Joker: Movie review


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“A gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society” is IMDB’s excellent byline description of this deep exploration of disintegrating (disintegrated?) mental health.

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It’s described as taking place in the ‘Scorseseverse’ by some critics, in that Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck appears to be an homage to many of Scorsese’s monumental 70’s characters.  And what’s more, De Niro has a supporting role that shows he still can deliver the goods when not just taking a part for the money.

So I’ve already used the M word and in this Academy Award winning performance (of that there is no doubt) Joaquim Phoenix’s monumental performance will put the Academy back on track after their laughable decision to recognise Rami Malek for impersonating Freddie Mercury last year.

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I detest impersonation movies on the whole, but this is no impersonation, this is a character crafted out of magic.  It’s not a superhero movie in the slightest and all the better for it. It’s simply a character study of great depth and extreme nuance.

One thing I loved about this intense study of a disintegrating man is the extreme close ups that shows Phoenix in all his imperfections, his upper lip, his wonky teeth, his chewed finger nails, his nicotine stained fingers (possibly make-up).  It’s glorious.

It is unquestionably a masterpiece, not just for Phoenix’s performance, but for every SINGLE aspect of cinema:  music (White Room by Cream blasts out of the screen in the final apocalyptic act to tremendous effect – but it’s outstanding throughout), make-up (stunning), costume (stunning), cinematography (stunning – the dance on the steps and the aerial train track shot particularly blew me away), design (epic) and direction (Todd Phillips follows up his epic production, but not direction, of A Star Is Born remarkably It’s interesting looking at Todd Phillips’ Filmography though – a real mixed bag with much of it centred on comedy – The Hangover in particular.)

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But you don’t need me to tell you  how good this movie is – you don’t get a 9.1 rating on IMDB without reason.

See it and bathe in its mastery.

A Star Is Born (2018 v 4.0): Movie Review.


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That Lady Gaga can come out of the blocks like this, on her movie acting debut, is nothing short of remarkable. She gives the currently almost peerless Bradley Cooper (four Oscar nominations, soon to be six I’d suggest) a close run in who is the stand out talent in this epic and beautiful movie (encompassing, as it does, both Coachela and Glastonbury on its flightpath).

This is a great movie, a classic Hollywood blockbuster with no pretentious of arthouse glory, just great storytelling, great acting, great directing (Cooper), great cinematography and great music (Cooper again, and Gaga).

Frankly, what is there not to love in that list?

I won’t bore you with the plot, we all know it, but the thing that counts in this is the relationship between the two leads – virtually no-one else really matters; other than to propel the storyline along.  This is ALL about Gaga and Cooper who are electrifying from the second they meet.

If they are not both Oscar nominated I will be astounded because this is an uncanny love affair between two actors that seem, in love.

Gaga’s willingness to loudly declare her physical kinks, specifically her considerable nose only makes her more believable, more loveable and, in fact, more beautiful.  Few would call Gaga a poster girl, her looks are unorthodox in the beauty stakes, but the endless intense close ups of her warts and all features make her tremendously endearing.

Bradley Cooper, by contrast, is as handsome as it is possible to imagine with his piercing blue eyes, interesting new facial hair and a torso to kill for.

He directs this simple story with simplicity.  At all times less is more and he manages, brilliantly, in the second act, to downplay Gaga’s fame with superbly unloveable material.  The fact is, her success is gained by bypassing her natural talent and fabricating a stage persona that is so underwhelming as to make you gasp (well done Rafi Gavin on odiously achieving that feat on her behalf).

Cooper’s jealousy is never melodramatic and his portrayal of drug and drink induced stupor is profoundly believable.

I was constantly on the edge of tears during this movie, because it’s achingly endearing and a true work of art.

100% and unreservedly recommended.

 

The Shape of Water: Movie Review.


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The Faberge Egg:  A thing of undoubted beauty, extremely costly but serving no real purpose.

So it is with The Shape of Water.

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Constantly Guillermo del Toro leaves me disappointed.  Pan’s Labrynth especially and now this much hyped ‘masterpiece’.  Both miss the target by some distance for me. (I’ll give you, he nailed it in both Cronos – a long time ago now – and Hellboy.)

There’s much to like about The Shape of Water (but NOT the music which is standard fare and I’m puzzled as to why it won the BAFTA).  The design is superb, it really is a sumptuous feast both in period detail, cinematography and mood and the sets are great.

Sally Hawkins is fine in the role of a mute who falls in love with a fishy ‘monster’ but why, oh why, does she need to get full frontal naked and masturbate in her bath in the opening scenes of the movie.  Wholly gratuitous.

Octavia Spencer puts in a decent shift in the supporting female role but, oh my gosh, this is not an Oscar-worthy performance. (Exactly the same can be said about the mystifying nomination for Mary J. Blige in Mudbound – I’ll leave you to your own conclusions on why these were Academy nominated.)

Both the male leads are on form; Michael Shannon as the nasty finder and torturer of the fish man and Richard Jenkins as Hawkins’ neighbourly friend and the narrator; an alcoholic, cat-loving, adman fallen on hard times.

My biggest criticism lies with the script, or more correctly, the plot which has holes the size of the budget (actually, on checking it was only $19.4m, so my Faberge analogy is stretched a little.  Author’s note:  Faberge Eggs sell from around $6m to $33m.)

OK it’s a fantasy movie but it’s pretty silly really and stretches credibility throughout.

I wanted to like this, I really did and I don’t dislike it, it’s just so fundamentally flawed that its 13 Oscar nods verge on ludicrous.  I don’t think it will take home more than three (I wouldn’t give it any with a possible exception for design) – Best Movie most certainly should not be one of them.

Get Out. Movie Review.


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Once in a while a movie comes along that takes a genre by the scruff of the neck and vigorously shakes it into a new shape.

This is so with Get Out, a horror movie (so the marketing blurb says) that lobs a few horror tropes into a lean and mean 104 minute thriller.  But it is really a social observation on the insidiousness of racism.  It comes out the other end as a unique movie offering.

It borrows from Pacific Heights, Psycho, Michael Haneke’s astonishing Party Games and sub-horror-porn like Saw without ever being any of them.

Without resorting to spoilers its one gigantic twist from start to finish that realises the fears of a young black American guy on a trip to the country to meet his wealthy WASP girlfriend’s family on a celebration weekend.  Every sentence uttered by every character becomes a retrospective clue as to what the outcome will be.

Given it’s described as a ‘horror’ you can expect a deal of nasty stuff in a climactic ending.  What director and screenwriter Jordan Peele (amazingly a debut outing) most cleverly does is apply Hitchcockian tension so that 89 minutes of tension are realised in a mere 15 minutes of terror in such a way that the nasty bits don’t (as so often is the case) outstay their welcome.

Superb performances all round from the five principal actors, but especially boyfriend and girlfriend Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams (Girls).

It’s should be no surprise that this has been both BAFTA and Golden Globes nominated, but it is because this genre rarely reaches this level of critical acclaim.

It’ll get Oscar nods too.

Fences: Movie Review


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I feel a little mean criticising a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony winning play that has now become a movie.   In the 2016 stage revival of the 1983 August Wilson play, both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, the movie’s stars,  picked up best actor awards for their performances, alongside fellow actors Stephen Henderson (Bono), Mykelti Williamson (Gabe) and Russell Hornsby (Lyons).

But, and here’s the rub. This is very much a play.  Not a movie.

Ever seen a good movie version of All my Sons, A view from the Bridge, Death of a Salesman? (A minor success of the latter hit our screens in 2000, winning a couple of Golden Globes, but nothing of significance from the Miller pen has made the cut in the last 50 years.)

That’s because Miller, like Wilson, wrote for the stage.  Long, often deeply allegorical speeches populate both of their plays about life, the universe, family, honour, duty, human fragility and responsibility.  Meaty subjects that work in the intimacy of theatre where you can almost smell the actor’s vulnerability.

Hats off to Denzel Washington for taking a modern theatre classic, crafted very much in  the style of Arthur Miller, and attempting to recreate that dramatic tension on the screen. Incidentally it has taken 35 years to reach us because August Wilson strictly instructed that this ultimate of ‘Black’ plays could only be directed on screen by a ‘black’ director.

But, my overall criticism is that, from the opening extended and overly vernacular scene (for my ears) which is a dialogue between Troy (Washington) Bono (Henderson) and Rose (Davis), this feels like a stage production with a few wide angle shots and locations thrown in.

(As an aside, in the first scene the continuity person needs a rocket as the levels in the very obvious ‘pint’ of gin that Troy shares goes up and down like a yo-yo.  A criminal mistake given that the prop is central to illustrate Troy’s dependence on alcohol.)

The play’s title is a full-on allegory about the role of the fence that Troy laboriously builds throughout the play (something Donald Trump might surely prick his ears up to).  On the one hand it’s a physical and protective barrier (Trump’s not much cop at complex allegories so that’s him out of the way now) on the other it’s both an emotional barrier representing Troy’s inability to accept his sons’ affections and a shield to the Grim Reaper who stalks his life.

Both Washington and Davis are excellent in their roles, as are the supporting ensemble, but I could not escape, almost at any point, the fact that this felt a cheat. A pirate movie for those of us who couldn’t see it (like me) in the theatre, where it should be seen.  It made me distinctly uncomfortable.

It’s like watching pop stars mime in film studios.  Somehow fake, unreal, unworthy.

For all its strengths I’m reminded of a quote by a former Hibernian FC manager, Bobby Williamson, a dull and forgettable man in any other scheme of things.

He uttered the immortal sentence, after another 0 – 0 draw,  “If you want entertainment, go to the theatre.”

That’s how I saw this production.

Manchester by The Sea: Movie Review


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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

Alone!
Damned!
Go home!
Gone in darkness
Light, surpasses

All ….
All, is one now!
All, is gone now!
All, is gone
Truthfully
Truthfully
Truthfully
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.

Joy; Movie Review.


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In 1990 Joy Mangano invented the Miracle Mop.

It was a complete flop and nearly bankrupt her and her family in the process.

The US shopping channel’s top sales on screen sales people couldn’t work it and so her ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to make her millions turned into standing on the cusp of losing them instead.

So she took matters into her own hands.  She asked QVC to let her sell her mops herself on screen explaining  “I’m just like everybody else out there. I’m a mom, I work, I have a house to clean, things to organize. We all have certain similar needs, and I address them.”  This came across in a very real and engaging way on QVC and the rest was history.  She is now a $3 x billionaire.

In Joy, Jennifer Lawrence puts in a performance that not only captures this spectacular rags to riches story but breaks your heart along the way.

There really only is one Jennifer Lawrence with her myriad looks, faces and delightfully subtle intonations.  JLaw is a force of nature.

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So too is David O. Russell, her doting director, who has now cast her in his last three excellent movies, including Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle (and, in all three, he places the brilliant Bradley Cooper alongside her).

Always, the effect is cinematic magic.

No less so here despite the relatively lukewarm reaction from IMDB voters and critics alike. (How can this be so?)

The script appears to takes many liberties with the true life story for both comic and dramatic effect, but who cares it’s a movie.

The ensemble gathered around J Law’s star vehicle performance also include a rejuvenated Robert De Niro as her morally dubious father, Isabella Rossellini (no really), Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen and Elisabeth Rohm (as her rather hateful half sister).

It works.

Three, maybe four, times this movie made me completely fill up, not because of the fantastic human story but because of the remarkable performance by Jennifer Lawrence and the stunning direction of her by Russell.

Ignore the critics.

Just, not this one.

You’ll thank me.

 

The Salt of the Earth : documentary review.


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You may not consider a two hour documentary, that is in large part a slideshow of Brazilian Social photographer Sebastião Salgado’s portfolio, featuring many, many dead and mutilated bodies, a significant proportion of them children and babies would be the recipe for entertainment but, trust me, it is.

This movie, co-directed and produced by Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, should be essential viewing for anyone with any interest in humanity, humanitarian aid and politics because the vast bulk of it covers Salgado’s career as a  social photographer who specialised in capturing images of large populations of the displaced and downtrodden or victims of natural disaster and war.  This takes in Eritrea, Rwanda, Kosovo, the Oil fires of Kuwait, left in Saddam’s wake, and the biblical and truly epic nature of his most famous work; the gold mines of Brazil where up to 50,000 men gold prospected in deep pits of mud.

Wender narrates and Salgado Jr and Hugo Barbier share cinematography duties.  That’s no small undertaking as they are filming a master at work and in the flesh, but somehow their cameras are every bit as inspiring as Salgado Sr’s.

As the film develops we see where this fame has taken Salgado, back to his native Brazil where he has established  a conservation project of such dramatic scale that it has been transformed into a natural park.  It’s a remarkable achievement.

Salgado’s photography places him in the most esteemed company in photographic history (with Ansell Adams he ranks as my personal favourite – coincidentally both photograph strictly in monochrome).  What makes this tribute so moving is Salgado’s personal reminiscences of how he witnessed children die and wars that are so utterly pointless.

At one point we see an image of a man placing his dead baby onto a vast pile of dead bodies – of Holocaust proportions.  Salgado says, and I paraphrase, “He turned away almost chatting to his friend so inured was he to the horror in which he was living.”

Towards the end it all gets too much for him, he very nearly breaks down.  The audience is with him the way.

This is a must see film.  Really must see on so many levels.  A straight 10/10.

Whiplash – movie review


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As the end credits rolled I let out an uncontrollable cheer and burst into spontaneous applause.

It wasn’t a film festival premiere, it was a cold Saturday matinee in Edinburgh in early January.

But I had been emotionally unravelled.  I’d been through the wringer and had come out the other end a whooping fan boy.

Exhausted, I staggered from the cinema gasping for breath.  How on earth could a movie about a Jazz teacher and his drumming protege elicit such a visceral reaction? It’s hard to say why because on the surface (subject aside) there is little that’s fundamentally original about the movie’s structure.  But what there is, is two absolutely gut-wrenching and enthralling performances that smash your emotions all over the cinema.  Hits to the solar plexus are about the size of it.

The story concerns the relationship between a 19 year old drumming major in his first year at North America’s best music conservatory and his desire to succeed at almost any cost in carving out a springboard and a shop window for a future career as a ‘Lincoln Centre’ core member.

His tutor is, if anything, even more focused than he is, and certainly as unforgiving and intolerant of anything less than perfection as it’s possible to be.

The result is a fascinating emotional power struggle, shot through with manipulation by both protagonists.

Much has been said about JK Simmons’ barbaric performance as the tutor and Jazz Studio conductor who has expectations the height of Everest.  But far less credit has been given to the equally powerful turn by his pupil played by Miles Teller.  Simmons simply could not have achieved the heights he has without this perfect foil.

The film smoulders from the opening scene and aside from Simmons and Teller pretty much nothing else matters (other than Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich et al whose canon of work is electrifyingly brought to life by the Studio Jazz Band that Teller so wants, no needs, to join).

Much of it consists of boot camp scenarios where imperfections are punished again and again and again.  It’s these scenes that create the unbearable tension.  But punctuating these are the human side of it – like Teller’s inability to build any relationships at all, other than with his single father.  Drumming is always more important.  And not just drumming; but drumming fame.

Do not let the subject matter put you off.

Do not let the fact that this is a jazz infused hour and a half, much of it in performance put you off.

This really is a very special movie indeed and fully deserves a straight ten rating.

12 Years a slave. A landmark cinematic achievement.


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Steve McQueen, the actor, all steely ice blue eyes, furrowed brow and golden locks was a Holywood legend, “The King of Cool”.  His filmography is impressive (The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, Papillon, Magnificent Seven and Towering Inferno) yet the Academy only recognised him with a single nomination for his leading role, in the lesser known 1966 movie The Sand Pebbles, which he failed to convert.

No lifetime achievement awards either.  Nada.

And yet his name pervades popular culture as toweringly as the inferno he escaped from.

Fast forward to 2008 and and his namesake and former visual artist, (he was the official Iraq War artist in 2003) makes his feature movie bow.

By then McQueen already has an OBE (2002)  to his name, for services to the arts, before he even sat in a director’s chair -he won the highly prestigious Turner prize in 1999.

In 2011 he added a CBE to his honours.

Today he may be on the cusp of eclipsing the achievements of his illustrious predecessor.

McQueen honed his craft by making no fewer than 20 shorts before emabarking on Hunger; his breathtaking debut feature that tells the story of Bobby Sands and the “Dirty Protests” in Belfast’s Maze prison, with his, so far, ubiquitous right hand man, Michael Fassbender.

Shame, in 2011, continued his elevation to directorial greatness in a shocking tale of sexual addiction.

For me, it is something of a surprise that neither Hunger, nor Shame, were recognised in the best movie categories of either the BAFTAs or The Oscars, but that is all about to change with 12 Years a Slave.  Indeed it already has 10 nominations at the BAFTAs and surely chief amongst them is McQueen’s.

Whatever you may think of the movie itself it’s the point of it that deserves most attention and applause.  Now, that sounds worthy but it shouldn’t be seen as such because it is not just a monumental piece of filmmaking, but one with purpose, vision and bravery.

The first EVER feature film about slavery.  How can that be?

The politics of America that’s how.

Sure, Tarantino made a brilliant pastiche of slavery last year with Django Unchained, and for those of us of a certain age Roots long lives in our memory (but that was a TV series).  So too, Lincoln focussed heavily on the issue, but not the experience.

This, however, is a full on cinematic release described by one reviewer as the “greatest film ever made” that unswervingly captures the experience of one man kidnapped from a life of freedom, of privelage, in 1841 New York and transported to the sweltering cotton and sugar cane fields of the deep south.

