73. A Room for Romeo Brass (Shane Meadows, 1999)
Good British cinema is a little like good British food, hearty satisfying and rich. Shane Meadows makes really good British cinema. I’ve been incredibly slack in not watching more of his work. Romeo and Gavin are best mates who happen to live next to each other. Their lives are radically changed when they befriend the bizarre and eccentric Morell. He becomes their friend but his overriding desire is to go out with Romeo’s older sister, Ladine. It’s at this point that Romeo and Gavin become estranged as Morell shows a sinister and dark side to his personality, an obsessive and threatening side that imperils more than just their friendship. This is a superb slice of British film. Firstly, Paddy Considine’s performance is so incredibly magnetic and charismatic that I would definitely put it on a par with similar performances from Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver and Sean Penn in The Assassination of Richard Nixon. The sense of potential danger with Morrel only enhanced by the borderline comical accent and speech patterns. It is remarkably different from any other performance I’ve seen from Considine. This is almost to the detriment of the other solid performances from the cast – especially the child actors who convey their friendship in a believably juvenile way.
I want to quickly consider the violence in A Room for Romeo Brass. One of the students, Liz, who I am helping is doing Shane Meadows films for her coursework. She wants to consider the violence and the necessity of the violence in Meadows’ films. For me, the violence in this film is relatively minor. What Meadows does with a great deal of talent is maintain threat throughout his films. When Morell first issues his threat to Gavin (that he’ll get at his family if he ever embarrasses him again) the film takes on a very different tone. Every subsequent action of Morell is laden with potential violence, it creates a tension in the viewer that Meadows takes advantage of by repeatedly offering situations where Morell is alone with someone (Romeo or Ladine). He has constructed an inevitable episode of violence but he makes you wait, drawing out the tension for as long as possible before delivering the beating. It’s noticeable that Meadows places this violent threat in charismatic leading men who have an element of control over people. Combo in This is England and Sonny in Dead Mans Shoes. Is the violence necessary? Is there really that much violence at all? The films are built around threat and control, the violent acts themselves are more or less punctuation to the real messages of the film.
On March 19th I recorded, alongside my good buddy Jim, the Sheffield Live Film File show hosted by the gracious and witty Simon Thake. We chat about the 365 films in a year and what are the highlights/lowlights. It’s been released as a podcast which you can download or stream from here…
It was a great experience which I really hope we can repeat sometime soon.
In some other news I’ve found some life-changing stuff that may conspire to stop me from realising the 365 film dream. My beautiful wife is due to have baby in September. My sleeping (and viewing) pattern may be interrupted. Luckily I’m being made redundant. Hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze a few weekday marathons in.
72. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007)
Smart mainstream Hollywood movies don’t come along too often anymore. This is a rare example. Perhaps it is part of George Clooney’s ongoing project to make some smart movies with his good buddy Steven Soderbergh. Clooney is Clayton, a lawyer with a large firm. But he isn’t an ordinary lawyer, he’s a bagman, a cleaner, a fixer. He deals with problem situations, the muddy stuff. He also deals with his own complicated life of debts, divorce and difficult family relationships. Clayton’s world becomes a lot more complicated when he becomes embroiled in a large class-action case that is falling apart for the law firm when evidence turns up about the explicit guilt of the company they are defending. Michael Clayton is a top notch bit of film-making where believably flawed characters collide in a murky world of double dealings and moral turpitude. Excellent performances all round, especially Tom Wilkinson (is he in every other film in America?) and the ethereal Tilda Swinton. Swinton has a fantastic role, her sheen of powerful professionalism is underscored with the amount of work that goes into presenting that front. Intelligent, professional and pretty nice to look at too – Michael Clayton is a rare throwback to the 70s when Hollywood gambled on some exceptional film-makers and came up trumps.
71. The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)
Nick Cave is the brain behind this nasty, sweaty, brutal Australian film. It is in essence a ‘Western’ – the film would work with very little changes if set in America. And I loved it. Outback lawman Captain Stanley makes captured Charlie Burns an offer, kill his psychopathic elder brother Arthur and he and his younger brother Mike will be pardoned. He has 9 days to achieve this. It’s hot, dusty and dingy. The violence is swift and brutal. Nick Cave’s haunting soundtrack whispers and snarls over the whole affair and those actors look like they are really suffering. It’s a cracking intense affair which I’d recommend to anyone.
