Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Prevenge
Dir: Alice Lowe
2017
*****
If you think 2012’s Sightseers was dark then prepare yourself for the brilliant Prevenge. Written, directed and starring the eight-month pregnant Alice Lowe, Prevenge is, in my opinion, one of the best independent British films in decades. The concept is very simplistic and utterly bizarre; Ruth’s boyfriend and father to her unborn child died during a climbing accident on the day she found out she was pregnant. As she gets closer to the birth, she becomes convinced that her foetus is talking to her and is compelling her to seek revenge and murder the other people who were involved in the climbing accident and essentially cut her boyfriend loose to save themselves. It is advertised as a dark comedy, and while it is funny in various different ways, it is really a slasher film that will make you laugh out of discomfort. Lowe tells the joke with a straight face, giving the viewer a somewhat awkward but actually quite refreshing experience. It’s a hard one to describe in many respect but fans of Lowe will know what to expect and will be pleased to know that this is her at her very best and her humour on full power. I’m not sure many people would have managed to write, star and direct a film while eight months pregnant but Lowe makes it look easy, her directing style looking like what I imagine a low-budget made-for-TV Stanley Kubrick film might look like (if that makes any sense). I cannot emphasis just how dark this film is and nor can I explain how Lowe quiet gets away with it. It’s 100% a slasher but it’s not a horror film. It’s really funny but it’s not a comedy. Like it or not, Lowe has sort of carved out a new genre for herself, something Ben Wheatley has come close to achieving but Lowe has done effortlessly. I think the fact that the people she kills are also great comics themselves. When I see Kayvan Novak or Dan Renton Skinner appear on screen my first instinct is to laugh but, like Lowe, they’re part of a fascinating new breed of comic actors who also dabble in cutting edge drama and dark horror. I’m not sure this sort of thing always works and many of Lowe’s contemporaries get the tone wrong and reply too heavily on improvisation and ad-libed scripts. Lowe gets it, you can see how good she is by the fact that she has plenty of pretenders to the throne behind her – none of which have written, starred or directed a film while eight months pregnant I might add. Lowe’s direction is sharp, crisp and incredibly creepy. It is perfect for the tone of the film and compliments the story’s twists and revelations. I was a bit concerned that the talking foetus wouldn’t quite fit the tone of the story, while I loved Miranda July voicing the cat in her 2011 film The Future, I wasn’t sure Lowe could pull of the same trick but she does, effortlessly once again. Lowe cuts between the story and the brilliant 1934 film Crime Without Passion, a film her character watches and eventually mimics when in killing mode. This is a tricky technique that I usually find a bit lazy if I’m honest but I loved it here and watching Lowe mimic the film’s ‘Furies’ is one of the film’s highlights. It is a film that sent shivers down my neck, not only because that is the desired effect and Lowe delivers it brilliantly, but because it shows you just what can be achieved in a low budget film. It was written within three days, was shot in eleven and conceived because Lowe wasn’t getting any parts in her expectant condition. I’m sure Lowe didn’t casually decide to knock up a quick cult masterpiece but that is essentially what she has done.

Cat in the Brain
Dir: Lucio Fulci
1990
***
A Cat in the Brain is far from being horror maestro Lucio Fulci’s greatest film but there are elements of it that I love. A Cat in the Brain, or Nightmare Concert as it is also known, is somewhere between Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol and Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. Grand Guignol has influenced all of the very best horror films, particularly the Giallos, slashers and Expoitations of the 1970s. Its Jacobean theatre, a show of graphic and amoral entertainment but updated with a psychological twist, one that questions the audience for actually watching it. Fulci goes one further with A Cat in the Brain and questions the audience through questioning himself. Is he a maniac for making some of the goriest and most deprived films ever made or is he a theatrical genius? Maybe only the audience can decide but then what of the audience? Why do people watch such films? You can only determine Fulci’s motives if you watch his films, but why would you do so in the first place? It’s an interesting thought. The film is a meta-film, as Fulci plays himself. He has become haunted by his own films and they have become blurred with his real life. He visits a psychiatrist who suggests he needs to break down the barrier, the boundary between what he films and what is real. The film then sees Fulci work on two new projects while he remembers many gory scenes from his previous films. Now his fans didn’t like this as much because it was seen as a cheap and lazy way of making a ‘greatest hits’ movie, and of course they are right, however, I would argue that there was far more to it. This something of a swansong from the director who only made a couple of further films before he died. The cult classics Sodoma’s Ghost, Touch of Death, Bloody Psycho, Massacre, The Murder Secret, Hansel and Gretal and The Beyond are all revisited but Fulci’s script was still 49 pages long. Rather disturbingly – and adding weight to the overall idea, it contained no dialogue, only descriptions of bodily mutilations and sound effects that would complement them on screen. It is a cheap shot using so much old footage but I quite enjoyed the compilation of clips. There is plenty of new footage and watching Fulci play himself adds another level of terror to his films for sure. Wes Craven used a similar formula for his New Nightmare, although that was a little more obvious in that it questioned whether a character was real or not, and not whether he was mentally disturbed – or at least not to the same level. If you dislike gory films then this is obviously not a great film for you and I have to admit I did find it a little too much for my tastes. The idea is fascinating but the brutal violence is nauseating and far too relentless. To each their own though and if classic Grand Guignol is your thing then this is the film for you and I have to say it is nice to see this style of film made in 1990. A lot of the classic 70s/80s Italian horrors were copied badly, so I’ve only seen them on poor quality tapes. This film looks like it could have come from the 70s (the earliest footage featured is from 1988) but is crystal clear, which is very satisfying. The argument continues between fans, one side says masterpiece, the other says cheap greatest hits, but I wonder, why can’t it be both?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Their Finest
Dir: Lone Scherfig
2017
***
Based on Lissa Evans’ 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest is a strong adaptation of the source material but unfortunately, it’s so good, it only serves to highlight the huge flaw within it. When reading a book, the reader’s imagination can be key in filling in certain details. An author can describe a characters physical appearance and the type of person they are but they will always be slightly different depending on who is reading. Lone Scherfig’s direction is sublime and Gaby Chiappe’s screenplay works really well. Indeed, Lissa Evans’ story is wonderful but where in the film the romance between the two main characters is integral to the fluidity of the story, in the film it is the big thing wrong with it. The film is loosely based on the work of Diana Morgan who was a Welsh screenwriter who worked at Ealing Studios through the 40s making propaganda films. In the film, Morgan is represented in the character Catrin Cole, played by Gemma Arterton. Mrs Cole lives with a struggling war artist who is unable to serve due to a previous war injury. Both struggle to make ends meet so Mrs Cole, who has had a couple of written pieces published, goes for a secretarial job but is given a job as a writer in The Ministry of Information – Film Division instead. Looking