New Review- Honeytrap

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Honeytrap is the outstanding debut feature from director Rebecca Johnson. A coming of age tale with a brutal edge that simply must be seen.

The film’s central character is Layla, played by the exceptional Jessica Sula. Layla is 15, and has returned to Brixton to live with her mother after growing up in Trinidad. Her mother doesn’t welcome her presence, seeing Layla as a disruption to her life. Layla is largely left to he own devices, figuring everything out and adjusting to her new life on her own. She meets Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza), a sweet boy who wants to befriend and help her, and is clearly entranced by her beguiling beauty. Layla however, is drawn to local rapper Troy (Lucien Laviscount), and in an all too familiar story, gets caught up in a situation that becomes harder and harder for her to pull away from.

The film does get off to a slightly shaky start – the frostiness between Layla and her mother is challenging, and there is the worry that Layla’s mother is too much of a villain to generate any kind of empathy. But the performance of Jessica Sula alone is enough to carry the film through any niggling issues. A flashback scene at the start of the film sets the tension, yet Sula’s performance as Layla cannot be praised enough. We see the transformation from a shy, friendless child to a more confident- but not unbelievably so- young woman. Layla is vulnerable throughout; Sula rewards the audience with a layered, complex character, rather than a one-dimensional stereotype. She is foolish and selfish, yet encourages sympathy and understanding. She is sweet and alluring, yet not to the point of distraction, her performance is easily one of the best this year.

The story itself is simple, and it has to be. Johnson has a sensitivity towards her characters, and refuses to exploit their situation to create drama. The events that escalate throughout the story are tragic, but the frustration comes from the realisation that it all could have been so easily avoided if only one single person had the confidence to shout a little louder- or felt loved a little more. It’s terrifying to realise that you are aware of the inevitable outcome, because it is so familiar, and far too close to the reality of so many children who find themselves in a place where they are forced to be adults.  It’s an exceptional, essential debut from Johnson, one that should reward her with the attention that she so obviously deserves.

Originally for Hey U Guys

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Anti-Social- Interview with Reg Traviss and Josh Myers

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Reg Traviss

The film centres on ‘hyper-masculine characters – that is, films set in ‘a man’s world’ with hyper-masculine characters. This tends to be a theme that runs throughout your films, what is it about these characters that you feel drawn to?

I think Anti-Social is the first film I’ve made that sort of has an underworld setting. What inspires me is characters, scenarios and situations as opposed to genre – all four of the films I’ve made are very different although I suppose they are all quite masculine environments. What we have in Anti Social are characters who are effectively modern day outlaws, and they live in a society within a society, that was what I was initially interested in.

Now of course there are aspects of the film that are ‘masculine’ in a sense – you wouldn’t expect to see women committing smash n grab robberies I suppose, but the women in the film are very much involved in the criminal world. I think what attracted me to this film is that I whilst I was interested in the genre, I wanted to make something which I felt was quite authentic. The characters in the film aren’t necessarily macho, they want to remain low key, and whilst they can be quite charming, they rely on their organisation, their daring and how audacious they will be, and their drive to make money. They’re not enforcers or thugs, they’re a different breed of criminal.

Marcus (Josh Myers) and Dee (Gregg Sulkin) are two characters who both break the law, but in completely different ways. They aren’t gangsters, dons or thugs, they’re far more complex. There’s no judgement placed on any of the characters.

I thought it would be silly for me as a director to judge them, I think it’s for the audience to judge them, all I needed to do was make sure that I didn’t romanticise their lives – that’s judging them as well in a way. There’s a lot of things in the story that are there for the audience to read in to if that’s what they choose to do. Dee is running around consciously challenging society with his artwork which is very anti-establishment and Marcus certainly isn’t from the outside, he seems very much a part of the mainstream – a conformist. And in a way he doesn’t want society to change or be brought down because that’s how he makes his living.

The irony is that Dee becomes socially acceptable, and Marcus is never socially accepted, he is outcast. All of the characters in one way or another do pay a price for their involvement in criminality. I didn’t want to judge them any more than we would judge somebody that we see in the street. I just wanted to show these people as real people and tell their story.

The cast felt like it was incredibly carefully constructed. As well as Josh, you’ve got musicians such as Skepta and Devlin-  the music that is in the film is very London-centric, and the film itself deals with issues that are very specific to London.

Absolutely. I think in principle if you took the core story, then there are other cities that it could work in, but for me, it had to be London. From the outset, I wanted London to be another character, and certainly, through some of the internal struggle that Dee has is a reflection of some of the conflict that certain people in London face.

