British

Eavesdropping at the Movies – The Party

Sally Potter’s all-too-brief comedy drama polarises us, which makes a nice change to the agreements we’ve been having recently. Is it smug or knowing? Is its range of incongruous acting styles engaging or distancing? Who knows. But Sally Potter is very very very important in British cinema and feminism and queer representation, says Jose, who then has the nerve to criticise The Party for having its right-on cake and eating it.

Includes a reminiscence of seeing a man stand up in a screening of I, Daniel Blake and a magic trick where I convince Jose I have an extraordinary memory.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions.

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The Riot Club

Released 2014. Directed by Lone Scherfig. Screenplay by Laura Wade, adapted from her play, Posh. Starring Max Irons, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger, Sam Reid.

Spoilers in the review, folks. Don’t fret, I’ll pay for the damage.

I once heard it said that all American stories are about race, while all British stories are about class. If there’s truth to that aphorism – and I think there is – then The Riot Club might be seen as an attempt to deliver the ne plus ultra of the British story. It articulates a hatred between quote-unquote “poor people” (also known as ‘the majority of the UK’) and the Bullingdon Club elite: the hatred of the poor coming from the characters; the hatred of the gentry coming from the film. It’s been an issue since long before I was born, but one which has experienced a surge in familiarity in the public consciousness since former Bullingdon Club member David Cameron took leadership of the Conservative Party. What’s different here is that it’s not dealt with as subtext or a secondary theme, as is typical. It’s actually quite remarkable and energising to see such a direct portrayal of a class distinction of which the entire country is aware and on which most people would surely declare an opinion, if not allegiance. The Riot Club attacks its theme from point-blank range…

… and yet it still manages to miss.

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The Inbetweeners 2

The Inbetweeners 2

Released 2014. Written and directed by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris. Starring Simon Bird, James Buckley, Joe Thomas, Blake Harrison.

When the highest praise I can think of for a film is, ‘Well, it was definitely a film, not just a big TV episode’, then we’re in trouble. The Inbetweeners 2 is the latest in the long line of British sitcoms to enjoy a movie spin-off (indeed, as the title indicates, this series has spawned two cinema excursions), and it’s to its credit that it shows slightly in excess of no directorial ambition whatsoever. But that’s about all the credit I can give it.

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Locke

Released 2014. Written and directed by Steven Knight. Starring Tom Hardy.

There are plot spoilers here, although they are locked behind the first paragraph. Get it? Locked. Locke-d. Locke is the name of the film. Forget it.

There’s a breed of film that likes to restrict itself. It uses a single very concise location, or one main one with very few excursions elsewhere; it tells its story in real time, or near-real time; it features very few actors (often only one), who appear throughout. Of this breed, there are two flavours. There are the interesting ones, such as Buried and Rope; then there are the extraordinarily silly ones, such as Phone Booth and Devil. (Sometimes, I admit, you will come across a film that straddles this distinction, and that film is Carnage.) No matter what their variations on the theme, these films all have one thing in common, which is that I love them unconditionally. Imposing limits on oneself is a reliable recipe for something fun or intriguing – these films are laboratory experiments designed to discover what is possible to achieve despite confinement, and they’re always playful. Locke, set entirely within a car driven by Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) from Birmingham to London, is a member of the interesting group: it’s slow, careful, visually rich and utterly engrossing.

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Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Released 2014. Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Screenplay by Walter Campbell, based on “Under the Skin” by Michel Faber. Starring Scarlett Johansson.

Under the Skin is film of a type that is predictably disappointing. It’s beautiful, methodical and curious, and absolutely impenetrable. It’s of a type that is legitimised by people who express distaste for tentpole releases, saying that films shouldn’t tell simply tell the audience everything they have to offer; that as a viewer, I need to be putting in the work to extract meaning. Indeed, I agree with this. It’s the intensity with which that opinion is held that I find problematic, because it ends up allowing wilfully opaque films to evade criticism – it’s as though they’re so difficult to understand, they must be saying something meaningful, even though you haven’t a clue what it is. This is the case with Under the Skin, a film that is utterly unyielding to interpretation. The overall experience is frustrating, though enticing.

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