Saturday, 24 January 2015

Oscar Bait Reviews!! (The Theory of Everything, Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood)

Favourite time of year? Christmas? Easter? Eid? Diwali? Transfer Deadline Day? 28th day of each month? Unlikely.

Its awards season! It's wonderful, frustrating, meme-worthy, a one trick pony and cant-take-your-eyes-away-for-a-second-ly ravishing. Today marks the start of the va-va voom period in the awards season calender where things get serious (sorry Golden Globes, although this was worthy)..

The PGA (Producers Guild) are announced today so we're now at the point where we shall see if American Sniper in on target to upset Boyhood which lets face it is humpty dumpty sitting on a bald golden wall.

Selma is the only film of this year's Best Picture nominees not to be released as yet. Thatll be on the 6th Feb. I'm still behind on American Sniper and Whiplash also so will make time to watch those in the next week or so.  The other five I have seen 11 times between them in the cinema since they were released so maybe I can bust open an opinion or two on them in the next few paragraphs...

The Theory of Everything

Where better to start than the most immediate viewing, The Theory of Everything. 

The unavoidable start point in all this is the remarkable physical transformation of Eddie Redmayne as one of those most beguiling and storied presence' of the last half century.  Redmayne portrays the intelligence and wit of Hawking with a nuanced, precise interpretation which is interwoven into the main narrative of the dissolution of an untenable marriage.  Felicity Jones, playing Hawking's first wife, Jane, provides a fine emotional counterpoint to Redmayne's Kodak theatre pyrotechnics.

As pleasant and well acted this picture is however, I can't get away from a nagging feeling that a film titled 'The Theory of Everything' even though positioned as a double entendre of sorts aims less for the stars than maudlin sentimentality which while solidly earned, should have been the base plate for a film of wonder and ideas.  A higher plane melodrama is still a melodrama and bolder choices in the writing department may have produced more interesting if less universal results.  Of course there's a limit to this creativity as the screenplay was adapted from Jane Hawking's 'Travelling to Infinity; My Journey with Stephen' which provides the framework for a more introverted and introspective narrative. 

Ultimately as much as there is to commend about the performances, with Redmayne turning out a career performance which is up there with the top 4/5 of the year, I found myself left somewhat frustrated by a lack of ingenuity that does a slight disservice to the grandstand expectations the film sets out for itself at the outset.


Grade: B-/C+ (6.5/10)


Or the unexpected virtue of timing.

From the outset there was a ravenous buzz.  The Venetians were seen coming out of festival screenings with bellisimo murmurs. And yet after that initial critical steam train burst through the limited release dam there was an almost subdued collective exhale. Would the bubble burst, would it continue to grow.  It continued to grow. And why not?

Birdman is everything one would wish a Best Picture nominee to be.  It is full of technical glee, outstanding and varied performances, stunning cinematography, edge-of-the-seat editing, a playfully inventive score.  In many ways it seems just to begin with that score.  Mixing Mahler with percussive elements is a pretty novel idea but it's not just a stunt. Everytime this marmite melange lifts it head above the parapet it serves as a timely reminder of the film's gleeful self-awareness.

And who to portray that central struggle of art vs commerce than Michael Keaton?! If you were to read about this inspired piece of casting on its embryonic IMDB title page you would think this was purely a stunt. But what director Alejandro Inarritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros) and his team of collaborators are able to acheive with this fantastic blend of stunt and Brechtian' wisdom.

With such fizzy sherbet antics on display, a lesser auteur would be satisfied with creating a head-spinning merry-go-round and faking the outcome (so to speak) but Inarritu was somehow able to approach the landing with integrity and honesty and in doing so elevate his picture into something Fellini and Bergman would be proud of. Much of this IS due to Keaton's performance which is at turns bombastic, naive, pathetic and empowering.

That's not to say the film is perfect. For example the theatre critic, Tabitha, played dryly by Lindsay Duncan almost feels too acute a portrayal of artistic antagonism. It's very on the cuff and perhaps a little too black and white for a film that deals in shades rather than monotones.  But taken as a whole, this is as fine an example as English-language cinema has provided on a critique of self and in doing so in an inventive and thoroughly original manner.

Grade: A- (9/10)


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Lists of Favourite Things

Wow last post in April.