We’re going through a phase where London is changing a lot, the amount of different subgroups and subcultures in the film are representative of what London is at the moment. The sheer fact that somebody could go to an event tonight, and on the one hand be rubbing shoulders with various socialites, and on the other side be rubbing shoulders with someone involved in organised crime, you might not be aware of it, but that can happen in London- and I’m not sure that it can be like that anywhere else.

I purposely didn’t tell the story of how Dee and his girlfriend (a wealthy model) met. we could assume it was somewhere like Shoreditch at a party- but it’s not unusual in London. You can have people from totally different parts of society that can somehow still relate to each other. You have the smash’n’grab robbers from Marcus’ world at this art event, and whilst they’re sort of mucking around and it’s not really for them, they’re not against it either and I think that’s because in their mind, it’s still part of a culture outside of the mainstream.

Behind closed doors, everyone can relate to each other, but what’s imposed on them from the outside is this idea of a social structure. The film is certainly anti-society in that way.

Josh Myers

Your character is more than just a thug – he’s a good brother, a good partner, a good son.

I’m glad that’s how Reg wrote the character – of course Marcus is a sort of villain but there’s the other side of it – he loves his girlfriend, he looks after his mother and brother. I just wanted him to be a guy that does his job and makes his money – he is good at his job, he’s highly organised. He’s just a good guy that does bad things – you could sit next to him in a restaurant and never know that he did those things.

What was it about this role in particular that attracted you?

Well firstly it was a good script, and also I love working with Reg. I personally think he’s one of the best directors working in the British film industry. He’s got a great eye for things, there’s a lot of camaraderie, I’ve known him for a long time. And to be offered this sort of role was something was great – he felt that it’s my time and I can’t be more appreciative of that. And at the same time it’s a great role – it’s great, I love everything about it, and I can’t quite believe I’m part of it!

Did you identify with Marcus at all?

Yes and no. Obviously when you’re about and about and you meet people and you hear things – not everybody is squeaky clean – but the role was sort of written for me to play myself – so it’s quite a natural character for me for me to play. I can definitely identify with his relationships – obviously I love my family and everything, but on the other side of things, as a criminal, I can’t say I relate to him that much because I’m not a villain! But I spoke to lot of people when I was researching – what they get up to, how they go about things, their mannerisms, and I had a lot of advice from Reg.

Would you say that Marcus is a hero?

I can’t say he’s a hero because I don’t like what he does, and I can’t condone what he does. I think that with my character coming from a world where his Dad is a criminal, I think it’s just an easy thing for him to do. I don’t think he’s conflicted, he just thinks- if I want something, I’m going to go and get it.

Reg: It depends on which way you look at it, but from societys’ point of view, they’re anti-heroes. The pair of them. But from within their own groups where they are socially accepted, they are heroes. Marcus is a hero in his world. But if you’re looking at the film in a broader sense, Dee is the hero, Marcus is the anti-hero because Dee actually has a choice to make and he comes through. Even with regard to the crimes though, there’s something about these sorts of crimes that’s pretty old school- they’re not snatching someone’s handbag, or mugging someone in the street, or even using weapons. It’s the fact that it’s so well organised that people find sort of appealing I think.

How do you prepare for a role like this?

Josh:  Well I did a bit of working out! But I also liked researching – watching the actual CCTV of the smash n grabs, how they did it etc. Again, meeting people who have been to prison for certain crimes, picking their brains – what is their mind-set when they know the police are after them? And I spent a lot of time with Reg working through the script. It’s actually very hard to play yourself in a way. Working with Reg helped because when we were on set, despite the fact that we’re friends- on set he’s a director, I’m an actor, and I listen to what he says.

Although you obviously don’t want to condone the behaviour of your character, did you find that talking to people who had done that sort of thing helped you understand it better?

I think I was quite fortunate to be able to speak to people who have been through it and have done their time and can talk about it openly. In a way I did end up feeling quite sorry for some of them- one guy in particular just did it for his family. I don’t condone it and I never will, but listening to some of them talk, they just felt like they had no other choice. They’re criminals so they can’t get a proper job, all they know is crime. Knowing my character was doing it for his family meant that I could understand in a way, why he wanted to be the biggest and best at what he did.