for a ‘woman’s angle’, the ministry treats Mrs Cole as a second class citizen until she begins to impress with her work. She is sent to meet a set of twins who are said to have stolen their uncle’s boat and gone to Dunkirk to rescue stranded solders with the idea that their story could be turned into an effective morale-boosting propaganda film. The truth isn’t quite how it seemed but the twins clearly had the right stuff that should be celebrated so Mrs Cole tells a white lie and the film gets the go-ahead. The film from there on is a wonderfully playful look at how The Ministry of Information worked during the war, the thinking behind much of the propaganda that was produced at the time and how effective it was. It also shows how women were slowly accepted into the work place and how they were also resented and feared. The film that they write and eventually film is fictional but it certainly has strong vibes of Morgan’s 1942 film Went the Day Well? Classic war films (and not so classic war films) are sent up subtly but with great respect and high regard, Bill Nighy plays an aging actor thrust back into the limelight alongside other troublesome actors and an American non-actor who is injected into the film in the hope it will inspire the US to join the war effort. It’s all very clever and funny and British. The problem is that it all takes place around a love triangle. Mrs Cole’s partner, the painter whose work is very much like that of Paul Nash, struggles with her independence and success and she starts to develop feelings for fellow writer and short-tempered drunk Tom Buckley, played by Sam Claflin. The film does take a lot of time to show 1940s London and remind the viewer what the Blitz was like but it is never quite enough. The film is at its best when exploring the war effort, the horror that fell from the sky and the resilience of the people on the ground. It is at its worst when the unnecessary romance is introduced. For a film that explores the clichés of film, it certainly has a fair few of its own. The big twist at the end has been heralded by some as the film’s saving grace but I totally disagree. I think the scenario could have been far more delicately handled but if I’m being honest the film would have been better if a good few characters removed from the very beginning. It leaves a confusing message and felt like they were making a film about a subject they didn’t really understand themselves. If the message was about life imitating art then I’m afraid they couldn’t have done a worse job. However, the direction is sublime and the performances are strong. There are enough tender moments for me to give the film three stars but seriously, that twist makes me want to give it just two.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Thor: Ragnarok
Dir: Taika Waititi
2017
*****
Thor has been regarded by many as The Avenger’s weakest element. I disagree. I know many didn’t like Thor: The Dark World but I thought it was pretty good but it was certainly time for a change of direction. While the Marvel films have taken on a slightly lighter tone in Phase III of the MCU, Thor has always been quite serious. You can just about get away with anything in comics and as a child I never questioned why a God would be fighting alongside a giant green man and man in a robotic suit, it was what it was and what it was was cool. However, when making a more serious live action adaption that has to be unique as well as adhering to a bigger thread of continuity, it’s hard to work out where to place such a character such as Thor. I’m not convinced Marvel have ever actually 100% succeeded with this, at least not until now. The announcement that Taika Waititi was going to be the director of Thor’s third outing was met with excitement and confusion. What was Marvel thinking? I remember being shocked when I learned that Kenneth Branagh was going to direct the original Thor in 2011 but it sort of made sense due to his experience with epics and costume period pieces. It was less surprising when Alan Taylor directed the second film, not because of his film credits but because of his rich experience working in TV. Waititi has made a few of my favourite films of all time (What We Do in the Shadows, Eagle vs. Shark, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) but they were very low budget comedies. I was terrified when it was announced that Peyton Reed was announced as the Ant-Man director and that turned out brilliantly but Waititi seemed like a fantasy director. I’ve had serious conversations with other comic/film nerds about who our fantasy Avengers directors would be and I always say Lars von Trier – Captain America, Werner Herzog – Hulk, Alejandro Jodorowsky – Avengers, Andrei Tarkovsky – Guardians of the Galaxy, Takeshi Tikano – Iron Man and Stanley Kubrick – Thor. I guess I’m something of an anarchist, the MCU would go down in flames if I were in charge but Waititi directing Thor, could that really work? It turns out it was a genius idea. While Waititi didn’t write the story of Thor: Ragnarok he developed the tone and the style and the overall direction the characters should go. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. While Thor: Ragnarok has a totally different tone to Captain America: Civil War, it does bring the colourful and otherworldly playfulness of Guardians of the Galaxy closer to the fold. It’s nice to get away from Earth too, like the comics do quite often. The film incorporates classic stories from across various different threads. It follows elements from Ragnarok – which was part of the Civil War story; the Surtur saga – which is classic golden age stuff from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby from the 60s; the Contest of Champions story – a favourite of mine from the 80s; and Planet Hulk – one of the greatest ‘What if’ scenarios Marvel have ever produced. It is the perfect amalgamation of Thor/Marvel through the ages and something the hard-core fans of the comics have always wanted. Ragnarok featured a clone of Thor, Contest of Champions saw Captain America, Talisman, Darkstar, Captain Britain, Wolverine, Defensor, Sasquatch, Daredevil, Peregrine, She-Hulk, The Thing and Blitzkrieg fight in a tournament against Iron Man, Vanguard, Iron Fist, Shamrock, Storm, Arabian Knight, Sabra, Invisible Girl, Angel, Black Panther, Sunfire and the Collective Man in a sort of pre-civil war story that was a bit like Planet Hulk’s Gladiatorial story but featuring the Elders of the Universe. While it is not quite the same as those comics, it certainly retains much of what made them exciting. You certainly don’t have to be a Marvel expert to enjoy the merge of ideas but it is lots of fun for those that are. As much as fans would want to see a pure adaption of Planet Hulk and World War Hulk, it wouldn’t fit into the bigger story and Marvel clearly know what they are doing. I never thought characters like The Grandmaster, The Collector, Surtur or Korg would have a place in the MCU, and I’m fine with the exclusion of characters like Beta Ray Bill for instance – it really could be far more confusing than it is. What Marvel has done is encourage a bunch of talented writer/directors from a cross section of genre and styles, to use their back catalogue as well as develop their own ideas. Apparently Ruben Fleischer, Rob Letterman and Rawson Marshall Thurber were in the running alongside Waititi for creative director. I’m not sure what they saw in either We’re the Millers, Goosebumps or Zombieland that made them think they’d be perfect for Thor but supposedly Waititi created a sizzle reel that won them over, even though sizzle reels are something that Marvel strongly discourage. He kind of broke all the rules from then on. Thor: Ragnarok is technically a comedy. Waititi keeps it authentic, adapts elements from the Golden age of Marvel, as well as the cool stuff they did in the 80s and the more modern works that brought fresh new ideas to the characters, and also tells it like it is. That is, he, the writers and Marvel finally admit that much of Marvel’s history/stories/characters are absurd. Thor is a ridiculous character who meets other ridiculous characters in ridiculous places in ridiculous scenarios. Waititi’s film embraces the nonsense and the nostalgia and makes a fun film out of it. It fits perfectly in the MCU, right in-between Guardians