Tag: 1997

Nil By Mouth (1997)

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Nil By Mouth is a non-linear insight into a miserable cycle of violence, abuse and addiction.

Don’t be mistaken, this is not another piece of British scuzzploitation, far from it. Although it appears comparable on face value, it certainly isn’t within the lowly sphere of Rise of the Footsoldier or The Football Factory.

The film concentrates on Ray (Ray Winstone), his wife Valerie (Kathy Burke), mother-in-law Janet (Laila Morse), brother-in-law Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) and best friend Mark (Jamie Foreman). Winstone and Burke are both tremendous, they share scenes – one in particular – of harrowing intensity. Ray is a man consumed with rage and jealousy, emotions that have most likely followed him throughout his sorry existence. To summarise the film’s premise/narrative, it is essentially a depiction of the causes and consequences of his latest brutal outburst. Winstone’s  performance is a piece of realist brilliance; some may say he’s one-dimensional, but he really is a rather good actor. Nil By Mouth’s portrait of a deeply violent, self-destructive man is one of the most frightening and brutal I’ve ever seen, more so than even Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980).

In a film of hapless victims, Ray’s wife Valerie suffers to the greatest extent. Burke portrays a woman completely servile to her husband, she unfortunately enables his tyranny by interminably tolerating his wayward, selfish behaviour.  It is Kathy Burke’s moments that are the most moving, chiefly a scene where she desperately tells a white-lie – it’s genuinely upsetting.

Another interesting character is Mark. Foreman’s character is a vapid parasite, a little abettor of a man who’s codependent on Ray and his tempestuous emotions.

The dialogue of Gary Oldman’s script has ample profanity, and I really mean ample, with a combination of around 80 c*nts and 428 f*cks, it’s the most profane film ever made. Amongst all the cockney bellowing however are monologues of real poignancy, most notably one delivered by Winstone in which he speaks of his awful, putrid father, reminding the viewer that the misery they’ve witnessed is a toxic generational cycle that’s largely inescapable.

One criticism of Oldman’s script/narrative is that it is a trifle convoluted at 128 minutes, there are a few scenes that contribute little or nothing to the film, including an annoying Apocalypse Now re-enactment and an annoying shouty scene in a dry cleaners (both scenes feature this repellent little tattooed man with a grating hoarse voice.)

The film is rightfully spared of romanticism, it’s completely devoid of poetic licence and elaborate narrative arcs, what you see is pure, candid realism. Ironically, the film isn’t pure at all, it’s gritty and unrestrained in its depiction of violence and vulgarity; one moment being particularly horrifying. To criticise the film for being ‘unfocused’ is missing the point. To me, it was an almost non-linear insight into the human condition, a film woven from the personal experiences of Gary Oldman and delivered with the utmost conviction from Burke, Winstone and indeed the whole cast.

85%

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

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Too much siege, not enough Alan.

When I first discovered the premise of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, which is a siege of the North Norfolk Digital building by a disgruntled former employee, I was concerned that, like many big screen adaptations, Alan Partridge was departing from its humble, unspectacular roots.

By half way into the film, my concerns had unfortunately been confirmed. There are gun shots, fire-extinguishers to the face, explosions, armed policeman – it is by no means an action film, but since when was there such commotion in Alan’s life?

It was the desperate loneliness, alienation and banality of Alan’s life in the original TV series that made audiences laugh and cringe while pitying and sometimes despising the pathetic central character. When I got home completely deflated after watching Alpha Papa, I reminded myself of just how good Alan could be by watching YouTube clips of the 1997 series.

A single five minute scene of Alan attending a funeral captured the essence of the character. The dialogue is so rich, almost every line provided a laugh and I was cringing at Alan’s complete and utter social ineptitude. Throughout the series you learn Alan’s behaviour, it doesn’t take one long to know when Alan has an agenda; he is so self-centred, immature and incredibly tactless that the viewer can read him like a book. It’s both amusing and toe-curlingly embarrassing to see Alan converse with people and deal with his many problems.

All of the subtlety and character study is missing in the film. Alan is no longer a sad-man, a complete liability. He’s still cringe-worthy, particularly in scenes where he attempts to court a colleague, but none of the gags even scrape the surface of the programme’s brilliance.

The gags are really quite tired. They’re predictable and rehashed, particularly scenes that initially appear melodramatic but are then abruptly interrupted by an action or one-liner like a needle scratching across vinyl. There’s also a genre-aware armed stand-off scene towards the end where the characters have ‘humourous’, flippant exchanges despite the immediate danger in the style of In Bruges, only not funny. More than once I found myself sighing with disappointment and embarrassment at just how off-the-mark and rehashed the comedy was.

Much like the film’s premise, Coogan’s performance is overblown – he needed to reel himself in. There would be flashes of classic Partridge, but generally both the dialogue and slapstick comedy just died. I commend Coogan’s skill for miming perfectly to Roachford’s Cuddly Toy, but it just wasn’t as funny as his air bass performance of Gary Numan’s Music for Chameleons in the second series. Also, Alan doesn’t look right in the film. His appearance is still demonstrably uncool, but he isn’t as awfully square and repellent as he was in the series. If anything, Alan’s ageing process seems to be in reverse.

The two principal characters of the programme, Lynn, Alan’s devoted and criminally underpaid secretary, and Michael, Alan’s good natured friend, seldom appear in the film. These characters were crucial in the series as they revealed many facets of Alan’s personality, exposing just how self-absorbed and manipulative he is whilst also showing how utterly dependent he is on their attention.

