Monday, 28 February 2011

Oscars 2011 - Winners

Here are this years Oscar winners and, in brackets, my choices from the list of nominees;

Best Film - The Kings Speech (Winters Bone)

Best Actor - Colin Firth (Javier Bardem)

Best Actress - Natalie Portman (Jennifer Lawrence)

Director - Tom Hooper (David Fincher)

Actor in a Supporting Role - Christian Bale (John Hawkes)

Actress in a Supporting Role - Melissa Leo (Melissa Leo)

Adapted Screenplay - The Social Network (The Social Network)

Original Screenplay - The Kings Speech (The Fighter)

Foreign Language Film - In a Better World (Biutiful)

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Never Let Me Go - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 24/2/11

"Never Let Me Go" is, genuinely, thought provoking moving.

Moral, philosophical and ethical questions like; what does it mean to be human? What is a soul?  Is cloning inevitable?  Is there any price that isn't worth paying to extend human life?  Is it ever justifiable for society to sanction the killing of another human?

These are serious questions that deserve to be given serious thought and consideration.

Kazuo Ishigiro is a writer skilled enough and human enough to be able to handle these questions with the requisite sensitivity and honesty.  We should be thankful that there is a writer like him.  He may well be the greatest living author; that's not a question for an oaf like me to even attempt to answer.

Thanks to the power of Ishigiros writing and the work of the gifted Alex Garland in adapting the novel for the screen it isn't possible to view this film without being left moved by the story, the themes and the questions being asked of you.  

The characters of Cathy H, Tommy and Ruth are three dimensional on the page and are reduced to sugar coated puffs of air on screen.  That isn't because the writing isn't good...Garland has done a fine job with the script.  It isn't the fault of the director, Mark Romanek, he is a talented director...just one look at the deliciously dark "One Hour Photo" should prove that (he also directed Morrissey in "The More You Ignore Me..." so he is faultless for me!).

Where then does the fault lie?

How can it be that with such credible source material, adaptation from a gifted writer and direction from a genuine talent that "Never Let Me Go" is never convincing, that it falls flat, that it fails to connect with its audience?

The problem lies in the casting.

People say it is easy to have a go at Keira Knightley, that she is an "easy" target, that it's just lazy to attack her on the page...the reason for that is that she is unique.  Unlike every other actor or actress currently working who are more than capable of giving bad performances that make you question their ability, Knightley NEVER gives a good performance that makes you more kindly disposed towards the myriad awful performances.  She is, quite simply, a terrible performer.

She conveys none of the emotional depth required of her character and, at times, the character is so under-developed as to appear even thinner than the ghostly Knightley herself.  Honestly.  At times it is painful to watch and listen to her.  She is beyond hammy, she is stiffer than wooden and she is more shallow than a swimming pool filled with one tear.  She is where she is by virtue of her own unfathomable self-belief...this is a person, lest we forget, who demanded an agent at the age of three.  She is the stage school brat who has made it only because of who her parents are and who they know.

As "Ruth" she is meant to be a woman possessed by a desperate desire to live, who will stop at nothing to achieve a few years more on earth, who is beastly enough to rob a friend of happiness in pursuit of her own the hands of Knightley this becomes simply another performance of a posh, simpering girl being posh and simpering.

Her doppelganger Carey Mulligan manages to spend the entire duration of the film with only one expression on her face.  It never changes.  Ever.  Happy?  Sad?  Desperate?  Angry?  Lustful?  Same face.  I want to believe that this is because Mulligan is playing a clone and that she has decided to strip her character of emotion in order to suggest that something less than human may lie at her core...but I really don't think so.  I think that she is, like her dear friend Kiera, not a very good actress.  Do you know who she starred alongside in her first major role?  Hmmm?  You at the back?  That's right, well done, Keira Knightley.  Incest?  The game the whole family can play.

Andrew Garfield transforms the character of Tommy from a complex, anxious, angry and desirable man into Dustin Hoffmans "Rain Man" thus rendering the desire felt for him by both Ruth and Cathy H utterly unbelievable.  He is all ticks, twitches and's a performance that makes you think that his casting as the next "Spiderman" may well see the worlds first autistic superhero hit the multiplexes.

I know, I want the plot and a review of the film but trust don't need it.  You just need to be warned about this unholy trinity of talentless but privileged non-entities taking a film that could have been something remarkable and instead making it the sort of luvvy fest that makes the British film industry look ridiculous on the world stage.  Just look at Rinko Kikuchi in "Norwegian Wood" in a few weeks and see what a genuinely talented actress can do with a script and great source material and then look at what Mulliknight have managed to do and tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, 25 February 2011

GFF 2011 - Cell 211

"Cell 211" is the second great Spanish film I've seen this year.

