I finally got around to watching "Hunger" (2008) this weekend, the first of the McQueen/Fassbender combinations, but also the first film I've seen this week since "Chronicle"! I know, it's shocking, I didn't go to the cinema once last week, but there's so much to do, so many essays to prepare and mock exams to revise for.
"Hunger" is a very interestingly made film, you can tell that its creator is an artist in the traditional sense, as well as a developing director. The film, which shows us the Maze prison in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, focusing on the wash strike and the subsequent second attempt at a hunger strike in 1981, in which leading IRA soldier and ex-MP for Northern Ireland, Bobby Sands, dies. This film is not about dialogue, but about intense, difficult imagery. At the beginning we are supplied with background information in the titles and then the film begins and hits us straight away with prison officer Raymond Lohan checking his car for bombs before he heads off to work, we see his bloodied and cut knuckles, the result of his violent career. Inside the prison we enter when the wash strike is already underway. Introducing us to two specific inmates sharing a cell, we see that the walls are smeared with excrement, the inmates hairy and unwashed, looking like cavemen.
Bobby Sands' (Michael Fassbender) character is not introduced for the first 20-30 minutes, so labeling it a film about Sands is almost inaccurate. He is one significant part of this serious political movement underway in Ireland in the 1980s, one which had been going on for a long time. Sands is the leading figure in the hunger strike which starts in the second half of the film and we see through him, the horrific effects of this civil war on the Northern Irish people, we are not given a black and white view where we have "IRA bad, government good", nor are the police and the authorities all cruel men (one SWAT officer breaks down in tears as his comrades beat the inmates). Though it does make one question the nature of prison guards and men given power over criminals, as the film is full of harsh beatings and unjust violence against these men, many of whom are weak and cannot defend themselves against the brutality of police bludgeons. Despite the seemingly small role for a protagonist which Fassbender plays, one of the most hard-hitting images of the film is the gradual decay of Bobby throughout the hunger strike. It is not an easy thing to watch and McQueen has in no way glamourised or toned down events, he shows us the most base, most horrifying aspects of 1980s prisons in Northern Ireland and the struggle for independence.
The lack of dialogue does not mean that we are in the dark about the logistics of what is going on. We are supplied, as I said, with the titles at the beginning giving background information, occasional genuine radio clips of Thatcher explaining the government's stance, and one long conversation (a continuous shot) between Sands and his priest friend (Liam Cunningham), also a nationalist, discussing the motives and flaws of the hunger strike. McQueen very skilfully keeps us as in the know as necessary on historical context, while depicting most of his message through images. It is a short film, at just 1 hour 30 minutes, which for a historical drama is unusual, but it does not beat about the bush. The lack of dialogue, the desire to say almost everything through what we see, not what we hear, allows for this brevity. "Hunger" is very different from his newest work, "Shame", which I previously reviewed and expressed my great admiration for as a film, but both show the natural artistic talent of McQueen, who knows how to use imagery better than many of his peers. He is a natural artist as I have said before. I cannot wait for his next collaboration with Fassbender, "Twelve Years A Slave", due out in 2013.
|Spall with Elaine Cassidy in "A Room With A View"|
|The "Desperate Romantics" (Spall far left)|
More mainstream appearances of Spall which are likely to have caught your attention or at least have a wider audience are both Pegg/Frost collaborations "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) and "Hot Fuzz" (2007). "Shaun of the Dead" is a good one for hard core Spall fans because it is one of his earliest film roles in which many may not recognise him, 21 years old and before he lost a lot of weight. He works with Shaun and is to be seen early on disrespecting Shaun at work and making the well-known comment "you've got some red on you". In "Hot Fuzz" he plays one of the two Andys, along with the awesome Paddy Considine. I am not a fan of "Shaun" I must admit, it does not make me laugh, nor am I a zombie-fanatic, but "Hot Fuzz" is definitely one of my favourite comedies and is based near my beloved home town of Bristol, woo! He also played William Shakespeare in last years "Anonymous" but he is not to be judged on this film which was not the best historical piece I have ever seen. A much better 2011 film to watch for Rafe is "One Day", based on the David Nicholl's novel, in which Spall plays Hathaways' hapless boyfriend. Though not the lead, the Guardian rightly commented that Spall's is one of, if not the best performances in this film. His character is an awkward, uncomfortabley unfunny wannabe comedian, but he's sweet and his heart's in the right place, which is something Spall plays very well.
Spall's best break may be his very own TV comedy, which many of you will know, "Pete Vs Life", in which sports journalist Pete's life is commentated on as he makes mistake after mistake with women and his career. It's an enjoyable, sweet comedy, worth a watch, though not the best thing on TV. I love him because he's a talented, natural actor, he can play a variety of different roles - though he often plays, the sweet innocent, he plays an incredibly dark, twisted, bordering-on-insane mobster in 2011's "The Shadow Line", a gangster thriller with a fantastic cast. He is incredibly personable and has a subtle charisma that shows through on the screen. I went to see him in a stage play a few years back, "Hello and Goodbye", in which he played a young South African man, left alone with his dying father in a tiny, squalid house, with deeply negative effects on his sanity. He was fantastic and it was, as I'm sure you can guess after this rather long rant, incredibly exciting to be in such close proximity to one of my heroes. Furthermore, no female fan can deny that the frequency in which Spall strips off for a role ("A Room With A View", "Wide Sargasso Sea", "The Chatterley Affair", etc.) certainly helps keep your admiration at a peak.
My only problem is that Spall does not seem to be in enough TV shows or films to satiate my addiction! Luckily for me, he is to star in one of the most anticipated, destined-to-be-great, films of the year, alongside another great love of mine, that's right, Michael Fassbender, in Ridley Scott's prequel to "Alien", "Prometheus"! Keep a look out for this film, whose cast and crew combination - when has Scott ever gone wrong? -, plus the subject matter - alien space-battles- alone should have you drooling at the mouth while you await it, before any reviews or critiques arise giving you any solid idea of how well executed the film will be.
I bought this month's Total Film, which is not a regular buy for me, but I like to have a check what articles are in there, who's being interviewed, what films are being reviewed, what inside scoop they reveal. This month's has "The Hunger Games"' Katniss Everdeen on the front cover and a look at this year's superhero movies and I have been meaning to get more up to date on what is coming out, so I bought a copy and there were some goodies inside...
"Dark Shadows": Finally, a new Tim Burton-Johnny Depp combo! No, I'm not even being sarcastic. As you may well know from my previous blogs, I have a special place in my movie-heart for Burton and his personal gothic genre. This films sounds particularly delectable, with Depp starring as Barnabas Collins, an 18th Century fish-canning magnate, turned vampire by a jealous witch (Eva Green), buried alive and then allowed to rise again in 1972, having to adapt to a totally different world. Yes, as I'm sure you're wondering, this film does also star the wonderful Helena Bonham Carter, in an impressive cast including Michelle Pfeiffer (first time reuniting with Burton since "Batman Returns" in 1992), Johnny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz and a cameo from Alice Cooper! This 8th Burton-Depp collaboration was called by Total Film "a supernatural-gothic-horror-action-comedy" - with that many genres involved, how could it not be entertaining?