UCL Film & TV Society https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk The home of film at UCL Sun, 27 Sep 2020 09:15:30 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.2 https://i2.wp.com/www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/cropped-Screen-Shot-2018-08-21-at-14.28.19.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 UCL Film & TV Society https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk 32 32 ‘Tenet’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/tenet-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/tenet-review/#respond Sun, 20 Sep 2020 10:25:20 +0000 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=19169

Maria Cunningham reviews Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bending blockbuster.

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, the first major blockbuster to be released since lockdown, is quite simply an incredible film. Nolan continuously manages to come out with ground-breaking pieces of cinema, and the film is in keeping with his track-record of mind-boggling, impressive films. This film is Nolan’s Bond: taking the elements of Bond that we love, and putting Nolan’s jaw-dropping, complex twists on it.

Tenet’s main theme is ‘inversion’, a temporal concept used to explain the backwards movement of objects in time. In it, John David Washington’s character (the unnamed Protagonist) attempts to investigate the strange new black-market technology of ‘inverting the entropy’ of people and objects in the hope of preventing the apocalypse, which is later revealed to be called the ‘Algorithm’ – a piece of technology that could catastrophically invert the entire world.

From the beginning, the audience is plunged into a whirlwind world of action and deceit. After a failed siege, a secret organisation known as Tenet is revealed to the Protagonist, which operates around saving the human race from the end of the world. Barbara (Clemence Posey), a scientist, explains the concept of inversion to him using reversed bullets, which shoot back into the gun from a wall with the words ‘You’re not throwing the bullet. You’re catching it” – and it is from here that we are thrust into the central narrative of the film.

The film’s heart lies in a conflict between two narrative threads. Firstly, you have the Protagonist and Neil (Robert Pattinson) – the charming and soft-spoken second to Washington’s character who comes up with brilliant and wacky plans, resembling a character from Oceans Eleven dropped in a straight-faced action film. The second thread is the abusive and loveless marriage of arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), and his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), which is heartbreaking and intimate, and the possibility of their involvement in the manufacturing of the technology. 

Tenet: Christopher Nolan Didn't Show Films That Inspired Him to Cast |  IndieWire

The different acts are structured brilliantly, and evoke very different moods. The first act is relatively slow paced and mainly focuses on intimate conversations and exposition. The lighting and cinematography is relatively soft during the conversation scenes, representing the intimacy and importance of these characters and what they are revealing. Nolan structures the second act in a much more brash way – everything becomes much harsher and more complex to follow, but the the spy scenes are regardless are effortlessly and smoothly carried out.

This juxtaposes the third act, which is dark, action-paced, and deliberately confusing to follow. The lighting and visual effects are phenomenal and serve to highlight the chaos. Inverted scenes are lit with a red glow and juxtaposed with the blue lighting that dictates the forward passage of time. One of the best scenes in the film is an intense interrogation scene featuring Kat, the Protagonist and Sator. The lighting and cinematography of this scene is fantastic, with the interrogation happening both in the inverted and forward timeline, the red and blue lighting of the rooms highlighting the different timeframes – a very confusing and intense scene. It is the time inversion scenes like this that make Tenet a cinematic masterpiece, especially considering the majority of scenes were created by practical effects. The ‘time inversion’ sequences were captured in both forward and backward mobility, with practical effects and real explosions also used where necessary – including shots of buildings exploding, and then imploding due to inversion. Inverted scenes were filmed with the inverted characters separate from the others, and the footage reversed and edited back onto the rest of the footage; an old technique, but one that is incredibly effective, especially when compared and seen in a different perspective later in the film. It is this that makes the film chaotic and confusing at times, but the film merely requires a bit of patience. 

First look: New book sheds more light on Christopher Nolan's mysterious  Tenet

Despite all the complicated action sequences, character relationships and development are also important to this film and part of why it is enjoyable beyond the technical and philosophical complexities. A standout moment in the film is an intimate conversation between the Protagonist and Kat in a restaurant, where Kat explains how she is ‘trapped’ in her marriage, and is not allowed to see her son often. The writing is soft but fast-paced, and juxtaposed with beautifully-shot scenes of her last attempt to keep the marriage alive – a romantic moment on a yacht in Vietnam. The way the Robert Pattison and Elizabeth Debecki develop their characters throughout the film are inspiring; Neil is revealed to be a much more competent and involved character than his first disarming appearance would suggest, and Kat grows into a very strong female character, who is integral to the plot and to the plans to prevent the apocalypse. This transition is unexpected, yet welcome, as she rises from a trapped lonely woman to something much more, yet still keeps her femininity and her own motivations and character, instead of being regulated to a background character. 

This film is, at its core, an action film. The score, often deafening at times adds to the whirlwind of narrative and action that the audience gets swept into. Again, Nolan has surpassed expectations, and created a niche for himself in the spy action genre with a film that never fails to surprise, enthrall and excite, and marvel at the depth of his imagination and talent. The film’s plot has many complexities and to be fully understood should be given a second viewing, but the film is enjoyable on a personal level even without fully understanding its technicalities. It leaves you wanting more from the characters and the plot, but in a very tantalizing way that you know you’ve only seen a glimpse of this world, and that maybe this mystery is what makes the film so spectacular.

Tenet is currently showing in UK cinemas. Watch the trailer here:

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‘I’m Thinking Of Ending Things’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/im-thinking-of-ending-things-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/im-thinking-of-ending-things-review/#respond Thu, 10 Sep 2020 15:20:37 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=19165

Lydia De Matos reviews Kaufman’s latest experimental thriller.

A young couple is on their way to the guy’s parents’ house. They’ve only been together for six weeks. Or is it seven? They’re unsure. Nothing is certain, not even her name; it’s Lucy, or maybe Louisa, it might even be Yvonne. This is their first roadtrip together. She says they have a “real connection; a rare and intense attachment” – but the conversation is awkward, stilted. He’s excited for her to meet his parents. She hasn’t even told hers about them. He’s clearly aching for them to be perfect for one another. She’s thinking of ending things. 

Are you confused yet? If not, you will be. Charlie Kaufman’s latest feature, i’m thinking of ending things, is his least accessible yet, embracing the writer/director’s absurdist style and philosophy to an extent that only Netflix’s infamous do-whatever-you-want policy would have allowed. I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult, perhaps just more as a warning to go into this expecting something uniquely Kaufman-esque. 

I'm Thinking of Ending Things review: A surreal but real Netflix film -  Polygon

The film’s emotional bedrock is uncertainty, especially in the first two acts. The film occupies itself with those uncomfortable stretches of time plagued by apprehension; waiting for someone you’re nervous to meet to finally descend the stairs, a car trip with a boyfriend you’re thinking of dumping, approaching a table full of people who are clearly waiting for you. Kaufman elongates these moments and drops us squarely into them, slowly creating an atmosphere of tense anxiety that sinks its claws into you, making it impossible to turn away. The intricately confusing wallpaper backdrop of the opening credits resembles something along the lines of what Charlotte Perkins-Gilman described in The Yellow Wallpaper, suggesting from the very outset that nothing we see is to be trusted. 

Indeed, every detail seems to shift constantly. It’s not only the young woman’s (Jessie Buckley) name that changes, but her major, the colour of her coat, how she met Jake (Jesse Plemons), how she feels about him, even her voice and face. These shifts are occasionally subtle, and occasionally glaring, challenging us to question them. The world around her changes too. Kaufman takes a very literal interpretation of eternalist philosophy; Jake’s parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) appear at different stages of their life almost simultaneously, and the young woman feels nostalgic for things that have not yet happened. Things characters say and do are taken wholesale from notable public figures, from the criticism of Pauline Kael to the paintings of Ralph Albert Blakelock, spoken and presented as though completely, spontaneously original. 

The film’s litany of references seems to be one only the most cultured intelligentsia-type would feel comfortable peppering in, or more accurately, the kind of person who desperately wants to be one of those cultured intelligentsia-types. The kind of person who corners you at a party, purely aesthetic cigarette in hand, starting a conversation about the essays of David Foster Wallace, but inevitably ending up talking about the crushing shame they still feel about having only gotten a participation trophy at their secondary school prizegiving. 

I'm Thinking of Ending Things Review: Charlie Kaufman Does Existential  Horror | Den of Geek

On the surface Kaufman seems to be making a fairly boring critique of the inauthenticity of modern times, the disconnect between our thoughts and our actions, our lack of original thought, something like that. But the further you get into the film, the more it feels like he’s deriding the kind of person who actually believes that such a critique is either pertinent or unique; the kind of person who needs to feel like the smartest in the room, a cut above the unwashed masses and their supposed disregard for “high culture”. The kind of person who oh so desperately needs their opinions to be validated that they’re incapable of connecting with the people around them. If you’ve seen anything else by Kaufman, you’ll recognise the pattern: he’s writing about himself. 

If that seems like a lot to throw at your actors, well, it is. But the whole cast handles it fantastically. Buckley in particular effortlessly attunes her performance to every deviation in tone and character no matter how minor or major. Jay Wadley’s score and ballet is brilliant, shifting from minimalistic terror to uplifting wonder with an ease that makes me question why I’d not heard of him before. 

Truthfully, i’m thinking of ending things is a difficult film. After the first viewing I found myself unable to decide whether it was a meaningful piece of art, or a wall at which everything had been thrown and few things had stuck. But I could not stop thinking about it, and desperately needed to discuss it. Once I’d had a chance to do so, and managed to formulate an interpretation that actually seemed to make sense, I found myself leaning more and more toward loving it and its wonderfully absurd, surreal terror. It may be a difficult film, but if you want to watch something that will stay with you, it is absolutely worth it.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is now streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:

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‘The Good Girls’ (Las Niñas Bien) Review: The rise and ruinous fall of Mexico City’s Glitterati https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-good-girls-las-ninas-bien-review-the-rise-and-ruinous-fall-of-mexico-citys-glitterati/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-good-girls-las-ninas-bien-review-the-rise-and-ruinous-fall-of-mexico-citys-glitterati/#comments Mon, 07 Sep 2020 10:45:19 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=19145

Tomi Haffety explores the portrayal of the Mexican elite during the 1982 Peso Crisis through Las Niñas Bien

Las Niñas Bien acts as a cinematic tribute to the legacy of Julio Iglesias, the Mexican Pesos Crisis of 1982 and all those who subsequently fell from the elite with one capitalist swoop. The 2018 film is the second feature by Alejandra Márquez Abella and follows the life of the exclusive Las Lomas neighbourhood’s ‘queen bee’ Sofia (Ilse Salas), as she navigates her privileges amidst the worst financial crisis Mexico had experienced.

Opening with a scene at Sofia’s lavish birthday party, filled with rare octopus and expensive wine, Márquez Abella familiarises the viewer to the lifestyle that the guests share. This is subtly introduced by their removed attitude toward the failing economy, even using it as a punchline to their after-dinner jokes. Living in a palatial house with live-in staff who have been around for generations, Sofia, the protagonist of both the film and the social scene, sends her children to international summer camps to expose them to the world outside Mexico, even warning them not to mingle with other Mexicans. Along with the other housewives, she enjoys uninterrupted tennis matches and lengthy pampering sessions. She is untouchable, or at least, that is what she believes until reality starts to slowly creep in, and creep it does.

Márquez Abella exhibits a great talent for using subtle symbolism to carry the story forward and as the plot develops and cracks begin to show in Sofia’s perfect life, these symbols are given free reign. Beginning subtly with the lack of water the morning after the birthday party and the neighbours packing large bags in the car to go on a ‘long vacation’, it becomes apparent that the world Sofia was so comfortable in is beginning to slowly change.

The minimalist score composed by Tómas Barreiro has the mesmerizing power of complimenting the story and the repeated clapping symphony, aptly named ‘the war of the applause’, plays when the plot hits a climax to emphasise the agitation and discomfort felt by Sofia. Costume designer Annai Ramos played a vital part in telling the story through fashion as the clothes that the women wear represent their pristine lives, and they act as a base for much of the plot, for example Sofia wears a sombre black dress on the night that everything seems to collapse. Cleaners are left unpaid; a skin rash develops very visibly over her neck and Sofia removes the foreboding black butterfly from the parlour wall- an action she was warned against by the gardener as removing it would bring only bad luck.

Sofia’s ignorance and selfishness are represented through her continued avarice at the expense of her husband whose sobriety begins to decline with his wealth. The desperation to continue life as before is palpable and as the plot develops, it becomes obvious to everyone apart from Sofia that she no longer holds the title of ‘queen bee’ and is beginning to be usurped by a younger, new money housewife, Ana Paula. In this case, Mexican colourism and elitism is apparent in the way that Ana Paula is of Mexican descent whereas Sofia’s family are recent immigrants from the ‘fashionable’ Spain. This holds true in the repeated references to Julio Iglesias who, in Sofia’s eyes, stands as the pinnacle of cosmopolitanism and class- both things she is striving to obtain, and then maintain. A powerful scene towards the end of the feature presents two sides of Sofia’s life: she is pampered by others as she gets ready for an evening meal but she is forced to shower with stagnant pool water following the restriction on hot water. The juxtaposition between Sofia’s ties to her old way of living and new, forced way of living is a powerful metaphor of her fall from grace.

Las Niñas Bien begins with Sofia reciting a fantasy that is not too dissimilar to her reality, but by the closing of the film exactly a year after the exuberant party, Sofia sits with her husband at a dinner with her young nemesis. Márquez Abella has perfectly critiqued the instability of capitalism in a ninety-minute feature. Highlighting the insecurity of the wealth elite through regular wide shots, whether it be at the private tennis court or the palatial décor of the exclusive mansions, Abella presents as much wealth as possible into the frame. Sofia’s dramatic fall from grace and replacement as a key figure in her social circle is brilliantly narrated through Sofia’s fantasies and a reality which becomes increasingly nightmarish.

Las Niñas Bien is artistically shot and both the leading and supporting actors, who are dominantly shoulder-pad clad women, transform the story from a Desperate Housewives satire to a masterful capitalism-critiquing feature.

Las Niñas Bien is now available to stream on Mubi. Watch the trailer here:

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FOMI 2020: A Journey in AdULTHOOD, London Film Locations https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/fomi-2020-a-journey-in-adulthood/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/fomi-2020-a-journey-in-adulthood/#respond Fri, 29 May 2020 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=19093

FOMI director, Alex Dewing, takes us through some of the filming locations of British Drama AdULTHOOD. This article was written as part of the celebration of the Festival of the Moving Image, UCL’s only student run film festival, which was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19. 

When the Kidulthood series began back in 2006, the film instantly found a special place in the history of cinema. Specifically British cinema. Up until this point, when pressed to think about a film centred on teenage life in the London you might instinctively reach to Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham or Nicholas Hytner’s The History Boys, both of which present some of the typical British tropes found both then and now. These films follow middle-class families who live in middle-class houses and live middle-class lives. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this but audiences, as well as filmmakers, noticed that the focus on such backgrounds left so many people’s stories off the screen. One such filmmaker being Noel Clarke, of Kidulthood and Doctor Who fame. Clarke saw that people like Sam Peel, the protagonist of the Kidulthood series, were simply left at the sidelines of films, if not completely unseen. At its core, Kidulthood wasn’t too dissimilar from other teenage dramas. It is a story about kids trying to navigate through their teenage years and find their own paths to adulthood. But these navigations take a very different course when violence, race, and social issues are things that can’t be ignored.

These elements are further explored in the series’ second film, Adulthood, and solidify the film and trilogy as an important cornerstone for capturing the realism of life in and beyond a London estate. Frantic, urban, and unflinching, Adulthood follows Sam Peel as he becomes a free man having served six years in prison following the events of Kidulthood. Now forced to confront the damage he caused and the people he hurt, he soon finds that someone is out for revenge. As well as writing and directing, Noel Clarke stars once again alongside now key names in British cinema including  Adam Deacon and Scarlett Alice Johnson. This British drama is non-stop. Set among the estates of West London, AdULTHOOD looks at how far you must go for redemption, with an immediacy that feels fitting of the never-quiet streets of London. London is such an innate part of the film, it almost lives and breathes as much as the characters themselves. The locations within it aren’t extraordinary but it is their mundanity that makes it and the film so representational. So what better way to celebrate the film than to show some of those very locations, many of which you’ve probably come across yourself. 

Lancaster West Estate

The unique architectural style of this West London estate that comes from its 70s design, makes it so distinct and visually interesting. The estate and its hugely diverse community was from the very beginning a key part of Adulthood and the series as a whole, as it’s not so often we see films and stories come from places such as these. 

Proposals emerge for Grenfell Tower estate refurb | News | Building

Latimer Road Station

This tube station is the site of unexpected tension as Adulthood’s cat and mouse chase almost comes to a head as Jay boards the tube at Latimer Road Station, Sam simultaneously gets off. Only once the doors are closed do the two spot each other and stare off as rage brims under the surface.

Tasty Corner Café

This uncannily nostalgic corner café is the setting for a reunion between Sam and Moony (Femi Oyeniran), one that quickly turns sour after Sam reveals his true reason for the call; he needs help finding his family and anyone who might be looking to hurt them in an act of revenge. But Moony isn’t ready to get back into that business.

Tasty Corner Menu, Menu for Tasty Corner, Marylebone, London

Ladbroke Grove Station

A lot of Adulthood’s happenings take place around Ladbroke Grove Station and Ladbroke Grove road, including where we first meet the not-so-nice Hayden, surprisingly played by Danny Dyer with his typical geezer gruff. Characters catch buses here, stop for a chat, and are even chased down side-streets, showing how close to home even the worst of situations can be. 

File:Ladbroke Grove tube station 4.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Hammersmith Station

The confrontation between Jay (Adam Deacon) and Mooney about the death of their mutual friend years earlier, and in which Jay attempts to enlist his friends’ help in tracking down Sam, takes place both inside and out of a café next to Hammersmith Station. As their meeting shows a glimpse of how far Jay will go to take his revenge, this location made a lot of the promotional imagery for the film and can even be seen in the film’s official trailer. 

Hammersmith Station, Hammersmith - Completely Property

Portobello Road / Tavistock Road 

As a great example of Clarke’s juxtaposition of locations and actions within them, it is in this lovely area at the end of Portobello Road, known for its great Italian restaurants, that Lexi (Scarlett Alice Johnson), Adulthood’s main female protagonist gets into a fight over the location of much-sought-after cousin, Becky. It is in this same location later in the film that Lexi and Sam realise they might be of some use to each other.

The Loos of London | Guide London

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FOMI 2020: 28 Days Later: Lust, London, and Life after Lockdown https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/fomi-2020-28-days-later/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/fomi-2020-28-days-later/#respond Thu, 28 May 2020 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=19106

Dan Jacobson looks at what Danny Boyle’s vision of the apocalypse has us believe about London and lockdown. This article was written as part of the celebration of the Festival of the Moving Image, UCL’s only student run film festival, which was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19. 

Like many of us, who have dutifully stayed at home and controlled the virus without any 260-mile trips to Durham, I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about how our society might change once we begin our “new normal”. This Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to ask difficult and pertinent questions about what we want our society to look like. The debate surrounding “unskilled migrants”, now risking their lives as key workers, has suddenly been drastically reframed, the mental health of the nation is finally being taken seriously, and the decrease in carbon emissions has displayed that, collaboratively, we are able to facilitate large-scale changes which were deemed unsustainable or unachievable just three months ago.

Identifying the key values of our society was the question at the centre of John Wyndham’s excellent 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids, which was one of screenwriter Alex Garland’s key inspirations behind 28 Days Later and also essential reading for me earlier in lockdown. After a cosmic event blinds everyone who sees it, and while the threat of carnivorous, locomotive plants known as ‘triffids’ grows, the remaining sighted individuals are forced to restart society in the image which they see fit. Through the protagonist Bill Masen, we see multiple alternatives – utilitarian polygamy, an attempt to retain Christian values, militaristic dictatorship – which, in turn, force us to ask what we might do, and what we would value, if everything we knew was suddenly obliterated.

28 Days Later
, which was directed by Danny Boyle and released in 2002,  has since become one of the most iconic horror films ever made, and also forces us to ask how regular humans, devoid of authority, government, or a means of retaining order, would respond following the apocalypse. However, rather than presenting these alternatives implicitly, as Wyndham does, 28 Days Later is ostensibly pessimistic, asking us if human nature itself prevents an ideal society from being created at all.

In Boyle’s post-apocalyptic horror, the threat takes the form of a “rage virus” which causes those infected to develop a terrifying, unassailable blood lust. Unlike the typical presentation of a zombie, infected individuals are not lumbering masses, but instead are agile, responsive, and aggressive, which increases the stakes and threat of infected individuals to devastating effect. However, in its Frankensteinian twist, the final ‘monsters’ are not those who were infected, but instead are the humans who have become naturally consumed by the rage which drives their bloody actions. There’s an uneasy sense that this bloodlust exists within all of us, and just needs to be triggered in order to be released.

However, this is alluded to in the very opening scene, which shows that this virus is not natural but, instead, entirely man-made. The virus was synthesized by showing videos to chimpanzees containing newsreel footage of extreme violence by humans, causing them to become carriers of the novel virus. Once released by a group of animal rights activists, a chimp bites one of them, thus transmitting the virus to humans.  It is unclear where exactly this footage is taken from, but it’s a jarring collection of fundamentalism, reactions to genocide, and violent response to rebellion against authority. This lack of authority is a shock to Jim (Cillian Murphy) who, upon first meeting two uninfected individuals, says “Of course there’s a government! There’s always a government. They’re in a bunker or a plane.” Incidentally, the military blockade in North Manchester which Jim and the remaining London survivors flee to, initially taken to be the last vestige of upstanding civilization, turns out to be essentially the opposite.

This failure and mistrust in authority is, in my opinion, what makes the backdrop of London so pertinent. The city, despite a greying River Thames and scaffolding around Big Ben, is a glimmering display of what humans can achieve. Unfortunately, this is delivered with a terrifying dose of the incredible concentration of authority and influence which can be found behind the tolling bells and shining skyscrapers. This is what makes the image of Jim, unshaven and in hospital scrubs, standing in front of the Houses of Parliament as dawn comes, such a phenomenal piece of visual storytelling – a global powerhouse that has suddenly been rendered meaningless and ineffective.

In this respect, though, it is worth examining how London, and its image of authority, feeds into this “rage virus” which was shown in the film’s opening newsreel montage. Whilst 28 Days Later was written prior to 9/11, and filming began on September 1st 2001, there are clear parallels with the response at Ground Zero, or to the invasion of Iraq. These incidents triggered an intense feeling of rage, the repercussions of which are still heartbreakingly present today, and the causes of which could, arguably, be traced back to discussions had, and decisions made, within the walls of London.

Throughout this lockdown it seems that the overall public response, as seen on our news reports and social media feeds, has been decidedly dichotomous. On the one hand it has been heart-warmingly empathetic, characterised by clapping for carers, shopping for vulnerable neighbours, and checking in on those living alone. On the other hand, there has been an intense frustration, which would be expected after the senior government advisor flouts the very rules that he himself put in place, or the President of the free world casually encourages people to treat the virus by ingesting disinfectant.

I believe that both of these factors will lead to a change in the way we conduct ourselves once we enter into our new normal. However, it is paramount that the way we respond to our frustration with authority is not driven by the rage that is rightfully brewing. The central tenet of 28 Days Later is that anger begets greater anger. If we can somehow break this cycle which caused the rage virus to arise in the first place, we can hope to not just return society to normal, but to enhance it according to the positive values which we clearly collectively share.

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Sundance 2020: ‘Jumbo’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/sundance-2020-jumbo-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/sundance-2020-jumbo-review/#respond Fri, 15 May 2020 16:04:45 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18780

Pihla Pekkarinen reviews Zoé Wittock’s debut, as part of FilmSoc’s coverage of Sundance Film Festival 2020. 

Jumbo is about desire, about relationships, about love, about sex. It is also about a girl who falls in love with a fairground ride. 

Jeanne is a young girl who lives with her mother and works the night shift at the local fairground. She discovers a newly installed ride and begins to spend lots of time carefully cleaning it and chatting to it. One evening, she gets a reply; so begins a bizarre love story between girl and machine. Zoé Wittock’s debut feature Jumbo is a surrealist portrayal of object sexuality.

By night, Jeanne’s romance with Jumbo is sensual and sincere; by day, she seems insane and severely in need of help. The film skillfully uses lighting to capture this nighttime sensuality: Jeanne’s face illuminated in the dark by Jumbo’s bright neon lights is a visualization of their communication and intimacy. He is projecting himself onto her, and she unto him. Contrastingly, the moments we see Jumbo in broad daylight are jarring and upsetting. He appears as a hunk of metal the other characters cannot see past. We also see Jeanne as others see her: a frumpy girl in an oversized uniform who won’t look anyone in the eye. By day, the romance dwindles into a crazy obsession; by night, we return to the magical intimate space between Jeanne and Jumbo.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Producer Anaïs Bertrand describes the film as “a very classic story… about a young girl’s first love and how her mother adapts to this new situation.”  The conflict between Jeanne’s mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot) and Jeanne is a central driving force of the narrative. Margarette is sexually permissive but cannot understand Jeanne’s attraction and attacks her for it. Bercot’s brokenhearted mother figure serves as both a source of reason and of frustration. Her physical altercations and screaming matches with Jeanne are reminiscent of ones between a homophobic parent and their child, drawing on emotional references that lend a new layer of meaning to their conflict. Jeanne’s boyfriend and manager Marc is another source of great discomfort, pushing the audience to sympathize with her romantic attraction to Jumbo. Her manager at the park, Marc, walks in on Jeanne while she’s changing clothes, and proceeds to pursue her against her wishes. Margarette encourages their relationship, even inviting him round to have sex with her daughter. This quasi-prostitutional treatment of Jeanne reinforces the film’s anxious tone, further elevating the sympathy we feel for her relationship. 

The film is bizarre and surreal in concept and style, but not in emotion. Noémie Merlant (A Portrait of a Young Girl on Fire) delivers a brilliantly subdued performance as Jeanne. Her anxiety toward men and her passion for Jumbo is palpable, and she manages to make a romance between a teenage girl and a fairground ride feel sincere and relatable. Together with Wittock, they turn a story that could have been silly and cringeworthy into one with real heart. Jeanne’s adoration for Jumbo feels true; her tears are heartbreaking and her passion is sexy. This narrative of forbidden love does not differ altogether too much from Juliet and Romeo, or Maria and Tony. The surrealist elements accompany a universal story of love and loss, surprising and impressive at every turn.


Jumbo is not yet available to stream or purchase. Check out the trailer below:

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Sweet Escape: What to Watch During Lockdown https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/what-to-watch-during-lockdown/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/what-to-watch-during-lockdown/#respond Fri, 01 May 2020 18:26:33 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=19028

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, governments all over the world – including the UK – have urged those who can to stay at home. This newfound plethora of time may feel stressful and strange, or perhaps mind-numbingly boring. What better way to alleviate lockdown blues than by watching a great film, or finally tackling the tv show you’ve had on your watchlist for ages? Below, a handful of our writers share what films and television shows they’ve been watching to pass the time.

