‘Phil’s Quick Capsule Review’ (a nod to legendary comedian Bill Hicks who coined the phrase when he reviewed ‘Piece Of Shit’ movie Basic Instinct)… where a perfect 10 is rarer than a rain free British summer!
Written by Phil Hobden – UK based podcaster, writer and former filmmaker. Part of the All Things Film network…
I meant it when I said 2014 was reserving its best for the latter half of the year. Pride is astonishingly strong and moving stuff.
Set in 1984 during the miner’s strike, a small group of gays and lesbians form LGSM – Lesbians and Gays Supporting the Miners, and go around collecting any old scrap bit of change from the public and directly donate the proceeds to the miners as they enter their near-year strike against Thatcher. Into the fray are leader Mark, played by Ben Schnetzer, and a young Kevin McKidd-looking guy named Joe. Joe is twenty and joins the London gay pride march, where he hooks up with this clique of cheery fellows. There’s a lone girl (a lesbian, and not too quiet about it) and the time then comes for them to visit Wales; a sleepy town where the locals are not exactly open minded about this gang’s sexual proclivities.
Well, I must say Pride is a joyous little romp and no mistake. It’s interesting, also, that it’s based on true events which are ground breaking in so many ways. While I was watching the film I kept a keen eye out for plot contrivances or any smearing of the truth to better the narrative’s cause. It turns out very little (character pieces aside, anyway) was fudged in favour of creating a decent story.
And so what director Matthew Warchus creates here is a little belter of a picture, complete with largely extended cameos from Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton. It’s pretty formulaic stuff and without a genuine antagonist, unless of course you count Thatcher as the prime bad guy, but what it does is tell a good story and hits all the right notes.
I think the film is a triumph in particular for Dominic West, who plays Jonathan, one of the first ever men in the UK to be diagnosed with HIV. The end text reveals he’s still alive today and has just turned sixty-five.
The star of the show, though, is Ben Schnetzer has Mark. Schnetzer was one of the disgusting, narrow-eyed dolts in The Riot Club earlier this year, and his Mark character here couldn’t be any further from the role he plays in that other film. Schnetzer successfully tightrope walks between cloy sentimentality and somewhat camp charisma, which is beautifully understated throughout the picture. It’s a tough ask to carry the weight of the picture on your shoulders, but Schnetzer manages brilliantly.
Pride is the story of one of 1985’s triumphs, and one of 2014’s truly unadulterated gems
The Review: It’s always hard reviewing film. Knowing that, as good as a movie is, at some point for all the positives you have to talk about the negatives and what didn’t work. Knowing that in some cases the creators put years of work into the film , your job often sees you tearing that apart…
Well then imagine how much these feelings are compounded when you know the person who made said film, even worse than that… once, ever two weeks or so, you talk to them, entertain with them and create a podcast alongside them. Well I can tell you that makes reviewing their movie an awkward affair. Unless, of course, that person happens to be Martin Scorsese. So it’s with great fear and trepidation that I lined up The Devils Bargain from Filmsploitation’s own co-host’s Drew Cullingham AND Andrew MacKay to review on the eve of it’s digital release.
The Story: It’s 1974 and Earth is about to be obliterated by a massive asteroid. Adi (Jonnie Hurn) and his young wife Ange (Chloe Farnworth), haunted by memories of the death of their son, journey to the idyllic rural setting where he was conceived, determined to shed clothes, inhibitions and psychological traumas before the planet is destroyed forever. But the arrival of Luca (Dan Burman), a charismatic and mysterious young photographer, turns what’s left of their world upside-down and the horror to come is of biblical proportions.
To be honest I always knew Drew the filmmaker learnt towards the more ‘artistic’ side of the coin rather than my home, the commercial, and after watching the trailer, which soon brought memories of my experience watching the equally obscure and esoteric A Field In England last year (of which I lasted just over an hour before I gave up), I was sure an awkward conversation of polite ‘Yeah that was… er… good’ would follow suit.
Thankfully I was wrong. The Devils Bargain is a damn interesting film. And I’m not using “interesting” as I search for other ways to say “not my cup of tea” or “insert polite comment here”… no I mean” interesting: as is, er interesting. It may be flawed (considering the vision at play and the creative constraints upon it however this is to be a little expected) but director Cullingham delivers what is by far the most unique film have seen in a long time and, unlike the aforementioned A Field In England, I actually watched it… no enjoyed it… to the very end.
So let’s get the ‘uncomfortable’ bit out the way first then. At times The Devil’s Bargin is a little too abstract for it’s own good and for it’s many strengths it’s lack of desire to appeal to the wider market means that mostly the film will exist only to those with the most broad of film tastes. Is that a bad thing? Not always but Cullingham almost seems to go out of his way to avoid this film ever being able too be described as ‘mainstream’ and ultimately that will hurt the films ability to break out to a wider audience. It depends if you feel film is art or commerce I guess and The Disparado/Monk3ys Ink Films team certainly set their stall out on this one early.
