Manchester by The Sea: Movie Review


About one third of the way through this, quite long (137 minutes) movie the swelling strings and organ of Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings and Organ in G Minor start to stir and build through 8 minutes and 35 seconds.

Unlike traditional screenplay music the classical piece, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, does not subtly grace the background, it grabs you by the throat and dominates the proceedings to the point, almost, of discomfort.

(Some reviewers feel it is heavy-handed, I felt it was well judged.)

The fact that it is in a minor key and is achingly melancholic bursting with sadness, despair and grief absolutely encapsulates the mood of Lonergan’s creation.

I found these lyrics written for the Adagio and they could in fact be the inspiration for Kenneth Lonergan’s Screenplay although I very much doubt he has seen them…

So turn away!
Turn away, turn away

I am alone, I am alone!
I am alone
I am alone
I am alone

Go turn away, go turn away
Turn away, turn away
Turn away,
Turn me away

Go home!
Gone in darkness
Light, surpasses

All ….
All, is one now!
All, is gone now!
All, is gone
I am gone.

I don’t recall a Hollywood movie so built around grief and that grief is etched into every pore of Casey Affleck’s face. Surely he is a shoe in for best actor at this year’s Oscars.

Lucas Hedges, as his orphaned nephew who Casey Affleck, as Leo – a dead end Janitor – suddenly becomes guardian to after the death of his brother, plays a nuanced role as the troubled teen who can at least find solace in school, sex and band practice; even if his band is dire.

(Actually, there are also a lot of laugh out loud, mainly awkward, moments in it which were entirely unexpected to me.)

It’s  essentially a two header between them although Michelle Williams plays a strong support role, albeit brief in screen time.

To be honest, even calling it a two-header is to downplay the importance of Casey Affleck in this movie.  In truth it is really a study of him alone with supporting characters used ostensibly as dramatic devices and props.

The trailers do not reveal the depth of the storyline, which is devastatingly sad, and for some almost too much to bear.  My wife sobbed almost uncontrollably throughout the third act.

But despite all this, personally, it didn’t quite capture my heart.

Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind.  It’s a great, albeit slightly one dimensional, movie with a brilliant central performance and a strong screenplay with a good ensemble supporting cast, but that’s not enough to make it the movie of the year.

That said, I would strongly recommend it.

Ali Smith: Autumn. Book Review.


“It was the worst of times.  It was the worst of times.”

So begins the first of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, Autumn.

It’s a riff off Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and she returns to it repeatedly in this extended part prose part, almost, poem.

It’s a study on time and it’s an abstract novel in its form and this can be (at times – no pun) quite tedious as she wordsmiths and wordplays her way through pages and even short chapters at a time, but if you can grimace your way through what I imagine most critics will see as the book’s highlights you find yourself immersed in a rather captivating platonic love story about a dying 100 year old single (gay?) man -a poet and songwriter – and a young, precocious English lecturer who has secretly loved him (her childhood neighbour) since she was 8 years old (and he was 75).

Daniel is dying. Elisabeth (sic) is visiting him in his care home and reflecting on their deeply respectful on-off life together, against a backdrop of a dysfunctional mother and an estranged (or dead) father.

Much has been made of this being the first post-Brexit novel but really it’s really a contextual backdrop give that the timeshiftimg story concludes in Autumn 2016 in the wake of Britain’s extremely divisive and frankly ridiculous decision at the polls.

It’s clear Smith shares my political stance and uses her Scottishness to highlight the differences between our green and pleasant land and the carbuncle that is Englandshire.

A feminist strand that runs through it is Smith’s clear admiration for the World’s only (deceased) female Pop Artist, beauty and actor, Pauline Boty, and, in particular, her painting of Christine Keeler: Scandal 63.  An artist of the time but out of her time.  Ignored but found, forgotten, found, forgotten, found, forgotten in the years after her unheralded heyday.


Scandal 63 with the artist, Pauline Boty

At times I found this a challenging read but remarkably it’s also a page turner (it really does race along in very short chapters) and, in that respect that makes it quite an achievement.  I will certainly continue to read the quartet as it emerges.


Does my bum look big in this?  Bum by Pauline Boty.



Obama on the Gettysburg Address.


Can you imagine Trump saying this in an interview with the New York Times in four years’ time?

[Obama: to Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times.]

