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BOOK REVIEW: It’s All Going Wonderfully Well – Growing up with Bob Hoskins

In Books, London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Richard Eyre, in one of the bravest and most visionary casting decisions ever, chose Hoskins to play Frank Loesser’s low-life Nathan Detroit in what was to be the National Theatre’s groundbreaking and first ever musical production, Guys and Dolls. The production scooped countless awards and nominations and is still talked about to this day. With his three fellow leads and a faultless company of actors and creatives, Hoskins learned to tap-dance, polished up his singing and proved that his indomitable Cockney charm could work as well on Broadway as in Bethnal Green. Born in 1983, some months after her dad had moved on from the show’s cast, one of Rosa Hoskins’ fondly spoken regrets is that she had never seen her dad’s take on Nathan Detroit.

Zombie Fight Club – Review

In London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Certificate 15

Heavily stylized, Joe Chien’s latest Far East zombie romp sees a collapsing Taipei slowly succumb to the zombie virus.
The twist to this movie is a gladiatorial fight for survival, as the un-infected city rulers wager each other as to how healthy mortals will survive mortal combat against the undead. That’s basically it, but to Chien’s credit, whilst the yarn may be only the latest variation in a long line of zombie flicks, his fight choreography is imaginative. Filmed in a jaundiced light, the black spurting sticky stuff and entrail-munching monsters hold our attention alongside inventive leading performances from leads Andy On and Jessica C. The battles are crazy with much CGI deployed, though the scene where one old guy tries to save the world armed only with a chainsaw, was a treat.
Shamelessly exploitative, Zombie Fight Club’s pace is so frenetic its hard at times to grasp or even care about the plot lines – but it is sure to tick all the boxes for genre fans. Amidst mayhem that’s not easy to follow, Zombie Fight Club is one for the collection and strictly for the genre fans.

Now available on DVD

Howl – Review

In London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Certificate TBC
Directed by Paul Hyett

Tickets please!
Helming his second full length feature, Paul Hyett’s Howl is a movie whose title along with the poster’s full moon, give a clear hint at the story’s lycanthropic pitch and proves to be one of the year’s best horror pictures so far.
Some of the best werewolf movies have been made in Britain and in one of the most imaginative takes on the genre since John Landis’ groundbreaking An American Werewolf In London, Hyett’s yarn (penned by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler) kicks off in the comfortingly familiar surroundings of Waterloo Station.
Train based terror has long fuelled the romance of ghost and horror tales and in a summer that has rail strikes gripping the nation, it’s refreshing to watch Alpha Trains’ (a fictional company whose livery is only loosely based on South West Trains) evening express pull out of the London terminus, with its dozen or so souls on board heading towards far more than their usual Waterloo sunset.
There is an ever-so British budgetary constraint to the movie that suggests an air of Hammer Horror. The cast are far from household names, (though in a neat touch, Rosie Day and Sean Pertwee, both carryovers from Hyett’s The Seasoning House make short-lived cameos) the purpose built railway carriage set wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of even a mildly obsessive train-geek and some of the matte work is cringeworthy. But no matter, for as a deer on the line brings driver Pertwee’s train to a shuddering and unscheduled halt, it is only a matter of time before (nearly) all of the onboard souls succumb in turn to beautifully brutal slaughter.
In a sometimes creaking story, the director’s skill lies as much in the suspense he’s woven into the film as it does in the gruesomeness of his imagery. Having cut his teeth (sorry) designing special make up and effects for creature features such as The Descent movies, Hyett has a keen eye for what shocks. To be fair there’s nothing here that quite matches Rick Baker’s award winning genius in American Werewolf, but Hyett knows his craft.  
Also impressive is that amidst a script of occasional corniness, (The Seasoning House had a far superior text) Hyett coaxes performances from his cast that convince throughout. Ed Speleers leads as a bumbling train guard searching for the hero inside himself, whilst Elliot Cowan is Adrian, a handsomely chiselled bounder and a womanising cad who in a neat post-modern touch reveals that he won’t employ women at his City finance house because of their annoying tendency to fall pregnant. Back in the day it used to be that just being a bastard marked a character out to deserve a spectacular death – turns out in 2015 he has to be a sexist bastard too. 
For the cinephiles playing werewolf bingo, Howl trots out most of the tropes, (but not all mind, there are no silver bullets in this picture) with the occasional twist. We’ve been brought up to know that those bitten by the beast have to become werewolves themselves. Hyett however offers up a nod to the zombie genre by having his victims spew that particularly dark red blood, only ever found in those transitioning to the world of the un-dead. There is also a lovely touch as Ania Marson, Jenny an elderly female victim, finds herself vomiting out her dentures, only to then develop a far more useful set of incisors, infinitely superior to anything available on the NHS.
As Ellen the train’s trolley stewardess, Holly Weston gives an assured performance that suggests a hint of sexual frisson and rivalry amongst the characters, whilst Calvin Dean’s Paul provides occasional moments of drunken slob comedy (and classy suspense) before his number’s up.
Whilst Hyett’s best may yet await us, Howl remains a ripping yarn, cleverly realised and yet again, only enhanced by Paul E. Francis’ intelligent score. Not just worth the ticket and popcorn, it’s a great date-movie too.

