March 28, 2015

The only gays in the village

Pride (Matthew Warchus, 2014). A cheerful recreation of turbulent times: Matthew Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford tell the unbelievable but generally true story of a London gay rights group who came to the aid of Welsh miners during the big strike of 84/85. While the storytelling is a little loose and the mode is resolutely feelgood in the near-formulaic manner of triumphant post-Thatcher comedies from the 90s (Brassed Off, The Full Monty), there is some fine acting – Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy as Welsh locals, Ben Schnetzer as activist Mark Ashton – and such obvious good intentions within the Bronski/Bragg nostalgia. But aren’t there times when history would be better served by a well-made documentary? (“There were seventeen of us who came down in that first minibus … Eight of us died in the following years, of HIV/AIDs.” That detail hits harder than any moment in the picture.)

March 25, 2015

March 14, 2015

March 3, 2015

Between Bresson and In Bruges

Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, 2014). Pictured: not explaining the ending of Moby-Dick

February 27, 2015

Other people’s ideas

Always keen on alternate readings, misunderstandings, dream double bills, impossible versions. So, Slavoj Zizek on Ida:
Of course it’s an excellent film, made in a perfect ascetic way, but it is this perfection itself that bothers me — there is something false in it. No wonder Ida made so many people feel good: everything that happens is utterly predictable, there are no surprises. The guilt for the murder of Ida’s family falls on the ordinary poor farmer, and the guilt-ridden Wanda, a promiscuous Communist judge, kills herself. As for Ida herself, after tasting the forbidden fruit of sex (clearly using the saxophone player as a mere instrument), decides to enter the convent, thus bringing about a fantasy-like image of a Jewish Catholic nun. The film immediately aroused in me the desire to imagine different versions of the outcome: what if Ida decides to get married to the sax player, and it is Wanda who discovers faith and becomes a nun? What if, in their inquiry into who killed Ida’s family, the two women discover that a local priest was also involved? One can argue that such a different film would have been much better.
And some guy called Matt on the frankly incredible notion that Titanic’s Jack might have been sent from the future, thus making it a time travel film. But why not? I haven’t watched it recently enough to disprove it. Plus, unmentioned but surely strengthening the case is the similarity with Cameron’s Terminator.

February 14, 2015


Nineteen Eighty Four (Michael Radford, 1984). The exposure in the scene above seems like a clear allusion to something like this. With John Hurt as Winston, Suzanna Hamilton as Julia. 

February 8, 2015

Naked Lunch, 1992

“On the way home, Allen stopped off in Kansas, eager to see Burroughs once again. The two went through a Native American sweat lodge purification ceremony that lasted all afternoon and evening. They even took in the new film Naked Lunch by David Cronenberg, which was both horrific and funny. It was no longer Burroughs’s novel, but a cut-up of all his works, presented as a collage. Still, they both enjoyed seeing it.” Bill Morgan, I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg.

February 7, 2015

Print the legend

American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014). Even if this movie Chris Kyle is more idealised and easier to like than the real one, he still persists as a warning about gun love, war damage and the impossible expectations of duty and responsibility to family and country. Like The Deer Hunter a generation ago, American Sniper is concerned with how conservative values create soldiers and how the same values can destroy them (training that breaks down your personality and reconstructs it surely helps too). But an awful question is left hanging: where would we have been without the tragic and ironic ending? It would be a much less ambivalent, less complicated story. 

February 5, 2015


World War Z (Marc Foster, 2013). Sentimental about children and family, militaristic and respectful of authority, lacking in satirical intent, wisdom or insight: here is a zombie action film that is the complete opposite of everything George Romero was getting at.

February 4, 2015

The time traveler’s wife

The Theory of Everything (James Marsh, 2014). Thinking about the big stuff (time, the universe, its creation) but operating at the domestic level. Neither is satisfactorily resolved – making the title seem unearned – but both are given remarkable and affecting life by Eddie Redmayne, playing the junior scientist with the eccentric exuberance of a young Beatle, and Felicity Jones as the woman who loves him. Actors trump script, easily. 

January 29, 2015

Wild life

Wild (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2014). Drug user and unfaithful wife Cheryl brands herself with a new surname (Strayed) and gets back to nature, with her walking as ordeal or punishment or a pilgrimage to a better self. Nature not city: “I’d rather be a forest than a street.” It’s not quite damning with faint praise to say that this is better than you expect any film about Reese Witherspoon taking a long walk alone to be, but she does bring a rare toughness to it and the editing (credited to Jean-Marc Vallee’s pseudonym John Mac McMurphy with Martin Pensa) does a fine job of mimicking the shape and feeling of persistent and painful memories. At times, this is almost visionary. The shooting is by Yves Belanger, who also lensed Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club, to which Wild is a natural companion.

January 26, 2015


Still Alice (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, 2014). To lose one’s memory is a slow-motion horror story, and you already knew that Julianne Moore would do all that so brilliantly, but what can you say about a screenplay that gets its greatest emotional effect by quoting Angels in America?

