Live From The Sugarhouse

Posted: 30/03/2010 in Brit Flick, The Verdict
Tags: , , , , ,

Here it is folks. I haven’t even read back what I’ve written, but this is the first Liveblogging attempt. It’s pretty long, so I’m going to trial using  exerpts intead of full posts on the home page. Hope you enjoy!

********Warning Full SPOILERS*********

Sugarhouse (Love, 2007. UK)

00:00:20

A not quite middle aged white man traverses real London, beyond the City and the tourists, and though he is almost certainly a native, he seems uncomfortable out here, maybe in the heart of the city, perhaps as far afield as Zone 3. The graffiti tag stylising of the opening credits set the genre quite distinctly. British, urban, almost certainly gritty, dealing with class and poverty. Your standard inner-city drama/thriller I’d say. Oh, and Gollum’s in it as someone called ‘Hoodwink’ who I’ll bet is a kingpin drug dealer or gang lord type. Three to One.

Just in case we hadn’t noticed this man’s out-of-placeness, the handheld DV flags it up for us. His eyes light on a series of grotesques and caricatures as his unease becomes ours. Directed by Gary Love. He is accosted in a market café by Ashley Walters out of So Solid who earned his stripes and showed his chops in Bullet Boy. Here he seems to be playing some demented delinquent version of himself again. Less world weary than his lead role in that film.

As the altercation ends we see our man did intend to meet this capering rood boy Caliban, so what is he up to? He’s clearly involved in something over his head, that much is clear from the office attire and the way he gazes up at the high rise tower block they come to. A visually striking crane shot presents the block as something more than poorly-planned social housing for a moment, it is Hockney or one of those great American print artists. Then we snap down to ground level and it’s just somewhere you hope you won’t have to live. Or visit.

00:03:45

Flags are going up telling me- things are soon going to escalate. It will be violent, as Britflicks with any trace of identity are wont to be, and the assured world of this middle-class pen pusher will crumble about his ears. Let’s see what’s next…

B-boy hits him up for a quid and in amongst his pocket shrapnel he pulls out a wedding band. The plot thickens. Visual metaphors abound- a jet flies over them, shots are framed through bars, he looks at a Thames Valley police poster appealing for information about the murder of a nineteen your old, then past the poster, through the window at our boy chugging an extra-strength already. As he hobbles along besides our man’s controlled gait, it’s clear some mishap has befallen him. He looks homeless, though he says he’s got a ‘yard’ (as in Jamaican for house, not American for garden.)

Poor little Michaela, her mum’s a neglectful hooker and everyone knows. This could be a redundancy, or she may transpire to be integral at a later point. It seems at this stage that she serves to imbue this restless boy with some depth of character, some capacity for social commentary.

Fuck me, there’s a hairy naked geezer with nasty snake tattoos up the back of his legs. Mmm, symmetrical snake heads on the butt cheeks. Tasteful. Is that Andy Serkis? They’re taking care not to reveal his face, but he’s scary tattooed all over. Walking naked about his flat, doing something with an ice bucket. Well off and scary; drug lord or gang lord then.

In a rather stylish set of shots we see this fella, ‘hate’ tattooed tastefully across his knuckles, shaving a neat path up the centre of his scalp to reveal the Om tattooed on his crown. Religious type then. Well he’s certainly a hardnut, with his ice-water and deep-breathing Zen thing going on.

Our pair walk down some alley type  place with lovely dapply sunshine and B-boy leads blud, by means of breaking and entering, to his ‘secret den’ which seems to be some sort of warehouse/courtyard, with well-tagged old cars abandoned within. Our man finally starts speaking, wanting to get on with whatever transaction they’ve arranged. My money’s on drugs or a firearm. He makes a mistake by asking offhandedly if B-boy’s stalling because he’s lonely.  Might have touched a nerve there cracker. Suddenly he’s scratching and sweating, Withdrawal anyone? It seems a bit hammy, but I’ve never seen the real thing up close, so I won’t criticise the acting there. As he starts to get irate though, give our man his dues, he’s unruffled. This boy does talk a lot of shit. He thinks our police are called Feds, but then tries to talk clever. He fails.

00:11:36

It is Andy Serkis. He looks fucking scary right. Wearing that chunky bling and those slogans and icons, holding his head under freezing water till his face burns from the ice. Then it all gets dramatic. He realises something’s been stolen from behind the loose panel on the bath, he gets rather put out, his heavily pregnant girlfriend appears [wasn’t expecting that] and he throws on some white (!) trousers, reveals himself to be Scots [or possibly Irish, he didn’t say enough to be sure] and sets off out in pursuit, presumably, of B-boy and the misappropriated item. Oh and he’s got a parrot. He’s name is Michael, as his rather demanding partner drills into us repeatedly. The first character with a moniker too. She’s called Tania if it matters.

