Original songs by: Glenn Hansard, Marketa Irglova and Interference.
Cinematography: Tim Fleming
**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****
I am not sure why I missed this film first time around, however, it’s most likely due to prior prejudices against musical or music-based films. Yet, since I married in 2016, I have began to watch and enjoy more musicals. This is mainly due to my wife being a massive fan of musical cinema and theatre. While it’s still not necessarily my favourite genre, every now and then an utter gem of a musical will emerge. John Carney’s beautifully moving love story between a hoover repair guy and a flower-selling girl, Once (2007), is certainly one of those.
John Carney is an honest filmmaker who is attracted to outsiders and people with real emotional turmoil. They tend to be at crossroads in their lives and are struggling either with their dreams or their relationships. He also loves musicians, flaws and all. In Begin Again (2013), a washed-up musical executive, portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, meets unhappy singer-songwriter, Keira Knightley and their first-world romance is played out to bittersweet consequences. Similarly, in Sing Street (2016), a troubled teenager comes of age through his 1980’s pop band and bittersweet romance with a rebellious and equally-troubled schoolgirl. Notice a pattern? Well, this style of music, gritty city backdrops and salty romances were established in Carney’s breakout hit, Once (2007).
Made for a ridiculously low budget of around $150,000, this ultra-realistic musical contains songs that burst with love and pain from the characters of Guy (Glenn Hansard) and Girl (Marketa Irglova). The two meet and connect, but this is no conventional romance as they both have powerful emotional histories between them. It’s the beautiful music and their authentic dialogue exchanges which drive the story. Hansard’s singing and guitar playing are so powerful and moving. Their duet in the music shop of the song, Falling Slowly is a tour-de-force. I was not surprised when I saw it had won the Oscar for best original film. Overall, Once (2007) is a surprisingly brilliant no-budget feature, shot on the streets of Dublin, which deservedly became a big hit.
FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #8 – DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (2018)
Written and directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Produced by: Sefton Fincham, Jack Heller, Tyler Jackson, Keith Kjarval, Dallas Sonnier
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Thomas Kretschmann etc.
Cinematography: Benji Bakshi
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
As a major fan of S. Craig Zahler’s first two film releases, namely Bone Tomahawk (2015) and Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017), I was really looking forward to another example of pulpy, slow burn and hard-bitten genre filmmaking with Dragged Across Concrete (2018). Thus, I was very upset when I found out the Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn starring cop drama was not released in UK cinemas. I finally caught up with it on Amazon Prime and, while it was probably too long, it was a hypnotically powerful crime thriller.
Set in the city of Bulwark, the film opens with a lengthy preamble which introduces disparate characters whose paths are destined to cross later in the film. These include recent parolee, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), grizzled-long-in-the-tooth-cop, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and his younger, but equally cynical partner, Anthony Lusaretti (Vince Vaughn). Later, Zahler throws professional criminal, Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann), and his dressed-in-black crew into the dark city soup. After a glacial set-up, the plot kicks in when Ridgeman and Lusaretti are suspended for what is perceived as a racially motivated attack on a suspect. Desiring a way out of the neo-noir and industrial decay, Ridgeman sets up a plan to steal from Vogelmann’s gang. Safe to say that given this is a Zahler film, we do not end up with a soft toy and candy apple ending.
Throwing a succession of anti-heroes at the audience and a litany of cursing and politically incorrect language makes Dragged Across Concrete (2018) a morally questionable film to experience. Do not watch if you are easily offended. Nonetheless, my feeling is Zahler, like Tarantino, is reflecting the world as it is rather than how it should be. Humanity is in the gutter and the only way out of it, in his mind, is to swear and fight and steal and kill. That isn’t to say that the characters are not empathetic. As Zahler’s hard-boiled dialogue is very poetic in places it draws you to them in a way Raymond Chandler used to do. Similarly, the performances from Gibson and Vaughn are brilliant. The scenes where they just sit in the car and eat sandwiches while staking out their quarry, are both hilarious and absorbing. Ultimately, it’s the lengthy second half robbery and final act ultra-violence which makes the film a pulsating and brutally rewarding experience.
Produced by: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Kat Stewart, Diesel La Torraca, Josh Gad etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
While I’m not a massive fan of awards ceremonies, I do check out the nominations for the big ones. The Academy Awards or ‘Oscars’ are obviously the most esteemed annual celebration of commercial filmmaking. But, they often get their nominations, from an artistic and diversity perspective, horrifically wrong. Of course, it’s a matter of opinion, but this year I do not know how Lupita Nyong’o was not nominated for her performances in Jordan Peele’s brilliant horror satire, Us (2019). She is now proving herself to be one of the best actresses around and definitely should have been nominated in the ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ category.
