BFI London Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #2
Directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen
It's rare to see a horror movie that so wholly fails at being tense, scary, or suspenseful, but Rift
somehow manages it. About a guy who travels to a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere when he gets an odd voicemail from his ex-boyfriend, the film does an okay job at being a relationship drama, and a fairly abysmal job at being a horror film. It's odd -- there are several moments where the over-the-top score and the aggressive sound design tell you that something scary is supposed to be happening, and yet... nothing. There was one startling jump scare, but aside from that absolutely none of the film's "horror" landed in any discernible way. That's not to say that it's entirely without merit; the more low-key scenes between the two leads are actually pretty strong, and the movie's visuals ensure that it's always at least compelling on a surface level. John Wakayama Carey's handsome widescreen cinematography does a stunning job of capturing the sometimes eerie beauty of the Icelandic countryside, and is easily the best thing that Rift
has going for it. You can definitely picture a really great horror film taking place in this setting; this, however, is not that film.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Directed by Noah Baumbach
USA/110 MINUTES/STRAND GALAS
The Meyerowitz Stories -- which features Noah Baumbach's now-standard Woody Allen-esque milieu of New York artists and intellectuals -- is one of those movies where the characters are all affable enough that you're happy to keep spending time with them, even if there's not much by way of plot to propel things forward. It helps that it has some really fun performances from people like Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and Adam Sandler (once every several years, Sandler likes to remind us that he can actually act; this is probably his best performance since Punch Drunk Love). However, it's hard not to feel like you've seen this movie before and you've seen it better (such as Baumbach's last few movies, not to mention the bulk of Woody Allen's filmography from the '70s and '80s). Baumbach's recent films have all felt really tightly constructed; you could tell that he worked hard to trim the fat. This one feels looser, with its meandering vibe being a bit less focused. That's not to mention that it just keeps ambling on for a good ten or fifteen minutes after it seems like it should be wrapping up.
Directed by Jimmy Henderson
A group of Southeast Asian policemen (who happen to all be expert martial artists) head into a building where they find themselves facing down an army of thugs controlled by a ruthless mob boss; if you're thinking that this sounds a lot like The Raid, you're not wrong. Jailbreak borrows heavily from that film, with a similar plot, sense of style, and even the presence of a European ex-pat behind the camera (Gareth Evans should probably watch his back, because Jimmy Henderson might just be trying to Single White Female him). And though the action here is actually pretty good -- like Evans, Henderson knows how to stage an exciting action sequence without obscuring it with too many close-ups or quick cuts -- the set-pieces lack any sense of progression. Once you've seen one, you've basically seen them all; there's very little to distinguish them from each other. The film is otherwise quite amateurish, so there's not a lot here other than the action to keep you engaged (and it takes a solid half hour to get to the first set-piece, which feels endless). Also: there are outtakes during the end credits, and the film can't even get that right. They're not the Jackie Chan-style stunt bloopers you're expecting; it's just footage of the cast and crew fooling around between takes. What? Why?
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
FRANCE/107 MINUTES/STRAND GALAS
One of the problems with biopics is that if you remove the knowledge that you're watching a story about a person you know/care about, what's left is often not a story worth telling. That's very much an issue with Redoubtable, a film about legendary director Jean-Luc Godard's transformation from a relatively populist filmmaker to someone more revolutionary-minded. Would this be a movie worth making without the context of Godard? If it were just about a fictional asshole director (because as portrayed, Godard certainly comes off as a one-note douchebag), would the audience care? The movie moves at a decent clip and it's quite well acted, but it's hard to get too involved when it feels like it's just going through the biopic motions. It doesn't help that the movie is directed with an overbearing, smug sense of style by Michel Hazanavicius. He absolutely crams the film with Godardian stylistic tics and on-the-nose homages, and while it's a fun idea in theory, in practice it just does not work at all. It always feels completely forced. It's insufferable.