Starred Up – A Revelation of Talents



Starred Up
Film4, Sigma Films et al, GB
106 Mins
UK Release: 21st March 2014

Director David Mackenzie
Producer Gillian Berrie
Screenwriter Jonathan Asser
Cinematographer Michael McDonough 
Cast Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Spruell

It is raw, vicious and compelling, David Mackenzie has boiled up a British prison drama (our take on A Prophet) to please the tough skinned and humanist hunters, but also the subtle and complex. It is a sharp-toothed affair with the peak of human hostility on offer, yet Mackenzie brings his direction to, ultimately, what is a stirring and touching family drama, be it the cliché of a father-son relationship (interestingly, it is biological).

Mackenzie does not shy away from the jargon of high-risk convicts; the “c” word is used countless times alongside a myriad of crudeness and repulsive deeds. Whilst, this may sound off-putting for some, it is compulsory for the realist approach Mackenzie takes in order to effectively portray this nitty-gritty prison drama.

The film begins and our Starred Up teenager (19 years of age) Eric (played by the rising star Jack O’Connell) is stripped down and moved to his new cell. Immediately, we are immersed in the prison environment, which is to remain so claustrophobic for the entire rest of the movie. Mackenzie likes to linger, and his camera scrutinizes Eric, it penetrates his soul and then it unleashes the animal before our eyes. It soon becomes clear of Eric’s troubles and expertise, if you like, at his exertion of frolicking and literally pounding his opposition. What may sound excessive is in fact highly believable. The screenwriter, Jonathan Asser, draws on his experience as a therapist (similar to the character of Oliver played by Rupert Friend) to shape the immersive world. Yet, more importantly, the cast and the entire ensemble give superb performances that yearn for unfathomable insight from the audience. The question swiftly develops, do we sympathize with Eric, or is he simply a lost cause, as Governor Hayes (Sam Spruell) likes to believe?

The answer is that we wish to understand Eric’s behaviour and jaunt along with him; indeed his traumatic childhood is discussed and his inept father evident. Jack O’Connell’s performance is something of a revelation, composed one minute, explosive the next; his character turns all the emotions one might expect to see from a disfigured adolescent. Neville, the father, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is a distressed and colossally troubled character. I could watch Mendelsohn continually perform and find him evermore impressive and enthralling. The two meet each other as their match, Neville the assumed prison superior and Jack the ‘rising star’ battle it out through love, hate, jealousy and sheer animosity. The love broods through the fortification and intrinsic self-possession of a father for his child, this is present in a climax scene that exposes the shock and corruption of prison-life.

It is great to see Film4 head the funds of yet another successful British film where acting and filmmaking talents are so vivid. Don’t let this film slip under the radar, as it nearly did for myself. Eric is waiting for your support.

4/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:


Noah and “The Creator”

Russell Crowe as Noah



Protozoa Pictures, Disruption Entertainment, US
139 Mins
UK Release: 4th April 2014

Director Darren Aronofsky
Producer Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin et al.
Screenwriter Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique
Cast Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is a sensational tavern for you and your family to stop by. Built to the exact measurements displayed in the bible and standing at 45ft high, 75ft wide and 450ft long, Hollywood carpenters deserve a spot at next years Academy Awards. Embraced alongside the armament of the sea, are the Ents (from the Lord of the Rings) who decided to assemble an offspring made of rock, creating The Watchers. Then there is Cain’s line of verminous beings that bout with their woman and treat “the creator’s” earth like their own refuse. Finally, there is the respectable line of Seth and the last descendant, Noah. Thus, we have the harvest for our story, the story of Noah.

It’s a miracle. What is a miracle? Going by miracles, this film is impeccable, if there were a blemish it would have to be a miracle situated in the context of Noah. Despite this augmented time and controversial matter, Aronofsky pulls off a blockbuster experience for the kids, the parents and the grandparents, catholic, protestant, atheist, you name it. Sci-fi and fantasy, emotion and drama, action and adventure, mystery and suspense, there is a taste to be found. I’ll try and succumb my palpable desire of Aronofsky’s filmmaking talents.

