April 29, 2016


The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau, 2016). Hyper-realist and pleasingly old-fashioned, as though the Disney-Kipling story had somehow been found within a TV nature documentary from the 1960s, with their earnest understandings of animal motivations, power structures and loyalties. The first sight of the giant orangutan is straight out of Apocalypse Now, but so too is the tiger – all menace here, not camp. Humour is added lightly, and never overdone.  

April 19, 2016

I always knew you would come back

Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2014). “They think they can make pictures of the Holocaust, and that’s not possible.” – Christian Petzold, interviewed in Sight and Sound magazine, June 2015.  

April 16, 2016

Battle of the Bulgers

Black Mass (Scott Cooper, 2015). Don’t you feel like you’ve seen all this before? All that creeping fascination with violence, secrets and honour. The wiretapping, the infiltration, the trips down to sunny Florida, the slow drives to somewhere remote to kill and bury somebody. Even Boston isn’t a novelty anymore (The Departed, Mystic River) although the Boston Globe was featured here as an intrepid, investigative paper a few months before it got a much bigger, lasting splash in Spotlight. The gimmick of Black Mass is that psychopathic Boston-Irish crime lord Jimmy Bulger (Johnny Depp, unthreatening despite his vampiric Hunter S Thompson make-up) and FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) are as close as family but it’s not until the credits roll and the screenplay reveals what happened to Jimmy and his politician brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), that you realise what the problem has been: Black Mass followed the wrong story.

April 14, 2016

The guest

Far From Men (David Oelhoffen, 2014). Algeria, 1952. There are astonishing landscapes and silence. It shows you that a world is disappearing from view forever and that nothing could have been done differently. In a French-speaking lead, Viggo Mortensen carries the weight of this himself. It suits his sense of nobility, or integrity.   

April 7, 2016

Knight of Cups, first time

Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015). I’m glad I read that essay on Heidegger earlier, at First Things. One important thing: you can feel lost in the world and still feel sure, as well, that the world is a beautiful place that you never want to leave. Also, you can be forgiven. “All things shining” is almost a Malick catchphrase or slogan, or it should be (The Thin Red Line). There is a dead brother, with its suggestions of The Tree of Life (and Malick’s own life), as though The Tree of Life’s Sean Penn had, at the end, kept walking on the beach and turned into Christian Bale. There are pilgrims and legends, the desert and the sea, water and light, and us looking upwards. There are hints of Solaris and Mirror in that repeated piece of music and the dense web of sorrow, memory, love and regret. Has a film ever collapsed time quite like this – not even Mirror. There is no clear sense of what is past, what is present, what happened when, what is remembered, what is observed and what is imagined. It is a feat of editing, and it is mesmerising. The use of Hollywood studio lots as settings suggests dream cities or simulations of the real world, but then so does Las Vegas, which looks like paradise. Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki stage crowd scenes that are moved through calmly, in real space, with real light, and the mobile camera has its own point of view. “Love and do what you like,” a woman says, quoting St Augustine. If they tell you that the ennui is stylised, that there are too many convertibles, too many girls and parties, say Antonioni. Tell them it’s as good as The Tree of Life, which was a masterpiece, remember?  

April 5, 2016

April 2, 2016

Americans in Europe

The Two Faces of January (Hossein Amini, 2014). Americans in Europe – that seldom ends well. Greece and Crete, ruins and tourism. From a Patricia Highsmith novel and with aspects of a Ripley story, this is cunningly plotted. Yet you sense there is more in the book: more history, more psychology.