July 4th – On Jaws 40th Anniversary – I speak to Carl Gottlieb

In Features, London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”
On the Fourth of July 2015, some 40 years after Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster Jaws exploded into the world’s cinema and psyche, it’s worth recalling a line in the movie spoken by Amity City’s odious mayor Larry Vaughan (played by Murray Hamilton) to Roy Scheider’s police chief Brody, as the mayor summed-up the impact of a shark attack on his seaside town’s summer season.
 “I don’t think you appreciate the gut reaction people have to these things.., it’s all psychological….
You yell ‘Barracuda!’ everybody says ‘Huh? What?’  You yell ‘Shark!,’ we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

Memorable words penned by gifted American screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who in one movie gave the world both a fabulously structured fable and some of the most oft-repeated movie-quotes of all time. 
Gottlieb was kind enough to take some time to talk with me and as an LA late bird, his preferred local time to speak on the phone is around 1am. So it was that early on a foggy London morning I found myself speaking with the man whose Twitter name says it all: @JawsWriter
JB:    Tell me about the genesis of your Jaws screenplay?
CG:    I had read the book and had a good understanding of the story and started working on the script maybe three weeks before principal photography commenced.
I kept writing just ahead of the schedule. The text is mine and although the structure of the movie is mine and Steven’s, he is the author of the film.
I don’t think anybody had any notion of Jaws’ global impact. In telling a story that was to be plagued with mechanical difficulties, we were trying to get through it un-damaged and be faithful to the idea of making a good movie. That’s all we wanted to do.
JB:    Peter Benchley’s novel included a passionate love affair that develops between Hooper oceanographer and Ellen, Brody’s wife. Why did you excise that from the film?
CG:    I made the decision to remove the love interest. When we started filming, the love interest was still in there. But it quickly became apparent from the performances that the idea for thee affair was all wrong and misplaced the actors’ motivation. The three principals are so likeable and attractive, I couldn’t imagine Hooper cuckolding Brody. So we said it muddies the waters, lose it. And we did.
JB:    Over the years, many observers have commented that the movie’s plot marginalises women. Was this an intentional thread?
CG:    1974 was to see the first real wave of American feminism, with consciousness of the issue only starting to emerge. Neither Zanuck and Brown (Jaws’ producers) nor the studio had their consciousness raised and it was only myself and Richard Dreyfuss (who played Hooper) that had mixed in the same circles in which this new paradigm was emerging.
In our storytelling it was men against the sea and to be fair, there isn’t a strong woman in the novel. It wasn’t in our minds at the time, we were making an adventure movie. Three guys – and that’s how it appeared. Post-analysis has asked: where was the feminine angle? In1974 that was a long way from being anyone’s concern. 
JB:    You just referenced Jaws as an adventure film, yet increasingly it has been badged as horror, with the American Film Institute including it amongst their Top 100 Horror Movies. What genre would you apply to it?
CG:    Its true genre was probably horror. In 1974, no mainstream studio made horror per se except the rarely scheduled items such as The Exorcist or Psycho. The horror genre was widely considered exploitative.
JB:    The quality of writing and performance, make it very much a drama movie.
CG:    (laughing) Moby Dick meets Enemy Of The People!
JB:    Jaws is widely credited as being a seminal and influential piece of cinema. Do you ever see your work in Jaws being reflected elsewhere?
CG:    I think so, yes. I was simply following the basic principles of good story telling as I understood them, but remember, my background was in comedy. I knew the value of humor both in adding dimension to a character and in setting the audience up for a scream or a shock.
The wise cracking action hero has kind of become the template but that’s not to do with me. Burt Lancaster did a wonderful send up in 1952 with The Crimson Pirate, a perfect parody, yet at the same time an excellent action piece. The use of comedy and laugh lines to lull the audience off guard, so that they can be shocked a moment later has become part of the vocabulary of the action film, to varying degrees of success depending upon the cleverness and the sense of humour of the writers and directors.
In some cases, there is no sense of humour, because the director is pre occupied with big things banging together.
JB:    Your line – and a classic- “You’re gonna need a bigger boat “. Does that characterise your comedic approach?
CG:    Yes – that and a little earlier, when the shark makes its first full-face appearance which comes straight after the laugh line, “you come on down and chum some of this shit”. The shriek when the shark appears, works better because of the line that came before it.
I wrote those words, or I wrote something so close, that when the actors were ad-libbing, which is a tribute to the writer, in than when you write a character so completely, such that when the actor inhabits that character and goes “off book”, he will ad lib in character.
I also want to pay a tribute to Howard Sackler who located the Indianapolis episode (in which Robert Shaw’s shark-hunter Quint tells of a shark attack on the survivors of the torpedoed USS Indianapolis) and who is very little remembered for that contribution. Good writer, sailor and navy man.
JB:    In the evolution of mobile story telling over the last 40 years, who has impressed and who has disappointed you?
CG:    CGI (computer generated imagery) storytelling has devolved rather than evolved. We are seeing great stories in low budget pictures, whilst studios, in order to protect multi-million dollar tentpole movies, continue to offer sequels / prequels / reboots / reimaginings or comic book adaptations. In large budget films, there is often very little story telling going on. Frequently the narrative is a stupid hero’s journey, with some guy having to fight titanic forces, that explode across the screen in ever increasing CGI complexity, with no doubt of the plot’s outcome.
JB:    How easy do you think CGI makes the task for the writer?
CG:    CGI makes some things easier – but in terms of storytelling which is character and relationships, a good writer is still very much in demand. The screenwriter is more concerned with telling a compelling narrative, with interesting characters in interesting places in complex relationships. Tentpole action, genre film doesn’t do that. Andrew Marlow, the screenwriter, has described big action as like writing a libretto for opera, where the crash and burns are the arias and the narrative is the recitative and typically out of 100 pages, maybe only 40 are dialog and character with the rest being a description of explosions.
It is simpler (and more simple minded) to write a series of inter-stitial scenes between explosions. The challenge remains to write that in an interesting way. Probably one of the few films that has managed that successfully was Iron Man 1 where Robert Downey Jr brought a certain charisma and wit to the performance. 
The writers who I admire now, like perhaps the Wachowski brothers, don’t write in that genre, whilst the old masters of the big action genre are not even being hired to write the new movies.
The writing profession is being split in two. Today its guys who can construct a big action narrative and who get used by the handfuls on each major project. The other half is writers who compare about narrative and dialogue and for that you need a longer slower movie, or at least a more literate one, where actors can speak actors and compellingly. I use compelling a lot, because much of what I am seeing now is not of interest.