As well as Us (2019), Nyong’o also appeared in another horror film released last year called Little Monsters (2019). This one got away from me though because for some reason it did not get a major cinema release in the UK. Little Monsters (2019) is nowhere as imaginative, dark or intelligent as Jordan Peele’s searing exploration of duality, class, race and identity. However, as zombie-romance-comedies go it’s a lot of fun. Nyong’o portrays a likeable, professional and positive school teacher who, along with Alexander England’s failed musician loser, Dave, must protect a group of children from hordes of zombies on a school trip.
It’s an unpretentious, funny and gory comedy romp that owes a massive debt in tone and delivery to Shaun of the Dead (2004). Furthermore, stock genre conventions such as the slow zombies, ubiquitous military nuke ticking time bomb ending, loser character redemption and cute children who “think it’s all a game”, are all relied upon heavily. Nonetheless, the script is fast-paced, witty and has a lot of heart. The direction is effective, although there were probably too many songs in there as filler. Overall, this is a fun film with a brilliant turn by Josh Gad as foul-mouthed children’s TV presenter, and of course, the starry effervescence of ultra-talented, Lupita Nyong’o.
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris etc.
UK Release Platform: Amazon
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
There are many reasons to have missed a film at the cinema. Life can get in the way or you’re not really feeling drawn to a movie or there are just too many films out you want to see, so some slip through the net. But, Remember (2015), was NOT even released by A24 in the United Kingdom, for some unknown reason. I only found it by accident on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a shame because the Atom Egoyan directed revenge thriller is an under-rated gem, with a slow-burning and hypnotically compelling script.
The narrative concerns Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor living in a New York nursing home. He forms a bond with fellow camp survivor, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau). On Max’s behest, Zev sets out on a mission to track down the concentration camp Nazis who killed their respective families. Suffering from dementia, however, means Zev’s memory comes and goes. So, Zev must follow Max’s written instructions to the letter.
Noir and crime thrillers are littered with revenge and pursuit narratives. The amnesiac protagonist too is an often-used character trope. While it is a familiar path and the beats of Remember (2015) will remind you of a recent low budget crime classic (I won’t say for fear of spoilers), the pace is more akin to David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999). Zev’s journey across country via train and bus finds him methodically tracking various potential Nazis all hiding under the same fake name. As his memory comes and goes, Zev has to keep reading the letter to remind him what he’s doing. Despite such narrative repetition I found this just as suspenseful and thrilling as faster-paced films.
Atom Egoyan directs with significant subtlety and skill. He’s an experienced filmmaker whose films can be left field character studies; often playing with linearity and structure. Moreover, they usually win festival prizes and are lauded by critics. I think though that this is his most accessible film to date. Christopher Plummer is, unsurprisingly, quite brilliant. He inhabits his character with both steel and sympathy. Benjamin August’s script is respective of Auschwitz survivors and those suffering from dementia. The fact he has managed to loop these themes into a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Liam Neeson, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Cruise, Willis et al action flick, makes Remember (2015) a film I won’t forget in a hurry.
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Cliff Smith, William Jackson Harper, Chasten Harmon, Nellie the Dog etc.
Music: Carter Logan
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’ve recently been working on a screenwriting development programme with someone studying at the National Film and Television School. The idea is to further develop one of my feature film scripts and hopefully improve it. The Script Developer is assessed on the work we do together.
I tell you this because we discussed my script, which is a slice-of-life-bittersweet comedy, in relation to character journeys and arcs. I was keen to present a script made more of humorous and dramatic situations that do not necessarily bring about change in the character. I wanted to go against the general rules of screenwriting manuals to create something more akin to the works of Mike Leigh or Jim Jarmusch.
Eventually, I have decided that the screenplay did need a bit more narrative impetus, however, a film such as Paterson (2016), brilliantly shows what cinematic beauty you can achieve without having a critical character journey or narrative arc. It is cinema of poetry, repetition, small moments, character interaction, and subtle performance full of emotional impact. I’m not sure why I missed it at the cinema, but there you go.
Paterson (2016) is set in Paterson, New Jersey. Adam Driver is a bus driver who has the same name as the place he lives in. This amusing coincidence is mentioned a few times throughout the film. Paterson lives with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who spends her days working on her art and has a love for black and white patterns. Farahani and Jarmusch fill this character with an idealised innocence and energy which perfectly complements Paterson’s more deadpan insouciance. I sensed that perhaps Paterson was depressed but I think he was happy deep down. The couple themselves are very content with their simple existence.
We spend a week with Paterson, his wife and Nellie the Dog and his days are pretty much the same. While some may wonder where the story is and when something will happen, I was hypnotised by the repetition. Jarmusch infuses the bus driving, dog walking and quiet moments of reflection with excerpts from Paterson’s and other poets’ works. These are recited by Driver with a laconic charm and mesmeric power.
