Film Review – The Joy of Six: British Shorts Collection

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Film shorts. They are never exactly going to be the preferred way of enjoying a sticky floored, teenage infested, wallet draining visit to the cinema. But in an age where the safety of the home allows endless convenient ways of consuming all manner of media, perhaps they offer an interesting alternative and a good reason to get off that fat, festering arse and wheeze your way into the nearest multiplex. Well, perhaps these mini showcases of directing and writing talent are unlikely to be appearing down the local Knackered Town Odeon anytime soon but should you be orbiting some form of civilisation then there is a faint possibility of finding some impoverished and soon to be closed art house that will.

Manchester, the hub of all things civilsed, is one such plae, particularly the cherished cultural gem which is The Corner House cinema. So don your best checked shirt and skinny jeans, brush your fringe to a stylish Hitler-esq angle, persist through the freezing drizzle and howling winds, try not to get sliced in half by a rouge double decker bus, and get on down there. It’s a treat and if you start to feel faint then they cook some fantastic Pizza’s, fatty.

“But why?” you ask in a barely literate provincial drawl. Well, this is a chance to get ahead of the cultural game and see something of the future generation of film makers who nobody will ever hear about. It’s the ultimate top trumps next time you’re having one of those poncey film discussions of one-upmanship where having watched the most obscure film somehow validates your self worth and puts your peers firmly back in their place.

And for those fragile minded and ignorantly happy troglodytes unimpressed by the dark and depressing world of independent film, fear not! Surprisingly this isn’t just a collection of arty pretentiousness. There are plenty of big laughs to be had, some tricky concepts to wrap your limited intelligence around, and even people being shot… with guns. There is just the faintest suspicion that at least a few of these are destined to be adapted into full length features, or at least lead to better things. Potentially we are looking at future mainstream success stories and possibly even mega bucks blockbusters in the making. Maybe…

Independent distributers/promoters Soda does its best to draw in the punters by bringing us The Joy of Six – a collection of short, shortish, and not so short films from the brightest lights of British film making. They have somehow roped in some stella names – national treasure Sir Judy “the Dench” Dench, rent a wife beater Peter Mullan, one of those loveable Geordie creatures from Auf Wiedersehen Pet, and the missing so long he was presumed dead comic genius Matthew Hollness.

Oh and if you are some kind of anti British foreign type and the words “British Cinema” are putting you off try not to think in terms of Love Actually, Mr Bean, or Bridget Jones. Think: This is England, Shawn of the Dead, Neds, Shame, Fish Tank, Submarine, Attack the Block etc, etc…

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The incredible Scottish actor Peter Mullan (War Horse) – a man who makes the mumbling of incoherent rage (or Scottish as its widely known as) an art form – leads in Douglas Hart’s short and simple sketch which builds to an inspired punch-line. Not exactly what you would expect from a short – this isn’t a pilot or demonstration of an idea which could be expanded into something bigger. It feels more like having been dropped into the middle of a film and only catching one isolated scene. Hart demonstrates a knack for building a tight scenario and skill at patient, subtly comedy. Already the emphasis on delicate cinematography and elaborate lighting has been established. Not outside of classic French cinema has the smoking of a cigarette looked so orchestrated and for the benefit of the camera but if you only have 5 minutes to demonstrate your craft every second counts. A fleeting, humble offering, but an excellent way of starting things off.

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Yes, that Peter Mullan.

Man in Fear
William Jewell is clearly gunning for a seat at the Hollywood cash trough with this high concept action/thriller rollercoaster. Slick, confident, and full of every editing technique it could possibly fit into its 11 minutes, there are clearly bags of potential in the central premise and surely the Hollywood scouts – who were nowhere to be seen if we’re honest – will be sprinting back to the States to grab stacks of cash they can throw at this director (who was present for a Q&A in Manchester and seemed like a thoroughly decent bloke). Unfortunately Jewell will probably have to tone down the more dark and sinister elements and compromise the Christopher Nolan style by injecting a lot of fighting and Jason Statham into the mix, though that’s admittedly just cynical speculation. The original idea is undoubtedly a good one but probably not quite as “holy shit! I didn’t see that coming” as the film proudly thinks it is. More like “oh, ok. That’s a bit weird”. Such bold attempts at the clever reveal can often backfire. The first 95% can be as slick and sexy as you like but if that final big moment doesn’t succeed then all is lost. Man in Fear is impressive and was definitely the most surprising offering of the collection bringing a touch of the thrill factor into what was meant to be a dry and heavy going affair.

A Gun for George,
With the astute satire of Darkplace and silly spoof chat show Man to Man with Dean Learner (most people will probably remember him from his cameo as the IT guy in the Office), Matthew Holness has demonstrated his ability to be one of Britain’s alternative comedy greats. He is a master of characterisation, building damaged and deluded sad cases full of misguided arrogance. His alter ego Garth Marenghi should have already appeared in a film by now but for some reason after this bright start Holness just disappeared. Terry Finch is much more grounded in reality than previous creations and harks back to British TV cop thrillers from the 70s. This is a dark tale of the anit-hero and revenge rather than justice. Essentially being a promo for the full length version which is thankfully already in the works with Warp Films, there is a lot going on that isn’t fully expanded on such as Finch’s blurred dividing line between fantasy and reality. Holness’s unique subtle mannerisms and almost unnoticeable satirical touches (Finch constantly cocking his gun’s for dramatic effect, the horrible long panning shots whilst zooming) are all recognisable but this is definitely different in tone and style to anything we have seen from him before. We await The Reprizaliser with baited breath. In the meantime head over to the hilarious website and show some love: http://thereprisalizer.com/The_Reprisalizer/About.html

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The pain felt from the absence of a Dark Place movie will soon be eased.

Scrubber

Romola Garai’s Scrubber was the most full feature length like of the bunch and put on a master class display in how to use camera work and subtle body language to communicate ideas over clumsy dialogue and exposition. A taught, minimalist social drama following a house wife’s past time of dogging and the effects it has on her home life. With an extra 20 minutes added to either side it could easily be next years depressing art house sensation, The cinematography is otherworldly, with sharp depth of field and crystal clear images any of which could be captured and hung on the wall. The intensity of the brightly lit shots may be reflecting the protagonists subconscious need to clean herself of the filth from dogging in car seats – or maybe they couldn’t figure out how to adjust the ISO sensitivity on their cameras. Either way it works a treat and will leave art house film buffs scrubbing the gusset of their trousers for weeks.

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Dogging and being a mother. Light stuff.

The Ellington Kid

Dan Sully’s short, sweet urban legend The Ellington Kid has no pretensions of becoming anything bigger. It is effectively a comedy sketch with a neat little punch line. Like listening to someone tell a story down the pub.

Friend Request Pending

Chris Foggin provides the sweetest ending possible with Friend Request Pending, a cosy little comedy sketch starring Judi Dench as grandma cyber slut, negotiating the awkward new world of social web site flirting. Lying somewhere between a before the watershed sitcom and a Yellow Pages advert, it had all the makings of a disaster. But with some sharp writing and the talents of the Dench it is undeniably charming and raised the most chuckles of all the films. Not as clever as A Gun for George, or laugh down the pub funny as The Ellington Kid, it was non-the-less a fittingly upbeat way to bring the collection to a close.

The Dench in full flow.

The Dench in full flow.

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