Monthly Archives: November 2013


Gravity film posterSynopsis

Alfonso Cuarón’s film about missile fragments wrecking a Hubble space shuttle killing one astronaut and spinning Sandra Bullock and George Clooney into a state of marooned drifting.  There is a Russian station nearby and a Chinese one further away.  Can they reach a station and get back to Earth…?


One of the first Son et Lumiere films of 1894 was of a moon shot, so it’s highly appropriate that a film set in outer space should be a landmark in cinema.  Gravity is visually superb, making 2001 and Silent Running look like toy models on black paper.  The rolling three dimensional effect gives you an idea of what it might be like to be in space.  The story itself is an old one in space movies: isolation in which space becomes a pervasive metaphor of the mind itself, which might struggle with the idea of God or loneliness or emotional issues.  Gravity reminds me of that Ray Bradbury story about astronauts adrift in space.  There is a reference to the ill-fated Apollo 13 which starred Ed Harris, and here he is the ground control voice.  Bullock plays a bereaved mother (having a child always confers ultimate human status in American films).  She plays a sort of Robinson Crusoe pioneer dealing with the Russian equipment in a Heath-Robinson way, never too fazed by the peril of her situation.  When she gets emotional her tears float towards us (the film might have been called “Where Tears Don’t Fall”).  She deals with the surrounding isolation and terror by using verbal distractions and noise for her comfort code.  As she clambers out of her space suit she is like Ripley in Alien.  In Gravity no one can hear you scream but there is no alien enemy, just the silence of infinite spaces that terrified Pascal.  She adapts the foetal posture as if awaiting the emotional epiphany that came to Jodie Foster in Contact when she met her ‘Father’.  Critics interested in reviving Freudian tropes might note the birth, womb imagery of the umbilical rope, the foetal appearance of the space suits, and the blazing projectiles from the space shuttle as they re-enter the atmosphere (they look like sperm hurtling towards the Earth egg).  

Spoiler Alert!!! As she ejects from the pod womb she takes staggering baby steps on Earth or maybe she’s Eve returned to paradise.

At times George Clooney is laid back as if he’s still selling coffee but generally the tension is at breaking point. Please watch this excellent film.

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Posted by on November 15, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Philomena film posterSynopsis

Based on true events where by Martin Sixsmith, ex BBC journalist, is approached by the daughter of Philomena to find her long lost son.  Philomena’s child was taken from her by nuns and adopted by Americans in 1955.  Sixsmith and Philomena  find out what happened to her son and learn that he visited Ireland.  Sixsmith gets past the secretiveness of the nuns to a showdown.  Happily there is closure.


Partly produced by Steve Coogan, this film has a great emotional pull on us.  The relationship between Judi Dench as Philomena and Steve Coogan as Sixsmith is an encounter between two cultures as they learn about each other.  Sixsmith comes from the Oxbridge elite, all liberal secular values, journalistic cynicism, aquaintance with ‘spin’ (or fancy lying), and the journalistic jet set.  Philomena started as an unsophisticated Irish girl victimized by the ferociously repressive regime seen in Magdeline Laundries.  These were, in effect, gulags for young women who fell foul of rigid Catholic morality.  Sixsmith is all easy cosmopolitan quips, his body language is that of the successful investigator pretty well up on the tricks and foibles of those he’s investigating.  The world to him is a newsroom and he seems to own it.  Philomena is working class and unapologetic about her poor education, turning this drawback into the unruffled virtues of Christian decency.  As Sixsmith can’t penetrate this armour, he’s reduced to mild sarcasm and quick judgementalism.  Philomena has an instinct for the proud and cynical, the mutual incomprehension livening their culture class comedy routine.  Critics are keen on saying that films like this are moving because there’s some emotional charge between the characters, as if that should be a surprise.  Perhaps it’s because such critics adhere to the myth of journalistic detachment.  As in the film Magdaline Laundries we are made to focus on the worst that some of these nuns did.  One sister simply echoes Mother Theresa’s refusal of medical treatment to her charges, on the grounds that it “would delay their journey to heaven”.  Interestingly the film exposes our double standards over tolerance of religious intolerance, it’s easy for us to expose the crimes committed by Christians but we seem reluctant to expose even worse abuses (such as infibulation) which take place under the auspices of other cultures and religions.  Sixsmith also enjoys the luxury of vicariousness as he’s unforgiving of the nuns whereas Philomena isn’t.

Judi Dench is the real anchor of the film, she brings that same impressive presence she can use as a bad person in Notes on a Scandal and as James Bond’s boss.  When she is impressed by the privileges and people Sixsmith knows she summons a life of quiet patience and decency.  When Sixsmith tells her that he briefly met her son I wondered if he could end up being a sort of surrogate son for her. Sometimes nearly unwatchable as a film about loss and love.


