Friday 26 February 2021

Article: Glasgow Film Festival – Findings - Part 2

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this festival for me has been a more enhanced feeling of discovery. My excursions to the London Film Festival have so often been hurried trips to packed cinemas, watching the more marketed films a few months before they are released to the awaiting public. Films by popular filmmakers are filled up quickly, and while that buzz of watching such films never truly leaves, patrons such as myself who do not have the luxury of absorbing all the fruits of the festival must economise what little time they have.

Glasgow Film Festival in its current form has given me a far more open stance on viewing opportunities. Save for Minari which I labelled as a must-see, I have found myself making a lot of choices at random. Decisions based on little else than I have the time and the film might have only a solitary element which I find worth investigating.

It may be a female director. It could be that I have simply not seen a film from that country. Hell, it might just be down to the blurb on the website. Hell with one choice, it was all these things. Either way, I took a divining rod approach to things to see if I found anything that I would consider worthwhile.

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time:

With a running time much more merciful than its title, this mysterious drama takes place in the gloomy streets of Budapest. A doctor travels from America back to her home country for a date with another doctor in a pact reminiscent of the end of Before Sunrise.  She finds herself dubiously stood up by the supposed love of her life. When encountering the man soon afterwards, he claims to have never met her before.

Director Lili Horvát produces an intriguing premise to get one’s teeth into, and the blurb on the web site make grand comparisons to Hitchcock and Kieślowski. Oddly enough, this drama had slight feelings of Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, although far less cynical. The film becomes a quiet study of the irrational risks that love can produce. So much of the film harbours the kind of tension usually obtained in a more violent thriller, however, Horvát is far more interested in the light cracking of neurosurgeon Márta Vizy’s (Natasa Stork) icy veneer than delivering an overdramatic psychosis.

Vizy’s decision to leave her high position in America to pursue the doctor opens a world of perceived irrationality. She takes residency in an empty squalid flat. She takes a position in the same hospital as this stranger. Her choices lead to her work being scrutinised in spite of being the best in her field.

Holding its cards tightly to its chest, Preparations works for most of its brief run time. Stork’s impassive expression often leaves us to wonder if she is lost her mind, or something even more insidious. The film stumbles slightly as it heads towards it’s fragile yet hopeful finale, but this doesn’t stop Horvat’s impressive methodical drip-feed execution of the story from keeping everything on tenterhooks.


The type of film which deserves to find its audience. Sweethearts: a coming-of-age story of a socially awkward, environmentally conscious teenager forced to go on holiday with her family to a Butlins style park, is not a film with many surprises. It is by no means a reinvention of the wheel. Nor does it have to be. Instead, Sweetheart is a strong remainder type of film that the British can do well. Taking advantage of its beachside location and filling it with a fun cast of up and comers and character actors, the film nails the anxiety of the passage of time between leaving childhood and finding the beginnings of post-adolescence.  It works because it does the basic things well. The closest bedfellow to Sweetheart is perhaps Submarine, while the former is not as quirky as the latter. Nevertheless, Sweetheart should be seen for its sharp observations, tender moments of drama, and generally being a good laugh for most of its runtime.


Not one to lie to my blog readers. Seeing this as a Sky produced documentary filled me with a certain dread. A niggling feeling that this overview of Tina Tuners musical career would be a rather flat, uninvolving affair. I was happy to say I am wrong.

This is a comprehensive and appealing account of one of the most electrifying black female performers of Rock and Roll. Beginning with her modest, church-going beginnings and her breakthrough RnB success with her abusive musician Ike, to her astonishing pop music comeback decades later. This film is a perfect introduction to the queen of Rock and Roll for the uninitiated.

One would find it hard to believe that the likes of Beyoncé were not more than a little influenced by Turners headstrong shimmying and powerful vocals. The archive footage that is shown is certainly infectious. However, this documentary, possibly at the subject’s own trepidation, cannot really do the passion without the pain. While all the elements within Tina were agreed to by the singer, the films most telling, and distressing moments are the affirmation of how trauma recurs and routinely inflicts its pain. The media near-obsessive desire to connect her career with her ex-husband is a chilling reminder of how the media machine situates its lens.

However, Turner’s dignity and professionalism not only outlay her as a performer, but it is also among the highlights of the film itself. Watching her desire to perform, along with her decorum throughout the low points of her career, it’s difficult to think of any modern-day performers who will hold as much grace in a career as long.

Saturday 20 February 2021

Article: Glasgow Film Festival – Findings - Part 1

With many parts of the world still in the grip of the pandemic, Film Festivals have been forced to reconsider how they function as a main cog in the industry. The focus is now heavily based on streamed screeners and zoom interviews as the main approach. Something that festivals were aiming towards for a small while anyway. However, the acceleration of this possible new normal has allowed a broadening of scope which perhaps had not been tapped into in previous years.

With Glasgow film festival having to adapt to the situation at hand, it has allowed the likes of myself – unable to travel up to bonnie Scotland – to be able to take part in the proceedings in a way that I would have perhaps been able to before. If the new adaptation is adopted and improved upon even further, the fact that we may be able to see a flourishing of diverse opinion provides a profoundly optimistic outlook to the world of cinema and film writing. One hopes that when COVID-19 is no longer a mainstay of our news and lives, such broadening of horizons remains with us.

