Friday, 30 December 2011


There is a curiosity at the centre of Drive. The main character, the protagonist, ably played by Ryan Gosling is never referred to by name throughout the film. He’s listed as Driver on the end credits. It’s as if he’s almost a non-person, certainly not a fully rounded character. This is not helped by him hardly saying a word and even showing any emotion on his face during the first half of the film. It’s as if he’s an unemotive Gary Cooper, making sure that he gets the job done.

We see him acting as a getaway driver in a heist where acting without emotion and taking cold logical decisions is a distinct advantage. Especially when avoiding police cars and helicopters. His lack of character makes it very easy for him to melt into the background when he delivers the criminals to safety and he disappears into a crowd.

After this escapade we see him work as a Hollywood stunt driver on film set. He executes a roll in a car and does this in an efficient manner, doing exactly what was asked of him. He shows great restraint when performing these tasks and employs a steely, decisive persona to ensure that he makes his choices in an unemotive and logical manner, as every driver should do.

Driving and cars seems to be his life. He has another job working as a mechanic. We don’t see him take part in any recreational activity, his apartment seems pretty bare. Things change though when he meets a woman who lives down the hall from him with her son. It soon becomes apparent that she’s waiting for her husband to be released from prison, which really limits their relationship. The connection with the woman and her son, however tenuous, leads him to make different choices and to act in a different way. This may be the nub of the piece, but it would be sad if the moral was; beware of emotional attachments, they’ll bring you down.

His problem with emotion, as it were, may be emblematic of him not being a fully rounded character. It may be as well that he ends up fulfilling the role of The Man With no Name, as if he’s driven to take up this role. The irony being that he’s called the Driver, but he loses control of where’s he going, what he does and therefore what happens to him. That’s life though, I suppose, that’s what eventually leads him towards the road to becoming a fully rounded character. Although he does end performing incredibly violent acts as well, and I do mean incredibly.

Friday, 16 December 2011


Deep in the woods, in Austria, is the Waldhaus hotel where Irene starts a job as a receptionist. She soon discovers that the girl she replaced, Eva, has disappeared. She finds Eva’s glasses in her room and after hers are broken she begins to wear them. Around her a number of unsettling events take place; on occasion it’s like when you see something out of the corner of your eye.

This film owes a lot to what has come before; there are references to Little Red Riding Hood and Alice in Wonderland. There are nods as well to Twin Peaks at times as well. It is a film that reveals clues and secrets that gradually fall into place throughout the piece. There are a number of symbols as well; doors, crosses, alarms and darkness.

There is as well a brooding malcontent in the hotel. No one seems to get along, which is evident right from the beginning. This may be due to the disappearance of Eva which would have left a pall over everyone. Poor Irene is parachuted into the middle of all of this and works hard to fit in. She tries this making friends and going to a club. This doesn’t save her from a general sense of isolation, in the hotel and in the woods.

I love the way this film slowly reveals what has happened and in a way what will happen as well. It is a story of great stillness, there is a lot said in looks and glances. It is an ambitious film in the way it deals with narrative, in that it doesn’t rely on dialogue to tell the majority of the story, it relies on the visuals. It also reminds you that if you go down to the woods today…

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The 400 Blows

This beautiful film explores the fortunes of Antoine, a schoolboy in late fifties Paris. He lives with his parents in an apartment and sleeps on a camp bed in the kitchen, every night he has to deal with the dustbin before getting into his bed. It soon transpires that all is not as it seems when his father complains about his behaviour and goes on to say about he gave him a home and his name. For this and a number of other reasons Antoine slips into truancy from school.

He would like to leave school and to learn a trade, but his mother sees the benefit of an education and offers Antoine 1000 francs if he does well in writing a composition, as she recognises the value of French more than that of Algebra or Science. Unfortunately Antoine’s zeal causes him to plagiarise Balzac which leads to him eventually being expelled from the school.

This film was one of the first of the new wave, one of those directly reacting against le cine de papa. It shows Paris as a depressed city finding its feet after the Second World War. Overall the film is a plea for freedom from the constraints of society that turn poor Antoine into truant from school and then into a criminal.

I love the brutal honesty of this film. It does not flinch from telling and exposing truths and reaching natural conclusions without sentimentality. As I’ve said before this was a pioneering film, a film that showed how life was then. It was about real people encountering real issues. It is also quite interesting to see the directors that were influenced by this and how it shaped film to this day.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

We Need To Talk About Kevin

A remarkable achievement, this film beautifully explores the ins and outs of a hideous occurrence and thoroughly looks at who was responsible for what actions. The story is about the upbringing of the eponymous Kevin and how this leads to his zenith and nadir. Tilda Swinton is glorious in the role of his mother Eva. For most of the film we see her solitude and the pain on her face and behind her eyes.

Plaudits also need to go to the actors who play Kevin; Ezra Miller, Jasper Miller and Rock Duer. They give performances at such young ages which portray such beautiful menace and transform themselves into such a hideous creature. Lynne Ramsay’s direction encourages her actors to reveal their vulnerabilities. She also shows great skill in adapting unsettling texts to the screen, as she showed before with Morvern Callar. Also, I’m sure that this is the only film that credits a Guinea Pig Costume Designer, unless someone can contradict me of this.

The story is one of nature versus nurture, the answer sensibly lies somewhere in between of course. The film also questions maternal loyalties and how far they could and should stretch. The trouble is that it’s not really until something majorly hideous happens that all the cards stack up and that the real nature of Kevin is known. I suppose that the story is about Eva’s hindsight as she searches for clues in his upbringing and her interaction with him to see how she could have changed things. She also recognises and takes responsibility for her son’s actions and we know very early on that his fate changing actions effected the fates of all those around him and not just his.

Wuthering Heights

This is not really an easy film to watch. Time needs to be invested to tune into to what’s happening before your eyes. Andrea Arnold utilises her naturalistic style to tell this classic tale. It is said that the mark of a great film director is that you can watch a random portion of one of their films and know by the style and feel who has directed it. This is certainly true here as you can see the technique she’s honed making Wasp, Red Road and Fish Tank.

In making the character Heathcliffe black as well has given something new to this well-known story of obsessional love and the filthiest of tempers. This is partially explained by Heathcliffe’s ethnicity and the reaction and racism to this that shapes his character. These reasons, as well as a bleak and inhospitable landscape, would make most people look at life in the least optimistic of ways.

His is the tale of an immigrant taken in by one who shows him kindness, but who insists on Heathcliffe’s baptism, which he resists. As is a recurrent theme the benefactor dies leaving Heathcliffe adrift and at the mercies of those less tolerant people who inherited the house. This gives Heathcliffe and entrepreneurial spirit, which enables him to succeed in the future.

I love the way Arnold as well portrayed the young Heathcliffe and Cathy. They show their touching playfulness by playing and rolling together in the mud and scratching their names on the walls. When they didn’t have a care in the world they were able to express their true emotions to one another before the realities of the grown up world impinged on them.

In contrast to most costume dramas Arnold’s vision has little or no music; there are no great speeches in the film. There is just an intensity of character and the actions of the characters being portrayed in a naturalistic manner. We are not given the normal clues of how we should feel about the events; we have to work it out for ourselves, which makes the rewards greater at the end of it all.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Rum Diary

Hunter S. Thompson was known, through his work and the adaptations of these, for the consumption of many substances and for the glorious description of the effect they had on him. This film doesn’t stray too far from this position. It tells the story of the journalist Paul Kemp played by Johnny Depp. He finds a job working for a newspaper in Puerto Rico in 1960 and meets the editor who wears an outrageous toupee that no one is to refer to. He rumbles Kemp, almost immediately, as an alcoholic and as a novelist who is slumming it as a journalist until he’s published. He doesn’t really say which is worse.

