You Must Remember This

You Must Remember This

Wednesday, 13 July 2016


So, after more than three and half years of reviews, analysis, and general ruminations I'm bidding farewell to Of All the Film Blogs.

Apart from a handful of very early pieces at university, it was here I did my first real film criticism and, if you're reading this, whether or not you've just stumbled across it, you've played at least a small part in supporting me. Every jump in the number of pageviews has helped give me an incentive to keep writing, so thank you.

I hope you'll continue to seek out my work at my new site, Of All the Film Sites (

For now, though: here's looking at you all.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016


How do you a find a new take on not one but two of the most imitated figures in modern history? From Forrest Gump to Bubba Ho-Tep, Secret Honour to X-Men: Days of Future Past, not to mention the cavalcade of films that bear their names, Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon are probably better known to us as personas than in person; partly by design, of course. Whether it’s the howling lycanthropic Nixon of Futurama or the gyrating heartthrob of Jailhouse Rock, only the core mannerisms remain in memory: the hunched back and beady-eyed stare; that cocky sneer and “a-thank you, thank you very much”. Though hardly an in-depth “character study”, Elvis & Nixon succeeds in getting — albeit shallowly — under the skin of both its leads. 

The film details the lead-up to the meeting that took place between the king of rock n’ roll and “Tricky Dick” on December 21st, 1970. It all began a few days earlier when Elvis (Michael Shannon) suddenly left Graceland and flew to Washington DC with the stated aim of becoming an undercover “Agent at Large” with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs — in order to combat the rise of drug culture in the United States, don’t you know. Accompanied by two of his so-called Mafia Memphis, Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) and lookalike Sonny West (Johnny Knoxville), he set about trying to secure some face time with the man he thought most likely to make it happen: President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey). 

Fortunately for Elvis, Nixon’s staff happens to include Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks), head of the Special Investigations Unit, and Deputy Assistant Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters). Both appreciate the positive impact an association with Elvis could have on Nixon’s appeal to the younger generation; even if White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman (Tate Donovan in cameo) takes some convincing. Krogh and Chapin make for an amiable pair of squares — they even have matching overcoats — but Watergate is on the horizon. 

Elvis, meanwhile, has grown disillusioned with the life he leads. The film, directed by Lisa Johnson, never delves into his obsession with law enforcement, but it’s clear that this a man for whom the giggling women (when he’s there they giggle) and expensive jewellery (he’s a prisoner of his fashion regime) have lost their charm; even if he never does. His former associate Jerry — half handler, half friend — truly loves Elvis, but feels himself being drawn back into the orbit of a man who can’t help but be the centre of everyone else’s world. 

Shannon, peering out from beneath that hair and those sunglasses, eschews all the markers of the usual Elvis performance. The accent, for instance, is his own. Instead, he offers an understated portrait of a public figure who, for all the karate and the stir he creates, feels like a UFO; serenely touches down where he pleases, seemingly oblivious to the world freaking out around him. It’s something of a departure for the famously intense Shannon — not least in being genuinely quite amusing. Aside from a brief inaudible scene involving an open-top car, two pretty girls, and CCR’s Susie Q, we never even hear him sing. Elvis & Nixon’s soundtrack notably features no Elvis — it would certainly make for a misleading addition to any CD collection. 

Similarly, excluding one snippet of a phone conversation with Henry Kissinger, the film offers us nothing of Nixon’s politics. Spacey’s performance may be the more typical of the two — there’s the apelike hunch, the prickly demeanour, that oh-so imitable voice — but, even as a known mimic, there’s no sense of impersonation. Shannon and Spacey bring a subtlety to their respective roles that pays off particularly in the interplay between a legend and a president; Elvis obliviously breaking protocol, Nixon grudgingly coming to respect this kooky interloper. 

Any such meeting certainly lends itself to comedy of the zaniest sort — Elvis believes his years of costume and makeup have made him a master of disguise — but it’s acutely observed enough that it never feels like its going for easy laughs. Elvis & Nixon’s script, written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes, may feel like a TV movie — a form in which the premise has already been offered —  and offers a few stagey moments of self-reflection on Elvis’ part. Even so, the film, if not quite kingly, certainly won’t leave you feeling crook. A-thank you, thank you very much.

Elvis & Nixon gets a 6.5 out of 10

Monday, 27 June 2016


They’ve back, just when we might have dared to hope that we were safe the next wave of big-budget blockbusters with meaningless subtitles sweeps into cinemas. Just as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice failed to set the world alight by treating its material with undue reverence, Independence Day: Resurgence fails to set the world alight — while narratively doing exactly that — by treating its material with no reverence whatsoever. 

The film sets out to reprise more or less exactly what it did twenty years before with little of the novelty, a touch more irony, and nary a decent speech to be heard. While in 1996 the wholesale destruction of world monuments was considered worthy of “oohs” and “aahs” aplenty, nowadays it barely merits a “meh”. World-threatening peril, by forces alien, natural, or of our own devising — or, in the case of X-Men: Apocalypse, mutants — are more or less the spectacle du jour. As Jeff Goldblum’s wryly startled David Levinson notes amid plummeting skyscrapers and, one would assume, the attendant loss of human life, “They always go for the landmarks.” 

In all fairness, the dead do cast a large shadow over Independence Day: Resurgence; mostly in that the film’s younger generation (Liam Hemsworth’s cocky maverick, Jake; Jessie Usher’s too-earnest-to-be-quite-cool Dylan Hillier; Maika Monroe’s would-be Ripley, Patricia; ) can’t hold a candle to Will Smith’s cigar-chomping, alien-belting war hero from the first film. A lack of star power (or willingness to invest in it) doesn’t help counter the impression that this is primarily a cash grab. 

There’s a utterly subsidiary Chinese pilot, played by model-actress-singer Angelababy, who — despite serving as a would-be love interest for Travis Tope’s cheerfully dweeby Charlie — feels like a calculated play for a wider audience. Brent Spiner runs around dementedly in his undies with a matted white mane of hair and Bill Pullman salvages sound dignity as the shellshocked former Prez. The alien mothership may be substantially bigger, there are katana-wielding African warlords and magic spheres, but even the film’s high-tech lunar base feels like a case of Ender’s Again? For all of the heroic sacrifices none of them mean very much. 

This is Independence Day: Regurgitated*, a thin, warmed-over gruel that even the prospect of an intergalactic sequel can do little to infuse with any flavour.

3.5 out of 10

* Thanks to Amarpal Biring for that one.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016


Adult Life Skills

Adult Life Skills is one of those low-key, quirky dramedies that, if executed poorly, has the potential to be be near enough unwatchable. Fortunately, as executed by first-time writer-director Rachel Tunnard and her more than able cast, the film is instead a mopey, mirthful study of making magic out of mundanity. 

Jodie Whittaker stars as Anna, a bereaved twin who spends her days doing admin at a small-town Yorkshire rowing club and her nights making videos with a tinfoil spaceship and her anthropomorphic thumbs. She sees faces in places — in egg cartons, in wood grain. She flirts awkwardly with soft-spoken, number-driven real estate agent Brendan (Brett Goldstein). She also lives in a shed, which her mum (Lorrain Ashborne) despairs about ever getting her out of. It’s only when Anna is forced to look after Clint (Ozzy Meyers), a scowl-y, cowboy-obsessed kid with troubles of his own. 

Though perpetually verging on preciousness — Edward Hogg appears as a character credited as The Snorkeler — Adult Life Skills has enough insight into arrested development and grief to sidestep the trap of the twee.

6.5 out of 10

Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales is The Brothers Grimm as Terry Gilliam should have made it. 

Inspired by Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone — from which the film gets its name — and directed by Gomorrah’s Matteo Garone, it weaves together three archetypal fairytales: the jovial king (John C. Reilly) and bitter queen (Selma Hayek) longing for a child; one kindly yet capricious ruler (Toby Jones), his romantic daughter Violet (Bebe Cave), the flea and the ogre; and the two crones (Hayley Carmichael and Shirley Henderson) who inadvertently mislead a lusty prince (Vincent Cassel). Shot on location around Italy, sumptuously designed, and with a suitably fantastical score from Alexandre Desplat, Tale of Tales is baroque, bloody, alluring and repugnant. 

The film might not have much by the way of substance, nor is Matteo the first filmmaker to turn his hand to fable — fellow Italian Pasolini did so with his Trilogy of Life back in the ‘70s — but when the scenery is this sumptuous and the monsters this grotesque, it’s hard to begrudge a little fancifulness.

7 out of 10

The Neon Demon

Like its predecessor, Only God Forgives, Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest, The Neon Demon, was also booed at Cannes. Unlike its predecessor, only the film’s final third might merit such a reaction. 

The film starts as a glossy, lurid scrutiny of beauty and what it elicits. Elle Fanning embodies radiant ingenue Jesse whose arrival in Los Angeles stirs lust and possessiveness in the male fashion set — Alessandro Nivo as a verse-declaiming designer, Desmond Harrington as an intense, hollow-cheeked photographer — and jealousy amid a kind-to-be-cruel clique of models — including Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, and neighbourly but unreadable makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). The film deftly plumbs these thematic depths with both clarity and unpredictability, which gives way to shock value and detached symbolism.  

An Under the Skin about the skin itself, Cronenberg’s Crash where the paraphilia is flesh instead of steel. There’s more to The Neon Demon than meets the eye till, all of a sudden, there isn’t.

8.5 out of 10

Sunday, 29 May 2016


Jodie Foster’s most recent directorial effort after 2011’s The Beaver, Money Monster seeks to combine the hostage dynamics of Dog Day Afternoon with the financial acumen of The Big Short, but lacks the portfolio to pull it off. 

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, a smirking Wall Street whiz who makes a living giving out overblown stock tips on a bells-and-whistles cable show called Money Monster. His brash exhortations comes back to bite — or possibly shoot him — however, when an angry investor, Kyle (Jack O’Connell), turns up in the studio with a gun, a bomb, and a dead man’s switch, demanding answers. What really happened at IBIS Global Capital that wiped $800 million off the stock price? And where is the company’s smug CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West)? 

As IBIS’ conflicted PR officer, Diane Lester (Catriona Balfe), struggles with her conscience, Gates lends the inarticulate Kyle his voice; first unwillingly then, increasingly, as benefactor/accomplice. Meanwhile, up in the control booth, Gates’ deeply committed director, Patty (Julia Roberts), keeps the show running — even relaying the occasional shot choice to long-suffering cameraman Lenny (Lenny Venito) down on the floor.  

Money Monster’s most pressing dramatic issue is its lack of urgency. Kyle is more upset than unstable; even after a vicious bollocking from his pregnant GF, there’s no sense he might doing anything truly desperate. Meanwhile, he gaggle of cops out in the street, as played by beloved character actors — Giancarlo Esposito (Gus from Breaking Bad), Chris Bauer (the Sheriff from True Blood), and John Ventimigli (Tony’s chef mate from The Sopranos) — feel like such a side-show that they might as well be starring in a TV spin-off of Inside Man.

O’Connell rages, Clooney alternately cowers and crusades — and, of course, manages to be utterly charming while doing it — and Roberts holds it together, but the film itself is neither idea-driven or genre-focused enough to do very much more than exist.

By making the cause of Kyle’s plight fraud — the obvious dramatic choice — rather than say greed, stupidity, and lack of foresight on a grand scale, such as was arguably the actual cause of the recent recession, the film’s script takes the bite out of what could be excoriating Nightcrawler-like satire. Characters talk about quantitative analytics, about money as energy, about being intellectually in love with a stock, but this all feels like lip service in the context of a film that ends with a literal march on Wall Street (with Gates aiding and abetting).

Money Monster is daft, rabble-rousing liberalism targeted at everyone and anyone who might be pissed off with the state of the economy. With little sapient to say on the matter, though, the film is forced to conclude that things might sorta be okay if only the fat cats could be made to admit that the ruthless pursuit of money above all else is wrong. As messages go, it doesn't add up to much.

VERDICT: Huge dividends, dramatic or otherwise, are unlikely, but Money Monster might still be worth your time, if only as an eventual investment on VOD. 5 out of 10

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


The Nice Guys is your standard Shane Black neo-noir buddy comedy with a '70s retrofit but that's no bad thing. The film is a wild and seedy ride from the top of the derelict Hollywood sign, through — occasionally literally — the deluxe shag pads of Beverly Hills, and all the way down through the mean streets of L.A. The buddies in question are not mean per se, though they are respectively afraid and tarnished. 

Ryan Gosling plays shrill, ineffectual P.I. Holland March who drinks like a fish — if the fish in question were a just-about-functioning alcoholic — and whose most notable trait is a Looney Tunes-like ability to bounce back from a beating (or a fall or a self-inflicted severed artery after trying to punch in a window). Even his precocious daughter Holly is exasperated: "You're the world’s worst detective". He’s the opposite of your classic hard-bitten P.I. Bogart would have eaten him for lunch. Even Elliott Gould's stumblebum Phillip Marlowe might have been tempted to give him a slap. 

The hardbitten-ness comes vis-a-vis Jackson Healy, played by Russell Crowe, a wry, stocky bully-for-hire who ekes out a living delivering warnings to deadbeats, stalkers, and, on this occasion, Holland March. The warning Healy delivers to March — complete with a helpfully pre-diagnosed spiral fracture — comes courtesy of Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), an insufferable rich kid environmentalist whose sudden disappearance seems to be connected to the recent death of a porn star and the Detroit automotive industry.

More than just the eminently quotable one-liners we’ve come to expect from any Shane Black joint — “I had to question the mermaids!” — The Nice Guys also features some impeccably orchestrated physical comedy. There’s a bit of a slapstick involving a gun, a cigarette, and a toilet stall door that’s up there with Abbott & Costello. The plot is more than vaguely similar to Black’s directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: egregiously bad parenting and porn-related hijinks are a recurring theme, as well as the obligatory ill-timed discovery/disposal of a corpse. 

This only matters, though, in the way that plot mattered in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye — a clear influence here — or P.T. Anderson's Inherent Vice; in that it more or less just provides opportunity for various thrills and spills. This orchestrated chaos happens to feature a henchmen who bares an uncanny resemblance to Sacha Baron Cohen, another who’s a dapper psycho (played by Matt Bomer no less) named for one of The Waltons; a Pam Griers-alike, Tally (Yaya DaCosta); a putty-mouthed Kim Basinger (reunited with Crowe, her L.A. Confidential costar); a giant talking bee; and Richard Nixon.

The Nice Guys is darkly comic, hilariously bloody noir in which bystanders take stray bullets and every neighbourhood kid’s a potential grifter. Cynical yet strangely good-natured, the film even has something vaguely resembling character arcs for both its leads. Unpredictable and scattershot, it certainly solves the case of what you should go see in the cinema come June 3rd.

The Nice Guys gets an 8 out of 10

Tuesday, 12 April 2016


After deciding not to commit any more time or words, written or otherwise, to analysing and dissecting Batman V Superman, I find comparisons to Zack Snyder’s crap-ton opus cropping up in the most unlikely of places – namely the work of a (once) genuinely visionary director. 

Knight of Cups is a film you could drown in – a vast thematic ocean lapping against the distant shore of some grand, obscure vision; and apparently I don’t have any swimming trunks. As a director-philosopher (or should that be philosopher-director?), Terrence Malick has always experimented with the medium, but his latest work seems to mark the crossing of a conceptual Rubicon. 

Where 2011’s Tree of Life – a genuine masterpiece – encapsulated the brevity and preciousness of human experience by juxtaposing the private grief of an All-American family in ‘50s Texas with the origins of the universe (over almost two and a half hours no less), Knight of Cups eschews such contrivances as plot and character almost entirely.

Following an itinerant screenwriter, Rick (Christian Bale), around Los Angeles and its surrounding environs, the film is directly engaged in a search for meaning and so diligently wades through meaninglessness. Malick’s camera drifts close behind the silently watchful Rick as he makes his way through lavish parties, down skid row, across desert flats, even via the Paramount backlot; switching occasionally to Rick’s POV as if to say, “This is you, you wanderer, you pilgrim.” 

Even an earthquake and a minor home invasion can’t shake our nomadic protagonist out of his reverie – or, Heaven forbid, prompt him to pick up a pen. Rick isn’t so much character as camera; the frame through which Malick unfurls this gauzy tapestry.

Less cinema than poetry told through images, Knight of Cups is replete with literary quotations – from The Pilgrim's Progress, from the apocryphal Hymn of the Pearl – but there is nothing at the centre of Malick's quest; no pearl, no progress, no common nucleus of human experience. There’s experience aplenty – kissing, running into the sea fully clothed, luminous body paint – Spring Break as high art – but no more significance to any of it than a handful of holiday snapshots. 

Repetition should lend meaning – a man cycling along a boulevard (different man, different boulevard) –  but these images provide no key in or out. The film’s ending, when it comes, arrives abruptly and without apparent foreshadowing.

Characters pass like ships in the light – Cate Blanchett as Rick’s physician ex-wife; Teresa Palmer as the “High Priestess” stripper; Rick’s bullish father (Brian Dennehy) and volatile brother (Wes Bentley).1 It’s clear by the level of talent – no fewer than four Oscar winners are involved onscreen and off – that Malick’s vision is alluring. 

Natalie Portman, who plays ‘Death’ AKA Elizabeth2 and attended Malick’s alma mater, Harvard, must have seen something in the fragmentary pages of script that, to my eye, certainly doesn’t survive . You’d never know of Malick’s practice of “torpedoing” — unexpectedly throwing cast members into scenes to force improvisation — because no real conflict reaches the surface.

Knight of Cups could play on a loop at a modern art installation without much loss.3 The patrons could pause momentarily to glean what they can from Emmanuel Lubezki’s radiant cinematography – bright, pale, and naturally lit, of course4 – or one of Malick’s cryptic snatches of voiceover – the rows of palm trees that line the L.A boulevards tell us, for instance, that anything’s possible – before simply moving on.5 

This is perhaps the only film that I wish they’d provided SparkNotes for going in; a handy how-to guide of reference points and symbolism. After almost two hours I almost, perversely, wished it would go on longer, just in the hope that it might all come together in one revelatory burst - alas.

In his review for The New York Times, Richard Brody described Knight of Cups in terms of “the confessional, the inside-Hollywood story, the Dantesque midlife-crisis drama, the religious quest, the romantic struggle, the sexual reverie, the family melodrama” – but, while all of these undercurrents are undoubtedly present, none of them have any hold. 

The film is all in the motion, like the breaking of waves; the journey rather than any single arrival or conversation. In this it resembles a 118-minute version of Sean Penn’s present-day perambulations in Tree of Life – reverently wandering between skyscrapers and riding in lifts as though travel were somehow the essence of meaning instead of a necessary transition between point A and point B.6  The film has so little actual structure to it, regardless of what the chapter headings proclaim, that just finding a rhythm to this review has, perhaps obviously, been challenging.7

Dealing with recurring themes in Malick’s work, like the death of a brother, this feels less like cinema than indulgence, therapy even, that, like Woody Allen and his recent travelogues – which are at least entertaining – is difficult to dismiss as navel-gazing simply because the navel in question is so remarkably well composed. Those few impressions that linger – the jaws of a dog, plunging futilely into a pool to recover a lost toy – endure only as curios; detached, adrift from that work that should encompass them.

Perversely, the film Knight of Cups most reminds me of is Batman V Superman - which, despite its subtitle, did justice to nothing and no one.8 Where that was too narrative-driven, this is slight; where that was too dark, all matte and gloss, this is light; where that was categorically shit, this is, well… wank. At least the former has the decency to be bad; this is just ephemeral.9 What films like BVS and KoC10 do, though, is make you appreciate tightly structured, disciplined cinema.11 

Knight of Cups is a film for which I've seen more than one positive review use words like "indecipherable" and "imponderable". Now, I can handle a certain amount of poetic obscurity,12 but, forgive me for being old-fashioned, I like my films to make sense.

One of Rick's myriad lovers – possibly Imogen Poots13 – informs him, "You're not looking for love. You're looking for a love experience." Knight of Cups is not a film but a cinematic experience; one that'll either sweep you away or leave you marooned, as it did me. 

The only reason I can't dismiss it out of hand is the lingering sense that maybe I missed something, that I was looking too closely (or else not closely enough) and the film's self-evident transcendence somehow got slipped between my bifocals. What was for me a tedious experience might well prove a transcendent one for you. Try as I did to engage, my latch was clearly broken. 

Ponderous and imponderable, and, like its protagonist, easily led, Knight of Cups gets a 4.0 out of 10 

1 Jason Clarke appears silently in one scene, presumably a victim of Malick’s legendary editing process.

2 Knight of Cups is divided into eight chapter, all named, as the film itself is, for tarot cards. After ‘Death’, fortunately, comes ‘Freedom’ – were it ‘Rebirth’ I might have been obliged to sit through the whole thing again.

3 The film is a canvas onto which you are almost obliged to project your own feelings, your own interpretations. Unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity to bum around the L.A. party scene with a bevy of beauties on my arm and a seemingly inexhaustible wallet; otherwise I may have found Rick’s evident satisfaction with his lot in life a bit more relatable.

4 What is it with Lubezki and films I don’t quite get on with (even if they are Best Picture winners)? I liked Gravity but didn’t adore it as much as American Hustle; Birdman was fun and superficially profound, but I didn't even end up reviewing it. As for The Revenant

5 Hanan Townshend's ethereal string score is certainly relentlessly buoying.

6 You can count the moments of actual “drama” in Knight of Cups on the fingers of one fist. At one point I think Wes Bentley actually throws something. It very nearly startled me awake.

7 Hence the footnotes you are currently reading. The main body is for you; these are more or less just to help me work through any extraneous thoughts.

8 And that’s my last word on it – I promise.

9 Tightly wound films like, say Whiplash, which I haven’t seen since October 2014 and loved so much on girst viewing that I’m afraid to open my BluRay copy in case it somehow tarnishes the memory.

10 Malick’s next film, shot back to back with Knight of Cups, is actually called Weightless, but it’s hard to imagine it can be less substantial than this.

11 Okay one more parting shot: BVS is very close to IBS and KoC is a similarlyinspired acronym.

12 Carol Morley's The Falling was one of my favourites of 2015; a film no less ambitious in its own way for its commitment to actually telling a story. 

13 It is actually Imogen Poots. She’s called Della in the film – at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me – but for all intents and purposes she’s Imogen Poots. Antonio Banderas is charming and dances. Blanchet brings both fragility and strength in a minor role whose character motivations are provided explicitly via voiceover. Bale just looks about fixedly, occasionally giving a dopy grin or knowing smirk. “Hollow” characters can be fascinating – just see Nightcrawler or Bale himself in American Psycho – but there’s not even any pretence here.