What follows is almost two hours of unremitting injustice, backache, torture and frustration as the aforementioned Solomon Northup tries to prove his status as a free man, fighting injustice when he can but more often than not having to suffer in silence to protect his very existance.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, in the title role, is on screen throughout, sweating like no actor I’ve ever seen, in the oppresesive Southern heat and humidity.

His performance is both proud and defiant and as the movie progresses increasingly moving.

Once again Fassbender commands the screen as evil plantation and slave owner, Edwin Epps, but at times scenes are stolen by his super-evil wife played by Sarah Paulsen.

Brad Pitt scoops an important cameo role, perhaps thanks to his role as Executive Producer and, by all accounts, he is one of the main catalysts for the movie to happen.  It’s only fair that his character is a catalyst for the resolution of the movie.

Benedict Cumberbatch also puts in another fine cameo performance as the one “good guy” plantation owner and initial “owner” of Solomon Northup.  The counterpoint between him and the rabid plantation overseer Paul Dano is excellent.

Other supporting roles are well played but this is essentially Ejiofor and Fassbender’s movie.

No, it’s not actually, it’s McQueen’s.

This is a masterclass in direction with foot perfect cinematography and a very good score by Hans Zimmer.  The movie’s perfectly paced, with just the right amount of lingering mood and tense action.  One scene in which Fassbender’s concubine is whipped to within an inch of her life is truly appaling.  You flinch at every stroke. By contrast the scene where Northup simply turns his head right to left, up and down, as if to say “help” is breathtaking in its simplicity and resonance.

It WILL go down in history as an important document of America’s deepest guilt that festers even today, and McQueen WILL win both his first Oscar and a Knighthood.

Above all else though, it is a great, really great, movie.

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.

Django Unchained.


Yes, that really IS Samuel L. Jackson.

Yes, that really IS Samuel L. Jackson.

I’m not qualified to comment on the historical authenticity of Quentin Tarantino’s fully committed depiction of black American slavery in 1858 but I’m as qualified as anyone else to share with you why I, personally, think  this is another significant contribution to one of the greatest movie directing careers of all time.

With Django (the D’s silent you know) Tarantino cements his position in the top 10.

This is epic, just as Kill Bill (1 and 2) was, and proves that long movies don’t have to be padded out indulgences.  It grows in its impact with every scene and ends up a classic.

Spike Lee has problems with the depiction of slavery and I have to respect that as I, like Tarantino, am Caucasian.  At times it does seem to mock the plight of America’s black slaves but I feel sure that Samuel L Jackson (virtually unrecognisable) and Jamie Foxx saw more than a wage in choosing to star in it and I’m sure too that the judges of the Black Reel Awards which have given it six nominations are qualified to judge it on its merits as opposed to its politics.

Although described as a (spaghetti) western this is really a movie about slavery and not since ‘Roots’ has African American slavery been so prominently featured on screen.  Tarantino does not shy away from the subject matter or the vernacular of the time.  “Nigger” is used over 100 times in the script and not just by the slaves.  I had to refer to my copy of Filthy English: The How, Where, When and What of Everyday Swearing by Pete Silverton to establish whether or not MotherF@£$%er was currency in 1858 but there is evidence that points to its validity.  Just as well, because Samuel L J can’t really get through a movie without saying it repeatedly and he does so again, liberally.

There’s an early scene in which predecessors of the Ku Klux Klan hunt down Jamie Foxx, the freed slave and “black man on a horse!” who is bounty hunting with ex Dentist, Dr King Schultz (played entirely idiosyncratically by Christoph Waltz), their depiction is so funny that one has to question whether or not it’s really acceptable to laugh so uproariously at a subject matter so taboo; but that’s Tarantino’s gift.  It’s also his gift to spoof genres, mock convention (and history) mount lavish killing sprees and generally have a grand old time no matter the subject matter and that’s why we love him so.

Django is great fun, some say it’s too long but for me the movie simply got itself into a place (a little slowly I’d say) that fans of Tarantino would want to stay for hours.

Leonardo Di Caprio has not been this good since The Departed, (strangely not an Oscar nomination) and Jamie Foxx acquits himself well in a low-key, black Eastwood type performabnce.  But it’s Waltz that dominates in the acting stakes and his Oscar nod is fair reward.  There’s only one Chrisoph Waltz that’s for sure (and there’s plenty of it if you care to look – 101  acting roles to date to be precise.)

So, a little flawed (the start fails to quickly engage in gear) but unique and brilliant.  Go see it and forget the politics.  It’s a movie.

