“There’s A Reason I’m Sitting Behind This Desk Running Things. And You’re Out There With A Partner That’s Twenty Years Younger Than You…”
When it comes to discussions regarding the best new filmmakers working out there at this very moment in time, the one-two success of both Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 has deservedly placed S. Craig Zahler on the watch list for any new release which might come this way. After doing the rounds on the festival circuit, the long wait for the American’s latest, Dragged Across Concrete, finally comes to an end to audiences in the U.K, with Zahler once again returning to the B-movie genre in which he truly admires and loves, a particular dedication both impressive and ballsy considering the now common approach for independent filmmakers to make a couple of little-seen gems and then fancy their chances within the cinematic big leagues. Reuniting with Vince Vaughn after directing him to his best ever work on the big screen in Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler’s latest sees Vaughn co-star with Mel Gibson (Blood Father), who reunite themselves after their work together on the Oscar nominated, Hacksaw Ridge, for a movie which makes absolutely no mistake in coming across as one of the most seedy, nihilistic and hard-edged movies of the year so far, a police procedural crime drama with a double-edged twist which sees Gibson and Vaughn as suspended police officers who soon flip in allegiances to the law as they attempt to intercept a bank heist involving Tory Kittles’ (American Heist) recently released ex-con and a merciless band of stone cold murderers.
At just over two and a half hours long, Zahler’s impressive positioning in seemingly having complete control over his respective works and directorial final say means that Dragged Across Concrete does ultimately come across as his most indulgent production yet, a full on Tarantino-esque cinematic sprawl which at times feels overly joyous in attempting to frustrate you with drawn out set pieces, particularly in a first act which does take slightly long to really get going, but as with both of Zahler’s works so far, the testing nature of the pacing is offset with a mature and natural flair for excellent writing, interesting characters and incredibly tense set pieces which in their sense of tonal unease creates an off-kilter vacuum which filmmakers of lesser skill would undoubtedly not be able to handle. Whilst it’s hard to like any of the leading characters at the heart of the drama, with Gibson’s Brett Ridgeman a racist, old-fashioned relic of the past ages whose refusal to adhere to the modern world has resulted in failed promotion bids, a particularly chin-stroking set of character traits when considering the actor’s infamous private life, the fact remains that I still found everything involving his relationship with Vaughn’s Anthony Lurasetti utterly fascinating, ranging from elongated stake-out scenes to their ruthless ability to manage the most hostile of situations. With the final ninety minutes of the drama essentially one big heist set piece, the B-movie style for which Zahler is already renowned for really goes all gun blazes, with the introduction of Jennifer Carpenter’s (Quarantine) return-to-work mother giving birth to one of the most jaw-dropping character arcs I have seen in recent memory, and whilst some will gasp at both the runtime and the darkness at the heart of Dragged Across Concrete, name one other independent filmmaker at this very moment in time who has the cojones to make these kind of movies, a film so gritty and so brilliantly summed up by its’ title that come the end of it, you’ll feel that you’ve been dragged across volcanic ash, let alone concrete. That’s my kind of movie.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Say Fate Gave You The Choice: You Can Get The Lady, Or You Could Catch That Tuna That’s In Your Head. Which One Would You Choose..?”
On the one hand, Serenity is thankfully not an attempt to reboot the Firefly live-action spin-off of the same name from 2005, and instead is a movie which this week manages to pull off the contemporary trend of being released both on the big and small screens in a supposed attempt in order to gather an excessive amount of viewers on its’ opening weekend. Backed by the behemoth that is Sky Movies, whose previous endeavors, including the likes of Anon and Final Score, haven’t exactly set the critical underworld alike, Serenity is the latest from Peaky Blinders creator and Locke director, Steven Knight, who returns to the big screen with an absolutely bonkers and unbelievably stupid neo-noir thriller which has already been tipped as the front-runner heading into the next Razzies ceremony. Led by the usually respectable figure of Matthew McConaughey, (Interstellar) Knight’s movie sees the Oscar winning American as Baker Dill, an alcohol ridden, musky small-time fisherman whose quiet life on the island of Plymouth is soon interrupted by the re-emergence of ex-wife, Karen, played in equally over-the-top form by Anne Hathaway, who reunites with McConaughey after their work together on the masterful Interstellar.
