Toronto International Film Festival Day 6

Posted 14 September 2017

Brawl In Cell Block 99                              

I'm flagging a bit…three films a day nearly every day and I have just watched two extremely different films in less than twelve hours!

First off, a late night screening of S. Craig Zahler's follow-up film to Bone Tomahawk, his ultra-violent western/horror mash-up from two years back. His new film, Brawl In Cell Block 99, is another genre-bending effort that mixes a bit of a heist movie and a dusting of social commentary with a lot of a prison movie and then adds a large dose of bone-crunching violence for fans of exploitative gore. Zahler enlists Vince Vaughn (currently reinventing himself as a tough guy after exhausting his talent for humour  in too many formulaic laugh-free comedies) to play Bradley, a guy with a shaven head that has a crucifix tattooed on the back of it, who loses his job as a repo-man, takes up running drugs, gets caught in a deal that goes badly wrong and finally gets sent to prison. Only then does the film properly start, but it's already been on for nearly an hour. The next hour and a quarter is a succession of bloody (and I mean bloody) brawls that stretched both credulity and patience - and It was getting way past my bed time

Zahler is a hot property right now but a good exploitation film shouldn't go over 90 minutes, max; this goes on for two and a quarter hours! Added to that, it is an ugly film to watch; its low budget shows in every shot and the fight scenes are just ponderous. I am sure this was the intention but it all seems so contrived that you almost expect Udo Kier to appear at any moment and start chewing the scenery; oh and then after seventy-five minutes, he does. Gorehounds will love it and I'm sure Vaughn will have a new career in such fare but Vince, you were already so money, you just didn’t seem to know it.

After it finally ended I just had time to snatch a few hours sleep so I could catch a nice film. And they don't come any nicer than Paul McGuigan's adaptation of Peter Turner's Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool, the unlikely true story of the last years in the life of Hollywood's greatest femme fatale, Gloria Graham; who, in her twilight years in the late 1970s was scratching a living doing repertory theatre around the UK. How she and Turner (thirty years her junior) fell in love is the stuff of fairytale, but tragedy befell Grahame; she was stricken with cancer and spent her final months bedridden at the home of the Turner family in Liverpool. This sort of film is something the British do so well; beautifully produced, humorous, nostalgic and something for Julie Walters to be in. Julie is Peter's mum, Bella, and does the full gamut of Walters tropes - an exaggerated accent (obviously scouse here), a funny haircut (a sort of bowl-cut) and weird spectacles, all of which will guarantee her a BAFTA nomination for best supporting actress.

Thankfully the two leads manage to salvage the film. Jamie Bell is splendid as Peter Turner and Annette Bening is just wonderful as Gloria Grahame; she manages to capture her essence instead of trying to do an impersonation of her and she allows the film to avoid slipping into mawkishness. Hopefully we can screen a short season of Grahame's film noirs at the Showroom when it is released.

It will inevitably be a huge popular success huge success and be a full house when it has its Early Doors screening…just don't ask me to introduce it.

Martin Carter

Principal Film Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, Martin regularly gives lectures and courses at The Showroom Cinema in Sheffield.Read more posts by Martin Carter

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