Lobby Talk: Blood Simple

David: So are we doing this as a dialogue then?

Scott: Aye.  We are.

David: Cool, I guess I’ll start then! My first instinct would be to talk about how out of their depth most of the characters in Blood Simple are. If I can get a little flowery for a minute, it’s a film full about people spilling blood, slipping in it and drowning in the puddle.  I started reading Crime and Punishment not long after we watched the movie, and the following snippet jumped out at me:

“How cunning and experienced the rascal must have been!  Such boldness! Such resolution!”

“That is just what he was not,” cried Razoumikhin.  “This is what you all say!  I believe, on the contrary, that it was neither a bold nor a daring deed.  If you consider, you will see how improbable is your idea.  Chance alone brought him out of the scrape, and what does not chance do?  He seems to have forseen no obstacles, and how did he manage all?  He obtains some ten or twenty roubles, fills his pockets with them; while hidden away everywhere–in old rags, drawers, trunks, ad such-like–were afterwards found fifteen hundred roubles in hard cash, beside bank-notes.  The man knew how to murder, but not to rob!”

Oh, shit, *SPOILERS* – Crime and Punishment contains some crime, possibly a little bit of punishment too.

Scott: So, if I read it, I wouldn’t be having a moment like this?

David: You might do – there’s a lot more gnashing and fretting and muttering than there is crime, at any rate.  Still good though!

Anyway it occurs to me that only one character in Blood Simple knows how to either rob or murder, and that’s M. Emmet Walsh’s Loren Visser:

And where does that get him, in the end?

*SPOILERS*Blood Simple contains a fair amount of blood, it drives many of the characters simple.

I’m feeling pretty simple right now too.  Maybe we can make it a theme?

Scott: Our bold new theme?

David: It may go down as such.

Scott: Taking that idea, and running with it, brings me to that argument I had about Miller’s Crossing, where a co-worker said he couldn’t get into it because it was “just a gangster film” and “gangsters deserve what they get”.  He felt that set it apart from other examples of Coen fare.  From what I can tell, their stuff is always about the momentum of choice.  Especially a choice made under a misunderstanding.

I get Sean’s horror movie comparison.  This is a story where there are those moments where you’re mentally screaming at the characters “NO, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, DON’T DO THAT!”.  But, hey, as you say, the title tells you that in a nutshell.

David: Ha! As you know, I tend to get a little narky when people start complaining about that aspect of horror movies, because while there’s obviously a line that can be crossed in terms of having a basically functional human being act so stupidly, I think part of the appeal of those movies is that of course you wouldn’t go in that house, BUT WHAT IF YOU DID?!

Your coworker’s complaint about Miller’s Crossing shows a complete lack of understanding of art and storytelling, so – yeah, fuck them.

I ended up thinking about Blood Simple again(!) while I was watching the first episode of Charlie Brooker’s How TV Ruined Your Life.  All the stuff about how TV would have you believe that all killers are super-competant geniuses, while in reality they’re mostly just people moving from one fuck up to the next.

Scott: It’s the contrast between say, The Wire, where it’s a matter of neccesity or lifestyle to embark on a criminal endeavour, as opposed to the Hollywood grand serial killer operatic approach.

David: Or, like, Dexter – serial killing vigilante! (I do like that show, but it’s enjoyable nonsense, you know?)

Scott: We want crime to fit into this huge poetic narrative that EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON, and is calculated as such.  Every criminal should be one wardrobe change from being a Batman villian.

Generalising a lot here, but you know what I mean.

David: Definitely. What’s interesting about the Coen brothers is that it almost seems like their movies play out in an aggressively meaningless world sometimes.  Like they’re setting out to prove that god does play dice with the universe, or whatever.  Blood Simple is a good example of this – most of the action doesn’t happen for the reasons the characters think it does, but it’s all very neatly planned out, in cinematic terms.  Everything’s perfectly worked out and executed, from the bottom on up. It’s kinda scary to think that Blood Simple was their first movie to be honest with you…

Scott: Hah. See, now you’ve got me thinking about the conversation Karen and I were having about the grim, neverending doom factor of the Lemony Snickett books…

A calculated attempt to undermine “…and they all lived happily ever after.”