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Side Effects

Side Effects film posterSynopsis

Jude Law stars as Dr. Jonathan Banks, a British Psychiatrist, who has a patient who’s been taking the reputed wonder medication “Ablixa”.  Later we learn that it induces psychosis.  His patient is Emily (Rooney Mara). In seeming depression she crashes her car into a wall.  Her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from jail and she kills him whilst taking Law’s prescribed drug.  Catherine Zeta Jones plays a psychologist in secret league with Rooney Mara, expecting her client to get off the murder charge due to diminished responsibility.  Rooney Mara felt that her life was falling apart after her husband was arrested so she then has a sexual and financial relationship with Zeta Jones. Will Zeta Jones and Rooney Mara be found out as Law is in deep trouble from the case as his wife leaves him?


Quite a watchable John Grisham type story.  Law does not have to torture the American accent so he can be his estuary self.  The story is well paced and the characters go through their not overly demanding roles well enough.  Pharmaceutical corruption is one of the really big corporate sins, and when it’s combined with mental illness then any film must think it’s taking on a pretty challenging subject, but this film does not do justice to such a topic. How could It?  The Jennifer Lawrence and Brad Cooper movie Silver Lining Playbook similarly was rather lightweight.  The subject is glamourised and so is too simplified.  Law does a reasonable job as a put upon psychologist but he is no crusader in the class of Erin Brokivitch (played by Julia Roberts).  His mission is not to tackle corporate pharmaceutical sin (Harrison Ford did this as Richard Kimble in The Fugitive) so much as to clear his name and outwit the two women who are involved in murder.  Would Law’s psychiatrist really have as much power over a patient in spite of his disgrace over prescribing “Ablixa” for a patient?  This is dramatically neat but is it realistic?  Better to go along for the noir-ish ride.  It’s a thriller about control, sex, and money.  Catherine Zeta Jones has the Black Widow role (remember that ’80s film?) and she holds attention as she plays the snake oil saleswomen, all close up sexualized predatoriness.  Rooney Mara is all poor little girl chic, vulnerability disguising menace.  Watchable but don’t expect any innovative angles.

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Posted by on November 13, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Trance film posterSynopsis

Frank (Vincent Cassel) wants to rob the Goya painting Witches in the Air from the auction house.  The inside man is Simon (James McAvoy) who is a gambler and he owes Frank money.  In the theft Simon is concussed and seems amnesiac about the paintings whereabouts.  Frank uses hypnotherapist  Dr Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to learn the truth about the painting from a trance she induces in him.  Frank and Dr Rosario have a relationship.  Simon and Dr Lamb also appear to have had a relationship in which Simon was abusive.  He recovers this memory.  Who is the ultimate double crosser?  What can Dr Lamb achieve with her psychotherapeutic powers?


Before the Olympic Games opening ceremony Isles of Wonder I wasn’t a big Danny Boyle fan.  I’m British so I admired that spectacle.  The grating rock music and split filming, the hectic gurning and running around, not to mention the highly questionable use of the poor in Slumdog Millionaire meant that Boyle was someone I could miss out.  However Isles of Wonder helped make the Olympics of 2012 a great success (and it was a great advertisement for the NHS).  Trance uses the familiar rock music and quick fire images which threaten to run away with the film, so it goes back to the Danny Boyle I’m not keen on.  It gets up itself in its labyrinthine twists.  From macho gangsters to dodgy psychologists it becomes a matter of indifference if they are cheating each other.  With much brutality Trance goes over the same thriller territory as Hitchcock in his nursery school Freudian years and there are reminders of Fritz Lang. It starts out as an art heist caper but ends up trying to be a sort of thinking person’s Thomas Crown Affair.  One also thinks of Inception and any number of thrillers that rely on stylish trickery.  Who is the girl in the car as Simon gets away from the gang?   She should have a mysterious presence like some Hitchcock mystery woman but lacks the presence of Kim Novak or Tippi Hedren, she’s more like a confused tourist.  Trance becomes a hi-tech confessional where inner motives and demons vie for our attention with varying degrees of visual finesse.  Aptly, the stolen painting is by Goya and didn’t he paint something called The Sleep of Reason?  Vincent Cassel’s Frank is part torturer and part artist of manipulation.  Torture by a Harley Street doctor (Elizabeth Lamb) is certainly preferable to anything you might get in Saw.  James McAvoy seems to be rehearsing his bent cop role in Filth.  Rosario Dawson is effective as the cool manipulator, she said that she studied psycho-therapy techniques for the film and discovered that the most dishonest part of the body is the face (no surprise) and the most honest is the foot.  Well, I’m being honest if I say I’m inclined to give this film a bit of a kick out through the door.  Glossy and clever but not really involving.

