Roberta Findlay's 1985 shocker TENEMENT came along at the beginning of the crack epidemic. Hard not to see the commentary about a city crumbling around her.
STREET TRASH is just a B-movie with nothing to say. Or, maybe it says a lot of things about NYC in the 1980s. Maybe?
Sean Baker's latest feature explores the socioeconomic divide sitting right on the doorstep of your favourite family vacation spot.
A story of love, obsession, loyalty, domestic violence, dogs, resilient women, and the ugliness of men.
A movie that has a lot going for it, that gets wasted. Like a shitty pipe dream.
Bleeder. 1999. Directed & Written by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen, Rikke Louise Andersson, Liv Corfixen, Levino Jensen, & Zlatko Buric. Kamikaze.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
People who frequent this site will now be sick of my love for Nicolas Winding Refn. He divides people. Nowadays, some of his supposed fans are really just fans of Drive. Others like his earlier work but find his latest stuff in the past 10 years a bit too much. Furthermore, there are others like myself who enjoy every last inch of film on which he’s left his mark. Not only that, I enjoy his writing alongside his choices and style as director. Not everything works every bit of the time. However, Refn always manages to intrigue me. He pulls at the seams of the brain and makes it unravel, no matter if we’re stuck in the gutters of Copenhagen, the cluttered video shops and bookstores, or whether he’s got you traipsing across the landscape of some foreign place on the way to who knows where – his mind is always working to try and fuck yours. In one way, or another.
Bleeder is in the earlier portion of his career, where the main focus of the stories he told were based in the streets of Copenhagen. First with Pusher, he explored a criminal, drug world. This film is set in a similarly lower class environment in semi-rundown flats and other locations, the characters each lower to middle class types. Above all else, Refn sticks with the gritty, in your face realism of his first feature. Here in his second feature there’s a closer, more personal look into the life of a family that’s falling apart, all due to the husband’s inability to express himself or seek out what he truly wants, instead opting to go along with the status quo – get married, have a kid – when it isn’t what he wants.
The results are tragic and violent.
And ultimately, blood begets more blood.
The biggest, most evident part of Bleeder is how Leo (Kim Bodnia) is so obviously jealous of the single life. More importantly, his problems with the movies, the difference between reality and fiction are what bother him most. See, Lenny (Mads Mikkelsen) is a cinephile, much like myself. He spends a good deal of his time immersed in the world of various directors, auteurs and blockbusters and everything in between. At the same time, that also paints Lenny’s view on life a little unrealistically.
Or does it?
Compared to Leo and his fucked up life, the life he fucked up all on his own, the way Lenny approaches life is quite normal. Also, he looks at what Leo has and wants that while Leo is busy shitting all over it. Lenny’s a more reserved type, likely hoping a movie romance is going to fall into his lap, as well as maybe he’s a bit too reserved, a little anti social. But Leo is stuck in a life he’s not so sure he wants to live. His wife Louise (Rikke Louise Andersson) is pregnant, he doesn’t truly want a kid, then of course he winds up beating the hell out of her. So when he rags on Lenny for watching too many films and when he rages against a movie because it’s unrealistic, what’s really going on inside is that Leo is jealous.
He wants a different life, but won’t get one. Can’t now. So instead he decides to take control, unlike Lenny who he sees as aloof in the obsessive world of cinephilia. He buys a gun, he acts like a movie tough guy but in real life. However, in real life there are consequences. In the movies we see gangsters beat up on their girlfriends and nothing ever seems to come of it. They get off with everything, free to do as they please, to whomever they please. When Leo takes it upon himself to make his life into a real live motion picture, he also must face the consequences. Even better, the climactic moments of this story are wild and almost outrageous. Yet still they’re all too real. So real in fact that it’s almost nauseating.
The gritty qualities of the film are paralleled in the ultimate nasty, defining moment that comes in the last twenty minutes. Added to that, Kim Bodnia – perhaps the world’s most underrated actor – gives us a stellar performance. There’s a scene where he comes to and find himself tied up, hanging from chains, and there’s this odd, moaning sound that emanates from him, louder and louder, longer and longer. It’s actually chilling. Even before that he does a fascinating job with a despicable character. You can see him cracking, gradually, then over the course of the film watch him drift into oblivion. There’s a good progression to the character and it’s only made better with Bodnia in the lead, doing a fine job like he did with Refn’s Pusher as Frank.
Similarly, Mads Mikkelsen is awesome as Lenny. He is one of those actors that has wide range. In some projects he plays creepy, scary characters. Here, he’s a timid and shy guy that has trouble reaching out to women, and instead of being creepy or inappropriate merely keeps to himself. So there’s a nice quietude in his character in juxtaposition with all the horrific realities of Leo’s situation. Watching Mikkelsen an Zlatko Buric together in the video shop is a treat, so different from their interactions in Pusher. They have good chemistry. But Mikkelsen really takes us into Lenny, and you can’t help rooting for him to finally push through to meet that girl he’s interested in.
Finally I cannot forget Levino Jensen playing the character of Louis, the violently racist brother to Louise. This guy is actually endearing in the early parts, even if you know he’s a bit of a hard ass. He just has this affectionate quality to him when with his sister particularly. Then there’s a switch, as Leo oversteps his boundaries and abuses Louise. Afterwards, we see Jensen break out in the character, making Louis into an intimidating person despite his stature. That’s the mark of a solid actor, when the physicality is second to the pure, intense emotion they can bring to a part. Jensen is such an actor, which I honestly didn’t expect. But he adds plenty to the film with his performance.