David: Heh.

You found some of the music distracting, am I right?

Scott: No, not distracting. I was just aware of it being as coreographed as the visuals. It just seemed odd because I guess the soundtrack seemed very much of it’s time, and I have to confess, except where they use explicit songs or musical set pieces, I’d never thought about their use of music in their films. I’d certainly noticed their use of it’s absence, so that’s maybe why it stood out.

David: Yeah, The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou are the ones where they obviously use the music the most, but there’s also, like – Miller’s Crossing, the theme’s quite essential to parts of that.

Scott: True, but with No Country, it’s the absence that sticks in my mind during some of Chigurh’s moments.

David: True. While No Country and Blood Simple make for a very good (easy?) comparison, that’s definitely a notable difference.

Apparently there were rights problems with ‘It’s The Same Old Song’ for this movie, but those have been sorted out for the DVD version.

That song certainly works, in a proto-Tarantino DO YOU SEE?! sort of way…

I also really like those amazing percussive sweeps that synch in with the car’s windscreen wipers during the opening.  There were a few show-offy touches like that throughout the movie, just little shots or scenes that punch you in the face to make sure you’re paying attention.

The scene where Visser goes through their house, for example… they way the film leads you through that is just totally fucking masterful.

Scott: As you say, for a debut feature, it’s assembled with a real flourish.  It’s not say, the painter’s eye of Ridley Scott. It’s much more about motion, leading you through a scene, a location, a feeling. Rather than using a single image to provoke.

David: Going back to that No Country for Old Men comparison, it’s interesting to put them beside each other… They’re both similarly harsh, but the characters in No Country seem a lot steelier and more determined in the face off all the violence.

Scott: Professional, versus the amateur?  Almost a Coen career observation there.

David: Yeah, I was wondering whether to go there myself. I think No Country’s a richer, more textured film, but it’s probably worth noting that while their first set of characters might have went Blood Simple, the Coen brothers seem to have been in control from the very start.

Still, it’s not like the relative competence of the No Country cast does many of them any good. In the Coens’ universe, no matter how hard you might you think you are, it’s still possible that you’ll trip up and crack your head on your way down the shops. Even (especially?) if you think you’re an agent of fate.

Scott: Don’t they largely deal in farce, but moderate the harshness of the tone? Chigurh getting hit by a car at the end of No Country is no less random than say anything that happens in Burn After Reading, but the tone of the film makes it a grim fact, rather than a side-splitter.

David: Definitely. Burn After Reading is basically a film that laughs in the face of all human aspiration, so it’s actually one of their harshest and most unpleasant movies, despite ostensibly being a comedy.

That said – not all of their films end on a down note. Raising Arizona ends with an optimistic dream, the ending of The Big Lebowski is… fairly affable, in the face of tragedy, etc.

Scott: Ah, but it’s the tragedy that makes the journey worth it, surely?

David: That and the way they make a web of seemingly random occurrences and unexpected consequences so fucking compelling. Whatever movie they make – and they’ve worked in a load of different genres over the years – on some level, it’s always the same old song.

It just keeps playing, on and on.

Scott: “There was some blood!”

David: And thank fuck for that!

Scott: So, without really getting into the guts of the film, we can say that we were struck by the, uh, transmission of genetics throughout the Coen’s fare.

David: Mixed many metaphors recently mate?

Scott: I might just pay someone to kill you for that!

David: Fair enough, but remember, they probably won’t make a very good job out of it…

Posted in Blood Simple, Lobby Talk | 1 Comment

Script Rehearsal: Blood Simple

Sean Wizke, Supervillain:

It’s a horror movie. M. Emmet Walsh is the monster.

