There seems to have always been a degree of prudishness in the United States when it comes to anything sex or sexuality related. That may well be rich coming from an Englishman, but the juxtaposition between the apparent blanket acceptance of gun wielding patriots and the often vociferous disapproval by many of ‘love’ expressed in any way other than through a conventional, heterosexual union, is both stark and prominent.

Mid-century America seems as glaring an example of this as any relatively recent moment in time.

Carol is the film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt,telling the story of a young lady, Therese, discovering her sexual identity, and Carol, a woman remaining stoic through the breakdown of her marriage and a subsequent messy divorce.

Right from the off, by way of Therese and Carol’s shared fascination with a  model train set on display in the department store in which Therese works – something perhaps that would be considered traditionally the domain  of young boys or men – we are made aware that both ladies are in some way ‘different’ from the then accepted norm.

Their initial introduction to one another through Carol’s purchase of the aforementioned train set as a present for her young daughter, is developed still further by way of a fateful occurrence when Carol leaves one of her gloves behind in the store. Therese’s good natured deed in posting the glove back to its owner begins a friendship, which quickly develops,  underpinned by latent sexual desire. The simmering passion lurking beneath the surface can ultimately only be contained for so long.

As with all good romantic sagas, something inevitably arises to threaten the course of true love and happiness. Carol’s attempts to reach an amicable divorce settlement, particularly with regard to custody of her young daughter, are thrown into disarray when her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), discovers Carol’s secret and threatens to deny her any form of custody whatsoever.

A woman such as Carol, aware that this is 1950s America, holds none of the aces and faces a battle for custody that she simply cannot win with things as they stand.

Tough choices therefore lie ahead for both her and Therese…

Director Todd Haynes has certainly brought out excellent performances from the Audrey Hepburn-esque Rooney Mara as Therese, but particularly from the here, aloof and rather unapproachable Cate Blanchett in the lead role, producing arguably her career-best work to date.

Shot on 16mm film through a near constant haze of many a provocatively puffed upon cigarette, there is a grainy, soft-focused effect at play, adding significantly to the film’s heavily-stylised and somewhat beautiful mystique.

Carol is a well paced, evocative study of sexual awakenings, forbidden love and longing in the face of adversity, but equally, a tale of men’s frustrations, bordering on exasperation, when they perceive that they have been in some way ‘wronged’.

There is sometimes no telling the lengths that a man might go to under such circumstances.

Underpinned by a strong Carter Burwell score, Carol is award-worthy stuff on many levels – make no mistake.


FILM REVIEW: Star Wars – The Force Awakens



Wallowing in a sea of four and five star reviews more or less right across the board, The Force Awakens certainly appears to have caught the imagination of critics and the film going public alike.

In fairness, it didn’t have much of an act to live up to when you consider the three most recent outings of this long running franchise.

My particular screening was ‘enhanced’ somewhat – if indeed that is the correct term – by a three year old kid sat behind me along with his Dad, inquiring every couple of minutes as to what everything and everyone was and what it all meant.

Irritating? Surprisingly not.

How much of his Dad’s impressive Star Wars knowledge actually stuck with the kid is hard to say, but it’s also fairly irrelevant, for this little lad’s excited innocence reminded me that The Force Awakens‘ director J.J. Abrams here had the potentially precarious job of making a much loved film concept tick enough boxes to not only appeal to its traditional core fan base, but simultaneously appeal to a whole new audience, and in fairness, Abrams has made a decent fist of it.

The introduction of new characters that don’t physically enrage the general public is always a good sign and in Rey (the excellent Daisy Ridley), Finn (the equally excellent John Boyega) and BB-8 (a bleeping R2-D2 for a new generation), Abrams has got it spot on. Rey is clearly going to develop into the next great hope for the resistance and the concept of Finn’s storm trooper character developing a conscience, reneging upon his dark duties in favour of joining the good guys, is a particularly nice touch. It’s also good to see Oscar Isaac landing a plum role as ace pilot Poe Dameron; just desserts for what has been an exceptional recent past for this most adaptable of actors following excellent work in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year.