JB:    Carl – Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me.

Jaws is widely available to download.

On July 4th the movie will be screened in London at The Prince Charles Cinema and in LA at The New Beverly Cinema

Carl Gottlieb

Two Jacks – Review

In London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Written and directed by Bernard Rose

Jack Huston
There’s a stylish cast and concept to Two Jacks, out this month from Bernard Rose.
Taking an idea from Tolstoy’s Russian fable The Two Hussars, Rose pitches his tale straight into a genre of updated Hollywood noir. It makes for  neat conceit and in a movie set entirely in and around Tinseltown, the atmosphere Rose that creates of smoke filled poker parlours, bare-fisted brawls and beautiful women casually seduced, could be straight out of Raymond Chandler. 
There is a hint of real life imitating the art on screen, for as the story tells of fictional wild film director Jack Hussar seducing the beautiful Diana (a sizzlingly demure performance from Sienna Miller) and who, years later sees his son Jack Jnr return to become entangled with Diana’s daughter, Rose casts Danny Huston to play the older man, with his nephew Jack playing the younger man. That both men are direct descendants of legendary director John Huston contributes to the story’s grit and that Danny Huston, in both appearance and demeanour bears more than a passing resemblance to Jeremy Clarkson, only adds to the tale.   
Two Jacks’ womanising, gambling, alcohol and thundery rainstorms are timeless nods to Hollywood’s darker side and with Jacqueline Bissett playing the (much older) Diana many years into the plot, the classy credentials of Rose’s cast are only enhanced.
Whilst the movie is mostly chic and the acting a delight, Rose is let down by occasional script naiveties and also a budgetary constraint (I guess ?) that sees him not only write and direct, but also photograph and edit the movie too. That’s unfortunate for there are moments of poor continuity, lighting and focus-pulling, that would never have made it out of a decent film school, let alone form part of a commercial release.
Bringing the picture straight out to the DVD and download markets after playing the festivals a couple of years ago is probably wise, with Two Jacks making for a wonderfully romantic movie, beautifully performed.

Out on DVD and download 29th JuneTrailer:

The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) – Review

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Certificate 18

Written and directed by Tom Six

Dieter Laser
The Human Centipede 3 – Final Sequence (HC3) marks the last chapter of Tom Six’s trilogy of everyday folk who find themselves joined, stitched mouth-to-anus, to their fellow citizens. Throughout his series, Six has tended to play fast and loose with the word “centipede”. His first movie’s creature featured only 6 legs (formed of three unfortunates) whilst the beast in Final Sequence, formed of 500 souls, sports 2,000 limbs- but this is Hollywood so what’s a leg-count here or there anyway?
The movies’ notoriety has snowballed with each emerging sequel. HC1 took a “traditionally” horrific take on Six’s vision, with German actor Dieter Laser portraying the deranged Doctor Heiter, who was to hand-craft the first creature, in an unflinchingly dark movie.
HC2’s raison d’etre could not have been more corny, even if its metier was still born of a heart of darkness. Laurence R Harvey played Martin, a ghastly misfit, who is introduced to us watching a DVD of HC1, before going on to replicate Heiter’s experiment himself. 
With the third film, Six adopts an end of term/semester approach to the concept. Where HCs 1 and 2 were dark, Final Sequence lobs in some ironic comedy and in so doing offers us what is possibly (and literally) the most tongue in cheek film ever made. 
Set in a prison in the southern USA, Six indulges himself with an outrageous grindhouse satire. Think of 2011’s Hobo With A Shotgun that starred Rutger Hauer and you start to get an idea of ​​Six’s skewed reality.
As a further nod to the franchise’s heritage, both Laser and Lawrence return. This time the German plays Bill Boss, the stetson toting prison governor (deranged, natch) who also sports a phallus-replacing six-shooter, with Harvey as Dwight, his trusted sidekick accountant. When Dwight suggests that a human centipede would make for an ideal punishment in addition to incarceration, the movie takes off . 
Along the way, Six makes no bones about offending and exploiting everybody. Men and women alike are horrifically violated (there is no one-side sexploitational misogyny here), religion is mocked, with Hollywood B-listers Bree Olson and Eric Roberts adding to the carnage.
A satirical sub-theme hints at the story offering a version of violent and medieval punishment that much of the USA’s right of centre population would happily see meted out to criminals. Six has to tread this particular mockery carefully especially as he is on record (and confirmed in a movie cameo) as saying that the idea of ​​the centipede came to him initially, as an appropriate form of punishment for paedophiles. 
There’s minimal CGI on display here and what you see is the action that Six has photographed. Those with an insatiable appetite for taboo-busting cinema that includes, amongst other moments, scenes of castration, boiling-waterboarding and the eating (literally eating, this ain’t porn) of both genders’ genitalia will be more than entertained by what Six, his designer Rodrigo Cabral and their uber-talented special effects team have come up with. Oh, and just like in real life, the bad guy comes out on top too.
If you like your horror bloody yet still ridiculously overdone, you won’t be disappointed. 

