Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho has been a surprisingly divisive film so far this year, and while I wouldn’t call it any sort of spectacular milestone or anything, it’s a beautifully atmospheric, lavishly detailed, very well acted mystery thriller that led me right into its world and entertained me thusly. Rising star Thomasin Mackenzie plays Eloise, a shy, reserved girl from a small village in the country who is excepted at London’s college of fashion design. She arrives with stars in her eyes only to be disappointed by less than accommodating classmates and a stern, odd landlady (the great Diana Rigg in her final film role). As if homesickness, displacement anxiety and loneliness aren’t enough, she finds herself whisked away back in time to a dazzling London of the 60’s every night when she goes to sleep, where she becomes the mirrored dream avatar of aspiring singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) whose life takes a dark, tragic trajectory in a series of events that Eloise has an unfortunately intimate, visceral backstage pass to observe. Who is Sandie, and why does she draw Eloise into her hazy nightmare that’s now decades gone by? Who is the dapper yet nasty lounge lizard Jack (Matt King) who encircles her life like a satin suited vulture? And who is the Silver Haired Gentleman played with devilish malevolence by the legendary Terence Stamp who appears to Eloise in the present like some kind of spectral Greek chorus? These are questions best left answered by the film’s twisty, macabre narrative that unfurls like a snake ready to strike. Mackenzie has an impossibly bright future and anchors the film in human vulnerability, while Joy’s gorgeous yet ever so slightly sinister features make a nice ghostly aura hovering over the story. London itself is lovingly and meticulously obsessed over by Wright and his creative team, and beautifully resurrected for the time travel to the 60’s, complete with lush smoke rooms, dank heroin soaked brothels and star spattered retro marquees. The story isn’t just an empty shock horror romp either that exists for cheap thrills or just to lead the audience on a blood soaked breadcrumb trail, there is actual emotional resonance and sorrowful tragedy here, especially in Sandie’s unfortunate, horrifying story arc. So I’m not really sure where the unimpressed reactions have come from, I mean it’s not a groundbreaking game changer for horror but it’s definitely a stunning gothic mystery full of chilly autumn atmosphere, detailed production design, a jaw dropping soundtrack and performances that are wall to wall scene stealers. A lot of spooky fun.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson is based on the violent true life exploits of Britain’s famed criminal Charles Bronson, jailed for decades on purpose and loving it. These type of films usually have a dutiful, glossy biopic mechanism to them, but Refn is ever the extreme stylistic boundary pusher and the way he directs seems as if we’re actually in the hectic subconscious of the protagonist as opposed to looking in from the outside. It’s hazy, hallucinatory, weird, unpredictable and soaked in the feverish neon that has become the Danish maverick’s calling card. Then there’s the performance by Tom Hardy, which defies both description and classification. He doesn’t so much act as he does exist, like an element or a primal instinct, playing Bronson filled to the brim with cheeky aggression, animalistic behaviour, a galaxy of idiosyncratic mannerisms and the likability to keep us entranced through what, upon reflection, is actually a really fucked up and disturbing story. Bronson, born Michael Petersen, was busted barely out of his teens for terrifically botching an attempted post office robbery, chucked in the pen where he’d have been out in four years or so with ‘good behaviour.’ Well. Let’s just say that the good behaviour part isn’t in either his nature or his plan. He loves conflict, fights the guards any chance he gets, incites riots and makes life hell for the British correctional force. That’s basically the film, but the straightforward story only exists to serve a surreal tapestry of episodic, atmospheric interludes where the plot isn’t so much unfolding in a literate manner as it is taking a backseat to Bronson’s unconventional, self aware telling of his own story. There’s editing and colour timing that’s so saturated, so bizarre and out there you feel like the whole thing exists as a dream, resplendent with oddball character interactions, delirious, thumping soundtrack choices and the kind of mood-scape that sucks you right the fuck in. Refn doesn’t try and provide any answers to the psychological nature of a guy like Charles either, and that’s a wise move. It’s interesting to look at the third act in which his behaviour seems to take a turn for the better with the arrival of a helpful shrink/mentor only to have him gleefully fake everyone out and start causing shit again. It’s seemingly arbitrary and his antics don’t hand a purpose, frankly outlined by Refn as storyteller, and not historian. It’s about Charles, and this is *his* story, told by this whipped up, warped version of himself that’s personified by Hardy in what can arguably be called the performance that put him on the map, and whatever your gut reaction to a piece of cinema this provocative and strange, there’s no debate over what a galvanizing, brilliantly concocted sensory experience it is.
Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla was the third British crime comedy caper for the director, and it could have easily been the misstep that signaled him wearing out his welcome. Happily I can tell you that it’s a winner, and although not as cracking as Lock Stock or Snatch, it sinks into its own distinct groove that’s fairly removed from it’s two predecessors. Once again we are treated to the life and times of a bunch of hoods and gangsters in London, but not the grungy, back alley soup kitchen London that we’re used to from Ritchie. No, this is a glistening, prosperous London, filled with real estate money ripe for the taking and developers making underhanded deals with shady businessmen. The climate has definitely changed in Ritchie’s aesthetic, but the characters remain the same, just as witty, eccentric and chock full of piss and vinegar. The story centers around the wild bunch, a cozy little clan of East end petty thieves led by One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba). Their third musketeer is Handsome Bob, played by a hilarious Tom Hardy who has a secret up his sleeve that spills out in what is the most adorable scene Ritchie has ever written. The gang is hired by a mysterious chick (Thandie Newton) to rob some dudes, and that’s where the trouble starts. Elsewhere in town, arch gangster Lenny Cole (a frothing Tom Wilkinson) negotiates a land deal with dangerous russian billionaire Uri (Karel Roden switches up his trademark psychosis for smooth talking menace here) that hinges on a missing painting. Lenny dispatches his right hand bloke Archie (Mark Strong, subtly trolling us) to find it along with his rock star nephew Johnny Quid. Got that? Nevermind, half the fun is the how and not the why of Ritchie’s stories, and I find it best to just let the flow of it wash over you as opposed to thinking out each detail and missing the sideshow. Toby Kebbell is off the hook as Quid, a wiry stick of dynamite and a comic force to be reckoned with, truly the most exciting performance of the film. Ritchie has a knack for bringing out the funny side in actors, even ones that aren’t usually the type to make you laugh. Strong is terrific, with a few carefully timed moments of sheer hilarity that deftly make you forget how dangerous he is. Ludacris and Jeremy Piven are fun, if a bit out of place as two event promoters. Butler and Elba have an easy-peasy rapport that’s light, friendly and believable. Wilkinson dances between alpha assuredness and aging buffoonry nicely, always commanding the scene and oddly reminding me of Mr. Magoo. There’s a playful tone to this one, glitzy and celebratory in places where Snatch was grim and sketchy, and the whole affair feels like a new years party with a bunch of old friends. Watch for cameos from Matt King, Nonzo Anonzie, Jimi Mistry, Mundungus Fletcher and Gemma Arterton. Very fun stuff.