Joshy (2016)

This was a surprising movie. One which seemed like a production too cheap to be any good, but it actually works. The movie is written and directed by Jeff Baena (I Heart Huckabees, 2004) centres around attempts to cheer-up Joshua, Joshi, our eponymous hero. The movie covers the events of a “Batchelor” weekend a group of his friends had planned for Joshy (Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley, 2014). However, four months prior to the weekend, joshy’s fiancée, killed herself. While at home one evening, Josh arrives home to fine her in a funny humour, he goes to the gym only to return to find her dead.

As the bachelor party date falls due, the landlord of the property they hired contacts them to remind them of the booking, they decide to go ahead with it, in order to cheer Joshy up. And now enter the 21st century; the weekend was planned by email, and as a result various of the people on the weekend do not know each other, most know Joshy.

An so our group of soon to be friends gather, each, as it happens with their own ijoshyssues also. Josh’s pall Ari ( Adam Pally, Happy endings , 2011) looked after the booking and is the central point, he seems to be the level headed one, he is met by Adam (Alex Ross Perry, Queen of Earth, 2014) Adam is in a break-up situation with his girlfriend and is sharing his grief with everybody. Adam is one of those up-tight individuals who will not use a hot-tub because of the disease risk. They a joined by the very enthusiastic Eric, (Nick Kroll, “I Love You, Man” 2009)who has everything planned out, much to Adam’s disgust, who intended for everybody to play his extremely complex Co-op board game .

As the weekend moves on, various others join the group as they attempt to sail through the weekend and help Joshy. We see Adam eventually get in the pool after a long conversation with the repair man (Jake Johnson, New Girl 2011). Not helping matters is the visit by his dead fiancee’s parents who blame Josh for their daughter’s death. We also see Ari, possibly falling for one of the girls they met on the first night, despite his own family dynamic.

In short this is one of those “road” movies where the stars are on a journey through their lives, without actually going anywhere.

This is truly one of the saddest comedies you will ever watch (premise-wise). I’ve deliberately not mentioned many/most/all of the gags and situational comedy, suffice it to say it works well. You spend much of the movie thinking just how lucky you are – not to be any of these people, even though we can all recognise elements of ourselves in most of the characters.



The Neon Demon (2016)


The Neon Demon has been described as “weird” by many people, it is weird, slightly, but not in a plot sense, it is slightly weird overall.  This is the latest work from Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, 2008), who has made a name for himself in giving us movies which are stylistically his own. The movie can be described as a horror, but it is perhaps more a satire or allegory for the dreams and jealousies of the fashion industry. If it had been written 150 years ago it would have been on a par with the Grimm fairy tales (before Disney and the polite crowd tamed them).the-neon-demon

One of the first things to hit you about this movie, even before the story starts to take hold, is that stylistically it is an homage to the works of Dario Argento. Scenes such as the first meeting between our doe-eyed new girl, Jesse (Elle Fanning (Trumbo, 2015) and make-up artist “Ruby” (Jena Malone Inherent Vice, 2014) in the changing room of a photo-shoot are purely Argento, through-out many of the key scenes are the cinematography of Argento, even smaller seemingly minor shots are taken from the Italian Maestro (the hallway chase near the end is purely him) Indeed certain scenes and even plot lines seem to be taken straight from Susperia (Dario Argento, 1977).

The Story revolves around a young girl, Jesse (Elle Fanning, Trumbo, 2015), who is seen as having a natural look superior to the plastic augmented “false” beauty of many of the others. A boy, Dean (Carl Glusman, Embers 2015) she met, takes some photographs for her, which get her in to an agency (she had promised to “drop his name” but did not) She is befriended by a make-up artist, Ruby who brings here to a party where she meets Gigi  (Bella Heathcote (The Rewrite, 2014) and Sarah (Abbey Lee, Mad Mad Fury Road, 2015) a friendship of sorts begins due to Ruby’s efforts, immediately the digs and barbed comments begin, under the guise of opinions on the industry.

Ruby’s star continues to rise, while the others are left in shock as to how a “rough-diamond” like her with no plastic work can get work-on. This is all against the background of her own life and where she is living in a seedy motel, managed by an equally low-life, Hank (Keanu Reeves, John Wick, 2014). Reeves is excellent as the manager, projecting the seediness and darkness of the location.  The darker side of the modelling industry is constantly referred to, be it Ruby’s age (she turned 16 a couple of weeks before coming to LA), while her own boyfriend, the slightly older Dean, at first is rightly shocked by her age, only to have come to terms with it, within a few hours (as he tries to kiss her). Ultimately the motel becomes an allegory for the seedy nature of the modelling world and the young people aspiring to fame. One can only imagine the symbolism of the mountain-lion at lose in her room at one stage.

The violence in the movie draws very much from the imagery, and expectation. This is a visually stunning piece. Even the soundtrack harkens back to the music of Goblin and their work on th elikes of Suspiria. That said it can also be put against David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive  (2001) as we see a young hopeful aspiring Hollywood starlet coming up against the dreams, aspirations and failures of those who would make their fortune in LA.  One can also see hints of Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, (2013),  nowhere more so than in the photo-shoot with the legendary “Mark” (Desmond Harrington, Dexter, 2008).

Visually it is fantastic, however the Horror element is a little underwhelming, we see so much of Argento, that we expect his horror touches, we get hints of them, but ultimately the horror is not in stomach turning detail, but realisation of the blood lust to gain the “thing” which the younger model had. Some people will love this film, many others will hate it.  It is not a film for amateurs, you have to want to watch it, and experience it.

7/10, it would be higher, except I think the plot suffered a little by being overly recognisable as an homage to Argento, as a result, I was constantly expecting something that did not happen.

Remember (2015)

Atom Egoyan’s (The Captive, 2014) latest movie revolves around an elderly Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer, The Last Station 2009) with early stages of dementia who has recently lost his wife, both of whom lived in a retirement home. With Zev is Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau, David and Fatima, 2008) another elderly Jewish concentration camp survivor, like the others.

Physically fit but mentally starting to suffer form dementia, Zev is about to undertake a cross-country journey in search of the man who they believe Killed so many of their family members;  a man called Rudy Kurlander. He is aided in this search by Mrememberax who despite being physically limited and confined to a chair, still has a sharp mind and has done all of the research.  He constantly reminds Zev of the pledge he made to his dying wife to find and kill the man responsible for so much suffering.

They have the name of the man responsible, as well as the knowledge that he moved to the US some years ago. Max has managed to trace the four Rudy Kurlanders alive in the US who might meet the description of the man in question.

Alone and with a letter from Max detailing everything (to help him remember), Zev sets out on a journey. As he progresses, he meets four very different people, one turns out to be a non-Jewish fellow Holocaust survivor on the edge of death, with whom Zev can spend a few minutes in shared grief. This in contrast to the former soldier, just an ordinary person not involved in the evil of the concentration camps and who claimed, like many others, not to know what was happening at that time. We can look at these people as individuals with a part to play or take the larger view, that they each represent a condition of humanity, the innocent victims, those blind to the atrocities, and as we shall see, the inherited evil of life and those who deny their own identity, hiding from their judgement.

As Zev progresses, with Max’s help and support, he eventually tracks down yet another Kurlander, John Kurlander, this time he is a policeman (Dean Norris, Secret in their Eyes 2015) son of a former Nazi. Kurlander jnr. Is proud of his father’s past and is happy to show Zev around, until he realises he is Jewish and the attitude changes completely. This is one of the more tense periods of the movie, where we genuinely do not know if Zev will survive it.

Against this Zev’s own son (Henry Czerny, The Fifth Patient, 2007) is frantically trying to find him, and manages to traxck him down to the home of the last Rudy Kurlander and arrives at the house shortly after Zev himself arrived. This last home is where this Rudy Kurlander (Jurgen Prochnow, Das Boot, 1981)  lives with his daughter and her family, in what can only be described as comfortable surroundings. Rudy does not like to discuss what happened in the war. This is said to Zev immediately, but they meet and begin to talk. Soon after Zev’s son arrives the situation come to a climax. Yes the others were Rudy Kurlanders, but this man was not, he had another identity, one known to Zev, even if he did not realise it due to his dementia, when the memory finally falls in to place and the big question from his search needs to be reassessed, Zev has only one “decent” course of action open to him.

Maybe Max knew Zev’s secret, more than Zev did. A slow boiler which brings you along, it was released shortly after Landau’s passing, but we still have Plummer giving his art to the world.

I need to mark this one out of 10, – 7/10, There are a number of scenes which are powerful in their simplicity, speaking with the young boy on a train, thinking he was his grandson, buyng a gun despite barely being in control of his abilities and the final climax where the truth is exposed finally; they all come together to give a solid production.

The Lobster (2015)


This is Yorgos Lanthimos’s (Alps, 2102), first English language film. Lobster finds us in a European setting, which does not specify where exactly, in a time set as the near future. It is a world not unlike ours except for a couple of very specific differences. In our heroes’ world single life is not permitted, once you are of age you are expected to find a mate, if through life your mate dies or leaves you, you are expected to find another partner. If you are found not to have a partner, you are sent to an establishment to try find one and so survive. If after the end of your stay, you are unsuccessful, you are turned in to an animal of your choice to live out your days transformed into whatever creature you pick.

And so it is that David (Colin Farrell, Fright Night, 2011    ) is introduced to us. After his wife leaving him, he now has to go and find a new partner over the next 45 days, or turn in to the animal of his choice.  David is a quiet, meek but thinking person, watching what is happening and trying to adapt to get through the experience. This is not a conventional movie, it is deliberate, paced and low key. Even the weather is dull and uninviting, but that all comes together to give us something we can perhaps relate to, the ordinariness of the surroundings, contrasts with the absurdity of the human activity.

As the days go on, many of the guests either was out and disappear or keep working to find a partner they are matched with. The “Hotel” runs a series of activities to help this, including hunting of loners (with darts) who are not up to the mark. Society is geared to couples; even parts of the hotel are off-limits to single people.  It is against this background that he begins to spend some time with some of the other guests in particular as they each try to cope or succeed in finding a partner.

As the days progress, David meets and begins to get to know a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz, Definitely Maybe, 2008). He also sees what his fellow guests are doing to survive and teams up and watches them. Ben Whishaw (Perfume, 2006) is the Limping Man, a character not beyond manipulating the situation to his needs, a lesson David quickly learns.  All of the characters are identified by their characteristics, their meekness, short-sightedness, limps or lisps.

Lisping Man, (John C. Reilly, Tale of Tales, 2015) provides us with that perfect foil to Farrell’s David. David is quiet and introspective, Lisping man is open and chatty, easily befriending such as David or Limping man. Emotions are high, as the stakes are and from time to time emotions flair, none better than the fight between Farrell and Reilly’s characters during the archery session.

The humour is very, much situational and dark, as much a reflection on our own society and the pressures we place ourselves under, issues such as our place in life, esteem, partnerships, human understanding.  The style is deliberate, dystopic and resembling something like the down-trodden masses we see in films like 1984 (Michael Radford, 1984).  The scenes resembling “Blind Date” showing the couples who have joined together.

It is certainly a thought provoking and dark movie which will have you questioning whether or not you want to actually watch it for the first few minutes, but then you find yourself engaged in it, willing the characters along, sharing the highs and lows  and asking yourself some serious questions about society.

A number of people will be thinking about watching this film because Colin Farrell is in it (from a sex-symbol)  perspective, this is not an action movie, it is a very cerebral one, and guess what, it is the type of role which he is best suited for. He cut his teeth in TV drama, and for a reason, he is a very capable dramatic actor, as are Reilly,  Weisz, Whishaw and many of the supporting cast. This is an excellent movie once you tune in to it.

The Overnight


Written and directed by Patrick Brice (Creep, 2014). This is a perfectly fine piece of entertainment. I say this because given the subject matter and story line it could have been made a number of ways, from a Woody Allen 1970’s angst ridden social farce or a glorified soft-porn TV movie.  Instead Brice manages to pull off an exploration of the fears  and weaknesses. tumblr_nq7ddbul0d1uwiej5o1_1280

Alex (Adam Scott, Krampus, 2015) and Emily (Taylor Schilling, Argo 2015), together with their young son RJ are new to LA and don’t know many people. Against this they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman, Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009) an extroverted Los Angelino while at the part with their son RJ, Kurt is there also with his son. After a short conversation (which leaves Alex and Emily scratching their heads) they are invited to dinner with Kurt and his wife Charlotte. Dinner starts off normal enough with Alex and Emily learning that Charlotte is an actress. They later see some of Charlotte’s “work” as they get to know their new friends better during the night.

Indeed as the night progresses we are exposed to the extroverted confidence of Kurt and Charlotte, which ultimately  reaches the point where Kurt decides they should all take a plunge in the pool outside, obviously the hosts are all for it, while our more reserved guests are somewhat shy about doing so nude. A reservation “justified” by the large size of Kurt’s manhood, compared to Alex’s. We can see the tension between everybody, Alex is not too comfortable with the events of the night while Charlotte is more open to allowing events unwind as the night develops.

This leads to some tension, which Kurt seeks to remove by showing Alex his pool-house where Kurt practices his art (the majority of the paintings are of the female reproductive organ) and also his breast suction pump films which they make for the Scandinavian market.

Alex, not at all comfortable with the night would be more than happy to leave. As the night progresses he spends some time talking with Kurt, as Emily and Charlotte also spend some time talking in the bed room.

As it turns out Kurt and Charlotte are not the perfect couple of their image, they have the same insecurities as the rest of us, but they do not want to accept these. While they all come from the point of not being happy with their lot in life, they begin to realise that what they have is not as bad as they thought it was.

On the down side the camera work resembles that of a cheap made for TV movie that does not inspire the casual viewer to sit down and watch the movie, the dialogue is a little stained in places but overall it works.

This is a safe 3*** movie with no pretensions of greater.


The 2014 film by Abderrahmane Sissako, takes you by surprise and ultimately leaves you sitting there wondering what just happened with your life.  I say this because if like me you sat down to this film and immediately were struck with the slowness of life and the movie at the start, only to find that you cannot leave it, then you know what I mean.

Set on the outskirts of a small village near Timbuktu in Mali the film mainly revolves around a small cattle herder and his family and the “local” ISIS thugs who now control the area. The film is a serious statement made in a way that draws us in to listen to it, rather than shout the message at us.  We see the tranquil nature of life as people go about their normal lives only to have it regulated by the ISIS thugs to the way they believe the locals should live. Music and signing are banned, but yet the locals continue to play music and sign in the privacy of their homes, in defiance of the thugs. People are forced to dress according to the rules of their new overlords.

The local Iman is forced to walk a fine line between representing the local people on religious matters and protecting them where possible and lot having himself murdered in the process.  Against all of this Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) lives his life, looking after his family, his wife Saima (Toulou Kiki) and daughter, even his cow-herd (who might be suitable to marry his daughter one day).

There are difficulties such as the bad relations he has with a neighbour who nets the local river for fish. These nets are a cause of concern as the cattle get in to them and destroy them. Life is regulated by the ISIS thugs, who we get a look at.  Abdelkerim is one of the ISIS enforcers patrolling the region. He is helped by a local young man who speaks the local language. In deed much is made (in a subtle manner) about how the ISIS thugs are outsiders come in to impose their way on the local people. We see how many of them are in fact from places such as Libya and other countries and practice the bad habits such as smoking they are demanding the local population stop form doing.  It should be noted that Sissako’s balancing of the reaction of the local population with the specific story is well done, setting the background and conditions we need to know about for the story to work.

In the course of events, one of Kidane’s cattle is killed after destroying nets while in the care of the young cow-herd. Kidane goes to the fisherman to seek compensation, a struggle follows and in the fight the fisherman is killed. The murder is reported and the local ISIS thugs, taking a break from hunting down people singing and enjoying themselves, arrest Kidane.

