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Four and a half Star Rating

“Artistically creative and texturally sumptuous, Lukasz Zal’s cinematography is quite simply breathtaking…” – Wayward Wolf.

Reading a bit of the blurb surrounding Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, it would seem that this is a film based loosely not on his own experiences, but on those of his mother and father.

Not only were they hopelessly in love, but they were, to all intents and purposes, a bit rubbish at it. Pawlikowski refers to the fact that they seemed all too able to create chaos out of order by way of their poor decision making and general impetuosity; thereby frequently courting romantic disaster.

Set to the backdrop of post-war Poland, Pawlikowski’s film traces the ups and downs of a highly passionate and volatile relationship between two somewhat mismatched lovers: musical impresario, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), and the singer / dancer and all-round apple of his eye, Zula (Joanna Kulig).

Zula is one of the star turns of the Mazurek Ensemble, a musical collective created by Wiktor and his musical business partner, Irena (Agata Kulesza), which seeks, above everything, to preserve the purity of the traditional music of Poland.

This purity is however soon to be compromised by political forces and it’s not long before the ensemble is obliged to espouse all manner of Stalin-esque Soviet propaganda to the wider world, much to the chagrin of Wiktor whose own personal Western ideals and values are in direct opposition to this.

While on tour in East Germany, Wiktor sees an opportunity to escape this autocratic nightmare and conjures up a plan for he and Zula to flee across the border from East to West Berlin. This he believes will allow the couple the best possible opportunity to live a creative life free from the shackles of repressive Communism.

But while Zula is apparently receptive to Wiktor’s idea, to what extent exactly? And what place and role – she secretly ponders – could a young Polish country girl possibly have in such a brave new world?

Pawel Pawlikowski effortlessly combines elements of romance, politics and art here to form an absolutely mesmerising piece, helped in no small way by two wonderful lead performances of quite some stature from Kot and Kulig.

Artistically creative and texturally sumptuous, Lukasz Zal’s cinematography is quite simply breathtaking, and enhanced no end by the decision to shoot in monochrome. This is a choice which accentuates not only the dank unrelenting greyness of a Communist-era Poland, but the brooding smokey cool of the hip 1950’s Parisian jazz scene which Wiktor embraces following his ultimately lone defection from East to West.

Perhaps most impressive of all though is the film’s exquisite soundtrack. From a selection of luscious traditional and jazz arrangements of Polish folk tunes, to an expertly curated selection of classical pieces and rock and roll hits of the time, this is as overwhelming a cinematic sonic experience as I have had in many a year.

Pawlikowski’s film somehow creates the feel of a sprawling three hour epic yet at just 88 minutes in length, this is a lesson to all film makers in achieving maximum impact from what is almost bordering on short-form film making –  in the context of Oscar-nominated major motion pictures, that is.

Above all, Cold War is a wonderfully memorable and immersive tale of promised yet untenable, ill-fated love in unforgiving times, and undoubtedly an award-winner in the making.


Three and a half Star Rating

“…in a larger-than-life tale of espionage and counter espionage, it’s once again our vertically-challenged shiny-toothed hero that steals the show.” – Wayward Wolf.

Unlike James Bond, the Mission Impossible films seem to have that uncanny habit of consistently getting their recipe just about right. You’ll doubtless have your own favourite from this long-running re-booted franchise, but it’s hard to deny the quality of each and every chapter that unfolds.

And according to many, Mission Impossible: Fallout is in fact the pick of the bunch.

Not that it’s in any way ground-breaking or indeed some sort of game changer. It’s evidently not. But through a few well-placed tweaks to a familiar, tried and trusted story line, Mission Impossible: Fallout succeeds in being both entertaining and suspenseful enough to keep the old grey matter sufficiently engaged over the film’s two-and-a-half hour duration.

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, Mission Impossible:Fallout continues Hollywood’s current trend of acknowledging the ageing process in our big screen heroes, depicting them as getting a little long-in-the-tooth for the extra-ordinary feats that continue to be asked of them. They are of course, by and large, human after all.

This has been very evident in the closing chapters of Daniel Craig’s residency as James Bond, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s increasingly arthritic attempts to keep up with the machines that threaten both him and those that he attempts to protect within the Terminator franchise. Granted, Schwarzenegger’s character is not exactly human, but the point still stands. Old age will eventually make us all obsolete.

Accordingly, there are one or two “Christ, not again… really?” withered looks of despair that flash across the face of our resident Mission Impossible hero, Ethan Hunt, during certain more physically demanding scenes. A small yet tell-tale sign of an action hero who is fast becoming aware that old man time is finally beginning to catch up with him.

Never is this more evident than when Ethan Hunt is paired up with a Government-appointed somewhat younger sidekick, August Walker (Henry Cavill), who, resplendent with 1980’s moustache could ably be passed off as being Freddie Mercury’s man-mountain Cyborg love child, were he to have had one.

I’d imagine.

The threat of terrorism-induced nuclear armageddon provides sufficient motivation for Cruise and his merry band of foe-foilers to dig deep, pull out all of the stops and once again achieve the truly extraordinary under nigh on impossible circumstances.

Some things never change.

Simon Pegg, whilst adopting his usual role of light-relief-bringer in otherwise super-intense circumstances, is however noticeably less jester-like during this particular outing. Ving Rhames once again portrays the dependably tech-savvy Luther. Rebecca Ferguson is all seductive glamour, beauty and know-how as agent Isla Faust, whilst Sean Harris is probably more weaselly than sinister portraying ideologue and all-round enemy of the state, Solomon Lane.

But in a larger-than-life tale of espionage and counter espionage, it’s once again our vertically-challenged shiny-toothed hero that steals the show.

As he always does.

Say what you will about Tom Cruise the high-ranking Scientologist and fully paid-up member of the Hollywood aristocracy. This is a man seemingly impervious to any and all attempts by media hacks to publicly assassinate his character by repeatedly calling into question his most private of private lives. But one thing remains undeniable:

He’s simply superb at playing these kinds of roles, in fact I’d go so far as to say that Tom Cruise is very possibly the finest exponent of our time of playing the Action Hero.

The cracks may well be just starting to appear, but whilst there’s still life in Tom Cruise, there’s still life in Ethan Hunt, and that can only be good news for the innumerable fans of this most unfailing of film franchises.









“…Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

Watching this science-fiction horror got me thinking of the irony that amidst the infinite vastness of outer space, the actual ‘stage’ upon which the vast majority of apparently ‘realistic’ science fiction films are played out, is somewhat claustrophobically small and rather limited; a case in point being Daniel Espinosa’s, Life.

In order that the crew of an exploratory space mission might not suffocate to death, the action must either be contained within the sanctuary and metaphorical ‘four walls’ of their relatively minuscule space station, or should they venture out of these confines into outer space, they must again be contained, this time within life-preserving space suits, anchored firmly to the space station.

Containment is indeed the name of the game and thus the ability for Directors to demonstrate true originality considering the self-imposed man-made limitations of the known science-fiction world, can quite often be severely hampered. This results in scenarios and backdrops becoming all too frequently a little overly-familiar and maybe even reassuring to our eyes, no matter how many supposedly differing tales of missions blasting-off into the great unknown we are subjected to.

On the one hand, Life is a film that most definitely suffers an originality bypass, more than most, its subject matter revolving around content that’s quite clearly been begged, borrowed and stolen from any number of prior science fiction sources.

But on the other hand, it’s equally possible to accept the point of view that Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.

Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Gravity, Interstellar, they’re all, without question, key influences here in the Director’s thinking.

But is this necessarily a bad thing?

These films were all lauded for their particular plus points, be that the more gritty, industrial and organic feel – the actual rattling nuts and bolts of space travel – that was conjured up in Interstellar, the stunning cinematography and awe-inspiring heart and soul of Gravity, the use of visual tracking technology to create absolutely white-knuckle-esque suspense, in Aliens, or the sheer fear factor brought about through a combination of the unknown and ultimately the horror of knowing, in both Alien and The Thing.

To name but a few. The list could very easily go on.

In the case of Life, each of these elements are employed strategically and expertly – it has to be said – creating a thoroughly convincing yet very straight forward tale of the inevitable perils of poking about too much in space.

The crew of an international space station are part of a mission to intercept some sort of probe that has been collecting ‘samples’ from the surface of Mars. The crew are to then analyse these for any potential signs of life.

Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), is the scientist in charge of analysing and nurturing the single-celled life form that they successfully unearth from Mars’ dust samples.

Its rapid growth and unconventional, unpredictable demeanour soon becomes not only the subject of much fascination, but also of considerable concern for the crew. They are mindful that as ground-breaking as their discovery undoubtedly is, there are bucket loads of unknowns attached to this particular venture, and the mutually agreed upon, over-riding protocol is that no matter how unique and precious this organism’s growth and development may be, if things get out of hand, it cannot be allowed to affect life on planet earth.

Needless to say, when playing with fire, people get burnt. And so it proves to be.

So long as you can sufficiently disassociate this film from all of its more obvious influences and treat it as the nail-bitingly tense thriller that it certainly is, Life will, without question, be a most enjoyable 100 minutes of your time.

The cast is excellent and the characterisation, I am pleased to announce, is surprisingly downplayed when compared with the more exaggerated characterisation of some of the film’s science fiction forerunnersFrom the brash swagger of Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the sultry authority of team leader, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), to the quietly spoken David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) – whose influence on matters steadily grows as the team’s collective crisis deepens and they flap about with increasing desperation in their attempts to bring a halt to the inextirpable extraterrestrial’s progress.

As for ‘Calvin’ the alien being; he / she / it is deceivingly angelic in appearance. A sort of translucent orchid-like jellyfish creature. Convincing both as some sort of mythical spiritual being and as the relentless predator that it turns out to be.

Perhaps not so convincing however is Jon Ekstrand’s full and rather overblown soundtrack which is effective only sporadically, yet over-bearing and seemingly omni-present. The film at times struggles to breathe under the sheer weight of this excessive sonic onslaught.

Nonetheless, this is but a minor gripe, and is insufficient to detract from the positive impression and sentiment that the film successfully conveys, overall.

Thoroughly engaging to the point where I failed to second guess a fairly predictable yet highly effective twist near the film’s conclusion, Life is a delectable piece of fantasy that tips – in the most brazen of fashion – the visor of its space suit’s helmet in the general direction of the very best of classic cinematic science fiction.







FILM REVIEW: The Music of Strangers

“Cultures must continue to evolve, or they naturally become smaller…” or words to that effect.
And not my words Lynn, the words of legendary Chinese cellist, Yo-Yo Ma.
It’s hard to think of anything that this once child prodigy hasn’t accomplished in his extraordinairy musical career.
The Music of Strangers offers a whistle-stop recap of much of his career, but focuses mainly  on the interesting project that he embarked upon come the turn of the century.
Having spent so many years honing his classical cello technique to an enviable standard, Yo-Yo Ma felt compelled to discover more about music from far flung lands, initially spending some time in the company of the bushmen of the Kalihari desert: “getting some dirt in his bones” – as the wonderful Bobby McFerrin so concisely puts it.
There then followed an attempt to assemble a collective of top musicians within their fields, from all over the globe. Their aim? To create some kind of fusion of world musical styles.
The results of what would become The Silk Road Project, were, and indeed still are, startling.
Although this essentially ‘fusion’ project has come under some scrutiny from music purists ever since, far from diluting each culture, Yo-Yo Ma’s collective succeeds in drawing attention to them, and introduces the as yet uninitiated to the vibrancy and inspirational wonder of ‘world music’ – for want of a better term.
Morgan Neville’s film explores each member of the collective’s own style and story, some of which have been heavily touched by personal tragedy, and the xenophobic attitudes that so nearly de-railed their project in the aftermath of the events of 9/11.
Musicians from as far afield as Iran, China and Syria form the constituent parts of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. It’s a remarkable array of cultures that have bonded through their shared knowledge of the language of music. New found brothers and sisters. A genuine musical ‘family’ if ever there was one, equally at home busking on city streets as they are performing in packed concert halls.
As suggested at the film’s end, Yo-Yo Ma knew he had to get away from his home and his roots in order to explore and find his place in this world, and it’s been a journey that ironically has brought him home again.
The Music of Strangers is as heart warming and inspirational a documentary as you’ll see this year. Genuine bonds of togetherness of musicians from such apparently disparate cultures demonstrates perfectly the oneness and genuine warmth of the human spirit.
Yo-Yo Ma has reached many milestones in a remarkable career, but in creating a work of such goodwill and togetherness, it’s probably fair to say that his Silk Road Project will be, many years from now, his enduring epitaph. And rightly so.
Inspirational and uplifting.


FILM REVIEW: Indignation

Book-ended by two interpretations of the same scene of conflict from the Korean War, Indignation is James Schamus’s film adaptation of Phillip Roth’s novel.

