Truth is stranger than fiction, Mark Twain once said - but what about when truth is fiction? In the 1990s, that was exactly the case, when a talented author, JT LeRoy, became an overnight sensation. He was young, talented, a prostitute turned artist turned celebrity. He also didn't exist: he was the creation of Laura Albert, a mother from Brooklyn.
What started out as a pen name soon took on a life of his own, as JT was hailed by stars such as Winona Ryder and Bono - despite the fact that his initials actually stood for "Jeremiah Terminator". Roping in her sister, Savannah, to play LeRoy in public - and even Savannah's musician boyfriend to support the act, Laura's little white lie spirals into a web of lies and celebrated song lyrics.
Director Jeff Feuerzeig picks apart the myth with gripping precision, walking us step by step to the moment of discovery. By the time her second novel is turned into a film that debuts at Cannes, we're shocked but somehow unsurprised. That's thanks to Albert herself, who doesn't shy away from offering her take on events throughout. And, sure enough, she's a gifted presenter, given the main stage to narrate events without interruption from her no doubt many detractors.
What emerges is a sensitive study of stories and storytellers - a look at someone who claims that all she wanted was to be a normal human being. It's perhaps revealing that she compares her plight halfway through to The Prince and the Pauper, rather than any real life incident, but Feuerzeig's film resists the urge to psychoanalyse its subject, letting her speak for herself. Whether you believe what she says is another matter entirely, but you'll be hooked on every word. "It's the most exciting thing to get a response to a book I never meant to write," she observes. It's truth. It's fiction. And it's fascinating to watch.
Three couples get together to tell a fourth couple that they should get a divorce in this very familiar indie dramedy. The ensuing middle-class mid-life crisis, as each relationship finds itself under fresh scrutiny, is far from revelatory, but Clea DuVall's writing/directing debut is performed by such a good cast that it's hard not to caught up in the mild scandals and milder affairs.
Director: Roger Ross Williams
Cast: Owen Suskind
Showtimes: 4pm, 4th June
When Owen Suskind was three years old, he suddenly stopped talking. Diagnosed with autism, it was "like he'd been kidnapped", say his parents. But then they discovered something remarkable: Owen had learned all of the Disney movies they owned on VHS off by heart. Disney has always been a magical force in childrens' lives, but for this family, they became a lifeline: the Suskinds began to communicate with Owen through Disney films, puppets and drawings. Owen used the end credits of the films to learn to read. He created his own animated story to express his emotions. And, after growing up, started a Disney club at school so he could have friends.
Sundance London is back this weekend, after kicking off last night with opening film Tallulah - and, while I'll be reviewing some films for VODzilla.co over here, you'll be able to read some thoughts on the movies screening at the festival here too.
In the meantime, just LOOK at this sexy, giant, neon logo in the foyer of the Picturehouse Central - proof that London's most stylish cinema is a perfect home for the indie festival, especially when compared to The O2, where it used to take place (no offence, The O2). Neon logos, snazzy bars, and a superb performance by Ellen Page in Netflix's Tallulah (showing again on Sunday)? Sundance London has never looked better.
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
"The third one's always the worst," quips Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) halfway through X-Men: Apocalypse - just in case you hadn't already guessed that director Bryan Singer didn't like Brett Ratner's The Last Stand from the fact that he invented an entire film (Days of Future Past) to eradicate it from existence. After the timey-wimey complexities of that convoluted retcon, though, X-Men: Apocalypse marks a return to simpler ideas: a giant, blue guy trying to destroy the world and a school-load of good mutants trying to stop him. And some jokes about that Brett Ratner sequel.
Director: James Watkins
Cast: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon
"Deploy the final hashtag," says the villainous mastermind behind a Paris bombing in Bastille Day. Given the events of 2015, it might seem a tad insensitsive to be releasing a film so soon in UK cinemas, but any concerns soon drift away within minutes of the film's opening - it's too cheesy to be tasteless.
