All posts by wmmowguest

Dragged Across Concrete – Review

by Tom Beasley 

The oeuvre of S. Craig Zahler is defined by a number of characteristics. His films are extremely violent, from the caved-in skulls of Brawl in Cell Block 99 to that one scene towards the end of Bone Tomahawk that immediately induced a thousand yard stare in everyone who saw it.

Crucially, though, Zahler’s movies also take their time. They deal in bloodshed, for sure, but they also deal in the calm before the storm.

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Dragged Across Concrete is no exception. At a bum-numbing 159 minutes, it’s a lengthy slog of a movie, and one that makes no apologies for that excess. It also makes no apologies for its politics or its casting. This is a film that positions the intensely problematic Mel Gibson and the gun-loving Republican Vince Vaughn as racist cops, who are suspended by Don Johnson’s police chief when video footage of them using excessive force on a Latino dealer hits the headlines. “Politics are everywhere,” says Johnson, adding that “the entertainment industry formerly known as the news needs villains”.

And it’s in dialogue of that stripe that Dragged Across Concrete emerges as Zahler’s most difficult work from an ideological perspective. The foregrounding of Gibson is a blatant act of trolling and Zahler’s dialogue juggles casual racism, jibes about how the line between men and women has now “blurred” and discussions about the threat of a young white woman being attacked by black men that are an unsettling reminder of the recent controversy around Liam Neeson. Apparently, in this world, throwing cups of soda around is an obvious precursor to rape. At times, the film is like sitting in a pub with Piers Morgan, Jeremy Clarkson and that Tory MP who keeps blocking up-skirting laws.

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Certainly, there’s no room in Concrete for women. Female characters do cross the orbit of the protagonists occasionally, but they’re either framed as cartoonishly emotional – one woman literally cannot bring herself to leave her newborn son to go to work – or bizarrely laissez-faire. Vaughn’s character’s girlfriend is black, but seems curiously unmoved by his suspension for a racially motivated misdemeanour. Black actor Tory Kittles is nominally the third lead, but the film’s lack of interest in him would be funny if it wasn’t so depressing.

Mel and Vince – it’s impossible to divorce these characters from the men behind them, despite the best efforts of Gibson’s 70s porn tache – respond to their suspension by staking out a drug dealer in the hope of liberating some cash from him. When it becomes clear that the dealer is actually embarking on a more deadly crime, the cops become heroes again, apparently, as they follow him around wondering when and whether to intervene. This is a film about masculinity and male duty that feels grounded in a time when men were men, and men were also racists.

The story inexorably winds towards a violent conclusion, in which bullets fly and arterial fluid leaks onto grubby asphalt. But it all feels weightless, even when a character is literally fiddling around inside another’s internal organs. Zahler has replaced the style and power of his previous work with a Trollface meme. He’s like a basement-dwelling Reddit user daring you to be ‘triggered’ by him, just waiting to share that ridiculous copypasta about “sexually identifying as an attack helicopter”.

Like so many purveyors of shock, Zahler has seemingly forgotten why he wanted to shock people in the first place.

 


Dragged Across Concrete is in 19th April 

Everybody Knows (Todos lo Saben) – Review

by Coralie Bizien

Everybody Knows (Todos lo Saben) starts with the metronome sound of a clock mechanism. The introduction send us into the heart of a church bell tower, between darkness and sunlight, while a bird is trapped in a space where it cannot find this way out….

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Laura (Penélope Cruz) returns in Spain with her two children, for the wedding of one of her sisters. She meets Paco (Javier Bardem), ex-lover and the buyer of the part of the family property that Laura had inherited. When her daughter goes missing during the wedding reception, the family is plunged into chaos. Under the eyes of the villagers, the troubles of the past and many resentments reappear…

We meet Laura as an energetic mother, happy attending the reunion of her family. Sweet dialogue exchanges establish the characters and their relationships, allowing us to discover them at the same time. The happiness of the reunion is soon met by with many different struggles such as a ign of financial worries, heartache, and common problems we all meet in life. But the reunion is also an opportunity for Laura’s daughter, Irene (Carla Campra) to meet Felipe (Sergio Castellanos) : a youthful love which, in the shadow of the conjugal celebrations, echoes the love that Laura and Paco once had for each other at their age.

The scenes follow one another and respond to one another, dominated by the ardor that takes precedence over reason until drama and suspicion are imposed. Asghar Farhadi admits the human mechanics even before really sketching the contours.

The audience play the role of a discreet observer who suddenly examines, the masks that shape what is happening in a front of us. Asghar Farhadi captures the silences, the sustained or fleeting glances, like the flighty speeches that dictate the rumour. Their masks fall off and reveal some shenanigans whose interest is, as the title underlines, of little importance.

With the naturalism of his approach and this cast, Asghar Farhadi takes us as far as his camera plunges us into a novel. The complexity of his writing is total; Does he set up a thriller, inviting us to look beyond the acts, facing the souls of these seeming archetypes? The answer of that question came directly from the screen which becomes a mirror where our own reflection is drawn….

The Iranian director doesn’t leave his obsession for human interaction behind. Todos lo saben serves as a manifesto: Farhadi is obsessed with human mechanics, what moves them, what ignites them, and their contradictory movements.

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The structure is well recognised – reminiscent of About Elly (a weekend with friends turns to the criminal investigation coupled with the unveiling of buried intimate secrets) – the film that made Farhadi internationally renowned. Characters who seemed uninteresting are fascinating under the effect of unexpected. In Spanish vineyards, money reigns. We need it for the ransom, we need it to atone for past mistakes. He is the one who gradually undoes Laura’s solar insurance with Paco’s beautiful male chauvinist, and exercises that their performers (Cruz and Bardem) master perfectly.

With Todos lo saben, the Iranian director does not hesitate to highlight themes such as temporality and the importance of the past, mixing with the codes of a thriller as well as snippets of a great striking human comedy. Farhadi is not at his best, a little too academic, a little too “great cinema”, but it remains a very pleasant, tense and highly recommendable film.


Everybody Knows (Todos lo Saben) is out 8th March

On The Basis of Sex – Review: Does it do Ruth Bader Ginsburg justice?

by Catherine Courtney

I’m Ruth Bader,
Yes I’m the Real Bader
All you other Ruth Baders are just imitating,
So won’t the Real Ruth Bader please…. rise, court is now in session…

2019 is off to a pretty rocky start so far. It’s not as bad as 2018 – yet – but this film and the simply named documentary RBG have made these first couple of months a little more bearable. Honestly, when I was watching these movies, I actually forgot about Brexit.

The benefit that On the Basis of Sex has, is the subject matter herself – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s hard to imagine being a pioneer of something… anything… in a society where it feels like most things have already been discovered. But the Notorious RBG was a pioneer, a champion and quite simply an all-round total badass. Eager to become a lawyer, she was one of the very first women to be accepted into the Harvard program where still all content was driven towards men and men alone. She triumphed at school before becoming a professor herself, and has spent her entire career advocating gender equality and women’s rights, and has changed actual laws in the US which have revolutionised the treatment of men vs women. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yep. Total badass.

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In eOne’s new release, Felicity Jones steps up to the plate to take on this formidable role – who is surprisingly manifested in a simply small, quiet body. While she gets much closer to the character than Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon does, there’s something so unique and special about the Original Ruth that isn’t quite tapped into in this role. She’s tough and determined, and Jones seems to walk with the air of owning a room – it’s the underestimation of Ginsburg’s peers that causes such a powerful impact.

There are some marvellously artsy shots such as the moment she’s the blue-blazered salmon swimming against the tide of black and grey male suits, but the magic of this woman’s story is in her words, and fortunately for this film her nephew wrote them all. This has given the story an insider feel, with sweet family dynamics and a mother-daughter relationship development that made me want to see more. Whether it was too close to home brings hesitation to the glossiness of the story, but it’s a story you want to believe in nevertheless.

One of the main beauties of Justice Ginsburg’s life is her incredible relationship with her husband, who genuinely glows in a limelight both separate and connected to hers. A man as sound as any young girl with a fluffy diary and a killer attitude could dream of – Handsome! Charming! Willing to do the dishes! Martin Ginsburg was a lawyer in his own right (and a very good one at that), climbing to the top of a tax career in New York and yet always looking next to him to make sure Ruth was achieving the things that she was capable of. It’s either luck or destiny that Armie Hammer was found for the role – a gentle giant, with eyes to melt any tough New Yorker judge, stories taller than petite Felicity and yet embodying a character that would happily put her on his shoulders so she could see and do more (suggestion for Hollywood’s obsession with sequels – On the Basis of Sex 2: Marty, Dreamboat Feminist…)

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The film itself is a fairly rose-tinted version of Ruth’s story, with incredibly powerful moments zipped past like the difficulties that have washed off Ginsburg’s back throughout her life. A truly defining moment comes at the dinner table of the Dean of Harvard, who gets each woman enrolled that year to stand in front of her peers and justify why she felt she had the right to take a place in school that could have been given to a man. No, really.

