Tag Archives: britain

Dead Man’s Shoes – Review

16 Sep

Revenge tales are a dime a dozen in the movie business. If were to count how many films were released per year whose main focus was on a character getting revenge, the results would probably be staggering. Luckily for me and everyone else, I don’t have that kind of patience. The point of what I’m trying to say is that if someone wants to make a revenge film, they better make it original in one way or another, because if not, they don’t give anyone a real reason to see it. Enter Shane Meadow’s little revenge flick from 2004, Dead Man’s Shoes. This is a movie that has me torn in every sense of the word. On one end, this is a great story with enough originality to please any film buff, but also some weak writing and plotting that makes the entire movie feel close to wasted.

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Richard (Paddy Considine) is a veteran returning back to his small English town to find it still in the hands of a small time group of drug dealers and thugs. These men don’t pose a serious threat to the community, but that wasn’t the worry of Richard’s in the first place. Richard has come for a much more personal form of revenge after he learns of the torture that this gang put his mentally challenged younger brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell), through. As Richard’s vengeance becomes much more physically and psychologically violent, the drug dealers become more desperate and we are left to wonder if Richard is pushing things way too far.

To start with what’s really good about this movie, the story, at it’s very core, is actually really good because it caused me to actually really analyze the situation. This isn’t a story of really good guys that we can root for pitted against really bad guys that we love to hate. While Richard is seen as the protagonist, for most of the movie, I felt kind of uncomfortable with how he was acting and the violence that he was doing in order to achieve his mission of revenge. On the flip side, while the gang is definitely a despicable group of punks, they aren’t what I’d call evil. This leaves the story left in a morally gray area where there isn’t good vs evil, it’s actually just one person against other people.

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Where Dead Man’s Shoes fails in a way that hurts my very soul is the way the plot is laid out. I’m such a stickler for plots and narrative structure since the whole reason I love to watch movies is to get lost in a story. A movie can have nothing special going for it visually, but if it has a great story that’s plotted well, I really could care less. Dead Man’s Shoes has a great story that is plotted miserably. I felt like the movie went from A to C and brushed right by B only revealing the littlest but. A movie of this intensity that involves physical and psychological vengeance needs to have suspense, and this movie had very little. Don’t get me wrong, there was a scene or two with great suspense, so it was there, but there wasn’t enough in the movie as a whole.

So yes, the movie is almost spoiled by lack of suspense and a messy narrative structure, but not all of the writing is bad. Being co-written by both Shane Meadow (the director) and Paddy Considine (the star), the movie does have excellent dialogue and scenes. This might also add to the fact that I wanted more movie. The dialogue performed by the actors was so natural and real that it brought a level of realism to the film. That combined with Meadow’s often documentary-like directing in many of the scenes. You can see that the movie was made cheaply, but that doesn’t change the fact that it looks great and has great performances, especially by Paddy Considine who gives one of the most menacing performances I’ve seen in awhile.

Dead Man’s Shoes pulls me in a few different directions. On one end, I’m disappointed at the lack of suspense and the way the story just kinda rushes by, not giving me any time to get really nervous. On the other end, the story is original, the acting is excellent, and the ending kind of blew me backwards. It’s also true that as I’ve had time to think about it, I really want to see it again, and knowing what it’s all about I might like it a little bit more. I do like this movie, but not quite as much as I should have.

 

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Ratcatcher – Review

18 Aug

Back when I was just starting college, I took a class called “film and video analysis” where we would watch a film and dig deep into how it was made and what the entire point of the movie actually was. Amongst a few others, one that really stood out to me was Ratcatcher, a film that is really nothing like it sounds. Over the years since I took that course, I haven’t gotten a chance to revisit the movie until just recently, and I was pleased that it still had the same effect on me as it did when I first saw it. This is a somber yet poetic movie about the loss of innocence in an environment where only certain people could survive and even fewer escaped.

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After accidentally causing his good friend (Thomas McTaggart) to drown, James (William Eadie) is left to suffer with his guilt while trying to make the best of life in a poor section of Glasgow during garbage strike of 1973. Trash and pests litter the streets and backyards of James’ town, which causes him to dream about life outside of the city. James’ parents George (Tommy Flanagan) and Anne (Mandy Matthews) are doing what they can to provide for their children and be relocated to new developments outside of the city, although James’ relationship with his father is strained by alcoholism and a severe lack of any other connections. James finds solace in visiting the new housing projects and making friends with neighborhood girl Margaret (Leanne Mullen), who is tortured by the local teenage boys.

