Monday, September 29, 2014


STILL THE ENEMY WITHIN is a British documentary that comes to us much-lauded - it won the Audience Award at Sheffield Doc Fest and has received starry praise from Britain's foremost investigative journalist John Pilger.  

To be sure, it covers a topic of burning importance, although I fear much of today's youth do not realise it's importance in shaping modern Britain - the 1984 Miner's Strike.  To give context to this in the current age when Britain's politics has cleaved so much to the centre with the big economic debates basically drawn within Thatcherite principles - the free market, enterprise, deregulation and privatisation - is difficult.   Do kids realise just how polarised Britain was in the 70s and 80s?  When we experienced the very limited London riots a few years ago I tried to explain to some coworkers what it felt to be a kid in the early 80s - when race riots and IRA bombings were common - when people were collecting money in the street to support the miners - when having AIDS was seen as a kind of biblical judgment and gays were pilloried - when Prime Ministers Question Time was offering the country a choice between radical free market economics and proper Socialism.  Do kids these days realise that Britain in the late 70s was Greece today?  Bankrupt, the IMF called in, power outages?  Do they realise that for every free market triumph of Thatcher, whole sets of industrial workers were consigned to the long-term unemployed - men out of time?

Monday, September 22, 2014


The BFI played SALOME and WILDE SALOME in a double bill followed by a Q&A led by Stephen Fry with Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain. What follows is thus a combined review of all three events.

SALOME is Al Pacino's passion project of complex origin and it stubbornly defies categorisation. It began as a project to both put on a theatrical revival of Oscar Wilde's play directed by Estelle Parsons but clearly heavily influenced by Al Pacino in the lead role of King Herod, but also in the role of film-maker, for he simultaneously directed a film version of the play (SALOME) as well as a documentary of the making of the film and play (WILDE SALOME).  To say that the resulting movies are operating on many meta levels is an understatement.  This is all made more complex by the fact that the theatrical production wasn't a full staged production but rather something of table reading in costume.  Although clearly the actors were not using the "book" to guide them but acting the lines off book.  That decision, its ramifications and reasonings, was behind some of the hostile reviews the show received.  To add to the confusion, Pacino isn't filming the play at the theatre, but rather re-creating it each day on a soundstage before the play takes place back at the theatre each night. It's a gruelling schedule, and one that clearly took its toll.

Friday, September 19, 2014


THE RIOT CLUB is a profoundly political film that has about as much subtlety as the title of the play upon which it was based, Laura Wade's POSH.  Both play and film seek to show us the casual cruelty, entitlement and vacuity of Britain's ruling elite and the vulnerability but ultimate incorruptibility of the working classes who happen to cross their path.  The lens through which Wade attempts to tell her rather simplistic tale is that of an Oxford dining society, here called The Riot Club, but clearly based on the Bullingdon Club - perhaps the most elite of Oxford's many dining societies, boasting the current Prime Minister (and I suspect the film's producer - heir to the de Walden estate) as one of its members.  In Wade's eyes these clubs are bastions of private-school educated male privilege, where spoiled rich kids get drunk, abuse the locals, and show their general contempt for anyone who isn't in their tribe. Most particularly, she asserts that the system is self-protecting - that their grossness will be paid off, bought off, leaving them to emerge into glittering careers unscathed by any "naughtiness".

Thursday, September 18, 2014

GRAND PIANO - LFF 2013 - Day Six - Absurdly Late Review!

One of the films getting the most buzz at this year's London Film Festival is Damien Chazelle's music lesson slash thriller WHIPLASH starring J K Simmons.  And as luck would have it, the movie he penned, GRAND PIANO, is on release this week in the UK.  The similarities are striking - a thriller set in the world of classical music.  And while I didn't manage to watch it at last year's LFF, I did catch it today on its theatrical release.

GRAND PIANO stars Elijah Wood as a concert pianist on the eve of giving his comeback concert after some kind of breakdown. He's evidently riven with stage fright  and early on has a deep and meaningful conversation with a fellow musician about the relative merits of giving a passionate authentic performance or just technically playing the exact right notes. (Of course, this skirts the fact that you can do both - it doesn't have to be Lang Lang vs Leslie Howard - it can be Brendel.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Exploitation director Abel Ferrara has finally found a cinematic subject perfectly attuned to his taste for excess and offensiveness.  The resulting work is at times hard to watch, but perfectly conveys the grotesque gluttony, corruption and arrogance that characterises the fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  He was a towering public intellectual, head of the International Monetary Fund and a candidate in the French Presidential elections when he was accused of sexual assault my a hotel maid in New York, perp walked to prison and put under house arrest.  The charges were eventually dropped - the alleged victim's statement scene as problematic although that has since been contested. But the damage had already been done. DSK was politically untouchable and whether he was or wasn't guilty of that particular charge so many vile accusations came out - orgies, drugs, prostitutes, as well as a chauvinistic belief that the elite system would protect him - that his career was over. To this day, DSK is still facing charges ever more heinous, but has also sparked his own brand of conspiracy theory wherein defenders point out the politically convenient timing of the charges that led to his withdrawal from the presidential elections.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Random DVD Round Up - POMPEII