Originally for Hey U Guys

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New Review- Anti-Social

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It’s easy to understand how, without any sort of backstory, Anti-Social, the latest film from director Reg Traviss, could be filed under the ‘cheap British straight-to-DVD’ lads-mag favourite. British Indie director? Check. Fairly unknown cast of often pigeon-holed ‘geezer/youth’ types? Check. Low budget? Check.  But this really isn’t a fair assumption, as becomes astonishingly clear after the first 10 minutes. Anti Social is a crime drama with all the best tropes left in (thrilling chase sequences, tense confrontations) but with an intelligent edge that seek to explore the larger changes in the modern day capital city.

Anti-Social tells the story of two brothers- Dee (Gregg Sulkin) and Marcus (Josh Myers) who seem, initially, to be wildly different. Dee is a graffiti artist whose work has started to become noticed by a Berlin-based gallery owner, who is determined to propel him out of his underworld trappings and in to a legitimate, lucrative business. Dee has a beautiful model girlfriend in Kirsten (Meghan Markle) who is supportive and encouraging of his endeavours. On the flip side there is Marcus, a key member of a highly organised gang who commit heists around the city, robbing high-end department stores. Marcus is a family man, who uses the proceeds of his crimes to support his girlfriend Emma (Sophie Colquhoun) and his struggling mother.

It would have been easy for Traviss to have the brothers at loggerheads, but instead, the brothers are united, bound by their obvious love for each other, and Marcus’ desire to protect him from the double-life he is leading. Their relationship is an allegory for London itself – worlds colliding, sometimes conflicting, often intermingling, but mainly existing side by side.

Traviss has shed light on a subject that has been aching to be explored for a long time;  the blending of subcultures and subgroups with the mainstream, accepted cultural landscape of the city. He doesn’t just do this through the plot, as the cast is as carefully crafted as the story itself. All the lead characters are Londoners, a mixture of actors and musicians already recognisable in their field, but largely unfamiliar in a wider sense. The casting of grime King Skepta and UK rapper Devlin is a key to the story as the characters they are portraying. Along with lead actor Josh Myers, a familiar face in the British crime genre, the artists themselves are part of this world that is being shown to us through the screen – it’s life imitating art to an extent.

Anti-Social is not just another British crime film, and it’s not a cheap thriller- it is an exciting, intelligent piece of cinema that is as much for lovers of the genre than it is for a mainstream audience, and should certainly be treated as such.

Originally for Hey U Guys

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New Review- Dreamcatcher

dreamcatchers_brenda-with-girl-on-leftFrom Kim Longinotto, who is arguably one of the most vital filmmakers in the documentary genre, comes Dreamcatcher. The film is a beautiful, unashamed document of one of the biggest humanitarian crisis’ of the modern world – the continued purchasing of human beings, including millions of little girls, for sex.

Prostitution is a subject that is regularly explored through cinema, but never has it been examined in such a daring, compassionate and unapologetic way. The focus is on former prostitute Brenda Myers-Powell. Myers-Powell runs Dreamcatcher, a project that aids vulnerable women who are either current or former prostitutes, or are at risk of entering that world. The help she provides varies from handing out condoms, to campaigning for the rights of incarcerated prostitutes, to being a mother-figure to those who so desperately need it. She is a modern day heroine, full of whit, but with a sturdy, calming presence.

We follow Myers-Powell through her endeavours, as she expertly manages a wide range of increasingly desperate situations; situations that are, as becomes apparent, part of her day-to-day existence. Nobody can really be prepared for the harsh reality that comes crashing down when it becomes clear that in a classroom of ‘at risk’ girls that she is working with, every single one of them has dealt with physical or sexual abuse, neglect and exposure to hard drug use from their caregivers. Every single one. In one classroom, in one part of one country – it makes the scale of the problem impossible to comprehend.

Longinotto is an expert in humanising people. Her unfathomable ability to delve in to the heart of each of her subjects, without judgment or agenda, is astonishing. This includes a reformed pimp, who now works with Myers-Powell to try and shed light on the psyche of the men who are part of this world. The inclusion of his voice is a brave, but essential move from Longinotto. The film isn’t about blame, it’s about understanding.

Myers-Powell’s incredible ability for compassion is enhanced through the film. Longinotto’s exploration of her as a woman, rather than as a former prostitute, is one of the films’ greatest achievements. Perhaps the only shred of genuine pleasure that can be gained from the film, which deals with such a horrific subject, is via Longinotto’s observation of Myers-Powell choosing which wig she is going to wear for work one day. As she frets and fusses, declaring how her choice of hair is a reflection of how she feels that day, we see her at her most empowered. Her femininity is hers to have, it does not belong to anybody else.

