The Get Down: season one, part two – review

TV

The Get Down was, by its own admission, a hugely ambitious undertaking by Baz Luhrmann and his team. With a sizeable investment from Netflix (although they’re seemingly unstoppable these days, so whatever). So it meant that a lot was riding on this tale of late ‘70s New York, painted as a city in crisis – at least in the Bronx, where most of our story takes place.

Plus it’s a sprawling epic. 

It touches on poverty, drugs, sexuality, inner city regeneration, friendship and male bonding, graffiti and self-expression, religion, and the birth of hip-hop, and how music can change your life and those around you. And that’s just for starters.

Which means that, with great ambition comes great responsibility. I mean, this show built itself up to tackle A LOT of weighty subjects and it does so quite well, for the most part. But derails a little come the second half of the season, which we’ll get to.

Moreover, maybe it bit off more than it could chew, with all these subjects vying for screen time. It made it hard to get a handle on the main thrust of the story at times. Was it part documentary, musical, love story, social commentary, musical history lesson or gangster movie? Or all of the above? The mind is liable to boggle.

Which meant, that if you wanted to pick holes in the plot, you could. You’d find loads. But the show’s sheer exuberance and enthusiasm for its material more or less carried it through. And this was helped, in part, by numerous punch-the-air musical moments, delivered by a highly watchable cast. In particular Ekeziel ‘Zeke’ Figuero (Justice Smith), the wordsmith of The Get Down Brothers (loosely modelled on the birth of the Sugar Hill Gang) and Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) a blossoming disco star; herself trying to break away from the clutches of a religiously overzealous father and the fact she’s come from more or less nothing. 

For all its ambition though, it’s a show of two halves (to coin a football pundit phrase). In that the first half introduced the main characters – framed via a modern-day rap concert (with Nas playing a grown-up Zeke) – and set them on their path to musical glory well enough. And was stylised much like a musical, all primary colours and big hair.

But then it seemed the second half of the season thought it best to get high on its own supply. Which meant it, rather oddly, got pretty trippy. We had the introduction of numerous animated sections in each episode which, whilst fun, seemed like a device to help Baz and his overworked crew take a breather whilst they set up the next big musical set piece. 

The plot, too, seemed a bit spaced out. There were really too many story strands drifting around the place to fully invest in any of them. And by the time the finish rolled around, I was left feeling like I’d seen something quite good, but also quite confused about what it wanted to be.

So top marks for ambition, casting, musical numbers and vision. But sorry Baz, you’re getting a little marked down for execution and story. Still though, overall, it’s a decent show and worth catching. Particularly if you’re a fan of hip-hop and experiencing a little slice of the birth of a musical genre done with real flair. 

The washed-up DJ

Poetry

You’ve been left behind, you’re obsolete.
Downbeat and no longer discreet, you desperately scratch the needle in search of the beat.
You’ve let your skills slip. Now all you taste is defeat.
Hard truth is… you can’t compete.
Battling bottom tier DJs, the best you can manage is a dead heat.
Your career in a downward spiral, forever stuck on repeat.
So you switch from vinyl to CDJs, taking dead-end gigs just to make ends meet.

What the hell happened?
You were once top of your game, destined for greatness.
Now you’re aimless, contagious.
People keep their distance, not wanting to be infected by your lameness.
So you become shapeless and faceless, a ghost and a cipher.
Question is, will you bounce back?
Are you a fighter and a survivor?
Are you fierce like a tiger?
An assassin sniper… with rival DJs caught in your crosshairs.
Blinded by lights as paps snap you with their lens flare.

Or are you destined for weddings and kid’s discos?
Forced into fiscal limbo as you blast out the Thong Song by Sisqo.
Watching pensioners dance the calypso to your tired, old beats.
You do whatever it takes to bring in cash.
Whatever keeps you off those cold, dark streets.
But you yearn for your heyday where you had the crowd in your hand.
Then you’d adjourn to the melee of your villa to get rowdy with your fans.
Then fall asleep, kept warm by the heat of your groupies.
The comedown from your set hitting you harder than a bowl of roofies.

But those days are gone, you’ll never get them back.
The clubbing world has moved on.
You have to face that fact.
So either pack it all in or accept your path.
Playing tunes to pensioners ain’t that bad, it’s kind of a laugh.
So that’s where you’ll stay.
Maybe one day, with hope, you’ll get another chance.
Reliving the glory days as a DJ superstar.

Pimp science!

Poetry

Ladies and gentlemen I’m a mad scientist.
I’ve taken some bad drugs to see if I’m limitless.
The thing is this, I don’t know what they’ll do.
I’ve not checked the effects, from my sex drive to my nervous system.
I don’t have high hopes for my disposition.

But my line of work, it’s all about pushing the boundaries.
I’m a chemical blacksmith and this is my foundry.
They say drugs are bad but I know they’re bound to be.
Because round our street, the place I grew up, we experimented.
I was a terror with test tubes.
Putting every chemical under the sun to best use.
Leaving my subjects a mess ‘cos they expect abuse.

But make no mistake, this is no cruel punishment.
I’m here to astonish those that can stomach it.
Except those on a bad trip that descend into funny fits.
Got the money to pay? Your brain will end up in runny bits.
Or you’ll float and fly.
Take a toke of what I’ve got, don’t be shy.
Get red eye as your pupils dilate, hips gyrate and sense of shame says goodbye.

Fellow scientists tend to love my lab too.
Like kids on a sugar rush playing with test tubes.
They often get burned though.
Trying to steal my secrets I weed out the turncoats.
Those that once showed loyalty end up learning the hard way.
I’ll slip you something on the sly and rewire your DNA.

But don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my work.
The stuff I give people makes them smirk or go beserk.
That’s the risk you take.
I’ll insist you try everything on my list before you bend and break.
There’s always a chance we’ll stumble on a magical formula.
One that’ll warm you up and light up your nebula.

Back in the lab you double drop and become a love fiend.
Your heart stops as seratonin fills your blood stream.
With this ecstasy you can hardly breathe, but go again.
Needles, powder, poppers, they’re all your friends.
God, when did this happen?
I’ve moved from scientist to pimp.
Peddling pills and potions to give punters a thrill explosion I’ve lost my way.
I want to be bad and spend time in my lab but at what cost do I get to play?

It’s time I remembered how to make shit.
Mixing the right drugs I need to get back to basics.
But let’s face it, selling product is amazing.
Some say it’s a lazy phase but I’m awash with cash.
I’ll crush the competition, I’ll get tough and all that jazz.

But as I said at the start, I’m a mad scientist.
Those bad drugs worked but I’m just not limitless.
And the thing is this, the money’s all gone.
I’m all washed up my career down the john.
And there’s heavies at the door ready to collect.
So with my last intellect I spy a way out.
Hurray! A blue pill went astray.
I move fast like a greyhound.
I pop it and go euphoric, all my troubles fade away.
This scientist will live to pimp his wares another day.
At least, that’s what I hope and pray.
Chances are I’ll find out the hard way.

Amy: the girl with demons that were just too dark to overcome

Film

From great pain comes great genius. And let’s not muck about, Amy Winehouse, the gobby girl from North London, the unassuming jazz singer, had both in buckets.

This documentary – directed by Asif Kapadia, the man who brought us Senna a few years back – charts her life through mostly previously unseen footage in a compelling and deeply affecting way.

I’ll say from the outset I was – and still am – a big fan.

I loved her music, that unique and beguiling voice, the darkness she carried that came out in her lyrics and – this may seem callous but – I cannot think of another artist that, if they died, I’d be that cut up about. There was obviously something about her that spoke to me.

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Darkness, pain, loneliness, vulnerability – these things can mean a lot to a lot of people and Amy was our figurehead. When she died it was a shock, although the act not shocking in itself. More that maybe it hadn’t happened sooner, in a way, given the media frenzy which surrounded her later years (which we’ll come to in a bit).