With an opening camera swoop which feels like a sub-90’s porno flick as we are swiftly introduced to the glowing sands and seas of the film’s idyllic locale, the tone of the movie is laid faced down almost immediately, with gobsmackingly awful dialogue and monologues about life-chasing tuna one of the many highlights of a piece which you can’t help but stare at in complete shock as you try and piece together how on earth such a raspberry pudding of a movie came to be. With a central narrative which blends together fantastical romance with some sort of supernatural mystery, the opening hour is stuffed with unintentional hilarity as we become subject to some of the most awful, ham-fisted acting performances I have seen for a very long time, typified by McConaughey himself who seems to have taken the material as serious as his work on Dallas Buyers Club and just ends up making a complete and utter turkey of himself as he drunkenly stumbles and screams his way through a performance which gives The Room‘s Tommy Wiseau a run for his money. Awful editing and effects aside, the real talking point of the movie is undoubtedly the final thirty minutes of the piece in which Knight goes full on M. Night Shyamalan with an already infamous and thunderously stupid jack-in-the-box twist, and whilst it’s obvious to class Serenity as a work of complete and utter nonsense, I cannot shy away from the fact that it made me laugh more times than most American comedies, and whilst such comedy is clearly unintentional and stems from Knight’s soon to be sectioned and ludicrous mind, the fact that certain points were actually quite enjoyable means that Serenity isn’t the worst film I’ve ever sat through, but it may indeed just be the silliest. So bad, it’s almost good.
Overall Score: 4/10
“This Is Not A Place For A Priest, Father. You Shouldn’t Be Here…”
Written and directed by the excellent Drew Goddard, the mind behind the likes of Cabin in the Woods and Netflix’s first season of Daredevil, Bad Times at the El Royale bundles together an abundance of top-notch actors within the confines of a script which mixes together an Agatha Christie-esque air of neo-noir mystery with a very obvious nod to the quirky and wordy works of Quentin Tarantino. Set in the dying embers of the late 1960’s, the majority of the action takes place within the lifeless, unkempt eeriness of the titular hotel, one straddled with history and echoes of a previous life involving the rich and famous but now suffering from a lack of custom primarily due to a newly founded inactive liquor license. As soon as the film’s colourful band of characters slowly check themselves in however, the presence of the murky collection of cats including Jeff Bridge’s (Hell or High Water) Catholic Priest, Donald “Doc” O’Kelly, Dakota Johnson’s (Fifty Shades Freed) rebellious young Emily and Jon Hamm’s (Tag) travelling vacuum salesman, Seymour Sullivan, result in the mysteries of the hotel and the secrets of its’ guest’s unraveling with particularly violent and menacing ends.
Whilst Goddard has proven to be successful in the past with work which has always remained entertaining and interesting, even if at times not exactly for everyone, Bad Times at the El Royale is unfortunately the American’s first cinematic turkey, an excruciatingly overlong and plodding mess of a movie which although begins in intriguing fashion, fails to warrant almost two and a half hours worth of your time as it drags its’ way towards a finish line without any real sense of purpose or point. Whilst the film does boast a healthy selection of well-executed dialogue heavy set pieces alongside excellent central performances from the likes of Bridges and Cynthia Erivo’s wandering soul singer, Darlene Sweet, as the film crosses over the hour mark, the over-reliance on wasteful backstory and wandering narrative stretches result in a painful longing for the action to come to some sort of meaningful end. Enter Chris Hemsworth (Avengers: Infinity War), whose appearance come the ninety minute mark as a curly haired, spiritually baffling and overzealous cross between Charles Manson and Jim Morrison, meant the film then decides to go on for another excruciating forty five minutes, concluding with a soppy and rather weak attempt at humanising a particularly annoying character and then finally ending with a final gasp of saintly praise as I left my seat and headed to the exit. Whilst not totally awful, Bad Times at the El Royale is a simple case of style over substance and made me check IMDB pretty quickly to see if an editor was actually hired at all to do a decent job. On inspection, Lisa Lassek, you are in my bad books.
