Tag: lone scherfig

The Riot Club

The Riot Club (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Two first-year students at Oxford University, Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin), different in personality and temperament but both from a privileged background, are invited to join a highly exclusive group called The Riot Club, known throughout the years for recruiting only the boldest, best, and brightest yet with a proclivity toward decadence. After Miles and Alistair’s initiation, the club, composed of ten members, hold an annual dinner at a country pub where limits of both patrons and hosts are tested.

Based on Laura Wade’s play “Posh” and directed by Lone Scherfig, “The Riot Club” is a challenging picture to sit through because it is unafraid to embrace the darkness necessary to show the ugliness of privilege and immature minds. And yet it just misses the mark from becoming a required viewing because the The Riot Club members blend into one another most of the time. It is easy to tell the actors apart physically, which is credit to the casting directors, but the differences in the characters’ perspectives on life and values are not detailed enough, only painted in broad strokes. Although uncomfortable to sit through at times, I would have preferred to learn about each one of them further even if it meant sitting through a three-hour film.

The working class characters standout, from Miles’ girlfriend, Lauren (Holliday Grainger) to the owner of the Bull’s Head pub (Gordon Brown) at Kidsbury. Grainger is particularly effective, especially in the scene where Lauren is humiliated during the dinner for not being as posh and for being a woman. She balances hurt, anger, and feeling ashamed with such perspicuity, I felt rage build up inside me as the scene unfolded. The key is that she does not play victim—which elevates the scene.

There is a lot of disgusting behavior here—so much that, about halfway through, I wondered what the point of it was. It is necessary that we feel inundated by snobbery, aggression, destruction, and hedonism in order to truly understand what it means to be a member of the club. However, when there are exchanges involving one character telling another that he or she must be jealous for not being in the group, there is a lack of power in the insult because the screenplay does not show very many perks—substantial ones—in belonging. There is talk about ensuring a great future ahead, likely in a position of power, but it is important that we see or recognize the immediate benefits, too.

Moving at a confident slow burning pace, “The Riot Club” is a movie that is meant to divide, I think. It can be argued that these boys have certain sociopathic tendencies that it becomes very difficult to even try to relate to them on any level. At one point, one of them proudly exclaims that he is sick to death of poor people. I was amused by these types of drunken proclamations because hatred are spewed out so easily but there is no compelling thought behind them. Sadly, there are people like these boys so it makes one consider the core values their parents instill into their children before they develop the ability to think critically.

One Day

One Day (2011)
★ / ★★★★

On July 15, 1988, Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) graduated from university. They were ecstatic because, like most graduates, they were convinced that the world was ripe for their picking. Emma strived to be poetess/writer in London. Dexter was uncertain but he had plans of vacationing/teaching English abroad. Over the course of twenty-something years, the film, based on the novel and screenplay by David Nicholls, checked in on them on the same day each year. While its premise was interesting, the storytelling was disjointed and unconvincing. What Dexter and Emma had was supposed to be an example of a deep friendship. After all, they pined to see or call each other when something important happened in their lives. However, there was a drought of clues in terms whether or not they even saw or heard from each other on any other day except July 15. As a result, as each year passed by, it became increasingly difficult to buy into what they supposedly had. After all, deep friendships are also rooted in going through ordinariness together. Emma had a crush on Dexter even before they formally met. While understandable because he commanded great hair that seemed to come out of a high fashion magazine, Dexter was almost completely charmless. His jokes felt more like personal jabs and he was an unapologetically hedonistic womanizer. He’d go in the direction, without careful thought for the feelings of others, that made him feel good the most. So how could we feel sympathy for him when his career as a television presenter reached a screeching halt? And why did Emma want to continue seeing him for as long as she did? The most obvious answer is that she enjoyed being heartbroken. This was disloyal to her character who initially smart, funny, and always strived to be independent. The best part of the film was Dexter’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) and her struggles of dealing with cancer and watching her son traverse the path of self-destruction. Clarkson wasn’t given much screen time but each time she was on screen, she provided a fiery complexity that the material desperately needed. When the mother looked at her son, I stared in her eyes and I couldn’t fully determine what took more energy out of her: Was it her illness combined with the chemotherapy or was it her son being blind to the fact he was so far from what he hoped he’d become? Unfortunately, Emma’s parents were nowhere to be found. I wanted to know how they saw their daughter other than a one-dimensional sweet girl, occasionally sporting a great haircut circa 2003, with nice dreams. I waited and hoped that someone practical would just bluntly tell her to snap out of her fantasies and remind her that aging comes hand-in-hand with prioritizing. The fact is, you can’t wait for a man or woman until he or she sees something in you. “One Day,” directed by Lone Scherfig, was supposed to be romantic and inspiring but it was ultimately masochistic. Much of its criticisms had something to do with Hathaway’s English accent. It had bigger problems than that. It’s a movie made for women but I’m afraid it doesn’t have much respect for them beyond the surface level.

An Education

An Education (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

An Oxford-bound teenager (Carey Mulligan) in the 1960s fell for a much older man (Peter Sarsgaard) because he was exciting, had money, and he was into romantic lifestyles such as appreciating art and traveling–the same things she wished she had herself. At first everything seemed to be going right but the deeper they got into their relationship, she discovered that having a priviledged life was nothing like she imagined it would be. Connecting with this picture was very easy for me because I could relate with the lead character. In fact, it somewhat scared me how alike we were and instead of watching it as a coming-of-age film, I saw it as a cautionary tale. We both love school and we do our best in pretty much everything we do but we can’t help craving the glamorous life. Questions like does staying in school and sacrificing the best years of our lives lead to a successful (and fun) future are in our minds so I was absolutely fascinated with her. Better yet, I was interested in the decisions she made when she essentially became addicted to the life of glamour. I think the film had surprising depth because the movie did not start off strong. I thought it was just going to be about an innocent girl’s affair with a man and she learning a hard lesson at end of the day. But it wasn’t. Though it was the backbone of the film, much of it was Mulligan’s relationship with her parents (Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour), a teacher she looked up to but was often at odds with (Olivia Williams), and the headmistress who wanted the lead character to stay on her path (Emma Thompson). Though all of them were tough (and not always fair), they were adults who wanted what was best for the main character. It was also about the push and pull forces between living an exciting life and a boring life with books and friends who were not quite as precocious as her. I must say that Mulligan deserved her Best Actress nomination because I was impressed with how elegantly she portrayed her character as she navigated her way in and out of excitements and disappointments. She just had this effortless subtlety going on and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Though I have seen her in other movies, I’m curious with what she has to offer in the future now that I know what she’s really capable of. “An Education,” directed by Lone Scherfig and based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, was a film that gathered momentum as it went on yet it didn’t get tangled up in its own complexities. It had a certain confidence, a certain swagger that was very ’60s and I felt like I was in that era.