From Emma Peel Session 27 – I’ll show you a life of the mind. That post is the spiritual father of the #coencountdown meme on Twitter. Come up with your own ratings… IF YOU DARE!

Blood Simple, Theatrical Trailer:

Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest:

This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.

Sean Witzke, No Star Wars Part 6:

Blood Simple is a great film, maybe even a perfect one, but it could be made by someone else (and has been remade probably because of this). Raising Arizona is the first Coen Bros film proper. Most directors struggle for four or five films before they have a total grasp on what they style or voice is, but the moment a director has truly become an artist is when they make a movie that only they could make. The Coen Bros are the only ones who could make their films, their voice and style is something that could only exist if the Coen Bros are born.

From the widescreen DVD release of Blood Simple, Universal:

“We storyboarded the entire movie,” Joel explained in a recent interview, “and we had a fairly exhaustive pre-production period that enabled us to maximize the resources we had by minimizing the waste. That’s still pretty much the way we work.” For a low-cost film, the 48-day shooting schedule was rather luxurious and, says Joel, “a very wise decision. We’d raised enough money in order to be able to do that, and essentially put the money into the length of the shoot, as opposed to . . . paying anyone, for instance [laughs].” Coen felt that the lengthy shooting schedule was important, from the point of view of being able to do what they wanted to do on the movie.

(Via this site.)

A Simple Noodle Story, trailer:

Posted in Blood Simple, Script Rehearsal | 1 Comment

Screening Notes: Blood Simple

  • Blood Simple was watched on a suitably glum night in the Badlands of the Bar-G. Neither Scott nor David had previously seen the movie before, though David did borrow Kenny’s VHS of the movie for about two years once.
  • David was just recovering from the dreaded Xmas lurgy at the time; Scott started to properly come down with it that very night.
  • Scott’s cough got pretty damned impressive as the night wore on. Honestly, I’d have applauded if I wasn’t worried about his health!
  • Time to face facts, then: most everyone else who was invited to contribute to this blog has politely pulled out by now. Lynne contributed a killer post on Four Lions, and we hope to host some more of her Honey Monster themed thoughts soon, but Graeme’s moved to Nottingham, Vicki’s hoping to follow him, and Chris, Kenny and Karen will be occasional contributors at best.
  • Basically, we’re in this together now Scott. Which is totally cool, but, you know, let’s try to pretend like there’s some actual drama here.  Cue the soundtrack:
Posted in Blood Simple, Screening Notes | 1 Comment

Pish Talk: Four Lions and a Couple of Oddbods

Due to a few hefty “sessions” over New Year, I was no good to man nor beast for the Four Lions rundown. Now, rather than go over previous points and old ground better tread by others, I shall attempt to bring something different to this here attack ship by answering one of the prickly questions thrown up by Chris Morris:

Wookie or Honey Monster?

Surely it can’t be that hard, can it?

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Come on, they’re not even the same bloody colour.

Let us look at a few basic pointers to the differences, shall we?

Where the attire of each species is concerned, the Wookie roams naked and free as the day he was born, while the Honey Monster is well known for “hulking” sportswear. Those ill-fitting shorts should have been an instant give away.

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Are these brand images normally known to cause any threat to society? Well a Wookie is mighty handy with a bowcaster, whereas the Honey Monster remains weapon-free. No wonder, could anyone fit a Rambo-esque bullet belt round that belly? I think not. Mind you, a china bowl can be dangerous when aimed at the head, and the weight of that sugar-crazed loon would ensure a heavy throw.

With regards to communication, the Honey Monster may be able to speak, but he cannot articulate the range of emotions that a Wookie can through one single “mmmmrrrrrrrrraaaaaarrrrrggggggg”. While a Wookie can be shown to be sad, concerned, angry and in pain…the Honey Monster instead looks permanently stoned. Yes, it may be wise to let a Wookie win, but you don’t have to worry about that with old Sugar Puff-head. He’s so wasted he doesn’t even know what game is being played never mind if he is even winning. Look at him.

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There are tactile differences to be taken into consideration as well. The Honey Monster consists mainly of synthetic fur, the kind that breaks easily and gets everywhere – in your mouth, up your nose. Christ, it’s awful. A Wookie however, wears a fine coat of silken fur. Just think how lovely that hair would be to the touch.

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As to whether either of the above creatures constitute being “bears”, well, a Wookie has much more of a physical resemblance to the humble Yorkshire terrier than a bear. In his loyalty to Han Solo, Chewbacca displays the characteristics of a faithful canine friend. Maybe not one you could take down the park and throw sticks for, but you get the idea.

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As for the big yellow furry thing, his love for honey perhaps alludes to him being of bear descent and brings thoughts of Winnie the Pooh. But does he look like a bear? Does he hell. What IS he? Looks even more freakish at the start of his career. All mad-eyed and shifty. THAT is not a bear, THAT is just plain weird.

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So should the fellas with the sniper rifles have known the difference? I think they may have been thrown by the orange hue of this particular variety.

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Clearly a Honey Monster, and in no way a Wookie. I mean, it’s not even close to a hybrid of the two – which would instead look something a little like this:

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Probably.

If this whole rambling post of nonsense proves anything, it is that Wookies are closer to dogs than bears, but due to their penchant for bee by-products, Honey Monsters – oh dear Gods, there’s more than ONE? – may be related to bears. In which case, a Wookie will remain loyal and always have your back, while the Honey Monster will just be out to pull a Yogi and steal your breakfast.

Lastly, if the whole episode with the police snipers proves anything, it is that lives ARE at risk if you are not up on your cultural references. And that, my friends, is my excuse for still watching programming and advertisements that are clearly aimed at children. 30 going on five? At least I’ll know a Gorg when it tries to eat me and a Groke when it tries to freeze me. Aware of the dangers behind unknown doors, I’m also guaranteed to keep up to date with the latest tunes via the medium of Yo! Gabba Gabba!

Posted in Four Lions, Pish Talk | 5 Comments

Pish Talk: Four and a Half Lions

David: I don’t intend to make a habit of writing posts to respond to stray comments, but we’re a relatively new site, short on content, so I figure what the hell!  Here’s what someone who calls themselves moviegeek said in the comments to one of our recent Four Lions posts:

I really wanted to like Four Lions… but sadly a brave film doesn’t necessarily make it a good one.

Chris Morris’s constant attempts to turn it into a slapstick comedy undermines the important message behind the film and dilutes it all into a superficial exercise.

Not a disaster, but it could have been so much better…

Say it Mean Girls style – “Wrong. So Wrong.”

Moviegeek’s review of the movie continues along similar lines, arguing that the film is superficial and incoherent, and that its characters are too stupid to be believable.  Comedian Richard Herring raised similar concerns in his response to the film, which I quoted in the Script Rehearsal post for this movie, so I’m actually quite happy to deal with these complaints here.

For me, the slapstick element doesn’t “undermine” Four Lions; on the contrary, the broader comedy is the heart of the film!  The question is not just what we’re laughing at here, but how we’re laughing.  Most of the comedy of Morris’ film, be it verbal or physical, comes at the expense of the characters, whether they’re devout Muslim scholars, half-witted terrorists or inept hostage negotiators.  The interesting thing here is that we’re only allowed to get close enough to grow attached to one group of characters – the fucking terrorists.  So while we might still laugh as they blow themselves up while running away from sheep, or while they FAIL AT RAP, we laugh in the same way we might laugh at some of our favourite comedy idiots.

Now I’ve got to be careful here, because we clearly laugh at each of our Lions in a slightly different way.  I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that Waj and Faisal are portrayed in a way that’s hard to empathise with.  Faisal seems to be less self-aware than his own wooly hat, while Waj is a hulking plonker who can’t tell the difference between rabbits and chickens. No one thinks of themselves this way, even if they are bloody thick, right?  So with these guys, we’re laughing at people who we imagine ourselves superior to – “Check it out, guy wants to put a bomb on a crow!”

Barry’s not just an imbecile, he’s a really fucking loud imbecile, but I think we’ve all acted a little like he does in this movie, or that we at least know someone who has.  He’s your mate who isn’t the top dog but who thinks he should be, and who consequently embarrasses himself trying to get there.  Hassan’s a dafty too, but like Barry his main crime (aside from scheming to blow people up!) is trying too hard – he doesn’t want to be the big man, he just wants to seem a bit dangerous and exciting an 4REAL mostly.  As with Barry, I think we laugh at Hassan’s stupidity while cringing a little.  No one wants to be those guys either, but it’s a real possibility, and the goofier slapstick underlines that nicely.  It’s a crude form of comedy, sure, but like the verbal goofs that run through the film it’s all about human clumsiness and ineptitude.  What’s more, these broad comedy flourishes underline the universal stupidity of these characters without obliviating the specifics of race and culture, which is precisely the quality I wanted to praise when I wrote about Four Lions first time round.

But what about Omar?  Unlike his friends, he seems to be a reasonably functional, well-rounded human being with a nice family, so why the fuck is he leading this bunch of imbeciles on a suicide mission?   Actor Riz Ahmed thinks that Omar acts like he’s playing a massive joke on the whole world, which makes sense to me.  There’s a certain cheeky superiority to the way Omar deals with everyone from his pious brother to his workmates, but that doesn’t mean that Omar’s not serious about his cause.  Indeed, of all the Lions, he’s the one who comes closest to articulating an actual reason for his actions, though even his speeches don’t add up to anything more than garbled agit-prop.  Omar also fronts one of the most outrageous bits of slapstick in the film, in which he makes a spectacular arse out of himself while trying to be the hero:

You could argue that this is just too much, and that the very inclusion of scenes like this one takes away from whatever Chris Morris can do, but I don’t think so.  For starters, you don’t really want to get into an argument about whether an incident like this “could really happen” – it’s physically possible, Chris Morris has a stack of similar anecdotes that he likes to bring out in defence of the film, and making sweeping pronouncements either way tends to make you sound like an overeager blowhard. What’s more, by having the most relatable of the main characters fuck up quite so gloriously, Morris is actually doing something quite subtle and clever here.  Be honest with yourself: if you decided to “go to war”, your reasons would probably be pretty stupid, and your biggest gestures would backfire horribly.   Your cause might be different, you might fuck up in a different way, but in the end you’re probably not the great hero you’d want to be: most likely you’re a normal person, like me, or like Omar, and as such your efforts would tend towards the ridiculous.

So what of Richard Herring‘s complaint that “The terrorists were just a bit too stupid and yet then suddenly self-aware enough to understand the inconsistencies in their position”? Well, he’s probably talking about Omar, Waj and Hassan here, since they all have a wee wobble in the film’s final act.  Waj and Hassan are acting perfectly in character there – Waj gets himself in a tangle and let’s Omar make his mind up for him, while Hassan… well, he probably never thought he’d actually have to go through with it, you know?  Which leaves us with Omar again.  It seems like he should have thought about the fact that he was manipulating Waj before they get to their target destination, but sometimes we don’t get that we’re being dicks until someone (in this case, Barry) throws it back in our face.

Thinking about this a bit more, it occurs to me that slapstick normally involves consequence-free violence.  Four Lions is all about consequences, but this strikes me as being a deliberate subversion of the form, and it’s this rush of inescapable reality that makes Omar’s deliberations in the final section of the film so oddly affecting…

Posted in Four Lions, Pish Talk | 4 Comments

Lobby Talk: Four Lions

Scott:

It’s called the “bunch of guys theory,” and it’s what we show in “Four Lions.”  The dynamics of a small group of blokes who are forming a rather intense plan.  Wherever it is, you will find funny stories, including about intelligence operations and how screwy they can get.  It’s all there, so you might as well deal with it.

(Four Lions: Chris Morris’ Jiha-Ha-Had Movie, from Boing Boing net)

I think, as men, we’ve all felt the call of the Bunch of Guys Theory.  Even if it’s just trying to play something like Halo or Left 4 Dead with your mates.  You cannot turn off the switch in our heads that makes us want to show off and take some sort of lead.  Call it some atavistic throwback to hairy man being a pack hunter, or the usual alpha male bullshit.  Hell, there can be pissing contests just to see who can try and be the biggest team player, never mind the who’s-in-charge arguments, or the who-can-save-the-day moments.

Can’t help but wonder if it’s part of that throwback that causes men to be drawn to that big-bollocks action movie gobshite, or if saturation in that kind of stuff is what further drives us to feel that way.  Either way, I’m a bit of a fucking sucker for it.  Hate to admit it, but it’s true.

Honor is now a dirty word.

A man must have a code.

It was worse in my teenage years.  Everything had to have this dynamic, like a sitcom or a action movie.  Everyone had a role to play.  I still feel yearnings for it.  Everything has to work out to a Hollywood finish, with everyone playing their part.  But, this is not the place to discuss my need for Conan-esque glory and the role of the modern video game in working that off (thank you, BioWare!).  All that really needs to be pointed to here is the instinct, oft preyed on by Hollywood, to be the star of your own personal movie epic, where you are the big hero and one crowning moment of awesome washes away all the sins of a life spent being mundane.

Of what it is to be manly!

Pretty good with a bo staff.

David: This probably runs parallel to the “gear queer” psychology that William Gibson riffed on in Zero History – the way that non military men fetishise military paraphernalia, wrapping themselves in imitation outfits in the hope that doing so will make them Real Men, maybe even heroes.

The characters in Four Lions don’t go too heavy on gear queer trappings, but when they’re in that training camp, and the first drone buzzes into view… well, let’s just say that Omar’s cack-handed attempts to sound like he knows what he’s talking about (“What is that, about 2,000 feet?”) are definitely examples of the same sort of delusional thinking.

Scott: Seriously, though. That bit is exactly like me trying to help my older brother do anything around the house.

With that in mind, it’s not hard to feel sorry for this bunch of muppets.  Oh, God, wait, no, we can’t! We can’t allow ourselves to think of these people as human!  They must be demonised and held up as hysterical examples of how this sub-culture of mentalists are the vanguard of a seemingly alien menace who live on this planet and don’t share our values!

Patience, Lewis. We're only human.

Kidding aside, it’s not that “people like this” haven’t committed horrors, it’s just that you don’t have to go far to find “people like this” anywhere, under any banner.  The very worst thing you can say about this movie is that it can make you sympathetic enough to these guys to almost cheer them on to some kind of half-assed victory.

David: Yeah, what I love about Four Lions is that it uses the stupid, boyishness of the main characters  to undo a lot of the Othering that surrounds jihadi terrorists.   The idiotic impulses you’ve been discussing might not be universally male, but they’re definitely not limited to any one ethnic or religious background.

Turns out it's hard to find this image without also finding a lot of rabid hate speech! There are one or two eye-gougers on the discussion thread I nicked this image from, but it's relatively sedate stuff, believe me.

