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By midlandsmovies, Sep 17 2018 08:29AM



Midlands Review - Vigilante Style (2018)


Dir. Edward James Smith


A Pictured Visions Production


Vigilante Style is a new independent feature film written, directed and starring regional filmmaker Edward James Smith. Starting out as a short film all the way back in 2013, the filmmaker developed sequences over many years which eventually became this feature-length production.


The film begins with the “Our Feature Presentation” logo from Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Grindhouse and this ‘Funky Fanfare’ combined with a fast-paced montage a la Guy Ritchie hints where the filmmaker’s influences lie.


It starts by using voiceover as it flashes backwards and forwards in time concerning events from 10 years ago and how they affect the present. Vigilante Gilmer Diamond (Edward James Smith himself) is captured by Alex Steele (Jon Peet) and with revenge on almost everyone’s mind and a wide set of criminal characters, the movie tries to balance multiple story threads in a seedy tale of deception.


However, that is easier said than done. Characters are not fully introduced or fleshed out and the story becomes a mix of confusing tales all explained using expositional dialogue.


And it’s unfortunate as the dialogue is one of the problems here owing to a sound mix that varies so wildly it’s difficult to concentrate on the matters on screen. With amazing HD cameras available, it’s such a shame to see a film with a lot of potential undermine itself with poorly recorded audio. And although the acting verges on being suitably over the top, all the performances are undercut by that poor audio production.


As characters get their comeuppance and gangs cross-paths with each other, we see an increase in violence with fights, shootouts and even a cricket bat making an appearance. Because it was filmed over many years (it was one of our first blogs back in 2014), maybe the filmmaker’s focus changed and so the movie’s broken narrative reflects those altered ambitions.



I enjoyed the Leicester locations of my home town and it was great to see the filmmakers utilise so many varied buildings and streets around the city to keep a variety to the proceedings. Yet filming around the city exacerbates the sound issues with city traffic, background hums and windy alleys all causing their own issues.


Smith throws in a lot of varied techniques in his fast-paced film though. Voice-over, freeze frames and subtitles are added to his guerrilla filmmaking style and the use of chapter titles again show a nod to Tarantino. Yet the good editing is undermined by a lack of cinematography as a huge percentage of the film looks like mobile-phone footage at times.


But in reality it keeps coming back to sound – at times a decent soundtrack is used from artists like Suicide Bees, Blake J. Carpenter and Soul Release – but the dialogue and conversations need much more work. Better mixing and some ADR would go a long way – especially with the voiceover – and improve the viewing experience 10-fold.


Clearly a passion project, it has the vibe and seemingly the budget of a student film and it wears its b-movie credentials proudly on its sleeves. In many respects it seems more like a film that was good fun to make and I admired the passion of a group of friends getting a project together. However, willing friends doing you a lot of favours is one thing, trying to pull it together over a number of years is another.


And so, although it’s all undertaken with a lot of devotion you just have to try and ignore the lack of technical expertise. A number of different quality issues – some sections underlit, others overlit – continue to show a lack of consistency and ultimately it pays the price of its cheap shortcuts.


Maybe it’s a case of running before it can walk. Vigilante Style has flashes of editing and story proficiency but they are drowned out by some sloppiness and that one fatal flaw I keep coming back to – the sound and its design.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even with a low budget a filmmaker needs to know what their budget is, and of course the limitations that brings. It’s a badge of honour to say you’ve made a feature film but sometimes the filmmaker is stretching that little bit too far with the resources at hand.


Expanding what I would imagine was an inventive short into a full feature is no easy task and Vigilante Style shows that good intentions can only go so far with a passionate but slapdash approach. More Neil Breen than David Lean, Smith has stretched a short concept to breaking point and only the most hardcore exploitation fans need apply.


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Aug 29 2018 06:55PM



Outlawed (2018)


Directed by Adam Collins & Luke Radford


Outlaw Productions


“Who do you think you are? Bruce Willis?”