Meanwhile B-boy is being irate and tricksy, trying to elicit more cash. Turns out our man is called Horatio, which both demonstrates how posh he is and sets up the opportunity for Shakespearean reference or homage. B-boy ‘rolls deep blud’. Fo real.

Michael’s girlfriend won’t let him leave and he gets so angry he punches a hole in the door, but then, surprisingly, she faces him down and then talks him down. By leading him to chant a mantra “Nam myoho renge kyo” he dials back his rage and kneels to kiss her baby bump, which is quite a touching moment and it certainly makes their dynamic more interesting. He clearly isn’t a totalitarian; she holds power in the relationship too.

I’m impressed that Hoodwink keeps his calm as he walks away, still chanting, but the CU on his grazed knuckles clenching suggest it won’t last. As he walks away we see he lives in the strikingly geometric flats our pair passed earlier. So he’s not far away, will this be a race-against-time showdown then? Maybe he’ll save our man Horatio from B-boy at the last moment. Play on…

00:16:17

Horatio actually gives up his gold wedding band (in lieu of the fabricated £50 B-boy has decided he’s owed) with very little argument or apparent regret. It’s only when his watch is demanded of him too that he loses patience and tries to leave. Now though our boy is saying he’ll “do it for seven fifty.” Do what? Maybe this isn’t a simple transaction at all, maybe it’s a contract.

00:17:39.

Hoodwink’s shirt is really quite obnoxious: yellow with a white circles and squares sort of optical illusion pattern. They’re shooting him in a way that has become codified in gritty/urban cinema, over the right shoulder tracking shot as he bowls along determinedly. Oosh. Very Guy Ritchie.

He is on a mission now, he doesn’t even look round to kick a ball back to some kids.  In fact he pauses only momentarily to slap some jonesing Scotsman (who, no lie, actually uses the expression ‘hoots man.’) But from this we learn that it is, in fact, drugs, and that the parrot is kept in the window to signify that the tuck shop is open for business.

Credit to Horatio, he isn’t in the least  intimidated by this crackhead boy. He’s not handing his cash over till he sees what he’s buying. But now the boy’s playing games and going native in the warren of whatever this place is.

Meanwhile Hoodwink rocks up at some dirty crack den, where we learn that B-boy’s name is apparently D. Enlightening. Somewhat unsurprisingly, D has squirreled away a revolver which he now intends to use on Horatio, or at least threaten him a bit to shit him up. How could this possibly go wrong?

00:20:45

This is some stylish cinematography in this film, typical of the glossy urban gritflicks of the last ten years or so. The focus pulls so sharply that the words ‘Smith & Wesson’ crystallise out of the haze. Nice. Here’s the obligatory Taxi Driver homage shot. The boy’s just playing. A flock of startled birds flying at Horatio is probably supposed to make us jump, unsettle us. Perhaps the fact I keep pausing to type is undermining the tension. Andy Serkis looks like he’s  auditioning for a 70s musical about gay bouncers.

00:23:22

So he is buying the gun. Right, glad we cleared that up.

D is drawing out the transaction by twatting about playing war games, marksman, assassin. I’m already wishing he’d just hand the thing over and be done with it, but we’re less than a third of the way through. Apparently he’s killed ‘nuff people’. Horatio’s very amused by being threatened, which suggests to me he’s a man on the edge.

00:27:35

Hooooodwiiiiink’s heeeere. Meanwhile D is making some ghetto-speak attempt at social commentary. Woah, Horatio’s jumped D. Didn’t think he’s do that. He seemed like more of a rational words man. Nicely done though, over coat over the head.

Genius comedy moment here. Hoodwink silently moves along the hallway towards the wrestling me, he hears ‘uh uh uh give it to me, give it to me you dirty fucker’ then looks in through the big ragged hole in the wall to see them writhing together on a dirty mattress. Carry On Council Estate.

00:30:10

It’s like Hood is D’s dad and he’s just caught him at something shameful. D’s all embarrassed and making excuses. Sort of cute. More fancy camera work too, nice spiralling pan as Hood walks around Horatio, who is still sprawled on the floor. [Irish by the way] He doesn’t yet know that our man was trying to buy the gun, which we can safely assume is his, so this could go either way. Still, I’m willing to put money on ‘badly.’

It transpires that loving family man Hoodwink is a violent homophobe. He drags D out and starts kicking him about, eventually dangling him off a precipice and in the meantime inadvertently revealing to Horatio that he and D sis something terrible three weeks ago and D was supposed to be lying low. Hmm, the plot thickens. Well I suppose it had to.