Overall Score: 5/10
“You Stabbed The Devil In The Back. To Him This Isn’t Vengeance, This Is Justice…”
Along with The Raid movies in 2011 and 2014 respectively, 2015’s John Wick stands up there as a prime example of how to do an action movie properly in modern-day cinema, utilising the somewhat distant characteristic of everyone’s favourite Lebanese export by creating a stone-cold merciless killer and placing him in the middle of a quite admirable neo-noir backdrop which offered the opportunity for the titular retired hitman to kill as many bad guys as humanly possible. Where the original thrived in the best use of a handgun since Michael Mann’s Collateral, with the thrilling action set pieces akin more to tightly packed choreographed dance scenes than just mindless free fire, the main pulling power of the original was the B-Movie-esque straightforward storytelling of the movie, one which at no point attempted to be something more than just a classic action adventure, inevitably resulting in a much more enjoyable thrill ride than one might have previously thought. As per the norm of current cinematic climates therefore, the success of Wick inevitably has brought with it a sequel, one which once again features Reeves in the leading role and a movie which actually manages to surpass the quality of its’ predecessor, featuring bigger set pieces, cooler kills and a heightened sense of sheer lunacy which creates a sequel which takes the OTT nature of the Wickverse all the way up to eleven.
Following on almost immediately from the conclusion of the first film, Chapter Two heads straight into the action-packed territory everyone in the audience seemed to expect, highlighting Wick’s reunion with his dearly departed vehicle after a mildly intense car chase, a bout of tough hand-to-hand combat battles, and a peace treaty with guest star Peter Stormare, who chews the scenery portraying the sheepish relative of Wick’s foes from the first movie in a theme-setting opening ten minutes. Although more stylised than the first movie, Chapter Two also ramps up the levels of violence depicted on-screen, with its’ titular character using everything from high-powered weaponry to an everyday pencil in an attempt to kill as many cannon fodder as humanly possible. In the leading role, Reeves too seems to have found peace with the character, having fun where necessary in a performance which is once again low on dialogue but ripe in complete bad-assery from start to finish. Whilst the plot is pretty straightforward, the ambiguity and strangeness of the underworld nature of Wick’s world is intriguing enough to carry the film to a conclusion which inevitably leads on to the certainty of a sequel, yet if the levels of quality continue to be as superb as Chapter Two, I look forward to see what eventually comes around next.
Overall Score: 8/10
A Directional Debut Delving Into Darkness
After being the talk of the town when it comes to acting over the past couple of years, cereal hater Ryan Gosling has chosen to take the directors seat this time, with Lost River being based around a story of his own creation, and featuring a cast consisting of Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, Agents of Shield’s Ian De Caestecker, the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, and Ms. Gosling, Eva Mendes. With past directorial experience with directors such as Derek Cianfrance for The Place Beyond the Pines and Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive and Only God Forgives, the odds were stacked high in Gosling’s favour for his directorial debut. Unfortunately for Gosling and Lost River, the director’s career has got off to a bit of a bad start.
In terms of the story, Hendricks plays single mother Billy, who after being threatened by her bank manager Dave, played by Ben Mendelsohn, agrees to take a job offering in the darker side of her hometown in an attempt to make financial ends meet, whilst her son Bones is hunted down by Matt Smith’s character, Bully, forcing him to also seek out the dark and dangerous side of the town along with Saoirse Ronan’s character, Rat. Firstly, the tone of the film is so obviously based around the teachings of Winding Refn that it made me cringe in places, with the neo-noir tone that was so effective in Drive, being put to use here, but in a much pointless and boring way. I mean poor old Ben Mendelsohn, not only does he have to portray one of the most boring characters ever, he also has to do a bit of karaoke, a scene lifted straight from Only God Forgives, and dance like Richard Curtis in another scene for no particular reason whatsoever. Why Gosling, why?
Not only is Refn the main inspiration here, but David Lynch too, who unlucky enough for Gosling, happens to be one of my favourite directors. Lost River does attempt to be seen as its’ own Lynchian masterpiece, using all the dreamy, mystical tropes of Blue Velvet and Inland Empire, but ultimately fails. Not only is the plot actually really dull and uninteresting, but the sense of fantasy that tries to be implemented makes it comical at times. I think I counted three scenes at least where all Smith’s character does is scream really loud. I mean, why? So Lost River is not the worst film of the year, it just seems like it (Lynch reference here, I’m clever too Gosling) with a cast as good as this being wasted in trying to fulfill Gosling’s dream of being as good a director as Lynch or Refn. I’d give it a miss.