Blu-ray Review: 2 by Ken Loach: Riff-Raff / Raining Stones - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Celebrated for his low-key depictions of average, working class UK citizens, director Ken Loach may not be a household name but he’s well regarded by art house cinema buffs. Boutique label Twilight Time has recently honored Loach by including two of his films in their Limited Edition series (only 3,000 copies issued). The good news? Both films are presented together as a double-feature offering, 2 by Ken Loach. The earlier of the pair is 1991’s Riff-Raff, while Raining Stones was released in 1993. Both were honored with prestigious festival prizes upon release and both will appeal to a decidedly limited audience.

The more approachable of the two is Raining Stones, if only because it offers an instantly recognizable, relatable plot hook. Bob (Bruce Jones) and Anne (Julie Brown, not either of the ‘80s-era MTV Julie Browns) are downtrodden parents of young daughter Coleen (Gemma Phoenix). Her first communion is fast approaching and Bob, in a misguided effort to be the best daddy he can be, insists she be outfitted in a top of the line, fashionable dress for the event. He and Anne are flat broke and, with the help of loyal buddy Tommy (Ricky Tomlinson), schemes are enacted to acquire the funds needed to purchase a new dress. Secondhand won’t do, even though Father Barry (Tom Hickey) wisely suggests Bob consider that route.

2 by Ken Loach cover (168x220).jpgWhat makes Raining Stones such an effective story is that most of us can relate to committing the sin of pride. Bob will go to nearly any length to get his daughter that fancy dress, with little things like laws not being a deterrent. Loach and screenwriter Jim Allen keep things realistic and utterly believable throughout, especially as things take a scary turn when some particularly nasty loan sharks get involved. Perhaps in a perfect world, Bob would sit his daughter down and explain that we can’t always have the best of everything, and that maybe a communion dress isn’t the most important thing in the world. But at the same time, it’s hard not to be touched on some level by what this dress symbolizes to Bob and his family.

Riff-Raff a far rawer experience, one that centers on the rough and tumble realities for a group of penniless construction workers. Robert Carlyle stars as the generally gentle but desperately poor Patrick, aka Stevie (easier to evade taxes when using a pseudonym). Given Carlyle’s richly deserved following as one of the most consistently interesting actors working in film and TV today, Riff-Raff has a built-in audience for those rabid to digest all of his work. He’s miles away, tonally, from his breakthrough role as Begbie in Trainspotting just five years later. In fact, he’s much closer to his character in The Full Monty, but Loach’s portrait of the UK’s downtrodden has none of the cute, cuddliness of Peter Cattaneo’s film.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd shot both films, neither of which was a slick studio production. Grain is epic, particularly with Riff-Raff, but that’s simply the way these films look. A great Blu-ray presentation is one that remains true to the filmmakers’ original intentions (or in some cases, limitations). These aren’t pretty films, but they well represented here. I’ll take the unique visual character of the previous generation’s low-budget offerings over the generically “perfect” digital sheen of today’s low-budget films any day. Both films have lossless DTS-HD MA mixes (mono for Riff, 2.0 stereo for Raining) that also reflect their respective budgetary constraints. Fidelity is probably as good as we can hope for, though English subtitles (absent in both cases) would’ve helped many of us yanks.

Music and effects mixes are presented for both films, which is great news for fans of The Police drummer Stewart Copeland. He composed both scores and the isolated tracks afford the opportunity to study them. Otherwise, Julie Kirgo’s booklet essay constitutes the only additional material included.

While these carefully observed, often depressing, and occasionally funny films are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, those with a taste for Loach’s distinctive style will need to add 2 by Ken Loach: Riff-Raff / Raining Stones to their collection. Visit the official site of Twilight Time’s exclusive distributor, Screen Archives, for ordering information.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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