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

Nov 30, 2013

On my iPod: Nov 29

1. The Songs of Danny Galway – Prefab Sprout
2. Glowing Heart — Aoife O'Donovan
3. GMF— John Grant
4. For Now I Am Winter — Olafur Arnalds
5. Calling Cards — Neko Case
6. Human — Christina Perri
7. Do You Know Me? — David Sylvian
8. Annabel — Goldfrapp
9. Fare Thee Well— Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford
10. Shapeshifter — Laura Viers

Nov 29, 2013

REVIEW: FROZEN (dir. Lee/Buck)

From my Guardian review: — 
'It’s that time of year again, when our guardians turn to the moral education of the nation’s young, raising vexed questions about the ideological agenda that drives their roles models, the benefits of their educational texts, and the acute balance that must be struck between pedagogical substance and the public’s eternal desire to see talking chipmunks. In other words: a new Disney movie. A really good one, too, whose humming industry and multi-pixillated craft come lit by a spark of something close to genuine enchantment. Loosely based on The Snow Queen, Frozen extracts from Hans Christian Anderson’s 1845 tale  the Nordic setting, some trolls and the basic idea of sub-zero sorcery but gives the powers of wintery transmogrification not to an evil queen, but to the elder of two sisters — blonde, brooding princess Elsa (Idina Mendel), who is born with the ability of turning anything she touches to ice. Her parents, the king and queen or Ardendelle, warn her against ever revealing her power, for fear it will be misunderstood. “Conceal, don’t feel,” she is taught to recite, thus placing her in a long line of shame-filled spellbinders from Edward Scissorhands to Rogue in Marvel’s X-Men, and putting the icing on the cake of any doctoral thesis with the title ‘Out of the Closet and into the Forest: Hidden Powers And Sublimated Self in the Films of Walt Disney.’ 
Here there is younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), a redhead who likes chocolate, boys, falling on her tush, and expresses herself via such well-known Norwegian colloquialisms and “you know” and “freaked out”, by which the film’s directors, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, wish to designate her as Our Heroine, although for a while you're not sure — it would have been a brave move indeed to put the audience behind the witchier of the two girls. The Disney princess is such a tired trope that even the much-vaunted revisionism feels de trop, these days — find me a heroine who isn’t spunky, feisty, etc  — but where the film scores points for originality is the tenderness and acuity with which the relationship between the two sisters is observed. If only Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren had been available for the voices…   One of the great things about Frozen, in fact, is how well thought through the central theme is, on every level: Frozen is one on-message ice movie. The graphic possibilities of ice and snow are gorgeously realized in some of the most straightforwardly beautiful animation since those dalmation pups trotted through the snowdrifts in 101 Dalmations: make sure you catch the chase at sunset, with cool, mauve horizontal shadows cutting across the glittering tundra. Then there’s the possibilities for fans of the well-crafted action sequence:  a fast, slippery, surface, perfect for high-speed tobogganing and downhill races if — for example — you are a humble woodsman trying to save your one true love from marriage to a dastardly prince, and the snow-lift happens to be jammed. We’re all headed for a big thaw, of course, not to mention a melting of all hearts within a 20- mile radius, but Lee and Buck know how to spring their big moments from within small jack-in-the-box surprises. Suffice to say that for once, sisterhood feels like an abiding interest of the filmmakers and not a tacked-on after-thought. Mapping the contours, twists, intimacies and estrangements of siblinghood — a surprisingly underexplored subject for Disney — Frozen hews to real, recognizable plumb-lines and casts a lingering spell. ' 

Nov 28, 2013


From my Guardian review
Spike Lee’s Oldboy is as far from a Spike Lee Joint as could be imagined. It’s actually a Park Chan-Wook joint — a remake of  Chan-Wook's 2003 South Korean cult classic about a man held in solitary confinement for 20 years before being loosing to wreak vengeance on his captors. Adapted from a manga comic-book, which was in turn adapted from an over-whelming desire to see what damage hammers do to foreheads, Chan-Wook’s film was a matte-black vengeance riff, decked out in playful camera angles, sicko violence, and one live octopus, which it’s hero ate, still wriggling, in one scene, although I like the think that afterwards, its cameo over, the octopus simply called “cut!” and resumed its position behind the camera.
What drew the maker of Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Clockers to resolving this Rubik’s cube is anyone’s guess. In Lee’s version, Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucette, a two-bit ad exec who wakes up after an alcoholic bender in a motel room, and remains locked up there for the next 20 years. He has no idea who is captors are, only that they feed him a thoughtful tray of dim-sum and vodka every day, and pay the cable bills on time, so that Joe can watch his wife’s murder being pinned on him in his absence, a succession of presidents being sworn in, and — as luck would have it — a series of martial arts programs, which come in very handy when one day, he wakes up in a field, sporting a new buzzcut, a newly toned body, an iPhone and a headful of vengeance. Game on.

