Tag Archives: The Riot Club

The Scene That Killed The Tribe

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Tribe.

the tribeAn hour and a half into Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s debut feature film, The Tribe, Anya (Yana Novikova) goes to get a back-street abortion.  Her earlier sexual encounter with Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), of which the viewer is forced to witness every last quietly repulsing second, has led to this deaf teenage boarding school girl getting pregnant and resultantly needing an abortion.  So, for the next seven minutes and thirty seconds, the viewer is shown every last step in Anya’s abortion – from her knocking on the female “doctor”’s front door, to the entire process, to her pained sobbing once the act is finished – with no cutaways, no camera pans away, and nothing hidden.

It is the worst scene I have watched in a film all year.

I don’t mean this in the way that the director, who was also the film’s screenwriter, intended, where it’s purposefully hard to watch because it’s a distressing and disturbing act that we are having to witness.  No, I mean this in the way that this is the worst scene I have watched in a film all year.  The moment when it clicked for me that I was about to watch a back-street abortion, about two and a half minutes in, was the exact moment in which I turned against The Tribe completely.  It was the scene in which all of the promise that the admirable but still unengaging first hour had shown was promptly flushed down the toilet, as the whole enterprise proceeded to devolve into misery porn with nothing new to say besides a gimmick that only makes its worst moments even more objectionable.

Now, before we proceed further, I need to stress that I am not inherently opposed to the idea of this sequence, in the same way that I am not inherently opposed to any taboo sequence that ends up depicted on film.  Film is capable of handling and communicating sensitive topics that we need to be made more aware of in ways that can forward that conversation in a mature, even-handed way.  I am currently sick to death of rape scenes (of which this movie also has one because of course it does), but I am not opposed to the idea of them as long as they are handled respectfully and have a paramount importance to the story (although this article has almost convinced me that even that is not reason enough).

The Tribe, however, does not handle its abortion or rape scenes in mature or sensitive ways.  Instead, it uses them as simple moments of exploitation, lazy short-cuts for how miserable the film’s characters’ lives are in place of the fact that the film has no subtitled dialogue.  In doing so, it also ends up a perfect encapsulation of the film’s many flaws and why, despite its commitment to the idea being technically and formally impressive, its central idea is nothing more than a gimmick designed to feed that exploitation through.

See, The Tribe is purposefully designed to be deliberately distancing and difficult.  It’s a film about a Ukranian boarding school full of deaf children who communicate entirely in unsubtitled sign language.  On paper, that’s not a bad idea, in fact it’s a fascinating and near-revelatory idea, a story starring and about an oft-unrepresented group of society that sets up its form and conventions in such a way that the viewer is given no choice but to experience the world almost as they do (save for the fact that the film does have diagetic sound).  Hell, even applying it to such a well-worn set of paths as those of the “mob”, “sweet teenager led astray”, and “life is a miserable pile of worthlessness” stories isn’t a bad idea, it’s a unique twist that can inject that original kind of perspective into these tired stories if done well.

The problem is that The Tribe doesn’t actually have anything to say, and it certainly isn’t actually interested in using that unique perspective for anything other than formalistic gimmickry.  Instead, the film spends its first hour indulging itself visually with technically impressive one-take scenes that almost always last a full minute longer than they need to, before spending its second hour indulging itself exploitatively with scene after scene of “shocking” imagery that has no thematic point besides disturbing the viewer – graphic unedited unhidden underage sex (twice), the abortion (which we will talk about in a second), the aforementioned rape, a final act of violence that is just utterly repulsive.

Again, these sequences would be at least somewhat understandable if The Tribe were a character piece or something that we were supposed to invest emotionally in.  But The Tribe is deliberately distancing, and it goes even further than the unsubtitled Ukranian sign language part.  The film is almost exclusively shot in these wide long shots that keeps the viewer at a literal distance from the characters, and often reducing the on-screen size of their hands, the most vital way for the viewer to try and figure out each character’s emotions and traits, to mere footnotes.  This means that almost all of the characters are interchangeable, lacking in anything that makes them memorable (I found myself frequently having to run back through the film in my head to remember who certain characters actually were when they popped back up on-screen) and consequently undeserving of any curiosity, let alone sympathy.

Which brings us to Anya.  There’s a part of me that really wants to slap this film with the misogyny label thanks to how it treats Anya.  In a film of non-characters, Anya is the most non-character of them all.  One of the two prostitutes that the other characters have to pimp out, she has precisely two roles in this story: to be a willing and unwilling sexual object, and to be something that misery happens to.  Everybody else in this story at least get non-degrading things, Anya just gets abused.  Abused by a camera that actively shunts her out of focus and attention unless she is naked or engaged in sex, abused by a script that gives her nothing to do (although at least has the decency to have her choose to have the abortion), abused by a director who wants to milk her misery for all that it’s worth.  The film does not give a damn about Anya, with it being very telling that the only two non-sex/abortion scenes that she gets to herself are when she finds out she’s pregnant and when she argues with her friend prior to getting the abortion.

Thus, we return to where we started, the abortion scene where everything wrong with The Tribe coalesces into one near-unwatchable segment of film.  The sign language proves itself as only being a way to artificially withhold the true purpose of the scene so that it’s more shocking when the realisation that they’re “going there” sets in, the distancing of the camera removes the empathy from the scene instead leaving only a camera that presents in this uncaring and exploitative-feeling way, the lack of true characterisation for Anya leaves her purely as this thing who is suffering a horrible act instead of a woman who the film believes is deserving of our sympathy, and the excessively long take forces us to have to wallow in Anya’s cries and whimpers for so long, the scene keeps running for another 30 to 40 seconds after the operation is done, that it tips over into straight-up exploitation since there’s no thematic reason to spend seven and a half straight minutes on this one scene dedicated to this one act.

There is no reason for this scene to be portrayed and handled the way that it is, unless the intent is purely to shock and provoke (which it is but hold that for a moment).  Even though the film is in unsubtitled Ukranian sign language, that doesn’t mean that the film is incapable of communicating that Anya has had an abortion unless it shows the act in unflinching detail.  That’s the beauty of cinema, you can just leave little hints and insinuations that it happened without having to show it.  Have a sequence of Anya recovering from the operation without actually showing the operation, cut away just prior to the operation once it becomes clear that an abortion is what she is getting, cut away halfway through the operation since we have all gotten the message (if you absolutely must show the operation).  But there is no reason to show the full thing whilst lingering on Anya’s painful sobbing.

Unless, of course, the intent is purely to shock and provoke, which it is since the film follows that up with a rape scene, a torture scene, and a sequence in which our lead character walks into two bedrooms of his fellow sleeping men and caves in their heads with a desk cabinet.  There’s no thematic reason for any of this, or at least none that justifies this particular set-up and the amount of time the film spends on each of these acts.  In a way, that kind of “shock for shock’s sake” reminded me of John Waters, whose Desperate Living I actually did turn off briefly during a sequence in which a transsexual cuts off their newly grafted-on penis with a pair of scissors in unflinching detail.  However, Waters has a sort of honesty and playfulness to his work that I find admirable, his films always carrying a sort of open campness that gives off the impression that you are in on some kind of fun joke with everyone else involved with the film, whilst Slaboshpytskiy drowns The Tribe in such self-seriousness that it gives off the vibe that these sequences are a purposeful endurance test for the viewer rather than anything that’s worth a damn.

That’s why the abortion scene is the worst scene that I have seen in a movie so far this year.  It reminded me of The Riot Club, a sequence of extreme nastiness that pretends like it’s going to have a point but instead just revels in the exploitation and uncomfortableness for far too long and for no other reason than it can.  It’s vile cinema, something I will be more than happy to never have to experience again, and the exact moment in which The Tribe becomes devoid of almost all value.

Callum Petch won’t take that shit.  Listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio (site link) and follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Callum Petch’s Bottom 10 of 2014: #5 – #1

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Welcome back to our collective journey through the arse of film in 2014.  If you’re still here, then that means that you either recovered from my inclusion of Boyhood on yesterday’s part of the list, or you didn’t read yesterday’s part of the list, didn’t know about that fact and therefore are still on speaking terms with me.  If you did miss it, or just want a refresher, you can go here to get all caught up.  Otherwise, we’re going to get going with the lowest of the low.  So, with no more delay, AVATAR STATE, YIP YIP!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.

Rio205] Tarzan/The Nut Job/Escape From Planet Earth/Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return/Planes: Fire & Rescue/Rio 2/The House Of Magic/Postman Pat: The Movie

Dir: Too many to bother listing

Star: No, seriously, we’d be here all day

This is a message to the feature-length animation medium as a whole.  I AM ON TO YOU.  Regular readers of this fine website will already be very well aware that I am a very, very big fan of animation and take criticism of every animated effort that comes my way with the same amount of seriousness and weight as most real critics do “real films” (if you don’t think that many critics find animation some kind of a lesser medium, you are deluding yourself).  It doesn’t matter if you are a Disney effort, or a low-budget produced by a studio demanding to make a name for yourself: you step into a cinema, you better believe that I am going to hold you all to the exact same standards of quality and creativity.  And if you think that you can sneak past an animated venture with no skill, passion, effort or heart put into it without my calling you out on it?  Oh, son, you are in for a very rude awakening, let me tell you.

2014 was the first year since 2005 in which Pixar did not release a film, and many studios took this as an opportunity to get complacent.  To think that sufficiently filling the space where Pixar would normally sit would be enough to sucker a whole bunch of monies from parent’s wallets and earn an “eh, what else are you gonna see?” from more uncaring film critics.  Those studios would be wrong.  Almost every film listed up there is being called out for having open contempt for its audience, thinking of them only as walking wallets rather than moviegoers deserving of entertainment and wonder.  Some of those are just plain awful, some are passable, one of which was even rather entertaining as I watched it in the cinema and filed my review, but all but three exist for the sole purpose of trying to ape their much better competitors in search of their residual cash.

Each film listed up there has a laundry list of the tropes and cliches of crappy low-effort animation.  These films either have awful, terrifying or personality-free art styles; dull, cheap or just plain poor animation with corners cut at every opportunity; scripts that are devoid of wit, characters, themes and any semblance of originality or unique voice; awfully directed, miscast or just plain bad voice actors – typically celebrities busy cashing their paycheques whilst recording is still ongoing – a complete lack of heart, an overdose on pop-culture references, a cynical desire to just poorly ape the better competition and call it a day, or any combination of the above (and, in one case, all of the above).  And in no instances will I stand for it.

Especially since the other companies who did show up to play in 2014 each tried their damndest to raise the bar that these films worked so hard to lower.  The Lego Movie gave us a fresh, original, heartfelt and hugely entertaining look at creativity with amazing animation in what could have instead functioned as a 100 minute commercial for Lego.  DreamWorks Animation shot for the heart with How To Train Your Dragon 2 – I personally didn’t think it worked, but I’m done repeating myself with that series – shot for straight fun with Penguins Of Madagascar, and attempted to marry the two with Mr. Peabody & Sherman, scoring creative home-runs each time.  My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks took a look at the criticisms of the very good first movie, went away, and proceeded to actively better itself and fix every single one of them near-totally.  The Boxtrolls had a messy screenplay that nearly derailed the entire ride but had charm and heart and energy to carry itself through regardless, whilst The Book Of Life allowed an underrated auteur the money and scope to run wild, creating one of the most visually astounding animated films I have ever seen, and one with enough heart and love to downplay its various issues.

Point is, these films try.  They really try.  They’re not just trying suck money from wallets, they’re trying to be great and do their own unique things.  Christ, even the Tinkerbell series is aiming for the heart and has enough sweet sincerity and joy to carry it through its lightweight and occasionally more low-quality moments (turns out that, Pirate Fairy aside, I am a fan of that series).  Animation means a tonne to me, the whole process, the whole medium – you should have seen how legitimately bummed out I was upon hearing the news of Christine Cavanaugh’s passing – and I refuse to let blatant, low-quality contemptuous cash-grabs like the films listed above drag the pure wonder and imagination and possibility of this medium down by their mere existence.  No fucking way.  I am not going to let them prove the snottier members of the film industry right.

So allow me to send out this message to the feature-length animation industry at large: you are all on notice.  As long as I am walking this Earth – whether that be in this body or in a cyborg version of my body that my consciousness downloads into, like those in Ghost In The Shell – you will all be going through me.  I will be merciless, you will never hear the phrase “good enough for the kids” part from my lips because I know for a fact that, as a kid, I would have demanded better always, and I will most of all be honest.  I expect a lot because this medium can do so much, and I will not let low-quality or mediocre wastes of space pass by unscathed.  If you can’t match, or don’t want to match, the quality of animation on television right now that I and kids around the world can watch for free – like Gravity Falls, Regular Show, Wander Over Yonder, or The Legend Of Korra – then scrap everything and start again because why the fuck should I and we devote time and money to you if you’re not aiming for the level of free entertainment?  You have all been warned.

Oh, and for the record?  Worst animated film of the year is The Nut Job, maybe even of the decade.  It’s not even a contest.

04] Men, Women & Childrenmen women and children

Dir: Jason Reitman

Star: Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Dean Norris, the disembodied voice of Emma Thompson

Oh, Jason Reitman.  What the f*ck happened to you, man?  You made Juno, Up In The Air, Young Adult, and Thank You Smoking!  And then, in the space of 12 months, you make Labor Day and Men, Women & Children?  Is this some kind of James Franco-esque performance art piece?  Did you voluntarily take a torch to your once-promising career just to see how devoted fans like myself would react?  Did you trip over something in the dark, bang your head and just forget how to make good movies?  Was your family held hostage by madmen who refused to let them go until you shat out two utterly irredeemable stinkers to sully your track record possibly irreparably?  What is it?  I need answers, man!

Men, Women & Children is the kind of film that I would have spent almost the entire runtime inadvertently and derisively laughing at and mocking had it come from anybody else and were it any less self-serious about itself.  Men, Women & Children is a walking self-parody that is way too goddamn serious about its overly delusional fears of the Internet and technology to find the slightest bit funny.  A tone-deaf, one-sided, hysterical (in the sense that it’s gone mad from trying to make its point) two hour screed against the Internet and modern technology that only serves to make its co-writer and director seem like the kind of crotchety old man who yells at those darn kids to get off of his lawn and who lives for Bingo night.

It saddles its very talented cast with material better fit for a failing first year drama group, creates a hateful straw-woman to invite viewers to throw righteous scorn at only to turn around and spend 95% of its runtime agreeing with her, and maniacally believes that all of the world’s relationship and intimacy problems would be solved if the Internet and modern technology didn’t exist.  It has an incredibly conservative and dim view on any kind of sex and sexual arousal that doesn’t have to do with the ‘traditional’ way of doing things.  It constantly tries to make its point that all of our personal problems that technology amplifies are ultimately small and meaningless by repeatedly cutting to the Hubble telescope and very subtly hinting that we should drop our reliance on technology and instead get to work on technology, in a blissfully ignorant piece of hypocrisy.  It is a film with nothing new or interesting or nuanced to say despite its grim, serious, sermonising message-movie tone.

It, may I remind you, is a film in which Dean Norris actually jumps back in shock and mild fear from his computer when he discovers that pressing up on a keyboard causes a videogame avatar to move forward.  And let’s not forget the moment in which Adam Sandler tries to straight-facedly finger 9/11 as the moment where we as a society retreated into technology and everything subsequently changed for the worse.

Look, I am not inherently opposed to media that portrays technology as evil or a thing to be feared – I, like any good person, adore Black Mirror – but if you are going to make a serious and frequently anti-tech look at the way that technology and the Internet have affected our modern day relationships, spending two hours hysterically shrieking at the top of your lungs that “THE INTERNET IS EVIL!  IT MUST BE PURGED TO SAVE US ALL!  I AM THE VERY FIRST PERSON TO EVER COME TO THIS CONCLUSION!  PAY ATTENTION TO ME!” is not the way to go about it.  The most maddening part of Men, Women & Children is that there is a damn great, nuanced, smart and thought-provoking film to be made using these actors, this director and this set-up, and at no point does the finished product ever hint at that better movie.  It sucks, it sucks uncontrollably and insufferably, and I worry that Jason Reitman may be incapable of bouncing back.  I really hope I am wrong.

nativity 303] Nativity! 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?!

Dir: Debbie Isitt

Star: Martin Clunes, Marc Wooton, Catherine Tate

Nativity! 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! is the worst film of 2014.  It is the worst film I have ever sat through to the very end.  Nativity! 3 is the abyss of cinema made corporeal.  The Nativity! series has never been good, but at least the first one attempted to be a film that was watchable and the second was still a film – sort of, in that it at least had a coherent plot even if it bordered on being unwatchable.  Nativity! 3, however, is a giant middle finger to the entire concept of film, filmmaking, and the audience who voluntarily chose to part with their time and money by watching it.

There is no plot to Nativity! 3.  The other instalments in this abominable series at least attempted to have something resembling a coherent plot.  This one has no such attempt.  Stuff happens, with no rhyme or reason.  Plots and arcs and characters are brought up, discarded, brought back, dumped in the bin, treated with absolutely no care or sensitivity, used to simply mark time and nothing else, or force their way into proceedings at the most inopportune moments.  Nothing makes sense and the film doesn’t care that none of this makes sense.  I’d say that a 5 year-old could do better than this but, quite frankly, I get the feeling that this is all very deliberate.  “Go on,” the film seems to taunt, “Try and make sense of this.  Try and explain how we got from Martin Clunes arriving at the world’s worst primary school to whip the kids into shape, to an entire class full of kids serenading Catherine Tate at a wedding in New York that’s not to the fiancée she started out the film with, without frying and killing several of your most important brain cells.”

And I assume that it’s deliberate because, quite frankly, everything about Nativity! 3 seems carefully controlled and co-ordinated to be as deliberately offensively awful as is humanly possible.  Why else would every performance be screeched at the top of everyone’s lungs with no subtlety or variation?  Why else would the film purport to be a musical yet drop its musical conceit for half of its runtime and, despite having already done this twice before, have every single one of its songs be shot and choreographed with no flair and a faint collective embarrassment about it all?  Why else would the film revel in its sub-CBBC production values and shooting style?  Why else would Mr. Poppy, the single worst, most annoying and most evil character in film today, continue to hang around and be treated like some kind of saint and somebody we should all look up to?

And this sh*t is being peddled for kids!  Everybody involved believes that the abomination that they have crafted is perfect for kids!  Maybe it is, if you hate your kids and think that they are no more intelligent than the bacteria that thrives in your toilet bowl.  No kid deserves to be forced to sit through this tripe, no matter how bad they’ve been.  This is a film that thinks kids are total imbeciles who should reject any and all authority, follow around a clearly mentally-ill man who they don’t have permission to run off with and who is not even employed by the school he keeps hanging around at, do the bidding of said man with no hesitation or complaint, blame the victim for anything bad that happens to them frequently and mercilessly – seriously, the film keeps loudly shouting that it was recent amnesiac Martin Clunes’ own fault for losing his memory and that the reason that he doesn’t get his memories back is because he doesn’t want to, and is proven to be right – and angrily and threateningly rap at said victim for any perceived mistake.

Nativity! 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! – and, incidentally, I am immensely saddened by the fact that it is 2014 and we are still making “Dude, where’s my car?” jokes – is anti-cinema.  It is a film that hates everyone and everything, spending every last second of its inexplicable 110 minute runtime actively daring the viewer to keep watching, and has such a blatant disregard for the basic tenants of good filmmaking that I can only take it as a deliberate and intentional desire to make the worst film ever released in human existence.  If it was, then congratulations, I am 99% certain that everyone involved has succeeded in their lofty goal.

The film’s writer-director Debbie Isitt, who once upon a time brought us the genuinely decent Confetti, hit back against critics who derided her film claiming that we critics are “just so out of touch with what people like or want.”  If this is what the people like and want, then God help us all.

02] What Ifwhat if 2

Dir: Michael Dowse

Star: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Rafe Spall

Fuck off.


the riot club 2

01] The Riot Club

Dir: Lone Scherfig

Star: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth

So, after 7,000 words, 11 pages, 16 films and pretty much every single negative adjective in the English language, we have arrived at my Bottom Film of 2014.  We have gone through films that disappointed me, films that encapsulated everything wrong with current cinema, films that fail at the basic tenants of filmmaking, and films that just plain pissed me off.  But none of those have taken my absolute bottom slot on my 2014 list.  Instead, and from the moment I saw it I knew it was destined for this slot, it went to The Riot Club.  So, why?  Why The Riot Club over “the abyss of cinema” and a sh*tty rom-com that wouldn’t stop infecting my brain for at least a month after I saw it.

Simple.  Because, unlike those two films, I was literally five seconds away from walking out of The Riot Club.

Allow me to explain.  The Riot Club is a British thriller centred around the exploits of the titular club – a very unsubtle expy of the famous Bullingdon Club – home of the richest, poshest and most spoilt male members of Oxford University.  These are the men who will go on to basically run the country and the club is their place to abuse their privilege, blow off steam, and generally just behave as vile, loathsome degenerates.  They mentally and physically abuse each other, recklessly destroy public and private property, sexually harass any and all women they see, and spout things like “I am sick to death of POOR PEOPLE!”  It is not unclear as to what exactly this film’s message is.  And whilst that would lead to the question as to why one would sit through 107 minutes of this stuff, it’s not inherently a problem since the film sounds clear and consistent in its message.

Except that it is not.  Not at all.  The Riot Club spends 107 minutes being openly, loudly and insufferably hypocritical.  See, The Riot Club wants you to hate these disgusting cretins, and spends much of its runtime screaming at you about how terrible these upper-class twits are.  However, The Riot Club also spends its time indulging them, egging them on, wanting them to be bad, evil, violent, sexist, rape-y so that it has more material to film.  For every scene where it invites the audience to fling fruit at its cast, there’s another where it turns around screams “More!  MORE!  MORE!!” at the cast it supposedly hates, revelling in the debauchery it otherwise spends its runtime constantly denouncing as evil and awful.

In other words, it’s a worst case scenario equivalent of The Wolf Of Wall Street.  That film never openly denounces its despicable cast of characters because it knows that the audience will get how awful these characters are through their actions.  It doesn’t indulge them, it doesn’t openly judge, and it always keeps its moral compass and central message clear and lifted above the muck of everything else.  By contrast, The Riot Club is a humourless nagging nanny that thinks the audience won’t understand that the posh upper classes think of the lower classes as pond scum unless it has multiple walking cartoon characters state as much out loud every 5 minutes.  It indulges them frequently, sets them up to make themselves look awful, and lowers itself to their level as if it is having just as much fun preying on and exploiting their antics as they do preying on the lower-classes.

And when the film gets to its centrepiece – a near 50 minute sequence set at a club dinner that screams “this is where we’re just going to do the play the film is based on now, if that’s OK” – it becomes a test of just how much longer one can take the hypocrisy.  Does one stop during the endless drinking games?  How about when they continually insult the perfectly nice lower-class hosts?  When they bring in a female sex worker and try everything to keep her from leaving?  How about when Milo’s middle-class girlfriend turns up and we seem about 3 seconds away from a rape scene?  All the while, the film practically jerks off to itself on screen.  “Yes!  Yes!  More!  Threaten Natalie Dormer a little more!  Smash up that back room like a group of apes flinging their poo around!  Yes!  Phwoah!”

My final straw came when the lower-class pub owner, who has had enough of their degenerate antics in his establishment, comes to throw them out and everybody takes turns beating him to a state of near-death.  This scene, much like everything in this goddamn f*cking movie, goes on for an uncomfortably long time, as the film takes its sweet time deriving its own sick pleasure from the action being depicted.  Much like everything else in the film, what starts as The Riot Club shouting “Shame on you!  You people are despicable!” morphs into it yelling “Yeah!  YEAH!  KICK HIS FUCKING HEAD IN!  THE TWAT DESERVES IT!”

And at that point, I reached over, grabbed my bag and jacket, stood up and started walking towards the exit.  I was done.  I was tapping out.  I was about to walk out of a film, which I had never done before in my entire life.  The sole film I had ever stopped on its first showing because I refused to witness one more second of it was Disaster Movie and its dubious club was about to get a new member, only this time I was actually going to walk out of a cinema.

But then I checked my watch, to see how far in I’d made it to what was about to become the second film to ever beat me.  To my surprise, I discovered that I only had 20 minutes left to sit through.  Of the 107 minutes that the film was scheduled to run for, I had survived 87.  The finish line was in sight and I was about to give up.  So, reasoning that I’d managed to make it this far and that there wasn’t enough time left for the film to somehow sink even lower, I turned around, went back to my seat, put my jacket and bag back in place, and sat back down.  Sure enough, the film didn’t manage to plumb even further depths in those remaining 20 minutes and I managed to avoid my first walk-out by mere seconds.

That is why The Riot Club is #1 on My Bottom 10 Films of 2014.  It is an evil little film and it was literally 5 seconds away from beating me.  If that doesn’t deserve the top placement, I don’t know what does.

And so wraps up My Bottom 10 Films of 2014 list, as well as my review of 2014!  It, despite this list, has been a great year for films (although not so much for everything else) and I am so grateful for the ability to use space on this website to talk about it all over the past year.  Thank you to every single one of you for reading my work, leaving your feedback and generally just not chasing me away with pitchforks and torches!  Here’s to 2015!

Callum Petch is about to run through more cities than Attila The Hun.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: BO(JCVD)GOF

marvellousWelcome all to this weeks podcast This episode has a bumper crop of new releases.. and new-ish releases..! A whopping four films out in the cinema right now receive the Failed Critics treatment. Whilst Carole reviews the latest Woody Allen movie Magic in the Moonlight and the upcoming zom-rom-com Life After Beth, Owen tackles the recent Liam Neeson crime thriller A Walk Among The Tombstones and the totes ruddy spiffing The Riot Club.

Amongst all that, the team also found time to talk about BBC’s latest Storyville season, the 1989 black comedy The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, and Steve even got in on the new-releases by reviewing the Toby Jones drama, Marvellous, shown on TV this week (and therefore still on iPlayer).

AND, if all that wasn’t enough, as a result of Owen’s quiz triumph last week, Carole & Steve’s forfeit was to watch the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Double Impact, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme. Yes, that’s right! Two Van Damme’s for the price of one.

Join us next week for reviews of Denzel Washington’s new thriller, The Equalizer.



The Riot Club

In a word, “spiffing”. In two words, “ruddy good”. In three words, “totes ridic, yah”.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

the riot club 2The Riot Club is an adaptation of a play called Posh written by Laura Wade, who also adapted her production into the screenplay for this very British drama. In the director’s seat is Lone Scherfig, the woman responsible for the 2009 coming of age film, An Education, starring the splendid Carey Mulligan.

Hopefully, by now, those of you who have listened to the podcast should know that I’m not actually a 16-year-old girl. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true. I’m actually a nearly 30-year-old bloke. Therefore, relating to the story of a school girl becoming a young woman should in theory be very difficult for me. However, there are some truths about Carey Mulligan’s character ‘Jenny’ that are universal, regardless of your gender, education or upbringing. At some point in your life you will have choices to make about what direction you want your future to go in; will you go to University or not? Who do you start a relationship or friendship with? What are your priorities in life? All things that are addressed in An Education and that you as a human being at some point will also have to deal with.

The reason I bring up An Education is three-fold. Firstly, Scherfig directed both it and The Riot Club. Secondly, the fact that it deals with a young person fitting into a new group of friends that ultimately reveals some truths about their own identity is also linked thematically. And finally, it makes a point of idolising the oldest higher education institute in the English-speaking world, the University of Oxford. I may be biased given the fact I work in Oxford, but it is a very beautiful city and given the Uni’s reputation, it’s no surprise to see it glorified in this manner.

