The Sundance Film Festival London is currently taking place June 9th – 12th.
Thom attended the press screenings on June 7th & 8th (and will be at the press screening of this years “surprise film” on June 13th…review to follow).
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.
Directed by Sophie Hyde (last seen with the excellent Animals), Good Luck To You, Leo Grande
stars Emma Thompson as Nancy Stokes retired school teacher and widow determined to improve her sex life, an idea that involves a hotel room and a sex worker called Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack).
With a fantastic screenplay by Katy Brand, the film really feels like a play. It’s mostly set in a single location (the aforementioned hotel room) and is divided into 4 separate “acts”, and the script definitely lends itself to that feel.
Emma Thompson is absolutely fantastic here, honestly one of my favourite performances of hers for me, and that covers a lot of ground. Its a fearless, funny and moving performance. Daryl McCormack is also great, adding a real poignancy to the role and the chemistry between the two is fantastic.
Also fantastic is considering the subject matter involves an older woman booking a sex worker who is also a lot younger, this never demonizes anything. It’s incredibly empathetic towards Thompson’s situation and also casts no judgement on sex work at all. Most films, especially those that are comedies would fail miserably at this, so it’s incredibly commendable that this doesn’t.
Also, as a personal note, it was great to see the film was shot in my old stomping grounds of Norwich. There weren’t a lot of exterior shots, but unmistakably the fine city!
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande opened Sundance London on 9th June, and plays at the festival over the weekend before releasing on June 17th, and it’s a strong recommendation from me.
Free Cool Soo Lee.
Chol Soo Lee was a Korean American who was falsely accused of murder in San Francisco back in 1973. Witnesses were tourists who incorrectly identified him as Chinese, which led to his incarceration and a huge campaign to release him that spanned years. This documentary covers the case, the movement to release him and what happened next.
Considering the movement to release Chol Soo Lee was so large, and he became such a huge figure in the Asian-American community and beyond, I’m surprised I’d never heard of his case. His likeness adorned flags, posters, badges and more throughout the mid 70s to mid 80s, it was a truly huge deal.
Unfortunately, this documentary exposes another failure of the American legal system, something we are all too used to seeing especially when it comes to matters of race. It also shows the toll the prison system can take, although I’d have like to have seen a bit more time given to the aftermath of Chol Soo Lee’s prison time.
It’s a really interesting film overall, but it does hit a point where things start to feel a little rushed. Considering the film only runs for 83 minutes, it would have been nice to have a bit more towards the end, which felt quite abrupt.
Overall, it’s a worthwhile documentary to check out whether you have heard of the case or not, but it’s something you might want to do some extra reading about after the credits roll.
Free Chol Soo Lee
is playing at Sundance London from Friday 10th June, and will be released by MUBI later in 2022.
The “watching” sub genre of thriller/horror has been around for a while now, from Hitchcock’s Rear Window to John Carpenters very literally entitled Somebody’s Watching Me!, it does kind of feel like a type of film that’s been done to death, with not much more that can be added to it.
Fortunately, Chloe Okuno’s Watcher
proves that theory wrong.
Julia (Maika Monroe) has just moved to Bucharest with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) and starts to notice someone watching her from the apartment building on the other side of the street. As Francis is out at work every day, Julia notices the stranger more and more, and starts to wonder if this is connected to the serial killer roaming the streets of the city.
So far it sounds like your usual thriller of this ilk, and in a way I guess it is. But it is so well executed you’d think this sort of film hadn’t been made as much as it has over the years.
This also applies to the sheer tension that permeates the film. For such a straight forward premise I honestly didn’t think I’d be squirming so much (there is a scene in a cinema that made this long time movie-goer recoil in his seat!) and the fact that this is Chloe Okuno’s first feature makes it all the more impressive.
Maika Monroe is as excellent as ever in the lead, her previous performances in thriller/horrors speak for themselves here, and she is brilliant here, especially as she is in pretty much every scene in the entire movie.
The “Watcher” of the film is played by the spectacularly named Burn Gorman, and he just possesses that very real, almost normal looking creepiness that really reminded me of Eugene Tooms in the classic X-Files episodes, really subtly unnerving.
Watcher is playing at Sundance London from Friday 10th June, and will be released later in the year on Shudder and if you are looking for a bit of nerve grabbing tension, I can’t recommend it enough.
We Met in Virtual Reality.
