You Must Remember This

You Must Remember This

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


Here's my review of Thor: The Dark World over at A Place to Hang Your Cape:

Monday, 21 October 2013



Prison Break meets The Expendables. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger work together as a mumbling, droopy-eyed escape artist-cum-protagonist and a hulking, silver-haired Austrian crook - not much of a change apart from the professions. The high-tech panopticon in which they find themselves imprisoned is an impressive technical feat, though the eponymous escape plan is a fairly nuts-and-bolts affair. Occasionally conveniently placed monitors prevent otherwise observant guards from keeping an eye on more than one character simultaneously. Vinnie Jones appears as a generically sadistic prison guard; Jim Caviezel fares better as primary antagonist Warden Hobbs, indelibly chewing scenery with his incuriously menacing delivery. It's a treat just watching him pick lint off his suit. 50 Cent is weak as a genius computer hacker - the line "Sleepy-time, motherf***ker" becomes unintentionally hilarious in his hands - and Vincent D'Onofrio is wasted as Stallone's slimy employer. Sam Neill too deserves better as the prison's conscience-troubled physician. Lightly amusing and solidly put together by director Mikael Hafström. Serviceable. 5.5

Friday, 18 October 2013



12 Years a Slave is the tale of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejifor), a free black man and professional violinist in the mid 19th Century northeastern United States who, in 1841, was kidnapped and solid into slavery. We stay with Solomon over the course of those twelve years as he experiences kindness and degradation at the whims of his various masters.

The third film of Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave feels, from the off, like a more mature approach to "the problem" of slavery than either of its two most immediate predecessors. As Solomon, Ejiofor shows an intense reserve and dignity as a man who refuses to be beaten down by circumstance, even as he is forced to slave in the cane fields and, in one grueling moment, turn the overseer's whip on a fellow slave. 12 Years a Slave is shot with a matter-of-fact sort of poetry by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt: a shot of a sinuous caterpillar feasting on a cotton boll is not some overwrought existential statement but simply a fact of life, one of many that these men, good and bad alike, must face. 

Into the latter category fall Benedict Cumberbatch's Ford, a kindly Baptist preacher who views the ownership of his fellow man as a financial necessity, and Brad Pitt's Canadian workman, Samuel Bass, who calmly articulates the hypocrisy he sees going on around him. On the other side of the scales, we have Paul Dano's petty tyrant Tibeats, tormenting the slaves with song, and, most prominently, three-time McQueen collaborator Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, Solomon's final and most wicked owner. Fassbender is magnetically depraved in the role, self-loathing and explosively violent, citing Scripture to sanction his abuses even as he "carries on" with slave-girl Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o). The torment he inflicts upon the helpless Patsy, so wretched and unending she begs Solomon to end her life, denies us the unambiguously happy ending of Solomon's freedom.

It's true there's no real moral ambiguity to the text of 12 Years a Slave - Paul Giamatti's auctioneer, for instance, is an uncomplex purveyor of human flesh - but slavery is hardly a topic to provoke great moral debate and, compared at least to Lincoln and Django Unchained, this is still nuanced stuff. Simple and profound, 12 Years a Slave doesn't patronize or seek to redress the injustices of slavery, which suggests, at last, a type of cinematic maturity that even Spielberg's Amistad - perhaps the best film on slavery to date - never quite achieved. Garret Dilahunt, Michael K. Williams, Scott McNairy, and Sarah Paulson round out the cast.

The highlight of the London Film Festival so far and the penultimate film I'll be attending, 12 Years a Slave is definitely a five star film.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


Breaking Bad (Robert Wallis): 


I'm a fan of both Breaking Bad and The Sopranos (who’d-a thought it?), but while the former was certainly television of the highest caliber – it went a long way towards redefining the gangster genre – only one of them provided a true must-watch, edge-of-your-seat experience, and that was Breaking Bad. 

While Nicholas would doubtless argue that this is a sign of the show’s middlebrow aspirations, I would argue that it speaks of Breaking Bad’s accessibility, its ability to entertain on any level you choose to access it. Some people may have watched for the thrills, the prospect of Walter White doing bad-ass things; others, like myself, chose to watch for the dramatic and thematic ripples that came from Walt’s transformation, its impact on his loved ones and the world at large. 