of the Galaxy and Infinity War, while balancing the tone of Guardians and Civil War. Thor and Hulk took a backseat during Civil War, it is only right we be told why they were absent and what they were doing and Ragnarok is a pretty good excuse as excuses go. Thor’s character had become stale and a little one dimensional, it makes sense that he develop and it makes sense that he lightens up following his time on Earth with the other Avengers. Loki has also had time to mature and reflect and finally we have a significant development of The Hulk – rather than Bruce Banner. Waititi’s tone is a mix of neon sci-fi and soft-focus fantasy and it works perfectly. The humour and banter between characters works surprisingly well, which won’t win everyone over but is something that the franchise needed in my opinion. He’s brought a lot of his own style to the mix but the classic comics are there as well as other sci-fi influences, the work of Harry Harrison immediately springing to mind. Thor is a bit like Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China, as Waititi puts it "What's the version of Thor just wanting to get his truck back? He's the one looking at the world and bringing a certain sarcasm and irony to this cosmic landscape." It totally works for me. This is about as authentic as the space/fantasy side of the classic comics gets. They have achieved everything I never thought they could all in one film. I thought the idea of Guardians of the Galaxy was unfilmable but that is nothing compared to what they do with Thor. The best part of The Avengers was when Hulk threw Loki around Stark Towers and that is what Waititi and co have given us more of. Korg is one of the dullest, most boring characters ever created by Marvel but he is now one of my favourite characters in the MCU and I can’t wait to see more of him in Infinity Wars. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is easily one of the most interesting villains the MUC has had so far, her character built from the brilliant Jason Aaron’s Hela and Gor from Thor: God of Thunder. She looks as she did in Aaron’s comic but Blanchett gives her her personality. Likewise, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie almost steals the show – which is really saying something given the strong competition. I’ve never thought of Valkyrie with much regard, there are so many different versions of her, none of which have ever really stood out, but Thompson’s take on the character is brilliant and I can see her being a key player in the new Avengers. Much has been said of the absence of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster but in my opinion the franchise is better off without her. She didn’t bring anything to the Thor films, the romance between her and Thor stunted the stories and she clearly had no love for the part anyway. He’s a much more interesting character without her and other characters can now develop. I’m not sure the MCU ever needed Kat Dennings in the first place and Stellan Skarsgard will return I’m sure, it just didn’t make sense to involve his character here. My biggest gripe, and it is quite big, is that my favourite Lady Sif is missing. Not a bad thing as it turns out regarding the story but only if she returns to the franchise in the near future – if she doesn’t I’m out. Thor and Hulk – the two Avengers no one ever knows what to with – make a great double act and raise a surprising amount of laughs. Certain scenes had the entire cinema I was sitting in roar with laughter, something I would never had expected but loved when it happened. None of the humour is forced either, it’s all very natural and remarkably casual. Waititi has said that around 80% of the script was improvised and with a director like him such an idea actually works for the best. It’s a sci-fi, fantasy, super-hero, action romp with all the entertainment you could hope from such a film. The sets are either retro-pop – the kind you’d find in any Jack Kirby classic, and utterly gorgeous fantasy landscapes that reminded me of Simon Bisley’s Slaine comics from the 90s mixed with the Sistine Chapel. The film is full of brilliant electro-synth riffs and opens and closes with Led Zeppelin’s amazing Immigrant Song which I dare say will now be known as Thor’s theme tune. I saw so much of what I love about comics in it, I saw a big franchise taking a risk and I saw cinema changing the formula for a change. This is evolution. I don’t think I suffer superhero movie fatigue as much as most people because I watch heaps of other films from various different genres and so far Marvel haven’t made a bad film. I think lessons were learned from Iron Man 2 and since then it’s just got better and better. I’m sick of trailers giving away too much, I’m sick of little independents getting overlooked and I’m sick of other franchises (DC, Star Wars) copying Marvel but I’m certainly not sick of the MCU, with each of their films outdoing the last, always moving onwards and upwards and evolving. I would argue that instead of taking over, Marvel is paving the way for new ideas and aren’t just an inspiration for superhero/comic adaptations but cinema as a whole. At least film makers are now actually reading the comics they are turning into films, which they certainly weren’t doing in the 80s and 90s.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Patriots Day
Dir: Peter Berg
2017
**
Peter Berg’s Patriots Day is an action crime thriller concentrating on the real life bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon that left three dead and serval injured, and the subsequent man-hunt for the two suspected terrorists. This was to be a film that followed the events as they happened, specifically based on the experiences of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis but after CBS acquired the popular book Boston Strong, the two ideas were merged to create a fictional account with factual elements. I feel this was a mistake. I understand why film makers change certain aspects of a true story to give the audience an overview best suited to the run time of a typical feature length movie but there are time when fact is of the upmost importance. You can’t give a vague outline of historical events when you have the facts and when it is important. The Boston Marathon bombings happened three years before the movie, the facts and turn of events are still very fresh in the memory. Why twist something like an act of terrorist into a fictional story for entertainment. I find it stupid, dangerous and distasteful. That said, it’s such a badly made film I can’t see anyone really caring too much and thankfully not that many people went to go and see it. It is the third collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg, and the third time they’ve twisted fact to suit their own obsession with mindless action. Wahlberg was originally said to be against the movie and refused to be in it. He only accepted after reading the script and realizing that he was one of very few actors who could make the movie right. Wahlberg plays a fictional character who is meant to be a composite of many Boston police officers who were at the Marathon and aided in the subsequent manhunt following the bombing. He’s a cliché Boston cop who doesn’t follow orders, is brash and not afraid to tell his boss where to stick it. A bit insulting to Boston cops if you ask me, and why a film that is meant to be factual, about real life events, spends most of the run time concentrating on a fictional character is puzzling. He loves Boston though, and that is supposedly enough. The supporting cast is pretty good, including J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and Michelle Monaghan but there are no stand-out performances. J.K. Simmons’ portrayal of Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese is distastefully action-hero like and John Goodman’s Ed Davis get very little screen time considering the movie was originally meant to be about him. Kevin Bacon’s Head of FBI performance is so clichéd I’m sure they could have CGI’ed it and saved some money. It’s an odd tribute, that’s for sure. I did like the story of Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, the young couple who were next to the first bomb at the time of detonation who both lost limbs but when it came to it, the best part of their story came during the end credits where we see them speaking for themselves in an interview. It’s a delicate story turned into a lazy action film. I’m from London, I know the importance of a City coming together after a tragic event such as this but I don’t think a fictional account that spouts cliché, stereotype and ideas of patriotism is really what the world needs. The last scene shows the speech Red Sox player David Ortiz gave during a game played just days after the events. In it, he delivers an unarticulated delivery on peace and unity, before saying the F word live on television. The speech, much like the film, is well intended I’m sure, just wincingly distasteful, utterly unnecessary and just a little bit of an insult.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Young Poisoner's Handbook
