I’ve just heard the sad news that the legendary DJ Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson passed away this morning. His influence on the music and clubbing experience of my formative years, and beyond, has been huge.
From listening to him on the pirate radio station, Kiss FM, as I drove around South East London in my school mates’ souped-up cars or on mix-tapes at brilliant/dodgy house parties, when I was aged about 15/16 years old onwards; to the amazement and joy of being able to see and dance to him live at clubs such as Bar Rumba, Bagleys, Ministry of Sound and the Blue Note.
Mr Paul ‘Trouble-funk’ Anderson was undoubtably a core part of the soundtrack of my youth and beyond. I must admit, some of the years – and club nights – have kinda blurred into a one, but the feelings of euphoria and awe that he consistently delivered remain as sharp and wonderful as ever. In fact, the memories are making me smile right now, while I type.
Massive respect to writer-director, Debbie Tucker Green, for her play ‘ear for eye’, performed at the Royal Court Theatre by an outstanding cast.
A whip-smart, often poetic, sometimes funny, definitely poignant look at current and historic racism, oppression and double standards in the UK and US, and demonstrating the long-lasting, far-reaching impact.
So many elements resinonated about life today but particularly impactful was a reminder of the not-so-long-ago segregation laws across the US – which were punishable by imprisonment and which really made me think that it’s no wonder some white people (white nationalists) truly believe they’re superior. It was ingrained into legislation and everyday thinking and then passed down by their grandparents…
Plus the British Slave Code, imposed on its colony of Jamaica (where my mum’s from) which essentially stopped black people from being self sefficient, e.g. preventing ‘negros’ from owning anything, or hunting for their own food, or leaving their ‘owners’ vecinity without written permission. Which makes me think that any positive discrimination which takes place today – something that I’ve benefited from but sometimes struggle with – is totally justified. It really wasn’t a level playing field, in any way, for many, many years.
The film opens with a black family sitting around the dinner table. Mother – Lisa (played by Regina Hall), father – Mav (Russell Hornsby), a teenage boy – Seven (Lamar Johnson) and 16-year old girl – Starr (Amandla Stenberg) as well as a young boy – Sekani (TJ Wright). The father is giving the kids ‘the talk’. Mum tries to brush it off, save it for another day. But dad is insistent. He’s determined to protect his children. So, he asks them again. What do they do if they’re in a car that gets stopped by the police? All three kids know the answer. And show him. They put their hands on the imaginary car dashboard. They don’t move an inch. Do absolutely nothing to give a policeman any reason to get nervous and start shooting.
Yes, we’re in the United States of America.
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) and her boyfriend, Chris (K.J. Apa)
Mav and Lisa were childhood sweethearts. Apart from one small hiccup, when they broke up for a short while, they’ve been together for donkey’s years and their love for each other and their family is rock solid. The only thing they disagree on is where they live. Lisa wants to get out of their neighbourhood, Garden Heights, to escape the violence. Whereas Mav believes in staying faithful to your roots and your community. So, they’ve stayed put – but compromised by putting Starr into Williamson Prep, a private school in a posh district. A school where the kids don’t carry weapons, like they do in Garden Heights. Starr’s a smart cookie, works hard, can get on with anyone and fit into anywhere. But it does mean that she leads two different lives, using two different personas. There’s ‘Garden Heights Starr’ and ‘Williamson Starr’. At school, she has a great gang of girlfriends and a lovely, adoring boyfriend. All of whom are white. That isn’t really a problem – although, she has been putting off taking her boyfriend home, despite his numerous requests to meet her parents. One weekend, after Starr’s old friends from home have been teasing her about her ‘other life’ and never hanging out anymore, she agrees to go to a house party with them. There she bumps into an old friend, Khalil, her first ‘boyfriend’ when she was growing up. Just as they’re catching up, gunshots ring out and everyone at the party scatters. Khalil gets Starr into his car and drives them both away. Once they’re at a safe distance, they relax and start talking, reminiscing and enjoying each other’s company – until they’re pulled over by police.
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) and Khalil (Algee Smith)
What follows sets off a massive chain of events that forces Starr to decide how far she will put herself in danger to fight for justice for her friend, whilst also drawing out the casual racism of some of her Williamson friends. It shines a blindingly-bright light on the impact of police brutality and of violence from members of the community, plus demonstrates how unconscious bias can sneak into everyday thinking.