Kemp is befriended by two people when he starts at the newspaper. There’s Sal who recognises Kemp as a man who appreciates a drink as much as he does. He also keeps a fighting cockerel with which he supplements his income. The other befriender is a property developer who is looking for someone to write a brochure about the development he is planning on the island. He has a very friendly girlfriend who Kemp falls for and spends most of the film coveting.

One of the joys of this film is the details in the characterisation. There is also a Swedish religious correspondent on the newspaper who introduces Sal and Kemp to an hallucinogenic drug in return for $50 and a check-up to see if he has the clap. Kemp tells him he has a standing ovation. The Swede also has a liking for recordings of Adolf Hitler as well.

In this story Kemp, really Thompson drinks a lot and is chemically enhanced. The director Bruce Robinson said that you can play a drinking game with Withnail and I, but this film will kill you if you try that. The real story in this film is that the bastards are identified and that an antidote to them is identified as ink. This is the beginning of his crusade of writing about them and exposing them.

I like this film, it is sentimental but its heart is in the right place. Sal and Kemp get up to antics in Fiat Cinquecento that sometimes seem like they may have been influenced by Last of the Summer Wine. Albeit the episodes where they drank industrial amounts of alcohol including some incredibly flammable spirits. They do it though in a far more likeable manner, and boy, could Hunter S. Thompson tell a story.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Ides of March

There is no great surprise that George Clooney has made a political thriller. With a title like the Ides of March we know from the outset that all is not right here. Throughout the film we’re introduced to different presidential influences the most obvious being Obama and the usage of the primary colours poster design used to great effect in 2008. There is also the spectre of Clinton’s peccadillos here as well.

The film tells the story of a Democratic Primary in Ohio, there are two men in the running and both of their teams believe that they can win. We are mainly concerned with Governor Morris’s (Clooney) team and the meeting of the head of media strategy (Ryan Gosling) with a much younger intern (Evan Rachael Wood). They begin a sexual relationship during which he discovers that the intern has slept with the governor and that she is now pregnant. Furthermore the team of the other candidate make overtures to Morris’s media director.

The film more than ably explores the nature of political allegiance and how this is based as much on trust as is it on like-minded individuals forming groupings together. It is as well quite a cynical outlook on the American political system. At times I was reminded of the film True Colors at times which was a portrayal of how much the lure of power can seduce and corrupt. Clooney as well has assembled a magnificent cast, to have Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti together in the same film is a treat indeed. The biggest treat though is witnessing a production that forms part of what could be a zenith of many years defining the grand career of George Clooney.


There are films that are described as disturbing. This film is extraordinarily disturbing because it is all too possible. The premise of the film is that Michael lives on his own in Austria, works in Insurance, keeps a tidy house, commutes to and from work every day, goes skiing with friends and keeps a ten-year-old boy locked in his basement. Of course numerous cases spring to mind where this or something similar happened. What is still astonishing is how someone can appear to be such a normal member of society and commit such acts.

It is shown in the film that discipline, meticulous planning and compartmentalisation would need to be employed. The boy is kept in a very well ordered environment, there is soundproofing on the way down to the cellar, the room the boy is kept in is very well decorated; all evidence of his great planning. A work colleague shows up unannounced at Michael’s house and he can’t cope with this. This is maybe partly due to the fear of nearly being discovered and partly because he’s not used to her being there. At her presence he loses his temper and throws her out.

There is a voyeuristic fascination in seeing how he conducts himself in the home; this all too frequently turns to revulsion at every turn as to the activities Michael gets up to. The film does not attempt to play with your emotions at all. I think what it does is to attempt to give an insight into the whys of the situation and also as to what the implications might be. What really troubles me is the implication that stories like this are so common place and that things like this happen far too often.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Lotus Eaters

This film may be a depiction of over privileged, irresponsible, rich people with nothing better to do than to waste their lives away killing each other with drugs, alcohol, diseases and/or car crashes. Then again it may be an adaptation of the Alice stories set in the modern day, where Alice comes across a succession of impossible and increasingly ludicrous situations.

It could of course be both of those possibilities. Throughout the film I found myself getting more and more annoyed with the antics of these people as they continued to go parties, shop lift and take drugs. It cannot be said though that none of this is without consequence. It’s also true that there are people who live their lives this way.

As I’ve said there are the Alice references; the main character is Alice, mind altering substances are taken and there is plentiful surrealism and abnormal activity. There is also a nod to Jean Luc Godard when a girl is told to read a book while on a picnic. She takes offence to this and just happens to have a Noam Chomsky book to hand from which she reads aloud from. This is very reminiscent of Weekend and the discussions of Marxism.

The story does come across like Bright Young Things at time, but without the wit and humour. There is little or no social commentary, apart from rich people having a habit of drinking a lot and that if someone takes drugs they might die. A number of the actors are easy on the eye, which I’m sure gets them out of so many situations, what they do at times is a bit ugly.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Headhunters (Hodejegerne)

The world is full of adaptations of thrillers. Add the words international bestseller to a dust jacket or a paperback cover and it won’t be long before they’ll be the addition of now a major motion picture. Sweden has Stieg Larsson, Norway now has Jo Nesbø.

The story is concerned with Roger Brown, who we are told at the beginning of the film has this thing about his height, along with having a taller wife. He’s also an art thief and a recruitment consultant come to that. His wife has expensive tastes, which he feels obliged to cater for. This he does by efficiently breaking and entering and then replacing valuable works of art with valueless copies. What his wife really wants though is a child, he’s not sure that he can afford this until he meets a man who he hears has at home a priceless Reubens.

There is a question here that if the owners never realise that they have a valueless copy are they actually suffering. The answer is yes of course, without realising it. Roger discusses this in the film when he talks about the Julian Opie piece in his office being worth a quarter of a million, and that’s because it’s by Julian Opie.

As a thriller Headhunters is absolutely fine. All the film tries to do is to entertain, to thrill; it doesn’t really try to do anything else. The plot is not entirely surprising, but it is engaging in its own sweet way. It follows the Chekov maxim of a gun being spotted in the first act and then fired in the third. Be prepared for a lot of blood and more than enough violence. To be concise, it serves its purpose of being diverting from the daily grind.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Where Do We Go Now?

A Lebanese film which introduces us to a village that is half Christian, half Muslim. This is a place where peace has broken out after years of division and fighting. I was once told that in Lebanon they would drink wine and make love, and that they would have a war every twenty five years. This is maybe a little more frivolous than the truth of course. The beginning of the film, however, shows the villagers coming together in celebration to watch a television that has been set up on a hill. The mayor tells the citizens that this is their progression from the 20th century to the 21st.

If only life was so simple. The rest of the film is concerned with the women of the town first of all stopping the men hearing about multi-faith violence and then subsequently stopping them from taking part in this violence themselves. It’s the women who have continually picked the pieces after these conflicts, where the too young are buried in the village’s cemetery. Tellingly there is a pathway dividing the two halves of the cemetery so that those of different faiths cannot be buried together.

It’s curious in the film that all the men, both Christian and Muslim, who are happy to bring up the divisions at every given opportunity, dress in a broadly similar way. It’s therefore difficult to tell what their faith is from their appearance. The women, however, are unified in their purpose and dress according to their faith.

At times I was reminded of Cinema Paradiso. There are plenty of examples of how an uncomplicated life can have its benefits. There is however the recurrent threat of ethnic violence hanging over the villagers. The film doesn’t try to preach to people, it really asks what can we do to alleviate the situation we’ve found ourselves in. How do we make life better for ourselves? Where do we go from here?

Alps (Αλπεις)

A dark comedy about a group people in Athens called Alps, led by a man nicknamed Mont Blanc. They perform a service of filling in for dead people so that their relatives and loved ones can feel that the dearly departed are still with them. Two of the group are a nurse and a paramedic who are in a prime position to find those who may be in need of the Alps services. The nurse, for instance, cares for a girl who dies as a result of being in a traffic accident. She fills in for the girl at her parents’ home. The director Yorgos Lanthimos asks which is stranger her offer or the parents’ acceptance.

