“Explosive, young, and on the edge.” Mercedes Gower talks movie Brakes

Love in the city is hard. It’s a tricky beast, people weaving in and out of love under the London skyline. A lot of films have tried to capture this and portray it on the big screen. We end up with sickly awkward but genuinely sweet movies such as Love Actually or Man Up.

But Mercedes Gowers’ Brakes is a toe-curling and intimately emotional indie film about the pain of love. Bringing together our finest British actors, Brakes is a series of vignettes about couples breaking up before flitting forward to see how they got together.

We were lucky enough to talk to Mercedes about her new release!

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How are you? How dies it feel getting a big release? 

I’m quite nervous actually. Hopefully, there will be a time where I might enjoy it.

Must be quite nervous as a first feature. 

It’s unusual. I’m not sure how the non-linear aspects are going to go down. I haven’t even been thinking about enjoying it. Hopefully we’ll have a celebatory weekend. Steve Oram was like “It is going to be great.”

It’s like putting your child out there.

Where did you draw inspiration from?

I’ve done comedy and dark comedy. I’ve just been thinking about people breaking up for year. It is just so personal and we all go through it. It’s so intense and weird. Warped, funny, and emotional. You are with this personal for a long time. You’re in a bubble on either side and at both ends, the break up and getting together, it’s very heightened.

I definitely wanted to do it backwards and get into the real life . You can play on it and it turns into this figure of 8. The whole thing was a jigsaw puzzle. We shot it backwards too: Filming the break-ups first. but the meet-ups worked so well as the actors new what the characters had been through. It was funny to plunge into a first meet from these intense break-ups, you can trace back exactly what went wrong.

How did you come about the stories? Were there any based in truth? 

I was just thinking about making them as varied as possible and who’d work with each other. There loads of different ones like Julian (Barrett) being a stalker or Paul McGann and Kate Hardie having an affair. There’s also me and Noel (Fielding) having that innocent thing at the beginning. It’s interesting to see how dark it is going to go and making them as varied as possible.

Every break up is different.  I find it funny how everyone shows so much of yourself to another person. We varied it up a bit. I loved Kerry (Fox) and Roland (Gift), to have all those pauses – it’s very deep and adult with the weight of a long time relationship. Me and Noel are more explosive, young and on the edge.

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There’s a big character with London, how did this come into play? 

I think any city will make you fall in love faster. Whether you are falling in love or breaking up, it becomes intense. There’s so much going on in the trees, the buildings, and the rooftops. I wanted to include some places I’ve gone too. But I think it’s intense no matter where – like the country-side would become all ‘Heathcliffe’ like . I was using what I had – the romance of London.

How did you get so many  great British actors involved? 

I was very lucky. The comedy bunch, I’ve known for a long time. Julian,Steve, and Noel are old friends of mine and thought it was fascinating to do a film like this. Everyone I asked seemed excited to do so, especially with the improvising. It was quite a laugh! I think Kerry Fox is incredible so I was happy when she came on board. She’s an interesting and extraordinary actress.

How did they form as couples? 

It was more through timings and chemistry. I enjoyed Paul MccGann and Kate Hardie’s affair. Peter White and Julia Davies had to break up twice! Julia Davis is quite good at all that comedic darkness though.

How tricky was it filming your own scene? 

I was very lucky that Noel suggested he’d do mine with me, which I had been putting off.  We had quite a good shorthand together and I was glad it was him!  We bounced brilliantly off one another and we had that great snow. It was brilliant to do!

Brakes is out in cinemas now! 

The Work – Review

We are constantly being told to keep our emotions at bay, with insipid phrases quipping at us, we are conditioned to believe that feelings are the enemy. If you cry, you are weak. If you admit that you’re unhappy, you’re attention seeking. If you do anything remotely “sensitive,” you are condemned.

This ideology is wrong: There is no harm in talking about how you are feeling and there is no shame in admitting that you have ebbs of sorrow flowing through you. We should be open, hearts and minds, and we should communicate to everyone.

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That’s the subject of harrowing but completely compelling documentary The Work.

Directed by Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous, The Work revolves around Folsom Prison. Set across a four-day group retreat, outside participants enter a therapy session with level-four convicts (level-convicts have the highest security.) Each man in the room takes turn at delving into his past and connects with each other. In an expression of truthfulness and emotion, The Work looks at tackling rehabilitation through openness.

