Skip to main content

Welcome to my world of erotica.

The Look of Love
(2013)

Michael Winterbottom likes his sexy romps. He also likes his collaborations with Steve Coogan. Now, for the first time, he combines the two! Winterbottom seems to be in constant search of something new, be it style, genre or subject matter. This comes in tandem with an unfussy, get-to-it approach to filmmaking. He rarely makes dross, but one gets the impression that, if only he took the time to finesse his material, he’d be more likely to make films that were consistently really good. Rather than merely respectable. He’s dependably experimental I guess you could say. The Look of Love is a biopic of smut-peddler Paul Raymond, at one point the richest man in Britain. In chronicling his less than salubrious life and career Winterbottom has made a respectable enough movie, but unfortunately it’s a long way from being really good.


Coogan plays Raymond, from his early days compering nude tableaus at his variety shows (it was only an offence if the girls displayed moving wares) to his rise with London strip club the Raymond Revue Bar. He channels his profits into property (we see him giving both his daughter and granddaughter a tour of his many investments; asked why he has so many, he answers that it “confers respect”). By the ‘70s he is staging theatrical revues, and it’s during this period that he leaves wife Jean (Anna Friel), who has been hitherto willing to indulge his loose behaviour, for performer Amber (Tasmin Egerton, pretty but leaving little impression). It’s also the point that he takes on Men Only, a top shelf magazine edited by Tony Power (Chris Addison).


Winterbottom and Coogan have a relatively benign view of Raymond. His debauchery is shown (at least at first) to be cheerful and good-natured, and Jean only takes him to the cleaners (winning the biggest divorce settlement ever in Britain to that point) when his relationship with Amber becomes all excluding. The Men Only antics are seen from as a progression from terribly British naughty postcard/ Carry On humour. Accusations of degradation to women are met with quips and rejoinders from Raymond. It’s all a bit of harmless fun. On the back of the post-‘60s liberation, it seems that Raymond is able to assume a vaguely anti-establishment position. If we aren’t quite encouraged to get behind him, we are supposed to be amused by his relaxed abandon. When his revue Pyjama Tops receives scathing reviews, he pronounces “To be described as the worst play in the last 25 years is almost as good as being the best play in the last 25 years, because people are going to talk about it, and that’s all that matters”. He even prominently displays the rebuke “arbitrary displays of naked flesh” on the billboard, the assumption being that all publicity is good publicity. Amber, re-named Fiona Richmond for the purposes of Men Only, asks “penetrating questions” as she travels “around the world in 80 lays”. Raymond picks up where Sid James et al were too innocent to continue.


But the heart of Winterbottom’s film is Raymond’s indulgent relationship with his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots). If director and lead actor are unable to lay bare Raymond’s inner life (they lay bare nearly everything else, however) they are at their best dealing with his hopeless inability to observe the appropriate boundaries as a parent. Not just with Debbie; this is further emphasised by scenes with his sons. One is from his first marriage, with whom Raymond is either unwilling or unable to make any connection. Debbie’s brother is openly hostile, having moved to Miami with Jean. He dotes after his daughter, and serves her up a succession of theatre projects. Rather than being honest about her failings, he closes a show purely on the grounds that it is haemorrhaging money. When she develops a voracious coke habit, father joins in; his only caveat is that she should consume the good stuff. He even does her a line when she’s in labour. When Amber leaves him, unwilling to compete with his hedonistic lifestyle, we see more clearly the lonely and isolated life he leads. His is the classic story of money not buying happiness. He’s at a loss in the opening scene, set in 1992, when he asked about the death of Debbie (who died of a heroin overdose). He gave her everything she could possibly want; how could it come to this?


If Winterbottom wisely doesn’t push the moral reproof, the problem is that he doesn’t push much at all. This is a smoothly oiled period piece, revelling in the currently fashionable ‘70s milieu and taking delight recreating its excess. But it proves resistant to saying anything much beyond the obvious. Coogan is very good, carrying off both Raymond’s charm and sadness. When he takes to the dance floor with Debbie’s friends, he’s like a derelict version of Jason King; talking the talk but with none of the debonair or loucheness. If Raymond remains something of a mystery, one is partly left with the impression it’s because he was empty somewhere deep inside (uncharitably, one might point the finger at Matt Greenhaigh’s unfussy script; Greenhaigh might have carved himself a little too comfortable a niche as a screenplay biographer). I wasn’t so sure about the impressions though, as that seems more like Coogan schtick (who knows, perhaps Raymond was the Mike Yarwood of the porn world). Poots is outstanding, spiralling vulnerably and affectingly out of control. I’ve read a few criticisms of Friel, but I thought she was fine (and also very game). As for Addison, he’s cast to type as an oily weasel; alas, his enormous beard fails to render him unrecognisable.


There’s a vague feeling of déjà vu throughout; we’ve seen this story before in a variety of incarnations. And Winterbottom’s vision of the seedy ‘70s is rather spruce and swish compared to the tawdriness one would expect; we’re closer to Austin Powers than grim skies and men in dirty macs. Most problematically, despite strong work from Coogan and Poots, the tragedy doesn’t have the necessary impact. In the end, The Look of Love comes up short because there isn’t much going on beyond the obvious; it’s all one long seedy high time, until it’s not. Perhaps because Winterbottom is unable to break from a rather literal retelling of Raymond’s (pecuniary) rise and (emotional) fall. By some distance The Look of Love the least of Coogan and Winterbottom’s hitherto fruitful pairings.


***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring.

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

You use a scalpel. I prefer a hammer.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
(SPOILERS) The latest instalment of the impossibly consistent in quality Mission: Impossible franchise has been hailed as the best yet, and with but a single dud among the sextet that’s a considerable accolade. I’m not sure it's entirely deserved – there’s a particular repeated thematic blunder designed to add some weight in a "hero's validation" sense that not only falls flat, but also actively detracts from the whole – but as a piece of action filmmaking, returning director Christopher McQuarrie has done it again. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an incredible accomplishment, the best of its ilk this side of Mad Max: Fury Road.