For Aronofsky fans, there is the symbolic and juxtaposing flash, bang and whip sequences reminiscent of drug-taking in Requiem for a Dream and the photophobia and trance inducing evolutions of Pi. For Christians, there is simply Noah and his ark. However, speaking as an uninformed individual I dare not comment further on biblical qualities, yet I realise that Aronofsky has evoked the family drama side of things. The moral suspense of certain situations will engross any audience aware of human behavior.

Russell Crowe of course, plays Noah; thankfully he didn’t reach out across the rooftops of the ark and start singing “the animals come in two by two hurrah…” Instead, he developed his tarnished beard and kept in line with “the creator’s” wishes – before I go any further, “the creator” is uttered in the film as a somewhat suitable replacement for God. Crowe gives a fine performance, it is no easy task telling your fellow that the world will end and you must build a ludicrously large ark. Frankly, I wouldn’t have cast anyone else. Noah’s companion, his wife, is the startling Jennifer Connelly who engrains herself remarkably into the world of Noah. She brings Crowe onto a suitable playing field adding some touching elements of emotion and admiration. Emma Watson looks younger than she did in The Prisoner of Azkaban and has a hard time giving birth, but she fits the part nonetheless.

There is a lot that could be said about this movie, but I am not here to debate over ethics and religion. It is an impressive film by a man who has held his way over Hollywood and made a respectable and heart-felt blockbuster (Aronofsky has wanted to make the movie since he was 13). I was skeptical at first but I came away with positive reflections and deep approval of the filmmaker.

4/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

A New Generation of Filmmakers


The 1990’s gave us a new wave of independent cinema icons. Richard Linklater burst onto the scene in 1993 with his socially irresponsible and irresistible Dazed and Confused, Quentin Tarantino with his simply “bad-ass movie” Reservoir Dogs (1992), Kevin Smith with his weird and wondrous Clerks (1994) and, perhaps most significantly (at least in terms of working around a micro budget), Robert Rodriguez with his entertaining and striking El Mariachi. There are plenty more innovating directors I could list (Steven Soderbergh, M. Night Shyamalan, Danny Boyle, Larry Clark, Edward Burns etc.), but I’m sure you follow my bearing.

There has since been the likes of Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights), Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), Christopher Nolan (Following, Memento) and Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election) all emerging as significantly powerful and vital figures in independent cinema from the late 1990s. All these directors indeed still continue to make great films, even if the forte of their later work (Nolan and Aronofsky in particular) has been pilfered by Hollywood into blockbuster fair.

Here, I am arguing that there is a gap, a space for a new generation of filmmakers to make micro-budget films. It has been twenty years since Tarantino made Pulp Fiction and studios began taking independent cinema seriously and creating separate branches for distribution (Miramax Films, Fox Searchlight, Focus Features etc.) This gap for new talent is filling up fast (just look at what Steve McQueen and Martin McDonagh have managed to achieve in the last 10 years) and it is time to step on that bandwagon.

That is why, my friend Chee Keong Cheung, who has written, directed and produced three successful feature films in the climate of the 21st century, wants to help support a new generation of filmmaking talent. He has teamed up with Carlos Gallardo, the producer behind the El Mariachi trilogy and long time friend and collaborator of Rodriguez to bring you a masterclass in filmmaking. Better still, Mark Strange, who has worked alongside action legends Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Cary Tagawa as a stunt performer, fight choreographer, actor and producer will also be attending. These three stimulating individuals are offering an intense full day of discussion and teaching for only £99. This is the masterclass.


These guys know the independent film business. From signing distribution deals to negotiating releases they have been through it all and come out on top. This masterclass is for people who are serious about the film business and furthering their career in film. Yet, it is also ideal for writers, directors, producers, film students, and even casting directors or line producers who are just starting out in their careers. Carlos, Chee and Mark have played their cards in all areas of the film production process from special effects and stunt performing to executive producing and financing. Learn about the films that re-defined cinema and learn how to put your stamp in todays market. Cinema is forever changing.

Find out more and book tickets for the masterclass here.

Watch this El Mariachi tribute below: