Posts Tagged ‘United Kingdom


Cracks (2009)

cracksI’ll have to admit upfront, I like boarding school movies. There is something about the isolation; the enclosed space of solitude among rigorous collective order that makes me interested from the get-go. And, of course, the plaid uniforms aren’t bad either. Having said that, this movie has so much else going on. For one, it stars the incomparable Eva Green. Having managed to move from Bertolucci seductress to historical queen to Bond girl to a most recently movie-stealing turn as a vamping vampiress, she is pretty impressive (some may emphasize the pretty more than the impressive, but I believe the full clause stands rather well as a descriptor). However, this is also Juno Temple‘s film. She astounds here in ways that I will not be able to articulate. So, I’ll not try to get to that yet.

Let’s point out that this is also impressively Jordan Scott‘s first feature film. She is the elder daughter of Sir Ridley. She directs this Picnic at Hanging Rock meets Lord of the Flies type setup here, with some Sapphic Jean Brodie/Lillian Hellman Children’s Hour thrown in to boot (if none of that means anything to you, then this movie will probably seem that much more unique to you). It’s a cruelly beautiful picture about lost innocence, though perhaps more specifically about the sublimation of that innocence in place of ‘growing up’.





I won’t bore myself with relating the plot, suffice to say it’s about a group of adolescent girls who must contend with a new girl being thrust into their clique at a private Protestant boarding school in 1930s Britain, and how it effects their being led/enchanted by their teacher and swim team coach whom they affectionately refer to as Miss G. As the story progresses we learn more about this Miss G and the dangers of said enchanting qualities. I’ll just leave it at that. It is a visually lyrical (ok, I don’t really know what that phrase means) piece that unfolds with rolling landscapes and an attention to recreating a time and place that I would obviously know nothing about personally.

Unlike, say, The Moth Diaries, another erotically charged girls boarding school film from earlier this year, it is entirely grounded in reality. Yet, this reality is an enclosed one in which its characters live in a kind of fantasy world of stories that fill their developing minds. While it borrows from some of the aforementioned films in its depiction (the look of Weir’s Picnic comes easily to mind), it feels like it is its own creation.

The film noticeably contains absolutely no male characters, aside from the few brief scenes outside the school. I mention this because I do not want to force a Queer view onto the film, but it calls for one quite clearly. The tension is there from the opening moments of the film. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the film to me. The genre obviously carries numerous examples of this, but I cannot think of another film off the top of my head that treats its subject in such a way as to balance its flights of fancy with an equal sense of dark paralysis.
Some have/will criticize the film for its lack of development near the end. We naturally have questions. I have questions about the Juno Temple character, Di, and how her experience here informs her own sexuality. The film chooses to leave this aside, despite my feeling that this is in large part what her character development is about (and by extension what a significant portion of the film is partially about). Scott seems to intentionally ride-the-line between innocent girlishness and full-on homo-infatuation (if you will excuse the uncouth phrase) in a way that is entirely non-verbal. This is frustrating, but not altogether unaccomplished. Miss G equally acts alongside the girls (or perhaps more so) as if she lives within a fanciful story, yet because she is an “adult” the film occasionally reveals her true emptiness of character as a person. The ‘midnight feast’ scene comes to mind with Temple in her quasi-drag paste-on mostauche, crouching in candlelight, applying makeup to the Spanish princess. The scene screams for an intimacy that is beyond the years (in age) of the girls. Contrasting this with the subsequent scene of said princess with Miss G underlines that innocence. As I write these veiled not-so spoilery thoughts, I want to make the comparison to Sofia Coppola‘s The Virgin Suicides. Cracks is, in my mind, a much more accomplished take on this time of adolescence. Perhaps this is merely because it avoids the music-video-like aesthetic for a more conventionally ‘painterly’ cinematography (perhaps it is too simplistic to attribute this to a stereotypical difference between American and British visual tastes?). Though perhaps its superiority comes from its being made by a woman more mature (in age and obvious influence) in her debut film.




A more tangential thought follows here about how children learn from their filmmaker parents. It wouldn’t be fair to compare these individuals on the basis of one film (or retrospectively across an unbalanced output), but I find it interesting, personally, that I am more impressed with this debut than Sofia Coppola’s, because I have recently come to realize how much of the output of Ridley Scott that I consider as ‘auteuristly groundbreaking’ (or whatever you want to call it) as that of Francis Ford Coppola. Trailing back off into the land of incomprehension now….



