look real.


Shia looks into the distance as inane questions about what it's like to be at the London Film Festival, but lights up when asked about what he got from the film.


"This has been the most rewarding project for me in my life," he says. "Extremely rewarding."


This is also the most dedicated film Logan Lerman has ever been a part of: "After reading the script, it was this or nothing."


"We emulated out relationship in the movie - so I guess there was a lot of conflict on set," the actors joke.


"I was the new kid," laughs Lerman, "so that's how I was treated!"


Staying in the mindset was tough, says Jon Bernthal, who plays ammunitions man Coon-ass.


"It's our job to be in the mindset as dark and dangerous as possible. You wrap, you fight, you work out, you sleep. Any outside influence, computers, etc, were the enemy."


"Going home after that, it is tough," he continues, but points out how their job is nothing compared to actual soldiers. "I came out of it with respect for the guys who do go to battle and have battle ringing between their ears. I'm just a monkey wearing make-up."


5. David Ayer doesn't like digital


"Either you're making a film or you're making videos," says David Ayer on the choice between digital and celluloid.


"We tested various platforms. There's such a subtle palette and patina to the world we designed that in digital you ended up with blacks and muddy greens…"


Pitt, though, reckons there's "no difference".


"I'm game for either," he says. "I love film, but digital is now… finding its own aesthetic."


6. Brad Pitt spent most of the time on set in the tank


The cast actually used a Sherman tank - and filmed in a slightly larger replica.


"The turret turned, the gun loaded, the radio transmitter received…" says David. "it was utterly maddening to film it for me. I like a lot of coverage. I would just go in a corner and cry while it took hours to light this thing."


For the cast, it was essential to getting into the right mindset.


"There's nothing ergonomic all about a tank," says Pitt. "It's not made for habitation in any way!"


"As we got to know the tank, we got to know the comfort spots, where you could put your coffee. We became quite proprietary over our home!" he jokes.


Ayer notes, though, that between takes, "Brad would stay inside of the tank on set".


"It was like his eagle's nest!" he adds.

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The BFI 28th 2014 London Film Festival Print E-mail




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LFF film review: Fury Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 19 October 2014 18:41

Director: David Ayer
Cast: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal
Certificate: 15

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent."


War is hell. It's something that bears retelling to each generation, but it doesn't excuse a war movie from repeating the same old, tired habits. Fury, though, is far from tired. It's awake and positively buzzing.


Director David Ayer gets down to business straight away, barely pausing for exposition before stabbing someone in the eye. The year is 1945. Hitler is desperate. And the Americans in tanks driving through German countryside? They're screwed.


We quickly fall in with the crew manning Fury: Bible-quoting Boyd (LaBeouf), gun-toting Coon-Ass (Bernthal), driver Gordo (Pena) and their leader, Wardaddy (Pitt). But their names are as irrelevant as the context: history is violent, so they are too. The one exception? Norman (Lerman), a fresh-faced clerk shipped to the front to fill the spot vacated by the team's late assistant driver.


Norman's introduction is our window onto the war; literally, at times, as we frequently look out of his hatch at the ongoing carnage. That claustrophobic sense of location gets right under your skin, thanks to Ayer's direction, which keeps the cameras inside the belly of the Sherman tank as much as possible. As a result, it's impossible not to feel some attachment to the boys on patrol, despite us (like Norman) knowing barely anything about them. Once again, brevity is all that is required: Gordo's conflicted feelings are summed up by the look on Michael Pena's face; Pitt's fatherly sergeant does his best to break the boy in; while an astonishingly understated Shia LaBeouf carries the weight of war on his shoulders with just the shrug of a cigarette.


Bernthal sticks out somewhat, thanks to his overtly aggressive performance - weapons man Coon-ass is the most visibly affected by the battle - but the bond between the unit is what matters; the ensemble genuinely feel like a family, albeit one fuelled by aggression as much as affection. One standout scene halfway through sees that tie contrasted with that of a real German family; a striking juxtaposition that takes place around a bizarrely pristine dinner table.