Look out for enjoyable performances from Justin Theroux and Sam Waterston, while Cailee Spaeny ignites sparks in a very early stage of her career – possibly a name to keep an eye on in future roles. But my concern for the film is in the viewer’s previous knowledge of Queen Notorious, as this film centres around one legal suit and the ebb and flow of the story may come across as slow and dragging at points for those who don’t know where it’s heading. I hope the tiny moments of defiance that built this woman are noticeable enough to those who aren’t looking for them. Does she simply come across as a stubborn woman with an obsessive tendency or can the UK audience see her true majesty and fire? Here’s hoping that the film will inspire people to find out more about the woman that’s helped to change the world.

A woman like this make us look at the world today. Gender equality has made leaps and bounds, but is nowhere near the end of its battle. Do feminists and champions for human rights have to be loud and brash? Can you still be classed as a feminist if you don’t attend every march with a witty homemade placard? And does it have to be that only the voice of many can make a difference while the voice of the few will struggle to make a sound? I think Ginsburg would say no – anyone can be a champion, and anyone can do it whichever way feels right to them. And every voice, no matter how loud or soft, has a right to be heard. So, Ruth – I think I’ll spend my life trying to make mine worth listening to.


On the Basis of Sex is out now in cinemas nationwide.

Venom – Review

by Chris Rogers 

Here is Sony Pictures’ second attempt to build a Marvel universe to rival Disney’s (stop laughing, they’re deadly serious). Venom – seemingly dumped on our world from a rip in the space-time continuum splicing the year 2005 with the present day – sits comfortably alongside the likes of Elektra, Ghost Rider and Daredevil. Grimdark pretentions? Check. Positioning of protagonist as edgy antihero? Check. Ludicrous rubber costumes? I wish.

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Star of the show here is the eponymous blob, a parasitical alien which attaches to a living host and imbues them with superhuman abilities. Venom finds a vehicle in smug, down-on-his-luck journalist, Eddie Brock (a spectacularly miscast Tom Hardy). “You look like shit!” exclaims the owner of Brock’s local corner shop, as he swaggers cooly past with hair perfectly styled, sporting just the right kind of stubble and trendier clothes than anyone else within fifty miles.
He’s on the trail of billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a cardboard cutout superviallain obsessed with human-symbiote experimentation. Brock’s investigation (assisted by an unpsettingly underused Jenny Slate) exposes him to one of the parasites. Hence, Venom – a giant, foul-mouthed monster with a penchant for biting people’s heads off – is born.
But before the beast is unleashed, we must suffer an hour of ‘Superhero Origin Stories for Dummies’, replete with a plodding romance subplot (Hardy and a bored, bewigged Michelle Williams conjure no chemistry), unintelligible action sequences and broiling inner turmoil. At least, that’s what one assumes Hardy is going for with his Jim Carrey-esque line in spittle and shrieking.

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When the latter half finally sees Venom emerge, things fail to improve. An age rating promising gory ultra-violence is all bark and no bite, with most antagonists dispatched in a blur of swinging tentacles and nondescript crunching sounds. The genuinely enticing body-horror aspects of the comic book source are buried, and the Bronson star’s clear commitment to depraved lunacy proves all for naught.

It’s difficult to see loyal fans of the Venom character – still searching for salvation after Spider-Man 3 – getting back on board (incidentally, the producer who insisted upon Venom’s involvement in said misfire, Avi Arad, returns to supervise this outing). As a disposable piece of popcorn fodder, it’s merely hopeless. As the basis of a major cinematic enterprise, it’s poison.


Venom is out in cinemas now! 

