The Hippodrome, Boness


Tonight I finally got along to see a movie at The Hippodrome in Bo’ness.  If you live anywhere within 20 miles of this magnificent establishment I urge you to make it your first choice cinema.

It is simply beautiful.  All red velvet, art deco signage and great strip lights in the floor, not to mention the star spangled ceiling (an utter delight in itself).

At 102 years old it is the oldest purpose built cinema in the land but has been lovingly refurbished and kitted out with the latest digital technology.

The seats are comfortable.

It’s cosy.

It has, wait for it…a Balcony!

The ticket price is affordable (only £5.85). And they do Orange Wednesdays.

The drinks and ice creams are remarkably cheap.  Wine and coffee for about a fiver.

The staff are charming.

There’s free parking

But the best thing is, it’s like you’ve gone back in time to how cinema ought to be.

The find of the year by far, so far.

Think The Diving Bell and The Butterfly meets 40 Year old Virgin and you still won’t be close

21 hours a day.  No wonder he wants to get his rocks off.

21 hours a day. No wonder he wants to get his rocks off.

This is a remarkable hidden gem of a movie directed with grace and understatement by Ben Lewin, a 67 year old director whose career has little in the way of highlights or recognition.  Until now that is.

His main protagonists, John Hawkes who was Oscar nominated for Winter’s Bone, Helen Hunt (who won one for As Good as it Gets) and William H Macy (Fargo nomination) tell a story as touching as any you will ever see that tries to make sense of whether sex out of wedlock as a (disabled) Catholic can be tolerated by those of great faith.

The good news?  It can.

What makes this trio of understated performances so remarkable is that they are all so extreme, yet constrained.

Firstly, John Hawkes (Mark) plays a 38 year old quadriplegic (a consequence of childhood polio), with a fine sense of humour, who lives 21 hours a day in an iron lung and desires nothing more than to have full penetrative sex and yet does not turn the role into a freakshow.

Secondly, Helen Hunt  spends much of the movie completely naked (as brave as it gets at 49) teaching Mark how to suck her nipples effectively, perform passable cunnilingus and generally satisfy her and himself – she’s a sex therapist.

And thirdly, William H Macy plays a cool dude Catholic priest that assumes the role of God, granting Mark the dispensation to get his rocks off free from the guilt of mortal sin.

What’s more, the supporting cast all put in excellent and mostly touching shifts that add to the overall quality of the movie.

It’s in places hilarious (although Seth MacFarlane would hardly agree), breathtakingly taboo (without offending anyone – including the four pensioners sat behind us) and moving.

What makes it work so wonderfully is what it doesn’t do or say.  Whilst issues surrounding morality must sit full square at the centre of the (based on true) story it’s not hammered home.  It makes no judgement and that’s in no small part down to the skill of director Lewin.

Very few people have seen this movie, more’s the pity, and the screening we saw was achingly badly attended.  Nonetheless it cost only $1m to make and grossed a modest (but profitable) $5m in the US.  I think it’s a sleeper of potentially Sideways proportions that will, over time, make the funders very large returns as its absolute honesty and sincerity wins it advocates like me.

Anne Hathaway is unbettable for Best Supporting actress at this year’s big hooley and she is by a distance the best thing about Les Miserables, but it’s a cameo role.  This, on the other hand, is a career defining moment for Hunt who would win every day in my book.  And I may indeed have a small wager on her at 25/1.

The sportswriter by Richard Ford


This is not an easy book to read.  It took me several months. The plot is relatively thin and it it wanders in and out of the structure throughout.  But that doesn’t stop it taking its place at the top table of American 20th century fiction along with the likes of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections,and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and No country for Old men (even if they are 21st Century), John Irving’s Owen Meaney, Cider House Rukes and A Widow for one Year and Wally Lamb’s I know this much is true..  It felt a little like The Fight by Norman Mailer in that it is an intense study of one man, Sportswriter Frank Bascombe as his life gently unravels.

It’s great because it gets under the skin of being a man, not by creating hyperbolic scenarios, but by sensitively and meaningfully deconstructing a man’s views as things go (a bit) wrong.  We deal in turns with love (and lust) the breakdown of marriage and the possibility that life can go on without it turning into a major trauma, homosexuality, the death of one’s child, writers block, companionship, the personal sense of place and worth, religion and suicide.  It does all of this without ever appearing forced.  In fact the prose is so stunningly well written, poetic in fact, that it takes ones breath away at times.