For me films produced on a limited budget (independent as they are often tagged) often suffer in three ways. They feel televisual with a staged often boring visual style, they suffer from poor sound and often featuring performances that scream amateur theatre. Thankfully and I guess surprisingly, considering that almost every independent film I have ever seen has at last two of these problems, The Devil’s Bargain has no such issues.
The central performances by Jonnie Hurn, Chloe Farnworth & Dan Burman are excellent. They put themselves out there and go above and beyond what most actors would do without a large guaranteed pay cheque at the end. Burman and Hurn as especially brave, for it’s not often this level of display is on show from male cast members (no pun intended). They frolic, cavort, fight and fuck, whilst naked for almost all of the films scant 76 min run time, with Cullingham managing to show more genitals in 76 minutes than an average night at Spearmint Rhino’s. But it never feels gratuitous, always in keeping with the story and the feel of the film. That said I can only imagine the fight scene between Burman and Hurn was a touch… uncomfortable to film at times.
Sound also is abstract enough to enhance the impressive experimental ‘pinhole’ technique that together give the film a very unique etherial, end of days feel and both work well to hide the films budgetary short comings (a fact you quickly forget). In fact it’s here the film really excels, and whilst I imagine several comparisons of Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England will be made, visually The Devil’s Bargain is a much more interesting film. And a lot less up it’s own arse. Which is nice.
Cullingham’ film delivers. Not to everyone’s tastes but it’s certainly a film to be proud of. Best of all is that Truly The Devil’s Bargain is a unique film. It challenges but without slipping into the pretentious, it’s abstract without being incomprehensible and intimate without ever being boring.
Did I understand it 100%?
Of course not. Did I love ever second of it? No
But I kinda feel that’s the point, to watch a film that stays with you for days after, that you remember and that most of all, you talk, tweet and ‘book about. Expect The Devil’s Bargain to be a grower, a film that will divide audiences as it’s tale is passed from one person to another.
“It’s the oddest thing ever ” ” It’s pretentious” “It’s amazing” “It’s full of nudity”…
You know what… it’s all those things and more. The true definition of cult movie. But more than any of it it’s more than worth a watch and it’s more than worthy of your support. And it’s much better than that other Field movie…
The Review: To be honest I have a soft spot for documentaries in general (despite my reputation as a lover a tat & blockbusters). So whilst I’m often impressed, I’m rarely wowed. But with a powerful story and captivating subject matter, Mccullin managed to do just that. And more.
The story: Celebrated photographer Don McCullin worked for The Sunday Times from 1966 to 1983, at a time when the newspaper was widely recognised as being at the cutting edge of international investigative photo-journalism. During that period he covered wars and humanitarian disasters on virtually every continent: from civil war in Cyprus, the war in Vietnam and the man-made famine in Biafra to the plight of the homeless in swinging sixties London.
Simply put McCullin is one of the most interesting films I have seen this year and certainly one of my top 5 favourite documentaries of all time.
Don McCullin is a fascinating subject from the start, open and honest about his time on the front line yet haunted by what he has seen and done (or not), a personal conflict the filmmakers capture perfectly.
McCullin arrives care of the producers of Award winning Senna. Which gives a long way to explaining the style the film takes and the successes it shares. A near perfect mix of archive footage, contemporary interview, and (naturally) his photographic work to tell a story that spans not just decades but some of the bloodiest and most heinous moments of modern history, all captured in their horrific detail by McCullin and in turn the filmmakers. And be warned this film shows some of the most horrific and disturbing of these images, from dying children to the true horrors of conflict, making it at times a very unsettling watch.
A run time that doesn’t allow the film to hang around, backed up by some excellent editing make this technically interesting as well but none of this would count for anything (much like Senna before it) without the man at it’s core.
So a brilliant, captivating film of a brilliant and captivating man and one of my Top 5 (maybe 3 ) films of 2013 so far.
The Review: As time moves on, so do directors. Danny Boyle’s first feature Shallow Grave, and his follow-up Britbuster Trainspotting are modern archetypes in genuinely great British cinema. Let’s not forget he gave us A Life Less Ordinary, the Beach and… other unworthy stuff.
Sadly, Trance falls right into the latter category. As an almost passable postscript to a talent that once displayed some real directorial chops – Danny Boyle here drops out of my “must watch”-o-meter with this tepid patience-tester.