In cinemas from 10th July

Backtrack – Film Review

In Opinion, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment


Written by Mick Sands
Directed by Tom Sands

Julian Glover prepares to hit some unwittingyoung campers for six
Backtrack is an ambitiously self-proclaimed “psychological horror” whose far-fetched story rests upon 4 unfortunate young people who regress (either deliberately or without realising) into their “past-lives”. Unfortunately ley lines get tangled and it turns out that the past-lives in question coincide with the very much present life of a now-doddery Nazi parachutist who had been sent into Britain to cause mayhem during World War Two. His mission failed when his plane crashed on Sussex’s South Downs and now the old and gruesomely scarred German ekes out his days as a devil-worshipping recluse in a Sussex barn, quietly awaiting the opportunity to avenge the deaths of his wife and kids who didn’t survive the war. 
Julian Glover, veteran of the RSC and almost a national treasure, plays the old man and that this movie even scores two stars is due to Glover’s outstanding contribution, making the often execrable dialog sound threatening. Elsewhere Haydn West’s sumptuous Downs photography and Richard Morson’s score also impress.
But that’s it. Opening with a WW2 battle sequence that seems inspired by the Call Of Duty video game, with references elsewhere to horror classics The Shining and An American Werewolf In London, director Sands’ ambitions are high. His achievement however is a movie that resembles a cross between a shoddier version of Carry On Camping, crossed with a DIY instruction video as Glover gets medieval with a blowtorch on the unfortunate youngsters. 
Good horror along with well executed gory effects is all part of the magic of the movies. But Backtrack just isn’t good. Glover apart, the acting disappoints, with much of the film proving unintentionally comical (the scene in which a tractor drags an occupied tent across a field could be straight out of Top Gear). Further, too much of the graphic violence is gratuitously laboured, with shoddy visual effects to boot. In their recent film Big Bad Wolves, directors Keshales and Papushado showed how horrific a blowtorch can be, when photographed by a skilled and subtle director. Unfortunately Backtrack’s racks of sizzling human flesh amount to little more than cheap “torture porn” 
Nonetheless the movie does represent a new filmmaker practising his craft and when I spoke with Glover about the shoot, the actor, who to his credit has a recognised history of supporting emerging creative talent, spoke highly of the professionalism of Sands and his cast and crew. 
Accompanied by a good drink and maybe a takeaway, Backtrack could make for an evening’s entertainment. Just go easy on ordering anything flame-grilled.

UK RELEASE: Backtrack is now available in the UK on DVD and LoveFilm through Mandala Films and on Amazon Prime and Blinkbox through Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment under the alternate title ‘Nazi Vengeance.’

