Glasgow Film Festival 2017...
Has it really been a year since #GFF16?!?
It most certainly has...time waits for no man and seems to quicken its step as the older you grow. Enough of the whining...!
#GFF17 is here...delivering a rather scrumptious package of films.
What makes the Glasgow Film Festival so special? A couple of things...it's compact, as in...you're never faraway from your next film...and, we journalists get to watch the films with a real-life audience - believe me, it makes such a difference rather than sitting in a cinema with stuffy film critics first thing on a Monday morning...
And that is exactly where I was...to watch the press screening of the opening film...respecting the review embargo, I had to sit on this little treasure for a couple of days...now, I can gush...
Handsome Devil: Directed by John Butler
You can only admire the [bold] decision that was made to open the festival...with an independent, small-budget 'gay' film...quite the contrast to last year's Hail, Caesar! extravaganza. A decision - wisely - made.
What an utter joy of a film...it does everything that an independent, small-budget 'gay' film isn't supposed to do...it delivers a mighty punch and a rebel-rousing cheer. Seriously, tears were rolling down my cheeks, my face ached with the over-stretched smile that spread across my face...and, I wanted to leap up and punch the air [pretending I knew something about rugby - which I don't]...I resisted, not wanting to be looked down upon by my peers.
If...Hettie Macdonald's Beautiful Thing got your heart pounding...then, Handsome Devil will do exactly the same. Crowd-pleasing, uplifting, resonant...what a way to start a film festival!
Weirdos: Directed by Bruce McDonald
Surprises and disappointments...they sure do come fast and furious at film festivals. Admittedly, it's only day 2...but, what a surprise!
Yesterday, saw Ireland addressing teen sexuality...today, Canada takes over that particular mantle. Weirdos is a journey...of mind, body and spirit. The spirit being Andy Warhol - no less!
Quirky, indeed it is...but, not too quirky. Composed...beautifully so, in visual and in pace. At the Q&A, Mr McDonald exuded warmth...explaining that budget restrictions dictated the film to be shot in black & white...praise be to 'budget restrictions' [wow, that's a first!] because...Weirdos looks [beautifully] and feels [nostalgically] like the 70s. The understated, perfectly structured final scene merited an audible 'Aaaaw' from the audience - deservedly so. It really is a lovely, lovely film...about how to recall a beautiful memory.
Yes, indeed, we are all weirdos.
Multiple Maniacs: Directed by John Waters
Talking about weirdos...here's a whole host of them: 'Lady Divine's Cavalcade of Perversions' - it sounds [much] funnier than it actually is, sorry John. Having been restored and being re-released, Multiple Maniacs is not Mr Waters' nor the late great Divine's defining moment...it's a stepping-stone that led to [much] better and bigger things. It's always interesting to see the way directors and performers develop their craft...Multiple Maniacs demonstrates that not only was there room for improvement (by both director and star)...but, candidly speaking, there was no other alternative route.
Still, for some of us, memories came flooding back of yesteryear...in The Scala, scratching & sniffing. Or, in Heaven or the Hippodrome watching Divine shake it up...sometimes there is a little compensation for being a little older...there was/is/will be [only] one Divine. Good times.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe: Directed by André Øvredal
Not quite being our remit...but, being a mighty admirer of Brian Cox...this spooky little number was just too tantalizing to ignore.
A nifty little horror...basically it's a two-hander with Mr Cox and Hirsch playing father and son in a morgue with a rather nasty corpse. A few frights and delights were had by all!
Frantz: Directed by François Ozon
Walking into a François Ozon film is akin to the uncertainty of chance...you never know what you're going to get! In my humble opinion...he's had triumphs and catastrophes. Frantz - frustratingly - is neither!
It could have - quite easily - been an absolute triumph...but for the last 10 minutes or so. There were two points in the film that were natural, cliff-hanging endings. One of which would have made too big a demand on the audience, the other...a fitting conclusion. But, no...he had to go that extra mile, by-passing the finish line for no reason whatsoever. Shame.
It's a beautifully shot film...a totally immersive cinematic experience. Tears were [almost] constantly rolling down my face...at the beauty, with the incredible emotion wrought from such a fine story...and then he went and ruined it! Aaaaaaargh!
