Set It Up (Claire Scanlon, 2018)

While the American rom-com has hardly been a rare beast in the last few years, a majority of the prominent mainstream examples – e.g. Trainwreck from studio fare, Sleeping with Other People from the independent side – have leaned into cynicism, raunchiness and a subversion of genre trappings. Netflix’s Set It Up, the debut feature of TV directing veteran Claire Scanlon, does not fit alongside them. The closest it comes to raunchiness is one use of the ‘c’ word and its female lead making a mini golf-based sexual euphemism concerning her vagina – this one is probably safe not to hide behind parental controls, compared to, say, Bridesmaids

Full review for VODzilla.co

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A Prayer Before Dawn (Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, 2017)

A decade on from his Africa-set international breakthrough Johnny Mad Dog, Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire returns with his first theatrically released feature since. With A Prayer Before Dawn, the French director is once again telling a tale in a country not his own, but this time, it’s befitting of the story at hand, in which the central figure finds himself the one and only foreigner in a notorious Thai prison…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Local Heroes: new Scottish features at Edinburgh 2018

Before launching its full programme, the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival announced the films in the lineup with notable Scottish connections. It’s standard practice for this festival, presumably tied to obligations to sponsors such as Creative Scotland, to give the slate of local productions a profile-boost before breaking out the international big guns.

Of late, this tease has proved more foreboding than enticing. With a few exceptions (such as Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio), the quality of British features receiving their world premiere at the festival in recent years has been especially patchy, and a number of the particularly dire ones have, in my experience, been those with a local connection. Romantic comedy Scottish Mussel (2015) may still be the worst feature I’ve seen at any film festival.

This year’s Scots-focused preview looked more promising, however, both for the world premieres as well as titles accruing buzz from festivals abroad. Despite the odd dud, the quality, variety and, in some cases, ambition of the features under the broad banner of Scottish filmmaking proved reflective of the state of this year’s programme as a whole…

Full feature for Sight & Sound

Piercing (Nicolas Pesce, 2018)

Following debut The Eyes Of My Mother, writer/director Nicolas Pesce delivers Piercing, a brisk mix of S&M horror and pitch black comedy that’s based on a novel by Japanese author Ryû Murakami, the man behind the source novel of Takashi Miike’s Audition. And if you know anything about Audition, you can guess the territory of some of Piercing’s own plot rug pulls…

Full review for SciFiNow

Possum (Matthew Holness, 2018)

Best known for co-writing and starring in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Matthew Holness goes to very dark places with his debut feature as a writer and director, Possum. Starring an unnerving Sean Harris, an equally upsetting Alun Amstrong and a human-arachnid hybrid that joins the ranks of cinema’s scariest puppets, the film’s a two-hander horror with eight limbs…

Full review for SciFiNow

Solis (Carl Strathie, 2018)

A low budget debut feature, Solis comes across like Gravity meets Sunshine. The Gravity link is that – spoiler for Gravity – it’s a one-actor show in which said star fights for survival in the wake of a space accident. The Sunshine tie is the fact the lead’s ship is heading towards, well, the sun.

One-actor show isn’t quite accurate, actually, as there’s also the disembodied voice of a familiar performer for the visually present star to converse with. Moon had Kevin Spacey perform this role, while Solis has Alice Lowe as the commander of a ship looking to save the film’s protagonist before the vessel he’s on is obliterated by the sun. So, one might say this Sunshine-resembling film also has a bit of a Moon–shine to it…

Full review for SciFiNow

Out of the shadow of ‘Frankenstein’: Haifaa al-Mansour on her ‘Mary Shelley’ biopic

With her 2012 debut Wadjda, Haifaa al-Mansour achieved two milestones: she became both the first female Saudi filmmaker to direct a feature-length film and also the director of the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia.

Fittingly, her follow-up feature and English language debut, Mary Shelley, sees her tackle the story of a woman who was also a groundbreaking artist in her time. Led by Elle Fanning in the title role, the film follows the love affair between poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) and the teenage Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, which resulted in the latter writing Frankenstein

Full interview for the BFI