The trial “scene” or questioning by the ISIS chief (Salem Dendou) is a study on true evil. The insidious quiet type which tries to present itself as right and decent.  Quietly, seemingly during the interview Kidane is sentenced to death the next morning as he could not pay the blood price of far more cattle than he owns. The chief inflicts cruelty in a manner which suggest he is being charitable. Through all of this they must use an interpreter (who seems to be not quite as fundamentalist as his leader) which emphasis the foreign nature of the overlords.  We also see just how hypocritical they are, practicing those things which they also ban. We also see through them as uneducated and nothing special.   These are a foreign unwelcome people who are not as true and pure as they would like the world to believe. Their power is in the force with which they inflict their way of life on the local populations.

With death approaching, there are no options left for Kidane, he is to be publically executed and the townsfolk forced to watch, is there any chance for him?

The power of this film is in its understatement. The dialogue is sparse and only used where needed. Sissako prefers to show the viewer what is happening, rather than tell. The cinematography is similarly used, giving us a picture not just of the landscape but also of the live of those people who populate that landscape.

An excellent film well worth the watch 4/5



The Witch (2015)


Robert Eggers’ (the Tell-Tale Heart, 2008) movie is set in the early 1600’s with a new England farming family, headed by the farmer husband and father (Ralph Ineson, Intruders, 2011), a man of strong religious views, are banished, for religious reasons from the community they live in.  Needing to build a new life for the family, they settle down a couple of days away from the town and build a new existence for themselves. Life is hard and the family is struggling to make an income in the harsh New England countryside.

As hard as life is, it still goes on. Each member of the family has their position and duties accordingly. And this is where the film works. The movie draws on the folklore of ththe-witche early New England settlers as they came to terms with the new land, the strange surroundings and the natural fears and superstitions of life at this time.

There is an under lying tension within the family, As the father and mother (Kate Dickie, Red Road 2006) struggle to make a success of their little farmstead, the children also have responsibilities and duties. It is to this background that things start to happen. The two oldest children are of an age where the tensions of hormonal changes are coming into play, most especially for the son, who is becoming aware of himself, so to speak. One day while taking care of the youngest child, the oldest, Thomasin, (Anya Taylor-Joy, Viking Quest, 2015) loses her, but only after taunting the middle daughter, Mercy (about witches and saying she was one). This of course leads to all sorts of implications. The Son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw, Oranges and Sunshine, 2010, a person who could have a bright future ahead of him) is caught in the middle of this and goes to find his little sister, only to make things worse.

The days following the disappearance of the child are tense ones, made all the more tense by the otherwise mundane arguments and struggles of life, which are blown-up in the tensions of the struggles.  Eventually things are said and accusations are made, Did Thomasin do something to her little sister, did an animal take her or did the [ubiquitous] with in the woods take her?

As we are drawn in to this struggle, the tension mounts, but then we are introduced to a new element, the witch herself, it turns out there is a witch in the woods, who might actually have taken the child.

Over the next while the presence of the witch is hinted at and explored at first, but then takes a larger part of the story-line, especially with the use of the family mail goat as a familiar, who might actually be the devil.  The last act or so of the film is an old fashioned blood and gore horror segment which needless to say culminates in the great showdown. This final denouement  (and yes any denouement should be final…) is to me the lessor event.  As the tensions in the household mounts and events begin to take their toll, the children are taken over and possessed, with young Caleb especially affected. This scene is one of the better ones of the film.

Now, let’s be clear; this is not the great horror movie people seem to think it is. It could have been, a nerve wrenching thriller playing on the fears and dangers hidden in the dark corners and damp ground, or it could have been an old fashioned horror with our heroes fighting the evil monster etc. Instead it tried to do both and so ultimately failed to succeed to the level it wanted. The acting by the younger actors in particular in first class, even if the character of the mother seemed a little over the top (more the character than the acting).

This is a good film, scoring a safe 3 stars, it could have been much more, if it decided to go one way or the other. Personally I would have liked a movie where we never say the protagonist, but only the fears, reactions and struggles of the family.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople



Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Directed by New Zealand director, Taika Waititi (What we Do In The Shadows, 2015), in-short the movie concerns the disappearance of a young teenager with his foster guardian for about 6  weeks in the New Zealand bush, with a national manhunt underway for them two heroes.

Our Young protagonist, Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison, Paper Planes, 2014)) is a street smart young lad full of attitude, though always strangely likeable. We never know why he has been taken from home, all we do know is that this city kid has been placed in the care of Bella (Rima Te Wiata, House Bound, 2014)) “call me aunty Bella” and her silent grumpy husband, Hector, (Sam Neill, Daybreakers, 2009). The social worker looking after Ricky is the officious job’s worth,  Paula, (Rachel House, Whalerider, 2002).

Despite initial problems, such as Ricky deciding to run away on his first night, and only managing to get about 200 metres from the house, before falling asleep with exhaustion only to be found the next morning by Bella. In the days that follow, Ricky and Bella develop a relaxed relationship, with Ricky slowly settling in. Small gestures by Bella such as a hot-water bottle in the bed, of a small collection of books for Ricky read. Life starts to take on an ordinary pace. Hector is still a silently grumpy as usual. Indeed, the only time we see Hector show emotion is when Bella unexpectedly dies at home, Hector is distraught.

A man of few words, He and Ricky get through the funeral and begin to settle down at home, only to receive word that the authorities are going to collect Ricky in about a week.  This is the key point in the film, upon which all else hinges. Ricky decides to run away, however he gets lost, Hector looking for him, finds him but quickly there-after, injures himself, resulting in them taking six weeks in the bush to recover. During this time, the social worker is convinced Ricky has been kidnapped by Hector and a full-scale manhunt is launched. Eventually Hector and Ricky discover this, and have to cope as best they can while trying to recover the situation. The interactions they have with the public range from co-operative to trying to turn them in.  We follow them as Ricky tries his hand a hunting for the first time, or building a shelter, or sharing a camp with Hector. Together they try to survive, seeing off risks from civilians hunting them, dodging the police and keeping fed.

The only down side is the Characterisation of Paula’s social worker, as it was overly manic and more than necessary for the part, allied to this was the use of a “SWAT team looking for the couple of fugitives (Watching SWAT teams search through New Zealand bush wears off as a joke fairly quickly).

Sam Neill is perfect for the role, gruff and uninterested (or so it seems) at first, his character has a caring side which comes out as the film moves on, as do the secrets Hector carries with him as he goes through life.  As with most of these movies, Hector not only teaches Ricky about life, but the reciprocal takes place also. Together they deal with the challenges their escapade causes, learning a bit more about each other, as they do.

I could go into detail, but that would just ruin the story, as with any chase they are eventually caught and have to deal with the consequences of their actions.  This could have been a twee piece which would have had me pull my eyes out, but no, it is well crafted (apart from Paula, sorry!) and entertaining, young Dennison gives a first-class performance alongside one of New Zealand’s greatest actors, who as usual does not let the side down. This movie brings together a loud, self-confident street thug and a lonely grumpy old man missing his life partner and results in as assured young man, preparing to take his place in the world, alongside his friend and mentor, Hector.


Mustang (2016)

This has been the surprise movie of 2016 for me so far.  Set in Northern Turkey it is Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut feature, and one which will get himmustang noticed. The film is set in modern day Turkey in a rural community, seemingly modern, but privately conservative.  One early summer’s day the 5 sisters around who the story revolves are at the beach on the way home playing with some of the local boys. By the standards of the “western viewer” their actions were nothing of any much worth to notice, but in conservative small town Islamic Turkey, this was too much, young men/boys and girls playing about in such a manner was not acceptable.  Their sins were to  be kids.  Hearing of their actions from the complaint of an old neighbour, the girls’ grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) acts to curtail the situation.

Effective immediately, in order to prevent further shame to the household, the girls are forced in to “traditional” shapeless dresses, and no more unsuitable western clothing, which might corrupt their young neighbours. As if this was not enough the girls are effectively placed under house-arrest, not allowed out to mix with friends or swim.

As this incarceration rises tensions, the girls’ uncle  (Aybert Pekcan), their guardian does nothing to settle the situation, turning the family home effectively into a prison, with new locks on the doors,  bars on the windows, and gates to block access.  Against all of these changes, the girls continue to fight back in an attempt to control their own lives, not always successfully.  In all this very definite characters arise among the girls as they, ultimately futilely, fight back against what is being imposed on them.

The ultimate humiliation being visited upon the girls, is their marrying-off, almost immediately upon events starting, their uncle decides it is time to find them suitable local husbands. What follows is a very sharp look at the clash between the modern world and traditional conservative practices of an older generation. Much of the film deals with how the girls are forced to come to terms with this and accept their new husbands, or not.

An interesting sub-plot, is the attempt by the girls to escape their destiny, and live the western life they dream about. Will they all be able to escape?

At first glance this would seem as a light-hearted drama comedy, however, as the movie progresses the darker clash of cultures begins to drive the film. As with any well-crafted movie there are moments of light-hearted hilarity to counter-point the deeply unsettling aspects of the movie.

Well worth the time taken to watch it, one of the best movies that I’ve seen so far in 2016. 4/5

Youth (2015)


Some directors take a life-time to get established, however Paulo Sorrentino (Thyouth-2015_e Great Beauty 2013), has done this in less than half a dozen films. Those not used to Sorrentino’s works might take a little while to get into this movie, but when you do, it will reward you.   The movie is set around an elderly Maestro, played by Michael Caine (Get Carter, 1971) who while trying to enjoy a holiday in an upmarket Spa-hotel in the Alps with his daughter and best friend (Mick Boyle, played by Harvey Keitel (Thelma & Louise, 1991)), who is trying to write his final masterpiece screenplay). Despite the tranquil setting (with camera-work to match) there is an underlying tension, the Maestro’s daughter is unhappy with the treatment of her mother by her father, who he last visited 20 years ago (was it her grave he visited?).

Much of the film is made up of the Maestro and Boyle working through their issues, usually together, while not allowing the tranquillity of the surroundings to be interrupted.  Their time at the hotel is enlivened (relatively speaking) by a young actor, Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine, 2006) also staying in the hotel as he prepares for his next role, keeping mostly to himself, and not imposing himself on any of the guests.

Behind all this, pressure is being put on the Maestro to perform his most famous piece of music as part of a celebration of the Queen’s birthday, the request is personal from the Royal family and not just some producer trying to fill an event programme. Boyle meanwhile is working with his writing staff on what could be his last great screenplay. Added to this is the fact that the Maestro’s daughter is married to Boyle’s son, however they are splitting up due to his infidelities, both fathers show their displeasure with the young man.

As the movie progresses with the heroes working through the issues, the viewer is drawn in by the musicality of the presentation, the visual aspects are stunning and the acting perfectly levelled for the work in question. I could go into detail on the plot and ruin the movie, suffice it to say, this is a movie to sit-back watch and enjoy. Sorrentino’s own The Great Beauty (2013) or Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) would be similar to this one.

Don’t be fooled by the slow/serene start, this movie grips you from the start and walks you along the Alpine storyline right to the end. Each of the leading cast gives the type of performance we’ve come to expect from each of them. Well worth experiencing.

Score 4/5



Ex Machina

At first blush this seems a highly original piece, however as you settle down to it one begins to see very firm shades of Frankenstein. From a cinema perspective, despite the technological bias I was brought back to the 1972 classic by Joseph Mankiewicz, Sleuth where Michael Caine and Laurance Olivier are in a house together and at least one of them has murder on his mind. Although the intention here is not to kill the tension is still there.

The film starts with a young programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson ,About Time, 2013) who works for the world’s largest search engine “Bluebook” winning a week’s stay with the founder of the company, Nathan (Oscar Isaac, a Most Violent Year, 2014). Caleb is flown up to near Nathan’s home (in deepest Alaska) but has to go the remaining way on foot, due to the helicopter pilot not being allowed to get any closer. After some very awkward first moments and the first greeting , the two eventually settle down to an all-be-it uneasy working relationship. It turns out Caleb was there for a reason.

Caleb is there to help Nathan with his latest creation. At the age of 13 Nathan developed the algorithms for a search Engine called “Blue Book”. Now a silicon valley billionaire he tells Caleb the secret of his success was that while others saw the search engines as a way of knowing what people were thinking about, he saw it as a way of knowing how people were thinking. It turns out Nathan has developed an AI and wants Caleb to conduct a Turing test on the AI to see if she can pass as human.

This of course cannot be a pure Turing test, and as such is the foundation for some very intense and possible disturbing discussions between Caleb and Nathan. When Caleb meets the android Ava (Alicia Vikander, Seventh Son 2014) he quickly realises there may be more to the week.

As Caleb learns more from Ava and gets to know her, he sees that both Ava and Nathan seem to have very different views on each other. As each day passes Caleb sinks deeper in to a rabbit hole which would have impressed Alice on her way to Wonderland. As with the original Frankenstein, Adam or in this case Ava needs to escape. Plans are hatched and the situation quickly descends in to one of survival.

Throughout you get a sense of being trapped in the bunker of house which Nathan has, indeed this is reflected in how even Caleb has access to the house. The person we see with Caleb is the real person, everybody else may not be what or who they seem. Isaac’s Nathan is a perfect example of characterisation; we were never meant to like him and as the movie progresses we are given no reason to actually start liking him.

It is a great tense thriller, the plot is generally tight, although some developments are fairly well sign-posted, if you manage to catch the clues. There are a couple of turns and twists; not all of which predicted.

The tension and edginess of this production make it work, it is dark and the more we learn of Nathan the more we begin to wonder if he shut himself off from the world or did the world discard him. Who will escape the confines of the house, how will the android survive the week by passing the test. Is the android the only person being tested?

The special effects are flawless and seamless, important given the nature of Eva’s android frame. If you are looking for stomach turning violence you will not find it here, but if what you seek is an intelligent piece of cinema, watch this one.

This movie is as much a modernisation of Frankenstein as a reflection on the modern world around us. Written and directed by Alex Garland, this is his directorial debut.


22 May 2015 and how it impacted.

Ireland says Yes to Marriage equality, the Global Impact

The Vote Itself.

There are a number of questions and impacts arising out of the historic Yes vote in Ireland on May 22 . I want to look at the very issue of the vote itself. Many LGBT rights/civil rights campaigners are totally against the proposal of putting such rights to a popular vote. Reasons against voting include fears around running the risk of losing the vote, which is fair enough, the other is that many are against putting the granting or rights to a vote of the population, why should rights be at the discretion of others.

With regards to the fear of losing the vote, this is a real fear, as we have seen recently in other European jurisdictions. In Ireland the discussion has been on-going with broad political approval. In Ireland the time for the discussion had come, it was now. The vote now was not as risky as people might consider. Although all political parties were in favour of the proposal, the support for the move was often less that total with a number politicians not campaigning (especially those local/ municipal level politicians).

The issue of putting a rights issue to a vote is more contentious. There is the philosophical argument for/against, but in Ireland there was a practical reason which required us to have a vote. The Irish Constitution strongly protects the rights laid-down in it. As it stands Article 41 deals with concepts surrounding the Family. Legislation could have been brought in directly, however there would have been the very real potential for any legislation to be held-up in the courts as the constitutionality of such legislation is debated, relevant to the Irish Constitution. This scenario is quite likely as we have a long history in Ireland of challenging legislative provisions with respect to their constitutionality. The end result of legislation would have been months or years judicial wrangling.

The Nature of the Debate

Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the 22 May vote was the campaign and how it essentially turned the usual rules of campaigning on its head.

The Religious/Catholic aspect: Although many reports from around the world show Ireland as a deeply Catholic country, the reality of the situation is that the Church no longer has anywhere near the moral “authority” it used to have. Also there is a more fundamental point. The generational understanding of religion has changed. In the post Vatican II Catholic world, the attitudes of ordinary Catholics has changed. Gone is the fire and brimstone, burning fires of Hell Catholicism. Modern Irish Catholics have a religion based on the basic principal of Love, love thy neighbour.

Yes there was a rejection of Catholic teaching by many who as a matter of basic attitude would vote against anything supported by the Church, but there were others who saw a Yes vote as the decent Christian thing to do, you’ll see why in a minute. It should be noted that although a number of bishops came out against the Vote, many stayed relatively silent. The Archbishop of Dublin was at pains to stress that his position was not anti-LGBT.

Another aspect of the religious question was that of the lay fundamentalist organisations. These people had to be met straight-on and dealt with objectively. Where they quoted the bible, there is always another Bible quote to support a yes position. So a lesson, before you deal with a fundamentalist, learn their position and make sure you have your counter argument. A rights advocate will never win against a fundamentalist because they will not be open to discussion and changing attitudes, what does work though is to meet their arguments with fundamental “love” . It would seem that quoting scripture passages back at them, not only annoys them but also throws them out of kilter.

The difference between a No voter and a fundamentalist: many who voted No did so for personal reasons with the greatest respect for all involved and while I might disagree with their position, I respect it. A fundamentalist NO, is somebody who just spouts out religious dogma and refuses to entertain discussion. These people are often also homophobic, despite what they say. One interesting aspect of the debate was that, people did not debate the pro’s and cons of being gay, acceptance of LGBT people was taken as a given and any talk against such people was unacceptable.

What is the topic? There was much discussion around family related subjects such as surrogacy and adoption and the supposedly negative effect same-sex marriage would have on the family through use of these avenues. Many saw the basic untit of a family as being mother, father and children, with many saying that the purpose of marriage is procreation and a marriage with out “natural procreation” between both parties is not a valid marriage. Needless to say such an argument not only insults LGBT voters, but also childless couples, single parents and any right-thinking person. Where topics, designed to be contentious were brought up, they were met with a common cry, of that’s not the issue, please go back on topic. Although associated with marriage, these topics were not exclusively subject to the discussion at hand. These are separate matters governed by separate legislation that would still be needed/in force regardless of the referendum vote.

Discussion rather than argument

Own the discussion: do not let fundamentalists get you down. Time and time again people had to take a moment and simply walk away, not presenting a fundamentalist with a platform, removes their ability to communicate. A perhaps extreme example of this is the folks in Westboro Baptist “church” – You cannot have a logical conversation with these people so don’t.

Respect: The high moral ground is a great place, we have it and should keep it. Denying fundamentalists the opportunity to spout their nonsense is a valuable asset. As a nation people stood and refused to listen to extreme language, and simply said, “We do not recognise what you are saying”. It should also be remembered that the vast majority of those who voted No are good and decent people, motivated to do so for personal or religious reasons. While certain Yes voters were voting so, purely (or as a bonus) against the Church (indeed some proposed No as an anti-government vote, but more on that later).

Objectivity: by the end of the campaign the No side were complaining that they were not being listened to and were being ignored by the Yes side and the “Establishment”. This was because when the campaign started out came all the wild statements about what the gays would do and how the institution of marriage would be destroyed for ever (not to mention all the other doomsday predictions, and some were actually doomsday predictions), rather than argue the point , the Yes advocates took an objective approach when a wild statement like 100% of gays do this or that, the response was “prove it”, “where is the evidence” “quote your sources”. When faced with objectivity many could not deal with it.

Love is the word:

Why vote Yes? Because it was the right thing to do, but why was it seen as the right thing to do? A key aspect of the discussion was why should same-sex marriages be allowed. The simple answer was “Equality”. As a result of living in a constitutional republic one of the cornerstones of the Yes position was that ALL CITIZENS ARE EQUAL, and so should be afforded the same rights and protections. The love of one individual for another is as valuable of one person as it is for everybody, regardless or sexual orientation.

As the campaign progressed and indeed never more so than in the last days, the discussion stopped being about the rights and wrongs of same-sex marriage itself, but how we as a society wish to be treat each other in respect to this right or any other. For many it became a moral imperative not just to vote Yes, but to vote, period.

Not about spite: As I mentioned earlier, some people announced they would vote no, just to spite the government. Such a move spites nobody only your LGBT neighbour. In the Irish situation, Constitutional politics should be above party politics and so should not reflect our opinions of the government. This may seem theoretical, but when it could cost the referendum it is a very serious concern.

Keep it simple: Among all of the theory and theology the key was to keep it simple. Why vote Yes? To extend the definition of marriage, why? Because it is the right thing to do? Because we are a republic and all citizens are EQUAL, in this respect and all others.

Discussion not campaigning: One possibly unique aspect of this campaign was the discussion aspect. While the No side campaigned for their wanted outcome, the Yes side had a discussion with the voting public. While the No side told us why we should vote No and everything bad that would happen . The Yes side asked mother, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues is they would deny the happiness they have to their LGBT family members and friends.   Why should you be able to marry the person you love and I not. This discussion appealed to the basic nature of the Irish spirit.


The big question

Ask one question get another answer. Although the question being voted on was simple in its wording, simply looking to extend marriage to all regardless of their sex, what happened was the country gave a greater answer. Although opinion polls gave possible results of up to 70% for Yes, very few believed them because in Ireland conservative no voters tend to either not declare in opinion polls or say they will vote, Yes. An example of this which hung over the heads of all, was the Divorce referendum, when an opinion poll 70% Yes vote turned into a 50.28% to 49.72 % win for Yes. This was a critical question because it shaped the final days of the vote. More and more the No voters were shouting on to deaf ears, so much so that they started to say they were being bullied and intimidated by the huge wall of yes supporters. One of the more pleasantly ironic aspects of the debate was when the no campaign started to campaign on the grounds of equality, they were entitled to be heard equally, how the wheel turns. Asking the question of family and friends made the question personal to everybody not just the LGBT community. Pretty soon, it became a moral question, not around whether two people of the same sex should marry (or raise children) but rather, what right does one person have to deny a basic freedom (to marry) or the chance to be happy to another. Many say this as a defining question of a generation. The debate had without people noticing, grown and changed in to a discussion about who we are as a people. Such was the nature of the discussion that many thousands of emigrants returned home from various parts of the world just to vote on that day (Under Irish law, your vote lapses if you are out of the country more than 18months and to use it you have to vote in person). In the six months before voting date over 100,000 people added themselves to the voting register (a sizeable number when you consider the total electorate is 3.2m).   The Yes Equality badge became an iconic symbol worn by many.

People asked themselves how do we want to shape the country we live in. Phrases like “Republic of Equals” became popular, people were asked to “vote for Love”. One of the significant messages in the dying days of the campaign, was “bring the family out to vote”. BelongTo’s video for this has received international attention. The HomeToVote online campaign also should this. Essentially the appeal was to people to not only vote but also to ask how would you like to be treated, how would you like your family and friends to be treated. It came down to love and respect rather than pro or anti- gay attitudes.

Why such a shift, Why such compassion?

Age: Many observers have said that the scale of the Yes vote is down to the youth, the students, of the country coming out to vote and indeed returning to the country to vote in huge numbers. “If somebody can travel half way around the world to vote, I can walk down the road to do the same thing” . Yes the youth vote played an important part but so did the other demographics. Electoral districts known for their conservative voting patterns returned yes votes (sometimes barely) with only one of 43 electoral districts actually returning a No vote. The youth voted Yes, but also large numbers of older voters are voted the same way, as did people across the economic and political divides.


Different laws and ideas of constitutional settings. In Ireland we put the question to a popular vote by way of referendum in order to ensure there would be no Constitutional challenges to legislation. This may not work, or be needed everywhere, but it was here and it did work. In the few days since the referendum we see , how MPs in Australia are considering their position in relation to same-sex marriage legislation; a Presidential candidate in Taiwan has spoken on the need for action, the opposition in Germany is now asking for a referendum there also etc. The fact of the matter is that what happens in one country can affect and inspire others, all the better when the message is one of happiness.

Republic of equals: I am not sure how this plays out internationally but it shaped how we reacted in Ireland and how we celebrated the outcome of the vote. Many people voted yes because it was the only way to vote. As has been pointed out the LGBT community is by the nature of its numbers always going to be a majority, but when you took into account family friends, colleagues and strangers who all stood together with their LGBT fellow citizens, then you get a majority. People were happy to vote yes, because the discussion had become one of how we treat all citizens in our republic. By the end of the campaign we were not looking at how we deal with an LGBT issue but how we as a people saw ourselves as part of a constitutional democracy. Equality as a principle was a guiding one. What we ended up doing was giving an statement on how we saw ourselves as a nation. Situations in other countries are often different depending on the nature of the legal and social structures , the people of Ireland did not set out to make a global statement, but the statement made went around the world. The simple statement was, is, one that; all citizens are indeed equal. From our definition of equality come rights such as freedom – when we are all equal we are all free.

As important as the debate and vote were, the result and the response to the result were just as important. How the country reacted to the vote, made as much a statement as the vote. When the result was announced (and expected) those present in and around Dublin Castle started to sing the Irish National Anthem. The question and the answer may have started being one of LGBT rights, but ended with us looking to see who we are as a people.

If somebody, anybody elsewhere in the world is better-off in any way for this, then, win.


Seven Days In May (1964)

The political thriller based on the 1962 novel by Fletcher Knebel & Charles Bailey with the screenplay by Rod Sterling and directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, 1962). The original book is set in a short time in to the future (early 1970’s) the film does not do this, however there is one indication on a screen that it might be set in 1970. It does however have echoes of the famous John F Kennedy clash with General Edwin Walker – who had to be removed from office given his political statements.

Against this political background a senior aide, Marine Colonel “jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory, 1957) who works for Airforce James Mattoon Scott, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Burt Lancaster, (Zulu Dawn, 1975) in the course of events Jiggs starts to uncover certain inconsistencies and transfers and when he starts to ask questions he is calmly told there is nothing and eventually gets sent on leave. Limited in where he can turn, he pulls in favours and goes straight to the President (Fredric Marchand, the Iceman Cometh, 1973) and his Chief of Staff (Martin Balsam, 12 angry men, 1957), after some discussions the President agree to quietly look in to it through back channels, assembling a small group of people he can trust. As they begin to investigate, they come up against stonewall responses with friends like the senator Raymond Clark (Edmond O’Brien, D.O.A. 1950) being detained at the secret military base he “discovered”.

As the tension mounts the President has essentially hours before a believed move by the General and his supporters in the guise of a large scale military exercise which the President was due to attend. The President cancels his attendance and then also the exercise at the last minute. The stage is set for the final showdown and hours before the General is about to make his move on national television the President addresses the nation and publicly requires the resignations of many of his top generals. In the face of such opposition the other all resign leaving Scott to decide his own future.

This is a tense well-constructed thriller which through the use of CCTV, video conferencing etc . subtly gives the futuristic hints owed to the book. I’ve not covered some of the finer point, that would take away from the thriller aspect. Watch it.


La Grand Illusion

Set during World War I is tells the story of two French Aviators, their capture and subsequent confinement and escape. This film is as much about class and background as it is about war. Indeed one could argue that the war is only a vehicle to carry the story of class difference and how it impacts on the lives of all those concerned. It was directed by the great Jean Renoir (Madame Bovary, 1934) who co-wrote it with Charles Spaak (Justice is Done, 1950). Centred around our two heroes the two aviators; Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay, The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934) the aristocrat of the pair and his working-class lieutenant, Maréchal (Jean Gabin, Le Jour se Leve, 1939). Having gone out to further photograph a site which they filmed on a previous flight (but was too blurred to be of use) our aviators are shot down. As it turns out they are downed by a German aristocrat, a one Captain von Rauffenstein (Eric von Stroheim, Sunset Blvd. 1950). In the earlier part of the war the aviators saw themselves as the last of the gallant military and often observed social niceties across the divide, as in this case. After shooting them down, von Rauffenstein has the two men found and brought to him, where they are invited to be his guests. During the course of the dinner it is realised that von Rauffenstein and Boeldieu actually have mutual acquaintances, reflecting the nature of the trans-national lives European aristocrats often lead.

The two aviators are subsequently sent to a POW camp where they fall-in with a number of fellow prisoners. During their incarceration here we see how Maréchal is given solitary confinement as a result of a commotion; we also see how badly it affects him. Out with the main population the two are fully involved in escape attempts, which ultimately come to nothing as the prisoners are transferred and Maréchal cannot let the English prisoners know of a escape tunnel due to his lack of language.

Transferred to various camps they arrive at Wintersborn, a camp under the command of the now injured and promoted von Rauffenstein. Once again escape is on their minds and along with the rich aristocratic Jew Le Lieutenant Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio Donovan’s Reef, 1963) who they know from their previous camp, they plot to escape. As part of the escape Boeldieu climbs to a highpoint and gets the guards attention. His fellow aristocrat, von Rauffenstein, stops the guards from shooting him and tries to get him down, meanwhile the other make a run for it and climb out/down using the usual home-made assortment of rope/cloth. Von Rauffenstein, aiming for Boeldieu’s legs shoots him in the stomach and fatally wounds him. While dying Boeldiue comments on their place in society and what might be the place for those such as them in the new post-war world.

Meanwhile the others escape through Germany on their way to Switzerland. On their way there they have their share of upsets and even separate, with Maréchal leaving the injured Rosenthal, only to return. They eventually take shelter in a small farmhouse owned by Elsa Parlo, (Dito Parlo, L’Atalnte, 1934), her husband and brothers have all been lost in the war, yet she helps them recover and treats them with kindness, even keeps them safe from her fellow Germans. Eventually leaving the two make their way to Switzerland, only to come under fire from a patrol as the approach the Swiss border, they escape.

We see from the connections such as with Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein that regardless of nationalities, society can, given the right environment function at a level which is unrelated to that of nation-states and indeed should make war obsolete due to the effects it could have on those of that class, the Grand Illusion. Renoir had a message here, clearly filmed against the rising tide of Nazism and fascism in Europe we look to see how Jewish and coloured characters are treated. We could analyses the movie from hindsight, rather we should watch it and perhaps ask what lessons do we still have to learn.

Much has been written about the decline of the aristocratic or ruling families of Europe after the war and the rise of a “new world order”, one where the common man and not the landed gentry would look to guide the world they lived in. Interestingly, only 20 years after the end of WWI Renoir had sufficiently clear a picture of this decline and change that he was able to write one of the best and earliest depictions of this changing Europe/world.

I’ve held off on mentioning a comparison to Kubrick’s Paths to Glory (1957). Again we see elements of the class struggle and the changing face of humanity brought on by the war. The other obvious comparison is All Quiet on the Western Front (based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque) directed by Lewis Milstone (1930) which focused on the physical and mental suffering of the ordinary soldier in the conflict. In deed it is quoted that one of the reasons Renoir made this film was because he felt no other movie, apart from All Quiet on the Western Front, sufficiently told the story of the ordinary soldier.

La Grande Illusion is as strong today as it was in 1937, perhaps even stronger for our failing to learn from it and other writings/productions form “ordinary people”


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The last of the Hobbit trilogy and the ending of the Lord of The Rings epic cinema journey that started half a generation ago. I will dispense with the usual description of a back-story just to say that this film takes up where the last finished, exactly. One of the more painful initiatives of Hollywood studios in the last few years is the introduction of a two-part film offering. Not only have we had to work through various trilogies, but we are now having “Concluding Film Part 1” , part 2, etc. With these movies I think we got a compromise. The Hobbit is a much shorter book, with in many ways a far less complex story-line.

