Tag: projects

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)

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It is most certainly flawed, but The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is likely to make this harrowing chapter of history more accessible for some children.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas serves as an introduction for children to Nazism and the Holocaust. It covers a broad range of elements integral to Nazi Germany such as institutional racism, nationalism and indoctrination, albeit in a juvenile, contrived and ultimately implausible manner.

The film charts the relationship between Bruno (Asa Butterfield), a German 8-year-old and Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a young Jewish boy. Bruno is the son of Ralf (David Thewlis), the SS Commandant of a nearby concentration camp in which Shmuel lives, and Elsa (Vera Farmiga), who is largely ignorant of the Jewish persecution her husband is responsible for.

The inquisitive Bruno first meets the titular boy in striped pyjamas when he stumbles across the camp perimeter next to the woods that surround his house. The innocent Bruno is puzzled by Shmuel’s predicament, he doesn’t understand why soldiers are ‘taking their clothes away for no reason’ or why another inmate Pavel works in the camp after a career as a doctor. As he repeatedly visits Shmuel and develops a friendship with him, his confusion soon turns to indignation.

Clearly, their relationship is unrealistic. The abhorrent reality is that most children were killed immediately upon arrival at the camps, and even as a child who either somehow slipped through the net or was deemed useful, it is very unlikely that Shmuel could escape his oppressors’ eyeshot so many times to speak with Bruno.

The boys’ exchanges are contrived and awkward, they are not natural conversations but a vehicle for the screenwriters to teach their young viewers the basics of the Holocaust. Considering his age, Asa Butterfield is a decent young actor – he has the potential to be a star. Scanlon, however, was quite stilted.

One of my problems with the two boys’ relationship and indeed the whole cast are the English accents, it seriously affected the credibility of the characters.  Even Vera Farmiga, an American woman, gives her German character an English accent, which she does very well, incidentally. I’m sure the film’s adult cast members were more than capable of at least hints of German or Eastern European, but attempts to do so by Butterfield or Scanlon would have probably been risible.

The most villainous and unlikable character of the film is probably Kurt Kotler (Rupert Friend), but he is also something of a caricature. With his chiselled jaw, blond hair, blue eyes and immaculate uniform, Kotler is the personification of the somewhat homoerotic Nazi dream of Aryan supremacy. The problem is that instead of him being a compelling example of a Nazi propaganda poster-boy, Friend’s character is an example of the cliched ‘Ve have vays ov making you talk’ Nazi stock-character.  And of course, Friend makes no attempt to Germanise his English accent, which meant I just couldn’t believe in him.

With implausible characters and relationships, some viewers may begin to lose hope as the The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas descends into a sophomoric history lesson. However, the climax completely batters you with its shocking, powerful twist. Despite all of the preceding problems, the fittingly horrendous denouement will leave an impression on child and parent alike. Seldom have I seen a film picked up so greatly by its final minutes.

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The Inbetweeners 2 (2014)

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I tried to find a picture of a turd, alas I couldn’t.

It’s somewhat hit and miss, but perfectly enjoyable in the end.

In the first Inbetweeners film, they followed the well established comedy TV to cinema route of taking everything the viewer was familiar with and putting it in a foreign country. This trite formula provoked scepticism, but it was much better than many others and I expected. When I left the cinema feeling rather cathartic back in 2011, I was fairly sure that there wasn’t much room left for success for characters Will, Simon, Jay, Neil and writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley.

The formula is the same second time round, only now they’re even further away in Australia. The characters haven’t changed, and neither have their ambitions of  finding that elusive female and generally just fitting in. Neil, however, seems to be even more stupid, relentlessly firing gags that didn’t quite fit the Neil that I knew.

The vulgarity the programme is famous for is been amped up, we are immediately inundated with obscenities in a set-piece where Jay runs us through his Australian playboy lifestyle that’s clearly a figment of his imagination. In the first quarter or so of the film, the incessant jokes about mothers, banter and female anatomy wear thin at times, it becomes rather hit and miss, with the emphasis perhaps on ‘miss’.  However, the film’s sometimes flat vulgarity is punctuated with moments of truly gross-out humour, including an outrageous sequence involving a water slide and irritable bowel syndrome, or as Neil amusingly calls it – ‘irritating bowel syndrome’.

It’s not all ‘clunge’ though, there are moments of slight insight and drama, particularly with Jay’s raging inferiority complex beneath his ridiculous testosterone fuelled veneer. Naturally, any pathos is swiftly interrupted by a gag waiting around the corner.

The best thing about the film is its satire of the archetypal ‘gap yah’ travellers. This genie-trouser wearing community is represented chiefly by Ben (Freddie Stroma) and Katie (Emily Berrington). Ben is an insufferable, sanctimonious poser who preaches how ruinous tourism is as he hypocritically engages in it. He swaggers around with his deadlocks and his wispy vest pretending he is love and peace personified when really he is a malicious, vapid rich boy. Katie, Will’s ill-advised love interest, is even more vacuous, but she’s mostly just an ‘amaaazing’ excessively confident numbskull rather than a bully. I’ve found Will too ranty before, however I very much welcomed his cutting, eloquent condemnation in this instance, it’s as if he heard my every acerbic thought.

