Our Kind of Traitor is Our Kind of Movie

Our Kind of Traitor

In Marrakech, a British couple on the skids looking to reignite their stagnant marriage (an always slightly slimy but marginally honorable Ewan McGregor, the professor, and a delightful Naomie Harris, the barrister) accidentally befriend a bawdy yet charming Russian mobster (a smashingly good Stellan Skarsgard) and his brood of children in peril.  Wouldn’t you know it that Russian guy is looking to have help delivering a secret bank file to MI6 and get safe passage for his family on the eve of a shady financial deal his boss would kill people to cover up.  Once back in London, one British spy (Damien Lewis, nicely against type as the buttoned-up good guy) makes it his mission to use this information to bring down a certain MP (Jeremy Northam) involved in the corruption.

Susanna White’s jazzed up version of a John le Carre film adaptation is far better and more enjoyable than the ho-hum reviews and the movie’s own slickly off-putting first twenty minutes would have you believe.   Continue reading

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Battle of the British Biopics: Mr. Turner, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game

Below is The Spin on three end of the year awards hopefuls…all British biopics about tortured geniuses that when viewed together represent the best and worst of classic Oscar-bait.

Mr. Turner

First up is the finely pedigreed Mr. Turner from Academy darling writer/director Mike Leigh detailing the waning years of famed eccentric proto-Impressionist maritime artist J. M. W. Turner.  The film contains a lot of what one comes to expect from a Leigh project: Timothy Spall superb in the lead role, gritty yet refined attention to realism, fantastic supporting turns from a sometimes improvising cast, and excellent dialogue (the dark, dry, British humor runs delightfully amuck here).  The film also contains some surprises, most notably the perfectly lit cinematography from Dick Pope who photographs the film like a moving painting, masterfully capturing the scenes and environments (the approach of a retired warship he would later paint coming into harbor while Turner and his friends row out to meet it is fantastically rendered) that inspired Turner’s art. Continue reading

The Red Riding Trilogy

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…all good children go to heaven.”

You wouldn’t believe it at the start of the grim trilogy of films that aired on British television in 2009 and were released in art-houses stateside in early 2010 (and new to DVD this month).  Spanning almost a decade (from 1974 to 1983) and following a labyrinthine plot involving missing children, serial killers, conspiracy theories and corrupt police officers in northern Britain’s Yorkshire area, The Red Riding Trilogy is hard-hitting, trippy, convoluted stuff…the stuff of communal M-like nightmares.

The first thing that is so striking about the films is their look – dripping in period detail and directorial chutzpah that’s like Godfather-era Francis Ford Coppola as channeled through Danish Dogme ’95.  From a critical standpoint, the consistent tone running through all of the films is even more astounding when you realize each part was directed, edited, scored and photographed by different teams.  The first two parts were directed by Julian Jarrold and James Marsh respectively, and it’s only in the superior third part (1983, directed by Anand Tucker) do we see any kind of deviation, and that’s only in a few powerfully placed auteuristic flourishes involving flashbacks and voice-overs. Continue reading

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Gemma Arterton is Alice Creed.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed opens with a point-by-point look at two men (a menacing Eddie Marsan and a bewildered Martin Compston) preparing for the kidnapping of our titular anti-heroine (former Bond girl Gemma Arterton).  Writer/director J. Blakeson builds the tension confidently with well shot, well scored scenes that lull the audience into believing these men are so meticulous and organized, whatever it is they are about to do, they’re going to pull it off brilliantly.  They just have to.  Oh, but when you mix in human emotions, things couldn’t go more astray.

We’ve seen these kidnap flicks before, and we know something always goes horribly awry.  Blakeson knows he’s going to have to keep us on our toes, and he does so with some gravely intimate moments while falling back on old-fashioned melodrama.  Continue reading

Difficult Difficult Lemon Difficult

...oh, YES WE CAN!

...oh, YES WE CAN!

A review of IN THE LOOP:

Satire is so hard to pull off.  It’s so far from being “easy peasy lemon squeezy” I would go as far to say that it’s “difficult difficult lemon difficult.”  It’s a British term, you’ll catch on soon.

For the past ten years satire has been regulated to animation (the South Park movie), puppetry (Team America), and well, something called Sacha Baron Cohen, and let’s be honest, is that even real satire, or just mockery?  We really haven’t seen anything live-action of this sort since Wag the Dog, which is why it’s so refreshing to be back In the Loop.  And guess what?  Politics are funny again!