Breaking Bad is, simply put, iconic, sui generis TV, focused and intense, with, perhaps, the strongest character arc ever committed to the cinematic arts – a statement I will do my best to build a case for over the course of the coming essay. The Sopranos has a pre-existing legacy as all-time great TV, up there with The Wire, but Breaking Bad, upstart though it may be – for one thing, it didn’t appear on HBO – is just as much a claimant to the throne.  

Though the hype currently surrounding it may make it difficult to take an objective view, Breaking Bad is so good because it was, at its heart, a show about a man battling against death, against failure, and that has to be, at least, more universal than a paunchy New Jersey mob boss suffering panic attacks (magnificent though James Gandolfini’s performance was).

Both Breaking Bad and The Sopranos are morality plays to one extent or another, but only Breaking Bad truly engages with the grand themes of good and evil. The Sopranos may be broader in scope, but for Tony Soprano it’s always just about business: while The Sopranos’ “hero” doesn’t change in any fundamental way – he can’t, it’s crucial to the show’s premise – Walter White’s story is all about change, about man’s attempt to shape his destiny, however misguided it might be. 

Breaking Bad was chemically pure with no adulterants, much like Walter’s product itself.  It simply can't be beat.

The Sopranos (Nicholas Hearst):


Only moments ago I finished re-watching the entirety of David Chase’ magnum opus The Sopranos and I can safely say that it remains to this day the greatest TV series ever made. (Diplomacy be damned)

Over the coming weeks Robert and I will go head to head in an effort to put to bed one of the most pressing and divisive questions to plague the developed world since Coca Cola fans were first confronted with Pepsi: Sopranos or Breaking Bad? As far as I am concerned there is simply no comparison.  Admittedly, Breaking Bad is a brilliant show, it thrived, and justifiably so, on the basis of its consistently audacious and innovative approach to everything from storytelling to cinematography… but it’s no Sopranos.

The Sopranos set the standard by which all quality television series are compared to today. Its success spearheaded a cultural revolution no less important than the one that swept the American film industry in the late 60s and early 70s; a period defined by the ascension of auteur directors like Robert Altman, Francis Ford Copolla and Martin Scorcese.  Without Sopranos the landscape of American television wouldn’t be the same today – in other words, no Deadwood, no Wire, no Mad Men, no Game of Thrones, no Six Feet Under, no Shield, no Boardwalk Empire and certainly no Breaking Bad.

The Sopranos developed a template for television drama that broadened the artistic horizons of the medium exponentially.  Tidy resolutions and linear morality quickly became a tell-tale sign of mediocrity in the wake of a show as complex, intelligent and subtle as The Sopranos. Week after week, audiences were confronted with a challenging vision of Bush-era New Jersey, told through the eyes of one Tony Soprano, a duck-feeding, robe-adorning, existential-angst-ridden patriarch-cum-mob boss, who found himself flanked on all sides by every kind of obstacle ranging from the criminal to the familial. It’s a show that managed to find a perfect balance between tragedy and realism, humour and poignancy, all the while maintaining its own unique voice and visual style.

It remains peerless in this regard and I hope ensuing contributions to this blogathon can come close to reflecting its genuine supremacy over that other series.

With that in mind, let the battle commence… 

WARNING: Future installments may include spoilers..

Monday, 14 October 2013


The Coen Brothers might have delved into spiritual music before in O Brother, Where Art Thou, their myth-inspired take on the Depression-era American Deep South, but Inside Llewyn Davis is a far more focused piece of cinema, if never quite as colorful as its predecessor.

At the very least, it seems likely to make a star of Oscar Isaac, a Guatemalan-Cuban character actor, likely best known as Standard Gabriel, love rival of Ryan Gosling in Drive. Here he plays the eponymous Llewyn, a guitarist with an Italian complexion, a Welsh name and quite the soulful set of pipes. We follow him through the pre-Bob Dylan folk scene as he stumbles from one Greenwich Village couch to the next in his quest for the elusive record contract or at least enough cash to see him through the the winter of 1961. There's also a ginger tabby cat called Ulysses - go figure.

In tone, Inside Llewyn Davis is downbeat, melancholy even, its humor more leavening than in the broad, folksy O Brother. With its total focus on the journey of a single troubled protagonist, its most comparable to, perhaps, A Serious Man, though Llewyn is less of a nebbish than an asshole. He's slept with - and gotten pregnant - the prickly, pissed-off Jean (Drive co-star Carey Mulligan), wife of his friend Jim (an incredulously earnest, sweater-wearing Justin Timberlake). The cinematography, by first time Coen collaborator Bruno Delbonnel - Roger Deakins was apparently busy on Skyfall - is moody, washed-out, drawing out the hopeless quality of Llewyn's situation.