James McAvoy – who has yet to star in a genuinely good movie – stars here as an auctioneer who gets whacked on the head when trying to stop a heist of a very valuable Goya painting. The bad guys, led by Vincent Cassell, torture him to get the whereabouts of the painting and, when that doesn’t work, go on to do what anyone villain would do – hire a hypnotherapist to coax it out of his brain. In a variety of different ways. It’s very confusing – not because I couldn’t follow the stupid story, but because I honestly stopped listening once I realise this was a movie relying on being all “cleverer” than the audience. *Yawn*. Nothing more boring than a film thinking it’s better than the audience’s ability to second guess and plot out every conceivable path; I’d akin that to a World-Class Top Trumps player outwitting a three year-old. Lame.
Yeah. I know. This talk-a-thon, action-less streak of grey is as uneventful and dreary as it sounds. The problem on this occasion is that there are simply no rules. Anyone could be anyone; any double cross could – and does – occur, to the point where you resign yourself; shrugging your shoulders “so what”. And yes, the film hits its beats, but it’s playing by totally different rules to us in the audience that it scarcely matters, anyway. Add to that that this tedious talk-fest slows the running time down till its inexorable exposition-fuelled last scene is simply unforgivable. So, is this Boyle’s worst? I think so. I have a feeling it could get worse.
In the closing moments, one character asks another “What would you rather do? Remember, or forget?”. That’s a dangerous question to ask at the end of a movie like this. Forget, please. Please.
Sightseers is Ben “Kill List” Wheatley’s take on a road movie, the two main protagonists Tina and Chris are a pair of thirtysomething losers who have just started dating each other, virginal Tina still lives with her overbearing mother and Chris is ginger with a bushy beard.
Life doesn’t get much harder than this.
Chris decides to take Tina on a caravanning holiday to the Lake District taking in such sights as the Ribblehead Viaduct and the Keswick Pencil Museum. While travelling around, the couple are exposed to various characters who, through no fault of their own seem to fall foul of Chris. Not wanting to be shown up in front of Tina, Chris kills everyone who crosses him. Tina eventually finds out what Chris has been doing and rather than running for the hills, joins him on his murderous spree but is she as innocent as she makes out?
Critics and audiences alike heaped much praise on Kill List, for me, is was a poor man’s Wicker Man with a final reveal seen a mile off, Sightseers however is much different. Alice Lowe and Steve Oram who play Tina and Chris have written a wonderfully dark and twisted comedy with sprinkles of laugh out funny moments intercut with horrific violence. It is based on a caravanning holiday that the pair of them actually took and their thoughts on what they wanted to do to the many weird and wonderful people that crossed their paths.
You will be hard pushed to find a blacker comedy this year and these natural born caravanners are destined to become a cult classic. ★★★★★★★★★★
I have a very patchy relationship with Brighton-based writer/director Ben Wheatley’s movies. Kill List, for example, started well and then tailed off into a frenzied hack job of The Wicker Man. Here, Wheatly sets his sights a little lower and employs seemingly everyone who’s worked somewhere in British TV comedy to produce this unseasoned mess, Sightseers.
Chris and Tina (writers Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) are two newly-in-love loner losers who set off on a caravanning trip across middle England, stopping along the way to take in the scenery and visit some very tawdry-sounding attractions, like pencil museums and tram aficionado play parks. The thing is, Steve can’t control his temper and occasionally finds it within himself to indiscriminately kill people who piss him off.
Shortly after setting off on their adventure, he runs over a litterbug played by Tony Way. He bludgeons to death a rambler who complains about dog shit. Soon enough, the dim-witted Alice gets a taste of the kill and starts ‘offing’ people herself. They kill a four-eyed book writer and steal his dog, leaving the woman all alone. Tragedy screams of comedy, and when the movie is mean it is at its most effective.
Sadly, Sightseers – for my money – is not mean enough. The main problem in fact is that there are no rules, and the two leads are fucking cretins without purpose and motive. I know, I know, I hear you say – that’s the whole fucking point. To that I say, no – that is simply not good enough. You can smother the narrative with pangs of brilliance; a tonal voice over for the bludgeon scene is an alarmingly creative side-step, as is the face-on shot of the inevitable love-making scenes in the caravan (yup, even the side shot of the caravan bouncing around is checked off) – but the script is broken.
Okay, so you can assign your characters black country accents – why not go one further, and have the girl be from Burrrrmin’em, and the guy from Donegal? Let’s go hog wild, seeing as you’re bothering. At a breezy 88 minutes, Sightseers is doing nothing really inventive, interesting or new – a sort of low rent Midsomer Natural Born Killers – at best. At worst, this is a dire attempt at humour and an utter waste of everyone’s time. I liked the last shot – the very, very last shot. Why did I like it? For me, that signals the start of a motive; of something far, far more interesting.
The 87 minutes that come before it are listless. This really is quite a ‘nothing’ film.