So says one cop in new Nottingham film Outlawed. And by all accounts, co-director, co-writer and main star of the film Adam Collins – also a former Royal Marine Commando – may just be exactly that in his new flick which does a damn good imitation of Die Hard and similar retro actioners.


We open on Nottingham in 1996 as we hover over the city at night before unhinged criminal Harry Archibald (Ian Hitchens) executes the city’s Mayor in an alley in a ruthless power move. But the whole incident is witnessed which sets in motion the story of Outlawed.


A local film of some flair, we are then whisked away to Afghanistan – via a CGI plane – and the first thing to note is the amazing production values of what could have been a homemade affair.


As the titles roll we get a parachute drop, a shoot-out and an impressive award ceremony. Whatever little money the filmmakers have is all up on screen and whilst the accents keep it firmly a Midlands film, the movie has far more Hollywood sheen than I was expecting.


This is partly the result of the fantastic professional look from the five cinematographers. The shadows, the lighting, the silhouettes and even the daytime shooting from the combined efforts of Robert Beck, Troy Edige, Will Price, Nico Turner and Louis Vella all make it incredibly visually interesting. They film Nottingham landmarks such as Trent Bridge, Nottingham City War Memorial and Nottingham Council House with great skill from the start.


Back to the story, we get to find out that commando Jake O’Neill returns from war to be offered a deal with Archibald now in his new position of power. After refusing he struggles to adjust to normal life and when he finds his girlfriend cheating on him, his life begins to spiral out of control.


However, when a girl from his past (Jessica Norris as Jade Roberts) contacts him to investigate her father’s death, he agrees but soon after a failed rescue mission in which a young boy loses his life, Jake completely self-destructs in orgies of drink and drugs. The film’s acting is solid but there are times when clichéd dialogue slips in a bit too often (“I’m not cut out to play happy families”, “welcome to the party” and “there’s no school like the old school”). These are quirky nods to other action films but seemed a bit too familiar in their repetition.


However, it’s the action – also influenced by 80s and 90s classics – that is most impressive here. A deal-gone-wrong at a car yard that ends in a violent shootout with machine guns and explosions and is impressively handled. And as the narrative steamrolls ahead – albeit a bit messily – there’s frankly no time to get bored at all.


A sequence of commandos tackling an armed group of hostage-takers filmed in an abandoned factory has echoes of Robocop and slews of bloodied guts hark back to Verhoeven’s other brutal classic Total Recall. A nice Wilhelm scream is a sly nod to old Hollywood stunt-work yet leads us to the amazing sound mixing. Outlawed has expertly handled the difficult balancing act of complex explosions and gun shots alongside the dialogue and is a joy to the ears as well as the eyes!


From a snow-covered graveyard to an impressive church, the sheer variety of visuals throughout is spectacular for this level of filmmaking. Only an operation room betrays the film’s production values. Yet, as we pick up Jake in his most dire of times, his dismissal means he heads to a casino to gamble. And with his tuxedo and liquor, Adam Collins could easily be considered for the next James Bond. Some racy sex scenes are sprinkled throughout and Collins’ natural charm on screen works well with the confidence shown behind the camera where he has utilised different influences from a genre he’s clearly passionate about.


And whilst the script could do with some polish, the film’s ending is a spectacular revenge action sequence as Jake rescues his loved one from the clutches of the villain. Getting to this point we have seen all the right pieces for a Hollywood actioner – sex, style, seedy goings on as well as guns, bullets and explosions. However, this breath-taking finale will satisfy and then some. The full rampant final sequence includes motorcycle stunts, snipers, fist fights, people on fire as well as grenades and a rocket launcher (!)


Filmmakers who feel the leap from the local to Hollywood is too huge a barrier should study Outlawed. With plenty of inventive filming techniques, the film is the kind of movie that can see filmmakers move from the independent scene to larger studio-helmed projects.


One of the hardest things for me here is to review the film as being at the high end of the low budget local film community OR the low end of the high budget film community. It straddles both which is actually a huge compliment. Fans of Olympus Has Fallen will enjoy this, but the film demonstrates how local filmmakers are no longer showing them to “just their mates” but creating movies vying for position on your shelf or in your Netflix playlist.


