After navigating my way through a lovely wedding season and travelling for much of June and July, I decided that August should be a ‘plan free’ month and as a result, have managed to get to the Picturehouse Central as much as possible to see the latest releases.
Here is a selection of what I have been watching this month.
England is Mine
I will start with the weakest of the films in my selection, the Morrisey biopic, “England is Mine”. Director Mark Gill’s movie focuses on The Smith’s legendary front man during his early life in 1970s Manchester and his first footsteps towards a career in the music industry.
Dunkirk’s Jack Lowden takes the lead as Steven Morrisey and delivers a convincing performance, showing a sensitivity to the character that fans may not have seen before. He particularly excels in the role as the film delves deeper into his mental health issues.
If you are going into this film in the hope of seeing some epic musical pieces or to hear your favourite songs by The Smiths and other 1970s rock inspirations, you will be very disappointed. For a movie that is inspired by a legendary singer, there is minimal display of Morissey actually singing here (only two minutes in fact) and it is at this short moment when the movie enjoys a rare spark of life.
In my opinion, the problem with England is Mine is that Morrissey, as a character, is very unlikable. He is notoriously arrogant, moody, unsociable, and his redeeming feature IS his music. Without this element, the movie and its subject matter is pretty dull. It may be an authentic telling of his rise to fame, but as a piece of entertainment, England is Mine is a progressive misery for the audience.
At the end of the one hour fifty minutes, we finally see young Morrisey meeting with Johnny Marr and the first glimmer of The Smith’s journey starts to begin. This is the story I would like to see; provided the creatives pay for The Smiths back catalogue of hits unlike this time around.
The Big Sick
Hooray for all the rom-com lovers out there! The movie genre has returned with a bang and finally succeeds with critically acclaimed “The Big Sick”.
The Big Sick tells the true story of Pakistani comic Kumail Nanjiani (the Silicon Valley actor, appearing as himself in this picture) who falls in love with an American student, Emily, played beautifully by Zoe Kazan. As Kumail battles with the intense expectations of his family, Emily falls seriously ill, leaving Kumail with some difficult decisions to make.
Accompanied by the hilarious Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, brilliantly cast as Emily’s suffering parents, the film remains honest and endearing in its story telling. In a similar way that Judd Apatow’s “50/50” intelligently keeps the audience both moved AND amused, The Big Sick steers clear of the obvious methods to tug at its audiences’ heart strings. The scenes in the hospital involving Nanjiani, Hunter, and Romano in particularly, are written with a sharp wit that effectively eases the growing human tension experienced by our characters.
With an Apatow produced edge, the movie refreshingly brings the rom-com back to the 21st century. This story is all the more relevant, given the current political landscape in the U.S.
A successfully re-energized romantic comedy that is well worth the hype.
Kathryn Bigelow is no stranger in tackling difficult and often violent subject matters in her films, such as 2009 Oscar winner “The Hurt Locker” and the more recent “Zero, Dark, Thirty”, which focuses on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. “Detroit”, her third collaboration with writer Mark Boal, takes us to 1967 Detroit amid the riots that created chaos throughout the city.
Bigelow opens the film with a short animation that sets the backdrop for this tale. We fast forward to 1967, where a police raid on a neighborhood speak easy, sparks anger from the surrounding African Americans tired of racial injustice. A revolt begins and over three days, mass looting and large scale unrest brings the city to a standstill and soon, tanks of the National Guard are brought in to assist the Detroit Police Department.
It is here, that Bigelow takes us to the infamous Algiers Hotel, where an aspiring Motown singer (Algee Smith) and a group of men partying with two young white women, Julie (Game of Thrones and Skins, Hannah Murray) and her friend Karen, are seeking refuge from the madness consuming Detroit.
“Why is everything so violent”, exclaims Karen, moments before the Detroit Police Department and National Guard, lead by the sadistic Krauss (a terrifying performance by British Actor Will Poulter) seize the group and begin a barbaric interrogation. This nightmarish centre piece makes for some harrowing viewing, but you find yourself captivated. Shockingly realistic and expertly crafted by Bigelow, the director immerses the audience into the horror.
A strong performance by young Star Wars actor John Boyega, as the security guard who manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, shows real versatility and it is exciting to see what acting choices he is going to make in the future. Another performance to note is from The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie, as the Vietnam Veteran who is wrongfully labelled as a ‘pimp’ through no evidence other than racial prejudice. For me however, excellent casting of Algee Smith as Larry, the talented singer who tragically never recovers from his encounter at the Algiers, pays off and he becomes the very heart of the narrative. I am expecting potential awards buzz for this young actor.
This release feels especially timely as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ era continues to play on. I left the cinema feeling totally affected by what I had witnessed on screen and Bigelow once again proves how powerful the medium of movie making is, for educating to mass audiences and highlighting huge sociopolitical issues that we can hopefully refine for future generations.
Detroit is released in the UK this Friday, 25th August.
What movies have you seen this month? Comment below.