Eden Lake (2008)

Eden Lake is 90 minutes of cruelty with genre tropes that obscure any intelligent commentary.

With an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and claims that it is ‘thought provoking’, one would expect Eden Lake to be cut above Hostel, Saw and other torture films that appear comparable. While it may be superior to a certain degree, it remains a decidedly shallow film that is too constrained by the tropes of its horror genre framework to be taken seriously.

The film follows Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender), a young couple who retreat to the Midlands countryside for a romantic break. As the couple drive north of London, there is an ominous radio discussion about the state of education and the perceived animosity brewing between the young and the old, assembling its themes of ‘Broken Britain’ in a manner that is perhaps slightly obvious.

After several disconcerting encounters with some obnoxious locals, the pair set up camp on the sandy banks of a flooded quarry. Their tranquility is soon interrupted by a chavvy young horde of Daily Mail proportions, led by the psychopathically aggressive Brett (Jack O’Connell). The conflict begins with general boorish behaviour and a wayward Rottweiler, and feeling the weight of his masculine responsibilities, Steve approaches the group and politely asks them to behave themselves. His reasonability is spurned and the couple are soon fighting for their lives in what is effectively their attackers’ back yard.

Many barbarous things have happened when the aggressive and the controlling have attracted the meek and the impressionable. The first example that springs to mind is the 1993 abduction and murder of toddler James Bulger by two ten-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. The pair’s twisted crescendo of rebellion began with truancy and shoplifting, which led to the idea of abducting a child and pushing it into the path of an oncoming car, which finally led to James’s abduction from the Bootle Strand shopping centre and his brutally protracted murder on train tracks by Anfield Park. The two boys enabled and normalised each other’s behaviour, and the roles of ringleader and minion became quite clear in police interviews.

Once arrested and interrogated by officers, Jon Venables was wrought with intense fear and remorse. He confessed to the killing, but was unable to tell the part of the story that he ominously called ‘the worst bit’. Conversely, Robert Thompson, described as ‘street wise way above the age of ten’, was hostile, dishonest and unrepentant. Thompson and Venables had a typical dynamic that became horribly toxic over a day’s truancy; it could inspire darkly compelling material for either print or cinema, providing it was created with intelligence and sensitivity.

Eden Lake could have been this film. It could have been a mature and intelligent insight into senseless violence and the nihilistic, ignorant, vulnerable people who commonly commit it; a film in a similar vein to A Short Film About Killing or Boy A. Instead, the viewer gets a tropey horror film that focuses on neither the group nor the couple in a meaningful way. The film’s main concern is brutality, such as showing us what it looks like when a Stanley knife is forcibly entered into someone’s mouth.

Despite Eden Lake‘s themes of class and age divide being highly superficial, political commentators have made the film fit their agendas. Owen Jones, one of The Guardian‘s most prominent PC enthusiasts, wrote the following in his book Chavs: ‘Here was a film arguing that the middle classes could no longer live alongside the quasi-bestial lower orders.’ Like many who are preoccupied with ideology and prone to knee jerk reactions, Jones mistakenly believes that the portrayal of one group of teenagers is supposed to be representative of an entire social group comprising millions of people.

With good performances and uncompromising brutality, Eden Lake grips and shakes its audience quite effectively. However, it is mere viscera rather than political commentary, sharing more in common with The Last House on the Left than A Clockwork Orange.

50%

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

BDDefinition-LastKingOfScotland-h-1080

This image may summarise the film’s implausibility.

Although it features a superb transformation from Forest Whitaker and a series of well-constructed scenes,  the largely fictional narrative that surrounds them is ultimately rather formulaic and implausible.

‘The Last King of Scotland’ is all about Forrest Whitaker; as soon as he graces the screen, he is Idi Amin. The unison of Whitaker’s physicality and his superb East African accent, which is perhaps the most impressive element of his performance, transforms him into the Ugandan dictator.

Although it is clear that Amin is a manipulator and intent on getting his own way, he is loquacious, magnetic and, surprisingly, quite affable. He charms both the viewer and Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), the impressionable Scottish doctor who initially believes Amin’s rousing yet hollow speeches.

It soon becomes apparent however that this is a charm offensive, a manipulative process that wears very thin once Amin’s deeply ugly, frenetic megalomania is laid bare. Like many of history’s dictators – Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot – Amin succumbs to paranoia, and mass violence ensues.

