Tag Archives: Hell

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 REVIEW

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 REVIEW

“Through me you go into a city of weeping; through me you go into eternal pain; through me you go amongst the lost people.”
Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

The concept of Katabasis is a descent of some kind, such as moving downhill, or a military retreat, or in this context, a violent journey into the underworld. The term has multiple related meanings in poetry, psychology and Greek Mythology. Heroes such as: Orpheus, Odysseus and Lazarus went down into the depths of Hades to locate lost loved ones, collect information and battle their demons. Conversely, writer-director S. Craig Waller has produced something akin to Sam Peckinpah reinventing the story of Orpheus. But instead of employing beautiful music to crush the enemy, Waller’s anti-hero Bradley Thomas, uses his fists, head, body, bats, bars, guns, and hulking power to defeat his foes.

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The story opens with a stunning shot from behind of Vince Vaughn’s bald, bulking head emblazoned with a startling crucifix tattoo. As a means of establishing character and showing us the world we’re in it is emphatic, visceral and deviously economic. You know immediately not to mess with Bradley Thomas as he is a coiled spring of masculine power, yet he also has a strong moral compass. Finding himself out-of-work and in difficult financial times, Thomas takes up drug courier work to support his pregnant wife portrayed by Jennifer Carpenter. All is going smoothly until a deal with a Mexican drug cartel goes awry and, from when Thomas enters prison, all manner of sickening and brutal hell breaks loose.

The film is shot on a low budget but the style is impressive. The cinematographer, Benji Bakshi, along with the director Waller, are brave in their choices; utilising natural light, drained colours, shadows and darkness. Often Thomas’ is lit by a slit or shaft or box of light as his character finds himself trapped in corridors and cells as well as his own life choices. Much will also be made of the ultra-violence which includes some impressive bone-crunching Foley sound work. But, the hyper-real violence, while reminiscent of the cartoon horror gore of early Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, is paradoxically not exploitative. This is because it is contextualised within the brutal crime setting and driven by Thomas’ powerful desire to save the people he loves.

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The screenplay, also written by Waller, is full of witty one-liners and deadpan repartee between hard-bitten, desperate criminals and jailers who look as though they have been transported right out of hard-pipe thrillers such as: John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and Don Siegel’s crime gem Charley Varrick (1973).  While over two hours long the plot moves pretty quickly, yet Waller takes his time deliberately building character, suspense and tension before busting out into spectacular violence. Having previously directed the stunning B-movie Western Bone Tomahawk (2015), S. Craig Waller is certainly making a name for himself as an independent film director of some note.

Waller finds a compelling cinematic partner-in-crime in Vince Vaughn too. Vaughn, who burst on the scene with a hilarious performance in brilliant indie-hit Swingers (1996), could be argued to have not lived up to his full acting potential. While he has performed in some excellent movies his CV is also peppered with unfunny comedies, soporific romances and bland family films. Don’t get me wrong, we have to pay the mortgage but there’s always been a nagging sense Vaughn was not utilising his meaty acting ability. Having said that in Hacksaw Ridge (2016) and now Brawl in Cell Block 99, he proves himself to be a character actor of some force. Indeed, his natural comedic timing, muscular frame and searing intensity are all utilised here to mesmeric impact in a career-best performance.

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Katabasis, as aforementioned, is about descent; but the archetypal hero will usually return triumphant in victory. Brawl in Cell Block 99 offers an alternative vision of moral redemption though within Bradley Thomas’ avenging-angel-versus-the-devil narrative. As such, Brawl in Cell Block 99 joins a list of recent lower-budgeted-independent-minded movies such as: Cold in July (2014), Green Room (2015), Out of the Furnace (2013) and Hell or High Water (2016), which rip into the dark underbelly of United States’ industrial and criminal landscape leaving us in no doubt to the destructive nature of the American dream.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

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10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU – #6 MODERN LIFE

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU – #6 – MODERN LIFE

I recently wrote a little personal review on stuff I love about life which can be found here. BUT then I thought ah, why not continue my Ten Things I Hate About. . . series which to date includes reasons why I hate: Zach Snyder’s Man Of Steel, the Cinema, Found Footage films, Politics and Movie Hair!? Therefore, I thought why not write about things in LIFE I hate too!

Here I’m just saying that this is for fun and not a cry for help, as my life is pretty good I have a job, a roof-over-my-head, good family and I have my health. Compared to those in war-torn countries and those hit by horrific tsunamis and hurricanes I CANNOT COMPLAIN!!  Still, there’s no harm in having a little bit of a moan now and then. So, here are ten things that really get on my nerves most days whilst living and breathing on Earth.