When I first saw this issue of the Daily Star in the newsagent beside my work, I misread the headline as MUSLIM THUGS BURN PUPPIES! Of course I laughed – wouldn’t you?  Especially if you had the line “DOGS CONTRADICT ISLAM” fresh on your mind, courtesy of Four Lions.  The worrying thing is, I could actually see that being a headline in any number of British tabloids.  The relentless demonization of THOSE MUSLIMS in the British press is pretty stomach churning, to the extent that you almost feel like giving Four Lions marks for treating its main characters as human beings. Thankfully, Chris Morris’ debut movie doesn’t act like it deserves props for such basic functionality.  It doesn’t feel like it’s interested in easy point scoring or fitting into any traditional model of satire either – instead, it seems more concerned with being an actual movie, one that both mocks the all-too-common conflation of muslims and terrorists and manages to get into the psychology of an actual terrorist cell at the same time.  Thank fuck for that!

Not that you’d be able to tell it’s anything but a total piss take from the trailer:

When we saw Four Lions for the first time we were both moderately underwhelmed, probably because it’s not as relentlessly funny as either Morris’ TV work or In The Loop, which is its closest relative in terms of recent British movies.  Sure, there are lots of killer lines, some of them brilliantly tossed off (“FUCK MINI BABY BELLS!”), some of them amusingly worked through (“There’s a knife and fork, go make a fucking meal out of it!”). There are one or two moments of slapstick that are so broad as to be sublime too, but the overwhelming tone of the film is one of bewildered melancholy.

Compared to the constant stream of cock-slapping invective that characterises your average Malcolm Tucker diatribe, or the overloaded absurdity of Brass Eye‘s title sequence, Four Lions might seem a little muted. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s a cowardly movie, because it’s not.  Chris Morris just has a good idea of what tools to use for the job at hand, and so instead of rehashing Peadogeddon he establishes a detached tone that allows the dynamics of his little group of would-be-suicide bombers to play out.

For all that we’ve both stressed the universalising aspects of the movie, I think it’s important to note that the main characters have in no way been reduced to a bunch of generic everymen, free of  personal or cultural baggage.  Whenever you see interviews with Morris or any of the cast of crew involved in the movie, one word keeps popping up: research.  This pays off in the movie, which is rich with arguments both goofy and heartfelt about the situations this most inept of terrorist cells finds itself in.  It might seem to mock its characters as they claim that buying Jaffa Cakes is the same as buying bombs for Israel, but it does so unobtrusively, in a way that matches the more low-key moments in shows like Peep Show and The Thick of It, both of which share writers with this movie. The characters are mostly young British muslims, but they’re also young British men, even the ones who are terrorists, and Four Lions is mindful of this at all times.

So while you have to laugh as Omar tries to justify himself to his son by adapting the story of The Lion King, you’re not going “crazy muslims, lol!”, you’re laughing in much the same way you would if you were watching one of the Peep Show boys trying to excuse their own antics.

Indeed, if anything the movie saves its most out-and-out disrespectful comedy for the people who’re trying to fight The War Against Terror (TWAT) on the home front:

Quietly fearless as it might be, Four Lions isn’t a movie that’ll tell you anything terribly new about the world. It’s about how stupid people will do stupid things for stupid reasons, and surely we all know that by now?   Still, when you get to the finale and Omar starts to struggle with the decisions he’s made… well, there’s genuine pathos there, of the kind that’s hard to resist.  Given that you’re watching a suicide bomber worry about whether he’s just tricked his friend into blowing himself up, that’s quite an achievement, right?

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Script Rehearsal: Four Lions

The Power of Nightmares, part 1 – Baby It’s Cold Outside:

(Parts 2 and 3 of Adam Curtis’ documentary are also available online.)

Chris Morris, introducing Four Lions at the Bradford International Film Festival:

Honestly people who go, “My job is to set out to break taboos!” are massively boring… Nothing I’ve done, I would classify as being controversial.  That’s just people making a mistake.

(He makes some of the same jokes in this introduction to the movie, filmed elsewhere, but I enjoyed watching him go through the routine both times.)

Four Lions: Chris Morris’ Jiha-Ha-Had Movie, from Boing Boing net:

XJ: Your past television work—”Brass Eye,” for instance—you’re known as someone who takes news and current events and satirizes it or spins it in a funny way. You were digging into different kinds of source material here.

