The harder they fall (130 minutes)
Verdict: Exciting but distracted
The 65th London Film Festival (LFF) kicked off Wednesday night at the Royal Festival Hall with a world premiere of the Netflix film The Harder They Fall, a brutal western not to be confused with the 1956 film of the same name, which packs a different kind of punch. wrapped up.
That was a film noir about boxing, in which Humphrey Bogart gave his last screen appearance.
This marks the lengthy directorial debut of Jeymes Samuel, the British musician who aptly boasts of the stage name ‘The Bullitts’.
One of the producers is Shawn Carter, who also has a pseudonym: Jay-Z. And their film takes pot shots at the overwhelming number of white westerns, in which black characters, if any, touch the story.
This one reverses the roles as resolutely as a saloon brawl. It’s a movie about black men and women, with a few white walk-ons.
Jonathan Majors is pictured above in the film. These are stories that are remarkably and often laboriously indebted to Spike Lee, whose most recent film, the wildly overrated Da 5 Bloods, also for Netflix, starring both Majors and Lindo.
The cast list is impressive. The protagonist is the fast-rising Jonathan Majors, but Idris Elba provides an established star wattage, with LaKeith Stanfield, Regina King and Delroy Lindo supporting acts.
And while the film begins with a caption telling us that the next story is fictional, it adds, practically with a drum roll. . . This. People. Existed.
Such deliberate misuse of punctuation usually makes My. hacking. Rise. But in any case, The Harder They Fall kicks off its stall at the beginning, preparing us for a barrage of cinematic tricks involving slow-mo, split screens, and other devices favored by another director in particular.
This is storytelling that is strikingly and often laboriously indebted to Spike Lee, whose most recent film, the wildly overrated Da 5 Bloods, also for Netflix, starring both Majors and Lindo.
The opening scene gives the story its springboard. In a remote house in the Old West, a pastor and his wife are having dinner with their son. They are brutally interrupted by a ruthless killer, who slaughters first the woman and then the vicar, apparently in revenge. The boy is spared, but a cross is carved into his forehead.
Idris Elda is pictured above in the film. The Harder They Fall is not only full of clichés, but also offers much more style than substance
Years later, the boy with the cross has grown into a terrifying outlaw, Nat Love (Majors), whose gang is robbing another gang led from behind bars by the even more terrifying Rufus Buck (Elba).
When Buck is transported by train between prisons, heavily guarded by soldiers, his acolytes jump on him. Now he wants reparations from Love’s gang, but Love has another form of justice in mind, because yes, Buck is the man who shot his father.
Samuel, who also wrote the screenplay, barely spares us a Western cliché as it all unfolds, from the chattering townspeople held to pay ransom to the savage tomboy getting to the draw faster than anyone else. And every shootout gets a video game body count.
I enjoyed some of the comic strip versions and, not unexpectedly, there is a lively soundtrack, with great soul and gospel music. Also, the premise of filling a western with black characters and sidelining whites is undeniably topical.
But The Harder They Fall is not only full of clichés, but also offers much more style than substance. And Samuel not only wears his admiration for Lee on his sleeve, but Quentin Tarantino as well. We could all applaud the originality of his film, if only it weren’t so obviously distracting.
Still, for all my reservations about its curtain-raiser, it’s great to see the LFF luring people back to the cinemas with some top-notch offers, especially with No Time To Die still doing its thunder at the box office everywhere. If you are in London or can get there, I suggest you check out the program.
Some really interesting films are shown, including a few that I’ve already anointed with five stars after seeing them at other festivals, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter and Eva Husson’s Mothering Sunday, both of which feature Olivia Colman, although the stars of the latter, a beautiful adaptation of Graham Swift’s novel, are Josh O’Connor of The Crown and an alluring Australian actress, Odessa Young.
I’m also really looking forward to Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical film Belfast, and King Richard, a sports biopic in which Will Smith plays the obsessively driven Richard Williams, father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena. This year’s LFF, it seems fair to say, offers something for everyone.
The Harder They Fall will be released in theaters later this month, before streaming on Netflix from November 3.
The BFI London Film Festival runs until October 17, details at bfi.org.uk/lff
We fell on a road trip with the Addams family
The Addams Family 2
Those of us with fond memories of the venerable TV version of The Addams Family, or even the original 1930s comic, are already haunted by several big screen reboots, not least the 1991 live-action movie featuring Anjelica Huston as Morticia, and its 1993 sequel.
Then came the animated version two years ago, which was good; and now there’s a sequel to that, with the same heavy voice cast led by Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac, Chloe Grace Moretz and Bette Midler.
Story-wise, The Addams Family 2 (PG, 93 minutes) is a pretty arduous affair, falling back on the old standby for all the comedy writers who can’t think of anything smarter – the road trip.
Those of us with fond memories of the venerable TV version of The Addams Family, or even the original 1930s comic, are already haunted by several big-screen reboots.
Gomez (Isaac) decides his gruff and secluded daughter Wednesday (Moretz) needs some family bonding time, so they travel across America, visiting all the standard sights, from Niagara Falls to the Grand Canyon. Left home alone, 101-year-old grandmother (Midler) throws a wild party.
Meanwhile, in a parallel storyline, it appears that Wednesday was swapped at birth and may in fact be the biological daughter of a cunning scientist named Cyrus Strange (Bill Hader).
Wednesday certainly seems to have some talent for chemistry, having crossed the fuzzy Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) with her clever pet squid, Socrates.
But all this is lazily plotted and not nearly funny or even creepy enough. It is certainly time to let the Addamsen rest in peace.
A modestly captivating documentary called Romantic Road (12A, 82 minutes) takes us on a very different road trip, chronicling the adventures of the elderly, prominent English lawyer Rupert Gray and his wife Jan as they drive more than 5,000 miles through the Indian subcontinent in their 1930s Rolls-Royce.
Some of their friends think she’s “wearing the pants” in the relationship, but there’s precious little evidence of that in a film that truly celebrates Rupert’s extreme individuality, and his determination to never take an easy or obvious path. to take life. or even through the Himalayas, however much Jan would prefer the safer option.
JOHN And The Hole (***, 15, 103 min.) is a psychological thriller about an adolescent boy (Charlie Shotwell) from a wealthy American family who one day decides to drug his parents (Jennifer Ehle, Michael C. Hall) and older sister (Taissa Farmiga) and drop them into a remote abandoned bunker he’s discovered, from which apparently they can’t escape.
Prior to all of this, John has asked his mother what it feels like to be an adult, and the story explores the role reversal of him suddenly holding all the shots, while his parents are left needy and vulnerable. A strange but stimulating film.
Now all in the cinema.