Han Solo, Princess Leia, C3-PO, R2-D2 and latterly Luke Skywalker all also join the party, as do a number of familiar looking ‘creatures’ that if I was a more committed anorak, I could probably name for you, but I’m not, so I can’t – and I’m actually quite relieved about that.

The effects are predictably dazzling but whereas previous Star Wars outings were rather too reliant upon these at the expense of proper character development and narrative, The Force Awakens feels like an altogether different beast; a film that’s altogether more in touch with its human side. It’s grittier and far more engaging than any of its three most recent predecessors, combining a strong sense of characterisation with its obligatory CGi elements reassuringly well.

If there is a criticism, the portrayal of the ‘dark side’ is on balance a little underwhelming, jumping from the convincing: Significant Third Reich-inspired imagery and Storm Trooper death squads, to the less so: the rather pale and unconvincing Darth Vader-lite – Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who, as far as I could tell, possessed little of the ominous presence and intimidating nature of his be-masked predecessor.

Perhaps that’s the point though? Kylo Ren’s an emotionally torn character, wrestling with his conscience and his heart’s not properly in it? But then again, wasn’t Vader similarly conflicted?

I’m probably reading too much into all of this. We’ll move on…

Much like the original Star Wars – and I could well be hunted down and dispatched accordingly for suggesting this – The Force Awakens is not perfect, but far from considering this as just a  bit of throw-away sci-fi nonsense, it’s actually left me looking forward to watching the new trilogy develop, and with a little luck that will be with Abrams at the helm for its entirety.

He deserves that chance and the opportunity, like George Lucas before him, to build his own Star Wars dynasty.

The building blocks with which to do so, certainly appear to be in place.












Ever since Edmund Hilary and Tensing Norgay’s triumphant ascent of the world’s highest peak in 1953, climbers from all over the planet have descended upon Nepal in order to pit their wits and test their mettle in the Himalayas; climbing Everest, rightly or wrongly, still considered by most to be the ultimate challenge.
Thousands of dollars are parted with for technologically advanced, highly organised and increasingly pampered expeditions with one goal – to summit Everest. One thing is for sure, climbing Everest, Sagarmāthā or Chomolungma – call it what you will – without the presence of the ever industrious, unflappable and above all good-natured Sherpas, would render many a self-indulgent, Western mountaineering dream, impossible.
Of course, the world’s perception of Sherpas is potentially a very one dimensional view and Sherpa is a documentary that sets about re-addressing pre-conceptions, to unearth more about their lives, their families, spiritual beliefs and concerns and to discover exactly who these unsung heroes of the mountains really are.
Veteran climber and expedition co-ordinator, Russell Brice, has been organising climbing ascents on Everest for many a long season now and it’s through him, and his driven, moneyed clientele, that the at times incendiary events of the last few years are explored and explained.
Speaking from the present day, it’s fair to say that the Himalayan mountaineering landscape has now shifted immeasurably following the events of the last few years, a shift that was both predicted and feared for quite some time before by Brice, it should be said.
Not even he could have anticipated the scale of the devastation though that has been unleashed upon the Sherpa and mountaineering community alike in recent times. Two major avalanches in 2014 (killing 16 Sherpas), and 2015 (triggered by the Nepalese earthquake, killing at least 22 people, many of whom were Sherpas), have brought on a major re-evaluation by the Sherpas with regard to their role, their working conditions and the unfair renumeration and compensation packages for which they risk their lives, daily.
There’s no doubt that climbing Everest has become a major industry over the last 20-30 years, with routes, particularly on its southern face, frequently log-jammed with large parties of climbers, all of whom have parted with small fortunes for an opportunity to summit its peak, none of whom would be able to do so without the dedicated preparatory work of Sherpas in fixing ropes, ladders and lines.
Unsurprisingly, only a paltry proportion of the vast amounts of money that the Everest industry generates finds its way into Sherpa pockets. A combination of this injustice, the two aforementioned devastating avalanches and tempers having become frayed during the previous climbing season when Western climbers were perceived to have shown a lack of respect on the mountain, and everything is suddenly brought to a head with Sherpas threatening to down tools until their, by now crudely unionised, demands are met.
Significantly, the Nepalese government sees no problem with the then status quo, but it’s a scenario which seriously threatens to de-rail the entire Himalayan mountaineering industry.
In these times of mass, global Capitalism and the subsequent exploitation of native people the world over, Sherpa is a documentary that provides ample food for thought.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the film’s ability to pin-point Western climbers’ shifting attitudes towards Sherpas in light of the fast changing, increasingly politicised climbing climate in which they now find themselves.
A people that once were perceived to be smiling, duly obedient and largely sub-servant are suddenly demanding some level of equality and the climbing community seems somewhat split in its ability to come to terms with this, particularly with livelihoods and ‘Western dreams’ affected.
Majestic, sweeping shots across the breathtaking Himalayan mountain range, explosive and at times incredibly tense, real footage of altercations and mother nature’s fury, all combined with the politics and commentary from those directly affected by the events of chaotic climbing seasons of recent times, has resulted in one of the very best documentaries of the year and should not be missed.


