4 posts categorized "British Cinema"

May 09, 2020


CookThiefLoverPeter Greenaway's reputation as Britain's most ferocious intellectual filmmaker reached its apex in 1989 with his sixth feature film. Although everything about this black comedy including its tongue-twisting title challenges audiences, "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" remains Greenaway's most successful effort. Methodically constructed in the Jacobean form of Elizabethan revenge tragedies, the movie is an unrestrained attack on Margaret Thatcher's version of Ronald Reagan-style capitalism that infected the globe.


Greenaway conceived his film as a play, "a performance," with which the audience is meant to engage. His strict adherence to formal laws of theatrical dramaturgy, including proscenium staging, is attenuated by a non-stop assault of physical and verbal violence from the film's loathsome antagonist Albert Spica. In the role of Albert, Michael Gambon embodies his boorish character with a virulent toxicity of epic scale.

The Cook, The POTUS, His Wife and Her Lover | Linnet Moss

Greenaway lets the audience know what it's in for during a tense opening sequence. Albert dislodges the owner of a haute cuisine restaurant named Le Hollandaise. The restaurant's proprietor "Roy" (note the allusion to a "king") hasn't been keeping up on his protection payments to Albert, a mean-spirited mob boss with a taste for fine dishes he can barely pronounce. Peter Greenaway predicted a future he hoped wouldn't arrive. It did. The vicious way Albert tortures Roy and smears his nude body with feces reflects the same cruel brand of devastating psychological humiliation later committed by guards at Guantánamo prison.


Against Albert's orders his elegant wife Georgina (Helen Mirren) smokes cigarettes as a singular act of insubordination. Knowing her turn will come, she nevertheless tolerates Albert's brutish behavior toward others. Inside the grand restaurant Albert confers with his "employee," a veteran French chef named Richard (Richard Bohringer), about the menu.


The dining room's red color scheme is watched over by Dutch painter Frans Hals's "Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard Company" —  another thematic poke by the filmmaker. Albert spews his cockney variety of verbal bile at a large rectangular table that allows for Greenaway's formal tableaux compositions to blossom. Challenging thematic ideas come in spades.


Striking costumes by Jean-Paul Gautier and a haunting musical score by Michael Nyman augment the film's purposefully artificial execution. Georgina strikes up an affair with Michael (Alan Howard), a solitary man who reads as he dines across from Albert's table of savages. Over the course of the next few nights the lovers retreat to the restaurant's bathroom and kitchen to make love between courses. Their trysts represent a desperate escape of independent thinkers from an oppressive outside world that would just as soon eat them alive, or dead.


"The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" is a masterpiece of British cinema built on several hundred years of literary tradition. The film must be viewed more than once to begin to digest its pungent and subtle layers of rope-thick satire. There are far worse cinematic fates to be had. 


Five Stars


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June 17, 2017


COLESMITHEY.COM"My Beautiful Laundrette" is a milestone of British cinema. Stephen Frears's stylish and confident handling of Hanif Kureishi's London-set gay love story, between a first-generation Pakistani and a British neo-fascist punk, is an accomplishment. Volatile social issues of Margaret Thatcher's early '80s England are ripe opportunities for imaginative examination in a fantasy atmosphere of unfettered homosexual romance. Here is an anti-plot narrative that works because of its unpredictable nature.

My Beautiful Laundrette Blu-ray Release Date August 21, 2017 (Blu-ray +  DVD) (United Kingdom)

In his breakout film role, Daniel Day Lewis plays Johnny, a homeless dyed-hair thug who squats in whatever empty house he can access. Second-story windows are not a problem for the agile petty criminal. Johnny's childhood friend Omar (Gordon Warnecke) lives with his ailing Marxist father Hussein (Roshan Seth), who wallows in alcoholic depression over his wife's recent train-track suicide. The offending train runs just outside their apartment window as a constant reminder of the tragedy.

The Legacy Of My Beautiful Laundrette | Londonist

Omar's unconstrained love for Johnny sets the film's tempo. It also explains away any questions that might pop up in Johnny's mind about why he's with Omar. Stephen Frears's tender gay sex scenes inspired a new generation of young filmmakers to be more daring in their films. There might not have been a New Queer Cinema without “My Beautiful Laundrette.”


Omar's caring dad wants his son to go to college to get a well-rounded education. As a former respected leftist journalist, he values knowledge over wealth. Still, Omar gets other ideas about his capitalist future after his rich uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) gives him a job working in his parking garage. Uncle Nasser wants Omar to marry his daughter. However, Nasser is too busy with his English mistress to notice Omar's obvious relationship with Johnny.


Omar quickly moves up in the business world to take over a rundown launderette in a dicey South London neighborhood. He's not above doing some drug running for Nasser's crime-connected brother. Omar gives Johnny a job renovating and helping run the launderette. The joint's washing machines hum with a musical gurgling sound that Frears uses to send auditory romantic messages to the audience in an abstract Morse code. Frears’s abstract cinema language sings. In reinventing the launderette as a glamorous social gathering spot, Omar establishes a micro utopia to support his economically sensible yet sensuously exotic ambitions.


The filmmaker’s ever-moving camera lens cranes and dollies to show the abysmal state of Margaret Thatcher's England. There is both fantasy and hope in the relationship between Johnny and Omar. The pair exists beyond the rampant racism and economic desperation that surrounds them. They represent England's future. Our future.

8tracks radio | my beautiful laundrette (28 songs) | free and music playlist

Rated R. 97 mins. 

5 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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April 22, 2006


No Casablanca

James Ivory Flies Blind In Shanghai 

White_countessDirector James Ivory captures Ralph Fiennes in his most moping performance to date. Fiennes plays Todd Jackson, a blind ex-patriot former diplomat living in 1936 Shanghai in the days leading up to the Sino-Japanese War. Fiennes’s tedious acting is only intermittently upstaged by Ivory’s meandering direction. Natasha Richardson is suitably coarse as Sofia Belinsky, an exiled Russian countess working as a taxi dancer when she isn’t being emotionally abused by her repulsive family. They want to distance Sofia from her young daughter Katya (Madeleine Potter). Jackson eventually opens the bar of his dreams. He hires Sofia to serve as its "countess of ceremony" before the outside world comes crashing through his fantasy world in the guise of the Japanese military.


Meant as a brief, not epic, meditation on the social climate of Shanghai before the Japanese invasion, "The White Countess" gets bogged down in its attempt at uniting the intimate realities of its two romantically inclined main characters with their outside world. James Ivory would have done well to take his ques from "Casablanca" since that similarly themed film achieves everything this film aspires to.


Unlike Bogart’s character Rick in "Casablanca," Jackson has to bet his life’s savings on a horse race before he can open a nightclub that he hopes will serve as a crucible for foreign dignitaries and street urchins alike. Jackson nurtures his casual friendship with Matsuda (Hiroyuki Sanada), a Japanese businessman who promises to bring members of political rival factions into Jackson’s cabaret. But the plot promise is never paid off and the audience barely gets a glimpse of any interaction within the well-appointed club.


Kazuo Isiguro’s unbalanced screenplay lacks sufficient momentum to pull the characters out of their individual backstories and into the vibrant spin of pre-WWII China. When the film’s overdue third act climax occurs, we still don’t know enough about the area’s political conditions to have a sense of who the military players are or what their options might be. Jackson’s mysterious associate Matsuda plays a crucial part in the Japanese invasion but even his motivations are kept too opaque to grasp. "The White Countess" is about two people living in an unfamiliar country with literal and figurative blinders on to the immediate threats around them. It’s a story of the blind leading the blind. I wish I could have closed my eyes.


Rated PG-13. 135 mins. 

1 Star


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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