Archive for Red Road

Donkey Work

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2010 by dcairns

It’s frustrating that I’m good friends with several of the personalities behind DONKEYS, particularly writer Colin McLaren and director Morag McKinnon, both of whom I’ve worked with in various capacities, because I’d like to tell you how marvelous DONKEYS is but you’re duty-bound to not believe me. I declare my prejudice in favour of the movie to be near-total, but promise to confine myself to the facts.

Recap: I’ve spoken about this before here, but this movie has an unusual origin it’s worth knowing.

DONKEYS, originally called ROUNDING UP DONKEYS, is a sequel of sorts to RED ROAD, a Scottish arthouse hit based on a scheme devised by Lars Von Trier and Lone Scherfig: three writer-directors were given a group of characters and told to make three movies using them. Morag asked LVT what she should do if she couldn’t find ways to use all the characters from RED ROAD. “Oh, just use the ones you want and have the rest go by in a bus.”

She then set about cheating even more. First she brought in Colin to help with the script. He’s the genius who scripted her BAFTA-winning short HOME, and co-wrote my own hit CRY FOR BOBO. Then she told her employers he was helping. Then she told them he was collaborating. Then she told them he was writing it.

Meanwhile, Colin elevated a bit-player from the RED ROAD cast list to leading man status. This eventually led to the part going to the great James Cosmo (Ewen MacGregor’s dad in TRAINSPOTTING), and Brian Pettifer, a familiar face from Lindsay Anderson’s work, was brought in as his hapless friend. One of the RED ROAD actors threatened to sue. Then he dropped dead. Problem solved.

Colin tinkered. Kate Dickie’s Jackie no longer works in front of a thousand monitors, surveilling Glasgow by CCTV. She now works in a supermarket. She suddenly has a daughter. Natalie Press, a teenage runaway in RED ROAD, is a doctor in this one. This is the alternate universe sequel to RED ROAD. Also, it’s a comedy.

Due to the kind of machinations and screw-ups actuated whenever a film is made, especially with multiple producers, various gags did hit the cutting room floor during the journey to the screen. This resulted in an odd, but ultimately pleasing phenomenon. DONKEYS is a very black comedy, so by not announcing the tone up front, it spectacularly wrongfooted the critics and filmmakers at the industry screening. The audience, expecting a grim slice-of-life in the Loach vein, following on from Andrea Arnold’s rather glum debut, slowly began to suspect that something was up. Titters were heard. “Ah, it’s the comedy of the everyday,” they thought. “A bit of naturalistic comedy in the Mike Leigh tradition.” (I was there, I heard them thinking this. I’m still just reporting the facts here.)

When Cosmo, who may be terminally ill, tries to win back his estranged daughter by extemporizing a dreadful song at her late husband’s grave, you could practically see the suspicion shading into certainty that this was an actual funny film. The song is very poor. It continues for a long time. The laughter built. And then the film was home free.

Cosmo, a rugged, ragged man mountain with a face apparently hewn from granite, then dropped from a great height, contrasts physically with the small, smooth and round Pettifer, creating a sort of Laurel and Hardy effect. And I did actually think of the immortal L&H when I read the script. Even though this happens in a world closer to documentary reality, where the kind of flaws shown by slapstick clowns have altogether more tragic consequences. Morag’s gift for getting great performances and navigating the tonal switchbacks of Colin’s writing is much in evidence. There were tears and laughter and tears of laughter.

Here’s a clip from Morag and Colin’s previous triumph, HOME:

Shooting Fish

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 29, 2009 by dcairns


Over at the Auteurs’ Notebook I deliver my verdict on Andrea Arnold’s FISH TANK. While I was a bit down on RED ROAD for being kind of glum and depressing, this time I seem to be saying her movie isn’t depressing enough. It’s entirely possible that I’m just never going to be satisfied with modern British realism. I leave it to you to decide is this is Caliban’s rage at seeing his face in the mirror, petty jealousy because AA is making features and I’m not (and I do worry this might be true, I seem to hate everything new here), or some kind of gosh-darned CRITICAL INSIGHT, unlikely as that may seem.

The Auteurs would love it if you join the discussion over there.

Festival Burnout

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2009 by dcairns

More Edinburgh goodies.


Some of the movies showing here are eligible for an audience award — you tear a special cardboard tab to register your vote. The lowest category is “Not My Kind of Thing.”

UNMADE BEDS — a youth film about London squatters and little else. Tempting to nickname it “UNMADE FILM” but it’s beautifully shot, and has the most madly photogenic cast of any recent Brit flick. In theory it should be very watchable, but alas it has no reason to exist, no dramatic tension, no structure, and not really any distinct point of view. Not My kind of Thing.

FISH TANK — Andrea Arnold’s slice of social realism builds on the critical success of RED ROAD and is more convincing but no better structured. It pads solemnly on for two hours without delivering a single surprise, but there are compensations in the fine photography and superb performances. Not My kind of Thing.

ANTICHRIST — Lars Von Trier’s marital horror movie is weird, which is fine, but incoherent, which is not so good. I asked the cinematographer if it was deliberately funny, and he said it wasn’t, strongly hinting that there’s something the matter with me if I find it so. Not My Kind of Thing. More later.


Regular Shadowplayer Chris B, wearing the face of Peter Greenaway upon his abdomen, stands athwart the great Joe Dante.

By contrast, Joe Dante and Roger Corman’s public appearances have been a joy, and I’ll write more on them later too.

Interviewed Bruce MacDonald, director of the excellent PONTYPOOL, for the Auteurs’ Notebook, and hopefully you’ll be able to read that soon.

LITTLE RED HOODIE — my friend Joern Utkilen’s jet-black comedy about the sexualisation of little girls in modern society covers much of the same territory as FISH TANK, but in 15 minutes. It’s sick, funny, compelling and makes a serious point. I’m not sure the point is enough to justify the very dark territory it gets into (via a modern-dress recounting of the Little Red Riding Hood story), but the film earns the right to be considered seriously.

THE ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE — a Corman I’d only seen a few moments of before, and hadn’t fancied, but it proved to be a dry, factual, brutal, amoral and compelling little history lesson in capitalism and homicide. Especially pleasing to get faces like Bruce Dern, Dick Miller and Joe Turkel popping up, and the essentially gentle Jason Robards and George Segal make the most of their psychopathic scenery-chewing roles. Jack Nicholson has one line, and delivers it in a comedy gangster voice.

Quote of the day came from a friend of a friend of a friend of the late David Tomlinson, who is said to have said, “Sodomy’s overrated. I mean, I’m not knocking it. It got me work at Disney.”