Amid the stern veterans, Logan's naive junior brings a heavy dose of fright to the mix. The result is a cocktail of adrenaline, repeatedly shaken up in that metal container: Fury distilled, from a potent blend of anger and fear. David Ayer's script casts aside the politics and history lessons: here, there is no good or bad, no sympathy or hate, no English or German. Just killing, by knife, shell or machine gun. Or, if necessary, by running over. Heroes are pushed to horrific extremes, enemies display unexpected acts of kindness. The only difference between them? Who shoots first.


That combination of confined location and stripped-down combat gives each bloody set piece the kind of nerve-jangling tension that made Saving Private Ryan's opening so shocking. This is war on rails - and it thrives on the intense rush of survival. The film lasts more than two hours. It feels like 30 minutes. Thrilling and terrifying in equal measure, Fury retells the violence of history for a generation where peace remains an ideal.


 
LFF film review: The Duke of Burgundy Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 19 October 2014 06:47

Director: Peter Strickland
Cast: Side Babett Knudsen, Chiara D'Anna
Showtimes: Oct 19th

How do you follow up Berberian Sound Studio? Director Peter Strickland comes up with another assault on your senses - but this time, ones relating to something far more private.


The film follows rich recluse Cynthia (Borgen's arresting Side Babett Knudsen) and her cleaner, Evelyn (a wonderfully timid Chiara D'Anna). Every day, Evelyn turns up on Cynthia's doorstep, sweeping the home's floors and washing her undies. When she makes a mistake, though, she is swiftly punished - in the most humiliating of ways.


What soon becomes apparent, though, is that this couple are engaged in a sadomasochist ritual; a BDSM bond that they reinforce every day with strict routine and sexual relish. But while Evelyn enjoys their game, Cynthia eventually starts to tire: it's not easy being mean all the time. And so, as the months go by, The Duke of Burgundy captures the gradual breakdown of their relationship. Despite their physical openness, terse conversations and unsaid frustrations pry the pair apart.


Strickland stitches together this study in pain and pleasure with careful precision; raunchy encounters in the bedroom and tearful moments in the study care are cut with still collections of butterflies, which Cynthia keeps trapped in cases on the wall. The quietness and intensity create a stifling air that leaves you squirming as the slow 104 minutes unfold - and intentionally so. By the time a breathtaking dream sequence arrives, which sees giant moths flying through Cynthia's darkened box, the unconventional flourishes only confirm the overwhelmingly conventional nature of all romance; a reminder that even between the most risqué legs, the fluttering wings of desire can be fleeting.

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LFF film review: The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 19 October 2014 06:24

Director: Hyung-yun Chang
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Jung Yu-mi
Showtimes: Oct 18th, Oct 19th

"My name is KIT-SAN1. I weight 46.8kg. I am a satellite."


That's KIT-SAN1, a talking satellite. Her mission? To observe Earth. But one day, she crashes down to the ground, a tumble that turns her into a human girl (Il-ho) - with detachable rocket arms. Soon, she meets a singing milk cow, who used to be a singer called Kyung-chun - but transformed after a girl dumped him, breaking his heart.


Stop me if this getting too weird.


So far, it's all par for the course for this South Korean animation, whose name (The Satellite Girl and the Milk Cow) prepares you for the frankly bonkers premise. No sooner than Kyung-chun swaps his human skin for fur, though, the Milk Cow finds himself hunted by The Incinerator, an evil machine that hunts broken hearts and devours their internal organs.


Not weird enough yet?


The cow is helped by Merlin the wizard, who introduces him to Il-ho. And is disguised as loo roll.


If you're still reading, then The Satellite Girl and the Milk Cow (Uribyeol ilhowa ulrookso) is for you. Director Hyung-yun Chang's no stranger to strange (he previously made a short called A Coffee Vending Machine and Its Sword) and the filmmaker seizes his first feature-length stage with an impressive ambition: ideas literally fly across the screen, whether they're bog rolls, robots or even pianos. Meanwhile, our cow finds himself a man suit to hide in, zipping in and out of the fake skin like something from a kids' David Lynch film.