Sex and the City

Tomi Haffety

The perfect binge, watch-whilst-you’re-eating, feel-good series, Sex and the City is a noughties classic. Spanning ninety-four episodes over six years, the witty and glamourous series follows the lives of four women as they navigate style, sex and, quite obviously, the city. Carrie Bradshaw’s namesake column in a small New York newspaper is the backbone to the show as she narrates her and her best friends’ lives, inventing a wealth of creative euphemisms as the group’s relationships go out of fashion quicker than nineties sequins. Winning seven Emmy Awards out of a substantial fifty nominations, Sex and the City was an unprecedented hit when it first aired and is still just as relatable and entertaining. Although the crucial theme of spending absurd amounts of money on shoes and labels feels somewhat outdated – a detail toned down in the subsequent films – the show pioneered the normalcy of casual dating and cherished female friendships. As with many series from the same era, the show’s punchlines occasionally drew on casual racism and sexism, revealing the lengths the show still had to go. Nonetheless, it is a sitcom best watched when you want to fantasize about living in a big city, laugh at Samantha Jones’ consistent sexual humour, and realise, as popularly regarded, that Carrie Bradshaw is possibly the worst friend to grace television. More than this, the show’s unashamed approach to important issues regarding female sexuality and debates surrounding feminism continues to be relevant. Sex and the City remains a turning point in representing the modern woman, and its lasting legacy has filtered through generations; take, for example, the Instagram page ‘@everyoutfitonsatc,’ which has reached 670k people twenty years after the show aired. Watching Sex and the City will make you laugh, equip you with fashion tips, and – most importantly – help you pass the endless hours of quarantine.

Before Sunset

Sang Park

Whenever the going gets tough, at least one person will tell you to just focus on the positives, look forward, and crack on until things work out. However, it would be criminal for any of us to claim that the question of “what if?” has never crossed our mind. In Before Sunset, set nine years after Jesse and Céline’s first encounter in Vienna, we are re-introduced to the pair, who have both been pondering that very same question since the last time they saw one another. Once the two reunite, this time in Paris, what ensues is a stroll through la ville de l’Amour accompanied by a conversation that bounces around from topic to topic like a pinball. While their ramblings and chitchats show us the beauty of people’s ability to reconnect in an instant, no amount of coffee at a chic Parisian cafe or a sarcastic back and forth about American optimism and French sullenness is able to prevent Jesse and Céline from asking the inevitable question: ‘Where would we be now if we had met again after our night?’ As the two grapple with this hypothetical, the facade that they have both put up fades away and ultimately unsheathes the caged hopeless romantics living inside them. 

Amidst this pandemic, most of us, like Jesse and Celine, are forced to make peace with the fact that our relationships with our loved ones and our community have come to an abrupt halt, and that they may be lost forever. Maybe like Jesse, you wish you could just call that girl, who took up all the nooks and crannies in your brain or maybe, you just miss grabbing a cold pint with your mates. Whatever the case may be, Before Sunset has something for everyone wrapped up in the pain of solitude. Jesse and Celine’s encounters remind us that there is a future, where we can love and treasure one another unconditionally; their enduring love reminds us of the joy in the unknown ahead of us, no matter our past and present.  


Sofía Kourous Vázquez

There are a lot of parallels between quarantine life and Gaspar Noé’s Climax. Much like the film’s protagonists, who find themselves stuck in their dance school during a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere, we are all trapped indoors in what is also somewhat of a nightmare. Quarantine brings out the worst in everyone: you’ve got your sad babies who would rather curl up in a ball until it all blows over; your angry types who are just looking for someone to blame; and your run-of-the-mill thirsty hoes keeping their eyes on the prize through the chaos. If you need a reason to reminisce over your long-lost days of (possibly) substance-induced clubbing and then take it all back as Noé’s neon dance fantasy degenerates into depravity and horrific mayhem, Climax is your ticket. A global pandemic is a total bummer but hey, at least you’re not stuck unknowingly drinking large doses of LSD-spiked sangria with a bunch of fucked up French people! Explosive and immersive. Many trigger warnings apply.

My So-Called Life

Fatima Jafar

I watched all nineteen episodes of My So-Called Life in rapid succession one summer a few years ago, when there was a lot of time to do nothing. Something about the story of Angela Chase, a fifteen-year-old living in a quiet suburb of Pittsburgh, rang true for me then, and has stayed close to me all this time. Now, in these weeks of quarantine and isolation, when cities have slowed down and the roads seem quieter than ever before, I find myself turning to these episodes for some kind of solace. My So-Called Life expertly charts the lives of a few adolescents and their families in the fictional neighbourhood of Three Rivers. Each episode navigates the fabric of each character’s experiences with a tenderness that I have seldom seen in American coming-of-age television shows. The uncomfortable intricacies of growing up are delved into, and families, relationships, and health are picked apart and tackled with an unflinching eye. I think the reason that my mind goes back to this television show during the pandemic is because of its own willingness to sit in its slowness. The plotlines unfold with both the hesitancy and intensity that accompanies every confused teenager— the fleeting, intense crushes, the hot bursts of anger, the frequent tears. Because the heart of the show is the emotional drama between various characters, the story simmers within its own anxiety, and at times, it’s own yearning. This suburban pull – the desire to feel and experience something more than boring high-school life in a small neighbourhood – evokes a tension not far from the isolation we are experiencing right now. Watching human lives slowly playing out on screen and immersing myself in the tender fragility of passing time has helped me reframe this period of isolation for myself, teaching me how to pause and be on my own for a while. 


Maria Düster

This film, I’ll admit, is a wildcard. I think about Guy Ritchie a lot – not because I admire him in any way, but because his films occupy such a niche place in the film industry that none of us knows exactly what to do with. While some may simply call them “British gangster films,” I prefer “pathological commitment to imbuing every single storyline on earth – from Sherlock Holmes to King Arthur to whatever the hell The Gentlemen was – with a mildly revolting form of British maleness that roots itself in Cockney accents, martial arts, and a simultaneous hatred towards and fetish for the class system.” All of his films – save for Aladdin, thank God – appear to be colour-graded with the hard salt spray of an ugly British beach somewhere. Yet, I still find myself drawn to his films, unable to look away (except for the half of them I have never seen). Rocknrolla follows a trio of crooks called “The Wild Bunch,” comprised of “One-Two” (Gerard Butler), his partner “Mumbles” (Idris Elba), and driver “Handsome Bob” (Tom Hardy). When a (you guessed it) Russian mob boss concocts a massive real estate scam, The Wild Bunch – along with a crime boss (Tom Wilkinson), an evil accountant (Thandie Newton), and a punk rocker named Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) – all duel it out for a big wad of cash. Mark Strong’s alluring narration, combined with a convoluted and unrealistic plot, provide the perfect escapism for surviving a raging pandemic. Also, unless I imagined it in a fever dream, Tom Hardy hooks up with Gerard Butler in one scene. Or maybe it was Idris Elba? Either way, happy watching!

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Niloufar Javadi

I grew up consuming an unhealthy amount of American media. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was one of those films that I had heard about countless times, but never actively sought out. So when my American flatmate suggested watching it, I tentatively agreed. I was pleasantly surprised. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off follows wisecracking high school senior Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), who is determined to enjoy a day off school sightseeing in Downtown Chicago with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck). Equipped with a charming protagonist, fast-paced plot, and surprisingly deep and tender moments, the film offers a welcome distraction from the sporadic episodes of uncertainty and confusion that seem inseparable from our new reality.  Like most people I know, I have become increasingly introspective during the lockdown (I like to think I have good reason to). Like Ferris, I am about to graduate and be hurled into the “real world,” where I will need to survive without an academic structure for the first time since I was four years old. The past month has forced me to put my life on hold, to think about the direction I am taking the rest of my adult life and why. Ferris Bueller offers a reassuring squeeze of the hand, reminding me that there is no harm (well, perhaps not too much)  in taking a day off of normal life to think, indulge and live more deliberately.

COVID-19 is a global health emergency. UCL Film and Television Society urges all readers to consult their local government’s advice. For UK-specific advice, visit https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

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Shaun of the Dead and COVID-19: Zombies, Coronaviruses, and Epidemiological Models https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/shaun-of-the-dead-epidemiological-models/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/shaun-of-the-dead-epidemiological-models/#respond Sun, 19 Apr 2020 16:36:03 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18987

Dan Jacobson demystifies epidemiological models through Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead.

It was only a matter of time before the outbreak of COVID-19 caused a worldwide shift towards armchair epidemiology. Whilst this outbreak has triggered an incredible global, collaborative, scientific response with regards to everything from vaccine development to nation-wide tracking (with significant contribution from UCL itself), we have also seen every type of pandemic misinformation come to fruition in the scariest of ways: from conspiracy theories about 5G networks to Didier Raoult’s highly criticised chloroquine study influencing US policymaking to the archetypal Silicon Valley trope “I’m not an epidemiologist, but…” offering the fake illusion of integrity and expertise when none exists.

Incidentally, you probably wouldn’t think that the best preparation for a pandemic would be a hypothetical zombie apocalypse; yet, many of the techniques and strategies which would be applied in this scenario are surprisingly similar. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta – probably the world leader in disease research and response – has been known to release “zombie warnings” as disease-preparedness stunts. The topic has even been debated in the Canadian Parliament.

The first-ever epidemiological model of zombie infection, known as the ‘Munz model’, was created by Philip Munz of Carleton University in 2009, and it’s incredibly simple. Essentially, you separate the population into three groups: susceptible individuals, zombies, and “removed” individuals, and then you use differential equations to model how individuals move between these groups. Susceptible individuals become zombies by being bitten by a zombie, zombies are removed by being killed by susceptible individuals, and removed individuals gradually become zombies again.

Figure 1: The Munz Model

The Munz model is also known as a “compartmental model”, which has been applied to real-life disease outbreaks and epidemics for almost a century. The models are intuitive, incredibly flexible, and can be adapted for any type of infectious disease. And now, they are forming the basis of the models used to predict and react to this year’s COVID-19 outbreak. I’ll come to that in a minute, but for now, let’s focus on zombies.

The Munz model suffers from one huge problem: it uses a terrible definition of a zombie outbreak. Assuming that a real zombie apocalypse would be similar to that which is seen in popular culture, there is not a single case where all removed individuals become zombies. In reality, the model applied will differ depending on which film you choose to watch.

Shaun of the Dead

The epidemiological model behind the zombie outbreak in Shaun of the Dead follows the same basic technique behind these compartmental models. This time, the population is split into four groups: susceptible individuals (S), infected individuals (I), zombies (Z), and “removed” individuals (R), or “dead zombies”. Susceptible individuals become infected by being bitten by a zombie. Infected individuals become zombies at a specified “zombification” rate. Zombies are then removed by being killed by a susceptible individual.

Figure 2: Shaun of the Dead: Model

In terms of population dynamics, this model – though incomplete – is fairly accurate. It is missing the regular population dynamics, such as births, deaths, and emigration, as well as any real intervention measures beyond “removing the head or destroying the brain”. However, as the large majority of Shaun of the Dead takes place over two days, with all “anti-zombie” measures only occurring during the second, these are not concerning. (The only anomaly of this model is Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, who appears as a zombie late in the film, and then as his human self in the final scene some months later. I will be ignoring this). I will also include only London (population in 2004 ~ 7.4 million) in this model. It is unclear how much the zombie outbreak has spread, but Morrissey declares that there is “Panic on the streets of London”, and motorways out of London are said to be blocked. So that’s encouraging.

However, in the case of Shuan of the Dead, the real challenge is not in identifying the dynamics of the outbreak, but rather correctly estimating the parameters of the model. These are the values used to describe the effect which each part of the model has on the population. In order to properly estimate these parameters, what you really need is data. Unfortunately, Shaun of the Dead doesn’t provide this. A previous study which presented a model of Shaun of the Dead used a nifty statistical technique called Markov Chain Monte-Carlo simulations. However, I cannot be bothered to do this, so instead, I will use a combination of common sense and the fact that I have seen this film far too many times.

The parameters of this model are:

  1. The transmission rate of a single zombie: this can be roughly translated to mean the average number of susceptible individuals which a zombie will infect per day. I am assuming that this is a standard zombie feature and does not change over the course of the film. I have set this as 5.
  2. The zombie-killing rate of a single susceptible individual: this is the average number of zombies which are killed by a single susceptible individual per day. As is suggested in the film, there seems to be a minimal response to the zombies until the second day, so this is initially set to zero. Once the second day begins, this is increased to 5, and later on in the day is increased to 10.
  3. The “zombification rate”: this is the average rate with which infected individuals become zombies, which can be estimated as the reciprocal of the time spent infected. I have estimated this as 8 hours, as evidenced by Pete (late on Day 1 to early on Day 2), Philip (early on Day 2 to the middle of Day 2), and Barbara (middle of Day 2 to late on Day 2). Ed received multiple zombie bites, which likely explains why his symptoms escalate far quicker than the others.

Figure 3: Shaun of the Dead: Results

According to my model, the outbreak begins around 5 days after the initial infection. By the time Shaun and Ed begin killing the zombies, the zombie count is around 2.1 million. If we assume that infection is irreversible, the final number of susceptible individuals in London is 1.2 million, which seems accurate. Although, at this stage, “accuracy” is somewhat beside the point.

What does this have to do with the COVID-19 outbreak?

In the initial version of this article, written during the very beginning of the UK lockdown, I created my own model of the COVID-19 outbreak, using the exact same principles detailed above, in order to demonstrate how these models could describe a real-life pandemic. However, I decided to remove it, as to not add to the screaming online void of the feared aforementioned armchair epidemiologists. Fortunately, other far more knowledgeable and experienced researchers have done the work themselves.

In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, its dynamics are far more difficult to ascertain. The best demonstration I have come across of the usefulness of these compartmental models in describing the COVID-19 outbreak was an interactive model developed by Dr Alison Lynn Hill, a Research Fellow at Harvard University, in which you can alter parameters and analyse for yourself the effects of various intervention measures. Hill makes two interesting alterations to the standard SIR model: the first is a latency period (E), during which the individual is carrying the disease, but is not yet infectious. The second is a separation of infectious individuals into mild, severe, and critical cases. Only mildly infectious individuals can infect others, and only critical cases can result in death. As a disclaimer, Hill clarifies that this simulation is for research and educational purposes, owing to the limitations of the model and uncertainties regarding COVID-19 infection. Another COVID-19 projection tool can be found here.

Another example is probably the most widely-circulated model of the COVID-19 outbreak, fronted by Professor Neil Ferguson as part of the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team. Published on March 16th initially as an agent-based model, and then as a compartmental model, the report predicted, assuming zero-intervention measures, over half a million deaths in the UK and complete overwhelming of the NHS, and has been widely credited for triggering the lockdown measures implemented by the UK government beginning on March 23rd. The key underlying message of the report was the analysis of two intervention strategies: mitigation (slowing the epidemic to reduce the strain on the NHS, otherwise known as “flattening the curve) and suppression (reversing epidemic growth through “wide-scale intensive social distancing”).

It is worth clarifying that these epidemiological models are not predictions, but simulations of potential futures with the intent of influencing the choices we make as a society. Indeed Ferguson has since suggested that, given increased NHS ICU capacity and ventilator availability alongside current social distancing measures, the UK death count will likely stay below 20,000. But, as stressed in Zeynep Tufekci’s fantastic article for The Atlantic, “we have one simple, urgent goal: to ignore all the optimistic branches and that thick trunk in the middle representing the most likely outcomes. Instead, we need to focus on the branches representing the worst outcomes, and prune them with all our might.” With the flexibility of these compartmental models, we can ask a plethora of questions: what could happen if we lift the lockdown after three weeks? Six weeks? What if prior infection is not enough for immunity, and individuals become susceptible again? How long does immunity need to last to prevent a second outbreak before a vaccine is developed? Will there even be a second outbreak? 

Additionally, I would like to clarify that my own models could not be classified as predictions either, even if they weren’t describing a fictional zombie apocalypse. I am a first-year PhD student who wanted to learn how to encode differential equations in R because I haven’t left the flat in days. However, I think it is incredibly important that these models are used and discussed. They allow us to think about the effects of our policy decisions and, more importantly, what happens when Londoners do not follow them. The public should know what these “mysterious models” are and how they inform these decisions. So, for now, wash your hands, practice social distancing, and maybe just watch Shaun of the Dead again.

The code which I have used to model the zombie outbreak in Shaun of the Dead can be found on my GitHub.

COVID-19 is a global public health emergency and FilmSoc encourages all readers to follow their government’s advice closely. For UK-specific information, visit https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

Shaun of the Dead is available to rent and buy online. Watch the trailer below:

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‘To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/to-all-the-boys-p-s-i-still-love-you-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/to-all-the-boys-p-s-i-still-love-you-review/#respond Fri, 06 Mar 2020 17:45:18 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18957

Dan Jacobson reviews the sequel to the Netflix smash hit.

In the very first scene of To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, Kitty, the younger sister of main character Lara Jean, tells her that “It’s not the time to dream of being in an 80’s movie.” Lara Jean is about to go on her first date with her new boyfriend, the dreamy-yet-jock-yet-16-yet-emotionally-mature Peter Kavinsky, and she is dreaming of John Cusack with a boom box and Heath Ledger singing ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’. Kitty’s comment perfectly encapsulates the challenges Lara Jean is about to face, and the central ethos of the film itself.

To All The Boys I Loved Before – the 2018 predecessor to P.S. I Still Love You – was a smash hit. Over a single summer, alongside Set It Up and Crazy Rich Asians, the film managed (for an albeit brief time) to make romantic comedies relevant again. Atypically, the film did not do this by subverting or redefining the norms of the genre (although the visibility of Asian actors is undoubtedly praiseworthy). Instead, director Susan Johnson created a movie that – utilising the ‘Fake-Dating’ high school movie template – acted as a fresh and unapologetic homage to the films and stories which inspired it.

This inspiration is alluded to directly through Lara Jean’s love of John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles, despite the obscene stereotyping of the character Long Duk Dong. In fact, there are references to the past 30 years of romcom history everywhere; from Lara Jean’s impeccable fashion taste echoing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s Sloane Peterson and Clueless’ Cher Horowitz, to the vibrant pastels found in Legally Blonde and Grease. Whilst an inability to move away from the influences worn on a film’s sleeve can imply unoriginality (Joker, anyone?), To All The Boys managed to use these references in a way that produced a feel-good and heart-warming film. If the filmmakers had simply chosen to repeat the first film when making the sequel, that would have been more than enough for me.

I’m still not sure whether or not they tried to repeat themselves, but whatever happened, the spark has been buried. I hope it isn’t buried too far, because the third and final film in the franchise is in post-production. But I can’t find it.

At its centre, P.S. I Still Love You tells the story of a love triangle, one of the most popular romantic tropes of all time. After Lara Jean begins dating Peter, a crush from many years earlier – John Ambrose – comes back into her life when they both opt to volunteer at a retirement centre. The rest is self-explanatory. However, the sequel suffers from one key flaw: a juicy plot is favored over consistency and coherency. The entirety of the first film presented Peter as “perfect”; he is sensitive, respectful, and drinks kombucha at house parties. Now, to further the plot, the second movie has to undo all of that hard work. It’s an unfortunate crux that simultaneously reaffirms what made the first film so loveable, and the resulting sequel feels nothing but forced.

The contrived character development is evidenced in Peter’s brand new set of flaws, which pop up sporadically throughout the film’s first half. He is late to meet Lara Jean in a busy café. He always takes the last cupcake or slice of pizza. And, most importantly, he still seems to have feelings for his ex, Gen (this was also his sole flaw in the previous film, where we also learn that Lara Jean’s fears are unfounded). Additionally, John Ambrose is presented as flawlessly as Peter was. Maybe I, like most of the Internet, fell too easily under the spell of Peter, but I spent the entire film just waiting for Lara Jean to confirm that it is Peter who she loves after all.

Unfortunately, this laziness pervades too many aspects of P.S. I Still Love You. The film is driven almost entirely by voiceovers, giving the film an air of a 90-minute game of connect-the-dots, for which the final image is, somehow, exactly the same image as the one before. The soundtrack is boring and repetitive, anchored by soulless synth-pop ballads, whilst the previous film’s flawless blend of indie rock, electronic funk, and brooding dream pop – with ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ thrown in for very, very good measure – was intrinsic in its fresh tone and modern feel. Oh, and the final scene has snow. SNOW! From out of nowhere. Seriously, nobody is wearing a coat. As I have mentioned, I have nothing against pandering to beloved rom-com tropes, but this one takes the freshly baked, Valentine’s Day snickerdoodle.

Where I will defend P.S. I Still Love You is in its continuation of the legacy established by its predecessor as somewhat “post-critic.” At its centre, the To All The Boys films are about love; the representations of young romantic love, sisterhood, and father-daughter love displayed by the characters, and also a love of love evidenced by the filmmakers. This love extends to television and music as well. Jane the Virgin, for example, has developed a cult following and critical success based on a love of insane Latin American telenovelas, alongside episode-length odes to Sex and the City, Fifty Shades of Grey, and The Bachelorette, to name a few (a Bachelorette-themed episode is how you do a love triangle). Artists like Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen, who began the 2010s being presented as tween-pop, radio-darling, computer-generated one-hit-wonders, are now (rightfully) hailed as the most innovative pop stars of their generation. This “love” is not the voyeuristic schadenfreude of Love Island, or the ironic camp-worship of The Room – this is genuine, unashamed love.

The ubiquity of social media means that not only is everyone given a platform to air their opinions of films and music, but that we are exposed to these opinions more than ever before. This has caused a paradigm shift away from the dated, male-centric art criticism of bygone years, where ‘prestige TV’ was immediately lauded and any female-led shows were glossed over as ‘guilty pleasures’ or ‘candy’. In an interview with Vox, TV critic Emily Nussbaum says, “If it’s pink or brightly colored, fun or funny, or related in some way to soap operas, it’s coded as female, whether it’s female or not.” As a straight man with a love for romantic comedies, my perception of shows and films like this has evolved from “I’ve never heard of it” to “I don’t watch it” to “I enjoyed it” to “This is excellent.” If a show or film truly is worthy of praise, its genre should be irrelevant.

We haven’t reached equal respect for all genres just yet, but films like To All The Boys I Loved Before are rectifying this. I don’t know whether P.S. I Still Love You will cause a positive or even negative response in this regard, but the public’s anticipation for the film is proof that we are at least heading in the right direction. Like Lara Jean, I say we don’t need to hide our love of 80’s movies anymore. Whilst I may come to regret these words, I cannot wait for the next one.

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You is available to stream on Netflix worldwide. Check out the trailer below:

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‘Our Little Sister’ Review: (Re)Making Family, (Re)Visiting Home https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/our-little-sister-review-remaking-family-revisiting-home/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/our-little-sister-review-remaking-family-revisiting-home/#respond Wed, 04 Mar 2020 19:35:52 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18940

Tomi Haffety reviews Kore-eda’s acclaimed film.

After its premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister quickly rose to acclaim amongst both Japanese and global audiences, winning the Audience Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 2017. Set in Kamakura, a sacred coastal town south of Tokyo, the film follows the lives of the three Kouda sisters, who reunite with their younger half-sister, Suzu, after the death of their estranged father leaves her without a guardian and somewhat neglected by her step-mother. The sisters invite Suzu to live with them in their family home in Kamakura, and she quickly becomes welcomed by the family and community. This is as much a film about family ties as it is a coming of age story, and Kore-eda captures the blossoming relationships made as Suzu settles into the town.   

As a sixteen-year-old watching this film for the first time on a drizzly afternoon at home, I was instantly enchanted by Kore-eda’s subtle mastery of the representation of unusual family dynamics in the context of contemporary Japan. Our Little Sister is set during summer, the same season during which I regularly visit my family in Tokyo. Summer in Japan is like no other season around the world; the relentless symphony of cicadas onscreen is calming enough to make anyone nostalgic, even for the heat and humidity. The film makes me crave those family holidays in what is probably my favourite place on earth. From one of the earliest scenes on a small rural train, journeying to the bucolic edges of Japan’s eastern coast, to the sharing of cold soba noodles with their grandmother towards the end, this film could be a montage of my experiences of Tokyo. Our own trip to Kamakura to visit the Great Buddha is one that has resounded in my memory  – so vivid that as I watch Suzu cycle through a canopy of cherry blossoms, I can feel the same breeze. Taking lengthy walks around the town in the height of the summer, we visited temple after temple and ate enough kakigori (shaved ice) to keep us cool for the year. 

Although I am one of four sisters too, there are very few similarities between my family and the Koudas. While they all appear self-sufficient, my sisters and I still depend on our parents, and the positive relationship we have with them bears little resemblance to the one on screen. Because the sisters are adults when they welcome the youngest into their family, I watch the film as though the three eldest were the four of us, and imagine what it would be like for an estranged younger sister to join our already formed sisterhood. When I moved to London six months ago and found myself without my family for the first time, I re-watched Our Little Sister in an attempt to bring a piece of home with me. With all their contrariness, the sisters have an unbreakable bond of friendship, best conveyed during a scene towards the end of the film when, after having missed a summer firework display, the sisters return home and light their own in the garden. The unobtrusively wholesome scene captures everything that Kore-eda does best; the clear bond between the quartet is palpable in the dimly lit garden, with only fireworks lighting their faces.This moment is the perfect conclusion to a film about family reunion and the experience of sparking new connections with a person you have a biological bond with. 

My romanticised vision of Japan makes it difficult not to feel so attached to a place where I have only happy memories, and so through Kore-eda’s work I can relive those experiences again. A recurring scene in the film is of the four protagonists lounging in the heat in an open tatami room, sharing stories and snacking on cold plums. I could not count the times when my sisters and I have done the same in my grandma’s house, fighting over who gets to sit closest to the air conditioning. Our Little Sister helps me to transcend the physical boundaries of being apart from both my sisters and our happiness in Japan. When I watch this film thousands of miles away from them, I no longer feel alone.

Our Little Sister is available to rent and buy online. Check out the trailer below:

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‘Little Women’ Review: Amy, Jo, and the Various Iterations of Womanhood https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/little-women-2019-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/little-women-2019-review/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 18:00:00 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18800

Isobel Rose Binnie looks at the role reversal of Jo and Amy March in her review of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was the first book which made me cry. When I learned that Greta Gerwig was set to adapt it, I didn’t feel anxious in the least. Should I have been? Gerwig’s approach turned out to be different from what I expected, but may be my favourite adaptation yet.

Gerwig’s portfolio has a history of steering narratives towards her own experience. Teenage angst and a pessimistic attitude towards the reality of becoming an adult are only a few of the common threads between this movie and her last film Lady Bird (2017). All of this led me to expect the most dynamic and outspoken Jo yet, especially when I heard that Saoirse Ronan was to play the iconic role. Her performances in previous films made the lack of intensity in her portrayal of Jo surprising to me; her version of the beloved character felt outspoken but too mature and tired, a significant disparity compared to how she appears in the book.

Florence Pugh’s performance, however, was full of an innocent passion that ended up carrying Jo’s dead weight. Amy March, the endearing but vain people-pleaser, desires to be part of society yet remains charismatic rather than overbearing. Gerwig’s reorganization of the storyline kept the main plot lines and scenes, but reordered into two timelines, one focused on their childhood and the other on adulthood. The emphasis on Amy was clear from the start, and her and Laurie’s (Timothée Chalamet) marriage at the end was very predictable, nullifying the plot twist the story is most famous for. The other sisters’ portrayal seemed rather disregarded in comparison.

In the novel, Amy is not as likeable as Jo. Amy starts by burning Jo’s script for her novel, proceeds to take the Europe trip from under Jo’s nose, and then, in the second most heartbreaking moment aside from Beth’s death, Amy marries Laurie. Through Gerwig’s style of building up her characters and setting tone —setting up backstory using scenes without major contribution to the outcome of the characters— we understand early on Laurie’s fascination with the sisters and the warmth of the March family. The movie’s trailer betrays the amount of focus the movie has on Jo and Laurie’s relationship, resulting in a slightly dissapointing watch.

For me, Little Women was always Jo’s story; she was the girl I wanted to be, – strong-willed, independent, boyish and rebellious – defiant of patriarchy and gender roles. Jo is perhaps a reflection of Louise May Alcott herself, who once wrote that she had “a man’s soul put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body.” Gerwig’s focus on Amy brings attention to a different side of the narrative. People tend to associate boyish and defiant women as characters with strength, which is itself the reflection of a prejudice against femininity. People dislike strong characters that are traditionally effeminate or that work within the parameters that society placed for her.

