Dec 27, 2013


From my review of The Wolf of Wall Street:— 
Scorsese’s sense of sin, from Whose That Knocking At My Door? on has always been from the inside out. It’s not enough to show sin. Nor is it enough to tell the audience that sin is sinful. Scorsese wants the audience to feel as if they have sinned — exiting the theatre sheepish with our own enjoyment. His pitch-fork atunement to lives that are both spiritually dead and, at the same time, astonishingly vital — rotten but ripe, like apples in Dutch nature mortes — is even more acute than it was when he made Goodfellas and Casino, although he is not nearly as interested in the details of money-laundering, or bribery, as he was in those pictures. Winter’s script make no attempt to explain Belfont’s scams to us — several times, he tries, and then gives up, with a wave of his hand, “you don’t give a shit, do you?” — and the line gets at what is so shallow about Wolf of Wall Street and most gleeful. Whatever depths it possessed do not come from the world of finance, just as Raging Bull’s depths did not come from the world of boxing, but from the intimate knowledge of his own self-destruction that Scorsese experienced in the seventies as he rose, meteor-like, to drug-fuelled, Palme—D’Or-winning heights, before burning up in his own heat.   This is the story behind Raging Bull and Goodfellas and Casino, too. It is burned into his psyche — the only story really worth telling. Any time Scorsese’s filmmaking gets near this arc, it catches fire spectacularly and the movie takes off in a shower of sparks, but with slightly less sense consequence and greater giddiness each time, as the memory of the lows fade and the highs burn in retrospect ever brighter. In The Wolf of Wall Street the 71-year-old director films as if sucking the sap from his stripling actors. Make no mistake: He is the wolf. (A-) 
Approaching the final chapter of my Scorsese book, my listing of his films has altered a little. The top five are unaltered, but The Last Waltz  has risen (as have all the docs) and The Wolf of Wall Street has snuck into the top ten. The Departed has slipped a little. 
1. Taxi Driver
2. Goodfellas
3. Mean Streets
4. Raging Bull
5. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
6. Italianamerican
7. The Departed
8. The Last Waltz
9. The Color of Money 
10. The Wolf of Wall Street
11. Casino  
10. The King Of Comedy
13. Kundun
14. The Age of Innocence
15. Who's That Knocking at My Door?
16. After Hours
17. Shine a Light
18. Bringing Out The Dead
19. The Last Temptation of Christ
20. Shutter Island
21. Boxcar Bertha
22. Hugo
23. New York, New York
24. Gangs of New York
25. The Aviator
26. Cape Fear 

Dec 23, 2013


From my review for Intelligent Life:—
All of Steve McQueen's films thus far have centered on the fight for control of a body. In his first, “Hunger,” that body belonged to hunger-striker Bobby Sands, played by Irish actor Michael Fassbender, whose emaciated form became, essentially, a theatre of political war. The film was brutal, austere, minimalist — as furiously controlled as it’s subject. In McQueen’s second film, “Shame”, the body was that of a sex addict, also played by Fassbender, propelled around lower Manhattan by appetites uncurbed — the opposite of Sands’s predicament. Critics snickered but there was no doubting McQueen’s singleness of focus: In his films the body is a battlefield, scarred and cratered by a fierce, existential cat-fight for autonomy. It was only a matter of time before he made a film about slavery…. As the slave girl Patsy, newcomer Lupita Nyongo, in one extraordinary scene, begs for a mercy killing with the sweet urgency of someone imploring for a kiss. As her oppressor, Fassbender has already drawn the lion’s share of praise, and yet as much as he commits physically to the part — he barks and bellows, staggers, stumbles and roars his way across the screen  — I found myself missing the more filigree work that Ralph Fiennes put into Amon Goeth in “Schindler’s List”, alternating hatred of the jews and lust for his maid, the tension creating diabolical little folds of denial, which Fiennes, further locating vanity in the man, smoothed away as if straightening a cowlick. No such minor venality ruffles the surface of Fassbender’s Epps, a man constructed entirely from monstrous appetites: for power, lust, whiskey. The movie, over-enthralled by his psychopathology, is diminished slightly in his shadow. It didn't take psychopaths to implement slavery though it certainly did produce them, like mutant marrows — the script, by John Ridley, follows Epp’s degradations to the millimetre. Far more penetrating, for my money, is the scene, much earlier in the film, in which with Paul Giammetti’s slave trader takes a potential customer on a tour of his salesroom. It’s an ordinary-enough looking drawing room — nicely lit, with beautiful bay windows — but for the row of semi-naked human beings standing by the fire-place. As Giametti goes around the room, poking and prodding their chests, showing off their teeth like horses, his joviality is almost intolerable, the insult far more lasting for not being intended at all — there are no feelings to hurt, because, for him, there are no people in the room. You want slavery in a single scene —how it existed as a system, a norm as ordinary as daylight — there it is.