Moving swiftly along...and [practically] by-passing the next film...
Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait: Directed by Khyentse Norbu
Directed by a Bhutanese Buddhist lama...this is Norbu's 4th film, if his first 3 were anything like this...walk on by!
Good premise, terrible execution. Great cinematography, lethal soundtrack. With all the masks and ritual, anthopologists will love it...but, when it goes from traditional-dippy-hippy-whistle-blowing to Ibiza-comes-to-Bhutan...then, Mr Norbu's philosophical meanderings fall flatter than a pancake. Look...when a film's closing credits are better than the actual film...great song with bloopers and the unmasking of actors...obviously, the producers couldn't say no to their lama!
That said, this is a film that will elicit much discussion among the pseudonese [and anthropologists, that is if they are not one in the same]. Give me substance over style any day, everytime.
And that is exactly what the next peach-of-a-film brought...
My Life as a Courgette: Directed by Claude Barras
I simply refuse to call a courgette...a zucchini (it doesn't sound right!). Talking about food...does 'Mushroom & Kale soup' sound appetizing? Thought not! It certainly didn't look it...won't be going back to that eaterie again! It sold organic, gluten-free beer that tasted like hay...or, perhaps, I have wonky tastebuds!
Anyway, back to the Courgette: Nominated for the 'Best Animated Feature' Oscar...indeed, a worthy nominee! How can you not love a film that talks - at length - about exploding willies!?! The kids in the audience were horrified, their parents...well, that was a sight to see! I was hysterical!
Seriously, this is a film that will touch you to the core...it will melt the hardest of hearts...and, as I am a great big sop...by the end, I was a puddle on the floor.
Personal Shopper: Directed by Olivier Assayas
Mr Assayas won 'Best Director' @ Cannes with this 'companion piece' to Clouds of Sils Maria...sometimes, the whole awards system makes you wonder! Especially when this film received a hefty 'boo-ing' followed by a standing ovation...how fickle!
It begins [well] with spookiness. It ends [not-so well] with spookiness. The problem is...what's in-between (apart from the [too few] spooky bits)...this eye-bashing testimony to [high-end] product placement. Ms Stewart's star power can certainly finance a film.
There's a 20-monotonous-minute text conversation that amounts to - hold on tightly to your hats, folks - Kirsten Stewart donning an expensive dress! There's a murder that amounts to the only suspect [possible] being - very quickly - arrested. There are a whole host of scenes showing Ms Stewart being rather nifty on a moped! There's even a ghost spewing ectoplasm!!!
Confused? This film certainly is!
Below Her Mouth: Directed by April Mullen
Whenever I go to a 'lesbian' film...I hope [and pray] for three things not to happen. For the film not to open with a same-sex sex scene. It opened with a same-sex sex scene! For it not to include an acoustic guitar...you've guessed it, the butch roofer plays - for no apparent reason - that ubiquitous ghee-tar! Dildo scenes...say no more!
April Mullen's film is a 'saddling bore' - replete with Bowie-esque androgyny and every cliché that every 'lesbian' film should avoid...indeed, this is an extension to the what-does-a-lesbian-bring-on-her-second-date joke...overly punctuated with what-is-now-called feminist porn [it's still porn]...the couple in front of me walked out...and - too often, for too long throughout - I felt like I was sitting in a sleazy, porn cinema...in Soho.
Not a great day @ the movies...you win some, you lose some.
Heal the Living: Directed by Katell Quillévéré
Cancelled, due to technical difficulties...oh my...I spy a Gin Bar...
All This Panic: Directed by Jenny Gage
Three years in the making, three years in the lives of a disparate group of teenage girls...oops, young adults. There's the level-headed one, the sexually unconfused one, the scatter-brain, the [teenage] feminist...and then, there's Ginger...a volatile, high-maintenance nightmare of a young adult. She, alone, would put every potential parent off parenthood!
It's a thoroughly entertaining [for all the wrong reason...there's more laughing at than with], scrappy film...the camerawork is - for the most part - terrible. But...some of these 'characters' and their on-screen evolution is really rather riveting...for all the wrong reasons.