Ratcatcher is a very episodic movie without a really strong conflict holding the entire movie together. What really holds the movie together is the thematic mood that writer/director Lynne Ramsay has created. The style of this movie is very similar to British Realism, and Ramsay’s particular film making techniques reminds me of Andrea Arnold’s (Fish TankWasp) technique. While Ratcatcher takes place in Scotland, it is a British and Scottish production, so similarities in style makes sense. This works perfectly well for this movie, and I would consider it one of the most honest films I have ever seen. There is no sugar coating or inappropriate optimism here. It depicts a difficult life for a most difficult child.

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That picture right above this really summarizes the mood of the film. I have to give major props to the child actors in this movie, but especially William Eadie. His role is extremely difficult, and it’s surprising that he manages to hold it all together so well. He comes across as very intelligent but just as naïve. The weight of this role really should be more than a kid his age could handle. He’s up there with Catinca Untaru from The Fall. Another excellent performance can be seen in Leanne Mullen, who plays the role of Margaret, the tortured neighborhood girl. I read one review that compares her facial acting to Maria Falconetti and her performance in The Passion of Joan of Arc. This movie, especially with its roots in British Realism, wouldn’t have worked without the performances of these young actors.

Something else that Ramsay really succeeds at is painting a portrait of the time period and the setting that Ratcatcher is trying to portray. This is a dark side of Glasgow in the 1970s during a most unbelievable conflict concerning the trash men. It’s amazing that people lived this way for a while with rats and garbage piled up and dead animals laying amongst it. Ramsay’s uncompromising portrayal of this deserves a round of applause, especially with everything she had to go through to get this result. She even went so far as to dig a new canal for filming purposes. That is dedication that payed off in the end.

Ratcatcher is a thought provoking coming of age story that I still can’t quite get a grasp on. Is it a commentary on the lifestyle of the time or is it simply about loss of innocence in the most extreme way possible? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Still and all, I was pleased to see that this movie still amazed me even after the time that I haven’t seen it. I remembered a lot from when I watched it in school, but there were parts that still surprised me. This is a disturbingly poetic film that tells a wonderful story about a damned childhood. Definitely a must see.

Bronson – Review

20 Nov

Without giving away too much of the plot yet, let me just say that Bronson is based off of a true story. To anyone who has seen this movie before, it just makes the entire spectacle all the more ridiculous. Nicholas Winding Refn, whose most recanting outings of Drive and Only God Forgives has made him a more prominent name in the American film scene, already created a strange and beautiful head trip with Bronson. This isn’t your average, everyday biopic. This is a biopic through the eyes of a madman about a madman.

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Michael Peterson (Tom Hardy) didn’t come from a bad household, nor was he given a hard time at school. Michael Peterson, however, loved to fight. Combine that with his desire to be famous is a nasty concoction of insanity. After his first stint in prison, he spends his 69 days in the outside world bare knuckle boxing under his new name, “Charlie Bronson.” His time outside of prison doesn’t last long, and before he’s out for even a year, he’s back to what he calls home: a maximum security prison where his main goal is becoming “Britain’s Most Dangerous Prisoner.”

Keeping this a traditional, straight forward biopic wouldn’t be doing it’s subject any justice. Michael Peterson is a loose cannon whose mind seems to be all over the place. The form of Bronson is almost episodic, highlighting major moments in Peterson’s life, from his younger years to the more present time. All the while, we are treated to Peterson’s random acts of brutal violence with what seems like no motivation at all. He just loves the feeling of beating a prison guard’s face in.

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Now, a major problem with Bronson, that also seems to be apparent with Nicholas Winding Refn’s films, is that the movie gets a bit too pretentious for its own good. I’m all for artistic movies or movies that try to be as bizarre as possible, but Refn seems to go a bit too crazy at times. My only other experience of his films is Drive, and as cool as that movie is there are times where it gets too excessive in a way where Refn thinks he’s being super cool and edgy. The same can be said about Bronson, except that it is even more guilty of pretentious excess than Drive.

But for what it’s worth, I do love a lot of the insanity in Bronson. The fight scenes that are a main part of the movie are absolutely vicious. Peterson is a tank that takes multiple men to take down, and just watching Hardy’s performance as he goes into a sort of berserk mode is just too awesome. It’s bloody as a pulp, and the sounds of flesh being his and bones being broken is sickeningly fantastic. This movie certainly isn’t lacking style, that’s for sure.

