“They Wanna Privatise Our Minds, Keep Us In Our Seperate Boxes…”
Following on from the likes of the excellent, Mid90s, and the not so excellent, Eighth Grade, 2019 treats audiences once again to yet another coming-of-age tale, one which trades the urban wasteland of the United States for the erm, urban wasteland of 1990’s Scotland as we follow two socially isolated friends attempt to rise above their familial and personal issues through their shared admiration and love for rave culture. Directed by Scottish filmmaker, Brian Welsh, who as far as I’m aware bears no genetic ties to the infamous Irvine Welsh, Beats follows a very familiar aesthetic and tonal similarity to the latter’s most well known literary work, Trainspotting, with the subsequent big screen adaptation from Danny Boyle undeniably playing a huge part in influencing a movie which tries hard but ultimately fails to have the same impact on both cinema and culture Boyle’s undisputed masterpiece did back in the day.
With the little known Christian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald in the leading roles of Johnno and Spanner respectively, Welsh’s movie spends the first forty five minutes developing a loving friendship separated by social class, with Johnno’s recent familial move to a fancy new build away from the harsh wastelands of Scotland’s high rises and “scum” a whole different world away from the desperate upbringing of Spanner, whose strength on the outside conflicts with an inner vulnerability caused by his ruthless and sociopathic older drug dealing brother. Come the fifty minute mark however and Beats soon falls into the trap of running completely out of steam, with a central narrative involving a music and drug led revolution not interesting in the slightest, and even with a clear nod to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Beats begins promising but then falls down as it fails to really focus on a meaningful message.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I Should Have Been Born In America. I’m An American…”
Boosting into the cinematic spotlight after her critically acclaimed performance in Michael Pearce’s impressive if psychologically testing 2018 drama, Beast, Jessie Buckley returns to the big screen once again with Wild Rose, an independently backed musical drama which sees Buckley as Rose-Lynn Harlan, a recently released low-level convict who returns to her childhood home in Scotland in order to rebuild her relationship with both her stern, judgemental mother and two young children. Directed by London-born filmmaker, Tom Harper, famous so far for his televisual adaptation of War and Peace alongside the 2015 horror sequel, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, Wild Rose throws a spanner in the works by offering much much more than your average British independent drama thanks to an outrageously entertaining central performance from Buckley who continues to impress thanks to a seemingly endless supply of talent, alongside a core narrative which although blends familiar elements taken from the likes of A Star is Born and the little seen gem, Patti Cake$, still manages to present itself as a story definitely worth telling.
Whilst Beast could be regarded as Twin Peaks hits the isle of Jersey, Buckley’s latest leans more on the safer side of independent dramas thanks to a nicely played, if overly familiar, tale of desire and hunger for success within a societal background which doesn’t exactly offer much hope to anyone at anytime. With Buckley’s Rose-Lynn attempting to balance her daily familial strife with her deeply embedded love for country music, not country and western music, the tables soon turn after she is welcomed into the home of Sophie Okonedo’s (Hotel Rwanda) rather easily wooed, Susannah, as a cleaner, with her employer utilising her contacts in the up-market world as a stepping ground for Rose-Lynn to make the most of her clear and enviable talents. With Bradley Cooper’s masterful remake of A Star is Born so fresh in the memory, such excellence does sort of bring Wild Rose back to a level of grounded commonplace rife with a sense of sniffy cliche, but with a couple of half decent tracks present on the soundtrack and the added brilliance of Julie Walters (Harry Potter) in one of the more fleshed out supporting roles, Harper’s latest is undoubtedly no more than a vehicle for Buckley to strut her stuff, but when talent is this exciting and organic, I’m more than happy to be pulled along for the ride.
Overall Score: 7/10
“There’s Something Not Right With Him Lately. I Can’t Put My Finger On It…”
Directed and co-written by Irish filmmaker, Lee Cronin, The Hole in the Ground is the latest rather well made, independent horror which may take that extra effort in order to seek out in cinemas. Co-written by first time film screenwriter, Stephen Shields, Cronin’s movie follows a very familiar genre set up as we follow Seána Kerslake’s Sarah O’Neill into the heart of the Irish countryside with her son, James Quinn Markey’s Chris, in order to escape a slightly ambiguous previous violent relationship. On arrival to her newly purchased and slightly grotty open-air house however, Sarah nearly collides with the elderly figure of the infamous local crackpot, Kati Outinen’s Noreen Brady, who begins a sudden and strange fascination with Chris, whilst the discovery of a gigantic and rather hypnotic ever-moving sinkhole in the heart of the neighbouring woods results in Sarah soon seeing sudden changes in the behaviour of her son whose move to the countryside seems to have made him a completely different person.