Often it can be dense and paragraphs need read over again but it’s worth the effort to consume these 350 or so pages of literary magic.

Independence Day (the second in a trilogy about the main protagonist) is apparently even better.

Zero Dark Thirty


Jessica Chastain’s performance as “Agent” Maya is as restrained as Kathryn Bigelow’s direction of one of the most monumental moments in detective and military history.

It’s so restrained (as is the direction) that one almost thinks it’s for real.

I honestly can’t imagine how two men could have taken the story of UBL (Osama Bin Laden) being meticulously hunted down and killed and made it as restrained and yet still menacing as this absolute triumph of a movie.  But Bigelow and Chastain do just that.

Chastain, hard as nails, yet soft as silk, throughout, carries the movie with so much ease it’s like she isn’t actually acting.  She is miraculous.  But only because Bigelow affords her the space to breathe, the edit to breathe, the whole idea to breathe with such subtlety that it’s almost as if there IS NO DIRECTOR.

Is this documentary or drama?

There’s been much made about the depiction of torture (especially water-boarding) in the first reel that it sounded to me like I was about to embark on a torture-porn outing.  Believe none of that.  This is no torture porn movie.  The only porn is what inspired it.  Yes, the beginning is uncomfortable, but it is considered, restrained and important in the storytelling.

For two hours this astonishing piece of film does next to nothing other than scratch away at the forensics of tracking down the most untrackable mass murderer in history before exploding into the dimmest lit, scariest half hour of action you’ll see in any action movie.  And you know the outcome.  Weird.

It IS a documentary really.

Character development is minimal and storytelling is at best sketchy, off camera, challenging to the viewer (but that’s what’s so involving about it).

It’s pindrop territory – I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a quiet cinema audience.  Popcorn eating would have incited a riot in our multiplex.

James Gandolfini makes his second cameo performance this year in an Oscar nominated movie (after Argo) and it shows that he is politically connected  and wise of late career choice.  Soon, perhaps, we’ll see him in full-bodied, lead role political material.

Two hours in, the first bars of music creep into the soundtrack.  The effect is electrifying.  It almost immediately disappears before re-emerging in the credits. It’s that kinda film where music seems unimaginable, yet Alexandre Despal’s contribution is vital.

The final scene sees Chastain reflect on her achievement.  Her tears were echoed by mine.

A monumental achievement in cinema.


Life of Pi

I'd be tempted to give life of Pi this score out of 3 (3.14159265
09) but it so annoys me when people talk about giving 110% that I 
just can't do it.

So, instead, I'll just have to settle for an old fashioned 9/10. 
Now, let's get this straight.  Life of Pi has just shown that there
 is life left in 3D.  It may be, on the whole, a gimmick but the 
exception can still prove the point.  Only two movies have made 
the 3D entrance fee worth the extra IMHO, Avatar and this. 

It's a tough movie for bibliophiles to even want to see because the book is so magnificent (in my all time top ten probably) and many 
I've spoken to who love it equally are just downright scared that 
Ang Lee was going to blow it.  The odds were strongly in favour of 
 that happening because it's a pretty full on philosophical workout. 
 So full credit has to go to Fox pictures for shelling out $120 million
on the ultimate movie gamble. 

How Ang manages to retain the existential angst of the book AND make 
a blockbuster movie that holds the attention from start to finish 
(yes, including the pretty turgid first 100 pages) is not only anyone's 
guess but a cinematic achievement of considerable merit. 

It's the storytelling that wins the day but it's wrapped up in 
cinematography of the very highest order.  So many times one gasps out 
loud at what's on screen that it's like a day out in a theme park. 
Surely the Oscar for this is certain to go to Claudio Miranda 
(Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac, Benjamin Button). 

The acting is universally good but it's the tiger, Richard Parker, 
and his four legged companions that really steal the show.  CGI 
has never, ever been this good. This might sound like it's the 
technology that carries the movie but don't think that.  It's an 
honest, stunning exploration of the true meaning of life, 
religion and truth and it’s an absolute must see.  

I would not discount it winning best movie come early March and 
I certainly wouldn't grudge it.  

Ang Lee's finest hour.