Hoodwink could go down for life. They killed someone then. That’s original. Then he actually throws him off the edge, and lets him teeter for a few slo-mo seconds before pulling him back. That’s intense. I thought the kid was gone for a minute there.

00:33:00

Brutality and battery. Par for the course [see this post] and Hoodwink has some serious anger management issues. It also seems some residual guilt for whatever it is he’s done. Horatio’s peeping through some grille or mesh, like that’s an adequate screen, and I’ve got that horrible certainty that any second Hoodwink’s going to see him and gay bash him to a hideous pulp. I wish he’d just cut and run, but he won’t, cos he hasn’t got his best self-interests at heart and he really does want that gun. I don’t think he should use it though, it’s clearly a murder weapon and a hot one at that.

00:35:15

D is actually crying with fear and not without good reason. As he pleads and bleeds Horatio’s on the move again and it’s getting fucking tense! I might have to just watch for a bit so as not to disrupt the high-pitched tension.

00:36:18

No, I have to comment on this. Even as it gets more horrible, it’s so noticeably cinematic. The flight/fight naturally comes to a halt in some kind of arena on the workshop floor, very reminiscent of Chinese and Japanese cinema and the painstakingly choreographed showdowns. Almost as though the director has read the cinematographer’s mind however, he reminds us that this is England by bringing to the fight not master swordsmanship, or aerial displays with ribbons and martial artistry, but a heavy oil  drum, with which, unless Horatio  intervenes sharpish, D is about to get Irreversibled with.

00:39:18

That was intense. Our man made a mistake there; he took Hoods for a beast of reason, fuelled by monetary desire, but he is more and less than that, he demands to be obeyed above all else. He has cash, what he craves is power.

00:41:00

Hoodwink smokes. And he seemed like such a clean living individual. This is the first time in the film I’ve noticed the score. But I can’t tell if it’s because up  till this point they’ve used no incidental music, or whether it’s just been really good. I’m leaning towards the latter I think.

As we watch him the sun literally goes in and he begins the mantra again. Fucking mental this guy, crackpot.

Jesus, Horatio’s really fucked up. I didn’t realise Hoodwink got him that good.  00:44:00 and he’s finally lost his temper. What is this place? It’s an epic location.  Horatio makes a respectable attempt at battering down the toilet cubicle D has holed up in and now he’s pacing, spitting blood and feathers, just as cracked as Hoodwink, though clearly less accomplished at brutality. He might actually kill this kid. He would be riddled with middle-class guilt afterwards though. The question is begging now: Just what does he need a gun so badly for?

That’s some serious rage he’s venting. Comedy line of the year “I’m just a little crackhead man.”

00:46:30

Just as quickly as it ignited his fury is extinguished. But now we know he’s capable of some extremes under duress.

Meanwhile, the three hapless sixth formers D has set up as fall guys are starting to panic about why Hood would want to see them. I can’t see this subplot taking too long, H and D should get the hell out of Dodge before Hood works up another head of steam.

Well this is comedy for the nasty minded. as Hoodwink collars poor dimwitted Ray, the lad’s ‘fashionable’ half mast joggers nearly fall right off and we all get to see his pants. When oh when will boys realise how utterly ridiculous that is? Seriously. Comedy interlude #2, a screaming, raging Hoodwink pauses the sustained beating he is inflicting on the boy in order to answer his mobile. “Oh hello Paul, how are you doing?” Chilling and satirical in equal measure. I bet people really do that. It seems like this Paul is someone he’s actually scared of. Ah, he’s dispatching the brats to do his retrieval. Clever. Oh and it’s called Sugarhouse because the warehouse is on Sugarhouse Lane. If you were wondering.

So now Ray and his broken face want revenge on D. Because he grassed them up and he’s a batty boy. So, you know, that’s two lessons that need learning. I know worse things are going on in this film, but I can find room for strong distaste at their attitude. Stoner and all-round waste of space Gary finally emerges, fat joint ready rolled, and true to D’s word he is ‘well into his weapons’ and provides the boys with nunchuks and a tonfa with which to wreak their revenge. Sef, who I presumed was kind of the leader of the trio is dead against wading in with weapons and causing more damage, though Ray tries to bully him into it. This power conflict within the group is clearly going to be their undoing, and if they get into a situation it may well be something Horatio is more than capable of exploiting to turn them against each other.

00:52:56

Showing sudden and characteristic insight, D deduces the root of Horatio’s angst, though he rapidly returns to form by labelling the Shakespearean motivation as ‘lame’. In attempting to object to the criticism, Horatio does make himself seem more pathetic however. Six years?. Come on mate, get a grip.

