Small Axe: Red, White and Blue review

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Steve McQueen’s extraordinary five-part series, Small Axe, set in the heart of London’s West Indian community from the 1960s to the 1980s, continues on BBC One with Red, White and Blue, co-scripted with Courttia Newland and starring John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Based on a true story it follows the fortunes of a black British man, Leroy Logan (Boyega) who decides to change career and become a police officer.

Red, White and Blue explores institutional racism and the alienation of black youth in Thatcher’s Britain, as well as celebrating the triumph of hope and the importance of family. It opens with Leroy, an innocent-faced schoolboy, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his father (Steve Toussaint). Ken arrives late and, to his horror, finds his son being questioned by the police under the bitterly resented SUS law, which allows them to stop and search anyone they deem suspicious, and to target black and ethnic minority communities. Ken’s reaction is entirely understandable, but the experience marks Leroy in a different way.

Years later, Leroy has a successful career as a research scientist. After his father is brutally beaten up by racist police officers, he decides to sign up with the metropolitan police in the hope of making a difference; believing that he can change the organisation from the inside. Ironically, Leroy’s successful enrolment in Hendon’s training academy is determined more by a sudden “drive for coloured recruits” than his skills as a scientist. His decision is bitterly resented by Ken but encouraged by his auntie, who works in police liaison and believes Leroy would be a “benefit to the community”.

Hit on all sides, Leroy finds himself sorely tested by the bigotry of his fellow recruits while members of the local black community label him a “traitor. He proves to be a brilliant student – fit, conscientious and highly motivated. Although recognised as “best all-round recruit”, the persistent racism begins to take its toll. His superiors and fellow trainees repeatedly undermine Leroy and, on graduation, he is relegated to street duties. Their xenophobia is brilliantly encapsulated in a fast-paced scene where Leroy confronts and chases a violent criminal through a printing factory and his fellow officers fail to respond to his urgent requests for backup.

Much of Shabier Kirchner’s footage is shot through car windows, giving a palpable sense of being watched. The period is beautifully evoked through music, Sinéad Kidao’s costume design, Hannah Spice’s detailed domestic interiors and verbal references – there’s a wonderful moment when Leroy tells a cousin, “I want to join the force.” His incredulous response is: “What? You’re going to join the Jedi?” A clever signifier of the time as well as a nod to Boyega’s acting career. Red, White and Blue captures a moment in history, before the onslaught of knife crime and gang shootings, but there are already signs of disaffection in the local black communities.

Toussaint and Boyega are particularly impressive and their father-son dynamic is utterly believable. Toussant conveys all the intensity of a proud, embittered father, desperate for his day in court and betrayed by the system, whiles Boyega exudes the optimism and quiet confidence of a man determined to succeed against all odds. McQueen and Newland’s assured script grips from the start and keeps us deeply involved in the characters’ fates. Not to be missed.

Red, White and Blue, the third of the five Small Axe films created by Steve McQueen for BBC One, airs at 9pm on Sunday 29 November.

Lucy Popescu | @lucyjpop

Film Review: Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula

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Train to Busan was something of a miniature miracle: a distinctly Korean zombie film at a time when audiences had been chomped-out for years. Director Yeon Sang-ho’s Peninsula is a solid follow up to his original, with just about enough shambling momentum to distract from a fairly uninspired plot.

Part of what made Train to Busan such a trip was that its premise – zombies on a train! – was not only brilliant, but that it had never really been attempted before on film. The execution of that premise was just as brilliant in its idiosyncrasy – funny, violent and in the end surprisingly moving.

Peninsula more or less hits the same marks, though without the pinpoint accuracy of its predecessor. Its premise – a team of refugee survivors return to the Korean peninsula in search of abandoned loot – is far less original but just as narratively efficient and feels sufficiently genre-y, like a chunky STV knock off of The Dirty Dozen. Credit is due, too, to making this sequel feel distinct from the first film. As the title suggests, it’s really more of a spin off set in the same world as Train to Busan, but as a result avoids aping its predecessor, instead expanding on its world and themes.

There’s something very Romero-esque, too, about a zombie franchise that reinvents itself with every new iteration; the director of Night of the Living Dead, excelled at making his Dawn, Day, Land, Diary, and Survival of the Deads all distinct from one another. Peninsula is entirely in keeping with that tradition.

Where it falls down – as Romero’s later sequels did – is in its confusion over what it’s actually trying to say. The admirable distinctness from its forbear is dampened somewhat in that that many of its new ideas are recycled from other zombie narratives – fans of The Walking Dead series, Romero’s Land of the Dead and the brilliant (and superior) Blood Quantum will recognise many of the tropes that Peninsula falls back on, especially in the privileging of human baddies over the shambling undead.