Dir: Benjamin Ross
1995
****
Ross and Jeff Rawle’s fictional biography of Graham Young, known as ‘The Teacup Murderer’ and ‘The Bovingdon Poisoner’, has become a cult British dark comedy since its release in 1995. It had a limited cinema release, due to its dark nature and by the fact that Young himself had not long been dead and many of his surviving victims and families of those he killed were still alive. I’m not sure you can say that Ross and Jeff Rawle’s is respectful in anyway, but the changes in the true story work well in the film. Benjamin Ross’s direction is brilliant, he’s not made many films but those he have are all great and woefully overlooked. The highlight of the film are the brilliant performances, particularly from Hugh O’Conor who plays Graham Young himself. In the film Young poisons his step mother and then his own father before getting caught, but there has been speculation whether or not he really did poison his step mother as he was said to have been very close to her and that she actually had a terminal illness. She was cremated before any tests could be performed on her. Young always intended on becoming a notorious poisoner and didn’t have a desire to use his knowledge for good use or to create a diamond. The real Young was diagnosed with personality disorder and schizophrenia (classed under the law in the 60s as psychopathic disorder as it was linked to abnormal violence). Subsequent analysis has suggested signs of the autism spectrum which I think certainly comes across in O’Conor’s performance, although I have no idea whether this was known/intentional. It is incredible just how he got away with his murders and anything that may seem unbelievable in the film is in fact true. The Prison Hospital Order initially stipulated that he should be detained for at least 15 years following the murder of his step mother, father and attempted murder of his sister. The Secretary of State later noted that the index offences, for someone found sane, carried a sentence of no more than seven or eight years. Young was released after nine years, deemed "fully recovered". In the hospital, Young had studied medical texts, improving his knowledge of poisons, and continued experiments using inmates and staff (one of whom died). It was rumoured that his knowledge of poisons was such that he could even extract cyanide from laurel bush leaves on the mental hospital grounds and that he used this cyanide to murder fellow inmate John Berridge. In June 1970, after nearly eight years in Broadmoor, Dr. Edgar Udwin, the prison psychiatrist, wrote to the home secretary to recommend his release, announcing that Young "is no longer obsessed with poisons, violence and mischief." He was Broadmoor's youngest inmate since 1885 and befriended infamous criminals such as Roy Shaw and Ian Brady (they both shared a fascination with Nazi Germany) – neither of whom are mentioned in the film. After release from hospital in February 1971, he began work as a quartermaster at John Hadland Laboratories in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire. The company manufactured thallium bromide-iodide infrared lenses, which were used in military equipment. However, no thallium was stored on site as suggested in the film and Young obtained his supplies of the poison from a London chemist. However, his employers received references as part of Young's rehabilitation from Broadmoor but were not informed of his past as a convicted poisoner. Young's probation officer never once visited Young's home or place of work and Young was really only caught after admitting what he had done to others. He died in prison of a heart attack in 1990, rather than committing suicide as is shown in the film. The details don’t detract from the story or character, a factual account would be nice at some point but there is something devilishly irresistible about Ross’s film. The script is brilliant, Hugh O’Conor’s performance and narration is perfect and the supporting cast is a great mix of some of Britain’s finest character actors, many now sorely missed, including Ruth Sheen, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Charlotte Coleman, John Thomson and Charlie Creed-Miles. I love the mood of the film and how the directional style changes. There are at times a feeling that it is just a TV movie, then it switches to thriller, comedy and even horror. From its jovial beginnings to a terrifying scene that sees a dead Ruth Sheen coming out of a toilet (before Trainspotting came out I might add), The Young Poisoners Handbook is hypnotic and disturbing but thoroughly entertaining. A contemporary British classic.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

American Honey
Dir: Andrea Arnold
2016
**
I adore director Andrea Arnold, have done since she appeared on 1980s kids TV show Number 73, and her short and feature films have all been phenomenal. However, I really wasn’t that impressed with American Honey. The problem I had with it was that she had already explored a familiar theme in her 2009 hit Fish Tank. It featured a young volatile and socially isolated teenage girl looking for escapism, while looking at youth in general, poverty and growth. I loathe the term ‘coming of age’ film but I use it because it has become the label of choice for such films but I believe Arnold conquered it in 2009. Her 2006 film Red Road was a great example of Dogme cinema, she has developed the concept into her own style, and it is refreshing seeing it so brightly coloured for a change, but it doesn’t quite come together in American Honey in my opinion. It worked brilliantly in 2011’s Wuthering Heights, one of the best films of the decade, but I found her latest film to be treading old ground. It is true that no one has made a film about Mag Crews before and it isn’t an uninteresting subject, it’s just that this isn’t really what the film is about, it is about disadvantaged kids being taken advantage of. It’s middle-America, white kids singing along to gangster rap, not particularly intelligent, living for the day with very little future to look forward to. I’m not against exploring that subject, far from it, it’s just that Harmony Korine and Larry Clark have already done it, better, twenty years previous. I wonder why Arnold felt the need to go over to the USA to make such a film when there is a lot of disadvantaged kids in the UK. To be fair there are a lot of UK films that deal with counsel estate drama, indeed Arnold has been there twice already but I wonder whether there was something else she could have looked into that would have told a new story. The Mag Crew thing is controversial but if you want to make a true statement about it then it should be done through documentary. That said, most of the people in American Honey are non-actors, kids from real Mag Crews, so it is hard to understand what Arnold is getting at. If I’m being honest it is bordering on exploitation. I have no issue with realism, far from it, I think cinema needs more but this sort of realism needs some purpose. I have no problem with a director making a film in a country that is not their own either, although I would be lying if I didn’t say that the fact that American Honey beat I, Daniel Blake at the 2016 Best British Independent Film awards didn’t bother me. It’s about time she won the award, and Ken Loach has won enough times, but apart from Arnold being from Dartford, American Honey is about as British as John Wayne, Abe Lincoln’s beard and the word ‘y’all’. Newcomer Sasha Lane is very good in her film debut, Riley Keough is superb in the only role with depth and Shia LaBeouf proves once again that he is one of the finest actors working today but the rest of the cast are about as annoying as a cast can be. I don’t think the film has a good flow about it, Arnold split the script into parts and gave each actor their own lines on the day of filming to prevent planning or overacting, to give the film a more natural feel but the cast were also encouraged to improvise at the same time. The result is uneven, competitive and a bit dull. In trying to be as natural as possible the story feels the complete opposite. The mix of talented actors and non-actors is grating and didn’t work as far as I’m concerned. The imagery is sublime but for me the message was lost and confused. I found the film’s conclusion to be empty and a misguided nod towards Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. I really, really hate to say it but American Honey is style over content.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Power Rangers