“I’d put the Second Inaugural up against any piece of American writing — as good as anything. One of the great treats of being president is, in the Lincoln Bedroom, there’s a copy of the Gettysburg Address handwritten by him, one of five copies he did for charity. And there have been times in the evening when I’d just walk over, because it’s right next to my office, my home office, and I just read it.”

My bit(s) for breast cancer reduction?

This award winning case study of a campaign by Argentinian cancer organisation, MACMA, was created in the wake of Facebook and Instagram banning the showing of breasts on their platforms, even, and this was when the controversy really started, when showing women how to self examine for great cancer.

Had I have been asked, I’d likely have said yes, as this brave Argentinian male model did, to step into the breach and find a loophole.

The result is tremendous creativity and genuine originality.

Congratulations MACMA Argentina.

The Freddo investment paradigm.

Today Cadbury owners Mondelez announced that the price of a Freddo Bar is to rise by 20%.  The price hike is being blamed on the rise in the pound in the wake of Britain’s farcical Brexit decision.

A spokesperson for Mondelez said in defence of the move; “Increasing prices is always a last resort, but to ensure we can keep people’s favourite brands on shelf and look after the 4,500 people we employ in the UK, we are having to make some selective price increases across our range.”

But this is a fabrication of Trumplike proportions as research by Think Hard has unearthed this startling graph that shows Freddos have been bankrolling Mondelez for years.


(Source: Vouchercloud)

This startling revelation, unearthed in July 2016, revealed that the cost of a Freddo had outstripped inflation by almost 200% making it a massively lucrative investment.  Indeed, in the period Jan 2000 to July 2015 the FTSE100 had risen by a mere 9% making a Freddo 17 times more effective as an investment than stocks like RBS, Lloyds Banking Group and Ratners.

So it’s even more shocking to see that this 150% rise in value is to be ramped up to a return of 200% when Mondelez and Cadbury get their greedy fingers on the chocolate Rana Temporaria.

It’s clear that investment returns on the Freddo will be anything but temporaria.

Think Hard rating: BUY in large quantities immediately.




La La Land: Movie Review. The greatest movie musical ever made? No spoilers I promise.


A bold statement I admit, when you have to size it up against West Side Story and Singin’ in the Rain.  But from the first bar of Another Day of Sun  – a huge Busby Berkeleyesque number – that erupts on the gridlocked freeways of LA you know you are actually in heaven.

The two central characters, Mia and Sebastian, are introduced at its finale and we set off on a love story like no other.  (Are there even any other actors in the film.  I’ll have to look next time.  Oh yes.  John Legend completely taking the Mickey out of himself.  Tip your hat to him for that.)

Well, it’s like the Umbrellas of Cherbourg actually, but better, so so much better.

There are only actually 7 songs in it.  So it’s quite an unmusical, musical.  And neither Ryan Gosling nor Emma Stone can really properly sing.  But that’s beside the point.

Writer and director Damian Chazelle (Whiplash – another magical movie about jazz) subverts the musical genre by having almost no music in the third and fourth acts.  But it doesn’t matter because now he has a story to tell.

Emma Stone is nothing short of mesmerising.


Those eyes.

That cinematography.

Those costumes.

Ryan Gosling.  A fault free cinema superstar.  He rises eloquently  and handsomely to the occasion.


But even though they are both brilliant this is Damian Chazelle’s movie.  He has the mark of a master with his direction and storytelling.

It even has tap dancing.


I won’t spoil it for you by sharing the full storyline as I knew nothing of it before I went to see it but I confess I was worried about the hype and the knowledge that the leads can’t sing.  There was no need to worry and you shouldn’t either because this movie is about the unique vision of Damian Chazelle.  He is clearly a scholar of big studio big budget musicals and has used the power of Whiplash’s success to create a dream that no-one has been allowed to tamper with.  It’s a deconstruction and reconstruction of everything that makes great musicals great but with the twist outlined above.

City of Stars has already picked up a Golden Globe, and rightly so,  but it’s not even the best song in the movie.

It’s difficult to go much further without spoilers so I’ll leave it at that.

Probably the best musical movie ever made.  I led the applause and went to buy a ticket for the showing immediately after the one I’d seen but circumstances prevented me from watching it back to back.  I’ll have to wait until later this week when it opens properly.

