The directorial debut of Ryan Andrew Hooper has its premiere at Glasgow Film Festival. A comedy Western set in Pembrokeshire, The Toll tells the story of an unnamed toll booth operator played by Michael Smiley, and about what happens when his dark past catches up with him. I was fortunate enough to chat with Ryan about the film ahead of its release…
I see you have directed The Toll previously as a short film titled Ambition. How closely linked are the two and were there any major changes to the story for the feature-length version?
In terms of that, it was actually written as a feature before it was a short. We came up with the idea and the writer (Matt Redd) and I had this strategy around a short film scheme in Wales called The Beacons. We decided to make the short in order to apply to Cinematic for funding to make the feature! We ended up making a short that was nothing like The Toll. We had different actors, a different toll booth, and there was some magic realism in it.
“The expert in battle moves his enemies but is not moved by them” is just one of the phrases slightly misquoted by the stationary anti-hero in black comedy The Toll, the first time feature from director Ryan Andrew Hooper. An extension of his 2019 short film Ambition, the crime caper centres around an unnamed toll-booth operator (Michael Smiley) who appears to enjoy the simple things in life. His peace is shattered by various incidents occurring in and around the nearby small Welsh town, meanwhile traffic cop turned detective Catrin (Annes Elwy) is looking for answers.
The US government’s forceful methods are called into question in Kevin Macdonald’s legal drama The Mauritanian, which tells the incredible true story of a suspected terrorist’s detainment at Guantanamo Bay. Based on the protagonist’s bestselling book, we see Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim) imprisoned due to information suggesting his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Still protesting his innocence three years after his arrest, he is represented by defence attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri (Shailene Woodley), while the military lawyer Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) heads up the prosecution.
A filmmaker suffers from writer’s block in jet-black comedy drama Black Bear, the latest effort from Lawrence Michael Levine. The initial plot sees struggling artist Allison (Aubrey Plaza) head to a rural retreat seeking inspiration for her next feature. She is entertained by expectant couple Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon) who own the lake house and after a few bottles of wine, the evening takes an unexpected turn.
Premises don’t come weirder or more wonderful than with the feature debut by writer and director Zoé Wittock. Jumbo is a fantasy drama which follows painfully shy Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) as she returns to her summer job at a local amusement park. Still living with her supportive, if a little overbearing, mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), she struggles with social interactions, but when a new fairground ride opens at her work, her fascination with attractions develops into something more romantic.
Having worked together many times before, writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen and actor Mads Mikkelsen come together in collaboration again for revenge comedy Riders of Justice. Disaster strikes on a commuter train in the opening act, leaving maths nerd Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) analysing the algorithms of his lucky escape as troubled soldier Markus (Mikkelsen) returns from war to support his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). When a conspiracy suggests the explosion was caused by a local biker gang known as the Riders of Justice, a violent plan for retribution ensues.
Writer and director Lee Isaac Chung revisits his childhood in semi-autobiographical drama Minari. The narrative follows Korean-American couple Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Ye-ri) and their children Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and David (Alan Kim), who move to rural Arkansas to build a new life on a farm. With a lot to learn about the agricultural business, the challenges they face begin to put financial and emotional strain on their close-knit family.
Last year, Glasgow Film Festival was one of the few in the UK largely unaffected by the pandemic, sneaking in weeks before the first lockdown. However, their 2021 edition will be 100% virtual due to the current restrictions in place. Despite the challenges, the lineup is as exciting and eclectic as ever, boasting 62 films in total from around the world and boasting a Country Focus strand on South Korean cinema. The opening picture will be Lee Isaac Chung’s highly anticipated autobiographical drama Minari and the event will close with Suzanne Lindon’s coming-of-age debut feature Spring Blossom. I have handpicked some films that I won’t want to miss…
Another year, another lockdown, and so for those of us that aren’t home-schooling, another chunk of spare time on our hands. If you’ve already binged on The Queen’s Gambit, Bridgerton, and any other telly you’ve been told you must see, you might be on the lookout for some film recommendations. I’ve scoured Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, and All4 to put together another list. Some quite old, some quite new, all absolutely brilliant.
It’s been a year like no other as we face a global pandemic and cinemas have been forced to close their doors up and down the country. However, despite the incredible challenges, the standard of film has been remarkably high. With a shortage of big screens and most of the major blockbusters delayed for the foreseeable, we’ve seen more pictures head straight to on-demand, onto streaming services, or in Steve McQueen’s case, right onto terrestrial television in the form of a mini-series. My favourites of the year are as follows: