CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #8 – DEAD MAN’S SHOES (2004) – RICHARD MEETS SONNY
Directed by: Shane Meadows
Produced by: Mark Herbert, Louise Meadows
Written by: Paddy Considine, Paul Fraser, Shane Meadows
Cast: Paddy Considine, Toby Kebbell, Gary Stretch, Stuart Wolfenden etc.
Cinematography: Danny Cohen
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) is both a revenge thriller and a metaphor for the lost youth of England. Specifically, the youth of the Midlands discarded and forgotten by society.
Paddy Considine gives an incredible performance full of intensity, guilt, pathos, pain, self-loathing and regret. He portrays, Richard, a returning soldier, out to get back at those that hurt his brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell). The film asks: can revenge absolve guilt? Alas, there is no easy answer.
The film was shot in three weeks on a shoestring budget. Among many, many brilliant and disturbing scenes is the one where Richard initially meets main gang-leader, Sonny (Gary Stretch). It’s a short but impactful scene full of menace and suspense. Richard makes it plain he is coming for Sonny and his motley crew of low level criminals. Apparently a larger scale confrontation was scripted, but due to budget constraints this scene replaced it; proving that more often than not less is definitely more.
Between the years of 2008 and 2011, I did some screenwriting work for the Mountview Film Academy; a filmic extension of the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Based in London, they would produce a number of student acting projects including many low budget short films. Writers would be shuttled in and given a remit to create short films using specified actors, locations and length of film. Some work better than others and here are three I wrote in 2010.
What an interesting year. Personally, I had my fortieth birthday, changed jobs and my son turned ten years old. I am still at that current job and my son is now eighteen! Yikes: time is a relentless bastard!
In the world of culture, society, news and media there were some fascinating stories in 2010. Snow and ice dominated headlines in the beginning and end of the year. Tony Blair gave evidence to the Iraq enquiry while Dennis Hopper and Alexander McQueen sadly passed away. Ash from Iceland burst the air and disrupted flights all over Europe, as the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded off the Gulf of Mexico.
Later, Labour would lose the election to a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition; while Rauol Moat went on a kill crazy rampage in the North-East of England. Chilean miners got trapped underground, while Julian Assange and Wikileaks also hit the headlines. Finally, most importantly of all, Matt Cardle won The X Factor.
DYING AND KILLING (2010)
This short comedy drama centres on a stand-up comedian who wreaks revenge on a heckler who verbally destroys her set.
I would have to say this is close to being my favourite student short film of the lot. It has a great premise and is very funny. The student actors involved are brilliant and it is directed with style by Jonathan Wolff. As a semi-pro comedian myself I know what it’s like to fail on stage and the film captures that emotion well.
A GOOD CAUSE (2010)
This short romantic comedy-drama centres on a romance between a businessmen and a charity worker that takes a twisted turn.
While the actors do their best with this idea I don’t think the story is particularly sharp. Indeed, the premise feels unfocussed and the direction cannot mask the faults in the script. Having said that the actors are pleasant and the twist is funny, if a little bizarre. Overall, a bit more rehearsal and a re-write may have tightened the film a tad.
This short sci-fi drama centres on a ‘Reaper’ (a person who transfers souls to the ‘other side’), having to make a life and death choice.
I basically wrote this in an afternoon as an emergency script was required by Mountview, after another one fell down at the last minute. Clearly riffing on The Matrix, the film looks and feels too generic and the script is pretty weak. However, there is a decent idea in here which could be worth building on. The actors do well with the formulaic material but not one of my better scripts.
Written by: Russell T Davies – Based on A Very English Scandal by John Preston
Starring: Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Monica Dolan, Alex Jennings, Blake Harrison, Eve Myles, Patricia Hodge etc.
