2 by Ken Loach: Riff-Raff (1991) / Raining Stones (1993) Blu-ray Review: Depressingly Fascinating

Two low-key, very sincere movies about everyday average people get a High-Def release from Twilight Time.
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If there's one thing you may have noticed amidst all of the screaming and flailing mechanical bits in the latest Transformers film, many a movie today seems to lack a genuinely honest sense of realism. But that is not the case for British filmmaker Ken Loach, who has delivered one true-to-life motion picture after another throughout his career in an industry that strongly believes it should give the people what they want. Loach, on the other hand, gives the people what they are: people. Everyday, average people just-a-doin' their thing, come rain or shine, good or bad, do or die. Naturally, Mr. Loach's work (which usually tends to be quite political in nature) has gone by largely unnoticed by American viewers - who crave fictional reality so much, that they're actually willing to pay to see Mark Wahlberg in a starring role.

Fortunately, for those of you who would like to see something sincere for once - or are perhaps, just a wee bit intrigued by such a notion - niche label Twilight Time has unveiled a recent goody for you all: a double feature Blu-ray containing two of Ken Loach's (non-political) realist flicks from the early '90s in one package.

First off is 1991's Riff-Raff which, fortunately, is not a spin-off to The Rocky Horror Picture Show but rather, tells of a small group of builders in London hired by a decidedly-crooked company to turn an abandoned hospital into luxury flats. At the helm of the drama is a young Robert Carlyle (in his second film, first starring role, and only five years from fame after Trainspotting became a hit) as Stevie - a Scotsman recent paroled from prison who is now living on the streets. Hired on for the job along with a venerable motley crew of men trying to make a pound - be it off the system or each other - Stevie is offered a place to stay by his new workmates: most (if not all) of whom are squatting at a local housing unit.

Look, it isn't called Riff-Raff for nothing, people. These guys really don't rate terribly high on the social totem pole, especially in a post-Thatcher London. But politics don't enter into it, of course, unless you're Larry (Ricky Tomlinson, who later appeared in Cracker with Mr. Carlyle, and who is a highlight here) - a loud-mouthed, slobby fellow who is either constantly cracking jokes or complaining about everything else. Emer McCourt is a struggling moody singer who Carlyle meets via a chance encounter and starts to date before the dysfunctional duo decide to live together in an apartment that doesn't belong to either one of them in this film that emerged as Best Picture at the European Film Awards. When first released in the US in 1993, Riff-Raff's American distributor included big white subtitles for the film due to the heavy British accents.

Supporting actor Ricky Tomlinson returns again for the second offering in this Blu-ray set, Raining Stones. And while he sports a different name and lives in another city altogether (Manchester this time 'round), Tomlinson's character of Tommy here could very well be the same damn person from the previous film. But then, there's always a guy that reminds you of that other guy in practically every town you go to, isn't there? In Raining Stones, however, we focus on the plight of struggling unemployed father Bob (Coronation Street's Bruce Jones), who is determined to buy his daughter a spankin' new First Communion dress so that she can be a good Catholic like him - despite his own ignorance on the subject.

From swiping sheep to shoveling up sod from a local recreational facility, Bob and Tommy will do anything to pick up some cash. But in these hard economic times and with little to no skills whatsoever as far as just about anything is concerned, things are even tougher for Bob than usual - especially when Tommy leaves the keys in his van and it gets stolen from right under their nose while they attempt to pawn off their own ill-gotten gains in a pub. Julie Brown (no, not that one) is Jones' suffering wife, and Tom Hickey plays one of the coolest priests in film since the ultimately less-than-realistic depiction of life after death in Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (or even Father Ted, for that matter) in this 1993 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner.

Being as these two films are very pragmatic in nature, they can be a bit of a tough sell for some viewers. As an individual plagued with mood swings and depression, seeing movies about broken, broke folk being themselves can really put me down - especially when you add the god-awful fashions and hairstyles the early '90s brought with them into the mix. Nevertheless, Loach knows his subject (humanity), and depicts them in such a genuinely earnest fashion (so much so that you can't help but think you're watching a documentary at times) that you're compelled to watch - even when you want to turn away - no matter what.

Twilight Time presents this double feature in their original respective aspect ratios (1.33:1 for Riff-Raff, 1.66:1 for Raining Stones) with 1080/MPEG-4 AVC transfers. Seeing as the two films were low-budget movies from the early '90s, one has to allow room for visual imperfections here - and it does happen, mostly in the form of grain. DTS-HD MA lossless 1.0 English soundtracks accompany each title. Sadly, those big white subtitles featured in the American theatrical version of Riff-Raff are nowhere to be seen with either title here, and anyone who has a difficult time with British accents will probably toss their hands up in the air and give up within a matter of minutes.

For the rest of you, however, Twilight Time has included an additional 2.0 DTS-HD MA track that features the score by composer Stewart Copeland and sound effects in an otherwise barebones single-disc release. Liner notes by the great Julie Kirgo are also included for this slice of real life for the more discerning viewer. Twilight Time's Blu-ray release of 2 by Ken Loach: Riff-Raff / Raining Stones is limited to a pressing of 3,000 units, and is available exclusively from Screen Archives.

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