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Mike Leigh has always been an expert observer of character, seemingly wringing every last drop of inspiration from those that he works with and the development of his characters is always to the fore in any of his films. So proves to be the case once again with this superb biopic of the great British painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Whether Turner’s character and nature is accurate here or not I couldn’t say and is not necessarily important; we must however at this point, without further ado, praise the magnificent Timothy Spall whose portrayal of a man of few words and the proverbial bear with a sore head, is quite possibly a career best.

A sneering disdain for small talk and flowery waffle, he grunts and grimaces his way through life, driven by an admirable, all consuming, burning passion for his work, often to the exclusion and detriment of those around him, be they his peers, his family or those whose affection for him will forever be largely unrequited; and all the while, one senses that behind his secretive nature and rituals of self-preservation, there’s a man that wants to be heard, appreciated and to be loved.

Not only does Mr Turner offer richly developed, beautifully observed characterisation, but equally as impressive is the magnificent cinematography which rather cleverly, and if the knowing ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ from those watching around me were anything to go by, very faithfully seems to capture the true essence of Turner’s work, presenting each new scene and location in such a way as to imitate his paintings, with much emphasis on the use of the dawn light, lending a kind of soft, gentle haze to each backdrop; a nice touch, apparent to even those of us with only a limited knowledge of the great art masters.

The film traces the development of Turner, the artist revered by all, to a man ridiculed by many for pushing his own boundaries into an area too experimental for its time. T’was ever thus…

Mike Leigh has worked his magic once again with just the right balance between the serious and the lightly comedic in this, his ode to a true genius.




“We look after our own in the army, Cook.”

When private Gary Cook is deserted behind enemy lines by his troop, amidst the chaos of a full-blown riot, it sets up the kind of scenario you’d expect Hollywood to have air dropped Nicholas Cage into. “One man’s mission impossible… Against all odds, he’s going home…”

Mercifully, he isn’t and it’s not. This is ’71, an ultra gritty tale of a soldier trying to escape with his life, scared witless by the pitiful cauldron of hate and madness that was 1970s Northern Ireland.

There are no heroes here and no sides taken, just pawns caught up in the mess, either indoctrinated by belief systems or by ‘the system’ itself. It’s not as simple as them against us for Cook, if it was, perhaps he’d have a fair chance; instead, the confusion of subterfuge on both sides leaves us asking, “who can you trust?” and more importantly, “what are their underlying motives?”

It’s a minefield for sure and a pretty tense one at that; gripping from start to finish, something director Yann Demange deserves big credit for, ratcheting up the suspense throughout.

Whilst Cook’s part as the lone, would-be escapee is down-played by the director a little, in favour of those plotting and conniving around him, his sense of fear and bewilderment is palpable and conveyed convincingly. A naive, reluctant soldier, right in the thick of it. A pawn in the game, if ever there was one.

A very minor criticism; the ending. It feels like a bit of an afterthought. Without giving anything away, you can see the point that the director is trying to make, but that point is in itself a big topic, deserving I felt of further expansion.

Don’t let that detract though from what is a really good film.

“They don’t care about you. To them, you’re a piece of meat. You want to know what the army is? It’s posh cunts, ordering thick cunts to kill poor cunts…”

Probably a fair summation of the brass tacks of this war and every war before and since.

See it.

FILM REVIEW: All This Mayhem

The world of skateboarding is alien to me. I don’t know the first thing about it and have never wanted to, so it’s thanks to the occasional member freeview screening at Greenwich Picture House cinema that I get to see films like this; and on this occasion, I’m certainly glad I did.

Essentially, All This Mayhem is a true story documentary about the rise and fall of Tas and Ben, the Pappas brothers, two kids from a rough and ready background in Melbourne, Australia, that rose to the top of the competitive ‘Vert’ skateboarding world, briefly toppling an all time great Tony Hawk in the process. It’s also a real old school tale of ‘the higher they fly, the further they have to fall’ – no pun intended.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that the Pappas brothers were at times, by their own admission overly cocky and arrogant and ruffled more than a few feathers, so much so at times that you’d be forgiven for having little or no sympathy for the pair of them, yet, interestingly, such was their heartfelt passion and balls-out approach to life, you can’t help but side with them and feel their pain as their story unfolds and life deals them often shattering, self-inflicted hammer blows. Indeed, the brothers pressed the self-destruct button on life with such regularity, it’s a wonder the sky didn’t cave in on their world a lot sooner than ultimately it did; and how it did, in a maelstrom of drug abuse and reckless, over indulgence and disastrous decision making.