Amy clashes with Jo in every way. Jo is opposed to the concept of marriage but Amy chooses to be a realist and take as much advantage as possible of the system (“I always knew I would marry rich, why should I be ashamed of it?”). While Jo persists as a writer, Amy is pragmatic and chooses marriage over art. The elder sister is an idealist and throughout the film you can feel her trying to cling to what remains of her childhood: her relationship with Laurie, her closeness to her sister Meg (Emma Watson), her instistance on independence. Amy, however, has been planning her future since she was a young girl. Their diffence to one another is also reflected in how they interact with Laurie; he is playful and free-spirited with Jo, while grounded and restrained alongside Amy.

It is during the scenes in Paris where we come to understand Amy’s role in Little Women: she is a martyr, sacrificing herself by entering into the dependence of marriage.  Laurie, on the other side, is portrayed as too spoiled to be able to pick himself up after Jo’s rejection and too superficial to take advantage of his wealth, contrasting with the altruistic and passionate Laurie from childhood. Gerwig’s glorifies and romanticizes their relationship by showing Amy force Laurie to pick himself up, culminating in the central romantic storyline of the film.

While Amy and Laurie’s arc is touching, the main reason I fell for this adaptation were the last scenes of Jo agreeing to marry Frederich Bhaer. Louisa May Alcott had wanted her protagonist to stay single, but her publishers wanted Jo married before they would consent to publish her book. This tradeoff is incorporated in the film, where Jo has to compromise the integrity of her novel and marry the main character in order to get published.

Aside from being presented as a purely economic proposition, marriage is also associated with prison and fatality in the film. Gerwig altered the order of the narrative as to associate the timing of Beth’s death with that of Meg’s wedding. Marmee (Laura Dern), the only already married character, is “angry every day of her life.” All the sisters’ personalities fade after marrying. Everyone always hated the ending of the novel Little Women; seven year old me wanted to see Jo with Laurie, but I now stand by their incompatibility.

This story is all about the warmth and nostalgia of childhood. Jo and Laurie’s breakup wasn’t just about love, but rather represented the end of an era, and Jo’s inability to grasp the dull concept of adult life. When Jo decides to marry Bhaer, Gerwig leaves room for interpretation. Jo’s conversation with the publicist is voiced over the couple’s dramatic reunion at a train station, which effectively stops Friedrich from leaving the country as planned. However, Jo tells her publisher that in her version of the story (perhaps the real version), the character does not marry Friedrich or Laurie.

In this moment, Jo sells one dream to be able to access another. The March family – whose opinion Jo trusts above all else – recognize Jo’s love for Bhaer and encourage her to marry him. If Gerwig’s character must marry – the same dilemma Mary Louise Alcott faced over 150 years ago – she must do it well. Through the construction of Gerwig’s meta-narrative, the scene at the train station feels like the death of Jo March, an ending I never knew I needed.

Little Women is still playing in select cinemas. Watch the trailer here: 

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60 Years of ‘La Dolce Vita’ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/60-years-of-la-dolce-vita/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/60-years-of-la-dolce-vita/#respond Tue, 18 Feb 2020 17:30:02 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18908

Natalie Wooding reviews Federico Fellini’s iconic film, in celebration of its 60th anniversary.

La Dolce Vita is a party. It is a world of glamour and sophistication inhabited by larger than life characters, ranging from the mass of scrambling paparazzi (a term this film coined, from the character Paparazzo) jumping from walls and tumbling over each other in an effort to get the most scandalous shot, to the glamorous Swedish movie star, gliding around Rome at 3am in a full length ball gown topped with, instead of a hat, a kitten she has found and picked up along the way. The film follows Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), a jaded veteran reporter as he chases celebrity after celebrity through party after party, each one outdoing the next in decadent celebration.

Fellini’s hyperbolic style is often contrasted with the Italian neorealist movement that was popular when he began his cinematic career. With the aim of faithfully depicting the everyday lives of Italians suffering after the war, neorealist directors sought a sombre and objective style that distanced itself from Hollywood artifice and glamour as much as possible. In the words of Zavattini, a leading theorist and neorealist screenwriter, the aim of cinema was to represent “living social facts.” Films such as Ladri di biciclette, which depicts the struggle of a father trying to raise his son to be morally just in an unjust world, are heart breaking in their honesty and immensely powerful in their restraint.

By the end of the 1950s, Italy’s economy was thriving, and flourishing “made in Italy” design was quickly becoming world-renowned. In La Dolce Vita, life is an exciting celebration of opulence and entertainment, as the title affirms: ‘Life is Sweet’. In this world of glamourous parties, Fellini only refers to his neorealist forefathers playfully, with a knowing wink and a smile; when the audience are led down a series of broken steps into a flooded basement of a war torn building, the scene is not dire but comical – the professional prostitute who owns the house is swearing loudly and the two people she is leading fall into each other’s arms in a torrid affair. “Credi che il neorealismo italiano sia vivo o morto?” (Do you think Italian neorealism is alive or dead?) is one of the unanswered questions thrown from a horde of reporters to the glamorous actress Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) amongst “Do you practice yoga?” and “Do you like men with beards?”

Where neorealism offers sombre observation, Fellini uses all the tools of cinema at his disposal to offer scene after scene of beautiful, sensual and hypnotic cinematography. It is impossible to not get swept up in Fellini’s parties; to try to tear your eyes from the screen as the camera sways rhythmically, following Sylvia’s dancing to Nino Rota’s upbeat jazz soundtrack, leading a line of dancers as she sweeps across the screen; to not be enraptured watching Marcello decorate a drunken young show girl with feathers, the down from the ripped cushion swirling slowly around him.

La Dolce Vita is a film that does not shy away from the make-believe of cinema – it happily embraces spectacle to the point of being carnivalesque. The sets are vast and opulent; the costumes are heaving with feathers, adorned with glittering necklines and glimpsed suspenders between split skirts. Be they paparazzi, celebrities or wannabes, Fellini’s characters look up to professional actors, dancers, party-throwers, all happily immersed in the fairy-tale mythologizing of Hollywood. In the world of La Dolce Vita, everything is pretend and everything is wonderful.

Where Fellini differs from Hollywood’s superficial indulgence in visual glamour and movie star celebration is in the thread of existential anxiety he weaves throughout the film, an anxiety that eventually constricts every single character. La Dolce Vita follows characters’ drinking and sexual escapades without judgement, allowing the existential dread to manifest itself naturally through small details. In a hilariously chaotic scene where crowds of Italians run around chasing a miracle sighting of the Madonna, Marcello’s long-suffering fiancée Emma confronts an old woman who does not believe the miracle matters. “Why would you say such a thing?” presses Emma, who has just prayed that Marcello will finally marry her. By the time the most shocking and poignant scene of the film transforms La Dolce Vita into an ironic tragicomedy, we are already resigned to watching the characters entangle themselves in their superficially happy but empty lives. Fellini’s opulence and his cheeky joie de vivre conceal an underlying melancholy; for all their celebrating and elaborate costumes, all of the characters ultimately find themselves uncertain, lost and alone.

Fellini’s masterpiece is both a sumptuous visual feast and a social commentary on the post-war culture of excess. Perhaps, in his quiet observing and capturing of a generation’s existential ennui, he remains a neorealist after all.

You can catch La Dolce Vita at the BFI now, and the film is available to buy or rent online or in stores. Check out the trailer below:

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PODCAST: Reviewing the Oscars 2020 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/podcast/podcast-reviewing-the-oscars-2020/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/podcast/podcast-reviewing-the-oscars-2020/#respond Mon, 17 Feb 2020 19:54:29 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18916

Kerem, Maria, and Daniel got together to review the Oscars 2020, discussing everything from Parasite’s big wins to 1917’s big misses…

Give it a listen and be sure to follow us on Mixcloud.

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Sundance 2020: ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/never-rarely-sometimes-always-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/never-rarely-sometimes-always-review/#respond Sat, 15 Feb 2020 12:23:45 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18787

Never Rarely Sometimes Always, an Eliza Hittman feature in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category, is a quiet, contemplative film about an unwanted teenage pregnancy. Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is a stone-faced seventeen-year-old who, upon discovering she is pregnant, travels to New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to have an abortion. What follows is an intimate portrayal of a teenager and her friend navigating the complicated network of gender and relationships, accompanied by a sharp critique of social obstacles to medical procedures. 

The film is sparse in dialogue, with ambient sound and a single-note score dominating most scenes. Autumn and Skylar exist around each other, most things going unsaid. Autumn never utters the word “pregnant” or “abortion”, and neither does Skylar. The film dwells on uninterrupted shots, creating even more space and silence. In the titular scene, Autumn is being interviewed by a counselor ahead of her procedure about her relationships. The camera stays close to her face as she answers the interview questions one by one, painfully slow. The scene showcases Flanigan’s sublime performance, as Autumn’s stoic facade cracks and falls for a few moments when she reveals intimate details about her relationship. Nothing about her performance has been disguised by a cut, and Flanigan shines. 

The violence of the male presence is astounding. When laid out, Autumn and Skylar do not face much violence beyond what is ‘ordinary’: a man masturbating at them on public transport, a pushy customer, an inappropriate boss. But the discomfort we feel towards any man in the film is palpable, and a perceptive and honest depiction of the calculations women have to make every time they interact with a male stranger: are you a threat? The characters remain wary and alert, never letting their guard down, and we understand exactly why. The film orbits around gendered experiences, and depicts young female excitement – as well as fear – around the discovery of a new (sexual) currency available to them.

The film also provides an important critique of accessibility, with its portrayal of the abortion process refusing to sugarcoat anything. Autumn first visits a pro-life clinic in her hometown who administer a supermarket test and show her an anti-abortion film from the 80s, attempting to discourage her from the procedure. She then travels to a Planned Parenthood in New York – hidden in what appears to be an apartment building – before finally finding herself at a windowless medical clinic with chipping paint and bulletproof glass windows. The first scenes of the film betray no obvious clues as to the time period the film is set in, leading me to initially place the setting in the 70s or 80s, before realizing the film was contemporary. The timelessness serves as a sharp critique of the outdated medical and family planning facilities in the US. The entire abortion process, despite being fairly straightforward one, is immensely arduous. Whilst there are no direct references, Hittman lands clearly on the pro-choice side of the current political debate.

The film possesses few moments of levity; it remains a tense, urgent, intimate portrayal of pregnancy and womanhood throughout. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a hard watch, but a necessary one. 


Never Rarely Sometimes Always will be released in North America on 13 March 2020. A UK release date has yet to be announced. Check out the trailer below:

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Cinema and the City: Our Hometowns on Screen https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/hometowns-on-screen/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/hometowns-on-screen/#respond Wed, 12 Feb 2020 17:36:34 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18851

There is an intimate relationship between cinema and the city. While urban environments possess ample potential for exploring space on screen, the intangible aspects of these places – identity, mood, energy – prove more difficult to portray. The lived reality of a city versus its depiction in film can inspire both love and hate, a somewhat strange confrontation with fact and fiction.  Below, five writers from Film Soc examine how cinema sees their hometown, and how the identity of that place makes it onto film.

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Chungking Express, Hong Kong

Emma Davis 

When Hong Kong is featured on film, it’s often the commercial towers that make it on screen. Whether it’s Lara Croft, Batman or Pacific Rim, the jagged shiny buildings loom above an action star’s adversary. It’s an exotic urban locale; busy, anonymous and full of delights. However, such films fail to show the human, realistic side to Hong Kong’s urban environment. Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express was one of the first films that showed western audiences a wondrous side to the city. In the film, I saw my own experiences of Hong Kong’s meandering character. The first eponymous location, Chungking Mansions, is an underrepresented area even within Hong Kong society. Regarded with suspicion as a crime-ridden area undeserving of attention, the Mansions are a place where ethnic minority Hong Kongers and immigrants support each other in a multicultural tower that functions as an indoor market, shopping centres, restaurants and guest houses. The city of Hong Kong is an equally chaotic concept. Unfortunately, the real fast food shop Midnight Express is no longer open, exemplifying the cutthroat reality of operating a business in Hong Kong’s central district. The area is constantly undergoing change, easy to see as you ride the Central-Mid Levels escalator up the hill. Chungking Express is a melodramatic and brooding movie, but it shows a simple Hong Kong; full of sweaty neon nights and long humid days, the way in which the characters languidly interact with the city is intimately familiar — not exotic or hectic.

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Starter For Ten, Bristol  

Annabelle Brand

I watched Starter For Ten a few years before starting university and, in a lot of ways, it set my (sometimes unrealistic) expectations for what uni would be like. The film is a love letter to the student vitality of my hometown, Bristol, where city life is shaped by the ebb and flow of returning students. Based on David Nicholls’ novel of the same name, Starter For Ten follows Brian Jackson’s (James McAvoy) first year at Bristol university, attempting to navigate both systematic academic elitism and women.

As I became closer in age to the Bristol uni students I saw in town, walking around Clifton, Park Street, or College Green, the depiction of university as shown in Starter For Ten seemed to become more and more real to me. Although the movie seems a little dated now – the film came out in 2006, and I’ve been in uni for a while now –  its reckless cheerfulness still feels charatersitic both of my experience of uni life and my hometown. 

Dazed and Confused, Austin

Maria Duster

Dazed and Confused stumbled into cinemas in 1993. The film follows incoming high school seniors and freshmen on their last day of school, an eclectic odyssey of teenage life in the 70s. Director Richard Linklater (Before trilogy, Boyhood) has lived in Austin since the early 80s and remains an important presence in the city’s film community, alongside collaborator/patron saint Matthew McConaughey. Dazed and Confused is a cult favourite of Austinites, a sentimental day trip in the midst of a rapidly changing city. While most of the movie’s locations have been torn down and/or gentrified, those that remain find a way to sneak themselves into the lives of residents, whether they realize it or not. The field on which Pink and Wooderson muse about life is the Toney Burger Center, a stadium where I spent many afternoons at age 13 watching middle school football games in a painful attempt to get my crush to notice me. The Emporium pool hall was filmed at an old shopping center on North Lamar, one of the main thoroughfares of the city I’ve frequented my entire life. Growing up in Texas feels both dull and frenetic, a wide open space filled with nothing and everything. I love Dazed and Confused because it reminds me of the city I knew as a child – Austin before it became Austin – and the spark that’s still there. It feels like an old cotton t-shirt from a random Tex-Mex restaurant, weed and beer, stupidly nostalgic and incredibly heartfelt. Austin, through and through. 

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Spike Island, Manchester

Daniel Jacobson

There was a period of around 20 years – between the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall and Oasis’ Be Here Now– where Manchester was the coolest place in the world. For many, including the school lads at the centre of 2012’s Spike Island, this feeling was epitomised by The Stone Roses’ seminal 1989 debut album, a record brimming in equal parts with witty self-awareness and an epic, anarchic punk spirit of literal biblical proportions, capturing the community and paradoxical optimism following decades of rapid post-industrial decline.

I grew up in a very different Manchester – one where you can buy smashed avocados in the Northern Quarter, Morrissey has gone off the rails, and the last Stone Roses single was arguably the worst song of the decade. However, I found myself re-evaluating my relationship with the city following the 2017 attack. Though Manchester has shifted and evolved, it is grounded in its history, conserved by both its culture and people. Although Spike Island – which follows a band of friends attending The Stone Roses’ legendary Spike Island gig – can come across as overly slapstick and sometimes unfocused in capturing the youthful exuberance conveyed by The Stone Roses, it presents itself as not just a love letter to the band or the city, but an ode to distinctly Mancunian values. 

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Slackistan, Islamabad/Karachi

Fatima Jafar

I grew up in Karachi, the chaotic, big-city sprawl of Pakistan, but the film that always reminds me of home is the 2010 independent film Slackistan, based in the country’s capital Islamabad. Made on an almost non-existent budget, the film is heavily inspired by Richard Linklater’s 1990-baby Slacker, but focuses on a group of twenty-somethings in Islamabad, fresh out of university and disenchanted with life. Slackistan encapsulates the laziness of a day spent driving around with friends aimlessly, in a car burning with the afternoon heat. It is hopping from friend’s house to friend’s house, in a seemingly endless post-university malaise, looking for excitement and life in a ‘city that always sleeps’. The director, Hammad Khan, manages to capture the detached reality of sheltered young adulthood in cities like Karachi and Islamabad, where time is whiled away drinking tea, smoking cigarettes, and having conversations about what you wish you could do with your life. Soundtracked by different Pakistani punk and rap artists, Slackistan is an irreverent, satirical ode to the slowness of freshly obtained adulthood in Pakistan, and the gnawing sense that, while people around you seem to be falling in love, getting married, and starting their lives, you’re still stuck in restlessness of your teenage years. Slackistan, with all its messy, amateurish cinematography and wandering dialogue, represents perfectly (with a healthy dose of irony) the angst and confusion of sheltered kids trying to find their place, and purpose, in Pakistani cities. 

All of the above films are available to stream or buy online in the UK. 

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Sundance 2020: ‘Summertime’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/summertime-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/summertime-review/#respond Mon, 10 Feb 2020 19:44:36 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18771

Pihla Pekkarinen reviews Carlos López Estrada’s ode to Los Angeles youth. 

Following the success of Blindspotting, Carlos López Estrada’s second feature film, Summertime, is intended to be a love letter to L.A., told by the teenagers who inhabit it; a lament over gentrification and loss of spirit, a portrait of the “true youth” of the city of angels. However, the film fails to achieve the emotional poignancy it is aiming for; the tone is too inconsistent, and the jokes provide only brief moments of levity in what is overall neither a particularly funny nor moving film. The emotional climaxes flop, failing to provoke much sympathy, let alone a single tear.  

The film is described as a “free-verse poem,” featuring twenty-five teenagers performing spoken word poetry. This form – which speaks directly to the audience and necessitates their listening  – is meant to be a gut punch, shattering the listener’s view of reality and bringing about a new perspective. But this doesn’t quite translate to the screen as Estrada had perhaps hoped. Granted, the featured poems are written and performed by high school students, but some of the pieces are impressive. However, the film fails to do them justice, because in spite of the fact that this art comes from them, the entire situation feels inauthentic. The characters seem like they are performing for university admissions boards rather than for each other. 

The problem with Summertime is the classic “show, don’t tell” dilemma; poets monologuing about how they don’t feel part of their family, or how much they miss home, is simply not as poignant as literally watching characters go through and experience these relatable issues. Seeing a character fall in love only to get brutally rejected is much more heart-wrenching than watching her tell you about how depressed it made her to be told she was undateable. This example is taken straight from the film; in what is supposed to be a moment of standing up for herself and finally owning her narrative, a character details awful things said by a past unrequited love. He told her she was ugly, men only liked her for her breasts, that she was undateable and no-one would ever love her. While evoking sympathy, none of these statements really hammer home, because she is the one saying them. The film does not allow viewers to come to any conclusions of their own. It tells them what to think, how to feel, and when to feel it. 

The film floats in an awkward liminal space between documentary and fiction. In fiction, actors play parts outside themselves, allowing them to be ugly and complicated; in documentaries, directors work to capture the underbelly of people, an angle their subjects are unwilling to expose by choice. Yet, this film does neither. The characters are too guarded, unwilling to relinquish control enough to allow us to see them and relate to them. The glass wall between audience and character is bulletproof. Overall, the film would be improved if it were not only written by teenagers, but directed by  them too. Summertime feels too much like a performance, like teens who were given a chance by a professional and wanted to make the most of it, but in doing so, lose all authenticity and true emotion that their original performances on that spoken word night surely had. 


Summertime premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2020. No UK release date has been announced yet. Check out an interview with the film’s stars below:

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‘Primal’ (Season 1) Review: The Art of Survival, The Beauty of Compassion https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/primal-season-1-review-the-art-of-survival-the-beauty-of-compassion/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/primal-season-1-review-the-art-of-survival-the-beauty-of-compassion/#respond Sun, 02 Feb 2020 17:00:08 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18777

Marcin Zembrzuski takes a look at celebrated cartoonist, Genndy Tartakovsky’s latest work.

The rawest cartoon of 2019 is, in my opinion, Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal. This prehistoric adventure thriller, equally influenced by modern nature documentaries and 1970’s pulp fiction, presents the everyday life of a caveman and a dinosaur cooperating to survive in a world of constant danger. The premise of the show is as simple as its title suggests: it is hunt or be hunted, kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. Although this might imply some monotony, Primal frequently surprises with its creativity and boldness, simultaneously pointing out that violence is an inseparable part of our reality and proving the significance of empathy. 

Just like almost all of Tartakovsky’s previous creations — i.e. Dexter’s Laboratory (1996-2003), most seasons of Samurai Jack (2001-2017) and Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003-2005) — Primal was supposed to be a children’s animation, introducing the adventures of a boy and his pet-dinosaur. However, this idea, which occurred to the Russian artist about 8 years ago, did not seem to be interesting enough to be developed. It all changed when Samurai Jack’s final season got transferred from Cartoon Network to its mature audience sister station Adult Swim, which allowed Tartakovsky — the director, screenwriter and producer — to partially transform the show. He made it darker and more violent, and presented some distinctive non-dialogue action sequences. After a laudatory response, the artist started to dream about a new series that would build on this new darker tone. Then, he just incorporated it with the earlier idea of a prehistoric adventure, though it obviously meant making some significant changes. The cave-kid became a grown-up man, the dinosaur was no longer his pet, the world around them started to be extremely dangerous, and all the potential dialogues evaporated. It became Primal.

We meet Spear, the main character, as he is hunting and then, just a few moments later, is being hunted himself. Even though these first minutes clearly indicate that this is a story about the huge difficulties of survival in the prehistoric era, we are still not prepared for what comes next: Spear is not able to protect his family from a pack of tyrannosaurs who brutally devour them in front of him. Soon, after considering suicide, he accidentally comes across another group of tyrannosaurs, this time a female feeding her two cubs. The hero considers attacking them, but then the dinosaurs that slaughtered his beloved ones appear again, hungry for more meat. Spear defends the mentioned female tyrannosaurs against the predators, although failing to protect the cubs. Sharing the same tragedy and carrying a similar grief, the mother (Fang) instinctively follows Spear and they eventually become almost inseparable. 

A relationship between a man and a dinosaur is far from predictable. Though Fang’s behaviour was inspired by Tartakovsky’s own dog (in its mimicry and mannerisms), she has a strong personality and is equal to Spear. They travel and hunt together, but their mutual help is contrasted with their egotism, mistrust and misunderstanding. In other words, they have to learn how to live together. The development of their complicated friendship, which is based on compassion, perfecting their hunting strategies and consequently building loyalty, is one of the show’s strongest points. Its most interesting fragments, however, come with Spear’s melancholy and anger since he sometimes recognizes in Fang exactly the same type of animal that ate his family, and considers taking revenge by killing his companion. These scenes seem to subtly refer to the theme of prejudice, since the hero has to learn the differences between various representatives of one species. 

What is more, the show offers some contemplative moments: Tartakovsky lets his characters travel, track, recall the past or wonder about their surroundings. All this, thanks to the lack of words and focus on evocative images and simple sounds, make the narration raw and effective. Most of the journeys, though, take place between all of the first season’s five episodes, as each one of them shows the heroes appearing in completely different locations with varying weather conditions. Moreover, we never know how much time has passed from the previous adventure and the present moment, but with new places always come new creatures, both historical (obviously, mainly different types of dinosaurs) and purely fictional (e.g. gigantic monster-bats that make the fourth episode a true horror story). Some animals appear just for a moment and then never come back which only emphasizes the richness of the presented world, and captivates the audience even further.

The permanent fight for survival, albeit strictly pertaining to the primordial context where death was commonplace, suggests that violence is as natural an ingredient of our reality as the air itself. With the exception of some dark and brutal rites seen in the fifth episode, the acts of violence are justified. There is no exploitation of other beings — which was something developed by human civilizations centuries later — and there is no moral distinction between the good and the evil, as we understand it today. 

The best example of such ambivalence comes with the surprisingly sad third episode in which we observe an old mammoth that has lost its herd during a blizzard. Wandering alone, the animal is suddenly attacked by Spear and Fang. The heroes are incredibly merciless, ready to do anything to kill the huge prey, which makes them look like the cruel antagonists. But, obviously, they just need its meat and fur to survive. Furthermore, the moment of its death is also complicated by the remorse appearing in the expression of Spear. They did what they had to do, even if that is ugly.

This ambiguity is the quintessence of the show which is simultaneously ferocious, bleak and touching. Despite the simplicity of the plot, Tartakovsky convincingly presents the complexity of human nature and that of the world that surrounds us. He underlines the necessity of violence, while always remembering to show its terror. The story of the unexpected friendship is defined by honesty as the Russian animator seems to really love (and care for) his characters. And that is what makes Primal beautiful. But be warned — it will break your heart.

Primal is available to stream on Adult Swim now. Check out the trailer below: 

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‘So Long, My Son’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/so-long-my-son-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/so-long-my-son-review/#respond Wed, 29 Jan 2020 17:53:58 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18810

Ellie Lachs reviews Wang Xiaoshuai’s emotional family epic.

Wang Xiaoshuai’s newest film So Long, My Son is a slow burner to say the least. The three hour ode to trauma slowly slips beneath the skin, unknowingly picking at any traces of complacency or contentment amidst its audience. The film follows two couples through China’s cultural revolution into modernity, skirting around, over and through the tragedies that hit each family.

So Long, My Son centres on a tight and traditional family unit in which friends are like family and family are like friends. The two central couples- Liu Yaojun and Wang Liyun, and Shen Yingming and Li Haiyan – all live in the same apartment block, work in the same factory and have sons – Liu Xing (‘Xingxing’) and  Shen Hao (‘Haohao’) – that were born on the same day. This intimate bond, established early on in the film, quickly dissolves with the onset of the 1980s and the implementation of the One Child Policy. These interpersonal and national conflicts result in an uncomfortable and upsetting end, only to be trounced with the accidental death of Liu Yaojun and Wang Liyun’s son. Such events make these tight-knight friendships too unbearable to sustain, and the result is a silent and grievous separation which only adds to the tragedies that have already taken place.

Where bereavement propels Liu Yaojun and Wang Liyun to the province of Fujian, an underdeveloped area on the southeastern coast of China, all their friends stride into the city and its developing economy, creating a near irreconcilable rift between the familial unit.  Despite these geographical disparities, lingering guilt, regret and unspoken apologies drive the action within; this underlying current of unresolved emotion plays an integral role in holding the audience’s attention for all three hours. 

The hidden emotional depths of the characters are also conveyed formally, with many of the film’s scenes rejecting dialogue in favour of undefined background noise. Xiaoshuai proves how much action can take place against the clapping of waves, clicking of car doors and boiling of water in pans. This abject use of showing rather than telling directs the audience’s attention towards the facial expressions and body movements of the actors. Xiaoshuai demands us to heighten our haptic engagement, and in doing so plants us into his scenes; we become participants in the action. When Liu Yaojun and Wang Liyun sit in their flat, stone-faced and glaring out of their window as the new year fireworks explode before them, they assume the same spectating role as us. The effect of the muted dialogue perpetuates the sense of ambiguity; we can only assume what is going on behind the deep-set countenances of grief and guilt. 

Xiaoshuai artfully pairs the constant state of questioning and anticipation with a decidedly non-linear chronology.  The director seamlessly flits between pre-Cultural Revolution, the centre of the Revolution, and the proceeding People’s Republic. The periods and plotlines are muddled, creating endless seconds of disorientation. The viewer is offered foresight without evidence and evidence without foresight, requiring them to decode the relevant plot details and distinguish the specific traits and lives of the characters within. 