I enjoyed, but was not a fanatical follower of the original trilogy and also to an extent these current Hobbit movies. Indeed I felt there was something lacking in the original cinema releases which needed the Director’s cuts to improve. When I bought the DVD’s for the first three films I made no bones about using the fast-forward button at certain times to move past what seemed like story filler. Indeed you got a sense of Epic when watching the first three movies. With This Hobbit series, the lack of additional storyline showed with a much tighter production.

And so I come to “The Battle of the Five Armies”. Some purists consider this movie as essentially “filer” with all of the key elements of the story having been covered in the previous offerings. Such is cinema, that often a “footnote” in a book can turn in to the major element of a movie, and so it was with the five Armies.

The movie, opens quickly with Smaug having been woken and stirred from the mountain, now attacking Lake Town with the Master (Stephen Fry, Ros na Rún, 2011) firmly focused on ensuring the town’s gold escapes under his care while Bard (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, 2014) struggles to escape from jail. He does and eventually manages to Kill Smaug. I have to say the Smaug slaying scene reminded me of the writing of Sir Terry Pratchett, in one of his earlier books the men of the night Watch have to shoot down a dragon but must first ensure it is a “million-to-one” shot as they are the only ones that work.

Once Smaug is dead, the scene is quickly set for what is to come. It is made clear to all that now that Smaug is no longer protecting the mountain. There will be a number of people laying claim to the mountain and its contents. Faced with the growing popularity of the mountain and the associated military build-up outside Thorin Oakenshield begins to suffer the same fate as Smaug, falling completely under the spell of the gold, in a manner that closely resembles the power of the original Gold Rings.

From here on the film works to serve the main title. As we see the armies build up. I did find myself counting the armies to who were all five. One thing that is noteworthy is that the epic nature of the earlier movies is not there to the same extent. An example of this is the army brought to the mountain by Thorin’c cousin, Dain (Billy Connolly, Brave 2012), not only does he bring some much appreciated dwarfish humour but his army is clearly limited, we can see from one flank to the other, likewise with the elves, there is an obvious limit to resources. Gone is the vast scale of the previous battle scenes.

This difference actually works. When I heard that the climax to the film/series was a 45 minute battle scene my heart sank, however, it was, as ever, nicely done and nowhere as intense as in the first trilogy.

Overall this and its companion two movies are, or at least feel, shorter than the previous offerings, not in terms of actual screen time but in how they feel. The editing is so sharp the movie almost feels episodic in parts, I could nearly predict a scene ending so that we could jump to elsewhere in the story.

Overall I preferred these films to the earlier set. The cast is well mixed from the series stalwarts such as Legolas (Olrando Bloom, Romeo & Juliet , 2014) to Kili (Aidan Turner, Being Human, 2009). As sequels go they work far better than Star Wars Ep’s IV-VI (granted, I thought they were not as bad as other said they were). Here they did not need to create a new legend and back-story, we already knew it. However it could be argued that certain elements were need to fall into place to position the original LofTR’s films, this is perhaps best seen when Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, 2013), Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving, Cloud Atlas, 2012) and Saruman (Christopher Lee, Dark Shadows, 2012) fight the Wraith Kings to save Gandalf (Ian McKellen), we see after the fight a glint in Saruman’s eyes as to what the future holds, but that is the only clue, one look into his eyes.

The plot is as simple as ever – Good guys on a mission, need to face their own issues as well as the world ganging up on them, while the world around them is getting ready for an Armageddon scale battle, just to complicate things. However faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, they still manage to overcome everything and as usual the series ends with the necessary Hobbit quota returning to the Shire. One final word to Martin Freeman (Sherlock, 2010) who gives us a fantastic Bilbo Baggins who manages to keep us with him the entire way along (I could have quite happily edited out a number of Hobbit (the people not the movie) related scenes out of the original LofTR, but that’s just me.

Sharp and well assembled this film works on its own as well as part of the famous series. Certainly work some free time over the vacation period.

The Judge

On coming out of the movie theatre after seeing the movie “The Judge” you might be forgiven for asThe Judge New Posterking what kind of movie you just saw.  Part court-room drama, part road movie, part family drama. Rather than being a schizophrenic mis-mash it actually comes together well.

Robert Downey  Jnr, sets-off Robert Duvall’s character perfectly. There are essentially two main story lines, firstly the family dramas which unfold following the death of the mother of the clan (who we never meet) and then the court-case involving his father, the judge.

Downey’s character, Harry (Hank) Palmer is a  Chicago lawyer, who on the surface has everything, great house, family, career all. Upon news of his mother’s death he returns to the home from which he has been estranged for some years. Upon his return it soon becomes clear why. The head of the house, Judge Palmer, played by Robert Duval is a painfully honest man, who  sees things in his own way, of basic uncomplicated justice. He has been Judge in their town for over 40 years and his legacy hangs heavy on him. The character in some ways reminds me of the character he played in Secondhand Lions, ( 2003) again a tough old guy, straight as a die, who does not suffer fools. His wisdom of Solomon  type approach may have kept the townsfolk out of trouble most of the time, but it was a recipe for disaster at home. He had 3 sons, the oldest Glen, played by Vincent D’Onofrio,(Law and Order: Criminal Intent, 2001)  the middle son, Hank, (Downey) and  the youngest son (Jeremy  Strong).

It was directed by David Bodkin, who is better known for movies such as “Wedding Crashers” or “Change up”, while Nick Schenk (Gran Torino 2008) and Bill Dubuque took the lead with the script.

While home and dealing with his own pending divorce, Hank Palmer runs immediately in to the family tensions. We find out early on that the eldest son Glen was destined to be a baseball star until a car accident in his late teens damaged his arm and put an end to his career. We are allowed to presume who was responsible for the accident, it is only later that we are told what actually happened.  Glen has the resentment of the son who stayed at home while his brother became something, he had to remain in his father’s shadow, running his own garage at the edge of town  and also helping to look after his youngest brother Dale, played brilliantly by Strong has learning difficulties and uses a movie camera to record the life around him almost all of the time.

Not long after Hank arrives home, all three are on the porch of the house, when the Judge announces he is going to bed and makes final arrangements for the funeral, going inside he turns to his youngest son and looking him in the face, calmly says to him that if the camera makes an appearance at the funeral it will go up his arse.

While the family comes to terms with the loss, we see Glen’s resentment at life and we see the Judge being as stoic as ever. Hank, takes some time to watch his father in court and also meet some old neighbours (girlfriend). In to this mix comes news that their father has been in a traffic accident and a young man has been killed.  The difficulty is that Judge Palmer has no recollection of the accident and the person he killed was somebody he locked away 20 years ago for the murder of a young girl, who has just been released on parole.

Such are the tensions that just as Hank is returning to Chicago he is told of the Judge’s arrest. Despite the tensions in their relationship Hank immediately begins to legally defend his father. When his father announces that he has hired one of the local lawyers for his defence, Hank sits in on the meetings. When the case comes to court it is quickly evident to all concerned that the local guy C.P., (played by Dax Shepard, Parenthood, 2010) is out of his depth when up against the sharp special prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton, the Man who Wasn’t There, 2001)brought in to fight the case.

Downey quickly takes over his father’s defence and struggles to defend him. His father’s health and general attitude prove the biggest challenges.

There are so many twists and turn that I do not want to say too much.  Outside of the courtroom we get a view of the family and in particular the three sons (neither of Glen’s two sons will ever play baseball professionally). What we see is three brothers who when allowed to be themselves get on perfectly, but in the presence of their father revert practically to kids, he controls the house. The Relationship with Hank and all the other is obviously stained, at one stage the Judge turns to him and said how he wished he liked his him more. With Downey being in  the movie there are a number of opportunities for some light humour, all of which Bodkin takes, mainly revolving around events between Hank and his ex-girlfriend  (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring, 2013)of over 20 years ago, who he meets almost immediately upon return home. The issue in question is whether or not her daughter might actually be his also.