Marcus (Logan Lerman) – a sort of modern day Fred Savage-a-like – is a sensible young lad living in a small Jewish community in 1950s America. He has gained entry into a fictitious, ultra-conservative college in Ohio where he intends to keep his head down and study hard. Despite such noble aspirations and such a sensible demeanour for a young man, it does nothing to allay the fears of his elders. Whilst some concern themselves with how he’ll ever be able to remain kosher in Ohio, it’s his smothering, over protective father, Max (Danny Burstein), in particular that seems most peturbed by his son’s imminent departure, troubled as he is by the trend of so many young men leaving home to join the military only to return in body bags. These same set of somewhat unrelated criteria, Max somehow seems to believe apply to his son’s educational predicament and has convinced himself that it’ll all end in tears.

Such mollycoddling has driven Marcus to distraction and he is only too pleased to flee the nest.

Allocated a room share with two others – supposedly to help him settle in better – Marcus sets about pursuing a deliberately restrained college existence. His commitment to study and self-betterment being perhaps some sort of subconscious need to not end up being a butcher, like his father?

But he’s not factored in distractions – considerable distractions.

His room mates have little consideration for his scholarly pursuits, piping out classical music at great volume, or reciting plays as he attempts to study. Add to this a campus Jewish fellowship is seeking to recruit ‘one of their own’ into their fold. Marcus is anything but interested, a prevailing attitude that is met with considerable confusion.

The waves of relentless angst and pressure that emanate from his father only add to Marcus’ troubles, but perhaps most distracting of all are the seductive charms of the slightly unhinged, but impossibly beautiful, Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), who works her way into Marcus’ life, quickly leading him into as yet unchartered, and rather uncomfortable territory.

Marcus’ college life is not panning out the way in which he had envisaged it, and with this being stifled 1950s America, and with Marcus’ tendency towards outward displays of strong-willed, intellectual atheism in a fervently religious place of further education, it’s not going to take much for him to land himself in hot water.

Which he duly does.

It’s hard to know what to make of Indignation. On the one hand, there’s certainly intrigue generated from Marcus’ problematic relationship with Olivia, and from the friction generated between Marcus and his room mates, his father, and most importantly, between himself and his college Dean, Caudwell (Tracy Letts), as Marcus’ rather anarchic (within the bounds of his college, at least) attitude to the ‘system’ renders his place at the college  increasingly untenable. It’s also fascinating to see how the prevailing views and prudish small town attitudes of the 1950s impact greatly upon Marcus’ ultimate destiny, potentially jeopardising his future thanks in the main to his own stubborn intellectual pride.

That’s all very well and good, but there’s no hiding the fact that Indignation comes across as being rather slow and ponderous. One scene in particular – a sort of battle of the intellectual and academic minds between Marcus and Caudwell – has actually been hailed as the defining scene of the film by many; a scene in which religion, politics and the writings of Bertrand Russell are banded about with intended dramatic affect. But it’s so frustratingly drawn out that I could feel indignation rising within me at having paid money to sit through such self-indulgent tedium.

And I’m not sure that that was the director’s intentions.

Be it the indignation of the college Priest at the unruly behaviour of some of the students, the indignation of Olivia having been considered something of a slut merely for being ‘demonstrably’ fond of Marcus in the back seat of a car, the indignation on the part of Marcus’ roommate, whose car it was, or of course indignation on Marcus’ part having stayed true to his academic, intellectual, atheistic and love choices, only to be rounded upon from all corners – it’s fair to say that within Schamus’s piece, indignation abounds.

It’s a film not without its merits, particularly concerning scenes of burgeoning sexual tension between Marcus and Olivia, and the tough, conservative consequences that ‘societal pressures’ demand as a result, but the lasting impression is of a film experience that can best be described, unfortunately, as rather ‘arduous’ – not to mention more than just a little self-satisfied.





I don’t imagine there could be anything more grief-inducing or soul-destroying for a parent than having the child that they’ve painstakingly brought into, and brought up in the world, completely wash their hands of them, potentially never to make contact again.

This is the distressing scenario that Pedro Almodovar tackles in his latest, thought-provoking piece, Julieta.

Julieta (played by both Adriana Ugarte (younger Julieta) and Emma Suarez (older Julieta)), is a beautiful, middle-aged woman on the verge of relocating to Portugal with her boyfriend. It’s all been agreed, yet, without explanation, at the eleventh hour, Julieta develops cold feet, turning her back on both boyfriend and relocation plans.

Instead, without a word, she heads to a part of town that she’s familiar with and rents an apartment for herself in a block in which she once lived, many years before.

It’s unclear at this stage exactly what her motives were to have done such a thing, but she’s clearly running from something.

Director Almodovar, uses the narrative device of a long letter that Julieta then pens to her estranged daughter, Antía (played by both Priscilla Delgado (child Antía) and Blanca Parés (18 year old Antía)), to gradually reveal a tale of great sorrow and regret; how a chance encounter with a rugged fisherman on a train, named Xoan (Daniel Grao), led to an impulsive and passionate affair, and how the daughter that they would subsequently bring into the world, would come to shape and influence their respective lives, to such a life-shattering extent.

There’s an awful lot of detailed storyline covered in Julieta, chronicling the life of the film’s lead from an intelligent, courageous and impetuous young lady, to the world-weary ‘broken’ woman that resignedly composes her mournful plea to her daughter. Almodovar’s courageous direction, unafraid as he is to skip quickly and purposely over copious amounts of weighty subject matter, is thus particularly impressive; never over-indulging, yet successfully retaining both tremendous impact and integrity throughout.

And there’s a lovely sense of fate and symmetry about Julieta, exploring elements of chance and opportunity, hope and forgiveness, and the coming to terms – that we all must do – with our own faults and frailties.

Enveloped by Alberto Iglesias’s luscious score that embraces both jazz and classical sensibilities in a manner not unreminiscent of Film-Noir, Julieta is a very beautiful, poignant bit of film-making.

No less than we’d expect from such a master of his craft.





FILM REVIEW: Bridget Jones’s Baby

Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is having a baby, and there are two potential fathers. Bridget is getting older, and the world, to Bridget, appears to be getting younger.

What a ‘to-do!’

If I’m perfectly honest with myself, Bridget Jones’s Baby, the third film in the franchise, would rank somewhere near the bottom of a ‘must see films of the year’ list. There will doubtless be very few shocked by that particular revelation. It is after all a film that’s unapologetically geared towards a predominantly female audience of a certain age.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Such films serve as a good counterbalance to the plethora of God-awful, tiresome action films that relentlessly clog up cineplexes, nationwide. If the truth be told, I normally make a point of avoiding both.

There is however no escaping it, Bridget Jones’s Baby is a film that’s based upon the original book and concept of a female author. It’s directed by a woman and it’s packed solid with women’s ‘humour’ which, going by the cacophony of shrieks, howls and giggles emanating from all around about me in the particular screening that I attended, was blisteringly funny, to say the least.

Only… it wasn’t. Not to me anyway.

I’m being a little harsh, although I will say that the opening fifteen or twenty minutes, in which we are re-introduced to Bridget and her by now forty-something existence, and the struggles she faces to remain relevant within the hip TV and media circles in which she still operates, did make me want to bleach my eyes, ears and senses in general. A reaction no doubt to the onslaught of sickeningly slick, sassy one-liners, a largely toe-curling script, and some rather blatantly obvious visual gags.

However – and it’s a big however – once Bridget Jones’s Baby settles down, stops waving its arms around in that excruciating ‘Me, Me, Me!’ fashion, in an attempt to make its mark and get itself noticed – essentially, once it’s stopped being quite so nauseatingly Sex and The City, and become a little more Four Weddings meets Love Actually – a rather memorable little feel-good film threatens to emerge. And not a moment too soon.

It helps that a who’s who of British film, drama and television comedy accounts for the lion’s share of the film’s cast.

Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent add weight (not literally), to proceedings, as Bridget’s parents, and a very special mention to the always superb, Emma Thompson, who once again defies the brevity of her bit-part role, to just about steal the show.

Colin Firth, rehashes his role as Mark, the tall, silent and slightly repressed English gent, whilst Patrick Dempsey plays Jack – Mark’s polar opposite – an emotionally open, slick American charmer, who has achieved considerable fame in championing the use of algorithms as a way to aid in the match-making process.

Sometimes together, and at other times independently, the pair do their best to vie for Bridget’s attentions through all manner of scrapes and tricky scenarios; each of them hopeful that Bridget’s baby-to-come, will ultimately prove to be theirs.

Bridget Jones’s Baby is a Londoner’s ‘spot the location’ dream, with various famous locations and landmarks springing up, doctored as they are – at times almost out of all recognition – for the benefit of the imaginations of the ‘Hollywood market’, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all good fun.

Perhaps more surprising than anything though is the fact that Bridget Jones’s Baby somehow manages to turn a decidedly shaky start – in my humble opinion, if no-one else’s – into a fully fledged, thoroughly convincing feel-good film that ultimately leaves an overwhelming impression of being, on balance at least, both emotionally engaging and rather amusing, in equal measures.

And who’d have thought that?



FILM REVIEW: Cafe Society

Just what do you do when your nephew’s been ‘carrying on’ with the girl of your dreams, without your knowing?

Come on. We’ve all been there!

Welcome to Cafe Society, Woody Allen’s latest wrestle with life’s little peculiarities.

Woody Allen – narrating here in a voice that I genuinely had absolutely no idea belonged to him until I was informed quite a few days later – tells the story of a young Jewish kid, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), from New York (where else!), who heads south to L.A aware that his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), is a big shot Hollywood agent to the stars. Here, he hopes that Phil can find some role for him too in this glamorous world of film and show-biz.

Not able to think of anything in particular, Phil eventually assigns ad hoc tasks to young Bobby, and this in turn provides much needed leverage to Phil’s busy day-to-day life.

Not knowing anyone in town, Vonnie (Phil’s secretary, played by Kristen Stewart), offers to show Bobby around and helps him to settle into town. Quickly Bobby falls for her girl-next-door charms, but she is quick to inform him that she is in a relationship with a journalist, named Doug.

Doug, is in fact Phil, but in order to ease any potential tensions, and convinced that Phil will stay true to his word, leave his wife and marry her, Vonnie elects not to let on to Bobby, instead fabricating a tale of how Doug is always away on work, hence his constant absence.

When Phil proves incapable of staying true to his promise, feeling duty bound as he does to honour his long-term marriage, Vonnie decides that enough is enough and finally succumbs to Bobby’s advances. Romance duly blossoms between the two of them, and Bobby, tired of the insincerities of California, is set to hatch a plan to whisk Vonnie away with him back to New York City, where he has been promised an ideal opportunity to put his considerable charms to good effect; running his criminal brother’s swanky nightclub.

Meanwhile, Phil descends into a spiral of remorse and self-pity, and, none-the-wiser, confides in Bobby of all people, his deepest, most sincere feelings for the as yet unidentified, Vonnie.

Such a gilt-edged, burgeoning secret cannot be contained forever, and sure enough, through a twist of fate, the truth is finally revealed, leaving Uncle and Nephew to adopt their new positions as love rivals, and leaving Vonnie with one huge decision to make.

There really is nothing like keeping it within the family.

With Phil finally shaken from his reticence, Vonnie breaks Bobby’s heart. Let enough water flow under the bridge, however, and life always has that funny way of surprising us all…

Woody Allen’s Cafe Society – flitting as it does between the fairytale glamour of Los Angeles and the altogether harder-edge of New York City, is an unapologetically large-scale, sumptuous romantic yarn.

Jessie Eisenberg and Steve Carrell are both superb as the family love rivals and it’s refreshing to see Kristen Stewart removed, albeit it temporarily, from her safety zone to play a character with real layers and substance. There really is only so much pouty agonising over wolves and vampires that one can sit through, I find.

Perhaps most pleasing of all is the fact that Cafe Society successfully blends the joy, pain and anguish of tangled love, with some genuinely funny, old-school Woody Allen gags and wise cracks – supplied chiefly through the interaction between Bobby’s parents, Rose and Marty Dorfman (played wonderfully by Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott). It’s very much classic Woody Allen in that sense. Something of a genuine throw-back.

I am reliably informed that Cafe Society is shot digitally in a 2:00:1 aspect ratio, originally a high resolution, widescreen format initially pioneered back in the 1950s.

Whether this has anything to do with the pleasing golden hue that seems to envelop the film’s image, I have no idea – possibly not – but it’s an ‘effect’ that lends Cafe Society an epic, old, classic, almost technicolour quality. It’s a flattering look which serves to elevate what is already an excellent piece onto a whole different level altogether.

There’s an enchanting heart and soul to Cafe Society, and that’s arguably something that’s been missing from Woody’s work for quite some time now.

Highly enjoyable.











FILM REVIEW: My Scientology Movie

Scientology is something of an easy target.

But in many ways, it’s arguably no more nonsensical than any of the other man-made religions that people choose to pin their colours to, frequently in complete defiance of logic, common sense and the wider needs of mankind.