At one point earlier, Khalil is playing Tupac in his car and when Starr teases him, he explains the late rapper’s philosophy to her: The ‘THUG life’ tattoo and saying that Tupac was so well known for, actually stands for ‘The Hate U Give’. The longer version being, “The Hate U Give little kids fucks everyone”. Tupac was referring to the cycle of violence that stems from young children growing up witnessing and experiencing violence – from official authority figures, to local gangsters – which leads them, in turn to lead a violent life, too. The background sound is me, hearing the nail being hit firmly on the head. (No sarcasm intended, I’m genuinely overwhelmed by the spot-on simplicity of it.)
Throughout the film, Mav is a man put to the test. Giving all he’s got, trying to protect his family from both the police and the local gangsters, and all the while also trying to set a good example for them. In turn, Starr’s double-life comes to a head, as it becomes impossible for her to keep the two strands separate – whether she wants to or not.
To say that this film is ‘deep’ feels trite. But it really is.
I hadn’t heard of Tupac’s THUG life philosophy before this. I’m ashamed to say I never realised that’s what it meant, and had simply assumed that he was glorifying the gangster life, when actually it was the opposite. No wonder people think he was a genius.
The Hate U Give is packed full of emotion and the message it carries couldn’t be stronger or more poignant.
Yes, there is much joy and positivity to be got from the family life that we see Lisa and Mav give their kids, and the friendship and young love that Starr has with her mates and boyfriend. But, ultimately, this film is filled with moments of raw fear, anger and heartbreak. Moments that will make you want to march. Moments that will make you want to cry.
Beautifully directed by George Tillman (who also directed The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, which I reviewed five years ago and loved) the cast is outstanding, in particular Amandla Stenberg as Starr and Russell Hornsby as Mav. But, really, I could name them all.
Interestingly, this screenplay – written by Audrey Wells – is based on a young adult book of the same name, by Angie Thomas. Right now is where’d I’d normally quip that ‘that young people have never had it so good…’ but, after watching this, you realise the multitude of pressures and influences they face. And the responsibility we adults have to do better by them.
It kicks off with an extensive, frenetic trigger-warning, advising that the film – set around the lives of four American high school girls – contains pretty much everything that could freak out the squeamish or easily-offended. Essentially, strap yourselves in, viewers. Beverley Hills 90210, this most definitely is not!
To really nail the point, Lily’s voice-over tells us that this is the story of how her home town of Salem “lost its mother-fucking mind!”
And what an understatement that turns out to be.
Lily, Bex, Sarah, and Em – brilliantly acted by Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra – are four ultra-modern, attractive and popular adolescent BFFs who do the usual things that ultra-modern, attractive and popular adolescent BFFs do: Hang out at each other’s houses, hang out at school, talk about boys and boyfriends – “Guys who don’t eat pussy in this day and age are borderline psychopaths” – go to house parties, take recreational drugs with their mates and send illicit sex-texts.
But when someone starts hacking the mobile phones and computers of prominent people in the town, releasing all of their messages, images and internet searches and revealing all sorts of secrets, things get pretty damn crazy, pretty damn quickly.
Wonderful writing and direction by Sam Levinson are complemented by brilliant cinematography by Marcell Rév and editing by Ron Patane, using multiple split screens, camera techniques and points-of-view. This smart, fast-paced, innovative movie is about so much more than just some hot girls in short skirts, titillating viewers. Despite what the guy squirming next to me in the cinema might have initially thought during earlier scenes, any misconceptions of that kind were well and truly dashed by the end of the film.
This is a mirror-holding look at a judgemental society, seen through a very modern lens. The fear, suspicion and moral-outrage caused by the hacks, bring with them anger, mob-rule and the usually-unthinkable. A chilling reflection of current times, some might say.
Assassination Nation examines sexuality, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, moral standards, the right-to-bear-arms, hypocrisy and day-to-day bigotry – and all in a blaze of glory. And despite being a totally in-your-face movie, it also manages to have some really great moments of subtlety, including the way it first introduces transgender issues.
