Review: The Emperor’s New Clothes

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DIR/WRI: Michael Winterbottom • PRO: Melissa Parmenter, Michael Winterbottom • DOP: James Clarke • ED: Marc Richardson • CAST: Russell Brand

Named after Hans Christian Andersen’s story of a kingdom full of people too embarrassed to admit that their emperor’s apparently magical new suit doesn’t actually exist, The Emperor’s New Clothes is Michael Winterbottom’s new documentary following Russell Brand as he tries to expose some of the corruption growing in society and to confront those responsible. Russell Brand, for anyone unfamiliar with him, is a TV host, turned actor, who has become something of an activist in recent years, speaking out against inequality and corruption on his web series, The Trews.

Everything you’re going to hear in this film, you already know.” At the beginning of this film, Brand acknowledges two very important pieces of information, the first of which is that everything he has to say has already been well established. Brand gives several specific figures and details to illustrate the gaping inequality in wealth over the course of the film, but he is basically demonstrating what people have been clamouring for years; that the super rich all too often escape their basic responsibilities and that none of the people responsible for putting the world economy in the toilet are really being held accountable for it.

The second important thing which Brand mentions is that he is of course a part of the super wealthy 1% of society, a fact which has led to many people criticising his involvement in a film like this. This criticism is not overtly confronted, though Brand’s general insistence that the rich contribute their fair share to society makes it clear that he’s not condemning the wealthy, just apathy and greed.

The mission statement of Emperor’s New Clothes is not to remind people that the economy is under the control of the wealthy, but to shake people out of apathy and remind us that “Things can change”, a mantra which Brand echoes throughout the documentary.

To illustrate his feelings, Brand takes to his home town of Grays, Essex, which serves as an example of a typical town anywhere in England, or Northwest Europe for that matter. We’re treated to Brand’s narration regarding how things have changed in his hometown since his childhood and where exactly he thinks everything went wrong for his town and Western society. Brand also spends quite a lot of the film visiting and interacting with hardworking people who struggle to make ends meet or have been let down by the system. While this is a powerful tool, it is somewhat overused and starts to lose quite a lot of its impact. The same is true when we see him visit his childhood school where he educates the pupils about how wealth is distributed in society, and repeatedly asks them if the situation seems fair or not. An interesting device at first, it soon becomes less compelling than seeing Brand try to hold the attention of 100 young children who’ve been asked the same Yes or No question too many times.

Where the film really hits the mark is in Brand’s confrontational approach to the powers that be. Driving around with a megaphone, denouncing CEOs and calling out entire companies, he easily grabs the attention of passers-by but takes it a step further, marching into the lobbies of multinational banks, asking very nicely, if loudly, to please speak to the heads of the companies about a few discrepancies between the ways bosses and employees are paid for their time. He also questions the current system of taxation which has the CEOs of a business paying a lower rate of income tax than their window cleaners.

The message of this film is clear. Like the Emperor’s new clothes, everybody sees the problem, but we’ve all also accepted it. As Brand puts it, “We don’t worry about [inequality], we don’t even really think about it” and he rather gallantly steps into the place of the little boy who loudly exclaims that he can see the emperor’s willy, except that instead of simply mortifying his parents, he challenges people to make change happen, to build the world we want to live in.

The Emperor’s New Clothes flirts a little too much with Russell Brand’s need to see himself as a man of the people, but is, overall, an honest and challenging piece of cinema that shines a much needed light on the status quo.

Ronan Daly

12A (See IFCO for details)
101 minutes

The Emperor’s New Clothes is released 24th April 2015

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Cinema Review: The Look of Love

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DIR/WRI: Michael Winterbottom • PRO: Melissa Parmenter • DOP: Hubert Taczanowski • ED: Mags Arnold • DES: Jacqueline Abrahams • Cast: Imogen Poots, Anna Friel, Matt Lucas, Steve Coogan
 

There was a time when Steve Coogan seemed to have unbridled potential to conquer Hollywood, but it never happened. Ricky Gervais is probably to blame. Coogan’s career cracked along with passable minor appearances in American films while, with the exception of revivals of his human faux pas Alan Partridge, his only shining moments came in his collaborations with Michael Winterbottom. Having caricatured himself in their previous two films together, The Trip and A Cock and Bull Story, Coogan is back playing another morally clouded media type in The Look of Love.

After triumphantly playing Madchester impresario Tony Wilson in Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People back in 2002, an unaging Coogan is here cast as British nightclub and pornography mogul Paul Raymond, who ruled the striptease scene in London’s Soho district from the 1960s until the 1990s, when he was believed to be one of Britain’s wealthiest men. A showman by nature, Coogan plays Raymond with all the smarmy wheeler-dealer skills his characters have shown previously, although Raymond is far more successful at this kind of enterprise than many of Coogan’s other roles. Learning early on that while lion taming and scantily clad women sell tickets, scantily clad women and more scantily clad women sell more tickets, The Look of Love traces the rise and rise and occasional dips of Raymond’s bizarre career. He seduces press and clergy to keep his clubs open. He enters into theatre and publishing, both with their share of female nudity. But the film is far more concerned with Raymond’s private life, tracing his affair with his star attraction Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton) and the collapse of his marriage to wife Jean (Anna Friel), who would later re-enter his life as one of his covergirls.