I went into We Met in Virtual Reality
not really sure what I was going to make of it. I was sort of peripherally aware VR worlds existed and people communicated inside of them but nothing more than that really. This documentary not only tells you about the people that participate in this community, but is also shot entirely inside VRChat, a “virtual world platform” where people around the (real) world can interact with other people or avatars. I’m very aware I might have explained it much like someone completely out of touch with it might, but I’m trying, and at least I didn’t mention Lawnmower Man!
As the documentary started, the feeling of “I don’t know what to make of it” continued. I watched sign language classes done in a virtual classroom with avatars, with peoples avatars bouncing across the screen, including a Kermit the Frog one, I saw belly dancing lessons, and also people finding love.
The decision by director Joe Hunting to shoot the film completely in VRChat was a very good one. I found it a far better way to learn about the world and the people in it than having talking heads breaking up footage of the VR world. Quite simply, the more I saw of VRChat the more I understood.
We meet the likes of Jenny who is teaching sign language, DustBunny who holds belly dancing lessons , and their partner Toaster who have also met in real life, as well as Dragonheart and IsYourBoi who live 5000 miles apart from each other but seem as committed as any “real world” relationship.
VRChat seems to have brought a lot of people together, all the more so during the pandemic when people who could normally pop down the road to see friends instead used this community to do so, and it is quite nice seeing people brought together like that. 40,000 people were online VRChat on New Years Eve 2020!
Whilst it’s definitely a world that isn’t for me, you can’t really argue with the community that is built there, and the help and the sense of belonging people get from it, and this documentary does a great job of showing it and I left feeling that I understand more than I did going into it, which is what any good doc should do.
We Met in Virtual Reality shows at Sundance London from Friday 10th June.
I wasn’t expecting Ed Perkin’s documentary about the late Princess of Wales to elicit the biggest emotional reaction from me of any film of Sundance London, but that it certainly did.
Comprised entirely of archive footage dating from just before the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981, until her tragic death in 1997 with no narration, The Princess just simply presents what happened as was shown on the news and radio. It’s the sort of film that will get a different reaction from different people.
Some people will look at it and just be reminded of a sad thing that happened 25 years ago and that’s it, but for me it really was like reopening an old wound, and the fact that all this footage came from the media that hounded Diana endlessly was like rubbing salt into that wound.
Parallels to present day abound, people referring to the Charles and Diana wedding as a waste of money that could have been used for better things, a mere week removed from a certain Platinum Jubilee…a member of the public on the radio proclaiming that Diana loved all the press attention from the media, where have we heard that again in recent years?
Much like another documentary at Sundance, We Met in VR, The Princess
works far better without talking heads or narration. What more can be said or added to the whole story? Everyone has had their say, but the archive footage that is presented is incredibly powerful stuff on it’s own.
Maybe it’s viewing it so soon after recent events, but it just really made me angry. Here we are, 25 years later and The Royal Family are reviled, the press are probably worse than they have ever been, and the general public mostly seem to just lap it all up…whatever lessons that should have been learned back in 1997 have been forgotten or flat out ignored.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, not everyone will leave The Princess feeling the same as I did, but they will leave feeling something. Lets hope we never have another documentary like it.
The Princess plays Sundance London from Saturday 11th June and is released in UK cinemas on July 1st.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul
is the feature debut of Adamma Ebo, based on her 2018 short film of the same name. Regina Hal plays Trinitie Childs, the “first lady” of a Southern Baptist megachurch, who must help her husband Lee-Curtis (Sterling K. Brown) restore its congregation to its former glory after he was rocked by scandal.
Honk… starts as a very funny half mockumentary, with some memorable comedy moments and dialogue (“She loves paintball guns…real guns…”) and the comic timing of Hall and Brown is top notch. As the movie progresses however we get to see more and more of the toll everything has taken on Trinitie and things get a little more serious too.
This is where the film faltered a bit for me, it felt like it was still trying to be a full on comedy, and it felt like that was at the expense of some very well performed and earnest drama. A scene near the films conclusion jumps from some farcical visual comedy, to a heartfelt monalogue which unfortunately lost some of its power for me.
The two leads are fantastic throughout, Brown in particular showing comedic skills I hadn’t seen before from him as the Pastor who seems more interested in what shoes he’s going to where than what he is preaching.
In the end, it’s a rather uneven ride, which never really skewers religion like I thought it might, and it’s laughs do come at the expense of the more dramatic moments, but it’s still an entertaining couple of hours.
Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is released on Peacock in the US in September.
is one of those tricky films that you don’t want to say too much about without giving the entire game away, so I shall be treading very carefully here, as it’s an instance where it best to know as little as possible going in.