I'm tempted to say work took over, life took over, people took over, depression took over, jubilation took over. Not a bit of it. It was a bumper year for my own film and musical discoveries. In fact considering the plight of mankind this year, these little gems provided a smidgen of entertainment and insight into the human condition, enough to remind that there is often art and artistry to be found in the most unexpected places.

Without further ado...

Albums of the Year

1. Perfume Genius - Too Bright
2. Sharon Van Etten - Are We There
3. D'Angelo and the Vanguard - Black Messiah
4. Run the Jewels - Run The Jewels 2
5. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
6. Swans - To Be Kind
7. Todd Terje - It's Album Time
8. Grouper - Ruins
9. East India Youth - Total Strife Forever
10. The War on Drugs - Lost In The Dream

Films of the Year

1. Boyhood
2. The Wind Rises
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Mr Turner
5. Nightcrawler
6. Calvary
7. Two Days, One Night
8. Gone Girl
9. Leviathan
10. The Lego Movie

It would be a wonderful feeling to expand on these a little. But as it is Christmas Day, being social becomes place de jour.  I expect to blog more frequently again now that I have wifi (thanks Soph). 

Birdman, Inherent Vice, American Sniper, The Theory of Everything will all be on the radar in the next few weeks so let's see where this goes!

Happy Holidays!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Locke & Calvary Reviews!

Happy holidays to everyone! It's been a while since I last posted but before the summer season kicks in here are a few joys to sink one's teeth into... Following this there will be reviews on the final Miyazaki 'The Wind Rises' as well as a few interesting looking blockbusters in May.  Those won't include 'The Amazing Spiderman 2' because the best Spiderman sequel was made 10 years ago and these reboots are seriously yawnsome...


Tom Hardy, who already feels like a veteran to these eyes, is an actor's actor so to speak.  His voice carries a chivalrous gravitas that has lead itself to roles as sinister and volatile as Charles Bronson and Bane (Hollwood loves it's British villains).  But what does that mean for Hardy? Betwixt Nolan' vehicles and the odd misjudged rom-com (THIS MEANS WAR, THIS MEANS WAR, this means snooze...) when was the last time Hardy was asked to restrain his over/underact?  That's not to say this is an inbuilt flaw of the actor's but for me it's easy to ask 'why so typecast'?

Which brings us neatly to Locke.

The title here is a signifier for what is to come, the aforementioned star the all-compassing presence in a briskly paced thriller/character drama of sorts.  This is the 'Tom Hardy in a car for xx minutes' that some of you may have heard but of course only superficially.  Without giving too much away, phone calls drift in and out (before stacking upon one another) building to a climax which is both tense and paradoxically lilting.

Needless to say my opening gambit acts as a non-sequitur in this case.  Hardy is stunning in a performance full of restraint and poise.  The journey is broken up with clever switch ups that while creating a diversion from the unfolding narrative.  This is experimental cinema of a high order and not to be missed.

Rating: 8.5/10 (B+/A-)


Brendan Gleeson epitomizes the very nature of the underrated actor.  His work since his true breakthrough role in 'In Bruges' has always been at the very least dependable and at his best darkly comic and grounded in a of-this-world sensibility.  This is Gleeson's second feature with director John Michael McDonagh, following on from 2011's 'The Guard'.

At the time of it's release, 'The Guard' felt like a relatively influential moment in recent Irish cinema, however in hindsight it's a fun film filled with memorable moments but not a particularly cohesive cinematic statement.  It remains a solid enough watch but not enough to sate the palate.

An Irish priest is met in discretion by a young male looking to repent his sins.  The man vows to kill the priest as killing a good priest will make people notice (I won't give away why he wants to kill priest however...).  What follows here is a beautifully shot picture that allows scenes to breathe in a way that 'The Guard' was not interested in (the framing of each shot is a far more mature approach to direction from McDonagh).

The bleakness of what is on show will certainly put of 90% of viewers and there isn't some moment of catharsis here to apease all that comes before it (although such ideas are subjective).  Gleeson has spoken recently of how he has struggled to come to terms with the exhaustive nature of the after effects from this performance and his nuanced soul-dripped turn is the anchor to a vessel that has no right to glide as smoothly and artfully as this one does.

This is the return of Irish cinema as a force to be reckoned with in 2014 and with a few dominoes collapsing onto one another this could brew an awards storm for Gleeson come the turn of the year but for now i'm just glad it exists because in its bleakness is an honesty and forthright 'je ne regrette rien' attitude that is both bold and brave.

Rating: 9/10 (A-/A)

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Oscars 2014 Live BLOG!!!!!!!!!!.

Screw it.

I start work at 5am but I figure I can't miss a live blog for those sorts of technical reasons (although if I miss Best Picture that would be hilarious).
23.39 - Red Carpet E! hyperactivity soon.  This is what E! lives for right?
23.43 - I've seen 8 of the 9 'Best Picture' nominees this year.  The one I haven't will be pretty evident in      around 60 minutes time.
23.48 - Anyway so it's Lupita Nyong'o happy hour (over 2 hours maybe 4) so first a little collage of this year's Q.U.E.E.N rocking her now patented one-colour-block-rock.

23.59 - Alex Zane.  Claudia Winkleman.  Alex Zane.  Claudia Winkleman.  Steve Martin.  We soldier on. P.S. No one (of note) is on the red carpet yet apart from a Sky News representitive/ Kristen Wiig impersonator who seems to have lost the top half of one half of her dress.  Actually it looks quite sexy.  I will now eat some Digestives (R). Fuelin'.
00.09 - Sidney Poitier is the first to arrive on my live feed.  They're going for golden oldies first (golden baldies later, that was too easy).  Poitier is living on the edge of calm/forgetting where he is.
00.20 - Obligatory home city culture spot plug.


00.25 - Sally Hawkins. feeling 'insane', looking spangly.

00.28 - Lupita.
block of colour
00.31 - Naomi's hair looks like it has been sculpted for hours.  You could lift it up and place it on a plinth.  McConaughey is hanging around.  This is his night right? Especially as he'll be on two shows at the same time.  Time travelling. Sky now talking about Lupita, 5 minutes too late boys and girls.  Apparently wearing your hait up is the "in thing".  Also Olivia Wilde is "very pregnant".  Insight.  Ooh Delpy. Delpy is HAWT because she doesn't give a shit.
on a plith
salmon shoe in
jlaw's rule of idiosyncracy
1.07 -  Now blogging in my suit. This is news.
1.14 - Slightly flagging here.  As you can see I'm not quite the man of many words yet.  Introspective moments going on.  Also let's start already!  Cate was just interviewed, no one better out there ladies and gents.  
1.17 - Bradley Cooper is now an Oscar Nominee. Weirdness but he's hilarious in American Hustle.  GET IN THERE! First on screen bantz, Jonah coming in and hijacking his interview and now his mum is on the act.
first bantz

1.22 - Amy Adams is usually a highlight, bit safe today.  Kate Hudson looks fab but she hasn't been in anything great since Almost Famous so she's walking DOWN THE WRONG AISLE.
1.26 - Red Carpet done. A slog this year.  Time to predict Ellen's jokes.  Jordan Belfort/ Wolf of Wall Street/ Hollywood. George Clooney in space. American Hustle and hair.  Basically safe but will charm your woolies off until the break o' dawn.
1.30 - It's GOLDEN!
1.32 - Why the hell did the camera just pan to Joseph Gordon Levitt there mid June Squibb shot?!
1.34 - Get in there DeGeneres, pretty dark Liza Minelli joke right off the bat!
1.35 - "Between you you've been in 1400 films and 6 years of college".
1.40 - "Possibility No 1 - 12 Years A Slave wins Best Picture.  Possibility No. 2 - You are all racists."

First award of the night...

1.41 - Best Supporting Actor - Jared Leto - A tremendous performance, especially so considering the number of films Leto has acted in the last few years i.e. close to zero.

1.47 - Everyone loves Jim Carrey. Everyone. Introducing random as hell 'animated heroes' segment.  Is this for the kiddies before they go to bed?! Oscar pushing the 'lets-snag-all-demographics-above-and-below-the-sea-line' approach.
1.48 - Pharrell doing his thing.  Let this go on for 24 hours.  I want to see what Sandra Bullock looks like when her hair has been fooked by the humidifier.  Pharrell has come out to dance with Lupita, Meryl and Amy (yes, i'm on working a first name basis).
This filter shows that I clearly believe this is an insta-classic moment:

