All posts by Josh Slater-Williams

Josh Slater-Williams (@jslaterwilliams) is a freelance writer based in England. He has contributed to a wide variety of outlets and institutions, including the BFI, Sight & Sound, Variety, Little White Lies, The Face, IndieWire, SciFiNow, Hyperallergic, Huck, The Skinny, The List, Filmmaker, The Line of Best Fit, MUBI Notebook, Kinoscope, Locarno Festival, Glasgow Film Theatre, VODzilla.co, and others in both print and online.

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

Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2019)

The opening of Promare establishes that the sudden combustion of various people across the globe caused severe damage to the world. This was the first appearance of the Burnish, a race of hitherto unknown mutant beings with the ability to wield flames.

Thirty years later, a firefighting mecha service, Burning Rescue, has been created to put a stop to similar catastrophes. The arrival of a new group of aggressive mutants known as ‘Mad Burnish’ sets up a conflict between its leader, Lio Fotia, and over-eager firefighter Galo Thymos, but all is not as it seems and the fate of the planet is at stake…

Full review for SciFiNow

I Lost My Body (Jérémy Clapin, 2019)

Adapted from a novel penned by co-screenwriter Guillaume Laurant (Amélie), I Lost My Body is the feature debut of Jérémy Clapin, a man known for directing animated shorts with odd premises. One example of this is Skhizein (2008), in which a person who has been struck by a 150-ton meteorite has to adjust to living exactly 91 centimetres from himself.

I Lost My Body is also concerned with displacement in various ways. From the title, one might expect a story in the vein of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story (2017), with a phantasm dealing with (after)life after death. But while I Lost My Body has a similar melancholy tone, this curious blend of 2D and 3D animation techniques in fact focuses on a still very alive human and his also very alive dismembered hand…

Full review for SciFiNow

‘Judy & Punch’: Mirrah Foulkes gives the puppet-show a 21st-century twist

“I feel like it changes all the time. You’d think I’d have a roll-off-the-tongue synopsis by now, wouldn’t you?”

Australian writer-director Mirrah Foulkes has just been asked how she’s describing her tonally peculiar debut feature, Judy & Punch, not long before its bow in UK cinemas nationwide. “I guess I’m describing it as a dark and twisted 17th-century fable about puppeteers that’s very unexpected and hopefully not like anything you’ve seen before. I was really excited by the boldness of it.”

Judy & Punch doesn’t draw much from the historical origins of the traditional Punch and Judy puppet show, with Foulkes instead using the narrative of the show as a point of departure for a new tale, one re-imagining what might happen if Punch’s wife Judy were to not take his violent impulses in quite so submissive a fashion…

Full interview for the BFI

Fokus: Films from Germany Preview

Now in its fifth year, Fokus: Films from Germany (running from November to January across the country) presents an exciting, eclectic snapshot of the contemporary film scene in Germany. The festival is a partnership between the Goethe-Institut in Glasgow and Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, but the two-month tour of Scotland also incorporates screenings at Byres Theatre in St Andrews, the Hippodrome in Bo’ness, Dundee’s DCA, Ayr Film Society and Aberdeen’s Belmont Filmhouse, plus the GFT as an extra venue in Glasgow.

The opening film – which screens at Filmhouse on 21 Nov before making its way to the other participating venues – is the UK premiere of Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus. The documentary, funnily enough, explores the history and lasting influence of the Bauhaus period of art, design and architecture at the time of the school’s 100th anniversary…

Full feature for The Skinny