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#1 – ONLINE HATERS OR TROLLS!

Why are people so over-the-top with their reactions online I ask myself? Maybe they are channelling their life disappointments or existential anger by way of dissociative behaviour. Criticizing things is one thing but venturing into petty online spite could be a way of distancing themselves from the pain of life or just a means to attack others in an offensive way. Moreover, sport, politics, novels, schools, pop videos and even cakes give rise to the most ridiculous hate-filled crap online. Even worse is that many people are cowards and use anonymity too. Why can’t we all just get along?

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#2 – GU: GLASS POTS

This is a bit of a niche pet-hate! But I once shared a flat with a very decent person but they kept, every day, purchasing GU Pot desserts. They would eat them, clean the glass pots and place them in the cupboard. Soon we were infested with GU Pots!  I thought maybe he was to recycle them at the glass bank but he left the tenancy and I was the one who had to get rid of these damned pesky pots. I’d given up smoking so couldn’t even use them as an ashtray!

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#3 – PEOPLE WHO DON’T INDICATE WHEN DRIVING

Come on drivers please let me know which way you’re going?!?  It’s the lever on the steering wheel; just flick it and THEN I KNOW!!  Also, if you’re changing lanes don’t just lurch left or right without warning you bastards!!  Please use the indicator!!  I’m a bit anal when it comes to this but just have a bit of decency please?  Oh, and while you’re at it stop driving so close to my back bumper! THAT’S HOW CRASHES OCCUR YOU MUPPETS!

#4 – ADULTS ON SCOOTERS

What is it with this most recent of irritating phenomena!? If it isn’t bad enough pedestrians having to battle regular traffic and hate-filled cyclists failing to stop at red lights while riding on pavements; we now have morons over the age of 18 riding kid’s scooters too. It may get you from A to Z in an environmentally safe fashion but you are dangerous and look like a dick! Just stop it please!


#5 – PEOPLE WHO SAY, “YOU KNOW WHAT I’M LIKE!

I do this all the time and it is bloody annoying. For example, I am very pedantic and annoy people with this – especially my wife. But when I do it I often utter the above words: “Well, you know what I’m like – it’s what I’m like!” No, it doesn’t work as a catchall defence mechanism so must be rejected. You wouldn’t get jury’s in court finding you innocent of murder because it’s “what I’m like!” Just don’t do it to start off with!

 

#6 – PROFESSIONAL CRITICS

Everyone’s a critic!  Everyone has an opinion or a view and the Internet has caused a mass proliferation and gaping spew of words and views and brain-thoughts in extremis. I am just part of that continued global globule of opinionated ephemera which litters the clouds or servers or wherever the hell it is online. However, I do it for fun and to stop me thinking about death. If you earn a living as a critic then you are Satan! Would I do it for a living, well, yes I would but I’d rather create than dictate. I’d rather be the failed artist trying than the trying failed artist.


#7 – WHITE MIDDLE-CLASS KIDS WHO TRY AND RAP!!

Again, it’s a freedom of choice to dress to behave the way you choose, however, the absorption of urban culture by middle-class white kids to me is very grating. I’m not saying don’t appreciate the music, style and fashion styles but dreadlocks, urban-speak and bad rapping should not be tolerated. Most annoying is appropriating other people’s look or behaviour when much has been borne out from a certain social standing. But most of all it’s the terrible rapping. Look at this c**t from M. Night Shymalan’s The Visit (2015)!


#8 – OVER-INFLATED PRICES PAID FOR ART!

Picture the scene: a starving child in Africa passively stares at a camera while a fly irritates their big sad eyes, and they do not know when their next meal is coming from. Meanwhile, in a New York auction house a painting by Cezanne or Gauguin or Picasso is selling for over $200 million dollars! What the f**k is wrong with the world?!  I’m not saying these paintings aren’t great art it’s just that there is NO WAY that amount of money should be paid for a painting when there is starvation, disease, and poverty in the world. It’s just an indictment of the sickness of humanity that we place such value on what effectively amounts to canvas and paint placed in a particular manner by some dead guy. It’s utter madness!!

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#9 – PEOPLE WHO DON’T LET YOU GET OFF THE TRAIN FIRST!