There are times in the film where it feels like a Greek adaptation of songs by Belle and Sebastian. This is due to the prevalence of athletes; tennis players and gymnasts, and the subsequent currency of sexual favours that appear in different guises and for differing reasons throughout the film.

The theme of character is very important in a film of such subject matter of course. It’s very interesting how the limits of this are explored as well. In all this the element of pretence, it’s quite often seen that betrayal is not far away. The statement that cannot hold true and that cannot explain any of the actions is ‘I was only pretending’. Even in pretence betrayal appears to be all too real.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Dark Horse

Abe is a man not afraid to tell people what he feels about them, he acts as if he’s not able to control his emotions all the time. He’s in his thirties and lives at home with his parents and has a penchant for collecting toys and figures. He’s a fan of the Simpsons, Doctor Who and Thundercats among other things. We never know if he has collected the figure of the comic shop owner, I bet he has, I’m not sure that he’d see the irony though. As well as living with his parents he also works for his dad in his Real Estate office. Well, he’s employed there anyway. There he answers successive questioning about whether or not he’s finished a vital spread sheet. This is while he gives far more of his attention to the purchase of a $450 Liono figure.

Through an impressive amount of tactless desperation and blind perseverance he gets the telephone number of Miranda. He meets her at a wedding and she shows no interest in him whatsoever. He through not really noticing that she’s not interested arranges to meet her at her parent’s house and very quickly proposes marriage. Amidst all of this bravura and Abe’s satisfaction in his collection is a deep set feeling in inadequacy. He feels that he’s at the bottom of the heap, especially in comparison with his brother and his cousin. This manifests itself in him feeling undermined at work and at home.

Todd Solondz has given us a comedy of dark proportions that questions us on parental relationships, prospects of unmarried thirty somethings and whether people of that age should be collecting toys. He liberally uses fantasy scenes to explore these themes. There are so many of them that you may wonder what reality actually is. That is the want of fiction, I suppose. In the middle of all of this is a towering performance by Christopher Waken, he plays Abe’s father, and displays hi customary menace. This is though while being on the verge of retirement and who spends his time selling space in strip malls and watching questionably funny comedy shows. The menace is all in his eyes.

The Somnambulists

A film designed in such a way to arrest your attention and your sensibilities from the outset. At the beginning, before the credits, we see a burning man, wheeling as he runs with the fire lapping and enveloping the back of his body. In this faux documentary we are then presented with a succession of talking heads of British soldiers talking about their experiences in Basra in Iraq. There are common denominators of dust and heat, and the fear of what they faced on patrol and the anticipation of this as well.

The film continually challenges points of view. The soldiers have a way of looking at you and telling you that they knew what you were thinking about their job in Iraq while they were risking their lives. The film also worked well at reminding me of how trivial my thoughts and actions seemed a lot of the time during the war.

The first soldier talks about going back to his school wearing his army uniform, after being told not to wear his uniform off duty in Britain. His visit, so dressed, had the effect of making a former teacher of his feel unsettled and made him not acknowledge his presence properly at all. As if the uniform had turned in him to a big embarrassment, or at least the perception of it. It was never mentioned but there is the implication that their experience at times was the same as that of returning troops from the Vietnam War.

This was symptomatic of the brutal honesty of the film. The soldiers talk about their feelings in such a way that they appear to be real people. They talk about their fears and their hatred, but also at times about how the army had given new opportunities. The apparent reality comes through as well with small vignettes of the soldiers home lives showing their significant others as they waited at home. These are the images that the soldiers had in their minds and shows what they were fighting for.

Monday, 10 October 2011


Paddy Considine is an actor who has worked in some thought provoking films, playing complex characters. In recent years I’ve seen him play a colour healer in Submarine and a born again Christian pub owner in My Summer of Love. Tyrannosaur sees him make the well-trodden path from actor to director. This journey was taken by one of his lead actors, Peter Mullan, a few years ago.
Mullan plays Joseph, who we see from the outset, is a man of violence, he lashes out and kills his dog as a reaction to being wound up in the bookies. As soon as he aims the first and only kick he is remorseful and full of shame for his action. He’s ashamed of losing it and remorseful for killing his companion Blue.

The trouble for Joseph is that this isn’t an isolated incident. In the first few minutes of the film, after he kills his dog, he smashes a window in the local Post Office and also threatens a young man in the pub with a pool cue. This leads to more remorse and shame and he takes flight eventually taking refuge behind a rail of clothes in a charity shop.

Here he meets Hannah (Olivia Coleman), who we soon discover has her own demons to haunt and torment her. Joseph and Hannah’s coming together begins a friendship that from the outset is based on support and forgiveness. They, as the film progresses, attempt to help each other find redemption and a way of escaping from the lives they’ve ended up in.

This film is really required viewing. Considine has drawn some great performances from his actors, as so many actor-directors, including Peter Mullan, have done so before him. He allows his actors and characters to breath, enabling them to tell their story and to be real. I especially enjoyed some of the camerawork and some of the segues from scene to scene. This was as clever as the way Hannah’s husband (Eddie Marsan) could segue from mood to mood. Considine is certainly a director who cares about technique which is more than evident from this well-crafted piece of work.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Mademoiselle Chambon

It could be argued that life is like a railway journey, that at certain points we’re faced with choices as to which track to take. Sometimes tracks can take us in directions we were in no way expecting and sometimes it can be all too predictable. Mademoiselle Chambon shows us a man and a woman who reach such points in their lives.

Jean is a builder who collects his son from school after his wife suffers an accident at work. There he meets Veronique, his son’s teacher, who persuades Jean to talk to his son’s class and to look at a faulty window in her apartment. It’s there that he discovers that she plays the violin and he persuades her to play for him. This is after some negotiation as she’s uncertain of playing in front of people. In a moment surely inspired by Hammershøi she plays for him with her back turned to him. There is a reference before this as she has a poster from an exhibition of his in her kitchen.

This is really a useful metaphor as this act highlights how shy they are to declare their true feelings. She is a reserved, but friendly, teacher who lives by herself; he is a male builder who probably in the course of his day does not talk about his deepest desires. He also has a home life that he needs to protect and is a very caring man, as is shown when he washes his father’s feet.

This is a quietly beautiful film that looks at possibilities and is about people who know what the implications are of their actions, or at least take them into account. It is also a study in looking at how you can upset all of the people by attempting to be fair to all of them. I love the way as well that the actors are given space and time, that they are also encouraged to show what’s happening to them and that the plot is sensibly paced and not rushed in the slightest.

Monday, 3 October 2011


From a director who like to court controversy comes a film which is not as controversial as some of his output in the past. Lars von Triers’s film Melancholia is, we are told, as much about the director as it is about the presented subject matter. Not really a great shock there, you should always answer the ‘who made this’ question, it tells you so much about the piece. What is maybe curious about this film is that the female lead, Kirsten Dunst, is the character that the male director identifies with. Putting that to one side, she plays Justine and her story forms the first half of the film.

This is about her wedding and the aftermath at the reception, which has been paid for by her brother-in-law and hosted by him and her sister. It soon becomes apparent that all is not well with Justine’s family as her mother makes a number of acidic remarks whilst the speeches take place. Justine is seemingly on a mission to self-destruct; it becomes apparent that she doesn’t want to be there. As well as the mother’s contribution there is her boss who hasn’t really got the message that she’s not at work and wants her to provide a by line for an advertising campaign. This is von Trier’s rant against commerciality I guess; they always want their pound of flesh. This all contributes to Justine’s state of mind and she tailspins into the slough of despond.

