Author Topic: Four Lions - it's...well, it's GREAT, actually.  (Read 7864 times)

Four Lions - it's...well, it's GREAT, actually.
« on: April 02, 2010, 06:00:13 AM »
THAT bloody pointy picture.  Thanks to Laurence Boyce and his mate for this.
So I flew to Bradford to see both of the Four Lions screenings, and meet some of the folks from here, and generally have a nice little holiday.  I must thank sirhenry, ladyhenry and ApexJazz for their hospitality and generousity before I go any further.  They very kindly sorted me out with accommodation and food, and were as wonderful as I expected.  It was rather strange, though, given that we're all regular CaB Radio hosts, and had never seen a picture of each other before.  Their voices only really made sense when they wandered out of view. 

Firstly, you folks on the mainland are spoilt rotten, with the likes of the National Media Museum in Bradford.  Wonderful place.  I arrived there for the first premiere - which was arranged after the proper premiere, but scheduled to occur before it.  Got it?  Me either.  I quickly realise that I must get up and go for a, well, you know, before the movie starts, otherwise that's the only thing I'm going to be focussing on the entire time.  Mooching about in the foyer, I see Chris Morris wandering into a room, and instinctively say "hey hey hey."  He walks on, clearly distracted.  On the way back from, well, you know, I see him standing talking to some girls in the foyer, and decide to try and get a signature on one of my tickets.  "Chris?  Can I get a sig please?"  "Not now, no!"  And off he marches, in a way that makes it clear he doesn't want to be bothered.  Slightly jarring, but understandable, given the whole 'premiere of a movie he's been working on for four years' thing.  I didn't realise that, as well as doing the Q+A's, he'd also be introducing Four Lions.  I have since heard from a nice chap called Laurence Boyce, that someone else had the exact same experience, although you will have to read on to see if I had a smiilar resolution:

Quote from: A mate of Laurence Boyce
"Brief story behind the dedication might help. I saw Chris earlier in the evening, before the film started, and he was rushing about. I asked if he could sign, and he merely said, "not just now, thanks"..... so I didn't pester him. After the film had started, and there were less people about, I saw him again crossing the foyer, and approached him saying, "Any chance you sign for me now?"
He said, "Oh yeah sure. Was it you asked me before?".... he then went on to say that he couldn't concentrate earlier cos so much was going on in his head.... ie. "6 channels of infernal talkback". Hence the dedication.
He asked if I was seeing the film, and I pointed out to him that I wanted to, but it was sold out. He then suggested I sneak in. He was even prepared to help me sneak in, until he realised that the first reel had already played, so he suggested I sneak into the second house.
I stressed that my priority that day was to meet himself, but he countered by saying "NO... the prority is to see the film." We shook hands, and I departed.
Needless to say, I didn't sneak in. I can't risk being banned from the Museum for such an act."

Now, Morris comes on and does his introduction, and it's pretty rehearsed, that becomes obvious when he does the exact same introduction for the second screening.  It's a little bit of a stand-up routine, well-performed, and he's more confident (externally, anyway) in front of an audience than he was reputed to be on the set of something like I'm Alan Partridge.  At one point in the Q+A, I recall him mentioning that he was checking the film projectors at one of the American screenings, I found that level of conscientious involvement interesting, but completely unsurprising.  He also mentioned there being an audience of 1200 people, and said something along the lines of 'how the fuck do I go out and entertain 1200 people?'

Four Lions itself gets underway, and I'm pretty apprehensive.  I was...not a fan of Nathan Barley at all, and took an absolute battering from the Morris fan community for being so forthright in my (re)views.  That's fine, I dish it out, I must take it, and I'd do it again.  I don't actually have to lace up my verbal bovver boots this time, though.  Four Lions puts right everything that Nathan Barley got wrong!  Let's start with the cast...here we have an incredibly talented group of individuals, who just gel on screen.  You may remember Nigel Lindsay from Brass Eye (as Peacecap Johnson) or The Armando Iannucci Shows - he was an instant hit with me when the first Four Lions trailer surfaced.  Incredible voice, brilliant on-screen presence.  The rest of the cast turns out to be just as great, and special mention must be made of Riz Ahmed's "Omar" - he turns in a remarkably powerful and nuanced performance, that jostles up against Lindsay's "Barry", just as it should.  Kayvan Novak was another surprise, I must admit I never gave Fonejacker a chance because of that chronic Joel Veitch-style 'deliberately crap' animation that was all over the place for a while.  Here, though, he gives some of the broadest, and funniest, performances.  The 'idiots' are reigned in, compared to the tediously over-blown, unsubtle cartoon characters in Barley - I still stand by the Barley pilot, though, that was a much more successful affair. 

Again, I must stress that the casting this time round is largely exceptional, and when you also take into account the staggering talent on display from Adil Ray in Bellamy's People, you quickly realise that it's turning out to be a very interesting and important year for British Muslims.  The only time the casting is less than successful is when Julia Davis appears.  In Blue Jam/jam, she had great charisma, and defied you to take your ears or eyes off her, but here...she just doesn't seem to fit that well.  It's as if she was cut and pasted from some other movie.  Kevin Eldon and Darren Boyd also have brief cameos, and tonally, they're fine - it's the material that drags here.  They are [spoiler]there as incompetent coppers, to mirror the bungling suicide bombers[/spoiler], but really, it felt like this scene could have escalated.  What we end up with is some vague, half-hearted, time-killing awkwardness.  On further reflection, though, it could be the case that escalation at this point would have taken the sting out of the dramatic tension.  Regardless of that, this felt like it could have been a stand-out scene, but it flops and dies.

Thank to dfurnell for this.
Thinking back, those slight misfires are really the only criticisms I can make.  The story is engaging, and incredibly tense at times; plot lines that you know are coming still evoke a powerful response in you - there was one moment in particular where the anticipation in the theatre was almost unbearable.  Morris really finally has the hang of sustained narrative, now, and some of the credit for that must go to Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong - you can certainly see their skill at character-based comedy carved right through Four Lions like a stick of rock.  The group dynamics are what this movie is all about - relationships are echoed in touching and interesting ways, and the characters are so well-rounded and performed that they barely even need to be established!  I mean, this is one of the things that impressed me most of all... Four Lions dispenses with all the Hollywood spoon-feeding bullshit, it doesn't really have this big self-concious Start and Fin, it just has a story, an ongoing narrative, that we join while it's already in progress.  It has these characters that already exist, fully-formed.  Think of 'On The Corner' by Miles Davis - you're plonked straight into a song that's already started some time before you got there, and you become so quickly and deeply engaged in it that you want it not to stop.

Pay close attention to Omar's wife and child - here, folks, here is an example of Morris back at his best!  The lightness of touch is remarkable.  While excitedly chatting with ApexJazz about her after the screening, I suddenly realised that, [spoiler]holy shit, she works in a hospital![/spoiler]  I mean, it just didn't sink in at all at the time, but it's this kind of unspoken conflict that makes Four Lions so fascinating and enjoyable.  ApexJazz himself points out that [spoiler]"she is impatient with exclusionary treatment of women, and yet steadfast in support of her husband’s jihad"[/spoiler], which again, is an incredible social and religious conflict at play.  This is all so beautifully under-stated, too, and I know I'm in danger of over-stating that now, but ultimately, intelligent comedy that treats the audience with respect is why I started this site in the first place.  And I assume it's why we're all here, on CaB.  We don't want to be spoken down to, we don't want to be spoon-fed, we want intelligent comedy that aims high, and doesn't give a crap about potentially leaving people behind.  Four Lions delivers.

Ah, actually, I've not really mentioned the funny content yet, have I.  It's a funny, funny movie, there's absolutely no doubt about that.  The comedy gets commendably broad at times.  Did I say broad?  Yep - although he's frequently characterised as some DARK GOD OF SERIOUS CONTROVERSIAL SATIRE, Morris has always been about bouncing ideas off at daft, bizarre angles, regardless of the subjects being joked about.  I'm a big fan of physical comedy, and it's there in abundance.  If I try to nail my favourite type of comedy, then it would undoubtedly be very wordy, language-based material.  Victoria Wood is a perfect example here, there's a woman who constructs sentences in the exact same way that she writes music;  phrases bounce along, and great care is obviously taken over how the words sound...there's always a rhythmic quality that stems from her knowledge of composing.  Now, that's obviously what all comedy is aiming at, but few reach those same heights.  It always seems to me that a knowledge of music theory gives something extra to the linguistic abilities of people like Victoria Wood, Vivian Stanshall, and of course, Chris Morris. 

I don't really recall this being evident in Four Lions, though... and that's fine, actually.  One of the odd things about Morris' move away from performing, is that noone ever really delivers his phrases as powerfully as we know he can.  Some get close (David Caan always springs to mind), but Morris clearly has such off-beat thought patterns that you simply can't transpose that to anyone else without losing something.  At worst, it can become so jarring that it can detract from the overall experience.   There are a few trademark 'Morrisisms', but I remember Four Lions as having a somewhat more natural dialogue, overall - The Thick Of It has had a noticeable influence, and so I find myself wondering what impact Simon Blackwell had on the script, and dialogue. 

No wonder it took 4 years when he's so fond of reclining.
You're going to love Four Lions, folks.  Second screening (and the proper premiere) was...possibly funnier, although the start was a bit weird.  I was sat right on the aisle this time, at the back.  Now, there was very little sign of any of the cast or writers during the first screening, but this time, Jesse Armstrong came and sat beside me in the aisle, followed quickly by Sam Bain, and then Morris himself sat down right beside me.  This made the prospect of watching Four Lions a second time very awkward.  Without glaring over at them, I got the impression that Morris wasn't that keen on seeing the movie again, and/or hearing the crowd's reaction.  He got up and left after about ten minutes, followed eventually by Bain and Armstrong.  Jesse Armstrong in particular still finds Four Lions laugh out funny, which I loved. 

The Q+A's were very enjoyable... Morris was understandably repeating a lot of things he'd already said at previous screenings and interviews, but was always engaging and thoughtful regardless.  Some of the questions from the interviewer were desperately crap, but the cast and writers riffed round them.  Riz Ahmed was very amusing in the first Q+A - and set Morris up for a nice little Peter Cook homage! - and then Kayvan Novak burst into life during the second.  Extremely natural performer in front of a crowd, and full of funny voices.  There was a moment in the first Q+A that was particularly interesting to me...Morris got onto the subject of Oliver Stone's "W", and suddenly became really animated and ranty.  It was glorious, I hoped the Q+A's were going to evoke some vague Morris-on-GLR nostalgia, and they really did at this point.  Another highlight was during the second one, where Morris was asked about the crow that adorns the posters.  This was another moment where he seemed to leave the script, and talk passionately about one of his real interests - it just felt looser, more improvised, energetic. 

I didn't bother going up for the signature again after that, nor did I ask any questions at the Q+A, because of the cameras filming it - although I had two daft ones I joked about asking.  "What happened to those bloody film cells Warp were meant to send out to the fans? *points to projector* Can I have some of those ones? " and "Hey Chris, when are you doing more GLR shows?!?"  I did have a quick word with Kayvan Novak - I shied away from mentioning Cook'd and Bomb'd by name, but he did agree to an interview, so hopefully I can get that arranged before too long. 

I can't wait to see Four Lions for the third time, there were details I still didn't quite get on the second viewing... connections and observations I knew I was just falling short of making.  Roll on May 7th!
« Last Edit: May 01, 2010, 01:38:07 AM by Neil »

Re: Four Lions - it's...well, it's GREAT, actually.
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2010, 08:52:14 PM »
Thank you for the shout out and I'd like to say thanks to Steve for letting me pass on the story and still of Morris. Just wanted to point that whilst it shows he definitely cares about the film, Morris checking the projector is pretty much par for the course. As a veteran of working at many a film festival, you can almost guarantee that a visiting filmmaker will bob up to the booth and have a word with the projectionist and check he/she knows what they're doing. With so many variables and things that can go wrong, filmmakers tend to get a bit antsy and - understandably - want things to be perfect. As I say, doesn't make Morris any less obsessive over his work, but thought I would point it out!
« Last Edit: April 06, 2010, 09:31:46 PM by Boycey »

Re: Four Lions - it's...well, it's GREAT, actually.
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2010, 09:11:30 PM »
Thank you for the shout out and I'd like to say thanks to Steve for letting me pass on the story and still of. Just wanted to point that whilst it shows he definitely cares about the film, Morris checking the projector is pretty much par for the course. As a veteran of working at many a film festival, you can almost guarantee that a visiting filmmaker will bob up to the booth and have a word with the projectionist and check he/she knows what they're doing. With so many variables and things that can go wrong, filmmakers tend to get a bit antsy and - understandably - want things to be perfect. As I say, doesn't make Morris any less obsessive over his work, but thought I would point it out!

Thanks for the clarification, Boycey, and thanks again for passing that on.  I'm intrigued to know more about this kind of thing, what other details do they swan about checking? 

What particularly interests me is just the familiarity that is required with the actual technical processes behind playing a film.  It's a fascinating insight into all of the things they're considering.

Re: Four Lions - it's...well, it's GREAT, actually.
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2010, 09:29:36 PM »
Hmm, at it's most basic. You can have different formats (most cinemas run off digital and 35mm) but a Film Festival can also be running from Digibeta and BETA, DVD and even 16mm is some cases. Many film festivals will be using a venue that is not set up to run so many different formats (though the National Media Museum is an obvious exception) so players / new tech will have to be brought in which ups the possibility of something going wrong. You have different ratios, frame rates (I did a preview of a feature film, and thankfully found out that it ran at 25fps instead of 24fps as the filmmaker - who was a mate of mine - told me. But it was only on tiny letters of the film print itself and could have been missed by the projectionist) and all other sorts of things. The print could have been bouncing around from festival to festival without the filmmaker knowing what other projectionists have done to it - have they accidentally done something to it perhaps?

You've also got the thing that most festivals don't have the time to test - imagine a festival with a programme of films from 9am till 12am. You're almost guaranteed to be running late, to test you need to clear the auditorium and keep punters waiting outside - and if you've got a boatload of audience getting POd because they're not being let in, it can give you grief I can tell you.

Also people have the perception that the film has been in storage for weeks on end, and popped out like a DVD when it needs to be played. But you've got films bouncing around the world being sent from one fest to the other - many a time when I've had a 35mm print turn up the morning of an evening screening, followed by us having to send it Kuala Lumpar or something

Seemed to have gone on, but yeah: just saying that's lots that go wrong. Of course, filmmakers tend to stop things and get worried about stuff no-one else would notice but that's just the way it is. But with people at the Museum - and good projectionists in general - then you can never tell anything is wrong.

A shit projectionist on the other hand....
« Last Edit: April 06, 2010, 10:04:10 PM by Boycey »

Re: Four Lions - it's...well, it's GREAT, actually.
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2010, 09:36:23 PM »
Brilliant insight, very interesting, thanks again!  I just remembered that there was a problem with the initial release of the Four Lions trailer.  It vaninshed from the MSN site within hours, and then I saw someone eventually do a twitter about how it had been uploaded at the wrong speed.  That's since been deleted, though.  I know also that the rushes for the Q+A etc, were all handed over directly to Morris at the end of the night.