CM: The common theme is that you’re getting inside something and rattling the perception around a little bit. If you think the way the news works is innately silly or ridiculous, why not play with that? If you think the people who stand up on behalf of knee-jerk, high-intensity, high morality subjects are not talking with the greatest authority, why not play with that?

And here, if you feel that the description of the way this wheel is turning around radical Islam isn’t the whole picture, then go behind the scenes and find out what’s going on. If it emerges as comic, then it’s comedy.

Lead actor Riz Ahmed, discussing the movie with Empire Magazine:

Chris Morris, interviewed by Zach Goldbaum:

Chris Morris, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, from an interview with Time Out magazine:

This seems the perfect team, the man behind ‘Brass Eye’ and the writers of ‘Peep Show’ and ‘In the Loop’ which look at the dark, claustrophobic workings of the male mind under pressure…

Sam Bain ‘You’ve found a unifying factor!’

Jesse Armstrong
‘Well, if Sam and I can do anything, we can write men arguing in those claustrophobic environments. But could we write some guys of different ethnicity, different religion and different cultural backgrounds? And we thought: Well, they’re still basically blokes arguing.’

Chris Morris ‘The Universal Male! We’ve ousted Martin Amis! I went to the high court and watched the Bluewater terrorist trial and got to hear a lot of MI5 surveillance tapes of the suspects, and you start to realise these people are klutzing around in a very average way – like men at stag parties or five-a-side football. Everyone reporting on it knew it was like “The Keystone Cops”. There’s a recording I heard where one guy says, “Hey bro, what’s the date today?” And the other guy says it’s the twenty-third. “So is tomorrow the twenty-fourth?” You wondered if they were stoned but the police said no.

‘There’s a bit where they’re arguing about who’s cooler, Bin Laden or Johnny Depp. You hear ridiculous things like, “My wife’s really pissed off with you ’cos she made you these sandwiches and you didn’t eat them and then you ate a load of chocolate spread. Hey, wouldn’t it be brilliant if we pulled an airliner out of the sky? Yeah bro, that’d be fantastic! What’s on telly tonight? Ah that Richard Littlejohn, I don’t like him. When’s Jeremy Clarkson on, he’s brilliant?”

‘You have to unload a lot of cultural and factual stuff to create a context for these – actually really normal – reactions between blokes. The one who wants to be leader, the thick one, the bullied type…’

Comedian Richard Herring on Four Lions:

Talking of Dad’s Army I went to see “Four Lions” this evening, which I had been very much looking forward to, but was slightly disappointed by, but only really, I suppose, judged by Chris Morris’ high standards. Unlike his other more controversial works (the paedophilia Brass Eye for example) I don’t think this was funny enough or illuminating enough to make up for the seriousness of the subject. The terrorists were just a bit too stupid and yet then suddenly self-aware enough to understand the inconsistencies in their position, though I know Morris researched it thoroughly and perhaps you have to be this dim to blow yourself up. It was dark and unsettling and at least showed the futility of suicide bombing. And yes, better than the vast majority of comedy films and well worth seeing. But it either needed to be more revelatory or funnier for me. Yet funnily enough when I mentioned I was going to see it on Twitter, the reviews I got were all glowing. So maybe it is me who has the bad sense of humour and Twitter that has the good one.

I do hope that Chris Morris will make loads more films though. We need him and Iannucci doing their stuff (though I also thought that “In The Loop” wasn’t as funny as “The Thick of It”) rather than the people churning out “Lesbian Vampire Killers”.

Perhaps it was all down to my expectations. I haven’t been out for ages and I needed to see a film that blew me away on this rare night off. It certainly got me thinking. But it didn’t really make me laugh at loud. And reviewers had wrecked one of the big moments with a stupid spoiler that I won’t reveal now.

(From Herring’s daily blog, Warming Up)

Movie critic Mark Kermode, discussing the film on radio:

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