Personally, I could watch Adam Driver all day. He has such a subliminal and easy acting style, yet you feel such empathy for his character. I thought the back-story of Paterson being a marine was underplayed, but also intriguing. The performance is so good we do not need to know what happened in Paterson’s past, because we can feel it in Driver’s face and being. Moreover, via Paterson we get introduced to another set of eccentric Jarmusch characters which dip in and out of his days.
In conclusion, Jim Jarmusch has created another exquisite character study where very little happens in terms of plot or character development. But that’s the point with this beautifully rendered slice-of-life. The care and love he pours into the lead protagonists, supporting characters and his passion for poetry, make this a modern mini-masterpiece. It is also a charming tribute to all those creative people who work a regular day job but aspire to express their vision of the world around them.
Produced by: Marco Morabito, Brad Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, Silvia Venturini, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, William Sherak, Gabriele Moratti
Screenplay by: David Kajganich – Based on Suspiria (1977) by Dario Argento and Dari Nicolodi
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Chloe Grace Moretz, Malgosia Bela, Lutz Ebersdorf, Jessica Harper etc.
Music by: Thom Yorke
Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
There are so many films released that it is virtually impossible to see them all. Plus, even if you didn’t have to work to earn a damned wage or physically need sleep you still wouldn’t be able to watch everything at the cinema. More specifically though, we may choose NOT to go to see a film on the big screen for certain reasons. Collectively, I consider these movies to be “one’s that got away!”
Thus, in a new section called, unsurprisingly, FILMS THAT GOT AWAY, I will be reviewing films which I missed first time round at the cinema and have subsequently caught up with on Sky, Amazon, Netflix, Blu-Ray or even good old-fashioned terrestrial television. I will consider the film critically as entertainment and why I missed it first time round. As usual the film will be marked out of eleven.
When the UK release of Suspiria (2018) was announced there were many reasons I was immediately put off from wanting to see it. Firstly, despite having watched it three times, I genuinely could not stand the original Dario Argento film. I know people consider it a horror classic; however, I think story wise, it’s a bad film. It’s neither scary from an emotional point-of-view or actually makes any sense logically. I know it’s meant to be based on surreal and nightmarish imagery, montage and performance, but the story or characters did not connect with me. The colour design, gore and soundtrack are outstanding but, overall, I felt I was trapped watching the manic outpourings of an Italian psychopath.
The second reason I did not want to watch it is I haven’t always got on with Luca Guadagnino’s cinematic works. Don’t get me wrong, he is a brilliant filmmaker. However, I find him an indulgent artist whose tone, pace and direction seems haphazard. Of the films I have seen, I Am Love (2009) was a brilliant character study, anchored by a stunning Tilda Swinton performance. But A Bigger Splash (2011) and Call Me By Your Name (2017), were expertly constructed but indulgent and over-rated travelogues littered with narcissistic bores. Nonetheless, I really liked Suspiria (2018). It is almost, but for Guadagnino’s typical excesses, a horror masterpiece.
Set in 1977 (when the original was released), at the height of the Cold War in divided Germany, Suspiria, is a heady mix of rites of passage, cold war and horror genres. There are many narrative strands with which the screenplay, by David Kajganich, attempts to balance. Further, we also have personal, political, religious, artistic, gender and communal themes prevalent through the story. While it’s an ensemble cast the focus is Dakota Johnson’s Susie. She is a young aspiring dancer, from an Amish background, who joins the world-famous Markos dance company. In the process she is determined to impress Tilda Swinton’s commanding mentor. The parallel narrative involves psychiatrist Dr Josef Klemperer and his investigation into a missing patient (Chloe Grace Moretz); who also happens to be a dancer from the troupe.
As the story unfolds Susie proves herself an incredibly powerful dancer. At the same time, it is revealed that the elders and teachers of the dance group are hiding a sinister secret with darkness and ritual to the bloody fore. Memorable dance sequences full of beauty, energy and gore dominate, with Dakota Johnson giving an impressively physical acting portrayal. I also liked the nuanced control within her character as she grows stronger with each dance. Meanwhile, further dark events occur as Dr Klemperer’s investigations draw him closer to the troupe’s shadowy doors.
As I said, Suspiria is almost a horror masterpiece. The filmmaking, cinematography, art direction, choreography and score by Thom Yorke all collide to create an incredibly tense and terrifying experience. Moreover, while I was fully committed to the characters in the dance troupe and Susie’s movement up the ranks, the choice to juxtapose the socio-political events seemed to belong in another film. The religious context and notions of family and matriarchal dominance were incredibly powerful too and served the horror well. However, Guadagnino, in my humble view should have shaved some scenes from the running time. While I much prefer this film to the Argento original, a further edit for pace would have made this even better. Nonetheless, it had me riveted throughout through the sheer quality of filmmaking. I was incredibly impressed by the melding of dance and death. Indeed, the final orgiastic ritual with buckets of blood, decapitations and gnarled monsters was supernaturally unforgettable.