Dec 16, 2013



1. Adèle Exarchopoulos — Blue is the Warmest Color
2. Tom Hanks — Captain Phillips
3. Amy Adams — American Hustle
4. Lupita Nyong'o — 12 Years a Slave
5. Julia Louis-Dreyfus — Enough Said
6. Mathew McConnaughey — Dallas Buyer's Club 
7. Jennifer Lawrence — American Hustle
8. Jonah Hill — The Wolf of Wall Street
9. Melissa McCarthy — The Heat
10. Tom Hanks — Saving Mr Banks 


1. 12 Years A Slave
2. Blue Is The Warmest Color
3. Gravity
4. Her
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. Captain Philips 
7. American Hustle
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
9. Before Midnight
10. All Is Lost

Dec 13, 2013


From my Guardian review:— 
'There are only two reasons to part with your hard-earned cash and see this film. The first is Bradley Whitford, whose powers of intelligent forbearance were long ago established by his role playing Josh Lyman in The West Wing, and who summons here an entire symphony of sighs and long-sufferance as the head of the trio dealing with Travers. And the second is Tom Hanks, who has been diligently working his way through a Century of American Pop Culture — from the moon landings and D-Day, to the country’s toys and one-hit wonder pop bands — so it was inevitable that he would one day wind up at the doorstep of Disney. He delivers a beautifully grooved performance,  as much a cross between Disney and his creations as a portrait of the man himself. He doesn't play him — he animates him. There’s a cartoonist’s elegance of line to the way Hanks spins Disney in and out of rooms, as if blown in by his own East Wind, but also a miniaturist’s delight in uncovering the hucksterish glint beneath the bonhomie, whether handing out pre-signed autographs to fans or crouching down low to lock eyes with Travers, and impress upon her, in his beautiful low Kansas burr, why he and he alone is the man for her governess. Hanks gives us everything — Disney’s persistence, his optimism, his indefatigability, his bullying charm — and makes it look like something he dashed off before lunch. Coming so hot on the heels of his extraordinary turn in Captain Phillips, Hanks is in serious danger of delivering two of best performances of any screen actor this year. One of the great Hollywood careers is in it’s joyous second season right now. Catch him while you can. 

Dec 8, 2013


From my interview for the Sunday Times:—
BEN STILLER doesn't really do ‘ebullient’. I’ve met him before and he can be a little dour, in the way of off-duty comedians, speaking in mild, slightly over-chewed sentences from which all judgments have been carefully removed. “You have the worst tweets!” people complain when he goes on Twitter to talk about his charitable foundation in Haiti, “Be funny!” But towards the end of a long press day at the Crosby Street hotel in Soho, New York, Stiller is, if not ebullient, them as effusive as he gets — sat forward in his seat, knees together, green eyes alight, as he speaks animatedly about his new film, an adaptation of James Thurber’s classic tale of a daydreamer, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty“I feel like my own life experience up to this point is more connected to this than anything I’ve done before—” he says intently “— where I’m at in my life, being the age that I am, the questions that come up, people start to die. You start to feel your mortality.” He pauses.  “Really uplifting stuff,” he says and laughs a quick, jabbing laugh — hahhaha. “To me it gets more real. Everything gets more real.”

Now 46, his hair striated at the temples with a little grey, Stiller is no more obsessed with the passage of time than the next man  negotiating the forest of middle age. But in the modern-day Shangri-La that is Hollywood — where even 25-year-olds fret about their frown lines — time seems to fly by even more cruelly. There’s so much new stuff — new shows, new movies, new, funny people to stay on top of. Recently Stiller was watching old Star Trek episodes with his daughter, something he loves to do — “because she will actually sit and watch them with me,” he says, “to humor me.” — and he dropped the fact that Scotty once came on The Ben Stiller Show, the MTV sketch program that first launched his career in 1990. His daughter hasn't seen much of her dad’s work, outside of Night at the Museum, so he showed her the sketch where James Doohan is buried beneath an avalanche of Trekkie arcana by Stiller: “On the enemy within episode were you beam down that little dog, I don't understand, why did the dog survive then when it came back it turned into two different things?”.  Doohan can’t get a word in.

“She was like ‘daddy you look so different! look at your hair!’,” he says, with an expression that could be a smile. “It puts a whole different perspective on things. Everything goes so quickly. Suddenly my daughter is six, seven…. All of that informed the movie, and the process of making the movie. Just on the level of wanting to make the kinds of movies I’ve always been wanting to make in my head.”