Although it may only provide several big laughs, those who have watched the series since 2008 – large swathes of British young adults and more – will have a smile on their face for much of the running time.

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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.

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Let the Right One In (2008)

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Let the Right One In wants the viewer to sympathise with someone who murders people because she ‘has to’.

Not as affecting as I was led to believe.

I don’t like vampires; I’ve found the genre’s latest surge in popularity most boring. Indeed, I don’t particularly like fantasy generally, I’ve never been that interested in the much lauded Lord of the Rings trilogy, Game of Thrones or the scores of others. However I do like fantastical narratives when they’re grounded in reality, like the superb Pan’s Labyrinth.

Let the Right One In, which I have been comparing to Pan’s Labyrinth, is grounded in reality too. It is set in 1980s Blackeburg, an achromatic, modernist mess in suburban Stockholm. However, unlike Pan’s, this Swedish horror is bereft of the characters, the imagination and the pathos that made Guillermo Del Toro’s film such a great piece of fantasy.

The film focuses on Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), another archetypal bully victim who’s too sensitive to stick up for himself. I love seeing a bit of playground retribution, and there is a great moment of it in Let the Right One In, but Oskar is a stock character who is generally quite unremarkable and hollow.

This proverbial loner soon meets the mysterious Eli (Lina Leandersson), who unfortunately is even more laconic. Although Leandersson isn’t given much dramatic range, she has a good physicality for the role with her long, dishevelled hair and her big, brown, bleeding eyes.

One of the main problems is that there just isn’t much chemistry between them, not much depth. Yes, the principal characters are 11-year-olds, I know from personal experience that children aren’t as likely to discuss in detail things that really matter, but seldom if at all do Eli and Oskar have an interaction that is above vacant gawping and muttering.

It is a film about two outcasts coming together, it should be moving, I was expecting something of a vampiric Leaving Las Vegas, however it’s difficult to empathise or in fact care at all when one character is a murderer and the other is a laconic child who forever fails to wipe his runny nose (which is rather repellent in full 1080p). Some of the supporting characters were also flat, especially bullies Conny and his older brother, who are excessively and unrealistically cruel.

This all may seem harsh, I don’t think it is a bad film, but the endless praise and the 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes had given me high expectations and they were not met.

Through cinematography, décor, costume design and plenty of Scandinavian pathetic fallacy, the film achieves a pervasive and at times oppressive ambience of melancholia. There are also some very well-orchestrated set pieces, particularly the film’s penultimate scene in Oskar’s school swimming pool; it is initially ambiguous, proceeding to shift mood and wind tension and suspense excellently. The sound is also sharp and really booms in some instances, adding to several of the film’s jumpier moments.

Although I liked its ambience, realist elements and several grisly scares, Let the Right One In fails to justify its reputation as it doesn’t sufficiently explore its characters, the central relationship is quite vapid and the narrative is marred by several instances of Eli’s gratuitous violence and an implausible conclusion.

68%

Lilya 4-Ever (2002)

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A powerful, sympathetic film about poverty. 

‘Lilya 4-Ever’ is hugely bleak. You shake your head as Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) is manipulated and abused. I read somewhere that this film is ‘torture porn’, nonsense, despite the sleazy, damning impression it leaves on you, it’s a very tastefully made film. It’s unremittingly depressing, but always tasteful.

It’s somewhat one-track in its storytelling; almost everyone is callous, abusive and indifferent about Lilya’s well-being, none more so than her mother, who deserts her, initiating Lilya’s dive into veritable squalor. I can understand how these people are going to be embittered by their tough, filthy neighbourhood, but some of the characters’ cruelty and selfishness border on evil. Her only friend is Volodya (Artyom Bogucharsky), a young admirer of hers who is always thinking in her best interest. The young pair give terrifically natural performances, which help achieve the film’s aura of hyperrealism.

Much like films such as ‘Import/Export’, the camera captures the arresting, achromatic landscapes of Eastern European housing projects.

The total deprivation in this film makes one appreciative of not only family and friends but basic commodities too. Lilya is thrown into aworld of abject poverty, where the living conditions are so desperate that we see her attempting to sell her few, worthless possessions on a street corner. Lilya and Volodya frequently talk about a better life, but they’re both so tragically far away from their fantasies. Inevitably, she discovers that prostitution is the most lucrative way of assuring she has the resources to be able to live and maybe even achieve her dreams.

Throughout the film, I wanted to reach into the screen and cradle the sweet little Oksana Akinshina, attacking anyone who wanted to exploit her for whatever disgusting purpose. The film puts an innocent, sympathetic face on prostitution, an industry that’s unfairly maligned and condemned by society. In fact, the film puts an innocent, sympathetic face on the underclass; its candid hyperrealism gives you a vivid portrait of total and utter destitution, helping you understand and empathise with their lamentable lives.

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