Scientology was the brain child of one L.Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer. Its origins go back to Hubbard’s initial work with Dianetics back in the 1950s. It is classified as being a form of: “spiritual healing technology and an organized science of thought,” where the intent is to free individuals of the influence of past traumas by systematic exposure and removal of the engrams (painful memories) these events have left behind…”

Dianetics was later to morph into and become known as, Scientology.

Louis Theroux is certainly not alone in having his curiosity piqued by this apparently most cultish of all religions.

Predictably, this most secretive of institutions was never going to welcome an investigative reporter like Theroux with open arms, and thus Louis is forced to find an alternative angle from which to approach his research.

Fortunately for him, there are any number of disgruntled ‘bitter’ (according to the Church of Scientology), high profile ex-members only too willing to spill the beans concerning the Church’s inner secrets and practices, and Louis takes full advantage of their knowledge.

One ex-member in particular will prove to be key in gaining as authentic an insight as possible. Mark ‘Marty’ Rathbun, an ex-senior official of the church, will, along with Louis, audition a number of young aspiring actors for the role of David Miscavige, (the current and long time head of the church of Scientology), and the ‘chosen one’ will then recreate a number of disturbing scenes from the depths of Rathbun’s own recollections.

David Miscavige, short in stature he may well be, but by all accounts he’s a pretty ruthless customer, having been accused over the years of numerous wrong doings including acts of violence.

Before too long, word of Louis’ experiment has spread, and sure enough, members of the Church of Scientology begin to emerge, armed with their own video cameras, and to a man, remain completely non-compliant with Louis’ line of questioning. Theirs is a counter-campaign of intense pressure, the sole aim of which being to intimidate to such a degree as to force Louis to call a halt to his reenactments.

But of course, as we all know, Louis’ nerdish, apparently affable innocence and naivety belies an unflappable presence, whose subtle, dogged insistence has faced up to far more threatening a foe than this before.

It all makes for some frequently odd, yet very amusing confrontations, through which the Church, in some ways, inadvertently gives away far more about itself than it would have done if it had just maintained an air of aloof mystery, and left well alone.

Theroux’s documentary, driven along by the strains of a lavish, overbearing and, it should be said, slightly out of place soundtrack, announces its intentions clearly as a cinematic piece rather than any sort of low-key documentary. It provides us ably with a general overview of Scientology for the uninitiated. Everything from the perceived negativity of an SP (suppressive person), to the concept of squirrel-busting. From Thetans to E-meters. It’s all here. It’s a steep learning curve, and one which on the surface at least, paints Scientology to be a little absurd to say the least, dressed up as it is in its science fiction finery, metaphorically speaking.

It’s only then once one breaks it all down into its constituent, functioning parts, that the nuts and bolts of scientology begin to bear quite a startling, if predictable resemblance to any number of established and ‘accepted’ religions:

Talking of the human body as being merely a vehicle for a Scientologist’s time on earth –  Aspiring to ascend to a more enlightened state of being – The rejection of logic and common sense in favour of an accepted, mythical ‘truth’ no matter whether it stands up to scrutiny or not – and adopting a sense of like-minded community and the subsequent frowning upon, and at times ostracising of those who abscond from its clutches. Theroux reveals that this aspect in particular has led to whole families being ripped apart, potentially never to be reunited again whilst the spell of Scientology retains its hold.

Possibly it’s only really therefore the sense of Scientology being a rather rigidly-policed, apparently paranoid, Masonic type of institution, veiled in its self-imposed secrecy, that leaves this most Buck Rodgers-esque of ‘religions’ so wide-open to ridicule and idle speculation?

Perhaps so, but as one of Scientology’s favourite sons, Tom Cruise, is at pains to say: “Ignorance breeds bigotry.”

A fair point, and Amen to that.






FILM REVIEW: Hell or High Water

There are moments during David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water when you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a Coen Brothers movie.
Whilst on one level it’s a serious tale of the evening of scores, of revenge and of payback (literally), it’s also what you might refer to as a darkly humorous small town yarn.
Two brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively), rob banks. More specifically, they rob branches of the Texas Midland Bank. There are no major cash hauls, just quick ‘in and out’ smash-and-grab hits for those loose, unmarked dollar bill stashes in the bank cashiers’ draws. Whilst snatching a few thousand here and there may be better than nothing, it hardly seems worth the hassle, all things considered.
It soon transpires though that rather than simply being a pair of desperado chancers, there is in fact method to their small-scale madness.
It turns out that the Texas Midland Bank has had a sizeable loan secured against the family ranch which has, for some time now, crippled the boys’ family with debt – the stress from which is something that Toby directly attributes to the recent death of his dear mother.
Toby, being an honourable sort without so much as a blemish to his good name, believes in doing the right thing. He wants to repay the bank. He just wants to do it on his terms – by using the bank’s own money.
Tanner, on the other hand, is something of a career criminal. In and out of jail, he’s missed large parts of his brother’s life, and whilst not feeling the same levels of resentment as his brother, feels duty bound to aid him in his venture. Tanner’s ‘fuck you’ attitude to the system is of particular benefit under these circumstances. More than anything though , one senses that Tanner just enjoys his self-styled role as a hot-headed ‘loose cannon’.
Not so ‘hot’ on their trail, (this is small town Texas, after all), are veteran sherif, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), and his deputy, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who is soon to take over from Marcus as the town’s sherif.
Hamilton’s slow-burn approach to tracking down these errant rogues is of great frustration to Alberto, but he has a plan, and little by little, the net closes in.
When one breaks it down, there’s really not too much to Hell or High Water. It’s a simple tale of simple folk in small town America, but the film’s simplicity is its greatest asset.
Granted, a film whose central theme is one based around a sequence of bank robberies, needs to have some element of action about it, but essentially this is more a film about characters, and David Mackenzie’s direction is key to their full and rounded development.
The film’s serious overtones are punctuated frequently by exchanges of bone-dry amusing dialogue, and a handful of truly comical characters thrown in, providing a small-town quirkiness to proceedings. Not that they’re needed in the sense of breaking up any sort of monotony or puncturing any elements of directorial self-importance as such, for the truth is that Hell or High Water is beautifully paced and rolls along ever so sweetly, remaining thoroughly engaging until its final, ‘blaze of glory’ conclusion.
Hell or High Water. A sort of timeless, twisted Robin Hood revival for our times, and a damn good one at that.

FILM REVIEW: The Girl On The Train

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or two, you’ll be aware of the Paula Hawkins novel, The Girl on the Train, (TGOTT). 

Inevitably, as with most best sellers, there was always going to be a film adaptation, and that particular honour has on this occasion gone to Director, Tate Taylor, who has adapted Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay for the big screen.

For those not familiar with the story: Rachel (Emily Blunt – more about her later), a lady deeply affected by post-divorce turmoil – to the point of having taken heavily to the bottle – catches the train to work each day and in doing so, passes her old home in which her ex-husband still lives, along with his new wife and baby. This is understandably a source of great daily pain and anguish for Rachel, and as a result, she has come to fixate instead upon another property, a few doors along, in which the ‘perfect’ couple reside.

This couple, Megan Hipwell (Hayley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), live a demonstrably idyllic, loving life – very much on show for anyone on Rachel’s train that would care to glance in their direction. Rachel is only too happy to oblige.

On one particular day, however, as she passes, she spots something at the couple’s house that shatters her blissful illusion of their union, generating a deep anger within her. The following day she awakens to find herself bloodied and bruised and with no recollection of what happened the day before. More concerningly though, Rachel has suddenly become a chief suspect in Megan’s sudden, mysterious disappearance.

The film then strategically pieces together the back story that has led up to this point in time, through examining the lives and actions of the film’s key characters, whilst the actual events of the ‘forgotten’ day are gradually spoon-fed throughout, using a sequence of hazy, drunken flashbacks of Rachel’s gradually recalled, half-remembered memories.

Indeed, it’s Rachel (and Emily Blunt’s superlative portrayal of her, to be more precise), that steals the show here. Blunt has successfully achieved that most illusive of goals – a convincing portrayal of a drunk.

No hip flask-waving, overly-slurred speech or swivel-eyed exaggerated staggering, here. Blunt’s is a far more nuanced performance, successfully conveying both the desperation and shame that it’s very clear she experiences daily, as she ‘manfully’ attempts to keep life and soul together, under the most crushing of personal circumstances.

Indeed, the performances in general are all solid and emotionally engaging to a point. In addition, it’s a film that possesses just the right kind of momentum at the right sort of times. It’s all beautifully shot and edited and it’s well pieced together – for what it is – with a lavish Danny Elfman score to boot, providing considerable sonic varnish.

It’s indisputable therefore that there are a whole host of key ingredients in place to provide a winning formula here, which makes it all the more baffling as to why TGOTT feels less like the epic cinematic event that it’s meant to be, and rather more like a high-budget, made for TV movie.

Certainly, if I’d watched this instead on a 40 inch, flat-screen television, in my living room, I’d not be overly concerned at having missed out on anything that the big screen experience could have had to offer.

I have my suspicions, but, in all honesty I’m still at a loss as to why this should be.

It’s a hard one to put your finger on…

Perhaps it’s the predictability of the film’s final act which feels like a bit of a cop out after what has preceeded it? Possibly the tension is simply not ramped-up sufficiently in the closing stages, rendering the film’s overall impact less than it might have been? Or maybe, the whole thing, no matter how well acted and technically proficient it may well be, just leaves the residual impression of having been both lightweight and glossy – like a bit of holiday reading that one can dip in and out of, at will, in between swimming lengths of the beach resort’s pool?

In fact, it’s probably fair to assume that The Girl on the Train has been a rather well thumbed-through, ubiquitous presence within many a resort, along the many coasts of the Mediterranean and beyond, this summer.

Then again, it’s perfectly conceivable that that’s a harsh and unfair summary.

I’m torn, so you really will have to see for yourselves.

One man’s trash is, after all, another man’s treasure – or some other such nonsense.


FILM REVIEW: The Infiltrator


Brad Furman’s The Infiltrator, is a tense thriller based upon a true story, starring man of the moment, the omnipresent, Bryan Cranston. He plays Robert Mazur, a U.S. Customs official tasked with exposing a notorious money laundering scheme that’s linked at its very highest levels to the man himself, Pablo Escobar.
In the twilight of his career, with retirement just around the corner, Mazur is presented with the option to ease himself out of the job quietly, but call it fate or sods law, his final ‘take it or leave it’ role thrusts him into the biggest job of his life, and much to his long-suffering wife’s concern and displeasure, his commitment to his colleagues and to his position renders him unable to say no.
Together with a team of fellow undercover operatives, they seek to infiltrate this money laundering ring and expose its inner circle; working their way up into its upper echelons as they go.
Mazur adopts the guise of business ‘money man,’ Bob Musella, through whom financial transactions ‘get done,’ no matter their dubious nature. John Leguizamo stays true-to-type, playing his partner, the street-wise, cocksure, Emir Abreu. Emir supplies considerable know-how to proceedings, possesses considerable cojones, and generally adds an authenticity that’s so crucial at the ‘street level’ of this particular operation.
Mazur and Abreu must mix it up with an assortment of street hoodlums, and latterly, Mazur in particular, with a selection of ultra-moneyed, crooked tycoons.
A number of false friendships are made and their confidence is duly gained. One bond of friendship ultimately proves so strong that the sense of guilt that Mazur experiences when faced with the inevitable act of betrayal, borders on deep remorse.
Within such a highly volatile predicament, the possibility of being found out – or sold out for that matter – at any moment, is never far from Mazur’s thoughts . Everything is balanced precariously on the proverbial knife edge and the resultant tension from a number of incredibly near misses will leave your heart in your mouth.
But the film’s chief success comes from the exploration of Robert Mazur’s character,  and more to the point, from Bryan Cranston’s excellent portrayal of him.
Rather than the swashbuckling all-action hero that Mazur’s character could very easily have been made out to be in the wrong directorial hands – whether true to life or not – Cranston, one senses, provides a far more realistic portrayal. A family man, and a man that’s fully aware of the folly of accepting this one final job, and the far reaching consequences that it could so easily bring about.
Robert Mazur is a man that engages in high-risk role play by day, living an enormously decadent high-flying lifestyle so as to ingratiate himself with those that he seeks to bring down, after which he must adapt back to his sedate, middle class existence by night. More to the point, he must continually square these two, disparate existences with both his own conscience, and with his wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), a task that becomes increasingly difficult the further he is drawn into the cesspit of the mafia inner circle.
For this, Mazur’s final assignment, he is even required to adopt a fiancee into his life, Bonni, (played here by the excellent Amy Ryan), a dedication to the role which whilst necessary and admirable, pushes Robert’s wife to her very limits of tolerance, particularly when sinister elements of Mazur’s work begin to encroach negatively upon his marriage and family life.
Director Brad Furman’s piece is commendable on a number of levels, most notably for not being sucked into the trap of turning the whole piece into an excuse for umpteen gangster shoot-outs and relentless car chases, but the overall impression is one of a film that falls a little short of being considered of any great importance within its genre, as watchable as it most definitely is.
Not pandering to the temptation to overly titillate or indulge in the gratuitous is all well and good, but there’s a nagging sense that Furman’s direction could have benefited from being maybe a little more ‘down and dirty,’ in order to achieve maximum impact. That said, there’s certainly enough here overall, particularly given such genuinely excellent performances right across the board, and a succession of hyper-tense set pieces, to make The Infiltrator a perfectly decent and entertaining watch.