OK, it’s not perfect. There were a few clichéd moments, but I absolutely loved this movie (and perhaps even more so for its occasional cliché). Full of sass, wit, some great twists and enough jumps to make you lose all of your popcorn, it’s an empowering tale of sisterhood that will have your heart racing, your mind blown and every ounce of your body cheering.
I walked out of the cinema, looking for somewhere to buy a red trench coat.
The brilliant film,Sorry To Bother You, is more than just funny, it’s a cerebral and visual treat. Dealing with classism, capitalism, racism, stereotypes, and challenging clichés and tropes, in a very, very fresh way. I loved it.
Not only was I lucky enough to see a preview of it today, my cake got extra icing this afternoon from a really interesting talk by the writer-director, musician and all round talent, Mr Boots Riley himself, talking about his life influences, his musical background, the process of developing this film and questioning why films are so scared to really address and portray some of the realities of life. I even managed to get a picture with him afterwards!
In Sorry To Bother You, Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius Green, a totally charming chancer living in his uncle’s converted garage and dating super-cool, eclectic artist, black activist and class warrior, Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson), who creates political art in formats varying from street signs to semi-naked gallery installations. Pressured into finally making some money, the shamlessness of his blag in an interview at the call centre where his best friend works, actually gets him a job. But Cassius soon finds himself in the depressing daily grind of being a salesman who doesn’t make any sales.
Super-cool Tessa Thompson, in Sorry To Bother You
One morning on the way into his grey office, he notices an immaculately-dressed, super-fly guy going into an ornate lift across the hall. When he learns that the lift is for the Power Callers: The tops sales people, who make the real money, Cassius decides that he wants in on that. Advice comes from an older, more experienced sales guy, played perfectly by Danny Glover, who breaks it down for him. If he wants to do well on his calls, he needs to use his ‘white voice’ on the phone. “Not Will Smith white.” A real white voice. “Like when you get pulled over by the police”. So, Cassius practices. At first, no-one is more surprised than he is when he pulls it off (with David Cross ‘playing’ his white voice). But, as the customers start to love him and the money starts to roll in, his position in the company, his relationship with his girlfriend and his friends, and his place in society changes and Cassius is faced with numerous moral dilemmas and is forced to decide exactly what kind of person he is and wants to be.
It’s surreal and sordid in some parts. Thought-provoking, truly-ingenious and very, very funny throughout. From Cassius and his desk literally dropping into the personal space of the people he’s ringing, no matter what they’re doing or where they are – from sofas, to bedrooms; to a mad ending involving a horse (!), Sorry To Bother You is out there.
Yes, it addresses classism, racism and society’s hypocrisy towards both, whilst also highlighting the way that big corporations treat and underpay their staff. But it still manages to be stylistic to the max and I can guarantee it will keep you laughing – and sometimes also open-mouthed. Brilliantly acted, directed, shot and art directed, the film does a beautiful job of making a political statement, almost without you realising.
Did I mention that I totally loved it.
Sorry To Bother You, featuring music from Boots’ band, The Coup, launches at the London Film Festival tonight. And then goes on general release in London on Friday, 7th December. You’d be a fool to miss it.
Nicolas Cage is in fine grunting form as a man hell-bent on revenge after the peace of his idyllic and loved-up, secluded-forest life with his beautiful, adoring wife is brutally shattered by the invasion of a cult of violent motorbike-riding, drug-taking, hippy-cum-psychos.
Full of laughable moments that you probably shouldn’t be laughing at, the writer-director, Panos Cosmatos, clearly had a strong vision and followed it through – albeit it, potentially, while buzzing off his nuts.
Mandy – Those Bloody Hippies. (Pic courtesy of Sundance Institute)
Some of the psychedelic elements are trippy/ridiculous-enough to work brilliantly-well, while one scene features the funniest furious-wanking that I’ve ever witnessed on screen (or in real life! – respect, to Linus Roache for what I hope was just great acting), Mandy has memorable moments and quotable lines galore. It’s a non-stop, ferocious romp of nonsense, blood and gore – and it really is great because of it.
Mandy has ‘cult classic’ written all over it and I’ve no doubt that it will be played at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square, alongside films like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, for many, many years to come.
I love, love, LOVED this slick exam heist from Thailand, ‘inspired by true events’, which had me gripped throughout.
A low-key, low-income, high-achieving school girl gets roped into helping the rich kids in her new, expensive school cheat in their exams. But it soon gets out of hand and what starts out as her secretly helping her cash-strapped father pay some of her school fees, unbeknownst to him, soon becomes big, dangerous business.
What follows is a mind-boggingly elaborate plan, with The Usual Suspects level of complexity, devised to fool teachers, parents and, eventually, the police. Fast-paced, clever and lots and lots of fun, underpinned by sterling performances from the young ensemble cast, Bad Genius has been, by far, one of my highlights of this year’s London Film Festival. If it wasn’t for Three Billboards, this would be my number one. As it’s unlikely to get a general release over here, I’ve already started trying to track down a copy on DVD.
Be sure to find a way to watch this one-of-kind original, before Hollywood surely kills its memory, via a bad remake.. (C’mon, who is looking forward to the remake of Toni Erdmann?…. Really?)
As always, I really enjoyed the BFI London Film Festival this year. The list of great films that I saw during the previews include: Filmworker, the wonderful documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand man, Leon Vitali, who never truly got the recognition that he deserved; Rollerdreams– also a great documentary, this time about the history of the black roller-skaters in downtown LA, who made the area the tourist attraction that it is; and You Were Never Really There – the powerful thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix as an unstable ex-veteran who now specialises in ‘finding’ people and gets more then he bargains for with his latest job. It had been a great couple of weeks. But I hadn’t quite had a ‘Toni Erdmann moment’ – that feeling that I was watching something really stand-out and just that little bit special, which I absolutely felt when I was crying with laughter during that film.
Beautifully written and directed by Martin McDonagh – the filmmaker behind the cult classic, In Bruges, as well as Seven Psychopaths – Three Billboards deserves to win all the awards (with Bad Genius coming a very close second, followed by the extraordinary I Am Not A Witch …).
Set in Missouri, America, as the title suggests, Frances McDormand plays Mildred, the seemingly hard-faced working class woman who will go to absolutely any lengths to pressure the local police into solving her daughter’s murder. Even if it alienates her son, her viscous ex-husband and most of the community. After seven months of silence from the police who are supposed to be investigating her daughter’s death, she takes drastic action to focus their minds. And boy, does she get their attention.
Woody Harrelson plays Chief Willoughby, the kind-hearted head of the local police department, full of good intentions but lacking in results, and as such Mildred’s main target. Sam Rockwell is Dixon, the child-like, pig-ignorant, racist cop under Willoughby’s command, who quickly and repeatedly justifies his reputation for brutality.
Extremely violent, coarse and heart-breaking, underpinned with brilliantly dark humour that will have you choking on your popcorn with laughter, and dialogue so razer-sharp that I can’t wait to get my hands on the script.
This kind of in-your-face film storytelling might not be for everyone. The racist language is close to the bone, demonstrating the backward attitude still prevalent in some parts of America. The N-word is bandied about a lot and when a black police chief arrives he calls the lazy officers a bunch of ‘crackers’ (a racial slur, originally used against poor white people). After a particularly shocking assault by Dixon, his mother can’t understand why he’s putting up with being chastised by a black police chief. He laments that: “It’s changed in the South”, to which she replies: “It shouldn’t have”. Personally, I think that, like it or not, the reality is that there are still many people who hold such attitudes. This film merely highlights their ignorance.
Packed with an amazing cast, putting in great performances, such as the aforementioned Woody Harrelson – who I always adore – and Peter Dinklage as feisty James, a small guy with a big heart who, unfortunately for him, has a crush on the one-track-minded Mildred. But it’s the absolutely outstanding performances from Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell that will blow you away. Her portrayal of a devastated mother coping with the truly heinous crime committed against her daughter, with pure bloody-mindedness and steely determination, is totally and utterly convincing. As are her tiny moments of compassion and weakness, that we’re allowed to glimpse. While Sam is a tour de force as the shocking, but surprisingly-complex, Dixon.
I must admit, there’s an odd scene with a CGI’d deer, that didn’t quite work for me. But, hey, nothing’s perfect and even that can’t stop me absolutely loving Three Billboards!