Dragged Across Concrete – Film Review

Dragged Across Concrete is a complicated offering. On the one hand it is written and directed by the singular mind that brought us the exemplary Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, S. Craig Zahler. On the other hand it stars the notoriously right-wing, and otherwise problematic, Vince Vaughan and Mel Gibson. Vaughan and Gibson co-star as police detectives who are put on a six-week unpaid suspension for an overly aggressive, and racially insensitive, arrest that someone caught on camera. What the camera missed was that they were being misogynistic too. As they are told of their suspension the two cops lament the overly PC world they live in, a moment where I hope Zahler is gently mocking his conservative cast rather than endorsing their views.

Meanwhile, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) has just been released from prison and returns home to find his mother selling herself to pay for a drug habit while his disabled younger brother locks himself in his room when the “guests” are round. It’s that kind of film. As the cops look to supplement their six weeks missing income and Henry tries to find his feet again all three find themselves involved in a bank heist heist as they separately try to steal a large amount of cash and gold from notorious and violent occasional bank robber, Vogelmann.

Sorry that took so long to cover but this plot is dragged across a concrete two hours and forty minutes so I’m in no rush. Funnily enough though the one thing I can definitely say about this film is that I did not feel the running time; I sat patiently engaged throughout. Zahler knows how to keep his audience’s attention and somehow earns his bum-numbing running time.

From Zahler’s previous efforts I was primed for lots of extreme graphic violence but in that respect this might be his most restrained work yet. There is even some genital mutilation that happens off-screen rather than in detailed close-up. Can you imagine? Instead he is focused on character interactions, be that the grumblings between Vaughan and Gibson, or the nervous reassurances between Henry and his fellow out-of-his-depth-criminal Biscuit (Michael Jai White). That said we do see a few fingers and faces blown away and an entrail or two but Zahler makes sure we care about the characters before he mutilates them.

Not as surprising as Bone Tomahawk or as otherworldly as Riot, this is its own beast. There are problematic elements but after some reflection I have decided that we don’t need to sympathise with the corrupt cops or their counterparts. There are no good guys to root for but sometimes that is the way life goes.

Could have done without those “I’m not a racist but…” scenes though.

LFF 2018 Day 7 – Dragged Across Concrete | Etangs Noirs | In Fabric

We’re getting close to having spent a week in a self-inflicted perpetual cinematic prison. I often expect the films to start to blur together but no, I can remember the way each made me laugh, made me cry, and left me so bored I almost fidgeted out of my seat.

Dragged Across Concrete

Dragged Across Concrete is a complicated offering. On the one hand it is written and directed by the singular mind that brought us the exemplary Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, S. Craig Zahler. On the other hand it stars the notoriously right-wing, and otherwise problematic, Vince Vaughan and Mel Gibson. Vaughan and Gibson co-star as police detectives who are put on a six-week unpaid suspension for an overly aggressive, and racially insensitive, arrest that someone caught on camera. What the camera missed was that they were being misogynistic too. As they are told of their suspension the two cops lament the overly PC world they live in, a moment where I hope Zahler is gently mocking his conservative cast rather than endorsing their views.

Meanwhile, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) has just been released from prison and returns home to find his mother selling herself to pay for a drug habit while his disabled younger brother locks himself in his room when the “guests” are round. It’s that kind of film. As the cops look to supplement their six weeks missing income and Henry tries to find his feet again all three find themselves involved in a bank heist heist as they separately try to steal a large amount of cash and gold from notorious and violent occasional bank robber, Vogelmann.

Sorry that took so long to cover but this plot is dragged across a concrete two hours and forty minutes so I’m in no rush. Funnily enough though the one thing I can definitely say about this film is that I did not feel the running time; I sat patiently engaged throughout. Zahler knows how to keep his audience’s attention and somehow earns his bum-numbing running time.

From Zahler’s previous efforts I was primed for lots of extreme graphic violence but in that respect this might be his most restrained work yet. There is even some genital mutilation that happens off-screen rather than in detailed close-up. Can you imagine? Instead he is focused on character interactions, be that the grumblings between Vaughan and Gibson, or the nervous reassurances between Henry and his fellow out-of-his-depth-criminal Biscuit (Michael Jai White). That said we do see a few fingers and faces blown away and an entrail or two but Zahler makes sure we care about the characters before he mutilates them.

Not as surprising as Bone Tomahawk or as otherworldly as Riot, this is its own beast. There are problematic elements but after some reflection I have decided that we don’t need to sympathise with the corrupt cops or their counterparts. There are no good guys to root for but sometimes that is the way life goes.

Could have done without those “I’m not a racist but…” scenes though.

Dragged Across Concrete screens at the festival on 16th, and 18th October.

Etangs Noirs

I’ll be brief here because I don’t want to be mean. Pieter Dumoulin and Timeau De Keyser co-write and co-direct a brief Belgian drama about a young man called Jimi (Cédric Luvuezo) who is delivered a neighbour’s parcel by mistake and becomes determined to track her down and redeliver it by hand. This turns out to not be a straightforward task so we follow Jimi for a full 70 minutes as he struggles to complete his mission.