The first, of course, was "Biutiful" with its towering central performance from Javier Bardem.

"Cell 211" is tense, violent, shocking and built on a genuinely thrilling premise.

Juan Oliver arrives one day early to start his new job as a prison guard.  On his tour of the prison he finds himself falling foul of some loose masonry that knocks him unconscious at exactly the same moment as a riot breaks out.  His two companions, unable to carry him to safety, leave him inside cell 211 and make their escape.  Dressed still in his non-work clothes Juan comes to and sets about convincing the prisoners that he is one of them.

Simple but brilliantly so.

As the story unfolds Juan is dragged deeper and deeper into the world of the prisoners and further and further away from who he was at the start of the day.  Forced to make difficult decisions from the very start  he finds those decisions easier and easier by the films end.

Their are two key relationships in Juans life; the first is with his pregnant wife and the second is with the prisons "top dog" and resident psychopath Malamadre.  At home, with the beautiful Elena, Juan is shown as a gentle, loving, tender man who loves his wife so much that he is prepared to take on board the dangerous job of prison guard.  He bemoans his lack of education and can't understand why a woman like her would choose to be with him.  It is this very self-doubt and humility that he must cast aside in order to bond with Malamadre.

Malamadre is dangerous.  A man without any meaningful family ties and with no hope of release he, literally, has nothing to lose.  Life, even his own, is cheap and all that concerns him is the world of the prison and his dominant position within it.  Surrounded by goons and lunatics he is the dark heart of the prison.  He is also possessed of a native intelligence that makes him even more threatening...he may be unable to read and write but he can smell danger and is prepared to do things seemingly normal people, like Juan, would never even dream of.

On their first meeting Juan is forced to strip naked in front of a group of baying prisoners in order to prove that he is not wearing a wire.  With this simple test out of the way Juan proves himself to be a useful tool in the riot by suggesting that they keep one of the CCTV cameras intact in order to be able to control what the guards see and to facilitate negotiation.  Of course, at this point, Juan is acting out of self interest and self preservation...he knows that without the eyes of his colleagues monitoring him he is more vulnerable.

An interesting political dimension is introduced at this point as three ETA terrorists are revealed as inmates.  They are valuable bargaining chips for Malamadre and his cohorts.  Knowing that the powers that be will never risk the terrorists being killed for fear of reprisals the upper hand lies with the prisoners.  The soft voice of Juan helps guide Malamadre in this direction but again it is in order to protect himself and not to help the prisoners.

As the riot enters a lull news of it breaks amongst the general population and soon relatives have gathered at the prison gates demanding news of their loved ones behind bars.  Among them is Juans wife, Elena, who finds herself caught up in a mini-riot and being bludgeoned by a prison guard sent to break up the horde.  Caught on TV and soon relayed to Juan inside the prison the film takes a step towards its conclusion and to the conversion of Juan from wrong man in the wrong place to the right man in the right place.  His transformation is a remarkable thing to watch.

This is the sort of plot driven, original and exciting film that the British film industry seems reluctant, or incapable, of making (outside of Shane Meadows).  Football hooligans, Lahn-dahn gangsters, rom-coms and Richard Curtis movies regularly fill up the multiplexes before moving on to fill up the bargain bins in Blockbuster but something as good as "Cell 211" may well find a limited, art-house, release only and never even make it onto the shelves of any rental/purchase outlet.  Like last years "A Congregation of Ghosts" (a British film that was similarly driven by originality and plot) "Cell 211" may escape the audience that exists for it...that would be criminal.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

GFF 2011 - Of Love and Other Demons

Passion, desire, obsession, love, life, death, religion, faith and family...what more are you looking for in a film?

Based on the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez the basic story is of Sierva, daughter of Spanish nobility, living in a South American seaport and being raised by servants as her father attends to his affairs and her ailing mother lies physically and mentally exhausted in her chambers.  During a visit to the local market Sierva is bitten by a rabid dog and is sent to a local convent by the Bishop of the diocese as he fears that rabies is simply the devils means of entering a body.

The Bishop assigns a young priest, Father Delaura, to oversee the girls "treatment".  During the course of his visits with Sierva Delaura becomes obsessed by the beautiful young girl; haunted by visions of her he is unable to seperate his dreams from reality.  His devotion to God is replaced by his desire for the girl.