FILM REVIEW: The Beatles: Eight days a week – the touring years

“Where are we goin’ lads?”

“To the toppa most of the poppa most!”

The Beatles are the greatest popular music band of all time. There’s no contest.

They’re not my personal favourite, as much as I do love and admire them, but for sheer impact, influence and innovation, it’s indisputable. Their consistency in producing such a large volume of defining, classic music was and is unrivalled, and their influence reaches further and wider than any other band in history.

Ron Howard’s new film, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The touring years – to be known as (TB:8DAW) from this point onwards assembles both previously seen and unseen footage, along with rare audio snippets, photographs and newspaper cuttings, given an effective, lightly-animated, 3-dimensional makeover in places. It’s memorabilia amassed from those early years of what proved to be a remarkable career, when, as a band, they took to the small venues of Britain and Hamburg, playing themselves almost to a standstill whilst undertaking the most gruelling of tour schedules.

But it would all come to serve them well.

Years of honing their craft on stage gave their live performances an outstanding edge. Tight and bang on the money they delivered their own particular fusion of Rhythm and Blues and skiffle-infused Rock n Roll to the masses, with devastating affect. Millions of swooning, screaming, fainting girls, beside themselves with emotion, can’t be wrong after all .

Every generation has its own band or two that re-write the rules to an extent, but it’s largely within already well-explored areas and well-defined parameters, so it must have been something else altogether to have been there and experienced The Beatles usher in a new dawn of genuine originality and brilliance. Of course the boys were never ones to accept any fawning or sycophantic acclaim from a clearly bewitched media who would routinely proclaim them to be the most important cultural event of the times. Paul and John were usually quick to retort with something along the lines of: “Nah, we’re just having a laugh.”

And indeed they were, at least until the charm of frenzied fame inevitably wore off and what was once the huge adrenalin kick of live performing gradually turned into an act of going through the motions – just an every day routine of drudgery for the band. Add to this the realisation that they were increasingly turning into performing monkeys for the tour promoters, in the full glare of celebrity and everything that that particular freak show brings to the table.

From the early days of Brian Epstein’s significant and enduring influence, to being the first band in 1965 to perform a gig at anything as high capacity (56,000) as New York’s Shea Stadium, right through to the band’s later years in which they increasingly sought the sanctuary (and the greater creativity it afforded them), of Abbey Road studios, not to mention the calming influence of their later guide and producer, George Martin; (TB:8DAW) covers it all, and with a confident swagger.

It’s edited beautifully. Seamlessly. And it rattles along with tremendous momentum and flow, much as we’ve come to expect from the Ron Howard school of slick, no-nonsense direction, capturing the all important feel and emotions of the time – a sense that everyone was just riding a wave and winging it the best they could – and helping those that were lucky enough to remember it to relive the magnificent, society-disrupting insanity that was ‘Beatle-mania!’

There was something of a sense of personal unworthiness I felt as I watched this beautifully restored footage of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr on the big screen, performing with such energy and innate playful brilliance to a whole swathe of audiences around the globe. A real feeing that I was witnessing something remarkable, the like of which we will never see again. The all-time greatest band.

They were a true phenomenon. As Whoopi Goldberg remarked: “It was fine for absolutely anybody to love The Beatles…” They were boundary-less. Their influence transcended race, class and status. Four hugely talented, charming, and very witty fellas from Liverpool. Just having a laugh. And everyone could be in on the joke.

The Beatles’ story, in all of its wonder, writes itself, it’s true, but it still takes something special to deliver their story with as much power and impact as Ron Howard’s film undoubtedly does. It comes across as more of a homage than a straight forward bio-pic. All signs point to (TB:8DAW) as being every bit a labour of love – and that can only be a good thing.

Not even footage of a spontaneous Beatles sing-along by Liverpool supporters at Anfield could dampen the mood of this one.

With a grin as wide as the river Mersey, I watched this, and you will too.

Absolutely joyous.




















FILM REVIEW: The girl with all the gifts

The zombie genre has undergone a metamorphosis or two over the years. From Romero’s seminal Night of the living dead, and the succession of thought-provoking sequels that it spawned, to the grisly, elongated soap opera of AMC’s The Walking Dead and its various spin-offs, right through to the re-imagined ‘crazed’ warp-speed zombies of the 28 Days Later franchise. Each of these well known offerings – and pretty much everything in-between for that matter – whilst differing stylistically, essentially all tell the same story of man’s struggle against the undead in the ultimate game of survival.
It must be a tough task to bring something new to the zombie table with most avenues seemingly explored and exhausted by now, but The girl with all the gifts (TGWATG) – Colm McCarthy’s adaptation of Mike Carey’s book and screenplay of the same name – is an attempt to do just that with a slightly different take on things.
A predominantly military set of survivors are holed-up in a secure base. Here, their collective mission is quite simple: attempt to create a vaccine in order to combat the fungal illness that has afflicted the brains of the population, turning society into a land of flesh-eating ‘hungries’.
Glen Close (Dr. Caroline Caldwell), is convinced that she is just days away from finalising an effective vaccine through her work harvesting what she needs from a selection of subjects. These subjects happen to be children, and not only that, but children who possess an innate partial immunity to the illness. These are the second generation of the infected. Born to infected parents, they exhibit all the traits of normal children, until provoked that is, be that through hunger or ‘the wrong’ external stimuli.
For everybody’s safety they are therefore kept in underground cells, released daily only to attend their schooling, and even then, only once securely restrained; strapped into wheelchairs, at gunpoint.
Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), is the children’s teacher and very obviously the only person to treat them with anything approaching a level of human kindness. To the others they are functional pawns in a necessary game of survival.
One girl in particular, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a highly intelligent and valuable ‘asset’ to the camp, forms a particularly strong bond with Helen, but when the base’s defences are finally breached by the sheer weight of hungries at the perimeter fence, a sequence of quick-fire circumstances leads to Melanie being whisked away from the compound in an armoured vehicle, accompanied by Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), and a couple of other members of the military.
Alive but shaken, they must all now fend for themselves on the outside.
Much like many a zombie film, the group will need to navigate the extraordinarily dangerous challenges that exist outside the safety of their previous home, but unlike many of its contemporaries, TGWATG conjures up a scenario in which the group must contend with the level of unknowns that Melanie’s presence offers. A necessary evil, if you like. Disabled from biting by strapping a perspex mask to her face, it’s no longer a case of what danger Melanie represents, but more a case of what use she can be to aid them in their quest.
McCarthy’s film is one which produces a number of interesting observations. The importance of having respect and empathy for both those we know and understand, as well as for those that perhaps we don’t. The advantages of developing symbiotic relationships in order to maximise our chances of survival, and then, perhaps most importantly of all, in light of a new, more advanced second generation of the infected, the question is posed: Is it more important for ‘man’ to preserve his way of life at all costs, or is man’s life in fact worth no more than this new domineering force of the land that has now arisen – the hungries.
It’s a good set up, and a story that has substance and forces the viewer to think in ways that perhaps one wouldn’t expect to do when dealing with this particular subject matter. On that basis alone, TGWATG deserves a lot of credit.
Disappointingly though, it’s a film that, on balance, struggles to deliver an end product  worthy of the book’s innovative concepts.
For a book that centres so crucially upon the role of children in this harsh new world, it’s a little surprising therefore that it’s actually once TGWATG introduces scenes in its latter stages containing any number of feral, conniving youths – think Lord of the Flies meets the cast from Oliver – and indeed once Melanie really takes centre stage and begins to exert her influence on proceedings, that the film noticeably loses impact, and all levels of tension and foreboding that have been carefully-nurtured up until this point, quickly dissipate.
And then there’s that ending. As absurd as it is clever. An accomplishment that I imagine wasn’t actually McCarthy’s intention. See for yourselves. Make up your own minds. In all honesty, I still can’t decide.
It all leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the performances that you can put your finger on. The effects are convincing enough and it’s hard to think of anything that leaps out at you as being overly-naff or in any way contrived. I suppose the kindest way to look at it is that TGWATG is just simply a film that runs out of puff. It fails to sustain that crucial level of intensity and credibility for that matter, and exhibits too many awkward moments of clunkiness as it limps unconvincingly towards its rather ambivalence-inducing conclusion.

FILM REVIEW: Amanda Knox

There’s nothing particularly clear cut about the Meredith Kercher case. Back in 2007, as (arguably) now, we knew but one indisputable fact; Meredith Kercher was murdered.

Lord knows how her grieving family is meant to have got any sense of closure when the whole sorry shebang seems to be – despite countless court hours – pretty much inconclusive. The archetypal, interminable crime case.

That said, in 2015, there was finally at last some semblance of closure when both Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were acquitted by the Italian courts for a second, and one would assume, final time.

The makers of this new Netflix documentary, Amanda Knox, were on site at the Knox family residence to capture that all important moment when the verdict was delivered. The combined relief and joy on Amanda’s face was something to behold, and the phone call she received just moments later from Raffaele makes for a genuinely emotional and touching scene: “Raffaele, we’re free…!”

It’ll be of no consolation to the Kercher family of course, but at least someone finally can take something positive from the train-wreckage of this most unfortunate of affairs.

It’s genuinely tricky to say whether Amanda Knox, the documentary, deliberately sets out to paint a favourable (or at least neutral), picture of the ‘infamous exchange student’ from Seattle. Certainly her new shorter haircut, absence of make-up, and low-key dress sense would hint at this being the case. Not quite the funky wild-child temptress that the Italian – and subsequently world – press would have had us believe her to be at one time. Then again, a lot of water’s passed under that particular bridge since then, hasn’t it?

There was a murder conviction, serving three or four years of a twenty-six year jail sentence, and an unrelenting press campaign of intrudence which has effectively extinguished any chance that Amanda Knox might have had to slide away from the public eye and lead something resembling a normal life once again.

I’d imagine that that’s a collection of circumstances which would have quite some adverse affect on anyone’s personality.

There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking stylistically-speaking about Amanda Knox, a documentary which simply lays out the ‘facts’ and allows a number of talking heads to have their say – leaving its audience to make up their own mind.

Amongst those interviewed is the head of prosecution, Giuliano Mignini, whose motives and actions are questionable to say the least, as he seeks to curry favour with those of power and influence, hell-bent on proving that he and Perugia’s police force are up to the job of cracking this most high profile of cases. And then there’s the almost insatiable pursuit of the perfect ‘scoop’ by textbook, slippery eel, Daily Mail journalist, Nick Pisa, whose approach is at once both impressive and inappropriate – likening the enormity of his new found journalistic fame and subsequent ego boost in light of these terrible events, to having sex. In fairness, it is after all only journalism and he is after all a journalist. I’m fairly confident that you won’t rise to that sort of level within the industry without being unscrupulous on some level at least.

Of course, it’s the individual testimonies and back stories regaled by both Amanda and Raffaele themselves though that hold the most intrigue. Scrutinising the pair for tell-tale ‘signs’ from body language and dialogue, you’d be hard-pushed to witness any psychopathic traits or signs of the cold hearted blood-lust that some would have you believe is their way and want; but I am of course no expert.

What we can say though is that thanks to a litany of amateurish, bungled attempts by the prosecution to prove the young couple’s guilt – resulting in evidence being rendered inadmissible in court – it seems that the world will never be able to categorically say what really happened, on that regrettable November evening in 2007.

Will the files of the case of the murder of Meredith Kercher remain forever on ice? Has the now jailed chief suspect, Rudy Guede, actually been hung out to dry? The convenient fall guy in a much bigger and more complex scenario? Does Amanda Knox know more than she’s ever let on? Was Sollecito as innocent as he seems, or was he just easily led by the more domineering and seductive charms of Foxy Knoxy? A reluctant accomplice, if you will, in a gruesome murder?

So many questions that will remain unanswered, but one thing we do know now, beyond any reasonable doubt; Netflix’ Amanda Knox documentary leaves us absolutely none the wiser…














Forget the oft-opined notion that war is the heroic act of defending one’s country and fellow countrymen in some glorious display of do-or-die patriotism. War, we are informed, is business. Pure and simple.

And ‘War Dogs’ is the term used to describe folk that choose to make the industry of war their business, as well as the name of director, Todd Phillips’ excellent new film.