Whilst the movie begins with an a-typical horror narrative, Cronin’s movie manages to sustain from the offset a brooding sense of melancholia and smouldering darkness, personified nicely by the swaying, isolated wilderness of the woods which reside next to Sarah’s new home. Whilst my own personal xylophobia means that every film which ventures into wooded area is guaranteed to creep me out, the best parts of The Hole in the Ground is when the movie embraces its’ inner The Blair Witch Project or The Witch, particularly one set piece in which the camera decides to show a midnight stroll through the eyes of Sarah, with the only source of light coming from her low powered torch. As the movie moves into a third act in which seems to take nods from the likes of The Omen and other paedophobia heavy horrors, the drama does unfortunately become slightly silly, with ambiguity being thrown completely out the window and the narrative instead choosing to go down a more fantastical, mythical route as it reaches a nicely wrapped up conclusion. Whilst not memorable in the slightest or a movie which can safely stand up and say that it offers anything which can be classed as new or original, Cronin’s movie is a fairly enjoyable, low-budget horror which makes the most of a talented cast who embrace the material with open arms, and with a couple of set pieces which made me watch the film through the slits of my fingers, is a movie which is worth seeking out, particular for horror completists.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Sent You To London So You Wouldn’t Start A War In Kingston…”
With hot rumours surfacing of him taking the role of the next James Bond and the return of BBC’s hit crime drama, Luther, in the near future, it’s fair to say that Idris Elba is indeed a busy, busy man, and with a fundamental warmth and undeniable likeability, Elba’s career seems to be going from strength to strength even when the steely-eyed few still remember Elba’s superb performance as Stringer Bell in the greatest television programme of all time, The Wire. It comes with a particularly heavy heart therefore that Elba’s directorial debut, a hazy adaptation of Victor Headley’s 1992 cult novel, Yardie, is unfortunately a plodding, strangely dull and overly cliched crime drama which fails to ignite the touchpaper of Elba’s switch from in front of the camera to behind it. With dedicated performances from many newcomers within the cast, an eclectic mix of groovy musical accompaniments and an obvious love for the source material from Elba, Yardie isn’t exactly terrible, but its’ major flaws are so crushingly obvious that it’s hard to paint over the cracks in order to make the film better than it really is.
Focusing on Aml Ameen’s (Kidulthood) Dennis “D” Campbell and his rise within the criminal underworld of a poverty stricken Kingston, Jamaica, the early exposition of the movie is recalled through the age-old use of voice-over, and whilst my own personal preference for storytelling undoubtedly favours a “show me, not tell me” format, Elba’s particular narrative technique does quickly become overly cheap and relatively boring as every single movement is described when the audience is already ten steps ahead. With the movie primarily suffering from an utter lack of effective characterisation which results in the film simply being observed than truly being sucked into the drama, the overly familiar gangster set-up fails to carry any fresh ideas, even when its’ key characters on the surface are interesting but are unfortunately let down by poor writing and dialogue which is as hokey as it is sometimes undecipherable. With a groovy soundtrack and some smokey, 70’s era London cinematography, Elba’s vision for the movie is admirable but with the whole much weaker than the sum of its’ parts, Yardie is a yawn-inducing disappointment.