With Amy we get a detailed insight into her inner circle, the people closest to her and how her eventual demise came to pass. From her friends and various managers and producers to her absent family, all seemed to play a part in trying to help her get back on track, but almost all ultimately failed her in some way.

And some more than others.

The person that got cast in the worst light was probably her father, Mitch Winehouse (who came out after the film’s release, surprisingly enough, saying he wanted the filmmakers to make changes). With her most famous song, Rehab, directly referencing the fact he told her not to go, he had dealt his own hand in terms of how he wanted to be portrayed as a father. This absenteeism as a role model for Amy continued right up until the end.

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In fact, time and again Kapadia comes back to clips that illustrate the fact that most of Amy’s darkness and self-destructive impulses stemmed from the lack of a father figure in her life. Starting with Mitch leaving the family to have an affair whilst she was growing up, she then spent the rest of her life trying to replace him, either with boyfriends/husbands (Blake Fielder-Civil being the worst of the bunch) or managers and producers or, near the end, bodyguards.

The media also comes under Kapadia’s scrutiny (and rightly so), with the rise of the paparazzi scrum hounding her every move directly contributing to her downward spiral. (In some ways the same thing happened with Princess Diana, so it’s clear we’ll never learn.) In this Kapadia makes us complicit, we’re just as much to blame as anyone within her inner circle. We buy the magazines and read the tabloids and gobble up all the sordid details of her destruction like sharks out for blood.

The sucker punch, the killer blow if you will, was that Amy almost turned a corner right before the end. She did a duet with her idol Tony Bennett (who said she was up there with greats like Ella Fitzgerald) and she planned, by the looks of it, to return to her jazz roots. But then, in a flash, it was all over.

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If you were a fan of Amy Winehouse you’ll most likely find the film engaging and insightful. If you weren’t, you’ll still get something from it, as it’s a fascinating look at the recent and tragic demise of a modern-day musical genius and the factors that contributed to her downfall.

Kapadia seems to have treated the material sensitively and portrayed Amy in a sympathetic light. Whether you choose to – as I do – feel a little responsible and quite disgusted by the way the world ended up treating her will be up to you.

For me, it made me raw again that she’s gone. But this was an important film to make and the story needed to be told.

Rest in peace Amy. We’ll miss you, always.

Lucy: does Luc Besson need reining in?

Film

I saw Lucy recently – the latest offering from writer-director-producer Luc Besson – in a completely packed cinema. (It was the opening weekend.) What a full cinema indicates at this point is nothing in itself, but I’ll explain more shortly.

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Now I’ve been looking forward to this film for quite some time. I like Besson. Leon is a fantastic film which launched Natalie Portman’s career, The Fifth Element is a lot of fun and gave us the wonderful character Leeloo, Taken reinvigorated Liam Neeson’s career as an aging (and unlikely) action hero, The Transporter franchise turned Jason Statham into an action hero, and so on.

So… Besson has a good track record. In actual fact he’s pretty prolific as a filmmaker: as a writer (56 credits), producer (116 credits) and director (21 credits). That’s some output for a guy in his mid 50s. He’s known for a visually rich style and Wikipedia goes so far as to provide a quote which says Besson is the ‘John Hughes of action movies’. Now for those not in the know, John Hughes pretty much invented the coming-of-age teen movie in the 80s – so this is high praise.

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Having said that, action is an easily criticised genre of film, often said to opt for style over substance. Besson in particular gets this comment directed at him by critics. Some might say he’s the French Michael Bay, but maybe that’s going too far. Either way, this brings me full circle to his latest offering, Lucy. Some of Besson’s best work has focused on strong female characters (and actresses) and, in Scarlett Johansson, he may have found his best muse yet.