1.57 - Best Costume Design - The Great Gatsby - Catherine Martin
2.01 - Best Hair & Make Up - The Dallas Buyers Club - Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews. Still a bit bizarre that American Hustle wasn't nominated here.  TDBC worthy winner though.
2.12 - Best Animated Short - Mr Hublot.  I think i'm 4 for 4. Either i'm a genius or it's predictable as hell.
2.14 - Best Animated Film...really hope 'The Wind Rises' wins. I predicted it but it won't though.  That'll be Frozen but as Miyazaki has retired and is one of the GREATEST LIVING DIRECTORS IN THE WORLD it would be lovely and all. Frozen takes it.
2.20 - Best Visual Effects - The most obvious winner of the night, Gravity.
2.24 - Karen O time! She's with Mr Koenig! This is the Vampire Weekend lead singer, Oscars.  Ya think you could've mentioned that fact?!
2.30 - Best Live Action Short - One day i'll watch all the shorts before an Oscar ceremony. You know as preparation. Helium wins.
2.33 - Best Documentary Short - The Lady in Number 6. Cute documentary short, worth checking out if the chance arises and the exact opposie to what I feel the winner in 'Best Documentary' will be.
2.37 - Best Documentary - 'The Act of Killing' may just be the best film nominated tonight full stop.  It's that innovative. Of course a bit of Weinstein star dust and '20 Feet From Stardom' wins. 'The Act of Killing' maybe just way too intense for the Academy's aromatic tendencies...
2.49 - Best Foreign Language Film - The best film of 2013, 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' isn't nominated but 'The Great Beauty' wins and it was pretty terrific!
2.54 - Sorrentino to Tyler Perry. Now that is magnificence. On to Bono and his Merry Ants.
3.05 - Here are 4 versions of the same photo (well...)

3.07 - Best Sound Mixing - Gravity. Evertime I hear the words 'Inside Llewyn Davis' I think of how the Academy managed to shaft the Coens and that brilliant film.  Gravity's sound mix and edit was fantastic though.  It should win the editing prize also.
3.09 - Best Sound Editing - Gravity. And it does.

The next biggie!

3.13 - Best Supporting Actress - JLaw vs Lupita.  Wow if JLaw wins, but really this is Lupita's.  Best performance in the best 'Best Picture' nominee. Yay Lupita! Wonderful wonderful speech. Wonderful wonderful Oscar moment.

3.25 - While Ellen hands out pizza to Kerry Washington (et al), I put on a tie.
3.27 -
        - Shout out to Harold Ramis!
3.28 - Best Cinematography - Gravity - Emmanuel Lubezki. Gorgeous.  Also glad Roger Deakins work in Prisoners was recognised, always a class act.
3.30 - Best Editing - Gravity - Easy to call this a Gravity steam train but all these techies are expected so far.
3.43 - Don't put Cumberbatch on 'Best Production Design' he's the future don't you know.  The Great Gatsby which now has more wins than Inside Llewyn Davis, Captain Phillips, Philomena, Nebraska, Her and American Hustle put together. That's not an opinion, just the fact of the matter.
3.47 - Ooh look more heroes. What is with this? I'm not sure what the end game here is.  Will Philip Seymour Hoffman be remembered at the end as some sort of superhero in disguise? Because he was.

3.49 - I'm leaving for work, so no pictures for a little while.  It should be interesting trying to blog and travel at the same time.

So interesting in fact it is now...

20.47.  This is unofficially the longest Oscar blog in the history of Oscar blogs.

By now anyone who cares about such things knows that Cate Blanchett won the award for Best Cate Blanchett.  The Screenplay awards went as expected although it was a toss up in the 'Original Screenplay' category with 'Her' edging out 'American Hustle'.

Also at this stage most will know of Matthew McConaughey's night stealing acceptance speech. It has to be checked out.  It's a fine philosphical, narcisstic, child like mess.  Ruddy wonderful.  I now know that apparently this was the highest rated Oscars in a decade (up 10% on last year) so clearly loads of folks out there were loving the chilled out vibe (mainly Ellen causation).

I'll probably look back at the winners/losers in more depth over the next few days. For now zzz. 21 hours and out.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Not Toying About, Not Winging It, Better Than The Sum Of Its Parts and Other LEGO Based Puns - The Lego Movie Review

Commercial toy movie tie-ins suck. I mean there are no two ways about that.  Battleship... Transformers... GI Joe...