When you consider the subject matter, and indeed when you hear some of the painful stories that are told by the subjects – many of whom are very young girls – it’s hard to comprehend there being even an iota of hope for anyone in the situation. In fact, Longinotto is careful not to present the piece as a tale of triumph, nor as a bleak presentation of a hideous epidemic. In reflection, there is no overriding feeling of positivity – how can there be when what is presented is only the tiniest insight in to the smallest cross-section of a world-wide issue that is far beyond anybody’s control?

If there is one, absolutely glaringly obvious fact that the film illuminates unashamedly, is that every single one of our subjects does not want to be in the situation they are in. Even Myers-Powell, who throughout the film comes across as a stoic, proud, powerful women, mourns her past. She feels crippling guilt at the thought of the women that she pulled in to this world, and for her children who undoubtedly suffered as a result of her time as a sex worker. This film is a vital antidote to every titillating, romanticised study of prostitution in Hollywood; this is real, this is how it really is. What Longinotto has achieved cannot, and must not be underestimated.

For Hey U Guys

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New Review- Hinterland

 

HinterlandNominated for the Jury Prize at Indie Film Festival Raindance, Hinterland is first time director Harry Macqueen’s contribution to the British indie scene; a gentle, lilting film, that in parts is let down by it’s over-long scenes with not quite enough drama to maintain the viewer’s attention.

Harvey (Macqueen) and Lola (musician Lori Campbell) are childhood friends, reuniting after a long time apart. Lola has travelled the world, whilst Harvey has barely moved on- seemingly waiting, in part, for Lola’s return. They drive to a quaint cottage that Harvey’s parents own, and quickly fall in to reminiscing about their childhood. It’s platonic, although subtle hints and suggestive glances between the two suggest the possibility of something more.

The film’s greatest misgiving is that it never quite gets to the heart of what it is trying to achieve. The obvious differences in their character – Harvey the quiet, sensible type and Lola the exploring, spontaneous dreamer, are exciting because there is a natural conflict – how can two people, so similar in their early youth, and yet so different today, maintain their friendship? Is it only a friendship that they are after? Has too much changed? The truth, it seems, is interesting enough to ponder, but the conclusion reached is too subtle and unexplored to justify the run time.

In a further attempt to highlight the distance between them, Macqueen includes long scenes of near silence as the characters make their journey in to hills and back in time. But there isn’t enough going on in the first place to endure them, and the even the natural beauty surrounding them isn’t enough to maintain interest.
For a debut feature though, Hinterland is impressive. The chemistry between Harvey and Lola that morphs as the story progresses is natural and recognisable – there’s a genuine fondness and absorbing familiarity despite the awkwardness of spending so long apart. It is the interaction between the two of them that just about saves the film from feeling flat.

The photography is also outstanding, as the wild Welsh hillside that Harvey and Lola visited as youngsters is comforting and beautiful. The two are isolated, which forces them to push through their initial awkwardness, and relax in to their fondly remembered roles. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t quite achieve its aims, but it’s worth seeing; there’s certainly an exciting new talent in Harry Macqueen as a director- one can only hope that his next creation packs a slightly stronger punch.

 

Reviewed for Hey U Guys 

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New Review: We Still Kill The Old Way

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It’s very easy to see a title like ‘We Still Kill the Old Way’ and immediately feel prickly. It’s understandable that one may assume that it’s just going to be another example of the repeatedly churned out gangster flick destined for the supermarket bargain bin, but that just means that, for those more cynical viewers, the film is going to be something of a very pleasant surprise.
The film has a simple enough premise- a group of no good hoodie-wearing thugs attack and kill a pensioner. Unfortunately for them, the pensioner was a retired gangster, and his ageing cohorts want revenge, and will go to any lengths to get it.
What makes the film stand out amongst others of its genre is that it writer Dougie Brimson, along with director Sacha Bennett, have made a conscious effort to address the obvious changes in the gangster genre. If the gangster genre is anti-establishment and meant to be used as a social commentary, which traditionally it has, then there’s been very little to come out of British cinema in recent years; which is strange given the political climate, so it is exhilarating to see a film that finally does just that.
The two gangs- the youths and the pensioners, could almost come from two different films. The youths are of the Kidulthood, Ill Manors ilk (with some of the same cast) and the old boys could have been plucked from the Italian Job, Villain, or even the later Guy Ritchie numbers, and it’s this clash of ideals that serves the narrative. The older gang still believe in respect- being courteous and well dressed, whilst the youths run around causing havoc. However, this isn’t a case of ‘look at the youth today, the country is going down the pan’, it’s more of an observation of the two generations failure to communicate; and that is an essential issue that surrounds modern day Britain. Both sides are the bad guys, or the good guys depending on how you look at it. Both are anti-establishment, and have a common enemy in the police.
The film is, as ever, not without its problems. The cinematography is botched, with some attempts to be stylish that just come across as amateur, and the casting of the youths don’t do anything to dispel the myths that all teenagers from poor backgrounds fail in stringing a sentence together. There is however a perfect piece of casting in Danni Dyer, daughter of Danny, who seems to have taken the torch with ease and will undoubtedly be a staple in other films of a similar genre.
With a long run of films of this genre being genuinely awful, it’s refreshing to see something new and exciting that brings promise to the gangster flick. It’s a lot of fun, and whilst it’s totally corrupt morally, isn’t that what gangster films are meant to be anyway?