As with all good film documentaries, All This Mayhem lays on the thrills, spills and jubilation along with the  pain and anguish and does so in the most absorbing and at times hard-to-watch manner. It’s emotional, edge-of-the-seat stuff that had me well and truly sucked in.

A really well paced and put together effort that deserves a larger audience than I suspect it will ultimately receive.

Very highly recommended.



I really do want to say nice things about ‘Chef.’ It’s certainly a film with its heart in the right place and there are definitely good things to be had from this warm-hearted and at times rather amusing tale.
It was written by the always excellent Jon Favreau, who plays the film’s lead, Carl Casper, a divorced, frustrated chef, trying  to bring creative fulfillment to his career whilst simultaneously being the perfect father to his son Percy, played by Emjay Anthony in a sweet yet limited role.
The casting is a strange one. On the plus side, characters like Martin, Carl’s right hand man (played by John Leguizamo) lend some much needed, enthusiastic savvy to proceedings, yet a series of short cameos by Scarlett Johanssen, Dustin Hoffman and most bizarrely, a slightly megalomaniacal Robert Downey-Junior, are rather baffling; almost like token gestures in the grand scheme of this film; a heavyweight favour to the director perhaps or maybe an insistence from the film’s sponsors? Who knows.
The premise of the film is that Chef Casper’s ‘touch paper’ is lit when a renowned food critic drags his name through the mud, professionally slaughtering his menu in the process (the menu Casper had wanted to scrap but was duty-bound to serve) and the whole situation is exacerbated when Casper’s social media inadequacies lead him to inadvertently start an ever escalating, public slanging match on Twitter.
Everything comes to a head when Casper loses his marbles in front of the critic, somebody films it and the video goes viral. Needless to say, Casper’s career hits the buffers over night.
‘Chef’ should really kick-on from here and become the clever little film about work / life balance and the perils of social media in the hands of the uninitiated, that it promises to be, but it’s here in fact that it seriously loses its way.
It’s not the fact that the storyline is necessarily weak, the problem is simply that all of the good ideas in this film seem somewhat swamped beneath a rather clumsy, schmaltzy and at times contrived script and screen play which do none of the characters, no matter how well played, any favours at all. Indeed, from here on, it’s a predictable sequence of clichéd events, set pieces and scenarios with the mother of all toe-curling endings; not to mention the whole thing is basically an on going advertisement for Twitter.
The feel good film of the year?
Not for me. Feel good films whilst admittedly generally being  schmaltzy, predictable affairs, rely heavily therefore on the viewer buying whole-heartedly into the characters to such an extent in fact that whatever unlikely twists and turns a plot may take along the way, it doesn’t really matter; we celebrate the unlikely or the  down right ludicrous because quite frankly, we’re in for the ride!
Sadly, Chef combines predictable schmaltz with half-baked, rather forced characterisation and for all its eagerness to please, that’s just never going to work.
It’s all a bit of a shame really because there’s definitely a nice little film buried in there somewhere.
All of that said, it still has its moments and it remains worth a watch.


FILM REVIEW: Jimmy’s Hall

There will be many better equipped than myself to speak knowledgeably of the politics and struggles of Ireland in the early part of the 20th century. This and the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church very much form the backdrop to Ken Loach’s most recent, excellent offering, ‘Jimmy’s Hall.’

Based on a true story, a small, rural town is offered the chance to recapture its former spirit and social heart and soul when favourite son Jimmy Gralton returns from some years away in New York City, coming home to his mother, the woman he loved and to a town that has not forgotten the man and ‘legend’ that he was and has remained in the minds of many, before he left.

Initially reticent, but under enthusiastic pressure from the locals that a decade earlier had helped Jimmy build a community hall in which they could read, sing and dance freely, out of sight of the oppressive, overbearing nannying of a disapproving church, Jimmy agrees to be the catalyst once again to enable the people to re-live former glories by re-opening the hall and thus begins the struggle between the highly influential Church and although now slightly muted, the very much indefatigable spirit of the town folk.