The clash of cultures between the locals, with whom Sierva relates, and the Catholic Church is played out against a backdrop of ritual, superstition, nature, science, repression and guilt.  All of this is encapsulated in the increasingly dangerous relationship between Delaura and Sierva.  The latter is played brilliantly by Eliza Triana in her film debut.  She beautifully captures the innocence and blossoming sexuality of the adolescent girl.  Her flowing red hair acting as a warning to those who fall under her spell and yet it also serves as a reminder of her innocence as she has vowed never to cut her hair until marriage.  Delaura is played by Pablo Derqui and like Father Karras in "The Exoricist" he is a bundle of conflicting desires; to serve God, to advance the Church from the dark ages and yet filled with a longing for Sierva that he is unable to control.

First time director Hilda Hidalgo also adopted the novel by Marquez and has created a beautiful film, rich in colour, filled with passion and containing many memorable scenes.  The success of the book should ensure an audience for this film and, with luck, that will happen before the inevitable Hollywood remake with Sierva now a 21 year old college girl who is pursued by a handsome young theology student...don't laugh, it could happen.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Glasgow Film Festival...Begins!

It's he-ere!

The GFF begins this weekend and for those of you who are based in Scotland I BEG you to get along to see something...anything...from a collection of films that genuinely provides something for everyone.

The GFF is now the third biggest film festival in Britain (I wouldn't bet against it overtaking the EIFF within three years) and remains customer centred and not industry obsessed.  As an Edinburgh boy I have a deep connection with the EIFF but, much as it might pain me, the GFF offers an experience that isn't easily beat...despite the huge range of films and activities on offer it still manages to feel intimate and cosy.

I'll be taking in as many films as I can over the next three days before the demands of work will force me into returning to Edinburgh but I hope that some of you manage to do the same thing over the course of the festival.

Visit the official site here and buy some won't regret it.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A Sense of Freedom - Filmhouse - 15/2/11

Screening as part of a short series of films about the representation of gangs in film this made for TV movie tells the story of infamous Glasgow gangster Jimmy Boyle; money lender, murderer and Scotlands most dangerous man for many years but also a man who found redemption in art.

The film delivers plenty of emotional punch and shocks with violence and scatalogical behaviour taking up much of the running time.  Even now some thirty years after its release the film manages to be difficult viewing at times, most especially during the prison scenes where Boyles own brutality is matched by the prison guards.  It's an old story...Glasgow is, notoriously, "no mean city" and one that has a long history of hard men but it is Boyles transformation from bad boy to establishment figure that sets him apart.

It isn't possible to watch "A Sense of Freedom" without asking questions about Boyle, the prison system and the type of society that creates a person capable of some of the things Boyle has done.  Nature versus nurture...was Boyle born bad?  Is he/was he evil?  Who or what was to blame?  Is it possible for a man like him to change?

Boyles name and his success as a writer and artist is enough to have some people foaming at the mouth...they are enraged by his new life and fame but surely he is the embodiment of what society claims to want; for people to become better, to change and to take a different path.

The role of Boyle is played by David Hayman who manages to convey a sense of danger whenever he is on screen and his hatred of the guards inside the various prisons he is detained in is worryingly realistic.  His ability to go from the life and soul of the party with his gangland chums to a screaming, ranting, shit flinging psychopath is a terrifying thing to watch.  Alongside a who's who of other Scottish stage and screen luminaries the film manages to give a sense of what Boyles life was like inside prison and how terrifying it must have been to be around him.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

True Grit - Cineworld Edinburgh - 15/2/11

Have you seen this yet?



My advice would be...don't.

It's not very good.


I know you will have read reviews from "real" journalists who have ranted and raved about this but I promise you...they are lying.  Either they are laboring under the weight of their memories of the original or they have received a goody bag from the PR bods that was so wonderful that it would be rude to do anything other than give a glowing review.

I haven't seen the original and PR companies don't give me any freebies so I can give it to you straight.

This was yet another awful film from the Coen Brothers that can sit proudly alongside "Burn After Reading", "A Serious Man", "Tuileries" (from "Paris J'Taime"), "The Ladykillers", "Intolerable Cruelty", "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "The Hudsucker Proxy" (a film so awful that some people have convinced themselves it must be's not).

With each film that passes it looks more and more likely that the Coens are lucky as opposed to talented...sometimes what they conjure up works brilliantly but more often than not the whole thing is amateurish at best and dreadful at worst.

