Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the ring, but there's also some real emotional depth in the script by actor Johnny Harris and the direction by Thomas Napper (who was second unit director on Beauty and the Beast). So even if the film's plot feels somewhat contrived, the movie has strong resonance in its characters and situations. And it's shot and acted in a remarkably realistic way.
Harris stars as a has-been boxer named Jimmy, who has been evicted from his flat because his building is due to be demolished. With nowhere to go, he turns to his old gym, assuring his former trainer Bill (Ray Winstone) that he has stopped drinking and participating in unlicensed fights. But as Bill's pal Eddie (Michael Smiley) begins to coach him back into shape, Jimmy secretly turns to local gangster Joe (Ian McShane) for help to make some extra cash in an underground boxing match against a notoriously ferocious opponent (Luke J.I. Smith). Then it turns out that Bill and Eddie are hiding something from Jimmy as well. And that they know all about his upcoming fight.
Napper directs the film almost like a documentary, never indulging in melodramatic flourishes as these tough men carefully guard their emotions. He also avoids all rah-rah sports movie cliches. There are no soaring training montages, and the fight scenes are shot without any slow-motion dramatics or rousing music. They feel fiercely true to life, and very painful too. Harris is terrific in the raw central role, a likeable guy whose fiery temper continually gets him in trouble. He may cause his own problems, but he genuinely wants to be a better man. His scenes with Winstone and McShane are terrific, but it's his more prickly connection with Smiley's Eddie that gives the film its soul. Smiley provides Eddie with a wonderful inner life that connects with the audience in surprising ways.
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Basically a 90-minute shoot-out, there isn't a lot to this movie. British filmmaker Ben Wheatley (High-Rise) is using a group of wildly offbeat characters to play a hilarious riff on Tarantino-style dialogue and violence. So while there's not much to it, the actors have plenty of grist to bring their roles to life. Which makes the film funny and intense all the way through, even if there's no emotional connection at all.
The entire film is set in a warehouse in 1978 Boston, where Justine (Brie Larson), Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) have gone with their drivers Stevo and Bernie (Jack Reynor and Enzo Cilenti) to buy a cache of guns from the swaggering Ord (Armie Hammer) and his mercurial arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley), who has brought ex-Black Panther Martin (Babou Ceesay) as some muscle, plus bickering drivers Harry and Gordon (Jack Reynor and Noah Taylor). All of them greet each other tensely, but they make the deal with a bit of offhanded banter and wary respect. But just as they're all getting ready to leave, Stevo and Harry spot each other. And both are still feeling wounded after the nasty encounter they had last night.
What follows is an explosion of utterly pointless violence. All of these people are nervous and trigger-happy, so it doesn't take much to set them off. The carnage that follows isn't like most movies, because people don't get shot and just lie on the ground; they crawl off injured, regroup and rejoin the fray. Alliances shift, and every moment of panic leads to even more chaos. And right in the middle, there's a bag of cash and a crate of rifles that everyone has an eye on. Wheatley stages this in real-time, with a steady flow of jaggedly witty conversation between the gunshots and constant sight-gags in the action mayhem.
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David is a single man having just left a 12 year relationship. As per the rules of living in The City, set in a dystopian future, he is forced to check into The Hotel. The sprawling facility is a place where all singletons must find love within 45 days, or else be turned into a creature of their choice and banished into The Woods, as being alone is highly frowned upon. David's only companion is his loyal dog, who happens to be his unlucky-in-love brother who ran out of time when he was a resident at The Hotel. David's chosen animal is a lobster, but he has no intention of living life as a crustacean and makes his escape into The Woods to join up with The Loners. Soon he meets a short-sighted woman who happens to be extremely adept at catching rabbits. As chance would have it, David finds himself falling for her, but this kind of romance is against the law in The City.
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Adam and Clare Hitchins have made the decision to re-locate themselves and their baby from London to a remote village in Ireland. Their new house is a former millhouse surrounded by mysterious woodland in which Adam begins to make frequent trips as part of his career as a conservationist. Despite the fact that he isn't doing anything to harm the environment, locals are becoming very concerned over his 'trespassing'. One local by the name of Colm Donnelly takes it upon himself to warn the family to stay away from the forest, claiming that it is home to The Hallow; a formidable presence that haunts the woods with the likes of fairies and banshees, and creatures hellbent on abducting babies. The couple initially brush off the warnings as folklore, but soon become unsettled as it becomes clear just how seriously all the townsfolk, young and old, take it. And when they start to experience terrifying phenomena in their own home, they start to understand why.