The film starts with her character Lucy, a bit of an airhead bimbo, living in Taipei. She gets duped into delivering a briefcase into the hands of a gangster, who then forces her to act as a drug mule by sewing said drugs into her stomach. They find their way into her system slowly unlocking the full capacity of her brain. From there things go awry in the typical way you might expect from an action movie.

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Yet… this feels slightly different.

Rather than the usual action fare where our protagonist’s motives are fairly standard (revenge, redemption, saving loved ones etc), this aims to ask some big questions about the nature of our existence and evolution. Indeed, the film is book-ended by Lucy saying that we were given the gift of life thousands of years ago, and what have we done with it?

Have we really evolved all that much? Are we still animals at heart? What would happen if we could unlock our brain’s true potential? The catalyst, in this case, are the drugs that Lucy ingests, pushing her brain – and the film – into uncharted territory, from action to sci-fi, as her abilities begin to develop to superhero (or superhuman?) levels.

Lucy

The more Lucy taps into these abilities the less human she becomes. Her humanity leaves her as she becomes cold, calculating and clear in the path she must take. In this respect Scarlett was the perfect choice for Lucy. She’s had a number of roles throughout her career that explore a sense of loneliness, disconnection and what it means to be human (think Lost in Translation and, more recently, Her and Under the Skin). And she can look almost alien at times; that delicate, doll-like face piercing you with an intelligent and searching gaze, one which demands an immediate response.

But despite her compelling performance and despite Besson aiming to ask some big questions, a lot of what you’ll find in this film is nothing new. It borrows heavily from countless other films. For example, as Lucy’s mental capacity increases from the standard 10% that most of us access, the film is divided into chapters to mark where she is on her journey: 20%, 40% and so on. This put me in mind of Tarantino, the master of the chapter format. Yes Besson makes it work here and it’s a nice touch, but it almost took me out the film because this method, arguably, is so closely linked to Tarantino.

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Besson also cuts the film, particularly in the opening scenes and a montage near the end, with animal procreation and birth scenes which felt, quite frankly, odd and rather jarring. Had the film reel got mixed up with a David Attenborough documentary? Or perhaps with Aronofsky’s take on the theory of creation in his recent film Noah? Either way, he laid the evolution angle on thick.

It’s said by some critics that a good barometer of a film is often audience reaction and, on an opening weekend in a packed cinema sitting near the back, this was fairly easy for me to judge. There were precious little laughs, no gasps, starts, or even much movement. Mostly, from what I could see at any rate, people were sitting there focusing. Taking the tale in, processing it, following the plot. Not immersed, not disinterested. Perhaps more curious than anything else. This could have been the response Besson was going for: as Lucy loses her humanity she looks at the world in a curious way. In this respect he may have wanted the audience to observe the film in the same manner.

Film Title: Lucy

A hugely safe bet as to what cinemagoers said leaving the cinema, in my mind, would have been, ‘Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting.’ Now whether you’re familiar with Besson’s work or not, you’ll have no doubt seen the trailer and expect to see Scarlett Johansson acquire some powers and kick ass. She does do this to a degree, but not in the way you might expect and perhaps not in the way you might like either.

Tonally too, the film is rather odd in places. The reactions that Besson has aimed to elicit from his actors just seemed confusing at times, as if they were unsure on his direction. Or maybe Besson kept using takes that were intended for the cutting room floor?

Perhaps, referring to the title of this blog finally, Besson has got to the point where, a bit like some of his American counterparts, he is simply too powerful. He writes his own films, directs them, produces them, and pretty much does what he wants.

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That’s not to say Lucy is a turkey by any means. There’s good stuff there. It’s a great premise with some smart dialogue in places, Scarlett was brilliantly cast and there were some solid action scenes. Yet, as an entire film, something doesn’t ring true. It doesn’t hang right. It’s uneven in tone and felt rushed in places where Besson should have taken his time and overindulged in areas that could have been skimmed over.