Boundaries: Directed by Chloé Robichaud
Women in politics...lives led in isolation, sacrifices made for the greater good...unrealised, disrespected and ridiculed...by men.
Still waters run deep...a film so subdued that it masks the raging current that lies beneath...this is clever, thoughtful filmmaking. And, timely...with all the political upheavals going on throughout the world, Boundaries sheds light on the machinations of a broken system. Let's face it, democracy is dead...let the people have their say...and, if you don't like their answer, pummel the populace until you get the answer you want! Robichaud turns the table on the big boys...astutely using 'referendum' as a political weapon...where have we heard that one before?!?
Boundaries is punctuated with breakdowns, meltdowns and letdowns...it's a controlled and composed piece of work...it's not all doom and gloom, there is a wry humour lurking within this windswept island...and then, there is a moment of genius and levity when [the great] Desireless' Voyage Voyage is played to great effect...time to let your hair down, let all your worries [temporarily] drift away...
It's a damn fine piece of filmmaking.
Elle: Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Difficult not to give too much away...it's Paul Verhoeven, expect the unexpected. Rest assured...it's not anything like Showgirls!
This is all about damaged people damaging people...it's not pleasant. But, it is engrossing...due to Isabelle Huppert's spellbinding performance in the aftermath of her rape. Yes, indeed, 'her rape' - she owns it. This is a film about possession, detachment and - it's Verhoeven afterall - perversity...gloriously misshapened and over-sized. There's cruelty, there's violence, there are mind-games aplenty...there's enough to keep you glued to the screen...for 130 gruelling minutes.
The Levelling: Directed by Hope Dickson Leach
Bleak, moody, grim, muddy and desolate...some may call it atmospheric. Others...misery on-screen. Hope Dickson Leach's first feature offers no respite from the gloom...a soupçon of humour would have helped! Ever heard of laughing in the face of adversity? Every cloud has a silver lining? No? Didn't think so! This film has clouds, no linings.
There is a big difference between subdued and monotonous. The chap next to me was sound asleep ten minutes in...
Trespass Against Us: Directed by Adam Smith
The first feature curse continues! What can possibly go wrong when you have Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in your cast?
Just about everything, it seems! Adam Smith should have re-written Alastair Siddons' script...if - indeed - there was a script. It reeks of improvisation...and, to be quite honest, none of these wholly unpleasant characters go anywhere at all. A static travelling community, just about sums it up!
I Am Not Your Negro: Directed by Raoul Peck
A sold-out screening for an astonishing film. Oscar nominee...and, if there is any justice in this world, Oscar winner!
The words will - simply - take your breath away. Raoul Peck's senses of composure, composition and juxtaposition are - at times - mesmerising. The words, spoken by Samuel L Jackson are soothing in tone, horrifying in content. The words, written by James Baldwin 30 plus years ago, are prescient and precise, poetic and palpable.
I Am Not Your Negro is a cinematic experience - not to be missed. Watched in conjunction with the other Oscar nominee, Ava DuVernay's 13th...combined, they shed light on 'black lives' like 'white lives' have never seen before...of course #blacklivesmatter...of course #alllivesmatter...so, why do we continue to screw it all up? Are we not meant to learn from history, from our mistakes?
This is a film that should be shown to every teenage kid in every school throughout the world, to every adult...all measures taken to change this politician-made affront to civilisation.
Free Fire: Directed by Ben Wheatley
How many shots does it take before the bullets run out? How many times can a human being be shot before they die? Mere superfluous details that shouldn't concern us. They certainly didn't concern the director. And why should they...this is a full-powered, madly-violent, shoot-em-up, comedy romp.
Sharlto Copley as the be-suited Vernon steals every scene...followed closely by a smack-smacked Sam Riley as the unwashed Stevo. Two characters perfectly wrought from one straight-down-the-line snappy script. The words were written and the actors' reactions were given...Ben Wheatley captured it all, gloriously, hilariously. The audience ate it up! A hugely satisfying cinematic meal!
On my way to a press screening...and, it's snowing Doris...
All These Sleepless Nights: Directed by Michal Marczak
Perhaps, I'm too old. Perhaps, I'm too long-in-the-tooth. Perhaps, I'm too harsh in saying that this is a film the world could do easily/gladly without. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...