We have the original team of Coogan and Iannucci, but it lacks almost every element that made the series so funny, eminently quotable and re-watchable. It shares very little in common with its televisual sibling, all Alpha Papa has is a caricature of a caricature and a thin, boring siege plot.

50%

Gummo (1997)

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Its aberrance is undeniably interesting.

Harmony Korine’s ‘Gummo’ is a very strange little film. Its documentary realism is rather captivating, the bizarre people we see appear to be completely real.

There’s no plot to speak of, its just an insight into underclass America. The filthy circumstances these people live in will make you cringe, as will their moronic forms of socialising, which includes cheered-on chair smashing.

The film is certainly laced with pretension, and there are pointless scenes that just reek of ‘art-house’. I can understand why some people wouldn’t like it; it’s non-linear, quirky narrative is very likely to polarise audiences. However, I found the veritable aberrance of the film undeniably interesting.

While ‘Gummo’ isn’t that good, its candid realism makes its uneventful narrative quite engrossing; it may well be the most peculiar film you ever see.

60%

Life is Beautiful (1997)

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It’s ultimately a rather exploitative tear-jerker

I entered ‘Life Is Beautiful’ not really knowing what to expect; I certainly didn’t anticipate a part slapstick comedy. The film charts Guido’s (Roberto Benigni) romantic pursuit of Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), their married life, the birth of their son, and finally their removal from Italy into an extermination camp by the Nazis. The initial phase of the story is quite pleasant and sometimes funny, it has numerous running gags all concerning Guido, most of which he uses spontaneously to impress and bemuse his love interest Dora.

Guido is an affable, happy-go-lucky character, his spontaneous charm works well overall, especially in a scene where he manipulates an important guest’s choice of dinner and in another where he comically translates a rather ominous looking Nazi. However, he can become exhausting, and he also becomes somewhat brash considering his surroundings in the latter half of the film.

This brings me on to the depiction of the Holocaust. Guido’s escapades within the camp are completely implausible and rather stupid, he sneaks around being his effervescent self whilst it is clear that in reality he would’ve been shot on sight almost immediately. The film doesn’t offer hope because of its sheer implausibility, all it achieves really is trivialising the Holocaust. This film is rather like the term ‘Ethnic Cleansing’, it doesn’t work because it’s impossible and perhaps insulting to try and euphemise genocide.

I’m not sure who the film’s target audience is. Is it a children’s film? That is one of the few ways I could perhaps see it working, as a method of introducing a young mind to the holocaust. But there is a problem with this, too, the film doesn’t even begin to offer an insight into the haunting evil of the holocaust. Instead, the audience gets a completely maudlin tale of ‘spirit’ and ‘hope’ that, with very little veracity, exploits one of humanity’s greatest evils for the sake of saccharine pathos.

Judging from others’ opinions, I think this film will bode well with the overly sentimental who enjoy crying and disregard credibility.

58%

Funny Games (1997)

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It’s condescending in its ill-judged commentary, but ‘Funny Games’ is an undeniably gripping and powerful film

‘Funny Games’ is one of the most provocative films I have ever seen, if not the most. Michael Haneke revisits themes of the media and desensitisation like he did in ‘Benny’s Video’, however this time Haneke is directly confronting his audience about the violence they supposedly watch with relish.

The antagonist of the film actually addresses the audience, asking ‘Don’t you want some plot development?’, ‘You’re on their side, aren’t you?’ He needlessly injects this nasty film with condescension and pretension, and none of it really works, Haneke only succeeds in appearing smug and self-righteous. Haneke has said that he makes the viewer an ‘accomplice’ of the murderers. No he doesn’t, not at all. Not once did I even begin to want to be an ‘accomplice’, the antagonists are some of the most wretched I’ve ever seen, it’s nonsense. During the evil mind games that the killers inflict on the family, I felt like them, a victim, not an ‘accomplice’. I, like any other viewer, was desperately hoping that the family could somehow escape their captors.

The ill-judged provocation climaxes in a scene where Haneke ‘manipulates’ the audience, making them ‘applaud’ violence; but applauding is a completely justified response to the scene, which, without giving anything away, concerns the maiming of a truly reprehensible character. If Haneke himself was in Anna and Georg’s situation, he’d be utterly liberated by what occurs; it is the film’s most self-righteous, hypocritical scene. It is obvious that violence can be used accordingly, it is sometimes a necessity, and this particular scene is the most appropriate use of violence imaginable.

The majority of the violence one witnesses in film and TV is far removed from reality, people are aware and afraid of the ugly, messy truth of violence, the films that ‘Funny Games’ tries to chastise serve only as harmless escapism. Haneke seems very pleased with this creation, but he shouldn’t be, this rather ambitious film falls flat, achieving in merely riling its audience, not holding a mirror to their faces.

Haneke seems to think he has the viewer in a vice-like grip, and he does, but certainly not in the way he thinks he does, which is ‘manipulating’ and exposing sick little voyeurs. Instead, he keeps the stranglehold on his audience through his skill of building excruciating tension to the point where the eventual violence, which is never gratuitous, is wholly more devastating.

It’s undeniably powerful, and the acting is unsettlingly excellent; it’s a thoroughly unpleasant, tortuous film. However, if you need reminding of the ugly reality of violence, there are many films out there that will deliver without the pretense.

65%