This can, however, be possibly attributed to the circular nature of the plot. Many scenes echo former ones, causing the past to literally permeate the present. In three different scenes, the audience races down the same hospital aisle; under different circumstances but through nearly identical shots, the multiple casualties become intertwined. Equally, when Liyun and Haiyan are hospitalised at the same time, their diagnoses become tangled and it is unclear who the real centre of attention is. This interplay demands an enormous amount of audience concentration, as well as the perceptiveness to notice the undercurrent of subtle links that seep through the plot.   

The final note then resides in genre. That the film inserts itself so firmly within a realist narrative without imposing any political commentary is arguably what really allows tragedy to seep in. So Long, My Son is not meant to provoke or rile its audience, but rather to contemplate the fragility of life and examine the excruciating nature of loss. It is a tragedy with no one to scapegoat, with no political turmoil to blame, and this makes it all the more painful. Perhaps this is why we are privy to reject Yaojun’s early confession that ‘time stopped for us a long time ago, we are just waiting to grow old now,’ in the hope that the plot will unfurl into something positive, a reconciled series of events. In reality, the film exposes the kind of trauma that festers and blooms in continuous cycles; three hours suddenly feels like a small price to pay in comparison to the interminable suffering of Liu Yaojun and Wang Liyun.  

So Long, My Son is no longer in cinemas but is available to rent via Curzon Home Cinema. Check out the trailer below: 

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Sundance 2020: ‘Miss Americana’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/miss-americana-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/miss-americana-review/#respond Mon, 27 Jan 2020 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18785

Pihla Pekkarinen reviews Taylor Swift’s new documentary.

Miss Americana is undoubtedly one of the most high-profile films arriving at Sundance this year. Taylor Swift first dropped the news of a Netflix documentary in a social media post publicly accusing Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta of attempting to prevent the film from being released due to their ownership of her original master recordings. Fans and fellow artists flocked to her defense and, three months later, her documentary premiered at Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Lana Wilson, the film spans several years of Swift’s life, and includes intimate interviews, recordings of studio sessions, and a few f-bombs which provoked audible gasps from the audience. According to an interview with Swift, Miss Americana looks at the “flipside of being America’s sweetheart,” exposing some of the challenges Swift faces as she embarks on the process of writing her latest album, Lover.

The film zeroes in on a few pivotal moments of the singer’s life, orienting itself around themes of change and growth. One of these moments is her public feud with Kanye West, which ended with #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty trending worldwide on Twitter and Swift disappearing from the public eye for a year to lick her wounds. To the film’s merit, there is no attempt to defend Swift or explain her actions. Instead, it simply states the facts of the feud, and focuses on the aftermath, including Swift’s reaction to going from publicly adored to generally reviled overnight. The film is (obviously) sympathetic towards Swift, but not as overtly as one might expect. 

Another pivotal moment the film details is Swift’s sexual assault trial and her subsequent foray into politics after years of public neutrality. Though  depicted to be an earth-shattering shift for Swift, she remains surprisingly apolitical throughout. Her discussion of the trial feels like the only moment in the film where she acknowledges her position of privilege, or the existence of an unequal society. Swift describes the ordeal as humiliating and degrading, “and this was with seven witnesses and a photograph. What happens when you were raped, and it’s your word against his?” Otherwise, the singer’s politics, which the film suggests are “radical,” seem limited to “women and gay people should have rights,” and this discrepancy proves grating.

Your enjoyment of this documentary depends entirely on whether or not you buy into Taylor Swift’s victim narrative. Miss Americana acknowledges this frequent criticism of her, but does nothing to subvert it. Swift is portrayed as a victim of the media, of the public, of her stardom – the odds are stacked against her, and she manages to rise above. The film doesn’t deliver on its promise to show the flipside of being America’s sweetheart; it’s simply another angle, still from the front, maybe with less shadows. The film was not during the worst year of her life; it was made afterwards, in retrospect, to ensure her performance remains slick and smooth. The vulnerability I was hoping for? The film fails to get there.

If there is one thing Miss Americana does right, it lies in capturing Swift’s spirit. The film is not aimed at finding new audiences: Swift doesn’t need to do that, and it’s doubtful she will gain any new fans from this documentary. But for pre-existing fans, it is a beautiful 90-minute concentrated dose of Taylor; kittens, clumsiness, faux-vulnerability, and all. If that’s your thing (like it is mine), it’s perfect. If it’s not, maybe give this one a pass. Miss Americana has little artistic merit beyond its subject matter, and if you aren’t a Taylor fan, this film probably isn’t for you. 


Miss Americana will be released worldwide on Netflix and in select theatres on 31 January 2020. Check out the trailer below: 

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‘Arcadia’ Review: Will Britain Ever Reach a Utopia? https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/arcadia-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/arcadia-review/#respond Thu, 23 Jan 2020 18:00:47 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18649

Manisha Thind reviews Paul Wright’s 2017 documentary.

“A story of change, of people moving off the land and away from the country.”

Arcadia is a compelling odyssey concerning the mutating relationship between Great Britain and her citizens. Comprised of astutely selected archive footage infused with experimental and psychedelic scores courtesy of Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp), the film is a historical reverie.

Juxtaposed next to the deep, choral incantations in the first clip is an ethereal chanting filled with the promise of spring. Thenceforth, director Paul Wright sets the tone of a hallucinatory atmosphere that persists throughout the documentary. Post-War English village life and agricultural occupations are exhibited for the first ten minutes of the film, characteristically merry and nostalgic. These elements starkly contrast with today’s more urban, global standards. The chirpiness of ordinary and habitual 1950s life is shattered by an unsettling score accompanying a foreboding statement: “Deep in the land comes another truth. A different truth. A secret past. A hidden history.”

Ominous transitions partition the various clips, and the audience spirals into an ever troubling and provocative pilgrimage through England’s socio-political rabbit hole. Footage of Lewis Carroll’s inquisitive Alice is followed by images of gleeful nudists and of well-to-do crowds in formal attire. Naturism and paganism are juxtaposed with depictions of foliage, mining and the Queen’s Guard. The archetypal nonconformism of the 1960’s is exemplified, overflowing with psychedelic freak-outs and unbridled love.

“A glimpse of Heaven. But this was only part of the story. To find our salvation, she had to understand the whole truth of this land.”

Merry Britain’s transformation into a troubled nation comes as the socialists and miners become marginalized, and the country is plagued by deforestation, landfills and hunting, whilst the elite idly stand by. Animal abuse is shown simultaneously with joviality, thus demonstrating the problematic ignorance that has neglected to confront the urgency of the climate crisis and animal rights. Far from ‘Merry England’, we are subjected to viewing the harsh realities afflicting the impoverished and underprivileged working classes. Community and spirit have declined to result in punks rebelliously raving, lads rolling down hills undeterred by ostensible injury, and a society sharing only consumerism in common.

“In the United Kingdom, a crisis of great dimensions is in the making, which, if it were allowed to run its course, would shake the world, and make our own position highly vulnerable and precariously isolated.”

Some may consider Arcadia to be no more than a glorified montage; however, the film provides a necessary reminder that Britain’s historical past has fashioned the present, and often mirrors it. Brexit, rising tuition fees and taxes, the attack on the NHS, and immigration are only a few of the issues that exemplify the current societal cleavages and national detachment that bedevils Great Britain. Arcadia proves incredibly relevant, both warning and prayer. That said, hyperbolic dystopianism and the incessantly pessimistic tone of the film leads to Wright deliberately negating footage that would otherwise show communities uniting to face adversity. Moreover, the film would have benefited from surveying more themes – such as racism, sexism and homophobia – in lieu of repeating the footage of pagans chanting. Nonetheless, fundamental national divisions persist despite advances towards liberty and enlightenment; this film intuitively captures these divisions, one which most would rather not acknowledge. Let us hope that subsequent generations will finally upturn this ceaseless spiral towards the Earth’s decay and societal partition, into something that more closely resembles a utopia.

Arcadia is available to stream on BFI Player or available to rent on multiple platforms. Check out the trailer below:

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‘Marriage Story’ Review: A Game Theory Approach https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/marriage-story-review-a-game-theory-approach/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/marriage-story-review-a-game-theory-approach/#respond Mon, 20 Jan 2020 18:00:02 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18695

Daniel Jacobson takes an in-depth look at Noah Baumbach’s tender drama Marriage Story through game theory.

One of the most famous and widely researched thought experiments in game theory, the field of mathematics dedicated to studying strategy and decision-making, is called the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and it goes something like this:

You and your friend are being charged with bank robbery. You are separately interrogated by the police, who offer each of you the opportunity to testify against the other, or to remain silent. If you both remain silent, you each receive 2 years in prison. If you both testify against each other, you each receive 5 years. However, if one betrays the other, whilst the other remains silent, the person who remained silent receives 10 years in prison, and the betrayer walks away free. What do you do?

From the outsider’s perspective, the optimal result in this scenario is for both parties to cooperate, as this results in the least amount of shared jail time. However, if you remain silent, you are guaranteed either the same amount (2 years) or more jail time (10 years) than your friend. In this way, whilst cooperation is the optimal outcome for the ‘team’, individually, it is in your interest to betray your friend.

As a romance story addict who is just beginning a PhD in computational genetics, I have developed a fairly potent obsession with the application of mathematics to a variety of messy, real-life situations including, more cynically, love and relationships. In fact, I wrote a movie about it (Calculating Nora, the 2019/20 Term 1 Film, is coming soon!). Whilst people have tried, there are serious limitations to applying game theory to relationships because, at its centre, game theory is about conflict, and relationships, ideally, are not. You can’t win at love. But you can win at divorce, and the quicker you realise this, the better chance you have of doing so. This is the problem at the centre of Marriage Story, and by asking what happens to a relationship when a conflict becomes all-encompassing, its writer and director Noah Baumbach has created, in my opinion, one of the funniest, most moving, most thought-provoking, and most human films of the decade.

Marriage Story portrays the divorce between Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), from couples’ therapy, through the proceedings, up to the two of them moving on with their lives. Both parties clarify from the beginning that they want a fair, equal, agreeable separation, mostly with reference to their son, Henry, and whilst they both carry their share of mistakes, admittedly skewed towards Charlie, the divorce is the finale of the simple realisation that, with Nicole taking a job in California and Charlie staying with his theatre company in New York, their marriage has, unfortunately, run its course. Neither side is thrilled by this, but if they can both just get through their 2 years in prison, they can begin moving on in the healthiest way possible.

The movement away from cooperation and towards conflict is best represented by their respective lawyers. Nicole’s transition into conflict is fairly understandable as, at least initially, she is more likely to be cast as the “victim”, whose life and work has become entirely intertwined with Charlie’s. It is fuelled, however, by her lawyer Nora, played by the astonishing Laura Dern, who coaxes Nicole’s insecurities to the surface during their phenomenal initial meeting, in which Nora all but seduces Nicole into viewing her divorce as a zero-sum game – if one person benefits, the other person must lose out. And Nicole is entitled to win.

This is clearly more difficult for Charlie who continues to convince himself that, despite hiring Nora and playing for favours with their son, Nicole is still dedicated to securing an equal settlement. His first lawyer (Alan Alda) is older and more modest, and instantly connects with Charlie on his own familiar, personal grounds. However, Charlie is forced to hire his own hot shot lawyer (Ray Liotta) once it becomes abundantly clear that by choosing to act cooperatively, he risks losing custody of his son. In their first meeting, Liotta tells him “If we start from a position of reasonable, and they start from a position of crazy, by the time we settle we will be somewhere between reasonable and crazy. Which is crazy.” He knows that when one side has chosen conflict, the other’s only option is to fight back.

This is what I personally found the most heart-breaking about Marriage Story. As we are aware from the beautiful opening montages, Charlie and Nicole love each other. However, they are led to believe that they are fighting a battle when, in fact, if they had chosen to settle out of court and without lawyers, as initially discussed, their separation may have gone more smoothly.

There are two gorgeous scenes of serious conflict, in a movie where Charlie and Nicole are often apart. One, the film’s most notorious scene, portrays their initial attempt to come to an agreement themselves, culminating in searing words and a hole in Charlie’s wall, indicative of the equally upsetting Before Midnight. Whilst they have the best intentions, both sides are still too wrapped up in their lawyer’s opinions to work through it maturely. The second, my favourite scene in the film, shows their court case, in which Charlie and Nicole sit quietly whilst their sides are presented almost entirely by their lawyers. Here, every moment in the film is twisted and subverted into ammunition against the other: a drink at dinner is presented as alcoholism, a dedication to work as negligence. Unfortunately, their eventual attempts to seek greatest payoff are alluded to during the introductory scenes where, amongst the endless references to being good parents and dedicated spouses, their only shared trait is to be “competitive”.

Of course, the incredible depth of character generated throughout this movie is testament to Noah Baumbach’s unbelievable script, which presents conflict in a far more nuanced way than any film I have seen in a long time. Baumbach is a filmmaker to whom I have, admittedly, not dedicated sufficient time. I enjoyed the first 25 minutes of The Meyerowitz Stories, before deciding that the film was long and I wanted a sandwich and it was on Netflix anyway so I could continue watching later. Additionally, my 16-year-old-self described The Squid and the Whale as “sanctimonious drivel”, albeit without a clear definition of “sanctimonious”. Yet he redeemed himself by writing these unbelievable articles for the New Yorker.

The richness in story and character created by Baumbach’s script arises from his focus on a dozen or so scenes from the divorce, as opposed to providing every event in the story. Similar to films such as Boyhood, many essential events throughout their story – the termination of Charlie’s Broadway show; the success of Nicole’s television show; even the final settlement – are glossed over in passing. This allows for the film as a whole to breathe and play out organically. It means that the audience has the time to acknowledge and comprehend Charlie’s desperation as he takes Henry trick-or-treating late at night. Nicole’s frustration and nervousness before handing over the divorce papers is palpable and hilarious. And when Charlie delivers a full rendition of Sondheim’s “Being Alive”,it is not a thematic titbit played momentarily in the background, but rather an opportunity for Charlie, and us, to reflect emotionally and critically on what has occurred and consequently, what we have learnt.

Interestingly, there is a solution for optimising your winnings during multiple consecutive applications of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, known as the “iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma”. In a series of tournaments created by the political scientist Robert Axelrod, hundreds of algorithms were pitted against each other to see which methods optimised the results of these games. The most consistently successful technique, as reported in his 1984 book The Evolution of Cooperation, was known as “tit-for-tat”. Introduced by the mathematical psychologist Anatol Rapoport, the technique dictates that one should begin by cooperating with the other person and continue to do so until they choose to betray you, at which point you simply copy them. This does make some logical sense. By applying tit-for-tat, one is able to benefit whilst the other is cooperating and retaliate when betrayed. Tit-for-tat is, incidentally, the general response during real-life applications of the Prisoner’s dilemma, notably the “Live and let live” non-aggressive trench warfare behaviour during World War One.

However, a key characteristic of tit-for-tat is that whilst it was the most successful technique applied in Axelrod’s tournaments, a player applying tit-for-tat can only ever do as well as its competitor, but never better. Instead, it optimises its own results by optimising those of its opponent. This is possible because the Prisoner’s dilemma is not a zero-sum game. In Marriage Story, when Nicole plays as the provocateur by meeting Nora, Charlie utilises tit-for-tat. As neither side is able to cease betraying, for fear of insurmountable losses in court, they enter a “death spiral”. It is only their agreement to relax their demands and begin cooperating again that allows them to reach the fair settlement they intended for in the first place.

My absolute favourite films, such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Little Miss Sunshine, and Marriage Story, have either influenced the way I choose to live now, or emulate what I would like to see in myself in the future. Whilst I might not be able to say the same for Kermack-McKendrick models, the Central Limit Theorem, or, indeed, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, I was struck by game theory’s ability to wholly encompass a story as emotionally harrowing and deeply personal as a divorce, without detracting from its nuances. You still can’t win at love, but it is naïve to suggest that conflict resolution and relationships exist independently. Whether we want to admit it or not, conflict is at the centre of all of our relationships and interactions, from family to flatmates, from loved ones to lecture buddies. I loved Marriage Story because, from my perspective, it presented a healthy method for dealing with these conflicts, one where seeking personal victories causes misery, and the choice to cooperate is beneficial both for the group and the individual. All it required was for Baumbach to put it so eloquently.

Marriage Story is available to be streamed on Netflix now and you can watch the trailer below: 

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‘Frozen II’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/frozen-ii-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/frozen-ii-review/#respond Sat, 18 Jan 2020 13:37:00 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18526

Pihla Pekkarinen reviews the much-anticipated Disney sequel.

Frozen, when it was first released six years ago, gripped the world. Frozen paraphernalia was inescapable. Anyone who had or spent time with young children in the first few years after its release was haunted by the spectres of Anna and Elsa. At the small preschool I taught at, there were at least three Elsas or Annas at Halloween and Carnival.

Frozen was hailed by parents and critics alike for its feminist undertones. The leads were two strong, independent women, and the film prioritized the relationship of sisterly love over romantic love. It depicted the difference between a manipulative romantic relationship and a supportive one, making clear how not all romantic relationships are equal. It embraced femininity as a strength rather than a weakness. Criticism arose too, with some claiming that the stereotypically princess-like appearances of Elsa and Anna contribute to unattainable beauty standards, particularly shameless in their targeting of young girls. Overall, however, the release of Frozen in 2013 was recognised as a huge step in the right direction for Disney.

Frozen II follows nearly the same path as its predecessor. Anna and Elsa set off on another quest for the truth, meet guiding characters, and eventually succeed in saving their people from peril once again. It is a heartfelt film with a formulaic plot and the occasional chuckle-provoking joke. The characters grapple with moral dilemmas but are never themselves at the center of them. The film reprises almost all the elements of the smash-hit “Let it Go” in a similar power ballad, with the main difference being that Elsa has graduated to letting her hair fall fully down this time. (One wonders what the next step will be: perhaps Frozen III’s Elsa will shave her head, or even dye it pink?) Frozen II is hardly revolutionary. Or is it?

In one scene, the beloved snowman-friend Olaf turns to Anna, confessing he feels angry at Elsa for letting him down. Instead of dismissing him, or encouraging Olaf to sympathise with and forgive Elsa, Anna immediately acknowledges and validates his hurt. Olaf’s anger is not treated as negativity to be suppressed, but rathe an emotion as valid and important as any other. In another poignant moment, as Anna rides into battle, instead of questioning her judgement or trying to protect her, Kristoff asks what she needs and follows through on her request. He later tells her, in one of the more memorable lines of the film, “My love is not fragile.” Their relationship is depicted as one of partnership and collaboration, rather than patriarchal oppression and imbalanced power. The film also features an indigenous community modelled after the Sami people of Northern Europe. The portrayal has been lauded by its Sami audience as both accurate and respectful. Frozen II acknowledges (in a limited, Disneyfied way) a history of oppression and violence against global Indigenous communities.

Frozen II actively responds to Disney’s troubling social legacy, toying with the stereotypes and tropes associated with the genre. The film is aware of the susceptibility of its young audience, and consciously attempts to send empowering messages. However, they are not particularly well-integrated into what is essentially a standard Disney princess plot, and older audiences may find this constant moral nudging slightly grating. But the film cannot and should not be faulted for trying to do better: the effort to create a more inclusive and empowering future for Disney is explicit.

Frozen II is unlikely to have the all-consuming legacy of its predecessor. The songs are less catchy, the new characters less compelling (due partly to their limited screen time), and the plot more convoluted. It is nevertheless a charming and heartwarming piece of entertainment which will undoubtedly prove popular amongst its young audience. At least Frozen II has some originality and is not a live action remake of an already existing film. Ultimately, Frozen II represents an effort on Disney’s part to do better–which counts for something in this wintery political climate.

Frozen II is still showing in cinemas worldwide. Check out the trailer below:

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A Decade in: TV Shows https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/a-decade-in-tv-shows/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/a-decade-in-tv-shows/#respond Fri, 10 Jan 2020 18:19:34 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18564

We don’t even want to count how many TV shows showed up on our screens in the last decade, so our writers give their opinions on their favourites instead.

Avatar: TheLegend of Korra (2012-2014)

The sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender had to live up to a children’s series phenomenon. In The Legend of Korra, the exquisite world building is extrapolated beautifully. The animation style is so difficult that the first season’s studio declined to animate the second because The Boondocks caused their animators less stress! The Avatar franchise uses beautiful colouring and animation styles that honour the incredible martial arts and fight scenes. Furthermore, the series manages to present complicated narratives and themes to a children’s audience. The whimsical magic of the four elements in the original series is transformed into a gritty steampunk world with industrial change. It owes and pays much tribute to the previous series, but the surprises and additions are fun for any viewer. The combination of new ‘bending’ techniques and the invention of new technologies are great to discover and make the audience want to return to watching their world. Although the writing is weaker at the beginning, with an awkwardly written love triangle, the latter seasons are strong in showing the spiritual and political struggle. Korra faces villains who are domestic terrorists, fascist military dictators, and her own uncle.

Emma Davis

Sense8 (2015-2018)

Created, written and directed by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, Sense8 was ambitious, heartfelt and visually stunning. The show took place in several locations around the world, with eight protagonists with their own arcs, it had the potential to be incredibly confusing, but it never was. The protagonists are ‘sensate’ – connected by a strange power that allows them to experience what another in their ‘cluster’ feels. At its heart, the show is about this connection and love. It was the also first piece of media I ever encountered that had multiple main LGBTQ characters (in fact, all the protagonists are confirmed as queer). It’s intimate and global; it’s action-packed and melancholic. It’s a show that can be re-watched over and over and you’ll find some tiny detail that you’ve never seen before. Sense8 was always about self-expression and freedom and I wish it had lasted a little longer.

Rhiannon C. Jones

Broad City (2014-2019)

After ending this March after a five year run, Broad City has left a television void once filled by the explosively colourful female sitcom. This show brought women into stoner humour, confronting the goofy dynamic duo shtick that has long been dominated by male comedians. Abby Jacobson and Ilana Glazer stomped, skipped, tripped, and stumbled through New York City, imperfect, chaotic, and deeply relatable. I tell all my friends to watch this show and wish I could do it all over again.

Sofía Kourous Vázquez

BoJack Horseman (2014-2019)

As the year lulls to a close, my pick of the decade is predictably the cartoon about the horse with depression. BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett), the titular horseman, is a washed-up Hollywood actor who struggles to pick up his career after starring in a beloved 90’s sitcom. BoJack doesn’t work because he doesn’t have to; his old show ‘Horsin Around’ bestows him with B-minus fame and LA-mansion pools of money. BoJack comes to terms with this by acting like a sleazy asshole: he inhales gin and hits on women willing to either exploit or overlook his has-been status. The show kicks off with BoJack meeting Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), a writer hopeful who is hired to author a tell-all on BoJack to revitalize his dying career. Diane is too good to cater solely to onanistic publicity, and her insight forces BoJack to ask himself why he can’t stop drinking, why he keeps fucking up, and why he keeps hurting the people he loves. The beauty of BoJack Horseman is that its ridiculous. Brought to life with Lisa Hanawalt’s anthropomorphic animations, most of the show’s humor is derived from the joke that half of the characters are talking animals. It works because BoJack Horseman is grounded by its impeccable writing: the show crackles with wit, snapping with meta-puns and alliterative tongue twisters. The script’s delivery is upheld by an all-star cast: Amy Sedaris glows as BoJack’s Jersey-accented feline agent, and Aaron Paul gilds as the ditzy but sweet high-school dropout chilling on BoJack’s couch. Far from simply addressing the superficiality of celebrity culture, BoJack Horseman shines a light on topical American issues like abortion, gun control, racism, and the garbage fire election crisis of 2016. The effect is rippling and expansive: as BoJack spirals, the world does too. I find this endlessly comforting: BoJack Horseman never pretends everything isn’t going to shit.

The show is now in its sixth and final season, and I already know I’m going to miss it. I’ve spent a good part of my adolescence getting lost in the lush and jam-packed world of Hollywoo, assuaging depression by stuffing cereal and BoJack’s crazy antics into my face. What strikes me is how cathartic it all is; while acknowledging that the world is a toilet bowl, BoJack Horseman never fails to be weird, funny, and hopeful. BoJack Horseman is a social critique and meditation on mental illness, but also essentially a heartfelt comedy: the series pokes fun at the vapidity of child star Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) in the same breath it vivisects her tragic drug-addled past. Maybe its this schizophrenic slash multi-genre confusion that makes it so distinctly 2010s. In any case, BoJack Horseman is a relic I want to put in a locket and swing around my neck— like a baby tooth, or a middle school photograph.

Harry Mizumoto

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A Decade in: Films https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/a-decade-in-films/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/a-decade-in-films/#respond Wed, 01 Jan 2020 18:01:03 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18566

A selection of our writers take a look at the films that shaped them, and the world of film, this decade.

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Never has an anti-war film felt as intimate and real as Waltz with Bashir, an animated autobiographical documentary about director Ari Folman’s experiences during the 1982 Lebanon War. The film has unique presentation. It is both a drama and a biography, with the director interviewing fellow veterans with the goal of recollecting his lost memories from the war. An animated documentary might strike some as odd, since documentaries are conventionally about documenting real life as accurately as possible. Yet the dreamlike presentation is purposeful; it meticulously captures the feeling of surrealism and alienation felt by young soldiers in wartime. Folman does not try to present his experiences in an objective, “news story” lens. What results is an extremely personal confession from the director.

Coupled with a haunting soundtrack by Max Richter, the film takes us through the absurdity of war, all building to one of the most shocking and disturbing finales I’ve ever seen in film. Waltz With Bashir is a prime example of cinema’s greatest strength: the ability to subjectively present a story that becomes more truthful than many other objective mediums of communication.

Bowen Xu

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

2010’s have been the decade of the comic book movie, in particular Marvel. The Marvel Cinematic Univerise has been the anchor in this area both in terms of popularity and arguably, quality. Avengers: Infinity War is, in my opinion, the mountaintop of the MCU. While it is debatable whether the film is the best comic book adaptation of the decade, it epitomizes the 2010s in film. The movie managed to do nearly all of its hugely popular characters justice by instead focusing primarily on the strongly crafted villain, Thanos. This meant the movie could experiment with many new ideas and offer non-stop fun for two and a half hours. It also had one of the best endings for a MCU movie, which usually suffers from similarly formulaic endings. The movie somewhat managed to satisfy almost all of its fans, which should have been an impossible task to start with, but it was also a great motion picture with strong performances, a flowing story, and fantastic visuals.

Kerem Uzdiyen

The Neon Demon (2016)

The Neon Demon is shimmering pearl of film. Nicolas Winding Refn has sifted through the silt and runoff of our culture, coalescing it into a warped, beautiful and giddying reflection of the decade.  The film follows an aspiring model, freshly orphaned, trying to make it in L.A. Elle Fanning is intoxicating, her innocence slowly souring into haughty disdain as fame drains away her humanity. Hunger haunts every frame: for fame, for survival, for youth, for beauty, for wealth. Fanning finds herself frequently isolated in frame, often in ethereal voids, her beauty centre stage throughout. We are carried along by Refn into the world of the superficial, finding ourselves yearning for the attention Fanning commands from the camera.

As we stare agape at The Neon Demon, entranced and horrified by the beautiful slow-motion death of Elle Fanning, we see ourselves and our present moment reflected back. A hall of mirrors shattering and reflecting back our million petty vices. We see Refn play out the death throws of the western cultural machine through the microcosm of the ultra-beautiful. Martinez’s sparse synths and the neon-heavy washed out set design are the bones of 80s excess, once fat on cold war clash of titans. All that’s left is the skin. Hollow excess and mouldering flesh beneath, Refn’s film is apocalyptic. One frame echoes Lynch, the next Fellini as Refn pinballs between influences, foregrounding the aesthetic above all else. Style becomes substance: The Neon Demon’s thesis is apocalyptic hedonism. All meaning has been lost, only the aesthetic remains, so we may as well relish in it. Touching on everything from abuse to the hyper-commodification of our lives to environmental havoc (the mountain lion in the motel room), the film is terrifyingly prescient. With the Epstein case coming to light the film becomes all too plausible.  Dangerous, beautiful and seductive, The Neon Demon is the quintessential film of the 2010s. A masterpiece for our end times, it presents the gaze from the abyss, daring you to stare back.

