This Is England – 8.5/10

If Shane Meadows directorial breakthrough Dead Man’s Shoes was about loss of innocence, the follow up This Is England portrays what comes next…

thisisengland

Set against the backdrop of the Falklands War during Thatcher’s Britain, This Is England is a coming of age tale of both a troubled boy named Shaun and the country as a whole. Meadows perfectly captures life as a 12 year old boy in a Northern town. No matter what the era or the place, there are always similarities to be drawn and recognized which is why films like Kes still resonant so strongly.

Meadows’ great strength as a director and story teller is to search for a certain romance in the terraced houses of Northern England. However, romance and beauty often go hand in hand with pain and anger and to show one without the other would be doing a great injustice to the Northern soul that Meadows so prides himself in portraying. Unlike the irrepressibly bleak Dead Man’s Shoes, This Is England is actually a warm and light hearted film for long stretches but it builds to a powerful and jarring conclusion that is uncomfortable to watch. This stark ending is in no way gratuitous though. In much the same way as the Star Wars films are revealed to be about Darth Vadar and not Luke Skywalker, This Is England is actually more about charismatic and violent gang leader Combo than main protagonist Shaun.

Cbo
Stephen Graham as evil but vulnerable Combo

Meadows not only has an eye for authenticity when choosing often inexperienced actors for his films, he also has a knack for getting the best out of his more established cast members. Paddy Considine’s performance in Dead Man’s Shoes was worthy of an Oscar nomination that of course never came. Surpassing even Considine’s master class though is Stephen Graham as the aforementioned Combo. It is a terrifying and visceral performance from Graham who perfectly captures the manipulative bully we have all encountered at some point in our life. His central speech about immigration is a thing of beauty and it is a brave move from Meadows to have such an articulate and on the face of it fairly logical argument about race coming out of the mouth of such a vile character.

It is so easy to make a film about racism and have the antagonist be an ignorant straw man who it is easy to hate. As shown with Ed Norton’s Derek Vinyard from American History X however an eloquent racist makes for a much more compelling story than a stupid one.

This Is England is an unflinching look into the life of millions of people across Great Britain. It is a love letter to the British Isles but also a warning sticker. Ultimately it is a film that hopes we can all do better.

Lake of Fire – 8/10

Harrowing and extremely graphic abortion documentary from the director of American History X

abortionnew460

Notoriously difficult British director Tony Kaye spent 18 years putting this astonishing documentary together so it is no surprise it is a compelling and polarizing piece of work. Both sides of the abortion debate would probably claim this mammoth two and a half hour documentary is biased against them but in truth Lake of Fire is as impartial as a film could be on a subject that inspires such strong feeling. Fundamentalist pro lifers may claim it portrays them in a bad light with extensive coverage of the death and destruction these people have caused to others working in abortion clinics but at the other end of the scale the pro choice campaigners would no doubt call the graphic images and videos of the abortion procedure and aborted foetuses gratuitous and unnecessary. The truth is the only way to try and put forward an unbiased view is to present all the information – no matter how inflammatory and gruesome – so people can make up their own minds.

02fire600
I went into this film staunchly pro choice and whilst I totally stand by that view point, I can now emphasize with the pro life crowd a lot more than before I saw this film and if a piece of art can make you question something you care deeply about then it is definitely doing its job. On that subject this is a very arty documentary. There is no narration, it is filmed in striking black and white and constantly scored with dramatic strings and with such a long running time it might be a bit much for some people.
Enjoyed is the wrong word but I thought this was a really well put together and thought provoking documentary and I would say if this is a subject you already feel strongly about you should watch Lake of Fire.

Running With Scissors – 7.5/10.

Annette_Bening_in_Running_with_Scissors_Wallpaper

The story of Augustine, his alcoholic father, his crazy mother and an enigmatic psychiatrist.

Running With Scissors has its touching moments, is really funny but most of all I would describe it as ‘quirky’. While this can be an annoying and pretentious quality in some films (I Heart Huckabees), RWS is closer to Garden State or even the wonderful work of director Wes Anderson. Whilst not as poignant as Garden State or as layered as Anderson, RWS is as funny as either and is full of interesting characters. I am not familiar with Joseph Cross but he is brilliant as the main character. Annette Benning plays another crazy lady with a bit too much gusto at times but is mostly pretty strong. Brian Cox has a great time and is hilarious as madcap patriarch Dr. Finch. Elsewhere, whilst it isn’t much of a stretch for Gwyneth Paltrow to play a pious, goody two shoes, she does bring a subtle darkness and sadness to the role. I am surprised that RWS doesn’t seem to be particularly critically lauded or popular with audiences as I found loads to enjoy here.