70. Millions (Danny Boyle, 2004)
It is by no means his most popular film but Danny Boyle’s Millions is a little gem of a movie. Damian lives with his father and brother when, whilst out playing, a bag full of money crashes into his cardboard fort. The money is pounds sterling but in this England the conversion to the €uro is only just round the corner. Damian, guided by his conscience, his brother and a cavalcade of imagined saints tries to do the right thing. Millions manages to avoid being twee or schmaltzy and instead creatively delivers a narrative from a child’s point of view without being condescending. It also has the lovely Daisy Donovan in it, I had a reyt crush on her about a decade ago.
69. Mum & Dad (Steven Shiel, 2008)
I’ve waxed lyrical in recent reviews about the apparent health and brilliance of European horror films at the moment, especially in France and Britain. Sadly Mum & Dad is unfortunately not part of this resurgence. Young Polish cleaner Lena is trapped in a nightmarish suburban dungeon after she accepts an offer of help from her co-worker at the local airport. Sedated and bound to a bed she is subject to the whims and perversions of the family ruled by the deranged father, played by British TV stalwart Perry Benson. Aside from an interesting working class setting (so often in cinema perversity and dysfunction is the pursuit of the upper classes) which appears to reference Fred and Rosemary West the film doesn’t really offer any comment or insight. It ploughs the ‘torture porn’ furrow which, given the current climate of rendered suspects and Abu Ghraib, is fine if you actually go on to say anything. But Shiel doesn’t. He just knocks out a few clichés from the genre and pulls a gross out family Christmas. A disappointing waste of potential.
68. The Last Winter (Larry Fessenden, 2006)
Love a good ghost story, love it. Starring Ron Perlman and James LeGros, The Last Winter is about a team of experts in the arctic region of Alaska preparing a site for oil drilling. The pristine landscape houses something more than oil though and soon the members of the team are going missing, suffering from breakdowns and behacing irrationally. Soon thing become increasingly sinister when one member turns up dead in the snow. The Last Winter is a diverting little horror film with some very nice touches. It has a relatively mild eco-message but that plays second fiddle to the chilling atmosphere. It even has a classical lack of closure like all good ghost stories, thought it is hampered by a rather meagre budget in some places.
67. The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)
A few years ago Ang Lee’s Hulk suffered one of the largest second week drops in box-office due to dreadful word of mouth. It was a bit too introspective and intelligent for a mainstream tentpole movie. Marvel Studios took the opportunity to ‘reboot’ the franchise, essentially accepting the previous movie but changing the cast and crew. The result is a much more stupid film, but purposefully so. This is a straightforward action vehicle with a cast just as interesting as the previous film, especially Tim Roth being back on the screen. Unfortunately it descends into a fight between two CGI monsters being tracked by a CGI helicopter. All of which somehow looks less polished than the previous film. It’s entertaining enough but there isn’t any real meat in this film – it’s all smoke and mirrors.
66. Wanted (Timur Bekmambetav, 2008)
The Russian (well, Kazakh technically) director of the Nightwatch series of films makes his Hollywood bow with a fairly nondescript film. Wanted is completely carefree. It manages to wash over you without really offending or pleasing too much at all. Angelina Jolie manages to remain somewhat alluring despite appearing to be quite ill and having about 6 lines. Which is a bonus as she can’t be arsed acting. James McAvoy is acceptably weedy and Morgan Freeman is so ludicrously out of place as to be quite amusing. The whole thing doesn’t really matter. Total fluff.
65. Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis, 2007)
This film looks a bit weird, this ‘motion-capture’ technique obviously hasn’t been perfected as of yet but they’re getting closer and closer to really lifelike visuals. As it is Beowulf made me forget that it was animated from time to time and the story came through. Playing fast and loose with the ancient poem the narrative hurtles all over in this adaptation. There is a sinister familial element to the story that darkens the tone but aside from that it is pretty standard fantasy stuff. Robert Zemeckis takes advantage of the freedom allowed to his camera movements to fling it around during the action sequences and there are a few shots remaining that were clearly intended to look good in 3-D. Overall a strange experiment which seems a stepping stone on the way to a refined ambitious technology.