ALISTAIR Harkness reviews this week’s film releases, including the Nicholas Hoult-starring Kill Your Friends and Scottish drama The Closer We Get
Kill Your Friends (18) | Rating: ** Directed by Owen Harris | Starring Nicholas Hoult, Craig Roberts, James Corden, Edward Hogg, Georgia King
Perhaps there’s a great movie to be made about the final bacchanalian days of the pre-Napster music industry, but Kill Your Friends isn’t it.
Set at the height of Britpop, when CDs still sold millions and kept music-ignorant record company execs up to their eyeballs in cocaine, the film, directed by Brit TV graduate Owen Harris (Misfits, Black Mirror), lacks the production values or inventiveness to evoke the era with any authenticity and leaves Scottish author (and former A&R exec) John Niven’s script – adapted from his own 2009 novel of the same name – sounding flat and contrived in the mouths of an otherwise good cast.
Nicholas Hoult takes the lead as Steven Stelfox, a reprehensible A&R man desperate to find – or at least manufacture – the next big thing.
Laying out the venal machinations of the music industry with scabrous first person narration and ironic asides to the camera, Stelfox embarks on a murderous, drug-fuelled, expenses-abusing mission to secure the top A&R job at his company, using his vulpine nature to cover his tracks as he bumps off colleagues, brokers deals and tries to evade the suspicions of a detective (Edward Hogg) who dreams of a career as a songwriter.
This last plot point is the least convincing of all; the character is impossibly naïve and his inept investigation into the murder of Stelfox’s colleague (James Cordon) is too easily derailed by Stelfox making him believe he can have a career in the music biz. Consequently there’s no drama in watching Stelfox squirm under scrutiny, so the film concentrates on making the cut throat nature of the business literal.
This is hardly revelatory stuff, but unfortunately this is also the extent of the film’s satirical sophistication — save for a few pops at The Spice Girls, the faux earnestness of indie rock bands, and the undiscerning gullibility of the general record buying public.
That the film pretty much nicks its plot from American Psycho and Robert Altman’s Hollywood satire The Player doesn’t help matters, although depending on how generous you’re feeling an argument could perhaps be made that ripping off a couple of established cult classics is in keeping with the bandwagon-jumping nature of the protagonist, but that’s a stretch.
Too often the film just seems desperate to shock, piling on scenes of coke-snorting orgies and general debauchery as if no one has ever seen Scarface, The Wolf of Wall Street, or even Filth, the try-hard nature of which is most closely mirrored here.
The Closer We Get (PG) | Rating: ***
Directed by: Karen Guthrie
The dysfunctional nature of middle class life in Scotland is explored to discomfiting effect in The Closer We Get, filmmaker Karen Guthrie’s sometimes painfully intimate look at her own complicated relationship with her elderly parents. What initially appears to be something of a misery memoir detailing Guthrie’s transformation from artist and filmmaker into a primary care-giver for her mother following a debilitating stroke is soon revealed to be something far richer and more intriguing as she delves into the
secret life that her father led while working in Africa for a decade when she was a kid. As such, the film functions as something of a bittersweet love letter to her mother and an explicit attempt to hold her stoic father to account for the effect his behaviour over the years has had on their family. If there’s a fault, it’s that Guthrie’s own narration can tend towards the purple, but the film is good at illustrating the ways in which families almost can’t help but bruise one another as responsibility conflicts with personal ambition.
He Named Me Malala (PG) | Rating: **
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
There’s no denying the astonishing achievements and bravery of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who refused to let a near-fatal assassination attempt by the Taliban silence her demands for education rights for women. Alas, this documentary profile from An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim is far too hagiographic in tone to really get beyond the media headlines, even as it follows her efforts to assimilate with her family into British culture after their relocation to Birmingham following the shooting in 2012. “Inspired by” her memoir of the same name, the film contrives to tell her back-story via twee animation that suggests her mission in life has been pre-ordained, something the no-nonsense teenager resolutely refutes when asked. Indeed, the reverence with which the film repeatedly presents Malala – the swelling strings on the score, the shots of condescending reporters marvelling at her willingness to quiz President Obama on his use of drone strikes – seems altogether at odds with its pragmatic subject, who leads by example and doesn’t really go in for any of the nonsense that comes with her fame. She’s inspirational
enough without all the bells and whistles this film adds.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (15) | Rating: *
Directed by: Christopher Landon | Starring Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont
Be prepared to hate this dismal teen horror comedy – and not just for the way it feeds off the likes of Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead without bringing anything new to the table. Revolving around three American boy scouts on a camping trip who discover their hometown has been overrun with the undead, there’s a nasty strain of misogyny throughout that can’t be excused by the adolescent nature of the characters. The only woman Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joey Morgan have any real contact with, for instance, turns out to be a shotgun-wielding stripper with a heart of gold (she’s played with eye-rolling patience by Sarah Dumont), and the film’s questionable attitude to women continues by having one of the heroes sexually assault a newly-turned female cop for fun. Other wretched gross-out gags ensue, but simply having a trio of put-upon geeks at the centre of the movie doesn’t offset the retrograde nature of the material. n