Composer(s): Murray Gold
Production Company: BBC
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’ve never been a fan of politicians. They are a necessary evil. Perhaps I shouldn’t blight a whole raft of people who may, in their hearts, believe they are trying to do well for their country. But, I just cannot help feeling there is something not quite right with someone who wants to be in control or lead or rule. I’m of the view that power does corrupt the individual and even though they may begin with great altruistic tendencies they will, ultimately, be poisoned by the job. Or worse than that they have sociopathic tendencies and the prestige of being voted in will feed their greed and lust for control. How does one explain the amount of wars and conflicts there are? Humanity is greatly flawed and the leaders of the so-called free world are more flawed than most.
But, what alternative is there to the capitalist system we have? Running a country and leading millions of various people must be tough; and difficult decisions must be made everyday. Many have tried the commune lifestyle and socialism has also led, in the Soviet Union and China for example, and, to dictatorial regimes replete with fear, repression and murder. Not that the West hasn’t had its fair share of Dictators and sociopathic leaders. General Franco in Spain is one such fascistic leader and our own Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, hiding within the illusion of democracy, crushed Union leaders, working class lives and whole industrial communities. As such, crooked and nefarious politicians are often a staple of film and television shows. A case in point is the BBC’s recent adaptation of John Preston’s book, A Very English Scandal.
This strange true life tale focussed on the Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe and his relationship with a troubled young man called Norman Scott. What first starts off as an illicit but touching love story soon becomes a desperate, twisted and darkly amusing black comedy of insane proportions. First off, Thorpe and Scott are portrayed with absolute brilliance by Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw. Both sterling film actors they bring gravitas, sparkling chemistry and humour to their respective roles; while Alex Jennings, Adrian Scarborough, Eve Myles and Patricia Hodge also excel in supporting roles. Furthermore, acclaimed director Stephen Frears ties the strands of Russell T. Davies brilliant script, expertly switching between comedy and heightened drama, without losing tonal control.
Set against the backdrop of English Parliament and the United Kingdom’s homophobic laws which outlawed gay sex, Jeremy Thorpe, is presented as an honourable man at first. He champions workers’ rights and lambasts the policy of Apartheid in the House of Commons. He has to hide his homosexuality though due to the oppressive legal system and the fact that, as a politician in the public eye, this would seriously harm his ambition to become Prime Minister. When he meets Ben Whishaw’s highly strung stable lad he immediately falls for him and they begin a secret affair. The relationship goes wrong and Thorpe moves on to become the leader of his political party, but an ever increasingly unstable Scott, just won’t go away. That’s when things begin to go awry for Thorpe. Scott won’t take a pay-off and Thorpe won’t give him the National Insurance Card, Scott hilariously demands.
So, like Henry II demanding, “Someone rid me of this meddlesome priest”, he allegedly, as per the script, takes a more sinister route. I won’t spoil it but the events which are presented are both funny and shocking and have to be witnessed to be believed. The privileged Jeremy Thorpe, garners some empathy due to having to hide his sexuality, however, his subsequent decisions to shut Scott down, as presented in this fascinating tale, are shown to be the actions of a spoilt, desperate and sad man wielding power over someone less fortunate. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely but as shown in A Very English Scandal it also leads to incredible poor decisions by individuals from the ruling classes. Indeed, the main reason I dislike and distrust politicians in general is they can and should afford to be better behaved and more compassionate than those they lead.
With the multitude of means of telling stories from video-games, literature, television, plays, songs, poems and of course, cinema, we have collectively become very sophisticated and experienced in our ability to understand fictional representations. Indeed, storytellers have, for centuries, attempted to find more complex and interesting ways to structure a narrative. One such way is the “story within a story” framing device. This could be: a play within a play; play within a film; TV show within a TV show; book within a film; film within a film; and so on. Indeed, Christopher Nolan’s incredibly complex science-fiction heist thriller Inception (2010) blew the audience’s mind with a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream concept; creating an array of stunning framing devices.