The War Game (1965)

Peter Watkins made The War Game in 1965. This was only four years after the Bay of Pigs, yet marked 20 years since the attack on Hiroshima. And, as we know, retrospectively, we had decades more of the “Cold War” threatening Thermonuclear War. This film is a staged documentary (before such a thing was its own genre) made for the BBC to staunchly dramatize the realism of what would happen in the aftermath of a nuclear strike on Great Britain (specifically 40 miles away from its location around Kent). The cameramen, Peter Bartlett, was an actual news cameraman (occasionally being literally pushed around by the director with his telephoto lens to capture an air of shaky realism within crowds). The narrator, Michael Aspel, was an actual voice of the BBC. The film was self-banned from broadcast by the BBC, some say for its gruesome depiction of the situation; some say for political reasons (probably for both). It won the BAFTA for Best Short Film and, more noticeably, the Oscar for Best Documentary Film in 1967, despite being a document of events that did not actually happen. Even out of its historical context, it is probably one of the most intentionally damning documents I have ever seen.

Arguing not necessarily against nuclear armament (it seems to realize we are beyond any point of return), it highlights the utter ridiculousness of our assumption that it somehow comes out of a ‘civilized’ world. As the best of art, its purpose is to inform and compel thought. It questions the cultural “silence” on this issue that effects every single person in a war-fearing country. It attempts to persuade its audience of the wrongfulness of nuclear weapons by providing much needed factual information in the context of an emotional depiction. I think it still works.

At a point, one commentator mentions that while we were within the Atomic Age technically, we were (and still are) in the Stone Age, emotionally. The film uses a cross-cutting effect of having dramatization juxtaposed with talking head “interrupters” (as DVD commentator Patrick Murphy terms). This serves to further reinforce its documentary style. This tactic also aides in its realism by cutting away from showing certain actions that would never be shown on television. Though it still shows much more than anyone would ever expect to see on television in 1965; Burnt bodies, mangled limbs, shock and horror on the ashen faces of its people in the background, the film does not shy away from attempting a realistic portrait.








It uses simple effects like overexposure or shaking the camera to dramatize the blast, but they are no less effective than any more complicated contemporary special effect. The “firestorm” scene is created through a combination of effective editing and well-researched and directed movement of actor’s bodies. The makeup used to show burns and blood is that much more effective in the fact that the black-and-white does not need to be fully real, but rather more familiar as television and photojournalist ‘real’.

Before and during the still effective dramatizations, Watkins shows interviews with people to ask their knowledge of what the bombs are made of, if they would want retaliation, etc. It depicts a general ignorance and lack of forethought (and emphasizes this with the fact that readiness literature was not made easily available to the public). Watkins used unprofessional actors throughout. The interviewed people were acting too, but he began asking these questions without a script to prompt a more genuine response. Another stroke of genius in this masterpiece of its time. And I think this is still much more effective than a more blatantly satirical (and overtly political) work like The Gladiators (which is, in a way, like a proto-Hunger Games for adults). I haven’t seen much of Watkins’ work yet, but that will be changing shortly…


Triangle (2009)

I’d like to write more extensively about this movie without spoiling it, but that would be impossible. Without giving anything away, the movie generally concerns a woman (Melissa George) who goes out for an afternoon with some people on a boat and bad. stuff. happens. However, this is not your ordinary horror thriller. The plot, as they say, thickens. If you like movies that don’t give you all the answers, but rather make you come up with your own to fully understand what you’ve seen, stop reading and seek out this movie. If you like movies that dare you to watch them again as soon as they are over, ditto. If I had to give a view-if-you-like recommendation, I would say this is like a cross between Timecrimes and The Shining (on a boat). Even if that does not make sense to you, you are in for a treat.

There is too much to contemplate and none of it matters unless you’ve seen the film. I’ll refrain from writing anything else, unless someone else actually lets me know that they’ve seen it….

Thank you, Christopher Smith, for taking a potentially wonky idea and, like with the coda to your subsequent film Black Death and the ending to your first feature Creep, elevating the purpose of the entire work to a larger context in the end. More horror filmmakers like this, please!