Overall Score: 4/10
“When I Come Back Through That Door I’m Still Gonna Be Champion Of The World…”
With boxing continuing to be the most visceral and cinematic sport to be successfully transferred onto the big screen in favour of others who have valiantly tried and failed, sometimes rather woefully in fact, that’s right Goal!, I’m looking at you, Paddy Considine’s second swing at directing after the critically acclaimed Tyrannosaur in 2011 in the form of Journeyman takes a rather well-worn format within the tradition of boxing movies whilst attempting to add a sense of genuine realism to proceedings which can be somewhat absent from the bigger, flashier Hollywood examples that audiences have been treated to in the past. Mixing together the cruel, life-changing risk of the sport seen in the likes of Bleed For This and Million Dollar Baby with an independent, Ken Loach-esque sensibility, Journeyman works best when the film pulls on the heartstrings in a way which fails to feel either saccharin sweet or cheap, and whilst the pacing and drawn-out nature of the movie does ultimately weaken the film as a whole even with a ninety minute runtime, Considine’s second feature is a solid example of character acting at its’ most dedicated.
With Considine himself taking the lead role of Matty Burton, the recently titled middleweight champion of the world, a victory secured via default after his opponent was forced to back out of the fight, a chance for redemption and a true shot at retaining the title comes in the form of Anthony Welsh’s (Black Mirror) youthful yet arrogant Andre Bryte. With the first twenty or so minutes wonderfully low-key and engaging as we our embraced in the film’s attempt to juggle the relationship between Burton’s relationship with his job and the personal life he has with the brilliant Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who) as wife Emma and their newborn baby, the horrifying result of Burton’s fight with Bryte sets up the remaining hour in which we see Burton’s transformation from joyous, caring husband and father to the unrecognisable shell which has been put in his place. With outbursts of violence, mental incapacity and a terrifying “hide and seek” game within its’ brightest points, Journeyman does include the raw, realistic sensibility you’d expect from a British independent film, but with not enough push and a lack of real development come the crucial change half way through, Considine’s movie is a likeable but flawed second feature.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You Are A Man Of Principle. You Know The Difference Between Right and Wrong…”
Although the thought of seeing the latest Vince Vaughn movie doesn’t exactly fill me with mountainous levels of excitement, the real drawing power of Brawl in Cell Block 99 is of course director S. Craig Zahler, the American filmmaker behind one of last year’s most surprisingly violent and impressively crafted movies in the form of Bone Tomahawk, who in Tarantino-esque form, managed to create a dark and overly twisted Western which not only had a growling, moustache wearing Kurt Russell on top form, but placed Zahler front and centre amidst the many impressive underground filmmakers out there today. Swapping the Western horror genre for a modern-day based crime thriller, Zahler more than effectively continues the successes of Bone Tomahawk with his latest release, creating a movie which simultaneously emphasises the director’s love of exploitation cinema and midnight movie B-releases, alongside showcasing a redefined Vince Vaughn in a superbly crafted, unrecognisable fashion, and whilst Vaughn has flirted with dramatic roles in the past, with True Detective and Hacksaw Ridge being the most recent examples, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the type of movie which could inevitably end up giving the American actor his very own mcconaissance, and whilst Vaughn is only the tip of the iceberg for a film which has so many positive elements, the real plaudits undeniably belongs to the film’s commander in chief, with Zahler continuing to prove why so many cinema loving audiences have began to become truly interested in his work.
Fired from his job and sucked back into a previously departed life of criminality, Vaughn’s Bradley Thomas quickly finds himself in the confines of a cell after a drug deal gone sour, and with the welfare of his wife and unborn child at risk, Bradley is forced to meet the demands of a high ranking Mexican gangster in order to pay the astronomical debt caused by Bradley’s sudden incarceration. Using a similar narrative technique to that of Bone Tomahawk, Zahler’s latest is a movie which understands the balance between character based substance and exploitation style violence, utilising the film’s two hour plus runtime to examine a character who bounces back and forth between a charming, family oriented man of the people and a brooding, merciless, violent thug, and with Vaughn using his natural, bulky physique as an essential part of the character’s appearance, Brawl is arguably the first film to really showcase to what Vaughn’s strength’s truly are as an actor. Of course, with the exploitation style violence inevitable for a man who shocked the world with Bone Tomahawk, the scenes in which we witness Bradley rip apart fellow criminals with his bare hands are undeniably shocking and squeal-inducing, but to the film’s credit, always have an undeniable air of B-movie fun within them, and for a film as violent as this, Brawl in Cell Block 99 manages to blend seamlessly the mix between violence, drama and guilty pleasure to a wholly entertaining extent. With brilliant cameo performances from the likes of Jennifer Carpenter and the charisma covered Don Johnson, the best course of action is to remember the name, with S. Craig Zahler slowly becoming the most interesting director working out there today.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Have More Talent And Imagination Than The Rest Of This Town Combined…”
Directed and written by newcomer on the block Geremy Jasper, Patti Cake$ follows in the footsteps of The Big Sick this year by being yet another independant cinematic venture which has journeyed through the avenues of film festival after film festival in order to secure the dream of a wide release in order to lay its’ claim for existence upon a much wider audience. Whereas Amazon Studios managed to secure the rights to Showalter’s endearing rom-com earlier this year, a deal which ultimately ended up resulting in rapturous praise from all across the critical board, the distribution of Patti Cake$ has landed in the laps of Fox Searchlight, and whilst Jasper’s movie was a cinematic pleasure that I managed to catch at a sneak preview this week, the releasing platform as a whole for the movie has been pretty poor, considering the closest cinema to be showing it around me is near enough forty miles away. If you are a lucky soul in close proximity of a showing however, Patti Cake$ is that rare case of a movie which yes, is ultimately predictable and overly cliched in places, but still manages to ride the lightening of it’s weaknesses and come out on top, resulting in one of the most effective feel-good, nihilistic music dramas in recent history.