But Chang has an eye for emotion too, which keeps his surreal adventure on solid ground.


"Don't you know what happened to me because of you?" cries Kyung-chun at the love of his life. "I turned into a milk cow!"


That hilarious juxtaposition of earnest heart and out-there head makes for a constantly surprising - and funny - adventure, which recalls the whimsy and creativity of Studio Ghibli. At times, it recalls them a little too much; one scene sees a witch send pig snouts searching through a house for Merlin, while the resolution, as with similarly-magic-themed Howl's Moving Castle, feels far too simple.


But if the background drawings do not always live up to the standards of Japan's best, the country's neighbour still finds more than enough to prove its own animated mettle. Growing from a bizarre fantasy to an 80-minute meditation on love and the nature of humanity, The Satellite Girl and the Milk Cow is a bizarre delight to behold, whether you're seven years old or seventy. "You're just not my type," says the milk cow, at one point. "You're a satellite." Sometimes, all it takes to make the it's-what's-on-the-inside-that-counts message new is a singing milk cow and talking satellite. And a wizard shaped like toilet roll. What a charming space oddity this is.

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LFF film review: Night Bus Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 19 October 2014 00:02

Director: Simon Baker
Showtimes: Oct 18th

They say that you should always write about what you know. Debut director and writer Simon Baker, then, must catch a lot of buses.


It's not hard to see where the inspiration for Night Bus came from: you can witness a surprising amount in a single journey, be it serious or silly. Baker takes advantage of that to create a fly-on-the-wall-style drama based around an evening on an East London route.


We see people from all walks of life, from students or a middle-class couple bickering after a cultural night out to addicts and a jealous boyfriend complaining about his girlfriend's behaviour in a club. But while overhearing conversations is common on public transport, Baker understands that the most interesting moments occur when these strangers interact.


Highlights include a drunk girl bickering with a pair of rap fans about utter nonsense and, on a bizarrely tragic note, a guy going to extraordinarily lengths to get a woman's phone number - without her even realising. Every time someone gets on board, you wonder whether they will talk to anyone else, and how that will affect each of them; a bizarre meta-tension as stories wait to be told.


Shot over a week on a bus in East London, the cast are given room to improvise their dialogue, adding a natural sheen to proceedings that feels closer to documentary than drama. That realism gives this a universal appeal beyond London travellers, ironically backed up by the genuine location, which is used to superb effect, cutting between seats and rows so that familiar faces go from centre stage to the background, where their lives silently continue.


Perhaps inevitably, some moments do not always pay off - fare dodgers and one boy who just wants to talk attempt to develop the character of the bus driver (Wayne Goddard), but to limited success. You wonder what it would be like if Baker were given a budget and a six-episode TV series to really explore the range and depth of these disconnected stories. Nonetheless, the meandering narrative is a fitting approach for the confined context, as the movie winds its way to a gentle stop, accompanied by DoP Dominic Bartels's sedate visuals and the moody music. An improvised, original low-budget flick with heart, humour and a host of colourful characters? It's all in a night's bus ride for this movie.

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Film review: Palo Alto Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 23:13
Director: Gia Coppola
Cast: James Franco, Emma Roberts
Certificate: 15

Palo Alto is a film based on the novel by James Franco, starring James Franco as a teacher who gets to sleep with one of his students. If it sounds self-indulgent, don't worry: it is, but it's also more than that.


The movie is directed by Gia Coppola, the latest in the Copolla clan to pick up a movie camera. (With her arrival on screen, the family now have enough filmmakers to create their own cinematic version of the Von Trapp singers.) Like Franco, it would be all too easy to dismiss Gia, but Palo Alto cements them as voices worth listening to.