January 21, 2015

Six Six Sixties

“ … went to England from Spoleto and stayed in style with Panna Grady and ran around a lot, finished proofs small book now published Cape-Goliard, yakked on TV and sang Hari Krishna in Hyde Park pot picnic, spent evening with Paul McCartney (He says “We are all one” i.e. all the same mystic-real being), spent a lot of evenings with Mick Jagger singing mantras and talking economics and law-politics during his court crisis – found him very delicate and friendly, reading Poe and Alistair Crowley – on thick carpets with incense and wearing ruffled lace at home – later spent night in recording studio with Jagger, Lennon and McCartney composing and fixing voices on pretty song Dandelion Fly Away” everybody exhilarated with hashish – all of them drest in paisley and velvet …” Allen Ginsberg to Robert Creeley, November 28, 1967, from The Letters of Allen Ginsberg, edited by Bill Morgan.     

“The Maysles brothers aside, this is the Altamont movie. We have to deal with Altamont – and of course Jagger knew about Altamont even before it happened. Performance was shot nearly two years ago, long before the apocalypse at the Speedway, but it’s all here in final form – future tidings neatly catalogued and even pre-analysed. A line from Jagger’s song: ‘We were eating eggs in Sammy’s when the black man drew his knife.’ This is a weird movie, friends … Hence a witchcraft ritual, black magic, hallucinatory soul stealing, at the end of which . . . the apocalypse. Black magic is tricky stuff, and there is no free lunch; Turner pays the only price there ever was … One of the attributes of evil is its ugliness, and on one level Performance is a very ugly film. Hallucinatory though it may be, I would not recommend seeing it while tripping.Michael Goodwin in Rolling Stone, September 3, 1970. 

January 16, 2015

Full metal beach

Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, 2014). Yeah,  yeah, we all hate Tom Cruise but his comic look of disbelief – conveyed to the no less incredulous audience – is the only thing going for this punishing Full Metal Starship Groundhog Aliens sci-fi mash-up that has a strong WWII vibe, right down to a D-Day re-run, now against those spidery starship groundhog aliens we talked about. Groundhog D-Day it is, then.

January 15, 2015


Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2014). This is the newest last superhero movie, after Watchmen (which didn’t make the grade) and The Dark Knight, with the subversion now shifting to the other side of the camera. This is actor insecurity, actor narcissism, actor competitiveness and actor anxiety sending itself up: can former Birdman star Riggan Thomson (former Batman Michael Keaton) make the transition to Broadway in a too-realistic Raymond Carver adaptation? What happens when actors act too much? Why are all the great actors in capes? So many questions. This incredible two-hour stunt has all the meta ingeniousness of a Charlie Kaufman script (call it Being Riggan Thomson), executed with astonishing skill and wit by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and genius cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (of Gravity and Malick fame). Did you ever expect the director of 21 Grams, Babel and Amores Perros to pull off such a context-specific New York and LA comedy? Did you ever expect to see a vain Hollywood star lounging ostentatiously with some Borges on his sunbed, as part of his “process”? Did you ever expect … and so on. Here is a reminder that you can still be surprised.

January 14, 2015

Under the stars

“It’s not always a buddy’s face I’m seeing. Sometimes it’s a German face. By the end we were shooting moon-faced boys.” Richard Farnsworth as Alvin Straight, in The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999). 

January 12, 2015

The sound of church bells

Mother Joan of the Angels (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1961). Starker and more cerebral than Ken Russell’s The Devils, to which it could be an unofficial sequel, but made a decade earlier. Don’t look for Poland-under-communism metaphors either. Long exorcism scenes are the centrepiece, and some of the possession actions suggest that William Friedkin was paying attention – but again, so much less lurid. At its heart, there are theological questions – how does love find expression when it’s suppressed or thwarted? 

January 10, 2015


The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003). Coast to coast in his van of sorrows. Boredom does not always equal transcendence.

January 7, 2015

Rain, steam and spit

Mr Turner (Mike Leigh, 2014). There is still the Mike Leigh gift for Dickensian caricature but with the added weight of real life, carried through years or decades by an eccentric, fond Timothy Spall performance as the grunting genius painter. Art, physical pain, suppressed grief, disease and decrepitude, even sex. All that, but also the film is so deeply funny in its use of arcane Victorian dialogue and its affectionate view of the machinations of the art world, a nest of vipers then and possibly even now. Is the gruff defiant painter a Leigh self-portrait and the prissy Ruskin a crack at all critics, even those who support him? Too easy, surely. But this is a masterpiece either way.

January 6, 2015


Exodus: Gods and Kings (Ridley Scott, 2014). “For my brother, Tony Scott,” says the dedication from Ridley Scott. Was that the most moving moment? How else to understand his interest in this story of two brothers who are not really brothers but whose competitive yet never cruel relationship is the strongest in the movie, perhaps the only real relationship in the movie (wives are perfunctory, even interchangeable, and God is a problem). Otherwise, unlike Aronofsky’s Noah and Gibson’s Passion, this is an entirely impersonal Biblical epic, suffused with doubt and heavy on the CGI (and eyeliner). No one seems to know what to do with the spiritual dimension.