Dir: Dean Israelite
2017
**
I was a little too old for Power Rangers when it first popped up on British television. I remember my younger sister watching it on Saturday mornings when I was leaving the house to go to my Saturday job. I’m a huge nerd, I love a bit of sci-fi and have always wondered whether Power Rangers would have been my thing, had I been a couple of years younger. I see many of the original cast members at sci-fi conventions and I seem to be one of the few people not queuing up to meet them and I have always had the feeling that I missed out on something. I have not watched a single episode of any of the franchises incarnations and I haven’t seen either of the previous feature length outings; 1993’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie or 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, although I’ve seen bits of the original series and I sort of understand what it is all about. It’s a reworked show that reused loads of footage from a popular Japanese superhero show called Super Sentai. It’s the sort of cheap shot that b-movies had been doing for years, except this was TV aimed at kids. To be fair, it was all about the toys but it’s clearly very popular and if I’m being honest, a made-for-TV b-movie rip off of an old Japanese show is exactly the sort of thing I want to see. I don’t think anyone took the concept seriously, they enjoyed it for what it was and enjoyed it more so for what it really was. I don’t think the people in charge of the remake really understood this. The 2017 reboot is a very strange mixture of far too serious and far too comical. I’m not a fan of the original and I didn’t enjoy this, I would imagine though that an old school fan would have been utterly disgusted with what they’ve done with their beloved franchise, indeed, a younger friend of mine who is a hard-core fan told me he doesn’t consider it a true Power Rangers film due to it missing the characters Bulk and Skull. Answers on a postcard. It boasts that it is the first superhero film to feature a homosexual and someone with Autism, which is great, but it is also the first superhero film to begin with a joke about masturbating a bull. It goes from an Alien war, to the extinction of the dinosaurs, to masturbating a bull, to the longest, most vomit-inducing car crash scene I have ever witnessed. If any of that sounds intriguing, and I can see that it could be, don’t be fooled. It’s dreadful. Such a shame really, it trivialises the two big firsts really, although the film is so bad I’m not sure anyone is really bothered by it or offended. The Rangers themselves are a strange mix of adult and child, I still can’t get my head around someone being old enough to drive a powerful automobile who is still young enough not to escape detention. The producers have cited Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series and John Hughes’ classic 80s movie The Breakfast Club. Raimi’s Spider-Man wasn’t perfect but it is a masterpiece in comparison and the only thing that Power Rangers has in common with one of the best kid’s films of a golden decade is that the kids all meet in detention. The Rangers have labels rather than personalities, they’re lazy stereotypes, not real people – not generally a problem in silly action sci-fi movies but it is when the film makers have clearly gone out of the their way in trying. Max Landis was one of the film’s original writers but was fired. He complained that the first trailer for the film looked incredibly like Chronicle, a film he wrote some years before. I can’t help but agree. I didn’t much like Chronicle but it was very popular, I like what it did with the genre and the new Power Rangers film was clearly influenced by it. From what I can tell, they’ve stripped the soul away from the original, made the colours a little darker, added CGI and an inappropriate level of seriousness. Don’t get me started on the Krispy Kreme product placement. I hope the trend of turning bright and fun old television shows into dark, brooding and miserable films ends soon. Maybe it’s time to do the opposite, I don’t know, but I think I’d rather have Prison Break the Musical or Hill Street Blues on Ice than this nonsense.
The Gunman
Dir: Pierre Morel
2015
**
Based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s 1981 crime novel La position du tireur couche (The Prone Gunman), Pierre Morel’s adaption isn’t quite the noir thriller fans had expected. Manchette’s writing was influenced by the great crime thrillers of the nouvelle vague, Jean-Pierre Melville in particular. He was passionate about film and became a screenwriter, concentrating on noir fiction. He wrote for the screen and also translated English language novels into French before deciding to write novels with the idea that they would be adapted into film at some point. He wrote Nada (aka The Nada Gang) which was directed by the great Claude Chabrol, wrote for the cartoonist Jacques Tardi and famously translated Alan Moore’s Watchmen. 2015’s The Gunman was probably not the sort of thing he would have wanted his writing to be adapted into. It starts off well with a neo-noir style but quickly goes downhill when it concentrates with events ‘eight years later’ when the film becomes a forgettable and past its best lazy action thriller. I had no issue with Sean Penn as the main character as such but he didn’t bring anything particularly special to the film and nor did his impressive supporting cast. A film starring Penn, Idris Elbe, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance and Javier Bardem should have been something special, an intelligent crime drama, action and brains. However, what director Morel and writers Don Macpherson, Pete Travis and Sean Penn have delivered is the most clichéd thriller of recent years. The characters are uninteresting and I couldn’t have cared less whether they lived or died. The romantic chemistry between Penn and Jasmine Trinca was about as unbelievable as it gets and Javier Bardem’s character was laughably simplistic. Ray Winstone has played this kind of character once too many, the lovable rouge with connections, there to lend a hand when our protagonist needs it. The updated story is messy and doesn’t really work. The advancement of technology is partly to blame but the correct alterations to the story are not made and I’m pretty sure spies and mercenaries don’t write down their addresses in their diaries. It’s all big names and very little story, the action sequences have all been done before and I imagine it will take a matter of weeks before I forget most of the film. Indeed, I had to ask my wife whether we’d already seen it after watching it for five minutes. I had to pause it, read through my reviews and the synopsis before realising that I hadn’t but the familiarity didn’t go away. The original story is great and I did like the updated idea, it just wasn’t executed particularly well. The main criticism the film received upon release was that Penn was too old for the role. I personally think that the actors were of a perfect age for the film to be believed given the timeline of events, their years were actually the least thing wrong with the production. The film offers nothing new and nothing interesting, it has been done many times before and many times better. Pierre Morel has also made better films, he and the main actors have all taken a huge step backwards that hasn’t done anyone’s resume of work any favours, so it is just as well that most people will forget that it even exists.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler
Dir: Tim Kinzy, Andrew Seklir
2015
*****
Seth Gorden’s 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s uplifting, it’s real and it follows the feel good formula of triumph over adversity and good overcoming evil. It’s not one of those films you could ever repeat, or at least, I didn’t think so. There is very little difference between The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler as far as content is concerned, but it certainly feels like a fresh take on the same story. Some of the characters are the same but everything is a little different, I would say A Fistful of Quarters is Star Wars and Man vs Snake is Star Trek, you can love both equally and I love them both dearly. King of Kong saw Steve Wiebe take on Billy Mitchell’s long standing high score on Donkey Kong, in Man vs Snake we find Tim McVey (no, not that one) haunted by a record he set back in the early 80s on a lesser loved game called Nibbler. It was the summer of 1983 when McVey happened to walk into Twin Galaxies and saw Ms. Pac-Man champion Tom Asaki try and attempt to be the first person to record a billion points on Nibbler. No one really loved the game but it had something rare that most games didn’t; firstly, it had a nine digit score counter, meaning it was possible for a player to achieve a score in excess of one billion points; secondly, due to the games mechanics, it was possible for hardened gamers to take breaks during play, meaning that the high score was possible for those willing and able to marathon a gaming session over several hours/days. Twin Galaxies was the only place recording high scores at that point and McVey saw an opportunity. Asaki didn’t quite get the billion and walked away, McVey wandered in and just started playing. He didn’t leave until he blitzed it several hours later. He walked home and slept for two days. He was given a Nibbler machine by the game makers as a reward but promptly sold it, something he regretted ever since. Since then another player in Italy has claimed to have beaten his score and others are looking to do the same. Now in his forties McVey is unable to hide his regret and his longing to once again be champion, so he buys a machine, and with the support of his wife, sacrifices all of his spare time trying to do so. A Fistful of Quarters had a strong element of good vs evil, a hero and a villain, but Man vs Snake is all good. Okay, so referring to Billy Mitchell as a villain is maybe a little harsh, he certainly redeems himself in Man vs Snake and Walter Day comes across as far less of an unorganised (but lovable) idiot. What’s really great about it is that while there is rivalry, this time everyone is encouraging of each other and the only real enemy is time and stamina – not to mention old arcade machines boards and calluses. This is like watching the nerd Olympics, accept the athlete competing is just like us and his competition is himself. McVey is incredibly likable, and the world of competitive gaming (the old school that is) is full of brilliant characters. The old footage of the gamers, who were like teenage superstars back in the day, is phenomenal. Everything that wasn’t filmed back in the day is recreated with brilliantly witty animation, and each character is given their fair share of screen time to shine through, whether it be from the early 80s or 2015. It’s a feel good film for sure, easily digested, even if you’re not into computer games, old or new. Nice is a word now considered underwhelming, which I think is a shame, as nice is exactly the right word for Man vs Snake. It’s refreshing, it’s uplifting and it’s engrossing. It’s the nicest film of 2015, and there is nothing underwhelming about that.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Snowman
Dir: Tomas Alfredson
2017
***
Back in the late 00s you’d be hard-pressed to see someone on the commute to work not reading a Jo Nesbo novel. I have a couple of friends who became obsessed with his books and they were both determined to recruit me into the cult, but pestering doesn’t really work with me, in fact it has the opposite effect, and I’m quite happy with my own obsessions without feeling the need to interfere in others’. I sense I may have lost out but I can live with it. I’ve never read a Jo Nesbo book and nor have I watched one of the many popular Scandinavian thrillers I hear so much about. I am however, familiar with the work of director Tomas Alfredson and after reading a general synopsis of The Snowman I became excited. Now I understand why a novel is changed for the big screen adaptation, on the rare occasion the story is improved and from what I’ve learned about Nesbo’s 2007 novel, I think this may just be the case here in many respects. However, I have never seen a film with quite so many pointless sub-plots and unanswered questions. A good thriller will have a couple of choice red herrings but Alfredson’s Snowman has an ocean full of them. Alfredson is very capable when it comes to thrillers as he has great timing and commands beautifully rich visuals that lend themselves well to the genre. His directional style has become rather influential, so it is shocking to see how misused it is here. Don’t get me wrong, there are some stunning scenes within the movie, it’s just that they often come at the expense of logic, narrative and a decent script. The film is so disjointed you have to wonder who was calling the shots. Alfredson has been honest from the beginning, stating that 15% of the screenplay wasn’t filmed during principal photography, leading to huge issues when it came to the film’s narrative. “Our shoot time in Norway was way too short, we didn't get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing. It's like when you're making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don't see the whole picture.” Alfredson was hired to direct after Martin Scorsese abruptly switched from being director to executive producer saying that “…It happened abruptly. Suddenly we got notice that we had the money and could start the shoot in London. Our shoot time in Norway was way too short, we didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing.” I admire Alfredson’s honesty, although it might cost him a bit of work in the future. What he says makes a lot of sense, so the big question is why was it rushed? The initial plan was for The Snowman to follow Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, starting with the seventh book (naturally). It hasn’t quite worked out for Alex Cross or Jack Reacher just yet, but if I was a betting man I would have wagered that Harry had a pretty good shot at being a serious contender. However, as much as I like him, I don’t think Michael Fassbender was right for the part. There was very little too the supposedly great detective, the character is already a bit of a cliché with a horrible name but Fassbender added nothing to him. It's also odd how English Oslo is portrayed, with no Norwegian uttered or written anywhere, like it is an Oslo themed place rather than Oslo itself. Charlotte Gainsbourg was given very little to work with, Toby Jones deserved a bigger part, J.K. Simmons character didn’t seem to have much point and Val Kilmer was something of a distraction. He doesn’t look very well and I was concentrating more on the fact that he was dubbed then what he was actually doing on screen. It is only Rebecca Ferguson who manages to give depth to her character which was completely re-written from the original. I’m not sure why Chloe Sevigny’s character was given a twin either? I’m sure it made sense in the book but in the film it’s puzzling, verging on stupid. I think one of the biggest issues, apart from the narrative being all over the place and none of it making any sense, is the Snowman itself. A snowman will appear at the site of most of the murders, giving the film its title and significant focal point. However, there is very little point to it. There are a couple of terrifying scenes involving snowmen that are the film’s highlights but it is never made clear why our murderer has a thing for them. Our murdered also has a specific way of killing and presenting the bodies, again, none of this is explained. The film looks good but has no substance. There are flashes of gore and horror but no real feeling of tension, anticipation, terror or excitement. I also guessed who the snowman was halfway through the film. What connects the victims makes little sense and is never convincing, although the event that triggers the Snowman’s vengeance works as a brilliant intro to the film. It’s a two hour film with only about 15 minutes worth of really good bits in it. It’s very watchable however, and when it becomes clear that it’s never going to make sense it becomes almost more enjoyable. It felt like a one-off made for TV drama, a good one at that, it is just a terrible shame and a waste of good actors/director/money/idea that should have been something amazing. Tomas Alfredson did the best with what he was given and should be congratulated with what he managed given the circumstances. I would like to have seen his version given more time and money. I’d like to see Martin Scorsese’s version also and am interested to know why he backed out so suddenly. It’s great idea and in a fantasy world I would have loved to have seen Stanley Kubrick direct it, but this isn’t fantasy, it is reality, and I’m afraid the reality is that The Snowman is a complete mess. I'm being generous and I’m giving it three stars however because the few thrilling scenes really are superb, as is much of the general imagery, and I will never look at a snowman (or Chloe Sevigny) the same way again.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Damned: Don't You Wish That We Were Dead
Dir: Wes Orshoski
2015
***
Wes Orshoski’s 2011 expose on Motorhead front man Lemmy was a fantastic documentary that pleased hardened fans and made new ones (my wife became obsessed). He was certainly the best man for the job when it came for doing the same for infamous British punk ground The Damned but I’m not sure the hardcore would agree. There has always been a big question hovering over The Damned since they formed, actually there are several, but the biggest is why are they still so overlooked? They formed before The Sex Pistols, they were the first British punk band to release a single (New Rose); the first British punk band to tour America (and play the infamous CBGBs); the first British punk band to release an album (the amazing Damned, Damned, Damned); and are arguably the originators of the goth movement (although that may be the problem, you’d have to ask the original punks). You could argue that they sold out way before all the other punk bands but then you could also call them pioneers, they never really stuck with punk, their style went all over the place. They went from two chord speed punk (Neat, Neat, Neat) to seventeen minute prog-rock epics (Curtain Call), then to sixties psychedelia (Naz Nomad and the Nightmares/White Rabbit), to goth rock (Phantasmagoria), before going full pop (Grimly Fiendish), synth rock (History of the World Part 1), experimenting in apocalyptic ballad covers (Eloise), and enjoying a couple of solo projects along the way. The title of the film ‘Don’t you wish that we were dead’ was taken from their milestone rock opus ‘Machine Gun etiquette’, an album celebrated by a huge cross-section of music fans. There is no real answer as to why they never made it as a household name but then, they’re still playing and they’re remembered by all the right people. The infighting between band members is legendary, Orshoski gets a lot from the past and present members but you will never ever get to the crux of the problem, it’s long, complicated and you probably have to have been there to understand it anyway – indeed, those that were there still aren’t sure themselves. Orshoski could have made a more comprehensive documentary, the one that every fan would want of their favourite band but it would always have limited appeal and this film isn’t really about that, it covers most of it, all the important bits, while showing the audience who the band are today. The fact is, I don’t think you’d ever get the truth from the band members anyway, I think the film comes close but these are delicate people and it’s a delicate subject. Captain Sensible shouted all the way through the film’s premier, I’m shocked that Orshoski got as much out of him and Rat Scabies as he did. The rivalry between Sensible and Scabies is actually covered rather well, with both parties putting across valid reasons as to why they’re unhappy with each other. Sensible is accused of selling out but he’s still in the band and selling out gigs, Scabies is clearly a purist when it comes to music but he pays to only a handful of people at his gigs along with fellow original member Brian James. Fans and celebrity peers pay tribute to the band through talking head interviews, each suggesting their favourite version of the band and love of their eccentricities. Filmed over three years, it’s a great insight into a band who couldn’t stage a scene if they tried – this is clearly them as they are, and quite unapologetically so. You have to wonder whether it is the love/hate relationship they had with each other that kept the band alive. Among the bands more prominent members and beneath the infamous royalties debate we also see past members that haven’t been so lucky but to hear stuff about the band from the mouths of Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies and Brian James was a treat. Everything you need to know about band politics is played out in the history of The Damned and everything you need to know about punk is laid out bare. Punks got old and sold out, The Damned remain punk as only punks can while also surviving. Most music history fans will know what I mean by that but if you think real punk music is all about green mohicans and spitting then I’m afraid you’re ill-informed and probably won’t like the film but you should watch it more than most. However, before anyone agrees with me, you should know that I actually like Captain Sensible’s cover of Happy Talk.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Amanda Knox
Dir: Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn
2016
***
After ten years of many a film maker trying, Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn finally managed to persuade Amanda Knox to speak for the first time on camera about the murder of Meredith Kercher and her subsequent conviction. Knox explains step by step why she went to study in Italy in the first place, how she met boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, what she was doing on the night of the murder and speaks of the aftermath that propelled her into infamy. Also interviewed are; Raffaele Sollecito, who Knox had begun a relationship just a week before the murder; prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, who now revels in his god-like status in Perugia and opportunistic journalist/sensationalist Nick Pisa. All evidence aside, Knox was convicted and seen as guilty based on her temperament and behaviour. Understandable to a degree but being a bit odd does not make someone a murder. The same can be said for Sollecito, an awkward young man who fell head over heels for the young American. The idea that Knox had a spell over him isn’t unbelievable, whether it was enough to convince him of murder however is less so. The evidence was incredibly weak and that is why Knox and Sollecito were set free, no one’s story was beyond question but the subsequent DNA evidence was pretty conclusive. However, the case has now gone beyond fact. This was a trial by media. There are countless articles and books claiming to be factual and nearly every one of them is different from each other. Knox is a little bit odd, Sollecito is a broken man, Mignini has delusions of grandeur and Nick Pisa and the rest of the media refuse to admit to their interference in the case. Some of the headlines were shocking in their absurdity and in their sensationalism. Many of the stories printed have been proven to be lies but no one has admitted as much and the media hasn’t been held accountable. Guilty or not, the damage is done. Knox can’t really be trusted in what she says anymore because of all the silly things her 21 year old self said and what has been written of her but I would argue that Rudy Guede was less trustworthy. He admitted to killing Meredith alone and only changed his story once he realised that the attention was on Knox and that he could reduce his sentence. He was deemed an uninteresting criminal, he’ll serve his 16 years but essentially he got away with murder, his life will go back to normal and he will be forgotten. However, this film is about Knox, as indeed, the entire case was. The media became obsessed with her and the interview suggests that she herself has now become something of a made up character, a result of the attention she has received for the last decade. The film sticks to certain key details but doesn’t go into anything further, which is perhaps all they could do. The shocking incompetence and the bizarre misplaced national pride surrounding the case is explored and laid bare, even Mr ‘Fake news’ himself gets a look in. The whole thing was a grubby witch hunt with the media drooling over themselves with the thought of sexual deviancy, forgetting that a young girl had been raped and brutally murdered. If Knox is guilty then the media interference has let her free, if she’s innocent then the media have made sure she’ll never be free, either way a fair hearing was never given and the world is happy to judge her based of circumstantial evidence and unforgivable gossip alone. Everyone involved and everyone happy to waggle their tongues about it without full knowledge should be ashamed of themselves, and while Knox keeps the mystery surrounding herself alive, it is Mignini and Pisa who come off worse in this scenario. Mignini is a misogynistic fool who found himself way over his head. He loves the attention the case has brought him and shows himself for the idiot he is. Likewise, Pisa almost seems proud of the lies he spread during the case, excitedly boasting about how he was first to spread the falsehoods and point the finger at Knox. Knox’s shock and subsequent behaviour, without the support of legal representative, was horrendously misinterpreted and small town thinking became the global norm. Gut feeling and gossip has overtaken people’s opinions over testimony, investigation and scientific proof, but when the legal authorities behave in such a contemptible manner what hope is there. It reminds me of the Memphis Three case in many respects in that the legal team and courts are so stubborn and too proud to admit that they made mistakes that what should have been a relatively simple murder investigation turned into an unforgivable circus of sleaze and incompetence. Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn's film is no where near as compelling as Paradise Lost but they give the key players a voice, they lay down the foundations and let the audience make up their minds, not necessarily about the guilty/not guilty argument, but how the case was treated in general. However, if you read the many online reviews of the film you’ll find most are unfavourable. I thought Knox and Sollecito came off better than the others, not through manipulation but by the fact they admitted they made mistakes and said foolish things, however, guilty or not, they will always be seen as guilty. The film only scratched the surface of a far bigger problem in our society but it underlines the part of the case most forgotten – that a young girl was beaten, raped and murdered and cannot defend herself. The disrespect her and her family have gone through is sickening, and I respect Blackhurst and McGinn above everything else for acknowledging this at the film’s conclusion. This won’t be the last film made of the case, more evidence and more lies will be released in time and I’m not sure it’ll ever end in solid conclusion. It’s a sad day for justice, one Blackhurst and McGinn rightfully blame the media and courts for but perhaps not vigorously enough, Knox has had her trial, it's time the media had theirs.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Free Fire
Dir: Ben Wheatley
2017
****
I’ve read very little about Free Fire since its release. In early 2017 the film’s awesome poster was released and its brilliant trailer was shown everywhere, then nothing. My local cinema didn’t show it, in fact, very few cinemas showed it, which really annoyed me as all the cinemas I go to boast how they are committed to supporting home-grown film etc, and yet a film made just over a hundred miles away is totally ignored. Everyone knows Ben Wheatley is one of the most exciting British directors working today, I’m not sure how well all his previous films have been distributed but 2016’s High Rise enjoyed global praise and 2012’s Sightseers has already reached cult status. People should have been excited about Free Fire, I think those that heard of it probably were, but that wasn’t nearly enough. It’s a great film, one of the year’s best but literally no one is talking about it. It’s a great shame that the distribution rights that went from StudioCanal, to Sony, to Alchemy and finally to A24. I have big love for A24 but they’re relatively young and Free Fire only reached a few cinemas. I believe it is as good as Baby Driver and better than Lucky Logan, two films that certainly had more than their fair share of the 2017 limelight. The premise is gloriously simple: It is 1978, a group of four IRA members meet outside a warehouse beside a dock somewhere in Boston. They’re there to buy guns from an arms dealer with a couple of mediators in there to make sure everything goes smoothly. Cillian Murphy and Ben Wheatly regular Michael Smiley lead the IRA group, with a drugged up Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) acting as bag men/heavies. Armie Hammer is the smooth-talking mediator and Brie Larson is the IRA intermediary. They take the four men into the warehouse to meet Vernon, a flamboyant and irritable arms dealer who never quite got over the revelation that his child-prodigy status was officially found to be misdiagnosed. Vernon is played by the brilliant Sharlto Copley who is on fine form, a much better choice in my opinion than Luke Evens who was cast in the role originally. He is partnered with Martin (played by Babou Ceesay) and supported by stooges Harry and Gordon (played by Jack Reynor and Noah Taylor respectively). The exchange doesn’t start well when the wrong guns are brought by Vernon and each player finds something unlikable about their counterpart. When Harry recognises Stevo as being the man who assaulted his cousin the previous evening, the meeting goes pear-shaped and soon enough everyone is shooting at each other. Wheatly set the film in the 70s largely so that technology wouldn’t interfere in the situation and in the character’s isolation. They are trapped in the warehouse and the only way out is to shoot their way out. The 1970s also gave Wheatley the opportunity to pimp up the film and have a bit of fun. The characters wear leather jackets and sharp suits, they look authentic but aren’t over the top. The cast is largely English and Irish but everyone but the IRA characters lay on their best Boston accent. It’s like watching kids playing shoot-out in the school playing grounds but with a million dollar budget. It’s so much fun you want to be part of it. Everyone is on level pegging, everyone gets shot and no one is safe from anyone form either team. The best thing about it is the absurd realism. We’re so used to watching films whereby our hero gets shot but still runs about, jumping from helicopters and climbing skyscrapers. The Free Fire characters get shot in the leg and have to crawl. Intense shoot-outs are paused as participants temporarily pass out and resume once they come round a few minutes later. The film’s one and only car chase is under five miles an hour, it’s ridiculous but still ends in spectacular style. It rare that you have so much fun watching other people having so much fun. Each actor plays their character straight but Free Fire is 100% comedy. It is gory, intense and fairly horrific in places but irresistibly funny. I’m sure there are many directors out there who saw it and are angry at themselves for not thinking of it first. It seriously should be a film everyone was talking about, it wasn’t, so I can only assume it will become a future cult classic. It is also refreshing to learn that the actors did their own stunts. I noticed the glorious absence of CGI but it is shocking seeing the actors do some of the things they do in the film, it goes to show there was a level of respect and enthusiasm there for Wheatley and his film and I would argue that it is a beautiful rarity.