More importantly, though, it shines a spotlight on several other voices: rather than hog than spotlight, Coppola uses Franco's novel as a platform to showcase a young, talented cast. The mult-strand narrative delivers the usual array of coming-of-age cliches: there's April (Emma Roberts), the virgin who fancies her soccer coach; Teddy (Jack Kilmer), the quiet one who fancies April; Emily (Zoe Levin), the one who fancies not being known as the class slut; and Fred (Nat Wolff), the troublemaker who fancies getting off with Emily, not to mention anything else that moves.


The performers, though, infuse each of these stereotypes with an unexpected depth. Levin is tragically needy as Emily, while Kilmer is endearingly insecure, happy to cover for Teddy, even as he knows he's getting dragged down into a world of vandalism and community service. The exuberantly talented Wolff nails himself to the fence between annoying and amusing, hyperactively stealing every scene before chomping on any scenery left behind. But Roberts is the one who really engages; whether she's smooching Franco or looking stroppy at soccer, she embodies the movie's overwhelming sense of ennui even more than the directionless script.


There are unsubtle moments of superficial effort, from the electronic score to a scene that sees Teddy drive a car into a wall, just for the hell of it. But it's in the quiet exchanges in between that the cast work best, elevating Franco's short stories. In 1983, Francis Ford Coppola made The Outsiders. 16 years later, in 1999, Sofia Coppola made The Virgin Suicides. Released in 2014, Palo Alto may not quite hit the sweet 16, but this collage of Millennial youngsters frequently comes together to form something just as timeless and universal.

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LFF film review: Whiplash Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 18:52

Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
Showtimes: Oct 18th

Jazz is all about timing. Many people think it's just made up on the spot, any-which-way-you-fancy improv, but a large chunk of it is also written down. There are chord progressions, standard songs, time signatures. If you want to make it over the top - to become really, truly great - you first have to follow the rules of engagement.


No one knows the law of the battlefield like Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). The hardened conductor lords it over the Shaffer Conservatory's best big band with a fist of brass. Brass ready to spill blood. So when young pupil Andrew (Miles Teller) manages to sit on the group's coveted drumming stool, he's determined to stay there - and Fletcher's determined to make him earn it.


How? Practice. You need to devote time so you can keep time - something that most films about music tend to forget. Usually biopics, they present us with famous musicians who go through personal trials and tribulations, only to emerge the other side a fully-formed artist. It's a treat, then, to see a film about the practical nature of music, one that plays out like the messy underside of that artificial drum; the side with the snare on it.


"Are you rushing or dragging?" Fletcher interrogates Andrew, as they rehearse the titular track by Hank Levy. He asks over and over, like a drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket: The Musical.


Simmons is terrifying, a wide-eyed brute whose foul-mouthed insults are as hilarious as they are intimidating. Anyone who has ever had a bullying music teacher - and they do exist, albeit not as extreme as this - will immediately recognise the fear of playing a wrong note and the ensuing disappointment of both letting your mentor down and, worse, yourself. But there is a universal intrigue to that process, the unseen way in which talent develops - which, in Whiplash's hands, is arranged as a thrilling piece of physical, human drama. (In the words of Alan Partridge, crash, bang, wallop. What a video.)


Teller, who can play the drums in real life, is sensational as the eager student, a boy so focused that he shuts out all other concerns: family tensions, romantic dates, even a car crash are all ignored by him and the blinkered script follows suit. The only thing that matters here is the music.


Grimacing, laughing and sweating profusely, the young star is astonishing to watch in action - not only acting while playing the drums, but appearing believably enough out of sync with the rest of the band to spark Fletcher's wrath. Together, the pair form a dazzling duet, riffing off each other, as Teller's drumming becomes tighter and their relationship changes key, from nasty humour to just plain nasty.


All the while, director Damien Chazelle keeps tempo - a breakneck metronome that, like Justin Hurwitz's score (including a selection of standards, such as Caravan), is a toe-tapping masterclass in precision. As Andrew gets better, pushed by this monster with a manuscript, Chazelle's camera rappels across the kit, bouncing off the hi-hat and toms with its own fascinating rhythm. The pair, Chazelle reveals, are labouring under the (misunderstood) legend of Charlie Parker, who was given the push he needed to become Bird by Jo Jones lobbing a cymbal at his head. Are they right to believe that this is the only way to greatness? After all, classic jazz needs soul as well as skill. And all your body parts intact.