Garrett Hedlund appears as a incomprehensible beat poet-cum-chauffeur, a minor casting coup presumably inspired by his role as Dean Moriarty in last years' On the Road adap, and frequent Coen muse John Goodman his passenger, a garish, dyspeptic devil. Despite these charming engagements along the way, Inside Llewyn Davis main draw is in its soundtrack: the whole cast get in on the act, but it's Isaac's performance of Shaken by a Low Sound, the encore especially, that proves the revelation. The haunting anguish he draws out of every line - "Hang me, oh hang, I'll be dead and gone / It's not the hanging that I mind, it's the laying in the grave so long" - truly transfixes.

Inside Llewyn Davis may have the "man on a quest" element of O Brother, but, whereas Ulysses McGill and his ilk are bound for wealth, they hope, Llewyn's journey is of a less tangible kind. On his way he'll run across a young servicemen on leave from Germany (everyone keeps asking him if he knows Private Presley), take a beating, maybe two, visit his ailing father, and, if he gets lucky, he might, just might, get music manager Bud Grossman to listen to his record (F. Murray Abraham in a step up from Dead Man Down). A meditation on the worlds' misfits and their hard-won truths, Inside Llewyn Davis is certainly Coenesque but also something uniquely all its own.

Inside Llewyn Davis isn't due to hit UK screens till the end of January, but the soundtrack, at least, is due out to November 11th - I already have mine on pre-order. If you're willing to take my recommendation on faith, it could well be worth a purchase. In any case, give this a listen.


Sunday, 13 October 2013


As part of my first London Film Festival experience - I somehow managed to blag myself a press pass* - I spent half a day at the Shaftesbury Avenue Cineworld.

In that time I saw two films: Terry Gilliam's new feature, Zero Theorem, starring Christoph Waltz, and The Double, written and directed by Richard Ayoade, and starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska. A double dose of black holes and doppelgangers in two separate servings, here are my twin reviews at less than 200 words apiece.

*I actually got the pass through my former school, but "blag" sounds so much more adventurous.


Terry Gilliam’s first film since the ill-fated, but enjoyable Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Zero Theorem showcases the former Python animator’s uniquely discordant worldview, as well as confirming Christoph Waltz as the supreme director’s resource. The bald-headed, hunched-over, strangely grotesque Qohen is light years away from the smooth Hans Landa or charming Schultz – we first see him naked and fetal, orbiting the mouth of a star-guzzling black hole. Set in a vaguely satirical dystopia – Qohen is followed down the street by cajoling advertisements – there are definite parallels with Gilliam’s previous work. There are the same officious caricatures – substitute a twitchy, beleaguered David Thewlis’ for Michael Palin’s smiley sociopath in Brazil – and similar themes – Qohen’s sensual cyber-space liaisons with Mèlanie Thierry’s Manic Pixie Call Girl pose whether fantasy can overcome existential angst ala The Fisher King – but Zero Theorem is simply over-packed. Bursting with ideas and talent – Ben Whishaw, Peter Stormare, Sanjeev Bhaskar and a barely recognizable Tilda Swinton all make appearances – Zero Theorem is just not quite magical enough. Still, with a less scattershot approach and more coherence, latter-years Gilliam might yet reclaim his crown as the king of imaginative, surrealist SF/fantasy.  



The Double, the second film of Richard Ayoade – whose first, Submarine, accrued a BAFTA nom for Outstanding Debut – might not receive enough mainstream exposure to completely revamp his image as Moss from The IT Crowd, but as far as offbeat, art-house adaptations of Dostoyevsky novellas go, it’s a cracker. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Simon James, a lonely, hardworking and underappreciated office drone. He may spy on his neighbor, Hannah – a radiantly normal Mia Wasikowska – with a telescope, but Eisenberg’s wistful expressiveness avoids overt creepiness. Then his doppelganger, a man named James Simon, turns up at Simon's place of work: confident, commanding, a conman, seducer, James is everything he's not. Even side-by-side, identically dressed, Eisenberg’s slight, studied smirk as James Simon sets him apart from the shy, downcast original. As the twin proceeds to take over his life, Simon is forced, against type, to either fight for or surrender it. Subtle, enthralling, and beautifully – if nightmarishly – shot, The Double develops its central Freudian trope magnificently. With cameos by Submarine’s Craig Roberts and the elusive Chris Morris, it also works both as a psychological drama and studied comedy of Kafkaesque frustration. 