Within minutes of The Work, there is a palpable and charged energy that keeps you enthralled. Here, men from different walks of life battle demons as one; working through their stories with a raw intensity and a rare honesty. By every background, I don’t just mean the men who are convicted but also those who come in to the circle from the outside. Bartenders and teachers deal with members of cults and gangs and yet they all treat one another with compassion – like a family of brothers and sisters trying to cope with the agony of life. It is glorious to watch people express themselves and work through all kinds of awful issues.

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Co-directors Jairus McLeary and  Gethin Aldous shoot the film with an air of care. Though the subjects within the therapy session have given hearty permission for the film, there is still an attentiveness to still make the documentary part of their safe space. This isn’t nosy filmmakers looking for their greatest story; the filmmakers have given up their time and have worked with the community here for some time. It is not exploitative film-making, it is trying to get this message and sentiment out there, in order to heal what is broken inside. Those behind the camera truly believe that and it comes across extremely well.

Since shooting, the work of the Inside Circle Foundation and the participants of the film have gone on to spread this ideology across the globe. Interacting with prisons, schools, work-places and even home, the guys behind The Work have inspired countless amounts of people to be truthful with their pain, grief, and emotions. It is honestly astonishing to see what this level of communication does for people. The minute we take down our social barriers, we are all the same in the mud of life  and we should work together in order to help one another.

It is with this message that The Work truly flourishes.

The Work is available on DVD from 27 November and on demand now 

War For The Planet of The Apes – Review

Many may be unfamiliar with the 1968 classic, Planet of The Apes, yet it is virtually impossible to not recognise this often-quoted line: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” From The Big Bang Theory to Chris Rock’s Top Five, POTA has been referenced consistently throughout popular culture. And this is a credit to the work of Pierre Boulle (source novelist), writers Michael Wilson and the legendary Rod Serling, in their crafting of a gripping “What if?” sci-fi drama and perhaps the greatest plot twist in cinema history. So how on earth could such rich source material inspire four lacklustre sequels, two failed television series and a laughable remake starring Marky Mark, and directed by…Tim Burton? As the apes depicted within this series evolved (albeit through a prospective miracle drug, ALZ-113) in regards to intellect and other human-like abilities, so must a tired, ancient franchise. And in 2011, Rupert Wyatt’s Rise OTPOTA elevated the summer blockbuster to dizzying heights, delivering a supremely intelligent character-driven drama. Six years on, director Matt Reeves and Andy Serkis reteam for all-out war. But the question is this: With a temptation to prioritise bang-for-your-buck over an emotionally-driven narrative, will War FTPOTA bend the knee to Hollywood?

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Haunted by his emotionally scarred and ultimately treacherous lieutenant, Koba, and perpetually pursued by a ruthless army of humans, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe of apes are at breaking point. Some have even defected, pledging their allegiance to a colonel (Woody Harrelson) whose draconian tactics would even make Full Metal Jacket’s Sgt. Hartman blush. Following a battle which incurs tragic loses, Caesar’s plans to inherit a newly discovered ‘promised land’ come to a standstill. Instead, he and a small company of trusted apes embark upon a quest, to avenge their kind and ultimately, end the war. Whatever the cost.

Opening with a spectacularly crafted assault on an ape stronghold, War immediately alerts us to the fact that from this point on, mercy will be sparse and bloodshed maximal. As a band of soldiers approach, Reeves and fellow writer Mark Bomback deliberately donate time to focussing on soldiers and their helmets. Some of which feature crudely drawn and abusive graffiti, such as “Monkey killer” and my personal favourite, “The only good Kong, is a dead Kong”. Without characters breathing a word, audiences are informed of how deadly a situation this is, and how each individual is feeling through a variety of claustrophobic close-ups. And once the battle begins, a barrage of bullets and spears fly in all directions.

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The effect is, as it should be, deafening. Yet it is a credit to Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin, as the focus is always upon the tragic cost of violence. With each shot of an impaled soldier and wounded ape, emotion is drawn from the subject first, over spectacle – something the rebooted franchise has perfected, whilst setting a bench-mark for its blockbuster counterparts. This masterfully protracted sequence of tension and many like it, exist within War, aided by the ever-great work of composer Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Star Trek), who effectively taps into haunting effects of war through the particular utilisation of a choir.