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Bronson isn’t for everyone. It has often been called A Clockwork Orange of the 21st century, and we all know how a lot of people feel about A Clockwork Orange. It’s a stylish trip into the mind of one of the most notorious criminals in history. It’s easy to love the character and hate him at the same time. So, it is fun and stylish, but it’s pretentious as all hell. I can live with that though. Bronson is an awesome movie.

Following – Review

31 Oct

Christopher Nolan is now officially one of those names in the film industry that everyone knows, and with good reason as well. With films like MementoInception, and The Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan has established himself very well. But even film makers as great as he need to start somewhere. Kevin Smith had Clerks, Darren Aronofsky had Pi, and Nolan has Following. I compare Following to the other two films because it is also filmed in black and white with a super low budget, two things these famous first films also share.

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A Young Man (Jeremy Theobald), who goes by Bill, is an aspiring writer who attempts to get inspiration for characters by picking people at random and following them for a little bit just to see where they go. He has a very specific set of rules that he uses to make sure he doesn’t get caught or become too obsessed. Of course these rules are all broken when he meets Cobb (Alex Haw), a thief whose motives lie mainly in learning what people are about and changing their lives. As Bill becomes more involved in Cobb’s “work”, he slowly becomes an obsessive thief who gets involved in ways that he never should. What Bill doesn’t know is that everything that is happening around him all serves a bigger purpose that he knows nothing about.

I heard one reviewer say that Following was Memento on training wheels and I think that is a very good way of putting it. Make no mistake, this is an outstanding effort by Nolan and his crew, especially as a first feature film. The budget for this film was $6,000 and was shot over the course of a year since the people on Nolan’s cast and crew had day jobs and could only film on the weekend. Considering this is a 70 minute movie shot on 16 mm, it’s a pretty ambitious project.

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Much like how Memento is essentially told backwards, Following is broken into three fragments and mixed up. The story doesn’t necessarily have to be presented like this, and it can be argued that it’s a bit over the top, but I personally enjoy the way it’s presented. Piecing together this film is very interesting and the way the characters are so different in every fragment builds suspense in a very interesting way. Nolan turned what could have been a film with a very straightforward narrative into something of a puzzle film.

The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me about this movie is the attempt to make the story a lot bigger than it really should be. The film really works best when it’s more of a psychological character study surrounding the two thieves and their views on society. Then, as the film goes one, we learn that there is a much bigger conspiracy going on that is nowhere near as interesting as the smaller piece of the story we are shown in the beginning. I thought this movie was just going to be a psychological journey of one man who gets sucked into an obsession that he can’t control. Unfortunately, what is actually going on is pretty unbelievable and turns the story into something totally different.

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For a first effort at a feature film, Following is a great start to Nolan’s illustrious career. There are major flaws in the story, but they certainly don’t ruin the film. The cinematography an 16 mm film make the movie look really cool in that low budget kind of way. Of course, this isn’t really something Nolan was going for. It really was very low budget, which makes it an even better movie to appreciate. You can tell from watching Following that Christopher Nolan was going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Sexy Beast – Review

17 Oct

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more curious name for a movie title. It doesn’t really have too much to do with the story, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make you want to know what it’s about. Well, to put it simply, Sexy Beast is a British crime film that does border on comedy at times. There is one part of the movie, however, that is remembered the most about this movie. It isn’t the heist and it isn’t the main character. It’s Sir Ben Kingsley in one of the most terrifying performances of film history.

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Gal (Ray Winstone) is retired, and loving it. He has a beautiful house, a beautiful wife, and great friends who just add to his relaxation and comfort. That is, until one night at dinner they mention they will be getting a visit from an old friend. Enter Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), their old partner in crime who is now a part of a heist being prepared by the mysterious Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), and Don wants Gal on the job. As much as Gal persists, saying that he is retired, this only fuels Don’s determination, who has no filter or limits to what he will do to get him to do the job.

As much as I’d like to start off with talking about Kingsley’s performance, I’ll wait till a little later to mention it. First, lets talk about the writing. The dialogue in this film is note perfect and quick as a whip, which is pretty essential in British crime films. It the talking isn’t as fast as it is tough, than the writing isn’t really respected. Not only is the writing tough and quick, but there’s a lot of comedy that is questionable to laugh at. Don comes in, and we can’t help but laugh at his sociopathy at first. As the film goes on, though, the tone gets much more serious and the laughing slows down.