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Even the lighter moments in this dark Irish drama are tinged with sadness, including a scene in which a tormented mother and son escape through dancing together ... to the strains of Soft Cell's Tainted Love. But the film is anchored by such a solid performance by Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction) that it's definitely worth a look.
Reynor plays John, a young guy in Dublin working extra shifts as a cab driver to support his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette) and his younger brother Kit (Harry Nagle), who has been institutionalised with Down's Syndrome and is never visited by his mum, not even on his 18th birthday. But then she's too busy drinking herself into serious illness. John's only support comes from his best pal Sean (Will Poulter), who has problems of his own as his ex (Maria Carlton) is demanding cash to support their young child. When Sean opts to move abroad to find work, John decides to get his mother into rehab, consulting a counsellor (Michael Smiley) who tells him that she will require a lot more than the one week the state can provide.
Things take a bizarre turn from here that isn't very clearly defined, but then writer-director Gerard Barrett isn't interested in explaining all of the details, mainly because he's telling the story from John's frazzled perspective. John lives through all of this a moment at a time, so the past is irrelevant, he seeks brief moments of joy wherever he can find them, and he just gets on with the job at hand, however freaky it may be. Through all of this, Barrett keeps things intense and unsettling, never quite letting the audience get its balance. This bold approach makes us feel almost as overwhelmed as John does.
Continue reading: Glassland Review
With jobs for submarine operators steadily beginning to dwindle, an entire sea crew find themselves without jobs. Captain Robinson (Jude Law) has been so committed to the job for so long, that the rest of the world has moved on without him. With his family gone, Robison is turned on to the reports of a Nazi U-boat abandoned at the bottom of the Black Sea. After assembling a crew of half British and half Russian sailors, they set of in search of the gold stash - a stash which will be shared equally amongst them, making them all multi-millionaires. But when the idea starts to circulate that fewer men mean larger shares, the bleak isolation leads to horror and greed, with no possibility of escape.
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While this submarine adventure starts out as a brainy thriller with superior production design, it eventually gives in to the demands of the genre: silly plotting and corny melodrama. Screenwriter Dennis Kelly never remotely tries to sell the two big events that cause considerable mayhem for everyone on-screen, so both feel sudden and contrived. At least the cast is sharp enough that the audience is willing to go with it.
It opens in recession-gripped Scotland. After being sacked from the steelworks, Robinson (Jude Law) teams up with fellow unemployed pal Blackie (Konstantin Khabenskiy) to reclaim their dignity by salvaging Nazi gold from a sunken sub in the Black Sea. With finance arranged by Daniels (Scoot McNairy), they assemble a team of Brits and Russians who immediately start re-enacting the Cold War in the rusty Soviet-vintage submarine they'll be using for their heist. Crewmates include a psycho diver (Ben Mendelsohn), a wheezy veteran (David Threlfall) and an 18-year-old (Bobby Schofield) with nothing better to do. But as they skulk along beneath the Russian Fleet, tempers flare and threaten to undermine their mission. Getting their hands on the gold is one thing; making it home alive might be even trickier.
Director Kevin Macdonald keeps the film fast-paced and tense, as the biggest peril this crew faces is in the fiery interaction between themselves. Arguments, paranoia and mistrust lead to violence, which in turn causes a series of problems that threaten the lives of everyone on board the submarine. Frankly, this seems rather far-fetched for a team of supposedly elite mercenaries who know that they need to look out for each other if they have any hope of accomplishing the mission. And with some major plot twists along the way, the story begins to feel like a collection of increasingly implausible obstacles these resourceful men need to overcome.
Continue reading: Black Sea Review
This offbeat British drama shows real promise for new filmmaker Justin Edgar, although his relentlessly gimmicky filmmaking style is so attention-grabbing that it makes it nearly impossible to engage with the story or characters. But the bright young cast is very watchable, and even if the script never digs beneath the surface, the film's stylish energy holds our interest.