1. All Is Lost — Alexander Ebert
2. Inside Llewyn Davis — Various
3. 12 Years a Slave — Hans Zimmer
4. How I Live Now — Jon Hopkins
5. Man of Steel — Hans Zimmer
6. Her — Arcade Fire & Owen Pallett
7. Gravity — Steven Price
8. Ain't Them Bodies Saints — Daniel Hart
9. Prisoners — Jóhann Jóhannsson
10. Only God Forgives — Cliff Martinez


1. Diane Young — Vampire Weekend
2. I Was A Fool — Tegan and Sara
3. Adolescence — Prefab Sprout
4. Do You Know Me Now? — David Sylvian
5. Black Skinhead — Kanye West
6. Don't Worry All Your Life — Sarah Cahoone
7. For Now I Am Winter — Olafur Arnalds
8. The Wire — Haim
9. GMF — John Grant
10. Hold On, We're Going Home - Drake

TOP TV SHOWS of 2013

1. Top of the Lake
2. House of Cards
3. Girls
4. Behind the Candelabra
5. Parade's End
6. Ray Donovan
7. The Killing
8. Breaking Bad
9. Masters of Sex
10. Enlightened

Dec 6, 2013

Mandela’s former cell, in Section B in the political prisoners’ area on Robben Island, off Cape Town. Photograph by Matt Shonfeld/Redux, courtesy The New Yorker's Photobooth


From my Guardian review:—
'I do like the Coen brothers’ wintery ones. Anyone who thinks composition is a purely visual matter should re-watch Fargo, which happily inverted the old film noir tradition which says kidnappings and extortion should come wrapped in expressionistic shadow. Instead, the film pitched daylight robbery against a blinding white tundra — film blanc — with particular attention paid to the way the Minnesota winter obliterates the horizon line. The characters just seemed to hanging there twixt land and sky, like Bellow’s dangling man, caught between two voids, unsure which way is up. The Coens’ collaborators are said to feel much the same way.  The snow that covers much of Inside Llewyn Davis is another matter again: it’s the kind of old, grey city snow that stains brown from car exhaust, and gets into your boots on the long trudge home. We can be even more precise that that, I think: it's the kind of snow you see covering the East Village street walked by Bob Dylan, arm-in-arm with Suzy Rotolo, on the cover on Freewheelin’, as dawn breaks at behind them. Inside Llewyn Davis is set in the days preceding that dawn. It is 1961 in New York and all over the village, cafes are sprouting folk singers, chins are sprouting beards, and Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), at something of a loss after the other half of his double act jumped from the George Washington bridge, is doing his damndest not to sell out, while stifling his howls as contemporaries are signed up all around him 
That Davis doesn’t suck the film under — and what ultimately rights the film’s entire leeward tilt — is simple: songs, eight of them, most of them folk standards rearranged by T Bone Burnett. Inside Llewyn Davis is not a musical, with everyone bursting into song when the mood takes them. The opposite:  When Davis sings, he does so because the plot requires it, for an audition, or in the car to pass the time, and frequently after he has taken a particularly bad beating. That makes it almost an anti-musical, with the hero opening his lungs, not in happiness, but pain. The entire film seems to hold its breath for Isaac’s pure, clear, plaintive voice.  The Coens could easily have taken this in the other direction, and rendered Llewyn talentless — the trailers play impishly with this possibility — but instead they tack towards a more Withnailish  paradox: if only the universe could stop oppressing Llewyn and listen to him then it would hear how beautiful it’s oppression is making him.But of course that would undo the whole magic. It’s fascinating to hear such an argument for authenticity from the Coens — kings of the unashamedly inauthentic and ersatz.   Inside Llewyn Davis is an exquisite objet d’art, beautifully photographed by Bruno Delbonnel, who desaturates the colors and reproduces exactly the silken grays and tobacco-stained whites of old Ektachrome. The plot, for all its pointlessness, has an elegant nautilus structure that spirals back to the beginning with one tug. If I were a Freudian I would be tempted to speculate that the brothers are feeling a little blind-sided by their lionization, post-Oscars, even annoyed about it, and that Llewyn Davis is their spectral alter-ego, summoned like Banquo’s ghost to remind them of what might have been — or replenish them with a reminder of their once-outsider status.  Maybe that’s why the nostalgia feels so piquant.' 

Dec 4, 2013

Samuel Beckett at an opening-night performance, April, 1970. Photograph by Reg Lancaster, courtesy of Photo Booth

QUOTE OF THE DAY: David O. Russell

"What I've discovered making these three films is that you need to have the magic of the things you love — of the people you love or the restaurant you love or the neighborhood you love. You need to find that and put it in the movie. Otherwise it's just telling stories…. Ten years ago I would have not wanted to say that I was motivated by love. I'd have wanted to be thought of as darker, tougher, crueler. But life can make you feel plenty bad. Look, I can do things in cinema that will really fuck you up, that will really make you feel horrible. But it's much harder to do the opposite, to show not just pain and heartbreak but enchantment and romance and magic." 

Dec 2, 2013

QUOTE OF THE DAY: John Goodman

"I got an email from Ethan one day that said, 'Dear Mad Man, we have something you might be interested in -- another gasbag.' I said, 'I'm your boy, where do I sign?'" 

Dec 1, 2013


1. Crimson/Red – Prefab Sprout
2. Heartthrob – Tegan & Sara
3. Modern Vampires of the City — Vampire Weekend
4. Deer Creek Canyon— Sarah Cahoone
4. Trouble Will Find Me — The National
5. Fossils — Aoife O'Donovan
6. Inside Lewyn Davis —Various
7. Immunity — Jon Hopkins
8. The Ash And Clay — The Milk Carton Kids
9. American Kid — Patty Griffin