The director skilfully modulates the tone from unnerving comedy to doubting horror, but the real crescendo occurs with the final movement of his dizzying 19-day shoot, a blistering dash to the final bar that throws all that rigid conducting out of the window - and goes for a freewheeling rim-shot to the gut. Mention jazz to most people and they'll switch off, dismissing it as made-up noise. Whiplash, though, brings the house down every time. It's all about timing. And it doesn't miss a beat.


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LFF film review: Robot Overlords Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 15:02

Director: Jon Wright
Cast: Gillian Anderson, Ben Kingsley, Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt
Showtimes: Oct 18th, Oct 19th

There's something to be said for a film that knows exactly what it is - and puts it right in the title. There's also something to be said about a film made by Jon Wright, the director of hilarious horror-comedy Grabbers. So when you see a movie called Robot Overlords, directed by Jon Wright, you know just what to expect: something very good. With giant robots.


The movie doesn't disappoint. Set three years after a robot invasion, it sees humanity kept under curfew in their homes - a system held in place with mechanical trackers screwed into people's necks. The film doesn't shy away from the nasty reality of the situation, with grown-ups vaporised within minutes of the opening frame, including the father of young Conor (Milo Parker).


Taken in by motherly neighbour Kate (Anderson), a freak electrical accident sees Conor's tracker disabled - much to the delight of his adopted siblings, Sean (McAuliffe), Alexandra (Ella Hunt) and Nathan (Jason Tarpey).


What do they do with their newfound freedom? Start the human resistance - but not before popping to the nearest sweet shop. Mark Stay's script, co-written with Wright, nails that balance between sci-fi grit and adventurous glam, filtering the Amblin escapades of old through a modern Britain. And so we get the time-honoured themes of fatherhood and family (Sean is searching for his dad, who went missing during the first fights between man and bot), but we also get geezer Tamer Hassan hamming it up as a stereotypical gangster type, who could easily have walked right off the set of Cockneys vs Zombies.


It doesn't skimp on the freaky side of sci-fi, either: our main villain is effectively teacher-turned-cowardly-collaborator Robin Smithe (played with a soft regional accent by Ben Kingsley), but he liaises with "The Mediator", a mechanical child with all the creepiness of Ash in Alien. The film carries the same practical aesthetic as the clunky classics, from the mundane (non-American) location right down the robots themselves, which, while all CGI, have a battered quality that carries a threatening realism; when they shut down and fold into cubes, you could almost reach out and pick one up.


Younger audiences might not deal well with the darker hints of genre, but it gives Robot Overlords an exciting rush to events that can sometimes be missing from family fare. The cast, meanwhile, has more than enough humour to balance it out. The always-excellent Anderson is given the odd ripe line of dialogue, but Callan McAuliffe is charming as the young Harrison Ford-a-like, Ella does well with the love interest role, while Harpey, soon to be seen in the excellent The Beat Beneath My Feet, is enjoyably stupid. It is Milo, though, who brings them together, his enthusiastic presence helping the ensemble to interact in a wholly natural way that offsets any cheesy moments.


Cinema at the moment is enjoying a wave of young adult series, with The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent all offering entertainment for US teen audiences. How rewarding it is, then, to see a young adult sci-fi that feels so British - and is ruddy good to boot. Boasting top-notch world-building on a small-scale budget, Robot Overlands is smart enough not to reach beyond its fun premise (it clocks in at just 88 minutes), yet remains brave enough to leave questions unanswered, paving the way for what could be a promising sequel - not to mention a strong career for Wright. He may not have the Hollywood buzz of Christopher Nolan or the hyper-kinetic style of the similar-surnamed Edgar, but the director has a voice (and confidence of tone) that knows exactly who he is, whether he's working with drunken aliens or giant robots. A UK franchise featuring more kids taking on tyrannical machines? I, for one, welcome our new Robot Overlords.