You can’t argue with the Metacritic poll of polls


Unless of course you don’t respect music critics.

Whatever you think I usually find Metacritic’s year ending poll of polls pretty reasonable evidence of what was best in a year and there is some sort of science to it.

Here it is…

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By a country mile the Princely/Stevie Wonderey Channel Orange by Frank Ocean has won followed by another American Dance record (they do tend to dominate thanks to the profusion of rap magazines that have a vote).

Top of the rockers is Australian Beatles throwbacks Tame Impala and very good it is too (it won the NME poll).

Surprise of the year (to me anyway) has to be the showing of little talked about Fiona Apple’s fourth album  “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.”

My own personal favourite “Django Django” languishes in joint 23rd place without a single poll win.  Weird.

They do the same with movies…

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This too is interesting.  I’ve not seen the winning film, Katherine Bigelow’s Obama capture movie Zero Dark Thirty but I hear amazing things of it.  The Master (which I adored but divided audiences and critics alike) takes more winning slots but loses by a fair distance by virtue of being totally excluded from too many lists.

Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s latest, hasn’t made it to the UK yet I don’t think.  If it has it passed me buy and comes in third.  Likewise Lincoln ain’t here yet but it looks like a straight shoot out for the titular character’s portrayal by Daniel Day Lewis and Joaquin Pheonix for best Actor at The Oscars.

I actually only saw 6 of the movies on the list albeit at least 6 are unreleased so far in the UK.  My own favourite?  Argo, closely followed by The Master and then Beasts of the Southern Wilds.

In the shadow of all the King’s speech “the British are coming” claptrap there are a couple of overlooked gems.


It’s actually an Australian/UK co production driven by the Australian See Saw Productions/Films but I don’t want to be a pedant here.

And it’s pretty good too.

In fact in some ways it has become something of a phenomenon with applause ringing out across the land after each screening.

But it’s not all that is good about British cinema right now.  Putting to one side NEDS let’s focus on two Oscar nominees that I have read not a jot about in the past two weeks; Banksy’s Exit through the Gift Shop which I have yet to see but rates very highly on IMDB and Silvain Chomet’s The Illusionist.

Edinburgh is the star of this delightful movie.

Closely followed by the Highlands of Scotland

Lovely period detail

Whilst I liked The Illusionist more in my heart than my head, the fact that it has garnered an Oscar nomination should not be overlooked.

From a selfish point of view I wish it well because I know the producer, Bob Last, pretty well as he was our landlord when we established my first company, 1576.

It’s a charming, whimsical tale by the director of Belle Ville Rendezvous and it was largely created in Scotland (Edinburgh and Dundee). However it’s deeply disappointing that of the 33 production partner companies listed not one of them is Scottish.  In fact of the 26 funders not one of them is British and yet it was made here.

It only faces two competitors; How to Tame Your Dragon and – bugger – Toy Story 3.

It’s already won best animated movie at The European Film Awards but it’s dissapointing that it did not gain any recognition at The BAFTAs.

Anyway, it’s highly unlikely to beat off Toy Story 3, but maybe we should take a moment on Oscar night to toast Bob and Sylvain.

Cheers chaps.

Un prophete


I am not familiar with director Jacques Audiard’s work.  What I now know though is that he is a very skilled operator indeed as this gripping French thriller demonstrates.  Nominated for the Oscar for Best Movie in a Foreign Language it would appear it’s in a straight shoot out with Michael Haneke’s, The White Ribbon.

Both movies are terrific and both deal with the evil in man in very different ways.  In The White Ribbon it’s all about the gestation of fascism in a typically (for Haneke) underplayed, subtle and metaphorical way.

Here, Audiard goes straight for the jugular (and for those that have seen the movie they will know that this comment is pretty literal).

A Prophet (to give it its English moniker) is as graphic a prison drama as you’ll see. It focuses mainly on the relationship between a misfitting North African Muslim boy who is flung into an unnamed French gaol for mudering a copper and an aging Corsican mafia leader (played convincingly by Neils Arestrup – whom British viewers could easily mistake for celebrity chef Anthony Worral Thompson)

Separated at Birth? Neils Arestrup.

Separated at birth? Anthony Worrall Thompson

As the movie develops, the young Muslim, Malik (played with convincing menace by Tahar Rahim), becomes an increasingly trusted aide of the old master.  But the relationship is built on hatred and bitter distrust.

Malik, gradually gains the upper hand as he increasingly frequently gains passes out into the free world to carry out a variety of unsavoury tasks for gangland boss Arestrup, whilst fitting in a bit of empire building himself.