Art students are insufferable at the best of times. Art students with a strong undercurrent of narcissism and no original thought are insufferable all of the time. This is less documental than a kindergarten-kid's diary. One party after another, one dismal drug-infused conversation after another, a couple of break-ups, a betrayal...a 'banging' bore. It was introduced as a 'banging' film...it couldn't even pop a cork!
100 minutes of gruesome self-absorption.
Small Town Rage: Directed by David Hylan & Raydra Hall
Act-Up were in-your-face, out-of-your-comfort-zone, on-the-pavement activists. They not only ruffled feathers, they plucked them out, stripping the chicken, outing the hypocrites, bloodening the hands of the presecutors! So much so, their outright provocation polarised the LGBT community...but, ask yourself - regardless of which side of the fence you stood - where would we be [now] without them?
The Small Town Rage that once consumed the small city of Shreveport has dissipated [by the survivors & paricipants alike] into reflection, reminiscence and remembrance. A film that blooms with respect...blossoms with passion. Deservedly proud, dedicated people tell their stories...the emotion is overwhelming.
To date there have been over 35,000,000 deaths attributed to HIV/AIDS...if Act-Up hadn't acted up, who knows what that terrifying statistic would be now! Thank you to each and all...who stood [stands], shouted [shouts] and fought [fights]...to repair this broken world.
A Quiet Passion: Directed by Terence Davies
Since The Long Day Closes - still - remains my favourite film, Terence Davies has been long my quiet passion. Lo and behold, the man - himself - is [to be] in attendance!
The film didn't disappoint and neither did Mr Davies...in the finest of fettles, he explained his film is about Emily Dickinson's words and her furious passion to protect her soul! Whether she was [or was not] a lesbian is immaterial...it's the poetry that matters - from a woman who did little else than write. And, Cynthia Nixon delivers those words and a performance with wry dexterity...in - what only can be described as - a surprising comedy of manners. She - like me - passionate about hyphens!
The wit that runs throughout the film is amplified by Mr Davies' innate talent to catch the reaction...the unspoken looks on the faces of the Dickinson sisters when serving tea...side-splitting stuff...in a film of remarkable light and shade.
A Cure for Wellness: Directed by Gore Verbinski
How many botched escapes can you squeeze into a film that is basically about escaping? Well, with a running time of 226 minutes, quite a few! A couple could have been cut out without damaging the over-convoluted story whatsoever.
Money was thrown at this, the production design is mightily impressive...shame the same couldn't be said about the writing! The 'horror' bits are few and far between...the final 20 minutes (or thereabouts) should have been cut. The 'young adults' will love it...as did the 'young woman' who sat next to me with her feet on the seat in front, noisily eating smelly popcorn - for the entire 226 minutes - from an irritatingly noisy packet. She should either learn cinema etiquette...or, desist from disgracing a cinema in future. Or, I should choose my films more wisely!
Remembering the Man: Directed by Nickolas Bird & Eleanor Sharpe
Having read the book, seen the play, watched the film, knew the boys...you'd think I would be a little tired of this story. Nothing could be further from the truth! Holding/Remembering the Man will always be a conduit to those memories...thank you.
In a tiny cinema on a rainy, Friday afternoon...a mere 6 of us watched...as I sobbed, smiled and, remembered those two boys...I remembered all the friends I have lost. It was a rainy day...punctuated with sunshine...my memories are precious.
My only complaint [nothing to do with the film]...the chap who introduced the film described Tim & John as a 'queer couple', they were NOT! They were a gay couple, having known them...they were - most definitely - a gay couple! This 'queer' thing is fine & dandy, if you identify as 'queer' - most gay men [possibly, of a certain age] do not. Stop this transference...respect the identities of others...as you demand the respect for your own identities.
Respect...is a two-way street :). Babies!
I shall now climb down from my soap-box. Respectfully. I shall now refrain from shouting at clouds...as I have been told - by the 'queer community' - I do, too often. I have always been gay...never queer, although the school bullies told me I was!
Wanna read the full review?
...it ain't pretty! Click on the poster!