The film begins with the proclamation that ‘This film is inspired by real people and real events.’, however it fails to state that the central character Nicholas Garrigan is actually entirely fictional. I hadn’t looked into the film’s veracity before watching it, however although there appeared to be clear narrative exaggerations at times, I had presumed that Garrigan was at least a real person. It is a typical example of the ‘inspired by real events’ cliché, ‘inspired’ is always the key part of the sentence.

The film follows Garrigan as he inadvertently becomes Amin’s personal physician and at times ‘closest advisor’; it is indeed an extraordinary predicament, but I suppose stranger things have happened. McAvoy is good as Garrigan, his gradually souring relationship with Amin is interesting and intense, they have many great exchanges.

However, with the knowledge that Nicholas Garrigan is an invention of Giles Foden, author of the book on which the film is based, Scotland’s narrative seems rather formulaic and implausible. I found Garrigan’s relationships with medic Sarah Merrit (Gillian Anderson) and Kay Amin (Kerry Washington) to be hackneyed plot mechanisms.

While the film includes real events such as the Israeli hostage crisis at Entebbe International Airport, much of what occurs is either historically unfaithful or sheer fiction. The story was inspired by one of Amin’s many self-bestowed titles – The King of Scotland.

An example of the film’s implausibility is the scene where Garrigan and Amin first meet. Amin’s Citroen DS has been in a collision with a cow (what appears to be an Ankole-Watusi), leaving him with an injured hand that Garrigan tends to. The creature appears to be fatally wounded and wails in a pain until Garrigan, who has repeatedly asked for it to be put out of its misery, takes Amin’s gun from the roof of the car and mercifully shoots it twice in the head.

Although the surrounding guards train their guns on Garrigan, predictably Amin respects his audacity, and, amusingly, is particularly pleased when he finds out he is Scottish. It is a scene that is quite bereft of credibility.

Although the film has elements of character study, my main problem with the film is that it doesn’t give an insight into Amin’s rule and the atrocities committed under it. Although he is clearly a despot, a mentally ill bully, the film’s emphasis on his fictional relationship with Garrigan rather than fact meant that I didn’t find him hateful.

‘The Last King of Scotland’ features a superb transformation from Forest Whitaker and a series of well-constructed scenes, however ultimately the largely fictional narrative that surrounds Whitaker is rather formulaic.

 75%

Only God Forgives (2013)

ONLY-GOD-FORGIVES-Image-04

While the cinematography and lighting regularly highlights Gosling’s beautiful blue eyes, it isn’t enough to engage you on any truly meaningful level.

This is a film that concentrates far too heavily on insubstantial metaphor rather than characters, narrative and things of true resonance.

In contrast with ‘Drive’, Refn and Gosling’s last collaboration, ‘Only God Forgives’ is very much an art film, a film that’s sheer metaphor. They’re completely different.

The film focuses on Julian (Ryan Gosling), an American drug dealer operating in Thailand who is laconic in the extreme (he speaks just 22 lines according to the IMDb trivia section.) When his sordid brother Billy (Tom Burke) is killed by the father of the girl Billy has murdered, Julian’s mother Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) arrives in Bangkok seeking revenge. Her wrath brings her, Julian and their associates into the path of Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), an ex-cop who displays God-like abilities.

The characters are incredibly bland, as are their relationships and indeed the film itself. Its attempts at depth comprise blatant Oedipal elements that are both unoriginal and uninteresting. However seeing Kristin Scott Thomson remark about heartthrob Gosling’s inferior penis size at the dinner table is quite amusing.

The behaviour of the characters made me cringe; watching Julian and particularly Chang robotically saunter along while sporting their best moody poses became plain embarrassing after a while. Whenever a character strung a few sentences together I breathed a sigh of relief; although no line in Refn’s script is of any value, it was a welcomed development every time the suffocatingly absurd lack of dialogue was broken.

What’s even duller are its themes of religion and redemption. The irritating Chang is apparently the omnipotent moral arbiter of Bangkok, apparently he is ‘God’, whatever that means. I just thought he was a portentous prat.

Then there is the problem of the film’s violence. The violence in ‘Drive’ was explosive and shocking, it gave the film energy; it informed you of both the sheer danger of the situation and The Driver’s disconcerting readiness for extreme retaliation. In ‘Only God Forgives’ however, Refn’s violence is protracted, gratuitous and, like other areas of the film, ultimately embarrassing. Refn has admitted that he is a ‘pornographer’, and the film’s main moment of violence, a lengthy and vicious torture scene, is certainly testament to that.

‘Only God Forgives’ tries to be profound, however it doesn’t really mean anything. There is nothing real about it, it simply doesn’t resonate; the only modicum of empathy I began to experience during the film was for Julian and his complicated, broken relationships with women.

