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“Raining Stones,” “The Call of Cthulhu”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Raining Stones,” Koch Lorber]

It has been easy to underestimate and underappreciate Ken Loach, by far the most distinctive, profound and consistent filmmaker to work in Great Britain in the last 40 years. Being British has been something of a twin-edged fighting blade for Loach — just as his films routinely get distributed here (though, due to the muddy brogues and burrs, they do sometimes bear subtitles), it seems that Loach has been largely taken for granted. No one conjures his name when global filmmaking heavyweights are enumerated, even though on the European festival circuit a Loach film is considered a privileged annual event. A hard-bitten ultra-realist, and a Socialist provocateur for whom social activism is more important than cinema, Loach may well be too good at his game for his own good. This year, with his (roughly) 25th feature (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”), Loach again emerged on our shores, displayed his newest prizes from Cannes (he has won more major fest laurels than any other filmmaker alive), got his honorable reviews, and then went home, making precious little dent in the skull of American cinephilia.

We, it could be said, simply do not appreciate realism, when it’s so convincing you can smell the low-rent rooms the actors inhabit, any more than we care for narratives focused morally on the plight of the real working class. Have we been trained thus, by a media industry built upon distracting us from how much we spend on entertainment? Whatever: You survey Loach’s career, and the ambitions and priorities of most American filmmakers look gauche by comparison. It’s also a matter of style: ultra-realism is the most difficult special effect of all, and Loach has unparalleled deftness with naturally lit docudrama veracity, objective camera manner and the expressive grasp of off-frame space. Due to its palm-sized story, “Raining Stones” (1993) might be one of his more overlooked films — despite an almost obligatory Jury Award from Cannes — but it’s paradigmatically Loachian. Set in scrubby Greater Manchester, the movie trails after the hob-kneed efforts of one Bob (Bruce Jones) to earn a buck any way he knows how on the bottom rungs of the capitalist ladder. This starts, for us, as an episode of pratfall-packed sheep rustling with Bob’s rotund, worse-off buddy Tommy (Loach comrade Ricky Tomlinson, who before acting was one of the infamous Shrewsbury Three union members who were jailed in 1972 during a national building strike). Of course, nobody wants to buy the single sheep’s meat once the guys manage to slaughter it. Bob’s troubles earning a living accumulate, but for him a single issue rises above the rest: the absolute need, in his eyes, for his young daughter to wear a new, expensive white dress for her First Communion. To make this happen, Bob scrounges for work, scouts for scams and, eventually, makes the bad mistake of borrowing the money from a loan shark.

“Raining Stones” could be about virtually any mishap, incident or even utterly passive moment in this man’s life — or in the life of his community — and we’d still buy it whole hog, because it looks and feels as real as the tenth worst day of your year. (Still, the bump-&-grind of colloquialism-saturated North English accents makes “Raining Stones,” like “Riff-Raff” and other Loaches, splenetically funny.) Loach tolerates no movie-movie bullshit like American indie-makers often claim to do; if only we had even one lone ranger in our midst to fight so well the good fight.

However undisciplined, our own indies come in all shapes and sizes, including “micro” — as in microcinema, currently the name of a distribution company selling underground cinema on DVD, but also the label given to the new digital DIY independent film, rarely available to a wide audience but thriving nonetheless, making films that cost less than a good car. The lovely, innocent pro-am aura surrounding these films can be bewitching (or, perhaps, it can be to me particularly), especially if it strives to evoke antique form and a sense of primal matinee naiveté. Andrew Leman’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (2005) answers the siren: a “new silent” film, scrupulously faithful to H.P. Lovecraft’s seminal Cthulhu tale (first published in 1928), that runs only 47 minutes but packs enough storytelling and energetic incident to fill out a miniseries. (The film, and its publicity ephemera, is also superbly designed to fit into its period.) Leman and his H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society cohorts cut every corner and freely employ obvious miniatures to tell the tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale, from the Providence streets all the way to the mid-Pacific night (a blanket, scant nods toward a ship set, digitized perspective), the unmapped atoll covered with enigmatic ruins (cardboard, mostly), and the stop-motion appearance of the Old God himself. Call it pulp-geek nostalgia — which by itself seems hardly a dress-down to me — but the movie also actually manages to be creepy, in a cheap, unstable, kids-pretending-in-the-woods kind of way. It is innocent, and that alone makes it special.

“Raining Stones” (Koch Lorber) and “The Call of Cthulhu” (Microcinema) are now available on DVD.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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