Saturday, April 09, 2016


COUPLE IN A HOLE is a truly strange and transfixing film from writer-director Tom Geens.  It opens with a Scottish couple living in the woods, apparently more by choice of the wife than the husband.  He catches the food, they can only bathe in rainwater and she barely leaves the cave that they live in.  When he goes to the village to get medicine for her spider bite she becomes nervous and suspicious.  Apparently this isolation is strongly her choice.  I don't want to say more for fear of spoiling the film, but what we come to realise is that this film can be read as an elaborate metaphor for a certain emotion, but also as a conventional thriller.  As the mechanics of the motivations of the main characters become clear, the film draws to a surprising and tense conclusion that allows it to work on its own terms as a thriller. This is helped by strong performances from the small cast but also  an ethereal electronic score. This is not a conventional film - and it's not always an easy watch - but it's powerful, moving and beautifully put together.

COUPLE IN A HOLE has a running time of 105 minutes and is rated 12 for infrequent strong language and animal butchery.  The movie played Toronto 2015 and opened this weekend in France and the UK, where it is also available on streaming services. 


Writer-director Jeff Nichols (TAKE SHELTER, MUD) is the purveyor of deeply felt, beautifully acted low budget independent films. He returns to our screens with MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, a similarly lo-fi sci-fi flick.  The movie starts off strong - perhaps the strongest opening of a movie I've seen this year. It's dark, a weird kid wearing swimming goggles in abducted by two men and hidden in the back of an old battered car. The TV news flashes images of the kidnapper.  We realise its a father (Michael Shannon) and his son (Jaeden Lieberher), who's reading superhero comics by torchlight.  But the other guy (Joel Edgerton) is freaking us out. He asks the dad to reach into the glove compartment. Is it for a gun? No, night vision goggles. He's going to drive at high speed through the night to get this kid to wherever he needs to be.   Meanwhile, a local bunch of religious nutters led by Sam Shepard are being interrogated by the Feds and NSA analyst Kylo Ren.  The cult think he's going to lead them to paradise when the apocalypse comes in three days time.  The army thinks he can be weaponised. But we still don't know what he is.

Friday, April 01, 2016


The British Film Institute is releasing a fantastic number of films for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, but none is so unexpectedly charming as their 60 minute montage of Shakespeare in silent film.  One might have thought it bizarre to see Shakespeare stripped of his words, but the stories are so recognisable that this is barely a problem. What's more, what you're getting here is the history of film itself, with the Bard being seen on screen almost as early as moving image was invented.  There are clips of many of his most famous plays - Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Winter's Tale, The Tempest  - to name but a few.  The films are from the UK, Italy, Germany and the USA.  And the whole thing is wonderfully edited to give a sense not only of the evolution of the cinematic arts and science but also the way in which actors had to alter their mode of delivery for the big screen.


I think all of us who watched the 1988 Winter Olympics were shocked and amazed that Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards was a) selected as a competitor and b) made it out alive.  But you couldn't deny that this geeky unlikely zany English ski-jumper turned a niche dull TV spectacle into something entertaining.  A true underdog story come to life.  Almost as unlikely as Eddie's Olympic appearance is the fact that his story has now been made into a movie!  And weirder still is the fact that this movie contains almost ZERO truth of Eddie's life while somehow capturing 100% the basic struggle he faced. It's a movie starring a very pretty young kid wearing national health specs who looks nothing like the guy he's meant to be playing.  It's also a movie that's so transparently hokey and creaky and manipulative you can see it coming a mile-off.  And yet for all its faults, it somehow works! And I don't mind admitting the sheer exhilaration I felt watching Eddie successfully complete his ski-jump and that it got a little dusty in the theatre at its jubilant finale. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016


ZOOTOPIA/ZOOTROPOLIS is a pointed but obvious commentary about racism and sexism in supposedly multicultural western society. As such, its trenchant criticism comes at an apposite time in world politics.  But it rather wants to have its cake and eat it.  And I'm not sure it's any fun for kids. Because, after all, this is a kids animated feature!

The movie comes from directors Rich Moore (WRECK IT RALPH) and Byron Howard (TANGLED).  It posits a world full of anthropomorphic animals who live in apparent harmony because they have evolved beyond the predator/prey instinct. This is meant to be a world in which anyone can achieve anything - a spin on the American Dream. Of course, the real world is not, in the words of Captain Bogo, "some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go." In other words, this movie is a clash between those hokey Disney values of yore, and our more post-modern cynical sensibilities. 


BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is even more arse-numbingly dull than last year's MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. - another action movie remake that not un-coincidentally starred The Tudor's Henry Cavill.  Cavill, just like his UNCLE co-star Armie Hammer, is an actor of beauty but little charisma.  In fact, it's a sad testament to the lack of star power at the centre of this movie, that the two most charismatic and shaggable men in it are Jeremy Irons (as Batman's butler) and Kevin Costner as Superman's dad.  Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor like a milder version of Jim Carrey's Riddler.  And what can we say of Ben Affleck's BATMAN?  All our worst fears, carried over from DAREDEVIL, are realised here.  He's the Ben Affleck of SOUTH PARK pastiches, square jaw, Blue-Steel troubled intense gaze, humourless anti-acting.  I'd go so far as to say that the only interesting thing about Batfleck's portrayal is his suit, which looks a bit like someone took an Iron Man outfit and spray-painted it black.  Apparently this is to imitate Frank Miller's graphic novel Dark Knight but it just looked laughably clunky, much like the screenplay.