Directed by cult filmmaker Ron Peck, Empire State (Network) is a sleazy 1987 crime drama set in Thatcherite London. Peck, who counted Derek Jarman among his peers, carved himself a niche in the 80s for his groundbreaking gay dramas, but Empire State saw him court crossover appeal by fusing his established themes onto a gangland thriller template. The tactic proves more successful than you might expect, and the director follows the exploits of a charismatic ensemble cast whose brash money-making schemes revolve around the glitzy Empire State nightclub. In the race to get ahead, rent-boys rub shoulders with yuppies, and immorality is very much the order of the day.
Hollywood star Martin Landau heads the cast as Chuck, a cynical American property developer with a predilection for rough trade, but the film is chock-full of recognisable faces, not least a pre-fame Sadie Frost and Jamie Foreman. Empire State courted controversy upon its original release, when the so-called moral majority objected to its gleeful blend of violence, bad language and transgressive sexuality. Strangely enough, its oddly prescient mixture of gangland grittiness and high camp feels well suited to the modern era, suggesting that Empire State was way ahead of its time back in the late ’80s. Empire State won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a fascinating curio that deserves to be plucked out of the video wasteland and offered up to a new generation of viewers.
Regular readers may remember me crossing paths with Cockney gangland thriller Jack Said back in October 2009. Suffice to say, the results weren’t pretty, and the movie was dismissed as ‘excruciatingly bad’. It was with some trepidation that I slotted sequel Jack Falls (Lionsgate) into my DVD player, but I’m pleased to report that the new movie is immeasurably better than the lamentable Jack Said. The film opens in Amsterdam, with central character Jack Adleth (Simon Phillips) surviving a murder attempt. Fully recuperated, with numerous scores to settle, Jack heads back to London where he vows to unravel the mystery behind his attempted murder and make his enemies pay. But can he stay in control of his emotions, or will his demons swallow him whole?
Reportedly displeased at the way his source material was handled in Jack Said, Paul Tanter -the creative force behind the Jack Trilogy -persuaded the studio to let him pick up the directorial reins, and he acquits himself admirably in his first directorial role, presiding over a number of slick set-pieces. With a Guy Ritchie-esque cast and a Sin City-esque colour scheme, Jack Falls invites comparisons with its illustrious influences, and in truth, comes up short. Although Simon Phillips is more convincing than he was in Jack Said, he still lacks the charisma to carry the film through its less convincing moments, and the involvement of actors such as Tamer Hassan (The Business), Adam Deacon (Kidulthood) and Martin Kemp (The Krays), as well as Lock, Stock alumni Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng highlights his comparative lack of screen presence. Jack Falls is an appealing ending to what the producers have described as the ‘first ever British trilogy’, but not quite the cult gangster thriller it could have been.
Retro hooligan chic has barged its way back onto our cinema screens in recent years, with the likes of The Firm and Awaydays (both 2009), and now its time for a genuine curio from the bygone era to take its place in the hooligan foodchain. Adapted in 1990 by Nick Perry from his award-winning play of the same name, Arrivederci Millwall (Vertigo) follows the exploits of a posse of hooligans as they head to Spain to follow England in the 1982 World Cup. Buoyed by an impressively intense performance from Kevin O’Donohoe, who stars as chief troublemaker Billy Jarvis, the film explores the unpredictable fallout from the Falklands War, as racial tensions continue to run high.
Clocking in at under an hour, Arrivederci Millwall fizzles out just as it starts to get going, and never quite makes the most of its intriguing premise. In truth, if it went toe-to-toe with fellow retro hooligan movies like 1988’s The Firm and 1994’s ID it would probably get its head kicked in. Interestingly, while most of the cast ended up treading water in the likes of Doctors and The Bill, director Charles McDougall went to America where he went on to direct the likes of Sex and the City and The Office. Not a classic, but an engaging cult curio. (Note: Arrivederci Millwall is only available as part of a double-pack with The Football Factory.)
Based on the ‘misery memoir’ bestseller of the same name by Kevin Lewis, The Kid (Revolver) is actor-turned director Nick Moran’s second directorial feature. True stories obviously fascinate Moran, whose earlier film Telstar explored the colourful life of maverick music producer Joe Meek, and Lewis’s story is certainly an eye-opening one. Beaten and starved by his demented mother (Natascha McElhone), and overlooked by negligent social services personnel, Kevin (Rupert Friend) finds himself adopted by a loving foster family. After several happy years, however, Kevin’s best laid plans quickly disintegrate, and the trusting youngster finds himself embroiled in London’s criminal underworld, where a string of unscrupulous individuals take advantage of Kevin’s trusting nature by forcing him into a life as a bare-knuckle fighter.
The Kid manages to be brutally bleak and sickeningly sweet in equal measure, and the miserable domestic violence is interrupted at regular intervals by a succession of well-meaning characters such as Bernard Hill’s kindly social worker and Ioan Gruffudd’s teacher-with-a-conscience. Rupert Friend seems ill-at-ease with the criminality flaunted during the second half of the movie, and it is unclear whether the fault lies with him, or with the director. Although he seems like a slightly limp central presence, post-credits footage reveals his impersonation of the real Kevin Lewis to be unnervingly accurate, belatedly adding kudos to his curious performance. Nevertheless, unless you are fascinated by cruelty in all of its forms, you’re probably better off sticking to Nick Moran’s multi-faceted debut Telstar and leaving The Kid to the misery merchants.