Sunday, April 24, 2016


MILES AHEAD is a movie I admired more than enjoyed, which is odd because I love jazz, spent much of my early 20s in a Miles Davis, and have great respect for the talent of Don Cheadle - the lead actor, director and engine behind this whole production.  He conceives of the biopic of the iconic jazz trumpeter as a story within a story.  The framing device sees Miles in his later years, on the verge of coming out of his self-imposed, drug-fuelled exile, and inventing a funky electronic afro-jazz.  Our window into the story is a journalist played by Ewan Macgregor - a kind of enabler and partner in crime who will do anything for access to the Davis story, including scoring him drugs and brandishing a firearm as they careen around time in some kind of caper whose purpose is never quite clear, all the time scored to Davis' music.  Every now and then Davis sees an album cover featuring a photo of his wife, and this prompts a flashback to his earlier days as a pioneer of Cool Jazz. Miles mark one has short hair and a preppy jacket that were later replaced by a more race-conscious look. We realise that he loves his wife, but this doesn't prevent him from being abusive.  The regret at his marriage's failure stays with him into the later framing device years.  

The movie is really good at conveying the excitement, pace and freedom of Davis' playing, and visually underlines it with chase and fight scenes, cut to his tunes.  But the movie is at its most emotionally affecting when it slows down and shows us the real struggles he faced. The most poignant scene occurs when a flirtatious white woman asks him to escort her out of the club at which he's playing.  The beat cop takes against this inter-racial couple, even though they aren't one, and provokes Davis into a scuffle which results in his arrest.  All of this remains deeply relevant to our times.

I regret that there aren't more quiet moments of power like this and that the movie is too caught up in the Macgregor/Cheadle chase scenes in the framing story.  I admire the intent of conveying improvisation in music through improvisation in life but it feels as though this movie is caught between too stalls - between a more conventional approach and a free jazz style. The result is a film that is curiously uninvolving.

MILES AHEAD is rated R and has a running time of 100 minutes. The movie played Sundance, Berlin and SXSW 2016 and opened earlier this year in the USA and Canada. It's currently on release in the UK and Ireland and opens in July in Norway, Portugal, Denmark, Peru and Spain, in September in Poland and in December in Japan.


BLEEDING HEART is a surprisingly melancholy slow burning relationship drama between two newly united sisters. The former is a textbook bleeding heart liberal yoga teacher played by Jessica Biel. The latter is a sex worker played by Zosia Mamet.  Cinema cliche would have the former try to save the latter, but in increasingly antagonistic phonecalls to her boyfriend, we realise the yoga teacher needs as much saving as the hooker. The only tragedy is that writer-director Diane Bell can't think of a more narratively and emotionally interesting denouement for this tale of mutual female empowerment than the one she gives us.  Nonetheless, a nicely filmed and acted, if ultimately slight film.

BLEEDING HEART aka BOUND BY BLOOD has a running time of 80 minutes.  The movie played Tribeca 2015 and was released straight to video in the USA last year. It is now available on streaming services in the UK.


JANE GOT A GUN is a troubled film. The original director Lynne Ramsay either quit or was fired over differences with the producer the day before shooting was meant to start, prompting celebrated DP Darius Khondji and Jude Law to quit in solidarity. Earlier, Michael Fassbender got waylaid with an X-Men movie causing a last minute switch in casting.  And so the movie found itself in the hands of no-name director Gavin O'Connor (PRIDE AND GLORY), DP Mandy Walker (RED RIDING HOOD) who bathes every scene in sepia tint sunset to the point of banality.  The resulting film is dreary and emotionally uninvolving, grinding its way to the inevitable and absurdly buoyant conclusion.

Natalie Portman plays the titular heroine.  In the framing story her husband Ham is shot by the gang he used to belong to and she decides to arm up and get help from her neighbour,  Dan Frost.  Together they await the investable battle against Ewan McGregor's gang, having prepared with some A-Team style defences.  In the flashback story we learn that Jane and Dan used to be engaged, but he went off to the Civil War and after long delays returned to find her married to Ham.  We then discover her side to the story, which is pretty predictable.  It's the kind of film where the good guys have perfect teeth and clean skin and the baddies have rotten teeth.  The acting is undercut by the three lead actors' shaky attempts at a Western accent. 

JANE GOT A GUN has a running time of 98 minutes and is rated R. The movie was released earlier this year in Germany, France, the USA, Kuwait, Philippines, Greece, Cyprus, Singapore, Russia, Indonesia, Thailand and Israel. It is currently on release in the UK and Ireland. It opens on May 6th in Spain, May 19th in Macedonia and October 22nd in Japan.

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.