Honestly, it’s bad enough being crammed like sardines in a space not fit for cattle going to market. However, when you try and get off a stacked tube and the passengers on the platform block your way then you can seriously lose your cool. There should be a bigger space and line to allow more room to get off. I mean: what’s the hurry though?  We’re just too much in a hurry I guess to have some empathy and feelings for others’. Damned shame!

#10 – TALKING AT THE MOVIES!

I mean why are you talking during a movie?  There’s a FILM on!!  People who chat during the film SHOULD BE banned forever! In fact a law should be introduced that there’s NO talking from the trailers onwards.  If you do you are forcibly removed from the screening room.  I go to the cinema to escape reality; YOU or YOUR MATE’S voice-words are reality so SHUT THE HELL UP!  If you want to have a conversation piss-off to a pub or a shop or a busy road and PLAY IN THE TRAFFIC. Anywhere but the cinema!

 

 

 

MOTHER (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

MOTHER (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

TITLE: MOTHER

DIRECTOR/WRITER: DARREN ARONOFSKY

CAST: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JAVIER BARDEM, ED   HARRIS, MICHELLE PFEIFFER

**GENERALLY SPOILER FREE**

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Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple in not so much a narrative but a descent into what-the-fuck?  They portray conduits of hellish pursuit dictated by a filmmaker on the edge of a nervous breakdown, vengefully striking out at his ego, superego and the world around him.  I mean, you know when someone tells you their dreams in nightmarish details and it’s more interesting to them than you: well, this is two hours of that.

While this is technically a bravura tour-de-force in design, composition, cinematic experimentation and delivery I was utterly bored by, what is essentially, an indulgent, pretentious and nihilistic void of a film.  Darren Aronofsky’s prior work such as Requiem for a Dream (2000), Pi (1998), The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010) combined cinematic style and protagonist emotion superbly. Mother, in its critiques of Hollywood, fame and some kind of biblical allegory stuff wildly missed the mark for me. I wasn’t even shocked by the horrific denouement as it all happened in a surreal vacuum where I could not care less about any person or anything.

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Christopher Nolan used cinematic form to powerful effect in Dunkirk (2017) and moved me immensely but Mother just bludgeoned me into dull submission. I wonder if Aronofsky’s experience on Noah (2014) had somehow warped his mind and the film is a creative and therapeutic cry for help, while at the same time damning the executives who possibly killed his film baby. He certainly throws a lot of toys from his pram in this violent, bloody, fiery, misogynistic and misanthropic misfire!

Lawrence was incredible as the battered lead while Bardem just felt confused and off-the-pace-at-times to me. While it is the work of a filmmaker I would certainly call an artist and generally I love the surrealist films of Luis Bunuel and David Lynch, the nightmarish logic narrative did not work for me as the cyclical parlour trick in closing the story is mere sleight-of-hand to fool the audience into thinking the film is deeper than it is.

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Ultimately, Darren Aronofsky, based on his prior films, is a risk-taking, boundary-pushing genius and some will adore this brave and courageous misadventure. However, for me it was an awful, pretentious heap of a film which exists as an entertainment void both nihilistic and dull. I mean I’m just a lowly office drone but I paid my money and earned my opinion. Because this film abuses the privilege and patience of the audience delivering a technically brilliant but overall clichéd, first-world-problems-poet-with-writer’s-block-world-murdering-art-fan-hating two hours I will never get back.

DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

Firstly, the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, during World War II was simply put one of the most incredible acts of survival and escape achieved. From the historical articles and documentaries I have read and seen the Allies were on the ropes and pinned back by the German army causing 400,000 beaten, starving and bedraggled human beings to be trapped on the beach waiting desperately for rescue.  It’s no spoiler to state that many brave people enabled that rescue creating that well-known phrase “Dunkirk spirit” to enter our vocabulary.

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Put yourself in that position for even just a minute and the fear drains one cold and feeling so lucky that I will never have to feel that threatened. These are people, young soldiers fighting against a fascistic foe who are backed into a corner and whose lives are about to be extinguished. So, think about that when you wake up in the morning because Christopher Nolan’s epic film, as do many other films, books and television shows about the war, give your life meaning about how lucky we are to not have to live through that. Count your blessings you’re not in a war and the life we live has relative freedom.