The focus however is more on Raymond’s unhealthy relationship with his daughter Debbie, played by the ever-on-the-cusp-of-stardom Imogen Poots.  As with Michael Corleone and his daughter Mary (and by extension Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia), Raymond’s affection for his daughter is crippling and blinding – he sets her up as the star of one of his musical shows despite her very limited singing capabilities. Debbie is anointed her father’s business successor, but her developing drug addiction begins to get in the way.

Winterbottom playfully shoots his film in the style of each decade, beginning in crisp black and white before dissolving into the bleached colour palettes of the ’60s and ’70s. The production design is superb, but there’s a staleness to the imagery despite its quality. 24 Hour Party People was beautiful in its ugliness, but The Look of Love is often dull in its gloss. Coogan brings his A game to a character who is not quite as deep as Control writer Matt Greenhalgh’s script wants to believe he is. We never truly get inside Raymond’s head, and he is never quite as morally repugnant nor as fiendishly brilliant as the drama would hope. He is however regularly amusing, and Coogan’s rapport with Chris Addison as his number two keeps much of the film aloft.

Anna Friel plays spurned wife and saucy MILF with equal relish. Cameos range from the superb: David Walliams’s vicar; to the downright disappointing: The Inbetweeners’ Simon Bird wearing a beard so false you can practically touch the blobs of glue holding it on. What makes The Look of Love a moderate success is how well it captures the shifting styles and attitudes of Britain over more than three decades, but also in the chemistry between Coogan and Poots. As unlikely an onscreen father and daughter pairing as there might be, the two find a tragic sweetness in their decidedly creepy relationship, that makes for uncomfortable yet touching viewing.

The least satisfying of Winterbottom and Coogan’s collaborations so far, The Look of Love is still a fine production that’s only real failing was believing its subject was a more interesting character than he truly was.

David Neary

18 (see IFCO website for details)

100 mins
The Look of Love is released on 25th April 2013

The Look of Love – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Everyday

 

DIR: Michael Winterbottom • WRI: Laurence Coriat, Michael Winterbottom • PRO: Melissa Parmenter . • DOP: Sean Bobbitt, James Clarke, Annemarie Lean-Vercoe, Simon Tindall, Marcel Zyskind • ED: Mags Arnold, Paul Monaghan • CAST: Shirley Henderson, John Simm, Shaun Kirk

 

Everyday couldn’t be a more appropriate title – Michael Winterbottom’s understated experiment attempts to capture glimpses of everyday life and routine in all its minute, unromantic detail. The film’s most noteworthy gimmick is that it was shot over a five-year period to allow its younger cast members (and, as far as haircuts and facial hair go, its older ones too) to age on camera. It’s a neat and justified artistic decision, but it’s hard to call whether the story deserved the logistical effort.

 

Shirley Henderson plays Karen, a mother of four young kids – the fictional siblings all played by real-life members of the family Kirk (Shaun, Robert, Katrina and Stephanie, to be exact). Father Ian (John Simm) is serving a five-year prison term for some sort of robbery. We check in with the family irregularly over the course of his sentence. The kids have trouble in school, Ian gets frustrated by the drudgery and isolation of prison life, and Karen raises the kids while holding down a series of jobs and attempting to resist the temptation of a romantic admirer (Darren Tighe).

 

One of the interesting side effects of the five-year filming approach is that we can see the progress digital cinematography has made during that period firsthand. Early scenes are visually noisy and rough, but the picture clarity ever improves as the film progresses. Winterbottom settles on mostly handheld, improvised camerawork in naturalistic settings such as houses, parks and (inevitably) prisons. Those familiar with ‘mumblecore’ or even Dogme 95 aesthetics will find themselves in relatively recognisable territory. The film’s loosely defined chapters are often broken up by sedate landscape shots and bursts of an energetic score by Michael Nyman – two concessions that feel a little odd in a film so militantly naturalistic.

 

In terms of storytelling, ‘realism’ is the order of the day. Devoid of voiceover or any such cheap tricks, the film gives us fleeting glimpses into the everyday life of one separated family. The film’s story is straightforward and often effective. Ian being forced to return to the prison after a rare day’s leave with his family is a heartbreaking moment, and much more so since Winterbottom and Simms don’t overplay the emotions. The film’s most ‘dramatic’ plot point is ambiguously hinted at throughout, and the big ‘revelation’ only arrives minutes before the credits roll.

 

Other times, the film’s incessant subtlety hints at interesting character developments that are never built on. The two boys, for example, are gifted with much more screen time than the girls, and we’re shown how the two youngsters are getting into fights at school. But the film doesn’t probe why that is sufficiently (although the absence of their patriarch is a given), and the subplot stops short of real insight. Indeed, the plot is so determinedly non-dramatic we’re regularly left short of genuine insight or catharsis. There’s also the perhaps not unjustified argument that these characters simply aren’t that interesting or developed enough to spend intimate time with. The constant prison visits grow repetitive (which, admittedly, is part of the point) and whatever understated plot there is is quite familiar.