I suspect, though, that this will be a bit of a marmite film. Ultimately, you’ll have to judge it for yourself. It will no doubt make a lot of money – there’s rumour Universal have already approached Besson to do a sequel – yet, critically and from a story and character point of view, it probably doesn’t warrant one.

But go see for yourself. I might have to have a second viewing myself. It seems the kind of film that needs another one to let your mind fully settle on the story.

Is it better to burn out or fade away?

My musings

bullyA while back I watched Bully for the second time, a 2001 film by Larry Clark starring Brad Renfro and Nick Stahl. Now whilst the film itself received mixed reviews, it gave me pause for thought concerning the two lead actors.

Like their respective characters in Bully, in real life both had a self destructive streak. I say had, Nick Stahl is just about still going but looks a sorry state of a human. Last decent piece of work he did was play Yellow Bastard in Sin City. All that talent… wasted.

Both Renfro and Stahl fell victim to the lure of drugs. In Renfro’s case, fatally. This got me thinking of other actors we’ve seen go the same way (mostly drugs but some, perhaps more tragically, from natural causes) and whether the frequency is increasing in recent years.

People say if only a lot. ‘If only we’d read the signs. If only we’d seen this coming.’ Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, the more you try to save them, the more they slip away.

Still… it’s a damn shame. Some had raw talent which promised to become something great, and some were doing the best work of their careers. Here are a few to consider.

some_like_it_mm_lemmon_on-the-setMarilyn Monroe, 36 (barbiturate overdose) 1962
In 1999 she was ranked as the sixth-greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute. Her death remains – to this day – a source of speculation, marked down as ‘probable suicide’. Whatever the case, before we lost her she gave us some memorable performances, particularly Sugar in Some Like It Hot.

John Belushi, 33 (cocaine and heroin overdose) 1982
Always a wildcard, some say an overdose at the Chateau Marmont in LA was the way he’d have wanted to go. For me, I’ll remember him most fondly for Animal House and Blues Brothers. A sad loss to the world of comedy.

River Phoenix, 23 (multiple drugs overdose) 1993
If his brother Joaquin’s career is anything to go by, River could’ve been a real talent. Sadly another to succumb to drugs barely into his 20s.river_phoenix-web He did, however, leave us with memorable performances including Stand By Me, Running On Empty and My Own Private Idaho.

Jack Lemmon, 76 (colon cancer) 2001
Part of an elite group of actors to have won both a Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscar (the others are De Niro, Hackman, Nicholson, Spacey and Washington) with a career that spanned more than 50 years – one of Hollywood’s true legends.

Brad Renfro, 25 (heroin overdose) 2008
Spotted aged 11 and cast as the lead in The Client, it’s safe to say Renfro slotted rather well into the burnout category. He had bags of talent and got 21 films under his belt – including Sleepers, Apt Pupil and Bully – before departing this world in blaze of class As.

Heath Ledger, 28 (prescription drugs, accidental overdose) 2008
Went out soon after his greatest performance as The Joker; one which won him a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.Heath-Ledger-candy-the-movie-1017516_800_450 However the performance that first turned people on to his talent was Brokeback Mountain. One of the biggest losses to acting in recent years.

Paul Newman, 83 (lung cancer) 2008
One of the greats of the golden age of Hollywood with the most famous blue eyes in movie history. Received an Oscar for his part in Scorsese’s The Colour of Money and had a vast and successful career that spanned decades. His last screen appearance was an impressive one as a conflicted mob boss in Road to Perdition in 2002.

Brittany Murphy, 32 (pneumonia and prescription drugs overdose) 2009
Broke out in 1995 with Clueless, then put in a good performance in Girl, Interrupted before making people really sit up and take notice in 8 Mile and Sin City. Yet another death chalked down as ‘a bit of an accident’… so sad.

John-HughesJohn Hughes, 59 (cardiac arrest) 2009
This man pretty much invented coming-of-age teen movies and hugely influenced this kind of storytelling for years to come. Indeed, Judd Apatow has been quoted saying his movies are ‘basically John Hughes films with four-letter words’. My favourite has and always will be… The Breakfast Club. John Hughes, we won’t forget about you.