What neither film actually capture perfectly is the town and gown split. The relatively “ruffian” locals who come into the City Centre or Cowley Road on a Friday or Saturday evening from surrounding areas like Blackbird Leys and Rose Hill, the real locals (aka the ‘town’) and how they do sometimes clash with the students of the city’s two Universities, both of which have a large intake of public school leavers (aka the ‘gown’). But, I guess the point of the film is mainly to highlight one tiny section of Oxford residents, and that isn’t the ‘town’.

Whilst the Riot Club is fictional, it is actually an exaggerated satire of the very real Bullingdon Club; an exclusive unofficial society for upper class students at the University who are banned from gatherings within 15 miles of the city due to some rather lairy antics in the past. The film tells the story of two freshers, from their recruitment and initiation, to the eventual catastrophic debauched celebrations at an evening’s dinner party where the main bulk of the movie takes place.

The first recruit is Alistair Ryle (Sam Claflin, who you may remember as that pretty good young-ish guy from The Quiet Ones earlier in the year (also set in Oxford), or as the blonde fellow from the recent Hunger Games entry) whose family have attended Oxford and stayed in the same residence for generations. At the same time, Miles (Max Irons) is offered membership and sees it as an honour; a bit of a laugh with some similarly minded individuals, but begins to alienate his less-well-off girlfriend Lauren (Holliday Grainger). Both Alistair and Miles are intelligent, well-educated chaps, yet they strive to adjust to their surroundings in very different ways. After being humiliated by his parents and then mugged at a cash point, Alistair seeks more than just friendship from within the group, but rather he demands respect. Miles, settling into life at University a bit better, soon finds himself the rival of Alistair and his left-of-centre political views do not sit well with a selection of his fellow chums.

What seems to be putting people off The Riot Club is the fact that the central characters are these posh toffs who, for whatever reasons, you are supposed to hate. They’re petty, crass, obnoxious, arrogant and Laura Wade’s script pulls no punches in showing how horrendous these people can be. However, that they are irritating toffs who hate the poor (who they deem to be anyone who can’t throw £3500 away on one evenings celebrations) and therefore you instinctively despise is sort of the point. Why do you hate them? Is it envy? Is it because they’re “better than you”? Just why should you feel that way towards them simply because they are rich? It acknowledges them as people who you perceive in one way before it tries to add some depth and hopefully make you understand something about yourself. It isn’t written in a way that you’re supposed to hate them just for being rich, but rather hate them for the choices they make. Understand who they are and where they come from and then make your decision about them.the riot club 3

Rest assured though, the decisions that the characters make by the way are quite despicable and will have no issues in influences you towards thinking of them as utter, utter bastards. Rampant shitgibbonry occurs in almost every scene, from looking down their nose at everyone (including each other) to “ladies man” Harry (played charismatically by Douglas Booth) and his botched attempts at hiring an escort (Natalie Dormer) for the group. Even the sometimes seemingly innocent members of the club, such as Sam Reid and Jack Farthing’s characters, all show their dark sides at points. Nobody is left with any shred of dignity for their behaviour, though some do have more culpability than others. Allowing Miles to show some degree of humility in his actions does detract ever so slightly from the point of the film, although it does at least allow the viewer a window into this world without feeling all grubby afterwards for liking any of them.

It’s quite a good and challenging movie in that sense. It may have some issues with cramming everything it wants to say into 110 minutes, rendering a couple of the characters little more than caricatures or cartoonish villains, but it makes its point well and is very affecting. Combine this with the acting, which is of a high standard all round too, and the moments where you’re supposed to feel strongly one way or the other about the characters, it all comes together nicely into one big incredibly frustrating but well made film.

Owen will be talking about The Riot Club with Steve and Carole on the next episode of the Failed Critics podcast. Or you can find him on Twitter or comment below if you want to tell him how wrong/right he is!