Well, for me at least. I've never been a particularly avid movie-watcher, but in the last week with revision taking up my days, and sleep my nights, films have provided the perfect diversion in the evenings. Over the last seven days the three that I've watched are Ae Fond Kiss, Four Lions, and Gran Torino. Although I have no intention of painting myself as an Ebert or a Kermode, here's my thoughts on those said three films.
Last Monday I watched Ken Loach's Ae Fond Kiss on iplayer. It has since disappeared from there but for those who are interested you can find it here on Youtube. It's set in Glasgow and explores the relationship struck up between second-generation Pakistani, Casim, and teacher and Catholic, Roisin, as their different religions, cultures and family situations act as an apparently insurmountable hindrance to their pursual of the relationship.
It's the first Ken Loach film I've watched, and I'm aware that he's directed far more critically acclaimed pictures. The major downfall of this film is that it didn't seem to cover any new or original territory, and harsher critics could accuse it of simply being a grittier, more realist version of Bend it Like Beckham, with several, if slightly strained, parallels between the stories. That, however, shouldn't detract from what is a genuinely well-executed examination of cultural differences in multi-cultural Britain, and the remaining prevalence of religion in certain areas of this country. The Catholic Church is depicted especially cruelly through Gerald Kelly's scowling, dogmatic Priest. The acting is generally good, and the performance of the two main characters especially, provides some touching moments. On the basis of this I look forward to exploring Loach's work further.
On Friday evening, searching for some light relief from the unforgiving task of Economics revision, Digg, Burnley and I went to see Four Lions (picture above). Obviously a film about suicide bombers isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea and there were certain parts of the film when I felt a self-awareness about what I was laughing at. However, watching Four Lions with pre-determined judgements will inevitably lead to missing out on the bulk of the film that is simply dopey, slapstick humour.
The jihadis portrayed in Four Lions are bumbling fools, who would struggle to organise a Doner Kebab, let alone a suicide bombing. Their stupidity helps to distance the events within the film from reality, as does all but one of the ridiculous situations they find themselves in in the film's climax. The fact that there are four idiots to the one straight guy means the idiocy is somewhat overloaded, but it is also true that some of the slapstick moments provide the biggest laughs.
If you're expecting a political message from Four Lions prepare to be disappointed. Critics can talk of the 'touching humanity' of the characters, or 'the brilliant takedown of the imbecility of fanaticism', but, in my view, the most political it gets is the veiled reference to the DeMezenes shooting- 'We shot the right man, but the wrong man exploded'. As would be expected from a film written by a combination of the minds behind Brasseye and Peep Show, Four Lions is simply a very funny film.
As well as never having seen a Ken Loach film, I'd also never seen a Clint Eastwood film, actor or director, until yesterday. In Gran Torino he directs as well as acts, in what he has said will be his last role. Similar to Ae Fond Kiss, it is a story based around the clash of different cultures, yet it is one clearly rooted in America, if not forgotten industrial America, in this case Detroit.
Through the first half of the film it very much seemed like the end of each scene would involve someone pointing a gun at someone of a different race accompanied with a verbal barrage of racist epithets. I personally struggle to engage with books, films and TV shows that have an inherently unlikable main character, and in this case, the bigoted nature of Eastwood's Walt Kowalski rankled far into his apparent rehabilitation.
The second half of the film was better as Kowalski begins to practise the virtues of forgiveness and tolerance in his nurturing of his young neighbour, Thao. Whilst Eastwood puts in an impressive tough-guy performance at the age of 78, the acting of Thao and his sister Sue, lets the film down at times. In the end, Kowalski's gun-toting, DIY-hero, nature leads to troubles that culminate in a powerful finish, yet one that left me thinking whether the film was as much about generational conflict as it was about cultural divisions. Gran Torino is a good film, but appraising it as a social commentary is tough, especially as removed as from this side of the Atlantic.