Grandma is a kind of scaled down road movie.
Young Sage (Julia Garner) is pregnant and not wishing to proceed with this unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, she needs to find upwards of $600 to pay for an abortion.
Unwilling to approach her no-nonsense, high-flying career woman of a mother for the money, she turns to plan B, Grandma.
Enter feisty and stubbornly independent Elle (Lily Tomlin) to the rescue; only it’s not quite as simple as that. You see, Elle is currently cash-poor, having, in a moment of sense, paid all of her long accumulated debts off in one foul swoop, cutting up the offending credit cards in the process. The rather nifty, ‘credit card pieces mobile’ hanging on her porch, pretty though it may be, is however probably not going to help in any monetary manner.
No matter. Elle knows people and they either owe her or she feels sure she can call upon at least some of them for some kind of financial help. Thus, with Elle’s trademark, swashbuckling bravado, so begins a day of scrambling about in Grandma’s old vintage car, on a fund-raising mission.
It’s admittedly a fairly straight forward premise, but Grandma is far more than just a set of ‘people encounters,’ in town. It’s a film that works on a much more involved level. Be it through agitating old adversaries or settling old scores, each encounter lays bare Elle’s past and present; revealing the layers of her complicated and acerbic personality.
All the while, the spirit of Violet – Elle’s relatively recently departed, long-time partner – hangs heavy over her every move and decision, not least with regards to her new, considerably younger and more enthusiastic flame, Olivia (Judy Greer).
Long standing grudges and issues, burnt bridges and unhealed wounds a plenty make for an absolute minefield of a landscape from which Lily and Sage must somehow drum up the money, and as if that wasn’t challenge enough, there’s Lily’s daughter and mother of Sage, Judy, (Marcia Gay Harden).
What will she make of it all and more importantly, who’s going to pluck up the courage to tell her?!
Never too heavy going, never superficial, properly funny in places whilst big-hearted and poignant in others, Grandma is a really nicely put together little slice-of-life indie movie.
Crucially, given the film’s potentially incendiary subject matter, it’s also a piece that refuses to cast moral judgement or enforce any conclusions upon us dictated by any pressured sense of societal political correctness. It is what it is and that is very much to the film’s enormous benefit.
Top marks to Director Paul Weitz for this story of family, friendship, trust, people’s perceptions and the raking up of old skeletons and its ultimately positive message, which is to say… In facing our pasts, with a little bit of luck we might learn something from the experience and maybe even find a little peace of mind in the process?
An undoubted 2015 highlight.



Moving from Ireland to New York, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), is in search of a better life.

Her opportunities in a small town on the Emerald Isle are limited to say the least and despite the wrench of leaving behind her mother and in particular her sister, Rose, it seems the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

That’s not to say that Eilis is in any way confident or ready to grab the bull of opportunity by the horns. She isn’t.

It will prove to be an unwelcome introduction to the joys of both extended sea and home sickness, leaving her in much doubt as to the wisdom of her actions.

As with most things in life though, time proves to be the all important ingredient and on settling in at Mrs Kehoe’s Irish boarding house, securing employment, enrolling on a book-keeping course thanks to the kindly Father Flood, (Jim Broadbent), and most importantly of all, making the acquaintance of a charming young Italian/American lad by the name of Tony (Emory Cohen), her American experience improves immeasurably.

