THE BIG RELEASE
A LOW-BUDGET Brit flick featuring a coming-of-age drama set against the hip rap battle scene of, er, Southend-on-Sea, sounds ‘well cringe’, as the kids likely now never say. Yet director Ed Lilly’s debut proves to be a surprisingly authentic and punchy watch, lent a fresh eye by female director of photography Annika Summerson and guidance by real-life UK rap battlers such as Rowan ‘Eurgh’ Faife, Tony D, Gemin1 and Shuffle T.
Connor Swindells is largely persuasive as a troubled foster teen — a wounded little boy inside an almost man — who gets introduced to the UK battle-rap scene and rather too quickly becomes a star. It helps him channel his aggression but when he doorsteps the biological mother who abandoned him to 12 years in care, his demons threaten to destroy everything.
VS gains strength by not trotting out easy Hollywood solutions to complex problems. Nor does it lay on the seaside location too thick. There’s a conscious diversity to the cast and characters in terms of ethnicity, sexuality and gender that’s more cheering than clunky.
Special mention goes to newcomer Fola Evans-Akingbola — another ex-pupil of the Identity School of Acting that launched both John Boyega and Letitia Wright — who injects some female energy into proceedings as the rap-battle crew’s instigator and MC.
With a soundtrack curated by Rob Da Bank and an end theme song by Ray BLK, this is that rare thing, a film that tries to be down with the kids and actually might succeed in talking to them on their level.
Instead of trying to be the English 8 Mile, VS concentrates on doing its own thing and does it well.
Oh we do like to rap-battle beside the seaside in this authentic Brit debut.
From award-winning Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone comes another crime tale similarly set in a poor outlying Italian community ruled over by the Camorra. This one, however, feels less like a Netflix series-in-waiting and more like a timeless fable of one man’s temptation by the devil.
Marcello (Marcello Fonte) is a doleful dog groomer who endearingly adores his canine clients and his little daughter. Weak-willed but kindly, Marcello is fatally in thrall to Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a thuggish, no-limits, cocaine-fuelled monster with ‘Uncle Sam’ stitched on to his jacket, who pulverises anyone or anything who looks at him. When events take an inevitably dangerous turn, will Marcello’s worm turn?
A daring mix of humour, morality play and extreme violence, it’s stunningly composed and just as stunningly acted. Fonte justly scooped best actor at Cannes for his performance. Like Mean Streets as directed by Paolo Sorrentino. With extra poodles.
Also out: More new releases
Hunter Killer (15)
Gerard Butler. Gary Oldman. Explosions. Submarine. Bet you feel like you’ve already seen this, eh? Butler growls his way through yet another action thriller as a US submarine captain tasked with rounding up some elite Navy Seals to rescue a kidnapped Russian president in order to avert World War III. Golly, I wonder if he’ll succeed…
Fahrenheit 11/9 (15)
In Fahrenheit 9/11, his 2004 Palme d’Or winner, outspoken film-maker Michael Moore indicted George W Bush’s US administration in what’s apparently the highest-grossing documentary of all time. Here he takes a similar critical poke in the eye of Donald Trump’s presidency by posing two key questions: ‘How the f*** did we get here?’ and ‘How the f*** do we get out?’
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (PG)
Too young for Michael Myers and his bloody shenanigans? Kiddies still get to sink their fangs into some Halloweeny fun this half-term with a comedy horror sequel based on the bestselling book series by author RL Stine (once again played by Jack Black).