These and many more emotions flashed through my being while experiencing the incredible epic that master director Nolan and team have delivered via Dunkirk. Throwing us immediately into the action we are shown the hell of war from three perspectives: land, sea and air. Nolan works from a simpler focus and premise compared to his other works and this makes it all the more powerful an experience. Where films such as Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Memento (2000) had complex, shifting narratives relying on heavy exposition, grand concepts and plot twists, Dunkirk deals with one simple sterling idea: survival!

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I found the whole experience immersive and pulsating from a cinematic perspective. Christopher Nolan, and his production team, have in the: editing, cinematography, composition, colour, acting, framing, sound, score and movement created pure and poetic cinema. From the safety of my comfy seat I felt real danger, peril and claustrophobia. The narratives’ drive comes from fragmented moments of fear and blasts of explosive danger. The impressionistic style was full of scenes containing quiet doom as well as noisy, confusing and fiery terror. Even the smallest situation such as the locking of a cabin door takes on great significance, sending a chill down the spine. As the enemy closes in from above and below and water fills the screen and lungs of our heroes, then death moves in for the kill.

Nolan eschews the solid build-up of traditional characterisation to create emotion through the visual form with a chopping style which serves to heighten the panic. There are so many haunting images as men and boys are stuck behind doors and ships and in boats and underwater and in the air and on moles and piers, compressed, suffocating and unable to breath as bullets, torpedoes and bombs pepper their souls. The coruscating soundscape, montage and hypnotic score from Hans Zimmer only add to the dread within the non-stop action. The dialogue is spare and at times muffled as character development is also sacrificed due to the compressed timeline. Yet, for me, empathy was garnered through verisimilitude, form and style rather than a conventional storytelling and a simplistic three-act transformational arc.

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The characters are archetypes but serve the story very well. Kenneth Branagh’s noble sea Commander brings gravitas while Mark Rylance brings a naturalistic humility to the stalwart and duty bound Mr Dawson. Aneurin Barnard’s silent soldier allows his haunting eyes to dominate, while the pathos emitting from Barry Keoghan’s young George is incredibly powerful. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, while inexperienced actors, represent the palpable fear any young man would exhibit when faced with certain death. Tom Hardy adds star quality in his role of RAF pilot, Farrier, and the image at the end of his plane burning in the sunset is indelibly etched in my mind.

But, overall the film belongs to the masterful direction of Christopher Nolan who, in delivering 106 minutes of pure dramatic exhilaration demonstrates he is more than just a genre filmmaker but a cinematic artist echoing the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick within this war and disaster film masterpiece. Dunkirk was a savage defeat for the Allies but it rallied the nation against the enemy and Nolan has produced a film that stands as a worthy tribute to those who lost their lives and those brave people who survived.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

 

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #2 – A FAR CRY (2006) By PAUL LAIGHT

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #2 – A FAR CRY (2006) By PAUL LAIGHT

And thus I continue my look back to the past short film projects I have made with Gary O’Brien under the Fix Films umbrella.

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A FAR CRY (2006)

A FAR CRY (2006) was our second short film.  It was also our most expensive.  I admit I got myself into some debt on a credit card/overdraft for this film.  I’d finished my Master’s Degree a couple of years before.  I had hope that if I made a great short film I could possibly ignite a career as a writer or producer or both within the British Film Industry. At the very least I had hope I would have a show reel piece and even if I started at the bottom I could work my way up within a reputable production company.  I was wrong. But I was naïve and ambitious and that drove the whole production. I have no regrets though as A Far Cry   is — despite its many faults — is a brilliant short film.

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It all started one drunken evening in Ascot somewhere and myself and Gary had enjoyed the process of making our first short film — the revenge comedy Getting Back Mr Hunt (2005) which you can read about HERE — SO much we crazily thought let’s do another one.  What followed was a crazy, stupid and wholly memorable experience as we put A FAR CRY into pre-production. I cannot quite recall why we chose to do a war film. I guess because we both love war films; and didn’t think it through properly in regard to the amount of work that it would entail.

I know we definitely wanted to do something involving a moral dilemma where the main protagonist had an impossible decision to make.  We wanted the audience to ask themselves: “WHAT WOULD I DO IN THAT SITUATION?!”  Moreover, as it’s a war film it obviously had to be bad. Really terrible. A decision that would haunt the character and the audience.  I think with THAT ending we achieved that.  So, eventually we spent months on the screenplay batting it back and forth until we’d moulded something we were happy with. Only then did we dip our toe into the casting and crew side.