Friday, 11 October 2013


I wrote a piece a while back on how Alfonso Cuarón showed signs of becoming one of the 21st Century’s foremost directors of science fiction, up there with Duncan Jones, Neill Blomkamp, and Shane Carruth, just on the strength of 2006’s Children of Men. Now, seven years on, anticipation has been stratospheric surrounding Cuarón’s return to the genre with Gravity, a cotton-mouthed journey into the near reaches of space and the desperate attempts of two astronauts to make it back. It also happens to be Cuarón’s first film since Children of Men, and, based on the technical prowess gravity displays, it seems every second of the intervening period has made its mark on the screen. 

Sandra Bullock – who, lest we forget, won the Oscar for Best Actress for The Blind Side – plays the severely named Dr. Ryan Stone, a biomedical engineer and Mission Specialist on her space walk. Accompanying her is the charming and garrulous Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney, who won an Best Supporting Oscar for Syriana back in 2005 but criminally missed out on a Best Actor for Up in the Air in favor of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. Anyway, things go wrong, as well they must: the Hubble Space Telescope, which Stone and Kowalski are in the process of servicing, is blasted with space debris, which killers their engineer and sends Stone spinning off into the void of space with Kowalski swooping in on a jetpack chair to save her.

All of this happens in the first 15 minutes, however, with the majority of Gravity's runtime concerning the survivor’s struggles to make it back to Earth. Technically stunning, NASA praised the film for its realism in depicting the procedures involved in space travel, but it’s the photo-realism of the special effects that most compelled my attention. As Cuarón’s camera swoops through space or cuts in close within Stone’s helmet to gauge her terrified reaction, the impression is one of total, perilous freedom: if you thought Sam Rockwell seemed isolated in Moon,  even at 1/500th of the distance, Gravity feels all the more deserted. The plot, however, is nevertheless fairly basic.

Ultimately, Gravity conforms to a pretty standard mission-driven storyline; after all, Stone and Kowalski’s one goal is to get home, by any means necessary. Clooney is his usual likeable self, though Bullock’s protagonist is more of a cipher: we understand where she comes from, even where she lives – Lake Zurich in Illinois – but who she is with her (space) boots off, beyond being vulnerable and subdued, is left unexplored. Thematically, Gravity is about the need to immerse one’s self in life – after all, if you’re not going to take part in the human experience you might as well be in orbit, amirite? There are definite, perhaps slightly ironic touches of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the film’s treatment of Stone’s reconnecting with humanity, especially in the final shot.

Gravity was praised by James Cameron as “the best space film ever done”, and, while I believe that particular accolade belongs to Kubrick, it certainly feels, in some regards, like a more worthy prequel to the Alien franchise. The devastation the space debris wreaks leads to body horror rivalling the original chestburster scene for memorability. When Stone and Kowalski peer into a break in the side of the space shuttle to check for survivors, it brings to mind the famous jump moment from Jaws: at any moment you expect Ben Gardner’s head to come rolling out. Gravity is best when at its most tense.

Verdict: Universally adored by the critics and already in the black just a week after release, Gravity has proven something of a phenomenon. A white-knuckle ride of a film – Kowalski barking instructions at Stone through her helmet brought to mind more than one Disney attraction – the film may bear more resemblance to Ron Howard's Apollo 13, or, in one development, Mission to Mars, than the definitive space film, 2001, but its nevertheless a unique cinematic experience, if not a uniformly great film. Cuarón’s direction is superlative and Steven Price’s score gets under your skin. A breathtaking portrayal of human frailty against the vacuum of space – opening text reminds us that ‘Life in space is impossible’… – and survival against impossible odds, in spite of my reservations, Gravity demands an 8.5/10. Also - and this may be the first and last time you hear me say this - see it in 3D.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