Nevertheless, there’s little denying the visceral thrills of the gladiatorial death match between hapless prisoners and captured zombies – set in an old mall, natch – that comprises the film’s best set piece. And while the core characters are fairly rote, Jung-seok’s (Gang Dong-won) redemption arc works well enough to foster empathy with the core crew of survivors.

Despite his film’s flaws, Yeon’s sense of energy, fun and peril are enough to see us through. Peninsula may be a little stale around the edges, but there’s still a great deal of bloody, bone-crunching pleasure to be had at its centre.

Christopher Machell | @MachellFilm

Martin Scorsese’s top five films

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Martin Scorsese is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. The American film director has been working in the industry since he turned 20 in 1962. In that time, he’s married five wives (and divorced four), received 17 major awards after being nominated for 76, and worked both in front of and behind the camera.

At 78 years old, Scorsese is the most-nominated living person for the Academy Award for Best Director. Having been put forward for the award nine times, he’s second in the all-time list, behind only William Wyler who received an astonishing 12 nominations.

He’s also one of just a few people who have received top categories awards for film, music, and television, thanks to his Academy Award, Grammy Award, and three Primetime Emmy Awards. It’s no surprise then, these have been picked up from many of his best pieces of work, including these five.

Casino (1995)

Casino hit movie theatres in 1995, telling a story of greed, power, and money. It follows Sam Rothstein, or as he’s more commonly known, Sam the Ace. Sam is a Jewish American from Chicago who gets asked to move to Las Vegas by a Mafia syndicate to run one of their casinos.

Casino is based on the true story depicted in the Nicholas Pileggi book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. Its cast includes several big names like Robert De Niro, James Woods, Sharon Stone, and Kevin Pollak. They helped to make the film a commercial success, grossing $116.1 million at the box office from an initial budget of around $40 million.

Casino is available on a number of streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime Video and can be bought from iTunes and the Google Play Store. If you’d like to learn more to decide if you’ll like it, you can find a more in-depth Casino movie review here.

Goodfellas (1990)

Perhaps one of Scorsese’s most famous movies, Goodfellas is another gritty crime film that follows the mob. Working alongside Nicholas Pileggi and Robert De Niro again, as well as Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, Scorsese adapted the script during rehearsals. He found that the actors could make the lines more gripping by allowing them to ad-lib and would write down the lines he liked, adapting the script accordingly.

Like Casino, the book is based on a Pileggi book, this time titled Wiseguy. Originally, Goodfellas was intended to share the same name, but it was later changed by Scorsese. Goodfellas follows the story of Henry Hill, a member of the mob, as he rises through the ranks of the Mafia and eventually falls from grace.

From a budget of $25 million, Goodfellas was a commercial success, generating more than $46 million at the box office. It also won Best Film at the British Academy Film Awards, as well as Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. In addition to these, Goodfellas received 25 other awards, and has been included in the United States Library of Congress due to it being considered “culturally significant”.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street is another gritty movie taken from a book that’s based on real-world events. Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead, the film shows the rise and fall of a stockbroker named Jordan Belfort.

DiCaprio stars alongside Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie, depicting the deception and shady tactics used by Stratton Oakmont, the investment brokerage run by Belfort.

As well as being a huge commercial success, making $392 million from a $100 million budget, The Wolf of Wall Street set a Guinness World Record for the most swearing in a movie, using one particular profanity 569 times throughout, equating to an average of 2.81 times per minute.

Gangs of New York (2002)

Gangs of New York was the first time Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese worked together, forming a relationship that remains today.

The film is another crime film based on true events, using Herbert Asbury’s 1927 book that shares the same name as its foundation. It depicts the battle between two rival gangs of mid 19th century New York. The film was praised for the “electrifying” performance of Daniel Day-Lewis and the great production design.

Taxi Driver (1976)

Scorsese’s success isn’t limited to the 1990s and 21st century, the 1976 psychological thriller Taxi Driver is one of his best pieces of work.

Starring Robert De Niro, Albert Brooks, Jodie Foster, Cybil Shepherd, and several other big names, they tell the story of a New York cab driver called Travis Bickle. This loner plots to kill a presidential candidate and a pimp while he struggles to find a purpose in life.

While one of his plots fails, the other turns out to be an accidental success, winning him the praise of the public.

Click here to read more about Taxi Driver.