Through the film we learn little about either Jimi or his postal target and as such I couldn’t get invested in whether he succeeded or not. In general I really struggled with this film, more so than any other this year, as I remained disconnected and completely missing the point.

This is the shortest film I’ll be seeing this year but it felt like the longest.

Etangs Noirs screens at the festival on 16th, and 18th October.

In Fabric

Peter Strickland does nothing by halves. In Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy he created unique worlds in which reality was just outside our grasp. With In Fabric he is here to challenge the upcoming Suspiria remake with a very British horror with obvious Argento influences.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Sheila, a newly single mother who wants to get her groove back. Part of the process involves buying a new red dress from her local demented department store, Dentley & Soper’s Trusted Department Store, which may as well be run by the Three Mothers. The red dress in question has a deadly past and through the film we see it has a deadly present and future too. You really do need to see the film for yourself and let the plot unfold. You’ll learn the joys of washing machine repair and never look at a mannequin the same way again.

The film is a delightful mix of the sexual, the surreal, and the satirical as Strickland makes his own new genre of giallo comedy. The vibrant colours, synthetic sounds, and miscellaneous European accents delivering cryptic dialogue scream giallo while appearances from some of Britain’s finest, including Julian Barrett and Steve Oram, add a comedic air to proceedings. The result is an undefinable, irresistible cinematic stew.

Both hysterical and hysterical this is the film of the festival so far.

In Fabric screens at the festival on 18th, and 19th October.

LFF Day 7 – Professor Marston & the Wonder Women | Brawl in Cell Block 99 | Bad Genius | So Help Me God

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women

Professor Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) invent the lie detector, enter into a polyamorous relationships with a student (Bella Heathcote), and then pool these influences to create the most popular female superhero Wonder Woman. This film may look like a typical period drama but contents may include feminism, sadomasochism, and scenes of a progressive nature.

The film offers a fascinating look at the way Wonder Woman was specifically designed to insert feminist values into the mainstream; something that remains all to relevant today as the reception to the recent Wonder Woman film has shown. That said the focus is definitely on the Marstons rather than on Wonder Woman herself.

With all its good intentions and potentially subversive content Professor Marston & the Wonder Women still feels a bit too safe. Despite three great central performance, Rebecca Hall as strong as ever, I never got the sense that the characters existed outside of the scenes shown in the film.

A refreshing change to the norm but a few degrees short of authentic.

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women screens at the festival on 12th and 15th October and is in UK cinemas from 19th November.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Anyone who has seen S. Craig Zahler’s previous film Tomahawk will never forget its slow build to a shocking and violent climax. In his second feature Zahler has repeated this pattern with multiple waves of calm building to increasing extreme explosions of brutal, graphic violence.

An unrecognisable Vince Vaughn stars as Bradley (not Brad) a man who tries to live his life right and by a strict, if questionable, moral code. Unfortunately events conspire against him and Bradley finds himself descending deeper and deeper into a spiral of savagery as he is forced to use brutality to protect his family.

Starting off grounded in reality Brawl in Cell Block 99 evolves into a bloodthirsty fantasy that makes excellent use of practical effects. This film is not for the faint hearted as the visceral sadism had me audibly wincing and a fellow audience member covering their mouth with a handkerchief, their glasses in hand.

A masterpiece of the macabre. Not one to watch alone.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 screens at the festival on 11th, 12th, and 13th October.

Bad Genius

Talented scholarship student Lynn starts at an expensive new school and finds herself surrounded by wealthy classmates whose parents have paid their way to better education. When exams loom Lynn is seduced by money she and her father desperately need to help her less gifted fellow students cheat.

After initial success Lynn and friends get more and more ambitious, and greedy, and try to pull off bigger and bigger cheating schemes. Imagine Ocean’s Eleven set at a Thai school complete with slick camera moves, double-crossing, and increasing complex cons.

The film is a lot of fun and has a superb young cast led by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying. The film is sadly let down by an unjustifiable runtime of over two hours and an ending that jars with all the fun had up to that point. There’s a perfect film hidden somewhere in here.

Bad Genius screens at the festival on 13th and 15th October.

So Help Me God

A truly bizarre documentary from directors Jean Libon and Yves Hinant follows Belgian Judge Anne Gruwez as she goes about her work. Gruwez is a fascinating subject to watch as she tackles all manner of horrendous crimes with terrific gallows humour.

We sit in on meetings with murderers, thugs, and thieves as Gruwez handles them all with a no-nonsense attitude. She is equally unphased when exhuming a body or listening to a woman describe how voices told her to kill a child. There is nothing this woman has not seen or heard before. The only time her interest is truly piqued is when learning about new sexual practices from a dominatrix, or advising a family about the trouble that come from marrying first cousins.

The film is an interesting curiosity but doesn’t linger long once you’ve finished watching.