In fairness, we don't look to Paul W S Anderson for films of complexity and artistic daring.  DEATH RACE and RESIDENT EVIL and MORTAL KOMBAT are movies designed for teenage boys that celebrate violence and musclebound men.  No cliche of dialogue is left unused in films of hollow CGI and scarce intelligence.   What's actually amazing is that actors of quality are still willing to star in them. His latest cinematic offering is a sword and sandal epic called POMPEII which borrows heavily from GLADIATOR but has none of its swagger and style.  In fact, its closer to SPARTACUS in terms of cheap CGI, cheesy dialogue and cardboard cut out heroes and villains - but without the soft porn.  GAME OF THRONES' Kit Harrington has packed on the muscle to play the hero - a Celtic gladiator called Milo.  Naturally, he strikes up an unlikely love affair with the aristocratic Cassia (Emily Browning), inspiring the anger of the evil Senator Corvinus (Kiefer Sutherland doing god knows what as an accent/speech impediment.) This leads to a TITANIC style showdown of unsurpassed stupidity and vacuity. I cared not a jot for any of the characters and simply grew more and more irate and how brazenly the cut and paste narrative had stolen plot devices and characters from better films. No matter how much you think you are in love with Jon Snow, you MUST avoid this film at all costs.  And to be frank, as much as I love Kit Harrington in GAME OF THRONES, he this film shows little evidence of any ability to carry of the leading role in a major film.

POMPEII is a POMPEII has a running time of 105 minutes and is rated PG-13.  The movie was released in spring 2014 and is now available to rent and own.  It goes on release in Turkey on October 31st 2014.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


ABOUT CHERRY is a movie that deals in cinematic cliche. A ruthlessly hipster soundtrack, handheld camerawork and nonchalant dogma-esque cutting.  We know the heroine, Angelina, is a good kid because she works hard at the laundrette and hold her friend's hair back while she vomits. But we also learn that she's so passively naive as to be irritating.  Her vapid wannabe rockstar boyfriend urges her to take pornographic photos and she agrees. Why? She's doesn't do it out of economic desperation. Neither is she making a political point about feminist empowerment a la Sasha Grey. At one point a casting agent asks her point blank why she wants to do porn, and she says "because I want to try something new." I mean, WTF?!  Angelina seems upset when her mum won't let her speak to her kid sister afterwards but why didn't she expect any ramifications?  I guess it's the same lack of awareness that leads her to ignore her best friend's obvious crush on her.  

By this point of the film I'd pretty much lost all interest in the movie despite the fact that we hadn't yet gotten to the big name cameos: Dave Franco as a sleazy lawyer who frequents the strip club that Angelina works in, and Heather Graham as the porn director who first shoots her.

The shame is that this movie, being co-written by a real fetish star, could've genuinely shed some light on how the porn industry works and how girls get brought into it.  Maybe it really as bland as all this but somehow I doubt it. This is exploitation cinema without the exploitation. As it is, ABOUT CHERRY feels about as authentic as a cheesy mainstream Hollywood coming-of-age movie, except that this time instead of a "hooker with a heart of gold" we have a "porn star with a brain of marshmallow".

ABOUT CHERRY aka CHERRY has a running time of 98 minutes and is rated R in the USA.  the movie played Berlin 2012 and was released on demand in the USA in 2012. It was released in the UK in 2013.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

LFF preview - SERENA

So, I'm in cinema detox for the month before the BFI London Film Festival.  I'll be watching forty films in ten days and reviewing them all here! In the meantime, here's the JUST-released trailer for one of the two movies I'll be seeing by director Susanne Bier.

SERENA is apparently set in 1920s North Carolina with Jennifer Lawrence playing a world-savvy woman who builds a timber business married to Bradley Cooper's George - a man with a past.  The costumes look gorgeous and there seems to be shades of Scarlett O'Hara in the role.  Plus anything with Toby Jones in a supporting role is worth checking out.