Based upon true events, it tells the remarkable story of David Packouz (Miles Teller), and his transition from unenthused masseur to big-time gun-runner, and the kind of massive life upheaval that you’d imagine would accompany such an unusual and dramatic career-switch.

 Reacquainted at a funeral with wayward childhood friend and former partner-in-crime, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), and on discovering the rather dubious line of business that he’s involved in, David is quickly tempted to throw in the massage towel – as it were – and team up with his old friend; lured by the promise of potential big bucks and the glamour and excitement of the murky world of gun-running.
Efraim has done well for himself and his business is profitable from his relentless scanning for opportunities, but he dreams of bigger things. With his new partner on board, through a combination of hard work and considerable dedication, he and David quickly begin to make a proper name for themselves.
Within such an unpredictable and volatile industry, however, trouble is never far away  and when logistics and multiple red tape seems set to scupper the deal of a lifetime that they’ve secured with The Pentagon, the boys have no alternative but to take matters into their own hands and fly out to the Middle East, where they soon find themselves right up to their necks in the ‘triangle of death’, in a last-ditch effort to see this particular deal through to some sort of satisfactory conclusion. Failure here is not an option.
Madness? Most certainly so. Naive? Undeniably. But lacking ‘cojones’ is not something you could level at this pair. Call it youthful exuberance or simply a devil-may-care attitude; it’s the kind of behaviour that may well get you killed, but ultimately gets the job done and succeeds in lifting this fearless pair right up into the big time.
Wealthier than in their wildest dreams, and very much the go-to team for shady war-mongers the world over, David and Efraim are set for life, and whilst not being entirely honest with girlfriend and soon to be mother of his child, Iz (Ana de Armas), about his business dealings, David’s life and outlook has never looked so good.
There is however always a nagging feeling that the pair of them are beginning to get in way above their heads, and that such runaway albeit potentially transitory success as this has a nasty habit of bringing about its own set of problems, particularly when in this case, the trio of ills – carelessness, greed and betrayal – begin to rear their ugly heads.
Ever Since Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece, Goodfellas, charted the rise and fall of mobster, Henry Hill, with such slick panache and effortless cool, many a film has either consciously tried to emulate this directorial style, or been accused of having tried to. Few however have succeeded.
War Dogs does indeed owe a great debt stylistically to Scorcese, and crucially, it succeeds where so many others have failed. It’s a truly rip-roaring and hugely entertaining affair that bounces along with considerable energy and momentum, and in Jonah Hill, it boasts an actor that’s right on top of his game just now. To some extent, his role here as Efraim, revives and expands upon his money-hungry character, Donnie Azoff, from another excellent Scorcese piece of more recent times, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Efraim and David’s story is one as remarkable as it is improbable; living the dream (of sorts) – although I suspect that most of us would consider driving assorted weaponry deep within enemy territory in Iraq, in order to fulfil American army requirements, to be more of a nightmare scenario – but each to their own.
David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli; they built a seemingly unassailable empire with all guns blazing, only to shoot themselves in the foot! War Dogs does a sterling job of recounting this most outlandish of tales.


FILM REVIEW: Blair Witch

The Blair Witch ‘franchise’ has thus far followed a familiar pattern; a genuinely ground-breaking original, a predictably dire sequel – Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – in which every single positive aspect of the original was extracted and discarded, and now this, the third instalment: Blair Witch.
It’s a film that, to a certain extent at least, seeks to get ‘back to basics,’ attempting to recapture the essence of what it was that made the first film such a refreshingly original horror, way back in 1999.
The whereabouts of the original bunch of young folk that disappeared, having foolishly set foot into the woods in search of the Blair Witch, has by all accounts mystified many for years. None more so than James (James Allen McCune), the younger brother of one of those that originally vanished, Heather, whom he’s convinced he spots in some creepy video that’s been uploaded onto the internet. This footage was apparently discovered, discarded in those infamous woods, by Lane (Wes Robinson), a slightly odd character who lives with his girlfriend, Talia (Valorie Curry).
Racked by curiosity and still harbouring hopes of finding Heather alive, James, together with his girlfriend, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), and a couple of their friends, tracks down Lane, who, on the proviso that both he and Talia may tag along for the adventure, agrees to escort James and his group into the woods and show them exactly where it was that he discovered that abandoned video tape.
Though dubious of whether they can trust Lane and Talia, they all reluctantly agree to the proposition, and into the woods they go…
First and foremost, it should be said that Blair Witch, on the surface at least, is a very routine horror run-out. A few classic horror ‘devices’ are thrown about which serve to ramp up the fear factor sufficiently, and to provide a number of irritating obstacles which hamper the group’s best laid plans and actions. We’ve certainly been there and seen its kind before.
Based upon such a luke-warm summary alone, Blair Witch won’t get too many pulses racing, but, perhaps unwittingly even, it’s a film that has an unusual ace up its sleeve – technology.
Admittedly, this could also be a point of irritation to many, as our intrepid explorers – they of ‘the generation that can’t leave their fekkin’ gadgets alone for even a minute’ – spend many a scene either engrossed in an assortment of illuminated screens or fiddling about with operating buttons and switches, but it’s in the use of this plethora of mobile phones, GPS systems, walkie-talkies, digital video cameras, miniature bluetooth cameras clipped to ears, and even a small flying drone device, that director Adam Wingard ensures that maximum video coverage of the events that unfold, is attained – remember, this is a film compiled from nothing but the group’s own personal footage.
Visual footage is one thing, but the act of switching on and off, combined with the cutting in and out of reception of the aforementioned gadgets, adds considerable jarring digital distortion and static noise into the mix. These decibel-heavy sudden bursts of grating sound are used repeatedly – almost to the point of overkill – but to often startling, dramatic effect by Wingard.
Add to these a whole array of thuds, rumbles, creaks, shrieks and screams that emanate, out of sight, from within the forest, and given the general low visibility of the night, Wingard’s sonic assault on our senses really does prove key here to achieving a truly disturbing experience, to say the least.
 As the film develops and the tension levels are augmented, there is a growing sense of uncertainty and confusion amongst the group. Combined with the gathering realisation that Lane and Talia perhaps cannot be trusted after all, and not to mention the bizarre sense of both time and place rapidly becoming warped and displaced, Blair Witch takes us into a truly messed-up, rather hexed dimension, beyond that which we’ve experienced in either of the previous outings.
It’s well-paced and increasingly alarming, and in fact it takes Blair Witch right until the closing act before it arguably finally falls over its own broomstick.
Ramping up the energy and the claustrophobic levels of confusion to almost demented levels by this point, Wingard conjures up an increasingly disorientating experience for the viewer. Intermittent flashes from an excessive lightning storm offer brief glimpses of both the members of the group – who by this point have disappeared and are exhibiting peculiar behaviour in varying states of distress – and, interestingly, glimpses of the Blair Witch herself.
Yes, all this chaos does indeed achieve moments that are genuinely disturbing, but there’s a sense that ultimately the whole thing begins to ‘get away’ from Wingard by this point in this crazy melee of loud noise and visual carnage, like some sort of desperate attempt to spin more and more plates over a greater and greater distance.
 The need or desire to throw more and more – both visually and sonically – at the screen, is certainly one approach to the heightening of terror levels, but as ever, one senses that less would have been more.
If anything it takes the sheen off a film which, whilst no game-changer, is up to that point, as good a horror sequel as you could realistically hope to expect.
In its favour though, Blair Witch refuses to offer any sense of resolution, leaving many an unanswered question in its wake – primed, no doubt, for a further instalment of this most ‘marmite’ of franchises.
Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen…
It is unsurprisingly not quite up to the standards of the original. It has a tendency to get just a little clunky in places, but considering the whole Blair Witch phenomenon is now thoroughly well-trodden territory, it was always going to be on a bit of a hiding to nothing.
Let it be said though, Blair Witch makes an admirably good fist of things in its bold attempt to recapture some of the original film’s magic. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t successfully manage to get back on-side many of the franchise’s original fan base, whilst simultaneously convincing a whole new generation of its considerable worth as a genuinely frightening horror concept; and that, ladies and gentlemen, comes as both a pleasant surprise, and should be considered a thoroughly laudable achievement.



With the sudden death of his grandfather, fate conspires to have young Jake meet Tony – a kid of a similar age who quickly becomes an inseparable best friend.

Jake is moving from Manhattan into a new apartment in Brooklyn that has been bequeathed to his father, Brian (Greg Kinnear), by his late father. Below this new apartment of theirs is a small retail unit – also a part of the inheritance.

Its occupant is Tony’s mother, Leonor (Paulina García). She is a rather bohemian seamstress, making her own clothing to sell from the shop, but with the increasing gentrification of the neighbourhood, business she finds is increasingly poor.

For a short while the whole set up is ideal. Jake – who we are informed is (much like his father once was), a bit of a loner – has a new friend, and his parents have a loyal, dependable and kindly tenant for their shop. Leonor, whilst polite and courteous, is however noticeably reluctant to become too involved in the lives of Brian and his wife, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle). It’s almost as if she knows to keep a distance owing to the often precarious nature of tenant / landlord relationships, though she is pleased that her son has found a new friend.

Unfortunately, the shop was bequeathed to both Brian and Audrey (Brian’s Sister – played by Talia Balsam), and without any emotional ties to the tenant, she is keen to maximise the value of their newly inherited asset. Rumours of being able to increase the existing rental income threefold, in line with the rest of the neighbourhood, are enthusiastically – yet rather thoughtlessly, considering the company in attendance – banded about the dining table one evening by Audrey, at a family barbecue.

Brian is a kind-hearted soul, but realising that having inherited the entire apartment for him and his family, it’s only fair that Audrey should take the lead in any decision making relating to the shop.

A new lease, demanding a ‘fair’ increase in rent is proposed, but totally out of the question for Leonor who can barely make ends meet as it is, and an inevitable frosty landlord / tenant relationship follows, becoming increasingly bitter and personal as the days roll on. Not only this, but the entire episode begins to put an unavoidable strain on the boys’ new found friendship.

Whether it be their subsequent vow then not to speak to their respective parent(s), or Leonor’s revelation that Brian’s father was embarrassed by his son’s inability to provide adequately for his family, whilst also being adamant that Leonor should stay put, citing her business’ very presence as far too important and special to the neighbourhood for it to be lost, they all arrive at something of an awkward impasse, leaving each of them to wrestle with their conscience.

Such a predicament makes for particularly gruelling viewing owing to Ira Sachs’ wonderful ability to not only make us truly relate with these characters, but to thoroughly emotionally invest ourselves in their collective predicament and respective fortunes.

The two boys, despite everything, remain bonded by their desire to end up attending the same artistic school in the future.

Theo Taplitz’ depiction of Jake is a rather aloof one, portraying a young kid that seems somewhat at odds with what he wants in life, although his pursuance of a burgeoning artistic talent hints at the direction that he should ultimately take. Michael Barbieri brings Tony’s dreams of being an actor to the big screen with a notable swagger and attitude. Tony, perhaps owing to a lack of a father figure in his upbringing, is a smart-mouthed, defensive kind of kid who’s not afraid to speak his mind and quick to defend those less able to do so for themselves.

There’s a strong and believable chemistry between the pair of them as they seek to navigate their young lives through these unfortunate, unsettling times, but it’s arguably Kinnear’s tender portrayal of Brian that steals the show here. Kinnear shows brilliantly that glazed look and demeanour of a man attempting to keep it all together . A man racked by both grief and guilt and the subject of cruel barbs from those who know no other way but to strike out at others when unable to deal with their own problems.

If we boil it all down, Little Men is essentially a story of youthful aspirations – and to a large extent, naivety – in the face of the sometimes oh so destructive issues of adulthood, and it’s really rather good.

It’s a film that presents hard lessons for everybody to take and learn from, and in this instance, it’s all expertly handled by a director who clearly understands people and the human condition.













Never has the disclaimer ‘No animals were harmed in the making of this film’ ever been a more welcome sight at the tail end of a film’s closing credits; for those of us that religiously stay put until they’re finished, that is.

Writer / Director Anders Thomas Jensen’s dark comedy is as bizarre a concept as you could hope to dream up.

On the tiny Danish island of Ork, with its dwindling population of in the region of forty inhabitants, there resides a reclusive old man in a ramshackle old mansion, or so rumour has it.

Through a poorly video-taped revelation from beyond the grave, hair-lipped, dysfunctional brothers Elias (Mads Mikkelsen – over-sexed and with an obsession for the girls), and Gabriel (David Dencik – a more sensible type, but with an inability to sustain any sort of relationship), learn that their late father was in fact not their father at all, and that the same is true of the mother that they in fact never even knew!

The ‘brothers’ for whom life has offered few positives, drop everything, compelled to journey across from the mainland in order to meet the mysterious old man of Ork, for it is he that they are informed is their true father.

The mayor of the island and his terminally miserable daughter reveal to the boys just how difficult the island is finding it to both attract and more critically retain new blood, and encourage the pair of them to remain on Ork. There are clearly underlying reasons for this shortage of inhabitants, as the boys will discover in due course.