“Luther” (2010)

I haven’t been writing as much as I would like, because I have been watching a lot of television lately (probably too much). This is supposed to strictly be a blog about films, but I can’t help myself here.
Luther is easily one of the best things I’ve seen on television this year, and with a couple of possible exceptions, as good as any film this year as well.
The words escape me as I try to type out what it was like to watch this. A simple description does not do it justice: Luther concerns the title character, Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. As the story begins, he is rejoining the British police force, back from a psychological evaluation concerning a rather difficult case involving the mysterious death of serial killer in his presence. Along with trying to reacclimate to his job (which he is apparently very good at), he is dealing with the lasting effects of this previous hunt on his marriage and his overall outlook on his fidelity to the Law. This is complicated further by the development of a rather unusual relationship with a suspect that he could not quite prove was more than a suspect. If all of that seems the least bit familiar enough to the countless number of police dramas in the history of British television, then I have left room for the awe-inspiring surprise that awaits you should you choose to watch this.

The writing by Neil Cross is superb, weaving its sweeping themes of good and evil, loyalty and betrayal, dead and alive, law and justice, etc. into an ensemble of flesh-and-blood characters. There are some great supporting performances (Ruth Wilson being the beyond magnificent one), but the series belongs to (and is associate produced by) the actor playing the title character: Idris Elba.

I have been a fan of his since his role as Stringer Bell on HBO’s The Wire (hyperbole aside, one of the best television series ever). He is simply an amazing actor who brings an engaging range of intensity to every scene; he is the kind of actor that can show you what the character is thinking or feeling without the need for words (which is not as easy as it may appear). He will be getting much more deserved mainstream exposure as Morgan Freeman‘s replacement in Cross, the next in the series of movies based on James Patterson‘s Alex Cross mystery/thrillers…
I don’t think I can really articulate why this series of a mere six episodes is so great. It follows a formula, like all television dramas. However, the interplay between episodes places it among some of the best of the more recent trend of long-form story arc drama that television has the benefit of creating. Though it helps to have such a great group of performances, the series allows room for the characters to realize themselves through the writing in ways that most dramas simply gloss over without any growing depth. It is the rare type of morality play that refrains from pandering to its audience (read: most American network television dramas). I can only hope that it will continue onto a second series. Though it has played through in the U.K. already, it premieres on BBC America on October 17th.


Valhalla Rising (2009)

I’m not sure how to describe this movie to people in terms of genre. I’ve read that it is “Viking historical action” or an “ambient black metal pagan pastoral” or an “atmospheric fantasy ride through Hell” (I think I made one of those up). It is the new film by Nicholas Winding Refn (of Pusher and Bronson fame).
It is a film with very little dialogue and absolutely none spoken by the main character by the name of One Eye (because he only has one eye), played by the stoic, impenetrable Mads Mikkelsen (channeling a cross between Toshiro Mifune and I don’t know what). As with his two films mentioned above, Refn definitely has a preoccupation with male characters whose actions explode with deep reserves of aggression split between times of almost zen-like quietness.

There’s not much narrative here, so I’ll leave that to others. It is mainly noteworthy for its striking visuals, brief beats of extremely intense violence, and its not-so transparent commentary on religion. The film is very abstract in its intentions, which will leave a lot of people unsatisfied. You definitely have to be ‘in the right mood’ to enjoy this. I found myself looking at the clock a few times (prompted by the division of the film into six onscreen chapter titles), but there are whole stretches of the film that are oddly compelling, yet devoid of any specific reason why.

Filmed entirely in the ethereal foggy highlands and colorful woods of Scotland, with sporadic dialogue entirely in English, the film seems to depict a type of religious parable, yet it is ultimately unintelligible without the viewer filling both the emotional and cognitive links (though I think it is obvious where Hell is supposed to be, at least, geographically). I saw/heard some links to other filmmakers here: Kubrick’s The Shining, Malick’s The New World, Von Trier’s Medea. Yet, none of these are really all that appropriate in describing the film as a whole. It is a fantasy epic that is less than 90 minutes with very little epicness about it. However, it is a clear calling card that Nicholas Winding Refn is definitely coming up in the world of cinema. I eagerly await his next project, whatever it may be.


