An underrated jewel in the cinema calendar, the Glasgow Film Festival continues, year-on-year, to deliver a vibrant, frequently leftfield celebration of celluloid. Shrugging off the semi-disastrous snowfall that crushingly hampered the second half of last year’s festival, the 2019 edition proved to be an emphatic statement of the organisers’ determination to come back stronger.
Opening on Wednesday 20th February with Jonah Hill’s delirious celebration of youthful spirit MID90S and drawing to a close on Sunday 3rd March with the pulsating monochrome adaptation of Kieran Hurley’s award-winning play BEATS, the festival offered up a cornucopia of delights, from special event screenings of THE MATRIX, ALIEN and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT to the annual Surprise Film – unveiled, this year, to be Sebastián Lelio’s Julianne Moore/John Turturro-starring dramedy GLORIA BELL.
Diving between screens for the best part of ten days, we’ve put together a potted review of our highlights, from unexpectedly profound documentaries we stumbled upon on a quiet Thursday afternoon to blood-drenched classics we dragged ourselves out of bed early to catch on a stormy Sunday morning.
Getting us underway on brilliantly feelgood form, Stephen Merchant’s FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY – starring the sensational Florence Pugh as WWE Diva’s Champion Paige, Vince Vaughn, Nick Frost, GoT’s Lena Headey and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (as himself) – mightn’t have offered the highbrow interest some festivalgoers seemed to be looking for, but for everyone else it’s a heart-warming treat. Merchant has spoken, recently, about the middle-class bias against professional wrestling in Britain. Although one pivotal hard-nut character’s assertion that he spent his formative years in prison for “mostly violence” won’t do much to placate the white-collared masses, the classic sports-movie arc proves surprisingly affecting.
From warming hearts to chilling spines, Lee Cronin’s potent Irish horror THE HOLE IN THE GROUND mercilessly ramps up the atmospherics. Continuing the recent trend in casting embattled mothers as horror heroines, we find Seána Kerslake recoiling from her own son in an engaging retelling of the changeling legend. Following on from the likes of Wake Wood and The Lodgers there’s a boom in dark genre cinema coming out of the Emerald Isle at the moment and this is one of its most convincingly creepy offerings yet.
Picking up again on Saturday evening, it’s a packed-out showing for Jacques Audiard’s offbeat western THE SISTERS BROTHERS over at Cineworld. StarringJohn C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as the titular assassin brothers, Jake Gyllenhaal as lead-man John Morris and a fascinatingly-cast Riz Ahmed as their target: revolutionary chemist Herman Kermit Warm(not to mention the legendary Rutger Hauer in cameo as shady Kingpin ‘The Commodore’) it’s a strange, elegiac vision of rustic brotherhood and America’s Old West coming to terms with everything from science to industrial revolution to the new dawn of personal hygiene. Led brilliantly by the still-improving Reilly, it’s a dusty, bittersweet delight.
Starring Dev Patel and boasting the title HOTEL MUMBAI, there seems to be a little confusion amongst some ill-informed cinemagoers over what to expect from Anthony Maras’ latest. Far from a sequel to Patel’s retirement comedy hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel indeed, Hotel Mumbai retells the story of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Featuring a stellar cast including Armie Hammer (the big-hearted, loud-mouthed American), Nazanin Boniadi (his wife, the Muslim millionaire battling prejudice on all sides after being caught up in the attack) and Jason Isaacs (devouring the scenery as a leering, mysteriously hard-nosed Russian) the film is apparently destined to go direct to streaming services. Possessed of a gut-wrenching grittiness and some eye-catching performances, though, it deserves to be seen on the silver screen.
Audience singalongs for major musical hits are all the rage nowadays, but there’s something of
It’s a slice of Monday madness, next.
Based on legendary Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s seminal account of his bloodstained experience of three months at the beginning of the Angolan Civil War, the absolutely sensational ANOTHER DAY OF LIFEproves to be our unexpected highlight of the festival. Stumbling into the GFT at a loose end on Thursday afternoon, we discover a feature redolent of the combination of animation and documentary footage used in Waltz With Bashir. ADOL’s mosaic recreation of the chaotic,
Following on, YouTube sensation Bo Burnham is in attendance for the Scottish Premiere of his feature-length debut EIGHTH GRADE. Starring the sensational Elsie Fisher as 13-year-old Kayla on the cusp of her transition from U.S. middle-school into high-school, the film has already garnered rave reviews and armfuls of awards following its release stateside and its easy to see why. Although the chasm-like gap between eight and ninth grade isn’t one with which Scottish (or wider UK) audiences easily relate, the universal languages of early-teenage awkwardness and social self-doubt resonate with real poignancy. It’s genuinely refreshing, too, to see a coming-of-age movie unaffected by scatological
Next up, we have the 12 movies of GLASGOW FRIGHTFEST 2019. A marathon of suspense and splatter through which we gleefully endured every moment, we’ll be dropping a separate feature to celebrate that.
Entering the final straight, there’s a free, breakfast-time showing of Sam Peckinpah’s seminal THE WILD BUNCH as part of the festival’s 1969: End Of Innocence season. A watershed moment in the ‘realistic’ depiction of onscreen violence, the film’s bloody depiction of its antiheroes’ journey towards churningly inevitable self-destruction remains as powerful now as it was on release 50 years ago. There’s extra value, too, for viewers who’ve played through last year’s videogame masterpiece Red Dead Redemption 2, in seeing the genesis of so many of that story’s key themes.
It’s an utterly packed house over at the GFT for the final-day showing
As Palin hangs around after the showing, it’s clear that the connection with Scotland and its real cinemagoers is perhaps the most important element that sets GFF apart. It’s an event on the up, and those looking for a cinematic experience outside the norm should really book the end-of-winter trip for 2020.