Review for HeyUGuys

 

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A Bloody Great Film- Herostratus

HersostratusThink of ‘60s British Cinema and you probably think of Alfie, Blow Up, Bond. You probably don’t think of Don Levy’s only feature Herostratus, and neither did I, until now. The film was awarded money from the BFI Experimental Film Fund, and is a hidden gem amongst the stylish exciting cinema that was beginning to emerge in the ‘60s.

Set in swinging London and loosely based on the Greek tale, Herostratus tells the story of Max, a young, disillusioned poet who decides to hire a marketing company to publicise his own suicide. Played by the relative unknown Michael Gothard, the film is a dark commentary on the greedy, selfish, image obsessed culture of the time (and indeed of any time), where literally anything can be bought for a price. Max’s narcissism and naïve ideas leave him vulnerable to Farson (Peter Stevens), the sharp, soulless marketing exec who knows exactly how to stroke Max’s ego in order to get exactly what he wants. The narrative is interjected with abstract scenes (a beautiful Helen Mirren makes an appearance as a sensual Goddess, to be druelled over and marvelled at) and often frightening and obscure snippets that reference sometimes a later part of the film, and other times something totally random and confusing.

The photography is as outstanding as any film in British cinema history, a perfect blend of an eerie London through a fog-filled lens, criss-crossing with bold, luminous and often repulsive images, it is at once totally sentimental and also dazzlingly different. As with many films of the era, it is obsessed with looking at London, and does so exquisitely.
The performances are sensational. The dialogue remains sparse and often stilted; the performers are exactly that- people, saying words that are totally shallow and empty, with the only sincerity coming from Farson’s secretary Clio, played by Gabriella Licudi. Clio is perhaps the only human in the whole tale; although she has a price, just like everybody else.
It’s a crying shame that this was the only feature from director Don Levy, his obvious talent is reminiscent of Nic Roeg, Joseph Losey and even Antonioni in style. Tragically, both Levy and Gothard committed suicide, with their careers never quite reaching the peaks of their peers. But the film deserves as much praise for its daring, original filmmaking as it does for its technically brilliant delivery. It is everything that a perfect film should be. It’s exciting, engaging, shocking and breathtakingly beautiful; a true masterpiece.

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The UK film industry-a problem

adulthood

NOTE: So I’m a little embarrassed. The other day I posted this article with the sole intention of highlighting an issue that has bothered me about the UK film industry for a while. Namely, the way that certain film genres and indeed issues in the industry, namely bullying, are often ignored by the mainstream media. You can see the full, unedited* article below. I understood that it was a tricky issue, particularly as I highlighted some accusations (important word there) that Adam Deacon had made against Noel Clarke. I want to repeat, just so it’s crystal clear, that I do not know either of them, and have no idea what happened.  I feel sad that Adam has been ignored, and that he clearly feels, rightly or wrongly, upset and angry by whatever it is that has happened. But what is also making me feel sad is the way that this article as been used as some sort of leverage to attack Noel Clarke. Adam Deacon is talented, good-looking actor with lots of fans who are young and impressionable and feel that it is OK to be abusive and offensive towards Clarke, with absolutely no context or understanding of what has happened. Not only is this not very clever or very nice, it is also BULLYING. To those of you who are older and should know better, please make sure you understand the content of this article before reposting it, I am happy to clarify it for you. The reason I have not deleted this article is because I still firmly believe in the issue I have raised. Many of you may scoff when I say that I loved Kidulthood, Adulthood, Green Street, The Business and the Football Factory and basically anything with Danny Dyer, and as long as there is scoffing going on, I will believe that I am right in what I’ve highlighted below.

*The only change that I have made is that I have changed the photo of the piece, which was originally of Deacon but is now of the both of them. Let’s hope they sort it out kids.

 Strolling through Twitter a few weeks back, I stumbled across Adam Deacon’s Twitter feed. He seemed pretty irate at the time, apologising to his followers about a supposed outburst he’d had regarding a matter that he promised to clarify. Then today, I read on Deacon’s Instagram that he’d been having trouble with director Noel Clarke. You can read what he said here, but to summarise, Deacon alleges without too much detail that Clarke has been trying to sabotage his career, referring to ‘psychopathic bullying’ that has been used to create a divide between not only Deacon, but numerous other people in his area of the British film industry.
Before I go on, I have to admit that I’ve not always been a champion of Deacon’s work. I watched Anuvahood with my then boyfriend, and was less than complimentary about the things I said. I was a fucking snob in my reaction to him winning the BAFTA Rising Star Award too, so maybe this is an atonement of sorts.
The issue that Deacon is raising is not unusual. Bullying happens in all areas of the film industry. It’s a tough sector to work in, the pay gap between the top and bottom is overwhelming. Ego’s fly about everywhere, people are stressed and overworked. Nearly all of us, particularly those in this industry can think of a boss or a senior colleague that have made us feel upset, nervous or just completely worthless. But Deacon is in a situation where he doesn’t have a PR breathing down his neck telling him what he can and can’t say, and he also doesn’t have anyone to go to that can help mediate the issue. And so he’spoken out.
Of course, I don’t know Adam Deacon or Noel Clarke. For all I know, Deacon could be lying through his back teeth, but actually, that’s not the issue here. Deacon aired his concerns 3 days ago. I only saw it because I have weird obsession with Fire in the Booth and similar channels, and Deacon did his bit recently for 1Xtra (if you like that kind of thing, or have no idea what I’m talking about, there’s an example here.) It seems to me, bizarre that such in important issue is going unreported. Whether or not you like Deacon’s work, the first thing that is undeniable is that he is someone who takes the industry incredible seriously. Deacon is from Hackney, East London. Anuvahood was his passion project. He co-wrote, directed and starred in it and got it in the cinemas and he’s nearly always been in work. And as a white, relatively privileged white woman living in Hackney, casual observation tells me that it’s a pretty hard place to climb out of if you were born here, which makes what he’s achieved all the more impressive. But one can’t help but wonder if this is part of the issue. To be fair to Clarke at this point, his films have also strived to represent the stories of those who, like Deacon, don’t always have a voice or a platform to speak out. But like those straight-to-DVD gangster films (again, a deep passion of mine), there seems to be an overwhelming snobbery to address them as anything other than hatchet-fodder at best; at worst, they are largely ignored. I’m not asking anyone to like those sorts of films, but it’s impossible to deny that the characters and stories being told are representative of real communities in the UK. Loach obviously does it best, Ill Manors and My Brother The Devil are also examples of films that are at least critically acclaimed, but they all are a valid part of our industry, and Deacon’s concerns, whether true or false, are valid too.
I can’t say whether there’s going to be a tectonic shift due to Deacon speaking out, but what is clear is that he shouldn’t be ignored. He has a large fan base, and has undoubtedly received support from the lads who think that his films are ‘well sick’, and the girls who think he is ‘well fit’, but the support should be coming from the industry that he is part of and has contributed to as well. I’ve no doubt that someone with his passion and enthusiasm will be OK, but what would be awful is if, like his Instagram post suggests, people like him get sidelined by bullies and snobs. Nobody wants a film industry saturated with one or two points of view, we should be striving for an industry that is representative of the all the cultures and communities around us, isn’t that the best thing about the UK anyway?

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’71- Interview with Jack O’Connell and Gregory Burke

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To mark the release of the exceptional debut feature from director Yann Demange, I caught up with lead actor Jack O’Connell and screenwriter Gregory Burke.

First things first- the comment in the script Derby and Nottingham-was that already in or did Jack put that in?
Jack: Well its blueprint was…
Gregory: Yeah it was a Yorkshire / Lancashire thing at first, but then obviously with Jack being a Derby lad, it was his prerogative really.
Jack: I was quite happy to make myself yet more Northern, but I’ve always been on the belief that my region isn’t really susceptible to cinematic coverage at all.
Gregory: It also proves that tribal conflicts are everywhere, there’s fault lines wherever you look, if you look hard enough.

Gregory, the film isn’t heavily bogged down in politics. When you were writing it, what made you decide to treat it as a sort of thriller?
Gregory: Well I’m not particularly interested in writing a film about Northern Irish politics, number one because I’m not Northern Irish, but also, I just wanted to do it from a squaddies point of view, because I thought that it was a thing that hadn’t really been covered. When I wrote Black Watch (Burke’s play about the conflict in Iraq) I found that there was this thing, particularly in drama where if you’re in a uniform, you’re either this poor little boy who is being lead to his death by his superiors, or you’re a robot-like thug who’s just there to kill people- but the Army isn’t like that. People join the Army for a myriad of reasons. Mostly they join for a job, but there’s lots of different reasons. It also contains lots of different types of people, it doesn’t just contain thugs or lost little boys. There are elements of that in Jack’s character, he’s absolutely looking for a home and a structure, and the Army know how to push those buttons on young men. They absolutely use these boys for a purpose that’s destructive. That’s the reason why I wanted to do it from a squaddie’s point of view, and of course there’s the back drop of the Troubles which I felt was relevant to our times that we’re living in now. Armies don’t fight armies anymore, armies fight civilians.

When writing from Gary Hook’s (Jack O’Connell) perspective, do you ever get worried about getting embedded in one point of view?
Gregory: Well in 1971, as the conflict went on, the British Army became more and more entrenched on the loyalist side but in ’68 when they first went, they went to protect the Catholics from loyalist paramilitaries. So the Army were at a pivotal point anyway on the early ‘70’s, kind of going from the initial role they were doing. The Army didn’t really know what they were doing at that point either, there wasn’t an infrastructure in place, and they didn’t really understand how to fight that kind of war. It was quite easy to steer clear of the politics, you don’t have time in 90 minutes to go back through the history anyway. Gary Hook is on the middle of it all, we just about wanted to get enough of it in so that we weren’t glossing over it and saying ‘that wasn’t happening’ but at the same time we couldn’t get bogged down in that.

When you’re writing, do you feel aware that you’re telling the story of a conflict where people who lived though it are still around?
Gregory: If I had made it a film about a soldier who had actually been killed in Northern Ireland, that you’re going to have that soldiers’ family saying ‘That was my son, you have no right to do that’. It’s about fictionalising it enough that you’re not actually telling someone’s story. It’s like any situation where you’re telling a real-life story, it has to be fictionalised enough to make the drama work.

Jack, as an Irishman yourself, were you happy with the way that the Irish people were portrayed?
Jack: It was key for me that neither side of the divide was depicted with any form of bias or prejudice I never once felt that the story had tried to sway my opinion. I read what is happening as the truth because to me, we’re in a real-life premise. I think it’s a credit to the casting too, but we didn’t only have the opportunity to tell their stories, but also to work with some of the most exciting young actors in Ireland.

It’s a really tense film to watch, was it that tense on the shoot too?
Jack: It’s even more tense, I’d argue. One thing you don’t have to experience in the cinema is how cold it was, and then they obviously spray me down with cold water to make me sweaty; I’d have been much happier providing my own sweat. If I wasn’t cold, I was extremely hot shooting the pursuit sequences in the middle of a fucking heatwave in Blackburn in March. I don’t deserve any extra credit for that, I knew what I was getting myself in to, but it’s a prerequisite for me; if you’re going to feel exhausted watching it, then something’s got to give on set.

Do you enjoy the more physical roles?
Jack: Yeah I suppose, there’s a lot I have to do between things to keep up that sort of level of stamina and that’s not so exciting. And so I probably do feel myself overdue a little bit more of a relaxed role but that’s unambitious you know? I’m actually craving the sleep deprivation and the hurt again. If I’m portraying people like Gary and Louis Zamperini (his role in Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’) I’m never going to hurt as much as they do and they made it through so I’m always dwarfed by their example a lot of the time, and that gives you a kick up the arse. There’s an emotional exhaustion too, so when you’ve got both of them to contend with, you’re really being made to work for your money. But I don’t feel like I’ve been pushed to my absolute extreme. It was hard enough, ’71, but it didn’t break me.

You considered joining the Army, was that something you brought to the role?
Jack: Yeah, it areas that go unnoticed you know i.e. the shape of my beret was taught to me in the cadets, and little things like that help me feel like a soldier. There were times if it was getting boring on set where I would just go and do some drill somewhere just to help stay in that sort of mind-set. But I haven’t looked back since becoming an actor I can tell you that much.

How deep to you go when preparing these roles?
Jack: As deep as you can really, but sometimes you’re battling against the elements too. Something like ’71, you’re filming on a residential area so you have the reality of 2013 constantly hindering your illusion of 1971. So I’m not sure how beneficial it is to be super rigid and strict about becoming method in that role but it does benefit me, certainly.

Gregory, did you have Jack specifically in mind when you were writing it?
Gregory: Well I probably didn’t went I was writing it initially, because I don’t really have time to think about anybody, I just think about the character, but actually it became quite obvious as I was I was writing it that if we weren’t going to get Jack then we’d be struggling.

There were some amazing young actors in the film, what was it like working with them?
Jack: I’m really susceptible to adopting youngsters on set! I remember a similar thing happening to me when I was a youngster and I really appreciated that leadership that was on offer and I don’t mean being nurtured either, sometime it was very effective for me when people were quite mean to me, and that would sometimes be more beneficial to me than feeling welcome. I try to steer away from that a bit, particularly in young Harry Verity’s case, I could sense him envisaging me as a bit of a brother by the end of it, and it’s tricky as well because these things finish and then you go your separate ways, and I’m only just getting comfortable with that and this kid’s around 10 years old. And then there’s young Corey McKinly too. I’m just in constant awe of these kids, and it does a lot for me, it educates me too. We had a strong cast there and as much as Yann had to keep the pace and had to make this exciting, it also relied on performances to make it human and I feel very flattered and fortunate that I was in there amongst the likes of Sean Harris and Killian Scott.

Are you both happy with the final film?
Gregory: I’m delighted actually, at the time of writing it I thought it was the least promising thing I was writing! But as it developed it was the quickest of all and it was quite a painless experience as writer. I think it’s brilliant, and it’s down to Yann and Jack, and so many people. And I’m chuffed with the reaction it’s had so far.
Jack: It was important for me that the same things that attracted me to the script were going to be the things that I celebrated as well. We are just depicting the truth and displaying the costs. Because someone is profiting from what we’re portraying here, making money out of that shit, and I think we’re duty-bound to portray that sensitively.

Originally published on Hey U Guys

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New Review: A Night at the Cinema in 1914

night-at-the-cinema-1914-1000x750To mark 100 years since the beginning of WW1, the BFI have released A Night at the Cinema in 1914. The idea behind the film is to recreate the experience of the average cinema goer at the time, and is a blend of newsreels and short films (features weren’t readily available at the time). There’s films such as ‘Austrian Tragedy’, reporting on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand with footage of the Austro-Hungarian royal family, mixed in with ‘Egypt and Her Defenders’, a travelogue of the landmarks of the country. Of course, no 1914 cinema outing would be complete without Charlie Chaplin, and in this instance A Film Johnnie rounds off the piece, ending on a slightly more uplifting note than how the programme begun – there was a war on, after all.

It’s certainly an exciting and interesting concept. Programming at the time was obviously not crafted the way it is now. Film was still in its infancy almost, and just the very act of being able to see images from far flung lands would have been excitement enough, let alone the opportunity to watch comedies and tales of adventure in a setting which for many would still have been a novel experience. The film is scored by Stephen Horne, one of Britain’s leading silent film composers, to ensure an authentic war-time experience.

The main issue with the film is that it is now being shown to a far more sophisticated audience. Whilst a lot of archive film takes short clips from many places that are cut to form a narrative that in itself forms an entirely different film altogether, the simple act of watching a series of programmes makes for a unique experience, it doesn’t necessarily make for an edge-of-your-seat watch. This of course, is down to the personal taste of the viewer, and the researchers have taken care to ensure that a variety of different films are shown, so at the very least, everybody should be able to take something away from it.

That said, the BFI’s dedication to the preservation, restoration and exhibition of such work can never be highly praised enough. It must be acknowledged that the very existence of the film, one that marks the heritage of our cinema, is something that we cannot underestimate or take for granted. To sit in a cinema 100 years later and watch Emmeline Pankhurst striding to petition the King is an experience that even 50 years ago, would not have seemed even possible. It’s a piece of social and cinematic history, and it’s absolutely remarkable.

Originally published on Hey U Guys

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