"True Grit" should have been brilliant.

A great story.

Like "No Country For Old Men" it is a Western revenge thriller.

Jeff Bridges.

Matt Damon.

An Oscar winning original film as a template.

A pulp novel much loved by people who like that sort of thing as the source.

Sadly all of that counts for nothing as messy editing, ridiculously over the top performances and a delivery from Bridges that is, literally, impossible to understand all combine to leave you with the cinematic equivalent of finding out that the beautiful girl you are meeting from the online dating service has used a photograph from ten years and four stone ago as her profile pic.  Disappointed, frustrated and yearning for what could have been.

Monday, 14 February 2011

BAFTA 2011

"The Kings Speech" won everything.

Who would have guessed?

I haven't seen it and I don't intend to see it so if you are interested you need to see it for yourself or read any one of the hundreds of positive reviews for a film that features dozens of posh luvvies playing even posher people in fancy costumes.

I went to see "The Mechanic" instead.

The Mechanic - Cineworld Edinburgh - 13/2/11

Expensive designer watches? Check.

Impossibly beautiful women? Check.

Very fast cars?  Check.

Naughty sex scenes?  Check.

Shot of "The Stath" without his shirt on?  Check.

Very high body count?  Check.

A script that nobody really cares about?  Check.'s another Jason Statham movie.

There isn't anything else to say.

The plot?



Jason kills people for a living.

He has to kill his own mentor.

It turns out he didn't have to kill his own mentor.

He takes revenge by killing the man who had him kill his own mentor.

He trains his own mentors son.

He then kills his own mentors son.

He lives happily ever after.


Don't Look Now - DVD - 11/2/11

You may remember at the start of the year I confessed that I hadn't seen "Taxi Driver".

Now I have to admit that I hadn't ever seen "Don't Look Now".

I can hear you you know.

"Calls himself a film buff, ha!"

Look, it's not my fault.

I can't find time to see everything.

While "real" film journalists and critics are busy writing up lengthy essays on the new wave of new wave of new Spanish film or discussing the relative merits of Polish post-modern cinema I was out there watching "Megamind" and interviewing Alex Zane.

You tell me which side has more value.


Oh, shut up.

In director Nic Roegs adaptation of Daphne Du Mauriers story we are taken into a dark, twisted, demented, hallucinatory and bizarre world where nothing is as it seems and everything must be treated with suspicion.

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are the parents of a child who dies when she falls into the pond in their garden and drowns.  Their grief and desire to leave it behind takes them to Venice where Sutherland works for the Catholic Church as the supervising architect on a restoration project on a chapel.  While there Christie is confronted by a blind psychic who tells her that their child is happy on the "other side" and at the same time Sutherland is haunted by visions of a child in a red coat in the alleys of Venice...exactly the clothing that their child was wearing when she drowned.

The film is soaked in red, from the childs red plastic mac to the red coat of the figure haunting Sutherland.  There is not a scene where the colour red is not found, clothing, posters, shop signs, wine, paint...without their ever being any blood on screen it is impossible not to see blood everywhere.  Is it symbolic of the death of their child and the fact that they cannot escape it or a sign that life continues?

As important is the fact that the film is also drenched in water.  From the pond where the little girl drowns to the canals of Venice.  Does it offer evidence of the parents being washed clean of their sin in not supervising their child or is it a reminder that death is all around us?

Reflections, reflective surfaces and mirrors are also everywhere...pointing at a life after this one or a parallel world?  "Don't Look Now" is not a simple or straightforward film, it is complex and unsettling despite its relatively simple storyline.  It is a horror film that credits its audience with greater intelligence than most in that genre and is another example of why many believe the 1970's to have been the decade when cinema was at its peak.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Worlds Greatest Dad - DVD - 6/2/11

As you read these words you can feel your eye lids becoming heavy.

With each passing sentence it becomes more and more difficult to keep your eyes open.

You are feeling very sleepy now.

Very sleepy.



Now you are under my spell and as you read these words (I know you're sleeping but just play along will you?) you will obey my instructions.

You will forget the following films;


"Fern Gully The Last Rain Forest"

"Being Human"

"Nine Months"


"The Bird Cage"


"Fathers Day"


"What Dreams May Come"

"Patch Adams"

"Bi-Centennial Man"

"AI: Artificial Intelligence"

"Man of the Year"

"Night at the Museum"

"License to Wed"


None of those films have ever been made.

You have no memory of them.

No memory.

When I command it you will awake from this slumber with the Robin Williams part of your memory extending only as far as "Dead Poets Society", "Insomnia", "One Hour Photo" and "Good Will Hunting"; you will not remember anything else...except "Mork and Mindy" because that was a lot of fun when you were a kid.

I will now type back from five and when I reach one you will be awake with a mind that only knows of Robin Williams as a stand up comedian turned actor who has made some excellent and very dark films. have no memory even of "Mrs Doubtfire"

Four...there goes "Good Morning Vietnam"

Three...not even "Aladdin" remains love Robin Williams


This film from Bobcat Goldthwait features yet another amazing performance from Robin Williams; an actor who has proven time and again that he has an ability to select only projects of the highest quality.  Not for him the career lows that so many other actors appear incapable of avoiding.  Williams has a "class" magnet that attracts him to projects that are golden.  Just look at his filmography; "Insomnia", "Good Will Hunting", "One Hour Photo" and "Dead Poets Society"...not a wrong move throughout his career.

It's remarkable.

Here he plays the father of the worlds most vulgar, obnoxious and irritating adolescents ever to appear on screen; foul mouthed, aggressive, a bully and, quite literally, an enormous wanker.  No matter what Williams says or does he is met with a tirade of abuse.

To compound the situation Williams is also a teacher at his sons school...he's not the cool, down with the kids teacher either; he's a total loser who runs a poetry class that doesn't even manage to attract enough emo kids for it to be a viable course in the next academic year.  Can I apologise for the hideously out of touch use of "emo" as some sort of cultural/pop-cultural reference?  I can't?  Damn.

When his son manages to kill himself during a bout of auto erotic asphyxiation Williams sees it as a chance to re-write his own miserable history.  He crafts a beautiful, poignant suicide note for his son that casts him as a misunderstood, intelligent, lonely and afraid young man instead of the shit he actually was.  The result is...messy, ultimately very messy, and a level of awkwardness last felt in front of a movie unheard of since Goldthwaits "Sleeping Dogs".

"Worlds Greatest Dad" isn't a film that will worm its way onto a gift list for Fathers Day...if it did both you and your father would be in for a very uncomfortable afternoon in front of the TV...but is deliciously funny and features yet another great performance from Robin Williams; this man can do no wrong.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Biutiful - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 29/1/11

In "Biutiful" Bardem plays Uxbal a man who has the ability to aid the dead on their passage from this life to the next.  He is also a gangster; running a group of illegal African immigrants who sell their wares on the streets of Barcelona, providing illegal Chinese immigrants to the building trade and helping out the man who runs a warehouse which produces fake goods made by an army of Chinese workers who are kept locked in the basement of the warehouse to stop them from escaping.

At the same time Uxbal is also raising his two children alone.  His bipolar wife is an upsetting presence and she is also sleeping with Uxbals brother.  When he does eventually allow her back into his life and the life of the children it ends badly for everyone.

This is a film that ponders on the things that make this life worth living; family, love, relationships as well as the things that make it so difficult; death, pain, suffering, heartache and loss.  It is, often, a bleak and difficult film to watch but thanks to the enormous presence of Bardem it is never anything other than compelling.  He is a mass of contradictions; spiritual yet obsessed with the pursuit of money, kind and loving but willing to buy and sell people at the drop of a hat, blessed with a gift that should bring comfort to people in need which he uses to raise a few extra euros.

This is director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritus first Spanish language film since "Amores Perros" in 2000. In between time he has brought us "21 Grams", "Babel" as English language pieces and while both are wonderful films it is obvious that working in his "native" language as both writer and director has allowed him to create something truly wonderful.

Inarritu and Bardem are two towering names in Spanish language film and here, together, they combine to leave the audience reflecting on their own lives and the things that matter most to them.  No easy, trite or glib solutions to the conflicts we all face in life but instead a look deep inside the soul of a man.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Glasgow Film Festival News

Legendary director Ken Loach will be in attendance at a screening of his new film "Route Irish" on February 23rd and will take part in a Q&A afterwards.  A wonderful opportunity to question and hear from a director who has a body of work that places him firmly in the "greats" category.

Also confirmed for the festival is another legend from the British arts scene, Creation records guru Alan McGee.  McGee will be in attendance at the screening of "Upside Down: The Creation Records Story" from directory Danny O'Connor.  The film will be shown on 22nd February at 9pm.

Are you excited yet?

You should be.