The history of storytelling as illustrated by the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Narrative Theory shows that as far back as the likes of: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The Arabian Nights, Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, narratives are framed from various narrator perspectives either through the devices of flashbacks and flash-forwards; stories within stories; or simply changing the narrator. In regard to stories within stories my first clear memory of such a framing device was in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the drama the Danish Prince attempts to shock a confession from his Mother and Uncle by getting the players to re-enact his father’s murder within their own play. Conversely, films within films have been a staple too of Hollywood and non-Hollywood film productions. Examples include: the classic musical Singing in the Rain (1952); Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), Altman’s The Player (1992) to name but a few, are examples of filmmaking actually being the subject of the movie. As storytelling has further evolved, Harold Pinter’s adaptation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) shows both events of John Fowles original text, but at the same time, the author of the novel involved in a love affair thus reflecting events of the book. Lastly, postmodern films such as: The Purple Rose of Cairo (1984) and The Last Action Hero (1993) even have characters from the on-screen cinema world enter the “real” world and vice versa.
Narrative, postmodern and semiotic theorists gather plays, stories and films which quote from other texts under the umbrella of meta-fiction. Indeed, many studies, including those by post-structuralists Julia Kristeva, Gerard Genette, and subsequently by academic Daniela Casellis, assert intertextuality or meta-textuality is a shaping of a text’s meaning by another text, as well as a production within texts. Meta-textuality often involves: allusion, quotation, pastiche, parody, homage and translation. It also enables the writer or director to differentiate their product and make it somehow fresh and contemporary. For example, Quentin Tarantino’s characters, while fictional, will make all kinds of references to: television shows, films, characters, hip-hop music and even fast food joints because that’s what real people talk about every-day. While his films themselves work on a meta-textual level within: War, Westerns, crime thrillers, Kung Fu and many other genres, his characters exist in the now with their strong knowledge of popular culture.
While meta-textuality is a complex cultural theory with many different strands, I have identified four interconnecting levels within texts such as films and television. The first level of meta-textuality is structural. Incorporating flashbacks, dreams, imagination, narration and other textual framing devices, structural meta-textuality allows the filmmaker to play and bend linearity to create a fascinating means of telling a story. Moreover, it also asks the audience to question the very nature of storytelling itself. A simple example of structural meta-textuality is in The Princess Bride (1987) where the wonderful fairy-tale stories are based around a Grandfather telling his sick grandson tales of adventure and romance. More complex is Christopher Nolan’s structural representations. His early noir classic Memento (2000) is famously told in reverse chronological fashion, thus subverting the very nature of linear storytelling. His anti-hero, Leonard Shelby, has no means of making new memories thus via tattoos and Polaroid photos he constructs a present day movie of his own life in visual form. As the story unfolds we flash back and forth to a film within a film about a character called Sammy Jankis. Yet it turns out that Sammy is an imagined character used to suppress a terrible event in Leonard’s life and the film within a film is in fact the imagined vision of an unreliable narrator.
This second level is diegetic meta-textuality. This, on a basic level, refers to texts within texts which while featured within the story do not really comment on the text. These could involve the characters visiting the cinema, reading a book or watching a television show. The third is thematic meta-textuality where the texts within the texts directly impact the narrative, characters and themes. For example, any number of films about filmmaking or film distribution process could be classed as thematically meta-textual. Cinema releases such as: the Scream (1996) franchise, Bowfinger (1999), Boogie Nights (1997), Ed Wood, Living In Oblivion (1995), State and Main (2000), Berberian Sound Studio (2012), The Disaster Artist (2017), to name but a few, are great examples of films about filmmaking which exhibit thematic meta-fictional tropes.
The Disaster Artist (2017) takes great delight in paying homage to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003); a film which is often hailed as one of the worst ever made. The film shows how Tommy Wiseau came to make The Room (2003) and the disaster he encounters. Meta-textually, comedically and entertainment-wise this film is a highly satisfying cinematic experience. Even as the credits roll the sequence which shows scenes from The Room and re-enactments from The Disaster Artist are a joy to behold. Also thematically strong is Scream. It is especially clever because the characters are aware of the fact they are under threat and attempt to avoid death by making reference to various horror film tropes. Likewise, Tarantino’s uber-meta war film Inglourious Basterds (2009) features the fictional film Nations Pride, which both satirizes the German propaganda machine and the violent nature of war films in general. Tarantino is so obsessed by cinema that his wish fulfilment bloodlust even sees the Nazi hordes burned and shot down in an actual cinema.