Put it this way I’m now extremely jealous of the 99% of the world’s population who have yet to see La La Land and I beseech you to follow my actions.

A straight 10/10.  No question.

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood: Book Review.


This is a delight.  I stumbled upon it really attracted by the fact that it was compared to Patrick Suskind’s Perfume and the quality reassurances of it being published by Cannongate Books.

First, let’s deal with the Perfume comparisons. They are easily made and reasonably relevant in that the main protagonist is a collector of the tastes of animals, however it does not have the deeply repulsive motives of Perfume’s Grenuille who is essentially a murderer.

Both novels are episodic and short chapterered, and both set during the French mid 18th century Bourgeois Liberal Revolution. Both chronicle a more or less complete lifetime.

In Grimwood’s oddesey our hero (and he is a hero not a villain) Jean-Marie d’Aumont starts life (1723) as a four year old among minor noble stock before falling into care and emerging, in due course, as an aristocrat.  Not the thing to be by the time the novel concludes in 1790.

Grimwood’s style is extremely readable (it’s an absolute page turner) and he’s a great storyteller.  He makes the central character entirely likeable as he rolls his sleeves up, works with the proletariat and treats them with considerably more fairness than the vast majority of his aristocratic peers.  Meanwhile he pursues his penchant for eating everything from Dung Beetles to Flamingos’ tongues.

Unlike his peers he has a generally faithful approach to marriage but this does not stop him having a series of quite erotic dalliances throughout his lifetime.  Like Grenuille, he is intrigued by the essence of women as manifest by their taste and that generally involves exploration of their sexual organs to establish it.

I’m no historian but he creates a strong sense of time and place with a clear unfolding of the build up to the Revolution as the peasantry become more and more unsettled.  In one scene he undergoes a death defying chase from a group of angry charbonnieres.  It’ll make a great scene in what should be the inevitable movie that comes from it.

Oh, and there’s the milky eyed blind Tiger that becomes d’Aumont best friend and most lotyal companion.

All in all a superb novel that appeals on many levels.

Silence: Movie Review. The latest Scorsese filming masterclass. (With some reservations.)


To follow up The Wolf of Wall Street with this movie demonstrates that no director has the sheer vision and chutzpah of Martin Scorsese. We are talking chalk and cheese in extremis here.  Not even P.T. Anderson or Alejandro Iñárritu can match his range.

As each movie goes by he lays greater and greater claims to be the greatest movie director of all time.

But Silence will not be, by any means, top of the popularity list.

Because this is film making borne of extreme passion (clearly the source novel connected with him).

This is a cinematic therapy session, a philosophical 15 rounder and languid, arthouse fare that few will love.

It’s a beast of a movie, weighing in at 2 hours and 41 minutes.  There is no action.  No soundtrack (music) to speak of.  No sex.  In fact hardly any women.

And it’s about the tension of religious powerbroking in 17th century Japan.

For many reviewers I’ve read (and my wife’s view) it’s just plain boring.  And I can understand, but don’t agree with, where they are coming from.  It is incredibly slow.

Scorsese’s lifelong editor, the mighty Thelma Schoonmacker, has either been over-ruled in many places or is complicit in its sheer lack of pace.

Certainly it could be cut in places where some repetition is evident and probably unnecessary.  That said, its pace is its schtick.

The central premise about religion being the root of all the shit the world had to deal with then, and has to deal with now, is highly topical and that’s what makes it an essential movie of our times.

It even-handedly plays out the battle between Buddhism and Khiristianity (sic) and leaves the viewer to decide if religion is the root of all evil or that some religions have more merit than others.  Given Scorsese’s Catholic upbringing this is an impressive feat.  I know not whether he remains a believer or an abstainer, but either way this could have made for an overplayed hand either for or against Christianity.  The fact that the movie is neither is to his huge credit and gives it it’s real moral backbone.

It’s roundly well performed, the cinematography has a lot of merit and the overall production values are excellent.

But this is not entertainment as such; this is a slog.  A reason to appreciate cinema.  It’s notable that StudioCanal is behind it.  Surely the greatest contributor in recent times to arthouse cinema.

There are no laughs in this.  None AT ALL.  But it is a venerable movie. And I loved it on many levels.

And put it this way, it sparked a pretty intense post movie debate about the merits of religion then and now.