LFF 2018 film reviews: Life Itself, Wild Rose, Believer
Ivan Radford | On 16, Oct 2018
From Netflix’s Outlaw King, Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs to Amazon’s Life Itself and Suspiria, the big VOD players are all rolling into town for the London Film Festival this October. We head to Leicester Square to round up the highlights from this year’s event:
If you’ve suddenly found yourself bursting into tears near a TV set in the last 18 months, the chances are it’s because of Dan Fogelman and the little tear-jerking juggernaut that is This Is Us. Life Itself, backed by Amazon Studios, sees Fogelman return to the big screen for a similar criss-crossing ensemble comedy drama that aims to blend quirky laughs with profound philosophy. And so we’re introduced to Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde as a New York couple whose lives are driven apart by tragedy. They’re the kind of Hollywoodised version of real people that never really convince; a penchant for Pulp Fiction is treated as a defining character trait, self-aware dialogue hopes to make up for its shallow nature by being self-aware, and monologues occur at least every other scene. In between their generation-spanning story, though, is hidden a moving drama about a Spanish family working on an olive farm, starring Antonio Banderas, Laia Costa and Sergio Peris-Mencheta. But as their tale is wrapped into the cliched Manhattanite framework, the film’s emotional impact is lost in a sea of overwrought sentiment. The weepie music is dialled up to 11, the convenient coincidences are wheeled out three too many times, and unnecessary narrators spend half the runtime telling us how unnecessary they are – or launching into contrived lectures about Bob Dylan. When the whole thing wraps up in a voiceover that doesn’t tie into the heartfelt message that’s been hammered home all the way through, one thing becomes clear: this isn’t This Is Us.
Life Itself will be released in UK cinemas and on Sky Cinema in early 2019.
A star is born in this utterly delightful music drama, which sees Jessie Buckley (of Beast fame) deliver a sensational turn as country music lover Rose-Lynn. A Glaswegian with a serious thing for folk, she dreams of going to Nashville to make her dreams happen. The only problem? She’s just got out of prison and has two small children to support. Suddenly, the wish to run away to another country makes more sense, and Wild Rose becomes less about a young woman chasing a career, and more about a 20-something learning to accept their responsibilities. Fortunately, that journey still involves a lot of music, and Buckley never passes up the chance to grab a mic and belt out a tune – and boy, can she belt them out. Encouraged by employer Susannah (fleshed out beautifully by a wonderful Sophie Okonedo) and kept in line by her stern mum (Julie Walters), the result is an abashedly uplifting comedy, which Tom Harper directs Nicole Taylor’s script with toe-tapping energy, foot-stomping sincerity and an ear-worming tracklist of new and old classics. It all clicks into place whenever Rose-Lynn gets on the stage, putting a smile on your face even as it tugs gently at your heart. Prepare for the next big British hit: this one will rock you mama every which way you feel.
Wild Rose will be released in UK cinemas on 19th April 2019.
Johnnie To’s 2012 gem Drug War gets the Korean treatment in this surprising but no less impressive remake. Director Lee Hae-young brings a thrilling style all of his own to the tale of a narcotics cop, Won-ho (Cho Jin-woong), who ends up working with drugs dogsbody Rak (Ryu Jun-yeol) to trace down the mysterious criminal kingpin Mr. Lee. What follows is a game of cat and mouse that balances breakneck pacing with psychological complexity, gun-toting choreography and unexpected melancholy, all brought to life by a cast that have enough ambiguity to keep you guessing about where things are headed until the final act.
Believer is currently seeking a UK distributor.