Patrick Swayze, 57 (pancreatic cancer) 2009
A fighter, a lover, a dancer – Swayze has been them all. He got his foot in the door with The Outsiders, yet it was Dirty Dancing that cemented his place in the hearts of women everywhere. From Road House to Point Break, his wild genius will be remembered and cherished.

David Carradine, 72 (accidental asphyxiation) 2009
Received critical praise for his work in the 1970s on Bound For Glory and the Circle of Iron then became largely anonymous for the next few decades, until being brilliantly revived by Tarantino for Kill Bill. Then, just when you think he might be having a career surge late in life, he goes out in a fit of sexual glory.Michael-Clarke-Duncan-dies

Michael Clarke Duncan, 54 (cardiac arrest) 2012
Big man, big talent. His career began in the ’90s as a bodyguard for celebs like Will Smith and Jamie Foxx. An acting high point saw him pick up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Green Mile. All in all, he was a fearsome screen presence.

Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, 46 (multiple drugs overdose) 2014
Another vastly talented individual who had his demons and his work will take on new meaning following his death. The great skill he had as an actor was almost disappearing into the parts he played – often deeply flawed individuals, yet he made you care about them.

Bob Hoskins, 71 (pneumonia) 2014
Funny story: Hoskins was originally asked to play Al Capone in The Untouchables, then last minute De Palma replaced him with De Niro and wrote Hoskins a cheque for £20,000 to say sorry, prompting Hoskins to ask if there were any other films the director would like him not to appear in.

Bittersweet biopic – The Look of Love

Film

I saw this at an advance screening back in November 2012. It doesn’t come out till the start of March in the UK, but as that’s realistically not that far off, let’s review!

The Look of Love is about the life and career of Paul Raymond aka the ‘King of Soho’, played by Steve Coogan. Born and raised in Liverpool, Raymond moved to London and opened Britain’s first strip club – the Raymond Revuebar – in 1958.

Featuring acts such as nude dancers performing with snakes, his club often grabbed headlines and incurred the wrath of authorities for its controversial nature. Yet, as you’d expect, this increased its popularity and success.

Within a few years Raymond expanded into publishing and bought adult title Men Only in 1971. However, the real reason he gained the ‘King of Soho’ name in the 1970s was down to property. Building his portfolio up purchasing much of Soho, he passed a fortune on to his grandchildren estimated upwards of £650m.

tamsin egerton steve cooganThe setup
Directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan, the film features a strong cast including Anna Friel, Imogen Poots and Chris Addison.

It’s also a bit of a showcase for British comedy, with appearances from David Walliams, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, Simon Bird and more. In the case of Bird and Addison they’re hidden under a lot of hair (it is set in the 70s!), but you’ll laugh when you spot them.

To call it a comedy though, would be misleading. It’s a biopic – informative, tragic, funny, touching and ultimately bittersweet. It charts the rise of Raymond’s empire and the relationships with the women central to his life and success: wife (Friel), mistress (Egerton) and daughter (Poots).

Tender, tragic and charming
Coogan is quite brilliant in this role. In some ways Raymond can come across as quite unsympathetic; no time for his children, first abandoning his wife for his mistress, then mistress for whomever the next girl may be.

tamson egerton steve cooganCredit to Coogan, he manages to give Raymond a warmth and accessibility. He comes across as a guy trying to do his best, but doomed to make the same mistakes with all the women in his life, of which there are many. He also plays the role quite straight, allowing comic moments to reveal themselves accordingly – plus this gives room for more obvious comedic characters to shine.

Friel is outstanding as the fiery, yet vulnerable wife, coming in and out of his life at various moments. Egerton, too, plays her part well, as the sexy mistress who eventually runs out of patience with Raymond’s philandering ways.