Jamie Cradden

Taxi (2015)

Taxi has been my favourite of Jafar Panahi’s “low-key” films since he was banned from making them for twenty years back in 2010. Mentored by Abbas Kiarostami, this film is highly reminiscent of the late director’s A Taste of Cherry and Ten, in the way it portrays modern Iran from the cockpit of a vehicle. In this docufiction in which Panahi poses as a taxi driver working in the city of Teheran, we meet a variety of different characters that hop in and out of the taxi and listen to their exchanges with their driver, which range from seemingly conventional to the most bizarre. Midway through the film, Panahi stumbles upon a bike accident, picking up an agonizing man and his wife. This ensuing scene brings to light not only the precarious situation of a lot of people in Iran, but also shows how it can push people to make morally ambiguous decisions in a way that is not only memorable, but rather harsh and is often echoed later in the film.  The use of the camera in Taxi is particularly creative; Panahi continuously plays with what the camera and audience can see, keeping certain characters and conversations off camera, while linking these with what is going on in front of the camera. This way of situating the viewer in the middle of the action might seem jarring at first, but develops surprisingly well as the film progresses. Out of Panahi’s most recent films, this one strikes me as the most creative, sharp and cinematographically interesting, and it is definitely worth a rewatch in the new decade.

Diego Collado

Roma (2018)

Roma came to us in the final hours of this decade. Netflix, front page: a black-and-white film, in Spanish and Mixteco, telling the story of an indigenous maid named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) in late 60s, early 70s Mexico. To me, this was not only a monumental work of Latin-American cinema, but also a cultural moment: that such a high-profile director would return to where he came from and then choose to elevate this specific story — it’s simply unpredictable but Cuaron did it. Writing, directing, producing, and co-editing the film himself, his efforts produced an epic powerful enough to challenge his previous feature, Gravity (2013). Roma is the story of a woman, but like all good works of art it speaks to something greater. It is the story of the forgotten, disenfranchised, quiet, anonymous, working Woman, brown and indigenous. She exists, and she is so strong. Most importantly, Cuaron does not speak for her. In fact, this is a rather quiet movie, and beautifully so. Never has an indigenous person or story in film been given such intimate, syntonic treatment with such wide exposure. No one will remember Green Book but we will remember Roma.

Sofía Kourous Vázquez

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A Decade in: Scores https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/a-decade-in-scores/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/a-decade-in-scores/#respond Sun, 29 Dec 2019 18:00:47 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18561

We got some of our writers to put on their headphones and share their picks of the best scores, songs, and composers of the last decade. 

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Arrival (2016)

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‘Last Christmas’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/last-christmas-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/last-christmas-review/#respond Fri, 27 Dec 2019 15:48:40 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18622

Why this year you should not shy away from watching a Christmas rom-com.

It is not a very common occasion to come across a rom-com that is set during Christmas in London. This description, alongside Peter Bradshaw’s review of the film for The Guardian, scream “this is the trashy movie that I should definitely avoid before the end of the year.” Or, if you are like us: “this is the trashy movie I should definitely watch before the end of the year.” And we certainly did not regret the evening we spent immersing ourselves in the universe of this film, where humour and politics come together to show us how everyone’s lives are interconnected and how the power of hope that lies in human connections can surpass both individual and collective struggles (especially in a city like London). If you think this movie is going to be ‘trash’ you are in for a surprise!

The story follows Kate (Emilia Clarke) around London. Kate is homeless, working as an elf and struggling to realise her dream of becoming a West End star. Her family is originally from former Yugoslavia, and Kate has a very rocky relationship with her mother (Emma Thompson, who is the co-writer of the film). Their two worlds seem to constantly clash and Kate finds it hard to accept any help from her. Meanwhile Kate’s messy personal life is also interfering with her friendships and her job selling christmas decorations. A serial victim of her circumstances, she avoids facing her problems until she meets the mysterious, yet superbly kind and wise, Tom (Henry Golding). The romance that is sparked between the two characters takes us on a walk around London that is painting a picture of how inhumane the city can be but also how powerful human connection is in holding the strings of our lives together. 

An interesting point about this film is how it played off genre expectations through its promotional material to create a very specific picture of the film. Trailers and posters leaned on the romantic aspect of the plot, the fact that the lead character was, at some point, ill as well as emphasizing the connection to George Michael’s music. However, these aspects are not necessarily the most prominent or time-consuming for the plot. Instead, Last Christmas is largely about Kate’s growth and independence through social connections. While her journey out of self-sabotage begins with a few nudges from Tom, it’s really when she starts having bilateral relationships with others that she moves towards a healthier lifestyle. Kate only starts taking care of herself, being mindful of her health condition, when she stops seeking others out only because she needs something from them. At the start of the film we see Kate as someone who only takes, who gives  the bare minimum back to the people in her life who offer her help. These egoistic tendencies were hurting others but also negatively impacting all of Kate’s well-being.

The film does not provide a Christmas-miracle solution to Kate’s problem. There is no magical moment of revelation where Kate realizes she cannot keep her lifestyle up, as there are in other Christmas films. Last Christmas shows a gradual recognition of issues and a gradual way to take action in a holistic way to resolve existing problems. Kate doesn’t just have to change how she eats, she doesn’t just have to meet the “right guy” who changes  her world, she doesn’t just have to be kinder to those that have given her opportunities, she has to do all this and more. 

The didactic message of the film is that changing oneself is hard work and that it is not possible in an isolated manner. In other words, Kate is able to find tranquility, love, and a healthy way of accepting her immigration story, by integrating herself back into social life and by working on all aspects of herself. When she starts volunteering at a homeless shelter she starts taking responsibilities again, which means that she must be well-enough to be depended on. The people she meets there become her friends. When she begins to care about work again not only does she help her boss, Santa, but she also decides to pause the auditions that were making her miserable. When she begins to repair her relationship with her family, she also helps her mother feel more independent and she unearths a new empathy towards her Yugoslavian community and identity. In this film, actions are the most important thing and the most impactful, so said by Tom that “you’re made up of everything you do.” And it is through her new attitude and actions that Kate’s full potential begin to shine. What seemed like a paradox at first, that you need to rely on others to get more independence, makes sense: it is through sociality that annihilation of the ego begins and that we can start being present for those around us.

Last Christmas also does what many other apparently “lighthearted” films do: sneak in serious issues unexpectedly. Because it is set in 2017, the plot coincides with the beginnings of Brexit. As Yugoslavian immigrants, the discourse of xenophobia that followed this political move affects Kate’s family. Her mother, in particular, is almost inconsolable, believing they would be forced to leave another country because of political situations. While this is not a major aspect of the movie, I think it is notable that it is in a George Micheal song-title-based Christmas rom-com Brexit and rise of hate crimes are discussed and not in any other major releases I have seen. Comedy is often a great way to get people to think about difficult topics such as this. Once you grab people’s attention with what seemed like just entertainment, you drop the message you want. Films like “Step Up: Revolution” that appeared to be dancing chaos but actually discussed issues of displacement that seriously affect people living in Miami. A movie like “Fist Fight” that can be silly and questionable but also was heavily about how budget cuts make teacher’s lives unbearable. Why is it that releases like this tackle very real issues? Is this just as efficient a way to discuss topics as when the same themes are put in dramas? Do wide releases not have a bigger audience anyway? 

This film does have a sympathetic outlook towards the very real and very scary peril immigrants face in a Brexit environment. However, neither writers or directors are immigrants themselves. Emma Thompson is not from former-Yugoslavia and yet she plays and writes this role. In a way the sentiment an immigrant story rang hollow knowing it did not come from a voice with this experience. Similarly “Knives Out” suffered from the same issue: as much as it sided with the horrors of the immigrant experience Rian Johnson is not an immigrant himself. As a Latin American immigrant who wants more representation I ask: if you want our voices, let us speak for ourselves. No amount of research will give you lived experience, which is essential to these stories.

We don’t want to spoil the brilliant plot development, but we can simply say that this movie sets out on a mission larger than its cinematic life. This rom-com is more than just about romance and normative ideals of relationships. It is the story of the immigrant, the working class person, the homeless, and the human that lies within all of us but we at times forget, being carried away by the rapid rhythms and pressures of the city.


Last Christmas is still playing in select cinemas worldwide. Check out the trailer below:

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A Decade in: Directors https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/a-decade-in-directors/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/a-decade-in-directors/#respond Sun, 15 Dec 2019 17:26:34 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18568

A selection of our writers reflect on the directors who stood out this decade; whether for their cultural contribution, the work they’ve done, or the personal impact they’ve had. 

Denis Villeneuve

Though quantity certainly does not equate to quality, Denis Villeneuve’s output of six feature films this decade is nothing short of a exhibition of excellent craftsmanship. Captivated by Prisoners (2013), I found myself anticipating every new Villeneuve film, and he never disappoints. His impressive streak of films – Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 – definitively affirms him as one of the breakout directors of the 2010s, as well as positioning him as an influential player in the direction and potential of sci-fi cinema to come. His continual exploration into trauma and violence coupled up with a frequent collaboration with Roger Deakins brings to cinema worlds that are cold, harsh, yet beautiful. The season of winter comes to mind: the frosty forest of Prisoners, Ryan Gosling’s K lying in the snow, the cool colour palette of Arrival, silhouettes against the dawn breaking in Sicario. Psychological isolation and existentialist dread persist throughout his filmography; qualities that, in my opinion, are reminiscent of this decade in the Western world.

Plus, the ending of Enemy alone speaks for itself.

Xinyi Wang

The Safdie Brothers

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A Piece of Home: Returning to ‘Moonsoon Wedding’ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/moonsoon-wedding/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/moonsoon-wedding/#respond Sun, 08 Dec 2019 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18528

Fatima Jafar pens a love letter to a beloved childhood film.

The first time I watched Monsoon Wedding I was ten years old. My mother sang its praises all throughout my early childhood, and I finally watched it sitting in my parents’ bedroom one summer. My most recent viewing was last week. Over the last decade, this film has snaked its way into each year of my life, appearing silently, softly, always when I needed it most: during the perennial tug of homesickness, countless flus, exam seasons, birthdays, goodbyes. I wanted to write something for the film, in exchange for everything it has been for me.

Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding tells the story of a summer wedding in a Punjabi Hindu family. On the surface, it appears a stereotypical ‘South Asian wedding movie’: peppered with a Bollywood Item number, family drama and, of course, romance. But Monsoon Wedding remains unwaveringly self-aware. Nair subverts the cinematic trope of brown weddings as exotic, vivacious, colourful — ideas which often cater to Western fetishisation of South Asian culture — and holds a critical mirror to the genre itself. 

The film places the viewer within the home of the Verma family, where Aditi Verma is about to be married. As the film begins, we see each family member arriving to the home, and the tension builds concurrently. We view each scene from inside the spaces that the characters occupy, traveling from bathroom to bedroom alongside each of them. This enshrines a deeply personal, intimate atmosphere that remains with us throughout the film– it begins to feel as though we are part of the family itself. 

 Once the family has arrived, a gnawing anxiety bleeds through the narrative. We see the relationship between Lalit and Pimmi—Aditi’s parents—straining, as the pressure of the matrimonial preparations builds. They argue about money, sending their ‘sensitive’ son to boarding school (he is chastised for enjoying cooking and dancing), and all the while their sex life remains stagnant. Lalit struggles financially, having to borrow money from his friends to cover the costs of the wedding. Pimmi feels constantly alienated by her husband, her sexual desire unfulfilled. As the film continues, their relationship is punctuated with short, explosive arguments that often end with the slamming of doors and cold silences. Nair sheds light on the perils of the idolisation of ‘wedding culture’ in many South Asian families. She reveals the debilitating effect ‘wedding culture’ can have on people, both financially and personally. 

While the tension in this relationship increases, Nair conversely explores the dynamic between cousins Ria and Aditi. They talk about men, sex, marriage, and familial pressure without a filter. The power and comfort that their friendship contains remains a rooting force throughout the ensuing chaos of the film. Nair deals with female sexuality with great sincerity,  creating an unabashed space within which these conversations occur, that never feels contrived or fetishised.– Aditi is set to marry Hemant in an arranged marriage, but is having an affair with her married boss. Aditi speaks of the affair openly with Riya and the strict margins of taboo are tossed out as each character confronts their own uncomfortable truths head-on. Nair is not interested in painting an image of the idealised Indian family; she is interested in telling the story of a real one.

 In an act characteristic of her subversion, Nair also brings the camera to the back of the house, away from the image of the upper-middle class family. At the back of the house, she explores the slow-burning romance between Alice, a woman who cleans the Verma home, and Dubey, the event manager of the wedding. Nair explores this love story in forgotten spaces: dirty kitchens, generator rooms, and balconies— hidden, secluded areas at the back of the home, where lovers cannot be seen by others. She explores the taboos existing around interfaith marriages (Dubey is Hindu and Alice is Christian), as well as the depiction of romance, love, and sex in non-upperclass, non-uppercaste contexts. 

The film focuses extensively on hidden spaces, the oft-overlooked rooms and areas where many things can exist at once: love, sex, pain, trauma, secrets. Nair presents a family with stories and experiences enmeshed in its fabric, and how these secrets become rents when the entire family comes together in the singular space of a home. The tension is pinned between the closed doors behind which conversations are held. As we watch the film we get the sense that, even if we are viewing a scene set in a certain room, much more is going on in the house than meets the eye. The deep-seated anxiety embedded within the film comes to the fore through the revelation of a pattern of continuous abuse occurring within the family. At this point, all of the seams binding the home and the family together, are torn. The facade of a perfect, happy family breaks down and the characters are left to contend with the truth. 

The reason I love Monsoon Wedding so deeply—a love that has been sustained over ten years— is because it is honest about everything that it is: it is a wedding movie, but also a film that critically explores marriage, sex, class, abuse, trauma, secrecy, and illusion. The viewer is never entirely sure of which neat genre-box the film ticks, and by remaining resolute in transgressing these cinematic borders, Monsoon Wedding does not exist as any one thing—it is a complex story about a family and the home they live in: closed doors, creaking floors and all. 

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‘The Irishman’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-irishman-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-irishman-review/#respond Fri, 29 Nov 2019 16:09:22 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18379

Kerem Uzdiyen reviews Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited gangster epic.

This review contains no spoilers.

Did Martin Scorsese follow up on his recent “real cinema” remarks by delivering some really good cinema? Yes, he absolutely did.

The Irishman is the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a truck driver who becomes tangled up in the Philadelphia crime scene and forms separate partnerships with union teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and mob leader Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). The film tackles quite well-known historical events that I personally did not know about going into the film; however, I believe this actually made the film more exciting, never knowing quite what to expect. 

Scorsese seemingly goes back to the good old ’90s, bringing De Niro and Pesci along with him. The comparisons to Casino and Goodfellas undoubtedly begin before the film does. However, Al Pacino (this is his first collaboration with the director) is not the only update to Scorsese’s cinematic world; while the film mostly takes place in the ’60s and ’70s, the film has a fresh element to it that seems very fitting for 2019. Very few films tackle the past with such loyalty and freshness, and this ultimately separates The Irishman from both its counterparts from the past and films that have come out in the last few years. After years of acting in tepid films or not at all, De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci show their maturation into cinema’s older leading men. Scorsese proves that he is as masterful as ever, the film showcasing even more of his signature style than 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

So, let’s talk about the negatives first. Or, should I say, the single negative – and, no, this is not nit-picking a perfect movie, this is actually a bit of a problem. With a runtime of 3 hours and 29 minutes, The Irishman is a very long film, and, being very dialogue-based, it has a rather slow pace until the last act. I will admit, there were times I got bored and had to check my watch to see how much of the film we had gotten through. While the length didn’t bother me too much, the friend I saw it with had trouble sitting through the middle part; consequently, the running time caused him to have mixed thoughts about the film. In all honesty, you could easily cut 30 to 45 minutes from this film and it would be the same, if not better. A film that is too long risks the audience having a hard time following multiple characters and plot points, or weaker arcs being built, which can frustrate audiences. An undeveloped plot strand throughout the film is the relationship between Frank and his daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin). In fact, his daughter’s relationship with Hoffa (who becomes Frank’s mentor and possibly best friend) was somehow better developed. Admittedly, I would not have thought of this as an issue if the film was shorter, but it is disappointing considering the film’s length.

Despite it’s long running time, I believe The Irishman will be heralded as a classic, alongside Casino and Goodfellas. The average age of the main acting trio in the film is 77; they are so old that Pesci has barely acted since Casino in 1995. It’s easy to assume that, given their age and experience, Scorsese and some of his old pals would just be having a little bit of fun without giving a lot of attention or energy. However, I was shocked at the enormous amount of effort all three men put into the film and how new and fresh Scorsese’s direction felt. All their talents combine to make the film feel absolutely alive and monumental. I doubt this will be De Niro and Pacino’s last film, but I think they should ride off into the sunset after this one. De Niro leads with subtlety, never stealing the show entirely but always in control. It doesn’t feel like he’s acting at all; he delivers the performance so naturally that Robert De Niro and Frank Sheeran are indistinguishable by the end. The use of de-aging, especially on De Niro’s face, concerned me at the beginning, but the visual presentation of the film as a whole made the obvious visual effect completely fade from my attention.

Now that the Best Leading Actor nominee is out of the way, let’s talk about our two possible Best Supporting Actor nominees. Al Pacino gives a fantastically charismatic performance as the larger-than-life figure, Jimmy Hoffa. The film, along with Pacino’s performance, crafts Hoffa into a character the audience deeply cares about, no matter his flaws. Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zaillian find different ways to show who Jimmy Hoffa is, sticking to a “show don’t tell” approach that lets the audience grow gradually fonder of the character until the very end. The biggest surprise – along with what I thought was the most impressive performance in the film – comes from Joe Pesci. His performance is so nuanced and convincing that it feels lived in, almost like he has been living life as Bufalino for the last 20 years. His commanding presence garners respect and inspires intimidation; while Hoffa comes and goes, Russ is a constant fixture brimming with charisma for three and a half hours. I can already say Pesci is my favourite for the Oscar race come February. 

A great writer is obviously necessary to make way for such great performances and Zaillian delivers, perfectly crafting dialogue that keeps the audience captivated for the lengthy runtime. Both the gangsters and the unionists are portrayed in obvious detail, doing justice to the source material (I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt) and historical record. The humour surprised me the most: the film absolutely excels with subtle, clever humour all the way through, making it so much more fun to sit through. I was surprised at how many times I cracked up laughing at a gangster film. The cinematography and production design is also what you have come to expect from Scorsese and his crew – consistently beautiful and grandiose, and always fitting the mood of a scene.

The Irishman is a perfect demonstration of Scorsese’s genius, at no point more obvious than the ending. As this is a no-spoiler review, I can’t tell you much, but the ending of this film is slightly unexpected and memorable, cleverly completing the three hour-plus ride with a powerful demonstration of the ramifications of mob life. The final shot leaves the audience to think about the true message lying underneath, made even more impactful by the old age of its director and stars.

In conclusion, if you have a long attention span, definitely see this film in the theatre. If you don’t have a long attention span, definitely see this film on Netflix. Overall, definitely see this film.


The Irishman is playing in cinemas worldwide and is now available to stream on Netflix. Check out the trailer below:

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Visual poetry in The Double Life of Veronique https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/visual-poetry-in-the-double-life-of-veronique/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/visual-poetry-in-the-double-life-of-veronique/#respond Mon, 25 Nov 2019 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18383

Sofía Korous Vázquez explores the exquisite visuals of a Kieślowski masterpiece. 

This past week FilmSoc screened Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991), a filmic whirlwind of poetic images that draws viewers under its spell with its bold yet delicate beauty. Every frame is magic; here are just some of my favourite images that embody The Double Life’s creative language.

Reflections, mirrored worlds, glass

Doubles, dualities

Worlds within worlds, marionettes

Beams of light, warm and cold

Interior spaces, greens, and reds

Camerawork, gliding, skew

The red frame

Kieślowski really out here making 5 seconds of red frame the most engrossing thing to ever grace a screen!

Later today, we are screening Children of Men. It’s free to all UCL students and no society membership is required. Come along!

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Film Soc Shares their Favourite Frightening Films https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/film-soc-shares-their-favourite-frightening-films/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/film-soc-shares-their-favourite-frightening-films/#respond Wed, 30 Oct 2019 18:00:58 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18251

A selection of our writers review and recommend their favourite horror films to add to your Halloween watch list. Check them out if you dare.

Dumplings (2004)

Angel Heart (1987)

Angel Heart is a creepy neo-noir psychological thriller that follows drifting private investigator Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) and his descent into a cryptic missing person’s case in 1950s New Orleans. Hired by the mysterious Louis Cyphre (Robert DeNiro), Angel stumbles around chain-smoking between visits to dusty colonial mansions, gritty blues shacks, and steamy gumbo huts, detangling the bigger mess of secret love affairs, black magic, and much spilled blood. The film’s atmosphere goes hard with the Louisiana imagery, obviously capitalising off New Orleans’ ‘voodoo’ reputation (is there potential for critical discussion of this — probably yes), producing a spooky, uneasy vibe. The film also features a very young Lisa Bonet as the seductive, seventeen-year-old Epiphany Proudfoot.

If you don’t watch this for the slow thrill, artful soundtrack, or X-rated erotica, watch it for DeNiro’s character’s innovative technique for peeling a hard-boiled egg: tap, tap, tap, crunchy roll. I can confirm it works really well and changes the game. And if that’s not enough, Christopher Nolan has also cited it as heavy inspiration for Memento.

Sofia Kourous Vázquez

The Evil Dead (1981)

Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is a deeply cool film. It wears dark glasses and a leather jacket, and listens to bands you haven’t heard of. It feels effortless. But, like all things cool, behind the veneer of indifference lies a great deal of hard work. Without much in the way of professional training between the entire cast and crew, Raimi & co. set out to create a fiercely imaginative film with all the debauchery and violence promised but never delivered by triple feature horror B-movies. The plot faintly gestures at the ‘kids stay at the evil cabin in the woods’ prototype, but it is a half-finished thought that steps aside fairly quickly in favour of blood, guts, and gore. Tim Philo’s intense, relaxed yet incredibly precise cinematography lets Raimi show off the incredible make-up and practical effects by Tom Sullivan, a novice who seemingly only ever worked with Raimi. The camera swings around and upside down, zooming along the ground as restless as the angered spirits. Throughout all of this, Bruce Campbell (and his chin) dominate the screen as he bleeds, screams and brutally massacres what remains of his friends. The Evil Dead is a riveting, fascinating experience which leaves you breathless, chuckling, and desperate to get out into the woods with a bucket of corn syrup and a gaggle of misfits.

Jamie Cradden


Surprise! Your girlfriend reveals she’s pregnant and gives birth to what looks like a reptilian demon-baby. We’ve all been there, and David Lynch’s 1977 debut film turned cult-classic Eraserhead revisits this relatable dilemma. Swap jump scares for low-grade dread by watching tall-haired Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) care for his baby’s inexplicable blisters; because nothing’s spookier than parenthood and the fear that your offspring will look like a fleshy sperm with nostrils. Drifting across the film’s monochromatic interiors, you’ll encounter a cadre of friendly faces such as the Man in the Planet (Jack Fisk) and Beautiful Girl Across the Hall (Judith Anna Roberts). My personal favorite is the Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near), who grins and sidesteps with the delight of an older, deformed Shirley Temple. Put bluntly, watch this movie if you want to feel like you’ve been dropped into a sensory-deprivation tank and left there for so long that you lose to ability to distinguish between seconds and minutes, before and after, and what it’s like to have a body and have it move through space to meet a form of resistance that isn’t a wave or ripple; and to grip something hard, so hard that the solidity of the object presses deep into your hand and makes it numb or bloat or crumble; and to eat a tomato, to have a ripe tomato to pop and sink in your mouth like a loud vivid-red deflation; so that you can feel the film of the skin slide between your teeth and tongue and shred it into thin strips with the sharps of your molars, quickly, before you forget what a tomato is, or what eating is, or mouths are, or red, or words, or thoughts, or forgetting—

Harry Mizumoto

Described upon release as “instant junk” and “a wretched excess,” The Thing paved the way for visually repulsive horror (John Carpenter walked so Ari Aster could run!) onscreen. The film follows a group of American researchers in Antarctica who encounter “the Thing,” an alien parasite that can assimilate and imitate any organism. Once they realize any one of them could become the Thing, the group grows increasingly paranoid and frenzied, leading to a complete derailing of their mission. The film is worth watching for its special effects alone ($1.5 million of the $15 million budget was spent on “creature effects” such as rubber and food products), but isn’t for the faint of heart. In one particularly disgusting scene, the Thing bursts out of someone’s chest, bites off the arm of a doctor, and then turns into a disgusting spider creature. Equal parts horrifying and fun, The Thing takes everything you love about 80s movies and completely ruins them; kind of like Alien, but worse.

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‘The Lighthouse’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-lighthouse-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-lighthouse-review/#respond Mon, 28 Oct 2019 18:00:21 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18239

Kirese Narinesingh reviews Robert Eggers’ acclaimed new film. 

This review contains minor spoilers.

At one point in The Lighthouse, Robert Pattinson’s forlorn, spiritually exhausted character finally kills a bothersome seagull in an outburst of fury and violence, smashing it against the ground vigorously until nothing remains but its feathers and a broken body. The scene leaves the audience visually arrested, unable to move; a type of paralysis only achieved by the work of a director who knows what true horror is, and whose films actively reinvent the genre.

The Lighthouse takes place in 19th-century Maine, set against a harsh landscape of fog and interminable waves that crash onto the lighthouse’s rocks. The endless stream of noise deeply perturbs Pattinson’s Ephraim, while Willem Defoe’s rugged veteran lighthouse keeper, Thomas Wake, is humorously unaffected. Wake seems to have walked straight out of Moby Dick, possessing the nonsensical speech and ridiculous antics of a nineteenth century seaman. The dynamic first appears as no more than “gloomy, quiet youngster meets swashbuckling pirate,” but slowly develops into much more, as the unlikely pair are fated to spend four weeks together in isolation. The film’s premise immediately evokes Bergman’s Persona, with its similar feature of two protagonists on a deserted landscape, one of who becomes increasingly neurotic.

Director Robert Eggers seems to realize this particular situation can go anyway he wants; all creative directions are explored, culminating in a genre-defying blend of horror, comedy and psychological drama. 

The film slowly devolves into a dance of unadulterated madness. As both characters learn to coexist, with Ephraim admittedly bearing the brunt of this encounterhe is forced to put up with Wake’s endless stream of fartingthey seem to grow increasingly mad. Ephraim’s madness is more pronounced, as he spends his days tormented by a certain seagull, constantly sexually frustrated and masturbating to a small relic of a mermaid. The pitiful performance is masterfully executed, with Pattinson managing to hold his own against an actor of Willem Defoe’s stature.

Defoe’s character Wake, however, may be the key to the film’s madness; he certainly incites it.  It’s not that evident at first (or maybe it is, in retrospect) that he might be slightly off, but this slowly changes. Defoe plays the role brilliantly, crafting a madness comprised of bursts of clarity amidst the insanity. He ironically warns Ephraim of the dangers of teetering madness, encouraging him to drink to stave it off, yet simultaneously imposes one unbreakable rule that causes the tension to turn into madness: the lamp at the top of the lighthouse is off-limits. It seems such a trivial thing, but for Ephraim, the lamp becomes a feverish, infectious obsession that Wake passes on to his apprentice. Eggers’ most interesting scenes come forth in these interactions, where the madness of each man seems to intersect and merge, their circumstances producing depravity, dramatic outbursts, and creative insults laced with deep frustration.