Quite literally.  Like Chan-Wook’s original, Lee’s film, with its vivid rendings of the flesh — by box cutter and hammer — and challenge-level plotting, has the maziness of a video game. Joe’s tormentor (Sharlto Copley), is with him every step of the way, helpfully phoning in clues that will enable him to solve the mystery —  “Who I am and why did I imprison you?” — even throwing in an extra hostage for “a little added motivation,” when the plot needs a freshener. And if that sounds to you suspiciously like a screenwriter outsourcing his dramatic duties to his villain, then give yourself a gold star.  I grew tired of these screenwriter-ex-machina bad guys, with their chummy phone manner and tedious riddles, around the time they first appeared: it’s been downhill since Speed, basically.  Once a villain starts tailoring his plot so specifically to the dramatic needs of the film around him, you know it’s going to end in one of two ways, either 1) an “I-am-he-as-you-are-he-as-you-are-me” fudge, or 2) a vast import of new expository material.'

Nov 23, 2013

REVIEW: Philomena (dir. Frears)

From my Guardian review:—
'Like all the best screen actors, Judi Dench’s face is a kind of pun,    working on two levels at once, both twinkly and tart, like someone handing you a Christmas present while sucking on a lemon. Our first sight of her in Stephen Frears new film, Philomena, that face is lit by church candlelight, her eyes brimming, whether from an excess of human kindness or some private pain is hard to say.   Best known in the UK as a sherry-dry sitcom comedienne before she starting playing crusty English monarchs in Shakespeare in Love and Mrs Brown, she here mixes it up a little for American audiences for the first time. Her Philomena is an ununflappable old dear who boasts of   her titanium hips and recounts the plots of whatever bodice-ripper she happens to be reading with a comprehensiveness that rivals that of their author. Coogan’s reaction as he listens, sat in the back seat of an electric cart leading them towards a transatlantic flight —  “Oh there’s a series of them” — is an unimprovable modulation of polite agony. It’s Coogan’s best dramatic role to date. Until now he’s had the kind of disjointed, slightly agonized career traditional for British comics trying to make it in the movie business — his haggard, death’s-door lugubriousness is an odd fit for Hollywood, and seemed most at home putting all dramatic pretense aside in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, a mockumentary in which Coogan bantered his way around a series of restaurants in the British Midlands with comic Rob Brydon. If anything, Dench is an even better foil for Coogan than Brydon. Any worry that the role pushes the upper limits of her saintliness are offset by some of the unexpectedly salty dialogue she is given, happily detailing her sexual exploits in great detail to a dismayed Coogan, prompting him to mutter  “fucking Catholics” — the zinger of the film, accurately summarizing both its back-story, and the vein of anti-clerical anger running through the script.' 

Nov 20, 2013

My Coen brothers top ten

Horrified at the Coen brothers lists going around, I've caved and given my own. I clearly like the nicely plinthed stories better than the shaggy dogs and idiOdysseys — plot construction, people! plot construction! — and the snowy ones best of all.
1. Fargo
2. Miller's Crossing
3. Raising Arizona
4. No Country For Old Men
5. Blood Simple
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
7. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
8. True Grit
9. Barton Fink
10. The Big Lebowski

Nov 14, 2013

My favorite bit of acting this year

"His ordeal over, he's being examined in the ship's hospital by Albert. She asks questions about his condition. Her protocol is designed to get answers from traumatized patients. It may be necessary, but her manner is distant, cold, clinical. And, that is the precise, perfect counterpoint to the stream of Hanks' emotional release. He no longer needs to bear the mantle of control. It's all fragmented speech, emotional associations, tears and blood — it is one of the most powerful conclusions of a film in recent memory. " — Michael Mann on Captain Phillips