Being attacked by an assortment of stuffed animal-wielding, fellow genetically-challenged men on arrival at their father’s huge dilapidated house, is certainly not the kind of welcome that ‘prodigal sons’ Gabriel and Elias were anticipating. To compound their bewilderment comes the staggering realisation that these aggressors are in fact actually their brothers; brothers that they weren’t even aware that they had!

Much in keeping with existing family traits, each of these newly-discovered hair-lipped lunatics appears to be in some way afflicted by an idiosyncrasy peculiar to themselves.

Gabriel and Elias are impatient to meet their father, but fobbed off at every turn with limp excuses, and so, despite their intense curiosity, the brothers have no choice but to try and be patient and wait things out for a few days in the big house where chickens run loose, a prize bull lives in the basement, and evidence of poorly executed, warped taxidermy is strewn about left, right and centre.

It’s all highly peculiar to say the least, and believe me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Unknowingly for Gabriel and Elias, this innocent visit to meet their ‘biological’ father, is one that will reveal some devastating truths about the brothers – all of them.

Men and Chicken is extremely funny in places, whilst shocking and utterly ludicrous in others, but always engaging. It’s a dark, refreshingly non-politically correct comedy within which beats a genuinely warm heart, and which asks pertinent questions about social acceptance and society’s obsession with vanity.

As I’ve often mentioned in the past, it really is a hard task to successfully adapt a funny concept into a full-blown comedy motion picture, particularly one that’s quite so rich in slapstick humour and visual gags as this. Credit then to Jensen, in developing characters who at times seem so hopelessly bereft of life skills it’s painful, you simply can’t help but sustain a vested interest in their welfare throughout, as they stumble awkwardly upon warped revelations galore. This sense of engagement is very much the key to the success of Men and Chicken, a film that by way of its sheer oddity, is as compelling as it is amusing.

With genuinely funny comedy feature films about as rare as an actual laugh in Zoolander 2, thank goodness then for the ever present threat of being beaten about the head with stuffed poultry and old fashioned tin baths, whilst musing upon the wonder of warped genetics.

Basically, thank goodness for Men and Chicken.



Roald Dahl’s childrens’ (and adults’ for that matter) favourite, The BFG, has made it to the big screen, and Disney have certainly pulled out the big guns. Not only do we have the magic of Roald Dahl’s imagination to work with, but Steven Spielberg is in the director’s chair, with his trusty sidekick and master of the soundtrack, John Williams, on board once again to provide that crucial sonic sparkle.

It’s not the first time that The BFG has been turned into a film. Brian Cosgrove’s 1989 TV movie / animation, complete with David Jason’s voiceover, paved the way, but 2016’s big budget extravaganza is an altogether different beast.

A big fan of Roald Dahl’s darkly devious stories, myself, and being from that generation when Anglia Television – they of the rotating knight on a horse – adapted many of Dahl’s short stories for television in the unforgettable series, Tales of the unexpected, my own experience of Dahl’s childrens’ stories, whilst relatively comprehensive, somehow didn’t include The BFG.

Nevertheless, as with any film, a prior lack of knowledge of the storyline can so often be beneficial, dispensing with the need to constantly compare and contrast with the inevitably much better book.

Not having read it, I went in fresh for Spielberg’s vision of the Roald Dahl classic.

For those of you in a similar boat, The BFG tells the tale of a little orphaned girl, Sophie (the excellent Ruby Barnhill). Strong of mind and with a wise old head on rather young shoulders, she’s a proper vivacious little madam, living at an orphanage in her own little world of make believe.

One night, on hearing a commotion outside her window, she gingerly peeks out and spots a giant ‘going about his business’ in the shadows of the street; the only problem being that he spots her too. Taking no chances, he whisks her away with him, for fear that she might speak about what she’s seen.

Deaf to her protestations and promises of silence, he carries Sophie off, and trekking through wild and rugged terrain, they finally find themselves in the giant’s rather rustic cave-like dwelling where The BFG insists Sophie must remain for the rest of her days.

For a feisty little thing like Sophie, this is no proposition whatsoever, and so she sets about plotting her escape.

It’s only once she realises who The BFG really is, that he is in fact nothing like the ogre she had imagined him to be, and that he is actually the victim of systematic bullying by a group of other much taller and stronger giants that inhabit the same valley, that Sophie decides to remain with The BFG and give him the help that he clearly needs.

Spielberg has opted to use motion capture animation to bring The BFG to life. It’s an inspired move and Mark Rylance’s softly spoken, cuddly portrayal of the big fella with the West Country accent is nothing short of the perfect fit for the part.

A special mention too for young Ruby Barnhill, that rarest of rarities, a British child actress that is not only wholly believable in her role, but absolutely excels within it. A big future awaits there, no doubt.

Whether The BFG is a faithful rendition of Dahl’s book or not, there is no denying that it certainly works very well as a film in its own right.

It’s a film that, much like so many of Dahl’s marvellous, imaginative and magical books, champions the child, giving them the power and belief that they really can be Kings and Queens of the world, whilst cleverly teaching them the value of love, respect, tolerance and friendship at the same time.

Awash with genuinely funny jokes to bring out the giggling child in you, and just the right level of sentimentality so as not to overdo things, you’ll come away from The BFG with the very warmest of warm glows. If you don’t, let’s face it, you probably have a twitch-tickling problem understanding words, babblements and such.

Don’t worry – it happens.

Far and away the best children’s film I’ve seen in quite some time.

Hats off to one and all for The BFG. A hugely charming piece.


FILM REVIEW: Jason Bourne

I was a little late familiarising myself with the Bourne films, and despite the fourth instalment having passed me by to date, like many of you, having finally seen the original trilogy, the prospect of a further fifth chapter with the franchise’s original star, Matt Damon, on board, was something to get excited about.

The series of films that came out of nowhere and gave the Bond legacy a good kick up the rear end, is back. But does it deliver?

Against the odds, I have to say – I wasn’t at all disappointed.

Why ‘against the odds’ you cry?

My heart so often sinks when a film company releases a sequel, in this case to a whole series of films that have all delivered superbly thus far at a higher certification, yet suddenly deems it necessary to lower a film’s rating, and in turn our expectations, by adopting the all encompassing, bums-on-seats death knell that is 12A; so often the tell-tale sign of a film company’s big sell-out in their panic to recoup a hefty initial outlay.

Thankfully, Jason Bourne is directed in a manner that’s sympathetic to the core attributes that made its predecessors such a hit. Its a film whose only real concession to the lowered rating is to restrain itself from the overly-gratuitous, and to any scenes of over-the-top, in-your-face violence. The grit, realism (to a point) and suspense remains and is layered on thick and fast.

As ever, Bourne is up against it. This time he’s targeted by the CIA for both his part in past misdemeanours (when at the behest of the CIA), and through his new association with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a computer hacker who, acting on behalf of a whistle-blower, seeks to expose truths about -amongst others – the highly sensitive CIA operation, Treadstone. Consequently the pair find themselves on the run, pursued by an assortment of CIA goons and assets – with one particularly determined assassin, played by Vincent Cassell – hell bent on bumping them off, lest the truth should come out.

Needless to say, Bourne isn’t coming quietly.

As the  chase intensifies, stark truths about Bourne’s past and the death of his father come to light, galvanising his resolve to see justice done.

It’s all high-octane fun with some genuinely riveting chase and fight sequences, well choreographed and impressively executed.

This, together with a good cast – Tommy Lee Jones is CIA Director Robert Dewey and Alicia Vikander plays Heather Lee – and the creation of a convincing, over-riding sense of suspense that director Paul Greengrass does well to sustain throughout, makes Jason Bourne a surprisingly decent effort.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing particularly new here, and certainly no re-writing of the genre or benchmark-setting for the future, but much as with the Bond franchise, that’s not necessarily important.

If you’re a fan of mainstream quality, gritty espionage thrillers, this should hit the mark.




Hollywood has long had a fascination with Artificial Intelligence. From Spielberg / Kubrick’s A.I to Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, and everything before, since and in between.

I suppose it stands to reason, with rapid advancements in technology and the very real prospect of Artificial Intelligence now frequently revealed through mainstream news outlets, it’s just a matter of time before we come face to face with the type of creation that director Luke Scott brings to the big screen here, in Morgan.

Strictly speaking, the ‘girl’, Morgan, is not an example of Artificial Intelligence, but more a result of genetic tampering and cloning; a controlled experiment creating a sort of humanoid being, but one that’s as close to ‘the real thing’ as has ever been created before.

The film begins with Morgan, draped in her signature grey jogging trousers and hoody combo, attacking one of the scientists that has had a hand in her creation. It’s a sustained, frenzied attack which, by all accounts, is most out of character for Morgan, and a concerning sign that she has developed an ability to exhibit extremely negative emotional responses way beyond that which her creators thought possible.

Such an unfortunate happening results in an enquiry from head office, and Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent in to troubleshoot. She is to make an assessment, and recommend an appropriate course of action. This will involve a short stay at the ‘laboratory’ where Morgan is housed. This takes the form of a high-tech, cutting edge underground bunker; a new built annex of an, at first glance, seemingly abandoned old house in the middle of dense woodland.

Lee is the epitome of an insensitive, hard-nosed, corporate type and quickly proceeds to rub the resident staff of scientists and assistants up the wrong way.

To her creators, Morgan is a true wonder of the world, and someone that they have grown to love and cherish. Crucially, the clear waters that separate work from life have become somewhat muddied for Morgan’s creators. To Weathers, it’s an asset, nothing more, albeit a remarkable one, but one about whom she must make a business decision; from the head, not the heart.

Everything about Morgan hints at real potential. From the impressive cast list – Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan, Toby Jones (Dr. Simon Ziegler), Paul Giamatti (Dr. Alan Shapiro), and Kate Mara (Lee Weathers), to name but a few – the secluded, contemporary Ex Machina-like setting, and a very tangible initial sense of cold discomfort and uncertainty that hangs heavy in the air.

You can point a finger in all manner of directions when good potential amounts to very little, but considering Morgan is a film with designs on being a tense thriller with dark overtones, yet is neither particularly tense nor dark, in this case, the finger of blame must point firmly in Luke Scott’s direction.

As is so often the case, foundations that are initially fairly well pieced together, eventually fall apart. Morgan rapidly runs out of steam, with a disappointing dearth of good ideas and lacking the necessary guile to sustain the story and keep that all important ‘edge’ throughout. It’s as though writer, Seth W. Owen, only ever had half a story, and between himself and Luke Scott, was hoping that they could somehow wing the film’s latter stages.

They couldn’t.

Somehow they contrive to turn Morgan herself from the potential spawn of Satan, into ‘a bit of a moody teen delinquent’, albeit it one with impressive martial arts skills. Night time may well form the backdrop to a few choice, assorted scenes of mild violence, but that’s really as ‘dark’ as  Morgan gets.

What in another director’s hands may well still have proven to be ‘the big reveal’ at the end, ultimately unravels like the curling, rain-sodden cardboard of a disappointing gift from Amazon. We know what’s in it. We can see through the large gaps for heavens’ sake. We just can’t be arsed peeling the last of that protective mush off it, thanks.

It’s not awful by any means, but it’s another undercooked effort lacking both imagination in important areas, and the direction with which to keep us all guessing right until the very end.


Director Todd Solondz’ latest effort is a curious affair, to say the least. From the man that brought us the darker than dark (yet quite wonderful), Happiness, ‘curious’ was probably always going to be on the cards.

Wiener-Dog tells a series of short tales, all of which are loosely linked together not just by their overriding air of melancholy, uneasiness and pitch-black comedy, but more to the point, by a canine common denominator; one small Dachschund sausage dog (or Wiener-Dog to our American cousins).

Rather than possessing any wayward ‘Littlest Hobo’ genes that might cause our low-slung friend to develop itchy feet, up sticks on a whim, and head for that place that keeps on calling him, Wiener-Dog’s geographic movements and general fate in life is very much determined through desperately poor choices on the part of a collection of rather dysfunctional people, all of whom, with no particular malice intended I’m sure, seem determined to do the wrong thing by him; often placing him in the most awkward of situations and all too frequently, at death’s door.

A previously gravely-sick child is bought the little dog as a feel-good gift by his well-meaning father (Tracy Letts), much to the mother’s chagrin (Julie Delpy). When Wiener-Dog himself gets ill though, and causes ructions in the family unit, as quick as a flash he finds himself on the vet’s table, and only the intervention of the vet’s kindly assistant (Greta Gerwig), saves him from a long old sleep.

Thus begins another chapter in Wiener-Dog’s chequered and very troubled life which will eventually lead his new owner to present him as a gift to a Down’s syndrome couple, who are clearly smitten by the little fella.