The Meg – Review

by Chris Rogers

It’s Stath versus shark in this loose and lively adaptation of Steve Alten’s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, which leans into its schlocky generic trappings for better and for worse. Five years after a botched underwater evacuation, rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is called out of his self-imposed exile when a deep-sea research facility is attacked by a previously prehistoric monster, the Megalodon. The creature is freed when a scientific expedition to explore an ocean crevice breaks through a layer of gas, holding the deadlier creatures of the deep back from entering the contemporary food chain.

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Statham’s shipmates are a veritable aquarium of genre favourites: Chinese superstar Li Bingbing is his spunky co-lead, Suyin, Cliff Curtis is an awestruck scientist, Rainn Wilson is the sardonic overseer, and Ruby Rose grimaces a lot and knows how to use a gun. But let’s face it; we’re all here for Statham. His performance – every line delivered with all the gravelly goodness the Transporter legend can muster – is beautifully summed up by Wilson: “He’s heroic, but he’s got a negative attitude.”

So the script is rife with ripeness (“Man versus Meg isn’t a fight: it’s a slaughter!”), but has enough self-awareness to get the audience laughing in sync with its particular brand of jovial Jaws apery. Once the titular behemoth begins to run amuck and tensions start running high between Jonas and his companions, it’s hard to know who’s getting the better meal deal: the cast chewing the scenery, or the shark chewing the cast.

The film’s adherence to genre conventions (our hero’s rivalry with a disgruntled former colleague, his slowly emerging soft spot for Suyin, ulterior motives among the crew etc.) occasionally threatens to drag it below the surface. The shoddily-built human drama and the withholding of monster mayhem until the last possible moment calls to mind many straight-to-DVD titles, and a certain divergence from the source book in the climactic moments is a bitter disappointment

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. But what separates this from more amateurish forebears is a budget that allows it to deliver the goods when required. For those of us who’ve dredged through shark B-movies of every kind from the painfully incompetent (Megashark vs. Giant Octopus) to the sickeningly smug (the interminable Sharknado series), it’s a real joy to see this sort of high-concept actioner delivered not only with smarts, but surprisingly sleek CGI to boot. Industrial Light and Magic won’t exactly be quaking in their boots anytime soon, but the various vehicles and beasties are designed and rendered efficiently enough, and the moment The Meg finally jumps the shark – quite literally – is a perfectly choreographed crowd-pleaser.


The Meg is on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Creed II – Review

by Catherine Courtney

Let’s get straight to the point: I have never seen a Rocky film. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but unless someone is going to make me watch it with them, I’m probably never going to make that choice on my own and will re-watch Easy A for the umpteenth time.

 Rocky Balboa and his story is so entrenched in modern culture that in the first Creed, I remember thinking ‘that moment seems like an in-joke but I can’t remember why’. It’s enough for me. I don’t need to know what the in-joke is, knowing there is a joke is usually as interesting as finding out the actual joke. Creed was highly likeable in 2015 – it stood alone enough for me to enjoy it, so I was fully ready for the next one to see how the character becomes his own.

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Here we are: Apollo Creed who is now comfortable in his life with a woman who loves him, a trainer who is basically a father to him, and a vast crowd of adoring fans chanting his name and metaphorically high fiving him whenever he feels like. He smashes through his first opponent, to finally win the title of World Heavyweight Champion… but something’s off. He doesn’t really connect with the moment, still just fighting for possession of a Mustang. An ominous competitor appears –  to avenge his father’s defeat thirty years before against Rocky Balboa – Viktor Drago. Except that guy’s father is the reason Creed’s father is dead, so now it’s just basically revenge on revenge on revenge – fear against pride, endurance against resilience, fist against fist, 

For a film that’s trying to progress a story that’s been around for over 30 years, it’s about right they moved things along. Creed II reflects the tale that’s known so well, putting its own tiny spin on it. What about the loser? What about the shame, and further losses that loser experienced after their last fight, the people who abandoned them, the advertising deals they never got, the struggles they had to make ends meet? 

The film is some meta version of itself; full of parallels and contrasts. There’s enough for them to definitely be doing it intentionally. Rocky’s restaurant so lovingly built in honour of his wife is empty, Adonis’ fast food store that his father left him but he barely acknowledges is overflowing with patrons. Viktor Drago is a warrior trained in fear and brute strength, while Creed is a fighter trained in agility and surrounded by people who love him and build him up. Both boxers are incredibly special (and the training that the two actors have put in for these roles can’t go unmissed – see Creed spar!) but both have completely different backgrounds, motivations, and so their stories both go down the exact different routes we think they will. 

