Thursday, 22 March 2018

Flare 1: Don't fence me in

The British Film Institute's 32nd annual Flare: London's LGBTQ+ Film Festival has kicked off on the Southbank, and runs for 10 days with a selection of intriguing, entertaining and provocative film. There seems to be an emphasis this year on controversial movies, with films about politics and religion along with a significant number of features and shorts exploring disability and identity. It was fun reconnecting with my annual Flare buddies at the opening night party on Wednesday - this is my 20th year covering this festival! Here are some highlights from the first days...

My Days of Mercy (opening night film)
dir Tali Shalom-Ezer; with Ellen Page, Kate Mara 17/US ****
Despite having a hugely contentious issue at the heart of its plot, this film remains remarkably centred on its characters, all of whom are played with an earthy authenticity that often feels improvised. Scenes are so raw that they continually take the audience aback. And while the narrative itself is a bit predictable, the character complexity more than makes up for it.

The Revival
dir Jennifer Gerber; with David Rysdahl, Zachary Booth 17/US ***
Adapted by Samuel Brett Williams from his own stage play, this drama is sharply well written and played, with knowing observations about the collision between religion and culture. When the plot kicks in for the final act, the film's honesty begins to feel contrived, badly muddying its message in a series of scenes that may ring true but say all the wrong things about the topics at hand.

dir-scr Mazen Khaled; with Carol Abboud, Hamza Mekdad 17/Leb ***
An experimental exploration of masculinity and male friendship, this Lebanese film is very tactile as it follows a young man over the course of a fateful day. While touching on some social issues, the main focus is on his friends, who remain by his side through a very detailed ordeal. There isn't much plot, and very little sense of character for the actors to work with, so it never quite resonates emotionally as it should. But it's darkly involving. [VFF 2017]

dir-scr Erlingur Thoroddsen; with Bjorn Stefansson, Sigurdur Thor Oskarsson 17/Ice ****
Sleek and dark, this Icelandic thriller gets under the skin quickly with filmmaking that's enticingly mysterious. Writer-director Erlingur Thoroddsen skilfully shoots the film to catch deep colours while positioning characters against stunning landscapes, giving everything a powerfully visual kick while the story develops beneath the surfaces. It's overlong but beautifully made, and packed with fiendishly clever touches. FULL REVIEW >

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C R I T I C A L   W E E K

Films screened this past week included a few big blockbusters. Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One basically shows up virtually all other big effects-based movies for the empty spectacle that they are. This movie is utterly gripping - a great story and superb characters. As if to prove the point, we also saw Pacific Rim: Uprising, a robots-bashing-robots sequel no one really asked for and a movie that would be unwatchable without the wonderful John Boyega. A Wrinkle in Time is a disappointment, an important, ambitious adaptation of the classic Madeleine L'Engle novel that feels overdesigned. Much grittier, Unsane is Steven Soderbergh's edgy mental hospital nightmare thriller starring the amazing Claire Foy. Taraji P Henson brings the rather mindlessly violent Proud Mary to life. Agnes Jaoui is wonderful in the French comedy-drama I Got Life! And Attack of the Southern Fried Zombies, is pretty much what it sounds like: a bit of bonkers, and rather hilarious low-budget mayhem.

Non-festival films coming up include the parent-teen comedy Blockers, the Emily Blunt horror A Quiet Place, the action thriller The Hurricane Heist, the banking doc The Outsider, and a restoration of GW Pabst's 1929 silent classic Pandora's Box.

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