Put upon and seriously depressed university lecturer (Danny DeVito), is next in line to take on this high-maintenance hoodoo, but once DeVito’s number is up, it’s a cantankerous old lady’s abode which proves to be Wiener-Dog’s last port of call. A faithful sidekick and companion to share an existence thoroughly bereft of ebullience, with a lady whose joi-de-vivre clearly ‘went west’ many moons ago, seems a somehow fitting way for the hapless hound to see out his remaining days.

Wiener-dog’s passage from owner to owner is at times logically linked, and at other times it’s unclear, and left to the viewer’s imagination. What is clear though is that a trail of unhappiness and misfortune – both for him and his surrogate owners – seems to follow Wiener-Dog around like a bad smell.

From terrible parenting, to ill-advised, selfish and depression-induced decision making on the part of pretty much all involved, Todd Solondz injects his film with chucklesome moments a plenty, often delighting in drawing out the macabre and the deeply inappropriate, whether it be attempting to use Wiener-Dog as an explosive device, or revelling in a seemingly never-ending tracking shot of a trail of doggy diarrhoea, to the haunting strains of Claude Debussy.

For such moments alone, Wiener-Dog does enough to intrigue and compel and makes Solondz’ curious piece well worth a watch. That said, if truth be told, it’s a film that doesn’t necessarily hang together particularly well as a whole, leaving a few too many questions unanswered, and lacking a true coherence of narrative.

For all of its quirkiness and attempts to quietly shock and appall by venturing into the forbidden and by tackling taboos, Wiener-Dog is a fairly patchy affair, but as with any Solondz offering, it’s one that’s worth your time.




FILM REVIEW: David Brent – Life on the road

It’s been well over ten years now since Ricky Gervais called a halt to his massively successful mockumentary TV series, The Office, with a two-part Christmas special which  brought an emotional end to one of the finest home-grown sitcoms of our time.

Being such a revered slice of British popular culture we have to pose the question: Is it wise to re-visit something that was to all intents and purposes ‘perfect’ as it was. Isn’t it always best to leave well alone?

David Brent: Life on the road (DB:LOTR) follows Slough’s finest once again, over ten years later, in another mockumentary that chronicles an exciting time in David Brent’s life; the re-birth of his band ‘Foregone Conclusion’ – or more accurately ‘Foregone Conclusion, Mark II’ – and what David hopes will be a lucrative (both financially and career-wise), UK tour (of the Berkshire area).

He’s assembled a decent band of session musicians, and together with a reluctant ‘acquaintance’, and an overpaid sound engineer, Brent hopes that collectively they can produce some magic and launch themselves (but launch David Brent, more specifically), into the big time.

Yes, Brent is clearly still a man of considerable delusions, and the allure of the Rock ‘n’ Roll dream still burns brightly in the ageing sales rep’s eyes, and more importantly, heart.

DB:LOTR is particularly notable for a couple of things:

Those ‘fortunate’ enough to be thrown together with Brent – be it his office colleagues at Lavichem where he is now a sales rep of feminine hygiene products and the like, or his on-tour band and crew – all seem to fit strangely familiar roles within Brent’s life and adopt similar attitudes towards him, much in the same way that we remember the original cast members of The Office adopting, back in the day.

Whilst this perhaps smacks a little bit of Gervais playing it safe with the formula here, we also have to remind ourselves that unless Brent has undergone some massive personality change over the interim years, he will almost certainly still be largely the same socially inadequate fool that he ever was, and in turn will still gravitate towards similar surrounds and find himself embroiled in similar scrapes and predicaments. This in turn will almost inevitably draw the same largely exasperated reactions and looks of disbelief from all and sundry.

Secondly, and perhaps more tellingly: Brent is no longer the boss. He’s just one of the rep’s at Lavichem, and considering the disdain with which he is treated on tour, even though he’s paying the wages and fronting his own band, neither does he appear to wear the trousers in his very own Rock ‘n’ Roll daydream.

Consequently, the vitriol and at times pretty hateful bile that is spewed in his direction by both colleagues and acquaintances alike – the kind of thing that once upon a time would have been noticeably toned down due to Brent’s elevated management status – is now harsh, spiteful and at times very personal. In fact, there were times during DB:LOTR when what would have previously been just toe-curling, squirm-inducing moments of comedy, were suddenly not so funny anymore, and rather painful to watch. Brent is seemingly now perceived not so much as ‘a bit of a harmless dick,’ but an altogether more poisonous presence to most of those with whom he interacts. David Brent is now a man well and truly forced out of life’s social circle, encouraged to make himself scarce, and very much alone in his own personal Siberia.

Perhaps it’s the passing of time and I’ve just gone soft in my old age, but, as much of a plonker as Brent undoubtedly is meant to be, there were moments in DB:LOTR that were actually rather upsetting and interestingly, such moments, rather than casting Brent in a bad light, were far more indicative of the thoughtlessness and negativity of others; traits that people so often exhibit in the face of a challenging personality or a difficult set of circumstances.

Unable to show even a little patience or compassion and understanding – Brent’s entourage are all far too self-absorbed within their own selfish ambitions and needs to consider the impact of their thoughtlessness upon others.

Of course, bearing in mind Brent’s own, at times self-absorbed ‘whacky funster’ of a personality, I am fully aware of the irony of this comment.

But let’s face it, I’m probably reading far too much into it all!

Whatever Gervais’ intentions with DB:LOTR were, it’s clear that the increasingly sentimental angle to his work – think Derek in particular, a sitcom that frequently swung between the down-right hilarious and the almost unbearably mawkish – is an area that he continues to believe in and pursue, and in all honesty, it’s probably this aspect that will most likely give DB:LOTR greater longevity than if it had been purely a vehicle for a sequence of madcap Gervais gags and one-liners.

Of course, the vast majority of people haven’t gone to DB:LOTR for psychological insights though, and the pertinent question remains: Does it make us laugh?

Thankfully, the answer is: by and large…yes.

DB:LOTR is in fact packed full of both nuanced and balls out slapstick comedy. Some of it is howlingly funny – Brent’s band unknowingly headlining a student ‘Shite Night’ at a local university, a particular highlight  – and some of the humour can be seen coming from a mile off – Brent’s botched attempts to become a little cooler by having a tattoo done. Nevertheless, DB:LOTR is certainly sufficiently funny throughout to appeal to most, even if it can all be a little predictable at times.

It’s hard to say where we go from here now with the whole David Brent concept. Perhaps surprisingly, I’d say there is still a little more mileage to be had out of Gervais’ favourite, deeply-flawed anti-hero, be that on the big screen or perhaps better still, back on the altogether more forgiving comedy medium of television. Either way, I certainly hope so.

Ultimately, DB:LOTR delivers. It offers few surprises,but in many ways, that doesn’t really matter.

It’s a film that follows a well-trodden path to bring us a touching story of misguided dreams and ambitions, but rather surprisingly it’s probably not the laughs that make it, but instead it’s Gervais’ penchant for over-sentimentality  – the sort of thing we’d probably be quick to decry when churned forth from the Hollywood machine.



FILM REVIEW: The Shallows

There’s only one thing worse than a rubbish shark-based thriller – and that’s a rubbish shark-based thriller that initially hints at having a little bit of promise.

The Shallows, regrettably, is one such film.

Nancy (Blake Lively), has dropped out from her medical studies and is taking a vacation in Mexico in order to try to come to terms with the death of her mother. She’s on a very personal mission to find her mother’s favourite ‘secret’ beach; a remote cove tucked away from civilisation in which the pair of them had shared some wonderful memories in the past.

A keen surfer, she plans to ride the impressive waves that crash onto this beautiful beach.

Unfortunately for her, she’s managed to coincide her watery frolics with the sinister intentions of a great white shark, hell-bent on guarding its feeding grounds, having recently killed a large whale whose huge carcass is now wedged within the rocks and coral of ‘the shallows’.

It’s fair to say, this probably isn’t going to be a good day for Nancy, and it certainly isn’t going to end well – a little like this film.

Granted, there’s not too much here to hang an entire feature film upon. The promise of thrills and spills in the shallow waters of the ocean combined with a rather bolted-on back-story of family bonds, love and respect, are meagre ingredients with which to whip up anything original or of note.

In fairness though to Blake Lively, she makes a fairly decent fist of what she’s given here as she walks and talks us through the bleedin’ obvious by way of a sort of lightly-pained monologue, punctuated on increasingly frequent occasion by grisly moments of misfortune and gore.

It’s all very slick. Too slick in fact.

Smart phone screens flash up on screen unnecessarily, relaying text conversations. Nancy’s divers watch display flashes up too, counting down the minutes until the small rocky oasis that she’s found herself marooned upon, will become submerged beneath the water, leaving her effectively as shark bait.

This should at least make for slightly tense proceedings, if not riveting viewing.

It doesn’t.

A more sympathetic director would have perhaps provided a permanent clock display on screen throughout the film’s duration, providing a countdown until the end credits.

The Shallows is a film in which absolutely nothing is left to the imagination. Everything is played out like a sort of shark movie-making guide for beginners, step by painful step, but with no mischievous sense of irony. Everything ties up neatly according to a set of circumstances and parameters that are absolutely shoved into our collective face, one by one, throughout the film’s eighty-four or so minutes.

If all of the above was the sum total of the film’s crimes against cinema, you could write the whole thing off as a reasonably harmless, yet hugely forgettable use of your time, and not think twice about it. But having hinted from the off that it might – just might – have the potential to be a cult B movie of note, it’s the at first gradual, and eventually rapid degeneration of this film into pure, mindless Hollywood guff that is so achingly disappointing.

And the less said about the film’s pitiful conclusion, the better.

For some reason it all brought to mind a Laurel & Hardy skit in which the hapless pair’s best bungling efforts ended – as they always do – with everything falling down (literally) on top of Olly, but in a painfully drawn out, staggered sequence of carnage, each tumble and fall worse than the previous one, culminating in Hardy, sat on his arse in a pile of dust, rubble and debris; and as he takes one final, unimpressed look at the camera, another brick falls on his head, and then another, and then a long pause, another resigned look at the camera, and then another brick, right on the head – complete with comedy sound effects.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse…

‘Shallows’ by name, shallow by nature.




FILM REVIEW: Where To Invade Next

The release of a new Michael Moore film more often than not guarantees two things:
Firstly, a whole tranche of new information for the ill-informed or overly-sheltered to suddenly become shocked and angered about.
Secondly, an excuse for those ‘clued up’ with regard to the minutiae of both domestic and international politics to rubbish Moore’s ideas as being overly simplistic, inaccurate and most of all, idealistic.
Michael Moore’s latest tub-thumping documentary is indeed idealistic.
The world needs more idealists; people that have an idea and stick by it; people that will only begin to consider flexing a little once they’ve debated their side of things to the point of being blue in the face, lying flat out on the floor with exhaustion.
Saying that, Moore’s getting on a bit these days and could probably do with giving any exasperated rants a wide berth for his own health’s sake.
But you get the point.
Where To Invade Next is probably Michael Moore’s most upbeat and fun film to date. A whirlwind tour around Europe (mostly) examining how ‘those continentals’ do things and just how jarringly different their approach is to the seemingly prehistoric notions and ideas of his own country of birth, the U.S.A.
No doubt it will be pulled apart and seen as an opportunity for self congratulation by the political point scorers, and exposed for how it simply isn’t realistic to expect The U.S to implement such measures.
T’was ever thus.
The unavoidable fact remains: You don’t start the process of changing the world from a point of compromise. Let’s start with an ideal, and let’s just see how close we all end up to that once we’ve fed, in this instance, Moore’s misty-eyed, simplistic optimism through life’s soul-sapping red tape and bureaucracy machine.
Moore’s European journey of discovery introduces him to any number of eye-opening revelations about the way that other countries live and operate, and it’s all in such stark contrast to the sorry state of affairs that seems to have become the norm in the land of opportunity. The land of the free.
It’s a good job that the film chooses to take a rather light-hearted tack, for there is much to be disgruntled about if you’re a U.S citizen – or indeed, to a lesser extent, a citizen of the increasingly Americanised United Kingdom, for that matter.
With each far more progressive ethos that Moore unveils along his merry way, hopping from country to country, it’s clear to see – if indeed we needed reminding – that the United States of America has badly lost its way over the years.
The Finnish demonstrate that shorter study hours can lead to far happier and better educated children.
The Norwegians reveal that a softly, softly approach to prisoner incarceration can avoid the cycle of repeat offending.
Tunisia and Iceland prove the value of greater female representation in positions of power.
Germany demonstrates that it is possible to have wealth and well-being at every so called class level within a well balanced society.
The Italians would not prioritise anything over a good quality of life for all, and the French are almost religious about food, nutrition and a more relaxed and relevant approach to sex education for their young.
Essentially, if you’re a U.S citizen, it’s a right old misery list. A series of embarrassing divulgements to have to accept for a proud nation of flag wavers and patriots.
But the most genuinely surprising revelation of all is saved until last. Each and every one of these philosophies and ideas that’s now championed by apparently more enlightened, progressive societies across Europe and beyond, have their origins back in the original United States Constitution.
So what the hell happened?
That’s strictly rhetorical. We don’t have the time.
Perhaps with a structure in place that puts a little less emphasis on ‘Me’ and more on ‘We’, and as Moore suggests, a good old trawl through America’s  lost and found of good ideas, just maybe something resembling the original blueprint upon which the U.S.A was founded, might just be salvageable?
 But I shan’t hold my breath. It all sounds far too idealistic to me…