It's set in 1990 Birmingham, where 18-year-old Jack (Jamie Blackley) is desperate to escape from his boring family and annoying job and go to university, although he'll need a government grant to do that. His best pals Parsons (Mike Bailey) and Chunks (Simon Teal) have their own problems, and over the course of a fateful night these three misfits encounter smart-sexy musician Elinor (Amber Anderson), Parson's pushy girlfriend (Rosamund Hanson) and a ruthless thug (Michael Smiley).
The too-clever script opens with a post-modern monologue in which Jack looks at the camera and says, "I hate it when people in movies talk to the camera." Which pretty much explains the film's sparky style. The problem is that filmmaker Edgar is trying far too hard to deconstruct the genre, avoiding any narrative coherence for a series of random mini-adventures that don't quite connect together. Each of these three guys learns some sort of important lesson over the course of the night, but the film remains resolutely superficial in its approach.
Continue reading: We Are The Freaks Review
There's enough charming energy in this loose London music scene comedy to keep us entertained, but the plot drives us round the bend by refusing to go anywhere. Yes, this is one of those achingly British films that pulls the rug out from under its characters (and indeed its audience) every time they're threatened with even a moment of happiness.
Our hero is Dixie (Jonny Owen), who leaves rural Wales when he discovers a band on YouTube that he thinks he can manage into stardom. In London, he discovers that the Premature Congratulations (Michael Sosha, Dylan Edwards, Joel Fry and Curtis Thomson) are four hapless young men who make great music but have barely a whiff of common sense between them. So his efforts to promote them are more difficult than expected, especially since his record-exec childhood friend Horsey (Roger Evans) won't give him the time of day. Then just as Dixie's girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) gets fed up with his debt-incurring ways, The Prems suddenly become the hottest unsigned band in London.
Not that Dixie is capable of getting them signed to one of the labels clamouring for them. No, this is one of those movies in which everything goes wrong on cue. Not only does success remain tantalisingly out of reach, but Dixie also has problems with a loan shark (Michael Smiley) and a surly record-shop boss (Martin Freeman). And his father is dying too. These are far too many obstacles for a scruffy little movie, and not one of them feels either relevant or necessary. It's merely Owen the screenwriter torturing Owen the actor. He may be relentlessly charming on-screen, but it's all so contrived that we know it's pointless to care about anything.
Continue reading: Svengali Review
Dixie is a Welsh postman who has arrived in London to follow his dreams of becoming the next big music mogul. After months of watching YouTube videos, he comes across The Premature Congratulations - a band that he thinks could make it big. Teaming up with his partner Michelle, he searches for the band and offers to be their manager. They're initially nonchalant about the situation, but they start to grow in confidence as Dixie lands them more and more gigs. However, they also start lacking in appreciation for poor Dixie, who is struggling to pay his rent on very little income and is facing difficult times ahead if he wants to communicate with the major powers of the UK music industry. With The Prems slowly slipping from his grasp and Michelle becoming increasingly more frustrated with him, Dixie is forced to think carefully about his future both privately and professionally.
This musical comedy is about the struggles of the backbone of any music industry - the managers. It was written by and stars Jonny Owen in his screenwriting debut, and was directed by John Hardwick ('33X Around the Sun'). 'Svengali' is due for release in cinemas on March 21st 2014 and on DVD and Blu-ray on April 7th.
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Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...
Basically a 90-minute shoot-out, there isn't a lot to this movie. British filmmaker Ben Wheatley...
It's 1978 Boston and an unlikely gang made up of Justine (Brie Larson), Stevo (Sam...
Adam and Clare Hitchins have made the decision to re-locate themselves and their baby from...
Even the lighter moments in this dark Irish drama are tinged with sadness, including a...
With jobs for submarine operators steadily beginning to dwindle, an entire sea crew find themselves...
While this submarine adventure starts out as a brainy thriller with superior production design, it...
This offbeat British drama shows real promise for new filmmaker Justin Edgar, although his relentlessly...
There's enough charming energy in this loose London music scene comedy to keep us entertained,...
After Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg and Wright conclude their so-called Cornetto...