Happiness flows freely from here for Eilis.

Nothing lasts forever of course and on receiving some sad news from home, Eilis agrees to return to Ireland for a short break, unprepared for the life that now awaits her there and  for the difficult choices that she must now make.

Brooklyn is a very charming film on a number of levels particularly the  collective performances which are natural and believable whilst being genuinely amusing, soulful and poignant; effortlessly drawing empathy from the viewer.

Julie Walters’ role as the matronly Mrs Kehoe, is a particular highlight; offering her worldly wisdom at meal times to the amusement of the collection of young ladies that inhabit her boarding house. An excellent piece of casting if ever there was one.

In many ways, Brooklyn tips its hat to the age old adage that ‘home is where the heart is’ – although this shouldn’t lead one into a false sense of expectation, for as much as Brooklyn hints at being a conventional love story, if you’re expecting everything to be tied up neatly with a pretty bow, think again. That premise is ultimately a little wide of the mark.

What we can be sure about though is that Brooklyn is a very well realised and above all very likeable film.

It’s visually sumptuous with its soft, pastel colours reflecting the palette of the time, conjuring up an almost dreamy, ethereal quality to what ultimately is a lovely, warm-hearted slice of cinematic escapism.

Highly recommended

Incidentally, is it just me or did Emory Cohen remind anyone else of 1980s slippery brat-pack star, Andrew McCarthy? Everything from the look to the mannerisms.

Is there anything you’d like to tell us Mr McCarthy?




FILM REVIEW: Bridge of Spies

Whilst it’s a film with serious overtones and occasional moderate violence, Bridge of Spies is quintessentially Spielberg; that is to say that no matter the gravity of the subject in hand, his tendency is and always has been to focus more upon human character, spirit and emotion than any type of warts and all harsh sense of realism.

In many ways, that’s what makes Spielberg a director that can appeal right across the board to every generation.

In Tom Hanks, there is no better actor to convey Spielberg’s vision. Hanks, here cast as Jim Donovan, an attorney assigned the frankly thankless task of providing legal representation for captured Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (a low-key but fine turn from Mark Rylance).
Abel’s ‘defence’ in a 1950s America, gripped by the cold war, is of course purely lip service; a token nod to the constitution, but nothing more than a charade to appease the collective ‘conscience’ of the American public.
It seems however that Donovan hasn’t read the memo and is clearly a man that upholds the constitution’s words and sentiment; it being the one and only thing, he feels, that truly defines what it is to be an American.
Predictably Donovan’s attempt to overturn Abel’s three espionage convictions fails, but he does succeed in convincing the judge not to send Abel to ‘the chair’ – pointing out that in these days of the Cold War, Abel may well be a key bargaining tool should the U.S. authorities require some leverage at a later date.
Down-grading a capital sentence of course, does not go down well with a fearful American public.
Almost inevitably, with a U.S. pilot shot down and captured behind ‘enemy’ lines, not to mention a young American economics student wrongly imprisoned in East Berlin; very much at the behest of the CIA, Donovan begins his initially reluctant transformation from attorney of law into key U.S. negotiator, in a bid to have released, now, not just one, but two U.S hostages.
In another director’s hands Bridge of Spies I’m sure would have been a very different beast. Spielberg’s gentle handling of the Coen brothers’ and Matt Charman’s script leans heavily on character and dialogue and one genuinely white knuckle aircraft sequence aside, there are few thrills and spills to speak of. Any opportunity to confront the gratuitous head-on, tends to be neatly side-stepped, to the film’s benefit it should be said.
Hanks is excellent. The supporting cast are top notch, and it’s all beautifully shot and put together as you’d expect from a Spielberg offering, re-imagining well the harsh realities of a mid-twentieth century, winter-stricken Berlin and the glaring contrasts thrown up between its East and West regions.
Everything is knitted together well by a pleasant enough, clearly John Williams-inspired orchestral score, supplied on this occasion by veteran Hollywood composer, Thomas Newman.
Does this now mean that Newman is Spielberg’s ‘go to’ music man?
Time will tell…
I suppose any criticisms levelled at Bridge of Spies might revolve around whether the whole story is perhaps a little sugar coated, with Spielberg, as mentioned earlier, choosing to focus more upon one man’s emotional journey than the ugliness of cold war, but that would be harsh to say the least.
It’s possibly not one of Spielberg’s finest, but it’s fine nonetheless, and yet another Spielberg piece that will doubtless last the test of time.