Certainly not without some flaws – most of which come from a handful of over-used genre clichés – Outlawed should be seen as a high benchmark for regional filmmakers looking to create feature films that can compete in the big leagues. Tackling a genre – action – that requires a high degree of skill and dexterity on technical aspects like stunts, special effects and fight choreography is also no easy task. The fact that Outlawed delivers plenty of all of these in spades is testament to the startling cinematic talents of all the incredible cast and crew. And action fans will love the high-octane thrills and shattering action all the way through.


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jul 12 2017 05:55PM



SOCKS AND ROBBERS


“Darned criminals, stitched up good and proper!”


Midlands Movies uncovers one of the region’s most surreal premises as we take a look at upcoming comedy 'Socks and Robbers'.


‘Socks and Robbers’ is a short dark comic heist film coming in from Nottingham which follows a gang of daring, sock headed robbers who hold up a bank.


However, what the robbers don’t know is that one of them is an undercover cop. Directed by the award winning director David Lilley who says the film boasts “more twists than pages”, ‘Socks and Robbers’ is described as a rollercoaster of a story that will keep audiences guessing to the very end.


With a planned release for 2017, this Midlands film spans multiple genres and is part-gangster, part-horror but all comedy and will be released via Loonatik and Drinks productions. This group of filmmakers make a variety of short films and although they say they “don’t make money”, they add that “often people watch our films and say nice things”.


Along with David Lilley, Stephen Gray forms the creative core of Loonatik & Drinks and the duo have been working together for over 15 years, first on music and then film projects. Initial collaborations were loosely planned and informal but over the past couple of years they have worked even closer together with both being fans of the cult B-movie genre and classic horror fiction.


BIFA Nominated in 2006 and winner of a Cofilmic Audience Award in 2011, the Nottingham friends have taken their style for this film from genre classics such as ‘Fargo’, ‘Reservoir Dogs’, ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘The Mighty Boosh’.


The film will be produced by Jenn Day and the whole production can be followed on the official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/socksandrobbers/about/?ref=page_internal


Also check out theLoonatik and Drinks page for info on previous projects, watch previous shorts and more: http://www.loonatikanddrinks.com


And you can view David Lilley's director showreel below on VIMEO:




By midlandsmovies, Apr 14 2017 10:07AM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog - Part 1


Passengers (2017) Dir. Morten Tyldum

This new science fiction film not only tackles space but focuses on questionable moral decisions as a star ship heads to a new planet before a malfunction sees Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wake from hypersleep 90 years too early. Despite his efforts, the isolated engineer is unable to fix his pod and with his only company being Michael Sheen’s android bartender, he decides to wake up another passenger for company.


Claiming her pod malfunctioned too, he revives Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora who accepts her inevitable fate eventually as well. The film’s interesting premise then turns to rom-com territory as they work together and go on dates even though he’s the instigator of her inevitable death sentence. A Best Production Design nomination at the Oscars is more than deserved as the mix of Apple-esque design along with a great swimming pool sequence keeps the deep space visuals suitably awe-inspiring.


[Spoiler]. Eventually the film returns to its darker roots as Aurora finds out the truth and their relationship becomes as doomed as the failing ship yet it’s too little too late. Having to work together to save both their lives they eventually fall back in love. And here’s where the problem lies. Indiana Jones-alike Pratt has forced a death sentence on another human yet the film feels the need to have a soppy wrap up that sees our heartthrob heroes fall back in love. It’s honourable to see an original script getting the green light in Hollywood whilst getting 2 of the biggest stars on the planet (natch) doesn’t hurt your chances. However, with complex themes and multiple thought-provoking ideas ditched in favour of blockbuster action and an amorous narrative, I found myself wishing for something a bit deeper than the glossy end product. A fine but frustrating trip. 6/10


Death Race 2050 (2017) Dir. G. J. Echternkamp

A satiric sequel to the 1975 original, Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 attempts to recreate the black humour of the former but using his name alone is enough for most film-fans to know where this feature will be heading. The level of quality audiences can expect is obvious from such a combination and it is clear what will be delivered. And deliver on that level it certainly does. The first 20 minutes or so a TV presenter introduces each driver and their background which is reminiscent of wrestling characters and, if you didn’t already know, these contestants are awarded points for killing people with their racing vehicles. Tagging on a political angle that the cars are in fact a kind of population control, this idea is almost entirely ditched for awfully filmed and constructed “action” sequences and terrible green-screen car conversations.