Oct 17, 2013

REVIEW: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

From my Guardian review:—
'Working with Jane Campion’s cinematographer, Stuart Dryburgh, Stiller films himself small in the frame, frequently viewed from above, more mouse than man, scurrying through the vast modernist spaces of the Time-Life building like the long lost cousin of Jacques Tati in Playtime, whose sleek, slate-grey production design this movie meticulously evokes — a haunting talisman. Playtime was Tati’s last film, a ruinously expensive bid for respectability that gave off the empty rattle of perfectionism — pratfalls echoing tinnily through lavish, empty sets. Stiller’s film is certainly a looker — there are dissolves that would make Orson Welles blush — but how good-looking does comedy need to be exactly?  As with his last film, Tropic Thunder, the production values sometimes appear to be the joke. There’s a battle on the streets of Manhattan involving man-hole covers and Stretch Armstrong — don't ask — whose special effects would be the envy of Michael Bay, but does the money make the sequence funnier? It doesn’t make it unfunnier, I suppose.  It’s just expensive. After Mitty loses one of O Connell’s negatives on the eve of a corporate takeover, and jets off to Iceland for a high seas adventure battling sharks and  volcanoes — so sudden is the pivot, in fact, that you were to take a toilet break at this point you would spend the rest of the film in a state of unending, head-scratching perplexity. There are two problems with this besides precipitousness. 1) With Mitty’s real life now as zoomily adventurous as his fantasy life, the laughs begin to dry up. In their place we get the usual rom-comish exhortations to break out of your shell, reach  out, connect and whatnot, all of which would be more convincing were it not that 2) what we get in the second hour is basically a series of solo adventures, with Mitty skateboarding through Greenland’s mountain ranges to the sound of Jose Gonzales, alone, like someone rocking out to their Walkman, or hiking up he Himalayas, and confiding in his diary, “I’m alone.” It’s very odd. This has to be one of the loneliest odes to togetherness ever made.' 

Oct 15, 2013

"The film was a bit of a risk for myself and more importantly for Redford, to put himself out there in the way that he did, because if it was ten degrees off in its execution, in any of its parts, the whole thing could almost have been a little boring, self important, and laughable. We both kind of knew that and almost said it to each other. Once I realized, whatever your thoughts of the film, at Cannes we got to learn that it worked. People watched it all the way through and had some sort of an emotional response. Its been a pretty fun ride since that reaction, obviously it was a little bit of a risk. Now I hope people go see it.”— J C Chandor, to this blogger, on his film All is Lost, which gets my first 'A' grade in many a year (Current top five:  All is Lost, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave, Captain Phillips, Before Midnight. Still to see: Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street).

Oct 14, 2013

REVIEW: Her (dir. Spike Jonze)

From my Guardian review;—
'... It’s a pixel-era Pygmalion set in a not-too-distant Los Angeles, where everyone stalks the walkways murmuring into their earpieces, a vast solipsistic tide of humanity.   At night the city lights sparkle and blur, like distant diodes on a giant computer chip. Needless to say, the film is half in love with the loneliness it diagnoses. The whole thing looks like the most expensive ad for urban anomie ever made — Antonioni for the artisanal cheese set — and for the first hour the conceit is unveiled beautifully, via a brisk series of gags, most of them in the periphery of the main plot... The closer we draw to the central romance, the straighter grows the film’s face.  ”Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m gonna feel,” confides Theo to Samantha, finding in her precisely the sympathetic ear he failed to find in his wife. She is played by Rooney Mara thus confirming Mara’s position as the Ex most men would regret breaking up with, ideally through a Happier Times Montage involving cascades manes of hair and white sheets seen in chalky sunlight. She gets in the zingiest line in the film, delivered over an exchange of divorce papers  — “He couldn't deal with me, tried to put me on Prozac and now he’s in love with his lap-top” — but it doesn't quite land. It’s like a zinger from one of Woody Allen’s comedies that has somehow drifted into one of his alienation-and-anomie numbers. The script wants things both way  — an obvious outrage to Mara, Phoenix’s love for his computer   is seen as entirely normal by others— a penchant for blur that starts with the film’s wispy compositions and seems to spread from there. 
Phoenix is as sweet and soulful as we always suspected he might be. Ditching the trail of dysfunction and hiding his scarred lip behind a neat little moustache, spectacles and high-hitched pants, Theo is a portrait of the sad sack as saintly urban eunuch — a great listener and perfect empath whose less attractive attributes are discretely masked from view.  An early mention of Theo’s anger issues is never followed up on. A session of phone sex leaves him the bemused victim. Even his consummation with Samantha is discretely blacked out, to spare us the lonely, masturbatory truth. That’s quite a burden of simplicity to put on a figure who must  carry a two-hour film; you can detect the strain during some of the date scenes, where Phoenix is required to gurgle with happiness one too many times — he wears the fixed grin of a man on a visit to the dentist. Johansson has an easier time of it, having long taken over Demi Moore’s mantle as the owner of Hollywood’s Huskiest Tonsils. If anything she may pack too much punch for Theo, who remains a strangely chaste figure, too hung up on his ex-wife for sex, let alone a relationship. What he really seems to need is a therapist, and so it proves, as the script succumbs to the kind of well-intentioned maundering that ensnares the better kind of rom com: “Its in this endless space between the words that I’m trying to find myself right now,” says Samantha.   How did such a sharply conceived movie end on such a woozy note? It’s almost as if the haze above Los Angeles descends to envelop the rest of the film.'   