Immigration has never been a more pressing issue for the world at large, but it's something that has always been a part of civilisation: the need for the booming human population to move elsewhere, whether by necessity or desire, and make a new life. Jacques Audiard's Dheepan explores the issue, but never in the way that you expect.
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg
The ending of Man of Steel proved two things. Firstly, that superhero movies need to climax with something other than a gigantic object hurtling into a city. And secondly, that no matter how hard comic book movies may try, they often end up the same.
The spectre of 9/11 looms large over Hollywood - and it's perhaps no surprise that when tasked with coming up with something threatening and terrifying in scale, the attack on the Twin Towers is subconsciously called to so many writers' minds - a cultural act of catharsis, more than a commercial act of unoriginality. And so Zack Snyder's Superman film, like many sci-fi blockbusters before it, ended with a CGI monster battling a CGI monster in Metropolis, as skyscrapers toppled and innocent bystanders perished. Fans were in almost immediate uproar, some arguing that Superman would never let this happen and others that he was still young, he hadn't completed his Jedi training yet, and didn't know any better. The real issue, though, was that it was dull and repetitive.
Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz
It was 1996 when Derek Zoolander was first introduced to the world at the VH1 Fashion Awards. 20 years later, he returns for his second big-screen outing and the joke is getting old. Ben Stiller's comedy creation was always based on a simple premise: a model who was really, really, ridiculously stupid, but also extremely good-looking.
Director: Tim Miller
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein
Superhero movies. They're all the same. Action movies starring the world's sexiest man directed by some overpaid tool and produced by asshats. The opening credits of Deadpool alone make it clear that this isn't one of those movies. Sort of.
There are martial arts movies and there are martial arts movies. The Assassin isn't either.
The film follows a trained killer, who has no problem
dispatching targets. Then, one day, they flinch, after an assignment finds them face to face with a child. It's something that could be straight out of a Jason Bourne film, or another conventional blockbuster, except our killer is a young girl and our tale takes place in 7th-century China.
But even then, Hou Hsiao-Hsien doesn't follow the conventions you would expect from a wuxia film. Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou have presented the genre as an art form of quick, elegant action, but The Assassin is as slow and deliberate as the eight-year gap since the director's last film.
Following her failed mission, Yinniang (Shu Qi) is given another more challenging task: go back to her hometown to kill governor Tian Ji'an (Chang Chen), to whom she was once betrothed. Old passions! New wounds! Again you might expect something heated or charged, but again, The Assassin refuses to play ball. There's a constant sense of restraint underlying the whole affair - something that gives events a grounded, understated tone.
That's reinforced by Hsiao-Hsien's decision to shoot everything in what seems like 4:3 ratio - from the black-and-white opening presetend in a decidedly non-widescreen, this is arguably the least cinematic martial arts movie ever to grace the big screen. At times, the effect is almost like watching a documentary.
What unspools is a gradual revealing of corruption and emotional conflict, as other parties emerge with their own designs upon the governor's position. But beneath the quiet surface lies beauty in abundance: shots of misty lakes and silver forests feel all the more enchanting for their believable realism. The action, meanwhile, is all the more breathtaking: fights are not extravagant, operatic set pieces, but rather short, sharp bursts of violence. You've never seen martial arts like this. The Assassin is a showcase for stunning choreographed brutality, made brutally efficient; After all, Yinniang is so strong, would why she bother to string battles out?
The incredible Shu Qi is central to that powerful stillness. Through all of the confrontations, there no clunky, dramatic exchanges, which means she must convey her character's shifting feelings through movements rather than words. The result is challenging in its detachment, but engrossing in its mystery; an intoxicating gem precisely because it doesn't try to intoxicate. The only explicit insight into her turmoil comes from a conversation with her mentor (against a subtly gorgeous landscape). "Your skill is matchless," says her teacher. "But your mind is hostage to human sentiments." The first part is undoubtedly true.