I'll stop right there because you know where this review is heading, sweeping the rug from under your feet and telling you how, yep, AWESOME, it is.  Phil Lord and Chris Miller have been building a solid resume with 'Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs' and '21 Jump Street', although i'd be the first to say they that although they weren't straight up classics they were enjoyable in their own way.

Emmet, is an ordinary lego man/pawn who does everything by the book (literally).  He's the guy who is one in a countless LEGO team.  No one remembers his name, while he remembers everyone else's.  One day he..blah blah blah backstory blah.  From then onwards its backdrops aplenty, characters both hilarious (Batman, Spaceman) & hilarious (Good Cop, Bad Cop) and visual swish upon visual swoosh.

'The LEGO Movie' has a narrative sure, but smartly that's just a vehicle for the film's overall message, creativity vs rules and boundaries.  There are plentiful pop culture references and in-jokes all the very opposite of cynical.  Many Lego mini-figs also make appearances (with one half way through the movie particularly hilarious).

I'd rather not give too much away as half the pleasure is in finding things for oneself.  Looking to the background for gags which will sate the palate of adults beyond the physical comedy (which is also playful and inventive) which will keep the kids entertained.  Beyond that I'd certainly say that the film has something to say on society, politics and the place of art, a showcase for an individual's voice, as a force to be cultivated or contained.  I think that rhethoric is best to wash at the back of the mind while there is so much boundless fun on screen but it's certainly a relevant factor for those seeking it.

The ending is also a part of the picture that will perhaps divide audiences, but I think most will have been charmed and seduced within the first 30 seconds of the start and so most will go with it with an open heart, almost forgetting that this IS a toy-related movie, that WILL ensure that LEGO will be laughing to the bank in all sorts of ways.  I have concerns that the hastily announced Lego Movie 2 will suffer from an inevitable backlash as the mindset will change for that film but for now this is a magnificent surprise which I can't wait to watch over and over and over again.

For a film that seemed like it would be a passing irrelevance only a month ago thats a rare magic indeed.

Rating: 8.5/10 (B+/A-)

5 Years, 50 Films: The Conversation

Anyone who has been to film school 101 will be able to tell you about Francis Ford Coppola's great works of the 70's. Three of those have, it seems, an automatic place in the great pantheon of cinema.  I love the fourth the most.

'The Conversation', positioned between the first two chapters of the Godfather trilogy, is that very rare breed of cinema that resonates in greater volumes the more the years pass. Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), plays a wiretapper caught in the crosshairs of an hour long conversation between a couple as they amble around a congested square mumbling words and phrases to one another laced with fear and secrecy.

Being "the best bugger on the west coast" isn't particularly what makes this film so great.  Ostensibly, this is a taut thriller with a big twist (a dirty word these days), but and its a big but, this is a character study dressed in a thriller's clothes.  Caul is a private man, one who prefers his own company and is awkward around women.  The privacy and the paranoia over protecting it is the very same as those whose he is detangling.  This is someone who is truly great at his chief skill but tragically lacking in every other department.

Considering the great performances by Gene Hackman (of which there are many) this is certainly on the opposite of the end of the spectrum dynamic wise.  Here is a man whose inner turmoil speaks louder than any external rage.  At any moment there is a tension that remains for the viewer that everything could boil over and a clattering of violence would be laid upon all in front of him.

Without overstating the obvious connections to the modern world and our evergrowing fastidiousness in protecting what we believe to be ours, battling against the 'open and connected',  a fascinating angle of this film, not withstanding Hackman's performance, is that here is a man at the very centre of the society in which he operates who understands the world via a technological standpoint.  It would seem to me that Harry Caul was a precursor for me, you and much of today's world;

Ordinary people making our point through a mask; filtered voices trying to make sense of it all.

5 Years, 50 Films: Pom Poko

 With the BFI announcing just yesterday that it will be running a two-month 'Complete Studio Ghibli Feature Season' in April and May (leading up to the release of Hayao Miyazaki's final directorial effort 'The Wind Rises' on 9th May), I thought there not to be a more apt to start my '5 Years, 50 Films' than on a lesser known but not lesser loved (at least by me) member of the Ghibli family tree.

Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pon Poko, literally translates to 'Heisei-era Racoon Dog War'.  The Heisei era part is key here.  For over 60 years, Emperor Hirohito had reigned over Japan through Hiroshima and Nagasaki, via Manchuria. Hirohito's legacy was one left shrouded in controversy, with trials on war crimes for one.  Up to that point in history, the Emperor was seen as 'arahitogami', a deity taking form as a human being (important to a certain extent in Pom Poko). 

Hirohito passed away in 1989, passing the throne to his son Akihito and so began the Heisei (all-consuming peace) era.  Due to one of the strongest economic periods in modern Japanese history, Japan, through Tokyo, went through a two year period of great wealth and in turn a burst in the infrastructure of its work force by redefining transport links to reflect the weight and expectations of a modern urban city.  On top of this,  Tokyo was tempting a new form of 'intelligentsia' to help build a widescreen economy that would take on the world as well as serve it.
From the post war period, the population of Tokyo has shifted from around 3 million to above 13 million today.  However the City of Tokyo itself had over-bulged.  Creaking at the seams, the first government of the Heisei era led by Toshiki Kaifu, instigated a housing boom which would mean that domiciles in high rises sprung up further and further from the city's nucleus.  This is where Pom Poko comes in.  

Pom Poko is the story of a nursery of racoons (a posse! a gang! a riot!) losing their way when their habitats, and with it food and livelihoods, are taken away from them due this population and economic shift.  Directed by Isao Takahata, who had by then already helmed 'Grave of the Fireflies', 'Poko' feels like an amalgamation of the 'comedy with a twisted heart' that Takahata would continue with 'My Neighbour the Yamadas'.  Here it's a combination of an observational style dipped in satirical flourishes all bedded in a physical comedy arena that is breaks darkly as a juxtaposition to the annhilation and breakdown of the racoons' lives.  

Studio Ghibli sometimes is pushed on the back foot, with critics arguing that their representations of post-war Japan are fantastically anti-imperialistic.  So much so that an overidealized, socialistic becomes a flagrant oppostion on western ideals.  I think in the case of 'Pom Poko' however that viewpoint is irrelevant and misdirected.  

This is a film about identity and the fight to prevent the loss of it.  On top of this, the picture represents the racoon as dual personas, but always as a creature in front of humans.  The viewer is able to empathise with multi-faceted characters whereas the humans see only greedy, ravenous creatures looking to cause chaos and steal food.  As seasons pass, the young racoons become adolescent activists, giving way to blossoming fathers and mothers for whom priorities have changed.  Without giving much away to those who haven't seen it, there is a truly memorable sequence that recalls the golden age of surrealism, works of Yamamoto and especially Matta seem to be referenced.  

Inevitably I don't think it's too much to say that there is a hope in these characters that remains even when the credits roll (which makes sense for a PG certificate) and as an entry soiree into the works of Ghibli it's not suggested.  For that i'd still suggest 'My Neighbour Totoro' or 'Kiki's Delivery Service', perhaps 'Spirited Away' but it remains one of my favourites from a sensational collection and I urge all to watch it when the time is right.   

Monday, 27 January 2014

AWARDS SEASON REVIEWS! Part 1! (The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years A Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis)

With awards season entering it's final furlong, the time is ripe to break out the rest of the reviews for the films vying to make a difference. Next week i'll go to town on August Osage County & All is Lost (with Her and Dallas Buyers Club to follow in February). Without further ado...

'For Your Consideration'

First in the ring;

The Wolf of Wall Street

It's difficult to go into any new year slate without looking at the latest from Martin Scorsese.

Casino, Kundun, Bringing Out The Dead, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, Hugo.

That's the roll call of the last eight features directed by the great man.  They range from the poor to the very good.  Are there any classics in that list? I guess that, as all opinion, is subjective but I would say no.  In fact my favourite recent film of Scorsese' would be 'Public Speaking' a documentary on the revered and outspoken New York writer Fran Lebowitz (who incidentally makes a lovingly fleeting cameo in WoWS).

The best of those films are linear storytelling well woven, with good-or-better performances, whereas the worst bloat and aggrandize the visual flairmanship of a master craftsman who has lost his holy grail editor (Thelma Schoonmaker) to the tides of indulgence.