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LFF film review: White Bird in a Blizzard Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 12:34

Director: Gregg Araki
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Thomas Jane
Showtimes: Oct 16th, Oct 18th

How many modern filmmakers are there who be easily identified from their work? Gregg Araki is certainly one of them. His saturated colours, sexual intensity, coming-of-age themes and surreal flourishes are always recognisable - and present and correct in this latest, White Bird in a Blizzard. And yet this is, in some ways, the least Gregg Araki Gregg Araki film to date.


The film, based on Laura Kasischke's novel, is ostensibly a domestic mystery, making this a surprisingly straightforward tale. Shailene Woodley stars as Kat, whose mum, Eve (Green), goes missing - and never returns. Has she been murdered? Kidnapped? Or did she simply get bored of her married life and run off with another bloke?


Thomas Jane's butch Detective Scieziesciez is more concerned with getting off with Kat than finding the gone girl - a fact that is both the strength and weakness of Araki's movie. The director's continued passion for, well, passion, is as hard as ever, which means that any sense narrative drive plays second fiddle to sexual tension. But it also gives Woodley a chance to shine, echoing her own character's growth into womanhood with another striking - but this time highly sensual - performance.


She is rivalled in the arousing stakes by Eva Green, who dials up her attractiveness to the max as the picture-perfect housewife; a Stepford mum with a spiky bitterness. Is it because she's jealous of Kat's boyfriend, the dull Phil from next door? Or is she just bored? The ambiguities swirl around in delightfully realised dream sequences, while Araki's script milks Phil for every laugh he's worth. They combine to make an engaging mix of suburban melodrama and psychological thriller; a cross between Twin Peaks and Hollyoaks that gives Gregg Araki's familiar features a restrained, grown-up edge.


When the ending arrives, it feels almost irrelevant, but there is more than enough in the middle to intrigue. White Bird in a Blizzard may not grip you by the brain or by the balls, but it quietly entrances with its moving performances and beautiful visuals.

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LFF film review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 17 October 2014 23:24

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a peculiar piece. Made as a two-part exploration of a couple's break-up - each one told from the male or female perspective - it was famously chopped together to make a single version: Him and Her cut to make Them.


The film follows Conor (McAvoy) and Eleanor (Chastain) dealing with the breakdown of their relationship. Writer-director Ned Benson cuts back and forth between the strands effectively enough, but the he-said/she-said structure doesn't always gel; perhaps it is wishful thinking that the Him and Her cuts would prove more emotionally rewarding.


That is not to say there is no feeling here: both sides of the story demand our sympathy. James McAvoy's cheeky smile and watering eyes make Conor a likeable, yet hugely vulnerable, husband, a failed restauranteur overshadowed by his successful father. Jessica Chastain, meanwhile, is ruthlessly aloof, moving on to a new life with barely a glance back.


Each actor is supported by a sterling ensemble. Bill Hader as Conor's chef and Ciaran Hinds as his dad are well realised performances, with one father-son bonding scene in the second half feeling wonderfully natural. VIola Davis also makes an impression as Eleanor's university mentor, Professor Friedman, their no-nonsense exchanges providing a steely humour to offset the moving moments involving Rigby's parents (the poignant partnership of Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt).


As we uncover the reason for the relationship's demise, the examination of coping and mourning finds tender, moving beats - a man who wants to talk and a woman who wants to run away subverts gender stereotypes in a way that matches the sincerity of Benson's script. He shoots McAvoy and Chastain's scenes together with an eye and ear for their substantial chemistry. But you wish we had longer to explore their depths; the performances are so good that you simply want more of them.


Whether knowing individual cuts of the movie exist affects your perception or not, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them ends up being a two-hour trailer for the other two films. The good news is that in America, the individual cuts have been released following the reception to Them. Hopefully the same will happen off the back of this London Film Festival premiere. This abridged edit is a beautifully acted tale of two grieving halves - unhappily joined together.


 
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