The final level is emotional meta-textuality. This idea is slightly more open to interpretation because one could argue that all aspects of storytelling are intended to illicit emotion in the audience. However, I am referring to films where the meta-fictional aspects have a deep emotional or dramatic impact on the characters. Such examples include the intriguing Will Ferrell dramedy called Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Ferrell portrays Harold Strick who suddenly finds his life is being narrated by an omniscient storyteller, who turns out to be Emma Thompson’s author. Here the narrator is presented as a God-like power dictating what she thinks is a fictional character in Strick. Ultimately, fiction and the “real” world collide in an emotionally satisfying meta-textual story of discovery and mid-life crises. Similar, but even darker in its representation of emotional meta-textuality is Tom Ford’s adaptation Nocturnal Animals (2016), from a novel by Austin Wright. Here Amy Adams character, an Art gallery owner is sent a novel by her former husband, Jake Gyllenhaal. As she reads the manuscript a film within a film opens up which shows events that symbolise the wrongs he feels she has done to him. In the final revelatory scenes the emotional impact is damning to her life decisions and she is left alone, in the dark, with her own guilty thoughts.
In keeping with historical and literary modes of storytelling many films will deliver their stories in a meta-textual fashion using structural, diegetic, extra-diegetic and emotional methods. Furthermore, some films will utilise these all at the same time. One such screenwriter and filmmaker is Charlie Kaufman. His works such as: Being John Malkovich (1999), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Adaptation (2002) offer mind-blowing meta-textuality. Adaptation, starring Nicolas Cage, for example, features a screenwriter called Charlie Kaufmann trying to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief but suffering writer’s block. Instead he begins to write a screenplay about a screenwriter struggling to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief. Did he I also mention he has a twin brother called Donald who is also a screenwriter. Now, I could begin to analyse Adaptation but that would be a whole different story within and story within a story. . .
Produced by: Kevin Frakes, Ridley Scott, Buddy Patrick
Written by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Music by: Colin Stetson
Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’m tempted to do two reviews of this movie. Because there’s a minority part of me that feels its bravura and beautifully crafted horror film; but the majority part just could not get over the illogical and surreal elements which unhinge the carefully plotted family tragedy it promised to be. Nonetheless, the writer and director Ari Aster is clearly an ultra-talented filmmaker who deserves much praise for creating a series of impressively creepy scenes throughout. Still, he does throw a lot of ideas at the wall hoping they stick so many critics will probably love Hereditary, unfortunately it lost me some way through due to a major plot and tonal turn which, while foreshadowed, did not really make any emotional sense.
The story begins with the Graham family mourning the death of Annie Graham’s (Toni Collette) mother. From beginning to the end Collette’s portrayal is absolutely incredible and she deserves any awards that are coming to her. Indeed, Collette anchors the film with moving and incredibly dramatic performance. Her character is very empathetic suffering tragedy after tragedy and attempting to come to terms with the devastation life brings. She is ably supported by Gabriel Byrne as her husband; while Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro offer excellent support as their troubled kids. Shapiro especially is well cast as the unstable teenage girl who may or may not have some darker force within her.
The film begins slowly and creeps along for forty minutes or so building dread and atmosphere. Collette has some fine speeches about grief and family relationships and this is where the writing is very strong. These scenes showcase Collette’s acting ability before the action takes a vicious twist with one grandstanding horror moment half-way through. This is where, in my view, the film suddenly started to become lop-sided and full of debateable plot-holes. Don’t get me wrong, if you read the film as a supernatural fantasy full of surreal and dream logic like the cinema of Luis Bunuel and David Lynch, you can swallow much of what happens in the final act. Moreover, symbolically and thematically Hereditary is very strong with issues relating to grief and dysfunctional family relationship very well explored. However, due to a ridiculous final act where the film moves away from this my empathy for the family was lost in a number of wildly over-the-top scenes, which while scary, made little sense in my humble opinion.