Apart from making you feel uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons, the film just does not affect. This is because the film is sheer metaphor. Symbolism and ambiguity can be very interesting and powerful, but this is usually when it is combined with good acting, strong narrative and credible, interesting characters. Unfortunately, ‘Only God Forgives’ lacks all of this.

40%

Super (2010)

Super2

Maddeningly awful film.

I watched the film with low expectations and they were met, surpassed, even. ‘Super’ is an uninteresting, annoying film that’s full of flat characters and drags on for what certainly feels longer than 96 minutes. It is a shallow film, one that seems to have been written by young adolescents; it is wholly unimaginative and weak.

Essentially, it is yet another tired vigilante film, but with a rehashed, improbable superhero gimmick that makes the film even more tired. The film dabbles in themes of what it thinks is satire, drama and vigilantism, failing at all. In trying to make the film stand out from ‘Kick Ass’, it futilely turns the violence up a notch, the only benefit of this being the disposal of some of its highly irritating characters being satisfyingly grislier than expected.

Rainn Winston gives a humdrum performance as Frank D’Arbo, the nerd stock character every viewer is familiar with. One of the films few merits comes in the form of Kevin Bacon, who gives a fittingly slimy, ratty performance as small time criminal Jacques. Libby, played by Ellen Page, is one of the main problems of the film; her loud, androgynous and pathetically recalcitrant persona is utterly exasperating. When she becomes the Crimson Bolt’s side kick, the film nose dives and quickly loses all credibility. Remarkably, the film becomes even worse in its final act.

After the deliberately strong and misplaced violence, the little character development and the general vapidity, the film ends with inappropriate and somewhat complacent melodrama. Suddenly, trying to justify its predictably weak ending, the narrator, who appears to know exactly what the unamused viewer is thinking of this conclusion, addresses the audience – ‘Maybe you thought I was gonna learn that I was deluded, that I was as evil as the rest of them. But maybe you’re the one that needs to learn something.’ No, the viewer doesn’t have to learn anything from this completely ludicrous, unbelievable ending that has just been compounded by maudlin nausea, the filmmakers are the ones that need to learn: how to make a decent film.

Avoid this film, all you’re going to get is another churlish, back-chatting performance from Ellen Page. Watch ‘Kick Ass’ instead, it’s not perfect, but it’s in a different league to ‘Super’.

35%

Drive (2011)

tumblr_mgtowx943j1rz1nmdo1_1280

Gosling stomps his ‘Notebook’ past in the face.

Seldom has my opinion on a film changed so drastically.

I first saw the film in Romford on the way back from picking up my new car in Enfield, North London. Getting there had been hell. I was on the M25 and running late, but I decided to commit to seeing it, so I left the motorway and began to penetrate the Essex town. To my intense frustration, the roads were full of road works and were subsequently jammed, but by then it was too late to turn back, I had to see it through. Once the road works finally ended, the sat-nav kindly took me straight through the middle of the Romford shopping area, which was a cobbled street full of people, a place where I’m pretty sure cars weren’t allowed – I must have looked a right berk.

After much embarrassment and stress, I finally found the cinema and arrived at the screening just seconds before it began. The timing was great; however I was now in no mood to be watching a film.

‘Drive’ has a very simple premise. Ryan Gosling is ‘The Driver’, a quiet, enigmatic mechanic and stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for the underworld. His lonely existence changes when he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), a sweet young mother who lives down the corridor from him. There is a clear connection between them, however her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison before their not-so-platonic friendship comes to fruition. Standard is being stalked and threatened by criminals, to whom he owes a mounting debt, a debt which can only be paid through a pawn shop heist. For the sake of Irene and Benicio’s safety, The Driver conscientiously lends his getaway skills to the job, which of course goes horribly awry.

Gosling’s performance is good, he has a steely aura about him that is cold and convincing. However, I don’t think one should get carried away when steeping him in praise, I felt it wasn’t a particularly demanding role. While it is clear that he fits the mould of the laconic anti-hero, I was slightly bothered by the extent of his utter lack of conversational skills, particularly when he’s speaking to Irene. There are moments that are so painfully awkward that it could test the plausibility of their relationship. Gosling is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s iconic ‘Man with no name’ roles, but I also made a connection with Dustin Hoffman’s performance in ‘Rain Main’.

I was very ambivalent about the film. I liked the exciting car chase in the introduction, I liked Cliff Martinez’s stylish, haunting soundtrack; I also liked the visuals and the film’s unforgiving, visceral nature. The film is spattered with torrents of claret, stark shankings and devastating gunshot wounds – there’s also a spot of stomping. The film’s violence is ugly and nasty, it adds a brutal energy to the film. However, I had reservations with the lead character and particularly with its thin plot and meagre ending; I left the cinema feeling hollow and thinking it was all rather vapid.

Despite all of this, the film had definitely got under my skin, I was thinking about it regularly. Eventually, I had to give it a second viewing.

Being at home without the aforementioned stresses and knowing the framework of the film, I was able to enjoy it a whole lot more. I was engrossed from the start, relishing the style and edginess of it all. My past reservations took a back seat; it had gone up in my estimations two-fold. It was on my second viewing that I was able to appreciate the innate coolness of its leading actor. How on earth did he possibly make a white padded jacket with a yellow scorpion on the back cool? Oh and the driving gloves, they just reek of cool, and that black roaring Ford Mustang – I am so impressionable. It really got my heart pumping; I couldn’t believe how the film had grown on me.

Ultimately, though, like so many films, especially those that fall into the revenge/retribution format (think Death Wish/Taxi Driver), they’re good until the last stanza, they’re hard to wrap up. However, I even preferred the ending on second viewing – out of the ways they could’ve ended it, this was probably the most appropriate choice. While it is indeed a trifle shallow, if you watch ‘Drive’ on a massive television with an equally massive sound system, it is guaranteed to be a visual and aural treat.

84%

Switchblade Romance (2003)

switchblade romance

Though it descends into total implausibility, ‘Switchblade Romance’ is a gripping, visceral horror film that manages to keep one step ahead of the viewer.

‘Switchblade Romance’ is a violent, cruel horror film that adopts the conventions from slasher films such as ‘Halloween’ and adds a psychological twist. Without giving anything away, I would politely say the twist can only be interpreted and explained in somewhat woolly terms; I could also say that it’s completely stupid. However, given that ‘Switchblade Romance’ is merely exploitation cinema, it didn’t particularly bother me.

I felt the film, though predominantly clichéd, did manage to avoid becoming tired, its suspense was taut and relatively unpredictable. However, it only just managed it, it was a close call, those familiar with the slasher films of the 70s and 80s may feel ‘Switchblade Romance’ is just a bundle of rehashed themes. The film departs from its slasher relatives in respect to cruelty and realism; it has a gritty, unpleasant quality that is similar to modern horror films like ‘Wolf Creek’, the grisly Australian affair that appeared in 2005.

Much like ‘Wolf Creek’, after it had finished I found myself asking ‘Why? What’s the point?’ These overly sadistic, one track films leave me feeling rather hollow; they’re a dose of visceral thrills so relentlessly bleak and potent that they leave me questioning their status as ‘entertainment’. I wondered why someone would want to make such one- dimensionally cruel films. The only purpose I could think of was how both films place the viewer in a ‘What would you do if you were being stalked by a murderer?’ situation, which indeed makes them a thoroughly engrossing, if life-sapping ordeal to watch.

Ultimately, ‘Switchblade Romance’ is a straight-forward endurance test that provides an ample amount of tension and gore, but its overreaching, illogical ending and general vapidity may leave you feeling slightly hollow by the end credits.

65%

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather

A twisting, dramatic masterpiece whose success relies on perfect casting and Mario Puzo’s excellent novel.

It’s hard to judge a film like ‘The Godfather’, especially for someone of my generation. Since its release in 1972, The Godfather has accrued a legendary status; it’s difficult to watch a film that is often touted as the best of all time with an open mind and no preconceptions. However, after watching The Godfather many times and reading the novel on which it was based, it’s clearly something very special. The film is a sprawling epic that rewards the viewer with a savagely twisting, multi- faceted plot. It’s a mobsters’ coming of age tale that’s laced with tension, deception, tragedy, violence and death.

Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is introduced on the day of his daughter’s wedding, a very special day in Sicilian tradition where the father of the bride is to deny no man a special favour. The beneficiaries’ utmost respect for the Don is illustrated in the opening scene, their displays of courtesy coming in the form of personal address and greeting rituals. The Don is a man of respect and principle, a man who puts emphasis on what’s fair, denying to avenge, for example, a father’s anguish over the rape of his daughter by means of murder – ‘That is not justice; your daughter’s still alive’.

In other circles however; the Don is not so respected. Vito Corleone is an old fashioned Don, what is referred to as a ‘Moustache Pete’; he is reluctant to delve into the business of drugs, unlike the contemporaries from the rival New York crime families. The Don’s refusal turns the relationship between the Corleones and many of the other families sour. It is how the ensuing violence is regarded as just ‘business’ that is the cold, harsh danger of the film. Its depiction of violence is visceral and often occurs when not expected. Rather quickly, the Corleone criminal empire falls apart; the next generation having to revitalise the family and reclaim their place at the top of the five families.

The film is probably the most perfectly cast in history. The primary characters of Vito (Marlon Brando), Sonny (James Caan), Michael (Al Pacino), Fredo (John Cazale), Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), Clemenza (Richard S. Castellano) and Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) are all expertly interpreted from Mario Puzo’s magnum opus. The scores of supporting actors are also without fault. After reading the novel, it’s remarkable how faithfully envisioned the characters are in the film, which is thanks to a combination of uncanny physicality and astute interpretation.

The Godfather is a brilliant adaptation of Mario Puzo’s masterfully told story; the 1969 novel was written with such an authenticity that it almost seems like non-fiction in certain passages. I think it’s true that when one thinks of a gangster, they picture the omnipotent Vito Corleone sitting back in his chair, his glum face contemplating with that infinite sagacity and authority.

The Godfather is a true spectacle in both mediums; deciding which is best is a difficult task. The only aspect that I felt was stronger in the book was character development. The character of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is given greater depth in the novel; Michael’s transcendence seeming comparatively abrupt in the celluloid interpretation. The character of Luca Brasi is abundantly more powerful in the book, whom whilst is an ally of the Corleone family, is penned as an ominous villain with a dark, brutal secret.

The film, meanwhile, essentially depicts Brasi as an oaf. This depiction is understandable, Brasi is an old-timer who is firmly within a closing chapter of the Corleone family, however I was surprised by how markedly less intimidating a figure he was.  Additionally, many of the supporting characters are also given interesting back stories by Puzo, notably Captain McCluskey. Of course, that level of intricacy is possible in a novel, while a film could easily become bloated with such detailing.

Ultimately, ‘The Godfather’ is a film made by a highly talented crew who combined the seminal prose of a skilled author with brilliant direction, perfect performances, effective cinematography and the utterly beautiful, iconic music of Nino Rota and Carlo Savina to produce one of the best, well rounded and moving films ever made. It is a film that is wholly deserving of the term ‘required viewing’.

98%

The Expendables (2010)

the_expendables_2_hd_wallpaper_1_by_kingwicked-d5cnxg6

A surprisingly entertaining film that ignores credibility with delightfully wanton results.

All realism and credibility is thrown out of the window in this delightfully macho celebration of the 1980s action film. The action scenes are huge, loud and fantastically violent. It blends brutally choreographed mêlée, explosions and gunfights, with each one of the Expendables having their fair share of the action. However, although the film is satiatingly steeped in aestheticised violence, I did find that some of the CGI violence wasn’t as tangible as I’d have liked, I prefer old fashioned squibs and syrup. This is unfortunately a problem in many modern films,  even in the incredibly violent ‘Rambo’ (2008).

The plot is a simple, familiar one; it follows the Expendables as they infiltrate and overthrow a Latin American dictator, with the token sinister executive thrown in there for good measure. Away from all the wanton destruction are parts that are surprisingly character driven, particularly the chemistry between Stallone and Statham, whose tough, competitive camaraderie may be somewhat clichéd but certainly entertaining.

As the image above suggests, a terrific cast has been assembled, it includes: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture, Steve Austin and even cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are some notable names missing from the cast, but thankfully there’s scope for a whole Expendables franchise, giving many other fan favourites an opportunity to become an Expendable. This is probably the first time that I’ve found myself wanting a mindless blockbuster franchise to come to fruition; with a team of cine-literate, witty writers, the possibilities are almost endless for potential sequels. Who knows, the film could even attract some heavyweight talent in the form of Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino – ‘The Expendables’ could add further dimensions to its celebration of masculinity!

Perhaps my satisfaction with the film was accentuated by my low expectations coming into it, but I think I would’ve enjoyed it regardless of expectation; it delivered the masculine, ridiculously excessive carnage that, for me, makes it a funny, exciting break from reality – I left the film with a big smile on my face.

68%

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

law abiding citizen

Above: during his arrest, Gerard Butler strips naked for no apparent reason.

This film is silly, and not in a good way. Any film you have criticised in the past for farfetchedness or implausibility will be put into perspective by this truly ludicrous film.

Firstly, all characters are wholly flat and featureless; there is no depth or anything of interest in any of them, the film comprises only stock characters. Gerard Butler co-stars as ‘Clyde Shelton’, a seemingly omnipotent God-like figure who appears to be stronger and more capable than the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department and various other judicial bodies combined. There’s a line of dialogue that acknowledges this absurdity, but that doesn’t make it okay. Shelton is on a mission to correct the judicial system, which he deems to have failed him after the murder of his wife and child. His extraordinary tactility and expertise are tenuously explained in a scene in which a back story is given to Shelton, a naturally clichéd tale of how he was a human disposal expert, the character predictably saying “He was the best”.

His superhuman capabilities are all very convenient, but I don’t think he’s all that bright, because he clearly makes everything much harder for himself. Once the credits roll, it becomes apparent that the plot has one gaping hole, there was no reason for Clyde Shelton to want to be in prison, it would be completely illogical for him to want to be there; you’ll know what I’m talking about if you decide to see it. Besides this fatal flaw, there are also the ways in which he exacts revenge, which become increasingly nonsensical and boring as the film progresses.

All of this absurdity is fatally compounded by the fact it takes itself seriously. I expected to enjoy this film in a similar way I enjoyed ‘Commando’, a film which is implausible too, but works through caricatures, hilariously bad acting and fantastically corny one-liners. In ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ however, there was barely a grain of humour. Despite this, the film gave me one laugh, a scene in which a particularly irritating character is inexplicably killed by means of a maliciously modified mobile phone.

This juvenile, unbelievably far-fetched narrative means ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ is boring. It makes the mistake of taking seriously a script that appears to have been written by an eleven year-old; but even with humour and interesting performances, I doubt this film could be salvaged. The film is just a brain dead heap of cheap viscera manufactured for the multiplexes; its hugely generous IMDb score speaks volumes for people’s taste.

30%

Scum (1979)

ScumA damning depiction of rehabilitation, hierarchy and corruption.  

Despite being released over 30 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Scum has lost none of its punch. ‘Scum’ is an unforgiving portrait of the British borstal system – 1 hour and 30 minutes of both physical and psychological abuse.

The film examines the hierarchy of the borstal, looking at the behaviour and roles of both the officers and the inmates, questioning who’s worse. This hierarchy is ruptured when Carlin (Ray Winstone) enters the borstal. Carlin claims to be looking for ‘no trouble’, but really he is equally or even more pugnacious and skullduggerous than the rest.

Much like ‘Cool Hand Luke’ and ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’, ‘Scum’ explores the infuriating frustration of injustice in ‘correctional’ institutions. Personally, I find few things worse than the abuse of power, whether it’s within an institution, a family or any other context. I’m sure many would agree, subsequently making ‘Scum’ an engrossing and unpleasant watch for all.

Asides from Carlin, the most significant character is Archer (Mick Ford), an intelligent, disaffected vegan who is a habitual troublemaker. Archer serves as an interesting plot device; he offers intelligent, biting monologues on the flaws of the institution, most notably to an officer’s face, who retaliates by reducing their civil conversation into another officious, hostile procedure.

It’s Carlin’s arrival, growth and ultimately tenure as ‘The Daddy’ that serves as the central narrative of the film, but thematically the film acts as a condemnation of the borstal system and its corrupt, vindictive employees. One may wonder if the film is hyperbolic, but the borstal system was abolished by government in 1982, replacing it instead with ‘Youth Custody Centres’. This corroborates Scum’s credibility.

80%

American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho

A funny, solid adaptation with a perfectly realised interpretation by Christian Bale.

Christian Bale delivers a superbly realised interpretation of Patrick Bateman; his performance has already become iconic. The nuances of Bateman’s voice, which has an air of arrogance and comical sincerity, are identified by Bale and expertly delivered; Bale’s performance is one of my all time favourites. The truly original narrator, endlessly quotable script and brilliantly dark, idiosyncratic humour have created a large following; it’s the proverbial cult film.

The film follows Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street executive in the prime of his life who is surrounded by equally affluent and aesthetic contemporaries. He is achingly vapid and appears not to have a sincere relationship with anyone, not even his ‘supposed fiancé’ Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon). In Bateman’s world, everything is for surface value, even his job, which he continues with because he ‘wants to fit in’. As the strain of his lifestyle begins to overwhelm him, Bateman begins to indulge in his violent urges.

The film is adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 controversial novel of the same name. As anyone who has read ‘American Psycho’ will testify, there are passages that are simply unfilmable; the film was always going to be toned down in comparison. However, I feel the film has been neutered somewhat, I feel the film is lacking a visceral edge, it nails the satire, but it isn’t quite dark enough.

As the novel progresses, Patrick Bateman becomes increasingly psychotic and depraved, he descends into the depths of madness, and this isn’t quite captured in the film. As sordid as it sounds, I do believe the film should have been crueller, darker; it should have put more emphasis on the depersonalisation and sadism of Bateman. There is one moment concerning an axe and a raincoat which is thoroughly entertaining and memorable, however it borders almost on slapstick, which it certainly didn’t in the novel. The violence rightfully didn’t enter exploitation cinema territory, I wouldn’t wish for gratuity. But, then again, how do you define gratuitous? At what point does a film or book become gratuitous? These are questions that were at the forefront of my mind when reading the novel, and I think it’s very hard to answer.

Despite this, it is a good adaptation; Harron and Turner’s script is sharp and overall makes good use of its difficult source material. For instance, the film incorporates the book’s music chapters to great comic effect; Bateman expressing his admiration and laughably deep analysis of Genesis, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and The News to prospective victims. Through these scenes the viewer witnesses the lengths of Bateman’s vapidity.

It is a rather difficult film to wholly appreciate and absorb on initial viewing, which is good, because I feel ‘American Psycho’ has much replay value; I have revisited both the book and film countless times. Much like the novel, the film polarised audiences, and it doesn’t surprise me. When viewing for the first time, one must appreciate Bret Easton Ellis used a large helping of hyperbole to convey his message of greed and superficiality, and also a good deal of surrealism. The film isn’t entirely rooted in reality. The way in which Bateman’s associates repeatedly forget each other’s names and identities and how Bateman’s actions become questionably implausible may confuse or deter the viewer. However, some would say that in our world of revolting socialites and vacuous celebrity and fashion culture, the extent of American Psycho’s hyperbole is becoming increasingly dubious in places.

‘American Psycho’ is a peculiar creation. Many people get it and love it, however I’m sure many would be perplexed by it, maybe completely disappointed by it. I am biased, but I know that I am one of many people who fully appreciate ‘American Psycho’, part of a large group who will know what you mean when you say ‘I have to return some videotapes’. Some won’t like or appreciate it, and that’s no detriment of the viewer’s, but if you do, then I think you’ll find yourself revisiting the film and picking up a copy of Ellis’ compulsively readable novel. However, regardless of whether you like it, I can guarantee that you’ll never hear Phil Collins’ ‘Sussudio’ in the same way again.

90%

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

inglourious-basterds-

‘Inglourious Basterds’ is an entertaining, original war film with high production values

‘Inglourious Basterds’ is not a film to be taken seriously, it’s a farce. Firstly, many of its characters are caricatures, especially Brad Pitt’s role Lieutenant Aldo Raine, who speaks in an exaggerated southern drawl. Secondly, the story completely rewrites history in grand, bloody fashion. Overall, I found the film to be good fun; I found its total disregard for history to be refreshing. It has been called ‘juvenile’, to those people I say “lighten up”.

Its characters, context and plotting seem to have annoyed many people. The majority of the negative reviews I have read on IMDb are unfair and written by people who are cine-illiterate and sometimes downright illiterate. To dislike this film is understandable, but to give it 1/10 is immature and makes their opinion completely invalid.

Many will find it distasteful, and it is, the German soldiers aren’t considered people by the Basterds; some deserve their violent treatment, others do not. However, contrary to popular belief, the film isn’t crammed full of violence. It certainly has graphic outbursts, but it isn’t pervasive. Instead, much of the film consists of dialogue delivered by its strong cast, constructing its rather large, multi- character story. The main acting credit of course goes to Christoph Waltz, whose turn as the intelligent, ruthless and utterly inescapable Col. Hans Landa is a highlight of the film.

There are moments that are removed from the farcical features of the film, notably the tense farm house interrogation and the basement bar scene, both of which are superbly constructed and acted. Think ‘The Lives of Others’ only with characters that face far more brutal consequences.

I quite like the film’s story and plotting, it’s a long film but I didn’t grow tired of it like some people have. I didn’t expect the film to incorporate so many characters, I didn’t expect its scope. It’s interesting to wonder what the film would’ve been like if it had adopted a ‘Reservoir Dogs’ approach, it could have been a stripped down thriller that closely followed the Basterds’ exploits, it may well have been a better film. Instead it’s more related to ‘Pulp Fiction’, a lengthy film with many characters and a marked tone of black humour, however ‘Inglorious Basterds’ isn’t as funny or as interesting.