Despite its emotional power, the narrative and subsequent developments of War is occasionally uninventive, as a large portion of the final act is fairly reminiscent of The Great Escape – something that Rise already tapped into. But it is surprisingly easy to forgive such a small shortcoming, as the film’s performances are exemplary. Much has been said of Serkis and his dedication to his Mo-Cap craft, but it seems as though his partnership with Reeves has allowed his character to deepen significantly, in addition to the many other apes onscreen. Caesar is an ape, yet here, he struggles with typically human difficulties: Guilt, rage, revenge. Each of which Serkis (and his co-stars) taps into, throughout purely character-driven moments. In some ways, it is easy to forget that he is an ape, as every possible emotion is wrung from each moment. Caesar is also joined by Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape, a charming if blissfully awkward, yet resourceful ape who speaks into Caesar’s life when family and friends are needed the most. Often, Bad Ape provides much-needed comic relief throughout a film packed with torture, death of family and imprisonment. But it is a testament to the writing of Reeves and Bomback, who rightfully choose for that not to be his primary function. And this is applicable to all apes throughout the film. Each one is different and is dealing with a manner of emotions. In a lesser film, they would have blended together in a CGI/VFX crowd. But here, the care and attention behind and in front of the camera shows.

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Whilst providing the spectacle promised to us by its intense ad campaign, War retains its greatest asset: Fleshed-out characters with genuine emotions. It is virtually impossible to think of its characters as CGI creations, but living, breathing apes who grapple with deeply human themes in a truly powerful way. Thankfully, with this third instalment, there’s no monkeying around.

War for the Planet of the Apes is out in cinemas now! 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Review

Jupiter Ascending is an objectively bad movie. The plot is convoluted, Mila Kunis is a strained lead actress, and there is a just something stupid in the ridiculousness of it. Yet, makers of The Matrix, the Wachowskis are so heinously full of passion and excitement that it feels more enjoyable and watchable, despite its faults. You’ll laugh a lot – intentionally and unintentionally – but with that much spirit, it is impossible to not be thoroughly entertained.

I’m no longer afraid to say it: I love Jupiter Ascending. 

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Oh…why am I talking about Jupiter Ascending? Oh, because I really wanted Valerian to be like that. But the pure and excitable energy of the Wachowskis cannot be replicated. Certainly not by a director whose heart has been seemingly lost in his recent ventures.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on a comic book series called Valerian and LL. The film revolves around Alpha – a developed space station called Alpha which is home to thousands of different aliens, working in harmony for centuries. When a mysterious unidentified race causes a ruckus on the spaceship, Valerian is enlisted to uncover their secrets…

Valerian is a pretty little film with spectacular visuals and is certainly a colourful creation of different creatures. The creator of The Fifth Element certainly has a hand at spectacular space craft and it is a highlight here. The imagery on the big screen is inventive and new.

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That’s where all the goodness ends. With a stiff story that can barely be stretched over the two hour run-time, hammy interactions with lifeless characters, and nonsensical ploys throughout, Valerian is a sloppy and agonisingly depressingly boring. Sleep inducing, in fact

I love Dane DeHaan, particularly when he is playing brooding and creepy villainous roles. He is a fantastic actor. However, despite his age and talent, DeHaan doesn’t seem to fit comfortably with the heroic grandeur of the character. Older, buffer, tougher? It feels wrong to swipe at DeHaan this way but the casting simply doesn’t fit here, no matter how DeHaan tries to make it.

Let’s talk about Laureline, shall we? Look, I’m all for kick-ass female characters as much as the next person but being able to punch someone in the face and then follow that with a smart quip does not equate to a strongly written female character. Especially when their dialogue is this:


Humans are unpredictable


LAURELINE (scoffs):

Clearly, you’ve never met a woman.

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I thought we had moved past this type of wooden talking. Also, irritatingly, she is immediately introduced as the love interest for Valerian. Their first scene together sees him passionately embrace her, against her wishes, on a hologram beach before she derides him for his past conquests (again, it feels weird, because Dane Dehaan just doesn’t fit the role.) It is sloppily written work. What’s worse is that Laureline’s dialogue and character isn’t the worst: There are outdated archetypes fitted into a story that feels like Avatar on acid.

The best summary I’ve heard for Valerian and the City for a Thousand Planets is “It’s basically about a creature that shit pearls.” If you are game for that, and roughly two minutes of Rhiana’s face despite her being a focus of the marketing, then Valerian is for you. However, it is a disappointing venture for Besson.

Soulless and heartless, but with very pretty visuals, this is a tedious space romp that could have done so much more.

I think I’ll stick with Jupiter Ascending.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!