Her sister Claire is the main focus of attention in the second half. She is materially depressed and worried about the planet Melancholia and its eventual proximity to the Earth. I’ve often thought that we may have all of worries about life, money and the state of modern life in general but that will all pale into insignificance given the right natural event.

This is a very thought provoking film and I especially loved the prologue that set the scene. Von Trier presents us with a number of slow moving tableaus that we see explored upon later in the film. There are a number of references to paintings which aid the air of misery and despair. Two of these are Past and Present by Augustus Egg and of course Ophelia by John Everett Millais. These do rather enhance the mood and give you a good indication of what is to come. Some of the dialogue may not be that great in writing or delivery but there is enough there to be at the more engaging end of the scale.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Jane Eyre

Does the world really need another adaptation of Jane Eyre? Well need is quite an emotive word I suppose. It is remarkable that the character of Jane was insisting on independence and therefore not being controlled by men in 1847, truly groundbreaking stuff. We can see in the story that of the two men in her life, Rivers and Rochester, she chooses the one who gives and respects her freedom. The other appears to more reasonable but is ultimately more controlling. Although at the beginning of the story Jane is accused of being deceitful, ironically she is the only main character that isn’t at deceitful at all, including her tow suitors.
We are given glimpses of some beautiful scenery from the outset as Jane wanders in the wilderness. Throughout the film though there are also some wonderful performances, Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender are marvellous as Jane and Rochester as is Judi Dench as Mrs Fairfax.
Given that this is based on a gothic novel and that there are some quite dramatic occurrences throughout the story, it would be quite easy for the whole thing to become overwrought and gimmicky. So much of the acting, though. is done in subtle facial expressions. The text is treated with the greatest respect but is also utilised beautifully as well. All these elements, along with an understated musical score, make for very decent film that keeps you thinking throughout.

The Arbor

There is cinema verité and there are films that are called a tragedy. Both of these descriptions fit the Arbor far more than most other films ever will. The film is about Andrea Dunbar, writer of Rita, Sue and Bob Too. She came from Bradford in Yorkshire and lived on an estate, which before they were sold off, would have been an estate of council houses. She died in 1990 after fighting alcoholism and related issues. The story goes on to talk about her eldest daughter Lorraine and her travails with drug addiction and prison.
The construction of the film is fascinating. The protagonists recorded their recollections of what happened and then actors lip synched to their voices. At the same time this gives the appearance of a play, you know that they are acting, but at the same time there is the reality of what is being said as well. The piece as well has parts of Dunbar’s plays interspersed throughout as well. This underpins the reality of her work and highlights what happened to her in terms of her writing.
It is of course selective in what is presented and what is said about the situations portrayed. I don’t know what Andrea Dunbar’s family think of the film but it is all too evident that feelings run deep about all sorts of issues and occurrences. Film is designed to move people and to affect them emotionally. It is however rare to find a film so real with such real emotions running all the way through. This film should be highly commended.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The film, set in 1973, begins with the shooting of a British agent in Budapest. He had been given the task of uncovering a mole in British secret service, called the Circus here, who has been passing secrets to the USSR. He had been betrayed himself and this is not the last betrayal in the film. Throughout the film it becomes apparent that nations, friends, lovers and partners are all betrayed. I suppose really it is a side effect of employing devious people who have heightened skills in observation and subterfuge.

Pinning the whole film together is a masterly performance by Gary Oldman, who plays George Smiley; the spymaster given the job of uncovering the mole. His performance is one of great stillness, only saying what needs to be said. This is of course a good interrogation technique; it gives the interviewee space to tell their story and also gives them enough rope to hang themselves with.

As there are enigmas and subterfuge throughout the film it’s fitting that the photography is subtle. Backgrounds are often out of focus which of course concentrates attention onto the characters. Most of the film is spent as well putting pieces together as the story and the intrigue unfolds. It is quite intricately constructed throughout as we reminded and shown the past and the present. At one point there is talk of spies being good watchers, it’s not often that characters empathise with the audience. This is quite frankly a glorious film.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Inbetweeners Movie

There are some films that put on airs and graces, where there are actors who really 'act' (with a capital A), who put drama and intensity into a piece. There are comedies that leave you in no doubt that you should be laughing, especially when a group of characters all scream and shout at a situation at the same times, or when they discover a zoo animal in their accommodation. Luckily The Inbetweeners Movie is not one of these films.
It instead an honest comedy in the long transition from childhood to adulthood, where teenage boys begin to realise that they are not necessarily the axis on which the world turns. They also begin to realise that what they say and do can affect other people, in the same way that the way others act can affect them. It is also looks at how easy it is to hurt the people that we love and more importantly maybe, those that love us.
I love the internal philosophy in this which is there’s no point in getting upset about failing to do things perfectly in the past; you might as well have a laugh. However this is the Inbetweeners and this point of view came about because Neil realised that dog is god spelled backwards, therefore there is no god. Of course this philosophy leads the boys to go on holiday to Crete, to engage in all the pleasures that a Mediterranean resort full of like minded people can offer. There are slight echoes of Carry On Abroad on their arrival, but that never featured a dead dog.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Apollo 18

Apollo 18, I can assure you, is not a sequel of Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, far from it. I suspect that it’s one of those hybrid films that were discussed to death in The Player. This time it’s The Blair Witch Project meets Apollo 13. Of course this is also an effect of the Hollywood industrial process and how we end up with films like Titanic.
Anyway the premise of this is that there was a secret Apollo mission that was based on defence and not exploration. Well come off it, the rockets that delivered the modules into space were designed to deliver nuclear warheads to the Warsaw Pact. Space exploration has always been about defence so what the make the distinction that this was different. Oh because they told no one about it. There are other glaring flaws in internal logic, but that would give too much away to go into that.
I think as well we’ve passed the Emperor’s New Clothes moment a while back with Blair Witch, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity etc. This is purported to be based on footage shot by the Astronauts, it clearly isn’t. How convenient that all three of them were at a barbeque when one of them was rung to get the news that they were going back to the moon. Does NASA not have meetings, in official buildings to discuss this? If this mission was so secret why tell them on the phone at their home when they’ve been drinking, so they can blurt to their kids ‘we’re going to the moon, oh bugger I didn’t mean to say that’. You may believe this might have happened, I sincerely hope that you don’t

Bob Roberts

Well, an early nineties film, a faux documentary about an über right wing, über rich, folk singing US senatorial candidate, Bob Roberts. Tim Robbins gives us a story that has echoes of the Iran Contra affair with Roberts’s involvement in a gun running organisation called Broken Dove. He also shows us that the Tea Party’s reactionary protest started under George Bush senior and that before Clinton and Obama they were after Kennedy and the ACLU.
Gore Vidal’s character leaves us in no uncertain terms that the USA is controlled by the National Security Council and that previous CIA involvement is an effective way of getting into politics.
Roberts has a bunch of fanatical, groupie idiots that follow him round everywhere he goes. They’re led by a zealous Jack Black. They somehow remind me of Sarah Palin and her followers. They are, however, strangely reminiscent of George W. Bush. Tim Robbins must either be very pleased with himself to have been so accurate in his depiction, or really annoyed with it.

