Simon Bird on directing ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’

Best known for his leading roles in The Inbetweeners franchise and the still ongoing Friday Night Dinner, actor Simon Bird delivers a gentler comedic offering with his feature debut as a director, Days of the Bagnold Summer. It’s a sweet coming-of-age film that examines the wobbly relationship between a mother and son over one long summer in the suburbs. Mopey metalhead Daniel Bagnold (Earl Cave, son of Nick) was meant to be spending the season in Florida visiting his dad, who has a new partner expecting a baby. When the trip is cancelled, his well-intentioned librarian mum, Sue (Monica Dolan), attempts to both entertain the introverted lad and help him get his act together, while also trying to come out of her own shell…

Full interview for The Skinny

First Love (Takashi Miike, 2019)

“Fuck. How many does this make today?” an exasperated, backstabbing yakuza says to himself, as he attempts to tie up yet another loose end in the fallout of a scheme gone disastrously wrong. He has no idea that the previous loose end he thought he tied up – i.e. someone he left for dead – is very much still alive, kicking and maniacally set on revenge. Welcome to Takashi Miike’s First Love, the Japanese icon’s 103rd film to date: a high-energy slice of pulp fiction with a dozen distinctive characters…

Full review for VODzilla.co

10 things to see at the Glasgow Film Festival 2020

Glasgow Film Festival returns for its 16th edition in 2020, running from 26 February to 8 March. For the first time in GFF’s history, the opening and closing gala films are both directed by women filmmakers, with the closing night falling on International Women’s Day.

Based on Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel, festival closer How to Build a Girl stars Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein as a young working-class woman becoming a music critic. It’s to be the first theatrically released feature in more than 20 years from English director Coky Giedroyc (Stella Does Tricks), who has worked on recent TV favourites like The Hour and Harlots. French director Alice Winocour will open the festival with her latest, Proxima, in which Eva Green plays an astronaut and mother preparing for a year-long space mission.

On International Women’s Day, every film screened that day will be either directed or written by a woman or featuring a female lead. Women directors are also the subject of Mark Cousins’ 14-hour documentary Women Make Film: A New Road Movie through Cinema, which will be shown in five instalments. Overlooked gems from the past from directors Joan Micklin Silver, Larisa Shepitko, Euzhan Palcy and more will screen in support.

With nine world premieres, 10 European premieres, 102 UK premieres and 39 Scottish premieres to choose from, as well as retrospectives, talks and immersive events, choosing tickets wisely can be difficult. Here are 10 highlights from across this year’s bumper programme…

Full feature for the BFI

How Robert Eggers made this year’s strangest film

Upon its release in 2016, Robert Eggers’ debut feature, The Witch, spooked audiences across the world with its slow-burn dread and terrifying portrayals of possession.

What truly set it apart as a period horror, though, was an exquisite sense of historical detail when it came to its 1630s New England setting: notably, the particulars of the language its characters used to communicate and process the terrors they faced. Visually speaking – although shot digitally – it often harkened back to some of cinema’s earliest days. It’s no surprise that Eggers has since been attached to remake the influential Nosferatu.

But the writer-director’s follow-up to The Witch isn’t the silent-horror classic: it’s something altogether trickier to define. With his second feature, The Lighthouse, Eggers has in fact enlisted the help of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe – two of the most idiosyncratic stars of their respective generations – for a two-hander set on a New England island in the 1890s…

Full interview for Huck

Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges on acting as therapy

For Honey Boy, directed by Israeli-American filmmaker Alma Har’el (Bombay Beach), actor and performance artist Shia LaBeouf takes on screenwriting duties.

Much has been made of this, given that the film is a fictionalised account of his own childhood ascent to stardom. LaBeouf headlined Disney Channel shows as a pre-teen, which led to him starring in Michael Bay and Oliver Stone films in his early 20s – all before a very public crash-landing into rehab and recovery in recent years. Many of these experiences, naturally, find their way into the script.

But if your guard immediately went up at the idea of a barely disguised autobiography – in which the writer also plays a version of their own father – rest assured that Honey Boy is no exercise in indulgent narcissism. Rather, LaBeouf’s story is a deeply humanist, tragicomic memoir about mental health and trauma.

In the film, two actors play the character Otis Lort – based on LaBeouf – at different stages of a tumultuous career. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird) plays Otis as an adult, where he’s a hot-headed movie star sent to rehab after a DUI.

Most of the film, though, is set in the ’90s, with British teen actor Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) playing a younger Otis. He’s struggling with his childhood television work under the supervision of his leech-like father (LaBeouf), an ex-rodeo clown and felon who’s emotionally abusive to his son and sometimes physically abusive to those trying to help the boy.

Ahead of Honey Boy’s UK release, Huck spoke to Hedges and Jupe about ‘playing’ LaBeouf, their own relationships with child stardom, and whether they view filmmaking as therapy…

Full interview for Huck

So Long, My Son (Wang Xiaoshuai, 2019)

This ambitious, epic melodrama from Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai is delivered with historical richness and
staggering emotional gravity. Across three hours, its story jumps back and forth between four decades and documents significant upheavals in modern Chinese life.

Of particular interest to Wang is how the country’s one-child policy, designed to control the population size and finally eliminated in 2015, affects an ensemble of couples, their relatives and their children. He also explores how those ripples extend to years of rage and regret after two parents, Liyun (Yong Mei) and Yaojun (Wang Jingchun), fall foul of the rule. It brings the political reality and monumental societal shifts right down to a human level…

Full review for Little White Lies

Atom Egoyan: How we made ‘Exotica’ – 25th anniversary

Misleadingly marketed as an erotic thriller by Miramax, Exotica proved a notable box-office success for a Canadian film when it was released a quarter of a century ago. It was a commercial breakthrough for its Cairo-born writer-director Atom Egoyan, following well-regarded arthouse titles such as Speaking Parts (1989) and The Adjuster (1991). Nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and recipient of eight Genie awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Oscars), Egoyan’s film remains one of Canadian cinema’s most enduring and influential titles, and – along with The Sweet Hereafter (1997) – the director’s most highly regarded feature.

Set primarily around the fictional Exotica strip club in Toronto, the non-linear narrative – in which Egoyan withholds many of the specifics of characters’ relationships until the very end – concerns the intertwining lives of Francis (Bruce Greenwood), a tax auditor; Christina (Mia Kirshner), a young dancer; Eric (Elias Koteas), the club’s DJ; Thomas (Don McKellar), a pet shop owner; and Zoe (Arsinée Khanjian), the club’s pregnant owner.

Exotica is largely about loss, mourning and the effects they have on human connections; how people’s attempts to cope with extreme, often concealed grief manifest in outwardly disturbing personal rituals. The final scenes are among the most emotionally cathartic of 1990s cinema, drastically reconfiguring your understanding of previous events, while also opening up many unsettling questions. Far from a shallow puzzle narrative, the film’s power only grows with repeat viewings.

With 2019 marking the film’s 25th anniversary, I spoke to Atom Egoyan about Exotica’s production and legacy while he was at this year’s BFI London Film Festival to give a career talk and support his new film, Guest of Honour. Our conversation spoils one narrative reveal from Exotica’s finale…

Full interview for the BFI

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams