Two films came out last week which were written and directed by British pop stars. Both are set in east London, both have rap interludes, and both use the phrase, "Are you sitting comfortably?" They don't have much else in common, though, except that the film-makers' aspirations outstrip their abilities.
Ill Manors was made by Ben Drew, aka Plan B, a hard-hitting rapper, so you won't be flabbergasted to learn that it isn't a sun-dappled romantic comedy set in the Cotswolds, but a grim, urban, sub-Tarantino crime drama about drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes, and the people unfortunate enough to cross their paths. It has been praised in some quarters for depicting life as it is really is among the crack addicts of Britain's sink estates. And, fair enough, the grubby existences it portrays do seem horribly authentic. But I'm not sure that that makes this sprawling ordeal worth sitting through. London's least huggable hoodies have shown up in a vast number of depressing films already in the past few years, most of them terrible, so the idea that youths in gangs swear a lot, wave guns at each other, and wear unflattering tracksuits isn't the front-page news it used to be.
Still, Ill Manors aims higher than most of its predecessors. As well as slotting in some hip-hop videos, the film flits between several overlapping stories, often jumping back in time to show us a scene again from a different perspective. You can't accuse Drew of lacking ambition. But the more gimmicks he uses, the more he seems to be in dire need of some guidance and discipline. The fractured chronology would have been more commendable if he'd mastered basic pacing, plotting, lighting and editing first.
The week's other Brit-flick, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, is a surreal comedy written and directed by Crispian Mills, the frontman of the band Kula Shaker. It stars Simon Pegg, only just recognisable beneath long hair and a straggly beard, as an author who's been so unsettled by his research into Victorian serial killers that he's now afraid to leave his squalid flat. But when his agent sets up a meeting with a Hollywood executive, Pegg has no choice but to venture outside and go to the launderette. At last, he'll have to face his phobias ... and maybe even find that they're justified.
The obvious question that this summary raises is, can one paranoid man's jog down the street with a bag of washing sustain an entire film? And the answer is a resounding no. Pegg tries gamely to keep up the energy levels by shouting, squealing and bounding around in his Y-fronts, while Mills pads out his non-story with stop-motion animation, dream sequences, freeze frames and narration. But just as Ben Drew attempted to run before he could walk, Mills seems to have put more effort into his animated hedgehogs than into writing jokes that are funny or working out where to put the camera.
The mind-numbingly inconsequential plot might have worked in a short film or an episode of Pegg's sitcom, Spaced, but as a feature film A Fantastic Fear of Everything is a wretched waste of time. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Drew and Mills should stick to their day jobs. But before they sit in a director's chair again, they might want to go to night school.
Hungarian maestro Bela Tarr bows out of film-making (allegedly) with the last word in Slow Cinema, The Turin Horse, a visionary dirge of a drama about the nag that sent Nietzsche round the bend. And cinema's first word on reality television comes in Death Watch, Bertrand Tavernier's alarmingly prescient futuristic drama from 1979, with Harvey Keitel as a man with cameras in his eyes.
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