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Still not time for Ben Kingsley, yet. Bouncing off what I said about the writing, Sexy Beast is pretty unconventional in plot. We say it’s a crime movie about a heist, but the heist has really very little to do with the movie. The movie is more about Gal trying to keep Don off his case and doing something crazy in the process. But we still can’t forget about the heist, because that plays an important part, too. In comparison to the story with Gal and Don, they whole robbery seems kind of glazed over. If anything, I wish that was a more important part of the story, or on the flip side, I wish that was show even less. It kind of lingers in a gray area where it’s not shown enough, but is shown too much for me to not care about. In this respect, Sexy Beast feels very uneven.

But fine, now we have to mention Sir Ben Kingsley. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and now Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. This is a list of some of my favorite performances in film, and it’s nice to have Kingsley on that list. His performance as Don is terrifying and hilarious at the same time. His line delivery is smooth in the choppiest way possible and we can’t help but to hate everything about him. Even by his introduction to thumping electronic music and his awkwardly quick gait, we know that we are in for a wild ride. Kingsley himself said playing Don was like getting all of his anger out, and at the end of the day he was very serene.

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So, if you’re into British crime films and don’t mind a touch of surrealism, than Sexy Beast is a cool movie. I just wish that the second half didn’t feel so uneven and rushed. Running barely even an hour and a half, it would have been better to flesh out some stuff and touch up the entire second half. Still, this is some fun entertainment that may not reach the levels of Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but it’s still a pretty cool film.

Fish Tank – Review

2 Oct

I was first exposed to the work of Andrea Arnold in my first screenwriting class when the professor put on one of her short films called Wasp. This was a pretty incredible short film that showed a realistic depiction of the lower middle class in Britain, but more importantly, it showed the struggles of a family. The drama was never overdone and it was a very personal story. Now I can add Fish Tank to the list of Arnold’s movies that I have seen, and although the story is a lot more dramatic than that of Wasp, it still doesn’t seem like it couldn’t happen. In fact, this is one of the best examples of realism I have ever seen.

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Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a fifteen year old girl living in a council estate with her mother and her younger sister. She is on the path to destruction with the type of people that she associates with and how her mother treats her. Her only solace can be found in dancing to hip hop. Her life undergoes a drastic change when her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), starts hanging around and making his way into their lives. Mia takes a surprising liking to Connor that she doesn’t really understand, but this connection flips her and her entire family’s life upside down.

This doesn’t really seem like the kind of movie that I’d run out to the store and spend a good amount of money on. The only reason I did purchase it was because I saw that Andrea Arnold made the film and Michael Fassbender had a starring role. When I actually saw what the story was about, I wasn’t to thrilled about actually watching. This just goes to show that I need to learn not to judge a movie before I see it, because Fish Tank is a really powerful movie in both its realism and its multiple layers of thematic material and a cast of characters whose problems really hit you where it hurts.

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I keep using the word “realism” to describe this movie, but that’s because it really is an excellent example of British realism. Italian Neo-Realism was a popular movement in the early to mid 1900s, but now the British are having their turn at the realist style. Every where from the down to earth acting, the complete lack of extravagant lighting, and the very natural set pieces really turn this movie into something special. The locations, save for a few, have this grit to them that makes the places seem livable, but not too comfortable. In terms of the camera work, a lot of it is steadicam, and Arnold seems to relish in tracking shots to pull the viewer in to the character’s lives more and make them forget that they are watching a movie.

So while there is a lot of minimalism of style when it comes to the set design and other aesthetic areas of this movie, the acting is on par with the story. Katie Jarvis gives an outstanding performance where, as cliché as it might sound, you can see the pain and confusion in her eyes. Matching Jarvis’ naïve angst is Fassbender’s pleasant, yet suspicious, personality. Seeing the two characters clash works so well because the writing and the performances are all spot on.

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So while Fish Tank doesn’t seem like my first choice of a movie to watch, I am in no way disappointed in what I saw. The story was understated at first, but really winds up into something explosive, without ever going overboard. While the movie could be a tad shorter, that is really my only complaint. If you don’t mind a slow pace and a minimal, gritty style, Fish Tank is an excellent drama that you should check out.