Busting 1974 ****


Peter Hyams is a director with quite a body of big-budget studio work behind him, from Capricorn One to Outland; a hit tv movie sent him on a six month research spree at the LAPD and led to his writing and directing this early work, a strikingly small-scale and down-at-heel view of police-work. Elliott Gould, sporting a handlebar moustache, and Robert Blake are the cops who shake-down various low-lives on their way to confrontation with gangster Rizzi (Allen Garfield). An early scene in which the cops enjoy the beating up of men in a gay bar sets the unpleasant tone, but that scabrous honesty is what Busting is about; post MASH and throughout the 70’s, there was a general enthusiasm for depicting the moral confusion and general squalor of life, and the nihilistic workings of the police force made an ideal cross-section in films like Fuzz or The Choirboys. Hyams supercharges his story with a couple of stunning foot-chases, one leading into a brutal market gunfight, and the leads are just right for the abrasive feel. Busting was the kind of US import the BBC used to cheerfully show on a Sunday evening; in portraying life as a steaming cess-pit of prostitution, homophobia and general degradation, Busting lays the old, familiar story out before television and Starsky and Hutch in particular, could sanitize it for resale.



Brawl in Cell Block 99 2017 ****


S. Craig Zahler is working on a fairly unique angle in American cinema; it’s hard to imagine he cares about test audiences or anything really, other than positioning himself at the modern day answer to Sam Fuller, Peckinpah or perhaps Edward Bunker. Vince Vaughn puts aside his avuncular Fred Claus schtick to play Bradley Thomas, a tough guy who gets sent to jail when a crystal meth job goes wrong and a cop is killed. Eight years in the slammer might sound bad enough, but a mysterious henchman (Udo Kier, who else?) gives Thomas an even darker goal; his son will be mutilated unless Thomas infiltrates the highest security area of the jail and kills a target. Thomas is transferred to the deadly Redleaf Facility, where Warden Tuggs (Don Johnson) is the main obstacle. A hellish journey through the uncharted depths of the US penal system, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a brutal, uncompromising thriller that’s long and languid at times, but is compelling to watch. Vaughn has never been better than he is he, world-weary, but protective of his family, and fully aware that he’s on a suicide mission with a cost that’s hard to contemplate.

You Were Never Really Here 2018 ***


Lynne Ramsey has blazed a somewhat unique trail since her short Gasman; Ratcatcher and Morven Caller were promising rather than complete, but she comes of age as a director with You Were Never Really Here, an elliptical view of a hit-man’s disintegrating consciousness which has more than a touch of the late Nicolas Roeg about it. Joaquin Phoenix immerses himself to a disturbing degree as Joe, a jaded, exhausted killer who finds motivation and meaning in taking on a child-sex ring and working his way up the chain, rubbing everyone out as they go. It’s the kind of vigilante fantasy that would have made an ideal vehicle for Charles Bronson or Steven Segal, but Ramsey treats it very differently, making something lyrical and almost poetic in Joe’s agonising throes. The ending isn’t satisfactory, and the material sometimes reveals clichéd roots, but these defects only hit home afterwards; while Ramsey’s film unspools, it’s hypnotic and as compellingly lurid as the subject demands.

Bad Times at the El Royale 2018 ***


Writer and director Drew Goddard offers up an all-star, single-location thriller that looked like a Tarantino-lite knock-off from the trailer, but mines it’s own unique seam of neo-noir drama. A number of different parties converge on the remote and isolated El Royale Hotel, including suspicious priest Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), Charles Manson-like serial killer Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) and an assortment of others including John Hamm, Dakota Johnson and Cynthia Erivo. There’s buried treasure at stake, but the hotel itself, built over a state border and previously used for nefarious surveillance purposes, has a few secrets of its own. At nearly two and a half hours, Bad Times at the El Royale has a few longeurs, and there’s also some big revelations and genuine tension, particularly in the first half when motivations are still obscure. Goddard’s slow-burn tension doesn’t require any comparisons; he’s flying a flag for old-fashioned crime fiction, and approached in the right mind-set, the twists and turns of El Royale are well worth following

The Perfection 2019 ***

A savvy pick-up from Netflix, The Perfection is a tricky thriller from director Richard Shepard; without giving any of the plot twists away, The Perfection starts out like an innocuous tale of music-school rivalry and then takes the kind of very dark twists that should cause teenagers to flock to post on social media. As a regular director on Lena Dunham’s Girls, Shepard is hardly an unknown quantity, but his film work includes The Matador and Dom Hemingway, two excellent examples of how a big stars’s fame (Pierce Brosnan and Jude Law respectively) can be entertainingly subverted to dramatic effect. Here, it’s genre conventions which get bent; Charlotte (Allison Williams) and Lizzie (Logan Browning) are attending the same music school, and meet up again in Shanghai, where they begin a sexual relationship. But there’s a plague of sorts going around, and a bus journey leads to violence and trauma. The Perfection’s big mid-way twist doesn’t quite fit the action in the second half of the film, and the story elements don’t gel, and yet it’s still reasonably fun to take the journey, even if the final revelations will cause some eye-rolling. Williams and Browning both make a big impression, but it’s the impish wit of Shepard that makes The Perfection worth watching.


Let The Corpses Tan 2018

The opening credits of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s epic crime-opus give the game away; crediting a 1971 book by Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid as inspiration, it’s clear this is a trashy crime thriller in a manner of Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs. Always a striking presence, Elina Löwensohn plays Luce, the moll of a number of local gangsters in the sun-drenched region of Corsica. After an armoured-car heist, involving the shooting of several guards, the thieves repair back to Luce’s literal hole in the ground. The cops arrive, and after a shoot-out, a siege develops, with a fortune in gold awaiting anyone who can think their way out of the trap. Psychedelic visuals, extreme violence, more than a whiff of sexual excess; Let The Corpses Tan has it all, and even if the surfeit of style is overpowering at times, Let The Corpses Tan has a punk energy that enthrals for the most part.

Garlic and Gunpowder 2018 ***

The kind of B movie which seem to be turning up on Amazon with some frequency, Garlic and Gunpowder is a minor noir that owes some debt to Quentin Tarantino; casting figures like Michael Madsen and Vivian A Fox from Kill Bill makes that influence explicit, and Martin Kove from Cagney and Lacey also takes a ribbing here with regards to his tv pedigree. But all of the name actors take second place to a hit-man story set in ‘Big City’ where Steven Chase and James Duvall tangle with bob boss Ma (Felissa Rose). There’s a clown as well, and a well-worked gag about using gunpowder to create an explosion when a case is opened. Co-writer and director Harrison Smith doesn’t quite manage to pull the elements together in a breakout fashion, but Garlic and Gunpowder is better than it’s non-existent reputation deserves; at the time of writing, it’s scored no IMDB critics reviews at all.