Can you blame them for going mad? They’re the only two real characters in the whole movie.  Yet it still begs the question of what exactly causes this madness to escalateis it the barren landscape of the lighthouse, with its burning light and deafening foghorn, or the intense claustrophobia? The film is shot in black and white, allowing Eggers to ironically expand his palette by playing with and revitalizing the nuances of early horror cinema. Similar to films like Persona and The Innocents, the director uses the subtle greyness to explore a descent into the abyss of psycho-sexual neuroses.

Can we consider this a horror film? If so, this is Robert Eggers’ second foray into the genre. His first film, The Witch, was just as grounded in authenticity, with characters left to their own devices. But this film is evidently a different beast. The source of horror is left completely unseen and only hinted at throughout the film: is it the ominous, ubiquitous seagull, or the dream/nightmare of the mermaid, who tantalizingly and mockingly haunts Pattinson’s sexuality?

The Lighthouse has all the exciting suspense and whiplash thrills of horror, but I am still hesitant at the idea of firmly rooting it within the genre. The film feels like more than conventional horror, comprising a mixture of drama and psychological thrills, its protagonists proving more terrifying than any external force. There is no true supernatural entity; only two lonely men on a deserted island left to their own devices.

Once again, I watched Robert Eggers not only exceed but obliterate the expectations that come with making and releasing a horror film, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The Lighthouse will be released in the United Kingdom on 31 January 2020 and is also showing at CINECITY 2019 in Brighton this November. Check out the trailer below: 

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‘Our Ladies’ Review – BFI London Film Festival 2019 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/our-ladies-review-bfi-london-film-festival-2019/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/our-ladies-review-bfi-london-film-festival-2019/#respond Thu, 24 Oct 2019 17:15:35 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18114

Editor KC Wingert reviews Michael Caton-Jones’ female-led film at BFI LFF 2019. 

The Scottish comedy Our Ladies made its world premiere on Friday, 4th October, as part of the BFI London Film Festival. Given the popularity and critical success of the Alan Warner novel on which Our Ladies is based—which also spawned a West End musical adaptation from Lee Hall (Rocketman, Billy Elliot)—the film bills itself as a hilariously entertaining romp, documenting a day in the lives of five schoolgirls from the Scottish Highlands. Set in the mid-‘90s, Our Ladies could be an ode to navigating raging hormones and desperate crushes similar to Ten Things I Hate About You or a touching coming-of-age story á la Lady Bird. Unfortunately, Our Ladies is not on par with these nostalgic genre classics, missing a few of the key features that make its mid-‘90s teen comedy companions so great.

Orla, Fionnula, Kylah, Rachell, and Amanda are the self-proclaimed “partiers” of their Catholic school’s choir. They’re all completely obsessed with sex, gossiping about who’s shagged whom the entire bus ride down to a choir competition in Edinburgh. The girls make plans to spend the day drinking, shopping, and finding men to sleep with before their big performance that evening. However, as tensions among them unexpectedly begin to rise, they split off from each other, embarking on their own Edinburgh adventures.

Not all of these girls are as experienced as their open attitudes towards sex imply. Orla (Tallulah Greive), for instance, begins the film praying to a portrait of Jesus hung in her room that she might have sex that evening because, unlike Jesus’ mother, she “doesn’t want to be a virgin her whole life.” Fionnula (Abigail Lawrie), on the other hand, has slept with plenty of guys, but what she’d really like is to sleep with a girl—one of the few secrets she keeps from her friends. With womanhood fast approaching, the girls are forced to think hard about their futures perhaps for the first time, and the conclusions to which they begin to come make them realise they may have less in common with each other than they thought. For some of them, the thought of being a teen mum and staying in their small Highland town forever is the dream—while others in the group look upon that attitude with derision.

Though these characters’ separate journeys are entertaining to watch and elicit several genuine laughs, they get in the way of a cohesive plot. In fact, a lot of the characters’ actions feel less like they have narrative purpose and more like they’ve been shoved in as a punchline. The narrative structure of Our Ladies feels awkward and ham-fisted right down to the corny, character-by-character epilogues.

(Can I please take a brief moment to say how much I hate epilogues in fiction films? If this character’s future isn’t important enough to merit a sequel, it’s not important enough to show an inspirational music-backed freezeframe of that fictional character’s face with some text telling us where they fictionally moved after leaving their fictional hometown and what kind of fictional job they have, in this work of FICTION).

Our Ladies’ queer subplot ends on a triumphant note that feels wholly unearned, and the entire main conflict of the film is ameliorated with a hackneyed kumbaya moment after which everyone just carries on as usual. There’s even a random, inexplicable musical number written in, which feels out of place in a film that otherwise seems to be making an attempt at gritty realism. The final act simply devolves into a bunch of jokey bits that are meant to be funny but because of the subject matter—underage girls getting involved with older men—are actually just very uncomfortable to watch.

A good coming-of-age film should be one that almost anyone can see a little bit of themselves in. Unfortunately, Our Ladies doles out characters that are unlikable and unrealistic. It deals with the hormonally-charged boy-craziness of a group of teenage girls in a way that doesn’t highlight the hilarity and awkwardness of exploring one’s sexuality in the way so many great teen comedies do. Rather, it feels exploitative; the cast of young girls is depictd as gladly flirting with unbelievably creepy older men, having sex while completely wasted and then casually laughing it off later, and reacting nonchalantly when a man exposes himself to them and proposes an orgy.

Perhaps this exploration of teenage girls’ sexualities misses the mark because, despite the fact that the main cast is entirely female, neither the writer nor the director of this film a woman. In fact, Our Ladies’ unequivocally odd choice of writer/director is Michael Caton-Jones – otherwise best known for directing the 2002 feature Basic Instinct 2, which Wikipedia describes as an “erotic crime thriller” and Rotten Tomatoes describes as “bad.”

Our Ladies comes to us at a time when ‘90s nostalgia is in high demand and women’s stories are being celebrated in film more often than ever. The film has an incredibly talented young cast and a promising pitch, but potential alone cannot make a film good. Our Ladies lacks authenticity in its hollow attempt at sex-positivity, and because it deals with the stories of teenage girls, that failure comes across as not only sexist but also as downright creepy. I’m not going to say conclusively that men can’t tell girls’ coming-of-age stories—Bo Burnham proves they can with his 2018 feature Eighth Grade, for instance. However, Caton-Jones (who, again, DIRECTED BASIC INSTINCT 2) demonstrates that he does not possess the insight into the mind of a teenage girl necessary to tell this story well.

Our Ladies has not been issued a UK release date yet.

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‘Joker’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/joker-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/joker-review/#respond Mon, 21 Oct 2019 17:07:21 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18186

Audrey Ciancioni and Margot Lumb review Todd Phillips’ divisive new take on the infamous DC villain.

This review contains minor spoilers. 

The newly released Joker is dense in references to the DC Comics Universe, yet the controversy surrounding the film regards its artistic and ideological aspects, rather than the movie’s role in the existing superhero canon. Joker tells the story of how the infamous titular character could have come to be. To do so, Todd Phillips’ newest work attempts to take the form of a social critique, exhibiting society’s callous disregard for the feelings and wellbeing of the weak and the different.

The film operates on the assumption that the world is irrational and toxic, this nihilistic worldview permeating each frame. Gotham City is more than a general setting; it is alive, breathing, coughing – a character in and of itself. Transportation scenes – whether outside in buses and police cars or underground in the subway – exist somewhere between a scary dream and a beautiful nightmare. The city is the movie’s ultimate antagonist, leading souls astray and making havoc of people’s lives.

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a miserable, pathos-filled freak, turns into a monster in spite of himself. Society in this filthy city, overflowing with garbage and sliced up into connected rails and roads of loneliness, is rude and violent: “They don’t give a shit about people like you,” as Arthur’s social worker aptly puts it. A group of boys assault Arthur with a sign, transforming him into a bleeding hunchback; his alleged friend, an abusive and condescending Judas named Randall, betrays him; three drunk young men gratuitously attack him on the subway. Joker forms under the twitching lights of the underground tunnel, through the repeated strikes of his head against the glass telephone booth.

Joker was heavily criticised immediately upon release, with many claiming that the film not only blames society for turning the main character into a villain but also justifies the violence he commits as a result. However, Arthur’s violence is never excused; even if it could be interpreted that he is primarily a victim of difficult circumstances, the movie does not follow that narrative. Rather, it complexly rewrites a globally famous character so that, for the first time on the big screen, we see him as the main character of his own fiction – without making him a hero.

Even if Arthur believes he is right to express his anger, this does not excuse his exerting violence. The direct proof of this is an almost unbearable tension throughout the film, close to that of a horror movie. The movements of the scrawny clown are all too straight and stretched, his laughter all too loud, his smiles too tight, the music too prominent – the movie slows to force patience when viewing the misanthropic acts it pictures (such as gratuitous bullying, fridge-bathing, and knife-slaughtering).

Arthur sometimes serves as society’s scapegoat; other times, he is merely a lost soul among millions. The character alternates between moments of seeming-innocence and open violence; moments of individual significance, others of collective uprising. Hence, although being a grown adult, he remains child-like.

Arthur laughs like a child, behaves like a child, even smokes like a scared child. He is a ridiculous caricature; a running clown with fat shoes, a Charlie-Chaplin-puppet, a dummy dancing along to piano music. He expresses everything in an extremely direct manner, creating the impression that something surprising (or shocking) could happen at any moment. Arthur’s naivety and heedlessness make him act in embarrassing ways, leading to uncomfortable moments. He becomes cartoonish in his misfortune, and the viewer is invited to mirror Gotham, reacting with guilty laughter, betraying some sense of superiority over the clown’s all-wrong moments.

Yet, Joker is not a funny movie; it is a movie about laughter. As Arthur claims in his final speech, in front of a live, rich and well-bred audience: “You choose what is funny, and what is not.” In this final scene, a wonderfully mastered mise en abyme projects the viewers onto the TV-show’s audience. We become a faceless crowd, laughing under the scenic light, watching the slow transformation of the stage into a disturbing playground for the Joker to become the star of his own act.

Joker is not a political manifesto. There is no lecture being made, no incitement of violence. If violence is indeed pictured as a rational way to deal with an overly irrational world, Todd Phillips does not present it as a good response to society’s abuses; he presents it as one possible response, leaving the spectator to decide for themselves.

Joker is a difficult movie to deal with because it operates on many levels of meaning. What we can do is define it by what it is not: it is not a critique of society and is not searching to impose itself as the one true interpretation of the character. Although this could be said of any movie, the saying “it is what you make of it” particularly fits Joker. The only valid criticism one can have? The movie provides no answers, not one.

Joker is showing in cinemas worldwide. Check out the trailer below:

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‘Family Romance, LLC’ Review – BFI London Film Festival 2019 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/family-romance-llc-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/family-romance-llc-review/#respond Sat, 19 Oct 2019 14:04:37 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18063

Milo Garner reviews Werner Herzog’s intimate new film at BFI LFF 2019.

Werner Herzog has a penchant for representing the alienated. His great films of the ’70s and ’80s have always centred on those who have lost touch – or who have never been in touch – with the world around them:  the raving king Aguirre stumbling on his forsaken raft; the vampire Nosferatu, reduced to a lovelorn welp; the wandering, ever-lost Stroszek drifting through the hinterlands of America. Even in his more conventional output – not least the Nicholas Cage vehicle Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – his protagonists seem a step removed from their reality. Herzog himself might be described similarly. He is by no means a loner, nor a reject – few rejects nab a guest spot in The Simpsons, let alone a role in the latest Star Wars project – but nonetheless he seems to share something of the errant madness that infects many of his leading players.

His latest film Family Romance, LLC considers alienation from its inverse. It concerns Ishii Yuchii, the founder of the eponymous company, which provides a rental service for family members and friends. Though much like something pulled from a Charlie Kaufman script, this company is genuine, and while the incidents in the film are largely scripted, they often drift into the realm of documentary – a realm in which Herzog is, of course, immersed. The Japan of his film, and, by extension, the Japan of reality, is a country wherein alienation has become the norm – a country in which a company like Family Romance not only exists, but feels much at home. This film is sci-fi, dystopian, but not with much need to invent or fabricate.

The aesthetic of the film is notable in this respect. Shot on a handheld digital camera (operated by Herzog himself, with additional footage from producer Roc Morin), a visual style reminiscent of low-budget filmmaking techniques pervades throughout. The privilege of Herzog’s name is difficult to ignore; had a new director submitted a film of this technical quality, there is little chance his film would feature at such a prestigious festival as LFF.

However, this low-quality style – the rollicking, imprecise camerawork of an aging director using a relatively cheap camera – suggests a distinctly relevant aesthetic question. Considering the fictional premise, the imprecision implies an artificiality, as though the means of this film’s making are constantly revealed and thus a constant reminder of its untruth. This artificiality is then complemented by its opposite:  much of what takes place in the film is inescapably real. An extended scene of children playing with and petting a hedgehog is essentially documentary, as is the sequence of crowds gathering around a certain stunt pulled in the middle of the film. In these moments the ramshackle production no longer suggests falsity, as though the film exists on a thin line between an unconvincing fiction and an uncomfortable reality. No doubt much of the amateurism is a result of inexpert hands and low budget, but the effect suggested by these choices synthesises with the film otherwise closely and consistently.

The narrative of the film follows Ishii Yuchii – played, naturally, by himself – as he completes various jobs for his company. The most significant is to fill in as someone’s ex-husband, acting as a returned father to a young Mahiro (too young to recognize true- from false-dad). The ethics here are obviously sketchy, but more distinctly interesting is the question of affect. The happiness Mahiro experiences with her faux-father is no less ‘real’ than it would have been with her actual (and still absent) father.

This conclusion leads to the further observation that so much of the modern world is constructed through falsehood. Instagram is briefly mentioned (though not with the dismissive grimace of an angsty boomer; Herzog’s interest in burgeoning tech has aged him well). In this increasingly pervasive online sphere, reality and unreality are becoming more indistinct. In a chemical sense – the sense of dopamine and serotonin – the actions of Ishii Yuchi and his company could be considered noble. They are providing happiness where it would otherwise not exist. They are perhaps not a symptom of an increasingly isolated world, but its cure – the first step towards a future where artificiality and authenticity are intertwined and indistinguishable. This idea is not far from Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, a film that considers a similar ground to Family Romance, LLC, if more elegantly.

This sentiment, however, does suggest an unease – perhaps an orientalist, exotic discomfort for a Western observer. This burgeoning culture peals like a cheap sci-fi novel, and not one of the utopic bent. Herzog, while generally reserved in his judgement, seems to sympathise with this assessment; his inclusion of ‘LLC’ in the title, as noted by Peter Debruge for Variety, seems an ironic undermining of the two words prior. Eric Kohn, writing for Indiewire, further suggests that the film engages in a subtle critique of such widespread and all-consuming capitalism as Family Romance requires, in which commerce now encompasses friends, family, and love – all things that money supposedly cannot buy.

For Herzog, though, love is the problem. To quote the late Daniel Johnston, ‘true love will find us in the end,’ and this film proves no different. The dramatic crux – late in arrival but no less affective – concerns Ishii Yuchii and the realisation that he has begun to develop a genuine affection for his surrogate daughter. This is calamitous for his work. The ghost in the machine is just that – the artificiality of this new world can only function so long as its purveyors remain genuinely detached and unaffected. This, Herzog supposes, quite contradicts the human spirit.

While this is the lasting impression, it is not a conclusion entirely. Earlier in the film, Herzog follows Ishii Yuchii into a ‘robot hotel’ – a gimmick establishment in which the hotel staff and even its fish are robots. Herzog here suggests a cyborg future in which capitalist service might circumvent the foibles of human limitation. Even then, the director is wont to consider beyond this bleak premonition. Speaking a line that can be read in no voice but Herzog’s, Ishii asks the hotel’s (human) proprietor whether robots can dream – a throwaway ‘shower thought,’ for the moment. More so, however, this is Herzog thinking beyond the gimmickry of contemporary robotics. True love will find us in the end, sure – but perhaps it’ll find them, too. A scrappy, micro-budgeted, and inconsistent docu-drama, Family Romance, LLC rests far from Herzog’s most compelling output, but it is nonetheless a cogent, even affecting investigation of concepts central to humankind’s present and future.


Family Romance, LLC is showing in select cinemas. Check out the trailer below:

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‘The Antenna’ Review – BFI London Film Festival 2019 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-antenna-alternative-review-bfi-london-film-festival-2019/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-antenna-alternative-review-bfi-london-film-festival-2019/#respond Sat, 12 Oct 2019 17:04:29 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=18058

Milo Garner meets Orçun Behram’s horror debut, The Antenna, at BFI LFF 2019.

I met The Antenna at a party and he wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I was in the kitchen when he approached me, and initially, I’ll say it, I wasn’t unimpressed. He had a sort of stylish way about him. Not exactly well-dressed, no, but he’d thought it through. Nearly postmodern, angular, almost smart but not quite. He spoke to me first – of course he would, I would later think – something about an anecdote he’d heard about a man who fell off the roof of a tower block. The whole thing was very bizarre, very deadpan.

The music was quiet at this point – someone had put on one of Aphex Twin’s slow tunes – and The Antenna seemed to be in his element, talking in that kind of husky whisper that suits certain men. But soon after, things started to devolve. I wasn’t entirely sure what he was drinking – for some reason he’d poured whatever beer it was into a clear tumbler – but he had told me it was a lot like Kronenbourg. But not quite. Watered down maybe? Or, as I later came to suspect, his own imitation brew. He offered it to me enough, assuming – for a reason quite beyond me – that it’d be in some way to my taste. And sure, I do like Kronenbourg. I’d go so far as to say I really like Kronenbourg, in the right situation. But this diluted swill only got worse the closer I got to the dregs. And The Antenna seemed intent on not letting me leave the kitchen, that much seemed clear.

After telling me about the man who fell off the roof he segued – quite incoherently, I should add – into what would become an endless rant about television. Nothing particular, mind, just that TV was bad, and rotting our brains, and whatever the fuck else cliché you could pull out of a ’90s WhiteDot screed. He grabbed my shoulder emphatically more than once, only to let go with a theatrical raising of both arms at some sort of climatic ‘revelation’. I was meant to be wowed. I was not wowed.

Eventually, someone else was pulled into his gust of garrulous vapidity. The music had by this point degraded to an assault of ’80s pop hits. This girl, the new arrival, did not allow me the quick exit I was hoping for. Instead I was caught in a strange crossfire of The Antenna hitting on her, all the while keeping up his desperately trite narrative of TV-brain-rot with me. This would result in lengthy asides (during which the emphatic shoulder grab would reappear) where he would try and amuse her with what I assume were his best recollections of various true crime headlines. None of them were very entertaining, and in all honesty, I quite wished he could get to the end of his tirade sooner rather than later. The girl did leave, finally (what I’d do for that confidence, lady), but only after she and The Antenna shared a good minute or two of silent eye contact.

‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ was playing. His hand gripped my shoulder tightly. Christ. It was a little before this that his bullshit had outdone itself. He had begun to tie in a variety of statist conspiracies into his TV narrative – they’re behind it, he said loudly. They’re the ones making sure we all have a working set, he said even more loudly. His endgame was a kind of drone army of TV-infected slaves doing the government’s bidding or something. He even said something about them being faceless, but not like in a literary sense – literally faceless. Like in that episode of Doctor Who. On reflection, a lot like that episode of Doctor Who. I asked him if he’s seen it. Stupid question, no TV. That one’s on me. Then something truly inexplicable happened. Rodger Waters’ ‘Amused to Death’ blasted from the next room.

‘Finally, some real music.’ He skipped away, completely satisfied with how that conversation played out.

I finished the remnants of his fake-Kronenbourg and regretted it. What a waste of fucking time.

The Antenna has yet to get himself a UK release date, but you can watch the trailer below:

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‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ Review – BFI London Film Festival 2019 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/waiting-for-the-barbarians-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/waiting-for-the-barbarians-review/#respond Thu, 10 Oct 2019 16:50:48 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17956

Emma Davis reviews Ciro Guerra’s latest colonial drama.

Waiting for the Barbarians follows a man called the Magistrate (Mark Rylance) over the course of a full year running the outpost of a small frontier town situated in ‘The Empire’. The film starts with the torrid arrival of Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp), a cruel and efficient officer who has been sent to quell any indigenous peoples’ revolt against the Empire. The Magistrate works closely with the oppressive Colonel, which leads the Magistrate to question his loyalty to the Empire – an uncertainty that acts as a catalyst to his eventual downfall. Despite a colour palette reminiscent of the Adventures of Tintin comics, this film takes on a surprisingly dark and serious tone.

This is Colombian director Ciro Guerra’s fifth feature film and first English-language one. Waiting for the Barbarians bears similarity to the director’s Oscar-nominated Empress of the Serpent and his crime drama Birds of Passage, which both explore the tumultuous relationship between Colombian indigenous peoples and their oppressors. Extrapolated to a more general context,  Waiting for the Barbarians centers the psyche of the coloniser, not the colonised. The script is penned by Afrikaner J. M. Coetzee, writer of the novel by the same name, who grew up in South Africa during apartheid. His best-known works are largely about people feeling like foreigners where they live—an idea that is explored with the Magistrate’s character in Waiting For The Barbarians.

Mark Rylance handles the character of the Magistrate astutely. His character is gentle yet strictly bureaucratic, a disposition nuanced by an obsession with the local people and culture. The audience feels unease as Rylance’s creepy performance and a strong script deftly handle issues of fetishization and the colonial gaze. The character of Colonel Joll serves as a great adversary to Ryland’s Magistrate. Johnny Depp plays the Colonel as cold, cruel, and deeply unsettling, a portrayal that avoids becoming a caricature thanks to the small amount of screen time given to his character. The body language and costume design of the Colonel juxtaposes that of the Magistrate, with the Colonel’s decadent black-and-gold uniform providing a stark contrast to the practical khaki clothing of the Magistrate. When the pair interact, their scenes reveal tension beneath the characters’ polite formalities. 

The rest of the characters are not utilised as well as Rylance and Depp. As Officer Mandel, Robert Pattinson makes an excellent late entrance to the film, but the rest of his time on-screen feels indulgent and is used to demonstrate increasing brutality against revolutionary suspects. Aside from these three men, Gana Bayarsaikhan plays a woman from the ‘barbarian’ nomadic tribes, simply called The Girl. Tall and beautiful, with a tragic backstory and incredibly muddled storyline, she simply exists to further the narrative development of the Magistrate. This issue extends to the rest of the supporting cast; while they could be interesting figures in their own right, they simply prop up their protagonist. 

The film plays with lots of ideas, but these ideas fail to impress. The whole movie feels dated, especially the tropes of colonial fiction used. The second half contains more physical violence than the first, exposing a greater depth of suffering to the Magistrate and, in turn, the audience. What pleasure would an audience receive from seeing a uniformed white man beating a row of Asian people? What do I, as a viewer, discover about human brutality by seeing women and children of colour being beaten? What can I learn about the tension between revolution and reform as forms of social justice? This movie portrays violence and suffering without actually delivering the substance it desperately wants to get across. Clunky narrative and weak thematic points let down an otherwise stylish film.

A modern audience would benefit from specific depictions of the injustices that speak truth to colonialism’s impact. For instance, I prefer the work of director Claire Denis in her cinematic explorations of the ‘white saviour’; compared to Denis’ filmography, Guerra’s direction and Coetzee’s writing look weak. Ava DuVernay’s series When They See Us takes the perspective of the victims of a wrongful conviction by New York Department of Justice. Any adaptation of Madame Butterfly will show how a white man in power falling for and seeking to protect a woman of colour in his imperial domain was a staple of 20th Century Asian representation. In literature, Nadine Gordimer puts nonwhite South Africans in the centre of her stories on apartheid South Africa, in contrast to J. M. Coetzee’s more limited scope. Gordimer is thus known for more politically-charged writing about apartheid South Africa than Coetzee (You can read about their debate on censorship around Salman Rushdie’s work here). When it comes to examining colonialism, I think it’s inappropriate to insist, as Waiting for the Barbarians does, on an almost fantastical setting when the costume design and colonial themes strongly invoke the very real memory of European violence. As such, exploring the perspective of the oppressor, no matter how sympathetic they are, is dangerous — and frankly, it’s boring.

The film explores the validity of indigenous peoples’ knowledge, and this produces the most compelling metaphor. As the Magistrate tells the newly-arrived colonial armed forces, the local people know the land better than the colonisers of the Empire. When suspects are apprehended by the armed forces, the violence is pointed: the indigenous captives’ eyes are ruined to blindness. They can no longer see the world around them or the land they live on. Their feet are burned, which also symbolically ruins the lifestyle of nomadic peoples: they are now deprived of the freedom to roam without subjugation and obedience to the Empire. But again, it is not particularly insightful to reap the suffering of people of colour on-screen when they are unnamed characters. In this film, they are reduced in the gaze of the Magistrate, their coloniser, as he questions his own allegiance to the Empire.

The inadequate handling of these narrative features distracts from the main cinematic elements of the film. No matter how well the cinematography serves the desert and mountains, or how intricate the costume design, the film’s analysis of colonialism feels strange amidst the realities of our modern discourse. It misses the mark on what kind of stories are needed today to discuss issues and repercussions of colonial regimes. Those in power have written their own history, and this film reinforces these narratives instead of directly confronting them.

Comparatively, Waiting for the Barbarians‘ attempt at commentary leaves audiences underwhelmed. The film clearly wants to be subversive—are the colonisers not the barbarians for their violence?—yet falls flat. The creative tools used to explore these ideas are employed awkwardly, making the stylistic and cinematic elements empty and the overall movie a drag. Whilst empire nostalgia is insidiously prevalent in European nations, I’m not sure to what audience this movie is meant to appeal.

Waiting for the Barbarians has had select showings at film festivals worldwide. A wide release date is not yet confirmed. Check out a sneak peek below:

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‘Clemency’ Review – BFI London Film Festival 2019 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/clemency-review-london-film-festival/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/clemency-review-london-film-festival/#respond Mon, 07 Oct 2019 17:00:54 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17915

Editor KC Wingert reviews Chinonye Chukwu’s powerful debut.

With her sophomore feature Clemency, writer-director Chinonye Chukwu made history as the first black woman to win the Grand Jury prize at Sundance—and in its turn at the London Film Festival, the film proves to overseas viewers to be more than worthy of its acclaim. A stunning exploration of the American death penalty, Clemency is easily one of the most beautifully-told stories and most socially important films of the last decade.

Alfre Woodard leads the cast as Bernadine Williams, a career-driven prison warden who has overseen 12 executions over the course of her tenure. A harrowing opening sequence portraying the execution of convict Victor Jimenez illustrates for viewers the emotional toll that witnessing a man’s death can have on a person. The tension of the scene is palpable, and we see the effects of this in Bernadine’s personal life. She struggles to sleep at night and drinks heavily to cope. Her marriage to her husband Jonathan (Wendell Pierce) struggles as Bernadine reckons with the horrors to which she bears witness; her husband cannot understand the way her job affects her. While teacher Jonathan educates the next generation and gives them hope of a bright future, Bernadine is complicit in stealing the future away from countless men. She is not a sadist, but she is forced by the nature of her profession to carry out sadistic practices—and in the interest of appearing professional as a black woman in a position of power, she must do so unsentimentally. But her robotic demeanor is not necessarily a reflection of her true feelings toward the practice of execution, and viewers follow Bernadine as she struggles to mask her own humanity with professionalism.