Fish Tank (2009)

fishtankI like going into movies not knowing a thing about them. I saw this film on some lists, suggesting it as one of the best British films of the year. That was enough for me. It is indeed a good film, though I hesitate to articulate why. Explaining the plot kind of ruins the experience. And it’s not an experience one really wants to have. In a general kind of way, the film follows Mia (Kate Jarvis, in an amazing debut), a 15 year old girl living in an impoverished part of Essex with her mother and younger sister. Her mother’s new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender, in an amazing year of roles) visits more often than he used to. She likes to practice dancing in an abandoned apartment in her complex in a way that is more serious than girlish pastime.  She keeps going back to this part of town with an old horse  chained to a cement block. To say anything else about what these things have to do with each other would take away from watching the film.

It is certainly reasonable to assume that Andrea Arnold is definitely a filmmaker to watch. This film says a lot about a lot of things (adolescence, femininity, class, urban life, etc.) without really having to be about those things. I’ll just say, with no authority or logic at all, that I don’t think this film could have been directed as well by a man. Being a non-female, I can’t really know, but the perspective of this film feels so in tune with the main, female character. We always see the world of a film through our own lens/gaze, but this film anchors its world to how it appears to Mia; her world really is like living in a fish tank. This film portrays adolescence with a truth that is increasingly rare these days. There is no judgment of the characters by the film; there is no need to supply an explanation for why they do the things they do.

There are also a lot of motifs spread throughout that I’m not entirely sure I’ve completely picked up on. There are repeated insinuated comparisons of Mia’s life with that of the objects/animals she encounters, whether its the underfed and sickened horse tied in a parking lot, or the fish caught from the river, ‘kindly’ speared through rather than left to suffocate (a rather adept bit of metaphorical foreshadowing that can be interpreted in so many different ways). The girl lives with what she knows, based on what she (and her family) can afford. The movie doesn’t have to be about class, but you can’t ignore its importance in what plays out (again, spoilers omitted). She seems limited in her options because no one has even given her any. And for a budding teenager,  a lack of options can be, among other things, quite dangerous.


I can’t think of anything profound to compliment  this movie. I read about someone comparing it to the Dardenne Brothers (Rosetta, L’Enfant), which is a name-check becoming a bit too synonymous with “intellectual realism” (even though it’s supposed to be a compliment). If I was in the mood for a comparison, I would say this makes a good double-feature with An Education. Though Carey Mulligan‘s Jenny may have been struggling to make it to Oxford (Kate Jarvis’ Mia would never have contemplated having a chance), both stories are about an education of an entirely different kind. I would recommend this film for people who are in the mood for a drama that lacks sentimentality and is extremely subtle in its emotional manipulation. Like me, you may not be particularly interested in seeing people dance to Nas or Bobby Womack, but you could give it a try.


Bronson (2009)

bronson2After catching up with the Sky 1 mini “The Take” this week, which would have been quite dull without the hyperbolic performance by Tom Hardy, I decided to finally sit down and watch Bronson. Crazy is the word, I think.
Based on the “true story” of the still currently incarcerated Michael Peterson (‘Britian’s most violent prisoner‘); a man who robbed a post office and received a 7 year sentence, only to spend 30 of his 34 years in prison within solitary confinement for various violent episodes.
Nicholas Winding Refn (of Pusher fame) directs this plotless series of vignettes with a stylized, theatrical flair, most obviously indebted to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and perhaps with a bit of Chopper thrown in for good measure. Nowhere as serious-minded (or aesthetically controlled) as say, last year’s Hunger, this film still takes a few moments for you to ponder the ultimate worth of the British penal system.


Back to Tom Hardy: I think I can safely say, with only half the movie year over (with the majority of the films always weighted toward the half that has yet to come) that this is one of the stand-out performances of the year.
Not only has Hardy physically transformed himself (40 some pounds heavier, apparently), but the film gives him completely free reign to literally go ape-shit. Nihilistically fighting everything that moves and taking an eventual beating everytime. I’ll spare the film from the same sort of treatment and just say that it was engaging enough for me. The combination of Wagner and New Order was interesting too….


featured Short film (9 min)

Blue Shining (Richard Vezina, 2015)

great scene from a great film

Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

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