Wolf Alice fans are likely to be rather disappointed by this hybrid documentary-drama about the band's UK and Ireland tour. On the one hand, filmmaker Michael Winterbottom had complete access backstage, so he catches the band members on the tour bus, in the dressing room and around town. But nothing very interesting happens with them, and their performances are cut short on-screen. Instead, there's an awkward fictional storyline stirred in that feels like little more than a distraction.
This artificial plot centres on 21-year-old London music executive Estelle (Leah Harvey), who joins Wolf Alice as they travel to Belfast and Dublin, then crisscross England, Scotland and Wales before heading to London. Along the way, Estelle falls for roadie Joe (James McArdle) and they have a rather torrid fling. Meanwhile, the bandmates (Ellie Rowsell, Joff Oddie, Joel Amey and Theo Ellis) are lounging around, trying to find time to sleep, doing interviews with local press and having photo shoots in between their gigs, at which they're supported by Bloody Knees and Swim Deep.
Oddly, the film doesn't really work as a rock doc, since Winterbottom only includes snippets of the songs. This is a shame, since Rowsell has so much stage charisma, elevating Wolf Alice's distinct brand of edgy pop. But the strangest thing is that the bandmates never get up to any backstage antics at all. They have some late-night raves in pubs, but they otherwise reveal very little about themselves. Even in the interviews, the questions are all resolutely superficial. Instead, the movie seeks some emotional interest in the romance between Estelle and Joe, cross-cutting their languid sex with the band's stage performances. Both Harvey and McArdle are solid in the roles, but there's no context to their interaction. And the meeting with his mother (a cameo from Shirley Henderson) in Glasgow is bizarrely pointless.
Continue reading: On The Road Review
By Rich Cline
Political documentaries tend to get the blood boiling, and this is no exception, as it keeps us entertained with a lucid exploration of just how our governments have failed us economically. The central topic is income inequality, and having a riotous figure like Russell Brand front and centre brings the issues home in a clear, infuriating way. Director Michael Winterbottom does a terrific job reining Brand in, keeping him on-point and making sure the details are clearly presented.
Right from the start Brand says that there's nothing in this film we don't already know. But he's connecting the dots in ways that the media certainly isn't willing to do, because they're part of the problem. Indeed, as he works with a classroom of young students, he proves that even a child can understand that our system simply isn't fair: the rich are getting richer, but the poor are struggling more than ever as the gap between them grows out of all proportion. Instead of tackling this problem, the politicians simply deflect it, blaming something as essentially irrelevant as immigration while neglecting a fundamental human value we all teach our children: sharing.
The film goes back in history to explore how we got here. In the 1970s, the wealthy earned 10 times what their lowest-paid employees earned, but the policies of Reagan and Thatcher shifted the balance to the rich, arguing that the cash would trickle down into the rest of society. But that has never happened. Companies and banks only consolidated power and profits, as the free market system made the highest-earning 1 percent even more greedy and selfish than they were before. Now top earners get up to 300 times what their employees are paid. No wonder people are broke, small businesses are failing and towns are in bankruptcy, while the rich just get richer.
Continue reading: The Emperor's New Clothes Review
By Rich Cline
By taking a fictionalised approach to the Meredith Kercher murder case in Italy, filmmaker Michael Winterbottom sets out to show how tricky it is to find the truth in any case, but he actually ends up proving how impossible it is to make a movie based on complex, unresolved real events. The film has a fascinatingly mysterious tone to it, but never comes together into something the audience can properly engage with, mixing big themes with bizarre filmmaking flourishes that only serve as a distraction.
It centres on Thomas (Daniel Bruhl), a London-based filmmaker who flies to Sienna to make a movie about the case of a student (Genevieve Gaunt) who's been charged with brutally killing her flatmate (Sai Bennett). Thomas immediately locates the foreign press corps, which hangs out together to cynically discuss the case. And he starts working with Simone (Kate Beckinsale), who's writing a true crime book. But Thomas is worried that there are too many layers to the story for a movie, and he becomes increasingly confused after consulting with Edoardo (Valerio Mastandrea), an expert on the case who also wants to be a screenwriter. To try to find the root of what happened, Thomas hires the sexy young Melanie (Cara Delevingne) to show him around town.
All of this is complicated by the fact that Thomas has a coke addiction and is reading Dante's Inferno, which combines with his imagination to cause freak-out hallucinations that make everything even murkier. Winterbottom builds this atmosphere beautifully, but falls short of establishing the fever-dream style of an Italian Giallo horror movie. This is mainly because he's trying to have it both ways, creating a wildly disorienting mystery while at the same time trying to make a pointed comment on how the media exploit a personal tragedy.
Continue reading: The Face Of An Angel Review
By Rich Cline
Michael Winterbottom vividly recreates swinging 1960s London in this biopic about one of Soho's most notorious figures. It's a lively and attention-grabbing film, but the cast and filmmakers never create a character we can identify with or care about, which leaves the film feeling a bit meaningless. And even if we're interested in the history, we are never able to feel the emotions.
As he did for Winterbottom in 24 Hour Party People, Steve Coogan plays a colourful real-life figure, this time Paul Raymond, also known as the King of Soho. Raymond made his fortune through strip clubs and lap-dancing venues, then expanded into publishing men's magazines before purchasing large swathes of property in London's artiest district. But his marriage to Jean (Friel) was strained by his rampant womanising, including a long-term relationship with actress-model Fiona Richmond (Egerton). And the main woman in Paul's life was his daughter Debbie (Poots), who was in line to inherit his fortune when she died of a heroin overdose in 1992.
The film is framed with Debbie's funeral, showing Raymond at his lowest point. But then, even when he was living the high life, his self-obsession casts a heavy shadow. Everyone in this story is just as lost in their own addictions. And it's sad to see Raymond himself never able to move on from his own early years, amassing a £1 billion fortune, which he left to Debbie's children when he died in 2008. Coogan bravely never tries to get us to sympathise with Raymond, delivering a focussed performance that's darkly bittersweet. Poots adeptly captures Debbie's inability to see her own talents as she falls into a whirlwind of drug abuse. And Friel and Egerton get the most engaging roles as woman thrown aside along the way.
Continue reading: The Look Of Love Review
By Rich Cline
An impressive cinematic experiment, this film is worth seeing for its big concept and documentary touches, even if the narrative is frustratingly underdeveloped. We can actually see the passage of time, as the cast and crew shot this fly-on-the-wall drama over five years. So it's a shame there's so little going on to hold our interest.
The story takes place in rural Norfolk, where Karen (Henderson) is struggling to take care of her four young children (played by the four Kirk siblings, using their own names). Her husband Ian (Simm) is in prison, and taking the kids to visit him is a big outing. Things get easier when he's transferred to a lower security location and given weekend passes to visit his family. But as the years pass, the children grow up and Karen and Ian's relationship begins to shift. And for help, Karen befriends a local man who fills Ian's upcoming release with mixed emotion.
Winterbottom assembles this as an intriguing blending of the kitchen-sink drama (most notably portrayed through Michael Nyman's surging score) and a grainy, hand-held documentary. There is no shape of a plot to speak of, and few significant events along the way. Essentially, the film is merely examining these four children as they age over five years, which is rather astonishing as we've never seen it captured on film like this. Their scenes with Henderson and Simm are especially well-played, beautifully revealing the affection and tension between parents, children, spouses, brothers and sisters. Even though we never find out why Ian was imprisoned, Simm gives him a quiet realism that plays nicely opposite Henderson's superbly underplayed exhaustion.
Continue reading: Everyday Review
By Rich Cline
With this darkly edgy romance, Winterbottom adapts his third Thomas Hardy novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and sets the action in India. It's colourful and dramatic, but lacks the passion the story requires to grab our emotions.
When her father loses his livelihood in a traffic accident, Trishna (Pinto) needs to support her family in Rajasthan. So she takes a job offered by flirty tourist Jay (Ahmed), who works at his father's hotel in Jaipur. When Jay pushes their relationship further, Trishna runs home. But Jay finds her and talks her into moving with him to Mumbai, where they can live together while he pursues his dream of being a film producer. And as he becomes more distant, Trishna wonders if she's made a terrible mistake.
Continue reading: Trishna Review
By Chris Cabin
The search-for-Al-Qaeda exposés hit a strange turn with Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross' The Road to Guantanamo. A mockumentary that is supposed to be taken dead seriously, we are thrown into a small hell of assumption and horror that often reaches for, but never really matches, the sneaked Guantanamo footage or any of the thousand torture videos produced by either side in the lengthy war campaign. It's a stinger, but it has the taste and smell of plastic.
On a road trip to meet his bride, Asif (Arfan Usman) finds himself in need of a new best man and groomsmen when his best friend cops out on him. Ruhel (Farhad Harum) accepts it and their friends Monir and Shafiq take on the groomsmen positions on the road trip to meet his future (arranged) wife. On their way, they decide to take a bus to Afghanistan, for no other reason then to help spread peace. They hit the border and a bomb explodes, setting off a terrible series of events: Monir gets lost, the remaining three bump into Northern Alliance soldiers who believe they are Pakistanis (read: terrorists) and send the lot of them to Guantanamo. Winterbottom and Whitecross go all-out to show the inhumanity of the tortures and tricky games that the three men are put through before they are let out.
Continue reading: The Road To Guantanamo Review
Given what a potential provocation the film could have been, the conceit of Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs is admirable simplicity itself. Matt (Kieran O'Brien) and Lisa (Margo Stilley) have a meet-cute at a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club concert at Brixton Academy in London, after which they retire to his quarters for some exuberant shagging, an event that Matt, not surprisingly, looks back on fondly. Over the course of the film, we'll see eight other concerts interspersed throughout Matt's memories of their relationship, which focus mostly on the copious amounts of sex they had, with the occasional scrap of conversation tossed in. And that's it, music and sex.
What made the film's Cannes premiere and early 2005 release in England such scandal fodder, of course, is not the film's story or structure, but how Winterbottom went about the scenes with Matt and Lisa. That is, he filmed the actors actually engaging in intercourse, no fakery involved, and presents it in a straightforward manner, without the cutaways, montages, effortless orgasms, gymnastic posing and musical backdrops that comprise the average film's sexual content. If the film were more salacious and leering in approach, one could just call it pornography and be done with it. And given how little attempt Winterbottom's script (if one can call these few wisps of dialogue and few sentences of narration a script) makes to cast some meaning around Matt and Lisa's relationship, it would be pretty easy to say that this is just a porn in arthouse trimmings, with the concerts there for hipster cred, in the manner of magazines that mix punk pin-up girl pics with musician interviews as a way of updating the Playboy formula.
Continue reading: 9 Songs Review