Though the film explores Bernadine’s character most thoroughly, viewers are also given detailed glimpses of the emotional states of everyone involved in these executions, from the prison officers, to the prison chaplain, to the men on death row themselves. Aldis Hodge gives an incredibly moving performance as Anthony Woods, a prisoner awaiting execution who may be innocent of the murder of which he was convicted fourteen years ago. We see him slip between moments of desolation and glimmers of hope as he navigates the existential dread of being sentenced to death for a crime he maintains he did not commit and as he awaits any news on the painstakingly bureaucratic decision on his appeal, which determines whether he lives or dies. Hodge’s performance is complicated, heartbreaking, and totally affective. When Anthony feels hope, we feel hope; when he despairs, so do we.

Similarly, Richard Schiff gives a nuanced performance as Anthony’s lawyer Marty, a man whose career has been dedicated to appealing the death penalty and to fighting for clemency on behalf of his clients. Marty, having worked on such cases for 30 years, is downtrodden, resigned, and ready to retire. A man who was once passionate about the cause, Marty is tasked with finding hope and keeping spirits high for Anthony despite the almost futile odds of winning. In a visit to his client, he looks thoughtfully on as demonstrators outside the prison shout their support for Anthony, not as a man who is inspired by their words, but as a man who fears their protestations may be in vain. In a glum conversation with Bernadette, Marty poignantly explains the overwhelming stakes of being a death row inmate’s lawyer:  “When I win, my client gets to not die.”

This film is disturbing and horrifying, to be sure, but in the way that 12 Years A Slave is. The doleful tone of Clemency is real—it reflects the experiences of people whose lives are affected by the inhumanity of the death penalty. It does not rely on gore and jump scares to disturb its viewers; rather, it forces viewers to confront the undignified reality of state-sanctioned murder. It is one thing to acknowledge the horrors of the world, to want to learn from tragedy and strive for betterness. But it is another thing entirely—a wholly more affective experience—to witness these horrors brought to life before your eyes. For this reason, Clemency should be required viewing for Americans at least, and for anyone who thinks they have an opinion on the death penalty.

Find Clemency in theatres this December and check out the trailer below:

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‘Lucky Grandma’ Review – BFI London Film Festival 2019 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/lucky-grandma-review-bfi-london-film-festival-2019/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/lucky-grandma-review-bfi-london-film-festival-2019/#respond Sun, 06 Oct 2019 17:00:31 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17903

KC Wingert reviews the buzzed-about dark comedy at LFF 2019. 

With her debut feature Lucky Grandma, a film about an elderly Chinese-American woman with a rebellious streak, writer-director Sasie Sealy contributes equal parts humour and suspense to this year’s London Film Festival. Tsai Chin plays the titular role of Grandma Wong, a gruff, chain-smoking loner whose expressionless indifference and grumpy demeanour has led me to dub her the Clint Eastwood of Grandmas. Grandma Wong lives alone in the small, outdated Chinatown apartment she and her late husband once shared. Though her daily schedule is monotonous—practising tai chi, lighting incense for her in-home Buddhist altar, evading her adult son’s requests that she move in with him and his family—Grandma Wong receives a reinvigorating jolt of excitement while visiting a fortune teller, a sequence which visually references the opening tarot scene of Agnès Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7. The fortune teller presents to Grandma Wong a series of cards written in Chinese script and tells the old woman that she will have an incredible amount of luck on October 28th (admittedly a very different fate than the one predicted for Cleo).

With fortune on her side, Grandma Wong empties her bank account on the 28th and hops on a Chinatown bus headed straight to the casino. At first, it seems like the stars really have aligned for her; she beats incredible odds and wins at craps and roulette so many times that her tokens double, then triple, and then quadruple. Her lucky streak comes to an end eventually, though, and she returns to the Chinatown bus downtrodden, having lost all her savings in one bet.

Grandma Wong’s good luck seems to take a different form, however, when money literally falls into her lap on the bus ride home. The man in the seat next to her suddenly dies of a heart attack while everyone else on the bus is asleep. When the bus hits a bump and a duffel bag filled with money falls from the luggage carriers overhead, Grandma Wong realises that her deceased seatmate is in fact a gang member transporting money for the Red Dragon gang. Already panicked about her casino losses, Grandma Wong absconds with the money, inadvertently placing herself at the centre of a violent gang conflict over the cash.

The strength of this film is not necessarily the narrative, which at times feels muddled and confusing amidst its portrayal of New York gang politics and reaches a hasty conclusion in its third act. Rather, Lucky Grandma’s greatest asset is its characters, all fully realized through the little details which make up each person’s unique and entertaining personality. Grandma Wong’s lanky grandson David, for example, may play a relatively small role in the film. However, in the approximately 10 total minutes of screen time he has, viewers learn that he is a one half of a dance duo, making goofy, low-quality hip-hop music videos in his grandmother’s apartment with his chubby, twerk-happy friend Nomi. This small, endearing personality detail raises the emotional stakes later in the film when the Red Dragons demand Grandma Wong pay a ransom to spare David’s life. The same goes for the character Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha), the man Grandma Wong hires as a bodyguard after dopey Red Dragon gangsters Pock-Mark (Woody Fu) and Little Handsome (Michael Tow) show up at her apartment. Big Pong first appears to be quiet and intimidating, but viewers will find a tender sweetness in his character when he talks about being a vegetarian, describes the girl he loves who still lives in China, and scolds Grandma Wong’s grumpy neighbour for disrespecting an elder.

The main figures in any film are only as strong as the actors who play them, and the cast of Lucky Grandma brings these characters to life with quirk and charm. As the socially isolated Grandma Wong, Tsai Chin is often the only actor onscreen. The character requires an actor who can subtly convey large emotions with her facial expressions and body language, and Tsai Chin is more than fit for the challenge. She brings laughs just by widening her eyes, furrowing her brow, or turning her head—no dialogue required. As gangster hitman Little Handsome, actor Michael Tow somehow manages to be simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, sending chills down one’s spine with his threatening stare one moment and highlighting his character’s sheer absurdity with a goofy smile in the next. The talent in this cast alone could dispel any excuses Hollywood may make for whitewashing Asian or Asian-American roles (I’m looking at you, Scarlett Johansson).

Though it is not a life-changing or particularly profound film, Lucky Grandma is sure to make viewers chuckle heartily, scoot to the edge of their seats in suspense, and stare in wonderment at each creatively-framed shot. The plot leaves room for confusion and questions, but the dramatic achievements of the cast alone are enough to make this film a success among audiences. The film deftly combines humorous and whimsical moments with darker undertones. Considering the film centres on the identity crisis of an elderly Chinese-American woman—a demographic I can safely say is sorely underrepresented in American film—Lucky Grandma is a breath of fresh air and a new perspective in the comedy genre.

Lucky Grandma is still showing in select cinemas. Check out what influenced the film below:

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‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/hobbs-shaw-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/hobbs-shaw-review/#respond Wed, 02 Oct 2019 16:40:07 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17804

Xara Zabihi Dutton reviews the highly anticipated Fast & Furious spin-off.

This review contains spoilers.

The moment Luke Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) lifted his copy of the portable Friederich Nietzsche in an alternate rep to his dum-bell I was transfixed; as Hobbs sounded his mouth around the words of this universal hero of pseudo-intellectuals, my hand landed in a viscous lump of gum on the seat arm-rest. Like it or not, David Leitch’s Hobbs & Shaw had my undivided attention. 

Hobbs & Shaw, a spin-off of the Fast & Furious franchise, follows Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) as their boyish rivalry is challenged by the task of ensuring a bio-warfare serum does not make it into the hands of Brixton Lore (Idris Elba). That’s about it in terms of followable plot.

Hobbs & Shaw enters a particular kind of viewer (this viewer) into the entropy of what I will now refer to as the ‘Nietzsche-sticky-gum syndrome’. This entropy is defined by its back and forth motion between the heights of pretentious back-pattery, and the depths of the oversight excused during the glorification of All Things Trash (also see: ‘Just Let People Enjoy Things’). With just a little further stretch of the (viscous, sticky) imagination it also reflects the body-mind dualism within Nietzsche. As we see Nietzsche propose the improvement of the body in tandem with the mind, so Hobbs embraces his mental and physical development, and we embrace the stimulation of our ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ senses at the hands of David Leitch.

During the film, we see a shift from the appraisal of the potential of technology and the allure of an ever-improving body to a rising fear of the irreversible and inhumane changes impending through bio-enhancement (also see the controversies of Nietzsche, and the recent eugenics scandal at UCL). There’s a kill-or-be-killed element to even the technology within even our sad, physical combat-less daily lives. Failure to improve personal productivity through technology makes the scale of work we are expected to undertake untenable. 

Hobbs and Shaw overcome their rivalry in the common pursuit of disarming (unplugging) the antagonist of the film, Brixton, as they realise that his analytic implant can only address one opponent at a time. A symphonic dance ensues, as Hobbs and Shaw take punches for each other in order to preoccupy Brixton, collaboratively disarming him. Neither man has the ability (as individuals without bio-enhancement) to singlehandedly defeat Brixton. The gushy moral? Personal quests for self-enhancement must be foregone to defeat a technological system that will inevitably destroy them. This single scene encapsulates the ethical binary of contention within the film: the struggle between neoliberal individualism, and collaborative, community-based action.

The power of collective action comes to the fore once again when we are introduced to the family Hobbs had left behind for mainland America, after an influx of drug dealing tore apart the community he had grown up in.  To deactivate the serum implant Brixton quests for, Hobbs seeks support from his mechanically-gifted brother, who rewove his own extended family by providing employment, and a community hub by establishing his own car maintenance shop. Hobbs is the brother who left to strike out on his own because of the social trauma common to many indigenous communities. In this film, we see him seek support from that same, rebuilt, reunited community. No doubt, Johnson’s own Polynesian heritage is the inspiration for this appraisal. It is encouraging to see a mainstream celebrity use their clout to seamlessly integrate social issues into a mainstream film. As a franchise, Fast & Furious has exemplified the attainability non-tokenistic representation, in a string of financially profitable, blockbuster hits.

While Hobbs’ mother makes an appearance as the matriarch of the Samoan community, there’s no doubt that Fast & Furious female characters are defined by their relationship to men: women are Mothers (cue a dazzling cameo from Helen Mirren), Sisters, daughters or love interests. This is no hot-take – it’s a stone-cold fact. I doubt anyone’s even bothered to try out the Bechdel Test on this franchise. Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), Deckard Shaw’s woe-betided sister, is referred to (un)enigmatically as ‘the girl’.  The disinterest in representing women as anything other than adjunct genetic limbs to men means that we only encounter women defined by heteronormative and heterosocial kinship ties. 

And yet we find the reason to go on, to spend our Thursday evenings in the Holloway Odeon consuming media that just isn’t meant for us, in the hope that some auto-critiquing Producer will throw us a bone or an Easter egg (a signal of distress, perhaps), to show us that they find the films they’re engaged in the culture-factory of producing as monotonous as we do. And just when you’ve got no hope left, Nietzsche re-enters. After his first appearance in the opening sequence, Hobbs quotes Nietzsche in defense of the psycho-physical benefits of working out (hard). Hattie misattributes the quote to Bruce Lee in a quip which seems an attempt to de-intellectualise both Lee and Shaw. It has been noted by Reddit users that perhaps this is a gentle nod to Quentin Tarrantino’s racially caricatured depiction of Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The fast turn around of films like Hobbs & Shaw provides ample opportunity for reactive references to films released in succession. In including this intertextual reference to Lee, David Leitch may be attempting to re-inscribe Lee in mainstream contemporary film as both a lauded and respected figure. In any case, the Lee-Nietzsche parallel drawn is intriguing – two adolescent- boy icons raise up and level each-other.

Parts of the script being in Samoan, the film is challenged by one of the greatest stumbling-blocks of mainstream cinema in the West: subtitling. Yeah, you heard, words at the bottom of the screen you’ve got no option but to read. When you want nothing more but to consume your adrenaline porn, subtitles are deeply unsavory. Hobbs & Shaw ditches the mildly alienating, oh-so-subtle white Helvetica associated with Arthouse and World Cinema for what, in all honesty, looks like WordArt text from 2007. The subtitling is unavoidable, slipping around the screen depending upon the speaker or action. It might remind viewers of the subtitling also implemented in the most recent John Wick: Parabellum (also co-directed by David Leitch of Hobbs & Shaw). The subtitles become incorporated as a paratextual counterpart to the high-octane aesthetic of action films (God-forbid a single viewer be visually under-stimulated).

So we write reviews which overburden the banalest aspects of culture with some kind of superlative critical significance, without being able to even faintly outline the plot. Not because we’re pretentious and can’t ‘just let people enjoy things’, but because this is still the centre-ground of cultural entertainment, and we refuse to be pushed to the fringes. The fringes of culture are expensive, alienating, and worst of all, no one’s there to listen to opinions about films they haven’t watched.

I could, at any point, walk out of this sticky-seated Odeon and go watch something which does not fill make me feel like I’m well and truly living in that thing they call the Metropolitan Liberal Elite™. Tomorrow evening, you may well catch me in a screening of a seminal work of Czech New Wave at one of the thriving independent cinemas in London (£20 a ticket though, really?). But tonight, tonight I’m watching a spin-off of the Fast & Furious franchise that has received mediocre-at-best reviews from critics, and I am lovin it.

Hobbs & Shaw is still showing in select cinemas. Check out the trailer below:

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A Student Guide to BFI London Film Festival 2019 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/student-guide-to-bfi-lff-2019/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/student-guide-to-bfi-lff-2019/#respond Mon, 30 Sep 2019 19:03:19 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17980

The London Film Festival has come to town! For the next two weeks, over 300 films will be screened all over central London. UCL Film & TV Society has five members who will be reviewing the festival.

A film festival may seem more appropriate for industry professionals and film journalists. However, the London Film Festival is incredibly open to the public. Most importantly, it is generous to young students with the 25 & Under scheme. You can get £5 tickets to select screenings at the festival. In addition, the BFI has committed to providing over 100 free events as part of their LFF for Free scheme, which include talks, panels, Q&As and even DJ Nights. Some can be booked in advance, but don’t be afraid to turn up and see what you can do!

Faced with an enormous catalogue, how do you even consider what to see? The curators behind LFF have kindly split the programme into strands. You can see the whole selection on the BFI’s website or pick up their hardcopy catalogues all around London.

To get you started, our LFF Blog team has put together a few recommendations and why the festival is worth checking out:

A Marriage Story

  • Good for lovers of Adam Driver’s face, people whose favourite movie is Kramer vs. Kramer, and those who crave intimate narratives on screen.
  • Why?: The family drama from Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, The Meyerowitz Stories, The Squid and the Whale) opened to rave reviews at Venice Film Festival and has garnered lots of award season buzz.

Get tickets for showings on the 6th, 7th and 11th of October

The Peanut Butter Falcon

  • Recommended for when you want to laugh and leave the cinema smiling, fans of Mark Twain and frontier fables.
  • Why?: The dramedy packs great performances from Shia LeBeouf and Zack Gottsagen and sets the benchmark for providing non-tokenistic representation for differently-abled folks in film.

Get tickets for showings on the 3rd and 4th of October

Circus of Books

  • Recommended for documentary lovers, frequenters of Gay’s The Word, and those who want to watch weird and wonderful parents.  
  • Why?: Apart from the opportunity to discover the social and cultural history of the gay community in Los Angeles and the history of pornography, the documentary has a personal touch as the director turns the camera onto her parents. 

Get tickets for showings on the 12th and 13th of October

A Pleasure, Comrades! (Prazer, Camaradas!)

  • Recommended for vicariously living in the Mediterranean countryside, fans of Pride (2014), or those just want to see a cute goat or two amongst cultural and generational clashes.
  • Why?: Long live the proletariat, long live the sexual revolution! Amusing misunderstandings and charming moments are abundant, based on real stories from post-Carnation Revolution rural Portugal. 

Get tickets for showings on the 3rd and 4th of October

Bombay Rose

  • Recommended for Bollywood fans, dreamy romantics rooting for star-crossed lovers, those who want to see non-family-oriented animation. 
  • Why?: The film is directed by Gitanjali Rao, whose animation shorts screened at Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim. A romantic feature film set in Mumbai, the film possesses a vibrant brush-stroke painting style and immersive sound design. 

Get tickets for showings on the 12th and 13th of October

County Lines

  • Recommended for fans of kitchen sink realism, Ken Loach stans, those who liked Beach Rats. Or maybe you’ve just binged Top Boy: Summerhouse and want something more introspective.
  • Why?: Vulnerable boys being groomed by county lines drug trafficking gangs is a massive topical issue in Britain. 

Get tickets for a showing on the 13th of October

Covering the festival is an immense challenge. The UCL Film Society Blog will be reviewing whatever screenings our correspondents can schedule in. What makes it worth it for those who are going? Keep an eye out for the names below. 

Alex Dewing
Not only are the films screened at LFF wide in their variety (with romance, thriller, comedies and cult classics to be) but they’re available to see at such good prices (only £5) and in some great cinemas. Little Monsters, a zombie focused horror-comedy, or zom-com as I like to call it, is definitely worth a watch and you can catch it at the BFI Southbank or Vue West End.

Emma Davis
I think the festival is great for catching movies you’re unlikely to see in regular programming in your nearest cinema, or movies before their official wide release date! I had the opportunity to watch Axone, and it is having its world premiere at the Festival. LFF is a great opportunity to see movies from countries, genres and directors you wouldn’t consider otherwise.

KC Wingert 
The LFF is a really great opportunity for students to catch a wide range of new, internationally-acclaimed films in Central London. No matter what genre you’re looking for, you’re likely to find it showing at the LFF. This year’s lineup features stunning examples of what happens when women of color are put in the director’s chair – see the quirky comedy Lucky Grandma or the harrowing human rights drama Clemency. If that weren’t enough, people who purchase tickets to some of the bigger screenings may catch the odd star in attendance; last year I saw Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, and director Michael Moore, and this year I’m on the lookout for Shia LaBeouf!

Louis Stall
I love the whole vibe of the LFF; being surrounded by other people that are also passionate about film is by itself a totally valid reason to attend. This year I got to see a preview of The Peanut Butter Falcon, I won’t spoil much but it was unbelievably wholesome and definitely worth a watch. I’d definitely recommend not sleeping on the range of documentaries and shorts at LFF this year as I’ve had the opportunity to view so and they are rather spectacular.

Maria Düster
This year, the BFI have really expanded opportunities for students and I recommend going to as much as you can. I’m excited to see independent documentaries – Coup 53, The Orphanage, Give Me Liberty – and headlining films as well, such as Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between truth and fiction in film, specifically documentary, and I’m interested to see how filmmakers are tackling that this year.

The BFI London Film Festival runs 2 – 13 October 2019. For more information, visit the festival website.

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‘Toy Story 4’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/toy-story-4-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/toy-story-4-review/#respond Sun, 22 Sep 2019 11:53:11 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17783

Sam Hamilton takes a look at the next episode in the much-loved Pixar franchise.

The fourth entry in Pixar’s flagship franchise starts and ends, like its predecessors, with Randy Newman’s score. It is nothing short of remarkable (and fitting) that Toy Story 4’s audio design meets every single beat with the appropriate note, whether gleeful, melancholic, poignant, or silent, to form an audiovisual whole that moves its audience wordlessly. Pixar’s recent track record displays a penchant for this kind of traditional moviegoing experience – Up, WALL-E, Finding Nemo, or the “When She Loved Me” sequence from Toy Story 2 place equal importance on sound and visuals. Toy Story 4 continues this trend. 

In a similar tearjerking ilk to The Red Turtle (2016), Toy Story 4 makes for delightful entertainment, managing in ninety minutes to achieve an emotional depth far beyond that of other Disney products. It is no coincidence that the ‘original story by’ credit extends to eight names; we’re exposed to a finely tuned, endlessly multifaceted narrative that seems to deepen at every turn. Without venturing into the spoiler zone, this was always expected to be the concluding chapter of the Toy Story franchise and, providing it is, we fade out on a spectacular four-film dynasty that will surely set the family film benchmark for time to come. It is the end to the fable of loyal Sheriff Woody and his shepherdess-turned-Sarah-Connor amour Bo Peep, drawing the curtain on series icons like Buzz Lightyear, Rex, and Mister Potato Head. But the celebration of female characters Bo and villain Gabby Gabby forms Toy Story 4’s narrative heartbeat, effortlessly centering their ups, downs, and evolutions. 

Once again, the story beings with a young child’s craving for a friend; in this case, a friend crafted by the hand of  kindergarten-aged Bonnie with throwaway items. Brought to life in magnificent style by Tony Hale, the wacky character Forky is horrified by his own existence to the extent of believing he is not a toy, but trash. Forky’s addition to the gang turns out to be a literal fork in the road for Woody, a now sidelined character in Bonnie’s toy entourage replaced by the ever-cool Sheriff Jessie. Feeling overtaken – even emasculated – by his lack of purpose, Woody takes it upon himself to usher Forky into the realisation that everyone loves him deeply, a theme that continues to pervade the Toy Story extended metaphor. For a series that has always been ripe with intelligent imagery, Toy Story 4 unravels into a story so loaded with subtext that it could explode at any moment – not with complication, but with sheer compositional brilliance.

However, all this talk of imagery and endings treads over the irresistible charm of the script. Negotiating an ever-growing cast of stuffed, porcelain, and human characters is a task writers Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton approach with ease, peppering a clockwork-like structure with countless laughs. Pitch-perfect roles for comedy duo Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele ignite the second act with humor before a beautifully ironic Keanu Reeves cameo steals an entire scene later on. But Toy Story 4’s euphoric highs are often punctuated by ripples of concern, fear, and/or genuine sadness that weave into one other to create a realism that exceeds previous entries. These twists and turns of sentiment occur within individual scenes but never seem conflicted. Altogether, they make the runtime sweep by in a flurry of giggling joy and profound emotion.

So if you want heartwarming, you got it. If you want references to pop culture, Pixar films, and cinema history at large, you got that too. But as for the technical stuff? Simply put, the old cat is back. John Lasseter’s first entry, back in 1995, revolutionised mainstream animation by input of computer processing. It feels entirely appropriate that Toy Story 4 should once again make Pixar the poster boy for animation everywhere. Inside Out (2015) director Josh Cooley and cinematographers Justin Lin and Jean-Claude Kalache are all over this thing, and they want you to know it. From the very first shot of a worn-tarmacked Elm Street (the one where Andy lives, not Freddy Krueger) to the outstandingly picturesque finale, this is a visual tour de force to be watched, savoured, and watched again.

By the time the sun sets on Toy Story and the lights rise in the theatre, it becomes clear that the hesitant few who suspected this fourth entry to be an unnecessary extension to a perfect trilogy, it is a happy loss. This is the ending we never knew we needed – an instant Disney classic.

Toy Story 4 is still showing in select cinemas and will be released on DVD on October the 21st. Check out the trailer below:

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‘Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-review/#respond Wed, 18 Sep 2019 21:12:25 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17859

Gwendoline Blangy reviews Quentin Tarantino’s newest film.

Bloody explosions, the n-word, swearing, unlimited violence, feet-worshipping…that’s what everyone expected when Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film made its premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. And yet, while maintaining his notorious visual and narrative style, Tarantino still manages to surprise – but is it for better or for worse?

What strikes viewers the most while watching is the time they wait. The film is almost three hours of waiting, during which the narrative repeatedly tiptoes around any real action before trailing away. Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood tells the story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a star actor in decline who is struggling to renew himself in his roles as a virile hero, and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his stunt double/driver/bodyguard/only friend. Rick and Cliff belong to a part of Hollywood that is dying out; Rick is being offered opportunities to fly to Italy to star in Spaghetti Westerns, while Cliff grows tired of being a stunt double. These two macho members of the John Wayne and Robert Redford generation no longer recognize themselves in the new era of cinema represented by Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski, who just moved in next to Rick on Cielo Drive and by whom Rick dreams of being noticed. It is within this generational clash that the backdrop of Los Angeles in the summer of 1969 is shaped, in which the hippies of the Manson Family, who settled at Spahn Ranch, threaten the rest of the characters.

However, the film actively rewrites history, justifying the title “Once Upon a Time” (which also pays tribute to Sergio Leone’s 1984 Once Upon a Time in America). Every shot is bathed in a strange atmosphere, a waking dream: viewers follow Sharon Tate as she watches her own film in a theatre with a happy look on her face; they discover an egotistical Bruce Lee who faces a calm and confident Cliff Booth in a scene which is very funny, but may not please the fans of the martial artist; and they witness an explosive finale that offers the spectator a breathtaking fifteen minutes in the purest Tarantino style one could imagine.

References to his previous films are constant; in one scene, Rick does an ad for Red Apple Cigarettes, a brand that can also be seen in Pulp Fiction or the first Kill Bill. Once Upon a Time’s basis in real-life events continyes Tarantino’s track record of historical fiction, seen in others films such as  Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained. The film also fuels rumors of the director’s apparent foot fetish: the way the camera languorously focuses on the toes of Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), one of the young hippies who tries to lure Cliff to their ranch, reflects Tarantino’s passion for women’s feet, already shown with Beatrix Kiddo and Jackie Brown.

But perhaps the most complex part of this Tarantino take on a buddy movie is how Cliff reflects in reality what Rick embodies on screen. Rick Dalton has played emotionless cops, firemen, and bounty killers, yet cries as soon as he feels like he’s become a “has-been.” The increasing presence of hippies in Rick’s Los Angeles only reinforce his sense of belonging to the past. Cliff doesn’t need to pretend to be the manly-man of Rick’s movies. He knows how to fight and doesn’t hesitate to do so, and becomes to Rick – as the voiceover explains – “a buddy who is a little more than a brother, and a little less than a wife.” Cliff is a caricature of the masculine ideal of Hollywood’s golden age movies, and he becomes almost inhuman, unreal, just like the characters Rick plays on the screen.

So is this film a real success? It’s a good movie, but maybe not the best Tarantino. It is the most mature, perhaps, since it takes time to see the story to its finale. One may have the feeling that the elaborate sets, the masterful visuals, and the costumes overwhelm the stakes of the film’s central conflict, but the finale rewards viewers’ patience with a cataclysmic scene.

Nevertheless, one does wonder about how women are approached in the film. Violence against women is ever-present, and the final explosion makes it a little, one might say, gratuitous. That said, the main criticism against the latest Tarantino is that the director underused actress Margot Robbie, who, apart from wandering around and smiling, has little narrative purpose except to anchor Rick and Cliff’s story in a real context. Margaret Qualley lights up the screen as passionate Manson Family member Pussycat, but she tends to be hyper-sexualized, speaking only in sexual innuendos and constantly bending over in her torn shorts.

But can we blame the director for keeping some of the motifs that made the success of his previous films? With Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood, Tarantino does not deny himself his usual style; on the contrary, he takes time to develop it, to bring it to his paroxysm in order to create a mature piece of work in perfect agreement with his previous films. Additionally, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt give incredible performances, and viewers will enjoy seeing them in the car remembering the past or at the bar trying not to lose face in front of Al Pacino. Tarantino reinvents genre, history, and dialogue with every new film. To summarize the director’s collective works, it is better to quote him directly: “I am a historian in my own mind.”

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is still playing in select cinemas. Check out the trailer below:

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‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ Review – BFI London Film Festival 2019 https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-peanut-butter-falcon-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-peanut-butter-falcon-review/#respond Tue, 17 Sep 2019 20:23:14 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17901

Editor KC Wingert reviews our first film from BFI LFF 2019.

Warning: this review contains spoilers. 

Making its UK premiere at LFF, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a delightful dramedy from collaborators Tyler Nilsen and Michael Schwartz, whose writing recalls the humor and delight of American novelist Mark Twain and whose comical directorial style rivals the Coen Brothers for their quirky contribution to modern American folklore.

