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If You Risk Nothing, Then You Risk Everything

16 October 2015

If You Risk Nothing, Then You Risk Everything

Our continued coverage of the British Film Institute's London Film Festival

The Year of the Strong Woman has taken a bit of a breather since a rambunctious opening night that experienced a brief diversion from the programme (including a lie-down protest at Suffragette’s gala), the day before a talk by Geena Davis, now of the Institute on Gender in Media, an equality-for-Hollywood project that launched at this year’s LFF. But the theme, at least for me the past couple days, has been one of the brotherly variety, starting with the Brothers Quay.

35mm: In Absentia*** (2000), The Comb*** (1990), Street of Crocodiles***** (1986) (The Brothers Quay shorts) and Christopher Nolan’s Quay (2015)

Presenting fresh 35mm prints from the original Quay Brothers’ negatives as well as his first short doc, Christopher Nolan reveals his inner fanboy for a rare front-of-camera meet-and-greet with the animation innovators. I’d have to plead ignorance to the Quays prior to this screening, but this three-set serves as a ready reckoner for their extensive body of work, including the Quays’ still noticeably influential Street of Crocodiles. The Brothers’ influence on animation, stop-motion or otherwise, is still keenly felt elsewhere in this year’s impressive shorts programme—a fact I wouldn’t have realised without catching these. Nolan’s own footage, a quick peek behind the curtain, opens up the Quays’ studio/lab to peer inside the surrealistic viscera of their life and art (and a whole lot of cut-up dolls). Add some Robert Walser and deft camera trickery to the mix for an irksome experience. Great fun, if brief.

Men and Chicken (2015), Anders Thomas Jensen 

Continuing the brotherhood theme is this self-consciously left-field knee-slapper from Denmark, Men and Chicken, an often bizarre but perennially surprising bestial comedy (yes, one now exists). From the makers of Adam’s Apples (writer-director Jensen’s last outing at this festival), their latest may be heavy on slapstick but makes up for it in heart. Worth a quick poke.

Black Mass (2015), Scott Cooper

Another tale of two brothers (have we had enough yet?), James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Depp), once one of America’s most dangerous gangsters (and FBI informants), terrorises the streets of Boston—in the near background is his Senator brother, Billy Bulger (a subdued Cumberbatch). Black Mass chronicles their rise and fall, but unfortunately does so in pretty unspectacular fashion. Director Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) lays on the violence pretty thick, but for all its efficiency and period detail, it’s a wayward, meandering piece. Depp channeling Christopher Walken in swagger and pout isn’t as arresting as it feels it might have been. But it’s not since Gary Oldman’s Dracula that a beehive hair-do has been this sinister. Cumberbatch’s quiet US takeover continues, but it’s rising star Joel Edgerton’s turn as loyal childhood buddy-turned-FBI-operative that momentarily elevates this flick above a mass of genre trappings.

Bone Tomahawk, S. Craig Zahler

A special mention goes to first-time director Zahler, who (bragging UK funding for Hollywood aside) brings his ultraviolent horror Western to a simultaneously delighted and bewildered London audience. Replete with gougings, disembowellings and a tribe of petrifying inbreds to quiver even the hardiest horror fans’ bottom lips, Bone Tomahawk is a largely satisfying rescue/revenge picture held together by a superb ensemble cast, including Lili Simmons, Patrick Wilson and Kurt Russell. Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) as comic relief Chicory is the standout in this river of blood—essentially a bloodier update of John Ford’s The Searchers. A convincing debut.

Written by Declan Tan