FILM REVIEW: Maggie’s Plan

Greta Gerwig is surely destined to become the focus of Woody Allen’s attentions sooner or later; the amount of time she spends flitting about New York City in something of a whimsical daydream.
In all fairness, it’s less whimsy and more frumpy idealism that characterises Gerwig’s role in this, Rebecca Miller’s relationship comedy, Maggie’s Plan.
Greta plays the film’s title role, Maggie, a straight-laced, well-intentioned but slightly controlling individual, hell-bent on having a baby of her own. Her plan (her first plan that is), is to artificially inseminate herself using the sperm of pickled gherkin business founder and ‘retired maths genius’ Guy (Travis Fimmel) – himself a little ‘out there’. It’s a solid plan but one which is curtailed at the eleventh hour when a chance encounter with fellow University employee and married man John (the excellent Ethan Hawke), suddenly develops into substantially more, and nature takes its course.
Fast forward a few years and the couple have a young daughter and their own bohemian apartment in the big city.
But as the old Shakespearian adage goes: The course of true love never did run smooth, and Maggie finds herself at a stage in her life, having fallen out of love with John, wondering just exactly what she ever saw in him in the first place. More importantly, she suspects that John and his former wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore) – an independent, strong-willed woman if ever there was one – are in fact perfect for each other after all, despite their turbulent history and their frequent clashes.
But what to do about it?
Maggie’s second plan, that’s what…
Rebecca Miller’s film is certainly innovative in that it puts an interesting twist on the classic Hollywood relationship and reconciliation tale. Defying convention, the film’s lead not only experiences the break up of her relationship, but positively encourages it, having no intention whatsoever of rectifying the situation. This in itself makes for interesting viewing.
There are plenty of amusing moments and some good dialogue and character interactions in this story of mismatched relationships and misunderstandings. Maggie and John seem to have different ideas about their roles within family life, whereas John and Georgette are strong personalities that simply stopped listening to each other properly. Predictably, friction would always ensue.
There’s a fair sense of inevitability about the course that the film eventually takes, and it’s possibly only the strong performances from Hawke and Moore in particular that breathe life into what would otherwise have to be considered a rather patchy affair.
Greta Gerwig plays the role of Maggie well – credit where it’s due – but there was a nagging sense while watching Maggie’s Plan that we’d been here before.
Gerwig already boasts a film biography containing similar roles in similar slice-of-life tales from The Big Apple, with Mistress America, and better still, Frances Ha, immediately springing to mind.
Maggie’s Plan proceeds very much in this vein, and is another perfectly watchable slice-of-life tale from The Big Apple; but it’s certainly no Frances Ha.



There’s nothing the general public like more than a flawed hero. Actually no, change that. There’s nothing that the general public like more than taking the moral high ground and turning en masse on a hero, once said hero’s flaws have been suitably exposed; and boy how they turn, in their sheep-like droves.

In the case of Anthony Weiner, it was his misguided ‘sexting’ – if you’ll excuse the fashionable parlance – and the accompanying pictures of his bulging manhood, that was to cause such an affront, rendering vast swathes of the terminally morally-outraged U.S public irreversibly aghast at it all.

Never mind that this was a man whose New York City Mayoral campaign manifesto seemed personal, passionate and heartfelt, and was one rich in progressive and sensible ideas and policies designed to genuinely make a difference to the lives of the working and middle classes of New York City; and never mind that Weiner’s ‘virtual’ misdemeanours had already been forgiven if not forgotten, by his loyal, patient and politically savvy wife, Huma. No, the bottom line here was that Anthony Weiner – he of the comedy surname and heart-on-sleeve / regrettably rather injudicious, approach to life – was now perceived as nothing more than a social leper, a misogynistic arsehole, and all-round easy target number one for the mortally offended public and media alike, to lampoon and discredit at will.

I’m sure that a number of those that turned on Anthony Weiner felt they had good reason to do so and were indeed genuinely offended on both gender and moral grounds by his actions – fair enough I suppose, but the film gives off a definite sense that they are the idealistic minority and that a grateful media seized upon the unexpected Anthony Weiner windfall and milked the resulting heaven-sent circus for all it was worth. Predictably, the general public followed along obediently.

It is true that Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary is not a flattering depiction of the New York political candidate; in fact, it seriously exposes (if you’ll excuse the pun) Weiner, warts and all. It’s also undeniably true that Anthony Weiner brought a lot of it on himself with his recurring habit of shooting himself in the foot when it would seem infinitely harder to miss – think David Brent meets Alan Partridge – and I’d be lying if I denied that the whole shebang makes for superficial, yet excellent, if at times rather painful, car-crash entertainment.

Weiner though, is a film that inadvertently serves to reveal the pack mentality and sheep-like nature of people and the at times suffocating effect that this has on humanity at large, when what the world is crying out for, surely, is a little more independence of thought?

It also says a lot about the bullying nature of the laughably conservative and deeply rotten media, both in the U.S and the world at large. Such a culture of flavour-of-the-month reporting, the taking of cheap shots and the encouraging of ‘safety in numbers’ public conformity, is far more damaging to society and meaningful political policies than anything Anthony Weiner could have dreamed up, let alone actually whipped out and revealed to the U.S public.

But personal prejudices aside for just a moment, in case this review is perceived as some kind of slant at the film, it isn’t. Weiner is actually a well-balanced, highly entertaining and brilliantly put together documentary, which allows events and circumstances to unfold in as fair a fashion as is possible.

Of course, any piece that turns a full-beam spotlight on an at times hapless anti-hero, and then steps back and allows nature and fate to take its course, had better be braced for a turbulent ride. It says a lot though that any turbulence experienced through the transgressions of Anthony Weiner, is rather upstaged by the repugnant sense of public and media self-righteousness that comes across from their collective, symbiotic, bile-filled attacks on the ill-fated man himself.

For me at least, as excellent as this film undoubtedly is, it’s an aspect that can’t help but leave an unavoidably sour taste in the mouth.


FILM REVIEW: Notes On Blindness

When asked as an infant that most ludicrous, yet absolutely mandatory childhood question: “which would you rather be, blind or deaf – if you absolutely had to be?” I would always be quick to respond: “Deaf.”

To this day, nothing’s changed, and I doubt it ever would.

This may come as something of a surprise to those that have known how big a part music, for instance, has played in my life, but there’s just something so apparently debilitating, primal and frightening about losing one’s sight that I’m sure I’m not alone in choosing this ‘option’.

Such a question aimed at John Hull, (played here by Dan Renton Skinner), as a child would have been cruel, not to mention wholly inappropriate considering he was himself without sight for a brief period of time during his own formative years; the beginning, sadly, of a succession of vision-related ailments that would plague him for many years to come, ultimately robbing him of his sight altogether, permanently.

It’s at a point in the early 1980s with John, a successful, established university lecturer, and entering into the early years of fatherhood, that a rapid degeneration of his vision leaves him barely able to distinguish between light and shade.

Fearful of the impact of this visual impairment upon his work, John throws himself whole-heartedly into finding a way to continue within his field of academia, employing a large number of volunteers to record a vast number of important educational books and information onto audio cassette, for his own personal future reference. It seems that the visually impaired were somewhat overlooked during the early years of the 1980s, and John, at least on a personal level, set about rectifying that situation.

Such is the compulsive abandon with which he pursues this mission, not only does he sufficiently distract himself from the bleak inevitability of his situation, but he actually professes to having enjoyed this period of his life.

It’s only once he’s done all that he can to ‘insure’ his professional future; once the i’s have been dotted and t’s crossed, and indeed once the last semblance of his perception of light and shade has been fully extinguished and he’s left surrounded by nothing but darkness, that John is forced to properly confront his life ahead, as a blind man.

Notes on Blindness is written and rather artistically directed by Pete Middleton and James Spinney, recounting John Hull’s remarkable story through extensive access to his audio diaries, in a suitably sympathetic and frequently touching manner.

Clever splicing of original cassette audio with the lip-synching of actors is an inventive and effective means with which to give John’s recordings new life and impact.

The negative effects of John’s blindness are well documented here, be that his sense of isolation, his deteriorating mental well-being, his wife’s concerns of being somehow locked out of his ever insular existence, or John’s increasing feelings of uselessness in crisis situations.

All such factors as they slowly drive John into a very dark place in his own mind, lead him to make a life-changing decision; to chronicle on audio cassette his thoughts and emotional responses to blindness, as a sort of personal therapy, and over a period of many years this would be John’s own attempt to come to terms with and fully understand his rather lamentable predicament.

Notes on Blindness is a film that offers a fascinating insight into the locked-in thoughts, feelings and ruminations of a blind man, some of which are as unexpected as they are thought-provoking: be that the comfort of standing in the rain, each drop landing on a surface forming a sort of sonic landscape by which a blind person is able to navigate by gaining an appreciation of distance, height and to some extent texture, or the conscious decision to ‘give up smiling’ – for if there is no reciprocation from the other party, then the whole gesture seems somewhat futile, so what’s the point?

Ultimately it’s Hull’s appreciation that he must fully embrace and understand blindness in order that it will not get the better of him, that is his saving grace. His decision to refuse to live in hope of his sight being restored again one day, whilst on the surface appearing to be the decision of a man that’s given up hope, is in fact the decision of a man that is – as far as is possible – at peace with who he now is and what the future holds for him.




FILM REVIEW: The Neon Demon

Running an advertisement for a series of films that heavily influenced Nicolas Winding Refn’s directorial style immediately prior to the screening of The Neon Demon could be seen as either an enlightening glimpse into the mind of the film’s director, or a sort of ill-advised, potential plot spoiler.
In truth, whilst very evidently shaping his thought processes for this latest venture, more than anything it provides an opportunity for appreciation; to nod knowingly at clear but well realised influences within Refn’s own stylistic approach. The Neon Demon, it must be said, holds up well under its own merits.
This sinister tale is Winding Refn’s twist on a familiar theme; that of a young innocent heading to the big smoke to seek her fame and fortune. The young innocent in this case is she with the God-given beauty, Jesse (Elle Fanning), a girl of subdued yet focused ambition to be a top model.
Her seductive natural beauty induces dollar signs in the eyes of some, but green-eyed envy in those of others.
Within the truly vacuous fashion industry, beauty, we are told, is everything.
“Is that your real nose? God, life is so unfair…” pipes up one picture perfect model; a girl whose personal plastic surgeon has dubbed her ‘the bionic woman’ for obvious reasons. She’s certainly pleasing on the eye, but that can’t curb her and her colleagues’ underhand bitchy sniping at the new girl in town, something that has the potential to escalate out of all control.
As each day unfolds and as Jesse is quickly drawn into, and begins to embrace, a world shorn of its moral boundaries and whose inhabitants fawn relentlessly over her ‘talents,’ her appreciation of her own self-worth and her awareness of others’ jealousy steadily grows. This is a girl under whose cute exterior there lies an ingrained belief that she is in possession of a gift. It’s a gift that she’s been informed is dangerous. But is it dangerous for her or dangerous for others?
Elle Fanning is excellent as Jesse, Keanu Reeves puts in a convincing if limited turn as the soulless owner of the sort of motel that Anthony Perkins might think twice about staying at, whilst Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee (Gigi and Sarah, respectively), are a pair of sharp and conniving fashion models whose places at the top table seem to have been somewhat usurped by this new imposter and flavour of the month.
It’s perhaps however Jena Malone, playing make-up artist, Ruby, who convinces most though, with an edgy role exploring the macabre and truly ‘forbidden’ sides of humanity. Her self-appointed role as friend, guide, and general lookout for Jesse’s well being is admirable on the surface, but in the morally bankrupt, artificial construct that is the fashion industry, good intentions are probably not always what they may seem.
Visually stunning, minimal in its direction, underpinned by dark sexual tension, and awash throughout with influence from some of the very best of cult horror, science-fiction and suspenseful film-making, Nicolas Winding Refn has outdone himself with this one.
Cliff Martinez’ throbbing, power-packed analog synth-heavy soundtrack provides a sonic backdrop that truly drives home Winding Refn’s vision, right through to the film’s lurid and somewhat unexpected conclusion.
As Picturehouse Cinemas’ upcoming short season of films suggests: Think Carrie, think Mulholland Drive, think Videodrome, think Under The Skin, amongst others…
The Neon Demon may well owe a lot to its predecessors, yet it still manages to sit assuredly amongst such revered company.