For me, the biggest revelation was Poots as Raymond’s daughter, Debbie. Clearly a doting if misguided father, he indulges her every whim, including her desire to perform on stage headlining her own show. It isn’t a success and this kick-starts Debbie’s downward spiral, resulting in her death from heroin in 1992.

Poots gives Debbie an innocence and vulnerability that really gives dramatic heft to her fall from grace. Particularly when Raymond just isn’t there for her in the ways a father should be. When catching her doing cocaine for the first time, his fatherly advice is to ‘make sure it’s the best stuff and not rubbish from street dealers’.

Sex sells where love fails
This film shares a certain something with biopic Gia, based on the rise and fall of America’s first supermodel Gia Carangi, starring Angelina Jolie. It also had elements of Blow – a biopic starring Johnny Depp – based on the real life story of American cocaine smuggler George Jung.

Whilst both those were set in America, grand in scale and glamorous, The Look of Love is very much a British affair. Quirky, subtly amusing; finding comedy in tragedy and absurdity of the situation. There’s glamour, nudity and drugs, but it’s on more of an understated British level.

Ultimately, it’s an interesting little tale of a showman’s rise to fame through exploitation of the age-old motto ‘sex sells’. Yet what it does most cleverly – if you take away the glitz and glamour – is tell the tale of a man who surrounds himself with sex, yet fails to succeed at love. Either pushing it away with wives and girlfriends or – in the tragic case of his daughter – failing to live up to his responsibilities as a father.

Sometimes jumping between comedy and tragedy can seem jarring and uneven in tone, leaving the audience confused about what they are supposed to feel. Winterbottom does a great job, balancing these two elements to keep the film light when it needed to be, yet ensuring dramatic scenes still rang true.

So if you like true stories in a period setting, filled with tender, subtle drama and light, comic moments, go see it. But don’t expect an out-and-out comedy. It’s a more nuanced, reflective and complex tale – and that’s a good thing.

The Raid – Uwais, Evans and kick-ass silat!

Film

iko the raidHow does one go about creating a kick-ass action film these days that makes you sit up and take notice? Take a Welsh Director (Gareth Evans), an Indonesian martial art (silat), throw in a breakout action star (Iko Uwais), then set it in a grimy tower block. Action perfection all the way!

The plot is fairly light. Rookie cop Rama (Uwais) is part of a SWAT team sent in to clean up a drug baron’s tower block. Little does the team know the block is prepared for unwanted visitors, letting them move further inside the building before emphatically closing the trap.

Bring the pain
This film follows most standard action movies. Usual dialogue is observed, ‘We have a situation’, ‘We got company’ etc. What sets it apart are two things: Pencak silat – a super-fast Indonesian martial art that uses knees, fists, elbows, the scenery – anything to hand. Fantastically suited to taking out bad guys in tight corridors.

The other defining factor is Gareth Evans. An up-and-coming Welsh Director with an MA in Scriptwriting. Amazingly, Evans discovered Iko Uwais working as a deliveryman for a phone company. Talk about diamond in the rough.

iko2 the raidKeeping it gritty
Evans does a brilliant job in terms of directing action. Never hiding the fight scenes with clever editing, we get to see every body blow, every killer move. You may say we’ve seen this sort of thing before – and maybe we have – but not in this way. The fights are fast, intense and uncompromising, all of them.

As soon as the bullets run out, the action really comes into its own. Rama squaring off against five guys in a tight corridor is one of the first stand-out scenes. You know the fall-out is going to be brutal. The ultimate fight scene involves Rama and his brother facing off against the drug lord’s number one henchman, Mad Dog. It’s a long final scene, but a mesmerising one.

Script vs action
Considering Evans has scriptwriting qualifications, you’d hope for fresher dialogue. Although it’s understandable he had to scale back production to get it off the ground.

Either way, it’s a fantastic film. A little predictable in terms of dialogue, but utterly engaging on the action front. So heat up the popcorn, crack open some drinks on a Friday night and enjoy!