Toy Story 3

This is the last instalment, so far, in Pixar’s great success in exploring mortality and the path to adulthood. Toy story 3 explores a complicated relationship whereby children and toys rely on each other; toys need to played with and the toys need to be there for their owners. As with the first two films, there is also the exploration of what befalls a toy that decides that they’re more important or that they’ve been rejected, so they become malcontent with life in general.
As with most Pixar films there is a genuinely touching scene. In this film it’s about death and the way it’s dealt with is quite noble really. We see as well, that what the toys after is security, just like children, and a stress free environment. The joy here though is the way in which the realisation for development comes and that we must move on and put aside childish things.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Guard

This film is full of contradictions and full of stereotypes that are more often than not turned on their head. We’re introduced at the beginning to Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), who patrols a road on the west coast of Ireland and is the picture of decency; he promptly takes some LSD that he removes from the corpse of a joy rider and later on in the film cavorts with prostitutes. He’s joined by a new colleague who has transferred from the mean city of Dublin, Boyle despises the Americanisms he uses and spurns the proffered cappuccino, he wanted a latte.
In a way this is an exploration of the stereotypes and contradictions of Ireland and the image of Ireland. A country that until recently was enlivened by the Celtic Tiger and had net immigration for the first time in living memory. It is here a modern western democracy where people seem to be obsessed by criminal profiling but where people will only speak English when the fancy takes them. Boyle uses racist language to the keen, upstanding FBI Agent, played by Don Cheadle, because he says racism is part of his make up. It’s stretching a point but in a way he could be being racist about the Irish in saying that they’re inherently racist.
We find out later on that Boyle is entranced by America after he connects with the FBI Agent on the hunt for drug smugglers. He really is the key to this, Boyle admits to him that he intentionally winds people up and that he’s playing to stereotypes. Once they’ve weighed each other up there is the stereotype of the opposites attracted buddy cop partnership. That’s how the case is cracked really, as it always is.
I loved a beautifully executed scene whereby the drug traffickers discuss their favourite philosophers and their favourite quotes. These are of course those who are intent on destroying life as we know it by peddling their foul substances, again a sublime contradiction.

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes

In so many ways this could have been ludicrous, ridiculous and a big waste of time. All of this is avoided by the ignorance of that great barrier to decent sci fi; over explanation. Throughout the film the audience had to make their own connections as to what’s going on, it’s all in the eyes really.
We were also presented with a lot of pointers to the first film; the rustling in the bushes, a reference to the Statue of Liberty, the hands line, a character nicknamed Bright Eyes, a line of cages where an inmate is sprayed by an over zealous lab assistant with a high pressure hose.
The film is all about man’s hubris, as the series is really. Humanity being the first species that can destroy itself and the planet come to that. This is the karmic element to it as well, what goes around comes around, man’s treatment of the apes add to the conclusion as well. They are better off trusting the trees really.
Although I can’t really take this seriously, as much as I enjoy the films, it was on the whole a lot better than I expected and does go a long way to help partially erase the memory of the Tim Burton film.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


In terms of the Venn diagram of close to the knuckle comedies and Judd Apatow films, Bridesmaids is quite a departure. This is because the main protagonists are women. Of course the film is also unflinching and unflattering in its depiction of the bride and her bridesmaids. It manages, though, to do so in a way that is not sexist. It may be demeaning to the individuals but not to women as a whole. It also certainly doesn't treat women as objects.

It's remarkable how many films follow the rom-com pattern of the progression of a fledgling on screen relationship. Bridesmaids is another of those, I'll let you guess what happens. Anyway this film really could be a companion piece to the Hangover, but it's far funnier and doesn't make you feel like you've lost two hours of your life on a completely wasted venture.
It does talk about aspirations, dreams and achievement as well, but not in the sickening way that films can adopt sometimes. What it really says is that on most occasions it's positive steps we take ourselves that help us achieve and that spending too much time not realising this can be destructive. It also says though be careful of grey meat and mixing alcohol and prescription medication.  

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Big Picture (L'homme qui voulait vivre sa vie)

I’ve got this problem with the Big Picture. The acting is fine, there are some good performances, and it has Catherine Deneuve in it. The photography is almost sublime in places, moody clouds, beautiful seascapes, great scenery. The music is not intrusive; it engages you without leading you by the nose. I just find the plot on the whole rather far fetched.
It’s a story of what is never presented as the perfect French family. The mother, Sarah, and father, Paul, don’t get along, their youngest child is incredibly unhappy. Anyway Paul suspects Sarah of having an affair; he gets drunk at a dinner party and insults his wife and child in front of all their friends. Push comes to shove, she asks for a divorce. By now he’s worked out who she’s having the affair with and confronts him.
What could have a been a drama of manners, of people making sensible life changing choices descends into a film about changing identities and blowing things up. I refuse to believe that just because Paul cannot see the big picture that he would act in such a ludicrous and unbelievably ridiculous manner. Unless that is I’m missing something entirely that is. French thrillers used to be renowned for their subtlety; they probably still are in the main, but not this one. The title in French translates as the man who wanted to live his life. Honestly.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Super 8

When I went to see Star Trek Generations, all those years ago, the boy next to me shook with excitement for almost the whole film and especially when Counsellor Troi was drunk. This is something that I imagine quite a lot of fanboys were doing at the prospect of Stephen Spielberg and JJ Abrams were making a film together.
The resultant film is, of course, Super 8. The film is quite an achievement really as well. If Abrams wanted to make an homage to Spielberg; to E.T., the Goonies and Close Encounters, then it would look something like this film. There are strange goings on in a small town in America, after a massive train wreck, car parts and dogs go missing and the air force are acting mysteriously as well. This time though the events are documented by a bunch of movie making kids.
Both Abrams and Spielberg quite often portray non-conventional families in their films and series. I think that the only really happy couple in Lost, for instance, were Bernard and Rose. In Super 8 the only fully functioning family unit includes kids who repeatedly hit the dinner table with baseball bats.
Without giving too much away, important elements in this film, as with what’s come in the past, are communication and understanding. This is course evidenced in the lack of communication between parents and children as much as anywhere else and of course between different strata of authority, the Police and the Air Force.
Abrams has said as well that it’s important that the film is set in the late seventies, early eighties. He said that the events wouldn’t happen today. Kids would be making a film using their iPhones, or some such device. It wouldn’t take three days to develop film and they’d probably upload everything to You Tube and then Skype the Pentagon, lol.
On the whole it’s a worthwhile experience. It’s a film that is funny in the right places and does not fail to astonish as to how people can have such metal work in their mouth and be such pyromaniacs. People will make comparisons with other films that Spielberg and Abrams have been involved in, as I have. I did find it curious that Matt Reeves was acknowledged at the end of the film. Also when are people going to learn that the film has not necessarily finished when the credits start to roll? All those that left early, when I saw the film today missed a screening of The Case, the film that the kids were making.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Partir (Leaving)

One of my first thoughts whilst watching Catherine Corsini’s film Partir (Leaving) was of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Kristin Scott Thomas’s character gets up from the bed she shares with her husband in the middle of the night and not long after we hear a gun shot, type door slamming noise. This may not be a coincidence as the film tells the story of a wife falling out of love with her husband, although in the film she hooks up with a Spanish odd job man and hasn’t run up bad debts.
Kristin Scott Thomas gives a wonderful performance as the harassed and not entirely mentally stable Suzanne. She meets the odd job man after he’s employed to clear out a room in the family home so that she can set up a physiotherapy practice there. Passion sets in between them after an accident with her car and they begin a torrid affair. This is of course mirrored with her cold and passionless relations with her husband, which are exercises in going through the motions as much as anything else. Passion for the Spanish odd job man seems to be her main motivation for doing this, that and the fact that her husband’s a bit of a git. Well more than that he tries to hang on to his wife by exercising power over her. Actions more often than not do cause reactions. What I like about the film is that it’s a bit amoral, although there are consequences to what people do, but it doesn’t preach at you either. Ultimately, it does you good to be uncomfortable in the cinema every once in a while, especially if you’re male.