The Wolf of Wall Street somewhat frustratingly straddles both good Marty and bad Marty.  The performances are uniformly good if not brilliant with Leo Di Caprio on intensely stupifying form, dizzying and electric.  Jonah Hill is also enjoyable, if somewhat predictable.  The film makes you aware from the outset that it's eyes wide open, full scream ahead.  While that makes for a largely enjoyable experience it leaves a hollow aftertaste on exiting.  While i'm not a believer that you have to like the lead character of the film, on multiple viewings I was left to wonder if I cared about his story.  Yes it's fun and mildly interesting from a voyeuristic point of view but after countless drug and sex orgies you start to wonder what's the point exactly.

Don't get me wrong, it all looks terrific but did we really need to be hammered with the same point for 3 hours? Perhaps that length was needed.  But for me if you have Jordan Belfort on screen don't idolize him for the whole duration of the picture, tell me something beyond that basic narrative.  In this sense i'm reminded of Rupert Pupkin, the lead character in Scorsese' seminal The King Of Comedy.  Another from the self absorbed canon but with layers of depth and character that go way beyond what has been written for Jordan Belfort.

As I said earlier, this film is very enjoyable and expertly shot but it's Marty on his visual A game with everyone else at a solid B and that's not good enough for him.

Rating: 7.5/10 (B/B+)

12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave, the third film by director Steve McQueen, is a complete sea change from the palette of Wolf on Wall Street.  It seems an obvious point to make but its worth bearing out.  Whereas WoWS employs the entirety of the rainbow, TYAS dwells in autumnal flourishes of mauves, beiges and greens.

McQueen, who shot to fame with Hunger and Shame, brings back the claustrophobia (certainly of Shame) to this picture resulting in harrowing results.

Based on the experiences of Solomon Northup, an educated freeman turned slave (for, yep, 12 years), the film abandons an automatic scene-by-scene account to focus on the drawn out anguish and turmoil of key characters throughout its second half.   Having set those as key factors as raison d'etre it's therefore vital to celebrate the performances here.

Michael Fassbender (who doesn't really make bad filmmaking choices) is on fiery form as the demonic antagonist to Chiwetel Ejiofor's Solomon.  His inner turmoil over his forbidden endearment to Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) is well balanced as expected.  Speaking of Lupita Nyong'o, she is the absolute star in this.  That's not a disservice to Chiwetel Ejiofor who is also heroically poignant placed in artful shots as well as emotive scenes such as 'Roll Jordan Roll' but Nyong'o (in no less than her debut) is the real sweat and guts of the picture.

Artful.  I think that's perhaps where I have a tick against the film.  There are certain scenes that belong to hang in a gallery as opposed to up on a screen.  One such example shows Solomon hanging from various angles and vantage points.  To me, that took me out of the picture and made me consider the beauty of the cinematography when I think I should have been left hypnotized by the severity of punishment and endurance of the man.  There are some subjects where sheer beauty can at times hinder what is of course a very traumatic narrative and sometimes those worlds become attritional.  It happens rarely here, but enough to make a point.

I don't want to end on a negative however.  This is still filmmaking of the highest order told in a healthy 130 mins.  Like Michael Haneke, McQueen seems bent on telling stories that are draining experiences (in the best sense), however unlike Haneke, McQueen can still learn that he doesn't always have to marry a signature visual style to a strong narrative.  Three films in though and not a lame duck to be found and there are paths and fields yet to be ploughed.

That leaves a lot to be excited for as a viewer.

Rating: 9/10 (A-/A)

Inside Llewyn Davis

Give the cat an Oscar already!

The Coens' have a trackrecord of portraying losers, those lost in the headlights of the reality and dreams of an American life. A Serious Man, O Brother Where Art Thou and even a lesser work like Burn After Reading to a certain extent contains these traits.

Inside Llewyn Davis is no different in that sense.  Llewyn Davis (played with an insouciant ease by Oscar Isaac) is a talented but socially inept musician, playing a gig here a gig there, sleeping on a sofa here a sofa there.   Originally part of a duo, Davis is left to fight to find his own identity as a performer, after his partner commits suicide (memorably questioned by John Goodman's quirky oddball Roland)

Roland Turner:  A solo act?
Llewyn Davis:  No, I had a partner... he threw himself off the George Washington Bridge.
Roland Turner:  George Washington Bridge? You throw yourself off the Brooklyn Bridge, traditionally. George Washington Bridge? Who does that?

