Asa Butterfield

Greed

22/02/20

Steve Coogan’s regular collaborations with director Michael Winterbottom always yield interesting results. There’s the iconic 24 Hour Party People, the various iterations of The Trip, the splendidly labyrinthine A Cock and Bull Story – but none of these can quite prepare a viewer for the caustic evisceration of venture capitalism that is Greed. The film isn’t subtle in its approach; on the contrary, it goes in with all guns blazing and neatly obliterates its chosen targets.

Coogan plays Sir Richard ‘Greedy’ McCreadie, a man who has positioned himself as a major player in the fashion industry, mostly by virtue of being meaner and crueller than the competition. As he approaches his sixtieth birthday, he finds his image smeared by bad publicity, so he decides to throw a Gladiator-themed birthday bash on the Greek island of Mykonos. He invites his ex-wife – and titular head of his company – Samantha (Isla Fisher), his new partner (Shanina Shaik), his aged mother (Shirley Henderson), his son, Finn (Asa Butterfield), and a whole host of VIPs. The event will be staged as a gladitorial extravaganza, which naturally involves building a Roman ampitheatre and will even feature a lion called Clarence. What could go wrong?

Through the ensuing confusion wanders the hapless Nick (David Mitchell, pretty much playing himself). He’s Sir Richard’s chosen biographer, clearly struggling to put together a sympathetic portrait of an odious subject – though he does find some solace in his brief exchanges with personal assistant, Cathy (Pearl Mackie), who has her own reasons for hating her boss. McCreadie is a man who complains that the local beach is occupied by ‘unsightly’ Syrian refugees, a man who – instead of paying them to make themselves scarce (which would be bad enough) – tricks them into working as his waiters, complete with Roman slave costumes. With his slicked back grey hair and outlandishly capped teeth, McCreadie is quite clearly styled on Sir Philip Green, right down to the appropriation of his workers’ pension funds, the profits from which go straight into the purchase of yet another luxury yacht. If anybody on the planet had an ounce of sympathy left for Green, this film will neatly extinguish it.

Winterbottom (who also wrote the screenplay) makes no bones about his utter contempt for his subject. Though he examines McCreadie’s formative years, when he was card-sharping his way through boarding school, there’s never any attempt to create sympathy for the character. He is, quite simply, the product of privilege – an arrogant, hateful man addicted to the aquisition of more and more wealth, for no better reason than the fact that he has a natural ability for it. Though Coogan often has some amusing lines, its easier to laugh at McCreadie than with him.

Greed has been widely criticised for a scattershot approach to its central subject, but it’s fueled by an almost incandescent sense of anger, a disgust that creatures like McCready are allowed to exist and prosper in a world that ought to have the sense to depose them The closing credits offer a horrifying list of statistics about the world’s wealth, but they are hardly necessary. The film has already instilled a feeling of utter shame.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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01/10/16

Based on the popular novel by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a Tim Burton film, that doesn’t feature his usual cohort of friends/family and is largely set in North Wales. Jake (Asa Butterfield) is unusually close to his secretive Grandfather, Abe (a scenery-chewing Terence Stamp) who often regales him with stories about a children’s home he spent time in during the Second World War.

When Abe is (rather horrifically) murdered by an odd looking monster (one that appears to have stepped out of a Guillermo Del Toro film), Jake accompanies his hapless father, Franklin (Chris O Dowd) to the remote Welsh island where the home was located and which is now no more than a burned out ruin. Jake has a vague notion of finding some answers about his Grandpa’s death, but almost before you can say ‘time travel’ Jake has somehow found his way back to the 1940s, where the home functions in a weird time-loop, presided over by the titular Miss Peregrine (a remarkable turn from Eva Green) who amongst her many talents has the ability to transform herself into a bird of prey. The children at the home all have odd powers of their own which range from invisibility to internal bee-keeping and the possession of a second mouth at the back of the neck. (Always handy). But the home is under threat from the evil creatures that control the monsters. They are led by Barron (Samuel L Jackson) a vile looking shape-shifter with a predilection for eating human eyeballs…

Like most Burton movies, this is often very nice to look at (he started off as an illustrator and that always shows) but there’s something curiously unengaging about the film, which is packed full of over-complicated incident, yet rarely manages to exert any kind of grip on the attention. It seems to go on for an inordinately long time, before it finally reaches a climax in an exotic location (Blackpool) where screenwriter Jane Goldman has to find something useful for every one of those peculiar kids to do. Despite all the monsters rampaging across the screen, there’s no real sense of threat here and it isn’t very enlightened to have the one black actor in the film cast as a child-murdering villain.

There are admittedly a few nice moments dotted about (a spirited tribute to the ‘fighting skeletons’ sequence from Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts being one of them) but ultimately this isn’t Burton’s finest moment. For a film that’s so packed with fantasy elements, MPHFPC is long on exposition and woefully short of magic.

2.9 stars

Philip Caveney