The movie is in many ways similar to “August: Osage County” from last year, this however is a better movie. We see essentially three movies in one, the homecoming/road movie, the family struggles and the court case.

As the movie develops, the Judge’s health declines, further adding to the developing story. This could have been a bad made-for-TV movies except for the quick wit created by the screenwriters and brilliantly delivered by the cast. The cinematography is simple, no great sweeping or dramatic shots to allow the director to tell the world how great he is, instead every scene counts, we get a feeling of closeness and despite being over 2 hours long, you do not feel the time go.

I did start the film wondering how it was going to go, my first impressions of Downey were of a reprise of his Tony Stark (Iron Man 2008) type character; arrogant and quick witted, but quickly we saw the character of Hank Palmer.  The supporting cast was kept tight, but before I finish a word must go to Jeremy Strong(Robot and Frank, 2008), who played the youngest brother, a great performance, understated and calm but very effective.

Overall the movie works on many levels. If I was to say what the film was about I would have to say, “tension” tension between a father and son, a prodigal returned, a high-school jock now raising a family, the ex-girlfriend etc. what makes this film work is that the tension can be overcome. This is seen most through the developing relationship between Hank and his father, both in and out of the Court.

Rating 9/10

Some people thought it was not as strong as it could be, I however thought it worked even striking one or two raw nerves along the way, go watch it, the  direction is strong and the performances nicely delivered. Each aspect of the plot is developed and I’m carefully trying not to give too much away.


The trouble with being a Disney/Pixar creation is that a lot is expected of the output.  Some critics have said this movie is light on plot while others have said some of the background animation is too good…too good! well that’s all as may be. The truth in my opinion, is that they have again produced a kids’ movie suitable for adults. The story line will appeal to kids while keeping adults entertained, the script will appeal to adults while keeping kids entertained.  I saw this movie with two friends, both admitted to watery eyes at various stages during the movie, me, I laughed a lot.

So what about the movie? It is based on a Scottish king Fergus (Billy Connolly, Mrs. Brown, 1997) with a proud and correct queen; Elinor (Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day, 1993) , a rather willful 16 princess; Merida (Kelly MacDonald, Intermission, 2003). The opening scenes are of the family picnicking celebrating a young Merida’s birthday, only to have an infamous bear attack.  The movie then moves to about 10 years later, the King as it turns out, lost a leg in the attack, burt has gained many years of story telling embellishing what happened on that day. There are also the three young princes. These are a interesting plot tool, providing some of the best humour and convenient plot devices when needed.  Merida is now 16 and must have a husband found for her from amoung the clans, the clans arive at the castle to win her hand, she chooses an archery competition, which she then enters and well wins. All kinds of chaos ensue and ultimately Merida runs away after arquing with her mother and ends up in the cottage of a wood-turning witch (Julie Walters, Mo 2010) who gives the girl a spell to change here mother. THe spell is administered and it does change her mother; into a bear.

What follows is a voyage of Merida finding a solution, growing closer to her mother and ultimately saving the day (it is Disney after all). There are some excellent comedic moments scattered throughout. Was the plot suitable for adults? Yes, it was not overly taxing but highly entertaining. The overall movie works with some speed and manages not to sag in the middle, end result we were kept entertained till the end. The soundtrack is also quite good, I might have to look into a CD

This is a cartoon aimed at kids but with adults firmly in mind.  There are a couple of kilt jokes which while predicted were well executed.  The scenes in the great hall firstly where the suitors are introduced and later when all are fighting are both excellently executed and quite funny, little things like the characterisation of Fergus’ hounds were much appreciated.

Rating 8/10, nothing is perfect – for the first few minutes every time I heard the princess’s name being called I was put in mind of a certain piece of French but; C’est la vie!

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

We’ve learned from all too many examples that the first of the franchise was the best of the set, with the sequels being poor imitations of feeble attempts to regain the position of the first. This has not been the case. Although I thought the second of the three to be Christopher Nolan’s (Inception, 2010) best, this is still a good movie. There were some raised eyebrows when Nolan announced he was hanging up his lenses in relation to the Batman movies, at the time I was also surprised, but after seeing the movie, I can see his point.  Rather than the franchise going on mindlessly he has chosen to build a character, or indeed a set of them, with a fixed story arc over the three movies.  The reappearance of so many characters through the movies shows the strength of linkage between each movie, these were more a series than a franchise.

This was a closing movie; a number of plot threads were closed and neatly dealt with, while some new ones were introduced, more on that later.  Although it is Nolan’s last offering here I don’t think it is the end of Batman…and Robin.  There have been some criticisms that somebody coming fresh to the movie would not fully understand some of the plot elements and characters.  Possibly but it is  bit like the Bourne franchise.  I had not seen the first when I saw the second.  I then went out and bought the first for all of the parts to fit together. If you by a book you do not start at chapter 8, likewise if you are going to watch a franchise movie, see the earlier offerings first to know what you are watching….

Christian Bale (The Flowers of War, Yimou Zhang, 2012)is the brooding billionaire drawn back to the role of Batman, I say “brooding” more like sulking in places, but as ever his character manages to work. Michael Caine (Harry Brown, 2009) was as ever the paternal Alfred always having a wise and careful word of advice.  Doubling with Cane was Morgan Freeman (Red 2010) who also co-paternally looked after Wayne’s interests, but this time from the technology side, again he manages to pull a few gadgets out of the armoury without ever giving us the impression he was a re-imagined “Q”. Marion Cotillard (Big Fish, 2003) as Mirranda Tate added a nice touch of class. Tom Hardy (This means War, 2012) played the necessary bad guy.  What is interesting here was that it took me some time to recognise him.  The acting was stunted, as the character possibly needed, but you have to hand it to Hardy for his ability to constantly change his physical appearance. Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada, 2006) has certainly matured and was exactly what we expected as Catwoman, not all bad, with tough of a good streak to win us over. Some of the supporting cast like Nestor Cabonell (Lost 2007-2010) and Matthew Modine (The Browning Version, 1994) I felt did not quite work. That said Cillian Murphy (In Time, 2011) back as Dr Jonathan Crane, gave a performance which reminded me of the beggars’ court in Fritz Lang’s (The Blue Gardenia, 1953) “M” (1931). This was one of the few parts where the dystophic atmosphere  created by Nolan actually worked.  The use of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50, 2011) was certainly a bright part. That said is appearance and possible development became obvious very quickly, sadly it took to the closing scenes to confirm what we thought, and so the possible re-launch of the franchise. I can’t not mention Gary Odlman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, 2011) as Commissioner Gordon who delivered the fighting character we’ve come to expect, a far improvement on the original quasi-comedic characterisation.

The plot is if course; bad guy tries to take over and/or destroy Gotham and Batman has to save the day…all fairly standard really. Overall a good piece of entertainment, even if it did sag a little just past the middle. It will be interesting to see how the Batman and Robin story develops. All in all not a bad effort; not a perfect film, long in places but well worth watching

Rating 7/10

Top Cat

Okay, so this might not be the first movie you’d think I would write about, but it is a movie. On a rather wet afternoon it was all that was on that was suitable for the age groups involved. So the serious bit.

It would seem that this particular offering was aimed purely at the younger aged market with very little in the way of humour designed for adults that should fly over the heads of the kids.

Over all the cartoon stayed essentially local to the original format and character line up. Officer Dibble’s accent is more American that it was remembered…less New York Irish. TC and the gang were more or less the same but TC himself seemed less self assured and cocky that remembered, less Of the punchlines. To the movie’s credit, it very quickly established the characters and their personalities. T’s hapless sidekick Benny is his same old self.

On the technical side some of the animation seemed less that expected. It was clear this was not the output of one of the big studios. It seems to have been a Mexican studio.  This blog is from the phone. When I get back to the lap top I’ll expend on the technical side.

Rating 6/10 at least one of the three of us was entertained. One of us watched some of it and nearly fell asleep at other parts while the third of our trio seemed more interested in anything that moved in the movie theatre itself…not bad, but you might be better off getting  Disney DVD.