It’s interesting to think how far Adonis has come; from the stubborn angry kid we saw at the start of the first film, resentful of his father and in some ways denying his existence, by the time this film gets into full swing it’s one of his inspirations to keep going. You get to follow through his struggles with him, being a part of his conversations with all the people in his life as well as joining in his physical pains. Jordan carries this well – he’s light but strong, emotionally deep but youthful in the part. Meanwhile, Drago is the Bane of this universe. A silent, solid rock of a man, he has been brought up in the East trained solely for the ring, in a life that seems of little luxury, under severe discipline of his father to bring honour back to the family name, and maybe convince his mother to come home (that’s some whole other messed up section that needs its own essay. BAD IVAN.). He’s given little chance to build his own person, few lines to shine a light on his opinions, and minimal screen time. It’s his father who does the ‘villain’s monologue’ – Viktor barely gets to nod his head in agreement. He’s just in this story to break people.

You can’t help but imagine young Drago searching for another career path like being a chef. These fists were for kneading dough, not jaws!

In fact. there are better uses for Drago’s hands, such as;
Pastry chef/Breadmaker
Massage therapist
Playdoh tester
Sign Language Presenter
Pottery designer
Blackjack dealer
Jewellery model
Literally so many other things

This is Steven Caple Jr.’s biggest film so far and it is something visually spectacular. We’re treated to three fights, each of which are their own special moment. Watching boxing is hard work when it’s convincing; you feel each hit and praise each dodge. The second fight even comes with a first-person view so you just can go ahead and join in that fight whether you want to or not… (the camera-work sometimes fits in the moment but there’s some scenes where it sadly doesn’t quite match with the flow.) But the filmmaker also plays with the use of light vs dark throughout the film. There’s  tortured decision making in the middle of the night,  frank conversations in the shadows, confessions in daylight that all frame this moody story. For the allure of the sparkling lights when it comes our our characters big moments, anything goes, and it works. The glamour of their jobs help to highlight what real life really looks like, when they’re hiding behind a tinted car window or sitting in the cold Philadelphia air.

Now look, let’s be realistic. There’s very few reasons to complain about a film where Michael B. Jordan is sweaty and shirtless a lot, but this film actually shines most when the smaller characters are given centre stage. Bianca’s hearing impairment is a daily challenge for her, and (spoiler alert) her fears for her unborn child are legitimate and heartfelt. Mary Anne has lost a husband to the sport her pseudo-son is determined to dedicate his life to, and her juggle of pride and fear is evident. Stallone being nominated for so many awards for the first Creed film was a surprise, yes, but the sincerity and humility of his character continues into this film – he has no desire for the limelight, a taste for the simple things in life, and a serene presence that is impressively captivating, with a portion of the soundtrack built in to reflect his personality amongst the others.

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Luckily, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously; a mix of touching moments between the characters help to break up the angst and struggles that our favourites are facing. Tessa Thompson returns as Creed’s love interest and their chemistry feels natural (even if all their lines don’t) and Rocky’s banter with the lead is brotherly and playful whether in the motivational speeches or the more heartfelt bromance scenes. Creed’s own mother Mary Anne (played by Phylicia Rashad) is a force to reckon with – a twitch of her eyebrow could win its own award, and she brings her own special touch to the story away from the boxing ring.

The music carries the film well, homages to the classic theme tunes of course appear at the special moments when the audience are close enough to physically jump up and down in their seat, and new tracks written for the film also sit well and feel well-placed. A training montage mid-show feels so well put together it’s hard to know if the song was written for the scene or the scene was edited for the song, you almost want to lift that giant tyre yourself.

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This film is built for a purpose itself too – revenge, redemption and reunion. Yes the story is predictable, even some of the subplots, but it’s a fun romp and a harmless one at that. You’re cheering the characters on right till the end, and if the screening I was in is anything to go by, you won’t be the only one. The film is big and flashy and wins in lots of different ways, and no doubt Hollywood will see the dollar signs and think it’s worth making Adonis Creed a regular fixture in our lives. The team have made something special in this Creed series, and I dread a third.

Let’s all go see this film, then let’s be like Creed – let’s go find something worth fighting for.


Creed II is out in cinemas 30th November