Tarantino’s methods of film-making are questionable. For example, I’ve heard he refuses to hire composers as he doesn’t want another crew member to have that degree of influence over his work. Some think his total control over his productions is becoming his downfall, and those claims could have credibility. He’s an auteur some may say, I say he sounds like a control freak, however I understand he has a very particular vision.  It would be interesting to see him work on projects that aren’t completely his own. Working that way would see his career become more prolific and hopefully would avoid him making awful genre referential trash like ‘Death Proof’ again.

‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a great addition to his canon that’s original and in possession of all the entertaining earmarks of a true Tarantino film.

87%

The Most Painful Scenes in Cinema History

Personally, I find the stubbing of a toe or stepping on Lego infinitely more wince inducing than a big, bloody shootout.  There were numerous other clips I considered, however I felt they were more appropriately placed on a ‘most violent’ list. So instead of the cinema’s most violent, I name cinema’s most painful. Defining what’s cringe worthy is quite a subjective matter, so see if you agree. (Warning: Contains spoilers)

#10  Pet Sematary (1989)

The familiarity of this scene is what makes it so toe curling. Bedrooms may be a place of rest, but unforgiving bed posts and bedside tables can wreak havoc on your knees, elbows, ankles and in this case, entire face. This brief yet utterly visceral moment is the only thing I can remember about ‘Pet Sematary’, and it’s actually much funnier than I remember.

#9 Midnight Express (1978)

This scene demonstrates that when the nape of the neck and a large metal coat hook collide, the coat hook wins. The thought of that tender area of your body being penetrated so violently sends an unpleasant sensation down my spine. This scene is especially shocking when seen in context, it completely catches you off guard.  The pain begins at 1:28.

#8 ‘Thanksgiving’ Grindhouse Trailer (2007)

I know, this isn’t a film, but this little homage achieved the hard task of making me absolutely gasp. Although the scene is of a blade colliding with genitalia, it is spared of violence and successfully relies on your imagination to contemplate the ghastly damage. The pain begins at 4:50.

#7 The Shining (1980)

Jack Nicholson’s ad-libbed ‘Here’s Johnny!’ is one of the most famous lines in the annals of cinema history, it’s also followed by one of cinema’s cringiest injuries.  The pain begins at 1:54.

#6 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The sight of Leatherface having a wrench thrown at his head by a fat man in a mustard coloured t-shirt is undeniably funny, but the viewer immediately recoils when he falls over and cuts a few inches of flesh out of his thigh. Having a whirring chainsaw lacerate your leg makes for a very risky shot, but given the tight budget and notoriously intense filming conditions, something tells me that director Tobe Hooper slipped Gunnar Hansen a few dollar bills to injure himself in the name of exploitation cinema. The infamous meat hook scene is also bitingly painful. The pain shortly after 1:25.

#5 Goodfellas (1990)

This is a scene so painful, so completely agonising, that it bypasses your intellect and actually physically hurts you more and more with each blow of the pistol butt. The opening scene to ‘Goodfellas’ is also very vicious, but I think this just about edges in front of it on the pain-o-meter.

#4 Un Chien Andalou (1929)

You wouldn’t have thought that a French film from 1929 would make it into the top 10, let alone come in at number 4. This looks so horribly, wince inducingly real because it is, only it was the eye of a dead horse. I remember showing this to my father and he reacted with total dismay – “Why have you shown me this?! Why do you watch things like this?! Why do they make things like this?!”

#3 American History X (1998)

Here is another scene that is blood free yet jarringly visceral. ‘Curb stomping’ really is an evil, barbaric thing to do to someone, I don’t think even Hitler deserved this.

#2 127 Hours (2010)

Everyone knows the story before they watch ‘127 Hours’, but that does nothing to soften the blow of the amputation scene that the audience has been anxiously awaiting for the past 80 minutes. It certainly didn’t soften the blow for one viewer at the screening I was in. Shortly after the amputation scene, I heard ‘Can someone phone an ambulance?’ emanate from the back of the auditorium, for a split second I attributed it to the surround sound, but knowing that clearly wasn’t the case, I quickly realised that someone had fainted. Once they had been taken out of the screening, the distinct smell of vomit began to pervade the room. I pitied them, but they certainly gave the film a sense of occasion!

#1 Misery (1990)

This scene is infamous and for good reason. Seldom have I empathised with a character as much as I did with the defenceless Paul Sheldon (James Caan), what a sorry, sorry predicament to find oneself in.  I’d love to see an audience’s reaction to this one.