As opposed to other works from Nicolas Winding Refn, Bleeder is a simple piece of cinema. That’s not to say it’s dumbed down. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. It is raw and to the point, it is brutish, bloody nearing the end and always compelling. This is a close view of violent men; not in the movies, but in real life. Whereas Lenny ends the film embracing a corporeal romance, something palpable and not only the world he loves in the movies, Leo winds up falling into a real life event and story which mirrors the best, bloodiest pieces of cinema out there. It’s perhaps this final hideous act of violence involving Louis and Leo that forces Lenny towards finally stepping into the world, outside the camera’s frame, and finding a life that doesn’t only involve the fictional space of film.
This is a great movie that does not get enough credit. It’s honest and open, while also having an almost surreal aspect in its more intense moments. Refn will always divide people, but I wil always find him interesting, even if I come across something eventually that I don’t like. For now, it’s all good, baby!
This Is England. 2006. Directed & Written by Shane Meadows.
Starring Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Rosamund Hanson, Andrew Ellis, Perry Benson, George Newton, Frank Harper, & Jack O’Connell. Warp Films/Big Arty Productions/EM Media.
Unrated. 101 minutes.
Shane Meadows is a British National Treasure. His films are snapshots of British life in various ways. Above all else, his directing and writing gives us insight into the struggle of the lower class, from people living in council flats to those fighting war and coming home to a dreary life to skinheads and white nationalists struggling to discover some kind of place in the hierarchy of English citizens. Regardless of theme, his subjects are usually a part of the lower socioeconomic ladder. This technique is proper because the best films often illustrate the complexities of its issues, something Meadows is able to do time and time again.
This Is England tells two stories: that of skinhead subculture and its reappropriation by white nationalist groups, as well as the tale of a young man in a low class neighbourhood trying to find his way, fed up with being bullied and with nowhere else to turn but a damaged group of neo-Nazis. The realism of the film is what gives Meadows his edge. In the tradition of other well respected British filmmakers such as Ken Loach, this movie and the style of Meadows in his directorial choices makes This Is England an important piece of cinema. Not simply in terms of British film, but rather it is a hugely influential, emotional, provocative work that begs attention from the world. Best of all, though, it definitely has given the British film industry hope in the 21st century to have someone like Meadows making such excellent films.
Effectively, Meadows turns a personal story into one that attempts to demarcate the end of being a skinhead simply as an apolitical lifestyle, an attitude and a way of dress, before the white nationalists adopted it into a part of their system. The central story is about Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), his being a member of the lower class and slipping in amongst the cracks eventually almost right into the grasp of a dangerous ideology. However, around that with the influence of Combo (Stephen Graham) comes the major examination of skinhead culture. Today, you say the word skinhead and just about every last person you ask will associate that automatically with neo-Nazism. Rightfully so, as we see throughout This Is England. Because the apolitical nature of the original skinhead subculture clashed so brutally, often violently with the resurgence of Nazi ideologies in the 1960s through to the ’80s; of course there are still groups out there, but it seems up until the ’80s, maybe early ’90s was when the heyday of neo-Nazi subculture raged. In this sense, the situation between Combo and Milky (Andrew Shim) can be seen as a microcosm of the entire national situation in England with the skinheads and the white nationalists bumping up against one another. That emergence of senseless violence in Combo is like the turning point of where the white nationalism overtook skinhead subculture and made it their defining look.
To my mind, Graham is one of the best actors working today. He is consistently amazing from one project to the next, and his energy is undeniable. There’s this thing that Hollywood, and the movie industry as a whole, has with male actors of smaller stature where they don’t usually get enough attention, other than some of the classic guys from the 1970s like Dustin Hoffman, even Al Pacino who isn’t that big. They were able to break past any of that foolishness and impress with their style. Graham is one of those, whose size determines nothing about his performance. He is downright threatening, menacing to the extreme even in his quieter moments. The explosiveness of his temper as Combo is startling. Without him, this story would not come as effective as it does because his raw intensity, the emotion he coils up underneath the character is fascinating. One favourite moment, even though it’s so hard to choose: after Lol (Vicky McClure) leaves him alone in the car, Combo does all he can to prevent bursting out into tears, shaking and crying; a scene of wild emotion, very subtle, very personal.
Aside from Graham and an altogether spectacular cast, young Thomas Turgoose is a major reason why the character of Shaun and his whole story comes across so honest. Before this film he’d never acted. Apparently he’d previously been kicked out of his school play for bad behaviour, even demanded five quid for his audition. Amazing. But his lack of experience as a formal actor, or even amateur, pays off. His reactions, his timing, it’s all genuine and there’s no pretense in him whatsoever. I’m sure an experienced actor could’ve played the character of Shaun, but for a personal, truthful, tragic story and character someone like Turgoose was the perfect pick. The kid has charisma and he makes Shaun into an interesting character that in the hands of a professional actor might have been caught up in method over something more organic.
Shane Meadows wrote and directed one of the greatest films in the past couple decades. Certainly one of the best of the 21st century, and will remain so until the end of time. The cast is spot on, natural, led by the fantastically riveting performances of Stephen Graham and newcomer Thomas Turgoose. Keeping things natural and opting for a style akin to realism, Meadows captures the violent clash of subcultures in England through the eyes of a lost and lonely young boy. Not enough films are honest. This Is England comes across as some of the more honest cinema, British or otherwise, I’ve personally ever seen. The hardest truths to confront are most important, and Meadows does perfectly well navigating tough subject matter to create an engaging story that should resonate with many, today and long after tomorrow.