00:55:21

Oh! Thicker and thicker. So D had a bit of a thing for a crack-addicted teenage prostitute (more moments of discomfiting comedy) and Horatio realises she was the shooting victim on the poster in the shop window at the beginning. Nearly two thirds in and the strands are beginning to come together.

00:56:14

Now we get to it. The betrayal. The soap opera betrayal. This feels a lot like a play. Lots of talking, then shouting, then talking again, slowly revealing themselves and building a relationship between these two improbable bedfellows. Maybe all the slick cinematography is to transcend the stagebound roots of the production. It’s okay, D fixes him with vodka.

01:00:00

I’m bored now. I really don’t need to hear these guys’ tragic life stories.

01:01:01

They heard me. The work experience gangsters bust in and chase D off the screen, leaving Horatio reeling, and sprawled on his arse yet again.  Well what’s he going to do now? Middle class guilt kicking in yet? The working class wisdom about the ingratitude of the privileged is a bit trite to be honest, and it’s old, it’s been done. Tell me something I don’t know Gary Love.

01:01:52

That was weird. Hoodwink is hanging out in a hideous, red-tinged drug den of Hell, doing coke and turning Buddha (well the fat guy Westerners think is Buddha) away to hide his shame. But in seconds the action cuts back to D, now gunless, the fool, fleeing from Ray and the sixth formers to some electronic chase music. Exciting times.

The boys chase D in his ill-fitting shoes, across rafters and scaffolding. I predict a messy fall to a death imminently. Snap back to Hood, Paul and Tania having a cosy afternoon coke session and when we get back it seems D has survived the Walk of Death after all. It’s all gone a bit 28 Days Later now.

01:05:08

Well that was intense. And that makes two for two on Rich Man saving Crackhead during a lambasting. But now he’s got the gun, so why does he need to stick around?

01:05:50

There’s something repulsive about seeing a pregnant woman smoking, even when you know it’s just for pretend.

01:09:20

So suddenly they’re hilarious brothers in arms? I don’t buy it somehow. I do buy the make up though. From Serkis’s grazed knuckles to Walters’ horrible teeth, they’ve done a bang up job. When you notice that though, either you’re a film student, or something’s amiss. It’s hard for me to tell the difference sometimes. Play on…

01:10:45

They did it again. A violent, manic tour de force from Serkis, some camera trickery that for a moment made me think he was actually killing someone. Power of suggestion. Twenty intense seconds of him ripping the shit out of the lift, literally tearing it to shreds as it descends from the fifth floor to the ground, then the doors open and a doddery little old lady is waiting outside. She totters myopically into the lift and then as Hoodwink rants away, notices the carnage around her with a slapstick expression of surprise. Oh Gary love, you are a card.

01:12:15 “Who’s demented now?” asks D and again the Caliban comparison comes to mind, as he cavorts about with his cherished rock, jibing in Creole, body twisted  from ill-use.

It’s all coming to a head here. Will one of them be willing to die for the other? I doubt Horatio could use a gun, he’s so cack handed he couldn’t even open the chamber.

01:12:33

Maybe not. He’s managed to aim and cock it. I see now that Hoodwink is carrying a machete. Fuck.

01:19:21

Well that’s that then. Someone had to go. Revelations abound and all. That machete cut on Horatio’s back looked really painful too. Nice blood spatter photography from inside the wrecked car, neat touch that. So what of the last ten minutes? My guess is H sacrifices himself to the authorities to save D. Evens on that happening?

01:25:41

No, the down and out takes the rap for the bad things he’s done and the privileged man gets to walk back to his comfortable, if emotionally bereft life. Which doesn’t seem to sit quite right. He leaves D alone, and broken, he leaves little Michaela on the park bench and he heads back to King’s Cross as the ‘feds’ arrive. I was waiting to hear the crack of a gunshot behind him, or for him to turn back. Obviously it would be too neat for him to save D, just like that, but worse still surely just to leave him there?

01:28:54.

Fin.

Well, I suppose it was pretty good all things told. It raises social and moral questions, in a somewhat obvious way, but there is food for thought. It would have benefited from less speechifying though; I really hate that. So the moral is: there’s no escape from poverty. And if you’re privileged be grateful and steer clear of the slums even if your wife really fucked you over, cos whatever you may think, it gets worse. Still, only the real bad guy dies and institutionalising isn’t the worst thing to have happened to D in his life, but there are losses on all counts and Tania’s nicotine-addled baby has to grow up without a daddy. Though that may well be for the best.

Heavy handed in places, but stylishly shot with bursts of heavyweight acting amongst talky dreck and some dark comic flourishes that lend a very British irreverence to the farce of life.

There you have it, a stream-of-conscious live response in three and a half thousand words.

Solo x

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