A lot has been made of Johnny Depp’s return to a ‘serious’ role.
In Black Mass, he portrays James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, the violent gangster boss that made South Boston his own in the late 70s and 80s.
It’s true, Depp is decent enough.
Heavy layers of makeup, piercing blue eyes and slicked back thinning hair; he certainly looks the part, adopting an unnerving appearance, well in keeping with the apparently sinister nature of the man.
Whitey was a small time gangster that got a taste for the big time and thanks to fellow ‘Southy’ (South Boston) resident and childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) – who had worked his way up to a significant level within the FBI – an arrangement is reached by which Whitey supplies Connolly with all that he needs to take down Boston’s existing Italian mafia. In return, Connolly agrees to turn a blind eye to Whitey’s on-going ‘small time’ antics.
Of course, with the Boston Mafia now shut down and out of the picture, the way is clear for Whitey’s mob to take full advantage and expand their operations throughout Boston and beyond safe in the knowledge that the FBI will not interfere. This is something altogether more problematic for Connolly, particularly when a new head of FBI operations takes up the reins and starts to make waves.
Whitey’s kingdom is suddenly in jeopardy and there’s a very real possibility that everything’s going to start crumbling around him.
Director Scott Cooper seems to have approached this project from the Scorcese school of direction. No bad thing of course, but it’s all a bit Goodfellas-lite. Yes, it tackles key themes like violence, treachery and a growing sense of paranoia but ultimately, it never really brings anything new of note to the table.
More than ever a film such as this needs a real unique angle from which to approach the subject matter, or at the very least a good number of memorable set pieces that burn into the old grey matter.
Despite such negative overtones, Black Mass is in fact perfectly watchable. It’s well paced and engaging, with decent support performances from the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard and Kevin Bacon, to name but a few, but like so many before it, it’s in many ways on a hiding to nothing.
Since the likes of Coppolla, Scorcese and Leone left their indelible mark on the epic gangster / crime caper genre, it’s hard to think of many or indeed any that have truly hit those heady heights and remained long in the memory.
Yes, there are memorable moments; they’re just not memorable enough to help Black Mass to really stand out.
On a particularly positive note, it’s an absolutely immaculate 1970s/80s retro set / clothing-fest for those of us that happen to be fans of the architectural and design trends of that era…
Probably just me then.