Oct 13, 2013


From my interview with Donna Tartt in The Sunday Times:
'There’s a great description of a gun by someone who has never held one before in Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch. They find it eerily defamiliarised, with “a smooth density that blackly distorted the space around it like a drop of motor oil in a glass of water.” I like it so much, I bring it up over   lunch with the author at Manhattan’s Union Square Café, a swanky downtown restaurant much frequent by the city’s publishers and literary types. Around us, waiters in crisp white shirts ferry plates to waiting diners, illuminated in tastefully-muted light.

“If someone put a gun on the table between us it would be very defamiliarised,” says Tartt, with undisguised glee at the thought. “Its one thing to see it on the screen but if someone really had one here” — her voice rises high with childish excitement — “ if our waiter pulled a gun on us it we would see it in an entirely different way. It’s about that tear in the fabric of reality.” For a second, the though occurs that maybe our waiter will pull a Beretta from the champagne box and, with two sharp retorts, leave small red round holes in our foreheads that leave us slumped on the table. But he doesn’t. Instead he lays our pasta dishes ceremoniously on the table, and departs without a word.

Such is lunch with Donna Tartt that one’s primary disappointment is not being shot. It has been 20 years since The Secret History, Tartt’s global  mega-bestseller about a group of classics students committing murder in the name of art in upstate Vermont. Now 49, Tartt still wears her hair in a shiny Louise Brooks bob, and buttons her shirts to the top crocheted button. Her skin is white and clear, an emerald ring picking out the green of her eyes, with which alight on you with a beady, birdlike fixity that would be unsettling were it not for the perky Mississippi twang with which she engages you in conversation. Mordant, amused, chirpy, the overall effect is part Edith Sitwell, part Wednesday Addams, or Mrs Danvers’ prettier, perkier sister.' 

Oct 6, 2013


 "He offers point-of-view images that are imbued with no actual point of view. The movie, with its near-absolute absence of inner life, presents a material fantasy that flatters the studious humanism of critics who honor the attention to so-called reality—which they define in terms of physical phenomena and everyday people—as an aesthetic endowed with a quasi-political virtue." — Richard Brody, The New Yorker. 
“Imitation is praise," said John Updike, "Description expresses love." So what film is being so lovingly evoked here? You get three guesses.  

Let's see. Point-of-view images. But no inner life. Hmm. Kind of 'I-am-a-camera' deadpan? It's not that Bret Easton Ellis film about pornos is it? A material fantasy. What does that mean? Not Girl in the Red Dress, not Pillow Talk not that kind of material, dummy. He means "material" as in "material world" and "material girl." Doesn't that rather contradict "fantasy" ?  A fantasy about the material world.  Hmm. 

Ooh, Ooh, Mr Peabody, I got it Mr Peabody! It's One of those afterlife comedies with Ed Burns! Sorry, I mean George Burns. That's it. George Burns in Oh God! 

Or do I mean Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait?  

No?  Dagnabit. Okay two more guesses. Flatters the studious humanism of critics who honor the attention to so-called reality. Wow. We're picking a fight with "reality"? Not only that but "so-called reality"? That doesn't exactly narrow things down, fella. Can you help a brother out? studious humanism, studious humanism... Ghandi?  Richard Attenborough? Schindler's List? No? 

Fuck. This is hard. 

I'm going to get it though. One more guess. 

Let's go back to the "reality" thing. He does give us a definition: physical phenomena and everyday people. Oh for crying out loud. You cannot be serious. Really? Physical phenomena and everyday people. What does that mean when it's not frying kippers in the morning. I mean if you set aside the obvious: people and things. He can't mean that. I mean you can't hold that against a movie, can you? People and things? 'I liked your script enormously, thought your cinematography spectacular but ultimately I'm afraid to say it boiled down to just another flick about people and things.' Those old bores. I wouldn't know what to guess in that case. Lawrence of Arabia? The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer? Desperately Seeking Susan? 

Okay I give up. What is it. It's what? Gravity? Wow. Well, at least I wouldn't have got that. Not in a million years. And to think that everyone else thought "George Clooney's dialogue sucked" and left it at that.  The next time a friend says they want to see a quasi-political material fantasy which flatters the studious humanism of critics hot for pictures about people and things, though, I will know exactly where to turn.