Check It: Directed by Dana Flor & Toby Oppenheimer
Strength in numbers...gangland culture ain't just for the straight boys. Tough, fierce, flaming screaming queens unite...you wouldn't wanna cross these kids! They are out of control!
Being gay and black...that's a whole different ball-game, they in a world of their own...they live in a system that has - undeniably - failed them. They live on a road that's 'dark and thin' - gangin', bangin', prostitution and drugs - chances of survival 50:50. Terrifying!
No doubt this film will come into its own...when revisited in 10 or 20 years, who survived and who died. This is a whole different world...filmed over 2 years, the filmmakers certainly earned their stripes. The - obvious - scaffolding of trust is plain to see!
There is a glimmer of hope in the apparent hopelessness. There's a home-made camarderie, a vital support network, a self-governing family. What's so special about Check It...they survive! Fabulous.
In Between: Directed by Maysaloun Hamoud
Layla...what a woman! Strong, proud, independent and fierce. No man walks over Layla. She's the friend you want...when in need.
Palestinian patriarchy gets a bashing in this tale of creeping modernity. When the pious collide with the party girls...sparks are destined to fly. There are chills, thrills, tears and laughter as these women assert their independence...let no man put them asunder...God help them if they do!
Fine performances, solid direction and a powerful message...what more do you want from a film? A sequel? Well, that would be most welcome.
The Untamed: Directed by Amat Escalante
There's a sexually-voracious, bisexual alien in the woods! Yes...it is as ridiculous as it sounds.
Take out the alien, a few nips and tucks with the screenplay and this would have been a mighty fine domestic drama...a cheating husband, with his wife's brother no less! But...alas...there's that metaphor! The bisexual alien! Admittedly, it's a very creepy looking alien...but, what the hell is it doing in this film!?!
Is this a comment on bisexuality? The cheating husband is bi, the alien is bi...what happens when two 'bis' get together!?! Well, you'll just have to watch the film to find out!. Metaphors!!! Dontcha just luv'em!
Aquarius: Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho
There are two ways to tell a story...the short-winded way and the long-winded way. Aquarius, with a running time of 142 minutes, is way too long to be riveting. A shame...because it is an [almost] engrossing character study of an aging, fiercely independent woman...with a fierce taste in music. The soundtrack is a joy.
There's a gay son, blink and you'll miss him...just one of the many unnecessary scenes that serve no purpose other than extending the film to an intolerable length. Less is more!
The final day...
A Kid: Directed by Philippe Lioret
An understated film...that will warm the cockles of any old heart.
I am unashamed to admit that - by the end - the tears were rolling down my face...happy tears, well - perhaps, tinged with sadness. It's always a pleasure to watch a director use his actors to the best of their abilities...instead of telling, the director shows the welling emotion, a look that lasts just a little longer, a touch that would seem out-of-place. There is a delicacy here...a delicacy that is appropriate to such a delicate situation.
Secrets and lives led in lies and regret...A Kid is one of those rare films, when it ends...two things happen...you want to watch it again (trust me there is a genuine reason to do so)...and, you want to know when the sequel is being released. There are always new beginnings with a great ending.
Yes...it really is that good.
Mad to Be Normal: Directed by Robert Mullan
The closing film...the stars, the director are in attendance...and, the heavens have opened. The red carpet is going to be a rushed affair!
R.D. Laing was [and remains] a divisive figure in the world of psychiatry...or, to be more accurate, within the anti-psychiatry movement. Definitely, a man worthy of a film. For those of you who know a thing or two about Laing's life and work...there will be disappointed in what they see on screen. This is not his life story...this is a chapter of a life led against the grain.
Unfortunately, due to the short time-frame covered, there is no character arc...and, Laing had an almighty arc! The film really does end where it should've began...
As an introduction to Laing, the man and his work...it does the job in an elementary way. Alas, there was so much more to Laing than what this film is able to tell you. Still, with some mightily fine performances, Tennant, Byrne and [of course] Gambon...Mad to Be Normal ticks a few boxes, it could have ticked them all! A film that played...too safe!
And that - as they say - is a wrap!
Many thanks to Glasgow Film Festival, to all the volunteers and, the press office. Good jobs done by all.