When is a romantic comedy not a rom-com? I suppose when there’s less comedy than you would normally expect. Beginners probably is though a rom-com all the same, but maybe it’s unfair to get weighed down pigeon holing the film.
There are a number of interesting traits and techniques on offer here. Throughout the film there is an engaging and interesting use of available light. We’re not given too much sunlight and this is because we’re caught in the pallor of grief as Ewan McGregor’s character, Oliver, comes to terms with the death of his father and so re-appraises the life and death of his mother. It turns out that when his mother died his father came out as being gay.
It is significant that not long after the death of his father Oliver meets a woman who sees the sadness in his eyes and with whom he starts a relationship. This helps him to reappraise what has happened in the past. How could his father leave his mother to be empty in her life, even though he professed that he did love her. We see that throughout the beginnings of Oliver’s new relationship his mind is more on endings. This therefore colours his whole state of mind, which not only affects love but his work as well.
It’s interesting and entirely valid as well for the director, Mike Mills, to give us a little tutorial on the nature of memory. We are presented at times with what Oliver remembers happening and what he would have liked to have happened. In the end there is the realisation that you have to acknowledge a persons whole character, love them for whom they are or were and not just pick and choose the bits you want to.
There is also an interesting device of Oliver inheriting his father’s dog. Left alone with the dog Oliver tells him what’s on his mind, which is not unheard of. At times we are presented with subtitles of what the dog is thinking. This may be what Oliver thinks the dog is thinking or of course it could just be in the director’s imagination. Anyway, Oliver and the dog have a symbiotic relationship, each of them reminding the other of the father.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

There are moments in cinema and film when you have to remember that what you're witnessing and what is happening around you is making a big contribution to popular culture. The events are sometimes greater than the sum of their parts, shared experience and the fruition of a generation coincide.
Such was so with the last of the Harry Potter films. I say the last it may not be yet. That is part of the bitter sweet nature of the occasion. Some people are glad to see to this series conclude, and they can be divided between those that are happy with the content and those glad to see the back of it. Some want it to go on and on. This is not unique, JJ Abrams says that people come up to all the time and say that the ending of Lost sucked. Some of them mean it sucks that Lost ended.
We do have an ending to this series in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. In fact we have plenty of endings. The body count is so high that it would be understandable to believe that this was an adaptation of an Iain Banks novel. If you don't expect there to be death in this film, then think again. That though has been one of the motifs of this series, death and the avoidance of death. It's pleasing though that in this series death does actually mean something. This has been apparent from the first book and film when Harry is presented as the boy who lived, not the boy who died.
This eighth film though ably explores why we want to stay alive. That values such as love, friendship and family are worth fighting for. We are shown what Harry and his friends have become because of these qualities and also what Voldemort and his allies lack as they are denied this. The cameo in reinforcing this is in the Malfoys, but if you've been watching and reading carefully enough you know that only stretches so far. People need to, ultimately, share fundamental values to get on. Loyalty is also a recurrent them in the series that is explored here.
My only criticism is that of Alan Rickman's make up, are we really to believe that Severus Snape would wear such visible foundation. Even with the joy of seeing such a fine series with Michael Gambon in such a prominent role it was a joy for Ciarán Hinds to turn up as well.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon is Michael Haneke’s gift of a marvellous, well crafted, thought provoking film, which is what he's been making throughout his career. This time the setting is a village in northern Germany in 1913-4. The film begins with the unsettling image of a doctor being thrown from his horse, who tripped on a wire left between two trees. The story continues to unsettle for the next two or so hours, and as well for a long time after the film has finished. We are presented with a series of spiteful and vicious events that leave a number of questions about humanity and decency. It's as if the ideal and peaceful village is being sullied in preparation for the decades of horror that are about to come. The title refers to a white ribbon the Pastor insists on his daughter tying in her hair and his son on his arm as a reminder of purity and an insurance against slipping into sinful ways. I was reminded whilst watching the film of Robert Kennedy saying ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’

Went the day well?

This is a 1942 Ealing propaganda film starting with the premise that there is a memorial to dead German troops in a churchyard in England, and that this was kept quiet until after Hitler was defeated. The idea was that these Germans, initially disguised as British troops, had attempted to occupy a village in the Home Counties to aid the invasion of Britain. It’s interesting that this in fact could be a propaganda film in favour of the Germans. In the film they are not depicted as being at least one step up from the baby eating monsters that had been the image de jour in the First World War; no, these were troops that were urbane and helpful in the home until they revealed their true identity and began to kill the villagers. I suppose though that their helping in the home, in the film, was a means to an end, they were appearing to be like British soldiers. Their true colours came through in the end when they shot the vicar in cold blood and then shot the cheeky cockney young boy as he ran to the next village. The important elements were that that ordinary people were seen to be defeating the enemy, that Hitler was talked about as being defeated, even though that was three years away. It’s maybe that this renewed optimism had come about with the involvement of the USA in the war. There was the public information element to the film as well, watch out for people that cross their sevens, I’d better hand myself in.

Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York is Charlie Kaufman’s surreal tale of the life Caden Cotard, a New York theatre director who we follow from his production of the Death of a Salesman, groundbreaking in that it features a young cast, to a massive production based on his own life. This features actors playing him and eventually actors playing the roles of the actors. We also see him contract a whole range of illnesses and conditions, including sychosis and psychosis, there is a difference.


If it’s a psychological drama you’re after then you could do worse than watch Spider on DVD. This was made by David Cronenberg and tells the story of Mr Cleg who takes up residence in a boarding house in London. Seeing a gasometer across the road sets his back to his childhood and what happened to his relationship with his parents. The film features marvellous performances by Ralph Fiennes and by Miranda Richardson who plays of variety of roles in Mr Cleg’s mind.

Source Code

Source Code is a well made science fiction film that is also possibly an homage to Alfred Hitchcock. The film is concerned with the US military attempting to use temporal dynamics and physics to counteract terrorism. It does also question the morality of service and discusses the limits of what can, or should, be asked of military personnel. This was made by Duncan Jones who previously made Moon for which he rightly received high praise and plaudits.

A Serious Man

This is a very personal film; in evoking the Coen brothers’ early life in Minnesota and exploring the experiences of Jews in suburban America in the 1960s it's probably their most autobiographical to date. The main protagonist is Larry Gopnik, a college professor and how his life falls apart- one of his students attempts to bribe him, a gentile neighbour tries to part of steal part of his land, his wife starts divorce proceedings against him whilst having affair with an older man, his brother is arrested, his son orders records from Time in the fathers name with no intention of shelling out for them himself and his daughter makes it clear that she’s biding time before having a nose job, presumably paid for by the father. In an attempt to gain control of his life and to appease his wife he visits a number of Rabbis for advice and is told more about teeth and car parks than anything useful. The main message of the film seems to be what ever we do could be absolutely futile in comparison with the power of God, serious stuff indeed. Especially as it explores the dichotomy of being Jewish; listening to your Rabbi and working towards your Bah Mitzvah, and being American listening to Jefferson Airplane and smoking pot.

