Indie director Gerard Johnson’s latest movie is Muscle, a psychological thriller starring Cavan Clerkin and Craig Fairbrass. The plot follows out-of-shape salesman Simon who meets an intimidating personal trainer at his local gym. After its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, I caught up with Gerard to discuss the film…
How did the London premiere go?
It was great! It was my first time having a film at London. I’m from London so it was nice that I finally got to play a film there. My previous two Tony and Hyena both premiered in Edinburgh, so it was lovely to premiere in London with Muscle. The three screenings went well and generated great word of mouth buzz, so it was everything I wanted from the festival really.
Where did the inspiration come from for Simon’s story?
Well I’ve been going to gyms all my life really, from the spit-and-sawdust ones to the more modern lifestyle ones. I’ve had this idea for a while of a personal trainer taking over someone’s life, and it remained a two-page treatment idea for years. Recently, in seeing how gym culture has exploded, it made me think that we’ve never really had a film about gym culture. Obviously, there was Pumping Iron, which is an amazing gym-based documentary but that’s more about Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Nowadays, everyone is more health conscious and knows about nutrition, carbs, good fats etc. so it feels like a good time to shine a light on that world in the cinema.
The ninth collaboration between legendary pairing Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro and their first in over twenty years, mob drama The Irishman has been a long time coming. Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by true crime writer Charles Brandt, the plot centres around Frank Sheeran (De Niro), the eponymous WWII veteran turned hitman. From meeting mafia kingpin Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) to his complicated friendship with union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the sprawling epic tracks the life and times of the mercilessly loyal footsoldier.
Indie filmmaker Gerard Johnson isn’t content with making simple crime movies. His work to date has blended the genre with other elements, crossing into wider arthouse ideas. With psychological thriller Muscle, he casts his directorial gaze upon gym culture and the toxic masculinity that can come with it. The plot follows Simon (Cavan Clerkin), a schlubby call-centre worker stuck in a rut. In an attempt to better himself, he joins the local gym where he meets Terry (Craig Fairbrass), an intimidating personal trainer who offers Simon a helping hand. They strike up an unlikely friendship, but it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems.
Indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach explores love within the confines of separation with divorce drama Marriage Story. The plot follows actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and her theatre director husband Charlie (Adam Driver) as their relationship is falling apart. With their young son to consider, they want an amicable break-up, but once lawyers get involved, the situation becomes messy and emotionally charged.
Musician turned actor Cosmo Jarvis has quietly impressed in small supporting turns for a number of years, and now has his first leading role in Nathalie Biancheri’s unconventional family drama Nocturnal. Painter and decorator Pete (Jarvis) endures a bleak and uncomplicated existence in a small coastal town, but his life is thrown through a loop when old flame Jean (Sadie Frost) returns with his long-estranged teenage daughter Laurie (Lauren Coe) in tow. Attempting to make a connection, he strikes up an unusual friendship with the cynical schoolgirl without revealing his true intentions.
Bulgarian filmmaker Simona Kostova taps into the societal pressures and insecurities of getting older with German indie drama Thirty. Writing, editing, and directing the project, she tells the story of five friends approaching the end of their twenties. Birthday boy Övünç, and his friends Pascal, Raha, Kara, and Henner come together in celebration, and head out into the busy streets of Berlin to mark the occasion.
British filmmaker Rowan Athale heads across the pond for his latest feature Strange but True, based on John Searles’ novel of the same name. The noir-thriller plot follows Philip (Nick Robinson) who has moved back to his hometown to recover from a broken leg. When heavily pregnant Melissa (Margaret Qualley) turns up at his door, she tells him that his brother Ronnie (Connor Jessup) is her child’s father. The strange part is…Ronnie was killed in a car accident five years earlier.
Based on Robert Seethaler’s best-selling novel of the same name, director Nikolaus Leytner presents a coming-of-age historical drama set in Nazi-occupied Vienna. The plot follows teenager Franz (Simon Morzé) who moves to Austria to be the apprentice of titular tobacconist Otto (Johannes Krisch) at his shop. As he settles into the community, he falls in love with dancer Anezka (Emma Drogunova) and befriends Sigmund Freud (Bruno Ganz) who offers words of wisdom as Franz experiences vivid dreams.
Scottish films have a tendency to be Highlands-based horror shows, or to take place within Edinburgh or Glasgow, or so it’s refreshing to have a Dundonian tale in Dave McLean’s autobiographical drama Schemers. Based on the teenage years of the first-time writer and director, the story follows David (Conor Berry) in 1979, the exciting coming-of-age phase of his life. When a nasty football injury forces him to reevaluate his career options, he seizes an opportunity in music promotion with pals Scot (Sean Connor) and John (Grant Robert Keelan) but runs into trouble along the way.
Indie writer and directors Brittany Poulton and Daniel Savage come together for their feature debut Them That Follow, a religious thriller set deep in the Appalachian Mountains. Pastor Lemuel Childs (Walton Goggins) is a revered snake-handler at the heart of the close-knit community’s church, but the story focuses predominantly on Mara (Alice Englert), his repressed yet beloved daughter. She’s engaged to marry local lad Garret (Lewis Pullman) but is carrying a controversial secret that forces her to question her faith.