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Then and Now – Film Review

In Opinion, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

***Written by Matt Hookings and Bashford TwinsDirected by Bashford TwinsJulian GloverThen and Now is a short film from Kyle and Liam Bashford, (the Bashford Twins) that sees Julian Glover as an elderly Englishman struggling to cope with bereavement som…

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Psycho Live – Review

In by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Dominion Theatre, London
Screenplay by Joseph StefanoBased on the novel Psycho by Robert BlochDirected by Alfred Hitchcock
Orchestral score by Bernard HerrmannPerformed live by Cinematic SinfoniaConducted by Anthony Gabriele

Janet Leigh takes a shower in Psycho
It’s been a long long time since the opening bars of a movie’s score have made the hairs on the back of my neck prick up. But sat in the Dominion Theatre, as Psycho’s split-text title lines slid across the screen, to listen to Bernard Herrmann’s strings-only orchestration played by the Cinematic Sinfonia orchestra was to truly experience the magic of the movies.
The likes of Netflix and Apple have gone a long way to neuter the majesty of cinema. Imagery that  was once beautifully photographed for the vast expanse of cinemascope is now routinely streamed to our eponymous tiny telephones and tablets and one can fear for a generation currently growing up, who may well consider a trip to a local cinema’s full sized silver screen to be an unnecessary and expensive chore. So whilst this (partly premium-priced) event may well have been one for the fans, it was worth every penny.
Another feature of the evening was in actually seeing and hearing  the film’s music played live, giving rise to a strange sense of witnessing the re-creation of what used to be a fundamental component of any movie’s construction. When any original score was recorded, it would have demanded a conductor facing the screen as he conducts his studio orchestra in time with the action – just the scenario that the Dominion audience were privileged to witness for themselves.
It was of course also a treat to re-visit a movie classic and one can forget how quite how groundbreaking Psycho’s 1960 release was to prove, shaking up many of the movie-industry’s accepted protocols. Intermingling sex with violence and deviancy – even the opening scene of Janet Leigh, bra-clad and in bed with her unmarried lover pushed the envelope of its time. And the dialogue is just so deliciously dated too. When Leigh’s Marion Crane tells Anthony Perkin’s Norman Bates, who has just explained to her the gruesome yet mundane details of his interest in taxidermy, that “a man should have a hobby”, a comment so simple and genteel and so firmly fixed in a time gone by.
Shot in black and white by Hitchcock’s TV series camera crew rather than a feature film unit, the production budget was a squeeze. In fact, so tight were the movie’s finances that Herrmann, who resolutely refused to cut his own fee, was forced to trim his orchestra to strings only. Has necessity ever been proved to have been the mother (no pun intended) of such ultimately rich invention? Some years back The Observer published its list of the 50 film scores. Psycho was ranked #2 and the paper wrote:
Hitchcock, who had originally planned to play the shower sequence without accompaniment, later admitted that ’33 per cent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music’, and doubled the composer’s salary as a reward. Herrmann studiously matched the black and white visuals of Hitch’s masterpiece by draining the ‘colour’ from his orchestrations, stripping away all but the stringed instruments to create a monochrome wall of aural unease.
And remarkably for a film that was to achieve iconic status, amongst that season’s major gongs Psycho was to only pick up a Golden Globe for Leigh, winning nothing at the Oscars. But as the years have proven and as modern-day horror director Eli Roth recently commented, “..time is the only critic that matters”.
Hitchcock’s assessment of the music’s contribution was sage. So much of the story’s drama, and in particular its opening chapters, homing in on Marion’s anxiety after she has stolen the cash from her boss, play out with an absolutely excruciating intensity. The performance and the photography are first class, but it is Herrmann’s relentlessly jarring strings with their harsh minor-key harmonics, that seal the woman’s anguish into our watching psyches. And for a feature film that was to give the world the slasher-movie, Herrmann’s jagged chords as Crane is stabbed to death in the most famous shower scene ever, only heighten that moment’s timeless terror.
Conductor Gabriele knows both movie and score intimately, with this having been the fourth occasion that time he has brandished his baton in time with Bates’ bread knife. Gabriele is one of London’s finest stage-conductors, adept at seamlessly linking an orchestra to the ebb and flow of a live production. But there is no scope for fluid flexibility in conductiong in time to a movie. The imagery and dialog are fixed in time and it is Gabriele’s responsibility to ensure that his musicians maintain pinpoint co-ordination with the screen. It is a massive task and it is a mark of Gabriele’s consummate skill that he makes it look so effortless – and a credit too to the Cinematic Sinfonica orchestra for delivering such an immaculately rehearsed sound. 
Gabriele has a passion for film and music, telling me post-Psycho of plans (and dreams) to conduct future movie scores by the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer, as well as other Herrmann offerings. Personally, I long for Ennio Morricone’s work for The Mission and Once Upon A Time In America to be given the Gabriele treatment. Maybe one day…
Until then, the sheer musical excellence of Psycho Live, wedded to Hitchcock’s masterclass in film-making will stay with me for a long time. And in a further thoughtful touch, possibly barely noticed by many in the audience, how considerate of the Dominion to screen the movie in the run up to Mother’s Day!