 

Still, the film is diverting enough on its own limited terms. The acting is consistently decent – of course from proven talents like Simm and Henderson, but the kids handle it well considering the odd position they find themselves in. There’s some intriguing scenes, and an admirably unpretentious delivery throughout. Ultimately this long-term shooting experiment has delivered a very small-scale drama, and its simplicity is both its greatest asset and its biggest liability.

Stephen McNeice

Everyday screens exclusively at the IFI

106 mins

Everyday is released on 18th January 2013


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1VnPwIGMhY

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Cinema Review: Trishna

DIR: Michael Winterbottom  WRI: Thomas Hardy  PRO: Michael Winterbottom, Melissa Parmenter, Sunil Bohra  DOP: Marcel Zyskind  ED: Mags Arnold DES: David Bryan Cast: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth

Two years from the controversial The Killer Inside Me, Michael Winterbottom returns to the big screen with Trishna, which offers a modern-day spin of Thomas Hardy’s penultimate novel, Tess of the d’Ubervilles. Regarded as a very significant piece of English literature, it has been adapted in a number of different mediums, with the most recognisable being Roman Polanski’s Tess, made in 1979 with Nastassja Kinski, and the 2008 four-hour TV adaptation, starring Gemma Arterton in the title role. It has also been made into a stage show on several occasions in the past, which comes as no surprise, because Hardy is one of those writers, like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, whose work can be interpreted in a number of different ways.

In the case of Trishna, Winterbottom has decided to transport it from the Long Depression-era Wessex setting of the novel to present-day India, with Slumdog Millionaire and Rise of The Planet of The Apes actress Freida Pinto starring as the titular Trishna, who accepts a job in a plush hotel in Jaipur after her father is injured in a road accident. While there, she catches the attention of the hotel owner’s son, Jay (Four Lions‘ Riz Ahmed), whom she later falls in love with, before moving to the glamorously-depicted Mumbai. However, as is also the case in Hardy’s source novel, things eventually take a turn for the worse for our young heroine.

All of this seems like perfect territory for Winterbottom, who has adapted Hardy’s work in two of his previous films (Jude and The Claim), and is a director of formidable talent when he is on form. In the case of Trishna, Winterbottom succeeds in applying the complexities and symbolisms of the Hardy book to a present-day location, but the film does have certain faults that stops it from being ranked alongside the very best Winterbottom films, like A Mighty Heart, 24 Hour Party People or Wonderland. In terms of the film’s good points, the cinematography of Marcel Zyskind and production design of David Bryan are of the highest quality, as they make good use of the film’s exotic locations, capturing perfectly the kind of world that Trishna has a desire to be a part of.

As expected, Winterbottom’s direction is sure-footed, ensuring that the varying segments of the film don’t feel disjointed at any particular stage. There are also fine performances from Pinto and Ahmed in the lead roles, who make a very believable screen couple. Unfortunately, the way their characters are depicted doesn’t quite work on screen, and while the filmmakers have remained relatively faithful to the novel (to the point that Hardy is the only one who has received a writing credit), some of the elements of the narrative don’t work quite as well within the confines of this film. Trishna, for instance, does seem all too willing to accept the circumstances she finds herself in, which makes it less of a surprise when matters take a turn for the worse for her in the film’s final act. Ahmed probably has the tougher task of the two, however, as his Jay takes on a sudden transformation from the charming young man we first meet to the increasingly unpleasant person he becomes during the film’s climax. The film’s depiction of gender inequality and class division is also rather muddled, and not entirely convincing, despite the best intentions of all involved. Nonetheless, as far being a modern-day spin on a well-told literary story, Trishna still rates as one of the better ones, and is certainly one of the best-made examples of a classic story getting the 21st century treatment. It is also refreshing to see Winterbottom having the courage to take liberty with certain elements of the book in his attempt to give the film a unique voice, and while Trishna is ultimately a flawed addition to his cannon, it still manages to highlight how effective his improvisational style of filmmaking can be.

Daire Walsh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Trishna is released on 9th March 2012



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdFiV9yDHG4

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Win Michael Winterbottom's 'Genova' on DVD

A supernatural thriller with echoes of Don’t Look Now, Michael Winterbottom’s Genova is ‘intelligent filmmaking with superb central performances.’ (Rotten Tomatoes). Starring Colin Firth and Catherine Keener, the film follows a man and his two young daughters as they move to Italy in an attempt to start a new life and put a family tragedy behind them.

For the chance to win this work by the award-winning director of A Mighty Heart, 24 Hour Party People and 9 Songs, answer this simple question: Michael Winterbottom won the 2006 Best Director Silver Bear for which drama/documentary?

Email your answers to competitions@filmbase.ie.
The closing date for entries is Friday 24th July, 5pm.

Keep an eye out for further Film Ireland Competitions!

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