Sorry for the delay if you’re trying to stay up-to-date on the London Film Festival. I’ve been a bit lax in getting it written up.
Even so, enjoy these capsule reviews of everything I saw over the course of Days 4-6. More heading your way shortly!
The Autopsy of Jane Doe(3.5 / 5)
Grizzled Brian Cox and fresh-faced Emile Hirsch convince as father-son coroners in an intriguing genre hybrid from Norwegian director André Øvredal.
When an unidentified female corpse ends up on their slab, Austin (Cox) & Tommy Tilden (Hirsch) are given one night to determine cause of death.
What starts as a wry family drama-cum-comedically grisly morgue procedural quickly segues into an intricate murder mystery when they begin to uncover a series of increasingly perplexing anomalies?
She was found buried in orange sand, so where did the peat dirt under her nails come from? Why does her perfectly preserved exterior — imbued with misty-eyed malevolence by Olwen Kelly — show no sign of her devastating internal injuries? Things only get more inexplicable from there.
Treading the line between psychological thriller and supernatural horror, The Autopsy of Jane Doe trades its initial dexterity for more straightforward pleasures. Darkened corridors and jangling corpse bells are both atmospheric and terrifying, but it’s hard not to feel a more nuanced version has been sacrificed on the profane altar of marketability.
Also starring Michael McElhatton & Ophelia Lovibond.
Voyage of Time: Journey of Life(1.5 / 5)
For the second time in six months, I find myself leaving a Terrence Malick film wondering where the Emperor’s clothes have got to.
Ostensibly a documentary decades in the making, Voyage of Time finds Malick, as with Knight of Cups, grasping unintelligibly at the infinite.
Taking in the breadth of time and space, the film leaps in an instant from the depths of the ocean, captured in stunning IMAX, to CGI dinosaurs à la Tree of Life, via grainy camcorder footage of goats being herded and oxen being slaughtered, and, finally, the development of primitive man. It’s more or less life, the universe, and everything, and all in ninety, albeit somewhat interminable, minutes.
With no clear structure or inherent meaning, we’re clearly supposed to wonder at Voyage of Time’s obvious thematic ambition — though ambition to do what, you may well ask — but I found my mind wandering why I had chosen to watch this over basically anything with a plot. Paused majestically on the agate bulk of Jupiter for a long, long moment, I kept hoping that the ship from Interstellar might hove into shot.
Blanchett’s whispery voice-over offers no clarity; suggesting instead a Gaia-obsessed Galadriel — every solemn utterance begins with the word, “Mother”. So desperate was I to interpret some significance that I found myself pondering what I think turned out to be a dead pixel, certain it must represent the singularity that preceded the Big Bang.
Most films start with the specific and aspire to the universal. Voyage of Time flips the script, but leaves us with no key but which to interpret it.
Also starring: absolutely no one.
Bleed For This(2.5 / 5)
Miles Teller joins the pantheon of other reputable actors who have got ripped to portray practitioners of the sweet science with one slight difference.
In boxing biopic Bleed For This, Teller plays Vinny Pazienza, who takes an insane physical risk in order to mount a comeback after breaking his neck — and this after having already mounted an entirely separate comeback in the film’s opening half.
Teller brings an unassuming grit and determination to the role, as well as a bum-fluff ‘tasche that would be utterly inexplicable did the film’s use of real-life footage not attest to its accuracy.
Vinny’s New Jersey clan — Ciaran Hinds plays the preening patriarch; Katey Sagal the devout mother — are a less eclectic version of the dysfunctional broods in which David O. Russell has come to specialize.
Aaron Eckhart turns in a committed performance as Vinny’s trainer Kevin Rooney. Boozy, paunchy, balding, squinty, and utterly without vanity, it’s a clear shout for Best Supporting Actor, but the film gives him too little room to breathe.
It does tend to imbue those otherwise formulaic training montages with a bit more frisson — do we ever need to see someone hit a speed bag again? — when a knock of the head could result in a severed spinal cord; even despite the Halo brace Vinny has screwed into his skull.
Even so, Bleed For This‘ screenplay, written by the film’s director Ben Young, is too enamored with the sports-movie formula to take many risks itself.
Also starring Ted Levine & Jordan Gelber.
Personal Shopper(4 / 5)
Olivier Assayas follows 2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria with Personal Shopper, which continues Kristen Stewart’s progress towards quietly impressive character actor.
Stewart stars as Maureen, a Paris-based PA who acts as wardrobe stocker for a diva-ish, if largely absent, model and humanitarian, Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten). Dark, quiet, and self-assured, Maureen has put her life on hold, awaiting her dead twin brother to make contact from the other side, as he promised he would, but she’s beginning to lose hope.
Part fashion parade, part genuinely chilling ghost story, part psychological thriller — who keeps sending her cryptic texts? — the film is resolutely tasteful but with an underlying bedrock of tension.
As Maureen wanders the grand but rundown house in which her brother died, Assayas’ camera following her at medium distance, you may not even realize you’ve been holding your breath — that is until things erupt in sudden and genuine terror.
Obliquely, exploring notions of access and absence, Personal Shopper also has something to say about spirituality and sexuality. The near seamless blend of genre and art-house don’t seem to have been appreciated at Cannes — nor the overly ambiguous ending — but you think they’d at least have given it points for style, right?
Also starring Lars Eidinger, Anders Danielsen Lie, & Sigrid Bouaziz.
A Quiet Passion
(4.5 / 5)
Cynthia Nixon stars as 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson in this impeccable and heartbreaking chamber piece-cum-character study from Terrence Davies.
From her earliest days as a defiant seminarian who refuses to prostrate herself to the will of a tyrannical preacher, A Quiet Passion portrays Dickinson as a woman at first inspired, then tormented, by her own mortality and quest for personal integrity.
While her family — saturnine but loving father (Keith Carradine), melancholy but affectionate mother (Joanna Bacon) — initially provide comfort and companionship, the inexorable passage of time turns Dickinson’s wit and insight cruel and acidulous, souring her once-close relationships with her, albeit hypocritical, brother (Duncan Duff).
Only cohabiting sister Lavinia (Jennifer Ehle) persists in trying to keep up a meaningful relationship.
Lyrical and poignant, Davies graceful camerawork — a dinner table conversation is revealed from the center of the table in a continuous circular pan — presents her home as a place of beauty and refinement, and self-imposed confinement. A scene where the younger actors age into the older while posing for photographs is an elegant masterstroke.
Nixon dazzles as the free-spirited Dickinson, never losing sight of her innate spark, even as it is smothered by longing, insecurity, and unkindness; both herself and others’.
A Quiet Passion’s two-hour run-time may seem like an eternity for those unaccustomed to Davies’ discipline and reserve, but to those with the patience it’s a minor masterpiece.