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Posted by on November 13, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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The Call

The Call film posterSynopsis

Halle Berry plays Jordan, a 911 phone operator who uses her skills to rescue victims from predicaments.  She makes a terrible error over one call.  Later, a serial sex offender abducts Casey (Abigail Breslin), imprisoning her in the boot of her car.  Casey manages to use her mobile phone to contact Jordan who advises Casey on the best course of action.  Will they catch the offender?


This starts out grippingly.  Jordan is super alert and on top of the job.  She manages predicaments competently, but of course any failure that might result in loss of life obviously hits home, and Berry is very good at holding things between elated relief and despair.  One thinks of other films that rely on phone conversations as a plot propellant.  There was a brilliant 1940s play in which Barbara Stanwych overhears a telephone conversation in which two people plot to kill her and she is helplessly bedridden.  Then there is the Colin Farrell film set in phone box.  The Call is also good at keeping our nerves stretched.  Jordan wants to make amends for her earlier inability to manage a happy ending,  She must get this emergency right.  At this stage The Call is a bit of a rebuke to those films that simply wallow in sex offenders’ sadism, this is a professional dealing with a highly dangerous situation.  What do you do if you are stuck in the boot of a car and you want help?  If there is a tin of paint available, you smash one of the rear lights and pour paint through the hole.  Surely a car driver seeing this must realize that paint doesn’t just pour through a car’s boot.  Not if you’re  a well meaning dimwit, which is what ‘Mr Member of the Public’ can be.  Critics have ridiculed the film’s ending and it certainly doesn’t live up to the rest of the movie but I’ll overlook it because the first hour is really watchable.  As for that ending, perhaps the film goer should provide this for her/himself.

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Posted by on November 13, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Le Week-End

Le Week-End film stillSynopsis

Written by Hanif Kureish,i starring Jim Broadbent as Nick and Lindsay Duncan as Meg.  They are a middle-aged  academic couple from Birmingham (England) who are on a hopefully romantic weekend in Paris.  Lindsay Duncan rejects a cheapskate hotel in favour of a classy hotel.  She delights in avoiding hotel and restaurant bills.  They meet Jeff Goldblum as an American academic and long time associate of Jim Broadbent.  Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan go to Jeff Goldblum’s soiree and embarrassments emerge.  They meet up later and do dance movements from their favourite film…


Another film about romance in Paris, why is it always Paris?  Even Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s Before Midnight”felt that he had to repudiate Paris as regimental background for art and romance (although Allen’s film had done that for most of its story).  Julie Delphy and Ethen Hawke, Gene Kelly and numerous other would-be’s have tried their luck in this city with the phallic ironmongery of the Eiffel Tower and posh art galleries.  Broadbent and Duncan do their Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? routine.  What we expect from a film set in ‘romantic’ Paris are the following:

(a) the family member on the phone who is the source of exasperation or despair,

(b) the bright kid who doesn’t get on with one of his divorced parents (and said parent is usually living in the USA,

(c) Parisian streets furnish cynical put downs in hasty and self consciously loud arguments,

(d) there is some picaresque adventure involving escaping bill payments or being rude to officials whose jobs don’t allow them to answer back,

(e) the epiphanous moment in a preferably sumptuous hotel room,

(f) meeting up with old friends, with embarrassing consequences,

(g) the old friend is usually a professor or an art dealer in a romantic relationship,

(h) emotional self discovery is accompanied by some Greek playing on acoustic guitar, singing a song only elliptically relevant to the proceedings,

(i) there is the dutiful visit to the art gallery or bookshop where more old friends are discovered,

(j) there is the final acceptance of frailties and a new dawn,

(k) there is the imitation of a scene from a loved film.

It helps if all these can happen overnight or in a slightly extended real time.  Le Week-End faithfully runs through all these predictable situations.

The aging couple themselves are of course mutually loathing and loving.  They come from the self absorbed generation that never tire of congratulating itself for supposedly having changed the world. Naturally there is a lively historical debate about this but when I see this smug moral self importance what results is the very betrayal of the 60’s ideals.  Listening to Bob Dylan hasn’t changed anything except the glorification of our narcissisms.  That generation still got married, owned property, and got sexually jealous.  Broadbent and Duncan do all this quite well but they’re going through very familiar and overly contrived motions.  Goldblum’s soiree is reliably hideous, with its fake bohemians, professors and artists.  Broadbent reveals the failures and loneliness of his life, and his moaning about it embarrasses the guests and arouses the amused disgust of his wife who despises him for his neediness and clumsy sentimentality. He wanted to e pater  the bourgeoisie and he succeeded.  Goldblum turns the awkwardness into some kind of existential thrill.  Like any good Woody Allen fake he is into psychoanalysis, left wing politics (without personal cost), and serial divorce Le Week-End is ploddingly derivative.

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Posted by on November 5, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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