Sunday, September 07, 2014


THEY CAME TOGETHER is a high quality spoof of the romantic-comedy genre from writer-director David Wain (ROLE MODELS) and Michael Showalter. It stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler as the lovers and features comedians of the calibre of Ed Helms, Bill Hader and Jack McBryer (30 ROCK). It comes out of the gate strong - absolutely nailing every cliche of every dumbass Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl movie you've ever seen.  "New York is almost another character in the story" leading to those opening credits where a helicopter sweeps over the city on a bright sunny morning. The romantic lead Joel (Rudd) is a nice guy with a bitch girlfriend who he catches cheating.  He has close friends who fit all the stereotypes - the married one with kids, the dickhead womaniser who isn't as hot as he thinks he is - and as they rightly point on the basketball court - he needs to combine all their strengths to win!  Meanwhile, the romantic heroine Molly (Amy) is a classic manic pixie-dreamgirl in the Zoe Deschanel mould - running a cutesy shop threatened by evil corporates where, you got it!, Joel works. They meet cute at a party, and ultimately get over their immediate antipathy.

As I said, the film is absolutely spot on in how it skewers lazy rom-com screenwriting. Let's be honest - has there been a good romantic comedy since WHEN HARRY MET SALLY?   And it's absolutely the right choice for all the actors to play it straight.  But even with the short running time of the film (80 minutes) it still got pretty boring and felt a bit like an SNL skit stretched beyond itself.  The movie didn't run out of steam but I did.

THEY CAME TOGETHER has a running time of 83 minutes and is rated R in the USA.  The movie played Sundance 2014 and was released earlier this year in the USA and Canada. It went on release in the UK and Ireland this weekend.

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Jake Kasdan directed BAD TEACHER starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz and it was a genuinely wickedly funny, subversive movie. So why is SEX TAPE, directed by and starring the same actors, so painfully unfunny?  I mean, seriously, I did not laugh once for the entire running time of the film. I didn't even do that inward smile thing. It's not that it was even awkward, what will all the sex-talk.  It was just banal and so at pains to be earnest and good-hearted.  It also features the most absurdly in-your-face and annoying product placement. 

The plot is simple. Diaz and Segel play a happily married couple who realise that they just don't have enough good sex. So one night they get drunk and make a sex tape which the husband is meant to erase from his iPad but doesn't. Worse, it gets synched to all the people who he have his old iPads too, because in the most unbelievably contrived plot necessity, he's a DJ who gives people iPads but doesn't let them resynch them to their own accounts because that would rob them off his awesome playlists.   

Obviously if the film were funnier, the threadbare premise would bother us less. But it isn't witty and the physical humour is just juvenile.  This is most evident in the extended scene where the couple go to the house of the businessman who is on the verge of buying Diaz' website. He espouses family value but is a cokehead.  So while Diaz snorts coke to distract him (how we laughed! not) Segel runs through his mansion chased by a vicious guard-dog. I mean, really?

The whole film is basically just a banal and dull watch where sex is the preserve of well-meaning earnest couples and even pornographers have hearts.  Pass the sick-bucket.

SEX TAPE has a running time of 94 minutes and is rated R.  The movie is on global release.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Random DVD Round-Up - DIVERGENT

DIVERGENT. Hmmm. What to say about this film, based on a wildly successful set of Young Adult books by Veronica Roth which I have not read, and which from the look of this film are unfortunate enough to sit in the shadow of THE HUNGER GAMES. To wit, we are in an American dystopian future with people oppressed by some kind of self-elected elite.  Our plucky heroine, Tris (Shailene Woodley - THE DESCENDANTS) is much like Katniss, someone of unusual talent and resourcefulness competing in a a kind of martial game to break through into some kind of better future.  In this case, the citizens of the world are categorised by their dominant personality trait. Tris, in true Harry Potter style, sits uneasily across the thresholds and opts to leave her parents 'house' Abnegation for Dauntless, while her brother opts for the Erudites. What follows are training challenges that play out much like Games, and a good dose of romance with the enigmatic but hot "Four" (Theo James).  Naturally, Tris hooks up with a bunch of the least promising trainees, and guess what, they eventually come out on top after banding together and being nice. Ultimately there is some kind of showdown in the first strike in a civil war between the factions.  There's meant to be a hugely emotional moment but at this point I was so numb to it, it floated right by me. I just didn't care about the people, the fight, and the whole movie felt like a pale shadow of HUNGER GAMES.  Maybe that's unfair - maybe if I'd seen or read Divergent first I wouldn't have felt so turned off. But it is what it is.  Shailene Woodley is a great actress but somehow a soupy romance with Four plays far more simplistically than the complex triangle comprised by political exigency in THE HUNGER GAMES.  Or maybe it's because THE HUNGER GAMES pushes the dystopian fantasy farther and crazier - Effie Trinket, I'm looking at you - or that it's satire on modern pop culture is more biting.  Whatever the reason, DIVERGENT feels very, very thin by comparison.  

DIVERGENT has a running time of 139 minutes and is rated PG-13. It is available to rent and own in most countries. It opens in China on September 8th.