BFI London Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #6
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Directed by S. Craig Zahler
A grimy, intense, and hypnotically violent prison film, Brawl in Cell Block 99
finds Vince Vaughn's principled drug runner stuck behind bars; things only get worse from there. Much, much worse. This is a pretty spectacular film, though between the deliberate pacing and the horrific violence, it's safe to say that it's not for everybody. It's only S. Craig Zahler's second movie, but he doesn't strike a single wrong note -- his direction is stylish without being flashy, and the pacing is unhurried without the film ever feeling slow. It feels just right; watching Vince Vaughn's character delve deeper and deeper into his horrific prison odyssey is absolutely entrancing. After this and True Detective
, it's abundantly clear that Vaughn is surprisingly great at delivering terse, hard-boiled tough guy dialogue. He gives a remarkable, magnetic performance; you can't take your eyes off of him. The film isn't exactly an action movie, but it certainly earns the "brawl" part of its title, with fights that are brutal and mesmerizing. It's so good.
Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya
About a cheating ring that gets more and more elaborate, Bad Genius has the basic structure of a heist film -- so it should be way more involving than it is. But it's hard to deny that writing a test doesn't have quite the level of cinematic heft as cracking a safe or breaking into a bank. The film is directed with a fun, peppy sense of energy by Nattawut Poonpiriya, but its relentless pacing eventually gets fatiguing. It never slows down to let us get to know the characters; they're always either cheating on a test, or preparing to cheat on a test. The film eventually sputters out with a bizarre cop-out of an ending in which multiple characters do complete 180s out of nowhere. It feels tacked on -- it's so odd, not to mention a very unsatisfying way to conclude the film.
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
Directed by Paul McGuigan
UK/105 MINUTES/HEADLINE GALAS
Over the past several years, roughly 72 million hours of television has been produced in which people solve murders. It's a subject that, in this day and age, is hard to get excited about. Which is to say that there is a murder to be solved in Gemini
(involving a famous actress, her assistant, and several other Hollywood-adjacent figures), and it does absolutely nothing to peek its head over the near-infinite crowd of murder-solving-related entertainment; it just blends right in. It's fine -- Aaron Katz imbues the film with a decent amount of style, he's fairly adept at writing snappy dialogue, and he populates the film with a memorable cast of characters -- but the mystery itself is cinematic white noise. It's hard to care. The movie is actually at its best in its first act, where it's basically just a low-key drama about the relationship between a movie star and her assistant.
-Reviews by Michael Nusair