In the Loop is the minor masterstroke of Armando Iannucci, and his central conceit is to imagine a Dr. Strangelove “rush to war” scenario done up in a modern context and filmed like an episode of “The Office” — the British version.  Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell provide the fire power through their whiplash inducing witty dialogue that in turn is spewed forth by a live-wire cast of American and British veterans all playing their A-game. Continue reading

What Would Sylvester Stallone Do?

ATTENTION FILM FANS:  Put Son of Rambow at the top of your Netflix queue right now!  For some reason this family friendly feel-good British indie import never became the break-out hit is should’ve been in theaters.  I honestly think American audiences were confused by the title and thought Sylvester Stallone was actively involved in the project.  I also think this film is ten times funnier and more honest than recent indie blockbusters like Napoleon Dynamite or Little Miss Sunshine.  For folks from my generation, this film is for you, and it’s everything Michel Gondry’s miserable Be Kind Rewind wished it could be.

CAPTION:  Oh, those crazy kids!

Hope and Glory v. 8.0, 6 September 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Garth Jennings’ hilarious Son of Rambow is a nearly perfect Generation-Y update of one of my favorite films from childhood, John Boorman’s vastly underrated masterpiece Hope and Glory. Whereas Boorman’s Hope and Glory was tinted with melancholic Graham Greene era nostalgia and told the story of a young boy coping with Germany’s blitzkrieg over England during WWII through the power of make-belief, Jenning’s laugh-out-loud Son of Rambow takes a post-modern 1980’s pop-culture inspired look at a young boy’s escape from a harsh religious upbringing through an obsession with the movie Rambo: First Blood.

When a religiously oppressed Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner, with the perfect comic timing only an untrained child actor could provide) forms an unlikely friendship with a criminally neglected and movie-obsessed Lee Carter (Will Poulter, first seen on screen smoking a cigarette while making a bootleg video in a packed theater showing the original Rambo), the two decide to make their own Rambo-inspired film to enter in a local contest. Insane stunt-driven Tom and Jerry inspired antics ensue while Will has to hide his new activities from the family-focused Brethren and the family-impoverished Lee can’t help but get in trouble at school.

When Lee gets suspended for a mishap with a dog statue, a kite, and a science teacher clipping his nose hairs at just the wrong time; Will unwittingly attracts the attention of an inexplicably popular French exchange student and his bumbling British entourage who can’t wait to take part in the film. What follows is a hilarious kids-level satire of the movie world complete with an ingenious Boogie Nights style series of scenes that show an exclusive underground club on school grounds where kids dance to bad 1980’s music while chugging soda after downing Pop Rocks and highlights the bizarre brotherhood of filmmakers and actors that inevitably arises from such shenanigans. And that’s not the only connection to auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, as like There Will Be Blood, this Son of Rambow also features a pivotal scene of an emotionally distraught child covered in oil. And did I mention that like my novel The Thief Maker many scenes take place at a nursing home where Lee lives unattended by his jet-setting mother and step-father? Trust me, this is much funnier. Luckily, like Boorman’s clearly influential classic, this film is also wonderfully photographed and chock-full of naturalistic acting from the young cast.

Sure, Son of Rambow lacks the gravitas and realism of Boorman’s semi-autobiographical Hope and Glory but it packs a similar emotional wallop for those in my age group who grew up pretending to make movies in their backyards with neighborhood kids after the latest GI Joe or Transformers episode aired and were inspired by the latest Star Wars or Indiana Jones film before those franchises were raped for opportunistic profit during our disenfranchised adult years. For a generation of late 20’s and early 30-somethings who spent their childhoods disengaged watching endless marathons of The Little Rascals and The Three Stooges on TV while action stars like Sylvester Stallone pounded movie theater audiences into a bloody pulp, Son of Rambow is pure imagination-inspired movie magic that will tickle the funny bone while successfully playing for our sympathies. In an increasingly strange year of hidden gems and quiet sleeper hits, from cathartic and clever documentaries like Man on Wire to wickedly dark Graham Greene tinted comedy-dramas like In Bruges, Garth Jennings’ touching and uproarious Son of Rambow just might be the most accessible and deserves to become a cult favorite on DVD.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0845046/usercomments-65

SON OF RAMBOW is rated PG-13 for mild profanity, 1980’s British social mores, pre-adolescent French ennui, and cartoonish violence and reckless behavior all involving children.