Wild Bill * * * *
Cert 15, 98mins
Much has been made of Cameron Crowe’s use of music to set the mood in his films, typified with last week’s We Bought a Zoo.
Debut director Dexter Fletcher hasn’t done a bad job here either.
Man-out-of-prison drama Wild Bill doesn’t have a score as such, but the selected pieces of music used to highlight various scenes have, for the most part, been chosen very diligently.
And it’s that kind of thinking which clearly helps the mostly young cast to resist falling into the trap of either being Tinseltown-cute or performing for the camera and not their characters.
A child star of Bugsy Malone (1976), Fletcher is the former editor on TV’s Press Gang.
More recently he’s been seen in Hollywood’s The Three Musketeers as well as British films from Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock... to Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy.
Since Spielberg, Scorsese and Eastwood have all made careers out of working with many people they know, he won’t be apologising for having used a few career mates in this film.
The script is a comfort zone, too.
Lines like ‘What’s happened to the bog?’ And ‘What’s this?’ / ‘Shepherd’s pie... made from real shepherds’, feel naturally English.
Even though he turned 19 in January, the Son of Rambow star Will Poulter doesn’t seem old enough to be working on a building site.
But an impressively-mature performance will hopefully mean that Poulter can bridge the often insurmountable gulf between child star and adult career.
By the time his dad Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Mills) comes out of prison after eight years for a range of offences, Poulter’s 15-year-old character Dean has got used to looking after himself and his younger brother Jimmy (Sammy Williams) in the absence of their mother, too.
Were it not for the attentions of social services, there might not be any need for a couple of comparatively level-headed kids like these to have such a bad father around unless, of course, they can teach him to mend his ways...
Offering shades of Diego Luna’s 2010 Mexican film Abel, in which a much younger boy believed he was becoming his mother’s husband, Dean tells his dad: “Don’t stay in bed all day... Make sure Jimmy gets to school.”
One of Wild Bill’s strengths are its real locations, including ground-level and bird’s-eye views of the new 2012 Olympic Stadium neighbourhood.
The inevitable downside is that some of the exchanges end up feeling like EastEnders.
But the most positive aspect of this gritty social study is that if Shane Meadows (This is England/Somers Town) watches it again in a few years’ time he might be confused as to whether or not Wild Bill was actually from his own back catalogue.
While the use of the c-word is another example of the British Board of Film Classification lowering its 15-certificate standards again, much more interesting is a pub alcove scene.
The spindles in a series of interior ‘windows’ curved round a seated gang resemble Winchester rifles in waiting.
When all hell breaks loose, the scene turns into an effciently-made barroom brawl straight out of a very good western.
Overall, Fletcher should be as pleased as punch with his debut efforts.
Next time, though, a bit more originality in the script wouldn’t go amiss.
Especially with the opening scene.
In Darkness * * * *
Cert 15, 144mins
The distributors of In Darkness rather regrettably did not offer any regional press screenings to promote this Oscar-nominated Polish contender for the best foreign film category.
Luckily, it is being retained at Cineworld Broad Street.
For anyone in the mood, this is a solid account of another of those remarkable World War Two stories which simply take your breath away when you watch them unfold on screen.
The fact that it’s a Polish language film with subtitles is neither here nor there when it clearly has ambitions – if ultimately neither the depth nor class – to fully match the likes of Schindler’s List (1994), The Pianist (2002) and Downfall (2005),
At the heart of this story is Leopold Soha (Robert Wieckiewicz) who turns from someone seeking a quick material gain to risking his own life to help Jews to stay safe from the Nazis.
They do this by hiding in sewers below the streets of Lvov for months on end.
To encourage a feeling of claustrophobia, the running time hits 144 minutes and the film is often necessarily dark.
While many of these water scenes are impressively shot, the cast (understandably) never look as truly ‘frozen’ as surely anyone would in such conditions.
But it’s only by the cinema industry telling the odd one of thousands of heroic stories like these that younger generations can truly be reminded of the fragility of the veneer of human civilisation, viz some of the recent atrocities in the Middle East.
In Darkness could have been a very educational 12A film, but some unexpected sex scenes help to count against it having the same certificate as the lamentable Hollywood film This Mean’s War, about two CIA agents spying on a shared girlfriend.
I’ve been a parent for 14 years and can only recall The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas and this year’s War Horse making serious efforts recently to be war stories suitable for children aged around 12.
The industry is missing a trick by keeping youngsters, literally, in the dark.
You’d think that the rapidly-approaching centenary of the start of the First World War would be the perfect excuse to galvanise interest in modern history.
The Devil Inside *
Cert 15, 83mins
Watching a ‘found-footage’ version of The Exorcist did not have the promise of a good night out.
And, guess what... it wasn’t.
Not that I have anything against supernatural horror movies.
The Exorcist (1973), The Others (2001) and The Orphanage (2007) are films I could readily watch for a strange kind of enjoyment again should the need arise.
But The Devil Inside, which wasn’t previewed in advance of its release, is just terrible.
The general plot isn’t bad, given that a young woman is trying to investigate what could have happened to her mother two decades ago that led to the violent deaths of three people of the cloth.
The execution though – if you forgive the pun – would hardly warrant a pass on an average degree course were this to be handed in as a project.
Directed and co-written by William Brent Bell (Stay Alive, 2006), the film’s biggest crime is to not be remotely scary.
It also keeps repeating the No.1 mistake of the US horror industry – by using sound effects to telegraph the erroneous message that something scary is about to happen. When will filmmakers ever learn that light travels faster than sound? Thirdly, the cast share a mishmash of accents which will simply grate on your ears more than any fingernails scratched down a blackboard.
Anyone with a strong faith driven to see this for religious reasons will probably find that the behaviour of a priest at a baptism goes beyond a filmmaker’s right to explore subjects like this.
It just felt like cheap sensationalism to me.
Contraband * *
Cert 15, 109mins
Most cinemagoers in need of a release valve probably thirst for some mindless silver screen action every now and then.
In which case Contraband will certainly fit the bill because Mindless would have been a more appropriate title. Based on his own 2008 Icelandic film, Reykjavik-Rotterdam, you would certainly have expected its producer Baltasar Kormákur to have had a clearer idea of how to direct this remake.
The film is set in New Orleans and Panama where the landscapes are well shot by Manchester’s Oscar-nominated cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker). The downside is that the plot is messy and too much time is spent on board a container ship sailing through the Panama Canal.
Lead actor Mark Wahlberg is good at hitting people and dealing with baddies, but he rarely convinces in family man mode.
With wife Kate played by the underused Kate Beckinsale, Wahlberg’s character Chris Farraday heads back to his bad old ways after brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) lets down nasty gangland boss Tim (Saving Private Ryan’s Giovanni Ribisi).
With debts needing to be settled, Kate inevitably becomes a target while Chris is away on a counterfeit cash mission. If you don’t want to notice that Contraband’s running times feels longer than two hours when the original was a mere 88 minutes, then you should arrive at your cinema seat full tooled...
With the biggest bucket of popcorn you can afford.