The dialogue is abysmal and embarrassingly delivered but I suspect all these choices are completely intentional. Films such as this and the Sharknado series sadly miss the point of hilarious bad films – which are all the more funny when being earnest. These deliberate and ironic attempts to create an appalling film miss that point entirely. If I had to choose one highlight it would be Burt Grinstead’s Jed Perfectus, an antagonist so over the top that I couldn’t help but warm to his shallowness and campiness straight from depths of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.


As an aside, the Wikipedia entry for the plot runs to 650 words but boils down to ‘cars killing people for entertainment’. If that sort of thing done on a zero budget with sub-pantomime performances is your thing then you’ll probably enjoy Death Race 2050. For the rest of us it’s simply a case of judging how much alcohol and how many friends needed at your home in an attempt to even get through this movie. Deathly boring 4/10


The Void (2017) Dir. Steven Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie

With a background in producing low-budget, 80s-style horror-comedies, the directors ditch (some) of the more comedic elements from their previous outings to bring us The Void. This tale of terror follows a group of disparate characters holed up in a hospital after being surrounded by a KKK-alike clan of hooded menaces. The characters are a mix of criminals, vigilantes, cops, hospital workers and patients. These differences allow for a neat mix of conflicted drama as their separate personal journeys end up being tied together in their shared predicament.


With a focus on real-life special effects, the filmmakers wear their influences very much on their sleeve (obviously John Carpenter for a number of reasons) but their reliance on animatronic gore rather than CGI should be highly commended. This choice is not just for the retro-fans but modern audiences will hopefully get behind the real-life monsters rather than cartoony digital effects. Tentacles and facial disfigurements maintain the level of grotesqueness but as the film spiralled towards a more fantastical element, I began to lose interest. The acting is so-so and the story becomes too convoluted when I thought it could do with a dose of From Dusk Til Dawn straightforwardness.


Definitely aiming at the b-movie Carpenter crowd, the film should be praised for its originality as a new idea despite its HEAVY influences from the past. It’s also good to see its non-reliance on an existing franchise or named property. That said though, with so much harking back to the past, I felt the film’s ideas had been done better elsewhere and the conclusion’s mystical finale was a step-too far into the void for me. The Void ultimately becomes an honourable attempt that sadly fails to live up to the predecessors it borrows from. 5/10


Live by Night (2017) Dir. Ben Affleck

Based on the 2012 book by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island), writer/director Ben Affleck tackles bootlegging in Florida as Irish gangster Joe Coughlin who walks a tightrope between warring factions in the 1930s. Coughlin throws himself in at the deep end as he falls in love with Emma (Sienna Miller) who is the mistress of a Boston gang boss played by a nasty Robert Glenister. When he is blackmailed by the mafia about their liaison, he ends up committing a bank heist before Miller sets him up for a beating. After a spell in prison and with few options left he joins the mafia’s bootlegging business in Tampa which is still fighting the Boston faction over turf. Keeping up?


Well, the movie actually does a good job of setting this up but in half an hour, things move very swiftly. In fact, sometimes this is far too swiftly as characters enact a series of narrative set pieces rather than developing naturally. As Affleck settles into Florida, we settle into the movie and I found the film hit solid ground once it simplified the story as he brings gambling and booze to the south. Crossing paths with the KKK, his problems never end and a rather strange side plot of redemption involving a Sheriff’s daughter (a suitably brilliant turn from Elle Fanning) barely affects the story in any meaningful way.


The film’s final shoot out is exciting and after 2 hours I was surprised to find how much I was on Affleck’s side after all his silly decision making. If anything, the audience may just want something positive to happen to his down-at-luck doofy dunce. More Gangster Squad than Goodfellas, Live by Night is a fine Friday night distraction but is ultimately unmemorable in most departments. It captures the sleaze and some morbid inevitability of the gangster genre and there are some gruesome sequences which may keep the more macabre fan in their seat. Overall though, with this, The Accountant and his so-far disappointing Batman-related movies, I couldn’t help but yearn for the simplicity and unfussiness of Affleck’s masterful Oscar-winning Argo. 6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Feb 19 2017 09:35PM



After covering 2015 film The Taxi Midlands Movies hitches another ride to talk to Worcestershire based filmmakers TestaRossa Productions about their latest project.


The Taxi’s writer-director Fernando Maffei is now deep in production on Artichoke, a brand new English/Italian crime film shot in Worcester. The story concerns a Mafia hitman who is sent to England to do a job for an old boss but who ends up having his loyalties violently tested.


Fernando and his Midlands-based crew have now wrapped on their first feature and are currently in post-production where the Kidderminster-based filmmaker has again worked with producer Lawrence Donello from Worcester. Aside from The Taxi, the duo have worked on several short films including Who’s There and Homeland all of which were shot in the region.


A thoroughly Midlands cast is led by Jetinder Summan (Holby City, Doctors) as well as emerging talent Greg Hobbs (Doctors, Who's There) Sophie Canare (Who's There, Homeland) Francesco Tribuzio (Age of Kill, The Taxi) and Worcester's own Hollywood connection Vincenzo Nicoli (Alien 3, The Dark Knight) .


Using a micro-budget and a mostly local crew, the team did not limit themselves to the region alone and went as far to enlist the help of notable Director of Photography Lisa Muzzulini who spends her time between UK, NY and Berlin.


And finally, make-up artist Charlotte Pingriff (PrettyScary Youtube channel) has created a host of aesthetic designs including bleeding statues, bruised faces and also assisting with the special effects for the film whilst Lawrence and Fernando hope the feature will generate further opportunities for local film technicians.


“We would like artists to get to work in the industry by making high end features locally which will pave the way for them to work on bigger budgeted features such as those shot recently in Midlands including Spielberg's Ready Player One and Michael Keaton's American Assassin currently filming in Birmingham”.


And with talk of a film studio being built by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, Taboo) the opportunities can only increase, with the producers of Artichoke also believing strongly in promoting the region as a film friendly destination.


“We had an amazing crew who were pushed to their limits on such a tight schedule but they delivered”.


Once fully completed, Artichoke hopes to be selected into film festivals worldwide as well as ultimately securing distribution. And following that, Lawrence and Fernando even have their next film lined up (LUCIO) AND their next feature (BARGAIN) which has been the culmination of several years work.


To find out more about Artichoke please follow on their official Facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/artichokefilm

By midlandsmovies, Feb 16 2017 06:30PM



Essex Heist (2017)

Dir. Steve Lawson

Creativ Studio


From a self-confessed filmmaker who hasn’t seen a modern British gangster film as well as filming this movie entirely in the Midlands region, Leicester director Steve Lawson is a brave man taking on new flick Essex Heist. However, he does a pretty spot on job of recreating the wide-boy bravado of a host of ‘mockney’ gang flicks even without the previous experience of the genre.


We follow Jez of Prestige Motors who works for gang boss Terry Slade with cheeky mechanics Clive and Daveyboy as they do dodgy deals on motors. Hearing a story from Andy (“who came down from Nottingham”), he knows that his boss is on his way through town (down from Nottingham as well of course, ha ha) with cash that is just asking to be stolen.


With Snatch-esque scratched out freeze frames and a few flashes of skin, Essex Boys is aiming at a very specific demographic and mostly hits the right notes if you’re a fan of geezers and girls.


A long opening conversation against a grey brick wall is not the most engaging way to open your film but sets up all the characters yet it’s hilariously obvious, as someone born in Essex myself, that most of the actors haven’t even set foot in the county. Their accents ranging from the North to Northern and as far down as the Midlands.


The film does liven up with the heist itself – in many ways the film could have (or should have) started at this point – and with quick pans and handheld camera the audience will feel more engaged with the visual style used here. When the obligatory heist goes obligatory awry, the film sets up a possible double-cross as the gang try to find where the money has gone after the large sum is replaced by blank pieces of paper.


Some post-heist warehouse torture and gun stand-offs echo similar scenes in Reservoir Dogs as the gang start to accuse each other and fall apart as they fight over the whereabouts of the missing cash. A few fun fist fights are littered throughout and the director throws in a large amount of blood and splatter too.


Sadly, this film didn’t entirely warm to me owing to the unconvincing characters, who are forced to deliver long lines of dialogue to explain plot rather than the script showing it to us, whilst the inclusion of stock music rather than a hip soundtrack is a bit of a misstep.


As a piece of local filmmaking though it is admirable again to see a local director spreading their wings into new territories; here Lawson is building upon chase drama Survival Instinct and creature feature KillerSaurus. He’s aware of the genre – cheeky (then violent) mechanics, lots of swearing, machismo, voiceovers and gang loyalty are all here is spades and help sell the illusion.


As the film twists to its conclusion, the obvious low-budget nature of the film either becomes part of its charm or a limitation that brings the film down but this will depend on your pre-disposition to silly b-movie thrills. This lack of depth will allow genre fans to enjoy Essex Heist's superficial action-drama about angry young men scrapping but may frustrate others with its lack of bona fide charisma.


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 26 2016 09:10AM

A splurge of talent comes to Leicester in gangster film musical Bugsy Malone


Released in the summer of 1976, Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone is a musical gangster film set in New York in the 1920s with a cast of only child actors and this new Curve Community Production brings that Jazz age vibe to the Leicester theatre stage.


Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, the show takes the music of songwriter Paul Williams and tells the story of washed up boxing promoter Bugsy Malone as he flirts with aspiring singer Blousey Brown amidst a backdrop of a city-wide gang rivalry between Fat Sam and newcomer Dandy Dan and his hoods.


The original 70’s film was Parker's feature-length directorial debut and introduced actor Scott Baio (later of Happy Days fame) as well as a 13-year old Jodie Foster as Tallulah. At the time of filming, all of the cast were under 17 years old.


For this local production, director Nick Winston has brought along his unique choreography previously used in other film-related shows such as Legally Blonde and Grease to design a fantastic piece which showcases Leicester’s brightest young talent. Taking on everything from “Fat Sam's Grand Slam" speakeasy showtune to upbeat "So You Wanna Be a Boxer?" the adolescent actors encapsulated the music and prohibition vibe in all its glory.


In a whirl of gangsters and guns - for the uninitiated, the splurge guns fire kid-friendly whipped cream – the community cast and orchestra undersold their talents as an ‘amateur’ company and delivered the goods in all the important areas. The modern Smooth Criminal-influenced speakeasy dance number complimented the Charleston bopping as showgirls danced on tables whilst the acting of Alfie Bright (Dandy Dan) and Joel Fossard-Jones as the hero Bugsy Malone were particular standouts.


The acting was top notch across the board though as Arlo Mulligan-Vassel (Fizzy) delivered a brilliant solo rendition of “Tomorrow Never Comes” early in the show whilst Harvey Thorpe encapsulated a superb sleazy (Fat) Sam and Amica Kuroda (Lena) almost stole the show as a diminutive but strong loudmouth singer at an audition.


Special note should go to the stage design. A series of elevated train lines (Chicago’s infamous ‘L’ track) alongside a huge skyscraper-like video board allowed the audience to be whisked away to different parts of the city – even at times becoming a visual printing press for the narrative’s news style. As well as these impressive visual designs, the display was a practical prop too with some ‘screens’ opening up as windows and doors adding physicality to the stage as well. At times the smoky silhouettes of the dark city streets were straight from a film noir further enhancing the play’s dazzling cinematic quality.


This show’s success mirrors the film’s achievements where it gained award nominations including Best Motion Picture, Best Score and Best Song at the Golden Globes and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song Score. Alan Parker received the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, and a nomination for Best Direction too.


Back to the stage though, Bugsy Malone is a phenomenal success – it being one of my favourite musicals may have made me slightly biased – but the costumes, music and especially the delivery of song and dance numbers by the whole cast made this a magical and marvellous “Malone” night to remember. Check it out while you still can.


Midlands Movies Mike


Bugsy Malone can be caught at The Curve from Friday 19th August — Sunday 28th August



By midlandsmovies, Apr 10 2016 09:13PM

New writer Guy Russell took a trip to Derby's QUAD Cinema for their season of Hong Kong crime films and took a look at a film Tarantino described as "the best film of the year" - 2005's Election. Read his thoughts on this Asian crime classic below...


Election (2005) Dir. Johnnie To


This thrilling Hong Kong crime picture from infamous director Johnnie To commands your attention from the first minute and never let’s go. “Election” pits two gang leaders against each other, each vying for the top position within their Triad organisation. When Lok (Simon Yam) comes out successful, his unorthodox rival Big D (Tony Ka Fai Leung) refuses to accept the defeat threatening Lok and others with an inevitable street war.


Many critics argue that To is Hong Kong’s answer to Scorsese, a compliment that is hard to shrug off seeing as both filmmakers have spent a large part of their career directing stylish gangland epics.

2005’s Election is no different.


Staples of gangster films are on exhibition here, honour, brotherhood and loyalty. The violence however sets To’s “Election” apart from the others, rarely do guns come into the fore in this film instead rivals are placed in wooden crates and purposefully fired from the top of a mountain.


Substituting gore and bloodshed for traditional and simple torture techniques “Election” focuses on shocking its audience with the history and the motives of these characters rather than with shock treatment. Also in a scene to rival To’s American counterpart Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” famous ‘who’s funny’ scene, a gang member is jokingly told to eat a porcelain spoon along with his meal which he does in a strikingly confident manner.


Shot in a stylistic and vibrant manner by Cheng Siu-Keung, the cinematography succeeds in showing how beautiful China and Hong Kong are. The freedom of the countryside contrasts against the seemingly growing decay of the streets that are filled with garish karaoke bars and strip clubs.

As I said earlier, the violence displayed in the film makes the viewer aware of how different the film is, the story and its themes are served the same way.


What’s interesting is that the film spends a large amount of time with the many captains within the triad discussing who is to become the next chairman of the organisation. The inner workings of the Triads will fascinate those who also find other infamous gangs interesting.


It’s refreshing to see a Film or TV show dedicate itself to showing the hierarchy and politics of these morally absent characters. Not since David Chases ‘The Sopranos’ have I seen such a project show so much interest in exploring the world of its subject matter. Standout performance of this film belongs to the unstable and ambitious Big D played by Tony Ka Fai Leung, his performance is anchored by the quiet and focused Lok (Simon Yam). Leung plays Big D like a hyperactive child, his goals become more unachievable as his temper grows.


The only disappointing aspect of the film is it ends up feeling like a set up for a more explosive sequel, the war that is constantly being threatened throughout the film never comes to fruition which could frustrate a viewer expecting a violent gangland thriller.


It was a joy watching this film recently as part of Derby QUAD’s Hong Kong Crime Season, especially as it was screened in the glorious 35mm. There is plenty on offer here to quench the thirst of any film fan and if you’re like me and missed this in 2005 I would highly recommend this gem of a film.


8/10


Guy Russell


QUAD is Derby’s centre for art and film, on the Market Place in Derby city centre. QUAD is a gallery, cinema, café bar and workshop that anyone can use. QUAD is a partnership between Derby City Council and Arts Council England.

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