Friday, 30 July 2010


Murder! British style.

Oh, the glamorous life of a British gangster!

A guitar playing Yoga practitioner mafia boss reminiscing of the free love swinging 60s between interminable cups of tea, decorating the breakfast room and burying the bodies of their latest victims? The flower revolution in free fall? A down trodden terraced house in Brighton, badly needing a lick of paint, at least? A suspected grass shutting himself down in a bedroom in fear (justified) of his life, yet the ‘baddies’ refusing to kick the door down as it is Victorian? A family, both in the sense of a criminal fraternity and a blood related one, destroying itself in a fit of paranoia? An ending which is apparently closed, but in reality being as open as they come?

All of these are found in British thriller Down Terrace, a low budget family based film just released, a thriller different to any other I have seen. The theme underlying it is the paranoia that fuel the self-destruction of a family, and issues such as family bonds and hierarchy, betrayal, all the simmering tensions found in any suburban family coupled with those emanating from their criminal activities.

The first scene shows two men coming out of the Law Court building, a street sign in the foreground indicating, ominously, the way to the Police. We soon learn that they are Karl, just acquitted, and his father, Bill, the boss of the Brighton underworld. If I had met someone such as Karl in the street, I would have thought that he was an accountant rather than a hardened criminal - certainly he has dreams of being just a normal dad when he learns that Valda, his girlfriend, is pregnant. Will he be? Maggie, his mother and Bill’s wife, herself the daughter of a gangster as it is hinted at in the film, is at first a silent figure in the background, cleaning the mess made by the men, an impression produced by the tone of Bill’s voice when he asks her to make a cup of tea when they get to the reception gathering in their terraced house, soon turn out to be very much in the thick of things, a motherly figure with the blackest of souls.

They ponder who grassed Karl to the police, not realizing that, by doing so, they pressed the family’s self-destruction button. And what a self-destruction it was! From this low key beginning the intensity of the tension increases, between dashes of dark humour and comic situations, some of them being intentionally quite ridiculous, until the utterly unexpected climax... which is open.

Which poses the question: Could Down Terrace be the British Godfather?

The first characteristic of Down Terrace that struck me was how wordy it is: every space, every frame, every scene, is filled with words, the dialogue flickering between the deadly serious to the most banal, even when preceding a murder, British style. The second characteristic was how home bound it is, claustrophobic: most of the action, structured around the suspicion underlying the vibrant dialogue, develops either in the sitting, the breakfast room or in a bedroom. The third characteristic is that the story is told in sharp scenes, akin cinematic tableaux, each of them with a defined mood. These traits makes me think that this film could also work quite well on the stage.

The mood vibrates between the homely – such as when Maggie, the mother, undoes the tie knot of his son, Karl, after returning from the court – to the paranoid – when the family tries to work out who the informer (or informers) may have been, to the dark shadows of murder, some of them being actually comical in their execution, which left me wondering how this lot could have ever been successful as a criminal gang. Perhaps that explains their worries about London’s reaction to their underperforming operation, the visit of the London man being sinister in his understated appearance, particularly when, leaving, he has a short chat with Maggie – who turns as being as powerful as Bill in the local hierarchy, as she has the key to glue the whole family together.

The sound track brilliantly underscores the changing moods of Down Terrace, from the folksy to the paranoid, whilst the camera work conveys initially a sense of claustrophobic unease becoming increasingly tense as the film progresses.

Down Terrace in many ways subverts and redefines the genre. Gone are the glamour and machismo, having being replaced by the shoddiness of kitchen sink social realism and a black humour typically British. 

Brilliantly sharp, witty and original.

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Robin Hill, Ben Wheatley
Cast: Julia Deakin, Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Mark Kempner, Kerry Peacock, Kaly Peacock, David Schaal, Michael Smiley, Tony Way, Sara Dee
Original music: Jim Williams 

 At the ICA from July 30th to August 15th | ICA Cinema

Released in the UK on Friday 30th July 2010

Images and trailer © Metrodome Distribution.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema reviewed

Dir: Ralph Ziman   S. Africa   2010   1hr 59mins

Rehashing that old saying, the road to cinematic hell is paved with good intentions and bad films. I am afraid that Gansgter's Paradise: Jerusalema clearly falls into this category, in spite of Ralph Ziman's awoved aims of exploring the new Southafrica, where freedom fighters became gangsters, and the promised land did not materialize.

The main issue with this raw film is that it is trying to be too many thinks at once, and it does not succed in any of those. To be able to cinematically explore the complexities of life in the post-apartheid Southafrica requireds story telling and filming that are not present here. To have a clear view of what is going wrong with society is not enough to make a good film. Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema does not clearly explores the New Africa, is overlong, overwrought, badly filmed, and bad entertainment. It does not work in any level.

It ended up as a badly shot American gangster film set in Southafrica, with a few Zulu songs and dance added to give it a local character, and some appaling special effects which do nothing for the story telling.I found the quasi-didactic overtone of the voiceover to be particularly annoying.

I am afraid that this film does not deserve a longer review.

Friday, 2 July 2010

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN review/comments

I was so incensed about what has come out on the American remake of Let the Right One In, that I watched it again last night, for the 3rd or 4th time, I just do not remember. Every time I see it, I find some other delights in it, it is that kind of film: there is texture in it, not only a mechanically developed plot.

Lina Leandersson gives her character, Eli, that very endearing mix of tenderness and harshness, of the 12 year old girl who has being 12 for a long time, and who does not know if she is a she or a he (I understand that in the book, which I haven't read, Eli is actually a boy). Lina was able to give Eli this aura of androgyny that I doubt that Chloë Moretz can, the short trailer I saw is already indicating so.

Let the Right One In has that rare quality of being able to be read at several levels, an immediate one being that of high quality entertainment, a tense and gripping film which made me wanting not to miss any single frame of it, an atomic bomb could be exploding next to me and I still would continue watching it; and yet is a tender portrayal of the pains of growing up, if you allow me this cliché, of the insecurities about our place in the world, of the need to carve our niches; and about the gradual development of love and the acceptance of the other, in this case the vampire Eli. It is crucial for her that she has to be let in, otherwise she dies, as Oskar leans in a rather cruel scene, regretting his attitude later on.

The portrayal Eli is different to that of any other cinematic vampire, as she is pained for what she has to do, for her to live means the death of others, the opposite attitude of Oskar, who is already harbouring dreams of psycopathic murder, and yet, he still has that choice which is denied to her; and her lasting tenderness for her companions in her long never ending life, never being able to develop, imprisoned in the mind and body of a teenager who longs to be like anybody else is, and she can't, defines her uniqueness in the hagiography of vampires. The scenes where she gets sick after eating a sweet offered to her by Oskar, or when she refuses the offer of the Rubik cube (which she was able to solve in minutes) because she has no birthdays, not any longer, and therefore no presents, are indicative of this longing for having a life as anybody else, and her inability to do so: cats go berserk when  she is their vicinity, not counting the fact that she is nocturnal.

The poetic of longing is what defines this film, Oskar's psychopathic impulses to kill his tormentors at school are also a manifestation of his longing to have a normal life free of bullying, or the longing of those characters in a working class Swedish housing estate to some undefined goal that themselves do not know but it is still there hanging in their minds, and the longing for the sometimes horror of life to end. From this point of view, there is an exploration of the inner working of social groups, either at Oskar's school or in the housing estate outside Stockolm, and the psychopathic mind.

I reject the criticism uttered from some quarters that Tomas Alfredson exploited Lina Leandersson, criticism which, frankly, I don't understand. Is it because there some indication of nudity, although Lina is never, and I repeat that word, never shown naked in the film? Th only scene which could be construed to be exploitative, a dark and fast shot of Eli's frontal nudity when putting on a dress, a doll was used.

Don't take me wrong, this is not a depressing film, it made me laugh, cry, and, most importantly, feel the poetic of longing, the cinematography reinforcing this atmosphere. The tantalizing open ending adding to this feeling.

I fear that all these qualities will be lost in Let Me In, the American remake of the film. For one thing, Chloë Moretz is too fulsome an American girl, and too much of a female, to be able to convey the complexities and androgynous character of Eli, or Abby.