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, missing his mother 

To find out about more Cinematic Sinfonia screenings, follow them on Twitter @cinesinfonia

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Hyena – Review

In by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Written and directed by Gerard JohnsonCertificate 18
Balkan  butchery. A scene from Hyena
Hyena, a gripping tale of modern London rife with Balkan butchery and bent law prowls onto our cinema screens this week.
It marks writer/director Gerard Johnson’s second feature, that again draws upon a powerful central performance from Peter Ferdinando. Five years ago the actor played a suburban psychopath in Tony, a portrait of a London serial killer – this time round he’s Michael, a flawed cop trying to police parts of a city that are falling increasingly under the control of rival Albanian and Turkish gangs.
Making for grim viewing. Johnson’s Met is as riven with feuds as the criminals they are trying to police. No sooner has Michael learned of a new people-trafficking route across Europe, than he has to swiftly take cover as he finds himself witnessing the brutal dismemberment of his informant. It all takes a turn for the worse as he learns that the Met’s own internal anti-corruption squad are on to him too and as the plot unfolds, Michael realises that he is being framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
Michael’s policing principles are old-school. Taking bribes off villains is OK if it helps to keep the peace, but the trafficking of women into prostitution is an outright No. Elisa Lasowski as Mariana, the Eastern European girl who finds herself bought and sold between the gangs and who literally has salt rubbed into her wounds as a punishment, earns our sympathy. Likewise, Stephen Graham as David, Michael’s traitorous buddy with a score to settle, is another classy turn. Elsewhere, when they’re not chopping up cops and robbers with swords and cleavers, Orli Shuka and Gjevat Kelmendi as the ruthless Kabashi brothers, out to make London their patch, give a well thought out nod to the forces currently at play in the capital’s gangland. 

Johnson’s snapshots of violence and corruption may well be accurate, for Hyena’s credits suggest some extensive research. The plot that strings these ghastly glimpses together however is occasionally too far fetched. Of course this is the movies, but when we see Michael apparently gifted Liam Neeson-like powers to single handedly rescue Ariana from her captors or to execute a bent copper in a deserted field at midnight, the story’s hard won credibility takes a knock. Likewise, Johnson’s shot of of a fat old punter, naked and with a half-mast hard on, about to have his vile way with the drugged Ariana, put me right off my popcorn. Gratuitous nudity or what? We know the woman is being horrifically exploited – there has to be a subtler way of depicting her humiliating agony.

It is a classy touch that see’s Hyena’s score prove as gritty as the narrative. Post-punk band The The provide a pulsing backdrop to the action that not only serves well in supporting the movie’s troubling violence, but also emphatically underlines Johnson’s artistic thrust. It is unlikely that any other 2015 indie Brit-flick release will be as well scored as this.  
Cleverly if economically filmed from a hand-held perspective throughout, the movie has much to entertain and shock from start to finish. With a proven knack for troubling us with his filmmaking, Johnson’s Hyena takes a long loud laugh at a lawless London.

In cinemas from 6th March 2015