Tag Archives: spaced

Kill List (2011)

9 Feb

Ben Wheatley first came to the public’s attention with online videos like ‘Cunning Stunt’, which went viral in short order. Wheatley quickly progressed to TV, directing ‘Modern Toss’, ‘The Wrong Door’ and the fifth series of ‘Ideal’. In between all this Wheatley also had time to direct his first feature, ‘Down Terrace’ (2009), a slow-burning thriller that is equal parts ‘Sexy Beast’ (2000) and ‘The Royle Family’, or a Shane Meadows crime saga. ‘Kill List’ takes a similar tack to ‘Down Terrace’, framing the action in a domestic setting, exploring themes of masculine identity, of battle-hardened men struggling to come to terms with the quotidian world.

‘Kill List’ tells the story of Jay (Neill Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley), two soldiers-turned-mercenaries who are still reeling from a botched job eight months prior. Jay and Gal are offered a new assignment by a shady group, requiring them to dispose of a series of seemingly unconnected targets. The realities of the job test the limits of Jay and Gal’s friendship as they and their loved ones are plunged into a morass of corruption and uncertainty.

There is a sombre efficiency to the – no pun intended – execution of ‘Kill List’ that perfectly fits its subject matter, an absence of irony that harks back to a time when crime films strove to deliver something more than empty thrills and knowing homage. There is a refreshing lack of flashy set pieces designed to outline the director’s technical prowess, occurring seemingly independent of the overall narrative and removing one from reality; the violence in ‘Kill List’ is integral to story and character progression and exists to underline the ugliness of taking a life.

Because ‘Kill List’ is violent. Very violent. Almost unbearably violent at times. But the overall effect, much like Alan Clarke’s ‘Elephant’ (1989), is to inure the viewer to what they see and make the actions of Jay and Gal seem run-of-the-mill, enabling us to see it with the same distance as they do. It is a bold approach; playing with our expectations and forcing us to examine our responses when the dust settles. There is also some elemental horror of early ‘70s vintage that delivers genuine tension and peril, a rare commodity in the Torture Porn epoch.

Smiley, best known as the mercurial bike courier Tyres in the cult ‘90s sitcom ‘Spaced, proves himself to be an accomplished dramatic actor; bringing ease, assurance and economy to his interplay with Maskell, who is a revelation as a man succumbing to his bestial impulses, for whom reality is grey and uninspiring after all he has seen and done. The film’s success hinges on the lingering tension between Jay and Gal, an enduring bond that is both sustained and undermined by their knowledge of each other, and it is brilliantly played out.

‘Kill List’ is at turns bleak, nihilistic and elegiac, examining with grisly clarity what soldiers do when they are rendered ‘extraneous’, when there are no more honourable battles left to fight and they are left to the harsh realities of the market. Wheatley succeeds in deconstructing two genres without recourse to the usual tropes, creating the most compelling British thriller for some time. There really is no telling where Wheatley will go next.

 

This is significant.

Paul (2011)

28 Mar

Of all Britain’s recent comedic exports, Simon Pegg is the least likely to overstay his welcome, possessing a charm and likeability missing from Gervais, Brand, Cohen et al. Though the roles he has chosen since ‘Shaun of the Dead’ catapulted him to global prominence have been a mixed bag – not even he could invest the odious Toby Young with sympathy – his ability as a writer and versatility as a performer may well sustain him beyond the instant rush of celebrity he has enjoyed.

All of which makes ‘Paul’ such a disappointing experience. British Sci-Fi nerds Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) travel to the nerd Mecca, Comic-Con, before setting off on a road trip taking in all the famous UFO hotspots. Graeme and Clive encounter Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan), an alien who has escaped from the military base where he was being held. Paul is tracked by Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) under the instruction of The Big Man (Sigourney Weaver).

‘Paul’ peddles the usual insider references to the Spielberg/Lucas canon, the ironic veneration for the campy original ‘Star Trek’ series and the dissections of comic book culture found in countless Kevin Smith films. So, for example, the band in a biker bar plays the music from the Mos Eisley Cantina scene in ‘A New Hope’ and Paul claims to have been a creative consultant for ‘The X-Files’ and ‘E.T.’ – with a vocal cameo from Spielberg – which is fine if you’re aware of its significance, but means nothing to the casual viewer.

‘Paul’s’ concession to the mass audience is bucket loads of scatological humour, casual swearing and frequent allusions to the homoerotic nature of Graeme and Clive’s relationship. Pegg and Frost’s screenplay actively courts the Apatow audience, expunging much of the uniquely British flavour that made ‘Spaced’, ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ so special. ‘Superbad’ director Greg Mottola fails to match the technical invention that Edgar Wright brought to previous Pegg/Frost vehicles – an integral part of what set them apart from anything else in the genre. The visual effects are passable, but would probably not pass muster in a less light-hearted context; it feels as though the actors are pitching their dialogue towards the space occupied by the alien, rather than interacting with it.

Pegg and Frost have the effortless chemistry that comes from years of friendship, but removed from their comfort zone, the dynamic fails to spark as it has in the past, their badinage dwarfed by the demands of the narrative and the scale of the project. Pegg and Frost play lovable man-children with their usual panache, but they seem trapped between the urge to joke around and the need to push the plot forwards, too in love with the subject matter to lampoon it with any conviction, embracing the archetypes rather than subverting them.

Rogan doesn’t diverge from the shtick that already feels tired by virtue of its sheer ubiquity, approximating the stoner idioms of the ‘the Dude’ from ‘The Big Lebowski’ – if aliens are as crass and irritating as this, we can be thankful they have never made contact. Bateman struggles to convey an air of menace, which makes sense by the end but hampers the film’s dramatic momentum. Elsewhere, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio are Bateman’s bumbling sidekicks, while Kristen Wiig is the lightning rod for the film’s rationalist message as the Creationist who is enlightened by Paul and becomes Pegg’s love interest – listening to her learning profanity gets very boring very quickly.

The premise of ‘Paul’ was devised by Pegg and Frost on the set of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ as a means of alleviating boredom between takes, and its freeform origins are apparent on the screen; the narrative engine sputters along, locking into a pattern of pursuit and evasion, a set of ideas held together by the slenderest of threads, fleshed out by in-jokes referring to everything from ‘Mac and Me’ to ‘Capturing the Friedmans’. With the commercial failure of ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’, the time has come for the Wright/Pegg/Frost triumvirate to reunite and complete their ‘Cornetto Trilogy’.

ALF, 2011