Hereditary (2018) is a “Mother” of a horror film!! Indeed, it has much in common with last year’s divisive work of cinema directed by Darren Aronofsky called Mother (2017). Like Mother (2017) it is a brilliantly directed horror story with great acting throughout, that alas, falls apart at the end with narrative illogic, plot-holes and a laughable denouement. It’s a shame because the first half of Hereditary is beautifully set up. The visual style involving miniatures, shadows, weird dolls’ head and bird decapitations is creepy and very impressive. However, the filmmaker’s fantastic work is destabilised by a narrative desire to twist the film into something pretty crazy. Yet, Ari Aster deserves much praise for taking risks in the horror genre and his and Collette’s craft are of the highest order; at least until the ending.
Produced by: Kristian Brodie, Lauren Dark, Ivana MacKinnon
Written by: Michael Pearce
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James
Cinematography: Benjamin Kracun
With Marvel’s juggernaut Infinity War (2018) smashing through the Cineplexes this week it takes a brave distributor to release a low budget British thriller at the same time. Nonetheless, Beast (2017) is here secreting paranoia, sexual tension and animal magnetism amidst the super-hero saturation. Beast is the debut directorial feature of Michael Pearce and he certainly demonstrates a lot of talent in the writing and filmmaking stakes. He also gives us arguably one, if not two, film acting breakthrough roles in the casting of the incredible Jessie Buckley and equally alluring Johnny Flynn.
Beast is a slow-burner of a film. It moves at its own pace and quite often this works to heighten the suspense and on other occasions it perhaps slows the story too much. The central character is Buckley’s Moll Huntington, a coach tour guide living on the island of Jersey. Her middle-class life seems safe and comfortable but beneath the surface her controlling Mother (Geraldine James) and religious background make her feel trapped and isolated. Beneath Moll’s quiet surface is an anger and sexual energy waiting to break out. When she meets Johnny Flynn’s handsome “bit of rough” Pascal Renouf, Moll’s rebellious nature is released as she fights against her mother and her middle-class upbringing.
Simultaneously, Jersey is under threat from a serial killer who is brutally murdering teenage girls. Thus, the film presents two main plots: a coming-of-age romantic drama, plus a police thriller full of suspense. Writer-director Michael Pearce weaves these strands, on the main, very successfully as the police become more and more certain Pascal is the murderer. Moll’s love and loyalty to Pascal then becomes twisted and her turmoil drives the story into very dark places. I would say, however, the police investigation side was not as successful as Moll’s character study. In fact, there were a couple of plot-holes which let the story down, as did a tad long running time. Yet, these are minor gripes in a beautifully shot and rendered cinema release that makes the most of the Jersey shore, dirt and forestation.
Overall, Beast deserves a lot of praise for the intense acting of Buckley and Flynn. Their relationship crackles with sexuality on the screen and Buckley excels in many scenes when the rage inside her just explodes. Flynn, who was unrecognizable from his role as young Albert Einstein in the show Genius (2017), has an off-centre charm which captures the outsider perfectly. Geraldine James, as Moll’s mother is also on formidable form too. Yet, Jesse Buckley’s owns this film as the complex protagonist; while filmmaker Pearce must be commended for creating a slow-burning and intelligent psychological thriller which stays with you once the credits have rolled.
100 NOT OUT! #2 – MORE GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS
Almost two years ago I did a piece on great films 100 minutes or less (read here) and it pretty much – aside from the Game of Thrones “great monologues” piece – got the most views of any articles I’ve done. So in keeping with the spirit of the Hollywood movie system I have decided to do a sequel.
