Monday, November 30, 2015


I begin with the proviso that I am not a fan of Steven Spielberg's films. Despite the high quality photography and acting, I always feel emotionally manipulated. Worse still, in his latter movies I have begun to feel bored as he constantly reworks the same themes - the search for a father figure, the need for a perfect hero, the idea that goodness must always win, even if the overarching time and tenor is bad.  He seemed to me to create movies that were high gloss schmaltz.  

Everything changes with BRIDGE OF SPIES, and I suspect that this has something profoundly to do with the fact that it was written by the Coen Brothers and stars Mark Rylance in a character of deeply ambivalent motives. The result is a film with a mordant wit, moral ambiguity, and one of the most convincing depictions of post-war Berlin that I have seen on screen. It is a movie of intelligence and nuance. Indeed, apart from the last five minutes where the Spielbergian schmaltz seeps back in, it's damn near perfect.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


As I right this, MOCKINGJAY 2 has had the weakest opening weekend of any of the movies in this franchise and this financial blunder is not undeserved. The fourth movie in the series has none of the emotional power, imagination or wit of the previous instalments. Instead, we are treated to a two hour dirge in which our post-apocalytpic heroine Katniss Everdeen is shell-shocked, guilt-ridden and almost impassive despite a plot that sees her raid the Capitol city in an assassination attempt on the tyrannical President Snow.

Perhaps the problem was splitting the final book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy into two parts. Like Peter Jackson's HOBBIT, the story seems stretched thin over two movies of almost interminable action.  Regardless, this movie misses the effervescence of Elizabeth Banks' eccentric fashionista Effie Trinket, and even Woody Harrelson's cynical alcoholic seems to have sobered up. Even Shakespearean tragedy contains light relief.


THE GOOD DINOSAUR is a woeful entry into the Pixar animation catalogue, beset by differences of opinion and multiple directors, and emerging with no clear authorial voice.  The resulting film ends up as a deeply trite coming of age film with little humour or emotional pull. Indeed, it's only truly original or clever conceit is to have the hero dinosaur befriend a young Neanderthal kid called Spot as a human might befriend a puppy.  After an early Lion King inspired loss of a father, the dino, Arlo, has to journey home with his mute sidekick Spot, in order to prove his courage to his dead father.   The antagonist is nature itself, which seems clever, but really just creates a narrative void at the centre of the film.  The voice-work is lacklustre with the exception of a typically charismatic cameo by Sam Elliott as a gruff but lovely T-rex.  The animation of the landscape is photo-real and gorgeous but jars against the cheap-simplistic artistic choice to have Arlo be a green shiny kids toy.  One to avoid - even on DVD.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR is rated PG and has a running time of 93 minutes. The movie is on global release.

Sunday, November 08, 2015


Director John Wells (AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY) returns to our screens with a slight and predictable romantic drama that had the capability to be so much more. BURNT stars Bradley Cooper as a michelin star chef called Adam who is a recovering addict.  He returns after a two year hiatus to open a new restaurant to prove all the critics wrong, win a third star, and poke two fingers in the eye of his rival Reece (Matthew Rhys).  On one hand, this movie wants to be a light romantic drama about a difficult person finding love and emotional balance. So naturally when Adam meets a feisty chef called Helene (Sienna Miller) and they have a massive ding-dong battle, we know they are going to end up falling in love. She even has a super-cute kid with which Adam can bond.  And when the first act of the movie sets up Adam as a dinosaur who refuses to cook sous-vide, we assume she's also going to give him a water-bath and some plastic bags and lead him joyously into the food revolution to wow the critics.  

But then the movie thinks about taking a slightly different turn into a much more complicated and fascinating world and we think - yes - this is why Brad Cooper has agreed to do what seems on the surface like quite schlocky fare.  We realise that within his kitchen he's dealing with the consequences of his addiction - the colleagues he hurt and the maitre d' he'd let down. And throughout the film we have the shadowy French figures who are after him from drug debts.  We see him struggle with his addiction and think, finally some meat for Cooper to sink his teeth into. But in the end it's too late in the final twenty minutes of the run-time to drag the film back into profundity and it wants its perfect romantic ending too badly. This is a tremendous shame, and a waste of a supporting cast that includes Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander, Omar Sy and Daniel Bruehl.

BURNT is rated R and has a running time of 101 minutes.  The movie is on release in the USA, Turkey, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Macedonia, Portugal, Bulgaria, Iceland, Poland, Kuwait, Serbia, Singapore, Canada, Turkey, France, the Philippines, South Korea, the UK, Ireland and Sweden. It opens on November 12th in Russia and Estonia; on November 20th in Lithuania and Norway; on November 26th in Italy and the Netherlands; on December 3rd in Germany and Finland; on December 10th in Brazil, Denmark, Hong Kong; on January 21st in Chile; and on January 28th in Argentina and Thailand.