A meditative, black-and-white exploration about growing up, growing old, and accepting life’s defeats. Middle-of-the-road bachelor David Grant (Will Forte) takes his indolent, cantankerous father on a road trip to collect on a junk-mail flyer for a million dollars. David does it in the hope that Woody (Bruce Dern) will stop wandering down the highway; Woody, meanwhile, longs inexplicably to buy a truck with the proceeds. On the way, they’ll stop off with family, scavenging after some of Woody’s non-existent new-found riches, and try to rebuild a relationship built on mutual resentment. A gentle elegy to the humdrum beauty of the American Midwest, Alexander Payne’s direction is gentle and insightful; Kate Grant as crotchety, apple-faced wife/mother Kate and Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk's “go-getter” older brother round out the cast. Dern’s performance netted him Best Actor at Cannes: passive yet expressive, stubborn and scowl-y, the image that seems likely to stay with you is Woody trudging slowly down that motorway, desperate to recapture a sense of agency. The film takes its time and showcases few outright revelations, but as a slower-paced, more naturalistic About Schmidt, Nebraska is a quietly touching and bittersweet. 7/10

Sunday, 6 October 2013


The gold standard for Irvine Welsh adaptations is undoubtedly still Trainspotting, made back in the midst of the Britpop era (1996). Since there have been two further attempts to bring his works to the bring screen - The Acid House and the explicitly titled Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy - but, as with Chuck Palahuik and Fight Club, no one's been able to recapture the magic. Filth, at least, comes close.

The second film of director Jon S. Baird, a filmmaker so little-known he doesn't even rate his own page on Wikipedia, Filth follows the machinations of Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) of the Edinburgh constabulary as he works his way up the slippery rungs of the ladder towards promotion. The rungs are greased with sex, drugs, booze, and chip dinners.

Aside from recapturing Irvine's droll, profane humor - Robertson's asides are an especial treat - but it's McAvoy's barnstorming performance that drives the film. Foul-mouthed and self-aggrandizing, Robertson would be a hard man to like were he not quite so engaging. However, though Bruce may see himself as a modern-day Macbeth, he's little more than a pathetic, broken man.

Between queasy grins and maniacal laughter, McAvoy manages to wring the pathos out of Robertson as he falls ever further into degradation: a scene where Bruce desperately attempts self abuse during an obscene phone call as his victim laughs at him is particularly harrowing. The film certainly lives up to its title in this regard - suffice to say, you'll walk out feeling more than a little sordid.


Though McAvoy may be the headliner, there's solid support from an eclectic cast including Jamie Bell's charlie-loving copper Ray and Eddie Marsan as the speccy, savannah-obsessed "best mate". They're very much types, ineptly maneuvered chess pieces on Robertson's path to success (to throw in a few more advancement metaphors), but their presence certainly helps bring Filth to life.

The presence of Dr. Rossi (Jim Broadbent), however, a psychiatrist who becomes an imp of Robertson's psyche, serves mostly to provide hallucinatory exposition on Bruce's tragic past, but neatly exposes the film's subtext: beneath all the success, Filth is about a man who embraces all the nastiness the world has to offer as a refuge against deep and inescapable emotional pain.

DS Bruce Robertson is such a magnificent train wreck of a character, it's no surprise that Filth, like him, goes off the rails in the third act. As his personality disintegrates so does the film that showcases it. Strangely enough, in this regard Filth resembles Blue Jasmine, which featured a similarly devastating performance from Cate Blanchett, albeit without all the snorting and romping.

John Sessions also stars as Toal, Roberton's traditionalist boss, out of his depth in this new PC world, with Brian McArdle, Gary Lewis, Emun Elliott and Imogen Poots as Bruce's contenders for promotion, while Shauna MacDonald plays the missus and Joanne Froggatt the would-be light at the end of the tunnel. Even so, this is very much Bruce's story.

Verdict: Unruly and unpredictable, vivid and bizarre, Filth can be overwhelming, but its nevertheless deeply funny, occasionally touching, and well worth subjecting yourself to. McAvoy turns in the film's title role without vanity, revealing Bruce's humanity beneath the monstrous shell. Let's see if Dom Hemingway can do the same for Jude Law.


Thursday, 3 October 2013


 Cate Blanchett goes Blanche Dubois in contemporary San Francisco. A fragile, nervy Southern Belle, her performance seems to have been lifted wholesale from her 2008 appearance in Streetcar – and it’s cracking. Assured Oscar nom. A riches to rags tale, Woody Allen’s direction is crisp and the script otherwise focuses on endearing character sketches: Sally Hawkins’ cheery Ginger, Bobby Cannavale’s greaseball Chili, Alec Baldwin as Jasmine’s charming conman ex. A light tragedy run through with comedy – Louis CK appears as the nice guy anti-Chili – it’s not quite Tennesse Williams (though the jazz certainly makes an appearance), but the inspiration Allen draws from theater shows no sign of drying up. 8/10.