The first feature-length narrative from the filmmaking duo, The Peanut Butter Falcon tells the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down’s syndrome placed in  a nursing home after his family forfeits him to the state. Despite friendships with the elderly residents of his home and a close relationship to his direct caretaker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Zak feels imprisoned. He wants to explore the world before he gets too old, and his only respite from his monotonous life is his fantasy of becoming a professional wrestler under the tutelage of his hero Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). He cleverly configures numerous madcap escape schemes with the help of his older roommate Carl (Bruce Dern), which provide many laugh-out-loud moments within the first 20 minutes. But The Peanut Butter Falcon is not all silliness—rather, it becomes a more tender film when, in one of his late-night escape attempts, an underwear-clad Zak stows away on a boat stolen by the churlish Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) as he skips town.

Stuck with a differently-abled stranger wearing nothing but his underwear, Tyler is at first disgruntled. LaBeouf masterfully plays this character as a surly loner whose gruff exterior slowly chips away as he befriends and aides Zak on a journey to the Saltwater Redneck’s wrestling school. Tyler, a sort of frontiersman/survivalist who seems to know how to navigate the rugged Outer Banks but can’t seem to stay out of trouble, is on the run from two fishermen from whom he stole crab traps and whose equipment he burned in retaliation for jumping him.

Tyler, we find out, has lost his brother—and blames himself for the tragic death. But as he grows closer to fellow misfit Zak, he finds fraternity in his relationship to his lovably idiosyncratic companion. Watching LaBeouf and Gottsagen onscreen together is an absolute delight; their palpable chemistry creates an incredible friendship onscreen. It is satisfying to see the goofy LaBeouf act without condescension alongside a young man with Down’s syndrome, especially in a story that is less about “overcoming” a disability and more about embracing the challenges and joys of understanding and loving someone with Down’s. As for Gottsagen, his empowering performance highlights the humour and skill so many people with Down’s syndrome possess while reminding viewers that having a disability does not always mean a person is helpless.

Overall, The Peanut Butter Falcon easily interweaves humour with heartbreak, moments of joy with pangs of dolour. It feels much like the tall tales of Twain’s Americana, with magical moments punctuating the narrative into a romantic frontier myth akin to those which make up much of American folklore. Themes of self-realisation and cleansing give the characters of The Peanut Butter Falcon beautiful, heartwarming redemption arcs which will leave viewers euphoric. Ending on a slightly uncertain (but happy!) note, this expertly-crafted story from Nilsen and Schwartz reminds viewers that one’s story isn’t over ‘til it’s over, and that there is always room in life for rebirth, restoration, and growth.

The Peanut Butter Falcon will be screening at the BFI London Film Festival on 3 October, 4 October, and 11 October 2019. Tickets are available to purchase on the LFF website. Check out the trailer below:

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‘Dark’ Season 2 Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/dark-season-2-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/dark-season-2-review/#respond Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:57:58 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17817

Harry Mizumoto reviews the latest season of Netflix’s hit German drama. 

This review contains minor spoilers. 

The world is dying. If one can indulge the melodrama of this statement long enough, it seems pretty apt; nationalism and alt-right rhetoric are on the rise, threats of nuclear enrichment are being launched left and right, and the Amazon is literally on fire. It’s a time to be alert and somewhat anxious. No contemporary series reflects this existential dread better than Dark, a show which broods on the inevitability of human nature. 

Stylistically, Dark is gorgeous. The small and geographically ambiguous town of Winden is introduced with a slow pan over its outskirts, an endless thicket of trees. Its residents interact in forests, bunkers, dark caves, small rooms in compact homes; spaces so intimate they feel claustrophobic. Spools of dread develop alongside a tense and minimal soundtrack, replete with the faint thrum of chimes and synths. A particularly unsettling score opens with a string of gasps, as if straining for air. The sounds play over trademark split screen shots attuned to shifts in time or expression, like bicycles swimming through trees, or eyes peeking through a curtain of hair.

For those who need a quick recap, the Netflix Original darling of 2017– billed as the German lovechild of Stranger Things and Back to the Future— centres a series of disappearing children which recurs in multiple timelines of a small town. Time-travel complicates this: missing children stay missing because their bodies are deposited in a different time. In the laws of this universe, time forms a deterministic loop. Police investigations and familial inquests of these disappearances prove futile, dredging up pieces which only make sense beyond the context of their lives, slotted in the greater arc of time. This helplessness is familiar, as well as uncannily satisfying; piecing every timeline together feels like finally achieving a sense of objectivity, like observing fruit flies in a petri dish. 

The second season of Dark expands on this generational study, examining its flies– and the relationships between them– much more closely. Key figures include Egon (Christian Pätzold), a main figure deepened across time as a sympathetic policeman, husband, and father, and Ulrich (Oliver Masucci), who we revisit as a sedated, white-haired man committed to a psychiatric ward in 1953. Jonas (Louis Hofman) shines as an time-traveling altruist, trading his displacement in 1986 for the dystopian wasteland of 2053. The series contains more timelines than ever before, largely owed to multiple Jonases competing against one another (and themselves). The attention to historical accuracy is a definite plus; I was heavily amused when, upon stumbling into the idyllic wheat fields of 1921, Jonas is mistaken for a victim of shell shock. Continuing Jonas’ efforts is his older, more bedraggled counterpart (Andreas Pieschmann), who reunites with Teen Jonas’s mother in a bizarre and touching scene only made possible by Dark’s messed up timelines. 

There are a lot of these strange moments in Dark, since the intricate plot line relies on small-town intimacy for much of its complexity. A trademark of the show is tangling people into Oedipal relationships you’d usually only expect from a commune, which I’m largely a fan of. I will never get tired of discovering that two characters are related in some fucked up way. Next season, I’m excited for the show’s big flourish to reveal that a character is the only child of themselves. 

Dark is available to stream on Netflix worldwide. Check out the trailer for season two below:

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‘The Death of Dick Long’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-death-of-dick-long-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/the-death-of-dick-long-review/#respond Sun, 15 Sep 2019 10:03:00 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17694

Angelos Angelidis reviews Daniel Scheinert‘s follow-up to Swiss Army Man. 

Warning: this review contains descriptions of rape and bestiality. 

Following the success of Swiss Army Man (2016), a movie about loneliness, shame and homoeroticism, Daniel Scheinert’s newest film The Death of Dick Long (2019) delves into a darker aspect of American life. Premiering at London’s Sundance Film Festival, Scheinert’s film – penned by Billy Chew – fomented hesitation in me but turned out to be an absolute delight both for its humor and its intellect.

The film follows the death of one of three friends living in a small town in Alabama. After a drunken night out, Dick Long is dumped outside the hospital by his friends Earl (Andre Hyland) and Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.). Following his death, a police investigation begins while the two friends try to cover up evidence linking Dick’s death back to them. The majority of the film takes place within the twenty-four hours following the incident, charging the plot with panic as Zeke and Earl blunder their way towards vindication.

The police investigation is carried out by Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane) and the rather inexperienced Officer Dudley (Sarah Baker), whose inability to quickly put the pieces of the puzzle together alongside the foolish decisions and deficient alibis of Zeke and Earl aptly instil elements of comedy in an otherwise tragic story.

Dick’s death – which is initially thought to be a homicide following a brutal rape – turns out to have been caused by a horse. Zeke’s wife Lydia (Virginia Newcomb), after realising that something is wrong with her husband, asks him to come clean. Zeke confesses that he and Earl have been engaging in bestiality with Zeke’s horse for a long time, and that the horse bears responsibility for Dick’s death. The reveal not only causes an earthquake in Zeke and Lydia’s relationship but a huge rupture in what held the family together. The subtleties of everyday life that are so easily overlooked capsize to reveal a hidden underworld of perversity and sexual deviation. Thus, catharsis was not followed by absolution but by a radical reconfiguration of what Zeke’s life was to become.

The movie’s careful balance of darkness and humor does not necessarily present bestiality as the ultimate sin; rather, a lack of transparency or honesty ultimately leads to a dissolution of everything that holds the everyday life of the characters together. This reaches a peak when Dick’s wife visits Zeke in his stable, wondering if her husband is cheating on her while she is patting the very horse that fucked him to death.

An underlying tension of homosexuality is present both in Zeke and Earl’s character development, whose duplicity stems from a deeply repressed desire that goes against societal norms. This subconscious pressure to conform to American ideals of heteronormativity and propriety is in a way an engine of a largely invisible darkness within society, in this case resulting to the death of a friend. This repression is best exemplified by Zeke and Earl’s displays of toxic masculinity. Even if the message of the film is not that repressed homosexual desire leads to your friend dying in a bestiality accident, there is a clear need for the characters to be released from the structures of intolerance and judgement that underlay much of Southern United States, specifically in regards to sexuality, gender or skin colour.

The double-pun title implies the death of the toxic masculinity that leads to the whole situation in the first place. Zeke and Earl flee together and (in my imagination) are free to explore their bromance away from the small-town bigotry and its societal regulations. Life seems to move on as if nothing ever happened and the viewer is left with a deep internal itch. Could this have happened in the real world? Despite the bizarre scenario, the canny camera-work and spot-on acting makes me reckon that Zeke and Earl’s story is more real than mere facets of a scriptwriter’s imagination.

Rating: 8/10

The Death of Dick Long will be released by A24 in September 2019. The U.K. release date is not yet known. Check out the trailer below:

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‘Eighth Grade’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/eighth-grade-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/eighth-grade-review/#comments Mon, 15 Jul 2019 17:06:57 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17663

Editor KC Wingert tackles Bo Burnham’s directorial debut to celebrate it’s US anniversary. 

Embarrassing crushes, burgeoning sexuality, bullying, and mall hangs: Eighth Grade covers all the universal experiences that come with being a middle-schooler. But writer and director Bo Burnham’s first feature-length film offers viewers an in-depth exploration of the complicated nature of being a middle-schooler specifically in today’s hyperconnected society.

“Being in eighth grade is weird, and being alive right now is weird,” comedian Burnham explained to the audience at a screening, held in the auditorium of Joseph le Conte Middle School in Hollywood last July. The audience, an eclectic mix of creators, industry tastemakers, and actual eighth graders, murmured in agreement. In an age where social media rules and every kid has an iPhone, it has become harder for older generations to relate to the issues kids today face. Eighth Grade calls on older viewers to look on younger generations with compassion as they grapple with both the painful awkwardness of growing up and the additional toxicity that social media can add to their lives. At the same time, the film offers a hopeful message to its younger viewers along the lines of, “You’re going to be okay.”

Eighth Grade is the story of Kayla’s (Elsie Fisher) last week of middle school. Deemed “Most Quiet” in her school’s superlative vote, Kayla actually has a lot to say, and she documents most of it on her YouTube channel. She offers advice to her viewers through daily segments on topics like “How to Be Confident” and “How to Put Yourself Out There.” She tries really hard to apply her advice to her own life, too, by posting sticky notes with encouraging messages near her mirror and making lists of goals (“Be more confident”) and how to meet them (“Don’t slouch”). In her videos, she spends a lot of time talking about how she used to lack confidence, but now she’s doing great. However, this is not entirely truthful: although she definitely puts herself out there a lot by trying to befriend the cool girls and talk to cute boys, doing these things doesn’t always wield the results Kayla wants. Downtrodden, she blames herself and continues on her perpetual journey toward self-improvement.

This is where the pernicious influence of social media plays in: Kayla spends a lot of her free time scrolling through her Instagram feed and posting pictures of her heavily made-up face to Snapchat with captions like, “I woke up like this.” The omnipresence of social media in her and her classmates’ lives pressures Kayla to perform happiness. All of this is a ruse to impress the cool kids at her school, like the deliciously bitchy Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), a rich girl who hates Kayla for seemingly no reason, and the tooootal heartthrob Aiden (Luke Prael), Kayla’s bad-boy crush who only perks up when she lies to him about taking naughty pictures.

Kayla looks at the images of her classmates on social media and compares them to her real-life, awkward self, prompting her to strive for self-improvement at all costs. If she were to look around her, though, Kayla would see that all of her peers are just as weird and awkward as she thinks she is. Unflattering close-ups of kids popping rubber bands onto their braces, flipping their eyelids inside-out, and pushing chewed-up bubble gum through their lips are peppered throughout the film.

By focusing so much on impressing the people who don’t like her, Kayla isolates herself from the people who truly love her and want to spend time with her. Finally, after a series of missteps including a harrowing conversation with a high school boy who pressures her to do something she doesn’t want to do, Kayla decides to open up to her father and let him in on her struggle. “It’s so easy to love you,” Kayla’s father, played by Josh Hamilton, assures his daughter in the most inspirational Dad Monologue to grace the big screen since Call Me By Your Name.

Eighth Grade joins other recent dramas with young protagonists like The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker) and Spanish film Summer 1993 (dir. Carla Simón) in successfully portraying pain through the eyes of a child. Under Burnham’s masterful direction, 15-year-old Elsie Fisher’s powerful portrayal of the character, with her stumbling speech and nervous quietness, perfectly captures the essence of an anxiety-ridden teenage girl. Directing children is an admirable feat, and Burnham has done so with aplomb by choosing to highlight the fun quirks of the children he cast in his breakout film. The hilariously eccentric character Gabe, for example, could not have been brought to fruition had Burnham not taken care to embrace and highlight actor Jake Ryan’s real-life idiosyncratic personality on film.

Overall, Bo Burnham’s feature directing debut is an outstanding success featuring all the hilarity and heartbreak of being an average, everyday, middle-school girl. With stellar performances, gut-wrenching emotion, and an ultimate message of optimism, Eighth Grade is a film that people of all ages can enjoy.

Eighth Grade is now available on DVD and online. Check out the trailer below: 

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Eight Shows to Watch This Summer https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/eight-shows-to-watch-this-summer/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/eight-shows-to-watch-this-summer/#respond Wed, 03 Jul 2019 17:18:30 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17757

Editor-in-Chief Alex Dewing recommends eight shows that will keep you in the shade this summer.

1. Stranger Things Season 3

When the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things first hit Netflix back in 2016, nobody quite expected how far it would ripple through pop culture. It’s no surprise now that the show’s third season is the most anticipated Netflix release this summer. From the jaw-dropping new trailer, it’s clear that there’s going to be a lot in this next season. In the previous two, we’ve had adventure, horror, and mystery, and now it’s all coming together – bringing the action up tenfold. For the first time, we’ll see the school-aged gang outside of term time, giving them a much needed summer holiday spent at a neon-lit fair blasting synth-heavy pop and a shopping mall where fan favourite Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) works days at an ice cream parlour. As for what dangers threaten the gang this season, we’ll have to wait and see…

Stranger Things comes to Netflix on July 4th

2. The Boys

Even though Marvel brought their relationship with Netflix to a close with the third and final season of Jessica Jones, there is still an abundance of superheroes to be found on the small screen – but you’ll find none quite like The Boys. Adapted from the comic series by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson known for its extreme violence and dark comedy, this Amazon Prime exclusive isn’t going to hold back. (Check out the trailer if you don’t believe me). Set in a world where superheroes have gone rogue, turning to corruption and villainy, only this superpowered team of ‘good guys’ can keep them in check. It will be interesting to see whether The Boys, developed by Supernatural creator Eric Kripke and comedy collaborators Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, succeeds as a superhero satire or flops with its gratuitously sickening approach.

The Boys makes its way to Amazon Prime on July 26th

3. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s cult classic film The Dark Crystal is getting its own prequel 37 years after its release in Netflix’s upcoming animated series Age of Resistance. With darker themes than one would expect from a high-fantasy, family-friendly adventure film, the original Dark Crystal shocked viewers – and the new series looks to follow the original’s lead. The show is set to feature a stellar voice cast:  Taron Egerton, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Anya Taylor-Joy take the lead as three Gelflings – elf-like creatures from the planet Thra – on a journey to start a rebellion in response to the rise of the Skeksis – a villainous species of reptilian birds. These voices will be bringing character to some incredibly innovative puppetry, as to be expected of a Henson production, and the world-building of this show is a definite reason to give it a watch this summer.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance hits Netflix on August 30th

4. I AM

BAFTA award-winning writer-director Dominic Savage will be bringing us a fascinating new anthology miniseries with Channel 4 that puts women and their stories front and centre. There’s always something a little off-putting when a mainstream broadcaster commissions a man to make such a female-focused show like I AM; however, in an article for Pilot TV, Savage managed to somewhat quell my suspicions by detailing his process in developing his scripts. The director talked in depth with his lead actors Gemma Chan, Samantha Morton, and Vicky McClure to find “characters, emotions and ideas” they are interested in exploring. This trio of fantastic women is reason alone to give the show a chance, but with such a great concept and lead creator also on board, I AM will certainly be an interesting one to keep an eye on.

I AM comes to Channel 4 in August

5. This Way Up

The first comedy series on my list is Aisling Bea’s This Way Up, a dark comedy that explores mental health in the modern age. This central concept is becoming more prominent in TV writing, and having been written by and starring Bea herself as the character Aine, and loosely inspired by her personal experiences, we can expect this Channel 4 original to be brimming with the appropriate delicacy, charm, and vulnerability. In the same way, there should be humour by the bucketload; Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) will be starring alongside Bea as Shona, Aine’s sister. Close friends in real life, Bea and Horgan are sure to bring the chemistry needed for this series to succeed – not to mention their faultless comedic timing. Fingers crossed that This Way Up will be the perfect show to end a summer’s day on.

This Way Up premieres on Channel 4 on July 4th

6. Deep Water

ITV has slowly been catching up to other broadcasters when it comes to their original dramas; shows like Broadchurch and Marcella have found huge followings in recent years. Now, Deep Water might just be one to add to that list. Based off Paula Daly’s book series Windermere, the show has echoes of Big Little Lies, as it follows the lives of three women — played by Anna Friel, Sinead Keenan, and Rosalind Elezar — after an accident involving two of their children brings tensions and secrets to the surface of their community. Deep Water sports a female-led ensemble both in front of and behind the camera, and a team such as this can only result in good things. Add to that a handful of dysfunctional families, plenty of suspicious characters, and the picturesque setting of the Lake District in summer and you have a new drama to escape into — unless that premise sounds too much like your own summer vacation!

Deep Water is on ITV late this summer

7. Catherine the Great

If one thing’s for sure, you can always count on there being a new period drama on TV at any given time of the year. This summer Sky Atlantic provides us with Catherine the Great, following Empress Catherine II of Russia. This four-part historical drama flaunts a phenomenal cast: Dame Helen Mirren plays Catherine herself, and Rory Kinnear, Jason Clarke, Gina McKee, Joseph Quinn, and Sam Palladio feature, among other well-known faces. Set during the conclusion of Catherine’s reign, Catherine the Great captures the Empress’ fervent affair with Grigory Potemkin and its effects on her rule, as well as her notable position as a forceful female ruler embracing her power and sexuality. More War & Peace and less Downton Abbey, this drama should be something a little bit different within the genre and a must-watch this summer.

Catherine the Great hits Sky Atlantic this August

8. The Capture

What do The Night Manager, The Bodyguard, and The Little Drummer Girl all have in common? Other than being occupational titles, they’re all hit BBC shows that make it clear the broadcasters know drama – and now, they bring us a timely thriller in The Capture. Following DI Rachel Carey (Holliday Granger) as she takes on a seemingly simple case against ex-soldier Shaun Emery (Callum Turner), The Capture is set to examine the world of ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ agendas. A surveillance thriller such as this hasn’t been seen on the BBC before, and we can be sure that it’ll join the ranks of other critiques of hypermodernity that have found popularity among TV audiences in the likes of Black Mirror and Hard Sun. After a long day relaxing in the sun, The Capture is a perfect show to watch to get your heartbeat racing again.

The Capture will air on BBC One, date TBC

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‘Booksmart’ Review https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/booksmart-review/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/booksmart-review/#respond Sat, 22 Jun 2019 17:04:40 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17700

Alexandra Petrache reviews Olivia Wilde’s anticipated directorial debut.

Director Olivia Wilde does “coming of age” effortlessly and hilariously funny. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are two best friends who have spent high school getting the highest honours and studying hard so that they could get into the best US colleges. On their last day of school, Molly realises that they could have also had some fun in the process and convinces (read: forces) Amy to go to one party and make up for the years of shunning their more sociable peers. They go on a fun – and often weird – journey,  find out things about themselves and one another, and bond with their classmates.

The concept itself is not original, but the delivery is. The characters feel fresh, curious and explorative; importantly, they have chemistry. Damn, I want to have a code word with my friends now! Every character introduced in Booksmart has their moment and their backstory – they are all in this together and they are all archetypes we meet in school. Putting everyone’s experiences on an equal footing allows the film a light hearted and natural approach to Amy’s sexuality, too. It is emphasised, but in the same way that every other character’s sexuality is (even teachers get their moment). And for once, this doesn’t seem like an American high-school experience on steroids; it feels relatable and, for someone who went to high school quite a few years ago, nostalgic.

Booksmart finds a natural comparison in Lady Bird (Beanie Feldstein plays the best friend in both). Where Lady Bird felt forced and precious, Booksmart felt natural from beginning to end. Sure, some of the situations the two friends go through seem a bit far-fetched, but they feel right – and so does the progression of the film, the character development, and even the “girl meets boy” part. It doesn’t tell things just for the sake of telling them, it doesn’t aim to be another “rebel without a cause” story or roll its eyes in pastel colours. It feels real, light-hearted and very, very enjoyable!

Written by four females and directed by one, Booksmart is feminist without even trying. Even though the two main characters are female and the film is peppered with supporting female characters, it doesn’t for a moment feel like they’re in it “for the sake of it”. It also has solid male supporting characters with their own stories and voices. As in Lady Bird, those male roles are acted well too. Skyler Gisondo’s Jared was brilliant. At times I was more interested in his character development than in that of the leads. He plays an apparently arrogant spoilt boy with an inane vulnerability that appears from time-to-time, making you wonder whether there is more to him than meets the eye (spoiler: there is).

Booksmart is also humble. For all it’s worth, I did feel that the film’s peaks were reaching some form of a plateau – even the most exciting or interesting moments were sometimes not given enough space to fully develop. This could have gone two ways: make the audience feel unsatisfied, gagged; or make us feel like these moments are part of life and they will pass, because the world doesn’t stop for anyone. I’d say it made me feel a bit of both.

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart (2019)

Go see Booksmart. It is an absolute feel-good delight: happy, effervescent, and nostalgic. Every punchline lands effortlessly. Kudos to the writers: Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, and Katie Silberman.

This review was originally published here.

Booksmart is currently out in cinemas. Check out the trailer below:

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FOMI: “It’s like being pregnant with a child”, an interview with Thomas Caulton https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/fomi-its-like-being-pregnant-with-a-child-an-interview-with-thomas-caulton/ https://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/blog/fomi-its-like-being-pregnant-with-a-child-an-interview-with-thomas-caulton/#respond Thu, 30 May 2019 10:21:54 +0000 http://www.uclfilmsociety.co.uk/?p=17674

Emma Davis interviews Festival of the Moving Image 2019’s producer Thomas Caulton.

There hasn’t been a Festival of the Moving Image (FOMI) since 2016, but producer Thomas Caulton has spent the past year resurrecting it. He’s come a long way from the humble weekly Monday screenings. So, I sat down with Tom (on a lovely empty day in the Student Centre) to learn about what the festival is about, what it takes for students to put it together and how essential IMDB Pro is.

But what makes FOMI worth it for an audience? “The fact that it’s really easy to just come along, watch these big well-known classics. It’s a nice opportunity for students to see things on the big screens that you may not get a chance to see again,” Thomas says. He emphasises how accessible they have attempted to make it, with his passion for the titles evident in his voice. “I think with film societies, people often worry that it will be quite niche or quite indie or whatever. These films have come and gone, you can watch them on your phone or you can watch them at the theatre. We know that cinema, like the cinema institution, is dying with the rise of Netflix and streaming. But, it’s really nice to be able to go to a theatre and to watch a film.”

There Will Be Blood (2007)

The Festival of the Moving Image 2019 presents five films and a short film festival taking place 30th May to 1st June. This year’s theme is ‘UNDERGROUND AND KEPT FAR DOWN’. Pitched by its director Hassan Sherif, he wrote that, “The theme opened doors to different dark and dynamic cinematic styles. For instance, the immediate intensity of There Will Be Blood (2008), often set literally underground, uses realism in its contrast between the below and above to capture the deteriorating mental state of our antihero. While steering away from realism with a more obviously fantastical and hellish environment, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), just like There Will Be Blood, still maintains an association of the underground with a nightmarish environment.” Other feature films on the programme include City of God (2002), You Were Never Really Here (2017) and Mike Leigh’s latest Peterloo with the director-screenwriter’s Q&A.

Bringing Mike Leigh himself to the Bloomsbury Theatre — how did the team pull that bit of networking off? “IMDB Pro. We used IMDB Pro.” Thomas is dead serious. “You get the free trial with your email, and make sure you cancel it before the end of the month.” For the year’s work the FOMI team have done, they otherwise would have had to pay $149 USD for the service. They had a massive document with London-based film industry professionals, ready to contact every position and connection. “It just takes a lot of perseverance and usually, they will be relatively receptive. You just have to talk a lot. Make it seem like they wanna come, and they should. It’s a great event.” This does not sound easy. “And obviously, you get lots of people who are interested but they’re busy people. Those are for next year I’ve got them under my belt. I’m very excited for the prospect of next year’s FOMI.”

And often, Tom highlights, “They’re just generous with their time.”

Mike Leigh on the set of Peterloo (2018)

What would Tom’s personal choice be, without budgetary or industry constraints, his dream guests? “Darren Aronofsky, a director I love. He’d be really interesting. Cate Blanchett is very eloquent and she’s great on stage, saw her recently. There’s so many people I would have!” Even with these fanciful notions, Thomas is still thinking about what would serve university students and fulfil the festival’s appeal. “There’s so many options and people that could come along who would be interesting, just talking to students.”

Getting people to come speak at the festival was the biggest worry. “That was a long long lengthy process. The fact that we had two by the end, was great!” Thomas emphasises. This was before Steven Knight’s unfortunate cancelling due to scheduling conflicts. There is some wisdom in the madness of the FOMI’s team efforts – interacting with the film industry can be intimidating. Despite the UCL Film Society’s prestigious history and alumni, the good reputation of UCL and the West End accredited Bloomsbury Theatre, there was still a lot of work required. “If you can craft a good email. It’s essential. Being able to speak eloquently, especially on the phone. If you can sound professional, if you can talk. I talk and non-stop. Then they’re more likely to take you seriously, and you can have a sort of tone or almost even bluff that you’re being professional.”

City of God (2002)

Thomas also has no qualms about how much their team has been through this past year. “Considering the hitches, which have been few and far between, it’s gone quite smoothly.” He has spent most of this interview praising his team. “We just had myself and Hassan, the director. That was it at the start.” His position on this year’s committee was super useful for recruiting. His fellow Screenings Producer, Amelia Christofis, was brought on quickly to compile and organise the short film festival, the last treat of the festival with submissions from university students. “It’s good for people who have made a film: to be proud of it, and to see it on a big screen in a theatre setting, which may not come around everyday for a student filmmaker.”

Through her, Tom met Maria Düster. “I was at a FemFilm meeting — just happened to be there, as a man — and Maria was there. She’s been great at marketing and doing an amazing job since.” She was joined by committee members Xinyi Wang (Blog & Podcast Editor in Chief) and Sebastian Van Der Ree (Marketing & Communications). And of course, he has immense gratitude for the ongoing support of this year’s President and Treasurer. “Money has always been the toughest,” says Thomas, but Misan Aviomoh and Demi Hao were always around.

Festival of the Moving Image 2019 will take place from May 30th to June 1st. Buy your tickets now on The Bloomsbury’s website! Each screening is only £3. Book for all screenings and pay only £10 at the checkout.

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