Welcome to Part 5 in our series, as The Snooty Ushers trawl through the cast expanse of Netflix. Braving the unknown… discovering the hidden gems… risking the dire and the dreadful… all so you don’t have to.
And after the discovery of a forgotten sub-plot in the first film, my five films this week are all connected – sometimes tenuously, but all connected .
- Filth (Jon S. Baird, 2013)
Based on the Irvine Welsh novel, it’s the story of a scheming policeman Bruce Robertson and the total disintegration of his world as he tries to get a promotion. James McAvoy plays the lead and gives a fantastic performance. He brings an over the top mania to a truly nasty, horrible misogynist, as well as portraying the underlying sadness and desperation of a man haunted by his actions in his moments of clarity. Eddie Marsan shines in a supporting cast that includes Jamie Bell, John Sessions, Joanna Frogatt, an Shirley Henderson, with Jim Broadbent playing the psychiatrist who becomes the personification of Robertson’s breakdown.
The book is one of my favourites, and although the wildest parts of the book (spoiler: in the book, Robertson gets a tapeworm from eating an uncooked pork pie, which grows, becomes sentient, and a main character) simply couldn’t be translated onto film, the anarchic spirit of the book is definitely present. A great soundtrack as well. As long as you realise it’s based on a Irvine Welsh book, this is a definite thumbs up.
As DS Robertson would say: “same rules apply”.
- Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, 2014)
This is the forgotten subplot I had forgotten about. In Filth, there’s a storyline about someone using Frank Sidebottom’s voice to make obscene phone calls. This leads into my second film, with James McAvoy’s X-Men: First Class co-star Michael Fassbender.
When it first came about, I was delighted at the idea of a Frank Sidebottom (the Chris Sievey comedy character with a papier-mashe head) movie, and was slightly disappointed when I found out that it wasn’t. Instead the film is dedicated to Sievey, whose “outsider spirit and big fake head inspired the film”. I was still intrigued, the film is based on newspaper articles written by Jon Ronson, who is also one of the screenwriters, about the time he played in Frank Sidebottom’s band, but never got round to seeing it in the cinema. Enter the majesty of Netflix.
The story opens with Domnhall Gleeson’s bored, frustrated musician Jon (a cliche I know, but he tweets something like”Working hard on music all day, now time for dinner #nomnomnom” to his 14 followers, so I think it’s allowed) who one day ends up on stage with The Soronprbs, a band playing some sort of art-folk-indie-folk. Enter the previously discussed Frank (a mix of Captain Beefhart, and for me Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy, although that may just be the singing voice), and Jon is whisked away to a lodge in Ireland with this band of misfits to record an album. Band of misfits is another cliche, but it really does fit in this case, as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s thermin playing Clara and a non-English speaking drummer and guitarist. The movie plays out the joyous, torturous, inspiring process as Frank’s methods lengthen, and lengthen, the time taken, and then the fall out of finally recording an album.
There’s a line early on where John is told “you’re just going to have to go with this”, and that would be my advice to anyone. Frank is one hell of a film. It feels like an “American indie” film, especially in it’s final third, but even then it is still undeniably British. It’s Michael Fassbender wearing a big fake head. Just go with it. It’s a bit out there, though never deliberately kookie – but a definite recommendation.
As Frank would say: “Flattered grin, followed by a bashful half smile”
- Mission Impossible 2 (John Woo, 2000)
I was originally going to follow Frank with Calvary, starring Domhall Gleeson and his father, the always great Brendan Gleeson. However, I wanted to keep this selection varied, so after 2 British films I tried to find something as far away from them as possible, yet still connected. And that film was this!
With In Bruges, The Guard, and Calvary, Brendan Gleeson is finally getting the recognition (and leading roles) he deserves. Like many before him however, before his breakthrough, he was in supporting roles like this, playing the blackmailed CEO of a bio-engineering company…
Surely everyone has already seen Mission Impossible II, do I need to review it? Here goes – Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt, and after the first Mission Impossible, has ditched the subterfuge of the Brain De Palma original for the more balls out, all-action superstar approach. The music went from something close to the original 60s theme to a Limp Bizkit re-imagining, Tom Cruise’s hair went from short and smart to shampoo commercial long, John Woo brings the explosions and bike chases, Ving Rhames does what he does best, and there are plenty of cool moments such as the masks (see, another link to Frank!) and the rock climbing intro to the new, muscular Ethan Hunt. It’s Mission Impossible II, it will pass 2 hours pretty painlessly.
That’s a bit unfair. Re-watching it was fun. If Negotiating Netflix is about uncovering hidden gems, then maybe this does deserve to be here. This was one of the last big action blockbusters pre-9/11, and you could say that only in the last few years has Hollywood got back to making this type of film. Stupid and incredibly cheesy at times (and admittedly there are better things to watch on Netflix) but as an action film it really is one of the good ones, and is probably better than you remember it. An easy recommendation.
(I feel like this was a bit of a cop out, and I really can’t keep up the quotes, so as a reward for reading this part, here a nice little bit of trivia: Because filming on Mission Impossible II overran, Dougray Scott had to drop out of X-Men, and his role was recast. A largely unknown Australian called Hugh Jackman got the role of Wolverine, and the rest is history.)
4. Retreat (Carl Tibbets, 2011)
One of the reasons for enjoying Mission Impossible II again was undoubtably Thandie Newton. In this British horror she stars alongside Cillina Murphy and Jamie Bell – who was also in Filth, almost as if I planned this column in advance! This is the type of film that started the Negotiating Netflix idea. And it’s great.
A problem with modern “horror” films is the lack of actual horror. Scaring an audience and inspiring horror in an audience are two very different things. “Quiet, quiet, loud” will make you jump, but so will your next door neighbours slamming the door while you’re trying to write a film review, and neither of them make an interesting, coherent movie.
Retreat has Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton as a married couple who go to a remote, isolated Scottish island (are there any other type?) for a break to reconnect. After their generator breaks down, Jamie Bell’s injured soldier arrives on the island and tells them of a deadly virus outbreak that has spread around the world. With their CB radio only finding static, the couple take him in, but the three of them in such a such small environment inevitably brings out the rawest and most base instincts in all of them. Can they trust the outsider? Is he telling the truth?
This is a cramped, claustrophobic, tense film that I loved. Just three characters, but the interaction between them is believable and honest. A definite recommendation.
5. Driving Lessons (Jeremy Block, 2006)
And this is where my idea of having a link between every film really gets stretched! Jamie Bell is still best known as Billy Elliott with Julie Walters, and this 2006 British film has her as Dame Eve Walton, a faded classically trained actress reduced to working in a daytime soap (think Judi Dench being in Doctors), who takes on Ben Marshall (Rupert Grint) as her assistant. Ben has his own issues to deal with, as his overbearing religious mother Laura (Laura Linney, in a role I can only imagine she took because she was in England for some theatre work).
This is a very British coming of age film, aiming for a Gregory’s Girl awakening, but slightly falling short of those high standards. Martin Scorsese once said the Rupert Grint was the most talented actor of the Harry Potter kids, and although he has yet to show much of that, there are some sparks of it here. He was also enjoyable in Wild Target, with Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt, and I would suggest he does have a future as an interesting actor ahead of him. It is enjoyable enough, there are some strong performances, although it does feel slightly old fashioned, apart from Julie Walter’s incredibly foul mouthed Evie – which is enough to give it a recommendation, if you can deal with the English small-town sensibilities.
Also look out for Father Ted’s Bishop Brennan (Jim Norton) in a small role.
And that’s it from me. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon. Will it be five recommendations out of five. Until then, thanks for reading!