The Men Who Stare At Goats

You wait for a film about the American involvement in Iraq to turn up and then… The Men Who Stare At Goats is based on journalist Jon Ronson’s investigation into how an American army unit of psychic spies (or "Jedi Warriors"), were trained to develop a range of parapsychological skills including invisibility, remote viewing, cloud bursting, walking through walls, and intuition. The title refers to the ability to kill a goat by staring at it, a successful event that led to the unit having bad karma. Given the setting of Iraq it was remarkable to me how light the film was it comes across like a screwball comedy in places. The unit used a number of psychological techniques when dealing with prisoners, some more legal than others; this was dealt with in a curiously brief manner at the end of the film. It begs the question did those wacky US Army soldiers torture Iraqis? What’s truly shocking though is the appearance of that purple skinned horror Barney the cloying dinosaur, you have been warned. January 2010

Made In Dagenham

Made In Dagenham discusses one of the most important battles in social politics that has been fought in this country. The story concerns a group of women employed in the late 1960s at the Ford plant in Dagenham and their struggle to have their work recognised as being of equal value to the male workers in the same factory. The story tells of their strike and the great effect it had on their lives, the lives of their families and the ripples their struggle created. This is a well crafted and poignant film. December 2010

Looking For Eric

Looking For Eric is a glorious film, as I said a few months ago. So, we have another chance to see this film exploring football, philosophy, redemption and the Royal Mail. It is a very good antidote to the cynicism of modern life really, in that there is a great spirit of community depicted in the film... October 2009

Little White Lies

After all of these marvellous thought provoking films Little White Lies appears like the light relief that it is intended to be. Every year, Max, a successful restaurant owner, and Véro, his eco-friendly wife invite a merry group of friends to their beautiful beach house to kick-start the vacation. But, this year, before they all leave Paris, their buddy Ludo is hurt in a serious accident, which sets off a dramatic chain of reactions and emotional responses. François Cluzet and Marion Cotillard head a terrific cast in this acerbically entertaining comedy drama. In French with English subtitles June 2011

Let The Right One In

Let The Right One In the story of a relationship between a twelve year old boy and a considerably older vampire. The main theme of the film is loneliness and how good it is for the soul to meet someone you can connect with. Even if you are being bullied at school and the person you meet is one of the undead. This, in a way brackets the film with Harold and Maude, except Maude did not kill all those that tormented Harold. Anyway it’s a beguiling beautiful study of lost souls reaching fulfilment. December 2009

Let Me In

It is just about a fact of life that Hollywood will adapt stories to fit in with its own vision. Some people say that there are only seven basic plot outlines so if this true every story is just a slightly different version of one that came before it. What muddies the water in terms of adaptations are English language versions of films that are adapted from other media. Before it was a Swedish film about a boy falling in love with a vampire, Let The Right One In was a novel. It is argued then that Let Me In is actually another adaptation of the novel rather than a remake of the first film. What it does do is lose the connection to any reference of Morrissey by changing the title. February 2011


Christopher Nolan came to my attention a few years ago when he made Memento, a film about a man who lost his short term memory and therefore couldn’t make new memories. What was curious about this film was that the scenes were shown in reverse order and that there were flashbacks filling in some of the gaps. He then went on to reinvent Batman for a new generation. His latest film Inception is a story is about dreams and using them to manipulate thoughts and feelings. I was reminded of the Matrix a few times while watching this, but there wasn’t the mistake made of being mired in lots of silly explanations. Often you may find that there are more questions posed than answered throughout the film. September 2010

In The Loop

In The Loop is a film laden with an array of many insults and much inventive swearing. It features characters from the series The Thick Of It and is quite worrying as the characters spend their time spinning a war declaration to the US Military and the United Nations. It does show you that there are some people out there who will use every single conceivable advantage to get what they want. December 2009

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

There is always The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus (Terry Gilliam) which along with every other film he’s made has divided opinions. The story is that of the eponymous indeterminately aged Dr Parnassus. He makes a deal with the Devil that he can get five people to choose the right path by midnight, if he fails the Devil gets his daughter’s soul. Anyway, this was Heath Ledger’s last film and he looked like he enjoyed himself making this. He plays Tony, a confidence trickster and a big fat liar. I can’t think of another Tony like that! His character is also played by Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp; filling when Ledger couldn’t. May 2010


One of the most arresting films of the last two years has been Helen. This tells the story of Helen who bears a stunning resemblance to Joy who disappeared on the way home after saying goodbye to her friends in the park. Helen is chosen to play Joy in a reconstruction of the last moments leading to Joy’s disappearance. Helen uses this to subtly change her identity and begins to do the things Joy used to, spending time with the people she did, even kissing Joy’s boyfriend. The film makes one think what is our identity based on, is it what we think and do or is it how other people see us. I suppose the answer is somewhere in between and that we’re all a jumble of personalities anyway. February 2010

Good Night, and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck recounts the story of CBS journalist Edward R Morrow and his personal crusade against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt. The story discusses how important it is to make a stand against injustice, even though you may be accused in the process, as Morrow was. He was successful in showing that guilt by association is not necessarily guilt a message that resonates today. It is often the case that films about the past often say more about the time they are made. April 2006

Fish Tank

There has been a long tradition of socially conscious films made in Britain highlighting what life is like for a large number of people at one end of the scale in our country. This tradition is ably continued in the film Fish Tank that tells the story of Mia. She has dreams of escaping the Essex estate where she lives with her mother and daughter. Throughout the film, she explores a range of possibilities and sometimes makes some questionable and potentially disastrous choices. The landscape is bleak and unforgiving but Mia does her best to foster her ambitions. November 2009

The Fighter

There may not be a film on current or recent release that can match The Fighter for its honesty and its integrity. That may be a slight exaggeration but it has plenty of those qualities in abundance. The film tells the story of the boxer ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward and how he negotiated a number of obstacles on his way to reaching the heights in his sport. The obstacles included his mother who in managing him was well meaning but not as successful as she could have been and his trainer brother who had been a boxer before, knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard, who then developed an addiction to crack. These two are played by the Oscar winners Melissa Leo and Christian Bale. This is well worth seeing, well acted, well written and well made. May 2011

The Draughtsman’s Contract

The Draughtsman’s Contract was shot at Groombridge Place and explores the relationship between artist and patron. The aforementioned draughtsman is contracted to produce 12 landscape drawings of an estate by Mrs. Virginia Herbert for her absent and estranged husband. There are other strings attached to the contract. In the course of his work the draughtsman uncovers events that certain characters wish to be left undisturbed. As with many of Greenaway’s work the film is sumptuously shot and features the sublime music of Michael Nyman. April 2010

The Damned United

This tells the story of the best manager England never had, Brian Clough and his complicated relationship with Peter Taylor. The main subject of the film is Clough’s short tenure as the manager of Leeds United, who some thought at the time should have won the European Cup under Don Revie as they were at times the best team in England. Clough’s appointment came because of Revie’s elevation to the post of England manager. Clough believed Leeds to be cheats and made his feelings clear to the Leeds players when he arrived, saying that whatever they had won in the past was worthless. Not the best way to endear yourself and inevitably things went downhill from there. Happily, Clough did win Europe’s top club prize, even better it was not with Leeds and he remains the only British manager to do this in successive seasons. November 2009


Quite frankly Brazil is one of my favourite films, one of my top ten if I had one. It was made by Terry Gilliam in 1985 and it is a great satire on how modern life was mired in bureaucracy and red tape. It’s a world where the Ministry of Information Retrieval will use a variety of techniques to encourage you to provide the said information. This may involve citizens dying as a result but it’s always wise to not only keep your receipt but to sign for it as well. Discover or reappraise this masterpiece.

Animal Kingdon

I was seriously impressed by Animal Kingdom and I was highly surprised to be the only person in the auditorium when I saw this at the Kino in Hawkhurst. The film is about a family of bank robbers in Melbourne and is based on real events. In revenge for the killing of one of the brothers they assassinated two police officers. This crime shocked the nation as this was the first killing of multiple police officers in Australia since the Ned Kelly gang. I like the way that crime is depicted here, as having as disastrous an effect on the perpetrators as well as the victims. Engaging in a career of crime does have a habit of destroying your life and those around you. The film is lovingly crafted with some subtle, natural performances.


If there is a sub category of Welsh adolescent comedy/dramas then Submarine would fit very neatly into it. If you wanted to be very pedantic you could include that it’s also features the themes of suicidal thoughts, eighties cod mysticism and allergic reaction to dogs. It is with all this considered a very engaging film about a boy who fears that his parents are going to split up and that the love of his life will spurn him. There is also a very good soundtrack made up of songs by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys.

Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges & Sunshine highlights the extraordinary practice of exporting children to Australia from Britain. This went on from the late nineteenth century to the nineteen seventies. What makes this practice so horrendous is that the children were told that their mothers were dead or did not want them and the mothers were told that the children had been adopted. Of course they hadn’t been they had been promised the aforementioned oranges and sunshine only to end up in the most extreme cases being abused in variety of different ways. This thoughtful, heart wrenching and campaigning film was made by the son of Ken; Jim Loach.

A Separation

A Separation should be subtitled, nothing is ever black and white, certainly not in a relationship where the couple in question feel that they want to know that their partner is committed before they commit themselves. The film also appears to be an exploration in how to answer a question by asking another, 'are you guilty?', 'well do you think I'm guilty? The story is centred around Nader and Simin who start the film by discussing with a judge in court about whether they can get a divorce or not. The judge is not convinced that they want to divorce, Simin wants to leave Iran as well but there is the complication of their 11 year old daughter. The couple separate, and after Simin leaves the family home, Nader employs a woman to clean the house and to look after his father, who as Alzheimer's while he's at work. She is also pregnant and due to series of unfortunate events she loses her baby. The film then changes tack and discusses and explores the ins and outs of these occurrences. The very clever device of nobody really admitting anything until the very last minute is skilfully employed here. The film really stretches out how far you can go if you're in love with someone and how much space and room you can give them to make their own mistakes. It also discusses beautifully the nature of trust and how that can work and how it can leave you desperate. There is also no music in this film, you're often left with the sounds of Tehran's traffic in the background. That is significant as well as you the viewer have to make up your own mind how to react to the tragedies and comedies portrayed here.

The Tree of Life

Blimey, the Tree of Life, takes you through the whole of existence from the big bang to the afterlife discussing the choice between grace and nature. The film is a long discussion about the choice we have as to whether we believe in the survival of the fittest and the rules of the jungle or if we rise above that. This is explored in the lives of a Catholic family in Waco, Texas in the 1950s. The father is very strict towards his three sons and argues with the mother as a result of this. As a result the sons find it easier to have a connection with their mother. It’s a very thought provoking film that is well worth seeing although its beginning, middle and end are scattered throughout the universe. In exploring this Catholic family, who attempt to live in grace, Malick discusses the existence of God and if he does exist where is he? On reflection after seeing the film I’m reminded of the words of Philip Larkin, which I won’t repeat here. There is also the exploration of how elegant and serene planets and stars are in their sweep across the galaxy, they are indeed heavenly bodies. They do however harbour the violence of chemical explosions and predatory carnivores.


This well made biopic shows us Mussolini life from the First World War when he was a philandering socialist opposing an oppressive regime. The film tells the story of the other woman and the son they had together, both of whom were shockingly treated by the Italian state and the church. It seems the best thing the nuns could tell her about alleviating her situation was that she'd receive solace in the next life, very reassuring.

Fantastic Mr Fox

The Fantastic Mr Fox is the story of a Fox's attempts give up the life of stealing birds when his wife becomes pregnant. He ultimately takes on three local farmers with less than poor reputations. The film features Wes Anderson motifs such as his obsessions with labelling and headwear. There is also the long running theme of the relationship between fathers and sons. Beautifully done.


Home is at times is quite a disturbing film, but don’t let that put you off. It's about a family whose life is turned upside down from their ideal existence by the building of a motorway next to their isolated house. The family go through the joy of being on holiday, the attempts to look for a missing daughter and the torment of road noise. This is Ursula Meier first film which is hard to believe watching this accomplished film.

The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde inseglet)

I've been waiting to see this for a number of years, I've seen other Bergmann films but not the most famous and the most widely regarded as his best film, until now. It is his best film, it achieves the objectives of talking about big themes but looking at them in a small way. Death and destruction magnified onto a small Swedish village with a knight playing chess with Death to save three people. I was rminded of Schindler's List 'he who saves one life saves the world entire'. Reading the notes the BFI provided about the film, Bergmann talked about the imperfections of the film because it was mad quickly. That leant to the success of the film because it gave an authenticity to the performances and the relationships between the characters. Whilst I watched the film I realised that I was drinking in this beauty and that captivated me, I'm not sure if you can drink in visuals maybe you can imbibe them, maybe they intoxicate you. Bergamnn shows us the essence of life is in the avoidance of death and maybe realising that is also realising when your time is up.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

English speaking cinema, whether from Hollywood, Britain or a curious mixture of the two, has always been fascinated by royalty. There has been a fine tradition of films specifically exploring the reign of Elizabeth I. Flora Robeson and Bette Davis both gave their takes on the long reigning queen as has Judi Dench in recent years and also Cate Blanchett, who has reprised this role in Elizabeth The Golden Age. After the transition in title of the play The Madness of George III to the film The Madness of King George, I did wonder this film could have been called Elizabeth II. Anyway the film, did Sir Walter Raleigh single handedly destroy the Spanish Armada? Was he even there? There's more Errol Flynn than historical accuracy in Clive Owen's performance. It's a very stylish, easy on eye, easy on the ear, romp really. We are at least twice presented with stirring images showing the munificence of Elizabeth, as if she was some kind of demi-god. There are some who will say never let the facts get in the way of a good story, which this film certainly doesn't.

The Third Man

I once dismissed the Third Man as little more than Orson Welles making a speech about cuckoo clocks, how wrong I was. There is so much to like about this film, the performances from Orson Welles through to Bernard Lee and Wilfrid Hyde-White were captivating. Bernard Lee gave us the salt of the earth Sgt Payne who punches Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) one moment and waxes lyrical about his books the next, for me he almost steals the show. Orson Welles gives probably the best thirty minute performance in fim history, probably only equalled for effect by Anthony hopkins in the Silence of the Lambs. The power and charm of Welles almost makes you want Harry Lime get away with his abhorrent crimes. Throughout the film your led to be sympathetic with so many of the characters as they are placed in inenvaible positions by Lime.

Syndromes and a Century (Sang sattawat)

I wasn't really prepared for the beauty of this film. The beauty came from the interaction between the caharacters. What first appeared mundane becam riveting and funny. Adoctor was interviewed twice to see which department he would be best suited to, or we two versions of the same interview. We are also shown two versions of a consultation with a monk before he gave the doctor(s) roots to cure their ailments. We were shown different scenes in the life of the hospital, no-one died, there were no hysterionics. Doctors drank spirits while discussing the merits of Red Cross t-shirts and dentists discussed singing with their patients, sheer poetry.


I saw Pride and Prejudice a couple of years ago and was very impressed by the cinematography. Atonement builds on that success, Wright proves that he can make an intelligent, well scripted, well shot film. At the same time he gets excellent performances from his actors, including a marvellous two minutes from Brenda Blethyn. Keira Knightly is making progress as is the sublime James McAvoy. film of the year? Nearly.

Falling Down

Both Robert Duvall and Michael Douglas give excellent performances of the same character. Beautifully scripted, but apparently portrays a non logical walk across LA. You can almost hear tham saying 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore'

The Ipcress File

What a joyful film, far more realistic than Bond, Caine gives an excellent performance as the awkward, insubordinate Harry Palmer, who saves the day in the end. Almost perfect.

The Da Vinci Code

Preposterous film about piffling nonsense, an adaptation of an appalling book really. Cutting away all the baloney about Jesus, Mary Magdalene and international conspiracies, Audrey Tatou sounds like she's pretending to be French, just as Tom Hanks pretends to act. Ian McKellern, somehow, on occasion, shows some restraint in delivering awful lines to some extent but fails miserably. It must be the mind numbing stupidity of the non jokes about tea and coffee,  let alone god and Jesus. The only controversy that remains is that how something so banal could be made and then treated seriously than someone other than Dan Brown.

La Vie en Rose (La Mome)

Fairly depressing account of the life of Edith Piaf. If the film is true her life was, let's face it fairly depressing. I normally don't mind non-sequential films, but at times I failed to see the logic of it all.