On the previous one the classic films I listed HERE were the following:
12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)
THE KILLING (1956)
MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981)
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
And in true sequel fashion I have decided to not mess with the formula and thus, here are twelve more great feature films 100 minutes or less. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments.
ANCHORMAN: LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004)
To some Will Ferrell is either a complete waste of space or a comedic genius. While some of his later stuff has been very hit or miss, his earlier movies are pure gold. Arguably his finest role remains the sexist and idiotic news reporter Ron Burgundy; his first outing being a riotous gag-a-second mix of satire, stupidity and songs.
BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)
The Coen Brothers’ debut film is a dirty-criss-cross-bloody-neo-noir-thriller which both contemporises and subverts the work of James M. Cain. As with their later movies the Coen Brothers create a set of characters whose various plans unhinge and devolve in to murderous and at times blackly humorous tragedy.
Jean Luc Godard’s debut “nouvelle vague” feature remains one of his most accessible films. Filtering the Hollywood crime thriller through Godard’s iconoclastic filmic style, it stars the impossibly cool Jean-Paul Belmondo and sweet Jean Seberg. Influential, simple and impactful it remains a French film classic to this day.
DARK MAN (1990)
Sam Raimi is better known for his Evil Dead and Spiderman trilogies but he has also created some other fantastic works too. The comic book stylings of Dark Man are one such B-movie as Liam Neeson portrays a scientist whose work is destroyed; leaving him burnt to a crisp and seeking revenge on those who did him wrong.
GHOST STORY (2017)
David Lowery has created one of the most original stories of recent years and his handling of composition; editing and temporal structure is a masterclass in pure cinema. This film is hypnotic, tragic and echoes the work of Bergman, Kubrik and Tarkovsky as departed Affleck haunts and loves Rooney Mara’s from the ether.
John Carpenter’s horror classic provided the template for loads of copy-cat slasher films and unnecessary sequels. The original is easily the best as killing machine Michael Myers escapes the asylum to hunt down Jamie Lee Curtis and her school mates. The score, scares and Donald Pleasance all combine to chilling impact.
LETTER TO BREZHNEV (1985)
This classic slice-of-life-80s-set romance story finds Alexandra Pigg and Marjorie Clarke as working class Liverpool lasses looking to escape their humdrum lives. Enter Peter Finch and Alfred Molina, as Russian sailors on shore leave who spend a night with them. Full of earthy humour this is a great little film with a lot of heart.
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1953)
This is a genuine classic due to the fine performances, direction and amazing cinematography which places our characters in murky shadows and danger throughout. Robert Mitchum’s preacher is big and scary and money-grabbing and murderous; a symbol of religion as seen by the writer and filmmakers.
PATHS OF GLORY (1957)
Stanley Kubrik’s Paths of Glory has been proclaimed a masterpiece and one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. I have watched this classic many times when young and having seen it on the big screen at the BFI recently I can testify that it has lost NONE of its grandstanding power. A genuine ninety-minute movie classic!
PUSHER II (2004)
Nicolas Winding Refn’s early Danish films are dirty and brutal affairs. They show career criminals, dealers and addicts inhabiting the mean streets of Copenhagen. The Pusher trilogy is a grim but absorbing narrative as it finds petty thief Tonny – portrayed brilliantly by Mads Mikkelsen – trying and failing to go straight.
SHOW ME LOVE (1998)
Talented Swedish film director Lukas Moodysson has seemingly sabotaged his career by producing riskier narratives of late. Yet, his first two films Show Me Love and Together (2000) were accessible slices of life; both very funny and emotional. Show Me Love was a great coming-of-age story: warm, cold, bitter and sweet.
THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)
Oh, what a classic this is and in less than even ninety minutes we get one of the funniest films ever committed to celluloid. Charting the misadventures of heavy rock band Spinal Tap, this mockumentary starring Christopher Guest and Michael McKean genuinely goes up to eleven with scene after scene of parodic hilarity.