What follows is a journey spanning no more than a few days but feels like the passage of a young man's lifetime.  This is such a boon to the picture, and by being so a testament to the ability of the Coen's when they're at their peak.  It just comes so naturally (perhaps why they and the film were maddeningly shunned at the Oscars).  Of course at the heart of the film are the songs, mostly 50's folk ditties but all tenderly performed, mainly through a monochrome lens apart from highlight 'Please Mr Kennedy'.

To some, the latest Coen' offering will seem like a throwaway nugget.  Plenty to admire but not a lot to really sink into.  I would understand that.  The plot is slight and it moves along in it's own ambling pace.  However at 100 minutes for me the film acheives more than many try with over an hour longer running time.  I look forward to heading back to that era and soaking in this story over and over again.

Like I said before, the Academy may have missed it but make sure you don't

Rating: 9/10 (A)

Monday, 20 January 2014


The Produers Guild of America, usually as solid an indicator of where Academy trends will leave us when it comes down to March 2nd and the Academy Awards. Of course the PGAs aren't the only indicator on the way to through awards season.

The SAGs, Screen Actor Guilds, lovingly parodied in Team America (Film Actor Guilds...) chose American Hustle as their best ensemble, usually a decent predictor. 

The Golden Globes awarded American Hustle also. But their main prize went to 12 Years A Slave.

Yesterday, the PGAs main award of the evening was a tie between 12 Years A Slave and Gravity. Now that's a clusterfuck that helps to make the next few weeks a little more exciting and intriguing with the DGAs and BAFTAs. 

Of course the question I ask is how does a voting body award two films? I mean what is the likelihood of each film having the exact same number of votes?!

Last year the DGA went to Ben Affleck who wasn't nominated for Best Director which shows how random these things can be, but at least the 'race' will go down to the wire unlike many previous years...

Nathaniel at The Film Experience breaks it down in far more detail than I'd want to.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Albums of the Year! 1!

1. Deafheaven - Sunbather

Vibrato vs Tremolo

Pitch shift vs Volume

If film is the great emancipator, the truth that releases us to roam between ghosts and living men then music (and sound in general) is the divine ready to lift us to heaven and exaltation, a place full of memory and refraction.

And if that analogy rings true then in 2013, Deafheaven played the part of the deluded high priest.

A little background first. Black Metal (around which this floats) exists in clouds of dark chord changes, anger and Sweden.  This puts the band on the backfoot from the outset.  Purists with 'Anti-Liturgy' signs have eagled the move from what the hardcore present as the essence of the genre.

  'Dream House' opens with a shredding confident inverted third/ major pentatonic melange radio guitar noise progression that in seconds sets out the stall for a different usage of the 'template' of how things are meant to be here. Melded to a gorgeous guitar lick that lilts and seduces at every angle.  Percussion fills and then burst out leaving just open space to curve and engorge.


"Hindered by sober restlessness. Submitting to the amber crutch. The theme in my aching prose. Fantasizing the sight of Manhattan; that pour of a bitter red being that escapes a thin frame. The rebirth of mutual love. The slipping on gloves to lay tenderly".  

We can't decipher these codes, a pretty silhouetteted metaphor for daily confused reflection.  A battle of materialism and altruistic contemplations. They aren't pragmatic manifestations of thought and desire but instead the idealistic visions of the 'American Dream' channeled through pure emotion via Central Park.

Moving on, the album plays the very straightforward, almost manipulative positioning trick of placing a "come-down" track after each epic (musically and length wise). So our couplets are  Dream House-Irresistable (9/3mins), Sunbather-Please Remember (10/6mins) and Vertigo/Windows (14/4mins).  Each post rock breathe out segueing seamlessly from epic to epic.  No doubt this is BIG music but it's big in a way that matters, not as a posturing statement but as an outpouring of idealised love, mature and retrospective.

Back to the earlier shuffling.  The position of an American band in black metal shoes is precarious.  First it alienates the hardcore group but it also has the power through composition to ensnare new pilgrims towards the Nordic shores.

Personally, I'm not particularly interested in all of that.  This isn't a gateway to an open field of wonders but moreso the field itself.  To me this is some sort of starburst black metal filled with shoe gaze, emo, screamo, post rock to name just a few influences.  What these 7 tracks represent are the purest form, the essence of what 2013 means to me.

A strivance for a perfect being, dressed with the putrid stench of dissolute crystal. 

Key Tracks: Vertigo, Dream House, Sunbather, Please Remember