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This, for a small group of creative and deluded fools, was a massive undertaking.  We were making a 15 minute short film set in World War II which involved:  a big opening battle scene; a baby; marauding German soldiers hunting down our protagonist; AND it was set in FRANCE!!    To put it in perspective the budget for Saving Private Ryan (1998) was $70 million; ours was a one-hundred-thousandth of that.  Did that stop us?  No!   We managed to source a baby via Gary’s great mate Toby and to him I will be eternally grateful as we could not have made the film otherwise.  Likewise, we needed a massive location somewhere in the middle of nowhere where we could recreate the big opening battle scene and others.  Sometimes in life opportunity just comes knocking and we were at a party on a farm in Watlington, Oxfordshire and the owner — who I only ever knew as Murray — said we could use his land for a bottle of booze.  So, for free we had a baby and for some scotch we had a farm and a few acres with which to continue this creative folly.

Next stop was sourcing some Germans.  I was sure the whole venture would collapse. But DID YOU KNOW there are groups who recreate WWII battles as a hobby!  I didn’t but we met some cracking guys from the WW2 Re-enactors Group led by Mark Craig and Jason Lavene and they were incredible.  They loved dressing up as Germans and rather cheaply gave us the use of all their guns, uniforms, props and most importantly themselves and their time to make it happen.  We had some ups and downs while making A Far Cry but when I look back I think that through sheer will and hard work everything went amazingly well. The WW2 Re-enactors were brilliant and I had to laugh on the first day of shooting when they woke up in the morning expecting their to be a Catering Truck serving hot food only to be told that there wasn’t a budget for that. Did they complain?  Not at all. We had a laugh about it; well me and Gary did.  While I imagine they were cursing us they soldiered on and gave their all in the production. I often think of them not least when I see their likes featured in adverts such as this one from the AA.

Filming of A Far Cry was done over a couple of weekends.  One in Watlington, Oxfordshire.  The other in Ascot, Berkshire.  We shot quickly and economically and looking back at the film now I have to say Gary did a brilliant job of crafting some very memorable set-pieces throughout. As the producer it was my job to keep things steady and moving along and manoeuvre all the units into place. Oh, and I made A LOT of sandwiches. I think the whole project worked because everyone was pulling in the same direction and enjoying the experience.  The opening battle was a lot to take on and we did overrun in regard to timing but due to Gary’s excellent storyboards and a script we knew back to front we were able to keep on track on the whole. 


The pouring rain on the Sunday, I think, really put us back but we managed to pick up the scenes we lost during the first weekend when we shot in Ascot. Often we had to improvise and compromise but we did it inventively to make the story work. I recall the filming process being one of very long days and buzzing urgency with all manner of friends and family helping out on different days. It was incredible feat to make this film for so little money. Even stuff like recreating the barn in a garage in Ascot came off; Gary actually hired bales of hay from some random rural folk who then came and collected them the Monday after shooting.  Of course, our cast were awesome and special mention for our lead actor Phil Delancy who gave a great performance and anchored the film with gravitas, physicality and emotional depth.  Without him the film would be nothing.

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Once the shoot was over we had a hell of a lot of sweat, time and insanity in the can and it was down to Gary to edit it into a cogent whole. That he did with tremendous endeavour as the film flows brilliantly with a fine combination of action and suspense. We had a great script in our view with a brutal subject matter and even darker ending.  I was very happy with what we had and when I started seeing the footage I was elated.  I was, by day, an office clock-puncher with a dead-end job but over those two weekends I had lived the dream of being a filmmaker. I WAS a filmmaker; albeit on a budget that wouldn’t pay for Robert Downey Jnr’s on-set beard stylist.

I re-watched the film again yesterday for this little piece and it stands up very well as a story. I also think Jasper Drew’s score is wonderful. I think we clearly aimed high with this production and it’s the lack of budget shows, however, everybody involved with this film worked REALLY hard to make it work and I think we did the script justice in the time we had.  I thank everyone who assisted in making the film become a reality.  What started on a crazy, drunken night in Ascot became one of the biggest projects I’ve worked on.  You may say I’m and idiot for following a dream. But I’m a very proud idiot. No one can take that or this film away.

EPILOGUE

The film was very well received by many of those who saw it.  A lot of people were shocked by the ending but in terms of the war-is-hell theme we feel we were justified and while it is heart-wrenching I think it is in context and not gratuitous.  The film was screened at many film festivals and short film nights and on the whole we got some great feedback online and by word-of-mouth. For a list of screenings and film details please visit my website:  http://www.fixfilms.com/a-far-cry