What I can say however, Rebecca Hall plays Margaret, a very career driven single mum whose life is turned on it’s head when a mysterious man from her past (Tim Roth) reappears in her life. But how are they connected?
And that question is as far as I am going discussing the plot, but suffice it to say things go off in a direction that I don’t think any viewer will see coming. At least, I hope not!
Hall is spectacular as Margaret, staying absolutely believable as the film starts to get wilder and wilder, and Roth gives a wonderfully unhinged performance, a real treat to see him playing a role as out there as this.
So much more can be said about where the film goes, and what it might all mean but that would mean ruining the enjoyment of seeing it for yourself, which you can do from Saturday 11th June at Sundance London and on August 5th nationally.
, a Finnish body horror from Hanna Bergholm was one of my most anticipated films of Sundance London. Siiri Solalinna plays Tinja, a 12 year old girl who finds a mysterious egg in the forest, brings it home and keeps it safe until it starts to hatch, but what is inside that egg spells danger for her, her picture-perfect family and friends.
Hatching has the aesthetic of a Hallmark movie throughout. This works well a lot of the time, with Tinja’s pushy vlogger mum trying to show the world how perfect her family is, when in fact they are all intensely annoying, but at other times it feels like a weird sheen that it doesn’t feel like the film needs.
A lot of your opinion of the movie will come down to what you make of what comes out of the egg. The effects for it are incredibly well done for a low budget horror, but I was left feeling a bit “is that it?” when the hatching scene came.
A lot is made of the helicopter parent mum character pushing Tinja to be the best at gymnastics, and the contents of the egg is definitely a reflection on how Tinja feels, but unfortunately it just wasn’t enough to draw me into the film in the end.
What made matters a little worse is that everything came across a little silly for me, and I’m not sure that was the intent. There was a couple of points during the film where I laughed, and I really am not sure that was the reaction the filmmakers were looking for.
As mentioned, the special effects in the film are fantastic, and almost worth watching just for them but I found everything else fell a bit flat.
Hatching plays at Sundance London from Saturday 11th June and is released in the UK on September 16th.
A Love Song.
A Love Song
is the debut feature from Max Walker-Silverman and stars Dale Dickey as Faye, a widow who is waiting at a campsite to be reunited with Lito (Wes Studi), a childhood sweetheart who is also widowed to see what may happen between the pair.
It’s one of those pleasant films where not a lot happens, Faye is at the campsite and just spends her time waiting for Lito, encountering a couple waiting to take the next step in their relationship, a friendly postman, and a hilariously deadpan little girl and her cowboy brothers.
It looks beautiful, with the campsite located by a lake next to the mountains providing some truly lush scenery. It really made me want to go camp somewhere like that for a while, away from everything.
Dale Dickey is fantastic, her face just expresses so much. Sadness, regret, the conflict on what to do when Lito arrives and whilst he is there, it’s a brilliant and understated performance. Great chemistry with Studi as well, I wish they had more time on camera together.
As nice as it all is, and in spite of the great performances, I never found myself connecting emotionally with it. I don’t think there was enough there with the main characters. Sure they were grieving, and they were lonely…but what else? It feels they didn’t have enough time together to go deeper.
Maybe it’s an age and life experience thing but I was never able to get more out of it other than it being a nice watch.
A Love Song plays at Sundance London on Sunday 12th June and will be released later in the year.
Brian and Charles.
Brian and Charles
is undoubtedly one of those films that could only be made in the UK. A film about a loner who “invents” things deciding to make a robot out of a mannequin head and a washing machine as a torso? It just couldn’t be set anywhere else.
Based on a 2017 short of the same name, this is director Jim Archers feature debut, and it is the most heart-warming, hilarious and cabbage friendly film of the festival.
Once the robot comes alive and decides on his name (Charles Patrescu, of course!) it becomes a wonderfully funny buddy movie. Brian teaches Charles about the world, and Charles becomes more and more inquisitive, especially after seeing a holiday programme on the TV.
It’s all just so sweet natured, David Earl (who some readers may know as a different Brian, in After Life) is incredibly empathetic as Brian, a character who could so easily be a one note weirdo. His relationship with Charles, and a possible fledgling romance with Hazel (Louise Brealey) are just so well done and wholesome and build perfectly for the emotional and dramatic beats later in the film.
Brian and Charles might go on to become one of my favourite films of the year, and I can’t recommend going to see it enough, even if it is to tell me if it’s just me that think Charles looks a but like Jim Broadbent somehow?
Brian and Charles plays Sundance London on Sunday 12th June, and is released in the UK on July 8th.
Reviews by Thom from press access kindly supplied by Sundance London.