In true Ken Loach style, the characters are superbly well formed, very real and difficult not to take to our hearts. Jim Norton (Bishop Brennan of Father Ted fame to many) in particular is superbly well cast as Father Sheridan but in this instance, his rather draconian and dogmatic persona is anything but ‘boot up the arse’ material, instead he’s very much a figure commanding begrudging local respect, holding much influence over the town and its proceedings.

Injustices, moral victories, moments of great joy, farce and I must admit, more than a few moments when it ‘got a little dusty’ in the cinema, all blend together to make Jimmy’s Hall an excellent film and a true highlight of 2014.

I genuinely loved this; you’d need a heart of stone not to.

Once again, thank you to Greenwich PictureHouse for yet another excellent, members’, free screening.

FILM REVIEW: Tom à la ferme

I saw the strap line of a review for ‘Tom à la ferme’ just after watching the film; it read, “dark yet strangely romantic.”

I’d go along with that although I’d also add “disjointed” and “complicated” but that’s “disjointed” to the film’s advantage and “complicated” in the way that only the most dis functional of relationships can be at times, be they relationships of the family or of passion.

It’s this sort of blend of ingredients that renders us utterly unable to avert our eyes or quell our ever growing sense of intrigue and it makes for a very unsettling, yet captivating viewing experience; “captivating” being very much the key word here.

Add to this, secrets and lies, a mild case of Stockholm syndrome, misplaced love, abuse and an overall sense of deep-rooted unhappiness and that’s quite a messed up recipe.

A mother from a family ‘unit’ that’s almost entirely unravelled, grieving for the loss of a son she really knew very little about. She lives in a world of denial with an elder, psychotic son that she can barely bring herself to love. He himself harbours  a sinister past and an equally unsavoury present, in a town that has disowned them both.

…and then there’s Tom, unwittingly stumbling into the middle of it all.

Will he be the catalyst for the building of family bridges or will his own truth (bizarrely perhaps the biggest unspoken secret of all) be the final straw? The tale unfolds…

This certainly ain’t Disney, but it’s an excellently observed piece from director and lead role (Tom) Xavier Dolan and definitely one of the year’s highlights to date.


A reluctant, blundering vigilante hobo with tunnel vision; driven by fear and with a score to settle… that’s Blue Ruin.

It’s a gripping thriller and real edge of the seat, heart in the mouth stuff, but that’s as much to do with Dwight (the film’s main character) and his own ineptitude when it comes to the killer crunch, as it is to do with the relentless, ‘eye for an eye’ premise of the plot.

A trained assassin Dwight is not.

Jeremy Saulnier’s direction is superb, so much so that Dwight’s fears are genuinely palpable and consequently they very much become our fears too.

What would we do if plunged into this very same, no-win scenario? Would we flee and hide or face up to things with a steely determination to seek vengeance, all the while scared out of our tiny minds?

There’s really no option in Dwight’s mind and certainly no going back, as an increasingly messy trail of carnage is left in his wake.

Blue Ruin is fairly Tarantino-esque in some ways; wickedly dark, sometimes brutal,  but with the tongue always firmly in cheek.

It’s a bloody mess, but it’s bloody good!



A 1,700 mile trek across some of Western Australia’s deserts may not sound like everyone’s idea of fun, but ‘Tracks’ is the true story of one lady, Robyn Davidson and her attempt to do just that, with an entourage of four camels and Diggity the dog in tow.

Whilst Mia Wasikowska seems excellently cast as Robyn, the film’s success is every bit as much due to our emotional investment in and  attachment to the five animals that make the journey with her. It soon becomes apparent as the terrain becomes more inhospitable  and unforgiving that it’s the animals’ reactions and instinctive behaviour under such conditions that are just as important to the adventure as the physiological and psychological issues that unfold for Robyn herself.

It’s not so much a story of wanderlust, but of the need to get away from everything and more importantly everyone, but there’s a gradual realisation for Robyn that although her journey is indeed about removing herself from the company of other people and the many negatives that they represent in her mind, it’s this intense, extended period of relative isolation, as well as chance encounters with both native Aboriginals and well meaning folk along the way, that ultimately reaffirms her need for people too.

‘Tracks’ is a beautiful film in many ways, not least for the majestic cinematography and the engaging animal scenes throughout; a visually exquisite, life-affirming, beautiful film.