Cinema Review: Starred Up

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DIR: David Mackenzie • WRI: Jonathan Asser • PRO: Gillian Berrie • DOP: Michael McDonough • ED: Nick Emerson, Jake Roberts • DES: Tom McCullagh • CAST: Rupert Friend, Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Spruell

As perverse a statement as it may be to make about the popular viewing public-at-large it is at this point unquestionable that the prison movie is a staple of the coming-of-age genre. The institutionalized frame has seen more boys become men (or indeed men become men) than that of the average upper middle-class boarding school and so, like trips to the old West or West London gangster locales, there is weighty canon of quality work to stand tall against, for as cynicism comes like steps to the seasoned cinema goer, and I have been dying to pile more accolades on 2008’s magnificently forgotten The Escapist, if only at the outright denouncement of another picture. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, this reviewer may have to wait for Danny Dyer’s next outing behind bars because David MacKenzie’s Starred Up delivers on almost all counts.

The opening 20 minutes of one’s standard prison outing dilly-dally with time by telling us things we know already from other prison films. Starred Up grabbed my attention almost immediately with a dazzling sequence in which Jack O’Connell’s Eric strips down his cell, melting a razor into the end of his toothbrush and fashioning a stash out of his light-strip in less than 90 seconds. This, as well as many a violent outburst in the film’s opening act , establish Eric as a seasoned con who may rely on experience and expertise during his interim, which, as we consider his age, concocts a new statement in its own right.

The nature of Eric brings one instantly to mind of early Alan Clarke productions, in particular Scum and Made in Britain, with one iconic scene from Scum being quite obliquely referenced midway through. However, the main ripples from Clarke’s features are seen thematically; for instance, as Eric awaits guards in his cell with a shank in either hand, and a greased up stomach to more easily evade capture, one cannot help see a disillusioned man whose only interaction with authority has thought him to resist it and thus he has evolved.

Where the film gauges more interest and earns its stripes as a coming-of-age picture are with the dynamics between Eric and his would-be authority figures, namely Rupert Friend’s amiable psychoanalyst Oliver, Sian Breckin’s cruel warden and Ben Medelsohn on typical terrifying form as head-con Neville who also transpires to be Eric’s estranged father. As the three jostle for his rehabilitation, subjugation and submission, respectively, the film’s indictment of institutionalisation as counterproductively marginalising becomes its centrepiece and the symbolic standoff of the third acts takes a potentially typical conclusion and makes it interesting.

I have mentioned Ben Mendelsohn as I always must regarding anything he’s appeared in since 2010’s superb Animal Kingdom but truthfully (and thankfully) the most intriguing, energetic acting on show here comes from O’Connell, whose growing legion of fans will only grow with this picture. He is the bustling, brawny centrepiece of this often grim yet somehow uplifting slice of Brit-grit, of which I know nothing comparable to in recent years, except maybe 2009’s superb A Prophet. With Starred Up, MacKenzie and O’Connell have both upped their games so significantly that I would be surprised, nay, disappointed to not see them work together again.

 

Donnchadh Tiernan

16 (See IFCO for details)
105 mins

Starred Up is released on 21st March 2014

Starred Up – Official Website

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BFI London Film Festival

Matt Micucci continues his reports from the 56th BFI London Film Festival with a look at Starred Up, Ilo Ilo & Like Father, Like Son.

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Starred Up – David MacKenzie

David MacKenzie takes the essence of the domestic drama of a difficult father son relationship and confines it to the tense and claustrophobic setting of a prison. Starred Up is the story of a rebellious teenage inmate whose angry life deteriorates when he is transferred to the same prison as his father. The father’s attempts at helping his son, in fact, seem to do nothing but fuel Eric’s rage even more and risk putting him into more trouble with the guards. MacKenzie digs deep within the psychology of the characters and their somewhat distorted and selfish priorities. In the end, this testosterone filled drama is also a harrowing and hard-hitting intimate portrayal made even deeper and more compelling by the wonderful magnetic performances of Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn who invest body and soul in their honest and sometimes disturbing interpretations of father and son.

 

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Ilo Ilo – Anthony Chen

Set in Singapore, a working couple decide that they need a live in maid to do chores around the house and help them look after their young troublesome kid. However, as this intimate family portrait in which we get a glimpse of the everyday struggles of each of the main four characters progresses, we soon realise that the couple is seriously struggling on both emotional and financial grounds particularly stressed by the lack of job opportunities and another child on the way.  In spite of the seriousness of some of the domestic subject which it deals with, such as insecurities and disenchantments, Anthony Chen’s impressive feature film debut is both emotional and humorous. In fact, sometimes Ilo Ilo feels like a satirical take on the self imposed everyday struggles of modern families and their vulnerable natures which occasionally leads them down self-destructive paths and to having to deal with small or big crises.

 

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Like Father, Like Son – Hirokazu Kore-eda

The lives of two very different Japanese families are shaken when they discover six years later that a mix up in a hospital inadvertently swapped their two male babies. This bombshell inevitably leads to much psychological and emotional distress on both sides of the story, and especially in the father of one of the families who is led down a road of deep and meaningful re-evaluations of fatherhood as well as reflection own struggles with exposing his own emotions. After dealing with the separation of a pair of young siblings in his previous work I Wish, Kore-eda returns to the domestic drama territory in a profoundly moving film. However, apart from the story and thought provoking discourse, which also carefully contrasts family traditionalism with modernism, the filmmaker also employs a tasteful kind of style in bringing the story to the screen which is tastefully defined and doesn’t shift the attention away from the intimacy of the meditative nature of Like Father, Like Son and its difficult themes.

Matt Micucci

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Cinema Review: You Instead

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DIR: David Mackenzie • WRI: Thomas Leveritt • PRO Gillian Berrie • DOP: Giles Nuttgens • ED: Jake Roberts • CAST: Luke Treadaway, Natalia Tena, Mathew Baynton

David Mackenzie’s romantic comedy was shot over 5 days during Scotland’s T in the Park music festival. Two made-up popular music people from two made-up pop combos cross paths and their initial hatred for each other is fated to become love.

Adam (Treadaway) the singer in synth-rot band Make, who are headlining the festival, bumps into, and argues with, Morello (Tena), the lead singer of Riot grrrl outfit The Dirty Pinks, who are there to perform in the up-and-coming tent. They get handcuffed together by a passing preacher (erm…), who bangs on about peace and disappears, and are forced to spend the next 24 hours conjoined. The resulting romance is as predictable as a Retro ’80s music CD album.

Mackenzie uses hand-held cameras in an effort to capture the raucous festival atmosphere. Most of the film is shot backstage in VIP areas and the thrill of drunken teenagers, hipster space cadets and muddied mobs never spills onto the screen. There’s no sense of energy – either to the festival or the romance that ensues between the leads. One is an impotent backdrop to the flaccid other.

The film isn’t helped at all by the strained acting, unlikeable characters, hackneyed dialogue and tiresome non-plot. Adam, the pompous, preening popstar is a strained mix of clichés, and Morello’s gobby arrogance is quickly undermined as she is tamed by love, and soon enough there’s a Rocky-like scenario of coupling at a crowded event. It all adds up to a film with all the charm of a well-used portaloo.

You Instead… go watch something else instead.

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (see IFCO websitefor details)

You Instead is released on 16th September 20111

You Instead – Official Website

 


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