Attempting to use her natural skills as a talented rapper to some form of effect within the confines of the beaten down, lifeless townland of New Jersey, Danielle Macdonald’s titular leading character is the archetypal dreamer, one who is constantly battling the abusive nature of her fellow peers and unsupportive mother in her attempts to get herself on the track of recording, selling and releasing her music to a wider audience who might just accept her for her musical talent, rather than her personal image. With a standout leading performance from Macdonald, one which mixes beautifully the portrayal of joy and clear happiness regarding her love of music and the conflicted hatred for her abusers and disbelieving acquaintances, Patti Cake$ works by concentrating heavily on the believable whilst attempting to tell a story that is well versed in the cinematic format but with a twisted edge of nihilism and introduction of oddball characters which break the mould and keep you entranced within a world which is all too familiar for many within the similar working class areas of deprivation across the world. With obvious comparisons to 8-Mile, Patti Cake$ follows in the footsteps of Eminem’s finest cinematic hour by being an effectively played, fist-punching musical drama and solidifies the notion that if given the right chance, independant movies are more than capable of keeping ground with their big-budget cousins, if not more so.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Can’t Die Here With You…”
Of all the previews released into my local world of cine this year so far, Jeremy Saulnier’s latest splatter-fest Green Room, is by far the least publicised and most unknown entity I have ventured into seeing, being one of the few rare times in which I begin a film without an inch of prior knowledge, a rare commodity if ever there was one in this day and age of stuffed-down-your-throat propaganda-esque trailers and endless streams of publicity both on the large screen and the small. Not recognising the director’s name at all until the end of the movie when my overused IMDB app was swiftly opened up, Green Room was indeed the work of a mad-man, one who has an obvious love of blood splatter B-Movie greatness, harking back to the days of grindhouse pictures, whilst having an uncanny knack of relieving tension in the most horrific of scenes with the jet-black comedy element blending seamlessly with the complete and utter carnage that occurs on-screen throughout the film’s more than modest 90 minute run-time. If you can handle sharp objects, killer dogs and death, lots of death then continue to read on; Green Room is one of a kind.
Following in the footsteps of recent B-Movie blood-splatter gems such as the brilliantly comical You’re Next and even last years’ Marmite picture Knock, Knock, Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier brings to life a fusion of punk rock sensibility to the genre, with Anton Yelchin’s power quadruple being caught within a rather sticky situation after performing at a isolated Neo-Nazi clubhouse ran by Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart. What follows is a tension-filled gore fest with explosions of violence that can hold up against anything in its’ respective genre in terms of shock value, yet the undercurrent of comedy helps to differentiate the film from being a proper downer of a movie in line with something such as Eden Lake, a movie with no laughs whatsoever, with a recurring joke about desert-island bands being particularly humorous right up to the final scene. Twists and turns, blood and guts, Green Room most definitely isn’t for everyone but if you are like me and enjoy the twisted nature of B-Movie greatness, check it out. Just don’t east beforehand.