The Toll:

Set entirely in the sparse but photogenic Pembrokeshire countryside, The Toll casts Michael Smiley as the quiet yet sinister Tollbooth operator whose shady secret from his previous life sparks a whole manner of chaos in a remote Welsh town. Ryan Andrew Hooper’s loads his debut feature with a hefty amount of local colour and oddball characters. The film’s cast is filled with solid character actors that help deflect the purposely fractured storytelling, which may or may not convince viewers. However, the main strength of the film lies in the wryly comic observations on topics such as teen criminals asking for Instagram engagement and English ex-pats claiming Wales for themselves.  British cinema could do worse than have a few more attempts at what this Welsh Western is trying.


While we may only be in the second month of the year at the time of writing, I would not be surprised if Minari stays high up in my list of favourite films of the year. Lee Isaac Chung’s tender drama takes place in rural Arkansas in the 1980s following a Korean American family moving from California to a remote plot of land, to grow Far Eastern produce for immigrant vendors. With its naturalistic cinematography and warm performances, the film is quietly disarming in nearly every scene.

Semi-autobiographical in nature, Chung’s film eschews the kind of typical racial conflict which one could have expected from such a film. Instead, Minari is more interested in the frayed family tensions that come from Steven Yeun’s Jacob overwhelming desire to make his way through the American dream. The film is not overtly plotted and does not have to be to deliver its emotional gut punches. A film that delivers a strong wind with butterfly wings.


A myriad of interconnecting stories which meld within one another, the Estonian filmed Undergods is an eyeball hijacker from a production design standpoint. The stark, dilapidated landscapes perfectly capture the nature of this anthology of dour tales which centre around broken family values, mistrust, and isolation. Spanish director Chino Moya starts proceedings well. Opening with a snappy, spiteful story of a splintered relationship being suspiciously invaded by a too-friendly neighbour.  

However, the film becomes a bit too self-absorbed in its bleakness to be fully invested. The film falls down rabbit holes, telling stories within stories and punctuates itself with moments of dark violence. But by the time Kate Dickie starts wildly dancing to Conway Twitty’s Lonely Blue Boy, Undergods steers into David Lynch territory, but with none of the engagement.  

Saturday 13 February 2021

Review: Paradise Cove

 Year: 2021

Director: Martin Guigui

Screenplay: Sherry Klein

Starring: Todd Grinnell, Mena Suvari, Kristin Bauer van Straten


Synopsis is here:

Every so often, a movie will have me thinking about Pauline Kael’s seminal essay about appreciating great trash. Watching Paradise Cove, always makes me wonder what she would think of a film like this or the many similar features like it. These off the beaten track thrillers which love to highlight their gaudy wares at the expense of logical plot.

This is the sort of Yuppies-in-hell type of movie that does not seem to be much of. Inequality is through the roof. People buy homes less to live but to profit from. Late-stage capitalism has left many in despair. It is the perfect time to update Pacific Heights (1990). Paradise Cove holds none of the financial muscle of John Schlesinger’s movie, but it should not need to. What Paradise Cove has going for it is relevancy. Its dog-eat-dog story brings a certain amount of connectivity to an audience. To have such a topic thrown into such an over-the-top thriller is usually enjoyable.

That said, Paradise Cove is seriously lacking in the type of craftsmanship which could turn it into an enjoyable pulp smothered tale. It is a film which lacks the guts or coherence to be as interesting as it could have been. Hampered by poor pacing, cardboard flat performances, and a patchy narrative which needed to be tidied up in the pre-production stage it is a film which far too happily enjoys its contrivance. Better films can often have its audience asking the same questions that one may do here. But Paradise Cove is deficient in having the ability to distract its audience. It would perhaps be beneficial if the film had characters who worth investing in.

Watching a young couple being terrorised by a disturbed, homeless women could be an intriguing premise if the screenplay cared about any of the people at play. However, Paradise Cove is a place where every person is annoyingly uncompelling and profoundly unsympathetic. A couple who seems uninterested in the memories within the house they cannot wait to flip. They go up against a middle-aged vagrant, whose tragic backstory never feels strong enough to tolerate her causal slip into needless violence. The film’s habit of playing fast and loose with plot strands, along with some tone-deaf characterisation ensures that none of these characters provides empathy.

The annoying thing is when you have the likes of Mena Suvari in the casting roster, you should allow her to be more than a shrill, hysterical wife. It is a role with no agency or sympathy and some of the most egregious pieces of dialogue. So much of what this character says makes whatever plight this couple may have unappealing. Kristin Bauer van Straten has a better time with things. Her performance as a jilted housewife is at one which knows what type of movie this could have been.

Unfortunately, this is not about what the film could have been, but what the film is. Folks like me may get a kick out of the unintentionally humorous set pieces and plot points that seemingly go nowhere (that shower sequence does what for the film exactly?). However, for those who are looking for a thriller with more…well thrill, it may be worth heading elsewhere.