The movie is visceral, at times shockingly so, but never short of engaging and we build a close bond with Malik as his story unfolds.

An interesting device in the movie is to include a series of ghostlike appearances of one of Malik’s early ‘victims’; the ghost giving Malik premonitions that contribute to his ultimate nomenclature as “The Prophet.”

These have clearly been the inspiration for this brilliant government commercial…

So.  Who will prevail?  The Cannes Grand Prix winning A Prophet or the more cerebral and understated White Ribbon?

Well, my vote goes to Michael Haneke because, despite both movies being truly excellent, Haneke’s style edges it for me.

A great category in a relatively weak Oscars year.

The Hurt Locker directed by Kathryn Bigelow


noun. A figurative place where someone is said to be or will be, if they are getting or expect to be getting hurt or beaten.

You may not agree with the politics behind the invasion of Iraq (I certainly didn’t support its invasion and will, forever, despise Tony Bliar [sic] for his misleading of the parliament) but whatever your stance one must surely support the troops that operate there.

This film takes a rather too pro-American stance in that it positions most Iraquis as “the enemy” in a fairy broadbrush way.  But that is about its only flaw, and if you can overlook that we are talking epic war movies here.

The film draws you in from the get go as we follow the episodic adventures of a team of bomb disposal experts filmed (documentary style) on the streets of an unnamed Iraqui city.

The insurgents will go to any extremes (hence why they’re known as extremists I guess) to ply their dirty trade, most gut-wrenchingly by creating a human bomb out of a murdered 10 year old boy (maybe it should have been called a cadaver bomb).

It’s pretty much a three man performance but the acting plaudits go principally to Jeremy Renner, a died in the wool adrenalin freak, and his more considered  colleague, played by Anthony Mackie.  I am not familiar with either of their work previously but both deliver measured and moving performances.

The central axis of the film is around Renner’s character SSgt William James who has defused over 800 bombs and approaches the task with a bravado that terrifies his more conservative collegues.  (In fact the movie’s opening line essentially captures his ethos; “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” )But he always gets the job done in the most difficult situations.  He’s positioned as a cold and callous redneck but, as often in these movies, the cracks begin to show and an entirely more human soldier emerges which revolves around his relationshp with a cheeky young Iraqui market trader (perhaps the only sympathetic Iraqui character in the movie).  This ends with a delicious twist that I’ll not spoil here.

There is no question that Bigelow deserves her place at the top table come Oscar time and might even win.  It would be amusing to see her put one over on ex-husband James Cameron who is propbably also in the running for Avatar.

This is a grown up movie with a really powerful hit.  It powerfully captures the emotion of war and sense of place that few war movies do (Thin Red Line by Terence Malik being an exception as well as the excellent made for TV movie, Occupation, made earlier this year with James Nesbitt; and also set in Iraq).

A big fat 9 out of 10 from me.

Juno – oh yes!


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Gosh.

I’ve just seen back to back breathtakingly good movies (No country for old men and this) and I’ve got “There will be blood” to come.  This is a vintage movie year, make no mistake. There will be no embarrasement like “Crash” in 2008’s Oscars (The Scottish remake is “Pish”)

It was really interesting that every award at the BAFTAs last week seemed justified and yet Atonement’s first award of the night was “Best Film”.

Made sense to me.

They say it’s all in the writing; and of course it is.  Of course it is – because that’s where the ideas lie.

Juno is quite extraordinarily written by this year’s original screenplay Oscar winner (if not I will eat my hat) Diablo Cody – great name by the way: well written.

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The script apparently has a bit of an autobiographical streak to it but who cares really because this script hums, zings, kerpows, shocks, amazes.

It is the best written movie I can remember.   I don’t buy that old school Casablanca was genius approach – because I think the writing was wooden – hence the acting.

The Coen’s movie from last week (which is brilliantly directed and acted) is largely lifted from McCarthy’s novel, so that maybe doesn’t compete as a “script”.

Juno, the film and the character, is ascerbic in the extreme, but that is where the film’s second great quality kicks in – Ellen Page.

In the hands of a lesser actress this would have turned into a vitriolic, acidic, bitchlike performance.  Instead it is funny, charming and endearing.  She too has a chance of an Oscar (I’ve not seen Julie Christie, so can’t comment, and as much as I loved Keira Knightley’s Atonement performance I do believe this is superior.)

This film is much funnier than I expected and when I say funny I don’t just mean “funny”, I mean “Dad, shut up you’re the loudest person in the cinema.” funny. (Said Tom.)  In a completely different way it is as funny as Borat.

And that’s funny.

I laughed out loud 20 times.  That makes good value for money in my book.

But it is also poignant, beautiful, well observed and has the kick-assest soundtrack you could ever conjure up from the fey fraternity, led by the likes of Belle and Sebastian who feature twice.  I will (sadly) buy the soundtrack (as will Kenneth Fowler).

Sorry to be so unoriginal but it really is another 9 out of 10 movie.

It really is.

No country for old men


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Although Josh Brolin, playing Llewelyn Moss, is ostensibly the star of the Cormac McCarthy story, his faultless performance is overshadowed by that of Javier Bardem – the “hood” Anton Chigurh. Bardem’s performance is unquestionably the stuff of Oscars and every time he hits the screen the effect is electrifing. Seemingly inhuman (other than the time he spares the life of an old petrol station owner on the toss of a coin) he radiates evilness.

Set in Texas and on the Mexican border in 1980 the tale verges at times on the preposterous as a tangled web involving trailer trash opportunist, Moss, stumbles upon$2 million dollars as the result of a shoot out between rival Mexican gangs at the handover of a truck load of drugs. Instead of handing it into the police like any good boy would do he decides to keep it and there then follows an elaborate chase to get the money back, led by Bardem , The Mexican’s hired hand. It is much complicated by the simultaneous tracking of Moss by, but the other Mexican gang, a Private detective/hitman, Woody Harrelson, and a “whatever” Police Sherrif, the world and police force-weary Tommy Lee Jones who is nearing his retirement.

In the middle of it all sits the vulnerable and utterly convincing wife of Moss played beautifully by Kelly MacDonald. What a repertoire she has – her range is astonishing and she is quickly becoming one of Scotland’s greatest actresses ever.

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The title is in some aways a parody. It’s difficult to reach old age in this racket and the deaths clock up on a regular basis. but also it represents the central theme of the movie which rotates around Thornton’s imminent retirement and the memory of his father, also a copper, who died young (in his 40’s).

It is a movie about death and has strong ethical and moral undertones. Although he has little screen time it is Thornton who is, in reality, the central protagonist as it is he who bookends the action with his reflections on life and its meaning.

The action is pretty grizzly but rarely gratuitous, as the Coen’s have chosen to direct it lightly – no great, epic cinematography – but great cinematography nonetheless, no music AT ALL – it’s almost a Hollywood Dogme film and that adds greatly to its impact.

Heavy-handed direction, big scores, florid cinematography; all would have turned the prepostrousness of the tale into a prepostrous movie. As it is, it succeeds effortlessly in being the movie the great mafia directors (Coppola, Mann, Scorsese) would die for. In the hands of Tarantino the film might have become a parody of the book.

The Coen Brothers are very, very good filmmakers. This is a very, very good Coen Brothers film.

9 out of 10.

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There will be blood


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PT Anderson is currently the world’s most gifted film-maker.

Fact!

Boogie Nights, Magnolaia and Punch Drunk Love are each brilliant in different ways. His new movie “There will be blood” breaks in the US at Christmas and in the UK on Feb 8th. (I will be there on opening night.)

It is garnering feverish reviews as this punter blog on IMDB shows.

PT Anderson delivers perhaps his best work with “There Will Be Blood”. Unlike “Magnolia”, the film’s daunting runtime is not very daunting whilst watching it. All acting in the film was solid, even the work of the child actors. Daniel Day-Lewis in particular delivered a truly phenomenal performance, capturing the power of greed, fear, insanity, and comedy simultaneously, at many points throughout the film. At no point does the time period distract from the power of the film. Sometimes period pieces cannot be appreciated because they delve too deep into historical details — turning the experience into more of a documentary than a narrative set in the past. This is not the case for “There Will Be Blood”, as human interactions are the focus of the film. Johnny Greenwood’s chilling score is very strong, benefiting from the elegant minimalism that he show’s in the band Radiohead. Will this picture go on to win Best Picture? It absolutely has every right to, however I feel that this movie is a bit ahead of current trends in modern cinema, and will sadly go unnoticed for that particular Oscar. I’m certain that this film will garner many accolades in the independent and film festival scenes. All in all, this is truly a perfectly crafted film.

Apparently Daniel Day Lewis is, once again, peerless and fully method-acted throughout.  (Although, to be honest I thought his portrayal of Billy Blood; the butcher in Gangs of New York was over the top.)

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If you haven’t seen any of his previous films see them on DVD now.

They are ALL masterpieces.