A short archive snippet aside, predicting with surprising accuracy it should be said, the future of the home computer, Steve Jobs parachutes us straight in at the business end of things.
Mid-conversation, back stage at the launch of the ‘revolutionary’ new Apple Macintosh computer, Jobs (played well by Michael Fassbender), is discussing and arguing the toss with whomever may be in the room at the time; very much setting the template for director Danny Boyle’s biopic of the late, influential Apple maestro.
It’s dialogue-heavy. Very heavy in fact.
This of course is not a bad thing per se. Major film releases could certainly benefit from a greater focus on dialogue, it’s true, but when does it all become too much?
Essentially, Steve Jobs is a sequence of conversations between the single-minded entrepreneur and those both integral and peripheral to his life. All too frequently these discussions degenerate into bitter arguments when Jobs’ ideas, vision or personal life are brought into question.
From Danny Boyle’s take on things, it would appear that Jobs was a man that relished a debate, the way one does when absolutely convinced of the correctness of one’s actions and motives. Jobs seemed to have no intention of swaying from his point of view. Some will argue that that’s very much why he was so successful.
On the receiving end of Jobs’ stubborn, fait accompli-esque mind set are, amongst others, his loyal head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman (played well by Kate Winslet, although how it took me until the end of the film to realise it was her, remains a mystery), the long time, long suffering brilliant programming mind behind Apple’s until then most successful product, the Apple II computer, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the mother of Jobs’ child whose financial struggles and subsequent histrionics are of constant irritation to the Apple chief who seems almost non-plussed by her plight.
Or perhaps he was just too focussed to notice?
Either way, it is clear that Jobs needed like-minded people around him. His powers of diplomacy with those that didn’t ‘get him’ were somewhat lacking.
It’s hard to make up one’s mind on this one. It’s certainly worthy of a further viewing, if only to fully ingest the true direction of the conversations.
The problem seems to be that a film which is unafraid to be dialogue focussed repeats the trick time and again. One discussion / argument follows another and then another and then another, diluting the impact of both their intensity and content. Significant swathes of the film seemed to somehow pass me by as I tried on a few occasions unsuccessfully to accurately recall what had just happened, and I’m not one to switch off, impatient for the ‘action scenes.’
Perhaps it was a lack of concentration on my part? One thing is for sure though, Steve Jobs is hard work. It offers no light respite (normally a good thing), but I feel that it suffers as a result.
Plaudits to Danny Boyle for a brave approach in putting together what appears at least to have been a labour of love; I’d guess that Jobs was someone that Boyle had great affection or at least admiration for? That much seems to be evident.
Certainly the Steve Jobs story, whilst subtle and a bit of a slow burner, is an incredibly clever one, full of cunning, little or no compromise and a sense of tactically mastery and one worthy of the big screen, no doubt.
It’s just a shame that to anyone other than absolute aficionados of Jobs’ work, it’s a film that will go down as heavy-going and ultimately a little unsatisfying.

FILM REVIEW: Sunset Song

I thought Agyness Deyn was just a model? Well, you live and learn!

Actually, in all fairness, I barely even knew that.

Sunset Song is in many ways a wistful homage to life, love, family and the beautiful Scottish countryside.

This is a film adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel of the same name, set chiefly in Blairwearie, on the fictional estate of Kinraddie in North East Scotland, where Chris lives with her mother, brother and tyrannical father – a convincing turn here from Peter Mullan who you’ll recall played an equally unhinged character in Paddy Considine’s very excellent Tyrannosaur.

Agyness Deyn is surprisingly excellent portraying Chris, the softly spoken, bonny country lass with the gentle eyes, whose intelligence and academic achievements are seemingly paving the way for her to realise her ambition of a career in teaching.

Life however, as is so often the case, has other plans, and following the suicide of her mother and the abandonment of the homestead by her brother Will (Jack Greenlees), Chris has no option but to remain in Blairwearie and work on the farm with her father, whose ‘ways’ have been the sole catalyst for both her mother’s untimely death and brother’s departure.

With the pair now departed, it will be Chris’ turn to bare the brunt of her father’s abusive ways.

Chris’s life, seemingly now set to be one of functionality, drudgery and regret, is transformed though when life takes one of its unexpected turns and subsequently she enters a relationship with local lad, Ewan (the Leighton Baines-esque, Kevin Guthrie), but it will be a love that induces in Chris both the peak of her happiness and the very depths of her despair.

Sunset Song is strong in its insinuation that we don’t just grow up, move on, and leave all of our baggage behind us, but that life is in fact rather cyclical. What happens to our parents will therefore, in some respect at least, likely be our experience too, despite our best efforts, and we all therefore share – in the broader sense of the term at least – the same experiences of hope, happiness and misfortune, much as did every generation that ever preceded us.

This is certainly true in Chris’ case. She, a young farmer’s daughter, at the turn of the 19th/20th century, shawn of realistic opportunities to spread her wings, there’s therefore a certain inevitability to the life that lies ahead of her.
Whilst occasionally evocative, sometimes poignant and always visually beautiful, it should however be said that it’s a film that almost feels a little too long, possibly a bit forced in places and very nearly one with a tendency to veer too far into the domain of the formulaic in its latter stages.
Credit then to Director Terence Davies, for casting model, turned actress, Agyness Deyn in a role which ultimately leaves the viewer’s over-riding impression of Sunset Song as a favourable one. Deyn produces a tender performance that is very much the glue that holds it all together.
A gentle, unassuming film; unexpectedly enjoyable and an actress from whom big things must surely be expected in the near future.